The Depot

An Oasis in Paradise

Many service personnel do not realize that the U.S. military operates Armed Forces Recreation Centers located in Florida, Hawaii, Korea and Germany.

I’ve been to all four and each of them offers a unique experience for service members, but I’d like to focus on the Hale Koa Hotel in this post.

The Hale Koa opened in 1975 and each year roughly 1 million military members and dependents enjoy the Hale Koa’s offerings. The hotel was built on 72 acres acquired by the U.S. War Department in 1906. It was named Fort DeRussy in honor of Brigadier General R. E. DeRussy of the Army Corps of Engineers.

Battery Randolph along with Battery Dudley (since demolished) were completed in 1911 as part of the Army’s defenses for Honolulu Harbor. Battery Randolph’s 20 feet thick walls proved too difficult to demolish and it was made into an Army Museum.

Fort DeRussy played an important role from World War I through the Vietnam War. It was used by many service personnel as an area for recreation, lodging, and leisure. In 1950, it was designated an Armed Forces Recreation Area.

In 1995, the Hale Koa Hotel increased its guest capacity by adding another hotel tower, nearly doubling its size. The hotel has seen extensive renovations and guest improvements over the years, most recently in 2019 more than $100 million was pumped into the hotel for a modern oceanside pool and other upgrades.

All ranks and services are welcome at the Hale Koa, including Department of Defense civilians, military retirees and disabled veterans. Room prices vary from $139 to $339 per night. Most of the rooms sleep up to four guests. When I took my family of six, we reserved two adjoining rooms and there was plenty of space. We paid a little more for an ocean view, but if you’re on a budget you can request a standard room. In addition, the higher in rank you are, the more you will pay. For more information on rates and eligibility, visit this page.

Prices at the Hale Koa are about at market value at the moment. A survey of hotels on Waikiki where the Hale Koa is located shows that there are plenty of hotels similarly priced, but you won’t get crushed by all of the taxes tourists usually pay as hotel guests. Not to mention, there is no nickel and diming at the Hale Koa and the hotel offers pretty good dining and activities compared to the surrounding hotels.

The Hale Koa has entertaining shows and a great luau, but those have been temporarily suspended because of COVID-19. And that brings me to a point; before you reserve your hotel, and buy airline tickets, make sure you read travel policies for Hawaii and that you comply with travel restrictions. And check to ensure you are eligible to stay at the Hale Koa.

The hotel is situated on world famous Waikiki Beach. You can enjoy the beach right outside the hotel or lounge around the pool (and have drinks delivered). Within walking distance of the Hale Koa are many great restaurants and plenty to do. My kids and I surfed under the shadow of Diamond Head and for hours we caught smooth waves that carried our longboards almost all the way to shore.  

The Hale Koa Hotel is operated by the Department of the Army under the U.S. Army Installation Management Command. As an Armed Forces Recreation Center, the facility is self-supported with no use of taxpayer funds. All expenses, including salaries, operating expenses and even capital improvement projects are paid with revenue generated by the hotel’s operations.

Lastly, be warned. Right now, there are no rooms available until March 2022, so if you’d like to plan a visit, start planning now for a spring or summer visit in 2022. The hotel recommends guests visit between September and December. You can make a reservation up to 365 days in advance.

Aloha.

Steve Alvarez is the author of Selling War A Critical Look at the Military's PR Machine published by Potomac Books. Photos courtesy Hale Koa website.

The Capture of U-505 Lives On

In May 1944 a U.S. Navy hunter-killer task force sailed from Norfolk, Virginia across the Atlantic to the Canary Islands to conduct anti-submarine patrols. For weeks the group searched with no luck; the German subs were elusive. Their goal was to find Nazi subs, but not to sink them, but rather, to capture one.

Then two days before the D-Day landings, the historic, but little-known task force (Task Force 22.3), running low on fuel, decided to turn and head towards Casablanca after another unsuccessful patrol. Ten minutes later, the USS Chatelain (DE-149) made sonar contact on an object 800 yards on the starboard bow.

The Chatelain closed in quickly on the target, in fact, it closed too quickly and it could not attack the target because depth-charges would not be able to sink fast enough to hit the sub. Instead, the destroyer attacked using “hedgehogs” which were battery-operated charges that explode on contact and are thrown ahead of the ship. After one pass, the Chatelain turned around and made another pass over the sub for a second attack. 

As the Chatelain engaged, Wildcat planes launched from the USS Guadalcanal (CVE-60), the task force’s flag ship, spotted the submerged sub from the air and fired into the water to mark the sub’s position for the attacking ships. The Chatelain adjusted her attack and set shallow depth charges around the U-boat’s location. After several detonations, an oil slick surfaced less than seven minutes after the sub had first been engaged. 

“You struck oil! Sub is surfacing!” a pilot said over the radio. 

When the sub surfaced, the USS Jenks and Pillsbury, along with the Wildcats in the air, all commenced firing upon the sub. The U-boat’s captain, Oberleutnant zur see (Lieutenant) Harald Lange, believing his boat was sinking, ordered his crew to abandon ship and to scuttle the vessel. He was also wounded in the American attack. 

The German crew was in such a rush to abandon ship, that they only partially scuttled the boat and left the engines running at about seven knots. With a damaged rudder, the German U-boat circled. After a few minutes, the USS Pillsbury ordered the task force to cease fire and they called away the Pillsbury’s boarding party, an order that had not been given in the U.S. Navy since the War of 1812. 

On June 4, 1944, Task Force 22.3 captured the German Type IXC submarine U-505 about 150 miles off the coast of Africa. It was the first time since the 19th Century that the Navy had captured a foreign warship. 

The Navy task group was commanded by Capt. Daniel V. Gallery, on the Guadalcanal, and was comprised of the escort carrier and five destroyer escorts: Pillsbury (DE-133), Pope (DE-134), Flaherty (DE-135), Chatelain (DE-149), and Jenks (DE-665). 

The U-505 crew was pulled from boats and boarded the Chatelain and Jenks. As the U-505 crew was being picked up, the sub was boarded by a boarding party of sailors from the Pillsbury which was led by Lieutenant Junior Grade Albert L. David. The boarding party closed scuttling valves and disarmed scuttling charges. David was later awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions. He and the boarding party came aboard the U-505 and worked feverishly, not knowing when the U-boat would explode and what enemy resistance they would face. They did this as the U-boat flooded with water. Torpedoman's Mate Third Class Arthur Knispel and Radioman Second Class Stanley Wdowiak, each received the Navy Cross. The entire task force was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation. 

 

Once the U-boat was made seaworthy and secured after three days of incessant work, Nazi submarine U-505 was taken into tow and the sub was transported to Bermuda, a journey that took approximately two weeks.

Fifty-eight Nazi prisoners were captured and they were held in secret as prisoners of war in Louisiana. They were presumed dead at sea by their families in Germany. Only one German crewman was killed during the American attack and three were wounded (the commanding officer, the executive officer and an enlisted sailor).

The significance of capturing U-505 was enormous. The boat had massive intelligence value. Aboard the sub were Nazi classified documents, code books, an Enigma cipher machine, and communications equipment. If the Germans believed that their sub had been captured and not lost at sea, the codebreaking efforts of the U.S. military would have been negated. The Navy kept the capture a secret and prevented the Nazi crew from writing loved ones. 

The seized codes not only enabled hunter-killer groups to find and engage other Nazi subs, but they also helped naval convoy commanders to route shipping away from known U-boat waters.  

By 1945, the Navy had gleaned as much engineering and intelligence information as it could from U-505, and the boat was slated to become a target for torpedo target practice. The task force commander’s brother, Father John Gallery, learned of the boat’s planned fate and called the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry (MSI) to see if they would be interested in exhibiting the sub since the museum was a center for industrial education. The Gallery brothers, natives of Chicago, had been looking for a place to house the sub.

Chicagoans raised $250,000 to tow the boat and prepare a site for it at MSI. In 1954 the U.S. government donated the sub to MSI and it was made a war memorial and a permanent exhibit after being towed more than 3,000 miles through the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Great Lakes. 

Today, U-505 resides at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. The boat has been restored and it was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1989. It is one of only two Type IXC U-boats still in existence. Although it has been restored, some of the battle damage remains and visitors to the MSI can easily see the large holes left by the American guns and aircraft. Visitors can also peak inside the sub and see its inside. 

Steve Alvarez is the author of Selling War A Critical Look at the Military's PR Machine published by Potomac Books. Color photos by Steve Alvarez. Black and white photos courtesy U.S. Navy history office.

Grissom Air Museum Worth the Trip

Just outside of Grissom Joint Reserve Base in Indiana is the Grissom Air Museum and if you’re in the area or just passing through, this is a great place to plan a pit stop on your summer road trip. The museum is packed with U.S. Air Force history and if you’ve ever served as an airman, or if you’re just an aviation buff, visiting the museum will not disappoint.

The museum has a multitude of exhibits indoors which include a mock U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds' F-16 cockpit, and an authentic F-4 cockpit (front and rear seats). There is also a Huey helicopter and an A-4 Skyhawk simulator. As long as you’re capable of getting in and out of these displays, anyone can climb in and feel what it is like to be behind the stick of these old warbirds.

If there is a young pilot wannabe in your family, they will love sitting in the cockpit and flipping the switches and yanking on the yoke. Make sure to have your camera handy.

The inside of the museum has a lot of displays devoted to Grissom’s Cold War mission and the exhibits help visitors understand the role that the Grissom Air Force Base played in the Cold War. Did you know, for example, that a B-58 Hustler loaded with nuclear weapons skidded off the runway at Grissom in 1964 and caught fire causing what the Air Force calls a "Broken Arrow?"

Grissom was originally established as Bunker Hill Naval Air Station in 1942, but in 1954 it became Bunker Hill Air Force Base. Later in 1968, it was renamed Grissom Air Force Base after Indiana native and U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Gus Grissom was killed in a launchpad fire on Apollo 1. Grissom was the second American to go into space.

The base closed in 1994 and became a joint reserve base. Today, it is home to the Air Force Reserve’s 434th Air Refueling Wing as well as other Marine Corps Reserve and Army Reserve units.

Outside of the museum there is a wide array of military aircraft from different military branches. On display you can find an A-10 Thunderbolt II, a B-25 Mitchell, C-47 Skytrain, F-4 Phantom, F-14 Tomcat, EC-135 Stratotanker, F-84 Thunderstreak, and a really long list of other aircraft, including helicopters. Each display has a placard with a short description of the aircraft and its history.

We were particularly interested in the A-10 which at one point years ago had my father-in-law’s name on it. He died when his A-10 crashed during a training flight near Grissom.

If you’re a former Air Force security policeman (Security Forces), climb up the security tower. Back in the day, security SPs (back when security and law enforcement were two different fields) used to keep a vigilant eye on priority aircraft from towers similar to the one at the museum. The tower overlooks all of the aircraft on static display almost as if it is keeping watch over all the old warbirds.

When I visited the Grissom Museum I saw a young family picnicking in the shade under a parked aircraft in front of the museum. It was a nice spot to spread a blanket and enjoy the shade and lush grass.

If you are a history, military or aviation buff, you can easily spend a couple of
hours just on the inside of the museum alone. Outside, it will take you at least an hour to walk the plane yard if you are into historical aircraft. I recommend getting there early in the summer as it can get pretty toasty and the cooler morning temps make strolling the outside aircraft displays much more fun.

Admission to the Grissom Museum is $7 per person and $6 for military personnel, including retirees. As you finish your visit, don’t forget to visit the museum’s great gift shop and stock up on some cool aviation and Air Force themed souvenirs.

This is a great little museum which is a must-see if you happen to be in the area around Grissom Joint Reserve Base. If you’re lucky, as I was, you just might catch some A-10s flying overhead and spend a few minutes watching them fly their patterns around the airfield.

Steve Alvarez is the author of Selling War A Critical Look at the Military's PR Machine published by Potomac Books. Photos courtesy Grissom Air Museum.

Shape Your Beret in Five Easy Steps

Let me start off by saying, I’m not a fan of berets, at least not in the way some of the military uses them. They’re hot, impractical, but if you’ve endured the rigors to earn one, I think they not only look great, but they add a lot of esprit de corps to organizations with unique missions. Certainly if you've busted your ass to earn one (Rangers, Special Forces, to name a few) they are pretty bad ass and hard-earned. But using them as the primary head gear with the Army Service Uniform, for me, not so much.

I didn’t like the decision in 2001 for the Army to make berets the primary head gear, but I saluted smartly, did what I was told and moved out. Years later, I often cringe when I see some berets and how they are being worn. A lot of soldiers get it right and you can tell that effort has been applied to ensure the headgear looks good. There is a certain pride reflected, but then there are others who look like they just walked away from an oven baking baguettes. They look like Rusty atop the Eiffel Tower.

With that in mind, here are some tips to help you form your new beret, no matter what branch you are in.

  1. First off, if your beret comes with a liner, cut that liner out. Not only will it make you hotter as you wear the beret, but it will also interfere with forming the beret. Cut the liner out carefully along the band, ensuring you do not damage the leather band that goes around your head. And of course, ensure you do not cut the beret itself.
  2. Once you’ve gotten your liner off, take a fabric shaver and run it over the inside and outside of the beret. If you don’t have a fabric shaver, buy one, they are a good, affordable investment in your uniform and appearance. If you are old school, take an unused shaving razor (disposable razors are great for this) and shave your beret as carefully as you would your face or legs. You can remove the fuzz with any kind of tape. Keep shaving the beret until very little fuzz is removed.
  3. Now the fun begins. Immerse your beret into water (not hot water as it will shrink it), keeping the flash as dry as you can. Carefully roll the beret and then gently wring it out without turning it too tightly to damage the beret.
  4. The beret will still be pretty wet, but put it on your head and adjust the fit. This is likely a good time to adjust the cords that stick out of the back of the beret. How the beret is shaped will be up to you, but most people like the flash to be very pronounced, and the beret is pulled to the right side forming what is almost a 90-degree angle with the fabric. You will pull on the fabric until it stretches to where you want it. The beret should touch your right ear or extend below the top of the ear. If you don’t have a mannequin head to use, keep your beret on your head for a while. Watch a movie or your favorite sport and remove it carefully once it starts to dry and form.
  5. Some individuals like to trim or modify the cardboard in front of the beret. I’ve never done that, but if you really want your beret to look highspeed, low drag, you might consider it. It is important to ensure the cardboard in the beret’s front is over your left eye. Once the beret is formed and dry, now you can trim your headband cords. Some folks just remove them altogether (that’s what I did) while others tie a square knot and then trim the cords tightly into the headband.

    On average, it can take a few days to get a “wearable” beret, but really, it takes a few weeks and even months to get them worn and broken in the way you want them. You may need to perform this process several times before you get it just right.

Steve Alvarez is the author of Selling War A Critical Look at the Military's PR Machine published by Potomac Books.

Freedom Fighter: Capt. Francisco Menéndez

In 1738, Spanish militia Capt. Francisco Menéndez was the commander of a North Florida military garrison in St. Augustine known as Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose. The area was later named Fort Mose, but according to the National Park Service, Fort Mose when commanded by Menéndez, was the first free black community in what would become the United States. Menéndez was black.

Black slaves fled British territories to live free at Mose. They also served in Mose’s militia which is considered by historians, including some in the Florida National Guard, to be the predecessor of the modern-day Florida National Guard. In fact, historians have proof that the Spanish militias were the first European militias to muster in what would become the United States and that they existed more than 70 years before the British Anglo militias organized and mustered.

In 2020, the Depot Blog published a four-part series that did an in-depth investigation into this topic. Although the Anglo militias in 1636 are given lineage credit by the U.S. Army and the National Guard claims those militias are its predecessors, the fact is that Spanish militias, which included freed black slaves, were truly the first European militias in what would become the United States. A phenomenon known as the Black Legend would align history to ignore the Spanish and African lineage that contributed to the development of this country.

Born in West Africa, Menéndez fled slavery in the British territories through Georgia, making his way to Florida in 1724. In exchange for emancipation, like other former slaves, he converted to Catholicism and joined the Spanish militias. The garrison and community thrived until the British came to Florida.

In May 1740, Gen. James Oglethorpe, founder and governor of the British colony in Georgia, marched on St. Augustine and captured Fort Mose which had been abandoned to prevent civilian bloodshed as the British approached. The townspeople retreated from Mose and gathered inside the walls of St. Augustine to regroup and plan.

One June 26, the attack known as “Bloody Mose” crushed Oglethorpe’s forces and caused them to retreat to Georgia.

“At length they came on again sword in hand and entered the gate. At the same time another party entered one of the breaches so that the fort was once full of Spaniards, it being then about half an hour before the day,” a British soldier wrote of the battle, according to the Florida Park Service and the Fort Mose Historical Society.

Florida’s Spanish Governor, Don Manuel de Montiano, wrote shortly after the battle that he had “sent out 300 men to make an attack on the Fort of Mose … Our people swept over it with such impetuosity that it fell with a loss of 68 dead and 34 prisoners.” According to historical records, only two dozen British soldiers survived.

The post was reclaimed and rebuilt by the Spaniards (free blacks). Menéndez joined a Spanish privateer and in 1741, he was captured and sold into slavery in the Bahamas. It is unknown if he escaped or if he gained freedom because the Spanish paid a ransom for him, but in 1759 he returned to Florida to again lead Fort Mose.

Fort Mose prospered until 1763 when Florida was ceded to Britain by treaty. Menéndez was evacuated to Cuba with others from Fort Mose. In Cuba, he established San Agustín de la Nueva Florida, a similar free black community like he had helped build in Florida.

The site of Fort Mose is now designated a National Historic Landmark after the original site was an archeological dig in the 1990s.

It is not known when Menéndez died or where.

Steve Alvarez is the author of Selling War A Critical Look at the Military's PR Machine published by Potomac Books.

Nemo's Legacy

As a young military working dog handler trainee attending the Department of Defense Dog School in 1983, I heard about Nemo the military working dog and his brave handler Bob Throneburg and how they stopped a Viet Cong attack at the perimeter of an air base in Vietnam. 

Back then, we still had a few old sentry dogs kicking around the kennels at the annex of Lackland Air Force Base and some of our K-9 instructors who had served as sentry dog handlers in ‘Nam were also at the dog school eager to share what they had learned in war with scrawny teenagers like me.

They taught us how to work as a team, man and dog, to detect the enemy at night. It’s a job I did for several years in Korea and in Germany, so I am a little biased towards military K-9s.

The bond that is forged between handler and dog is unique, unlike any relationship I’ve ever had. When you are out on a post, in the snow, on a holiday in the blackness of night, thousands of miles from home, there is only you and your dog. When the world is celebrating and exchanging gifts, and you are standing post, there is warmth that you find when your dog pins her ears back and wags her tail at you just because you made eye contact with her. It truly is unconditional love.

Here’s what that love looks like in action.

In December 1966, 22-year-old U.S. Air Force Airman Bob Throneburg was on patrol with his K-9 Nemo at Tan Son Nhut Air Base in Vietnam. The base had been attacked by a barrage of mortar fire and more than 60 enemy were dispersed around the base trying to breach the perimeter. The military working dog team of Throneburg and Nemo were charged with finding the enemy and killing them.

About 0300 hours on Dec. 4, Nemo detected someone and almost instantly the intruder started to flee. Throneburg engaged the enemy soldier firing his M-16. It was his first time in combat after being in country for five months.

Nemo’s ears shot up a second time only this time Throneburg turned loose the 95-pound Nemo. The Viet Cong soldier fired several shots from his AK-47. Throneburg was shot in his shoulder and fell to the ground wounded and Nemo took a bullet on the nose while he was charging at the enemy. Nemo continued to engage the enemy and that allowed Throneburg time to call for backup.

As Throneburg started to fade out of consciousness, Nemo came back out of the darkness, severely wounded, and crawled on top of him. Nemo lay atop Throneburg guarding him as sentry dogs were taught to do. A former K-9 handler was finally able to get Nemo off of Throneburg so he could be medically treated and taken to the hospital.

Nemo was taken to the base veterinarian and he was in “bad shape,” according to the base vet. Nemo required skin grafts and a tracheotomy to help him breathe. His right eye was removed as a result of the gunshot wound.

The K-9 team was briefly reunited at the base hospital, but the two never saw each other again. Throneburg was airlifted to Japan where he underwent multiple surgeries and recovered for seven months. Throneburg earned the Purple Heart and Bronze Star Medal.

Nemo recovered from his wounds at Tan Son Nhut and was later retired from active duty. He was five years old when he returned from the war having spent eight months in recovery. He was credited with saving Throneburg’s life. The Air Force would later say that Throneburg and Nemo killed two from an element that had engaged them. The others were killed by forces responding to Throneburg’s call for backup. Overall, K-9 and security forces would kill more than a dozen enemy in that engagement at Tan Son Nhut.

That night, three sentry dogs, Rebel, Toby and Cubby, would die in action and one airman, George Bevich, would also be killed in action. Bevich would become the first Air Force sentry dog handler to be killed in Vietnam. He was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for engaging the enemy and calling in their position. He was killed by enemy mortar fire.

Nemo’s action that night propelled him to become the face of the K-9 Corps and his actions that day became the stuff of legends for those who worked military working dogs. Nemo was credited with not just saving Throneburg’s life, but also preventing further destruction of life and property at Tan Son Nhut. 

Air Force dog handlers in Vietnam, according to the Air Force, provided a unique and critical capability in defending air bases against attack when they patrolled base perimeters in the darkness. Teams were able to detect the enemy trying to infiltrate bases using the cover of night. They were used as part of Project Top Dog 145 where the Air Force sent 40 sentry dog teams to Vietnam in 1965 eventually peaking in 1967 with more than 500 teams in country. In all, roughly 4,000 dogs deployed to Vietnam during the war.

Bob Throneburg died in 2020 at the age of 75. Nemo A354 (his brand number) died in 1972 at Lackland Air Force Base at the Department of Defense Dog Center where his kennel stands as a memorial.

Most military working dogs which were sent to Vietnam were not returned home to the heroes welcome that Nemo received. In fact, only 204 of the thousands of dogs sent to Vietnam returned home or were reassigned to other peacetime assignments. During the last years of the war, many of these hero dogs were euthanized by the U.S. military. Viewed as surplus and unneeded equipment, they were treated accordingly. Those not killed, died of disease and starvation. Despite saving countless lives and having protected U.S. resources, these four-legged warriors were abandoned.

Not long ago I came into contact with former handlers who had worked with some of the dogs I had once handled. We shared funny stories and not one of us had a bad thing to say about any of them. Imagine having that kind of reputation? They too likely met the same fate, euthanized because they could no longer perform their missions. Seven of my partners who accompanied me on duty, who helped me grow up in the ranks; I do not know how long they lived or how or when they died.

Luckily, that changed not long ago. I adopted Max from the Department of Defense. Max is an explosive detector military working dog who was medically retired. When I learned that military working dogs could be adopted from the dog school, I made the trek down to Lackland to try to give a fellow veteran a good home. In 2019, he joined our family and he is also the official mascot of USAMM. To mark his retirement, I had a flag flown over the U.S. capitol.

Today, Max spends his days relaxing on a soft therapeutic bed, his body broken from his military service, he still tries to do his duty when I enter the room. He sits up, almost as if to say, “I’m ready to go to work,” and he wags his tail at the sight of me. Each time, I gently lay him down, rub his belly and tell him he’s a good boy. I give him his Kong not because he found a bomb, but because he’s been a good dog and he's earned it. 

Steve Alvarez is the author of Selling War A Critical Look at the Military's PR Machine published by Potomac Books.

Fort Hood's Remembrance Display

It hits you. It's not something you can really put into words, but when you come walking up to the III Corps and Fort Hood Remembrance Display sprawled across solemnly on the Sadowski Parade Field on Fort Hood, you realize that someone is no longer in those boots.

As a retiree, I've been to more than my share of military memorials and funerals; too many, in fact. In Iraq, at Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq, we lost contractors, our Iraqi counterparts and of course, U.S. military personnel.

There too, we had memorial services for Todd Cornell and Paul Karpowich, just a few weeks apart; fellow military advisers killed while trying to build the Iraqi Army. Cornell was killed in Fallujah just a few days after I left Camp Fallujah and headed home for R&R. He died fighting with the Iraqi troops he was training. Karpowich was killed in Mosul, preparing for operations with his Iraqi counterpart. A suicide bomber killed "Karp."

I didn't know these guys. The last time I had seen Cornell was at Camp Taji. I was showing ABC News how the training effort was going and one of our colonels was trying to do an interview and off to the side, Cornell and his Iraqi soldiers were farting, cracking jokes and doing their best to annoy the colonel. I was laughing too, so it was hard for me to look at them and tell them to keep it down. I did my best to play the hard ass, but I kept cracking up, smirking as they continued to disrupt the interview. That was the last time I saw him. 

When I was home on leave I heard that we had a casualty and I asked who it was. The name didn't sound familiar, so I asked for a picture. I couldn't believe it. Just a few weeks earlier, Cornell was grab-assing with his men. Now I was at home, safe and sound for Thanksgiving and the lives of his family and friends were forever changed.

Fast forward 17 years and I'm at Fort Hood looking at all these empty boots. The voids that are left when these folks die is represented by these boots. They are never forgotten, especially when they are your blood. I've lost good friends over the years, but you don't have to personally know someone to be moved by something like this. The Remembrance Display serves as a reminder; a painful, physical reminder that we should never forget the sacrifices of those who died in service to their country.

If you're in the Killeen area between July 1-6, make it a point to stop by the Sadowski Parade Field and visit the annual III Corps and Fort Hood Remembrance Display which honors the sacrifices of Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines who have died since Sept. 11, 2001. It is a somber and sobering reminder that 7,700 people lost their lives since 9/11 in service to their nation.

Since 2014, III Corps and Fort Hood have placed a combat boot honoring a fallen service member on the parade field. The boot contains an American flag and a name badge that has a picture of the fallen hero. A tag is attached to each boot. 

The III Corps and Fort Hood Remembrance Display can viewed from sunrise to sunset through July 6. The display is open to the public.

Remember, every boot on that parade field represents a very human story. It's our job to ensure we keep their stories alive. We owe them that.

Steve Alvarez is the author of Selling War A Critical Look at the Military's PR Machine published by Potomac Books. Photos by Steve Alvarez.

The Accidental Aviator

Aircraft contrails in the sky are usually indicators of where an aircraft has come from and where it is heading. If the life of retired U.S. Army Maj. Robert F. Morris had vapor lines, they would represent a lifetime of aviation achievement both in and out of uniform. 

Morris is a flight instrument and flight safety instructor. His career in aviation spans more than 50 years if you include his volunteer service and the accomplishments are dizzying; thousands of flight hours logged, multiple FAA ratings achieved, several dozen airframes flown, wings earned from the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Army, service in two wars, a Silver Star, Bronze Star, and 13 Air Medals, including one with a “V” device for valor during his tour in Vietnam as a Chinook pilot.

And it all happened by accident.

Morris’s military odyssey began when he enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve at 17.  In 1952, he was ordered to LSM 547, a ship headed to Korea. After several port stops, they picked up an Army unit and headed to the war.

“We arrived in Inchon harbor and the artillery was firing just over the north hills.  It was the first time I had heard shots fired in anger,” Morris recalled. “The battleship Missouri and the cruiser USS St. Paul were firing over us at the beach,” he said. 

After Korea, Morris attended college. He majored in education and had hopes to teach and be a counselor, but life encouraged him to change his heading.

“My roommate in college was going to Dallas to take a test to become a naval pilot,” Morris said smiling. His roommate needed a ride, so Morris drove him. As his friend took the exam, Morris read magazines in another room. 



“I was asked by an enlisted man if I wanted to take the test and told him I did not as I just got out of the Navy and hand no intention of going back in,” Morris said. “An hour later he asked again and I was bored and said ‘OK’ just for something to do.”

Morris finished the test before his roommate who had started much earlier. He also got a better score. Months later Morris got a letter from the U.S. Navy ordering him to flight training.

Morris thought to himself, “Why not?” and thus began a decade’s long accidental career in aviation that led Morris through the U.S. Marine Corps as a fighter pilot, a U.S. Army chief warrant officer flying CH-47 Chinooks, and as a civilian pilot.

“Going to helicopter school was like buying a one-way ticket to Vietnam and you had to work 365 days to get a ticket back home,” Morris said. “Moving 10,300-pound loads hanging off the bottom of the aircraft all day and landing to the top of hills is a challenge, but you get good at it with practice, like anything else that you do.”

Morris said he and his crew were called to move “all kinds of stuff” in Vietnam.  One day they were tasked with recovering an airplane that was shot down. They connected to the aircraft and began to lift it out when the Viet Cong attacked them.

“When we got there all the people on the ground were laying down and had their weapons pointing the same direction,” Morris said. “At about 200 feet above the ground, two guys stepped out of a cement building and started shooting up at us with automatic weapons. I was flying and … my gunners were firing back and the load was trying to fly into us … the rounds were coming up through the floor all around....”

One round came through the floor and hit Morris’s left leg and knocked his foot off the rudder peddle. He told his co-pilot he was hit and the co-pilot took control of the aircraft.  

“My leg started to feel less painful and I did not want to look at it so I ran my hand down the back of my leg to feel how big a hole I had in it. There was no hole,” Morris said. “After we landed we looked in the chin bubble of the aircraft and found the round. It looked like a 50 cent piece and was very sharp all the way around it.”

On another mission, Morris was flying in support of U.S. Marines and he was notified that some Marines needed to be ferried to a fire base. After picking up the Marines, he was airborne when he was told that there were battle-wounded Marines that needed medical evacuation at a hilltop fire base with no clear place to land.

“When we got there the ammunition dump was blowing up and the ridge line it was located on did not have a safe place to let them off,” Morris said.  With no safe place to land the large, heavy lift aircraft, Morris performed a heroic and skillful maneuver. “Make a long story short, I backed the aircraft up to the edge of the cliff and the flight engineer talked me down and we brought the six wounded aboard,” Morris said.

These days the 83-year-old Morris might not be carving through the skies, but he hasn’t slowed down. He is an aviation advocate who helps marshal future pilots into the clouds with his knowledge. He volunteers at a military museum, teaches part-time in a federal STEM program and serves as an assistant aerospace education officer with the Civil Air Patrol in Austin, Texas.

Luckily, Morris was an accidental aviator waiting to happen. 

Cybersecurity Nonprofit Offers Female Veterans Apprenticeship Program

A national nonprofit organization has launched a female veteran apprenticeship program to help members bridge the gap from military career experience to cybersecurity careers.

Women In Cybersecurity, known as WiCyS, is dedicated to its mission to recruit, retain, and advance women in cybersecurity.

Established in 2012 by Dr. Ambareen Siraj of Tennessee Tech University with a National Science Foundation grant, the organization has grown to 6,000 members, 19 professional affiliates in North America, Asia, Australia and Europe and 97 student chapters in six countries. WiCyS became a member-based registered 501c(3) nonprofit  in 2018. Five percent of WiCyS members identify as veterans.

Siraj said the impetus for creating the program came from statistics showing female veterans make up almost 10 percent of the veteran population and that female veterans have a higher likelihood of unemployment compared to male veterans, single parenthood compared to male veterans, and homelessness compared to female non-veterans.

U.S. Department of Labor reported women veteran unemployment rates from June 2020 to May 2021 averaged 5.8 percent.

“Finding ways for our military veterans who have already served and protected our nation to transition from defense to cyber-defense into these high demand, high paying jobs is a no-brainer,” Siraj said in a WiCyS Veteran Apprenticeship Program webinar. “We need them and they earned this opportunity to be considered.”

WiCyS is collaborating with Smoothstack, a DOL-certified apprenticeship program, and employer partner SentinelOne.

An apprenticeship is an industry-driven career pathway where employers can develop and prepare their future workforce and individuals can obtain paid work experience, classroom instruction and a portable, nationally recognized credential, said Martha Laughman, Smoothstack director of workforce development.

The collaboration will offer selected veterans paid training, a paid apprenticeship and secured employment program.

The immersive training includes working on employer projects, curriculum and certifications, along with mentorship from the veteran’s WiCyS mentor, Laughman said. Qualifying WiCyS veteran members will be placed in roles including security operations center analyst, network operations center analyst, and penetration testers.

To qualify for the program, the veteran should have basic knowledge of programming languages, hands-on experience, training or education in computer science or related fields and CompTIA Net+ and Sec+ training.

No prior work experience is required. The position does require U.S. citizenship and the willingness to relocate. Relocation assistance is provided.

WiCyS also offers a Veterans’ Assistance Program which works to support veteran members and grow the cybersecurity workforce by moving more female veterans into cybersecurity.  The assistance program offers discounted WiCyS membership, WiCyS Veteran Fellowship Award opportunities, an exclusive community forum and the opportunity to work with partners and sponsors for job placement and access to the directory of WiCyS veterans for external opportunities.

For more information about the Veterans Apprenticeship Program, the Veteran’s Assistance Program, or  how to apply, go to wicys.org.

VA Launches Rapid Retraining Assistance Program

Job losses due to COVID-19 have strongly affected veterans; the U.S. Department of Labor reported April’s veteran unemployment rate at 5.3 percent. To assist veterans to reemployment, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has launched Veterans Rapid Retraining Assistance Program (VRRAP).

Signed into law on March 11 under the American Rescue Plan of 2021, VRRAP offers education and training to veterans who are unemployed due to COVID-19.

Education and training programs approved under the GI Bill and Veteran Employment Through Technology Education Courses, also known as VET TEC, include 200 associates degrees, non-college degrees and certificate programs determined by the labor department to be high-demand jobs.

Programs include opportunities in healthcare, education, media, engineering and high-tech fields. Veterans eligible for VRRAP can receive up to 12 months of tuition and fees paid by the VA directly to the school. The veteran also receives a monthly housing allowance based on Post-9/11 GI Bill rates.
Veterans not enrolled in full-time programs receive a prorated housing allowance.

To be eligible to apply, veterans must meet all the following requirements:

  • Between the ages of 22 and 66, and
  • Unemployed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and
  • Have an honorable or other-than-honorable discharge, and
  • Not eligible for Veteran Readiness & Employment benefits, and
  • Do not have any remaining GI Bill eligibility available, and
  • Not rated as totally disabled and unable to work, and
  • Not enrolled in any federal or state jobs programs, and
  • Not already receiving unemployment benefits, including CARES Act benefits.

The goal of the program is to give veterans new skills or complete a certification program in a high demand field and expand the veteran’s employment opportunities. Veterans do not need to be enrolled in a program full-time.
Veterans who have exhausted their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits or VR&E benefits may qualify for VRRAP if they meet other eligibility criteria.

The program began accepting applications May 3 and will be available until Dec. 11, 2022 or until the program enrolls 17,250 participants or reaches its funding limit of $386 million, whichever comes first.

To apply online or for more information, including a list of participating schools, go to https://www.va.gov/education/other-va-education-benefits/veteran-rapid-retraining-assistance/ or contact the Education Call Center from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. ET Monday through Friday at 888-442-4551.