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Posts from the ‘Amazing Stories from the Gulf War’ Category

12
Apr

1LT Victor Lawe U.S. Army (1987-1997)

profile4Read the service reflections of

1LT Victor Lawe

U.S. Army

(1987-1997)

Shadow Box: http://army.togetherweserved.com/profile/135985

PLEASE DESCRIBE WHO OR WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE ARMY?

My Uncle Stanley Shelton (1SG, Retuncle stan) influenced me to join the Army. I was frustrated after graduating college and not finding a job in my major of Journalism in the Washington, DC area. I visited the Navy recruiter who gave me an aviator test that “wasn’t even competitive.” Code for I flunked. I visited the Air Force recruiter who could not offer me any military jobs that I liked. My cousin Jan and my Uncle Stanley advised me against joining the Marines. I went into the Army recruiter’s office and was told that 81E illustrator job was closed, 33J journalist job was closed, and 33R combat photographer job was closed. All of those jobs were under the Signal Corps so he showed me every laser disk they had for the Signal Corps. I settled on three jobs, 31C Single Channel Radio Operator, 72E and 72M multi-channel radio operator. After some closed doors discussion among the recruiter and his commander I was told the 72-series were closed but there was an opening for 31C Single Channel Radio Operator.

I took the ASVAB, Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test and scored very high. The commander noticed I had a college degree and asked if I was interested in Officer Candidate School. I said yes. He advised me of the process. I was an Option 19, delayed entry enlistee. Option 19 meant I had station of choice after graduating AIT (Advanced Individual Training). [Untrue] During my last 90 days of civilian life, I became addicted to crack cocaine and my life became unmanageable. I didn’t want to dishonor my commitment to the Army, so I checked into a rehab facility in Baltimore, MD. Two weeks after a 28-day program I boarded a bus to the MEP station in Baltimore. Many of my fellow enlistees were busted for drugs and alcohol consumption after being briefed that these substances were not allowed.

WHETHER YOU WERE IN THE SERVICE FOR SEVERAL YEARS OR AS A CAREER, PLEASE DESCRIBE THE DIRECTION OR PATH YOU TOOK. WHAT WAS YOUR REASON FOR LEAVING?

I completed basic training at Ft. Dix, NJ. That coincidentally was the last duty station for my Uncle Stanley who retired as a Company First Sergeant. I boarded another bus for AIT (Advanced Individual Training) at Ft. Gordon, GA. It was different being “off the choke chain” and having certainfreedoms that were denied to me before in basic training. I was fortunate to be in a roomful of experienced and squared away soldiers. We had E4’s in our room who had signed up for IMC (International Morse Code) and they knew the drill on how to prepare for a room inspection. Our rooms always passed with flying marks until one day a drill sergeant gave us a block of instruction on humility. It involved push-ups and some insider tips we knew nothing about. He showed us how to make a challenge coin or quarter bounce or fall flat on a bunk. He made us all take a half step backward and wiped his hand across the floor where we were just standing at parade rest to prove that if he really wanted us he could get us.

My first duty assignment was with the 532nd Signal Company, 39th SIG BN (Signal Battalion), 2nd SIG BDE (Signal Brigade) in Geilenkirchen (GUY-lin-kur-chin) Germany at a NATO Air Base. Our unit provided unsecured (redundant) AM comms to NATO forces, and the 85th USAFAD (Pershing Missiles) in support of the German Defense Plan. This was during the Cold War when Germany was split in half. I resisted the assignment tooth and nail. As an Option 19 I chose Italy, Australia or France for my assignments, my recruiter had told me I would have my choice of assignments, I found out that these were not options for me and was assigned to Germany. I was on foreign soil with too much time on my clean and sober hands. We had a Coke machine in our barracks that sold Bitburger beer. “Lead me not to temptation, it is right down the hall next to the day room.” I continued the paperwork process for applying for OCS (Officer Candidate School). It was painful as the upper echelons of my chains of command were far, far away. My company HQ was located 40 miles away in Rheinberg, Germany. My battalion HQ was located in Chevres, Belgium. My brigade HQ was located in Manheim, Germany. After one unsuccessful attempt where my packet got lost between HQ, I simply gave up.

In January 1989 we were playing a touch football game between the barracks and I was recruited to play contact football with the Dortmund Giants of the bundesliga [German-American Football League]. It was the best thing that happened to me it gave me a sense of purpose outside of being a soldier. I got to see more of Germany than I would have as a barracks rat.

I completed the NCO (Non-Commissioned Officer) board as an E4 in the secondary zone just before I transferred to my next duty assignment at Ft. Bliss, TX. I was assigned to A Btry, 5/62 ADA (Air Defense Artillery), 11th ADA BDE as a radio operator for a Vulcan platoon. I completed PLDC (Primary Leadership Development Course) and restarted the OCS application process where all of my commanders were co-located on the same post. I wrote the essay “Why Do I Want To Become an Army Officer?” and went through the interview and received high marks.

My assignment changed as I transferred from the Vulcan platoon to HQ platoon as a maintenance clerk. Our assigned clerk tested positive on a drug test prior to deployment as our unit was alerted for Operation Desert Shield. We started deploying advance parties on 15 August 1990. We painted our vehicles sand color, drew desert combat fatigues, went through intense aircraft friend-foe recognition training, rules of engagement, physical training in full MOPP (Mission Oriented Protective Posture) gear and weapons, combat lifesaver training, SEER (Survival, Escape, Evasion, Resistance) training, handling of POW’s in addition to normal skill level training. Our unit closed on Saudi Arabia on 30 September 1990. It was a lot of hurry up and waiting. We convoyed to our tactical assembly area 15 km away from the Kuwaiti border. We trained with different units as our attachment orders were always changing. First we were attached to 75th FA BDE (Field Artillery Brigade) from Ft. Sill, OK, then a FA unit from the WV NG West Virginia National Guard), then 3rd Sqdrn/3rd ACR (Armored Cavalry Regiment), then 17th Cavalry with XVIII ABN Corps. We became part of the left hook during the Desert Storm phase of the operation.

After the war, the parades and the awards I finally got promoted to SGT. Shortly afterwards I received my orders to report to OCS at Ft. Benning, GA. Our class was the first class that was top heavy in every category: most drill sergeants, most recruiters, most warrant officers, most college options, most E-7’s, most Rangers, most Special Forces soldiers, and the biggie: most combat experience. We had folks whose combat experience stretched back to Urgent Fury in Grenada to Just Cause in Panama and a busload of us fresh from Desert Storm. 151 in-processed and I was among the 74 graduated. I received a commission in Armor.

I completed Armor Officer Basic Course at Ft. Knox, KY. I volunteered for Battalion Maintenance Officer course, Dismounted Armor Scout Course (the Armor Center’s version of RIP), Ranger school and Airborne school. I disqualified myself for Ranger school after getting dehydrated twice in the same day for the day and night land navigation courses.

I reported to Airborne training back at Ft. Benning, GA. My orders for my next duty station changed about every 2-3 weeks as I was being assigned a different unit that was going through or completed a post-war draw-down. By the time I made it to Airborne school I received two sets of orders: one for BNCOC (Basic Non-Commissioned Officer Course) for 31C20 Single channel Radio Operator NCO, (obviously the left hand of the Army didn’t know that the right hand had given me a commission) and another set cancelling my orders for 72nd Armor Bn, 82nd ABN DIV. I saw my former AIT drill sergeant in my Airborne class. I asked him what would happen if I showed up at BNCOC as a 2LT? “The Commandant would congratulate you on your commission and he would politely show you the door, sir.”

I was finally assigned to A Co. 2/67 AR BN, 1st BDE, 1AD in Friedberg, Germany. The former home to Elvis. I know this because a lock of his hair still exists in the barber shop at the kaserne. As the 3rd platoon leader, I had the fortune of inheriting the best platoon in all of VII Corps. They had a five foot trophy to attest to their gunnery and maneuvering skills. Here I had the opportunity to make some unoriginal mistakes and at the same time hone my craft. By the time I got really good at tanking, I was branch detailed (reassigned) to the Signal Corps.

I went to Signal Officer Branch Qualification Course in Ft. Gordon, GA. It was a homecoming for me as I saw a lot of my former NCO’s that I served with in Geilenkirchen, Germany. I was reassigned as the node center 74 platoon leader of C Company, 141st SIG BN, 1AD in Bad Kreuznach, Germany home to 1st Armored Division HQ. Again I inherited the best signal platoon in the battalion for Signal Stakes. Again I had to learn my craft. I had ample opportunity to do so as signal is very inexpensive to deploy and we deployed in support of anybody and everybody in the division and in the corps that had a need for our comms. I was fortunate to have a platoon full of professional NCO’s who knew their craft.

A year later I was promoted to company executive officer and we received notice from the Pentagon to downsize our battalion and my unit was chosen for its strength. “Tis better to divide the strength than the weaknesses.” I was given a $100,000 budget and a six month timeline to get our equipment to direct support unit (DSU) level maintenance readiness. Our equipment went to the four winds. Our secure communications went to CECOM in Tobyhanna, PA. Our tactical vehicles and comm shelters went to Ft. Riley, KS. Our excess durable items went to Pirmasens depot in Germany. Our recovery vehicles and cargo HEMTT’s (Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Trucks) were dispersed throughout V corps.

Our personnel stayed within the battalion as we received orders to deploy an advanced party to Hungary in support of Operation Joint Endeavor in Bosnia. I transferred to HHC (headquarters and headquarters company) as their first XO (Executive Officer) in a l-o-n-g time. I was sent to Observer-Controller school in Hohenfels, Germany to support 7th ATC during Exercise Mountain Guard. This was our capstone exercise to help us train for Bosnia and peacekeeping operations. We deployed January 1996. I served my last year as the Battalion Maintenance Officer under two commanders. In support of this operation we fielded new M40-series masks, new mine detecting equipment, XM1107 armored Hummers, and Windows 95.

As the BMO (Battalion Maintenance Officer) I was responsible for every piece of equipment within the Task Force South sector spanning 13,000 sq. km. Communications were key to find out the unit’s maintenance readiness. The down-sizing came at the wrong time as we were under-strength to handle the communications support mission. As a result we were tasked organize to 22nd SIG BDE to fill in the blanks to make the network more robust from Germany to Hungary to Croatia to the southern tip of Bosnia. It was a rough mission to transition from combat operations to peacekeeping. We were rewriting doctrine and sending in lessons learned every day. After that 1 year peacekeeping tour I left the Army on 1 February 1997.

IF YOU PARTICIPATED IN ANY MILITARY OPERATIONS, INCLUDING COMBAT, HUMANITARIAN AND PEACEKEEPING OPERATIONS, PLEASE DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH WERE THE MOST SIGNIFICANT TO YOU AND, IF LIFE-CHANGING, IN WHAT WAY.

I participated in Operation Desert Shield and Storm. My unit deployed a month after the initial invasion of Kuwait. Up until 1 January 1990. War was a distant concept. It had no real meaning to me. It was the stuff of legends and movies. During the Shield phase, I activelysought out every Vietnam and Panama vet in our units to mentally prepare myself for the worse situations possible. Our senior NCO’s spoke to us informally and formally to break us in to the horrors or war. It bonded us in ways I cannot really describe. All of the petty BS went away and it became all for one. Us or them. Victory or death. At the same time we remembered our training: MOPP4 (Mission Oriented Protective Posture level 4) training, NBC training (Nuclear Biological Chemical), SEER (Survival, Escape, Evasion, Resistance) training, EPW (Enemy Prisoner of War) procedures, mine clearing, rules of engagement, proper SITREPs (Situation Reports), battle drills, change of formation drills, it all came together. All of the different units we were cross-attached to forced us to learn how a field artillery unit shoots, moves and communicates. We applied that principle to armor units, and cavalry units.

During the war  I saw the devastating affects of gunfire on the human body up close and personal. Seeing Iraqi tanks with their turrets blown off and the charred remains of enemy soldiers. Being coated in oily mist after the oil fields were set on fire. Seeing the innocents who were caught in the crossfire. Seeing nomads wandering the desert not knowing where there next meal was coming from. Processing three Iraqi militia who seemingly materialized out of the morning fog as EPWs made me realize how close to dying we were.

After the war, it was difficult dealing with the nationwide accolades, the parades, the speeches and the multiple awards.It changed the fact I can wear my BDU’s or my Class As in public. I can get discounts that were previously unavailable to me. The strangers who waited for us to touch down at Biggs Army Air Field at Ft. Bliss, TX, at oh-dark-thirty to shake our hands and pat us on the back for a job well done was awesome and bewildering. As a soldier, my mindset was that I did my job. I did what I was trained to do. I didn’t do anything heroic or special. To the civilian the contrary was true. I didn’t see the big picture that I was a part of an armed force that helped free the oppressed and liberate a country from the tyranny or a dictator.

My last tour was in Operation Joint Endeavor in Bosnia. As soon as we crossed the border experiencing the tomb like silence and seeing all of the war torn homes and burned farms. Seeing children rush towards our convoys because we represented a mobile food source. It hurt my heart to see it.

OF ALL YOUR DUTY STATIONS OR ASSIGNMENTS, WHICH ONE DO YOU HAVE FONDEST MEMORIES OF AND WHY? WHICH ONE WAS YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?

My signal assignments were the best. During my first signal assignment I had the opportunity to go skiing at Garmisch, design a unit t-shirt, design a company certificate of achievement, and play football with and against German nationals.

My second signal assignment it was homecoming of sorts. I had been away from the signal community for 4 years. I was married, and had achieved my goal of being a commissioned officer. Though I didn’t meet anyone from my enlisted past, I was able to apply many combat arms experiences with my troops. I knew the principles. I knew the jargon. I worked with my soldiers and they worked for me. Both were more family oriented and more comradeship between ranks. Everyone looked out for one another.

Least favorite: Both of these units I will highlight were bad at first until a change in both leadership and philosophy helped turned sagging morale and performance around.

At first Ft. Bliss was a mess. Soldier morale and discipline was at an all time low when I arrived. The barracks were shooting galleries when I arrived. The barracks air conditioning was ignored. Outside it was 100 degrees inside it was 18 degrees hotter. It took several Sergeants Major and an engineering Colonel to get that situated. After a change of command and leadership philosophy things started to get better and then we were deployed which in my opinion united us into an “all for one” attitude. My last company commander CPT Anthony English worked with the soldiers to make the unit better than it was by focusing on the basics.

67th Armor BN in Friedberg, Germany started out a cannibalistic environment wherein fellow lieutenants would turn on each other in an effort to gain favor with the battalion commander rather than perfect their craft and learn from the soldiers they led. It took a transferred company commander and a courageous 1SG to turn that around in our company. Esprit de corps began to improve as I was leaving as our unit got its swagger back through tough, realistic training and teamwork.

FROM YOUR ENTIRE SERVICE, INCLUDING COMBAT, DESCRIBE THE PERSONAL MEMORIES WHICH HAVE IMPACTED YOU MOST?

Exercise Protect the Force 1994 at Darmstadt Training Area. I was given free reign to formulate a program of instruction to support training a battalion objective of Occupy and Defend a Signal Site. I was allowed to hand-pick my cadre, my OPFOR (Opposing Forces), my ROE (Rules of Engagement), and
my pick of the training ammo and explosives I needed to achieve it. My OPFOR and I trained in the rain, heat and cold to prepare prior to the battalion closing on the training area. We had so much fun providing tough, realistic training.

We trained our units to standard. If you failed a critical task on our lane, your unit was recycled until you learned the lesson. Our BN S-3 supported that objective. We learned so much about each other and our co-workers in the battalion. That situational training exercise was a success due to the planning, personnel and execution that is still talked about decades later.

One scenario that is still talked about was when one unit frustrated my OPFOR. My OPFOR could not take the site away from the unit, so as the officer in charge called a “drive by” audible. We loaded up all the soldiers from the far side of the objective into a Hummer and drove into their site and unloaded our soldiers from the rear of the Hummer into their perimeter. Shock, awe and confusion ensued, fun was had by all, mostly by me and my OPFOR.

Another scenario was the “air assault scenario.” The BLUFOR unit set up their headquarters next to a tree with a purple rope hanging down from it, they did not put the rope there nor did they question why it was there, more about the rope to follow. They did not have complete control their site security, on top of that I had an OPFOR soldier buried under leaves ten feet away from them. We unloaded an artillery simulator, for those who don’t know, this makes a big badda boom, to the near side. While they were distracted, the soldier under the leaves killed everyone in their headquarters that was set up by the tree. The soldier that I had in the tree came down the purple rope upside down and killed everyone who was still standing, from the rear.

WHAT ACHIEVEMENT(S) ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF FROM YOUR MILITARY CAREER? 

Volunteering to create Operation Talk To Santa that was born out of boredom in the site radio room with my old squad leader SGT Tonora Butler. It started with a what if? conversation and ended with my unit providing two radio shelters. One for the kids and one for Santa(me). It was such a hit that the following year I was in demand for two military communities mine and Rheinberg where the company HQ was located. These radio broadcasts lasted for one week, from the 11th of December to the 18th of December, for 2 hours twice a day. The broadcasts went out from the Geilenkirchen School. There was a teacher present to make sure that the children were all allowed a chance to talk to Santa. I received a letter of appreciation from the principle of the school and one year a chaplain got on the air to thank all of us involved for doing what we were doing. He stated that it meant a lot not only to the American children but to the rest of the children as well as it exposed them to a bit of American culture and an idea of what Santa in America is like.

As the newly minted NBC officer going from worst to first in a short amount of time. My assigned NBC NCO committed suicide before the BDE Command Inspection. Even with battalion NCO’s to help my unit bolo’ed the inspection and my unit was placed on the needs improvement list. I received an excess tanker who was not NBC NCO certified to help me organize the mess I had and get our NBC room up to standard and beyond. Within a year our unit became the sterling example for others to follow for best practices. I simply employed a visual tracking system for everything NBC related. This system was implemented by the BN CHEMO (Battalion Chemical Officer) to help B Company win the Draper Award (for excellence in leadership).

Being cross-attached to D Trp, 3/5 CAV during maneuver exercises in Hohenfels, Germany. We had so much fun and learned more about cavalry tactics and strategies. We stopped being concerned about what people thought and focused on basic performance. Our team commander, CPT Farquhar, kept everything simple and stupid. He taught me how to quickly write OPORDERs so that they had SMART (Specific Measurable, Realistic Timely) goals within. Doing the simple things correctly delighted the TF Commander from 3/5 CAV. He loved that we were precise on the radio and could navigate mounted between objectives. We got our swagger back by being bold and audacious.

Being selected by the S-3 SGM to represent our unit to travel to Orleans, France to help that town celebrate their 51st liberation anniversary. Our honor guard cadre and I had the opportunity to see our sister unit the 28th Signal Regiment and participate in parades and enjoy a seven course dinner. The townspeople of Orleans treated us like gods. We met a WWII Medal of Honor recipient. We received a tour of the town and saw the ancient church that Joan of Arc worshiped in.

OF ALL THE MEDALS, AWARDS, FORMAL PRESENTATIONS AND QUALIFICATION BADGES YOU RECEIVED, OR ANY OTHER MEMORABILIA, PLEASE DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH ARE THE MOST MEANINGFUL TO YOU AND WHY?

My first challenge coin for winning the Soldier of the Month Board at Ft. Gordon, GA. I was pulled from formation after class one day and placed in a room full of senior NCO’s with no prior study time as they asked me soldier of the month board questions in rapid succession. Out of all of the random soldiers they pulled I performed the best and received a 361st SIG BN challenge coin.

A certificate of achievement for “The Run to Belgium”. That was my first gut check. I had run a 10k before, but never a 14k. It was 8.8 mile run from the Germany-Netherlands border to the Netherlands-Belgium border. It was confusing as we didn’t really know where we were going. There were no guides along the route. There were no water points. We just followed the herd as thin as it got along the way to where we thought we were supposed to go. We were lucky no one got hurt or lost.

As an acrophobic soldier, this was another one of the manhood tests that I felt I had to overcome while I had the opportunity. I had to recycle after a jammed neck injury during ground week working on PLFs. I left C Company, 507th PIR (Parachute Infantry Regiment) and transferred to the next cycle with D Company. I locked up in fear on the 40 foot tower and was consequently “skinned up” and reminded to have faith in the equipment by the Black Hat. I had to let go of my fear. I had to commit to a leap of faith as it were. After successfully negotiating the 40-foot tower I later learned that I was not the only scaredy-cat. There were a lot of aviation warrant officers who were scared of heights now that they were separated from their metal wings. My first jump was disastrous as my right leg was hung in the risers due to a weak exit through the prop blast. I figured out how to undo the mishap and landed safely. My successive jumps were uneventful and safe.

A TOP GUN hat for getting the best Table XII gunnery score in the battalion. It was my last gunnery and the BN CDR (Battalion Commander) flexed us all over the range in MOPP (Mission Oriented Protective Posture). Every target that popped up got laid down in and out of sector. My platoon outscored 11 other platoons in the battalion to earn that honor.

A letter of commendation from General Cherry for my outstanding support of Exercise Proud Lion. I was assigned as the liaison officer from my unit to brief the simulated and actual deployment of my units in support of the exercise. I was the lowest ranking officer on deck. I was nervous in the service when the chief of staff COL Ryan announced OPBRIEFs were due in 24 hours. I consulted with every captain I could find and consulted with my S-3 MAJ Neil about what to do and what not to do. I rehearsed numerous times before I was ready to brief. I was the last one to brief the ADC-M (GEN Cherry) and his G-3 LTC Kostich (my former BN commander from 2/67 AR) on my OPPLAN. After the brief, the room was silent and GEN Cherry thanked me for my time and effort and asked if anyone had any further questions for me. None came, I was dismissed. He came to me and asked how long I had been doing this in front of a group of senior officers. “This was the first time sir.” I wish I had a coin, but I don’t, so I will have to get creative, have a good Iron Soldier Day Lieutenant.” Weeks later I received a letter of commendation from him that made me the envy of all of my peers and superiors.

WHICH INDIVIDUAL(S) FROM YOUR TIME IN THE MILITARY STAND OUT AS HAVING THE MOST POSITIVE IMPACT ON YOU AND WHY?

SSG Anthony Dokes my second squad leader at 532nd SIG CO. He believed in me and realized the untapped talent he had in me and allowed me to use that talent to be creative and do things to improve morale. He supported my application to OCS. He knew how tomanage me. He got ME! He allowed me to create my own additional duties like site photographer, site illustrator, and unit supply specialist. He supported me playing football and doing things a normal E4 should not be doing. My extra-curricular activities benefited the unit and myself.

SGT Jerome Taylor my squad leader at Ft. Bliss, TX. He was a combat vet from the 509th PIR (Parachute infantry Regiment), Operation Just Cause in Panama. He was instrumental in training us on the do’s and don’ts in combat. You would have thought he was an infantryman but he wasn’t, he was a 63B (Light wheeled mechanic). He and three other NCO’s were from my hometown of Washington, DC. He put the fun in functional training. When I was getting in shape for OCS he led a bunch of volunteers on Sunday runs through the Franklin Mountains. The higher elevation and consistency paid off! When I got to OCS I was running like an Olympic grade turbo-charged cheetah.

Captain Miciotto “Bear” Johnson was my last tank company commander in Friedberg, Germany. He said something to me that hearkened back to my enlisted days, “I take care of all my Soldiers, that includes officers. You need to do the same. If a fellow officer needs help, give it. Don’t do things with a favor attached. Just do it and move on to the next objective. If you do it for one, do it for all of us. We are on the same team and we need all the help we can get when we need it.” He gave us our tanker swagger back by asking every tanker who the best loader was, who the best driver was, who the best gunner was, who the best master gunner was, who the best TC was. It was a test to see if the soldier mentioned someone else or were bold enough to say themselves. It forced soldiers to acknowledge there was someone better than they were. He would follow up if they mentioned another tanker, “So what are you going to do about it?” This forced soldiers to create their own solutions to move up in talent if not rank. It worked. It tore down the platoon fiefdoms and implemented more intra-unit collaboration.

Major Hruska the best BN S-3 I had ever witnessed. It wasn’t that he knew his training and doctrine. He knew everyone else’s too. He was a history buff. He studied tactics and strategy. He was a Jedi among men. He could manage or lead a battle blindfolded. He knew the precise moment to deploy task force reserves and where. He knew enemy capabilities before they deployed. He was THAT guy.

Lieutenant Colonel Randolph Strong saw something in me that I hadn’t recognized in myself. I had not been in the unit very long. I am still in transition from tank platoon leader mode when he walked in on an NCOPD session I was having with platoon’s NCO’s in the mess tent during an exercise. This was a rare if not unheard of event in his battalion. From that point on he made it a point to keep tabs on me and my accomplishments. During my OPPLAN brief for Exercise Protect The Force he stopped me before I finished and announced he had heard enough and left me with the S-3 and his staff. I thought I did something wrong. MAJ Neil and the assistant S-3 assured me everything was fine. “LT Lawe you just watched the colonel get his mind blown with your level of detail and contingency planning. We saved you for last for a reason. He has made all of your peer OIC’s rewrite their plans because they failed to consider all of the what if’s you covered in the second paragraph.” He who takes more than his fair share of objective shall receive more than his fair share of objectives to take. I don’t who said it first but that was my career under LTC Strong and I was okay with it.

PLEASE RECOUNT THE NAMES OF FRIENDS YOU SERVED WITH, AT WHICH LOCATION, AND WHAT YOU REMEMBER MOST ABOUT THEM. INDICATE THOSE YOU ARE ALREADY IN TOUCH WITH AND THOSE YOU WOULD LIKE TO MAKE CONTACT WITH.

SPC Robert Boyles-a native from Oregon, a fellow comic book geek with a great sense of humor. We traveled together from AIT to first duty station in Germany.

SFC Don Fulton-Excellent platoon sergeant. We were both long time Redskin fans, we were both Geminis, and we were both from the AtlanticEast Coast. Me from DC and him from SE Virginia.We were finishing each other’s sentences within a week. He helped me through the transition from NCO to officer.

SFC Louis Imbrogno-excellent platoon sergeant He was a member of a motorcycle club and owned a boss Harley. He helped me weather the constant turnover of gunners I had on my crew.

SFC Bowie-he was my acting 1SG while I was the acting commander. We kept each other honest and ensured we were prepared to do the extra work to ensure the in boxes remained empty.

SPC Cornelius “Boosie” Davis, a native of Alabama who had a great sense of humor. He was a superb all around athlete. I wished we could have played football together at Dortmund.

SPC “Wild Bill” Massey. We became closer after I left the unit. I was the photographer at his wedding in Germany. When I returned to Germany as a 2LT, SGT and his wife were there to pick me up from the airport and ferry me to brigade headquarters.

CPT Ronald Woodman we were OCS classmates and we linked up again at 14st SIG. Both us were former combat arms platoon leaders relearned our craft in the world of communications. We maintained a constant buddy watch over one another.

CPT Stephen Cichocki- he was my OCS classmate and a former master gunner who was my sounding board throughout my commissioned career.

SPC Verburg-he was my go to guy in the platoon if I needed something done right now! He would assess the hey you mission and would enlist his buddies to make sure it was done in a timely and stealthy manner. I loved playing dirty hearts or spades with him. Lots of mutual respect.

SGT Rosamund, SGT Wrzenski, SGT Danielson, CPL Pena, CPL Raymond, among others- all were high speed low drag NCO’s. They were masters of their craft. I learned so much from them during my transition from armor to signal.

SGT Turner- he was my first motor pool NCO who kept me honest on so many occasions with the BN XO.

SSG Cole-he was my go to NCO in the platoon. He was the NCO version of Verburg. Another great card player.

CPT Ian “Frenchie” Forbes-it was his signal platoon I inherited at 141st SIG BN. He provided me with wise counsel on the tribal customs of my new home.

CPT Stephen Bates-we were the noisy outlaws of the battalion who got shit done. We were peer XO’s in different companies who sought each other out just to vent if nothing else. I think we were the founding members of the LPA in the unit.

CAN YOU RECOUNT A PARTICULAR INCIDENT FROM YOUR SERVICE WHICH MAY OR MAY NOT HAVE BEEN FUNNY AT THE TIME, BUT STILL MAKES YOU LAUGH?

My tank crew pranked the platoon sergeant’s tank driver who was from Brooklyn, NY. he was deathly afraid of the VW-sized boars in Germany. He fell asleep on guard duty at night, so we poured garbage all around his tank to attract the boars so he would stay awake on duty. If there were no boars we would make hog noises to spur his alertness levels.

My section in Armor Officer Basic Course pranked a certain cadre officer who used to zeroize our SINGCAR radios (Single Channel Air-born Radio system) on every break or AAR (After Action Review). Our section has some former tankers who had ties to the training NCO’s. We convinced one to let us have a smoke grenade. One of our classmates rigged it to the half shaft under his Hummer with communications wire. The more the half shaft rotated it tightened the wire connected to the quick release pin and the spoon and broke. His Hummer quickly filled with emerald smoke. We saw him through our binoculars coughing and gagging several hundred meters away. No retaliation came our way.

I pranked the BN S4 CPT Jonathon Long at a Hail & Farewell into thinking he had left his Vinson KY-57 unsecured in the motor pool and I found it as such during a routine staff duty inspection. I produced an extra one from my CVC (Combat Vehicle Crew-member) helmet bag as proof. It was an extra one I signed out from the communications shop.

I pranked the BN S-3 into believing that such a thing as snow snake repellent existed. I took a can of WD-40 and covered it with a piece of paper that generically said snow snake repellent and made up a stock number to go with it. I referenced the newly issued field manual that referenced snow adders indigenous to Bosnia. He took it and ran with it to the division commander’s weekly readiness briefing. The commander added it to the list of things units needed to order and would be briefed as red, amber or green status. Confession may be good for the soul yet my body paid for that one in the form of push-ups, a one-sided ass chewing and a week’s worth of convoy commander detail downrange in Bosnia.

WHAT PROFESSION DID YOU FOLLOW AFTER YOUR MILITARY SERVICE AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOW? IF YOU ARE CURRENTLY SERVING, WHAT IS YOUR PRESENT OCCUPATIONAL SPECIALTY?
I have been in manufacturing management ever since. I have been in the metals industry twice as a shift supervisor.

I was in the automotive industry as a shift supervisor. That was fun believe it or not giving back to the armed services. I worked for Oshkosh Defense making trucks like the PLS , HEMTTs, HETs, LVSRs and the newly designed MATVs for the Marines and the Army. It was eye-opening to read the laudatory e-mails from congressmen and service members remarking how our product helped saved lives down range. Also meeting service members who arranged to visit the plant and shake everyone’s hand who helped build these amazing mine resistant vehicles. That organization was the most top heavy with veterans from white collar to blue collar.

I have been in the plastics industry two times-once as a supervisor and currently I am a production manager.

WHAT MILITARY ASSOCIATIONS ARE YOU A MEMBER OF, IF ANY? WHAT SPECIFIC BENEFITS DO YOU DERIVE FROM YOUR MEMBERSHIPS?
I have let my memberships lapse for the Signal Corps Regimental Association, the US Armor Association and the NCO Association.

When I lived in Indiana, I became a mentor at Handley Elementary and was invited to their Veteran’s Day celebrations. When I lived in Wisconsin, I would march in the Memorial Day parades as an ad-hoc flag bearer in full BDU’s.

IN WHAT WAYS HAS SERVING IN THE MILITARY INFLUENCED THE WAY YOU HAVE APPROACHED YOUR LIFE AND YOUR CAREER?

It has influenced how I am as a leader in charge of personnel, resources and time. No matter where I worked I employed the same techniques that made me a successful NCO and officer. I was a fit, firm and fair leader. I made it a point to learn the process and implement change to streamline the process and eliminate waste for the better not just change’s sake. Over the years I have had to soften the sharp combat edges I had developed to negotiate more win-win scenarios. I have implemented recognizing individuals and teams who have exceeded performance expectations at the various organizations where I have worked.

Having qualified on numerous weapon systems, I don’t own nor care to own any firearms. I am of the mindset that firepower attracts more firepower. I do not feel the need to conceal and carry. I learned through my military training and as a former range safety officer to respect guns, bullets, weapons of any kind and what they are designed to do. I do not hunt. As long as there are Piggly Wiggly supermarkets I don’t see the need. I have seen up close and personal the effects of small arms fire on the human body. I have witnessed the carnage of large caliber weapons. It would take a lot to motivate me to fire a bullet in anger outside of a high intensity combat environment, and even then (?). My relatives have reluctantly asked “have you killed anyone in combat?” My answer is no. A few will follow-up with “Did you want to kill anyone in combat?” My answer is yes. Does that make me a bad person? Those situations where that was a possibility have long since moved on and so have I.

BASED ON YOUR OWN EXPERIENCES, WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO THOSE WHO HAVE RECENTLY JOINED THE ARMY?

Get your mind right and the body will execute each and every time. I have done it and I have witnessed it in others. The synergy between the two is awesome. Tap into it. If you declare it, it will become reality. This is a rare environment where you
are getting paid to find out your potential. Numerous soldiers sign up for one MOS and later transfer to something more of their liking. Numerous more soldiers make a career out of the service because it fills their needs and they are good at what they do. Remember “Good gold will not net you good soldiers. It will get you mercenaries until the gold runs out. Good soldiers will get you good gold.”

Join with some goals in mind. At the end of your tour, what do you want to be? My goals were to improve myself as a leader, graduate OCS and to overcome my fear of heights and graduate Airborne school. The last two I accomplished. The first one was a constant work in progress. I was continually learning and sharpening the saw. I read numerous books, field manuals, Army Regulations and had lots of training which were a good base for starting out. To be a good leader, you have to be in a leadership position and learn from your mistakes. The more your do certain things, the more comfortable you will become with your particular leadership style.

If and when you deploy to combat, pay strict attention to your training. Study and ask lots of “what if?” questions. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. No one likes it, but it pays dividends tenfold when the scenario is upon you. Learn from every subject matter expert you come in contact with from drill sergeants to platform instructors to squad leaders to officers. The knowledge is free and it is power. Volunteer for whatever training is available and give it your all.

When you are deployed overseas remember you are an ambassador for your country in whatever role you are assigned. Make the Army values (Loyalty, courage, selfless service, respect, honor and integrity) your values not just buzz words you recall during evaluation time. If you live it, walk it, your soldiers will reflect it.

Volunteer for every training class available, you never know where it will take you. At the very least you will learn something that is benefiting you, the unit and you may be able to apply as a civilian. Seek out the best soldiers, the best NCO leaders (informal and formal) and make them your mentors. Learn by reading the regulations, the field manuals, and the technical manuals. Learn through correspondence courses. Learn through hands-on training, classroom training, cross-training and hip-pocket training. Education is the one promotion no one can take away from you. The positive example you set is the one most will follow. Have a goal and do what it takes to achieve it. If you fail, it’s your goal, no one else’s, the goal police will not drag you away to jail. Dry your tears and try it again. Or simply pick a more achievable goal and pursue that. Specialized qualifications like Ranger and Special Forces are NOT made for everyone that is why it is an elite specialization. The standards are higher to attract the best of the best and even some of them fail.

When people ask me if I miss the Army, I tell them I miss the people more than anything. The soldiers, NCOs, and the officers I served with made up the difference. They made “embracing the suck” missions bearable. We buoyed each other’s spirits to get it done. We did what we had to so we could get back to doing what we wanted to do. The down time spent with each other was worth it. The war stories told around the fire barrel, the pranks, the lies and alibis bonded an unlikely band of brothers and sisters when things were at the worst yet it brought our best.

When people ask me if I would go back, my answer is no. My Army has changed. I would be perceived as a man out of time like Captain America. My old school habits would not blend well with today’s leadership climate.

IN WHAT WAYS HAS TOGETHERWESERVED.COM HELPED YOU REMEMBER YOUR MILITARY SERVICE AND THE FRIENDS YOU SERVED WITH.
In beginning it helped me network with former soldiers, NCO’s that I hadn’t been in contact with in years. I later networked with them over Facebook, e-mails and phone calls. The stories I had read about other soldiers some were intimidating reading all of their accomplishments, then I read others that were seemingly uneventful yet the soldier got something out of their service if it was nothing more than interacting with different people on foreign soil. I connected with that.

6
Mar

Burn Pit Exposure

VA reported in June that more than 77,000 vets have joined its registry to document their exposure to burn pits in Iraq, Afghanistan, Djibouti and Southwest Asia. VA’s ‘Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry’ encourages those vets to complete a self-assessment questionnaire in order to gather information about health effects from the exposure.

During the Iraq and Afghanistan wars alone, the military used open-air pits at an estimated 250 sites to dispose of such things as medical waste, human feces, Styrofoam, dead animals, plastic, chemicals and other forms of trash. Now banned, the pits, using jet fuel as an accelerant, released toxic fumes that vets say are making them sick or, in some cases, killing them.

Based on Defense Department data, VA says that some 3.5 million vets could be eligible to participate in its registry. VA says the accompanying questionnaire takes about 40 minutes to complete.

For more information, including instructions on how to sign up for the registry, visit
www.publichealth.va.gov/PUBLICHEALTH/exposures/burnpit/index.asp

25
Jan

Maj Dale T. Armstrong U.S. Marine Corps (1983-1995)

Read the service reflections of US Marine:

profile2Maj Dale T. Armstrong

U.S. Marine Corps

(Served 1983-1995)

Shadow Box: http://marines.togetherweserved.com/profile/112052

PLEASE DESCRIBE WHO OR WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE MARINE CORPS?

Several things really. I grew up on our family farm outside a tiny hamlet in central Pennsylvania (Lockport, near Lewistown, PA). My brothers and I played “soldier” all the time, and “cowboys & Indians” of course; and we had toy guns. Later we had the real thing; went hunting on our
413 acres. Then I heard all the stories growing up, essentially all of my uncles served in the military during WWII: Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, and my mother’s oldest brother, John Hite, was killed in Aachen, Germany by a sniper, on the tail end of the Battle of the Bulge. My dad’s younger brother was in Korea for two years during that War; my father himself was in Army Air Corps ROTC at Penn State during WWII, and desperately wanted to be a pilot, until an accident on his summer construction job almost severed his left arm completely, and they 4F’d him out of the ROTC.

Later, when my father worked for USAID, and we spent six years in Nigeria in the 1960’s and 4 years in Cairo, Egypt during the late 1970’s, I got to meet and hang out with the Marines in the Embassies. Of course I was impressed with the uniforms! I was hanging out at the Marine House in the AmEmb Cairo, telling the Marines I was friends with that I was going to finish up college and “enlist” in the Corps to be just like them. They just all laughed at me and told me I was crazy, that I was going to college and that I could be an “Officer”, and that I should not “enlist”. I was that naive about the Corps/Military at the time, and I didn’t know that.

I returned back to the family farm, and went to Penn State as my father had before me, to finish my degree. I was walking home one day to my apartment from class, and got lost in State College, and walked by the Recruiting Office by mistake. There was this Gunny on the front steps in his Blue “D’s” I think. He saw me, and said “Hey, do you like to climb?” That was a weird “sales” line; but I said “Yes”, and he said “Can I have 30 minutes of your time? I just smiled to myself and said “Sure”. I smiled because I was thinking, there’s no way this guy can get me to sign up. Thirty minutes later, I was signed up for OCS, and never looked back!

When I got home to my apartment, I called my parents on the phone, and I told my Mom, “Hey Mom, I think I just signed up for the Marine Corps!”, and she started crying! All she could think of was her brother!

WHETHER YOU WERE IN THE SERVICE FOR SEVERAL YEARS OR AS A CAREER, PLEASE DESCRIBE THE DIRECTION OR PATH YOU TOOK. WHAT WAS YOUR REASON FOR LEAVING?

I went to OCS at Quantico; the combined 10 week course called PLC, in June – August 1982. I had officially signed up with a PEB of 21st of October, 1981. Two weeks after I started OCS, my OSO from Penn State came down to visit me and one other
Penn State guy in the same Platoon as me, and he said “What do you think?” I said without hesitation “I love it Sir, sign me up for TBS, I’m ready now!”

After OCS, I went back and finished up my degree at Penn State, and then it was off to F Co.at TBS, in May ’83. I chose Infantry, and after TBS, I went right into IOC at Quantico, from Dec ’83 until Apr ’84, I think.

I received orders to 2nd MarDiv, 8th Marines. I was to go to 2/8, but they were still out in Beirut after the Grenada Op; so I hung out at 8th Marines as the S-2 “Zulu” for awhile; got TAD’d over to 2nd Marines for a month as a fill-in Plt Cmdr, did an exercise/deployment to Guantanamo Bay with them; then back to 8th Marines when 2/8 came back from Beirut, commanded by then LtCol Ray Smith, and picked up 3rd Plt in G Co., 2/8. We did a Med Deployment, during the TWA hijacking into Beirut in ’85, and we did a number of weeks in MODLOC off Beirut, thinking we were going in, but it never materialized, and we went back to CLNC. I had been promoted to1stLt on the “pump”, and when we got back to CLNC, I transferred over to E. Co., and became the Weapons Plt Cmdr.

A short while later, word circulated that they were forming up a LAV Battalion over at French Creek, and they asked for “volunteers”. I thought about it for awhile, and decided to volunteer. I was transferred over to 2nd LAV Bn, and picked up 1st Plt, C Co. After a deployment to Fort McCoy, WI for cold weather training with them. I was chosen to be the Bn S3-A. Then, our Battalion Commander, an amazing Officer named (then) LtCol Andrew Finlayson showed extreme special trust & confidence in me, and picked me to become the CO of A Co, 2nd LAV Bn, while passing over a handful of more senior Lt’s & even a couple of Capt’s on the Bn Staff. I took A Co back to Fort McCoy, and then over to Norway for the Cold Winter/Alpine Warrior exercises, and when I got back, LtCol Finlayson helped me get augmented into the Regular Marine Corps. But, I was no longer “Infantry/LAV”, I was now an “Intelligence” Officer…so, I became the S-2 of 2nd LAV Bn, the 4th different type of billet I held in the Bn in 3 years! Plt Cmdr, S-3A, Co Cmdr & Bn S-2!

Shortly after that, 2nd Mar Div said they needed an Intel Officer out in the Arabian Gulf to augment COMIDEASTFOR during the “Earnest Will” tanker war ongoing with the Iranians. I was initially attached to the then-standing up SPMATF 2-88 as the S-2A, but when the total end strength was arbitrarily cut because someone in DC told President Reagan that a SPMAGTF had no more that 300 Marines in it, they cut all the “extraneous” personnel, sent me back to Division, and they turned around and sent me out to the same place anyhow. This time, as a member of the J-2 staff on board the USS Coronado/COMIDEASTFOR. I was there six months.

My parents at this time were in AmEmb Khartoum, Sudan; so I flew down and spent a week with them. Then later, my older brother got killed in a car accident back in Pennsylvania, so I flew home for a week for the funeral. When I got back to COMIDEASTFOR, I finished up my six months, and returned to 2nd MarDiv just long enough to pick up my orders to FOSIF, Rota, Spain. I arrived in Rota in September 1988.I spent three years there. During that time I was augmented to the CJTFME Provide Comfort in Incirlik, Turkey, handling the Kurdish situation in Northern Iraq. I went down to Zakho, Iraq, to visit the 24th MEU, then commanded by Col Jim Jones, and was briefly asked to augment them as the 24th MEU S-2A. I returned back to Rota, Spain, just in time to pick up my new orders to AWS in Quantico, VA. I finished AWS in May ’92, and was ordered to 9th Marines at Camp Hansen, Okinawa. After six months as the S2-A & then the S-2 of 9th Marines, I was transferred to 12th Marines down at Camp Foster, and served there until August ’94, also as the Regimental S-2. I left active duty in August, ’94, and returned home to the US just in time for HQMC to ask me to come back on active duty as a Reservist, and work in the J-2, DIA as a Intel Doctrine writer for six months of ADSW. I was promoted to Major in the Reserves at the very end of that six months, left active duty again, and that was the end.

They sent me my Major’s Commission in the mail! I never had a promotion ceremony; never “pinned” it on; never bought a pair of gold oak leaves to wear on a uniform, and never wore a Major/Field Grade Officer Uniform or owned one of any type. So technically, somewhere I’m listed as a “Major”, but psychologically, I still consider myself a Captain, and I’m happy with that. I got to do things in my brief career that will always stay with me.

Most Lt’s were lucky to get one Platoon to lead. I had four! Two Infantry Platoons, a Weapons Platoon, and a LAV Platoon. Again, Company grade Officers back then, were lucky to get a Company, and then, only when they made Captain! I got a Company to command while only a mid-level 1st Lt, and I took them on a major overseas exercise. I then became an Intel Officer, and was awarded the LOM as a Captain. Finally, I was the S-2 of two separate Regiments as a Captain, which is normally a Major’s billet, so I can be proud of those highlights in my career.

IF YOU PARTICIPATED IN ANY MILITARY OPERATIONS, INCLUDING COMBAT, HUMANITARIAN AND PEACEKEEPING OPERATIONS, PLEASE DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH WERE THE MOST SIGNIFICANT TO YOU AND, IF LIFE-CHANGING, IN WHAT WAY.

The “short answer” is no, I did not participate in any “Combat Operations”; but several of the others. Technically, somewhere in the bowels of HQMC or Kansas City, it might say I participated in “combat operations”, as I received “Combat Pay” twice in my career, and one of my FITREP’s
even says “This is a Combat Fitness Report”. But to tell the truth, to claim “combat experience” for myself is an insult to all those fine Marines who have faithfully served their Country & Corps in REAL Combat; especially over the past 12 years+ since 9/11 in Iraq & Afghanistan & elsewhere. My respect and admiration for all those fine young Marines, and all our fine Men & Women in uniform, who’ve put up with family separations, deprivations, hardship, deployments, combat, wounds & worse; knows no bounds.

I cried for days watching the march to Baghdad back in 2003 on TV, wishing I could be there to share that hardship with them. I’ve read other “Reflections” pages, and I see these young Marines now, who’ve done 3, 4, 5 tours in Iraq, and maybe that many in Afghanistan! They have 2, 3 Purple Hearts, and I’ve even read about one Marine who has 8 or 9 Purple Hearts! That’s just crazy! Because even though I never had a similar experience, I do have a small hint of what it took to earn that. My respect, admiration, and pride in these outstanding individuals is just boundless. I make sure any time I see a young Marine, Soldier, Sailor, Airman anywhere in uniform, that I walk up to them and shake their hands and thank them for their service!

When I was at COMIDEASTFOR, we had the “USS Vincennes”/Iranian Airbus/Praying Mantis Operation, and that’s where the “combat” FITREP came in; but the truth is, I was aboard the Flagship, the USS Coronado 200+ miles from any real combat, and the ship actually never even left the port of Manama during the whole event! So, the only danger I was in, was of over-eating. When I went into Zakho, Iraq, with first the CJTFME, and then 24th MEU at the tail end of the Gulf War, it was technically a “permissive” environment, and we had more Marines/Soldiers hurt in accidents than anything. We were not awarded a CAR (and correctly so), and got the HSM instead, so I think that pretty well sums up my Non-combat “combat” experience.

Basically, I got into the Fleet right after Grenada/Beirut, so I missed that, I was stymied in FOSIF, Rota during the Gulf War, despite my wishes otherwise, and I was out before the whole cycle of Somalia, Kosovo, Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc., even began!

My experiences in Northern Iraq/Zakho were the most significant to me and life-alerting in a way, even though it was a “permissive environment”; I got to see what Saddam had done to the Kurds! It was Genocide; pure and simple; and though it’s not a popular thing to say these days, I will always support the Invasion of Iraq to remove Saddam in 2003 as the correct thing to have been done!

OF ALL YOUR DUTY STATIONS OR ASSIGNMENTS, WHICH ONE DO YOU HAVE FONDEST MEMORIES OF AND WHY? WHICH ONE WAS YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?

I consider myself extremely lucky to have had two absolutely amazing overseas tours. My three years at the FOSIF in Rota, Spain, was not only an amazing professional experience, but a tremendous personal/cultural experience as well. Spain is just a crazily amazing country. I remember one of my fellow IntelOfficers, then Major Ric Raftery came out to visit us in Rota in early ’91. He had been the senior Marine Intel Officer at FOSIF Rota a few years before, and was now the 24th MEU S-2.

Anyway, we went out to lunch with some of the Navy Officers, and we were sitting on top of this small mesa in one of the small Andalusian “Los Pueblos Blancos” (White Towns) named Vejer de la Frontera, chilling out, drinking sangria and eating the amazing Spanish food. About six weeks or so later, we were sitting on opposite cots in an old Iraqi Army base in Zakho, Iraq, eating MRE’s, looking at each other and just laughing going “Man, how long ago was it we were just eating Garlic Chicken in Verjer. Ric was also the S-2 for the 24th MEU in Zakho.

Then, later on, I was in Okinawa for two years, and that again, was just an amazing experience. Okinawa will always be special to me for another reason as well; its where I met my future wife, and the mother of my three amazing girls, and our “late life” special blessing, our son! As a “2a” -type experience, I will say that my six weeks or so in Zakho was also amazing. Since we were not getting shot at by the Iraqis, I had time to roam around and gather Intel, and I can say, without trying to rub it in on all the fine Marines who had to fight in the “sandbox” down south, that northern Iraq is truly beautiful; stark mountain peaks, waterfalls, wheat fields, and picturesque Kurdish towns and villages hanging on cliff edges over vast valleys below. Well, at least the few Kurdish villages & towns that Saddam had not bulldozed to the ground and wiped out all the inhabitants!

I enjoyed them all in some manner; can’t really say I have a “least favorite”! I didn’t enjoy Korea that much; but was only there for three weeks; it sure was freaking cold though, no doubt about it!

FROM YOUR ENTIRE SERVICE, INCLUDING COMBAT, DESCRIBE THE PERSONAL MEMORIES WHICH HAVE IMPACTED YOU MOST?

I don’t want to sound cliche, but frankly I enjoyed almost the whole thing, start to finish, from my first day in OCS, to almost my last day in Okinawa! I loved the Marine Corps. I still do, even though I haven’t worn a uniform in almost 20+ years.
I always will.

A Major I knew in Okinawa explained it to me one day, in a way that I’ll never forget: “Dale, remember we love the Corps, but she doesn’t love you back!” I found out the hard way that was true! Doesn’t matter though, I still love the Corps; still love the time I spent in the Corps (most of it!), and will always do so They can’t take that away from me, no matter what.

And it is the personal memories that make it live on; the bad/hard times fade with age, and you remember & smile when you think about the good times and the good things you accomplished.

The camaraderie is the hardest to replace, and it’s what everyone recalls fondly, years later.

My Platoon in OCS; 2nd Plt, A Co; PLC Combined Course the summer of 1982, won the Drill Competition. I think there were 52 or 53 of us in the end; we were locked and cocked and tight! We moved and reacted as a single unit, and we won that competition going away! I don’t think anything will ever replace that feeling! Our amazing Platoon Sergeant, SSgt Thomas Frush, set that as our goal from day one, his previous Platoons had won a couple of other times, and he was amazing; he put us on a ten week course that took us to that plateau, and we got there; he was a maestro!

WHAT ACHIEVEMENT(S) ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF FROM YOUR MILITARY CAREER? IF YOU RECEIVED ANY MEDALS, AWARDS, FORMAL PRESENTATIONS OR QUALIFICATION BADGES FOR SIGNIFICANT ACHIEVEMENT OR VALOR, PLEASE DESCRIBE HOW THESE WERE EARNED.

No, I did not receive any awards for Valor, and I never had the opportunity to find out. But one cannot second guess that aspect of your career; one never knows or can predict how they’d react under fire. You can think you’re the bravest person in the world, but
the minute that first round zinged by your ear, you may just not be all that brave after all!

MajGen Wayne Rollins said something to my TBS class once, when he was still a LtCol and head of Tactics Instruction at TBS. He was watching us LT’s do an exercise out in the field at Quantico, and afterwards, the junior instructors were yelling at us for not having been crawling low enough when the “enemy” was firing at us. He said: “Don’t worry about telling them to get low, when they’re in combat and the first real rounds zip over their head, they’ll get so low the buttons on their utility blouse will get in the way!” That was from an Officer who had been there, and been in it, Vietnam; where he earned a Navy Cross, two Silver Stars, a Bronze Star & two Purple Hearts! He knew the deal!

OF ALL THE MEDALS, AWARDS, FORMAL PRESENTATIONS AND QUALIFICATION BADGES YOU RECEIVED, OR ANY OTHER MEMORABILIA, PLEASE DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH ARE THE MOST MEANINGFUL TO YOU AND WHY?

I guess if someone were to look at my record, they’d think that I’d reply that I was most proud of my Legion of Merit Medal, which I received in 1992, as a Captain; which you have to admit, is kind of unusual. I was involved in a “CI Op”
while in the FOSIF, that was tailored to support CENTCOM during the Gulf War. Someone, somewhere, decided that it was successful, and purportedly contributed to CENTCOM’s success in the Gulf War in some extremely miniscule way, and I was awarded the LOM later on while I was back at AWS after my FOSIF tour.

But frankly, I’m most proud of the three medals I didn’t receive! When I went to leave 2nd LAV Bn, the Bn CO recommended me for a Navy Achievement Medal, because I had been there for 3+ years, and as mentioned before, I had been a Plt Cmdr, the S-3A, a Co.CO as a 1stLt, and then the Bn S-2. Company Grade Officers back then just didn’t get “End of Tour Awards”; so I was honored. As I was checking out, the Major XO, who was a very strange individual anyway, casually said to me: “Hey Armstrong, the Colonel said you deserve a NAM for what you did here, but since you’re headed out to COMIDEASTFOR and will probably get a bunch of Joint Medals out there, I’m going to make sure you never get your NAM, regardless of what the Colonel says!” I was shocked, and couldn’t believe that anyone would actually do that, and be so petty. It was the first of my extremely painful experiences dealing with medals in the rest of my career. But the XO was right, I never got the NAM, he back-doored the Colonel, and cashiered it! I stopped by the LAV S-1 section a year or so later, when I was in CLNC on a TAD/visit, and mentioned to the S-1, “Hey, where’s my NAM”, and he just said, “Dale, I tried to let the Colonel know what the XO did to you, but he threatened to give me a bad FITREP if I told, so I had to let it go!”. In what I can only describe as “karma”, a short while later, that particular Major/XO was forced out of the Corps for being involved in a Jeep/LAV stolen parts trafficking ring on/off the Base! That one still burns, to tell the truth, because of that as a result, I never did end up getting an Award from the Marine Corps.

Later, when I was in the FOSIF, and during the Gulf War, we were providing Intel support to SIXTHFLT. Me and the other Marines in FOSIF tried to get reassigned to CENTCOM, to get in on the action, but HQMC said we were in “critical” Intel billets in support of SIXTHFLT & theater Marines, and we couldn’t leave. So, I busted my butt, 24/7, for months, handling probably 95% of the Intel support to the deployed forces in the AOR concerning the Geopolitical NorthAfrican/Levant Intel support by myself. One day, my boss, a Navy Officer, came to me and said “Dale, you’ve done just an incredible job with this, and the CO asked for Award submissions, and I nominated you for a NAM; and you’ll get it because you deserve it!”. Additionally, the year prior, I had been nominated and won the Command “Intel Analyst of the Year” award, and was awarded a NAM for that, so this was my second NAM nomination within a year in that command. Regardless, about a week later, I was called into the FOSIF CO’s office, and he proceeded to tell me that “you do deserve the NAM, you’ve done about 95% of the Intel support by yourself, and done a great job of it, but, you have TOO many medals now, and we need to give one to someone else!” He also added: “I can’t have one Officer looking like a Christmas Tree!” I found out later that the CO was put up to this by the XO, a Navy Officer also, who did not “like” me. They gave the NAM to a Navy Officer, a great guy, an outstanding Intel Officer and a close friend of mine as well, who bewilderingly came back after they basically snagged him one day, and pinned the NAM on him, and asked me: “Why did they just give me your NAM?” The exact same question that my Intel Marines came and asked me after they saw that Officer receive the NAM. I could only say “The CO made a decision”. In another, in this case sadly unfortunate example of “karma” that I took no delight in, for despite what the XO manipulated him into doing, that CO was a kind, decent man; he committed suicide some years later.

Months later, I was sent out to Zakho, Iraq as mentioned above, and spent six weeks wandering around the place with a GySgt for a driver, collection Intel, meeting with the Peshmerga, documenting Saddam’s campaign of extermination against the Kurds, and collecting over 2 tons of Iraqi Military documents to ship back to Washington DC/the DIA. I was told later on that I was nominated for a JSAM, but when it got up to CINCUSNAVEUR from the CJTFME, as FOSIF Rota fell under CINCUSNAVEUR in London, someone up there heard about my pending LOM due to the completely unrelated “CI Op” that I had done the previous year, got mad that an “O-3” Marine was getting a LOM, and they cashiered that JSAM medal as well!

So, in reality, I’m proudest of the three medals that I never received and will never wear; I earned them, or so a lot of people thought, but “politics” killed them all! They were not awarded to me because it was determined I didn’t merit them, they were not awarded because someone in a position of power, each time, decided that they were jealous of me! That’s something that should not happen in our Corps, and our Military! Which was really a shock to me, because I still was naive enough to believe that if you did well, you’d be rewarded for it. And, I was happy for people that received medals, because I didn’t know that sometimes the system was unjust. And since I was happy and proud of other people when they were rewarded, I foolishly assumed they’d be happy for me!

I’ve read in other Marine’s “Reflections” pages, that the whole issue “medals” is still controversial, and I’m not the only person who was ever caught up in all this nonsense, as that is exactly what it is. Because our Corps should be better than this, our Corps should not be unjust, and petty, and punish people that did something for the benefit of our Country & Corps, and yet, end up being treated as one of the “enemy”. I knew people when I was in, who literally, begged the people senior to them to give them an award for something, anything, especially the dreaded “end of tour award”. I knew many, many instances of Officers senior to me, writing or submitting their own awards! And, I knew people, peers of mine, who talked endlessly of getting an award, and that they’d do anything to stand out, get noticed, and get nominated for an award. I can state unequivocally that I never did any of those things, and I professionally despised those that did.

My LOM, I have mixed feelings about. I thought I did a “good” thing! I mean, how many Marine Corps Captains have ever gotten an LOM? But, less than six months after I received it, I went to Okinawa, and ran into a Colonel who didn’t have one, and he was my boss! He let everyone know that he’d show me, the Capt with the LOM, and he sure did! He “fired” me from my job, transferred me to another Regiment, and gave me a career-ending FITREP. Even the Regt SgtMaj came up to me as I was leaving and said “Sir, you’re one of the finest young officers I’ve ever known, and you are highly respected by the Regt SNCO’s, I have no idea why the CO is doing this to you, but it makes me glad I’m an enlisted man and not an officer, and I don’t have to put up with this political bullshit!” He shook my hand and turned around and walked away. When I went in to see the S-1, to check out, a 1stLt, he was handing me my transfer orders, and he looked at me and just shook his head. I said what’s wrong, and he said to me “I’ve never seen this Colonel treat anyone like he’s treating you, I don’t understand it, you are a good guy!” All I could say was “I’m getting that a lot right now!” As for the CO, he later made LtGen, so I guess he was “right” and I was wrong! I left the Corps 18 months later, because that’s what he wanted, and that’s what he engineered. Truthfully, as crazy as it sounds, my career in the Marine Corps came to an end, because the very man that was supposed to be my boss, my leader, my CO, my “mentor”, was jealous of my medal! Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?

I confess, I was bitter about the way it ended for a long time (but not about the rest, the good times, the Marines, etc.), but hindsight has brought some small modicum of wisdom over the issue. It wasn’t the “Corps” that did it to me, it wasn’t that honorable “institution”; it was one or two petty individuals in certain places in certain times, that intersected with me, and allowed that most base aspect of human nature, jealousy, drive their actions. I can put my head down on my pillow at night, knowing that I never did that to another fellow Marine; but I do wonder how they sleep at night?

My father taught me never to toot my own horn; so when all this crap was happening to me, I never stood up for myself, I kept foolishly believing that if I just worked harder, and did the right thing, that the “system” would take care of me! That didn’t work out that way.

A few years ago, I decided I was going to finally stick up for myself, and even though I had been awarded a LOM, that I was going to go back and get those medals that had been taken away from me! I mean, just like my career, I had a crazy run; between ’86 – ’92, a span of 6 years, I was awarded 4 personal awards, including a LOM as an 0-3, I was written up for 3 others, that jealous XO’s mainly, cashiered, and I was strongly considered for 2 others, that I was told in each case I probably should’ve gotten, and there was the probability of a 10th one as well. 3 were Marine, 3 were Navy & 4 Joint…..in baseball, .400 is pretty good.

So I decided a few years ago, that despite the LOM, and despite the wars and all the people who’ve served & sacrificed for real and never even gotten any medals; I was going to go back, and file petitions for as many of them as I could. The CO of 2nd LAV Bn at that time, Col L.C Gound, USMC (Ret), was a good and honorable man, who I knew didn’t know what the XO had done, and probably would’ve rectified it if I had looked him up, and told him. But, as with everything, I procrastinated out of guilt, and finally when I got the courage to Google his name a few months ago, and begin the process, I found out that Col L. C. Gound, a Marine Corps Hero from Vietnam, had passed away last year at the young age of 73; that kind of took the wind out of my sails; because the disgraced XO would never admit to having done what he did; and there is no one else that knew about it, except maybe the Adjutant. I’ve kind of given up on the Navy & Joint ones; no one involved from those days/times has enough integrity or honor to admit what they did, and rectify it; especially the former XO of the FOSIF!

I’ll also add this: IF I had it to do all over again; I’d turn down EVERY single medal I was ever nominated/written up for! I sincerely would! If I had been smart enough to do that in the beginning, I’d probably be a retired Colonel right now. The grief I had to bear, for a bit of colored ribbon, has not been worth it; not one iota!

As a postscript, I’d like to say I’m also very proud of the fact that while in Zakho, Iraq, the Recon Plt Cmdr & his Marines inducted me “honorarily” into the Recon Marines for something I did; hazing me, soaking me with water, then duck-taping me to a pole and giving me a nail file to free myself with. They also made me up a “Honorary” Recon Marine Plaque on an MRE case sleeve; which I still have & cherish. One of my prouder Marine Corps moments, and no one tried to take that one away from me!

WHICH INDIVIDUAL(S) FROM YOUR TIME IN THE MILITARY STAND OUT AS HAVING THE MOST POSITIVE IMPACT ON YOU AND WHY?

I served with, and for, many outstanding Marines. MajGen Ray Smith; MajGen Wayne Rollins; Col J.J. Kispert; General Johnston; Col Tony Gain; Col Andrew Finlayson; General Jim Jones; Lt Gen Mike Byron; MGen David Bice; Col Joe Streitz; Col Chris Gunther; Col Tommy Tyrrell; Col Phil Smith; Col Walt
Ford; Col George Bristol (he’s the Marine who instituted the Marine Corps Martial Arts program! George and I were in the same TBS Plt, and then in the same Basic Intel Officer’s Course) Capt Marc Luoma (USN); Capt Eileen Mackrell (USN); LtCol Ric Raftery; Capt Ray Cross (USN); Admiral Tony Less; Col L.C. Gound; Col Steve Hanson; Col Kyle Watrous; Col Eric Walters; LtCol Ray Leach; Major Mike Camstra; Major Mike Ettore; Major Terry Slatic; Sgt. Maj Len Koontz; etc.; and the many fine Marines that served me: Sgt Delgado; Sgt Martin; SgtMaj Jackson; Sgt John “Bo”; Sgt Nelson Torres; Sgt Watson; Sgt Boyce to name but a few. And, seven of my peers have made General, I found out some time ago (doesn’t say much about me, does it?) I was in OCS with MajGen Lew Craparotta; and I was in AWS with MajGen Mike Dana & BGen Dan Yoo. TBS & AWS MGen Richard Simcock; TBS with MGen Robert Hedelund. There’s two more, but I can’t remember their names right now!

But there are two Marines who stand out to me, for different reasons. One that will always epitomized the “Corps” to me, from the first time I saw him, to the last time I saw him, was SSGT, and later WO, Thomas Frush, who was my PltSgt in 2nd Plt, A Co., when I was at OCS! What an amazing, all around, squared away Marine.! And because of him, our Plt won the Drill Competition in OCS that year! Solely because of him. Don’t get me wrong, he WAS an “ass” a lot of the time, because he was doing his job! But he was ALL “Marine”! I only saw him once, after OCS; when I was at TBS, I was out running a trail one late Friday night by myself, and he comes jogging by! I stopped and said “SSGT Frush?” He stopped running, turned around, looked at me and said “It’s Warrant Officer now, Sir!”, and kept on running! Last I ever saw of him was his back! He was a hell of a Marine!

The second is Major Terry Slatic. Terry and I were LT’s together in 2/8, then l moved to 2nd LAV Bn and he came over there as well. When I became the CO of A Co, he was one of my Plt Cmdrs, and he did a great job. But Terry got a little disillusioned with the Corps, and got out as a Lt. Eighteen years later! During the height of the Iraq War, Terry, this time disillusioned with the way the Iraq War was being portrayed in the press, and the way the Marine Corps was also getting bad publicity, knocked himself in shape, and re-applied for his Commission! He got thru all the hurdles, paperwork, red tape, as well as physical requirements, and was re-commissioned a Captain in the United States Marine Corps after an 18 year gap! He was told by HQMC that he was the oldest Captain in the Corps, and he also set the record for “broken service”! After that, Terry deployed to Fallujah, Iraq for a tour, and the next year did a tour in Afghanistan. It’s an amazing story, and he has my complete, utmost & total respect & admiration for it.

PLEASE RECOUNT THE NAMES OF FRIENDS YOU SERVED WITH, AT WHICH LOCATION, AND WHAT YOU REMEMBER MOST ABOUT THEM. INDICATE THOSE YOU ARE ALREADY IN TOUCH WITH AND THOSE YOU WOULD LIKE TO MAKE CONTACT WITH.

Col Phil Smith, USMC (Ret); will always stand out to me. When I went into 2/8 in ’84 after they got back from Granada/Beirut, Phil was a Plt Co in G Co. Phil had been a GySgt (Sel) when he graduated from Texas A&M, and he was like a grandpa
when all of us new, hot-shot LTs got into the Bn. We were room-mates on the 85 float to the Med, and later on, it seemed that wherever I went in the Corps, there was always someone who knew Phil! Phil should’ve been a General, but retired a few years ago as a Colonel. Sometimes the Corps misses one I guess. I learned from Phil; the most important thing (not surprising, considering his background!): The MOST important thing you can do as an Officer, is take care of your MARINES! That’s it, that’s what it’s all about. Other than your primary mission as a Marine: “Close with and Destroy the Enemy” or “Accomplish the Mission”; there is no other single more important duty of a Marine Officer. Phil lived and breathed it, every single second he was an Officer. I’m not saying I was anywhere as good as him at it; but I did learn that from him, and I did try to emulate him after I learned it. I can say with humility, I had some small success with it though.

A couple of other good friends stand out too; Col Kyle Watrous, who was a peer & friend from my days in 2nd LAV’s; Maj Mike Camstra, from AWS & Okinawa, who became one of my best friends from all of my Corps days; Capt Paul Tiede, from 9th Marines in Okinawa; and Col Stephen McNulty, from my days in G/2/8; are all good people, Good Officers, Good Marines, one and all; and it was an honor to have them as Brothers-in-Arms! I’m a better person for having known them, and they made me a better Marine.

I could list many more, and may update this space later, but that’s the main one now; and via Together We Served, LinkedIn & Facebook; I’m now connected to dozens of my former Marines and peers & even seniors, that I want to be in contact with.

CAN YOU RECOUNT A PARTICULAR INCIDENT FROM YOUR SERVICE WHICH MAY OR MAY NOT HAVE BEEN FUNNY AT THE TIME, BUT STILL MAKES YOU LAUGH?

Most former Marines I talk to always say “It was the funny, or good times, that made it all worthwhile”. I second that emotion! The one story that always makes me laugh, at myself actually, happened when I was in TBS during the Fall of ’83. We were doing
our Long-Range Patrolling Tactics Package, and we were being instructed by a Captain Anderson, one of the few black Officers on the TBS staff at the time. Really good Officer, great Marine, and he knew his stuff, and was very impressive in his uniform and everything.

Anyway, I was out “patrolling” with my fellow LTs in our “Squad”. I was in the Recon element in the front of the main body, and there was about 3 other LTs who were in the recon fire team ahead of me, then me, then the main body behind me. We were out in those infernal Quantico woods, it was a sunny day, around noon, and it was very cool. I was coming down a steep slope, staying in contact with the LT in front of me, and I saw there was a good sized stream up ahead. As I got closer, I saw the LT ahead of me was crossing the stream, but he was very clever! He had found a tree which had fallen across the stream, and he just walked across it, staying completely dry of course! I got down to the stream, and I just knew it was cold, and I didn’t feel like getting wet or getting my M-16 wet, so I decided to follow suit, and I started across the log; which was only about 8 inches in diameter, and as soon as I started across, it started shaking like crazy, and I was wondering how my buddy had actually crossed the darn thing without falling off! I was about half way across, concentrating like crazy, trying not to fall in, and not drop my rifle when I heard this stentorian voice right behind me, to my right, shout “FREEZE Lieutenant!”.

I know, I was in TBS, and not in OCS, I was a commissioned 2nd Lt, not a “candidate”, but there was still enough of the “Candidate” in me that I immediately tried to come to the position of Attention, as I recognized Captain Anderson’s voice! I stayed upright on the log, at some semblance of “attention” for about 3 seconds, and then slowly tiled to my left, and started to fall into the stream! First though in my brain: DON’T GET YOUR RIFLE WET!” So, I opened my legs, and tried to drop down onto the log into a sitting position. I had been a wrestler in high school, and it flashed through my mind that I could actually drop down onto the log this way, straddle it, figure-4 it, and lock my legs underneath, and avoid falling into the stream, stay dry, and also keep my M-16 in hand! As soon as I started to fall towards the log, I had another flash thought go thru my brain: if I did this, I would land squarely on the log on my “family jewels”, and crush them to smithereens! So, halfway down, I kind of threw myself to the left, and still tied to wrap my legs around the log, but this time, with my right thigh as the center of gravity!. I actually accomplished it somehow, and grabbed onto the log, and wrapped my legs around it tight, and sat there for about 2 seconds. And because I was now about six inches out of the vertical, and leaning to the left, I, in slow motion, rotated to the left, and turned upside down, still gripping the log between my thighs. Only now, my head, shoulders, and upper torso were under water, as the stream level was only about 18 inches below the log! So here I am, hanging upside down under this darn log, head, upper body & my M-16 now in the water, and I’m trying not to panic, and decide what to do next, because everything had gone wrong.

My M-16 was wet, I KNEW Captain Anderson was watching, and I figured by now, probably most of my Plt! So, I did the only thing I could do, I let go of the log with my legs, and sank head first to the bottom of the stream! And my helmet, with my head in it, wedged in between two rocks on the bottom of the stream, and my feet were sticking up out of the water! Now I was in real trouble, because I could not free myself, without letting go of my rifle in the stream, and using my hands! I’m gulping water too by this point, and I opened my eyes, watched where I dropped my rifle, pushed up from the bottom of the stream/rocks with my hands, fortunately got my helmet (with my head still in it!) out of the rocks, reached down and grabbed my rifle, and started to surface! It then flashed through my mind, that I had to be “tactical” as I came out of the water, so I s…l…o….w…l…y let my helmet break the water, then my eyes, then I looked around s…l…o…w…l…y…stood up, and exited the stream on the far side, trying desperately to act “tactical”, also act as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred, and also desperately trying to retain even a minuscule shred of my dignity & professional reputation in front of my peers, but ultimately knowing I was failing! My fellow LTs in the Advance Recon element on the far side of the stream, were literally rolling on the bank laughing; I think one guy even peed himself. Back on the other bank Captain Anderson was just standing there, hands on his hips, staring at me! He finally said something to the effect of “I’ve never seen anything like that in my life.”; turned around and walked away shaking his head, and I never saw him again; ever!

Wish it was the cellphone-with-camera-age back then, I bet a video of that would go viral on the Internet within hours!

WHAT PROFESSION DID YOU FOLLOW AFTER YOUR MILITARY SERVICE AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOW? IF YOU ARE CURRENTLY SERVING, WHAT IS YOUR PRESENT OCCUPATIONAL SPECIALTY?

Well, I gravitated naturally to the Intel field; though I took a few detours. I tried private business for awhile, as a small business owner, and that didn’t work out. I then got into the Technology Recruiting field for about ten years. I did it, had some small success at
it, but didn’t really enjoy it. My first love has always been Intel Analysis, and with my background, over 35 years of experience now in the Middle East; I have worked for most of the past seven years doing North African/Middle Eastern/Levant/SE Asian OSINT analysis; with an emphasis on Islamic Fundamentalism, Jihadism, the Qutbiyyah, Salafiyyah, Sufism, etc. I’ve written a ton of Theological research papers on what drives the Salafi-Jihadis, something I’ve been research/writing on for more than 35 years; most of which I was able to get to a limited audience inside the Beltway over the past 20+ years; I even had a contract up until 7 years ago, to provide this type of insight to this “audience”. But we had a change in the Oval Office 7 years ago, and shortly afterwards, I was informed that my “opinions” were no longer needed, and since that time, I’ve gone to the Internet with a few articles; at americanthinker.com; but my stuff is more in-depth, detailed, and exhaustive than they want to put up there on a daily basis, so right now, I just keep up with my research, and write for my own edification. Maybe another change in Administration, and we can get back to focusing on the real threat; I’m ready if called! That was the second time in 13 years that I was told that my “opinions” on the Salafi-Jihadis were not wanted in the Oval Office/IC; the first was in June ’95, when I told a gathering of the IC down at FBI School in Quantico, what was coming with the Salafis! I was told my opinions were not valued in the Oval Office! I left the IC shortly afterwards! That attitude worked out real well for us, didn’t it?

In fact, as this section is being updated, the horrific attacks on Paris are unfolding, it’s just painful to watch, and humiliating to know that I I can add so much to this fight, but that we lack even the courage to admit that we are in a fight. We are NOT in a fight with a “group” or “terrorists” or an acronym (ISIS, IS, ISIL, AQ, or whatever!); we are in a much more difficult fight with a THEOLOGY! Until we admit THAT, we’re just pissing up a waterfall! It’s called Category Error: when you cannot even correctly define the problem, you cannot come up with correct solution! Political Correctness has now migrated down from the Oval Office to infect our very own Chain-of-Command from the DOD/Pentagon/Senior Officer Corps. When you have 0-6’s and above, saying that non-existent Climate Change is our single greatest National Security Threat, I know that we’re in severe trouble! I always end that discussion with: “Do you know they have found Dinosaur Fossils down in Antarctica” (A Fact, by the way, they even evolved HUGE eyes due to the low light levels, which proves they lived there for millions of years!) “So what Humans caused the Climate Change that turned Antarctica into a Hothouse for Dinosaur evolution for tens of millions of years! That ends the discussion every single time!

WHAT MILITARY ASSOCIATIONS ARE YOU A MEMBER OF, IF ANY? WHAT SPECIFIC BENEFITS DO YOU DERIVE FROM YOUR MEMBERSHIPS?

You know, basically none. I was in MCROA for awhile, but let that lapse. I haven’t joined the Legion, the VFW, or anything like that. So, no basic benefits for me! Right now, I think TWS is the only thing I belong to as of right now. Maybe I’ll join some later. I live in an isolated little rural town now, and we don’t have much of a veteran’s infrastructure around here, to tell the truth.

IN WHAT WAYS HAS SERVING IN THE MILITARY INFLUENCED THE WAY YOU HAVE APPROACHED YOUR LIFE AND YOUR CAREER?

Well of course it has in some ways, impacted every single day of my life since I left for OCS back in June of 1982. When I look back on my career, and the way it ended, and why it ended, I think of my father. He passed away sixyears ago at the age of almost 89, thinking I was a failure. A failure because I got passed over for Major in the Regular Corps, because of the imbroglio over my LOM. He couldn’t understand how I had been awarded so many medals for doing such a good job in such a short time, and still get passed over and have to get out.

But actually I attribute all that success, as shortlived as it was to him! Because he taught me one simple thing in life I always remembered, and which I always tried to live up to: “Do the best job you can, all the time, regardless of the job, and you’ll be successful”. He was right; that’s how I approached my time in the Corps, and that’s how I approach life nowadays if I can. In fact, my father’s approach, without him having ever served in the Corps, was a “Corps-like” approach, if you think about it., and that has always influenced me.

I’ve been out of the Corps, effectively since April 1995. That’s 20+ years! I only served a bit less than 12 years; so I’ve been out way longer than I actually served; and in fact; it still impacts my life on a daily basis; unfortunately, most of it negative. I never recovered personally or professionally from the whole LOM-fiasco; and the negative ramifications of it impact me to even this day; some seriously. I’ve lost family, friends, peers & even jobs over it; heck, a whole career, because of it.

Hence, it wouldn’t be complete without thanking the two women in my life; my mother Lois Armstrong, and my wife Marlyn; without whose unwavering support from both, I would’ve never made it through the past difficult 20+ years!

BASED ON YOUR OWN EXPERIENCES, WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO THOSE WHO HAVE RECENTLY JOINED THE MARINE CORPS?

I’m not egotistical enough to assume that I can give any Marines currently serving cogent, relevant advice! In the 20 years that I’ve been out, the whole landscape has changed; what with the two wars, the sequestration issue, changes in policy, tactics, promotions, etc. I guess I just basically can
say only things that sound kinda trite, but nonetheless are true: “Do your best; have fun; love your country & love your Corps”; but…and most important, because I did not do this: Have a plan B, just in case!!

That said, I will relate one thing that a wise General said to me once. It was then MGen Ray Smith. We were at a Mess Night in Okinawa, in 1994; it was several months before I got out of the Corps. After the meal, we were all sitting around the long table in the O’Club at Camp Foster, and MGen Smith was talking informally to a bunch of us Junior Officers. He said one thing that up until then, I had never heard anyone say before, when he was addressing a question someone asked him about what, in his experience was the difference between the Marine Corps and the other services. He said simply: “The Marine Corps is an Institution! We don’t run the Corps as a business, or a corporation, or a company; we are an institution. And, you do you know what an institution is, verses a business, or a corporation, or a company? An institution has history, and traditions, and rules, and values, and honor, and integrity, and culture!”

That was the most impressive thing I ever heard anyone say about the special, unique nature of the Marine Corps, and I’ve never forgotten it.

IN WHAT WAYS HAS TOGETHERWESERVED.COM HELPED YOU REMEMBER YOUR MILITARY SERVICE AND THE FRIENDS YOU SERVED WITH.

Love it, ever since a friend of mine invited me to join. It’s the “Facebook” of the Corps; and it’s a great tool. I appreciate it being there, and I’ve managed to connect with a few old Devil Dogs I served with. It’s also made me reflect back on everything; good & bad; motivated me to write my Reflections, and tell my story.

We used to say in TBS/IOC, when things were getting tough; “They can kill us, but they can’t eat us!” Just one of those ironic, nonsensical humor things to break the tension; of course, sometimes, we also reversed the saying a bit too, if we were really in a bad mood, but you get the idea.

Anyway, TWS has challenged me to confront my demons, and hopefully, it will be a positive experience going forward.

11
Apr

AMCS John J. Babstock U.S. Navy (Ret) (1984-2009)

Read the service reflections of US Navy Sailor:

babstockAMCS John J. Babstock

U.S. Navy (Ret)

(1984-2009)

Shadow Box: http://navy.togetherweserved.com/bio/JOHN.BABSTOCK

If you served in any branch of the U.S. Military, record your own military service story you can share with your family on TogetherWeServed.com.

PLEASE DESCRIBE WHO OR WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE NAVY?

To me, my Naval career started when I was a kid, listening to my grandfather’s sea stories. My grandfather was a GM during WW II; and served as a member of the armed guard on freighters & tankers. joinHe told me stories of his convoy duties, like fishing with hand grenades in the Pacific or sailing the North Atlantic in the winter. Those of us that have done that; know how much fun that can be!
One of the many benefits of growing up in New England; is the rich naval history that is preserved up and down the coast. One of the places he brought me; was Battleship Cove in Fall River, MA. We would walk around the USS Massachusetts (BB-59) along with the other ships. He would tell me about the guns, how to operate them and how to do PM on them.

Using boats on the river or planes flying by, he would show me how to aim at them. He told me that shooting down a maneuvering A/C like a zero was not easy. But once they picked a ship to attack it got easier, because they stayed in a straight line for a while, especially if they got tunnel vision. I would have never guessed, that over 40 years later in the Persian Gulf, I would use what he taught me. I really enjoyed those tours, it was great having my own personnel tour guide. He took me to see the movie Midway when it came out. He bought me my 1st peacoat, it doesn’t fit me anymore, but I still have it. So it seemed only natural that I would join the world’s greatest NAVY! He died 3 yrs before I could enlist.

In 1982 my buddies & I were hanging out at the USMC recruiting office and they showed us a tape of flight deck ops during the Vietnam War. I said I wanted to do that & work on F-4’s. Gunny Cherry said, Okay”, and he walked me to the Navy office. He told the PO1 that was sitting at the desk to make it happen or he would kill him. The PO1 said, “Yes Gunny”, and that was it!

WHETHER YOU WERE IN THE SERVICE FOR SEVERAL YEARS OR AS A CAREER, PLEASE DESCRIBE THE DIRECTION OR PATH YOU TOOK. WHAT WAS YOUR REASON FOR LEAVING?

Up until I watched that flight deck video at the USMC recruiting office, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do in the Navy. pathI just wanted to go to sea. But once I saw that video, I knew I wanted to work on the F-4’s on the roof.

So it was off to AMH school, there was 1 set of orders for F-4’s on the Midway. The guy ahead of me took those orders, he wanted to go to Japan. So then it was off to F/A-18 school in Lemoore, then to VFA-106 at Cecil Field.
After my 2nd enlistment and learning how fouled up the Chief’s Mess can really be, I decided to get out. I enlisted in the Reserves and stayed a brown shoe. I started out working in AIMD at NAS South Weymouth for 4 yrs. I then transferred to C-130’s for 10 yrs. The Herc community is a great community to be a part of.

In 2003 I was de-mobing in Norfolk and I was put in with a group of sailors that were from a boat unit. We started talking and they said they needed a Chief. They asked if I would come down and see what they were all about, so I did, I walked around the spaces at the New Haven, CT Reserve Center and I the talked with the CO & XO. They asked if I liked what I saw, I said yes and they asked when I could start. They didn’t care about the fact that I was a brown shoe and how they were going to work the billet problem.

Walking that transfer chit up the chain was an experience. I was asked more than once if this was a joke and “What the hell is IBU?”. I was told that I just ruined my chance for advancement by a few people. I told them, that I wanted to see how the other half lived in the black shoe Navy. When I made AMCS in ’05 while on my 2nd activation, those people who told me that I ruined my career sent me an email, saying they guessed they were wrong. I retired in ’09.

IF YOU PARTICIPATED IN ANY MILITARY OPERATIONS, INCLUDING COMBAT, HUMANITARIAN AND PEACEKEEPING OPERATIONS, PLEASE DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH WERE THE MOST SIGNIFICANT TO YOU AND, IF LIFE-CHANGING, IN WHAT WAY.

While assigned to VFA-82 on the America in ’89, we were suppose too be in Singapore for 7 days; but on our 3rd day LtCol Higgins (USMC) was killed by the terrorists who took him hostage. So we were called back to the ship and we high tailed it back combatto the coast of Iran, where we sat there for about 3 weeks loading & unloading A/C for missions that never happened.
One evening I was sitting on the alert 5 bird with the pilot. He was showing me pics of the ships he was assigned to destroy. They were our old Fletcher class destroyers. I asked if they were recent and he said yes. So we discussed the weapon systems they had and he asked why I knew so much about them, that I could have given him the intel brief. I told him about my grandfather and said that I have been on a few of them.

So we didn’t end up bombing Iran, but a few months later we ended up in participating in a rescue mission in Lebanon. We were with the Coral Sea battle group, we provided air support for the embassy rescue mission. The Coral Sea was supposed to relieve us, so we could go home, but she got her decom letter. So instead of us off loading stuff to her, she off loaded her stuff to us!

During that process a Russian destroyer was behind us. Every once in a while she would try to make a run between us. So we would close the gap and she would fall back & we would open up & she would try again. This went on a few times while the helos where doing their thing. Flight ops was suspended during this evolution, so a lot of people were on the roof of both ships. When we would close the gap a few hand gestures were passed back & forth between us sailors, along with a lot of banter! They were laughing, but not too many of us were! Whenever we did an unrep our skipper would have the song Coming to America by Neil Diamond played on the 1MC, so that was playing the whole time.

In ’05, I was the forward gunner on a 34′ Dauntless Sea Ark boat manning an M-60. We were on station at night at the port of Ash Shu’ay Bah Kuwait. A small craft with a flashing green light was entering our threat zone from under a pier. We started for the boat & manned our gun stations. We could not fire on the boat because the pier he came under was an LNG pier and a tanker was getting loaded at the time. You don’t want a stray round to hit anything on that pier!

So the Coxswain got on the inside track of him and once we cleared that pier & ship we would have a clear shot. He was holding his course until we were about 300′ from him and we turned our blue lights on. Once we did that, he turned hard to port to get the hell away from us. We turned with him, keeping us between him & the port entrance. We were broad side with about 100′ between us. The whole time I had my weapon pointed right at the 2 guys standing at the wheel. The port 50 would of taken care of the rest of the boat if need be. I was thinking the whole time “don’t point a weapon at us; I don’t want to kill you”. That was the 1st time I came close to killing someone with me pulling a trigger. I have loaded A/C with weapons and they have come back without them, but I never saw the end result. Standing behind a gun & seeing a person on the other end of the sights is a different story! You see the end result of what you just did. I can still see those men in that boat.

The Coxswain asked if we could go after the boat and the TOC denied the request. They said they passed the info to the Kuwaiti Navy & Coast Guard, they never found the boat. A few hours later we could hear a distress call from a ship, asking for help because it was being attacked by pirates. Since the ship was not an HVA, we could not go out to assist.

OF ALL YOUR DUTY STATIONS OR ASSIGNMENTS, WHICH ONE DO YOU HAVE FONDEST MEMORIES OF AND WHY? WHICH ONE WAS YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?

I always look back at my flight deck time with ’82 as fond times. I loved working the roof, being at sea and the guys I worked with. My time with 62 was great, did a lot of fun things and went a lot of places.

My time with IBU favoritewas the end of my career and I enjoyed being on the boats and most of the people I deployed with. When you spend 10 or 12 hrs a day on a patrol boat with 3 or 4 other people you can’t help but build a special bond. Just like the bond you build with people you trust your life with!
As for my least favorite part of my career! It was dealing with the bad E-7’s, E-8’s & E-9’s. In VFA-106 I had and E-7 who thought all of us line rats were no good. He didn’t believe in, if you take care of your sailors, they will take care of you. So he treated us like crap & we treated him like crap. When he screwed up, he blamed it on us, but we made sure everyone knew that he was the screw up.

In VFA-82 I had another fouled up CPO mess. They thought they were above the law. As far as us E-4 & below in the line shack were concerned, there was only 1 Chief in the unit, ADC Broom. He stood up for us & he paid the price for not touting the line. One night while working the roof, I got into an argument with and AMC and he proceeded to try to throw me down a running intake. Lucky for me the pilot saw it and he throttled back the engine, while I was holding a pad eye. The pilot never said a word! I told my guys who saw it, to stay out of it. I didn’t want them to get caught up in my fight!

I was told by the E-8 & E-9 of the Maintenance Dept to keep my mouth shut or else. I was fighting for custody of my daughter at the time & we had another deployment coming up. I was told they wouldn’t put me on it. Well when the list came out I was # 1 on it. I kept my mouth shut until then. When I was checking out of the command, I told the CO he doesn’t run the unit and I told him the entire story. He was not happy. That again, is another story!

I visited that unit a year later and a few of my old friends were still there. They told me what happened after I left. They said the CO went nuts and he and the new black shoe Master Chief cleaned house. The AMHC never saw E-8 & the E-8’s never saw E-9.

I saw my old CO a few years after that. He flew into NAS South Weymouth, I was working as a crash crew firefighter on the base. We were driving by the A/C and I saw him. I caught him coming out of the hangar. He saw me, called me over, we talked & laughed. He told me what happened after I left, I told him that I heard. He asked if I would launch him out later that day. So I prepped the bird like old times, got him strapped in like old times, we said goodbye, I told him to have a good flight and I launched him off like old times. That was the last time I touched a running hornet. I have to admit, it felt good crawling under that bird doing my checks. I missed it! I got into a habit way back when, when I saw the pilot coming out to the A/C; I would tap the A/C and tell it to take care of him (we didn’t have female pilots back then). I did it with the Hercs also and when I get into an A/C.

While assigned to IBU-22, we had to deal with a squadron CPO mess who thought they were above regulations & thought they deserved special treatment. They didn’t like being told they were wrong or that they didn’t get special treatment from me. To me an anchor didn’t mean you are special and deserve better treatment. Some people forget where they came from and expect special treatment. Most of the E-9’s in the squadron didn’t have any balls, they just kissed the O’s butts! The ones who didn’t kiss butt, got assigned to the PLATS, UAE or Bahrain, that also went for some of the O’s who didn’t play along either.

FROM YOUR ENTIRE SERVICE, INCLUDING COMBAT, DESCRIBE THE PERSONAL MEMORIES WHICH HAVE IMPACTED YOU MOST?
08011-N-0292S-146In my career I have had a few close calls, where I could have been killed or seriously hurt. I have also seen some of my friends & sailors get hurt. The time I was looking down my M-60 at the human being I might have to kill, was eye opening. I don’t take life for granted, it is too short. So I try to enjoy as much as I can and laugh as much as possible.
WHAT ACHIEVEMENT(S) ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF FROM YOUR MILITARY CAREER? IF YOU RECEIVED ANY MEDALS, AWARDS, FORMAL PRESENTATIONS OR QUALIFICATION BADGES FOR SIGNIFICANT ACHIEVEMENT OR VALOR, PLEASE DESCRIBE HOW THESE WERE EARNED.

I was coming up to the end of my time with VFA-106. The Rear Admiral who got me into & kept me out of trouble on a few occasions, asked me if I would consider coming to D.C. to be his personal P/C. 106 was a RAG outfit and I really wanted to go to sea. He said he understood, he told me that if I ever needed anything, that I was to call on him anytime.

I was launching 1 of the instructor pilots, Maj. Hedges, on my last week working the line in 106. As I was strapping him in, he told me “that it was an honor to have known me and that I would have made a hell of a Marine. He knew that when he is strapped into a bird I prepped, that it was a good bird and the cleanest cockpit he flew in! He also kept me out of the brig once.

With VFA-82, I was again assigned to the line division. Back then people could enlist for 2 years and as a group. Well, we got 1 of these groups, a bunch of kids straight from the hoods of NYC and fresh out of high school. They were a good group of kids, they did not take life to serious and they called me Grandpa, I was 24.

I taught them everything I knew about the Hornet and they soaked it all in. We were at sea and one of them was working days and I worked nights as a T/S. One day, Airman Banks came to my bunk shaking me awake. He was all excited and he woke all of us night checkers up. I asked what was wrong and he said nothing, so I said “Why in the hell are you waking me up?” He said that his bird just caught fire and that he put it out all by himself. I asked; if he and the pilot were okay, he said “Yes”, I said, “Good job”, and that I was proud of him. He said, “Thank you for everything”. The guys awake asked if they could go back to sleep now and he went back to work.

Another moment was my retirement ceremony. My present Sailors and some from my past; gave me a great send off that I, my family and friends will never forget!

There are many 1 on 1 moments with sailors thru out my career like above, that make me proud of my time in the Navy. When I have been asked to make entries into my sailors charge books! When I got asked to be the guest speaker at a retirement ceremony or asked to plan or participate in a ceremony and they tell me why. All of these are proud moments. valorBut the proudest moment was with 3 of my daughters. Mackenzie was in 2nd grade and Isabella was in kindergarten. In 2007 I was shipping out for their 3rd activation in 5 yrs. I was asked to go into their school and talk with their classes, which I did. I showed up in my cammies, with my other daughter Hadley.
When I got to the classroom door, they both looked at me with the biggest smiles.They got up, ran over to me, turned to their classmates and said, “This is my Dad, he is in Navy”. They walked me to the chair that was put out for me. I fielded questions for about 30 minutes, they never left my side and they just held my hands the entire time. Country artist Keni Thomas (an Army Ranger from Blackhawk down) says it best in his song, “That One is My Dad”; he says it for all us proud parents!

OF ALL THE MEDALS, AWARDS, FORMAL PRESENTATIONS AND QUALIFICATION BADGES YOU RECEIVED, OR ANY OTHER MEMORABILIA, PLEASE DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH ARE THE MOST MEANINGFUL TO YOU AND WHY?

My 1 & only NAM that I got while in VFA-82 in ’88. When I left 106 to go to 82, I thought, yes I will finally get to work in the airframes shop, boy was I wrong again! I was told that I would go to 1st Lt, because they didn’t want to contaminate me with old technology. I raised the B/S flag to PO1 Plate everyday and asked if I could go back to 106 and at least keep my quals up? The 1st kept on saying no, then they finally got sick of the bitching. So they sent me to VFA-87 instead, where I spent the next 4 months working with them. I did workups with them, I kept my quals up and got a few more in the process. I had a great time with them. When it was time to transition from the A-7’s to F/A 18’s, they called me back.

medalsI found out that the command was going to put me back in the line to set up the line & T/S Div. I was also tasked with training the command on how to operate and work around the 18’s. I put a lot of time & effort into it. Our CAG was in Fallon doing our bombing quals. I was the night check T/S Sup and we were launching out a mission. I was walking down the line & a bird was taxing from the arming point, on it’s way too take off. I just happened to see that a door under the port engine was open. I stopped the pilot, who was LCDR Wirt, he came from Pax, where he was a test pilot. He was a great pilot! It turns out that there were 3 doors open on his A/C. As I was sending him off, he asked why I stopped him. I signaled that a door was open & I would tell him when he got back.
So he left and I found the guys who checked him out & told them what happened. He came back and he came looking for me, I was hoping he would forget, but he didn’t. I told him that I found a door open, not 3, he thanked me and said good job, and it was genuine. He never mentioned it again. Later on back at Cecil, my LPO asked me about it and said that Mr. Wirt told him about it. He asked who checked him out, I told him I handled it and that was it.

Well later on at quarters, I was up with the guys who were getting promoted,(I was getting E-5). We got dismissed, but CDR Eason told me to stand fast, which I did. He walked up to me and looked down at me. I’m 6′ when standing tall, his call sign was lurch and for good reasons! He pinned the NAM on me as the XO was reading the award. It turns out that Mr. Wirt wrote me up for a COMM for that trip, but it got knocked down to a NAM. As AMC Hawkins pointed out to me, E-4’s don’t deserve a COMM for doing their job! To a point I agreed with him, I was doing my job when I closed those doors. But all the other admin stuff I did to set up those divisions were way above & beyond an E-4’s job. Especially when an E-5 & E-6 were assigned to those divisions. CDR Eason thanked me for all the hard work I did to get the command up & running and combat ready. After quarters Mr. Wirt came up and thanked me again!

WHICH INDIVIDUAL(S) FROM YOUR TIME IN THE MILITARY STAND OUT AS HAVING THE MOST POSITIVE IMPACT ON YOU AND WHY?
personIn a positive way, Gunnies Cherry, Hunsinger, Birdsong, Lawrence, MSgt Dugan, MGySgt Lord, CPO Broom, Maj Hedges, CDR’s Eason, Mustin, LeClair, and Desormier. They all cared about their Marines & Sailors, They all had their own way of leading, and over all they all tried to do right by us. Even all of the bad CPO’s I have dealt with have had a positive effect. They taught me and all the others that were exposed to them, what not to be or do as a person in a leadership role.
PLEASE RECOUNT THE NAMES OF FRIENDS YOU SERVED WITH, AT WHICH LOCATION, AND WHAT YOU REMEMBER MOST ABOUT THEM. INDICATE THOSE YOU ARE ALREADY IN TOUCH WITH AND THOSE YOU WOULD LIKE TO MAKE CONTACT WITH.

Where to begin, in 25 yrs you make meet a lot of people. The 1st guy to mention is AMH2 Jeff Chessick. We met in F/A-18 school & we went to VFA-106 together. He was a great mentor & is a great friend. I don’t know if they still show peoplethat training movie the 1st 48 hrs to the new guys, but he made sure I didn’t get with the wrong crowd. We still talk and him & his wife Joellyn sends my girls b-day cards every yr & X-mas cards.
Next would be Adam & Jada Gray, we worked the line together in 106. They visit when they are in the area & we visit when we are down in there next of the woods. 106 was a big command with a lot of good people. There was Hughey & carrie from my 87 days, I visit them when I’m in Fla. Then there is Jay & Chubs from my 82 days. We still talk & send emails back & forth. I have been to God’s (Texas) country as they call it, but they haven’t been up here in Yankee country as they call it. There is Chris, Dave, Darrin, Dilts & so many others from my AIMD & 62 days. I still talk with & see some of them. Then there are my boat days, again so many great people. I couldn’t possibly name them all! I still talk & see a lot of them. With promotion and retirement ceremonies I get to keep up with them. Had a lot of good times in my career, with a lot of good people. I have very few regrets with my career.

CAN YOU RECOUNT A PARTICULAR INCIDENT FROM YOUR SERVICE WHICH MAY OR MAY NOT HAVE BEEN FUNNY AT THE TIME, BUT STILL MAKES YOU LAUGH?

While assigned to F/A-18 school in Lemoore, I was the only boot in the class. Everyone else came from the fleet, mostly from A-7’s & F-14’s. Back then the movie Blue Thunder was popular. If you remember the movie, one you are old and two you remember the JAFO hat. Well the guys gave me a JAFA hat and they made me wear it around the base. Only one person ever asked me what it stood for and it was a Commander. We were walking to class; he stopped us, called me over and asked what JAFA stood for.

So there I was, a boot E-3 wondering what the hell I was going to tell him and so were the guys. So finally, I just came out and told him exactly what funnyit meant, “just another f—–g airman sir”. He stood there for a brief moment, looked at me & the guys standing behind me, laughed and said, “Carry on.” I said “Yes Sir” saluted & walked away.
In VFA-106, a Rear Admiral was the one who got me in trouble and he was the one who got me out of trouble. We were on board ship; I was part of a detachment for a pilot class doing their carrier quals. The Admiral was just keeping his current.I had been a P/C for him about yr & a half now, he was assigned to the wing at Cecil. So our relationship was a typical P/C pilot relationship.

I had just finished launching him and I passed him over to the waiting ABH. We were on elevator 1 & as he taxied by me, he flipped me the bird. I looked around to see if he did it to someone else. I pointed at myself while looking at him and he shook his head yes. We both started laughing, so I flipped him back, turned to walk away and guess who was standing behind me, my least favorite ADC. Well he started in on me & said he was going to write me up, which was normal for him. hand-pen-paper-8003027So I did what I usually did when he did that, I threw my pen at him, said “Start f—–g writing”. The pen bounced off of him & I picked it up, I didn’t want to put FOD on the roof!

By the time I got off the roof and in the shop, Gunny Birdsong was waiting for me. He asked, if I really flipped off the Admiral & threw my pen at the E-7 (everyone called him the E-7), I told him yes! He shook his head, started to laugh, he couldn’t stand ADC either, not too many people could! Anyway, he told me that I have to stop throwing pens at him. Gunny was there to escort me to the OIC to sign my report chit, which I did.

So the Admiral is the last one down and I go to unstrap him. He starts laughing and says “Babstock you are the only guy who has ever flipped me back”. I started laughing and told him what happened. As we were walking back to the island, he told me that he would take care of it, and he did.

On one of the many Fallon trips I went on while in 106, way before they put a permanent detachment there, Major Hedges kept me from the brig. I was accused of DUI & destruction of government property. That’s a whole other story all in itself. The only thing was, I didn’t drink & he knew it, plus the fact nothing came up on all of the tests I had to go through! He didn’t like the fact that the command was going to hide a LCDR who got busted for a DUI in town on the same trip & they were going to keel haul me! So he raised the BS flag and my charges were dropped.

fallonI spent more time at NAS Fallon, or on a ship than I did at Cecil. Myself & LCPL Gray worked mids on the wash rack for 3 months straight, 7 days a week. Our first skipper didn’t believe in time off, unless you worked topside inside the nice air conditioned office spaces. We averaged 3 to 5 A/C a night, depending how dirty they were. That was us getting them off the line and us bringing them back ourselves, just the two of us. Who needs wing walkers!

One Sunday morning, we got challenged by I believe by LCPL’s Faulkner & Folsom on who could take a bird back to the line and bring another back to the wash rack the fastest. The birds sat side by side on the rack and we told them we would take the inside bird to make it even. Everyone laughed & they took the outside bird. We both hooked up and Adam got in the seat and I drove. They were able to pull right out, we had to back out.

So it is a Sunday and nobody else is working, so we thought. So we take off, of course we are behind them, I mean right behind them. Our right wing tip was right behind their left wing tip! I went to go around & they cut us off a few times. We made our time up when it came to hooking up to the other bird. Adam drove back & I rode the seat, we beat them back. When we got back to the shack, Gunny Hunsinger was there waiting for us. We walked in, sat down and didn’t say a word. He looked at all of us and asked if the birds were ready and we said yes. He said good: he turned to us and said something like “the next time you want to f–king drag race with millions of dollars of A/C, make sure the Admiral isn’t watching, you f–king idiots”. We denied everything!

The Admiral was the same Admiral who flipped me off. His office was in VA-174’s hangar which was next to ours. He did mention the race the next time I launched him! He was one of the coolest Admirals I ever knew.

womenIn the mid 80’s, the Navy’s top brass, in its infinite wisdom (because the politician’s said they had too) decided that it was time for females to be able to work on the roof with non-combat commands. So they decided to let RAG outfits send females aboard carriers. Well guess what div had the most girls, yup the line div, my div. So I’m on the 1st detachment that is sending girls to do carrier quals.

We have girls with us; I was tasked with showing 2 of them around the roof to give them the safety brief and they were going to be with me when the A/C arrived. You are thinking lucky guy right! When it came to working the roof, my attitude was this. If I could trust you to get me out of trouble if I got in it, then I didn’t care who or what you were. If I couldn’t, then I didn’t want you around me at anytime!

So myself and the 2 girls are walking around the roof. I see the Capt & an Admiral walking around the deck with their marine guards in tow. Well the 2 girls are behind me. We are coming up on the 2 officers, well they both come running up to me calling my name and they both goosed me! I turned beat red, I couldn’t say a word, I put my head down and just stood there waiting for the hammer to fall. The Capt & Admiral just laughed along with the rest of them. I was mortified! The girls could not stop laughing, they grabbed me by the arms and walked me off.

The Capt had armed guards stationed at every hatch that led to a female berthing area! They were not allowed to wander around the ship by themselves either. So those of us that brought them were considered very lucky guys for the most part. We considered them just another Sailor, but for a ship & crew that never worked with females before, they were thought of differently and it was obvious! The current sub crews are now going through what the rest of the fleet went through back in the mid & late 80’s. It will be a big transition for them!

With 82; we were getting a launch ready; a P/C asked me to look at his bird, so I did, I said the A/C was down. I was looking for the flight deck chief to tell him & the pilot came out. maxresdefaultIt was Mr. Smith a damn good pilot! I told him the plane was down, he asked why, I told him and he said don’t worry about it. I said it isn’t safe and he said he wanted to fly. I said OK, it’s your life, hoping that would stop him, it didn’t. So he starts it up, I wait for the P/C to hand it over to me, my partner & we do our checks. I salute him & do the sign of the cross & I hand him over to the waiting ABH. He looked at me shaking his head & I could see him say WTF. He shuts the bird down, the P/C puts the ladder down. He walks up to me & says & I quote “Babstock you are a F–kKING A–HOLE” & walks off too the island. I said “I told you it was unsafe” as he was walking off.

He left the Navy after that deployment to become an airline pilot. I was the P/C for his last flight with us. As I was strapping him in, he said thanks for that night on the roof. I told him I was just doing my job. He wished me luck with everything that was going on. I wished him luck with his future. When he landed, we shook hands and I never saw him again. I left for an around the horn cruise before he checked out. He was a great pilot & a good man!

Another 82 story is with a pilot named Wyle. So I get this MAF from M/C saying that F/C computer #1 would not work in the O F F position. I laugh & say this must be a joke. So I go down to M/C (I had to go to supply for parts anyway) & talk with them in there, saying ha ha nice joke. They said it isn’t a joke, he was actually serious. So I go across the way to the Hornets nest & the O’s are watching a movie.

So I go in, sit down next to Mr. Wyle & I ask him to read it. So he does, he looks at me, I ask if it is a joke. Now we are whispering because the movie is on & the CO & XO are sitting behind us. I said read it again & I get the same response. I said, read it again but out loud, by this time the CO & XO are listening to what is going on. So he reads it out loud, the F/C computer #1 won’t work in the OFF position. Then it clicks and the light goes on in his head. Just as the CO slaps the back of his head & calls him an idiot. The room busts out laughing, I told him that I was going to A 779 it & sign it off, if he didn’t mind. As I was walking out I said,”it only takes a high school education to fix a college education f–k up”! The room busted out laughing again. He was the pilot in the A/C during my intake incident.

WHAT PROFESSION DID YOU FOLLOW AFTER YOUR MILITARY SERVICE AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOW? IF YOU ARE CURRENTLY SERVING, WHAT IS YOUR PRESENT OCCUPATIONAL SPECIALTY?

jobWhen I got off of active duty in ’90, I got a job as a firefighter for the Navy at NAS South Weymouth. The base got its shut down notice, so it was time to get another job. When I was still on active duty in ’89, I went home on leave between cruises and took the state firefighter test. I ended up getting a job with & still am a firefighter for my home town. I am a 3rd generation fireman. I also drive a small ferry boat around Boston Harbor on my days off from the station.
WHAT MILITARY ASSOCIATIONS ARE YOU A MEMBER OF, IF ANY? WHAT SPECIFIC BENEFITS DO YOU DERIVE FROM YOUR MEMBERSHIPS?

I am part of the local VFW. Up until I had kids, I liked to volunteer on board the USS Salem CA-139. Someday when they have flown the coup, I will return to doing that.

IN WHAT WAYS HAS SERVING IN THE MILITARY INFLUENCED THE WAY YOU HAVE APPROACHED YOUR LIFE AND YOUR CAREER?

As we all know; we come to rely on others to keep us safe and they rely on us to keep them safe. It is part of being in the military and we learn it very young! Being a P/C, T/S, mechanic, manning a weapon, running a boat influencecrew, a shop sup, an LPO or a CPO puts a lot of responsibility on a person.
Attention to detail is not just a catchphrase that we say. It is something we live by, because if we lose our focus, someone could or will die or get seriously hurt! Those of us that rely on equipment to work properly, learn how to take care of it for obvious reasons. As Gunny Highway say’s (another old movie) “you have to learn how to improvise, adapt and overcome any situation”.

Well, I carry that way of thinking to my fire dept job, always have! I have been ridiculed for it and a lot of laughs have been had for it. When I use to drive, guys would throw a bolt or something under my truck. Because they knew; I would see it and I would go over that truck until I found where it came from. They would just sit and watch or they would just leave. They also knew, that if I was driving; that the truck & everything on it was ready to go! We all got a good laugh.

Now that I don’t drive anymore, I tell and teach my drivers what I expect from them. I tell them that I want to go home to my family at the end of the shift and it might have to be up to them to make sure it happens.

As for how the military influences my interactions with my family? Well they would have to answer that one. Some of it is good and some of it isn’t as far as they are concerned, I’m sure! We all know the family of a service member has the toughest job, hands down!

BASED ON YOUR OWN EXPERIENCES, WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO THOSE WHO HAVE RECENTLY JOINED THE NAVY?

The 1st thing I would tell someone; is to take full advantage of everything the Navy has to offer! Take & go to as many schools & classes as you can, get a degree, get as many quals as you can. Do as many rating books as you advicecan, some are worth college credit & retirement points!
Learn how to read your service record; your service record is your responsibility, no one else’s! The people who are responsible to make entries into it are human beings. Which means; they can & do make mistakes & they can be lazy just like you? If you do not know how to read it, then who will catch a mistake? Not every LPO or CPO reads their Sailors records, because no one taught them. Sit down with your admin dept, an LPO or CPO and have them teach you! It’s your career; a screwed up record can haunt you well after you get out or retire! You don’t want to try to fix it when you get out, it is damn near impossible!

Take writing courses and buy Naval writing books. Learn how to write your own evaluation. When your shop supervisor or LPO asks for input, give it to them. Again it is your career, take a hold of it and run it! When you move up in rank, you will be writing evaluations & awards for your sailors! They deserve your time & best effort.

Be fair, honest, and trustworthy, treat your fellow Sailors with respect & treat them as individuals. Take pride in your uniform & in every task assigned to you. Don’t be afraid to stand up for what is right. Pay attention to detail, a life may depend on it & it might be yours!

Take the initiative; if you see a problem that needs to be fixed, try to fix it! If you can’t, then find someone who can! Don’t be the problem, be the solution. There are many ways to do things, the Navy way, the wrong way & your way. If you fail on your 1st attempt, then try again, keep trying until the problem is fixed or you accomplish the task. A good sup will give you some line to explore, but they will not let you hang yourself. If you need help, then ask, if you don’t know the answer, then find it or find someone who does! We are a team: no one can run a dept, an op, ship or A/C by themselves.

Try to have as much fun as possible, take lots of pics. Do not be like me and have to rely on your memory to remember the good times! Trust me: when you get out or retire you will tell sea stories, let them be good ones! Remember, you represent everyone who is or has ever worn a uniform. Trust me when I say, people are watching. You have joined the world’s greatest navy. Don’t let us down!

IN WHAT WAYS HAS TOGETHERWESERVED.COM HELPED YOU REMEMBER YOUR MILITARY SERVICE AND THE FRIENDS YOU SERVED WITH.

It has hooked me back up with old Sailors. Answering these questions have brought back old memories, that I haven’t thought of for a very long time.

7
Dec

CMSgt William Hamilton U.S. Air Force (1977-Present)

Read the service reflections of US Airman:

hamiltonCMSgt William Hamilton

U.S. Air Force

(1977-Present)

WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE MILITARY?

I was born in the Air Force. My father was stationed in Waco, Texas when I was born in an Air Force hospital. I grew up moving every year to a new assignment with my father, mom and sister. I loved living near the airplanes and the annual airshows was one of the best days of the year. By the time I started high school other things had peaked my interest, mainly sports and girls and not necessarily in that order. This was the late 60’s and Vietnam was in the headlines every night. My older classmates were joining up or getting drafted and it was a noble and honorable thing. By my graduation year in 1970, the war had turned ugly and the media and public were protesting it nightly. My father had retired from the Air Force and we lived miles from any air bases. I had a fairly high draft number and sat out my “draftable” year in college without any concerns about military service. Within a couple of years, I got married, got a job and started my adulthood. By 1975 I really started thinking about the military again. I’d watch aircraft contrails fly high overhead and wonder where they were headed. I started reading aviation books and magazines again. I went to the Air Force recruiters and took the AFQT to see what I was qualified to do. I did well but recruiters have a job and that is to put people in career fields that have shortages. I held out for a while as I learned more about jobs which would allow me to fly initially.

WHAT WAS YOUR SERVICE CAREER PATH?

I wanted to fly. As an enlisted person, my options were limited. Aircraft loadmaster was one of the few jobs that allowed me to fly so that’s what I signed up for. I became a C-141A loadmaster and enjoyed it greatly. After about 8 years and 5000 flying hours I became a MAC ALCE loadmaster for about 10 years and got a much better view of the big picture through the Wing, numbered AF and HQ deployments. I then became an Air Reserve Technician and returned to the flying squadrons as a Scheduler/Training NCO and Flight Examiner. I later became the squadron loadmaster supervisor and then squadron superintendent before moving to the group retiring as a group enlisted superintendent for six squadrons.

DID YOU PARTICIPATE IN COMBAT OPERATIONS? IF SO, COULD YOU DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH WERE SIGNIFICANT TO YOU?

In 1979 and early 1980 I flew several support missions which were part of the Iranian Rescue mission attempt. It was all very secretive and since it was not successfully executed, not much ever came out publicly. I flew several support missions into Grenada after the invasion in 1983. One of them was dragging back several Army helicopters shot up in the operation. Also flew several missions into Panama after the successful invasion there in 1989. In August of 1990 when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, I deployed as an ALCE Loadmaster for nearly three months. We got the 24th Infantry Division (Mechanized) from Fort Stewart, GA shipped out of town and over to the desert. I then deployed forward for nearly nine months as the ALCE Superintendent in the 1610 Airlift Division in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. By 1993 I returned to flying full time as a C-141 loadmaster and flew combat support missions into Bosnia in the mid-90’s. I flew into the Kosovo Theater in 1999 during NATO operations following my transition to a new C-17 squadron. Following the 9/11 Terrorist’s attacks, I flew many missions supporting combat operations into Afghanistan and later Iraq when we went into there in 2003. All my wartime service was significant to me.

WHICH, OF THE DUTY STATIONS OR LOCATIONS YOU WERE ASSIGNED OR DEPLOYED TO, DO YOU HAVE THE FONDEST MEMORIES OF AND WHY?

Being assigned to the 1610th Airlift Division during the first Gulf War in 1990-91. I really had a great sense of accomplishment with what we had done when it was all over.

FROM YOUR ENTIRE SERVICE CAREER WHAT PARTICULAR MEMORY STANDS OUT?

Going to Saudi Arabia in 1990 was probably the most rewarding assignment of my career. Throughout the late 70’s and 80’s we built up our military and trained as though WWIII with the Russians could start at any moment. By 1990 we were be best trained and equipped military the world has ever seen. All that training paid off and we continued to train in that desert environment until we picked the time and place we wanted to start the operation. I worked over 120 days in a row at one point with no time off. We worked 12-hour shifts but with travel time it became 14 to16 hour days. When I returned home in June of 1991, I was very proud of what we had accomplished and that all my training had finally been utilized.

WERE ANY OF THE MEDALS OR AWARDS YOU RECEIVED FOR VALOR? IF YES, COULD YOU DESCRIBE HOW THIS WAS EARNED?

I received a Bronze Star for my service during Operation DESERT STORM in 1991. I was awarded the Aerial Achievement Medal for flying combat missions during the NATO Operation in Kosovo in 1999. During Operation’s ENDURING FREEDOM and IRAQI FREEDOM I received several Air Medals. Like everybody else, I was just doing my job.

OF THE MEDALS, AWARDS AND QUALIFICATION BADGES OR DEVICES YOU RECEIVED, WHAT IS THE MOST MEANINGFUL TO YOU AND WHY?

The Bronze Star Medal in 1991 for Operation DESERT STORM since it was my highest. I deployed to Saudi, Kuwait, and Iraq and saw much of the carnage the Iraqis had inflected on Kuwait as well as the aftermath of our bombing operations on the Iraqi’s. The medal was totally unexpected but helped open many opportunities for me later in my career. However the Air Medal was the one I always coveted as a flyer. I didn’t get those till late in my career but the wait was worth it.

WHICH INDIVIDUAL PERSON FROM YOUR SERVICE STANDS OUT AS THE ONE WHO HAD THE BIGGEST IMPACT ON YOU AND WHY?

No doubt that would have to be my first boss SMSgt Art Dodgins. He was a rough gruff WWII vet who I thought was a hundred years old at the time. He smoke unfiltered Pell Mell Red cigarettes and drank Scotch with just a splash of water. He mentored me without me having a clue what he was doing. He watched after me early in my career and told me when it was time for me to be an instructor and flight examiner and later leaving the unit and becoming an ALCE Loadmaster. It wasn’t until I became a SNCO that I realized what he was doing and I’ve tried to lead other young airman down that path. He knew what it took to get promoted and he made sure I was ready when the time came.

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26
Oct

LtCol Carl A. Reynoso USMC (Ret) (1975-2010)

View the service Reflections of US Marine:

moochLtCol Carl A. Reynoso

USMC (Ret)

(1975-2010)

Shadow box: http://marines.togetherweserved.com/profile/30896

(Veterans – record and share your own service story with friends and family by joining www.togetherweserved.com. This is a free service)

WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE MILITARY?
1I was a Navy brat growing up in a number of Naval Stations in the Pacific: NAS Agana, Guam; Pearl Harbor NB, Hawaii; and NAS Sangley Point, Philippines. I always thought that I would join the Navy and be like my dad who was a Senior Chief (DKCS) but as I grew older I started noticing that this other service was also on our bases. They wore different uniforms (khaki/trops/sateens) and carried themselves more professionally than Sailors – turns out they were Marines. I was also into reading history books at the time and read more and more about these Marines and determined that I just had to become one of them too. This really pissed off my Dad! Even though I was the son of a career Navy man, the Marine Corps mystique fascinated me. I always knew the Marines were different, better than Sailors. When I told my Dad that I wanted to be a Marine, he laughed, said I lacked the self-discipline it took to be a Marine. “You won’t last in the Marines. YOU? You can’t even hold on to a job, you’ll get busted!” he often told me. As a teenager I was wild, on the loose, vandalizing, and stealing, (luckily I was too crafty to be caught which came in handy later in my career as a Recon Marine). I ditched school to surf and couldn’t hold onto any jobs. My life was spiralling down in an unhealthy direction. I was a long-haired surf bum, hung out at the beach and although I was an Honor Student, I hated high school, stuff like that. I wasn’t into drugs or anything like that, but it would have only been a matter of time before something like that would have come along.

Fortunately, I liked to read and had spent a lot of time reading 20th century military history. Primarily about the Marines in Korea, Vietnam, and those who landed on Tarawa and Iwo Jima and the other Pacific Islands. I was intrigued by the Corps’ purported fighting spirit, their élan in battle. That picture of the Flag Raising on Mount Suribachi, every time I looked at it chills ran up and down my spine. They still do now. When I saw that photo I wanted to be one of them, to have in some way what they had at that very instance. In the photo you couldn’t even see their faces. They were anonymous as it could have been any Marine in any war and all that mattered was the group, not the individuals. It wasn’t because I wanted to be a hero, or even to be considered heroic. It had something to do with what the picture embodied, a group of individuals working together IWO JIMA FLAG RAISINGas a team for some higher purpose that was more important than themselves. I wanted to be part of that team to become part of a brotherhood that is real and absolute and can be earned only one way: Marine Corps Boot Camp. A daunting challenge where you must first conquer yourself by enduring and surviving recruit training. The Marine Corps is the only experience I know of where you elevate yourself by subjugating yourself, a contradiction. No matter where you come from and no matter what your socio-economic background or circumstances, everyone starts out at the bottom, we are all equally unworthy of the uniform and the title. You turn your life over to the Corps to be torn down, rebuilt, remolded into something better than what you were before. I wanted to be part of that, I wanted THAT experience. There is something quite noble about the desire to join the Corps because it just isn’t like the other military services. I didn’t sign up for a job, the GI Bill, or an education; I signed up to fight! I essentially put my life on the line when I signed that dotted line. I wanted my military service to be tempered by hardship and struggle, something that is hard earned and well respected. And from everything that I’d read and heard, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy but I wanted to be a US Marine. I stepped off the bus and on to those infamous Yellow Footprints and became part of Platoon 1018, Series 1017, B Co, 1st Recruit Training Bn, MCRD San Diego. After Receiving Barracks, we were picked up by Staff Sergeant Andre Williams, our Senior Drill Instructor. SSgt Garcia and Sgt Safrit were his Junior DIs. I can still see the menacing SDI glowering at us on that first day. He was a tall, well built, dark green Marine who looked like Smokey the Bear in that Campaign Cover which was quite intimidating and impressive all at the same time. I asked myself “What have I gotten myself into now?”

BRIEFLY, WHAT WAS YOUR SERVICE CAREER PATH?

Infantry, Reconnaissance, Aviation. I came up through the ranks achieving the rank of Staff Sergeant. I applied for the old Enlisted Commissioning Program (ECP only required 30 semester hours back then) and was selected and after graduating from the 128th Officer Candidate Class (128th OCC). I was commissioned a 32ndLt and went on to The Basic School (TBS). As the Honor Graduate of my TBS company (Echo 5-85), I was asked by the Company Commander if I wanted to become a pilot. I figured why not and the rest is history. My original intention had been to go to the Grunts and then hopefully back into Recon.

What still continues to amaze me are all of the many opportunities that were afforded to me and even more so the awesome experiences that were the result of those choices. From a raw Recruit on the Yellow Footprints to a High Speed Low Drag Recon Operator who came out of submarines and jumped out of airplanes, to actually piloting aircraft and flying the President of the United States. From Private to Lieutenant Colonel. I often wonder what my life would have been like had I not enlisted in the Marines. I certainly would not have had all of these wide ranging experiences and lifelong friendships.

DID YOU PARTICIPATE IN COMBAT OPERATIONS? IF SO, COULD YOU DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH WERE SIGNIFICANT TO YOU?

Yes
MNF Lebanon
Operation Desert Shield
Operation Desert Storm
Operation Southern Watch
Operation Iraqi Freedom
Operation Enduring Freedom – Philippines
Operation New Dawn – Iraq

All were significant to me. Anytime you get shot at it is WORLD WAR THREE! What might be considered a ‘minor’ engagement to the Joint Chiefs of Staff or the 4media is of extreme significance to the guy on the ground or in the air. Even when no rounds are exchanged, the mere possibility placed enormous psychological stress on your mental system in the anticipation alone. It really hits you when you step off the plane in a theater of operations and realize that you could very well die here. My thoughts the very first time I ever got shot at in combat were, “Why is he shooting at me, I’m a pretty nice guy, aren’t I?”

When the flight schedule for the next day’s combat sorties was published and you saw your name penned in for one the flights, the dread began. Quickly I would write what was certainly going to be my last letter home to the family, but never would I let on to them that this was the last one, never would I mention what I feared the most, that I would never see them ever again. No, I would just offer that I missed and loved them so much and couldn’t wait to get home to them. I never told them what I did, they knew, but still it was left unspoken. The pre-flight brief was a formality that usually ended with, “we’ll find out what our real mission is when we check in with DASC.” Followed by drawing our survival equipment from ALSS including our bullet bouncers or “chicken plates” then a swing through Maintenance Control to sign for the aircraft with Sgt Guido Colesanti’s usual jovial self trying to motivate the aircrews with, “Go kick some ass, Sir!” and I would respond with my usual retort, “Guido, you wouldn’t be saying that shit if you were coming with me.” Then reluctantly out onto the flight line slowly dragging all my gear to my plane on what I knew to be my last moments on earth. Dead Man Walking. The Marines working on the planes would stop what they were doing to turn and watch the aircrews and cheer us on with, “Get some, Sir!” or “Kick their asses!” I’d always give each Marine a small wave and what had to be an obviously weak smile. In my mind my thoughts were dark with what each would be saying later, “I saw Mooch the day he got shot down and killed, he smiled at me.” I always knew, just accepted that these were my final earthly moments but still I went and launched knowing full well the inevitability that waited for me downrange. I feared death, but much worse, I didn’t want to be thought of as being a coward and most of all, I could not let my fellow Marines down, especially those guys on the ground. These thoughts tore at me as we raced through the air into the fight; I wanted to live, to breathe, to go home alive, but my sense of duty drove me forward.

Before my first combat, before I saw the “Elephant” I often wondered what it would be like to kill another human being – would I be able to pull the trigger, to prosecute a target, to end the life of someone who had been designated an enemy by our politicians? During peacetime training, killing would appear to be something quite straightforward, a simple matter of sight alignment, sight 5picture, breathe, relax, aim, squeeze… or as a pilot on airspeed, on altitude, ball in, gun sight reticle aligned, Master Arm – On… FIRE! And the endless repetitious training, to the point where we could do battle drill: fire and maneuver, CQB, or diving rocket attacks in our sleep. The never-ending repetition had a purpose – little then did we young Marines understand nor care why. We trained ad nauseam so that muscle memory would takeover and our bodies could react without much thinking required, so that in combat, when or if your brain shut down you just went on autopilot. That’s not to say I did not think, I did, even in the middle of an action I thought a lot, intensely so, my mind racing along at a million miles a minute, perhaps a function of my body’s ability to physically do what it was trained to do, it left plenty of time for my thoughts to wander. Time seems to slow way way down when you’re scared and getting shot at as all my memories of combat are in slow motion.  It is like tunnel vision.  Like looking through a fuzzy brown tube and in that memory everything that was bad is now in very close proximity to you, especially tracers and exploding munitions. The unknown, dark and smoke shrouded things or places become sinister and foreboding. I was conflicted. In my head I imagined that I was a giant walking the earth stomping on bugs till they popped and squishing the life juice out of them, only it was real people we were killing and the juice was their blood. My mental picture was quite graphic. I could even hear their bones cracking as I crunched them with my boots, on the bottoms of which they left their stains. One of the thoughts that often went through my mind was that whoever it was we were trying to kill were just like us, who not too long ago was some mother’s baby, who was loved and was raised with high hopes and now he was going to die because of me. The other thought was that I would know well before that mother that her son was now dead.Don’t get me wrong as I never hesitated because the next thought immediately following those were that this kid was obviously raised all fucked up and deserved to die otherwise he wouldn’t be shooting at me, so fuck him! These fleeting reflections and so many more were there along with all my fears, my prayers, my family and an extreme desire to live. So many conflictions rushing through my brain housing group at warp speed during very intense periods of emotional strain while the muscle memory propelled my body into action.

FROM YOUR ENTIRE SERVICE CAREER WHAT PARTICULAR MEMORY STANDS OUT?

Where it all began – Boot Camp, Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego. Platoon 1018, Series 1017, Bravo Company, 1st Recruit Training Battalion. Those 13 weeks changed me forever. Everything that was beat into me in Boot Camp I carried with me throughout my 34 year career.

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5
Nov

Honoring the Fallen

As reported by Reuters

On Feb. 24, 1968, Don Skinner was in charge of maintaining bombing radars in Vietnam when his unit came under attack. The Air Force sergeant was critically wounded, spending three months in a Saigon hospital, before being air-lifted to the States where he says he spent nine more months at a hospital “being put back together.”

Three of his comrades were killed during that assault, and overall, 19 members from Skinner’s unit lost their lives during the war.

But the memories of those 19 men – and hundreds of others spanning different wars – live on, thanks to Skinner’s efforts. Today, the 83-year-old sits in front of a computer at his Aiken, S.C. home working on remembrance profiles for fallen soldiers. The retired veteran is one of more than 200 volunteers who work around the clock building the Roll of Honor on TogetherWeServed.com, an online war memorial that claims 1.5 million members and has more than 100,000 pages honoring fallen service members.

For Skinner, who has personally completed more than 850 profiles, it’s about putting stories to names, bringing those killed in action from “obscurity back to reality.”

“They are now honored and remembered,” Skinner said. “These people are no longer forgotten or lost in the mist of history.”

Erasing that mist is not always an easy task. For example, there’s a dearth of information on many Korean War and World War II veterans, whose numbers are dwindling. Volunteers rely heavily on battle history archives, gravesite information and public records to glean information, but they often must track down surviving family members to fill in the holes.

One of those working to fill the gaps is Carl “Krusty” Elliott. During the Vietnam War, the Army staff sergeant worked at Walter Reed hospital, where he says the wounded soldiers “left a lasting impression” on him.

The 67-year-old Elliott, who has built more than 2,000 online memorials from his Rochester, New Hampshire home, says it was especially gratifying to complete the profile of 1st Lt. Verne Kelley, a 10-year Army veteran who was killed in action in Vietnam in 1969. Kelley grew up not far from Elliott’s hometown and was friends with his older brothers.

Diane Short, a Navy veteran who oversees operations and management of the website’s memorial teams, says the site hopes to complete unfinished profiles by year’s end but the task is daunting. The online memorial includes almost 48,000 fallen soldiers in the Army alone and TWS has completed about 65 percent of those remembrance profiles.

The veterans who add photos, medals and remembrances to the online memorials are giving an emotional lift to families of the fallen. Just ask Debra Booth, whose 23-year-old son Marine Lt. Joshua Booth was killed in Iraq in 2006 — just five weeks after deployment. She hadn’t seen any photos of her son in Iraq until she stumbled upon three images of Josh posted on Together We Served. “What an amazing surprise that day,” said Booth, who added that she has since corresponded with Josh’s captain, hopes to connect with more men who served with her son.

Josh left behind a daughter Grace, who is now 8 years old. Debra Booth says Grace recently asked Santa Claus to bring her pictures of her daddy. Thanks to the images posted to Together We Served that wish was granted. “It’s an amazing gift,” Booth said of the online memorial.

Building the remembrance profiles is a healing process for the volunteer veterans, according to Short.

“A lot of these guys are dealing with PTSD,” Short said. “It is their way of getting into their head and dealing with their memories and putting pen to paper honoring those who they lost.”

Denny Eister, a 69-year old Vietnam War veteran who lives in Destin, Florida, says he suffers from PTSD and repressed his war memories for nearly four decades. One day, his kids uncovered some medals in his desk drawer and he says it triggered a renewed interest to track down his fellow soldiers. Eister, who works part time as an insurance agent, has since built nearly 1,000 remembrance profiles.

“You develop a bond that’s hard to explain to someone who hasn’t experienced combat in military,” Eister said. “It’s an honor to do it for the guys who didn’t come home.” Eister said through his work he was able to track down his company commander at the time, Walter Dillard, who retired as a colonel and now lives in Virginia. “We still communicate to this day,” he said.

Indeed, Together We Served has become a coveted social network for veterans. Barbara (Bobbe) Stuvengen served in the Navy in World War II as a WAVE (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service). A few years ago, when the 89-year-old Wisconsin resident lost her husband (also a sailor) to Alzheimer’s disease, she credits the website for “preserving my sanity during some very stressful times.”

“It’s just kind of a way to keep in touch with the outside world,” said Stuvengen, who communicates regularly with other members. “It means a lot to me to have TWS to go into. … I begin to feel like they’re my family.”

As for Skinner, 65 years after enlisting in the Air Force, he is still devoting his time to serving his country. The author of several military books, he continues digging into databases, scouring archives and phoning families to piece together the lives of fallen service members. More than four decades after making it through that deadly assault in Vietnam, Skinner is battling cancer – but his doctors have declared him healthy and he remains focused on his work.

“I guess I’m a survivor in more ways than one,” he says.

6
Oct

GySgt Terence A. D’Alesandro USMC (1989-Present)

gunny dPersonal Service Reflections of US Marine:

GySgt Terence A. D’Alesandro

USMC

(1989-2014)

Shadow Box: http://marines.togetherweserved.com/bio/TERENCE.DALESANDRO

http://marines.togetherweserved.com/timeline/TERENCE.DALESANDRO

(Veterans – read more stories like the following when you join www.togetherweserved.com)
WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE MILITARY?

I needed direction, structure and discipline in my life. My Father (an Army Korean War vet) died in 1988 and he always told me that “If you don’t serve your country, you have no opinion on anything that your country does”. That rang in my head and I realized that my immature ass needed to live up to that responsibility.

WHAT WAS YOUR SERVICE CAREER PATH?

— Parris Island – Boot Camp 2nd Recruit Training Bn Hotel Co.
— Camp Geiger – SOI East.
— Camp Pendleton – B 1/1 – rifleman, team leader, squad leader.
— Quantico – Marine Corps Intelligence Activity/Security Office – NCOIC.
— EAS – 1995, Reenlisted 2004.
— RS Columbia, SC – awaiting orders.
— Camp Lejeune – F 2/9 – squad leader, platoon Sgt.
— Parris Island – 3d Recruit Training Battalion, India, Quebec and Mike Co. –
DI, SDI, Series GySgt.
— Camp Pendleton – L 3/5 Company GySgt, 3/5 Police Advisor Team – 2 SNCOIC.
— San Diego – 2d Recruit Training Battalion – Series Chief DI.

DID YOU PARTICIPATE IN COMBAT OPERATIONS? IF SO, COULD YOU DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH WERE SIGNIFICANT TO YOU?

Operations Desert Shield/Storm – Saudi Arabia/Kuwait – Rifleman.
Operation Restore Hope – Mogadishu, Somalia – Team Leader.
Operation Iraqi Freedom – Baghdad, Iraq – Squad Leader.
Operation Iraqi Freedom – Baghdad, Iraq – Platoon Sergeant.
Operation Enduring Freedom – Sangin/Kajaki, Afghanistan – Company GySgt.

WHICH, OF THE DUTY STATIONS OR LOCATIONS YOU WERE ASSIGNED OR DEPLOYED TO, DO YOU HAVE THE FONDEST MEMORIES OF AND WHY?

Every one of them hold fond memories for me but Camp Pendleton, in particular, holds many memories of me being a young snuffie from Columbia, South Carolina in SoCal and finding my way into manhood, independence, responsibility and maturity. Lifelong friends made there and i will always love the atmosphere there. Two tours on the drill field, one at PI, the other at SD, will also always be special since we shaped the future of the Corps on a daily basis while working ourselves to the bone doing it.

FROM YOUR ENTIRE SERVICE CAREER WHAT PARTICULAR MEMORY STANDS OUT?

Being an escort for our KIA from Iraq in 2005, PFC Lewis Calipini. I escorted his body home to Hawaii from Dover AFB then to his burial in the National Cemetery on Oahu. It is forever etched into my mind. 2/9 will not forget “Caterpillar”.

Finding out Sgt Roy was KIA in Afghanistan in 2009. I knew him as a PFC in 2/9 and knew he was going to be a hell of a Marine. He ended up in MARSOC and lost his life for his country when he was a Sgt/squad leader.

Sgt Tawney KIA in Afghanistan in 2010. A hell of a Sgt/Squad Leader and his wife was pregnant when we deployed. That will never leave my mind as well.

1stLt Byler telling me while I was carrying the stretcher to the medevac bird, “Gunny, make the pain go away!”. He made it but he lost both legs. I’ll never forget that.

Cpl Faust and LCpl Gallegos both WIA in Afghanistan and losing limbs but being okay. LCpl Barron and LCpl Billmeyer, both WIA in Afghanistan and lost limbs but won’t be forgotten by their Lima 3/5 brothers. Billmeyer told the Corpsman before he put him on the bird, “Tell Capt Murray that I said to fuck these bitches up for me!” Then he said, “My nubs hurt Doc!”. That’s the type of Marines who are in the Corps.

Doc Herrera stuffing gauze into Billmeyer’s stumps saving his life when the tourniquets wouldn’t take because it was too high up the leg.

LCpl Grosky WIA telling me while on the stretcher, “FUCK YEAH GUNNY, OOHRAH!” with his Achilles tendon blown apart and his right calf muscle gone.

LCpl Leasure, a hell of a SAW gunner, being shot through the leg. That tough bastard is okay.

LCpl’s Broehm and Pearson murdered by a rogue ANA soldier in cold blood while standing post. They were shot from behind. They had no chance. Putting them into body bags when Doc couldn’t save them.

2ndLt Kelly, the best Platoon Commander I’ve ever seen, blown away by an IED that was in a stream. He had no chance.

LCpl Litinski, triple amputee from an IED. LCpl Goebel shot through the neck and asking for a cigarette and a woman while on the stretcher awaiting medevac.

LCpl Mortinsen giving me a “pound” while on the stretcher with shrapnel wounds all over his left side from an RPG.

Cpl Pearson shot through the leg and being the tough bastard that he is. He’s fine and wishes that he was still with his boys doing their job.

LCpl Corzine, one of my favorites, losing both legs to an IED. He made it to Bethesda and hung on for three weeks. He died Christmas Eve 2010 with his mom and brother, LCpl Corzine (0311 with 2/5), by his side. He’ll coordinate Gunny’s working parties in heaven for me.

LCpl “Cafe” Laate wounded by shrapnel. He lost his left eye. He’s okay and he won’t have to hump that PRC-119 around anymore.

Cpl Montgomery lost both legs in an IED blast. Another one of our awesome Team Leaders and NCO’s. Monty will be missed.

Cpl Little, another tough bastard, shot through the arm and back on patrol as we speak. He’s what a Marine NCO is.

Cpl Wyatt KIA by gunshot wound in the head. I’ll miss talking baseball with you brother.

LCpl Parker, another tough, blue collar senior LCpl who LOVED my working parties. The kid works until he drops. Now he’s a triple amputee but his toughness will get him through.

Sgt Sherwood with shrapnel all over his arm. Wrong place at wrong time and the grenade found him, but he’ll make it too because he’s another tough motherfucker.

Sgt Kelly with shrapnel all over and in his ankle and not wanting to get on the bird. That doesn’t surprise me at all. Yet another tough Lima 3/5 bastard.

LCpl Long losing both legs and being more angry that he’s leaving than the pain he was in. Just a boot straight out of SOI to Lima 3/5 then straight to combat. A warrior.

SSgt Garcia getting shot through the face in one cheek, out the other with no teeth or tongue damage. A lucky Marine, big time. Cpl Ramirez dragging him behind the wall and patching him up in seconds because Doc was with another Fire Team too far away at the time. SSgt Garcia stood up with a bandaged head and continued to fire on the enemy all the way back to our consolidation point and insisted on walking to the medevac LZ. The last thing he said to all of us was, “I’ll be back in a week, what do you all want from the Camp Leatherneck PX? It’s on me, Marines”. Another 3/5 warrior.

LCpl Gilliam losing both his legs in an IED blast. Another tough bastard. Another one of those snuffies who could have been a Sgt. The kid barely talked, fought like a warrior and was always working. Cleaning gear, cleaning his MATV, saying, “How’s it going, Gunny?” and looking me in the eye waiting on my response because he had his Company Gunny’s back on all those resupply missions that I rode with him on. What a tough fucking kid.

LCpl Brown caught shrapnel in the face from an IED explosion. He’ll be okay. He’s a great kid who will pull through this with a smile on his face. I’ll get to continue to talk international soccer with him.

SSgt Voeller getting shot through the shoulder and staying the happy go lucky guy that he is afterwards. He’s a former recruiter who could sell you anything and that laid back mentality will pull him through anything, including his recovery. He came back to his Platoon 2 weeks later.

Sgt Amores getting blown up by an IED. Triple amputee but never knew what hit him. He didn’t suffer and that’s all that matters. A hell of a Marine, God rest his soul. RIP brother.

LCpl Flora, a former Silent Drill Platoon/8th and I Marine, getting hit twice in a month by an IED. The first time, a concussion, the second time getting some shrapnel and not wanting to be medevac’d. Yet ANOTHER tough Lima 3/5 bastard who refuses to go down regardless of the danger or his health. His Fire Team is all that matters to him.

All the Lima 3/5 Docs and 3/5 PAT-2 Docs who have saved lives with their work and fearlessness. And to the USAF and British medevac pilots who land those birds wherever we need them and get there fast as hell. And the Combat Engineers who take point for us, sweeping with their metal detectors, finding IED’s before they blow us up.

LCpl Maenza and LCpl Congilosi, both WIA Combat Engineers serving for us and with us side by side, and the Afghan Army and Afghan Police who fight right beside us. RIP Afghan soldier who was killed right beside a Lima 3/5 Marine on 23 Oct 2010 in Sangin, Afghanistan. The three Afghan Police officers who were wounded in Kajaki, Afghanistan from IED blasts while serving with us and beside us. One lost both legs and the other two took shrapnel. May they live a productive life. RIP Afghan Police officer who was killed in an IED strike in Kajaki, Afghanistan on 28 Dec 2010 while serving with us and beside us. RIP Abdul Hamid (Gangster), the Afghan Police officer who found over 50 IED’s while fighting side by side with us and pulling them out of the ground with his hands and disarming them. I’ll always remember your smile, your broken English and your all out mental toughness and determination to eliminate the Taliban from your country. They are good men and warriors.

Cpl Pyeatt from 2nd Radio Bn KIA on his first patrol in country. Killed by an IED in Kajaki. He didn’t suffer. He was with us on our patrol to intercept enemy radio chatter and he was fearless out there with that heavy comm intercept gear, doing his signal intelligence job with the grunts with no questions asked and no hesitation. Me and Cpl’s Bruce and Ramirez put him in the body bag in the wadi and we know he died being a Marine and he died in support of the 3/5 Grunts trying to make a difference in this hell hole.

Our Afghan interpreter, “Mikey”, screaming in agony from the IED blast that killed Cpl Pyeatt and the shrapnel that hit him in the ass and legs. We got him out of there with Cpl Pyeatt’s body on the medevac bird and he’s fine now.

Cpl Ferguson, Bravo Battery 1/10 dog handler, who goes out with us all the time, WIA from an IED that broke his ankle and tore up the other lower leg. His dog, Buckshot, is okay and Cpl Fergie was laughing and smoking a cigarette on the LZ waiting for his bird. Yet another tough bastard. We’ll miss him and Buckshot.

Cpl Evans WIA with two broken teeth from the IED that got Cpl Ferguson. Got his bell rung a bit too but he’ll be fine. Some rocks and shrapnel got him in the chops. We’ll miss “Reverend Evans” around here while he’s gone.

Sgt Finney, a Lima 3/5 warrior, took shrapnel to the face and is back on patrol. A tough Grunt bitch and a kid I’d go to hell with in a minute because we’d come back and laugh about it.

LCpl Goins, a quiet warrior, just like LCpl Corzine was. Shrapnel wounds and back to work already humping his M249 SAW. The kid says 5 words a day and will shoot Taliban in the face and go play spades. A damn Lima 3/5 Grunt.

Cpl Bruce losing both legs to an IED in Kajaki and telling us “make sure you get my IPOD to me. I can’t sit in the fucking hospital with no music”. A tough, proficient Squad Leader who was a lifer Grunt if I ever knew one. Absolutely lived the Infantry every day.

Cpl Roed getting a compound fracture from an IED in Kajaki and sitting there on morphine puffing on a cigarette asking if everyone else is okay. Fearless Point Man who’s luck ran out one day. Yet another tough bastard who won’t stay down.

God bless our fallen and wounded Lima 3/5 and 3/5 PAT-2 brothers.

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