Category Archives: New things in the Army


To say that the US Army is changing, is like saying the weather is changing – it is, always, but this change is unlike anything that has ever been attempted.
The primary concern of the Air Force is airplanes – keeping them flying. The primary concern of the Navy is ships and airplanes. The Marines – God bless em, as great as they are, they are part of the Navy. If you enlist for four years as a Marine grunt, you’ll be lucky if you don’t spend six months, or more, of it on a ship, sleeping on a 30-inch by 72-inch steel bunk, 17 inches below the one above you.

The primary concern of the Army is people. The Army is the ground soldiers, there must be soldiers on the ground, to hold territory. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan saw many support soldiers involved in the fighting, either in convoys, moving from one place to another, or real fighting on a Combat Outpost. The Army Combat Action Badge was created to recognize non-infantry soldiers who engaged the enemy in combat.

The soldier on the right, a Lieutenant Colonel, is wearing a Combat Action Badge above her ribbons.

One of the observations from those wars, was that overall, soldiers were not in good enough physical condition for the heat of Iraq or the mountains of Afghanistan.
The discussion of better physical fitness started about 15 years ago. The Army had a “Master Fitness Trainer” course in the 1980’s, but it folded, during the wars. It was re-opened in 2013. It trains sergeants and officers in the proper conduct of physical fitness training. They then return to their units to train others.
In 1977, six foot seven, Robert B. Brown was the number two high school basketball pick in Michigan. He went to West Point and played basketball under Coach Mike Krzyzewski, scoring over 1,000 points while there, graduating in 1981. In 2014, then Lieutenant General Brown, Commander of the Army Combined Arms Center, leading a discussion titled “The Soldier Athlete”, at a meeting of the Association of the US Army (AUSA), said we need to train our soldiers like athletes. General Mark Milley, who became Chief of Staff of the Army in 2015, currently Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was Captain of the Princeton Hockey Team, graduating in 1980, agreed. So did then Secretary of the Army, Mark Esper, currently the Secretary of Defense, who graduated from West Point in 1986.
Regular Army PT (Physical Training), was not preparing soldiers for the physical rigors of combat. There were a lot of combat veterans, in the Army, when the discussion started about how to evaluate soldiers’ preparedness for combat. As the new Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT) was being developed, a much more radical change in physical training was also being developed. This is not just a change in physical training, but a program that focuses on the individual, holistically encompassing the soldiers’ life, physical, sleep, nutritional, spiritual, and mental.
The driving force behind all this is readiness. A recent Army News article said that as of February 2019, more than 56,000 soldiers were non-deployable. Also, more than 21,000 were on a temporary injured list, and more than 15,000 had some kind of permanent injury. Almost half of all soldiers are injured at some point, and 71% of those injuries are lower extremity micro-traumatic musculoskeletal “overuse” injuries. In 2018, more than 12% of soldiers had some form of sleep disorder and 17% of active duty soldiers were overweight. Also, included in this conversation, was active duty suicide. How ever many there are, its’ tragic, traumatic, and too many. For the Army to be able to field a healthy, fit, lethal force, soldiers’ life style has to change.

In 2017, the Army ran a six month pilot program, called the Soldier Readiness Test. It temporarily assigned a strength and conditioning coach, a physical therapist, a registered dietician, and an occupational therapist to selected battalions. The increase in health, fitness, and morale was so successful that a two year pilot program started in 2018, in an expended number of units, with increased funding, equipment, and personnel. It was soon named H2F-lite pilot. Several sergeants from those battalions were sent to the Master Fitness Trainer school, and Athletic Trainers, Strength Coaches, Physical Therapists, Occupational Therapists, and Dietitians were hired and placed under the supervision of those Battalion Commanders, who were tasked with implementing the program and identifying any bugs. A lead strength and conditioning coach said; “The greatest part for me is that I see people coming to PT in the morning and they are engaged and excited to be there.” Captain Samantha Morgan, a physical therapist said; “People are coming to physical therapy proactively versus being told they have to come, so when people do have PT or training related injuries they’re getting better faster.” The medical people and the Chaplain and Chaplain Assistant, were also brought into the H2F Team. Chaplains are not part of the program to preach, but to monitor unit morale, and help with personal problems. There is a rule in the Army, anyone can go see the Chaplain anytime. Chaplain’s and their assistants are presented with all kinds of problems. In my story “Be an Army Chaplain Assistant”, I tell the story of a Chaplain Assistant who was confronted by an infantry Private, whose wife was having mental issues. Threatening to kill herself and her unborn baby, if he didn’t start spending more time at home. A Private in the infantry has little control of his schedule. That time, everything worked out. The “spiritual readiness” of a soldier is comprised of his or her core values, and beliefs, and life visions, arising from religious or non-religious beliefs, philosophical and moral values.

On October 1st, 2020, the Army published a new Field Manuel (FM) 7-22, Holistic Health and Fitness. This makes the program command policy, army wide. The Army physical year (FY) starts October 1st, and funds have already been allocated for current FY 2021, to start implementing H2F. Every Brigade is getting a new H2F staff, to be under the direction of the Brigade Commander. The H2F Program Director will be civil service GS-13, starting salary of about $78,000, although the solicitations say that salary will be negotiated with non-prior civil service applicants. Under the Program Director, will be a Captain, Nutrition Director, with civilian and military dietitians, a Captain Injury Director/Provider, with military and civilian physical therapists and a contracted civilian athletic trainer for each battalion, a Captain Combat Enhancement Director, with civilian and military occupational therapists. There will also be civilian strength coaches advising the professional military physical trainers. In FY 2023, construction is to start on a 40,000 square foot “Soldier Performance Readiness Center” (SPRC), for EACH BRIGADE. That is about twice the size of most current army fitness centers. The Brigade H2F Team will be housed in the SPRC, and every company in the Brigade will rotate through the SPRC several times weekly. Daily physical training will not necessarily be the first hour of the day, for everyone. Until the SPRC’s are constructed, H2F teams will utilize whatever facilities are available, like current fitness centers.

The Registered Dietician’s role is in fueling and nutritional needs for various aspects of performance. The Dietician coaches soldiers on diets that support fitness training, brain performance, healing from injury, and special dietary needs in the field environment. Consequently, the Dietician helps soldiers consider meal planning, grocery shopping, cooking skills, and how to navigate the complex market of supplements.

The Occupational Therapist is primarily involved in the mental fitness of soldiers, utilizing skills such as coaching on sleep optimization behaviors, goal setting, habit change, attention and focus control, energy management, communication, team dynamics, and other tactical mental operations involved in leadership, planning, and Warrior tasks. As an expert in both cognitive and musculoskeletal domains, the Occupational Therapist also supports physical aspects of physical performance such as ergonomics of load carriage, visuospatial skills in marksmanship, and evaluation and treatment of the upper extremities.
This is not just a new PT program, this is a complete change of soldier life style, to that of an athlete. I won’t say professional athlete, because the pro’s usually train for one activity. Gone is the one size fits all approach to physical conditioning. This is a program designed to get to every individual soldier, to change eating, sleeping, and activity habits, to create a healthy person both physically and mentally. A part of this program is leaders’ education, to insure that the change in life style actually happens. Good health and strength fosters good self confidence, which soldiers must have.
The new Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT), was designed in conjunction with H2F. It is a six timed event test. “In shape” people, who have taken it, said that each event didn’t seem to be too hard (except for the leg tuck), but by the time they finished the test, they were exhausted. There is no point adjustment for age or gender. It is, “how capable is this solder of performing in combat”.

ACFT Weight lifting
ACFT sprint and carry of the Sprint, Carry, Drag event
Dead weight drag of the Sprint, Carry, Drag
ACFT Hand release Pushup
ACFT Standing Power Throw (Backward Medicine Ball toss)
ACFT Leg Tuck (Hang on the bar, bring the knees up to touch elbows, as many times as you can).
ACFT -Two mile run.

This is a big event in an explosive evolution in the Army, that has been growing for about the past five years. A new four-star command (The Army Futures Command) was created and headquartered in downtown Austin, Texas, to not only get the latest technology into the Army as fast as possible, but to solicit new inventions, like a laser 10 times larger than the Navy’s laser weapon, big enough to knock down incoming cruise missiles.

Not only weapons technology, but lighter field equipment, and a new rifle with ammunition capable of penetrating lightly armored vehicles and any body armor. Computer systems and operators capable of invading and controlling adversarial systems. To do all of this, the Army must have healthy, alert, and quick thinking individual soldiers. The Army is a team of teams, but individual soldiers must often be able to think quickly on their feet, and make adjustments, without higher direction, when necessary. Enlisted Management Branches in the Army Human Resource Command (HRC) periodically posts names of soldiers who will be up for reassignment, in a future window. They then post the assignments, that must be filled, during that window, and they encourage soldiers to go online and post their preferences. Quite a change from the old days, when you just “came down on orders”. The United States of America places more confidence and trust in the individual soldier, than any other country in the world.
There is another evolutionary event, in the Army, that goes along with this. That is the demise of the “shark attack”. For many years, on the day new trainees arrive at their basic training company, they have been met by a swarm of screaming drill sergeants. That has become known as the shark attack. I’m not sure when it started. The first Drill Sergeants were created in 1964, just before the start of the Vietnam War. During Vietnam, the majority of trainees were draftees, and did not want to be there, so I’m sure the shark attack started as the drills established dominance and authority over the draftees.

I was the senior drill sergeant of a basic training company 1979 to 1981, and we didn’t do it. Every company was different.

Now that first day of Army Basic Combat Training is called “The first 100 yards”. The new trainees are briefed on what is expected of them, they are organized into platoons and given a couple of resupply missions, which may be something as simple as moving boxes of MRE’s (meal Ready to Eat) from one location to another, but will require platoon team work. They will perform three of the ACFT exercises, the leg tuck, the hand-release pushup, and the standing power throw. Platoons that fail to get the highest score will be an appropriate corrective exercise, pushups (in other words “smoked”). They will then be instructed to retrieve their baggage, and move it into the company area.

Next comes a demonstration by a squad of infantry in full battle dress, moving with M4 carbines and other weapons through smoke and pyrotechnics, showing what they will be able to do at the end of basic training.

The First 100 Yards ends with the drill sergeants marching trainees to their platoon bays to begin what will be the first two weeks of isolated training, known as “controlled monitoring,” as part of the Covid-19 safety protocols the Army began in the spring. Basic training is as tough as it has ever been, and the discipline is as strict as it has ever been, they are just dropping the shark attack. Welcome to the adult world.
US Army soldiers are generally treated with great respect throughout this country. That respect is important, in that it fosters pride in being a soldier. Most soldiers are proud of being a soldier. They have confidence in themselves and their team, and they are part of something bigger than themselves, defending this country. Part of that pride is in wearing the uniform. World War II is the basis, the launch pad, of the modern Army. The Navy and the Marines have the same service uniforms they had in WWII. The Navy tried to stray off the uniform reservation once, but corrected itself. The Army has tinkered with uniforms since the 1950’s. Finally, starting in December 2020, new recruits will be issued the new Army Green Uniform, which is actually the old WWII uniform, and next summer it will be available for sale to all soldiers. Thank you.

Former Sergeant Major of the Army Daniel Daley, center, with soldiers wearing the new “Pinks and Greens” uniforms.


     When I went through basic training in September and October 1961 at Fort Knox, Kentucky, we used .30 caliber M-1 Rifles. The same rifles used in World War II. From there to infantry training at Fort Gordon, Georgia, where we used M-1’s, BAR’s (Browning Automatic Rifle), and A-6, .30 caliber machine guns. The same guns used in World War II. We zeroed, and qualified with our rifles on KD (known distance) ranges. Half of the company qualified expert on the 500 meter range. The M-1 had distance and accuracy, but it was heavy and only fired eight rounds at a time. When I got to the 82nd Airborne Division, March 1st 1962, it had 7.62 mm M-14 Rifles. A couple years later we got the 5.56 mm M-16’s, and although modified a couple times, M16A2, and M-4 Carbine, the Army is still using that same rifle. A replacement has been identified. Also, around that time the Army built pop up target rifle ranges. Waist up, man sized, green silhouettes, “pop-up” at distances from 50 to 300 meters. The soldier shoots from a fox hole, with a rest, and must hit a minimum of 23 targets to qualify, 23 to 29 hits gets a Marksmanship Badge, 30 – 35 a Sharpshooter Badge, and 36 – 40 an Expert Badge. That system has been used for the past 55 years.

     Every soldier must qualify with his or her weapon once annually. Combat arms soldiers do a lot of shooting, starting with the infantry, combat engineers, armor, and artillery. Many support soldiers only fire their rifle during annual qualification. There were instances in the first Gulf war, Desert Storm in 1990, of support soldiers taking a wrong turn and finding themselves in enemy lines. Some were killed and some captured, many were not proficient with their rifle, they had trouble firing back, and if their weapon jammed, they were sunk. Then the “no front lines” wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, put the lack of weapons proficiency by support soldiers on vivid display.
     For the past several years, the Army has been fortunate to have had some exceptional people at the top. Many changes have and are happening. After going through several years of relatively easy training, Basic Combat Training is now as tough as it has been since World War II. I know some people don’t believe that. It is not unnecessarily tough, it is physically tough, professional training. After the first couple weeks, basic trainees are having fun, some say the time of their lives. The standard army PT test of pushups, sit-ups, and run, that the Army has used for the past 50 years is out, replaced by a very demanding six event test, which is rapidly changing soldiers’ attitude toward physical fitness, and changing the way units conduct their physical fitness programs.
     This year, the Army is instituting a new Rifle Marksmanship Program. Under the old program, for the past 50 years, non-combat soldiers, once a year, drew their rifles, went to the range, zeroed the rifle on a 25 meter range, then went to the qualification range. Qualification firing was from a supported foxhole, with four magazines, each containing 10 rounds, stacked in front of the shooter. After 10 rounds were fired at the pop-up targets, the command “change magazines” came from the range control tower, then shooting resumed. If a shooters’ weapon malfunctioned, during firing, and he or she couldn’t immediately correct it, the shooter held up his hand and claimed an “alibi”, which caused a range cease fire until the weapon was functioning. When I was a Drill Sergeant, before the trainees moved onto the range, the drills would grab a rifle and go “knock down” the targets, to make sure they all worked. We all could hit 40 out of 40 targets. Someone once said that a drunk monkey could qualify as an expert, if given enough time on the range.
This past year the Army published TC (Training Circular) 3-20.40 Training and Qualification – Individual Weapons. It is 800 pages of specific guidance for weapons qualification, to be followed by every unit in the Army, regardless of the type of unit.
     Now all army units, regardless of the type, are mandated to conduct the same annual weapons qualification program. It starts with classes on how to properly zero their weapon.

After which, the soldiers must pass a written and a hands-on test before moving to the next phase, which is firing with the simulator. The simulator is the army’s Engagement Skills Trainer, which is an elaborate, indoor, laser based unit with a large screen 26 feet from the firer, displaying terrain and targets, with feed back hits and misses. The rifle is of the same weight, producing sound and recoil very similar to the real thing.

Soldiers with the Louisiana National Guard practice marksmanship skills while attending a training course for the Engagement Skills Trainer II at Camp Beauregard in Pineville, Louisiana, Jan. 10, 2019. The EST II is a virtual simulation trainer that is designed to assist and improve a Soldier’s basic fundamentals of marksmanship, as well as collective and escalation of force training before going to a live-fire range. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Noshoba Davis)

After successfully firing on the Engagement Skills Trainer they go to the actual range for dry drills.
The dry drills are of how they will fire for qualification, which is not all in a rested foxhole, but in prone, kneeling, standing supported, and standing unsupported, and quickly moving between firing positions, just as they would do in combat, and with their ammunition magazines in their pouch, not laid out, and changing magazines automatically, not on orders from the tower. In fact, there are no orders from the tower, except, begin, and there are no alibies. If a weapon malfunctions, get it going or lose shots, because now instead of one target at a time popping up, as many as four pop up at one time. The old way took about 20 minutes to fire 40 rounds, this takes about four minutes.
After the dry drills, they go to the zero range and zero their rifles. Next is practice qualification, go through trough the whole qualification, with live ammo, but for practice. Finally, qualification, but not just daytime firing. Qualification firing in daytime, daytime wearing gas masks, then night time firing, and night time firing wearing gas masks.
One sergeant rifle marksmanship instructor said that he always shot 40 out of 40 on the old way. His first time, while teaching the course, this way he shot 22 out of 40.

                                                 Standing unsupported

                                                         Prone unsupported

                                                    Kneeling supported

                                                       Standing supported

     Firers change positions on their own, starting with standing unsupported, just like a reaction to contact, then drop to the prone unsupported, then to a kneeling supported position, and finally to a standing supported. Under the old system, a soldier could fire “Expert” without hitting a 300 meter target. Now there are five exposures of the 300 meter targets, so at least one has to be hit to qualify as an expert,
     Aside from doing their job to the best of their ability, the Army wants soldiers to be physically fit and good shooters.
     Carly Schroeder, an actress who has starred in over a dozen movies, Lizzie McGuire, Mean Creek, and most recently Ouija House, turned 29 this past October, and Hollywood guestimates her net worth at around a million dollars. She also graduated from California Lutheran University with a double major in communications and psychology. In March 2019, she enlisted in the Army for OCS (Officer Candidate School), her intention was to try to get into Military Intelligence. She completed basic combat training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, in July 2019, and moved to Fort Benning, Georgia for OCS. During OCS, she had a change of desire and graduating in September, she was commissioned a second lieutenant and branched Infantry. She then completed the 17 week Infantry Basic Officer Leadership Course, during which she, not only qualified expert in the new army marksmanship program, she was the high shooter in her class, beating all the guys. She also successfully completed Ranger school this past June, and is now an airborne ranger infantry lieutenant, somewhere in the Army – no publicity, she is now a REAL soldier.


This was originally published in The Belle Banner, Belle Missouri, on November 27th 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.
First, is pay. Military pay is established, by law, every year in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which is past each fall to fund the Department of Defense. The pay charts change every January 1st, with raises (or not) calculated by the increase in the Employment Cost Index (ECI), which is published quarterly by the Bureau of Labor Statistics to reflect changes in total employment compensation. Traditionally, in August the President proposes military pay increases either based on the ECI or not, with justification, if different. Congress has the final say, and for the past several years, military pay raises have adhered to the ECI, regardless of which party was in power.
The military pay chart on this page only goes to 20 years and displays officers to the rank of colonel. The complete chart goes to four star general and increases to 40 years. This reflects basic pay only. The shaded areas reflect a normal progression in rank for an enlisted soldier and an officer. The actual pay soldiers receive is sometimes less, after deductions for social security, Medicare, federal and state income taxes, and retirement thrift savings plan, and sometimes more with additions such Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH), Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS), special duty pay, hazardous duty pay, diving pay, flight pay, and more.

All military pay is paid by direct deposit to service members bank accounts, from the Defense Finance and Accounting Center in Indianapolis. Monthly pay is divided in half and paid on the 1st and the 15th of each month, unless those dates fall on a weekend or a holiday, in which case the payment is paid the day prior. Military pay is automatic, whether the soldier is in a combat zone, on leave, in the hospital, or sick in bed at home. Benefit = steady pay check. A huge difference between civilian life and military life is the soldier does not worry about keeping a job.

      Some soldiers like this Paralegal Specialist work hard at a desk all day.

Pay is different for a married soldier from a single soldier. Almost 70 percent of soldiers are now married, so families are now an integral part of the Army, and the military pays the married soldier more to take care of his or her family. The extra is called Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH). The amount varies according to the cost of living in each location, and increases with rank. Soldiers in ranks private through specialist receive $876 in this area (Fort Leonard Wood), $924 at Fort Polk, Louisiana, $1,056 at Fort Hood, Texas, and $1,134 at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The BAH for a staff sergeant E-6 in this area is $1,038. These figures are expected in increase by around 3.2 % starting January 1st. Actual amount will be announced in mid-December. BAH is for housing the soldier’s family, if the family lives in family housing on the fort, the married soldier doesn’t get the BAH. However, on post family housing means a nice house, with all utilities and maintenance, including lawn maintenance in the summer, provided. A great deal for low ranking young couples, and most forts now offer family housing to all ranks from private up. A married soldier, who is living in the barracks, his or her family is not with them, is still paid BAH because that is for their family’s housing.
A married soldier living with his or her family on or off post, not in the barracks, is also paid Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS), which is currently $369.39 for enlisted soldiers. That is the monthly cost of meals in a Dining Facility. Soldiers living in the barracks eat free in Dining Facilities. BAH and BAS are not taxed.
Pilots and aircraft crew members, paratroopers, divers, drill sergeants, recruiters, and a few others are paid extra.
A Private (slick sleeve) single soldier, who has completed initial training and has finally arrived at a permanent duty station, claiming single with one deduction for tax purposes, after all deductions will have about $780 deposited in his or her bank account on the 1st and again on the 15th of the month. If they took the airborne option and are on jump status, that will be around $835. A Specialist E-4, with over 2 years in service will have around $940 deposited each payday. These are soldiers living in the barracks (dorms) and eating in Dining Facilities.

                            Soldiers living in the dorm eat in the DFAC free.

For a married Private living with his or her family in on post family housing, claiming married with two deductions, that deposit would be around $1,020. That calculates to a take home pay of about $470 per week, which is in the $15 per hour range, but when you throw in the cost of a house, electricity, water, sewer and trash pickup, plus complete, no co pay, no deductible health care for the whole family, you’ve got to be in the $25 to $30 an hour range, which makes that married private equal to his or her civilian friends making over $50,000 a year. A married Sergeant First Class E-7 with 10 years in service, living off post around Fort Leonard Wood (bought a house), claiming married with three deductions, and having 5 percent deducted for the Thrift Savings Plan, will have about $2,415 deposited on the 1st and again on the 15th of each month. That calculates to a weekly take home pay of around $1,115 per week, plus the free health care. The money is OK.
All military health care is managed through a giant government supervised insurance company called “Tricare”. Health and dental care for an active duty service member is free in military hospitals and clinics. Health care for family members of active duty soldiers is basically the same, there are different plans for remote locations and overseas. Tricare dental insurance for the family is $30 per month regardless of the size of the family. Military retirees, who are under the age of 65, pay $297 for only themselves, or $594 annually for the family, then a co-pay of $20 per doctor visit. Military retirees over age 65 are enrolled in “Tricare for Life”, for which there is no cost, at all. No annual fees and no co-pay, and it pays everything that Medicare doesn’t. As retirees age that becomes a huge benefit. The Army has some great medical facilities and people. We were both in our early 50’s, when my wife had major spinal surgery at Fitzsimons Army Hospital in Denver in 1995 (it’s no longer there). A large benign tumor was pressing her spinal cord and had already broken her spinal column. The doctor (neurosurgeon) who performed the surgery was a Ranger, the only doctor Ranger I ever saw. After 12 hours of surgery, he flopped on a couch beside me, and in 5 minutes explained exactly what he and his orthopedic assistant did. He went on to become Chief of Neurosurgery at Walter Reed, during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and having just retired from the Army was called to help save Gabby Gifford’s life in January 2011, when she was shot in the head in Arizona. Colonel (Retired) (Doctor) James M. Ecklund.
Another great benefit in the Army, is “time off”. Every soldier gets 30 days paid vacation (leave) per year. Leave time accumulates at the rate of 2 ½ days per month, and many soldiers often accumulate more than 30 days leave before they use it, because there is plenty of time off. Soldiers, who are not training in the field or on some kind of occasional duty, are normally off from about 5:00 PM to 6:00 AM for PT (physical training). On Friday, that means they are off until Monday morning. Plus, there are three and four day weekends. In most combat units that train hard, Commanding Generals, if at all possible, designate the Friday before a holiday weekend as a “training holiday”. Most people like to get home at Christmas and in the summer, during good weather. As a result of frequent deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, many combat units try to schedule block leaves around the Christmas/New Years holidays, and again in the summer.

                                        Some soldiers play hard after work.

    Some soldiers play games at the Fort Leonard Wood Gaming Room.

The Post Exchange (the PX), is officially the Army Air Force Exchange System (AAFES). AAFES is run by the Army and the Air Force, but is a “for profit” company that competes with all the off post stores, so the prices are very close to the lowest prices off post. Every Army post has a main PX and several small annex’s, like quick stops. The Main PX is like a giant department store, on post and available to soldiers, which caters to soldier’s desires. The main PX on Fort Leonard Wood now carries several higher quality more expensive lines of clothing, desired by soldiers and their families. Profits from AAFES go to the Morale Welfare and Recreation (MWR) fund.
The MWR office on army posts are in the business of soldier and family recreation. Bowling, golf courses, swimming pools, paint ball, gaming centers, and many more. They sell hunting and fishing permits, they rent everything from boats and trolling motors, trailers, tents, gas BBQ grills, bounce rooms, horse shoe sets to all kinds of personal athletic equipment. Fort Leonard Wood MWR rents horse stables on post for $125 per month per stable.

                             Soldiers do physical training in the morning.


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

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

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

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

                         New Army uniforms compared to World War II uniform.

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

                                          Paratrooper in the air and landing.

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

                         Haley Shanks BCT company passing in review.

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

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


This was originally published in The Belle Banner, Belle Missouri March 13th 2019.
This was just published a few weeks ago, but I want to get it online now because of the seriousness of the subject.

For the past month one of the big news items has been that military suicide is at an all-time high. The figures released by the Department of Defense of active duty suicides in 2018 are; Marines – 57, Navy – 68, Air Force – 58, and Army – 138. Marines, sailors, and airmen who take their own lives are often young people who have never deployed. The causes, which have been identified, are what you might expect, relationships, marriage problems, and financial problems, but in the Army the overwhelming majority come from special operations, and in particular Special Forces – the Green Berets. These are older men who have been deployed over and over and over for the past 15 years. Suicides within that group tripled in 2018, and after they leave the Army they are still a large percentage of veteran suicides.
If you overwork anything, it will wear out. That has been the message Special Operations Command (SOCOM) leaders have been telling congress for the past several years. Most of the work of Special Forces is classified. The shadow warriors. The silent professionals. There are five active Special Forces Groups with a total of less than 5,000 Green Berets, and there are two National Guard Groups. Two years ago the Commander of the US Special Operations Command testified before the House Armed Services Committee that Special Forces were deployed to 138 countries, or about 70 percent of the world.
When we were first married in 1966, Special Forces was a big attraction to us grunts in the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. They were getting promoted much faster than we were. My wife Betty said “No way”. Our SF neighbors would go on a three month deployment, come home for 30 days then go on a six month deployment to Vietnam, and then repeat it over and over. The rumor was that the SF divorce rate was 70 percent, I don’t doubt it. We had been married six months when I went to Vietnam the first time. Guess where I got assigned – the 5th Special Forces Group.
In Special Forces an Advise and Assist mission means a 12 man A Detachment (A Team) is sent into a backward undeveloped country that is at war with its neighbor. The team’s mission is to train an army, with little outside support, and take it into combat. They also go into modern developed nations to train them in unconventional warfare (guerilla fighting). They go on medical assistance missions to undeveloped nations. When the United States of America invaded Afghanistan it was with one 12 man Special Forces A-Team. Twelve Strong. In Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, and several others Green Berets have been engaged in combat over and over, with most of it classified, so they can’t talk about it.
During my time in the Army, Sergeants didn’t show emotion, it was a sign of weakness. The only place you could release those inner feelings was at home. That is apparently still the case. There are stories from wives of Green Berets who committed suicide, about the change the wife saw in her husband after several deployments. Complete personality changes. Even after urging from their wife the soldiers would not seek help, because they would lose their security clearance and possibly get kicked out of SF or of the Army. I knew a couple soldiers who had nervous breakdowns. One Personnel Sergeant was able to recover and stay in the Army. The other committed suicide.
Everything the Delta Force does is classified. If you want to know more about Delta, read “Inside Delta Force” by Eric Haney. He and I were on orders to the first Delta assessment class, I didn’t go, he did and made it, and spent several years as a Delta Operator. He then wrote the book and was technical advisor on the TV show “The Unit”. The Command Sergeant Major (CSM) of the US Special Operations Command, Chris Farris, came up through the ranks of special operations, having spent 18 years as a Delta Operator. After many repeated deployments, CSM Farris and his wife Lisa, saw their marriage coming apart. They vowed to fix it, and they did. For the past few years they have together visited special operations groups everywhere, held town hall meetings, and appeared on television, urging soldiers to confront their problems and get help, if necessary. CSM Farris said that he didn’t think that he was suffering from traumatic stress, but an examination identified three spots on his brain that showed traumatic brain injury. He could only remember one incident of being “blown up”, but thinking back he recalled repeated training on breeching. Breeching is basically blowing open a door or an obstacle with a big explosion, and immediately going through it, so you have to be as close as possible when you blow it open.
Career soldiers have an attachment to and a love for the Army that is hard to explain to people who haven’t been there. The more elite the unit, the stronger the attachment. I pulled strings to get my last job in the Army at home, in the ROTC Department of MS&T (then University of Missouri-Rolla). I knew in the back of my mind that it would be my last assignment. I was home, helping Dad and Mom on the farm, my kids going to school where I and my Dad went to school, reconnecting with old friends and relatives, but that didn’t change the devastating trauma I felt taking off the uniform. I don’t regret retiring then, because I got to spend the last 14 years of my Dad’s life with him, and that was more important, but leaving the Army was traumatic.
During my first tour in Vietnam, with Special Forces, I contracted hepatitis from eating some really bad stuff. Our medic said; “You got yellow jaundice man, you got to go to the hospital.” Two months later, when I was released from the hospital in Japan, I was told that since I had only been in country nine months and two weeks, I had to go back, because anything less than 10 months was considered an incomplete tour. My enlistment was about up, so I got out of the Army. Two years later, after selling new and used cars in Fayetteville and Charlotte, North Carolina, I couldn’t stand it anymore so I went back to the Army. Leaving the Army was like leaving a family that had cared for me for over twenty years. I was then a civilian, making a living just like everyone else, something that doesn’t concern soldiers.
A few years ago I attended a Veterans Day assembly at my grandson’s school in Ballwin. A speaker there was a man about 40 years old. He talked about his high school friend who was a star athlete, set athletic records at their school, and was smart and good at everything. His friend had scholarships, but wanted to go into the Army. His friend spent several years in the Army. He said that he saw his friend one day, wearing an old army field jacket, sitting on a bench at the Barnes Hospital complex. His friend slept on benches or under bushes. He said that he ask why, “You have family here.” His friend said yes but they just don’t understand, they just don’t understand.
It is an honor to serve in the Armed Forces of this great country. Most people who serve, do their job and their time, get out and go on with life. Over 17 percent of those who enlist, stay for a career. It is a protected and secure life, leaving it can be traumatic. I think problems veterans have will surface shortly after their leaving the service, so it you know a recent veteran who appears to be struggling, offer to help or encourage them to get help.
On March 6th President Trump signed an Executive Order creating a task force to study and attempt to reduce veteran suicide. Prayers with that task force. The active army is already taking action. Senior leaders like CSM Farris and a few generals are starting to go public with their battles with service connected stress, in an attempt to get the soldiers who are suffering to seek help. The inner culture of special operations does not encourage soldiers to admit that they are suffering.
The Army is having trouble increasing the number of soldiers, therefore having trouble increasing the size of special operations. Perhaps the United States needs to reduce the number of missions around the world.