28 August 2013

Is 'Cavalry Bull' Morale Patch 'More Hat, Less Cattle'?

While waxing historical earlier this week regarding the 113th Cavalry Regiment, I came across this photo of a decidedly unauthorized variant of the distinctive 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division patch. I am sworn to secrecy as to which trooper first flashed me this design, and to whether that encounter occurred in Iowa or Afghanistan.

With its horns hidden behind a U.S. Army cavalry Stetson, you might say that this "Cav Bull" version is "more hat, less cattle."

The Iowa Army National Guard's 1st Squadron, 113th Cavalry Regiment (1-113th Cav.) is headquartered in Souix City, Iowa, and maintains the historical lineage of the whole regiment. The 1-113th Cav. is now part of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division (2-34th BCT).

I worked up a PowerPoint-style slide using the "morale" patch, the term for any unauthorized patch that is manufactured for humorous purposes. In some U.S. Air Force units, morale patches are worn openly on designated days.

In my experience with Iowa's "Red Bull" units, funny patches are more likely worn concealed on the interior of a pocket flap. Other patches I've seen include:

  • "Infidel"
  • "Secret Squirrel"
  • "My fun meter is pegged"

Want to see more morale patches? Mil-spec Monkey offers selection for sale here. Tactical Tailor offers a selection for sale here.

When I used "Red Horse Cav" as the caption on this slide, people thought it was a horse. The 113th Cav. callsign is traditionally "Red Horse," but I opted to caption the slide with "Red Bull Cav." There are other cavalry units in the greater 34th Inf. Div., after all—perhaps they, too, can put it to use.

The phrase "If you ain't Cav ... you ain't s---" is often heard throughout the U.S. Army. Sometimes, particularly in tavern settings, it's even heard as a call and response.

But almost never in polite company.

26 August 2013

Iowa Cavalry Frees WWII Paris, Moves Out Like Ninjas

According to the "Today in National Guard History" website, August 25 is the anniversary of U.S. citizen-soldiers arriving in 1944 to liberate Paris. Notably, that includes troopers of the 113th Cavalry Regiment (113th Cav.), whose historical lineage is maintained in modern time by the Iowa National Guard's 1st Squadron, 113th Cavalry Regiment (1-113th Cav.).

The 1-113th Cav. is headquartered in Sioux City, Iowa, and is part of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division (2-34th BCT). (Coincidentally, August 25 is also the 1917 birthday of the "Red Bull" division.)

The regiment's World War I nickname of "Red Horse" pre-dates the division's World War II "Red Bull" moniker. Deployed to Eastern Afghanistan's Parwan Province in 2010-2011, the 1-113th Cav. operated as "Task Force Redhorse."

In World War II, the division had been the first to arrive in the European theater, but saw action in North Africa and Italy. The 113th Cav. took a different route in the war, however, finding itself assigned and reorganized to the XIX Corps in Europe. The 113th Cav. started the war as a combination horse and mechanized units, then converted entirely to the use of armored vehicles.

Cavalry soldiers enjoy a reputation for hard- and fast-charging action, whether on the battlefield or at the local bar. They also cultivate a constantly moving culture of irreverent humor, out-of-the-box thinking, and a "now you see us, now you don't" approach to their fighting and free-time.

Cavalry soldiers, in other words, are ninjas with cowboy hats.

To this day, cavalry soldiers celebrate their historical connections to their horse-mounted ancestors by wearing Stetson hats. There is even a tradition of awarding gold or silver spurs to soldiers, after they successfully complete a series of physical challenges called a "spur ride." The phrase "If you ain't Cav ... you ain't s---" is a cavalry motto throughout the Army.

Cavalry soldiers like to brag, but they can often back it up. Often loudly.

On the Iowa National Guard website, Army Chief Warrant Officer David L. Snook writes this about the 113th Cav. mission in World War II:
Throughout the month of August, Allied forces drove rapidly northeastward from Normandy toward Paris. During the advance, the 113th Cavalry had a dual mission – screening for the 30th Infantry Division and maintaining contact with VII Corps on the Division’s right and the 2nd Armored Division on the left. Division orders to the 113th read like something from the old horse cavalry days: "Fan out ahead of the advance in a fast bold run, keeping well ahead of our skirmish lines." [Emphasis added]
The Iowa unit's "first in Paris" claim is shared with members of a New Jersey National Guard unit, according to the National Guard's online historical calendar:
"Dammit colonel, I'm looking up at Notre Dame!" became the battle cry of an on-going feud between two former Guard units as each claim the bragging rights as to which American unit was the first to actually enter the city of Paris just as the Germans abandoned it. The statement was made by Captain William Buenzle, a New Jersey Guardsman, commanding Troop A, 38th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron to his commander, Colonel Cyrus Dolph III, commander of New Jersey's 102nd Cavalry Group, the famous "Essex Troop" to which the 38th was assigned.

The 38th was organized in 1942 from former Guardsmen of Iowa's 113th Cavalry Regiment. After the 38th was assigned to the 102nd in England it gained some New Jersey Guardsmen (including Buenzle) too. The other half of the 102nd Groups' compliment was it's own 102nd Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, also from New Jersey. [Emphasis added]

Ever since landing on Omaha Beach on June 8th (D+2 after "D-Day") the Group had been an important part of the scouting 'eyes' of the Allied advance through Normandy. On this date each squadron was scouting ahead for major components of the Allied armies. The 38th was patrolling for the 4th U.S. Infantry Division and the 102nd scouting for the French 2nd Armored Division. Both entered Paris at about the same time by two different routes. While Buenzle's statement gives strength to the 38th's claim, and the veterans of each claim to this day that their squadron was the "first," its safe to say that Guardsmen were indeed the "first in Paris."
A detail of note, however, is contained in a caption that accompanies the historical photo at the top of this blog post:
An M-8 "Greyhound" armored scout car of Troop B, 102nd Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron marches in the "Liberation Day" parade in Paris held on August 29th. Troop A of the 102nd, along with Troop A, 38th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron each claimed to be the "first in Paris" on this date. While the 102nd marched in the parade, the 38th missed it as it was dispatched north of the city in the continuing pursue of the Germans. [Empahsis added]
The Iowa cavalry troopers, in other words, had already moved on.

23 August 2013

Is Abrams Doctrine 'Total Force' ... or 'Total Farce'?

Today is the official birthday of the U.S. military's "Total Force" approach to organizing its people and equipment. The concept calls for integrating active-duty and reserve forces into a cohesive, professional, and all-volunteer military.

It is also a central theme to my larger writing and "Red Bull" research, which tells the story of 3,000 citizen-soldiers mobilized to Eastern Afghanistan in 2010-2011. This, as the boilerplate says, was the largest deployment of Iowa National Guard troops since World War II.

Together, the Army Reserve, the Army National Guard, the Air Force Reserve, and the Air National Guard comprise the "Reserve Component" (R.C.).

The Total Force concept is also informally called the "Abrams Doctrine."

As Chief of Staff of the Army, Gen. Creighton Abrams saw the Total Force policy as correcting a gap created by conscription—the draft—as well as the associated lack of popular support for the Vietnam War.

If large numbers of reserve and National Guard personnel were to be mobilized, the reasoning went, the communities and constituencies from which those soldiers came would be forced toward a decision point: Do they support whatever war was at hand?

John T. Correll, a former editor of Air Force Magazine, describes the premise this way:
In August 1974 [one year following the Total Force announcement], Abrams announced the Army force structure would increase to 16 combat-ready divisions by Fiscal 1978. The catch was integral brigades and battalions of those divisions and essential combat support would be in the Guard and Reserve. As a practical matter, it would be impossible to send the Army into anything more than a limited contingency without calling up the reserves. [Emphasis added]
Here's how the U.S. National Guard describes the events of Aug. 23, 1973 on its website:
Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird announces the adoption of the "Total Force Policy" as the new doctrine of American military preparedness. The war in Vietnam has just ended. One of the major conclusions drawn from that experience was that the American people had not supported the war because it was fought without a stated declaration and the Johnson Administration failed to mobilize and use large numbers of Reserve Component (RC) forces, including the National Guard. By conscripting individual men for service there is little notice by the larger community.

However, when an RC unit is mobilized, often taking dozens to hundreds of personnel at one time, attracting big local headlines and impacting whole communities in numerous ways. Only by having a supportive populous, one backing the effort, can American military objectives be met. By restructuring missions, trainings and equipment to more fully integrate RC units in with their active duty counterparts, it was hoped that the U.S. could never commit itself to another war without the debate sure to come by mobilizing the Guard and Reserves. [...] [Emphasis added]
I first arrived into the real-world Army in the early 1990s, when the country was in the middle of two other political "doctrines," each of which sought to define how and when U.S. forces would be deployed—and connected to popular opinion at home and abroad.

In a 1984 speech, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinburger argued that:

  • The United States should not commit forces to combat unless the vital national interests of the United States or its allies are involved.
  • U.S. troops should only be committed wholeheartedly and with the clear intention of winning. Otherwise, troops should not be committed.
  • U.S. combat troops should be committed only with clearly defined political and military objectives and with the capacity to accomplish those objectives.
  • The relationship between the objectives and the size and composition of the forces committed should be continually reassessed and adjusted if necessary.
  • U.S. troops should not be committed to battle without a "reasonable assurance" of the support of U.S. public opinion and Congress.
  • The commitment of U.S. troops should be considered only as a last resort.
Anecdotally, Operation Desert Storm would seem to validate the Abrams Doctrine. After all, it was a whole-hearted commitment of troops, as called for by both the "Weinburger Doctrine" and the derivative "Powell Doctrine." Massive mobilizations of reserve troops were more than tolerated—they were supported and celebrated.

The invasion of Iraq by coalition forces ended after 100 hours. Practically a flash in the musket pan.

After the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, however, the Reserve Component began to be transformed into an operational reserve, rather than a strategic one. Army forces were re-organized into modular units, each capable of deploying separately, rather than "rounding out" a larger unit.

The "brigade combat team" concept comes from this reorganization. Notably, Iowa's 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division was one of the first Army units to reorganize.

In the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, reserve units were routinely mobilized, rotating in and out of country, sometimes multiple times, over more than a decade. As Air Force Maj. Gen. Ron Dardis, then the adjutant general of the Iowa National Guard, reported to the Iowa state legislature in 2007: "They can't go to war without us."

Is that truly the case, however? Or, like the Abrams Doctrine it echoes, is the idea that citizen-soldiers can be a lifeline across the civil-military divide just so much magical thinking?

As mil-blogger and journalist Rebekah Sanderlin wrote, "[T]he American military went to war and America went shopping ..."

As I've observed elsewhere, the Iowa National Guard sent 3,000 citizen-soldiers—the equivalent of the small rural town in which I first worked as a newspaperman—and transported them halfway around the world to perform a mission on our republic's behalf. That's 3,000 mothers, sons, fathers, daughters, co-workers, neighbors, and employers.

The "Red Bull" soldiers went, because it was their duty. Or to test themselves. Or because their buddies were going.

They went to to answer the call of "God, Country, and Community." Or to seek out glory, adventure, or do good in the world. Or maybe they just needed the college money, or the regular paycheck.

Whatever their personal reasons, however, they ultimately went because "we the people" asked them to do it.

And they can't go to war without us.

21 August 2013

Poker Run Remembers 'Red Bull' Soldier Killed in 2011

The 2nd Annual Donny Nichols Poker Run will be held in Eastern Iowa this Sat., Aug. 31, 2012. The fund-raising event commemorates Iowa Army National Guard Spc. Donny Nichols, 21, of Shell Rock, Iowa, killed April 13, 2011 in Laghman Province, Afghanistan. The event will start and finish in Shell Rock.

In 2010, Nichols was deployed with 2nd Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division (2-34th BCT) in Eastern Afghanistan. Nichols was a member of Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry Regiment (1-133rd Inf.), which is based in Waterloo, Iowa.

Each year, event organizers direct funds to military-themed projects. Proceeds from this year's event, for example, will benefit Retreiving Freedom Inc., a Waverly, Iowa-based non-profit organization that trains mobility service animals for military veterans and children with autism. Last year, proceeds benefited the Shell Rock (Iowa) Soldier Memorial, a project to honor past and present area soldiers.

In a poker run, registered participants are dealt random cards. While many motorcyclists are anticipated, organizers emphasize that "all types of wheels" are welcome. At the final stop of the day, the participant with the highest poker hand wins a pot of cash. Raffles, T-shirt and bandana sales, and other fund-raising efforts will also take place during the event.

Ride shirts may be pre-ordered and pre-paid ($15 each) by Fri., Aug. 23. Contact Julie at 319.415.1144 or Jeanie at 319.464.2050. A limited number of shirts will also be on sale at the event.

On the front, the black T-shirts feature the Red Bull shoulder patch emblem. On the reverse, the shirts feature a shamrock design along with a message in Irish: "Hey, Taliban, Póg Mo Thóin!"

The black bandanas also feature a Red Bull design, and will be sold for $5 each.

Registration is Sat., Aug. 31, from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. at The Cooler, 201 South Cherry St., Shell Rock, Iowa. The ride will begin approximately 11 a.m. Start times may be staggered if numbers warrant.

Each poker "hand" is $15, and dealt at The Cooler. There will also be a 50-50 raffle at the start and possibly (details pending) at the finish. Other raffle prizes will be awarded at the finish, time pending.

Here is the route for the poker run:
  • Start: Shell Rock, Iowa at The Cooler
  • 1st Stop: Aplington at Stinky's
  • 2nd Stop: Grundy Center at Johnny Ray's
  • 3rd Stop: Dike at JP's 1 More
  • 4th Stop: Janewville at The Tap
  • Final Stop: Shell Rock at The Cooler
For a Facebook page for the Aug. 31 event, click here.

15 August 2013

Iowa Remembrance Run: 30 Days Left to Register!

The Fourth Annual Remembrance Run will be held 10 a.m. Sun., Sept. 29, 2013 at Raccoon River Park, West Des Moines, Iowa.

More than 800 registered runners participated in the 2012 event.

The run is a fund-raiser for Iowa Remembers, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. The organization helps underwrite an annual retreat for families of Iowans who have died as the result of service in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2003. The retreat is held in the Des Moines area on the same weekend as the run.

Iowa Remembers maintains a list of honored dead. Prior to each year's race, that list is read aloud, along with either a performance of the U.S. National Anthem and/or recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.

Earlier this year, the group also funded a newly painted "Polk County Freedom Rock," which was installed at an American Legion post in Bondurant, Iowa.

Registration for the Fourth Annual 5K walk/run event is $25 through Sept. 15. Late registration is $30 between Sept. 15-22 (with no T-shirt guaranteed). Both team and individual registrations are available. Children 12 and under can participate for free, but registration is required to receive T-shirt and medal.

Team registration is available for groups that want to honor a particular soldier or individual. Registration costs are the same.

Online registration is here.

For a route map, click here.

Iowa Remembers maintains a Facebook page here.

13 August 2013

Project Seeks Veterans' 'Six-Word War Memoirs'



Through Kickstarter, two U.S. Army veterans are currently crowd-funding a hardcover collection of Iraq and Afghanistan war memoirs, each delivered in punchy six-word shot groups.

I wish I'd thought of that!

West Point classmates Mike Neman and Shaun Wainwright are seeking $4,900 through a fund-raising campaign that ends Aug. 30, 2013. Neman is also an author of humorous parenting books, and has previously conducted two other Kickstarter projects.

At the time of this writing, the pair have raised more than $4,000 toward their objective. Donors of $20 or more can receive a copy of the book. An accompanying video further describes the project:
"Six-Word War" is the first-ever crowd-sourced war memoir. It will give you unique perspective on our nation's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead of a traditional war memoir that may give you just one person's perspective, this book will give you hundreds, hopefully thousands, of short stories from soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines.
Previously submitted entries range from pissy and punny, to provoking and poignant. Here are a couple of examples:
Simple people – complex problems – harsh terrain
— OEF IV 12-month deployment with 2-27 Infantry out of 25th Infantry Division.

PowerPoint Storyboard. Or it didn't happen
— Bobby Ragsdale
Running over soccer balls creates terrorists
— Nate Nahm

News stories must contain no downers
— Posted all over our 4ID office in Tikrit, per General Odierno
Where is your reflective belt, you?
— Will F.

Hearts and minds are only targets
— Anonymous
Veterans and military family members can submit their own six-word memoirs through a project website: www.sixwordwar.com.

For more information on the fund-raising campaign, click here.

There is also a Facebook page here.

09 August 2013

Program Celebrates Purple Heart History, Recipients

A program celebrating veterans who have received the Purple Heart medal will be held on Sat., Aug. 10, from 11 a.m to 2 p.m. at the Iowa Gold Star Museum, Camp Dodge, Johnston, Iowa. A complimentary lunch will be served, provided by the Iowa Pork Producers Association and Fareway Stores.

The medal was first created by Gen. George Washington on Aug. 7, 1782. Originally called the "Badge of Military Merit," the award recognized an individual soldier's bravery and fidelity. In keeping with that history, an image of Washington appears on the modern heart-shaped medal, and the words "for military merit" appear on the reverse. The award is presented to members of the U.S. armed forces, regardless of branch of service, who have been wounded or killed by enemy actions during combat operations.

For more facts about the Purple Heart, click here.

The "Purple Heart Day: Celebrating Iowa Veterans" program will be led by Navy veteran Larry Spencer, a Purple Heart recipient and former prisoner of war. Vocalist Shawna Beeman will sing the National Anthem. Pastor Craig Ferguson of the Johnston River of Life church will provide the invocation.

Speakers scheduled include:
  • Douglas Biggs, professor at the University of Nebraska, Kearney, Neb.
  • Tony Powers, former WHO-TV broadcaster, author, Purple Heart recipient, Vietnam War veteran
  • Matt Harvey, director of Fort Des Moines (Iowa) Museum and Education Center
  • Mary Ellen White, nurse in Vietnam at Long Binh, 1967
After the program, Powers will also be available to sign his books, which include mysteries featuring a Vietnam-era veteran protagonist. His titles include "Murder On the Opinion Page," and "1st & Dead"

According a news release, attendees are also invited to tour the museum:
The Iowa Gold Star Military Museum’s permanent exhibits tell the stories of Iowans who have served in defense of their state and nation, from the early settlement of the state in the 1840s to present day. An extensive exhibit honors the 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division, which holds the distinction of serving the most continuous days in combat of any division in the European Theater of Operation during World War II.
The museum is open Monday through Friday 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., except holidays. Admission is free.

07 August 2013

Nat'l Geographic's 'Eyewitness War' Eyes FOB Kalagush

A recent episode of a National Geographic Channel television series focuses on familiar U.S. National Guard uniform patch, as well as a familiar patch of ground in Eastern Afghanistan.

In an episode titled "Mountaintop Revenge," the 30-minute program "Eyewitness War" depicts the May 2010 actions of a Connecticut National Guard platoon then based at Forward Operating Base ("FOB") Kalagush, Nuristan Province.

The platoon was part of Connecticut's 1st Battalion, 102nd Infantry Regiment (1-102nd Inf.), which deployed to Afghanistan as part of Vermont's 86th Brigade Combat Team (86th I.B.C.T.), approximately November 2009 to October 2010. At the end of its successful rotation, the unit was replaced by Iowa's 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division.

Through helmet-camera footage, after-action interviews, and computer-graphic reconstructions, the "Eyewitness War" series tells stories of conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq as seen by personnel on the ground. Each program is introduced with the claim that "The footage you are about to see was shot by U.S. military personnel."

To streamline storytelling, details such as units and dates are not always emphasized strongly, and viewers are left to piece together some details for themselves. In the Kalagush episode, the distinctive "deer head" shoulder patch of the 86th BCT is plainly visible, as is the fact that the soldiers are wearing Universal Camouflage Pattern (U.C.P.), rather than the MultiCam pattern uniforms issued to soldiers rotating into theater later in 2010.

The episode depicts an attempt to root out enemy fighters who were then regularly harassing FOB Kalagush in nighttime attacks. One such attack hit a fuel tanker, causing a fiery explosion.

The Connecticut unit decided to take the fight to the bad guys. After dismounting a daytime patrol of foot soldiers in the vicinity of Wadawu village, however, the armored trucks came under fire from three elevated positions.

One driver, Spc. Kyle Schipritt, was outside of his vehicle when a rocket-propelled grenade hit. Despite his injuries, he sprinted back his vehicle and was able to maneuver his truck. Spc. Ernesto Gonzalez engaged targets via the truck's remotely operated gun system.

From his deployment, Shipritt received multiple awards of the Purple Heart, and an Army Commendation Medal for valor.

"Luckily, we were all behind rocks, so we had cover and concealment," says Sgt. Michael Finnegan, leader of the dismounted patrol. "But the guys down below, in the trucks? They didn't have any cover and concealment. They were sitting ducks. They had to get out of there." The trucks returned to base with the wounded, leaving the Finnegan's patrol to walk 7 hours along a ridgeline back to Kalagush.

A 3-minute excerpt of the Kalagush episode is available on the National Geographic Channel website here. The episode will again air in its entirety on Aug. 19, 8 p.m. CDT.

Another "Eyewitness War" episode, "Bomb Squad Booom," involves a combat engineer platoon conducting mine-clearance operations in the vicinity of FOB Mehtar Lam, Laghman Province. (FOB Mehtar Lam is connected by road to FOB Kalagush.) The episode is scheduled to air again Aug. 12, 8:30 p.m. CDT.

For a full listing of "Eyewitness War" episode times and dates, click here.

The National Geographic Channel is also currently broadcasting a number of other war-related documentary series, including "Battleground Afghanistan" and "Inside Combat Rescue."

Recent feature-length National Geographic documentaries include "Inside the Afghanistan War" and "Bomb Hunters Afghanistan."