Category Archives: Good Army Stories


     This was originally published in The Belle Banner, Belle, Missouri, August 8th 2018. I have not posted it before, at Life in the Army, because of the sensitivity.  Some of the photos may have copy rights, but I’m simply passing them on. I don’t receive any compensation for this, neither did I for the newspaper column, it is simply an attempt to educate civilians about life in the Army.

     This column on March 14th of this year was titled “Dear Joe”, which was a letter to a teenager who, like most his age, does not have a future vision in mind. I recommended that he enlist in the Army for three or four years for airborne infantry, because there is no other experience in the world like it. This title “Band of Brothers” conjures up memory of the TV miniseries of Echo Company, 506th Airborne Infantry in the 101st Airborne Division in World War II.

     This is about a current “Band of Brothers”.

     Christopher Michael Harris was born in St Petersburg, Florida November 3rd, 1991. He was adopted, as a newborn, by Dennis and Susan Harris Kolean. Not long after, they moved to Jackson Springs, North Carolina, where Christopher grew up. He did spend many summers with his uncle, J Michael Harris, in Florida, because he loved fishing and the water. Jackson Springs is only about 15 miles from Southern Pines, North Carolina, which is on the “back side” of Fort Bragg. It is much smaller and quieter than the sprawling Fayetteville/Spring Lake communities bordering the main post. It has a fair sized military population, because some would rather drive the 25 miles through Fort Bragg every day and live in the small town atmosphere.

     Christopher graduated high school, in 2010, from Grace Christian School, which is a small private Christian school in close by Sanford. The Sanford Herald reported; William Kerr, his closest friend in high school, said; “There was never a dull moment. There was never a time that I didn’t want to be with him. So smart, always taught me something and always there to protect me. If there was ever any problem or anything at all, he was the first person there. He always took care of everyone and was the most selfless person that I met, and put everyone else’s needs before him. He understood the line between work and play, so when it was play, he played hard. When he worked, he worked harder.” The soccer coach, Chris Pratt said: Soccer was kind of his go to sport. He was great. He was the hardest worker, very loyal. As a coach, you want a guy like that because he would do anything you asked him to do and he was kind of our bruiser, which made him very disciplined.” Head Pastor Joel Murr, who also coached in the athletics department said; “He just loved people. He was a popular kid. The girls will tell you that he had the prettiest eyes that anybody had ever seen. He was a handsome young man, just liked by everybody.”
     After high school, Chris Harris worked in public services for the town of Pinehurst, which is about halfway between Jackson Springs and Southern Pines. Then in October 2013 he enlisted in the Army for Infantry with the airborne option. After completing Infantry OSUT (One Station Unit Training) and Airborne School he was assigned to Company A, 2nd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The “Devils in Baggy Pants”.

     Having been a Platoon Sergeant of an Airborne Infantry Platoon, I can tell you that there is a rank structure in that platoon, but there is also an unofficial pecking order and an unofficial leader in most platoons. Privates (PVT’s), Private First Class (PFC’s), and Specialist are lumped together as “junior enlisted”, and within that group there is often a “leader”, usually a specialist who is smart, quick witted, vocal, and if the Platoon Sergeant is lucky, positive. He is the guy who on mile 35 of a nonsense 40 mile road march, starts making cracks and makes everybody forget about their aches and pains, or at 6:00PM in the evening, after a four day field exercise, everyone is trying feverously to get equipment and weapons cleaned and turned in, and is frustrated because they are still there, starts making jokes and relieves the tension. He is also, hopefully, the guy who bypasses his squad leader and comes to you with; “Sarg, Smith has got some problems and I think he needs some professional help”. Smith could be a private or a sergeant. That’s who I think Chris Harris was, the platoon spark. A friend said; “He walks into a room and you know he’s there. Never a dull moment when he’s around, such energy he brings to everything he does.”

     Through a mutual friend, Chris met Brittany Paige Maness. The friend said that they were inseparable from the time they met. They were married in Ashville, North Carolina, October 15th 2016.

      On June 30th 2017, Brittany said goodbye to Chris at Green Ramp on Fort Bragg, as his unit deployed to Afghanistan. On July 31st Brittany learned that she was pregnant with their child. She contacted Chris in Afghanistan via Face Time, she said, “Chris you’re going to be a dad!” She said he was ecstatic, that he wanted to be a dad more than anything. She said he teared up at the news, and immediately shared it with his platoon.

     Then on the evening of August 2nd Chris’ was with his team under Sergeant Jonathan Hunter of Columbus, Indiana, in a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle (an MRAP) conducting a “partnered mission” security patrol with the Afghan National Army near Bagram Airbase when a suicide bomber, in a vehicle loaded with explosives, met the patrol and exploded next to their vehicle. Specialist Christopher Harris and Sergeant Jonathan Hunter were killed, the four others in the vehicle were wounded plus an Afghan interpreter. Colonel Tobin Magsig, the Brigade Commander, was in the next vehicle and helped get the paratroopers out of the burning MRAP.

     Brittany said that she had sent Chris some texts, which he had not yet answered. She saw on some military sites, that she monitored, that two soldiers had been killed in Afghanistan, then two officers came to her door. After the notification they asked if there was anything else they could do. She said; “Yes I would like you to drive me to Chris’ parent’s house and be there when they are told.” They did.
      The next day Brittany Harris posted on her Facebook page, “As the news spreads about the two soldiers killed in action yesterday in Afghanistan, it is with a very heavy and broken heart that I confirm that one of them was my husband Chris Harris.”
     Some of you reading this out here in the middle of nowhere, who have no experience with the military, may think that infantry combat soldiers, who are in a business where they can get wounded or killed, are somewhat hardened to those circumstances. Not true! I’ve written before about how close an infantry platoon becomes. When someone is killed, it is like a member of your family. It tears your gut out. First there is anger, you want to go get them. Then absolute abject frustration, and finally acceptance, mourning, move on, but don’t forget them. Often the leaders have a lingering feeling of guilt that never goes away.

     Initially Brittany Harris asked for privacy. She posted; “Right now my main concern is that I want to try and make sure everything continues to be healthy considering these crushing circumstances. I know you will all be respectful as I ask to be left alone. Thank you.”

     Vice President Pence met the Angel Flight which brought Sergeant Hunter and Specialist Harris back to the United States.

     Specialist Christopher Michael Harris’ full military funeral was on August 14th in the Sandhills State Veterans Cemetery, Spring Lake, North Carolina, just outside of Fort Bragg. It was one of the largest funerals many had seen. The 10 mile procession was led by 100 motorcycles of the Patriot Guard Riders, followed by about 50 Jeeps, each flying an American flag, from several Jeep Clubs, because of Chris’ love of Jeeps. Chris and Brittany were members of the Jeepers United Club.

     In October Brittany learned the baby’s gender. She said of Chris’s platoon; “They’re still grieving. They’re just doing it away from the rest of us. I wanted them to be the first to know the gender and reveal it, to let them know they’re family and part of this journey with me.” She sent small “confetti cannons” to the platoon in Afghanistan. They made a cell phone video of their impromptu ceremony. Corporal Nathan Bagley said; “My boy Harris, we’re gonna do it for him – we going to see what kind of baby he’s going to have.” They counted down and pink confetti exploded to applause, whoops and hollers and goofy dances.

       That platoon landed at Pope Field on Fort Bragg on March 17th 2018, returning from Afghanistan. On that same day, Christian Michelle Harris was born.

      Sergeant Nathan Bagley said; “Just knowing that we could come home to a baby girl that was awesome. When everyone came home that was the day she was born, so that made it ten times better.”

     Brittany kept contact with the platoon members, and then decided to have a photo shoot with Christian and Chris’ platoon. She said; “They’ve been a part of her life before she was even born, and I know they’re going to be around for the rest of her life. No matter where the Army takes them all, I will be able to show Christian how they all came together for her.”

      On May 29th Pinehurst Photography conducted the photo shoot. The following are their photos.

Fellow Soldiers of Fallen Army Hero Pose With His Newborn Daughter
Credit: Pinehurst Photography

     Last Thursday, August 2nd 2018 the 1st Brigade posted the following on its Facebook page.

     Today, the Devil Brigade came together to share a moment of silence to honor fallen Paratroopers Sgt. Jonathon Hunter and Spc. Christopher Harris. Today marks the one year anniversary of the suicide attack in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan that took them away from us. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and loved ones of our fallen warriors.
“As long as we live, they too will live. They are now a part of us. We will remember them.”
Sylvan Kamens


     Most high school seniors have now graduated in some form. A year from now, where do you want to be? Just completing a year of college, or in a solid job making around $35,000 a year if you’re single, if married how about making around $50,000 a year, and going to college.
     I spoke at the Veterans Day Assembly about the opportunities that are available in the military. After a soldier has been in the Army for a year, he or she will have completed Basic Combat Training, and most all AIT’s (Advanced Individual Training), plus special training, such as airborne school, and is assigned to a permanent assignment, and probably will have been promoted to PFC (Private First Class E-3).
     Let’s do some numbers. A PFC E-3, single soldier living in the dorm in a private room, receiving no extra pay, such as parachute pay, and paying 3 percent of their pay into a Thrift Savings Plan, which the government matches, claiming him or herself as one dependent will have take home pay of around $1,635.00 per month, half paid on the 1st and half on the 15th. No rent and no food expense if you eat all meals in the Dining Facility, which has excellent food, and 100 percent health care, if you need it. If you are married and your wife or husband is living with you in family housing on post, your take home pay will be around $2,085.00 per month, and you’re living in a nice house, no rent, no utilities, no maintenance, 100 percent health care (babies are free).
     After getting settled in your job at your permanent assignment, go to the post education center, and talk to a guidance counselor. The ed center counselor is thoroughly familiar with DANTES (Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support). DANTES will help you get semester hours for military training and experience. Basic training produces around 5 SH from most schools. Some AIT’s give you many semester hours, some do not. Health Care Specialist MOS 68W (Combat Medic) is 16 weeks and produces close to 30 SH, so does the 16 week 35F Military Intelligence Analyst course. The 20 week 25B Information Technology Specialist (computers), and the 20 plus week 17C Cyber Operations Specialist (hacker) course gets close to 60 SH, as does the 26 week 46S Public Affairs Mass Communications (photo journalist and broadcaster) course. Most of the combat arms AIT’s don’t produce that much. Those hours must be accepted by a college or university, but several military friendly schools are represented at every post ed center. The counselor knows which schools give credits for what. The counselor is also familiar with DSST (DANTES Subject Standardized Tests), in other words CLEP (College Level Examination Program). DANTES has 38 subjects on which you can test out, for free, and get semester hour credit without attending a class. They also provide study material prior to taking the test. The counselor will help you prepare a Joint Service Transcript (JST), documenting semester hours for military training and experience. JST’s are accepted by over 2,300 schools nationwide, but primarily by the 1,800 schools in the SOCAD (Servicemembers Opportunity College) network. These schools form a network that helps servicemembers get associates and bachelors degrees. They accept hours from military education and experience and they accept each-others hours.

                                       Sample Joint Services Transcript

     Military TA (Tuition Assistance) is $250 per semester hour, for up to 16 semester hours (SH) per year. Almost 100 percent of the colleges and universities represented at Army Education Centers (every post has an ed center), have set their tuition at $250 per semester hour (SH).
Is it really possible to go to college while on active duty? Absolutely! The Army is so serious about civilian education that every semester hour is worth one promotion point to Sergeant. However, your day job comes first. Is it possible to go from being a high school graduate to a bachelors’ degree in four years, while in the Army? Probably not. Time is the big factor. Combat arms soldiers don’t have as much off time as support soldiers. Their training is often in the field and often at night. I did read a comment from one infantryman who obtained a bachelors’ degree in five years. He was shooting for OCS (Officer Candidate School), for which you have to have a bachelors’ degree and no more than six years of service. He surely had to sacrifice almost all social life to do that. Many combat arms soldiers use online classes almost exclusively.
I’ve attended and taught evening college classes at the education center on Fort Leonard Wood, and I’m familiar with online. In my opinion, attending class in the evening is easier, for the student, than that class online. On post classes usually top out at around 20 students, you have almost one on one instruction, you can ask questions, bounce off other students, and immediately find out if you are on the right track. The only advantage of online classes is that you can set your own time, but you basically have to teach yourself. They often take more time and study than attending class. Many colleges and universities with on post classes now use eight week sessions. Two 3 SH classes per session equals 30 SH year, if you can hit every session.

      Graduation ceremony at the Fort Leonard Wood Education Center

     What jobs and assignments allow you the time to go to school? Even if college is your goal, don’t pick an Army job based solely on its’ ability to let you attend classes. If you want to be an airborne ranger, don’t accept anything less. As I have said before, research the Army, talk to people, and select a job that you think you will enjoy. During my Army career I met many career soldiers who were initially drafted into the Army. And many who enlisted for three years to get the GI Bill. Almost 20 Percent, 2 out of 10, people who enlist in the Army, spend 20 years and retire. Our son, Richard, spent four years as an infantryman in the 10th Mountain Division and saw combat in Somalia in the summer of 1993 (Blackhawk Down). He got out when his enlistment was up, finished college, and has enjoyed a very successful career in the information technology field, but to this day says that the smartest decision he ever made was to enlist in the Army.
     Some jobs, like those I mentioned above, will give you almost two years of college when you finish AIT, many will not.
     So, I encourage you to consider the Army. Basic training is physically demanding and challenging, but ends up being fun. No gain without pain. It’s your future – take control.


     This was originally published in The Belle Banner, Belle Missouri, on April 15th 2020.
     In the Belle Banner, I titled this article “I Lost a Friend and so did the World”. I titled this blog as a eulogy because I saw that West Point did not yet have a eulogy posted for Volney Warner, so perhaps the USMA will a use find a use for this story.

General Volney F. Warner Commander in Chief US Readiness Command 1981

     In December 1972, I was a staff sergeant in the 82nd Airborne Division. I got a call from a sergeant first class, whom I did not know, asking me to come to his office in the 82nd Airborne Division Command Section. Considering that he worked for the Division Chief of Staff and the Commanding General, I went to see him. He was offering me his job. He had been there two years and was burnt out. He told me about the high pressure, classified work, the 10 to 12 hour days, sometimes including weekends, and the balancing act of keeping three generals, a colonel, and the Division Command Sergeant Major happy. I told him that I didn’t think I wanted to do that. The next morning, my colonel called me to his office and said something like, “I guess I should have talked to you before you went over there.” In other words, I had already been picked.
     Two stenographers worked for me, and my immediate boss was a major, the Secretary of the General Staff (SGS), and his boss (my endorser) was a full colonel, the Division Chief of Staff. That was Colonel Volney Frank Warner. He was congenial, always in a good mood, brilliant, common – no pretense, just a great guy and a great boss, from the first day. Always willing to take time to make sure that I understood what ever was happening, at the time. As time went by, I met Mrs. Warner, their two sons, and a daughter. The daughter I met, Valerie, was 16 at the time – and yes typical. An older daughter, Victoria, was away in college, and the two sons, James and Jerry, although a year apart in age, were in the same class at West Point, their first year. One of the boys had a rocky period, for a time, which took some of their dad’s telephone time.
     Volney Warner grew up in Woonsocket, South Dakota. In his third year of high school, World War II was still on going, his father was head of the local draft board, and his mother the recorder, so he decided to relieve them of having to decide whether or not to draft their son, and joined the Navy. He had also applied for West Point, and after a little over a year in the Navy, he received an alternate South Dakota appointment to West Point. He graduated from West Point in 1950, and went home on leave, before reporting to the Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia, for the Basic Infantry Officer Course. While home on leave, the Korean War erupted. He didn’t go to Fort Benning, he went directly to Korea, and was assigned as a replacement infantry platoon leader, for one of the many lost. The US Army was not supplied, equipped, or trained, for combat, when North Korea invaded South Korea, and after China entered the war, the US Army sometimes faced enemy attacks of 500 to 1 in the enemy’s favor. Volney Warner said that during his year in Korea, his 100 man company suffered over 200 casualties as killed, wounded, or captured. They were unsupplied to the point that they stole chickens and butchered oxen for food. It was a miserable, kill or be killed introduction to the military.

                                      Lieutenant Volney F. Warner, Korea 1950

     In 1963 he was assigned to Vietnam as a province advisor, in the Mekong Delta. The US had no combat troops in Vietnam, at that time, only advisors. It was during that tour that he and his counterparts came to realize that what was happening wasn’t just communist aggression, it was often neighbor against neighbor. More like a civil war. Back from Vietnam, he worked a couple years at the Southeast Asia Desk in the Pentagon, then as military assistant to the Special Assistant to the President on Vietnam, in the White House. He was part of what became a “think tank” on what to do in Vietnam, a course on which they could never agree. In 1969, as a colonel, he went back to Vietnam as a brigade commander. He said that, at that time it became a game. You did the best you could, even if you didn’t believe in it, so he tried to minimize casualties and do the best job possible.

     Upon returning, that time, he was assigned as the executive to the Chief of Staff of the Army, General William C. Westmoreland. Army colonels get looked at four times in consideration for promotion to Brigadier General. If not selected during those four considerations, they will retire as colonels. Colonel Warner had been considered twice, and assuming that he had stepped on somebody’s toes, and been black balled from promotion, decided to retire, but his boss, General Westmoreland, convinced him to stay longer, and assigned him as the Chief of Staff of the 82nd Airborne Division.
He said, in later years, that when he arrived, the Commanding General (CG), Major General (MG) Frederick J. Krosen, who also attained four stars, told him; “I’m going in my office and do what I do, you go in your office and go to work, and in six months you’ll realize that you are running the division.”
I remember the day I started to realize that Col Warner really was a mental giant. We usually ran PT, then cleaned up and had staff call, which included about 15 members of the division staff, I sat in to record. That particular morning, during PT, we had tagged onto a company preparing for jungle school, and ran about six or seven miles. So, at staff call time we were still in shorts and T-shirts, soaked to the skin. The G2, the Intel people, had prepared a briefing on Unattended Ground Sensors, which were just being introduced. Col Warner sat, red faced, wiping sweat with a towel, listening to the briefing. At the end of their briefing, Col Warner ask about four or five questions which sent them back for days of research, such as, can we locate ourselves from those things, and can we triangulate their signals with ours and adjacent units to pin point us and them on the battlefield. Keep in mind, that was almost 50 years ago.
There are few people, in the world, who easily see through smoke and mirrors and BS, and can identify the real issue at hand. Volney Warner was very good at that. Alexander Haig was two years ahead of Volney Warner at West Point, then they had worked together at the pentagon and in the White House, and they and their families had become personal friends. President Nixon had promoted Al Haig from two to four stars, then pulled him in to be White House Chief of Staff. The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota was having an internal fight trying to impeach a corrupt leader. After failing to obtain a formal impeachment, on Tuesday February 27th 1973, about 200 Oglala Lakota and followers of the American Indian Movement (AIM) seized and occupied the town of Wounded Knee, on the reservation. Initially about 50 FBI agents descended on the town, surrounded it, and had police set up road blocks surrounding the town, and started arresting people leaving. In the first couple days, an FBI agent was shot and a couple Indians were killed. The FBI requested the Army’s help. On Friday morning, March 2nd 1973, Col Warner got a call from Al Haig, then White House Chief of Staff. It went something like this; “You are going to Wounded Knee to be the senior federal representative on site, everybody answers to you. Wear civilian clothes and pack for an extended stay. A plane will be at Bragg to pick you up in a few hours. Defuse the situation and don’t kill anybody.”

                                           FBI car shot during Wounded Knee

The first thing was to change the FBI’s orders from “shoot to kill” to “shoot to wound”. Then with a paper topographic map, a compass and a pencil, he walked the ground to learn the terrain. He started trying to get the FBI and the Indians to talk. He would call back to our office at least once daily, with a detailed update which myself or one of the stenos would record on paper. He played little tricks, that the news never got wind of, to get the Indians to come out and talk. He brought in an Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) with a built in flame thrower. In front of the Indian positions, he set up a bunker, brought the APC up, and from 200 yards away, shot a flame that incinerated the bunker. The Indians finally agreed to talk. It was late April or early May before the situation at Wounded Knee was defused and Colonel Warner came home. In the first few days, he was visited by several top FBI people, who heaped praise on him for keeping them from doing something really bad.

Negotiations between American Indian Movement and Federal Agents, Wounded Knee, 1973

     In late May, the Brigadier General board was also in session at the pentagon, which meant the fourth and final consideration for Col Warner. The first week of June, the CG, MG Krosen had a meeting of all the Brigade Commanders and Col Warner (all the colonels), in his office. During the meeting, the CG’s Aide got a call from Washington that the Brigadier list had just been released, and Col Warner was at the top of the list, to be promoted immediately. He was messaged a copy of the order. Not to reveal the surprise, the CG told the Aide to say that he forgot something, and get them all back to the office. One of the stenos got a star from one of the Brigadier’s Aide and pinned it on Col Warner’s cap, I grabbed a cloth star and Warner’s helmet and ran home, where Betty sewed it on the camouflage helmet cover. When all the colonels returned to the CG’s office, the CG opened the doors, so we could all see, he then said; “everyone come to attention”, the Aide read the order and MG Krosen pinned stars on then Brigadier General Warner’s collars. The colonels and generals then moved to MG Krosen’s house, to celebrate the promotion.
     For the next year BG Warner was the Assistant Division Commander for Operations and Training. He said that when he asked MG Krosen what he wanted him to do, MG Krosen said; “You run the field, if I see you in your office, I know that you are not doing your job.” That year was like a marathon, I did a lot of communicating and movement coordinating for him, because it was often more than his Aide could handle. I remember an intense exercise when I had a couple jeeps, and three helicopters, carrying, waiting for, or moving to pick up BG Warner. When that year was over and he was moving on to another assignment, I typed a letter for him to the General Officers Branch at the Pentagon. In it, he said that if ever there was an opportunity for him to come back here, he would crawl through a mile of broken glass to get here. He said, these are the finest troops in the world, who do anything you ask of them.
BG Warner spent a year at Forces Command Headquarters, then was promoted to Major General and given command of the 9th Infantry Division at Fort Lewis, Washington, after which he was promoted to three stars and returned to Fort Bragg, as the XVIII Airborne Corps commander. In the summer of 1979, he was promoted to four star General, and given command of the US Readiness Command (which later became Central Command) at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida. He retired from the Army in 1981.
I talked to him, on the phone, just before he retired. There were rumors that he would be the next Chief of Staff of the Army, but his comment to me was; “when you get too far from the troops, there’s too much BS.”

General (Retired) Volney F. Warner at a West Point interview 2008

After retirement, he was hired as Vice President of Applied Technology for Vertex Systems, then established V.F. Warner and Associates Consulting in Washington, DC, which he managed until shortly before his death in November 2019. His family now runs the company.

82nd Airborne Division Deploys to Middle East

This was originally published in The Belle Banner, Belle Missouri January 8th 2020. If you would like to see the current articles as they are published, you may subscribe to The Belle Banner by calling 573-859-3328, or email, or mail to The Belle Banner, PO Box 711, Belle, MO 65013. Subscription rates are; Maries, Osage, and Gasconade County = $23.55 per year, elsewhere in Missouri = $26.77, outside Missouri = $27.00, and foreign countries = $40.00.

There is a saying around Fort Bragg and Fayetteville, North Carolina; “When the President calls 911, the phone rings at Fort Bragg”. On New Year’s Eve, the United States Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq was attacked. A few hours later, the 82nd Airborne Division got the call. That is the call, for which, the 82nd Airborne Division trains. It trains for combat in cities, for combat in the desert, for combat in the mountains, and it practices being alerted. The EDRE (Emergency Deployment Readiness Exercise) is just that. The 82nd practices being alerted over and over. I was involved in many practice alerts, while serving with the division. Sometimes they only last a few hours, ending on the runway at Pope Field on Fort Bragg. Sometimes they are a full blown forcible entry exercise, lasting several days.

One of the 82nd’s three Brigade Combat Teams (BCT) is always on standby alert, prepared to be “wheels up” to anywhere in the world, within 18 hours of receiving the call. One of that BCT’s three infantry battalions, the DRF (Division Ready Force) battalion, is on two hour call. It has a formation, with all present, within two hours of receiving the call.
The 82nd Airborne Division is called the “All American Division”, and “America’s Guard of Honor”. It is the US military immediate reaction force. The tip of the spear. The 82nd trains and works harder than most military units, and it still has the highest morale of any. Why? Partly due to the history, which is unequaled by any other unit, partly pride in being the best at what they do, the Army sends its’ best officers to the 82nd, as evidenced by a long list of four star generals who served in the 82nd, including the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, whose career started in the 82nd, and perhaps because they take their business seriously. They know that if something blows up in the world, they will be sent to put out the fire. Many of the NCO’s (non-commissioned officers) (sergeants) in the 82nd spend most of their career there. There is an attachment to the 82nd that is hard to explain even to veterans of other units. There is an 82nd Airborne Division Association of veterans of the 82nd, with 96 chapters scattered around the country. The Association has a convention every summer, and participates in the 82nd’s big annual show, called All American Week, the week before Memorial Day weekend.

This time, the 2nd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, of the 1st Brigade Combat Team was the DRF battalion. The Devils in Baggy Pants.
After fighting in Sicily, Salerno, and Italy, in 1943 and early 1944, the majority of the 82nd Airborne Division loaded ships for England to prepare for the Normandy invasion, but it’s 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR) remained to help with the invasion of Anzio, 35 miles south of Rome. Anzio saw some of the most intense brutal combat of the war, the 504th was greatly outnumbered and down to 20 and 30 men in 100 man companies, fighting in defense, but they continued to aggressively patrol at night, harassing the enemy. A diary was found on the body of a German army major, in it was this passage; “American parachutists…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…”. The 504th became known as those “Devils in Baggy Pants”.

                                           Vehicles and equipment loaded.

A lot of things start happening simultaneously, during an alert, and everyone knows their job. Paratroopers on standby always have their combat gear packed, they get in uniform, grab their gear and get into their company and draw their weapons. An alert also goes to the support brigade, which will help load the deploying unit. The FRG (Family Readiness Group) (wives/soldiers’ families) leaders notify the spouses of a meeting. In this case, it was only a few hours until the Brigade and Division commanders met with the families, to brief them on what was happening, who would be their point of contact in a remaining rear detachment, how to communicate through the Red Cross in the event of a family emergency, and generally answer questions.
The Chaplain’s Assistant (a sergeant) takes care of the Chaplain’s gear, because the Chaplain is meeting with the families, then mingling with the troops. Most of the young troops are pumped about possibly getting to do what they have trained for – go kick some butt – Hooah!! Some will be stressed. Chaplains like to be with the troops, because some of those stressed troops are comforted, just being able to talk to the Chaplain. Sergeants, combat vets, have a different attitude during an emergency deployment. First, they have a hundred things to check, troops gear, weapons, gas masks, any problems. Make sure troops have everything they are supposed to have and not too much extra junk. “I got it sarge”. “I know, but I’m going to check it anyway”. Sergeants also have that internal prayer, “God please let me bring everybody home alive.” There are formations, ammunition is issued, radios are issued, and before boarding the plane, MRE’s (Meal Ready to Eat) are issued.

                                Live Ammo – This is no training exercise.

                                                        Check everything.

The mission this time was, get there, the mission will be determined by whatever events occur. About 2:30 AM on January 2nd, the 2nd Battalion, 504th PIR landed at Al Seram Air Base in Kuwait.
On Saturday morning, January 4th, the remainder of the 1st Brigade Combat Team loaded aircraft and took off for Kuwait.


This was originally published in The Belle Banner, Belle Missouri June 19th 2019.   The Belle Banner is no longer in publication.
Teaching school is one of the most important, if not the most important, job in our society. There are good teachers, bad teachers, and great teachers. I don’t mean bad teachers are bad people. The bad teacher is usually a young person who just graduated from college, got their teaching certificate and landed their first teaching job. They know their subject but are unable to create a desire in their students to learn the subject. A subject of extreme importance in life like English (language arts) takes some ingenuity and leadership skills to create that desire. And worse, the bad teacher is unable to control the classroom. They usually last a year, sometimes two, but the students are the losers. The great teachers are always “up” and positive in the classroom. For example, the teacher who endures a devastating personal crisis, and yet the students in the classroom, that year, say that was my favorite teacher.
Great teachers inspire kids to want to learn. Great teachers are leaders. Amanda Kelly grew up around Easley, Missouri. Easley is a scattering of buildings next to the Katy Trail on the Missouri River, east of Ashland. Really out in the sticks. Amanda said that she had a rough childhood, she and four siblings raised by her grandparents, who also had their own young children. In an Army Times interview, she said; “I didn’t come from a really good background. I didn’t have a mom and dad. I don’t know who my dad is, so I wanted to be more than what I was raised in.” She said that looking back, her biggest motivators were good teachers. She said; “They saw something that I didn’t see. Since I was little, they always told me that I had some kind of hunger. I didn’t see that.” As an Army Sergeant in Iraq, with the 1st Armored Division, she told her battalion commander, a former green beret, that her career goal was to become the Sergeant Major of the Army, the top job. He took her as serious and helped her set some career milestones she needed to achieve, in order to some day be in consideration for the top job. This past September 2nd 2018, she became the first enlisted woman to graduate from Army Ranger training and receive the prestigious “Ranger Tab” on her uniform.

Staff Sergeant Amanda Kelly being pinned with the Ranger tab

Staff Sergeant Amanda Kelly is currently in the 3rd Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. She is not a Green Beret (yet), she is an Electronic Warfare Specialist assigned to the 3rd group.

  Staff Sergeant Amanda Kelly with Representative Madeleine Dean in Washington DC

But this story is not about being in the military. It is about teaching school to military children on a military installation. If you are a good school teacher and you enjoy teaching, but would like some travel and adventure, here’s how. The Department of Defense Education Activity (DODEA) manages 168 schools, employs 8,700 educators, and educates over 73,000 military children worldwide. DODEA students consistently test among the top schools in the country, so the teaching environment must be good and the teachers must enjoy being there.
Not every military installation in the US has schools that are run by DODEA. Fort Leonard Wood Schools are part of the Waynesville School District. The states that do have DODEA schools are; Alabama (3), Georgia (10), Kentucky (11), New York (2), North Carolina (15), South Carolina (5), and Virginia (3), plus Puerto Rico (4) and Cuba (1). Want to travel and see the world? There are DODEA schools where there are US military. Germany (35), Japan (19), Okinawa (13), South Korea (12), Italy (10), England (8), Belgium (5), Guam (4), Spain (3), The Netherlands (2), Bahrain (1), and Turkey (1).
Belle’s own Kevin Altemeyer, BHS Class of 1981, has been working for DODEA for several years. A couple years ago he and his family moved from Seoul, South Korea to Grafenwöhr, Germany. He teaches math and science at the Netzaberg Middle School, in Bavaria. When I told him that I was thinking of writing this article, he had this to say; “I can say I have enjoyed working for the soldiers that keep my family and I safe. It is rewarding giving my service back to the children of our service men and families. It is a great job!!! I love it! My wife is teaching too and the students are great kids and it is great being part of the traditions of DODEA! We have been blessed!”

Netzaberg Elementary and Middle School athletes and their buddies begin their friendship during the Parade of Athletes May 6 at the U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern 26th Special Olympics Spring Games at the German Police Academy in Enkenbach-Alsenborn. Photo by Christine June, USAG Kaiserslautern.

Netzaberg Middle School

Netzaberg Elementary and Middle School Complex is located in the center of the Grafenwhoehr family housing complex

DODEA teachers are government employees, falling under government employee retirement, thrift savings plans, and health insurance. Moving is provided and if going overseas, and the government will ship your car, and while teaching overseas, the government will pay for your trip back to the states during the summer. DODEA employees may live in government family housing on the installation or live off and be paid a lucrative Living Quarters Allowance (LQA). Current and former DODEA teachers say that their LQA easily pays for a nice house. DODEA teachers have their own pay scales depending on education and specialty. After the starting salary there are yearly step increases for the first four years, then two years, and then three year step increases. The starting salary for a certified teacher with a bachelor’s degree is $45,450. A bachelor’s degree plus 15 semester hours (SH) is $46,930, plus 30 SH is $48,410, and a master’s degree starts at $49,890. After 10 years, the plain bachelor’s degree is at $58,410, and the master’s is at $66,540. Speech pathologists and social workers with a master’s degree starts at $52,805, after 10 years is $70,850. Guidance counselors with a master’s starts at $52,415. School psychologists with a master’s starts at $59,045. There are more pay scales based on education and profession. DODEA just advertised to fill a job at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. The title is “Instructional Systems Specialist Mathematics PK-5”. The requirements were a master’s degree in education and five years experience in teaching math PK-5. The salary is $84,374.
For someone wanting to see another part of the world, this could be an enjoyable job. It is a competitive application. Aside from the bachelor’s degree in education and state certification, there is a lengthy background security investigation, and interviews. Applicants indicate a location preference, but they must indicate that they are willing to go where ever there is a requirement, worldwide, but if you were counting, there are 58 schools scattered around Europe. If you are teaching at the Middle High School on the Naples Navel Base in Naples, Italy, or at the one on the US Army post in Ansbach, Germany, or at the high school on Ramstein Air Force Base at Ramstein, Germany, you are on United States soil, surrounded by English speaking Americans. There are large exchanges (stores) and commissaries (grocery stores), as well as a fire department, a hospital or clinic, and military police patrolling.

                                                  Naples High School

                       Rainbow Elementary School Ansbach Germany

                                         Ramstein American High School

Most comments from DODEA teachers are similar to Kevin’s, they love it. Great kids and great people to work with. Military kids are generally well behaved, but there is always “that one”. In a situation where an issue with a child cannot be resolved between the school and the parents, the parents’ commander gets involved and the situation is solved one way or another.
If you want to teach school but would like some adventure and would like to see some more of the country or the world, consider DODEA.


This was originally published in The Belle Banner, Belle Missouri March 20th, 2019. If you would like to see the current articles as they are published, you may subscribe to The Belle Banner by calling 573-859-3328, or email, or mail to The Belle Banner, PO Box 711, Belle, MO 65013. Subscription rates are; Maries, Osage, and Gasconade County = $23.55 per year, elsewhere in Missouri = $26.77, outside Missouri = $27.00, and foreign countries = $40.00.
After Fort Leonard Wood, the closest post to Belle, Missouri is Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, but I’m not including it as a possible place to be assigned, because there are not many enlisted positions there. It is the Army’s Combined Arms Center which is basically the Army Command and General Staff College, which is a yearlong course attended by new majors. The Department of Defense’s only maximum security prison is also there.
The next closest is Fort Riley, Kansas which is about 325 miles or about five hours driving time. Next is Fort Campbell, Kentucky which is about 350 miles or five and a half hours, then there is Fort Knox, Kentucky which is about 370 miles and about six hours away. Fort Riley is the home of the 1st Infantry Division, which has a shoulder patch with a red 1. In Vietnam they said; “If you’re going to be one, you might as well be a big red one”. Fort Campbell is home to the 101st Airborne Division. The 101st doesn’t jump out of airplanes anymore, but it has retained the name because it was initially organized as an airborne division. The 101st is classified as an Air Assault Division. Lots of helicopters.
This is about Fort Knox. You take I-64 east from St Louis across Indiana to exit 105, just east of Louisville, then Indiana highway 135 south into Fort Knox. That is an easy trip. I went through basic training at Fort Knox, then went back to Fort Knox, as a Master Sergeant, as cadre for the ROTC basic course.
The United States Bullion Depository is located at Fort Knox. Fort Knox does not have a combat unit. It was the Armor Center and School for 60 years, but in 2010 the Armor Center and School was moved to Fort Benning, Georgia to be co-located with the Infantry Center and School. If someone is more desirous of a support job and doesn’t want to be in a combat unit, Fort Knox may be the place. There are four major headquarters on Fort Knox, each commanded by a Major General (two stars) The US Army Cadet Command oversees the national ROTC programs.

                                   US Army Cadet Command Headquarters

The US Army Recruiting Command supervises the entire Army recruiting operation including the recruiting brigades and battalions, the US Army parachute Team (The Golden Knights), and Army commercials.

                              US Army Recruiting Command Headquarters

The 1st Theater Sustainment Command is the logistical, personnel, and financial support command for US Central Command whose area of responsibility is the middle-east, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria. Most army war zone veterans alive will recognize that circle with the leaning arrow shoulder patch. It was called the leaning something else in Vietnam. It was 1st Log Command then and the largest command in country.

                       1st Theater Sustainment Command Headquarters
Then there is the giant of the four, the US Army Human Resource Command.

                                      US Army Human Resource Command

In 2003 the Army Total Personnel Command in Alexandria, Virginia (Washington, DC – Army Headquarters) and the US Army Reserve Personnel Command in St Louis were consolidated into a newly constructed 884,000 square foot, three story building, covering 104 acres on Fort Knox to form the US Army Human Resource Command (HRC). Every personnel action from enlistment to retirement for officers and enlisted soldiers happens at HRC, assignments, reassignments, promotions, discharges, awards, and retirement. There are almost 4,000 soldiers and civilians working in that building. When HRC was activated it started a radical change in the Army. When I was in the Army you just “came down on orders”. You didn’t know when or where you were going until you got orders. Now every soldier has an AKO account (Army Knowledge Online), on which he or she can “chat” with their assignment manager at HRC. The Officer Personnel Management Directorate (OPMD) at HRC has offices with assignment officers for each officer branch in the Army. The officers assignment officers not only monitor the Army’s requirements, but they also manage the individual officers careers, presenting possible assignments that will continue to enhance the officer’s experience and education as he or she moves up in rank. The Enlisted Personnel Management Directorate (EPMD) follows the same pattern for career enlisted soldiers, plus they post on Facebook upcoming assignment requirements around the world. They try to have soldiers assigned where they want to be assigned. Nothing but positive comments from soldiers assigned there – very professional.

                          US Army Human Resource Command building

Fort Knox covers 109,000 acres in three counties of Kentucky. The 2018 population figures are 4,769 active duty soldiers, 2,501 Army Reserve soldiers, 6,825 civilian workers, and 6, 841 dependents living on post. It has a permanent population of just over 12,000 and a daytime working population of about 21,000. Like all Army posts, Fort Knox has a hospital, fire department, military police patrolling, a large post exchange, and a large commissary. Fort Knox also has four fitness centers/gyms, one has an indoor pool, a PGA certified 18-hole golf course, a bowling alley, and several tennis/ basketball courts and baseball/softball fields. The Fort Knox Education Center has five schools conducting evening and online classes, including the University of Louisville.

Fort Knox Family Housing

                                            Fort Knox Lindsay Golf Course

So what Army jobs for new enlistees are on Fort Knox? My guess (Army won’t tell) is that Human Resource Specialist, Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) 42A is the largest number, probably hundreds. Followed very closely by MOS 25B Information Technology Specialist. The 25B’s are the Army’s computer guys who keep everything running. If you’re a smart person graduating from high school who wants to be a computer engineer, but you or your family doesn’t have the money for college and you don’t want to go in debt for it, enlisting for Army MOS 25B might be a valid consideration. After basic combat training, the AIT (Advanced Individual Training) for 25B is 20 weeks at Fort Gordon, Georgia (Augusta). The AIT for 42A is nine weeks at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. A person in either of those MOS’s serving a three or four enlistment at Fort Knox should leave with at least two years college, if they apply themselves, plus the computer person should all kinds of computer and network certifications. A new soldier in either of those MOS’s who makes Fort Knox their first assignment choice on their AKO, site as soon as they get to AIT, will probably get that assignment. However, the needs of the Army always come first, so that would not be a guarantee, but it would be a very good bet.


This was originally published in The Belle Banner, Belle Missouri March 6th, 2019. If you would like to see the current articles as they are published, you may subscribe to The Belle Banner by calling 573-859-3328, or email, or mail to The Belle Banner, PO Box 711, Belle, MO 65013. Subscription rates are; Maries, Osage, and Gasconade County = $23.55 per year, elsewhere in Missouri = $26.77, outside Missouri = $27.00, and foreign countries = $40.00.
Over the past couple of years I have written about Army jobs and different conditions of life in the Army. This is about where soldiers work and live – Army forts. We’ll start with Fort Leonard Wood.
Fort Leonard Wood was conceived in 1940 during the nation’s military buildup before World War II. The fort was originally planned for Iowa, but at the last minute it was discovered that there was insufficient water at the Iowa location so Pulaski County Missouri was designated as the location. Rugged terrain in the middle of the Ozarks, but with lots of water, the Big Piney and Roubidoux Creek, with large springs. There has always been a rumor at the fort that it was switched to Missouri because the Iowa delegation made Harry Truman mad, but Harry Truman was just elected to his second term as a Senator in 1940, so he wasn’t in a powerful position at that time, but he could still have been the primary influence. The government already owned some of the land, but four small communities, and 304 families had to be displaced. Some had been on their land for several generations. The fort covers more than 61,000 acres.
Officials broke ground on December 3rd 1940, and by April 20th 1941 with over 32,000 workers, who came from all over and lived in a tent city, with 73,000,000 board feet of lumber, and 50,000 cubic yards of concrete, after excavating 3,000,000 cubic yards of dirt, all the while fighting wet weather, dragging trucks through the mud with bulldozers, had constructed 27 miles of railroad, 56 miles of roads and streets, 60 miles of water lines, 52 miles of sewer lines, 34 miles of electric lines, 1,537 permanent buildings and 250 temporary buildings. By June of 1941 Fort Leonard was completed and troops were training there.

                        Employee Tent City at Fort Leonard Wood 1941

                     Building Fort Leonard Wood Winter and Spring 1941

          General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital (GLWACH)

Editors note:  A $296 million dollar design/build contract was awarded in August 2019 for a new hospital at Fort Leonard Wood.

Fort Leonard Wood was deactivated after World War II, and much of the land was leased to cattle farmers, with only a skeleton caretaker crew remaining on the fort. It was reactivated during the Korean War, and due to cold war concerns was made a permanent installation. Troops who trained there, at that time, called it “Little Korea”, rugged rocky terrain, hot in the summer, and cold in the winter. In 1956 it was designated as the US Army Engineer Training Center. Major construction took place in 1950’s and 1960’s. In 1967 alone 120,000 troops were trained for Vietnam, at Fort Leonard Wood. By then troops referred to it as “Fort Lost in the Woods”, isolated with nothing off post. Then in 1990 the US Army Engineer Center and School moved from Fort Belvoir, Virginia to Fort Leonard Wood, after a 60 million dollar state-of-the-art education and training facility was constructed.

Fort Leonard Wood Post Headquarters and Engineer Center

In 1999 the Military Police Center and School and the CBRN (Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear) Center and School moved from Fort McClellan, Alabama to Fort Leonard Wood and it was re-designated as the Maneuver Support Center. It was around that time that construction on and off post went into high gear. Out in the woods, on Fort Leonard Wood, is the most advanced Chemical Defense Training Facility in the world. The post museum is very large and fantastic.

                                        Chemical Defense Training Facility

The latest population figures for Fort Leonard Wood, released in 2018, are; 10,987 active duty soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen, 854 Army Reserve soldiers, 3,879 civilian employees, and 11,376 dependents living on post. Off post, Waynesville and St Robert each have a population of around 5,500, and St Robert has dozens of retail outlets, restaurants, and shops.
Sierra Redmond graduated college with a degree in journalism and married her high school sweetheart who had enlisted in the Army as a military policeman. Realizing there could be frequent moves with the Army which would detract from long term employment as a journalist, she became a blogger who writes a post called “Daily Impressions” for army wives. Their first permanent assignment was Fort Leonard Wood. She said that she heard the stories, “There’s nothing to do there.” “The post is so small you’ll hate it.” She wrote; “quite honestly, it was the best three years of our lives. It is one of the most family orientated posts. It is small, so it is easy to get around, and everybody knows everybody, from the top to the bottom of the chain of command.” She raved about how friendly and pro-military Waynesville and St Robert are, about the stores, and the things to do and see on and off post. Wives in the called it the “Post with the most”. There are dozens of baseball/softball fields, and volleyball/basketball/tennis courts scattered around the post, and most are occupied almost every night during the warm season. Fishermen and hunters call Fort Leonard Wood – Paradise.

                                                       Fort Ladder Truck # 1
So, if you were counting, Fort Leonard Wood is a city of about 20,000, with a daytime working population of around 25,000. It has a large full service hospital and a fully manned Fire Department with two Fire Stations, one on Forney Army Airfield, which also serves as the local airport and has multiple commercial flights daily between St Louis and Fort Leonard Wood, with rental car offices in the terminal. Military Police man the entrance gates and conduct routine patrols throughout post 24 hours a day, seven days a week. A Desk Sergeant is on duty 24/7 at the MP Station. There is a large new Post Exchange (PX) and several annexes. The PX is like a Walmart supercenter, but without the groceries, those are in the very large commissary. In the old PX building is the military clothing sales store, restaurants, Class 6 (liquor store), and various venders.
Government owned family housing was privatized on Fort Leonard Wood in 2005 to American Eagle Communities Midwest. Department of Defense apparently wasn’t satisfied with the performance because in 2008 Fort Leonard Wood was switched to Balfour Beatty Communities. Most of the old government housing was demolished and new houses built. The old housing that remained was remodeled. I couldn’t find any on post housing complaints within the past five years, but with recent news of some substandard military housing General Mark Milley, the Chief of Staff of the Army said that he wanted to find out how big is the problem, and find out fast. Dr Mark Esper, the Secretary of the Army directed that every army family living in government housing be visited during the month of March. That is 86,000 families. He also directed that there would be absolutely no retaliation against anyone complaining about housing conditions. Every Army installation has had town hall meetings. A town hall meeting was held on Fort Leonard Wood Wednesday evening, February 27th. Company Commanders and First Sergeants are to visit every one of their families living on post. They are not to make appointments, but keep going until they have visited everyone. They are not to enter the house unless invited in by a family member.

Eagle Point Housing on Fort Leonard Wood available to Private E-1 thru SGM E-9

So how would a person enlisting in the Army get assigned to Fort Leonard Wood? There can be some planning, but ultimately the needs of the Army determine who goes where. There are four main high population jobs trained at Fort Leonard, Combat Engineer, Military Police, CBRN Specialist, and Truck Driver. There is only one battalion of combat engineers permanently assigned at the post, and there is one permanent battalion of military police, so those are small possibilities. There are some CBRN specialists and some truck drivers, but not that many. There are two MOS’s (Military Occupational Specialty) (jobs) that are fairly numerous on Fort Leonard Wood. Those are Human Resource Specialist (MOS 42A), and Unit Supply Specialist (MOS 92Y). After completing Basic Combat Training, the AIT (Advanced Individual Training) for 42A is 9 weeks at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. The AIT for 92Y is 9 weeks at Fort Lee, Virginia. There are also a good number of paralegals (MOS 27D) on Fort Leonard Wood. The 27D AIT is 11 weeks also at Fort Lee.
So if someone wants to enlist in the Army and be close to home, at the start of AIT on your AKO (Army Knowledge Online) site, at the ASK key (Assignment Satisfaction Key) list Fort Leonard Wood as your first choice. After Fort Leonard Wood, the closest post to Belle, MO is Fort Riley, Kansas, with Fort’s Knox and Campbell, Kentucky about tied at about 30 miles further. In the coming weeks we will explore those Army posts.
To visit Fort Leonard Wood, if you don’t have a Department of Defense ID Card, a Missouri drivers licenses is not sufficient identification, you must also have either a passport, a certified birth certificate (not a copy), a social security card (not a copy), a draft record or a DD 214.


This was originally published in The Belle Banner, Belle Missouri June 4th 2018. If you would like to see the current articles as they are published, you may subscribe to The Belle Banner by calling 573-859-3328, or email, or mail to The Belle Banner, PO Box 711, Belle, MO 65013. Subscription rates are; Maries, Osage, and Gasconade County = $23.55 per year, elsewhere in Missouri = $26.77, outside Missouri = $27.00, and foreign countries = $40.00.

This is just some war stories, but not the kind that is conjured up by the term “war stories”, so I’ll just call them “Army Stories”. Some are funny, some are not, some are funny only to the people involved, some are just interesting, but they are about life in the Army.
A Rifle Platoon Sergeant in the infantry runs a platoon of about 40 soldiers. The Platoon Leader, the lieutenant, leads the platoon. In the infantry, Rifle Platoon Leader is the very first assignment (job) a new lieutenant gets, after he has completed all of his initial training. In the field the Platoon Leader leads and directs combat operations and the Platoon Sergeants’ job is officially beans and bullets. Making sure that everyone has what they should have. Unofficially one of the Platoon Sergeants’ primary jobs is to train his lieutenant. Good Platoon Sergeants understand that and take it as a responsibility. Good lieutenants also understand it and welcome the years of experience from their platoon sergeant. Most of the time that works very well, sometimes it doesn’t.
One of my platoon leaders graduated second in his class at West Point. He was extremely smart, but he knew it and thought that he was smarter than everyone else. I also had a new lieutenant who had grown up in the Army. His father was a Colonel and his wife’s father was a Colonel. He graduated from ROTC, and he was completely familiar with army life. He was all open and eager to learn. Shortly after he arrived, our company commander (Captain) took him to a briefing at Battalion Headquarters for an upcoming operation. When the briefer said; “This is a joint exercise, so when you call for tac air (meaning tactical air support, i.e. jet fighters attacking positions you are requesting them to attack), you get tac air. My lieutenant blurts out “Ohh WOW”!!. The captain said, “shut up …..” listen to the briefing”. He was a good lieutenant, he would listen to anyone who made sense. The troops liked him, and when the troops like a lieutenant, look out. When the troops don’t like a lieutenant, they leave him alone, but when they like him, and they consider him one of them, he is free game. Somehow exlax got into his canteen in the field. I don’t think he ever knew why he had problems on that field exercise. I found out later, but not who did it. I was proud of him, because in six months he was moved to be Platoon Leader of the Battalion Reconnaissance Platoon, which is usually reserved for the best infantry lieutenant in the battalion.
During a training exercise, my company jumped into Sardinia in 1978 and made CBS evening news. About 120 paratroopers jumped that day, we had over 30 injured including a couple broken arms, mild concussions and one broken leg. When my parachute opened I thought for a second that I was disoriented because the wind wasn’t right. Then I realized that it was the wind. The wind was way too strong for a parachute jump. We had MC1 steerable chutes with hand toggles, very maneuverable, and you always face into the wind when landing. The wind was so strong that it was pushing in on the wind side of my canopy. I hit the ground heels first, did a backward flip through my suspension lines and went about 50 yards through a briar patch before I could release one side of my canopy. Nothing hurt. Our First Sergeant who had spent 20 years in Special Forces and had jumped in all kinds of adverse conditions, realized what was happening and released his canopy the second he hit the ground. We stopped the war gaming long enough to get the injured treated and separated into those who could continue and those who would be evacuated back to Italy or to a hospital in Germany. One of my Squad Leaders, a Staff Sergeant named Joe, really got his bell rung. When we finally gathered to move out, Joe had that horizon blank stare in his eyes, wasn’t walking steady, and didn’t seem fully aware of what was happening. We sent Joe back to Italy and it was a couple days before he was completely normal.
A formal investigation following that jump discovered what had happened, and caused a change in drop zone control. On every training parachute jump there was a Drop Zone Safety Officer and a Sergeant assistant, usually from the unit jumping, and an Air Force Tactical Air Control Team. They had wind machines to monitor wind speed and direction. Training parachute jumps are allowed in wind speeds up to about 12 knots, wind speeds of 13 knots (about 15 miles per hour) or over usually cancel the jump. The drop zone for that jump was about 3,000 meters long and was next to the ocean. The drop zone control party had set up at the lead end of the drop zone, which was normal, be where the jump starts. They were monitoring winds of 11 to 12 knots, which were approaching borderline, but still within safe jumping conditions. However, about halfway down the drop zone the ground was slightly higher catching the strong ocean winds. After that, drop zone safety teams had to survey the entire drop zone. The general consensus was that we jumped in 35 to 40 mile an hour winds.
The Army started using GPS, just like everyone else, especially in Iraq, except what the military uses is much more accurate and reliable than what civilians get to use. And the Army apparently became so dependent on GPS that it was ignoring plain old land navigation with a paper map and a compass. Because in the past couple years there has been a renewed and increased emphasis on teaching and testing land navigation. If technology breaks down, soldiers on the ground have to be able to navigate. This is one of my land nav stories. During a war gaming exercise in mountains in Norway my company was in the process of getting everyone in position to start the exercise. My platoon was the first to arrive in the area and get in position. Another platoon was to be located a couple mountains west of us. Our Company Commander (CO) ask me to go with him, via helicopter, to show me the location of the other platoon, because he had to go to a meeting. When the other platoon arrived I jumped in the bird with the Platoon Leader and rode with them to their location. The helicopters dropped us and left. After I pointed out the parameters of the location to the Platoon Leader and Platoon Sergeant, I had nothing else to do there. My platoon was located about three kilometers away, on the map. In mountains that can be a long way. It was late afternoon and the sun was already very low, but I wanted to be with my platoon. My Platoon Leader was a good lieutenant and very competent, but I wasn’t there. I had a map, a compass, and a radio, so I started home. By the time I got down the side of that mountain it was dark and no moon. As I got back on high ground I could see a house light in a valley in the distance and the lights of a car on a road travel from left to right past that house. Our platoon radio operator, Specialist White, was as sharp as they come and was with my platoon. White could also see the house light. Every time a car moved on the road White gave me the azimuth when the car moved between him and the house, I checked my azimuth. After several hours of sliding down banks and climbing up them and running into trees, our azimuths were getting very close. Finally I sat down and waited for the next car, we were on the same azimuth. I sat there for a few minutes contemplating my next move when I heard someone cough. I asked White if some just coughed, they did. They were about 50 feet to my rear.
One of the best infantry company commanders (CO’s) I served under, also had a great sense of humor. When playing army in the field, blank ammunition is used in rifles and machineguns, at that time blanks were not manufactured for .45 caliber pistols. Our CO disagreed with a captain in our battalion operations section about a certain aspect of the current field exercise. Our captain wrapped an M-16 blank cartridge with duck-tape until it fit perfectively in his .45, and when the headquarters captain visited our company command post, in the field, to discuss the exercise, our captain started an argument. The argument heated up, and our captain stepped back and said; “If you don’t like it, I’ll just shoot you”. And BANG, a blank fired in a pistol sounds very much like the real thing. For a few seconds there was no sound, only big eyes and open mouths, then laughter and finally laughter by all, and the disagreement was resolved.
One time I was working for a colonel when he was promoted to brigadier general. When he was first promoted he would come in the office laughing about his new experiences. He always drove to work in his PT (Physical Training) clothes, sweats or shorts and T-shirt. One morning he was stopped at a routine Military Police check point. The young MP checking licenses and ID cards asked, “Sir, what does “BG” mean?” He answered, “That means Brigadier General.” The young man said, “I was afraid that’s what it meant.”


This was published in The Belle Banner, July 17th 2019.

I recently wrote about taking ROTC in college. Many people start college unsure of what they want to do in life, and decide on a final major when they discover an interesting subject. Why not consider a career as a professional army officer. It is a respected career, whose products becomes business leaders, politicians, and even presidents.
The majority of Army officers come through ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps). Upon graduating from college with a bachelor’s degree and completing the military science program they are commissioned as second lieutenants. Upon commissioning, they are also branched into one of the army’s 16 basic branches, which are; Adjutant Generals Corps – Human Resource people who run the army personnel systems, Air Defense Artillery – shooting things in the air, Armor/Cavalry – Tanks and reconnaissance, Aviation – fly helicopters, Chemical Corps – Supervise chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear defense and offense, Engineers – Combat Engineers build things and blow up things, Field Artillery – Big guns that shoot big bullets for miles, Finance Corps – The money managers, Infantry – Combat with the enemy, Medical Services – Doctors, nurses, specialists, and administrators of the army health system, Military Intelligence – Finding the enemies secrets, Military Police – The cops, Ordnance Corps – The maintainers of weapons and munitions systems, Quartermaster Corps – Supervise the army’s massive supply system, Signal Corps – Supervising everything signal from radios to satellite communications to computer hackers, and Transportation Corps – Moving the Army – people and things by truck, rail, and water.
What type of college degree matches to what army branch? Answer – It doesn’t make much difference. The army’s first requirement for an officer is that he or she has a bachelor’s degree. I’ve known business administration majors in infantry, adjutant general’s corps, and quartermaster corps. One of the best infantry officers I knew had a degree in physical education, I knew a couple very good infantry officers who had degrees in psychology, and a couple were sociology majors. History with emphasis on military history probably aligns closest to the infantry. Ordnance, Transportation, and Quartermaster officers can transition into the higher level composite “Logistics Corps” as captains around four to five years of service. A bachelor’s degree in logistics management, which is now being offered by some schools, would be an ideal education base for those branches. Logistics managers are also highly valued in civilian industry. Starting salary around $55 to $60 thousand, older experienced managers around $120 to $150, national average around $75 thousand.
The first thing a new second lieutenant does is attend an officer basic leadership course (OBLC), most are about three months long, conducted at the army post where his or her branch school is located. Fort Leonard Wood is home to Engineers, Military Police, and the Chemical Corps. Infantry and Armor are at Fort Benning, Georgia, Adjutant Generals Corps at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and Ordnance, Transportation, and Quartermaster are at Fort Lee, Virginia. At their OBLC, second lieutenants are taught what they need to know to perform as lieutenants in their branch. There may be some specialty schools after OBLC such airborne (parachute) school, then they are assigned to their first job.

               Quartermaster Basic Officer Leadership Course Graduation
When second lieutenants begin their first job, they begin to realize the difference between enlisted soldiers and officers. Enlisted soldiers are not dumb. Dumb people can’t get in the Army now, and most senior sergeants now have bachelor’s degrees, but enlisted soldiers are the workers and officers are the managers. Senior Command Sergeants Major, old enough to be the lieutenant’s father, salutes the newest Second Lieutenant and calls him sir or her ma am. First jobs for second lieutenants are usually a platoon or a section where he or she is the leader and a senior sergeant, a Staff Sergeant, Sergeant First Class, or a Master Sergeant is the NCOIC (Non-commissioned officer in charge). Most sergeants in those positions accept that part of their job is to train their lieutenant, whether or not the lieutenant realizes he or she is being trained.

      Quartermaster First Lieutenant Yarita Torres Rigger Platoon Leader 173rd Airborne Brigade briefs Major General John R O’Conner Commander 21st Theater Support Command.

Smart lieutenants, in their first job, absorb all the experience and knowledge they can from their sergeants. They hear a lot of advice from their sergeants, but the lieutenant is still the boss. The lieutenant is the leader and as an old combat general once said; “The leader (officer) is the first boots on the ground and the last boots in the chow line”, meaning that the officer sets an example for personal conduct, enthusiasm for the task at hand, and concern for the soldiers under him or her. The lieutenant is responsible for accomplishment of the mission and for the welfare of his or her soldiers. Officers and enlisted soldiers do not socialize together, except at organized functions such as unit parties, anything outside of that type of setting is fraternization, which is against the law in the military. Officers socialize with officers.
New lieutenants are usually in that first job for around six to nine months, then depending on branch and availability of jobs they are moved to a job of more responsibility. A larger, more complex platoon, or a staff section of more responsibility. Second lieutenants are promoted to first lieutenant around 18 months time in service. First lieutenants are company executive officers, meaning they are the second in command of a unit of 100 to 250 soldiers, they also move up in staff jobs, often working in positions requiring a captain.
Lieutenants commissioned from a normal ROTC program are committed to three years active duty, or four years for ROTC scholarship recipients. Most officers are promoted to captain around the four year mark, which often coincides with their decision to extend their active duty or leave the service. Captains, who are remaining on active duty, attend a six month long Captains Career Course at their branch school. That is a permanent change of station, with quarters provided for the captain and his or her family. The Captains Career Course is to prepare them for company command and battalion level staff work, after that course they are assigned to a unit where they may command a company, which is normally a year to two year job, or they may go to a specialty assignment such as ROTC instructor, Reserve Component Advisor, or Recruiting supervisor. Officers serve as captains for around six years before they are considered for promotion to Major. During that time they are encouraged to get a masters degree, some do that at night and online, some are given the time to attend full time, and some are sent to graduate school, while on active duty, paid for by the Army.
Promotion to major happens around the 10 to 11 year mark, and most new majors attend the one year long Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. That is also a permanent change of station, with family quarters provided. That course teaches strategic thinking for army level staff work, and preparation for battalion command. There aren’t many command jobs for majors, but there are a lot of staff jobs. In combat arms battalions, majors serve as battalion executive officers and battalion operations officers.
Consideration for promotion to lieutenant colonel happens around the officers 15 to 16 year mark. The boards which select officers for lieutenant colonel also select some for battalion command. Battalions usually consist of 800 to 1,000 soldiers’ in five or six companies. Battalion command is normally a two year job. Lieutenant colonels also head division (two star) level staff sections, G1 Personnel, G2 Intelligence, G3 Operations and Training, and G4 Logistics.

      Lieutenant Colonel Elizabeth Curtis (at that time) Commander of the 407th Brigade Support Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division, with retired four star Ann Dunwoody, who also commanded that battalion 1992-1994.

Promotion to full Colonel, if it happens, is around the 20 year mark. Colonels command brigades consisting five or six battalions. Colonels also attend a year long “War College” which is a course in national level strategic thinking. Colonels are also the principal staff officers at corps (three star) level commands.

  Army officer  pay chart
Life as an army officer is very different from life as an enlisted soldier. Officers are paid much more than sergeants, but they are also responsible for much more. The most wrong description of army officers I have heard, by people who not familiar with the military, is that they always have to give orders. In 21 years, I never heard, “I am ordering you” or “that is an order”. An officer saying that usually means that they have failed at leadership. Officers are leaders. Leaders lead by setting an example, by encouraging and inspiring soldiers to want to do what must be done.
Serving as an army officer is an exhilarating and tremendously satisfying career.

                                                   Army officer rank chart


This was originally published in The Belle Banner, Belle, Missouri January 17th 2018.
AIRBORNE!! ALL THE WAY!!! I’ve written repeatedly and preached about going airborne if you are going into the Army, well this is about airborne school. It is easy.
New soldiers who have been through basic training and have completed Advanced Individual Training (AIT), such as Human Resource Specialist at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, or Unit Supply Specialist or Allied Trades Specialist at Fort Lee, Virginia, or Combat Medic at Fort Sam Houston (San Antonio), Texas, or Geospatial Engineer or Combat Engineer at Fort Leonard Wood, or any of dozens of schools and locations, who have the Airborne Option in their contract, will be assigned to the 1st Battalion, 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR) at Fort Benning, Georgia, to attend the Basic Airborne Course. In house, it is called “Jump School”. The biggest surprise for new soldiers, who have been supervised by Drill Sergeants since they enlisted, in reporting to Building 2747, the 1st 507th Headquarters, located at 7481 Riordon Street, is that they are on their own.
Upon signing in at the headquarters, students are told what building they will be living in, males and females are in separate buildings or separate floors. Everyone lives in an open bay, enlisted and officers separated by a wall. Students are all ranks, privates, new lieutenants, sergeants, captains, and they are from all services, Marines, Sailors, and Airmen. Occasionally a Sergeant Major or a Colonel is a student. I went through with three Air Force Majors, who had been fighter pilots and were switching over to troop carriers. They were going through airborne school so they would know what was happening when they dropped paratroopers. Airborne operations level the ranks. There are only two types of people in the hold of an airplane full of paratroopers, jumper and jumpmaster. The jumpmaster may be a sergeant, a captain or a colonel, but whatever his rank the jumpmaster has absolute charge of an airplane full of jumpers.
The instructors are very “laid back”, they don’t yell or demand, they are very professional. They are there to teach a skill, how to safely jump out of an airplane. EARLY the first thing on the first morning is the PT test. It starts at 0330, yes that’s 3:30 AM. Pushups and situps have to be done correctly or they don’t count. Males have to do a minimum of 42 correct pushups in two minutes, females 19 is the minimum. Both males and females have to do a minimum of 53 situps in two minutes. The maximum time for males for the two mile run is 15:54, females is 18:54. The flex arm hang is for both males and females. It is a pull up, palms facing the body, start from hanging on the bar, pull up chin above the bar and hold there for 20 seconds. Some females may have to prepare for this. That PT test is no joke, many drill sergeants in basic and AIT will count a pushup or situp that would not be counted at Airborne School. They don’t care what your score is after you meet the minimum requirements. If a person doesn’t come all the way up or go all the way down the pushup or situp doesn’t count, if the fingers interlaced behind the head come loose, that situp doesn’t count. Anyone who fails is not admitted to the course. One day at jump school would be embarrassing. There is also a minimum weight of 110 pounds, which must be maintained throughout the course. If a person can pass the PT test and jump out of an airplane, they can make it through jump school.
The first week is Ground Week. The week starts with classes, then practicing. A mock airplane is used to teach actions in the plane, door position and exiting the aircraft. The PLF (parachute landing fall) is taught the first day, and practiced all week. First by jumping off a small platform (1 foot high), rolling into a landing on the balls of the feet, the calf of the leg, the thigh, the buttocks, and the pushup muscle, to absorb the impact with the ground. Then a 2 foot high platform, and then a 4 foot high platform. The PLF is practiced over, and over, and over for hours. Every day starts with PT, including a normal two mile run, and probably a four mile run in ground week and one in tower week. Students are released at 1700 (5:00 PM), until 2300 (11:00 PM) bed check. Students say that the DFAC (Dining Facility) is amazing, steaks, omelets, shrimp, etc., but there are also an Arby’s, a Subway, and a Convenience Store within a five minute walk. There are theaters and a Dunkin Donuts within a 10 minute walk, as well as a great gym. There is no training on weekends, and there are a lot of activities both on post and off. After many hours doing PLF’s, students move to the Lateral Drift Assembly. The students are in a parachute harness, hooked to a zip line, pulled along the zip line and dropped, to simulate making contact with the ground at speed. Also, at the end of ground week students jump from the 34 foot tower. Students are in a parachute harness hooked to a cable which slopes to a mound a couple hundred feet away, and are graded on their door exit and immediate actions in the air. When airborne school was started in 1940, some psychologist must have decided that 34 feet up was the optimum height, where a person afraid of heights would experience fear, because it is the only place I saw anyone quit jump school. If you are afraid of heights, DON’T LOOK DOWN. The second time you will be alright, because then you know that you are not going to hit the ground and die.

                                             Swing landing trainer

  34 foot tower

(FORT BENNING, GA) A Soldier is dropped from the 250 foot tower with a T-10 Parachute during Airborne School, August 7, 2013 at Fort Benning. Airborne School consists of three weeks of training, ground week, tower week, and jump week. (Photo by Ashley Cross/U.S. Army Photo)

The second week is Tower Week. More time is spent on the 34 foot tower, practicing mass exits, in other words no pausing to get a door position. Then there are the 250 foot towers. First there is suspended harness training, the student is suspended in a parachute harness, with the parachute risers (straps attached to the harness and to the parachute suspension lines) attached to a ring above. It is used to teach students how to slip (guide) the parachute. It is commonly called suspended agony. Then there is the swing landing trainer, which is like suspended agony except they get you swinging and drop you to see what kind of PLF you do. At the 250 foot towers the student is in an open parachute, which is attached to a large ring. The parachute and student are lifted 250 feet up and released. It is used to teach students how to guide the parachute in the air. That is basically it, the final is jump week.
The third and final week is Jump Week. Students will make five jumps from a C-130 or a C-17 or both. There is no PT, and you eat MRE’s (Meal Ready to Eat) about all week. The day starts EARLY. At about 0300 (3:00 AM), the class must be formed and ready to run (double time) (trot) about a mile to the parachute shed at the airfield. Normal training parachute jumps, in the Army, take a lot of time, and airborne school is worse, because they have never done it before. First the manifest is read for each plane, then there is sustained airborne training, which is performed before every normal parachute jump in the Army. Sustained airborne training consists of going through a mock plane and exiting a mock door and PLF’s off of a four foot high platform, and briefings on what to do in case of a wire, tree, or water landing. Then through the parachute shed, where the main parachute and reserve are issued. Students put the main parachute on a shoulder (the main weighs 38 pounds), carry the reserve (15 pounds) in the other hand and RUN (double time) about 400 yards to the rigging shed. Students are paired with a buddy. The buddies help each other get their parachutes and the reserves harnessed up properly. They will be checked by instructors a few times, then they sit and wait for the final JMPI (Jumpmaster Parachute Inspection). That is when “the Jumpmaster” of that airplane performs his jumpmaster inspection. If you are a student, after you have been JMPI inspected, you sit and DO NOT TOUCH ANYTHING. Don’t touch your helmet straps, your harness, anything. That is jump school, safety is their greatest concern, if an instructor sees someone touching something, that student may be pulled and not finish, because he could be altering something. There are four day jumps, one of which will be with combat equipment, then the final jump is at night with combat equipment.
Graduation is normally 0900 (9:00 AM) on Friday, but if weather has pushed the last jump to Friday, graduation will be held on the drop zone, after the last jump. My class made three jumps in one day, fighting the weather.
I was the second jumper from the door on my first jump, behind an Air Force Major, the other two Air Force Majors were one and two at the other door. After we got out of the airplane with the parachutes open, I became so engrossed with the conversations between those three that I didn’t pay any attention to the ground. I landed flat footed, with my feet spread, and did a quick hard squat in the Georgia sand, luckily I didn’t break anything and no one saw me. From then on I paid attention. When that chute opens, it is the greatest feeling in the world, it is an exhilaration that is hard to explain. It’s a blast!