By SGT. 1ST CLASS RAYMOND J. PIPER
USAMU Public Affairs
A U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit NCO became the first Soldier with a lower-leg amputation to successfully earn his Airborne wings.
Sgt. Joseph Mille, a member of the USAMU Paralympic Team, graduated Nov. 14, from the Basic Airborne Course at Fort Benning, Ga.
“The primary difficulty was finding a way for Sgt. Mille to conduct a proper parachute landing fall on his prosthetic (right side) without causing injury to himself,” said Marine Sgt. Daniel Lecour, 3rd Platoon airborne instructor, Company B, 1st Battalion, 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment. “We were able to speak with a prior Black Hat (airborne instructor) who had a similar amputation, and were able to develop an effective method for Sgt. Mille to conduct a PLF (parachute landing fall).”
Mille explained that, in a normal landing, the impact is absorbed through the balls of the feet, calves, thighs, buttocks and back. For his right side, the impact is absorbed through the foot, buttocks and back.
“Once we figured that out, it was smooth sailing,” he added.
The three-week course trains students to properly conduct parachute operations. The first week, known as Ground Week, focuses on building the individual airborne skills. The individual skills learned during Ground Week are refined during Tower Week, and team skills or the “mass exit” concept is added to the training. During the third week, known as Jump Week, students must successfully complete five parachute jumps at 1,250 feet from a C-130 or C-141 aircraft.
“My first jump was interesting. It wasn’t like the movies, but I knew what to expect from the landing,” Mille said.
Lecour said that having Mille in the course was no different from having any other non-commissioned officer attend.
“Aside from his right side PLF, you could not tell he was an amputee,” Lecour said. “He pulled duties at the company, participated in Airborne physical readiness training, and successfully completed all the company 3.2-mile runs.”
Mille encourages other amputees to try it.
“You’ll get plenty of opportunities before you jump out of plane to make sure you’re good to go, so it’s not like ‘here’s your parachute, OK, go.'”
Earlier this year, Mille graduated from the Army Sniper School and has now set his sights on Ranger School and becoming a part of the 75th Ranger Regiment.
“It’s what I originally wanted to do when I joined the Army, but there were no contracts [for Army Rangers] when I enlisted. I’m going to try it out now,” Mille said.
Sgt. Christiana Ball, the 2013 winner of Operation Rising Star, has been invited to participate in the music annual gala called “In Performance at the White House,” today. The event will be hosted by President Barack Obama and the first lady, Michelle Obama.
Ball, a drill sergeant in the 787th Military Police Battalion, 14th Military Police Brigade, at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., outperformed 12 finalists from Army garrisons around the world and won the Army Entertainment’s annual Operation Rising Star competition, conducted by the U.S. Army Installation Management Command.
“I’ve had an unbelievable year as the winner of Op Rising Star. Singing at the White House will be a great honor,” Ball said. “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to reach out and show my appreciation of my veteran brothers and sisters both past and present. Even in these stressful times, I’m focused on the idea that I get to be part of such a fantastic tribute.”
This year’s program “A Salute to the Troops: In Performance at the White House” will be a celebration of the men and women who serve the United States, featuring such nationally recognized acts as Mary J. Blige, John Fogerty and Willie Nelson, according to a White House press release. Grammy award winner Don Was will be the music director.
Ball said the White House program will be the pinnacle of a year full of memorable performances.
“Rising Star has already opened so many doors for me to perform in my Fort Leonard Wood community, as well as to sing for televised sporting events and military ceremonies,” Ball said. “I’m so grateful for having performed on national TV as a part of the Academy of Country Music Awards ‘Salute to the Troops,’ and I sang a duet with Lee Brice on his hit ‘I Drive Your Truck’ — a song which captures perfectly the emotion of a survivor working through their pain of loss and grief.”
The Army’s Operation Rising Star program gives active-duty Service members and family members a unique opportunity to entertain their comrades around the world, and fulfill their own personal musical ambitions. The competition starts at the garrison level, and finalists are chosen from among the local winners to compete at Joint Base San Antonio—Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
The 2014 competition is currently underway and the new Operation Rising Star winner will be selected in December. More information about Operation Rising Star can be found at www.OpRisingStar.com.
“I was invited to be a judge for Fort Leonard Wood’s [Operation Rising Star] this year,” Ball said. “So I have definitely been following this year’s competition and am very excited to see what talent ends up competing down in San Antonio for the finals this year.
“I’ve seen first-hand the positive effect that music has had and made on Soldier’s lives,” she said. “Programs like ‘In Performance’ give Soldiers a chance to get the recognition they deserve, and Operation Rising Star gives them an outlet and a chance to better themselves personally. It automatically makes for a more well-adjusted, purposeful and resilient Soldier.”
“In Performance” will be broadcast at 9 p.m. Eastern Time on Nov. 7 on PBS stations nationwide as part of their Arts Fall Festival. The program will also be available online at www.WhiteHouse.gov/live starting at 7:25 p.m. Eastern Time. The entire performance at the White House will also be broadcast on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, on the American Forces Network.
“When I perform, I look in the eyes of my audience and try to connect in a personal way,” Ball said. “What do I see? I guess it just depends. If I’m singing to my people in Fort Leonard Wood, I often see a lot of pride in their faces, and rightly so. I can’t wait to bring my voice now to an even wider audience. I’m representing the U.S. Army.”
Ball will soon complete her active-duty contract and plans on joining the Missouri National Guard.
“I’ve created a band of my own now and have been performing as much as my job allows me. Our plan is to take off and do as many shows as I can,” said Ball. “It will be an honor to have a chance work with the National Guard band, too. I can’t wait.”
MONROVIA, Liberia — When Sgt. 1st Class Shawnte Reynolds first walked down the dusty lanes at Edward Binyah Kesselly barracks, Liberian soldiers offered only stares and double-takes.
Amid a four-month tour mentoring the Armed Forces of Liberia, Reynolds, 39, of Flint, Mich., has returned to soldiering basics, with hopes of having male AFL troops understand her role as senior noncommissioned officer — and more importantly, have them respect women serving among their own ranks.
An administration NCO from U.S. Africa Command, Reynolds is the first female Soldier to take part in the Liberia Security Sector Reform program, a U.S. State Department-led effort to help build leadership capacity within Liberia’s military — a force recently reestablished after years of civil war.
“My being here shows the men in the AFL that females are senior NCOs and how I understand leadership,” Reynolds said. “They now see that I have a wealth of knowledge to share.”
Sometimes Reynolds shares advice for routine challenges any army might face; accountability, pay issues, family problems and the need for equipment and food.
“This is just the beginning,” Reynolds said, during an interview in late-April. “But every small step means something.”
Still, male soldiers among Liberia’s ranks are slowly adjusting to women in leadership roles. Only a handful of Liberian women serve in the AFL. Most of the women work in administration, while others are mechanics or musicians. So far, only two Liberian women serve as NCOs.
Part of the problem, Reynolds found, was that new female soldiers lacked discipline and pride. Reynolds worked with female AFL soldiers to make sure the women kept their appearance and uniforms neat. She stressed the importance for them to adhere to military schedules and complete their assigned tasks.
“The females now understand that they have to pull their own weight,”
Reynolds said. “By keeping their end of the bargain, they gain the respect they deserve.”
Another part of the problem was cultural, Reynolds said. The men in the Army are not accustomed to women being in charge. To help, Reynolds spends time with them, sharing ideas from her nearly two decades of experience in the U.S. military.
“Now, it doesn’t matter that I’m female. They know I bring experience to the table and how I can help,” Reynolds said. “Now, I walk down the road and they see me as an NCO.”
By DAVID VERGUN, Army News Service &
NICK DUKE, Fort Benning Bayonet & Saber
Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Bennie G. Adkins and Spc. 4 Donald P. Sloat were awarded Medals of Honor by President Barack Obama yesterday during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House. Adkins was present to receive his medal and Sloat’s was awarded posthumously. Dr. Bill Sloat, Donald’s brother, accepted it on his behalf.
“Normally, the Medal of Honor must be awarded within a few years of the action. But sometimes even the most extraordinary stories can get lost in the fog of war or the passage of time,” Obama said. “Yet, when new evidence comes to light, certain actions can be reconsidered for this honor, and it is entirely right and proper that we have done so.”
The nation’s highest award for valor in combat was presented for Adkins’ actions during 38 hours of close-combat fighting against enemy forces March 9–12, 1966, near Camp A Shau, Vietnam.
Adkins, now 80 and a resident of Opelika, Ala., said it was not just his actions that were valorous during that time, but also the actions of his fellow Soldiers.
“What I attribute this to is not my actions, but the actions of the other 16 Americans who were with us in the battle at Camp A Shau, and especially the five who paid the ultimate price,” Adkins said. “All of the 17 Americans who were present in this battle were awarded some type of recognition for valor. Valor was something that was just there with us. All of those 17 American Special Forces Soldiers were wounded, most of us multiple times.”
‘So many acts of bravery we actually don’t have time to talk about all of them’
Adkins was drafted into the Army in December 1956, and eventually volunteered for Special Forces in 1961.
“I had an assignment in a garrison-type unit, and I found out that was not for me,” he said. “I wanted something in the field, and I wanted to be in one of the elite units. At that period in time, it seemed that the Special Forces was the most elite unit. I was not satisfied until I had become a member of that organization.”
Adkins went on to serve three tours in Vietnam. His second tour, from September 1965 to September 1966, saw Adkins serve at Camp A Shau.
According to the battle narrative, Adkins was serving as an intelligence sergeant with Detachment A-102, 5th Special Forces Group, 1st Special Forces, when a large North Vietnamese force attacked Camp A Shau, in the early morning hours of March 9. Adkins and his comrades were bombarded with mortars and white phosphorus, Obama related during the ceremony.
“It was nearly impossible to move without being wounded or killed,” Obama said. “But Bennie ran into enemy fire again and again to retrieve supplies and ammo, to carry the wounded to safety, to man the mortar pit — holding off wave after wave of enemy assaults. Three times, explosions blasted him out of that mortar pit, and three times, he returned.
“I have to be honest. In a battle and daring escape that lasted four days, Bennie performed so many acts of bravery we actually don’t have time to talk about all of them,” Obama said.
On the first day, Bennie was helping load a wounded American onto a helicopter. An enemy soldier jumped in the helicopter and aimed his weapon directly at the wounded soldier, preparing to shoot. “Bennie stepped in, shielded his comrade, placing himself directly in the line of fire, helping to save his wounded comrade,” Obama said.
At another point in the battle, Adkins and a few other soldiers were trapped in a mortar pit, “covered in shrapnel and smoking debris,” Obama said. Their only exit was blocked by enemy machine-gun fire. “So, Bennie thought fast,” the president said. “He dug a hole out of the pit and snuck out the other side. As another American escaped through that hole, he was shot in the leg. An enemy soldier charged him, hoping to capture a live POW, and Bennie fired, taking out that enemy and pulling his fellow American to safety.”
“It was just not my time that day,” Adkins said in an interview before the ceremony. “I was blown from the mortar pit on several occasions, and I was fortunate enough to go outside the camp amongst the enemy and get one of our wounded medevaced out. I also made a trip into the minefield to recover some supplies that were air dropped to us. The bottom line is that it was just not my day to go.”
By the third day of battle, Adkins and a few others had managed to escape into the jungle. “He had cuts and wounds all over his body, but he refused to be evacuated,” Obama said. “When a rescue helicopter arrived, Bennie insisted that others go instead. And so, on the third night, Bennie, wounded and bleeding, found himself with his men up on that jungle hill, exhausted and surrounded, with the enemy closing in. And after all they had been through, as if it weren’t enough, there was something more — you can’t make this up — there in the jungle, they heard the growls of a tiger.”
“It was too late and too high of an altitude for another helicopter, so we had to evade the enemy,” Adkins said. “This was the night that it looked like they had run us down. The North Vietnamese soldiers had us surrounded on a little hilltop, and everything started getting kind of quiet. We could look around and all at once, all we could see were eyes going around us. It was a tiger that stalked us that night. We were all bloody and in this jungle, the tiger stalked us, and the North Vietnamese soldiers were more afraid of the tiger than they were of us. So, they backed off some and we were (able to escape).”
“It turns out that tiger might have been the best thing that happened to Bennie,” Obama said during the ceremony.
Adkins’ wife of 59 years, Mary, said she heard stories of the battle the next day.
“I had two little boys who were just starting school,” she said. “I got up one morning to get them ready for school and when I got up, I turned the TV on. They were telling about a battle on the national news and about Soldiers going through the jungle with a tiger in the middle of them and the Vietnamese, and I don’t know what it was, but something just told me that it was him. I think it was about two days later that I got the telegram saying that he was lost and they hadn’t found him. About a day or two later, I got another telegram saying that he was found, but they didn’t know what condition he was in. The next one I got said that he was in this hospital and he was doing fine.”
‘It is not a faint memory’
During the 38-hour battle and subsequent 48 hours of escape and evasion, Adkins fought with mortars, machine guns, recoilless rifles, small arms and hand grenades, killing an estimated 135–175 of the enemy, and suffering 18 different wounds.
Despite the 48 years that have passed, Adkins said the memories of what happened in the jungles of Vietnam are still vivid.
“It is not a faint memory,” he said. “I can tell you every man who was there and the five who lost their lives. I can tell you how that happened. It diminishes, but it does not go away. I really feel that most of the Soldiers today experience some degree of [post-traumatic stress]. We have ways of treating this, and my way of treating this was more work, more family and talking about it.”
Adkins, who says he’s a “young 80” now, said the reality of receiving the Medal of Honor has not yet set in.
“It’s something hard to grasp and realize that, during this period of time from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan, there’s been somewhere between 28 and 30 million who have served in the military,” he said. “To date, we have 79 living recipients of the Medal of Honor. If I can make it … I’ll be number 80.”
After his military career, Adkins went on to establish Adkins Accounting Service in Auburn, Ala., and served as CEO for 22 years. He also taught night classes at Southern Union Junior College and Auburn University, all of which he attributed to lessons learned during his Army career.
“The military teaches a competency and a desire to do the best you can at whatever you do, and I carried that on in my teaching and the businesses I operated,” he said. “Whether (Soldiers are) a one-time Soldier or a career Soldier, they should absolutely do the best they can and accomplish the most that they desire to accomplish.”
By STAFF SGT. WHITNEY HOUSTON
ISAF Regional Command-South
People, like coal, under the right conditions of pressure and heat, can be transformed from their raw material or potential into gems.
Sgt. Andrew Mahoney, a Laingsburg, Mich., native, who was recently named the USO Soldier of the Year, has been in that refining process of heat and pressure since he joined the Army in 2007. A communication specialist with the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, Mahoney has shaped himself into an invaluable noncommissioned officer.
“Mahoney’s been in the brigade for almost seven years, and he’s already on his third deployment with the same unit,” said Master Sgt. Philip Brennan, who serves as brigade communications chief with the 4th IBCT. “He is our subject-matter expert when it comes to tactical communications. He’s our hub in the brigade, filling a slot of a senior member as a young NCO, because of his very advanced skill as a communicator.”
Brennan explained that Mahoney didn’t become a master of his trade overnight.
“He has made himself smart on a lot of communications systems. He’s a qualified digital master gunner, which is very important in the signal (communications) world. It allows you to become masters of local area networks in tactical environments and to cross-level that knowledge over to other systems, and to train the upcoming generation of Army communicators.”
Mahoney served on personal security details his first two deployments, protecting the brigade commanders and command sergeants major in their comings and goings. One day, while on his second deployment in Regional Command-East, he and his PSD team were escorting their brigade commander, Col. James Mingus, Command Sgt. Maj. Kevin J. Griffin, and others to a security meeting in Asadabad, Afghanistan. They suddenly found themselves in an attack coordinated by two suicide bombers. Mahoney and his platoon leader at the time, then-1st Lt. Florent Groberg, reacted quickly to the attack.
“It was like an eight-second window of when we realized what was happening. As soon as we rounded a corner, they (the suicide bombers) came out. We didn’t have time to process a thought, it just happened and we reacted,” Mahoney said.
Both Mahoney and Groberg proceeded to tackle one of the suicide bombers, and in the process, the explosives strapped to the assailant detonated.
“If I lost consciousness, it was only for a brief moment because he exploded. Things were fuzzy for just a second or two, and the next thing I knew, I was standing almost in the same spot, just in a cloud of dust,” Mahoney said. “I had some pretty bad flesh wounds on my arm, my shoulder and all up the back of my legs. But my body armor worked, I’ll tell you that much.
“The first thing I did is I looked down at my arm and it was all jacked up. It was a mess; you could see the bone and everything,” Mahoney said.
He looked up and saw Mingus on the other side of the street and rushed himself and his commander behind cover. Mingus then helped Mahoney tie a tourniquet to Mahoney’s arm.
Mahoney said he didn’t see Groberg until U.S. medical personnel were evacuating them out of the area by helicopter.
“I later found out that he (Groberg) had been blown across the street. He’s still recovering from a pretty bad wound to his leg, and is going through rehabilitation at Walter Reed [National Military] Medical Center” in Bethesda, Md.
Reflecting back on the incident, Mahoney can’t fully explain how exactly he and Groberg walked away from it.
“The only thing that we can conclude is that the blast went more into the ground than it did into us. But we don’t know.”
The second suicide bomber detonated right after the first one, which did considerable damage to the group, Mahoney said.
“We lost four people that day. We just passed the two year anniversary on Aug. 8.”
Command Sgt. Maj. Griffin, Maj. Thomas E. Kennedy, Air Force Maj. Walter D. Gray, and Ragaei Abdelfattah, a representative of the U.S. Agency for International Development, all died that day.
Mahoney was awarded a Purple Heart for wounds sustained, and a Silver Star for putting his life on the line that day for his comrades. More importantly, Mahoney brought away life lessons from the scene that continue to shape the way he lives daily life.
“I would say personally, more than professionally, I value living life every day, and I don’t sweat about the small stuff because it could have all been gone in an instant,” Mahoney said. “I wasn’t uptight before, but I am just less so now.
“Since those guys didn’t get to walk away from that incident the way we did, I live every day as a homage to them,” he said.
Mahoney married his wife Melanie as he was recovering from his wounds in the hospital in San Antonio. They now live in Fountain, Colo., with their two small children — Corbin, who is four years old, and Brooklynne, who is two.
Brennan explained that in the early spring , Mahoney will be assigned to the 7th U.S. Army NCO Academy in Grafenwöhr, Germany, where he plans to pass along his communication knowledge onto the next generation of signal NCOs.
“We thought this assignment in Germany would be perfect for him … to pass along his knowledge as a communications professional,” Brennan said.
Brennan has known Mahoney for less than a year, but immediately saw his value. When petitioned to put him in as a candidate for the USO Soldier of the Year, Brennan immediately got the paperwork turned in. Mahoney will receive the USO award in October.
“He’s got a dedication to serve, a dedication to his craft, and he’s a very humble young man,” Brennan said. “He totally deserves this award. He has learned a lot, and still has a lot to learn as an NCO. But whatever path he chooses, I have no doubt that he’ll do it well.”
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