By LtCol Mike Christy-Together We Served Dispatches
Sergeant Dakota L. Meyer is a United States Marine Corps veteran, the recipient of the Medal of Honor and the New York Times best-selling co-author of ‘Into the Fire: A Firsthand Account of the Most Extraordinary Battle in the Afghan War.’ He is also an entrepreneur, having founded a successful construction company in Kentucky.
Meyer earned his Medal of Honor for his actions during the Battle of Ganjgal in Kunar Province, Afghanistan, as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. He is the first living Marine to have received the medal in 38 years and one of the youngest. Humble and soft-spoken, Meyer insists that he is not a hero and that any Marine would have done the same thing he did in battle.
Born June 26, 1988, and raised in Columbia, Kentucky, he is the son of Felicia Gilliam and Michael Meyer. In 2006, after graduation from Green County High School, he enlisted in the Marine Corps at a recruiting station in Louisville, Kentucky and completed basic training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island.
Meyer deployed to Fallujah, Iraq, in 2007 as a scout sniper with 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines. On his second deployment to Afghanistan with the U.S. Marine/U.S. Army ETT (Embedded Training Team) 2-8, he gained national attention for his heroic actions.
On September 8, 2009, ETT 2-8 led TF (Task Force) Chosin, a combined group of Afghan Army and National Police forces led by a
small team of American advisors and trainers, on a patrol operation near Ganjgal village on their way to meet with village elders. TF Chosin had only 3 months earlier closed down a mountainous border smuggling route between Pakistan and Afghanistan, earning additional ire from the Taliban, who controlled the smuggling routes.
During TF Chosin’ s mission planning, it was made clear that no dedicated close air support would be available for the mission but commanders promised artillery support from nearby forward bases. They were promised, however, that helicopter support could be redirected from an operation in a neighboring valley within five minutes. Available intelligence indicated that Taliban fighters were aware of the mission and were setting up ambush positions within Ganjgal village with a forward force of at least 20 fighters.
Just after dawn, after inserting into the valley and approaching Ganjgal, TF Chosin came under heavy machine gun, small arms and RPG fire from at least 100 entrenched Taliban fighters, far more than indicated by intelligence reports. Coalition forces soon found itself pinned down in a deadly three-sided ambush. Initial calls for artillery support were rejected by the command post due to new rules of engagement put in place by Gen. Stanley McChrystal in an effort to reduce civilian casualties. Both an Army artillery NCO and an Air Force Joint terminal attack controller took immediate action to provide the ambushed coalition forces with fire support but were overruled by the command post. ETT 2-8 informed the command post that they were not near the village but were again denied fire support. Calls for emergency helicopter support were also denied because adjacent helicopter assets were tied up and taking fire in support of another operation.
The position occupied by the three dead Marines and the Navy Corpsman had been overrun by the enemy, who stripped the bodies of their gear and weapons. The bodies were recovered after their comrades, including Meyer, braved enemy fire to return to the location.
Read the service reflections of US Navy Sailor:
AMCS John J. Babstock
U.S. Navy (Ret)
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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. He 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. I 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 to 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 was 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?
In 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. But 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.
I 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?
In 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 that 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 it 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. So 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.
I 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.
In 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. It 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?
When 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 crew, 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 can, 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.
Read the service reflections of US Airman:
CMSgt William Hamilton
U.S. Air Force
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.
View the service Reflections of US Marine:
(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?
I 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 as 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 2ndLt 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?
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 media 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 picture, 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.
During the long war in Iraq and Afghanistan, coalition forces relied on thousands of military working dogs to help keep them safe by detecting explosives, finding illegal drugs, searching for missing comrades, or targeting enemy combatants. Dozen died in the line of duty. Others struggle with wounds and post-traumatic stress. Many have earned recognition for heroism. Among the heroes is Lucca, a highly skilled German Shepherd/Belgian Malinois mix trained to sniff out explosives and protect the combat Marines and Special Forces she served.
Lucca and her military dog handler Marine Staff Sgt. Chris Willingham were together on two combat tours in Iraq. Later Lucca would have an Afghanistan tour with her new dog handler, Marine Corporal Juan Rodriguez.
According to the Military Working Dog Team Support Association, Inc. website (http://mwdtsa.org/lucca.html), Lucca is among the most legendary military working dogs. Through almost six years of military service, Lucca went on more than 400 missions and has 40 confirmed finds of explosives, saving countless lives. Her list of accomplishments is long: two IEDs, one car bomb, countless caches of homemade explosives, concealed AK-47s with magazines. She has also found Dsh-Ks, which are vehicle mounted .50 caliber Soviet guns. These were hidden along the Tigris River. She also found deadly Dsh-K rounds buried in a cemetery tomb. Her finds led to the arrest of numerous insurgents.
Beginning in 2006, Willingham trained and handled Lucca and in 2008 the pair deployed on their first Iraqi tour. For that tour and another one in Iraq, they spend countless hours searching for IEDs or improvised explosive devices considered the top killers of coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
On missions where Lucca sniffed out explosives, she worked off-leash at long distances from Willingham. Her job was to alert on the explosives beforehand and have them rendered harmless so the troops could move on.
Once she finds the smell she is looking for she will lie down, stare at the scent and communicate the find to Willingham. This action was repeated dozens of time and saved the lives of service members and civilians. As Willingham put it, “Your lives are literally in each other’s hands.”
With Lucca’s training and instincts combined with Willingham’s knowledge on how best to employ her, they were highly successful and became so sought-after that platoons frequently requested the team by name.
Upon returning from his second tour in Iraq in December 2010, Willingham received orders to Marine Security Guard School. Before he left, he was able to select the handler to take over as Lucca’s handler. Willingham selected Cpl. Juan Rodriguez – a Marine he sensed had the right personality and skills to make a great team with Lucca.
In March 2012, close to Luca’s six-year anniversary as a Marine, she and Rodriguez were walking point in direct support of a Special Operations unit in Nahri Saraj District, in southern Afghanistan
They were about four hours into the patrol when Lucca located an IED, her second of the day. When she moved closer to the secondary device it exploded. Rodriguez, hearing Lucca squealing and screaming in pain, ran forward to give her first aid and a tourniquet, which saved her life. He then called in a Medevac and continually petted and spoke quietly and reassuringly in an attempt to keep her calm.
Waiting for the Medevac was agonizing for both Rodriguez and Lucca. She had suffered burns to her neck and torso and her front left paw was blown off making it necessary for her leg to be amputated. Fortunately, no member of the patrol was hurt.
After her injury, Lucca returned to Camp Pendleton where she was rehabilitated and in just 10 days, was back up and walking and in less than a month, she was running around on her three legs just as she had done when she had all four legs. It was obvious she had the same spirit, same personality as before the injury.
Once she was cleared to retire from the Marine Corps, Lucca was flown from San Diego to Chicago and then to Helsinki to be reunited with Willingham who was serving at the U.S. Embassy. Her flight was paid by the carrier, American Airlines, which also bumped her up to business class. When asked by a reporter at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, Rodriguez – ever the Marine – did not elaborate on what saying goodbye will be like. “It will be hard,” he acknowledged. “But seeing Lucca bounce off to a safe home will ease the farewell.”
Nonplused by all the strangers petting her at O’Hare’s Terminal 3, Lucca worked away at a treat inside the treasured red toy she carried and kept close to her trainer. Rodriguez looked at his partner with love.
“She’s back to normal,” he said. “She hasn’t skipped a beat.”
Lucca now lives in southern California with Gunny Sgt. Willingham and his family and in a recent interview, Willingham credits Lucca with saving his life twice on deployments.
“We’ve got a lot of loyalty between us. We’ve been together for two deployments now and she saved my life a couple of times, so I’ve definitely got a tight bond with this dog,” he said while affectionately, scratching and petting Lucca who was enjoying every second of the loving attention. She also enjoys the occasional visits by Juan Rodriguez. And she even has her own Facebook page.
SPC Zach Wooten
US Army (Ret)
Shadow Box: http://army.togetherweserved.com/profile/5052
(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?
As children my twin brother, younger brother and myself were all taught to love our country and always stand up for our rights and freedoms. Even before joining the Army, I found out military life runs in my family’s blood. For many men in my family, they joined out of a sense of duty or a calling of a higher meaning. My Grandfather served in the U.S. Army during World War II. My father served in Vietnam, as did my step-father. My twin brother, Jacob, enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. As for myself, I ended up spending 15 years serving in the US Army and Washington State Army National Guard.
Service to my country came naturally. I realized how unique it was to have a family military heritage that stretches back generations. I was proud to be able to have the opportunity to continue my family’s tradition of service. My father John ‘Marty’ Wooten is now a retired postman and divides his time between Washington State and Arizona. He was drafted into the Army in 1969 as an 11B-Infantryman and was quickly assigned to a long range reconnaissance patrol (LRRP) unit with the 1st Cavalry Division shortly after arriving to Vietnam. My dad was very proud of us joining the military. That was when he finally opened up about his military service. He pulled out a bunch of medals and pictures that I had never seen and showed me a uniform that I never knew he had. Before that, my grandfather Eugene Alfonsin (Mom’s father) spent his adult life as part of the New York Army National Guard, including deployments to Europe after World War II as part of the stabilization force serving with the US Constabulary.
For me, the idea of military service is more than just a family tradition; its a calling to serve your country. It’s always humbling when you see someone just stop to thank a soldier when they are in uniform. Even after everything I have endured I still believe it is one of the most honorable professions that a person can do. As a child, I always admired the military. I went to Veterans Day and Memorial Day parades and was fascinated with it. I never planned to serve, but in the back of mind I think I always knew it was an option.
After graduating from high school in 1991, I had plans to attend Central Washington University. However, when scholarships couldn’t cover the cost of tuition, I and my twin brother decided to pursue other alternatives. Service to our country came naturally to us so we both decided to join the United States Army. At the last minute my brother ended up changing his mind but eventually he ended up enlisting in the United States Marine Corps a couple of years later.
WHAT WAS YOUR SERVICE CAREER PATH?
I enlisted in the U.S. Army on July 23, 1991 and completed Basic Combat Training at Fort Leonardwood, Missouri, in December 1991. I then received training as a Man Portable Air Defense Crewmember (16S) at Fort Bliss, Texas between January 1992 – March 1992.
My first permanent duty station was with the 4th Battalion, 3rd Air Defense Artillery in the 3rd Infantry Division in Kitzingen, Germany. I was cross-trained as a Bradley-Stinger Fighting Vehicle Crewmember (14R) in Vilsek, Germany.
When my tour of duty was up, I reenlisted and PCS’d to Fort Carson, Colorado and was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 3rd Air Defense Artillery in the 4th Infantry Division. During my time there my entire battalion was deployed in support of humanitarian operations (Operation Sea Signal) in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba from Feb – July 1995. I then ETS’d from Active Duty and opted to join the Army National Guard to continue my military service.
I then joined the Washington Army National Guard and served between October 1995 – October 1996.
Frustrated with civilian life and nostalgic for my time on active duty, I decided to reup and went back into active duty on November 1, 1996 and was assigned to the 5th Battalion (Patriot), 7th Air Defense Artillery in Hanau, Germany. Shortly after arriving, my unit was called up to serve was to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in support of Operation Southern Watch from March – Sept 1997.
This was a massive operation conducted by Joint Task Force Southwest Asia (JTF-SWA) with the mission of monitoring and controlling airspace south of the 32nd Parallel (extended to the 33rd Parallel in 1996) in Iraq, following the 1991 Gulf War until the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
We were assigned to a Patriot site just outside of King Khalid International Airport (KKIA). Our mission was to provide a High to Medium Air Defense (HIMAD) platform, patrolling the skies with our advanced radar system against any Iraq aircraft that violated the no fly zone. This ensured Iraqi compliance with the United Nations Security Council Resolution 688. After returning from our deployment in September, it was back to the mundane life of garrison duty and the occasional field training exercises.
When we returned, I continued to serve in this unit until June 1999, when I reenlisted and was reassigned to Fort Lewis, Washington with the 5th Battalion, 5th Air Defense Artillery, 3rd Brigade – 2nd Infantry Division.
While assigned to this unit I served as an Air Defense Early Warning Systems Operator (14J) and was later reassigned to duties as a Small Arms Maintenance Repairman (45B). I served there until June 2001, when I finally decided I had had my fill of active duty.
Once again, I joined the Washington State Army National Guard and was reassigned to the 181st Support Battalion at the Seattle Armory in Seattle. I served there in a variety of capacities; chaplain assistant, motor vehicle operator, radio operator and finally, as a multi-media illustrator with our battalion operations section. In September 2003 my unit was called up to mobilize and deploy to Iraq in February 2004. It was the largest mobilization our state had seen since World War II. Around 4,000 soldiers from throughout the state were called up for active duty to serve in Operation Iraqi Freedom II.
We were to be a part of a large multi-national force that would be the first occupying force in Iraq since the initial invasion in March 2003. It was definitely an unforgettable experience going to an actual combat zone for the first time. I was a little bit apprehensive but excited at the same time. Like my father before me, who served in Vietnam, I would finally have the honor of serving my country during a time of war. This was something I had wanted to do since I enlisted way back in July 1991 after the end of Operation Desert Storm. It was what I had been trained to do for the last twelve years.
My unit deployed to Logistics Support Area (LSA) Anaconda near Balad. Spread over fifteen square miles, this was one of the largest American military bases in Iraq which was formerly the largest Iraqi air base during the Desert Storm era. I was to be assigned as a provisional infantry soldier. Our mission was to perform site security for the entire base. We performed some infantry tasks like looking for IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) along some of the Main Supply Routes (MSR’s) near our base. Our security force also conducted foot-patrols along these same MSR’s. We also stopped traffic and performed random searches to find and detain people on our watch lists. Our security force was also assigned to man three separate Entry Control Points (ECP’s), monitoring convoys going in and out of the base and doing personnel searches on Iraqi civilians and Iraqi National Guard (ING) soldiers entering and leaving our base.
But before I was assigned to the security element, I was initially assigned to my battalion operations section to perform radio watch duties and monitor convoy radio traffic. It was my job to annotate what units were entering and leaving our base as well as the number of vehicles, personnel, weapons and sensitive items they possessed. Needless to say, this was very tedious and extremely boring work. I told myself if I had to do this for a year I was going to go crazy. I had come to Iraq to see some action. This wasn’t exactly what I had bargained for.
My prayers were quickly answered. But you know what they say, be careful what you wish for, for you may just get it! The operations Officer in Charge (OIC) notified our staff that they were short on personnel to help work in the security element that was to provide security for the entire base. I quickly jumped at the chance and volunteered immediately. I had performed site security duties at the Patriot site in Saudi Arabia back in 1997. My OIC then informed my Platoon Sergeant that I would be starting my security duties within a week.
On my ninth day ‘in country’, I was wounded in action during an enemy rocket attack that occurred on 12 April 2004, sustaining a TBI and nerve damage to my neck, left shoulder and arm. During my tenure in Iraq, I was also awarded the newly created Combat Action Badge for being personally present and actively engaging or being engaged by the enemy, and performing satisfactorily in accordance with the prescribed rules of engagement in an incident that occurred on 9 June 2004.
After returning home from Iraq in March 2005, I continued to work for my unit in a temporary capacity assisting the S-3 Operations section as we continued to transition back to our garrison in Seattle, WA. In September 2005, I volunteered for the humanitarian relief efforts in Louisiana after the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in Sept. thru Oct. 2005, serving in some of the hardest hit areas to include the 9th Ward and St. Bernard Parrish. Those of us whom volunteered to serve were awarded the Louisiana Emergency Service Medal from the Louisiana National Guard and the Governor of Louisiana Barely a year later I was found unfit to continue serving in the military and was medically retired in November 2006 after 15 years of honorable service.
When Michael Reagan came back from the Vietnam War he said there was a piece of him missing. “I joined because there was a war going on, and I felt it was my duty to do that” said Reagan.
Reagan was sent to Con Thien, Vietnam, in the summer of 1967, and he served in the U.S. Marine Corps as a corporal in the 3rd battalion, 4th Marine Regiment from 1966 to 1969. “I wondered, what am I doing here? There’s some pretty scary stuff happening,” said Reagan.
His return home wasn’t easy, he said. “I remember on April 10 1968, when I landed at the airport. I was spit on and called names. It was not very comfortable.” For the next five years, he said, it was very tough for him to adjust to civilian life. “I didn’t break any laws but drank a lot, and I was pretty screwed up.”
Reagan’s interest in drawing started while he was in the service. “In Vietnam at the Distribution Management Center, you were either fighting or not doing anything, and rather than sit around and not do anything, I would draw pictures of the Marines I was with or their families, and, sadly, sometimes the only thing that would come home from fallen Marines were the drawings I did,” said Reagan.
That desire to become an artist drove him to the Burnley School for Professional Art in Seattle when he was 27 years old. “I didn’t realize how hard it was going to be, but the harder it got, the harder I worked, and I knew this was what I wanted to be,” said Reagan.
After finishing his three-year program at the Burnley School, he got a job at the University of Washington, and retired after 30 years. During that time, Reagan drew thousands of portraits of major celebrities, movie stars, politicians, heads of state, Playboy Playmates, and he became a very successful artist.
While Reagan drew portraits for profit, he also liked to do charity work, and said he saw it as a way to pay-it-forward after his safe return from the war. “I would get the celebrities to sign some blank illustration boards and redraw their portraits and then would auction those to charities. When I got home I really needed to do something to thank the gods for bringing me back home, because I shouldn’t have come home,” said Reagan.
After 25 years of portraits, Reagan got a call from a local TV news station in Seattle to do a story, and the station said to him, “You know what Mike? We realized that over the 25 years you’ve been doing this work for charities, you’ve raised over $10 million,” said Reagan.
That news story was seen nationally, and it was then that a widow whose husband died in combat called Reagan. “I received a call from a Gold Star widow Charisse Johnson from Boise, Idaho, and she said, “How much would you charge me to do a portrait of my husband? He was a Corpsman and died in Iraq in 2003,” said Reagan. He told Johnson that he would not charge for drawing the portrait of Navy Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Michael Vann Johnson Jr.
“I’ll never forget it. I sent it out, and about two weeks later Charisse called me and said, ‘In a year I haven’t slept a full night. Yesterday, I received the portrait of my husband, and I’m calling to thank you because when I opened the package and saw the portrait I looked into his eyes. I reconnected instantly with him. I talked to him and was able to finish some of the conversations we didn’t get to finish,” said Reagan.
Reagan was very moved by Johnson’s wife, and he knew this portrait wasn’t going to be his last one after that, and that’s how the Fallen Heroes Project was born in 2004. “The year before I did this project I was paid $75,000 by the Mariners to do a painting, but this project took over my life, and I figure I needed to do this. I said to my wife, ‘You know this is going to change our life, but it was OK because she knew what this meant to me,” said Reagan.
Ten years later and 3,632 portraits to date all done free of charge of fallen soldiers, Reagan continues to pay tribute to the fallen for their ultimate sacrifice. He opens up his email early in the morning and late at night and sees family requests. “I read a lot about the person I draw and look at tapes and videos of the families. I have a spiritual conversation with the person I’m drawing trying to decipher the message they need me to send home. I’ll never know the message as long as the picture contains it, so when the families get it whatever happens on the other end happens. I’m the vehicle,” said Reagan. He draws an average of two portraits a day every day.
“I have a soft spot in my heart for Mike Reagan”, says TWS Chief Administrator Diane Short. “I was working with Mike on our monthly newsletter “Voices” in which he tells his story, when my dad passed away.”
“I told Mike that my dad was a WWII, Korean and Vietnam vet that had raised nine kids and grandfather to twenty-two. He was gracious enough to ask me a few questions about him and his service. He called me back later that day to say he wanted to do my dad’s portrait. I was blown away. He didn’t have to do that, but that is the kind of man he is.”
“When I returned from my dad’s funeral, this wonderful portrait was waiting for me. It now hangs in my living room.”
For Reagan, this is a huge adventure, and he feels very fortunate to be a part of it. “There’s an incredible amount of trauma and pain for the families who lost these people. They’re all proud of their sons and daughters, husbands and wives, all of them. They are allowing me, a total stranger, to play this incredible part. I came home from Vietnam in 1968, I thought whole, but what I actually had when I came home was a hole. This project and these wonderful families that allow me to do this work for them have allowed that hole to be filled in my soul again,” said Reagan. “I made a commitment to the Marine Corps, and they taught me what commitment was all about and the Fallen Heroes Project is a lifetime commitment.”
Fallen Heroes Project’s mission is to honor the American Fallen Heroes for their ultimate sacrifice during the war against terrorism. The foundation will provide the resources to produce and distribute to each family a hand-drawn portrait of their Fallen Hero, created by artist Michael G. Reagan, free of charge. Each portrait is intended to show our Love and Respect for these Heroes and their families.
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.
(Veterans – view more military profiles of famous people on www.togetherweserved.com/twslanding)Short Bio: In 1943, Bronson joined the United States Army Air Forces and served as an aircraft gunner in the 760th Flexible Gunnery Training Squadron, and in 1945 as a B-29 Superfortress crewman with the 39th Bombardment Group based on Guam.
Went on 25 Combat Missions as a Tail Gunner on the B-29’s.