THE FLAG

Originally Published in The Belle Banner, in Belle, Missouri, September 27th, 2017. This is another article out of the sequence in which they were published, but with the apparent decision by the NFL to ban kneeling during the National Anthem, I feel compelled to post this now.
I graduated from Belle High School in May 1961. We spent eight years down stairs in grade school. In many classes, we said the Pledge of Allegiance. “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under god, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”. When we moved upstairs to high school, we were joined by others who came in from the one room country schools. That summer I pumped gas in a service station, for Arlie Roesner. There was talk of war that summer. That was the Berlin Crises. The Soviet Union sealed off East Berlin and started building the Berlin Wall. American and Russian tanks faced each other, as the wall was being constructed. President Kennedy, on national television, said; “We seek peace, but we will not surrender”. He called for tripling the draft, increasing the size of the armed services, and possibly calling up the reserves. At the end of August, I enlisted in the Army, for Airborne Infantry. As a fairly immature 18 year old, I didn’t fully understand the tear in my Dad’s eye, as he shook my hand before I left to get on the bus, in Belle. Thirty years later, when we put our son on the bus, in Rolla, for the same trip, I did fully understand.
After training I was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division, my Dad’s old unit. My Platoon Sergeant, when I arrived at my company, was Staff Sergeant William Maud Bryant. Sergeant Bryant was a very smart, articulate man. After a few months, he went to Special Forces, and as a Green Beret was killed in action in Vietnam, and subsequently awarded the Medal of Honor. The Squad Leader of our Weapons Squad, in which I was a Machinegunner, was Staff Sergeant Tom Walker. The other Machinegunner, in the squad was named Jordan. Staff Sergeant Tom Walker taught us the machinegun so well that we won Division Machinegun Competition in the spring of 1963. Tom Walker was also killed in action in Vietnam. All three were black men, good men. My black friends, in North Carolina, first introduced me to “Splo”. Its’ popular name is “white lightning”, but whatever it’s called you never forget it.
I saw combat in Dominican Republic and in Vietnam. The Army was fully integrated, there was no “race problem” in combat units, we were all green and we all bled red. We depended on each other, and we became close to each other. What else I saw in different countries around the world were the some of the greatest ambassadors for the United States of America. Soldiers would stand down from a firefight and share their rations with hungry kids, they would pick up old women and kids and carry them out of the line of fire. Young children would literally try to sell cokes while under fire. I saw that people are pretty much the same all over the world. They want to protect and provide for their family, and they want to see their children grow up and be happy. I saw the United States as the worlds’ protector of individual freedom and liberty. I became acquainted with many Vietnamese. I knew Catholics whose families had been fighting the Communists for years, but the United States, at that time, had an administration that had no experience with war and did not understand it. The President, the Secretary of Defense, and their council decided in December 1965 that they could not win in Vietnam, but continued the war for another 10 years. The public turned so sour that we couldn’t wear our uniform among civilians, but soldiers only go where they are told to go and do what they are told to do. When congress finally folded, defunded the war, and we left, it has been estimated that about two million people were literally dragged out of their houses and killed, when the Communists took over. I knew many of them, and my memory of them suffering that fate will never fade, but Presidents change, administrations change, congressmen change, and time does heal.
I stood at attention and saluted the flag and the national anthem for over 20 years, then the Defense Authorization Act of 2008 authorized all veterans to render the hand salute to the flag, and that act in 2009 authorized all veterans to render the hand salute to the national anthem, so I again stand at attention and salute the flag and the national anthem. I sometimes get a lump in my throat when old glory flies and the anthem is playing, because to me it represents not only the military, but all the good that the United States of America has done in the world, but I hate Taps. Although Taps is played as the last bugle call of the day at every army post, to me it represents funeral.
In the last decade, US Army Special Forces have deployed to 135 of the 195 recognized countries in the world. Not only training armies and fighting terrorists and drug cartels, but providing medical service in remote areas, building clinics and schools, and protecting the local people. The United States of America is doing more good in the world, than the rest of the world combined.
If professional football players are trying to bring attention to a wrong being perpetrated against black people, they are going about it all wrong. When they disrespect our flag and our anthem, I don’t care what they are protesting, because I am blinded by their heinous, violent act of disrespect.
Colin Kaepernick said; “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” The complaint is that white police are harassing and killing black people and that white supremacist neo nazi organizations are not being punished. Even if that is true, which I don’t believe, you get no sympathy from me when you disrespect my flag and anthem. To me that is worse than rioting where people are hurt. It attacks the very core of my being, I see and hear nothing else. You are disrespecting me, personally.
If someone is being wronged, I will help them anyway I can, but if you perform this hideous act then you become my enemy. I no longer watch NFL football, and if I were an NFL sponsor I would terminate those contracts. This is the most serious attack on this country since 9 – 11. I fear that the result of these “protests” will not be attention to a problem but the beginning of the destruction of our country.

Daniel Kcender II

Originally published March 1st, 2017 in The Belle Banner.

We are with PFC Daniel Kcender for a second week. In May they trained with live fire exercises both in urban and field. Every year the week before Memorial Day is “All American Week”, where the 82nd Airborne Division opens its doors to former paratroopers and visitors and puts on a weeklong show, culminating in either a Division parade or a Division jump. All American Week started with a Division sized four mile run at 06:30 Monday morning, led by the Division Commanding General, and the Division Command Sergeant Major. Longstreet on Fort Bragg had an estimated 10,000 paratroopers running on it at one time. There were people lining the sidewalks on each side of the street, many were the families of paratroopers, and many were veterans, former paratroopers with the 82nd, all cheering the troops. There were many unit competitions scheduled throughout the week, basketball, flag football, softball, volleyball, soccer, combatives, tug-of-war, and more, most starting on Monday. There was also a “Paratrooper Breakfast” in one of the DFAC’s at 08:30 Monday morning, where current troops ate breakfast with former paratroopers. Daniel got to attend the breakfast. Daniel talked to former paratroopers, some had retired from the Army, and some had spent 2 or 3 or 4 years in the 82nd. Some were combat veterans from Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, some were not, but all said that their time in the 82nd was one of the high points in their lives. Some said that at the time they thought it was just a lot of hard work and misery, but looking back they wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Most of the veterans belonged to the 82nd Airborne Division Association. He learned that there are 96 chapters of the 82nd Airborne Division Association scattered across the United States. The Fayetteville Chapter, there at Fort Bragg, hosted many events during All American Week. On Tuesday morning, Daniel got to attend the All American Week Prayer Breakfast. The host and guest speaker was a retired Colonel who was a former Division Chaplain for the 82nd. On Wednesday afternoon there was a very moving memorial service, at the Division Museum, where units honored those they had lost in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was told that in past years they had practiced for a parade on Wednesday and performed on Thursday. This year, the finale for All American Week, on Thursday, was a mass tactical parachute jump, an exercise, then a review on Sicily Drop Zone. Daniel didn’t get to make that jump, he was assigned to guide people around the static displays set up in front of the bleachers on Sicily Drop Zone. There he got to meet many more veterans and their families, who came to visit the Division. The Division Commander designated Friday of that week a “training holiday”, and Monday was Memorial Day, so he got a four day weekend. SSG Wright and his wife hosted the squad and their families to a bar-b-que that Saturday.
Daniel’s company trained on many live fire exercises, they practiced squad and team tactics, they conducted field exercises against aggressors, with graders, where leaders were “killed off” and junior troopers had to step up and take charge. They got at least one parachute jump a month, more if they wanted to go jump on Saturday, in the Saturday Jump Program. They jumped into field exercises, and they just jumped. They worked with helicopters for combat insertions and extractions. In October the Brigade conducted EIB (Expert Infantryman Badge) testing. It encompasses all skills an infantryman should know, it is hands on, intense and tough. It is graded by a GO or NO-GO system. The task is performed correctly or not. It is also voluntary. Daniel competed alongside sergeants and officers, and he started realizing that the skills being tested were what SSG Wright had been having them practice repeatedly for the past year. Daniel was one of the few PFC’s awarded the EIB.
Now it is the 1st of December again and Daniel has just been promoted to Specialist E4. He was also designated an Automatic Rifleman, trading in his M4 Carbine for an M249B SAW (Squad Automatic Weapon). After the promotion ceremony, Captain Good, the Company Commander, called Daniel to his office. He asked Daniel to sit down and tell him how he felt about the army. Daniel told him that he enjoyed what he was doing, and thought the Army was great, but at this point he didn’t know whether he would stay in, or get out and go to college. Captain Good asked him what his score was on his ACT, and where he stood in his high school class. He then asked Daniel how he would like to go to the US Military Academy at West Point. Daniel said he didn’t understand. Captain Good, who was a USMA graduate himself, told Daniel that the Army has a program where they admit young, single, soldiers (USMA students must be single and not have reached their 23rd birthday when they report for their freshman year) either directly to West Point, or to a year of “Prep School” then to West Point. He told Daniel that it is very competitive, and that they have a limited number, but with Daniels grades and scores, and his proven ability and enthusiasm as a soldier, he felt that Daniel would be an excellent candidate for at least prep school. Specialist Daniel Kcender had to do some serious thinking.
Daniel liked the Army, and he had seen enough of it to know that the 82nd Airborne Division is an elite organization within the Army. If he applied for the US Military Academy and was accepted, that would be four years, granted it would be a top notch education. If he was accepted for Prep School, then it would be five years. Daniel had another problem, he had a girlfriend. They communicated regularly and they had visited each other a few times, since he had been in the Army. Daniel wanted to talk with someone. SFC Steady was now First Sergeant (1SG) Steady in another battalion, and SSG Wright was now SFC Wright and his Platoon Sergeant. Daniel’s Squad Leader was now SSG Smith who just made E6 and moved from another platoon. Daniel asked SFC Wright if it was OK for him to go talk to 1SG Steady. SFC Wright immediately called 1SG Steady and handed the phone to Daniel. Daniel told 1SG Steady what Captain Good had said, and that he needed to talk with someone. 1SG Steady told Daniel; “After you get off work, get some chow, change clothes and come out to my house about 19:00 (7:00 PM)”. Daniel knew where 1SG Steady lived, he owned a house off post with a big back yard where they had a platoon cook out last summer. After Daniel arrived and spoke to 1SG Steady’s wife and kids, they went to the living room, while the rest of the family was in the den watching TV. Daniel told him what Captain Good had said, also about his girlfriend and his dilemma. 1SG Steady asked Daniel if he considered staying in the Army, whether he went to West Point or not. Daniel said that he was beginning to think that he might stay, and that if he made Sergeant before his enlistment was up he probably would reenlist. Daniel said he wanted to know the difference in life between an officer and an NCO. 1SG Steady told Daniel that first, officers make twice as much money as NCO’s, they are the managers of the Army. They command platoons, companys, battalions, and brigades. They have a lot more responsibility, and they have a lot more stress. The crunch point for an officer comes when captains are being considered for major. There are twice as many captains as there are majors, so some captains are not selected for promotion, and if they are passed over twice they are released, i.e., kicked out. After an enlisted soldier makes Staff Sergeant, he can screw up and never get promoted again, but if he hasn’t done anything very bad, he can still retire at 20 years. Officers move often, they are purposely moved about every three years so they get the necessary schools and variety of assignments to provide them the experience to advance. 1SG Steady said that he had been in the Army about 15 years, and other than some trips to schools at Fort Benning, Georgia, he had only one three year tour away from the 82nd, and that was with the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Italy. He told Daniel that West Point is one of the finest schools in the country. West Point graduates have become Generals, Presidents, and captains of industry. As far as a girlfriend is concerned, all USMA cadets are single, in fact there is a tradition that upper classmen tell the freshmen to drop their girlfriend or boyfriend because they are a distraction. Daniel said that he didn’t want to lose his girlfriend, he said that they are not formally engaged, but just assumed that they would be someday. 1SG Steady told Daniel that if he decided not to apply for West Point he should get busy with what needed to be done to make Sergeant. He told Daniel that life changes after you make Sergeant. When you call battalion headquarters and Sergeant Smith answers the phone, you don’t know whether that is Sergeant E5 Smith or SFC E7 Smith, because all are called Sergeant. He told Daniel that his life as a soldier would also change if he got married. He would move out of the barracks to an apartment or house off or on post. He said that the Army is a separate and protected society, and if he got married his wife would become part of that society, but she should understand that like it or not, the Army comes first. He said; “My wife tells me that she is my mistress because I am married to the Army.” 1SG Steady recommended first getting a house on post. He told Daniel that if he liked the Army and is a good soldier, it can be a very rewarding career. He told Daniel that it took him 10 years to get his bachelor’s degree and that he was now working on a masters. He said, we don’t worry about medical insurance or making a living, we concentrate on doing our job.
Daniel thanked 1SG Steady and drove back to his barracks. When he got to his room, he got on his computer and went to work on his SSD-1 (Structured Self Development Course). The next day, Daniel told Captain Good that he had given serious thought to applying for the USMA, but instead he wanted to apply for Ranger School. Captain Good told Daniel that he would put him on the list to attend the Division Pre Ranger Course.

LIFE IN THE ARMY – DANIEL KCENDER

Originally Published in The Belle Banner on February 15th and 22nd, 2017.

This week is the first part of the story of a young man named Daniel Kcender, who has been interested in the military from age 10 or 12.  He has always been interested in military history, weapons, war stories and especially the “gung ho” military.  Those of us who were born with that interest can’t explain where it came from, it is just there.  Daniel is an extremely bright young man.  He could easily handle college and win scholarships, but he didn’t want to wait to start “doing it”.  He leaned toward the Marines, but decided he wanted to be an “Airborne Ranger”.  He could have enlisted for exactly that, army enlistment option 40, but he was convinced by some retired infantrymen that he would have a much better chance of completing Ranger School if he spent some time in an airborne infantry unit, then apply for Ranger School.  Enlistment option 40 guarantees that you get to the Ranger Assessment and Selection Program (RASP), which is an 8 week pre-ranger course designed to make you quit.  Only those who have the physical strength, the mental strength, and an intense, insane desire to be in a Ranger Battalion will make it through the course.

At Daniel’s first visit with an Army recruiter, in February of his senior year in high school, he told the recruiter that he wanted to be airborne infantry.  He scored fairly high on an ASVAB pretest, he was in good physical condition, and had never been in any kind of trouble.  The recruiter told him to get in the best possible physical condition he could attain, lots of running, pushups, situps and pullups, and get a study guide and study for the ASVAB.  Army infantry enlistees are trained in OSUT (One Station Unit Training) companies, which combines basic combat training and AIT (Advanced Individual Training) at Fort Benning, Georgia.  All basic training commands in the Army have drill sergeants from all fields and jobs within the army, except at infantry OSUT.  All those drill sergeants are infantrymen, and the majority did not volunteer for drill sergeant duty.  They were involuntarily selected by the army to go to drill sergeant school and become drill sergeants for two years.  Marine Boot Camp is not tougher than Army infantry OSUT on Sand Hill at Fort Benning, Georgia.  The drill sergeants are professional and they are serious, they are training soldiers who may be beside them on their next deployment.

Daniel maintained a serious exercise program through the remainder of his senior year, and studied for the ASVAB.  Many of the subjects tested in the ASVAB tests are subjects taught in high school, and tested on the ACT.  It is especially heavy on English and Math.  Daniel took the ACT three times, and ended with a score of 29, and he graduated in the top 10% of his class.  It was in Daniel’s mind to do four years in the army, then go to college on the GI Bill, and maybe teach history.  He loved history.  After graduation, Daniel signed papers at the recruiter’s office, went to MEPS in St Louis, completed his processing and signed his actual contract for infantry MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) 11X, with an airborne option, and took the oath.  Whether he was to be a light weapons infantryman MOS 11B or heavy weapons (mortars) MOS 11C, would be decided, by the Army, during OSUT.  He was transported to the airport with a ticket to Columbus, Georgia.  Had to change planes in Atlanta.  From the Columbus airport he was bussed to the 30th AG Reception Battalion on Fort Benning.  He spent four days processing into the army, and then had to wait another week until there were enough recruits to fill an OSUT company.  That was a terribly long week of cleaning details, doing nothing, and occasional instruction on how to stand at attention and salute, when a drill sergeant didn’t have anything else to do.  They did not do organized PT, and were not allowed to do it outside, on their own.  Most exercised inside the barracks.

When they arrived at their OSUT company, it was like hell had descended upon them in the form of 12 screaming drill sergeants.  The first day was primarily for shock effect, but it continued for several days.  The basic training part of OSUT followed about the same schedule as any basic combat training, only with more strict control.  The PT was intense and the pushups continuous.  They got “smoked” (dropped for pushups) when someone made a mistake, or the platoon didn’t win an event, or the drill sergeant felt like it.  The rifle marksmanship training was great.  There was competition amongst the training companies for the highest rifle marksmanship scores.  When they completed basic training, at the end of eight weeks, they were given a weekend off to be with their family, as long as their family came to Fort Benning.  The remaining six weeks, of the 14 week course, was pure infantry training.  Daniel was to be an 11B Lightweapons Infantryman, which is what he had repeatedly requested.  They trained on the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon, the M240B Machine Gun, M67 fragmentation grenades, how to engage targets with a M320 Grenade Launcher, how to conduct checkpoint operations and Detainee Operations.  They had rucksack marches of 3, 6, 9 and 12 and finally 15 miles carrying a 60 pound rucksack.  They learned to pay special attention to their feet. Some wore two pair of socks, and some used moleskin on their heels and tendons.  They trained as teams, learning urban combat and room clearing operations, they learned squad tactics, patrolling, ambushes and reaction to ambush and much more.  And then the final FTX (Field Training Exercise), where they put all the skills they had learned into an actual operation, culminating in a road march to “Honor Hill”.  The hill was steep, especially when wearing full combat packs and weapons and carrying litters with 175 pounds of sand bags.  On top of the hill a final “rite of passage” ceremony was conducted.  It is a ceremony only done by infantrymen.  It’s done at night, at the end of training.  There were people there to cheer them on.  They made their way through plumes of smoke and passed through a gate bearing the phrase; “From this gate, emerge the finest soldiers the world has ever known.  Follow me”.  It has been described as the drill sergeants welcoming them into the brotherhood of infantry.  There was a large bonfire.  They were given their canteen cups filled with “grog”, they thought it was booze, actually it was a mixture of Gatorade, water and dry ice.  Afterward there was a ceremony where the drill sergeants pined the coveted crossed rifles of an infantryman on their uniforms.  The following week was the “turning blue” ceremony, where family could place the blue cord of an infantryman on their soldier’s right shoulder.  Then graduation.

Daniel and several others scheduled for airborne school were placed in “holdover” status, waiting to start airborne school.  They waited 10 days, pulling details, before they moved to the airborne school.  Three weeks of school and five jumps later he was on a plane to Fayetteville, North Carolina (change in Atlanta).  At the Fayetteville Airport, he caught the bus to the 82nd Airborne Division Replacement Detachment.  He spent three days there, in processing to Fort Bragg and drawing field gear (TA-50).  He was also issued a maroon beret, and a French Fourragere which is worn on the left shoulder of the dress uniform of all members of the 82nd Airborne Division.  The Mayor of the town of Sainte Mere Eglise, France wrote to the French Government and requested that the 82nd Airborne Division be awarded the French Fourragere for liberating his town on D-day 1944.  Daniel was also taught how to salute in the 82nd Airborne Division.  Everywhere in the Army, when an enlisted person meets an officer outside, they salute and greet them with “Good morning (or afternoon) Sir! (or Ma am), the officer responds in kind.   Not in the 82nd.  In the 82nd Airborne Division when an enlisted person meets an officer, they salute and greet them with “ALL THE WAY SIR! (or Ma am), the officer responds with AIRBORNE!

Daniel was assigned to a Rifle Company in the 2nd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, in the 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne Division.  The 504th is known as the “Devils in Baggy Pants”.  The 1st Battalion are the “Red Devils”, and the 2nd Battalion are the “White Devils”.  The 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment got its’ nick name from the diary of a German Officer, who was killed at Anzio, Italy in February 1944.  Allied forces made a beach invasion at Anzio, about 35 miles south of Rome, German forces counterattacked and tried to push the allies back into the sea.  The 504th was severely under strength from months of intense combat up the boot of Italy, but it was parachuted into Anzio to help stop the German advance.  The passage in the German Majors’ diary read; “American parachutists … devils in baggy pants … are less than 100 meters from my outpost line, I can’t sleep at night, they pop up from nowhere and we never know when or how they will strike next.  Seems like the black hearted devils are everywhere …”.   For that action, the 504th was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation.  One of the first to be awarded.

          There is a book “Devils in Baggy Pants”, written by Ross Carter, who was one of only three men of the original 40 in his platoon, in the 504th, to survive World War II from beginning to end.  He died of cancer in 1947.

The day Daniel was to move to his company, his new Squad Leader, Staff Sergeant (SSG E6) Wright, and his Team Leader, Sergeant (SGT E5) Goington picked him up from the Replacement Detachment and took him to his room in the barracks, then to the Company Orderly Room to meet the First Sergeant and Company Commander.  Daniel was informed that he would be placed on a duty roster to pull CQ runner (a Sergeant is Charge of Quarters (CQ) and a PVT or PFC is his runner, they sit at the entrance to the building, and monitor people and phones for a 24 hour period) Then it was to Battalion Headquarters for more paperwork, while there he was also introduced to the Battalion Command Sergeant Major.  SSG Wright ask Daniel about his family, parents address and phone number, brothers and sisters and grandparents.  Both SSG Wright and SGT Goington made notes as Daniel talked.  Daniel told them about his training and pointed out that he had not yet had any leave.  SSG Wright told him that since that was the first week of November, he would try to insure that Daniel got Christmas leave. They pointed out the DFAC (Dining Facility), and where the company formations were held.  Since that was a Thursday, Daniels first formation was at 06:30 the next morning for PT.  Since the 1st Brigade was on support cycle, at the 08:45 work formation, on Friday, Daniel was given the day and the weekend to get his room set up, and his uniforms and equipment cleaned and organized.  Soon after he returned to his room, there was a knock on Daniel’s door, it was Daniel’s Platoon Sergeant, Sergeant First Class (SFC E7) Steady.  SFC Steady had over 14 years in the army and was a master parachutist, meaning over 36 months on jump status and over 65 jumps, and he wore a CIB (Combat Infantryman Badge), he had multiple combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Daniel immediately snapped to parade rest.  SFC Steady said; “Relax Kcender, sit down, I just want to talk a few minutes.”  SFC Steady asked Daniel all the questions that SSG Wright and SGT Goington did, plus he ask about high school, his grades, friends, why he came in the army, and what he thought about it, so far, but SFC Steady didn’t make any notes.   He told Daniel about his time in the army, and about his wife and children ages nine, seven and five.  He told Daniel about the First Sergeant, Company Commander, Battalion Command Sergeant Major, Battalion Commander, Brigade Command Sergeant Major, and the Brigade Commander.  He told Daniel that he had already been selected for promotion to E-8, and that he would probably be promoted and moved within the next year.  Then he told Daniel that this is a hard job, we have early mornings for jumps, and late nights to clean equipment.  We may go to the field, for training, on Monday morning, come in Thursday afternoon, and clean weapons until dark, and we may do that two or three weeks in a row, plus you may have CQ runner  on the weekend.  We will get alerts, just to test us.  He told Daniel that he may see soldiers who have developed a negative attitude and can’t wait until they get out.  He told Daniel that if he fell into that frame of mind, this would be a miserable time in his life.  He said to make this a high point in his life, he said; “Learn all you can, and do the best job you can.  In the Infantry we do something different every day, so have fun”.  Then he told Daniel about his squad leader, SSG Wright.  He said; “SSG Wright is the best squad leader I have seen.  He went to Ranger school as a specialist, and was a Squad Leader as a Sergeant.  He has the unique ability to work the crap out of you and make you appreciate it.  His squad will be training while others are resting. I caution you not to ask him about combat, let him bring it up.  He was leading a patrol in Afghanistan and walked into something that intel didn’t know about.  He was wounded, one was killed, and two others were wounded.  He got them out and got a Silver Star for it, but loosing that man hurt him deeply, he still has contact with that young man’s family.  Everyone expects him to be on the next E-7 list”.  He told Daniel about some of the history of the 82nd, and that there is a lot of pride in being part of the finest combat division in the army.  He said; “We are the tip of the spear, we are subject to be deployed into combat at any time”.  He suggested that Daniel visit the Division Museum, and he suggested that he go to church Sunday morning, he said there is the new Division Memorial Chapel, but the old Airborne Chapel is closer, and that is where most of the 504 people, who go to church, attend.   As he was leaving, SFC Steady told Daniel if he had problems or questions, he should start with SSG Wright, but that he could certainly talk to him anytime.

Daniel finished putting his room and equipment in order, and on Sunday morning he decided to take SFC Steady’s advice.  He went to the Protestant Service at the Airborne Chapel.  He saw several soldiers he had seen, but didn’t yet know, also SFC Steady, his Company Commander, and his Battalion Commander were there with their families.  Sunday afternoon, Daniel went to the Division Museum.  It took all afternoon to see everything.  Daniel was moved at being a part of the 82nd Airborne Division.  He discovered that the 82nd had seen combat he had never heard about, like Dominican Republic, Granada, and Panama.

Daniel was assigned as a Rifleman in a nine man squad.  Two Fire Teams of four men each.  SGT Goington was his Fire Team Leader, and SSG Wright his Squad Leader.  SGT Goington had been in the army about four years, and been a Sergeant about six months.  SSG Wright had been in the army about eight years, he was a Ranger and a senior parachutist, meaning he had completed Advanced Airborne School making him a jumpmaster, and that he had over 24 months on jump status and more than 32 parachute jumps.  The Platoon consisted of three squads like his, and a weapons squad with two machine gun crews and two anti tank gunners  Daniel’s Platoon Leader was Second Lieutenant (2LT) Smart.  2LT Smart graduated from college and was commissioned by ROTC the previous December, and had been the Platoon Leader about three months.  2LT Smart was also a Ranger.

Daniel made his first parachute jump with his unit his first week in the company.  SSG Wright was one of the two primary jumpmasters on the 100 paratrooper jump from a C-17 Globemaster.  He learned that sustained (refresher) airborne training is conducted before every jump.  The Battalion Chaplain made it a point to meet the new paratroopers and jump with them on their first jump with the 504, and invited them to services on Sunday morning at the Airborne Chapel.

A week after Daniel arrived, the annual formal “White Devil Dining Out” was held at the Fort Bragg Conference and Catering Center.  SSG Wright briefed Daniel on how to act.  It was the first time he wore his class A uniform as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division, except this was formal so he had to wear a white shirt and black bow tie.  The soldiers all wore the formal dress uniform, and the wives wore evening gowns.  There was an open bar before formal gatherings. Daniel had to drink soft drinks, his Sergeants and the bar tenders made sure of that.  Then there was the Receiving Line, the Battalion Command Sergeant Major, the Battalion Commander, and the Brigade Commander and their wives were in the receiving line.  Then they were seated, there were toasts to the President, to the wives, and several others, and finally the meal.

Two weeks after Daniel arrived, a new Company Commander arrived.  It was a company formation, at attention, while the First Sergeant, the two Captains, and the company Guidon bearer marched to the center in front of the formation.  A Guidon is the company flag, identifying the unit.  The Guidon was handed to the outgoing Captain, who handed it to the First Sergeant, who handed it to the incoming Commander, Captain Good.  They were then put “at ease” and the outgoing commander spoke, then the incoming commander, and then the Battalion Commander.  The next week was Thanksgiving.  The DFAC served a lavish thanksgiving meal, turkey, ham, stuffing, pumpkin pie and a dozen other things.  The troops didn’t have to dress up, but the officers and senior NCO’s (Sergeants, i.e., Non-commissioned Officers) did, and the officers and NCO’s served the meal.  The following week, on Tuesday morning, the wives (the Family Readiness Group) prepared breakfast in a brigade classroom, and everyone, who could, went there right after PT (still in PT uniform).  Captain Good briefed everyone about the training schedule for the coming months.  Two weeks before Christmas, they were released early one afternoon to attend the battalion Christmas party at an ice skating rink.  Daniel and several others didn’t skate, but they had fun.  Daniel did get a 10 day leave for Christmas.  He got to spend Christmas with his family, and he bought a car.  Daniel had been in the army for five months when he arrived at his unit, so he had been able to save almost $5,000.  Daniel made a down payment, bought his insurance and drove back to Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

After the holidays, the 1st Brigade Combat Team became the Division Ready Brigade, that’s called mission cycle, and the 2nd Battalion, 504th went on DRF-1 (Division Ready Force-1), , and DRF-1 means they are on two hour call.  That’s for the first formation, ready to go.  Everyone has to be within 30 minutes of the company, including those married living off post.  The battalion is on DRF-1 for two weeks, then DRF-2, then DRF-3, then the Brigade switches to the Intensified Training Cycle.  The week prior to going on mission cycle, Daniel was given a packing list of what to wear and what to have in his rucksack.  SGT Goington checked everything, then SSG Wright checked everything.  The first week on DRF-1 the company zeroed and fired their weapons.  The “off post people” weren’t happy, because no one was released from the company area until all weapons were cleaned and turned in, which was about 6:00 PM (18:00).  Daniel’s squad and platoon trained intensely on squad and platoon tactics, both in urban and field terrain.  They trained close to the company (Area J) and always had transportation with them.  At 02:00 A.M. the morning after the superbowl, the CQ runner awoke Daniel and told him that they had been alerted, and that there would be a company formation in 30 minutes.  At that formation, they were told to go draw their weapons, get in full battle uniform, with ruck, and be back in formation in one hour.  At the next formation, they were issued MRE’s (meals ready to eat), placed in jump order, loaded on trucks and transported to “Green Ramp” (Pope Air Field on Fort Bragg).  There they were issued parachutes and reserves and told not to chute up, they would do that (rig) inflight, because it would be a long flight.  Then they were issued blank ammunition, then they knew this was training, not war, it was an EDRE (Emergency Deployment Readiness Exercise).  In the aircraft, the leaders were briefed, then SSG Wright briefed the squad.  They were jumping into a mythical country, which was Fort Hood, Texas, they were to seize an objective, kill or capture terrorists and release hostages (Fort Hood aggressor units).  They jumped into Fort Hood, Texas.  They were in the field four days, then they loaded back onto aircraft and flew back to Fort Bragg.  A successful EDRE.

After six weeks on “mission cycle”, the Brigade changed to an “intensified training cycle”.  They had known for months they were going to JRTC (Joint Readiness Training Center) at Fort Polk, Louisiana.  JRTC is called training, but it is really a giant test of a Brigade.  Different war games are conducted against a permanently assigned aggressor unit, with graders present.  He very carefully packed his rucksack, and SSG Wright checked it, because they would be gone about a month and he would have to live out of that rucksack.  It weighed over 120 pounds when packed, and still had MRE’s and ammo to be added.  Sure enough 06:00 on a Monday morning they were alerted.  They took off just before midnight.  This time they chuted up before boarding the planes.  It was about a 2 ½ hour flight.  The entire brigade would be jumping at night, making a forcible entry into a hostile area to seize and hold an airfield.  Upon landing, as rapidly as they could, they rolled up their parachutes, got their gear on and located other members of their squads and platoons, when assembled the Platoon Leader and Squad Leaders moved them to predetermined areas of the drop zone to set up defensive positions.  There was sporadic aggressor fire during the night.  At daylight they moved out to different areas of the fictitious country to defend it from an invading force.  They were attacked repeatedly by the professional aggressors.  After about a week, they went on the offense, conducting platoon and company sized patrols and raids.  There were graders with them all the time.  A few could sleep, while others were awake.  They slept on the ground, under poncho liners, if it was raining they slept under a poncho.  They mostly ate MRE’s.  Every few days they would get a hot meal.  When the exercise was over, everyone was briefed down to platoon level about what they did right and what they did wrong.  They were told that they did very well.  Daniel was promoted to Private First Class (PFC E3) after that exercise.

 

 

LIFE IN THE ARMY – JOHNNY SMITH

Originally published February 8th, 2017 in The Belle Banner

VET DAY JOHN STOCKTON
John W. Stockton, Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired – The Author of Life in the Army

For a frame of reference in these stories. The Belle Banner is published in Belle, Missouri, which is about 45 minutes from Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

This week we have Private Johnny Smith.  Johnny is 22 years old, married to Sarah, and they have a year old daughter Cindy.  Before enlisting in the Army, Johnny worked 36 hours a week at $18.00 per hour, equaling $648.00 per week.  After taxes, health insurance, and 401K deductions, his take home check was just under $500.00 per week.  Sarah did work, but hasn’t since Cindy was born.  Their living expenses were; Rent $500.00, electric & utilities $300.00, Cell phones $125.00, Internet $50.00, car payment $300.00, car insurance $150.00.  That came to $1,425.00 per month, which left about $1,000 per month or $230.00 per week for gas, food, clothes and anything else.  Johnny saw 50 year old fellow workers doing the same work he was doing making not much more money.  He read everything he could find online about the military, then talked to an Army recruiter.  He told the recruiter he would like to get into a field with where promotions were good and that he would like to be assigned as close to home as possible.  The recruiter told him that Combat Engineers were probably second only to the infantry in promotions and that all combat engineer training is at Fort Leonard Wood.  He was told that he could request to be assigned at Fort Leonard Wood, but there is only one permanent party combat engineer battalion at Fort Leonard Wood so the chances of being assigned there would be slim.  The next closest posts would be Fort Riley, Kansas and Fort Campbell, Kentucky.  Fort Campbell is larger and the home of the 101st Airborne Division.  Although the 101st no longer jumps out of airplanes it still carries the name.  The 101st Airborne Division is more of an Air Assault division moving by helicopter.  Johnny took a preliminary ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) test, drug test, and physical fitness assessment test.  The recruiter told Johnny he could ship the following month, and that he should study for the ASVAB and get in the best physical condition possible.

When Johnny shipped, he went through MEPS (Military Enlistment Processing Station) in St Louis, where they tried to get him to go into a different field because he made a high score on his ASVAB tests, but he held to his desire to be a combat engineer MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) 12B.  He took his marriage certificate, and Cindy’s birth certificate with him and during in processing at the Fort Leonard Wood Reception Battalion he enrolled them in DEERS (Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System), which made them eligible for TRICARE government health care.  That also authorized his BAH (Basic Allowance for Housing), which was an extra $903.00 per month.  They gave him a form to mail to Sarah, so she could go to Fort Leonard Wood and get her military dependent ID card.  She then had free health care and access to the hospital and all the services on Fort Leonard Wood.

Johnny’s basic training and advanced individual training for MOS 12B were combined in to one OSUT (one station unit training) company.  He was in the same company for 14 weeks, and when he graduated he was awarded the MOS 12B.  The last six weeks were the AIT part.  They spent about equal time in the classroom and in the field.  They studied a subject, then went to the field to practice it.  They learned how to construct fighting and defensive positions, how to build fixed and floating bridges and how to blow them up, how to build obstacles and how to breach obstacles.  They studied route clearance.  In other words, searching for IED’s.  They spent a lot of time on explosives, how to set charges in different situations.  He had a little more freedom on weekends.  Sarah and Cindy were able to visit him a couple weekends.  For his assignments he requested Fort Leonard Wood first, then Fort Campbell, Kentucky, then Fort Riley, Kansas.  In AIT he went to his AKO (Army Knowledge Online) account, then to the ASK key (Assignment Satisfaction Key) and found that he was tentatively schedule for assignment to the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.  He requested that his orders reflect a move with dependents, so the Army would pay for moving their household goods, and pay them a dislocation allowance for the move.  He also requested 10 days leave, before reporting to Fort Campbell, to move his family.  Johnny’s take home pay, while in OSUT, was about $250.00 a month less than he had been bringing home before enlisting, but they had planned for that, considering that he wouldn’t be eating at home, or spending money on gas.  As soon as he received his orders he went to the Transportation Office on Fort Leonard Wood and arranged for their household goods to be picked up.

As soon as Johnny got his orders, Sarah went online, found a nice two bedroom apartment in Clarksville, Tennessee, next to Fort Campbell.  She sent a $300.00 deposit, and would have to pay the first months rent of $725.00 when they arrived.  Their household goods were picked up the week after Johnny graduated.  They packed their car and Johnny’s old pickup and drove the six hours to their apartment in Clarksville, TN.  Their household goods were delivered the next day.  They got moved in, utilities turned on got to know the area.  They found that their apartment was just 7 miles, about 15 minutes from Johnny’s company.  Johnny signed in, processed in Fort Campbell, and was assigned to an Engineer Company, in an Engineer Battalion, in a Brigade Combat Team in the 101st Airborne Division.  He had just reached 4 months service when he arrived, so his Company Commander immediately promoted him to Private E2.  That first month he was paid $2,000 dislocation allowance for the move to Fort Campbell, so they were able to pay back what they had to borrow from family to make the move and get their apartment.  He has been there 4 months now and was just promoted to PFC E3.  His base pay is now $1,885.90 per month, plus $1,254.00 BAH, and $368.29 BAS (Basic Allowance for Subsistence) (separate rations), so after taxes and other deductions, about $1,600.00 is deposited in his account on the 1st and the 15th of the month ($3,200 per month)..

Johnny is a combat engineer in a squad of seven combat engineers.  The squad leader is a Staff Sergeant (SSG) E6, there are two three man teams, within the squad, each led by a Sergeant (SGT) E5.  Johnny’s Team Leader has been in the army for about four years, and he was just recently promoted to SGT.  His Squad Leader has been in the army for seven years and wears a Sapper Tab, meaning that he has completed the very tough five week Sapper Leaders Course at Fort Leonard Wood.  The Sapper Course is the Engineer’s version of Ranger School, although one of the other squad leaders just completed Ranger School.  When he first got to the company, Johnny’s squad leader wanted to know everything about him.  He and his wife, met Sarah and Johnny and questioned them both about their parents, family health, and financial situation.  He wanted to know anything that might weigh on Johnny’s mind, that he might help with or guide them to help.  There are three squads in Johnny’s platoon.  The Platoon Leader is a Second Lieutenant (2LT), and his Platoon Sergeant is a Sergeant First Class (SFC) E7, who has been in the army 12 years, and has been back to Fort Leonard a couple times for advanced schooling.  There are three platoons in the company, commanded by a captain.  In his first month in the company, Johnny went to two weeks of Air Assault School, on post, where he learned how to guide a landing helicopter, how to rig a sling load for a helicopter, and how to repel out of a helicopter, as well as other advanced forms of repelling.  He received his Air Assault Wings which he will wear on all uniforms.  It seems that no day is normal in Johnny’s company, because they are constantly training on different things.  A normal day, when they are not training in the field, is PT at 06:30, go home, clean up and eat breakfast, and be at work formation at 08:45 or 09:00, lunch at noon, and off at 17:00 (5:00 PM).  They have trained on breaching obstacles, and advanced explosives.  They spent one day in the pool training for a simulated CH-47 Chinook helicopter crashing in the water.  They spend a lot time training with the infantry.  They have done live fire exercises and fired several different weapons.  They have been on a couple of major field exercises where Johnny’s squad supported an infantry platoon.  So far, Johnny is enjoying what he does.  It is professional, high speed and exciting.  During field training, Johnny’s Company Commander (CO) ask Johnny if he would like to be his driver.  The current driver for the CO is a Specialist, who is leaving the army soon, after a three year enlistment.  Johnny told his CO, “if he had a choice, he would like to think about it”.  The CO said certainly, just let him know in a couple days.  Johnny talked to his Squad Leader, he talked to his Platoon Sergeant, and to his First Sergeant.  He then told his CO that he appreciated being considered, but he would rather stay in his squad and learn all he could.  He told the CO that he is on a four year enlistment, and his goal is to make Sergeant before that enlistment is up, and if he does he will probably reenlist.  He said that he likes the army so far.  The CO thanked him for a quick response, and told him that he thought Johnny was making the correct decision.

Sarah has made friends with another wife in their apartment complex, whose husband is in Johnny’s company.  She has attended three Family Readiness Group (FRG) meetings.  The FRG meets once monthly, it is the wives of the company, formally organized and sponsored by the Army.  The, wife of the Company Commander is the leader, and the First Sergeant’s wife is the assistant.  They both have received formal training to be FRG leaders, conducted by the MWR (Morale Welfare, Recreation) office.  The FRG exists to keep the wives informed about what their husbands and the Army are doing.  They are really a wives club where, especially during deployments, they support and help each other.  If the husband is gone and a wife has sick kids other wives will cook or baby sit for her.  Sarah has taken Cindy to the Young Eagle Medical Home Pediatric Clinic at Blanchfield Army Community Hospital on post for a checkup.  Sarah was very satisfied with the attention.  Cindy’s health will be monitored by way of routine visits to the clinic.

Next week another soldier.

LIFE IN THE ARMY – BO BAKER

I started posting these articles in the order in which they were published in The Belle Banner.  This is an exception, at the request of two very gracious ladies in North Carolina, who are part of this story.  This was originally published in The Belle Banner on April 11th and 18th 2018.

Over the past 15 months I have written about many jobs in the Army, some history, and a few people.  This is personal, it is about a former commander and a friend.  It is about a man, a man’s man, and a true legend in the special operations community of the Army.

Major Bo Baker with his Vietnamese Counterpart
Major Bo Baker with his Vietnamese Counterpart

A.J. “Bo” Baker was a big man, over six feet tall, broad shoulders narrow waist, strong as an ox, with a congenial, charismatic personality that made everyone around him want to do what he wanted them to do, a natural leader.  Bo Baker was born July 22, 1930 in Searcy, Arkansas.  He graduated from Searcy High School in 1949 and went on to the University of Arkansas on a football scholarship.  He was an end on the Arkansas Razorbacks team.  Then in December 1950, whether he was bored with college or just wanted more excitement, he enlisted in the US Air Force.  The following December (1951) he went back to Searcy and married his high school sweetheart, Betty Louise Oliver, then in November 1952 their daughter, Terri Lynn, was born.  Bo Baker served in the Air Force until his discharge in December 1953.  It must have been during that time in the Air Force that he discovered his calling in life.  He went back to the University of Arkansas and took Army ROTC.  He graduated in 1956 with a bachelor’s degree in physical education and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in Army Infantry.

His first assignment was to attend the Infantry Officer Basic Course at Fort Benning, Georgia.  He also completed Airborne and Ranger schools while there.  He was assigned to the 9th Infantry Division at Fort Carson, Colorado, as an infantry platoon leader.  He was promoted to first Lieutenant in December 1957, from there it was to the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Lewis, Washington.  Then from January 1960 to February 1961 he served in Korea, with the 7th Infantry Division.  He was promoted to Captain while in Korea.  After completing that tour he returned to Fort Benning and worked in the Weapons Department of the Infantry School, then attended the six month long Advanced Infantry Officers Course.

In June 1962 he was assigned to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and given command of Company A, 1st Airborne Battle Group, 325th Infantry.  My company.  He was a different type of company commander.  He frequently talked to the company, and during training he was always in front, doing whatever it was first and better than most.  In August 1962 the army conducted a giant field exercise pitting the 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions against each other.  It was called Swift Strike II, and it covered a large area in eastern South Carolina, centered around Florence and Darlington.  I remember being in position about 50 feet off of a road around midnight when Captain Baker stopped to see if we had seen or heard anything.  We were awake and challenged him and told him that everything was quiet.  Our company operations sergeant was an old staff sergeant who was in the back of Captain Baker’s jeep.  He immediately jumped up and told us to get on our feet when we talked to the CO.  Captain Baker schussed him and said, “Never mind that, stay where you are”.  He was always more concerned with performance and function than with formality.  Then in October 1962 I got into trouble, serious trouble.  I could have been kicked out of the Army.  Captain Baker looked me in the eye and said “If you don’t want to be here, we can get rid of you.”  I said, “I’ll try to do better, Sir”, saluted smartly, did an about face and started doing everything to the absolute best of my ability.  I was a machinegunner, and shortly after that the division replaced the WWII .30 caliber machine guns with the new 7.62 mm M-60 guns.  To try to insure that everyone would train sufficiently on the new guns, the division announced a division machine gun competition to be held in the spring of 1963.  Captain Baker decided we were going to win.  For the eight weeks before the competition, the six company machinegun crews did nothing but train on or fire the guns.  On the firing range we used there was a snag, an old dead tree, just past the 500 meter line.  We fired so much that the other gunner in our platoon and myself could bounce six rounds bursts off that old tree alternating up each side.  The competition started with the gun broken down into six major parts.  We had to assemble the gun, move up 50 yards, position the gun, load it and yell “UP”, when we were ready to fire.  We had practiced so much that we could do it in seconds.  We won the competition, and Captain Baker promoted me back to PFC (Private First Class), which had been taken away in October.

Captain Baker left the company shortly after that and spent a year as an instructor in the Airborne Department at Fort Benning.  In August 1964 he came back to Fort Bragg to attend the Special Forces Officer Qualification Course.

I was promoted to Specialist in September, and the following July (1964), I was promoted to Sergeant.  Thank you Captain Bo Baker for the inspiration.

After a few months in the Special Forces Officer course he was assigned to the 6th Special Forces Group, there at Fort Bragg, as a Detachment Commander of an A-Detachment.  Then in October 1965 he was off to Vietnam in the 5th Special Forces Group.  Having been a successful infantry company commander as well as a Special Forces “A” detachment commander and a senior captain close to being promoted to major, Captain Baker was assigned to, at that time, a highly classified detachment within the 5th Special Forces Group.

Detachment B-52 Project Delta, was commanded by Major “Chargin Charlie” Beckwith, who already had a reputation for being out spoken, blunt, in your face regardless of rank, and fearless in combat, and in later years as a Colonel he would organize, train, and stand up Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta (SFOD-Delta), the “Delta Force”.  Project Delta’s primary mission was to conduct long range, covert patrols in enemy held areas.  It conducted the most successful deep penetration surveillance missions of the war.  A week after Captain Baker arrived as the B-52 executive officer/operations officer a Special Force A-camp at a place called Plei Me came under intense attack.  The camp consisted of a 12 man Special Forces A team, a 14 man Vietnamese Special Forces team and about 400 of civilian irregular defense group, mostly local Montagnards, and most of them with their families.  An entire North Vietnamese regular Army regiment surrounded the camp with the intention of eliminating it.  Anti-aircraft fire was so intense surrounding the camp that helicopters could not land on the camp.  B-52 landed about three miles away and infiltrated into the camp.  The battle lasted eight days, until the North Vietnamese regiment pounded by air power and reinforcements finally withdrew.  Captain Bo Baker was awarded the Silver Star for gallantry in action during the siege of Plei Me.  A wounded lieutenant said that Captain Baker slept under the poncho with him one night to keep him warm.

Detachment B-52 became the In-country experts on reconnaissance.  As such, other units were asking them to train their teams.  Bo Baker was promoted to Major in April 1966.  And in May, at the direction of General Westmorland, the MACV (Military Assistance Command Vietnam) Commander, Colonel Kelly, the 5th Special Forces Group Commander, tasked Major Bo Baker with organizing, setting up, and commanding a reconnaissance school.  It became the MACV Recondo School.

In November of 1966 Major Baker returned to Fort Bragg as an instructor at the John F Kennedy Special Warfare Center.  Then in the summer of 1967 the family moved to Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, where Major Bo Baker attended the year-long Air Force Command and Staff College.  After that it was back to Vietnam for a few months in Headquarters, US Army Vietnam.  In November 1968 he was pulled back to the pentagon to work in the Infantry Branch.  He was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) in September 1969, and in the summer of 1970 the family moved to the Panama Canal Zone where he was made Commander of the Jungle Operations Training Center, which conducted the US Army’s Jungle Warfare School.  Daughter Terri, graduated from Cristobal High School there in 1971.  In the summer of 1972 they moved back to the states, to Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, where LTC Baker would attend the year-long US Army War College.

In July 1973 they moved back to Fort Bragg where LTC Bo Baker was assigned as the G1 (Administrative Officer) of the 82nd Airborne Division.  There our paths crossed again.  I was working in the Division Command Section, where LTC Baker routinely had daily business.  He was a Lieutenant Colonel and I was a Staff Sergeant, but when no one else was around, there wasn’t any military formality between us.  We were just two soldiers talking about old times.  Like the time we found a mansion in a swamp in South Carolina.  At the time, we wondered if it was Francis Marion the Swamp Fox’s hideaway.  It wasn’t, but it was a typical old southern mansion with front porch columns, overgrown, isolated in a swamp.  Bo Baker was a fun guy, he thoroughly enjoyed what he was doing and always tried to have fun doing it.  The Division Provost Martial, LTC Russell, the Division Adjutant General, LTC Eisenbarth, and the Division JAG, Major Alred, all fell under the G1, but the four of them were drinking buddies at the officers club, after hours.  They would come in the office laughing about harassing a doctor or a pilot, at the club, because his hair was too long.  The division got a new Chief of Staff, who wrote an efficiency report on LTC Baker, which was less than he thought he deserved.  The two of them had words in the chief’s office and I wasn’t privy to the end of the conservation, but the next thing that happened to LTC Bo Baker was him being selected to recruit, train, and command the US Army’s 2nd Airborne Ranger Battalion.

I remember that it was late August or early September 1974 that he was notified of his next assignment.  He was already in good physical condition, he did good PT every day, but his day job was an office job, and in his mind, he wasn’t in good enough physical condition for his upcoming assignment.  The evenings at the club were replaced with exercise or running.  He was 44 years old, and he said that he had to be in the best physical condition of his life to take on a task like he was being given.  He knew better than most that, as I have written in the past, a units entire attitude and personality are set by the boss.

After the move to Fort Lewis, Washington, LTC Baker and CSM (Command Sergeant Major) Walter Morgan screened records and their memories for good NCO’s (non-commissioned officers) (Sergeants).  LTC Baker was given access to records, and his pick, of Infantry lieutenants and captains.  Then they toured the country, visiting many Army posts, interviewing NCO’s and officers for possible assignment to the 2nd Ranger Battalion.

Peter S. Parker enlisted in the Army in February 1975 with a guaranteed unit of choice of the 2nd Ranger Battalion.  He wrote the following account of his first meeting with LTC Baker and CSM Morgan, while he was in basic or AIT (Advanced Individual Training) at Fort Polk, Louisiana in the spring of 1975.  “. . .a message came down that anybody going to the second Ranger Battalion had to go to a meeting after hours.  So one night I reported to the company headquarters building where shortly thereafter a jeep arrived and picked me up to take me to this meeting. …I was surprised at how few people were there.  Including the Jeep driver there were only eight people total in the room.  Five privates, the jeep driver, Sergeant Major (CSM) Walter Morgan, and this huge bear of a man LTC AJ “Bo” Baker.  Although LTC Baker was very tall, big, robust, and intimidating, he spoke with a soft yet serious voice.  Col Baker briefed us on the formation of the unit, the standards for the physical training that would be expected of us. …Col Baker told about the new Ranger unit, and said that one of the things that they were doing on Fort Lewis was that they had this word, and they were saying this word everywhere they went. And that they were getting a lot of attention from this new word.  It was a Vietnamese word that meant “Yes”…. At the end of the briefing LTC Baker asked if we had any questions.  When no one else ask any questions, I raised my hand.  LTC Baker called on me and I asked “What is the word?”  Col Baker looked at CSM Morgan, looked back at me and said in a soft and normal voice “Oh, the word is Hooah”.  Hooah said softly does NOT convey the meaning nor the significance of the word!  Us newbies all looked at each other with puzzled looks on our faces.  Nobody understood, yet.  We would later when we got there”.

I was a Rifle Platoon Sergeant in the 509th Airborne Battalion Combat Team in Vicenza, Italy, in 1977 and 1978.  We had several what we called “ranger rejects”.  They had been kicked out of the 2nd Ranger Battalion.  Overall they were well trained and good troops, but if they got into any trouble for drugs, drinking, or disturbances, they were immediately reassigned out the ranger battalion. The Ranger Battalion was in “train up”, it refused to deal with disciplinary problems.  I had one Staff Sergeant assigned to me as a Squad Leader.  He had been kicked out of the 2nd Ranger Battalion, and I fully understood why.  He was a very good Squad Leader, but on the weekends he would have too much to drink and pick fights at the clubs.  He told me about his reassignment.  He said; “I reported to LTC Baker in his office, and remained at attention in front of his desk.  He looked up at me and said “Sergeant … I’m reassigning you to the 9th Infantry Division, down the street”.  I said, “I don’t know if I want to be assigned to the 9th Division or not.”  Then that big SOB slammed his big fist down on that desk, stood up in front of me and said; “Sergeant. . .  you get your bags packed and get your butt down the street to the 9th Division or I will kick it all the way down there.”  I saluted and said, “Yes sir”.  I turned around and got out of there”.

LTC Bo Baker completed his tour and presented the 2nd Ranger Battalion to the Army, as complete and combat ready in June 1976.  The citation inducting him into the Ranger Hall of Fame in 2009, reads in part; “His personal charisma, tactical competence, physical strength, courage, and genuine love for his Rangers and their families set an example that would be emulated for decades to come.  Of note, out of the initial cadre under his command, 12 general officers, six division commanders, three 75th Ranger Regiment commanders, one Delta Force commander, one U.S. Army Special Forces commander, one commander of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, 15 command and staff Sergeants Major, and 13 full Colonels were produced for the Army.  These leaders ….proved to be instrumental in transforming and leading our Army and the U.S. military for the next 30 years.  Col Baker was an extraordinary team builder who left a lasting imprint on each of the Rangers he coached and mentored.”

After turning over the Ranger Battalion, they moved back to Fort Benning where he spent a year in charge of the Tactics Department of the Infantry School.  He was promoted to full Colonel in February 1977.  In July of that year they moved to Germany where he worked for a year as the US Army Europe Liaison to the US Air Force Headquarters at Ramstien Air Force Base.

Then in July 1978 Col A.J. “Bo” Baker was made Commander of the 10th Special Forces Group and the Military Community at Bad Tolz, Germany.  He died there of an apparent heart attack on March 24th, 1980.

He is buried at Oaklawn Cemetery in Searcy, Arkansas.  He was a member of the First Baptist Church of Searcy, a Mason, Shriner, and a charter member of the Searcy Chapter of the Order of DeMolay.  He was a loving husband and father.  His wife Betty and daughter Terri live in the Fayetteville, North Carolina area.

In 1980, Germany and the U.S. Army renamed the air field at Flint Kaserne, Bad Tolz, Germany as the “A.J. “Bo” Baker Army Air Field.

In 1981, the A.J. “Bo” Baker Chapter XXX 10th Special Forces Association was organized in New Orleans.

In 1983, Bo Baker Post 350 of the American Legion was formed in Searcy, and the National Guard Armory in Searcy was renamed the A.J. “Bo” Baker National Guard Readiness Center.  The Bo Baker Ranger Base chapter of the Ranger Association is at Olympia, Washington.

Searcy, Arkansas High School awards the “Bo Baker Award” each year to the outstanding athlete.

SALLY SMITH WAS COMMISSIONED THROUGH ROTC

Originally published February 1st, 2017 in The Belle Banner.

This week I want to talk about another female soldier, Second Lieutenant (2LT) Sally Smith. She is also single, and she also has been in the Army about a year. Sally was half way through college when she became interested in the military. She didn’t want to enlist, so she talked to the Army ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) Department at her college. ROTC is a four year program. However, the ROTC Department arranged for her to attend a four week Basic ROTC camp at Fort Knox Kentucky, between her sophomore and junior years, which counted for the first two years of ROTC. She had to contract with the Army going into her junior year, but she was paid $450 per month in her junior year and $500 per month in her senior year. She attended a six week advanced camp at Fort Knox between her junior and senior year. Sally was an accounting major, so for her branches in the army, she requested 1st Finance Corps, 2nd Adjutant General’s Corps (Human Resources), and 3rd Quartermaster (Logistics). In November of her senior year she received her branch notification of Adjutant General’s Corps. The Army only takes about 20 new lieutenants a year into the Finance Corps, which is the smallest officer corps in the Army. The Adjutant General’s Corps are the human resource managers for the army.

The day Sally graduated and received her bachelor’s degree she was commissioned a Second Lieutenant. Sally received orders to report to the Adjutant General’s Corps Basic Officer Leadership Course (AGBOLC) at Fort Jackson, South Carolina (Columbia). She was told to definitely bring her car, and to check in at the Fort Jackson Inn prior to reporting to her student company. Fort Jackson Inn is basically a Holiday Inn Express, on post, run by International Hotels Group. When the army privatized on post housing, Continental Hotels Group got the temporary housing contract, and built nice hotels on almost every post. Sally was assigned a suite with a nice sized living room, kitchenette, large bedroom with a lot of storage space, and a bathroom.

When she signed in, she was told where to be the next morning for an in-briefing. The in-briefing was started by a Major who was the Chief of Basic Officer Training at the Soldier Support Institute, then by other cadre members. Class Leaders were appointed. The remainder of the week was basically in-processing, with medical, dental, and personnel. There were 33 Lieutenants in her class, 13 female and 20 male. PT (physical training) was 06:30 every morning, Monday through Friday, and class started at 9:00 AM. Week two consisted of studying combined arms, military decision making process, a lecture by a Lieutenant General (3 star), who was a deputy chief of staff of the army, and combatives (hand to hand combat) training. Week three was range week. All zeroed their rifle, practiced firing and fired for record on Friday. PT on Thursday morning of week three was the initial PT test instead of regular PT. Also another combatives class. Week four was Land Navigation Week. They received land navigation classes, and ran land navigation courses (with a paper map and a compass, not a GPS reader). They also had their third and final combatives class. On Friday they had their first test. It was on property accountability. Week five was “Dining In” week. That week they studied Casualty Operations, and attended the AG Corps formal “Dining In” on Thursday evening, at the Fort Jackson Officers Club. Week six was dedicated to strength management and strength reporting. On Tuesday afternoon, of that week, Brigadier General Jones, Commandant of the Soldier Support Institute, and his wife, had the class at their house for snacks and fellowship. Dress was civilian casual. Week seven they studied military pay, ethics, and enlisted promotions. The Chief of Staff of the Army, visited and spoke to the class that week. Week eight was about military awards. Also, that week they were visited and briefed by some female Lieutenants who had been on Cultural Support Teams in Afghanistan. Week nine was staff organization and procedures, and a staff exercise. Week ten was FTX week (field training exercise). They spent three days and two nights in the field running various human resource field operations. Week eleven was convoy training and doing convoys on the convoy simulator. Week twelve started with a 12 mile ruck march. Week thirteen was wrapping up classes, review and final PT test. Week fourteen was graduation.

While in ROTC, in college, two of Sally’s instructors were former paratroopers. They told her that the elite of the regular army is airborne. They and their stories impressed her. She started applying extra effort to ROTC, and she started an intense physical fitness regimen, running and strength training. Her Professor of Military Science (ROTC commander) designated her as a Distinguished ROTC graduate. She almost maxed her initial PT test in AGBOLC. So, when she talked to her branch manager at Human Resources Command Headquarters, she asked for an airborne assignment. Her branch manager agreed and assigned her to the 82nd Airborne Division. So, after AGBOLC graduation it was off to Fort Benning, Georgia for three weeks of basic airborne school. She completed her five jumps and reported to Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Post Housing sent her to Randolph Pointe Apartments on Fort Bragg, where she got a nice apartment, completely furnished, with all services included, plus a club house and pool all paid for by her basic allowance for housing BAH. Randolph Pointe is a new apartment complex for single officers, warrant officers, and senior sergeants. It is a “no hat” “no salute” area.

Sally was assigned to the Headquarters of a Brigade Combat Team in the 82nd Airborne Division. Staff Sections of army units commanded by colonel’s and below are designated S1 (Human Resources), S2 Intelligence, S3 Operations and Training, and S4 Supply, Logistics, Maintenance, Transportation. The S1 of the Brigade is a Major, and the NCOIC (Non-commissioned Officer in charge) is a Master Sergeant. Sally is the Assistant S1 and she is directly in charge of the Personnel Readiness Team, which consists of her, a Staff Sergeant, and two Specialists. They maintain personnel accountability, personnel readiness management, personnel information management, strength reporting, and casualty reporting. She must also be aware of what the other team in the S1 section is doing, in the event the S1 is absent. That is the Human Resources Services Team. It consists of a Chief Warrant Officer, a Staff Sergeant, two Sergeants, and three Specialists. It processes all personnel actions. Each of the six battalions within the brigade have a similar, but smaller S1 sections. Captains are the S1 of the battalions. In many cases First Lieutenants are battalion S1’s. Sally hopes to become a battalion S1 sometime after she makes First Lieutenant, which will be in about six months. Second Lieutenants are promoted to First Lieutenant at 18 months of service. Sally’s base pay is now $3,035 per month, plus $150 parachute pay, after taxes and deductions, her take home pay is about $2,450 per month, half paid twice monthly. When she makes First Lieutenant her base pay will jump to $3,500 per month, and when she goes over two years of service it will go to $4,000 per month.

One of Sally’s more sensitive duties is to maintain the current deployable strength and the projected deployable strength percentage of the Brigade Combat team. Her team constantly monitors and maintains those numbers. She sends those numbers daily through the S-1 to the Brigade Commander. Occasionally, the Brigade Commander (Colonel) will ask Sally to come to his office and explain the movement of different figures.

One of Sally’s extra duties is to be the Brigade Liaison to the Brigade Headquarters Family Readiness Group. There is a Family Readiness Group (FRG) in each company, comprised of spouses of soldiers. The FRG exists to keep spouses informed, especially during deployments, also the members traditionally help each other, during deployments.

Another of Sally’s extra duties is to schedule “Hail and Farewell” functions, by keeping track of who is leaving and arriving. Hail and Farewell’s are arranged for officers and senior sergeants. Usually when one is leaving, a new one is arriving. She contracts a location, and arranges catering, music, and insures that the proper people are invited. The same for “Dining In” and Dining Out” Both are formal affairs, Dining In is military only, at Dining Out spouses and family are included. The Army rarely conducts Dining In anymore, because families are included in everything possible.

Sally has made four parachute jumps, since her arrival at her unit, and taken her strength section on two field exercises, and participated in one EDRE (Emergency Deployment Readiness Exercise). On an EDRE, the Brigade receives a call in the middle of the night, that within 18 hours from that minute, the entire brigade is to be “wheels up”, to jump into a make believe country. Sometimes the exercise is run at another location, in the EDRE Sally was on, they jumped on Sicily Drop Zone on Fort Bragg.

Sally has been Brigade Staff Duty Officer twice. That duty is rotated among the lieutenants in the Brigade. The officer and a senior sergeant are on duty at Brigade Headquarters from close of business until start of the next day.

Sally’s boss, the S-1, just changed. The old major left and a new one arrived. That meant Sally got her first Officer Efficiency Report. Anytime an officer changes jobs, or their boss changes, they get an Officer Efficiency Report. Sally was rated by the S1, endorsed by the Brigade Executive Officer, a Lieutenant Colonel, and reviewed by the Brigade Commander, a Colonel. She received a very good report.

Sally is committed to three years active duty. Then if she chooses to leave active duty, she is committed to another five years in the reserves, either active reserves, if she chooses, or the individual ready reserves, which requires no meetings or activity on her part. So far, Sally is enjoying the Army, especially the 82nd Airborne Division. If she chooses to stay in the Army, she will probably be in the 82nd about four years. When she goes over three years in service her base pay will jump to about $4,600 per month. Officers usually make captain at about four years in service. Base pay for a Captain over four is $5,400 per month. If she stays in the Army, at about the four year mark she would be reassigned back to Fort Jackson, for six months of the Captains Career Course. Then on to another unit to command a company, or possibly to ROTC, Reserve, or Recruiting duty, or graduate school. The Army occasionally sends Captains to school to get a masters degree.

Sally met a single lieutenant, at her apartments, with whom she has had lunch a few times. He, 2LT John Jones, is an infantry officer, who graduated from West Point about the same time Sally graduated from college. He went to Infantry Basic Officer Leadership Course at Fort Benning, Georgia, then to Ranger School. He had completed Airborne School, while at West Point. 2LT Jones is an infantry platoon leader in another brigade, in the 82nd. Nothing serious yet, just friends.

 

JANE DOE ENLISTED TO BE A HUMAN RESOURCE SPECIALIST

Originally published January 25th, 2017 in The Belle Banner.

PFC Jane Doe has been in the Army about a year. She completed one semester of college, ran out of money and went to an Army recruiter. She was interested in the GI Bill and what kind of job she could get in the army. The recruiter told her that she would be in the “Post 911 GI Bill”. After three years in the army, the VA will pay full tuition and fees to an in-state public college, university or trade school, plus a sizable monthly housing allowance, and up to $1,000 a year for books. In other words a full ride. As far as a job in the Army, she would have to take the ASVAB (Armed Service Vocational Aptitude Battery) test, a physical fitness test, and a medical exam. Plus a background check to make sure she had nothing derogatory in her background. Then, based upon her scores, she could choose from the jobs available, at that time. The recruiter was a former paratrooper and told her that she could also request an “airborne option” along with most jobs (jobs are MOS’s (military occupational specialties) in the army). He told her that paratroopers on jump status receive an extra $150 per month, and that the school is only three weeks long. She choose MOS 42A Human Resource Specialist with the airborne option. Her recruiter cautioned her to reveal absolutely everything she may have done wrong in her life, because MOS 42A requires a SECRET security clearance, and in that investigation all records are available to the Army, including juvenile. Her recruiter helped her set up her Army Knowledge Online (AKO) account, where she could monitor her records and request assignments. She went to the MEPS (Military Enlistment Processing Station) in St Louis, where she took the ASVAB for record, got a physical exam (she had been told to remind them that she was going Airborne, because it required a different exam), and talked to a counselor, who tried to persuade her to take a different job, but she insisted that she wanted 42A. She then signed her contract, stood with several others and took the oath of enlistment. At that point she was in the Army.

Her group was bused to the USO office at the airport, where they met other enlistees who had arrived by plane. They were loaded on a bus and transported to the US Army Reception Battalion at Fort Leonard Wood. The time at the Reception Battalion can be anywhere from four days to a week and a half, until they have enough people to fill a basic training company. They were met by drill sergeants, who didn’t yell, but briefed them about what they would do, while at the Reception Battalion. They ate dinner, then were issued the Army PT uniform, which they would wear the next day. Their cell phones were collected, to be returned at graduation from basic training. They separated men and women, then were moved to a barracks and assigned a bunk and wall locker (need lock). They finally got to sleep after midnight. They were rudely awakened at 4:30 AM and told they had 30 minutes to take care of their personal hygiene then clean their living area and the latrine (bathroom), and be outside in formation for breakfast. They were briefed by various people, then the men all got their hair cut off, the women had the option of having it cut to collar length or keeping it up (like a bun) above the collar. They were issued an “EZ pay card” (with $350.00 on it) to purchase necessary items. That money would come out of their first pay. They had blood drawn, got shots and had ID card photos taken. They were marched to the PX and told what to buy. Didn’t make any difference if they had brought the item with them. They were then issued uniforms and boots. The second day was eye, ear, and dental exams, and personnel affairs processing. She had to have her bank routing number and her checking account number. The military only pays by direct deposit. The third day were more shots, photos, ear plug brief, TRICARE brief, and Red Cross brief. The time at the reception station was extremely stressful, many had trouble adjusting to the regimentation. They were lucky, they shipped to their basic training company on day four.

At the basic training company, the drill sergeants did yell, a lot, and in their face. They were separated into four platoons of about 50 people each, assigned to barracks and bunks and wall lockers, where they would live for the next nine weeks. They were marched to pay phones and told to call home and give their family their address. Everyone was assigned a “battle buddy”. Some felt like they had made a mistake, and that they had arrived in hell. Basic training is in three phases – red, white and blue. Red phase (the first three weeks) was total control. Drill Sergeants maintained strict control at all times. In red phase they learned how to stand, march, salute, etc. They had PT every morning, Monday through Saturday, they had classes on army values, life in the army, first aid, hand to hand combat, and land navigation. They spent half a day on warrior tower and they went through the gas chamber. They received their first class on the M16A2/M4 rifle. It was around week three that most began to realize that the drill sergeants really did have serious concern for their training and their wellbeing. They found that the quicker they mastered a task, the happier the drill sergeants became. It was also around that time that they began to “jell” as a platoon, they became a unit, looking out for each other. They started having fun. They also got to use the pay phone on Sunday night. In white phase, weeks four thru six, they mastered their rifle. They learned disassembly, assembly and cleaning of the rifle. They fired on various ranges, and finally fired for record. They were told by some of the drill sergeants that a high weapons qualification score and a high PT score were two of the biggest things to bring out of basic. The drill sergeants became human, not buddies, but more approachable. The drill sergeants were beyond teaching them how to act, they were now teaching skills. They threw live hand grenades, went through the obstacle course, fired grenade launchers, pugil stick fighting classes, as well as ground fighting techniques. In blue phase, week seven and eight were more firing. Night firing, moving targets, close combat firing, convoy operations, moving under fire, rappelling, rules of engagement, and squad tactical training. Finally, week nine. The End of Course Test, takes all day. It is hands on performing all the things taught in basic. Then cleaning and turn in of field equipment, dress uniform inspection and practice for graduation. The day before graduation was “family day”. After the soldiers and the families were briefed on what they could and could not do, they got to spend the entire day with their family. On Thursday morning, Graduation! Graduation was a time of mixed emotions. There was elation at finishing basic, then there was the sadness of separating with some really good friends that she acquired over the past nine weeks. Many spent time thanking their drill sergeants for bringing them through basic training. They would never forget those drill sergeants.

After graduation, Jane and some others were given bus tickets to the St Louis airport, and plane tickets to Columbia, South Carolina – Fort Jackson, for Advanced Individual Training (AIT) in MOS 42A Human Resource Specialist.

The military liaison office at the Columbia airport put them on the proper bus which delivered them to their company on Fort Jackson. The barracks in some companies slept four to six people to a room, with a communal bath. Jane was lucky, in that in her company there were three people to a room, with its own bath. They got to keep their cell phones, ipads, laptops, etc, they just couldn’t use them during duty hours. Their day started with a 5:00 AM (05:00) wake up, clean barracks, PT formation at 06:30. PT lasts until about 07:30, then it is breakfast, personal hygiene, and be in formation at 08:45, to be marched to class. An hour for lunch, the DFAC (Dining Facility) was close, back to class, then march back to the barracks and released at 17:00 (5:00 PM). They could wear civilian clothes when off duty. After getting settled, Jane went to the ASK key (Assignment Satisfaction Key) on her AKO account, and saw that she was tentatively scheduled for assignment to the 82nd Airborne Division. During the first half of the course, they were free to go anywhere on post evenings and weekends. During the last half, they could also get off posts passes. During the eight weeks and two days of the course, six weeks were spent in class and two weeks in the field. They studied; Researching Human Resource Publications; Prepare Office Documents Using Office Software; Prepare Correspondence, Identify Human Resource Systems; Maintain Records; Interpret the Enlisted Record Brief & Officer Record Brief; Create Ad Hoc Query; Perform Forms Content Management Program Functions; Prepare Suspension of Favorable Action; Prepare a request for Soldier Applications; Process a DFR packet; Process Recommendation for Award; Process Personnel Strength Accountability Updates; Perform Unit Strength Reconciliation; Conduct a Personnel Asset Inventory (PAI); Issue a Common Access Card; Maintain Emergency Notification Data; Prepare a Casualty Report; Create a Manifest; Employ the Deployed Theater Accountability Software (DTAS); Prepare strength accounting reports; Process a Request for Leave, Pass, and Permissive TDY; Perform Personnel Office Computations; Review a Completed Non-commissioned Officer Evaluation Report (NCOER); Process Enlisted Advancements for PV1 – SPC; Process Semi-Centralized Promotions; Research Finance Actions; Determine Entitlements to Pay and Allowances; and Employ the Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) System.

After graduation, Jane and a few others who were going airborne were given bus tickets to Columbus, Georgia – Fort Benning. At Columbus they caught the bus to the Airborne School. Monday of the following week training started. The very first period is the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) and the Flexed Arm Hang immediately after the APFT. The Flexed Arm Hang is; Hang on the pull up bar, arms completely straight, palms facing you, pull up until the chin is above the bar, and hold that position for 20 seconds. The purpose is to make sure a person can pull down on the parachute risers with sufficient strength to guide the parachute away from other jumpers or obstacles. Jane did it, plus she weighed 120 lbs, 10 lbs over the minimum for a paratrooper. Intense PT and long runs every training day, Monday through Friday. The first week (ground week) was spent learning parachute landing falls (PLF). They did them on the ground, they did them off 2 foot platforms and 4 foot platforms. Then they did them when being dropped from a swing landing trainer. The second week (tower week) they jumped from a 34 foot tower, in a parachute harness and slid down cables to a mound a couple hundred feet away. Then, the 250 foot towers. They put on a parachute, which is deployed and attached to a metal cage above the jumper pulled up 250 feet, then released. That is to teach jumpers how to maneuver their parachute. And the final week (jump week), they made five parachute jumps including one at night. On Friday or Saturday they graduate and receive their wings, which they wear on all uniforms as long as they are in the Army.

Finally, after almost six months in the Army she was on her way to her first permanent assignment, the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. So it was back on a bus to Fayetteville, North Carolina. At the Fayetteville bus station they caught the post bus which dropped them at the 82nd Airborne Division Replacement Detachment. She spent three days there, processing into Fort Bragg, and drawing field gear, then finally, her assignment; Headquarters and Headquarters Company (HHC), of a Brigade Combat Team. She was assigned to the S1 Section of the Headquarters. Staff Sections of army units commanded by colonel’s and below are designated S1 (Human Resources), S2 Intelligence, S3 Operations and Training, and S4 Supply, Logistics, Maintenance, Transportation. The S1 of the Brigade is a Major, and the NCOIC (Non-commissioned Officer in charge) is a Master Sergeant. The S1 shop consists of two teams. The Human Resources Services Team consists of a Chief Warrant Officer, a Staff Sergeant, two Sergeants, and three Specialists. It processes all personnel actions. And, the Personnel Readiness Team, which consists of a Lieutenant, a Staff Sergeant, and two Specialists. They maintain personnel accountability, personnel readiness management, personnel information management, strength reporting, and casualty reporting. Jane was assigned to one of the Specialist positions in the Readiness Team.

She lives in the barracks – they are sometimes referred to as dorms now. She has her own room with a small refrig and a microwave, plus she has her own TV, stereo, and computer, she shares a bathroom with a suite mate (female) on the other side of the bath. Her weekdays start with a formation at 06:30 for PT (Physical Training). PT is about an hour. Most units do actual PT (calisthenics and run) three days a week and athletics or gym two days. After that its shower, dress, breakfast and be at her desk by 9:00 AM. Lunch time is usually noon. Since she lives in the barracks, she has a meal card, which means she eats free in the DFAC (Dining Facility). There are two DFAC’s within 10 minute walking distance. If she doesn’t like what the DFAC’s have, she can jump in her car and run to Burger King or one the other food places on post. She has been in that job about six months. She has just been promoted to Private First Class E-3. Her base pay is $1,885.90 plus $150.00 jump pay, per month. Her take home pay, after taxes and deductions is about $1,600 per month, $800.00 paid twice a month. All military personnel are paid twice monthly by direct deposit, so she opened an account in one of the banks on post, for the convenience. She has made three parachute jumps since she arrived, she must make at least one jump every three months to maintain her jump pay. At 17:00 (5:00 PM) she is off until 6:30 AM the next morning, except Friday, which means she is off until Monday morning. When she arrived at her company, her team sergeant told her about the Fort Bragg BOSS program (Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers). Last summer she went on two day trips to Myrtle Beach with the BOSS people. Cost was $10.00 for the trip down, day at the beach, and trip back. She has been bowling with the BOSS soldiers, and performed some community volunteer work with them. She has a weekend ski trip to Sugar Mountain planned with MWR (Morale Welfare and Recreation). Cost is just over $200, which includes everything, transportation, equipment, instruction, and overnight at the hotel. All details are handled by the MWR people. Being the largest Army post in the US, Fort Bragg also has great facilities. Fort Bragg also has ten Universities and Colleges conducting classes and online courses on post. PFC Jane Doe has already learned that more college hours mean more promotion points, she plans to resume classes in the next semester. She expects to be promoted to Specialist E-4 within the next year.

Next week soldier number two.

LIFE IN THE ARMY

Originally published January 18th, 2017 in The Belle Banner

This is the first in a series of articles about life in the military. I came to realize, after the Veterans Day Assembly, that very few local people know anything about the military.  The younger the person the less he or she is likely know about the military.  So yes I am talking to you high schoolers.  I have talked to 17 year olds who thinks life in the military is like the movie “Lone Survivor”.  Only if you were a SEAL in Afghanistan in 2007, sent on a questionable mission in the middle of Indian country, and everything went wrong.

The Army has Basic Combat Training, the Air Force has Basic Training, and the Navy and Marines each have their own version of Boot Camp.  They all have similarities, and differences, but none is anything like life in that service.  Nor are the movies anything like normal life in the military.  I will be telling about the Army, because that is what I know.  I spent 21 years in the Army, and have kept up with it on a daily basis, since I retired.

The Army and Marines have similar structures.  The Marines do a much better job of instilling pride and esprit de corps in just being a Marine.  Whether you’re a cook, clerk, mechanic or infantryman, a Marine is a Marine.  In the other services pride and  morale are more with specific units than the service as a whole.  In the Air Force the Special Operations Command is the top of the mountain for enlisted people, although very tough to get into.  For officers, if you’re not a pilot, you are a second class officer.  The Air Force supports airplanes, they fly them, maintain them, and support them.  Airplanes are the primary interest of the Air Force. In the Navy, if you can’t be a SEAL, I suspect working on the flight deck of a Ford Class nuclear powered aircraft carrier is about at the top of the heap.   In the Navy, Ships and airplanes are their primary interest.  In the Army and the Marines, people are the primary focus.  Because no matter how advanced technology becomes, to win wars and hold territory, there has to be people on the ground.

In the Army, Special Forces are the top of the elite soldiers, and although the army occasionally allows recruits to enlist directly for Special Forces, I do not recommend it.  The enlistment contract only means you get to try out for Special Forces.  The normal route is to make Sergeant, then apply for Special Forces.  About 27% of those who start the year and a half to two year training actually make it to becoming a Green Beret.  The same goes for ranger school.  If you want to be a ranger, enlist for airborne infantry, spend a few months in a line unit then apply for ranger school.

Normal life in the Army is very different for officers and enlisted personnel.  Normal life between junior enlisted married and single people is very different.  And life is different between various units.  I just said that the Army is a people organization, which boils down to leadership.  Changing commanders from company level to army level is a formal process.  The colors of the unit are passed from the outgoing commander to the incoming commander.  The commander alone, is responsible for everything his unit does or fails to do, so if the commander is a good leader, that is probably a good unit, if not, it is probably not as good as some others just like it.  So, if you want to go into the Army and you want to try to get into as good a unit as possible, what do you do?  The most elite part of the Army, you can simply enlist for, is airborne.  They jump out of air planes.  Don’t panic, it’s a rip.  One of the biggest thrills in life.

In times like these when the military budgets are being cut, and the services drawn down, all units are not fully funded. When a unit is not fully funded, its training is reduced, its services are reduced, and soldiers are used to perform jobs that civilians were previously paid to do.  It affects everyone’s morale, including the commanders.

The most famous unit in the army, or in fact all the military, is the 82nd Airborne Division, and I believe that it has the highest morale.  Pride is a large part of that morale, because the combat units in the 82nd train hard all the time, and the support units run hard to keep them supplied.  It is the most highly trained, well equipped, fully funded division in all the services.  The reason is that part of it is always on standby.  It is America’s fire brigade.  If America needs to put troops anywhere in the world fast, the President calls Fort Bragg.  The division has three Brigade Combat Teams (BCT) each composed of about 4500 paratroopers.  One BCT is always on standby as the Division Ready Brigade (DRB).  Within 18 hours of notification the DRB can be loaded and “wheels up” to any location in the world.  Every member of the division is airborne (parachute) qualified, and every piece of equipment can be dropped by parachute.  The standard mission is to jump into a hostile area, seize and hold an airfield until heavier units can be flown in.  In Iraq and Afghanistan they just went and did what all other units did, only better.

Enlisting in the Army with an “airborne option” guarantees only airborne school (three weeks at Fort Benning, Georgia), but after paying for a soldier to go through the school there is about a 100% probability that they will be assigned to an airborne unit. Those are; 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Vicenza, Italy.  The 173rd is the US fire brigade for Europe.  My family and I thoroughly enjoyed an assignment there.  The 4th Brigade, 25th Infantry Division at Anchorage, Alaska, and the 1st Battalion 509th Airborne Infantry, Fort Polk, Louisiana.

The Army tries to assign its best officers to those units. Good Sergeants usually stay.  I’ve known dozens of sergeants who spent their entire career in the 82nd Airborne Division, minus some mandatory schools, and perhaps one overseas assignment.  Of the ten current 4 star generals in the Army now, all are airborne qualified, six are master parachutists, having spent multiple assignments in the 82nd, and two of those six are former Division Commanders of the 82nd Airborne Division.

First, the Army works five days a week, Monday thru Friday. Hospitals, Military Police, Communications Centers, and Dining Facilities are some of the exceptions.  The individual soldiers still only work five days a week.  Everyone in the Army, who is not on shift work, does PT (Physical Training), first thing in the morning, usually 6:00 or 6:30 AM.  That is the first, and for many the only formation of the day.  Shift work soldiers still do PT, only at different times.  Single Privates, Specialists, and Sergeants live in the barracks.  Some barracks are now called dorms.  A normal set up for permanently assigned soldiers is a private room with a microwave and small refrigerator.  Some have baths, some share a bath with a suite mate (same sex) on the other side of the bath.  Married soldiers, who have their family with them, may live in family housing on post, which are nice houses or apartments, paid for with their Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH), or they may live off post.  All married soldiers receive BAH, unless the family lives in government housing, so even if their family is not with them, the BAH is paid to provide for their family.  BAH rates vary with rank and location.  At Fort Leonard Wood, a married Private First Class (PFC E-3) (about a year in the army) will receive an extra $903.00 per month, whereas a Staff Sergeant (SSG E-6) (five to ten years in the army) will receive $1,146.00 per month.  At Fort Bragg, North Carolina the rates are $1,179.00 for the PFC and $1,344.00 for the SSG.  PT usually lasts about an hour.  Many units vary regular PT (calisthenics and run) three days per week with athletics or gym two days.  After PT, soldiers living in the barracks go back to their room, clean up, put on their uniform and go to the Dining Facility (DFAC) for breakfast.  Meals in the DFAC are free for soldiers living in the barracks, those soldiers are issued a meal card. Married soldiers not living in the barracks receive an extra $368.00 per month for meals.  Married soldiers go home, clean up and eat breakfast.  Combat line units like Infantry, Armor, Artillery, or Combat Engineers (companies that have a single mission) will probably have a work formation at about 09:00 AM.  All members of the company are at that formation.  Soldiers who work in staff sections or unique sections, such as line medics usually just report to their desk or place of work at about 09:00.

Lunch is normally for an hour around noon. Anyone can eat in a DFAC, if they so desire.  Soldiers who have meal cards eat free, those who don’t pay, or they go home for lunch, or jump in their car and go to Burger King or one of the many snack bars on post.

The normal work day ends at 4:30 or 5:00 PM, and they are off until PT the next morning.   Except Friday, which means they are off until Monday morning.

Every Fort has at least one main PX (Post Exchange), it is like a Wal-mart, and several small exchanges, they all have a commissary, which is like a giant grocery super center, and at least one service station. There is a hospital, fire stations, a main chapel, plus other chapels, theaters, bowling alleys, gyms, and dozens of ball fields.  Most also have a “do it yourself” auto repair shop, with lifts, tools, and advice available to soldiers.  The family quarters have been contracted out to civilian companies, which has resulted in improved housing and service.  Every post, of any size, has an education center where several colleges and universities teach classes and conduct online classes.  There are six schools at the education center on Fort Leonard Wood, and ten at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Soldiers are highly encouraged to improve their civilian education. So much so that one promotion point is awarded for each semester hour of college, up to 100 points in an 800 point promotion system to Sergeant and Staff Sergeant.  All soldiers are automaticaly enrolled in Structured Self Development – 1 (SSD-1) when they complete their advanced individual training (AIT).  That is an 80 hour online course of military subjects, which must be completed, plus they must attend a four week Basic Leader Course before they can be promoted to Sergeant E-5.

Military pay is based on enlisted pay grades E-1 (Private) through E-9 (Sergeant Major) and officer pay grades O-1 (Second Lieutenant) through O-10 (General). Pay for grade E-1 is separated for those with less than 4 months in service and those over.  The base pay for a Private E-1 under 4 months is $1480.00 per month.  That translates to about $1,200 per month take home pay, for a single soldier, half paid twice monthly.  If the soldier is married they will also be paid Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH).  That gets them through basic and part of the next phase, which is advanced individual training (AIT).  Then regular E-1 pay is $1,600 per month, which means about $100 per month increase in take home pay.  Private E-2 comes at about six months in service, that base pay is $1,793, which means about $1,450 take home.  Private First Class (PFC) E-3 usually comes at about a year in service, that is $1,886 base, which is a little over $1,500 take home.  Specialist E-4 usually comes at about 18 months service.  A Specialist E-4 over 2 years base pay is $2,089, equaling a little over $1,600 take home.

In the coming weeks I will attempt to portray the life of different soldiers in different jobs. In the next two weeks, I will take two different soldiers, both young women, through their training to their permanent assignment.  One enlists in the Army, the other finishes college and is commissioned into the army as an officer.  Both go into the same field and are assigned to the same unit and the same office, but their working relationships, living conditions, and pay are entirely different.

A look at what real life is in the Army, not what is portrayed in movies