This legend of Fort Bragg served with more than 20 different commanders - We Are The Mighty
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This legend of Fort Bragg served with more than 20 different commanders

The walls of Travis Bell’s modest barbershop on Fort Bragg are lined with history.


Photos of Army heroes are here, men such as the late Col. Arthur D. “Bull” Simons, a Special Forces legend best known for leading the Son Tay raid during an attempted rescue of American prisoners of war during the Vietnam War. Former Army leaders have found their way on the walls, too, including Gens. Hugh Shelton, Ray Odierno, Lloyd Austin, and Stanley McChrystal.

Some are official photos. Others were taken from Bell’s barber chair in the center of his shop. In a few, it’s Bell in the chair and a general behind him, playfully holding a pair of clippers.

Nearly every photograph includes a handwritten note to Bell, who has been a fixture on Fort Bragg for more than half the Army post’s almost 100-year history.

This legend of Fort Bragg served with more than 20 different commanders
Travis Bell at work. DoD Photo by Spc. Paul A. Holston.

“Thanks for your dedication and friendship,” wrote Lt. Gen. Mike Ferriter, who served as a deputy commanding general of the 18th Airborne Corps from 2007 to 2009.

“Thank you for your friendship, support, and dedicated service to America,” wrote Lt. Gen. John R. Vines, who commanded the 18th Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg from 2005 to 2007.

“To Travis with deep respect,” wrote McChrystal, who served as chief of staff of the corps and later commanded Joint Special Operations Command and the US war in Afghanistan before his retirement in 2010.

After 50 years of standing behind his barber chair, Fort Bragg leaders pulled Bell out into the open July 7 to honor him for his decades of service.

This legend of Fort Bragg served with more than 20 different commanders
U.S. Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal. Photo from DoD.

Maj. Gen. Paul J. LaCamera, deputy commanding general of the 18th Airborne Corps and the acting senior commander of Fort Bragg, said Bell has had a lasting impact on Fort Bragg and its leaders that stretches well beyond making them look good.

“He’s shaped a lot of leaders in the Corps,” the general said. “He has probably counseled every Corps commander since 1967.”

Bell, 77, has long served as a sounding board for soldiers across the 18th Airborne Corps, LaCamera said. And he has more time in the headquarters than anyone in history.

As a token of appreciation, the general presented Bell with a book full of handwritten letters from past Army leaders.

“The impact he’s had…” LaCamera said. “Who he has touched… It’s unbelievable. We’ve got a man who has had a tremendous impact.”

This legend of Fort Bragg served with more than 20 different commanders
General Maj. Gen. Paul LaCamera (right). Photo from DoD.

Bell opened his shop on Fort Bragg during the week of July 4, 1967. The then-27-year-old had worked on post for several months by that time — first at the old E-4 club, which would eventually become the Noncommissioned Officers Club, and then briefly at the 1st Corps Support Command headquarters.

Bell recalls accepting the job at the 18th Airborne Corps reluctantly.

In 1966, he turned down a similar job on Fort Bragg when he learned that the Corps headquarters was “where all that high brass” was stationed.

Instead, Bell kept working as a night foreman at a poultry plant in Robeson County. He cut hair on the side for a quarter or $.35 a cut.

When another job at Fort Bragg opened — this time with lower-ranking troops as the customers — Bell jumped at the opportunity.

This legend of Fort Bragg served with more than 20 different commanders
Fort Bragg, North Carolina, USA. Enlisted personnel barracks for the 1st Brigade. Photo by Jonas N. Jordan, US Army Corps of Engineers

“I was one of them,” he said of the privates and privates first class who were among his first customers on post. “I was right at home.”

It would take Bell weeks to feel comfortable cutting the hair of soldiers at higher ranks.

When a lieutenant sat in his chair for the first time, Bell said he froze.

“I got so nervous I couldn’t hardly finish,” he said.

When Bell was offered the job at the 18th Airborne Corps headquarters a second time, he said he felt he had little choice but to accept it.

“It was go there or go home,” he said.

This legend of Fort Bragg served with more than 20 different commanders
USAF photo by Airman 1st Class Preston Cherry

Bell grew up on a Robeson County farm, one of nine boys who worked the fields alongside their father. Later, he would be a painter, carpenter, plumber and mechanic, and do other odd jobs along the way.

He said he viewed cutting hair as his way out of those jobs, learning from an older brother and practicing on his siblings.

But settling into his shop at the 18th Airborne Corps, Bell would have had no idea he would still be there 50 years later.

“I thought I wouldn’t even last the first day,” he said. “But I made it through that. Then I made it through another one. And another one.”

Bell estimates that he has cut more than a million heads of hair at Fort Bragg, although he said business is a lot slower these days, with much of the 18th Airborne Corps deployed to lead the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

This legend of Fort Bragg served with more than 20 different commanders
DoD Photo by Cpl. Angelica Annastas

“My customers are over in the war,” he said.

Originally, Bell charged 90 cents per cut. Today, the cost ranges from $8.55 to $10.75.

Bell has cut the hair of 23 Fort Bragg commanders, starting with Lt. Gen. Robert H. York in 1967.

The general walked into Bell’s shop, shook his hand and introduced himself, Bell said.

“I was so nervous, to this day I haven’t told him my name,” he said.

Those nerves would eventually go away. And Bell would become a trusted counselor to Fort Bragg’s leaders.

Gen. Daniel B. Allyn, who retired on Fort Bragg last week after a career that culminated as vice chief of staff for the Army, said he sought out Bell to cut his hair one last time before he stepped away from the military.

This legend of Fort Bragg served with more than 20 different commanders
Gen. Daniel B. Allyn. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Jim Greenhill.

Allyn thanked Bell alongside current and former Army leaders.

“Travis has been cutting the hair of airborne troopers for over 50 years,” Allyn said. “He lowered my locks one final time this week. Thank you for not only keeping us looking as good as possible but thanks for your constant reminder of the impact of faith in our lives.”

When not cutting hair, Bell is often seen reading from a Bible he keeps in his shop.

He said he still makes the drive from Lumberton to Fort Bragg each day.

The July 7 celebration was just one way the Fort Bragg community said thanks to Bell. It was also his first day back in a newly remodeled barber shop.

And on July 6, he rode in an airplane for the first time in his life, flying with the US Army Parachute Team, the Golden Knights.

Bell still hasn’t been on a plane when it landed, though. The 77-year-old touched the ground while strapped to a member of the parachute team.

This legend of Fort Bragg served with more than 20 different commanders
A member of the US Army Parachute Team, the Golden Knights. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Teddy Wade

“I’m airborne now,” he said July 7, proudly recalling the experience of the day before.

Bell said Fort Bragg is home now.

“They take care of me good around here,” he said. “It’s been a real pleasure.”

And after 50 years, the barber has no plans to slow down.

“I’m enjoying it right now,” he said. “I don’t know when I’m going to retire.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

Watch this WW2 pilot take to the skies in his old trainer aircraft

WWII pilot Capt. Jerry Yellin decided to join the military after the attack against Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.


I decided at that moment that I was going to fly fighter planes against the Japanese.

And he did. A P-51 driver, he flew 19 missions in total — including the very last combat mission over Japan on Aug. 14, 1945. After the U.S. dropped the first atomic bomb over Hiroshima, Yellin said he didn’t think they’d ever have to fly again, but when Japan refused to surrender, he and his wingmen took to the skies.

On Aug. 13, four days after the bombing of Nagasaki, Yellin was ordered to fly a mission over Nagoya, a hub for Japanese aircraft manufacturing and war equipment production. Before takeoff, his wingman, Phil Schlamberg, told Yellin, “If we go on this mission, I’m not coming back.”

 

(American Veterans Center | YouTube)

 

Yellin told his wingman to stay on his wing. They exchanged a thumbs up from their cockpits, but Schlamberg’s feeling proved to be true — he went missing during the mission.

It was the last combat mission of World War II, and according to Yellin, Schlamberg was the last casualty. To his dismay, Yellin learned that the Japanese had surrendered three hours before, but the pilots didn’t receive the message in time.

Also read: This WW2 veteran recalls guarding Nazi POWs and the Dachau concentration camp

This year, Yellin took to the skies again in a Stearman PT-17, just like the one he trained in during the war at the once-called Thunderbird Field II at the Scottsdale Airport. His flight was part of a Veterans Day event to build a memorial to honor early aviation pioneers and veterans.

Having a museum to remind people of who we were then and what we are now is extremely, extremely important.

Check out Capt. Yellin’s flight and hear the inspiring vet talk about what it meant to serve during World War II right here:

 

(Sequence Media Group | YouTube)
MIGHTY TRENDING

Delivering new ID cards is now a struggle for the VA

The Department of Veterans Affairs has suspended applications for its new veteran identification card program due to a large number of applicants, according to a notice on its website.


The new, free ID card was ordered by Congress in 2015 as a way to give veterans proof of service at businesses without carrying a copy of their DD-214 forms. The VA, a week ago, rolled out the online application for the card for all honorably discharged veterans, but the system appeared to immediately face technical problems.

Tests by at least two Military.com reporters accessing the site with their own VA logins and military service credentials encountered repeated errors. One was able to successfully complete the process despite multiple rejections and system timeouts.

Currently, however, veterans who look to apply for the card are instead told they need to come back later.

This legend of Fort Bragg served with more than 20 different commanders
(Courtesy photo illustration)

Thank you for your interest in the Veteran Identification Card! Currently, we are experiencing a high volume of traffic. We apologize, and want you to know we’re working to fix the problem,” the notice states. “In the meantime, please enter your email address and we’ll send an update when the Veteran Identification Card application is back online.

Officials with the VA did not respond to requests for information on when the application will be reopened, how many users successfully applied for the ID card before applications were suspended, or how many users started but did not complete the application process.

“We are aware some veterans have experienced issues with the application process, but leaders of VA’s Office of Information and Technology are actively engaged in fixing them,” Curtis Cashour, the agency’s press secretary, said in a statement.

Also Read: The VA is running out of money for Veterans Choice health care program — again

“Still, many Veterans have successfully registered for the card since the program was announced, and we are excited finally to begin providing this resource to Veterans, fulfilling a promise that was made to them more than two years ago under the previous administration,” he added.

To apply for a card, users had to log in to the VA website using either a DS login or the ID.me system, provide a variety of personal information, and upload a copy of a government-issued ID. They also needed to provide a shoulders-up photo to be displayed on the ID card. VA officials said Nov. 29 that users could expect to receive their new ID cards within 60 days of application.

Some veterans, such as those who receive health benefits from the VA and military retirees, already have IDs that can provide proof of service. The new IDs will not qualify as official government-issued identification for air travel or other uses. The ID card program is voluntary.

Articles

Navy ratings are back — ‘effective immediately’

The Navy has reversed its decision to remove the 241-year-old tradition of referring to its sailors by their job and rank after months of fierce backlash and petitions.


Previously, the Navy claimed the change was made to allow sailors to more easily cross-train into different positions and to make assignments more fluid. But ratings are a core part of a sailor’s experience and both service members and veterans began asking for their titles back.

This legend of Fort Bragg served with more than 20 different commanders

As of Dec. 21, they have them.

Sailors began celebrating early as a draft of the Navy administrative message began making the rounds on social media. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson took to Facebook to confirm that while the version being shared was an early draft, the message was right.


According to the U.S. Naval Institute, Richardson acknowledged the role of sailor feedback in the message saying, “We have learned from you, and so effective immediately, all rating names are restored. The feedback from current and former sailors has been consistent that there is wide support for the flexibility that the plan offers, but the removal of rating titles detracted from accomplishing our major goals.”

“This course correction doesn’t mean our work is done – rating modernization will continue for all the right reasons. Modernizing our industrial-age personnel system in order to provide sailors choice and flexibility still remains a priority for us,” Richardson wrote.

This legend of Fort Bragg served with more than 20 different commanders
Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Steven Giordano holds an all-hands call to discuss the Navy’s rating modernization efforts at 3rd Fleet headquarters in San Diego on Nov. 7. The decision to scrap Navy ratings has since been reversed. (Photo: U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Curtis Spencer)

So, “choose your rate, choose your fate,” will still become more flexible than it currently is, but ratings are back.

When the official NAVADMIN is released, it will appear here.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The 10 most important military stories of 2018

With 2019 upon us, a look back at 2018’s most memorable moments might give us some good perspective when facing the new year’s challenges. A lot happened in 2018 in the military-veteran community and each event serves to remind us that the things that affect us most can affect the world around us just as much.

It’s a testament to how important the work of the U.S. military really is.


This legend of Fort Bragg served with more than 20 different commanders

Air Force gets OCPs, Army gets Pinks and Greens

The Air Force finally ditched the ill-conceived Airman Battle Uniform and adopted the Army’s Operational Camouflage Pattern to the resounding joy of airmen everywhere. Just like with the old BDU, the only difference will be the color of the lettering on the velcro patches — the Air Force lettering is brown while the Army sports black.

Read: 5 reasons the OCP is superior to the ABU

The Army also adopted its World War-II throwback jersey to be the official uniform of everyday wear by 2028 to pay homage to the U.S.’ “Greatest Generation.”

This legend of Fort Bragg served with more than 20 different commanders

The Army’s new weapons 

The Army also moved to replace the M249 squad automatic weapon and the M4A1 carbine with weapons that use a more powerful round than the NATO 5.56mm. The service will adopt a 6.8mm round in line with the results of a 2017 small arms ammunition study.

More: Army’s next rifle will fire farther, faster, and with more lethality

This came after the Army sought to find out why some M4 and M4A1 variants were firing unexpectedly. The problem turned out to be a glitch in the weapon’s selector switch, which got caught between the semi- and automatic settings. Some 3,000 weapons failed their inspections.

This legend of Fort Bragg served with more than 20 different commanders

Magnificent.

The U.S. military’s “Sky Penis”

“Stop drawing d*cks everywhere” became the order of the year in the U.S. military after two West Coast Marines drew a phallic object in the sky during aerial maneuvers. After the the initial incident, a rash of attempted copycats followed until a B-52 squadron commander based out of North Dakota was relieved of duty for explicit ground-based drawings.

Read On: The Navy is very sorry about the sky dick

This legend of Fort Bragg served with more than 20 different commanders

The Coast Guard has three active icebreakers.

 The Coast Guard almost gets its wish

The U.S. Coast Guard has been begging for a new icebreaker for years. Tears of joy were heard from Cape May to the Arctic Circle when 0 million was finally earmarked for that purpose. Unfortunately for the Coast Guard, the Department of Homeland Security moved that money to fund the southern border wall in November.

Now: Coast Guard turned down an Arctic icebreaker mission

This legend of Fort Bragg served with more than 20 different commanders

Defense Secretary Mattis’ lethality initiative began Jan. 1, 2018.

The military gets more lethal

In January, Secretary of Defense James Mattis unveiled his new national defense strategy aimed at making the U.S. military more deadly and agile. This means a change in preparation for small, low-level conflicts to great power competition, ending a period of “strategic atrophy.”

More: The Corps finds its most lethal Marines are in their 20s

This legend of Fort Bragg served with more than 20 different commanders

President Trump awarded the Medal of Honor to Army medic Ronald Shurer II in October, 2018.

 Medals of Honor 

President Trump awarded five Medals of Honor this year to combat veterans living and dead to those involved in a history of conflicts, from World War II to Afghanistan. Those recognized for valor in 2018 were Air Force Tech. Sgt. John Chapman, Army 1st Lt. Murl Conner, Army Medic Ronald Shurer II, Marine Sgt. Maj. John Canley, and U.S. Navy Special Operator Britt Slabinski.

Read on: What to know about the Combat Controller who will get the Medal of Honor

This legend of Fort Bragg served with more than 20 different commanders

Staff Sgt. Dylan Elchin was one of three killed in action by an improvised explosive device in Andar, Ghazni Province, Afghanistan in November 2018.

Military members lost in 2018

Thirty servicemembers were killed supporting U.S. military operations worldwide in 2018, from Jan. 1 through Dec. 2, 2018.

Sgt. Jason Mitchell McClary • Staff Sgt. Dylan Elchin • Sgt. 1st Class Eric Edmond • Capt. Andrew Ross • Sgt. Leandro Jasso • Maj. Brent Taylor • Sgt. James Slape • Staff Sgt. Diobanjo Sanaugustin • Sgt. Maj. Timothy Bolyard • CWO3 Taylor Galvin • Sgt. 1st Class Reymund R. Transfiguracion • Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Celiz • Staff Sgt. James Grotjan • Cpl. Joseph Maciel • Petty Officer 1st Class Matthew Holzemer • Staff Sgt. Alexander Conrad • Staff Sgt. Conrad Robbinson • Spc. Gary Conde • Master Sgt. Jonathan Dunbar • Staff Sgt. Dashan Briggs • Staff Sgt. Carl Enis •Capt. Andreas O’Keeffe • Master Sgt. William Posch •Master Sgt. Christopher Raguso • Capt. Mark Weber • Capt. Christopher Zanetis • Sgt. 1st Class Maitland D. Wilson • Sgt. Christina Schoenecker • Spc. Javion Sullivan • Sgt. 1st Class Mihail Golin

Read: Eighth U.S. service member killed in Afghanistan this year

This legend of Fort Bragg served with more than 20 different commanders

President Trump met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Jun. 12, 2018.

All’s quiet on the Korean front

With improved relations between the U.S. and North Korea, President Trump ordered a stop to the joint American-South Korean military exercises on the Korean Peninsula. In Trump’s words, it was “inappropriate” to continue the war games while asking North Korea to disarm itself of its nuclear weapons. Trump’s orders were not met with universal acclaim among retired military leaders.

Related: North and South Korea may officially end the Korean War

This legend of Fort Bragg served with more than 20 different commanders

President Trump signed an order creating the U.S. Space Force in June 2018.

The Space Force

The U.S, military got its sixth branch of service in 2018, even if it was in name only. With funding sources as of yet unknown, the President ordered the creation of the Space Force to ensure American dominance of Space in June 2018.

Now Read: 11 things the Space Force must — and can’t — do

 President Trump announces withdrawal from Afghanistan

It came as a shock to the defense community when the President announced he would order a large withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and a complete withdrawal of U.S. forces in Syria. The fallout of the decision included the resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis.

More: US begins troop withdrawal from Syria but vows to kill ISIS

MIGHTY FIT

From the football field to the battlefield: 7 vets with NFL ties

The National Football League has been plagued by questions of patriotism in the last few years. But whether or not the NFL kneels or stands this year, it’s important to remember that some of the players and coaches have served, too.


This legend of Fort Bragg served with more than 20 different commanders

1. George Halas

Halas was instrumental in the creation of the NFL and responsible for founding the team that went on to be the Chicago Bears in 1920. Nicknamed “Papa Bear,” Halas coached the Bears for 40 seasons, leading them to six NFL titles. Halas served in the Navy during World War I and returned to Navy service from 1942-1945.

This legend of Fort Bragg served with more than 20 different commanders

2. Ralph Wilson, Jr.

Enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 2009, Wilson founded the Buffalo Bills following his service in the Navy during World War II. He was also instrumental in the merger between the AFL and the NFL in 1970.

This legend of Fort Bragg served with more than 20 different commanders

3. Kevin Greene

Greene retired from the NFL in 1999 and ranks third among all-time sack leaders. He led the NFL twice in that category with an impressive career playing for the Steelers, Rams, Panthers, and 49ers, with five appearances in the Pro Bowl. Greene was a member of ROTC at Auburn and served 16 years in the Army Reserves.

This legend of Fort Bragg served with more than 20 different commanders

4. Alejandro Villanueva Martínez

Villanueva is an offensive tackle for the Steelers. A veteran Army Ranger, Villanueva was a captain in the Army, served in Afghanistan, and was decorated with a Bronze Star.

This legend of Fort Bragg served with more than 20 different commanders

5. Tom Landry

Hall of Famer Tom Landry was a coaching phenom for the Dallas Cowboys. He led his team to two Super Bowl titles and had 20 straight winning seasons. Equally impressive was Landry’s service in the Army Air Corps during World War II. The B-17 co-pilot flew 30 missions and survived a crash in Belgium. He passed away in 2000 at age 75 as a legend and a hero.

This legend of Fort Bragg served with more than 20 different commanders

6. Dick “Night Train” Lane

The Hall of Famer had an incredible 68 career interceptions during his time with the Los Angeles Rams, Chicago Cardinals, and Detroit Lions. For nine straight years (1954-1963), Lane earned first or second-team All-NFL honors. He played in seven Pro Bowls and during his rookie season, had an unprecedented 14 interceptions – a record that still stands today. Lane served in the Army during both World War II and the Korean War.

This legend of Fort Bragg served with more than 20 different commanders

7. Roger Staubach

Staubach, nicknamed “Captain America,” won the 1963 Heisman Trophy during his time as quarterback at the U.S. Naval Academy. After graduation, Staubach served his commitment in the Navy, which included a tour in Vietnam. Following his service, Staubach joined the Cowboys and played in Dallas for all 11 seasons of his professional football career. During his tenure, the Cowboys won two of their five Super Bowl appearances.

The list of NFL greats who served their country continues with inspiring men like Pat Tillman, George McAfee, Mike Anderson, and so many more. But for every big name in the NFL, there are countless men that gave up their football dreams to serve their country.

You may not have heard of Jack Ankerson, but he only played three NFL exhibition games in 1964 before Uncle Sam called him up to serve his time. By the time his commitment was done, so was his chance to play in the NFL. But Jack, like so many others who chose service above self, is everything that’s right with America and the sports we love to watch.

Whether they’re a hometown hero or a household name, we salute all of our football playing and football-loving veterans.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why Saddam Hussein’s fedayeen troops wore Darth Vader helmets

In 1995, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein established his own Fedayeen corps, an irregular unit designed to protect the Ba’athist regime and Hussein himself. As of the 2003 invasion, they numbered 30,000 to 40,000 and their uniforms were more than a little unique, sporting an all-black combat uniform, black ski masks, and a familiar-looking helmet.


This legend of Fort Bragg served with more than 20 different commanders

Yes, Saddam’s Fedayeen, Arabic for “Men of Sacrifice,” wore enormous Darth Vader helmets. Their commander, Hussein’s son Uday, was a huge Star Wars fan. The above picture is an actual example from the Imperial War Museum in Britain.

This legend of Fort Bragg served with more than 20 different commanders

Other Middle Eastern personalities had their Fedayeen forces, notably Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser and the Palestinian Liberation Organization, but neither of those had the Sci-fi panache of the Fedayeen Saddam. Founded in 1995, the irregular Iraqi guard unit was Saddam Hussein’s personal militia.

This legend of Fort Bragg served with more than 20 different commanders
I hope it’s 102 degrees in this photo.

Members were recruited into the Fedayeen Saddam as young as age 16. They received no specialty training or heavy weapons and were not members of the regular Iraqi military. So, as awesome as watching a fighting Darth Vader in “Rogue One” was, their Iraqi Doppelgängers were not so awesome.

This legend of Fort Bragg served with more than 20 different commanders
You wish, Uday.

In reality, they were mainly used to stop smuggling in Iraq, and then later became the smugglers, extortionists, torture, and whatever else the Husseins had them do. It was all good as long as they didn’t shake down government officials.

Though U.S. military planners knew about the existence of the Fedayeen Saddam before the 2003 invasion, they weren’t sure what they would be used for once the shooting started. The best estimate was as guerrilla fighters behind U.S. lines, which they generally did in urban areas. It was the Fedayeen Saddam who ambushed U.S. Marines in Nasiriyah under a flag of surrender in 2003.

This legend of Fort Bragg served with more than 20 different commanders
Which no doubt made surrender sooooo much easier for their buddies.

Even after the regular army and Republican Guard forces crumbled away, the Fedayeen Saddam harassed U.S. troops through April 2003. Uday and Qusay famously found their end with a few members of the Fedayeen Saddam that same year.

This legend of Fort Bragg served with more than 20 different commanders
That helmet serves no other purpose than to make this unintentionally hilarious.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The cyber career field is booming amid increasing attacks

Just as the cyber threat has continued to evolve and grow, so too have the National Guard’s cyber teams and cyber capabilities, said Guard officials during a cyber roundtable discussion at the Pentagon.

“The cyber domain is constantly changing and it’s very dynamic,” said Air Force Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Burkett, the vice director of domestic operations with the National Guard Bureau.

That changing cyber domain also means looking differently at where cyber operators come from within the ranks.


“We tend to be very linear in our thinking sometimes,” said Air Force Col. Jori Robinson, vice commander of the Maryland Air National Guard’s 175th Wing and former commander of a cyber operations squadron and group. “You have to have a computer science degree, you have to come from a computer background and that is what makes a good cyber operator.”

Turns out, said Robinson, some of the best cyber operations specialists may come from the aircraft maintenance field.

This legend of Fort Bragg served with more than 20 different commanders

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Christopher Smith, a cyber systems operations technician with the 52nd Combat Communications Squadron, uncoils cable for a radio frequencies kit.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Justin Wright)

An Air Force study, she said, looked into elements that make an individual have the capacity to understand cyber networks, even if the specific computer network abilities aren’t there.

“That person over in maintenance who has been turning wrenches on a jet for the past 15 years, has the capacity and innate ability to understand networks and get a better idea, and they are turning out to make some of the most prolific and fantastic operators we have,” said Robinson.

For some Air Guard units, that comes as a benefit as missions shift and equipment changes. When the West Virginia Air National Guard’s 167th Airlift Wing transitioned from flying the C-5 Galaxy cargo aircraft to the smaller C-17 Globemaster III, that left many maintainers in limbo.

“C-17s don’t require as many maintainers as C-5s, so there was a net loss of people of force structure,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Jody W. Ogle, the director of communications and cyber programs with the West Virginia National Guard.

Using workforce development grants, many of those maintainers attended civilian education courses to retrain into the Guard’s cyber force.

“It was met with great success,” said Ogle, adding that about 50 maintainers made the switch.

Robinson echoed his sentiments.

“We’ve taken some of our maintainers and turned them into cyber operators and they are just crushing all of these classes and they are among the most sought-after folks by Cyber Command to come sit in on these teams,” she said.

Having another potential avenue to pull from is important, said Robinson, as the Maryland National Guard has a large concentration of cyber capability.

This legend of Fort Bragg served with more than 20 different commanders

A C-17 Globemaster III.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Dennis Sloan)

“It’s a very robust mission set in the state,” she said. “We run full spectrum operations for Cyber Command and 24th Air Force as well as on the Army side.”

That capability means filling a variety of roles.

“In the National Guard our core missions are one, fight America’s wars, two, secure the homeland and, three, build partnerships,” Burkett said. “We support the warfight by building fully integrated National Guard cyber units into operational federal missions. [We] protect the homeland by providing highly-trained cyber forces available to support mission-partner requirements.”

Those mission-partner requirements often focus on working with state and local agencies to assess and identify potential security risks in their networks.

“We provide vulnerability assessments, we’ll do some mission assurance, predominantly with the government agencies,” said Robinson, adding that Maryland Guard cyber units assisted the Maryland Board of Elections during recent elections in the state.

“We were called in pretty early with the Maryland Board of Elections just to have a conversation,” she said. “We provided a lot of lead up information, a lot of policy review and should they have needed it we were available going into the elections to do more over-the-shoulder monitoring [for potential cyber threats] for them.”

Robinson stressed, the cyber teams were strictly hands-off when it came to using computer hardware.

“We were very clear from the beginning that we were not going to be hands-on-keyboard,” she said. “The Board of Elections felt they had a strong handle on what was happening on the networks on Election Day.”

The Maryland Guard cyber units were able to easily integrate because of partnerships built between the Guard and those local agencies, stated Robinson.

Those partnerships are important.

“We learn a lot from our partners,” said Burkett. “We don’t necessarily have all the answers.”

For the Maryland Guard cyber units, one of the most beneficial partnerships has been an international one.

Since 1993 the Maryland Guard has been partnered with Estonia as part of the Department of Defense’s State Partnership Program, which pairs National Guard elements with partner nations worldwide. Since 2007, that partnership has included a strong cyber component, said Robinson.

That year saw Estonia suffered a massive hack to its computer infrastructure.

“What Estonia brings to the United States is quite fascinating because of the hack that happened in 2007, what it did to their critical infrastructure and their ability and how Estonia responded following that,” said Robinson.

The result was a total redo of network systems.

“They completely revamped their network system and how they do all online transactions,” said Robinson. “It’s a fascinating study in how you can add additional layers of encryption, additional layers of protection to everything that is online.”

It makes for a unique system, Robinson said.

“We’re learning a lot from them from that perspective,” she said, adding that cyber operations have been integrated into training exercises conducted with Estonian forces, including a large-scale training exercise in 2017 that incorporated both flying and cyber missions.

“We created an exercise where a massive attack, a piece of malware, had found its way on to the Estonian air base,” Robinson said, referring to the cyber portion of the exercise. From there, the exercise simulated the malware getting onto the computers used for maintenance of the A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft that were used for the flying portion of the exercise.

The cyber operators had to respond quickly, said Robinson, just as if it were a real-world attack. And, it was both Estonian and Maryland Guard cyber elements responding.

“We worked side by side,” she said. “It was a fantastic exercise that we’re looking at expanding in 2020.”

Those exercises, and partnerships, only expand the Guard’s cyber capabilities, said Burkett.

“Learning and building those relationship and partnerships is what the National Guard does naturally,” he said, adding that’s critical as the cyber threat continues to evolve.

“There is nothing that cannot be hacked,” he said. “We are dependent upon our cyber infrastructure for critical systems to support our way of life. As long as we are dependent upon those systems, we are going to have to defend them.”

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

Ain’t no sunshine when he’s gone… a farewell to Navy veteran and soul singer Bill Withers

Bill Withers died earlier in the week from complications from heart disease at age 81. Withers was known for his amazing vocals, soulful songs and was one of the best soul singers of all time. He was also a veteran of the United States Navy.

His death has resulted in an outpouring of mourning and grief from singers, artists and fans cross the world.

Regarded as one of the best songwriters of his generation, his influence has been seen in multiple genres of music and generations of artists. Withers gave us such classics as ‘Lean On Me,’ ‘Ain’t No Sunshine,’ ‘Grandma’s Hands,’ ‘Just the Two of Us’ and ‘Lovely Day.’

But there is one song that really resonates with veterans. In 1973, Withers released a song he had written while America was still involved in Vietnam.

Bill Withers – I Can’t Write Left Handed

www.youtube.com

Withers was born July 4, 1938, in Slab Fork, West Virginia. He was afflicted with a stutter from the time he was a child. He enlisted in the Navy at 18 where he served as an aircraft mechanic. He had good reason for wanting that field.

Withers told Rolling Stone, “My first goal was, I didn’t want to be a cook or a steward. So I went to aircraft-mechanic school. I still had to prove to people that thought I was genetically inferior that I wasn’t too stupid to drain the oil out of an airplane.”

While he was in the Navy, he was able to do speech therapy so he could stop stuttering. In fact, he stayed in the Navy as long as he could so he could work on his speech. He overcame his stutter using various techniques while also developing an interest in singing and songwriting. After nine years of service, he was discharged in 1965 and moved to Los Angeles to try and break into the music business. Withers worked for the aviation industry during the day while playing local night clubs at night trying to get noticed. His hard work paid off, when in 1970, he was signed to a record contract. His first album came out a year later and his career took off shortly thereafter.

After a couple of years of hits, Withers would write and perform a song that would be hailed as one of the most poignant songs about veterans and the war in Vietnam.

This legend of Fort Bragg served with more than 20 different commanders

“I Can’t Write Left-Handed” was written from the perspective of a wounded warrior. It wasn’t a political statement, it wasn’t self-righteous, it wasn’t inflammatory. It was simply what he thought Vietnam Veterans went through and what they were going to go through. It was one of the first songs to touch on the mental anguish and post traumatic stress many Vietnam Veterans experienced in the years after the war.

Withers opened the song with a spoken intro….

“We recorded this song on October the 6th. Since then the war’s been declared over. If you’re like me you’ll remember it like anybody remembers any war: one big drag. Lot of people write songs about wars and government … Very social things. But I think about young guys who were like I was when I was young. I had no more idea about any government, or political things or anything. And I think about those kind of young guys now who all of a sudden somebody comes up, and they’re very law-abiding, so if somebody says go they don’t ask any questions they just go. And I can remember not too long ago seeing a young guy with his right arm gone. Just got back. And I asked him how he was doing. He said he was doing all right now but he had thought he was gonna die. He said getting shot at didn’t bother him, it was getting shot that shook him up. And I tried to put myself in his position. Maybe he cried, maybe he said…”

The lyrics then tell us the story of the man with a missing right arm.

This legend of Fort Bragg served with more than 20 different commanders

I can’t write left handed

Would you please write a letter to my mother
Tell her to tell the family lawyer
Try to get a deferment for my younger brother

Tell the Reverend Harris to pray for me, lord, lord, lord
I ain’t gonna live, I don’t believe I’m going to live to get much older
Strange little man over here in Vietnam, I ain’t never
Bless his heart I ain’t never done nothin’ to, he done shot me in my shoulder

Boot camp we had classes
You know we talked about fightin’, fightin’ everyday
And lookin’ through rosy, rosy colored glasses
I must admit it seemed exciting anyway
But something that day overlooked to tell me
Bullet look better I must say
Rather when they comin’ at you.
But go without the other way

And please call up the Reverend Harris
And tell him to ask the lord to do some good things for me
Tell him, I ain’t gonna live, I ain’t gonna live, I ain’t gonna live to get much older
Strange little man over here in Vietnam, I ain’t never seen, bless his heart I
Ain’t never done nothing to, he done shot me in my shoulder

After a long career with many hits, Withers withdrew from the music industry. He felt that he was too old and that touring and performing were a young man’s game. Withers will go down as one of the true icons of soul and one of the best vocalists of his generation. Let us also remember him for his service to our country as well as using his talent to give a voice to those who served in Vietnam. Rest in peace, Sir.

This legend of Fort Bragg served with more than 20 different commanders
MIGHTY CULTURE

US soldiers seen as more trustworthy than judges, new poll finds

Almost 70% of Americans surveyed in a recent online poll said soldiers are more trustworthy than judges, police and Transportation Security Administration agents.

SafeHome.org, a company that researches and reviews security products and services, conducted the survey of more than 1,000 Americans through Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk), a virtual job outsourcing platform often used to conduct studies. Survey recipients were asked specifically about soldiers, but the word was intended to represent all U.S. troops.

Gesa Pannenborg, the survey’s project manager, said SafeHome.org wanted to study how people relate to those in authority or power positions during this “particularly divisive time” in American history.

“We were surprised by the extent to which our politics may influence how we interact with authority figures in our daily lives — perhaps more than we realize,” she wrote in an email.

Soldiers had the sixth-highest trustworthy rating by those surveyed, following top picks of paramedics, firefighters, doctors, teachers and professors, in that order.

“I think we as a country have always held soldiers in high regard, as the brave men and women who protect us and risk their lives for our freedom,” Pannenborg said. “It’s encouraging to see that, while politicians or wars can be unpopular, people, both left- and right-leaning, are pretty uniformly unwavering in their deference for those we entrust to carry on with the fighting.”

The study found 63% of Democrats surveyed thought of soldiers as trustworthy compared to 82% of Republicans. Professors had a similar 20% trustworthy disparity, though they rated higher with Democrats.

Republicans also had significantly more trust in police than Democrats did, but overall, the police fared worse than company supervisors and security guards.

“In recent years, there have been numerous highly publicized, controversial incidents involving police officers,” Pannenborg said. “Some of the results we found were likely a response to that press coverage, and it’s clear that Republicans and Democrats are more divided in their perception of the trustworthiness of police officers.”

This legend of Fort Bragg served with more than 20 different commanders

Soldiers had the sixth-highest trustworthy rating by those surveyed, following top picks of paramedics, firefighters, doctors, teachers and professors, in that order.

Survey takers’ ages ranged from 19 to 83. Nearly 450 of them were Democrats, about 240 were Republicans and 264 Independents. They took about three minutes on average to complete the study and were paid .43 for their responses.

While widely used for studies, MTurk has been criticized within the last two years for taking advantage of rural workers, and there’s been skepticism about whether robots or people are filling out the surveys.

— Dorothy Mills-Gregg can be reached at dorothy.mills-gregg@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @DMillsGregg.

Articles

US Navy SEALs are training with Ukrainian special operations forces

Across southern Ukraine, US special operations forces trained with Ukrainian special operators and conventional US and Ukrainian naval forces during Sea Breeze 2017, July 10-21.


An annual fixture in the Black Sea region since 1997, Sea Breeze is a US and Ukrainian co-hosted multinational maritime exercise.

This year, Ukraine invited US special operations forces to participate, and US Special Operations Command Europe’s Naval Special Warfare Command operators were eager to sign up for the mission.

This is the first time that special operations forces have operated at Sea Breeze, said US Navy Capt. Michael Villegas, the exercise’s director. “[Their] capabilities are extremely valued by the Ukrainians and extremely valuable to the US.”

This legend of Fort Bragg served with more than 20 different commanders
A U.S Naval Special Warfare Operator observes a Ukrainian SOF Operator during a weapons range in Ochakiv, Ukraine during exercise Sea Breeze 17, July 18, 2017. Sea Breeze is a U.S. and Ukraine co-hosted multinational maritime exercise held in the Black Sea and is designed to enhance interoperability of participating nations and strengthen maritime security within the region. (U.S. military photo)

Naval Special Warfare Command operators were completely integrated into the various air, land, and sea missions that required their unique warfighting skill set. Exercise Sea Breeze is a perfect fit for special operations forces to train and exercise their capabilities, the exercise’s lead special operations forces planner said. “With the support of the [Air Force’s] 352nd Special Operations Wing, we saw a prime opportunity to support [special operations] mission-essential training with our Ukrainian allies,” he said.

He added that naval special warfare units bring a host of unique capabilities into the exercise scenario, such as rigid-hull inflatable boats; visit, board, search, and seizure expertise; and the strongest direct action capabilities available. However, Villegas noted, capability is only one piece of the puzzle when training alongside a partner nation with shared objectives to assure, deter, and defend in an increasingly complex environment.

“In the spirit of Sea Breeze, we come not to impose what we know or how we operate,” he said. “Here, we come to exchange ideas, train towards interoperability and learn to operate side by side should a conflict arise that would require that.”

Achieving interoperability with partner nations and interservice partners is a common objective at exercises like Sea Breeze. But here, the US special operations forces capitalized on it. “Interoperability is our ability to conduct combined planning, problem solving, and mission execution efficiently to achieve a mutually-defined end state,” Villegas said.

This legend of Fort Bragg served with more than 20 different commanders
Ukrainian SOF prepare to board a U.S. CV-22 Osprey during exercise Sea Breeze 17. Army photo by Sgt. Jeffrey Lopez

Achieving this end state, he added, hinged on US-Ukrainian integration at the tactical level within the special operations platoons, and at the special operations maritime task group level.

“We have combined with our Ukrainian colleagues to integrate their experience and capabilities within our key positions,” he said. “Starting in the command team and further within our operations, communications, logistics, and intelligence departments, we were fully partnered.”

Down at the platoon level, operators fast-roped from hovering US Air Force CV-22 Osprey aircraft assigned to US Special Operations Command Europe, conducted personnel recovery training and boarded vessels at sea.

“Whether it was on the range, in the field, or on the water, these men were a pleasure to work with,” said a US special operations forces platoon commander. “The Ukrainians’ attitudes made this exercise a great opportunity to exchange training and create a strong relationship.”

This legend of Fort Bragg served with more than 20 different commanders
US Navy Special Warfare Operators train at a small-arms range with Ukrainian SOF at Ochakiv, Ukraine, July 13, 2017 at exercise Sea Breeze 17. Photo by Spc. Jeffery Lopez.

As with any exercise of this size and scope, there were challenges to overcome to make the exercise a success while identifying tactical and technical gaps in partner capabilities. “The first major obstacle we had, but were prepared for, was the language barrier,” the platoon commander said. “Another was that our mission sets differed slightly from our counterparts’.” To remedy this, he said, he found ways to incorporate the skill sets of each unit in ways to accomplish the mission while building relationships to forge a stronger partnership. As the operators returned from a long day, mutual trust emerged through combined hard work, long hours, and mutual respect for each unit’s professionalism.

“You always want to work with a partner force who is motivated, wants to train, and wants to get better, and the Ukrainian [special operations forces] are all of these,” the platoon commander said.

On the pier here, overlooking the Black Sea, Villegas expressed the Navy’s gratitude to Ukraine for inviting US special operations forces to participate in this year’s exercise.

“[Special operations] participation at Sea Breeze is so important for Ukraine and the US Navy and all the other units participating,” he said. “Our hosts have been incredibly friendly, committed, and dedicated. Their hard work has ensured Sea Breeze 17 was a success, and we are truly very thankful for that.”

Articles

Soldiers sue for benefits after non-honorable discharges related to PTSD

Hyper-vigilant during his military stint in Iraq, always on the alert that he was in danger of being killed, Steve Kennedy found he could not turn it off.


An Army soldier who had led several teams during his time in Iraq, and won numerous awards, Kennedy uncharacteristically started using alcohol and putting himself in dangerous situations, hoping to get hurt.

Diagnosed with major depression they could not treat, the military gave Kennedy a less than honorable discharge blamed on an absence without leave to attend his wedding. Once out of the service he was diagnosed with severe post-traumatic stress disorder.

This legend of Fort Bragg served with more than 20 different commanders
According to RAND, 20-30% of veterans are diagnosed with PTSD. (Courtesy photo illustration)

Alicia Carson took part in more than 100 missions in less than 300 days with an Army Special Forces unit in Afghanistan, and served in combat on a regular basis. When she returned home, she was found to have PTSD and a traumatic brain injury.

After presenting a physician’s diagnosis, she asked to be excused from National Guard drills. The National Guard then discharged her with a less than honorable discharge because of her absenses.

The two Army veterans filed a federal class-action suit April 17 asking that the Army Discharge Review Board give “liberal consideration” to their PTSD diagnoses as former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hegel had instructed in 2014.

They are being represented by supervisors and student interns at the Jerone N. Frank Legal Services Organization at the Yale Law School.

Kennedy, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, members of the Yale Law School team and others held a press conference on the suit at the law school after it was filed with U.S. District Judge Warren W. Eginton in Bridgeport’ federal court.

Kennedy and Carson are filing on behalf of themselves and more than 50,000 similarly situated former military personnel.

This legend of Fort Bragg served with more than 20 different commanders
In 2014, only 42% of veterans were enrolled in the VA. (Veterans Affairs photo)

Blumenthal had worked with the former secretary of defense to put in place the Hegel memo to correct discharges that were based on actions tied to brain trauma and PTSD.

“This cause is a matter or justice, plain and simple. …Steve Kennedy has been through hell. The special hell of a bad paper discharge resulting from post-traumatic stress, one of the invisible wounds of war,” the senator said.

He introduced Conley Monk, a Vietnam veteran, who was part of a different war but experienced the same bad papers due to actions committed while suffering from PTSD, something that was not even recognized medically in that era.

Monk, however, benefitted from the review board following Hegel’s memo after a lawsuit filed against the Department of Defense.

Also read: 5 things military spouses need to know about PTSD

Blumenthal said the discharges resulted in a stigma for both of them and Carson, as well as a loss of benefits.

Kennedy has since put himself through school and is expected to get his doctorate this year in biophysical chemistry at New York University. With an honorable discharge, he would have been eligible for $75,000 in benefits he never received.

The senator said a lawsuit should not have been necessary to move the review board to do the right thing and follow the law.

“The Department of Defense has failed to provide the relief the law requires,” Blumenthal said.

The Army does not comment on pending lawsuits.

Blumenthal said he has spoken to Secretary of Defense James Mattis about this issue.

“He has been sympathetic, but these men and women are not seeking sympathy. They want real results. …They deserve consistent standards and fair treatment,” he said. Blumethal said they are not seeking any financial renumeration.

Kennedy lives in Fairfield, while Carson lives in Southington. She was not at the press conference.

Related: Not all PTSD diagnoses are created equal

Carson suffered from severe PTSD-related symptoms, such as nightmares, loss of consciousness, loss of memory, trouble sleeping, irritability, feelings of being dazed and confused, and photosensitivity, a vision problem recognized as a symptom of traumatic brain injury.

Jonathan Petkun, who is among the law students representing Kennedy and Carson, is also a former Marine and a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan.

“With this lawsuit, we are asking the Army to live up to its obligations and to fairly adjudicate the discharge upgrade applications of individuals with PTSD,” he said.

Petkun said since 2001, more than 2.5 million military personnel have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, with more than half deployed more than once. At the same time, some 20 percent are estimated to be suffering from PTSD or PTSD-related conditions.

“Instead of giving these wounded warriors the treatment they deserve, too often the military kicks them out with less than honorable discharges based on minor infractions, many of which are attributable to their untreated PTSD,” Petkun said.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Military vets are forging budding careers in the cannabis industry

After a career in the military, veterans are equipped with numerous skills that make them an easy hire for thousands of civilian jobs. At first glance, the cannabis industry might not seem like the most ideal fit for veterans, but it’s shaping up to be a fruitful union.


This legend of Fort Bragg served with more than 20 different commanders
U.S. Army Cavalry Patrol In Kandahar Province

(Chris Hondros/ Getty Images)

It’s no secret that many soldiers have found solace from military-related ailments with medical marijuana: everything from PTSD to slipped discs, to insomnia, have been eased with aide from the versatile plant. In fact, according to a recent study by American Legion, a vast majority of veterans support both marijuana legalization and further research. That kind of support for cannabis extends past personal use and into the job market, where veterans are finding themselves increasingly more involved in the industry.

The most direct translation of military skills is into the cannabis security sector. There are many federal restrictions on the young industry, leading to the reluctance of financial institutions to open accounts for cannabis-centric companies. This means that a plethora of cannabis companies rely on a strictly cash-only basis. This, in turn, leads to a demand for a security detail to convoy alongside both the product and the money.

This demand has formed a reliable network of security companies that hire hundreds of veterans to simply accompany shipments, or post up outside of brick-and-mortar stores like armed bouncers.

This legend of Fort Bragg served with more than 20 different commanders

Dispensaries are no stranger to security detail

However, the military contributions to the cannabis industry reach much further than security. A growing number of veterans are beginning to get involved in, not only the retail side of the cannabis industry, but the cultivation side as well. According to “The Cannabist” the president of OrganaBrands (a Denver-based company that sells cannabis), Chris Driessen, says about 10% of his total workforce are veterans.

“The veteran community pairs so well (with our business), regardless of the branch of armed forces you’re in. (As a veteran) you learned systems, you learned processes, you learned chain of command,” he continued. “The fact that we don’t have to train people on some of those things — about work ethic and respect and doing what you say you’re going to do… is a huge benefit for any company, and of course ours as well… [they] set themselves apart in the interview. A lot of these folks are, on their own merit, heads and shoulders above their competition.”

This legend of Fort Bragg served with more than 20 different commanders

(Veteran’s Cannabis Coalition blog)

That doesn’t mean that there isn’t training involved for veterans in the industry. One company, THC Design, actually has a paid internship and mentorship program exclusively for veterans. The course is 12 weeks long and gives veterans a tangible, hands-on, experience with every aspect of cultivation. According to co-founder Ryan Jennemann, the work ethic and problem-solving ability of military veterans makes them the perfect candidate for cannabis.

“What I was hiring for was not experience,” he told The Cannabist. “I was hiring for a work ethic, an ability to handle adversity, an ability to solve problems.” The program is both open source and available online as well, making it accessible for veterans looking to see if the cannabis industry is right for them.

As the legalization of marijuana spreads (Illinois just joined 10 other states as of January 1st), the stigma surrounding the cannabis industry begins to lessen. It’s no secret that marijuana has been a functional part of treatment for veterans returning from overseas, but now veterans are becoming a functional part of the cultivation and distribution of the cannabis industry itself.

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