Tag Archives: Pentagon

This Month in NCO History: Sept. 2, 2006 — Soldier goes from tragedy to triumph

For Mark Dodge, a former Army sergeant, the ninth month of the year brings forth a gamut of emotions. He has experienced tragedy in September. He has also felt the elation of a dream lived.

Dodge was in the Army from April 2000 to January 2004, assigned to the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, at Fort Myer, Va. As part of “The Old Guard,” Dodge took part in military funerals at Arlington National Cemetery and other notable ceremonies nationwide.

On Sept. 11, 2001, Dodge was at the Pentagon filing documents for a security clearance to the White House when news of the terrorist attacks unfolding in New York flashed across TV screens in the facility. But no one knew another hijacked plane, American Airlines Flight 77, was headed for the headquarters of the Department of Defense.

At 9:37 a.m., the jetliner struck the western side of the Pentagon, killing all 64 of the plane’s occupants and 125 people in the building. Dodge and the rest of The Old Guard stationed nearby at what is now Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall immediately leaped into action. Initially, Dodge helped move survivors to triage tents. After the fires in the building were extinguished, the unit was tasked with sifting through the rubble to find survivors and recover victims’ remains.

“You’d come across stuff you wish you wouldn’t, stuff you couldn’t imagine seeing,” Dodge said in 2006 of the experience.

The experience left Dodge suffering with post-traumatic stress. He eventually decided to halt his Army career and focus on goals he had previously abandoned. The first was reconciling with his estranged father, Howard Dodge, who divorced the younger Dodge’s mother, Toni Inserra, and was largely absent from his son’s life since he was an infant. Dodge did just that, beginning to build a relationship with this father before leaving the Army as an NCO in 2004.

Dodge next set his sights on college, but he didn’t want to enroll at a university simply to be a student. He wanted to play football for a top-tier school.

In high school, Dodge had been an all-state wide receiver in Nevada. He joined the Army after he didn’t receive an offer to play college football. But even though six years had passed since he last set foot on a field in competition, Dodge was not discouraged. He added 20 pounds to his 6-foot-2-inch frame that tipped the scales at 200 during his Army career, and he went on a strict diet. He wrote several schools, but did not hear back from any of them.

Undeterred, Dodge enrolled at Feather River Community College in Quincy, Calif. The Golden Eagles play in the Golden Valley Conference of the California Community College Athletic Association. In the fall of 2004, at the age of 23, Dodge started at inside linebacker. His ability to chase down ball carriers received the attention of several Division I programs. In 2006, Dodge accepted a scholarship offer from Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, citing the school’s rich military traditions as a big reason for his decision.

On Sept. 2, 2006, nearly five years since the attacks that left an indelible mark on his psyche, Dodge had something of a cathartic moment.

In front of more than 70,000 fans at the Aggies’ Kyle Field against The Citadel, Dodge saw his first action as a Division I college football player with 2:57 left in the 1st quarter. On his first play, Dodge displayed the same strength and fortitude that helped him succeed in the Army. From his inside linebacker position, Dodge followed a sweep play to his right, blew past a blocker and tackled a Citadel running back for a loss. One play later, Dodge forced a fumble that his Aggies recovered to spur a 35-3 blowout win.

“This is more fun than I can ever dream of,” Dodge said after the game. “One bad day here is a lot better than a very good day overseas.”

Dodge won the starting position the following week. He played linebacker for two seasons for Texas A&M and finished his Aggie career with 168 tackles, two interceptions and two forced fumbles. In 2007, he received honorable mention on the All-Big 12 team.

Today, Dodge lives in San Antonio with his wife and son.

— Compiled by Pablo Villa

Medal of Honor recipient Ryan Pitts inducted into Hall of Heroes

Army News Service

Former Staff Sgt. Ryan Pitts was inducted into the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes yesterday, the day after receiving the Medal of Honor from President Barack Obama, for his bravery in combat at Vehicle Patrol Base Kahler, in Kunar Province, Afghanistan, July 13, 2008.

“While the Medal of Honor is awarded to an individual, it is anything but an individual achievement. It is ours, not mine,” said Pitts. “I will wear it for everyone there that day, especially for those we couldn’t bring home.”

Pitts began his acceptance speech with a quote from Steven Pressfield’s book “The Afghan Campaign,” which he felt best embodied the dedication of his fellow Soldiers: “Of one thing I am certain. I will die before I let harm come to him. The shaft that impales him must first pass through my flesh.”

The greatest men in military personified this passage: Men who placed themselves between their brothers and the enemy in order to protect and defend them, Pitts said.

“It was the men to our left and right that compelled us to fight with everything we had. There was an absolute duty to be your brother’s keeper. A sentiment that I think we all shared,” he said.

Pitts served with 2nd Platoon, Chosen Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade.

On the morning of July 13, at about 4 a.m., Pitts was manning Observation Post Topside, which was positioned east of the main base, and east of a bazaar and hotel complex in Wanat.

Soldiers identified potential insurgents. They put together a request for fire. But before approval, Soldiers heard an eruption of enemy fire.

They were hit with small arms fire, rocket-propelled grenades and hand grenades. Pitts and six other paratroopers were injured in the initial volley of enemy fire. Two paratroopers were killed. Pitts took grenade shrapnel in both legs and his left arm.

For more than an hour after, Pitts continued to fight and defend his position and his teammates, despite his injuries.

“I have thought about [those Soldiers] and their sacrifices every day. I will for the rest of my life and I am not alone. You raised, molded and loved incredible men. Many of the men present in this room are here because of their actions, actions that changed the course of history for us, actions that gave the rest of us a second chance,” Pitts said.

“My son Lucas exists because of them, as do many other men’s children,” he added. “I promise that my son will grow up appreciating the actions of these men he never knew.”

Those men were the nine who didn’t return home: Spc. Sergio Abad, Cpl. Jonathan Ayers, Cpl. Jason Bogar, 1st Lt. Jonathan Brostrom, Sgt. Israel Garcia, Cpl. Jason Hovater, Cpl. Matthew Phillips, Cpl. Pruitt Rainey and Cpl. Gunnar Zwilling.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno then recounted some of the events that day.

“Staff Sgt. Pitts’ incredible physical and mental toughness, his determination and resilience, his ability to communicate with leadership while under heavy fire allowed U.S. forces to hold the OP, which turned the tide of battle,” he said.

Without Pitts’ efforts, the enemy would have gained a foothold on high ground and inflicted significantly greater casualties onto the vehicle patrol base, and the enemy could have been in possession of the fallen Soldiers at the observation post, Odierno concluded.

Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh also spoke:

“These men were committed to one another; they were committed to their uncommon lives and equally their common challenge,” he said. “And just like any true family, love and trust laid at the heart of it all.

“Now it might seem odd to some to speak of love and trust when recounting the brave and bold actions of such rough and tumble warriors. But, make no mistake, their love for each other was real,” McHugh continued. “Even, as it was, in the midst of indescribable chaos.

“To be sure, on the day of the Wanat attack, Ryan Pitts was wearing the KIA bracelet bearing the name of Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Kahler, as you heard, a platoon sergeant of 2nd platoon, who had died just months earlier. Ryan unabashedly said that Kahler ‘loved his Soldiers. Each and every one of them, [he] loved them like they were his own kids.’ Of that I have no doubt,” said McHugh.

“At the height of the Battle of Wanat, (Spc. Michael) Denton and three other Soldiers scrambled up the bullet-rocked terraces of OP Topside to reinforce the position where, as the chief told you, Ryan had been alone, fighting off the enemy single handedly,” McHugh said. “Ryan had no idea the four were coming.”

The scene was awful, Denton later recalled. He found the body of his “best bud,” Spc. Jason Hovater, lying there, lifeless.

“I took ammo from Hovater’s body, and told him I loved him,” Denton said.

Denton then went on to man a machine gun.

Moments later, after another barrage of RPGs tore into the OP, wounding all five of the men, Sgt. Israel Garcia lie mortally wounded. Ryan pulled his close friend to him, his brother. And knowing there was nothing he could do for him, he just laid there and held his hand.

“We just talked for a while,” Ryan said. “He told me he wanted me to tell his mom and wife that he loved them.” Pitts later honored that commitment.

“So, through all of the chaos, through all of the destruction, we can clearly see that love, even in the face of such tragedy, bonds these men and their families,” McHugh said. “And believe it or not, just as it is on the home front, love and trust are the foundations of this incredible professional American Army.

“Not surprisingly, today’s Soldiers trust each other, they trust the Army and those who fill its ranks, and they also understand the moral dimensions of war,” he said. “I’ve heard the chief speak often about the issue of trust. It’s the backbone of our professional Army. It’s what defines our profession of arms.

“Ryan has said he trusted everyone around him,” McHugh said. “That he’d follow his officers anywhere. That he knew help would come, if humanly possible. He knew it, because he knew he would do the same. He trusted the skills of the Apache helicopter pilots who flew and fired danger close to his embattled position.

“Love and trust abounds in this Army amongst the men in women who wear the uniform. And we have men like the “Chosen Few” truly to thank for it,” the secretary concluded.

Former Staff Sgt. Ryan M. Pitts, Medal of Honor recipient, is inducted into the Hall of Heroes during a Pentagon ceremony July 22, 2014. (Photo by Lillian Boyd)
Former Staff Sgt. Ryan M. Pitts, Medal of Honor recipient, is inducted into the Hall of Heroes during a Pentagon ceremony July 22, 2014. (Photo by Lillian Boyd)

Army to stand up new Resiliency Directorate

Army News Service

WASHINGTON — Army leaders announced Oct. 21 that a new directorate would be established in the Pentagon under the Army’s G-1.

The Resiliency Directorate will be stood up Nov. 4, said Lt. Gen. Howard B. Bromberg, deputy chief of staff, G-1, speaking during a panel at the Association of the United States Army Annual Meeting and Exposition.

The panel discussed the service’s Ready and Resilient Campaign, and Bromberg said the new directorate will be responsible for leading a cultural change Army-wide.

Bromberg said one of the challenges the Army faces in the upcoming years is force readiness in the face of downsizing and budget constraints.

“So, how do you maximize your readiness? Well, you maximize equipment by maintaining your equipment, or you can maximize your people also, by keeping them in resiliency training,” he said.

The G-1’s goal is to take resiliency concepts and translate them into something commanders can do and touch, he explained, emphasizing the long-term effort that will be involved in a cultural shift toward resiliency.

The G-1 has already reorganized, Bromberg said, adding that the new Resiliency Directorate is being established with no overall growth in personnel.

“The responsibility of the directorate will be to be the synchronizer and the driver and energy at the department level for making resiliency the cultural change across the Army.”

The Army is now in phase one of that change, Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. John F. Campbell said, asking non-commissioned officers to lead the change at the ground level.

“After more than a decade of fighting both in Iraq and Afghanistan — really it’s the longest conflict our nation has been involved in — we have to have the ability to rehabilitate, reset and reshape the force,” Campbell said.

Campbell said he wants to take the lessons learned about resiliency over the past few years and apply them to help Soldiers, families and civilians.

Lt. Gen. Patricia D. Horoho, the Army’s surgeon general, discussed key points for bringing resiliency to Soldiers. The first is to ensure support systems are delivered to where Soldiers are, and to do that, the medical community is nesting their support within the larger Army community, so everyone is working together to improve the readiness and resilience of Soldiers and family members.

“The second point that I’d like to make is that it really is meeting people where they need to be met. So, it’s the synchronization of those programs and capabilities, and it’s making sure that we don’t wait for them to come to us, that we try to do that outreach,” she said. Horoho added that it’s important to make sure the programs being presented to Soldiers are the right programs, the ones that will do the most good.

Campbell acknowledged that as the Army entered the fiscal year, new budgetary challenges would appear, limiting resources for resiliency training. He said that senior leaders will be faced with tough decisions, and will need to assess risk and prioritize programs, but he hopes non-commissioned officers and leaders out in the field will provide candid feedback so those decisions are the right ones.

“We can’t afford to be redundant. We have to take the right resources and make sure we get the biggest bang for our buck on all of our posts, camps or stations to take care of our Soldiers and our families and our civilians,” Campbell said.


Army’s Best Warrior Competition postponed due to budget battle in Washington, D.C.

U.S. Army News Service

The budget standoff in the nation’s capital has stalled the Department of the Army Best Warrior Competition, which had been set to take place beginning Oct. 15 at Fort Lee, Va.

Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III announced Tuesday that the event will be postponed until a yet-to-be-determined date due to the current constraints on spending for temporary duty trips.

“I appreciate the continued commitment and flexibility of all agencies and commands involved in Best Warrior,” Chandler said in a message to the Army’s most senior non-commissioned officers yesterday. “I’ve told many of you that this year’s competition will test our agile and adaptive warriors with a compressed timeline and a few surprises, so this date change adds yet another unexpected level of challenge.”

The first phase of the 12th annual Best Warrior Competition was set to begin Sunday, with the arrival of competitors from overseas locations. The remainder of those competing — 24 in all, representing 12 major commands — would have reported Monday.

Command Sgt. Maj. James K. Sims, Combined Arms Support Command, was appointed by Chandler to oversee all preparations for this year’s competition. Sims said he was glad to hear that the government shutdown did not cancel the event.

“Every one of the competitors earned the right to make the trip to Best Warrior,” he said. “Over the past year, they competed at company, battalion, brigade and major Army command levels to secure a spot in the competition. Their commands are basically saying ‘these are the Soldiers we selected to represent us.’ That’s why we refer to them as the ‘best of the best.'”

What specific challenges the competitors will eventually face during this year’s competition is a well-kept secret. Event planners from Fort Lee and the Pentagon have squelched that information, saying it “adds to the intensity of the competition and prevents any unfair advantages among participants.”

They only say it will include an Army Physical Fitness Test, a written exam and graded essay on general military topics, weapons qualification, a land navigation course, warrior tasks and battle drills, a mystery event, and a Soldier and NCO selection board comprised of Chandler and six senior command sergeants major from across the Army.

“A big change this year is the timeline,” Sims said. “It will be shorter in length, which reduced our overall cost by 70 percent compared to previous competitions. We also rearranged the traditional order of events. Aside from that, it will feature the same successive and unexpected challenges that make it a complex, real-world-orientated competition.

“Our strategy was to base all aspects of the competition on the challenges faced while deployed. That was the SMA’s vision.” Sims said. “In combat, our Soldiers face situations where there may not be a true right or wrong decision, as each option has its own set of consequences. Weighing those options and consequences takes well-developed critical thinking skills — skills that will be necessary to find success in this year’s Army Best Warrior Competition.”

The schedule for this year’s event also includes an unprecedented end-of-event ceremony where the winning competitors will be announced at Fort Lee and through streaming video. In previous years, the awards presentation took place in Washington, D.C.

“For us, it adds another level of excitement,” Sims noted. “The place where they fought for the title is the same as where two will be crowned as the NCO and Soldier of the Year.”

Speaking on behalf of the Fort Lee planning cell, Sims said his team is unfazed by the decision to postpone the competition. The mission has not changed, he noted.

“Whether this happens a couple of weeks or a couple of months later, CASCOM and Fort Lee remain ready to support the event and its competitors just like it has done for the past 11 years,” he said. “The Soldiers on our team are true game-changers in their level of commitment to excellence and getting the mission done whatever it takes. This competition has been under constant development and refinement since January, resulting in the intended world-class competition that will showcase the talents of the best warriors in the world.”

Chandler echoed that sentiment.

“My sincere thanks goes out to everyone who worked to plan this year’s competition,” he said. “Whether you’re assigned to Fort Lee or other nearby commands, I know you have studied, practiced and prepared to be part of the cadre and support staff that will make this event a success very soon. I appreciate your commitment — and your flexibility.”

Sgt. Maj. of the Army Ray Chandler, left, discusses Best Warrior competition plans last month on a Fort Lee, Va., range with Sgt. Justin Morataya, center, and Sgt. Moises Alfaro. (Photo by Army News Service)

Sgt. Maj. of the Army Ray Chandler, left, discusses Best Warrior Competition plans last month on a Fort Lee, Va., range with Sgt. Justin Morataya, center, and Sgt. Moises Alfaro. (Photo by Army News Service)

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NCO, Medal of Honor recipient inducted into Pentagon Hall of Heroes

Army News Service

Staff Sgt. Ty Michael Carter, the most recent Medal of Honor recipient from Operation Enduring Freedom, was inducted into the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes last week just a day after he received the nation’s highest military honor.

Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. John F. Campbell said Carter is a reminder to all of America that there are “modern day heroes who live and walk among us.”

In attendance at the ceremony were some of the Soldiers who fought alongside Carter during the Oct. 3, 2009, battle in Afghanistan, families of Soldiers who died in that battle, and four Medal of Honor recipients. Also in attendance were senior leaders of the U.S. military, including Under Secretary of the Army Joseph W. Westphal, Ph.D., Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III, and Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter.

By honoring Carter, Campbell said, the nation is also honoring those who fought alongside him that day at the remote Combat Outpost Keating. Eight Soldiers died that day in a battle that
raged for more than 12 hours.

“He elevated the needs of his team and nation above his own safety,” Campbell said of Carter’s actions that day. “His great humility, and love for his fellow Soldiers are the hallmark of a true hero.”

Carter was among 53 Soldiers at COP Keating, located deep in a valley surrounded by towering mountains in the Kamdesh District, Nuristan Province of Afghanistan. The base was attacked by an estimated 300 Taliban fighters.

The then-specialist sprinted through a “barrage of fire” to resupply ammunition and fight alongside his “desperately outnumbered comrades,” Campbell said.

Carter rescued a wounded Soldier, rendered first aid and carried him to safety. He moved through “withering fire” to check on fellow Soldiers and secure a radio that later proved critical to saving the team, Campbell said.

“He fought fiercely and inspired those around him throughout the battle that brutal day of combat,” Campbell said. “Sergeant Carter’s gallant actions were those of a man, a Soldier, who was physically and mentally strong and well-prepared for combat.”

Carter said the brave men of Bravo “Black Knight” Troop 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, “quickly felt the weight of a Taliban force seven-to-eight times our size.”

“None of us should have survived,” he said. “Though the Taliban have every tactical advantage, what they could never have is the pure untainted sense of brotherhood that the men and women of
America’s Army feel for their battle buddies.”

There is simply no stronger bond then that of a group of Soldiers facing the impossible, Carter said.

“But [we] were determined not to give up, if only to ensure the safety of others. It’s stronger than blood,” he said.

Carter remembered his fallen comrades and, choking up as he spoke, said one of the biggest regrets of his life was that he could not do more for Spc. Stephan Mace, who he brought to safety but who later died.

Carter said more than half of the Soldiers at COP Keating were wounded and “almost everyone was left with deep, invisible wounds to their hearts and minds.”

“These are the unlikely heroes of Combat Outpost Keating, brave men, brothers and Soldiers for life,” he said.

Carter, who has been public about his struggle with post-traumatic stress, has a sense of purpose that will drive him to help others who have suffered the wounds of war, Westphal said.

“It takes the same courage that you showed on that day of battle to seek ways to heal,” Westphal said. “Leadership, loyalty, character are abundant in you. The love and companionship of your family will strengthen and heal you. Your fellow Soldiers will need you and you will need them.”

Family members of the fallen team members were recognized at the event. Campbell read the names of each of those who died in the battle: Staff Sgt. Justin Gallegos, Sgt. Christopher Griffin, Sgt. Joshua
Hardt, Sgt. Joshua Kirk, Spc. Stephan Mace, Staff Sgt. Vernon Martin, Sgt. Michael Scusa, and Pfc. Kevin Thomson.

Also remembered at the ceremony was Pvt. Edward Faulkner, who died after returning from Afghanistan “during a difficult struggle with post-traumatic stress,” Campbell said.

The 33-year-old Carter, who had his wife, their three children and other family members at the event, was honored at the White House, Aug. 26.

He is the second Soldier to receive the nation’s highest military decoration for actions that day at COP Keating. Former Staff Sgt. Clinton Romesha was presented the Medal of Honor on Feb. 11, 2013.

The Pentagon Hall of Heroes is a special room in the Defense Department headquarters that has enshrined all the service members who have received the Medal of Honor.

The hall is “hallowed ground” inside the Pentagon “to memorialize our nation’s warriors who have demonstrated conspicuous gallantry above and beyond the call of duty,” Campbell said.

Staff Sgt. Ty Michael Carter and his wife, Shannon, hold the Medal of Honor flag after being presented with it during his induction ceremony Aug. 27 into the Hall of Heroes at the Pentagon. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Bernardo Fuller)
Staff Sgt. Ty Michael Carter and his wife, Shannon, hold the Medal of Honor flag after being presented with it during his induction ceremony Aug. 27 into the Hall of Heroes at the Pentagon. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Bernardo Fuller)