President Abraham Lincoln, the Gettysburg Address, and the national cemeteries are inextricably connected in American history. Lincoln’s birthday on Feb. 12, 2019, is especially noteworthy this year because a historic tablet cast with his Gettysburg Address was recently installed in the lobby of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs headquarters. This meaningful object exists only because the nation observes Lincoln’s birthday.
President Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address on Nov. 19, 1863, on a battlefield near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Over three days of Civil War fighting on July 1-3 that year, more soldiers died here than any single battle fought in North America before or since. In just 272 words, Lincoln conveyed the importance of the proposition “all men are created equal” to America’s past, present and future. Thousands had gathered to dedicate the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. Lincoln did not know that his brief but poignant words would become one of the most famous speeches in American history.
The Gettysburg Address tablets were placed in national cemeteries in 1909 when the nation celebrated the centennial of Lincoln’s birth as an official observance. Efforts included designating Feb. 12 a national holiday and a memorial highway connecting Lincoln-related sites. Publishers printed colorful postcards. The Federal government issued the first penny featuring an historic figure and a 2-cent stamp.
Congress also authorized the original Gettysburg Address tablets, 77, to place in the national cemeteries. They were produced and delivered in 1909—but not by Feb. 12. “The delay was almost entirely due to difficulty in determining the text of the Gettysburg Address,” according to the [Washington D.C.] Sunday Star (May 30, 2018). Lincoln had produced five versions of the speech. The government chose Memorial Day to announce it would use the Col. Alexander Bliss version, the only copy dated and signed by Lincoln, to become the “standard use of the Lincoln Gettysburg Address.” The large tablets (56 inches x 33 inches) became an essential feature in the national cemeteries.
Portrait of Abraham Lincoln, taken on Nov. 8, 1863, eleven days before his famed Gettysburg Address.
For the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth in 2009, the federal government purchased 62 additional tablets. At the same time, a damaged tablet at Los Angeles National Cemetery was removed and secured in the NCA History Collection. Both original and replica tablets were produced through the U.S. Army Rock Island Arsenal in Illinois. This NCA project assured that Lincoln’s words and the tablet remains a relevant part of the cemeteries as the system continues to grow. Re-installation of the un-restored Gettysburg Address tablet from California at VA headquarters marks the first time one has been displayed outside of a national cemetery — and this was realized for Veterans Month 2018.
Lincoln’s words at Gettysburg and cast in metal are part of national cemetery heritage. VA employees and visitors are invited to stop by this historic object and learn more at NCA History Program website.
Two British ISIS fighters who are part of a group of British militants sometimes referred to as “the Beatles” have been captured by Syrian Kurdish fighters, according to a report from The New York Times.
Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh were reportedly involved in the torture and killing of Western hostages. Both men previously lived in London, and are considered foreign terrorists by the U.S. State Department.
“As a guard for the cell, Kotey likely engaged in the group’s executions and exceptionally cruel torture methods, including electronic shock and waterboarding. Kotey has also acted as an ISIL recruiter and is responsible for recruiting several UK nationals to join the terrorist organization,” the Department said on its website about the 34-year-old British national.
Elsheikh, who is 29 years old, “was said to have earned a reputation for waterboarding, mock executions, and crucifixions while serving as an ISIS jailer.”
When I frequented my Marine Corps recruiting office from 1999 until I enlisted in 2003, Staff Sgt. Molina used to welcome me with a familiar, “Ey devil,” and Staff Sgt. Ciccarreli would echo with “Eyyyyyyy.” Vintage recruiting posters were sprinkled among more modern propaganda. The message they consistently reinforced was that the Corps’ values—especially service above self—are timeless.
In one of the old posters, a strong, black Marine standing tall in his dress blue uniform with gold jump wings stared back at me. I couldn’t tell whether he was grinning or scowling—welcoming a potential recruit or warning me. Scrawled in bold typeface across the bottom third of the poster were the words “Ask a Marine.” My reaction was visceral. Where do I sign?
The iconic Marine recruitment ad campaign featuring Capers. He was the first black man to be featured in such a campaign.
The man in the poster was James Capers Jr., a now retired major whose 23-year career was defined by breaking barriers and blazing a path of excellence in the Marine Corps special operations community. Capers recently published “Faith Through the Storm: Memoirs of James Capers, Jr.,” and the book is a powerful portrait of an extraordinary life.
As the son of a sharecropper in South Carolina, Capers had to flee the Jim Crow South for Baltimore after his father committed some petty offense, which he feared might get him lynched. Capers describes his flight in the back of an old pickup driven by a white person as a sort of “Underground Railroad.” His trip to Baltimore is reminiscent of Frederick Douglass’ escape north because not much had changed for black people in the South since 1830.
We get a vivid picture of Capers’ early years and family life in Baltimore before he joins the Marine Corps. In the Marines, Capers finds an organization where men are judged by their actions, and he excels. He polishes his boots, cleans his weapons and learns what he can from the old salts, who mostly respect his effort. Early on, Capers commits himself to a standard of excellence that distinguishes him above his peers. That struggle is a consistent theme throughout his career.
When applying for special operations swim qualification, an instructor cites pseudo-science to explain that black people can’t swim. Capers has to beg to be let into the class. When a white student fails the test required to graduate, Capers pleads with the cadre to allow the student to swim it again. Then he swims with the Marine, motivating him to muster up the fortitude and faith in himself to pass.
At one point, Capers can’t find an apartment in Baltimore even though the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had recently passed and was promoted to end housing discrimination based on race. While assigned the temporary lowly duty of a barracks NCO, a white Marine flicks a cigarette butt at Capers—already trained as an elite Force Reconnaissance Marine—and tells him to pick it up. The slight weighs heavily on Capers until he tracks the Marine down and does something about it.
As Vietnam approaches, Capers is eager to get in the fight. A seasoned veteran of more than 10 years, he volunteers to return to special operations, and in the spring of 1966, he deploys with 3rd Force Reconnaissance Company.
Capers (bottom right) with his Marine Corps 3rd Force Reconnaissance Company in Vietnam.
The section about Capers’ Vietnam tour is harrowing and crushing. He survives and thrives as a warrior and leader through several months of brutal combat in the jungle. Eventually, he receives a battlefield commission to 2nd Lieutenant and becomes the first black officer in Marine special operations. By the heart-pounding final mission in Vietnam, I couldn’t help but feel like the book is a 400-page summary of action for a Medal of Honor.
Heart is the book’s central theme. Its most moving parts focus on overcoming adversity and heartbreak. In one chapter, Capers leads his men through two minefields to avoid the enemy. His inspiring leadership carries them through alive against all odds.
Characters frequently appear only briefly enough to become attached to before they die. Capers recalls fondly an old black first sergeant who had fought on Iwo Jima in World War II and saved Capers from some trouble. He dies in Vietnam.
In another scene, a Marine hollers a cadence on a medevac transport out of Vietnam to raise the spirits of wounded Marines who join the sing-song before the Marine dies somewhere along the way.
These wrenching memories reminded me of returning to the recruiting office after my first combat deployment and asking Staff Sgt. Alvarado whatever happened to Staff Sgt. Molina, whose son had fallen under my supervision when I was an assistant karate instructor before I enlisted. Alvarado’s eyes looked to the ground, “You didn’t hear?” I’d seen enough death on my deployment to suddenly know without having to be told, and a mental image of his cherub-faced child still tugs my heart because that kid had an especially wonderful dad.
The death surrounding Capers takes its toll on him, and though he is a hard charger and maybe the best Marine in Vietnam, he is not a machine. His pain is complicated. The book’s strength is in Capers’ brutal honesty about his emotional state, which deteriorates as the death toll mounts and the misuse of his recon team by new out-of-touch officers costs more than he can bear.
Retired Marine Corps Maj. James Capers II.
(Photo by Ethan E. Rocke)
This memoir may not break into the mainstream like a Matterhorn or Jarhead because it’s steeped in Marine culture that may not translate to readers outside of those bounds. It deserves a mini-series due to its dramatic story arc and relevance regarding the unique historical experience of a black U.S. Marine who is able to achieve in the Marine Corps what most likely would not have been accessible to him in the society of his time.
“Faith Through the Storm” should be required reading for Marine infantry officers. It’s the perfect book for The Commandant’s Professional Reading List. This book ultimately adds another dimension to one of the Corps’ most famous recruiting posters.
United States Army veteran Tony Fife-Patterson started smoking when he was 17 because “the cool guys in the neighborhood were doing it, and I wanted to fit in.” Eventually, he settled in to a pack a day habit, and never considered that he might be addicted to nicotine. Occasionally, someone would tell him he ought to quit, but it only made him want to smoke more.
A couple of years ago, Tony’s daughter called him about his 5-year-old grandson who was crying after watching a “Truth Ad” on television. The ad is part of a national campaign to eliminate teen smoking. Tony’s grandson never liked how smoking made Tony smell, but the advertisement made him worry about how smoking could hurt his grandfather’s health.
Although Tony began contemplating his cigarette smoking, he still didn’t think he had a problem. Yet a few days later, after lighting a cigarette, Tony had an epiphany.
“At that moment, I realized I really was getting tired of this habit,” Tony said. “It had become something that no longer was fun.”
At his next VA appointment, Tony asked his provider about quitting and learned about Truman VA’s “Thinking About Quitting?” program.
Tony agreed to attend the program’s orientation class. At first, he had doubts; however, once he learned that his smoking was an addiction, he knew he didn’t want tobacco to control him.
“Wait a minute,” Tony thought. “This really DOES control me!”
The realization that he was controlled by cigarettes offended him and he was determined to do something about it.
Tony enrolled in Truman VA’s Quit program with other veterans who wanted to quit tobacco. The first three classes helped Tony develop a personal plan to manage the physical, psychological and habit parts of his smoking addiction. He also learned how to get through urges to smoke without giving in. On the program’s “Quit Day,” Tony found it was helpful to quit with other motivated veterans. The final three classes focused on lifestyle changes to help him remain tobacco-free and avoid a relapse.
In the photo above, proud “Thinking About Quitting” graduate Tony poses with Joseph Hinkebein, Ph.D., Truman VA psychologist and tobacco cessation coordinator.
It’s now a year-and-a-half since Tony’s “Quit Day,” and he remains tobacco-free.
As part of his success, Tony uses a quit smoking smart phone app to track how long he has been tobacco-free and how much money he has saved since quitting. He’s saved almost id=”listicle-2641557022″,400 so far.
More importantly, Tony loves the tobacco-free lifestyle. His sense of taste and smell has improved, and he no longer gets complaints from his grandson about smelling like smoke.
“I didn’t realize how bad I smelled, but now I get it,” Tony said.
Most of all, he is proud to no longer be controlled by cigarettes. While the thought of smoking still crosses his mind every now and then, when stressed, he reminds himself, “I don’t need a cigarette to cope with stress anymore!”
Tony tries to lead by example and never “lectures or nags” those who still smoke. He just wants other veterans to know that they can quit when they are ready to do it for their own reasons. He encourages veterans to attend the “Thinking About Quitting” orientation class to learn how to successfully quit. The program provided education and support to help him be successful, but Tony gets all the credit.
“I never thought I could do this,” Tony said. “But I did it. It is something I am immensely proud of!”
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
A U.S. Army artillery unit is pounding Islamic State fighters inside Syria from a remote desert camp just inside Iraq.
Soldiers from the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment artillery unit have been operating alongside Iraqi artillery units at a temporary fire support base in northwest Iraq near the Syrian border for the past several weeks, according to a recent Defense Department news release.
U.S. soldiers, Marines and sailors helped Iraqi forces build the camp by as part of Operation Inherent Resolve’s support of Operation Roundup, a major offensive by Syrian Democratic Forces aimed at clearing the middle Euphrates River Valley of entrenched, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria fighters.
Little has been made public in recent months about the U.S. military’s use of temporary fire bases to continue the ISIS fight. But NPR published a brief report July 2, 2018, about a “remote outpost” on the border of Iraq and Syria that seems to be the one described in the recent Defense Department release.
Some 150 Marines and soldiers are stationed there, NPR reported, in addition to Iraqi forces.
In the release, troops stationed at the fire base described the satisfaction of working side-by-side with Iraqi units.
“The most satisfying moment in the mission, so far, was when all three artillery units, two Iraqi and one U.S., executed simultaneous fires on a single target location,” said Maj. Kurt Cheeseman, Task Force Steel operations officer and ground force commander at the fire support base, in the release.
Language barriers forced U.S. and Iraqi artillery units to develop a common technical language to coordinate fire missions that involved both American and Iraqi artillery pieces.
“This mission required the use of multiple communications systems and the translation of fire commands, at the firing point, directing the Iraqi Army guns to prepare for the mission, load and report, and ultimately fire,” 1st Lt. Andrea Ortiz Chevres, Task Force Steel fire direction officer, said in the release.
The Iraqi howitzer unit used different procedures to calculate the firing data needed to determine the correct flight path to put rounds on target.
“In order to execute coalition fire missions, we had to develop a calculation process to translate their firing data into our mission data to validate fires prior to execution,” Cheeseman said in the release.
Sgt. 1st Class Isaac Hawthorne, Task Force Steel master gunner, added that Iraqi forces are “eager to work with the American M777 howitzer and fire direction crews and share artillery knowledge and procedures,” according to the release.
It’s not clear from the release when the base was created or how long it has been active. With little infrastructure and no permanent buildings, troops face temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the desert.
“They are enduring harsh weather conditions and a lack of luxuries but, unlike previous deployments for many, each element is performing their core function in a combat environment,” Cheeseman said in the release. “The fire support base is a perfect example of joint and coalition execution that capitalizes on the strengths of each organization to deliver lethal fires, protect our force and sustain operations across an extended operational reach.”
Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force units provided planners, personnel and equipment to create the austere base, built on a bare patch of desert and raised by hand. Coalition partners from several different nations participated in the planning and coordination of the complex movement of supplies.
“Supplies were delivered from both air and ground by the Army, Air Force and Marines, and include delivery platforms such as medium tactical vehicles, UH-60 Black Hawks, CH-47 Chinooks, CV-22 Ospreys, C-130 Hercules and a C-17 Globemaster,” 1st Lt. Ashton Woodard, a troop executive officer in Task Force Longknife, said in the release. “We receive resupply air drops that include food, water, fuel, and general supplies.”
One of the most vital missions involved setting up a security perimeter to provide stand-off and protection for the U.S. and Iraqi artillery units.
“Following 10 days of around-the-clock labor in intense environmental conditions, the most satisfying moment was seeing the completion of the physical security perimeter,” said one Marine working security at the fire base, according to the release.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.
As part of the “all options on the table” approach to North Korea often pushed by President Donald Trump and his cabinet, the U.S. has been training the first operational Marine Corps F-35 squadron to fight through nuclear war if needed.
In mid-November, U.S. Marine Corps pilots and support crew donned Mission Oriented Protective Posture (MOPP) gear to train for war fighting under the strain of chemical, biological, or radiological hazards.
The Marines wore MOPP gear level four, the highest grade of protective gear available to the U.S. military, while executing a “hot refueling,” or a fast-paced exercise where the pilot keeps the F-35’s engines on while it takes on more gas, so it can take off in a moment’s notice.
Hot refueling, as well as hot reloading, where F-35s take in more ordnance while the engines stay on, both represent tactics devised specifically with fighting in the Pacific in mind.
In the event of war with North Korea, Pyongyang’s opening salvo would likely include nuclear, chemical, or biological weapon attacks via ballistic missiles on U.S. bases in Japan. Although the U.S. maintains missile defenses, it’s not safe to assume the bases would make it out unscathed.
For that reason, the Marines’ F-35B, which can take off and land vertically, needs flexibility to improvise, land on makeshift runways, and turn around to keep fighting in minimal time.
Training in MOPP gear assures that the pilots and crew won’t be caught off guard when the atmosphere becomes hazardous with chemical, radioactive, or biological agents.
“It’s important to practice in MOPP gear because the Marines do”t get many opportunities to wear this on a daily basis, so in the instance where they do have to wear MOPP gear in a real-life scenario, it’s not going to be a shock or surprise to them of how they are going to operate,” Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Martin Aldrete, a maintenance controller with VMFA-121, said in a statement.
The military’s best planes and pilots are all training to take out North Korea
Alpert said that instead of sending 60 to 75 servicemembers into the air above North Korea aboard F-16s, F-15s, logistics, and surveillance planes, U.S. Air Force planners managed to work out a mission where just four pilots in two F-22 Raptors and two F-35s take out North Korea’s main nuclear infrastructure and leave unscathed.
“It would be illogical to continue to concentrate our forces on a few large ships. The adversary will quickly recognize that striking while concentrated (aboard ship) is the preferred option. We need to change this calculus with a new fleet design of smaller, more lethal, and more risk-worthy platforms.”
Basically, the old ways of landing Marines are really old and need to be updated – because even the most poorly armed insurgents can take down one of those old amphibs.
Gen. Berger sees
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David H. Berger’s first big move in his new post is to offer a stinging critique of the way Marines operate in amphibious landings. He issued a 26-page document to his lower commanders that calls the current method of moving Marines to shore aboard slow-moving amphibious vehicles and helicopters “impractical and unreasonable” and “not organized, trained, or equipped to support the naval force” in combat.
The Navy’s requirement for Marines to make their way to the shore uses 38 lumbering amphibious ships that are waiting offshore once the fighting begins. The new Commandant thinks that modern defenses such as China’s anti-air and anti-ship net in the South China Sea make this strategy impractical and risky.
“We must divest of legacy capabilities that do not meet our future requirements, regardless of their past operational efficacy,” Berger wrote.
Gen. Robert Neller passes the Marine Corps flag to the 38th Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. David H. Berger
General Berger earlier called for Marines to have long-range fires that can operate from a ship or shore-based batteries that can fight other sea or shore-based batteries while giving amphibious ships time and room to maneuver. The Commandant is concerned that the way the Corps operates now will be detected and contested by any potential enemy waiting to kill a few thousand Marines before they can land on its beaches.
The entire ethos is outlined in the 38th Commandant’s Planning Guidance (CPG) document and focuses on his five priority areas: force design, warfighting, education and training, core values, and command and leadership. In the CPG, Gen. Berger sums up his vision in bold letters:
“The Marine Corps will be trained and equipped as a naval expeditionary force-in-readiness and prepared to operate inside actively contested maritime spaces in support of fleet operations.”
Russian intelligence agents appear to have corrupted another Western military officer. The latest incident came at a North Atlantic Treaty Organization base in Italy where French officials accused one of France’s senior military officials there of passing sensitive documents to the Russians.
A French lieutenant colonel was arrested during a vacation in his native country.
“What I can confirm is that a senior officer is facing legal proceedings for a security breach,” French Defense Minister Florence Parly told European news agencies. The minister also said that French military forces have taken the necessary precautions in the wake of the information leak.
The alliance has been on high alert since Russian troops intervened in Ukraine in 2014, reports Deutsche Welle.
Tensions between east and west have flared since 2014 when Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine. Ukraine had been part of the Soviet Union until its fall in 1991 and had been trying to join NATO and the European Union (a process that is ongoing). Russia, not wanting to lose its influence in Ukraine, annexed the Russian-speaking Crimea and supported an insurgency in the Russian speaking eastern part of Ukraine.
Since then, NATO and the EU have slapped Russia with sanctions. Until the Russian intervention in Syria, Ukraine was the main focal point for NATO-Russian tensions.
NATO was formed in 1949, following the end of the Second World War as a check on the growing power and influence of the Soviet Union in Europe and elsewhere around the world. It was a means for the Western powers – the United States, Canada and much of Western Europe – to ensure the freedoms of their democratic societies.
A few years later, in 1955, the Soviet Union and other Eastern European countries formed their own alliance, under the Warsaw Pact. For the duration of the Cold War, the two alliances fought each other in clandestine and diplomatic struggles. Outside of Europe, each side undermined the other in conflicts around the world.
In the years following the fall of the USSR, membership in the western treaty organization grew from its original 11 members to include more countries, many of which were once dominated by the Soviet Union and were members of the Warsaw Pact, including Albania, Romania and Poland.
It isn’t apparent what information was leaked by the French officer to Russian officials, but other Russian-NATO hotspots include encounters between allied naval forces and the Russians in the Black Sea, the alleged bounties paid to Taliban fighters for killing Americans in Afghanistan, and the ongoing series of “dangerous aircraft intercepts” along Russian and American airspace.
These are the guys who have lived the American dream. Five former enlisted warriors from various services who raised their right hand when it was time to serve, then got out and hustled to earn what they knew could be theirs.
Mr. Edson’s service began during the Korean War when he enlisted in the Army, where he spent three years in the signal corps.
Once out, Edson began selling his own racing boats from a parking lot in Seattle, Washington. He eventually bought the rights to Bayliner Marine for a reported $100.00 and developed the company. Edson sold it to Brunswick for $425 million.
He joined the billionaire’s club through sound investing and now reportedly spends his days flying helicopters and cruising yachts.
When Abraham finished his service with the infantry in 1947 Europe, he returned stateside where he bought the Thompson Medical Company. At the time, the company had revenue of $5,000.00 annually. Today, the company is still around and is doing quite well.
He joined the billionaire’s club through his interest in the weight-loss industry, which led to his development of Slim-Fast Foods. You may have heard of it.
Mr. Murdock dropped out of school in the 9th grade and was drafted into the Army during WWII. Once out, Murdock moved to Detroit and was homeless for a time, but he managed to get a $1,200 loan to buy a failing diner.
He flipped it for a small profit that he used to move to Arizona. There, Murdock began a career in real estate, acquiring many businesses, including the pineapple and banana producer Dole Food Company, which he developed into the giant it is today.
Murdock joined the billionaire’s club by selling his 98-percent share of the sixth largest Island of Hawaii. He believes in health and has vocal plans to live to see his 125th birthday.
The Army also has options for those who want to serve as commissioned officers. Which option is best depends on your education level, where you want to go to school, and your age or family status.
Enlistees can also join the Army Reserves or Army National Guard directly.
Students at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state take the Test for Adult Basic Education to improve their general technical score on the Armed Service Vocational Aptitude Battery, Aug. 27, 2010.
(Photo by Spc. Alicia Clark)
First, you’ll need to take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, or ASVAB.
The ASVAB is a multiple-choice exam that will help determine what jobs you qualify for in the military. Each service has its own minimum standards, according to Military.com, which provides practice tests for those who want to prepare.
Recruiters gather with high-school students for an education event where they learned about Army operations and procedures, in December 2018.
Otherwise, it’s important to remember a few things when you’re at the office:
You have no obligations until you sign a contract.
Make sure you understand whether the job you want has openings — if not, you may want to consider waiting until it does.
You’ll eventually need to pass a medical exam.
Army Gen. George W. Casey, Jr., the Army’s chief of staff, administers the oath of enlistment to 26 recruits in New York City.
(Army photo by D. Myles Cullen)
Once you decide to enlist, the recruiter will take you to a Military Entrance Processing Station, or MEPS.
If you haven’t taken the ASVAB already, you’ll take one when you get to the MEPS.
If you have, you’ll undergo a medical exam, speak with a counselor about job opportunities and the enlistment contract, and take the enlistment oath.
US Army soldiers from One Station Training Unit low crawl through an obstacle course during their first week of basic training in Fort Benning, Georgia.
(US Army photo by Staff Sgt. Teddy Wade)
Basic Combat Training, has three phases.
After “reception week,” recruits enter Red phase — basic tactical training and Army heritage and tradition are hallmarks of this phase, as is the physical-fitness test. This phase is meant to break down individual recruits’ confidence in order to train them to work as unit during the next phase.
Next, they enter White phase, where they will start to rebuild confidence and learn marksmanship and combat training.
The last step is Blue phase, during which they will be trained to use weapons like grenades and machine guns and conduct field training and 10- and 15-kilometer marches.
Once they graduate, they will move on to advanced training in their specific job fields.
Cadets enter Michie Stadium for their graduation ceremony at West Point — 936 cadets crossed the stage to join the Long Gray Line in May 2017.
(US Army photo by Michelle Eberhart)
If you’re applying for a ROTC scholarship or admission to the Military Academy at West Point, the process starts online.
You’ll apply for West Point on the academy’s admissions page. Once you submit a questionnaire, you’ll be assigned a candidate number to finish the process.
Requirements to enter the academy are slightly higher than they are to enlist. Competitive SAT or ACT scores are a must, as are a physical-fitness exam and recommendations from teachers or counselors at your high school.
You’ll interview with an academy alumnus and also have to complete a separate application process for a nomination, usually by a senator or congressional representative.
ROTC cadets take a break from Leader Development and Assessment Course training.
(US Army photo)
Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC).
ROTC scholarships may be awarded to high-school students who wish to pursue a four-year degree at a civilian college.
The Army’s service obligation after graduation is four years on active duty and four years in the Army Reserves. Under some circumstances, like a lack of active-duty billets, students can go straight into the reserves. (Candidates can also enlist directly into the Army Reserve.)
Officer candidates with Washington National Guard troops disembark a morale flight on a CH-47 Chinook helicopter.
(US National Guard photo by Maj. Matt Baldwin)
Officer Candidate School (OCS).
OCS is meant for enlisted service members or civilians who already hold a four-year degree and want to become a commissioned officer.
A unit’s colors are held in near-sacred regard by the chain of command. The seemingly simple piece of cloth is steeped in rich symbolism and represents nearly every award and conflict that the unit has ever seen.
Even simply brushing against the unit colors while it’s hoisted at the battalion building could result in a younger soldier doing push-ups until sergeant major gets tired. And if it’s dropped while the battalion is out for a run, you might as well send that poor soul to the guillotine — at least that’d be quicker.
While the symbol of a unit’s legacy is held in extreme esteem by the troops it represents, the soldiers of the 2nd Engineer Battalion (which is now a part of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division), has a tradition of their own that involves setting fire to their beloved colors.
As odd as it sounds, there’s actually a very valid reason for it, even if it means the battalion needs to get a new one made every 12 months.
This was the turning point in the war and the engineers found themselves at the worst place at the worst time.
(U.S. National Archives)
This tradition has its roots back in the Korean War’s Battle of Kunu-Ri. The 2nd Infantry Division and UN allies had pushed the North Koreans back to the Yalu River, which separates China and North Korea. The moment China came to North Korea’s aid with a massive army, however, the Americans needed to retreat back south.
The unfortunate duty of pulling rear guard fell solely on the shoulders of the 2nd Engineer soldiers in the little town of Kunu-Ri. It was a lopsided battle that the troops knew they had no chance of winning — let alone surviving. It was a single battalion versus three entire, well-armed, well-trained, and completely fresh divisions.
This ultimate act of defiance towards an overwhelming enemy still lives on.
It was in the early morning of November 30th, 1950. The remainder of the 8th Army had successfully gotten to safety and the 2nd Infantry Division was slowly making its way out. As each battalion was fighting out, the 2nd Engineers stood their ground to save their brothers.
In this regard, their mission was a success. But by nighttime, their window of opportunity to safely escape had closed. The Chinese had flanked their escape route and their numbers had dwindled. They were down to just 266 out of the 977 men they had at the beginning of the war.
Lt. Col. Alarich Zacherle had to face the grim reality that every commander fears — the complete and utter destruction of his entire unit. The men regrouped for one last time and Zacherle gave the orders. Everything would be destroyed so that it would never fall into the hands of the enemy — nothing was spared.
The last thing to go was the colors. Zacherle made sure that even if they were all defeated and all of their men were lost, the Chinese would never be able to take their battalion colors as a war trophy. They set it ablaze and whoever was left ran like hell.
Their heroic deeds that night saved the lives of many 2nd ID soldiers and held the Chinese off long enough for the Americans to stage a proper defense. Very few men made it out of that battle — it’s been said that just a single officer made it out without being killed or captured.
To honor the men who gave their lives for their brothers, every year on November 30th, the 2nd Engineer Battalion recreates that heart-stopping moment with a solemn ceremony. The memory of the men who fought at Kunu-Li lives on as the names of each and every one of those 977 men are called off in formation by the current 2nd Engineers.
And, just as it happened in 1950, they set fire to their battalion colors in memorium.
More than 1500 service members have lost limbs in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001.
For those faced with this traumatic injury, the Department of Defense medical system has adapted in the last 20 years to speed up the recovery process and improve prosthetics.
“Our patients have challenged us by wanting more,” said Col. (Dr.) Mark Mavity, Air Force Surgeon General special assistant for Invisible Wounds and Wounded Warrior Program. “One of the unfortunate truths of war is that medicine does advance based on the large numbers of our service members who become injured.”
About 1.8 million Americans are living with amputations. The psychological challenges patients battle every day can be harsh. For most people, losing a limb profoundly impacts every aspect of their life: mentally, physically and spiritually. A strong support system can be vital to recovery and returning to duty.
Capts. Christy Wise and Ryan McGuire can attest to this. Both Wise, a C-130 pilot, and McGuire, a C-17 pilot, lost a limb and credited their support systems with helping them continuing their service and remain flying.
“In April of 2015, I was stationed at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia. I had been flying for a couple years and had just got back from a deployment,” Wise said. “I was in Florida … out on my paddle board, just behind my best friend’s house, and I was hit by a hit-and-run boat driver. My boyfriend at the time used his t-shirt and made a tourniquet to save my life.”
A couple on a fishing boat saw it all happen and transported Wise to medical care. She lost 70 percent of her blood in approximately three minutes.
Lucky to be alive, Wise said she thought about McGuire, who in 2009, while in pilot training at Laughlin AFB, Texas, lost his leg returned to flying C-17s. She remembered him because he was only a year ahead of her in pilot training.
It was Labor Day weekend when McGuire’s accident happened. He and some friends from pilot training were out tubing.
“There was no place to tie the tube into the boat, so we had the tube in the back of the boat, and I was holding the rope,” McGuire said. “The tube caught some air and flew out the back of the boat, and then the rope unraveled, cinched around my leg and pulled me out of the boat, slammed me into the side of the boat on the way out.”
McGuire said he flew over his friends’ heads and landed in the water. The rope then unraveled around his leg and caused traumatic rope-burn damage from his right knee down to his foot.
“I was able to get back into the back ledge of the boat that’s level with the water, and then the pain started setting in, I knew something was really wrong,” he said. “My pelvis had popped open, or fractured, and my hip had dislocated, so I was in an incredible amount of pain.”
After multiple attempts to save his foot and leg, doctors were forced to amputate below the knee.
“That was probably the lowest point of my life, just going through the amputation surgery, and losing my leg for something that seemed like it was so trivial, and not that big of an accident,” McGuire said.
Even at this low point, McGuire never doubted he wanted to return to flying. But for service members to return to duty after accidents such as these, they must be able to prove they can continue to function, while maintaining the safety of those they support.
McGuire’s unit and leadership backed the idea and began the process of returning him to duty.
“One of the things that I insisted on from the beginning, and all the commanders below me and above me insisted on, is if we’re going to do this, this isn’t a [publicity] stunt,” said Brig. Gen. Craig Wills, director of strategy, plans and programs for Pacific Air Forces.
Wills was the operations group commander at Laughlin AFB when the accident happened. He believes McGuire’s character, and the support he received, was the key to his recovery and return to duty.
“I think this story shows that we have great squadron commanders out there, and in my mind, the squadron commanders involved were the key to this thing,” he said. “Because they never stopped believing in [McGuire], they never stopped for one minute trying to think of a way to help this Airman succeed.”
One of the things McGuire had to prove was that he could stop the airplane with a prosthetic leg and that he could control it without any additional risk.
McGuire also appeared before a board. But even here he wasn’t alone. His squadron commanders and some classmates also flew to San Antonio to testify on his behalf.
“It was amazing for me as the group commander to just look around see all these gentlemen that were lining up to support Ryan,” Wills said.
In 2010, McGuire received word from the medical board that he was cleared to return to pilot training.
Now, several years later, Wise was in the back of an ambulance worrying about her Air Force career.
“I remember laying in the back of an ambulance thinking, ‘I can’t feel my leg, this is not good,'” Wise said. “But worst-case scenario, ‘Ryan did it, I can do it.'”
Wise’s injuries were so severe her leg had to be amputated above the knee.
But before she even left the hospital Wise said the support from her unit and other Airmen had already commenced. She even received phone calls from other amputees wanting to help.
“They would say, ‘Hey, when you’re ready to talk, I got back to flying, we’ll tell you the steps, you can do it, don’t doubt it,'” Wise said.
So, like McGuire, Wise put in the work and proved she could still fly.
“And now I’m here, I’m at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base [Arizona] back on flying status, back to my job and loving it,” she said.
McGuire’s injury may have paved the way for Wise to return to duty, but it is not what helped her regain her flying status.
“That’s when I realized how much support I really had from my unit, from the Air Force, from my family, from my friends,” she said. “I mean, half of my base showed up in the hospital room the next day in Florida. So it’s weird, because it’s such a dark chapter, but such a good chapter too.”
The one thing that seems to be a constant in Saigon is the delicious smell of food cooking – from the street vendors, open air cafes, coffee shops, and bakeries – it was that way in the late 60’s and remains so today. The first time I came to the city I remember walking to the headquarters with an officer I’d served with in Ban Me Thuot and stopping at a small coffee shop for a coffee and croissant – both were delicious and the whole event seemed surreal given what was going on in the rest of the country at the time.
This time, when I arrived at Tan Son Nhat airport in Saigon the first thing I saw were customs officials wearing what I remember as North Vietnamese Army uniforms – a bit of a flashback. Stepping out of the terminal I breathed deeply of the humid tropical air – a familiar scent that almost seemed comforting. Driving through the city on the way to the hotel I noticed the beautiful French inspired architecture which added a touch of grace to the cityscape.
In 1969 Saigon was a multi-faced city, bustling with the business of war. The people were pursuing their livelihood as best they could, while hip deep in the middle of a war zone. They were trying as hard as they could to make life tolerable and better for their families. Today, later generations of those families are doing that same thing, less the war, making life better and succeeding on a grand scale.
Revisiting Saigon and Vietnam after forty some years reaffirmed my faith in humanity – it doesn’t matter who won or lost, doesn’t matter who is in power – it’s all about the people. The Vietnamese people have always been entrepreneurs, caring for their families and their country and have made it a powerhouse in Southeast Asia. It gladdened my heart and closed a circle for me in a most positive way.
This article originally appeared on GORUCK. Follow @GORUCK on Twitter.