The Depot

Providing Veterans Someone to Talk to

Doctor talking to patient

Nearly a year after making the switch from in-home visits to a robust virtual engagement program for veterans, Department of Veterans Affairs Compassionate Contact Corps has gone national.

Compassionate Contact Corps is a volunteer-driven program providing constructive engagement while keeping the veteran and the volunteers safely socially distanced, said Cathi Starr, voluntary service specialist with the Southern Arizona VA Health Care System.

“It’s not all about telling war stories, it’s meeting the veteran where they need to be met,” Starr said.  “A lot of people figured out the isolation that is occurring (due to the pandemic) is real and we needed to find a fix or something to help."

The program allows physicians, chaplains, nurses and social workers to pair volunteers with veterans of any age who are experiencing loneliness, are at risk for social isolation or could benefit from a companion. Veterans interested in participating require a referral by a VA clinician.

Starr’s program in Tucson currently serves 62 veterans from ages 30 to 98, along with 55 volunteers.

“The program provides a consistent weekly check the veteran can count on,” Starr said. “Right now we have a 98-year-old veteran with visual impairments and hearing impairment that couldn’t do phone calls, so I have her receiving services in the program by email – they’re communicating back and forth on a regular basis by email because she can make the text large on the phone and be able to read it.

“One of our veterans in his 40s has a traumatic brain injury. Before the pandemic, the volunteer would go to his home and play video games and sometimes they’d go outside and shoot hoops. Now they’re meeting virtually in a game room or playing against each other from their own homes and still communicate while they’re playing.”

Veterans and volunteers are matched based on common interests.

“It’s the personal touch of matching people up that I find is a challenge I enjoy very much,” Starr said. “I love the ones where it’s meant to happen. For example, this week I started telling (the volunteer) about the veteran and there were just coincidental things that matched up perfectly. It was just so awesome that it happens that way that I do feel like there’s a higher power kind of assisting me in my process.”

Based on their weekly engagement, trained volunteers can identify if their veteran is behaving in a way that isn’t normal for them, triggering a check by the VA health care team.

“Our volunteers offer early intervention,” Starr said. “We say they’re a set of eyes and ears for the VA and they detect minor changes before it becomes a big issue.”

The program has expanded to more than 50 VA facilities across the country and last week the VA partnered with the American Red Cross to boost volunteer recruitment for the program.

"We regard VA’s Compassionate Contact Corps as a best practice and signature program," said American Red Cross Senior Vice President Koby Langley in a release. "It directly aligns with our organization’s mission and the expertise of its cadres across a vast nationwide network of volunteers to prevent and alleviate human suffering whenever possible."

Interested volunteers can find available opportunities at their local VA or at the American Red Cross. 

“It doesn’t matter where the volunteer is,” Starr said. “They can connect with a veteran anywhere there is a phone line or some other means of communication. We even have a couple of volunteers that are doing greeting cards and short notes for veterans – so we go from pencil and paper all the way up to video chats and anywhere in-between.”

Woman standing under Department of Veterans Affairs Sign

An Air Force law enforcement veteran, Starr’s work in developing and implementing a Compassionate Contact Corps was recently recognized by the secretary of the Veterans Administration with an I CARE award.

“I don’t know which is better working with all the awesome people who have huge hearts and don’t care about getting paid or if it’s working – because I’ve always enjoyed connecting with other veterans – with the veterans themselves,” Starr said. “Getting them engaged and seeing that engagement is probably the most rewarding part of it.”

DK McDonald is an award-winning Arizona-based writer. She comes from a multi-generational military family, spanning all branches of service. She is also a former Army spouse.

How to Make a Shadow Box

Some people are good with their hands and some can barely use a screwdriver. There are those who are more comfortable than others when it comes to creating crafts or building projects from scratch. They can visualize raw materials and turn them into something special.

For those who are not-so-skilled in the woodworking vocations, luckily the internet is packed with lots of friendly how-to videos and plenty of articles to show you how to make a shadow box. The primary tool you need is patience and ensure to bring that military-grade attention to detail because working with wood can be rewarding, but equally frustrating if the woodshop is not your second home.

The first thing you need to do is determine what type of wood you’re going top use. Shadow boxes are usually made with cherry, mahogany, maple, oak, walnut, pine, and other types of woods, but lately individuals constructing their own shadow boxes have also turned to reclaimed wood. Old doors, barn walls, porch planks, wood floors, you name it, can all be repurposed and used in building a shadow box.

Once you’ve figured out the kind of wood you need, you will need to determine what type of glass you want to use. You can use glass, acrylic, and even polycarbonates or any other lucid material that you prefer. You also have to decide if you want clear glass, tempered, smoked, non-glare. These can usually be purchased at home improvement stores and you can cut them to size. Pay careful attention to the thickness you purchase. Like wood, glass can also be repurposed and using reclaimed glass adds a touch of romanticism to the project, especially if you know the history behind the reclaimed items.

PRO TIP: As a short cut, some do-it-yourselfers have used a picture frame as a door for their shadow box. Essentially, they find a frame they like and they build a box behind the frame, attaching the frame with hinges to the box. The key here is to find a frame you like, in the dimensions you need, in the wood grain that fits your taste. This is probably the simplest way to answer the question, how to make a shadow box.

Once you’ve determined the kind of wood and glass you’d like to use, and the materials needed to assemble the box (wood glue, nails, screws, etc.), you need to determine what type of tools you will need. The average person doesn’t have a great woodworking setup in their homes, but that does not mean that you still can’t do it yourself. The typical shadow box can be constructed with handheld tools like a saw, hammer, tape measure and drill.

Remember those videos and articles about how to make a shadow box mentioned earlier in this article? Well, most of those will list the materials you need in order to tackle your shadow box project. The tools and raw materials will likely be shared with you, so can piece together what you think you need in order to make a shadow box.

If you find that you lack the tools needed to make a shadow box, consider renting some from the local home improvement store. Military base hobby shops are a great place to work with borrowed tools as well. In addition, some home improvement stores and craft shops have free workshops where you can sign up and build items using their tools. If all else fails, you can always buy the tools and add them to your toolbox.

The main thing to remember when you ask yourself how to make a shadow box is that the box will hold many of the priceless items that you hold near and dear, many that were hard-earned like Ranger tabs, combat action awards and badges, and certain medals for work you’re proud that you performed. You want to house your military memories in something that you can be proud of.

So, use an internet search engine and ask the question how to make a shadow box. If you find that the project is overwhelming or that you will be punching above your weight class as a craftsperson by trying to make a shadow box, then you should reach out to the professionals at USAMM and order a shadow box.

Ordering a shadow box from USAMM is much easier than building your own and they can also fill it with all of the medals, patches and insignia that you’ve earned. How to make a shadow box is an easy question to answer. The steps, materials and tools needed can be looked up anywhere on the web, but if you are asking that question, maybe it is best to leave that task to the professionals.

What to Expect in Army Boot Camp

Drill instructor yelling at recruit

Not all professions have an indoctrination; an event that serves as a rite of passage. If an individual wants to learn a trade, they attend classroom and on-the-job vocational training and then take tests to earn certifications once their studies are done. Similarly, if an individual goes to college, they attend classes and their education culminates with graduation. For individuals who pursue military careers, basic training, known in the ranks by various unofficial titles such as boot camp, BMT, BCT, and basic, is the entry-level military training program that enlisted personnel must attend before they can wear a U.S. military uniform.

How long is basic training? The answer depends on which branch of service an individual chooses. Army basic training is 10-weeks long, the Navy’s is seven weeks. Air Force BMT is eight weeks along with Space Force. The Marines have the longest boot camp, 12 weeks.

Army Basic Combat Training is an introduction to the U.S. Army. An individual learns Army traditions, history, tactics and methods of soldiering. However, a potential recruit could be misinformed or misled if they believe that training is just 10 weeks in duration. Training lengths vary depending on the military occupational skill that is selected by a recruit. Some professions like military police, infantry and armor, have one station unit training where the entire basic combat training class begins to train together in their military profession once basic training ends. That extends training, so potential recruits should be sure to ask how long is basic training for their chosen professions.

Basic training is more than just a crash course in discipline, physical fitness, uniform wear, grooming and drill and ceremony. Trainees learn the value of working together as a team.

Army basic combat training has three phases; red, white and blue phases. The red phase is designed to help a recruit transition from civilian life. During this phase recruits get orientations and lots of briefings. They are issued military uniforms and are briefed on expectations. They are required to learn the Soldier’s Creed and Warrior Ethos, but also to begin living by those words.

Drill instructor starring at recruit

The red phase of Army basic combat training can be, for some, a period that has them asking themselves how long is basic training because of the amount of information and tasks that are thrown at a recruit. Most manage it with no problem. Recruits participate in physical training, drill and ceremonies, first aid training and fan favorite, the gas chamber where recruits must properly utilize their gas masks. After three weeks, recruits move into the white phase of training.

During the white phase, recruits are introduced to rifle training. They learn basic marksmanship and they are also introduced to hand-to-hand combat. Recruits increase their physical training and are required to navigate obstacle courses and rappel from the 50-foot Warrior Tower. At the end of this phase, trainees have been at basic training for six weeks. By this point, they are likely no longer asking themselves, how long is basic training?

The final phase of Army basic combat training is the longest, the blue phase, which lasts four weeks. Recruits will continue their physical fitness training and continue to build on skills already learned, but they will also be expected to perform advanced marksmanship and learn to maneuver and engage threats as a team. In this phase, recruits throw live grenades, set mines and fire machineguns. They are also required to participate in and pass a multi-day land navigation course that tests all of their soldier skills before they earn the right to be called an American soldier.

Those interested in Army enlisted service asking themselves how long is basic training should think about the fact that they will learn many Warrior Tasks and Battle Drills. This knowledge serves as a foundation of their individual soldier skills. Warrior Tasks come in four forms; shoot, move, communicate and survive. Battle Drills are team-based tactical skills that teach recruits how to react to enemy contact, evacuate wounded personnel, and perform various tasks in combat.

In order to graduate from Army basic combat training, a recruit must complete and pass a fitness test, show proficiency with their assigned weapon, demonstrate the ability to use a protective mask, show proficiency in all Warrior Tasks, Battle Drills and first aid, negotiate the obstacle course, complete hand-to-hand combat training, qualify with a hand grenade, complete a 10-mile tactical foot march, pass a land navigation course and complete assigned field training and training exercises.

While basic training can seem daunting for those who are civilians, once a recruit is immersed in the military culture, working as a team and in the rhythm of the training days, they will have little time to reflect on the fact that they once asked, how long is basic training. For some it will be a slog, for others it will pass quickly and be a blur. For all, it will be their indoctrination into the U.S. Army ranks and earn them the right to be called, U.S. soldiers.

What Does A Purple Heart Mean? 5 Facts You Didn't Know

Old cloth patch of a heart with MERIT written across it.

What does a Purple Heart mean?

The answer to that question depends a lot on who is asked. For many military personnel, a Purple Heart is an award that many want to avoid. While it is one of the most honorable awards presented to U.S. military personnel on behalf of the president of the United States, it is an indicator that a person was injured or killed during combat with an enemy of the United States. The circumstances to qualify for the award tend to be precarious.

Here are five facts you probably didn't know about the Purple Heart that might help you answer the question, what does a Purple Heart mean?

1. Automatic Entitlement
The Purple Heart is an award that military personnel are automatically entitled to if they meet the criteria. A wounded or killed service member is not recommended for the award much like a medal presented for achievement. For military personnel the question, what does a Purple Heart mean, is answered simply. The Purple Heart means that a U.S. military member exposed themselves to harm in service to their nation and in some cases, that service cost them their lives. Within the ranks of the U.S. military, the Purple Heart is revered and respected and for many it is reflective of the values military personnel live each day.

Some military personnel take for granted that most Americans know what the Purple Heart is, or there is an assumption that they should know because of the magnitude of the award. However, a common question amongst civilians is what does a Purple Heart mean? Let's look into the medal's background.

2. U.S. Military's First Medal
The first decoration or medal of the U.S. military was created in 1780 by the Continental Congress. It was called the Fidelity Medallion and it was created to recognize three Continental Army soldiers who captured British Army Major John André, the man who had worked with Benedict Arnold to betray the colonies. The Fidelity Medal, also known as the André Capture Medal, was presented to three soldiers who were members of the New York militia. Privates Isaac Van Wart, David Williams and John Paulding all received the award. The Fidelity Medallion was never again awarded and for this reason the Badge of Military Merit, which later became the Purple Heart, is considered the first military medal of the U.S. military. More clearly, it is the oldest U.S. military medal still awarded.

Non-veterans and people unassociated or unfamiliar with the U.S. military might ask what does a Purple Heart mean? The answer is in the country’s history.

3. Designed by Washington
In 1782, George Washington designed and created the Badge of Military Merit. Initially the award was to recognize meritorious military service. The decoration would be presented to soldiers who displayed gallantry in battle, but also fidelity in their service. The Badge of Military Merit was an award that was created by Washington for all soldiers and not just for officers who had been victorious in battle. Military protocols in the 1700s recognized officers mostly.

Enlisted soldiers Elijah Churchill, Daniel Bissell and William Brown were the first Continental Army soldiers to receive the Badge of Military Merit for their service in key Revolutionary War battles. But after the colonies earned their independence, the Badge of Military Merit became a dormant award for roughly 150 years. There were no real answers when someone asked what does a Purple Heart mean because the award was all but obsolete.

4. MacArthur Revived the Medal
In 1932, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Douglas MacArthur decided to breathe new life into the award to help commemorate the bicentennial of Washington’s birthday. MacArthur worked with the War Department and renamed the Badge of Military Merit; it became the Purple Heart because the Badge’s original configuration was a heart-shaped cloth. 

MacArthur helped design the Purple Heart Medal to look as we know it today. The medal has a purple ribbon and a heart-shaped medallion with the bust of Washington in the center. MacArthur would become the first person to receive the modern version of the Purple Heart. Military historians believe he awarded himself the medal retroactively for service in World War I. About 136 World War I veterans also received the initial award. What does a Purple Heart mean to those WWI veterans? That their sacrifices and the physical harm they endured for the nation was recognized.

In 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt refined the rules for the Purple Heart by expanding eligibility of the award to other services and issuing a strict-criteria that the award only be awarded to those wounded or killed in combat. U.S. military members of any rank qualify for the award if they have been wounded or killed in action.

5. Millions have earned the medal
Today, when people ask what does a Purple Heart mean, Americans should know that roughly 1.8 million Purple Heart Medals have been awarded since it was created in 1932. The majority have been presented to men and women who have been wounded or killed in action.

For some U.S. military families, the question what does a Purple Heart mean has a special answer because their family members were either wounded in battle or have been killed in action. For them, August 7, Purple Heart Day in the United States, is a day unlike any other and they take time to pause and reflect on their wounded or killed family members.

The Purple Heart Medal is an award that can be bestowed multiple times to a single individual.

Service members can receive multiple Purple Heart Medals throughout their military careers. U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Albert Ireland was awarded the Purple Heart medal nine times over a 12-year period. He was wounded five times while serving in World War II and then received four additional wounds during the Korean War. Curry T. Haynes, a deceased Army veteran of the Vietnam War earned 10 Purple Hearts, according to the USO, but aside from a news article, the information is unverified.

Haynes received his first Purple Heart after being shot in the arm in an ambush and after surgery in Japan, he returned to his unit which was fighting in the jungles of Vietnam. During one battle, he would be wounded nine times by a variety of enemy weapons. The action cost him two fingers.

What does a Purple Heart mean? After reading this, one word should come to mind. Sacrifice.

What is the Difference Between the Army and the Marines?

Ask any military veteran and they can easily sound off many differences between the U.S. Army and the U.S. Marine Corps. The uniforms are different. The training is different. Where they serve is different. Most glaringly, their core missions are different, although they seem similar at face value.

However, to a person unfamiliar with the U.S. military’s branches, superficially, the two branches have a lot in common. Both have infantry, aircraft, logistical support elements and extensive combat arms units. Not surprisingly, potential recruits ask what’s the difference in an Army vs Marines comparison? It is a valid question and the comparison is worth a closer look to help recruits determine if they would like to serve in the Army or the Marine Corps. What’s the difference between Army vs Marines? Read on.

First, the U.S. Army is comprised of an active-duty component and a reserve component that consists of the Army Reserve and the Army National Guard. The Army Reserve is a federal force that mostly provides combat service support to the combat arms branches and the Army National Guard is a state-controlled force which falls under the command and control of the governor of a state. The National Guard tends to have warfighting and support units. In times of emergency, a governor can mobilize the National Guard to assist in the state’s response to an event. Similarly, a president can mobilize and federalize National Guard personnel to serve in times of national crisis. Army National Guard, Army Reserve and active-duty Army all train at U.S. Army schools, but they serve in different capacities.

The active-duty Army conducts full-spectrum operations around the world. The Army Reserve serves ordinarily, one weekend per month, two weeks per year for annual training. The National Guard has the same training requirements as the Army Reserve, for the most part, but it should be noted that most Guard and Reserve personnel put in much more than just two days per month and two weeks per year. The operational tempo of the U.S. military has caused the Guard and Reserve to shoulder a lot of domestic and international missions, so gone are the days of the traditional weekend warrior as they were once affectionately called.

A person interested in joining the active-duty Army would become one of about 480,000 on duty around the world. The Army National Guard has around 336,000 and the Army Reserve has about 200,000 in its ranks. In the Army vs Marines comparison, the Army has far greater career opportunities for an individual to work in a career field of his or her choice, and to do that work in either a full or part-time manner.

Active duty is a lifestyle. An individual is immersed in the military because they live it every day. It is not just a job, but the services expect their members to live their lives according to a certain ethos; a set of virtuous values. The same can be said of the reserve and National Guard components, but there is more flexibility in that commitment. Reservists and National Guardsmen can attend college or vocational training usually paid for by the government. They can also continue to work in their chosen career fields in their civilian lives. For example, a National Guardsman might train as an airborne infantryman two days per month, but the rest of the month he can be a college student studying engineering. Or maybe an Army Reservist is working as a veterinarian technician full-time and attending classes part-time to get into vet school. The point is, being in the part-time military offers people flexibility whereas the active-duty military requires full commitment to service. Army vs Marines? The Army wins by a long shot when it comes to varying professional opportunities, both full- and part-time but the Marines are still a viable option for someone looking for part-time service.

The Marine Reserve Forces have approximately 38,500 personnel in it. The opportunities are clearly limited, but they exist as do many different career fields. By comparison, the Marine Corps has 186,000 Marines on active-duty. But while the Marines are small in numbers, they are notorious for their fighting prowess. Handfuls of Marines can accomplish a lot in austere conditions, but the fact is, they are small which means promotions are limited as are career opportunities. The opportunities are fewer than in the Army, but that point is a source of pride for Marines.

On this side of the coin, Army vs Marines, the Marines win hands down. A person seeking professional opportunities in the Army to advance themselves has more opportunities in a larger organization like the Army, but if an individual is seeking a personal challenge, where they will put the organization first over themselves, then they would likely thrive in the Marines. The Marines pride themselves on being small in numbers and completing training is a rite of passage that enables graduates to become part of a small group of Americans that have earned the Marine title. The physical requirements are harder than the Army’s and the Marine Corps requires a higher general score on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery exam. When it comes to higher entry-level standards in the Army vs Marines comparison Marines win.

For an individual who isn’t considering college or vocational training, the Marine Corps might be a good fit in the Army vs Marines comparison. Service in the Corps indoctrinates an individual into enduring high levels of stressors and rising to challenges, traits that can help a person for the rest of their lives.

The Marine Corps is part of the Department of the Navy, but it is its own military service. It’s structure is similar to the Army and includes teams, squadrons, platoons, companies, battalions, divisions, etc. Recently, there has been a push by Marine Corps leadership to return the Corps to its naval combat roots even though it is still considered the U.S. military’s primary response team because it can mobilize faster than the Army. It is more agile because of its size. The Army, of course, is a separate service and falls under the Department of the Army, a part of the Department of Defense.

The U.S. government uses the Army to address long-term conflicts, but that is not to mean that the Marine Corps isn’t involved in long wars. The Corps has maintained a presence in Afghanistan since the war began in 2001.

If a person is comparing the Army vs Marines, there are many similarities and equally as many differences. The one thing that is the same is that the people who join the Army and the Marines devote themselves to the defense of the country and strive to serve their fellow Americans.

The Evolution of the Thin Ribbon Rack

thin rack

The use of military ribbons on military uniforms in the form of a ribbon rack began in the U.S. military during the early 1900s when the services sought a more functional way to display military awards. At the time, military awards and decorations saw a significant increase in creation and establishment and a more inclusive awards criteria was ushered in.

According to the U.S. Navy, in 1905 the U.S. Army with the support of President Theodore Roosevelt, created awards for wear on the military uniform which commemorated service in military campaigns. Three years later in June 1908, the U.S. Navy issued Special Order No. 81 which authorized awards from the Civil War, the Spanish-American War and the Boxer Rebellion.

Ordinarily, decorations had been reserved for formal uniforms, but in the 1900s the U.S. military’s uniform practices shifted and military personnel started to use ribbons on their duty uniforms to reflect awards and decorations they had earned. There was a functional need to display awards and decorations on the work uniform as more and more military personnel participated in expeditionary-type missions.

The nation’s oldest awards like the Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross,  Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross and Purple Heart, all had ribbons designed for recipients to wear in lieu of the full medal. More than 90 years later, thin ribbons were authorized and introduced to the ranks as an alternative to the bulkier, traditional military ribbons. The thin ribbons developed a huge following in the military because they were lightweight and looked sharper than traditional ribbons.

The 20th Century brought an uptick in military campaigns. World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, to name a few, all have service medals authorized for wear on U.S. military uniforms which when added to personal decorations like the Bronze Star Medal or the Meritorious Service Medal, can create quite the “fruit salad” on an individual’s chest. Fruit salad, by the way, is the unofficial name of what many military personnel call their military ribbon racks because the racks resemble the multiple colors of a fruit salad.

As the services created more service medals and more and more personnel deployed, individual ribbon racks began to grow. These days it isn’t uncommon to hear military personnel ask “What ribbons do you get for deploying with the Army?” because they know upon return from their deployments, they will have to make adjustments to their ribbon racks.  

If a soldier deployed to Iraq in 2007, for example, they could earn the Iraqi Campaign Medal for service in Iraq as well as the National Defense Service Medal which is awarded if an individual served in the U.S. military during the Global War on Terror for the period from September 2001 to a time yet to be determined. An individual might also earn a decoration while deployed like the Army Achievement Medal or Army Commendation Medal. If the soldier is part of a mission like the NATO Training Mission in Iraq, that person might also qualify for the NATO Training Mission Iraq Medal.  

Members of other services also qualify for the previously mentioned service awards in addition to foreign entity awards like the NATO medal, and in addition, they will also qualify for awards like the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, Air Force Achievement Medal, and the Air Force Commendation Medal. When mobilized to serve for the U.S. Navy, Coastguardsmen can earn the Coast Guard Achievement Medal and Coast Guard Commendation Medal. Coast Guard personnel under operational Navy control as a result of presidential callup can also qualify for Navy awards and decorations.

Needless to say, with more than 100 ribbons that a U.S. military member can earn for achievement, service or gallantry, thin ribbons are an excellent way to neatly and professionally display earned awards and decorations on a U.S. military uniform. The flat, sharp-corned ribbon racks do not fray like most traditional ribbon racks and they can be affixed to a uniform in a variety of ways. If a military member is looking to make an impression, pinning on thin ribbons is like starching your ribbon rack. They are flat and look crisp.

But it should not be forgotten that the evolution of the traditional military ribbon rack into a thin ribbons rack likely developed in the same way that the military ribbon rack developed, out of necessity. Remember, in the early 1900s the U.S. military wanted to make it easier for their personnel to wear earned awards and decorations, so the ribbon rack was created. Today, in that spirit, the thin ribbon rack has evolved and will likely someday replace the traditional ribbon rack.

In the case of ribbons racks, bigger is not necessarily better and thin ribbons are definitely an investment every soldier, sailor, Marine, airman, guardian and Coastie should think about.

History of U.S. Military Medals

andre capture medal

In the U.S. military, the history of awards and decorations is, for the most part, not really something that is taught or handed down as a historical legacy. While military medals have an important role in the U.S. military, the history of how military medals became a part of the U.S. military culture is rarely discussed. That said, here’s what we’ve dug up.

A medal is normally metal that is struck with a design to commemorate an event. They are created using various methods, but these days most are done using pressured machines. In the past, bronze, silver and gold were used. Today, most military medals are made of metal alloys.

Antonio di Puccio Pisano, also known more commonly as Pisanello, is known widely as the inventor of the medal as we know it today. Pisano’s first medal, made in 1438, commemorated the visit to Italy of Byzantine emperor John VIII Palaeologus. Pisanello’s medals were small reliefs or portraits and according to historians, they were given out to nobility. Pisanello’s medal-making process stayed in Italy until around the 16th Century and then it spread to neighboring countries in Europe.

While it is subject to debate, the historian Titus Flavius Josephus wrote that Alexander the Great presented a button-like award to one of his military leaders which could mark the first military medal ever presented. And the Romans also used coin-like medallions to recognize military participation, effort and achievement and some of those medallions adorned Roman warriors as jewelry. Roman soldiers decorated themselves with medallions known as phalera. The phalerae that had been awarded to them represented the campaigns in which they had fought.

Similarly, according to an article published by the U.S. Navy, the Egyptians had the Order of the Golden Fly, a golden necklace decorated with flies to signify themselves as a pestilence to the enemy. During the Middle Ages, the jewelry presented for military achievement evolved into a pendant-like item, shaped like a disc. Known as a bracteate, this thin medal included loops that made them easy to wear. One of these, the Liuhard medalet, was struck in 6th Century CE.

In the 16th Century, medals were struck by rulers to commemorate specific events, including military battles and more specifically, military victories. The wider use of military medals was on the rise and the roots of our current military award system grew from this era. Specifically, combatants were presented with tokens from those who had sent them into harm’s way, but it should come as no surprise to anyone in the ranks that the bulk of the appreciation was poured on high-ranking military leaders.

Fast forward to the 13 colonies. Many in the U.S. military ranks incorrectly believe that the first U.S. military medal was the Badge of Military Merit which was created in 1782 and eventually became the Purple Heart. However, the oldest U.S. military medal is in fact the Fidelity Medallion which was created by the Continental Congress in 1780 and presented to those who captured British Army Major John André, the man who had worked with Benedict Arnold to betray the colonies. The Fidelity medal, also known as the André Capture Medal, was presented to three soldiers who were members of the New York militia. Privates Isaac Van Wart, David Williams and John Paulding all received the award. The Fidelity Medallion was never again awarded and for this reason the Badge of Military Merit is considered the first military medal of the U.S. military.

It is worth noting though that the Continental Congress had voted to present General George Washington, General Horatio Gates and Captain John Paul Jones with gold medallions for their national contributions in defeat of the British, however, the recognition would not be bestowed until 1790 after Washington was president. So the first-ever U.S. military medals were presented to Army privates and not high-ranking officers.

And while those who have served understand the difference, it is important to note that many in the civilian sector make no differentiation between awards and decorations. Yet they are two vastly different things. A decoration is usually earned for specific acts of bravery or achievement. An award or service medal is usually presented for service in a particular role or for service in a particular geographical area during a specific period of time.

For example, a military member who served as part of the COVID-19 response is eligible to wear the Armed Forces Service Medal or the Humanitarian Service Medal see (Depot Blog article). A soldier who deployed to Iraq is authorized to wear the Iraqi Campaign Medal and a soldier who has deployed to Afghanistan is authorized to wear the Afghanistan Campaign Medal, much like the Vietnam Service Medal is awarded for service in the geographical theater areas of Vietnam. These awards are earned by participation in a specific operation, like the Southwest Asia Service Medal for Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

One of the lesser known and early “service medals” is the Légion d’honneu which was created by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802 to recognize meritorious service. The award has since evolved into being one of France’s highest honors, but when Bonaparte created it, the award was inclusive and awarded to all ranks. Bonaparte recognized that these awards had a positive impact on the morale of his soldiers. They were, however, normally restricted for wear in formal uniforms. Bonaparte’s soldiers, in keeping with practices established by the Crusaders hundreds of years earlier, wore their awards over their left breast near the heart. The left side is also the shield side where swords were normally worn to be drawn with the right hand, shields protected not only the heart, but the awards.

Decorations are presented to the individual for gallantry, meritorious service or achievement. For example, a private can earn an Army Achievement Medal for being an exceptional soldier. A sailor can develop a new maintenance widget on a ship that saves the Navy millions of dollars per year and earn a Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal. A Marine can fight like a lion in a firefight while deployed and earn a Silver Star for gallantry. The point is, there are some awards that are given to everyone for being a part of an event (commemorating an event) and there are some medals presented to the individual for a job well done.

The one thing we know for sure is the military medals system of the U.S. military is imperfect. It is a system where some argue that awards like the Bronze Star Medal, Air Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, Legion of Merit and other military medals are given out too liberally to those who are closer to the flag pole and those who are out executing the mission and putting themselves at greater risk earn military medals of lesser impact. Opinions vary on the efficacy of the U.S. military medals system, but one thing is definite.

It was George Washington’s establishment of the Badge of Military Merit in 1782 that truly ushered in the use of U.S. military medals and created a military medals system for gallantry, fidelity and service. In 1932, Army Chief of Staff, General Douglas MacArthur revived the dormant Badge of Military Merit and the Purple Heart was established by order of the president with Washington’s likeness in the center of the medal and the words “For Military Merit” stamped on the reverse side of the medal, a tip of the hat to the award’s original roots.

The Stolen Valor Pandemic

Sometime in 2004, I read the book Stolen Valor written by B.G. Burkett, a former U.S. Army officer who served in Vietnam. Burkett’s book made me unbelievably cynical and there are times I wish I had never read it because as they say, ignorance is bliss. Burkett’s exceptional piece of investigative work created doubt in my mind towards anyone who claims to be a veteran, but fortunately over the years, I have been able to compartmentalize my emotions and the urge to automatically look at everyone with suspicion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cover image of the book Stolen Valor: How the Vietnam Generation Was Robbed of Its Heroes and Its History

I know that many of you can argue, as did Burkett in his book, that fakers aren’t just stealing tangible things from veterans, they are stealing intangibles like honor and valor. I agree. 

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

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

I think organizations like USAMM do a really good job ensuring that veterans get what they deserve. As a veteran, I know what it is like to actually earn something, so I have a vested interest in ensuring that posers don't get the opportunity to misrepresent themselves. USAMM is a veteran-owned business, and I'm a veteran of the Iraq War, so I’ve got a deep, personal interest to protect my fellow veterans from stolen valor. And I have a responsibility to the men and women who have served honorably.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today in Military History

US military soldiers marching in world war two era

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

History of Women in the Military

History of women in the military

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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