What brought this to their attention was the medal count between Audie Murphy – long regarded as the most decorated U.S. soldier ever – and a little-known WWII veteran and Medal of Honor recipient named Matt Urban, whose medal count matched Murphy’s.
But no one knew that Urban had matched the well-known Murphy until 36 years after the end of WWII because Urban’s recommendation and supporting paperwork were lost in the bureaucratic shuffle.
He was also awarded the French Croix de Guerre and the Legion of Merit but never knew until his military records were reviewed to award his Medal of Honor.
And there were a lot of actions to review.
President Carter called then retired Lt. Col. Matt Urban “The Greatest Soldier in American History” as he presented the Medal of Honor to Urban in 1980. The soldier’s Medal of Honor citation alone lists “a series of actions” – at least 10 – that go above and beyond the call of duty.
The Nazis called Urban “The Ghost” because he just seemed to keep coming back to life when they killed him. The soldier’s seven Purple Hearts can attest to that.
Urban joined the Army ROTC at Cornell in 1941. It was just after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and unfortunately for the Nazis, Urban graduated in time to land in North Africa in 1942.
He was ordered to stay aboard a landing craft off the Tunisian coast, but when he heard his unit encountered stiff resistance on the beaches, he hopped in a raft and rowed to the fight. There he replaced a wounded platoon leader.
Later, at the Battle of the Kasserine Pass, Urban destroyed a German observation post, then led his company in a frontal assault on a fortified enemy position. During one German counterattack, Urban killed an enemy soldier with his trench knife, then took the man’s machine pistol and wiped out the rest of the oncoming Germans. He was wounded in his hands and arm.
In North Africa, his actions earned him two Silver Stars, a Bronze Star, and two Purple Hearts.
It was in France where Urban would distinguish himself and earn his nickname. His division landed at Normandy on D-Day, and later at the French town of Renouf he spearheaded another gallant series of events.
On June 14, 1944, two tanks and small arms began raking Urban’s men in the hedgerows, causing heavy casualties. He picked up a bazooka and led an ammo carrier closer to the tanks.
Urban then exposed himself to the heavy enemy fire as he took out both tanks. His leadership inspired his men who easily bested the rest of the German infantry.
Later that same day, Urban took a direct shot in the leg from a 37mm tank gun. He continued to direct his men to defense positions. The next day, still wounded, Urban led his troops on another attack. He was wounded again and flown back to England.
In July 1944, he learned how much the fighting in the French hedgerows devastated his unit. Urban, still in the hospital in England, ditched his bed and hitchhiked back to France. He met up with his men near St. Lo on the eve of Operation Cobra, a breakout effort to hit the German flanks and advance into Brittany.
He found his unit held down by a German strong point with two of his tanks destroyed and a third missing its commander and gunner. Urban hatched a plan to remount the tank and break through but his lieutenant and sergeant were killed in their attempts – so he mounted the tank himself.
“The Ghost” manned the machine gun as bullets whizzed by and devastated the enemy.
He was wounded twice more in August, refusing to be evacuated even after taking artillery shell fragments to the chest. He was promoted to battalion commander.
In September 1944, Urban’s path of destruction across Europe was almost at an end. His men were pinned down by enemy artillery while trying to cross the Meuse River in Belgium. Urban left the command post and went to the front, where he reorganized the men and personally led an assault on a Nazi strongpoint. Urban was shot in the neck by a machine gun during the charge across open ground. He stayed on site until the Nazis were completely routed and the Allies could cross the Meuse.
In a 1974 interview with his hometown newspaper, the Buffalo News, he credits his survival to accepting the idea of dying in combat.
“If I had to get it,” Urban said, “it was going to be while I was doing something. I didn’t want to die in my sleep.”
The reason he never received a recommendation for the Medal of Honor was because the recommendation was just lost in the paperwork shuffle. His commander, Maj. Max Wolf filed the recommendation, but it was lost when Wolf was killed in action.
It was the enlisted men who fought with Urban who started asking about “The Ghost’s” Medal of Honor.
“The sight of him limping up the road, all smiles, raring to lead the attack once more, brought the morale of the battleweary men to its highest peak – Staff Sgt. Earl G. Evans in a 1945 letter to the War Department that was also lost.
Matt Urban died in 1995 at age 75 and is interred at Arlington National Cemetery.
World History was made yesterday at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas where the U.S. Army and NASA utilized state of the art technology to provide the most unique Oath of Enlistment ceremony for new soldiers.
“We have an incredible opportunity to experience a dream all of us grew up with – the opportunity to touch the stars… Right now… 250 miles above us… flies the International Space Station, traveling at speeds that defy imagination, circling the planet every 90 minutes. Simply amazing,” said Brigadier General Patrick Michaelis, USAREC Deputy Commanding General. “Though NASA and the U.S. Army have been working together for the past 60 years, this is the first time to host a nationwide Oath of Enlistment from space for over 1000 soldiers in 150 different locations, where they will launch; no pun intended, their careers.”
U.S. Army Recruiting Command
Twenty five recruits and their families came to celebrate the new soldiers embarking on their new careers via a live video stream from the International Space Station. Recruits got to ask questions to Army Astronaut Colonel Andrew R. Morgan, who has been in space since July 2019 and was selected as an astronaut in 2013. Morgan, a special operations physician, is the commander of the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command’s Army Astronaut Detachment at Johnson Space Center, Texas, and the space station’s flight engineer. Morgan is part of the U.S. Army Astronaut Detachment, which supports NASA with flight crew and provides engineering expertise for human interface with space systems. Additionally, Morgan is a combat veteran with airborne and ranger tabs and has also served as a combat diver. As an astronaut, he has completed seven spacewalks and one space flight to the International Space Station.
U.S. Army Recruiting Command
The recruits tuned in from all over the United States and were able to ask Morgan questions via the video link at the Johnson Space Center. Impressively, it did not take long for the video connection to happen and it was less painful than the time it takes conference calls that occur within the domestic U.S. to get connected. There was a brief lag after each sentence, but nothing different than what a VOIP user experiences via Skype or Facetime.
Morgan welcomed everyone aboard the ISS. When asked if there was recruiting going on for new astronauts, he informed the recruits what standards are needed and shared with them that a strong STEM, science and engineering background with a Master’s Degree was necessary and that they need well-rounded individuals who have the education, but also other qualities.
Morgan opened his uniform zipper to reveal an Army Strong t-shirt, much to the cheers of the recruits. He later displayed all of the US military branch flags and allowed them to float across the screen. He also did a few somersaults.
Also joining in the celebration was the newest Army Astronaut, Lieutenant Colonel Frank Rubio. Rubio entertained live questions from the audience at the Johnson Space Center and gave them lots of advice when facing difficulties in their lives.
Aim high, recruits! Congratulations on your new careers. The sky is literally the limit.
Pakistan’s former sports-celebrity-turned politician, Imran Khan, in his televised election victory speech July 26, 2018, pledged to tackle poverty and endemic corruption through a revamped governance system in the country.
Khan delivered the speech as about 90 percent of the results from July 25, 2018’s parliamentary polls already had been compiled. Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PT) party was well ahead of its main rival, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) of jailed former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif.
Almost all the main rival parties have alleged the polls were rigged and manipulated in favor of Khan, allegations the independent Election Commission of Pakistan rejected.
Chief Election Commissioner Sardar Mohammad Raza strongly defended the voting process as free and fair. “These elections were 100 percent transparent and fair … there is no stain,” Raza insisted while speaking to reporters early July 26, 2018.
The commission admitted that its electronic reporting system collapsed shortly after vote counting began late July 25, 2018, causing unprecedented delays in announcing results.
Khan also promised to provide any assistance required to investigate the rigging charges, though he declared the polls as “the fairest in Pakistan.”
Chief Election Commissioner Sardar Mohammad Raza
Analysts say partial election results suggest Khan’s party, with the help of smaller groups and independents, is poised to establish governments not only at the center but possibly in three of Pakistan’s four provinces.
Khan pledged in July 26, 2018’s speech to deliver on campaign promises, saying he would turn Pakistan into an “Islamic welfare state.”
The would-be government, he said, would not use the palatial prime minister’s residence in Islamabad and would use the space for other priorities as it focuses on good governance and economic challenges facing the country.
“I would be ashamed to live in such a large house. That house will be converted into an educational institution or something of the sort,” he said. “Our state institutions will be stronger, everyone will be held accountable. First I will be subjected to accountability, then my ministers and so on.”
Khan acknowledged while speaking to VOA on the eve of the election that the economy is the biggest challenge facing Pakistan.
“The only way we can overcome this is by revamping the way we do governance in this country, strengthening institutions and then spending it on our human beings,” Khan noted. This is “the rock bottom” for Pakistan, he warned.
“Never have we fallen so low as we have right now in terms of human development, in terms of the cost of doing business, in terms of our economy going down the drain. So, the challenges are huge but they can only be done … if we change the way we do governance in this country.”
Sharif’s party has been for months accusing the military of covertly helping Khan’s election campaign, charges both Khan and the military have strongly denied.
The PML-N’s electoral chances also have been shaken by Sharif’s conviction in absentia earlier this month on corruption charges involving expensive properties he and his family held overseas.
Sharif, who immediately was placed in custody after returning from Britain nearly two weeks ago, has denounced the verdict as politically motivated. He accused a covert military-judiciary alliance of trying to keep him out of politics and undermining the integrity of his PML-N party.
Khan and his party were instrumental in leading street protests and fighting legal battles to win the conviction in corruption cases against Sharif.
In his brief speech, Khan also spoke about how his party intends to deal with foreign policy challenges facing Pakistan.
Years of wars in Afghanistan have inflicted unprecedented sufferings on Afghans and they need peace, he said. The new government will make all possible efforts to promote peace in Afghanistan to ensure peace in Pakistan, Khan vowed.
“I also want to build relations with Afghanistan to a point where we have open borders just like those within the European Union,” he added.
Khan said he would seek a mutually beneficial and balanced relationship with the United States.
“We want to improve our relations with India, if their leadership also wants it. This blame game that whatever goes wrong in Pakistan is because of India and vice versa brings us back to square one. If they take one step toward us, we will take two, but we at least need a start.”
The election is just Pakistan’s third peaceful transition of power. The military has ruled the Muslim-majority nation of more than 200 million people for nearly half of the country’s 71-year-history.
July 25, 2018’s vote was disrupted by militant attacks and incidents involving gunfire between political rivals.
The deadliest incident occurred in Quetta, capital of southwestern Baluchistan province, where a suicide blast ripped through a crowed of political activists, voters and security personnel, killing more than 30 people. The Islamic State terrorist group claimed responsibility for the bloodshed.
The campaign leading up to the July 25, 2018 vote had been marred by violence that left more than 170 people dead.
Hollywood is known for riddling military movies with technical errors, but from “Full Metal Jacket” to “Stripes,” the movie industry gets it right with plenty of quotable military movies.
Here are WATM’s picks for 32 of the best ever:
1. “I love the smell of napalm in the morning. You know, one time we had a hill bombed, for 12 hours. When it was all over, I walked up. We didn’t find one of ’em, not one stinkin’ dink body. The smell, you know that gasoline smell, the whole hill. Smelled like … victory. Someday this war’s gonna end.” — Lt. Col. Bill Kilgore, “Apocalypse Now” (1979)
2. “When I go home people will ask me, ‘Hey Hoot, why do you do it man? What, you some kinda war junkie?’ You know what I’ll say? I won’t say a goddamn word. Why? They won’t understand. They won’t understand why we do it. They won’t understand that it’s about the men next to you, and that’s it. That’s all it is.” — Norman “Hoot” Hooten, “Black Hawk Down” (2001)
3. “You have to think about one shot. One shot is what it’s all about.” — Michael, “The Deer Hunter” (1978)
4. “Keep the sand out of your weapons, keep those actions clear. I’ll see you on the beach.” — Capt. John Miller, “Saving Private Ryan” (1998)
5. “Are you smoking this sh-t so’s to escape from reality? Me, I don’t need this sh-t, I am reality. There’s the way it ought to be, and there’s the way it is.” — Staff Sgt. Barnes, “Platoon” (1986)
6. “Now I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.” — Gen. George Patton, “Patton” (1970)
7. “My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, Commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions, loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.” — Maximus, “Gladiator” (2000)
8. “The Almighty tells me he can get me out of this mess, but he’s pretty sure you’re f–ked.” — Stephen, “Braveheart” (1997)
9. “Aim small, miss small.” — Capt. Benjamin Martin, “The Patriot” (2000)
10. “Out here, due process is a bullet!” — Col. Mike Kirby, “The Green Berets” (1968)
11. “Mandrake, do you recall what Clemenceau once said about war? … He said war was too important to be left to the generals. When he said that, 50 years ago, he might have been right. But today, war is too important to be left to politicians. They have neither the time, the training, nor the inclination for strategic thought. I can no longer sit back and allow Communist infiltration, Communist indoctrination, Communist subversion and the international Communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids.” — Gen. Jack D. Ripper, “Dr. Strangelove” (1964)
12. “I feel the need . . . the need for speed.” — Lt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, “Top Gun” (1986)
13. “Each and every man under my command owes me one hundred Nazi scalps… And I want my scalps!” — Lt. Aldo Raine, “Inglourious Basterds” (2009)
14. “Are you quitting on me? Well, are you? Then quit, you slimy f–king walrus-looking piece of sh-t! Get the f–k off of my obstacle! Get the f–k down off of my obstacle! NOW! MOVE IT! Or I’m going to rip your balls off, so you cannot contaminate the rest of the world! I will motivate you, Private Pyle, IF IT SHORT-D–KS EVERY CANNIBAL ON THE CONGO!” — Gunnery Sgt. Hartman, “Full Metal Jacket” (1987)
15. “Ideals are peaceful. History is violent.” —Wardaddy, “Fury” (2014)
16. “I ain’t got time to bleed.” — Blain, “Predator” (1987)
17. “I could have killed ’em all, I could kill you. In town you’re the law, out here it’s me. Don’t push it. Don’t push it or I’ll give you a war you won’t believe. Let it go. Let it go.” —Rambo, “First Blood” (1982)
18. “Spartans! Ready your breakfast and eat hearty… For tonight, we dine in hell!” — King Leonidas, “300” (2006)
19. “All right, sweethearts, what are you waiting for? Breakfast in bed? Another glorious day in the Corps! A day in the Marine Corps is like a day on the farm. Every meal’s a banquet! Every paycheck a fortune! Every formation a parade! I LOVE the Corps!” — Sgt. Apone, “Aliens” (1986)
20. “You still think it’s beautiful to die for your country. The first bombardment taught us better. When it comes to dying for country, it’s better not to die at all.” — Paul Baumer, “All Quite on the Western Front” (1930)
21. “Sir, Custer was a p-ssy. You ain’t.” — Sgt. Maj. Plumley, “We Were Soldiers” (2002)
22. “Sir, I got lost on the way to college, sir.” — Anthony Swofford, “Jarhead” (2005)
23. “Remember Sully when I promised to kill you last? I lied.” — John Matrix, “Commando” (1985)
25. “Only two kinds of people are gonna stay on this beach: those that are already dead and those that are gonna die. Now get off your butts. You guys are the Fighting 29th.” — Brig. Gen. Norman Cota, “The Longest Day” (1962)
26. “F–kin’ badass, I was there. F–kin’ took him out at 400 yards, head popped up three feet in the air. Crazy shot, man.”
27. “Yes they had weapons! You think there’s a script for fighting a war without pissing somebody off? Follow the rules and nobody gets hurt? Yes, innocent people probably died. Innocent people always die but I did not exceed my orders.” — Col. Terry Childers, “Rules of Engagement” (2000)
28. “We’re Airborne. We don’t start fights, we *finish* ’em!” —Galvan, “Hamburger Hill” (1987)
29. “Lighten up, Francis.” — Sgt. Hulka, “Stripes” (1981)
30. “My name is Gunnery Sergeant Highway. I’ve drunk more beer, banged more quiff, pissed more blood, and stomped more ass than all of you numb-nuts put together.” — Gunny Highway, “Heartbreak Ridge” (1986)
31. “All I ever wanted was an honest week’s pay for an honest day’s work.” — Master Sgt. Ernie Bilko, “Sgt. Bilko”
32. “You see Danny, I can deal with the bullets, and the bombs, and the blood. I don’t want money, and I don’t want medals. What I do want is for you to stand there in that f–goty white uniform and with your Harvard mouth extend me some f–king courtesy. You gotta ask me nicely.” — Col. Nathan Jessep, “A Few Good Men” (1992)
A T-38C Talon II trainer aircraft crashed at Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas on Sept. 11, 2018, marking the fourth accident for the aging aircraft in the past year.
The aircraft, a twin-engine, high-altitude supersonic jet and part of the 80th Flying Training Wing, crashed on Sept. 11, 2018, while taking off. The two pilots ejected safely and were taken to local medical facilities, the base said in a statement. Both pilots are said to be in stable condition.
Sept. 11, 2018’s incident follows another T-38 crash in mid-August 2018. The 71st Flying Training Wing aircraft crashed at Vance Air Force Base in Oklahoma on Aug. 17, 2018, becoming the sixth aircraft the US Air Force lost to noncombat mishaps in 2018, according to The Drive.
A T-38C Talon used primarily by Air Education and Training Command for undergraduate pilot and pilot instructor training.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Steve White)
Another trainer jet crashed in May 2018 near Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi. Both pilots were able to eject safely from the plane. And all three of these incidents were proceeded by a fatal crash in November 2017. Capt. Paul J. Barbour lost his life when his plane crashed near Laughlin Air Force Base in Del Rio, Texas, according to Military.com. The pilot’s ejection seat was not armed at the time of the crash.
The T-38 program, according to the US Air Force, is old, expensive, and outdated, a Congressional Research Service report from May 2018 explains, noting these jets are not well-suited for training future pilots for fifth-generation fighter and bomber operations.
The contract for the replacement T-X trainer has been delayed several times due to budget issues.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
A new book by a former SEAL dives into the gritty detail one of the most vicious fights of the 10-year Iraq War and helps fill in the blanks of the story about the legendary sniper who’s heroism propelled his memory into a blockbuster film.
Kevin “Dauber” Lacz is a former Navy SEAL whose career saw time in some of the most violent and contentious battles of Operation Iraqi Freedom, including the 2006 Battle of Ramadi. Lacz’ SEAL Team Three included names that are now familiar (and famous) in American popular culture, including “American Sniper” Chris Kyle, Mike Monsoor, Ryan Job and Mark Lee.
While Lacz was deployed to Ramadi with SEAL Team Three, he kept track of the accomplishments of his unit — not just the Chris Kyles of the war, but the Marines and Soldiers who fought alongside him and the officers who lead them. The book does a lot more than highlight the stories of SEAL door-kickers, but instead describes how the entire U.S. military team battled the enemy in the darkest days of the Iraq insurgency.
“We started doing some cool stuff I wanted to remember,” Lacz says. “There were a ton of heroes from the SEAL teams to the support manual to help us. I felt it was necessary to go into detail because a lot of people don’t hear about the supporting cast. That was the pulse of this narrative.”
Grossman proposes that 2 percent of the male population is able to participate in combat without psychological consequences – that this 2 percent can kill without the psychological trauma usually associated with taking a life. That theory made sense to Lacz, an admitted 2-percenter.
“People talk about Chris [Kyle] and Mike [Monsoor],” says Lacz, “but to talk about a gentleman who came back after being in the reserves, in his late forties, and acting like a 26-year-old lethal badass when the platoon needed him most? It’s stuff like that that makes storytelling unique.”
Chris Kyle asked Lacz to help with his book “American Sniper,” and Lacz was also involved in the film — helping write the screenplay and portraying himself on screen.
One of the things that struck Lacz most was the portrayal of post-traumatic stress in the Clint Eastwood film.
“When I saw the PTSD cues that it had, I felt it was necessary to write about the 2 percent of people that go to war, fight in combat and come back normal,” Lacz remarks. “I wanted to try and get away from the perception that everybody who goes to war and sees combat has PTSD.”
That’s one of the driving themes of “The Last Punisher.” Lacz gives detailed accounts of sniper overwatch missions all over Ramadi. He doesn’t skip the grimy, bloody details, either. He tells the story of how one SEAL teammate had to move a dead enemy, tactically, toward a hospital while wearing his full kit. Lacz describes in detail how pulling the trigger on his Mk 11 – how the shots crumple the enemy’s body after creating the telltale “pink mist” of a good kill.
None of the violence is gratuitous. The consequences of an illegal kill are grave. Lacz talks about the confirmation necessary for a sniper to take a shot, the rules of engagement to kill an insurgent.
“As a professional warrior – a steward of the American flag – you operate under a strict set of guidelines. My rules of engagement were clear. Hostile action or hostile intent were the behaviors for which I could kill an insurgent. The presentation of the artillery round left no doubt. I felt the switch as my breathing deepened and my heart slowed even more. I felt every muscle in my body relax as I tightened the slack in the match-grade trigger of my Mk 11. The muj [mujahideen, or enemy combatant] stood, looking up in my direction and, from behind a pair of binoculars, Chris [Kyle] said, ‘Dump him.'”
“I wanted to give a visceral feeling of war,” Lacz says. “I wanted them to get an intense feeling of what camaraderie is. It’s a simple story, but it’s a powerful story and it shows why the teams were important to me. I want to tell stories like that.”
His stories are powerful and Lacz does not paint himself to be a superhuman operator. He writes about his first run as a new guy SEAL, clearing an entire house in Iraq without a magazine in his weapon.
He gives the same treatment to his teammates. Ralphie misses a shot. The Legend can’t pick a lock. Dauber (Lacz) leaves for a mission without hydrating.
This is war. This is special operations. This is reality.
And while it would be difficult to put ourselves in the mindset of a recruit going through BUD/S (the SEALs’ basic underwater demolition course) we can all relate to being the FNG — no matter the unit.
“I think people are enthralled with Navy SEALs, from their training down to their operations,” says Lacz. “You don’t know what qualities guarantee you’ll make it through training. I wanted to pull all that together and say the best I can, ‘These are the type of people I worked with and these are the qualities, this is why they made it.’ ”
“People want to hear that,” he adds. “We always look towards SEALs in one way or another, and I think giving them a better background and writing it more like a non-fiction novel helped do that.”
Don’t be put off by the human side of Naval Special Warfare portrayed in Lacz’ book. He includes many of the anecdotes loved by veterans and military history buffs. He describes his own anger and desire for revenge against the enemy every time he loses anyone in uniform — whether SEALs or Marines. He (and other SEALs) feel a deep, intense rage seeing Americans in uniform make the ultimate sacrifice.
The muj opened up on the patrol with what sounded like an insane amount of fire. I heard AKs, PKCs, and RPGs going off like Armageddon a few blocks to the southeast.
“Jesus Christ,” Tony said. “Anybody got a line of sight on that contact?” Nobody did. We couldn’t engage.
“Well, sh*t,” Chris said. “What do we do now?”
“I’ve got a flag in my body armor,” I said.
“Well, sh*t yes, let’s run it up. Draw some attention away from that patrol.” Chris got off his gun and crawled over to my position. I took the flag out of my body armor while Chris found a big aluminum pole. He grabbed the flag and tied it to the pole.
“Let’s f*cking hoist it,” he said.
Marc pulled out his little video camera and started filming the historic event while Jeremy joined Chris and me as we hoisted the flag up, flying it high on the rooftop in the middle of Muj country. We all crouched there, beaming at what had to be one of the most America-f*ck-yeah moves in the entire war.
Lacz wrote “The Last Punisher” with the help of his wife Lindsay and journalist and Marine Corps veteran Ethan Rocke. Lacz acknowledges the 10-year gap between the book and his deployments, saying he delayed writing the book to make sure it was as accurate as possible. If he couldn’t remember the details, he didn’t include it in the book.
“Each chapter has a specific theme,” Lacz says. “I think it’s more of a literary work than just a memoir of some guy putting a tape recorder down and just spewing everything he can remember about deployment. That’s what I want people to take away.”
Lacz believes doing this project with his wife was integral to the quality of the work. He believes all warriors should write about their experiences, from SEALs to Rangers to Marines.
“I wanted all veterans to write their stories, especially for their spouses,” he says. “It answers questions for them. The spouse will never know 100% of what they did or what they’ve gone through, but I think it’s important for more people to tell their stories. Lindsay didn’t pry, she just needed to find the details out. She has a better pulse about who I am.”
Last year, the world began waging a war against a new enemy: COVID-19. As the threat emerged and casualties mounted, the year 2020 brought changes in the way people conduct business, accomplish personal tasks, pursue education, and celebrate milestones. The pandemic also highlighted the mandate for a different type of leader: one who shares information transparently while taking appropriate measures to mitigate risk and – crucially – recognizing the importance of a more personal and human approach to communication.
Captain David Baird, USN, Commanding Officer of Naval Station (NAVSTA) Rota, Spain, has been that leader. Baird and his leadership team developed and executed a plan to keep members of the NAVSTA Rota community safe, healthy and mission-ready. A central tenet of that plan was, in Baird’s words, “calm, compassionate, clear and factual communication.”
His strategy has been successful.
Since the start of the pandemic, the number of COVID-19 cases within the NAVSTA Rota community has remained low and relatively isolated. Meanwhile, the atmosphere on the base has been calm, and compliance with recommended public health measures has been high. Baird’s success navigating a public health crisis while fighting this new enemy, Covid-19, is a case study in effective leadership.
Preparing to Battle a New Kind of Threat
As COVID-19 ravaged Spain in Spring 2020, the NAVSTA Rota community remained focused on its mission. With cases rising sharply throughout the country, Baird and his leadership team were closely monitoring the spread of the virus and had taken measures to prepare for what might come.
By the end of March 2020, Spain was under a state of emergency, with all non-essential businesses closed and non-essential workers under a stay-at-home order. NAVSTA Rota had switched to a “minimum manning posture,” many base facilities were closed, and base schools had transitioned to remote learning. By early April, face coverings were required in all buildings.
Implementing these drastic operational changes was a massive undertaking, but an equally difficult challenge was less straightforward: successfully leading the NAVSTA Rota community through the pandemic. It was a tall order at a time when uncertainty about the virus warranted panic and fear, and face-to-face interaction had suddenly become extremely limited. Fortunately, Baird was able to draw on his combat and risk management experience to devise a strategy that all would embrace and that would keep everyone safe and informed, while also allowing his command to accomplish its mission.
Developing a Communication Strategy
Early in the pandemic, one of Baird’s first orders of business was figuring out how to communicate with the entire NAVSTA Rota community to keep everyone informed and avoid panic. With limited information, people were understandably anxious and feared for the safety of loved ones, both locally and back in the US.
Baird harkened back to advice a mentor once gave him: Rather than treating others the way you want to be treated, “treat them the way you want your children or your parents to be treated.” Baird added, “The parent part was so important, because many of us were worried about elderly parents, [who are] at a higher risk.” Baird summarized the advice another way: “View others in the way you view the people you care about the most.”
With that axiom as a backdrop to his communication philosophy, Baird was keenly aware of the importance of transparently sharing credible, accurate information. However, he recognized that “there is no such thing as perfect communication.” Rather, it’s an ongoing process of constant improvement and an effort to “connect with [people] in a meaningful way.”
All of this was the foundation for the communication plan that he and his leadership team devised. With in-person gatherings not an option, they had to find alternate ways to reach members of the NAVSTA Rota community. Baird and his public affairs officer (PAO) decided they would “use every other means available,” including social media and AFN Rota radio to share information, answer questions, and keep the community informed in real time.
Communication without face-to-face interaction
In developing the communication strategy, Baird recalled his conversation, many years earlier, with the PAO at Naval Air Facility Atsugi in Japan regarding the 2011 Fukushima disaster and how the command had communicated about the evacuation of dependents. Answering questions and sharing information ‘round the clock via Facebook proved to be the most effective communication tactic.
Baird explains, “people crave every piece of information they can get. If information is not provided by an official source, they’re going to find an unofficial source that probably isn’t as credible.” He and his team determined that communication via Facebook would work well in the face of this new crisis, and he began publishing frequent updates on the Naval Station Rota Facebook page.
Initially, the updates consisted primarily of data on the spread of COVID in the Andalusia region of Spain, but in late March 2020, Baird began taking a new approach. As members of the Rota community were suddenly confined to their homes and severely restricted from daily activities, sharing numbers wasn’t enough. He wanted to put the information into perspective and help them truly understand what it all meant.
He explained, “I started telling stories using some of my life experiences to help figure out: How can we frame our current situation, and what does the future look like?”
Baird talked about everything from personal courage, to fear, to his experiences training for an Ironman triathlon and as a member of the rowing team at the United States Naval Academy. Each update was focused on helping the NAVSTA Rota community understand the current situation and where it was all headed, while keeping everyone motivated. The updates were honest, personal, and empathetic, and they quickly resonated with the community. Readers commented on the posts, thanking Baird for his candor, positivity, and leadership.
In response to one of Baird’s early “story-telling” updates, a member of the Rota community commented, “NAVSTA Rota is exemplifying true leadership right now. Capt. Baird, you are setting the standard for military leadership through this experience and I hope other commanders follow your example.”
A hallmark of Baird’s updates is transparency. He has been careful to share what his leadership team knew – and what they didn’t know – at all times: “Acknowledging there are a lot of things that we don’t know is important to establish credibility and maintain credibility about the things that [we] are stating as fact.”
He also explained the “why” for each new constraint on daily activities: “Every restriction we put into place was grounded in some sort of data.” His explanations, along with his acknowledgement of how difficult and frustrating the restrictions could be, made the news more palatable to the NAVSTA Rota community.
As one Facebook follower commented, “We know this is a super challenging situation and one that none of us planned on or wanted to be in, especially while living abroad. But we truly do appreciate your transparency and communication, and we commend you for how leadership has handled this difficult time here.”
The constant COVID-related communications through Facebook, town hall meetings and on AFN Rota – more than 300 since the start of the pandemic – prompted more than 10,000 comments and questions from the NAVSTA Rota community; a clear indication that members have been engaged and paying attention.
The global military community takes notice
Current members of the NAVSTA Rota community weren’t the only audience for Baird’s Facebook updates. Among the thousands of people following along were family and friends of service members stationed in Rota, retired service members, and those who served at NAVSTA Rota in the past. Baird’s leadership has meant a lot to them.
One parent wrote, “My daughter and son-in-law and granddaughter are currently stationed on your base during this crazy event. I’m extremely pleased with the way NSR is keeping everyone posted on the current issues in and around the base and country.”
Another parent simply said, “Our son and family are with you. Glad you are in Command.”
In response to one of Baird’s very candid updates about the need for all members of the NAVSTA Rota community to keep their guard up, a Navy retiree had this to say:
“As a sailor who once served in Rota, ultimately retiring from the US Navy, I have seen and read many memos of consequence. Your writing and eloquence in communicating the current issues on healthcare and the pandemic are simply outstanding. I have not, as a healthcare professional, seen better than what you transmit. If more leaders did what you do, we would all be in a better place pandemic-wise.”
The path forward and lessons learned
Baird and his leadership team continue to remain vigilant and share continual communication amidst the gradual lifting of COVID-related restrictions in Spain and rollout of the vaccine. As of April 2021, Naval Hospital Rota had already administered both doses of the Moderna vaccine to thousands of members of the NAVSTA Rota community, including active duty service members and US civilian workers, along with their adult family members. TRICARE-eligible retirees and family members were also offered the vaccine.
More than a year into the pandemic, Baird continues to refine his leadership strategy. He explains, “I’ve realized that maintaining a sense of calm is important.” He also recognizes that it is important to “meet people where they are in terms of their current level of knowledge of the COVID situation.” When imposing new COVID-related restrictions or making changes to the base routine, Baird must provide context and justification to explain why those measures are necessary.
Baird says that one of the most important lessons learned through this pandemic is “the value of having a team that works well together and supports one another.” Indeed, Baird has been surrounded by a strong team who helped navigate all aspects of the pandemic. Long before the vaccine became available, the Naval Hospital Rota team established a very effective testing and contact tracing system. DoDEA leadership quickly transitioned base schools to remote learning. The Public Health Emergency Officer (PHEO) examined every line of operations on the base to confirm that sufficient COVID restrictions were in place. The Spanish Liaison Office translated more than 1,700 pages of legal documents to ensure Baird and his leadership team understood the current Spanish laws and policies. Baird’s PAO worked around the clock ensuring that all communication reflected the latest restrictions and guidance, some of which changed several times per week. And MWR leadership made numerous overhauls to their supply chain and other processes at base eateries to accommodate changing restrictions.
Members of the base community also came together to help and support each other. They made and distributed homemade face-coverings before masks were widely available. They purchased food and other items for those who had PCS’d to Rota and were required to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. They looked out for each other’s children and pets. And they complied with base and local COVID safety measures.
Successfully navigating through the pandemic has been a group effort, but it all starts at the top. Through his leadership, Baird set the tone for an environment where members of the NAVSTA Rota community could trust and support one another.
As COVID restrictions are gradually lifted and the future remains unknown, the wisdom Baird offered to the community last year, in the throes of the pandemic, still rings true and illustrates why he has been an effective leader for NAVSTA Rota during this crisis: “The transition process will take time. We will need to proceed slowly and methodically. It will be frustrating at times, and we may need to reverse course at times. But each transition will bring us one step closer to our new normal, and each step forward will be a sign of improvement. It will be a long road to travel, but I look forward to traveling it with all of you.”
Featured image: Capt. David Baird, commanding officer of Naval Station (NAVSTA) Rota, Spain, receives the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine from Hospitalman Viviana Lao, assigned to U.S. Naval Hospital (USNH) Rota, Spain, at NAVSTA Rota’s movie theater on 16 January, 2021. USNH Rota has begun administering the vaccine to frontline healthcare and first responders as part of the vaccination campaign. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Eduardo Otero)
In this episode of the Mandatory Fun podcast, Blake, Tim, and O.V. talk with stand-up comedian and Marine veteran Mitch Burrow about a Communist Army cadet and a cannibal dictator, and they make a smooth segue into Ken Burns’ Vietnam documentary.
General Idi Amin dethroned the government of Milton Obote and declared himself president of Uganda. During his eight years of ruthless leadership, it’s estimated he massacred approximately 300,000 civilians.
Then it’s rumored the Ugandan president was a closet cannibal and liked munch on human remains.
Mitch is a Marine Corps veteran that served in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. He then started a career in manufacturing before realizing that it sucked. Now, Mitch has found his true calling in acting silly on a stage in front of strangers on a nightly basis.
To follow Mitch or check out one of his shows visit his website: Mitchburrow.com.
The home of one of the most legendary U.S. Marines ever is up for sale in Virginia.
The former residence of Lt. Gen. Lewis B. Puller — known affectionately as “Chesty” since he was awarded five Navy Crosses, among other military awards — was listed for sale in June for $395,000. It was last sold in Feb. 2007 for $315,000.
Puller’s 2,253 square foot, 3 bedroom, 2 bath home is located at 732 Gloucester Rd., Saluda, Virginia. It sits on a 3.37 acre lot.
Born in 1898, Puller joined the Marine Corps in 1918 and went on to serve for 37 years, seeing combat in Haiti, Nicaragua, World War II, and Korea. He died in Virginia in 1971, and still remains the only Marine to ever be awarded five Navy Crosses. (Puller is buried just a few miles away from the home in Christ Church Parish Cemetery).
Own a piece of history- the cherished home of Lieutenant General Lewis B.Chesty Puller who was one of the most decorated Marines to ever serve in the Corps. He was the only Marine to win the Navy Cross five times for heroism and gallantry in combat. State Route 33 which is the major dual lane highway through Middlesex County is named in his honor- Lewis B. Puller Memorial Highway.
Army Special Forces veteran Tyler Grey is definitely what you would call an “operator.”
A Ranger, a sniper with the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, and a combat veteran, Grey has served his country well.
He knows the meaning of sacrifice, perhaps more than most. In 2005, he was blown up in a raid in Sadr City, Iraq, which nearly cost him his arm. But the experience gave Grey an evolved sense of perspective.
We Are The Mighty sat down to talk with him about how music had an impact on his career and his life, and what he had to say was pretty insightful.
“The journey isn’t that you never have a problem. The journey is overcoming problems. The music I like is about people who are honest and open enough to share a problem, to share a weakness, to share an experience that affected them, and then how they overcome it.”
We also asked Grey to make a Battle Mix — a playlist of power anthems — with songs that held significant meaning throughout his life. He didn’t disappoint.
After the Second World War ended, Germany was split in two. The Allies took control over Western Germany while the communists shrouded the eastern half behind the Iron Curtain. Berlin, Germany’s capital, was also famously split in two. The city is nestled deep into the heart of Eastern Germany, leaving the West Germans living there to fend for themselves in a war-torn city without supplies.
Starting in June of 1948, the communists tried their best to cut West Berlin off from the outside world. In what was later dubbed the “Berlin Blockade,” the Soviets shut down all railway, road, and canal access to Western citizens. Just as quickly, allied humanitarian missions were carried out to get food and supplies to the starving people of West Berlin. Between June 24th, 1948, and September 30th of the following year, 278,228 air missions, collectively called “Operation Vittles,” delivered over 2,326,406 tons of supplies to keep the city alive.
But one man, Lt. Gail Halvorsen, went behind his commander’s back to deliver a little extra and help raise the children’s spirits. His personal mission was dubbed Operation Little Vittles.
For this, the kids gave him the exceedingly clever nickname, “Uncle Wiggle Wings.”
Lt. Gail Halvorsen arrived in Germany in July, 1948, and was given orders to fly one of the C-54 Skymasters into the city to ferry supplies. On his day off, he decided to walk around the airfield with a camera to get a couple good shots of aircraft taking off and landing. When he made it to the fence at the end of the runway, he noticed that a group of children were gathered to watch the planes.
They asked him all sorts of questions about the planes and their mission and, as a demonstration of good faith, he gave them the two sticks of gum he had in his pocket. The impoverished kids divvied the two sticks, splitting it evenly amongst the large gathering — they didn’t fight over who got the biggest piece. In fact, it was said that the kid missed candy so much that just smelling the wrapper was good enough.
Halvorsen was heartbroken. He promised the children that he’d return with more. He told them that he’d always “wiggle his wings” when he was flying overhead with candy.
Among all the fan mail and shipments of candy, Halvorsen also received plenty of marriage proposals from the ladies back home. Take notes, fellas.
The very next day, he tied a bunch of candy to handkerchief parachutes and tossed it out of his plane to the kids waiting below as he took off. Halvorsen continued to do this every single day and, as he did, the daily gathering of kids grew larger.
His commanding officer, Lieutenant General William H. Tunner, heard of what he was doing and was reportedly upset. It wasn’t until every newspaper in the region (and back home) started reporting on the heroics of “Uncle Wiggly Wings” or “The Chocolate Flier” that the general officially allow Halvorsen to continue.
Soon enough, people began sending candy to Halvorsen’s unit. Folks back in the States started sending candy by the box, large candy makers donated to Halvorsen’s cause, and the West German children shared the bounty amongst themselves.
As Christmas, 1948, drew nearer, Halvorsen knew he’d have to do something big. By this point, candy makers had supplied him with 18 tons of candy and another 3 tons was given by private donors. In a single night, instead of tossing it to the kids gathered by the runway’s end, Halvorsen spread it across the entire city.
For one night, the spirit of Christmas was brought to the people of West Berlin. The kindness of Lt. Halvorsen, his crew, and the innumerable candy donors would never be forgotten.
To more on this story, listen to the silky smooth narration of Tom Brokaw below.
Emails- They are the bane of our existence, but they are how we communicate in the modern world. Each day, military leaders clean out their inboxes only to have them fill back up within hours. Unfortunately, quantity doesn’t equal quality. Too often, the purpose of the email is buried, with the sender seeming to aim for length rather than substance. Unfortunately, many of these garbled messages create misalignment in organizations, waste time, money and in some extreme cases–lives.
Why does it matter? It matters because being able to effectively communicate through writing provides leaders and staff officers with understanding and the ability to act. Additionally, when we communicate efficiently, we give the person we’re communicating with time back to focus on other things besides reading emails or multi-page SITREPs.
Eighty years ago, Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill faced a similar problem. Every day he received a large volume of typed reports in his black box from his War Cabinet. And as he pointed out in a 1940 memorandum titled BREVITY, “Nearly all of [the reports] are too long. This wastes time, while energy has to be spent in looking for the essential points.”
Fortunately for us, Sir Winston offered his staff four tips that can help us improve our communication skills today.
The aim should be reports which set out the main points in a series of short, crisp paragraphs
If a report relies on a detailed analysis of some complicated factors, or on statistics, these should be set out in an Appendix.
Often the occasion is best met by submitting not a full-dress report, but an aide-memoire consisting of headings only, which can be expanded orally if needed.
Let us have an end to such phrases as these: “It is also important to bear in mind the following considerations…..” or “Consideration should be given to the possibility of carrying into effect……” Most of these wooly phrases are mere padding, which can be left out altogether, or replaced by a single word. Let us not shrink from using the short expressive phrase, even if it is conversationalized.
Less is more. When writing emails, brevity is better. A long email can overcomplicate an issue and your main message may get lost in the process.
I’ve learned that it is best to open emails with one or two sentences that describe the purpose of your correspondence. It also helps to let them know upfront if you are telling them for awareness or if you want them to make a decision. When you do it well, you don’t need to write the letters “BLUF” because it will be inherent. If you have suspense, include it upfront. And then end your paragraph there.
So as many of us spend the next several weeks working from home, let us take a page from Churchill’s notebook.