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Controlling the seaport: NCO makes most of her time Training With Industry

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By JONATHAN (JAY) KOESTER
NCO Journal

Tonia Montgomery moves confidently around the seaport of Virginia International Gateway in Portsmouth, Virginia. Everyone seems to know her, and as she shows a visitor around she is constantly stopped by people needing something done. She answers every question, fixes every problem, smoothly moving on to the next crisis.

Watching her — calm, confident and competent as chaos reigns around her — it would be hard to guess that she doesn’t really “belong” at the port; that, in fact, she was “Sgt. Montgomery” six months ago. As part of the Army’s Training With Industry program, Sgt. 1st Class Tonia Montgomery is working for a year as an operations assistant manager for Virginia International Terminals at the Gateway.

Soldiers in the TWI program can sometimes have a hard time making an impact in the industry to which they are assigned. The assignment is only for a year, and a large place like the Gateway can be hard to find your way around. So how did Montgomery become such an essential part of operations so quickly, emerging as a trusted employee when it’s not even her true job?

“I guess caring,” Montgomery says. “You have to have the right personality to come in here and want to do it and get it done right. That’s really all it is — wanting to know how it works and being able to go out and do it. Then, being confident enough to go do it on your own. Making sure your bosses know you are confident enough to do it on your own. You learn more and more each day, then, suddenly, here I am today. Now, I can answer most questions.”

In the Army, Montgomery is an 88H (cargo specialist) and does a lot of the same work at the Virginia port. She works mainly on the land-side operations at the port, making sure drivers and their trucks have as smooth a path as possible as they drop off and pick up loads.

“As an operations assistant manager, we take care of any issues between the in-bound gate and their outbound point,” Montgomery said. “That could be anything: Bad scans at their portal; they are sitting in their lane and haven’t been serviced in an hour; they have a damaged box, or it wasn’t placed on properly. We keep it calm down there and keep it moving.

“I like to make chaos into smooth,” she said. “I like to be aware of everything that’s going on so that I know exactly what move I can make before I make it. I enjoy doing it. I want to make the military look good, and I want to keep the program alive because I think it’s an excellent program.”

Michael Shepard White, an operations assistant manager for Virginia International Terminals and Montgomery’s supervisor, said Montgomery’s zest for the job helped her quickly integrate into the port culture.

“Sgt. Montgomery is very awesome,” White said. “She gets in there and she not only learns what we’re doing, she takes an active part in everything we’re doing. Everything I can do, she can do. I’m very proud of that.”

Montgomery’s experience in the Army, where NCOs are required to look at the overall operation, has helped her as well, White said.

“One of the things I noticed from Sgt. Montgomery is that she sees the big picture,” White said. “She understands what has to take place. When there is a truck coming in, and that truck is going to have problems at the gate, or at the row, or whatever the problem may be stopping that truck from getting through the gate and back out on the road, she is on top of it.

“Sometimes in industry, folks don’t have to look that far ahead because that next step isn’t theirs,” White said. “Somebody else has another piece of the pie, so you’re just mainly concerned about your egg. In the military, you have to be concerned about the total pie because you could be part of any step at any time. If Soldiers take that knowledge and bring it into the civilian world, they’ll do very well in the civilian world.”

White participated in the Training With Industry program as well. When he was an Army officer, he spent a year at UPS. But he admits Montgomery has taken her role in the program a step further than he did.

“You could do a lot at UPS, but you couldn’t do a lot of hands-on stuff,” White said. “But she’s taken the initiative to say, ‘OK, this needs to happen, and this needs to happen. I can do this part, and I can do this part.’ If she can’t do that part, she’ll ask questions and go from there. So that’s great.”

Asking questions, lots of questions, is a large part of what has helped Montgomery at the Gateway, she said.

“I’m in a position where I can ask anybody any question and I won’t sound dumb asking it because I’m not here. I don’t know the daily realm of things,” Montgomery said. “So, it helps me see a better picture. I ask so many questions. I asked a lot about the managers: ‘Where did they come from? Did they come from a different port?’ It gave me a lot of ideas about what I might want to do and what my master’s degree should be in one day.”

Watching how the port operations work and asking questions has helped Montgomery as she begins to look down the road at her future after the Army.

“I am at 21 years in the military, so I have to think about my future and about whether I want to stay in the transportation field,” Montgomery said. “I’m still young, and I still have a little bit of growth I have to get done. I just have to decide what I want to do, and this program helps because it shows me everything about how a port works. I think it’s a great experience, especially if I try to come back to the port industry. I think I’ve learned a lot from here.”

That knowledge will help the Army, too, when Montgomery serves her utilization assignment back at an Army unit after working at Virginia International Gateway.

“I believe it will help during real-world exercises when we, as leaders, have to facilitate a commercial port,” she said. “Knowing how a port works in a commercial environment will help. Knowing what all you need to actually ship something out of here will help. I think learning that aspect of it will definitely be helpful for the military side.”

That desire to help the Army while also planning for her future is what has made Montgomery a good NCO, and made her an important part of work at the port.

“I have a drive to know because one day I will have to retire from the military,” she said. “Everyone has to. That day will come, and I want to be prepared.”

Master Sgt. Corey M. Ingram, left, senior enlisted advisor for Project Manager Soldier Protection and Individual Equipment, holds the advanced combat helmet that helped save Sgt. Christopher Thompson’s life. Participating in these ceremonies helps Ingram raise awareness to PEO Soldier’s PM SPIE. (Photo courtesy PEO Soldier)

PEO Soldier NCO obliged to return life-saving gear

By MARTHA C. KOESTER
NCO Journal

If it hadn’t been for some great noncommissioned officers who provided a steadying influence early in his career, Master Sgt. Corey M. Ingram might not have made it to Program Executive Office Soldier and the job he loves.

Ingram is a senior enlisted advisor to Project Manager Soldier Protection and Individual Equipment, or PM SPIE, which is part of PEO Soldier at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. PM SPIE oversees development of helmets, body armor, uniforms, parachutes, and other clothing and protective equipment.

The advanced combat helmet that saved Staff Sgt. Joseph McKenzie's life shows damages. Master Sgt. Corey M. Ingram presented McKenzie with the helmet during a ceremony in October at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Armando R. Limon, U.S. Army)
The advanced combat helmet that saved Staff Sgt. Joseph McKenzie’s life shows damages. Master Sgt. Corey M. Ingram presented McKenzie with his battle-scarred helmet during a ceremony in October at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Armando R. Limon, U.S. Army)

“I have had some really good NCO mentors,” Ingram said. “When I was a younger Soldier, I wasn’t the best Soldier. An NCO snatched me by the scruff of my neck and said, ‘You’re not doing it right. I see lots of potential in you, and I’m going to be your mentor for the rest of your career,’ and he honestly was my mentor for the rest of my career because I ended up being stationed with now retired Command Sgt. Maj. George R. Manning about three times. Then, I had three other really great mentors at Fort Sill [Oklahoma] which I really learned a lot from ─ Sgt. Maj. Thomas Miller, Sgt. Maj. Taylor Poindexter and Sgt. Maj. David Carr.”

He credits the four NCOs with shaping his career and putting him on the path to PEO Soldier.

“Where else can you go and touch the Soldier every day?” Ingram said. “Not just one or two Soldiers, but the whole Army at the same time. It’s incredible.”

It’s Ingram’s job to offer the voice of the Soldier to Col. Dean Hoffman IV, who is Program Manager Soldier Protection and Individual Equipment. Everything at PM SPIE is designed for Soldiers, and feedback is important. Ingram regularly solicits feedback from Soldiers during equipment fieldings, where units test the latest in what the Soldier touches, wears or carries. The results are taken to officers, then sent to scientists, who work to improve equipment for Soldiers.

Master Sgt. Corey M. Ingram, left, senior enlisted advisor for Project Manager Soldier Protection and Individual Equipment, holds the advanced combat helmet that helped save Sgt. Christopher Thompson’s life. Participating in these ceremonies helps Ingram raise awareness to PEO Soldier’s PM SPIE. (Photo courtesy PEO Soldier)
Master Sgt. Corey M. Ingram, left, senior enlisted advisor for Project Manager Soldier Protection and Individual Equipment, holds the advanced combat helmet that helped save Sgt. Christopher Thompson’s life. Participating in these ceremonies helps Ingram raise awareness to PEO Soldier’s PM SPIE. (Photo courtesy PEO Soldier)

“The stuff that I do here really makes a difference in a Soldier’s life because the equipment we give them is going to keep them warm in the Arctic and it’s going to keep them alive in combat,” Ingram said. “I didn’t know what this place was when I got here. Soldiers need to know that there’s an organization here that is specifically designed for them and their protection.”

Raising awareness

Ingram is on a mission to make Soldiers aware of his organization.

When a Soldier is injured in combat, the Soldier’s equipment is collected and sent to a lab for analysis, all in an effort to determine whether the Soldier’s equipment was instrumental in defeating the threat it was designed to thwart. If the Soldier requests the equipment’s return, PEO Soldier reunites Soldiers with the equipment credited in saving their lives.

“Every time I go and give back a piece of equipment to a Soldier, I let them know where it came from and how it was tested,” he said. “I’m not specific, but I let them know it was tested extensively. ‘If you wear this, it will save your life.’”

Ingram and Hoffman traveled in October 2015 to Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, to reunite Staff Sgt. Joseph McKenzie with the battle-scarred helmet that saved his life four years ago in Afghanistan.

“I am glad to get this back,” McKenzie said at the ceremony. “It is a piece of history; my history, anyway. It was a piece of my life that was pretty intense.

“For some of you guys who have not been downrange yet, this is kind of a wakeup call,” McKenzie told Soldiers at the ceremony. “Make sure you take this stuff serious because you never know what is going to happen.”

In March 2011, McKenzie of the 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, was hit by a bullet “right where the night vision goggles mount on the helmet,” he said.

Hoffman explained to the Soldiers at the Schoffield Barracks ceremony that the Army does all it can to provide them with the best possible protective equipment so they can come home to family and friends. Inspectors randomly select helmets and hard armor plates from each production lot and shoot them to ensure the equipment meets Army standards, Hoffman said.

A week and a half after he was shot in the head, McKenzie said he “was back in the gym, thanks to my helmet.”

“If McKenzie hadn’t been wearing his helmet, he wouldn’t be here,” Ingram said. “That was four years ago. Now, he has a 17-month-old son and a wife.”

His stint at PEO Soldier has impressed upon Ingram many times the importance of wearing combat equipment, he said.

“I had a guy shot in the chest, and my former boss, Col. Glenn Waters of Fort Sill, Oklahoma, his side Small Arms Protective Insert was returned to him. He was shot in the side during combat, and you could see where the bullet went into his side plate. I had no clue that I would be the one giving those things back. Col. Waters had a side SAPI that had been damaged in combat, and now I’m here. Now I know where it came from. It came from this office.”

Leadership skills

As Ingram winds down his 27-year career in the Army, he plans on finishing his Ph.D. in multidisciplinary human services with an emphasis on public policy. He said he will take with him a great sense of satisfaction, knowing that he was able to have an impact on Soldiers’ lives in combat. Someday, he even hopes to throw his hat in the ring and run for political office. Ingram is confident in his leadership abilities, having learned them as an NCO.

“Learning leadership as an NCO has really prepared me for life after the Army because as an NCO you deal with Soldiers and people every day, you counsel every day, so it was natural for me to fall into the human services path,” he said.

Education is also very important to Ingram, and he urges other NCOs as well as his successor at PEO Soldier to further their studies. Ingram credits his drive to solid NCO mentorship and rejects any excuse to not get an education.

“The excuses of ‘I don’t have time; I’m in the field,’ no. I got probably 60 credit hours on deployment,” Ingram said. “There are always computers. … ‘Don’t tell me what you can’t do, [I tell Soldiers.] Tell me how you’re going to do it because there is always a way.’

“My mother, aunts and uncle grew up in Grenada, Mississippi, and they were amongst the first 277, as they called them back then, ‘colored children’ integrated into the white school system in the 1960s,” he said. “They were harassed, they were beaten and they had bricks thrown at them. My grandmother said to me, ‘I only wanted my kids to have the same thing that the other kids had.’ That’s why I want to get all the education I can so that their sacrifices were not in vain.”

 

Contact PEO Soldier

PEO Soldier encourages Soldiers to communicate their questions and ideas, said Debi Dawson, PEO Soldier Strategic Communications. “Ask the PEO NCOs” is a website that Soldiers may use to email questions about uniforms and equipment. Soldiers may find it at www.peosoldier.army.mil/feedback/contactForm.asp?type=csm. Soldiers are also urged to reach out through the Soldier Enhancement Program at www.peosoldier.army.mil/sep/index.asp where Soldiers may propose a technology or equipment item.

A view through the cockpit as two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters assigned to Task Force Eagle Assault, 101st Combat Aviation Brigade transport Train, Advise, Assist Command - East leaders and advisers to the Afghan National Police Regional Logistics Center April 28, 2015. (Photo by Capt. Jarrod Morris)

Eagle Attack NCOs mentor cadets

By SGT. DUNCAN BRENNAN
101st Combat Aviation Brigade,
101st Airborne Division (Air Assault)

Cadets from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., and the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps recently got a first-hand look at NCO leadership at Fort Campbell, Ky. Noncommissisioned officers with 3rd Battalion, 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), mentored students participating in cadet troop leader training from July 17 to Aug. 7.

The students, assigned to the 3rd Battalion “Eagle Attack,” saw what it is like to serve as a platoon leader in an active aviation unit. During the assignment, the students gave briefings and assisted in planning day-to-day missions under the mentorship of the battalion’s senior NCOs.

The mentorship opened the lines of communication between the soon-to-be junior officers and the Soldiers they will be working hand-in-hand with once they receive their commissions. By working with NCOs, the cadets gain experience in seeking guidance from their enlisted counterparts and establishing relationships founded on trust.

“I have 24 years in the Army,” said Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Nichols, production control NCO in charge for D Company, 3rd Battalion, 101st CAB. “I have heard jokes about second lieutenants not having experience in the Army but having a lot of authority when they get to their unit. When good NCOs mentor the cadets, it gives us a chance to make sure that doesn’t happen nearly as much. It gives us the opportunity to make sure that when they commission, they can lean on and learn from the knowledge and leadership of their NCOs.”

For the cadets, establishing that trust provided a new perspective. By working in an active-duty unit with their NCO counterparts, the cadets learned some of the realities of working with the Soldiers they’ll be leading.

“You really can’t compare what we learned here to what we learned back at school,” said Cadet Olivia Lynch, a student at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, Daytona Beach, Fla. “In the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps at my school, we only learned about our duties as an officer. Here, we’re learning what it’s actually like working with the enlisted, what their day-to-day jobs are, what it’s like for them to live in the barracks. We learned what a platoon really needs out of a platoon leader. We learned that even something as small as going to a softball game can make a huge difference in morale.”

Though taking care of Soldiers is the realm of NCOs, command climate is often influenced by the officers in an organization. Mentoring the cadets is a great way for NCOs to hone their skills training Soldiers and set the cadets up for success, Nichols said.

“One of our basic functions as NCOs is to train Soldiers,” Nichols said. “Our job is to get privates and specialists mission-ready. Now, instead of training a private, you’re training a cadet. As my father used to say, ‘Get them young, start them young, train them young, and they’ll work forever that way.’ If you bring the cadets here to the active-duty Army and establish good habits of working with NCOs, only good things can come out of it. Pairing NCOs and cadets gives leadership opportunities to both sides. It gives junior NCOs the experience of reporting to a platoon leader, in a training sense. Those junior NCOs will become senior NCOs who will be reporting up the chain of command. It gives the cadets the opportunity to lead Soldiers, which will ultimately be their job. It shows both sides how an effective line of communication works both ways.”

Building avenues of communication is an important part of building any team. When it’s time to make things happen, other skills are needed. Time and resource management have to be included in the process.

“I think it’s absolutely necessary for the cadets to get the enlisted perspective as well as the officer mentorship now and as they progress through their careers,” said Sgt. 1st Class Robert Carter, D Company component repair supervisor. “It gives a new set of eyes and vision for fixing future problems. If it takes five Soldiers 30 minutes to move the aircraft, that’s 2.5 hours of manpower. The cadet needs to understand that maybe the time spent moving the aircraft can be better spent on other tasks. Instead of just giving direction, working smarter with your Soldiers would benefit the Army no matter what kind of unit you’re in.”

Leading Soldiers is a big responsibility. Having a taste of what they’ll be doing when they become platoon leaders will better prepare cadets for their responsibilities.

“What I see as a command sergeant major is that sometimes new officers don’t understand the responsibilities of being a platoon leader and the gravity that position possesses,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Mark Brock, senior enlisted advisor for the “Eagle Attack” Battalion. “I think it catches them by surprise. I think the NCOs at ROTC or West Point need to convey that, unlike privates, a newly commissioned officer is a leader from day one by virtue of the fact that he or she is a second lieutenant or a first lieutenant.”

Giving the cadets a bigger toolbox before they receive their commissions helps them build and maintain positive relationships with their NCOs.

Officers have a lot of responsibilities placed on them because they are officers, Brock said. Every officer has an NCO. It’s NCO business to keep officers informed of Soldier issues because NCOs have more experience dealing with them. If officers and NCOs establish that communication and work together as teammates, the organization benefits.

Personal Protective Equipment training

U.S. Army Africa CSM: NCOs are the ones keeping Soldiers safe on Ebola mission

By MEGHAN PORTILLO
NCO Journal

From designing and building Ebola Treatment Units to providing transportation to health care workers, NCOs have proven to be instrumental in the U.S. military’s support of Operation United Assistance in Liberia, said the command sergeant major of U.S. Army Africa, Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffery Stitzel. But their greatest contribution, he said, has been keeping U.S. Soldiers healthy by enforcing standards and discipline.

Stitzel was the first NCO on the ground with USARAF’s commander, Maj. Gen. Darryl Williams, when they arrived in Liberia on Sept. 16 to organize the U.S. military’s response to the Ebola crisis. Rather than the traditional adversaries in combat, the main foes these Soldiers are facing can be avoided only by adhering to a strict hygiene regimen, he said.

“The biggest advice I have for any noncommissioned officer deploying here (to Liberia) is to get educated about the disease and really understand it, because it is important,” Stitzel said. “They need to realize how important discipline is. That’s what NCOs do. So when we identify what the training requirements are, … noncommissioned officers are the ones who are going to train those tasks and then enforce those standards in-theater. Discipline is what keeps our Soldiers safe.”

As of Dec. 2, more than 17,256 Ebola cases have been reported and 6,113 individuals have died of the virus in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, according to information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Liberia alone has seen 7,650 cases and 3,155 deaths. Four Ebola cases have been reported in the United States — two imported cases, including one death, and two locally acquired cases. A New York doctor who contracted the virus after treating patients in Guinea, as well as two Dallas nurses who treated the individual who died of the virus have since recovered and have been discharged from their hospitals.

The spread of the virus can be stopped only by quickly identifying and isolating infected individuals and those with whom they have had close contact, the CDC states. The virus is not spread by casual contact, and the CDC considers Soldiers deployed to Liberia to be low risk, as they are not in contact with Ebola patients while in-theater. Each Soldier is still meticulously monitored for symptoms including a rise in temperature, vomiting, diarrhea or unexplained bruising or bleeding, and measures have been put into place to immediately recognize any who need to be routed to care. Close monitoring and strict hygiene routines will better protect potentially exposed individuals and everyone around them, Stitzel said.

Discipline is saving lives

Education is the best way for NCOs to set themselves and their Soldiers up for a safe and successful mission in Liberia, said Sgt. Maj. Doug Hall, who was the Operation United Assistance engineering sergeant major in Liberia during the initial weeks of the effort.

U.S. Marines from the Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force Crises Response 14-2, get their temperature checked as they exit a KC-130. All U.S. Soldiers in Liberia are required to have their temperatures taken and logged at least twice each day, as a rise in temperature may be the first sign of infection with the Ebola virus. (Photo by Pfc. Craig Philbrick/U.S. Army)
U.S. Marines from the Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force Crises Response 14-2, get their temperature checked as they exit a KC-130. All U.S. Soldiers in Liberia are required to have their temperatures taken and logged at least twice each day, as a rise in temperature may be the first sign of infection with the Ebola virus. (Photo by Pfc. Craig Philbrick/U.S. Army)

“Pay very close attention to the pre-deployment training,” Hall said. “The training is important. You need to understand the transmission of the disease and how to protect yourself and your Soldiers. And you need to understand what you are coming here to do. You are not coming to treat people, you are coming to either build or provide logistical services. Be mission-focused, and always keep safety in mind.”

U.S. Army Soldiers are in Liberia to provide mission command, logistical, engineering and living support to the organizations that are treating patients and fighting the spread of the virus. Even though they do not have direct contact with Ebola patients, Soldiers are required to lower their risk of exposure by stepping in a shallow container of chlorine bleach solution before entering buildings and by washing their hands frequently with diluted bleach.

Soldiers must also have their temperatures taken and logged at least twice each day, as a rise in temperature to 100.4 degrees may be the first sign of infection. Stitzel said Soldiers can’t get into most buildings without their temperatures being taken. A record is kept of each Soldier’s temperatures every day he or she is in the country, and close monitoring will continue through a 21-day isolation period after a Soldier has left the country. These measures are in place to ensure U.S. Soldiers do not contract the virus, and, in the unlikely event one of them should become infected, to prevent the virus’ further spread by identifying those individuals before they become contagious.

NCOs are the key to enforcing these preventative measures and protecting Soldiers’ health, Stitzel said. From avoiding exposure to the Ebola virus and malaria to lowering the risk of accidents, NCOs save lives by ensuring every Soldier follows protocol.

“Whether it’s in this Ebola environment or anywhere else in Africa, safety is about discipline,” Stitzel said. “It starts with, ‘Do you have your bug spray? Are you taking your malaria pills?’ Malaria is our biggest threat, and it is easily mitigated by discipline. So we come up with different plans. There is a sergeant who looks at everybody and says, “OK, take out your pills and put them in your mouth,’ and then he watches them take it. The commanding general and I do the same thing every morning. He is my battle buddy, and I’m his.”

Great NCO leadership

Stitzel said everywhere he goes in Liberia, he sees exemplary NCOs. Their hands-on style of leadership has contributed greatly to this particular mission, he said.

“There is an Air Force senior master sergeant – Senior Master Sgt. Michael Jordan – who is here with the joint task force port operating team,” Stitzel said. “He has a little over 100 folks working out at the airport, bringing in all the supplies. They take care of all the passengers who come in and all of the equipment that comes in, as we start building out this theater. I watch his airmen and the Soldiers who work for him, and they are doing phenomenal work.

“You go out and see the Seabees out there, and you’ve got a petty officer directing his sailors in two- and three-person teams, getting the land set for us to build these life-support areas. Sgt Maj. Doug Hall went in and helped design and coordinate with the contractors to build the living areas and work areas. These tents and all of these [buildings] that are going up, somebody has to divide up the plan and tell them where to do it, how we are going to do it and set it up. Hall has been the right NCO at the right time to get done what needs to get done.”

In a partnership with the armed forces of Liberia, Hall’s unit was responsible for starting construction of the Ebola Treatment Units, the Monrovian Medical Unit in the country’s capital and the headquarters area.

“We have all of our officers and our engineers – they design, and I am more of a get-out-there-and-make-it-happen person,” Hall said. “It’s been important to get NCO eyes onto what they are designing on paper to develop a product, to get from the conceptual stage to actually building and get the mission done. I think NCOs here have brought that to the plate.”

‘I’m proud to be part of this joint effort’

On Oct. 25, USARAF transferred authority of Operation United Assistance to the 101st Airborne Division. The 101st Airborne Division will continue the work USARAF began: overseeing the joint military operations and providing mission command, logistical, engineering and living support to those fighting to stop the virus.

U.S. Marines and Soldiers enter a U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 aircraft after a site survey of a future Ebola Treatment Unit site near Barclayville, Grand Kru, Liberia. The U.S. Agency for International Development is the lead U.S. government organization for Operation United Assistance. The U.S. Army is supporting the effort by providing mission command, logistics, training and engineering support to contain the Ebola virus outbreak. (Photo by Pfc. Craig Philbrick/U.S. Army)
U.S. Marines and Soldiers enter a U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 aircraft after a site survey of a future Ebola Treatment Unit site near Barclayville, Grand Kru, Liberia. The U.S. Agency for International Development is the lead U.S. government organization for Operation United Assistance. The U.S. Army is supporting the effort by providing mission command, logistics, training and engineering support to contain the Ebola virus outbreak. (Photo by Pfc. Craig Philbrick/U.S. Army)

After witnessing the large-scale joint effort – which includes the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Marine Corps and Liberian military units – of OUA, Stitzel said this deployment will always stand out in his mind.

“I was at the Monrovia Medical Unit today, and right there at the airport you see the joint force working together,” Stitzel said.

U.S. sailors completed the land preparation and built latrine and external structures; U.S. airmen were in charge of building and setting up the structures, and U.S. Army engineers contributed by building the floors at the airport’s now-functional 25-bed hospital.

“To me, personally, I think it’s an amazing opportunity, not only to help out our airmen, but help out in a global situation — helping out wherever we are needed,” said Air Force Master Sgt. Will Villalobos, who helped lead the team working at the airport. “We will always be ready at a moment’s notice. I’m proud, so proud, to be part of this team and to help out the people of Liberia in every way we can.”

Stitzel said NCOs should take pride in this unique mission and in their work alongside so many other organizations assisting the Liberian people. He has been impressed, he said, by the swift and effective cooperation between the United States and Liberian militaries, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Doctors Without Borders and others.

“I’ve been on a few deployments, and they were all very important missions. But this is definitely going to be one I look back on with pride. We are here in support of USAID, and so I feel very proud to not only be a part of this fight against Ebola but to work with all of the other federal agencies and departments that are here working so well together. It has been a great experience and a blessing to being a part of this mission of helping the people of Liberia.”

Spc. Kristal Calderon, an information technology support specialist with the 35th Signal Brigade (Theater Tactical) at Fort Gordon, Ga., practices carefully donning and removing personal protective equipment during pre-deployment training at the brigade’s logistical warehouse at Fort Gordon. The training was mandatory for the Soldiers who deployed to Liberia in late October to add their communications equipment and expertise to the fight against the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. (Photo by Capt. Lindsay D. Roman/U.S. Army)
Spc. Kristal Calderon, an information technology support specialist with the 35th Signal Brigade (Theater Tactical) at Fort Gordon, Ga., practices carefully donning and removing personal protective equipment during pre-deployment training at the brigade’s logistical warehouse at Fort Gordon. The training was mandatory for the Soldiers who deployed to Liberia in late October to add their communications equipment and expertise to the fight against the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. (Photo by Capt. Lindsay D. Roman/U.S. Army)

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101st Airborne Division: ‘Rendezvous with destiny’ endures

To the German Commander,

NUTS!

The American Commander

─ Acting 101st Airborne Division commander Brig. Gen. Anthony C. McAuliffe’s reply to German forces on Dec. 22, 1944, the day Germans demanded an immediate surrender in Bastogne, Belgium.

By MARTHA C. KOESTER
NCO Journal

However, among all the actions taken by one of the most highly decorated divisions in the U.S. Army, none means more to Soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division than the classic retort of acting division commander McAuliffe to German forces in 1944. To 1st Sgt. Omar Mascareñas, of Fort Campbell’s Dental Activity and an officer of Fort Campbell’s Sgt. Audie Murphy Club, “Nuts” best illustrates the tenacity and bold mentality of the 101st Airborne Division.

“It tells you what we are like. We don’t believe that we could be defeated or that we have to surrender to anybody,” he said. “We’re going to make the mission happen, and that’s a good example of how you should continue regardless. He was surrounded; there was really no way, and for him to say that. …”

In his first address, the first commander of the 101st Airborne Division, Maj. Gen. William C. Lee, (left) said the division had a “rendezvous with destiny.” (Photo by Martha C. Koester)
In his first address, the first commander of the 101st Airborne Division, Maj. Gen. William C. Lee, (left) said the division had a “rendezvous with destiny.” (Photo by Martha C. Koester)

In December 1944, the 101st was tasked with protecting the critical transportation hub of Bastogne, Belgium, which was under siege. There, German forces issued an ultimatum: Surrender immediately or face annihilation from a blitz of German artillery. Yet, McAuliffe refused with his classic reply, boosting the sagging spirits of American Soldiers. The siege was broken by the division on Dec. 26, 1944.

“[The 101st Airborne Division] will find a way,” said Sgt. 1st Class Erin L. Trudden, student detachment NCOIC, Medical Company Blanchfield Army Community Hospital. “We will figure it out as we go.”

“When I first got here, I was assigned to the 101st Sustainment Brigade, the youngest of the brigades here,” said Master Sgt. Peter A. Mayes, a former member of the 101st Sustainment Brigade Lifeliners and public affairs NCO for the division. “As Col. Michael P. Peterman, the 101st Sustainment Brigade commander, said, ‘It is our parachutes that basically got those Soldiers into Normandy.’ That’s part of my history.”

“I just always go back to the verse in the division song, ‘We have a rendezvous with destiny; our strength and courage strike the spark that will always make men free,’” said Sgt. 1st Class Brian Ramirez, NCOIC of perioperative services at Fort Campbell’s Blanchfield Army Community Hospital. “It’s that strength and courage of the 101st that just ‘strikes that spark’ to give hope to people who don’t have freedom. I think the 101st has displayed that many times in history and will continue to do that in the future. It’s one of the great privileges of serving here.”

About the Screaming Eagles

Units such as 1st Brigade Combat Team, “Bastogne;” 2nd Brigade Combat Team, “Strike;” and 3rd Brigade Combat Team, “Rakkasans” have helped build the strong heritage for the NCOs of the 101st Airborne Division.

“You find that with a lot of the 101st Soldiers, this is not just a division, it’s the division,” Trudden said. “There are very few places [around Fort Campbell] where you don’t see the [101st] flag. Everything around here is ‘Eagle this,’ ‘Eagle that,’ ‘Screaming this,’ ‘Screaming that.’ It’s very much embedded, and when you say Fort Campbell, it’s an automatic association with the 101st.”

The Screaming Eagles of the 101st Airborne Division boast an impressive combat record fought on the beaches of Normandy to the mountains of Afghanistan. A monument at the Don F. Pratt Museum at Fort Campbell, Ky., depicts Soldiers in the combat operations in which the 101st Airborne Division took part. (Photo by Martha C. Koester)
The Screaming Eagles of the 101st Airborne Division boast an impressive combat record fought on the beaches of Normandy to the mountains of Afghanistan. A monument at the Don F. Pratt Museum at Fort Campbell, Ky., depicts Soldiers in the combat operations in which the 101st Airborne Division took part. (Photo by Martha C. Koester)

“This is ‘Screaming Eagle Country,’” Mayes said. “No matter where you go in this town, you are going to see Abe [the Screaming Eagle on the insignia of the 101st Airborne Division] somewhere. That is what this place is all about. This is Abe’s home. This is Abe’s world, and we’re proud of it.”

The division was first activated Aug. 16, 1942, at Camp Claiborne, La. In his first address to Soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division, commander Maj. Gen. William C. Lee said that though the division had no history, it had “a rendezvous with destiny,” and the division was to be called on when the need was “immediate and extreme.”

Those words ─ “a rendezvous with destiny” ─ would prove so inspirational that the words would be incorporated into the division’s song, “Screaming Eagles.”

“Just think about what that says,” Mascareñas said. “Every time a commander gets ready to deploy, they always say they are getting ready for another ‘rendezvous with destiny.’ It’s just a perfect phrase for it.”

“I have been a Soldier for a long time, but when I went downrange with [the 101st Sustainment Brigade], that’s where my mettle met the road,” Mayes said. “That’s my pride.”

As Screaming Eagles, “we understand where we came from; we understand how iconic our leaders are,” Mayes said. “Those are giants. We are standing on their shoulders, and we have to live up to their legacy. Anything less would be unacceptable.”

However, none of the groups of the 101st Airborne Division garners as much attention as the legendary 506th Infantry Regiment or “Band of Brothers,” which traces its roots back to World War II.  The regiment made its mark multiple times in history, whether parachuting into Normandy or capturing Adolf Hitler’s outpost, his Eagle’s Nest at Berchtesgaden.

“I ask a lot of my new Soldiers if they have seen the ‘Band of Brothers’ miniseries,” Mascareñas said. “If they answer, ‘No,’ a sergeant has to take that Soldier to go watch it. When they come back, the Soldier says, ‘Wow!’”

Air-assault operations are a significant part of the 101st Airborne Division’s history, and training is critical for NCOs. Thousands of Soldiers and leaders assigned to the division train each year at the Sabalauski Air Assault School, widely known as the 10 toughest days in the Army.

“When my Soldiers graduate [from Air Assault School], you see a transformation,” Mascareñas said. “When you get [the wings on your uniform], you just moved a mountain. I have been to Airborne School, and I have been to Air Assault School. Air Assault School was probably the best training I received. Just the way it was run, it was so professional ─ ‘dress right dress.’ It’s all about standards and attention to detail, and that’s where you learn those things.

“All that tradition spills out to the tenant units, like my unit. A few months ago, my unit achieved a 52-percent Air Assault-qualified [rate], which is unheard of in a dental company. You won’t find that anywhere else. But why did we do that? Because we feel we are a part of the 101st, and we want to be a part of that tradition.”

Role models

The 101stAirborne Division has turned out its fair share of high-profile leaders, both officer and enlisted.

“You’re looking at men who are considered legends at what they do,” Mayes said. “Everyone knows retired Maj. Gens. Jeffrey J. Schloesser, John F. Campbell, David H. Petraeus, current Command Sgt. Maj. Alonzo J. Smith and retired Command Sgt. Maj. Marvin L. Hill. We all know those names. When you think of the Army of the past 10 to 12 years, that is this Army.”

NCOs look to Smith, the current 101st Airborne Division command sergeant major, for inspiration, members of Fort Campbell’s Sgt. Audie Murphy Club said.

“A good example is Smith,” Mascareñas said. “He is my hero. That’s who I want to emulate because of what he went through. He was injured and was out of commission for a while. But to be able to come back, take the historic 101st downrange and come back with more history? Wow, he’s awesome.”

While on a combat operation in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in June 2010 with the 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, Smith’s vehicle was struck by rebels firing an 82 mm recoilless rifle, which severely injured his leg. Smith successfully underwent multiple surgeries and fought depression.

Another 101st Airborne Division role model who gained recent Armywide attention was Sgt. 1st Class Greg Robinson, the first Soldier with an amputated limb and prosthetic to graduate from the Air Assault School in April 2013.

Robinson, a combat engineer with A Company, 2nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, lost a portion of his lower right leg during a mission in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in October 2006.

“I don’t know of any other Soldier who could have done what he has done,” Mayes said. “The 10 toughest days [in the Army], and this guy just showed everyone he is more than capable of handling it.

“[That shows] the true spirit of what the 101st Airborne Division is all about ─ when you have that kind of imagery, that kind of passion: ‘I’m not giving up. My leg injury did not stop me. I own it instead.’”

A brotherhood

The 101st Airborne Division’s traditions honor the Soldiers who served before, with events such as the Week of the Eagles to present the best of the division and the Run for the Fallen, which is held on post to honor service members and is hosted by the division.

“One of the things I like when I go to the ceremonies on post is I see many of the veterans who were in the 101st,” Mascareñas said. “Just to talk to these old Soldiers brings a chill. It makes you want to be a better Soldier when you come to work because it’s not a regular unit. This is an historic unit, and when you come to work you just feel like you want to do better.”

The tenacity of the 101st Airborne Division on the battlefield is well documented and admired by many NCOs.

“I have a godson who is 12 and is a World War II fanatic,” Trudden said. “When I told him I was [making a permanent change of station] to Fort Campbell, he said, ‘You are going to the 101st?’ It was like I had been chosen for God status or something. ‘Do you know what they have done?’ he asked.”

Above all else, the resounding theme of the 101st Airborne Division is one of family unlike that at other installations, said Mascareñas, who was once told he could not shop at a shoppette at another installation because he had not earned his Airborne badge.

“Here [at Fort Campbell], it’s like, ‘Hey, why don’t you have your wings? Come on, let me show you how to get them,’” Mascareñas said. “I’m probably the 1 percent of this post [working in a dental clinic], but they treat me like I’m the 90 percent guy [in an Air Assault unit], as if I was a first sergeant in the 101st. That’s what I like about it ─ how they treat you like family and how they make you a part of the team.”

“I think if you come here and you drive around this post, and you’re not moved or if  it doesn’t make you wear your uniform with more pride and more satisfaction and a desire to do better, then you are in the wrong business,” Trudden said. “If so, you need to go away; you need to go get an application from McDonald’s, because they probably need a fry guy, and it just might be better suited for you than this unit.”

 

Timeline

Aug. 16, 1942: The 101st division is activated at Camp Claiborne, La. In his first address to Soldiers, commander Maj. Gen. William C. Lee says that though the division had no history it had “a rendezvous with destiny.” The phrase becomes part of the division’s song and motto.

June 6, 1944: Screaming Eagles become the first Allied Soldiers to set foot into occupied France in the Cotentin Peninsula. The division plays a major role during D-Day operations by clearing a path for the 4th Infantry Division to land on Utah Beach; the division eventually links the Utah and Omaha beachheads and liberates the city of Carentan.

Sept. 17, 1944: The 101st jumps into Holland for Operation Market Garden. The division fights for the liberation of the Netherlands and spends 72 days in combat.

December 1944: The 101st is called to action during the Battle of the Bulge. The critical transportation hub of Bastogne, Belgium, is under siege, surrounded by enemy forces who demand an immediate surrender. Acting division commander Brig. Gen. Anthony C. McAuliffe refuses, with his classic reply of “Nuts!”  The siege is broken Dec. 26, but fighting continues until January 1945 as Allied units reduce Nazi advances in the Ardennes Forest.

Spring 1945: The 101st liberates the Landsberg concentration camp and captures Adolf Hitler’s mountain retreat in Berchtesgaden.

Nov. 30, 1945: The 101st is inactivated eight months after the German surrender.

September 1956: The 101st is reactivated at Fort Campbell. The activation of the 101st and the 82nd airborne divisions marks the culmination of the Army’s efforts to establish airborne operations.

September 1957: President Dwight D. Eisenhower sends elements of the 101st Airborne Division to safeguard the Little Rock Nine, a group of African-American students trying to attend classes at Little Rock Central High School in Little Rock, Ark.

July 29, 1965: The 1st Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division arrives. The remainder of the 101st deploys in December 1967 and makes history as the largest and longest airlift operation directly into a combat zone. The division is involved in combat operations from Saigon to Quang Tri province. In August 1968, parachutes are shed in favor of helicopter-borne operations. While in Vietnam, the 101st Airborne Division fights 45 operations and 17 Screaming Eagles earn the Medal of Honor.

February 1974: Commanding general Maj. Gen. Sidney B. Berry signs an order authorizing wear of the Airmobile qualification badge. On Oct. 4, 1974, the 101st is redesignated the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), which it maintains today.

March 1982: Elements of the 101st are sent to the Sinai Peninsula for peacekeeping operations. On Dec. 12, 1985, 248 Screaming Eagles are killed in a plane crash in Newfoundland as they were returning home from a Middle East assignment.

August 1990: The division is deployed to the Middle East in support of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. On Jan. 17, 1991, the division fires the first shots of Desert Storm and destroys Iraqi radar sites. A cease-fire comes Feb. 28, 1991, and the Screaming Eagles return by May 1.

1990s: The division supports U.S. and United Nations peacekeeping missions in Somalia, Panama, Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo.

November 2001: In response to terrorist attacks on 9/11, the 3rd Brigade Combat Team (Rakkasans) deploy to Afghanistan. The Screaming Eagles participate in combat operations including Operation Anaconda in the Shoh-I-Khot Valley, which dealt a major blow to the Taliban and al-Qaida.

February and March 2003: The division deploys to Kuwait for Operation Iraqi Freedom and fights its way to South Baghdad. In April 2003, the 101st Airborne Division is ordered to northern Iraq and conducts the longest air assault in history. Screaming Eagles also conduct the first province election in Iraq and kill Saddam Hussein’s sons Uday and Qusay.

Late 2005: The division deploys to Iraq again and assumes responsibility for northern Iraq. The Screaming Eagles help train Iraqi soldiers and transition major parts of the country to Iraqi units.

Fall 2007: The division again deploys to Iraq. In February 2008, it deploys to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. In June 2010, the entire division returns to Afghanistan to help restore Afghan people’s confidence in government and train Afghan National Security Forces.

 “Screaming Eagles”

The song for the 101st Airborne Division is titled “Screaming Eagles” and was written by Col. Samuel R. Loboda.

We have a rendezvous with destiny.

Our strength and courage strike the spark

That will always make men free.

Assault right down through the skies of blue;

Keep your eyes on the job to be done.

We’re the Soldiers of the hundred-first;

We’ll fight till the battle’s won!

 

“Old Abe”

One of the most recognized insignia in the Army, the Screaming Eagle patch made its official debut in 1942. The patch featured a white eagle’s head with a gold beak on a black shield topped with a crescent shaped Airborne tab. Its origins have roots in Wisconsin history.

Old Abe, the original eagle featured in the Screaming Eagle patch of the 101st Airborne Division, was wounded twice during the Civil War, though not seriously. A replica of the bird hangs in the division’s museum at Fort Campbell, Ky. (Photo by Martha C. Koester)
Old Abe, the original eagle featured in the Screaming Eagle patch of the 101st Airborne Division, was wounded twice during the Civil War, though not seriously. A replica of the bird hangs in the division’s museum at Fort Campbell, Ky. (Photo by Martha C. Koester)

In 1861, Chief Sky of the Chippewa tribe captured a bald eagle near the Flambeau River in northern Wisconsin. Chief Sky traded the eaglet for a bushel of corn to Daniel McCann of Eagle Point, Wis. McCann then sold the bird for $2.50 to Capt. John E. Perkins, commanding officer of a militia company called the Eau Claire Badgers. The unit renamed themselves the Eau Claire Eagles.

When the unit entered federal service, it was redesignated as C Company, 8th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment. The mascot was adopted by the new 8th Wisconsin, which was nicknamed the Eagle Regiment.

Soldiers named the eagle “Old Abe” after President Abraham Lincoln and assigned the bird as a member of the regimental color guard. During the Civil War, the Eagle Regiment carried Old Abe into battle, screaming at the enemy while tethered to a wooden shield. Old Abe was wounded twice during battle, though not seriously.

After the inactivation of the Eagle Regiment in 1864, veterans donated Old Abe to the people of Wisconsin. The eagle frequently traveled around the nation as part of veteran reunions and special exhibitions. In 1881, Old Abe died from the fumes of a fire near his aviary in the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison.

Upon his death, Old Abe was preserved and exhibited in the Capitol building’s Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Hall until a fire ruined the display in 1904. A few of Old Abe’s feathers survived and were preserved by the Wisconsin Veterans Museum in Madison.

It was in 1921 that the legend of “Old Abe” and the 101st unit designation merged. The 101st Division of the Organized Reserves was born, with headquarters in Milwaukee, Wis. In 1923, a new black version of a 101st Division insignia was approved for the unit. The former version featured a white eagle over flames on a royal blue shield.

The 101st Division of the Organized Reserves disbanded in Aug. 15, 1942; the next day the 101st Airborne Division was born. Old Abe was still on the insignia, but it was now topped with the Airborne tab.

Two other eagle mascots, “Young Abe” and “Bill Lee I,” were soon acquired by the division, but Young Abe died in 1943, while Bill Lee I died in 1956.