Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Operation Enduring Freedom VIII, ROCK Paratrooper Medal of Honor Recipients and their Commander circa 2008, Vicenza, Italy


Back in 2008 when the 173rd redeployed from Operation Enduring Freedom VIII, a group of us came together to raise funds for a "Welcome Home" party for 2-503d.  The group included folks who had family members and/or friends in 2nd Batt.  The group included Gold Star families.

Over the years I have often gone back through the multitude of photos from that night.  The memory is always fresh in my mind.  Of all of the images one always took my breath away.  I knew the night of the party that Sal (SSG Sal Giunta) has been nominated for the Medal of Honor.  I learned not long afterwards that Kyle (SSG Kyle White) had been nominated for the Medal of Honor.  And I knew that Ryan (SSG Ryan Pitts) had been nominated for the Distinguished Service Cross.  A couple of years later I learned that Ryan's DSC had been upgraded to the Medal of Honor.

Who would have ever imagined when I snapped this image (among hundred of images I snapped that night) of Sal, Ryan, Kyle and COL (then LTC) Ostlund, the 2-503d Battalion Commander for OEF VIII, that all three of those men would wear the Medal of Honor one day?

SSG Sal Giunta, SSG Ryan Pitts, SSG Kyle White and COL Bill Ostlund

I love these men and their families and am beyond honored that they are my friends.

Note:  This photo cannot be used without permission from Leta Carruth


Monday, June 23, 2014

SSG (r) Ryan M Pitts to Receive Medal of Honor on 21 July 2014


SSG (r) Ryan M Pitts will receive the Medal of Honor in a White House ceremony on 21 July 2014 for his valorous actions at the Battle of Wanat, Afghanistan on 13 July 2008.  Ryan, a Forward Observer, was serving with the 173rd, 2-503d, Chosen Company during OEF VIII at the time the Battle of Wanat occurred.

Office of the Press Secretary
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                              
June 23, 2014

President Obama to Award the Medal of Honor

On July 21, 2014, President Barack Obama will award Ryan M. Pitts, a former active duty Army Staff Sergeant, the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry.  Staff Sergeant Pitts will receive the Medal of Honor for his courageous actions while serving as a Forward Observer with 2nd Platoon, Chosen Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade, during combat operations at Vehicle Patrol Base Kahler, in the vicinity of Wanat Village in Kunar Province, Afghanistan on July 13, 2008.

Staff Sergeant Pitts will be the ninth living recipient to be awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan.  He and his family will join the President at the White House to commemorate his example of selfless service.

PERSONAL BACKGROUND: 

Staff Sergeant Pitts separated from the service on October 27, 2009 from Walter Reed Army Medical Center.  He currently lives in Nashua, New Hampshire, where he works in business development for the computer software industry.

Staff Sergeant Pitts enlisted in the Army in August 2003 as a Fire Support Specialist (13F), primarily responsible for the intelligence activities of the Army’s field artillery team.   After completion of training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and follow-on parachutist training at the U.S. Army Airborne School, Fort Benning, Georgia, he was assigned to Camp Ederle, Vicenza, Italy, as a radio operator with the 4th Battalion, 319th Field Artillery Regiment and 173rd Airborne Brigade where he deployed to Afghanistan.  His final assignment was with the 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment "The Rock"173rd Airborne Brigade as a Forward Observer which included a second combat tour to Afghanistan.

At the time of the July 13, 2008 combat engagement, then-Sergeant Pitts was a Forward Observer in 2nd Platoon, Chosen Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment 173rd Airborne Brigade as part of Task Force Rock. His heroic actions were performed at Vehicle Patrol Base Kahler, in the vicinity of Wanat Village in Kunar Province, Afghanistan. 

His personal awards include the Bronze Star Medal w/ “V” Device, Purple Heart, Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal w/ three Bronze Oak Leaf Clusters, Army Achievement Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal with Bronze Clasp and two Loops, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal with Two Campaign Stars, Global War on Terrorism Medal, Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon with Numeral “4”,  NATO Medal, Presidential Unit Citation, Valorous Unit Award, Combat Action Badge, Pathfinder Badge and Parachutist Badge.

Our nation lost nine brave Heroes that day.

1LT Jonathan Brostrom
SGT Israel Garcia
CPL Jonathan Ayers
CPL Jason Bogar
CPL Jason Hovator
CPL Matthew Phillips
CPL Pruitt Rainey
CPL Gunnar Zwilling
CPL Sergio Abad

Please go to this link to read more about these American Heroes.

The internet will have written and video stories and interviews regarding Ryan's actions that day.  I'd like to share with you a couple of other stories about Ryan that show his character and compassion.

I first met Ryan when he and several of his battle buddies were recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC.  I was privileged to spend time with them on several visits over the months that they were there.

In May 2009 Ryan flew from Washington, DC to Memphis, TN for two "missions".

One "mission" was to visit Evan Pertile who was a patient at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.  Evan wasn't having a particularly good day when we went to visit.  His mother has told us not to expect to stay long or for Evan to be very full of life.  Apparently Ryan was good medicine for Evan, though.  The entire time we were there Evan was laughing and being a rambunctious little guy.  It was beyond heart warming to watch Ryan and Evan interact.

You can read the entire story and see all of the photos of that "mission" at this link.  I am happy to say that Evan is still cancer free and doing well.

Evan warmed up to Ryan right away.  Evan's mother was a bit stunned when Evan crawled right into Ryan's lap not long after we arrived.


Ryan showing Evan how to get the beret "just right"


Ryan helping Evan put his Paratrooper beret on for the first time


Ryan and Evan hanging out in Evan's room at the Target House near St. Jude Children's Research Hospital

The other "mission" was to visit Lakeland Elementary School in Lakeland, TN to thank the students for sending $6000 worth of winter socks to the Sky Soldiers during their fifteen month deployment in 2007-2008.  You can read the entire story at this link but here are a few photos from the event:

Ryan speaking to the fifth grade assembly at Lakeland, TN elementary school


Ryan taking questions from the fifth grade students

Ryan signing yearbooks for some of the fifth grade students

Ryan spent an hour or more signing their yearbooks.  It was such a joy to watch him with these young Americans.  The interaction seemed so easy and normal. 

It is beyond an honor to know Ryan and his wife Amy.  Ryan will represent our nation, the Army and the ROCK (2-503d) with dignity and respect.

Additional Links:

NCO Journal

Boston Globe

Army Times


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

SGT (r) Kyle White to Receive Medal of Honor at White House Ceremony on 13 May 2014



On Tuesday May 13th, 2014 SGT (r) Kyle White will be awarded the Medal of Honor at a ceremony held at the White House.  SGT White will receive the award for his actions on 9 November 2007 during an ambush near the village of Aranus in Nuristan Province of eastern Afghanistan.  It's been such a long time coming.

I find it disheartening that if one searches the internet for information about that fateful day one basically comes up empty.  In anticipation of the announcement of Kyle's award I asked one of his closest friends, Kain Schilling, who was with him that day to write something for me to share so that folks could know about Kyle's actions.  Kain was a SPC and a Forward Observer at the time.  He has since been medically retired from the Army due to his wounds from that day.  The Pentagon will soon release both the Battle Scape and the Citation but for now here is a little bit about the battle from Kain Schilling.

Our mission of 9 November 2007 was supposed to be just another shura (meeting) with the local elders of the village of Aranus in Nuristan Province of eastern Afghanistan.  My unit, Chosen Company, 1st Platoon fo the 173rd ABCT, 2-503rd, started to move from Outpost Bella to the village of Aranus during the night of Nove 8th.  The hump was close to 4 kilometers straight line but there is no straight line in the mountains of Nuristan Province.  The plan was to make it to the school in Aranus that night and spend the rest of the night there.  Then in the morning of Nov 9th we would meet with the elders and return back to Bella. 

Everything seemed to go as planned on Nov 9th up until the meeting. The meeting took a couple of hours more than what was originally planned.  Also there were more fighting age males in the village and the ICOM chatter that our interpreter and ETT (SGT Bocks) picked up was a different language than was normally used in the area.  This threw up red flags to us.   As I stated before we had noticed that there were a lot of younger men in the village.  I remember thinking, at the time, that at least they are here and not set up in the mountains.  Oh how I wish that had been true.  After Marine SGT Bocks picked up the ICOM chatter he told our LT (Lieutenant Ferrara) that we should be leaving now.

As we started back to Bella we noticed some of the men from the village following us and then they split off and headed up to a high trail.  Our patrol order was LT Ferrara, SPC White, Me, SGT Bocks, and then the ANA. White was the RTO, so both of us had a radio.   We didn’t imagine there was any way we would lose communication (COMS) since we had 4 radios between LT Ferrara, SPC White, SGT Bocks, and I right?  We were about half way back to Outpost Bella when all hell broke loose. I remember hearing a couple of cracks and instantly knowing what was happening but I couldn’t tell where it was coming from.  The enemy launched a 3 pronged attack.  From my knowledge they attacked from above, in front and across the valley.
Before getting into the meat of what I remember happening, let me paint a picture of the area where this took place in. The trail we were on was very narrow.  On the right was a cliff going straight up.  To the left was a cliff going straight down.  The terrain was rocky shale, rough as shit, nowhere to go.   As soon as I thought about where those shots are coming from, an instant barrage of AK, PKM and RPG fire came raining in on us. SPC White and I turned to head to a rock we had previously passed.  SPC White was laying down as much suppressive fire as a full auto M4 will.   Just as SPC White emptied his first magazine we both were hit by an RPG blast.  I was dazed.  SPC White was knocked out and had received shrapnel to his face.  After regaining consciousness we both made it behind cover and tried to orient ourselves and find out where all the incoming fire is coming from.  The first thing I wanted to do was get some kind of fire support out to try to gain fire superiority.  I discovered that I had NO COMS.   Neither did SPC White.

Without having time to dwell on why COMS were down I started to get a burning sensation in my lungs.  SPC White and I were having difficulty breathing.  While we were trying to figure out what exactly was happening we were extremely pinned down and we were both thinking that we were actually getting gassed.  The burning was so intense and it was so hard to breath that I figured it had to be gas, I could not believe it.
I didn’t notice this at the time, but our radios had been shot out.  The bullets must have hit the lithium batteries stored in the radios which explained the immense amount of gas that White and I were breathing in.  At this point our plan for communication with Bella Outpost was shot. After I realized they had disabled our radios by the blasts from the incoming rounds, I realized I couldn’t feel my arm.  I thought it had been blown off.  I moved down the trail a bit and went into a prone position behind the smallest tree on earth.  Just as I got there SPC White came to my aid.  He had left his relative, well, “ok” cover to come and help me.  SPC White ran through some of the most intense fire I had seen to come and help me.   It wasn’t a huge shock to see him coming to me because that is just the kind of guy he is.  Ever since the Ranch House I knew no matter what, SPC White would be there for me and I would be there for him.  He reached my position and applied a tourniquet to my arm as my humorous bone was shattered.  To me the most amazing thing about this sequence is the fact that SPC White applied first aid while the tiny tree we were using as cover was being shredded by incoming rounds. 

I’m not sure when SGT Bocks was hit but it was during the time that SPC White was giving me first aid that he noticed that SGT Bocks, who was about 10 meters from our position in the open, had been hit and was too wounded to make it to us.  I continued to try to get COMS with one arm (still not knowing my radio has been shot out) as SPC White was running out to get SGT Bocks.  SPC White attempted to get to SGT Bocks multiple times but was unsuccessful because the amount of fire he would attract towards SGT Bocks.  As SPC White was still trying to get SGT Bocks, the rounds were impacting around his feet.  I could see the impacts when those rounds would hit the shiny shale rock.  Each impact would make terrifying sparks to say the least.  After several attempts to cross the 10 meters between SPC White and SGT Bocks, he was finally able to reach Bocks and pull him to a relatively safe position.  SPC White did everything he could to stop the bleeding but, despite his efforts, Marine SGT Allen Bocks succumbed to his wounds.  SPC White was willing to sacrifice his life to get a fellow service member no matter branch, no matter how well he knew him.  He was going to help in any way he could.  
At one point SPC White looked over and saw the impact of a round to my leg as it shot a puff of ACU out. He then moved to me and took his belt off and used it as a tourniquet and slowed the bleeding.  SPC White eventually got a working radio from SGT Bocks and made COMS.  As he was heading back to me a massive impact hit and knocked SPC White down. The blast felt like someone just punched you in the nose.  At first I thought it was an RPG but later found it to be a friendly 120mm mortar.  I heard the radio keying up and I yelled to Kyle to get the radio after thinking he might not get up.  But he did.

In addition to the above account SPC White helped call in Close Air Support (CAS), and fire support.  He took control of SGT Bocks and directed an ANA element to secure our position and all sensitive items.  Amazingly he guided in the medevac to our location, which seemed impossible with the terrain.   Kyle saved my life and many others as well as putting himself in harms way for myself and Bocks multiple times.
6 Americans were Killed in Action that day.   Out of all of the Americans alive I think all but one was wounded.

More information including an interview with Kyle in this Army Times article.

Many awards were given to the men who survived and to the Heroes that did not survive the ambush.  Among those awards were the Distinguished Service Cross to SSG James Takes and the Silver Star to SFC (then SSG) Conrad Begaye.

Six American Heroes gave their lives that day - five Soldiers and one Marine.




1LT Matthew C. Ferrara, 24, of Torrance, Calif.

14 October 1983 – 9 November 2007

Chosen Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment

1LT Matthew C. Ferrara was born on 14 October 1983 in Torrance, California, and he graduated and was commissioned from the United States Military Academy at West Point on 28 May 2005 as an Infantry officer.

1LT Ferrara completed the Infantry Officer Basic Course, Airborne School, and Ranger School at Fort Benning, Georgia and reported to Caserma Ederle in Vicenza, Italy for his first duty assignment. Matt was assigned to Chosen Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry as the Platoon Leader of First Platoon.

In May 2007, 1LT Ferrara deployed with the company to Afghanistan in support of OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM VIII. On 22 August 2007, 1LT Ferrara led his men to thwart a deliberate enemy attack on the Aranas Combat Outpost (Ranch House) by a numerically superior force. For his valorous and heroic actions that day he was submitted for the Silver Star.

1LT Ferrara’s awards include: Bronze Star Medal (Posthumous), Purple Heart (Posthumous), National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Medal, Overseas Service Ribbon, North Atlantic Treaty Organization Medal, Combat Infantryman Badge, Expert Infantryman Badge, Ranger Tab, and Basic Parachutist Badge.


SGT Jeffery S. Mersman, 23, of Parker, KS

11 May 1984 – 9 November 2007

Chosen Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment

SGT Jeffery S. Mersman was born on 11 May 1984 in Paola, Kansas. He enlisted in the U.S. Army on 15 January 2002.

SGT Mersman served in C Company, 2nd Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division as a Grenadier and Rifle Team Leader. While in this unit, SGT Mersman deployed three times in support of OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM before reporting for duty at Caserma Ederle in Vicenza, Italy.

SGT Mersman was assigned to Chosen Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team as a Rifle Team Leader in August 2006. He deployed to Afghanistan in support of OPERATION ENDUING FREEDOM VIII in May 2007. During this deployment, SGT Mersman participated in numerous combat patrols and manned a critical observation point at Bella Combat Outpost in Nuristan Province providing surveillance and early warning of enemy activity.

SGT Mersman’s awards include: Bronze Star Medal (Posthumous), Purple Heart (Posthumous), Army Commendation Medal (3 Oak Leaf Clusters), Army Achievement Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terror Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, North Atlantic Treaty Organization Medal, Valorous Unit Award, Combat Infantryman Badge, Expert Infantryman Badge, and Basic Parachutist Badge.

CPL Sean K.A. Langevin, 23, of Walnut Creek, CA

17 August 1984 – 9 November 2007

Chosen Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment

CPL Sean K. Langevin was born on 17 August 1984 in Walnut Creek, California. He enlisted in the U.S. Army on 14 February 2006.

After completing Infantry One Station Unit Training (OSUT) and Airborne School at Fort Benning, Georiga, CPL Langevin reported to his first duty station at Caserma Ederle in Vicenza, Italy. He was assigned to Chosen Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team as an Automatic Rifleman. CPL Langevin deployed to Afghanistan in support of OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM VIII in May 2007.

During his time in Afghanistan, CPL Langevin went on numerous combat patrols. He was also involved in a violent firefight with enemy forces at the Aranas Combat Outpost (Ranch House) on 22 August 2007. For his heroic actions during the Ranch House attack, CPL Langevin was submitted for the Bronze Star Medal with Valor.

Cpl Langevin’s awards include: Bronze Star Medal (Posthumous), Purple Heart (Posthumous), Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terror Service Medal, Army Service Medal, Overseas Service Ribbon, North Atlantic Treaty Organization Medal, Combat Infantryman Badge, and the Basic Parachutist Badge.

CPL Lester G. Roque, 23, of Torrance, CA

4 December 1983 – 9 November 2007

Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2dn Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment

CPL Lester G. Roque was born on 4 December 1983 in Obando, Bulacan, Philippines where he spent most of his childhood. He enlisted in the U.S. Army on 2 February 2005.

During his time in service, CPL Roque completed One Station Unit Training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, Medical Advanced Individual Training at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, and Airborne School at Fort Benning, Georgia. On 10 October 2005, CPL Roque reported to his first duty station at Caserma Ederle in Vicenza, Italy. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team. After his arrival, he immediately joined Headquarters and Headquarters Company in Afghanistan in support of OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM VI where he was assigned as a trauma medic. Due to his maturity and leadership, he was assigned as the Chosen Company Senior Medic where he served with distinction. During OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM VIII, CPL Roque established two aid stations at Combat Outposts Bella and Aranas (Ranch House), conducted numerous combat patrols, and established a local national clinic to increase the healthcare for the surrounding populace.

CPL Roque’s awards include: Bronze Star Medal (Posthumous), Purple Heart (Posthumous), Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, North Atlantic Treaty Organization Medal, Combat Medical Badge, Expert Field Medical Badge, and Basic Parachutist Badge.

SPC Joseph M. Lancour, 21, of Swartz Creek, MI

26 June 1986 – 9 November 2007

Chosen Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment

SPC Joseph M. Lancour was born on 26 June 1986 in Cadillac, Michigan. He enlisted in the U.S. Army on 8 February 2006.

After completing Infantry One Station Unit Training (OSUT) and attending Airborne School at Fort Benning, Georgia, SPC Lancour arrived at Caserma, Ederle in Vicenza, Italy for his first duty assignment. SPC Lancour was immediately assigned as a Rifleman in Chosen Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team.

SPC Lancour conducted his first deployment to Afghanistan in support of OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM VIII in May 2007. During his service, SPC Lancour participated in numerous combat patrols and manned a critical observation post at Bella Combat Outpost providing security and observation of the surrounding mountainous terrain.

SPC Lancour’s awards include: Bronze Star Medal (Posthumous), Purple Heart (Posthumous), Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terror Service Medal, Army Service Medal, Overseas Service Ribbon, North Atlantic Treaty Organization Medal, Combat Infantryman Badge, and the Basic Parachutist Badge.


Marine Sgt. Phillip A. Bocks, 28, of Troy, Mich.

Sgt. Bocks’ journey to MWTC began when he enlisted in the Marine Corps May 9, 2000. That same year, he graduated from basic training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, S.C. He then reported to the School of Infantry East at Camp Lejeune, N.C., where he graduated and became a Marine Corps rifleman. He later served with Company A, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, where he deployed in support of Operation Southern Watch from Sept. 1, 2001 to Feb. 3, 2002. Sgt. Bocks then deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom from May 5 to Aug. 15, 2003, according to his service record book.

In his short life, Sgt. Bocks contributed more to his fellow man, fellow comrades-at-arms, and to the units he served in, said Cooling. “He touched more people in more ways than many of us could in a lifetime,” he said. “The evidence of that is why we are all here today.”

The Dust-Off Medevac and recovery efforts for our Fallen Heroes took around 30 hours due to the terrain and complications.  This video is from that rescue/recovery effort.  It is beyond haunting.



I'm so grateful that Kyle and his battle buddies can finally put this part of the process behind them but it pains me so much to think of them having to relive the details of that day again and again for the press.  Please keep them in your thoughts are prayers as so many old wounds are opened again six and a half years later.

From the White House:

THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 15, 2014

President Obama to Award Medal of Honor

On May 13, 2014, President Barack Obama will award Kyle J. White, a former active duty Army Sergeant, the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry.  Sergeant White will receive the Medal of Honor for his courageous actions while serving as a Platoon Radio Telephone Operator assigned to C Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade, during combat operations against an armed enemy in Nuristan Province, Afghanistan on November 9, 2007.

Sergeant White will be the seventh living recipient to be awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan.  He and his family will join the President at the White House to commemorate his example of selfless service.

PERSONAL BACKGROUND:

Former Sergeant Kyle J. White separated from the Army on July 8, 2011.  He currently lives in Charlotte, NC, where he works as an Investment Analyst.

Sergeant White enlisted in the Army in February 2006 as an Infantryman.  After completion of training at Ft Benning, he was assigned to Vicenza, Italy, with 2nd Battalion (Airborne) 503rd Infantry "The Rock" as a grenadier and rifleman which included a combat tour to Afghanistan from May 2007 until August 2008.  Following Italy, Kyle was assigned as an opposing forces Sergeant with the Ranger Training Battalion at Ft Benning.

Sergeant White deployed in support of the War on Terror with one tour to Afghanistan.  At the time of the November 9, 2007 combat engagement, then-Specialist White was a Platoon Radio Telephone Operator assigned to C Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade.  His heroic actions were performed during a dismounted movement in mountainous terrain in Aranas, Afghanistan.

White’s awards and decorations include the Purple Heart, the Army Commendation Medal with one oak leaf cluster and “V” device, the Army Achievement Medal with one  oak leaf cluster, the Army Good Conduct Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal with one campaign star, the Global War on Terrorism Medal, the Non-Commissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon, the Army Service Ribbon, the Overseas Service Ribbon  with numeral “2” device, the NATO Medal, the Combat Infantry Badge, the Parachutists Badge, the Air Assault Badge, the Presidential Unit Citation, and the Valorous Unit Award.

SFC Chad Stackpole, Sergeant of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns, makes his last walk and inspection

SFC Chad Stackpole
 
On Thursday, March 14, 2013, SFC Chad Stackpole made his last walk and inspection at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery.  I was privileged to be there to witness this event.  I'm told that this event takes place about twelve times a year.
 
Many of you in the military community may recognize SFC Stackpole's name as the 2009 winner of Best Ranger Competition along with his teammate SFC Simms.  But March 14th wasn't about Best Ranger Competition, it was about honor and duty at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
 
On that cold and windy day SFC Stackpole emerged from the barracks under the Tomb to begin his final inspection of the Sentinel who would take over guarding the Tomb.
 
SFC Stackpole after just leaving the barracks under the Tomb
 
There was a large crowd on hand as SFC Stackpole completed the inspection of the Relief Guard who was about to begin his time guarding the Tomb.
 
SFC Stackpole (left) during the inspection of the Sentinel coming on duty
 
Once the inspection was complete, SFC Stackpole completed the Changing of the Guard for his last time:
 
SFC Stackpole (center)
 

 

SFC Stackpole on left
 

Once the Changing of the Guard was complete, SFC Stackpole, who would normally have marched smartly back to the barracks under the Tomb, stopped and came to attention right in front of me in preparation for his Rose Ceremony.  The Rose Ceremony is conducted by each Tomb Guard at the end of their final walk or inspection at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

SFC Stackpole preparing for his Rose Ceremony
 
As the Rose Ceremony began, SFC Stackpole marched to the center of the area and turned left to his wife.  He gave her a rose then removed his white gloves and handed them to her.
 
Marching to the center to get the roses
 
Preparing to place the roses
 
 
He turned to face the WWI Tomb of the Unknowns and, with four roses tucked in his left hand he saluted the Tomb.  He then silently marched to the WWI Tomb and knelt to place a rose.  He then stood up and saluted the Tomb.
 

SFC Stackpole places a rose at the WWI Tomb of the Unknowns
 

SFC Stackpole then marched to the WWII crypt where he paused to salute then kneel to place a rose.  He stood up and, again, saluted.

SFC Stackpole places a rose at the WWII crypt
 

He repeated this honorable and moving process of placing a rose and saluting at both the Korean War crypt and the Vietnam War crypt.

SFC Stackpole placing a rose at the Korean War crypt

SFC Stackpole placing a rose at the Vietnam War crypt
 
The SFC Stackpole rendered his final honors

Rendering Final Honors after the last rose has been placed

I found it incredibly poignant that, just after SFC Stackpole rendered his final honors, a gust of wind blew the roses from where he had just placed them.  To me it symbolized a "thank you" to SFC Stackpole and a wish for his future endeavors to go well.

The wind blew the roses just placed by SFC Stackpole

SFC Stackpole marched to his family and escorted them from the Tomb of the Unknowns back to the barracks.

SFC Stackpole escorts his wife and children from the Tomb of the Unknowns back to the barracks under the Tomb

Once inside the barracks SFC Stackpole's Commander, COL James Markert, thanked SFC Stackpole, his wife and children, for their service.  He wished them well as they move on to their next duty assignment with the 82nd Airborne.

COL James Markert thanking Mrs. Stackpole for her committment and her support of SFC Stackpole

COL James Markert, Commander of the Old Guard, SFC Chad Stackpole, Mrs. Stackpole and children

There were speeches lauding SFC Stackpole for his time at The Old Guard as well as his career in the Army.


I am so grateful to have been allowed the privilege of witnessing this historic day for both the Stackpole family and the Old Guard.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Armed Forces Full Honor Wreath Ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns

I was in the DC/Virginia area for a couple of weeks recently.  The more I visit there the more I wish I could live there for a few years because of all of the unique opportunities and events.

On Friday, March 15, 2013 I had the privilege of attending an Armed Forces Full Honor Wreath Ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery.  Vice Chief of Defense Force of Australia, Air Marshall Mark Binskin (equivalent to a 3 Star General), laid the wreath.  Major General Michael S Linnington, Commander of the Joint Force Headquarters National Capitol Region, US Army Military District of Washington, escorted the Vice Chief.

Thanks to Major General Linnington, who I met just before the ceremony began, I had a fantastic place to stand and watch.  It was another cold and windy day in the DC/Virginia area but because it was spring break there was a huge crowd (mostly of high school students) present for the wreath laying.  I've been to several wreath laying ceremonies at Arlington.  They are all very moving but this one definitely had a lot of added pomp and circumstance.

Members of the Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard gathered in front of the Tomb of the Unknowns.  Many people think that the front of the Tomb is the side they face when watching the Changing of the Guard or Wreath laying ceremonies when, actually the front of the Tomb faces away from the amphitheatre and towards Washington, DC.

Members of the five branches of our Armed Forces waiting for the ceremony to begin
 
The units march up the steps towards the Tomb of the Unknowns in order of the date (oldest to newest) that their branch of service was organized - Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force then Coast Guard.  The precision is impeccable.

Here they come

It is very moving to watch and listen as the Commanders of each group shout out orders to their men/women.  Finally they are all in place.

All in place

Then the Joint Armed Forces Color Guard moves into place

The Joint Armed Forces Color Guard is in place

After the Color Guard is in place the US Army Band, Pershing's Own, moves in.

US Army Band - Pershing's Own

The US Army Band plays our National Anthem followed by the National Anthem of the visiting nation - in the case Australia.

The Old Guard Presidential Salute Battery was there to fired their cannons to honor Vice Chief of Defense Force of Australia, Air Marshall Mark Binskin. The cannons begin to fire for his arrival to the cemetery, timing the rounds so that the first round was fired as he entered the cemetery and the last one went off as his vehicle stopped at the memorial amphitheater. An amazing feat of timing and precision because they fire a specified number of rounds. I cannot remember if it's 17 or 18 but I know it's somewhere around that number. They were thunderous for sure!

The Joint Armed Forces Color Guard moves back towards one side of the Tomb and is joined by the Sentinel with the wreath, a bugler and a drummer.  The bugler and drummer are members of the U. S Army Band, Pershing's Own.  It was very impressive to me to watch the Joint Armed Forces Color Guard as they moved with such precision while navigating intricate turns.

 

The members of the Official Party are brought down the steps and moved into place

Members of the Official Party are escorted into place

Once the Official Party is in place the visiting dignitary who will place the wreath along with his/her host then move down the steps followed by a Color Guard with the flag from the visiting nation.

MG Michael Linnington accompanies Vice Chief of Defense Force of Australia, Air Marshall Mark Binskin followed by the Australian Color Guard
 
Air Marshall Binskin, assisted by one of the Tomb Guards, placed the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns

Placing the wreath

And then renders honors

Vice Chief of Defense Force of Australia, Air Marshall Mark Binskin saluting

Vice Chief of Defense Force of Australia, Air Marshall Mark Binskin then moved back next to Major General Linnington and honors are rendered again.


The bugler plays TAPS while all military personnel in uniform salute and all others are encouraged to place their hands over their hearts.

TAPS

The visiting dignitary, Vice Chief of Defense Force of Australia, Air Marshall Mark Binskin, is escorted from the area by his host, Major General Linnington.


The Official Party leaves the area as the US Army Band leaves while playing and the members of the Armed Forces units march back down the steps.

I was incredibly proud to be an American that day.  Of course I am always proud to be an American.  But on that particular day, being able to see so many of our men and women in uniform, looking so sharp and and professional while representing us, was just extra special.  I honestly had no idea about the Armed Forces Full Honor Wreath Ceremony and am thankful to COL James Markert for inviting me to attend.

In the Farrier Shop with the Caisson Platoon of the 3d US Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard)

The Main Caisson Stable at Fort Myer, VA

The Caisson Platoon is one of the Specialty Platoons of HHC Company of The 3d U. S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) and is housed at Fort Myer in Virginia.  I recently visited friends at Fort Myer and was able to experience several events and opportunities for which I am so grateful.

Those of you who follow me on facebook know that for the past year I have been enamored with the horses of the Caisson Platoon.  I have posted many pictures on facebook of the horses - especially my favorite one, Sarge.  During my recent visit I stopped in the Caisson Stables several times.  The stables are open to the general public from 12:00 noon until 4:00 PM Tuesday through Sunday each week.  If you are in the DC/Virginia area or plan to be, you really should make time to visit the Caisson Stables.  The Soldiers of the Caisson Platoon are always willing to give you a tour and tell you about the history and legacy of the Platoon.  Plus you get to pet a lot of awesome horses.  If you have a group you need to schedule a tour well in advance.  You can do so by contacting  the Public Affairs Office.

The link to the Caisson Platoon's website hasn't been updated with the name of the new HHC Company Commander, CPT Walter Tompkins.  I first met CPT Tompkins and his wife when he was serving with the 173rd, 2-503d in Vicenza, Italy.  I was ecstatic to learn that he had taken Command of the Caisson Platoon.  It's such a small world.  

I know, I know, where are the pictures?  You all like pictures.  Well, hang on they are coming.

I plan to write more posts about The Old Guard in the future but this one is a bit of a "fun" one in my estimation.  I asked if I could watch as the farriers of The Caisson Platoon where shoeing horses and my request was granted.  I'm fairly certain I squealed like a school girl when I found out I was approved to do this.  I hardly slept the night before my visit.  As a matter of fact I baked tons of goodies for the Soldiers as a small token of my appreciation to them.  No goodies allowed for the horses - darn it.

On a Wednesday at 10:00 am I walked into the Caisson stables and stopped at the desk.  A couple of the guys I had met on prior visits greeted me and welcomed me back.  I told them I had come to watch the farriers shoe a horse so they took me to the farrier shop.

When I walked in the shop the farriers were already working on Trooper.  I introduced myself and quickly learned that The Old Guard has 63 horses and two farriers.  I took a seat to stay out of the way and began watching and asking questions.  Because I have such a love for the horses and a huge interest in all the honorable things the Soldiers do, I'm always asking a million questions when I go to the stables. I was thankful at how open both of the farriers were to my questions and thrilled at how interested they were in teaching me about what they do.

SPC Charles Morrison and SPC Jordan Hoffman are the current farriers.  SPC Hoffman is the newest of the farriers.  Neither of these men had any experience in shoeing horses when they came to The Old Guard.  They have learned, and as they told me, continue to learn on the job.  That was pretty amazing to me especially as I watch both of them skillfully complete their work.

I learned that SPC Morrison and Hoffman work together on each horse.  One takes care of the front hooves and one takes care of the back hooves.  By the time I had arrived SPC Hoffman had already taken the old shoes off of Trooper's front hooves.  SPC Morrison was about to begin the process of taking off the shoes on Trooper's rear hooves.

SPC Charles Morrison of The Old Guard Caisson Platoon removes one of Trooper's rear shoes
 

Still working on removing the shoe by taking out the nails.

Once the shoe is removed the farrier has to "clean" the bottom of the hoof taking great care not to irritate the sensitive areas of the hoof.  The picture below shows the hoof before it is "cleaned".

The hoof before it has been "cleaned"
 
Cleaning the hoof
 

SPC Morrison showing me the hoof after he finished "cleaning" it.

After the bottom of the hoof is cleaned it is trimmed.  I didn't get any photos of them trimming the hooves.  I'm not sure why I didn't do that but I can assure you those clippers are huge!

The shoeing process is not rapid paced.  As both SPC Morrison and SPC Hoffman told me, imagine standing on one leg for long periods of time.  While horses have four legs it is still tiring to them to have one leg up for long periods of time.  The farriers allow the horses to "rest" often during the shoeing process.  This, of course, gave me time for more questions.

There are two massive charts in the farrier shop.  One shows the last date each horse was shod.  The other shows who needs to be shod.  The farriers told me that some horses have "good" hooves and some have hooves that "aren't so good."  The horses with the "not so good" hooves have to be shod more often.  Generally speaking the horses are shod once every 4 to 6 weeks.  They told me that Trooper has really good hooves and very mannered when being shod.

SPC Hoffman and SPC Morrison shoe two or three horses a day.  It takes between one and a half hours and four hours to shoe a horse.  It takes much longer to shoe the larger horses such as Sarge and King.  It also takes longer to shoe horses who, unlike Trooper, don't have "good" hooves.

After Trooper had a few minutes to rest, SPC Hoffman, who had removed his front shoes prior to my arrival, began the process of replacing the front shoes by filing the hooves.

SPC Jordan Hoffman filing Troopers hoof

Continuing to file Trooper's front hoof

Finishing up the filing on one hoof

I was astonished at the amount of filings on the floor when SPC Hoffman finished filing one of Trooper's hooves.  There was a huge pile.

While SPC Hoffman was working on putting the shoes back on Trooper's front hooves, SPC Morrison was working to "repair" or "rebuild" the worn down parts of the rear shoes he had removed.  Each set of shoes is used two or three times before it is discarded.  I found that very interesting.  As much as I absolutely loved watching them shoe Trooper I wished I had been there on a day when they were starting out with a new set of shoes so that I could see the difference in the process.

SPC Morrison building up the worn parts of the shoe before putting it back on Trooper

After SPC Hoffman finished filing Trooper's hoof he began to "fit" the shoe so that he could nail it back on.

SPC Hoffman "fitting" the shoe

Once SPC Hoffman had made adjustments he began to secure the shoe back on Trooper.

SPC Hoffman nailing the shoe back on

Still working on that shoe

Trooper standing patiently as SPC Hoffman finished up the shoe

Right front - all done!

The men told me that, generally speaking, a shoe will last 18-24 weeks and can be used for about three times. 

Fourteen of the Caisson horses are in Arlington Cemetery Monday through Friday each week.  The horses work in the cemetery for two weeks then they are taken to the stables at Fort Belvoir for a week.  While at Fort Belvoir they have acres and acres of pastureland where they can run, play and roam.  After their week at Fort Belvoir they return to Fort Myer and are in training for a week before they go back into the cemetery for two weeks.  The cycle continues to repeat itself.

I am extremely grateful to all who were involved in allowing me to watch this process.  I am equally as grateful to SPC Morrison and SPC Hoffman for their genuine interest in teaching me about what they do.  They could not have been more welcoming and professional.

A couple of days later I stopped back by the Caisson stable.  One of the Soldiers took me out to one of the areas where the horses get exercise at Fort Myer.  Trooper, sporting his new shoes, was out enjoying the day.

Trooper (in the middle)