Posts Tagged ‘U.S. Army’

The Maneuver Center of Excellence Band Gives Excellent Christmas Concert

December 6, 2010

My Army band memories came flooding back yesterday afternoon as we sat in the mezzanine of the Bill Heard Theater.  The Fort Benning band, now called the Maneuver Center of Excellence Band, was delighting an almost-full house with its annual Christmas concert, “Ringing in the Holidays!” ( Bill Heard is a 2,000-seat theater.) The band also packed them in again for the evening performance. It got a long, standing ovation at the end of the concert, and, I am sure it was not just because Columbus is an Army town, one that continually shows its appreciation for the Fort Benning troops, but because it was an excellent concert.

Ft. Benning Maneuver Center of Excellence Band's "Ringing in the Holidays" concert, Bill Heard Theater, River Center, Columbus, GA

30th Army Band, Munich, Germany, 1955

The 30th Army Band, the one in which I was a percussionist and drum major in 1954-55, no longer exists, and a Google search produced no history of it.  It was located at McGraw Kaserne, Munich, Germany, which was headquarters for the U.S. Army in southern Germany. 

We also played some concerts for civilians, but our main function was to play for review parades, not only at McGraw Kasern,  but for Army posts all over southern Bavaria.  Every week we would board a bus and travel to other kaserns and posts.  The views could be spectacular as the bus would wend its way to some remote posts high in the Alps.

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The Price of Unending War – Part 2

September 15, 2010

THE “POSITIVE THINKING” APPROACH TO MILITARY PSYCHOLOGICAL TRAINING

Continuing the discussion on The Price of Unending War,  I thought I would pass along to you a link to an article by Bruce E. Levine,  How Psychologists Profit on Unending U.S. Wars, which is featured on the website Counterpunch,  that explains the Army’s approach to the psychological training of soldiers.

It reveals, for one thing, that one in six soldiers is on a psychiatric drug, and questions the advisability of teaching the “positive thinking” approach.  You can read it by going to this link.

The Price of Unending War

September 13, 2010

 As retired Sergeant Major Samuel Rhodes spoke to the Rotary Club of Columbus about the U.S. Army’s suicide problem, I could not but help reflect on all of the costs of  being at war continually. 

Command Sgt. Maj. Samuel Rhodes (retired)Sgt. Rhodes, who served for 30 months in Iraq and contemplated suicide himself, now works at Changing the Military Culture of Silence, the title of his book, in order to help soldiers cope with PTS, post traumatic stress. He says one in five combat veterans is diagnosed with PTS.  Many of them will contemplate suicide and the suicide rate keeps rising.  In the past the Army, he said, tried to sweep the problem under the rug, but that has changed.  The military’s top brass have praised him for his efforts in focusing on the military’s dealing with mental health issues. 

One of the reasons for the increase in suicides is extended deployments of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Nine years of wars, wars that most Americans basically ignore because they are being fought by less than one percent of the population, have put a tremendous strain on the Army. Instead of increasing the size of the Army, soldiers are given extended deployments keeping them away from their families for long periods of time. For one thing, this has put a strain on marriages.  Sgt. Rhodes said when he returned home with PTS after his last 18 months in Iraq, his marriage of 26 years ended, and he contemplated suicide himself.  Instead, though, according to an article in the National Journal, he is remarried, happily he says, and he and his first wife remain good friends, and he is dedicating his life to doing what he can to help soldiers with PTS and their families. 

It is good to know that the military is now openly facing and trying to do something about this problem, but, in my view,  all of its efforts at providing therapy will not get to its root, the practice of staying continually at war. The military can’t solve that one. Only the politicians can do something about that. 

Most Americans may be going about their daily lives giving little thought to the sacrifice that a very small percentage of the population is making, but whether they’re paying attention or not, these wars are still affecting them on a grand scale.  The price is very steep. 

More on this in future posts.

(The photograph was supplied by my friend and fellow Rotarian Jim Cawthorne of Camera1.)

A Soldier Comments on How My Lai Affects Today’s Army

April 27, 2010

This is one of the many interesting comments that have been made about  the post  An Emotional William Calley Says he is SorryI am printing it as a post, not only because it is well written, but because  of the author’s explanation of how he believes My Lai has affected  today’s Army’s efforts to make sure that American soldiers know that incidents like My Lai are “not acceptable and will never be acceptable.”  The comment was written anonymously, but I checked with an Army spokesman at Fort Benning, and he confirmed that such classes are conducted. He says that while it is not required specifically that My Lai be mentioned,  it certainly can be, and it is reasonable to assume that it was in the case of the writer who identifies himself as a soldier. 

First off, I was NOT in Vietnam but I have been to Afghanistan twice now.

The bottom line is this man is showing remorse, whether real or fake, at least he is doing that much. Nothing that he can say or do will ever justify what happened there because it can’t. He is guilty of murder just like everyone else that participated in the massacre, to include his Commanders who were hovering in helicopters watching what was going on. They will have to live with that for the rest of their lives as they have for the last 30+ years.

I would like to put this out as a side note to this article: When Abu Ghraib happened, there was the same (though less) national and international outrage. From that investigation everyone from the Commander of the Prison itself (BG Karpinski) to the Battalion Commander (LTC Jordan) was relieved of command and well investigated for parts in the scandal, not to mention the charges on a slew of other personnel from that unit who were convicted of countless crimes. I do not believe that this kind of response would have been possible if the example of My Lai was not so prevalent in the military mindset.

Before both of my deployments we have had training classes for EVERY soldier about ROE, the Geneva Convention and Ethics in Combat. These were taught by the commanders and officers of the unit and it was made extremely clear to all of the soldiers that My Lai was not acceptable and nothing like it will ever be acceptable. My Lai changed the Army and the world for the better, and it is because of My Lai that most of our soldiers are better educated and more ethical now than they have ever been before.

It was a horrible time for our country and it’s armed forces, no one can say otherwise. Many horrible things happened to our troops over there and a lot of them are still dealing with it, but just the same as if someone had done something like My Lai today, it is WRONG and there is no excuse for it.

Just my $.02

S.S.

Fort Benning’s Command Sergeant Major Change of Responsibility Ceremonies Accents Army Tradition

March 30, 2010

Command Sergeant Major James C. Hardy and Major General Michael Ferriter, Commanding General of the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning'

As I sat in the audience at Ridgway Hall,  I reflected that the Army may get the latest high-tech equipment and learn how to use it, but the Army remains the Army.  Tradition counts. It counts a lot. The Change of Responsibility Ceremony for the outgoing and incoming U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence Command Sergeant Majors was timeless.  It was the same combination of flags, music, speeches, and salutes that have marked military ceremonies for a very long time.  It still resonates with me.  Having been a child during World War Two, when patriotism was the highest I have ever seen it,  I get emotional when I hear the band play “The Army Goes Rolling Long,”  which was first “Caisson Song,” then “The U.S. Field Artillery,” before it was “The Army Goes Rolling Along.”  The Ground Forces Band from Fort McPherson played it at the ceremony, and, involuntarily, I was moved.  The fact that I was an Army bandsman many years ago might also have something to do with it.   

During the Ceremony, tribute was paid to outgoing Fort Benning CSM Earl L. Rice, who goes to Fort Bragg to become CSM there, and incoming CSM James C. Hardy, both with very impressive service records including many combat medals.  Their wives were also honored with presentations of bouquets.   

A Command Sergeant Major is the top ranked enlisted man on an Army post.  He deals not only with the noncommissioned officer corps, but directly with the commanding general. The relationship between a command sergeant major and commanding general was crystalized during Maj. Gen. Ferriter’s speech.  He said more than once, when he came up with some cockeyed idea to be implemented, his CSM had said, “Let’s talk,” and after their private  conversation, he wisely dropped the idea.  He told other stories that exemplified the relationship between a commanding general and his command sergeant major.   

After Maj. Gen. Ferrita spoke, both of the Command Sergeant Majors spoke.   The thing that stood out with both of them is their concern for their soldiers and their own families.   They are Rangers. They are Airborne.  They are battle tested.  They are also loving family men.  It came across that, along with their own families,  they are very dedicated to their fellow soldiers, the Army, and their country.   

The Ground Forces Band came from Fort McPherson in the Atlanta area to play for the ceremony

 

The National Infantry Museum Experience

August 26, 2009

As you walk through the displays at the National Infantry Museum adjacent to Fort Benning,  it may seem incongruous, as you look at all of the representations of violence and mayhem, to reflect on love.  But, love is very much a soldier’s motivator.

Revolutionary War Exhibit, National Infantry Museum, Columbus, GA

Revolutionary War Exhibit, National Infantry Museum, Columbus, GA

A grandmother told me that she was not sure she should take her ten-year-old grandson to see the museum.  “It is about war and all of the horror that goes with it. I am not sure his parents would like it if I took him to see it.”

A lot of people have no problem at all taking their children to see it. I have seen a lot of them there.  For instance, as I was viewing a case with weapons in it, a  little boy walked up and asked me, “Do you work here?”

“No.  I’m just going through it like you are.”

“Were you in the Army?”  

“Yes I was.” 

 Then,  remembering what the grandmother told me, I asked him, “What do you think of all this?”

“Cool,” he replied.  “When I’m old enough, I am going to join.”

Hermann Goering's baton, a gift from Adolph Hitler. Goering was commander of the German air force during World War II, and was Hitler's designated successor.

Hermann Goering's baton, a gift from Adolph Hitler. Goering was commander of the German air force during World War II, and was Hitler's designated successor.

Obviously, he was not traumatized by anything he saw or heard. Age could be a factor, because quite a few of the combat veterans who go through the museum say they are very moved.  One of  the World War Two veterans told Columbus TV commentator Al Fleming, who works as a volunteer at the museum,  that he couldn’t go through the World War Two section of the musuem.  “It would just make me too nervous,” he said.   He probably had seen some close friends killed in battle.

Dad and son viewing 1930's machine gun carrier called a "Belly-flopper," National Infantry Museum, Columbus, GA

Dad and son viewing 1930's machine gun carrier called a "Belly-flopper," National Infantry Museum, Columbus, GA

Do I recommend a trip to the museum?  Should children see it?  Yes.  It is an impressive way to present the history of the infantry to adults and chidlren.  

If you haven’t been, let me recommend that you watch the short movie at the end.  It is very well done and captures the one thing that,  more than anything else, according to a lot of combat veterans,  motivates soldiers to perform truly courageous acts: the love they have for their fellow soldiers,  people  they have lived and trained with for a long time, their “family,”  “brothers” in battle.   Many Congressional Medals of Honor, the nation’s highest medal for valor,  were earned by soldiers who gave their lives to save their buddies.

When Is an Order Unlawful?

August 23, 2009

You are a young lieutenant. 

You are ordered to take out a machine-gun emplacement on a hill. 

You lead your men up the hill to the emplacement. 

The enemy has lined up women and children in front of the machine gun.  You decide you will not shoot the innocent civilians. 

When you get back to your superior officer, he tells you that you have flunked the test.

That’s a true story, told to me by my friend, retired Lt. Col. John Nix,  who served as an  attorney in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps.  He was that young lieutenant – well, he was actually an R.O.T.C cadet pretending to be a lieutenant for that exercise.   He was informed by his instructor that it is a lawful order to shoot innocent civilians if they block your target.

Naturally, this conversation was triggered by the story about the  apology for his role in the My Lai massacre by former Army Lt. William Calley.  ” The difference,” he said, “is that you could not say herding innocent civilians into a ditch and killing them was removing shields that were in front of a target.”

Calley’s defense all along has been that he was following orders.  That was denied by his superior officer.  If Calley’s assertion had been determined right,  he would still have had the problem of following an unlawful order.   

John  Nix says whether an order is lawful or not can end up in a courtroom dispute.  He warns that if a soldier decides not to follow one, he had better be right because the consequences can be dire.  However, the consequences of following an illegal order can also be dire.

According to About.com, the Manual for Courts-Martial says, “An order requiring the performance of a military duty or act may be inferred to be lawful and it is disobeyed at the peril of the subordinate. This inference does not apply to a patently illegal order, such as one that directs the commission of a crime.

Who decides whether an order is lawful or not? It’s certainly not the soldier who decided not to follow the order.  About.com puts it this way: “Ultimately, it’s not whether or not the military member thinks the order is illegal or unlawful, it’s whether military superiors (and courts) think the order was illegal or unlawful.”

Wonder how much, if any, training about whether an order is legal or not is given to the average soldier.  I never got any. When I was in basic training I was told just how horrible my life could be if I disobeyed an order.  Nobody ever said, that I can remember,  that I didn’t have to obey an unlawful order.  Maybe it’s different now.  I took basic training fifty-five years ago. 

Basic training graduation ceremony parade, National Infantry Museum, Ft. Benning/Columbus

Basic training class graduation ceremony parade, June, 2009, National Infantry Museum, Ft. Benning/Columbus, GA

Go to the National Infantry Museum at Least Once by Yourself

August 5, 2009

THE NUMBERS ARE LOOKING GOOD FOR THE MUSEUM

The National Infantry Museum is surpassing number of visitors expectations.   Since the museum opened in June,  80, 322 people have visited the facility, according to Sonya Bell, Administration Services Manager,  National Infantry Foundation.  I’ve been three times. Wonder if they counted me every time. 

Huey Helicopter,  Vietnam war exhibit, National Infantry Museum, Columbus, GA

Huey Helicopter, Last Hundred Yards Vietnam War exhibit, National Infantry Museum, Columbus, GA

Even though I have been, as I said, three times, I plan to go a few more.  One day’s visit is just not enough to take it all it.  The first time you go through you get an overall impression,  but it really doesn’t sink in until you go through it again.  For one thing, the first time you don’t stop and read all of the information that is offered,  and, like a good movie – and the place is loaded with interesting combat newsreel footage –   you miss a lot detail.  One of the reasons you don’t stop and read everything is, when you are going through with other people. you tend to do it faster.  Nobody wants to hold the rest of the group back.  So, even though it’s enjoyable to do it with others,  I recommend that you also do it by yourself.

It really is a tremendous history lesson for everyone, but  you do have to take your time to let it soak him.   As I said,  I’ll be going back.

The Chattahoochee Choo Choo

July 24, 2009

Pardon me,  boy,  is that the Chattahoochee Choo Choo?  That’s what GIs at Fort Benning named the narrow gage railroad trains that served the post from about 1919 to 1946.   Chattahoocheee Choo Choo is, of course, a play on the Glenn Miller 1940s hit “Chattanooga Choo Choo.” If you want to see the Army’s railroad in action, just click on the clip below, which was saved and put on YouTube by my old friend and fellow broadcaster John Gilbert.  It’s 16mm silent footage, so you might want to play a CD of “Chattanooga Choo Choo”  while you watch it. John writes that he rescued the film from a dumpster.  Whoever threw it away just didn’t understand the historic significance of such things. 

Infantry Museum Now Open

June 19, 2009
Parade Field, National Infantry Museum, Ft. Benning (The Parade Field is actually on the Ft. Benning Reservation, but the Museum building is in Columbus.)

Parade Field, National Infantry Museum, Ft. Benning (The Parade Field is actually on the Ft. Benning Reservation, but the Museum building is in Columbus.)

Thousands made the long walk from parking their cars on the roadsides to the   parade ground next to the National Infantry Museum to attend the grand opening graduation ceremony for soldiers who completed their basic training at Fort Benning, and the grand opening of the Museum afterwards.

Museum director MG (R) Jerry White left removes coat,  former Sec. of State Colin Powell greets fellow attendee,  Parade Field stands, National Infantry Museum

Museum director MG (R) Jerry White left removes coat, former Sec. of State Colin Powell greets fellow attendee, Parade Field stands, National Infantry Museum

Former Secretary of State and General Colin Powell drew a cheer from the crowd when he arrived.  He is on hand to cut the ribbon to open the museum.  He topped the long list of dignataries on hand.

Silver Wings Sky Diver,  National Infanrty Msueum Parade Field

Silver Wings Sky-diver, National Infanrty Msueum Parade Field

After the Army’s impressive show of an air assault demonstration,  and members of the elete “Silver Wings” parachuting in,  the Infantry Center Band led the graduating troops onto the field from World War Two Company Barracks area. Since I was in a couple of Army bands, I  always enjoy seeing them do their stuff well, and they did, which was good since this was probably the largest audience they’ll ever march and play for. 

Infantry Center Band leading basic training graduates on to Parade Field

Infantry Center Band leading basic training graduates onto Parade Field

Now,  we can actually see the museum’s main exhibits.  Maybe folks will now start patronizing the Imax Theater, the Fife and Drum restaurant, and the museum’s gift shop enough to help with the museum’s operating expenses.  The crowds for those attractions have been disappointing up until now,  but maybe that will change now.  I’ve been to the theater and restaurant and enjoyed both, and I plan to go again and again. See you at the museum.