North Korea has released three US citizens detained there, the Financial Times reported May 2, 2018, citing a South Korean activist who campaigns for the release of detainees.
The releases would meet some of the US’s demands for North Korea to demonstrate sincerity before a historic meeting between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un — something that John Bolton, Trump’s hawkish national security adviser, reiterated during an interview on Fox News on April 29, 2018.
The three citizens— Kim Dong-chul, Kim Sang-duk, and Kim Hak-song — have been released from a labor camp and given health treatment and ideological education in Pyongyang, the Financial Times report said.
“We heard it through our sources in North Korea late last month,” Choi Sung-ryong told the news outlet. “We believe that Mr. Trump can take them back on the day of the US-North Korea summit or he can send an envoy to take them back to the US before the summit.”
The Financial Times report said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke with Kim about the detainees during the pair’s secretive meeting in April 2018.
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter sought to minimize Wednesday the impact of the failed coup in Turkey and the ensuing purge of military officers on the NATO alliance and the campaign against ISIS.
Despite the recent anti-U.S. rhetoric from the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which has demanded the extradition of a Muslim cleric in Pennsylvania, Carter said, “We support the democratically elected government.”
The secretary added, “I don’t have any indication” that the failed coup and Erdogan’s tough response would affect Turkey’s continuing membership in NATO. “The alliance is very strong, our relationship is very strong,” he said of Turkey, a founding member of NATO.
Carter also said he expected commercial power that was cut to the U.S. air base at Incirlik in southeastern Turkey following the coup attempt last Friday to be restored shortly, along with full flight operations that are vital to the air campaign against ISIS in Syria.
In a statement, the Pentagon said that Joint Chiefs Chairman Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford phoned his Turkish counterpart, Gen. Hulusi Akar, on Wednesday and they “broadly discussed operations in Incirlik and the deep commitment the U.S. has to Turkey.”
Carter spoke at a news conference at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, following the opening session of two days of meetings with the defense and foreign ministers of more than 30 nations in the anti-ISIS coalition on the next steps to eliminate the terror group’s remaining strongholds.
Turkish Defense Minister Fikri Isik and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu were no-shows at Andrews. Turkey’s ambassador to the U.S., Serdar Kilic, represented his government at the meetings, which will continue at the State Department on Thursday.
After failing to make contact with Isik in the aftermath of the coup, Carter said they spoke by phone Tuesday and he told Isik, “I was glad that he was safe and the ministry was functioning. He assured me very clearly that nothing that happened over the weekend will interrupt their support” for the campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.”
Erdogan responded to the attempted coup with a wide-ranging purge of the ranks of the military, police, judiciary, media and academia.
By some counts, more than 50,000 people have been fired or suspended, and more than 9,000 have been detained on suspicion of supporting the coup that Erdogan has blamed on supporters of exiled Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, now living in Pennsylvania.
Gulen has denied any involvement in the coup, but the Turkish government on Tuesday said that paperwork had been filed with the State Department demanding his extradition. Secretary of State John Kerry has pledged to review the extradition request while adding that the U.S. would adhere strictly to the law.
The purge has devastated the ranks of the Turkish military, with at least 118 generals and admirals now under detention, including the commander of Incirlik air base, which is shared by the U.S. 39th Air Base Wing and the Turkish air force.
Erdogan told Al Jazeera on Wednesday that the attempted coup, which left at least 240 dead and more than 1,000 wounded, was carried out by a minority within the armed forces.
“It is clear that they are in the minority,” Erdogan said. “This organization that we called a terrorist organization [Gulen’s] is trying to make the minority dominate the majority. We have taken all the steps necessary to prevent such an event.”
In a conference call with reporters Tuesday, analyst Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations said the failed coup and Erdogan’s harsh response had reduced U.S.-Turkey relations to their “lowest point” in recent times.
“It’s hard to refer to Turkey as a democracy,” Cook said. The U.S. “has to start asking questions about the value of Turkey as an ally,” but has been reluctant to do so because of Turkey’s membership in NATO and the importance of Incirlik air base in the fight against ISIS, Cook said.
However, “the Turks have been reluctant to get involved in fight against the Islamic State,” Cook said. “By their own admission, they’re much more concerned about Kurdish nationalism.”
On April 6, 2008, two Special Forces operational detachments and more than 100 Afghan commandos began an air assault into a mountain fortress above the Shok Valley.
Six and a half hours later, two members of the assault were killed and nine seriously wounded, over 100 enemy fighters were dead or captured, and eleven men had earned some of the nation’s highest awards for valor. This is what happened.
Entering Shok Valley
The assault was to capture leaders in Hezeb Islami al Gulbadin, a regional insurgent group in Afghanistan. The targets were holed up in a mountain top village surrounded by farm terraces and tall cliffs, providing tough ground for an assaulting force to cover. The village itself was made of strong, multistory buildings that would provide defenders cover while allowing them to fire out.
The American and Afghan force flew to the valley in helicopters. Their initial plan called for a quick insertion close to the village so they could assault while they still had the element of surprise. Their first landing zone was no good though, and so they were dropped into a nearby river and forced to climb up from there. The delay allowed insurgent forces to set up an ambush from the high ground.
Combat breaks out
After the helicopters departed, enemy fighters directed automatic weapon and rocket fire on the American and Afghan National Army soldiers. Their interpreter was killed almost immediately and the communications sergeant, Staff Sgt. Dillon Behr, received a life-threatening wound to his leg. He continued fighting, attempting to suppress some of the incoming fire.
Meanwhile, the assault team had already reached the village, and so found themselves cut off when the forces behind them began taking fire. Despite the precarious position he and the lead Afghan commandos were in, Sgt. David Sanders began relaying the sources of incoming fire to the Air Force joint tactical air controller on the mission.
The mission commander, Capt. Kyle Walton, told an Army journalist later that year about the initial bombings on the target. They were all danger close, meaning friendly forces were within range of the bombs’ blast.
“I was standing next to the combat controller, and when we got to a place where we could talk, he called in close air support, and the F-15s rolled in immediately. I knew my guys were up there, and I know that when you call in danger close air, you are probably going to get injured or killed. I called back to Sanders and asked if he was too close. He said, ‘Bring it anyway.’ Bombs started exploding everywhere. When I called to see if he was still alive, all I could hear him saying was, ‘Hit them again.’ ”
The Air Force JTAC, Airman Zachary Rhyner, would go on to call over 70 danger close missions that day, using eight Air Force planes and four Army attack helicopters to achieve effects on the target.
Three-story explosion and sniper warfare
As the battle continued to rage, both sides were using controlled, focused fire to wound and kill enemies. But a massive explosion after an American bomb hit a three-story building in the village brought on a brief lull in the fighting.
“Good guy or bad guy, you’re going to stop when you see that,” Staff Sgt. Luis Morales, a Special Forces intelligence sergeant, told the Army. “It reminded me of the videos from 9/11 — everything starts flushing at you, debris starts falling — and everything gets darker.”
The Americans and Afghan commandos used this time to consolidate some of their forces.
Both before and after the explosion, snipers on each side were playing a key role. For the Americans, one of their top assets was Staff Sgt. Seth E. Howard, a Special Forces weapons sergeant.
Near the command node, Howard was well-positioned to see the enemy fighters draw close to Walton and the JTAC. To prevent them being killed or captured, Walton stepped away from his position and moved into the open to engage the advancing fighters. He halted their advance, allowing Rhyner to continue calling in bombs.
Rhyner’s bombs would also be instrumental in protecting the command node. He sometimes had to order bombs within 100 meters of his and Walton’s position.
Planning to leave
American forces and Afghan commandos had more problems as the day wore on. The weather at the outset of the mission had been tricky, but the team was getting reports that a dust storm was getting worse and would stop air support before nightfall. That would leave them without bombs, helicopters, or an exit strategy. Meanwhile, surveillance platforms showed another 200 enemy fighters moving to the battlefield.
Walton had requested medical evacuation multiple times, but enemy fire made it impossible. And with six seriously wounded men, a closing window to exit the battlefield, and the serious danger of being overrun, Walton began looking at pulling the team out. But there was a problem. The initial plans had called for the team to leave by descending back down the terraces, a route now closed due to intense enemy fire.
Sanders had managed to break out of his besieged position in the village when another green beret forced a route open. Now, Walton asked him to recon a route down the sheer cliffs to the north of the village.
Sanders told the commander that the route was bad and it was possible that some climbers might break their backs or necks attempting it, but they’d probably live. The situation was so dire, Walton approved it as an exit strategy.
Leaving Shok Valley under heavy fire
Team Sergeant Master Sgt. Scott Ford led the organization at the top of the cliffs. He had less wounded team members carry the more seriously wounded down. One team member made the climb while carrying his leg that had been amputated by a sniper round early in the battle. Others were nursing wounds sustained from both insurgent fire and the effects of all the “danger close” bomb drops.
Ford was defending the top of the cliff other soldiers were climbing down when he was struck in the chest plate by a sniper round. He jumped up and continued fighting, but he was struck again. This time, his left arm was nearly amputated. Ford then finally began his own climb down the mountain, continuing to lead his men as he did so.
Howard, the sniper from above, stayed until all the other Americans and the Afghan commandos had left the mountain. He defended the top of the cliffs with his last magazine before pulling out.
One Afghan commando and an interpreter died, but all of the Americans survived the battle. The Army estimated the insurgents suffered over 150 dead and an untold number of wounded, according to an Army article. Eight insurgents were captured.
After the battle
Many of the wounded members of the team returned to service, including Ford and Sgt. 1st Class John Walding, the team member who lost his leg early on and carried it down the cliffs. Walding is attempting to return to his team, an ambition he describes near the end of this Army video about the battle. He later became the first amputee to graduate the Special Forces Sniper Course.
In a ceremony on Dec. 12, 2008, 10 members of the team were awarded Silver Stars. Rhyner was awarded the Air Force Cross during a separate ceremony in 2009.
On the 15th anniversary of the attack of Sept. 11, 2001, a startling new number was released: more than 1,000 first responders had died due to illnesses related to the ash and debris from the attack – and some 37,000 were sick at the time. Experts predicted that within five years from that 2016 milestone, more would have died from their illnesses than were killed at Ground Zero.
We are three years removed from that date, and the response from Congress has been woefully inadequate, as evidenced by the recent controversy in Congress sparked by Jon Stewart on behalf of 9/11 first responders. But even the response garnered by Stewart may not be enough for the tens of thousands of victims who could come forward in the next few years.
“Within the next five years we will be at the point where more people have died from World Trade Center-related illnesses than died from the immediate impact of the attacks,” said Dr. Jim Melius, a doctor at the New York State Laborers Union and health advisor to the Obama White House.
The attacks killed 2,977 people with 2,753 dying at the World Trade Center towers in Lower Manhattan. The debris of those towers contained asbestos, lead, glass, poisonous chemicals, heavy metal toxins, oil, and jet fuel. The resulting dust was a menagerie of toxicity that coated throats, mouths, and lungs. Resulting diseases have included cancers, lung disease, digestive disorders, and even cognitive impairment on par with Alzheimer’s Disease.
The federal World Trade Center Health Program has 75,000 registered members with 87 percent of those who worked on rescue and recovery efforts on the ground that day. New York City residents and workers make up the rest of the list. In 2016, the number of registered people on the list who died of related cancers was 1,140. By 2017, that number was more than 2,000. The rate of cancers among first responders to the attacks is up to 30 percent higher than in the general population.
As of Sept. 2018, the number of dead from related illnesses was due to outpace those killed in the attack by the end of 2020 – and the rate of new cancer diagnoses in 9/11 first responders continues to grow.
In a report released earlier this summer, the Department of Defense Inspector General has determined that the Army’s finances are a world-class mess. Reportedly, the service made $2.8 trillion in adjustments to make their books balance just in one quarter of 2015 in spite of the fact that the entire defense budget for that fiscal year was $585 billion.
According to Reuters, the Army’s books are so jumbled that they may be impossible to audit – and the Army is facing a September 30, 2017 deadline to be ready for one. The harsh IG report concluded the Army “materially misstated” its financial statements for 2015.
Making the task of squaring the Army’s books harder is the fact that over 16,000 documents have vanished from the Army’s computer system. The Defense Finance and Accounting Services (DFAS), the Pentagon’s primary agency responsible for accounting services, routinely changed numbers without justification at the end of the year, something employees of that agency referred to as the “grand plug.”
“Where is the money going? Nobody knows,” DOD critic and retired analyst Franklin Spinney told Reuters.
The Army has taken issue with the IG report, claiming that the total discrepancies total just under $62.5 billion. An Army spokesman said, “Though there is a high number of adjustments, we believe the financial statement information is more accurate than implied in this report,” that and that the Army “remains committed to asserting audit readiness” and that steps are being taken to root out the problems.
The Marine Corps doesn’t promise you a rose garden.
When potential recruits show up to boot camp, they quickly realize what they are in for. While standing on the yellow footprints at either Parris Island, South Carolina or San Diego, California, young men and women are lined up, berated by drill instructors, and then go through a 36-hour whirlwind of receiving.
And then they have three more months to go. It’s a huge culture shock for civilians who have little idea of Marine culture or what happens at boot camp. The shock leads to some complaints, though they will likely never dare mention it to the drill instructors.
1. These drill instructors are literally insane.
They scream, use wild gestures, throw things, and run around a room and back again. In the eyes of a recruit, a drill instructor is an insane person, hell-bent on making his or her life a living hell. They kind of have a point.
During the first three days or so of boot camp, receiving drill instructors take recruits to supply, get their uniforms, feed them, and house them, before taking them to their actual DIs that will have them over a period of three months. As trained professionals, the DIs put on a front of being upset about basically everything a recruit does, right or wrong.
2. There’s no way I can put on this uniform in less than 10 seconds.
One of the “insane” things that drill instructors constantly stress is that recruits move fast. Impossibly fast. DIs will give countdowns of everything — from tying your right boot to brushing your teeth — that usually start from very small numbers like 20 seconds that rapidly dwindle depending on how hard the DI wants to make it.
The countdowns induce a level of stress in recruits that are used to completing tasks at a leisurely pace. When a DI says you have ten seconds to put on your camouflage blouse and bottoms, you better not still be buttoning at 11.
3. How are there no freaking doors on these bathroom stalls right now?
Who needs privacy when you are trying to forge a brotherhood of Marines? Walk into any male recruit “head” (aka the bathroom) at the depot and you’ll notice a couple of things: There is a big trough-like urinal with no dividers, and bathroom stalls have no doors on them.
Even during the times when a recruit is used to having maximum privacy, at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, there is none. Thankfully, once they are Marines, they will earn their Eagle, Globe, Anchor — and the right to have a bathroom door.
4. This recruit really wishes he were treated like a human being.
The moment boot camp begins, drill instructors are teaching recruits that they are pretty much worthless, and they have a long way to go before they earn the title of Marine. Being the “worthless scum” of recruit means not even being able to speak in the first person anymore, and having to ask to do basic human functions, like using the bathroom (often refused on the first request).
No longer can recruits use “I,” “me,” or “my.” Instead, they must say “this recruit” in its place. “Sir, this recruit requests permission to make a sit-down head call,” is the way you ask to go #2. Three months later, it’ll be a bit weird at first when a new Marine can just walk into a bathroom and go.
5. What the hell is fire-watch?
Though it may not seem like it, recruits at boot camp usually get around seven to eight hours of sleep per night. But most will have to pull “fire-watch” during the night. Fire watch, put simply, is guard duty. But unlike a guard duty they may pull in Iraq or Afghanistan behind a machine-gun, guard duty at boot camp means recruits walk around aimlessly in the squad bay for an hour.
Pulling security and protecting your team of Marines is a basic function that recruits need to learn. But it’s also incredibly boring, and seems pretty pointless. And then, sometimes this happens in the middle of it:
6. Going to the head? ‘El Marko’? What language are these people speaking?
The Marine Corps has its own language, and recruits get their first taste of how weird it is during boot camp. There’s naval terminology mixed in with other terms that seem to not make any sense, and it takes a while to pick up. The bathroom is referred to as “the head,” a black Sharpie is now called an “El Marko,” the “quarterdeck” is where the drill instructor “smokes/kills/destroys” recruits.
7. These flies are the devil (Parris Island recruit) — or — These airplanes are the devil (San Diego recruit).
The Marine Corps Recruit Depots on the east and west coasts follow similar training programs, so it’s hard to call either one easier or harder than the other. But they do have their own unique quirks. For recruits on the east coast, Parris Island is known for sand fleas, which make their home in the infamous sand pits and humid air of South Carolina. While recruits are getting “thrashed” — doing strenuous exercise — in the pits, sand fleas provide another terrible annoyance. But don’t dare swat one. If you are caught, a drill instructor is likely to scream about an undisciplined recruit and make you hold a funeral for the fallen creature.
Meanwhile, San Diego recruits live right by the busy airport downtown. Throughout their time there, they will hear airplanes taking off and landing, and it’s usually not a morale boost. While PI recruits are isolated, San Diego recruits often daydream about being on one of those flights taking off from the nation’s busiest single runway airport.
Before he was teaching folks how to paint beautiful landscape sceneries, the late artist Bob Ross served in the U.S. Air Force. In fact, it was where he gained his inspiration for future paintings.
While working as a first sergeant at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska, Ross is said to have been acquainted with snow-capped mountains that made regular appearances in his paintings. He began painting them during work breaks, where he was able to create a fast technique that allowed him to make art, even with little downtime.
One of the things Bob Ross is known for is his calm and quiet demeanor. This can also be traced back to his time serving in the military. He said, with his role of keeping others in line, he had to be mean. “[I was] the guy who makes you scrub the latrine, the guy who makes you make your bed, the guy who screams at you for being late to work.” Because of this, he vowed to raise his voice once retiring from the military. This, of course, led to his signature of speaking softly.
The beginning of a military career and a love for art
At 18 years old, Ross enlisted. It was 1961 and after basic training, he was given a job as a medical records technician. He served for 20 years, retiring as a master sergeant.
After going to a U.S.O class in Anchorage, Ross began painting as a hobby. However, he soon found that his style differed from his instructors, who were more apt to create abstract pieces. He later found a television show called The Magic of Oil Painting. The show’s unique style, led by Bill Alexander, a German painter, taught Ross to paint quickly. The method is commonly known as “alla prima” or “wet on wet,” allowing the artist to create an entire painting in 30 minutes. This is the same method that Ross would become famous for in his own right.
With the help of the show, Ross studied the technique and began adding his own skills, creating an entire style of landscape painting. He began selling his paintings and quickly found success, even making more from his paintings than he did from his Air Force salary.
In 1981, he retired from the service and turned to painting full time. Ross soon returned to his home state of Florida and joined his mentor, painting coach Bill Alexander, as a salesman and tutor for his brand, Alexander Magic Art Supplies Company.
Eventually, Bob Ross founded his own painting company.
Bob Ross Inc. incorporated his signature permed hair into its logo. Because of the popularity, Ross kept his permed hair going forward. Through the company, he was able to gain popularity and star in The Joy of Painting, which aired for 12 seasons on PBS from 1983-1994. The show allowed Ross to teach his own style of painting, narrating how to achieve certain results while using the wet-on-wet technique. His son, Steve, also appeared on the show and eventually became a Ross-certified painting instructor.
Ross passed away in 1995 from complications of lymphoma, leaving behind a $15 million business in art classes and painting supplies. His shows still air on PBS reruns, continuing to teach the masses his landscaping techniques. To see him at work, check out the following video:
When you hear the term ‘vigilante,’ you think of someone who self-righteously takes it upon themselves to deliver violence to the bad guys. But there was one vigilante that made its mark not by bringing death and destruction to those who’ve earned it, but by spying.
The North American A-5 Vigilante was originally designed to be a nuclear-attack plane that would eject a nuclear bomb, attached to a pair of fuel tanks, out of the plane’s rear. The plane could also carry some bombs on the wings, but it’s intended purpose was to deliver a nuke from high altitude at Mach 2.
An RA-5C lands on USS Saratoga (CV 60). Only 156 A-5s of all variants were built, most as the RA-5C.
Well, that plan didn’t pan out — the program was marred with complications. First of all, the bomb and fuel tanks would sometimes come out when the Vigilante was launched from an aircraft carrier’s catapult. If you were to make a list of things you didn’t want to happen, accidentally dumping a live nuke on a carrier deck would rank pretty damn high.
Other times, the system simply wouldn’t eject the bomb as expected or the bomb/fuel tank package wouldn’t stay stable. Meanwhile, the ballistic missile submarine was coming into its own, provingto be a far more reliable nuclear delivery system.
Now, most projects characterized bythese kinds of problems would be in for a world of hurt, but the A-5’s speed and high-altitude performance instead gave it a second life — as a reconnaissance plane.
While it is flying sedately now, the RA-5C was capable of going very fast and very high.
The RA-5C became the definitive version. It dispensed with the bomb and the weapons bay was used for fuel tanks. Catapult launches, though, still sometimes meant the tanks got left behind, starting a fire. But this plane used cameras, infrared sensors, and electronic warfare sensors to monitor enemy activities.
A total of 156 A-5s were built over the production run. Of those, 91 were built as RA-5Cs — 49 other models were later converted to that variant. The plane left service in 1979. Though some consider it a disappointment — the A-3 Skywarrior family of planes outlasted it by over a decade — but none can deny that it was an excellent reconnaissance aircraft.
Learn more about this vigilante turned spy in the video below!
The government shutdown has been going on for well over a month now and the Coast Guard is still going without pay. My heart honestly burns for each and everyone one of those affected by the shutdown, but there’s one group of Coasties feeling it the worst: the Coast Guard recruiters.
I mean, think about it. It sucks to show up and still have to guard the coasts. Yet, they can continue their mission with a sour look on their face and abundant worries about paying rent. The recruiters? Yeah. I’m damn sure no one made their quota this month. Good luck getting anyone into the door when you can’t even promise them a steady paycheck.
Anyways, just like the Coasties working Lyft after duty, the meme train keeps on rolling.
Left: Bob Gunton. Right: Bob in Vietnam as an RTO. Photo credit Bob Gunton.
Bob Gunton is a prolific stage actor known for his roles in Evita and Sweeney Todd on Broadway where his most well-known film role is as Warden Norton in The Shawshank Redemption. He served with distinction in the Vietnam War in the last great multi-unit battle of the conflict, The Siege of Firebase Ripcord. This is his story.
Special Note: “Bob Gunton has just completed a memoir entitled “…OR AM I BEING OBTUSE?…”
WATM: Tell me about your family and your life growing up?
My mom and dad met at a USO dance on Santa Monica pier and within two weeks they were married. I am the oldest of six children, three boys and three girls. My parents were from the coal country; my father being from Pennsylvania (Anthracite-hard coal) and my mother being from the coal country of Montana (Bituminous-soft coal), so I have the hard and soft coal running through my blood.
I had been influenced by many folk singers in high school where I was affected by the ethos of folk music through such acts as The Kingston Trio, The Limeliters, The Brothers Four, Joan Baez, and Bob Dylan. I put together a trio called The Deacons. We went around to coffee houses to perform, like the Mon Ami in Orange, CA. Around the same time as we performed at Mon Ami, Steve Martin was on the marquee as well since he grew up in Orange County.
I went to the seminary of Paulist Fathers — St. Peter’s College in Baltimore, Maryland for a few years from 1963 to 1966. I had started out as a supporter of the Vietnam War in 1963. I’d even made a speech at my high school for a Toastmasters Speech Contest about the “domino theory,” but then my views changed rather dramatically after the seminary. My opinion shifted especially after Senator Eugene McCarthy and Senator Robert F. Kennedy moved away from the Democratic party line supporting the Vietnam War.
A friend and fellow seminarian classmate arranged for me to audition for his father, Paul Crabtree, who was a successful Broadway actor, writer and director. He’d written a musical called TENNESSEE, USA! for the new theatre he had founded — The Cumberland County Playhouse — in Crossville, Tennessee. It was going to run during the summer between seminary and Novitiate. I had done a couple of operettas in high school. when my thoughts were of making a difference as a priest. After that wonderful summer I recognized that I was gifted far more in music, acting and performing than in what was required to be a good priest. I left the seminary and had gone to UC Irvine to study theater when I dropped out for a semester to do Carousel in Tennessee. I knew I was chancing being. drafted. And when I returned to California, I was.
When I was called up, I had to spend some time thinking if I was a Conscientious Objector (CO). My father had been in the Marine Corps during WWII in the Pacific and I had grown up steeped in WWII history. My father’s six brothers were all WWII veterans as well. By that time, I was opposed to The Vietnam War. I probably could have gotten a CO because of my divinity school experience. But although I was opposed to the Vietnam War, I was not opposed then to a just war in general. I didn’t feel I had the right to be a CO because of my political beliefs. I also had to ask myself if I could measure up to my father, he was a supporter of the war. My father and I had lots of very agitated and loud arguments about the war.
After my time in Vietnam and I had come home I discovered that my father had grown long hair, sideburns and had himself had come to oppose the war. My willingness to go fight may have affected him in some way. While I was in Nam I had been given the Bronze Star with a V (for Valor.) Our local paper had run a story on it. Many years later, when my father passed as the eldest son, I had to clean out his belongings etc. I found in his wallet a folded-up piece of plastic covered newspaper clipping about my Bronze Star award. He had carried it in his wallet for many years. All of this brought us much closer together than in the first twenty years of my life. I had earned his respect and we could speak to each other as not just father and son, but as survivors of conflict.
WATM: What is the most distinct memory of your mother and your father?
Hmm…It’s a memory shared with me after Dad had died. While he was alive my father’s Marine Corps buddy, Robert Newtbaar, had borrowed my father’s dress blues and wanted to return them. When I came to pick them up, he told me a story about my father. When my father and he were on a troop ship heading to Hawaii, then on to the South Pacific, Newtbaar had become very depressed and anxious about what might happen to him. He decided he was going to jump overboard. Newtbaar made a move and was on his way over the rail, when my father dashed over and pulled him back onto ship amid a volley of curses. Newtbaar said very tearfully that my father had saved his life.
After they got back and were mustered out of the Corps, Newtbar, who was from a fairly wealthy family, came to my father with ,000. He loved to hear my father sing, especially Frankie Lane’s hit songs. like “Georgia,” “Jezebel” and “The Flying Dutchman.” Newtbaar told my father he had the most beautiful voice he had ever heard. He wanted my father to go to Hollywood and be a singer.
However, my father already had a wife and two kids and was working in a grocery store. He was in no position to give up his responsibilities for his family in order to pursue a singing career. He’d actually had to rejoin the USMC at Marine Corps Air Station El Toro just to find housing for our family. A few years later Dad suffered an injury in a grocery store in Santa Monica which resulted in a case of amnesia. He eventually recovered from his injury; however, he lost a lot of memories of WWII and the early post war period. We had some pictures from his time in the service. I also learned from his friends some of what my father had experienced. It was touching for Newtbar to share these stories with me and they impacted my life.
My family would occasionally in the summer and drive up to Montana to visit my grandmother and uncle on my mother’s side. Part of the journey up there was along a stretch of highway which was called the Grapevine which is now the I-5, which was full of steep switchbacks and rapid changes of elevation. My father was agoraphobic which I learned through my childhood. As an adult I took my parents NYC and then to Windows on the World, which was a restaurant overlooking the city in the North Tower of the World Trade Center on floors 106 and 107. My father stood at the back of the elevator once the doors opened to the restaurant, saw the tip-tops of skyscrapers. He barely was able to inch his way around with his back against the center walls. It was the most vulnerable I had ever seen him.
The WTC memory makes me flash back to those trips to Montana where my father would look out the window over the rocks and chasms below. After looking he would get anxious and sweaty. My mother would reach out and touch his shoulder. She’d start singing “Whispering Hope”, which is a gospel song, but also popular at the time. As she began singing, my father would join in. All of a sudden, we kids in the back seat, comforted by the sound of their soothing harmony. For us, their duet signified their love for us and their shared history together.
The grapevine highway. Photo credit SVC History.
A view from Windows on the World in the WTC’s North Tower. Photo credit Literary Hub.
WATM: What values were stressed at home?
Our Catholic Faith; our blue-collar status; my parents’ Depression-Era values, sense of responsibility. All of us had to pitch in. My father was self-taught and a great reader but was educated only through the seventh grade. My mother had been a schoolteacher in a one room schoolhouse in Montana. There was a strong expectation that all of us would work hard in school and be a good person. Basic, decent 1950’s values.
Norman Rockwell’s Freedom from Want painting. Photo credit artsy.com.
WATM: What influenced you to join the US Army, what was your experience and what lessons did you take away from your service?
I was drafted. Basic and Advanced Infantry training were tough physically in many ways since I was not particularly athletic. I was appointed cadence caller for our early morning five-mile runs probably because of my loud voice. One of my cadences calls was, “…we are the mighty, mighty mighty Charlie, everywhere we go people want to know who we are, so we tell them, we are Charlie, mighty mighty Charlie…” Classic. Although I sometimes ad libbed a couple, including: “If you got a half a buck….Call someone who gives a (bleep.)” I was sent to Nam near the end of the war during Vietnamization and was put into an S-1 shop for the 101st Airborne in Bien Hoa. What a relief! My thoughts were of a dry hooch, spit-shined boots, pressed combat fatigues, and weekends in Saigon. I lasted at the S-1 just one week. Because American grunts were being phased out of the war, the Division Commander wanted all soldiers with a combat MOS to be sent out into the field to get the ARVN up to speed. I was an 11B-20 –infantry, boonie rat, ground pounder — so off I went to “the bush.”
I was sent up to I Corps in Quang Tri province, in I Corps. I reported to the 2nd of the 501st Battalion Headquarters and then to their Charlie Company, Third Platoon. The platoon leader, SGT Yonashiru, took a look at me — being six feet tall and husky. the PL asked, “who’s the (effing) cherry?” He scoped me out. Given my height and apparent strength he ordered me to take the “gun” or the “radio”. The “gun” was the .50 caliber machine gun. I chose the radio, which seemed kind of “show business” to me. Apparently, some of the grunts initially thought I might be a Criminal Investigation Division (CID) narc because I showed up by myself to the unit with spit shined boots, crisp fatigues. I was also a few years older than the rest of the platoon. I was warned by a fellow soldier about being viewed as a narc and warned me about “fragging.” Fragging described when someone rolls a grenade under another soldier’s hooch to get rid of a “problem”. For the first time in Vietnam I was really scared.
I went into the company area and went up to a soul brother and asked for a doobie. I’d never smoked grass in my life. He handed me a joint. I stood there in the company area and toked up so anyone watching would see. I then went back to my hooch and passed out for like twelve hours. From then on, I was one of the guys and no longer a target of fragging. I was now “in” in the outfit.
Bob in a UH-1N high above Thua Thien Province, Vietnam 1970. Photo credit Bob Gunton
They made me the platoon, eventually company, and then battalion Radio Telephone Operator (RTO). Near the end of my year there in July 1970 our battalion was Op-Con to the 3rd Brigade of the 101st. They were seeking to take over a hilltop above the A Shau Valley where the US had been driven out a few years earlier during the “Hamburger Hill” period. Fire Support Base Ripcord was going to be emplaced during this two-brigade assault operation. At this time, I was just given the battalion RTO job and would be with the battalion CO, XO and the like on Ripcord itself. At the same time, my guys with Charlie company 2nd of the 501st were going to assault the area around FSB Ripcord with fellow companies of the 3rd Brigade. Bn Intel determined that thousands of the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) were going to assault the FSB. A day or two after the Brigade-sized assault on the AO, my former unit was caught in a command detonated ambush followed by an early morning assault by the NVA. All during this time I had been talking on the radio to my guys, handling supply and normal stuff.
One of my best friends there was fellow soldier Joe Patterson, a funny guy and great audience for my shenanigans. The night before they were hit, we were talking on the Delta One radio which was scrambled so the enemy could not intercept our transmissions. He told me, “Gunton, I have a really bad feeling about this one.” There had been no contact yet, but he still felt bad about the operation. Sure enough when the unit was hit, Joey was gravely wounded. I called in the MEDEVAC for him and for our company commander. We had one KIA from Charlie’s Headquarters Company where this soldier had had to go out to replace someone’s weapon and had to stay overnight and was killed during the assault. It was a terribly fraught and frightening time.
Bob along the Song Bo River. Photo credit Bob Gunton.
There were many major encounters around Ripcord which turned out to be the biggest, final, multi-unit battle in Vietnam. There have been books and films about it. We went on like that for about a week or longer. In the Tactical Operations Center (TOC) we had three RTOs. The intel suggested that the firebase itself would soon be under attack. At one point the NVA got really lucky when they shot down a Chinook over the ammo dump as it was unloading ammo. All of the crew survived the crash, but the entire ammo dump started cooking off: phosphorus, artillery, HE and CS rounds. All of that CS gas started infiltrating into the bunkers where none of us had gas masks, so we had to take our t-shirts and wet them to put over our face so as not to be forced out of our bunkers.
At one point I had to urinate really badly. With the rounds cooking off and NVA mortars coming in, I wasn’t about to saunter outside to one of the “Piss tubes.” The bunkers were well constructed and had screen doors. I got to the door and decided I would open the door, step out halfway or so and then take a whiz. I was just about to finish when I heard, “TROOP!” right behind me. It was the brigade commander whose call sign was Black Spade. I stood to attention and zipped up. Other soldiers were in that part of the bunker when the Brigade Commander told me with cold anger:, “if you have to go take a piss, go find a piss tube. We are NOT animals in here.” It was a very embarrassing moment. I felt lower than snake shit. A few days later the Brigade Commander was evaluating positions outside when a mortar round landed directly on him. He and a fellow officer were killed immediately. The terrible irony of that sequence of events rocked me for a while.
Companies then started being extracted from around Ripcord and then it was our HQ’s time to leave. We knew Ripcord was going to be abandoned and the Army would blow up what they could, then carpet bomb it with B-52 strikes. We got back to LZ Sally and all of us in HQ company gets called together. A member of the battalion staff informed us about how two Delta One radios had been left behind in our TOC on Ripcord. The NVA could potentially use those radios against us. They needed two “volunteers” to go back and get them, which really meant the two who were least “short” would go. I was pretty damn short — but not short enough. I went with another younger RTO on a slick (Huey helicopter) to head back up there. On the way out, one of the pilots turned around in the chopper and made a hand dunking motion. Ripcord was taking incoming fire. We had to jump off the helicopter at about five or six feet off the ground as he was not going to land because of the incoming.
We found a hole to jump in and then found the Delta One radios. There were a lot of wounded soldiers that needed to be taken off the fire base before anyone else could go. We knew that no one could head back to base until all the wounded had been evacuated. So me and the other RTO jumped in and helped load the wounded onto slicks while the mortars and rockets continued falling. Just before the sun set over Laos we were able to get on a chopper to head back. I don’t think any of that involved any kind of valor much less heroism, but the battalion commander put us in for Bronze Stars, particularly for the MEDEVAC loading.
The questions of what is cowardice, what is heroism, what is self-preservation have been with me all my life. I’ve even used them in my acting. Everything is shades of gray, especially when it comes to combat and moral decisions that we make. Was I wrong not to go the piss tube with the self-preservation involved and the death of Black Spade as he followed his own advice and left the 3rd Brigade without leadership for a while. These experiences have definitely shaped my moral view of the universe. I have to accept that even the worst situations, the best remedies are going to be mixed. How we are trained, our wisdom, and education play their parts in our decisions and choices. But we are human, have mixed emotions, and inner conflicts. I have applied these in my life successfully and unsuccessfully.
MEDEVACs are miles ahead of what we had in Vietnam. There was an instance where a soldier from our recon platoon left the wire at night to take a crap. One of his buddies mistakenly set off a claymore on him and killed him. When the chopper came in to evac the body there were huge winds in the AO and they could not get a jungle penetrator through the triple canopy jungle to get the body out so they threw the soldiers a body bag. The soldiers then had to hump the corpse out for three or four days to get to a place where the chopper could get in.
I helped prevent a mutiny earlier that year where a loach (OH-6 Cayuse helicopter) had been shot down where I was a company RTO then. Our company was tasked to go down into this valley area to find the chopper to see if the pilot had survived. Our company commander was against the war and did all he could to stay out of it. He was one of the only officers I had met like that. The company commander wouldn’t lead down and the battalion commander call sign Driver had to fly out. The company commander was ordered to go down after being chewed out by the battalion CO and I told him, “we got a lawful order to go down and we needed to go otherwise this is bad stuff.” We did end up following orders to go down where we found the loach with the pilot dead. The pilot’s body was able to be sent back to Graves and Registration for eventual burial. I was against the war but found myself on the other side of the argument with the company commander. It was gray even then and was not cut and dried. Our mission was, for most of us, to save each other and our buddies got back.
Charlie company had its 50th reunion, almost 50 years to the day many were injured including Joey Patterson at the FSB Ripcord battle. Due to Covid-19 I was not able to fly out to Pennsylvania. However, I did do a Zoom call and got see them all and meet their wives. Joey and I caught up as well. It was a great virtual reunion due to the COVID pandemic. Keeping the threads of your life together along the way can give you a better sense of where you are from and going.
WATM: What values have you carried over from the Army into acting and film?
When filming a movie, you are all in it together where everyone has their own duty. The expectation is that everyone knows exactly what they have to do and to do it as quickly and gracefully as they can. It includes keeping spirits up when waiting out a rainstorm to restart filming and when moving locations and loading up the trucks is like heading to another combat assault. So, I must have my shit together and know my lines cold. There is a lot that carries over from being in the military to working on a film production. You depend on each other and don’t want a weak link and sure as hell don’t want to be that weak link.
WATM: What is the most fulfilling stage and/or film role you have done?
Warden Norton from The Shawshank Redemption without a doubt is the best role I have ever had. It is the best movie I have ever been in. I have been back to many reunions and celebrations at the prison. People go to visit the prison and stay overnight. They even have a Shawshank trail where people get to see all the outside filming locations and then take a tour of the prison where it has artifacts from the movie. I have been to every continent except Antarctica and everywhere I go people come up to me to speak about The Shawshank Redemption. People come up to me in Europe, South America, Australia where to be a part of a movie that is such high quality and well-known across the board is truly a blessing.
I was invited to Akron for a special day celebrating Shawshank Redemption and by the local AA Akron baseball team the Rubber Ducks to throw out the first pitch. They also ordered from China a thousand bobble head Warden Nortons. The first thousand people to come in would get one where I would sign them. I have one for myself and have given a few away too.
*He shares some of the best quotes people request when he signs autographs from the film are, “Put your trust in the Lord; your ass belongs to me,” “Lord, it’s a miracle! The man up and vanished like a fart in the wind,” and “…or am I being obtuse.”
Mr. Gunton as Warden Samuel Norton of Shawshank State Prison. Photo credit to IMDB.com
Mr. Gunton in Akron with the Warden Norton bobble head. Photo credit Lake Highlands Advocate.
WATM: What was your experience like in working with such theatrical talents as Hal Prince, Patti LuPone, Theodore Mann, Susan H. Schulman, Beth Fowler and then with such film talents such as Oliver Stone, Tim Robbins, Frank Darabont, Clint Eastwood, Sly Stallone, Sandra Bullock and the like?
Hal Prince was a key person in my career and am grateful to him. Oliver Stone was interesting and challenging — a brilliant man. I enjoyed working with Robin Williams perhaps more than anyone else. Jim Carrey is a deep thinker as well as being very charming, well-read and generous. Jim was extremely funny as well. I have liked most everyone I have worked with.
I got to play a chaplain in a film with Stacey Keach named Mission of the Shark: The Saga of the USS Indianapolis. I enjoy playing priests and military personnel because I feel I can put a little spin on the ball and make them more interesting and factual. My chaplain character got eaten by a shark. I had to do some tricky timing with holding my breath for the scenes of being eaten by the shark. Two divers were holding my feet where they start shaking me and then pull me down really fast. If my timing wasn’t spot on in taking in breath, then having to hold it while they release a blood bag, to show his guy is really gone it can be problematic. It was tricky to film, but nothing like the crew from the Indianapolis though. Floating on a funky, tiny life-raft, off the coast of the Bahamas, with Stacy Keach and I laughing our butts off, was not a hardship assignment.
Working with Clint Eastwood was good. He has a fantastic crew. He was a gentlemen and one of the quietest directors I have ever worked for. He got that from doing so many Westerns where a director would yell “action” and people would get thrown off their horse when it bolted from the shouting. Instead of “action” Clint would just quietly say, “go ahead.”
I have maintained close ties with the Paulist Fathers even done work for Paulist Productions as well. In the film Judas shot in Morocco in 2004, on a huge set representing The Temple in Jerusalem, I played the High Priest Caiphas. Hotter than blazes in very authentic robes etc. But I really enjoyed it.
Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton and Clancy Brown in The Shawshank Redemption.
WATM: What leadership lessons in life and from the Army have helped you most in your career?
After my service I went to NY hoping for a career in Theater. Many of my peers had gone to Yale or Julliard or Northwestern and other great schools. I had a bit of a chip on my shoulder. It wasn’t about their not serving in the war, it was because I felt they had a two- or three-year head start on their careers. Establishing a career in theater means doing low paying jobs, children’s theater and dinner theater etc. out in the boondocks. Then, if you are fortunate you work your way up to Broadway. These guys had already networked with people from their professional schools and had jumped ahead of me. I felt I had missed out on that networking.
While on Broadway after finishing “Evita” my agent told me about a play I should look at doing off-off Broadway, with no pay. Having just come from a big Broadway musical hit it didn’t sound that appetizing it was entitled “How I Got That Story”. It was about Vietnam. There were only two actors. One of the roles was a journalist and the other role was every person in Vietnam that the journalist runs into while trying to get the story of why we were in Vietnam and what it all meant. 22 different characters! Because I had been there and seen and heard and lived with a wide range of people, both genders and three races, I knew who these people were, how they spoke, walked and behaved. The roster of characters included: a Madame Nhu character, a nun, a crazy photographer, a Viet Cong officer and, most surprisingly, a 16-year-old Vietnamese bar girl. The man who wrote this play had served as a CO medic in Vietnam. I told my agent: “I don’t care if I don’t get paid, I have to do this.”
We performed in a tiny rooftop theater behind the building where John Lennon had been killed. The play got excellent reviews and was covered by many journalists who’d gotten their start serving in Vietnam as reporters. It got a lot of ink in all the newspapers, especially in the New York Times. We eventually transferred to an actual Off-Broadway theater in the theater district and we ran for nine months or so. The main thing is everyone in town saw that show including casting directors, fellow actors, movie directors including Alan Pakula (To Kill a Mockingbird, All the President’s Men, Sophie’s Choice). Alan came backstage after a performance. He said he wanted me to play an Arab in the film Rollover. He asked to meet a couple of days later where we talked mostly about Vietnam and the movie. I never auditioned. I knew he was going to have me do it and he did! It was the largest salary I had ever had for acting up to that point and opened a myriad of doors for me.
“How I Got That Story” really kicked off my career as a dramatic actor and not just a song and dance guy. At the Opening Night Party we had among others, the founders of Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Also Ed Murphy, my seminarian buddy, who had served in Vietnam as well. This entire chapter was like karma where nothing is ever wasted; that there is always something that even terrible experiences can feed your soul or change your life. In a good way. If, of course, you survive it.
Vietnam was tough, sad, and frightening, although we also often laughed our asses off with our morbid humor in part to expel our anxiety. Vietnam served an important role in my character development as well as my work in theater and in films.
On a side note, Afghanistan is one of the few wars I can say, “yeah we belong there.” We need to be there to keep them from doing anything like what happened on 9/11 ever again. I’d sign up, but I don’t think that they would have me.
“How I Got That Story” featured in the NYT from the Feb 18th, 1982 paper. Photo credit nytimes.com.
WATM: As a veteran, how do we get more veteran stories told in the Hollywood and stage arena?
We need to encourage veterans who have a story to tell them. We have had some good recent movies like American Sniper and The Hurt Locker. Most people who don’t have military experience hear our stories finding them exotic and dramatic. It is life and death with a cast of interesting characters. As an Army draftee I saw the full spectrum of humanity which makes for a lot of interesting stories.
WATM: What are you most proud of in life and your career?
Being a father to my daughter, Olivia. And happily married to a former high school classmate, Carey. Career-wise Shawshank and my last Broadway show, “Sweeney Todd”, which is the toughest stage role I had ever attempted and was well received. It felt like climbing Mount Everest to do it. It was my “swan song” to Broadway and am glad to have gone out on top. I am proud of my friendships from the seminary, Vietnam, theater and fellow film actors. I am also proud to have made it to this age and to still be working.
The Far Cry video game series has always gone above and beyond in placing the player in a beautiful, open world and pitting them against a cunning and well-written antagonist. The graphics in the most recent installment are as crisp as you’d expect from the series, the gameplay is phenomenal, and plenty of critics are already singing its praise, but what sets this game apart from every other shooter is the storyline.
This time around, instead of exploring some scenic island fighting against drug-running pirates or a prehistoric valley against neanderthals, Far Cry 5 pits the player against deranged cult in a fictional county of Montana.
You play as a Sheriff’s deputy tasked with arresting Joseph Seed, a cult leader who is a mix of David Koresh, Jim Jones, and a hipster douchebag. There’s a palpable eeriness as you walk through his church’s compound and Joseph is seemingly compliant at first. He lets you handcuff him before saying, “you’ll never arrest me.” As you make your way back to the helicopter, one of his followers hurls himself into the propellers, allowing Seed to escape back to his followers, kicking off the game.
The player is then saved by the first of many veterans you’ll encounter in the game, Dutch. He’s a loner Vietnam veteran who has shut himself off in a bunker while the world goes to sh*t outside. Inside his bunker, you’ll find plenty of little references to real-life military units, like an homage to the 82nd Airborne patch (the “AA” has been replaced by the number “82” in the same style) and a patch that’s the shape of the 101st, but with the XVIII Corps’ dragon.
He offers to help you out and gives you something to wear something other than your uniform, which includes (and I’m not making this up) some 5.11 gear.
The next veteran who helps you out is Pastor Jerome Jeffries, a Gulf War veteran turned Catholic priest. He’s holed up in his church with the few citizens who haven’t been indoctrinated by the cult. While there, you set up a resistance to buy time until the National Guard can come reinforce. You must band together with the rag-tag group of remaining people to take down Seed and his followers.
Which brings you to the third main veteran in the storyline, Grace Armstrong, a U.S. Army sniper who deployed to Afghanistan. She’s one of the characters that fights alongside you throughout the game, providing fire support from a good distance.
Though his veteran status remains unknown, you’ll also come across a companion named Boomer. Boomer’s a dog who, if he gets hurt, can be healed with a nice belly rub. It’s the little things in this game that make it amazing.
Historians don’t talk much about naval action during the Civil War, certainly not as much as they do about the ground combat. If it’s not about a riverboat, the Monitor and the Merrimack, or damning torpedoes, it just doesn’t get the same attention.
The CSS Shenandoah did a lot of things worth talking about.
Her flag was the last Confederate flag to be lowered and she was the ship that took the Civil War to the global stage, looting and burning Union merchant shipping from Africa to India to Russia and back.
She took 38 prizes and more than a thousand prisoners, some of them joining the Confederate ship.
Shenandoah was built by the British. A fast, steam-powered screw ship, the Brits transferred her to a Confederate skeleton crew under Capt. James Waddell off the coast of Africa. From there, Shenandoah terrorized American ships in sea lanes around the Cape of Good Hope, through the Pacific, and into the Bering Sea off Alaska.
At the time, however, Alaska belonged to the Russian Czar. And the Czar was friend to the United States. When Shenandoah began burning American whaling fleets in his territory, the Czar was not at all pleased.
Pretty soon, he was the only Confederate still fighting. So he moved to shell the defenseless city of San Francisco. It was on his way to California that he met a British ship who confirmed the news: The Confederacy was gone and the captain and crew of the Shenandoah were going to be tried and hanged.
With every Navy in the world looking for Shenandoah and a hefty bounty on his head, Capt. Waddell disguised the ship, stowed its weaponry, and made a mad dash for Great Britain – the long way around.
Out of major shipping lanes, he faced terrible weather. He also never contacted any ships or stopped in any port, steaming the Shenandoah 27,000 miles to Liverpool, England, where he surrendered to the Royal Navy.
The USS Waddell, a guided missile destroyer, was named for the ship’s captain. Though not the first ship to be named for a Confederate, it was the first one to be named for an enemy captain who wreaked havoc on American shipping.
While Hurricane Michael created catastrophic devastation to most of Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, the relief efforts were a reminder of the symbiotic relationship between military branches.
In the days following the storm, the Air Force came in droves to provide support, with the Navy and Army not far behind. Engineers from the Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 133, Gulfport, Mississippi, and the 46th Engineer Battalion, Fort Polk, Louisiana, hit the ground running.
They traveled in convoys bringing with them construction vehicles and equipment. Unable to bring everything they would need, they also arranged to have contracted vehicles meet them at Tyndall AFB.
In teams, totaling more than 130 personnel, they worked to clear trees and debris.
“We are going full force getting trees removed, so we can help people access their buildings,” said Equipment Operator 2nd Class Zachary Bunter, MNCB 133. “Our main focus is 30 feet around buildings and roads.”
Navy Construction Mechanic 3rd Class Vance Winecke, Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 133, from Gulfport Miss., cuts branches off of trees as they are cleared away from buildings.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Sean Carnes)
His team was successful in clearing the area around the base clinic.
“We are hoping to clear up enough that when the permanent party are returning it may be less of a shock,” said Lt. Col. Christopher Klein, 46th Engineer Battalion commander. “We want to restore hope that the base is going to come alive again.”
The Army has also taken on clearing out Fam Camp, which will be used as a staging area for rebuild efforts.
“We are all here to take care of each other,” said Klein. “We take care of our brothers and sisters on our right and left and that is what this mission is. I told (the Soldiers) to remember that they are helping their own and that is what is most important.”
For many, it is also about putting their training to work.
“For some of them, this is their first time seeing a disaster like this and doing first response,” said Bunter. “These type of missions, humanitarian and disaster recovery, are what we really shine at – being able to go out and help people whether it is here in the U.S. or overseas.”
Sailors from the Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 133, from Gulfport Miss., work clearing trees away from buildings.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Sean Carnes)
Klein echoes his sentiment.
“We have stood up to do hurricane response three times in the past two years and this is the first time we have actually been called out to help,” he said. “The soldiers are getting to experience what the Army does, what the military does and what the Department of Defense does.”
At the end of the day, the Army and Navy have the same end goal – to return normalcy to the base and surrounding community.
“Contractors have thanked us for helping because the base is a huge source of revenue for the local community,” said Bunter. “Hopefully this base recovers and hopefully what we do is a big help to everything.”
Getting the mission up and running is also a priority.
“We have to get it right so they are able to go out continue what their mission is,” said Klein. “They run a very important mission out of this base, so it is important for the nation and DoD to get it up and running as quick as possible.”