This was originally published in The Belle Banner, Belle, Missouri, October 30th 2019.  If you would like to subscribe to The Belle Banner, you can call 573-859-3328 or mail to PO Box 711, Belle, MO 65013.  Subscription rates are; $23.55 for Maries, Osage, and Gasconade counties, $26.77 for elsewhere in Missouri, $27.00 for outside of Missouri, and $40.00 for foreign countries.

We have become an overweight, soft, out of shape society. Why?
As a little boy, I spent a lot of time at my grandparents’ house. They were 60 years old before they had electricity. They cooked and heated with wood, which had to be cut, sawed, carried in and placed in the stoves. They milked cows every morning, separated the cream, made butter and cottage cheese. They grew a large garden, most of which had to be canned in the fall. Fall was also butchering time, steers and hogs. Pork was salted down and placed on racks in the smoke house, and beef was smoked and dried or canned. They had chickens for eggs and meat. Sweets, cakes and pies were special. Hay was cut and put up loose in the summer, because in the winter the cows still had to be milked and fed even when there was snow on the ground. Family and neighbors helped each other. They lived through the Great Depression. They were not overweight. They were slim and tough.
During World War II, the United States of America put almost 12 million men in uniform. When America came home from the war, life started getting better. The war jump started a great economy, jobs were plentiful and electricity reached rural America. My father was the general contractor who built most of the rural electric lines, for Three Rivers Electric Coop, in this area in 1949 and 1950. We got our first television in 1955. The TV was for night viewing, not daytime. Perhaps TV was the start of soft kids, because daytime TV soon followed, and many of our parents, who had grown up during the Great Depression and lived through World War II, wanted their children to have things better than they had. Parents relaxed discipline, and many stopped attending church. Spanking an unruly kid in public became a crime. Now, some parents even defend their undisciplined children to teachers and school staff. Physical education was reduced or made not mandatory in many schools. The term “Couch Potato” was born. I know people who were normal slim kids who left home, got married and apparently got addicted to soft drinks and chips, and now in their old age, 50’s and 60’s, they have serious health issues.
The America I grew up in has been under attack all of my life. In 1941, after the Soviet Union attacked Finland, Finnish soldiers found a charred Soviet code book and passed it to the OSS (Office of Strategic Services), the forerunner of the CIA. Using that code book, in February 1943 the US Army Signal Intelligence Service started the “Venona Project”, which was the intercepting and decrypting of messages from Soviet intelligence agencies. That project ran until October 1980, and many of the messages were declassified and released to the public in 1995. The released messages removed any doubt as to the guilt of the Rosenberg’s. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, husband and wife, were convicted and executed by electric chair in June 1953 for treason, the passing of US atomic secrets to the Soviet Union. Also, in the early 1950’s Senator Joseph McCarthy, from Wisconsin, claimed that communists had infiltrated our government. In 1953, starting his second term, he chaired the Senate Committee on Government Operations. He held hearings and charged many government employees as being communists, and many lost their jobs, but when he went after the US Army and the hearings were broadcast on national television, people saw an overbearing and intimidating Senator McCarthy. He lost his power and was censured by the Senate. The press ridiculed him, saying that he saw a communist behind every bush. The release of the Venona Project files, revealed that there were, in fact, communists in very high positions in our federal government, and that they were targeting the United States education system.
When the Vietnam war cranked up in 1966, President Johnson eliminated student deferments to the draft. Student organizations against the war sprang up all over the country, most all were either solidly communist or organized and ran by communist sympathizers. Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and Weather Underground were two of the most solidly communist. Many of those protestors stayed in college, becoming ‘professional students’, achieving masters and doctorate degrees and then becoming university and college professors, teaching that socialism (communism) is the “most fair” form of government. We now have a couple generations of elementary and high school teachers who have been taught socialism. Many did not accept the premise of socialism, but many did. Communists (socialists) hate religion, because a belief in God infers a higher power than the state (government), and for socialism to be implemented the government must have ultimate power, so for the past 50 years religion has been under active attack. Schools and government organizations have been forbidden to make any reference to God.
Now we have many young people graduating from high school who are not physically fit, have no self-discipline, and little, if any, respect for authority. Many would rather play video games, or their cell phone than baseball, basketball, or football.
There are about 34 million Americans between the ages of 17 and 24. Of that 34 million, 71%, 24 million are ineligible to serve in the military, even if they wanted to, because of obesity, no high school diploma, or criminal or drug use record. Of the 10 million who are eligible, only about one percent, according to the Department of Defense, are inclined to have any conversation about military service. The US military comprises about .04 percent of the US population.
When the “me generation” started coming from the couch and the computer into the Army, the Army adjusted. Basic Combat Training (BCT) became easier, drill sergeants changed the way they dealt with young people who questioned everything and had never been yelled at, some never having been corrected about anything. The result was undisciplined, out of shape, untrained soldiers going out into the Army. The first war in Iraq, Desert Storm in 1990, revealed that support soldiers were out of shape and not proficient with their weapons, and the Army started relying too heavily on technology allowing combat soldiers to navigate with GPS, without basic land navigation training. Then the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan displayed the need for soldiers to be in much better physical condition. A few years ago, there was a leadership change in the Army, and with it a complete change in attitude. Strict discipline is now the norm in Basic Combat Training, which is now as tough as it has been since World War II. Infantry training has been extended, with armor and combat engineers to follow.
After years of study of events that would reveal how prepared soldiers are for combat, the ACFT (Army Combat Fitness Test) has arrived, and by October 1st 2020 it will be the norm throughout the Army, including Basic Combat Training. It is six event test that does require extra equipment, and a change in physical training. Weight lifting, dead weight draging, backward medicine ball throw, chest on ground hand release pushup, a 2 mile run, and the leg tuck, which is holding a horizontal bar and bringing the knees up to touch the elbows. There is no adjustment for age or gender. The standards are the same for men and women regardless of age. It is a test to show how prepared a soldier is for combat. There are now women in the infantry – the standards are the same for all.

Staff Sgt. Cassandra Black, 70th Regional Training Institute, Maryland National Guard, participates in the leg-tuck portion of the Army Combat Fitness Test (AFCT) May 17, 2019, during the Region II Best Warrior Competition at Camp Dawson, West Virginia. This four-day event is designed to measure the physical abilities, leadership skills, teamwork and critical thinking of Soldiers from the West Virginia, District of Columbia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia Army National Guards while completing basic and advanced warrior tasks to crown the region’s best warrior. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Bo Wriston)

Army uniforms are also changing. The new Army uniform, which will start being issued next summer, 2020, is almost a knock off of the World War II uniform, down to the brown shoes. The current blue uniform will be kept for formal wear. Basic soldiering in this ultra hi-tech Army is going back to its roots in World War II. While attempting to increase the size of the Army, standards have not been lowered, and training is longer and harder.

                         New Army uniforms compared to World War II uniform.

I have written before about how the United States Army is the most feared army in the world, not because of size or weaponry or technology, but because of the trust and confidence placed in the individual soldier. If an infantry company is helicoptered into a hot area and becomes scattered, individual soldiers form together, because all have been briefed on the complete mission, and they attack their objectives, even if there are no officers or sergeants present. None of our potential adversaries can do that. The US Army is the smartest, the most morally healthy, best trained, and will soon be the most physically fit army in the world

                                          Paratrooper in the air and landing.

So, who is going into our Army now? A former Belle girl, Haley Shanks, graduated from Basic Combat Training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina on October 17th. The guest speaker at the graduation ceremony was Command Sergeant Major (CSM) Martin S. Celestine, who is the CSM of the Infantry and Armor Center and Fort Benning, Georgia. In his remarks, he gave some details about the group graduating from BCT. They ranged in age from 17 to 39, yes 39, they came from 48 states, and an ethnic background of 30 countries. This may surprise many people. Forty one percent (41%) of the 1,123 new soldiers on the field, that day, had at least an Associates Degree, thirty nine percent (39%) had bachelor’s degrees, and six percent (6%) had masters degrees.

                         Haley Shanks BCT company passing in review.

                2nd Battalion 39th Infantry BCT Graduation 17 Oct 2019.

Haley is now at Fort Benning, Georgia, where in three weeks she will make five parachute jumps, two with combat equipment, one of them at night and become a US Army Paratrooper. Then, on to Fort Lee, Virginia where she will learn how to pack all kinds of parachutes, and rig heavy drops from pallets to small tanks, becoming a parachute rigger. HOOAH!!!!

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