30 September 2011

The Red Bull in Winter

A group of approximately 50 "Red Bull" soldiers, veterans, friends, and family gathered in central Iowa earlier this month. It was the 34th Infantry Division Association's 64th Annual Reunion. Guest-blogger Ashlee Lolkus wrote about the event here.

The gathering was a mix of those who remember Italy and Africa, and those who remember Iraq and Afghanistan. Nationally, the organization numbers around 1,000 members. Like other groups of similar vintage, the 34th Infantry Division association faces a dwindling membership and flagging sense of purpose. Young people don't join clubs and go to dances like they used to. They don't join bowling leagues or Legion halls. And, face it, nobody in this life is getting any younger.

In 1951, in his retirement remarks to the U.S. Congress, U.S. Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur famously invoked the lyrics to a song sung often in the barracks: "Old soldiers never die. They just fade away."

So, apparently, do their organizations.

According to an Aug. 25, 2011 St. Louis Dispatch article regarding the 84th Division Association, "more of the men who made up the Greatest Generation are calling it quits when it comes to annual get-togethers with their wartime buddies. The 99th Infantry Division, the 40th Engineers, the 517th Parachute Regimental Combat Team and the crew of the aircraft carrier Enterprise are just a few groups that have hosted their final gatherings in recent months."

At a 34th Inf. Div. "final roll call" read during a cocktail-hour memorial service, names of 84 veterans who had died since the last meeting were read. Soberingly, some of those named were relatively young, killed in action during the Iowa National Guard's 2nd Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division (2-34th BCT) deployment to Afghanistan.

The names included that of U.S. Army Sgt. Devin A. Snyder, 20, of Cohockton, N.Y. Snyder was active-duty soldier who had been attached to Iowa's 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry Regiment (1-133rd Inf.) operating in Laghman Province, Afghanistan. She and three other military police were killed when an Improvised Explosive Device (I.E.D.) denotated outside a Laghman Povince village. The association historian speculated that Snyder was the first female Red Bull soldier to have been killed in action.

Also killed in that June 2011 event were three other members of the 164th Military Police Company, 793rd Military Police Battalion, 3rd Maneuver Enhancement Brigade:
Four other Red Bull names hit closer to home:
Some of the older 34th Inf. Div. soldiers hope to return the association to its former glories, particularly when it comes to reunion attendance. In an age of fractious social media, geographic dispersion, and declining interest in formal groups, however, maybe that's an old paradigm--an example of "fighting the last war." Merely getting together for an annual round of drinks and war stories won't cut it. There must be ways to honor, preserve, and celebrate Red Bull history--to make it relevant for recently retired veterans, today's soldiers, and tomorrow's recruits.

Rather than continually revisiting the past, the 34th Inf. Div. Assn. could maintain its relevance by changing task and purpose. Here are some quick ideas:
  • Conduct oral history or genealogy workshops for soldiers, veterans, and families.
  • Coordinate youth- or community-focused history education programs.
  • Underwrite permanent / traveling museum exhibits regarding 34th Inf. Div. history.
The memories of soldiers--young or old--never die. They just fade away.

But only if we let them.


28 September 2011

Association Celebrates Red Bull History

Editor’s note: Army Staff Sgt. Ashlee Lolkus recently returned from Eastern Afghanistan, where she was the senior enlisted public affairs soldier for the Iowa National Guard's 2nd Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division (2-34th BCT). Lolkus and her team generated more than 150,000 words--equivalent to three good-sized novels--and hundreds of pictures and videos telling the story of Task Force Red Bulls.

It was not her first overseas or combat deployment: In 2005-2007, Lolkus deployed to Iraq as a logistics soldier with Minnesota's 1-34th BCT. In 2003-2004, she deployed along with other Red Bull soldiers to Kosovo. She has a brother currently deployed to Afghanistan.

Lolkus is likely the first woman wearing a Red Bull combat patch to be elected to the 34th Infantry Division Association board of trustees. She is also a long-time friend of the Red Bull Rising blog.


By Ashlee Lolkus

JOHNSTON, Iowa – “I thought I’d never see my family again,” said Stanley Vomacka, a World War II veteran who served with the U.S. 34th Infantry Division. “I was wounded there. My leg was shot off, and nobody would come to me to help me because we were under enemy gun, and there’s nothing that the Germans liked better than to see a wounded soldier and somebody trying to get in there to help him.”

“So, I laid under the hot sun watching the thirsty Earth drink up my blood. When the evening came, they were picking up all the wounded and the dead, but they missed me and I was left behind. It wasn’t until about 11 o’clock that night when the jeep driver decided to make one last sweep to see if anyone was left behind and he found my body.”

“I don’t know how he loaded me on the jeep; I weighed 199 [pounds] at the time. He loaded me with one end across the windshield and the other part of the litter in the back and brought me to the aid station. They cut off my clothes and threw them on the floor and I told the nurse, I said, ‘Gee, that’s a good shirt! Don’t cut my shirt!’ She just put her hand on my face and pushed me down ...”

“She walked away and spoke to the doctor, looked at me and then back. Then she walked back to me and asked if I wanted to see a chaplain. I said, ‘No! I haven’t lived yet!’”

World War II veterans such as Vomacka shared many of their war stories here in Johnston, Iowa, 9-10 Sept. during the 34th Infantry Division Association’s 64th Annual Reunion.

Even the wives of veterans shared stories of their husbands’ time serving with the Red Bulls. Mildred Fencl, of Morris, Ill., whose husband served in Company C, 1st Battalion, 168 Infantry Regiment (1-168th Inf.), and Darline Smith, of North Kansas City, Mo., whose husband served in Company A, 1-168th Inf., laughed about previous reunions and shared their husbands’ war stories just as if they were there.

Both women hold official positions in the association and regularly attend the reunions even though their husbands have passed away. Fencl, sergeant at arms, and Smith, a first-year board member, feel that it’s important to keep the traditions of the association alive.

“As a tribute to the World War II vets, we want to see the association go on,” Fencl said. She and many members of the association want to see the new generation of veterans take over where they leave off.

“We need the younger Red Bulls to carry on the tradition,” said Smith. “The World War II vets need to be remembered.”

Although around 50 people attended the reunion, only five of the guests were World War II soldiers.

Col. Benjamin Corell, commander of the 2-34th BCT, attended the reunion dine-out as the distinguished guest and speaker. He shared a story of his childhood when he went down to the legion hall, seeing the younger legion members honor the World War II Red Bull veterans when they came to the door.

“You’d hear them say, ‘He’s one of the guys that turned the tide against the axis powers of World War II,'” Corell explained. “That was my first experience seeing the Red Bull ... I’m very proud to be associated with that.”

Everyone that attended the reunion was no doubt proud to be associated with the Red Bulls. There were Red Bull hats, Red Bull polo shirts, Red Bull watches, Red Bull blazers ... It seemed everyone had a Red Bull displayed somewhere. However, one of the biggest fans of the Red Bulls was Pat Skelly, the association’s webmaster and historian.

Skelly, who never served under the Red Bull division directly, started getting involved when his father died. While going through his father’s old documents he discovered a chronology. Skelly’s father served as the 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry Regiment (1-133rd Inf.) commander from 1944 to 1945, when the unit was activated and sent to Italy to fight in World War II. Skelly says his father never really talked much about the war except for the funny stories.

Upon discovering his father’s history with the Red Bulls, Skelly set out to capture all of the Red Bull history. In 2000, Skelly set up the first dedicated Red Bull website: www.34infdiv.org. On it, Skelly, who recently completed his master’s degree in military history at Norwich University in Vermont in 2007, posts current Red Bull activity as well as archives of history and updated association information.

During the reunion dine-out, Corell presented Skelly with the Commander’s Award for Public Service signed by Maj. Gen. Timothy Orr, the Iowa National Guard’s commanding general. Skelly was awarded for the numerous hours of work put into the 34th ID history archives and website.

“I intend to keep the archives up forever,” he said. The association budgets for maintaining the website and he wants to make sure it stays that way. “We’ve taken to the idea of getting current guard members with us because that is the future of the association.”

“The first few years won’t mean much,” he explained, “but as they get older they will want to start seeing their buddies.” Many of the current serving Red Bull guard members are either deployed or have recently returned and need to spend time with their families and get situated, but after a couple of years of not seeing their comrades, they have the association, he said.

The association is happy to accept new members at any of its chapters located throughout Iowa, as well as a "Tri-State" chapter based in New York. There are efforts to establish a chapter in Minnesota as well. The cost is $10 per year membership due, which helps to maintain the website and other association programs.

Individuals interested in membership can find an application in the most recent issue of the group's newsletter. Or inquire with staff at the Gold Star Museum, located on Camp Dodge, Johnston, Iowa.


PHOTO No. 1, above
JOHNSTON, Iowa – Retired Army Col. Russell Bierl, association secretary, shakes the hand of World War II veteran, Joe Boitnott, with Col. Ron Albrecht, association president, at the Stoney Creek Lodge in Johnston, Iowa, during the 34th Infantry Division Association’s 64th Annual Reunion Sept. 10. Boitnott, who once served with the 168th Infantry Regiment as an infantry machine gunner, is one of five WWII veterans that were able to attend the event this year. (Photo by Ashlee Lolkus.)

PHOTO No. 2, above
JOHNSTON, Iowa – Charles Wise, with 133rd Infantry Regiment and recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross and the Purple Heart, Gerald Robertson, with the Special Troops of the 34th Infantry Division, Jerry Barnett, with 168th Infantry Regiment and Stanley Vomacka, with the 135th Infantry Regiment and recipient of the Purple Heart, all World War II veterans who served in the 34th Infantry Division, stand to be recognized during a dine-out at the Stoney Creek Lodge in Johnston, Iowa, during the 34th Infantry Division Association’s 64th Annual Reunion Sept. 10. The group was four of the five WWII veterans that were able to attend the event. (Photo by Ashlee Lolkus.)

PHOTO No. 3, aboveJOHNSON, Iowa -- Mildred Fencl, association’s sergeant at arms, and Darline Smith, a first-year board rustee, await the beginning of the 34th Infantry Division Association’s 64th Annual Reunion dine-out at the Stoney Creek Lodge in Johnston, Iowa, Sept. 10. Their husbands served in World War II in the 168 Infantry Regiment and became friends while in the association. Now they continue to attend the annual reunions even though their husbands have passed. (Photo by Ashlee Lolkus.)

PHOTO No. 4, above
JOHNSON, Iowa – Pat Skelly, association webmaster and historian stands with Col. Benjamin Corell, 2-34th Infantry Brigade Combat Team commander, and Col. Ron Albrecht, association president, after being awarded the Commander’s Award for Public Service signed by the Iowa National Guard Adjutant General, Maj. Gen. Timothy Orr, at the 34th Infantry Division Association’s 64th Annual Reunion dine-out at the Stoney Creek Lodge in Johnston, Iowa, Sept. 10. Skelly has spent a tremendous amount of time documenting and archiving 34th Infantry Division history as well as being the webmaster for the association website: www.34infdiv.org. (Photo by Ashlee Lolkus.)

PHOTO No. 5, above
JOHNSON, Iowa – Herman Poggensee, Des Moines Chapter president, displays a commemorative Red Bull water jug raffled at the 34th Infantry Division Association’s 64th Annual Reunion dine-out at the Stoney Creek Lodge in Johnston, Iowa, Sept. 10. The Red Bull patch was originally drawn-up with a bull skull placed inside a flattened Mexican water jug. The association raffled off the decorative item, as well as books, movies, and other prizes. (Photo by Ashlee Lolkus.)

22 September 2011

Fine Print and Blog Stuff


There are two new static pages on the Red Bull Rising page. A page titled "Fallen Soldiers" lists four Iowa National Guard soldiers killed 2nd Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division's (2-34th BCT) 2010-2011 deployment to Afghanistan. The page replaces "Help Our Soldiers"--an earlier, partial listing of combat injuries and deaths from the deployment.

A page titled "Friends & Allies" lists groups that share similar objectives to that of the Red Bull Rising blog: To remember, support, and celebrate citizen-soldiers past and present, as well as their families, along with links to their respective websites. Check them out, and help where you can.

A page titled "Share Your Stories" has been put on hiatus. The page--which sought to collect stories from Red Bull soldiers, veterans, and families via an on-line questionnaire--generated lots of page hits, but few submissions.



Here's a quick footnote (maybe it's a "paw-note"?) to some doggy stories I've told (here and here) over the past couple of months : On page 61 of the September 2011 issue of Men's Journal, in a sidebar to a 3-page feature regarding military working dogs, you can sniff out a tiny mug-shot of Sgt. 1st Class Timmy. Timmy is a yellow Labrador working as a therapy dog at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, with whom I visited earlier this summer. Nothing big. I didn't write the story, I just happened to take the snap.

Still, I think it's kind of funny that the tiny photo represents the biggest sale to-date from my 2011 Afghan travels.

Ah, well ... every dog has his day.



I almost dropped my beer when Foreign Policy magazine blogger Tom Ricks mentioned the Red Bulls right after musing about Budweiser's Clydesdales. I like how he makes connections.

And I owe him a beer.

21 September 2011

Update on Iowa Red Bull Soldier's Rehab

Iowa National Guard Cpl. Adam Eilers, 24, of Garber, Iowa, is fighting to come home. Eilers is a member of Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry Regiment (1-133rd Inf.), headquartered in Waterloo. He was injured Feb. 21, 2011, in Afghanistan's Laghman Province when a homemade bomb exploded under the armored vehicle in which he was riding. Three other soldiers were injured in the incident.

Last Sunday, Sept. 18, the Des Moines (Iowa) Register's Tony Leys profiled Eilers in an exceptionally clear-eyed, compelling, and informative newspaper feature headlined "From the Edge of Death to Rehab: A soldier fights back." The package includes a video interview with Eilers, as well as additional photographic coverage by the Register's Mary Chind.

Even before his injury, Eilers showed up in media coverage of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division deployment.

Prior to mobilization, in August 2010, Des Moines (Iowa) Register writer Reid Forgrave told a story about Eilers and his Eastern Iowa buddies mucking about on some Eastern Iowa backroads. He also showed up briefly in a Red Bull Rising blog-post about a September 2010 live-fire exercise at National Training Center, Fort Irwin, Calif.

According to this week's newspaper article, Eilers cheekily charges $5 per person to visit his Minnesota hospital room. He says it's keg money for a bonfire party he'll hold at home in Iowa next spring.

People and organizations wishing to help offset Eilers' more serious expenses, however, can continue to send monetary donations to:

Adam Eilers Benefit Fund
c/o Garnavillo Savings Bank
P.O. Box 100
Garnavillo, IA 52049

20 September 2011

Iowa Red Bull Soldier Awarded Bronze Star

NaMaster Sgt. Todd Eipperle, 46, received a hero's welcome with a Marshalltown, Iowa, parade and ceremony Sat., Sept. 17. A member of a 16-member Embedded Training Team (E.T.T.) in Panjshir Province, Afghanistan, Eipperle was wounded when he responded to a July 2011 attack by a rogue Afghan security officer that killed fellow Iowa Army National Guard soldier Sgt. 1st Class Teryl L. Pasker, 39, and retired Connecticut State Trooper Paul Protzenko, 47. Eipperle shot and killed the assassin, and himself suffered gunshot injuries.

The incident took place in a province considered so secure that U.S. personnel do not typically wear body armor, and drive armored Sport Utility Vehicles (S.U.V.) rather than heavier Army trucks. The shooting also occurred just days or weeks before Eipperle and Pasker were slated to return home with the rest of Iowa's 2nd Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division.

See previous Red Bull Rising blog posts about the incident here and here.

Saturday's event included a proclamation from the acting mayor of Marshalltown, declaring "Master Sgt. Todd Eipperle Day," as well as a parade and ceremony attended by hundreds. Boy and Cub Scouts featured prominently throughout--in his civilian career, Eipperle is District Director for the Boy Scouts of America's Mid-Iowa Council. Before the Marshalltown crowd, Eipperle was presented a Bronze Star Medal for meritorious service during his Afghan tour. Previously, he had been presented the Purple Heart during a hospital stay in Germany. He continues to be on active-duty orders at Fort Riley, Kansas pending medical release, His family anticipates he will be home full-time by mid-October.

Media coverage of the Saturday event included: