The year was 1968 when Mike Vining was a senior in high school. According to his answers on his TogetherWeServed Page, Vining heard about the Tet Offensive and wanted to join the military with the expressed purpose of going to Vietnam.
His service afforded him the opportunity to do two things he likes to do, "work with explosives and climb mountains." He probably never dreamed he would become Sgt. Maj. Mike Vining: the epitome of the modern American soldier...
1. He's also the internet's most casually badass meme.
Maybe it's the kind eyes. Or the nice smile. Maybe it's his age the large glasses of a bygone era that make him a grandpa-like figure. But the rank on his sleeve, fruit salad on his chest, the EOD and CIB pinned on his jacket, and Army Special Operations Command shoulder patch give all that away.
There's much more to the story, and now we all know it.
2. He wasn't just Delta, he was a founding member.
Then-Sgt. 1st Class Mike Vining joined the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment (Delta) at Fort Bragg in 1978. His first commander was Col. Charlie Beckwith, who started putting together Delta Force the previous year.
According to Vining, an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Specialist who was looking for something "more challenging," he joined because Delta was looking for people with an EOD background. He spent almost 21 years in Special Forces.
3. His military résumé reads like a history book.
He spent two years in Vietnam as an EOD specialist with the 99th Ordnance Detachment, much of that time spent in combat.
Vining was also in Operation Eagle Claw, the failed attempt to rescue hostages held in Iran. He was aboard EC-130E Bladder Bird #4 when one of the RH-53D helicopters crashed into it.
He was also in the invasion of Grenada, Operation Desert Storm, and Operation Uphold/Restore Democracy in Haiti.
4. It took 15 years to earn his Combat Infantryman Badge.
Though Vining saw plenty of combat in Cambodia and Vietnam, as an EOD Specialist, he wasn't eligible for a CIB. Delta never got a chance to engage the Iranians at Desert One. So, despite Delta Force's rigorous training and autonomy, his first combat action came in 1983 during the Richmond Hill Prison assault during Urgent Fury's invasion of Grenada.
U.S. Special Operations Forces in Grenada, 1983. (Defense Media Network)
5. He became infantry twenty years into his service.
"In 1988, I transferred from EOD to Infantry. I figured I stood a better chance making Sergeant Major in Infantry, which worked out for me."
Vining and Delta providing close protection to Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf during Desert Storm. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Dean Wagner)
6. His most significant action came just two years into his career.
His tour in Vietnam with the 99th Ordnance Detachment was one of the stand out moments of his time in the Army.
"[It] was the destruction of a cache found in Cambodia called 'Rock Island East.' The cache yielded 327 tons of ammunition and supplies, including 932 individual weapons, 85 crew-served weapons, 7,079,694 small arms and machine gun rounds. The cache contained 999 rounds of 85mm artillery shells which are used for the D-44 howitzer as well as the T-34 tank. I was part of a seven-man EOD team that destroyed the cache on 16 May 1970."
7. Vining is still active in the veteran community.
Now fully retired, he travels with his wife much of the time. He writes about military and naval history, polar expeditions, and mountaineering postal history. He and his wife have a very active outdoor life of hiking, backpacking, rock and mountain climbing, biking, and skiing.
He is also a life member of the VFW, and a member of the National EOD Association and Vietnam EOD Veterans Chapter. He is also the historian for the National Army EOD Memorial at Eglin Air Force Base.
8. He would do it all over again. And recommends you do, too.
Vining calls his experience "rewarding" and recommends the military as a career to those who recently joined the Army.
"Military service has given me the opportunity to do all the things I like to do: Work with explosives and climb mountains. I have gotten a chance to work with some of the finest people in the military."
Mike Vining's awards and decorations are too numerous to list here. Check them out and read about his experiences in his own words on his public TogetherWeServed profile.