The Depot

10 Places to go for Veterans Day This Year


America has plenty of patriotic holidays to celebrate and Veterans Day is one of them. While Veterans Day doesn’t get the same level of attention as say, July Fourth, it is still a great holiday to recognize those who have served and protected American freedom. Military veterans are a part of living history and many have been involved, whether directly or indirectly, with historic American events.

Here’s USAMM’s top 10 places to go for Veterans Day.

1. Places to go for Veterans Day on the East Coast
Washington D.C. is probably the best place to celebrate Veterans Day. For starters, there are military memorials at just about every turn. Head down to the National Mall and there will likely be some commemorative event being held to mark Veterans Day.

The Korean War and Vietnam War Memorials are within walking distance of each other and while these two memorials ordinarily attract large crowds during the Memorial Day weekend, they still have a lot of buzz around them on Veterans Day as veterans who survived those wars gather with friends and family to mark Veterans Day.

About 15 minutes away via leather personnel carrier (those are boots for the uninitiated), is the World War II Memorial which is also a gathering place for those who are celebrating their service, or the service of others during Veterans Day.

You can also witness the laying of a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery which happens every Veterans Day, or celebrate at the U.S. Marine Corps Memorial or the U.S. Navy’s Memorial.

In addition, some of the military branches offer entertaining tattoos which include performances by military bands and drill teams. The point is, there are numerous opportunities to celebrate Veterans Day in Washington D.C. With a little planning, you can make an already memorable day truly special for you or your family and friends.

2. Places to go for Veterans Day on the West Coast
U.S. Navy and Marine Corps veterans will agree, San Diego is definitely a sea branch town. With bases peppered all over San Diego, the Navy and Marine Corps presence is tangible.

If you’re a retiree or you are still serving in one of the components, check the bases for Veterans Day activities. Many installations hold golf tournaments and many are designed to raise money for veterans’ organizations and charities.

There are also plenty of parades, breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, as well as other recognition events to attend. Many times, these events include veterans, like Medal of Honor recipients, who speak to audiences about their service.  If you’re lucky, maybe one of the local bases has a graduating class and you can attend the graduation ceremony.

3. Places to go for Veterans Day in the Midwest
If you’re lucky enough to live in or near Chicago, Illinois, or if you’ve always wanted to visit the city, then make sure you visit the Pritzker Military Museum and Library during Veterans Day. If you’re active duty, call ahead, but the museum sometimes offers free admission to military members. If you go to the museum on Veterans Day, call ahead to verify, but they used to give everyone free admission on Veterans Day.

This is a wonderful museum to spend time in marking Veterans Day. If you can, try to visit the Veterans Day commemorative events at Soldier Field where the NFL’s Chicago Bears play. That event is usually held in the morning, which gives you time to head over to the Pritzker and take in all it has to offer.

4. Places to go for Veterans Day in the Central U.S.
As a Texas company, we’re a little partial to Texas, but the truth is, Texas really loves its veterans and there seem to be Veterans Day events, military museums, historic sites all over the state.

Fort Hood, home of the U.S. Army’s 1st Cavalry Division in Killeen has an amazing military museum as does Camp Mabry in Austin. Drive a little farther into the countryside and you can check out the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas, hometown of Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz. All of these are wonderful museums with amazing artifacts on display. The Texas Military Forces Museum is a great little place to spend the day and the camp is accessible to the public.

5. Places to go for Veterans Day in the Mountain Time Zone
The U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs is a beautiful place to visit and it is open to the public (check with base officials as COVID has limited access). Set in the foothills of the Rockies, the Academy’s famous chapel, visitor center and many static displays make for a great way to celebrate Veterans Day.

Sometimes Air Force plays football the weekend of Veterans Day. These games are a blast and there is a lot of tradition at these games. Tickets are generally reasonable in price and there are a lot of pre-game tailgate activities. During the games, plan on seeing Air Force Falconry cadets cut loose some low flying falcon mascots that buzz the stands and pre-game there is usually a flyover to honor veterans for Veterans Day.

6. Places to go for Veterans Day in your Local Community
Regardless of size, many towns have Veterans Day parades or activities to honor those who have served. For example, the City of Orlando, Florida has a yearly parade that includes members of the reserve, National Guard and some active-duty units that parade in the streets. Men and women in uniform march in formations while others drive military tactical vehicles.

Places in Central Florida, like theme parks, offer special rates for veterans too. In some cases, Defense Department ID card holders can get free admission. Ensure to call ahead first before you make the trip. Conditions change and while something might have been offered a year ago, it might not be offered in the current year.

7. Places to go for Veterans Day if You Know Someone Who Has Served
This is a no brainer. If you know someone who is a veteran, go see them. There are surprising amounts of veterans in many places. Down the street, quietly living on the block, that guy with the Vietnam Veteran sticker on his truck might not mind a neighborly visit.

Someone in your family or a friend who has served who might not be nearby can be called. Forget the text and e-mail. Call them. One of the employees here at USAMM has a high school friend who served in the Army in the 1980s and every Veterans Day he calls him. They catch up on what’s been happening in their lives, but the USAMM employee is able to thank him for his service and reminisce about high school.

If you don’t know anyone who has served, which is possible given only a fraction of Americans serve in the military, check out local organizations which might be sponsoring a meet and greet where you can go and chat with a veteran.

8. Places to go for Veterans Day if You’re Near a Veterans Organization
There are quite literally hundreds of veteran service organizations with varying missions that serve the veteran community. Organizations like the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, American Legion, and others, all have veteran members and many of these organizations have posts that hold Veterans Day events open to the public.

Some of USAMM’s veteran employees belong to local veteran service organizations that hold yearly barbeques that not only provide great food, but are a great way for the organization to raise money for a particular veteran charity. Not to mention, these cookouts or Veterans Day events are a great way to interact with living history as many veterans have seen or been a part of many of the things most of us read about in U.S. history books.

9. Places to go for Veterans Day a Local Military Cemetery
While remembering the fallen who died in service to their country is usually reserved for Memorial Day, Veterans Day is about remembering any veteran who honorably served, living or dead. Military or National Cemeteries are appropriate places to visit on Veterans Day.

Many cemeteries will have a Veterans Day event to mark the occasion, but you can also avoid the crowds and pay your respects quietly away from any ceremony. At the Texas State Cemetery, for example, famous Texan veterans like Navy SEAL Chris Kyle and NFL Coach Tom Landry are buried at the Austin, Texas cemetery.

10. Places to go for Veterans Day to Help the Homeless
Lastly, if you are looking for a way to help veterans on Veterans Day, stop by and talk to a person identifying themselves as a homeless veteran. Ensure you can do this safely.

Veterans account for about 10 percent of homeless Americans and each night approximately 40,000 veterans have no place to live. While there are numerous programs to help, there is always a need.

The key here is to plan ahead. Don’t just drive around looking for homeless people because that can be unsafe. Instead, get involved with a veterans’ service organization that might need volunteers for the day. Many veteran groups have programs that target homeless veterans on Veterans Day, so helping with the assistance of professionals is the recommended way to go.

Wherever you choose to go on Veterans Day, remember that the day was created to honor those men and women who have served in our nation’s military forces. Try to do something that pays it forward.

When Was Veterans Day Established? A Brief History

When was Veterans Day First Established?
Every year since 1918, the United States pauses to reflect and honor its military veterans. November 11 is Veterans Day, an event meant to commemorate the service of all U.S. military veterans of the uniformed services who served or are still serving. It is important to note that the recognition that is bestowed does not require a veteran to have served during time of war. Veterans Day is for all military veterans, whether they served in war or during periods of peace.

Veterans Day, or Armistice Day as it was called back then, has its origins at the end of World War I when at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, the fighting ended with the signing of an armistice bringing a temporary cessation of hostilities between the Allied nations and Germany in World War I. In 1919, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the first Armistice Day, November 11. Wilson's proclamation stated: “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations ...."

When was Veterans Day Established as a Federal Holiday?
In June 1926, the U.S. Congress passed a concurrent resolution: “Whereas the 11th of November 1918, marked the cessation of the most destructive, sanguinary, and far reaching war in human annals and the resumption by the people of the United States of peaceful relations with other nations, which we hope may never again be severed, and, whereas it is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations ….”

The resolution also encouraged the display of the U.S. flag on all government buildings and urged appropriate ceremonies. Years later in 1938, Congress approved an act making November 11 a federal holiday.

When was Veterans Day Established as Veterans Day?
After the end of the Korean War, veterans’ organizations urged the U.S. Congress to change the name of Armistice Day to Veterans Day. In 1954, it was rebranded to honor all service members. President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the legislation on June 1, 1954. From then on, November 11 became a day to honor American veterans.

When was Veterans Day Established as Veteran’s Day or Veterans’ Day?
It wasn’t. Somehow, the incorrect use of apostrophes has made its way into the title over the years mostly done by marketing firms or companies with little grasp of the English language.

It is important to note the correct way to write Veterans Day. Many people incorrectly use “Veterans’ Day” and others use “Veteran’s Day,” but the correct way to write it is “Veterans Day.” That’s how it was signed into law.

Remember, by adding an apostrophe the day belongs to veterans. That’s not the point of Veterans Day. Simply add an “s” to make it plural and that honors all veterans.

When was Veterans Day Established as Armed Forces Day?
It wasn’t. Veterans Day and Armed Forces Day are two different days recognizing two similar groups with one major distinction. Veterans Day honors all men and women who have served in the U.S. military. Armed Forces Day, which occurs in May, honors all men and women who are currently serving.

When was Veterans Day Established to be Observed?
Without fail, and always, Veterans Day is always observed on November 11. It does not matter if the date falls during the week. All national commemorative events occur on November 11. That is not to say that local communities cannot celebrate Veterans Day on other days. For example, if a local community plans a parade and has better attendance on the weekend before Veterans Day, because Veterans Day happens to fall on a weekday, this is permissible, but the national commemorative date, November 11, always remains the same.

When was Veterans Day Established as Memorial Day?
It wasn’t. Veterans Day is not Memorial Day. There are two separate holidays and according to veteran service organizations, the two routinely get confused by those unfamiliar with military service.

Memorial Day honors American service members who died in service to their country. Veterans Day pays tribute to all American veterans who served honorably, whether they are living or dead. Remember, Memorial Day is a day to remember those who died in service to their country. A veteran who served honorably and who has passed away not as a result of their service should be remembered on Veterans Day. However, many people with loved ones who have passed away and served remember them on Memorial Day.

When was Veterans Day Established to be Celebrated in October?
True story. In 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act in an attempt to reward federal employees and give them several three-day weekends by celebrating four national holidays on Mondays. The move was also done to spur some economic growth. Veterans Day was one of those holidays.

Veterans Day was moved and recognized on the fourth Monday in October and the first Veterans Day under the new law was on October 25, 1971. The change wasn’t well received by most Americans, but federal employees liked it.

Then in 1975, President Gerald R. Ford signed a law returning the observation of Veterans Day to its original day because the date carried historical and patriotic significance to many Americans. Veterans Day was returned to November 11 beginning in 1978.

When was Veterans Day Established to Close Offices?
It wasn’t. While the Good Idea Fairy thought it would be great to give federal employees a long weekend, the idea behind Veterans Day is to recognize veterans, not close offices. However, since Veterans Day is an official federal holiday, many companies and some local government agencies take advantage of this and declare a day off and operations cease. Most federal government organizations are closed on Veterans Day if the day falls on a weekday. When Veterans Day, November 11, falls on a weekend, the federal government observes the holiday on the previous Friday or the following Monday.

Remember, state and local governments, including public school districts, do not have a legal obligation to close their doors. Individual states are free to establish their own policies for holiday recognition. The good news is that many local and state governments do have some sort of formal recognition for Veterans Day, and schools tend to have Veterans Day events where veterans are encouraged to come in and talk to students about their military service.

When was Veterans Day Established with Poppies?
It wasn’t. The practice of wearing red poppies to honor America’s war dead is traditionally done on Memorial Day, not Veterans Day. The practice started during World War I after poet John McCrae wrote a poem titled, In Flanders Fields which mentions poppies in the poem.

Pop culture embraced the poem and veterans and the military community in general embraced the red poppy as a symbol of remembrance for war dead. It became widely popular and has clung to the veteran community ever since, but mostly it is used as a symbolic gesture for Memorial Day. While some people use the red poppy on Veterans Day to remember a loved one who has passed, and served, the initial and intended meaning of the red poppy was to remember those lost in war while serving their country.

Many veteran service organizations offer the ability to acquire red poppies, but remember, they are normally intended for Memorial Day. However, nobody will ever challenge a person for recognizing and remembering the service of anyone who has fallen during service to the country. In fact, nobody will ever be challenged for remembering the service of anyone who has ever honorably served the United States.

That is the true meaning of Veterans Day. It is a day to gather and reflect on the honorable service of men and women who raised their hands, took an oath, and served the nation. And while commercialism has grabbed some of the shine from Veterans Day by offering car and furniture sales, for those who have served and their families, it is a special day to recognize military service, and the things veterans did, and the things they witnessed.

Military Promotions: How Do They Work?

While every branch of service has their own military promotions system, at their core, they are all essentially the same. Military promotions usually require a certain amount of time in service, time in grade, basic educational requirements, a physical fitness score, promotion test scores, performance evaluations, and then military occupational skills. In some cases, official photos of the promotion candidate in full uniform with ribbons and badges is also required.

Military promotions are earned through merit, although some might argue otherwise, and as service members climb in the ranks, the competition gets harder, and the promotions get tougher. The service branches also must have a need for the person to be promoted. For this reason, military promotions are significant milestones in the lives of service members.

Military promotions represent a service member’s commitment, mastery of duties and skills, and the service member’s leadership capabilities. Depending on a service member’s occupation and branch, the promotions can be deeply meaningful, especially when service members enter the non-commissioned officer ranks, or the field grade ranks.

The more rank earned, the more responsibility a person is given. Higher rank has always meant increased responsibility and accountability. The requirements and process for moving up the ranks in the military is different than climbing the corporate ladder.

Military Promotions Ceremony
Many service members receive their new rank insignia during a “pinning” ceremony. Family, friends, or close work colleagues usually attend the event and might be asked to participate in the ceremony.

The term “pinning” is used because ranks used to be pinned onto a person’s uniform. The term is still mostly applicable these days, but in some cases, if the person is wearing a combat uniform, the “pinning” will be simply affixing the new rank patch to the uniform.

Pinning the new rank onto a person is considered an honor. It is usually an action reserved for someone significant in the life of the person who is being promoted. It’s not a bad idea, if the person doing the pinning lacks experience in military promotions, to do a practice run beforehand to ensure the pins enter the uniform smoothly and that it is placed properly.

After the ceremony at most military promotions, there are quaint parties or celebrations where unit members gather, congratulate the promoted person, socialize and sometimes gifts are given. Some of these events are often steeped in symbolism and tradition that varies by rank and branch of service.

Military Promotions and Pay Grades
Military titles and ranks vary by service branch. However, pay grades, the amount a service member is paid at a given level and time of service, are standardized and do not change regardless of the branch a person might serve in. The pay grades are E-1 to E-9 for enlisted service members and O-1 to O-10 for commissioned officers. Warrant Officers are W-1 to W-5.

For example, a service member might be a staff sergeant (rank) in the Air Force, which makes them an E-5 (grade). However, an E-5 in the Army is a sergeant, not a staff sergeant. The grade of E-5 is paid uniformly by the U.S. military regardless of rank or title. Both the Army and Air Force E-5 might have different ranks, but their base pay is the same. 

The same applies to commissioned officers. A colonel (O-6 grade) in the Marine Corps, is referred to as a captain in the Navy. In fact, to confuse things more, the Space Force, Air Force, Army and Marine Corps all call individuals in the O-3 grade, captains. The point is, a service member’s rank is specific to their branch of service, a person’s grade refers to their pay level.

It is important to note that certain military occupations are going to receive more money because of the skills they hold. For example, an infantry captain (O-3), will make the same amount of money as an Air Force captain (O-3) who works a desk job in supply. If they have both been in the same amount of time, and hold the same grade, the pay will be the same. However, if the infantry captain is on airborne status and maybe speaks a foreign language that is used in his military job, he will get paid for those skills, so the infantry captain might make a little more money per month.

Similarly, an Air Force captain who is a medical doctor, will be paid much more per month in incentives than that regular captain who works in supply. The service pays certain professions a little more if they have certain skillsets they bring to the table.
Military Promotion Timelines
Military promotions for enlisted personnel in most branches happen quickly. For example, a junior enlisted member entering the service as an E-1 can expect to be promoted within the first year. A service member’s current rank, military occupation, branch of service and other factors impact the military promotions process. After several years, most enlisted service members can expect to reach E-4 within a few years, again, depending on the previously mentioned factors.

Military promotions beyond the E-4 pay grade require more effort to achieve. The number of service members allowed at each rank above E-4 is controlled and limited. Service members cannot promote until there is a vacancy in the next rank. And it’s important to note that promotions usually do not occur immediately. A service member may learn they are promotable, but they might have to wait for the promotion to become official.

As mentioned earlier, each service branch manages their military promotions differently. For example, soldiers in the Army receive duty performance points from their unit commander whenever they demonstrate core qualities of the next rank, including competence, military bearing, and leadership. Each rank has a point score that must be achieved.

The Marine Corps promotes in a similar manner, however, the Corps has much less slots to promote people into because of their smaller size. There are a limited number of vacancies after the E-3 pay grade that Marines compete for. Marines, like the Army, want a good composite score on their service records, which combines factors such as physical fitness test results, time in service, and conduct and duty proficiencies.

Sailors in the Navy also compete for promotions past E-3, using a combination of exam scores and point system. Points can be awarded for time served in specific jobs, awards and completed schooling, among other factors.

Like the Navy, Airmen in the Air Force compete for promotions past E-4 through scores and points. Some exceptional service members may qualify for accelerated promotion to higher enlisted ranks through special programs, like “BTZ” (below the zone) or “STEP” (stripes for exception performers).

Officer Military Promotions
Generally speaking, military promotions for commissioned officers follow a similar process as enlisted servicemembers.

Officers receive performance evaluations from superior officers, and these are reviewed by the promotion boards when officers are assessed for their readiness for a higher rank. Officers are assessed on the time spent in service and in their current rank, as well as their performance and potential (which is mentioned in the evaluations).

If an officer fails to promote more than once, their chances for any future military promotions are significantly diminished. Even so, in 2018, Congress significantly changed the way the military retains officers without promoting them.

Why Do We Celebrate Independence Day? History & Facts

Why Do We Celebrate Independence Day?
Americans know the story about the American Revolution, but for the sake of this blog post, it is worth summarizing. The American Revolution began because of many reasons, but one of the key reasons was because the American colonies were not getting fairly represented in the British parliament. There was taxation, without representation, that is, the American colonies were ruled by parliamentary members who were never voted into office by the colonies. There was virtual representation.

Colonists tried to work with the British government on fair agreements that would give them a greater voice at the table, but actions like the Stamp Act went into effect and frustrated the colonists even more. When colonists protested, sometimes angrily and violently, the British Army responded with forceful reactions and retaliations. It was then that the Founding Fathers, mostly wealthy landowners with a lot of money on the line, realized that the colonies needed to break away from British rule, and a new country needed to be formed.

On July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was signed by members of all 13 American colonies forming the 2nd Continental Congress. Two days prior, on July 2nd, the Congress voted to severe ties with the British. The Declaration was written by a five-man committee consisting of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Roger Sherman, Benjamin Franklin, and Robert Livingston. After some revisions, and drafts, they nailed down the final manuscript. The rest, as they say, is history.

For nearly 250 years, Americans have celebrated their independence. For many of those years, we’ve celebrated the same way with cookouts, fireworks, recreational activities and of course, the red, white, and blue. But why do we celebrate Independence Day? What is so special about this day that has caused us to pause, reflect, and celebrate?

Why Do We Celebrate Independence Day? Facts
That question can be answered if we know some more facts surrounding July Fourth. First, did you know that Independence Day wasn’t established as a federal holiday by the U.S. Congress until 1870? The American government moves slowly but taking 90 plus years to recognize the birth of a nation, that’s slow as molasses. In addition, it was not a paid government holiday until 1941, 165 years after the country’s founding. Lastly, the people of Massachusetts didn’t need to be asked “Why do we celebrate Independence Day?” They were the first state to officially recognize the Fourth of July as a holiday.

Why do we celebrate Independence Day by setting off fireworks? That tradition started in Philadelphia one year after the Declaration of Independence was signed. Apparently, the fireworks show was called a “rocket show,” and it included the firing of 13 cannons to honor each of the 13 colonies. It seems celebrations back in those days were similar to the jubilation we experience today. The events have simply stuck to the American psyche. Fireworks are the norm and have been ever since.

But to answer the question, why do we celebrate Independence Day, we can find the answer in the writings of John Adams, one of the Declaration of Independence’s co-authors.

He wrote to his wife that the fledgling nation’s newly announced independence “will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival.” Adams added that the festivities would include “pomp and parade, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of the continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”

He was right. We have parades, we have games (think hot dog eating contest), we sometimes shoot guns, and we definitely have some bonfires. For nearly 250 years, Americans every year make it a point to stop and celebrate their independence. Now, what no researcher or historian can prove is why Americans have chosen to celebrate with fireworks or why the birthdate is still so important more than 200 years later.

It’s also important to note that for many, the Fourth of July is just a day off from work. The holiday means enjoying extra time with family and friends and having some fun. But for others it is truly a patriotic event where freedom is celebrated.

Why do we celebrate Independence Day with sales events and certain events? Well, there is no doubt that in our democratic market economy there is a way for commercialism to creep into our political milestones. Some companies have President’s Day sales, and Memorial Day sales, so it is logical that we have sales events on the Fourth of July. It comes with the territory, and it is a way for businesses to gain attention during a nationwide event like the Fourth of July. It is a way for businesses to recognize the nation’s milestones and become an active participant in the jubilation.

If you ask a veteran, why do we celebrate Independence Day they would likely answer with a deliberate and meaningful answer. Sure, there might be some veterans that respond that the Fourth of July is celebrated to drink beer and barbecue, but most of them will respond that the Fourth of July is celebrated to rededicate ourselves to freedom and the pursuit of happiness.

And that, is never a bad thing. Freedom is the greatest gift on any birthday.

Army Officer Ranks & Insignia: The Complete Guide

U.S. Army photo

U.S. Army officer ranks can be confusing for those who are unfamiliar with the branch. There are essentially three different groups of people who serve in the U.S. Army uniform, in addition to Army civilians.

The first and most prominent group are enlisted service members. These are U.S. Army soldiers who enlist into the U.S. Army. In other words, they tell the Army that they will serve for a certain period of time and they sign a contract which stipulates not only how long they will serve, but in what military occupation.

This is the most common type of soldier and they are considered the backbone of the Army. Their ranks range from private (E-1) to sergeant major (E-9).

The next group of personnel are called warrant officers. Warrant officer grades run the range from W-1 to W-5. Warrant officers are officers that are higher ranking than the top of the senior enlisted ranks, or higher than sergeants major. However, they are below the officer grade of O-1, or second lieutenant.

Warrant officers are highly skilled, single-track specialty officers, and who are appointed by warrant by the secretary of the Army. They are adaptive technical experts, combat leaders, trainers, and advisors. Through progressive levels of expertise in assignments, training, and education, the warrant officer administers, manages, maintains, operates and integrates systems and equipment across the full spectrum of operations, according to the U.S Army.

Warrant Officer One is the base-level rank, and primarily supports their team through battalion-level operations.

For chief warrant officer ranks (W-2 to W-5), warrant officers are commissioned by the president of the United States and take the same oath as regular commissioned officers (O-1 to O-10, or second lieutenants through general).

Warrant officers can and do command detachments, units, activities, vessels, aircraft, and armored vehicles as well as lead, coach, train, and counsel subordinates. However, the warrant officer’s primary task as a leader is to serve as a technical expert, providing valuable skills, guidance, and expertise to commanders and organizations in their particular field.

Technically, warrant officers are to be addressed as “Mr. (last name)” or “Ms. (last name).” However, many enlisted personnel do not use those terms, but instead say “Sir,” “Ma’am,” or most commonly, “Chief” and “Warrant.”

Photo by Sgt. Jonathan C. Thibault

One of the more popular ranks in the U.S. Army aviation branch is that of chief warrant officers.

The commissioned Army officer ranks are the highest in the U.S. military and in the U.S. Army. These officers hold presidential commissions and are confirmed at their ranks by the U.S. Senate.

Army officers in the paygrades of 0-1 to O-3, that is, second lieutenants to captains, are called company grade officers. Officers in the paygrades of O-4 to O-6, or in the ranks of major through colonel, are field grade officers. Lastly, Army officers in the paygrades O-7 to O-10, that is, from brigadier general to general of the Army, are considered general officers.

Below is a list of all the Army officer ranks of the U.S. Army. The list starts at the top and works its way down the Army officer ranks. Their paygrades are in parenthesis.

General of the Army
This is only used in time of war where the commanding officer must be equal or of higher rank than those commanding armies from other nations. The last officers to hold this rank served during and immediately after World War II.

U.S. Army photo by Michele Wiencek

General (O-10)
Addressed as general, this army officer rank is represented by four stars and they are introduced as “general.” This most senior level of commissioned officer typically has more than 30 years of experience and service. Commands all operations that fall within their geographical area. The chief of staff of the Army is a four-star general.

Lieutenant General (O-9)
Addressed as general, but introduced as “lieutenant general.” These general officers typically command corps-sized units of 20,000-45,000 soldiers. Their army officer ranks are represented by three stars.

Photo by Maj. Patrick Connelly

Major General (O-8)
Addressed as general, but introduced as “major general.” These general officers typically command division-sized units of 10,000-15,000 soldiers. Their army officer ranks are represented by two stars.

Brigadier General (O-7)
Addressed as general, but introduced as “brigadier general.” These general officers typically serve as deputy commanders to the commanding general for Army divisions. They assist in overseeing the staff's planning and coordination of a mission. Their army officer ranks are represented by a single star.

U.S. Army photo by Jessica Dambruch

Colonel (O-6)
Addressed as colonel. Typically, a colonel commands brigade-sized units of 3,000-5,000 soldiers, with a command sergeant major as principal NCO assistant. They are also found as the chief of divisional-level staff agencies. Their army officer ranks are represented by an eagle.

Lieutenant Colonel (O-5)
Addressed as lieutenant colonel or colonel. Typically commands battalion-sized units (300-1,000 soldiers), with a CSM as principal NCO assistant. May be selected for brigade and task force executive officer. Their army officer ranks are represented by a silver oak leaf.

Major (O-4)
Addressed as major. Serves as primary staff officer for brigade and task force command regarding personnel, logistical and operational missions. Their army officer ranks are represented by a gold oak leaf.

Captain (O-3)
Addressed as captain. Commands and controls company-sized units of 60 to 190 soldiers, together with a principal NCO assistant. Instructs skills at service schools and Army combat training centers and is often a staff officer at the battalion level. Their army officer ranks are represented by two silver bars side by side.

First Lieutenant (O-2)
Addressed as lieutenant. A seasoned lieutenant with 18-24 months of service. Leads more specialized weapons platoons and indirect fire computation centers. As a senior lieutenant, they often are selected to be the executive officer of a company-sized unit of 110-140 personnel. Their army officer ranks are represented by a silver bar.

Second Lieutenant (O-1)
Addressed as lieutenant. These officers typically are the entry-level rank for most commissioned officers. They lead platoons consisting of the platoon sergeant and two or more squads or about 16-44 soldiers. Their army officer ranks are represented by a gold bar.

Additionally, there is also a unique group of commissioned officers in the Army officer ranks. They are prior enlisted officers. They are identified using the paygrades O1-E through O-3E to denote the fact that they receive special pay for being prior enlisted personnel. They are addressed as noted above in the Army officer ranks of second lieutenant through captain.

Military Camping Gear You Don't Want to Leave Behind


Enjoying the great outdoors is one of the best things about being an American. There are so many city, county, state and national parks to explore and each of them has different amenities to offer campers.

For veterans and current military members, a lot of old military gear makes great military camping gear. The camping conditions (location, weather, season) and the campground (backcountry, primitive, walk in, drive in), can help a camper decide what military camping gear to pack.

The veteran employees of USAMM put their heads together and created this list of must have items to include in any list of military camping gear.

This military camping gear item is a must no matter what type of camping trip is tackled. Camping trips to a drive-in campground allows the camper the opportunity to get a “taj-ma-tent” that can sleep about eight people. Obviously, a tent of this size isn’t needed for a couple, but a family should consider a large tent to make sleeping easier. The bigger the tent, the more room for creature comforts like cots.

Smaller four-, two- or one-person tents will also do the job. Remember, hiking to a remote location can be tiring, so packing a lightweight, portable tent is critical when considering assembling military camping gear.

The local post MWR recreational office is also a good source to rent military camping gear that is in good shape. MWR rates are more than reasonable and the best part is that once done using them, just return it. No need to store it and most of all, no need to buy it.

Sleeping Bag
What kind of sleeping bag to purchase is dependent on the type of camping being done. Campers in the southern U.S. don’t need thermal sleeping bags or blankets with temperature ratings of -25 degrees. Similarly, campers who unload an SUV and camp right next to their vehicle, might not need the $500 ultralightweight sleeping bag that weighs 12 ounces and can protect campers in frigid temps.

The key is to determine what kind of camping is planned routinely, and then purchase military camping gear accordingly that will help campers sleep comfortably at night.

Campers who are car camping, or driving up to their site and unloading, should seriously consider investing in a sleeping cot or air mattress. Avoiding the back pain is worth the little extra money and these items are also a must on the military camping gear list. Just remember, if you opt for an air mattress, bring an air pump. Some camping gear companies make pumps that can be plugged into a car’s power supply to make deployment of those mattresses easier.

For those venturing out into the backcountry, consider a lightweight sleeping mat. Available on today’s military camping gear market are self-inflating mattresses that can be inflated by the camper.

Backpack/Storage Bin
A backpack is unnecessary if camping in a drive-up campsite. A storage bin with a top will help keep clothes and personal affects dry and clean. Storage bins can hold everything from clothing to cooking supplies and miscellaneous camping gear. However, campers who are hiking several miles to get to their campground will need a backpack. Remember to get something that will carry everything you need for the duration of the camping trip. A small overnight pack might be affordable, but it is no good on a backcountry camping trip that is four days long.

Backpacks are one of the most overlooked pieces of military camping gear because most people do not do backcountry camping, so when packs are purchased, they do not have internal frames and proper weight distribution systems, which can lead to back pain and discomfort. Research any military camping gear planned for purchase.

Folding chairs and stools are required on any military camping gear list, regardless of campground site. For backcountry camping, there are small, collapsible/folding stools that can be easily tucked away with any military camping gear.

Lightweight, but durable folding chairs are great for drive-in camp sites and most of them have carrying cases with straps, so they are portable and can be moved around the camp site.

Cooking Kits
Not sure what it is, but everything tastes better when camping (especially bacon). A storage bin that includes a camp stove, cooking and eating utensils, a mess kit, coffeemaker, and pots and pans is a necessary part of any military camping gear and it will help campers cook up some great bacon and eggs, breakfast tacos or even pancakes and sausage.

For backcountry campers, the only military camping gear they need is a mess kit which can be a small kit used to heat water for dehydrated foods and quick energy meals like oatmeal.

Back in the day, a pocketknife was used for everything. One blade got the job done. Whittling? The pocketknife took care of it? Tightening a random screw? The knife’s blade could be used for flathead and Phillips head screws. But as camping has evolved, so has the pocket arsenal available to campers.

All military camping gear lists require a multi-tool or knife. These pocket wonders come with saws, can and bottle openers, multiple blades, and even pliers. There is no problem that will arise that won’t be able to get tackled with multi-tools around. Military camping gear is incomplete without them.

Regardless of the type of camping being done, nocturnal illumination is necessary. Backcountry campers will find headlamps or small flashlights perfect for their military camping gear lists, while drive-in campers would likely prefer propane or 12-volt powered lanterns. Campers looking to avoid light pollution can use chem lights in their military camping gear lists.

Miscellaneous Stuff
Anyone who has spent time in the field in the U.S. armed forces knows that two military camping gear items that must be packed are paracord/rope and duct tape. Paracord has a variety of uses in the field, and in camping it can be used to create a clothes line or to better secure a tent in windy conditions.

Duct tape can temporarily patch a tent and hastily hold things together. It is pretty much a general-purpose military camping gear tool.

Waterproof matches or lighters are great for starting fires. Military camping gear like this is important to have because fires can not only keep campers warm, but it can keep insects and animals away and also help cook meals.

Hammocks are also useful military camping gear. They can not only be used as a primary sleeping device, but they can be used just to relax in the shade. If going camping in the backcountry beware. Hammocks require trees in order to work and bringing one is good but only if there are trees to tie them to.

Some avid outdoorsperson might argue otherwise, but having a phone loaded with helpful outdoor apps is a great way for technology to intersect with the outdoors.

There are tons of apps that can provide GPS mapping and also enhance trail trekking and hiking. There are maps that can be used to help stargaze, tie knots, start fires, tell ghost stories and even geocache.

Technology shouldn’t really be a part of a military camping gear list, but if it enhances the outdoor experience, why not?

It’s important to remember that a military camping gear list is really whatever the individual camper wants it to be. A lot of obsolete military gear makes great military camping gear. The key is finding what is needed at the right price.

There are ample online sources and local shops to help prepare campers for the great outdoors. With a little planning and organization, anytime of year and provide great opportunities to see the outdoor spaces of the United States.

One last word of advice, test runs are a great way to test equipment before heading out into the wilderness. Backyard camping is a low-risk test platform that can not only allow a camper to test equipment for functionality, but it can help a camper determine if the item they’ve purchased will actually be of use to them.

And MWR on many military installations will rent affordable camping gear to anyone who is a defense department identification card holder.

Marine Corps Ball: 10 Etiquette Do's & Don'ts

Marine Corps Ball History
The Marine Corps Ball is an event Marines and their loved ones look forward to every year. Since 1921, the Corps has celebrated their birthday and honored the legacy of the U.S. Marine Corps at the Marine Corps Ball. November 10 is the official birthday of the Marine Corps and the date is marked with the celebration of the Marine Corps Ball.

Prior to 1921, the birthday was celebrated on another day, but it was Gen. John A. Lejeune who issued Marine Corps Order No. 47, Series 1921. In the order Lejeune summarized the history, mission, and tradition of the Marine Corps. It further directed that the order be read to all Marines each year on 10 November to honor the founding of the Marine Corps. 

Marines follow orders and not long after LeJeune’s order was issued, commands began to recognize and celebrate the birthday. In 1923 the Marine Barracks in Pennsylvania held a dance. Washington Navy Yard Marines arranged a mock battle on the parade ground and in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the Marine baseball team played the Cuban team and won.

What to Expect at the Marine Corps Ball
Individuals who are new to the Marine Corps or Marine Corps culture should try to learn as much as they can about the Marine Corps Ball before the Marine Corps Ball. Don’t worry, there won’t be a test, but it helps to understand what is happening at the ball while it is happening.

The Marine Corps Ball is split into two parts. The first part of the Marine Corps Ball is the official ceremonial part. This is the part of the Marine Corps Ball where the official parties enter, the cake is cut, speeches are made, orders are read and the attendees learn about the legacy that is being celebrated. This part of the Marine Corps Ball last about an hour or so.

The second part of the Marine Corps Balls is the non-ceremonial part. This is when Marines and attendees get to eat, drink, dance and socialize. Some say that this is the “fun” part of the Marine Corps Ball, but the first part is so packed with history and tradition that it is hard to argue that the first part isn’t equally as appealing as the second.

Marine Corps Ball Do’s
Get Ready!
Not sure why this is, but it always seems like the Marine Corps Ball is a 1,000-meter target; something far away and not a threat. Then suddenly the Marine Corps Ball is just days away and a lack of preparedness sends people into a tailspin.

There are roughly 200,000 Marines in the active-duty force and in the reserve. Each year around the same time they all try to get their uniforms ready for the Marine Corps Ball so it is like a flock of locusts hitting a field of crops when it comes to uniform supplies. Clothing sales might be wiped out and lack what is needed to complete a uniform and other retailers might need ample time to assemble your order and ship it to you.

Do plan ahead and prepare for the Marine Corps Ball well in advance. This will not just save money and time it can help avoid stress and tension and not take the fun out of a really great event. Identify what ribbons or medals are needed for uniforms early on and buy locally or get it done professionally online with enough time so it can be produced and shipped with plenty of time.

Knowledge is Power
Marines will be instructed on uniform requirements for the Marine Corps Ball, but those who are guests of Marines might need help in preparing to attend the Marine Corps Ball.

Do offer your guest/date as much information as possible (like sharing this article) about the event. Help connect them with other men or women attending as guests who might have experience with what to wear and what to expect. Guests who know what to expect and prepare accordingly will be more comfortable and enjoy the event more.

Arrive on Time
Punctuality is paramount in the military and in the Marine Corps it is an expectation. Make arrangements to get to the Marine Corps Ball on time and take into account things like unexpected traffic and accidents. Some Marines choose to stay at hotels hosting the Marine Corps Ball to make arrival and departure easier, but a lot of money doesn’t need to be spent in order to make it to Marine Corps Ball on time.

Do be punctual.

Dress Accordingly
The Marine Corps Ball is a formal event. That means that women should be wearing full length gowns. Gown slits should be conservative. This isn’t an event for cocktail dresses and gown colors should complement the Marine’s uniform.

Men who are attending the Marine Corps Ball must wear tuxedos or a suit and tie. This isn’t a good place for business casual; collared shirt with a blazer, no tie. Save that for the tech company. This is a formal event.

Do wear formal attire to the Marine Corps Ball.

Show Respect
The Marine Corps Ball is all about recognizing and respecting the Marine Corps history, traditions and legacy. As previously mentioned, the first hour or so of the ball is dedicated to the ceremonial part of the ball. A guest of honor will likely speak and everyone is expected to pay attention and stay seated during the ceremonial portion of the ball.

At the table, be social and polite and avoid sitting there texting or posting on social media. There will be a time and place for that. Show respect for those at the table by interacting with them and become a part of the ball rather than focusing on capturing moments to share on social media.

Do show proper respect during the ceremonial part of the Marine Corps Ball and also show proper respect to other ball attendees. Use polite language like "please" and "thank you."

Marine Corps Ball Don’ts
After dinner and dessert, the dancing begins. Everyone loves to dance and when combined with a little liquid courage, things can get interesting quickly. Remember to keep the dancing clean.

Twerking, grinding, dry humping, butt-slapping and everything in between can be a lot of fun, but fun can still happen without it. Be respectful of the fact that unit leaders will be attending as well as a guest of honor. There might even be kids there.

This is a formal event and not some bonfire keg party or spring break trip to the coast. There is no need to learn ballroom dancing, and guests can dance to modern music, but keep it clean.

Don’t dance in ways that will raise eyebrows.

Alcohol is served at most Marine Corps Balls because guests are expected to behave like adults. That means drinking socially and responsibly and knowing when to stop drinking. That does not mean drinking to the point of intoxication; staggering with slurred speech.

If there is a toast, that does not mean chugging the contents of a glass until it is empty. It also does not mean sitting up at the bar doing shots. Drawing attention by drinking too much can be a bad thing.

Don’t drink too much.

Simply put, dump the tech toys. While it is important to capture some images from the Marine Corps Ball, it is even more important to experience it. There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking a few pics at the event with your friends, date, leaders and guest of honor, but texting and posting on social media should be avoided. Posting, sharing, texting can always be done after the ball or the next day. It is better to live the experience than document it.

Don’t spend the majority of the time at the Marine Corps Ball facedown into a phone screen.

It is important to want to be a part of this event. Some people do not like formal events and they are uncomfortable attending them. Maybe they are socially awkward or simply do not like the formality of it all, but this event happens only once per year and it is important to show respect for the Corps and fellow Marines.

Attend the entire Marine Corps Ball and once the greenlight is given signaling to attendees that they can leave, then it is appropriate to say “goodnight” and depart. Avoid sneaking out. A few hours socializing is worth it.

Don’t leave until given a greenlight, which is normally once the dancing is underway. Ensure you announce your departure and make the rounds.

Discredit to the Corps
It is important to remember that the Marine Corps Ball is an event that honors the traditions and legacy of the Marine Corps. Marines are the stewards of the Corps reputation and brand.

Posting and circulating inappropriate pics or videos online via social media, or performing behavior that does not align with Marine Corps standards and values harms the Corps.

Don’t discredit the Corps.

The Marine Corps Ball is a wonderful event that occurs each year and that rededicates Marines to the Corps, but also embraces Marine Corps family members, friends and guests and shows them a glimpse of the loyalty and honor known to Marines.

Be proud to be a Marine. Be proud to have earned the title. Be proud of sharing this special event with those in attendance.

When Is The Marine Corps Ball? 9 Facts You Should Know

Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Dominiqu

On November 10, 1775, the Second Continental Congress ordered the creation of two battalions of Marines. Samuel Nicholas was commissioned as a captain of the nascent force of Continental Marines and at the Tun Tavern in Philadelphia, Nicholas mustered two battalions of Marines and thus began the U.S. Marine Corps.

In 1921, the 13th Commandant, General John A. Lejeune, issued Marine Corps Order No. 47, Series 1921. General Lejeune's order summarized the history, mission, and tradition of the Corps. It further directed that the order be read to all Marines each year on 10 November to honor the founding of the Marine Corps.

Soon after, Marine commands began to not only honor the birthday, but celebrate it. In 1923 the Marine Barracks at Ft. Mifflin, Pennsylvania staged a formal dance. The Marines at the Washington Navy Yard arranged a mock battle on the parade ground. At Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the Marine baseball team played a Cuban team and won with a score of 9 to 8, but this was only the beginning.

The founding of the Marine Corps has been celebrated with a birthday ball every year since 1925. The first formal birthday ball took place in Philadelphia in 1925. Guests included the commandant, the secretary of war (known today as the secretary of defense), and a host of statesmen and elected officials.  Prior to the ball, Gen. Lejeune unveiled a memorial plaque at Tun Tavern, the birthplace of the Marine Corps. Then the entourage headed for the Benjamin Franklin Hotel for an evening of celebration.

Over the years the annual Birthday Ball grew, taking on a life of its own. In 1952, Commandant Gen. Lemuel C. Shepherd Jr. formalized the cake-cutting ceremony and other traditional observances. Current Marine Corps policy mandates that the first piece of cake must be presented to the oldest U.S. Marine present and passed to the youngest Marine representing the passing of tradition from generation to generation. The birthday cake is traditionally cut with the Mameluke sword. The first piece of cake is given to the guest of honor.

Traditionally, the second piece is given to the oldest Marine, then handing the third piece to the youngest Marine signifying the passing of experience and knowledge from the old to the young of the Corps. Among the many such mandates is the reading of the commandant’s birthday message to the Corps. Like the U.S. Marine Corps itself, the annual birthday ball has evolved from modest origins to the dignified function it is today. On 10 November, regardless of where Marines are stationed or deployed, they will always hear “Happy Birthday Marine.”


When is the Marine Corps Ball?
November 10 is the official Marine Corps birthday, and the Marine Corps ball is ordinarily held on that day. However, circumstances vary, and given that Marines are all over the world, celebration dates might vary.

When is the Marine Corps Ball Celebrated by Units?
When in doubt, a Marine’s chain of command is the best source to answer this question. Marine Corps units effectively spread the word about the Marine Corps Ball, so it should be known well in advance that the ball is coming.

FACT: Most Marines are given plenty of notice by their units to get themselves ready and presentable for the ball. Remember, if a ribbon or medal refresh is in order, order well enough in advance to ensure they arrive on time. Notifying your date or spouse of the event in advance will also help them find something to wear in plenty of time. The more lead time, the better.

Photo by USMC Cpl. Gabrielle Quire

When is the Marine Corps Ball for the Marine Corps Reserve?
U.S. Marine Corps Forces Reserve units are similar to other Marine units except they are comprised of part-time Marines. Given many of the members have civilian job requirements and Marine Forces Reserve training requirements, Marine Corps Balls for the Marine Forces Reserve are held at the discretion of the unit.

FACT: This is a formal event, so guests/dates/spouses must wear formal, full length dresses for women, and tuxedos or suits for men. Marine Corps affiliated organizations recommend less cleavage and lower dress slits. Dresses should not be cocktail dresses. Men should wear suits or tuxedos. In both cases, the color and the outfit should complement the Marine’s uniform. Remember to keep it comfortable.

U.S. Embassy Guyana photo

When is the Marine Corps Ball if Stationed at a U.S. Embassy?
There are nine Marine Corps Embassy Security Regions around the world and believe it or not, the Marine Corps celebrates birthdays with a birthday ball at those remote locations. Ordinarily, the ambassador is the president of the ball, and the guest of honor is a dignitary from the host nation. The celebrations aren’t large, but they are still fun and meaningful.

FACT: Traditions are an important part of Marine Corps culture. It is important to adhere to those traditions and guests, newcomers or veterans to the Corps, must be respectful of tradition. The ceremony, which lasts about an hour, is the highlight of the evening. A cake will be cut, speeches will be delivered, and then there will be a reading of Gen. John A. Lejeune’s birthday message, and the birthday message from the current commandant. Nobody should standup during this time or leave their table for bathroom breaks.

Photo by Staff Sgt. Donald Holbert

When is the Marine Corps Ball if in training?
Marines in training will still celebrate, or at least pause to recognize, the Marine Corps birthday. Much is dependent on what training course the Marines are attending, but at the very least, a happy birthday greeting will be rendered.

FACT: The Marine Corps Ball is a social event, but don’t make it about social media. In many cases, there will be assigned seating which will require attendees to possibly speak to strangers or people they do not know. It’s okay to have another attendee take a photo but sitting at a table with a craned neck glued to a screen isn’t a good look. Be social, interact with other guests and take in the event. 

Photo by D. Myles Cullen

When is the Marine Corps Ball if I’m deployed?
As mentioned, most Marine Corps units do something to recognize the birthday. At Camp Fallujah in 2004, during combat operations, Marines were seen and heard singing Happy Birthday in the showers. Later, they congregated for a austerely baked cake and did a ceremony as best they could with what they had on hand.

FACT: While alcoholic beverages are a part of most birthday balls (unless restricted due to general order restrictions overseas), there is no need or requirement to drink. If a Marine and their date imbibe, keep it within reason. Understand that the point of the ball is to recognize and honor the traditions of the Corps. Getting drunk is not a good optic.

U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Ryan Young

When is the Marine Corps Ball if A Marine is Afloat?
Much like the circumstances faced when a Marine is deployed, being afloat might cause a modification in the celebration. This is a great time to be Semper Gumby. Remember, if on a ship, Marines are doing the work they’ve always done. Any celebration will be meaningful.

FACT: Conversations over dinner should not include topics like politics, religion, controversial issues, or any shop talk. This is a great opportunity to ask questions about those at the table. Where they are from? How long have they been associated with the Corps? Ask questions about their families, etc.
When is the Marine Corps Ball if Home on Leave?
Marines home on leave can celebrate the Corps’ birthday on their own, or find a local unit and see if they can attend that birthday celebration.

FACT: Toasts are a part of military balls. If a Marine or the Marine’s date are not alcoholic beverage drinkers, they should not refuse the toast. Not toasting is poor taste. Marines and their guests should use beverages suitable to their values and raise those glasses for the toast. For those who do drink alcohol, take small sips when responding to toasts. Do not chug or drink the entire glass. This is in poor taste.

When is the Marine Corps Ball for Marine Veterans?
Everyone knows, there are no such things as former Marines. Once a Marine, always a Marine. That said, Marine veterans if interested in attending a Marine birthday ball should reach out to local Marine units and inquire about attendance. If there are no local units or if Marine units restrict attendance to only unit members, then Marine veterans can explore veteran organizations nearby which likely will have an event recognizing the birthday.

FACT: The Nation until recently has been at war for more than 20 years. Without a doubt, the birthday ball will honor fallen Marines. Being ready for this emotional part of the night is important. Remember that this is a birthday celebration of Marines, past and present.

Marines know when the Marine Corps birthday ball is, so when they are heard asking “When is the Marine Corps Ball?” it is more an acknowledgment that they know it is approaching, that they need to prepare, and that they are ready to recognize the birth of their beloved Corps. Semper Fi.

24 Navy Ships the U.S. Navy Wants to Decommission

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class James R. Evans

The Navy wants to decommission 24 Navy ships in 2023. The move could save up to $3.6 billion over the next five years.

On the chopping block for fiscal year 2023 and slated for decommissioning are nine Freedom-class Littoral Combat Ships (LCS), five Ticonderoga-class cruisers, two Los Angeles-class submarines, four Landing Dock Ships, two Henry J. Kaiser-class oilers and two expeditionary transfer docks. The Navy said by decommissioning the ships, it will free the service branch of extensive costly repairs and maintenance to the Navy ships that are being removed from service.

A large part of this move is the scrapping of LCS Navy ships which have been plagued with problems and program costs overruns since inception. LCS Navy ships were supposed to be a multi-role vessel, capable of carrying out a variety of surface missions.

The LCS Navy ships were supposed to be a small surface vessel that could operate in coastal environments. But reports came to light that the ship couldn’t survive hostile fire and it did not pass the Navy’s shock trials in testing.

When the LCS Navy ships deployed, they had engineering issues, equipment failures, and system outages. To date, only one of the three planned LCS Navy ships missions, surface warfare, has come to fruition. The mine countermeasures mission is in partial use in the Pacific.

The final of the three missions expected of the LCS Navy ships was the anti-submarine warfare missions, but because the not-yet-built future Constellation-class frigates will perform anti-submarine warfare, it made the decision to drop the LCS class of Navy ships that much easier for Navy officials even though the first Constellation-class frigates won’t be delivered until 2026, and the new Navy ships won’t be fully operational until 2030.

U.S. Navy graphic

U.S. Navy officials said that the 2023 budget request met the priorities of the National Defense Strategy, as well as the Navy secretary’s strategic objectives, and chief of naval operations readiness, modernization, and capacity requirements.

A few years ago, the U.S. Navy announced that it needed 355 manned Navy ships by 2050 to fulfill its global missions. That’s an increase of 47 ships from the current 308 in the fleet.

There are only nine Navy ships planned for future construction and 298 battle-force Navy ships in service today. The nine Navy ships will cost around $25 billion, a little more than 10 percent of the budget. 

Of the 24 Navy ships slated for decommissioning, 16 Navy ships, that’s more than 66 percent of them, are not near their service lives. Nine of the 16 Navy ships are from the LCS class that has proven to be problematic. Sailors have dubbed the LCS Navy ships, “Little Crappy Ships.”

The cruisers designated for decommissioning include Lake Champlain, Vicksburg, Bunker Hill, Mobile Bay, and San Jacinto. It’s important to note that the Vicksburg just completed a multi-million-dollar modernization rebuild. All LCS Navy ships in the Freedom-class have been marked for retirement.

The LCS Navy ships marked for decommissioning are the USS Fort Worth (LCS-3), USS Milwaukee (LCS-5), USS Detroit (LCS-7), USS Little Rock (LCS-9), USS Sioux City (LCS-11), USS Wichita (LCS-13), USS Billings (LCS-15), USS Indianapolis (LCS 17) and USS St. Louis (LCS-19).

U.S. Navy photo

When the LCS Navy ships were being developed, the Navy contracted with two builders, and each made different hull designs for the LCS class Navy ships.

The Los Angeles-class attack submarines, USS Providence and USS Oklahoma City, are likely candidates to be recycled and their materials repurposed. The dock landing Navy ships will possibly be placed in reserve. Those Navy ships include the Whidbey Island, Germantown, Gunston Hall, Ashland, and the Carter Hall.

The two oilers, the John Lenthal and the Walter S. Diehl Navy ships, like some of the LCS ships, have previously been marked for decommissioning. Congress has a habit of stepping in and preventing Navy ships decommissioning.

It’s important to note that each of the nine Freedom-class Navy ships would cost the Navy $50 million per year and add limited value to the battle-force. The Constellation-class Navy ships will be more rugged, durable and bettered-engineered than the LCS Navy ships.

Whether or not the U.S. Congress will step in and save these ships is to be seen. Ships have been saved from the scrapyard before, fueled by politics. However, Congress, like the Navy, bears a great deal of responsibility in this debacle, especially when it comes to the LCS Navy ships. Congress, after all, was where the funding came from for the LCS program and once the program went south and Navy officials warned of issues with the LCS Navy ships program, Congress moved forward with the program anyway, insisting it not be shut down over the Navy’s recommendations.

For now, if the ships are headed to decommissioning, there are a variety of fates that await. These Navy ships can be placed on “Out of Commission in Reserve,” or OCIR, status. They remain on the Navy’s vessel register for possible future use, stored at one of three Naval Inactive Ship Maintenance Facilities in Washington (state), Hawaii, and Philadelphia. The Ticonderoga-class cruisers and LCS Navy ships on tap for decommissioning are slated for one of these maritime boneyards.  

Others might end their service as targets for other fleet Navy ships to conduct target practice on them in a Sinking Exercise, also known as a SINKEX. It is the ship’s final mission and a way for it to serve the Navy one last time.

The last two Navy ships to be targeted and sunk as of this writing was the USS Vandegrift which was sunk in June 2022 and the USS Rodney M. Davis which sank in July 2022. Both were put down in the Pacific. A SINKEX is a bittersweet moment for sailors and officers who have served aboard these ships, especially for plank owners.

Still image from U.S. Navy video

The submarines are scheduled for recycling, which means they’ll likely be cannibalized, broken down and likely sold for scrap. The two Navy ships that are oilers are likewise earmarked for disassembly and repurposing. 

In the past, the Navy has sold Navy ships that were decommissioned ships to friendly, foreign militaries, but none of the 24 slated for decommissioning are marked for foreign sale. 

Four of the ships on the decommissioning list are dock landing Navy ships that deploy with Amphibious Ready Groups which carry Marine Expeditionary Units (MEU). MEUs conduct training, humanitarian assistance and support missions around the world and Marines have always contended that the number of amphibious capable Navy ships is not enough. Last year, the Navy was forced to decommission the amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard after a 2020 onboard fire.

While the Navy touts the fiscal savings involved in decommissioning these 24 Navy ships, and the Congress points fingers, U.S. taxpayers are left with the tab. The LCS program’s initial budget was $15 billion and that does not include the cost overruns that have led to the development and manufacturing of Navy ships that can do almost nothing.

Navy officials have complained that the ships have horrible histories of reliability and when they are operational, the ships cannot perform the missions that are expected of them. In addition, six of the LCS ships have developed structural cracks that require repair.

Defense industry experts cite that the LCS program’s problems came to fruition because the ship was expected to be a catch all for the Navy. It was expected to perform a wide array of missions because of its modularity.

This is an interesting approach to shipbuilding given that sailors are themselves occupational specialists, and yet somehow the ships they’ve been put on are supposed to do it all.

U.S. Navy Drone Ships: Unmanned Ships of the Future

U.S. Navy photo

Not long ago, an unmanned aerial drone took out the leader and one of the masterminds of the 9/11 attacks as he stood outside on a balcony in Afghanistan. There are hundreds of similar stories where a remotely piloted aircraft has engaged ground targets or provided support in the airspace above a battlefield.

All the military branches fly some type of aerial drone, and some branches have explored unmanned land vehicles to help with battlefield surveillance, recon, weapons delivery and bomb disposal.

The applicability of drones in various combat spaces seems endless, so it is no surprise that US Navy drone ships are actually a thing. In fact, the US Navy’s Chief of Naval Operations’ Navigation Plan 2022 calls for 373 manned ships and 150 unmanned ships for a total of 523 ships by 2045.

The plan is for US Navy drone ships to be a part of a hybrid fleet alongside of manned ships. However, these are unchartered waters for the Navy, and they are decades behind proven drone programs like the Air Force’s unmanned aircraft program.

Nonetheless, US Navy drone ships are being pushed, as the future of maritime forces, albeit carefully. The Navy is singing the praises of uncrewed maritime platforms that could conduct intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (ISR) and strike capability that will keep sailors safe. US Navy drone ships, the Navy believes, will increase lethality, capacity, survivability, operational tempo, deterrence, and operational readiness.

U.S. Navy Photo

The primary US Navy drone ships are the unmanned surface vessels (USVs) and unmanned undersea vessels (UUVs). For fiscal year 2023, the Navy requested $104 million for research and development of the USVs and almost $147 million for large USVs.

The large US Navy drone ships will be larger than a patrol craft and smaller than a frigate. The medium US Navy drone ships can be equipped with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance payloads and electronic warfare systems. The Navy is also requesting $284 million for research and development of UUVs and $60.7 million for support technologies.

Extra-large US Navy drone ships, UUVs, could lay mines, and carry out other types of missions. The Navy currently has the Orca UUV which is the first US Navy drone ship UUV.

In the past, the Navy has utilized smaller unmanned systems, and this will continue, according to the Navy, but US Navy drone ships will not include those smaller robotic systems that are in place and in use now.

Many of those portable systems are deployed from small boats for ISR, countermine operations, or other taskings.

“To execute its strategy, the Navy needs to make significant investments in the development of technologies to enable these uncrewed maritime systems to operate both autonomously (or semi-autonomously) as well as in conjunction with the existing fleet. As a result, the Navy is embarking on a robust effort intended to rapidly develop and field uncrewed maritime system prototypes and overcome technical challenges prior to acquiring these systems in significant numbers,” a Government Accounting Office paper said.

However, building US Navy drone ships isn’t the real problem. Technology that operates these autonomous vessels is unproven and the Navy sees the risk. US Navy drone ships will require massive capacity to manage the amount of data required to operate a ship in the open ocean. Keep in mind, the Navy in recent years has had multiple collisions with manned ships; the natural deduction is that US Navy drone ships will be more at risk of adverse events.

To work through all of the potential issues with US Navy drone ships, the Navy established an Unmanned Task Force to solve operational challenges. Not long thereafter, a separate task force was set up with the Navy’s Fifth Fleet to develop artificial intelligence solutions and to conduct trials with unmanned US Navy drone ships.

Several Navy exercises, like International Maritime Exercise 22, have explored the technology used in US Navy drone ships and the Navy has been testing the sea capability of different vessels like the Sea Hunter, to sail long distances without a crew.

In the near future, US Navy drone ships will likely evolve into minimally manned ships instead of unmanned vessels. Part of the evolving nature of the US Navy drone ships program is that it will take time to refine the technology and there will have to be sailors on board to take corrective actions if something fails.

Unfazed by the work ahead, the Navy sees the possibility of deploying US Navy drone ships with strike groups and amphibious elements by the late 2020s. How many US Navy drone ships American naval forces will need to fight America’s wars on the seas is to be determined.  

For now, US Navy drone ships are experimenting with sensors and electronic payloads. And US Navy drone ships like the Sea Hunter are working with the USS Anchorage at the moment.

In order for US Navy drone ships to become the large, mission enhancing power projection platforms of the future, the Navy needs to continue to build robust smaller vessels to refine the data management and AI on board.

Eventually, the US Navy will send these unmanned systems into battle to perform a variety of dangerous tasks. Because they are unmanned, they will likely have long loitering times.