Summer 2017 DEFENSE STANDARD
BUILT TOUGH BATTLE HARDENED
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DEFENSE STANDARD Summer 2017
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The versatile Mark 6 1-6x20mm: For when it counts. With a 34mm maintube, daylight bright illumination and a CMR-W reticle, this scope is made for the world’s best warriors.
© 2015 Leupold + Stevens, Inc.
Summer 2017 DEFENSE STANDARD
DEFENSE STANDARD Summer 2017
Summer 2017 DEFENSE STANDARD
PRAETORIAN STANDARD Praetorian Standard, Inc. is a Small Disabled Veteran Owned Business (SDVOB) providing expertise and operational support services to meet the challenges of government agencies, commercial, and
non-governmental organizations, sometimes in difficult environments worldwide. We are currently
providing training and technical communications support to the Special Operations Forces (SOF) community, expertise to the State Departmentâ€™s Counterterrorism Preparedness Program, as well
as Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) exercise and IT support to the Department of
Homeland Security (DHS). While PSI efforts cover a wide array of services, they all have one thing in common â€“ professionals with experience, integrity, and expertise to get the job done right to bring the best product to the customer every time.
DEFENSE STANDARD Summer 2017
Sponsored Content HISTORY
Praetorian Standard, Inc. was created in 2010 with one single contract. It was a contract that began with a handshake in a war-torn city; it was a contract that shone a light on the need for a strong company willing to do hard things in what most would consider to be very difficult places. As government and commercial clients began to understand the mission statement and the scope of its capabilities, the company began to grow. At this time, it clarified its vision: to meet the challenges that arise for organizations — military, government or commercial — that want to do business in difficult environments worldwide. The unique leadership and broad range of expertise positioned the company well to deliver on that mission. By late 2011, PSI was receiving some domestic attention for their operational and emergency risk management operations overseas. Team members were hired as consultants to deliver risk assessments on critical infrastructure for U.S. transportation entities, such as Amtrak. Thus began the company’s broadened vision of providing strategic support in our homeland and to other commercial entities. PSI’s domestic work was further enhanced when the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security required risk management consultants, tactical and strategic support and information technology expertise. At the same time, the company’s work in the Middle East has continued to grow and PSI remains hard at work as an international logistics company, providing critical life support services worldwide. MISSION
Praetorian Standard, Inc. provides life support services to critical projects in the U.S. and abroad.
In its capacity as an international logistics company, it is focused on assisting domestic and international partners as they launch critical projects. It provides operational and emergency infrastructure risk management assessments, homeland security and emergency management services to government agencies, private entities and non-governmental organizations in difficult environments worldwide. The company’s clients are both government and commercial and share one trait: they need hard jobs done well, often in difficult places, around the globe. They call on PSI because of a wealth of experience in homeland security and emergency management, as well as the caliber of its leadership and the integrity of the teams it employs. The company’s mission is to provide logistics services, risk management solutions and life support anywhere, at any time. MOVING FORWARD
PSI is currently looking at expanding services with our current customers, as well as the commercial mining industry, cyber community and other government agencies. PSI believes in giving back to the community. As a company, we support multiple charities most specifically the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, women’s health charities, various Multiple Sclerosis charities, and Alzheimer charities. At the same time we encourage our employees to be engaged within their communities. At the end of the day, it comes down to people, and PSI employees have a “uniqueness” that is key to our success. Individually, they have decades of experience and have made sacrifices. Each and every one. These professionals understands the mission and the drive to do what others can’t, and the vision to know what needs to be done to ensure success.
Summer 2017 DEFENSE STANDARD
NEW for 2017:
4.5-18x44, First Focal Plane (MIL/MIL), Precision Rifle Scope
Over the years we have had several requests for a first focal plane, Mil reticle optic that has Mil turrets. Like always, we listen to our customers. LUCID Optics is proud to introduce, NEW for 2017 the MLX 4.5-18x44 Precision rifle scope. This optic is specifically designed to offer a high level of performance with crystal clear glass built in a extremly durable 30mm chassis, offered at at a value driven price that is nearly unheard of in the market toiday. The MLX offers an abundant 10 Mils of elevation and 5 Mils of hold under in the reticle on 18x with an additional 10 Mils of adjustment either side of the center in turret travel. The turrets adjust with a, â€œLift, Adjust, Press down to lock, Lift higher to re-zeroâ€?, mechanism designed to keep all of the adjustments intensional and secure. Give the NEW MLX 4.5-18x44 a look, when you have questions let us know.
www.mylucidgear.com | 307-463-2633 | firstname.lastname@example.org
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Kicking the preverbal tires on a NEW Optic from LUCID Optics. I was able to get my hands on the NEW for 2017 LUCID Optics MLX rifle scope recently. After receiving the package that came a few days earlier than expected I found what seemed to be a very well built and thought out rifle scope in my hands. The NEW MLX from LUCID Optics is a (4.5x - 18x44) Mil Based, First focal plane rifle scope that is compact in size at just a little under 14” long and weighing in at a well balanced 26oz. The MLX is built on a one piece, 30mm tube, a fast focus 34mm ocular and a 44mm objective. In my first look through this glass I noticed that the image is incredibly clear and showed outstanding color accuracy and bright sharp resolution through out the entire magnification range. Now, the MLX is a front focal plane optic so it has a clean and nicely designed reticle that does grow and shrinking in tandem with the magnification changes made. There is a parallax adjustment on the left side providing an adjustment in the ranges of 15yds to infinity. I also noticed that the eye relief on this optic was quite generous, maybe that was the way I was holding it, as the optic had not been mounted to the test platform firearm just yet. I was simply to excited to wait to look through it. So, attempting to remain objective, I set the optic down even though I did not want to, and gathered my mounting system and test fire arm on the bench and began the process of setting the optic on the firearm. All in all, the MLX appears to be well thought out and has a LOT of features that I am sure will prove themselves on the range in the coming days. Mounted and Finally Range Day with the LUCID Optics MLX With the NEW MLX 4.5x - 18x44 from LUCID Optics mounted on the test platform firearm, for this I use a Savage 10 Action, Chambered in 6.5 Creedmor set in a MPA Chassis with a Schillen Barrel. Finally it was time to send some projectiles down range and see just how the LUCID Optics MLX performs. With a really easy zero it was time to go to work, the optic was only off 3/10’s of a Mil in windage and 7/10 of a Mil in elevation. I found the turrets a bit different, they lift up, for access to making the adjustment and lift even further to re-zero the markings on the turret with the index dots on the scope body. I like this feature, just new to me. With any First Focal Plane optic designed specifically for the PRS market, the acid test in precision is a “box test”. Does the optic track properly? I like to do these at 50 yards as this provides the most travel requirements from a normal sized target and eliminates most of the “shooter error”, that can be introduced at further distances.
Judging by the target, I mean, see for your self LUCID Optics MLX performed Very Well. In this review the MLX seemed to take ALL I could dish out and smile. Any of the anomalies in shot placement are obvious shooter error, no complaints from me on the performance of the MLX so far. Once through the Box test and with a confirmed re-zero at 100yds, I wanted to run the reticle out a bit and see where it actually held in contrast to my proven ballistic data. So I referenced my ballistic app, STRELOK and set the reticle on the 600yd target with the magnification on 18x, held the 4MIL line and squeezed. The strike on the steel was unmistakable. So I backed the magnification off to 10x and sent another. It stacked right on top of the previous one. No shift in magnification and the reticle is measured properly. I could not help myself I engaged steel out to 1200yds and as close as 100yds. The crystal clear performance of the LUCID Optics MLX made it almost like cheating. Time spent with this optic was an absolute pleasure. Final Thoughts Ok, I have to be honest, I am truly impressed especially since this thing has a MSRP of $649. If you are looking for a high quality glass with more features and benefits than many other optics out there, well over $1000 more,, get your hands on one of the LUCID Optics MLX 4.518x44, and use the left over budget for ammo. Now the only issue I have is finding out what it is going to take to get the good folks at LUCID Optics to let me keep this one. - Dee Zimmerman Avid Shooter
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Editorial notice: The stories contained herein represent contributions submitted over the ten-year history of DEFENSE STANDARD. The stories were compiled just as they were written and several include references to dates and time relative to the date of their submission.
The Lion of Fallujah: Inside the Soul of an â€œUnabashedâ€? Warrior By Tom Breen
By Tom Breen
The Legend: Hard to believe, but true
His first rescue mission, and his last
Michael Murphy and the Men of Operation Red Wing A Tribute
Dick Meadows By Tom Breen
The soldier who would not surrender By Tom Breen
Doing the Right Thing By Tom Breen
By Elaine S. Povich
Paul Ray Smith
The Enduring Legacy By Tom Breen
Summer 2017 DEFENSE STANDARD 13
FIELD TESTED. COMBAT PROVEN. PROUD SUPPLIER TO USSOCOM
14 DEFENSE STANDARD Summer 2017
100% MADE IN THE U.S.A
Courage in Combat By Tom Breen
A profile in courage, a symbol of so many others By Tom Breen
Standing Proud, to the End By Tom Breen
Photo by Airman 1st Class Donald Hudson
A moment of courage, a lifetime of valor By Tony Mecia
Honoring the Thirty
By Marine Cpl. Reece Lodder
Lives cut short, but not forgotten By Julie Bird
Summer 2017 DEFENSE STANDARD 15
MANUFACTURER OF TACTICAL SHOOTING PRODUCTS
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Summer Summer2017 2015 DEFENSE STANDARD 17
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Summer 2017 DEFENSE STANDARD 19
remember just about every single thing a guy did on a run, but I can guarantee you that it isn’t the norm. The reason I bring all of this up is to prove the point that subjective evaluation lends itself to rely on memory and what an individual thought they saw. Objective evaluation
Subjective: “reality as perceived - rather than as independent of mind.” What does this really mean? When something like an observation of an event is viewed in a subjective way, it is based inside of an individual’s brain. Things like life experiences, memories, personal biases and prejudices all command the subjective view. To get even more crazy scientific on you, when a person looks at something in a subjective way, they see it as perceived reality instead of reality itself. The bottom line is a subjective observation can change wildly from person to person. Now, let’s look at the opposite of subjective.
Objective: “the realm of sensible experience independent of individual thought and perceptible by all observers.” The real meaning of this is pretty simple. This type of observation starts and happens outside the mind of any specific person. In this instance, the action is observable by any other individual looking at the same situation. In order for this to happen, all subjective biases have to be removed. I am sure you are wondering what point I am trying to make. Why is this article in a defense magazine and not in a philosophy textbook? I won’t hold you in suspense any longer. If you are reading this article, you have probably done some type of structure clearance. It could have been a few rooms, a small house or an entire abandoned mental hospital (they are pretty creepy, by the way). I am willing to bet many of you have had a lane grader, training cell or whatever your particular service calls them, tell you at the end of the run, “You went left instead of right in that room, on the fourth floor, at the end of the hallway, two rooms deep with the chair in it.” Oh, and you aren’t the only one they have comments about. It makes you think there is no way in Hell they know what every single person in the stack did on a tenminute run. I actually knew some guys in training cell that could
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is concrete, unbiased, and based on what really happened. The best example of an objective review tool is video. We all know pictures and video don’t lie (unless your best friend does an edit job so it looks like you are making out with your mother - though that is a subject for a different time). Video review is a very useful tool. If it is used in a targeted manner at the right times, it allows a person to build a mental model of the correct skill. Watching video is a proven way to enhance the skill learning process. Unfortunately, the video analysis of a training event doesn’t happen until the end of the day or even the following day. Immediate review can provide a person with the opportunity to improve a skill or technique by the very next training iteration - in a matter of minutes. Video can be saved for anytime use or evaluation to review the progress of individual skills. Video recordings can reveal improvements or losses in one’s performance over time. It also is an invaluable tool in the diagnosis of a unit’s overall training program. Finally, it can be used to show new members of a unit the performance of veteran, top performers by providing them a solid baseline in which to begin training.
Sports coaches are utilizing immediate video evaluation more and more to critique the performance of athletes at every level. Traditionally the feedback process has been based upon a coach’s subjective observation of performance, which can be influenced by bias, emotion and previous experiences (Hughes and Bartlett, 2008). For example, a football coach’s subjective observation process is known to be unreliable and inaccurate, since even experienced coaches have been shown to be able to recall just 59.2% of the critical events occurring during 45 minutes of football performance (Laird and Waters, 2008). This lack of accurate recall ability can lead to ‘highlighting’, where a coach’s perception of performance becomes distorted by those events that they can remember (Hughes and Bartlett, 2008). Ultimately this results in inaccurate coaching feedback and decision-making, which can be improved with the use of objective, unbiased and comprehensive information performance analysis that video is capable of providing (James, 2006; Hughes and Bartlett, 2008). A few years ago, we participated in a military exercise and
had the opportunity to interview some special operators. They told our engineers they were using action cameras on operations and had no way of sharing what they were seeing with other squad members. The operators already had the cameras and were issued some type of smart device, but they couldn’t understand why there wasn’t an easy way for the two talk to each other. We iterated extensively with these and other operators to develop a solution to greatly improve overall situational awareness. This solution is called Networked Tactical Television or NTtv. NTtv is a first person video sharing system that allows you to simply swipe the screen of your smart device to view different video streams in real time. The system also allows you to record up to 30 hours of video for use in after action reviews of real world operations or training evolutions. It is compatible with a wide variety of cameras to include commercial action cameras, thermal, IR and the MOHOC® wireless tactical camera. The video encoders are actually small computers that include Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS. The encoders mesh with one another providing up to half-mile line of sight connection
between each encoder. They also have a small server that feeds the video recordings to a site we have established so you can view all the videos that are time stamped and geolocated, or they can be sent to your own site that you control. If there is no other backhaul communication support, the encoders speak to each other, providing you a video sharing capability. They also communicate over existing cellular networks and over certain data capable tactical radios. The system can be used to provide the on scene commander real time video of operations. This results in far better situation awareness than just describing what is going on over a radio. NTtv is an invaluable training tool that allows trainers to set the system up in any location to capture the actions of trainees. NTtv now also includes a multiple DVR (mvDVR) feature that adds the ability to instantly review multiple synchronized camera views of the same action without having to go through hours of recorded video to find what you are really looking for. This vastly speeds up the after-action review process and provides immediate feedback using video angles that matter for each training evolution.
NTtv is very configurable, simple to use, exceptionally mobile and very cost effective compared to the other expensive, less capable systems currently available.
HUGH L. MIDDLETON Hugh graduated from The Citadel with a degree in Business Administration and has over 25 years of experience as a former Naval Special Warfare Lieutenant Commander and multiple civilian upper management positions. While in the SEAL Teams, Hugh was assigned to SEAL Teams One, Three, Five, Six and spent time in various overseas assignments including a Special Operations Joint Staff. In January of 2013, Hugh co-founded Kopis Mobile to develop mobile applications and app-enabled devices for the military, law enforcement, and private security markets.
For more information, visit our website at kopismobile.com orSummer call 866-535-1985 1. 2017 DEFENSEExt STANDARD 21
The soldier who would not surrender
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By Tom Breen
s he lay dying at Waco’s St. Catherine’s hospice in central Texas shortly before Christmas, Army Special Forces Medal of Honor legend Bob Howard — wounded and near death countless times in Vietnam as he became America’s most decorated war hero — fought for his life one last time with the same ferocity that marked every moment of his existence. He was damned if he was going off into the good night without a fight. It was not that his own life was so important to him — he had risked it over and over across Vietnam in the 1960s. It was the idea of surrendering to the enemy that was unacceptable. In this case the enemy was pancreatic cancer, as destructive as a land mine or mortar shell.
Thus it was at St. Catherine’s one day shortly before he died that Howard, disoriented but probably knowing exactly what he was doing, left his bed momentarily. “It took five of us to get him back there ... he was that strong,” recalls his son-in-law, Assistant Waco Police Chief Frank Gentsch. The incident at St. Catherine’s was a reminder of the day during the Vietnam War when he left a hospital bed to join a Special Forces unit in the heart of combat. A guy “built like a lumberjack,” as he often has been described, was not about to hang around a hospice room in central Texas, fatal illness or not, or around a hospital room in Vietnam when others were dying in combat. Wounded 14 times during a 54-month period, repeatedly exposing himself to enemy fire to save others, Colonel Howard served five tours in Vietnam and remained on active duty until 1992. Single-handedly, Army documents show, he killed scores of enemy forces and saved the lives of just as many, if not more, of his own troops. He later worked with the Department of Veterans Affairs, traveling overseas, often with his friend, retired Command Sgt. Maj. Gary Littrell, who also received a Medal of Honor, to meet with troops in Afghanistan, Iraq, Germany, Bosnia, Kosovo and elsewhere. He traveled overseas in April 2009 even as he weakened. “The doctors think he probably was sick at least a year, quietly putting up with pain most people could not endure,” Gentsch says. His ability to quietly accept pain truly amazed everyone who met him. For example, during one overseas trip, Howard met with a Purple Heart recipient (Howard had many Purple Hearts), who later commented, “I should not even be in the same room with this guy, wounded as many times as he was.” Amid the ferocity Howard exhibited on the battlefield, and during his war with cancer, he had another side to him, a softer side, which often emerged in his personal life. “He was just Grandpa to my kids,” gentle, loving and supportive, Gentsch says. “He was very humble despite everything he had done during his life.” In addition to his own kin, Howard considered every soldier to be part of his extended family, talking to troops and comforting them at every opportunity, repeatedly reminding various groups to always honor their service, “especially at Christmas,” the season he loved, the season in which he died.
As an ambassador for American patriotism and values, Howard transcended the Vietnam era, fitting in easily with the men and women giving themselves, and often their lives, in Afghanistan and Iraq. And during all those meetings with troops, several people have noted, Howard declined to play the role of a military legend. He was one of them, quiet and humble about who he was and what he had achieved. Howard was so humble, Gentsch says, he rarely spoke of his military service while his own children, including Gentsch’s wife Melissa, were growing up. “I met him in the 1980s and frankly did not know much about him, because my wife did not know much about his Vietnam service,” he says.
Col. Robert L. Howard
BORN: July 11, 1939, Opelika, Ala. DIED: Dec. 23, 2009, Waco, Texas.
MILITARY SERVICE: U.S. Army, 1956 to 1992, joining as an enlisted man, later earning an officer’s commission. Worked for the Department of Veterans Affairs after leaving the military, speaking to troops around the world. UNITS: 101st Airborne and Military Assistance Command, Vietnam — Studies and Observation Group (MACV-SOG). COMBAT EXPERIENCE: Five tours in Vietnam. Wounded 14 times.
MEDALS AND DECORATIONS: Medal of Honor awarded in 1971 for selfless actions in the rescue effort of a wounded soldier in Vietnam in 1968; Distinguished Service Cross (2); Silver Star; Defense Superior Service Medal; Legion of Merit (4); Bronze Star (4); and Purple Heart (8). PERSONAL: Lived in San Antonio after leaving the Army. Four children: Denicia Howard of Florida, Malissa Gentsch of Texas, Rosslyn Howard of California and Army Sgt. Robert Howard Jr.
SOURCE: Department of Defense; the Howard family
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hen Howard succumbed to cancer on Dec. 23, his hand, then tossed the mine into a truck full of startled most Americans had no idea who he was, or NVA [North Vietnamese Army] and detonated it,” Plaster what he had done. writes. “On another occasion, he saw a VC [Viet Cong] “In 1955, every schoolkid knew Alvin York’s and terrorist riding the back of a motorbike toss a grenade at Audie Murphy’s names. In 1970, no one ever heard of a GI chow line. [He] took off at a dead run, snatched an Bob Howard’s valiant deeds, though his body bore more M-16 away from an amazed security guard, dropped to one scars and his chest more decorations than either of these knee, carefully aimed and shot the driver dead, then chased acclaimed heroes,” retired Army Maj. John L. Plaster, a the passenger a half-mile and shot him dead, too.” former special operator, wrote in SOG: The Secret Wars of Adds Plaster, “What’s all the more impressive is that America’s Commandos in Vietnam. Howard thought both missions unremarkable and received What he had done was “so overwhelming it is hard no award for either.” It is Plaster’s book – the publication for me to imagine it,” says Kaitlin Horst, a spokeswoman of which was delayed until the Defense Department for Arlington National Cemetery. In Howard’s case, some perused it because of its emphasis on secret missions — would say the rock-hard Alabaman stands alone, beyond that helped shed light on Howard’s bravery and on the Murphy and York. “The other two can’t compare to Bob; Studies and Observation Group (SOG) that included Army no one can because no one received more decorations” Green Berets, Air Force commandos and Navy SEALs. The says Littrell, a Kentuckian now living in St. Petersburg, Fla. SOG was answerable primarily to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “Bob was recommended for three Medals of Honor, but Plaster himself served with these units in Vietnam, and received only one because that is just the way it was during writes from firsthand experience. the Vietnam War.” According to a forward Speculation at the time for Plaster’s book, written by was that the Pentagon and the retired Army Maj. Gen. John Nixon administration feared K. Singlaub, who headed up “IN 1970, NO ONE EVER that three Medals of Honor SOG operations from 1966 HEARD OF BOB HOWARD’S would draw too much public to 1968, “SOG performed attention to Howard’s Special the war’s covert special VALIANT DEEDS, THOUGH Operations mission, instead operations, running farHIS BODY BORE MORE awarding him a Silver Star flung, top-secret missions all and the Distinguished Service across Southeast Asia with SCARS AND HIS CHEST Star for the other two acts of indigenous saboteurs and MORE DECORATIONS valor. agents in North Vietnam; The three Medal of Honor Green Beret-led recon teams THAN EITHER OF THESE recommendations for Howard that penetrated the heavily ACCLAIMED HEROES.” came in 1967 and 1968, one for defended Ho Chi Minh Trail in his actions during the fall of Laos and enemy sanctuaries in 1967, when he protected his Cambodia; raider companies team by charging an enemy and platoons that struck deep bunker amid close-up machine-gun fire; another for his into Laos and Cambodia; rescue teams that went after actions in the fall of 1968, when he disabled a Soviet-built POWs and downed pilots; SEAL naval advisers who trained tank, rescuing three Americans despite being struck by more Vietnamese Sea Commandos for missions on the coasts of than a dozen pieces of shrapnel; and yet another (for which North and South Vietnam; propagandists who confused, he finally was presented with the Medal of Honor) for his deceived and manipulated our foes; and courageous fixedactions in late December 1968, when he led a firefight, once wing and helicopter aviators who flew anywhere, anytime, again putting himself in the open to protect his team. His to insert and extract SOG’s covert warriors.” In a way, they hands mangled by shrapnel from an exploding landmine all should have received Medals of Honor. and barely able to walk, he was the last man to board a s for Howard, the ultimate SOG warrior, his entire rescue helicopter. The purpose of the mission was to rescue life was a Medal of Honor. He was born to wear one. a Green Beret. Born on July 11, 1939, he was brought up in the With the 5th Special Forces group at the time, Howard and the others battled at least 250 enemy combatants, east-central Alabama community of Opelika. His father eventually holding them off until U.S. helicopters swooped and four uncles served in World War II, several of them in. Bleeding and thinking he might be temporarily blind, as paratroopers. Two of the uncles died in combat, and the Howard had fought on, dragging several men to safety, three others, including his father, died from war-related wounds. The story has it that Howard and his sister went living to fight another day. “This is the man who one night ran alongside an enemy to the cotton fields to help pay the bills for his mother and truck on Highway 110, holding a claymore detonator in grandparents. He did find time to star with the Opelika
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a Ranger school in Georgia; we became friends in the 1970s, when we received the Medals of Honor.” Littrell received his in 1973, two years after Howard. “When they flew Bob off to the White House in ’71, direct from the battlefield, he did not know exactly why he was being honored” because he had been in combat the entire time, Littrell says. In recent years, the bond between Howard and Littrell tightened even more. Littrell, 65, remains devastated by the loss of his friend, and others too. “We’re losing a lot of Vietnam veterans now, many of them to cancer, maybe because of Agent Orange. They’re going pretty fast.” As he spoke, Littrell could not contain his sadness. His spirits picked up immediately, however, when asked one more time to compare his friend, Bob Howard, to Audie Murphy and Alvin York. “No comparison,” he said with conviction. “There was nobody like Bob.” That same theme was echoed in February at a Fort Benning, Ga., memorial service when Howard’s son, Army Sgt. Robert Howard Jr., who is following in his dad’s footsteps in the Special Forces, said, “Everyone talks about his military accolades, and all he accomplished, which was incredible, but just as a regular person, he also was a great man.” Courtesy Howard Family
High School football team, but rejected a college scholarship to join the military and the 101st Airborne in 1956 at age 17, two years after the Vietnamese decimated French forces at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu. Three years later, President Eisenhower sent advisers to Vietnam. President Kennedy then escalated the U.S. presence slightly, and by 1966 President Johnson was sending thousands of troops into Vietnam, including Howard, who had joined the Army as an enlisted man but later took a commission as a first lieutenant and retired as a colonel. He served first with the 101st Airborne, to honor his family, and then as an Army Special Forces troop with the SOG group. It did not take long for Howard’s reputation to spread across Vietnam. If you needed a guy to fight with you, you turned to Bob Howard, who would put himself in harm’s way for you, and for the flag, anytime and anyplace. Despite the number of times Howard was wounded, he remained sturdy and fit, in Vietnam and afterward. Friends and family say he was probably in so much pain in the last few years, though, that by the time pancreatic cancer struck he was not about to complain about it. Doctors did not diagnose his disease until shortly before his death. Regarding the Medal of Honor he received from President Nixon in 1971, the events that led to it mirrored virtually his every move throughout the war. It was just Bob being Bob, larger than life, much larger than life, friends say. And when a national U.S. newscaster, Brian Williams, told Howard’s story in 2007, the nation — six years after 9/11 — at long last stood at the ready to honor its Vietnam heroes. n recent years, as Howard traveled the world to meet and talk with troops, he found himself moving more toward the people who truly understood what he went through, and understood the direction his life had taken. Those people included many of the 91(as of this writing) surviving Medal of Honor recipients. Says Victoria Kueck, director of operations for the nonprofit Congressional Medal of Honor Society in Mount Pleasant, S.C. — which helps tell the stories of the surviving members as well those of the more than 3,000 other deceased Medal of Honor recipients — “They are a special group; [they need] one another.” Littrell, Howard’s friend who received his Medal of Honor while advising a unit of Vietnamese rangers, shouting advice and orders in Vietnamese during an April 8, 1970, attack in embattled Kon Tum Province in Vietnam’s Central Highlands, recalls the bond he developed with Howard. “We never actually served together, although we crossed paths all the time in Vietnam, and at
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DICK MEADOWS The Legend: Hard to believe, but true
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By Tom Breen
nlisting with the Army as a teenager out of West Virginia’s hardscrabble hills, Dick Meadows embraced action and results, not titles and protocol, forging a reputation as a Special Operations icon during a career spanning more than four decades. He has been gone a while now, this committed man of the military, a Green Beret who exemplified over and again the tenacity of Special Operations and military people as a whole, always bouncing back to do it better the next time around. Knock him down, and there he was again, from Korea to the drug wars in Central America, 45 years of service, a veritable walking history of U.S. Special Ops who teamed up with Col. Charlie Beckwith to shape the Delta Force at Fort Bragg in the late 1970s, leading ultimately to the Army Special Forces structure that operates today.
Surviving one mission after another, he finally was taken down by leukemia in the summer of 1995. “He was the true quiet man, carrying a big stick,” says his son, Mark, of Tampa, himself a retired Army lieutenant colonel who commanded a cavalry squadron in the 10th Mountain Division and deployed to Iraq in the mid-2000s. “Dad was my hero, my mentor, the same hero everyone else saw, someone who could bring a large group to silence, without saying a word. He had that sort of presence. It was amazing to see people watch him as he walked into a room.” Now, 16 years after Dick Meadows’ death, and 64 years after he joined the military, Meadow’s contributions and commitment to Special Operations reverberate repeatedly during a summer in which U.S. special-ops troops fight virtually daily in Afghanistan, as well as participate in a range of worldwide covert missions most of us know nothing about, and may never know anything about. This summer of 2011 also is a time during which a concrete manifestation of the special-ops legacy, the Arleigh Burkeclass destroyer USS Michael Murphy, leaves Bath Iron Works in Maine for the Navy’s fleet. Every time a crew member pounds the deck of the Navy’s new destroyer, the image of its Medal of Honor namesake, standing in the barren treacherousness of Afghanistan’s Kunar province, dying to protect his men, will burst to life. It is that way, too, every time a troop passes by the lifelike statue of Meadows at U.S. Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, N.C. Paid for by former presidential candidate Ross Perot, who called Meadows a “real-life James Bond” during a dedication ceremony several years back, the 8-foot-tall, 900-pound statue chiseled by Lawrence Ludtke of Houston shows Meadows as he was: dignified, unassuming and fearsome, never pompous, vain, or mean-spirited — an “exact likeness of Dick,” said one retired sergeant major at the time.
eadows’ accomplishments are staggering. As former President Clinton noted in a Presidential Citizens Medal award given to Meadows shortly before his death in 1995, “His exceptional Special Forces and civilian career included operations behind enemy lines in Vietnam for which he received a rare battlefield commission, leadership in a daring rescue
attempt of POWs at Son Tay Prison near Hanoi, infiltration in Tehran for the Desert One hostage rescue mission in 1980, and a key role in establishing Delta Force.” In short, Dick Meadows was a living personification of the Special Ops mission in which risk and danger are simply part of the job description. Meadows received the “rare battlefield commission” noted by Clinton from Gen. William Westmoreland, thencommander of U.S. forces in Vietnam, in 1966 for his daring in uncovering North Vietnamese intelligence. In the Son
Maj. Richard J. (Dick) Meadows BORN: June 16, 1932, in Beckley, W. Va.
DIED: July 19, 1995, of leukemia in Crestview, Fla. FAMILY: Wife Pam, son Mark (a retired Army lieutenant colonel) and daughter Michele.
MILITARY SERVICE: Joined at age 15, becoming one of the nation’s youngest master sergeants by age 19, and receiving a battlefield commission of captain in Vietnam from Gen. William Westmoreland. ASSIGNMENTS: Served with the Green Berets out of Fort Bragg, N.C., and in Vietnam was assigned to the prestigious Military Assistance Command — Studies and Observation Group. At one point, he also was attached to the British Special Air Service special operations unit. COMBAT: Served in Korea and Vietnam and led or participated in scores of Special Operations missions, including the 1970 Ivory Coast operation to free American POWs near Hanoi.
AWARDS: Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Stars, Bronze Star with V Device, Air Medal, Legion of Merit, Combat Infantryman Badge, Master Parachutists Badge, Ranger Tab, Scuba Badge and the President’s Citizens Medal. MEMORIALS: A statue has been erected in his honor at Fort Bragg.
SOURCE: U.S. Army Summer 2017 DEFENSE STANDARD 27
Tay raid, Meadows trained and led a rescue force into the infamous prison near Hanoi, only to find it cleared out when they arrived. Yet even as a failed mission, Son Tay improved conditions for American POWs; Hanoi treated them better while in anticipation of more possible raids. It also served as a how-to model for the Israeli rescue mission at the 1972 Olympics. As for the 1980 hostage rescue attempt in Iran, known as Eagle Claw, Meadows posed as an Irish businessman to funnel information to U.S. rescuers, escaping before the raid became public. And with Delta Force, which restructured Army Special Forces, Meadows and Beckwith streamlined an already effective and powerful force. Through it all, away from the fierceness and high risk of the operations themselves, Meadows remained “genuine and unassuming, the boy next door with a CAR-15. ... No matter his rank — master sergeant, captain, major — all of us in Special Forces knew him as Dick Meadows, a man who didn’t need a rank to be who he was: Meadows was Meadows,” writes a Meadows friend and admirer, the author John L. Plaster, a retired Army Special Forces major. As was typical of him, Meadows being Meadows, he worked until the very end in 1995, working in an antidrug operation in Panama, fit and looking decades younger, but suffering from extreme exhaustion. The week before he died, Meadows told Plaster about his leukemia without a trace of self-sympathy or regret. This was Dick Meadows; he did not regret anything. When Plaster asked him how long he had. Meadows said a week, and the warrior for the ages was gone six days later. “Dad fought like hell [against the disease],” Mark says. “He was trying to make it to the Son Tay reunion that weekend; he died the night before.”
serve him well in covert operations later on. “Dick was the ultimate soldier,” retired Army Gen. Wayne A. Downing, who knew him well, once said. As the 1960s dawned, Meadows’ reputation grew rapidly, first with his promotion to master sergeant and later with his temporary attachment to the British SAS (Special Air Service) Special Forces unit, which influenced him greatly later in his efforts to restructure the Army’s Special Forces. He also met his wife Pam, the daughter of an SAS sergeant major. It was his service in Vietnam that solidified his reputation as a soldier of extraordinary merit and bearing. Had his activities been made public, the Medal of Honor surely would have come his way, but most of his operations remained classified for years; some still do. What is known provides the stuff for movies, as Perot said at the Fort Bragg statue dedication ceremony. “He really did these things you see movie stars doing.” Or, as Meadows’ friend Plaster writes, “ Meadows turned into the famed Studies and Observation Group’s (SOG) most prolific prisoner snatcher, bringing back 13 NVA [North Vietnamese Army] from Laos,” an SOG record. “He once arrayed Recon Team Iowa beside a trail when instead of the desired one man, five NVA strolled up and stopped right there for lunch. Meadows stepped out and announced, ‘Good morning, gentleman. You are now POWs.’ Despite his warning, ‘No, No, No,” three went for their AKs. ... Meadows shot them faster than you read this.” Quiet, but deadly when he had to be, that was Dick Meadows. As the Vietnam War continued through the 1960s and into the 1970s, the Meadows legend swept through the services, not just the Army, as he worked a slew of operations, and gained even more momentum after his retirement in 1977 when he posed as an Irish businessman in Eagle Claw, rounding up drug smugglers in Central America, and protecting plantation owners from terrorists in Peru for a decade. It’s a cliché, perhaps, that can take the man out of Special Operations but never Special Operations out of the man. With Meadows, it’s true. Meadows first attracted public attention outside the military in 1980 when Newsweek magazine published a cover story labeled, “The Iran Rescue Mission: the Untold Story,” with a picture of Meadows next to a smaller headline that read, “The Pentagon’s Man in Tehran.” By then, about three years after his retirement from the Army, many of his colleagues and superiors were determined to get his story told: He simply had done too much for the country to remain anonymous forever.
“HE REALLY DID THESE THINGS YOU SEE MOVIE STARS DOING.”
rowing up in a family where food was a luxury, Meadows, a moonshiner’s son, spent part of his youth living in a dirt-floor shack, often passed from one family member to another. The Army gave him a way out. At age 15 in 1947, he signed up, taking a liberty or two with his age, later heading to combat in Korea. Even with nothing more than a ninth-grade education, Meadows had an innate intelligence that attracted Army superiors and colleagues alike, savvy and sophisticated far beyond his years, earning him promotion to master sergeant by age 19, one of the youngest in Army history. In 1953, as the Korean war was ending, Meadows joined the Army Special Forces as a paratrooper. It was then the work of preparing himself for the future began in earnest: honing weapons’ and survival skills, expanding his language skills, and developing personal and social traits that would 28 DEFENSE STANDARD Summer 2017
Courtesy Meadows Family
Said then-Army Col. Elliot “Bud” Snyder, ground force commander during the Son Tay raid, in an interview with Newsweek for the 1980 piece, “If he hadn’t done so many things that are classified, he’d have been the most decorated soldier in the Army.”
ne of his most ardent supporters was Perot, the businessman, politician and nonstop backer of the military and Special Operations who by many accounts phoned President Clinton asking him to honor Meadow with the prestigious President’s Medal. Perot first encountered Meadows after meeting with the Son Tay raiders in a session arranged by Pentagon brass. At Fort Bragg, Perot personally spent $160,000 for the statue now located on the Meadows Memorial Parade Field at the Army’s Special Operations headquarters. Nearby are two other statutes dedicated to Army Special Forces, the Special Warfare Memorial Statue, called the “Green Beret” or “Bronze Bruce,” and the Col. Arthur D. “Bull” Simons statue at the Army’s John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Plaza, where Special Forces troops don their Green Berets for the first time. It was Simons — a company commander with the 6th Ranger Battalion in the Pacific during World War II who returned to service in Vietnam as the head of the 8th Special Forces Group — who headed up the Son Tay raid with Meadows. Now, they stand together forever at Bragg, inspiration for younger warriors who may fight in another time, but with the same values. While Meadows proved to be relentless, his demeanor was gentle when away from the action. His son Mark, now a defense contractor, knew as early as fifth grade he would follow his father’s lead into the military. Yet his father never pushed the warrior life upon him, Mark says. “He never pressured me. He just said, ‘Whatever you do, do it well.’ But I knew the military was for me.” Nowadays the younger Meadows, his mom, Pam, and sister, Michele, could not be prouder of a man who dug his way out of deep poverty in the West Virginian countryside to rise to extraordinary heights in the Army’s Special Forces. In the end, few of us can imagine living the way Dick Meadows did, dodging one bullet after the other, sometimes facing death almost daily, a warrior’s warrior born on a summer day, dying on a summer day, and now standing tall at Fort Bragg, gone in body but larger than life, a guy who did us all proud, a warrior to the core.
Meadows biography includes account of aborted 1980 Iran hostage rescue A book chronicling the life of Special Operations legend Dick Meadows is due out in September. Published by The University Press of Kentucky and written by a former member of the SAS (British Special Air Service) who knew Meadows well, the book is the first to be published about Meadows. The author, Alan “Spike” Hoe, has authored and co-authored several other books. His friendship with Meadows goes back to the 1960s when Meadows served for a time with the SAS. “My dad wanted to make sure any book about him was totally truthful, and this book is truthful,” Meadows’ son Mark said recently from his home in Tampa. Mark said his father before his death in 1995 turned down requests from many authors, including Tom Clancy and Ken Follett, to tell his story. “My dad wanted the author to be someone who really knew him and his story, and Allan was that person.” The book is expected to focus on virtually every major operation involving Meadows, including the failed Iran hostage-rescue attempt in 1980. “For the first time, the entire story of the Iran attempt will be told,” Mark said. “And every word will be true.” — Tom Breen
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JASON CUNNINGHAM His first rescue mission, and his last
JASON CUNNINGHAMâ€™S SACRIFICE LIVES ON IN THE 10 WOUNDED MEN HE SAVED A DECADE AGO IN AFGHANISTAN
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By Elaine S. Povich
Among Jason Cunningham’s last words were these: “I think I’m OK.”
espite his intense medical training as an Air Force pararescue jumper, he could not have been more wrong. Cunningham died from internal bleeding after being shot through the gut on the frigid and ordnance-riddled Takur Ghar mountaintop in Afghanistan in the 2002. The 17-hour fight, known as the “Battle of Robert’s Ridge,” is still considered one of the worst of the war, even 10 years later.
But before the pararescueman died, he saved 10 American lives, braving intense weapon fire and an inferno in a helicopter crash, and dragging the wounded from the line of fire to relative safety at least three times. He crossed the live-fire line each time. For his heroism, he was awarded the Air Force Cross posthumously, the first pararescueman to receive the service’s second-highest military honor since the Vietnam War. Six others died that day along with Cunningham, but everyone who was there says there would have been even more casualties without the actions by Cunningham. It was his first live-action mission — and his last. According to the citation for the Air Force Cross, Cunningham moved wounded troops to three casualty collection points as each was overrun. In addition to saving 10 lives, his actions “allowed the bodies of seven fallen warriors to return home with honor.” The mission was something like the movie “Saving Private Ryan,” but in this story “Ryan” didn’t make it home.
he story, according to military after-action reports and numerous articles in military publications, began at approximately 3 a.m. March 4 when an Army MH47E Chinook helicopter dubbed “Razor 3” landed near a battlefield in Afghanistan. The crew’s mission was to call in airstrikes on al Qaeda fighters who had dug in near Takur Ghar mountain at the southern end of the Shah-e-Kot Valley, in an operation known as Operation Anaconda. The chopper came under heavy fire as soon as it landed and the pilot jerked it skyward, out of the fray. But as soon as it ascended, shouts came from the rear cargo area – “A guy’s out!” Somehow, a Navy SEAL, Petty Officer Neil Roberts, had fallen out.
azor 3 was too badly shot up to go back for the lost man, but the crew called in the incident. Another Army MH-47E helicopter, carrying Cunningham and the rest of the crew, was sent in within hours to help, arriving at about dawn. Those who survived Roberts Ridge would not know that Roberts had been killed by enemy fire, probably before they even began the rescue mission. The rescue situation turned bad almost immediately. The Chinook helicopter, dubbed “Razor 1,” began taking heavy fire as it approached the mountain marking the landing zone. The helicopter pilot, Chief Warrant Officer Greg Calvert, was shot several times as bullets raked his chopper. He aborted the landing and was trying to retreat
when the controls of the chopper failed and the Chinook crash-landed. Then things really got bad. Enemy fire was piercing the Chinook, hitting the crew from every direction. Men were wounded and screaming as hands and feet were blown off. Amid the chaos in the morning hours, Cunningham and the other members of the medical team went to work. Master Sgt. Cory Lamoreaux,
Senior Airman Jason D. Cunningham BORN: March 27, 1975, in Carlsbad, N.M.
DIED: March 4, 2002, in Afghanistan during the battle of Takur Ghar, part of Operation Anaconda. UNIT: 38th Rescue Squadron, Moody Air Force Base, Ga. FAMILY: Parents Jackie and Lawrence “Red” Cunningham, Gallup, N.M.; wife Theresa Cunningham-Miller, daughters Kyla and Hannah.
EARLY YEARS: Grew up in Carlsbad, N.M.; attended Carlsbad High School before graduating from Farmington High School in May 1994.
SPORTS & HOBBIES: Football, track and swimming; all things military. MILITARY BACKGROUND: Enlisted in the Navy in June 1994 and trained as an aviation boatswain’s mate, but never served at sea. His first assignment was to Naval Support Activities in Naples, Italy, where he met Theresa de Castro, also an enlisted sailor. They married in March 1996. He considered joining the Navy SEALs and had passed the fitness test, but decided he wanted to be a healer and enlisted in the Air Force in April 1999 on a “delayed entry” program. He completed pararescue training in June 2001. DEPLOYMENTS: Deployed to Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, in February 2002.
HONORS: Received the Air Force Cross on Sept. 13, 2002, at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M.; Purple Heart, Air Force Meritorious Service Medal, Navy and Marine Corps achievement medals, NATO Medal, Joint Forces Medal, Blue Jacket of the Quarter award. SOURCE: Department of Defense Summer 2017 DEFENSE STANDARD 31
an Army special operations aviation regiment (SOAR) pararescueman. The washout rate is said to be as high as 90 medic, tied off a bleeding artery in Calvert’s shattered arm. percent. Cunningham excelled. Cunningham checked the pulse of another and saw he was “Before he actually got into this class, he wanted to dead. He moved on to the next wounded man. build his strength up so he got a rucksack that had 100 Then the firefight intensified as the enemy shooters pounds in it and started working out with it,” says his best tried to blow up the helicopter’s fuel tanks. Of the 21 men friend in training, Brandon, who did not want to use his on the helicopter when it crashed, the two pilots and the full name for security reasons. “Our instructor saw this and mission commander were wounded; three others were made him use it throughout our training.” already dead, and a half dozen were wounded. For Cunningham, Brandon, and others like them, Cunningham, according to the book Roberts Ridge: A the 9/11 attacks were a call to duty that also included a story of Courage and Sacrifice on Takur Ghar Mountain, little nervous excitement at the prospect of putting their Afghanistan by Malcolm MacPherson, thought he was training to practical use. “He (Cunningham) was definitely ready for this kind of scenario. He had trained hard and committed to the mission,” Brandon says. “The thing about had persuaded his commanders to let him take whole Jason that made him such a great dude was that he was blood to the battlefield. Whole blood can save lives, but is like any of us. He was dedicated to the things that were very perishable and hard to transport under less-than-ideal important to him — the mission, the brotherhood, and his conditions, like those in war. But he had whole blood with family.” him that day. Some of it would be used on him. He died as he lived, always “giving 100 percent,” says It was when Cunningham and Lamoreaux tried to Brandon, who describes Cunningham as his brother and move some of the wounded away best friend. from the helicopter, which was Maj. Joseph Barnard, director still a magnet for incoming fire, of operations for the 38th Rescue that they were wounded. They Squadron and Cunningham’s “HE WAS DEDICATED each asked if the other was OK. former flight commander, says Each assured the other that he Cunningham was the “type of guy TO THE THINGS THAT was, but, in fact, both were badly you liked right away — his energy, WERE IMPORTANT TO wounded. Cunningham’s wounds his attitude, the way he handled were barely visible – the bullet himself.” HIM — THE MISSION, went through his lower torso and Cunningham “knew his fate THE BROTHERHOOD, pierced his liver. He was bleeding before everyone else,” Barnard internally. says. “Jason knew his wound AND HIS FAMILY.” According to the account in was incompatible with survival the book, which is drawn from without immediate surgery. But several accounts of the battle, what he did in his last moments Cunningham continued to on this earth was simply minister to the wounded, even while he was battling his extraordinary. He chose to continue to fight the enemy, he own wounds, only stopping when he became too weak to chose to continue to save the lives of his brothers, and he move. At the same time, he was assessing his own injury. chose to epitomize service before self.” His training must have shown him that it was bad. But he Barnard says Cunningham’s example continues to kept talking and advising others how to treat his wounds. inspire those following him in the pararescue corps, whose members call themselves PJs, short for parajumpers. hat kind of calm and soldierly demeanor was “Jason’s sacrifice was ultimate, so when he and others vintage Cunningham, according to his mother, Jackie have paid that price, it’s serious to us,” he says. “Jason’s Cunningham of Gallup, N.M. actions were special because of the way he conducted “He always wanted to be a soldier,” she says. “Yes, himself in the face of oncoming tragedy. His passing is 10 always. We would go camping, other kids would have hot years young; it’s tied to our current war and enemy. Jason’s dogs, he would eat MREs.” ability and training was and remains a great motivator; When he told his mother that he was going into the it’s worthy of continual remembrance. His example has pararescue unit, she wasn’t too worried. 9/11 hadn’t become a pinnacle for new PJs to emulate.” happened yet. The U.S. was at relative peace. “When your kids reach a certain age, you gotta let them go,” she says. p on that Afghanistan mountain 10 years ago, the “I was so proud of him for wanting to go and do things.” weather through the day was frigid. The military During his training, Cunningham apparently wanted command had determined that the landing zone was to “do things” in a big way. He was always highly too “hot” with enemy fire to attempt another rescue until dark. attentive to his training, according to military accounts, The wounded were packed in helicopter insulation as some even in the grueling, two-year course it takes to become a protection against the cold. But Cunningham was fading.
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Citation, Air Force Cross The President of the United States of America, authorized by Title 10, Section 8742, U.S.C., awards the Air Force Cross to Senior Airman Jason D. Cunningham for extraordinary heroism in military operations against an opposing armed force while serving as a pararescueman near the village of Marzak in the Paktia Province of Afghanistan on 4 March 2002. On that proud day, Airman Cunningham was the primary Air Force Combat Search and Rescue medic assigned to a Quick Reaction Force tasked to recover two American servicemen evading capture in austere terrain occupied by massed Al Qaida and Taliban forces. Shortly before landing, his MH-47E helicopter received accurate rocket-propelled grenade and small arms fire, severely disabling the aircraft and causing it to crash land. The assault force formed a hasty defense and immediately suffered three fatalities and five critical casualties. Despite effective enemy fire, and at great risk to his own life, Airman Cunningham remained in the burning fuselage of the aircraft in order to treat the wounded. As he moved his patients to a more secure location, mortar rounds began to impact within fifty feet of his position. Disregarding this extreme danger, he continued the movement and exposed himself to enemy fire on seven separate occasions. When the second casualty collection point was also compromised, in a display of uncommon valor and gallantry, Airman Cunningham braved an intense small arms and rocket-propelled grenade attack while repositioning the critically wounded to a third collection point. Even after he was mortally wounded and quickly deteriorating, he continued to direct patient movement and transferred care to another medic. In the end, his distinct efforts led to the successful delivery of ten gravely wounded Americans to life-saving medical treatment. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, aggressiveness in the face of the enemy, and in the dedication of his service to his country, Senior Airman Cunningham reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.
PHOTO: Master Sgt. D. Scott Wagers
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Courtesy U.S. Air Force
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an H-60 helicopter pilot, and the couple’s young son, Jackson. “He’s our hero and always will be,” Cunningham-Miller said. “He’s even my husband’s hero,” she said, referring to Miller. A marble monument in Cunningham’s honor was erected at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, with the compound officially renamed Camp Cunningham. A street was named for him at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., in 2010. And, in what may be the most fitting tribute, in 2009, 12 airmen from Lackland Air Force Base in Texas held an 824mile memorial rucksack march in honor of Cunningham and other fallen teammates. Marching in teams of two, each team walked approximately 150 miles during the 11-day trek, each man carrying a 50-pound rucksack. One has to believe that Cunningham would have made it an even 100 pounds. Courtesy Cunningham Family
As morning turned into afternoon, the other members of the team did everything they could to keep Cunningham alive. They pumped in whole blood. They packed his wounds. They talked to him to try to keep him conscious. But eventually, he died, there on the mountain. Rescue would not come until darkness settled over the battlefield, 17 hours after Cunningham’s mission began. Jackie Cunningham says she had a feeling in her gut that something bad had happened, even before she got the call. She was watching CNN, saw some news about a rescue mission in Afghanistan gone bad, and “I knew he was gone. He always told me ‘Mom, don’t worry unless they pull up in a white car.’ And they pulled up in a white car to the house.” Jackie Cunningham says in the decade that has passed, she’s learned to live with the grief, though it’s never gone away. Some of the dedications and memorials to Jason have helped, though Jackie still believes Jason should have been awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation’s top military honor. A dormitory at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas was named in his honor in 2007 by a vote of the members of the 882nd Training Group. At the dedication, his widow, Air Force Lt. Theresa Cunningham-Miller, told the base newspaper that the naming shows that military members “don’t forget their own.” She attended the ceremony with her daughters, her new husband, Air Force Capt. Matthew Miller,
(From left to right) Tech. Sgt. Keary Miller, Senior Airman Jason Cunningham and Staff Sgt. Gabe Brown about three weeks before the battle. Behind them is a MH-47E, the same type of helicopter that took them to Takur Ghar.
FOR THOSE WHO WORK ON THE WATER
PHOTO: Master Sgt. Jeff Szczechowski
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Summer 2017 DEFENSE STANDARD 35
PAUL RAY SMITH
The Enduring Legacy
Scores of fellow soldiers survived thanks to selfless choice and sacrifice by first Medal of Honor recipient in Iraq
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By Tom Breen
“In the Gates of Death rejoice! We see and hold the good — Bear witness, Earth, we have made our choice For Freedom’s brotherhood!”
— Excerpt from Rudyard Kipling’s 1917 poem, “The Choice.”
few inches long, it weighs maybe an ounce or so, hardly imposing in its physicality. It is cloth and fine metal: inanimate, lifeless, prone to material disintegration if left untended. Yet this diminutive still form — we know it as the Medal of Honor — serves as a lasting lens into the soul of our nation, from the Civil War, through World Wars I and II, into Vietnam and Korea, the Persian Gulf War, now Iraq and Afghanistan. Over and over, the medal tells a long, winding and enduring story of the “uncommon valor” of the estimated 3,450 recipients honored since 1862 when it first was awarded to six Union soldiers commandeering a Confederate locomotive. Since then, the medal has grown in prestige and significance, inside and outside the military, a symbol of sacrifice and selflessness. It truly goes to only a heroic few, to those who lift themselves “above and beyond the call of duty,” making free choices, not choices they are ordered to make, but choices they make when the blood is rushing, when their lives turn secondary to those of others at their sides, when, as Rudyard Kipling once observed, they make their choices “for freedom’s brotherhood.” One of the hallowed few, Army Sgt. 1st Class Paul Ray Smith, rests now, the chill of a Potomac autumn settling in at Arlington National Cemetery, greeted sometimes by strangers, more often by family, friends and his band of brothers and sisters, forever linked to a tombstone that reads simply, “In Memory of Paul Ray Smith ... Medal of Honor ... SFC USA Iraq .... Sep 24 1969 .... April 4 2003 ... Purple Heart KIA ... His Spirit Lives Forever.” The first person to receive the medal during the Iraq War (four have come after him), Smith has been gone more than six years now, dying at age 33 in an April 4, 2003, battle on the road to Baghdad. Resolute and committed, Smith was a Southern boy who yearned for a meaningful identity through the Army, finding it on an Iraqi spring day when he barreled into a disabled M-133 armored personnel carrier, manned the vehicle’s 50-caliber machine gun to hold off advancing Iraqi Republican Guard soldiers, falling forever in a fusillade of enemy machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars. By then, according to Pentagon and firsthand accounts, Smith had slain up to 50 Iraqi Republican Guard, in the process helping save up to 100 troops — from his own 1st Platoon, B Company, 11th Engineer Battalion out of Fort Stewart, Ga., and from other units as well. He and about 16 of his own troops, engineers called sappers, had been working in the dust and heat to build a temporary enclosure near the Baghdad International
Airport to contain Iraqi POWs. Up there, firing away inside the turret hatch of the broken-down M-133 vehicle, Smith showed just how tough an engineer can be. Smith posthumously received the Medal of Honor two years to the day after his death. He was the only casualty of the battle, a man who died so others could live. On Florida’s Gulf Coast, where he spent much of his youth, a post office, two middle schools, a garden and an ROTC building at his former high school bear his name, along with an Army technology center across the way in Orlando. The pride extends beyond Florida. Fitness centers at Fort Benning in Georgia and Camp Victory in Iraq, and a treelined walk of heroes at Fort Stewart, are dedicated to him. He also shares a sacred spot in the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes. When recognizing Smith’s actions, former President George Bush said quietly during the April 2005 ceremony at the White House, “We are here to pay tribute to a soldier whose service illustrates the highest ideals of leadership and love of country.” Indeed, the poignant photograph of Bush handing the medal to Smith’s son David, 11 at the time, provides a timeless iconic moment of eternal ideals.
Army 1st Sgt. Paul Ray Smith BORN: Sept. 24, 1969, in El Paso Texas DIED: April 4, 2003, in Baghdad.
FAMILY: Wife Birgit; children David and Jessica; a granddaughter; parents Donald and Janice Pvirre; and sister Lisa DeVane. ENLISTMENT: Joined the Army in October 1989, completing Advanced Individual Training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.
ASSIGNMENTS: 82nd Engineer Battalion (Bomber, Germany); 1st Engineer Battalion (Fort Riley, Kansas); 317th Engineer Battalion (Fort Benning, Ga.); 9th Engineer Battalion (Schweinfurt, Germany); and 11th Engineer Battalion (Fort Stewart, Ga). DEPLOYMENTS: Persian Gulf War, BosniaHerzegovina, Kosovo, and the Iraq War.
MEDALS: Medal of Honor, Bronze Star, and Purple Heart. He was the first Medal of Honor recipient in the Iraq War. SOURCE: U.S. Army Summer 2017 DEFENSE STANDARD 37
With the passing of time, of course, the names and I’m going to do what is necessary to help them.’ He didn’t deeds of fallen warriors such as Smith fade in the public care about his own safety.” milieu, falling prey to the vagaries of the progressing Chavez says she keeps in touch with some from that human clock, to new events in Afghanistan or Iraq, or to day, but has lost contact with many others. Even when she domestic turmoil at home. Yet Smith’s legacy and spirit meets survivors, talk is guarded. “We never truly mention flow through the people he left behind, through his wife things directly,” but “we all understand where each other Birgit, children David and Jessica, his parents, sister and is coming from.” friends, and through the military men and women who are They also fully understand where 1st Sgt. Paul Ray living today because he is not, Army warriors such as Spc. Smith was “coming from.” [now Sgt.] Michelle Chavez, and Pfc. Michael Seaman, Spc. Born in El Paso, Texas, in 1969 — the year of the moon Louis Berwald, Sgt. Matt Keller, and Sgt. Derek Pelletier landing, when America’s promise was boundless even as (those were the ranks at the time). the Vietnam War raged — Smith ended up on Florida’s Chavez, a medic, comforted Smith as he lay dying; coast, enduring hurricanes from time to time, and going Seaman funneled ammunition to Smith, earning an on to graduate from Tampa Bay Technical High School. Army Commendation Medal; Berwald, also receiving a Unsure of his life’s direction or career path, Smith joined the commendation medal, initially manned a machine gun on Army in the late 1980s, saw action in Desert Storm, Bosniathe M-133 vehicle before it went down; Keller took up a Herzogovina and Kosovo, and found himself leading a Fort position near Smith, firing AT-4 Stewart engineers’ detachment as rockets; and Pelletier, awarded a American forces pounded their Bronze Star, dispensed antitank way to Baghdad. CALL IT THE RIPPLE rockets. They are just some of Even today, more than six the U.S. troops fighting the good years after his death, the very EFFECT — A WARRIOR fight that day. In the end, though, mention of his name at Fort DIES IN AN ESPECIALLY it was Smith who ordered the Stewart evokes a pause, a moment others to keep behind him, of silence, the utmost respect. His EPIC MOMENT AND tossing himself into the fray as a on Baghdad Road did his OTHERS WALK ON, EACH actions human shield. fellow engineers proud. Call it the ripple effect — a Brig. Gen. Mark S. Bowen, ACTION THEY TAKE FROM warrior dies in an especially epic an official with U.S. Central THAT DAY FORWARD moment and others walk on, Command in Tampa, put it this each action they take from that way in April during a schoolPOSSIBLE BECAUSE OF day forward possible because of naming ceremony: “Medal of THAT SACRIFICE. that sacrifice. Honor winners don’t do it for the medal — they do it for the “He saved our butts; I am mission.” No doubt, building living because of him, and because of the actions of so many others that day,” Chavez, a containment area for Iraqi prisoners was hardly a still in the Army, still a medic, recalled in a late-summer glamorous mission for Smith’s troops. Yet out of ordinary telephone interview before embarking on a field exercise at actions come extraordinary moments. “When the Iraqis attacked us, everybody was ready,” Fort Stewart. Until that day in Iraq, when she rushed to his side as Chavez says. “[Smith] trained everyone, made them aware, part of a medic team, she had not met Smith. She held his made them respect their mission. It was his emphasis on hand, his blood surging into his uniform, bodies of Iraqi training that helped save us.” She and others said Smith, dead strewn about, the remaining Iraqis finally retreating, with his orderly engineer’s mind, was compulsive about training, about the unit’s weaponry, tormenting his troops their resolve broken by Smith and his warriors. It is hard for her to talk or think about it now, what at times, at least in their view, with his just-do-your-damn happened that day near Baghdad; she rarely mentions the job attitude. Sure, Smith could be a hard-ass, showing little tolerance battle either privately or publicly. For her, what is important is that Paul Ray Smith, and all the others, are part of her — for slackers, because, he often said, if you “let down, you living spirits forever, as Smith’s tombstone declares. Heroes die.” In the end, the training paid off. He practiced what he preached, holding off an Iraqi onslaught because of are never alone. At times, Chavez thought about leaving the service, training, until the attack had been broken. deciding against it. “I am an Army medic. That’s what I do.” Tough guy that he may have been on the military front, Another who survived that day, Sgt. Matt Keller, told his heart poured out in other moments. He once drove 40 the St. Petersburg Times in 2005, “[Paul Ray Smith] put miles to deliver a gift to the ill daughter of a fellow soldier. himself in front of his soldiers ... and we survived because As Robert Mullins, one of Smith’s former trainees at of his actions. He was thinking ‘my men are in trouble, and Fort Stewart, recalled in an interview with USA Today, “I’d 38 DEFENSE STANDARD Summer 2017
always seen him as the hard (guy), but when I had a problem ... he was so nice. He would talk to me like a brother, or a father.” He was the protector, aware, too, that some troops break under the weight of combat pressure, and he counseled them whenever he could. It was as protector and counselor, on his last day on earth, body exposed inside the lifeless M-133 vehicle, that Smith truly saw himself as brother and father, catapulting into harm’s way, peppering the enemy with violent fire. As his wife Birgit says eloquently, in many interviews about her husband, “I know for sure his name will live on forever ... be brave, go on with life, and be there for each other. ... He went into the Army as a boy and left as a man. He laid down his life for his soldiers.” It was this very type of sharing, being there for “each other,” that Army Sgt. John Mele and his wife Jennifer demonstrated as they stood solemnly at Smith’s Arlington graveside in the spring of 2005 after the Medal of Honor presentation. Mele had fought with Smith on the road to Baghdad. Recalls a friend, now working at the Pentagon, “John stood at the graveside, and wept.” Mele then went on with his life, eventually returning to Iraq, for the third time, as a combat engineer with the 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division. His third deployment to Iraq came in May 2007, shortly after his daughter Clarissa graduated from preschool. Four months later, an improvised explosive device in Arab Jabour took his life, sending him into eternity at Arlington National Cemetery, resting with Paul Ray and so many others, at peace, their mission over.
“In the Gates of Death rejoice! We see and hold the good — Bear witness, Earth, we have made our choice For Freedom’s brotherhood!”
HEROES IN IRAQ Four other military members have received the Medal of Honor for their actions in Iraq. They are: Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham, dying in combat in April 2004 SEAL Lt. Michael Murphy, dying in combat in June 2005 SEAL Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Monsoor, dying in combat in September 2006
Army Pfc. Ross McGinnis, dying in combat in December 2006.
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The Lion of Fallujah: Inside the Soul of an “Unabashed” Warrior
40 DEFENSE STANDARD Summer Summer2017 2017
By Tom Breen
“So all day long for the men of war the fighting raged, grim and grueling, relentless, drenching labor, nonstop, and the knees, shins and feet that upheld each fighter, their hands, their eyes, ran with sweat of struggle. ...” — From the Iliad by Homer
ot far from where he rests now, arm and arm with a legion of other warriors, Douglas Zembiec spent long days, sometimes nights, working at Marine Corps headquarters in northern Virginia. It was 2005, and the 32-yearold Marine had come out of the Iraqi bloodbath — which still was bubbling at that time — with a slew of combat medals and shrapnel wounds. Promoted at that point from captain to major, he could have played it safe, far from combat, moving up through the ranks, perhaps even to Marine commandant. He was that type of leader — innately smart, gutsy, “absolutely magnetic,” said his friend, retired Marine Corps Col. John W. Ripley of Annapolis, Md. He did not have to return to combat. “Hey, Dougie,” many friends told him in unison: “Stay put, you’ve done your duty, give it up, and stay in one piece. They’re going to make you a general some day.” “No way,” the 6-2, 190-pound Zembiec would say. “I’m going back. I have to go back. I can’t stay cooped up.” In the end, no office could hold this guy, the guy they still call the “Lion of Fallujah.” Doug Zembiec is gone now, buried with full honors at Arlington National Cemetery after being felled by insurgents on May 11, 2007, in Baghdad. Yet, even in death, his personality, the resolve, the energy for life, still affect everyone who knew him. “He wanted, needed, to be with his Marines on the front line; he could not stay away from the battle,” Jon Sanchez, a former SEAL and now a financial analyst, said from his home in Deerfield, Ill. “Doug loved so many people, and he really loved his Marines.” Nobody’s perfect, and friends joked Zembiec “was born without a filter,” Sanchez recalled with a laugh. “You never knew what he was going to say. But any bluntness of his was guided by a devotion to the people around him, and by his sense of patriotism. He really was a loving, patriotic guy. I can’t stress that enough.” Zembiec also had his studious side, loving to read history. “The Iliad was one of his favorite books. He would read and quote from it to his dad on camping trips,” his mom, Jo Ann, said from her home in Albuquerque, N.M. Her son also was the type of leader people would follow into combat “with a spoon,” one service member told Zembiec’s father, Don.
‘THE LEADER WE ALL WANT TO BE’
fter deciding he must return to the battlefield, Zembiec put in for an overseas assignment, and was granted it immediately. He first went to Afghanistan in 2006 and then to Iraq in 2007. He had married by then, to his longtime girlfriend, Pam, whom he had met in Virginia
Beach, Va., while assigned at Fort Story. He and Pam were the parents of an infant daughter, Fallyn Justice Zembiec. Life was good for him, yet he could not resist the urge to fight, not because of any “bloodthirsty” desires, says one friend who prefers remaining anonymous, but because “he was completely devoted to service. He was the leader we all want to be, not fearless but more scared of letting his Marines down than he was of dying.” It does not appear Zembiec let anyone down during his short life. Flashing back, when the Iraq war broke out in 2003, Zembiec found himself in Okinawa in the Pacific, far from the desert fighting. As he had done after being assigned to the Pentagon job in 2005, he requested an overseas assignment, hoping he would end up in Iraq. It happened, and in 2004 he took charge of 135 Marines in Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Regiment, 1st Marine Division. Assigned to Fallujah, in the heart of the so-called Sunni Triangle, Echo Company participated in some of the bloodiest fighting yet had no intention of retreating until the Pentagon called off the siege. It was during that spring,
A DECORATED HERO
Decorations and honors for Maj. Douglas A. Zembiec include: Silver Star Medal Bronze Star Medal with Distinguished Device for Valor Purple Hearts (2) Combat Action Ribbon (2) Sea Service Deployment Ribbon (3) Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal (2) Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal NATO Medal Humanitarian Service Medal Navy Unit Commendation Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal Global War on Terrorism Service Medal National Defense Service Medal (2) Kosovo Campaign Medal NCAA Award of Valor, 2007 New Mexico Sports Hall of Fame Award of Distinction, 2007 SOURCE: U.S. Marine Corps and the Zembiec family Summer 2017 DEFENSE STANDARD 41
in the insurgent-infested Jolan district, that Zembiec earned reporter, partying with buddies, or alone with family. a nickname that would head with him into eternity. “One of the most noble things you can do is kill the enemy,” Here is what happened. Zembiec and a contingent of Zembiec told Perry. “Marines are violent by nature — that’s his Marines had positioned themselves on a rooftop when what makes us different. These young Marines didn’t enlist they fell under AK-47 and hand-grenade fire. They tried for money to go to college. They joined the Marines to be part to radio an Abrams tank on the street below for help, but of a legacy.” Perry added in the article, “Anyone who prefers could not make contact. Zembiec raced down the stairs to that their military officers follow the media-enforced idea of the street, climbed atop the Abrams, told the troops inside being diffident, silent about their feelings, unwilling to talk where to fire, and survived despite being bloodied by about their combat experience and troubled by the violence shrapnel. Later, he wrote personal, from-the-heart letters to for his chosen profession should skip this story.” families who lost loved ones, saying of his Marines, “They In short, the young major, 34 when he died, earned fought like Lions.” From then on, he became known as the a reputation not only for his valor in combat, but for his “Lion of Fallujah” throughout the Corps. Just mention his forthrightness after it. Killing came with the job, and he name, and any Marine will salute. cared not at all about offending people by talking about it. What made Zembiec stand out for his fellow Marines War is damned dirty, so live with it, was his mantra; indeed, was not that he risked his life; plenty of Marines do that. It lions do not cower. Do not confuse Zembiec’s statements was his rank. Officers are not required to lead their troops about comment with a zest to kill; that is not who he was. from the front. But Zembiec always led from the front. As one friend said, “He felt there was no greater honor than Friends tell the story of the time he saw troops from another leading Marines in combat in defense of one’s country.” company fighting without their With Zembiec’s death in commander, a captain. “Where 2007 came an outpouring of the hell is your leader?” Zembiec tributes ordinarily reserved for asked an enlisted Marine. “I have a senior leader. The Internet ZEMBIEC, FOR FELLOW no idea,” the Marine grunted. buzzed with joy, sadness, and Zembiec turned away, located MARINES AND COUNTLESS longing for one more smile, one the reluctant captain, and cajoled more bold comment, one more OTHERS, IS MORE ALIVE him into getting into the fray firelight, from the lion himself. from the front, not from the rear. Marine Sgt. Maj. William Skiles, NOW THAN EVER, STILL who led the Marine and honor So when Zembiec ran from THE GUARDIAN OF THE guard detail at Zembiec’s the roof and climbed atop a tank, funeral on May 16, 2007, wrote, truly risking his life as guns AMERICAN MISSION, A “He would be the first person to blazed and grenades exploded, WARRIOR WITHOUT END. stand up for you if he felt you he inspired men and women to were being treated unfairly. not only die for him, but with When he told someone he him. “He let us know it was his [would] do something, he did privilege to lead us,” Marine Cpl. Chad Borgmann told the Washington Post. Or, as combat it, and made sure you [knew] the results ... and wouldn’t writer Bing West puts it so well, “We can dispute the politics sleep until you understood what was happening.” of any war — Iraq, Afghanistan, or any others, but we cannot When Zembiec received his Bronze Star with a “V,” the dispute our need for warriors. Doug was our guardian.” Lion of Fallujah wept because the medal could not “match” the sacrifice of his fellow Marines, wrote Skiles, who received the same honor for his heroism. An anonymous KEEPING IT REAL Marine who left the Corps and rejoined added on the embiec, for fellow Marines and countless others, Internet, “... I do feel I let him down by getting out; now is more alive now than ever, still the guardian of that I am back in, and ready for the fight, I am prepared to the American mission, a warrior without end. In do all I can to uphold everything he stood for.” At the Taylor Funeral Home in Annapolis, hundreds describing him in a speech to a Marine group in July 2008, attended his wake, followed by a service in the venerable Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the heralded Marine chapel at the Naval Academy. More than a dozen generals “was an unabashed and unashamed warrior, telling one sat in the chapel audience, an overwhelming presence for reporter that killing is not wrong if it’s for a purpose, if it’s the death of a non-general, and heard tributes to a warrior to keep your nation free, or to protect your buddy.” with a playful, romantic nature away from the battlefield, It was during the newspaper interview referred to by one who jumped into a river in Annapolis with his fiancée Gates, with Tony Perry of the Los Angeles Times in 2004, after asking her, “Will you walk through fire with me, will that Zembiec revealed himself for the world to see — a you travel through the river of life with me?” Later he wrote Marine always, whether leading the fight after climbing to himself, “Become the greatest husband and father ever.” atop a tank on the streets of Fallujah, talking to a newspaper
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After the Annapolis service, the lion’s flag-draped coffin traveled to its final resting place at Arlington National Cemetery, although one hardly can imagine him ever resting. Indeed, Zembiec spent his life catapulting from one challenge to the other, following the advice his father gave him as a child, “Be a leader, not a follower. Lead from the front.”
THE PATH TO GREATNESS
orn on April 14, 1973, in Hawaii, the son of FBI agent Don Zembiec and his teacher Jo Ann, Doug moved to several locations, including Albuquerque, where he evolved into a storied, All-American high-school wrestler at La Cueva High School. “He was gracious in everything he did,” Larry Waters, a longtime coach and teacher at the school, said from Albuquerque, where in November the school dedicated their wrestling room to him in a ceremony that included 150 Marine ROTC students and a band playing the Marine hymn. Thinking about becoming an FBI agent, Zembiec secured an appointment to the Naval Academy in 1991, deciding to become a Marine rather than a naval officer because the Marine ethos suited him. Friends say he reveled in Annapolis life, in the rigorous academic requirements, in the struggles with other collegiate wrestlers that again won him an All-American ranking, and in the quiet, historic dignity of the small city that wraps itself around the Naval Academy. It was during those days, as a warrior in the making, Zembiec found satisfaction and existential meaning, friends say.
After graduation, and joining the Marines as an officer in 1996, he served in a range of stateside jobs, then traveled to Europe for the Kosovo peacekeeping operation in the late 1990s. When the Iraq War exploded in 2003, he found himself stationed in Okinawa, far from the action. After that first assignment to Iraq in 2004, where he rose to fame in the bloody encounter of Fallujah, he kept returning, four times in all, before falling on a day in May. On the day Zembiec died, the military world stood still. True, he was just one guy, one warrior; plenty of others came before him, and plenty of others will come after him. Yet with his enviable, sometimes startling, honesty about his willingness to do everything he asked people under him to do, and his commitment to a nationalistic ideal he believed in, he left a personal legacy as powerful as the Marine legacy that motivated him. “He was a very special person, bigger than life,” his mom, JoAnn, said. Some warriors, ones like him, may not be meant to go beyond the battlefield. We still can see him, climbing atop a tank, dodging fire and grenades, directing his forces toward the enemy, and glorying in every minute of it because he was doing what he thought was right. There he was, in every fight, challenging the enemy to come and get him. This was not empty talk from some political bench jockey far removed from battle, sitting secure, talking tough, from a safe little office. This was a warrior in the midst of battle, Achilles at the top of his game, a man born to fight, and kill when it was right. In the end, Doug Zembiec stood out in life, and even more in death. The lion, he still is roaring.
TRUST FUNDS FOR FALLYN Two financial accounts have been established for Fallyn Justice Zembiec, the daughter of Marie Corps Maj. Douglas A. Zembiec. One is a college fund. Checks should be made out to College America. The other is a custodian account; both checks should be made out to Smith Barney. Send checks for either account to: Smith Barney Attn: Jon Sanchez 111 S. Pfingston Road, Suite 200 Deerfield, IL 60015
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MICHAEL MURPHY AND THE MEN OF
OPERATION RED WING A TRIBUTE
By Tom Breen
Summer Summer2017 2017 DEFENSE STANDARD 45
he gravestone has settled into God’s good earth, out sat upright again, and once more put the phone to his ear.” there on the Atlantic coast, peaceful and pristine, far Dying, Murphy said on the phone, ‘Roger that, Sir, thank removed from wartime. The stone at the Calverton you,’ and continued to engage the enemy.” Murphy’s National Cemetery honors Navy Lt. Michael P. Murphy, “objective was clear: to make one last valiant (effort) to save the first Seal since the Vietnam War to receive the Medal his .... teammates.” Luttrell survived after being knocked of Honor. Murphy’s memorial rests near the small Long unconscious, and was found later by friendly villagers. Island town of Patchogue where he grew up, on the Murphy’s actions — phone and rifle in hand, blood outskirts of New York City, and several thousand miles spurting — now are engraved in Seal lore, a lasting metaphor from the Afghan mountains where he died three years ago for the valor and loyalty to one another that defines Special this summer in an operation to apprehend a high-ranking Operations. Indeed, out there along the jagged cliffs of the enemy militant. Hindu Kush, Murphy and his team took on a mythic veneer. In his Long Island town, Murphy still is remembered as If it were another time in American history, during World War the fun-loving kid who played ice hockey, read everything I or II, their valor would be locked into the American psyche, in sight as a Penn State college right up there with Audie Murphy student including War and from World War II, connected to Peace, and chose the Seals over Michael by spirit if not blood, and law school. Now, Murphy, as he Alvin York from World War I. MURPHY’S ACTIONS — rests at Calverton, also is known Yet military heroes in our PHONE AND RIFLE IN as the hero of Hindu Kush. current world seem to fade, The night of June 28, 2005, recognized for a short while and HAND, BLOOD SPURTING was clear when guerrillas, then cast aside, if not forgotten. — NOW ARE ENGRAVED probably from the Taliban, Perhaps, however, as times fired on Murphy’s team in IN SEAL LORE, A LASTING passes, the Saga of Red Wing Afghanistan’s treacherous will occupy its proper place in Hindu Kush mountain range, METAPHOR FOR THE VALOR military lore, fueled in part by a subset of the Himalayans, the Internet. AND LOYALTY TO ONE near the Pakistan border. The The story of Murphy’s ANOTHER THAT DEFINES guerrillas, about 50 of them, uncompromising bravery, as killed Murphy and his Seal team told by Luttrell, and the valor SPECIAL OPERATIONS. members, Matt Axelson and of the other Seals and the Army Danny Dietz. A fourth Seal with Night Stalkers, is a story that them, Hospital Corpsman 2nd never grows old. Like any tale of Class Marcus Luttrell, survived. As the three lay dying, and war, it is overpowering in its simplicity, yet ferocious in its Luttrell unconscious, an MH-47 Chinook lightly armored retelling. It is about four men on a reconnaissance mission, helicopter tried to rescue them, but was shot down by the doing what they believed in, three of them on the ground same guerrillas. Eight other Seals, and eight Army Night dying, and about another 16 warriors in a helicopter, Stalkers, died. More Seals died on that day than in any rushing into help, only to be shot down and killed. Only Luttrell lived to tell the tale. other Seal operation in history. Murphy made international headlines, posthumously being awarded the Medal of Honor. The other three on THE MISSION Murphy’s team received the second-highest honor, the Navy Cross. Their story has been told countless times, in the press peration Red Wing’s goal on that 28th day of June including Murphy’s hometown paper, Newsday, in Luttrell’s in 2005 was to slay a Taliban leader in his mid-30s, book, Lone Survivor, and on innumerable Internet sites. Ahmad Shah, who had possible ties to Osama Bin Part of Luttrell’s account tells of how Murphy exposed Laden. Murphy and the other members of his Seal team himself to fire, heading for an open area away from jagged left their base in Northern Afghanistan in the still of the cliffs so he could radio for help: night, heading for the border with Pakistan to carry out “(Murphy) walked to open ground. He walked until he the mission. The Navy today says Shah, the target of their was more or less in the center, gunfire all around him, and mission, led a guerrilla group called the Mountain Tigers, he sat on a small rock and began punching the numbers to which existed in a shadowy world of death and intrigue in HQ. ... I could hear him talking. ‘My men are taking heavy and around the border. (For the record, Special Operations fire — we’re getting picked apart. My guys are dying out spokesmen are unsure of the precise origin of the “Red here — we need help.’ ... And right then Mikey took a bullet Wing” name, although some speculate it was tied to a straight in the back. I saw the blood spurt from his chest. sports team.) He slumped forward, dropping his phone and his rifle. But After penetrating behind enemy lines, approximately then he braced himself, grabbed them [phone and rifle] ... 10,000 feet up in the Hindu Kush, the four Seals found
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their cover blown after meeting up with two adults and a note to a Marine outpost, resulting in Luttrell’s rescue on boy, either shepherds or local villagers. In Lone Survivor, July 2, 2005. Luttrell tells of how he, Murphy, Axelson, and Dietz If not for Luttrell’s book, written with Patrick Robinson, debated whether to kill the three before ultimately deciding the story of the events that day in the Hindu Kush might not to release them. have reached the public with About an hour after the such force. Luttrell also fully outsiders departed, an enemy addresses the moral dilemma force of about 50 men attacked the Seal team faced that day: the four-member Seal team Release the outsiders, or kill from three sides. The four, them? Luttrell never will all wounded, leapt down the know if the outsiders ran to mountain’s sides, jumping the Taliban, but the firefight as much as 30 feet, the Navy started a short time later. said later. Less than an hour As for Luttrell, he soon into the battle, Murphy raced learned about humanity at its into the open, aware he could best, when villagers including not make his distress call from a man identifying himself the terrain where they had as a doctor risked their own sought cover, and soon took lives to save him. “There the bullet in the back. Despite was something about him,” his wounds, Murphy was able Luttrell writes of the villager to get help from the Special SEAL Lt. Michael P. Murphy, from Patchogue, N.Y., and Sonar describing himself as a doctor. Operations Quick Reaction Technician (Surface) 2nd Class Matthew G. Axelson, of Cupertino, “By now, I’d seen a whole lot Force at Afghanistan’s Bagram Calif., taken in Afghanistan. of Taliban warriors, and he Air Force Base, which dispatched the MH-47 Chinook looked nothing like any of them. There was no arrogance, helicopter carrying the eight Seals and eight Army Night no hatred in his eyes.” Stalkers prepared to extract Murphy and the others from the fight that dragged through the hills and cliffs of the STERILE WORDS, HEROIC DEEDS Hindu Kush. By the time it was over, after fierce fighting that lasted at least two hours, Murphy, Dietz and Axelson ith the three-year anniversary of the American lay dead on the ground, and the Chinook also had fallen deaths in the Hindu Kush upon us, and the to enemy fire, carrying the 16 Seals and Night Stalkers to awarding of another Medal of Honor to another their deaths. Seal (for bravery in Iraq in 2006), the missions and makeup Military spokesmen later said the MH-47, designed to of the elite Navy unit are starting to attract more interest swoop in and leave quickly during rescue efforts, had been among the American public. For recruiters trying to beef up accompanied by heavily armored Army attack helicopters. elite Seal units, this is good news. The military said the “heavy weight” of the attack Established by President Kennedy in 1963, the Seals helicopters slowed the formation, prompting the MH-47 to (for Sea, Air and Land) describe themselves as “a small, race ahead, putting itself at risk in order to attempt to carry elite maritime military force” conducting unconventional away Murphy and the others. warfare, and carrying out “the types of clandestine, smallunit, high-impact missions that large forces with highSURVIVOR’S ORDEAL profile platforms (such as ships, tanks, jets and submarines) cannot.” Seals also “conduct essential on-the-ground fter the deaths of Murphy, Dietz, Axelson and Special Reconnaissance of critical targets for imminent the 16 men aboard the MH-47, Luttrell struggled strikes by larger conventional forces.” to survive on his own. As many as 35 guerrillas, When you read a description such as that, of what Seals probably Taliban members, also died, according to do, it sounds so sterile, so matter of fact. It does not talk about subsequent military reports. the firefight in the Hindu Kush, about Murphy standing in Sent sprawling over a ridge after being knocked the open seeking help for his men, after a bullet hits him, unconscious by a rocket-propelled grenade, Luttrell had and of the 16 Seals and Night Stalkers aboard the MH-47 a bullet wound in one leg, shrapnel burrowing into both who broke from their formation to sacrifice themselves to legs, and was suffering from dehydration, he recalled later retrieve the embattled Seals on the ground. It also does not in Lone Survivor. Still, he managed to crawl away from the talk about the tears still being shed at the resting places carnage, evading enemy guerrillas and walking several of Murphy (Section 67, Grave 3710, Calverton National miles before friendly villagers took him in, protected him Cemetery on Long Island) and the others, or about bravery from Taliban enemy forces, and eventually transported a and loyalty that in many ways is incomprehensible.
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0% Combat Gauze
Causey MW, McVay DP, Miller S, Beekley A, Martin M. J Surg Res. 2012;177(2):301-305.
1. The Committee on Tactical Combat Casualty Care. Tactical Combat Casualty Care Guidelines. http://cotccc.com/wp-content/uploads/TCCC-Guidelines-for-Medical-Personnel-170131.pdf. Published January 31, 2017. Accessed March 31, 2017. 2. Kheirabadi BS, Scherer MR, Estep JS, Dubick MA, Holcomb JB. Determination of efficacy of new hemostatic dressings in a model of extremity arterial hemorrhage in swine. J Trauma. 2009;67:450-460. 3. Gegel B, Burgert J, Gasko J, Campbell C, Martens M, Keck J, et al. The effects of QuikClot Combat Gauze and movement on hemorrhage control in a porcine model. Mil Med. December, 2012;177:1543-1547. 4. Garcia-Blanco J, Gegel B, Burgert J, Johnson S, Johnson D. The effects of movement on hemorrhage when QuikClot® Combat Gauze™ is used in a hypothermic hemodiluted porcine model. J Spec Oper Med. 2015;15(1):57-60. 5. Johnson D, Westbrook DM, Phelps D, Blanco J, Bentley M, Burgert J, et al. The effects of QuikClot Combat Gauze on hemorrhage control when used in a porcine model of lethal femoral injury. Am J Disaster Med. 2014;9(4):309-315. 6. Rall JM, Cox JM, Songer A, Comeaux JA, Estep JS, Cestero RF, et al. Comparison of Novel Hemostatic Gauzes to QuikClot Combat Gauze in a Standardized Swine Model of Uncontrolled Hemorrhage. Technical Report No. TR-2012-22. Fort Sam Houston, TX. Naval Medical Research Unit San Antonio; 2012
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Summer 2017 DEFENSE STANDARD 49
Doing the Right Thing
50 DEFENSE STANDARD Summer Summer2017 2017
By Tom Breen
p in Massachusetts, where bursting crocuses signal hope after a hard winter, Paul Monti carries on with his mission, forever hopeful amid his heartache. He travels from one town to the next, in his home state and beyond, speaking of love, duty, perseverance and commitment. “Do the right thing, no matter what,” he tells audience after audience. “Don’t think of being a hero, think of being a humanitarian.”
The words quickly flow out of the 63-year-old Monti, a retired high school science teacher. He is a man committed. He talks to many groups, but has a tight bond with the ones committed to remembering and assisting military people and their families. When he is with them, “Jared is with me too.” Nearly four years ago, during the early summer of 2006, in the treacherous mountain terrain of northeastern Afghanistan, Monti’s son, Army Staff Sgt. Jared Monti, 30, was team leader of a 16-man patrol from the lightinfantry 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, N.Y. The unit had been “on the move for three days — down dirt roads, sloshing through rivers, hiking up steep mountain trails, their heavy gear on their backs, moving at night and in the early morning to avoid the scorching 100-degree heat,” said President Barack Obama at the White House last September when posthumously awarding the Medal of Honor to Monti and his family. The patrol’s mission, the president said: “To keep watch on the valley down below in advance of an operation to clear the area of militants.” Crammed together on a stony ridge, as late afternoon shadows darkened the mountains, some troops stood guard, others ate MREs and drank water, others talked about going home or about previous assignments. A soldier later recalled Monti reminiscing about his Army time in South Korea. (He also had served in Kosovo and twice in Afghanistan). About then, slight noises rolled out of adjacent woods, followed by the tree line exploding in a “wall of fire,” Obama said. The noise was like “thousands of rifles crackling,” one soldier later recalled. Machine-gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades, launched by as many as 50 enemy forces, poured down on the Americans. Monti radioed for fire support as he called out to one of his men, who was out there in the open alone, pummeled by enemy fire. Then Monti did the right thing, and it cost him his life. Growing up about 35 miles south of Boston in the small town of Raynham, Jared Christopher Monti attended St. Ann’s Catholic Church, played basketball and wrestled, and pondered military service, largely because of a Navy uncle he respected and admired. Early on, he displayed the compassion for others his father talks about now. Jared befriended kids who had no friends, he spent one Christmas with friends carrying a tree and gifts to a needy family, and often gave away his possessions to people without much. With his big heart, he also had a stubborn streak and was a relentless competitor. In high school, despite leading his Catholic Youth Organization team in scoring, he found
himself rejected twice when trying out for the junior varsity basketball team at Bridgewater-Raynham High School. His height, 5 feet 4 inches, may have triggered the rejection. The heck with them, Jared said, and he tried again, this time for the varsity team, and made it. “He made it on the third try,” his father said. On that June day in Afghanistan, as the enemy fired RPGs and machine gun rounds at them, Monti left the protection of rocks, racing into the open, to rescue Spec. Brian Bradbury, 22, of Lowville, N.Y. In short, Obama said during the Medal of Honor ceremony, the sergeant “handed off his radio. He tightened his chin strap and with his men providing cover, Jared rose and started to run, into all those incoming bullets, into all those rockets.” The barrage turned him back the first time. He went back in, forced back again by a wall of fire. And then, for the third time, he went back for Bradbury, to rescue
Sgt. First Class Jared Monti BORN: Sept. 20, 1975 DIED: June 21, 2006
EDUCATION: Bridgewater-Raynham High School, 1994.
RANK: Promoted posthumously from Staff Sergeant to Sergeant First Class.
MILITARY SERVICE: Joined the Army National Guard in March 1993 as part of an early entry program. Attended basic training at Fort Sill, Okla., earning a Military Occupational Specialty of 11B Forward Observer. Served in Kosovo and two tours in Afghanistan.
AWARDS: Medal of Honor, Bronze Star, Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Nation Defense Service Medal, Korean Defense Service Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, Kosovo Campaign Medal, Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon, Army Service Ribbon, NATO Medal, Afghan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Parachutists Badge and Air Assault Badge. SOURCE: U.S. military and the Monti family
Summer 2017 DEFENSE STANDARD 51
“one of his boys.” Monti was the guy who would not quit, that day when the Afghan countryside exploded, Monti whether in combat or on the basketball court. “did the right thing,” his father said. “Whenever I speak By then, mortar fire coming from support unit forced about him, about his doing the right thing, I talk about how the attackers to retreat. But by then, Monti had been struck, he was hurt, but he did not stop after trying once, trying dying. “Tell my family I love them,” he told his soldiers. twice, trying a third time.” On the third time in to get More than three years later, far from the Afghan Bradbury, Monti died. mountains, with his loving family there for him, the kid Only 30, Monti seemed to be a much older man. Troops from Massachusetts who dreamed about military life in their 20s called him Grandpa. Miller saw the maturity received the Medal of Honor from the president of the immediately in Korea, and was in awe of Monti’s training United States. The medal was presented to Monti’s father and wargame skills, his ability to direct air support precisely Paul and mother Janet, a nurse, who were accompanied to enemy locations. Miller also came to realize that Monti’s by their children, their granddaughter, and Janet’s antiauthority moments, such as ignoring a proper uniform mother. (Janet later said her son would be embarrassed or growing a beard, had nothing to do with his respect for by all the attention.) the military. What Monti was saying was that there is a Monti’s compassion set him apart from other soldiers, time to crack knuckles, and a time not to. On the battlefield Lt. Col. Jeffrey Abbott, the operations officer for Monti’s that day in June 2006, with Spec. Bradbury unable to move, Afghan mission, told the Boston Globe in September. Abbott exposed in the open, Monti cracked knuckles, and did what said Afghan villagers and Monti’s troops responded to him he had to do. because of his humanity. In the field, out with his solders, He also criticized Army brass if his soldiers’ needs were he was the same guy who, back not being met, or if equipment in Massachusetts as a teenager, proved to be faulty. His father does lugged a Christmas tree and the same thing today, publicly presents for the family in need. pleading for better equipment for WHEN IT At the Pentagon, Col. Jim Miller, troops on the front lines. Monti’s battalion commander Later, when Army and COUNTED. THAT with the 1st Battalion, 15th Field Pentagon generals and staff WAS THE PHRASE Artillery (1/15FA) in Korea in people pored over the extensive 2002 and 2003, in a telephone documentation required to award CHARACTERIZING conversation also recalled Monti’s the Medal of Honor to Monti, MONTI’S LIFE drive to help others. Miller said they learned about a soldier who Monti gave away gifts he received refused to allow the patrol leader AND ETHOS. from home, as he would do later to go after Bradbury. “That’s my in Afghanistan; he also adopted guy,” Monti was quoted as saying. a Korean family, supplying food “I’m going in for him.” and other necessities for them Monti’s father recalls stories whenever he could. Again, as his father says, Monti was about a war game in Korea when fording a river proved doing the right thing. to be necessary. “Instead of sending somebody out to test But doing the right thing did not make Monti the “ideal the water, he went in himself and was swept away. He was garrison soldier,” Miller said, laughing gently into the floating down the river with a 50-pound pack on him. He telephone. “In the garrison, he was a pain in the rear. He was eventually able to swim to shore. I don’t know how he was known for his uniform violations. He’d say, ‘I’m not survived.” Monti lost his rifle, and later was written up for wearing my shirt today. It’s too hot.’ When we were looking it, but never took the citation seriously, his father said. The for a good picture for his Medal of Honor ceremony, I joked rifle turned up three days later. we should find one without his shirt. I don’t think I ever Miller, who was supervising the wargame mission in saw him in a proper uniform.” Monti also mixed it up in Korea, said Monti “pulled himself to shore with barbed barroom fights occasionally, reprimanded for some of the wire. We found him sitting on the rock (that night.) He incidents. “He partied hard,” Miller said. refused to put another soldier in there because the water Away from the barracks, however, in the field during was moving too fast, so he went in himself.” With most Medal of Honor recipients, it is this sense training missions or in combat, “there was not a finer soldier,” Miller said. “You could not live without him. He of mission when it counts that is pervasive, to sacrifice was mature beyond his years. We ended up promoting yourself for your troops, as was true with Navy Lt. Michael him over older guys because of his maturity level” when P. Murphy, who radioed for help in Afghanistan for his men as bullets riddled his body, and with Army Sgt. 1st Class it counted. When it counted. That was the phrase characterizing Paul Ray Smith, who charged into an enormous explosion Monti’s life and ethos. He often shunned the proper of enemy fire to save his troops. None of them is perfect, of uniform, sometimes growing a beard in the field, but on course. No one is. Some are brawlers occasionally, some lose 52 DEFENSE STANDARD Summer 2017
Medal of Honor Citation Staff Sergeant Jared C. Monti distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a team leader with Headquarters and Headquarters troop, 3rd Squadron, 71st Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team 10th Mountain Division, in connection with combat operations against an enemy in Nuristan Province, Afghanistan, on June 21, 2006. While Staff Sergeant Monti was leading a mission aimed at gathering intelligence and directing fire against the enemy, his 16-man patrol was attacked by as many as fifty enemy fighters. On the verge of being overrun, Staff Sergeant Monti quickly directed his men to set up a defensive position behind a rock formation. He then called for indirect fire support, accurately targeting the rounds upon the enemy who had closed to within fifty meters of his position. While still directing fire, Staff Sergeant Monti personally engaged the enemy with his rifle and a grenade, successfully disrupting an attempt to flank his patrol. Staff Sergeant Monti then realized that one of his soldiers was lying wounded in the open ground between the advancing enemy and the patrol’s position. With complete disregard for his own safety, Staff Sergeant Monti attempted to move from behind the cover of the rocks into the face of relentless enemy fire to rescue his fallen comrade. Determined not to leave his soldier, Staff Sergeant Monti made a third attempt to cross open terrain through intense enemy fire. On this final attempt, he was mortally wounded, sacrificing his own life in an effort to save his fellow soldier. Staff Sergeant Monti’s acts of heroism inspired his patrol to fight off the larger enemy force. Staff Sergeant Monti’s immeasurable courage and uncommon valor are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 3rd Squadron, 71st Cavalry Regiment, the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, the 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), and the United States Army.
PHOTO: D. Myles Cullen
their tempers, some irritate the colonels and generals above public appearances. “The message is that Jared cared about them with their independence and stubbornness, but when people, he was a humanitarian, which is what being a hero you need them, they are there. “The Army could not, cannot, is in the end,” he said. So Paul Monti gives his speeches, and live without people like Jared Monti,” Miller said from the drives Jared’s pickup truck plastered with stickers from the 10th Mountain Division, and never Pentagon, not far from forgets the three others who died the Hall of Heroes where with Jared that day: Staff Sgt. Patrick Monti and others look Lybert, 28, of Ladysmith, Wis.; over the comings and Bradbury; and Staff Sgt. Heathe goings of the nation’s Craig, 28, a medic from Severn, Md. military hub. Tragically, Bradbury survived as he Up in Massachusetts awaited a rescue helicopter carrying now, with the deep medic Craig, but both died when snows finally fading, the copter’s winch broke. Paul Monti eagerly awaits the day when his Nowadays, as he keeps in touch beloved baseball team, with the families of his son’s fallen the Boston Red Sox, will military comrades, Paul Monti start playing again. The hears often from Rhonda Bradbury, Red Sox, a state religion Paul Monti, left, the father of Sgt. 1st Class Jared C. Monti, and Chief of Brian’s mother. Just the other day, Staff of the Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr. stand near Monti’s burial site. of sorts in Massachusetts he received a letter from her, and with Fenway Park as the Cathedral, were a love of Jared’s momentarily fell silent after mentioning it. “There’s a too. In August 2009 Paul Monti threw out a first pitch at special ribbon that unites us,” he said of Bradbury’s mother, Fenway in honor of his son. “They could have honored “and it always will.” anyone, and they honored Jared, he said. “I was so proud.” Three times Jared went in for Brian, his guy, doing the His larger mission now is helping his son live on, through right thing. Summer 2017 DEFENSE STANDARD 53
Courage in Combat
He was only 19, but a split-second decision proved Private 1st Class Ross McGinnis was already a soldierâ€™s soldier
54 DEFENSE STANDARD Summer Summer2017 2017
By Tom Breen
oss McGinnis was 3 years old during the first gulf war, 5 when he told a kindergarten teacher “I want to be an Army man,” 17 when he enlisted and 19 when he smothered a grenade in Iraq, saving four others but not himself and becoming one of the youngest troops in American history to receive the Medal of Honor. Now, as fall’s Potomac winds rustle across the nation’s capital, this teenage warrior with the “big heart and tender spirit,” as former President George W. Bush described him, rests at Arlington National Cemetery, not that far from his small-town boyhood home in the verdant terrain of northwestern Pennsylvania.
This was an ordinary kid, fun-loving and generous, his friends and family say, who did an extraordinary thing on Dec. 4, 2006. McGinnis that day was serving as a U.S. Army private first class in Iraq. He had been there only a few months. In a mission that afternoon, he was manning an M2 .50-caliber machine gun in the turret of a Humvee truck patrolling the insurgency-infested streets of northeast Baghdad. The uparmored vehicle carried four other Army solders, all from McGinnis’ 1st Platoon Charley Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment: Sgt. Lyle Buehler, the driver; Sgt. 1st Class Cedric Thomas, platoon sergeant and vehicle commander; Spec. Sean Lawson, a medic; and Staff Sgt. Ian Newland, a squad leader. McGinnis died instantly. The others survived with a range of injuries. All four likely would be dead if not for McGinnis’ actions. Instead they remain immersed in life’s joys and struggles, reveling in their families, helping others when they can. “We are trying to make the most of what we have,” Newland said recently from Colorado. “Ross saved us.” McGinnis gave the four a “gift, not a debt to repay,” his dad Tom says often as he and his wife Romayne honor their son’s selflessness at memorial services and other events across the country, including the renaming of the local VFW chapter in his honor. They know he now belongs to the nation as well as to them. “It gives us comfort that the world is aware of who he is and what he did,” Romayne McGinnis said recently from Pennsylvania. Of the four who survived that day, Thomas is the only one to remain in the Army. Lawson and Newland retired for medical reasons, and Buehler left after his enlistment ended. Although spread out around the country, they have remained close, usually contacting each other and the McGinnis family at least once a week. “We really are a band of brothers,” Newland says. Overall, the four are doing fairly well as they cope with the haunting memories of an afternoon in Iraq. Buehler, 27, recently completed a master’s degree in Iowa. Thomas, 35, promoted to master sergeant, is serving at Fort Belvoir in Virginia and is expected to take over the Defense Department’s Wounded Warriors program. Lawson, 24, is a stay-at-home dad in Texas, where he and his wife just had a baby. And Newland, 31, is working on his master’s degree in business administration and employed full-time as an IT technician for RE/MAX real estate.
With the help of a federal grant, Newland also recently bought a 50-acre ranch about 100 miles south of Denver that helps rehabilitate wounded veterans. “The ranch is my way of honoring Ross, and helping my fellow veterans,” Newland says. He says he and Thomas talk freely about the events of that day, Lawson and Buehler less so.
he Humvee carrying McGinnis and the others was part of a six-vehicle combat mission weaving through Baghdad’s teeming streets. The mission was commanded by Army Capt. (now Maj.) Michael Baka, who rode in another vehicle. As the afternoon light accentuated the convoy’s movement, a rooftop insurgent tossed a grenade into the Humvee.
Specialist Ross Andrew McGinnis BORN: June 14, 1987, in Meadville, Pa. DIED: Dec. 4, 2006, in combat in Iraq.
PERSONAL: Member of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Knox, belonged to the Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts, and played YMCA basketball and soccer and Little League baseball. EDUCATION: 2005 graduate of Keystone Junior/ Senior High School in Clarion County, Pa.; also attended automotive technology school.
FAMILY: Parents, Thomas and Romayne McGinnis; sisters, Becky and Katie.
MILITARY CAREER: Enlisted in the U.S. Army on his 17th birthday under the Army’s Delayed Entry program. Left for basic training at Fort Benning, Ga., in June 2005, and completed six weeks of Advanced Infantry Training in October 2005. Assigned to the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division in Schweinfurt, Germany. Deployed to Iraq in July 2006. Promoted posthumously to specialist. MEDAL OF HONOR: Awarded posthumously to the McGinnis family in June 2008, with all four of the men he saved present.
SOURCE: U.S. Army and the McGinnis family
Summer 2017 DEFENSE STANDARD 55
McGinnis, who would have been able to escape from that some human beings go to extremes, unfathomable to his position quickly, instead tried to deflect the grenade. In most of us, to save others? The survivors go on, haunted by that split second, according to survivor accounts, he also guilt at one time or another, wondering if they would have realized the other four appeared to be locked into their acted similarly. Family and friends wonder how the funpositions, unable to easily leap from the vehicle. loving, often-impish person they knew and loved could Had McGinnis warned the others and then leapt to safety, have risen to such extraordinary heights. he would be alive. Instead, the teenager with the unforgettable McGinnis’ father, Tom, when talking about the son he smile covered the grenade with his back. “He could get out misses virtually every moment, once said he envisioned the easiest,” Buehler said during McGinnis’ Medal of Honor a Medal of Honor winner to be a cinematic type of guy. ceremony. “We definitely wouldn’t have had time to get out. Think Rocky, not his Ross, not the kid who spent his youth It’s unbelievable. For him to make that decision ... .” working on autos, playing baseball and harmless pranks, As the grenade went off under McGinnis’ back, the attending church regularly, and serving as a Cub Scout and others in the Humvee rushed to shield their bodies. Boy Scout in the mountains and valleys of northwestern Thomas, Buehler and Lawson crouched, but not Newland. Pennsylvania. Sure, Ross dreamed about the Army as a “As I soon as I heard ‘grenade,’ I went to drop my weapon little kid in kindergarten, but nothing prepared the family and protect myself, but I had no for the day they stood at the White time,” he says. Shrapnel tore through House, receiving a posthumous Medal everyone but medic Lawson, who was of Honor for him from a president of stunned by the blast but otherwise the United States. “HE WAS ALWAYS unscathed. “It is amazing Doc didn’t The family also remembers him as EXCEEDING THE have any shrapnel,” Newland says. the good-natured kid who entered the The grenade “was an improvised one, Army without a life plan, and became STANDARD, and one of the most powerful we had a structured, purpose-driven person. ALWAYS TAKING ever seen. It blew all the doors off the “He seemed so grounded when he Humvee. We encountered grenades all came home on leave,” said a teacher ON ANOTHER the time in Baghdad, but nothing like at McGinnis’ alma mater, Keystone TASK. WHEN that.” The blast was confined to the Junior Senior High School. His sisters single Humvee. felt the same way, once describing THERE WAS A Of the four, Newland received the as someone who gave 100 percent DETAIL, MCGINNIS him most devastating injuries, with doctors when he wanted to and zero percent finding at least 60 chunks of shrapnel when he had no interest, like chores VOLUNTEERED lodged in his lower body, and another and mowing the lawn. In the Army, FOR IT.” 15 in his neck and head. The strap from though, he was a 100-percenter. McGinnis’ helmet embedded itself Thomas, his platoon sergeant, near his face. says McGinnis never turned down or Today, Newland still struggles with injuries; some days complained about an assignment, large or small. “He was are “horrible.” He cannot fully use his left arm, the head always exceeding the standard, always taking on another injuries led to severe migraines, and pieces of shrapnel task. When there was a detail, McGinnis volunteered for it,” deemed irremovable by doctors often spark ripples of Thomas said during a ceremony last year at Fort Benning, agonizing pain. Ga., honoring McGinnis. Added McGinnis’ commander The Army in 2006 released him from Landstuhl Baka, “I had to tell him to let others carry the load.” Regional Army Medical Center in Germany only two days Because of McGinnis’ devotion to the Army, Baka chose to after hospitalizing him, claiming they had no room; he promote him to specialist with a waiver after only 17 months says he retired from the Army “without a solid support in the service. “He earned it,” Baca says. “I had 190 soldiers structure.” Newland’s anger about his treatment after the and two waivers. I signed his 15 minutes before we went on blast led to major reforms in the way wounded veterans patrol.” After the blast, Baka moved immediately to nominate receive treatment, Army Maj. Donald Ducker told the Army McGinnis for the Silver Star, then the Medal of Honor. Times in 2007. “The context of Ian’s complaints were very appropriate. We thought, ‘Let’s take action.’ ” Newland’s he bedrock values of faith, family and country travails led to his decision to purchase the ranch south of shaping McGinnis grew out of his quiet upbringing Denver to help other wounded vets facing months and in and around Knox, Pa., in Clarion County about years of rehabilitation. “This is Ross’ ranch too,” he says. 100 miles north of Pittsburgh. The county is place where much of life still revolves cGinnis’ selfless action, call it unabashed bravery, around potluck dinners, church socials and sports. Many hardly can be explained. As Buehler says, McGinnis of the small towns in the mostly rural area, set amid forests, easily could have escaped the Humvee. Why is it valleys and mountains, also boast colorful names such as
56 DEFENSE STANDARD Summer 2017
Medal of Honor Citation For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty: Private First Class Ross A. McGinnis distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty while serving as an M2 .50-caliber Machine Gunner, 1st Platoon, C Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, in connection with combat operations against an armed enemy in Adhamiyah, Northeast Baghdad, Iraq on December 4, 2006. That afternoon his platoon was conducting combat control operations in an effort to reduced and control sectarian violence in the area. While Private McGinnis was manning the M2 50.-caliber machine gun, a fragmentation grenade thrown by an insurgent fell through the gunner’s hatch into the vehicle. Reacting quickly, he yelled “grenade,” allowing all four members of the crew to prepare for the grenade’s blast. Then, rather than leaping from the gunner’s hatch to safety, Private McGinnis made the courageous decision to protect the crew. In a selfless act of bravery, in which he was mortally wounded, Private McGinnis covered the live grenade, pinning it between his body and the vehicle and absorbing most of the explosion. Private McGinnis’ gallant action directly saved four men from certain serious injury or death. Private First Class McGinnis’ extraordinary heroism and selflessness at the cost of his own life, above and beyond the call of duty, are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army. Turnip Hole and Turkey City. It is a highly patriotic place, and McGinnis’s family was proud he was born on Flag Day, June 14, a fitting tribute as it turned out. It was in this small-town setting that McGinnis grew, a fun-loving, lanky sort but not someone enamored of his academic studies, his mother Romayne says. When he enlisted in the Army’s deferment program at 17, however, joining full-time at 18, McGinnis found the structure he sought, his mother says, a similar story in many ways to that of another recent Army Medal of Honor recipient, Army Sgt. 1st Class Paul Ray Smith. McGinnis also fell in love with a German girl when in the Army, making him very happy, his family says. Only in the service a short time, McGinnis deployed to Iraq in summer 2006, entering a country that remained in the grips of internecine conflicts and bloodletting. Back in Pennsylvania, his parents feared for his safety, but did not dwell on the dangers, partly because of their confidence in the Army’s infantry training, as detailed by their son. Everything changed on the evening of Dec. 4, 2006. “When the doorbell rang ... about 9:30 p.m. ... I wondered who would be visiting at this hour,” Tom McGinnis recalls in an eloquent essay sent Dec. 23, 2006, to media and friends; it is now available in its entirety at www.arlingtoncemetery. net/ramcginnis.htm. “But when I walked up to the door and saw two U.S. Army officers standing on the patio at the bottom of the steps, I knew instantly what was happening.
This is the only way the Army tells the next of kin that a soldier has died. ... At that moment I felt as if I had slipped off the edge of a cliff and there was nothing to grab onto. ... I rushed back into our bedroom and told my wife Romayne to get up; we had company. And they were going to tell us Ross is dead. I knew of no other way to say it. ... Ross did not become OUR hero by dying to save his fellow soldiers from a grenade. ... He was a hero long before he died, because he was willing to risk his life to protect the ideals of freedom and justice that America represents.” Instinctively, Ross McGinnis also was protecting the buddies he admired, bickered with of course from time to time, and shared a brand of commitment and camaraderie that only those engaged in combat situations truly can comprehend. Perhaps that is why he covered the grenade: He felt there was no choice. “He was that kind of person,” a friend and fellow infantryman told the American Forces Press Service. “He would rather take it himself than have his buddies go down.” What is remarkable is that no one, not a single person, would have questioned McGinnis’ motives had he yelled “grenade” and leaped. That is what the Army’s book says to do. His buddies, though, had no way to escape. So this small-town kid from Pennsylvania gave his life for four of his buddies. Soldiers like McGinnis are not born. They are made. And they stay with us forever. Summer 2017 DEFENSE STANDARD 57
A profile in courage, a symbol of so many others
58 DEFENSE STANDARD Summer Summer2017 2017
By Tom Breen “To all the ones who can’t be here, not just one or two, not just from the 173rd, not just from Battle Company, but from all the services, from the Army, the Air Force, the Navy, the Marines, the Coast Guard, the National Guard, the Reserves, everyone who has ever given so much more than I ever know, I want to say ‘Thank you’ right now to those men and those women because without them, I’m nothing.”
— Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore A. Giunta, the first living Medal of Honor recipient from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, after being inducted into the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes in November
heir actions, not their words, speak for them now, the seven Medal of Honor recipients in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars who came before Sal Giunta, the ones who died so their buddies could live, so the rest of us could go about our lives back home. We can see Paul Smith manning a .50 caliber machine gun, out in the open, shielding his men; Jason Dunham, dying eight days after smothering a grenade; Michael Murphy, stranded atop an Afghanistan ridge, bleeding and dying, radioing for help for his three teammates; Jared Monti racing into enemy fire, three times, to save a buddy, dying on the last try; Michael Monsoor, scrambling to pounce on a mine, taking the hit for nearby and Iraqi troops; Ross McGinnis, deflecting and then covering a grenade in a Humvee, allowing four buddies to climb to safety; and Robert Miller, saving more than 20 U.S. and Afghan troops, providing cover by boldly drawing fire from as many as 100 insurgents. Now, as winter and holiday season embrace us, we also can see Giunta, the only living Medal of Honor recipient from the two wars, dragging away his buddy Josh Brennan from enemy clutches. Now, Giunta, the 25-year-old Army soldier from the heartland, is the symbolic face of not only the seven Medal of Honor recipients from the two wars who came before him, but of the millions of troops, then and now, who go where they are asked to go, and do what they are asked to do. Humble and dignified, tough and endearing, truly the universal soldier and ordinary guy, Giunta has told his personal story often, about how he showed up at a T-shirt giveaway at an Army recruiter’s office near Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 2003, barely 18, quickly going from selling Subway foot-longs to patrolling treacherous terrain in Afghanistan near the Pakistan border. In every way, he personifies the true soldier, transformed from an ordinary kid with ordinary aspirations to Medal of Honor icon, still unsure of exactly how it happened. It was on a late October 2007 day in eastern Afghanistan, night settling in, when the lives of a young soldier from Iowa and his buddies from the fabled 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, 503rd Infantry Regiment, changed forever.
he outfit was walking patrol in the Korengal Valley, called the Valley of Death, a literal no-man’s land of impenetrable mountains and roaming bands of heavily armed insurgents. In the patrol that night were Sgt. Joshua Brennan, Spec. Frank Eckrode, squad leader Sgt. Erick Gallardo, and teammates Privates 1st Class Kaleb
Casey and Garret Clary. Another patrol, led by Lt. Brad Winn, followed. Both teams were ambushed suddenly by insurgents who knew the terrain. Out of the tree line, enemy gunfire exploded. Brennan fell first, struck by several rounds, and then Eckrode. Guns blazing, Gallardo raced toward his fallen comrades, temporarily stunned when a round struck his helmet, which he wears to this day to honor his buddies. Seeing Gallardo fall, Giunta also charged to his aid, shouting for Casey and Clary, who were firing heavily, to pull back; Giunta could see the enemy forming an L-shaped pattern to encircle them. Giunta also took a shot to the chest, stopped by his vest. Then Giunta and Gallardo, who by now had gotten his bearings, pulled away the bleeding Eckrode. All this is happening at breakneck speed. “It could have been three minutes, five minutes, maybe a million minutes,” Giunta says later, describing the scene. In the bloody chaos, Giunta turned, spotting three figures in the distance moving away, including what appeared to be the body of an American. He realized in a flash it was his buddy Brennan, severely wounded, dragged along by enemy combatants. “This is not going to happen,” Giunta told himself, running toward the gunfire, killing one
Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore A. Giunta BORN: Jan. 21, 1985, in Clinton, Iowa
FAMILY: Wife Jennifer; mother Rosemary, a preschool teacher; father Steven, a medical-equipment technician; brother Mario and sister Katie. Enlistment: Joined the Army in November 2003 after attending John F. Kennedy High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. MILITARY CAREER: Underwent basic and infantry training at Fort Benning, Ga. Deployed to Afghanistan from March 2005 and March 2006 and from May 2007 to July 2008. Unit: 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne. UNIT: 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne.
CURRENT DEPLOYMENT: Caserma Ederle near Vicenza, Italy
DECORATIONS: Medal of Honor, Bronze Star and numerous other citations SOURCE: U.S. Army Summer 2017 DEFENSE STANDARD 59
insurgent and wounding the other, who fled. Giunta pulled Brennan to momentary safety, staying with him as a medic desperately tried in vain to save his life. Brennan, 22, later died in surgery. A medic with another patrol, Sgt. Hugo D. Mendoza, 29, also died in the action. Walking back to base camp, Giunta said he remained stunned, but “focused entirely on the mission.” He had just proved he is a soldier’s soldier, despite his protestations to the contrary.
Giunta’s unit is so strong that his nephew has joined the unit in honor of his cousin. Mike Brennan also has grown close to Giunta’s family, especially his dad Steven, in Iowa. Brennan says his son had been wounded in the leg a month before he died after leading his men down a mountainside to safety. Josh returned to action almost immediately despite the wound. “Josh was walking point the day he died. He was always in the lead,” Brennan says. “His friends told me all the time, ‘Josh was the best soldier of all of us.’” Josh Brennan, who earned three Bronze Stars, ar from the chaos of another bloody day in Afghanistan, one with valor, and two Purple Hearts, had been scheduled Mendoza’s family, as well as Brennan’s, in November to leave Afghanistan in September 2007 after two tours attended the Medal of Honor ceremony at the White of duty, but was extended. Shortly after Josh’s death, his House in which Giunta, as he does, mother, Janice, of Ontario, Ore., told the dismissed his heroism, saying anyone Associated Press, “Josh struggled with could do what he did, and that most that [the extension] for a little while, soldiers are superior to him. “I’m not [but] he certainly wasn’t resentful of HE HAD JUST at peace with that at all. In this job, I it. He truly felt that what brought him PROVED HE IS A am only mediocre. I’m average. ... And to Afghanistan was a worthwhile and coming and talking about it, and people SOLDIER’S SOLDIER, just cause, that they needed to be there to preserve independence and freedom wanting to shake my hand because of DESPITE HIS in the United States and worldwide.” it, it hurts me, because it’s not what I want. And to be with so many people Giunta and Brennan exemplified that PROTESTATIONS TO [in the Army] doing so much stuff, and spirit, buddies to the end, out there on a THE CONTRARY. then to be singled out, and put forward, remote range in no-man’s land, in the I mean everyone did something.” Valley of Death. Mendoza also glowed His father, Steven, reinforces his with the same soldierly spirit. A little son’s humility, saying Sal initially did older than most of the others at 29, the not mention the award in a conversation the two had on the California native who grew up in Texas and later moved to day the president called him. “I had to pull it out of him.” It Arizona joined the Army in May 2005. Heavily decorated, he is this humility, along with his wider-than-Iowa smile, that repeatedly has been described as the “optimistic, charismatic has won him tens of millions of admirers. paratrooper” who always could be counted on, an ordinary Giunta “binds our Army together after nine years of guy doing extraordinary things. war,” Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the Army chief of staff, In the end, the military is about patriotism, of course, said at the November Hall of Heroes induction ceremony but it is more about ordinary people rising up, about at the Pentagon. Added Defense Secretary Robert Gates: people bonding with one another, finding a cause larger “Sergeant, your modesty and your humility, together with than themselves, and living outside themselves to perform your valor, truly set you apart. Though you call yourself, the task and serve others. and I quote, ‘mediocre,’ you are clearly exceptional, even Now, this kid from Hiawatha, Iowa, who enlisted at 18 amongst the fellow warriors you so graciously extol. But, and was selling Subway sandwiches before taking the oath more importantly, you are a living example, a reminder to at his local recruiter’s office, indeed is the national face of America that there are heroes — modern heroes that live the American warrior, yet another ordinary kid who did and walk amongst us, heroes who are still fighting and extraordinary things. And he is the face of the few who rose dying to protect us every day.” up the way he did, of Smith, Dunham, Murphy, Monsoor, For Giunta’s part, despite the praise heaped upon him, he Monti, McGinnis and Miller. has vowed to avoid adding in any way to the pain that has “I really like this guy,” President Barack Obama said ripped through tens of thousands of American families, and after recognizing Giunta’s heroism and selflessness. those from other nations, whose loved ones have been killed We all really like this guy. or wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past nine years. Sal Giunta, you make us proud.
n Madison, Wis., Josh Brennan’s father, Michael, lives with this very pain. Since his son’s death in 2007, Brennan, a former military policeman as was his former wife, repeatedly has visited near Vicenza, Italy, where Giunta and Josh had been stationed, befriending many of the troops positioned there. Mike Brennan’s devotion to his son’s and 60 DEFENSE STANDARD Summer 2017
Editor’s note: The author’s father, Thomas J. Breen of Groton, Massachusetts, fought with Giunta’s unit, the Army’s 503rd Infantry Regiment, against the Japanese in World War II, staving off enemy fire in heavily controlled pockets of jungle on the Pacific island of New Guinea. “None of us will forget what the 503rd did in the Pacific,” the senior Breen often said.
Medal of Honor Citation Specialist [at the time] Salvatore A. Giunta distinguished himself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty in action with an armed enemy in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan, on October 25, 2007. While conducting a patrol as team leader with Company B, 2d Battalion (Airborne), 503d Infantry Regiment, Specialist Giunta and his team were navigating through harsh terrain when they were ambushed by a well-armed and well-coordinated insurgent force. While under heavy enemy fire, Specialist Giunta immediately sprinted towards cover and engaged the enemy. Seeing that his squad leader had fallen and believing that he had been injured, Specialist Giunta exposed himself to withering enemy fire and raced towards his squad leader, helped him to cover, and administered medical aid. While administering first aid, enemy fire struck Specialist Giunta’s body armor and his secondary weapon. Without regard to the ongoing fire, Specialist Giunta engaged the enemy before prepping and throwing grenades, using the explosions for cover in order to conceal his position. Attempting to reach additional wounded fellow soldiers who were separated from the squad, Specialist Giunta and his team encountered a barrage of enemy fire that forced them to the ground. The team continued forward and upon reaching the wounded soldiers, Specialist Giunta realized that another soldier was still separated from the element. Specialist Giunta then advanced forward on his own initiative. As he crested the top of a hill, he observed two insurgents carrying away an American soldier. He immediately engaged the enemy, killing one and wounding the other. Upon reaching the wounded soldier, he began to provide medical aid, as his squad caught up and provided security. Specialist Giunta’s unwavering courage, selflessness, and decisive leadership while under extreme enemy fire were integral to his platoon’s ability to defeat an enemy ambush and recover a fellow American soldier from the enemy. Specialist Salvatore A. Giunta’s extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, Company B, 2d Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment, and the United States Army.
Army Sgt. 1st Class Paul R. Smith, 33, of Tampa, Fla., manned a .50-caliber machine gun near the Baghdad airport on April 4, 2003, to held off an enemy force of more than 100 while U.S. forces evacuated American wounded , saved by the dying Smith. He became the first Medal of Honor recipient from the war in Iraq. Marine Cpl. Jason L. Dunham, 22, of Scio, N.Y., who covered an enemy grenade on April 14, 2004, to save nearby Marines who were patrolling with Dunham near Husaybah, Iraq. He died of his wounds about a week later. He became the first Marine to receive the medal since Vietnam.
Navy SEAL Lt. Michael P. Murphy, 29, of Patchogue, N.Y., who stood out in the open, fatally wounded as he radioed to help his men on June 28, 2005, along mountain peaks in Afghanistan’s Hindu Kush Valley. Army Sgt. 1st Class Jared C. Monti, 30, of Raynham, Mass., on June 21, 2006, charged toward enemy fire to rescue a wounded buddy, turned back twice by fire, but refusing to give in, dying on the third rescue attempt.
Navy SEAL and Master-at-Arms 2nd Class Michael A. Monsoor, 25, of Garden Grove, Calif., flung himself upon a grenade Sept. 29, 2006, at Al Ramadi, Iraq, after he and several other SEAL and Iraqi troops were fenced in by insurgents. Army Spec. Ross A. McGinnis, 19, of Knox, Pa., smothered an Iraqi insurgent’s grenade on Dec. 4, 2006, in an Army Humvee in Baghdad. He saved the lives of four buddies inside the Humvee.
Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore A. Giunta, now 25, of Hiawatha, Iowa, on Oct. 25, 2007, provided a shield and rescued fellow platoon member Joshua Brennan from enemy hands. Giunta chased two Taliban insurgents who had shot Brennan and were dragging him away. Army Sgt. Robert J. Miller, 24, a Harrisburg, Pa., native, saved more than 20 U.S. and Afghan troops on Jan. 25, 2008, by staying at the front of the pack, holding off insurgents. He was the youngest member of his group, known for never turning down a difficult assignment. SOURCE: Department of Defense Summer 2017 DEFENSE STANDARD 61
Standing Proud, to the End
62 DEFENSE STANDARD Summer Summer2017 2017
By Tom Breen
ot far from Chicago, the good people of Wheaton, Ill. are gearing up this spring to dedicate a bridge in memory of favorite son Robert James Miller, the 24-year-old Army Special Forces warrior and recent Medal of Honor recipient who spent much of his life in the Chicago suburb. Three years ago he single-handedly faced down as many as 100 Taliban insurgents in northeastern Afghanistan, sacrificing himself to save more than 20 American and Afghan National Army forces.
For Miller, a gregarious soul who could not be slowed down after taking his first steps at 7 months old, the bridge serves as a lasting and fitting metaphor for his own remarkable personal journey, one that propelled him from the heartland to no-man’s land. And at the end, after dying a hero’s death, the final journey of this young Green Beret known as Robby took him to the quietude of All Faiths Memorial Cemetery in Casselberry, near Orlando, Fla., not far from where much of his family now lives after migrating from the Midwest, and where 200 people gathered early this year to witness the unveiling of a Medal of Honor marker commemorating his unimaginable valor. Said Adm. Eric Olson, the head of U.S. Special Operations Command, as Miller’s headstone was being unveiled Jan. 22, “Robby was tough, skilled, smart. ... He knew what he was doing and what mattered.” On the day he died, Miller knew exactly what he was doing and what mattered. What mattered on that subfreezing day of Jan. 25, 2008, was carrying out a mission to hunt down insurgents and help protect his teammates and innocent villagers in the treacherous Kunar Valley near the Pakistan border. As he had for so many days before this one, Miller, a member of Alpha Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group out of Fort Bragg, N.C., had trekked with his U.S. and Afghan teammates along trails framed by snowcapped mountains and sinking valleys, engaging villagers here and there, always casting a wary eye in search of marauding Taliban insurgents. It was cold and quiet, nothing eventful. In a flash, though, as each of our combat warriors knows, the mundane can erupt into a fiery inferno of weapons fire and explosions. It was that way for Miller and his teammates — first walking along still and motionless trails, then confronting hell on earth. The mission that day held deep significance for Miller. Even as a child, he thought of evil and how ordinary people were destroyed by it, reflecting on dictators ranging from Cambodia’s Pol Pot to Hitler. Some of his early friends were children of Cambodian refugees, and his interest in Hitler grew from his parents’ work in Germany during the Cold War, and from a paper he did for an eighth-grade history class in Wheaton, built around an interview with a German Navy veteran. So now, years removed from his eighthgrade history assignment, here he was, a 24-year-old Special Forces weapons specialist, confronting evil in his own way, trudging along the snow-packed trails of Kunar, conducting a mission to “clear a valley of insurgents who had been
Army Staff Sgt. Robert James Miller BORN: Oct. 14, 1983, Harrisburg, Pa.
DIED: Jan. 25, 2008, in Kunar Province in Afghanistan near the border with Pakistan UNIT: Company A, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne).
FAMILY: Parents Philip and Maureen Miller, Oviedo, Fla.; sisters Joanna, Mary, Therese and Patricia; and brothers Thomas, Martin and Edward. EARLY YEARS: Grew up in the Chicago suburb of Wheaton, Ill., attending Emerson Elementary and St. Michael Parish School, and graduating from Wheaton North High School in 2002. Attended the University of Iowa for a year.
SPORTS & HOBBIES: Gymnastics, cooking, music of all varieties, surfing, and just about anything that grabbed his fancy.
MILITARY BACKGROUND: Enlisted as an Army Special Forces candidate Aug. 14, 2003, graduating from Infantry Basic Training and Airborne School at Fort Benning, Ga., in January 2004; from the Special Forces Qualification Course in September 2004, and from the Special Forces Weapons Sergeant Course in March 2005. He graduated from the Special Operations French Language Training Course in September 2005. After receiving his Special Forces tab and being promoted to sergeant, he was assigned to Company A, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne), Fort Bragg, N.C. He received the Ranger Tab during the summer of 2007 after his first deployment to Afghanistan. DEPLOYMENTS: Deployed to Afghanistan to support Operation Enduring Freedom from August 2006 to March 2007, receiving two Army Commendation Medals for valor. Returned to Afghanistan for a second tour in October 2007, where he served as a weapons sergeant until his death under fire on Jan. 25, 2008.
SOURCE: Defense Department
Summer 2017 DEFENSE STANDARD 63
attacking Afghan forces and terrorizing villagers,” as first. I will never accept defeat. I will never quit. I will never President Barack Obama said when bestowing the Medal leave a fallen comrade. Such is the ethos of our American of Honor in October. soldier and such was the ethos of [Miller] and his team.” As the U.S.-Afghan team members trudged through To some, Casey’s words might ring hollow, sloganeering the snow, they confronted an insurgent compound, quickly of sorts, but to Miller they were words to live and die by. “unleashing their fire and calling in airstrikes,” Obama A warrior fights on to the very end if need be, for values said, and then moved in to assess the battle damage. But and friendships that go far beyond one’s self. A friend from the team then found itself under attack from as many as back in Wheaton, Bobby Kaye, recalled in interviews, “In 100 insurgents bursting out from the countryside. As point high school, he was driven. It was ... like he was driven by man, with the attack under way, Miller remained at the more than himself.” front, ordering his men — in English and in the Afghan dialect of Pashto — to pull back. Then he suddenly veered hat was the way his family always viewed him, toward the enemy himself, throwing grenades, firing his beginning a few months after his birth when he weapon, providing “suppressive fire and calling out targets was walking at seven months, to his days in school the entire time,” his teammates now say, to protect his men when he drove himself to learn other languages including and to allow teammates to haul Army Capt. Robert Cusick, German and Latin, and to his gymnastics training. In who had been shot through the lung, to safety. fact, he practiced so relentlessly at Wheaton North High As some of his team safeguarded Cusick, now a major, School that his coach forced him to go home at night so Miller remained in the open, exposed to enemy fire, wounded the lights could be flicked off. This was one determined twice in the chest yet still firing at Taliban guerrillas falling guy, someone who could be impatient and critical when around him, a young Achilles at the front, life ebbing away, but detecting mistakes, but someone always respected for his his personal resolve growing as his blood drenched the snow. relentless energy. So knowing how determined and tough “If it wasn’t for Robby,” Army Staff Sgt. Nicholas McGarry their son was, his family tried not to worry. Yet even the toughest among us can be cornered by a told reporters later, “there probably would be a lot of us dead or wounded; he saved us all from that. I looked to my right fierce enemy. On the day of the 2008 battle that took Robby’s life, the to see where he was. I literally saw him charging the enemy.” Cusick, the wounded commander, said later, “It’s men Millers in Florida were immersed in the routine of another like Robby who make the U.S. military special. I’m able ordinary day. Phil was in and out of the house, working at his job as an engineer, and to talk to you guys because his wife Maureen was at of Robby Miller. That’s what home. Suddenly, like a Florida makes this country so great ... “THE MISSION, HIS lightning bolt, uniformed men like Robby who are willing military officers walked to the to die for their friends.” Adds TEAMMATES, THE PEOPLE Millers’ door. “We knew why Miller’s dad, Phil, “The mission, OF AFGHANISTAN AND they were there, without even his teammates, the people of Afghanistan and American AMERICAN VALUES — ALL talking to them,” Phil says. Maureen and Phil can talk easily, values — all of it meant OF IT MEANT EVERYTHING with enthusiasm and joy, about everything to Robby.” their son’s accomplishments In all, Army officials who TO ROBBY.” recommended Miller for the and dreams, and even can talk Medal of Honor — the rarest and in a measured way about the most prestigious of American day he gave his life. But it is the combat awards — estimate he killed or wounded as many as day the military men walked up to their doorstep, in the 50 insurgents and saved the lives of many of his teammates. mildness of a Florida winter, they cannot discuss. As in any battle, or any military endeavor for that Born in Harrisburg, Pa., in the fall of 1983, Miller moved matter, Sgt. Miller did not stand alone. His battlefield ethos with his family to Wheaton as a youngster. It was there he was duplicated by the rest of his teammates, especially by grew up, went to elementary, middle and high school, not those who ran in to attempt to save him as the holocaust certain what the future might hold but enamored of U.S. flamed on. “The relentless fire forced them back, but they and world history, as well as the military. He was influenced refused to leave their fallen comrade,” Gen. George Casey, by his parents’ experiences in Berlin and Russia during the the Army chief of staff, said last October during a Hall Cold War, Phil as an Army translator fluent in German, of Heroes induction for Miller at the Pentagon. “When and Maureen as a Russian-language expert who also could reinforcements arrived, these Americans went in again, speak German. By the time Rob was born in 1983, Maureen risking their lives, taking more casualties, determined to and Phil had returned to the states, continuing to raise their bring [him] out of that valley. And finally, after fighting that family of eight first in Pennsylvania, then Illinois and later raged for hours, they did. I will always place the mission in Florida. Robby was the second-oldest.
64 DEFENSE STANDARD Summer 2017
Medal of Honor Citation Presented at the White House on Oct. 6, 2010
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty: Staff Sergeant Robert J. Miller distinguished himself by extraordinary acts of heroism while serving as the Weapons Sergeant in Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha 3312, Special Operations Task Force-33, Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan during combat operations against an armed enemy in Kunar Province, Afghanistan on 25 January 2008. While conducting a combat reconnaissance patrol through the Gowardesh Valley, Staff Sergeant Miller and his small element of U.S. and Afghan National Army soldiers engaged a force of 15 to 20 insurgents occupying prepared fighting positions. Staff Sergeant Miller initiated the assault by engaging the enemy positions with his vehicle’s turret-mounted Mark-19 40 millimeter automatic grenade launcher while simultaneously providing detailed descriptions of the enemy positions to his command, enabling effective, accurate close air support. Following the engagement, Staff Sergeant Miller led a small squad forward to conduct a battle damage assessment. As the group neared the small, steep, narrow valley that the enemy had inhabited, a large, well-coordinated insurgent force initiated a near ambush, assaulting from elevated positions with ample cover. Exposed and with little available cover, the patrol was totally vulnerable to enemy rocket propelled grenades and automatic weapon fire. As point man, Staff Sergeant Miller was at the front of the patrol, cut off from supporting elements, and less than 20 meters from enemy forces. Nonetheless, with total disregard for his own safety, he called for his men to quickly move back to covered positions as he charged the enemy over exposed ground and under overwhelming enemy fire in order to provide protective fire for his team. While maneuvering to engage the enemy, Staff Sergeant Miller was shot in his upper torso. Ignoring the wound, he continued to push the fight, moving to draw fire from over one hundred enemy fighters upon himself. He then again charged forward through an open area in order to allow his teammates to safely reach cover. After killing at least 10 insurgents, wounding dozens more, and repeatedly exposing himself to withering enemy fire while moving from position to position, Staff Sergeant Miller was mortally wounded by enemy fire. His extraordinary valor ultimately saved the lives of seven members of his own team and 15 Afghanistan National Army soldiers. Staff Sergeant Miller’s heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty, and at the cost of his own life, are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself and the United States Army. Of their children, Robby, named after two grandfathers who served in World War II, was the one always trying to break free, even as a toddler, determined to explore the world around him. He also had an early interest in other cultures, Maureen says. When he was young, his mother tutored Cambodian women in Harrisburg, the Pennsylvania capital, where the family lived for a time. Her son quickly picked up Cambodian words, and made friends with the youngsters. He possessed an early facility for German, too. Recalls Maureen, “[Because] Phil was a German translator for the Army, and since I also knew German, we would speak to each other in German when our children were young, and we didn’t want them to understand us. Of course that motivated them to want to learn German, and they gradually picked up some.’’ Even as a child, Robby was determined to expand the horizons of his own culture, a quality he took with him years later to the mountains and valleys of Afghanistan. But
before Afghanistan came his adolescence. Moving through school in Wheaton, he did well, but not always as well as he could have, primarily because his curiosity seemed stifled sometimes by a classroom structure. “He gave it his all if he was interested, but not so much if he was not,” his father says. That is a trait he shared with several other recent Medal of Honor recipients, men whose potential gushed out of them once they donned military uniforms. With high school behind him, he entered the University of Iowa, trying out for the gymnastics team but falling short. Gymnastics had intrigued him as a child, and he spent countless hours becoming good at it, winning numerous awards in high school. Yet even with his skills, he could not make the Iowa team, and started thinking about life beyond college though he only had a year behind him at the time. Like so many other men of his age, he also felt the pull of 9/11 and enlisted in the Army in 2003 at age 19. Summer 2017 DEFENSE STANDARD 65
t was the Army Special Forces that beckoned him, drawn in by the outfit’s never-ending challenges along with its lore, tradition, valor, intellectuality and physicality, a “special place for a special person,” his father says. In short, Special Forces helped satisfy his relentless desire to drive himself physically — as he repeatedly demonstrated in gymnastics — as well as his unwavering intellectual curiosity, especially through the unit’s emphasis on language skills. He learned French as his required language, and later the Afghan dialect of Pashto. Added to his German and Latin, he was a multilingual wonder, friends and family say. (Each Green Beret must demonstrate acumen for language, mastering at least one foreign tongue and often more.) By the time he returned to Afghanistan for his second combat tour beginning in the fall of 2007, he had become fluent in Pashto. Back in the states, shortly after the fierce battle in Kunar Province, the Millers were told their son might be nominated for an award. As Maureen puts it, “We heard officially from the military within days of Rob’s death that he had been put up for a high award, but because of our state of mind at the time, and our lack of familiarity with higher awards, we didn’t ask what the award was.” Later, one of their son’s commanders at Fort Bragg told them Robby was up for the Medal of Honor, but it was not until last summer they received a call from the casualty assistance officer that DoD had been trying to reach them and wanted to know if they could take a call. “We thought it would be some low-level bureaucrat and were
Courtesy Miller family
SF graduation, Ft. Bragg, March 2005.
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not expecting at all a call from the White House,” she says. “Once we picked up the phone and heard that the president wanted to speak to us, we [knew] what it was for.” For the next couple of minutes, the Millers talked with the president, who invited them to Washington in October for the medal ceremony. For the Millers, going to the White House and accepting Robby’s Medal of Honor was their way of honoring not only Robby and another son, Tom, who has joined the Army, but all the troops serving throughout the world. As they look back, they now think of a son who not only rose in combat, but one who shined as an informal ambassador of sorts for American values. He spoke Pashto, he rode horses across the Afghan countryside, he shared meals with villagers, and even showed Afghan troops a video of snowboarding, telling them, if the war stopped, they too could snowboard along the ranges. Along the way, as with many Green Berets, he certainly turned himself into a Renaissance man of sorts, prepared to fight, but always leading, learning and broadening himself in a strange new culture, even in the face of imminent danger. We can see him now, bubbling with energy and resolve: One moment, he is riding a horse through a village, smiling and waving to the local folk, and the next he is confronting evil and sacrificing himself without hesitation. That is the way it is with warriors and their families: One second, the world is normal and predictable. The next second, it is not.
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Summer 2017 DEFENSE STANDARD 67
A moment of courage, a lifetime of valor
68 DEFENSE STANDARD Summer Summer2017 2017
By Tony Mecia
hose decisive few seconds, behind a chicken coop in the Paktia province in eastern Afghanistan, are the ones people will always ask about. That one moment, the one quick decision, will be talked about for years. And make no mistake: What happened that day should be remembered – for one Army Ranger’s bravery, for the way that day changed the lives of the men who were there and for the family of a Ranger who did not come home.
Focusing on just one moment – whether it’s in a Vietnamese jungle, a Middle Eastern desert or a mountainous region on Pakistan’s border – risks drawing incomplete conclusions about a warfighter’s character. Yes, actions in battle are courageous. But long after the smoke of battle clears, after the welcome-home parades end and the TV cameras are packed, that’s when other challenges begin. Coping with battlefield memories, dealing with loss, facing the future – those can be trying circumstances. Rising to those challenges is heroic, too. So it is with Army Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry. In July, President Obama shook Petry’s prosthetic hand at a White House ceremony and attached the blue ribbon around his neck bearing the Medal of Honor, America’s highest military decoration. The president thanked Petry for his sacrifice, which saved the lives of at least two fellow Rangers. And he thanked the other men in Petry’s company for their service. The ceremony that day was the rarest of events. Petry was only the fifth service member to receive the Medal of Honor for service in Afghanistan, and only the 11th since the U.S. withdrew forces from Vietnam in 1973. More notably, Petry is only the second living service member to receive the Medal of Honor since Vietnam, as most are awarded posthumously. (The first, Army Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, received his in 2010; a third living recipient, Marine Sgt. Dakota Meyer, was to receive his in September – the first presentation of a Medal of Honor to a living Marine in 41 years.) Petry joins an elite club. Fewer than 100 Medal of Honor recipients are still alive. For living recipients, the medal is more than a reminder of one day’s valor on a distant battlefield. It distinguishes them for life as role models, and they can draw on those experiences to inspire others. That’s the role Petry is embracing.
lthough he would later win honors for his distinguished service, Petry’s life growing up in Santa Fe, N.M., was indistinguishable from that of many children. Family and friends remember him as a happy, helpful kid. “You ask him for a favor, he was always willing to do whatever you wanted,” recalls Joe Griego, who raised one of Petry’s childhood friends. The third of five sons, Petry was known to roughhouse with his brothers and cousins. He was active, playing youth football and basketball. At Santa Fe High School, he cut classes and got in fights. He was earning D’s and F’s and was at serious risk of flunking out. But then he transferred to the private St. Catherine Indian School.
Under supervision of the nuns, his fortunes turned around. He pulled his grades up to a 3.0, played basketball and joined the community service club. Upon graduating in 1998, the Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce presented him with its Bootstrap Award, given to students who overcame challenges and finished school. “Now, I can be noticed for something good instead of people going, ‘There goes that kid that dropped out,’ ” Petry told the Albuquerque Journal at the time. “I tried a little harder, and now me and my parents are proud.” A year after graduating, he and a cousin enlisted in the Army, something Petry says he had thought about from childhood. They both passed the rigorous training required to become Rangers, and both were assigned to the 75th Ranger Regiment. The cousin later became a Blackhawk helicopter pilot, while Petry became a grenadier and weapons expert. After six tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, Petry and his platoon sergeant in 2007 were put in charge of forming a combat-ready platoon in just six weeks. The task was a lot of work, and the soldiers spent long hours training. Petry was to lead a nine-man weapons squad. Even in a battalion characterized as friendly and informal, Petry made an impression on his colleagues as a hard worker who always made time to teach the younger soldiers. They recall him as fun-loving, even borderline “goofy.” “When I used to train with him, it could be freezing cold outside and raining, and he’d be smiling the whole time,” says Pfc. Luke Robinson, who since has left the Army. “He always had a good attitude, always had a smile on his face.”
Sgt. First Class Leroy Arthur Petry BORN: July 29, 1979
ASSIGNMENT: Currently assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 75th Ranger Regiment, Fort Benning, Ga. HOMETOWN: Santa Fe, N.M.
FAMILY: Wife, Ashley; four children
HOBBIES: Golf, pheasant hunting, fishing
QUOTE: “A lot of veterans don’t like to talk about their military service. But military service for me has been the greatest, so I’m going to talk about it for the rest of my life.”
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In early 2008, the unit was certified as the 2nd Platoon of Company D, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. In April 2008, Petry and his colleagues shipped out to Afghanistan’s Paktia province, a mountainous area bordering Pakistan, and known to be filled with Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters. Before each deployment, Petry would call his family in New Mexico, his dad recalls. “We always told him, ‘Be careful, be safe,’ and he told me, ‘I’m going with the best. We always watch each other’s back,’” Larry Petry told Army Times. By May 2008, Petry’s platoon was running raids nearly every day to root out insurgents. Though coming face-toface with armed enemy fighters almost daily, the platoon had confidence in its abilities. Rangers don’t scare easily. “Part of the training you go through is that you’re the f—-g man and no one is going to touch you,” Robinson says. “There’s a mission. We’re going to take care of business. I don’t ever remember being scared. We were always pumped. That’s why Rangers are some of the best, because they’re so confident.”
As Higgins evaluated Petry’s and Robinson’s wounds, an enemy grenade landed about 30 feet from them. It exploded, spraying Higgins and Robinson with shrapnel. Moments later, a second grenade landed. It was much closer. Just a few feet away. Right in the middle of them. It was behind Higgins and Robinson but right in front of Petry. What happened next happened quickly, certainly in no more than a few seconds. But to the three men who were there, the moment seemed longer. And in the months that followed, they slowed it down further in their heads, replaying the scene time and time again. Says Higgins: “It’s one of those things you’ll always go over in your mind: What could I have done better? What could I have done to make it so things didn’t happen the way they did?” Says Robinson: “It was like in war movies. Time slowed down for a second.” The typical kill radius of a grenade is about 15 feet. This grenade, an old, pineapple-looking one, was less than 10 feet away. Petry spotted the grenade first. He didn’t hesitate. “The first thing that went through my mind was, ‘Get it out of here. Get it away from my guys and me,’ ” Petry n May 26, the platoon prepared for a rare daytime recalled later in a television interview. raid. Most missions were at night, to take So he grabbed the grenade and started to throw it. Then advantage of night-vision goggles. But intelligence it exploded. The blast blew off his right hand. had identified a high-value target, and they couldn’t risk “I grabbed my arm. It looked like a circular saw had waiting till nightfall. taken it off,” Petry said. “It To some soldiers that day, was flat at the top and was attacking in broad daylight felt completely gone.” Surprisingly, THOUGH COMING FACEeerie. Arriving by helicopter, Petry says he didn’t feel any pain the platoon was working to at the time. He chalked it up to TO-FACE WITH ARMED capture an insurgent believed the rush of adrenaline. Then his ENEMY FIGHTERS ALMOST training kicked in. He applied a to be one of the top Al Qaeda leaders in the area. At 1:34 p.m., tourniquet to his wrist – which DAILY, THE PLATOON the platoon began to clear the doctors later said saved his life – HAD CONFIDENCE IN ITS target structure, which had two and again radioed an update. courtyards. As a squad leader, ABILITIES. RANGERS DON’T In a brief firefight, the then-Staff Sgt. Petry ordinarily Rangers in the courtyard killed SCARE EASILY. would have stayed outside the the enemy. Medics arrived to courtyard supervising a heavy start treating the wounded. machine-gun team. But he saw a Gathercole, who exchanged need and jumped right in. fire with the enemy in a different After clearing one of the courtyards, Petry and Robinson part of the courtyard, didn’t survive. began working to secure the second courtyard. As they Looking back on that day, the Rangers always recall entered it, a gunman 30 feet away opened fire with an AK- Gathercole, an easy-going, fun-loving Californian who had 47 assault rifle. One round pierced both of Petry’s thighs. A been making the best of a rough childhood. Yet they also second round hit Robinson in the side plate of his armored acknowledge that without Petry, there would have been vest. The two took cover behind a chicken coop, the only more deaths that day. “He saved my life. I’m thankful for structure between them and the insurgents. Petry radioed him,” Robinson says. “I probably would be dead or missing that he and Robinson were wounded and under fire. my brain if he hadn’t been there.” Sgt. Daniel Higgins, Staff Sgt. James Roberts and Spc. Now, three years later, Petry is adjusting to his new role. Christopher Gathercole headed to the second courtyard to And he’s thriving in it. help. Petry lobbed a grenade at the insurgents, buying time Like that day in eastern Afghanistan, he’s continuing for Higgins to join them behind the chicken coop, while to help. He’s continuing to sacrifice for a cause larger Roberts and Gathercole battled other fighters in a different than himself. With his injuries, he could have qualified for a medical discharge from the Army. He says he received part of the courtyard.
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Medal of Honor Citation
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty: Staff Sergeant Leroy A. Petry distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty in action with an armed enemy in the vicinity of Paktya Province, Afghanistan, on May 26, 2008. As a Weapons Squad Leader with D Company, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, Staff Sergeant Petry moved to clear the courtyard of a house that potentially contained high-value combatants. While crossing the courtyard, Staff Sergeant Petry and another Ranger were engaged and wounded by automatic weapons fire from enemy fighters. Still under enemy fire, and wounded in both legs, Staff Sergeant Petry led the other Ranger to cover. He then reported the situation and engaged the enemy with a hand grenade, providing suppression as another Ranger moved to his position. The enemy quickly responded by maneuvering closer and throwing grenades. The first grenade explosion knocked his two fellow Rangers to the ground and wounded both with shrapnel. A second grenade then landed only a few feet away from them. Instantly realizing the danger, Staff Sergeant Petry, unhesitatingly and with complete disregard for his safety, deliberately and selflessly moved forward, picked up the grenade, and in an effort to clear the immediate threat, threw the grenade away from his fellow Rangers. As he was releasing the grenade it detonated, amputating his right hand at the wrist and further injuring him with multiple shrapnel wounds. Although picking up and throwing the live grenade grievously wounded Staff Sergeant Petry, his gallant act undeniably saved his fellow Rangers from being severely wounded or killed. Despite the severity of his wounds, Staff Sergeant Petry continued to maintain the presence of mind to place a tourniquet on his right wrist before communicating the situation by radio in order to coordinate support for himself and his fellow wounded Rangers. Staff Sergeant Petry’s extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service, and reflect great credit upon himself, 75th Ranger Regiment, and the United States Army. “phenomenal” job offers in the private sector. But he turned them down, and in 2010, he re-enlisted. He’s even served another tour in Afghanistan, over his wife’s objections. “At the end of the day, I said, ‘What’s going to make me happy?’” he recalled at a recent news conference. “I’m going to do now what I can to continue my service, which I hold very dear.” Petry now serves as a liaison officer with the U.S. Special Operations Command Care Coalition, where he helps wounded soldiers and their families understand available benefits and services. Throughout it all, he’s kept his trademark sense of humor. His grandmother told a Santa Fe newspaper: “He loves putting out his prosthetic hand when he first meets people. The hand turns all the way around. He likes to see the look on people’s faces.” Stops on his post-ceremony public-relations blitz included “The Today Show,” “The Daily Show,” “Fox & Friends,” a New York Mets game and Broadway. Buddies from his old platoon say he’s the same man he was. But he’s taking on bigger challenges and applying the same selflessness he did in battle.
“With the responsibilities he’s taken on, he’s definitely realizing the importance of who he is now,” says Collin Snyder, who served alongside Petry as a private. “That’s definitely made him come to realize that while he was already doing great things, the bar has been raised. He’s definitely willing to rise to that occasion. It’s just as important, if not more.” In a news conference after being presented with the medal, Petry said he was impressed by a quote he read in a book about Medal of Honor recipients: that the Medal of Honor is a lot easier to earn than it is to wear. “I hope I represent it well and do the most positive things I can with it,” Petry said. For now, that means working with injured soldiers, encouraging medical students to join the military and using his new platform to advocate for members of the military, their families and others. For Petry, that means that despite his heroism and his sacrifice, his mission is not complete. And his biggest contributions to our nation might be yet to come. Summer 2017 DEFENSE STANDARD 71
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By Marine Cpl. Reece Lodder
emoved from an ambushed platoon of Marines and soldiers in a remote Afghan village on Sept. 8, 2009, his reality viciously shaken by an onslaught of enemy fighters, thenMarine Corps Cpl. Dakota Meyer simply reacted as he knew best—tackling what he called “extraordinary circumstances” by “doing the right thing—whatever it takes.”
Nearly two years later, the White House announced then 23-year-old Marine scout sniper from Columbia, Ky., now a sergeant in the Inactive Ready Reserve, would become the first living Marine to be awarded the Medal of Honor in 38 years. Retired Sgt. Maj. Allan Kellogg Jr. received the medal in 1973 for gallantry in Vietnam three years earlier. President Barack Obama presented the award to Meyer at the White House on Sept. 15, 2011. “The award honors the men who gave their lives that day, and the men who were in that fight,” Meyer says. “I didn’t do anything more than any other Marine would. I was put in an extraordinary circumstance, and I just did my job.”
begin’—once you say in your mind you aren’t getting out of there, you fight harder and harder.”
eginning his career with the same regiment from which Kellogg retired in 1990, Meyer deployed with 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, to Fallujah, Iraq, in 2007, and earned a meritorious promotion to corporal in late 2008 after returning from the deployment. Before leaving for Iraq, Meyer completed the Marine Corps’ 10-week Scout Sniper Basic Course, and committed himself to preparing himself and his snipers for combat. They attended lifesaving classes taught by Navy corpsmen and honed their skills with myriad weapon systems, hough bleeding from shrapnel wounds in his right such as light machine guns. Meyer also spent time in his arm, Meyer, aided by fellow Marines and Army battalion’s communications section learning how to call for advisers from Embedded Training Team 2-8, braved mortar and artillery fire. a vicious hail of enemy machine-gun and rocket-propelled “I devoted my whole life to making the best snipers in grenade fire in the village of Ganjgal to help rescue and the Marine Corps,” Meyer says. “They’re a direct reflection evacuate more than 15 wounded Afghan soldiers and of your leadership. If you fail them in training, it could get recover the bodies of four fallen fighters: 1st Lt. Michael them killed on the battlefield.” Johnson, Gunnery Sgts. Aaron Kenefick and Edwin Johnson In February 2009, Meyer volunteered to deploy to Jr., and Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class James Layton. Afghanistan’s dangerous Kunar province and mentor ETT adviser Army Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth Westbrook Afghan soldiers as part of an embedded training team, the died at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, type of role usually filled by U.S. Special Forces. D.C., Oct. 7, 2009, from wounds suffered in the firefight. “A Marine who seeks the challenge of joining his Meyer charged through the battle zone five times to unit’s scout sniper platoon has to have a lot of drive recover the dead Marines and and determination,” says Col. injured Afghan soldiers, risking Nathan Nastase, Meyer’s battalion his life even when a medical commander at 3/3. “Being assigned “THERE’S NOT A DAY— to the ETT was a huge vote of evacuation helicopter wouldn’t land because of the blazing gunfire. NOT A SECOND THAT confidence in his abilities.” “There’s not a day—not a second Meyer deployed to Afghanistan GOES BY WHERE I that goes by where I don’t think about on the ETT in July 2009. what happened that day,” Meyer “Our mission was to help prepare DON’T THINK ABOUT says. “I didn’t just lose four Marines the Afghans to take over their own WHAT HAPPENED that day; I lost four brothers.” country and provide security for Author Bing West, a retired themselves,” Meyer says. “ETTs THAT DAY” Marine infantry officer and make a huge impact on the outcome combat veteran of Vietnam who of the war.” detailed Meyer’s actions in “The In Kunar province, Meyer and Wrong War,” praises Meyer for taking command of another ETT advisor would lead squads of 15 Afghan the battle as a corporal—the most junior adviser in the soldiers on patrols. Since he could speak the local Pashto firefight. West says Meyer should have been killed, but he language well, Meyer often separated from the element dominated the battlefield by fearlessly exposing himself with his Afghan trainees. to danger and pumping rifle and machine-gun rounds When his patrol fought to rescue another from an into the enemy fighters. ambush Sept. 8, 2009, Meyer’s focus on advising gave way “When you leave the perimeter, you don’t know what’s to surviving, and on what he had to do to keep himself and going to happen, regardless of what war you’re fighting his men alive. in,” Kellogg says. “Once you get to a point where you make “I lost a lot of Afghans that day,” Meyer says. “And I’ll the decision—‘I’m probably going to die, so let the party tell you right now, they were just as close to me as those
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Marines were. At the end of the day, I don’t care if they’re Afghans, Iraqis, Marines or Army; it didn’t matter. They’re in the same [stuff] you are, and they want to go home and see their family just as bad as you do.” Thrown into unimaginable circumstances, Meyer says the Afghan soldiers and his sniper training saved his life during the battle.
acody Downey is a close friend of Meyer’s from Kentucky. He’s seen his friend grow from a fun-loving “jokester” in high school to a driven Marine who deeply respected both elders and subordinates. “Dakota has always cared more about others than he does himself,” Downey says. “Even if he’s not with his Marines now, he’s still constantly thinking about them, worrying about them and calling to check on them. He still considers them brothers.” Cpl. David Hawkins grew as a Marine under Meyer’s leadership in 3/3’s Scout Sniper Platoon. “Meyer was an ideal leader,” says Hawkins, who is from Parker, Colo. “He knew everything about the Marines underneath him—how they’d respond to every situation, not only on a Marine Corps level but also on a personal level.” Hawkins says he was deeply humbled by Meyer’s concern as a friend, especially after being severely wounded by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan on Sept. 24, 2010. Four days later, he lay in a stark hospital room, riddled with shrapnel. After groggily emerging from anesthesia into a blurry reality, Hawkins’ phone rang—the first call from a friend. Meyer’s jovial drawl broke through the speaker. “In the Marine Corps, you always hear that if something’s broke, you’ve got to work to fix it, but you never really see the Marine who does it,” Hawkins says. “Meyer is that Marine. If he had something to say, he’d say it, and he wasn’t really afraid of repercussions for what he
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said. If it needed to be changed, he changed it.” Hearing his friend would receive the Medal of Honor didn’t surprise Hawkins, who says Meyer’s actions were the manifestation of how he lived and led. “Meyer was destined for the Medal of Honor,” he says. “If you got to work with him, you’d see it.” Meyer completed his tour on active duty in June 2010. He went home to Kentucky, where he’s found purpose working with his hands in a family business. “Pouring concrete is kind of like the Marine Corps,” Meyer says. “When you wake up in the morning, you’ve got a job … like a mission. There’s no set standard on how to do things, but you just have to go out there, make decisions and get it done—and that’s like the challenge of the Marine Corps. Once you’re satisfied with what you’ve done, you stop getting better.” Meyer joins a small, elite group of heroes, a reality that will often require him to conjure up haunting reminders of the battles he has fought, the friends he has lost and the painful regret he bears. “I’m not a hero, by any means. I’m a Marine, that’s what I am,” he says. “The heroes are the men and women still serving, and the guys who gave their lives for their country. At the end of the day, I went in there to do the right thing … and it all boils down to doing the right thing … whatever it takes. All those things we learn stick in your head, and when you live by it, that’s the Marine way.” Though Meyer received the Medal of Honor for what he did in Ganjgal, he insists he wears the five-pointed medallion and blue silk ribbon to honor his fallen brothers, their families and his fellow Marines. “Being a Marine is a way of life,” Meyer says. “It isn’t just a word, and it’s not just about the uniform. It’s about brotherhood. Brotherhood means that when you turn around, they’re there, through thick and thin. If you can’t take care of your brothers, what can you do in life?”
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HONORING LIVES CUT SHORT, BUT NOT FORGOTTEN
By Julie Bird
merica’s elite military forces took one of their biggest hits in history on Aug. 6 when Afghan insurgents managed to down an Army Chinook helicopter, claiming the lives of 30 special operators. It was the worst oneday casualty rate in the 10 years since U.S. and NATO troops launched the fight against terror in Afghanistan following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
Among those killed were 17 members of Navy SEAL Team 6, which killed Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in May during a daring night raid in Pakistan, and five other Navy special operations personnel. Five Army and three Air Force special operators also lost their lives, along with seven Afghan commandos. “Their deaths are a reminder of the extraordinary sacrifices made by the men and women of our military and their families, including all who have served in Afghanistan,” President Barack Obama said in a statement.
TODAY, WE REMEMBER AND HONOR THE 30 AMERICANS WHO MADE THE ULTIMATE SACRIFICE.
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U.S. NAVY Petty Officer 1st Class Darrik C. Benson, 28, Angwin, Calif., SEAL; Chief Petty Officer Brian R. Bill, 31, Stamford, Conn., SEAL; Petty Officer 1st Class Christopher G. Campbell, 36, Jacksonville, N.C., SEAL / Parachutist; Petty Officer 1st Class Jared W. Day, 28, Taylorsville, Utah, Information Systems Technician / Freefall Parachutist; Petty Officer 1st Class John Douangdara, 26, South Sioux City, Neb., Masterat-Arms; Chief Petty Officer John W. Faas, 31, Minneapolis, SEAL; Chief Petty Officer Kevin A. Houston, 35, West Hyannisport, Mass., SEAL; Lt. Cmdr. Jonas B. Kelsall, 32, Shreveport, La., SEAL; Chief Petty Officer Louis J. Langlais, 44, Santa Barbara, Calif., SEAL; Chief Petty Officer Matthew D. Mason, 37, Kansas City, Mo., SEAL; Chief Petty Officer Stephen M. Mills, 35, Fort Worth, Texas, SEAL; Chief Petty Officer Nicholas H. Null, 30, Washington, W.Va., Explosive Ordnance Technician / Freefall Parachutist / Diver; Petty Officer 1st Class Jesse D. Pittman, 27, Ukiah, Calif., SEAL; Senior Chief Petty Officer Thomas A. Ratzlaff, 34, Green Forest, Ark., SEAL; Chief Petty Officer Robert J. Reeves, 32, Shreveport, La., SEAL; Chief Petty Officer Heath M. Robinson, 34, Detroit, SEAL; Petty Officer 2nd Class Nicholas P. Spehar, 24, St. Paul, Minn., SEAL; Petty Officer 1st Class Michael J. Strange, 25, Philadelphia, Pa., cryptologist technician / expeditionary warfare specialist;
Petty Officer Jon T. Tumilson, 35, Rockford, Iowa, SEAL / Enlisted Surface Warfare Specialist; Petty Officer 1st Class Aaron C. Vaughn, 30, Stuart, Fla., SEAL; Senior Chief Petty Officer Kraig M. Vickers, 36, Kokomo, Hawaii, explosive ordnance disposal technician / expeditionary warfare specialist / freefall parachutist; Petty Officer 1st Class Jason R. Workman, 32, Blanding, Utah, SEAL.
U.S. ARMY Sgt. Alexander J. Bennett, 24, Tacoma, Wash.; Spec. Spencer C. Duncan, 21, Olathe, Kansas; Chief Warrant Officer Bryan J. Nichols, 31, Hays, Kansas, all of the 7th Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment. Chief Warrant Officer David R. Carter, 47, Centennial, Colo.; Staff Sgt. Patrick D. Hamburger, 30, Lincoln, Neb., both of the 2nd Battalion, 135th Aviation Regiment.
U.S. AIR FORCE Tech. Sgt. John W. Brown, 33, of Tallahassee, Fla.; Staff Sgt. Andrew W. Harvell, 26, of Long Beach, Calif.; and Tech. Sgt. Daniel L. Zerbe, 28, of York, Pa., all of the 24th Special Tactics Squadron, Pope Field, N.C.
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WHAT MAKES A NATIONâ€™S PILLARS HIGH AND ITS FOUNDATIONS STRONG?
Sgt. Alexander J. Bennett
Petty Officer 1st Class Darrik C. Benson
NOT GOLD BUT ONLY MEN CAN MAKE
Staff Sgt. Patrick D. Hamburger
Staff Sgt. Andrew W. Harvell
BRAVE MEN WHO WORK WHILE OTHERS SLEEP,
Senior Chief Petty Officer Thomas A. Ratzlaff
Chief Petty Officer Robert J. Reeves
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Chief Petty Officer Brian R. Bill
Tech. Sgt. John W. Brown
Petty Officer 1st Class Christopher G. Campbell
A PEOPLE GREAT AND STRONG;
Chief Petty Officer Kevin A. Houston
Lt. Cmdr. Jonas B. Kelsall
Chief Petty Officer Louis J. Langlais
WHO DARE WHILE OTHERS FLY ...
Chief Petty Officer Heath M. Robinson
Petty Officer 2nd Class Nicholas P. Spehar
Petty Officer 1st Class Michael J. Strange
WHAT MAKES IT MIGHTY TO DEFY THE FOES THAT ROUND IT THRONG?
Chief Warrant Officer David R. Carter
Petty Officer 1st Class Jared W. Day
MEN WHO FOR TRUTH AND HONOR’S SAKE
Chief Petty Officer Matthew D. Mason
Chief Petty Officer Stephen M. Mills
THEY BUILD A NATION’S PILLARS DEEP
Petty Officer 1st Class Jon T. Tumilson
Petty Officer 1st Class Aaron C. Vaughn
Petty Officer 1st Class John Douangdara
Spec. Spencer C. Duncan
Chief Petty Officer John W. Faas
STAND FAST AND SUFFER LONG.
Chief Warrant Officer Bryan J. Nichols
Chief Petty Officer Nicholas H. Null
Petty Officer 1st Class Jesse D. Pittman
AND LIFT THEM TO THE SKY.
Senior Chief Petty Officer Kraig M. Vickers
Petty Officer 1st Class Jason R. Workman
Tech. Sgt. Daniel L. Zerbe
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A soldier touches the Ranger tab during the 34th annual Best Ranger Competition at Fort Benning, GA., Apr. 9. 2017. The three-day event tests competitorsâ€™ physical, mental and technical capabilities. PHOTO: â€…Staff Sgt. Justin P. Morelli
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Ultralight Tactical Mobility
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