Just as the name is not your typical acronym, Mission: VALOR is not your typical approach to veteran employment. The focus is intensely practical, and designed to integrate with efforts by others so that some critical gaps are filled. It is new, so new we don't have the website up and running yet. We do have our domains and other critical things done, but our focus is on getting the practical and critical done -- which means the website and more will wait.
I also want to thank the United War Veterans Council, Army Week Association, Hope for the Warriors, and Carl Churchill of Lock-N-Load Java for their support, help, and encouragement. I particularly want to thank and commend the members of the Executive Leadership Committee for their time and invaluable contributions as we investigated if this project was needed, viable, and how best to move forward when that decision was made. To the newer members of that group, my thanks for your patience when I forget to explain some of what went into various decisions because I forget that you weren't there all along...
Also, expect to see more about activities of the United War Veterans Council (so much more than the parade!) and Army Week here in the days ahead. I have the honor of working with both groups, and will be sharing more about them at my site and some here. The Army Birthday is coming soon, and I am heavily involved with those activities -- especially the Birthday Gala.
And, of course, there will be more about Mission: VALOR as we move ahead. Screw the official goals, I think we can do an order of magnitude more this year with a small pinch of luck and the right support.
"Dr. King’s dream was not for us to define ourselves or be defined by what we have or don’t have, but to live up to the best that we can be.”
Posted By Blackfive
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, left, speaks with Army Col. Gregory D. Gadson before the Martin Luther King Jr. Day event at the Pentagon, Jan. 16, 2014. DOD photo by U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Aaron Hostutler
Commander Praises Perseverance in MLK Observance Speech
By Amaani Lyle American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 16, 2014 – An injured Iraq war veteran and the garrison commander of Fort Belvoir, Va., described the alignment of his ideals with those of Martin Luther King Jr., during the Defense Department’s Annual MLK Observance.
“King never served in the military, but he commanded an Army of Americans dedicated to fulfilling our country’s highest ideal, that all men and women are created equal,” Gadson said.Army Col. Gregory D. Gadson delivered the keynote speech, discussing overcoming his own challenges, primarily from injuries he sustained in May 2007 from a roadside bomb in Baghdad.
The ideal, he added, was “forged in the heat of battle here at home in the struggle for civil rights and around the world in wars against tyranny and oppression.”
The colonel, a double amputee, also reminded people that seriously injured wounded warriors across the services must not only prove that they contribute, but also that they can continue to serve and should not automatically be disqualified because of their injuries.
“My injuries caused significant physical, mental and emotional changes in me -– it has not been easy,” Gadson said, adding that society alone couldn’t reintegrate him. “I had to learn to accept myself before I could contribute again.”
Gadson said he’s seen continued emphasis on the inclusion, integration and opportunities for all races in the military.
“Dr. King’s dream was not for us to define ourselves or be defined by what we have or don’t have, but to live up to the best that we can be.”
But he observed how being disabled impacts job prospects.
“If you … look at the unemployment rate for those with disabilities compared to now, there has been very little progress made in 20-plus years,” he said.
According to the U.S. Labor Department, eight out of every 10 people with disabilities are not in the labor force, which Gadson described as a sign that there is much progress to be made.
The colonel said he hopes those with severe wounds can serve as examples of overcoming and adapting, and illustrating the ideal of making contributions regardless of perceived limitations.
“The United States military is the most resilient and diverse institution in the world,” Gadson said, noting that not long ago soldiers in his condition would be medically discharged. “I’m amazed and proud to be part of a culture whose sacrifices are embodied by the Purple Heart [and] I’m also impressed by brothers and sisters who seamlessly move throughout formations without people knowing about their disabilities and challenges.”
Gadson recounted sitting at functions for an entire evening before someone would realize he was missing his legs. “At the end of the evening when I roll away, they were shocked, seeing me differently than I was,” he said.
Gadson said the key to success is the military’s diverse workforce and its commitment to change.
“Let us remember that change has never been quick, change has never been simple or without controversy, change depends on persistence, changes depends on determination,” he said.
Gadson described the U.S. military as the leader in social change.
“In this world-class force, there is no room for racism, sexism, prejudice, bullying or hazing,” Gadson said. “Do not tolerate it; do not accept it.”
Legion and Carhartt Take Care of Those Who Care for the Fallen
Posted By Blackfive
Sgt. Ruben Troyer, senior horse trainer, Caisson platoon, 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), gives Rambler, a Caisson horse, a reaffirming pat on the head after a successful training session at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Va. As part of the training, Troyer ensures each horse is able to respect, trust and have confidence in his rider. The Old Guard Caisson platoon is the only platoon of its kind in the Army, laying to rest our nation's heroes in Arlington National Cemetery, Va. Official DoD Photo.
The Caisson Platoon soldiers’ duties include caring for their horses – beginning with a 4:00 a.m. daily feeding – as well as polishing and preserving the tack and other equipment used in honoring the fallen at Arlington. The same troops ride the ceremonial horses in the funeral processions. As one can imagine, their service-issued barn clothing sees plenty of wear.
Not long ago, a self-employed software consultant and longtime volunteer troop supporter named Leta Carruth noted that the horse caretakers’ cold weather jackets were getting a bit threadbare.
Christmas for the Commandos in Afghanistan was always going to be different - but no one could have predicted just how different.
One minute they were singing carols at dusk beneath a mellow sun in the baked bare wasteland of Helmand province while wearing festive Santa hats, the next they were firing mortars after their Christmas Day service came under attack from the Taliban.
So rapid was the reaction of Royal Marines of 40 Commando that within less than a minute of the first "contact" from the Taliban's machine guns, they had sprinted the 200 metres to their mortar lines and had begun to return fire. And as these remarkable pictures show, such was the urgency there was no time to change their festive head gear into helmets and for 45 minutes they mortared Taliban positions with their ear defenders over their floppy bright red hats - and in one case a Christmas tree hat complete with coloured baubles. A helmet with reindeer antlers and bells was left on the ground in the rush.
Once the skirmish was over - and with no British casualties - the men and women calmly resumed their carol service in virtual darkness around the simple war memorial at Forward Operating Base Inkerman in northern Helmand.
God Bless her Majesty's Royal Marine Commandos and Merry Christmas from the (former) Colonies...
Nothing crushes your spirit more effectively than solitary confinement. Having no one else to rely on, to share confidences with, to seek counsel from, you begin to doubt your judgment and your courage. The loneliness robs you of everything - everything but time. When you are in solitary confinement you have nothing to think about other than time and just making it through another day. So needless to say, keeping track of the date is not difficult for a man held at length in solitary confinement.
In the five and a half years I was a prisoner of war in Vietnam, Christmas was always the most difficult time of year for me. I distinctly remember Christmas Eve 1969. I had been a POW for more than two years already, most of which was spent alone in my cell. Like many other cells in the Hanoi Hilton, mine was a small, empty room, roughly seven feet by ten feet with a concrete slab on the floor, which served as my bed. The walls were eighteen inched thick and the windows of each cell were boarded up so that the POWs could not communicate with each other. I remember there being a single, naked lightbulb dangling on a cord in the center of the ceiling and a small loudspeaker in the corner on which the Vietnamese would play various propaganda pieces.
It was about eight o'clock on Christmas Eve 1969. I was in pretty bad shape, having received some severe beatings from the North Vietnamese. On top of that, I had still not recovered from the injuries I received when I was shot down two years earlier. I was cold. I was injured. And as I lay there in my cell listening to Hanoi Hanna report on "the latest heroic victory over the American imperialists," I had some real serious doubts about my chances for survival.
Then the prison guards began to play a series of Christmas songs over the camp's public address system, the last of which was Dinah Shore singing "I'll Be Home for Christmas." As I lay there listening to that particular song, my spirits dropped to the lowest possible point. I was not sure if I would survive another night, let alone ever return home for another Christmas with my family.
It was then that I heard the tapping on my wall.
Despite the strict rule against it, the POWs communicated to each other by rapping on the walls of our cells. The secretive tap code was a simple system. We divided the alphabet into five columns of five letters each. The letter K was dropped. A, F, L, Q and V were the key letters. Simply tap once for the five letters in the A column, twice for F, three times for L, and so on. After indicating the column, pause for a beat, then tap one to five times to indicate the right letter. For example, the letter C is sent as: tap.tap tap tap.
We became so proficient at the tap code that in time the whole prison system became a complex information network. With each new addition to our population, word quickly passed from cell to cell about every POW's circumstances and information from home. The tap code was my sanity's saving grace. That daily personal contact through the drumming on my wall made my isolation more bearable. It affirmed my humanity and kept me alive.
The cell on one side of me was empty, but in the other adjacent room was a guy named Ernie Brace. Ernie was a decorated former Marine who had flown more than one hundred combat mission in the Korean War. He had volunteered as a civilian pilot to fly missions to secretly supply CIA -supported military units in the Laotian jungle. During one such operation in 1965 he was captured and handed over to the North Vietnamese. He was brutally tortured and kept in solitary confinement for three years at a remote outpost near Dien Bien Phu before he was even brought to the Hanoi Hilton in 1968.
As soon as I heard the tapping on Christmas Eve, I knew it was Ernie. I got up and pressed my ear against the cold stone wall of my cell. At first it was difficult to make out the faint tapping of my neighbor. But it soon became very clear.
"We'll all be home for Christmas," Ernie tapped. "God bless America ."
With that I began to cry.
When you are imprisoned, the enemy can take almost everything from you but they cannot take your spirit. Those unspoken words coming from Ernie - who, due to his work with the CIA , had the least chance of getting out of the camp alive - were a poignant affirmation that as Americans, we possessed a divine spark that our enemies could not extinguish - hope.
"We'll all be home for Christmas. God bless America ."
That simple message, in my darkest hour, strengthened my will to live. Ernie helped me realize that we would get home when we got home. Until then, we had to manage our hardships as best we could. Without his strength, I doubt I would have survived solitary confinement with my mind and self-respect intact.
It was long ago and far away. But around the holidays, when I hear "I'll Be Home for Christmas," I am always reminded of that time, that place, and the words of my friend Ernie Brace. He kept me going and lifted my spirits when they were in their greatest need of lifting. When I hear that song I think about Ernie. I think about my friends that never made it home for another Christmas. And I think of what a blessing it is to be an American.
Ernie Brace spent his first three years in captivity without any contact with another American until he was moved to Hanoi. The first person he communicated with (but didn't meet until after the war) was a guy who organized the prisoners and created their tap code...a guy by the name of John McCain...who authored "Home for Christmas." The day after, McCain and the prisoners were brought together for a Christmas service...used for PR with cameras taking pictures...McCain took the oportunity during the service to ignore the service, the guards, and the cameras and he briefed the prisoners on the tap code and how to keep hope alive. At one point, a guard asked him politely to be quiet. McCain swore at the guard and gave the finger to one photographer snapping a photo.
He was beaten severely for it the next day - cracked ribs, an arm re-broken, sick and despairing - guys like Ernie Brace took care of McCain as much as he took care of them.
Written by former Marine Corporal James M. Schmidt, in 1987 when stationed in Washington D.C., it was pounded out on a typewriter while awaiting the commading officer's Christmas holiday decoration inspection. It was originally title "Merry Christmas, My Friend", and was an instant success that reportedly brought tears to the eyes of the barrracks Commander who ordered it distributed to everyone he knew. It appeared in the barracks publication Pass in Review in December 1987 and Leatherneck Magazine in December 1991.
The poem was recorded as a tribute by Father Ted Berndt, a former Marine and Purple Heart recipient during World War II, currently residing in Dousman, Wisconsin for his daughter Ellen Stout, a Clear Channel radio personality.
‘Twas the night before Christmas, he lived all alone, In a one-bedroom house made of plaster and stone. I had come down the chimney, with presents to give and to see just who in this home did live.
As I looked all about, a strange sight I did see, no tinsel, no presents, not even a tree. No stocking by the fire, just boots filled with sand. On the wall hung pictures of a far distant land.
With medals and badges, awards of all kind, a sobering thought soon came to my mind. For this house was different, unlike any I’d seen. This was the home of a U.S. Marine.
I’d heard stories about them, I had to see more, so I walked down the hall and pushed open the door. And there he lay sleeping, silent, alone, Curled up on the floor in his one-bedroom home.
He seemed so gentle, his face so serene, Not how I pictured a U.S. Marine. Was this the hero, of whom I’d just read? Curled up in his poncho, a floor for his bed?
His head was clean-shaven, his weathered face tan. I soon understood, this was more than a man. For I realized the families that I saw that night, owed their lives to these men, who were willing to fight.
Soon around the Nation, the children would play, And grown-ups would celebrate on a bright Christmas day. They all enjoyed freedom, each month and all year, because of Marines like this one lying here.
I couldn’t help wonder how many lay alone, on a cold Christmas Eve, in a land far from home. Just the very thought brought a tear to my eye. I dropped to my knees and I started to cry.
He must have awoken, for I heard a rough voice, “Santa, don’t cry, this life is my choice I fight for freedom, I don’t ask for more. My life is my God, my country, my Corps.”
With that he rolled over, drifted off into sleep, I couldn’t control it, I continued to weep.
I watched him for hours, so silent and still. I noticed he shivered from the cold night’s chill. So I took off my jacket, the one made of red, and covered this Marine from his toes to his head. Then I put on his T-shirt of scarlet and gold, with an eagle, globe and anchor emblazoned so bold. And although it barely fit me, I began to swell with pride, and for one shining moment, I was Marine Corps deep inside.
I didn’t want to leave him so quiet in the night, this guardian of honor so willing to fight. But half asleep he rolled over, and in a voice clean and pure, said “Carry on, Santa, it’s Christmas Day, all secure.” One look at my watch and I knew he was right, Merry Christmas my friend, Semper Fi and goodnight.
Thanks to (the late) Bill Faith of Small Town Veteran for the poem link and correct attribution/origin of the poem!
[Note: As the poem was written by a Marine about a Marine and the recording was made by a Marine, I'm not sure why the recording was titled "Soldier's Silent Night". It might be because "soldier" can be used to describe anyone in the Armed Forces (capital S "Soldier" means Army). Or it just might be a mistake.]
Former Paratrooper and Army Officer, "Blackfive" started this blog upon learning of the valorous sacrifice of a friend that was not reported by the journalist whose life he saved. Email: blackfive AT gmail DOT com
Retired Special Operations Master Sergeant, Jim Hanson ("Uncle Jimbo") is now focused on writing about the military, politics, intelligence operations and foreign policy. Email: jimbo AT unclejimbo DOT com
Writer, photographer, and raconteur C. Blake Powers is the Laughing Wolf. He is independent in politics and covers topics including journalism, military, weapons, preparedness, space, science, cooking, food and wine, product and book reviews, and even spirituality. Email: wolf1 AT laughingwolf DOT net Laughing Wolf's Amazon Wish List
Bill Paisley, otherwise known as Pinch, is a 22 year (ongoing) active and
reserve naval aviator. He blogs over at www.instapinch.com on a veritable
cornucopia of various and sundry items and will bring a tactical naval
aviator's perspective to Blackfive. Readers be warned: any comments of or
about the F-14 Tomcat will be reverential and spoken in low, hushed tones.
Email: wpaisley AT comcast DOT net
Mr. Wolf has over 26 years in the Army, Army NG, and USAR. He’s Airborne with 5 years as an NCO, before becoming an officer. Mr. Wolf has had 4 company commands. Signal Corp is his basic branch, and Public Affairs is his functional area. He recently served 22 straight months in Kuwait and Iraq, in Intel, PA, and senior staff of MNF-I. Mr. Wolf is now an IT executive. He is currently working on a book on media and the Iraq war. Functional gearhead.
In Iraq, he received the moniker of Mr. Wolf after the Harvey Kietel character in Pulp Fiction, when "challenges" arose, they called on Mr. Wolf...
Email: TheDOTMrDOTWolfAT gmail DOT com
Deebow is a Staff Sergeant and a Military Police Squad Leader in the Army National Guard. In a previous life, he served in the US Navy. He has over 19 years of experience in both the Maritime and Land Warfare; including deployments to Southwest Asia, Thailand, the South Pacific, South America and Egypt. He has served as a Military Police Team Leader and Protective Services Team Leader and he has served on assignments with the US State Department, US Air Force Security Police, US Army Criminal Investigation Division, and the US Drug Enforcement Administration. He recently spent time in Afghanistan working with, training and fighting alongside Afghan Soldiers and is now focused on putting his 4 year Political Science degree to work by writing about foreign policy, military security policy and politics.
McQ has 28 years active and reserve service. Retired. Infantry officer. Airborne and Ranger. Consider my 3 years with the 82nd as the most fun I ever had with my clothes on. Interests include military issues and policy and veteran's affairs.
Email: mcq51 -at - bellsouth -dot- net
Tantor is a former USAF navigator/weapon system officer (WSO) in F-4E Phantoms who served in the US, Asia, and Europe. He is now a curmudgeonly computer geek in Washington, DC, picking the taxpayers pocket. His avocations are current events, aviation, history, and conservative politics.
Twenty-three years of Active and Reserve service in the US Army in SF (18B), Infantry and SOF Signal jobs with operational deployments to Bosnia and Africa. Since retiring he's worked as Senior Defense Analyst on SOF and Irregular Warfare projects and currently ensconced in the emerging world of Cyberspace.
Major Pain --
A Marine who began his blog in Iraq and reflects back on what he learned there and in Afghanistan. To the point opinions, ideas and thoughts on military, political and the media from One Marine’s View. Email: onemarinesview AT yahoo DOT com
Uber Pig was an Infantryman from late 1991 until early 1996, serving with Second Ranger Battalion, I Corps, and then 25th Infantry Division. At the time, the Army discriminated against enlisted soldiers who wanted use the "Green to Gold" program to become officers, so he left to attend Stanford University. There, he became expert in detecting, avoiding, and surviving L-shaped ambushes, before dropping out to be as entrepreneurial as he could be. He is now the founder of a software startup serving the insurance and construction industries, and splits time between Lake Tahoe, Boonville, and San Francisco, CA.
Uber Pig writes for Blackfive a) because he's the proud brother of an enlisted Civil Affairs Reservist who currently serves in Iraq, b) because he looks unkindly on people who make it harder for the military in general, and for his brother in particular, to succeed at their missions and come home in victory, and c) because the Blackfive readers and commenters help keep him sane.
COB6 spent 24 years in the active duty Army that included 5 combat tours with service in the 1st Ranger Battalion and 1st Special Forces Group . COB6 was enlisted (E-7) and took the OCS route to a commission. COB6 retired a few years back as a field grade Infantry officer.
Currently COB6 has a son in the 82nd Airborne that just returned from his third tour and has a newly commissioned daughter in the 4th Infantry Division.