Black Knights use Army-Navy uniform to tell story of division - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY SPORTS

Black Knights use Army-Navy uniform to tell story of division

When the players on the Army West Point football team take the field, they do so for more than themselves.

They represent the U.S. Military Academy and the generations of graduates who make up the Long Gray Line. They play for the U.S. Army and those who have fought and died protecting America. And each week during the season, they play for a particular division of the Army and the soldiers currently serving and who have served in it.

For most of the regular season, the division is honored by a patch on the back of the players’ helmets. But for the past three years during the Army-Navy Game, the Black Knights have honored one of the Army’s divisions by wearing an entire uniform telling the division’s story.


The new uniform tradition started with a design telling the story of the 82nd Airborne Division. So far, the 10th Mountain Division and 1st Infantry Division have also been honored.

Black Knights use Army-Navy uniform to tell story of division

This year, Army will take the field in honor of the 1st Cavalry Division and tell the story of the soldiers’ role in the Vietnam War as America’s first airmobility division.

(Danny Wild, USA Today)

This year, Army will take the field in honor of the 1st Cavalry Division and tell the story of the soldiers’ role in the Vietnam War as America’s first airmobility division.

The 1st Cav’s role as the honored division was kept secret until the uniform was unveiled Dec. 5, 2019, in front of the assembled Corps of Cadets, but the process of designing the uniform for the game each year is an 18-month collaboration between Nike and West Point’s Department of History.

The cycle of divisions is decided three to four years in advance by West Point’s Athletic Department, and each design process starts about a year and a half out from the game. This year’s uniform hasn’t been unveiled yet, but most of the work is already done on 2020’s uniform and the process for 2021 will start to ramp up in the near future.

After the division is selected, step one of the process is determining the timeline that will be honored. For the 82nd Airborne it was World War II and for the 1st Infantry Division they highlighted World War I for the 100th anniversary of the signing of the armistice.

Then, Nike’s designer in partnership with the USMA history department starts doing research and crafting the story the uniform will tell.

“It is almost like a method actor preparing for a role,” Kristy Lauzonis, senior graphic designer for Nike college football uniforms, said. “I just go as deep as humanly possible with the research. I order books, read everything I can under the sun and then that is when I start hitting the history department back with all kinds of crazy questions.”

Black Knights use Army-Navy uniform to tell story of division

In 2017 Army represented the 10th Mountain Division with its Army Navy uniform.

(Photo by Cadet Henry Guerra)

With help from the Department of History, Lauzonis goes through photos and artifacts of the unit from the chosen timeline and starts working to craft a uniform that will authentically tell the story of the unit. Some elements are predetermined by NCAA rules such as whether the uniform is light or dark depending on if Army is home or away, but everything from colors of elements to fonts are built from scratch in order to make them historically accurate.

On the first uniform, the flag on the players’ shoulder may have looked backward to a casual observer, but it was placed the way it was worn in World War II. On the 10th Mountain Uniform, the popular Pando Commando logo wasn’t something created by Nike, but was instead a little used logo found during the research process. On last year’s uniforms, the Black Lions were to tell the story of the 28th Infantry Regiment and the first major combat for American forces in World War I.

“I think one of the great things about being authentic to history is you will have those moments like where you’ve done something where it is 100% authentic and people aren’t aware of it,” Lauzonis said. “That is that bonus element where everyone is saying the flag is backward and we are able to say it pre-existed flag code and this is exactly how it was worn on the uniform and we purposely did it that way. It is not just a company woops we flipped the flag the wrong way. We are never going to do that.”

Throughout the entire process, the USMA history department is fact checking elements on the uniform and making sure they accurately represent the division’s history and the timeline being depicted. That includes checking colors such as the red used in last year’s Big Red One on the helmet and making sure each insignia used is authentic and historically accurate.

Black Knights use Army-Navy uniform to tell story of division

In 2016 the Black Knights honored the 82nd Airborne Division.

(US Army photo)

“We provide historical context and then of course, the Nike designers are amazing,” Steve Waddell, an assistant professor in the Department of History, said. “They’ve got to kind of translate a historical idea concept to actually make it work on a real uniform and have the color contrasts and everything work … I’m a World War II historian and we did the 82nd Airborne for the first one. It’s just exciting that they’re tying the sport of football to military history and military history is always popular.”

Along with assisting in the uniform design, the USMA history department helps tell the story of the uniform and the division through the athletic department’s microsite, which is created as part of the unveil each year.

There the elements of the uniform are explained, and the story of the division is told in detail.

“The Army’s business is people,” Capt. Alexander Humes, an instructor in the Department of History, said. “That’s why it’s also important to tell the story of this unit and the people that were part of this unit and to take this as an opportunity to do that. This presents the Army a great opportunity in something as highly visible as the Army-Navy Game to be able to tell its story to the American public.”

This year’s uniform pulls elements from the 1st Cav’s Vietnam War era uniforms and the pants were designed to resemble the motif of the UH-1 “Hueys” the soldiers flew during the war.

“I hope that for the folks that are in or have a relationship to the unit, that they feel like their story is being told authentically,” Lauzonis said of her goal when designing the uniform each year. “That they feel like they now have something they can wear with pride and that we’ve done right by them with the storytelling.”

The annual rivalry game against the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis will take place Dec. 14, 2019, in Philadelphia.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This German rifle is a combination of one of the best rifles in the world — and a flop

Let’s face it, there are some cool rifles out there.


There’s the HK416, a derivative of the M16 that is best known as the rifle used by SEAL Team Six to kill Osama bin Laden. There is the Steyr AUG, a so-called “bullpup” design that packs a full-sized rifle in a shorter package.

There is, of course, the M1 Garand, celebrated by George S. Patton and R. Lee Ermey.

Others don’t fare so well, like the Canadian Ross rifle, an effort by America’s northern neighbor to be self-reliant in at least some aspect of small arms. It didn’t work, and today Canada uses a version of the M16 known as the C7 alongside a variant of the M4 carbine called the C8.

Even the Germans had a recent dud in the G36 rifle, which they are trying to replace.

Black Knights use Army-Navy uniform to tell story of division
During exercise Joint Resolve 26, in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), soldiers from the German Battle Group’s 2nd Reinforced Infantry Company, armed with Heckler and Koch G36 automatic assault rifles, seek to capture French soldiers playing the role of paramilitary extremists, near a paramilitary training camp in the town of Pazaric.

One possible contender for this replacement is the HK433 rifle — basically an effort to take the best features from the AR-15/M16 platform, which includes the HK416, and the G36. Yes, the G36 had some virtues, including its ability to be operated by both right-handed shooters and southpaws.

According to a handout from Heckler and Koch that was available at the Association of the United States Army annual exhibition in Washington, D.C., the HK433 offers operators the choice between the operating concept of the M16/M4/AR-15 and that of the G36. But this rifle, chambered in 5.56x45mm NATO, is customizable in many more ways.

Black Knights use Army-Navy uniform to tell story of division
The HK433. (Photo from Heckler and Koch)

There are six choices for barrel length, from 11 inches to 20 inches. Two color options, black and “flat dark earth” are available. The rifle can handle a grenade launcher, optics, and a suppressor. The rifle also includes an adjustable cheek rest, a round counter, a magazine well that is compatible with both the AR-15 and G36 magazines, and a foldable and retractable buttstock.

And as the U.S. Army takes a look at its potential future rifle, the HK433 could be a contender.

MIGHTY TRENDING

How the US and Japan are practicing taking down North Korean missiles

The United States Navy and the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force are teaming up for some practice. The targets: North Korean ballistic missiles.


According to a release by the United States Navy, Resilient Shield 2018 started on Feb. 16 and will continue until the 23rd of the month. The exercise will involve two Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruisers, USS Shiloh (CG 67) and USS Chancellorsville (CG 62), three Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers, USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG 54), USS Benfold (DDG 65), and USS Stethem (DDG 63), the Kongo-class guided missile destroyer JS Kongo (DDG 173), and the Akizuki-class destroyer JS Teruzuki (DD 116).

Black Knights use Army-Navy uniform to tell story of division
A RIM-161 SM-3 Block 1B interceptor is launched from the guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Erie (CG 70), a sister ship of the two cruisers taking part in Resilient Shield 2018. (Department of Defense photo)

That is a potent force – six of these vessels are equipped with the Aegis system, centered around the AN/SPY-1 radar, and all six of those are capable of using the RIM-161 Standard SM-3 surface-to-air missile. All seven ships have the Mk 41 vertical-launch system, which can carry that missile. According to Designation-Systems.net, this missile has a range of over 270 nautical miles and can travel at 6,000 miles per hour, or just under Mach 8. In a number of tests, the SM-3, depending on the version, has proven very capable of taking out inbound ballistic targets.

Black Knights use Army-Navy uniform to tell story of division
U.S. Forces Korea continued its progress in fulfilling the Republic of Korea – U.S. Alliance decision to install a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) on the Korean Peninsula as the first elements of the THAAD system arrived in the ROK. (DOD photo)

The SM-3 is not the only system deployed in the region to counter North Korean ballistic missiles. The United States, Japan, and South Korea all use the MIM-104 Patriot surface-to-air missile, which was initially designed to provide area air defense against enemy aircraft, but which proved capable of taking out ballistic missiles in Operation Desert Storm. The United States also deployed the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, which has a range of over 125 miles and can go more than eight times the speed of sound, according to Designation-Systems.net.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This is how female veterans get the mental health care they need

Women veterans are more likely to die by suicide than women who did not serve in the military, and, in a 2011 survey (the most recent survey of this kind), 46 percent of women veterans in California reported a current mental health problem. Los Angeles County, meanwhile, is home to approximately 20,600 women veterans, the fourth-highest population of any U.S. county.

Women Vets on Point (WVoP) has one goal: to connect women veterans in Los Angeles County with compassionate mental health care delivered by providers who understand their experiences and needs.

WVoP is led by women veterans, including Kristine Stanley, who served in the Air Force for 24 years. She recalls that she struggled in her first year after leaving the military and didn’t know where to turn for help.

“I want my fellow women veterans to know they are not alone,” said Stanley, program coordinator for WVoP at U.S.VETS. “I know they may feel invisible or forgotten, or that no one realizes they’ve served. That all changes with Women Vets on Point. If they have ever put on a uniform, this program is for them.”

At www.womenvetsonpoint.org, women veterans can:

  • Connect with a WVoP team member. Team members listen to women’s stories and help them find mental health care providers who have experience working with women veterans on challenges related to post-traumatic stress disorder, military sexual trauma, domestic violence, and more.
  • Get referrals for services that can assist with legal, employment, housing, and child-care needs.
  • Hear stories of hope and recovery from other women veterans.
  • Locate tools and resources to help them better understand their symptoms.
Black Knights use Army-Navy uniform to tell story of division

U.S. Marines assigned to the female engagement team (FET) attached to Foxtrot Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment conduct a security patrol in Marjah, Helmand province, Afghanistan, Jan. 3, 2011. The FET aids the infantry Marines by engaging Afghan women and children in support of the International Security Assistance Force.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Marionne T. Mangrum)

In creating WVoP, U.S.VETS partnered with Education Development Center (EDC), a nonprofit that advances innovative solutions to improve education and promote health. EDC was selected because of its experience in using technology tools to facilitate effective mental health treatment.

“There are very few programs tailored specifically for women who served,” said EDC project director, Erin Smith. “EDC’s research enables us to recommend solutions for some of the challenges women veterans may face. The bottom line is that earlier access to treatment can mean higher quality of life. And we know how to help women engage with treatment in ways that work with all of the other responsibilities they are carrying.”
Black Knights use Army-Navy uniform to tell story of division

U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Claire Ballante holds an Afghan child during a patrol with Marines from 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment in Musa Qa’leh, Afghanistan, Aug. 3, 2010. Ballante is part of a female engagement team that is patrolling local compounds to assess possible home damage caused by aircraft landing at Forward Operating Base Musa Qala.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Lindsay L. Sayres)

Many of the challenges faced by women veterans are distinct from those faced by male veterans or other women, and these challenges may be poorly understood by the public. According to Stanley, some people assume that women veterans can’t have experienced trauma if they didn’t serve in a traditional combat role. Another common misconception is that women veterans’ challenges are related only to military sexual trauma.

“Women Vets on Point knows what misconceptions are out there,” said Stanley. “And we know that the needs of women who served have not been sufficiently addressed. Women Vets on Point is going to make serious changes for women in this community and hopefully make the journeys of women veterans easier in the future.”

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The Pentagon has plans for its own mini-space station. Here’s what it would do

Among defense experts the world over, there’s little doubt that warfare in the 21st century will be an orbital affair. From communications and reconnaissance to navigation and logistics, you’ll be hard-pressed to find an element of any modern nation’s military that operates without the use of space-born satellites, and as such, many nations are developing weapons aimed specifically at causing trouble high above our heads.

While the U.S. government may be no exception, as the reigning space-race champ, America has the lead, and as such, much more to lose in orbit than its national competitors. At least one element of the Pentagon has a plan to help keep it that way: an orbiting space station purpose-built to support a fleet of defensive space drones.


Black Knights use Army-Navy uniform to tell story of division

Which beats out my proposal to just start dropping bombs from the ISS, I suppose.

(NASA Image)

You might be imagining a space station equipped with the latest defense gadgets, science experiments meant to usher in the next era of orbital weapons, and of course, enough utility to support a wide variety of Pentagon directives in the dark skies around our pale blue dot… and you’d be right on all counts… but where this new initiative breaks from fantasy is in its size. The Pentagon’s proposed space station wouldn’t be built to sustain any kind of manned presence whatsoever, at least for now.

The proposed orbital outpost received a great deal of media attention recently thanks to an industry solicitation posted by the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Unit (DIU). Put simply, the solicitation is seeking companies that want to compete for a chance to help launch a self-contained orbital facility that’s “capable of supporting space assembly, microgravity experimentation, logistics and storage, manufacturing, training, test and evaluation, hosting payloads, and other functions.”

Black Knights use Army-Navy uniform to tell story of division

“Rock, paper, scissors. Winner gets a new space station.”

(Courtesy of NASA)

The DIU envisions an orbital outpost that’s equipped with robotic arms to manage assembly and even potentially repair duties for other orbital assets. That means this unmanned installation could feasibly be used to build autonomous satellite drones in space meant to help protect America’s large and rather undefended constellation of satellites.

The tiny outpost would have a payload capacity of just 176 pounds (or 80 kilograms if you live in a nation that’s never sent people to the moon), and would offer only a small 3 foot by 3 foot by 4 foot enclosure. That may not be enough room to house any members of the space infantry, but it would be enough to work on things like cube-sats, which are small, inexpensive satellites built to serve specific purposes in orbit and beyond.

Because the reality of war in space could be as mundane as simply nudging a satellite out of its orbit, cube-sats and other small platforms could actually play a massive role in orbital combat operations. A fleet of inexpensive satellites could provide system redundancy by temporarily filling service gaps as other assets are destroyed or interfered with by enemy platforms. They could also engage with or deter enemy systems (be they satellites or weapons themselves).

Black Knights use Army-Navy uniform to tell story of division

The X-37B sits on the Vandenberg Air Force base runway after spending months in space without any grubby human mitts changing the radio station.

(U.S. Air Force photo/ Michael Stonecypher)

Thanks to advances in 3-D printing and a rash of commercial interest in orbital manufacturing in recent years, it seems entirely possible that an orbital outpost like the one proposed by the DIU could eventually support a broader space defense initiative, but it also seems unlikely that this specific enterprise would ever expand far enough to add human support to the equation, but then, humans may need to be present anyway.

Russia and China are both already believed to operate orbital weapons platforms that behave like autonomous satellites and the Air Force’s secretive space plane known as the X-37B operates in orbit for months at a time without any use for human hands. Star Wars may indeed eventually come to fruition, but at least for now, it looks like the fighting will be up to R2-D2, with all of us Skywalkers just watching anxiously from the ground.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Fort Riley IDs soldier after Medevac training death

Fort Riley officials on Sept. 14 identified the 1st Infantry Division soldier who was killed during a training exercise Sept. 12 in Fort Hood, Texas.


Staff Sgt. Sean Devoy, a 28-year-old medic, died after falling during hoist training near Robert Gray Army Airfield, officials said.

The cause of the incident, which is being called an “accident,” is under investigation, a news release said.

“We extend our heartfelt condolences to Staff Sgt. Sean Devoy’s family and friends during this difficult time,” said Lt. Col. Khirsten Schwenn, 2nd GSAB, 1st Avn. Regt., commander. “The unexpected death of a family member is profoundly tragic. Staff Sgt. Devoy touched countless lives as a flight paramedic. We are deeply saddened by the loss of an extraordinary noncommissioned officer and teammate.”

Black Knights use Army-Navy uniform to tell story of division
A flight medic extracts a patient during live hoist extraction training. Army photo by Spc. Adeline Witherspoon.

Devoy, whose home of record is Ballwin, Mo., arrived at Fort Riley in December 2012 after joining the Army in March 2010. He was posthumously promoted to staff sergeant.

He deployed to Germany in 2010 and Afghanistan in 2011, 2013, and 2016.

He earned several awards and decorations throughout his career.

A team from the US Army Combat Readiness Center at Fort Rucker, Ala., is leading the investigation.

Articles

This is what happens when the ‘Mother of Dragons’ channels Mad Dog Mattis

In the latest episode of Game of Thrones, Daenerys Targaryen has finally done it. She’s managed to pull off her version of one of “Mad Dog” Mattis’s signature moments — albeit after some serious military blunders and at least one close call.


Early on in the episode “Eastwatch,” Daenerys gave a speech that boiled down to “I come in peace. I didn’t bring artillery. But I’m pleading with you, with tears in my eyes: If you f#ck with me, I’ll kill you all.”

Black Knights use Army-Navy uniform to tell story of division
James Mattis, then a Marine general, speaks to Marines in Iraq. (USMC photo)

Well, Randyll Tarly and his son Dickon f#cked with the Mother of Dragons and became crispy critters as a result. The demonstration was effective – in essence, the Breaker of Chains is telling Westeros that they can have “no better friend, no worse enemy” than her.

Not so well-known, though is the fact that Jon Snow is obeying another teaching from “St. Mattis of Quantico.”

In 2010, Mattis famously said:

In this age, I don’t care how tactically or operationally brilliant you are, if you cannot create harmony — even vicious harmony — on the battlefield based on trust across service lines, across coalition and national lines, and across civilian/military lines, you need to go home, because your leadership is obsolete. We have got to have officers who can create harmony across all those lines.

Black Knights use Army-Navy uniform to tell story of division

Jon Snow has demonstrated this multiple times throughout the series. He’s managed to stitch together numerous alliances over six-plus seasons – to the point that he now has a coalition of Northerners, Free Folk, Knights of the Vale, and is now carrying out a special operation with the Westerosi version of the “Dirty Dozen.”

Now, for a case of the stupids.

Arya Stark is falling for an “AF is low on water” gambit being run by “Littlefinger” Baelish. Unless Arya can keep calm and ask why Littlefinger wants her to have that specific document, it looks like the Stark girls are headed for trouble – and we could see a fight between Brienne and Arya that is for real.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Triple Nickles: The all-Black airborne smokejumping unit that parachuted into forest fires

The surprise attack on Pearl Harbor wasn’t the only time the Japanese struck U.S. soil during World War II. In response to the Doolittle Raid — the successful penetration of Japanese airspace and the bombing of strategic targets in Tokyo from the allies — the Japanese executed their revenge. The date of the launch was chosen for the birthday of former emperor Meiji, Nov. 3, 1944.

However, instead of using airplanes, the Japanese used fusen bakudan, or balloon bombs, that each carried four incendiaries and a 33-pound, highly explosive anti-personnel fragmentation device. The Fu-Go balloon bombs traveled 7,500 miles along the Pacific Ocean jet stream at altitudes between 20,000 and 40,000 feet. Witnesses described these large, white balloons as “giant jellyfish” floating in the sky. Their main objective was to start forest fires, create security doubts among the civilian populace, and cause upheaval.


The all-black Triple Nickles battalion was ultimately responsible for combating the slow-moving, round balloon bombs, which had no escort or protection and had been spotted by the U.S. Navy patrol off the coast of California only two days after their initial launch. The patrol alerted the FBI, and investigations were conducted to find the origin of these mysterious flammable balloons traveling over the Pacific Northwest and into Canada.

Black Knights use Army-Navy uniform to tell story of division

A Japanese Fu-Go balloon with its payload of charges suspended below. Photo by Maj. Thomas Cieslak/3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, courtesy of the U.S. Army.

Paratroopers from the 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions suffered heavy casualties in the European Theater (ETO) during the Battle of the Bulge and the courageous siege of Bastogne; they were in a desperate need for replacements. The 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, or the “Triple Nickles” as they became known, trained to fulfill this capacity. However, as with other all-black units of the time, African-American soldiers weren’t treated equally. “We were relegated to serving in menial units such as truck drivers, port companies (loading ships), mess halls (waiting on tables) and guard duty,” wrote Walter Morris, a Triple Nickle veteran.

Although no Triple Nickles completed a combat jump or deployed to Europe, these trendsetters provided another example of how an elite all-black unit could be employed in a combat or peacetime environment. The Triple Nickles participated in a top-secret project fighting forest fires as the U.S. military’s first smoke jumping paratroopers over the Pacific Northwest.

The Triple Nickles, a name derived from the parachute regiment’s designation, was created in the winter of 1943 and consisted of 17 of the original 20-man platoon from the 92nd Infantry (Buffalo) Division. These men were hand-selected to create the first “colored test platoon.” A few months into 1944 saw newly minted paratroopers who completed training jumps at Fort Benning, Georgia. The first all-black parachute infantry battalion in history had formed but were still brand-new and lacked manpower. The paratroopers honed their skills and became experts in small-unit tactics.

The Inspiring Story of the Triple Nickles

www.youtube.com

Several went to the best schools the U.S. Army had to offer. Some became riggers and jump masters while others learned the metrics in communications, the skills to navigate difficult terrain as pathfinders, and the intricacies in demolitions.

They were the cream of the crop — college graduates, professional athletes, men of high character and extraordinary intellect. One Triple Nickle veteran, “Tiger” Ted Lowry, entered the ring to face world champion boxing legend Joe Louis, who came to Lowry’s base in 1943. He was accompanied by Sugar Ray Robinson — who Muhammad Ali coined as “the king, the master, my idol” — when the duo toured military camps to entertain soldiers. “Stay in the middle of the ring,” Robinson advised Lowry, “don’t let him get you on the ropes.” Lowry already had 70 fights to his name and somehow survived the three-round exhibition with one of the greatest boxers in history.

“You can’t imagine what that did for my ego,” Lowry reflected. “I had just been in the ring with the champion of the world, the greatest fighter in the world, and he was unable to knock me down. My confidence was inflated.” His fighting days halted when he joined the Triple Nickles but resumed when he faced Rocky Marciano, the Brockton, Massachusetts, undefeated heavyweight champion. Not only did he stun Marciano, but he shocked crowds of hometown Italian-Americans by going the distance twice with the Brockton Blockbuster, the only fighter ever to do so.

Black Knights use Army-Navy uniform to tell story of division

The men of the 555th Parachute Infantry Regiment march in the New York City Victory Parade on January 12, 1946. Maj. Gen. Jim Gavin ensured the “Triple Nickles” not only marched in the parade, but wore the insignia of the 82nd Airborne Division. Photo by Maj. Thomas Cieslak/3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, courtesy of the U.S. Army.

When World War II was nearing a close and as the Germans were losing ground, the Triple Nickles’ focus shifted from Europe to the homefront. The Triple Nickles were the size of a “reinforced company” but expected to reach battalion size by 1945. The threat from the Japanese balloon bombs was imminent, and they were diverted to Pendleton, Oregon, and Chico, California, under secret orders to the 9th Services Command.

The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) received help from the U.S. Army when 400 paratroopers from the Triple Nickles were tasked with the difficult job. They turned in their rifles, hand grenades, and rucksacks. In that equipment’s place they donned football helmets with wire face masks, equipped 50 feet of nylon rope for lowering themselves from trees, and packed firefighting tools such as axes and handsaws on their person for parachute jumps.

The smoke jumping program was in its sixth firefighting season, but the war dwindled their resources, and the Triple Nickles provided a welcome skillset. Pilots flying C-47s needed no additional training and had prior results in properly managing smokejumper assets in remote regions where fires were often inaccessible by roads. The response and defensive strategy against the Japanese balloon bombs was a little-known secret called Operation Firefly.

Later reports suggested that the Japanese launched over 9,000 helium balloons. Damage from these balloons was rare but noteworthy. One balloon exploded after it hit high-tension power lines that were connected to a plutonium plant in Hanford, Washington. It caused a temporary blackout to the community, and the plutonium plant was ironically responsible for developing the fuel for the atomic bomb dropped over Nagasaki, Japan.

Black Knights use Army-Navy uniform to tell story of division

Triple Nickle member Jesse Mayes prepares to jump from a C-47. Photo by Maj. Thomas Cieslak/3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, courtesy of the U.S. Army.

Vincent “Bud” Whitehead, a U.S. Army counterintelligence officer, used to track and chase the balloons in the air from his plane. In March 1945, a balloon had landed on the ground but didn’t ignite. “They sent a bus up with all of this specially trained personnel, gloves, full contamination suits, masks,” Whitehead said in an interview with the Voices of the Manhattan Project. “I had been walking around on that stuff and they had not told me! They were afraid of bacterial warfare.” Biological and bacterial warfare fears were not exaggerated because it was later revealed that the Japanese had scrapped an operation at the end of the war for weaponizing the bubonic plague.

Another notable tragedy that involved these balloon bombs was the devastation of almost an entire family while they picnicked near the Gearhart Mountain in Bly, Oregon. On May 5, 1945, Reverend Archie Mitchell, his pregnant wife, Elsie, and five children from their Sunday School class were victims of the balloon’s lethality. The children went to investigate the strange object that had floated to the ground, but they got too close and were killed when the balloon did what it was designed to do. Archie Mitchell was the only survivor.

The Triple Nickles went to work to prevent additional American civilian casualties. First Lieutenant Edwin Willis, a brilliant planner and training specialist, put his paratroopers through a three-week crash course to learn proper firefighting knowledge and techniques. Willis received assistance and guidance from USFS smokejumpers and forest rangers as well.

Black Knights use Army-Navy uniform to tell story of division

Frank Derry, Parachute Instructor-Rigger, instructing prospective smoke jumper in the use of the “drop rig.” Simulates landing from chute caught in a snag or other obstacles by use of landing rope. Lolo National Forest, Montana. Photo by W.J. Mead, courtesy fo the National Archives and Records Administration.

This course included “demolitions training, tree climbing and techniques for descent if we landed in a tree, handling firefighting equipment, jumping into pocket-sized drop zones studded with rocks and tree stumps, survival in wooded areas, and extensive first-aid training for injuries — particularly broken bones,” said Morris.

Frank Derry, a master civilian parachutist, issued the Triple Nickles his “Derry-chute,” which was known for its maneuverability and steering capabilities. “Snag trees, those were the worst. I didn’t like those dudes at all,” Derry said, referring to the nuisances found in their path. “But landing in the trees was just as soft as landing, better than landing on the ground. The thick trees […] you just come into them like sitting down on a pillow, nothing to it.”

The Triple Nickles were also assisted by demolition experts from the 9th Services Command and USFS rangers. “Learning the touchy business of handling unexploded bombs, as well as how to isolate areas in which a bomb, or suspected bomb, was located,” Morris wrote. The incedinaries and chemicals were an additional pucker factor to their already challenging task.

Black Knights use Army-Navy uniform to tell story of division

Then-1st. Sgt. Walter Morris, right, prepares for his first jump with the 555th Parachute Infantry Regiment. Photo by Maj. Thomas Cieslak/3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, courtesy of the U.S. Army.

The Triple Nickles also learned to live off the land and avoid costly mistakes that could derail their mission. “They could walk up the hills like a cat on a snake walk,” Morris wrote, discussing the expertise of USFS rangers. “They taught us how to climb, use an axe, and what vegetation to eat. At the same time, we underwent an orientation program with Forest Service maps. And, above all, our morale and spirit of adventure never sagged in the face of this unusual mission.”

The Triple Nickles became fully operational smokejumpers, but the numbers on how many fires and fire jumps they completed have been skewed over the years. Chuck Sheley, the editor of Smokejumper Magazine, states they completed 460 to 470 jumps on an estimated 15 of 28 forest fires, while they drove or hiked into the other fires. The National 555th Parachute Infantry Association consensus estimates the Triple Nickles answered 36 fire calls with 1,200 individual jumps across seven Western states.

Private First Class Malvin Brown was the only casualty of the Triple Nickles. Brown was a critical component of the team because of his medical expertise. Any injuries, accidents, or potential concerns went through the fire medics. When 15 Triple Nickles paratroopers boarded their C-47 on the morning of Aug. 6, 1945, Brown wasn’t supposed to be there. However, he volunteered to replace another medic who was sick. Hours later he jumped into a fire in Umpqua National Forest in southern Oregon’s Cascade Range and landed in a tree. Moments later he slipped and fell more than 150 feet to the ground below. He died instantly.

Brown’s fellow smokejumpers changed their mission from fighting the fire to bringing home their teammate’s body. After an arduous search in rocky terrain, they located him and carried him more than 3 miles through the backcountry. Their first sign of civilization was a trail, but it took another 12 miles for them to find a road to get help.

The soldiers of the Triple Nickles weren’t respected while they were in service, but their contributions in a long lineage of elite all-black units are remembered as if they were legends. The Triple Nickles disbanded after World War II, but many of the soldiers continued to serve, including Lieutenant Colonel John Cannon, who was a combat medic during the Korean War. John E. Mann served as an Army Special Forces advisor in Vietnam and was awarded the Silver Star, three Bronze Stars, three Legions of Merit, and a Distinguished Flying Cross. Mann served in the military for 33 years and later authored four detective novels.

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

MightyScopes for the week of February 13th

Hump Day Horoscopes in your mouth, you nasty boots. Noadamus here, operator and internet prophet with crystal magic who can see the future. Okay, I made the crystal crap part up, but I was raised by hippies and weaned on goats’ milk, so open your ear holes and listen to PaPa Bear.


Black Knights use Army-Navy uniform to tell story of division

Go crazy. You’re not paying.

Aquarius

Some weeks suck, but not this one — not for you, at least. Your favorite kind of friends want to party, the ones who pay for everything. Money is basically falling into your pocket and your mental capacity is amped up to the max. You might even manage to keep your secret love affair hidden. Just watch your mouth through the weekend, because tempers run hot this week.

Pisces

Can’t go home ’cause you have to work past COB and Household 6 won’t shut up about it? Just take a deep breath, everything starts to look better closer to the weekend. You might even find some time to nerd out on whatever Dungeons Dragons spells you’re casting. By next Wednesday, you’re a powerhouse, smoldering and passionate.

Aries

Seriously dude (or dudette), chill the F’ out, ‘fore you give yo-self a hernia. Your energy is almost unlimited, but everyone’s patience is not. You’re kicking ass and taking names, crushing every PT event, and you’re goddamn Jonny Ringo at the range, but you don’t know everything, and next week, a family member won’t hesitate to remind you, repeatedly.

[rebelmouse-proxy-image https://media.rbl.ms/image?u=%2FIdmfEtnMWPzOg.gif&ho=https%3A%2F%2Fi.giphy.com&s=657&h=84278ace534ddc4cf26e3693450766ef152ef3ff98d1f1e7bcd8fdcf3fd2667b&size=980x&c=2002205003 crop_info=”%7B%22image%22%3A%20%22https%3A//media.rbl.ms/image%3Fu%3D%252FIdmfEtnMWPzOg.gif%26ho%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Fi.giphy.com%26s%3D657%26h%3D84278ace534ddc4cf26e3693450766ef152ef3ff98d1f1e7bcd8fdcf3fd2667b%26size%3D980x%26c%3D2002205003%22%7D” expand=1]

You’re gonna get some attention. Doesn’t mean you want it.

Taurus

The weekend brings a surge of energy, useful during CQB and for meeting your future ex-girl/boyfriend. Your tactical knowledge pays off and thrusts you into a leadership role, but causes you more disruption than your stubborn ass would care for. You are likely to be recognized as the subject-matter expert.

Gemini

Wednesday has you on edge. Take a knee and drink water. You’ll live… probably. Not everyone is out to get you, and people still like you, and yes, everybody thinks you’re clever. Snuggle up with your woobie, and if you can suck it up until next week, your silver tongue will return and you’ll be a superstar at work again. Speaking of stars, if you got pipes, middle of next week is a great time to rock an open mic.

Cancer

Whatever secrets you’re hiding are subject to rumor and gossip this Wednesday. Just remember your SERE training: say nothing, and by the weekend, people will move on to more interesting talk. Early next week, everyone from your significant other to the MPs to the crustiest Gunny in the division wants to butt heads with you. And they call you sensitive? By the middle of next week, things are starting to look up.

Black Knights use Army-Navy uniform to tell story of division

You’re really only sabotaging yourself.

Leo

Remember that one time you let your friends talk you into doing the stupid-ass sh*t that almost got you court-martialed? Oh wait, that’s this Wednesday. Pull your head out of your ass, Corporal, and try not to pick any more fights at work. Next week looks good for your wallet; guess all that day-trading is finally paying off.

Virgo

Wednesday is a trifecta of suck. The house (or family) is demanding money, friends and coworkers are overly argumentative, and your buddy told everyone about your browser history. It’s called cyber security. Seriously, sergeant. Next week sucks, too, but at least after the weekend, nobody is busting your balls at work. I’m prescribing some meditation classes — you must chillax.

Libra

Why you stirring up so much shit? Your neighbors are pissed, the morons in your unit are pissed, every damn instructor you have to deal with is pissed. You need to ask yourself — who’s actually the asshole here? Here’s a hint: It’s you, you pretentious snob. You cannot win all of these battles and some of these people are on your side. Don’t be such a blue falcon, buddy f*cker.

Black Knights use Army-Navy uniform to tell story of division

It’s probably for the best that you still live in the barracks.

Scorpio

If all of your idiot friends overdraft their credit cards at the gentlemen’s club, does that mean you will, too? Dumb question, we both know you will. Don’t wake up Thursday morning five bills in the hole. In fact, this Wednesday and every night through this weekend, just stay in the barracks and watch a documentary on Buddha or something. Oh yeah, don’t let your aggression get the better of you next week.

Sagittarius

You’re bleeding money trying to keep up with your rent and your drinking escapades. Don’t get mad when people get pissed off by your scandalous behavior and your inability to commit to a relationship. The good news is that next week you will remember you have a job and, even though you will not have the most squared away uniform, your aggression will inspire others and make peers and supervisors alike forget how much of a flake you are.

Capricorn

Trust me, I really want to lie to you and say things are looking up, but… things continue to be terrible for you and you will continue to be a moody asshole. You can’t use this excuse to be a miserable human being; you’re better than that. If you have children, keep them occupied this week or they might burn down your house, and no one wants to listen to you b*tch anymore.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Pentagon urges US to lead in 5G technology

The next advancement in cellular technology, 5G, is expected to be so fast that it’s able to surpass the speed of wired internet now provided by cable companies.

Current 4G technology provides download speeds of about 1 gigabit per second. With 5G technology, download speeds are expected to increase to 20 gigabits per second, said Ellen M. Lord, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment.

Lord spoke yesterday at the Atlantic Council here to discuss the Defense Department’s efforts to advance 5G technology in the United States and to ensure that when 5G does make its debut, it’s secure enough to transmit information between U.S. military personnel and its allies without being intercepted by potential adversaries.


U.S. and allies must take lead

That means the U.S. and its allies will need to take the lead in developing this next generation of telecommunications technology, she said.

“When we talk about 5G, everything is going to be moving over it, eventually,” Lord said. “What we need to do is make sure how that information is moving, and how you can get at it, and how you can keep it secure.”

Black Knights use Army-Navy uniform to tell story of division

Ellen M. Lord, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment.

Lord likened development of the 5G infrastructure and technology to that of a new home. She said new home owners certainly would want to know that whoever built their home, wired it for electricity, installed the communications systems, or installed the doors and windows hadn’t also built in a way for them to sneak back into that house undetected after the new owners had moved in.

“That’s where we are with 5G,” Lord said. “If we are going to run our entire warfighting ecosystem though communications — which is where we are today — we need to make sure that when we send a critical message that others aren’t hearing it. We need to be able to test that.”

On the modern battlefield, and on the battlefield of the foreseeable future, communications is going to play a critical role, Lord said. Information must flow between mounted and dismounted soldiers, from ships at sea and from those under the sea, as well as to space and aircraft.

“In order to get relevant situational understanding, we are trading information back and forth all the time,” she said. “What will happen is, if we do not embrace 5G, and we are just getting going in 4G in a lot of areas, we are going to have a latency or a delay in those conversations that could render everything we have as ineffective.”

U.S. industry and partners must provide advancements

Advancements in 5G must come from U.S. industry and U.S. partners to be trustworthy and reliable, Lord said.

Black Knights use Army-Navy uniform to tell story of division

The Pentagon, headquarters of the US Department of Defense.

“Right now there is quite an intensive dialogue going on to understand where in Europe we might partner,” Lord said. “And there has been an enormous amount of discussion about the threat that we see by the Chinese — theft of intellectual property — coming into our networks. We have to collectively decide how we are technically going to secure our networks — how we legislatively have to have protection.”

Lord said a whole-of-government approach is needed to get a handle on 5G. The State, Treasury and Commerce departments and the National Security Council should be involved along with DOD, she said.

“I think you are going to see a huge call to action this year to come together with really what is almost a national industrial policy for 5G, because the stakes are high,” Lord added. “5G from a technology point of view is a huge opportunity, but it’s a huge threat.

“If we don’t embrace it and apply it towards our goals, we could be overcome quickly with technical overmatch,” she continued. “And we can’t allow that to happen. … We have a warfighting imperative. If we cannot communicate as quickly, or quicker than our adversaries, if we cannot have situational understanding as to what is happening on the battlefield, then we are going to be in a position where our national security is threatened.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

This is the story behind the rise and fall of the Islamic State group

The Islamic State group, responsible for some of the worst atrocities perpetrated against civilians in recent history, appears on the verge of collapse.


After brutalizing residents living under its command for more than three years, the militants have now lost their self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa and are battling to hang on to relatively small pockets of territory in Iraq and Syria, besieged by local forces from all sides. Few, however, expect IS to completely go away, or for the bloodshed in the two countries and the region to end quickly.

Here’s a look at the Islamic State group, the rise and fall of its “caliphate” and what to expect next:

Black Knights use Army-Navy uniform to tell story of division
Under ISIS reign, the city of Raqqa was been turned into a veritable hell for its residents. Photo from Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently.

A ‘Caliphate’ No More

IS, which emerged from the remnants of al-Qaeda in Iraq, began its spread across the Mideast in early 2014, overrunning the Iraqi city of Fallujah and parts of the nearby provincial capital of Ramadi. In Syria, it seized sole control of the city of Raqqa after driving out rival Syrian rebel factions.

In June 2014, IS captured Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, from where its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, declared a self-styled “caliphate,” a declaration tantamount to an earthquake that would temporarily redraw borders and shake up the entire region.

IS promised justice, equality, and an Islamic, religious utopia. But over the next few years, it terrorized people living under its control, systematically slaughtering members of Iraq’s tiny Yazidi community, kidnapping women and girls as sex slaves, beheading Western journalists and aid workers, and destroying some of the Mideast’s spectacular archaeological and cultural sites.

Black Knights use Army-Navy uniform to tell story of division
Yazidi refugees, many of whom were displaced due to ISIS activity. UK DFID photo by Rachel Unkovic

IS also attracted a motley crew of foreign fighters, mostly marginalized European youths and other foreigners who took up its cause. But it alienated mainstream Sunni Muslims, who found IS’ crude interpretation of Islam also spreading in areas far from Syria and Iraq.

Creating a territorial caliphate created a target, and an international anti-IS coalition soon took shape.

What’s Left

The United States launched its campaign of airstrikes against IS in Iraq in August 2014, and a month later in Syria. In Iraq, it partnered with government forces working with state-sanctioned Shiite-led militias as well as Iraqi Kurdish fighters known as peshmerga. In Syria, it partnered with local Syrian Kurdish-led fighters, the Syrian Democratic Forces.

Supported by tens of thousands of US-led airstrikes, these forces drove IS militants from one stronghold after another over the years. The biggest blow came in July when Mosul, long regarded as IS’ administrative capital, was liberated.

Black Knights use Army-Navy uniform to tell story of division

In Syria, IS appears to be heading for collapse as the US-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, and Syrian government forces, backed by their Russian allies, are attacking them in separate, simultaneous offensives.

A senior SDF commander on Oct. 17 said his forces liberated Raqqa from IS militants and would formally announce victory soon after clearing operations to remove land mines and search for sleeper cells. Mayadeen, a town in the heart of Syria’s Euphrates River Valley near Iraq’s border where the militants had been expected to make their last stand, fell to Syrian government troops over the weekend.

In northern Iraq, the jihadis no longer hold any cities or towns after their stronghold of Hawija fell earlier this month. Iraq’s army is now gearing up to fight IS in its last territory — the sprawling desert Anbar province stretching all the way to the Syrian border. In Syria, IS still holds the town of Boukamal near the Iraqi border and scattered pockets of territory in the east.

Black Knights use Army-Navy uniform to tell story of division
Popular Mobilization Forces move into Hawija. Photo from Dlshad Anwar of VOA.

Staggering Price

The destruction of IS has come at a devastating cost for both Syria and Iraq, and immense suffering for those who endured the militants’ brutal reign.

The fighting and airstrikes have pulverized once thriving cities, turning them into tragic vistas of crushed apartment blocks, flattened homes and collapsed roads and bridges. In Ramadi, Mosul and Raqqa, the scope of the damage is staggering.

Two weeks ago, the US-led coalition announced it has returned more than 83 percent of IS-held land to local populations since 2014, liberating more than 6 million Syrians and Iraqis in the process. At least 735 civilians have been unintentionally killed by coalition strikes, although activists and war monitors estimate the toll to be much higher.

Black Knights use Army-Navy uniform to tell story of division
Army photo by Cpl. Rachel Diehm.

The nine-month battle to liberate Mosul resulted in the death of up to 1,500 Iraqi forces. At least 1,100 SDF fighters were killed in the battles for Syria’s Raqqa and Deir el-Zour up until late September, according to the coalition.

In the three years since IS began building its “caliphate,” it has killed thousands of people, displaced millions, and worked hard on infusing children with extremist doctrine.

Shifting of Sands

The rise of the Islamic State group and subsequent wars and alliances to bring about its defeat has worsened political and sectarian fault-lines in Syria and Iraq.

Black Knights use Army-Navy uniform to tell story of division
Photo courtesy of Kurdish YPG Fighters Flickr.

It gave unprecedented clout to Kurdish populations in both countries, unsettling their central governments, as well as Iran and Turkey, both battling Kurdish separatists within their own borders.

Under cover of the fight against IS, Iraq’s Kurds seized the oil-rich city of Kirkuk in 2014 — a move Baghdad has now reversed, moving into the city, seizing oil fields and other infrastructure in an attempt to curb Kurdish aspirations for independence.

The shifting and chaotic battlefields in Syria’s civil war, tensions between Kurds and ethnic Arabs, the presence of Shiite militias and government troops in predominantly Sunni towns and cities vacated by IS may lead to more violence.

In many ways, the fight over IS spoils and territories is only just beginning.

Black Knights use Army-Navy uniform to tell story of division
1st Lt. Matthew Chau, Border Team 3 OIC with HHS, TF 2-11 FA, stares out onto a mass grave site of the victims in the 1988 gas attack in Halabja on Jan. 12. (Sgt. Sean Kimmons)

Uncertain Future

All forces battling IS will have to remain vigilant even after they recapture the last militant-held territory. In some ways, they now face an even more daunting challenge.

Hisham al-Hashem, an Iraqi writer and analyst, estimates there remain 8,000 jihadis in Iraq’s Anbar who will melt away “like salt in water” to wait for the right moment to launch their next insurgency or suicide attack.

IS affiliates continue to carry out swift attacks in Egypt and Libya, where the group gained a foothold and which could be its preferred theaters of retaliations. Before it broke away from al-Qaeda and rebranded itself as the Islamic State, al-Qaeda in Iraq waged a years-long insurgency following the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, pushing the country to the brink of civil war.

popular

7 badass nicknames enemies have given the American military

Badass nicknames become even better when they have a great backstory like being bestowed by an enemy who faced the unit in battle. While the Marines probably weren’t dubbed “Devil Dogs” by the Germans, a number of other military organizations claim their nicknames come from the enemy. Here are 7 of them:


1. “Phantom”

 

Black Knights use Army-Navy uniform to tell story of division
They’re pretty easy to spot in this picture…. Photo: US Army

 

The 9th Armored Division was deployed to the northern front of the Battle of the Bulge as it was beginning in 1944. The Germans began referring to the unit as “Phantom” because it seemed to appear everywhere along the front.

2. “Bloody Bucket”

 

Black Knights use Army-Navy uniform to tell story of division
Photo: US Army Tec 5 Wesley B. Carolan

 

Soldiers with the 28th Infantry Division were known for vicious fighting tactics during the Normandy Campaign. Since they wore a red patch that was shaped like a bucket, the Germans began calling the division the “Bloody Bucket.”

3. “Devils in Baggy Pants”

 

Black Knights use Army-Navy uniform to tell story of division
Photo: US Army

 

During the invasion of Italy in 1943, the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment were defending the right flank of the 3rd Infantry Division and conducted regular raids into the enemy’s outposts. A dead German officer’s diary supposedly contained the nickname for the airborne infantrymen.

Black Knights use Army-Navy uniform to tell story of division
Looking for more patriotic content, from sea to shining sea—and beyond? Military service members and veterans can get a FREE FOX Nation subscription until for a year! Sign up for your free subscription here!

4. “The Blue Ghost”

 

Black Knights use Army-Navy uniform to tell story of division
Photo: US Army Corps of Engineers

 

Japanese propaganda kept reporting that the USS Lexington had been sunk and kept being proven wrong when the blue-hulled aircraft carrier came back and whooped them time and time again. This eventually led Tokyo Rose to dub it “The Blue Ghost.”

5. “Grey Ghost”

 

Black Knights use Army-Navy uniform to tell story of division
Photo: US Navy

 

“Grey Ghost” was applied to a few ships because the Tokyo Rose writers were apparently lazy. The USS Hornet, the USS Pensacola, and the USS America all claim the nickname and the story for each is the same, Tokyo Rose bestowed it on them in World War II.

6. “Black Death”

 

Black Knights use Army-Navy uniform to tell story of division
Photo: US Air Force Master Sgt. John Nimmo Sr.

Iraqi troops resisting the American advance in Desert Storm learned to fear the Apache helicopter even before the “Highway of Death.” After the Apache destroyed their radar stations and many of the tanks and troops, Iraqi soldiers began calling it the “Black Death.”

7. “Steel Rain”

Black Knights use Army-Navy uniform to tell story of division
Photo: US Army Staff Sgt. Carlos R. Davis

 

Iraqi soldiers who survived the first combat deployment of the Multiple Launch Rocket System, which can fire rockets that explode over the enemies head and releases hundreds of lethal bomblets, dubbed the weapon “Steel Rain.” The 3rd Battalion, 27th Field Artillery Regiment soldiers who fired on the soldiers adopted “Steel Rain” as their official unit nickname.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Warrior shares why he stayed in the Army after injury

Taking care of others, and showing love and appreciation for others, is a core reason why retired Maj. Dennis “DJ” Skelton chose to stay in the Army. He continued to serve for 21 years, even after suffering grievous wounds during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004.

Skelton told his story to a large crowd of soldiers, veterans, and Army civilians during the “Why We Serve” ceremony hosted by the Army’s chief information officer/G-6, Sept. 5. During the event, 30 young men and women from the Baltimore and Richmond areas raised their right hand to take the Oath of Enlistment.

“I was kind of a punk kid growing up in a small farming community in South Dakota,” he said. “I barely graduated high school and had absolutely no discipline whatsoever, which is why I had a hard time holding down a job.”


Shortly after getting expelled from the University of South Dakota, Skelton eventually found his way to an Army recruiting office. A year later he was sent to training at Monterey, California, to learn Chinese at the Defense Language Institute.

Black Knights use Army-Navy uniform to tell story of division

Retired Maj. Dennis “DJ” Skelton shared his story to a large crowd of soldiers, veterans, and Army civilians during a “Why We Serve” ceremony, Sept. 5, 2019.

(Courtesy photo Maj. Dennis DJ Skelton)

At one point, two officers pulled Skelton aside and asked him, “‘Why are you here?'” Skelton looked up and couldn’t answer the question, he said.

Instead of turning Skelton away, the two officers decided to take an opportunity to encourage the young private. They encouraged him to become an Army officer.

“That was the first time in my life that I had been pulled aside by someone that looked at me from a distance and chose to spend some extra time with someone they did not know. They saw something in me that I didn’t see,” Skelton said.

Skelton eventually made it to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. After graduation, he moved to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington. Not long after his arrival, he was told to prepare for a deployment in Iraq.

“I remember sitting on the tarmac waiting for the plane to load up,” he said. “No one in my unit has ever [deployed] before. I remember standing in front of my platoon — naive — and I looked at those family members and said, “‘I promise you this: I will bring all of your sons and daughters home.'”

Two months later, Skelton was wounded and in a coma. One of his soldiers, “went through a volley of fire to drag my body through the kill zone,” during a battle in Fallujah, Skelton said emotionally.

Battling for his life, Skelton was flown back for treatment at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Maryland.

“This is 2004, and there was no Warrior Transition Unit. West Point professors, [and] enlisted soldiers that I served with found out that I was wounded and showed up at the hospital. They would cook food every night and delivered it to my parents, sister, and loved ones, because I couldn’t do that,” he said with sorrow.

Black Knights use Army-Navy uniform to tell story of division

Retired Maj. Dennis “DJ” Skelton discusses why he chose to stay in the Army after suffering grievous wounds during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004, during a “Why We Serve” ceremony at Fort Belvoir, Va., Sept. 5, 2019.

(Army CIO G6 photo)

A year later, Skelton was out of the hospital, and the Army was quick to start his medical evaluation board process. It was one thing to be injured, but the feeling of rejection and being told he no longer provided value to the Army felt worse, he said.

Skelton eventually convinced the Army to let him stay as he spent the next six years bouncing through various assignments.

“For six years, I did what everyone told me to do: ‘Be resilient.’ And for six years … what I learned is that I hate the word resilient more than any other word in the English language.”

To others, resilience is the measurement of time that it takes to get back to normal, Skelton added.

“For six years, I tried to get back to the point where I had two eyes [and] two limbs so I could go hunting, climbing, and fishing. That was a source of happiness. I want to go back to a time when I was not peppered with shrapnel so that I can look handsome again,” said Skelton, with sadness in his voice.

“The reality is we can’t; these negative things that happen to us are now forever part of us,” he said.

It took time, but Skelton eventually saw his injury as a source of his strength. Through it all, he recognized that each person brings value and worth to a team or organization, he said.

So to answer the question, ‘Why do I serve?’ I made a promise on a tarmac that I bring my soldiers home,” he said.

“Even though it took six years, I finally made my way back into the infantry. And even though it wasn’t [my same] platoon, I got to command the same company in which I was a platoon leader,” he said. “Some of my privates were now my NCOs. And I got to bring them back home.”

This article originally appeared on United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.

Do Not Sell My Personal Information