Sergeant David Bleak was set to go out on a normal patrol. It was 1952 and the young medic was accompanying a U.S. Army recon patrol with the mission of probing Chinese defenses and capturing an enemy soldier for intel and interrogation. What he didn’t know, however, was that by the patrol’s end, he would kill four enemies with his bare hands while saving his comrades.
He would have decades to think about that night after the war.
Bleak rolled out with 20 soldiers in an American-occupied area of North Korea near the front lines. By 1952, the Chinese were fully committed to North Korea, which resulted in what would be, more or less, considered a stalemate for the duration of the war.
“WE HAVE AN ARMY”
The hill they were traversing, Hill 499, was bare. It lacked significant vegetation after all the weeks of fighting in the area and offered little in the way of concealment, but the enemy was out there and the Army needed more information about their positions. The 21-man unit set off at 0430 to see what they could learn while another company distracted the Chinese on the other side of the hill with a frontal attack (where another soldier was earning the Medal of Honor, strangely enough).
Unfortunately, that didn’t prove to be enough of a distraction. Bleak’s formation was spotted as soon as they began to hike their way up. Quickly, the unit came under Chinese small arms fire. A few soldiers were injured immediately. Sgt. Bleak ran up from the rear to treat them just as fast as they were hit.
The mission soon continued, as did Sgt. Bleak.
Once more they took surprise small arms fire, but this time, Bleak bum-rushed the enemy trench and dove in head-first. He snapped the neck of the first soldier he could get his hands on and then crushed the windpipe of another. As a third Chinese soldier attacked him, Bleak drew his knife and killed him with a stab to the chest.
The medic returned to his unit and began treating the soldiers wounded by the second surprise attack. As he worked, a Chinese grenade bounced off the helmet of a man standing over him. Bleak zipped into action, throwing his body over his fellow GI to shield him from the shrapnel. Luckily, no one was injured.
After succeeding in its mission, Bleak’s patrol was returning to United Nations lines as they were again ambushed — this time, wounding three. Bleak was shot in the leg as he tried to get to those who needed aid. After treating everyone (including Bleak himself), the group went to leave, but one man was so injured that he couldn’t stand. So, Bleak picked him up and carried him out of there. On his way back to base, Sgt. Bleak ran into two Chinese soldiers who tried to assault him with fixed bayonets.
Not one to be easily intimidated, Bleak rushed back at them. Deftly avoiding being bayoneted, he smashed the two Chinese men’s heads together so hard that he broke their skulls. He picked up his patient and returned to friendly lines. Because of Sgt. Bleak, every man of the 20-man patrol that was ambushed multiple times that night came home. Their mission was completed, with captured enemy soldiers and all, and only sustained a few wounds in exchange.
Later the next year, President Eisenhower presented Bleak with a well-earned Medal of Honor at a White House ceremony. Bleak would live on until age 74, dying on the same day as fellow Army medic and Medal of Honor recipient, Desmond Doss.
There’s something magical about the approach of a New Year. After all, it’s the time we tend to create wonderful fantasies about what the coming year will bring. Untold riches, a beautiful new hobby, and a six-pack that would make Schwarznegger shed a tear are at the top of many lists.
However, come the end of January – let’s face it. The struggle bus is real and the wheels are about to come off. And you know what? That’s ok!
This New Year, give yourself some grace if you make – and then break – these resolutions.
1. Limit Family Screen Time, Starting with Fortnite
I guess we could cut back an hour…or two…and parent by using less screen time in the house. But, since we’re talking crazy, I could also churn my own butter, but that’s not happening either.
2. ‘Marie Kondo’ the $@%& Out of this House Before We PCS
Converts swear by organizational queen Marie Kondo’s life-changing magic of tidying up. And soon, you too find dreams of nice, clutter-free spaces dancing in your head. This year is finally THE YEAR to de-clutter before a PCS.
But let’s face it. Once you pull out every piece of clothing and lay it on your bed, it doesn’t take long to realize this little exercise does anything but spark joy. Back into the closet it goes, right next to “The Box” and the curtains you swore would fit in the next house.
3. Not Go Into Feral-Mode Every Time My Spouse Leaves
Whether it’s a lengthy deployment, or the seemingly never-ending rounds of TDYs – it’s oh so tempting to set the loftiest of lofty self-improvement goals to stay busy while our spouses are away from home.
But, if you find yourself having ice cream, mac and cheese, or wine for dinner for a week straight, that’s ok too. We’ve all been there.
4. Stay on Top of the Laundry
Is that the third time I’ve washed the same load of laundry – because I left it overnight in the machine? Someone remind me – why did we ever want to grow up and become adults?
5. Not Buy Plane Tickets Before Leave is Finalized
Until one magical commercial later. Disney – here we come. Hopefully.
6. Finally, Step Outside of my Comfort Zone
This is the year I’m finally going to do it! I will step outside of my comfort zone, meet that village I keep hearing about, learn a new hobby, and sign up for ALL of the things. Crochet, CrossFit and Zumba – here I come!
Right after I finish catching up on my latest Facebook gossip and hiding in my car for five minutes in the commissary parking lot to avoid people…
7. Learn to Better Manage my Time
Ok, who are we kidding? I call foul and blame the military for teaching us constant lessons in the fine skill of “hurry-up…and wait.”
This year, let’s resolve to give ourselves grace and let go of the pressure to be perfect. Regrets? None.
This article originally appeared on Military Spouse. Follow @MilSpouseMag on Twitter.
Nicknamed the “Desert Fox,” Gen. Erwin Rommel was a decorated officer who was awarded the Pour le Mérite for his outstanding service on the Italian Front. During World War II, the legendary military leader commanded the 7th Panzer Division as the Nazis invaded France, earning himself a reputation as a brilliant tank commander.
While his fame turned him into a propaganda tool, Rommel had another agenda — to kill Adolf Hitler.
On July 20th, 1944, a bomb was planted and exploded under Hitler’s East Prussia Headquarters — but the Führer survived the blast.
“A very small clique of ambitious, corrupt and at the same time irrational, criminally stupid officers have conspired to do away with me. It is a tiny group of criminal elements, which will now be mercilessly extinguished,” Hitler stated as he vowed revenge.
As Hitler’s Gestapo conducted intense interrogations of bomb plot suspects, one famous name managed to surface — Erwin Rommel.
Then, in Sept. 1944, British intelligence tapped into one of the conversations of captured German General Heinrich Eberbach which revealed: “Rommel said to me that the Führer has to be killed, there is nothing for it … that man has to go.”
Weeks later, two German generals arrived at Rommel’s home and explained his narrow options. He could either be tried in the people’s court which would lead to ultimate disgrace in the Third Reich or drink a small bottle of cyanide which they brought with them.
General Erwin Rommel died that same day, but the German people were told that their famous hero passed in a car wreck. At his funeral, the German people saluted him as his casket carried away.
For many Americans, joining the military represents a second chance, free of the social obligations, economic pressures, and uncertainty of our civilian lives. For me, however, it represented a bit more: a second chance at playing a sport I thought I’d left behind.
Football in the Marine Corps was unlike anything I’d ever seen before — a league full of men that had spent their entire adult lives training for war, intrinsically tied to the Corps’ own culture of honor, courage, and commitment.
The football field was where we fought our skirmishes, and if there’s one thing Marines take seriously, it’s a fight.
Marine Corps football exists somewhere between where customs and courtesies stop, but duty remains.
Marine Corps football goes on at a number of levels. Players start by trying out for battalion-level teams that compete against one another until a champion emerges. Base champs then compete regionally for a chance to move on and compete against other regional champions, and (at least sometimes) those regional champions compete for the honor of becoming the All-Marine squad.
In order to field the most capable team, there’s little room for the customs and courtesies Marines use when interacting with their seniors. Something about trying to head butt a captain into submission to secure your place on the starting roster makes it tough to find the time for the appropriate greeting of the day. Most of us tend to forgo the pleasantries and just engage with one another as peers.
Football is, above all else, an exercise in the pursuit of victory. Your rank and MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) mean exactly sh*t between whistles. All that matters is your ability to perform when the team is counting on you. You may stand at parade rest when you bump into your wide receiver at the PX, but come gametime, he’s just another dude with the right colored jersey on.
Playing ball in the Marine Corps is as close as some of us will get to being professional athletes.
While a battalion-level football program is truly a command function, being on the team often isn’t enough to get you out of your normal training requirements. That doesn’t mean football doesn’t become another full time job anyway, however.
Playing football for the Corps is an honor that isn’t bestowed lightly: you’re expected to give the team three to four hours of practice a day, to train on your own, and to meet the general training requirements of your respective command. At one point, I was participating in a brown belt MCMAP course for four hours each morning, attending unit PT, and then going to practice from 1600 to 2000 each night.
Once the base season was over and my team had earned its place in the regional leagues, my requirements to the team only grew. At that point, the command tends to grant you a reprieve from many of your usual duties. It’s only then that football becomes more than a side gig: it becomes your profession.
The competition can be downright brutal.
Playing ball for the Marines is just like playing anywhere else, except everyone on the field has trained to some extent in ways to kill you. Marines don’t take failure lightly, they don’t like to lose, and in many cases, they’re eager and willing to sacrifice their own well being to accomplish the mission.
Many players in the Marine Corps leagues played college football and everyone on the field is already in the sort of shape active duty Marines just generally need to be in. Over my years of playing both football and rugby, I’ve never run into a more physically capable group, but to be frank, it’s not the physicality of Marines that makes the competition so daunting… it’s really all about mindset.
My tenure playing football for the Marine Corps resulted in multiple broken bones and torn ligaments (along with the corresponding surgeries to patch me back together). I like to think that’s because I’m mentally tougher than I am physically, but the truth is, I could say the same about most good Marines.
Out there on the field, the stakes may not be as high as they are in combat, but the drive to succeed for your brothers, to push through the pain and the hardship to accomplish something great, is as alive between the goal posts as it is on any battlefield. Today, the only football trophies I have in my office were earned during my two seasons starting for the Marine Corps’ Best of the West champions — and for good reason.
I still walk with a slight limp and all I had to do was play against Marines. Let that be a lesson for any foreign militaries that might fancy themselves a match for America’s crayon-eating, jar-headed, ego-driven war-fighters, because when the pads come off, the kevlar goes on.
Few cinematic crime fighters are more revered than Inspector Harry Callahan, from Clint Eastwood’s 1971 film, Dirty Harry. Before that, it might have been Frank Bullitt, as portrayed by Steve McQueen in 1968’s Bullitt. Both movies are centered around a hard-boiled police detective working the streets of San Francisco. Frank Bullitt was fighting mafia hitmen while Harry Callahan was trying to bring down an insane serial killer.
Both of these fictional detectives are based on one man: real-life San Francisco detective, Dave Toschi.
At his desk in San Francisco’s Hall of Justice, one might not have picked out the man in a bow tie as someone who served in the 24th Infantry Division in Korea. It was the unit that took the brunt of a full-scale North Korean invasion with no reinforcements in sight, the unit that held the Pusan Perimeter for months on end, and the unit that pushed the Chinese back to the 38th Parallel the very next year. David Toschi was that guy, but he truly made his name as a police detective, cleaning the streets of San Francisco for 32 years.
He joined the force right after leaving the military, in 1953. His ties, signature suits, and “exaggerated” trench coats earned him the attention of the San Fran news media, but his work was his enduring legacy – and what ended up translated to the silver screen.
Even though Toschi’s flair won him attention from the media, it was his biggest case that earned him the most acclaim – and would later be his downfall. He began working homicide in 1966. Just three years in, he was assigned to work the murder investigation of cab driver Paul Stine. Stine picked up a passenger who wanted to be taken from Geary Street to Maple Street in San Francisco’s Presidio Heights neighborhood. Just one block North of Maple, the passenger shot Stine in the head, then took his keys, wallet, and a portion of his bloody shirt.
No one knew why until three days later, when the Zodiac sent a threatening letter to the San Francisco Chronicle with a piece of Stine’s shirt, to prove the cabbie was a victim of the Zodiac; the only time Zodiac killed inside the city.
Toschi estimated that he investigated 2,000-5,000 people while looking for Zodiac but the killer was never found. Toschi left homicide in 1978 and retired in 1985. Toschi was reassigned from the Zodiac case in 1977 after it was revealed that the detective sent so-called fake “fan letters” about his own performance in the case to the San Francisco Chronicle. Zodiac was active from 1969 through the early 1970s but sent letters to the paper for years.
Zodiac had a confirmed seven victims but claimed as many as 37. His last confirmed victim was Stine, and his last letter to the paper came in 1978. The prime suspect in the Zodiac case – and the man Toschi always suspected – was U.S. Navy veteran and schoolteacher, Arthur Leigh Allen.
“Why didn’t we get this guy?” Toschi once asked the Chronicle. “I ended up with a bleeding ulcer over this case. It still haunts me. It always will.“
Toschi could never find enough evidence to bring Allen to trial, despite spending nine years on the case. Toschi’s other cases include bringing down a gang of murderers calling themselves the “Death Angels.” The group committed racially-motivated killings against white victims. They are known to have killed at least 15 but may be responsible for as many as 73 murders in San Francisco in 1974.
Dubbed the “Zebra Murders,” they caused widespread panic in the city of San Francisco at a time when the city was still reeling from the exploits of the Zodiac. Toschi was part of the team that helped bring the gang down and put them away for life.
It was Zodiac that kept his attention, but he never managed to pin the killer down.
“I’m not a vengeful type, but when a life is taken, there must be justice,” he said.
In the years following his service on the SFPD, he took a job doing private security and even as a technical advisor on the 2007 David Fincher film, Zodiac, watching actor Mark Ruffalo portray him on screen.
Every October 11, from 1970 until 2017, Toschi sat in his car at the same Presidio Heights location where Paul Stine was murdered by the Zodiac, wondering what he missed. Toschi died in January 2018 at the age of 86.
When a writer needs to think up some great, imposing force to pit against their protagonist, sometimes they go a little overboard. Yeah, it’s great to see some young farmboy find the strength within needed to lead a rebellion against an evil, galactic empire, but most times, the troops fighting alongside the protagonist don’t have magic space powers (we’re looking at you, Luke).
And yet anyone who’s never seen the show will still think they’re just silly little robots…
The Daleks (Doctor Who)
At first glance, the Daleks are kind of silly. A rolling pepper shaker with two sticks for arms might not seem imposing — until you realize they’re almost impossible to kill inside their shells.
Fighting a near-undying force that’s backed by a ridiculous amount of troops hellbent on your extermination isn’t ideal — it doesn’t matter that you could just put a hat over their eyestalk.
Yep. And the other villains in the game try to capture these things — doesn’t work like that.
The Reapers (Mass Effect)
Normally, giant, spacefaring warships are hard to kill. They’re even harder to kill if they’re sentient and are capable indoctrinating entire galaxies under their control.
Reapers are massive beings often confused with space ships. They dominate entire star systems by slowly brainwashing their inhabitants. Or, if that takes too long and they just need some troops fast, they can shoot out robot appendages to turn anyone fighting them into lifeless, obedient husks. Every conquered world joins their ranks, becoming a new enemy that our heroes must fight physically and psychologically.
A rocket launcher may be overkill, but you don’t want to take any chances.
The Flood (Halo)
What’s worse than fighting zombies? Fighting space zombies. One of the most deadly things about the Flood is that they can destroy their enemies with a single touch.
They cover battlefields in disease, meaning any step may lead to infection. The Flood is so terrifying that it takes two great armies, the humans and the Covenant, to band together and defeat them.
Poor bug. No one ever takes them seriously.
The Arachnid (Starship Troopers)
No good military satire is complete without an insane enemy that comes in insane numbers and is armed with insane psychic abilities.
One of the most deadly things about the Arachnids was how mindless they seem. Everyone who initially thought, “oh, just a giant bug” was in for a rude awakening when they discovered they can communicate telepathically and shoot down spaceships in orbit.
The Borg even managed to assimilate the great Captain Jean-Luc Picard. And adding Picard to their ranks definitely gives them an edge.
The Borg (Star Trek)
These guys are the culmination of all the terrifying things on this list. Put together highly advanced technology, overwhelming numbers, near invulnerability, and mass assimilation and you end up with the Borg.
With most sci-fi hiveminds, destroying their leader usually means the destruction of their entire force. But with the Borg, it just means another Queen must take their place.
Who would win: 40 millenia of technological advancements or one Orky boy?
The Orks (Warhammer 40k)
To be fair, every army in Warhammer 40k is a force to be reckoned with. But even in a universe filled with futuristic demons, robot zombies, and blood-thirsty elves, the Orks are considered the most successful intergalactic conquerors.
When the space savages aren’t fighting among themselves, they’ll band together to overwhelm their foes — even if those foes are Chaos gods, alien samurai, or whatever the hell Tyranids are.
There are a lot of choice for veterans to leverage their time in the military to get great financial services at a competitive cost. The fact that so many businesses and bank are geared towards veterans is a blessing but one institution stands out among the rest – and has for nearly a century.
The financial institution was founded in 1922 after a group of Army veterans took it upon themselves to secure their own need for auto insurance. In doing so, they provided for their fellow veterans. The USAA of today carries that tradition on, with 12.4 million members and offering auto insurance, along with insurance for homeowners and renters, retirement planning, and, of course, banking services. When other banks were teetering on the edge of failure during the financial crisis, USAA actually grew. This is an institution that is as solid as a dollar.
USAA’s original purpose is still one of its best offerings – and one of the best offerings. Even in competition with the civilian world’s best insurers, going with USAA can save its membership at least 0 on their premiums, even for high risk drivers who may have a DUI or more on their records. JD Power even gave USAA a 5/5 rating on their customer service and satisfaction records.
They also offer a car buying service that can sometimes save their members money in buying any kind of vehicle.
Everyone knows too much credit debt is not a good thing, but having a card open with a low balance enlarges your purchasing power and is actually good for your credit report. Still, it’s important to be responsible with your credit. That being said, that kind of responsibility includes deciding which card is right for you. USAA offers a few credit cards designed to fit the lives of military members, veterans, and their families. The USAA Rewards American Express Card and Reward Visa offers the best cashback bonuses a military member can find. USAA’s credit cards also offer some of the lowest interest rates and APRs found anywhere.
Easy banking services
Any bank or financial institution who says they offer the best interest rates on savings accounts may have a bridge to sell you. Most savings accounts can offer two percent at the most. While USAA doesn’t offer quite that much, its banking services are stellar. Since they have few physical locations or ATMs, the bank offers reimbursements on ATM fees and no monthly service fees. On top of that, there’s no minimum balance and their rates are still competitive. They also offer free funds transfers between accounts.
If you’re planning for retirement and want a low-risk security, you could hardly do better than some of USAA’s mutual fund offerings. USAA manages its own mutual funds and, in the face of the 2008 financial crisis, the USAA Income Fund (USAIX) posted a 19 percent return while much of the rest of the market struggled to break even or even minimize their expected losses. The reason? While USAIX invests heavily in corporate debt, the fund’s mantra is still about minimizing risk.
TV doctor pose!
Other services and support
There are a couple of life insurance options, including one for military members only if SGLI isn’t enough. On top of that, they can get great rates for health, dental, and vision insurance as well as umbrella insurance for protection against things not covered by other kinds of insurance, like legal judgements. For per month you can be protected from lawsuits up to id=”listicle-2640236181″ million. But this veteran-oriented financial institution does so much more
USAA sponsors amazing veteran-oriented events and organizations – like the Military Influencer Conference, a three-day conference of service members, veterans, and spouses who work to elevate the military veteran community. The 2019 Military Influencer Conference is sponsored by USAA and brings together the brightest stars in the military-veteran entrepreneurial community to learn and share their business-building knowledge.
From the point of view of an airman who (in the right town) could be mistaken for a Coastie while wearing my dress blues, I have to say: Marine Dress uniforms have no equal. I totally get why people join the Marines just for the dress blues.
After a few years in the military and a few years in military-oriented media, I thought I had seen every uniform there was. That’s when I saw this guy:
This was surprising to me because I continually make fun of the movie Basic for depicting Samuel L. Jackson’s Army character wearing a cape. But I wasn’t the only one who was perplexed by this. In 2016, a Quora user asked Marines what that cape was.
For those not in the know, the Marines in the top photo are “pretty much wearing the same mess dress uniform” and the cape is a somewhat antiquated, but still on the books, accessory: the Boat Cloak.
Boat Cloaks are a made-to-order item that can cost upward of $1,000 at the NEX/MCX. One former Master Gunnery Sergeant recalled seeing one worn by a Chief Warrant Officer 5 at a Marine Corps ball. The Master Guns described the look as “magnificent.”
It’s difficult to find exact regulations for the Boat Cloak, but it looks like there are different versions for the Senior NCOs and Officers. As of 1937, it was still a required item for officers.
The following is an excerpt from the first book by Air Force veteran and Hollywood writer Dan Martin. Titled Operation Cure Boredom, it’s a hilarious collection of short stories chronicling the adventures of Martin’s 1990-1994 enlistment in the world’s best Air Force.
This chapter, called “Guest on the Range,” is about the extraordinary lengths Martin went to in order to qualify on the firing range as a junior enlisted Crew Chief:
One of the things I learned while holding a loaded semiautomatic rifle was that I shouldn’t “goof around.” Apparently it’s distracting and unnerving to the other participants at the firing range. The angry sergeant on duty pointed this out, adding that it was irresponsible and unsafe. But everyone was so serious, so uptight, so concentrated.
Colton continued making the rest of us laugh, lightening the mood. We only managed to annihilate the dirt mounds behind the paper people. At the end of the session, when I learned that I had failed the firing range test and had one more chance to pass it or be discharged from service, I stopped goofing around.
In order to maintain a good standing with the U.S. Air Force, one must complete the annual firing range test. If you fail the retest, pack your bags because you’re heading home on an early discharge. Not wanting to go back to Long Island so soon, I concentrated and passed the retest, barely. For the following annual firing range test, I made arrangements to get help, mostly by ensuring that I was out of the country on assignment, whereupon the test was lost to bureaucracy and ultimately waived. But the year I got married and stopped going on so many TDYs was the year the test came back to haunt me.
I had taken a second job at this point, working in a liquor store not far from the Louisiana Downs racetrack, not because I was saving to buy a house and raise a family, but rather to help pay off all the loans. We had financially backed ourselves into a corner between the cars, furniture, and vacations we simply charged on credit cards. We had to have them because we were a responsible adult married couple. In my third year of military service, now that I was no longer on TDYs, I was unable to escape the firing range.
At the time I had enlisted in the Air Force, it is key to note that nobody, with the exception of the security police, the special ops guys, and maybe a few fighter pilots, had a useful knowledge of weapons, let alone were able to locate the safety. For the rest of us, the firing range seemed to only serve the purpose of reminding us what weapons looked like. I hit my targets by mistake, and self-defense skills were measured by how fast I could run a mile. Although the chow hall on the base displayed a sign upon entering that read “Those Carrying Automatic Weapons May Go to the Head of the Line,” I can guarantee that had my base ever been attacked, it would have been captured within minutes. A massive army of children riding atop Saint Bernards and wielding broomsticks could have charged the main gate and I’d have to think twice about holding my ground. Broomsticks hurt.
Now faced wit having to take the firing range test, I came to the conclusion I needed someone to help teach me how to pass it. Unfortunately, asking for help within the military community was not exactly the option I wanted to exercise. I was all too aware that I had joined the one branch of the military that didn’t require you to use handheld weapons. But asking for help was like a plumber you hired asking you to show him what a pipe fitting looked like.
We were supposed to at least pretend we knew what we were doing. There were a few guys in my squadron who grew up hunting the small animalsI always associated with my local park or the garbage cans on a trash night. But even one of them managed to book himself a trip to the emergency room. Firing a hand cannon with one hand and a large ego, he managed to adorn his forehead with a welt the size of a grapefruit, the recoil smacking him with the pistol hard enough to make him forget the date. Knowing that I was proficient in neither accuracy or emergency room small talk, I decided to search for a teacher who was not in the military.
I knew I could find someone, I had done it before.
My brother piqued my interest in firearms when he shot our father with a flare gun. To be fair, it was a misunderstanding. My father had explained to Peter that he was grounded for some infraction of the rules. Peter said no, then shot him. From the moment my father stepped into his room to confront him, he should have take notes of Peter’s nautical emergency rescue kit, now open on his desk. Normally tucked away on his lobster boat, the flare gun was now strangely instead in Peter’s hand. Moments later, the flare bounced off my dad’s chest and zipped around the carpet, finally coming to a halt near the hamster cage, melting a small hole in the synthetic rug the size of a potato.
The room immediately turned a blindingly bright white color only the Coast Guard could love, and by the time my father regained his vision and looked through the smoke, presumably to grab Peter’s neck and snap it, my brother had used the diversion to jump out the window, eluding punishment for yet another night. Peter was not the best communicator, nor was he ever considered a good candidate for “negotiator,” but I quickly learned by observing his actions that perhaps I didn’t need to learn to communicate with words. Being a shy teenager who was also lacking command of a large vocabulary, talking problems out and reasoning with each other just seemed time-consuming. That night, I came to understand the power of a gun and realized aloud, “Guns are awesome.”
I wanted to test it out for myself. So I found an instructor who chose as my first target the happy, winged creature symbolizing love that perched outside my bedroom window each morning. It was just sitting there on the branch, singing, ruffling its feathers like most swallows do. I was seventeen. My instructor was twelve. The BB gun was pumped with enough pressure to launch a kitten into space. Then I aimed and pulled the trigger, sending the bird reeling over backward in a cloud of feathers and guilt. When it was all over, Jason explained it was normal to feel nauseated:
“It’s okay. You’ll be fine. But I gotta go. My mom’s taking me to see The Little Mermaid.“
That would be the last time I let a twelve-year-old whisper “kill it now” in my ear. While I learned that it was an amazing feeling to hold an object that has the ability to sway opinions, after the incident with the swallow, I decided guns weren’t really for me. Though committing arson on my father’s vegetable garden was acceptable, a gun was just taking things too far.
Now face with the firing range test, my search for a weapons instructor finally came to an end the day I met Barry, the assistant manager fo the liquor store where I worked nights. The day I walked in and inquired about a job, he was sitting behind the manager’s desk. I explained that I was looking for employment. He regarded me for a moment, then asked if I’d mind working with a fat pig name Clarence, pointing to the skinny guy behind the register. I said I thought this would be fine. He then led me on a tour through the massive walk-in refrigerator to show me where all the different beers were stacked. He asked me if I had any back problems preventing me from lifting boxes. I said no, then noticed his back brace and realized this was the best possible answer I could have given. Barry nodded his head up and down, seemingly trying to decide if I was going to work out, then wrenched open a bottle of Boone’s wine and washed down a handful of unknown pills. Needless to say, I was intrigued. Then he pulled a .22-caliber, long-barreled pistol out of his pants. It was fitted with some sort of custom-made silencer and he asked me if I’d ever seen such a thing of beauty. I said I hadn’t. Then he aimed it at a can of Milwaukee’s Best and fired, leaving a fountain of amusement in his wake.
I accepted the job on the spot.
It wasn’t until a week into the job that I learned that Barry hadn’t been the assistant manager at all. He was just an unstable employee whom the actual manager was afraid to fire. He called himself the assistant manager, and nobody argued with him. Although, looking back, it should have occurred to me, since Barry had given me a bonus one day for a job well done with a case of Miller Lite. But this guy could handle a weapon, even while hallucinating and mumbling, so who was I to question it?
Initially, I was a little nervous about taking a second job because the supervisors in my squadron tended to frown upon moonlighting, even though many of the enlisted guys I knew did it anyway. I had reached out to may coworker Tony Coloccini, who had confided in me that he also had a second job at a liquor store chain and would put in a good word. A week later, I was standing in this rundown liquor store. Needing money, and not wanting to be seen, this was the perfect job. Barry, the firearms expert, was the gift I was looking for.
Barry would walk up and down the aisles with an aimless purpose to do nothing but strut. Occasionally, he’d say he was going to take inventory or stock the shelves. But there was always some condition that prevented him from doing any actual work. He could never bend over to reach the bottom two shelves because of a bad back, nor could he stand on small ladder, claiming he once fell off one and preferred to avoid them. He couldn’t ever read inventory lists or do the ordering because he always forgot his glasses and, I suspect, couldn’t write.
This always left me wondering what Barry’s function in the store actually was until one night some suspicious-looking guys walked in and were greeted by Barry stroking a .44 magnum long barrel. This is a gun more commonly used to take down a helicopter or a Tyrannosaurus Rex, I imagine. They immediately turned and walked out. In short, the story had never been robbed since Barry started working there two years prior. And in a neighborhood where crime seemed to be the gross domestic product, Barry’s value went a long way.
As a result, the place became kind of a safe hangout for Barry’s friends who all lost their money at the track and would come in and shoot the shit with him for a while. This eventually led to the question of could have a bottle of Thunderbird or Mad Dog 20/20 and pay him back tomorrow. Barry always said yes, and, of course, would always forget that he did. In fact, unsurprisingly, Barry forgot a lot of things. He forgot to shower and shave. He forgot that you couldn’t scratch off twenty-five instant-win lotto tickets and not pay for them. And once he even forgot his gun was loaded and shot out his own windshield, or so Clarence, who had witnessed the incident, told me.
The store closed each night at midnight and by the end of the first month, Barry, Clarence, and I found ourselves on the same schedule. We got to know each other pretty well and enjoyed each other’s company and displayed our newfound friendship by developing a routine after locking up every night that involved petty theft, drinking, and soon enough, firearms practice.
Anyone else, I think, would have been alarmed by the double holster he wore to work every day, accompanied by a different set of pistols. Or, perhaps, the cocktail of pharmaceuticals, vodka, belligerence, and the dash of hallucinations that housed this human being. But one night, as we were leaving, he quick-drawed his pistols and unleashed a few rounds on the speed sign on the side of the road, hitting it perfectly without aiming and I knew I found my instructor.
The first problem with asking Barry about being my sharpshooting mentor was just trying to catch him in a moment when he was actually visiting Earth. I timed my approach carefully, since Barry was known to spend the first part of each night shift with his head down on the manager’s desk, occasionally snapping awake with a look of fear behind his milky eyes. Some nights, because the desk was located behind a small wall, his abrupt and frightening rise from the ninth circle of hell would cause a customer to drop a bottle of alcohol.
“Barry, I was wondering if you could teach me to shoot a gun and possibly–”
“Absolutely. Grab a case of beer and meet me at the trunk of my car.”
I can only assume that in the event that the local police force, the National Guard, and the entire US Army found themselves overmatched, Barry was their red phone emergency call. to find that Barry possessed a lot of weapons was not a surprise. To find that each of his weapons came with its own quick-release latch, strapped into the truck of his car, was. Barry, who stood at about five feet, two inches, drove a 1973 four-door Lincoln Continental. I t had a trunk big enough to carry a pond stocked with trout.
What should have worried me most was that somewhere over the course of his life, he came to the conclusion that it was a good idea to haul around enough ammunition to take out Shreveport, just in case he had to. Also worrisome was the stun gun he had as a “back up” in case all else failed. But honestly, what concerned me most was not passing the firing range test.
“What is that?” I asked, pointing at a weapon only Arnold Schwarzenegger could handle.
“Needed something for a crowd. Made it myself. Fully automatic.”
We stared by setting up in front of what appeared to be a fenced-off electrical power station. It was located a short distance behind the liquor store and far away from the road. I inquired it if seemed troubling that, essentially, we were shooting at a potential eleven o’clock news story, but Barry explained that it was metal and would not explode, so no need to worry.
“No one’s gonna lose power,” he added.
“I meant the ricocheting bullets.”
“What about them?”
“Won’t they ricochet into us?”
“Unlikely. Now, do you want my help or not?”
Before we began, I tried to explain that there were no moving targets on the firing range, to which Barry explained that I was a woman. I said it wasn’t necessary, but that maybe we should start with something easy like a Coke can. But Barry insisted these were the basics and handed me a contraption that resembled a howitzer. Then he switched it to automatic and yelled, “Pull!”
Clarence lobbed a bottle of Bartles & Jaymes strawberry wine cooler into the sky. The weapon was so heavy that aiming it wasn’t really an option. I just sort of heaved it up, like throwing a heavy rock, and squeezed the trigger as best I could. The recoil forced me to the ground like a cannon blast. All the while, as I kept my finger on the trigger, I could have sworn I heard the faint but distinct sound of my mother crying.
It’s safe to assume that the Air Force was the right branch for me. Placing a wrench or a screwdriver in my hands at least ensures that any pain inflicted will be minimal and blunt and kept within the radius of me. Putting a loaded weapon in my hand is like strapping sharp knives to a small boy and sending him off to play tackle football with the other kids.
As expected, I missed everything, except for the power grid, a line of cypress trees, a storage shed, and the planet below our feet, which really took a kick in the balls that night. Also in the line of fire was human safety.
“F*ck this,” Clarence said, “I’m out of here.”
“Calm down,” Barry yelled. “Just stand behind him.”
“But that’s where the shed was!”
This is how it happens, I thought. This is how morons die. You always read in the paper, or hear on the news, about a couple of friends from a basement in Colorado Springs, just hanging out with a bottle of Jameson when one best friend shoots the other. There’s never any great detail about the incident. One buddy “accidentally” shoots the other. But the news anchor always includes that one fatal clue: “He thought the safety was on,” “He didn’t know it was loaded,” “He didn’t think that doing shots from the barrel was that big of a deal.” As a viewer, you sit eating your bowl of cornflakes at one o’clock in the morning, thinking to yourself, f*cking morons, and then turn the channel back to TMZ to find out what the latest Disney starlet thinks of terrorists.
But there we were, throwing a few back, shooting wildly at fast-moving wine coolers with automatic weapons and talking about how awesome it would be if Lynyrd Skynyrd could come back from the dead and play one more time. We deserved nothing more than a really stupendous obituary in which the editor would mercifully, thinking about our families, substitute the word “manslaughter” for “accidental.” The caption under the picture in the newspaper would read: “One man arrested after shooting his two best friends.” Then I realized the scariest part was that Barry and Clarence would be forever connected to me as “best friends.”
“You know what. I’ve got to get going,” I announced suddenly.
“What? But you haven’t even tried the sniper rifle yet.”
As I drove away from the scene of tomorrow’s headline, I watched Clarence crack open a bottle of something, then rummage through Barry’s trunk, reappear with the stun gun and chase him around the car, laughing.
The following week, I took the firing range test. I was really sweating hard, as this retest was a make-or-break moment – a few misplaced shot was all the difference between being able to stay in the Air Force and pay my bills and a less-than-honorable discharge, leading to financial ruin and divorce. I hit a few dirt mounds but managed to place a few on the paper target. Upon finishing, I approached the sergeant in charge of the scoring. I handed him the paper enemy that had clearly gotten away with only a few scratches.
“Huh,” he said, looking at the target. “Not great,” he observed.
I began to panic a little there. I saw my life as it truly was: a meager existence in a sham marriage, depressed and held down at twenty-one years of age by my own rash stupidity. I would have to call my parents and see if they were cool with the Stranger and I living in my old bedroom. I would have to get a minimum-wage job to pay off a mountain of debt. I began hyperventilating, seeing this whole terrible near-future play out when I suddenly heard the sergeant ask me:
“What’s your job again?”
He rolled his eyes, and in a gesture of exasperation, made a check mark next to my name.
“F*ck it. You passed. See you next year.”
“Told in a collection of vignettes, Operation Cure Boredom is a coming of age story in camouflage. From dodging alligators, to surfing the inside of a plane at 30,000 feet, to being taken hostage by a Frenchwoman, and sex education in church, this absurdist portrait of life in the military is both an iconic look at listlessness in wartime, and the whirlwind journey of a young man getting the adventure he didn’t know he needed.” – Amazon
Air Force Capt. Forrest “Cal” Lampela was about to put the aircraft landing gear down in Shannon, Ireland, eight hours into a flight. If all had gone according to plan, he and his C-17 Globemaster III crew should have been more than halfway over the Atlantic.
He couldn’t see the runway because of dense fog, catching a glimpse of it from only 100 feet above the ground — the absolute minimum altitude to which the large transport aircraft can descend before its pilot must either call for a landing or to abort approach.
Somewhere below, an ambulance stood by, waiting to pick up a sailor who had been wounded in combat and was in critical condition.
“I was a little bit afraid of where the ambulance was going to be because I didn’t want him to try to run up on the jet while we still had engines running, because the fog was that bad,” Lampela said.
He recalls it as “the most challenging landing that I’ve ever done.” But on top of dangerous, foggy conditions, Lampela and the crew, call sign Reach 445, had just entered a country where they had not received diplomatic clearance before touching down.
“I wouldn’t do that unless it was an emergency,” Lampela said in a recent interview with Military.com, recounting the April aeromedical mission to transport the sailor. He and his team belong to the 14th Airlift Squadron out of Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina.
Senior Airman Kyle Bowers, left, a C-17 Globemaster III loadmaster, and Capt. Cal Lampela, a C-17 pilot, are instructors assigned to the 14th Airlift Squadron at Joint Base Charleston, S.C.
(U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Joshua R. Maund)
“If I’m going to fly into a country without diplomatic clearance, it’s going to be [over a potential] loss of life or [loss of] your craft or safety of flight,” he said. “We were … essentially a flying ambulance.”
The flight included Lampela, the aircraft commander and C-17 instructor pilot; Capt. Chris Puckett, a C-17 instructor pilot; Capt. Ken Dickenscheidt, a C-17 pilot; Senior Airman Chris Kyle Bowers, a C-17 instructor loadmaster; Airman 1st Class Timothy Henn, a C-17 loadmaster; and Tech. Sgt. Nick Scarmeas, flying crew chief of the 437th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.
The decision they made to turn back from the U.S. and head to Ireland to save the sailor’s life got the Air Force’s attention: The six airmen are now under consideration for the Air Medal for making the right call under difficult circumstances. The sailor remains unidentified for privacy reasons.
“For their act of heroism and success in operating beyond what is expected and routine, Capt. Lampela and his crew were submitted to be awarded single-event Air Medals,” Lt. Col. Kari Fleming, 14th Airlift Squadron commander, told Military.com on June 10, 2019. “It is my honor to recognize this deserving crew with such a rare decoration.”
The medal is awarded to U.S. and civilian personnel “for single acts of heroism or meritorious achievements while participating in aerial flight … in actual combat in support of operations,” according to the service. It can also be awarded to foreign military personnel.
“Our airmen dedicate their lives to serve this great nation to deliver lifesaving capabilities, so our wounded may return to their loved ones,” Gen. Maryanne Miller, head of Air Mobility Command (AMC), said in a separate statement. “The crews of Reach 445 highlight that our incredible airmen are our greatest advantage.
“Sound decision-making and superior care once again bring a hero home to his family,” she added.
A C-17 Globemaster III sits on a flightline at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, Jan. 9, 2014.
(U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Jared Trimarchi)
Diverting the flight
The crew had begun their transit at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, reaching Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany. But they had to delay the second leg of their journey because of bad storms on the U.S. East Coast. Their home base, Joint Base Charleston, had lost power; some squadrons there had been sent home early.
“We [were] just bringing some stuff from Al Udeid back home to Charleston, [and] we were in Germany for the crew to rest up,” Lampela said.
But “it looked like pretty terrible storms all the way across the East Coast,” he added.
Their delay meant they were the only C-17 in theater with the tools and space required to transport the patient to Walter Reed Medical Center outside Washington, D.C. They headed to Ramstein Air Base, approximately 70 miles away, to pick up medical teams from Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.
“We were told that he was in such a state that Germany couldn’t care for him anymore, and Walter Reed [is] the best trauma center,” Lampela said.
With the six members of the crew, the patient and the Critical Care Air Transport Team, known as a CCATT, there were 17 people bound for Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, said Bowers, the instructor loadmaster. The CCATT is known throughout the Air Force as a “flying intensive care unit.”
Col. Allison Cogar of the 313th Expeditionary Operation Support Squadron, currently deployed to Ramstein, gave general background information on CCATTs. More specific information on the Reach 445 flight was unavailable for confidentiality reasons.
CCATTs typically transport a ventilator and monitors, along with other gear, she said.
“We have IV pumps, we have suction equipment — that’s kind of the standard equipment,” Cogar said. “We can augment that with other things that are specific to the patient.”
Teams can perform surgical tasks, she said, but “it’s pretty uncommon.”
“If I’m having a patient who’s having issues, I try and alert the crew early on so they can communicate with [air operations and command centers],” Cogar said of reasons why a flight would be diverted. “It’s much safer and better for the patient to do on the ground, where you have a lot more resources available to you. So we try and kind of pre-emptively fend off any of those things that we think we may need to do.”
A C-17 Globemaster.
Making the call
The sailor took a turn for the worse and needed immediate surgery. The medical professionals knew they’d have to divert or face a grim outcome.
“We were approximately halfway over the ocean when the patient started to destabilize,” Lampela said. The crew contacted the air operations center at Air Mobility Command at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, to strategize.
“They couldn’t get his blood levels under control,” Lampela said. “They brought enough blood for the flight, but he was bleeding out in one and, they thought possibly, two wounds. So they didn’t have enough blood to keep him stabilized. Secondly, we needed dialysis because his kidneys had failed, so they needed a hospital.”
The crew looked at the available options.
“I was probably four hours from the tip of Canada, which even making it to Canada, there was nothing until I hit probably stateside, and I was probably six hours from Boston. I was approximately two hours from Ireland, probably three to England, and [roughly] five hours to Iceland,” Lampela said.
University Hospital Limerick, about 30 minutes from Shannon airport, had the necessary equipment. They made the decision to turn around and head to Ireland.
In the back of the C-17, Bowers, the loadmaster, was trying to ease the stress, communicating back and forth with the cockpit and the cargo hold. He had already reconfigured the cargo hold to fit the sailor and the CCATT before they boarded.
Around 2 a.m., 60 miles from their approach to Ireland, Lampela got a call from air traffic control that fog had unexpectedly rolled in.
Air Force pilots in a C-17 Globemaster III during takeoff at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, July 27, 2017.
(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Keith James)
Wheels down in Ireland
Lampela had asked the pilots, Puckett and Dickenscheidt, to take turns in the co-pilot seat assisting, since they were about to do a Cat II minimum approach — meaning the pilot must make a decision whether to land at only 200 to 100 feet altitude.
“Keep in mind: During this time, I also have a patient who’s bleeding, and I don’t know how much time and I don’t know where else I can go,” Lampela said.
He added, “The landing itself was not eventful. But I will tell you, with a patient you have in the back, and going through 200 feet above the ground, and you still don’t see anything … you start to get really [anxious and hope] that you see the runway real quick.”
The sailor was taken off the C-17 five minutes after the aircraft landed. Soon after, Lampela was answering calls from both the Irish and U.S. embassies.
“They wanted to know several things, such as were we there to spy, or if we had anything that was not allowed in the country, such as guns or something like that,” he said.
Lampela called his chain of command in Charleston to say they would be delayed.
“I said, ‘All right, uh, don’t get mad. I declared an emergency. I’m in Ireland without diplomatic clearance or, if you hear something about me, it was warranted,'” he recalled.
After receiving clearance, the crew stayed in Ireland for 24 hours, waiting for the sailor to undergo surgery before flying him to Joint Base Andrews. He was transported in stable condition.
Soldiers and equipment disembark from a C-17 Globemaster III in southern Arizona.
(Angela Camara/Operation Faithful Patriot)
“Essentially, you wake up in the morning, and there’s been many times where we’ve been picked off for different missions,” Lampela said. “So you’re actually going here, you’re going to this country, or a humanitarian issue pops up. So you’re never really sure of … what you think you’re going to do. But until you actually go do it, nothing’s really guaranteed.”
Air Mobility Command has logged 245 aeromedical evacuations in the first quarter of this year, moving 1,183 patients. Last year, airmen moved 5,409 patients in 866 aeromedical events, according to statistics provided to Military.com.
While some Reach 445 members had been on aeromedical tasking before, the critical level made it rare.
“Every situation is different,” Bowers said. “We’re constantly learning on a daily basis. There’s never going to be a similar incident. But as far as, are we going to do better, get better and are we going to be more prepared? Absolutely.”
“In AMC and in the flying world, we preach this attitude of readiness,” Lampela said. “I’m humbled to have been a part of this opportunity.
“We woke up; we weren’t expecting this. But because of our training, we were prepared to go out and do this. We were ready to go. And I’m glad it [turned out] OK,” he said.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
Today, Sutton Bonington campus, part of the University of Nottingham, houses the schools of bioscience and veterinary medicine. But a century ago, during World War I, it was home to a prisoner of war (PoW) camp for German military personnel captured by the British on the Western front. And it was the site of a great escape, when Germans managed to flee the camp on Sept. 25, 1917.
At the outbreak of war in 1914 the government took over buildings and sites around the country to convert into PoW camps. Sutton Bonington was a group of buildings completed in 1915 for the Midland Dairy Institute, an agricultural college, but it was taken over by the War Office before the institute’s staff and students could move in. Barbed wire fencing and some additional huts were added to the site and around 600 German military officers moved in.
German officers who were made prisoners of war, by contrast with ordinary soldiers and sailors, were not allowed to work. Many became extremely bored, and sought to relieve the tedium by playing sports such as football and tennis, putting on concerts and plays, and planning how to escape. The preferred escape option was to tunnel under the barbed wire, and to disappear into the countryside beyond.
Two attempts to tunnel out at Sutton Bonington failed, but the third succeeded, and at 1.30am on Sept. 25, 1917, 22 men slipped, slithered and pulled their way along a tunnel, which was less than a metre high. They emerged into a field of turnips, and were hidden from the guards in the sentry posts by a ridge running through a nearby field. It helped their cause that the moon had set before they started, that the search lights were out because of concerns about Zeppelin raids, and that it was not raining.
The main administration block at Sutton Bonington campus. It was used as a prisoner of war camp for German officers between 1916-19.
In terms of simple numbers, no other breakout was as successful. Usually only two or three men were involved with a tunnel project. The 22 from Sutton Bonington made it the largest breakout in Britain of World War I.
Best laid plans
The men planned to split into groups of four, preferably with an English speaker in each one, and to head for different ports along the east coast. They had maps and a compass with them, as well as food supplies which had arrived in the camp from Germany the previous day. The absconders hoped to stow away on board a vessel passing through the English channel, and return to Germany, re-join their regiment and re-engage with the war.
The breakout was discovered at 4.30am when a policeman patrolling the village of Plumtree came upon Herman Genest walking alone but wearing a German officer’s uniform. He arrested him, took him to the nearest police station, and from there saw him returned to the camp at Sutton Bonington. Genest had been free for approximately three hours.
His arrest led to a roll call at Sutton Bonington which confirmed that 22 men were missing. All police, special constables, and other groups concerned with law and order in the area were ordered from their beds to find the Germans.
Within hours they were reeled in. My own research into the episode has uncovered that three of the German men, claiming to be seeking work in one of Nottingham’s munitions factories, were arrested at Trent Bridge. Two more, including the leader Otto Thelan, were arrested at Tollerton at 11am, and two others later in the day. Also arrested that day was Karl von Müller, a German naval hero from the early days of the war, who was found by children when he was blackberrying at Tollerton.
The rest were picked up over the ensuing days with the last four German officers captured at Brimington Woods, near Chesterfield. A police sergeant found them on September, 30, “and immediately upon being challenged they admitted their identity”, according to a report a few days later in the Derby Daily Telegraph.
Getting out was unlikely
The experiences of these men were typical of other German prisoners who tried to escape during World War I. They were expected to wear their uniforms in camp, but this made them conspicuous if they managed to escape. They had to walk because catching trains was too problematic, and they normally travelled at night and hid in barns and hay stacks during the day. They carried food, but could struggle to find enough liquid, and if they reached the coast there was no guarantee of a passage across the Channel.
Escape was a romantic ideal rather than a rational expectation. Gunter Pluschow, who escaped from another PoW camp at Donington Hall, in Leicestershire, was the only German to make it home in World War I, largely because he managed to adopt a disguise and stow away on board a cargo ship at Harwich.
The Sutton Bonington camp was used for PoWs until February 1919 when those remaining were moved to Oswestry in Shropshire. The site was then cleared and cleaned, including the removal of the huts and barbed wire, and returned to the Midland Dairy Institute, which formally opened in October 1919. In 1946 the institute joined the University of Nottingham as the faculty of agriculture.
When Jeremy Penderman joined the Army, he wasn’t quite sure what his job would entail.
“I’m not even sure the recruiter knew what the job was,” he said.
But Penderman, a multichannel transmission systems operator/maintainer, said the job hasn’t disappointed.
Now serving in Iraq with Fort Bragg’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, Penderman has an undeniable impact on his unit and the ongoing fight to retake the key northern city of Mosul from the Islamic State terrorist group, officials said.
So undeniable that Penderman, who has spent nearly seven years in the Army, was the recipient of a rare battlefield promotion in April of 2017.
In an impromptu ceremony near Al Tarab, Iraq, Sgt. Penderman became Staff Sgt. Penderman when Maj. Gen. Joseph M. Martin pinned the new rank to his chest.
Penderman, who was at the base repairing communications equipment, said the visit — and the promotion — were unexpected.
Martin, the commander of Combined Joint Forces Land Component Command — Operation Inherent Resolve and the 1st Infantry Division, was able to promote Penderman after determining that the soldier “demonstrated an extraordinary performance of duties” while filling a job that’s typically held by someone of a higher rank.
It was a special recognition for Penderman, who had spent nearly two years awaiting a promotion but still lacked the requirements for a typical bump in rank.
“It was a complete surprise,” Penderman told The Fayetteville Observer from Iraq last week. “I didn’t know anything about it.”
Penderman, 25, is a Durham-native who oversees communications for the 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute infantry Regiment, which has about 700 soldiers in Iraq and deployed late last year.
In that role, he leads a small team of soldiers who work to ensure troops can communicate across the battlefield, keeping a network in place to spur a constant flow of information from advise-and-assist teams embedded with Iraqi forces and between unmanned aerial vehicles and soldiers on the ground.
The job often sees him working with complex communications equipment, tapping into satellites and generally maintaining a tactical communications network in an austere and ever-changing environment.
Not bad for someone who knew little to nothing about his career when he joined the Army.
“I didn’t even know what an IP (address) was,” Penderman said. “I didn’t know anything about computers.”
Instead, Penderman had high hopes that baseball would be his future.
“I played everywhere,” he said of his time at the Durham School of the Arts. “But I went to college as an outfielder.”
That college was Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory, where Penderman received a scholarship to play baseball.
But after being redshirted his freshman year, he began to reconsider another dream.
Penderman always wanted to join the military. He wanted to follow in his brother’s footsteps as a Marine, although his parents urged him to try college instead.
He made a promise that he would give college a year, and, if that didn’t work, he’d be free to enlist.
Today, Penderman might have been a Marine if it wasn’t for one more discovery.
“I found out about the airborne,” he said.
Over spring break his freshman year — March 2010 — Penderman walked into a recruiting center and enlisted in the Army.
At first, he wanted to be an airborne infantryman, but a recruiter instead guided him through a list of available jobs.
He described Penderman’s current military occupational specialty, known as a 25Q, as “half infantry, half radios” and promised he could still become a paratrooper. Also, the job came with an enlistment bonus.
Since enlisting, Penderman spent more than four years in Germany with the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team before joining the 82nd Airborne Division about two years ago.
He has seven years in the Army and plans to apply to become a warrant officer in the Signal Corps. While he wants to stay in the Army as long as possible, he said the skills he’s learned have opened the door to a bright future no matter if he wears the uniform or not.
“It’s really set me up for success, whether I stay in or get out,” he said.
Penderman is noncommissioned-officer-in-charge of his battalion’s S6, or communications, shop.
Typically, that organization would have upward of a dozen soldiers, including an NCOIC and an officer. But Penderman’s shop has three soldiers and no officer.
That shows the faith and trust that leadership has in the soldier, officials said.
In training while preparing for the deployment, the battalion trained with the smaller force. But Penderman said little could have prepared him for another aspect of the deployment — a constant leapfrogging of the battlefield.
When Penderman’s battalion arrived in country, they set up more than 20 miles from Mosul to partner with the 9th Iraqi Armored Division, one of the local forces looking to take back the city.
“And we moved six times,” Penderman said. “As they gain ground and they move forward, we move forward with them.”
Today, he’s based out of a tactical assembly area near the village of Bakhira. From there, he’s near the border of the city and close to the fighting.
“We can hear them shooting off mortars,” Penderman said.
He’s also seen forces treating wounded. And he said that knowing he has played a role in the march into the city has been humbling.
“It’s fulfilling work,” Penderman said. “I get to impact the battalion on a daily basis… It definitely feels like I’m making a difference in my battalion and helping to make a difference in the fight in Mosul.”
A weapons range goes hot on a cold winter morning four years ago in Fort Lewis, Washington. The silent cold air is replaced by the snapping of gun fire as the morning dew is knocked loose off the blades of grass. Soldiers’ breath is visible as they curse in despair, for they are at another range yet again, wet and freezing.
The smell of spent ammunition and wintergreen chewing tobacco is present as raindrops fall and turn into steam on the weapons’ hot barrels.
Like a dense Pacific Northwest fog, the memories dissipate, and Spc. Flavio Mendoza is dragged back to reality and the clacking of fingers on a computer keyboard.
Like many soldiers, Mendoza has surmounted many challenges in his life, from growing up in a tough, urban environment to coping with the heartbreak of losing something he loved.
But through all this, he pushed forward.
The urban jungle
Raised on the northeast side of Los Angeles, Mendoza said he knew he was always destined for more than what surrounded him in his gritty, inner-city upbringing.
But with the odds stacked against him, he had to make a choice from an early age his path in life.
Spc. Flavio Mendoza, assigned to the 22nd Human Resources Company, 4th Special Troops Battalion, 4th Sustainment Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, poses for a photo on Fort Carson, Colorado, Dec. 28, 2018.
(Photo by Sgt. Asa Bingham)
Mendoza’s parents, Flavio Sr. and Veronica Mendoza — both born in Jalisco, Mexico — always tried to give the best life possible for their family of five. They both worked during the day leaving Mendoza and his two sisters with their grandmother.
Twelve family members — both immediate and extended — packed into a two bedroom house made for claustrophobic conditions. To escape from the cramped living situation, Mendoza would play outside.
“I had a lot of friends around my age growing up,” said Mendoza. “Even though the neighborhood wasn’t one for us to be playing in, we still made the best of it.”
Graffiti lined the walls of the street like uncontrollable ivy growing wild. The gunshots from rival gangs trying to kill each other, followed by the police sirens and helicopters circling with their bright lights all just became natural.
He didn’t have to go far from his childhood home to find trouble, he said. Right next door was far enough.
“I remember cops always being at that house for something,” Mendoza said. “It seems like everyone from the gang hung out there. There was always cars filled with nothing but bald heads, and gangsters with guns rolling up, asking where I was from or if I banged.”
The gang life was calling for Mendoza, who was given many opportunities to join. He ignored the beckoning calls unlike some of his friends.
“A couple of kids I grew up playing with and thought were my homies broke into our house one day,” he said. “They stole anything and everything.”
Mendoza’s parents saw what was happening to the neighborhood. They saw what path their kids could go down if they weren’t careful. So in an effort to get away from the trouble they saved up their money and moved to Monterey Park, Los Angeles.
“I didn’t hear any sirens anymore, no more gunshots, and no more constant fear from always having to turn around and watch my back at night,” said Mendoza.
His upbringing gave him a burning desire to do more, to be better then what he saw around him. The noise. The chaos. The crime. It was all motivation to get away.
The great escape
“After graduating high school, I immediately wanted to join the Army,” said then 18-year old Mendoza. “I walked into the recruiter one day and told them that I wanted to join and go fight.”
Mendoza’s parents and family were hesitant about the Army; they wanted him to go to college.
“I tried for a semester or two, but I realized school just wasn’t for me,” he said. His goal was to get away and to serve his country.
Knowing only what he saw from movies and TV shows, Mendoza said he had his heart set on joining up as an infantry soldier, but his recruiter, a combat engineer, persuaded him otherwise.
“He asked me if I wanted to blow things up,” Mendoza said. “After showing me a couple of videos and stories of what a sapper was and did, I was hooked.”
Next thing he knew, Mendoza was hauling his own weight in duffel bags with a drill sergeant in his face yelling at him to get off the bus at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.
It was 2014, and his Army journey had just begun.
He spent days that felt like weeks pushing the earth away, counting “One, drill sergeant. Two, drill sergeant,” the never-ending pushups followed by the sprints, road marches, early mornings, yelling and apprehension that any moment a drill sergeant could burst in and make him question his decision to join.
“I would do it all over again,” said Mendoza. “It’s not that (One-Station Unit Training) was tough; it was more mental, like can you deal with the day to day suck and not quit.”
After completing OSUT, not knowing what to expect, Mendoza landed at his first duty station, Fort Lewis and was assigned to the 22nd Engineer Clearance Company, 864th Engineer Battalion, 555th Engineer Brigade.
“Life as an engineer had its ups and downs, but for the most part, it was fun,” said Mendoza. When soldiers aren’t training they’re cleaning. From picking up cigarette butts to sweeping and mopping, this was not what Mendoza thought he would be doing. But when it came time to train and learn engineer tactics and skills, Mendoza thrived.
“I made the best of friends doing the coolest stuff,” he said. From how to calculate demolition charges to identifying improvised explosive devices, Mendoza loved to learn the skills of an engineer.
Mendoza quickly gained the respect of his peers and leadership with his good attitude and even better work ethic.
“Working as an engineer is hard work, but being around good people makes it fun,” said Travis Ramirez, a former engineer who worked with Mendoza. “I could always count on Mendoza to have a good attitude. He was always making everyone laugh, even when the work we were doing was tough.”
His infectious personality brought many of his fellow engineers to his room after work and on weekends to just hang out and have fun. It was in these time that unbreakable bonds were formed and a lasting brotherhood was forged.
His work ethic and positive attitude were evident to his leaders, who gave him the responsibility of operating the Buffalo, a version of the mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle specifically used in route clearance operations as a mine interrogation asset.
Weighing in at more than 45,000 pounds and measuring a staggering 27 feet long, considerable skill and precision is required to maneuver the armored behemoth.
Mendoza was a perfect fit.
“I feel like I was given a higher level of responsibility driving the Buffalo,” said Mendoza. “The Buff is huge and an essential part to the route clearance mission. I had the best times in Buff 1-1.”
A US Army 759th Explosive Ordnance Disposal team Buffalo MRV.
(DoD photo by Ken Drylie)
On any given day, Mendoza could be found with his platoon conducting 12-mile road marches with upwards of 35-pounds on his back in full combat gear to repetitive field training exercises in the cold. The pace of training seemed endless, and within three years his body started feeling the effects.
“It was just chronic leg pain,” said Mendoza. “I went to go get it checked out and was going through physical therapy, but nothing was working.”
Mendoza was diagnosed with bone spurs in his shins.
He had gained so much from being an engineer — the memories of training exercises, the connections with fellow soldiers he now considers family. He never thought of himself doing anything else, no other job could match the bravado of being an engineer.
After going to physical therapy for close to a year, he received the news he had been dreading. His primary care provider permanently limited his physical abilities. He could no longer run. He couldn’t foot march. He wasn’t even supposed to jump anymore. He was forced to switch jobs and leave the engineer world.
“I felt like I was going to lose a part of me when I was told I had to switch,” said Mendoza, now assigned to the 22nd Human Resources Company, 4th Special Troops Battalion, 4th Sustainment Brigade, 4th Infantry Division at Fort Carson, Colorado.
The Army had served as his escape from a life he was sure would have landed him in jail or dead. He was not about to quit, he said.
Mendoza reclassified from combat engineer to human resources specialist.
A completely different world in his eyes
Instead of looking out the driver’s window of a Buffalo, he now stared into a computer screen. He went from patrolling for improvised explosive devices to scanning personnel records. From hearing loud explosions to now hearing the quiet clicks of a computer mouse.
Mendoza didn’t waver. He pushed forward, taking with him the same work ethic and positive attitude that drove him out of the streets of Los Angeles to become the soldier he is today.
“I still carry the engineer crest in my (patrol cap). It lets me know where I came from and that gives me pride,” said Mendoza. “Even though I’m away and in a new career field, I will always be an engineer.”