Enlisted people always talk about their officers. Every officer is constantly scrutinized by their subordinates — from how they talk to how they present themselves to how well they lead. This is, generally, a good thing but, sometimes, it can go bad. Many enlisted feel as though there’s a huge disconnect between themselves and the officers residing somewhere up the chain of command. But there is an important buffer between them: the non-commissioned officer, or NCO.
The NCO is the go-between for the two groups, especially non-rates (E-3 and below). If we take the name by its literal meaning, then every E-4 and above is, technically, an NCO because the President of the United States has not commissioned them.
To be ‘commissioned’ means the officer received his status from the President himself. To even be a candidate for officership, you must have at least a bachelor’s degree — unless you’ve received a battlefield commission, which is rare (this exception has only been used a handful of times).
Why is there such an emphasis on education? Officers handle a lot of advanced roles and “bigger picture” planning, among other things. This makes a foundation in education extremely important.
Enlisted, conversely, can join the military straight from high school using a diploma or a GED. Being commissioned as an officer gives young, new lieutenants a degree of status over a young, new airmen, privates, or seamen — but not the NCO. NCOs have years of service and have developed a focused, on-the-job expertise in their field. More than that, however, they know their people, the junior ranks who will be doing the bulk of the tactical work on the ground. In truth, a good NCO is an invaluable asset to any an officer.
Once upon a time, having a bachelor’s degree created a concrete distinction between enlisted and officers. Now, however, times have changed and many people come to the military with post-secondary education. This leads some enlisted to believe the commissioned-enlisted divide is a sham — or, in extreme cases, enlisted use this as an argument against authority. Regardless of how many degrees are among the ranks, higher education is an essential element to becoming an officer in any branch — it just won’t earn you any automatic respect from enlisted, so don’t lean on it.
When it comes to command, officers command other commissioned officers of lesser rank. The NCO cannot command a commissioned officer unless that officer is under the care of the NCO for training, such as at The Basic School of the U.S. Marines Corps.
While some NCOs question whether an officer corps is necessary, there has always been a divide between enlisted and officers, and there will always be. The reason for this is simple: there may be a time where an officer has to send one of his men into the jaws of death. They can’t be shy about doing it when the situation calls.
But trust is important. NCOs grow as leaders, both in age and time in service. They learn tactical control of the battlefield, and they know when an officer looks at the enlisted as a way to climb the political ladder, or worse: as cannon fodder.
The officers outrank the NCOs: They make more money and they get more fringe benefits. But the NCO is the true backbone of the military, carrying out the officer’s orders in the most efficient way possible. The two need each other and that’s what makes a military operation so effective.
The grassy hill surrounding the arena is packed full of spectators and family members. The emcee calls out a dancer’s name; there’s movement in the crowd. The competitor makes it into the arena, throws out his hoops for his sequence.
Upon the dancer’s cue, the drum starts singing. Bells on his ankles sing in time with each beat of the drum and each step he makes.
He has five minutes to convey a story, using small hoops as his medium to paint each scene, as part of the 28th Annual Heard Museum World Championship Hoop Dance Contest held in Phoenix in 2018.
“The competition opens everyone’s eyes to the Native American culture,” said Timothy Clouser, the museum’s facilities director and a Navy veteran. “I find it very fascinating how each dancer puts their own artistic expression in their dance and story they are trying to convey. Not one dance is the same.”
Brian Hammill, an Army veteran of the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin and a previous World Hoop Dance champion, competed in Phoenix. He uses his dancing to help bridge the cultural gap between Native Americans and non-natives, sharing his culture everywhere he goes.
“As native people, we don’t give gifts of objects because an object goes away, but we give the gift of a song, or a dance,” Hammill said. “When you do that, if you give somebody a song, and you tell them, ‘Every time you sing this song, you tell the story,’ or ‘Every time you do this dance, you tell the story and you give it away,’ that dance will last forever. That’s how this hoop dance carries on; it’s given from one person to the next.”
Army veteran Brian Hammill of the Ho-Chunk Nation applies face paint before grand entry at the 28th Annual Heard Museum World Championship Hoop Dance Contest at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona, Feb. 10, 2018.
(Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Anita C. Newman)
The hoop dance is different than other Native American dances, such as powwow dancing. Powwows are inter-tribal celebrations of Native American culture. Tribal affiliation doesn’t matter, nor does what region someone is from. It doesn’t even matter if someone is native or non-native.
Powwow dancing consists of at least six categories. Men’s categories include the fancy dance, grass dance and traditional dance. Women’s categories are the fancy dance, jingle dress and traditional dance.
The hoop dance regalia is minimal compared to that of the powwow dances. Typically, a hoop dancer will wear a shirt, breechcloth, side drops, sheep skin, bells (or deer hooves) and moccasins. The colors and designs are specific to each person. The hoops are small and vary in size, typically depending on the height of the dancer. Sometimes they have designs on them, again, specific to each dancer.
“Traditionally, the hoops were made out of willow, depending on where the tribe was located,” Hammill said. “I make mine out of a very exotic wood called plastic.”
The hoop dance has different origin stories with a common thread that it originated in the Southwest. To some native nations, the hoop dance is a healing dance, Hammill said. A hoop would traditionally be passed over an afflicted person, then the dancer would break that hoop and never use it again.
“Basically, it was a way of taking away all that pain or sickness away,” Hammill said. “That’s not done in public. There is also a story of the children, the Taos Pueblo children. It is said that the children saw this ceremony taking place and began to emulate what they saw. Instead of telling the kids, ‘No, you can’t do this,’ the adults encouraged them. They began to sing songs for them. They took what was a prayer and made it something the kids could do. So, basically, the dance changed, it evolved.
“In the north, it tells of a warrior’s journey,” he continued. “As you see these hoops come together, they start to make formations. You’ll see the eagle, the butterfly, the warrior on the battlefield defending his family, the clouds in the sky.”
Each person, he explained, will see that dance in a different way, interpret the story differently. There are hundreds of hoop dance stories, but each one revolves around the sacred circle of life.
“The significance of the hoops is that it represents the circle of life. There’s no beginning and no ending,” Hammill said. “We are taught that each and every one of us — doesn’t matter who we are, where we come from, the color of our skin — we are all created equal in that sacred hoop.”
Another part of Hammill’s culture that he lives every day is the tradition of service.
“The way I was always taught is, as a native person, we are always here to serve the people,” he said.
U.S. Army veteran, Brian Hammill of the Ho-Chunk Nation, competes at the 28th Annual Heard Museum World Championship Hoop Dance Contest at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona on Feb. 10, 2018.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Anita C. Newman)
“We serve them by cooking and providing food for them. We teach them, or protect them. One of the greatest things I was always taught that we do, is we put ourselves in harm’s way to protect our families and our identity. It was something I’ve always wanted to do, I felt I needed to do.”
Hammill enlisted in the Army while still in high school. He went to basic training during the summer between his junior and senior years, and went on active duty after graduation.
“It’s just something that we do,” he said. “You’ll find that throughout the United States, there are a higher percentage of native veterans per capita than any other race.”
While he was stationed in South Korea, one of his first sergeants learned that he had danced while growing up, and asked Hammill to share his culture with everyone. He performed the men’s fancy dance for his fellow soldiers.
“A lot of these soldiers weren’t exposed to different cultures, so he had me do one of my first presentations there,” he said. “I called my dad in Wisconsin, and he shipped all of my dance regalia to me. I started doing presentations for the people I was stationed with, and in different areas throughout the Korean theater. That’s where I really got the passion to share the story, and I found out how important it is.”
Hammill was introduced to the hoop dance prior to his transition out of the military in 1994. Back then, he would travel about 120 miles from Fort Polk, Louisiana, to Livingston, Texas, where he performed and danced with the Alabama-Coushatta tribe.
“A good friend of mine, Gillman Abbey, basically gave me this hoop dance,” he said. “He told me the story. He told me every time I dance, to always make sure I share the story, and give the dance.”
He said the hoop dance helped him heal from his time in service. Still brand new to hoop dancing, Hammill actually competed in the World Hoop Dance Championship for the first time about six months after he got out of the military.
“I was 24, in the adult division,” he said. “I remember I was scared because this is a huge competition. Some of the dancers I’m still dancing with today pulled me aside, said to me, ‘Hey, you’re doing good. Let me show you some different moves. Let me help you.’ I’ll never forget that because that’s what really kept me coming back. Being here, feeling that hoop and how it affects people, it keeps me coming back. It took me a long time, about 15 years, until I won my first world title. I moved to the senior division and won four more. But it’s a family. It really is something we all have in common.”
In case you missed it, a 59-year old OEF veteran is reenlisting after a nearly ten year break in service. It took about a year to get the waivers and to cut the red tape, but Army regulations still require him to go through Basic Training all over again in June. I mean, that is what it is, but his military record kinda shows even more of how pointless that is…
His story begins when he enlisted in the Marines in ’78, got out and became a cop, reenlisted during Desert Storm as an infantryman, stayed in long enough to go to Afghanistan as PSYOPs, got out again to become SWAT, and now he’s looking to do it all over again.
I’m just saying – I know that the drill sergeants probably give him the appropriate amount of guff that’s required in Basic and understand that his knowledge of previous conflicts can be instrumental to teaching the younger troops. But imagine being that young, dumb trainee who thinks they’ve got jokes for the “old dude in his platoon” only to learn that he’s been kicking in door before their parents were born.
If only to be a fly on that wall… Anyways, here’s some memes.
Master Sergeant George Hand US Army (ret) was a member of the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, The Delta Force. He is a now a master photographer, cartoonist and storyteller.
Student: “Sergeant, how long do I have to deploy my reserve parachute if my main fails to open?”
Sergeant: “The rest of your life, son… the rest of your life.”
There is no argument that Tier-1 units routinely engage in dangerous training: climbing skyscraper structures, engaging in gunfights in close quarters and confined spaces, hunkering down nexts to explosive breaching charges that are barely an arm’s reach away as they ignite… A cringe-worthy component to that list that hooks every seasoned operator’s attention is airborne operations, because most things that go wrong during them can be fatal.
The feature image, Toad Jumper, is of course a parody of “towed jumper,” an airborne term used to describe a paratrooper whose static line, a 15-foot nylon cord that pulls open the jumper’s parachute, doesn’t separate from the aircraft. On the rare occasion that the parachute pack fails to break free from the static line anchored to the jump aircraft, the paratrooper will be towed behind the aircraft at ~120MPH spinning and slamming against the airplane. It is a horrid and deadly event.
Paras line up and hooked up. Static lines are hooked to anchor cable; they are routed correctly OVER the men’s arms. Mac’s had looped under his arm.
My best friend and renowned firearms trainer Patrick Arther “Mac”McNamara was a towed jumper on his very first training jump with the Army’s Airborne School in Ft. Benning, GA. His static line had unfortunately looped under his arm, cushioning the tug of the line and preventing it from effectively pulling his parachute loose.
Mac spun wildly and bounced off of the kin of the aircraft… then his static line fortunately was able to pull away his pack and deploy his parachute canopy correctly. The violent tug of the static line ripped his biceps muscle from his humerus bone and pulled it down to his forearm. He was in severe pain and unable to use his damaged arm.
When it rains it pours, and since Mac was not able to use his arm, he could not steer his parachute for a safe up-wind landing. Rather than face into the wind a parachute defaults to running down (with) the wind at higher speed. Mac braced himself, cringing before the impending impact with the ground.
Patrick McNamara frame grab from one of his training videos reveals the gnarly scar on his left biceps, a staunch reminder of being a towed (toad) jumper
He hit with great speed tumbling and flipping in excruciating pain. Landing is the most critical step in a jump that the jumper can have the most control over. The jumper must correctly assess the wind direction and turn himself to face into the wind by maneuvering the lines that suspend him from his canopy.
A paratrooper must perform a proper Parachute Landing Fall (PLF) to preclude broken bones and other injuries, and finally, a jumper must quickly securehis parachute to prevent being dragged across the ground resulting in potential death.
Now, the instructors on the Drop Zone, the Black Hats, saw Mac’s cartwheel landing and began to scream at him through electrically amplified megaphone:
“HEY LEG! WHO THE HELL TAUGHT YOU TO DO A DOWN-WIND LANDING, LEG!”
A leg was a term used to refer to a soldier who was not airborne qualified. By military doctrine, soldiers can be referred to as regular straight-leg infantry, and airborne infantry. Leg is a mildly derogatory term, yet a moniker of pride used by airborne forces.
Airborne pipe-hitters from the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) packed in their jump aircraft
Now Mac was being dragged by the wind across the ground further contributing to his anguish, as he could not release his parachute connection on his chest. That further infuriated the Black Hats:
“GODDAMNIT LEG, PULL YOUR CANOPY RELEASES, LEG… YOU STINKING LEG!!!”
A fellow student ran in front of Mac’s inflated parachute and collapsed it. Mac now had to stow all of his parachute into a kitbag and carry his gear to an assembly zone where students were gathered… all with just one good arm and the other in extreme pain.
Airborne soldier about to make contact with the ground; always a tense moment
Mac stumbled to the assembly point. His assessment of the event sums up what an amazing warrior Pat Mac is, and why I regard him such esteem to this day (words to the effect): “I didn’t really know what to think at the time; I mean, it was my first time and I really had no idea what to expect. To me, that was just what jumping was like… what every jump would be like… and I was willing to accept that.”
Pulling open his BDU shirt he saw that his biceps had been reassigned south of his shoulder to his forearm; the skin was stretched so tight that it had taken on a transparent form revealing the color of the sinew and blood vessels thereunder. He showed it to a couple of other students to see if their arms all looked the same way; none did. Only then did Mac realize his plight.
Mac had to have surgery to pull his bicep back up to his humerus to re-attach it, leaving him a gnarly scarred reminder. One of my team brothers in Delta also suffered the same fate as Mac in jump school. His static line looped under his arm. When he jumped he was momentarily towed; his biceps torn and pulled down to his forearm.
His biceps never really recovered to its original position, rather a bit low on his humerus toward his elbow. It really looked funny when he flexed his biceps, intentionally flexing it often in the gym with accompanying remarks such as: “(flexing) Just came in to pump up ol’ Betsy here… I know she looks pretty ripped now, but you should have seen how ripped she was in jump school!”
The trauma associated with a towed jumper scenario would easily be “quittin’ time” for most folks, with no fault assigned or explanation required. For Pat McNamara it was just one entry in a long line of threats that tried to beat him down and prevent him from obtaining his warrior goal. He went on to be arguably the best physically fit and top-performing Delta Operator of our era, and continues today to even exceed the standards that we maintained in the Unit.
FORT GORDON, Ga. – Fort Gordon honored Black History Month with a command program Monday in Darling Hall. The program was hosted by Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center and broadcasted live on Facebook to help maximize attendance.
The theme for this year’s observance is “Honor, Remember, Inspire.”
Chief Warrant Officer 5 Phillip Brashear of the 80th Training Command, a U.S. Army Reserve unit based in Richmond, Virginia, served as the program’s guest speaker. Brashear is the third-born son of the late Navy Master Chief Petty Officer Carl Brashear, who is the subject of the well-renowned film “Men of Honor,” and whose role is played by actor Cuba Gooding Jr.
Phillip said he likes to share his father’s story in hopes of inspiring others to overcome all adversity.
Born in 1931 to a family of sharecroppers in Kentucky, Phillip said that his father faced many obstacles during his lifetime. But Carl refused to let them get in the way of setting out to accomplish what he believed God had intended for him.
With barely an eighth grade level education, Carl enlisted in the Navy in 1948 at age 17.
“Race, poverty, and illiteracy were three things that my father had to face before he finally joined the Navy to try to do better in his life … three things still affect every country today,” Phillip said.
But his obstacles were far from over. Even among the ranks, racism was rampant. Being a Black man during that time meant career paths in the military were very limited. But Carl set his sights on becoming a diver and succeeded in 1954, making him the first African American Navy diver.
About 12 years into his career, Phillip’s father was involved in a military operation off the coast of Spain where he was sent in to assist with bomb recovery. During the operation, Carl suffered an injury that later required his lower left leg be amputated. The injured diver could have decided that was the end of his military career, but he refused. Instead, he endured months of pain and rehabilitation, determined to prove to the Navy he could still perform his duties.
“At any point, my father could’ve said, ‘This is too much for one man to bear,’ but my father wasn’t built like that, and he wasn’t going to take ‘no’ for an answer,” Phillip said. “My father said, ‘You know what? What’s for me is for me, and what God told me I could accomplish, I can accomplish despite.’”
The following year, in 1967, Carl returned, making him the first amputee to return to active-duty after the loss of a leg.
“If the Navy saw any fault in his abilities, the Navy was going to retire him,” he said. “He struggled and he endured, and he stayed in shape so that he could do what he had to do.”
“He knew in his heart that he didn’t want to quit, and he knew he had faith and God on his side; he overcame,” Phillip said of his father. “We don’t have the right to quit. No matter how hard we think we’ve got it, there’s always somebody who’s got it worse. Always.”
Phillip showed photographs to the audience of his father during physical rehabilitation. The images illustrated some of the obstacles he faced including donning a 300-pound dive suit in harsh conditions, and climbing a metal staircase with weights over his head while wearing dress shoes. Had he slipped and fallen, Phillip believes the Navy would have discharged his father.
In doing so, Phillip said that his father proved “nobody can take your goals away from you.” It was one countless life lessons he carries with him and shares with others.
Carl continued his service as a re-certified Navy diver until 1979, when he retired. Although the senior Brashear received an honorable discharge, Phillip said that his father admitted to having an alcohol addiction and sought help prior to his discharge – yet another hurdle he was able to overcome.
“Obstacle in the way? Deal with it. Move it, knock it down, go around it, obliterate it,” Phillip said. “It’s not a sin to get knocked down. It’s a sin to stay down.”
The elder Brashear passed away in 2006, but his legacy lives on in the stories his family shares and in multiple physical forms throughout Kentucky, such as the Carl Brashear Memorial Bridge in Tonieville, Kentucky and a marble statue in the Kentucky State Capitol Rotunda.
Reflecting on what Phillip shared, Col. Carlene A. S Blanding, EAMC commander, said it occurred to her that people “have no reason to not succeed.”
“It’s about action, and I think CW5 Brashear has laid the path of his father’s story for all of us,” Blanding said. “We have great opportunities, and it is our responsibility to make sure we capitalize on those opportunities.”
Two boats idled together in the Adriatic Sea just off the coast of Northern Italy, battered mercilessly by the waves as eight pairs of eyes searched the sky. The silence stretched for long moments, a hint of anticipation on the cool sea breeze before a radio crackled to life.
There would be three jumpers in five minutes, transmitted the radio. The information was passed between the occupants of both boats as they caught first sight of the approaching aircraft.
Members of the 57th Rescue Squadron participated in over-water parachute training. July 9, 2019, with a dozen pararescuemen aboard a C-130J Super Hercules from the 86th Airlift Wing at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, as eight more awaited their descent from below.
First out of the aircraft was a rigged alternate method zodiac, or RAMZ, an inflatable, motorized boat that the jumpers used once they made it to the water. As they worked on setting up their vehicle, the members in the support boats began pulling in the discarded parachutes to be repaired if necessary and reused in the future.
Pararescueman assigned to the 57th Rescue Squadron parachutes into the ocean during over-water parachute training off the coast of Italy, July 9, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kelsey Tucker)
The 57th RQS participates in jump training at least once a quarter, over both land and sea, to keep their skills and knowledge sharp in case they are ever needed in an emergency. The training not only benefits the pararescuemen, but requires harmonization with the squadron’s support agencies and even other bases – in this case, the C-130 and its crew.
Pararescuemen assigned to the 57th Rescue Squadron prepare a rigged alternate method zodiac vessel during over-water parachute training off the coast of Italy, July 9, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kelsey Tucker)
“Just for us to do this training, it requires so much coordination from our support shops,” said Capt. Jordan, a combat rescue officer with the 57th RQS. “Just on the water we have boat drivers, people pulling in chutes and medical personnel. We are super grateful to have an amazing combat mission support section.”
Jumping on land is far different than jumping into the ocean, and carries different challenges – not only for the jumpers themselves but also for the support personnel down below.
Pararescuemen assigned to the 57th Rescue Squadron prepare a rigged alternate method zodiac during over-water parachute training off the coast of Italy, July 9, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kelsey Tucker)
“On land, all you really have to worry about is another aircraft coming into your airspace,” said Staff Sgt. Jared, a 57th RQS aircrew flight equipment technician and drop zone control officer. “On water, you have to worry about boats, airplanes and that you’re constantly moving. You have to go where the jumpers go, and then reset, come back to your position and get ready for the next jumpers.”
Through successful support and coordination, the 57th RQS was able to carry out the required training needed in order to remain proficient in their job, providing day or night personnel recovery operations in any condition, during peace or war.
After five days, over 70 tested events and hundreds of evaluated standards, the U.S. Army named its top drill sergeant in a ceremony hosted by the Center for Initial Military Training, or CIMT, the lead in the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, or TRADOC, for all initial entry training.
Staff Sgt. Earnest J. Knight II, representing Fort Jackson, S.C. and the U.S. Army Drill Sergeant Academy, is the 2019 U.S. Army Drill Sergeant of the Year.
Staff Sgt Benhur Rodriguez, representing Fort Sill, Okla. and the Fires Center of Excellence, was named runner up to the 2019 Drill Sergeant of the Year and also received an award for the highest physical fitness score during the competition. In the event the primary selectee is unable to perform his duties, Rodriguez will assume the role.
By design, the competition is one of the most physically demanding and mentally tough challenges any soldier may face in a competition. The Army level event tests and highlights the professionalism and readiness of the U.S. Army by testing the drill sergeants that are responsible for training the total force.
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Earnest J. Knight II, Drill Sergeant Academy, with camouflage face paint at a Camp Bullis shooting range. Knight is the 2019 U.S. Army Drill Sergeant of the Year.
(Photo by Jose E. Rodriguez)
The annual event was conducted at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston and Camp Bullis, Texas for the first time since the Drill Sergeant of the Year was established 50 years ago.
Not only did the Health Readiness Center of Excellence, based at Fort Sam Houston, have a candidate in the competition, but the support of their staff and soldiers, along with CIMT planners, were crucial to the success of the event.
Sgt. 1st Class Kyle Specht, HRCoE’s Senior Drill Sergeant and Sgt. 1st Class Gabriel Hulse were the CoE’s lead planners for the event. They were both honored with an Army Commendation Medal presentation during Aug. 22, 2019’s ceremony. Six other HRCoE soldiers were also recognized for their significant contributions to the planning and execution of the competition.
U.S. Army Cmd. Sgt. Maj. Edward Mitchell, CIMT Command Sergeant Major (right), presents U.S. Army Sgt. Earnest Knight II, Drill Sergeant Academy with the Drill Sergeant of the Year award.
(Photo by Jose E. Rodriguez)
Specht, who was recently selected for promotion to Master Sgt. and was himself a Drill Sergeant of the Year competitor in 2018, discussed how HRCoE was honored to conduct the 50th Anniversary of the Drill Sergeant of the Year Competition on behalf of CIMT and TRADOC as the newest CoE within the Combined Arms Center and TRADOC.
“Every Drill Sergeant competitor gave 100% and it was inspiring to see their individual resolve and how each rose to the challenge and represented their respective CoEs and the noncommissioned officer corps as a whole,” said Specht. “Command Sergeant Major Mitchell and his staff outlined the expected standards of excellence and vison and allowed us, the mission command, to take ownership and host this historic event.”
U.S. Army Sgt. Earnest Knight II, Drill Sergeant Academy, firing an M9 at the mystery event.
(Photo by Jose E. Rodriguez)
The 2017 Drill Sergeant of the Year, Sgt. 1st Class Chad Hickey and the 2017 Platoon Sergeant of the Year, Staff Sgt. Bryan Ivery, as the CIMT representatives, conducted two site visits, multiple initial planning reviews, and were on site over a week prior to the event validating test components. Specht continued, “The success of the event is really a demonstration of what cohesive teams can accomplish with 61 dedicated support noncommissioned officers, CIMT and our staff.”
The 2019 Drill Sergeant of the Year competition was rigorous, highly structured and covered a broad base of subject areas at a relentless pace. The noncommissioned officers were evaluated in marksmanship, unknown distance road marches, individual warrior tasks, collective battle drill tasks, modern Army combatives, written exams, drill and ceremony, leadership, oral boards, and much more for the honor of being recognized as the top drill sergeant in the Army. The competitors, who truly had to be prepared for anything also took the Army Physical Fitness Test that is the current test of record and the new Army Combat Fitness Test that becomes the Army’s physical test of record in October 2020.
U.S. Army Sgt. Earnest Knight II, Drill Sergeant Academy on a ruck march.
(Photo by Jose E. Rodriguez)
Cmd. Sgt. Maj. Edward Mitchell, CIMT Command Sergeant Major, said each event is designed to stress the candidates and push their limits physically and mentally to determine if the drill sergeant’s performance, abilities or professionalism become degraded.
Mitchell believes the competition is an extreme example of what all drill sergeants face in their daily tasks of training the Army’s newest recruits. He said that though many things in the Army have changed since he was a Drill sergeant from 1995 to 1998, “the soldierization process has not changed in the last 50 years. Drill sergeants are still tasked with turning ordinary citizens into soldiers.”
U.S. Army TRADOC hosts the 2019 U.S. Army Drill Sergeant of the Year (DSOY) Competition
(Photo by Sean Worrell)
On the first day of competition, Mitchell described the logic of putting these “soldier makers” to such an extreme test to determine the best of the best. “The drill sergeant that we select will be the number one drill sergeant in the Army as well as the TRADOC enterprise,” said Mitchell. “Sometimes you are going to be tired from what you do [as a drill sergeant], but we need that individual to still be able to be in front of soldiers and be able to be professional, no matter the conditions.” He explained how drill sergeants across the Army epitomize that type of endurance and professionalism each day.
Knight’s road to victory story makes for a good example. He said, “I started my quest to become the Drill Sergeant of the Year in 2017 when I was assigned to Fort Leonard Wood. I made it to the 2nd quarter Maneuver Support Center of Excellence Competition that year and lost.” Hickey, who helped plan this year’s competition eventually became the Maneuver Support Center of Excellence, or MSCoE’s winner that year and subsequently the 2017 U.S. Army Drill Sergeant of the Year.
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Benhur Rodriguez, Fires Center of Excellence (right), with Cmd. Sgt. Maj. Edward Mitchell, CIMT Command Sergeant Major, receiving the award for the highest physical fitness score during the competition.
(Photo by Jose E. Rodriguez)
When he was transferred to Fort Jackson last year, Knight was, once again, encouraged to pursue the top drill sergeant prize through a competition at the U.S. Army Drill Sergeant Academy; he won the Fort Jackson competition earlier this year to allow him to compete and win this week.
“I really appreciate moments like that,” Knight recalled, speaking of his original loss at the MSCoE. “As drill sergeants we are expected to be subject matter experts so we can tend to think we know everything. Having a humbling experience like competing against other highly qualified people who just out performed you, leaves you two options: better yourself or just accept that someone got the better of you.”
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Benhur Rodriguez, Fires Center of Excellence, going through the low crawl obstacle at Camp Bullis.
(Photo by Jose E. Rodriguez)
The 2019 Drill Sergeant of the Year Competition began with 12 of the most proficient, determined and rugged drill sergeants in the Army representing Basic Combat Training, One-Station Unit Training, and Advanced Individual Training. There was one reservist, the rest were active duty noncommissioned officers. They had all won division level competitions at their home stations to earn the right to compete at the Army level.
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Benhur Rodriguez, Fires Center of Excellence, runner up at the 2019 Army Drill Sergeant of the Year Competition, instructs Soldiers on the correct method of conducting a drill and ceremony maneuvers.
(Photo by Jose E. Rodriguez)
Officially, the competition lasts four days with most evaluated events conducted in a field environment at Camp Bullis beginning on Monday, Aug. 19, 2019. The last field event was completed by six o’clock in the morning on Day Four. In actuality, tested events began on Sunday with “Day Zero” elements that included height and weight measurements, written tests and an oral board held at Fort Sam Houston. Board questions, from seven command sergeants major, led by this year’s board president, Cmd. Sgt. Maj. Michael Gragg, U.S. Army Medical Command Sergeant Major, were exhaustive on a variety of military and U.S. government related questions.
All of the remaining 10 competitors that outlasted the rigors of the week were honored during the recognition ceremony at Fort Sam Houston mere hours after they completed their last event at Camp Bullis: a 12 mile road march.
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Jeffrey C. Lullen, Health Readiness Center of Excellence, firing an M9 at the mystery event. In this lane while firing from the standing, kneeling, and prone positions the competitors first fired the M4 rifle then transitioned to the M4 pistol.
(Photo by Jose E. Rodriguez)
When Knight was asked how he thought he was able to win over so many other highly qualified candidates, he said it came down to who was able to be more resilient, the most well-rounded, and maybe even who wanted it the most. Knight said he spent any small windows of free time during the competition studying and refreshing his memory on a wide range of subjects.
Knight explained, “Some [competitors] would take the opportunity to eat, some would take naps or got on their phones. I just spent a lot of time studying during the downtime to make sure I stayed in the zone; I didn’t want to open the door to distractions or self-doubt.” Though the competitors weren’t aware of what would be required of them at any given time, he said that many of the notes he studied ended up being on test events so that made him even more energized to put his time to good use.
U.S. Army Sgt. Michael B. Yarrington, 108th Training Command, on the reverse climb obstacle during the first day of competition.
(Photo by Jose E. Rodriguez)
“I kept the junior soldiers, the trainees, in mind at all times,” said Knight. Soldiers in training are often in situations where they don’t exactly know what is going to happen next. “They don’t have the privilege or luxury of just taking a nap or picking up their phone when they want to.” He explained that soldiers are always told to study during any break in training, “During downtime a drill sergeant will always tell a trainee, ‘pull out your smart book’ so I just felt like this was a great opportunity to bring myself back to the basics.”
Knight pointed out that this strategy for success is not a technique he invented for this competition, it is in the Drill Sergeant Creed: “I will lead by example, never requiring a soldier to attempt any task I would not do myself.”
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. John K. Cauthon, Maneuver Center of Excellence drill instructor, Ft. Benning, Ga., cools himself down after the M4 stress shoot event.
(Photo by Sarayuth Pinthong)
As the 2019 Drill Sergeant of the Year, Knight will be reassigned to CIMT and TRADOC; he will report to Fort Eustis, Va. in 60 days. Knight, a 25 Victor, Combat Documentation Production Specialist, “Combat Camera” by trade is used to telling the Army story through photos. For 12 months, his tenure as the U.S. Army Drill Sergeant of the Year, he will serve as a sort of ambassador, called upon to be the example of the resilient, professional, and highly proficient drill sergeant that he just proved himself to be.
U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class William Hale (left), Foxtrot Company 232nd Medical Battalion range safety officer, Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, hands out ammunition for the M4 stress shoot event.
(Photo by Sarayuth Pinthong)
List of 2019 U.S. Army Drill Sergeant of the Year Nominees in alphabetical order:
Staff Sgt. Mychael R. Begaye, Army Training Center, Fort Jackson, S.C.
Staff Sgt. John K. Cauthon, Maneuver Center of Excellence, Fort Benning, Ga.
Sgt. 1st Class Frank D. Dunbar III, Combined Arms Support Command, Fort Lee, Va.
Staff Sgt. Ariel D. Hughes, Army Aviation Center of Excellence (USAACE), Fort Rucker, Ala.
Staff Sgt. Lillian C. Jones, Cyber Center of Excellence, Fort Gordon, Ga.
Staff Sgt. Earnest J. Knight II, Drill Sergeant Academy, Fort Jackson, S.C.
Staff Sgt. Jeffrey C. Lullen, Health Readiness Center of Excellence, Fort Sam Houston, Texas
Staff Sgt. Matthew T. Martinez, Intelligence Center of Excellence, Fort Huachuca, Ariz.
Staff Sgt. Matthew A. Mubarak, Defense Language Institute, Monterey, Calif.
Staff Sgt. Benhur Rodriguez, Fires Center of Excellence, Fort Sill, Okla.
Sgt. 1st Class Marianne E. Russell, Maneuver Support Center of Excellence, Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.
Sgt. Michael B. Yarrington, 108th Training Command, Charlotte, N.C.
There are few words in the English language that stir up a tornado of hateful emotions in a Marine quite like “stay with the LT,” “the trucks aren’t coming,” and “hike.” There are plenty of mandatory hikes a Marine has to do annually — and command always throws in a few more, just for good measure.
We, the infantry community, can’t drag ass in physical fitness. And if you’re not a grunt, you should at least learn how to hike like one. Why? For bragging rights. It’s all we’ve got, Marines — everyone else has funding.
No gear loss today!
(Breach Bang Clear)
The very first thing you should do is figure out how to pack the gear list in a way that doesn’t resemble a gypsy wagon. Now, I don’t know what kind of gateway-to-Narnia bags they’re using in the S3 to fit all this garbage, but you’re going to have to find a way to make it work.
Pack the heaviest things in the bottom center and fill any empty space with smaller objects. Repeat this process, layer after layer, until you reach the top. Putting the heaviest things on the bottom allows you to maintain a more comfortable center of gravity — your pack should swing with you not against you.
Remember: Pack your socks last and nearest to the top.
Werewolves aren’t the only ones scared of a silver bullet.
(Seymour Johnson Air Force Base)
You’ll often hear people citing some study that claims the human body can re-hydrate within 45 minutes. Well, go tell those people to find you a box of grid squares because you don’t need that negativity in your life.
Before your hike, take a minimum of two days to drink two gallons of water and a Pedialyte. Yes, you read that right: Pedialyte. Baby Gatorade. While you’re at it, put two additional bottles of Pedialyte in your bag. You’ll thank me later.
Sunflower seeds are also good!
Food and snacks
The day before a hike, you should carb load, just like a marathon runner. This will ensure you have enough energy for the journey and a strong finish. Runner’s World has an in-depth guide on how to carb load properly and I highly recommend reading it. Bear in mind that you will have to make some changes to fit the task, but the overall strategy is pretty solid.
Pack some snacks that can be eaten with one hand and are biodegradable. Fruits, such as apples and bananas, are perfect. They’re easy to eat and you can toss the core/peel into the woods. You’re nourishing the earth before we scorch it later!
You’re going to end up with so many of these
(The Marine Shop)
Preparation: The feet are the infantryman’s Cadillac. Take care of your feet. I’ll say it again: Take care of your feet. Clip your nails, wash them every time you take a shower, and change your socks at least once during the day. At night, do not sleep with socks on so they can breathe. Also, moisturize (yes, use that lotion for its intended purpose).
Score bonus points by getting yourself a foot massage or a pedicure once a month. Remember, it’s manly if it’s for the sake of survival.
These puppies are going to get you through this hike, through combat, and through the rest of your life, so take f*cking care of them.
The Hike: During every rest period, change your socks and immediately put your feet back into your boots. If you leave them out too long, the inflammation will set in and it will be more difficult to put your boots on. If you packed intelligently, your socks should be easily accessible.
Tip: Some people wear a pair of dress socks over their boot socks to ease rubbing.
Also, never wear brand new boots on a hike.
This is your life now and there’s no way to go but forward. It’s going to hurt, it’s going suck, but you’re going to crush it. Believe in yourself and keep up the pace.
Can I NJP myself?
Some of the greatest stories I’ve ever heard were told on a hike — sexual conquests, actual conquests, accusations, and confessions. Marines love telling stories and they love hearing them. You’ll hear about that time the lieutenant got ripped off by that stripper or that Staff Sergeant has a weird fetish that involves putting on an animal costume.
A compelling story will help you forget that your feet are bleeding until, suddenly, it’s done.
Berlin is known as the techno music capital of the world. Much to the chagrin of Detroit, where the style originated, the German city took the style and baked it right into their up-and-coming ’90s culture. How that happened has a unique history, including political events that allowed the city to flourish with its own thriving music scene.
Techno music as we know it wouldn’t exist today without the fall of the Berlin Wall and the German Democratic Republic. Here’s why:
When East Germany reunified with the West, there was a lull. A lull in government jurisdiction, in law enforcement, and in collecting assets. For years, large buildings that had disputed ownerships sat empty with no one keeping an eye on them and no one enforcing what took place within their walls. Because of this lack of order, young music fans were given the chance to thrive.
They would host parties in these abandoned buildings, illegally, but with little consequence. An underground movement began where locations spread by word of mouth. The were multiple-day parties in industrial settings where there were basically no rules — sex, drugs, and dancing were all welcome. The only rule? Remain respectful to those around you.
Parties were first held through an underground scene, radios or flyers would provide instructions to call a number at a certain time, and the person receiving the call would provide the location of the party. Usually, a single party was held for a day or two at a location, then it was off to the next spot to avoid attracting too much attention.
Techno enthusiasts explored and found empty buildings across East Berlin where they could throw their parties. Factories, empty apartment buildings, former military sites, even condemned buildings. Most locations had been confiscated by Nazis, then sat empty while legal battles determined the property’s rightful owner. In the meantime, they fell into disrepair and served as the perfect locations for multi-day techno raves.
Before the fall
Before the fall of the wall, East Germans had their radio censored. Young people would travel near the wall where they could, on occasion, pick up radio signals from West Berlin’s freeform waves, including disco parties that were often broadcast. Some dance parties, few and far between, were hosted in East Germany. That, however, required an appeal to the government, which took months of red tape to become approved.
But once the wall was taken down, all bets were off. East Germans were now free to attend techno dance scenes. But they were soon outgrown, with the ability to only hold about 100 people at a time. A need emerged, and techno fans began creating their own parties. Finding bigger and bigger venues to fit their growing fan base.
A legal venture
Over time, these industrial buildings were transformed and turned into actual dance and music clubs. Eventually, it became a business, owned by the same people who were previously throwing parties illegally. Techno events were no longer on a pop-up schedule, but a certified brand. It’s worth noting that liquor or attendance permits weren’t yet enforced; the government was still working on regulating. There simply wasn’t infrastructure in place to check on a business’ paperwork. This allowed these non-experienced entrepreneurs to roll in more money early on, and brush up on their business chops as regulations were put into place.
Of course, over time, the disco scene in Germany became more regulated. With the government seeing it as an important part of tourism and city revenue, it provided support, allowing the town’s techno business to grow far quicker than in other countries (like Detroit). To account for a growing club scene, Germany did away with things like closing times (the clubs stay open all weekend) and dress codes (you might just a naked person dancing. Don’t be alarmed). There was also no “last call” for alcohol. Today, it continues to offer thriving nightlife opportunities to citizens and visitors alike, as well as providing huge profits for the city as a whole.
Recently, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson got a tank named after him. The actor/wrestler/producer took joy in being given the honors and posted the image onto his social media. Because you can’t go two days on the internet without some sort of backlash from people with nothing better to do than argue over some mundane thing that has absolutely no bearing on their life… people argued.
On one side, some people are upset that he felt honored for it because, you know, that has to mean he is advocating war or whatever. Counter-arguers are also quick to jump at the chance to point out that it is a high honor for such a beloved figure because he’s always been a friend and supporter to the military and veteran community.
In reality, the process of naming tanks, artillery guns, and rocket launcher systems isn’t as grandiose as the people arguing are making it out to be.
When it’s time for a crew to take command of a new vehicle, they need to give it a name.
With some exception, you name it entirely for the purpose of easily identifying it. When you’re walking through the motor pool, reading the name stenciled on the gun or rocket pod is going to be a lot easier to read from a distance than its serial number.
Unlike with Humvees or other troop carrying vehicles often forgotten until it’s time to use them, artillerymen and tankers take pride in what is theirs. The name has to be something that the crew could proudly sit in for hours until the FDC finally gets around to approving a fire mission.
The name itself is generally something that invokes strength, humor, or holds sentimental value to one member of the crew – like a loved one. The command staff usually doesn’t bother as long as it isn’t (too) profane and it typically follows the guideline of the first letter being the same as your company/battery/squadron for uniformity.
So an MLRS in Alpha Battery could be named “Alexander the Great” or “Ass Blaster.” Bravo Battery gets something along the lines of “Betty White” or “Boomstick.” Charlie gets names along the lines of “Come Get Some” or “Cat Scratch Fever.” And so on.
As for the tank named “Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson,” well, just happens to be in a Delta Squadron, the crew were probably fans of his work, and his name invokes strength. I can attest, entirely anecdotally of course, that Dwayne Johnson isn’t that uncommon of a name within Delta Batteries/Squadrons.
The crew comes up with the name, submits it to the chain of command, and if it gets approved, they spray paint the name prominently on the gun. If the commander wants it to be all people’s names, then they’re all people’s names. If they give the troops free rein, then that’s their prerogative.
It should also be noted that some commanders may forgo the entire process of naming their vehicles and guns altogether. It is what it is, but some tankers and artillerymen may see it as bad luck to not give their baby a name and troops can be particularly superstitious. That, or they may just be saying it so they can spray-paint “Ass Blaster” on their tank’s gun.
There’re few things in the United States that are as American as Kentucky Straight Bourbon. How American is it? In 1964, the United States Congress actually declared Bourbon to be a “distinctive product of the US,” therefore protecting its name and production methods from foreign knockoffs.
There are also few things as American as helping each other out in times of crisis. And right now, as we all know, these are incredibly challenging times. Thankfully, folks all across the United States are working hard to help each other out.
You’ll find this same American spirit in companies like Evan Williams. During a global pandemic, Evan Williams is introducing their veteran-focused American-Made Heroes Foundation. This new foundation is designed to support nonprofits who work with the veteran community, helping the brave Americans who have served our country — especially the ones who may be further struggling due to this ongoing health crisis.
Evan Williams has grown into one of the biggest Bourbon brands in the world, known for its smooth taste and value. They’ve shown the world that you don’t have to pay outrageous prices or deal with obnoxious gimmicks to enjoy a great Bourbon. And as they’ve grown, they’ve made a great effort to give back — the American-Made Heroes Foundation is Evan Williams’ way of giving back to those who served.
With the COVID-19 outbreak, a lot of things in life have been put on hold. A lot of nonprofits that support veterans and their families have had to cease operations while figuring out their next steps. Now, more than ever, these nonprofits need support, and Evan Williams is committed to providing that support. The American-Made Heroes Foundation Fund provides grants of up to ,000 to support nonprofit community organizations in the United States that provide services to US military veterans and are impacted by COVID-19.
Each year, they also honor six inspiring veterans who have dedicated their lives to serving our country and its citizens. After choosing veterans to honor, Evan Williams features these Heroes and their exceptional stories of honor, bravery, and service to their community on a special edition bottle.
This year, they honored six amazing Americans and donated to the charity of choice of each veteran. Here’s a small sampling of the selected heroes. We encourage you to go check out the other stories, which are just as inspiring:
Eduardo “Eddie” Ramirez
Eduardo “Eddie” Ramirez hails from San Francisco, California, where he studied electrical engineering and worked at NASA’s Research Center. He enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 1981 when he was 21: kicking off a decorated 22-year career that would take him to Japan, Germany, Italy, and Spain. Along the way, he served in the Persian Gulf War, earned five advanced degrees, and had two children-both born overseas.
“There are so many different opportunities the military has to offer,” says Eddie, who took full advantage of the training and education programs that taught him persistence, determination and attention to detail. He worked as an aerospace ground equipment mechanic, a radio communications maintainer, and a professional military education instructor, before retiring as Flight Chief of the Airmen Leadership School in 2003. But his record of service continued.
Leveraging his master’s degree in Public Administration, Eddie went to work for the Department of Labor, before moving on to the Department of Veterans Affairs (V.A.). As an Administrative Officer for Mental Health, he spent nearly a decade advocating for veterans and strategizing ways to improve the V.A.’s processes. “I’ve always had a sense of ownership and giving back to my fellow veterans,” Eddie says. His friends describe him as a “big guy with a big heart.”
After 35 years of federal employment, Eddie returned to the Bay Area to pay it forward. He is the founder and CEO of OneVet OneVoice: a non-profit organization that assists some of California’s 1.8 million veterans with healthcare, education, housing, and job opportunities. He also established the American Legion Cesar E. Chavez Post #505, the San Francisco Veterans Film Festival, and the Veterans Town Hall Collaborative.
Eddie has chosen OneVet OneVoice as his charity for this year, and you can learn more about their mission at https://onevetonevoice.org/
Missionary. Marine. Advocate. There are many ways for a person to serve, and Jonathan Hiltz has done them all. Jon grew up helping the poor in Mexico, then enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps after the events of 9/11. He deployed to Fallujah with the 8th Marine Regiment as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, where he spent a year working as a Nuclear Biological Chemical Defense Specialist.
“The Marines was kind of countercultural to what I did [before],” Jon explains. As a missionary, “I was serving people, helping people-and then I went to war.” In reality though, the military was just a different kind of service. He did a bit of everything: weapons detection, interior guard, convoy security-even distributing ballots to Iraqis to help facilitate their first elections.
Upon completion of service, Jon chose to exit the Marines and return to his missionary roots. He enrolled in St. Louis Christian College and began volunteering to help the homeless. “It was just a progression,” Jon says of his work. “What are the needs? I’m going to start checking off the boxes.” He is the founder of the Arise Veteran Foundation in St. Louis, Missouri; and Love Goes: a non-profit working to alleviate poverty in Southern Illinois.
Today, Jon lives with his wife, Amber, and three children in Marion, Illinois, where he also works as a Peer Support Specialist at the VA Medical Center. There, he helps other veterans cope with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and substance abuse. “I use my story a lot to help other people,” he says, referring to his own struggles with PTSD. “I’ve been in combat, too. You can still do better. You can have a good career. You just need help sometimes.“
Mary Tobin grew up watching her mother do everything in her power to help those in need-even when her own family didn’t have much. She left Atlanta, Georgia, at age 17 to join the United States Military Academy at West Point. It was in her third year of training that 9/11 drastically altered the trajectory of her career. She deployed to Iraq six months after graduating: the only woman and black officer in her unit.
“Everything I ever learned about leadership, I learned in that first deployment,” Mary says, which also earned her the Combat Action Badge. She completed a second deployment to Iraq with the Combat Aviation Brigade, before becoming a senior leader of a military intelligence unit in South Korea. It wasn’t long after that the injuries she sustained in Iraq caught up with her: putting an end to her 10-year career. For the first time, Mary was a soldier without a mission.
Driven by the commitment she made at West Point-to fulfill a lifetime of selfless service to the nation-Mary began working with volunteer organizations that supported veterans, women of color, and the homeless; including USA Cares and Community Solutions. “I had to feel like I was having a positive impact on someone or something,” she explains. “I served with some pretty amazing people. I want to live a life worthy of those who gave their lives for our freedom.“
Mary has chosen The Mission Continues as her charity, where she currently serves as the executive director. The Mission Continues: is a national nonprofit that empowers veterans to become leaders in their communities and supports neighborhood transformation efforts. “I am a product of what happens when you no longer call me broken and you tell me I’m strong,” she says. “There are millions of ‘little Marys’ out there who need THIS Mary to remind them that they can be whatever they desire. It’s the least I can do.“
In addition to giving grants to these veterans’ nonprofits of choice, Evan Williams has also given over 0,000 to 501c3 organizations that serve veterans and the greater military community over the last five years. And while that is generous by any means, they aren’t done yet.
Thank you, Evan Williams for not just throwing up a patriotic image on your bottle. Thanks for honoring veterans by putting them right next to your brand and giving to those organizations that serve those who served.
On April 11th, 1966, three companies of the 1st Infantry Division, known as the “Mud Soldiers,” were pinned down by Viet Cong forces outside of Cam My, Vietnam. Pararescuemen of the 38th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron were dispatched to evacuate the wounded. The battle raged and the soldiers were taking a heavy beating.
As if an angel were descending from the heavens, Airman First Class William H. Pitsenbarger, lowered onto the battlefield to tend to the wounded. When given the opportunity to fly back to base, he elected to stay and care for the men he didn’t even know that remained in harm’s way.
He did all he could to save his fellow troops before paying the ultimate price. Pitsenbarger’s sacrifice ensured at least nine men made it home. It took him 34 years to be recognized fully for his incredible actions.
The Last Full Measurefaithfully and honestly retells this story — and it’s something that our military community must see and support.
In the aftermath of the battle, Pitsenbarger was awarded the Air Force Cross. However, his fellow PJs and the Mud Soldiers he fought with continued to advocate for the award to be upgraded to the Medal of Honor. It wasn’t until the year 2000 that he was finally bestowed the Congressional Medal of Honor for giving, what President Lincoln said during his Gettysburg Address, his last full measure of devotion.
Keep an eye out for Jeremy Irvine. His portrayal of William Pitsenbarger will catapult him far in Hollywood.
Written and directed by Todd Robinson, The Last Full Measure follows Scott Huffman, a jaded Pentagon lawyer (played by Sebastian Stan) as he is tasked with upgrading Pitsenbarger’s Air Force Cross to the Medal of Honor at the behest of Pitsenbarger’s fellow pararescueman veteran (played by William Hunt) and father (portrayed by Christopher Plummer).
The story unfolds as Huffman pieces together the gallantry of Pitsenbarger by interviewing the soldiers who had been saved back in Vietnam. Samuel L. Jackson, the late Peter Fonda, Ed Harris, and John Savage each portray the Mud Soldiers and give fantastic performances as they crawl through painful memories. The audience watches the fateful day in Vietnam through flashbacks as the veterans recall being saved by Pitsenbarger (portrayed by Jeremy Irvine).
Pictured left to right: Kimberly Breyer, producer of Last Full Measure, Sidney Sherman, and Kimberly’s husband Sean Breyer
(Photo by Eric Milzarski)
Kimberly Breyer, the niece of William Pitsenbarger, was in attendance of the world premiere of The Last Full Measure. She told We Are The Mighty,
“This film means people get to hear the very important true stories of my uncle Billy Pitsenbarger, Frank, Alice, and all the people who fought with him. We want as many people who possibly can so these stories keep being told and retold.”
She also noted how true-to-life Christopher Plummer’s portrayal of her grandfather, Frank Pitsenbarger, felt. “When we saw it, especially my grandma Alice, the hair went up on the back of her neck and she started to cry. He makes me miss Frank so much. We’re very grateful to him for how beautifully he portrayed our grandfather on screen and how hard everyone worked for so many years to get this project to come together because it’s so unique in so many ways.”
(Photo by Eric Milzarski)
The production covers two key time periods, from the jungles of Vietnam to the halls of the Pentagon. The star-studded cast filmed in the United States and Thailand to portray the retelling of Pitsenbarger’s sacrifice. The film stays away from typical action movie tropes and instead dives deep into the psyche of the troops who returned home. It gives an accurate depiction of what goes on behind-the-scenes when a Medal of Honor is to be awarded. The film helps us understand the excruciating lengths (and sheer volume of bureaucratic red tape) that stands between valor and recognition — and leaves you wondering how many heroes haven’t been given the credit they deserve.
Dale Dye, USMC veteran who served in the Vietnam War and military advisor for many of the greatest war films, played a large role in ensuring the film was as accurate as possible. It’s all the perfectly-captured, little moments that help set the stage.
Dye tells We Are The Mighty, “This is a film that goes directly to my heart and soul. And the reason is because it talks about the selfless nature of veterans and the dedication we have towards each other. This is a story of veterans who go to extraordinary lengths to get recognition for one of their own. And that’s the nature of every combat veteran.”
The writer and director of the film, Todd Robinson, tells We Are The Mighty, “The military was very bullish about this film. It promotes a career field called pararescue, which promotes saving lives. So it wasn’t hard for them to get behind this film.“
The Last Full Measure is a beautiful film that is rare in Hollywood. It’s not an action-packed film made with set pieces for the trailers. It’s not an overly played-out drama that uses war as backdrop. It’s the real-life story of a man who gave his all for his fellow troops and those men fighting tooth-and-nail to get him the honor he deserved.
I can’t recommend this film enough for every veteran, active duty troop, their family, and anyone who’s life has been touched by the actions of these brave men and women.
In 1994, U.S. Army Air Corps WWII veteran and former POW Clarence Robert “Bud” Shepherd opened a small warehouse in Burlington, North Carolina, to assist 501 (c) (3) non-profit organizations, like schools, churches, and daycares.
Shepherd refocused his attention on Post-9/11 combat wounded veterans in 2012 by creating the Veteran Toolbox Program. He provided them with free toolboxes to assist with their transition into civilian life. Although Post-9/11 Purple Heart veterans are priority for the program, all veterans can apply.
“I always wanted to do something for veterans, and I came up with the toolbox program,” said Shepherd. “We talked to some tool companies, and they were interested in getting involved. We talked to Stanley and Black and Decker about what we wanted to do and they came back with one word – absolutely! APEX tools, Wooster paint brushes, and Johnson Johnson are also great supporters.”
U.S. Army Air Corps Veteran Bud Shepherd served as a B-17 tail-gunner in WWII and held as a Prisoner of War.
The REAch Veteran Toolbox Program has shipped more than 8,000 toolboxes to veterans, which contains about 0 worth of tools.
“This is the most satisfying thing I’ve ever done in my lifetime,” said the 94-year-old.
Shepherd works six days a week, gets up at 5 a.m., and leaves work at 6 p.m. most days. But he’s no stranger to hard work.
He enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1943, when he was 18 years old. He served in the 8th Air Force in England as a tail-gunner on a B-17. Enemy forces shot down his plane six months before the end of WWII. Shepherd was captured and sent to a prisoner of war camp near Berth, Germany.
“Once we got settled down, things went along fairly smooth because there was 9,000 of us, all Air Force people,” Shepherd recalled. “About 7,500 Americans and a few Brits. We were liberated by the Russians and I made my way back home.”
WWII POW Bud Shepherd: Let’s Never Forget Our POWs and MIAs
“We hear from a lot of these guys and their families,” Shepherd said. “Last week we got an e-mail saying ‘You saved my husband’s life. He hasn’t been out of the house in three months but ever since he got his toolbox he’s been out in the garage or the backyard working on something.'”
REAch operates in Graham, North Carolina, but ships the toolboxes across the country.
Tim Shepherd (left) son of Bud Shepherd (right) at the tool room getting 10 boxes ready to ship for the day.
“I go to the VA hospital in Durham, North Carolina, for yearly physicals, but my health is excellent,” he said. “These people down there that I deal with at the VA hospital, they are just good people… In my lifetime, I’ve been blessed, and I enjoy every minute of it.
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.