Fort Benning, GA 19 APR 02. I graduated from Infantry OSUT and 15 minutes after graduation was headed across post to the United States Army Airborne School. I had just spent 14 weeks learning the basics of my job. I had stood on a parade ground with a couple hundred of my battle buddies and been granted the title of “Infantryman.” Those of us that were heading on to Airborne School were told that we had 15 minutes with our families before we had to be on a Blue Bird bus to head over to the 1st Battalion, 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment to report for inprocessing and training.
It was rather warm that day. Those of us that had just graduated showed up wearing our Class Bs (dress uniform pants, short sleeve button up shirt, with “Pyle” Cap). There were 200 soldiers who showed up that day to begin their training as US Army Paratroopers. We stood around, waiting as they took us through the paperwork and drawing equipment and room assignments. We were finally released for the day a few hours later and told to be back on Monday morning. This was the first time since I had left for Fort Benning that I had actually had time to call my own.
I had one set of “civvies” in my bag from when I left Tampa four months earlier. My mom and sister came and got me and took me to the Peachtree Mall so I could buy some clothes to wear. They had to go home the next morning and I spent the rest of the weekend enjoying the peace and quiet of the hotel room before taking a cab back to the barracks. I spent Sunday night in the barracks, sharing a room with 3 other potential paratroopers. We didn’t quite know what to expect of the next day.
Bright and early Monday morning the fun started with an Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT). I was barely 18 years old and probably in the best shape of my life. After having spend the last four months in C Co 2-19 walking or running everywhere we went, it was a breeze. We lost 1/3 of our class on the APFT alone. I guess they weren’t kidding about if you failed an event or fell out of a run, you were gone. Good bye, better luck next time. We lost a lot of people that way.
The first week of Airborne School is Ground Week. During Ground Week, Soldiers must pass the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT). The Ground Week Airborne instruction begins with an intensive program of instruction to build individual Airborne skills. These skills prepare the Soldier to make a parachute jump and land safely. Students train on the mock door, the 34-foot tower and the lateral drift apparatus. With all of that said, you learn how to fall down. You run to different places to learn how to fall down for a week. I don’t think my abs or my neck had ever been that sore in my life.
At the end of that week, I was looking forward to catching some sleep. Once again, I had another weekend to do with as I pleased. I explored Fort Benning and Columbus, GA a bit. I got “Hey, you!”ed into being a practice dummy for some of the Black Hats who were preparing to go to Jumpmaster School. There went half a Saturday.
The second week of Airborne School is Tower Week. Tower Week completes the Soldier’s individual skill training and further builds team effort skills. To go forward to Jump Week, Soldiers must qualify on the Swing Lander Trainer (SLT), master the mass exit procedures from the 34-foot tower, gain canopy confidence and learn how to manipulate the parachute from the 250-foot tower, and pass all physical training requirements.
I didn’t get a chance to be dropped from the Tower. I was in the harness, getting hooked up to the lift cable when it was decided that the winds were out of tolerance. Basically, the jumper they had dropped before me had drifted almost all the way to a street intersection almost 300m away. This was an interesting week. I think my favorite part had to be jumping out of the 34-foot Mock Door.
After surviving more bumps and bruises from Tower Week, we finally made it to Week 3, Jump Week. Successful completion of the previous weeks of training prepares Soldiers for Jump Week. During Jump Week, Soldiers must successfully complete five jumps at 1,250 feet from a C-130 or C-17 aircraft. Paratroopers who successfully meet course requirements are granted an additional skill identifier and are authorized to wear the coveted “Silver Wing” on their uniform.
Okay, that is all the very methodical, straight from Army PAO description. Here’s something you may not have known about me. The first time I jumped out of an aircraft over Fryer DZ was the first time I had ever been on an airplane. It was a long time before I got on an airplane and stayed on it until it landed. That was a rather nerve racking experience.
The Jump. I did the goofy little skip like “Airborne Shuffle” as I headed to the door. I was probably midway through the stick, the 15th or 16th jumper. It was dark, hot and loud inside that C-130 as it made turns over the drop zone, putting soldiers out into the breeze. I finally reached the door, handed my static line off to the safety and turned into the door. I was on the left door, looking out I could see the Chattahoochee River. It was a shock to look out and see that I was 1200 feet above ground. The jumpmaster tapped me on the leg and yelled, “Go!” I did what I was trained to do. I didn’t hesitate, I trusted my equipment and I jumped. The 150 knot winds tore at me as I tumbled. I can say that my exit wasn’t graceful and looking back, wasn’t a very good one. My right foot got tangled up in my risers as the shoot opened and I fell most of the way upside down. About 50 feet above the ground, I finally got my feet loose and swung them down in time to make an actual PLF (feet, ass, head) about 10 meters from a stand of trees. I had survived and I was flooded with adrenaline. I just threw myself from a high performance aircraft and survived. What a rush! I get to do this 4 more times to graduate!
The next few days were spent in the Pax Shed. We made our jumps, culminating with a night time, combat equipment jump. A Marine Major who was in my class had a rough landing that night. He landed wrong and ended up breaking his leg. I found him as I was moving back to the assembly area. Young Private C had just learned all sorts of interesting buddy aid tricks not too long ago in basic training. I took my 2×4 from my M-1950 weapons case, snapped it in half and used 550 cord to secure it to his leg, effectively making a splint. I picked him up in a fireman’s carry, grabbed our parachutes in my free hand and made my way to where Sergeant Airborne’s truck sat. I passed the Major off to the medics and then jogged back to the assembly area to turn in our parachutes. If you were wondering, they allowed him to graduate because he had, in fact, made his 5th and final jump. He just didn’t get to stand in the formation with us.
May 10th, 2002 was another proud day. Mom, sis and bro were all there to see me get wings pinned upon my chest. I honestly had tears in my eyes. I had just completed two of the hardest events of my life. There is a reason that they say we [Paratroopers] are arrogant. Out of the million or so in uniform in the Army, about half a percent were willing to step out the door of an aircraft while in flight.
As I said before, I write these stories so you have an idea of what to expect. I want to be there the day that you earn your wings. If you’ll allow me, I’ll even pin them on your chest for you. It’s cool to have a family member do it, but it’s better if they have been there and gone before you. Keep me up to date. DR, Paratroopers are funny creatures. You’ll fit in well.
Infantrymen have a pride and arrogance that most Americans don’t understand and don’t like. Even soldiers who aren’t infantrymen don’t understand. The pride doesn’t exist because we have a job that’s physically impressive. It certainly doesn’t exist because it takes a higher level of intelligence to perform our duties. It’s sad and I hate to admit it, but any college student or high school grad can physically do what we do. It’s not THAT demanding and doesn’t take a physical anomaly. Nobody will ever be able to compare us to professional athletes or fitness models. And it doesn’t take a very high IQ to read off serial numbers, pack bags according to a packing list, or know that incoming bullets have the right of way.
The pride of the infantryman comes not from knowing that he’s doing a job that others can’t, but that he’s doing a job that others simply won’t. Many infantrymen haven’t seen a lot of combat. While that may sound ideal to the civilian or non-infantry soldier, it pains the grunt. We signed up to spit in the face of danger. To walk the line between life and death and live to do it again – or not. To come to terms with our own mortality and let others try to take our life instead of yours. We have raised our hands and said, “Take me, America. I am willing to kill for you. I am willing to sacrifice my limbs for you. I will come back to America scarred and disfigured for you. I will be the first to die for you.” [Most of you will hate me anyway.]
That’s why the infantryman carries himself with pride and arrogance. He’s aware that America has lost respect for him. To many he’s a bloodthirsty animal. To others he’s too uneducated and stupid to get a regular job or go to college. Only he knows the truth. While there are few in America who claim to have respect for him, the infantryman returns from war with less fanfare than a first down in a high school football game. Yes, people hang up their “Support Our Troops” ribbons and on occasion thank us for our service. But in their eyes the infantryman can detect pity and shame; not respect. Consider this: How excited would you be to meet the average infantryman? Now compare that with how excited you’d be to meet a famous actor or professional sports player and you will find that you, too, are guilty of placing the wrong people on a pedestal. You wouldn’t be able to tell me how many soldiers died in the war last month, but you’d damn sure be able to tell me if one of the actors from Twilight died.
Yet the infantryman doesn’t complain about that. He continues to do his job; to volunteer his life for you, all while being paid less in four years than Tom Brady makes in one game.
It’s a job most Americans don’t understand, don’t envy, and don’t respect. That is why we have pride for the infantry.
On 04 JAN 02, I left the Tampa, FL Military Entrance & Processing Station for Fort Benning, GA in a 15-pack van with 11 other future soldiers. We were headed for the 30th AG Reception Station before being pushed on to the Infantry Training Brigade (ITB). Georgia had received an ice storm on the 3rd and we ended up having to spend another night in the hotel in Tampa before making the drive. It took about 10 hours to make the drive and we arrived after midnight.
Upon arrival, we could see four men in uniform, wearing BDUs and brown Smokey the Bear hats. Under the arc sodium lights outside the building, all we could see is their jaw lines. It was quiet and cold. We got our bags out of the van and once we turned around, the shark attack began. In a tone loud enough to wake the dead in another state and with words that would make your mother blush, we were rushed inside to dump all of our belongings on a table. Our personal effects were searched for contraband. The next thing that we were instructed to do was to shave our [expletive x4] faces. We got our first hair cut shortly thereafter. Fuzzy cue ball is not my favorite coif for cold weather.
30th AG is where you get your Army identity. It’s where your pay check, medical benefits, insurance, and training starts. It was a whirlwind. Let’s skip forward a week. We marched to our basic training company, C Co 2-19th Infantry, “Rock of Chickamaugua”. Our duffle bags road on a truck. Drill Sergeants can be evil bastards. This was where we first experienced unrealistic time hacks to accomplish a task and then swiftly and severely punished when we failed to meet it. The duffle bags were thrown into a haphazard pile behind the trucks. Now, you have less than a minute to find two with your name on them. It’s like trying to find a pair of needles in a stack of needles while the timer on a bomb counts down. You get it now?
I am not going to recount all of basic training. Either you’ve been there and done that or you haven’t. If you haven’t gone yet, I don’t want to ruin the fun. I will make a short list of things that I will never forget:
- 1. The Obstacle Course- You and your Battle Buddy charging through the mud and water, exhausted, but feeling completely alive.
- 2. Eagle Tower- Repelling from the top of a tall ass tower. It was pretty awesome and rather terrifying at the same time.
- 3. THE BAYONET- A 25 mile foot march, broken up with squad/platoon attacks missions along the way (one of them involving climbing a clay cliff face to attack a dug in position). It ended with use climbing up Honor Hill, the pathway going up and the top of the hill lit with torches. The hand you a pint of grog before pinning your crossed rifles on the chest.
- 4. The Steak Breakfast the next morning.
- 5. Graduation Day- Standing on that field with your fellow baby grunts, ready to make your way to Airborne School or to your first Duty Station. You can feel the change in you. You stand taller, you are mentally and physically stronger. It was a proud day.
I am going to start writing about my journey in an effort to help someone prepare for what they are about to face. Things have changed in the last 12 years, but a lot of things haven’t. I hope you learn from these lessons, DR. If you’re willing…
To be continued…
Get the UBRR Eight Week Workout E-Book by Stew Smith at http://www.refactortactical.com/Upper-Body-Round-Robin-UBRR-p/ssubrr.htm
The Upper Body Round Robin AKA the UBRR is a commonly used physical fitness test among many Tier I and Tier II Special Operations Units. This pt test goes well beyond the typical scoring of pushups, sit-ups and a run. Have you completed the UBRR? Tell us how you did! Send us a video of you completing the workout for a chance to get some free swag!
The UBRR events include:
5 Mile Run/Ruck
As soon as an individual finishes one exercise, he must start the next exercise in no more than 10 minutes.
There is only one common standard for all age groups.
Only one attempt is allowed per participant at each station
In order to pass the UBRR, participants must achieve the following:
Pass all events with at least the minimum score, and Receive at least 1100 total points from all the events combined.
Time: No time limit.
Minimum: 6 repetitions with the individuals body weight minus 20 percent of the individuals body weight is the minimum
Score: The minimum is 100 points. Each additional repetition above the minimum is worth 3 points
The correct position is: The individual will lay flat (supine) on the bench, feet flat on the floor, shoulder blades, head, and buttocks in contact with the bench. Hands are approximately shoulder width apart.
A correct repetition is: On the command, “Go”, the bar is pushed off the supports (first repetition only), and arms are extended fully to the locked position. Then the bar is lowered until it touches the chest, and then raised until the arms are fully extended, elbows locked.
Grader position: The grader must be located to one side of the individual doing the exercise to ensure the feet stay flat on the floor, the buttocks, shoulder blades and head stay in contact with the bench, and the arms fully extended. The grader will notify the individual doing the exercise if the feet, buttocks, shoulder blades, or head lift do not maintain contact, or the arms don’t fully extend. The repetition will not be counted after the second notification.
Example: Individual weighs 180 pounds.
Minimum weight: 180lbs-36lbs (20% of 180) = 144 lbs
Individual presses 144 lbs 15 times.
Score = 100 points for minimum (6repetitions)
9 repetitions over minimum x 3 points per repetition for a total of 27 additional points (9 x 3 = 27). Total score is 127 (100 points minimum and 27 points for additional points).
Time: 1 minute
Minimum: 40 pushups is the minimum
Score: The minimum is 100 points. Each additional repetition above the minimum is worth 2 points
The correct position is: The back is generally straight, feet are up to 12 inches apart, hands are placed should width apart with arms extended and locked on a generally flat surface
A correct repetition is: On the command, “Go”, the body is lowered from the front leaning rest position until the chest (sternum area) touches a flat hand on the floor, then the body is raised until the arms are fully extended (locked).
Grader position: The grader will have one hand on the floor and the other on one elbow of the individual doing the exercise. The grader will notify the individual doing the exercise if he needs to go lower or extend the arms fully, and will not count the repetition after the second notification
Stew Smith Push up
Time: 1 minute
Minimum: 40 sit-ups is the minimum
Score: The minimum is 100 points. Each additional repetition above the minimum is worth 3 points
The correct position is: The individual lies flat (supine) on his back on a generally flat surface. The legs should have a 90 degree bend at the knees. Feet should be flat on the floor with no more than 12 inches in between them, and at the same level as the upper body. Fingers should be interlaced (one or more and at any part of the finger) and placed behind the head.
A correct repetition is: On the command “Go” the individual raises his upper body by bending at the pelvis until the spine (base of the neck) breaks or equals the vertical plane (lower spine). Then he lowers his body until the shoulder blades touch the floor. The person holding the feet may secure them by any means, but will not be in the way or assist in the repetition.
Grader position: The grader will be positioned perpendicular to the individual doing the exercise. The grader will notify the individual doing the exercise if he needs to go higher or interlace the fingers and will not count the repetition after the second notification.
Time: No time limit
Minimum: 6 pull-ups is the minimum
Score: The minimum is 100 points. Each additional repetition above the minimum is worth 3.5 points
The correct position is: The bar will be grasped with hands shoulder width apart, knuckles facing the individual. The individual will hang from the bar so that the arms are fully extended (starting position).
A correct position is: On the command “Go”, pull with the arms, raising the body until the chin is higher than the bar (head can be level or tilted back). Then the individual will lower his body until he is hanging with arms fully extended. The knees may be bent so the feet are behind the body, but the knees cannot come up in the front or kip in any way that would assist in the repetition.
Grader position: The grader will stand 18 inches in front of the person doing the exercise and will count out loud. If the individual touches the grader with any part of this body, that repetition will not count. The grader will notify the individual doing the exercise if he needs to go higher or lock the arms, and will not count the repetition after the first notification.
Stud Pull Up Bar works great for the test/training
Time: No time limit.
Minimum: 10 dips is the minimum
Score: The minimum is 100 points. Each additional repetition above the minimum is worth 2.5 points
The correct position is: The body will be fully supported on the dip bar, arms fully extended and locked. Legs may be bent or straight, and feet may be crossed.
A correct repetition is: On the command “Go”, lower the body until the upper arms are parallel with the dip bar, and then press upwards with the arms until the arms are fully extended, elbows locked.
Grader position: The grader will be positioned to one side of the individual to ensure the upper arms are at least parallel with the dip bar in the lower position, and the arms become fully locked in the up position. The grader will notify the individual if he fails the go low enough, or if the elbows don’t lock. He will not count the repetition after the second notification.
Time: No time limit
Minimum: Individual mist climb the rope (using any technique) until he can touch the designate height (the green tape at 20 feet) on the rope. Individual will wear a 20 lb vest during this exercise.
Score: This is a GO/NO GO event, and no points will be awarded.
Time: One minute time limit
Minimum: Six kipp ups is the minimum.
Score: The minimum is 100 points. Each additional repetition above the minimum is worth 3.5 points
The correct position is: The individual will position himself underneath the pull-up bar as if he were doing a regular pull-up. Do a left or right facing movement so the pull-up bar is now perpendicular to the individual. Grasp the bar with palms facing each other, no more than 5” apart, arms fully extended and body hanging without touching the ground.
The correct repetition is: On the command, “Go”, pull up with the arms and torso, raising the feet and legs, one leg on either side of the bar, until the heels touch above the bar, with the bar between the legs. Then lower the legs until the arms and legs are fully extend in the starting position. This is one repetition.
Grader position: The grader will be located to one side or the other of the individual to ensure the arms and legs are fully extended to start each repetition. The grader will also ensure that the heels touch above the bar on each repetition. The grader will notify the individual if the individual fails to fully extend the arms or legs or fails to touch the heels above the bar. He will not count the repetition after the second notification.
Time: 24 seconds is the maximum time
Score: The maximum is worth 100 points. Each full 0.1 second under the maximum is worth 2 points.
A correct course is: The course will be a pre-marked 25 meter running lane that is flat and without obstructions. Easily visible lines on the ground will indicate the starting point and the 25 meter point.
A correct shuttle run is: On the command “Go”, the individual doing the exercise will leave the start point and run down to the far end of the course, pick up a block, return to the start point and put that block down behind the line. Then he will pick up a different block, return to the far end, put that block down behind the line, pick up a different block and return to the starting line. The blocks must be placed behind the lines and carried by hand.
Grader position: The grader will be positioned behind the starting line, and must use a watch that measures tenths of a second.
Example: Individual’s time = 22.4 seconds
Time is 24 seconds or less (maximum) = 100 points
Total time under 24 seconds is sixteen 1/10th second increments
Score = 100 (maximum time) + (16 x 2) for tenths of a second
under the maximum for a total score of 132 points
Five Mile Run:
Time: Maximum time is 40 minutes
Score: The maximum is worth 100 points. Every full 5 second increment under the maximum time is worth 2 points
A correct course is: The course will be 5 miles in distance, with a paved (or similar) surface, generally flat and without obstacles. The start and finish line will be the same.
A correct five mile run is: On the command “Go”, the individual will begin to run at his own pace, and continue through the course until he crosses the finish line. This exercise must be completed
Grader position: The grader will be located at the start/finish line, and will begin the time at the command “Go”. He will call off the finish times as runners cross the finish line, and he will not stop his watch until the last runner has completed the run.
Example: Individuals time = 36:17
Time is 40 minutes or less (maximum) = 100 points
Total time under 40 minutes is 223 seconds
44 full 5 second increments x 2 points per increment = 88 points
(22 x 3 = 88)
Score = 100 (maximum time) + 88 (points for 5 second increments) for a total
Score of 188 points.
5 Mile Run
Five Mile Rucksack March:
Time: The maximum time is 75 minutes
Score: The maximum score is worth 100 points. Every full time increment of 15 seconds under the maximum is worth 2 points.
Equipment: The rucksack must weigh no less than 40 pounds dry. Uniform can be pants or shorts with boots.
A correct course is: The course will be 5 miles in distance, with a hard, solid surface, generally flat without obstacles. The start and finish line will be the same.
A correct five mile rucksack march is: Individual will begin at the start line, and at the command “Go”, will begin the ruckmarch at his own pace and continue through the course until he crosses the finish line. This entire exercise must be completed with the rucksack, and un-aided. Running is authorized.
Grader position: The grader will be located at the start/finish line, and will start the time at the command “Go”. He will call off the times as participants cross the finish line, and he will not stop the time until the last individual completes the rucksack march.
Example: Individuals time is 52 minutes 35 seconds.
Time is 75 minutes or less (maximum) = 100 points
Total time under 75 minutes is 22 minutes and two 15 full seconds
22 minutes x 4 (15 second increments) = 88 + 1 (15 full second)
89 x 2 = 178
Score of 178 points
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Looking to improve your UBRR Score? Try the Eight Week Workout guide by Stew Smith available for immediate download at http://www.refactortactical.com/Upper-Body-Round-Robin-UBRR-p/ssubrr.htm
From Hit the Woodline
Admiral William McRaven is, by anyone’s definition, a true warrior. A 36-year veteran of the US Navy, he earned his Special Operations credentials the hard way, first by completing the grueling selection and training program required of all men who aspire to become a Navy SEAL. He then went on to serve on the storied SEAL Team 6, and to command SEAL Team 3 before his appointment as commander of Special Operations Command Europe.
More recently, ADM McRaven commanded the Joint Special Operations Command, the most elite and complex SOF formation in the world. It was in this capacity that he became a household name as the commander of the raid that finally got Osama Bin Laden. Currently, Admiral McRaven directs all US Special Operations Forces as the commander of US Special Operations Command (SOCOM).
ADM McRaven had the opportunity to work with the Army on many occasions over the course of his career, and these interactions were the subject of the speech he delivered when he travelled to the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York in January to be the Guest of Honor for an event known as “500th Night.” 500th Night marks an important milestone for the junior class of cadets: 500 days left until graduation and commissioning into the US Army.
ADM McRaven’s 500th Night speech, titled A Sailor’s Perspective on the United States Army, was transcribed and released by West Point. We edited West Point’s transcript slightly for purposes of readability and have provided it for you below. It is a lengthy read, but I assure you it is well worth it. The last five or so paragraphs are the most poignant.
Many of us on the Havoc13 team worked with ADM McRaven in the past and know that he is an impressive public speaker in addition to being an outstanding Special Operator, so it came as no surprise to hear that he gave a rousing and memorable speech at West Point. But the transcript of his comments shows the intelligence, insight, humility, and depth of experience that set him apart in a field crowded with talented warfighters.
In the last paragraph of his 500th Night speech, ADM McRaven says “there is no more noble calling in the world than to be a soldier in the United States Army.” That is high praise coming from any four-star officer, especially a man who made a career in the Navy. At the same time, though, it shows the deep respect that warriors have always had for each other, regardless of parochial differences. Substitute any branch of the Armed Services—Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps or the Coast Guard—into the statement that ADM McRaven made, and it would remain equally true. Service in the profession of arms IS a noble profession. The military is at the top of the “most trusted” institutions in the United States for a reason. It should be that way. May it always be so.
ADM McRaven’s 500th Night speech was powerful and inspiring to read, we can only imagine what it was like to hear it in person. We offer a salute, not just to ADM McRaven, not just to the US Army, but to ALL of the men and women who, fully knowing the hazards of their chosen profession, nonetheless suit up every day to protect our nation and our way of life. Thank you, and God bless.
A Sailor’s Perspective on the United States Army
Admiral William H. McRaven, Address to Class of 2015, 500th Night
18 January 2014
Good evening General and Mrs. Caslen, General and Mrs. Clarke, General Trainor, Col Brazil, Command Sergeants Major Duane and Byers, distinguished guests and most importantly Class of 2015. I am truly honored to be here tonight to address the future leaders of the United States Army.
But, as a graduate of a state school in Texas, who majored in journalism because I couldn’t do math, or science, or engineering or accounting, I am somewhat intimidated by the thought of giving any advice, to any cadet, on anything. Nevertheless, after almost 37 years in the service, much of that time with the Army, there may be something I can offer.
So tonight, as you begin the final 500 days of your time at the United States Military Academy, I would like to give you a Sailor’s Perspective on the Army; not the Army of the Hudson, not the Army of the history books, not the Army portrayed in the countless murals across campus, but the Army you will enter in 500 days—the Army upon which the future of the Nation rests; the Army that you will shape and the Army that you will lead. So, if you will humor this old sailor, I will tell you what I’ve learned in my time serving with the Army.
In the past twelve years I have worked for the great Generals of this generation; Dempsey, Petraeus, Odierno, McChrystal, Austin, Rodriguez and Dailey. All graduates of the Military Academy, each man, different in his own way.
Dempsey, a man of great humor and compassion, whose quick wit, and keen tactical sense allowed him to secure Baghdad as a Division Commander, lead the Central Command as a three star, and today, as the Chairman, he presides over the greatest change in our military since WWII and he does so with tremendous reason, intelligence and with a song in his heart.
Petraeus, whose understanding of the strategic nature of war was unparalleled. Who saw opportunity in every challenge and who dared greatly in hopes of great victories. His daily command decisions in Iraq and Afghanistan unquestionably saved the lives of thousands of young soldiers.
Odierno, a soldier’s soldier, who as a Division and Corps commander in Iraq, fought with a fierceness one would expect of a great warrior and then as the Commander of all forces in Iraq combined that fierceness with the diplomat’s subtle hand to lead and shape the future of a sovereign Iraq. And today, he leads the greatest Army the world has ever known.
Austin, the quiet bear of a man, whose deep intellect and incomparable combat experience allowed him to think through every complex problem and to succeed where others might have failed.
McChrystal, whose creative mind and intense drive for perfection, changed forever how special operations would fight on the battlefield and changed how SOF would forever be perceived by the Nation—and in doing so, likely changed the course of the Armed Forces as well.
Rodriguez, the everyman’s general who proved time and again, that character matters–that hard work, perseverance, persistence, and toughness on the battlefield are always traits of success.
And Del Dailey, whose boldness and innovation, coupled with a Night Stalkers sense of teamwork and aggressiveness, began the revolution in special operations.
What did I learn about the Army in watching these men and other great leaders like Keith Alexander, Chuck Jacoby, Mike Scaparrotti, John Campbell, Bob Caslen and Rich Clarke? Well, I learned first and foremost that your allegiance as an officer is always, always to the Nation and to those civilian leaders who were elected by the people, who represent the people.
The oath you took is clear; to support and defend the Constitution, not the institution– not the Army, not the Corps, not the division, not the brigade, not the battalion, not the company, not the platoon, and not the squad—but the nation.
I learned that leadership is hard. Karl von Clausewitz once said that “everything in war is easy, but the easy things are difficult.” Leadership sounds easy in the books, but it is quite difficult in real life. I learned that leadership is difficult because it is a human interaction and nothing, nothing is more daunting, more frustrating more complex than trying to lead men and women in tough times. Those officers that do it well earn your respect, because doing it poorly is common place. You will be challenged to do it well.
I learned that taking care of soldiers is not about coddling them. It is about challenging them . Establishing a standard of excellence and holding them accountable for reaching it. I learned that good officers lead from the front. I can’t count the times that I saw Petraeus, without body armor, walking the streets of Mosul, Baghdad or Ramadi, to share the dangers with his men and to show the enemy he wasn’t afraid.
Or McChrystal, jocking-up to go on a long patrol with his Rangers or SEALs in Afghanistan; Dempsey on a spur ride in Iraq; Austin at the head of his Division during the invasion of Iraq; Odierno, cigar in mouth, rumbling through the streets of Basrah; Rodriguez and Dailey always center stage during the tough fights in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I learned that if you are in combat, move to where the action is the hottest . Spend time with the soldiers being miserable, exhausted and scared. If you’re a Blackhawk pilot or a tank commander, spend some time on the flight line or in the motor pool with the maintainers and the wrench turners. Whatever position or branch you are in, find the toughest, most dangerous, job in your unit and go do it.
I learned that you won’t get a lot of thanks in return. I learned that you shouldn’t expect it. Your soldiers are doing the tough job every day, but I guarantee you, you will learn a lot about your troops and they will learn a lot about you.
I learned that the great leaders know how to fail. In the course of your Army career you will likely fail and fail often. Nothing so steels you for battle like failure. No officer I watched got it right, every time. But the great ones know that when they fail, they must pick themselves up, learn from their mistakes and move on.
Rudyard Kipling, the great British storyteller, poet and soldier once wrote, in part, “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you. If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, but make allowances for their doubting too. If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two imposters just the same. Yours is the earth and everything that’s in it and which is more– you’ll be a man my son.”
If you can’t stomach failure, then you will never be a great leader. I learned that great Army officers are risk takers, but the greatest risk is not on the battlefield, but in standing up for what’s right.
I have seen a young lieutenant stand up to a colonel when that officer’s behavior was out of line. I have seen a captain challenge a general about a flawed battle plan. I have seen many a general privately confront their civilian leadership and question the merits of the national decisions. All Army officers are expected to take risks in battle. The truly great officers know that real victory is achieved when men and women of character take professional risks and challenge the weak – kneed, the faint of heart, the indecisive or the bullies.
And finally, in watching Army officers, young and old, I learned that the great officers are equally good at following as they are at leading. Following is one of the most underrated aspects of leadership and each of you will be asked to follow someone else. The strength of a good unit rests more on how well the officers follow the commander, than how well they lead their own soldiers. I have seen many a good Battalion and Company underachieve because someone in the officer ranks thought the Commander was incompetent and quietly worked to undermine his authority.
I guarantee you, that in the course of your career you will work for leaders whom you don’t like and don’t respect. It will be easy to make fun of their idiosyncrasies, their receding hair line, their soft chin or their spouse. Be very careful about getting too smug, too opinionated and too righteous. As long as the actions of y our commander are moral, legal and ethical, then do everything you can to support the chain of command and avoid the rolling eyes, the whisper campaigns and junior officer dissension.
I learned that the great Army officers know how to follow. And what about the soldiers that you will lead? In my career I have been fortunate to have served beside soldiers from the Screaming Eagles of the 101st Division, the paratroopers of the All American Division, the 1st Armored Division, the 1st Cavalry Division, the10th Mountain Division, the 1st, 3rd and 4th Infantry Division, all Groups of the Special Forces Regiment and my beloved Army Rangers.
I learned that the greatest privilege the Army can bestow upon you is to give you the opportunity to lead such magnificent men and women. These soldiers are not without their challenges. Your soldiers will, at times, question your authority. They will undermine your actions. They will mislead you, frustrate you, disappoint you, and occasionally fail you. But, when the chips are down, I mean really down, your soldiers will be there and they will inspire you with their courage, their sense of duty, their leadership, their love and their respect.
In difficult times, your soldiers will be everything you dreamed they would be—and more. All one has to do is look at the citations that accompany the actions of Sergeants Sal Giunta, Leroy Petry, Robbie Miller, Ty Carter, Jarad Monti, Ross McGinnis, Paul Smith, and Clinton Romesha. Men whose unparalleled heroism, above and beyond the call of duty, was only apparent moments before their brothers were threatened. I learned that your soldiers are at their best when their brothers and sisters in arms are threatened. They are at their best when life deals them the hardest of blows and their indomitable spirit shines through.
In 2007, I visited the intensive care unit in Landstuhl, Germany, where the Army was sending all of its most critically injured soldiers from Iraq. As I walked into the sterile room, clad from head to toe in clean white garb, a man lay naked on the bed in front of me. Missing one leg above the knee and part of the foot on the other leg, he was swollen beyond recognition from the blast of an IED.
The doctor in attendance didn’t know the man’s unit or service. I asked the man in the bed if he was a Marine or a Soldier. Unable to talk, he pointed to his thigh. There on what was left of his thigh, was a tattoo; the 1st Infantry Division. “You’re a soldier,” I remarked. He nodded. “An infantryman.” I said. He smiled through what was left of his face and then he picked up a clipboard upon which he had been writing notes. He looked me in the eye and wrote on the paper. “I –will—be— infantry—again!” Exclamation point. And somehow I knew that he would.
Just like the young Ranger in the combat hospital at Bagram who had both his legs amputated and was also unable to speak. The nurse at his bedside said that he knew sign language. His mother was deaf and the soldier had learned to sign at a young age. He was so very young and a part of me must have shown a small sign of pity for this Ranger whose life had just been devastated. With a picture of hand gestures in front of me, the Ranger, barely able to move and in excruciating pain, signed, “I will be okay.”
ADMIRAL WILLIAM MCRAVEN, COMMANDER OF US SPECIAL OPERATIONS COMMAND, SPEAKS TO CADETS AT THE UNITED STATES MILITARY ACADEMY ON 18 JANUARY (PHOTO CREDIT: USMA PAO)
And a year later I saw him at the Ranger Regimental Change of Command. He was wearing his prosthetic shorties, smiling from ear to ear and challenging the Rangers around him to a pull up contest. He was okay. Just like the young female sergeant who I just visited at Walter Reed this week. She was seriously injured in a parachute accident. With her father by her side, she laughed off the injury like it was a scratch. She’s been in the hospital for two months and has years of rehabilitation ahead of her. She has no self- pity, no remorse, no regrets, just determination to get back to her unit.
These soldiers and tens of thousands like them will be the warriors you lead in 500 days. You had better be up to the task, because I have learned that they expect you to be good. And, most importantly, I also learned that y our soldiers expect you to hold them to high standards. These soldiers joined the service to be part of something special and if they are not held to a high standard, if their individual efforts are no more important, no more appreciated than the efforts of a slacker then it will directly affect the morale of the unit.
And I learned that nothing is more important than the morale of a unit. MacArthur once said of morale, “…that it cannot be produced by pampering or coddling an Army, and it is not necessarily destroyed by hardship, danger, or even calamity…It will wither quickly, however, if soldiers come to believe themselves the victims of indifference or injustice on the part…of their leaders.”
The great leaders in the Army never accept indifference or injustice and they only judge their soldiers based on the merit of their work. Nothing else is important. Not the soldier’s size, not their color, not their gender, not their orientation, not their religion, not their ethnicity— nothing is important, but how well your soldiers do their job.
I am confident that history will reflect that the young American’s who enlisted in the Army after September 11th, were equal in greatness to their grandfathers and their great grandfathers who fought in the World Wars—and in 500 days you will inherit these incredible soldiers. Be ready.
Finally, in watching the Army for most of my career, I learned that no institution in the world has the history, the legacy, the traditions, or the pride that comes from being a soldier. I am envious beyond words. I learned that whether you serve 4 years or 40 years you will never, ever regret your decision to have joined the United States Army. You will serve beside the finest men and women in America. You will be challenged every day.
You will fail. You will succeed. You will grow. You will have adventures to fill ten life times and stories that your friends from home will never be able to understand. Your children and their children and their children’s children, will be incredibly proud of your service and when you pass from this earth, the Nation that you served so very well will honor you for your duty. And your only regret will be that you could not have served longer.
And if for one moment you believe that because Iraq is over and Afghanistan is winding down that the future holds few challenges for you, then you are terribly, terribly mistaken. Because as long as there are threats to this great Nation, the Army upon which this Nation was founded, will be the cornerstone of its security, it’s freedom and its future. And you, as Army Officers, will shape that future, secure our freedoms and protect us from harm.
So what has this sailor learned? That there is no more noble calling in the world than to be a soldier in the United States Army. Good luck to you all as you complete your final 500 days. May God bless America and may we always have the privilege to serve her. Thank you very much.
(photos, transcribed comments, and 500th Night details credited to West Point PAO)
By THOM SHANKERJAN. 18, 2014
FORT DRUM, N.Y. — Spec. Perez Brown Jr. spent three years in the Army and two tours in Afghanistan, where on his 23rd birthday a homemade bomb blew up a vehicle in his convoy and he came close to driving over another one just down the road. “That second one might have been for me,” he said.
Now Specialist Brown is safely home with the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, where he goes on field marches in the frosty forests near Lake Ontario. He will not be sent again to Afghanistan, where American involvement is winding down, so he is part of an Army that is no longer carrying out war plans, only training for them.
Although he is glad to be back, Specialist Brown misses the intensity and purpose that deployments brought to his life. Here in upstate New York, he said, it is peaceful but a little boring. “There are too many slow days,” he said.
A dozen years after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, most of the two million American men and women who went to war are home, adjusting to new lives. Slightly more than half remain in the armed services, where many are struggling — like America’s ground forces over all — to find relevance in the face of an uncertain future.
Their restlessness is a particular challenge for the Army, which sent 1.3 million troops to war after 9/11 and created the most combat-tested force in the nation’s history. But now it must sustain the morale of soldiers who have returned to American bases and are living what the military calls garrison life.
“You have to ask yourself if you want to be that leader who is relegated to navigating garrison bureaucracy — submitting ammo requests, coordinating weapons ranges and conducting inventories,” said Capt. Brandon Archuleta, a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan who returned to Hunter Army Airfield, Ga. “I know those processes are in place for a reason, but it’s frustrating nonetheless.”
Lt. Andrew Mayville, who commanded an artillery platoon of 20 soldiers in Afghanistan and is back home at Fort Drum, misses the urgency of his deployment and so is applying to the Special Forces, a branch of the Army that trains allied militaries overseas and is sent to hot spots. “You can compare it to a football player who trains for years,” he said, “and doesn’t want to sit on the bench for the Super Bowl.”
The problems soldiers face in adjusting to ordinary Army life after the adrenaline of combat weighs on commanders.
“It takes a bit of audacity to fall out of a perfectly good airplane in the dark of night,” said the 82d Airborne Division’s command sergeant major, LaMarquis Knowles, based at Fort Bragg, N.C. “So there are some challenges when we integrate back into civilization. You transition from one mind-set — you roll out of your cot and you seek and destroy the enemy — to coming back to the States, where we want you to drive safely.”
Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, acknowledged that the Army and its soldiers were at “a very important inflection point.” The numbers tell part of the story: The Army is reducing to 490,000 troops from a post-9/11 peak of 570,000, and some at the Pentagon already are suggesting that budget cuts might force the Army down to as low as 420,000 in years to come.
But General Odierno, who served multiple command tours in Iraq, insisted that the Army would not be confined to garrison life. Instead, he said, his soldiers will be “globally responsive and regionally engaged” in overseas war games, exercises with foreign militaries and, if needed, deployments to hot spots. He also wants to restore a schedule of academic training, which was pushed aside by combat.
Maj. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, commander of the 10th Mountain Division, is carrying out that mission with his soldiers. “We are not going to sit in our garrisons,” he said. “That’s not what the Army did before the wars. We trained here. We deployed for training all over the world. And we will find our way back to that.”
But the reality is indisputable. The 10th Mountain was the first division sent off to fight the war in Afghanistan, and now it will be the last. General Townsend is headed to eastern Afghanistan in a final deployment that will close the official NATO combat mission by the end of the year.
A More Experienced Field
Captain Archuleta, 30, is the face of today’s Army, the kind of young officer who had experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan far beyond his rank. President of his 2006 class at West Point, he deployed a year later as a platoon leader to Babil Province, south of Baghdad. One day, his battery commander approached him with an unusual offer.
“He said, ‘I’m having trouble with the town council,’ ” Captain Archuleta recalled. “ ‘I know you are a wonky poli-sci kind of guy. I’m at a standstill. Can you contribute to this?’ ”
Captain Archuleta joined a team of military representatives to the town council of Al Haq, where he helped oversee public services — water, roads, electricity — assisted in reconciliation talks with tribal elders and worked as a payroll officer to Iraqi security forces.
“My battery commander and my battalion commander realized they had a big challenge with governance,” he said. “They knew they couldn’t be everywhere at once. It was quite empowering for them to delegate those authorities to me.”
Over two wars, experiences like Captain Archuleta’s were repeated up the chain of command.
Commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan never had as many forces as called for under the military’s troop-heavy counterinsurgency strategy, so officers had to secure far larger expanses of territory than in past wars as a range of unexpected responsibilities, particularly governance and economic development, fell to them. Captains had responsibilities held by colonels a generation before, colonels shouldered the challenges of past generals, and generals had resources larger than many nations’ defense ministries.
But when Captain Archuleta returned home to Hunter Army Airfield in 2010, after he commanded a company of 110 soldiers in Afghanistan’s volatile Khost Province, he missed the responsibilities that his commanders had given him in war.
“My peers who felt similarly either pursued broadening assignments within the military, like me, or simply left active duty for business school and the private sector,” he said.
The Army, seeking to retain Captain Archuleta, selected him to join the West Point faculty to teach American politics. The Army is now paying for him to earn a master’s degree in public affairs at the University of Texas en route to a doctorate in government. Under his agreement with the Army, he will leave the West Point faculty and return to the fighting force in 2017.
“Such a positive option was not the experience of all of my contemporaries,” Captain Archuleta said.
Transition to Peacetime
That challenge of transitioning to a peacetime Army is felt in a different way across the enlisted ranks, as commanders say they typically face more challenges disciplining troops at home.
“We all struggle with the fact that leadership in garrison is much tougher than leadership in combat,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Larry D. Farmer, who served as the senior noncommissioned officer for the 82nd Airborne’s Combat Aviation Brigade at Fort Bragg.
Young soldiers may have survived multiple combat tours and countless brushes with death, which commanders say can lead to a sense of invincibility and the need to seek out the rush of war from thrills like reckless driving and drug and alcohol abuse.
Although there is typically an initial honeymoon period when soldiers return to their families, the frictions of daily life start to spark by the six-month mark, and Army leaders know they have to pay special attention as problems may emerge.
Stepping up the training schedule can help. Last summer, in a military exercise, more than a thousand paratroopers from the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division floated down from the dark bowl of sky over Fort Bragg, visible through night-vision goggles as umbrella-shaped shadows against a pale green backdrop.
Their mission, the centerpiece of an eight-day war game for 7,500 troops, was to evacuate civilians endangered by a foreign political crisis and secure a chemical weapons depot in a chaotic, unnamed nation.
The 82nd Airborne, back home after years of nonstop deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, continues to prepare for conflict, although not the full-scale land wars of the last 12 years. As Robert M. Gates said in 2011, when he was the defense secretary, “Any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should have his head examined.”
Instead, commanders say the Army’s future lies in creating leaner, faster units that can provide disaster relief, secure embassies, seize airfields and deploy for other emergencies large and small — all while continuing to deter potential adversaries from aggressive actions.
“Our recent combat experience is not necessarily analogous to what we are going to have to do in the future,” said Maj. Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr., commander of the 82nd Airborne. The division has again been designated the military’s Global Response Force — ready to deploy a battalion of about 750 troops overseas within 18 hours, and a full brigade of about 3,500 troops in as little as two days.
To meet that renewed purpose, General Nicholson also put his paratroopers through a separate “no-notice alert” last year to rehearse going from a status quo daily schedule to a rapid combat deployment. More than 1,000 soldiers swapped out their distinctive maroon berets for camouflage helmets as they shrugged into parachutes and loaded their combat equipment onto transport aircraft as if for immediate dispatch to an overseas crisis.
These drills, General Nicholson said, reflect the most significant change for paratroopers here, one that will return the division to its historic rapid-reaction role. They also serve to keep impatient troops who experienced real combat in Iraq and Afghanistan occupied at home.
When it comes to money for training, his division is one of the fortunate ones. For almost a year, tight budgets have meant that only those units next in line for deployments have been allowed to conduct large-scale training exercises — the sort of event that focuses the energy of soldiers and boosts morale.
“What keeps me up at night,” General Odierno said, “is if I’m asked to deploy 20,000 soldiers somewhere, I’m not sure I can guarantee you that they’re trained to the level that I think they should be.”
As for Specialist Brown, he has decided that his future and the Army’s are intertwined. With hopes for advanced training in electrical engineering, and at least the prospect of another tour overseas — perhaps to Africa, Europe or Asia — he has re-enlisted for another three years.
“I haven’t decided whether I’ll stay in for the whole 20 years,” he said. “But I’m willing to take it a couple of years at a time.”
Three weeks from coming home, N.C.-based soldiers die in Iraq.
Spc. Marc S. Seiden
Died January 2, 2004 Serving During Operation Iraqi Freedom
26, of Brigantine, N.J.; assigned to 2nd Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C.; killed in action when his convoy was ambushed by the enemy who used an improvised explosive device (IED), small arms fire, and a rocket-propelled grenade, on Jan. 2 in Baghdad.
Army Spc. Solomon C. Bangayan
Died January 2, 2004 Serving During Operation Iraqi Freedom
24, of Jay, Vt.; assigned to 2nd Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C.; killed in action when his convoy was ambushed by the enemy who used an improvised explosive device (IED), small arms fire, and a rocket-propelled grenade, on Jan. 2 in Baghdad.
We were three weeks away from coming home. It’s one of those days in my life that I will never forget. I couldn’t tell you what I had for breakfast that morning or even what time I woke up. I can’t even tell you the exact time the call came in over the radio, but that is when the memory starts.
I was part of the company mortar section back then. Being a part of the company headquarters section often meant making runs to battalion or the support area for meetings, supplies, meals, etc. I remember that we’d just rolled back in the gate at the oil refinery we were living in from one such trip. We’d gone to pick dinner up for the company. We hadn’t even shut off the trucks yet when we heard the call over the radio.
Our third platoon had two trucks on patrol to the south, down on River road. I don’t even remember exactly what their mission was down there at the time. I do remember the sound of the voice on the radio saying that an IED had detonated under one of our trucks and there were casualties. We tossed the mermites full of whatever food we’d picked up that evening onto the curb, jumped back into our trucks and hauled ass.
I remember worrying about my best friend at the time. He was the RTO in 3rd platoon. I didn’t know if he’d gone out with them. In reality, it was a short drive, I barely even remember it looking back. I just remember how at the time it seemed that we weren’t moving fast enough.
Once at the site, certain images, scents, feelings and actions can never be forgotten. They’ve crawled into that protected hard drive space in my brain that will never be erased until the lights to out.
Four 105mm artillery rounds had been set off under the truck. It had ripped the right side of the truck off, killing Marc instantly. At the same time, he explosion at launched the truck into the air, causing it to barrel roll down a hill. Bang (Bangayan) had been in the turret and had been thrown free, but the concussion of the blast had killed him. I remember when I first saw him, lying on a stretcher. He could have been asleep, there wasn’t a scratch on him.
My best friend’s roommate, Dave, had been thrown from the truck as well. When we arrived, he was down the hill, with his leg pinned under the rear right tire. The truck was sitting on a very steep incline, with all of its weight resting on the side Dave was pinned under. I remember six of us grabbing the frame of the truck and lifting with all of our might. It was the heaviest thing in the world at the moment, the side with the armor still intact, but we had to move it. We had to get Dave out from underneath the tire and get him to the incoming medevac.
I remember helping to set up the HLZ and then going to perimeter security. And when the bird landed, I was sent to help carry Bang to the helicopter. I remember the myriad of emotions I felt. I remember thinking just how fucking unfair it was that these guys got injured or killed just three weeks before we were supposed to come home. I remember seeing my best friend at one point and feeling a guilty sense of relief that he was okay.
I don’t remember much else about that day after that. We pulled security, EOD came and did crater analysis and we went back to the company eventually. The next three weeks until we went home are lost to the sands of time.
I do remember the day that we caught the guys who set the IED. I remember riding in the back of the truck, pulling security while we took them to the detention center. I can’t speak for anyone else in that truck, but I remember wanting to put my Beretta to one of the guy’s skulls and sending him to whatever god he believed in. That was the justice I wanted to give my brothers. It was dark and cold when we arrived at the support area and handed them over. I remember the fences and bright lights they had set up, but I didn’t go inside.
It’s amazing what my mind does remember of that day, 10 years ago. I was a 19 year old kid, on the end of my first tour to the sandbox. So much life has happened since then. I still keep in touch with a lot of the guys who were there that day. I’m sure each of them could give you a variation of the same story from their own point of view. You don’t forget days like that. Even 10 years later.
So now it’s 0217 in the morning, January 3rd, 2014. Today is my 12 year anniversary of joining the Army.