The Depot

Revisiting the National Guard’s Lineage Part II

I started writing this series because I had a lot of questions about the founding date of the National Guard. As I mentioned in part one of this series, when I was a public affairs officer with the Florida National Guard I learned that two states, Florida and Massachusetts, both made conflicting claims as the first militias in North America, Florida claiming lineage to the Spanish militias in 1565, and Massachusetts claiming lineage to British militias in 1636. The National Guard Bureau (NGB) and the U.S. Army Center of Military History align with Massachusetts as “The Nation’s First.”

In part one, I mentioned that the Florida and Massachusetts National Guards were claiming that they were the first European militias with lineage to either the Spanish or British militias. This is an important distinction because both Florida and Massachusetts recognize that their current military units spawned from militia units in 1565 or 1636. The two states, the only two National Guard entities to assert definitive “first” status, cannot and do not claim lineage to other groups because there is no historical evidence linking those other cultures to the military heritage of Florida and Massachusetts.

Therefore, while I am aware that the indigenous people of North America were here thousands of years before any Europeans and they were likely the first militias in North America, a point agreed upon by one of the NGB historians, the militias of Florida and Massachusetts cannot be linked to the Native tribes. There is no historical evidence to support that position.

Similarly, I understand that the Norse came here long before the Spanish, French, English, Dutch, and others, making them the first Europeans to reach North America. They too likely had militias to protect their group, but like the Native Americans, there is no evidence linking the Norse to either the Florida or Massachusetts National Guards, therefore, the Norse are also excluded from this series.  

Central in this discussion is how the U.S. military, particularly the U.S. Army, determines lineage and honors for military units. According to the U.S. Army’s Center of Military History, a Lineage and Honors Certificate, like those for the U.S. Army’s original units, is a document that serves a legal function as the “birth certificate” of the unit, its “service record,” and its “deed” to organizational properties and historical records. These documents are concise statements of organizational history of units and they denote dates of constitution (being placed on the rolls of the Army), activations and inactivations, and changes in unit designation.

“In September 1565, the Spanish established St. Augustine, the oldest permanent European settlement on the North American continent,” author Michael D. Doubler wrote in his book, I am the Guard. As part of the organization of St. Augustine, the Spanish created a militia known as a “milicia.” The origins of militia can be argued depending on which historian you talk to, but some believe that the militias used in the European model introduced in North America, date back to the Greeks and Romans.

“Commemoration of the birth of the militia in St. Augustine stems from the research by National Park Service Historians Albert Manucy and Luis Arana who worked at the Castillo de San Marcos in the 1960s during St. Augustine’s Quadricentennial Celebrations,” Command Historian Alison Simpson of the Florida National Guard said via e-mail. According to Simpson, Manucy in 1965 published a significant work on Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, the founder of St. Augustine, and later historian Dr. Eugene Lyon produced the seminal work on Menéndez and the establishment of St. Augustine in his book, The Enterprise of Florida, published in 1976.

The research material from these projects is housed in the Historic St. Augustine Research Institute at Flagler College and includes material, Simpson said, that shows that upon the founding of St. Augustine in September 1565, in addition to 500 professional troops, there were approximately 100 civilians of whom about half were men who qualified for service in the militia.

“These men, farmers, craftsmen and laborers, are considered the original members of St. Augustine’s 1565 militia,” Simpson said.

Doubler’s research confirms that the Spanish militias were the first in North America (excluding native tribes and the Norse as previously stated). He based this assertion on the fact that he found evidence considered the earliest documented proof of a militia in North America, a Spanish militia muster roster from St. Augustine which contains the names of 43 “citizen-soldiers” on it. However, the document is dated 1578. The dates are subject to further scrutiny, but the Spanish musters happened.

In his book, Florida’s Army, historian Robert Hawk wrote that the Florida National Guard was “the oldest militia tradition in America” and that for 250 years, Spanish had been the official language of the military in Florida.

Five historians—two of them U.S. government historians, spread out over several decades, from the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and then the 1990s and 2000—all stated based on their research, including first-time reviews of historical Spanish documentation, that Florida had the oldest militia in America. While the dates of the first muster in Florida can be argued, credit for the first muster of a European militia goes to Spain and therefore, one would think, the Florida National Guard. However, that position is one that NGB historians do not support.

“The National Guard dates its origins to 13 December 1636 when the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony directed the establishment of three militia units,” Dr. Richard Dennis Harold Clark told me via e-mail. Clark, who is a historian with the National Guard Bureau’s history office said. “These units have continued in uninterrupted service since 1636 as a part of the organized militia and the National Guard.”

The Massachusetts Bay Colony was founded by a group of people who left England seeking religious freedom just like the folks at the Plymouth Colony. In particular, and this will be really important in this discussion at a later time, the pilgrims left Europe because they had grown dissatisfied with the Roman Catholic Church and they wanted to practice Christianity differently than what England was enforcing under some of their compulsory religious laws. In short, the pilgrims, Anglo-Saxons, had problems with the Catholic Church. There was a massive migration of protestants to North America.

Almost 100 years after the Spaniards arrived in North America, the British landed and began to colonize North America. Sporadic uprisings and tensions with some Native American tribes, particularly the Pequots, and the threat posed by other colonizing nations, led to the establishment of a militia.

In 1636, the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony passed legislation organizing a militia. One of the primary missions for the militia was the defensive protection of the colony against the Pequot tribe. The Pequot stood in the way of English colonial expansion and skirmishes broke out over the course of several years, but in 1636, with their newly formed militias, the Massachusetts colonies had a mechanism to deal with the Pequot tribe.

Battles with the Pequot would become known as the Pequot War and by the war’s end in 1638, only a few hundred Pequot survived due to war and disease transmitted by the puritans. The surviving Pequot surrendered, signed a treatise dissolving the tribe and they were distributed by the militias and enslaved to tribes that were allies of the militias. The Pequots were forbidden from occupying lands they previously held and they were almost pushed to extinction. Pequots were shipped to the West Indies as part of the slave trade or forced to become slaves in wealthy New England colonial households. Today, the Pequot number around 2,000 and their native tongue is extinct.

Two of the first officers to lead the newly formed Massachusetts militias were Colonel John Winthrop and Captain John Mason. Winthrop was a wealthy Anglo-Saxon landowner, a lawyer, and he would become the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Mason’s claim to fame is a little more nefarious.

In 1637 near the Mystic River, Mason led a group of around 200 militia soldiers and allied tribe warriors to a Pequot village. Their initial surprise attack was repelled by the Pequot, but under Mason’s orders the militia set fire to the palisades, trapping not only warriors inside, but the elderly, women and children. When Pequot tried to flee using the exits, they were killed. More than 500 were killed in the massacre and another militia captain journaled that maybe five got away with their lives.

After the killings, Mason went on to write: “Let the whole earth be filled with his glory! Thus, the lord was pleased to smite our enemies in the hinder parts, and to give us their land for an inheritance.”

Winthrop, a commander of one of the four original militia units recognized by the National Guard Bureau and the U.S. Army as having lineage honors, kept three slaves from the Pequot War. He believed that the rights of “more advanced” peoples superseded the rights of the Native Americans.

The Massachusetts National Guard refers to itself as “The Nation’s First.” The National Guard Bureau embraces that designation. If the lineage is correct then they are right. The Mystic River massacre would be the first time Anglos would kill unarmed Native American non-combatants, creating a precedence that would be seen over and over again for hundreds of years.

And those Massachusetts militias from the Mystic River massacre, are now, because of lineage and honors bestowed on them by the U.S. Army Center of Military History and the National Guard Bureau, officially a part of the U.S. Army and the National Guard.

Army Plan: Hire 10K in 3 Days

The U.S. Army announced it is hosting National Hiring Days June 30-July 2, 2020, a virtual recruiting event that it hopes will help them recruit 10,000 future soldiers in just three days.

“We’ve not really done this before,” Maj. Gen. Frank Muth said. “This is unprecedented, we have never done something like this in the Army, ever.”

Muth said Brig. Gen. Patrick R. Michaelis came up with the idea to have the entire Army support the recruiting mission. Michaelis offered an analogy that McDonald’s had done something similar a few years ago and hired 50,000 people in one day, increasing their employee pool by seven percent.

“We are asking the Army, especially the Army senior leadership outside of recruiting … every division commander, every corps commander, every senior leader, to be an active recruiter for three days in some way, shape, or form,” Muth said. In addition, the Army’s 10,000 recruiters in 1,400 locations will be working hard to fill the ranks as well.

“These folks these days, the Z Generation, they are not just tech savvy, they are tech innate,” Muth said. “You have to understand where they are operating, where they’re living, and where they’re socializing and it’s all on social media and it’s all on e-sports and e-gaming.”

Muth said the intent of the program is to fill training slots the Army has available for August and September 2020. The Army will try to ship all candidates to basic training in less than 60 days, but Muth said most future soldiers can expect to be shipped to basic training in about six weeks and earn a quick ship bonus if they leave in 30 days.

“If they don’t need a lot of medical consults or waivers, if they signed up on the second of July, we can have them on a bus by the latest, the second of August,” Muth said.

Army recruiting was doing well in December 2019, January and February 2020, months that are usually challenging for them. In mid-March, they were 2,224 contracts ahead of where they were last year at the same time.

“We were on this trajectory that we hadn’t seen in years,” Muth said.  “We were just crushing it,” he added. “We were crushing months that we normally struggle in.”

Then COVID-19 hit and Army recruiting suffered a 50 percent loss in what they normally recruited.

“COVID-19 definitely changed how we had to recruit and we were lucky we were ready to adjust to it because we had already been on social media and the digital platforms for almost a year and a half at that point,” Muth said.

For those concerned about the Army’s methods to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 during training, Muth explained that candidates are asked to self-quarantine for 15 days prior to their departure to basic training. When candidates are 72 hours away from leaving, recruiters check on their recruiters daily until they leave, closely monitoring them to ensure they are social distancing and that no symptoms have developed.

On their departure day, recruits are picked up by recruiters who are wearing a mask and recruits are offered a mask if they do not have one. From thereon in, they must wear a mask at all times.

They are medically screened at the military entrance station and then placed in modes of transportation that are at half capacity. All recruits are given orders to comply with social distancing. At their training sites, the recruits are quarantined for 14 days after getting their temperatures taken and undergoing a COVID-19 test. After 14 days if they are symptom free, they can enter the training cycle which includes social distancing practices.

Muth said young people with a high school diploma can gain many soft and hard skills by joining the Army.

“I know there’s a challenge out there for employment, but that’s not the best reason to join,” Muth said. “The best reason is the things we offer.”

The Army has 150 occupations individuals can pursue including 50 healthcare jobs. Once training is complete, soldiers are certified and fully qualified in their jobs. Muth added that after four years a soldier can leave the Army and pursue a degree and get 100 percent state college tuition, in addition to living and book stipends. Soldiers can also pursue their degrees during their enlistments.

“While you’re on active duty you can also get up to $4,000 per year to help pay for your degree,” Muth said.

Muth mentioned that when he talks to civilian employers, they tell him that the Gen Z struggles with attendance, communication, professionalism, teamwork, and leadership.

“We teach all of those soft skills,” Muth said. “The Army teaches that. You can stay for the career, for 20 years, or you can be out in four years and go right to college with all of those skill sets,” Muth said.

Candidates with a college degree may be eligible for a $40,000 bonus and for those with student loan debt, there is payment help, Muth said.

“We pay up to $65,000 in student loan debt if they came in for four years,” Muth said. 

In addition, Muth said, college educated recruits also get additional training and skills that translate and help them develop. On top of all that cash, candidates can also earn money from the GI Bill which they can use to get a graduate degree or they can share all or some of their educational benefits with their spouses or children.

“The Z Generation—compared to some of the millennial generation—they want to serve, they want to be part of something bigger than themselves,” Muth said. “They’re not necessarily out there wanting to make a killing in terms of money, but they just want to be part of something and give back,” he said.

“The message is, join us,” Muth said. “We need a diverse Army that represents all of America.”

For more information visit

https://www.goarmy.com/army-hiring-days.html 

Revisiting the National Guard’s Lineage Part I

There is an old maxim that says history is written by the victors. That is certainly true when we look at American history and in recent weeks the nation has started on a path to introspection. Around the country, Americans are revisiting dark periods of U.S. history. Citizens, municipalities, states, and the federal government are trying to determine what is history and heritage, and what is hate.

Growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, the history I learned canonized and lionized the virtuous and God-like founding fathers. History books made no mention of the many human flaws of our forefathers and they pushed the messages that our founding fathers were great, noble men.

Away from American educational institutions, I discovered historian Howard Zinn a dissenting voice amongst the chorus of pro-European historians and I began to see that the United States was formed for more reasons than what history espoused—patriotism, freedom, and equal rights. I learned that those men who helped construct the country were slave owners.

It is ironic that I can visit the Washington Monument and then drive just outside of Washington, D.C. and explore the slave quarters on George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate. Somehow, we, as a nation, chose to ignore that our most popular general and first president owned human beings as property. Somehow, this information managed to elude the historians who were writing America’s history books for more than 200 years. In those instances when Washington was identified as a slave owner in historical products the mention was perfunctory, passed off as part of the period’s landscape because all wealthy Anglo-Saxon landowners owned slaves. Washington’s subjugation of his fellow man in bondage rarely raised an eyebrow.

Washington wasn’t alone. It is no secret that Thomas Jefferson owned more than 600 slaves, according to Jefferson’s own “roll of negroes” which he meticulously kept on his plantation. For some reason that information was never really pushed in our society and historians, like Zinn, who tried to teach truth were labeled as unpatriotic or unAmerican, accused of trying to rewrite history.

For Jefferson, “all men are created equal” was a legendary public slogan that became his personal brand, but his true beliefs were that all men weren’t created equal. His actions, owning slaves, coupled with his writings in his book, Notes on the State of Virginia, clearly shows a man who did not believe in racial equality. In fact, Jefferson wrote in his book that blacks were inferior to whites and Native Americans. As a statesman, Jefferson made attempts to end slavery all while he profited from the slave owner trade. He was a complicated, often contradicting man.

In 1997, a Harvard historian published a book that led to the DNA testing of an African American family who had long stated that they were part of the Thomas Jefferson family tree. One of those African American descendants of Jefferson told CBS News that when he was young, he would proudly tell his classmates that one of his great grandfathers was Thomas Jefferson. Because he was black, teachers would tell him to sit down and be quiet.

As a nation, we’ve collectively done that. We’ve listened to those who have a voice, those in power, those victors who have written history, but we have muted many who have tried to share their versions of history. When only one voice is recognized and accepted, you have only a partial understanding of history.

Ask Americans from different cultures, races, and socioeconomic statuses what they know about history and they will all give you a different version of history as they know it. If we accept all those varying interpretations of history, or if we at least take the time to reexamine what we think is history, then we start to get a sharper, more focused image of who we are because it is inclusive of all people, and not just some.

In 1998, science proved what one family knew for more than 200 years, that Thomas Jefferson had fathered the six children of a slave he owned named Sally Hemings, their family’s great matriarch. For many, it was hard to accept that Jefferson had a long-term sexual relationship with a slave, starting in her teens, and that he could possibly be a rapist. Studies done by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation and the National Genealogical Society supported the finding. The falsity of Jefferson’s identity stood for more than 200 years, supported by historians.

About 18 years ago, I was a public affairs officer with the Florida National Guard. My job was to tell the story of the Florida National Guard which is headquartered in St. Augustine, the first European city in the Americas and the oldest city in the United States, by those same standards.

I started to research an article about Fort Mose which is in St. Augustine. I was writing a piece for African American history month and I wanted to tell the story about early Florida militias defeating the British in 1740. Leading the Florida militia on that attack was Capt. Francisco Menendez, an African-born officer who fled slavery in 1724 and joined other escaped slaves with the Spaniards. 

What makes Fort Mose significant in American history is that it was the first legally sanctioned free African settlement in what is now the United States. Founded in 1738, the Spanish governor of Florida chartered the settlement of Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose, or Fort Mose for short, as a settlement for those fleeing slavery from the English colonies in the Carolinas. About 100 former slaves found freedom there. Historians claim that the residents pulled from Native American, Spanish, African and English cultural customs over the 25 years the post prospered. In 1994, the site of Fort Mose was designated as a National Historic Landmark and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

As I conducted my research, I noticed an inconsistency. The Florida National Guard claimed it could trace its heritage back to 1565, the year the Spanish founded St. Augustine and organized a militia. The Florida National Guard claims they were the first to muster in 1565 as a European militia in what later became the United States. That conflicted with what I knew to be true because everyone in the National Guard knew that the National Guard was founded in 1636. The National Guard Bureau (NGB), the federal entity that manages the National Guard program, and the Massachusetts National Guard, branded everything with 1636. I knew this to be true because this is what the National Guard said. Naïvely, I didn’t question it. Why would I?

When I determined I had an information conflict, I reached out to multiple people to try to get answers. A colleague at NGB chuckled and then laughingly warned me to leave it alone. He said the two sides took the heritage thing very seriously. He said the “workaround” was to say Florida claimed heritage to the Spanish militia, but that the Massachusetts National Guard had lineage as the nation’s first militia.

I found that comment curious since the National Guard had sponsored a book, I am The Guard: A History of the Army National Guard 1636-2000, where the author claimed that there is a militia roster from St. Augustine dated 1578 that carries the names of forty-three citizen-soldiers. Why then, wouldn’t they recognize the Spanish militia as the first as they do Massachusetts?

On NGB’s website, all of the public facing information about the history of the National Guard excluded a Spanish voice, despite the fact that in Florida it was celebrated, recognized and embraced as part of the Florida National Guard. NGB content positioned the Anglo-Saxon former British militias as the birthplaces of the modern National Guard.

That was 18 years ago and people back then could dismiss legitimate queries as if they were shooing away flies. Today, it isn’t that easy to avoid a reckoning. America’s social climate isn’t asking, it is demanding that institutions conduct some level of introspection. Why are U.S. bases named after confederate officers who took up arms against the nation and how did that happen? Why were certain symbols attached to the nation’s history of slavery allowed on military installations?

As things have unfolded nationally in the wake of George Floyd’s death, I have found myself examining my own experiences as a minority in this nation and I have looked at my own involvement with organizations and institutions in my life. That said, I began to wonder about the National Guard and what I saw 18 years ago. Why did NGB select the Massachusetts National Guard as the “Nation’s First” militia over other militias, including the Florida National Guard? Moreover, what evidence did they have to prove their claim and how was the criteria developed to assert that claim?

Simple questions, right? A few weeks ago I asked NGB for evidence that shows transition from British colonial militia to American militia; I asked for the names of people from NGB who petitioned the Army for the lineage; I asked to see the supportive documentation; I asked to see what the criteria was for determining the lineage.

The responses to my two weeks-worth of queries have been disappointing. My many questions remain unanswered which naturally stirs my suspicions. Why won’t they simply answer my questions? Maybe it is because the answer isn’t so simple.

NGB has passed me to multiple people on their history team. I still have no answers. My interactions with their chief historian have been unproductive and at times were argumentative as he spoke about nuances and danced around the questions I asked. When I pointed out that my questions were not being answered, he became upset and accused me of having an agenda and he referred me back to the NGB public affairs officer.

I’ve interacted with a historian from the U.S. Army Center of Military History (CMH) who recommended I read a list of history books to get answers to my questions. One of his colleagues told me “I’m too busy to argue with you” and asked me to prove my case that the Spanish were the first to muster. I’m not sure that these men understand that questions are not arguments. I explained that I didn’t have a case to prove, I didn’t care who was first, but that I was merely asking them to support their position and he then stated that it wasn’t NGB’s position to defend, that it was the U.S. Army’s position. His response implied NGB had not been responsible for petitioning the U.S. Army for lineage honors for the British militia. This, like the exchanges with the chief historian, only added questions to my list.

The historian who said he wouldn’t argue with me then said something interesting. Rather than provide answers to the questions as I requested, he said: “On my side of this how do you account for the 60 years of military and diplomatic opposition from Florida to the early US republic? How do account for how Florida Militia fought and was driven away by the US Army? How do you account for how this was a Spanish militia and the Spanish Colony sought to divide the United States territories with the Burr conspiracy?”

His colleague had done the same thing. The chief historian had focused on facts that disqualified the Spanish from being considered rather than providing evidence that the British militias were the first. Did the NGB have some type of institutional historical grudge against Spain despite the fact that it was the British that we had to fight in order to win our independence? Even with their place in history as the main obstacle standing in way of the creation of the United States, NGB chose to align our U.S. military history with our primary former enemy. Why is that? If being an enemy did not matter, then why not Spain?

My last interaction with the historians at NGB was when I was told that the chief historian had advised everyone to “disengage” from me.

We are back to where this blog post started. A long time ago someone, or some people, decided to teach kids that Christopher Columbus discovered America. That story was regurgitated for centuries until we as a nation decided that the facts were too many to ignore and while we couldn’t determine how these teachings started, we did conclude that they were not only inaccurate, but dismissive of other cultures in our nation’s history. Slowly that archaic narrative of Columbus is fading.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to examine how the National Guard Bureau asked the U.S. Army Center of Military History in 1956 to award lineage honors to several British colonial militia of Anglo-Saxon heritage, ignoring the Spanish colonial militia history of Florida that included Africans, Native Americans, Spanish and other nationalities.

It’s important to note that in the 1950s, the struggle against racism entered mainstream American life with the landmark Supreme Court case of Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954. In 1956, the same year that NGB petitioned for lineage and honors to recognize the Anglo units, the 84th U.S. Congress introduced The Declaration of Constitutional Principles, also known as the Southern Manifesto, in response to the 1954 Brown ruling and to counter threats to Jim Crow laws.

The objective of this series is not to rewrite history, but instead to get a proud and great American institution to examine its heritage and to ensure that it is accountable for the decisions it has made. If all of the decisions made to support lineage to the Massachusetts units can be supported, then there shouldn’t be any problems. But when things start off as they have, based on the current climate of social injustice, I can’t help but feel that the destination isn’t going to be good.

And this fly won’t be shooed away.

The Army After 245 Years

The U.S. Army celebrates its 245th birthday this Sunday, June 14, 2020. The Army was created more than a year before the Declaration of Independence and its first major task was to fight, and win, an eight-year war for independence from the British. It is the largest and oldest active military force in the United States and it is considered the nation’s first national institution.

At the conclusion of the war in 1783, only two Army companies were kept by the U.S. Congress to “safeguard military arms and stores,” according to U.S. Army historians, but all other soldiers were discharged. In the reorganization, the 1st American Regiment was formed and given the mission of national defense. The U.S. Army, in 1784, consisted of one regiment, eight infantry and two artillery companies, about 700 men.

Today, the U.S. Army is comprised of about 480,000 active duty forces, 336,000 Army National Guard soldiers, and 189,500 Army Reserve soldiers and it is operating in more than 80 nations and at least six continents. At its peak, the U.S. Army had 8,267,958 soldiers in 1945.

Given the racial unrest occurring in our country at the moment, the Army birthday can’t be recognized without acknowledging the important role of African Americans in the U.S. Army and how the U.S. Army brought change to our nation. While the Army’s record of racial integration is far from perfect, and includes evidence of racial injustice, the Army was an instrument of change that helped the nation usher in civil rights laws and demonstrated that societal integration was possible.

During the Revolutionary War, the Continental Army was integrated. Blacks and whites fought alongside of each other. For decades it was believed that the Army did not integrate until the 1950s, but according to the U.S. Army, black soldiers served in every major battle of the Revolutionary War. One exception was America’s first all-black unit, the 1st Rhode Island Regiment (the unit also included Native Americans and people of European ancestry, like Hispanics—it was led by white officers). The regiment repelled three assaults by the British during the battle for Rhode Island in 1778. The unit later fought in Yorktown in 1781 and was a part of the victorious forces of that battle.

In the Civil War, black units were organized and fought against Confederate forces, although they were led by white officers. Approximately 186,000 black soldiers, including 94,000 former slaves, ultimately served in the Union Army. Approximately 38,000 were killed in action. At the end of the Civil War, the Army dissolved black volunteer regiments and created several active duty regiments of black soldiers. Two were cavalry regiments that were posted in the west and were heavily engaged in the Indian War. Around that time, in 1868, Cathay Williams enlisted in the Army making her the first African American female to serve in the U.S. Army.

Not even a decade later, in 1877, a former slave, Henry Ossian Flipper became the first African American to be commissioned in the U.S. Army and in the U.S. military after graduating from West Point. He was also the first African American officer to become a commander when he joined the famed Buffalo Soldiers in Oklahoma.

In World War I, African Americans were drafted to serve and there were many volunteers from the black community. While all-black units were sent to the war, organizations concerned with the advancement of colored people continued to lobby for changes in the way the War Department utilized African Americans in the ranks.

As a result, in 1917, the War Department opened an officer training school for black officer candidates and in October of that year, more than 600 men received their officer commissions. In all, more than 1,300 men would become officers through the program before it was shut down. The newly minted officers would get assigned to lead African American units and several African American officers started to serve in the U.S. military.

In 1940, Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Sr. became the first black general officer in the U.S. Army and in the armed forces. His son would later become a pilot with the Tuskegee Airmen and become the first African American to reach the rank of general in the Air Force. Davis Sr.’s investigations into discrimination helped expose the Army’s racial problems.

In the 1940s, racial segregation continued in the U.S. Army, but in 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order legally ending discrimination in the armed forces. Despite the legal milestone, racism continued in the ranks, but that same year, the Tuskegee Airmen of the U.S. Army Air Force were formed and flew into the annals of history.

In 1948, President Harry S. Truman finally desegregated the military by issuing an executive order and in the Korean War the Army returned to its initial composition. Blacks and whites integrated and fought alongside of each other. In October 1951, the all-black 24th Infantry Regiment, which had served during the Spanish-American War, WWI, WWII and the beginning of the Korean War, was disbanded. African American soldiers were integrated into combat operations. By 1953 the Army had integrated more than 90 percent of the black troops in its ranks.

Since then, we’ve seen the first African American chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Gen. Colin Powell), the first black four-star general (Gen. Roscoe Robinson Jr.) and other great achievers that illustrate the color of a person’s skin has nothing to do with the ability to achieve. Today, the Army’s ranks are comprised of about 21 percent African American soldiers in all three of the Army’s components.

If history has taught us something it is that sometimes the vision and bravery of a few can lead to the enlightenment of masses. The Army hasn’t always gotten it right on race, I know that and I’m not naïve. The march ahead is a long one, but as a guy who has served in all three components, in the officer and enlisted ranks, and as a minority who has stood in formations with men and women of every color, it is doing better than the society it is sworn to defend.

Happy birthday, U.S. Army.

Guard: Civil Unrest Hardest Mission

For the first time in its history, the National Guard has a record 66,722 troops engaged in domestic operations at the direction of governors across the United States, U.S. Air Force Gen. Joseph Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau said today. Those numbers include National Guard personnel mobilized to combat COVID-19, as well as those supporting natural disaster responses to wildfires and flooding. The Guard also has troops deployed worldwide in support of global military operations.

“We plan, train and prepare for emergency response missions with our local, state, and federal partners,” Lengyel said. “We’re part of the communities we serve. We know the police, fire departments and hospital workers. We know their capabilities because we live with their capabilities.”

Since Memorial Day there has been civil unrest in multiple cities across the United States in response to the death of George Floyd, a Minneapolis man who died while in police custody. Protests have become violent clashes causing governors from 23 states and the mayor of the District of Columbia to activate more than 17,000 National Guard troops to help local authorities restore order, Lengyel said.

As of this writing there have been two incidents of Guardsmen using their weapons against protesters. On May 31, in Minnesota, a car sped towards a group of Guardsmen who were monitoring a protest. Guard personnel tried multiple times to signal the driver to stop, but the vehicle sped at them. A non-lethal method was deployed to get the car to stop, but the vehicle did not comply and continued towards Guard personnel. A National Guardsman fired three rounds at the vehicle. The vehicle then altered its course and drove away from the scene. It is unknown if anyone was hurt as a result of the shooting.

In Louisville, Kentucky, the same evening, David McAtee was shot and killed when National Guard members and police returned fire after they were fired upon by a group of protesters. It is not known if police or the National Guard are responsible for the death, but they confirmed that they returned fire when they were trying to disperse a group of protesters and were shot at. McAtee was not named as the suspect who shot at National Guard or police personnel.

“The hardest mission we do is responding in times of civil unrest,” Lengyel said. Guard members provide traffic control, support to law enforcement, transportation and communication capabilities. They have also helped in fighting fires ignited by protesters.

“Aircrews were using forest fire equipment, including helicopter water buckets, to put out building fires at protests last night,” Lengyel said in a Guard news story.

“Our troops are here to protect life and property, and preserve peace, order and public safety,” Lengyel added.

It should be noted that National Guard personnel are under state, not federal control. National Guard troops have been activated in Arizona, Alaska, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and D.C., according to the National Guard Bureau.

This isn't unfamiliar territory for the National Guard. It was involved in quelling a few uprisings in the 1850s and 1860s, but it was the late 19th century and early 20th century where the force came to be recognized as a viable tool to help civic authorities with civil unrest. The National Guard was first used to quell uprisings when it was mobilized to suppress labor riots involving railway workers, coal miners and steel workers involved in aggressive labor strikes. The Guard would also get mobilized to quell racial violence around this period in North Carolina and Illinois.

In 1957, the National Guard was ordered by the Arkansas governor to prevent African American students from matriculating at a Little Rock high school. President Dwight D. Eisenhower had the forces withdrawn. Later in the 1960s, the National Guard was federalized to ensure integration of the University of Mississippi and the University of Alabama.

Later, those same federalized Alabama National Guardsmen, nearly 3,000 of them, protected the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and his marchers in Selma, Alabama, and later that year the Guard was asked to suppress racial protests in Watts, Los Angeles. Throughout the 1960s the National Guard was called in to restore order in several American cities due to racial tensions, but it culminated when the National Guard was called up and deployed to several American cities to help restore order in the wake of King’s assassination. Riots and looting took place in New York, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Chicago and other cities. In Chicago, 12 people were killed, more than 160 buildings were destroyed and more than 3,000 were arrested. In comparison to the current Guard call up, there were 13,600 troops sent to occupy Washington, D.C. in the aftermath of King’s assassination. Not since the Civil War had a city been occupied with so many U.S. military troops.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the National Guard was used to help in labor disputes as manpower and they continued to be used as a force to help quell civic unrest. The Ohio National Guard was also involved in the 1970 shooting on the campus of Kent State University when Guardsmen opened fire on unarmed anti-war protesters killing four students and injuring nine.

In 1992, the Guard found itself back in Los Angeles combating violent protesters angry about the acquittals of police officers charged in the beating of Rodney King. Sixty-three people died in those riots including one shot by National Guardsmen. More than 12,000 were arrested and the city suffered $1 billion in damage.

The National Guard has also been used extensively in natural disaster responses and in federal deployments in support of U.S. military operations overseas during war.

Uncle Sam is Hiring College Grads

By the time the 2020 collegiate academic year ends, about three million American students will have earned an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. Prior to COVID-19, many of those young people were poised to enter a bustling U.S. job market that in February 2020 had a 3.5 percent unemployment rate, the lowest unemployment rate in 50 years. As we all know, that’s changed in just a few months.

Today, these graduates are facing a daunting job market. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, all 50 states and the District of Columbia had staggering jobless rate increases and the national unemployment rate rose to 14.7 percent or 38 million Americans unemployed. Of course, those numbers only include those Americans who have successfully filed for unemployment benefits, so the numbers could be higher, but the bottom line is that the coronavirus has caused the highest joblessness rate since the Great Depression in 1929.  

I have listened for several weeks now to new college graduates who are asking aloud about their career options. Many have student loans and absolutely no job prospects because of our collapsing employment market, so as a military retiree I thought it would be good to try to be the connective tissue between those seeking work after college and those looking for recruits.  

The good news is that Uncle Sam is hiring and it is looking for military officers. Currently, the U.S. military has a lot of career opportunities for college graduates who are flexible and might be seeking to use their degrees and acquire leadership skills along the way.

The Army, Army Reserve and the Army National Guard all have very good career options for men and women seeking to earn an officer commission. If you have a bachelor’s degree, there are multiple ways to become an officer.

Army
The U.S. Army is full-on active duty. Meaning, you are signing up to become a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army and you will be an officer 24/7, 365 days a year. After your initial training, the Army will send you somewhere to live and work. This will provide you not only with a steady paycheck, healthcare, and other benefits (including 30 days of leave per year), but you will also gain experience in your field of study.

The Army’s officer candidate school (where civilians learn to become military officers) is at Fort Benning, Georgia. The course is 14-weeks long and once candidates complete OCS they are sent to their branch training school which is where new officers learn to do their military jobs. The locations of those courses will vary depending on the job you want to do. The length of training will vary as well.

Remember, the Army has hundreds of career options. Ask your officer recruiter about your particular field of study. If you studied something general like business, and you don’t think there are good options, think again. Believe it or not, military specialties like infantry, armor, and artillery, just to name a few, will give you a lot of complex leadership experience that will definitely prepare you for leadership roles in the civilian sector.

If you’re leaving college with a degree in a medical specialty you might be eligible for financial incentives including bonuses of up to $75,000.

The Army also has opportunities for direct officer appointments which means that you are given credit for your education and commissioned as an officer accordingly. The Army has direct commission programs for lawyers, chaplains, and medical personnel. Consult an officer recruiter for more information.

Army Reserve
“Currently, the Army offers a bonus for reservists going to officer candidate school,” said Lisa Ferguson with U.S. Army Recruiting Command. “Applicants may qualify for up to $20,000 upon successful completion of OCS training and commissioning.”

For those of you that don’t know, the Army Reserve is one of the part-time military components. Meaning, once you are done with initial training, the expectation is that you usually perform one weekend of duty per month and a two-week annual training period. So, if you’re not really convinced that active duty is the move for you, then consider the Army Reserve. If they have the jobs you’re interested in nearby, you will get to serve in your community.

Pursuing this option will not only give you a full-time job for the next few months as you attend OCS and your occupational training, but it also puts $20,000 in your pocket in addition to the money you earn while on duty. This is a great option if you’re looking to expand your professional qualifications without fully committing to the active duty military.

Army National Guard
The Army National Guard is located in every state in the United States. Like the Army Reserve, they are a part-time military force, however, they fall under the control of the governor of each state. They are usually the ones called up during states of emergency like floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and more recently the coronavirus.

There are various paths that lead to an officer commission in the National Guard. You can attend federal OCS for 14 weeks, as previously mentioned, and earn your second lieutenant bars. Upon completion, just like in the Army Reserve and in the U.S. Army, you will be sent to an officer basic course which will train you how to do your military job. Once that initial training is complete, you can return to the community where you live and assume your part-time job.

The Army Guard also has its own officer candidate school. The State OCS program, as it is known, requires you to attend a Regional Training Institute on the weekends. One weekend per month for 16 to 18 months, plus two two-week periods, you will become an officer candidate and work your way towards your officer commission. If this route is not for you, you can try the National Guard Bureau’s Accelerated OCS which varies by season and state. It is eight weeks long.

Currently the Army National Guard is offering a $10,000 officer accession bonus for newly commissioned officers who complete the Basic Officer Leaders Course.

U.S. Air Force and U.S. Space Force
The Air Force will send you to officer training school (OTS) if you have a four-year degree. It is a nine-and-a-half-week program designed to develop leadership skills.

“A career in the Air Force prepares Airmen for success,” Chrissy Cuttita with Air Force Recruiting Service Public Affairs said. “It gives her/him the education and leadership and technical skills necessary to succeed in a career in the Air Force and/or propel them toward success as a civilian later in life.”

According to Cuttita, the Air Force offers approximately 130 different career fields in areas such as engineering, communications, logistics, intelligence, healthcare, computer science, law, finance, space and more.

“Each have their own unique incentives,” Cuttita said. “For regular Air Force health professions, there are potential signing bonuses and/or loan repayment options depending on the specialty.” So check with your officer recruiter to learn about what incentives the Air Force has to offer.

“In addition to all of that, not unique to the Air Force, but public service in general, there is a Public Service Loan Forgiveness Act that college graduates joining the Air Force could take advantage of,” Cuttita said.

It is important to remember that you have to serve for 10 years in a public service role (military) and you have to make payments on your student loans during that period before you are eligible for payment relief. The service must be fulltime therefore, military reservists and National Guard personnel are not eligible unless they are working fulltime Active, Guard and Reserve (AGR status).

U.S. Air Force Reserve
As I mentioned previously, Reserve forces primarily serve in a part-time capacity in their communities. If you’re interested in part-time military service, the Air Force Reserve is another avenue. Visit this site and ensure the officer block is checked and see what type of officer positions and incentives are available to you.

If you qualify you will attend Air Force OTS and then your specialty professional school. Once initial training is complete, you enter the part-time military. Remember, the reserve is a federal part-time force and they have been mobilized for wars and natural disasters in the past. When that happens, you are on active duty for a period of time to be determined by the president.

The Air Force Reserve offers a variety of part-time job opportunities with full-time benefits including tuition assistance and low-cost health insurance. And, for specific part-time jobs, you may be eligible for a signing bonus of up to $20,000.

The Air Force Reserve also offers direct commissioning opportunities for select professions. See a recruiter for more details.

Air National Guard
If your plan was to fly for the airlines and the airlines aren’t hiring, not to worry. The Air National Guard has a variety of pilot positions available, including remotely piloted aircraft. No need to put your career plans on hold and joining the Air Guard will guarantee you a sign on bonus in some cases.

Got a business degree? They are looking for contracting officers. Computer science degree? They need cyberwarfare operations officers.

If you get accepted to become an Air National Guard officer you will attend the Academy of Military Science for six weeks in Alabama where you will learn how to be an officer. Then you will attend your occupational training. The Air National Guard, like the Army National Guard, is a community based, part-time military force that falls under a governor’s control, but they can also be federalized in time of war or national need at the direction of the president.

If you’ve never really thought about being a pilot but you think you have the aptitude and spirit of adventure, you should check it out. I knew a guy who was a police detective as a civilian who was a National Guard pilot and had a separate part-time military career. Similarly, I knew a dentist in the civilian sector who was an intelligence officer in the reserve. It’s a very unique side hustle.

No matter how you look at it, joining the Guard can help expand your professional experience, or bring you some new qualifications. At the very least, it can give you a pretty cool outlet to break up the monotony if you’re looking for something exciting to do in your life.

There are many Air National Guard specialties, including pilot positions, where candidates are being offered $20,000 bonuses. Check with your local Air National Guard recruiter for details.

U.S Navy and Navy Reserve
Future Navy officers receive their officer training in officer candidate school (OCS). OCS is a 12-week course that prepares college graduates to be commissioned as Navy line officers, specifically, submarine and surface warfare officers, as well as Navy aviators, flight officers, special warfare officers and special operations officers.

If you are interested in becoming a chaplain, engineer, attorney, scientist, management, public affairs officer and other types of professions, you will attend the officer development school which is a five-week course that trains newly commissioned officers to be staff officers.

If you are interested in joining the Navy Reserve, the part-time federal force of the U.S. Navy, you will attend direct commission officer school, a 12-day program that trains newly commissioned officers on military basics.

Active duty officers serve fulltime. Like the other services, this is fulltime work. You can be assigned shore duty or get placed on a ship. Reserve Officers serve part-time, two days a month and two weeks a year. The initial service requirement could be as few as three years. It depends on several factors, so it is best to talk to a Navy officer recruiter to help you figure that out.

The Navy offers $15,000 accession bonuses for officers selected to their nuclear propulsion training so if you’re a grad with academic credentials that might succeed in that field, give the Navy a call.

U.S. Marine Corps
Last but certainly not least is the Marine Corps. While their financial incentives for college grads are virtually non-existent, I truly respect them for their approach in finding their future leaders.

“We in the Marine Corps are keenly aware of the challenges being experienced by our fellow citizens across the nation and remain committed to standing shoulder-to-shoulder with them as we continue to battle the coronavirus pandemic together,” Marine Capt. Charles Dowling with the U.S. Marine Corps Recruiting Command headquarters said.

“To this end, Marine Corps Recruiting Command continues to seek out intelligent, tough, and resilient young men and women who desire to serve their nation as a member of its most elite and lethal fighting force,” Dowling said. 

According to Dowling, recent college grads should contact their closest Marine Corps Officer Selection Officer (OSO) and inquire about commissioning opportunities in the Officer Candidate Course. But Dowling was sure to point out that the Marines seek to recruit officer candidates based on their innate intangible motivations: their desire to both serve and lead Marines, their desire to give back to their nation, and their desire to serve in a cause bigger than themselves. 

“We do not use the offer of any financial incentive as a reason to become a Marine officer,” Dowling said. “In this vein, the Marine Corps does not currently have a college loan repayment program or offer any monetary bonus for any particular officer occupational field. The main ‘bonus’ the Marine Corps offers its potential officer applicants is, if found worthy, the opportunity to lead Marines in the world’s most elite and lethal fighting force.”

In my opinion, Capt. Dowling’s explanation is the very best reason to join the military as an officer. You shouldn’t be doing it for money, but the incentives are there for those who want them. Whether you have intrinsic or extrinsic motives, leading men and women in uniform is a noble and honorable career option.

Lastly, remember that deploying is a part of military service and you don’t get to pick and choose the fights of your nation. You are signing up to become an officer in the armed forces and ultimately that means leading men and women, sometimes into harm’s way, to fight against all enemies of the United States.

The military is a great place to start your professional life. Like anything, it is, what you make it.

NOTE: If any of you need help with this topic, please drop me a line by commenting on this blog. I am more than happy to help. If you're an officer recruiter and I missed something, likewise, let me know.

Top 5 Things To Do When You Visit a Military Recruiter

In the coming weeks, about 3.5 million teenagers nationwide will complete their high school education and some of those young men and women will consider the military as a career option.

I enlisted immediately after high school. I never planned to make the military a career, but 24 years later, I retired from it. Naturally I have some opinions on the subject.

If you are thinking about enlisting in the military, here are five things you must do when you see a military recruiter.

1. Develop a plan. If you do not have a plan when you speak to the recruiter, they will make one for you and I can assure you it will almost certainly include a job that you will not enjoy.

A lot of teenagers innocently walk into a recruiter’s office and months later find themselves in a profession that they really had no intention of doing all because they lacked a plan. “There is nothing like jumping out of a plane,” or “Anyone can go to college, but not everyone gets to drive an M-1 tank.” These are things Army recruiters told me when I was a teenager.

Keep in mind, recruiters are trained to sell. Army recruiters attend a six-week course that trains them how to get you to sign up for jobs that they need filled. They have goals that they must meet and there are certain military occupations that require a lot of bodies, like infantry. If you walk into a recruiting office undecided a recruiter will place you in a specialty that needs bodies. Recruiters are not your high school guidance counselor. They have a job to do.

I should note, recruiters are not evil. I don’t want to paint a picture that they are only interested in reaching their monthly goals. In recent years, military recruiting has drastically changed because military candidates have changed, but recruiters are still professionals and their job is to close the deal.

So, figure out what you want to be when you grow up before you think about seeing a military recruiter and determine if you really need to join the military to enter the field that you’re interested in. In my case, I knew in middle school that I wanted to be a journalist, but I failed to tell my recruiter and I ended up becoming a military working dog handler. That’s a unique job, and I enjoyed it, but it prepared me for a career in law enforcement not writing.

Just remember, have a plan. There are almost 1,000 jobs in the military and many of them have civilian equivalents. Some do not have exact equivalents, like airborne infantry, armor or artillery, but those fields do offer skill development in leadership and management that can be used in all professions on the outside if paired up with other training and education. Some employers recognize that, others don’t.

2. Have goals. You can have a plan, but without goals or objectives, plans are just words on paper. What are your goals in life? What does success look like for you? Ensure your plan includes steps to get you to your destination (goals) otherwise pack your bags, you are going on a long trip on a slow boat to nowhere.

The military is a wonderful place, but it can also be an immensely distracting environment. Write down your goal, for example, “I want to earn a college degree in business.” Then outline a plan to get to that goal. “I will join the Army as a clerk and go to college in the evenings until I complete my degree.” Give yourself a timeline so you stay on track. Remember, the military will have lots of opportunities for distractions. Stay true to your goals. This strategy also applies if you want to make the military a career. Set goals and have a plan on how you will get to milestones.

3. Be honest with yourself. While I did not tell my recruiter that I wanted to be a writer, I knew that I did not have a desire to do anything too overly gung-ho. When the Army recruiter started talking to me about airborne training, not only had I never considered parachuting before, I knew personally that being airborne did not have a place in my life’s goals. It was easy for me to move on from the Army’s sales pitch.

When I met with the Air Force recruiter, he introduced himself as “Gerry,” and I liked that right away. He told me about the benefits and pay (back then it was about $550 per month). He asked me what I liked to do. Like an idiot, I told him, “I dunno.” He then started throwing out career options. Truth was, I knew, I just didn’t realize that a place like the military had journalists (public affairs specialists).

Remember, do your research. The military has thousands of jobs. Odds are great, they have what you want to do. Tell your recruiter what you’re interested in doing professionally. Assert yourself. You do not owe them anything and if they don’t seem accommodating, go to another recruiter in another part of town. And if one particular branch of service is being uncooperative, then explore another branch of service. Being honest with yourself means you will be honest with the recruiter. 

4. Study for the ASVAB. The key to getting the military job you want lies in your ability to obtain high scores on your Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB). The ASVAB is broken up into 10 parts, but it mostly measures your word knowledge, paragraph comprehension, arithmetic reasoning and mathematics knowledge. The scores you get on these four sections comprise the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT).

The AFQT is the most important score because it determines which branch of service you can join. While many people state that anyone with a pulse can pass the ASVAB, remember that getting a low score can prevent you from getting the job that you desire and it can also keep you out of a particular service.

To enlist in the U.S. Army, you must achieve at least a 31 AFQT on the ASVAB. Enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps requires candidates to earn an AFQT of 32. In order to join the Navy, you will need an AFQT of 35. To enlist in the U.S. Air Force, a candidate must achieve a 31 AFQT. Lastly, if you’re interested in joining the military’s newest branch, U.S. Space Force, reach out to an Air Force recruiter for more information. And although the U.S. Coast Guard is not in the U.S. Department of Defense (unless it is mobilized to support the U.S. Navy), their candidates also take the ASVAB and they must earn a 40 AFQT.

Remember, these are just the required AFQT scores to join a particular branch of service. Joining fields like special operations, cyber warfare, medical and other highly technical, scientific and intellectually demanding fields can require much higher scores within the ASVAB’s subtests.

Many people will tell you that the test is easy and it doesn’t require preparation. My advice is, prepare for it. It is not a hard test, but preparing can only improve your scores and familiarize you with the format of the test. There are study guides everywhere and some of them are free.

5. Get everything in writing. If it isn’t in writing, it isn’t true. Read that again. Do not let the recruiters promise you something verbally. If the recruiter has told you that you will receive a bonus for signing up, get it written in your contract and get the details of how money will be disbursed.

Recruiters are generally good people and most will try to connect you with a profession that you want, but they are the brokers in a business transaction between you and the U.S. government. You don’t have to be adversarial about it, but understand that it is a transactional relationship and you should treat the professional aspects of that relationship as a business transaction. Ensure you look out for your own interests. You can still be cordial, but be smart.

One of the biggest questions potential candidates ask right now is if they will go to war. Recruiters are not career field managers. They cannot tell you, even though they might try, whether or not you will deploy. Some jobs and some units deploy more than others, and while the odds are greater if you are in the Army or Marines, just about every career field and service deploys these days. In fact, two of the first Purple Hearts awarded by the command I worked for in Iraq were presented to enlisted Air Force IT professionals whose truck got blown up in Baghdad. The battlefield has changed. If you’re not ready for that, consider another employer.

One more thing. Remember, the military isn’t like any other job. You can’t just quit and walk away when you become unhappy with it. If you enlist, you are contractually obligated to serve. Mission comes first. You are taking an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies. That oath does not include verbiage about your personal goals, dreams and aspirations. If you cannot deal with that, don’t join. The military services and its leaders do their best to care for our men and women in uniform, but the needs of the services and the mission come first.

The military has about 18,000 recruiters nationwide to help you find a good fit in the ranks. Most of them are pretty good, helpful people, but following these recommendations will help prepare you for working with them. If after reading this, you still have questions, or need help, leave a comment on this blog and I will write you back. I’m happy to help.

Dear Class of 2020

Dear Class of 2020,

Last month was the Month of the Military Child, so given I've got four military kids I thought it was appropriate to send those of you who are graduating some advice.

My oldest son is a part of your graduating class. Like many high school seniors around the nation the coronavirus is denying him the opportunity to strut across a stage at graduation, rocking the stoles he’s earned like some academic Mr. T (look up Mr. T so you know who he is). Similarly, there will be no prom, no senior night game where he is recognized for playing four years on his school’s lacrosse team, and there will be no academic recognition ceremony. As his dad, it sucks because there is no end to this chapter.

I’ve watched our country respond to this pandemic. The sensational outpouring gushes all over, the deluge on social media, television, online, everywhere you look, pouring down and rushing into the sewers because it comes so fast, it has nowhere else to go. If you’re not careful, you can get washed away in a flash flood of sadness and pity.

“Experts” say the class of 2020 will never be the same. These pedigreed peeps state that you will be marked for the rest of your life, and that you will require therapy because this event has been intensely traumatizing. You are branded by this virus because for several months at the end of your high school life, the class of 2020 was asked to stay indoors, not go to school and you missed out on normal milestones of American teenage life.

I know high school and its many mile markers is important for you to develop into adults, but missing high school events is not the end of mankind. Class of 2020, you are not that fragile and you come from a species that has been walking around on the earth for at least 300,000 years. If your parents, teachers, coaches, counselors are showering you with pity instead of enabling you with tools you can use to cope, please tell them you are stronger than they believe and prove them wrong.

I did not go to my senior prom. I did not walk at my graduation and I can tell you my life has been full of memorable events that have stirred me in such ways that writing about them makes me warm with emotion. Watching my four kids enter this world was life changing and I have never felt so much love. Looking into the beautiful blue eyes of my wife as we stood at the altar and thinking, there isn’t a luckier person than me right now is something I reflect upon almost daily.

Setting foot on American soil again after having lived through a hellish year in Iraq and knowing I would never have to go back—golden. Feeling my baby daughter’s warm, soft breathing on my chest as she faded off into sleep, giving me peace that I wish would always envelope me, a peace I wish I could always carry; or carry her in my pocket, as I used to tell her. Walking on an empty beach hand and hand with one of my sons as the sun rose over the ocean, dolphins boiling up to the surface searching for breakfast just offshore, as we found two perfect sand dollars, one for him and one for me and as far as we were concerned, we were the only two people on the earth at that moment—just us and the pod. Watching one of my sons as he watched me pull a trout out of a Colorado stream as the sun fell and his almost reflexive grin when he gently stroked its slimy body. “He’s pretty. Wonder what he will taste like?” And the memory of my oldest son quietly playing catch with one of his coaches in the early morning. Native Americans played lacrosse to avoid war and make peace and watching the two of them in the misty field gave me a sense of tranquility. Truth is, the memories I do have of high school have long ago been painted over by more meaningful memories.

As humans we have a tendency to measure things to help us make comparisons especially when life throws something at us that we have never experienced before. Therefore, it is not a surprise that the comparisons have started to the Greatest Generation. Journalists and academics who are trying to gain traction in a particular demographic are saying that you, Class of 2020, are enduring similar sacrifices to the Greatest Generation. To date, worldwide, there have been 248,000 deaths from the coronavirus (as of May 4). The Greatest Generation lived in a world where 60-100 million died worldwide in extraordinarily violent ways. What we are experiencing is horrible, no doubt, and it will likely get worse, but it does not compare to what others who have come before us have endured. Missing prom does not equate to the killing of six million Jews. Missing your senior season does not compare to the Normandy landing. What you are enduring after two months with Netflix and smartphones cannot be compared to what people all over the globe endured for six years during World War II.

I know that much of this pity posturing isn’t due to you, it is caused by my generation, by the one below mine too, but I have faith in you guys. Life is about the choices you make and the how you respond to the circumstances that arise. You adapt to the environment; the environment does not adapt to you. If you’re cold, don’t you put on a jacket? Or do you sit there, freezing, and try to change the weather?

Your parents, as good as some of them are, haven’t prepared some of you for what is ahead. If you have parents who advocated for you all the time, reviewing your homework at every turn so you can maintain a certain GPA instead of letting you earn the grade your effort warrants, or when you don’t get the playing time that you think you deserve, they chew out the coach and remind them about how much better you are than the other players, or they take leadership roles in school organizations so they can try to influence things in your life. Any of that sound familiar? If your parents are like that and you’ve been succeeding, you might be in for a rude awakening when all is said and done. There will be nobody there helicoptering over you, making accommodations, clearing the path. This pandemic is a great opportunity for you to break their cycle of dysfunction and get them out of your way.

They mean well. I know they do, but their actions are stealing your ability to be resilient. If you do not suffer defeats and failures, you will never learn how to manage them. It is part of your emotional and psychological development. This pandemic is not the worst we’ve experienced as a species and it likely won’t be the worst thing until we finally kill the planet and we just pass into extinction. You didn’t ask for this pandemic no more than you asked for global warming, but you are inheriting a world full of problems. There is no way to sugarcoat that fact. None of it is your fault and the generations that came before you, mine included, are to blame.

I’ve got faith in you. I believe in you because youth are the eternal keepers of hope. I believe you will be the generation to solve global warming. I know you will be the generation that ends violence and social inequality in this country. If you don’t, then I am confident that you will be the generation that pours the foundation for the next generation to succeed. You are stronger than you know. You are tougher than you realize and being afraid is not a sign of weakness unless you allow it to immobilize you.

Class of 2020, shut off your phones, turn everything off and listen to yourself for a few minutes. Listen to your soul. It is telling you where to go, who to be, what to do. If you can’t hear it, go to places that will help you hear it. Remove the noise.

Victims are built, constructed by enabling people who wallow in defeat and enjoy basking in pity. Tragically bad things happen and many times bad things happen to good people. Resilient people feel disappointment, sadness, fear, anger and anguish. As human beings we will all hit low points in our lives. Not everything is rainbows and sunshine, but once we hit that low point, we have to have the ability to look at what is working in our favor. We have to tie a knot when we reach the end of our rope and hold on. But we can’t just hold on, we have to climb up, and we have to climb out.

Not going to prom, sucks. Dying from coronavirus is worse. Not having a graduation, sucks. Losing a family member to coronavirus is worse. Losing the rest of your school year, athletic season, whatever, especially when you are 17 or 18, sucks, but tomorrow, the sun will come up and you will be one day closer to living through this bullshit and you will look back on it and it will become one of the many things you as a human being endured to earn your right to live on this earth.

You may not be getting a diploma on a stage, but what you are getting is the keys to your future. Make it count. Make yourself proud.

(This article was first published on burbdad.com.)

Adopting a Veteran

My youngest son and I were excited as we drove to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas in September 2019. We were heading there to meet and spend the day with retiring military veterans, some of them veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“What do you think they will be like?” I asked him.

“I don’t know,” he replied. “But I’m so excited. I want them to have fun because they deserve it,” my son replied, squirming in his seat.

Once at Lackland, we sat through a few briefings and we were given the opportunity to read biographies of some of the military veterans. Some had patrolled Iraq looking for explosives, others had served in harm’s way in Afghanistan, and many others had served stateside, never having deployed.

Eventually, the veterans filed into the room and we had the opportunity to meet them, one on one. There was one, in particular, that we wanted to meet after having read his bio and we made our way over to introduce ourselves. As we neared, he made eye contact with us and he leapt at my son. The veteran hit my son with what we have come to affectionately label as a “love shove,” and then his tongue started darting in and out of the muzzle around his snout as he tried to lick my son’s hands, his tail wagging energetically. I told my son to take a knee and almost on queue the furry veteran laid down on his back and opened himself up for a belly rub which my son was all too willing to give him.

“I think we found a winner,” I told the handler who smiled as my son rubbed the dog’s belly. “Everyone loves Max,” the handler told us. “He’s a really good boy.” Later that day we would begin our journey to adopt Staff Sgt. Max, a military working dog (MWD), brand number X483, who was being medically retired from the U.S. military because of severe structural defects in his lower spine and pelvis. He was one of hundreds of military dogs for adoption in 2019.

An adoption like this when I was an MWD handler in the 1980s would have never been possible. When MWDs could no longer do the job, they were euthanized, much to the dismay of their handlers. But in 2000, President Bill Clinton signed H.R. 5314 into law requiring the immediate termination of the Defense Department’s practice of euthanizing MWDs at the end of their working life. The services would be mandated to facilitate the adoption of retired MWDs.

All six of my canine partners were killed by the U.S. military once they became excess equipment. But those dogs, like other non-commissioned officers in my life, helped me grow up. Brute, my first dog, taught me that no matter how things might seem, I needed to trust him. All I had to do was look between his ears like a rifle sight and I would know where the threat was even though I couldn’t see it. He could smell it.

Another dog, Dug, helped me prevent the escape of a man armed with an Uzi who held hostages for hours at our base hospital. Every time the suspect came to the doorway, Dug quietly growled sending a rumbling, angry vibration up the leash almost like a smartphone set on vibrate. Then there was Casey who was overprotective. During a disturbance call, I let down my guard around an intoxicated individual and she jumped at a guy who had armed himself with a pair of scissors. She had my back.

Roy, the last dog I ever worked, who would look at his butt every time he farted, filling the truck with a noxious odor that I swear could peel paint. It made me laugh every single time he did it. He was always so surprised when it happened.

These were the veterans I served with and I spent more time with them than with humans. We endured long, lonely hours together, frigid nights, sweltering days, hard work and isolation tethered only to the rest of our unit by a radio signal. We walked posts in places nobody back home even knew existed; Hill 180, Morbach, the flight line cemetery. It was us against the world.

They were great friends with no expectations. They gave you everything and wanted nothing in return. I loved them and I would sneak them unauthorized cans of food, some soup bones courtesy of the commissary butchers or C-rations if they gave me the sad puppy eyes. I would also give them lasagna, currywurst, bulgogi, and whatever else I might have as leftovers. On my days off, I would stop by and play fetch with them, letting them run around off leash.   

We adopted Max in October 2019 after about a monthlong process. He had served about four and a half years in the U.S. military. To honor his service, I had a U.S. flag flown over the U.S Capitol on the day he retired. Max served with Transportation Security Administration for a bit, keeping our skies safe by detecting bombs and weapons, and then he came back to the 341st Training Squadron at Lackland where all the military branches train their dogs and handlers. He helped train 17 bomb dog handlers in three years and then he began to experience physical issues and after a medical review, he was found unfit for military service. Enter the Alvarez tribe.

When we brought him home and took off his collar, he immediately started sniffing furniture drawers, door cracks, and in between couch pillows. He did not know what it was like to enter a building and not search for bombs. He went to work. He sniffed aggressively and he sprinted into a room, and then into a walk-in closet where I found him sitting, as best he could, perfectly still, alert, looking right at me. He had detected and found our hunting rifles and ammunition. I gave him his Kong and praised him and told him he didn’t have to do that anymore.

Everyday I’m reminded of what lies ahead, but I try to ignore it. Somedays his rear legs shake so badly it is like he is having a seizure in the rear half of his body. He goes on walks, runs and plays, but there have been times we’ve walked him too far and he’s had to rest because physically he cannot endure the walk. There have been times in the backyard where he has collapsed where he is at, unable to walk, because he overdid it, but in his mouth is a Kong he did not have to earn by finding a bomb and it is almost as if he is laying there, immobilized by the pain, but smiling because he is so blissfully happy. The paralysis is momentary, and if he rests long enough in the cool grass under the shade of a tree, his body recharges, and he gets back up again.

At his first veterinarian visit, the vet was excited to meet him and as she examined his spine and pelvis, she touched a sensitive area. Max turned his head to the doctor and looked at her hand. “Is that where it is, buddy?” she asked him. He licked her hand. “He’s so stoic,” she said as she hugged him. Military service broke him, but he’s still here and there’s a lot of life left in him.

It is my mission to make his life as comfortable as I can because I couldn’t do that for my other six partners. It’s the least I can do. Max has a fluffy bed, a backyard, four kids that play with him, and my wife who adores him and rubs him so hard that she puts him to sleep. He loves cheeseburgers, fries, beef jerky and anything off my plate. He loves our backyard, but his favorite place is on the couch where he likes to fall asleep and snore loudly. He’s also a smelly farter.

Introducing him into this new world of domesticated life hasn’t been without problems. He has had accidents in our home. He is not housebroken. For most of his life he has lived in a kennel where he defecated and urinated, naturally he brought those behaviors into our home, but we’ve helped him understand. Our other dog, Chowder, has also shown him how to be a suburban dog. He’s a work in progress, but he is a member of our family.

While the MWD adoption program is currently not accepting applications and they do not have dogs available for adoption, they will have future dog adoption events, so please consider bookmarking the adoption page and adopting an MWD in the future. How much does it cost to adopt a dog from the military? Nothing.

Remember, this is a free dog adoption program. If you have often asked yourself “How to adopt a dog?” or “Where to adopt a dog?” the MWD program might be a good option especially if you live near the military working dog adoption center in San Antonio. Every year they have hundreds of dogs up for adoption, and while they might not be rescue dogs for adoption, or service dog adoption, the military’s dog adoption is an alternative to local dog adoption.

If you are not near San Antonio, after contacting the 341st, you might be given instructions to reach out to a local military installation near you that has local dogs for adoption. Local dog adoption of an MWD might be easier than what we went through in San Antonio, but your best bet is to get some guidance from the MWD adoption program and then proceed from there.

For years before we adopted Max, I searched the Internet for “dogs for adoption near me,” or “dog adoption centers near me,” and “dog adoption events near me,” and “free dog adoption near me.”

Luckily for me, one of the places to adopt dogs near me that had dogs for adoption in my area was the MWD program. It is a great place to adopt a dog if you’re willing to do a little work and be patient with the process.

There are many furry veterans who are looking for a home and I guarantee you they will add color and flavor to your life, even if it comes in the form of smelly dog farts.

How to Replace Lost Military Medals

I’m a military retiree, so I belong to many online social media groups for veterans, retirees and for the components and branches that I served in while in uniform. At least a few times per week, I see misinformation unintentionally being spread by uninformed individuals about how to get military medals replaced, so I’m hoping I can help clear the air with this post.

For me it started when a family member of a deceased veteran asked the question in a veteran forum, “How to get military medals replaced?” The advice began to flow from veterans eager to help. I have read posts from individuals who claim to be retired service members. They state, incorrectly, that you can get a no-cost shadowbox from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) with all your medals mounted. I have also seen posts in veterans’ forums online where people state that the VA will send you awards and certificates, including mini-medals and ribbons if you ask, and that the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) also issues service medals. Well, not exactly.

Here are the facts about requesting replacement medals for veterans or replacement war service medals. Hopefully it answers the question, how to get military medals replaced?

Veterans and families of veterans (next of kin) can get replacement medals from the U.S. government. A veteran or family member must complete Standard Form 180, Request Pertaining to Military Records. The form is found on the VA website. You can also complete the form electronically, but you must print it and mail it in, and that’s possible here.

Providing replacement military medals to military veterans or their next of kin is a function of each branch of service. A requesting veteran can receive a full-sized issued set of each medal at no cost. Next of kin are possibly eligible for a no cost set, but whether or not a requestor gets charged depends on whether or not the servicemember’s record is kept in the archival records and if the requestor is the veteran’s immediate next of kin.

The military branch (U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Marine Corps) will supply the requestor with one boxed set for each medal that is in the servicemember’s personnel records. Therefore, if you are requesting your grandfather’s Commendation Medal, and it is not listed in his personnel file, you have to file a correction for military records in order to get it sent to you. You can get more information about doing that here.

The services will send the requestor a government issue medal set in a cardboard or plastic box. Meaning, shadow boxes, ribbon racks and mini medals are not provided. They will mail a requestor a set that usually includes a single ribbon and the medal. Some awards have a ribbon, medal and lapel pin. Remember, each military department manages its own medal requests so requests for the issuance or replacement of military medals and decorations must be directed to the specific branch of the military in which the veteran served. SF 180 has addresses on where to send the request. It should be noted that requests for Army and Air Force (including Army Air Corps) personnel, NPRC will verify the awards to which a veteran is entitled and forward the request along with the records verification to the appropriate service department for issuance of the medals.

Requests must include the veteran’s full name, branch of service, service number or social security number, as well as the veteran’s dates of military service. The request must be signed by the veteran or next of kin if the veteran is dead. Separation documents like DD Form 214s streamline the process. Requestors who lack discharge or separation documents may obtain copies by visiting the VA portal or by completing forms found here and mailing or faxing them to NPRC. A requestor can also write NPRC and state that copies of discharge documents are needed. NPRC can be reached at: National Personnel Records Center, Military Personnel Records, One Archives Drive, St. Louis, MO 63138- 1002. The SF 180 can be used.

In accordance with 10 U.S. Code, all medals are presented at no cost to an awardee, but replacement service medals are issued on a one-time basis and without charge to the recipient of the military decoration or the immediate primary next of kin of a deceased recipient.

How to get military medals replaced from a war? According to the Army, issue or replacement of service medals and service ribbons preceding the World War I Victory Medal is no longer possible, but all other wars are available for request. The WWI awards are no longer available from the supply system, but may be purchased. The services also have instructions on how to get a replacement Purple Heart medal, but the procedures are similar to other awards. The more documentation a requestor has, the better the chances of getting the request fulfilled.

The key for veterans to remember is that the U.S. government will send you replacement military medals. Family members asking how to get military medals replaced who are listed as primary next of kin of deceased veterans can get them too, but they will be sent in individual boxes. If you’re trying to organize your military service for display or assembling something for a family member, you will still have to mount ribbons on racks, figure out the award precedence and mount medals to a shadow box, in addition to finding other items you want displayed.

For some people, waiting several weeks or months for the U.S. government to send medals is acceptable. For others who might be on a timeline or are less patient, ordering a shadowbox online is the way to go. It all depends on your needs. Also, for families who are inexperienced with military awards, ordering online is easy and the awards your loved ones earned are professionally mounted and sent to you ready to hang in a shadowbox. There are no forms to fill out, no records to retrieve, nothing to mail or fax. The shadowbox is prepared and shipped in days without the bureaucracy.

Opting to go the government route will cost you time. How much time depends on how much information you gather and how strong your request is. If you have records at the ready, the government route might be good for you, but then you will have to mount them yourself in a shadowbox, unless you mail the items to a vendor like USAMM and have them do it for you.

The bottom line is that with effort and a lot of patience, a person can request U.S. Navy replacement medals, U.S. Army replacement medals, U.S. Air Force replacement medals, U.S. Coast Guard replacement medals, and U.S. Marine Corps replacement medals. And eventually, as they develop their own awards, U.S. Space Force will fill awards requests.

Hopefully this answers the question, how to get military medals replaced? If you have any additional information to help our veterans and their families on this topic, or I missed something, please post a comment.