The Depot

COVID-19: Hold My Beer

A few weeks ago, this weekly blog would have started with an introduction about who I am and why I think you should read my posts, but Murphy as we all know always has other plans and today, I find myself joining the cacophony of those writing about COVID-19.

Last week I received an e-mail from U.S. Army Human Resources Command asking me if I was willing to return to duty to help the nation in the response to COVID-19. I replied to the e-mail within seconds as I’m sure thousands of other military retirees did, each of them raising their hands albeit but virtually. Send me. I doubt I will get the call since I’m not a person with a critical skill set, but just in case I have a razor handy and I’m hitting the treadmill.

In the immediate aftermath of 9-11, first responders became the reluctant heroes of that catastrophe. These days, COVID-19 has placed a cape on the backs of medical professionals, delivery drivers, warehouse workers, grocery store employees and others. Bravery comes unexpectedly and suddenly and we are never fully prepared for what it is that we will do when fate comes to reckon. But like the brave men and women on United Airlines Flight 93, around the nation Americans like those aboard that flight are making life and death decisions and confronting this invisible threat which has already claimed the lives of thousands of people.

In response to COVID-19, many everyday Americans are experiencing for the first time in their lives, what members of the armed forces face routinely—death, high-stress environments, uncertainty, isolation, danger, self-sacrifice, and a lack of resources. The difference is that those of us who served, and those who are still serving, signed up for all of the drama that comes with military service. We embrace the suck, as we like to say, mostly because we asked for it and it is a source of twisted pride amongst those in the military. Draftees too embraced it and made the best of things.

In the military, we compete with each other over which branch has it worse. Then within the services, we get even more granular in our arguments, certain military occupations have it worse than others and the harder the duty, the more respect that is garnered or expected. Even within a career field, there is hierarchical jockeying. A few months ago, my son’s youth group visited an Army aviation unit and there was friendly competition about who flew the better or more important helicopter.

In recent weeks I’ve seen the response to COVID-19 compared to war and right on cue the outrage from veterans began. Just today I heard a news anchor say that medical professionals are charging bravely up a hill in a fight against COVID-19. For a 24-year veteran like me, I reflexively think of the U.S. Army’s May 1969 fight on Hamburger Hill in Vietnam and I admit, an internal war starts as I struggle to liberate my mind of cynical thoughts.

The president has joined the fray and he has referred to himself as a wartime president. I’ve found myself comparing him to FDR, but it is an apples to oranges comparison. People being interviewed on television are saying things like “It looked like a war zone” when they describe any COVID-19 landscape and I wonder to myself if their assessment is based on experience. Suddenly every reporter is a war correspondent using words like combat, fight, war, battle, and other terms that evoke strong emotions from veterans. But vets, we need to control our emotional response to the current climate. We need to avoid the “Been there, done that, got the t-shirt,” know-it-all mentality that is often affixed to us when it comes to a crisis. That’s what the word “veteran” actually means, “A person who has long experience in a particular field.”

As veterans, we should not be using our military experiences to make others uncomfortable by marginalizing their fears and minimizing contributions. I’ve seen it going on in social media circles and I’ve discussed this with military buddies. We should not be elevating our stature during this crisis as though we are greater than what is happening, as if we are the wise person atop the mountain having attained some type of wisdom only military people can acquire. Veterans, we are not more enlightened or anointed by some experiential being simply because we have worn a uniform or gone off to war.

Instead of looking critically at what our friends, family and neighbors are saying and doing, we should be the steady voice of reason and calm. We should not be divisive. The same way that we came together in the ranks, regardless of race, religion, gender, to achieve objectives and complete a mission, we should help combat this invisible enemy. The nation has a different mission for us.  

When others are panicking, help ease their fear by sharing statistics from the CDC, not data you picked up from some meme. When you see someone spreading misinformation online, reassure and re-center them with factual information. Nobody wants to hear a “No shit, there I was …” story. It has no relevance to a parent who is happy that the grocery store is open so they can feed their kids. Similarly, your war stories about how you ate dirt for six months in a foxhole do not matter to the software engineer whose company might collapse. For most Americans, the COVID-19 outbreak is the epic crisis of their lives. This a war they never signed up to fight and like some of us have done, they are making it up as they go along. Let's help them.

I admit, regrettably, that initially I cringed when I heard the word “hero” being used to describe grocery clerks and stocking personnel because I associated that term with names like Desmond Doss and Rafael Peralta, men who placed their lives on the line for their fellow brothers in arms. My views have since evolved.

Can medical professionals, grocery store employees, delivery drivers and others who are keeping our economy and people alive die just by going to work? Emphatically, yes. A person is no less a hero because they died from a virus trying to care for the sick and not from a sniper’s bullet in war. A person is not less brave because they go to a domestic job and risk exposing themselves to a virus that can kill them as opposed to driving in a convoy in a war zone.

Veterans, let’s be the people that our nation needs us to be. Muster the patience to refrain from judgment. Avoid acting as if you know how this will all end because the truth is you do not. Be a good battle buddy and wing man and let your friends, family and neighbors know that you’re all in this fight together and that you are in their corner with sponge and bucket. Help people prepare for the worst, but keep the morale high in your circles. Discuss what you can do for those close to you if something happens to them. Ensure they know you will take care of their family. Ensure there is a plan for your family as well. The military is a team of teams. Our communities are no different. They need you.

Veterans have a legacy of resiliency, a standard of grit that is passed down, generation to generation, started long ago by a ragtag group of idealistic rebels with muskets. Let’s live up to that legacy.

Like that ragtag group, the battlefield is our backyard. Let’s step up and show people not that we know it all and not that their fears are unfounded, instead let’s show them through leadership and support, and not criticism, what it means to get comfortable with the uncomfortable. And let’s ensure we’re being real too and allow ourselves to be vulnerable. You might be veterans or still serving, but you don’t have all the answers because none of you, zero, has ever been through something like this before. None of you have fought a worldwide pandemic of this magnitude.

Right now, my sixth-grade son is wailing on his clarinet. He is playing America the Beautiful and it is off key and other times pitch perfect. How apropos. As the sun fades through my window, the music screeching in the background, I’m thankful, as I was in Iraq, that I get to see the sun go down another day and tomorrow when I wake up I will think that all I have to do is get through another day. Another day and I’m closer to home.

And I can’t help but think about the letter Rafael Peralta wrote to his brother the night before he died in Fallujah. “Be proud of me, bro … and be proud of being an American.”

Let’s embrace the suck, people. Let’s do this.

Hold my beer.

The Stolen Valor Pandemic

Sometime in 1998, I read the book Stolen Valor written by B.G. Burkett, a former U.S. Army officer who served in Vietnam. Burkett’s book made me unbelievably cynical and there are times I wish I had never read it because as they say, ignorance is bliss. Burkett’s exceptional piece of investigative work created doubt in my mind towards anyone who claims to be a veteran, but fortunately over the years, I have been able to compartmentalize my emotions and the urge to automatically look at everyone with suspicion.

Burkett’s book is a deep dive into stolen valor. What is stolen valor? The definition of stolen valor is when a person claims they have served in the military, or they embellish their rank or fraudulently claim that they were presented an award for valor. In order for actions to qualify as illicit, a person must have the intent to gain money, property or some other tangible benefit by convincing others that he or she received the award.

The act of embellishing military service in the United States dates back to the Continental Army when George Washington stated that if anyone falsely claimed to have earned the nation’s first award, what would become the Purple Heart, that they should be severely punished. Little did he know what a national tragedy stolen valor would become. Decades later, nearly 75 percent of the pensioned surviving veterans claiming to be combat veterans of the Civil War had never served in the military or in combat. Stolen Valor cases are nothing new and there is no book on how to spot stolen valor.

Over the decades, fakers, posers, glory hounds, dirt bags, whatever you choose to call them have sometimes been prosecuted and convicted of lying about their veteran status. Not until 2005 did the U.S. government choose to aggressively do something about it.

President George W. Bush signed the original Stolen Valor Act in 2005. That made it illegal to lie about military service and medals, but the U.S. Supreme Court found the law unconstitutional in that it violated free speech so a revision was drafted and it was signed into law in 2013 by President Barack Obama. What is the penalty for stolen valor? Depends, but up to one year in prison. It is a federal offense and those convicted of violating stolen valor laws can also face fines and civil cases can be brought against them for financial damages if it is proven that they benefitted fiscally. The Stolen Valor Act attempted to prohibit financial gain.

Given all that is going in the world today with the coronavirus you might think that something like stolen valor isn’t really on the minds of most people, but right now some sociopath is making a plan to tell people how he helped save patients in New York City, or some insecure loser is laying the ground work for a fabrication that will make her a heroine to her friends and family. A crisis is stolen valor’s fertile ground and it is honest veterans that tend to that garden, pulling the weeds as they find them.

In recent weeks I’ve seen remarks from veterans on social media and in veterans’ forums about stolen valor and how the COVID-19 military response will bring a fresh batch of liars. So, the sentinels are ready, standing watch, waiting. But how does a person report stolen valor? And honestly, is it really that important to report? The answer depends on who you talk to. For most veterans, the answer is usually, yes, it is important enough to report.

As a veteran, you can help control stolen valor by reporting your suspicions to local investigative reporters or by working with non-profit groups that focus on stolen valor. My advice is, if you’re not experienced in this sort of thing, leave it up to professionals. Remember, just because someone is wearing something or making some bold claims does not make them a criminal.

I know that many of you can argue, as did Burkett in his book, that fakers aren’t just stealing tangible things from veterans, they are stealing intangibles like honor and valor. I agree. I can’t tell you how many times I have asked a panhandler on a street corner wearing fatigues the details of his military life since he is holding a sign that says “Veteran Please Help.” Their responses are usually incoherent ramblings as they nervously shift from one foot to the other. When I ask them “What is on your 214 (military discharge documents)?” the answers are clearly indicative that most of them have not served in the military. Somewhere along the way veterans became America’s favorite charity and while it is true that there are homeless veterans in the United States, not all vets are homeless and mentally unstable.

If the guy at church who has the Ranger stickers all over his pickup truck isn’t really a Ranger based on conversations you’ve had with him, think about whether his fibs are helping him gain a financial foothold or is he just getting cool guy points from admiring suburban dads who don’t know better. Is the veteran with “many deployments” who is a fixture at Veterans’ Day events really hurting anyone when he talks about his war duty when you know his tours of duty were in Kuwait and Qatar? Legally those are considered the “combat zone” but when was the last time you heard of anyone dying from combat in those two countries? My point is, pick your battles. If we point enough fingers and whine enough, pretty soon our efficacy as a group comes into question.

Is stolen valor a crime? You bet. The Stolen Valor Act of 2013 makes it a crime to wear things you’ve not earned and benefit from it, but it is legal to wear things you have not earned and make false or misrepresenting statements. Clear as mud, right? Unfortunately, caught in the gray area are military members and veterans.

“I think we do a really good job ensuring that veterans get what they deserve,” USAMM CEO Jared Zabaldo said. “As a veteran-owned business, and as a veteran of the Iraq War, I’ve got a deep, personal interest to protect my fellow veterans from stolen valor,” he said. “But I also have a responsibility to the men and women who have served honorably.”

Zabaldo said the USAMM awards team is comprised of military veterans who are seasoned professionals in military awards. “Usually, 99 percent of our orders are from active military personnel who are preparing for a promotion board or official photo and they want to look sharp,” Zabaldo said. “I feel good that we provide a service to military personnel and in more than 15 years of serving our military we have had just a handful of cases where someone tried to lie and purchase something that we viewed as suspicious. When that happened, we asked for a DD Form 214, and there was no response, so the order wasn’t processed.”

But Zabaldo’s comments make me think, who is responsible for policing stolen valor? If the federal government can be duped for millions of dollars in Veterans Affairs benefits, sometimes by people who have never served, how can companies and other organizations protect themselves against fraudsters? Even if organizations ask for documentation, what good is it if a faker can create an impeccable DD Form 214 and fraudulently get disability, educational, and loan benefits from an organization like the VA? How can anyone possibly become a 214 specialist?

The truth is nobody can prevent people from committing stolen valor. There are laws that cover everything in this country from driving to fishing and people still do what they want. That’s the price you pay for living in a society that has a lot of rights. There is always a small percentage of people who will do what is wrong. That’s why we have to do what is right.

How do you identify stolen valor? Usually, it is pretty easy to see and as veterans you will know it when you see it. You know what I mean, veterans. It is the same thing as spotting your kind in a crowd. How many times have you seen someone and thought, I bet that one served?

How to report stolen valor is really the issue that faces most veterans. The best thing to do is report the faker, but do not get confrontational and do not violate their rights or privacy. Instead, try to capture him or her in uniform either by photo or video and then turn that over to the proper authorities, a news agency or to nonprofits that specialize in investigating people who are military frauds. If you think someone is defrauding the VA, you can report them to the VA inspector general hotline. You can also drop me a line by commenting on this blog.

Remember, while it is frustrating to watch someone lie for attention, it is not a crime. Stolen valor is incurable. It is a timeless pandemic. As veterans, we need to work together to ensure we pull the weeds from our sacred ground. 

Today in Military History

There are 365 days in a year and every day is full of rich, American military history. There is a lot to choose from so USAMM has picked the beginning, middle and end of each month to bring you a snap shot of today in military history.

January 1, 1962: Navy SEAL teams are established. Arleigh Burke, chief of naval operations, recommends in 1961 the creation of a guerrilla-style team. The teams would operate from sea, air or land (SEAL). SEAL teams were descendants of the Navy’s Underwater Demolition Teams. SEALs would perform counter guerilla warfare and clandestine operations.

January 15, 1943: The Pentagon was dedicated and the building becomes the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Defense. It is considered one of the world’s largest office buildings. It has three times the floor space of the Empire State Building in New York. Approximately 26,000 employees, both military and civilian, work there. They park 8,770 cars in 16 parking lots; climb 131 stairways or ride 19 escalators to reach offices that occupy 3,705,793 square feet. While in the building, they tell time by 4,200 clocks, drink from 691 water fountains, and utilize 284 rest rooms.

January 31, 1945: U.S. Army Pvt. Eddie Slovik becomes the first American soldier since the Civil War to be executed for desertion. He is the only man shot for desertion during World War II. Slovik was shot and killed by a 12-man firing squad in eastern France.

February 1, 1942: The U.S. Navy conducts the Marshalls-Gilberts raids, the first offensive U.S. action against Japanese forces in the Pacific Theater. The tactical airstrikes and naval artillery attacks inflicted light to moderate damage on Japanese garrisons, aircraft and warships.

February 15, 1898: An explosion sinks the battleship USS Maine in Cuba’s Havana harbor, killing 260 American crew members. The Maine was sent to Cuba to protect American interests. The U.S. Navy determined week’s later that the ship was blown up by a mine. Many believed Spain was responsible and a series of diplomatic failings led to the Spanish-American War. In 1976, an investigative team concluded that the Maine explosion was caused by a fire that ignited its ammunition stores.

Feb. 28, 1893: The USS Indiana is launched. The Indiana is the first battleship of the U.S. Navy. She was authorized in 1890 and commissioned five years later. The Indiana served in the Spanish-American War and she took part in both the blockade of Cuba and the battle of Santiago de Cuba. She was decommissioned in 1919 and she was sunk in shallow water as a target in aerial bombing tests in 1920. Her hulk was sold for scrap in 1924.

March 1, 1912: The first parachute jump out of an airplane was made by U.S. Army Capt. Albert Berry at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri. He jumped from a biplane at 1,500 feet and landed without incident. The parachute was contained in a metal canister under the plane and when Berry dropped from the plane his weight pulled the parachute from the canister and he floated to earth while seated on a trapeze bar.

March 15, 2010: Frank Buckles, the last living American World War I veteran is buried today in military history after dying on Feb. 27, 2011 at the age of 110. He enlisted in the Army in 1917 and served near the frontlines in Europe. During World War II, he was captured by Japanese forces while working as a civilian in the shipping industry. He spent three years in the Philippines as a prisoner. With his passing a generation of men like him who served in that war was no more.

March 31, 1992: The USS Missouri is decommissioned. She was the last active American battleship affectionately known as “Mighty Mo” or “Big Mo.” The Missouri was the last battleship commissioned by the United States and she was the site of the surrender of the Empire of Japan. Missouri was ordered in 1940 and commissioned in June 1944. In the Pacific during World War II, she fought in the battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa and shelled the Japanese islands. She also fought in the Korean War from 1950 to 1953. She was decommissioned in 1955 into the Navy’s mothball fleet, but she was reactivated and modernized in 1984. She provided fire support during Operation Desert Storm in 1991 and the Missouri received 11 battle stars for service in World War II, Korea, and the Persian Gulf. In 1998, she was donated to the USS Missouri Memorial Association and became a museum ship at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

April 1, 1952: U.S. Air Force Colonel Francis S. Gabreski, flying a F-86 Sabre from the 51st Fighter-Interceptor Wing, becomes the eighth ace of the Korean War and the third ranking U.S. ace of all time. Gabreski achieved 37.5 aerial victories, including five in Korea. F-86 Sabres scored their second greatest victory of the war, shooting down 10 MiGs, with two others probable.

April 15, 1969: The North Korean military shoots down a U.S. Navy EC-121 aircraft over the Sea of Japan, killing all 31 on board. The EC-121M Warning Star was on a reconnaissance mission when a North Korean MiG-17 shot it down over the Sea of Japan in international airspace. There was never a U.S. diplomatic or military response.

May 1, 1960: A U-2 spy plane piloted by Francis Gary Powers a former Air Force captain who was working as a pilot for the Central Intelligence Agency is shot down over Russia by a surface to air missile. The CIA’s cover story for the U-2 was that it was a weather reconnaissance aircraft. Powers had strict instructions to initiate a self-destruct function and to commit suicide if he was ever shot down. He did not destroy the aircraft and he was captured alive. He was tried, convicted of espionage and sent to a Russian prison. Shy of two years of confinement, he was released in a prisoner exchange with the Soviet Union. Years later he became a local news helicopter pilot, reporting on traffic. In 1977 he was killed when his helicopter ran out of fuel and crashed.

May 15, 1970: President Richard M. Nixon appoints Anna Mae Hays and Elizabeth P. Hoisington the first female U.S. Army generals.

May 31, 1951: U.S. Army Corporal Rodolfo P. Hernandez earns the Medal of Honor while serving with the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team near Wontong-ni, Korea. Hernandez’s platoon, in defensive positions on a hill, came under attack by a numerically superior force, accompanied by heavy artillery, mortar, and machinegun fire which inflicted numerous casualties on his platoon. Hernandez’s comrades withdrew, but Hernandez, although wounded in an exchange of grenades, continued to deliver deadly fire at the enemy until his weapon jammed. Hernandez then rushed the enemy armed only with a rifle and bayonet. He engaged the enemy and killed six of them before falling unconscious from grenade, bayonet, and bullet wounds. His heroic action momentarily halted the enemy advance and enabled his unit to counterattack and retake the lost ground.

June 1, 1779: The court-martial of Benedict Arnold, the name synonymous with traitorous actions, convenes in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Arnold was a relatively good officer early in his military career, but then he slipped into illicit activities and when he was caught and held accountable, he was not happy with how military officials treated him, especially George Washington who reprimanded him. While on a mission to determine if a locale would withstand a British attack, Arnold decided to defect and become a British spy. His many schemes, like surrendering 3,000 men and a garrison, as well as helping Washington get captured, all failed. He eventually returned to England and died in 1801, forever branded.

June 15, 1775: The Second Continental Congress voted unanimously to appoint George Washington as the commander of the Continental Army. The U.S. military has its first general.

June 30, 1953: U.S. Air Force Lt. Henry “Hank” Buttleman of the 51st Fighter-Interceptor Wing, becomes the 36th and youngest ace (five kills) of the Korean War, at 24. He accomplished his feat only 12 days after his first kill.

July 1, 1863: The greatest military conflict in North American history begins when Union and confederate forces fight at Gettysburg. The battle lasted three days and resulted in the retreat of Robert E. Lee’s army into Virginia. The rebels had an army of about 80,000 and the Union had just less than 100,000. On the morning of July 1, units from each side made contact with each other near Gettysburg. The sound of battle attracted other units, and by noon the battle was underway. The battle would be the costliest ever on U.S. soil. More than 50,000 soldiers on both sides died at Gettysburg today in military history.

July 15, 1944: Today in military history, Staff Sgt. Kazuo Otani earned the Medal of Honor near Pieve Di S. Luce, Italy. Otani’s platoon was pinned down in a field by an enemy machinegun and snipers. Realizing the danger confronting his platoon, Otani left his cover and shot and killed an enemy sniper who had been killing members of his platoon. Otani, under intense fire, then dashed across the open field toward a cliff, and directed his men to crawl to the cover of the cliff. When the platoon’s movement drew heavy fire, he ran along the cliff, exposing himself to enemy fire. By attracting the attention of the enemy, he enabled the men closest to the cliff to reach cover. Organizing these men to guard against possible enemy counterattack, Otani again made his way across the open field, shouting instructions to the stranded men while continuing to draw enemy fire. Reaching the rear of the platoon position, he took partial cover in a shallow ditch and directed covering fire for the men who had begun to move forward. Then one of his men was seriously wounded. Ordering his men to remain under cover, Otani crawled to the wounded soldier who was lying on open ground. Dragging the wounded soldier to a shallow ditch, Otani tried to provide first aid, but was mortally wounded by machinegun fire.

July 31, 1943:  Today in military history 2nd Lt. Gerry Kisters earned the Medal of Honor while serving with the U.S. Army’s 2nd Armored Division near Gagliano, Sicily. Kisters and his team advanced ahead of the leading elements of U.S. troops to fill a large crater in the only available vehicle route through Gagliano, was taken under fire by 2 enemy machineguns. Kisters and an officer, in the face of intense small arms fire, advanced on the nearest machinegun emplacement and captured the gun and its crew of 4. Although the greater part of the remaining small arms fire was now directed on the captured machinegun position, Kisters voluntarily advanced alone toward the second gun emplacement. While creeping forward, he was struck five times by enemy bullets, receiving wounds in both legs and his right arm. Despite the wounds, he continued to advance on the enemy, and captured the second machinegun after killing three of its crew and forcing the fourth member to flee.

August 1, 1941: As the United States marched toward war in 1940, the U.S. military issued a challenge to U.S. automakers: It needed a vehicle that could do just about anything, on any terrain, and the Army needed it ASAP and to spec. Willy’s Truck Company was the first to deliver a general-purpose vehicle (GP, pronounced “Jeep”) and that’s what happened today in military history, and the rest is history.

August 15, 2007: Operation Marne Husky was launched today in military history targeting insurgents in the Tigris River Valley. The operation involved a series of seven air assaults by soldiers from the 25th Infantry Division and pilots from the 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division. Eighty insurgents were captured and 43 were killed.

August 31, 1950: The Korean Augmentation to the United States Army (KATUSA) program is created today in military history when Gen. Douglas MacArthur ordered the 8th Army to increase the strength of each American company and battery with 100 Korean recruits. The KATUSAs would serve as part of American units.

September 1, 1977: Today in military history, Bobby C. Wilks became the first African American in the U.S. Coast Guard to reach the rank of captain. He was also the first African American Coast Guard aviator. He later became the first African American to command a Coast Guard air station. He accumulated more than 6,000 flight hours in 18 aircraft.

September 15, 1950: The Korean War is usually not remembered for having a D-Day-like landing, but it did. The Inchon landing by Joint Task Force 7 was a 230-ship task force and it was the largest naval armada since World War II. The 1st Marine Division made the initial amphibious assault at Inchon today in military history.

September 30, 1949: Today in military history, after 15 months and more than 250,000 flights, the Berlin Airlift ends. In 1948, the Soviet Union blocked all ground travel into West Berlin in an attempt to force the United States and its allies to accept Soviet demands concerning Germany. The people of West Berlin were left without food, clothing, or medical supplies. In June 1948, the Berlin Airlift began with U.S. pilots and planes. More than two million tons of supplies were airlifted during that 15-month period. The last plane landed in Berlin carrying two tons of coal.

October 1, 1961: The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) is formed today in military history becoming the country’s first centralized military espionage organization. It is a member of the U.S. Intelligence Community. DIA informs national civilian and defense policymakers about the military intentions and capabilities of foreign governments and non-state actors, while also providing department-level intelligence assistance and coordination to individual military service intelligence components and the warfighter.

October 15, 1974: The National Guard mobilized to restore order in Boston. In June 1974, the courts found the Boston School Committee guilty of willful segregation and called for forced busing of African-American students to predominantly white schools. The forced integration in Hyde Park, Charlestown, and South Boston caused mass marches and racial tension and violence.

October 31, 1956: Today in military history, Rear Admiral G.J. Dufek became the first person to land an airplane at the South Pole along with other Navy personnel in their R4D Skytrain. The crew landed on the ice at the South Pole and included Dufek, Capt. Douglas Cordiner, Capt. William Hawkes, Lt. Cdr. Conrad Shinn, Lt. John Swadener, AD2 J. P. Strider and AD2 William Cumbie. They are considered the first men to stand on the South Pole since Captain Robert F. Scott in 1912.

November 1, 1952: The United States exploded the first hydrogen bomb today in military history in the Marshall Islands. It was the world’s first thermonuclear weapon. This new type of weapon was approximately 1,000 times more powerful than conventional nuclear devices.

November 15, 1864: Union General William T. Sherman began his march across Georgia today in military history. Along the way, Sherman set ablaze key industrial locales of the confederacy. For six weeks, Sherman’s army destroyed everything in its path until he reached the port of Savannah.

November 30, 2005: Operation Iron Hammer begins today in military history. The operation is a joint U.S.-Iraqi campaign against Iraqi insurgents. The operation, also called Operation Matraqa Hadidia by the Iraqis, was conducted east of Hīt, Iraq.

December 1, 1950: Today in military history U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. William G. Windrich earns the Medal of Honor for actions near Yudam-ni, Korea. Windrich, organized men in his unit to repel a sudden attack and armed with a carbine, spearheaded an assault immediately confronting the enemy forces. Under hostile automatic-weapons, mortar, and grenade fire, he directed effective fire to hold back the attackers and cover the withdrawal of his troops. Wounded along with seven of his men, he made his way to his company’s position and organized a small group and returned with them to evacuate the wounded and dying refusing medical attention for himself. He immediately redeployed the remainder of his troops before the enemy again attacked again. Wounded in the leg during the bitter fight that followed, he bravely fought on with his men, shouting words of encouragement and directing their fire until the attack was repelled. He refused evacuation although unable to stand and continued to direct his platoon in establishing defensive positions until weakened by the bitter cold, excessive loss of blood, and severe pain, he lapsed into unconsciousness and died.

December 15, 1944: Today in military history Army Air Force Band leader Capt. Glenn Miller boarded a C-64 in England for a flight to France where he was to make arrangements for a Christmas broadcast. The plane never reached France and no trace of it or its occupants was ever found. Miller was a famous professional musician who volunteered for military service in 1942. Miller performed morale concerts for the troops. There has always been speculation that the aircraft went down in the English Channel.

December 31, 1995: Today in military history the first U.S. tanks crossed a pontoon bridge over the Sava River from Croatia to Bosnia to start the deployment of 20,000 U.S. troops under the Implementation Force under NATO command.

History of Women in the Military

Women have been serving in the military in a variety of roles since before the nation’s inception. During the American Revolutionary War, many women served as spies and smugglers, and they also fought disguised as men. Primarily though, they filled roles more traditional for that period as cooks and nurses. Those roles continued for women well into the 18th and 19th centuries.

During the Civil War, thousands of women served as nurses on both the Union and Confederate sides. Like the war of independence, several hundred women served disguised as men in the Civil War. Before the war’s end, Mary Edwards Walker received the Medal of Honor. She is the only woman to have earned the award. While the history of women in the military had a slow start, the journey women would travel would get them to where they rightfully belong.

In 1901, the U.S. Army formed the Nurse Corps to help manage epidemics that had struck U.S. forces during the Spanish-American War. The nurses would go on to serve all over the world, tending to troops who were deployed. While they were not formally commissioned officers, they were a part of the U.S. Army.

During World War I, nearly 25,000 women served overseas not just as nurses but also as secretaries, telephone operators and administrative specialists. While several decades had passed since women first started serving in the U.S. military, the history of women in the military was on the brink of a major change. In World War I more than 400 women were killed in action and Navy Lena Sutcliffe Higbee received the Navy Cross.

In World War II the Women’s Army Corps was created and more than 1,000 women Air Force Service Pilots (WASPs) were trained to fly American military aircraft. In all, 140,000 women served in the U.S. Women’s Army Corps, as part of a total of more than 400,000 that served in all services. But while some saw service as pilots, women continued to be limited to service in logistical and communications fields, in addition to nursing where more than 60,000 served worldwide as nurses. The history of women in the military took a big leap forward with the WASPs and Nurse Corps, but it still had a long way to go. By the end of World War II, women had been taken as prisoners of war and some had been killed in action.

Due to the exceptional service of women in the military during World War II, the Women’s Armed Service Integration Act was signed into law by President Harry S. Truman in 1948 and it is a major milestone in the history of women in the military. The bill created a permanent presence of women in the military. Not long after, war broke out again and American women found themselves once again in harm’s way in the Korean War where thousands of them served. It is estimated that during the Korean War, more than 25,000 Women Army Corps and 5,000 nurses served in the U.S. Army.

In March 1962, the first women started to serve in Vietnam in clerical and administrative roles, as well as nurses. By war’s end, more than 800 women had served in various roles in Vietnam and more than 9,000 served as nurses in various medical assignments in country. In 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson removed promotion and retirement restrictions on female officers in the armed forces. Two years later, President Richard M. Nixon selected two women for promotion to brigadier general: Col. Anna Mae Hays, chief of the Army Nurse Corps, and Col. Elizabeth P. Hoisington, director of the Women’s Army Corps. These promotions were done June 11, 1970 and they are a significant event in the history of women in the military. Within two years, the Army would open all military occupational specialties to women except those that might require combat training or duty. That same year, the ban on women commanding units that included men was lifted. During Vietnam, eight women were killed in action and U.S. Navy Cmdr. Elizabeth Barrett would become the first woman to command a unit in a combat zone.

Women entered the Reserve Officers Training Program (ROTC) beginning in 1969. In 1975, the Army chief of staff approved the consolidation of basic training for men and women. By 1977, combined basic training for men and women became policy, and men and women began integrating in the same basic training units on Fort McClellan, Alabama and Fort Jackson, South Carolina, in September. Similarly, the first gender-integrated class began with the Military Police One-Station-Unit Training at Fort McClellan on July 8, 1977.

Between 1975 and 1979, many rules and regulations concerning women changed and by October 1979, all enlistment qualifications became the same for men and women. In 1975, President Gerald Ford signed legislation allowing women to be admitted to all service academies beginning in 1976. In 1978, female sailors and Marines are allowed to serve on non-combat Navy ships. In 1980, the first women cadets graduated from the service academies marking an incredible moment in the history of women in the military.

In 1983 when U.S. forces invaded the tiny island nation of Grenada, several women were deployed, but then returned to the United States when combat exclusion policies were misinterpreted. Eventually, several women served in Operation Urgent Fury and that initial participation allowed the U.S. military to examine the role of women in modern combat.

Several years later in 1989, U.S. Army military police Capt. Linda Bray became the first female to command men in battle during Operation Just Cause. Several hundred women participated in the mission to capture Manuel Noriega. Then in 1990, Operation Desert Shield would mobilize more than 40,000 American women to the Persian Gulf region. Two would be taken as prisoners of war. Between 1991 and 1993, women would be authorized to fly combat missions and serve on ships in combat. In 1998, Navy Capt. Kathleen McGrath becomes the first woman to command a Navy warship and a new phase in the history of women in the military was ushered in.

Women would go on to serve in Somalia, Haiti, Kosovo and other regions between 1992 and 1999 with expanded roles, but the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 marked a pivotal changing point for military women. As the mission changed on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, so did the roles of women in its ranks. With the war on terrorism there was a rapid expansion of jobs and change in roles for military women. In 2003, three female soldiers were taken as prisoners of war at the onset of Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2004, Col. Linda McTague becomes the first woman to command an Air Force fighter squadron. In June 2005, Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester was awarded the Silver Star for her actions during a firefight outside Baghdad. It was the first Silver Star in U.S. military history awarded to a female for direct combat action. In 2008, Gen. Ann Dunwoody becomes the first woman in U.S. military history to achieve the four-star general rank.

In 2013, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, at the urging of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, lifted the ban on women in direct ground combat roles. Just two years later, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter directed the full integration of women in the armed forces following a 30-day review period required by Congress, which was completed April 7.

In January 2016, all military occupations and positions opened to women, without exception. For the first time in U.S. military history, as long as they qualified and met specific standards, women were able to contribute to the Department of Defense mission with no barriers in their way.

Since then, women have joined the Rangers, Special Forces, infantry and other units that were once closed to men. The history of women in the military moving forward will be written by all those who broke barriers.

What is the most elite military unit in the U.S.?

As if interservice rivalries were not enough, within the special operations community there is jockeying for the top spot. Who is toughest? Who is more capable? What training is the hardest to complete? While special operators generally have professional respect for each other, like anything, opinions vary about what is the most elite military unit in the US?

Here’s USAMM’s list of elite military units that might help you decide what is the most elite military unit in the US?

MARINE CORPS RAIDERS
U.S. Marine Corps Raiders, formed in 1942, provide customized military combat-skills training and advisement support for foreign forces. Marines and Sailors of the Marine Raider Regiment train, advise, and assist friendly military forces, enabling them to support their nation’s security and stability. They work in small teams to eliminate targets. They deploy scalable, expeditionary forces worldwide to accomplish special operations missions. Marine Raiders execute complex operations in uncertain environments, achieving silent success and strategic impact.

MARINE CORPS FORCE RECON
The Marine Corps also has Force Recon units, a direct-action unit and their primary responsibility is to collect information in enemy territory by providing intelligence for operations on the battlefield. As part of this force, the Marine Sniper can provide effective harassing fire from a distance and they’re capable of tracking the enemy. But don’t be fooled, these Marines conduct raids on high-valued targets and can take out the bad guys. Force Recon was formed in 1954.

ARMY SPECIAL FORCES
Known as the “Quiet Professionals,” U.S. Army Special Forces or Green Berets make a strong argument to answer the question what is the most elite military unit in the US? Formed in 1952 at Fort Bragg, N.C. by U.S. Army Col. Aaron Bank, Green Berets have their roots in World War II when Bank worked in the Office of Strategic Services organizing, training and equipping the French resistance. After WWII, Bank saw a need to organize a mobile, adaptable fighting force that could help foreign nations friendly to the United States. Special Forces was born.

Training to become an “SF” soldier is done in six phases and takes at least a year to complete. Special Forces Soldiers are trained to perform several missions in a small-team structure. They perform counterinsurgency missions often deployed to prevent terrorist and insurgent incidents abroad. They respond to terrorist activities and train other nations’ militaries in the basics of fighting insurgents. They also perform unconventional warfare activities conducted to enable resistance movements or insurgencies to coerce, disrupt, or overthrow a government or occupying power by operating through or with an underground, auxiliary, and guerrilla force in a denied area. SF types conduct direct action missions to seize, capture, recover or destroy enemy material, or recover personnel. One of their better-known missions is foreign internal defense where they train and equip foreign allied military forces. They have also been known to conduct surveillance in hostile, denied, or diplomatically or politically sensitive environments. Lastly, on security force assistance missions, SF soldiers are called upon to train and develop the defense capabilities of friendly and developing nations. But are the Green Berets the answer to what is the most elite military unit in the US?

ARMY RANGERS
The U.S. Army Rangers might argue differently. Rangers are the Army’s elite light infantry, supporting other special operations forces or conducting direct action raids themselves (think Somalia 1990s). It takes about two months to complete Ranger school’s three phases: Benning phase, Mountain phase and Florida phase. The Rangers got their start long before the start of the Revolutionary War. In the mid-1700s, Capt. Benjamin Church and Maj. Robert Rogers formed Ranger units to fight during the King Phillips War and in the French and Indian War. Rogers wrote 19 standing order that are still in use today. Rangers can be spotted by their tan berets.

AIR FORCE PARARESCUE
Pararescuemen, also known as PJs, live by their motto, That Others May Live. A lot of other organizations use this motto, but it is unique to the PJs who got their start in 1946 and saw an uptick in missions in Vietnam where they made their name. PJs are primarily charged with rescuing downed pilots, but they provide advanced life saving medical attention in a variety of missions. It takes approximately two years for an airman to become a fully trained PJ and while many are trained in SCUBA, HALO/HAHO and other special skills, most state that their medical training is the most challenging part of their training.

AIR FORCE COMBAT CONTROLLERS
Combat controllers are FAA-certified air traffic controllers who manage air traffic in remote and hostile environments. They are inserted behind enemy lines and they help with target acquisition on the ground and they provide crucial air support to ground forces. Naturally, they are trained in everything from military freefall parachuting to combat SCUBA diving, as well as SERE, forward air controlling, and other special tactics.

Combat controllers work with all special operations forces like Army Rangers, Navy SEALs, Delta, etc. They specialize in calling in air strikes, setting up a landing site and attacking and converting an enemy airfield into a U.S. airfield. At that point, they work as air traffic controllers.

AIR FORCE TACTICAL AIR CONTROL PARTIES
Tactical air control parties, or TACP (pronounced “tack p”), manage close air support (think A-10) and artillery often behind enemy lines. TACPs usually are assigned or attached to Army units. They are a part of the unit they are assigned to support and they call in air strikes in support those units. They are on the ground, fighting alongside of their Army brethren, only they are performing duties as a forward air controller.

AIR FORCE SPECIAL RECONNAISSANCE
The most unique Air Force special operators are the folks who wear the grey beret. They definitely could be who comes to mind when someone asks what is the most elite military unit in the US? But again, it depends who you ask. SR types used to be known as special operations weather team airmen, but in 2019 the Air Force announced they would have a new name and mission and now they are known as special reconnaissance airmen and their focus has shifted from specialized weather analysis to multi-domain reconnaissance and surveillance. SR airmen deploy from airborne, maritime, or land-based platforms deep behind enemy lines to collect and exploit key information, develop targets, and tilt the battlespace to favor U.S. forces. SR airmen surveil and prepare the battlespace to provide global access, air, space, and cyberspace superiority.

NAVY SEALS
The missions of the Navy SEALs (sea, air, land) includes direct action warfare, special reconnaissance, counterterrorism and foreign internal defense. Established in 1962, SEALs are a nimble maritime force designed for unconventional warfare. They conduct insertions and extractions on air, sea or land to accomplish covert, special operations/warfare missions around the world. They capture or kill high value enemy personnel (they’re the guys that put a cap in Bin Laden). They collect information and intelligence through special recon. They perform small unit direct actions against military targets. They conduct underwater recon or demolition of manmade and natural obstacles prior to amphibious landings. SEALs are inserted by parachute, submarine, helicopter, high-speed boat, foot patrol or combat swimming. According to the Navy, it takes about 30 months to become a fully trained SEAL. Do SEALs answer the question, what is the most elite military unit in the US?

ARMY DELTA FORCE
Delta Force is not just a Chuck Norris action movie. It is a very real U.S. military special operations unit and likely the military’s worst-kept secret although you can be standing next to a Delta operator and never know. Known as the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta SFOD-D, commonly referred to as Delta Force, Combat Applications Group, the unit, Army Compartmented Element, or Task Force Green, depending who you are, Delta is an elite Army special operations force under the control of Joint Special Operations Command. The unit performs counterterrorism missions, hostage rescues, direct action missions, and special recon. Delta is a Tier 1 unit usually tasked with the most complex, classified and dangerous missions. Most Delta operators are chosen from Army Special Forces and Army Rangers, but some hail from other special ops units. Delta was formed in 1977 by Col. Charles Beckwith. Although most Delta operators will never be publicly recognized, Master Sgt. Gary Gordon and Sgt. 1st Class Randy Shughart both earned the Medal of Honor posthumously for their actions in the Battle of Mogadishu in 1993.

The term “operator” when referring to American special ops personnel comes directly from the Army’s Special Forces. In 1952, ten years before the SEALs were established and 25 years before Delta was founded, SF was using the term “operator.” All qualified Special Forces personnel had to agree to the Code of the Special Forces Operator and sign the pledge. In 2006, the Navy added Special Warfare Operator as a rating and these days most people in special operations are known as operators.

What is the most elite military unit in the US? You be the judge, but in our opinion, all of these folks are bad asses.

U.S. Army Medals History

The first medal ever created for the U.S. military was the Badge for Military Merit in 1782. It was created by Gen. George Washington and it was awarded for “any singularly meritorious action.” It was the first award in U.S. Army medals history.

The Badge of Military Merit was awarded to three soldiers during the Revolutionary War: Daniel Bissell, Jr., Elijah Churchill, and William Brown. After the Revolutionary War the decoration was largely forgotten.

In 1927, Gen. Charles P. Summerall, then the U.S. Army chief of staff, tried to revive the Badge of Military Merit, but he was unsuccessful. However, in 1931, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, reinvigorated the issue and on Feb. 22, 1932, Washington’s 200th birthday, the U.S. War Department announced the creation of the “Order of the Purple Heart.”

The new Purple Heart displayed a bust of Washington and it is considered the oldest American military decoration for military merit. It is awarded to members of the U.S. armed forces who have been killed or wounded in action against an enemy.

There are numerous awards and decorations that can be presented to members of the U.S. Army. While it is rare, members of sister services can recognize soldiers and present awards from other branches of service. It is not uncommon, especially for soldiers who work closely with other services, for an Army soldier to receive an award from the Air Force, Navy or another branch of service or to receive a joint award, like the Joint Service Commendation Medal.

In addition to that, allied nations may present foreign awards and decorations to U.S. Army personnel who served with them. This is also a part of U.S. Army medals history. During Operation Desert Storm, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait both issued their country’s version of the Kuwait Liberation Medal to U.S. military personnel who defended those nations against Iraq. Similarly, the Republics of Vietnam and South Korea also presented service awards (Vietnam Campaign Medal and Republic of Korea War Service Medal) to U.S military personnel. In addition, alliances, like NATO and the United Nations, also have awards for those who have served on their missions, like the NATO Medal and the UN Medal, both which can also be included in the U.S. Army medals history.

While the majority of U.S. Army personnel will earn awards like the Army Commendation and Army Achievement Medal, or the Meritorious Service Medal, the most revered decorations are the top three decorations for gallantry because they can only be earned on the battlefield. These medals are presented for valor against an enemy and they are legendary in U.S. Army medals history.

The nation’s top award for valor is the Medal of Honor and it is about 50 percent larger than the other medals. It was created in 1861. The first action to merit the award took place in in February 1861 during the Apache Wars when Assistant Army surgeon Bernard John Dowling Irwin rescued 60 soldiers and in May of that year, in Alexandria, Virginia, Army Pvt. Frances Edwin Brownell, performed the first action of the Civil War to merit the Medal of Honor, when he killed an innkeeper who had shot his commanding officer.

It's important to note that the Medal of Honor was not approved by the U.S. Congress and President Abraham Lincoln until December 1861. Initially it was approved as a Navy award, but seven months later it was opened to the U.S. Army and became part of the U.S. Army medals history.

In April 1862, union raiders commandeered a locomotive in Georgia and drove it north toward Tennessee cutting telegraph lines and damaging the rail line. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton awarded some of the raiders the Medal of Honor which is why Pvt. Jacob Wilson Parrott is sometimes considered the first to receive the decoration.

Since then, more than 3,500 Medals of Honor have been awarded. It is often referred to as the Congressional Medal of Honor because it is the only decoration approved by the U.S. Congress. It is presented by the President of the United States, in the name of Congress, to U.S. military members who distinguish themselves through conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in action against and enemy of the United States.

The Army Medal of Honor’s ribbon is light blue with 13 embroidered stars for the 13 original states. The reverse of the medal is blank, but the words, “The Congress To,” appear on the back of the “Valor” bar, and the recipient's name is filled in below. The bail has an eagle, a symbol of the United States, clutching shafts of arrows and while perched on a bar bearing the word “Valor.” Green laurel surrounds the oak clusters, representing strength, are in the points of the star. The laurel clusters, for victory, form an open wreath. The words “United States of America” surround a profile of the helmeted Goddess of War with an owl on her helmet representing wisdom. There are three versions of the Medal of Honor (one for the Army, one for the Air Force, and one for the Navy, the Marine Corps, and the Coast Guard). The Medal of Honor is the only Civil War era medal to be presented in the modern age.

The Distinguished Service Cross is the Army’s second highest military decoration that can be awarded to a member of the U.S. Army. It is awarded for extraordinary heroism: While engaged in action against an enemy of the United States; while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force; or while serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party, according to U.S. Army medals history.

The award, created in 1918, is not easy to earn. Actions that merit the Distinguished Service Cross must be of such a high degree that they are above those required for all other U.S. combat decorations but do not merit award of the Medal of Honor. The Distinguished Service Cross is equivalent to the Navy Cross (Navy and Marine Corps, and Coast Guard when operating under the authority of the Department of the Navy) and the Air Force Cross.

The Silver Star, also created in 1918, is the third-highest military combat decoration that can be awarded to a member of the U.S. Army. It is awarded for gallantry in action: While engaged in action against an enemy of the United States; while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force; or while serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party.

Actions that merit the Silver Star must be of such a high degree that they are above those required for all other U.S. combat decorations but do not merit award of the Medal of Honor or the Distinguished Service Cross. 

Why Do People Join The Army?

There is a high probability that somewhere, right now, a soldier is performing some type of Army duty and wondering why they joined the Army? Maybe they are trying to keep dry and warm in the elements, or maybe they are sitting in some pre-deployment briefing facing their third or fourth deployment asking themselves the same question. How they came to find themselves in an Army uniform is always a great topic of conversation.

Certainly, civilians ask the question, why do people join the Army? By civilian standards the pay can be, to some, notoriously low and the duty can be arduous, demanding long hours and commitment. Then there are the on-going wars that add tension to the issue. Many civilians make assumptions about why do people join the Army?

Ask any soldier why do people join the Army and the answers will vary, even within the same occupational specialty because soldiers are different. Their answers will vary because soldiers are a cross section of society and like Americans, they are unique. Sure, they wear the same uniforms, but what drew them to that uniform varies from soldier to soldier. While the differences are many, most young men and women are drawn to the uniform primarily for two reasons, institutional or occupational reasons.

Why do people join the Army? Patriotism used to be an overwhelming response by many soldiers, but more and more these days the Army is finding many of its soldiers serve for reasons other than love of country. In the aftermath of 9/11, there was a massive surge of patriotic Americans who stepped forward to serve in the Army. But as the wars have slogged on, less and less responded that they are serving for love of country when they are asked why do people join the Army?

However, studies have shown that non-military Americans believe that service personnel are self-sacrificing and that military personnel are drawn to military service out of a sense of duty or patriotism. Survey respondents, 47 percent to be exact, who are not affiliated with the military believed that troops served either out of patriotism or sense of duty. Interestingly, in that same study, 40 percent of survey respondents who had served in the military cited pay and benefits as their primary reason for joining the Army.

In 2018, a Rand study found that 46 percent of junior enlisted Army personnel said that they joined the Army for occupational opportunities and job stability. Nine percent of those surveyed stated that they joined the Army for institutional reasons, meaning love of country, family and honor. Some soldiers, 37 percent, stated that they joined for both occupational and institutional reasons. Overwhelmingly though, when enlistees were asked why do people join the Army, they answered for pay and job opportunities.

In other words, most people who are enlisting now are in it for the money and less because it is a call to serve. Interestingly, soldiers who cited occupational reasons for enlisting over those who enlisted for ideological reasons tended to stick with military service in the long haul, the study found.

So, whether it is patriotism or pay, serving in the military can be a great step for someone who wants to travel the world. In what other profession could a person immediately out of high school get to live in a foreign country for a few years? Although travel was not one of the primary answers when soldiers were asked why do people join the Army, it has always been a tertiary reason, veterans say.

In addition to pay and patriotism, the benefits are pretty good. Where else can you get 30 days off per year? Healthcare is free and an enlistee doesn’t have to worry about stuff like what to wear to work. There are also other benefits like tuition assistance where soldiers can earn full-time wages while getting a degree parttime. Not to mention, if a soldier stays for 20 years, they earn a pension. Why do people join the Army? Those are some pretty good reasons.

Why You Should Plan a Military Museum Visit

Military museums are without a doubt one of the best places to visit if you’re a military history buff. If you’re a history buff who is a parent to school-age children, the value of visiting a museum is compounded significantly because of the lessons that can be imparted on children.

One of the best things about visiting a military museum is that they offer enormous amounts of information in a multitude of ways. A visitor can read about a particular battle and peruse pictures on a display, but if that same visitor takes a few steps they are then looking at artifacts and items from that battle that they were just reading about. A few more steps might take the visitor to a screen where a video is being played showing actual footage from the battlefield. Add some headsets from a walking tour and it is easy to get immersed into the subject.

A few years ago, the Smithsonian National Museum of American History had an incredible exhibit that covered all wars of the United States. Some of the items on display were George Washington’s sword, scabbard and uniform, the chairs that U.S. Grant and Robert E. Lee sat in to discuss the terms of surrender at the end of the Civil War, sections of the Berlin Wall, and a Huey helicopter that flew in Vietnam, just to name a few.

Displays like the Smithsonian’s bring history to life, even though the items they display are inanimate, the objects displayed were present in some of the nation’s greatest and most historical moments and somehow manage to personify those who owned them or used them. Standing several feet from the uniform of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower makes a visitor feel like they are standing next to the great man who helped win World War II.

But in order to have a great experience, most people do not need to travel far to visit a military museum. Granted Washington, D.C. has many military museums and it is surrounded by Civil War battlegrounds and most have small museums with a wealth of information and artifacts. A visitor can also walk the actual battlefields, like Gettysburg in Pennsylvania, just a short drive from D.C., and get an incredible dose of American Civil War history by walking the battlegrounds. The hills, the trees, and the boulders were all there when blood was shed.

The service branches each have their own military museums. The Army’s is located in Virginia, the Air Force’s is located in Ohio, the Navy’s is in Washington, D.C., the Marines have theirs in Virginia and the Coast Guard and Space Force do not yet have one. Veterans of a specific service can increase their branch’s cultural knowledge by visiting one of these military museums. In addition to these wonderful service-specific national military museums, many states have their own military museums that are incredibly educational and fun to visit.

For example, the Texas Military Forces Museum in Austin, Texas is located at Camp Mabry which is headquarters for the Texas National Guard. The military museum has an incredible assortment of military hardware on display. Outside of the museum, there are rows or trucks, jeeps, tanks, personnel carriers and a variety of vehicles and artillery that are sure to stir fond memories for any veteran.

Inside the museum the items on display take visitors back to 1823 offering a glimpse into military forces in the state of Texas. The military relics date back but include items from more recent wars, like the war against terrorism. There are incredible dioramas to look at and kids and adults alike can don military helmets, flak vests and web gear. There is even an F-16 Fighting Falcon cockpit that is available for visitors to crawl into and explore.

However, one of the best exhibits of the Texas Military Forces Museum is their World War II battle reenactment, Close Assault, where museum historians and community history buffs conduct an assault on a German position. The event includes a lot of gunfire, explosions, World War II armored vehicles and the highlight, an actual, operational Sherman tank from the museum’s inventory that is usually on display. Spoiler alert. The U.S. military wins the battle. After the fight, visitors can interact with the “German” and American reenactment soldiers and ask them questions as they linger around their encampment. The event happens on Memorial Day, Veterans’ Day and at Camp Mabry’s open house normally held in April.

A little more than an hour away from Camp Mabry in Fredericksburg, Texas is the National Museum of the Pacific War which is an incredible museum offering visitors insight into the war in the Pacific theater. They also offer an amazing reenactment of a World War II battle that is entertaining, but extraordinarily educational.

Their historical displays cover the various major engagements of the war in the pacific. There is a submarine inside, part of a life preserver worn by President H.W. Bush when he was shot down in the Pacific Ocean and one of Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s famous corn cob pipes.

Many states have National Guard military museums that are accessible to the public. Many are free and accept donations, while others might charge an admission fee.

Military museums are educational, but they also honor those who made sacrifices for others. Brave men and women who live on through these collections that display their artifacts and tell their stories.

Army Service Ribbon

The Army Service Ribbon, also known as the ASR in the Army’s vernacular, is the most basic Army ribbon a member of the U.S. Army can earn. According to the Federal Register, the Army Service Ribbon was established by the Secretary of the Army in 1981. It is awarded to members of the U.S. Army for completion of initial entry training. That means that enlisted soldiers earn the Army Service Ribbon after completing their MOS (military occupation specialty) course. Officers earn the Army Service Ribbon after completing their basic/orientation or higher-level course. For both officer and enlisted who are assigned an MOS based on civilian or other service acquired skills, the Army Service Ribbon is awarded after four months of honorable service.

The Army Service Ribbon can be awarded retroactively for training that occurred prior to August 1981 provided personnel had an active Army status during the award period. In addition, all members of the Active Army, Army National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve in an active reserve status are eligible for the award. The Army Service Ribbon is awarded only once, even if an individual completes both enlisted and officer training. Lastly, the Army Service Ribbon can be awarded posthumously before training is completed or requisite time in service if the death is ruled in the line of duty.

The Army Service Ribbon is multicolored representing all of the occupational specialties in the U.S. Army. Because of its rainbow-like colors, the ribbon has earned the nickname Army Rainbow Ribbon. But to avoid confusion, don’t refer to the ASR as the Army Rainbow Ribbon in official channels because you might just come across an NCO who doesn’t think that the word rainbows has a place in the U.S. Army. Just remember that unofficially, the Army Service Ribbon is also called the Army Rainbow Ribbon, but you won’t find any pots of gold when you earn it, and remember that Army Rainbow Ribbon is just a nickname used within the ranks.

The Army Service Ribbon ranks above the Army Overseas Service Ribbon and below the Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon in order of precedence on a ribbon rack.

The Army Commendation Medal

According to Army Regulation 600-8-22, the Army Commendation Medal was established by the Secretary of War on December 18, 1945, and amended in Department of the Army General Orders 10, 1960. The Army Commendation Medal is awarded to any servicemember of the armed forces of the United States who, while serving in any capacity with the U.S. Army after 6 December 1941, distinguishes himself or herself by heroism, meritorious achievement, or meritorious service.

Award of the Army Commendation Medal may be made to a member of the armed forces of a friendly foreign nation who, after June 1, 1962, distinguishes himself or herself by an act of heroism, extraordinary achievement, or meritorious service, which has been of mutual benefit to a friendly nation and the United States.

The Army Commendation Medal may be awarded for combat related service or achievement after February 19, 1964. Awards of the Army Commendation Medal may be made for acts of valor performed under circumstances described above which are of lesser degree than required for award of the Bronze Star Medal. These acts may involve aerial flight.

The Army Commendation Medal may be awarded for acts of noncombatant-related heroism which do not meet the requirements for an award of the Soldier’s Medal or for acts of aerial flight which do not meet the requirements for award of the Air Medal.

The Army Commendation Medal cannot be awarded to general officers. Award of the Army Commendation Medal may be made to any individual commended after December 6, 1941 and before January 1, 1946 in a letter, certificate, or order of commendation, as distinguished from letter of appreciation, signed by an officer in the rank or position of major general or higher. Veterans and retirees may submit letter applications to National Personnel Records Center (NPRC), 1 Archives Drive, St. Louis, MO 63138–1002.

Soldiers who retired or were discharged after Oct. 1, 2002 should send their letter application to: Commander, U.S. Army Human Resources Command, Awards and Decorations Branch (AHRC–PDP–A), 1600 Spearhead Division Avenue, Fort Knox, KY 40122–5408. Awards of the Army Commendation Ribbon and of the Commendation Ribbon with Metal Pendant were redesignated by DAGO 1960–10, as awards of the Army Commendation Medal, without amendment of orders previously issued.

An award of the Army Commendation Medal for meritorious service will not normally be made for a period of service of less than 6 months’ duration.

The Army Commendation Medal is a 1 3/8-inch bronze hexagon, with one point up, an American bald eagle with wings displayed horizontally grasping three crossed arrows and bearing on its breast a shield. On the reverse between the words “For Military” and “Merit” there is a panel for the recipient’s name, all above a sprig of laurel. A silk ribbon of green and white stripes comprises the ribbon.

The Army Commendation Medal can have oak leaf clusters, the combat “C” device, the remote “R” device and the “V” device for valor.