The US military and its NATO partners have been looking to reassert their presence in Europe in the wake of Russian action in Crimea.
NATO has deployed multinational units to Eastern Europe, and the US Army has been looking to boost its armor for more rotational deployments. Armored units on the continent are also expanding their training repertoire.
Soldiers from the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, from the 1st Infantry Division, arrived in Europe in September 2017, with roughly 3,300 personnel, 87 tanks, 125 Bradley fighting vehicles, and 18 Paladin self-propelled howitzers for a nine-month rotation at locations in Poland, Germany, Romania, Hungary, and Bulgaria.
When they disembarked in Gdansk, Poland, it would be “the first time two armored brigades transition within the European theater sending a full complement of soldiers and equipment into Germany and Poland in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve,” Eastern Europe operations command spokesman US Army Master Sgt. Brent Williams said at the time.
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Dustin D. Biven)
The unit’s rotation is also concluding with something of a first. Between April 22 and April 25, 2018, the 2nd ABCT carried out a tactical road march with over 700 vehicles on public roads between the Grafenwoehr and Hohenfels training areas in southeast Germany — the first time the exercise has been done at the brigade level in 15 years, according to the Army.
“The 7th Army Training Command, who conducts the exercise, decided to leverage the two training areas in Bavaria to connect multiple locations and units to create a more realistic training environment in Europe,” said Capt. Orlandon Howard, 2nd ABCT public-affairs officer.
The exercise was part of the Combined Resolve multinational exercise, which is taking place between April 9 and May 12, 2018, and includes personnel from 13 countries. The exercise is designed to give rotational brigades a graded culminating event in realistic and complex training environment before they return to the US.
After a maneuver live-fire drill, the brigade was ordered to conduct the march to Hohenfels, where it would start preparing for the 10-day, force-on-force portion of the exercise.
The road march required only limited recovery operations and avoided major damage to roads and towns along the route, which the release noted was a significant accomplishment in light of the size of some of the vehicles involved.
(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Kathleen V. Polanco)
Soldiers from the 2nd ABCT were joined by the Polish army’s 12th Mechanized Division, and a number of local residents stopped to watch the procession.
A German family waved at the soldiers while a German man held a US flag across his body. Others wore shirts or hats with US Army printed on them or with unit patches. One local man, Ralf Rosenecker, and several of his friends set up a display of three remote-controlled tanks with US flags, according to an Army release.
“Rosenecker said he was excited to see so many tanks because it had been over 15 years since such a large tactical road march was conducted on German roads,” the Army release said.
The US deployed hundreds of tanks, trucks, and other military equipment, accompanied by about 4,000 troops, to Europe at the beginning of 2017. The deployment, part of Operation Atlantic Resolve, was meant to reassure US allies in the face of what many of them perceived as Russian aggression.
At the time, NATO said the planned deployments — which included US troops to Poland and Germany, Canada, and the UK sending 1,000 troops each to Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania — were strictly defensive, through Russia rebuked what it saw as a armed buildup by Western countries in Eastern Europe
(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Sharon Matthias)
Rotational forces have continued to cycle through Europe, carrying out training exercises with partner forces there.
In January 2018, a convoy of US Paladins traveling from Poland to exercises in southern Germany was briefly stranded, after German border police stopped the Polish contractors transporting them for violating transportation rules.
In March 2018, NATO announced its new logistics command — is meant to ensure the quick movement of troops and material across Europe in the event of conflict — will be based in the southern German city of Ulm.
The EU has also said it is devising a plan for military personnel and equipment to move quickly across Europe in a crisis, avoiding border delays and bridges and roads too weak to handle military vehicles.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
It’s the moment troops have been waiting for. They’ve counted down the days until this moment since they first arrived in-country. The second those wheels touch the ground, families rush towards their loved ones and fill them with all the love they’d missed while deployed. After that sweet moment, the week goes downhill fast.
NCOs with several deployments under their belt will offer warnings to troops regarding their first reintegration. They’ll impart every grain of wisdom they can, hoping their troops don’t make the same mistakes as so many have before them. But, chances are, NCOs will sit back and watch their troops go through a second round of boot mistakes — like these:
Who says we can’t get a year’s worth of sleep in seven days?
(Via Navy Memes)
Wanting to sleep the entire time
Everyone comes out to welcome you back to the States. They’ll probably have all these grandiose plans centered around how to “best” welcome you home. They’ll fail to take into account the fact that you’re jetlagged having come from half a world away.
Try to get some sleep. Even if you overdo it the first few nights, it’s well earned. Just don’t forget that you have to deal with people while you’re awake.
While on deployment (in-country deployments. Not a “deployment at sea” or Kuwait tour), troops need to have their weapon at all times. There is no Hell like the one that would be brought upon you if you lost it.
That’s why it takes a few weeks for us to process the fact that it was turned into the arms room for good. Just try not to scream, “where the f*ck is my weapon!?” in the middle of a crowded mall cafeteria.
You’ll never trust the cleanliness of a shower again.
(Photo by Sgt. Randall Clinton)
Showering with sandals
After a while, anything “communal” becomes disgusting. This is because everyone who uses it automatically assumes it’s the next person’s turn to clean it. Nowhere is this more evident than in the already-disgusting communal showers.
Upon returning home, many troops they instinctively wear them, even in their own homes, because, at this point, it’s just too weird not to.
If it seems like a dumb idea, but it works, it ain’t dumb…
(Meme via Dysfunctional Veterans)
Drinking like they did before the deployment
The funny thing about tolerances is that they’re perishable. Right before a deployment, a troop could down an entire bottle of whiskey to themselves and maybe get a buzz going. Afterwords, one sniff of beer might knock that same troop out.
Take things easy. Download a ride-sharing app or have a taxi on speed dial. Don’t expect your NCO to come play designated driver for you because they’re probably drunk after a single sniff of beer, too.
“I’m a go**amn war hero. I can binge-watch Netflix my entire leave and no one can stop me!”
Trying to catch up on TV shows and films (all at once)
If the troops didn’t get the chance to binge watch everything at the MWR or get lucky with advanced deployment screenings, they’re going to be laser-focused on trying to find out what happened while they were gone.
This is extra applicable for TV series that are vulnerable to spoilers on the internet.
…even you can afford the 39% interest rate.
Wasting so, so much money
The thing about deployments is that troops will still make money while they’re gone and have nothing to spend it on. All that tax-free combat pay just keeps piling up — even more so if they’re single.
It may seem like you’re rich enough to drop all that cash on the Corvette you wanted as a private, but you’re still making a boot mistake…
I’m not stopping you, by any means. Just advising you.
(via Pop Smoke)
Forgetting civilians aren’t fans of our humor
There really isn’t much to do overseas except hang out with the platoon. Everyone has told their jokes a hundred times over. The only way to keep things funny is to take it to the next level. Sooner or later, the jokes enter a realm that makes all of our grandmothers want to whoop our grizzled, war-fighting asses for even thinking it’s funny.
Just remember, there are now kids around as you tell stories about your scorpion death fights.
More than 100 years ago, European powers were in the middle of World War I and looking everywhere for potential enemies and allies. In 1916, even President Wilson believed it would soon be inevitable for the U.S. to enter the war on the side of England and the Triple Entente. Then, an explosion on July 30, 1916 shattered windows in Times Square, shook the Brooklyn Bridge, and could be heard as far away as Maryland.
But the effect that would have lasting impression was the shrapnel that peppered the nearby Statue of Liberty.
(National Board of Health)
German saboteurs moved to hit a munitions plant in New York City’s Black Tom Island (an artificial island near Liberty Island) that was already making weapons and ammunition bound for Britain and France. They did it in the early morning hours on the poorly lit, poorly defended ammunition depot.
It was part of a two-year German campaign of sabotage in the United States and shook far away America to its core. The outrage over the previous year’s sinking of the RMS Lusitania and the loss of 120 Americans aboard that ship already began to turn American public opinion against Germany.
The Great War had finally come home in a big way.
This was not the first explosion or “accident” that occurred in munitions plants or on ships bound for Europe. German agents operating out of New York and its port facilities hired German sailors and Irish dock workers to plant bombs and incendiary devices on ships and in plants working on war materials. The number of accidents aboard those ships skyrocketed. But the Black Tom incident was different.
Two million tons of explosives were set off in a single instant. Five people died and it’s fortunate more people weren’t killed, considering the size of the blast. The buildings on the landfill island were smashed and flattened.
(U.S. Army Signal Corps photo)
The shrapnel that exploded in every direction damaged the Statue of Liberty and didn’t just scar her lovely face, it popped the rivets that connect the arm that bears the torch of freedom, forcing the the arm to be forever closed to tourists. For a little while, even the years following the end of World War I, Black Tom was all America could talk about.
That is, until a new Germany rose from the ashes of the Kaiser’s Empire.
A well-made whiskey cocktail is a nice reward at the end of any day. But sometimes classic cocktails are too much. For one thing, unless you’re a seasoned drink-slinger, many whiskey cocktails are often too complicated — or intensive — to whip up at the end of a long day (Hey if you want to shake the hell out of that classic whiskey sour, go right ahead). For another, the alcohol content of one concoction can quickly equal that of two or three regular drinks. Sometimes this is great; other times, not so much. Because while we’d like this to not be the case, “falling asleep in the chair” is not really a regular item on the nightly to-do list.
That’s what inspired this list of one-shot whiskey cocktails. They’re all great to sip at the end of the day but won’t put you on your ass — or require four kinds of hooch and one of those hilariously long copper mixing spoons. They’re simple, refreshing, and very drinkable. What more do you want from a summer cocktail?
What is it? The Blinker is a simple, refreshing drink made with grapefruit juice and rye whiskey. While they might not seem like the most obvious combination, one sip and it might just become your new summer go to.
Try it with: Michter’s Rye. It’s bold enough to shine through the intensity of the grapefruit tang.
How to make a Blinker:
2-3oz fresh grapefruit juice
1oz raspberry syrup
Instructions: Shake over ice and strain into a coupe glass.
2. Bourbon and Georgia Peach Coca-Cola
What is it? A way better version of the classic whiskey and Coke.
Try it with: Knob Creek. The strong vanilla notes compliment the peach flavoring.
How to make a Bourbon and Georgia Peach Coca-Cola:
1-2oz Knob Creek Bourbon
4-6oz Georgia Peach Coca-Cola
Garnish with a fresh slice of peach
Instructions: Fill a highball glass with ice and add all the ingredients.
What is it? It’s just an Old Fashioned made with Scotch instead of rye or bourbon. The Old Fashioned is a perfect cocktail and normally we don’t like to tinker with perfection. But, variety is the spice of life and Scotch is, and always will be our first love.
Try it with: Ardbeg 10. This single malt adds a big peaty smoke as well as a touch of salt and pepper for a more layered drink.
How to make a Single Malt Old Fashioned:
1-2oz Single Malt Scotch
2-3 Dashes of bitters
1 Tsp of simple syrup
Top with 1oz club soda
Orange peel for garnish
Instructions: Fill a rocks glass with ice. Add the ingredients.
This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.
Master Sergeant George Hand US Army (ret) was a member of the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, The Delta Force. He is a now a master photographer, cartoonist and storyteller.
Student: “Sergeant, how long do I have to deploy my reserve parachute if my main fails to open?”
Sergeant: “The rest of your life, son… the rest of your life.”
There is no argument that Tier-1 units routinely engage in dangerous training: climbing skyscraper structures, engaging in gunfights in close quarters and confined spaces, hunkering down nexts to explosive breaching charges that are barely an arm’s reach away as they ignite… A cringe-worthy component to that list that hooks every seasoned operator’s attention is airborne operations, because most things that go wrong during them can be fatal.
The feature image, Toad Jumper, is of course a parody of “towed jumper,” an airborne term used to describe a paratrooper whose static line, a 15-foot nylon cord that pulls open the jumper’s parachute, doesn’t separate from the aircraft. On the rare occasion that the parachute pack fails to break free from the static line anchored to the jump aircraft, the paratrooper will be towed behind the aircraft at ~120MPH spinning and slamming against the airplane. It is a horrid and deadly event.
Paras line up and hooked up. Static lines are hooked to anchor cable; they are routed correctly OVER the men’s arms. Mac’s had looped under his arm.
My best friend and renowned firearms trainer Patrick Arther “Mac”McNamara was a towed jumper on his very first training jump with the Army’s Airborne School in Ft. Benning, GA. His static line had unfortunately looped under his arm, cushioning the tug of the line and preventing it from effectively pulling his parachute loose.
Mac spun wildly and bounced off of the kin of the aircraft… then his static line fortunately was able to pull away his pack and deploy his parachute canopy correctly. The violent tug of the static line ripped his biceps muscle from his humerus bone and pulled it down to his forearm. He was in severe pain and unable to use his damaged arm.
When it rains it pours, and since Mac was not able to use his arm, he could not steer his parachute for a safe up-wind landing. Rather than face into the wind a parachute defaults to running down (with) the wind at higher speed. Mac braced himself, cringing before the impending impact with the ground.
Patrick McNamara frame grab from one of his training videos reveals the gnarly scar on his left biceps, a staunch reminder of being a towed (toad) jumper
He hit with great speed tumbling and flipping in excruciating pain. Landing is the most critical step in a jump that the jumper can have the most control over. The jumper must correctly assess the wind direction and turn himself to face into the wind by maneuvering the lines that suspend him from his canopy.
A paratrooper must perform a proper Parachute Landing Fall (PLF) to preclude broken bones and other injuries, and finally, a jumper must quickly securehis parachute to prevent being dragged across the ground resulting in potential death.
Now, the instructors on the Drop Zone, the Black Hats, saw Mac’s cartwheel landing and began to scream at him through electrically amplified megaphone:
“HEY LEG! WHO THE HELL TAUGHT YOU TO DO A DOWN-WIND LANDING, LEG!”
A leg was a term used to refer to a soldier who was not airborne qualified. By military doctrine, soldiers can be referred to as regular straight-leg infantry, and airborne infantry. Leg is a mildly derogatory term, yet a moniker of pride used by airborne forces.
Airborne pipe-hitters from the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) packed in their jump aircraft
Now Mac was being dragged by the wind across the ground further contributing to his anguish, as he could not release his parachute connection on his chest. That further infuriated the Black Hats:
“GODDAMNIT LEG, PULL YOUR CANOPY RELEASES, LEG… YOU STINKING LEG!!!”
A fellow student ran in front of Mac’s inflated parachute and collapsed it. Mac now had to stow all of his parachute into a kitbag and carry his gear to an assembly zone where students were gathered… all with just one good arm and the other in extreme pain.
Airborne soldier about to make contact with the ground; always a tense moment
Mac stumbled to the assembly point. His assessment of the event sums up what an amazing warrior Pat Mac is, and why I regard him such esteem to this day (words to the effect): “I didn’t really know what to think at the time; I mean, it was my first time and I really had no idea what to expect. To me, that was just what jumping was like… what every jump would be like… and I was willing to accept that.”
Pulling open his BDU shirt he saw that his biceps had been reassigned south of his shoulder to his forearm; the skin was stretched so tight that it had taken on a transparent form revealing the color of the sinew and blood vessels thereunder. He showed it to a couple of other students to see if their arms all looked the same way; none did. Only then did Mac realize his plight.
Mac had to have surgery to pull his bicep back up to his humerus to re-attach it, leaving him a gnarly scarred reminder. One of my team brothers in Delta also suffered the same fate as Mac in jump school. His static line looped under his arm. When he jumped he was momentarily towed; his biceps torn and pulled down to his forearm.
His biceps never really recovered to its original position, rather a bit low on his humerus toward his elbow. It really looked funny when he flexed his biceps, intentionally flexing it often in the gym with accompanying remarks such as: “(flexing) Just came in to pump up ol’ Betsy here… I know she looks pretty ripped now, but you should have seen how ripped she was in jump school!”
The trauma associated with a towed jumper scenario would easily be “quittin’ time” for most folks, with no fault assigned or explanation required. For Pat McNamara it was just one entry in a long line of threats that tried to beat him down and prevent him from obtaining his warrior goal. He went on to be arguably the best physically fit and top-performing Delta Operator of our era, and continues today to even exceed the standards that we maintained in the Unit.
There’s a reason Navy carrier pilots are so cocky.
Their jobs would be challenging if they were just steering small hunks of metal through the air at high speed in combat, but they also take off and land on huge floating hunks of metal moving at low speed through the waves.
In this video from PBS, the already challenging task of landing on a floating deck gets worse in rough seas. With large waves striking the USS Nimitz, the flight deck pitches dozens of feet up and down, making the pilots’ jobs even harder.
Benjamin C. Bradlee was a legendary newsman who led The Washington Post through the Pentagon Papers Affair and the Watergate Scandal, stories that cemented the publication’s world-class status. He set the standard for excellence in journalism and organizational leadership. He also had a legendary sense of humor.
He studied at Harvard, where he was a member of the university’s Navy Reserve Officers Training Corps detachment. Shortly after graduating in 1942, he was sent to the Pacific Theater as a newly-minted ensign. At 20 years old, he was made officer of the deck. At 21, he was, as he put it, “driving a ship around the Pacific Ocean.” He chose the Navy for a reason.
“That was such a “good war,” he told the U.S. Naval Institute’s Naval History magazine. “And serving in the Navy was such a guarantee of action. You weren’t going out to the Pacific Ocean in a destroyer or cruiser without being in the middle of it all.” He was onboard the USS Philip, a destroyer in the Solomon Islands campaign.
In that same 1995 interview, he recalled a time when a reader questioned his patriotism, loyalty, and integrity.
“A guy once wrote a letter to me that started off, ‘Dear Communist,'” Bradlee said. “He impugned my patriotism and certainly impugned my war. I promptly wrote back, ‘Dear A-hole. This is what I did during the war, so don’t give me any sh-t.’ It turned out that he had been in the Marine Corps during the war. We had taken his division to Bougainville and then to Saipan. We had been in some of the same battles. He wrote back, saying I wasn’t such a bad guy after all, and we started a great correspondence.”
His obituary, written by the 50-year veteran Post reporter, Robert G. Kaiser also remembered Bradlee’s patriotism in the same vein:
“Mr. Bradlee’s wartime experience left him an unabashed patriot who bristled whenever critics of the newspaper accused it of helping America’s enemies. He sometimes agreed to keep stories out of the paper when government officials convinced him that they might cause serious harm.”
He became the leader of The Washington Post newsroom in 1965, transforming it in what his Washington Post obituary describes as “combining compelling news stories based on aggressive reporting with engaging feature pieces of a kind previously associated with the best magazines… charm and gift for leadership helped him hire and inspire a talented staff and eventually made him the most celebrated newspaper editor of his era.”
He was almost awarded a Purple Heart for taking a piece of Japanese shrapnel in rear — his rear, not the ship’s — a piece he kept for most of his life.
“It must have hit the deck first or maybe even the stack, then the deck, and then bounced up and hit me in the ass. It was hot when I picked it up. I had it here on my desk, but one of the kids took it to school for show-and-tell and never brought it back.”
For his life’s work, Bradlee was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor the United States can give a civilian, in 2013. He died the next year at age 93.
In defusing tensions between the United States and North Korea in 2018, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un returned the remains of 55 allied troops, kept by the North for the previous 65 years or more. Almost 7,700 members of the United States Military remain unidentified from the Korean War, which killed more than 36,000.
North Korea returned the remains in July 2018 after a historic summit with President Donald Trump in Singapore. It was a first for a sitting President to meet the reclusive leader of North Korea and a first for the North Korean dictator to meet with a non-Chinese foreign leader outside of the Hermit Kingdom.
Transfer cases, containing the remains of what are believed to be U.S. service members lost in the Korean War, line a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III aircraft during an honorable carry ceremony at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Apryl Hall)
Unidentified remains were transferred from the United Nations Command in South Korea to the U.S. Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, the team that manages the repatriation of American war dead, identifies them, and ensures they are returned to their families for a proper burial. They were received in an “honorable carry” ceremony in Hawaii.
The only personal item returned by North Korea that could identify any of the remains was the dog tag of Army medic Master Sgt. Charles H. McDaniel. It was the first of such returns since President George W. Bush halted the cooperation with North Korea in 2005.
An honor guard detail of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command personnel conducts an honorable carry ceremony at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, Aug. 1, 2018.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Apryl Hall)
DPAA’s mission is to search for, find, and account for missing Defense Department personnel from World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, the Gulf War, and other recent conflicts. More than 82,000 Americans remain missing from those conflicts, with 34,000 believed to be recoverable.
The recently recovered remains have been mostly identified. The lab responsible is still finalizing the process and doing one last quality check before telling the families of the fallen. Master Sgt. McDaniel’s family has already received his dog tags, along with the hope that their long-lost father is among the honored dead on their way home. Only three others have been positively identified thus far.
Trump and Kim are expected to meet again in Hanoi, Vietnam in 2019.
Despite some reports to the contrary, the Army is still looking for a new rifle that uses a 7.62mm cartridge.
“The chief [U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley] wanted an interim combat rifle, or he was only going to fulfill a requirement to have a squad-designated marksman in each squad, called a squad-designated marksman rifle,” said the Army’s top gear guyer, Brig. Gen. Brian Cummings. “So, there are two efforts going on to get a 7.62 inside the squad.”
What are those two efforts? Cummings said that course of action No. 1 is to have one Soldier in a squad carrying the Squad-Designated Marksman Rifle, or SDMR. Course of action No. 2, he said, is to have multiple Soldiers in a squad with the Interim Combat Service Rifle, or ICSR. Both are 7.62mm weapons.
The SDMR is already a program of record for the Army, Cummings said, and there is a weapon already identified to fill that role: the M110A1 Compact Semi-Automatic Sniper System, or CSASS. That weapon is undergoing testing now, Cumming said.
But the ICSR and the SDMR do not represent the future for what weapons will be issued to most Soldiers.
“Right now, many are focused on the ICSR or SDMR,” Cummings said. “But that’s not the long-term way ahead. The long-term way ahead is a brand new rifle for all of the Department of Defense called the Next Generation Squad Weapon.”
The Next Generation Squad Weapon, or NGSW, is actually two weapons, he said. It’ll include one rifle to replace the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon, and then a carbine that replaces the M4. Both the M249 and the M4 use the 5.56mm cartridge. The NGSW will likely use a different caliber cartridge than 5.56mm.
“For the next-generation, we wanted to make one end-all solution,” Cummings said. “With the M4, when you look at it, it’s got all these things hanging on top of it. We keep evolving by putting on things. The next-generation is going to be kind of like what we did with the pistol, with the modular handgun system. It’ll be one complete system, with weapon, magazine, ammo and fire control on it and we will cut down on the load and integration issues associated with it.”
The general said the U.S. Marine Corps is “on board” with development of the NGSW, and the British are interested as well.
Cummings said the Army can expect to start seeing the Next Generation Squad Weapon by 2022, in about five years. That’ll include the weapon, magazine and bullet. Later, by 2025, he said, Soldiers can expect to see a fully-developed fire-control system.
Until then, Cummings said, the Army is working on an interim solution to get a larger-caliber rifle into the hands of at least some Soldiers. It’ll either be the SDMR in the hands of one Soldier, or the ICSR in the hands of some Soldiers. But, he said, “the final decision has not been made.”
Fielding the M17 pistol
Come November, the XM17 handgun, also called the “Modular Handgun System,” or MHS, will drop the “X,” which designates it as “experimental” and will instead be called the M17.
At that time, the Army is expected to reach a conditional material release for the MHS, and will issue some 2,000 of the pistols to the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
The “Screaming Eagles” will be the first in a long line of units to receive the new 9mm pistol, which is meant as a replacement for the existing M9, which is quickly approaching the end of its useful service life.
Also among the first to receive the new pistol will be the 3rd Cavalry Regiment at Fort Hood, Texas, as well as one of the Army’s new security force assistance brigades.
All three units will have the new M17 handgun issued to them by the end of the year, Cummings said, who serves as Program Executive Officer Soldier at Fort Belvoir, Virginia.
While the XM17 pistol is manufactured by Sig Sauer and is based on Sig Sauer’s existing P320 pistol, Cummings brushed off comparisons between the two weapons.
“It’s a different weapons system,” Cummings said.
As the Program Executive Officer Soldier, Cummings is responsible for managing those Army programs that provide most of the things Soldiers carry or wear. That includes, among other things, individual and crew-served weapons, protective gear, weapons sights and sensors, and uniform items.
The general said that both the M17, which is a full-sized version of the pistol, and the M18, which is a compact version, include different safety features than the P320 pistol, as well as different requirements for accuracy and reliability.
Cummings also said that the new pistol may see more action than its predecessor, the M9, which was primarily issued as a personal protection weapon.
“We’re looking at more than the traditional basis of issue, where we are doing a one-for-one replacement,” he said. The M17 and M18, he said, have also proven good for close-quarters combat, and so might be issued to some units and Soldiers to fill that role as well.
During World War II, the infamous German General Erwin Rommel once said, “Give me the Maori Battalion and I will conquer the world.” Maoris were descended from Eastern Polynesians who canoed all the way from Polynesia to New Zealand in the 13th century. That’s a distance of at least 900 miles. They canoed 900 miles.
So if that’s not enough to give you an indication of how terribly awesome they are, there’s the haka:
The haka is a foot-stomping, tongue lashing, rhythmic dance performed by warriors to intimidate their enemies and proclaim their strength before the gods. It has become more widely known around the world because New Zealand sports teams perform a haka before meeting their opposition on the field.
Modern militaries also perform the haka, and we’ve got some of the best right here, ranked by how intense they are:
Prince Harry performs haka during day with NZ military
The Duke of Sussex paid his respects to the people of New Zealand with a haka and you can just see the concentration on this face. I’m no mind-reader, but I have no doubt his inner monologue reads “don’t f*** up don’t f*** up don’t f*** up.”
1. 2/1 RNZIR Battalion bids farewell to fallen comrades
“This video shows the soldiers of 2/1 RNZIR Battalion performing their unit haka, powerfully acknowledging the lives and feats of their fallen comrades as they come onto the Unit’s parade ground. It is also an emotive farewell for they will leave via the waharoa (the carved entrance way) for the very last time,” wrote the NZ Defence Force.
This is a pretty powerful way to say goodbye.
Now just imagine if a whole battalion did that before a fight. It’d be unsettling at the very least. And it was. In the fall of 1942, the 28th Maori Battalion played a pivotal role in the Second Battle of El Alamein, which would mark the culmination of the North African Campaign. Rommel’s defeat forced him to withdraw to Tunisia, where the Germans would surrender the following spring. After encountering the Maori, Rommel had nothing but praise for the fierce warriors.
As an American, this ritual could seem….strange — but that’s kind of the point. The haka was meant to freak out the enemy. It challenged opponents and displayed a tribe’s pride, strength, and unity.
It is a full-body masterpiece of movement and shouts. The details are fascinating, including showing the whites of the eyes, sticking out the tongue, slapping thighs and stomping, and chanting — and as you can see, these guys take it very seriously.
The penultimate episode of season one brings us Chapter 7: The Reckoning, wherein director Deborah Chow returns — and brings along some familiar faces.
Here’s your spoiler warning:
The Mandalorian, Disney+
Our Mandalorian-of-honor receives a transmission from Greef Carga, who has a proposition that is clearly a trap. Navarro is now overrun with Imperial troopers and Carga wants them off his back, so he’s willing to team up with Mando to kill The Client.
Our Mandalorian seems to decide that this is the best deal he can get so he decides to take Carga up on his deal — but not without reinforcement. He returns to Sorgan to recruit Cara Dune, who’s brawling for credits in a bar (fun to see Gina Carano showing off some of her moves).
To my surprise, they leave Omera behind (I’m still waiting to find out why she’s such a good marksman) and head off to Arvala-7 to grab Kuiil instead.
The Mandalorian, Disney+
Here we learn that the Ugnaught has spent the time since we last saw him repairing and reprogramming IG-11. For some reason that hasn’t yet paid off, this episode spends a lot of time on the montage of IG-11’s journey back to functioning droid. I feel like I got the gist the first time Kuiil said he reprogrammed the killing out of IG-11?
Kuill finally agrees to accompany Mando but insists on bringing IG-11 and three blurrg with him.
(Side note: I basically just ignore space and time in Star Wars otherwise I’ll get too distracted wondering how those blurrg fit in the ship? And how much time has actually passed? It only feels like a few days or weeks but I guess it’s longer?)
Silly billy! No Force-choking friends without their consent!
The Mandalorian, Disney+
During their flight back to Navarro, Mando and Cara arm-wrestle. Seeing this, the Yoda Baby misinterprets Cara’s actions as an attack against Mando so he decides to Force-choke her.
“That’s not cool!” Haha but it is hilarious. Little baby Force-choke! That’s impressive!
What’s most interesting is the reaction — no one in the ship talks about the Force after the incident. Kuiil is theoretically old enough to remember the time of the Jedi Order (he mentions to Cara that he’s lived three human lifespans), but none of the group seem to know firsthand about the Force.
Beware the intelligent adversary.
The Mandalorian, Disney+
On Navarro, the group meets up with Carga and his back-up. They decide to walk until sundown, camp for the night, then head into the city at first light. Unfortunately, they are attacked by some sort of pack of flying dragons or mynocks or wyverns. The creatures carry off two blurrgs (which was deeply unsettling — why do the innocents always have to die?) and rake Carga’s arm with poisonous claws.
Here we get to learn a pretty fun new fact about the Force — it can be used for healing. The Yoda Baby walks up to Carga, places his tiny little hand on Carga’s wounded arm, and closes the wound and eliminates the poison. Cool!
Carga thought so, too, because the next day he shoots his men and confesses that they were just going to turn on Mando. Now Carga is committed to saving the baby and killing The Client.
He suggests there will only be about four Stormtroopers guarding The Client and not to worry…
Only now, Kuiil will take the baby back to the Razor Crest and they’ll pull the ol’ fake-prisoner bit, bringing in Mando in handcuffs, and just pretend the baby is in the carrier.
Insert a “we’ve got company” quote here.
The Mandalorian, Disney+
Of course, the plan goes awry. Though The Client apparently believes the baby is “sleeping,” his boss doesn’t. Moff Gideon (played by Breaking Bad’s Giancarlo Esposito) calls via hologram right before ordering an attack on everyone in the room. He shows up in a fancy TIE fighter to join his Death Troopers and trap Mando and Cara behind enemy lines.
Mando then decides to, for some reason, communicate with Kuiil over comms that are easily intercepted by Scout Troopers, who take off to capture Kuiil.
A very stressful race begins, with Kuiil and the Yoda Baby on a fleeing blurrg, racing toward the ship while the Scout Troopers speed off toward them. (I mean, how did the Scout Troopers know which way to go? Why didn’t Mando use clean comms — or at least some code?? Questions for another day…)
Honestly, I was waiting for IG-11 to burst out of the ship and save the day…but instead we cut abruptly to the Yoda Baby on the ground, scooped up by a Scout Trooper, leaving the dead blurrg and Kuiil in their wake.
With that, we’re left on an Empire-like cliffhanger waiting for the finale on Dec. 27.
You’ve heard of Elf On The Shelf but are you ready forpic.twitter.com/0dyFHkbkCR
Left: Bob Gunton. Right: Bob in Vietnam as an RTO. Photo credit Bob Gunton.
Bob Gunton is a prolific stage actor known for his roles in Evita and Sweeney Todd on Broadway where his most well-known film role is as Warden Norton in The Shawshank Redemption. He served with distinction in the Vietnam War in the last great multi-unit battle of the conflict, The Siege of Firebase Ripcord. This is his story.
Special Note: “Bob Gunton has just completed a memoir entitled “…OR AM I BEING OBTUSE?…”
WATM: Tell me about your family and your life growing up?
My mom and dad met at a USO dance on Santa Monica pier and within two weeks they were married. I am the oldest of six children, three boys and three girls. My parents were from the coal country; my father being from Pennsylvania (Anthracite-hard coal) and my mother being from the coal country of Montana (Bituminous-soft coal), so I have the hard and soft coal running through my blood.
I had been influenced by many folk singers in high school where I was affected by the ethos of folk music through such acts as The Kingston Trio, The Limeliters, The Brothers Four, Joan Baez, and Bob Dylan. I put together a trio called The Deacons. We went around to coffee houses to perform, like the Mon Ami in Orange, CA. Around the same time as we performed at Mon Ami, Steve Martin was on the marquee as well since he grew up in Orange County.
I went to the seminary of Paulist Fathers — St. Peter’s College in Baltimore, Maryland for a few years from 1963 to 1966. I had started out as a supporter of the Vietnam War in 1963. I’d even made a speech at my high school for a Toastmasters Speech Contest about the “domino theory,” but then my views changed rather dramatically after the seminary. My opinion shifted especially after Senator Eugene McCarthy and Senator Robert F. Kennedy moved away from the Democratic party line supporting the Vietnam War.
A friend and fellow seminarian classmate arranged for me to audition for his father, Paul Crabtree, who was a successful Broadway actor, writer and director. He’d written a musical called TENNESSEE, USA! for the new theatre he had founded — The Cumberland County Playhouse — in Crossville, Tennessee. It was going to run during the summer between seminary and Novitiate. I had done a couple of operettas in high school. when my thoughts were of making a difference as a priest. After that wonderful summer I recognized that I was gifted far more in music, acting and performing than in what was required to be a good priest. I left the seminary and had gone to UC Irvine to study theater when I dropped out for a semester to do Carousel in Tennessee. I knew I was chancing being. drafted. And when I returned to California, I was.
When I was called up, I had to spend some time thinking if I was a Conscientious Objector (CO). My father had been in the Marine Corps during WWII in the Pacific and I had grown up steeped in WWII history. My father’s six brothers were all WWII veterans as well. By that time, I was opposed to The Vietnam War. I probably could have gotten a CO because of my divinity school experience. But although I was opposed to the Vietnam War, I was not opposed then to a just war in general. I didn’t feel I had the right to be a CO because of my political beliefs. I also had to ask myself if I could measure up to my father, he was a supporter of the war. My father and I had lots of very agitated and loud arguments about the war.
After my time in Vietnam and I had come home I discovered that my father had grown long hair, sideburns and had himself had come to oppose the war. My willingness to go fight may have affected him in some way. While I was in Nam I had been given the Bronze Star with a V (for Valor.) Our local paper had run a story on it. Many years later, when my father passed as the eldest son, I had to clean out his belongings etc. I found in his wallet a folded-up piece of plastic covered newspaper clipping about my Bronze Star award. He had carried it in his wallet for many years. All of this brought us much closer together than in the first twenty years of my life. I had earned his respect and we could speak to each other as not just father and son, but as survivors of conflict.
WATM: What is the most distinct memory of your mother and your father?
Hmm…It’s a memory shared with me after Dad had died. While he was alive my father’s Marine Corps buddy, Robert Newtbaar, had borrowed my father’s dress blues and wanted to return them. When I came to pick them up, he told me a story about my father. When my father and he were on a troop ship heading to Hawaii, then on to the South Pacific, Newtbaar had become very depressed and anxious about what might happen to him. He decided he was going to jump overboard. Newtbaar made a move and was on his way over the rail, when my father dashed over and pulled him back onto ship amid a volley of curses. Newtbaar said very tearfully that my father had saved his life.
After they got back and were mustered out of the Corps, Newtbar, who was from a fairly wealthy family, came to my father with ,000. He loved to hear my father sing, especially Frankie Lane’s hit songs. like “Georgia,” “Jezebel” and “The Flying Dutchman.” Newtbaar told my father he had the most beautiful voice he had ever heard. He wanted my father to go to Hollywood and be a singer.
However, my father already had a wife and two kids and was working in a grocery store. He was in no position to give up his responsibilities for his family in order to pursue a singing career. He’d actually had to rejoin the USMC at Marine Corps Air Station El Toro just to find housing for our family. A few years later Dad suffered an injury in a grocery store in Santa Monica which resulted in a case of amnesia. He eventually recovered from his injury; however, he lost a lot of memories of WWII and the early post war period. We had some pictures from his time in the service. I also learned from his friends some of what my father had experienced. It was touching for Newtbar to share these stories with me and they impacted my life.
My family would occasionally in the summer and drive up to Montana to visit my grandmother and uncle on my mother’s side. Part of the journey up there was along a stretch of highway which was called the Grapevine which is now the I-5, which was full of steep switchbacks and rapid changes of elevation. My father was agoraphobic which I learned through my childhood. As an adult I took my parents NYC and then to Windows on the World, which was a restaurant overlooking the city in the North Tower of the World Trade Center on floors 106 and 107. My father stood at the back of the elevator once the doors opened to the restaurant, saw the tip-tops of skyscrapers. He barely was able to inch his way around with his back against the center walls. It was the most vulnerable I had ever seen him.
The WTC memory makes me flash back to those trips to Montana where my father would look out the window over the rocks and chasms below. After looking he would get anxious and sweaty. My mother would reach out and touch his shoulder. She’d start singing “Whispering Hope”, which is a gospel song, but also popular at the time. As she began singing, my father would join in. All of a sudden, we kids in the back seat, comforted by the sound of their soothing harmony. For us, their duet signified their love for us and their shared history together.
The grapevine highway. Photo credit SVC History.
A view from Windows on the World in the WTC’s North Tower. Photo credit Literary Hub.
WATM: What values were stressed at home?
Our Catholic Faith; our blue-collar status; my parents’ Depression-Era values, sense of responsibility. All of us had to pitch in. My father was self-taught and a great reader but was educated only through the seventh grade. My mother had been a schoolteacher in a one room schoolhouse in Montana. There was a strong expectation that all of us would work hard in school and be a good person. Basic, decent 1950’s values.
Norman Rockwell’s Freedom from Want painting. Photo credit artsy.com.
WATM: What influenced you to join the US Army, what was your experience and what lessons did you take away from your service?
I was drafted. Basic and Advanced Infantry training were tough physically in many ways since I was not particularly athletic. I was appointed cadence caller for our early morning five-mile runs probably because of my loud voice. One of my cadences calls was, “…we are the mighty, mighty mighty Charlie, everywhere we go people want to know who we are, so we tell them, we are Charlie, mighty mighty Charlie…” Classic. Although I sometimes ad libbed a couple, including: “If you got a half a buck….Call someone who gives a (bleep.)” I was sent to Nam near the end of the war during Vietnamization and was put into an S-1 shop for the 101st Airborne in Bien Hoa. What a relief! My thoughts were of a dry hooch, spit-shined boots, pressed combat fatigues, and weekends in Saigon. I lasted at the S-1 just one week. Because American grunts were being phased out of the war, the Division Commander wanted all soldiers with a combat MOS to be sent out into the field to get the ARVN up to speed. I was an 11B-20 –infantry, boonie rat, ground pounder — so off I went to “the bush.”
I was sent up to I Corps in Quang Tri province, in I Corps. I reported to the 2nd of the 501st Battalion Headquarters and then to their Charlie Company, Third Platoon. The platoon leader, SGT Yonashiru, took a look at me — being six feet tall and husky. the PL asked, “who’s the (effing) cherry?” He scoped me out. Given my height and apparent strength he ordered me to take the “gun” or the “radio”. The “gun” was the .50 caliber machine gun. I chose the radio, which seemed kind of “show business” to me. Apparently, some of the grunts initially thought I might be a Criminal Investigation Division (CID) narc because I showed up by myself to the unit with spit shined boots, crisp fatigues. I was also a few years older than the rest of the platoon. I was warned by a fellow soldier about being viewed as a narc and warned me about “fragging.” Fragging described when someone rolls a grenade under another soldier’s hooch to get rid of a “problem”. For the first time in Vietnam I was really scared.
I went into the company area and went up to a soul brother and asked for a doobie. I’d never smoked grass in my life. He handed me a joint. I stood there in the company area and toked up so anyone watching would see. I then went back to my hooch and passed out for like twelve hours. From then on, I was one of the guys and no longer a target of fragging. I was now “in” in the outfit.
Bob in a UH-1N high above Thua Thien Province, Vietnam 1970. Photo credit Bob Gunton
They made me the platoon, eventually company, and then battalion Radio Telephone Operator (RTO). Near the end of my year there in July 1970 our battalion was Op-Con to the 3rd Brigade of the 101st. They were seeking to take over a hilltop above the A Shau Valley where the US had been driven out a few years earlier during the “Hamburger Hill” period. Fire Support Base Ripcord was going to be emplaced during this two-brigade assault operation. At this time, I was just given the battalion RTO job and would be with the battalion CO, XO and the like on Ripcord itself. At the same time, my guys with Charlie company 2nd of the 501st were going to assault the area around FSB Ripcord with fellow companies of the 3rd Brigade. Bn Intel determined that thousands of the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) were going to assault the FSB. A day or two after the Brigade-sized assault on the AO, my former unit was caught in a command detonated ambush followed by an early morning assault by the NVA. All during this time I had been talking on the radio to my guys, handling supply and normal stuff.
One of my best friends there was fellow soldier Joe Patterson, a funny guy and great audience for my shenanigans. The night before they were hit, we were talking on the Delta One radio which was scrambled so the enemy could not intercept our transmissions. He told me, “Gunton, I have a really bad feeling about this one.” There had been no contact yet, but he still felt bad about the operation. Sure enough when the unit was hit, Joey was gravely wounded. I called in the MEDEVAC for him and for our company commander. We had one KIA from Charlie’s Headquarters Company where this soldier had had to go out to replace someone’s weapon and had to stay overnight and was killed during the assault. It was a terribly fraught and frightening time.
Bob along the Song Bo River. Photo credit Bob Gunton.
There were many major encounters around Ripcord which turned out to be the biggest, final, multi-unit battle in Vietnam. There have been books and films about it. We went on like that for about a week or longer. In the Tactical Operations Center (TOC) we had three RTOs. The intel suggested that the firebase itself would soon be under attack. At one point the NVA got really lucky when they shot down a Chinook over the ammo dump as it was unloading ammo. All of the crew survived the crash, but the entire ammo dump started cooking off: phosphorus, artillery, HE and CS rounds. All of that CS gas started infiltrating into the bunkers where none of us had gas masks, so we had to take our t-shirts and wet them to put over our face so as not to be forced out of our bunkers.
At one point I had to urinate really badly. With the rounds cooking off and NVA mortars coming in, I wasn’t about to saunter outside to one of the “Piss tubes.” The bunkers were well constructed and had screen doors. I got to the door and decided I would open the door, step out halfway or so and then take a whiz. I was just about to finish when I heard, “TROOP!” right behind me. It was the brigade commander whose call sign was Black Spade. I stood to attention and zipped up. Other soldiers were in that part of the bunker when the Brigade Commander told me with cold anger:, “if you have to go take a piss, go find a piss tube. We are NOT animals in here.” It was a very embarrassing moment. I felt lower than snake shit. A few days later the Brigade Commander was evaluating positions outside when a mortar round landed directly on him. He and a fellow officer were killed immediately. The terrible irony of that sequence of events rocked me for a while.
Companies then started being extracted from around Ripcord and then it was our HQ’s time to leave. We knew Ripcord was going to be abandoned and the Army would blow up what they could, then carpet bomb it with B-52 strikes. We got back to LZ Sally and all of us in HQ company gets called together. A member of the battalion staff informed us about how two Delta One radios had been left behind in our TOC on Ripcord. The NVA could potentially use those radios against us. They needed two “volunteers” to go back and get them, which really meant the two who were least “short” would go. I was pretty damn short — but not short enough. I went with another younger RTO on a slick (Huey helicopter) to head back up there. On the way out, one of the pilots turned around in the chopper and made a hand dunking motion. Ripcord was taking incoming fire. We had to jump off the helicopter at about five or six feet off the ground as he was not going to land because of the incoming.
We found a hole to jump in and then found the Delta One radios. There were a lot of wounded soldiers that needed to be taken off the fire base before anyone else could go. We knew that no one could head back to base until all the wounded had been evacuated. So me and the other RTO jumped in and helped load the wounded onto slicks while the mortars and rockets continued falling. Just before the sun set over Laos we were able to get on a chopper to head back. I don’t think any of that involved any kind of valor much less heroism, but the battalion commander put us in for Bronze Stars, particularly for the MEDEVAC loading.
The questions of what is cowardice, what is heroism, what is self-preservation have been with me all my life. I’ve even used them in my acting. Everything is shades of gray, especially when it comes to combat and moral decisions that we make. Was I wrong not to go the piss tube with the self-preservation involved and the death of Black Spade as he followed his own advice and left the 3rd Brigade without leadership for a while. These experiences have definitely shaped my moral view of the universe. I have to accept that even the worst situations, the best remedies are going to be mixed. How we are trained, our wisdom, and education play their parts in our decisions and choices. But we are human, have mixed emotions, and inner conflicts. I have applied these in my life successfully and unsuccessfully.
MEDEVACs are miles ahead of what we had in Vietnam. There was an instance where a soldier from our recon platoon left the wire at night to take a crap. One of his buddies mistakenly set off a claymore on him and killed him. When the chopper came in to evac the body there were huge winds in the AO and they could not get a jungle penetrator through the triple canopy jungle to get the body out so they threw the soldiers a body bag. The soldiers then had to hump the corpse out for three or four days to get to a place where the chopper could get in.
I helped prevent a mutiny earlier that year where a loach (OH-6 Cayuse helicopter) had been shot down where I was a company RTO then. Our company was tasked to go down into this valley area to find the chopper to see if the pilot had survived. Our company commander was against the war and did all he could to stay out of it. He was one of the only officers I had met like that. The company commander wouldn’t lead down and the battalion commander call sign Driver had to fly out. The company commander was ordered to go down after being chewed out by the battalion CO and I told him, “we got a lawful order to go down and we needed to go otherwise this is bad stuff.” We did end up following orders to go down where we found the loach with the pilot dead. The pilot’s body was able to be sent back to Graves and Registration for eventual burial. I was against the war but found myself on the other side of the argument with the company commander. It was gray even then and was not cut and dried. Our mission was, for most of us, to save each other and our buddies got back.
Charlie company had its 50th reunion, almost 50 years to the day many were injured including Joey Patterson at the FSB Ripcord battle. Due to Covid-19 I was not able to fly out to Pennsylvania. However, I did do a Zoom call and got see them all and meet their wives. Joey and I caught up as well. It was a great virtual reunion due to the COVID pandemic. Keeping the threads of your life together along the way can give you a better sense of where you are from and going.
WATM: What values have you carried over from the Army into acting and film?
When filming a movie, you are all in it together where everyone has their own duty. The expectation is that everyone knows exactly what they have to do and to do it as quickly and gracefully as they can. It includes keeping spirits up when waiting out a rainstorm to restart filming and when moving locations and loading up the trucks is like heading to another combat assault. So, I must have my shit together and know my lines cold. There is a lot that carries over from being in the military to working on a film production. You depend on each other and don’t want a weak link and sure as hell don’t want to be that weak link.
WATM: What is the most fulfilling stage and/or film role you have done?
Warden Norton from The Shawshank Redemption without a doubt is the best role I have ever had. It is the best movie I have ever been in. I have been back to many reunions and celebrations at the prison. People go to visit the prison and stay overnight. They even have a Shawshank trail where people get to see all the outside filming locations and then take a tour of the prison where it has artifacts from the movie. I have been to every continent except Antarctica and everywhere I go people come up to me to speak about The Shawshank Redemption. People come up to me in Europe, South America, Australia where to be a part of a movie that is such high quality and well-known across the board is truly a blessing.
I was invited to Akron for a special day celebrating Shawshank Redemption and by the local AA Akron baseball team the Rubber Ducks to throw out the first pitch. They also ordered from China a thousand bobble head Warden Nortons. The first thousand people to come in would get one where I would sign them. I have one for myself and have given a few away too.
*He shares some of the best quotes people request when he signs autographs from the film are, “Put your trust in the Lord; your ass belongs to me,” “Lord, it’s a miracle! The man up and vanished like a fart in the wind,” and “…or am I being obtuse.”
Mr. Gunton as Warden Samuel Norton of Shawshank State Prison. Photo credit to IMDB.com
Mr. Gunton in Akron with the Warden Norton bobble head. Photo credit Lake Highlands Advocate.
WATM: What was your experience like in working with such theatrical talents as Hal Prince, Patti LuPone, Theodore Mann, Susan H. Schulman, Beth Fowler and then with such film talents such as Oliver Stone, Tim Robbins, Frank Darabont, Clint Eastwood, Sly Stallone, Sandra Bullock and the like?
Hal Prince was a key person in my career and am grateful to him. Oliver Stone was interesting and challenging — a brilliant man. I enjoyed working with Robin Williams perhaps more than anyone else. Jim Carrey is a deep thinker as well as being very charming, well-read and generous. Jim was extremely funny as well. I have liked most everyone I have worked with.
I got to play a chaplain in a film with Stacey Keach named Mission of the Shark: The Saga of the USS Indianapolis. I enjoy playing priests and military personnel because I feel I can put a little spin on the ball and make them more interesting and factual. My chaplain character got eaten by a shark. I had to do some tricky timing with holding my breath for the scenes of being eaten by the shark. Two divers were holding my feet where they start shaking me and then pull me down really fast. If my timing wasn’t spot on in taking in breath, then having to hold it while they release a blood bag, to show his guy is really gone it can be problematic. It was tricky to film, but nothing like the crew from the Indianapolis though. Floating on a funky, tiny life-raft, off the coast of the Bahamas, with Stacy Keach and I laughing our butts off, was not a hardship assignment.
Working with Clint Eastwood was good. He has a fantastic crew. He was a gentlemen and one of the quietest directors I have ever worked for. He got that from doing so many Westerns where a director would yell “action” and people would get thrown off their horse when it bolted from the shouting. Instead of “action” Clint would just quietly say, “go ahead.”
I have maintained close ties with the Paulist Fathers even done work for Paulist Productions as well. In the film Judas shot in Morocco in 2004, on a huge set representing The Temple in Jerusalem, I played the High Priest Caiphas. Hotter than blazes in very authentic robes etc. But I really enjoyed it.
Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton and Clancy Brown in The Shawshank Redemption.
WATM: What leadership lessons in life and from the Army have helped you most in your career?
After my service I went to NY hoping for a career in Theater. Many of my peers had gone to Yale or Julliard or Northwestern and other great schools. I had a bit of a chip on my shoulder. It wasn’t about their not serving in the war, it was because I felt they had a two- or three-year head start on their careers. Establishing a career in theater means doing low paying jobs, children’s theater and dinner theater etc. out in the boondocks. Then, if you are fortunate you work your way up to Broadway. These guys had already networked with people from their professional schools and had jumped ahead of me. I felt I had missed out on that networking.
While on Broadway after finishing “Evita” my agent told me about a play I should look at doing off-off Broadway, with no pay. Having just come from a big Broadway musical hit it didn’t sound that appetizing it was entitled “How I Got That Story”. It was about Vietnam. There were only two actors. One of the roles was a journalist and the other role was every person in Vietnam that the journalist runs into while trying to get the story of why we were in Vietnam and what it all meant. 22 different characters! Because I had been there and seen and heard and lived with a wide range of people, both genders and three races, I knew who these people were, how they spoke, walked and behaved. The roster of characters included: a Madame Nhu character, a nun, a crazy photographer, a Viet Cong officer and, most surprisingly, a 16-year-old Vietnamese bar girl. The man who wrote this play had served as a CO medic in Vietnam. I told my agent: “I don’t care if I don’t get paid, I have to do this.”
We performed in a tiny rooftop theater behind the building where John Lennon had been killed. The play got excellent reviews and was covered by many journalists who’d gotten their start serving in Vietnam as reporters. It got a lot of ink in all the newspapers, especially in the New York Times. We eventually transferred to an actual Off-Broadway theater in the theater district and we ran for nine months or so. The main thing is everyone in town saw that show including casting directors, fellow actors, movie directors including Alan Pakula (To Kill a Mockingbird, All the President’s Men, Sophie’s Choice). Alan came backstage after a performance. He said he wanted me to play an Arab in the film Rollover. He asked to meet a couple of days later where we talked mostly about Vietnam and the movie. I never auditioned. I knew he was going to have me do it and he did! It was the largest salary I had ever had for acting up to that point and opened a myriad of doors for me.
“How I Got That Story” really kicked off my career as a dramatic actor and not just a song and dance guy. At the Opening Night Party we had among others, the founders of Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Also Ed Murphy, my seminarian buddy, who had served in Vietnam as well. This entire chapter was like karma where nothing is ever wasted; that there is always something that even terrible experiences can feed your soul or change your life. In a good way. If, of course, you survive it.
Vietnam was tough, sad, and frightening, although we also often laughed our asses off with our morbid humor in part to expel our anxiety. Vietnam served an important role in my character development as well as my work in theater and in films.
On a side note, Afghanistan is one of the few wars I can say, “yeah we belong there.” We need to be there to keep them from doing anything like what happened on 9/11 ever again. I’d sign up, but I don’t think that they would have me.
“How I Got That Story” featured in the NYT from the Feb 18th, 1982 paper. Photo credit nytimes.com.
WATM: As a veteran, how do we get more veteran stories told in the Hollywood and stage arena?
We need to encourage veterans who have a story to tell them. We have had some good recent movies like American Sniper and The Hurt Locker. Most people who don’t have military experience hear our stories finding them exotic and dramatic. It is life and death with a cast of interesting characters. As an Army draftee I saw the full spectrum of humanity which makes for a lot of interesting stories.
WATM: What are you most proud of in life and your career?
Being a father to my daughter, Olivia. And happily married to a former high school classmate, Carey. Career-wise Shawshank and my last Broadway show, “Sweeney Todd”, which is the toughest stage role I had ever attempted and was well received. It felt like climbing Mount Everest to do it. It was my “swan song” to Broadway and am glad to have gone out on top. I am proud of my friendships from the seminary, Vietnam, theater and fellow film actors. I am also proud to have made it to this age and to still be working.
Distant footsteps lightly echo through the empty passageway. Two figures of different height walk briskly through the hall toward a heavy steel door labeled “General Surgery: Authorized Personnel Only.” Attached at the hand, the smaller of the two, stops abruptly pulling his mother to a halt.
She sharply whispers something in Spanish to her frightened son. The boy inches toward the now-opened door, as the bright lights expose the sweat on his sun-kissed forehead. What the anxious boy doesn’t realize is that this room has a familiarity to him. He was a patient in it once before — when he was only 8 months old. And now, same as then, he is in good hands.
Pedro Daniel Anton, 8, returned to the hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) to receive further care for his cleft lip and palate. His mother, Petronia Eche, reflects on her first experience with the Comfort caring for her son during Continuing Promise 2011, in Peru.
“In 2010, he was born with a cleft palate and when he was 8 months old and the ship came to provide care, we came for his surgery,” said Petronia, translated from Spanish. “They were very helpful, we received so much support when we had his first surgery. It was a great surgery, we were very well attended and my son came out well.”
Canadian Forces Maj. Davin Schmidt, an oral surgeon from Pembroke, Ontario, performs surgery on Pedro Anton, 8, in an operating room aboard the hospital ship USNS Comfort.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kris R. Lindstrom)
After his initial surgery, Petronia knew he needed more surgery to improve his quality of life, but had little to no success in getting the follow-up, in Peru.
“I have tried in the past to get his follow-up surgery done but we have been denied continuously,” said Petronia. “But I never gave up. As a mother I knew I needed to be there with him, I never gave up on this because I only want the best for my son.”
After more than seven years from his initial surgery, Comfort returned to Paita, Peru. Petronia’s prayers were answered and she knew he needed to get aboard to get the care he needed.
“What a coincidence, it must be fate that we are here again,” said Petronia, on the verge of tears. “We were in such a long line, sleeping outside in the lines. I was losing my spirits in the wait, but I decided to keep waiting. And out of so many people, we are here.”
Pedro and his mother arrived to the ship under the impression that he was going to have surgery on an umbilical hernia in his abdomen. When the doctors looked at his cleft lip, they realized that they had an opportunity and the resources to give him further care.
Canadian Forces Maj. Davin Schmidt (left), an oral surgeon from Pembroke, Ontario, and Capt. Michael Carson, an oral surgeon from Portsmouth, Va., perform surgery on Pedro Anton, 8, in an operating room aboard the hospital ship USNS Comfort.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kris R. Lindstrom)
“Initially, I came because he has an umbilical hernia, but the doctors told me that he needed both surgeries,” said Petronia. “Knowing that made me nervous, but I have trust in the doctors and in God. Many of the doctors here in Paita tell me they can’t help my son but here they said they can do it.”
When the call came in to the medical ward that Pedro and his mother were in, they were overcome with emotion. They both found the courage and strength to stand, take each other’s hand, walk up to surgery to complete the journey, and fulfill the reason why they were on the Comfort.
“I’ve told the doctors, that my son’s life is in their hands,” said Petronia, overcome with emotion and tears flowing down her cheeks. “I’m so appreciative of this because, here in Peru, we don’t have the money to pay for these surgeries, I have tried but we just don’t have enough. But, as a mother, I kept trying to find a way for him to get the surgery. I had faith in God and I would tell my husband that one day—someone would come to help us.”
Canadian Forces Maj. Davin Schmidt, an oral surgeon aboard Comfort, was the attending surgeon with Pedro for his cleft lip operation. He said it is common for a cleft lip and palate patient to return for further surgeries as they grow and start cutting teeth and forming a stronger jaw. He was also glad to see a repeat patient because it is a rarity that the Comfort’s doctors are ever able to follow up with the patients they treat.
Capt. Michael Carson, an oral surgeon from Portsmouth, Va., performs surgery on Pedro Anton, 8, in an operating room aboard the hospital ship USNS Comfort.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kris R. Lindstrom)
“It was very rewarding to see him here again,” said Schmidt. “I wasn’t personally involved with his care the first time, but cleft lip and palate are complicated cases that need follow-up and repeated procedures over time in a staged manner. Without this, he would not have been able to return to full function. He wouldn’t be able to eat normally, he wouldn’t be able to have normal speech and he would be at higher risk for health issues such as infections in his sinus.”
When Pedro was brought to the operating room, the surgeons and staff operated on his umbilical hernia first, completing the operation in about 20 minutes. Then, Schmidt and his staff took over for the next part of his surgery, which was very complex and took much longer.
“The patient had an alveolar cleft*, so basically what has happened in that case, is that the upper jaw of the maxilla** didn’t have bone connecting it all the way through and there was a hole where that should have been extending from the mouth to the nose,” said Schmidt. “So what we did, is we opened up that area, reconstructed the gums in that area to create a new floor of the nose.”
“We made sure there was a good seal on the palate side,” continued Schmidt. “And then we used some bone from his hip so that we can reconstruct it. We brought that bone and then we placed it into the defect that was there so that we could grow new bone and create a new full shaped maxilla that will be able to support teeth and have teeth erupt through there.”
Pedro’s surgery was a success and the hole connecting his mouth and nose, including the gap in the bone, was repaired.
“We are very excited about the procedure and I feel we got a really good result,” said Schmidt. “Checking up with Pedro right before he left the ship, he seemed to be in good spirits, and we are expecting a very good recovery for him.”
Oral surgery is performed on Pedro Anton, 8, in an operating room aboard the hospital ship USNS Comfort.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kris R. Lindstrom)
Feeling jubilant and blessed, Pedro and his mother made their way to disembark Comfort. With their journey one step closer to its completion, Petronia embraced many doctors, nurses and staff before heading back to Paita. With her heart full of graciousness and exuberance, her and her son boarded a small boat to go back ashore.
“I have to be strong for my children,” said Petronia. “I encourage them to be strong, we have suffered together throughout his journey and I am thankful to God that he is going to be okay now.”
Comfort is on an 11-week medical support mission to Central and South America as part of U.S. Southern Command’s Enduring Promise initiative. Working with health and government partners in Ecuador, Peru, Colombia and Honduras, the embarked medical team will provide care on board and at land-based medical sites, helping to relieve pressure on national medical systems caused partly by an increase in cross-border migrants. The deployment reflects the United States’ enduring promise of friendship, partnership, and solidarity with the Americas.
*An Alveolar Cleft is an opening in the bone of the upper jaw that results from a developmental defect and is present at birth. This area of the jaw that is missing bone is otherwise covered by normal mucosa and may contain teeth. (dcsurgicalarts.com)
**The maxilla forms the upper jaw by fusing together two irregularly-shaped bones along the median palatine structure, located at the midline of the roof of the mouth. The maxillary bones on each side join in the middle at the intermaxillary suture, a fused line that is created by the union of the right and left ‘halves’ of the maxilla bone, thus running down the middle of the upper jaw.(healthline.com)