Tuesday, June 26, 2012

COL Bill Ostlund Takes Command of 3rd Brigade 1st ID at Fort Knox, KY

As I mentioned in my previous post, last week was a busy week.  Apologies for taking so long to get this posted.

On Thursday 21 June 2012 COL Bill Ostlund assumed Command of the Duke Brigade (3rd BDE, 1st ID) from COL Chris Toner at Brooks Field, Fort Knox, KY.  It was a long time coming for a man who has more than earned a Brigade Command.  It was a privilege and a pleasure to be at Fort Knox to witness the Change of Command ceremony.

As we began to assemble around 9:30 for the 10:00 ceremony, the sun was already beating down and the temperature was sweltering.  I was happy to have a seat out of the sun.  I was even more happy to be, literally, surrounded by several Soldiers who have previously served under COL Ostlund in the 173d, 2-503d, the ROCK. 

Front row l to r - Meredith, Lemon, Griffith & Andy Varner (Rudy Varner's granddad)
Back row l to r - Terry, Barberet (decked out in lifeguard clothes) & Varner

At 10:00 we were asked to direct our attention across Brooks Field (which is HUGE) as the Brigade began to march onto the field for the Change of Command Ceremony.  Impressive is an understatement to what it was like to watch 2-2 Infantry "Ramrods", 1-26 Infantry "Blue Spaders", 8-4 Cavalry "Raiders", 1-6 Field Artillery "Centaurs", 3-1 Special Troops Battalion "Valiant Warriors" and 201st Brigade Support Battalion "Thor" march in formation onto the field.  The 113th Army Band "Dragoons" did an exceptional job.  I had chills watching and listening.

Here they come!

After the Introduction, Invocation and Introduction of Special Guests, one of the horses and riders came forward with a basket of red roses for Mrs. Toner and yellow roses for Mrs. Ostlund.

Roses for the outgoing and incoming Commander's wives

Then Mrs. Toner fed a carrot to the horse and gave the rider a basket full for all of the horses.  Just so cool in my opinion!

Mrs. Toner feeding a carrot to one of the horses (sorry my angle was so bad but better view in the video below)

Just after the horse rode away the sound of "BOOM", "BOOM", "BOOM" filled the air as did the smoke from the artillery salute.  Very impressive.

Artillery Salute

The Official Party arrived and began an Inspection of the Troops.

Inspecting the Troops - COL Ostlund on left

Paying respects to Old Glory during inspection of the troops

Inspection almost complete - COL Ostlund on left

After the inspection of the troops was complete the color guard (on horseback) came forward for the National Anthem.  Those horses are amazing!  I highly commend their trainers, riders and support personnel.

Then it was time for the actual Change of Command.  The color guard moved forward.  CSM Brad Meyer received the Battalion flag from them.

CSM Meyer with the Battalion Flag

CSM Meyer handed the flag off to the out going Battalion Commander, COL Toner, who, in turn, handed it off to the Reviewing Officer, Brigadier General Donald M. MacWillie.

CSM Meyer handing the flag over to COL Toner

BG MacWillie then handed the flag over to COL Ostlund the new Commander of 3rd CBT, 1st ID.

BG MacWillie handing the flag to COL Ostlund

COL Toner, BG MacWillie and COL Ostlund then each gave their remarks followed by the troops passing in review.

Passing in Review

COL Ostlund during the Pass In Review.  Not gonna lie - I got teary eyed over this.


After the Change of Command ceremony we were invited to attend the reception which was very nicely done.

Rudy Varner, Cameron Meredith, COL Ostlund, Rob Lemon
and Heather Ostlund

Rudy Varner, Cameron Meredith, me, COL Ostlund, Rob Lemon
Lucky me with Soldiers who formerly served in the ROCK

Me and Heather Ostlund - I love that lady!

I am honored to know Bill, Heather and their sons.  I am grateful for their friendship and couldn't possibly be more proud of or happy for them as they take their place in the history of 3rd BDE, 1st ID.  They have endured way more than necessary to have finally arrived at this more than earned and well deserved assignment.  Congratulations!!!

Monday, June 25, 2012

COL James Markert Takes Command of the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment - "The Old Guard"

NOTE:  It's been a busy week so I'm way behind on getting this posted.  Apologies.

On 19 June 2012 at 10:00, COL David P Anders, 78th Regimental Commander, relinquished Command of the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment, "The Old Guard" to COL James "Jim" Markert at Summerall Field on Fort Myer, Virginia.

COL Jim Markert

I'm putting the cart before the horse by publishing that photo at the top but I'm fairly certain COL Markert will have a special place (a good one) in history for his 21 word speech.  It was hot as blazes and the Soldiers had been standing and marching in the heat for close to an hour.

Jim and his wife, Karin, graciously invited me to join them and their three sons, James, Sean and Tommy, for this incredible event.  They even invited me to stay in the guest room of their beautiful home at Fort Myer. 

The night before the Change of Command ceremony, the Markert's home was filled with family and friends from across the United States and from as far away as Germany (as in German citizens - not US military stationed there).  The conversation, food and beverages were endless and enjoyed late into the night. 

Tuesday morning, 19 June, turned out to be a beautiful, albeit a bit hot, day.  Blue skies abounded.  As joyous as the day was for the Markerts and all of us there to join them in this momentous occassion, everyone noted that the day began early with funerals of fallen Heroes and Veterans.  The Markert's home is near the Old Post Chapel on Fort Myer.  The Old Post Chapel sits next to one of the gates into Arlington National Cemetery. 

Old Post Chapel

The morning of the 19th began just as the afternoon of the 18th ended. 

Leaving Arlington National Cemetery

Preparing to enter Arlington National Cemetery

One (at least I couldn't) cannot escape the sadness of the passing of our war Veterans and the deaths of those currently serving.  It hit home even more by knowing that the funerals we were seeing at the Old Post Chapel were only a portion of all of the ones being conducted each day.

While the Old Guard is responsible for the honorable and respectful burial of those who are laid to rest at Arlington, the Regiment has many more responsibilities as well.

The US Army's oldest infantry regiment, The Old Guard, was created on June 3, 1784 as a result of the 1783 Peace of Paris. 

1/3 Infantry conducts memorial affairs to honor our fallen comrades, and ceremonies and special events to represent the Army, communicating its story to our Nation's citizens and the world.  On order, conducts defense support of civil authorities in the National Capital Region.

2/3 Infantry trains for full spectrum operations and, on order, deploys by air, land, and sea IOT serve as part of a contingency force Brigade Combat Team executing full spectrum operations.

4/3 Infantry  (The Old Guard) conducts memorial affairs to honor our fallen comrades, and ceremonies and special events to represent the Army, communicating its story to our Nation's citizens and the world.  Among other Companies under 4/3 is the Honor Guard Company which executes Joint and Army ceremonies throughout the National Capital Region and Nation to maintain the traditions of the US Army, showcase the Army to our nation's citizens and the world, and to defend the dignity and honor of our fallen comrades.  On order, deploys by air or land to pre-designated stateside locations in support of Joint Task Force Ceremony Forward to conduct Active Congressional and State Funeral operations. Be prepared to execute fixed site security in support of Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall Force Protection Condition Delta contingency operations.

And then their are the Specialty Platoons:

United States Army Drill Team

Caisson Platoon

Continental Color Guard

Presidential Salute Battery

Tomb of the Unknowns - The Sentinels of the Tomb

As we made our way from the Markert's home to Summerall Field we saw the Soldiers preparing for the event.  The uniforms and accutrements were beyond impressive.

Preparing for the Change of Command Ceremony
Flags from each state and territory.  Pretty impressive display.

The Honor Guard preparing for the ceremony

We took our seats and soon after the pagentry and military protocol began.  The Army Band - Pershing's Own took the field and began to play.

The Army Band - Pershing's Own
This photo was not taken when they first march onto the field

Soon after the Soldiers began to take the field.  First came the flags.  Then a group of Soldiers (I'm sure they have a specific name but I cannot remember). 

They were followed by the Continental Color Guard.  Beyond impressive.

The Continental Color Guard

The Color Guard was followed by the Honor Guard.  Then came the Fife and Drum Corps.  Admittedly, they were my favorite but it was very difficult to choose.

The Fife and Drum Corps

COL Markert and COL Anders inspected the troops

Inspecting the troops.  COL Markert on the left.

Then it was time for the Command to change from COL Anders to COL Markert.

COL Markert is now Commander of The Old Guard

COL Markert returning the flag to the Continental Color Guard

COL Anders gave his farwell and thank you speech followed by COL Markert's 21 word speech (referenced at the top). 

And then the "Pass in Review"  A big WOW!!!

The Markert's hosted a reception after the ceremony.

Jim, Karin, their sons, Karin's mother and Jim's parents, brothers (minus one), sister, nephews and nieces

Tommy, Karin, Sean, Jim and James

Rogues gallery - Karin Markert, Bob Miller, me, COL Jim Markert, Sam and Jim Hanson - sadly missing Jonn Lilyea who had to work. 

Jim Hanson aka Uncle Jimbo made the following video from the day's events:

It was beyond an amazing experience. I am forever grateful to Jim and Karin Markert, not only for inviting me to attend, but for hosting me as a guest in their home.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Remembering PFC Timothy Vimoto who was Killed In Action on June 5, 2007 in the Korengal Valley, Afganistan

2 August 1987 - 5 June 2007
Battle Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment

PFC Timothy R. Vimoto was born 2 August 1987 in Honolulu, Hawaii. He enlisted in the US Army on 2 November 2006.

During his time in Service he completed Basic Infantry Training, Advanced Individual Training, and Airborne School at Fort Benning, Georgia. PFC Vimoto then joined the ranks of the Southern European Task Force (Airborne) and the 173d Airborne Brigade Combat Team. He immediately found his home among the combat tested Soldiers of Battle Company, 2d Battalion (Airborne), 503d Infantry and he deployed with his Battle Hard brothers in support of Operation Enduring Freedom VIII. PFC Vimoto distinguished himself as an exemplary rifleman and as one of the finest Paratroopers in the Battle Hard ranks.

PFC Vimoto’s awards include the Bronze Star Medal, the Purple Heart, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Medal, Overseas Service Ribbon, Basic Parachutist Badge, and the Combat Infantryman Badge. PFC Vimoto has been submitted for the Bronze Star Medal with V device for valor during combat operations in the Korengal Valley, Kunar Province, Afghanistan.

So many hearts are extremely heavy today as the Soldiers of the ROCK remember their fallen Hero.   Rest in peace PFC Vimoto.  You are never forgotten.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Remembering the Sky Soldiers (173d ABCT) Who Perished at Hill 875, Dak To, Vietnam in November 1967

This morning I received an email with the photo below attached to the email and with text that said, "Hey my friend. I went to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Angel Fire and took this photo of the photo of the Hill 875 memorial the Herd held in Vietnam.  It's not a terrific shot, but thought you'd like to have it ... if you don't already."

The caption under this photo reads, "Ninety eight pairs of empty combat boots bear silent witness to the 173rd Airborne's casualties from the Battle for Hill 875"

Seeing the photo and reading the caption was an absolute kick in the gut.  It was not the way I wanted to start my morning.  As I sat on my deck drinking my coffee I knew I wanted to post the photo as a very small way to honor those ninety eight Fallen Heroes and as a way to respect their fellow brothers in arms who survived.

In 1967 when the Battle for Hill 875 (also know as the Battle of Dak To) occurred I was nine years old.  I remember seeing news about the war in Vietnam, each night as my parents watched, but at that time I had no clue what was really going on.  I remember that my second grade class wrote letters and drew pictures to send to the Soldiers in Vietnam.  I remember that our mothers saved coffee cans that we filled with one roll of toilet paper, pens and pencils in the middle of the roll then filled the can with hard candies.  I remember our mothers baking angel food cakes and packing them with popcorn to keep them as "fresh" as possible until they got to Vietnam.  Even though I distinctly remember doing all of that the reality of the war never struck home with me at that age.

By the time I was old enough to understand war we had entered the Cold War era with the Soviet bloc and the realities of war were distant if not completely unknown to me.  I do remember my mother talking about a high school classmate of hers who was taken as a prisoner of war (for 7 years) in Vietnam and I vaguely remember the day he and the other prisoners were freed.  While those events, at the time, carried very little emotion for me, today they wear heavy on my heart.

Fast forward almost forty years through a winding series of events related to troop support (1st Gulf War, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom) until the good Lord dropped a Battalion of paratroopers and their families into my life and changed me forever.  That Battalion of paratroopers is the 173rd, 2-503d.  The modern day brothers in arms of the men who fought and the men who perished in 1967 at the Battle for Hill 875 (Dak To). 

It is through these modern day Soldiers that I have had the honor and privilege of meeting some of their Vietnam War brothers in arms and their wives - another absolute blessing in my life.  Yet, as I got to know more of the Vietnam Veterans, it became shamefully clear to me that I knew little about their war and their sacrifice.

Today I ask (almost to the point of begging) that you take a few minutes and continue reading below about the Battle of Hill 875 (Dak To) and that you say a prayer for those who gave their last full measure on that day.  I also ask that you say a prayer for those who survived and who may be carrying much grief with them.  It is the least we can do.

From Wikipedia:

At 09:43 on 19 November, the three companies (330 men) of 2/503 moved into jumpoff positions from which to assault Hill 875. Charlie and Delta companies moved up the slope followed by two platoons of Alpha Company in the classic "two up one back" formation utilized since World War I. The Weapons Platoon of Alpha remained behind at the bottom of the hill to cut out a landing zone. Instead of a frontal assault with massed troops, the unit would have been better served by advancing small teams to develop possible North Vietnamese positions and then calling in air and artillery support

At 10:30, as the Americans moved to within 300 meters of the crest, PAVN machine gunners opened fire on the advancing paratroopers. Then B-40 rockets and 57mm recoilless rifle fire were unleashed upon them. The paratroopers attempted to continue the advance, but the North Vietnamese, well concealed in interconnected bunkers and trenches, opened fire with small arms and grenades. The American advance was halted and the men went to ground, finding whatever cover they could. At 14:30 PAVN troops hidden at the bottom of the hill launched a massed assault on Alpha Company. Unknown to the Americans, they had walked into a carefully prepared ambush by the 2nd Battalion of the 174th PAVN Regiment.

The men of Alpha Company retreated up the slope, lest they be cut off from their comrades and annihilated. They were closely followed by the North Vietnamese. All that prevented the company-strength North Vietnamese onslaught from overrunning the entire battalion was the heroic efforts of American paratroopers who stood their ground and died to buy time for their comrades.[25] Soon, U.S. air strikes and artillery fire were being called in, but they had little effect on the battle because of the dense foliage on the hillside. Resupply became a necessity because of high ammunition expenditures and lack of water, but it was also an impossibility. Six UH-1 helicopters were shot down or badly damaged that afternoon trying to get to 2/503.[26]

At 18:58 one of the worst friendly fire incidents of the Vietnam War occurred when a Marine Corps fighter-bomber dropped two 500-pound bombs into 2/503's perimeter. One of the bombs exploded, a tree burst above the center of the position, where the combined command groups, the wounded, and the medics were all located. It killed 42 men outright and wounded 45 more, including the overall on-scene commander, Captain Harold Kaufman. 1Lt. Bartholomew O'Leary, Delta Company Commander, was seriously wounded. (Alpha company's commander had been killed in the retreat up the slope).[27]

The next morning, the three companies of 4/503 were chosen to set out and relieve the men on Hill 875. Because of intense PAVN sniper and mortar fire (and the terrain) it took until nightfall for the relief force to reach the beleaguered battalion. On the afternoon of 21 November, both battalions moved out to take the crest. During fierce, close-quarters fighting, some of the paratroopers made it into the PAVN trenchline but were ordered to pull back as darkness fell. At approximately 23:00, the 4th Division's 1/12th Infantry was ordered to withdraw from an offensive operations in the southern Central Highlands and redeploy to Đắk Tô. In an almost flawless night-time air redeployment, the entire battalion redeployed and took up positions around the main fire support base at Đắk Tô in less than 12 hours.

The following day was spent in launching airstrikes and a heavy artillery bombardment against the hilltop, totally denuding it of cover. On 23 November, the 2nd and 4th Battalions of the 503rd were ordered to renew their assault while the 1st Battalion of the 12th Infantry assaulted 875 from the south.[28] This time the Americans gained the crest, but the North Vietnamese had already abandoned their positions, leaving only a few dozen charred bodies and weapons.[29]

The battle of Hill 875 had cost 2/503 87 killed, 130 wounded, and three missing. 4/503 suffered 28 killed 123 wounded, and four missing.[30] Combined with noncombatant losses, this represented one-fifth of the 173rd Airborne Brigade's total strength.[31] For its combined actions during operations around Đắk Tô, the 173rd Airborne Brigade was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation.