Tag Archives: 4th Infantry Division

4th CAB reception company NCOs move fast to make assets of incoming Soldiers

By PABLO VILLA
NCO Journal

Spc. Kenneth Schunke barks orders as he saunters through a padded room filled with rows of barefoot Soldiers at Fort Carson, Colo.

“Work it, work it!” Schunke shouts as the Soldiers pair off and go through grappling and defensive drills. The temperature slowly rises inside the small, unassuming brick building giving the air a stifling thickness and rendering the setting fit for elite-level martial arts training. But these Soldiers aren’t in a top-flight fighting gym. They are in-processing.

The Soldiers are being trained in combatives by the Aviation Mission Readiness Integration Company, a reception company of the 4th Combat Aviation Brigade, 4th Infantry Division. The company helps the 4th CAB integrate incoming Soldiers and ensure they receive mandatory training before reporting to their units. The combatives training is one element of a three-pronged qualification regimen taught by AMRIC’s noncommissioned officers. It allows incoming Soldiers to complete requirements that might otherwise be shelved while tending to the brisk pace of an aviation company’s needs.

“We’re different from a lot of other places that just focus on basic orientation,” said Sgt. 1st Class Taylor McReynolds, first sergeant for AMRIC. “These additional things we train them on, they don’t have a lot of time to get those things done, especially on the aviation side of the house. That kind of stuff gets put on the backburner some of the time. But those are certifications they need. Here, we make it a priority.”

‘A leader-centric culture’

The impetus for the unit’s formation in 2014 came from Col. Robert T. Ault, commander of the 4th CAB, who believes the basic foundations facilitated in AMRIC help foster a total Soldier philosophy.

“We are setting up a leader-centric culture that is firmly grounded in the Army Values,” Ault told the Fort Carson Mountaineer earlier this year. “AMRIC allows us to get to know our new leaders and they, in turn, get to know us and our standards. We certify our best leaders through the process of selecting, training and trusting them. AMRIC also facilitates the development of the culture we are trying to deliberately create by helping privates to battalion commanders understand the CAB’s philosophy and be able to do basic Soldier tasks before going to their subordinate units.”

The company has been in-processing Soldiers for more than a year, taking new arrivals through combatives training as well as driver’s training and a combat lifesaver course. The new in-processing method has already done much to instill a culture of leadership, said Sgt. Matthew Cox, AMRIC second platoon sergeant.

“Everybody has to come through this, so you’re already building some continuity there,” Cox said. “It sets the tone for the unit you’re about to get into. It’s a no-nonsense type of situation. It kind of reflects the mentality the Soldiers that come through will need — ‘Hey, we’re getting this training. There is no time to mess around. We’re going to hit the ground running.’ They may not know where they’re going to be or when they might have time to do this later on.”

Spc. Kenneth Schunke, left, instructs incoming Soldiers of the 4th Combat Aviation Brigade during a combatives course as part of training conducted by the Aviation Mission Readiness Integration Company at Fort Carson, Colo. (Photo by Pablo Villa)
Spc. Kenneth Schunke, left, instructs incoming Soldiers of the 4th Combat Aviation Brigade during a combatives course as part of training conducted by the Aviation Mission Readiness Integration Company at Fort Carson, Colo. (Photo by Pablo Villa)

That shortage of time is a natural component of being part of the 4th CAB, said Sgt. James Sessoms, a section sergeant for AMRIC. Training Soldiers before they report to their units eliminates the need for a squad leader or section sergeant to pull an NCO away to train troops. That, Sessoms said, makes every Soldier who goes through AMRIC an instant asset. Leaders are able to focus on advancing Soldiers in their jobs rather than basic Soldier skills.

“It’s a great program,” Sessoms said. “Aviation is a very high-tempo, demanding asset to the Army. I’ve been in the Army almost eight years. It took me seven years to get combatives certification. In my last unit, I was aviation and I couldn’t get a combatives slot to save my life. Here at AMRIC, it’s pretty much already given to you, which also helps the troop because it gives them points. Not only are you helping the troop, you’re helping the unit because the troop or the Soldier who goes through this is able to get qualified for combatives.

“You also get driver’s training. It took me four months to get driver’s training in my first unit,” Sessoms said. “That’s because we were at such a high tempo, every time we turned around there was a mission this or a mission that. They couldn’t conduct a driver’s training. Here, we conduct one a week. They get to walk away with some type of driver’s training, so when they get into a unit they’re already able to be utilized as drivers or TCs (tank commander or track commander). They can’t TC a vehicle without knowing how to operate it, so it’s an automatic asset once they get to their unit and they’re done with this training.

“It’s the same thing with CLS, their combat lifesaver’s qualifying,” Sessoms said. “There is a requirement for ranges or other types of training — you need somebody to be in medical besides an actual medic. So with this training, they’re able to CLS a range or CLS whatever they need them for. The training gives that Soldier points, too. So this way, when they finally get to their battalions and their units, they’re already ready to hit the ground running and not slow anyone down.”

‘It builds camaraderie and a team atmosphere’

If the pace of daily work in the 4th CAB is swift, then the pace at AMRIC is blistering. New Soldiers arrive almost daily, creating an extensive schedule of in-processing activities. The sheer amount of work for AMRIC’s NCOs recently prompted 4th CAB leadership to trim the time spent in the company from a one-year detail to about six months.

“That’s the high tempo expected here. We’re constantly on the move,” Sessoms said.

That notion is never more evident than during combatives training. There, Spc. Schunke and Sgt. Ivy Barton imbue new Soldiers — ranks ranging from private to lieutenant colonel — with their fighting expertise. Motions for various offensive and defensive maneuvers — such as nullifying and striking an enemy attempting to take your rifle — are broken down into easily executable steps, then performed until proficiency is reached. In the stuffy confines of the mat room, incoming Soldiers earn certification in combatives level 1. They also form bonds that serve to strengthen their respective units, Cox said.

“There’s a very wide diversity of ranks and grades,” Cox said. “The officers and the senior NCOs who come through attend the same training. So they’re getting their ducks in a row at the same time as the troops. So they get to see how these new Soldiers are receptive to all this training. It builds camaraderie and a team atmosphere.

“They also learn the basis of hand-to-hand combat,” Cox said. “Going forward, after you receive that training, you have the basis and the understanding of how to defend yourself in hand-to-hand combat. Soldiers never really know where they’re going to end up or what may happen. So combatives is a valuable tool that could possibly save some lives down the road.”

The combatives training also tests the mettle of Soldiers when they are struck. Sessoms says it is far better to figure out how to react to being hit in training than downrange.

“There’s nothing pretty about combat,” Sessoms said. “It’s gritty. If you get into hand-to-hand combat and you don’t know what you’re doing, you won’t know how to react. During clinch day here, you’re going to get hit. What we look for is, ‘How are you going to react?’ I’d rather know now and learn from someone who is my fellow Soldier and teaching me. We have fantastic trainers here for combatives, for everything we do, really.”

‘We take care of Soldiers’ needs’

Such intensive training requires high-caliber NCOs, Cox said. They need to be physically fit, intelligent, competent and transparent, he said.

“They need to understand what we do here and convey the colonel’s intent with this program to everybody who comes through,” Cox said. “So you have to be a very well-rounded Soldier, for one. It kind of goes back to NCOs being the ‘backbone of the Army.’ NCOs make it happen. This company was a really good idea. Col. Ault implemented it and hand-picked NCOs in the positions to make it happen. It really does reflect the lineage of NCOs being the ones out front leading troops and accomplishing the missions.”

Sessoms said AMRIC NCOs benefit from regular meetings with the company commander and first sergeant, which help further implement Ault’s intent. Sessoms added that incoming Soldiers get an early taste of the passion and pride of the 4th CAB because of visits from Ault himself. He said it is one of the few places he’s seen the brigade commander and brigade command sergeant major make the effort to speak to incoming Soldiers. It further fosters a leadership culture, Sessoms said.

“We’re a leadership organization. That’s the only thing the colonel wants,” he said. “The NCO is the ‘backbone of the Army,’ and that’s what we do. It’s been the Army way — we do what needs to be done.”

In keeping with the energetic pace of daily operations, Sessoms adds that being an AMRIC NCO means the job can’t be done from 9 to 5. Preparing troops for the 4th CAB is a 24/7 operation, he said. That includes ensuring Soldiers have what they need even when the uniforms come off.

“We take care of Soldiers’ needs,” Sessoms said. “Every NCO here is all in on this, not only training but also helping the troop. That’s your job as an NCO — lead, train, mentor. You take care of that Soldier, personally, financially, mentally, physically. That’s your job. Just because I go home and take this uniform off does not mean I won’t come back.

“We are competent, passionate and willing to work. We’re constantly moving. Soldiers first — if you’re going to be an NCO, that’s how it needs to be. If you’re going to be an NCO here, that’s definitely how it needs to be.”

Sgt. Ivy Barton, center in black padding, watches as Soldiers go through drills during a combatives course as part of training conducted by the Aviation Mission Readiness Integration Company at Fort Carson, Colo. (Photo by Pablo Villa)
Sgt. Ivy Barton, center in black padding, watches as Soldiers go through drills during a combatives course as part of training conducted by the Aviation Mission Readiness Integration Company at Fort Carson, Colo. (Photo by Pablo Villa)

President Obama rightfully gives the valor of 2 NCOs its due 97 years later

By PABLO VILLA
NCO Journal

Sgt. Henry Johnson and Sgt. William Shemin joined the Army at a time when not all Soldiers were treated equally.

Johnson, an African-American, and Shemin, a Jewish-American, were part of an Army that relegated ethnic and religious minorities to smaller roles within the force during World War I. That didn’t stop either man from stepping up in a big way when the lives of fellow Soldiers were at risk. Their individual acts of valor on separate battlefields saved the lives of their comrades. Their heroism occurred despite suffering serious wounds amid arduous conditions.

For nearly a century, their actions went unrecognized by their country.

On Tuesday, after decades of obscurity and years of pushing by family members and veterans’ organizations, President Barack Obama awarded both men the nation’s highest honor.

“We are a nation — a people — who remember our heroes,” Obama said during a Medal of Honor ceremony at the White House. “We never forget their sacrifice, and we believe it’s never too late to say, ‘Thank you.’”

Harlem Hellfighter repels a raid

Johnson received the Medal of Honor posthumously for his actions May 15, 1918, to fight off a German raid party using his Bowie knife. He was on night sentry duty with Pvt. Needham Roberts in an area northwest of Sainte-Menehould, France, between the Tourbe and Aisne rivers. According to the White House, the pair came under a surprise attack by a dozen German soldiers.

While under intense fire and despite his own wounds, Johnson kept an injured Roberts from being taken prisoner. He came forward from his position to engage an enemy soldier in hand-to-hand combat. Wielding only a knife and gravely wounded, Johnson continued fighting until the enemy retreated.

Johnson was in France as part of C Company of the 15th New York (Colored) Infantry Regiment, which he joined in June 1917. The all-black National Guard unit would later become the 369th Infantry Regiment — the famed Harlem Hellfighters — part of the 93rd Division, which was ordered to the front lines to fight with the French in 1918. After being awarded France’s highest award for valor, the Croix de Guerre avec Palme, in 1919, Johnson died in 1929 without fanfare. He was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart in 1996 and the Distinguished Service Cross in 2002. But until now, he had been overlooked for the Medal of Honor.

“America can’t change what happened to Henry Johnson,” Obama said. “But we can do our best to make it right. I’m proud to award him the Medal of Honor.”

Command Sgt. Maj. Louis Wilson, the command sergeant major of the New York Army National Guard accepted the award on Johnson’s behalf.

“In the modern time that we live in, if you are deserving of something you are rewarded expeditiously,” Wilson said in an interview before Tuesday’s ceremony. “I’m glad there are families and organizations that have pushed and pushed and pushed to make this happen. It’s pretty much all about Albany, it’s all about New York, it’s all about the National Guard. It’s all about Henry Johnson.”

A kid grows up fast

William Shemin was too young to enlist in the Army in 1917. So, much like he would do throughout his military career, he found a way.

“He puffed his chest and lied about his age,” Obama said.

Shemin was serving as a rifleman with G Company, 47th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division, during the Aisne-Marne Offensive in the summer of 1918. According to the White House, from Aug. 7 to 9, he left the cover of his platoon’s trench and crossed open space, repeatedly exposing himself to heavy machinegun and rifle fire to rescue the wounded.

After officers and senior noncommissioned officers had become casualties, Shemin took command of the platoon until he was wounded by shrapnel and a machinegun bullet, which pierced his helmet and lodged behind his left ear. He was hospitalized for three months and then was placed on light duty as part of the Army occupation in Germany and Belgium.

For his injuries, he received the Purple Heart and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross on Dec. 29, 1919.

“William stepped up and took command. He led rescues of the wounded,” Obama said. “William was cool, calm, intelligent and utterly fearless. A young kid who lied about his age grew up fast in war.”

Shemin was honorably discharged in August 1919. He died in 1973.

His eldest daughter, Elsie Shemin-Roth of Webster Grove, Mo., began an effort in the early 2000s to give her father a chance at being awarded the Medal of Honor. Her endeavor was spurred by news that a group of Jewish-American World War II veterans were getting their Army Distinguished Service Cross, Navy Cross and Air Force Cross citations reviewed for upgrades due to anti-Semitism. Shemin performed actions that were worthy of the Medal of Honor, according to a Distinguished Service Cross recommendation in the family’s possession.

Shemin-Roth’s efforts included contacting the Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America and a congressman for help. Eventually, they saw the passage of the William Shemin Jewish World War I Veterans Act in 2011, which allowed Shemin’s case to be resubmitted for review.

Four years later, Shemin-Roth, along with her sister, Ina, joined Obama on stage to receive their father’s Medal of Honor.

‘We have work to do’

Obama concluded the ceremony by saying his administration is working to ensure that minority war heroes who have been previously overlooked are properly honored.

“It has taken a long time for Henry Johnson and William Shemin to receive the recognition they deserve,” he said. “So, we have work to do as a nation to make sure that all of our heroes’ stories are told.”

His last remarks were directed at the scores of Soldiers who have gone overlooked.

“We know who you are, we know what you did for us and we are forever grateful.”

2 NCOs to be awarded Medal of Honor for actions during World War I

By PABLO VILLA
NCO Journal

Command Sgt. Maj. Louis Wilson will retire next year after 39 years of service to the New York Army National Guard. His career has produced such notable moments as being part of rescue operations in response to various natural disasters, being part of aid missions after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in New York City, deploying to Iraq for a year in 2004 and, just last year, being named the command sergeant major of the New York National Guard.

But, he says, his accomplishments throughout those nearly four decades pale in comparison to what Sgt. Henry Johnson did one day in 1918.

“I think about myself and my career — I’ve had a few achievements,” Wilson said. “But just looking at Henry Johnson and all he did in a day — my 39 years doesn’t come close.”

Sgt. Henry Johnson, of the 369th Infantry Regiment, was awarded the French Croix de Guerre avec Palme on Feb. 12, 1919, for bravery during a battle with German soldiers the previous year. (Photo courtesy of Army News Service)
Sgt. Henry Johnson, of the 369th Infantry Regiment, was awarded the French Croix de Guerre avec Palme on Feb. 12, 1919, for bravery during a battle with German soldiers the previous year. (Photo courtesy of Army News Service)

What then-Pvt. Johnson did May 15, 1918, during World War I was immediately deemed worthy of France’s highest award for valor — the Croix de Guerre avec Palme. Nearly a century later, his own country will follow suit, posthumously awarding Johnson, who retired as a sergeant, the Medal of Honor during a ceremony Tuesday at the White House. Wilson will accept the award from President Barack Obama on Johnson’s behalf, as he has no surviving family members.

The nation’s highest honor will also be posthumously awarded to Sgt. William Shemin during the same ceremony.

Johnson, who was African-American, will receive the Medal of Honor for his actions to fight off a German raid party using his Bowie knife. He was on night sentry duty with Pvt. Needham Roberts in an area northwest of Sainte-Menehould, France, between the Tourbe and Aisne rivers. According to information from the White House, the pair came under a surprise attack by a dozen German soldiers.

While under intense fire and despite his own wounds, Johnson kept an injured Roberts from being taken prisoner. He came forward from his position to engage an enemy soldier in hand-to-hand combat. Wielding only a knife and gravely wounded, Johnson continued fighting until the enemy retreated.

Johnson was in France as part of C Company of the 15th New York (Colored) Infantry Regiment, which he joined in June 1917. The all-black National Guard unit would later become the 369th Infantry Regiment — the famed Harlem Hellfighters — part of the 93rd Division, which was ordered to the front lines to fight with the French in 1918. After being awarded the Croix de Guerre in 1919, Johnson died in 1929 without further fanfare. He was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart in 1996 and the Distinguished Service Cross in 2002. But until now, he had been overlooked for the Medal of Honor.

“It’s a good thing. The injustice that was done back then, it’s been overturned,” Wilson said. “Things have changed. We see now that the valor that he displayed, he should’ve been honored. We’re glad he is honored now. There shouldn’t be a difference who you are. We enlist and, no matter who you are, we fight side by side. You learn to take care of each other. That’s what he did, he took care of his battle buddy.”

Wilson said during his early days living and working in the Albany, N.Y., area, it was difficult not to see reminders of Johnson. Drivers make their way along Henry Johnson Boulevard. Children are dropped off at Henry Johnson Charter School. A granite tribute to Johnson sits on the southeast corner of Washington Park near downtown Albany.

“When I first came to post as the command sergeant major of the state of New York, I had heard about Henry Johnson,” Wilson said. “I had to research him. I did a lot of reading and realized he really was a hero.”

While Wilson thought Johnson was deserving of much higher accolades, he never believed he would be a part of the pomp that came with it. He was aware that efforts by various organizations on Johnson’s behalf to award him the Medal of Honor were ongoing, but when he received a phone call three weeks ago from Maj. Gen. Patrick Murphy, New York’s adjutant general, Wilson said he was shocked. Murphy explained that as the command sergeant major of the New York National Guard, it made sense for Wilson to accept the honor on behalf of the long-deceased Guard Soldier.

“I was blindsided. I wasn’t expecting that,” Wilson said. “I think it’s a big honor. I’m proud, I’m happy, I’m glad that I’m the one who will represent him and will accept this honor from the president.”

Though the medal is significant, Wilson said it is being awarded to a Soldier who did what all Soldiers should be doing.

New York Army National Guard Command Sgt. Maj. Louis Wilson will represent Sgt. Henry Johnson, a World War I Soldier, scheduled to receive a posthumous Medal of Honor on Tuesday during a White House ceremony. (Photo by Master Sgt. Corine Lombardo / Army News Service)
New York Army National Guard Command Sgt. Maj. Louis Wilson will represent Sgt. Henry Johnson, a World War I Soldier, scheduled to receive a posthumous Medal of Honor on Tuesday during a White House ceremony. (Photo by Master Sgt. Corine Lombardo / Army News Service)

“He had a belief,” Wilson said of Johnson. “He wanted to prove himself. He overcame many things to become a Soldier and he overcame that night (of the attack). He was awarded the French’s highest award and to come back here and get nothing? But he proved himself and there is a reward, whether it’s a medal or whether it’s a sense of belonging. I see that in Henry Johnson with the smile that he gave in pictures that we have. I can imagine if he was here today he’d say, ‘What’s the big fuss about? I went over there and did my duty.’ And that’s the way it should be.”

Wilson adds that despite the time that has transpired since Johnson’s heroism and the many social and technological changes, that today’s NCOs can still learn from his actions.

“Live the Army values,” Wilson said. “Do your job, know your job and take care of others. No matter what you do, it’s all about duty and serving. Never give up.

“At the time, he was a private. When you enlist in the service, you’re a private. But you quickly learn. You learn the positions two, three steps ahead of what you are and you grow up quick. That’s the Army. It’s being able to think on your feet and not give up. He never gave up.”

Shemin takes charge

Shemin was born Oct. 14, 1896, in Bayonne, N.J. He graduated from the New York State Ranger School in 1914, and went on to work as a forester in Bayonne.

Shemin enlisted in the Army on Oct. 2, 1917. Upon completion of basic training at Camp Greene, N.C., he was assigned as a rifleman to G Company, 47th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division, which headed to France after merely 17 days of field training.

Sgt. William Shemin, right, poses with a fellow Soldier in this undated photo. Shemin will be awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor on Tuesday. (Photo courtesy of Army News Service)
Sgt. William Shemin, right, poses with a fellow Soldier in this undated photo. Shemin will be awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor on Tuesday. (Photo courtesy of Army News Service)

While serving as a rifleman during the Aisne-Marne Offensive from Aug. 7 to 9, 1918, he left the cover of his platoon’s trench and crossed open space, repeatedly exposing himself to heavy machinegun and rifle fire to rescue the wounded.

After officers and senior noncommissioned officers had become casualties, Shemin took command of the platoon until he was wounded by shrapnel and a machinegun bullet, which pierced his helmet and lodged behind his left ear. He was hospitalized for three months and then was placed on light duty as part of the Army occupation in Germany and Belgium.

For his injuries, he received the Purple Heart and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross on Dec. 29, 1919.

Shemin was honorably discharged in August 1919, and went on to receive a degree from the New York State College of Forestry at Syracuse University. After graduation, he started a greenhouse and landscaping business in Bronx, N.Y., where he raised three children. He died in 1973.

His eldest daughter, Elsie Shemin-Roth of Webster Grove, Mo., began an effort in the early 2000s to give her father a chance at being awarded the Medal of Honor. Her endeavor was spurred by news that a group of Jewish-American World War II veterans were getting their Army Distinguished Service Cross, Navy Cross and Air Force Cross citations reviewed for upgrades due to anti-Semitism. Shemin, who is Jewish, performed actions that were worthy of the Medal of Honor, according to a Distinguished Service Cross recommendation in the family’s possession.

Shemin-Roth’s efforts included contacting the Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America and a congressman for help. Eventually, they saw the passage of the William Shemin Jewish World War I Veterans Act in 2011, which allowed Shemin’s case to be resubmitted for review. Four years later, Shemin-Roth is to receive the Medal of Honor on her father’s behalf. He is the first member of the storied 4th Infantry Division to receive the nation’s highest honor for actions during World War I.

The Army News Service contributed to this report.

Watch it

• What: Medal of Honor ceremony.

• When, where: 11:15 a.m. EDT Tuesday, White House.

• Of note: The Medal of Honor will be posthumously awarded to Sgt. William Henry Johnson and Sgt. William Shemin for their actions during World War I.

• Live feed: https://www.dvidshub.net/webcast/6491#.VWh740aOmAM

NCO lessons ensure success during Colorado flood evacuations

By PABLO VILLA
NCO Journal

The noncommissioned officers of the 4th Infantry Division’s 4th Combat Aviation Brigade at Fort Carson, Colo., work every day to keep their Soldiers prepared for anything.

But it’s not solely the unpredictable tactics employed by insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan that has these Soldiers toiling daily to hone their skills. It’s the capricious manner in which Mother Nature conducts her business that keeps the 4th CAB on its toes just as well.

Whether it was assisting the Colorado Army National Guard with fighting fires stoked by severe drought or taking part in rescue missions in the aftermath of catastrophic flooding caused by torrential rains, 2013 was a busy year for the Iron Eagles. This year, ice jams forged by a bitter winter threaten to spur even more floods and have already done so in Montana and Wyoming. But no matter the weather and the complications it brings, the 4th CAB’s NCOs say they are up to the task.

Staff Sgt. Jose Pantoja is one of those Iron Eagles. He says the work he and other NCOs took on last year was successful merely because of their presence.

“A majority of the guys we had out there were NCOs,” said Pantoja, a flight medic. “Most of the guys that went out there had enough experience to be able to handle the situation. These guys made it happen.”

The aforementioned drought coupled with record high temperatures created ripe conditions for fires in Colorado’s Black Forest, located north of Colorado Springs. The state’s fears came to fruition June 11, 2013. Two days after the wind-whipped blaze ignited, it was deemed the worst fire in Colorado history and it destroyed 350 homes and charred 15,000 acres. The Colorado Army National Guard dispatched 14 Soldiers from its 1157th Engineer Firefighter Company to help battle the blaze, which was 85 percent contained by June 18 when they were released from duty on the fire line.

“We very much appreciate the experience and knowledge these Soldiers bring with them wherever they are assigned,” said Brig. Gen. Pete Byrne, commander of Joint Task Force-Centennial. “We’re grateful to their employers and families for allowing these Soldiers and Airmen the time away from their normal lives to serve the Colorado community.”

But that reprieve wouldn’t last long.

Historic flooding

As the summer season lazily wound down, Mother Nature conjured up a frenetic finish.

On Sept. 9, a cold front stalled over Colorado’s Front Range, a nearly 200-mile swath that extends from Colorado Springs north to Fort Collins. It collided with northbound warm monsoonal air to create the heaviest rainfall the region had seen in more than three decades. On Sept. 11, Boulder was inundated with 9 inches of rain and 17 inches total during a four-day period.

The historic rainfall battered a region ill-suited to fend off the torrent of precipitation due to fires and varying levels of drought that left trees stripped of protective branches and arid soil unable to hold off the fast-moving gushes of water.

Disastrous flash flooding ensued. By its end, $2 billion in damage was caused and eight deaths were reported.

As the situation turned dire, pilots and medics from the 4th CAB sprang into action.

On Sept. 13, after a training flight, Staff Sgt. Jose Pantoja said he was helping move his aircraft to the wash rack when his unit received a frantic call.

“We were actually on our way out the door,” recalled Pantoja. “Somebody told us, ‘Get ready to spool up. We just got a call.’ … And within 30 minutes, we were ready to rock and roll.”

‘We’re gonna come out and help you’

The Colorado National Guard organized relief efforts to support civil authorities, setting up a command control point at Boulder Municipal Airport. Member of both the Wyoming National Guard and the active-duty 4th CAB provided assistance.

The southernmost area affected by floods was designated almost solely for the 4th CAB. And its Soldiers got to work immediately.

Staff Sgt. Jose Pantoja is a flight medic with the 4th Infantry Division’s 4th Combat Aviation Brigade at Fort Carson, Colo. Pantoja took part in a slew of rescue operations during intense flooding in Colorado’s Front Range. (Photo by Pablo Villa)
Staff Sgt. Jose Pantoja is a flight medic with the 4th Infantry Division’s 4th Combat Aviation Brigade at Fort Carson, Colo. Pantoja took part in a slew of rescue operations during intense flooding in Colorado’s Front Range. (Photo by Pablo Villa)

“We arrived there at night,” Pantoja said. “We just dumped our bags and said, ‘Hey, we’re here to work,’ and we took off into the mountains using our [night-vision goggles].”

For the better part of 10 days, Pantoja and other 4th CAB Soldiers flew dozens of rescue missions. He says those missions involved receiving grid coordinates from the command control point manned by the National Guard where calls for aid were being taken and disseminated. Pilots would fly medics out to the site where they’d look for signs of distress before going down to the ground on hoists to perform rescues.

Pantoja said Soldiers encountered various challenges including meticulous house-to-house searches, treacherous rushing water and trying to convince some elderly residents to leave dangerous areas.  But having NCOs aboard the helicopters — four UH-60 Black Hawks and two CH-47 Chinooks — proved beneficial, he says.

Making it happen involved loading stranded people into the helicopters along with their belongings — luggage, boxes and animals. For the Soldiers involved, it was a far cry from the combat situations some of them have seen. But their tasks were no less important.

“For us who go out and do our job on the battlefield, I think this portion of the job benefits us as well as civilians,” Pantoja said. “Obviously we’re here for them as well as our Army. It lets them know our capabilities of, ‘Hey, you guys are Americans. We’re gonna come out and help you, regardless, because that’s our job.’ We’ll put the same amount of effort that we put downrange into the amount of our effort out here.

“It’s always exciting, especially for the pilots and us medics. We love doing it. It’s an adrenaline rush for us. To be able to go out there and help people out makes us feel good.”

The aftermath

By Sept. 20, the Colorado National Guard, Wyoming National Guard and the 4th CAB shifted their support of civil authorities in flood evacuation operations as the state moved from emergency response to recovery operations.

By then, National Guard and active-duty military members had evacuated 3,465 people and 887 pets. Aerial teams accounted for 2,758 of those rescues. Helicopters and crews also transported 39 tons of food, water and clothing to keep displaced residents nourished during  relief efforts. Lance Blyth, U.S. Northern Command historian, said the military response to the floods, which was dubbed “Operation Centennial Raging Waters,” was likely the largest scale rotary-wing airlift mission since the one undertaken in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina.

Despite the monumental challenges presented, Pantoja said no serious situations arose during the 4th CAB’s time in flood-ravaged areas. He credits that to the unit’s daily training, which teaches them to be ready for anything.

“It’s the training from our leaders, our NCOs, that helped us,” Pantoja said. “The op-tempo that we’re at, we fly every day. Taking into consideration the experience from past deployments and the preparation that we do within the training that we do out here, that’s pretty much what led to most of the success of the mission. That’s how we were able to perform and do what we needed to do on such short notice. It basically boils down to experience. We all came together.”

It also helped that civil support was just as capable and worked hand-in-hand with their military counterparts. Pantoja said his team had not been trained to perform swift-water rescues. But civil support members who could perform the job were simply taken aboard a helicopter and dropped down into the situations that required their assistance.

“We had a melting pot of volunteers and people who wanted to help,” Pantoja said. “When it comes to situations like that, I think we all meld together and make it happen.”

Today, Colorado has regained a semblance of its pre-flood state even though some areas continue to rebuild. Still, while taking care of property damage and replacing flooded belongings entails some heartache, the lives saved by efforts from Soldiers are a priceless extra benefit of the daily training of NCOs who teach their fighting force to be prepared for any contingency.

“I think what other NCOs can learn from us is perseverance,” Pantoja said. “Perseverance is being able to adapt to situations. Just because something goes wrong — whatever it is — as NCOs, we’re supposed to make it happen. Don’t quit. If something needs to get done, there’s always a way.”

Civilian rescue personnel and members of the Colorado Army National Guard's Alpha Battery, 3rd Battalion 157th Field Artillery, use a rescue basket to carry an elderly Glen Haven, Colo., flood evacuee. (Photo by Sgt. Joseph Vonnida)
Civilian rescue personnel and members of the Colorado Army National Guard’s Alpha Battery, 3rd Battalion 157th Field Artillery, use a rescue basket to carry an elderly Glen Haven, Colo., flood evacuee. (Photo by Sgt. Joseph Vonnida)

NCOs a vital part of 4th Infantry Division’s storied past

By PABLO VILLA
NCO Journal

The 4th Infantry Division experienced an arduous beginning that belies its 96-year history.

Unlike many other Army units, the division had an abbreviated amount of time to get off the ground. A mere 17 days of outdoor training is all the 4th ID completed before being thrust into its first action in World War I.

And yet, the 4th Infantry Division, headquartered at Fort Carson, Colo., has become one of the Army’s most storied units, putting the first American ground forces boots on the ground in Normandy during World War II, capturing Saddam Hussein during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 and, just last year, having two of its members awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in Afghanistan.

Fittingly, the two Soldiers who received the military’s highest honor — Staff Sgt. Ty M. Carter and Staff Sgt. Clinton L. Romesha —were noncommissioned officers. For it is NCOs who have helped guide the 4th Infantry Division from a fledgling group thrust into World War I to a competent team of thousands that embodies the motto, “Steadfast and Loyal.”

“NCOs do more than any other rank,” said Scott Daubert, director of the 4th Infantry Division Museum at Fort Carson. “That is true in the 4th Infantry Division as well.”

Forged in sludge

The 4th Infantry Division was formed Dec. 3, 1917, at Camp Greene, N.C.

What Maj. Gen. George H. Cameron, the first commander, discovered when he arrived at the camp six miles south of Charlotte, N.C., was a group of eager Soldiers and the NCOs leading them who were ready to work, as well as Soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Division, who were conducting their own preparations at Camp Greene to enter World War I.

But Cameron also found a problem.

Maj. Gen. George H. Cameron, the first commander of the 4th Infantry Division.
Maj. Gen. George H. Cameron, the first commander of the 4th Infantry Division. (Photo courtesy of 4th Infantry Division Museum)

“This area of North Carolina was known to have really bad subsoil,” said Thomas Silvis, a historian at the 4th Infantry Division Museum. “The moisture would collect and stagnate. If you rode wagons or vehicles over the top, it would cut ruts into it and it would turn into a muddy quagmire — if you dropped something, it would immediately just suck right in. If you were to try to walk across it, you’d sink into it up to your ankles, if not up to your knees.”

This soggy mess, coupled with one of the harshest winters the region had seen, made simultaneous training for two units a complicated endeavor as Camp Greene welcomed the start of 1918.

The 3rd Infantry Division, which was scheduled to aid the French and British troops defending France first, was given priority in training and in the amount of draftees joining its ranks. As such, out of the five months it was at Camp Greene, the 4th Infantry Division enjoyed only 17 days of training in the slop.

“When they did get outside, they tried to dig trenches. But the soil could not hold walls, so they couldn’t train outside,” Silvis said. “They were lucky if each infantryman was able to pull off five rounds of his Springfield rifle before they shipped them off.”

The orders to do just that arrived April 15, 1918.

World War I: A brief outing

The 4th Infantry Division engineers were the first to ship to Europe on April 29, and by June 5, the entire division was in France. The 7th and 8th Brigades began intensive training in Samer while the Artillery Brigade trained at Camp de Souge in Bordeaux.

In mid-June, elements of the 4th Infantry Division were attached to the French Army and proved their merit by helping secure the village of Chouy as well as take Hill 172 near the village of Chevillon, where the Germans were heavily entrenched.

The 1st Battalion, 39th Infantry Regiment of the 4th Infantry Division marches through Kaiseresech, Germany, on Dec. 14, 1918.
The 1st Battalion, 39th Infantry Regiment of the 4th Infantry Division marches through Kaiseresech, Germany, on Dec. 14, 1918. (Photo courtesy of 4th Infantry Division Museum)

In July, the 4th Infantry Division was placed under U.S. I Corps control and fought the Germans at the Vesle River and near Verdun as part of the St. Mihiel Offensive. The 4th would end the war fighting alongside the British and French as part of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive that began in September.

Throughout its combat operations, the 4th Infantry Division did find one fortuitous aspect about its limited training in North Carolina.

“In the area of France and the weather conditions that they ran into those first few months, it was very lucky they had that soggy situation in North Carolina,” Silvis said. “That’s exactly what they ran into on the battlefields of France. Heavy artillery engagements were chewing up the ground, which was mainly clay mixed with snow or rain all the time. So the limited training that they did get turned out to be a real boon and a benefit because they ended up going through almost the same thing.”

The Armistice ended the war Nov. 11, 1918, 359 days after the 4th Infantry Division was formed. In its brief action, the unit proved its mettle as the only American combat force to serve with both the French and British troops in their respective sectors, as well as with all corps in the American combat sector.

The division conducted occupation duty in Europe until July 31, 1919, when the last detachment sailed for the United States from France. The 4th Infantry Division was inactivated Sept. 21, 1921, at Camp Lewis, Wash.

World War II: The D-Day spearhead

On June 1, 1940, the 4th ID was reactivated at Fort Benning, Ga., as part of the Army buildup in preparation for World War II.

The division was built using a new structure featuring three infantry regiments, each with about 3,000 personnel, all of which trained at Fort Benning until 1943. During its time at Fort Benning, the 4th ID served as an experimental division for the Army, practicing various maneuvers in exercises throughout the country and taking part in amphibious training, not knowing what it was for.

On June 6, 1944, the Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe began with landings at five beachheads along the Normandy coast of France. The westernmost flank of the coast was designated Utah Beach, and the 4th Infantry Division was to be the first American division to land in that area. On D-Day, the division accomplished this feat, which earned Brig. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt Jr. the Medal of Honor, the first of four such medals that went to the division during World War II.

Soldiers of the 4th Infantry Division move off the Utah beachhead on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
Soldiers of the 4th Infantry Division move off the Utah beachhead on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

After the landings, the 4th’s objective was to take the city of Cherbourg to the north, which it did by June 25. Then it headed south to join the battle of the Falaise Gap, where Allied soldiers encircled some 200,000 Germans and started squeezing the gap. An estimated 20,000 to 50,000 of the enemy escaped and would later see Allied forces again at the Battle of the Bulge.

Elements of the division, part of the first group of Allies to reach the city, then moved toward Paris on Aug. 24 with Free French Forces to liberate the Parisian capital.

The milestone moment was a short-lived highlight, as the 4th ID would soon become involved in the Battle of the Bulge and the three-month Battle of Hürtgen Forest — two clashes that were among the most costly of the war.

The bravery of the division was typified by Staff Sgt. Marcario Garcia on Nov. 27, 1944, near Grosshau, Germany.

When the platoon Garcia was leading was pinned down by German machine-gun fire, Garcia single-handedly attacked the nests, eliminating two enemy emplacements and capturing four prisoners, despite being wounded. For his actions, Garcia became the 4th ID’s first NCO to be awarded the Medal of Honor and also the first Mexican immigrant to receive the award.

The 4th Infantry Division ended World War II by crossing the Danube River and making its way to Munich before hostilities in Germany ended May 25, 1945. The division returned to the United States on July 10 and was prepared to deploy to the Pacific before the Japanese surrendered.

With the war over, the division was once again inactivated May 12, 1946, at Camp Butner, N.C.

Reactivation and the Vietnam War

NCOs figured heavily into the 4th Infantry Division’s next assignment.

The division was reactivated as a training division July 15, 1947, at Fort Ord, Calif., where NCOs helped make the post a staging area for units preparing for deployment to Korea. In October 1950, the 4th ID was reorganized as a combat division at Fort Benning before being deployed to Germany in May 1951 to become part of the NATO structure.

In September 1958, the division returned to the United States and was assigned to Fort Lewis, where NCOs once again figured largely into its day-to-day operations, providing basic training to thousands of young draftees. In 1958, the division became part of the Strategic Army Corps and from then to 1965 participated in a plethora of major exercises that ranged from amphibious landings to alpine training. The eventual focus of the training centered on testing the unit’s capabilities in a tropical climate.

“It was a time of preparation,” Silvis said. “NCOs were a large part of this. The training was going to be put to use shortly.”

That opportunity came in January 1966 when the division began preparations for the Vietnam War.

The 4th Engineer Battalion set up its base of operations near Pleiku, a town in Vietnam’s central highlands that summer. The 1st Brigade arrived in October and moved into a new camp south of Pleiku. The 2nd Brigade established its headquarters near the coast at Tuy Hoa in September 1966.

“The reason they were sent over to the coastal region was that the harvest was coming,” Silvis said. “Historically, the [North Vietnamese Army] would come in here, rip that harvest off and ship it up north. So we sent a brigade to help them protect that harvest.”

The Division’s 3rd Brigade was sent further south outside of Saigon and was assigned to the control of the 25th Infantry Division. With the 25th ID’s 3rd Brigade already operating out of the Pleiku area, the decision was made to reflag both organizations in August 1967.

During its time in Vietnam, the 4th Infantry Division primarily engaged NVA units operating in the central highlands as well as eliminating the enemy’s supply and equipment lines.

Members of the 4th Infantry Division move out on dismounted patrol east of Pleiku, Vietnam. (Photo courtesy of 4th Infantry Division Museum)
Members of the 4th Infantry Division move out on dismounted patrol east of Pleiku, Vietnam. (Photo courtesy of 4th Infantry Division Museum)

NCOs helped guide their units during these missions as the tropical terrain created logistical challenges and the combat action consisted of small, company-sized firefights against an elusive enemy that was able to retreat effectively into the rainforest or across the Cambodian border.

For much of November 1967, the 4th Infantry Division was engaged in numerous clashes in the area near the village of Dak To, a key geographical area that was a major branch of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The 4th’s efforts destroyed two NVA regiments’ operational capabilities and neutralized a major NVA offensive.

The Tet Offensive of Jan. 30, 1968, was also speedily put down in the area around Pleiku by the 4th ID. The division closed its time in Vietnam by helping the Army of the Republic of Vietnam move into positions to secure the civilian population centers of the central highlands before leaving beginning in November 1970.

Its time in Vietnam produced 12 Medals of Honor for the 4th Infantry Division; six of those honors went to NCOs. In addition, among the units currently serving with the division, 16 Presidential Unit Citations, 23 Valorous Unit Awards and 20 Meritorious Unit Citations were awarded for actions in Vietnam.

Fort Carson and Fort Hood

Upon returning to the United States, the 4th Infantry Division was assigned to Fort Carson, Colo. It would spend 25 years at the post located at the base of the Rocky Mountains. During its time there, the division’s NCOs honed their leadership skills as they took part in a slew of training exercises and dealt with numerous subordinate unit redesignations, activations and inactivations.

4th Infantry Division Soldiers test some of the Army's new equipment as part of the Force XXI mission at Fort Hood, Texas. (Photo courtesy of 4th Infantry Division Museum)
4th Infantry Division Soldiers test some of the Army’s new equipment as part of the Force XXI mission at Fort Hood, Texas. (Photo courtesy of 4th Infantry Division Museum)

In 1995, after word was handed down regarding the downsizing of the Army, a unique opportunity arose for the 4th Infantry Division in Fort Hood, Texas, where its new headquarters was to be.

“The Army was starting to upgrade from this old technology to computers and the digital world,” Silvis said. “So the Army set up a training schoolhouse down in Fort Hood called Force XXI. It was the upgrade of the Army from old communications and electronics capabilities to the new.”

The 4th Infantry Division was the first unit to go through Force XXI, which along with communication enhancements, included training in new high-tech weaponry supplements  such as satellites, unmanned aerial vehicles, night-vision goggles, long-range reconnaissance systems and more. From 1995 to 2001, the division’s efforts were key to developing compatibility and effectiveness for the new technology as the Army entered the 21st century.

While the 4th Infantry Division was at Fort Hood, it also prepared for the Iraq War.

Global War on Terrorism

The 4th Infantry Division deployed to support Operation Iraqi Freedom in April 2003.

The division roared quickly through Baghdad, Samarra and Tikrit before accomplishing the most notable feat of the war in Iraq.

On Dec. 13, 2003, the division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team, commanded by then-Maj. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno and joined by Joint Operations Task Force 121, captured Saddam Hussein during a nighttime operation about 10 miles south of Tikrit. His capture was a milestone moment during the war and a symbol of optimism for the Iraqi people.

The division would deploy to Iraq twice more, mainly to take part in security operations.

In May 2009, elements of the 4th ID deployed to Afghanistan, including the 4th Brigade Combat Team, which took part in the Battle of Kamdesh in the mountains in the eastern part of the country.

On Oct. 3, 2009, about 300 insurgents attacked an American outpost defended by 85 International Security Assistance Force soldiers, including those assigned to B Troop, 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry. A 12-hour firefight ensued, resulting in eight American deaths. But the efforts of two NCOs to save lives and secure the outpost after it was breached were deemed worthy of the nation’s top military honor.

President Barack Obama places the Medal of Honor around the neck of Staff Sgt. Clinton L. Romesha during a ceremony Feb. 11, 2013, at the White House. (Photo courtesy of Army News Service)
President Barack Obama places the Medal of Honor around the neck of Staff Sgt. Clinton L. Romesha during a ceremony Feb. 11, 2013, at the White House. (Photo courtesy of Army News Service)

Staff Sgt. Clinton L. Romesha was awarded the Medal of Honor during a White House ceremony in February 2013. Staff Sgt. Ty M. Carter, a specialist at the time of the battle, was awarded the medal in August.

The pair’s accolades mark the most recent honors awarded to members of the 4th Infantry Division. They also continue the proud tradition of the division, a tradition that Daubert hopes to preserve and celebrate at the 4th Infantry Division Museum at Fort Carson.

Since the division returned to Fort Carson in July 2009 after 14 years at Fort Hood, Daubert has worked tirelessly to improve the facility and turn it into something Soldiers can look to as a symbol of pride.

“Soldiers, and NCOs, aren’t understanding their heritage and history,” Daubert said. “It’s when they’re at the division level when we’re asking them to go out and do horrible, horrible things. They need to be inspired to go do that. They need to feel like they’re a part of something and understand that they’re in a long line of dogfaced Soldiers doing the same things that every dogfaced Soldier has done. If they don’t have places like this, where do they get that from?”

President Barack Obama places the Medal of Honor around the neck of Staff Sgt. Ty Michael Carter during a ceremony Aug. 26, 2013, at the White House. (Photo by Staff. Sgt. Bernardo Fuller)
President Barack Obama places the Medal of Honor around the neck of Staff Sgt. Ty Michael Carter during a ceremony Aug. 26, 2013, at the White House. (Photo by Staff. Sgt. Bernardo Fuller)

And as the 4th Infantry Division continues its preparations at Fort Carson for whatever the future holds, Daubert pledges to work just as tediously to ensure its storied past is preserved.

“Every Soldier and NCO that comes in here says, ‘Wow, I did not know?’ about the 4th having the first boots on the ground on D-Day, about us capturing Saddam,” Daubert said. “We want them to know, and to have some pride.”

 

4th Infantry Division current structure

Division Special Troops Battalion (Lightning)

1st Armored Brigade Combat Team (Raiders)

2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team (Warhorse)

3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team (Iron)

4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Mountain Warriors)

Combat Aviation Brigade (Heavy), 4th Infantry Division (Iron Eagle) (Activates April 16, 2014)

  • 1st Battalion (Attack/Reconnaissance)
  • 2nd Battalion (General Support), 4th Aviation Regiment
  • 3rd Battalion (Assault), 4th Aviation Regiment
  • 4th Battalion (Attack/Reconnaissance), 4th Aviation
  • 404th Aviation Support Battalion

The division is supported by the 43rd Sustainment Brigade at Fort Carson.

 

4th Infantry Division March

“Steadfast and loyal,

We’re fit to fight!

The nation’s finest Soldiers,

Keep liberty’s light.

Our Soldiers roar for freedom,

We’re fit for any test.

The mighty 4th Division …

America’s best!”

 

4th Infantry Division patch

4th Infantry Division patch.
4th Infantry Division patch.

The division’s insignia had been adopted by its first commanding general, Maj. Gen. George H. Cameron. The insignia consists of four green ivy leaves on a khaki background. The division derived its numerical designation from the Roman numeral “IV,” hence the nickname, the Ivy division. The division’s motto is “Steadfast and Loyal.”