Tag Archives: California

NCOs of Old Guard lead 58th Presidential Inauguration

NCO Journal

Being a part of the renowned 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) affords many Soldiers unparalleled opportunities on a global stage. For Sgt. 1st Class Christopher G. Taffoya, platoon sergeant for 3rd Platoon Honor Guard Company, it was an opportunity to perform in his second inauguration in an honor guard cordon – this time, as noncommissioned officer in charge of the ceremonial unit.

Taffoya was in charge of a six-man cordon, which serves as an official escort, for President Donald J. Trump at the Capitol before his presidential swearing-in ceremony Jan. 20.

“We are the first Soldiers that he interacts with, which is really cool,” Taffoya said. “It’s just six Soldiers and me.”

It’s a pretty big deal to the NCO from Montclair, California. His first inauguration was President George W. Bush’s second in 2005, where Taffoya served in an honor cordon for the entire day.

Sgt. 1st Class Christopher G. Taffoya, platoon sergeant for 3rd Platoon Honor Guard Company, stands at attention during the 58th Presidential Inauguration in Washington D.C., Jan. 20, 2017. More than 5,000 military members from across all branches of the armed forces of the United States, including Reserve and National Guard components, provided ceremonial support and Defense Support of Civil Authorities during the inaugural period. (Photo by U.S. Army Spc. William Lockwood)
Sgt. 1st Class Christopher G. Taffoya, platoon sergeant for 3rd Platoon Honor Guard Company, stands at attention during the 58th Presidential Inauguration in Washington D.C., Jan. 20, 2017. More than 5,000 military members from across all branches of the armed forces of the United States, including Reserve and National Guard components, provided ceremonial support and Defense Support of Civil Authorities during the inaugural period. (Photo by U.S. Army Spc. William Lockwood)

“It’s a big deal to me, being just a kid from California coming from an extremely modest upbringing,” Taffoya said. “And then to be in two presidential inaugurations, making that history, just for my family alone, is really awesome. But to be [a part of] the representation of the free world, showing the world that this is what right looks like. This is how you change power. It’s just really cool. It’s a big thing, and it’s not something I take lightly.”

Celebrating pageantry

More than 2,000 Soldiers from the Old Guard were tapped to support the 58th Presidential Inauguration. The Old Guard’s Presidential Salute Battery, the Fife and Drum Corps, as well as Army cordons were among the performers. Service members participating in the inauguration represent a joint force, which includes Soldiers, Marines, sailors, airmen and Coast Guardsmen.

Every Soldier from the Old Guard who has a role in the presidential inauguration has a responsibility to get every detail right.

“The magnitude of the operation was immense,” Old Guard commander Col. Jason T. Garkey, told Army publications. Garkey participated in President Bill Clinton’s second inauguration in 1997 and Bush’s second one in 2005. “In previous inaugurations, I participated in specific parts, but as the regimental commander responsible for Joint Task Force Ceremony, I had visibility on every detail involving the regiment.”

Garkey was pleased with the inauguration planning.

“The complexity and amount of detail developed into the plan was extremely impressive,” Garkey said. “The seamless integration of our ceremonial and contingency tasks capitalized on every aspect of the regiment. It validated everything we have worked toward since this past summer.”

Military tradition

The military’s contributions to the presidential inauguration have evolved into a centuries-old tradition. The U.S. military has participated in inaugurations since April 30, 1789, when members of the Army, local militia units and Revolutionary War veterans escorted President George Washington to his first inauguration ceremony at Federal Hall in the nation’s first capital in New York City.

Taffoya takes pride in the Old Guard’s historical role in such a momentous event like the inauguration.

“One thing in common through all 58 inaugurations is … us ─ from the start with President George Washington until now,” Taffoya said. “The Old Guard has always been a part of inauguration. We have been a part of that foundation, and America has seen us. To be part of that representation is a big deal. It’s an honor. Just being in the unit is cool, but to be able to have the president 1 foot from you, passing you by and being able to render honors to him is just surreal.”

Every NCO in the Old Guard strives for perfection in performing ceremonial duties, and discipline is necessary to serve. Soldiers in the Old Guard must pass the demanding Regimental Orientation Program, a three-week course designed to teach new arrivals the subtle distinctions of the uniforms of the Old Guard, rifle movements and marching that is unique to the elite precision unit. Maintaining ceremonial composure is critical to the unit’s Soldiers.

Members of the Joint Honor Guard stand at attention during a early morning rehearsal for the 58th Presidential Inauguration in Washington D.C. The rehearsal was held on Jan. 15, 2017, the Sunday before the inauguration. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)
Members of the Joint Honor Guard stand at attention during a early morning rehearsal for the 58th Presidential Inauguration in Washington D.C. The rehearsal was held on Jan. 15, 2017, the Sunday before the inauguration. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)

“My discipline didn’t start when I showed up to the Old Guard,” Taffoya said. “It started with my first squad leader, who instilled the discipline in me as a Soldier in 2002. I do the same for my Soldiers. Whether it’s here or at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, the one thing that carried through is discipline and enforcing it as an NCO.

“That’s the biggest thing because everything else is a breakaway of discipline,” he said. “You could have all of the Army Values, but if you don’t have the discipline to use them or to implement them, you don’t have any of them. We in the Old Guard take it seriously because we are representing our Army. If we don’t represent the Army right, then we are not doing Soldiers justice, whether we are deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan.”

NCOs such as Taffoya recognize that all of the painstaking attention to detail at the Old Guard helps make for better leaders.

“You have to be on your game,” he said. “This is like our Super Bowl. It comes once every four years, so it’s all hands on deck. A lot of the whole regiment is bringing their ‘A’ game so you don’t want to be that one guy who doesn’t bring his and ends up being the sore spot. I appreciate my subordinates, my squad leaders and team leaders … [because] they know what this involves. They understand that they, too, are making history for their families and legacies.”

Former NCO burned in IED blast wants to open restaurant, empower veterans

NCO Journal

Former Staff Sgt. Bobby Henline has spent nearly nine years trying to empower wounded warriors such as himself. Now he wants to help employ them.

Henline is working to open a restaurant dedicated to hiring veterans in San Antonio, Texas. The location is not far from the medical facilities he frequents at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, where he has received treatment since 2007 for burns that cover nearly 40 percent of his body. Henline was burned in a roadside bomb blast in 2007 in Iraq that killed the four Soldiers he was riding with. Since then, he has undergone 46 surgeries and six months of rehabilitation. His likeness is permanently altered.

On his arduous road to recovery, Henline found comfort and strength in humor. He has enjoyed a newfound career as a stand-up comedian, telling his story on stage as a coping mechanism. Henline found that taking others along on his journey has helped other injured — and sometimes disfigured — Soldiers face their lives with the same exuberance. He hopes his new venture takes that notion a step forward.

“I’m trying to give back,” Henline told People Magazine earlier this month. “This is a great way to do it, through empowerment and food.”

Henline is partnering with Richard Brown, a Marine and Korean War veteran, who owns a hamburger restaurant in San Clemente, California. The restaurant is one of Henline’s favorite stops, not only because of the savory hamburgers but also because the two men share an interest in helping their fellow veterans.

Brown will teach Henline all he needs to know to run his own business. Henline will solely hire veterans to work at the restaurant.

“It’s not just me getting a restaurant,” Henline said. “It’s me learning to fish, it’s me teaching other veterans how to fish and to continue on to help the stability of other veterans not just myself.”

‘That’s all I remember that day’

Henline has only a couple vivid memories of the day his life changed.

It was April 7, 2007, and Henline was part of a convoy that was making stops at various forward operating bases, or FOBs, delivering supplies and transporting Soldiers north of Baghdad, Iraq. He was a part of the 82nd Airborne Division and was weeks into his fourth deployment.

“We were doing the typical, ‘Get the convoy ready,’ that morning,” Henline told The NCO Journal in 2014. “There are two things I remember. One was that there were two Soldiers in the vehicle who normally didn’t ride with me. I also remember getting a second cup of coffee. The S-4 captain, who was sitting behind me, he wasn’t there yet. So we were sitting around waiting, and I ran and grabbed another cup of coffee while we were waiting on him.

“That’s all I remember that day.”

Henline’s vehicle was at the front of the convoy traveling near the Diyala province village of Zaganiyah when an improvised explosive device detonated underneath it. The blast hurled the humvee nearly 50 feet down the road. Four Soldiers — Capt. Jonathan Grassbaugh, Spc. Ebe Emolo, Spc. Levi Hoover and Pfc. Rodney McCandless — were killed instantly. When fellow Soldiers reached the vehicle, they found he was severely injured, but alive.

Two weeks later, Henline emerged from a medically induced coma at Brooke Army Medical Center at San Antonio, thus beginning a medical odyssey filled with painful moments, both physical and emotional.

But one thing came easy to him — humor.

Henline says laughter helped keep spirits high for him and the medical personnel working with him. It also helped his wife, Connie, and the rest of his family cope with their loved one’s ordeal and changed appearance.

“Joking around at the hospital, that was my way of using my sense of humor to let my family know I was OK, to let staff know I was OK,” he said. “It was how [I chose] to deal with the pain during physical therapy, laughing about it, joking with the other patients. I could see my family worrying. My mom couldn’t even get me a drink. She was shaking just trying to put the straw to my mouth, real scared. So it was kind of like, ‘Don’t worry, I’m still here. Even if today I’m kind of groggy.’ I’d still make a little joke to let them know, ‘It’s OK. I’m inside here. I just can’t move right now.’

“I think when I was talking a lot better and able to sit up and stuff, that’s when they were finally like, ‘OK, he’s still in there. He’s back. He’s still being that goofball.’”

From surgery to the stage

Henline spent almost the next two years working to regain a sense of normalcy.

His face was scarred by the burns he suffered and puffed by various skin-graft surgeries. His left ear was gone; his right was reduced to a rough-hewn stub. His smashed left hand eventually became too painful to bear, and he asked doctors to amputate it. After removing the protective goggles he was forced to wear for a year, it took time to get accustomed to the stares.

While jokes helped, Henline couldn’t shake the notion that he needed to heed a call. He just didn’t know what it was. Then his occupational therapist made a “stupid” suggestion.

“One day she told me, ‘You should try stand-up comedy!’” Henline said. “She has this really high-pitched voice, one of those happy people all the time. ‘You’ve got to try stand-up comedy. You’ve got to try it!’ I’m like ‘That’s stupid. It’s not going to work. This, here at the hospital, is funny. We could joke about it here.’ I wasn’t gonna go up on stage and people are gonna go, ‘Oh, you got blown up in Iraq? That’s funny.’”

Henline said he grew up admiring comedians such as George Carlin and Robin Williams. But he never considered actually taking a stage. However, after a steady stream of good-natured pestering from his therapist, he obliged, sealing the deal with a pinkie swear.

“My occupational therapist’s sister lives in L.A., and she’s in a band,” Henline said. “So one day, I’m going out there for a consultation to see a doctor. She tells me, ‘My sister’s in entertainment. She might know a place you could try it while you’re out there.’ Sure enough, her sister calls me and says, ‘Hey. Comedy Store. Go sign up at 5 o’clock.’”

Henline’s very first set took place August 2009 at the famed Los Angeles club on the same stage graced by some of comedy’s biggest names. He returned to San Antonio and began performing open-mic sets three nights a week. A year-and-a-half later, he was in Los Angeles when a chance meeting with a talent agent landed him an appearance in the Showtime documentary “Comedy Warriors: Healing Through Humor.” The film, released in April 2013, follows Henline and four other veterans wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan as they work with comedy A-listers to explore their experiences through the healing power of humor.

Three years later, Henline is still healing. He wants to continue to help others do the same. He says one of the biggest driving forces behind him is the memory of his fellow Soldiers who didn’t come home with him that fateful day.

“It’s that same old thing, you’ve got to drive on,” Henline said. “Survivor’s guilt was really bad for me in the beginning. But you’ve got to live on for those who don’t live anymore, the guys who sacrificed it all. There were four other guys in that humvee who didn’t make it. I sat on the couch, and I felt sorry for myself. I gave up. But what’s that doing for them? I’ve got to live on for them. Any of them would trade places with me. They’d rather be in pain and look funny and be here. Their families would rather have them back. That’s a big push for me that helps drive me on.”

NCO floored by flu rises to become three-time Olympian

U.S. Army Installation Management Command

Staff Sgt. John Nunn lay in a crumpled heap on his hotel room floor the night of Feb. 20 in Santee, California. Nunn was severely stricken with the flu and wondering whether he’d be well enough to take part in the 50-kilometer race walk competition of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials the following day. A trip to his third Olympics was in peril as a body temperature over 100 degrees, chills, aches and burning eyes left him in the fetal position.

“I remember lying in bed, tears were coming down,” he said, “and I was thinking, ‘I have worked so hard for this. I have devoted so much time and effort, and the Army has backed me. This can’t end this way.'”

It didn’t. Nunn overcame his illness to win the Team Trials and earn his third Olympic berth with a personal-best time of 4 hours, 3 minutes and 21 seconds.

Having attained the 4:06:00 Olympic “A” standard when he won the 2015 U.S. 50K Race Walk National Championship with a 4:03:42 clocking in November, Nunn called USA Track and Field officials the night before the competition to see if he could start the race, drop out and still be named to the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team.

“They said ‘You have to finish. This is not a question,'” Nunn recalled. “We’re sorry you feel this way, but you have to finish.'”

Nunn was on the starting line Feb. 21 for a 7:15 a.m. start to a 31-mile race in which one foot always must be in contact with the ground.

Staff Sgt. John Nunn, a U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program race walker, receives an American flag from his daughter, Ella, after winning the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for the 50-kilometer race walk Feb. 21, in Santee, California. Nunn, 38, won the event with a personal-best time of 4 hours, 3 minutes, 21 seconds on the 31-mile course to earn his third Olympic berth. (Photo courtesy of Army News Service)
Staff Sgt. John Nunn, a U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program race walker, receives an American flag from his daughter, Ella, after winning the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for the 50-kilometer race walk Feb. 21, in Santee, California. Nunn, 38, won the event with a personal-best time of 4 hours, 3 minutes, 21 seconds on the 31-mile course to earn his third Olympic berth. (Photo courtesy of Army News Service)

Nunn is a Soldier in the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program, or WCAP, a detachment of the U.S. Army Installation Management Command’s Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation division based in Fort Carson, Colorado. The program allows Soldiers an opportunity to train full-time in an Olympic sport, and participate in the Pan American Games, World Championships, Olympic and Paralympic games while maintaining a professional military career and promoting the U.S. Army to the world.

“It definitely was a race where knowing that I had the support of the Army was a huge factor that helped pull me through,” Nunn said. “I was like, ‘You know what? I know I’m sick, but we’re going to go take care of this now.'”

Before the race began, Nunn explained to civilian training partner Nick Christie that he had the flu and would attempt to walk with him for 30 kilometers to help Christie obtain the Olympic qualifying standard, but then he likely would slow down and simply try to finish.

As it turned out, the race went exactly opposite.

Nunn, 38, and Christie, 24, walked side-by-side for the first 28 of 40 laps around the 1.25-kilometer circuit. They were both on pace to hit the Olympic standard. On Lap 29, Christie surged about five meters ahead of Nunn, but not for long. When Nunn retook the lead one lap later, Christie dropped off the pace and finished a distant second in 4:22:31 — 16 minutes off the standard.

“The first 25K was so hard,” Nunn said. “Everybody was saying that I looked so relaxed, but my stomach was hurting so bad.”

By the 30K mark, Nunn said his body “went numb.”

At that point, he and Christie had lapped the field three times, so he told himself “If you end up passing out, stop to throw up, or your body crashes, you can still pull second,” Nunn recalled.

Christie, on the other hand, had nothing left.

“Everything looked good, and all of a sudden it’s what happens in 50K and marathon: the body just gave out and I crashed badly,” Christie said.

Nunn sensed finishing the 50K was within his reach, and decided no flu or stomach bug was going to stop him.

“I started pushing it,” Nunn recalled. “And when Nick fell off of me, I felt really bad for him. I was hoping he would stay with me for another 10K or so and then let adrenaline take over for the last five laps and get the standard, but he fell off and I ended up lapping him.”

Nunn lapped Christie a second time during the final 15 kilometers. By then, with victory and a third Olympic berth virtually in hand, the Soldier-athlete needed another source of inspiration.

It came from U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program Chief Willie Wilson, a retired command sergeant major who has supported Nunn throughout most of his Army career, cheering Nunn on from the sidelines.

“I heard him say something to the effect of ‘the unit’s behind you and the Army’s proud of you,'” recalled Nunn, whose gait grew stronger as the race grew shorter. “He said Soldiers would be excited to know what was about to happen.”

“It put things very much in perspective,” Nunn said. “This is so much bigger than just me. I’m not out here racing for some [small-time] sponsor that I convinced them to let me do it. This is the United States Army and they believe in me enough that they’ve invested time and money and emotion and other people into this.”

Wilson saw the day before the race that Nunn “was really struggling with stomach problems and temperature — very flu-like symptoms.”

“But he showed up [Feb. 21], still not feeling the best, but determined to give it his all by representing the Army, IMCOM and the World Class Athlete Program as a professional Soldier,” Wilson said. “He had a phenomenal performance. He persevered and worked through struggling with cramps and pain. What an example of resiliency.”

Wilson sensed that Nunn knew he was walking for something larger than himself.

“I think he took his situation and refocused off of the pain and problems that he was having and started focusing on, one, wanting to represent the Army and the United States at the Olympic Games in Rio, and, two, he realized that he was out there for something a little bigger than just Sergeant Nunn.”

In the end, Nunn walked his fastest time ever.

“I remember rounding the back turn on the last lap,” Nunn recalled. “I looked down at my watch and I was walking faster than what I had been going, and I was like ‘Man, you can get a personal best — just go get it.’

“Yeah, I freaked out Saturday,” Nunn said. “But when the race started, it was ‘Okay, it’s time for business. I don’t care how you feel or what’s going on, you have to do everything that you can to make sure this goes right.'”

NCOs make training for background operations a focal point

NCO Journal

Sgt. 1st Class Marcos Moreno knows there are faster ways to fix Army vehicles. But the observer-coach-trainer for the Goldminers Team won’t teach them to you during your time at the National Training Center.

That’s because those timesaving methods — which might be easy for Soldiers working in-garrison with an array of tools and relatively comfortable working areas — are often not available and offer no advantage when units are downrange working in grueling conditions.

“Once you have been in the Army so long, you do know shortcuts,” Moreno said. “But you don’t want to teach them any type of shortcuts. You want them to actually go by what the book says. Somebody took the time to write the book about whatever maintenance issue it is. It’s the right way to go about doing things.”

Moreno is one of 38 Goldminer Soldiers, one of the slew of teams in the contingent of teaching units of the Operations Group at the NTC at Fort Irwin, Calif. The Goldminers are charged with coaching units who train at the NTC in the art of sustainment. The team of Soldiers moves about “the Box” — the 1,200 square miles of arid NTC training ground — with visiting units, guiding them during their 14-day rotation on sustainment matters such as staff organization, fuel supply, water supply, medical operations and ammunition resupply.

Moreno’s team, which includes another NCO and a captain, coaches Soldiers on how to perform maintenance and recovery operations on their vehicles. It is a facet of the Army, he said, that is taken for granted even relative to the already inconspicuous aspect of sustainment operations. But, Moreno said, it’s as important to units as boots and bullets.

“In the Army, you’re going to need some type of vehicle to get you somewhere,” he said. “If you don’t keep up and maintain that vehicle, it is going to leave you halfway to your destination. No one thinks about how hard that is. And we don’t want them to have to figure it out for the first time downrange.”

‘A long list of things to know’

The Operations Group plans intensely detailed training scenarios for units rotating through Fort Irwin. Operations Group NCOs are the focal point of the post’s observer-coach-trainer, or OCT, contingent. The group has quietly guided thousands of visiting Soldiers through the training scenarios and provides meaningful feedback to Soldiers from the platoon to brigade level.

The scenarios laid out by the Operations Group are based on guidance from U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command. They are meant to test the mettle of visiting units and prepare them to win the nation’s wars. That training has to involve all of a unit’s functions, even those that may be taken for granted.

“It is critical that our personnel are doing their job,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Jessie Bates, the command sergeant major for the Goldminers Team. “It is critical that units can provide maintenance when the Strykers break down. It is critical they can provide parts. Everything we train here is important. But maintenance, it’s this extra piece that we kind of take for granted. But it makes the brigade combat team an effective and lethal machine in battle.”

The challenges that come with providing that piece are immense, Moreno says, and the trainers begin by diving into those all-important books.

“It takes a lot of reading,” Moreno said. “There is a long list of things to know. We stay updated on FMs (Field Manuals) that come out with different types of vehicles. We always get a chance to come over here and research to tell them, ‘Hey, this is the right way to do it,’ or, ‘These are the tools that you need.’”

But that’s merely the beginning. Aside from ensuring that vehicles are in good working order, deployed units will also invariably need to recover vehicles that have broken down or are damaged by enemy fire while away from their base camp. Moreno said that is not as simple as, “Let’s just hook up and roll out.”

“We provide training for recovery missions,” Moreno said. “We have a recovery lane. It involves taking action on contact. We have personnel getting fired at just to get them in the mindset that not all the time are you going to just go out there and recover the vehicle. You have to do your security operations. You have to have your gun trucks supporting your recovery mission. You have to have dismounts to clear the area before you start hooking up or recovering what it is, whether it’s an MRAP, a Humvee, a tank, whatever it may be.”

Moreno’s team also drills units on how to conduct entry control point, or ECP, operations. Scenarios include repelling attacks from vehicles and dismounted personnel attempting to breach the ECP.

There is also extensive training on daily maintenance operations and how to conduct them in austere conditions.

“A lot of the personnel have a hard time doing that in a field environment,” Moreno said. “Whether it’s equipment that they didn’t get issued or it’s equipment they have never used, we get them to utilize all the equipment that they have that they never thought they could use out there, which is where it’s meant to be used — in a field area. We do help them out on maintenance-related issues they may have. Even though they have a tank and motor sergeant, sometimes they have never dealt with that issue because, in-garrison, yeah, you break an engine or a transmission or whatever it is and you have the garage. Out there, you don’t work on a concrete pad. You work on dirt. You never deal with the severity of the type of equipment that breaks down here. So we help them out in those areas.

“For maintenance operations, the main weakness we see is having a plan. They go to field exercises before they come here and that plan doesn’t always work. So they’re starting from scratch. So usually you try to get them to go by what the book says, try to head them in that direction because you know the Army has a book for everything.”

‘The last thing we do’

As it does with Moreno, the notion of going by the book sits well with Staff Sgt. Carlos Lorenzo Acevedo. Acevedo is the lone OCT for the mortuary affairs arm of the Goldminers team.

He concedes his work entails an uneasy topic and one his fellow Soldiers don’t commonly acknowledge. In fact, Acevedo says, he is often jokingly dismissed when new Soldiers who join the Goldminers Team take their initial tour through the building they call home at Fort Irwin. But that doesn’t stop him from approaching his job with the utmost solemnity and seriousness.

“They make jokes,” Acevedo said. “They come by and say, ‘This is the mortuary guy. You don’t need to know about him.’ I’m the only OCT out here for mortuary affairs. It’s hard sometimes. But it’s an important job. We’re the ones taking care of our fallen heroes. I take it very seriously.”

Acevedo said knowing the proper processes when handling the deaths of Soldiers ensures the safety of the Soldiers conducting reviews of bodies and helps in proper identification. It also provides something to focus on while going about the grim work of dealing with a fallen brother or sister.

“When it comes to mortuary affairs, that’s key to what we’re doing,” Bates said. “We make sure that the units, when they come through here, that their mortuary affairs team is prepared to take care of our battle buddies who give the ultimate sacrifice. We make sure that they’re taken care of properly. That’s one of the most important missions that we have when it comes to the sustainment piece.”

Much like maintenance, Acevedo said the job offers the most difficulty when units are downrange.

“Usually in mortuary affairs, we don’t do too much when we’re at home station,” he said. “It’s when you’re downrange; that’s when you really do your job.”

Acevedo sets up training scenarios for visiting units — most of which have only one mortuary affairs Soldier — that replicate what they’d experience on deployment. That entails being in a secure collection point awaiting word on a Soldier killed in action. When that call arrives, mortuary affairs Soldiers move to their designated flight lane to collect the body or remains of a fallen Soldier. Once inside the collection point, the body is cleaned and inspected for improvised explosive devices or other ordnance that could pose a threat. After an inspection, a doctor is called to declare the Soldier dead.

With a death certificate issued, Acevedo says mortuary affairs Soldiers can go about the somber work of collecting dog tags, ID cards, personal effects — anything that can help identify the Soldier. Slain Soldiers are never positively identified in the field. That occurs at the Charles C. Carson Center for Mortuary Affairs at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Del. But Soldiers try to offer evidence of who a Soldier is before the remains arrive back in the United States. Depending on the condition of the body, work at the mortuary affairs collection point takes from 30 minutes to an hour.

“Our motto is, ‘Dignity, reverence and respect,’ and that’s how we treat them,” Acevedo said. “From the point of the death to the point they get to their families, it has to be done in 72 hours.”

That rigid timeline and requirement for adherence to proper procedures is stressful enough, Acevedo said. It is compounded by the fact that Soldiers are dealing with the most frightening reality of being in the military.

“I’ve been doing this for 14 years,” Acevedo said. “It’s not for everybody. It’s a mental thing. It’s always a little hard to deal with the bodies. The first time I did it, I don’t know, I just did what I had to do. As soon as they get to us, it just becomes work. It’s your job, and you just kind of focus in.

“The Soldiers coming here to train; we give them a class. We ask them, ‘Are you sure you can do this?’ We make sure they can handle it. If they can’t do it, we don’t force them. We get another Soldier. This is the last thing we do for our brothers and sisters. We have to do it right.”

‘There’s a lot of knowledge here’

“Our noncommissioned officer corps possesses a lot of experience,” said Master Sgt. Tremaine Hennington, the Goldminers’ senior enlisted trainer for combat sustainment support battalions, or CSSB. “I will tell you that this is the premier training center of the Army. I firmly believe it’s called that because these are some of the most difficult challenges you can experience. My opinion is if you come out here and perform well in these conditions, you’ll be ready to go under whatever conditions you face, no matter how arduous. Our noncommissioned officers help with that.”

Moreno adds that gathering so many battle-tested NCOs in one place to train the rest of the force is not only a boon for the visiting units, it also provides the OCTs with a chance to bolster their own knowledge of how all the pieces of the Army work together.

“We obviously have a lot of different MOS’s here,” Moreno said “We constantly all get together in one room, and there’s stuff that I didn’t know 92As did and there’s stuff they don’t know about what I do. We communicate a lot within the NCO ranks, so it gives us a look into the bigger picture of our mission. Working together with a lot of senior NCOs gives us a look at the whole picture. There’s a lot of knowledge here.”

Moreno also knows a prime method for maintaining that knowledge. It hits on a familiar theme that he applies to every facet of training.

“The Army gave you the book for a reason,” he said. “Read it. Somebody took the time to break it down to something easy to where you can follow directions. We try to get (visiting units) to go by it. Going by the book is what makes it safe and easy.”

This Month in NCO History: May 21, 1951 — Taking the hill at Munye-Ri, Korea

When he was growing up in San Bernardino, Calif., Sgt. Joseph C. Rodriguez heard constant reminders from his father of what it took for the family to muster through the tough times endured.

“He raised me up saying, ‘Son, you be a man. You be a man. You don’t be afraid to die if it takes it,’” Rodriguez said during an oral history session for the book, Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty, first published by Artisan in 2003.

That notion was never more evident than on May 21, 1951. That day, then-Pfc. Rodriguez led a squad from F Company, 17th Infantry Regiment of the 7th Infantry Division, on a mission to take a strategic hill near the small village of Munye-Ri, Korea. That mission resulted in Rodriguez being awarded the nation’s highest honor.

The effort was part of a massive counterattack by U.S. forces to regain ground in the Korean War. But the hill was firmly entrenched with Chinese Communist forces. F Company had attempted to take the hill three times only to be repelled. Then a squad from 2nd Platoon, which included Rodriguez, got the call to attempt another assault up the high ground.

The group immediately came under heavy fire. The hail of gunfire careening down the hill wouldn’t allow the squad to press forward or withdraw. With progress halted and frustration building, Rodriguez seethed. He couldn’t see where the enemy fire was coming from. He only knew it was coming from high up on the hill. His anger over the group’s plight eventually boiled over.

“I felt something had to be done,” Rodriguez said. “I didn’t even think about it. I just did it.”

Rodriguez sprang from his pinned position and sprinted toward the top of the hill. The jaunt was 60 yards into the teeth of five machinegun nests. As bullets sprayed the ground around him, Rodriguez lobbed grenades in the direction of a foxhole to his right. The gunfire coming from that direction ceased. He ran around the left flank and silenced a second foxhole with two more grenades. After returning to his fellow Soldiers’ position to retrieve more grenades, Rodriguez continued his solo charge up the hill. He eliminated two more machinegun nests and, with bullets whizzing past him, Rodriguez sprinted to a fifth emplacement throwing grenades as he went. The gunfire finally fell silent, leaving the crackling of brush fires as the only sound evident throughout the hill.

Rodriguez’s actions, according to his Medal of Honor citation, “exacted a toll of 15 enemy dead and, as a result of his incredible display of valor, the defense of the opposition was broken, and the enemy routed, and the strategic strongpoint secured. His unflinching courage under fire and inspirational devotion to duty reflect highest credit on himself and uphold the honored traditions of the military service.”

He was subsequently promoted to sergeant and was decorated with the Medal of Honor on Feb. 5, 1952, by President Harry S. Truman during a ceremony in the Rose Garden at the White House.

Rodriguez made a career of the Army, becoming a commissioned officer in 1953 with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He served more than 30 years, including four assignments in Latin America. He retired as a colonel in 1980.

In April 1952, Rodriguez appeared with his then-fiancée, Rose Aranda, on “You Bet Your Life,” a game show hosted by Groucho Marx. Upon hearing the reason Rodriguez made his fateful charge up the hill in Korea, Marx told the couple, “You wiped out a whole army because you got mad? Joe, if I said anything tonight that you resent, I was just being facetious. … Well, I’m sure glad you’re on our side. Rose, take good care of this fella. My advice is, don’t ever make him mad — he’s liable to wipe out Los Angeles!”

After his retirement, Rodriguez lived with his wife in El Paso, Texas. Rodriguez died there Nov. 1, 2005. He was buried with full military honors at Mountain View Cemetery in San Bernardino. He is survived by his wife and three children.

—      Compiled by Pablo Villa

Sgt. Joseph C. Rodriguez, left, appeared on “You Bet Your Life,” with his then-fiancée, Rose Aranda, in April 1952. The show was hosted by famed comedian Groucho Marx, right.
Sgt. Joseph C. Rodriguez, left, appeared on “You Bet Your Life,” with his then-fiancée, Rose Aranda, in April 1952. The show was hosted by famed comedian Groucho Marx, right.