Category Archives: Good Army Stories


This was originally published in The Belle Banner, Belle Missouri July 3rd 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.
We celebrate Independence Day on July 4th, because that is when the Declaration of Independence from England was signed. It was actually approved by congress two days prior. It took another six years of bloody fighting against the English Army and between neighbors who desired to remain loyal to the king, and those who desired to govern themselves, to actually gain that independence, and another five years of political squabbling, negotiating, and arguing (1787) to come up with the Constitution, under which the United States of America lives.
My sixth great grandfather, Davis Stockton and his brother Richard and their families settled in present day Albemarle County, Virginia in the early 1730’s at the east base of the Blue Ridge Mountains. That was an uninhabited forest area when they arrived. With broad axes and cross cut saws they built cabins, cleared land, hand dug and chopped out stumps, marked the land they would purchase, and planted corn, wheat, and tobacco for cash, and gardens for food. The stories around Batesville, Virginia are that Davis Stockton with his sons William and Samuel built the first mill in that area in the early 1740’s. Stockton’s Creek and Stockton’s Mill Creek are still carry the name. I believe the mill was on Stockton’s Mill Creek very close to present day Batesville. Davis’ oldest son, Thomas (my fifth great grandfather) married a Quaker and became one, otherwise his wife, Martha Allen, would have been ostracized by friends and family. That caused somewhat of a religious split with staunchly Presbyterian Stockton’s.
Land speculators had purchased some of the land in that area, but did not live on it, but as neighbors moved in, Woods’, Terrell’s, Kinkead’s, and Lewis’, and the county court moved closer, roads were cleared. Davis actually patented (purchased) his first 400 acres in 1739 and Richard his first 400 acres in 1741, and Thomas bought 400 acres in 1745. Thomas’ son Thomas (my fourth great grandfather) was born in 1743 as was Thomas Jefferson, whose family lived about 15 miles east of the Stockton’s. Thomas was the third child, after brother Newberry and sister Jemima.
Davis’ good friend and neighbor Michael Woods built his plantation, which he called Mountain View, at the base of the mountains directly on the path from Woods Gap (now called Jarman’s Gap). That was also an old Indian trail, which the war parties traveled. In 1742, Michael Woods wife, Mary Campbell, became the first white woman killed by Indians in that area. The French and Indian war in the 1750’s didn’t spill into Albemarle County, but just across the mountains in Augusta County was the main north/south Indian trail through the Shenandoah River Valley and the Iroquois, from the north were at full scale war with the Catawba in the south. Alexander Brown wrote in “The Cabells and their Kin” that 60 persons were murdered by Indians in Augusta County in 1758. Albemarle County formed a Militia, in 1758, to defend against the Indians. Samuel and William Stockton, Adam Goudylock, (married to Davis’ youngest daughter Hannah) and William Whiteside (married to Davis’ oldest daughter Elizabeth) were members of that Militia. Henry Brenton (who was possibly married to Davis’ daughter Sarah) was also a member.
Davis Stockton died, probably in December 1761, his estate was inventoried on January 8th 1762. The family had always grown corn and wheat for use and sale, but the money crop had always been tobacco. The fertile river bottoms in the Albemarle area grew much more and better tobacco than the thin soils in the piedmont, but tobacco depleted the soil fast. Three or four years of growing tobacco, and the land would no longer produce a profitable crop. They then turned to wheat, which (albeit a weak yield) would produce a crop which could be sold. As always, when more and more is produced it becomes worth less, which is what happened with tobacco in the Colonies in the 1750’s. So times were becoming hard.
In 1760 George III inherited the throne of England. One of the primary concerns of the English Crown and Parliament, at that time, was paying for the French and Indian war. It was argued that since the colonies benefitted most from the defeat of the French, the colonies should pay the bulk of the expense of the war.

In May 1764 British Parliament passed “The American Revenue Act of 1764”, known historically as “The Sugar Act of 1764”. It was an extension and modification of “The Molasses Act of 1733”, which placed a tax on sugar, but was largely ignored and worked around. But the new act placed a tax on not only sugar, but wines, silk, cloth, coffee, tropical foods and rum being imported into the colonies. Plus, it placed burdensome bonding requirements on exports from the colonies, such as iron and lumber. This Act caused immediate economic hardship, in that exports fell off rapidly. The slowing economy caused people to not spend, but try to save their money. People couldn’t pay their debts with paper money, it had to be gold or silver.

Then came the “Duties in American Colonies Act 1765”, known as “The Stamp Act of 1765”. It was the first attempt to impose a direct tax on the colonies. It required all legal documents, permits, commercial contracts, newspapers, wills, pamphlets, and playing cards in the American colonies carry a tax stamp. The Act passed British Parliament by a large majority on March 22nd 1765, and went into effect on November 1st. The highest tax was for attorney licenses – 10 pounds. Other court papers were taxed in various amounts. Land grants under a hundred acres were taxed 1 shilling, 6 pence. Up to 320 acres at 2 shillings, 6 pence, with an additional 2 shillings, 6 pence for each additional 320 acres. Cards were taxed a shilling a pack, dice ten shillings. Newspapers and pamphlets were also taxed. The amounts were to be paid in sterling, not in colonial currency. The Act was protested fiercely throughout the colonies. All colonial assemblies sent petitions of protest to the Parliament and King. Merchants and landowners formed local protest groups which often turned violent and destructive as more people became involved. Finally all of the stamp tax distributors were intimidated into resigning their commissions. The tax was never effectively collected. After much infighting in British Parliament, repeal of the Stamp Act passed by a vote of 276 – 168 on February 21st,, and the King agreed to the repeal on March 17th, 1766.
By 1775 hostilities with British troops had started, then on July 4th 1776 all those who signed the Declaration of Independence did so knowing that it would mean all out war. Most of them lost what fortune they had, many would lose their freedom and some their lives.

Much of the family started moving out of Virginia in the late 1760’s. My fourth great grandfather, Thomas, spent his life on his farm, just over the county boundary in Amherst, present day Nelson County, but brother Newberry, with his in-laws the Lattimore’s, the Welchel’s and the Goudelock’s all settled close to each other in what became York County South Carolina. Samuel and the Whiteside’s were just across the line in North Carolina. William had moved from North Carolina over the mountains into the present day Sevier County area of Tennessee. Newberry’s group settled around Clarks Fork of Bullocks Creek. That area is now within the boundaries of Kings Mountain National Park. The Battle of Kings Mountain was literally fought in their backyard. The Battle of Kings Mountain was an American battle. Lord Cornwallis and the British Army had been defeating the rebels (patriots) in battle after battle throughout South Carolina and was preparing to charge north into North Carolina. British Major Ferguson recruited a loyalist militia force of about 1,000 to protect Cornwallis’ flank. On October 7th 1780 Ferguson’s militia was met by an equal number of patriots at Kings Mountain. Our family fought with the patriots. Davis Whiteside died of wounds from that battle. William Stockton, by then a true backwoods pioneer came with the “over the mountain men” from Tennessee, with their Kentucky Long Rifles accurate at twice the distance of their opponents. The battle lasted 65 minutes. The results were the loyalists suffered 290 killed, 168 wounded, and 668 taken prisoner, and the patriots suffered 28 killed and 60 wounded. Many historians say that was the turning point of the Revolutionary War. It was literally a “civil war” with neighbor against neighbor. Some of the people that the family moved with swore oaths of neutrality, and some had their property confiscated because of suspected affiliation with the British government.
After the war many of the family moved to Baron County, Kentucky. My third great grandfather, Newberry, married Anne Henderson in 1806 and moved with the Henderson’s and Campbell’s from Virginia to Madison County, Kentucky. Then most of that group moved to Boone County, Missouri in the summer of 1817. In 1843 my great great-grandfather, John Henderson Stockton and his brother Joseph settled in the Dry Fork/Peavine Creek area of present day Maries County.
My great grandfather, Jackson and his cousin Joseph spent four full years in the Confederate Army. Jackson’s half-brother, Orsemus spent four years in the Union Army. After the Civil War, they came home and spent the rest of their lives together.
My father, W.B. (Bud), was drafted in 1944, volunteered for the paratroops and was discharged from the 82nd Airborne Division in 1946. I enlisted in the Army in 1961, spent a lot of time in the 82nd Airborne Division, took a couple year break, and retired from the Army in 1984. Our Son, John Richard, enlisted in 1991 and spend four years as an infantryman in the 10th Mountain Division. He saw combat in Somalia in the summer of 1993. If you’re curious about that action, watch the movie “Blackhawk Down”. Caution, it is kind of rough.
I have seen some of the rest of the world and my conclusion is that this country has done more to promote individual freedom and liberty than the rest of the world combined. Yes, I do get a lump in my throat when saluting old glory as the National Anthem plays, because I do love this country.

Old Glory The flag of the United States of America


This was originally published in The Belle Banner, Belle, Missouri on June 13th 2018.
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 originally published in The Belle Banner, Belle Missouri December 27th 2017. 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.
Young people who know very little, or nothing, about life in the military, and are considering enlisting, can find volumes of conflicting information. Recruiter’s jobs are to recruit people into their service. Most people who have been in the military, and consider it to have been a positive experience, are prejudiced to that branch. I am naturally prejudiced toward the Army, because I spent a career there and retired from the Army. During my time in the Army, I spent more time with the Air Force than with the Marines or the Navy. I rode in Air Force planes about a hundred times, but rarely landed with them, plus when I was at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Pope Air Force Base was a large base on Fort Bragg. We did train with Marines occasionally, and spent some time on a Navy ship, while the Marines who were assigned to the ship slept on the ground.
I know from experience that the single best indicator of how satisfying or dissatisfying life is in a military service is the percentage of people who stay. Those who reenlist after their initial enlistment. The services are very reluctant to make those figures public. In 1998, before 911, the Army had 51 percent of first term enlistees staying in the Army, the Navy 55%, the Air Force 54% (down from 65 in 1995), and the Marines at 22 percent. All the services first term reenlistments spiked after the 911 attack in 2001, then declined as the wars and deployments increased. The Air Force dropped to below 35 percent in 2005, then went back up to just under 50 percent in 2008. The Navy dropped to below 25 percent in 2004, back up a little then down to 20 percent in 2007 and up to just over 25 percent in 2008. The Army spiked to over 30 percent in 2002, then dropped to 25 percent in 2003, but then climbed steadily to over 40 percent in 2008. The Marine Corps stayed at just over 20 percent from 2000 to 2006, then jumped to around 35 percent in 2007 and 2008, which tells me that conditions started improving, in the Corps.
I found that I couldn’t do justice to any service, if I tried to cover them all in one week, so this week is about the Navy, next week the Marine Corps, then the Air Force, and finally I will make my pitch for the Army. I’m starting with the Navy because it is apparently the least popular armed service for this area, and that is reasonable since we are in the center of the country and the Navy is primarily on water, big water.
The difference between life in the Army and life in the Navy is like night and day. The Army lives on land and the Navy lives on water. They have different missions, they have different lifestyles, and they have different languages. In the Army the floor is the floor and the ground is the ground, in the Navy it is the deck. Restrooms in the Army are latrines, in the Navy it is the head.
First, if you consider the Navy, you should be very comfortable with water. Not just be able to swim, you should swim like a fish. In boot camp, a lot of time is spent in the water, plus sailors spend roughly half of their time in the Navy on water, big water.
Enlisting in the Navy is different from enlisting in the Army, in that the Navy will guarantee an area, called a rating and there are sometimes many different specific jobs within a rating. What specific training a person receives within a rating is determined during Navy boot camp. That determination is made based upon ASVAB scores, training (in other words aptitude and attitude) and the desire of the individual, but ultimately on the needs of the Navy. Most Navy enlistees are guaranteed a rating. However, they are not guaranteed a specific school or job within that rating. That is determined during boot camp. Then after boot camp, they attend an “A” school to learn a specific job within their rating.
There is serious competition to get into the Navy, so high ASVAB scores, clean record, physical condition, and college all help in the enlistment process A person can also enlist in the Navy under a program called PACT, Professional Apprenticeship Career Track. There are three areas of the PACT program, Airman-PACT, Fireman-PACT, and Seaman-PACT. Under the PACT program, a person enlists in the Navy without a guaranteed school, but an assignment in one of the three PACT areas. After boot camp the Fireman and Seaman PACT enlistees attend a three week school at Great Lakes Naval Training Center, whereas the Airman PACT’s attend a three week school at the Naval Air Technical Training Center (NATTC) at Pensacola, Florida. They are then assigned where ever the Navy needs that type of sailor. They are assigned to general duties and they are entered into a monitored general apprenticeship program for some formal training and on-the-job training. Between 12 and 24 months they must submit a PACT designation application for an “A” school.
All Navy Boot Camp (basic training) is conducted in one location, at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center, on the shore of Lake Michigan, halfway between Chicago and Milwaukee. It is officially called RTC (Recruit Training Command). The first week is all processing, then there are eight weeks of boot camp. The Army has Drill Sergeants, and the Marines Drill Instructors. The Navy call theirs RDC’s (Recruit Division Commander). During the first week recruits take their initial swim test. They must pass a 3rd Class Swim Test before graduating from boot camp. The third class swim test consists of TWO modules. Module one is composed of three separate events, a deep water jump, a 50-yard swim (using any stroke), and a 5-minute prone float. Swimmers who successfully pass module one may continue on to module two. Module two consists of shirt and trouser or coverall inflation. A 3rd Class Swimmer is described as a person who can stay afloat and survive without the use of a Personal Flotation Device (PFD) in open water under optimum conditions long enough to be rescued in a man-over-board situation.
There is plenty of marching, physical training, classes on military courtesy and history. The Confidence Course is in the second week. In the Confidence Course recruits wear OBA’s (Oxygen Breathing Apparatus), carry sandbags, toss life rings, and climb through a scuttle ( a small circular door) with full seabags. It is not an individual event. It’s a team effort, in groups of four. The object is to cross the finish line as a team, not as individuals. The third week is ropes and knots, basic line handling skills. The first three weeks are a “shock” treatment, just like in the Army or Marines, nobody can do anything right. Around the third or fourth week, the RDC’s get a little more human, and the recruits realize that the RDC’s really are concerned about getting them through boot. Morale goes up and they start having fun. Week four is the initial PT (Physical Training) test. The PT test consists of push-ups, sit-ups, running/or swimming, and a sit-reach, which is sitting on the ground with legs stretched out front, knees straight, and toes pointed up. Without jerking or bouncing, you lean forward and touch your toes with your fingers for at least one second. You get three tries. The fifth week is classroom, firing range, and computer. They fire 40 rounds from an M-9, 9mm handgun, also fire a Mossberg 12 gauge shotgun. There are computer classes on the Navy Knowledge Online website. Week six is the protective (gas) mask and the gas chamber, and training on damage control in shipboard emergencies. Week seven is Battle Stations Week, consisting of live fire test at the range, final PT test, and Battle Stations Test. Week eight is graduation.
The Navy has some 51 major bases in the continental Unites States, plus bases in Hawaii, Bahrain, Italy, Cuba, Greece, Guam, Japan, South Korea, Spain and England. Many Navy assignments are not actually to bases, but to a ship or submarine, which considers the base its home port. Nearly all are at a beach. Depending on the job, sailors apparently spend about half their time on a ship and half on shore, but that is not absolute. Those in the Navy Nuclear Power Program will spend almost all of their time on an aircraft carrier or a submarine.
Including reserves, the Navy has 459 ships total, 201 of those are commissioned ships, the USS ships, carriers, destroyers, cruisers, command ships, etc. There are 52 Attack Submarines and 14 Ballistic Missile Submarines. There are an additional 41 ships under construction and 25 more planned. Life on board ship varies with the size and mission of the ship. There 11 Aircraft Carriers, 1 under construction and 9 more planned. An Aircraft Carrier is a quarter of a mile long, 4 ½ acre, 20 story projection of United States power. It has close to one hundred planes and helicopters, including jet fighters, which can be launched every 15 seconds. They carry a crew of between 5,000 and 6,000, most of whom work below deck. Only flight deck personnel are allowed on deck during operations. The flight deck of an aircraft carrier is considered the most dangerous job in the military, not involving actual combat. There are gyms, dental and medical clinics and hospitals on board, as well as college teachers teaching classes. Basketball and volley ball games are played in the hangers below deck. Space is for planes and work, not people, hallways and stairways are cramped. Personal living areas include a wall locker and a rack (bunk) just large enough to sleep in. Other than flight deck personnel, most time is spent below deck. On some ships there are “hot racks”, where more than one person is assigned to a rack, because of shift work.
Sailors who write positive comments say that it is a great adventure, and they like the travel. Overall sailors are proud of the Navy and generally enjoy their jobs. One sailor wrote that even at war they would be shooting missiles from 500 miles away, eating normal meals, taking daily showers, and living in an air-conditioned space. I’ve heard many infantry grunts say “those guys have got it made”.


This was originally published in The Belle Banner, Belle Missouri February 14th 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.
Happy Valentine’s Day! The day to talk about love, so this is about love in the Army.
When I enlisted in the Army, in 1961, most soldiers, including the sergeants were single. There was a saying; “If the Army wanted you to have a wife they would have issued you one.” Now over 60 percent of soldiers are married with children. The soldier’s family has become an integral part of his unit, through his company’s “Family Readiness Group” (FRG). Every company has an officially sponsored FRG, which is comprised of the spouses of the soldiers. FRG leaders receive formal training and are designated as the point of contact to keep the wives and house husbands informed about what training and deployments are upcoming, and especially about what is happening when the soldiers are deployed. The FRG’s have monthly meetings, and during deployments the wives look out for each other, if one is sick there is usually another to help with kids and house.
There is much discussion about the “problem” of soldiers marrying too young, and the marriage doesn’t last. It is a problem. There are nearly 40,000 Army soldiers who are single parents, and have custody of children, but that is also true in civilian life. The Center for Disease Control reports that 48 percent of 18 year olds who marry will divorce within 10 years. That doesn’t mean that the other 52 percent lasts forever, it just means that they made to the 10 year mark. A single parent cannot enlist in the military, but if a soldier becomes a single parent, while on active duty, they can stay, but there are rules. There are also almost 20,000 dual army couples currently serving in the army. That is nearly another 40,000 soldiers married to another soldier. Throw in the Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard and that figure grows to over 80,000 dual military couples.
Soldiers in the Continental United States do not need their commander’s permission to get married. Officers and enlisted cannot date. That is fraternization, therefore they cannot marry. However, if two enlisted people are married and one becomes an officer that is OK. People, especially young people, fall in love. I’ve read several comments from young soldiers warning others not to get married in AIT (Advanced Individual Training). That may sound funny or absurd to some, but consider that many of those young people, in the army, are away from home for the first time, and they are thrown together in training with the opposite sex. The longer AIT’s that are more relaxed, are where many of those marriages happen. The “Health Care Specialist” (Combat Medic) AIT is 16 weeks long and fairly relaxed, I’ve read several comments from medics warning new recruits not to get married in AIT.
The Army has an official program called the “Married Army Couple Program” (MACP). When two soldiers marry, each has to apply to be placed in the program, then the Army makes every effort to assign married couples to the same location. When a dual military couple or a single parent soldier arrives at a new duty station, they must submit to their commander, within 30 days a written “short term family care plan” and a “long term family care plan”. Short term care is some local, non-military person at that station, who can pick up and care for the kids for a few days. That is usually the civilian wife of a soldier. The longer soldiers are in the Army the easier it is to find short term care providers, because they usually know people at new duty stations. Short term providers must agree in writing to care for the children 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in the event the soldier is called to duty or deployed with no notice. Long term care providers do not have to be local, but transportation must be prearranged, as well allotments for financial support of the children, powers of attorney, etc. Designated care providers are given access to post facilities, such as commissary, post exchanges, hospitals and clinics, in order to care for the military dependent children.
Occasionally young soldiers get married for the wrong reasons. Army life is easier for married privates and specialists than for single soldiers. The married soldiers live at home, off post or in government family housing, and if two soldiers marry both receive basic allowance for housing (BAH), and money for meals. Any marriage for any reason other than each being insanely in love with the other will probably not last. Sometimes young married privates and specialists get themselves into money problems, thousands do not. A Private E-2 (slick sleeve) married with one child, at Fort Leonard Wood, but living off post, will take home, after taxes and deductions, about $1,400 on the 1st day of the month and another $1,400 on the 15th of the month, and when the soldier goes over two years in service, as a Specialist E-4, those amounts go to about $1,575 each time. In civilian terms that translates to $650 to $725 per week take home pay, certainly enough to support a wife and child, if finances are properly controlled.
Having discussed the dangers of marrying too young, if you visit the commissary on Fort Leonard Wood you will find dozens of retired military who have been married 20, 30, 50 years. Soldiers get married young. That’s just the way it is. On November 12th, 1965, I was a Sergeant in the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Betty was a Registered Nurse working at Greenville General Hospital in Greenville, South Carolina, they are about 240 miles apart. She came to Fort Bragg that weekend to visit one of her classmates from nursing school, who was married to a friend of mine. Over the next six weeks, I was on alert part of the time, but visited Greenville a couple times. Betty was working full time, but visited Fort Bragg a couple times. When the holidays came we drove out here and got married on January 2nd, 1966, 52 years ago. The first five years we were married, we moved ten times, that included two one year tours in Vietnam. The next ten years we only moved four times. After our first, Sara, came along in 1970, Betty never worked again until I retired from the Army and the kids were older. We were a typical couple married to the Army, she ran the house, raised the kids, and controlled the finances while I got to go play Army.
Marriage in the military can be difficult at times. Multiple deployments cause strain on any marriage. My observation is that deployments are harder on the wives and families than on the soldier. There was a recent study of 1,200 couples from all services with a military husband and a civilian wife, who had been married more than 15 years. These couples moved an average of 8.6 times in 20 years of marriage, which is about average for the military but twice as high as the civilian rates of moves. Of all the reasons studied about why these military marriages lasted, two were more significant. Those were how the soldier viewed his career, and how the wife constructed the home front.
The soldiers thought of their work in the military as much more than a paycheck, many called it a “calling” or a “career/calling”. There was the promise of retirement plus a pattern of achievement, they kept getting promoted. Martial satisfaction was much higher with those couples than in those who thought of the military as a “job”. Wife after wife said in interviews that their life in the military was worth it because of how much their husband “loved” his job, or how he “didn’t want to be anything else”.
Long married military families are structured around separation. Soldiers train for deployment, deploy and return all the time. That profoundly affects family life. The wife is always present. The wife creates “normal” family life, it doesn’t just happen automatically. She maintains the “normal” family, and when the husband returns from deployment she brings him back into the family. Over and over interviewers in the survey reported that in the strong marriages when the husband returned from deployment he went back to helping with the house and kids, doing laundry, vacuuming, or cleaning up the kitchen after dinner. The wives saw that as a signal that the husband wanted to be back in the family.
The Army comes first in a soldier’s life, but since Iraq and Afghanistan started, his family has become a much larger consideration by the Army. The just past Army Chief of Staff, General Ray Odierno said in his retirement speech; “The strength of our Nation is our Army; the strength of our Army is our soldiers; the strength of our soldiers is our families. That is what makes us Army Strong.”

Us at a company party in Italy 1978.


This was originally published in The Belle Banner, Belle Missouri September 12th 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.
Yesterday was September 11th, seventeen years ago, on September 11th, the United States of America suffered the worst attack since Pearl Harbor. The world watched 3000 people dying on live television as the twin towers of the World Trade Center came down. The attack was planned and executed by Muslims who believe that killing anyone not Muslim, particularly Christians, and particularly Americans, is a heroic thing to do which will be rewarded by Allah in heaven. Our intelligence community identified Osama Bin Laden, living in Afghanistan, as the mastermind behind the attack. Osama Bin Laden was the head of an organization called Al Qaeda, which was created to fight the Russians during their occupation of Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989, then turned into a pure terrorist organization whose goal was to first eliminate all non-Muslims from the Arab world then create a Muslim world under Sharia law.
Al Qaeda are considered to be the most extreme practitioners of Sharia law and know no boundaries. Their goal is world domination under Islam. The Taliban, which took control of Afghanistan in 1996 are more local, but also more extreme. Under Taliban law women must be completely covered outside the home, they cannot go out alone, they cannot be educated past age eight, they cannon work outside the home. They cannot speak to an unrelated male unless a blood related male is present, and marriages are arranged. There were incidents of women found by themselves and executed on the spot by Taliban soldiers.
After the September 11, 2001 attack, the US Government and the UN Security Council ask the Afghanistan Government (the Taliban) to hand over Osama Bin Laden and others involved in the attack. They refused. On October 7th 2001 we invaded Afghanistan with US and British bombing runs and one 12 man Special Forces team. The Taliban government was toppled, and a US-backed government was created. The Taliban continued to fight a vicious guerilla war with small arms, rockets, mortars, IED’s (improvised explosive devices), and suicide bombers willing to strap bombs on themselves and blow up themselves and anyone close. We kind of “held our own” in Afghanistan until the Iraq war started winding down and more troops could be committed to combat in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan did not have an army, the only resemblance of military had been the Taliban. On December 1st 2002 the new President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, issued a decree establishing an army. The first problem was finding recruits. Afghanistan is a hard country, steep mountains with very few roads. Our soldiers found that many people in the remote villages had never been outside their local area. They didn’t know what a government was, their guidance had come from the village chief and councils, and most did not read or write. So trying to recruit young Afghanistan men to create an army was a long arduous process. The Taliban simply told them; “Join us or we will kill you and your family.” Green Berets of the 3rd Special Forces Group were given the task of training the start of the Afghanistan Army. Today the Afghanistan National Army has around 200,000 soldiers and the Afghanistan Air Force has about 100 airplanes and 5,000 troops. The previous administration pushed turning Afghanistan over to the Afghanistan Armed Forces so we could leave. The current administration appears to be of the same mindset but with no time table and a more forceful approach to defeating the Taliban. Our troops were recently given the OK to “actively engage” in combat instead of just advising, which they have been doing officially since 2014. The Taliban have reacted with increased attacks on Afghan and US forces.
After 17 years, over 2,400 US soldiers killed in action, and over 20,000 wounded, we are not finished. On Sunday, September 2nd 2018 there was a change of command ceremony in Kabul, Afghanistan. General John W Nicholson, who has commanded NATO forces in Afghanistan for the past 30 months, longer than any predecessor, turned the command over to General Austin Scott Miller. General Nicholson was selected for that job because he had more in-depth knowledge of and time in Afghanistan than any other general. During General Nicholson’s time in command the Afghan Army increased and improved, he dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb in existence on a Taliban headquarters, and negotiated a cease fire, which the Taliban observed, albeit short it was observed. In his farewell address, General Nicholson called for an end to the war. He called on the Taliban to stop killing their fellow Afghan’s and come to the table. General Nicholson is 61, I suspect that he will retire.
General Miller has been a spook, a special operations soldier, for most of his career. He was a Team Commander in the Delta Force in the early engagements in Afghanistan in 2001. Before assuming this command he was Commander of the US Joint Special Operations Command. NATO forces in Afghanistan total 16,000, of which 8,475 are American. General Miller is 57, and will probably have a different approach to the Taliban. We’ll see.
. I have seen Afghanistan compared with Vietnam, i.e., a long drawn out, never ending war. There may be a few similarities, but very few. We went to Vietnam to stop a Communist takeover. That war wasn’t lost on the battlefield, it was lost in the halls of Washington, DC. It has been estimated that about two million people were executed after we pulled out. Many were my friends. That has left a forever hole in my being, which has caused me to change the way I look at politics and government.
We went into Afghanistan to get Osama Bin Laden and his crew and found ourselves trying to stand up a country so it can defend itself, including forces from within. Afghanistan is a Muslim country, its official title is The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Converting from Islam to Christianity is against the law punishable, if not recanted, by death. Whatever we gain in Afghanistan, we will never change it. If we leave a modern peaceful country, it will still be against the law to be a Christian there. So I have mixed emotions about Afghanistan. We’ve spent blood there and we hate to leave a project unfinished, but is it going to be better after we leave?


This was originally published in The Belle Banner, Belle Missouri March 14th 2018.
Dear Joe,
I know that is not your real name, and that you don’t know me, but I know you. Every man in the army is a “Joe”, as in “GI Joe”. The term “GI” (Government Issue) was used almost exclusively in World War II to describe anyone in an army uniform. The Air Force wasn’t formed until late 1947, before that they were the Army Air Corps. So all solders were “GI’s”. The term has kind of died off as the people who lived it died. I said that I know you Joe, and I do, we haven’t met, but I know you as well as you know yourself. You are a teenager in high school and for you trying to see out the windshield into the future is like looking into fog. Life in the rearview mirror is crystal clear. All the major and seemingly insignificant decisions at the time, all the “I think I’ll try that” and I don’t think I’ll do that right now” thoughts that determined what became my life are clear as a bell. You can change your mind, but once you act it’s done, you can’t take it back.
I’ve been told that you are a very bright young man, although your grades don’t always reflect that. After all, for some of us, many high school classes were not that exciting. You have no idea what to do after high school, you’re kind of interested in the military, but you don’t know anything about it. You’re being pushed to look at colleges, but college just sounds like more classes, not that exciting. I know that you like excitement, the adrenalin rush, pushing to the edge, and you will probably be an old man before you lose that desire. Some of us never lose the desire, just the ability to do anything about it. I recommend that you consider the military. Three years in the military then if you want to go to college or a trade school, the government will pay for it. Full tuition plus $1,000 a year for books, plus around $1,000 a month living expense, while you’re in class.
Now I’m going to recommend a specific place in the military, for you, Joe. Army airborne infantry. Yes infantry, the grunts, the gravel grinders who hump big ruck sacks. When you have high scores and do a good job, the Army is always asking you to take a “special job”. I had many, but I kept going back to the infantry. The infantry IS the Army. Every other element in the military supports the infantry. The motto of the infantry is “Follow me”, because the infantry is always leading. I know, your mother says “but they shoot back at the infantry”. Wouldn’t have it any other way, taking it to them. Airborne! Jumping out of airplanes. The biggest thrill you can get with your pants on. The infantry is the most respected branch in the Army, and it works the hardest. When you come in from a 24 hour forced march over 40 miles that seems closer to 60, with blood in your boots, you’re not thinking good thoughts about those who encouraged you to be where you are. But, after the feet heal and you’re rested up, the bragging rites begin. “I was on that march. It must have been 80 miles. We did it in 24 hours and had to run part of the way.” When your platoon of 40 guys is on an outpost the size of the high school gym, in Afghanistan, and you’ve been shot at, mortared and living on MRE’s and haven’t washed for 30 days, you don’t really care much about the respect a rear echelon POG (Person Other than Grunt), who is sleeping in a bed on a big base, has for you, because there are guys who don’t like you on the next hill. And when you go looking for the bad guys, there are two SAW’s per squad even if it is short of troops. That’s a twenty two pound M249 squad automatic weapon with twenty pounds of ammunition, thirty five pounds of body armor, ten pounds of helmet and NOD’s, ten pounds of water, personal effects and whatever cross-loaded platoon or company equipment you were assigned such as giant rechargeable batteries, mortar rounds, radios, etc.
When a new private arrives at his first company, he is assigned to a platoon and then to a squad. An Airborne infantry rifle squad is nine men, a Staff Sergeant Squad Leader, two Sergeant Team Leaders and six specialists and privates. There are three rifle squads in a platoon, plus a weapons squad which has a Staff Sergeant Squad Leader and eight specialists and privates manning two machine guns and two anti-tank weapons. The Platoon Leader is a Lieutenant and the Platoon Sergeant is a Sergeant First Class. Most training and combat operations are by platoon. Squads do some patrolling and small operations on their own, but the platoon is usually together. There are three rifle platoons and a platoon of mortars in a rifle company, commanded by a captain and a First Sergeant. The First Sergeant runs the company, the Company Commanding Officer (CO), the Captain, commands. The CO is your best friend and your strictest disciplinarian, he can promote you to Specialist, he can recommend you for other promotions, awards, schools, etc. He can also fine you, restrict you to the barracks, make you work overtime (extra duty), and take your drivers license.
You’ve heard about how close combat veterans become with each other, like “Band of Brothers”. It’s not always the combat that brings them together, although being under fire does bring out things in individuals that wasn’t seen before, both good and bad. What brings that platoon together is being together. The 30 specialists and privates in that platoon spend days, sometimes weeks, and during deployment, months, sharing foxholes, MRE’s, water, canteens, razors, socks, ammo and stories. They share those things, and more, struggling up mountains in Afghanistan or humping 120 pounds in 120 degree heat in Iraq. They also share the most intense training in the army back at Fort Bragg, and EDRE’s (Emergency Deployment Readiness Exercise) where the only sleep they get for several days is cat naps. Any BS that a new member of the platoon brought with him, soon dissolves, because under those conditions, the real person comes out. Any pretense is soon gone. Everybody is just who they are. There is no racial prejudice. The guy next to you may be of a race that you were never around, but he has the same job as you. He’s watching your back and you’re watching his. Nobody in that platoon cares how anybody grew up, they only care about who you are now. Platoon pride is intense. The platoon always wants to be better than the other platoons, whether it’s weapons qualification, PT scores, football, baseball, inspections, or a platoon member winning trooper of the month or of the quarter. And when they play, they play hard.
Parachute jumps are also a great equalizer, plus it’s a rush that’s hard to explain. There are only two kinds of people on an airplane full of paratroopers, jumper and jumpmaster, until you get to the ground, everybody is just a jumper.
Joe, I know that to some, that may sound like a terrible life, but I don’t think it sounds that way to you. I know that your parents greatest concern will be that you could be injured or killed. I would be more concerned that you would get hooked on it and stay until they run you off with a stick, thirty years later as a Command Sergeant Major or a Colonel. There are worse lives.
The 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina is unique in that sergeants stay there. Some spend entire careers there, minus a couple absences. You see Joe, those First Sergeants who run companies, and those Command Sergeants Major at battalion, brigade and above, who appear to new privates as having no real job, all came up in a platoon like I just described. Mike MacLeod, had a bachelors degree in biology and a masters degree in wildlife biology, enlisted in the army at age 40 and spent five years as a photo journalist in the 82nd Airborne Division, which included tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He wrote in “The Brave Ones”, “When I arrived at the 82nd, I was convinced that the army could save all the bonus money it was paying soldiers to reenlist if it just got rid of all the sergeants major. But I was wrong. I have served with command sergeants major like Chuck Gregory of Tennessee, a seven-time deployer who would do anything for a dedicated soldier, and Kurt Reed, a sustainment soldier and a rock of enlisted muscle and fortitude who could chew ass like a bionic hemorrhoid but who never took a soldier’s dignity. These men inspired soldiers because their business was serving soldiers and their families. They believed to their core in the nobility of service. Because these men exist, I believe nobility does too.”
In the infantry it will take between two and a half and four years to make Sergeant, depends on how good you are. Staff Sergeant around five to six years and Sergeant First Class around 10. First Sergeant or Master Sergeant around 15 and Sergeant Major around 20.
So Joe, that’s my recommendation. If you spend three or four years doing that and decide to move on to other things, the self-discipline and maturity you will have gained cannot be found anywhere else. I left the army after about five years, stayed out two years, couldn’t stand it, went back and finished a career. My son spent four years, as an infantryman in the 10th Mountain Division and wrestled with the decision to leave. He did get out, finished college and has enjoyed a very successful career, but when he is home we talk about the army. It stays with you forever.
Good luck and have a great life.


This was originally published in The Belle Banner, Belle Missouri December 20th 2017.
Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. It has been my observation, in life, that soldiers, even those who don’t profess religious beliefs, experience a stronger feeling for their fellow man at Christmas, than at other times of the year.
Young soldiers in basic training or advanced individual training (AIT), get leave for Christmas and New Years, regardless of how long they have been in the Army or how long they have left in their training. When I was a Drill Sergeant It was called EXODUS, now it is simply called Holiday Block Leave (HBL), and it is a major operation at every training post in the country. The soldiers have to pay for their transportation home and back, but the Army coordinates and secures their plane and or bus tickets, insures that they are packed, and have their proper leave papers, then delivers them to their transportation. If you happen to be around Fort Leonard Wood December 20th or 21st you may see literal convoys of Greyhound busses going in and out of the Fort. About 570 Drill Sergeants will insure that 6,500 trainees get to multiple MWR (Morale, Welfare, and Recreation) offices which will process around 4,000 plane tickets and 1,500 bus tickets for the trainees 14 day holiday leave. A very few don’t take the leave, because a soldier accrues 2.5 days of leave time each month, and if they have only been in the army a month and take a 14 day leave, they are six months in the hole for leave time. Most do take leave. Those who don’t are consolidated into one company in each battalion or brigade, and some Drill Sergeants who are not leaving the area watch over them.
In regular units Christmas leave depends on where the unit is located and what it is doing. When I was in the Army, every soldier in the unit couldn’t go on leave at the same time. That has changed. The Army started “block leaves” when units were returning from deployments of nine to fifteen months, to Iraq and Afghanistan. Now most divisions try to insure that units have written into their annual master training schedules two 2 week block leaves, one in the winter around the holidays and one in summer.
For those in the states who don’t get to go home for Christmas, there is a great Christmas dinner in the Dining Facility (DFAC), with the leaders serving, just like at Thanksgiving.

Brigade Command Sergeant Major offering the Brigade Commander his Christmas dinner of an MRE (Meal Ready to Eat).
For those deployed “down range” Christmas is a little different. If you were lucky enough to be at Balad Air Base in Iraq, it was a good Christmas Dinner.

For those further down range Christmas is even more different.

The tree came from “Trees for Troops”, which is an operation of “The Christmas Spirit Foundation. They express ship live American farm grown Christmas trees to deployed troops. The Platoon Leader, First Lieutenant Ryan Cowan, of this Artillery Platoon of the 101st Airborne Division, wrote the family whose farm donated the tree and thanked them for the Christmas spirit.
Those who don’t get a tree improvise.

Sometimes Santa even makes it to the field.

The hardest trained and most used division in the armed services always has a brigade on stand-by to deploy anywhere in the world, which doesn’t get to go home for Christmas, and still it has the highest morale. Some unknown paratrooper wrote the following;
“Twas the night before Christmas. And high in the sky. A single, lone plane – through the air did fly. On board a Paratrooper. And pallets of toys. Ready for heavy drop. To good girls and boys. Now Santa stands ready. Only ten minutes more. The jumpmaster says “Stand in the door!” Santa Claus jumps out. As the red light turns green. His parachute rigged toys. From the ground can be seen. The toys fall in chimneys. All across the land. Bringing joy and smiles. And a Christmas so grand. The Christmas drop was successful. And Santa PLF’s with precision. Because Santa is a paratrooper. With the 82nd Airborne Division. Merry Christmas.


This was originally published in The Belle Banner, Belle Missouri September 26th 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.
After last weeks’ article about Army Aviation I’ve been prompted and prodded with stories and memories of flying in Vietnam. This started with a post from a facebook friend. Mike Long and I were in the same Rifle Company, in the same platoon in the 82nd Airborne Division, before Vietnam. Mike doesn’t really remember me, but when he posted a picture of himself in uniform in 1962 I remembered him. I was a new private only there a couple weeks before Mike left. Mike is only a year older than me, but at 19 he was already a Sergeant on his way to officer candidate school to become an artillery officer. Artillery doesn’t walk in the woods – right? Well, because Mike had been an infantry Sergeant in the 82nd Airborne Division he was assigned as an advisor to a South Vietnamese army infantry unit. Mike posted that every September 16th he remembers “meeting” Huey pilot Jerry King who flew into his bomb crater position to pick up the wounded.
There are hundreds of stories of helicopter heroism in Vietnam. Here are a couple.
The war in Vietnam was poorly managed from the start. President Johnson and Secretary of Defense McNamara did not understand war or Vietnam and were convinced in late 1965 that they could not win, but continued anyway. By the start of 1969 public sentiment, as well as a growing number of Congressmen of both parties, was against continuing the war. When Richard Nixon was sworn in as President in January 1969, he announced a policy of “Vietnamization” where the South Vietnamese military would be built up and the war gradually turned over to them, while the US military would gradually withdraw.
In 1971, Operation Lam Son 719 was in keeping with that policy. In that operation the South Vietnamese Army was going into southern Laos to cut off the North Vietnamese Army’s (NVA) supply route to South Vietnam, known as the Ho Chi Minh trail. No Americans were to be on the ground in Laos, but US Army helicopters were to fly the South Vietnam troops into battle, resupply them, evacuate casualties, and pick them up when necessary. At that time it was the largest airmobile operation in history. Most all of the 101st Airborne Division’s helicopters were used. The 101st was actually “airmobile” (helicopters) at that time. Americans did end up on the ground in Laos, not intentionally. In January 1971 an Operations Center was setup at Khe Sanh to control the Lam Son 719 activities. The 237th Medical Detachment stationed at Phu Bai which was a Dust Off (helicopter medical evacuation) unit was moved to Khe Sanh. The operation started on February 8th 1971.
A South Vietnam Army Ranger battalion had set up a firebase nine kilometers inside Laos right on the Ho Chi Minh trail, it was called Ranger North. Another ranger battalion established another firebase four kilometers south, called Ranger South. Both were soon surrounded by North Vietnam Regular Army regiments. By February 18th they had been severely mauled. Around 11:30 AM on the 18th Ranger North requested evacuation of their severely wounded. A Huey Dust Off helicopter with CW2 (Chief Warrant Officer-2) Joseph Brown pilot, CW2 Darrel Monteith co-pilot, SP5 (Specialist five) Dennis Fujii crew chief, and two medics, SP4’s James Costello and Paul Simcoe, took off from Khe Sanh heading to Ranger North. Two Cobra gunships were along for cover fire. In an interview, in later years, Dennis Fujii said; “As soon as we crossed the border into Laos the ground fire became more intense than anything I had experienced. You could hear and feel the rounds hitting the bottom of the aircraft and then the blades started whistling. At about 3 or 4 kliks (kilometers) in we started receiving actual anti-aircraft fire designed to shoot down jets and we were in helicopters. I could see a lot of helicopter wrecks on the ground. The Cobras were firing at the gun emplacements on the ground, which was using up their ammunition. As we were approaching the firebase, I told the pilot that the ship was becoming so badly damaged I was afraid it wouldn’t be able to fly. So he informed the Cobra Leader that we were aborting the mission and returning to base. The Cobra Leader said that they would return to Khe Sanh, fuel and rearm and would be on call to cover us if we decided to try again. When the Cobras left, the pilot didn’t say a word, he just turned around and headed back down onto the firebase. You could see the NVA soldiers all around the firebase. They weren’t trying to hide, they were everywhere. I don’t know how we got in, but we did, and as soon as we touched down the mortar rounds started landing all over the place. We didn’t want to be on the ground more than 15 or 20 seconds, so we just grabbed the wounded and threw them on board. As we were taking off a mortar round landed directly in front of the chopper and blew out the canopy and instrument panel, and another landed under the tail rotor, so we went down. The co-pilot, Mr. Monteith, had a massive wound under his backside and was paralyzed from the waist down, we had to drag him out onto the ground. The pilot, Mr Brown, who was a big guy and mortar rounds were landing all around, stood up and popped open the front panel on the helicopter. There was a transmitter in there that was classified. He would get hit and knocked down and get up, finally he didn’t get up anymore. We dragged the pilots to a ditch for some cover. The three of us ran through exploding mortar rounds for a bunker. I got hit in the shoulder and Costello got knocked down, but his breast plate saved him.
The radio conversations in the air around the firebase immediately turned to “We’ve got to get them out of there.” One of the most fearless medivac pilots in the 101st was on station and said “It can’t be done right now.” Every attempt to get close to the firebase was met with a hail of gun fire. Listening to the radio traffic was Major James T Newman, Commander of Troop C 2nd Squadron 17th Cavalry of the 101st, who was on a reconnaissance flight nearby. Major Newman was already a legend among aviators in Vietnam. He once landed his Huey in the trees, chopping saplings with his rotor blades, to pick up two downed pilots who were about to be captured. Major Newman said; “I’ll pick them up.” With no gunship cover, he dropped down to grass level right on the top of the brush, put the nose down at full throttle, flew right over the enemy regiment firing at him and dropped onto the firebase. Mortar rounds immediately started falling. I talked to pilots who were in the air over the firebase and one had recorded the radio traffic, which I got to hear. What got their attention most was Major Newman’s voice. He was known as the coolest character in the world under fire. I don’t remember everything verbatim, but his first words were; “Get them in here!” The three ran from the bunker, but a mortar round landed in front of Fujii and blurred his vision for a few seconds so he stayed at the bunker. The two wounded pilots, who would die of their wounds, had to be carried on board, and the two medics got on board. With mortar rounds landing between the helicopter and Fujii he waved them to go on. All during this time Major Newman was saying; “We’re taking fire, get them in here.” As the seconds drug on and the mortar rounds got closer, Major Newman’s voice started to break; “We’re taking fire, we’re taking fire, get them in here!”. As the Huey lifted off, mortar rounds landed where it had been sitting.
Specialist Five Dennis Fuji, helicopter crew chief, was the lone American on the ground in Laos. He found a radio in the bunker and using the call sign “Papa Whiskey” warned helicopters in the area not to try to pick him up, it was just too hot. Then the Vietnamese battalion commander came to him and ask for his help. Dennis Fujii was no ordinary helicopter crew chief. He had enlisted as an infantryman, completed infantry training and airborne school and spent nine months on the ground, as a grunt, in Vietnam, then reenlisted to be a helicopter door gunner. He had learned the helicopter so well that he was offered a job as crew chief in the medical unit. That night a North Vietnamese Regiment attacked the firebase. For the next 17 hours Dennis Fujii, as Papa Whiskey, became the nerve center of the firebase, coordinating six Air Force flareships and seven Air Force gunships, only pausing to pickup an M-16 and go to the wire to help stop the enemy from penetrating the perimeter. I was at Phu Bai at that time and we thought Fujii was a medic, since it was a Dust Off bird.
The next day getting Fujii out of Laos was the number one priority of the United States. That afternoon 21 helicopters descended on Ranger North, ten Hueys and eleven Cobras. While they fired up the perimeter, Major Jim Lloyd and Captain David Nelson dropped their Huey out of formation, and using the tactic of Major Newman, hugged the ground and trees and sat down on the firebase. Fujii ran and dived into the bird. It caught the NVA be surprise, but when they realized what was happening the Huey received so many hits that it was on fire by the time Fujii got on board. Major Lloyd managed to get it in the air and get four kilometers to Ranger South. When it touched down everyone jumped out and ran because its machinegun ammo was starting to cook off in the flames. Again everyone got picked up but Fujii who volunteered to stay and help Ranger South which was also under attack. Finally, at 4:00 PM on February 22nd, 100 hours after he was wounded, Fujii was admitted to the 85th Evacuation Hospital at Phu Bai. He had helped save 122 South Vietnamese Rangers. He was quickly awarded a Silver Star, which was later upgraded to a Distinguished Service Cross
We had 168 helicopters destroyed and 618 damaged during operation Lam Son 719 and the South Vietnamese Army withdrew from Laos bloodied.

ADVENTURE in the 173rd Airborne Brigade

This was originally published in The Belle Banner,  Belle,Missouri.
The most requested assignment locations in the Army are Hawaii, Germany, and Italy. Being assigned to one of those places is often the luck of the draw. It is possible to enlist for one of those areas, but not very probable. If you want to see Europe and be in an exciting unit that also travels, that would be the 173rd Airborne Brigade headquartered in Vicenza, Italy. If you try to enlist for Italy, you may wait until you are too old to join the Army and never get called. A possible way for a new enlistee to get assigned there is to enlist for a job he or she wants, with the airborne option. Then on every dream sheet and at every opportunity on their AKO account (Army Knowledge Online) with the ASK key (Assignment Satisfaction Key), request the 173rd. Initial assignments are determined during AIT (Advanced Individual Training), with the first consideration being the needs of the Army, then the desire of the individual.
The 173rd is known throughout the military as “the SkySoldiers”, internally they refer to themselves as “the herd”. The Brigade Headquarters and four battalions are at Vicenza, and two battalions are located at Grafenwoehr, Germany. Vicenza is about 50 miles east of Venice at the base of the Alps. Graf is in Northern Bavaria. They are about 8 to 10 hours driving time or two hours flying time apart. 

While the 82nd Airborne Division is the United States military global rapid response force, the 173rd Airborne Brigade is the US rapid response force for Europe. It is airborne, high speed, and completely professional. Career paratroopers from the 82nd do their “overseas time” in the 173rd. Many airborne soldiers re-enlist for the 173rd. They train in several areas of Italy, including the Alps, as well as in Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Sardinia, Spain, England, and other NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) countries.
The 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team Headquarters is at a new Army post, built just for the 173rd, called Caserma Del Din. It is on the site of an old Italian Army airfield on the far east side of Vicenza. It is somewhat isolated, but the barracks and facilities are new. The Brigade Headquarters, the 2nd Battalion 503rd Infantry, and maintenance, supply, transportation, food service, medical, engineers, military intelligence, and signal people are at Del Din. On the other side of Vicenza in the original old post of Caserma Ederle is the 1st Battalion 503rd Infantry. The 1st Squadron 91st Cavalry, the 173rd’s reconnaissance battalion, is at Grafenwoehr Germany, as well as the 4th Battalion 319th Artillery. Belle’s very own Kevin Altemeyer, class of 1981, teaches math and science at the American Middle School at Grafenwoehr.
I’m going to follow some of one infantry battalion’s adventures for the past year. An Infantry battalion has around 800 soldiers. It is commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel, with a full staff. It also has many soldiers who are not infantrymen, personnel clerks, supply clerks, cooks, mechanics, truck drivers, medics, and CBRN (Chemical Biological, Radiological, Nuclear) people.
I’m going to follow the 1st Battalion 503rd Infantry Regiment. Partly because they have put out a lot of information, and partly nostalgia – they are the only battalion located at Caserma Ederle, in the same buildings I occupied in the 509th Airborne Battalion Combat Team. The 503rd is nicknamed “The Rock”. In the Pacific in World War II, the Japanese fought a five month battle to take the island of Corregidor, which is located at the mouth of Manila Bay, forcing General McArthur to evacuate the Philippines. Corregidor was called the rock. Outnumbered two to one, the 503rd Parachute Regimental Combat Team made a combat jump onto Corregidor. That battle is considered by many to be the most vicious combat action of the war. The 503rd suffered around 200 killed and about 800 wounded, but took the island. When the battle was over, only 50 of the estimated 6,700 Japanese soldiers remained alive. The 1st 503rd is “First Rock”. The 173rd has had the unique luck or fate to have been given some of the most dangerous combat missions. The 503rd alone has a whopping 16 Medal of Honor winners. Two from World War II, eleven from Vietnam, and three from Afghanistan. 
On Thursday June 29th 2017 the battalion relaxed with a family fun day with kids jumping from the 34 foot tower, displays and a plain old cookout get together. It was also a chance for the soldiers and families to say good bye to Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Michael Wagner and his wife, because the next day was a change of command ceremony where LTC Wagner, who had commanded the battalion for two years, turned the colors over to LTC Robert Shaw, the new Battalion Commander.
The last week of August Alpha (Attack) Company flew to Croatia and participated in a 10 day live fire exercise with the Croatians.

In October it was Eagle Strike 2017, as the “herd” jumped into the large Grafenwoehr Training Area and trained with German paratroops in various live fire exercises. They coordinated live fire of mortar, artillery, and helicopters into the exercise. They fired pistols and went through an Urban Breach Course and learned how to breach doors with shotguns and explosives. It was two weeks of intense, down-to-business, live fire training, showing Europe and its neighbors that they are the “real deal”. 
At thanksgiving it was the annual flag football officers vs enlisted “Turkey Bowl”. The officers won.

Then everyone dressed and enjoyed a traditional thanksgiving meal at the DFAC (Dining Facility).
Mid December First Rock held the annual Chaplain’s Crazy 5K run and Christmas party. The battalion also conducted platoon competition, pitting all the platoons against each other in a test of all their skills. The 1st Platoon, Alpha (Attack) Company has bragging rights for a year, as the best platoon in the battalion.
Training takes a break for a couple weeks during Christmas and New Years, there are battalion and company Christmas parties, as well as friends getting together, services in the chapel and a lavish Christmas Dinner and service in the DFAC attended by most families.
After the holidays it was back to business with a series of parachute jumps, some with Italian Paratroops and an exchange of wings, authorizing the SkySoldiers to wear Italian jump wings. There was company training and then training for EIB (Expert Infantryman Badge) testing. After parachute wings, the EIB and the EFMB (Expert Field Medical Badge) are the two most coveted non-combat badges worn on an army uniform. It is grueling go/no-go test over several days that covers every infantry skill. Actual testing started on Tuesday February 7th, with infantrymen from Italy, France, and Croatia also participating. 

Finally on Wednesday February 15th, after a 12 mile ruck march, 351 of the 727 who started were awarded the EIB. 
At the end of February First Rock conducted a parachute jump with a follow-on mission of seizing an objective. They said it was to stay sharp and show potential adversaries that they are the best at what they do. Throughout March and into April was exciting training with lots of live fire, close quarter combat drills, recon sniper firing, and breaching on the demolition range and more parachute jumps with objectives to seize.
The month of April and into May was intensive training in Germany starting with a night jump into Hoenfels Training Area in Germany, then load on Blackhawk helicopters and an air assault into the Grafenwoehr Training Area with company and battalion movements and objectives.
On June 1st the battalion “dressed up” and held a formal Battalion Ball.
The guest speaker was Sergeant Major of the Army Daniel Dailey. 

On Monday June 12th, the battalion rigged personnel and equipment, loaded planes and jumped into Spain for two weeks of intensive training with the Spanish army, defense, offense, live fire, and parachute jumps, ending with a day of friendly competitive games between the First Rock SkySoldiers and the Spaniards.
Summer in Europe is when everyone comes and goes. Last summer the battalion commander changed, this summer the Command Sergeant Major changed. New soldiers and families arrive, as others leave. The new arrivals are all excited ready for a new adventure. Those leaving are of mixed emotions between “going home?” and leaving behind some very close friends. Single or unaccompanied soldiers spend 24 months in Europe, while those with families (accompanied) a normal tour is 36 months. Many extend their tour for another year.
One single soldier there said; “Del Din is kind of isolated, but it does have a bar and a Subway, the gym is absolutely outstanding, and parking is right next to the barracks. Lake Garda is great and you can bungie jump at the McDonalds in Austria you will always stop at. BOSS trips out there are on point.” The BOSS (Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers) program was started in 1989. They go to the beach, they go hiking and skiing in the mountains, horseback riding, bike rides, and community cleanup projects to name a few.
When we were there Betty and the kids made a couple trips to Saint Marks Square in Venice, plus we bought a camper and toured Europe. We went to see the leaning tower of Pisa a couple times, we toured the Newschwanstein Castle (the Disney Castle) and several others in Germany. We went on many Sunday rides up in the Alps. Where Germany was densly populated and everything regulated, Italy was more “laid back” taking life as it came.


This was originally published in the Belle Banner, Belle Missouri November 22nd 2017.
Tomorrow is thanksgiving and thanksgiving is a very big deal in the Army. Very few soldiers get to take leave (vacation/time off) at thanksgiving. It is one day and only a month before Christmas. Those who can, take leave at Christmas or New Years. So, in the Army, Thanksgiving is a much more of a big operation than Christmas.
In Vietnam, in late 1965, the 173rd Airborne Brigade discovered a large weapons and ammunition cache at a place called Xom Cat, pronounced Zom Cat. It was identified as being on a major NVA (North Vietnamese Army) infiltration route into that area of South Vietnam. I could let you guess where Special Forces decided to build a new A Camp. One of the first A Detachments in country was re-designated as A-312 and sent to build an A Camp at Xom Cat, accessible only by air. The camp was built practically “under fire”, lost two team members in October 1966. The camp was finally closed in March 1967, but on Thanksgiving Day, November 22, 1966, they had a thanksgiving meal. Sergeant First Class Lonnie Mitchell, at the C-Detachment in Bein Hoa, cooked a big turkey with all the sides and trimmings, packed everything in two mermite containers, loaded them on a helicopter, and flew out to Camp A-312. Mitchell brought paper plates and plastic utensils, since the camp had been living on C-rations and had no mess kits. It was monsoon season and rainy, so the plates got a little soggy, but it was still thanksgiving.

Specialists Josh Korder and John Dever, of the 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, have thanksgiving dinner on a watch tower in Afghanistan in 2009. One watches while one eats.

In garrison, Thanksgiving is the biggest day of the year in the Dining Facility (DFAC). The DFAC mangers start thinking about what they are going to do, for Thanksgiving, months ahead. They start ordering all of the thanksgiving food about 30 days out. As they get closer, they create schedules, with shifts, and set up teams. Each team is assigned a specific duty, because they start cooking the night before. The Thanksgiving meal involves slow cooking turkey and ham, along with preparing the rest of the meal of shrimp cocktail, roast beef, barbecued spare ribs, boiled king crab legs, glazed Cornish hens, cornbread dressing, savory bread dressing, baked macaroni and cheese, sweet potatoes, green beans, black-eyed peas, corn on the cob, collard greens, and a variety of cakes and pies, including pumpkin. It is the day the cooks get to show off.

They hand sculpture everything from flying geese to battleships and airplanes out of different food stuffs, plus they create ice sculptures.

When Thanksgiving meal time finally arrives the Chaplain leads a prayer.

The troops are not required to dress up.

But, the officers, Sergeants Major and First Sergeants wear their dress blues, and they serve the troops.

Some families also attend.

A young soldier said that it was his first Thanksgiving away from home, but this made it like Thanksgiving with his Army family.