Five noncommissioned officers are among the first 100 athletes named to the U.S. Olympic Team scheduled to compete Aug. 5-21 in the 2016 Olympic Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Rapid-fire pistol shooter Sgt. 1st Class Keith Sanderson, race walker Staff Sgt. John Nunn and modern pentathlete Sgt. Nathan Schrimsher are Soldier-athletes in the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program at Fort Carson, Colorado.
Shotgun shooter Sgt. 1st Class Glenn Eller and rifle shooter Sgt. 1st Class Michael McPhail are Soldier-athletes in the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit at Fort Benning, Georgia.
Sanderson, 41, a three-time Olympian from San Antonio, Texas, is the most decorated competitive pistol shooter in U.S. military history. He is scheduled to compete Aug. 12-13 in the 25-meter rapid fire pistol event.
“First, I want to make the final,” Sanderson said. “Second, make it to the medal round. Third, I want to get a gold medal. I feel like I have to get a gold. I want to be the best U.S. pistol shooter in history.”
Sanderson, a nine-time World Cup medalist, finished fifth at the 2008 Beijing Games.
“Shooting competitively has allowed me to excel in something to the point where, at times, I have become the best in the world,” Sanderson said. “I already have the most World Cups. The only thing I’m missing is that Olympic gold medal.”
Nunn, 38, a native of Evansville, Indiana, who lives in Bonsall, California, also will be competing in his third Olympics. He finished 43rd in the men’s 50-kilometer race walk at the 2012 London Olympic Games with a personal-best time of 4 hours, 3 minutes and 28 seconds.
Earlier this year at the 2016 U.S. Olympic 50K Race Walk Team Trials, Nunn overcame the flu to win the race and improved his personal best to 4:03.21. He also plans to attempt to qualify for the 20-kilometer race walk event at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Track and Field Team Trials on June 30 in Salem, Oregon.
“It would be fun to do both [the 50k and 20k in Rio de Janeiro], but 50K is what I’m good at and what I’ve held the [Olympic] standard for a couple years now,” Nunn said. “If I happen to hit the 20K standard that’s great. I’ll still make the 50K the priority in Rio and we’ll still race the 20K, but it becomes a great speed workout a week before the 50K, which is fine.”
The Olympic 20-kilometer race walk is scheduled for Aug. 12 at Fort Copacabana and the 50K is set for Aug. 19.
“We’ve had some really good workouts over the past few months where I’ve been able to just nail full through a 35K with a 4:30 pace per kilometer,” Nunn said, “which puts me right at like 3:45 for a 50K. There’s potential to set a huge personal record in Rio.”
Schrimsher, 23, a native of Roswell, New Mexico, now stationed at Fort Carson, will make his Olympic debut in modern pentathlon, a five-sport event consisting of fencing, swimming, equestrian show jumping, cross-country running and pistol shooting. After getting started in the sport at age 12, he soon began dreaming of becoming an Olympian. After three successful appearances in the Modern Pentathlon Junior World Championships, Schrimsher quickly climbed the ranks of the U.S. men’s senior division.
In July 2015, Schrimsher was the first individual named to the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team after he finished third at the Pan American Games in Toronto to earn a berth in the 2016 Rio Games.
“A lot of people were telling me that I could relax because I didn’t have the pressure of qualifying anymore,” Schrimsher recalled. “But now the pressure to compete, and go win that gold, that’s on. It’s another set of pressure, but I’m ready for it.
“I just want to go and compete and do the best I can,” continued Schrimsher, who is scheduled to compete Aug. 18 and 20 in Rio. “I just feel like regular old Nathan from New Mexico, just doing my thing. I’m going to give it my best like I’ve always done.”
Schrimsher upped the ante May 7 by posting the best American men’s performance in eight years on the Modern Pentathlon World Cup circuit with a seventh-place finish in the 2016 UIPM World Cup season finale in Sarasota, Florida. The last time a U.S. competitor placed higher was at the 2008 World Cup final, when Air Force Capt. Eli Bremer won the bronze medal and U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program teammate Sgt. Dennis Bowsher was fourth.
Schrimsher competed in the 2010 Youth Olympic Games in Singapore, where he finished 13th. In March, he won the gold medal at the Pan American and South American Championships in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where his younger brother, also an Olympic hopeful, struck bronze.
“It’s amazing to be a Soldier and compete for the United States,” Schrimsher said. “It’s a big name we wear as athletes and I just want to represent it as best I can.”
Eller, 34, a native of Houston, will be competing in his fifth Olympics. He won the gold medal for double trap at the 2008 Beijing Games. Eller was named USA Shooting’s Athlete of the Year in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2008 and 2013. In 2012, he deployed to Afghanistan as a marksmanship instructor after competing in the London Olympics. He is scheduled to compete Aug. 10 in Rio.
McPhail, 34, originally from Darlington, Wisconsin, missed making the prone rifle finals by three-tenths of a point at the 2012 London Olympics. He has won 10 medals in international competition, including two World Cup victories in 2015. McPhail is scheduled to compete Aug. 12 in the men’s 50-meter prone rifle event.
More Soldier-athletes and coaches remain in contention for spots on Team USA in shooting, rugby and track and field. Those selections will be made by late July.
By SGT. 1ST CLASS RAYMOND J. PIPER
USAMU Public Affairs
A U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit NCO became the first Soldier with a lower-leg amputation to successfully earn his Airborne wings.
Sgt. Joseph Mille, a member of the USAMU Paralympic Team, graduated Nov. 14, from the Basic Airborne Course at Fort Benning, Ga.
“The primary difficulty was finding a way for Sgt. Mille to conduct a proper parachute landing fall on his prosthetic (right side) without causing injury to himself,” said Marine Sgt. Daniel Lecour, 3rd Platoon airborne instructor, Company B, 1st Battalion, 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment. “We were able to speak with a prior Black Hat (airborne instructor) who had a similar amputation, and were able to develop an effective method for Sgt. Mille to conduct a PLF (parachute landing fall).”
Mille explained that, in a normal landing, the impact is absorbed through the balls of the feet, calves, thighs, buttocks and back. For his right side, the impact is absorbed through the foot, buttocks and back.
“Once we figured that out, it was smooth sailing,” he added.
The three-week course trains students to properly conduct parachute operations. The first week, known as Ground Week, focuses on building the individual airborne skills. The individual skills learned during Ground Week are refined during Tower Week, and team skills or the “mass exit” concept is added to the training. During the third week, known as Jump Week, students must successfully complete five parachute jumps at 1,250 feet from a C-130 or C-141 aircraft.
“My first jump was interesting. It wasn’t like the movies, but I knew what to expect from the landing,” Mille said.
Lecour said that having Mille in the course was no different from having any other non-commissioned officer attend.
“Aside from his right side PLF, you could not tell he was an amputee,” Lecour said. “He pulled duties at the company, participated in Airborne physical readiness training, and successfully completed all the company 3.2-mile runs.”
Mille encourages other amputees to try it.
“You’ll get plenty of opportunities before you jump out of plane to make sure you’re good to go, so it’s not like ‘here’s your parachute, OK, go.'”
Earlier this year, Mille graduated from the Army Sniper School and has now set his sights on Ranger School and becoming a part of the 75th Ranger Regiment.
“It’s what I originally wanted to do when I joined the Army, but there were no contracts [for Army Rangers] when I enlisted. I’m going to try it out now,” Mille said.
The U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit, in conjunction with Maneuver Center of Excellence, will host the 2014 U.S. Army Small Arms Championships, from Jan. 26 to Feb. 1, at Fort Benning, Ga.
The All-Army competition is open to all Soldiers, active and reserve component, of all ranks. Additionally, both West Point and Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets are welcome to participate.
The U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit, or USAMU, hosts the All-Army in order to raise the standard of marksmanship across the force and increase overall Army combat readiness.
Range capacity for the event is 240, and half of those have already been claimed through early registration. Once registration exceeds that number, Soldiers will be placed on a stand-by list for the competition.
There is no cost to compete in the championship and ammunition is provided to all competitors.
For additional information and to register, visit the USAMU website at www.usamu.com or contact the USAMU chief of competitions, at 706-545-7841.
The title “Mike Golf” carries significant clout throughout the U.S. Army, according to Patrick Hoffman.
The sobriquet is applied to master gunners, the Army’s NCOs who are subject-matter experts on the weapon systems housed within military fighting vehicles. Hoffman, a retired first sergeant and Bradley Master Gunner Course instructor at Fort Benning, Ga., helps train Soldiers for these positions, which carry a significant amount of responsibility.
Hoffman says a Bradley master gunner not only maintains the stabilized platform 25 mm cannon that is mounted on the vehicle, he is also responsible for conducting the training program for Bradley-equipped units at the battalion level and higher, a job that places a heavy burden — and a high demand — on the Soldier who accepts it.
And Fort Benning’s Bradley Master Gunner Course is doing all it can to churn out more of them.
“A lot of people who understand the role of the master gunner — and have good master gunners — hold them to a higher standard than anyone else,” Hoffman said. “It’s more of, ‘you’ve been trained to be able to make us successful back in our unit.’ So they expect you to be able to do that, and do it well.”
From Armor roots
Fort Benning’s Bradley Master Gunner Course has its roots in the U.S. Army Armor School’s master gunner program, which began in the 1980s. The program aimed to provide battalions with a noncommissioned officer who was a trained expert on maintenance, operation and training for the M1 tank’s gunnery system. It was deemed a success as it allowed units to have multiple crews that were trained and could be effective using vehicles with complex weaponry. These units were able to use the vehicle in the most efficient manner possible in accordance with established training methods.
Eventually, the program expanded to include mechanized infantry and cavalry units. The M3 and M2 versions of the Bradley fighting vehicle — named for U.S. Gen. Omar Bradley — entered service with the U.S. Army in 1981. By 1983, it had its own Master Gunner Course at Fort Benning.
The Bradley Master Gunner Course is aligned under the 316th Cavalry Brigade, which is part of the U.S. Army Armor School that joined the U.S. Army Infantry School in 2010 to form the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning. The course lasts 14 weeks and is split into two phases. The first phase deals with maintenance where students learn about ammunition capabilities, ballistics, the functions of turret components, surface danger zones, target safing and range overlays. The second phase of the course is gunner-specific. Students learn about training devices, range operations, ammunition forecasting, training management and creating short-range training plans.
Molding senior enlisted advisers
Sgt. 1st Class Travis Larson, the maintenance team chief for the Bradley Master Gunner Course, says that though much of the subject matter will sound familiar to Soldiers, there is a bigger mission in the curriculum.
“They learn everything they thought they knew,” Larson said. “We have people who have been on Bradleys for 10 years, and they come here and they learn — or relearn — everything that they knew about the Bradley, from how to tear it apart, how to put it back together, how to service it, how to implement it in both training and in war. But more specifically, we teach people how to be the senior enlisted adviser of all things gunnery to their commander at whatever level they are selected to be at.”
With the goal of the course geared toward preparing capable leaders, the prerequisites to take part in it are commensurately stringent.
Soldiers entering the course must be sergeants to sergeants first class, though waivers may be granted for promotable specialists. National Guard master sergeants are also allowed in the course. A GT (General Technical) score of 100 is required. Other prerequisites are platform-based — Soldiers must pass a gunnery skills test within six months of entering the class. A passing score on gunnery table VI must also be achieved.
“One of the reasons we have the prerequisites the way they are is because we don’t have time to teach people the basics here,” Larson said. “This is an advanced course. You have to arrive here ready to go.”
Lessons from experience
Once Soldiers do arrive to one of the five courses offered each year, they are instructed by a cadre made up of NCOs and former NCOs, all of who are graduates of the course. Most of them have held a battalion-level position as a master gunner.
Learning from Soldiers who have been through the challenges of the course and have experienced the trials of the master gunner role in the field is a boon for students.
“We have first-hand experience,” Hoffman said. “We’ve been there. We’ve done a lot. Being in the vehicle, you know how to teach in a way that they would grasp it and understand the big concept of everything. Almost all of us who are contractors, and the branch chiefs and team chiefs, have all held battalion positions or above.”
Larson said, thanks to the NCO and former NCO instructors, graduates of the course come away with the knowledge and ability to make decisions on their own in a significant role. Larson said the authorized slots for Bradley master gunners are at the platoon, company, battalion and brigade levels. The NCOs in those positions teach their units how to properly use, maintain and utilize the Bradley’s firing mechanisms and lift them to an acceptable level of competence. The number of master gunners who serve in each unit varies depending on the mission. For example, infantry units will always have four Bradleys. Scout units will have from three to six.
“The work ethic is different with an NCO cadre,” he said. “Having an all-NCO cadre cuts out a lot of bureaucracy. Civilian instructors are former master gunners and that is a prerequisite to becoming a contractor. They know as much, if not more, than most of us.”
Furthermore, Hoffman says because of an Army requirement to have gunner crews for unstabilized platforms — such as those found on the Stryker vehicle — some graduates of the course will be sent to light units solely to conduct their training program.
As such, Bradley master gunners are in high demand and are also often called upon to serve in a higher capacity far more quickly than other NCOs, Hoffman said. Larson says the Mike Golf title is indicative of an NCO who has been through meticulous training and has the potential to thrive in an environment with a large amount of responsibility.
Recent changes at Fort Benning may eventually have bearing on how the Bradley Master Gunner Course is conducted. The post’s transition to the Maneuver Center of Excellence and acquisition of the U.S. Army Armor School from Fort Knox, Ky., has started conversations about meshing portions of the Bradley curriculum with that of the Stryker Master Trainer course. There are also efforts under way to develop a master gunner course for unstabilized vehicles. However, no concrete plans or timelines have been laid out.
In the meantime, students and instructors in the Bradley Master Gunner Course continue to toil in an effort to provide the Army with its necessary supply of Mike Golfs.
“It’s a lot of work,” Larson says of both the Bradley master gunner role and the instructors who teach it to students in the course. “There’s always work. A master gunner’s job is never done.
“It’s a very academically challenging course. There’s a lot of technical knowledge that can be applied not only to being a master gunner, but being a Soldier as well. We teach planning and resourcing that’s crucial for any NCO.”
The 1st Cavalry Division has seen more change than any other division in U.S. history, but the way it has relied on the professionalism of NCOs has remained constant.
“Since we were on horseback a hundred years ago, that level of faith, trust and confidence in our NCO Corps has not changed,” said Sgt. Maj. James Norman, who until recently served as the command sergeant major of the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, Texas. “Technology is the only thing that has changed. In the transitions from dismounted infantry to tanks to airborne operations or air assault operations, we have always had that confidence in our NCOs.”
Trust in the NCO Corps from the early days
The 1st Cavalry Division can trace its roots back to the organization of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment in 1855. The unit, redesignated as the 5th Cavalry Regiment in 1861, fought in Civil War battles including Bull Run, Antietam, Gettysburg, Wilderness and Appomattox.
From the start, NCOs in cavalry units were given great responsibility, as the horses entrusted to them were of incredible value to the Army. Indeed, throughout the history of warfare, the horse was often considered more valuable than the Soldier who rode it.
“Cavalry was very rare in the early days because it was so expensive,” said Jack Dugan, an exhibit specialist at the 1st Cavalry Division Museum at Fort Hood. “You give an infantryman a musket, and it represents about a month’s salary. A cavalryman is riding 11 months’ worth of horse, not counting the saddle and bridle and all that. And, he has three weapons: a pistol, a carbine and a saber, each representing about a month’s worth of salary. The trooper was really the cheapest part of the assembly.”
Western expansion made the great expense a necessity, as horses were needed to cover vast distances.
The regiments that would initially make up the 1st Cavalry Division fought the Sioux, Arapaho, Cheyenne and Apache during the Indian Wars and patrolled the frontiers as pioneers moved west. Just before World War I, the cavalry was a key part of Gen. John J. Pershing’s Punitive Expedition into Mexico in search of Pancho Villa’s forces, maneuvers that helped prepare the regiments for the war to come.
“Even before the division was a division, when we were just separate cavalry regiments patrolling the Southwest and the western frontier, it was always a young corporal or a young sergeant with a bunch of troopers on horseback going out and settling the West,” Norman said. “Very rarely was a patrol conducted by an entire troop led by an officer. It was always small — six, eight, a dozen troopers on horseback, led by a young noncommissioned officer. Those are the ones who went out and did the heavy lifting that actually made our country what it is today.”
As World War I began, the National Defense Act of 1916 increased the number of cavalry regiments. However, throughout the course of the war in Europe, it became clear that horses did not fare well in the trenches against machine guns and artillery, and many cavalry units were converted to field artillery regiments. Even so, horses remained a key resource of the war. They still could move through mud and rough terrain more efficiently than wheeled vehicles, and were used for reconnaissance missions, carrying messengers and pulling artillery, ambulances and supplies.
World War I ended in 1918, and on Sept. 13, 1921, the 1st Cavalry Division was formally activated at Fort Bliss, Texas.
As before, NCOs continued to lead small groups on horseback to patrol the Mexican border. The horses allowed for swift travel across the area’s harsh desert terrain as the Soldiers searched for smugglers transporting firearms into Mexico and — because of high demand during Prohibition — tequila into the United States.
Transitions: World War II
The era of motorcycles, automobiles, tanks, aircraft and parachutes soon brought an end to the age of armed Soldiers on horses. The Louisiana Maneuvers of 1940, designed to evaluate training, logistics and doctrine, confirmed the need for mechanized mobile units, and the air attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, left no doubt.
In 1943, the 1st Cavalry Division became dismounted and was processed for deployment to the South Pacific, where they would fight throughout World War II as foot cavalry, island-hopping like Marines.
“Leaving their horses behind just broke everybody’s heart in the 1st Cav,” Dugan said.
After six months of training in Australia, the division deployed to the Admiralty Islands on Feb. 29, 1944. The division’s first Soldier to be awarded the Medal of Honor earned it during the division’s first engagement on Los Negros Island.
On March 4, Sgt. Troy A. McGill led a squad of eight as they defended themselves against an attack by 200 enemy soldiers. McGill ordered his only able-bodied Soldier to retreat, while he remained and stood his ground. After McGill’s weapon failed, he faced his death as he left his cover to engage the enemy in hand-to-hand combat. According to information from the 1st Cavalry Division Association, the bodies of 105 enemy soldiers were found around McGill. He was awarded the Medal of Honor on Sept. 11, 1944, six months after his death.
After Los Negros Island, the division fought on the island of Leyte, then moved on to Luzon, the main island of the Philippines. There, the division was the first into the city of Manila to free 3,700 civilian prisoners at the Santo Tomas Internment Camp, earning it the famous nickname given by Gen. Douglas MacArthur — “First Team.”
After the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, and the sudden end to World War II, the “First Team” was the first to enter Tokyo, leading the Allied Occupation Army into the city.
Korean War: Legacies of honor
The 1st Cavalry Division continued to fight as dismounted infantry throughout the Korean War.
After weeks in combat, Task Force 777 — composed of the 7th Cavalry Regiment, the 70th Tank Battalion and the 77th Artillery Battalion under leadership of the 1st Cavalry Division commanding general, Maj. Gen. Hobart Gay — led the breakout of the Pusan Perimeter. This allowed the division to connect with other U.S. forces landing to the north at Inchon. The task force covered more than 100 miles through heavy fighting in less than 21 hours. Their advance of 196 miles from Taegu to Osan became the longest advance in U.S. military history. On Oct. 19, 1950, the “First Team” was the first to enter Pyongyang, capturing the capital city of North Korea.
Several Medals of Honor were awarded to 1st Cavalry Division Soldiers who fought in the battles that followed to the north of the city against Chinese forces. One was awarded to a chaplain assigned to the division’s 8th Cavalry Regiment, Capt. Emil Kapaun, for his heroic actions during the battle of Unsan and while a prisoner of war. President Barack Obama awarded him the Medal of Honor posthumously earlier this year, and Kapaun has also been named a servant of god, the first step toward being declared a saint in the Catholic Church.
Another Medal of Honor was awarded to Cpl. Tibor “Ted” Rubin, also a member of the 8th Cavalry Regiment. Rubin, a Jewish Holocaust survivor, vowed to serve the Army that had saved him from the agony he suffered in the concentration camps. Though most military awards are given for a single act, Rubin was awarded the Medal of Honor for valor on the front lines of battle, as well as courage and selfless service to fellow prisoners of war over a two-and-a-half year period.
In 1950, the 8th Cavalry regiment faced thousands of Korean and Chinese troops. As Rubin’s unit was retreating to the Pusan Perimeter, he was ordered to stay behind and keep open a vital road needed by the withdrawing troops. During the next 24 hours, Rubin single-handedly held off the enemy, allowing his regiment to withdraw safely and proceed into North Korea.
Then, during a nighttime assault by Chinese forces at Unsan, North Korea, on Oct. 30, 1950, Rubin manned the unit’s only remaining machine gun after the three previous gunners had been killed. He stood his ground until no ammunition was left, allowing the other surviving Soldiers of his unit to retreat. Rubin, however, was severely wounded and captured by the Chinese.
Rubin remained in a POW camp for 30 months, despite offers from the Chinese to return him to his native Hungary. He frequently stole food from guards to share evenly among the prisoners, though he knew he would be tortured or killed if caught. Rubin kept hope alive in the camp, providing needed medical care to the sick and wounded. He would treat injuries, pick lice from the heads of comrades who had no strength left and even carried wounded Soldiers to the latrines. His Medal of Honor citation states he saved the lives of 40 other prisoners.
Rubin was nominated four times for the Medal of Honor by two of his commanding officers. Those officers were soon killed in battle, however, and the nominations were long overlooked. Finally, in 2005, Rubin was awarded the Medal of Honor by President George W. Bush.
In all, 39 Medals of Honor have been awarded to members of the 1st Cavalry Division, 24 of which were posthumous. Many of the recipients who are still living visit Fort Hood to inspire other cavalrymen and share the lessons they have learned.
“[Rubin] comes around here now and then,” Norman said. “He is a great American, just a hoot to listen to. A lot of the veterans from that time period still live in this area of Texas, and they are still around. We, as younger Soldiers, get to interact with them almost on a daily basis.”
Vietnam: The Cavalry adapts again
As new helicopter technology surfaced at the beginning of the Vietnam War, the division became the Army’s first “airmobile” division. The division used helicopters to land in combat zones and insert soldiers, as opposed to airborne units, which drop Soldiers with parachutes to the targeted area.
“We give a lot of credence to the 101st Airborne Division during that time, but the 1st Cav actually predominantly fought that way during Vietnam,” Norman said.
The first real test of its airmobile capability was in 1965 during the Pleiku campaign, when the division conducted 35 days of continuous airmobile operations. The division conquered two of three North Vietnamese regiments and was awarded the only Presidential Unit Citation given to a division during the Vietnam War. The battle was depicted in the 2002 film We Were Soldiers starring Mel Gibson, based on the book We Were Soldiers Once… And Young by retired Lt. Gen. Harold G. Moore and journalist Joseph L. Galloway.
In January 1966, the 1st Cavalry Division liberated the cities of Quang Tri and Hue, and “sky troopers” helped rescue the besieged Marine base at Khe Sanh. In 1969, the 1st Cavalry Division battled communist strongholds in the “Iron Triangle,” the southern-most tactical zone in South Vietnam. In May 1970, the division was the first into Cambodia, conquering what had been a communist sanctuary.
The 1st Cavalry Division had proven it could adapt easily in the transition to airmobile operations, and the 1970s brought even more change as Cold War tensions escalated. In 1971, the division returned to the United States, moving the headquarters previously based at Fort Benning, Ga., to the division’s current home at Fort Hood. There, the division was reorganized into the Triple Capability (TRICAP) Division with armored, air-mobility and air cavalry brigades. The division’s war-fighting capability used a mix of armored troops on the ground with cavalry and infantry Soldiers mounted in helicopters for quicker access onto a battlefield. Support troops were specifically trained to assist in the TRICAP philosophy.
The TRICAP Division operated as an experimental force for several years, but field trials and evaluations revealed the division needed more tanks and less airmobile infantry. The division was first reorganized with two armor brigades and one air cavalry combat brigade. Then, in 1975, the 1st Cavalry Division became the Army’s newest armored division.
Leaders of change
Force modernization has been a major focus of the 1st Cavalry Division since it first fielded the M1 Abrams tank in 1980. The division was also the first to field the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter, M2 Bradley fighting vehicle, the High Mobility Multi-Purpose Wheeled Vehicle (humvee) and the Multiple Launch Rocket System. As the crews manning the vehicles are led by NCOs, it was the NCOs who delivered much of the training that came with each advance in technology, said Command Sgt. Maj. Rory L. Malloy, the commandant of the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy who was previously the sergeant major of the 1st Cavalry Division.
“NCOs had to grasp the new concepts and training requirements and actually lead the change,” Malloy said. “Adding a weapon to a light infantry unit is a high-risk change, but the squad leader can look to his left and to his right and, within 100 meters, can see all of his Soldiers. When you start putting them in tanks and other vehicles, crews are operating inside small compartments where it is tough to see anything at all.”
Sergeants began to take on many of the duties traditionally reserved for lieutenants, Malloy said. Though they had a different level of responsibility, sergeants were in charge of identifying the target, maneuvering and firing the tank, directing other fire to a target when they could not engage it, and performing an analysis after a gunnery exercise to determine deficiencies and how to better their crew.
“There is a lot of faith that goes into the development of that person as an NCO to effectively lead those Soldiers with such an awesome piece of machinery on the battlefield,” Norman said.
Because of the nature of the equipment and the missions at hand, NCOs throughout the Army began operating more independently. In the 1990s, the Army coined the term “strategic corporal,” referring to an NCO who, for the first time in many Army units, began operating without direct officer leadership. During peacekeeping operations in the Balkans, Norman said, these NCOs manned checkpoints and strategic locations in the unit’s area.
“Because of technology, the decisions that young NCO made had implications at the national level — not just within that city block where they were operating,” Norman said. “The decisions he or she made could be worldwide on CNN in 30 minutes and could literally have someone in our national command giving a press conference in 45 minutes. It was quite a shift for the Army, but we had been operating that way all along.”
Malloy emphasized that placing trust in the NCO Corps was necessary to operate in this manner.
“We get the recognition we do as the ‘backbone of the Army’ because this trust is placed in the NCO Corps across all divisions,” Malloy said. “But NCOs in the Cav are often looked at very closely because a lot of the things they do are, and have always been, at that NCO level. Even before we had tanks, the upkeep and care of the horses, the training — it was all done by NCOs.”
A shift to modern organization
In August 1990, the 1st Cavalry Division prepared to deploy to the Middle East as part of Operation Desert Shield to defend Saudi Arabia against a potential Iraqi attack. During the ensuing Operation Desert Storm and liberation of Kuwait, the division was the first to defend along the Saudi-Iraq border, the first to fire Copperhead artillery rounds in combat, the first to conduct intensive MLRS artillery raids and the first to engage in mounted combat in Iraq. The division also lost the first three Army Soldiers killed in ground action.
After returning from Iraq, the 1st Cavalry Division became the largest division in the Army with the reactivation of the 3rd “Greywolf” Battle Team on May 21, 1991. The division was reorganized in ’92 and ’93, becoming the only armored contingency force ready for deployment.
In 1998, the 1st Cavalry Division conducted peace support operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, monitoring former warring factions and aiding in the return of refugees as part of Task Force Eagle.
On July 15, 2005, the 1st Cavalry Division transitioned to the brigade combat team format it uses today. Instead of elements composed purely of armor or infantry battalions, brigades are made up of combined arms battalions that include infantry, armor and support elements. The 1st Cavalry Division has operated this way in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Afghanistan in support of the Global War on Terrorism.
Future for the Cavalry
Throughout each period of change, the division proved to be agile and resilient, Norman said.
“Today’s changes may be new to the rest of the Army. But we as a division have been transitioning for 150 years,” Norman said. “Other units may say their transition was going from an M1 rifle to an M14 or an M16, but we have changed completely — not only the equipment that we used, but the amount of Soldiers in a troop, the makeup and construct of that troop and the ratio of officer to NCO to trooper. … Technology changes, but there will always be a need for the Cav.”
Norman said that as the Army moves forward, the 1st Cavalry Division will continue to adapt to the needs of the nation.
“When you look at other divisions in the Army, the infantry divisions maintain and continue to be infantry divisions; the Airborne divisions maintain and continue to be Airborne divisions. [But the 1st Cavalry Division has] constantly evolved: from horseback to where we are today. We will continue that for the future,” he said.
Malloy agreed, saying that the mobility, firepower and flexibility the division provides for reconnaissance and scout missions make it unique.
“The Cav will always be around,” Malloy said. “Over time, you will see changes based on what the threat is in the world and how the Cav is utilized. But at the end of the day, the Cav is always going to be there. We have always been in transition, and will continue to be in transition as a leader of change.”
The Patch: While commander of U.S. forces in Southeast Asia during Vietnam, Gen. Creighton Abrams Jr. said, “The big yellow patch does something to an individual that makes him a better Soldier, a better team member and a better American than he otherwise would have been.”
That patch, the largest of all U.S. Army divisional patches, carries great significance to the troopers who wear it proudly on their sleeves. Shortly after the division was activated, the patch was created by Gladys Finch Dorcy, the wife of Col. Ben Dorcy, commander of the 7th Regiment.
“The patch had to be large enough to be seen through the dust and sand of Fort Bliss, and we made it that way because it is worn by big men who do big things,” Gladys Dorcy is credited to have said.
The shape — that of a traditional shield from the Middle Ages — signifies honor and fidelity. The horse’s head and the traditional cavalry yellow of the dress patch represent the Division’s original organizational structure. The diagonal line represents a scaling ladder. The line also symbolizes the speed and shock of the horses at full charge going across the battlefield, Norman said.
“There is nothing like a full-horse charge,” he said.
Both Norman and Malloy tried to express what it is they identify with so strongly in the 1st Cav. They said it is often hard to understand for outsiders or Soldiers new to the division. Malloy has been in the Army for 29 years, and 24 of those years were spent in light infantry and airborne units. However, the patch he wears on his shoulder is almost always the 1st Cavalry Division patch.
“I’m often asked why I always wear the 1st Cav patch,” Malloy said. “It’s because there is just something special about that place. Once you get there, you never want to leave. The camaraderie, the pride in the unit, the deep rich history, the type of Soldiers who serve there. … It’s one of my most favorite units, and I served the shortest time there.”
He said riding a horse is a great experience, but that is not what it is all about.
“A lot of times when I was in the 1st Cav, people would see my big patch and say ‘Oh, so you’re a tanker.’ No, I’m not. I’m an infantryman by trade. ‘Oh, I thought you were a cavalryman,’ they’d say. I am a cavalryman. A cavalryman is not any specific branch or MOS. It is a way of life. It is an attitude.”
Tradition: The division’s motto is “Live the Legend,” and troopers certainly do just that. They incorporate meaningful traditions into everyday operations, ever aware of the legendary cavalrymen who have served before them.
One such tradition is the Spur Ride, which dates back to the 1800s, Norman said. After participating in a Spur Ride to demonstrate the warrior skills a cavalry trooper should possess, Soldiers are awarded silver spurs to be worn on appropriate occasions, along with the “Cav Hat,” the Stetson that was first worn by the entire Division in Vietnam. Gold spurs are awarded to Troopers who have earned their silver spurs and who conduct two or more combat patrols or missions during a deployment.
In the early days, a new Soldier was not a full member of the troop until he could operate the way his unit required. After training, NCOs would take the new Soldier out for a couple of days for him to demonstrate his horsemanship, rifle marksmanship and other tasks that would be required of him. This transitioned into the tradition of the Spur Ride, usually hosted by units twice a year for Soldiers to demonstrate competency in their MOS.
“Some people may look at us and say, ‘That’s just the Cav being tied to archaic traditions and lineages that don’t really mean anything in the 21st century,’” Norman said. “But there is a symbolism that goes with those spurs and wearing that big Stetson. What they symbolize is your individual level of training and competence to operate in your given career field within the unit. … We don’t just give them out. You have to earn it,” Norman said.
The Song: The regimental song of the 7th Cavalry, an Irish quickstep tune from the early 1860s titled “Garryowen,” was adopted as the official march of the 1st Cavalry Division in 1981, and has been played at all division functions since. To hear the song, click here. →
Instead of spa, we’ll drink down ale
And pay the reckoning on the nail,
For debt, no man shall go to jail;
From Garryowen in glory.
1921: The 1st Cavalry Division is formally activated at Fort Bliss, Texas, on Sept. 13.
1930s: The division provides training for the Civilian Conservation Corps, which constructed barracks for 20,000 anti-aircraft troops at Fort Bliss.
1940-41: The 1st Cavalry Division participates in the Louisiana Maneuvers, designed to evaluate U.S. training, logistics, doctrine and overall effectiveness. Horses are used in the exercises in addition to tanks and vehicles, illustrating the march of progress that would leave horses behind.
1943: The 1st Cavalry Division is officially dismounted and prepares for deployment to the South Pacific as foot cavalry.
1944: On Feb. 29, the division sails to the Admiralty Islands for its first combat engagement of World War II. After fighting in Operation King II on the island of Leyte, the Division moves onto the main island of the Philippines, Luzon, where the Division’s feats lead Gen. Douglas MacArthur to nickname it the “First Team.”
1945: On Feb. 11, two squadrons of the 1st Cavalry Brigade form a “flying column” to cut a 100-mile path through Japanese-held territory, breaking through the gates of the Santo Tomas internment camp to free its prisoners. The division is the “First in Manila.” On Nov. 1, the 1st Cavalry Division lands on Kyushu as part of Operation Downfall, the invasion of mainland Japan. When the war suddenly comes to an end with the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the “First Team” leads the Allied Occupation Army into Tokyo.
1950: The 1st Cavalry Division leaves Japan, and, on July 18, carries out the first amphibious landing of the Korean War along the shores of Pohang Dong, South Korea. There, they help stop the North Korean army at the Pusan Perimeter.
1951: Allied forces withdraw south of Seoul. In a spring offensive, the division moves north and engages enemy forces throughout the mountains of central Korea.
1952: After 18 months of combat, the 1st Cavalry Division returns to Hokkaido, Japan, where troopers replace equipment and retrain.
1957: The division deploys again to Korea to patrol the Demilitarized Zone.
1965: Troopers leave Korea for the division’s new home at Fort Benning, Ga., where they become the Army’s first airmobile division. After a few months of preparation for the Pleiku Campaign, the division engages enemy forces in South Vietnam. On Oct. 29, troopers destroy two of three regiments of a North Vietnamese division, earning the division the only Presidential Unit Citation given to a division in Vietnam.
1970: In May, the 1st Cavalry Division is the first into Cambodia.
1971: The division returns home to its new headquarters at Fort Hood, Texas, on May 5. There it is reorganized into the Triple Capability (TRICAP) Division.
1975: In January, the division is reorganized once again into the Army’s newest armored division.
1980: The 1st Cavalry Division is the first to field the M1 Abrams tank.
1982: The division opens the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., and begins rotations of realistic desert battle training.
1983: The “First Team” becomes the first U.S. force to deploy to Holland and northern Germany since World War II. Approximately 9,000 troopers conduct exercises as part of Return of Forces to Germany.
1990-91: In August, the 1st Cavalry Division prepares to deploy to the Middle East as part of Operation Desert Shield.
1991-92: The division returns to the United States and, with the reactivation of the 3rd “Greywolf” Battle Team on May 21, 1991, becomes the largest division in the Army.
1998: The 1st Cavalry Division conducts peace support operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina as part of Task Force Eagle. In October, the Division takes over the Multinational Division North area of operations.
2001: After the Sept. 11 attacks, elements of the 1st Cavalry Division join the joint task force charged with protecting key national assets in Washington, D.C., as part of Operation Clear Skies. On Dec. 15, the Division’s 545th Military Police Company deploys to Bagram, Afghanistan, where they interrogate and process approximately 2,500 detainees as part of Operation Enduring Freedom.
2003: At the beginning of the year, select units deploy in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. In the fall, the entire division prepares for deployment.
2004: In April, the division assumes command of Task Force Baghdad.
2005: The division transfers authority to the 3rd Infantry Division and returns to the United States. In July, the division moves to its current brigade combat team format.
2006-07: The 1st Cavalry Division deploys to Iraq a second time.
2008: The United States and Iraq sign a security agreement to withdraw U.S. forces and organize U.S. troops’ activities during their temporary stay in the country. The 1st Cavalry Division is the first to take command of Multinational Division Baghdad.
2011: The Division begins deployment from Fort Hood to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and, on May 19, assumes command of Regional Command-East.
2012: The division turns command over to the 1st Infantry Division in April and begins its return to the United States. The 1st Air Cavalry Brigade returns in June, completing the division’s split deployment.
2013: The 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team (The Black Jack Brigade) and its subordinate units deploy as part of a force rotation in Afghanistan. The units will assist with base closures and the withdrawal of forces and equipment.
1st Cavalry Division
Division Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion “Maverick”
1st Brigade Combat Team “Ironhorse”
1st Squadron, 7th Cavalry “Garryowen!”
2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry, “Lancers”
2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry, “Stallions”
1st Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery “Dragons”
Special Troops Battalion “Centurions”
115th Brigade Support Battalion “Muleskinners”
2nd Brigade Combat Team “Black Jack”
1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry “Black Knights”
1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry “Mustangs”
4th Squadron, 9th Cavalry “Darkhorse”
3rd Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery “Red Dragons”
Special Troops Battalion “Spartans”
15th Brigade Support Battalion “Gamblers”
3rd Brigade Combat Team “Greywolf”
1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry “Chargers”
3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry “Warhorse”
6th Squadron, 9th Cavalry “Sabers”
2nd Battalion 82nd Field Artillery “Steel Dragons”