Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Medium.
Army News Service
About 100 Soldiers wore prototype combat uniforms during a 21-day field exercise this summer while U.S. Army researchers collected their data. Their work will help move the mission to improve the comfort and safety of the garments Soldiers use in the future.
The Army has developed a fabric composed of 50 percent wool, 42 percent Nomex, 5 percent Kevlar and 3 percent P140 antistatic fiber. One goal of textile R&D underway is to create a flame-resistant combat uniform made wholly from domestic materials, said Carole Winterhalter, a textile technologist with the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center.
This research may provide an opportunity to meet this objective.
“We have a lightweight fabric that is inherently flame resistant. No topical treatments are added to provide FR,” Winterhalter said. “We are introducing a very environmentally friendly and sustainable fiber to the combat uniform system.
“We don’t have other wool-based fabrics in the system right now. This is a brand new material.”
Three Army researchers traveled to Germany from Aug. 26 to Sept. 15 for Exercise Combined Resolve VII to work with about 100 Soldiers in testing and evaluating prototype uniforms composed of this fabric. The scientists joined John Riedener, the Field Assistance in Science and Technology advisor assigned to 7th Army Training Command. The regular exercise brings about 3,500 participants from NATO allies to the region.
“We were in the heat of summer here, and it was very warm during the exercise,” Riedener said. “The uniforms were lighter weight and breathed better. Soldiers were very happy with the material,” Riedener said.
FAST advisors are a component of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command.
Soldiers from 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division participated in the 21-day testing and completed surveys before and after the exercise, said Brian Scott, NSRDEC equipment specialist, Soldier and Squad Optimization and Integration Team. The R&D team selected Hohenfels, Germany, because the previous FR wool undergarment evaluation took place there.
Each Soldier received three prototypes. Each uniform was made from the same wool-based blend. One was “garment treated” with permethrin, an insecticide, and another “fabric treated” with permethrin. The third was untreated.
Soldiers wore each of the three uniforms for about seven days in a field environment for a total of 21 days. The testing and survey instructions asked Soldiers not to compare the prototypes with existing uniforms or camouflage patterns. Participating Soldiers came from multiple military occupational specialties.
Their feedback regarding comfort, durability, laundering and shrinkage, insect resistance, and overall performance will help determine whether researchers continue this development effort, Winterhalter said.
Initial results suggest the majority of the Soldiers liked the fabric because it was lightweight and breathable; however, analysis of the survey data is not complete, said Shalli Sherman, NSRDEC program manager for the Office of Synchronization and Integration.
Winterhalter is optimistic about the prospect of a wool blend being incorporated into combat uniforms because of its environmental, manufacturing and economic benefits. She said the United States has about 80,000 wool growers, and the Army would like to include this material in the clothing system.
“Wool is 100 percent biodegradable. It’s easy to dye and absorbs moisture,” said Winterhalter, who is also the federal government’s chief technology officer for the Advanced Functional Fabrics of America Manufacturing Innovation Institute. “The Army has spent quite a bit of time and money to reintroduce a manufacturing process in this country called Super Wash that allows us to shrink-resist treat the wool. It’s been very successful.
“When blended with other fibers, the fabric does not shrink excessively when washed. The Super Wash line at Chargeurs in Jamestown, South Carolina, has exceeded its business estimates. It has revitalized wool manufacturing in this country. Something we initiated for the Army has resulted in economic benefits and new jobs for U.S. citizens.”
The new Super Wash process makes wool viable for combat clothing in nearly any application, including jackets, pants, underwear, headwear, gloves and socks, Winterhalter said.
NSRDEC researchers plan a larger field study with more users over a longer time period of possibly 30 days. More data on comfort and durability is needed as the Army moves forward with this R&D effort, Winterhalter said.
The U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission is to provide innovative research, development and engineering to produce capabilities that provide decisive overmatch to the Army against the complexities of the current and future operating environments in support of the joint warfighter and the nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.
It’s difficult to fathom the unbridled stamina required to be a full-time Department of Defense civilian employee, a college professor, a motivational speaker, an author and a marathon runner. But it comes easy to Gregory Q. Cheek.
That’s because the retired Soldier — and cancer survivor — considers every day a gift. He has been determined to get the most out of every sunrise since he received the grim news six years ago that Stage 3 cancer in his head and neck would likely cut his life short.
“When you don’t think you’re going to be here in a week or a month or a year, you can look at life differently,” Cheek said during a recent video interview from Stuttgart, Germany, where he works as a stability plans specialist for U.S. Army Europe. “Every day is an opportunity. I tell people to take advantage of every opportunity they have. I’ve been doing that every day since May 10, 2010.”
That was the day Cheek learned a lymph node in his neck was “hot.” Surgery and treatment for the cancer that reached his lymphatic system followed. It was an agonizing ordeal, one that after a mere two weeks left Cheek a crumpled heap on the floor of his hospital bathroom. His throat was nearly swollen shut, his already thin frame became excessively gaunt and he could barely muster the strength to lift his head over the rim of the toilet to vomit. But he had an epiphany while his face lay mashed into the cold porcelain — he had lived the life he wanted.
“It really hit me when I was laying on the floor,” said Cheek, who retired from the Army in 2005. “I was, like, ‘Man, I’ve never worked a job in my life. Life is just one big opportunity.’ I was laying there, and cancer was trying to take my life right out from underneath my feet. From that point forward I really looked at everything different. I just said, ‘I’m going to be grateful for every single day.’”
He has lived that mantra ever since. Cheek chronicled his journey from cancer survivor to budding motivational speaking star in his book, “Three Points of Contact.” It is not so much a blow-by-blow account of his ordeal through cancer. It is a road map to navigate arduous situations in life. As Cheek puts it, you’re always “entering, in the middle of, or leaving some kind of storm.” The book, which was released July 2015, outlines the 12.5-step strategy that Cheek says he has used throughout his life. And he believes young Soldiers can benefit highly from it.
That’s why he started a speaking business — something he said was a lifelong dream — and has become a regular visitor to NCO academies. Cheek said he enjoys talking to Soldiers and the conclusion of the weeks-long NCOA is the perfect time to reach out to them.
“I was a young NCO,” said Cheek, who was an enlisted member of the Air Force for four years. “I think my story resonates really well with the NCO Corps. Especially for the young specialist E-4, who is getting ready to be a sergeant E-5, who is trying to make a decision: ‘Am I going to do this for a career, do this for the rest of my life?’ The NCO academy is just a perfect time because I come in and I’m, like, ‘Look, you’re away from your family, you’re getting pumped with all this NCO stuff at this school, but let me tell you some of the advantages of being in the military.’ They hear it from someone who is now a little older and can look back.”
One of those young Soldiers is Spc. Nickie John Cate. Cate is a 68E dental specialist stationed at the Vilseck Army Health Clinic in Vilseck, Germany. He heard Cheek speak after he completed the Basic Leader Course in March. Cate, who said he joined the Army in part because he wanted a way to pay for dental school without financially burdening his parents, said he was moved by Cheek’s story because it underscored to him that his future is in his own hands.
“He has been through ups and downs,” Cate said of Cheek. “But he came to a realization that this is not the end. He is here to motivate people to find a way to improve themselves and to take opportunities that are open. My personal takeaway from his speech is that I must decide to take a leap to whichever goals or dreams I want. In his book, one of the chapters states that writing personal goals every morning will help you step-by-step to getting you where you want to be.”
As it is in his book, Cheek doesn’t focus on his battle with cancer during his talks. Rather, he tries to impart young Soldiers with his renewed appreciation for the time left ahead of them. He asks them to consider the opportunities afforded to them as servicemembers and urges them to take advantage of what they have access to.
“Even if you decide to stay in to be command sergeant major, you’re still going to have 20-something years to go do something else with your life,” Cheek said. “So use all of this time as an opportunity, to network, to go to school, to meet different people, to get different skill training, to travel, to do all those things. It’s a big time for them to have the opportunity to make a decision. But it’s also good to hear it from somebody else on the other side. I’ve had this experience in my life and I can kind of share in retrospect the things to be thankful for. I’ve enjoyed that.”
NCOs have enjoyed his lessons in turn, according to leadership of the 7th Army Noncommissioned Officer Academy of U.S. Army Europe’s Joint Multinational Training Command in Grafenwoehr, Germany. The academy has instituted a professional development initiative in which staff duty NCOs read Cheek’s book and notate lessons in the nightly log. The wisdom gleaned from those pages has had great effect on those NCOs pulling duty, said 1st Sgt. Eric D. Lowery, deputy commandant of the 7th Army NCOA.
“We have our staff duty NCOs read one or two chapters during their shift then write their assessment/thoughts on the chapters they read,” Lowery said. “The comments are amazing. I truly believe that this book has inspired a lot of our staff sergeants and sergeants first class who have read a few chapters during their tour of duty.”
Cheek said he enjoys speaking to Soldiers so much that he makes the trips to various NCOAs out of his own pocket.
“I don’t get a dime,” he said.
Cheek said he speaks to Soldiers as regularly as he can as a form of gratitude for all the military has done for him. He said he was a wayward youth, oblivious to the opportunities that existed all around him. He left home while a senior in high school and was homeless for a time until he decided to enlist in the Air Force. Cheek accomplished that, he said, by sleeping in front of the door of the recruiting office daily until a recruiter finally acquiesced and helped him enter the service.
Cheek’s first assignment was in Turkey. Being overseas was an eye-opening experience.
“I was 18 years old,” Cheek said. “I realized that I really did have all these opportunities back home that I was just letting go by.”
Cheek completed his four years in the Air Force and returned home determined to attend college armed with a message that, to this day, he shares during his speeches — “Act on life. Or life will act on you.”
Cheek earned his two-year degree from Shasta College in Redding, California, before moving on to California State University, Chico where he earned his bachelor’s degree in 1989. He entered the Army the same year as an officer. During his career, which along with deployments to the Middle East included stops at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Texas; Fort Carson, Colorado; and the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, among other stops, Cheek earned his master’s degree from the University of Northern Colorado. While at Fort Irwin, he began teaching part-time at nearby Barstow College, a position he has since returned to as an online professor. Cheek said reaching his educational and professional goals while serving was a grand accomplishment that was made possible by the Army. But it wasn’t the last time he would be rewarded for his service.
By chance, Cheek was diagnosed with cancer about a month before he was scheduled to take part in the Master Resilience Training Course. The course, taught in Pennsylvania, is one of the foundational pillars of the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program and centers on concepts in the field of positive psychology.
“After I was diagnosed, it really is a form of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder),” Cheek said. “So, I went to the course and it really helped me get ready for what I was going to go through. I had to have surgery and 13 lymph nodes taken out. Having been through the resiliency training was huge. All the simple things like being positive, visualization, eating right, meditation, exercise, all that kind of stuff that we talk about in that course that they provide for our Soldiers was huge. If I didn’t have that course that soon after was diagnosed, I don’t know what would’ve happened. So, I’m grateful for that.”
The notion of gratitude is one that Cheek cherishes. He says its power can help people who are going through tough times. It’s what spurred him to become a positive force for others. After his cancer treatment, Cheek wrote three thank-you cards. One went to his lead doctor, a second to his nurse. The third went to the receptionist at the medical office he frequented in Kansas City.
Cheek had gotten to know more about the woman during his visits. She was a single mother who was working two jobs. Cheek said she expressed her desire to go to college. In the thank-you note he crafted for her, Cheek mentioned the tenacity and resilience he noticed in her during their meetings and how she could use it to live out her dreams. According to Cheek, the woman was in tears reading his note as he exited the office.
“I knew I changed somebody’s life,” Cheek said. “I could have gotten in a car accident right then. I could’ve died the next day. But I knew I changed somebody’s life. The last couple months I just felt like cancer was beating me down, I was losing weight, I was tired, coughing up blood. That feeling I got inside, it was that moment that I felt cancer kind of stop.”
The woman eventually got her degree from the University of Kansas, affirming Cheek’s conviction to be an uplifting force for others. He started his business, which has taken him to 20 countries and has given him an audience of big names from the world of sports and industry. He took up running, finishing seven marathons during the past decade. He wrote his book, a tribute to his medical team who urged him to write it after making it to the three-year checkup he was never supposed to see. Cheek has seemingly never stopped moving since fighting what he calls, “the biggest fight of his life.” He says he keeps up his blistering pace because wherever he goes he wants to reach that one person that needs it, especially if it’s a Soldier.
“I have this thing, ‘One is greater than zero,” Cheek said. “So if it’s just one person that I can reach, one person I can talk to, if it’s the one kid that comes to me at the dining facility after I speak somewhere, that’s fine. When he says, ‘Your message really resonated with me. Can we talk for a few minutes?’ We talk, and I end up changing that person’s life. That’s what it’s all about. One is greater than zero.”
He’s done greater than that. Cheek said he has spoken in front of about 850 young Soldiers since January. He has provided each of those Soldiers with a stamped envelope and a blank thank-you card, urging them to contact someone who has helped them. Cheek said he has received many of those cards back, along with hundreds of emails from Soldiers who say they look at the Army in a new light. The feedback has emboldened Cheek to start spreading his message full time. He plans to return to the United States later this summer to focus on running his business. He also expects to complete his second book by year’s end. It will focus on the importance of education, specifically at community colleges.
But what Cheek is really looking forward to doing upon his return to the country is taking on as many speaking engagements at Army posts as he can.
“If you want me to come speak, I’ll pay my own way,” Cheek said. “I’ll send books. That’s my way of giving back. It’s that ‘greater than zero’ thing, and it will always work out.”
Until his return, Cheek said the one thing today’s NCOs should consider — something that is already being trumpeted Armywide — is education.
“Right now, for an NCO, the focus needs to be going to school,” Cheek said. “This isn’t the old days. In the old days you could be a four-star CSM the old-school way. Nowadays, you need to go to school. And you can. You can knock out an entire four-year degree all online. A lot of people say, ‘Well, I don’t need college.’ You’re right, there are some people who didn’t need college. But you have enough people telling you it’s helpful, and you’re in a place where it won’t cost you a dime. So, why are you not on this computer? Why are you not taking college classes? Why are you not taking advantage of this? One is greater than zero.”
Technical Sgt. Clinton M. Hedrick knew firsthand that victories in war sometimes came at a high cost. He learned that during one of the most iconic battles of World War II and rode that lesson to the nation’s highest military honor.
For most of the conflict, Hedrick fought with the 550th Infantry Airborne Division. In December 1944, the division was part of the Allied contingent that resisted a massive enemy force during the Battle of the Bulge, the German offensive in the Ardennes region in Belgium, France and Luxembourg on the war’s Western Front that killed 19,000 Americans. The casualties inflicted on Hedrick’s unit were so heavy that the 550th Infantry Airborne Division was disbanded, its Soldiers were parceled out to other infantry units for the remainder of the war.
Hedrick joined I Company, 194th Glider Infantry Regiment, 17th Airborne Division where he was promoted to technical sergeant, E-7. Two months after the Battle of the Bulge, the 17th AD joined the British 6th Airborne Division for Operation Varsity — the last full-scale airborne operation of the war. The two divisions supported amphibious assaults on the Rhine River as the Allies looked to gain a foothold on the North German Plain for an advance to Berlin and other northern cities.
Operation Varsity was the 194th Glider Infantry Regiment’s first glider landing. Its objective was to land north of Wesel, Germany, in a large flat area, where the Issel River and the Issel Canal merged, and seize the crossing over the Rhine River to protect the rest of the division’s right flank.
By the evening of March 24, 1945, the 194th overran the German positions, destroying 42 artillery pieces and 10 tanks. More than 1,000 enemy soldiers were captured. By March 26, the Allies massed enough forces on the German side of the Rhine to begin an eastward advance, which the 194th began the following day. Hedrick’s I Company was assigned as the assault platoon for an advance on the town of Lembeck, about 20 miles east of Wesel.
As the unit approached, it was met by intense automatic weapons fire three times from strongly defended positions. Each time, Hedrick charged through the fire, shooting his Browning Automatic Rifle from the hip, according to his Medal of Honor citation. His courageous action so galvanized his men that they quickly overran the enemy positions in rapid succession. When six German soldiers attempted a surprise flanking movement, Hedrick quickly turned and killed the entire party with a burst of fire.
The Americans’ advance continued into the following day. Eventually, they forced the enemy to withdraw across a moat into Lembeck Castle. According to the citation, Hedrick disregarded his safety and plunged across the drawbridge alone in pursuit. A German soldier, with hands upraised, declared the garrison wished to surrender. Hendrick entered the castle yard with four of his men to accept the capitulation. The group moved through a sally port, and was met by fire from a German self-propelled gun. Hedrick was mortally wounded, but he managed to fire at the enemy gun, allowing his comrades to retreat. Hedrick died while being evacuated after the castle was taken. His great personal courage and heroic leadership contributed in large measure to the speedy capture of Lembeck and provided an inspiring example to his fellow Soldiers.
Hedrick was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor on Oct. 19, 1945. His body was returned to the United States after the war. He was originally interred at the Cherry Grove Cemetery in Cherry Grove, West Virginia. His body was moved to North Fork Memorial Cemetery in Riverton, West Virginia, on Memorial Day 1991. A grand monument, which showcases his selfless actions during the war was erected at the site.
Hedrick was born May 1, 1918, in Cherry Grove. He enlisted in the Army in September 1940. His name graces the football stadium at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and a tree in the Medal of Honor Grove at Freedoms Foundation in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. In 2011, the West Virginia legislature named a section of U.S. Route 33 the Sergeant Clinton M. Hedrick and World War II Veterans Memorial Highway.
Despite the bitter cold, there was something serene about the waning winter storm system that left nearly three feet of snow on the ground a few weeks after Christmas in January 1945 northeast of Bastogne, Belgium.
The 6th Armored Division had been heavily engaged in the Siege of Bastogne as part of the storied Battle of the Bulge during World War II. When the offensive concluded Dec. 27, the “Super Sixth” began what would be a month-long process to drive the enemy back across the Our River into Germany. On Jan. 11, 1945, Staff Sgt. Archer T. Gammon was part of A Company, 9th Armored Infantry Battalion, 6th Armored Division, as the platoon began its advance through an open field near Bastogne while light snow softly glided to the ground. The crunching of the Soldiers’ boots in the deep snow provided a rhythmic cadence to the otherwise quiet winter day.
The calm was violently disrupted by the boom of a German Royal Tiger tank. The iron behemoth let loose a screaming flurry of 88mm shells on the Americans’ left flank. With it came machine-gun fire supported by riflemen. A Company’s progress was immediately halted as it scrambled to return fire.
Gammon was unfazed. He was near the front of the American advance when the engagement began. When he saw the German tank near the rear of his unit, Gammon immediately ran toward it — and into history as a recipient of the nation’s highest military honor.
Gammon scrambled quickly through the deep snow, rushing forward then crossing the width of his unit’s skirmish line to get within grenade range of the tank and the foot troops guarding it. The enemy took note of his movement as the automatic fire began humming toward his position. According to his Medal of Honor citation, Gammon was unperturbed, charging forward 30 yards and wiping out the machine-gun crew with four grenades before getting within 25 yards of the tank. With its prime cover fire eliminated, the tank and remaining riflemen began to withdraw, firing as they went. Gammon killed two more enemy soldiers, successfully putting “the ponderous machine on the defensive” as it “started to withdraw, backing a short distance, then firing, backing some more, and then stopping to blast out another round.”
Before Gammon could make one last advance at the tank, one of its rounds struck him, killing him instantly. He was 26. The tank continued to withdraw, leaving open the path for Gammon’s platoon to find safety in the woods.
Gammon was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor on Feb. 13, 1946, in part for his “intrepidity and extreme devotion to the task of driving the enemy back no matter what the odds.”
Gammon was born Sept. 11, 1918, in Chatham, Virginia. He enlisted in the Army in nearby Roanoke in March 1942. After his death, he was buried in Mountain View Cemetery in Danville, Virginia. A Boulder Victory-class cargo ship built near the end of World War II was transferred to the Army and renamed the USAT Sgt. Archer T. Gammon. It served with the Army from 1946 to 1950. In 1950, the ship was acquired by the U.S. Navy and it was decommissioned in 1973.
Joyce Horner was going through old paperwork at her home in Columbus, Georgia, shortly after her marriage to Freeman V. Horner when she came upon something surprising. It was documentation that showed her husband was a recipient of the nation’s highest military honor. Shocked, she asked her husband why he had never disclosed that he was awarded the Medal of Honor for actions during World War II. His response was, “Nothin’ to tell.”
Far from the truth.
Freeman V. Horner was a staff sergeant with K Company, 119th Infantry Regiment, 30th Infantry Division, in November 1944. The “Old Hickory” division was fresh off a victory Oct. 16 at the Battle of Aachen in which it helped the 1st Infantry Division encircle and secure the heavily fortified German city in one of the largest urban battles fought by U.S. forces in World War II. Aachen was the first city on German soil captured by the Allies. After a brief respite, the unit pushed northeast toward the Inde River.
On Nov. 16, K Company encountered resistance upon approach to the town of Würselen. Machine-gun fire began raining down on the group from houses on the edge of town. The Americans were pinned down in flat, open terrain 100 yards from their objective. As they took cover in the field, enemy artillery observers trained their fire on them and inflicted serious casualties.
Horner knew the unit would eventually be eliminated if it remained in the precarious position. That’s when he pulled off a feat that — despite his recalcitrance decades later in Georgia — would be talked about for generations to come.
Horner secured his ammunition and grenades, then sprinted toward the homes as a hail of gunfire whizzed by him, according to his Medal of Honor citation. He reached what he thought was a safe vantage point halfway to the buildings and identified two positions from which enemy fire was originating. As he pondered his next step, fire from a third machine-gun nest opened up on him. Horner coolly wheeled and killed the two gunners with a single short burst from his rifle. He then resumed his run toward the homes as bullets kicked up dirt at his feet.
Whether through fear or strategic ploy, the Germans abandoned their guns as Horner reached the building. Horner was unscathed and could hear the enemy soldiers scramble into the cellar of the home. The intrepid infantryman burst into the building and hurled two grenades down the cellar stairs. Four men emerged from the lower floor with their hands up.
Horner single-handedly neutralized three enemy machine-gun positions, killed or captured seven German soldiers and cleared the path for his company’s eventual successful assault on Würselen. For his actions, Horner was awarded the Medal of Honor on Oct. 30, 1945.
After the war Horner, who was born June 7, 1922, in Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania, briefly separated from the Army but rejoined and earned a commission through Officer Candidate School. He reached the rank of major and served in the Korean War before retiring. He married Joyce Horner after the death of his first wife, Agnes, in 1982. He rarely spoke about his actions in Germany. Not even his longtime Columbus neighbor, Robert B. Nett, a retired colonel and fellow Medal of Honor recipient, was privy to tales of Horner’s heroism. Nett told the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer in 2005 that the two “never talked shop.”
Nonetheless, Horner’s extraordinary courage was a living embodiment of the 119th Regiment’s motto — “Undaunted” — and he remains one of the most celebrated Soldiers of the now-defunct 30th ID. Horner died Dec. 1, 2005, in Columbus at the age of 83 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. A section of U.S. Route 27 in Cataula, Georgia, as well as Georgia Route 219 in Columbus was named for him.
— Compiled by Pablo Villa
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