This was originally published in The Belle Banner, February 6th 2019. The Belle Banner has since closed shop. I have written about other individual Generals, but only published them locally. However, this individual is now a key figure in the security of the United States of America. Robert Burns, is the Associated Press military reporter for the Pentagon, and has covered the military for the past thirty years. His stories have been so that he could be called an unofficial Pentagon insider. On January 17th, Robert Burns posted a story titled “Gen Milley Key to military continuity as Biden takes office”. It is well worth the read. This story is more about the man, Mark Milley, and the job of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
President Trump announced on December 8th (Army-Navy Game Day) that he was nominating Army Chief of Staff General Mark A. Milley to replace Marine General Joseph Dunford as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The appointment must be approved by the Senate.
What does the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff do, and who is General Mark Milley?
The position of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was created in 1949 by amendments to the 1947 National Security Act. The “Chiefs” include the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Chief of Staff of the Army, the Chief of Naval Operations, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, and the Chief of the National Guard Bureau, all four star officers. The 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act elevated the position from being the “first among equals” to being “the principal military advisor” to the President and the Secretary of Defense. The Chief has traditionally been rotated among the services, which would point this selection to the Air Force, who last occupied the job in 2005. Both Secretary of Defense Mattis and General Dunford favored Air Force Chief of Staff General David Goldfein. The President interviewed both Generals Goldfein and Milley and immediately selected General Milley. So who is this man who will be the top ranking military officer in the United States of America?
General Mark Milley is currently the Chief of Staff of the Army. When he was selected for that job, three years ago, nobody in Washington, DC knew him. He had not had multiple assignments there, as many general officers have in the past. He has been described as an Ivy League educated career grunt, which I think was meant as a slight by those Northeast writers. He is of very strong character, as well as being physically strong, extremely intelligent, quick witted with a sense of humor, but a straight talking, no BS, tell it like it is kind of guy, he is also known as a “tough guy”. The military, including the Army, has since World War II been terribly slow in changing or obtaining new things. First there has to be a study or two, specifications developed, prototypes built, more studies, then a long bidding process. That really came to light in Iraq, when a new office had to be created just to “break the rules” to rapidly get equipment to the troops. When General Milley became the Chief of Staff, the Army was at the end of a two year, 17 million dollar study to replace its’ handgun (a pistol). General Milley reportedly “blew his top”. He said; “We’re not figuring out the next lunar landing. This is a pistol. Two years to test? At 17 million. You give me $17 million on a credit card, and I’ll call Cabela’s tonight, and I’ll outfit every soldier, sailor, airman and Marine with a pistol for $17 million. And I’ll get a discount on a bulk buy.” He has since streamlined the army’s acquisition process and practically at his direction a new four star command was created. The Army Futures Command is located in a “tech” neighborhood in downtown Austin, Texas, and the staff wear civilian suits more than army suits. Its mission is to look to and develop for the future and to incorporate the newest and most advanced technology into the Army.
Mark Milley’s father was a Marine in World War II and fought at Iwo Jima. Mark Milley was born September 26th 1950 in Winchester, Massachusetts, which is about eight miles north of downtown Boston. He went to Belmont Hill High School, where he was Captain of the Hockey Team. Mark Milley was on the first team that Ken Martin coached at Belmont Hill. Ken said that out of all the players of 40 years and 700 wins of coaching, Mark Milley stands apart from the crowd. Ken said; “After breaking his jaw in one game, Milley wired his jaw shut, finished the game and did not miss another game the rest of the season. He was one of the most reliable and consistent players we ever had.” After high school, Mark went to Princeton, studied Political Science, took Army ROTC, and played hockey for four years. He was first captain of the JV squad, then played Varsity Hockey. He was nicknamed “Milldog”. This is a tough guy.
He graduated from Princeton in 1980 and was commissioned into the Army as a Second Lieutenant. After the Officer Basic Course and Airborne and Ranger schools, his first assignment was to the 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, North Carolina. After about a year there, he transferred to Special Forces, completed the Special Forces Qualification Course and was assigned to an A Detachment, and eventually commanded an A Detachment. When he was assigned to the 7th Infantry Division at Fort Ord, California. He commanded two different infantry companies in the same battalion. The 5th Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment. That is very rare. The only time I know of that happening was when a company commander was relieved of duty (fired) and the battalion commander moved his best company commander to that company to straighten it out. It was in that assignment that he saw combat in Panama. He was a staff officer in the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, New York, in 1994 and deployed to Haiti in Operation Uphold Democracy to remove the military regime there. From Fort Drum he went to Korea and commanded the 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry in the 2nd Infantry Division in 1996 – 1998. The 1/506th had responsibility for the DMZ, at that time. As a full Colonel in the 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii in 2002 he deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina as Commander of the US Provisional Brigade and took part in mine clearing, reconstruction, and the destruction of weapons.
In 2003 Colonel Milley was assigned back to Fort Drum as the Commander of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division. His brigade deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan. After turning over the brigade, he had his first assignment to Washington, DC, where he was Military Assistant to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. The job was only for a few months, but Robert Gates was so impressed with Colonel Milley that Gates flew to Fort Campbell, Kentucky on February 1st, 2008 for Milley’s promotion to Brigadier General, where he was Deputy Commanding General for Operations of the 101st Airborne Division. While in that job, he deployed to Afghanistan as Deputy Commander of Regional Command-East. He was promoted to two stars (Major General) and assigned as Commander of the 10th Mountain Division in November 2011. In December 2012 he was promoted to three stars (Lieutenant General) and assigned as the Commanding General of III Corps at Fort Hood, Texas. III Corps includes the 1st Cavalry Division, 36th Engineer Regiment, and the 3rd Cavalry Regiment at Fort Hood, the 1st Infantry Division at Fort Riley, Kansas, the 1st Armored Division at Fort Bliss, Texas, the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Carson, Colorado, and the 75th Field Artillery Brigade at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. During that job he deployed to Afghanistan as the Commanding General, International Security Assistance Force Joint Command, and Deputy Commanding General US Forces – Afghanistan. In August 2014 he was promoted to full General (four stars) and made Commander of US Forces Command, the largest US military command. In August 2015 he was approved by the Senate to be the Chief of Staff of the Army.
While testifying before the House Armed Services Committee about a continuing resolution instead of a budget, he admonished them (chewed them out) for not passing a budget. He said; “I think – candidly – failure to pass a budget, in my view as both an American citizen and the chief of staff of the United States Army, constitutes professional malpractice. I don’t think we should accept it as the new normal. I think we should pass [the budget] …and get on with it. The world is a dangerous place and is becoming more dangerous by the day. Pass the budget.”
At General Milley’s direction a new type of brigade has been formed. Security Force Assistance Brigades are staffed only by leaders, officers and senior non-commissioned officers for a total of about 800 in an entire brigade – no troops. Their mission is to train foreign armies. Special Forces are the masters of creating guerilla armies from scratch. But our combat brigades have been tasked with training established foreign armies that are not very good, like Iraq and Afghanistan. Only the leaders are used to advise and assist those foreign armies, but it makes that brigade non-deployable for a year. General Milley said that his brigade in the 10th Mountain Division was tasked to do an advisory mission in Afghanistan. He said; “My brigade was all broke apart to do that. I thought at that time ….’there has got to be a better way of doing this. There has got to be a more professional way’. We were ad hoc. We were pulling it out of our butts, so to speak”.
General Milley has a Bachelors Degree in Political Science from Princeton, Masters Degrees from Columbia University in International Relations and National and Strategic Studies from the Naval War College, and is a graduate from MIT’s National Security Studies Program. He is charismatic and witty and can be as tough as nails when necessary. He is a humble, no pretense man, while speaking at a function he thanked the organization for the introduction and pageantry, and then said; “This could cause a person to think that they are somebody”. An extremely smart, humble, and tough guy who is used to getting things done
There are two very different US Armies. Many soldiers who enlist in the Army, go through their training, go to a unit, at most Army posts, and do their time, never know that there are two Army’s.
I am not suggesting that a big part of the Army is substandard, it is not. The US Army is the finest army in the world, and is the most professional it has ever been, but one part of it is head and shoulders above the rest. If you think the Marines are proud and cultish, you ain’t seen nuthin yet.
The recent command climate problems at Fort Hood, Texas, has made the two army’s visible. There is the Airborne Army and the Non-Airborne Army.
The Airborne Army’s difference is more than just jumping out of airplanes, its complete culture is different from the non-airborne army. Fort Bragg, North Carolina is the home of the Airborne, it is the home of the John F Kennedy Special Warfare School and Center that trains all Green Berets, it is the home of the US Army Special Operations Command, the 3rd Special Forces Group, and the super-secret Delta Force. It is also home to the headquarters of US Army Forces Command, the largest military command, the US Army Reserve Command, 18th Airborne Corps Headquarters, and the 18,000 paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division, America’s fire brigade, ready to go anywhere, at a moments notice. It is the largest military post, with over 55,000 soldiers. It has been called the center of the military universe, and with dozens of general officers on post, it has also been called Pentagon South.
It is the favorite post of thousands of soldiers, most all of whom are airborne. The surrounding area is one of the largest retired military communities, in the country. Time magazine once named Fayetteville, North Carolina the most pro military city in the United States. The US Army Airborne and Special Operations Museum occupies about two city blocks in downtown Fayetteville.
The biggest difference between Fort Bragg, which is centered around the 82nd Airborne Division, and most other army posts, is a culture of achievement and success. There are several facets to that culture.
The 82nd Airborne Division is the United States military ready unit. One of its three brigade combat teams (BCT), is always on standby. That entire 4,500 paratrooper brigade, with all equipment, can be “wheels up” to anywhere, within 18 hours of notification, and as the world witnessed New Year’s Day 2020, in response to the attack on the American Embassy in Baghdad, one 750 soldier battalion can be on a plane in about six hours. To maintain that kind of combat readiness, there has to be rules and standards, and lots of training. The 82nd definitely has high standards. It also has a history of never failing to accomplish its mission.
In May 2018, First Sergeant Erik Salo, of the Falcon Brigade (2nd BCT, 82nd Abn Div), who said that he had been in the division for over a decade, said; “Serving in the division means that you honor a concept of professionalism. Nobody else can rapidly deliver the amount of firepower, at one time, as the 82nd Airborne Division. These men and women volunteered to go airborne, and be in a unit that is going to be on the leading edge of the battlefield. There is a lot of pride and a lot of history here, and you feel that, every single day you come to work.”
In that same 2018 video, Sergeant First Class Chris Abrahamson said; “These people love to be airborne, they really do. A lot of that comes from their being proud of the unit, the history, and the footsteps they walk in.”
Every year, since the mid 1980’s, the 82nd Airborne Division has conducted “All American Week”, the week before the Memorial Day weekend. Due to COVID-19, it did not happen in 2020. The activities of All American Week are coordinated with the 82nd Airborne Division Association, which is comprised of 82nd veterans, and has 96 chapters scattered around the United States.
All American Week starts on Monday morning with a division four-mile run. Imagine about 15,000 paratroopers all running in one giant formation. Veterans are invited to run with the troops, one who lost his legs makes part of the run.
Hundreds of 82nd veterans are always in attendance, meeting and mingling with the paratroops. There are breakfasts with veterans, prayer breakfasts, unit picnics, and athletic competition between units. Wednesday is a memorial service at the 82nd Airborne Division War Memorial Museum, honoring the over 5,000 82nd paratroopers who have been killed in combat, and almost 300 killed in training.
It ends on Thursday with a mass parachute jump and tactical demonstration, on Sicily Drop Zone, then units forming in a review, in front of sometimes thousands of veterans, families, and spectators, waiting in the bleachers on Sicily.
A few years ago, a drill sergeant, who said that his first assignment in the army was the airborne brigade in Alaska, responding to a question about the 82nd, said this; “I hated the Army. I would have rather died than reenlist. Mind you, I hated the “back at Bragg” parrots even more. When I received orders to Bragg my reaction was pretty much Nooo I’ve been assigned to hell.” “I decided to make the best of it, I worked out super hard and prepared for my arrival as a specialist with a little bit more time in service. Arrived at Bragg. Ready for the whirlwind of BS Airborne to the fullest! One of my first notable experiences was appearing before a Soldier of the Month Board, and getting kicked off because my Brigade Sergeant Major was upset that I was not already a Sergeant. I got boarded and promoted to Sergeant. My next experience was schools, real schools taught by Special Forces guys or civilian shooting instructors. After that, my other experience was going to the field and instead of focusing on Iraq or Afghanistan, I was doing full blown airfield seizures and patrol base activities. Stuff I had to brush up on because I never did it in my old unit. After being a Sergeant for a year, I was sent to the Staff Sergeant board. My platoon sergeants were competent as all hell. My First Sergeants knew what was going on and actually cared. My Lieutenants were not that stupid. Commanders were legit. My Battalion and Brigade Commanders were real warriors. Moving on, I’m a Drill Sergeant now. I’m around all sorts of infantrymen. I know the average outlook on 82nd guys is how we always say “back at Bragg”. I will say this though, the majority of 82nd guys want to go back to the 82nd. I want to go back. I also know other guys who have kind of a mutual respect for the 82nd. One of the drills I work with always told me how it’s annoying about people from the 82nd always talk about it, but also kind of impressive how so many people from a division have pride in their division”.
A Sergeant First Class French, who has made dozens of youtube videos, made one titled “Why I love Fort Bragg”. In it he describes arriving at Fort Bragg, as a new non-airborne private, going to jump school and returning to completely different treatment. He says that Fort Bragg has an airborne culture, and that culture is one of achievement and success. He says that non-airborne soldiers are looked at as not buying into that culture of professionalism and success.
So, how is that professional, highly trained, culture, with very high morale, maintained year after year, commander after commander. First, the Army tries to have the best officers in charge. Command climate emanates from the boss. I have seen troop attitudes change at a change of command ceremony, from company to division level. When the boss of a factory, appreciates his employees, rewards extra production with bonuses, and pats on the back, and is sensitive to family requirements, production will go up, and people will stay and work harder than for one who doesn’t do those things. The Army is the same. Army leadership is not about giving orders, it is about convincing soldiers to want to do what you want them to do. Over the past 50 years, there have been 26 two-star generals command the 82nd Airborne Division, not counting the current commander or his predecessor. Four retired with two stars, eight as three stars, and 14 as four-star generals. That’s the caliber of leader the Army tries to have in charge of the 82nd Airborne Division, and there is a plethora of army generals who have served in the 82nd. The current command team of Major General (MG) Christopher Donahue and Command Sergeant Major (CSM) David Pitt, arrived in July 2020.
MG Donahue graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point, in 1992, the Naval War College, and the US Army War College Fellowship at Harvard University. After serving as a Ranger Battalion platoon leader and an infantry company commander, he has spent a large part of his career in special operations, commanding everything up to a brigade. He was assistant division commander of the 4th Infantry Division, Commandant of the Infantry School (Chief of Infantry), Deputy Director for Special Operations and Counter-Terrorism at the pentagon, and most recently Commander, Special Operations Joint Task Force-Afghanistan. After a few months in command of the 82nd, he said; “I’ve had some pretty cool jobs, but this is the coolest, by far, hands down.”
Sergeants, non-commissioned officers, in the 82nd Airborne Division, often spend their entire career there, minus schools and a couple of special assignments, such as drill sergeant, or recruiting duty. That creates an unbreakable unit continuity.
CSM Pitt enlisted in the Army in 1992, and has been a rifleman, team leader, squad leader, platoon sergeant, and first sergeant all in the 82nd Airborne Division, as well as being a drill sergeant at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and an ROTC instructor at Florida A&M. He was CSM of Fort Polk, Louisiana, Talent Manager in the infantry/armor branch at Human Resource Command, and Sergeant Major of Operations/ Training in the Pentagon. He is a ranger, and has a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice from Excelsior College.
Things for soldiers to do, on their time off, has been greatly curtailed by COVID. CSM Pitt has created a weekend shooting range, which he runs. It is strictly voluntary, with no set times. All a soldier has to do is notify his or her company, on Wednesday, that they want to draw their weapon on Saturday morning, pick up their weapon and come to the range, when they want to. It is not only a fun thing to do, but a valuable thing for many support soldiers who don’t get to shoot much, because shooting scores is a big deal in promotion to sergeant.
The 82nd Airborne Division is called the All American Division, also America’s Guard of Honor. Here is how it achieved those titles.
In 1914, when war exploded in Europe, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the United States would be neutral, and history says that the majority of the American people agreed. In 1915 Germany announced unrestricted warfare against any ship headed for England. Ships with Americans on board were blown up with mines and torpedoed by German submarines. In March 1917 Germany sank four United States Merchant ships. On April 2nd President Wilson called for a declaration of war against Germany. It was approved by congress on April 4th.
The Selective Service Act of 1917 or the “Draft Act”, was approved and signed into law on May 18th. By the end of the war about 4.2 million men had been drafted into the service. During the summer of 1917, hundreds of thousands of men were drafted into the Army forming new divisions and training as units. A total of 62 divisions were formed and 42 were shipped overseas.
The 82nd Infantry Division was constituted in the National Army on August 5th 1917, and filled with all drafted soldiers directly from civilian life to go through training as a unit, and activated on August 25th, at Camp Gordon, Georgia. When it was discovered that there were soldiers from all 48 states in the division, the Division Commander, Major General Eban Smith, chose the name “All American”, and the AA shoulder patch was created. The 82nd Infantry Division spent more consecutive days on the front lines in France than any other American Division and suffered 7,422 casualties, including 1,298 killed. Its’ battle streamers included Lorraine, Saint-Mihiel, and Meuse-Argonne. One of its’ soldiers was the most famous Medal of Honor winner of World War One, Alvin C. York. The 82nd Division returned to the States in April and May 1919, and was deactivated at Camp Mills, New York on May 27th.
AMERICA’S GUARD OF HONOR:
Following the surrender of Germany, in World War II, the 82nd was ordered to Berlin for occupation duty. In Berlin General George Patton was so impressed with the 82nd’s honor guard he said, “In all my years in the Army and all the honor guards I have ever seen, the 82nd’s honor guard is undoubtedly the best.” Hence the “All-Americans” became known as “America’s Guard of Honor.”
That’s the short answer, but there is always more to the story. What else, besides sharp looking paratroopers was in General George (old blood and guts) Patton’s mind when he said that?
General Patton knew and respected the 82nd Airborne Division, and he knew and respected its commander, Major General James Maurice Gavin, the youngest division commander, in fact the youngest general in the Army, at age 37. Clay Blair wrote in “Ridgeway’s Paratroopers”; “Gavin was tall and slim (Slim Jim), handsome, soft-spoken, a dedicated athlete and a master in the art of leading men. He was also dazzlingly brilliant – considered by some to be a military genius. In conversation, his mind raced at breathtaking speed over such a vast canvas. Ridgeway later wrote that Gavin was “one of the finest battle leaders and one of the most brilliant thinkers the Army ever produced.”
General Patton may have thought back to his first meeting with the 82nd Airborne Division, when he was commanding the 7th Army during the invasion of Sicily in July 1943. Two Infantry Divisions were to land on the beaches, led the night before by an 82nd Airborne Division reinforced regiment parachuting inland, in front of the invasion forces, to block the German army from reaching the beaches. He may have remembered how high winds blew the 82nd’s planes wildly off course, with most becoming lost and dropping paratroops scattered over an area almost 100 miles wide, instead of in front of the invasion forces. How paratroopers formed together in little groups, cut every telephone line, conducted ambushes and raids, and attacked German convoys and road blocks. LGOPS (Little groups of paratroopers.) That was when the Germans discovered that the American paratrooper was a very dangerous adversary. How then Colonel Gavin, carrying an M-1 rifle and leading an engineer platoon, then a battalion attacked Biazza Ridge, with small arms, bazookas, and small modified artillery pieces, against German tanks. He may have seen Gavin frantically digging a body sized hole, with his helmet, to keep from being crushed by the tanks, but he would have definitely remembered Gavin and his ad hoc band of paratroopers stopping the German armored column at Biazzza Ridge. James Gavin recalled meeting General Patton, immediately after the Biazza Ridge battle. General Patton’s first words were; “Gavin you look like you could use a drink. Here have one”, and handed him a flask. In spite of starting in complete disaster, the 82nd accomplished all its objectives.
In early 1944, the 82nd was sent to England to prepare for D-Day, but the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR) was held to help with the invasion of Sicily at Anzio. That invasion was met by overwhelming German opposition. The 504th suffered high casualties, resulting in companies with only 20 to 30 men, but they held, turning it into a static battlefield with trenches, barbed wire, and mine fields between the two sides. When night came, the paratroopers patrolled and harassed the German positions. On the body of a German Major, killed at Anzio, was found a diary with the following entry; “American paratroopers – Devils in Baggy Pants – are less than 100 meters from my outpost line. I can’t sleep at night; they pop up from nowhere and we never know when or how they will strike next. Seems like the black-hearted devils are everywhere…” That is when the 504th became the “Devils in Baggy Pants”.
General Patton may have remembered how the 82nd Airborne Division was assigned, what some called, the suicide mission of blocking several German Armored Divisions from reaching the Normandy beaches on D-Day, and again being scattered over the area, but accomplishing every objective and stopping the German armor.
He may have also thought about Operation Market Garden in Holland, where the 82nd accomplished all its objectives, only to be stopped by a superior German force at the Nijmegan bridge over the ¼ mile wide Waal river. Then sending a battalion across the river, in boats, against German infantry on the far bank, over running the Germans and taking the bridge. Then spending the next two months fighting the German army on the ground, in Holland.
The Battle of the Bulge must surely have been on General Patton’s mind, when he was given the mission of stopping the German breakout in December 1944, and the 82nd Airborne Division hurriedly thrown into the battle, succeeded in stopping the main German column.
General Patton may or may not have known exact figures, at that time, but he knew what divisions did what in the war. There were 73 American divisions engaged in combat during World War II. The 82nd Airborne Division spent 422 days engaged in active combat, number four out of the 73, and “never lost a foot of ground”.
Early on Thursday morning, August 30th 1945, Major General Gavin wrote a letter to his daughter, Barbara. He wrote that in about an hour he was having General Eisenhower and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as guests for an airborne division review. So, in the airborne tradition of never doing anything half way, an honor guard was organized of all combat veterans, with several rows of ribbons, all six feet tall, with spit shined jump boots, with white laces, white parachute silk scarfs around their neck, and chrome plated bayonets on their rifles.
When General Patton uttered those words, that morning, the stands were filled with news reporters, who put the General’s words on wire services around the world, and that is when the 82nd Airborne Division became America’s Guard of Honor.
The 82nd returned to the United States and led the World War II Victory Parade through New York City on January 12th 1946, before finally returning to Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
Since World War II, the 82nd Airborne Division has been the United States Military immediate reaction force. Presidents Truman and Eisenhower chose not to use the 82nd in Korea, but to keep it ready if needed elsewhere. The 82nd is now the US military Global Response Force, and how it has responded.
Dominican Republic, Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, the first Iraq war 1990, hurricane Andrew, Haiti – Restore Democracy, Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, hurricane Katrina, and most recently the 3rd Brigade Combat Team (BCT) in Afghanistan, the 2nd BCT in Iraq, and the 504th (Devils in Baggy Pants) deployed to guard the American Embassy in Baghdad.
The sayings like; success begats success, and greatness begats greatness, certainly apply in the 82nd Airborne Division. There are many young men and women just out of high school, then there are some older paratroopers, like the former high school teacher, I Knew, who had a masters in English, and was also a martial arts expert. He just wanted the experience, before he was too old. During the hot part of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the age limit to enlist was raised to 42. Michael J. MacLeod was 41, with a masters in wildlife biology, and a small publishing company. He enlisted, spent five years in the 82nd Airborne Division, including tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. After leaving the service, he wrote “The Brave Ones”. He was also the military photo journalist of the year in 2012.
People are attracted to the airborne for various reasons, adventure, excitement, patriotism, and familiarity, such as then combat medic Specialist Terry Bluebird, the first female 82nd Airborne Division Trooper of the Year, in 2015. Both of Terry’s parents are retired paratroopers from the 82nd.
The former Army moto, Be all you can be, could be used to describe life in the 82nd. The 82nd is well represented in every Ranger school class. The troopers who successfully complete the 82nd’s 25 day Small Unit & Ranger Tactics course (formerly called “pre-ranger”) have a significant advantage in completing Ranger school.
The majority of Green Berets, “grow up” in the 82nd, deciding to go for Special Forces after they make sergeant. Success in the 82nd is not just in combat arms, there are annual competitions for Best Medic, Best Mechanic, Best Paralegal, and so on.
In April 2019, the 82nd Support Battalion Dining Facility was named the best in the entire US Army, winning the Philip A. Connelly Award. The 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade Dining Facility won it in 2015, and the 82nd Support Troops Battalion in 2010.
Today the 82nd Airborne Division Headquarters is located in Gavin Hall. Slim Jim Gavin set the standard for airborne officer leadership. His briefing to new lieutenants, included this; “The officer is the first man out the door, and the last man in the chow line.” Meaning the officer always leads from the front, and never looks after his personal needs, until seeing to the needs of his men. When saluting a superior officer in the 82nd, the proper greeting is a boisterous “All the Way, Sir” (or Ma am). The officer answers with a smile and a hearty “Airborne”.
As previously mentioned, I am not suggesting that the rest of the US Army is sub-standard. It is not. The command climate problems recently investigated at Fort Hood, Texas, have caused a serious “slap in the face” wake up in the Pentagon. The culture of the rest of the Army will be changing. I don’t know how, and I don’t think Army leadership, yet has a full grasp on what changes are necessary, but change is coming.
My message is this. Whatever MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) (job) you choose, upon enlistment, try to get the airborne option. Combat arms, with the airborne option, will probably go to the 82nd, possibly (smaller chance) the 173rd Airborne Brigade, in Italy, the most requested assignment, in the Army, or the 4th Brigade (Airborne), 25th Infantry, in Alaska.
There are many airborne support jobs at Fort Bragg, not in the 82nd, but if you are airborne on Fort Bragg, you will wear a maroon beret, which tells the world that you are a professional, a cut above.
When a 40 soldier infantry platoon goes to the field, and always when it goes on an actual combat operation, there are two soldiers attached. One is a sergeant forward observer (FO), although often a specialist is in the job, and the other is his or her radio operator. Both are MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) 13F Joint Fire Support Specialist. They are that platoon’s Fire Support Team, called the FIST team. Often that FO is the most important asset that Platoon Leader has, because that FO knows every big gun capable of reaching his area of operation, including how fast they can fire, what kind of rounds they have and the effects those rounds have on targets. The FO has at his fingertips, not only mortars and artillery, but also, helicopter gunships, Air Force tactical aircraft, and off shore Navy gun boats. In the event a unit finds itself outnumbered or surrounded, the FO is the equalizer, who can make it rain fire and steel on the enemy. The FIST isn’t assigned to that platoon, or that company, or that battalion. They are assigned to the artillery, but they don’t train and travel with the Artillery, they move with the infantry. In the field a platoon FO’s boss is the platoon leader. In light infantry, the FIST team moves with the platoon leader. In mechanized infantry the FIST team rides in the platoon leader’s vehicle, but during an actual operation, the FIST team will probably be out of the vehicle and in a position to observe terrain and targets. Platoon FO’s have been known to report valuable intelligence information directly to brigade headquarters.
When an infantry lieutenant in Afghanistan looks out of his platoon’s night defensive position, at first light, lifts his binoculars and sees about 300 Taliban spread out across the side of the mountain and moving in his direction, he yells “CALL FOR FIRE”! This is about what he means and to whom he is talking.
Some army jobs are also well paying civilian jobs, especially in the medical and information technology fields. Most of the jobs, associated with the Army’s primary mission of winning in combat, do not translate to civilian jobs. Some soldiers will love a particular job while others will hate it, we are all different. However, in literally every survey conducted in the Army over the past 50 years, soldiers in combat related jobs are happier than those in support jobs. Overall, combat units have higher morale than support units, and the more elite the unit the higher the morale. The 82nd Airborne Division is the pinnacle of the United States military preparedness, subject to be called, on a moments’ notice, to run into their unit, draw gear, weapons and ammunition, get on a plane and jump into combat, and because of that mission to always be ready, they train and they train and they train. They work their butts off. The 82nd Airborne Division also has the highest morale of any combat division in the Army or the Marines.
The soldier the lieutenant is yelling for is his Platoon Forward Observer (FO). This is the first Army job I have researched recently where I found no negative comments. Absolutely every active and former soldier, who commented, loved the job. Big guns that rain bombs down on the enemy do not move with the infantry. They are too big, heavy and cumbersome, and their ammunition is a logistical problem, it is also big. That is called indirect fire, because it is rarely ever fired within sight of a target. An infantry company has a few 60mm (millimeter) mortars which have a max range of maybe a mile, are often fired in sight of the target and are slightly larger than a hand grenade. At battalion level there are 81mm mortars with a range of about three miles, and 120mm mortars with a range of about 6 miles and packs a big punch. The artillery has the big guns. It has 105mm Howitzers with a standard range of about 8 miles and can reach out to 10 or 12 miles. It also has 155mm Howitzers with a range of about 25 miles and a very big punch. The Army has been building and testing a new artillery piece, called the Extended Range Cannon Artillery (ERCA). On December 19th 2020, at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona, an ERCA hit a target dead on the nose, from 43 MILES away. That is far beyond the reach of any other known artillery, in the world.
Artillery sets up in a secure location well to the rear of the combat area where it can be easily resupplied. Forward observers are assigned to the Artillery but attached to and move with the Infantry and tell the big guns what to shoot and how. The FO’s can see the target, they are the eyes for the artillery, mortars, helicopter gunships, tactical Air Force fighter planes, and naval gunfire from ships off shore. In the past FO’s have carried big loads, consisting of radios, binoculars, maps, compasses and range finders. It took a lot of clandestine foot travel to get in position to see the target, which many times placed them very close to enemy activity.
All grunts learn to call for fire, in case there are no FO’s around, but what the infantryman learns is elementary compared to the knowledge and capabilities of a trained and experienced forward observer. Any infantryman with a radio can call for indirect fire support. He gives the mortars or artillery Fire Direction Center (FDC) a map grid coordinate or a known map location, the FDC plots the position and gives the gun crews settings for the guns. A spotter round is fired, if it is not on target the soldier calling for fire says “Adjust fire” right, left, up, down and how far. When a round lands on target he commands “Fire for Effect”, at that time each mortar or artillery piece will fire a salvo of a set number of rounds. If the observer wants more, he commands “Repeat” and another salvo is fired.
The current army 13F is now called a Joint Fire Support Specialist because they also communicate with the Air Force and the Navy. Forward Observers, as well as most dismounted leaders, carry a PFED (Pocket-sized Forward Entry Device). A PFED is like a super all powerful, encrypted smart phone, which can send and receive text messages, photos, GPS (Global Positioning System) locations, as well as access various mission applications. Recently added to the PFED is the Mobile Handheld Fires Application (MHFA), which combined with the GPS capability, utilizes both a laser range finder and a precision fire imagery application to generate a grid coordinate that moves digitally up the fire chain to the Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System (AFATDS). AFATDS is the Army’s comprehensive fires planning system that acts as the central hub for a commander’s fire support tactical decision making. This past year, 2019, the Army started the replacing the Lightweight Laser Designated Rangefinder, used by Forward Observers. It weighs about 35 pounds and is considered a crew served system. The new system, the Joint Effects Targeting System Target Laser Designation System, weighs less that 17 pounds, and is faster and more accurate, and can be used in all weather. Artillery people are excited about it, they say it turns the big guns into giant sniper rifles, guaranteeing precise first round hits.
A couple years ago Forward Observers in the 82nd Airborne Division started utilizing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV’s). With the real time video from the UAV’s integrated into the MHFA on their PFED, the FO can see and identify precise targets.
When I was in the Army a first round hit from artillery or big mortars was a combination of skill by everyone involved and a considerable amount of luck. Now first round hits are common and expected. That has been a goal in Afghanistan, to reduce peripheral civilian casualties, because the enemy is often mixed in with civilians.
FO’s spend a considerable amount of time in the field (in the woods) which is an attraction for many, because for boonie rats life is better in the woods than in garrison. But the thing that makes this job so enjoyable for many is almost complete autonomy. When the infantry goes to the field, at Brigade Headquarters there is a Major and a Captain Fire Support Officers (FSO), plus a Sergeant First Class and two Specialists, at Battalion Headquarters there is a Captain FSO and a Sergeant First Class and two Specialists. On the ground, moving with the Company Commander, is a Lieutenant FSO with a Staff Sergeant, a Specialist, and a Private First Class (PFC) and with each 40 man rifle platoon is a Sergeant (authorized but usually actually a Specialist), and a PFC radio operator. With all the modern computerized technology, someone still has to carry a paper map, a compass and a radio. These 13F’s are assigned to the Artillery but they are not with the Artillery, they are with the Infantry which makes them pretty much on their own. As a Platoon Sergeant and as a First Sergeant I never told my FO team to pull guard duty, help load vehicles or any plain labor jobs, as long as they took care of themselves and were always available I was happy with them.
One former forward observer wrote; “It was the best experience I’ve ever had earning money. You’re the red headed step child of the infantry and the artillery. But everyone forgets how important you are until you are needed, in that moment you’re the most important thing in everyone’s life, you make the earth spin and the flowers grow.” Another said, “All good, loved every minute of it.” A retired Master Sergeant Forward Observer wrote; “There you are, on a hill top, looking at an enemy position that is within range of your artillery battalion (which is behind you) calling for fire on that target. You are most likely communicating digitally, but there is still some type of energy being used, which creates heat, which is visible to thermal imaging devices. Once your artillery fires a few rounds, the enemy Counter-Battery fire team will be looking for YOU, so you better be long gone after you say ‘FIRE FOR EFFECT’.”
The ASVAB requirements for 13F are atest score of 93 in the field artillery (FA) aptitude area. The subtests for this area include arithmetic reasoning (AR), coding speed (CS), mathematics knowledge (MK) and mechanical comprehension (MC). A Secret security clearance will be required. The AIT (Advanced Individual Training) is 10 weeks and 4 days long at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Recent graduates say that it is a lot more laid back than basic, but you’re still a trainee. The barracks are three or four man rooms. Some have two double bunks, some have one double and one single. There are closets instead of wall lockers, and a bath room. A typical day in 13F AIT goes something like this; 0500 – wake up, 0530 – room inspection, 0545 PT Formation and PT, 0700 – shower, clean up, get in uniform, 0730 breakfast, 0900 Class time, 1200 Lunch, 1300 – back in class, 1630 Dinner, 1900 – final formation, cleaning until 2000, 2200 – lights out. Weekends; 0600 – wake up, 0630 formation for breakfast, then cleaning until 0900 – sign out for passes (on post),until 2030, lights out at 2200. There is a PX with a food court, a bowling alley, a gym, and a library close.
With the new Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT), PT will be fairly heavy. This is a combat job, so the physical demands are significant. The Fisters are not infantry, but are part of the infantry, in the field. There are now female FO’s. There are female infantry. I don’t recommend it, but some women want to do that. A recent female 13F AIT student said; “We had to drag a 271-pound dummy for 15 meters (about 50 feet) within three minutes. We broke it down, so the first 10 seconds we drag and the next 20 seconds we rest, so we pretty much had one minute to drag the dummy.”
There will probably be a 12 mile road march, with rucksack, the first week. The first week and a half is land navigation. Some say it is just like land nav in basic, you run the course with a paper map and compass, and find your points. Then you use the DAGR (Defense Advanced GPS Receiver), which, if you enter the coordinates correctly (buddy’s check each other), it will take you directly to your point. 13F’s must be experts at land navigation and locating themselves and targets on various terrains. The second week starts the Call for Fire procedure. 13F’s must also be expert communicators, and voice call for fire is a very methodical and organized process. That learning starts in the classroom on a computer simulator, and progresses to the field, where they call actual live artillery rounds.
I tracked a young man, who graduated from high school in June 2012. In October 2012, he shipped to basic combat training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, graduating in December. After Christmas he reported to Fort Sill, Oklahoma for MOS 13F AIT, graduating in February 2013. From there he went to Fort Benning, Georgia for Airborne School, graduating in March 2013. He then reported to the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He was promoted to Specialist after about a year. Around the end of 2015, with about three years in the Army, he was promoted to Sergeant. He went home and married his high school sweetheart in March 2016. From July 2016 to February 28th 2017, he was with his Brigade in Iraq kicking ISIS out of Mosul. Their son was born February 1st 2017. Which he was able see on a live feed. In June 2018, with less than six years in the Army, he was promoted to Staff Sergeant. In 2020, he was accepted into the army’s Warrant Officer Flight Training (WOFT) program. He completed Warrant Officer Candidate School, was commissioned a Warrant Officer, and as of this writing is in Flight School learning how to fly helicopters.
This story replaces “Band”, published a couple years ago.
Enlisting in the military can open many great opportunities, for young people, but this particular endeavor is different from all others.
Seventh and Eighth Graders and High School Freshmen, who are starting in music, starting is the hardest part. It is something new, learning the basic steps of your instrument and basic music reading, but as you gain skill (practice a lot), you start really making music. Then it becomes FUN.
Band (music) is an elective in high school. The National Association for Music in Education list 20 benefits of studying music in school. It is also a skill, that not everyone possesses, and its’ FUN. For some, it could be the most important class they take in high school, because you could make your living, the rest of your life, just playing music. If you are in high school, in the band, you love music and love playing in the band, you could do that for a living, in the military.
If you are in an Army band, that is your primary duty. All you do is play music. You are still a soldier, you do PT (Physical Training) every weekday, you qualify with your rifle at least once a year, you have a PT test at least once a year, and you go through the gas chamber once a year, and you attend the same professional development schools every other soldier attends to get promoted, and you get promotions at about the same speed as other support jobs in the Army, but your duty that you perform every day is playing music. Within each Army band there are various ensembles, woodwind, brass, jazz, rock, etc.
An example of the schedules of the 399th Army Band at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, and the 82nd Airborne Division Band at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Some part of them performs about every day. On Friday, the 399th Army Band Bugler might be at Gammon Field for the start of the Engineer Run, and at 6:00PM the jazz combo, fife, drum and bugler would be performing at the Engineer Regimental Ball. On that day, at 11:00 AM the brass quintet of the 82nd Airborne Division band will perform at the “Volunteer of the Quarter Ceremony”, at Hall of Heroes on Fort Bragg, at 6:30 PM, the jazz combo will perform at Movie in the Pines, Town Park, in Southern Pines, North Carolina, and at 7:00 PM, the rock band will perform at the “4th Friday Dogwood Festival”, at Festival Park in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Army bands travel.
All branches of the military have bands. The US Army has 15 regional bands in the continental United States, plus one in Alaska, one in Hawaii, one in Korea, one in Germany, and one in Japan. There are also four “Premium Bands”, The United States Army Band (Pershing’s Own), The Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps, The United States Army Field Band, and the West Point Band. Competition to get into one of the premium bands is tough, they are the pros of the pros.
The Navy has nine bands in the US, one in Hawaii, one in Italy, and one in Japan. The Marines have eight bands in the US, one in Okinawa, and one in Hawaii. The Air Force has eight bands in the US, one in Germany, and one in Japan. The Air Force is much tougher to get into, because they send their music people directly to a band after basic training, whereas the Army, Navy and Marines send their musicians to music school after basic.
The process for getting into an Army Band is first see an Army Recruiter. First you must be eligible to join the military, height, weight, physical and medical condition, and ASVAB (Armed Service Vocational Aptitude Battery) test, and nothing derogatory in your background. If you are 13 or 14, and are not yet too overweight, don’t get that way. Being overweight is one of the biggest military disqualifiers. One of the things that puts a lot of weight on many young people, is soft drinks. Pepsi and Coke, and all related drinks are heavy with sugar. Find a tasty zero calorie water, they make all different tastes, and they don’t put on the weight.
There is serious competition to get into an Army Band. Many new music major college graduates go into the Army, but many high school graduates are also accepted, every year. Depends on how good you are.
The recruiter will contact the closest Army Band Music Audition Coordinator, who will contact you and request that you submit a recording and a performance resume as soon as possible. If the Audition Coordinator believes that you have the musical talent to be in an Army Band, he will tell the recruiter to “qualify you”. Then you take the ASVAB, a physical assessment test, a physical exam, plus have your medical records reviewed to see if you can enlist in the Army. When you are qualified, the recruiter will notify the Audition Coordinator that you can enlist. The Audition Coordinator will then contact you to schedule an audition. The audition would probably be at your school, or a location convenient for you, they will come to you rather than have you go to them. That is not the case with the other services. The audition will consist of four areas; 1 – Ceremonial Music, the coordinator will send you a packet of ceremonial music to be prepared prior to your audition. 2 – Prepared Music, that is your time to show off, you should prepare at least three selections of contrasting styles to emphasize your technical, musical, and stylistic ability. These selections can be excerpts from classical solo repertoire, concert band or orchestra literature, or jazz/pop standards. You may ask the Coordinator for suggestions. 3 – Music Preparation, this portion of the audition judges how well you can quickly prepare music in the event you were called to sub on a gig with short notice. The evening prior to your audition, your coordinator will send you a packet of various styles. You will be responsible for preparing the music by your scheduled audition time. 4 – Additional Skills, Army Bands value additional skills that musicians bring to their organization. You may receive additional points on your audition if you choose to demonstrate any of the following; doubling, singing, or improvisation. You should ask your coordinator what would be appropriate.
The instruments are; Cornet/Trumpet, Baritone/Euphonium, French Horn, Trombone, Tuba, Flute/Piccolo, Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon, Saxophone, Percussion, Keyboard, Guitar, and Electric Bass. The conductor of the audition will use a US Army School of Music Form to grade your audition. Your audition will be given a numerical score which will be reported to the School of Music, the Human Resource Command, and your recruiter. An audition is good for 45 days. You must either enlist or contract into the Future Soldier Program (it used to be called the Delayed Entry Program), within that time frame. If you elect a delayed program of 90 days or less, the Army Bands Senior Career Advisor will negotiate a unit-of-choice with you, in other words, you can pick your band, if there is a vacancy, if you go over 90 days you will be assigned according to the needs of the Army, in other words, no choice of where you may be assigned.
Because of COVID-19, auditions may now be performed remotely. That process may be started online at goarmy.com/band/auditions. Also, after the audition, all who have auditioned, with the same instrument, will compete for positions. Top score getting top slot.
I have seen pictures of high school bands playing with masks lowered, I have also seen some playing with split masks. Hopefully, you are able to keep up your practice, during COVID.
Basic training, is basic training, Infantry, Artillery, Armor, Combat Engineers, and Military Police have their own basic, everyone else goes through basic together at Fort Leonard Wood, Fort Sill, Oklahoma, Fort Jackson, South Carolina, or Fort Benning, Georgia. Army Basic Combat Training is as tough now as it has ever been, since World War II. It is not harassment it is just physically and mentally tough training, to convert you from civilian to soldier. You may be a musician, but you’re still a soldier. After 10 weeks of Basic Combat Training, band people will attend the 10 week AIT (Advanced Individual Training) US Army School of Music at Virginia Beach, Virginia. That is Army MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) 42R, with a skill identifier according to your instrument. The school consists of small groups of 4 or 5 students with an instructor/mentor. There is lot of one on one private instrumental instruction, as well as music theory, sight singing and ear training, and group instrumental techniques. The primary mission of the school is to produce professional musicians.
When the headquarters of the 82nd Airborne Division deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, the band also deployed. They played for the troops. The rock band which was formed from within the 82nd Airborne Division Band, “The Riser Burns”, was the most popular with the troops, and would sometimes fly to three locations a day to perform for the troops. Bands do go to war, but they don’t fight, they play music. The Army has protected its’ music people since the Revolutionary War, because bands are good for morale. About everybody appreciates music, and those who are good at it.
Army musicians have a high reenlistment rate. What better job than to play music for a living. What do you make, in the Army? While in basic training and AIT, after deductions, you will have about $1,400 per month deposited in your bank account. Divided in half and paid twice monthly. By the time you get to your band, most soldiers are promoted to PFC (Private First Class) about that time, your take home pay will be about $1,650. Plus, you’re living free. You share a suite with a roommate, each has their own bedroom and share a bath and kitchen, and eat free in the DFAC (Dining Facility). At around 18 months in service, most make Specialist E-4, which makes the take home over $1,800 per month, and that includes contributing 5 percent of your base pay to a Thrift Savings Plan, which the government matches. The TSP can be rolled into an IRA, or 401K, when you leave the service. When you go over Two years, the pay goes to about $1,900 per month. A Sergeant (SGT) with over three years makes about $2,100, after deductions. How about a married Staff Sergeant (SSG), over six years, living off post, that’s about $4,500 per month, take home, plus health care for the family is free. A married Sergeant First Class (SFC) over 10 years, living off post takes home about $5,400 per month. Throw in the free health care, what you and the government are contributing to a Thrift Savings Plan, and all the other benefits of being a soldier, and that SFC is making the civilian equivalent of about $100,000 a year. Plus, most all of the SFC musicians I found had accumulated at least a bachelor’s degree in music, during their time in the Army. Some already had their masters, by that time. Many musicians, who make a career of the Army, become warrant officers around mid-career, thereby becoming band leaders and directors.
Imagine this, play music for the Army for 20 years, retire at age 38, with a bachelor’s degree (at least) in music, an immediate monthly retirement check of around $2,000, almost free health care (about $550 per family, per year until age 65, then it is completely free), plus a few hundred thousand dollars in the government Thrift Savings Plan. You would have the experience for about any job in the music industry, and you would be highly qualified to teach music in any school.
If this sounds interesting, take high school band seriously.
The Army says it has over 150 different jobs, but some are not real jobs.
How do you choose a job in the Army? The short answer is do a lot of research and talk to a lot of people about what you think you might like. What you choose and are accepted for is what you will be doing, for the duration of your enlistment. There are hundreds of youtube videos about many Army jobs. Some are produced by the Army as advertisement, but there are also many by individuals and units. Search for forums and comments online, read the pro and the con.
Here are some thoughts that I hope helps. First, I’ll try to define army “job”. The Army advertises that it has over 150 different jobs. That’s true, but some are real jobs and some are not. When two soldiers, who have never met, and aren’t in uniform, strike up a conversation, one asks, “What do you do?” The other answers, “I’m an eleven bravo.” The other comes back with, “I’m a thirteen fox, work with you guys all the time.” Each now knows exactly what the other does, but neither has a real “job”, as in going to work at it every day. A “job” in the Army is an MOS (Military Occupational Specialty). The first answer, eleven bravo, means 11B Light Weapons Infantryman, the second, thirteen fox, is 13F Joint Fire Support Specialist, which is a forward observer for artillery. Combat Arms, infantry, artillery, armor, combat engineers, and air defense artillery, don’t go to their “job” in the morning, after physical training (PT). They go to training. What ever that may be that day. The combat arms trains for combat. Infantrymen can study reaction to an ambush, but they can’t train for it until they get ambushed, in the field (in training), they can study company in the attack, but they can’t train for it until they are in the field, facing thick under brush, trying to figure how to be quiet and get in position.
Artillery and Air Defense Artillery may be doing crew drills, to reduce their set up time, in the field.
Armor (tanks) may be on a tank range, firing tables, and Combat Engineers may be training on breeching (blowing holes in) obstacles.
Support soldiers (those not in combat arms) go to their “job”, in the morning, after PT. Mechanics, medics, truck drivers, welders, computer specialists, supply specialist, and the list goes on, all go to their “job”. So, first think about what you like to do, and what you don’t like. If you love being outside, maybe hunting and fishing, or just camping, hiking, and exploring, maybe you like to play sports, and you don’t like having to stay inside, you may want to take a good look at combat arms. Combat Arms soldiers have consistently polled as happier than support soldiers. If you don’t mind working inside, maybe you like brainy stuff, and maybe you like helping people, there are many different jobs from which to choose.
Here is something else to consider. How fast are promotions, in what jobs. Enlisted advancement, in the Army, is fairly automatic up to Specialist, pay grade E-4. Enlistees with a bachelors’ degree, or a civilian acquired skill, such as a certified welder, may enlist as a Specialist E-4, all other, non-prior service recruits enlist as a Private E-1. There are two pay grades within E-1, one for under four months of service, and the other about $100 more for over four months. Advancement to Private E-2 is automatic at six months, but can happen at four months. That’s a couple hundred dollar raise. Promotion to Private First Class (PFC) E-3, which is another $100 raise, officially comes at a year, but can happen at six months. A young woman, just out of high school, from our town, enlisted to be a Parachute Rigger, MOS 92R. In basic training, she found her calling, ended basic as the platoon guide of her 50 soldier platoon. In the thirteen week 92R AIT (Advanced Individual Training), she was promoted to PFC, as soon as she made the six month mark, and ended as the top graduate of her AIT class. Because she was the Distinguished Honor Graduate, she was assigned to the US Army Special Operations Command. Smart, hard working people move faster. Promotion to Specialist E-4 comes, officially at two years, but can be waived back to 18 months. Most good soldiers make it at around 18 months. The next step is promotion to Sergeant. Promotion to Sergeant is a big deal, in the Army. The difference in prestige, courtesy, responsibility, and ego between Specialist E-4, and Sergeant E-5 is large, plus a pay raise.
Promotion to Sergeant E-5 and Staff Sergeant E-6 is in a primary zone or a secondary zone. The primary zone for Sergeant E-5 is 36 months time in service and 8 months time in grade, but the secondary zone, for exceptional soldiers, starts at 18 months service and 4 months in grade. Yes, you are eligible to be recommended for promotion to sergeant, shortly after making specialist. There are other requirements, such as a correspondence course and a leadership course. Weapons qualification scores, physical training scores, and civilian education are big items that are considered in promotion to sergeant.
Here is where the job comes into play. Some Army MOS’s have a much larger requirement for sergeants than others. The most numerous MOS in the Army is 11B, the infantry. An infantry squad, led by a Staff Sergeant, consists of two four soldier teams, each led by a sergeant. Hard chargers, in the infantry, are making sergeant at around two years in service. Want to know more about the infantry, see my story, “I AM THE INFANTRY – FOLLOW ME”.
Armor– Tank crewman, MOS 19K, is in that same category. Every four man M-1 Abrams Tank crew is commanded by a sergeant. See my story, “US ARMY ARMOR – BE A TANKER”. Combat Engineers, are also in this group, MOS 12B. I have two stories, “ARMY COMBAT ENGINEERS”, and “COMBAT ENGINEERS”, about those soldiers. Another in this category is MOS 13F Joint Fire Support Specialist, see my story “CALL FOR FIRE”.
Another MOS in which exceptional soldiers are being promoted fast is MOS 74D CBRN Specialist (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear). See my story, “CBRN – ENLIST AND BE A SERGEANT IN TWO YEARS”. Every company both combat and support has a 74D sergeant.
Here are some support jobs, that are also fast promoters. MOS 12Y Geospatial Engineer, see my story “GEOSPATIAL ENGINEER”. MOS 17C
Cyber Operations Specialist, this is a Top Secret job for real computer guru’s, see my story “COMPUTER HACKER”.
Another support job, currently making sergeant in around two years is MOS 35F Army Military Intelligence Analyst, see my story “ARMY MILITARY INTELLIGENCE ANALYST”.
If you’re set on being a mechanic, a truck driver, a medic, a human resource specialist, or a whatever, by all means hold out for that job. But, I caution you to thoroughly research the job you think you want, to see what those soldiers actually do, in the Army.
I encourage anyone considering enlisting in the Army to consider the “Airborne Option”, jumping out of airplanes. Those units have higher morale than non-airborne units. What?? You’re afraid of heights?? So are hundreds of paratroopers. Don’t look down.
This was originally published in The Belle Banner, Belle, Missouri, February 20th 2019.
Military Intelligence – what image does that phrase create in your mind? Really smart people? Soldiers studying maps of enemy movements? James Bond or a Tom Clancy character? The Army has an enlisted MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) called Military Intelligence Analyst, MOS 35F. It requires a Top Secret security clearance, and in the words of some soldiers in that job, they get to see and do some really cool stuff. So what does an Army Military Intelligence Analyst do? He or she collects information from all sources, aerial photos, satellite images, reports from human intelligence collectors, reports from the field. Intercepted radio transmissions or cell phone conversations, prisoner of war interrogations, and news reports and many other sources, and puts it together to try to determine what an enemy or a terrorist cell is doing and what it is planning to do. For a commander to make a decision to commit soldiers to combat, he has to have information about the enemy. What is the enemy doing, where is the enemy and what is he planning? That is the job of the intelligence analyst.
America’s military secrets are classified and compartmentalized into sections that are only available to people who have a need to know that particular information. Potential enemies, and some supposed friends, have vast complex organizations whose missions are to find our secrets, just as we have the CIA. The security classifications are Confidential, Secret, and Top Secret, and then there are probably 20 categories and special compartmentalization’s above Top Secret. I had a Top Secret clearance when I was assigned to the Communications Center of US Army Europe Headquarters, but I had to be processed for Special Category (SPECAT) clearance before I could go into the center and go to work. We were all being processed for SI (Special Intelligence) clearances when I left that job. Having the security clearance doesn’t get access to everything. You have to have a “need to know”. Officially there is no “Above Top Secret” clearance, however there a couple of categories that really are above a Top Secret clearance. There is SCI (Sensitive Compartmented Information) and SAP (Special Access Programs). Engineers may have a critical need to know certain technical components of a project, but have no need to know the purpose or scope of the entire project, and the fewer people who know the whole scope the less chance for leaks to foreign agents.
Army Military Intelligence Analysts can’t talk much about their job, because most of what they do is classified. Bradley Manning was an Army Military Intelligence Analyst MOS 35F. After his training he was assigned to the 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, New York. That Brigade deployed to Iraq in late 2009. Manning worked as an analyst in the S2 (Intelligence) Shop of Brigade Headquarters at FOB (Forward Operating Base) Hammer, near the Iranian Border. He was promoted to Specialist and after a few months his immediate supervisor, the S2 NCOIC (Non-commissioned Officer in charge) recommended him for an Army Achievement Medal. That recommendation is now public information. It reads; “Achievement #1 – SPC Manning worked as the night shift Violent Extremist Analytical Team lead. In this capacity, he assisted in the Brigade Commander’s better understanding the Promise Day Brigade in Zafraniyah. His research and efforts led to the identification of the structure in which this particular group conducted operations and how they targeted United States Forces. His research greatly assisted the subordinate unit with accurate information that led to the disruption of the organization. Achievement #2 – SPC Manning’s persistence led to the disruption of Former Special Groups (FSG) in the New Baghdad area. SPC Manning’s tracking of targets led to the identification of enemy support zones that were previously unknown. His analysis led to heavy targeting of insurgent leaders in the area. This effort consistently disrupted their operations. SPC Manning’s dedication led to the detention of a Tier-2 level FSG individual within the Command OE. Achievement #3 – SPC Manning labored to unravel the Tactics, Techniques and Procedures of the enemy smuggling lines from Iran into Command OE. SPC Manning identified key routes that were being utilized as well as support zones that aided in the transportation of explosively-formed penetrators (EFP’s), Katyusha rockets and various small arms. His analysis aided subordinate units in their plans to disrupt these operations and minimize the flow of these systems in to Baghdad. Achievement #4 – SPC Manning was instrumental in assisting the Brigade S2 and S3 plans sections in regards to mission analysis. SPC Manning produced 20 products for three briefings on topics including enemy situation, future enemy operations and current threat assessments. SPC Manning’s in-depth analysis of the areas he covered provided the Brigade S2 and S2 Planner vital information required to lead ground forces to successful mission accomplishment.” That is the job of an Army Military Intelligence Analyst MOS 35F. That is now public information because Bradley Manning was personally a little off center. He was openly gay, which caused some inter office friction. He punched another soldier and was reduced to Private First Class (PFC), fined 7 day’s pay, restricted to the company area and given 14 days extra duty. In the course of his duties, he saw a film of an aerial attack on civilians. It was a mistake, a telescopic camera lens was mistaken for a weapon, but it flipped a switch in Manning, he started gathering everything he could find that could be damaging to the United States in Iraq. As an analyst in Iraq he had access to a tremendous amount of information. He had combat videos and photos and after action reports and literally hundreds of thousands of classified communications between headquarters’ and Embassies. He contacted WikiLeaks and dumped it. A hacker found his transmissions and reported him. He was sentenced to 35 years in prison, but President Obama commuted his sentenced to seven years. He is now goes as she Chelsea Manning.
It is normally desk work, but it is much more that pushing papers. In Intell shops the enlisted people do the analyst work and many of the briefings. The officers are more involved in scheduling, meetings, and advising the commander. I once heard the Division G2 tell the Chief of Staff that he wanted to brief him on some real world work they were doing. The Colonel said: “Great, who do you have working on that?” The answer – Smith and Jones. Colonel – “Good bring them along.”
For someone who enjoys mysteries, puzzles that require complex construction, and has a logical deductive thought process, this could be a really neat job. You can be assigned to about any Army post or overseas area. There are analysts’ in the headquarters of combat battalions, brigades, divisions, corps and armies. There are also separate Military Intelligence companies, battalions and brigades.
The AIT (Advanced Individual Training) for 35F is 16 weeks long at the US Army Intelligence Center at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. That is at Sierra Vista, AZ southeast of Tucson, and southwest of Tombstone, about 20 miles from the Mexican border. All Army intelligence courses are taught there. The city population of Sierra Vista is about 45,000, but the metro population of the area is about 135,000. Army Intelligence people like the post and rave about the beauty of the area. The AIT is very relaxed compared to basic training. Students are marched to and from class, chow, and PT, but they are off when the day is over and off on weekends. Hiking in the mountains overlooking the school is apparently popular with AIT students. It is apparently so relaxed that many cautioned others about getting in trouble. Some said your homework is classified so you have go to study hall, but emphasized “do go to study hall”, and always ask questions.
The requirements to enlist for MOS 35F are an ASVAB score of 105 in the ST (skilled technical) area. The following tests comprise the ST area; Word Knowledge, Paragraph Comprehension, General Science, Mechanical Comprehension and Mathematics Knowledge. I would strive for a score in the 120’s in ST and GT (General Technical) (English and math). Must never have been a member of the Peace Corps, no criminal record except minor traffic violations, and be able to be cleared for a Top Secret clearance, i.e., squeaky clean.
And what are the jobs outside the military that are available to a person with this training and experience? Actually many, FBI, CIA, DEA, ATF, Border Patrol, Homeland Security and others, plus state and large city police use intelligence analysts. This is a very unique skill.
As a November 2020 update to the original story, it has also been a fast promotion job for the past several months, with soldiers making sergeant in two to three years.
From the end of World War II until a couple years ago, the military was turtle slow in making any change or in obtaining new things. The Army is filled with really smart, good people, and its leadership the past few years has turned around that slow process mentality. Cyber war is here – now. The United States started creating cyber operations units 10 years ago, and has since been cyber attacked by foreign countries and we have conducted our own offensive operations. Two years ago, the Department of Defense created the United States Cyber Command. It is an independent four star unified command collocated with the National Security Agency (NSA). Its’ commander is also the Director of the NSA. Its official mission statement is; To direct, synchronize, and coordinate cyberspace planning and operations to defend and advance national interests in collaboration with domestic and international partners. In other words, not only stop hacking attempts, but go on the offensive in cyberspace. The US Army Cyber Command, the US Army Intelligence and Security Command, the Navy Fleet Cyber Command, the Naval Network Warfare Command, the Air Force Cyber Command, and the Marine Corps Cyberspace Command all fall under the US Cyber Command.
In May 2018 I wrote about new Army MOS’s (Military Occupational Specialties) 17C Cyber Operations Specialist and 17E Electronic Warfare Specialist, and in April 2019 I posted it on lifeinthearmy.com. Things are changing – fast. Around four years ago, the Army created MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) 17C – Cyber Operations Specialist, and up until a couple years ago only active duty soldiers in the ranks of Specialist through Master Sergeant, could apply for that MOS. They had to have a Top Secret security clearance and be very computer savvy. For the past couple years, the Army has been recruiting enlistees for MOS 17C. If you are in high school or already out and a computer junky, and not yet reached the age of 34, but college is not in your immediate future, consider enlisting for this MOS. It requires a five year enlistment, it also requires a Top Secret security clearance, which means your background must be squeaky clean, minus a minor traffic ticket. First, for any job in the Army, is basic combat training (BCT). BCT is the most radical environmental change many young people will experience. No telephone, no access to telephones until after a few weeks. Communication with family and friends is by letter. It is 10 weeks long, it is physically hard, stressful, and in the words of many graduates, a lot of fun and a great experience. 17C candidates attend Phase I, which is the six month long Navy Joint Cyber Analysis Course (JCAC) at Corry Station (Pensacola), Florida. After JCAC the 17C candidate then attends Phase II, a 20 week Army Cyber Operations Specialist Course at Fort Gordon, Georgia. JCAC is attended by all services, then like the Army, the Air Force and the Marines teach their own courses. The Army Digital Defense Service hired an outside firm, General Assembly, which is a worldwide high tech education company that, much like the Army, teaches basic, corps technology – no electives or ‘nice to have’ classes, to set up and conduct the Army’s own Phase I 17C course. The pilot course, with 10 students, ran from January to April 2019, twelve weeks, not six months. Those 10 were placed alongside JCAC graduates for Phase II, with no noticeable difference in knowledge or performance. The plan was for 17C AIT to be about six months long and all at Fort Gordon. Apparently that didn’t work, or COVID-19 interfered, because Phase I is still listed as JCAC at Pensacola.
In October 2019, there was a ground breaking ceremony on Fort Gordon to construct a new ultra-modern cyber training facility. Some buildings will be demolished, four new constructed and seven renovated. The first facility will be a classified building, that is scheduled to open in fiscal year 2022. The Commanding General of the Cyber Center at Fort Gordon said; “The networks that go into it will allow us to do training at a level that is just far and above what we do today, and in a domain that is so dynamic like cyber, being able to train in that environment is absolutely critical.” As far as security is concerned, this job is on a level above that of special operations. There is no enlistment bonus for this MOS. Everything about it is Top Secret. Who enlists for 17C, who is in training, and who is in the operational units is classified. So, the Specialist or Sergeant 17C does not get to come home and tell what he or she does in the Army. These are cyberspace shadow warriors. Some 17C assignments qualify for up to $300 per month special pay. Promotion to Sergeant is very fast. Very good operators are making Sergeant in 24 to 30 months.
University of West Florida grants 30 semester hours toward a bachelor’s degree in computer science to graduates of JCAC. Universities and colleges represented at Fort Gordon have not yet advertised the credit they give for the 17C AIT course, because it is new, but I would expect about the same credits. Enlist for five years for 17C, and by the time you are finished with training, you have a year of college. Anyone, in this job, should be able to complete their bachelors by the end of a five year enlistment. At the end of that five years, the Army has been offering an $81,000 reenlistment bonus to Staff Sergeants who will reenlist for six more years, because the Army is competing with the civilian world that pays these people big salaries. So, how does someone become an Army Cyberoperations Specialist? See an Army Recruiter. The Army Recruiters office in Rolla, Missouri has as professional a staff of Sergeants as you will find. The first question from a recruiter is, do you have a high school diploma, the second is, have you ever been in trouble with the law. When you tell the recruiter that you want to be a cyberoperations specialist, his normal process changes a little, he or she will want to know a lot about your background. The job requires a Top Secret clearance, be absolutely honest about everything. You will be given a practice ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) test there in the recruiting office, if you score high enough then the conservation will turn to your background and high school. How much algebra did you take and how were your grades? Computer programming requires a logical thought process, like IF – THEN – ELSE, if this is present then that is the result, else another is the result, much like X + Y = Z. The ASVAB test requirements for MOS 17C are the highest for any MOS. The requirement is a score of 110 in General Technical (GT), which is comprised of tests in word knowledge, paragraph comprehension, and arithmetic reasoning, and a score of 112 in Skilled Technical (ST), which is comprised of also word knowledge and paragraph comprehension, plus general science, mechanical comprehension, and mathematics knowledge. To be competitive for this job, those scores should be in 120’s. After an OPAT (Occupational Physical Assessment Test), background checks, and medical clearances to determine that you are qualified to enlist in the military, you go to MEPS (Military Enlistment Processing Station) in St Louis, where you take the ASVAB for record, contract for MOS 17C, and be sworn in to the Army. At that point, you sit down with a counselor and fill out SF Form 86, Application for (a Top Secret) Security Clearance. Print that form out back at home and fill it out by hand and take it with you to MEPS. It asks for a lot of information that you may not know. Whatever anyone tells you, do not fail to list everything and do not lie on that form – that is a felony. A Top Secret clearance usually takes about six months to complete, it helps if you haven’t moved around much. An investigator will interview you. You will be given a polygraph (lie detector) test. Investigators will interview your school teachers, your neighbors, your preacher, your co-workers, and the local Marshall and Sheriff. Once the investigation has started and the application looks OK, an Interim Top Secret may be awarded so the 17C candidate can start the course, but he or she cannot graduate until the final clearance has been awarded. Soldiers in this job can obtain literally dozens of certifications from national and world wide computer technology and security organizations, including Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) from the International Council of Commerce Consultants. If this really interests you, this is could be a great opportunity.
This is an update of previously published stories about the infantry.
If you’ve ever heard the saying “He’s just a lowly grunt”, discard it, there is no such thing. The infantry soldier is at the top of the heap – the pinnacle of soldiering. The infantry moto is “Follow Me”. Every element of the military supports the infantry. Infantrymen are the combat soldiers’, whose job is to close with and kill or capture the enemy. They are the warriors. The infantry works harder, the infantry goes to combat, there is more pride in the infantry, and the infantry gets promoted faster. Regardless of far advanced military technology becomes, there must be soldiers on the ground to hold territory. It is the hardest, most demanding, most frustrating, most challenging, greatest badass job in the world.
Here are some recent comments from real grunts;
“It is the worst, most terrible, difficult, strenuous, testing job there is. It is also the best. Hands down. Bar none. I absolutely love it, and many others do as well. So, stop smoking weed and wasting your life, and learn it for yourself.”
“I freaking love it. Because one day when I have to work till six at some dumb civilian job and I’m all butthurt, I can think to myself well at least it’s not the middle of a brigade exercise, day three of straight rain, and I just got done digging a foxhole with overhead protection with proper camouflage, and oh what’s that? Roger sergeant I’ll be ready to move out in ten so bravo company can move into my just built home and I can stay up all night digging another foxhole 2 kilometers to the east. Then I’ll smile and wonder why I chose a job that the only transferable skill is landscaping. But it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Some of the smartest and greatest people I’ve ever met have been infantry. The bond you make with the guy to the left and right of you is something most people will never know, and when you cement those bonds with the amount of bs and hardship you make something near unbreakable. It’ll also teach you a lot about yourself. Plus, it’s freaking badass.”
“I couldn’t imagine being any other MOS, I get paid to hang out with my best friends and shoot stuff all the time.”
“Honestly, if you enjoy pushing yourself (on sleep, physically, mentally) it’s an amazing job. It’s really hard work, but you get through it with your boys and you all form a cohesive bond. The camaraderie of infantrymen is something I’ve never seen anywhere else; true ‘ride or die’ dudes that will go over the edge for you, no questions asked. I will never experience anything as scary, intense, frustrating, or rewarding as my time in the infantry ever again, and it genuinely makes me sad. When you get out you realize how remarkably tame life is back home.”
There are requirements to enlist in the military. You must meet those requirements, for some medical and discipline issues, waivers are granted. Here are my ideas of other aptitudes you should have before enlisting for the infantry. First you have to have that desire, that inner hunger for something more. More exciting, more challenging, more rewarding, and more pride. A desire to be the best at what you do. You have to be fairly smart – of average intelligence. That old tale that all the dumb guys get sent to the infantry, is not true. Some of the smartest soldiers I served with were in the infantry. Infantrymen have to think on their feet, fast. When the shooting starts, there is chaos and the infantrymen have to very quickly figure out either how to put the bad guy out of business, or how to get out of Dodge, if there are way more of them than you. You have to have a good body. Not a muscle builder body, just a good body, with no weak areas. I have had infantrymen in my platoons who were 5’ 5” and weighed 140 pounds, but they could hump a 65 or 70 pound rucksack all day, every day, and they could run 7 to 8 minute miles all day. You have to have endurance, and you never quit. There is also another issue, you have to be honest with yourself and everyone else. If you’re not, you will be soon. An infantry platoon of 40 soldiers, will spend days, sometimes weeks, and during deployment, months sharing foxholes, MRE’s, water, canteens. razors, socks, ammo, and stories. They support they guy who feeling down, razz the guy who screws up, and pull pranks on the guy who is too proud of himself. And will put their life on the line to cover your back. Any BS a new platoon member brings with him soon dissolves. Everybody is just who they are. Maybe that’s why I and thousands of other former grunts and current grunts love the infantry, you learn things about yourself and each other that no one else knows, including family. You share the worst of times and the best of times.
All Army infantry training is on Sand Hill at Fort Benning, Georgia, the Infantry and Armor Center and School. Infantry training is conducted in OSUT (One Station Unit Training) companies, meaning both basic combat training and advanced infantry training is in one company – straight through.
The Army is trying to increase its size, but the current Army leadership has seen, in the past, the bad results of lowering standards to get more recruits. Standards are not being lowered and training is being increased. Infantry OSUT has been expanded from 14 to 22 weeks. There are not many new tasks, but they are spending more time on the basics and producing better trained soldiers. They spend more time in live fire and produce more expert riflemen, more time on land navigation, producing better infantrymen who can navigate in the field with a paper map and compass, they complete the combat lifesaver course, they spend much more time in hand to hand combat training, and the extra two months produces graduates in better physical condition. At the beginning of the transition from 14 to 22 weeks, the Infantry Training Brigade commander said, “If we do our job right these troops will be able to out PT their team leader and out shoot their squad leader, and be as good or better than their combat life savers.”
There are two MOS’s (Military Occupational Specialty) in the infantry, MOS 11B Light Weapons Infantryman, and MOS 11C Heavy Weapons Infantryman (mortars). A person enlisting for the infantry, enlists for MOS 11X, then whether the soldier becomes a 11B or a 11C is determined, by the Army, while that soldier is in training. There are way more 11B’s than 11C’s.
Infantry OSUT is no walk in the park. It does not have a 100 percent graduation rate. The Basic Combat Training part of infantry OSUT is the first 8 weeks. Normal basic is 10 weeks, but the OSUT companies don’t have to clean and turn in gear and weapons and practice for graduation, At the completion of basic, they have a simple ceremony signifying their becoming soldiers. Army Basic Combat Training (BCT) is tougher and more demanding now than it has been since World War II. It is not tough in the form of harassment. It is just intense and demanding physical and mental training. In fact the “shark attack” of screaming drill sergeants on the first day has been replaced with a five phase event called “The First 100 Yards”. BCT culminates with a 96 hour field exercise, called “The Forge”, covering over 40 miles, where everything learned in BCT is practiced and graded.
The remainder of the 22 weeks of infantry training is the most physically demanding MOS training in the Army. So, my advice to anyone considering this, man or woman, is to get in shape, pushups, pullups, situps, running, and a lot of walking in boots (army boots if you can get them) carrying a rucksack. There are road marches carrying up to a 60 pound rucksack. People who enlist for Rangers or Special Forces go to infantry OSUT first. I do not recommend that anyone who is not already very familiar with the Army enlist for Rangers or Special Forces. Enlist for Airborne Infantry, then when you’ve been in the Army long enough to know what those units actually do and their requirements, make your decision. The first three weeks are “Total Control”, trainees don’t make a move that is not guided by a Drill Sergeant. That is when they learn how to march, stand, turn, salute, and act like a soldier. After that, the control is a little different, but the intensity isn’t. An infantry OSUT company commander recently posted on facebook for families not to expect many phone calls, communicate by mail. There is an infantry OSUT company with an outstanding facebook page, covering most of what the trainees do, that is “Delta Company 2nd Battalion 58th Infantry Regiment”.
The Squad is the basic maneuverable unit in the infantry. There are nine soldiers in a squad, led by a Staff Sergeant. It takes between five and seven years to make Staff Sergeant in the infantry. The Squad is composed of two four-man teams, each led by a Sergeant. It is currently taking, between two and a half to four years to make Sergeant, depends on how good you are and how hard you work. There are three rifle squads and a weapons squad in a Platoon. The weapons squad has two machine guns and two anti-tank weapons. Those are all MOS 11B. There are three platoons in a company, plus a mortar section. The mortar section is MOS 11C. The platoon is led by a 2nd Lieutenant, and the Platoon Sergeant is a Sergeant First Class (SFC). Infantry officers first job is Platoon Leader, so he or she is also in training, which is understood to be an added responsibility of the Platoon Sergeant. Eight to twelve years is normal for making SFC. There are three Rifle Platoons and a Mortar Section in an infantry company. The company is commanded by a Captain and run by a First Sergeant. Soldiers who make it to First Sergeant are usually in the 12 to 15 year range. Sergeant Major, the highest enlisted rank, usually comes, for those who make it, at close to the 20 year mark. So, those Command Sergeants Major (enlisted advisors to commanders), who appear to young privates as walking around with no real job, have all been riflemen, team leaders, squad leaders, platoon sergeants, and first sergeants, to get where they are.
There are three basic types of infantry units. Light Infantry, Mechanized Infantry, and Stryker Infantry. Stryker is the newest, built around the Stryker vehicle, which is a heavily armored, eight wheeled, fast moving, (62 MPH) vehicle carrying a nine-man infantry squad. It comes with various weapons systems from machine guns to 105mm tank guns, to hellfire missiles. Mechanized Infantry rides in Bradley Fighting Vehicles. The Bradley is a lightly armored, tracked vehicle, with a 25mm cannon, designed to transport an infantry squad, and keep up with Abrams tanks. A plain infantryman can end up in any of these types of units, however if the soldier has the airborne option, he will be in an airborne unit, which are all light infantry. There are five airborne Brigade Combat Teams (BCT), three in the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, the 173rd Airborne Brigade at Vicenza, Italy, and the 4th Brigade (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division at Fort Richardson (Anchorage), Alaska. The 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, New York is light infantry, with two BCT’s, and the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky is light infantry, with three BCT’s. The 101st is called an Air Assault Division, because they ride in helicopters, but they are basically light infantry. The Mechanized and Stryker grunts get to ride some, but they also have to maintain that steel monster in the motor pool, and they still walk about as much as light infantry.
The infantry unit with the highest morale (happiest) in the military is the 82nd Airborne Division. The 82nd also works the hardest, because one the 82nd’s three brigades is always on alert to get the entire 5,000 man brigade with all vehicles and equipment, rigged for a parachute drop somewhere in the world, in the air within 18 hour of notification. The 82nd is America’s Fire Brigade, it is always fully funded, conducts realistic and exciting training, and has the best leadership the Army has to offer. That also means that they train the hardest, and as much as the paratroops bitch and complain, they love it. There is a saying around Fort Bragg, that paratroops have that airborne “swagger”, because that maroon beret looks better on their heads than a black beret on a leg’s, because they have a sense that they earned it. In paratrooper language, a “leg” is a sub-human soldier, who is not Airborne. There is a saying that when the President calls 911 the phone is answered at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
Airborne infantry is light infantry, but their method of delivery to the battlefield causes them to train differently than non-airborne. Non-airborne infantry gets to the battlefield on a vehicle or a helicopter, airborne jumps from an airplane onto the battlefield. Adverse weather or enemy anti-aircraft fire can cause airplanes to drop paratroops not at their planned location. Individual paratroops can become widely scattered during a jump. I can tell you what happens when paratroops are dropped in 35 mile an hour winds. Made national news that time. Because of that possible scenario airborne troops are briefed down to the last Private on the entire mission and objectives. That started in World War II and continues today. When time permits the entire platoon gets to see aerial photographs and mock-ups. The airborne has a term LGOPS (Little Groups of Paratroopers). If a paratrooper can’t find his leaders, he just finds other paratroopers and goes on with the mission. The first combat parachute jump was in Sicily in July 1943. Due to winds and enemy fire the paratroops were scattered over many miles in places they didn’t plan to be. Little groups got together and cut every telephone line they found, they ambushed vehicles and attacked troops causing the German commanders to think they were facing a much larger force than was actually there.
Combat soldiers do not have a “job”, like supply, signal, computer, mechanic, cook, etc. Their “job” is training for combat, “soldiering”. You can study, but you can’t train for “reaction to an ambush”, until you get ambushed (in training). You can study, but you can’t train for a “company in the attack”, until you are on the ground in thick brush, trying to figure out how to be quiet and get in position.
There is probably not a typical day in the army for an infantry soldier, but a day, when not in the field, goes something like this. Get up around 5:30, be in PT (Physical Training) formation at 6:00. PT until 7:00 to 7:30. Back to your room clean up, get in uniform, and get some breakfast. You can cook in the kitchen in your room, or go eat for free, since you live in the barracks, in the DFAC (Dining Facility). Between 8:30 and 9:00 is a company work formation, then on to whatever training is on for the day. Lunch at noon, and off at 5:00 PM. Training could be classroom or hands on in the local area, or if airborne, a parachute jump, which usually starts early and goes all day.
The infantry is my favorite. I kept getting “good jobs”, in the old army, but I kept going back to the infantry. I would rather have the muscle aches in the infantry, than the stress level in some of those “good jobs”.
To say that the US Army is changing, is like saying the weather is changing – it is, always, but this change is unlike anything that has ever been attempted. The primary concern of the Air Force is airplanes – keeping them flying. The primary concern of the Navy is ships and airplanes. The Marines – God bless em, as great as they are, they are part of the Navy. If you enlist for four years as a Marine grunt, you’ll be lucky if you don’t spend six months, or more, of it on a ship, sleeping on a 30-inch by 72-inch steel bunk, 17 inches below the one above you.
The primary concern of the Army is people. The Army is the ground soldiers, there must be soldiers on the ground, to hold territory. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan saw many support soldiers involved in the fighting, either in convoys, moving from one place to another, or real fighting on a Combat Outpost. The Army Combat Action Badge was created to recognize non-infantry soldiers who engaged the enemy in combat.
One of the observations from those wars, was that overall, soldiers were not in good enough physical condition for the heat of Iraq or the mountains of Afghanistan. The discussion of better physical fitness started about 15 years ago. The Army had a “Master Fitness Trainer” course in the 1980’s, but it folded, during the wars. It was re-opened in 2013. It trains sergeants and officers in the proper conduct of physical fitness training. They then return to their units to train others. In 1977, six foot seven, Robert B. Brown was the number two high school basketball pick in Michigan. He went to West Point and played basketball under Coach Mike Krzyzewski, scoring over 1,000 points while there, graduating in 1981. In 2014, then Lieutenant General Brown, Commander of the Army Combined Arms Center, leading a discussion titled “The Soldier Athlete”, at a meeting of the Association of the US Army (AUSA), said we need to train our soldiers like athletes. General Mark Milley, who became Chief of Staff of the Army in 2015, currently Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was Captain of the Princeton Hockey Team, graduating in 1980, agreed. So did then Secretary of the Army, Mark Esper, currently the Secretary of Defense, who graduated from West Point in 1986. Regular Army PT (Physical Training), was not preparing soldiers for the physical rigors of combat. There were a lot of combat veterans, in the Army, when the discussion started about how to evaluate soldiers’ preparedness for combat. As the new Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT) was being developed, a much more radical change in physical training was also being developed. This is not just a change in physical training, but a program that focuses on the individual, holistically encompassing the soldiers’ life, physical, sleep, nutritional, spiritual, and mental. The driving force behind all this is readiness. A recent Army News article said that as of February 2019, more than 56,000 soldiers were non-deployable. Also, more than 21,000 were on a temporary injured list, and more than 15,000 had some kind of permanent injury. Almost half of all soldiers are injured at some point, and 71% of those injuries are lower extremity micro-traumatic musculoskeletal “overuse” injuries. In 2018, more than 12% of soldiers had some form of sleep disorder and 17% of active duty soldiers were overweight. Also, included in this conversation, was active duty suicide. How ever many there are, its’ tragic, traumatic, and too many. For the Army to be able to field a healthy, fit, lethal force, soldiers’ life style has to change.
In 2017, the Army ran a six month pilot program, called the Soldier Readiness Test. It temporarily assigned a strength and conditioning coach, a physical therapist, a registered dietician, and an occupational therapist to selected battalions. The increase in health, fitness, and morale was so successful that a two year pilot program started in 2018, in an expended number of units, with increased funding, equipment, and personnel. It was soon named H2F-lite pilot. Several sergeants from those battalions were sent to the Master Fitness Trainer school, and Athletic Trainers, Strength Coaches, Physical Therapists, Occupational Therapists, and Dietitians were hired and placed under the supervision of those Battalion Commanders, who were tasked with implementing the program and identifying any bugs. A lead strength and conditioning coach said; “The greatest part for me is that I see people coming to PT in the morning and they are engaged and excited to be there.” Captain Samantha Morgan, a physical therapist said; “People are coming to physical therapy proactively versus being told they have to come, so when people do have PT or training related injuries they’re getting better faster.” The medical people and the Chaplain and Chaplain Assistant, were also brought into the H2F Team. Chaplains are not part of the program to preach, but to monitor unit morale, and help with personal problems. There is a rule in the Army, anyone can go see the Chaplain anytime. Chaplain’s and their assistants are presented with all kinds of problems. In my story “Be an Army Chaplain Assistant”, I tell the story of a Chaplain Assistant who was confronted by an infantry Private, whose wife was having mental issues. Threatening to kill herself and her unborn baby, if he didn’t start spending more time at home. A Private in the infantry has little control of his schedule. That time, everything worked out. The “spiritual readiness” of a soldier is comprised of his or her core values, and beliefs, and life visions, arising from religious or non-religious beliefs, philosophical and moral values.
On October 1st, 2020, the Army published a new Field Manuel (FM) 7-22, Holistic Health and Fitness. This makes the program command policy, army wide. The Army physical year (FY) starts October 1st, and funds have already been allocated for current FY 2021, to start implementing H2F. Every Brigade is getting a new H2F staff, to be under the direction of the Brigade Commander. The H2F Program Director will be civil service GS-13, starting salary of about $78,000, although the solicitations say that salary will be negotiated with non-prior civil service applicants. Under the Program Director, will be a Captain, Nutrition Director, with civilian and military dietitians, a Captain Injury Director/Provider, with military and civilian physical therapists and a contracted civilian athletic trainer for each battalion, a Captain Combat Enhancement Director, with civilian and military occupational therapists. There will also be civilian strength coaches advising the professional military physical trainers. In FY 2023, construction is to start on a 40,000 square foot “Soldier Performance Readiness Center” (SPRC), for EACH BRIGADE. That is about twice the size of most current army fitness centers. The Brigade H2F Team will be housed in the SPRC, and every company in the Brigade will rotate through the SPRC several times weekly. Daily physical training will not necessarily be the first hour of the day, for everyone. Until the SPRC’s are constructed, H2F teams will utilize whatever facilities are available, like current fitness centers.
The Registered Dietician’s role is in fueling and nutritional needs for various aspects of performance. The Dietician coaches soldiers on diets that support fitness training, brain performance, healing from injury, and special dietary needs in the field environment. Consequently, the Dietician helps soldiers consider meal planning, grocery shopping, cooking skills, and how to navigate the complex market of supplements.
The Occupational Therapist is primarily involved in the mental fitness of soldiers, utilizing skills such as coaching on sleep optimization behaviors, goal setting, habit change, attention and focus control, energy management, communication, team dynamics, and other tactical mental operations involved in leadership, planning, and Warrior tasks. As an expert in both cognitive and musculoskeletal domains, the Occupational Therapist also supports physical aspects of physical performance such as ergonomics of load carriage, visuospatial skills in marksmanship, and evaluation and treatment of the upper extremities. This is not just a new PT program, this is a complete change of soldier life style, to that of an athlete. I won’t say professional athlete, because the pro’s usually train for one activity. Gone is the one size fits all approach to physical conditioning. This is a program designed to get to every individual soldier, to change eating, sleeping, and activity habits, to create a healthy person both physically and mentally. A part of this program is leaders’ education, to insure that the change in life style actually happens. Good health and strength fosters good self confidence, which soldiers must have. The new Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT), was designed in conjunction with H2F. It is a six timed event test. “In shape” people, who have taken it, said that each event didn’t seem to be too hard (except for the leg tuck), but by the time they finished the test, they were exhausted. There is no point adjustment for age or gender. It is, “how capable is this solder of performing in combat”.
This is a big event in an explosive evolution in the Army, that has been growing for about the past five years. A new four-star command (The Army Futures Command) was created and headquartered in downtown Austin, Texas, to not only get the latest technology into the Army as fast as possible, but to solicit new inventions, like a laser 10 times larger than the Navy’s laser weapon, big enough to knock down incoming cruise missiles.
Not only weapons technology, but lighter field equipment, and a new rifle with ammunition capable of penetrating lightly armored vehicles and any body armor. Computer systems and operators capable of invading and controlling adversarial systems. To do all of this, the Army must have healthy, alert, and quick thinking individual soldiers. The Army is a team of teams, but individual soldiers must often be able to think quickly on their feet, and make adjustments, without higher direction, when necessary. Enlisted Management Branches in the Army Human Resource Command (HRC) periodically posts names of soldiers who will be up for reassignment, in a future window. They then post the assignments, that must be filled, during that window, and they encourage soldiers to go online and post their preferences. Quite a change from the old days, when you just “came down on orders”. The United States of America places more confidence and trust in the individual soldier, than any other country in the world. There is another evolutionary event, in the Army, that goes along with this. That is the demise of the “shark attack”. For many years, on the day new trainees arrive at their basic training company, they have been met by a swarm of screaming drill sergeants. That has become known as the shark attack. I’m not sure when it started. The first Drill Sergeants were created in 1964, just before the start of the Vietnam War. During Vietnam, the majority of trainees were draftees, and did not want to be there, so I’m sure the shark attack started as the drills established dominance and authority over the draftees.
I was the senior drill sergeant of a basic training company 1979 to 1981, and we didn’t do it. Every company was different.
Now that first day of Army Basic Combat Training is called “The first 100 yards”. The new trainees are briefed on what is expected of them, they are organized into platoons and given a couple of resupply missions, which may be something as simple as moving boxes of MRE’s (meal Ready to Eat) from one location to another, but will require platoon team work. They will perform three of the ACFT exercises, the leg tuck, the hand-release pushup, and the standing power throw. Platoons that fail to get the highest score will be an appropriate corrective exercise, pushups (in other words “smoked”). They will then be instructed to retrieve their baggage, and move it into the company area.
Next comes a demonstration by a squad of infantry in full battle dress, moving with M4 carbines and other weapons through smoke and pyrotechnics, showing what they will be able to do at the end of basic training.
The First 100 Yards ends with the drill sergeants marching trainees to their platoon bays to begin what will be the first two weeks of isolated training, known as “controlled monitoring,” as part of the Covid-19 safety protocols the Army began in the spring. Basic training is as tough as it has ever been, and the discipline is as strict as it has ever been, they are just dropping the shark attack. Welcome to the adult world. US Army soldiers are generally treated with great respect throughout this country. That respect is important, in that it fosters pride in being a soldier. Most soldiers are proud of being a soldier. They have confidence in themselves and their team, and they are part of something bigger than themselves, defending this country. Part of that pride is in wearing the uniform. World War II is the basis, the launch pad, of the modern Army. The Navy and the Marines have the same service uniforms they had in WWII. The Navy tried to stray off the uniform reservation once, but corrected itself. The Army has tinkered with uniforms since the 1950’s. Finally, starting in December 2020, new recruits will be issued the new Army Green Uniform, which is actually the old WWII uniform, and next summer it will be available for sale to all soldiers. Thank you.
It was an honor to have served in the US Army, although, at the time there were situations in which I was engaged that did not conjure up the word honor. Pulling KP (Kitchen Police), scrubbing pots and pans in a hot greasy mess hall from 3:30 AM to 9:00 PM, pulling police call (picking up cigarette butts) on a Sunday morning because I happened to be in the barracks, or cleaning the latrine (bathroom) at 10:00 PM for an inspection the next morning, or landscaping a parade field with entrenching tools, that’s a folding shovel with a two foot handle. It is an honor to serve this country, but the real honor I feel from my time in the Army was the people with whom I served. Overall, they were America’s best, and still are. Some of my observations in life are that most people are capable of much more than they do, and that intelligence and education are not necessarily related. Veterans Day goes back to World War I, and from that war is one of the most vivid examples of a citizen-soldier hero, just doing what had to be done, at the time. Alvin Cullum York was the third child born to William and Mary York on December 13th, 1887 in a two room cabin in Wolf Valley in the area of Pall Mall, Tennessee. Pall Mall has a few buildings and a name, but not much more. Eight more siblings were born to that family, all raised in that two room house. William York worked the farm, did some blacksmith work, and hunted for food. Alvin, quit school after the third grade, to help his dad. He became a crack shot, and was at home in the woods, which was necessary to keep food on the table. Alvin was the oldest of the children living close to home when William died in November 1911, so it fell to Alvin to help his mother raise his younger brothers and sisters. Alvin went to work in railroad construction, then as a logger and devoted himself to supporting his mother and siblings, but he was also a real rebel, becoming a heavy drinker and bar room brawler. Then in the winter of 1914, a good friend of Alvin’s was beaten to death, in a fight. It shook him, he was afraid that if he didn’t change his ways, he could end up with the same fate, so he attended a revival meeting. Then he joined the Church of Christ in Christian Union, where he met Gracie Williams, who helped turn wild hillbilly Alvin York into a Christian. The Church of Christ preached against violence, drinking, and dancing. Alvin became a believer, teaching Sunday school and singing in the choir.
Then in April 1917, the United States entered World War I. Alvin, afraid that he would be drafted, spoke to his pastor who advised him to seek conscientious objector status. On his draft registration card, in response to a question, “Do you seek exemption from the draft?”, he wrote, “Yes, don’t want to fight”.
His case was denied because his church wasn’t a recognized Christian sect, and conscientious objectors were still being drafted, but assigned to support jobs. Alvin was drafted in November 1917 and assigned to Company G, 328th Infantry, 82nd Infantry Division at Camp Gordon, Georgia. Basic training was conducted within the units then. Alvin attracted attention because he was a crack shot who did not want to fight. His Company Commander Captain Danforth, and his Battalion Commander Major Buxton, had long conversations with Alvin about Biblical justifications for war. Major Buxton was a devout Christian and cited a variety of Biblical sources to counter Alvin’s concerns. They were able to convince Alvin that war could be justified. He took a 10 day leave to visit home and returned accepting the belief that God meant for him to fight.
The 82nd Infantry Division arrived in France in late May 1918. Alvin’s unit had more training and then participated in the St Mihiel Offensive in September, when Alvin was promoted to Corporal. On October 7th, his unit entered the fighting in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, to relieve units of the 28th Infantry Division. They were ordered to advance the next morning to take Hill 223 and press on to sever the Decauville railroad north of Chatel-Chehery. They took the hill, but moving from the hill they were forced through a triangular shaped valley where they started taking German machinegun fire from the hill sides. The attack was stopped and the Americans were taking heavy casualties. Sergeant Bernard Early was ordered to take 17 men, including Alvin and work around into the German rear to get to those machineguns. They succeeded in slipping through the German lines, and in moving toward the machineguns found a German headquarters unit, which they captured. There were several soldiers and a Major. When the German machine gunners saw what was happening, they turned their guns around and fired on the Americans, killing six and wounding three, including Sergeant Early. That left Alvin in charge. He left the seven able bodied soldiers, under cover, guarding the prisoners, and he turned to deal with the machine guns. The machineguns were only 30 yards away, they couldn’t miss. Alvin wrote in his diary after the action: “Those machine guns were spitting fire and cutting down the undergrowth all around me something awful…. I didn’t have time to dodge behind a tree or dive into the brush, I didn’t even have time to kneel or lie down…. As soon as the machine guns opened fire on me, I began to exchange shots with them. In order to sight me or to swing their machine guns on me, the Germans had to show their heads above the trench, and every time I saw a head, I just touched it off. All the time I kept yelling at them to come down. I didn’t want to kill any more than I had to. But it was they or I. And I was giving them the best I had. Suddenly a German officer and five men jumped out of the trench and charged me with fixed bayonets. I changed to the old automatic (pistol) and just touched them off too. I touched off the sixth man first, then the fifth, then the fourth, then the third and so on. I wanted them to keep coming. I didn’t want the rear ones to see me touching off the front ones. I was afraid they would drop down and pump a volley into me. — and I got hold of the German major, and he told me if I wouldn’t kill any more of them, if he would make them quit firing. So, I told him all right, if he would do it now. So, he blew a little whistle, and they quit shooting and came down and gave up.” The German Machine Gun Commander, First Lieutenant Paul Vollmer took into account his mounting losses and offered to surrender to York – who gleefully accepted. Corporal Alvin York had killed 28, captured 35 machineguns and 132 German Soldiers, which he and the seven patrol members marched back to his battalion headquarters. Upon arriving, his Regimental Commander is said to have said, “York, I hear you captured the whole damn German army.”, Alvin answered, “No Sir, only 132 of them”. Alvin was immediately promoted to Sergeant and awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, which was soon upgraded to the Medal of Honor. He was returned to the United States as a celebrity and given a ticker tape parade through New York. He was pestered by filmmakers and advertisers, but he returned home to Tennessee. A week after he returned home on June 7th 1919, the Governor of Tennessee, Albert H. Roberts came to Pall Mall and before a crowd of hundreds, performed the marriage ceremony for Alvin and Gracie.
The Rotary Club of Nashville offered to raise the money to buy the newlyweds a new home, one of the few early gift offers he accepted, but he insisted that the home be in Pall Mall. Alvin and Gracie had 10 children during their life, eight of whom survived infancy. He founded an educational foundation to assist area children to get an education and did occasional speaking tours, primarily to high schools promoting the importance of education. Alvin was approached by movie makers several times, but refused all until the war in Europe was growing in the late 1930’s. He finally consented to a movie, about him, but with conditions. First, his share of the profits would go to a Bible school he wanted built, second, no cigarette smoking actress could play the role of his wife, and finally, only Gary Cooper could play him. Gary Cooper first refused, because he was 40 at the time and Alvin was 30 when the action happened, but he consented when Alvin personally asked him. “SERGEANT YORK” was released in 1941. Gary Cooper won an Oscar for best actor and the film got one for best editing. It is a four star movie, and was the highest grossing film of 1941. It is 78 years old, black and white, and still a great, great movie. Alvin suffered a debilitating stroke in 1953, and died of a brain hemorrhage in September 1964. At that time, I was in the 1st Battalion, 325th Infantry in the 82nd Airborne Division. It was determined to be the closest, in lineage, to Alvin’s 328th Infantry, so we sent the burial detail to Pall Mall, Tennessee.
Currently one of the most prestigious “bragging rights awards” in the 82nd Airborne Division, is the annual Sgt Alvin C York Award, which goes to the company with the highest overall marksmanship scores in the division.
A look at what real life is in the Army, not what is portrayed in movies