Tag Archives: New Mexico

This Month in NCO History: Aug. 12, 1881 — Buffalo Soldier repels Apache attacks

1st Sgt. George Jordan was a Buffalo Soldier, part of the famed group of African-American men who served after the Civil War and into the 20th century.

As such, Jordan was not immune to the inequality faced by veterans of the segregated regiments. After his days in the Army, he struggled to find help when his health declined dramatically, being denied admission to the hospital at the now-defunct Fort Robinson in northwest Nebraska.

But on the battlefield, Jordan had few equals. His tenacity and bravery while part of the 9th Cavalry were unmatched. These attributes helped him learn to read and write after growing up illiterate. They helped him earn his sergeant stripes. And they helped him become worthy of the nation’s highest military honor.

Jordan was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1890 for his actions during the Apache Wars. The conflicts between the U.S. Army and the Apache nations were fought in the Southwest between 1849 and 1886. Jordan became a sergeant with K Troop, 9th Cavalry in 1879. At the time, the unit was stationed at Fort Stockton, Texas, and charged with maintaining order between the Rio Grande and Concho River from Fort Clark to El Paso.

In May 1880, Jordan led a 25-man detachment into the New Mexico Military District to protect Fort Tularosa from potential attack. The fort was near the present-day town of Aragon in Catron County, New Mexico. On May 13, Jordan received word that Apaches led by Chief Victorio were laying siege to the town. Jordan implored his troops to reach the area quickly through a forced march. On the morning of May 14, the detachment arrived at Fort Tularosa, finding the town intact. Jordan immediately had his troops build a new fort to protect the townspeople and a new stockade for their animals.

That evening, about 100 of Victorio’s men attacked, sending the townspeople scurrying under volleys of arrows. The town’s occupants found safety inside the newly built fort as the Buffalo Soldiers kept their attackers at bay. The Apaches staggered their attacks against the fort but Jordan successfully reorganized and mustered his men to repel each wave. His Soldiers even made a daring rescue to save all of the town’s cattle. The Apaches eventually relented after suffering several casualties. Jordan didn’t lose a man.

Protecting the town was an impressive feat, but it was what Jordan did 15 months later that cemented his place in the annals of Army history.

Jordan was one of 19 9th Cavalry troops actively pursuing Nana, a Warm Springs Apache chief who had ravaged areas of Texas, Mexico and New Mexico. The Soldiers were led by Capt. Charles Parker and had tracked Nana and his band of Navajos and Chiricahua Apaches into Carrizo Canyon. The canyon lay south of present-day Carrizozo Spring, New Mexico. Though not daunting in size, the outcropping was a treacherous place to come upon as it provided many high, hidden vantage points for an entrenched contingent to fire upon approaching enemies.

It is unclear how many enemy combatants the Buffalo Soldiers faced when they arrived at the canyon Aug. 12, 1881. Parker’s after-action report estimates that the opposing force had 40 guns. The Americans were easily outnumbered but would need to find a way through the canyon to continue the southward pursuit of Nana. That’s when Parker leaned on the battle-tested Jordan. The Buffalo Soldier was charged with taking a few men to head up the right flank along the gradual slope of the canyon to lay down suppressing fire along the opposite slopes as the rest of the group moved through. But the day didn’t go as planned. During their trek through the underbrush, Parker’s group came under fire from the slopes opposite Jordan. Jordan’s group returned fire from the other side, intermittently making the enemy retreat into the surrounding forest only to see them return further up the path to again cut off Parker’s progress.

While Parker was pinned down, the danger intensified for Jordan and his small detachment up above. They encountered hostile forces that had been posted on their side of the crest who had flanked them from the right. Parker rallied his men, positioning them so they were able to stave off their attackers in close combat while also periodically firing across the canyon at enemy forces that were shooting into the canyon below.

It is unknown how long Jordan and his men remained in this position, but his citation states, “he stubbornly held his ground in an extremely exposed position and gallantly forced back a much superior number of the enemy, preventing them from surrounding the command.” The desperate courage of Jordan allowed the unit to retreat back to Carrizozo Spring. The Americans lost one Soldier while inflicting four enemy casualties.

For his actions at Carrizo Canyon as well as Fort Tularosa, Jordan was awarded the Medal of Honor on May 7, 1890. Another NCO present at Carrizo Canyon, 1st Sgt. Thomas Shaw, also received the Medal of Honor later that year for actions during the battle.

Jordan left the Army in 1897. He originally joined in 1880 in Nashville, Tennessee. By the end of his service he had spent a decade as first sergeant of a troop renowned for its efforts against the Apache and Sioux. Jordan lived among other Buffalo Soldier veterans in Crawford, Nebraska, became a successful land owner and made headway in earning the right to vote.

Jordan became ill in the fall of 1904. He was turned away from Fort Robinson’s hospital and told to travel to Washington, D.C., to gain admission to the United States Soldiers’ Home. He never made the trip, as he died Oct. 24. Jordan was buried in Fort McPherson National Cemetery in Maxwell, Nebraska.

— Compiled by Pablo Villa

 

SMA, international senior enlisted leaders tour U.S.-Mexico border

By MEGHAN PORTILLO
NCO Journal

Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel Dailey and senior enlisted leaders from around the world toured the U.S-Mexico border on Wednesday as part of the International Training and Leader Development Symposium at Fort Bliss, Texas.

The soldiers, representing about 55 countries, visited the border crossing between Sunland Park, New Mexico, and Rancho Anapra, Mexico. Border Patrol agents gave the group a 30-minute presentation, then answered questions. Topics discussed included the basics of the job, the terrain Border Patrol agents face, the technology they use, their tracking abilities and the prosecution process for individuals caught crossing illegally.

The tour ended at the National Border Patrol museum in El Paso, Texas, where the soldiers learned about the early days of the Border Patrol. A helicopter and old patrol vehicles were found on one side of the museum, while the other displayed flying crafts, carts, motorcycles and hand-made boats utilized by undocumented immigrants. Soldiers also perused through weapons exhibits, displays showing the changes in the Border Patrol uniform and a room dedicated to agents who lost their lives in the line of duty.

(Photos by Meghan Portillo / NCO Journal)

NCOs learn to survive and conquer in new Desert Warrior course

By MEGHAN PORTILLO
NCO Journal
Staff Sgt. Cory Ragin, an instructor for the new Desert Warrior course at Fort Bliss, Texas, rucks behind his squad during a field exercise. (Photo by Meghan Portillo/NCO Journal)
Staff Sgt. Cory Ragin, an instructor for the new Desert Warrior course at Fort Bliss, Texas, rucks behind his squad during a field exercise. (Photo by Meghan Portillo/NCO Journal)

Their boots sank into the beach-like sand and sweat dripped down their necks as they rucked under the sweltering sun. With throbbing heads and parched throats, “I’m black on water,” was the phrase nobody wanted to hear.

The 50 NCOs training in the desert heat were not in Iraq or Afghanistan. They were testing their limits during the pilot of the new Desert Warrior course from July 1-23 at Fort Bliss, Texas.

The new three-week course spearheaded by the 1st Armored Division’s Iron Training Detachment is taught by NCO instructors and open to small unit leaders – squad leaders, team leaders and junior enlisted who are in team-leader positions. The course focuses on survival skills and small-unit tactics in a desert environment, and though it takes inspiration from the Jungle Warfare course in Hawaii, the Northern Warfare Training Center in Alaska and the Army Reconnaissance course in Georgia, it is the only one of its kind within the Army. Desert combat skills have not been taught in an Army school since 1995, the last year Ranger School included a desert phase. For now, the course at Fort Bliss is only for Soldiers on the installation, but the cadre hope it will be adopted Armywide within the next few years.

The course creators had two months to prepare for the pilot, and the cadre were made aware of their new assignment merely three weeks before the students arrived. Even with the short notice, however, both students and instructors considered the course a success.

“I was excited about coming here,” said Sgt. 1st Class Dionicio Zarrabal, the NCO in charge of the course. “I’ve never done anything like this. I’ve been an instructor in the past, but it was already put together. So, this was completely different. I was very much out of my comfort zone, because I was creating something from nothing.”

The hiccups encountered during the first course taught the cadre what they need to improve for the next cycle, Zarrabal said.

“Who knows where this course is going to go? We are still adjusting a lot of things, and there are a lot of lessons learned from this cycle, but overall it has the potential to be much bigger. Wherever it goes, at least we can say we were a part of it.”

Three phases bring on the heat

The course was divided into three parts. During the first week, students found themselves in a classroom setting. Lessons covered combat tracking, counter improvised explosive device tactics, advanced land navigation and other survival skills. They evaluated troop-leading procedures, formations and battle drills, in addition to studying the history of desert warfare and how characteristics of desert environments around the world affect Soldier operations, Zarrabal said.

Students of the new Desert Warrior course observe a tarantula during a brief on Chihuahuan animal and plant life June 4 at Fort Bliss, Texas. (Photo by Sgt. Marcus Fichtl/U.S. Army)
Students of the new Desert Warrior course observe a tarantula during a brief on Chihuahuan animal and plant life June 4 at Fort Bliss, Texas. (Photo by Sgt. Marcus Fichtl/U.S. Army)

They also studied the desert wildlife they may encounter, including rattlesnakes, cobras, vipers, scorpions, tarantulas, coyotes, camels, big cats and antelope. A civilian from the West Texas Poison Center even brought out a “petting zoo” of the many snakes and other animals native to the Chihuahuan desert to give the students an idea of what was waiting for them in the field.

During week two, the students spent five days in the desert and mountainous terrain spanning West Texas and southern New Mexico. The students were divided into four squads, and each was dropped by helicopter into different landing zones, accompanied by an instructor. They were required to determine their location by analyzing the maps and surrounding terrain, then conduct reconnaissance missions and react to ambushes as they maneuvered to a specified terrain feature.

“A lot of times when you go to do land navigation, you are given a compass, a protractor and a map. You are given a score card and are told to plot your points – walk from point 1 to point 2 and so on,” Zarrabal said. “It’s not realistic. Not at all. In a deployed environment, you would pinpoint where you are on the map, and from there you would move to a terrain feature if you were on foot.”

At first, the students were asked to maneuver roughly 200 meters at a time. By the end of the week, they were traveling 8 or 9 kilometers per day. They could request a resupply each day and meet at a link-up spot every 12 hours or so to collect water, food and other items.

While in the field with their cadre, each squad practiced combat tracking and learned how to use the environment to their advantage.

“Without the vegetation, it is much harder to cover and conceal yourself,” Zarrabal said. “Whether it is a slope, a mountain, you have to minimize your movement and get creative with using the terrain to your benefit.”

Rucking long distances with a limited water supply was the biggest challenge of the course for many of the students, as most came from mechanized units.

“It’s been awhile since I’ve been in the mountains and dismounted,” said Sgt. Cody Vance of A Troop, 1st Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division. “So that kind of took me by surprise – the actual up and down that we had to do, and then having to really learn how to conserve my water while we were out there until we could get the resupply.”

After successfully taking control of an enemy bunker, a squad of students in the Desert Warrior course defend their position during a live-fire exercise June 22 at Fort Bliss, Texas. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Marshall Mason/U.S. Army)
After successfully taking control of an enemy bunker, a squad of students in the Desert Warrior course defend their position during a live-fire exercise June 22 at Fort Bliss, Texas. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Marshall Mason/U.S. Army)

The third week was dedicated to live-fire training. Students began with a “familiarization fire,” Zarrabal explained. Each student fired all available weapon systems.

“Unfortunately, some of these students haven’t fired some of the different weapon systems in months or years,” Zarrabal said. “So prior to going into live fire, we want to make sure that they get familiar with the weapon systems again before we move on.”

In the next step, students moved through Situational Training Exercise lanes, reacting to targets they encountered. Because of safety requirements, targets could not be moved once they were set. This took away the element of surprise, but Zarrabal and the other cadre still considered the live-fire training a vital part of the course.

“Unfortunately, once the students run through a lane the first time, they know where all of the targets are going to be. But we included this portion of the course because it is important to know how to maneuver when you actually have live bullets going downrange.”

In each phase, the cadre helped the students hone their basic skills as well as their leadership skills, said Staff Sgt. Michael Oshiro, an instructor for the course. Both cadre and students said the course is especially valuable for young NCOs and those new to team leading positions.

“I think this course is important, because it refreshes the basics and gives them something to take back to their units and instruct their Soldiers, making us more proficient in our basic tasks,” Oshiro said.

Plans for desert survival

When students were asked how the course could be improved, everyone said they had hoped for more lessons on desert survival.

Spc. Riley Ladd of 4th Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team (Stryker), 1st Armored Division takes a break to drink water while on a field exercise during the new Desert Warrior course at Fort Bliss, Texas. (Photo by Meghan Portillo/NCO Journal)
Spc. Riley Ladd of 4th Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team (Stryker), 1st Armored Division takes a break to drink water while on a field exercise during the new Desert Warrior course at Fort Bliss, Texas. (Photo by Meghan Portillo/NCO Journal)

With such a short time for preparation and instructor training, many lessons such as how to find water and how to trap and safely cook food were left out of the curriculum. But there are plans to include those survival skills in future cycles of the course, Zarrabal said.

Oshiro will be the primary instructor for the desert survival portion. During the second week of the pilot, he taught his squad how to eat the nopal and prickly-pear parts of the cactus, as well as to cut the plant open at the stalk to find water. Oshiro’s skills are limited, though, and he said he hopes to attend a level C Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) course – an Air Force program extended during the Vietnam War to the Army, Navy and Marine Corps. The skills he would acquire there would help him add to the curriculum and train the cadre.

“In the September course, I’m hoping to include more on snare traps, plant life, making fire and shelter, as well as a medical portion,” Oshiro said. “Those lessons will be incorporated into the curriculum to benefit all of the students – not just my squad.”

Because of disease concerns, students in the next cycle of the course will not be expected to eat any wild animals, Oshiro said, but there are plenty out there to practice trapping. Cadre reported seeing rattlesnakes, rabbits, scorpions and even an Oryx.

Staff Sgt. Cory Ragin, an instructor for the course, said he was completely surprised by how many wild animals he and his squad encountered.

“I came about three steps from a rattlesnake,” Ragin said. “He gave me one quick rattle and pulled his head back in strike position. I turned around and ran the other direction until I remembered the students were watching me and I regained my composure. And the rabbits… I told my wife one of these rabbits may drag you away and eat you. They are so huge. A lot of people think of the desert as being empty and lifeless, but there is a lot of life out there.”

Making improvements

The addition of desert survival content is just one of the many improvements planned for the course. The instructors are undergoing extensive training, so that all are experts on the material being taught. The schedule will be more streamlined, and Zarrabal said they are considering adding reconnaissance, ambush, combat-tracking and desert-survival lanes to the tasks required of the students during week two.

Sgt. Brendan Pinkham, assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, finishes his last land navigation point June 5 during the new Desert Warrior course at Fort Bliss, Texas. (Photo by Sgt. Marcus Fichtl/U.S. Army)
Sgt. Brendan Pinkham, assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, finishes his last land navigation point June 5 during the new Desert Warrior course at Fort Bliss, Texas. (Photo by Sgt. Marcus Fichtl/U.S. Army)

“As instructors, we are constantly thinking of what we can do to improve for the next cycle,” Ragin said. “What do we need to do so that somebody from Fort Bragg, N.C., will want to come to Fort Bliss for four weeks to get that training? What do we have to do for that to happen? We are constantly thinking about that.”

One cycle of the course will be offered each quarter, with the next set to begin Sept. 7. That gives the cadre about two and a half months to prepare. Zarrabal said he is confident it is more than enough time to make significant improvements before the new students arrive, as it is more time than they had to create the course.

“Having a limited time for preparation is not necessarily a bad thing,” Zarrabal said. “Even if the course doesn’t go as planned, at least we have all of those lessons learned, and we can apply them almost immediately. Had they given us six or seven months to prepare and it still wasn’t what they wanted, that time was wasted.

“I have no doubt that this course is going to get better. Once we get more feedback and get more efficient with how we present the material, I actually think this course is going to be really, really good.”

Students of the new Desert Warrior course ruck through the Chihuahuan desert at Fort Bliss, Texas. (Photo by Meghan Portillo/NCO Journal)
Students of the new Desert Warrior course ruck through the Chihuahuan desert at Fort Bliss, Texas. (Photo by Meghan Portillo/NCO Journal)