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9/11 Reflections: Alan Rohlfing, Lieutenant Colonel, US Army (Retired)

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For me, as for many of us, the morning of September 11, 2001 started off like any other. It was a beautiful day in St. Charles, Missouri. My wife & I had one young son & one on the way. An Army guy, I was a traditional National Guardsman and a small business owner with about 1,000 things going on at any given time.

I was in the process of taking my son to daycare when I first heard news of the attack. As I started the car & turned on the radio, it was the only news on every station. The second plane had already made impact by the time I tuned in. I recall that news reports were relaying some concern over a few other commercial airliners that weren’t communicating with air traffic control, with the talk of scrambling military fighter jets. I prayed that those pilots wouldn’t be placed in the position of having to shoot down a commercial airliner.

I hadn’t left the driveway yet, and I looked in the rearview mirror at my young son, sitting in his car seat. I remember having that sinking feeling that so much of our world had just forever changed. I knew our military world had just changed, too, but I doubt anyone could have predicted how much. As a member of a Field Artillery battalion’s operations staff, there were exercises in the coming training year that I was helping to prepare for, and the artilleryman in me knew we were going to have to ‘adjust fire’ regarding our yearly training plan. I figured that our combat arms unit, part of the Missouri Army National Guard, would deploy…it was just a matter of time.

And deploy we did, just like the rest of the Active and Reserve Components. We deployed more than once, and to various parts of the world. I was already a combat Vet – I deployed with the 1st Infantry Division to Operation Desert Storm a decade earlier, while on active duty – but I didn’t have a young family back then. Sitting in that driveway, looking at my young son & thinking of the one we had on the way, I was worried for their safety & the world they were going to grow up in.

Fast forward to 2017. I hung up the uniform for good last summer, and a bittersweet day it was. I imagine the events of 9/11 – and the subsequent training, unique duty positions, and deployments –  altered what would have been a shorter military career. Like many of my colleagues, I’ve missed years of family time. I’ve lost Brothers & Sisters to combat and to suicide. I’ve forged some incredible friendships and witnessed some awesome things through a multinational lens. These 17 years have come and gone with blinding speed, and it seems like the next time I turn around, it will be the 25th or 50th anniversary of that fateful day. But I know, beyond all doubt, that we will never forget…

-Alan Rohlfing, Lieutenant Colonel, US Army (Retired)

9/11 Reflections: Mark C. Lear, Major, US Army (Retired)

On September 11th, 2001, I was a Captain of Armor in the Illinois National Guard’s 66th Brigade. I served as a traditional National Guard soldier, drilling part-time as I’d done for 8 years during college and after active duty. After 12 years in the U.S. Army, I’d considered strongly the idea of separating from service. After that terrible day, there was no way I would leave before serving until retirement or on a deployment that could bring justice to the terrorists who hurt our American family.

At 7:45 local St. Louis time, I heard of the first plane crashing into the North Tower and it took a little less than a minute to imagine the worst. By the time I made it to the gas station, where they played the news each morning, the second plane had just hit the South Tower. The attendant said, “That’s weird”. I responded, “No, that’s war”.

Continuing my drive to work, my heart sank as my neighbors in cars around me were bawling. I was very angry and praying for those workers in the towers. That day at work we did nothing but watch the news. By noon, we went home. I watched the news all that day with my family. Around dinner, I called my Grandmother to ask her what would my grandfather have done today. On December 8th, 1941 he made his way to the recruiter and was made a Coast Guard Medic soon after. It was 6 years before he returned home for good. Grandma told me to be careful but she understood my desire to re-enter active duty that day.

I called a friend of mine in the Armor branch who managed the assignments of young Captains. He told me to stand fast, that we in the National Guard would be going soon enough. I followed his advice and deployed for the first of two times 4 months later. A horrible and fateful day that should have never happened!

– Mark C. Lear, Major, US Army (Retired)

Army Spends Millions to Search for Unexploded Ordnance

Army Spends Millions to Search for Unexploded Ordnance

Army Spends Millions to Search for Unexploded Ordnance

By Debbie Gregory

Unexploded ordnance experts have been searching for military munitions off Hawaii’s Makua Beach, focusing on a 22-acre area after a 5-inch projectile was found offshore in 2016.

“It’s about the length of two football fields and the depth of one football field,” said Col. Steve Dawson, of U.S. Army Garrison Hawaii.

Unexploded ordnances are explosive weapons (bombs, shells, grenades, land mines, naval mines, cluster munition, etc.) that did not explode when they were employed and still pose a risk of detonation, sometimes many decades after they were used or discarded.

The Army expects the search, which is just about to wrap up, to cost approximately $3.5 million.

In 2011 that a recovery effort at Ordnance Reef resulted in the removal of approximately 2,380 small, medium and large items that appeared to be munitions. A total of 331 pounds of explosives was destroyed, the Army said.

The munition found in 2016 was recovered and destroyed by the Navy. During World War II, the military practiced beach landings at Makua. It’s possible more rounds fired from Navy ships fell short of land. Additionally, Makua Military Reservation was used as a firing range by the Army.

Excess World War II munitions were also dumped by the military in such a quantity over a 5-square-mile area off Pokai Bay that it became known as “Ordnance Reef.”

The search, which was conducted on weekdays, utilized UXO-qualified divers with metal detectors and a global positioning system (GPS) to scan the ocean floor, according to Col. Dawson.

The delay in launching the project after the 5-inch round was found was due to the Army needing to obtain federal unexploded ordnance removal funding, as well as access to a fully operational and staffed hyperbaric chamber, which was a safety regulation required for the divers.

 

 

Special Forces Legend, “Iron Mike” Dies

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Special Forces Legend, “Iron Mike” Dies

By Debbie Gregory

Last month, the Army lost a special ops legend.

Maj. Gen. Michael D. Healy, 91, spent 35 years serving in the military, completing tours in Korea and Vietnam. Healy began his career with parachute training followed by attendance at a number of Army Colleges, including Ranger School.

Maj. Gen. Healy earned the nickname “Iron Mike” while serving as a young officer leading Army Rangers on combat patrols deep behind enemy lines in Korea in the early 1950s. The nickname, which stuck with him throughout his life, was a testament to his stamina and ability to take heavy loads, as well as helping others with their loads.

The Chicago native enlisted in the Army at the age of 19.

He entered the Korean War as a Company Commander with the Airborne Rangers, which at the time was a newly formed unit of the Army. Most of his career was spent in Vietnam, where he served five and a half tours, leading the 5th Special Forces group for almost 20 months, and earning him his first Distinguished Service Medal.

When he retired in 1981, Maj. Gen. Healy was the nation’s most senior Special Forces soldier.

Iron Mike’s legend made it to the big screen as the inspiration for John Wayne’s character, “Col. Iron Mike Kirby,” in the 1968 film “The Green Berets.”

Maj. Gen. Healy’s legacy would not be forgotten in the close-knit Special Forces community, according to Retired Sgt. 1st Class Cliff Newman, executive director of the Special Forces Association.

“He was one of the first Americans to go into Vietnam and one of the last to leave,” he said.

Maj. Gen. Healy was the recipient of the Distinguished Service Medal, two Silver Star Medals, a Legion of Merit with three oak-leaf clusters, a Distinguished Flying Cross, a Bronze Star Medal with valor device, an Air Medal with Valor device, a Navy Commendation Medal with valor device and two Purple Heart Medals. He is also a member of the Officer Candidate School Hall of Fame.

In 2016, Maj. Gen. Healy was inducted as a Distingished Member of the Special Forces Regiment. He had a special bond with the men he lead, and was a beloved hero of the Green Berets. He always credited his success to the men he lead.

In an interview, Maj. Gen. Healy said: “I would like to walk in the back gate at Fort Sheridan like I first did and say, ‘Yes, sir, I’ll go.’ But today, I’m in civilian clothes. My uniform is packed away.”

Maj. Gen. Healy will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery near his mentor, the late Gen. Creighton Abrams.

 

 

Army Chaplain Completes Ranger School at Age 41

U.S. Army Chaplain, Capt. Ryan Mortensen, assigned to 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, 2nd BCT, 25th Infantry Division, meets with local school children to learn about the difference in American and Thai culture during a humanitarian aid mission in Lopburi province, Thailand, Feb. 16, 2015. The mission was carried out as a part of the joint-training operation Cobra Gold 2015. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Steven Hitchcock/Released) Cobra Gold 2015 150216-A-SE706-168

Army Chaplain Completes Ranger School at Age 41
By Debbie Gregory.

Army Chaplain Completes Ranger School at Age 41

By Debbie Gregory.

Capt. Ryan Mortensen is the kind of person who loves a challenge. The 41-year-old is one of only 1,600 chaplains in the U.S. Army, and he is now one of only 20 chaplains who have completed the rigors of Army Ranger School at Fort Benning, Georgia.

Mortensen called his accomplishment “a small miracle.”

He joined the Army Reserves while serving as a school teacher in Saipan, 120 miles north of Guam. He earned his master of divinity degree from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary.

When Mortensen and his family, wife Erin, sons Elijah and Micah, and daughter Isabella were stationed at the Army’s Schofield Barracks, he came into contact with soldiers wearing the Ranger tab, and he started asking questions.

They told him to forget attempting Ranger School at his age.

“Any time somebody tells me I can’t do something, I get a little bug in my head thinking I can do it. Once I learned the Rangers were the elite of the elite, it really got my attention.”

Mortensen had to fight for permission to carry a weapon, which chaplains aren’t normally allowed to do. But he prevailed and was allowed to enroll in the school.

Ranger school is challenging to hopefuls half Mortensen’s age. Asked if he ever wanted to quit, Mortensen said:

“No, but did I ever pray that God would let me have an accident, break a foot and go home honorably? Yeah.”

Fast forward two years, when Mortensen got the word that he needed to head to Fort Benning. He had a graduation ceremony to attend. His own!

His first call, late at night, was to his family in Hawaii.

Firstborn son Elijah answered the phone.

“He asked if that was me, then asked what was going on,” Mortensen said. “I told him, ‘Daddy got a go; Daddy is a Ranger.’ He screamed, ‘Daddy is a Ranger!’ I heard my other two kids screaming, and Erin ran over and grabbed the phone. That was so special.”

“This is an amazing, eclectic life I have lived,” he said. “Can you believe it? I earned the Ranger tab.”

Now, Mortensen must put his new distinction and the experiences it took to earn it to use.

“If I have the opportunity to use this tab to show the love of Christ and his mercy and giving people hope,” Mortensen said, “I am excited about that.”

Army and Air Force Botched Adoptions of Military Working Dogs, Report Finds

Staff Sgt. Shawn Martinez and Bono, a tactical explosive detection dog, inspect an Afghan truck for explosives near Forward Operating Base Sharana, Afghanistan. (U.S. Army photo by 2nd Lt. Jacob Giardini)

By Debbie Gregory.

The Inspector General’s office has determined that the Army failed their canine soldiers once their work in Afghanistan ended.

The tactical explosive detection dogs (TEDDs) were also let down by the Air Force, as the agent for the Defense Department’s Military Working Dog Program.

Lacking proper oversight of the placements and adoptions of the dogs “occurred without complete adoption suitability records and some families adopted TEDDs with possible aggressive or unsuitable tendencies,” according to the IG’s report.

The IG found cases where a dog that was trained to bite or was aggressive was given to a family with small children. Many of the dogs weren’t neutered or tracked properly.

Army data show that of 232 dogs, only 40 were adopted by their handlers.

An important thing to remember is that not all Military Working Dogs (MWDs) are TEDDs.

In 2010, the Army began developing the TEDD program to support Brigade Combat Teams deployed to Afghanistan to mitigate Improvised Explosive Device attacks and to reduce casualties resulting from Improved Explosive Devices.

The TEDD capability was developed as a nontraditional Military Working Dog program. The Army procured and trained the dogs through an Army contract rather than procuring them through the Air Force’s 341st Training Squadron, the agency authorized by regulation to procure Military Working Dogs for use by DoD components. The Army selected and trained soldiers attached to deploying units as temporary TEDD handlers only for the duration of deployment. The Army ended the TEDD Program in 2014.

Some of the TEDDs were sent to law enforcement agencies, but were never used n a security role. Additionally, an unidentified private company adopted 13 TEDDs, but ended up surrendering them to a kennel, according to the report.

In a 2016 report to Congress, the Air Force noted shortcomings in its policy allowing the dogs’ military handlers to adopt them. Breakdowns in the system for notifying handlers when their former working dogs became available for adoption resulted in missed adoption opportunities.

Congress has recommended “former handlers of MWDs as first priority for MWD adoption,” the report said.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Army OKs Direct Commission for Civilian Cybersecurity Experts

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By Debbie Gregory.

Are you a programmer, web developer or data scientist? Do you enjoy solving a challenge with a innovative tool, script, program, or reverse engineering a piece of equipment? If so, and you have a four-year degree and are currently working in the tech field, you can now join the Army as an officer.

Qualified civilians can now directly apply for a commission as an officer in U.S. Army Cyber. Direct commissioning will allow candidates chosen to forgo the Army’s 10-week Basic Combat Training Course

The Army has approved a program to recruit experienced cybersecurity experts directly into the service as cyber officers. That means you could join the Army at the rank of First Lieutenant or higher, and start building the future of Army Cyber warfare.

The pilot program aims to bring in five new officers each year for five years. Potential candidates should be skilled in teamwork.

Applicants must be younger than 41 years old, hold U.S. citizenship, be able to obtain and maintain a Top Secret security clearance, and meet the Army’s physical fitness standards.

Individuals selected for the pilot program will spend six weeks in the direct commission course at Fort Sill in Oklahoma and then attend the 12-week Cyber Basic Officer Leader Course at Fort Gordon in Georgia. Most cyber officers will be stationed either at Fort Gordon or Fort Meade in Maryland.

Those selected will build tools and devices, write algorithms, ciphers, programs and scripts, and conduct research based on their current industry expertise.

Officers entering military service must complete a total of eight years of service, with at least three years on active duty, followed by service in the U.S. Army Reserve or Army National Guard.

Following suit, the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps will be offering similar programs in the cyber field.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Theories of the Origins of the Army’s Battle Cry “Hooah”

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By Debbie Gregory.

The battle cry “hooah!” (not to be confused by the Marine Corps’ “OOHRAH”) is used by soldiers the U.S. Army. Many have questioned the origin of the term.

One version said that Seminole chief Coacoochee toasted officers of the regiment with a loud “Hough!”, apparently a corruption of “How d’ye do!”

“I don’t know how exactly to spell it, but I know what it means,” said former Army Chief of Staff Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan. “It means we have broken the mold. We are battle focused. Hooah says — ‘Look at me. I’m a warrior. I’m ready. Sergeants trained me to standard.’”

Other rumored origins include:

  • During World War II, soldiers would reply to orders from their commanding officers with “HUA,” an acronym for “heard, understood, acknowledged.” Some say that HUA really stands for “head up ass,” or HOOA, for “head out of ass.”
  • On D-Day, 1944, on Omaha Beach, General Cota, the 29th Division Assistant Division Commander asked a group of Rangers from the 2nd Ranger Battalion, “Where’s your commanding officer?” They pointed him out and said, “Down there, sir.” General Cota reportedly followed their direction and, on his way down the beach, said, “Lead the way, Rangers!” The Rangers from 2nd Bat reportedly said, “WHO, US?” General Cota thought he heard them say “HOOAH!” He was so impressed with their cool and calm demeanor, not to mention their cool term, hooah, he decided to make it a household name.
  • American soldiers using Vietnamese and Vietnamese-French expressions interchangeably with English during the Vietnam War. The Vietnamese word for “yes,” which is pronounced “u-ah” is easily changed to “hooah.”

Although no one is really sure where and when the term originated, or even how to spell it, the word is still an expression of high morale, strength, and confidence. And, when powered by an overwhelmingly proud, and usually loud, tone of voice, “hooah / hooyah / oohrah” no matter how it is spelled, makes a statement.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Army Offering Up to $90K Re-enlist Bonuses

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By Debbie Gregory.

The U.S. Army is offering up to $90,000 to soldiers who reenlist as the service branch looks to add tens of thousands to its ranks.

The Army will triple the amount of bonuses it’s paying this year to more than $380 million, which includes incentives to woo soldiers to re-enlist, in an effort to expand its ranks.

By committing to another four or more years, soldiers in the most sought after positions such as Special Forces, cyber security, cryptologist and language skills could get $50,000-$90,000 up front. This with more routine jobs, such as some lower level infantry posts, may get just a couple of thousand dollars, if any bonus at all.

Under the current plan, the active duty Army will grow by 16,000 soldiers, taking it to 476,000 in total by October. The National Guard and the Army Reserve will also be adding troops, but at a lesser number.

To meet the mandate, the Army must find 6,000 new soldiers, convince 9,000 current soldiers to stay on and add 1,000 officers.

The biggest hurdle, according to senior Army leaders, is convincing thousands of enlistees who are only months away from leaving the service to sign up for several more years. Many have been planning their exits and have turned down multiple entreaties to stay.

“I’m not going to kid you. It’s been difficult because a lot of these kids had plans and their families had plans,” said Gen. Robert Abrams, head of U.S. Army Forces Command.

Maj. Gen. Jason Evans, head of the Army’s Human Resources Command, said the Army was expanding “responsibly with a focus on quality,” inferring that there will be not be a  relaxation of standards such as previous waivers given to those with criminal or drug use records.

The new bonuses seem to be working, with the Army seeing a spike in re-enlistments, according to Mst. Sgt. Mark Thompson, who works with Army retention policies.

The Army is about three-quarters of the way to its goal for re-enlistments.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Vet Filmmaker Who Wrote “Sand Castle” Salutes His Generation

sand castle

By Debbie Gregory.

Screenwriter Chris Roessner, an Army and Iraq war veteran, turned his war experiences into the controversial Netflix film, Sand Castle.

The Canton, Ohio native grew up in rural Texas and joined the Army when he was 18, a few months before 9/11. Less than two years later he was deployed to Iraq, where he spent the next 14 months serving with a civil affairs unit attached to the 4th Infantry Division.

Roessner describes his deployment to Iraq as “the best and worst thing” that ever happened to him.

Roessner received the Tillman Foundation’s “Make Your Mark” award, and used the opportunity to address the criticism and stereotypes about his generation, often referred to as millennials.

Stereotypical millennials are lazy and entitled. But Roessner believes you can’t support the troops if you’re trashing the generation that’s actually doing the fighting.

“I’m of the opinion that one cannot disrespect our generation and respect the military at the same time. Those two thoughts are in opposition.”

He continued, “We are a group that has been asked to shoulder two of the longest wars in our country’s history, to weather a great recession, to surmount crippling student loan debt.”

There are many combat veterans who have criticized his work as narrow at best and “anti-war” at worst. But Roessner maintains that he wrote his story from his experiences, and encouraged those with a different view to write their own story.

“If I approach this film thinking that my job or my goal to write the film that resonates with every Iraq or Afghanistan war veteran, I would’ve never started,” Roessner said. “But I hope you write your film; I hope you write your book; I hope you do whatever you possibly can to have your story told.”

Roessner had been home from Iraq for more than seven years before he began working on the screenplay.

“Initially, I just wanted it to be cathartic,” he said. “I had no dreams whatsoever of it being made. I just wanted it to exist, so I at least knew that I tried to make some sense of this thing.”

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.