This Month in NCO History: The Meuse-Argonne Offensive — Oct. 12, 1918

Sgt. Samuel Woodfill was once referred to as “the greatest American Soldier of the World War” by the celebrated Gen. John J. Pershing.

Woodfill earned the high praise for actions during an Allied offensive in Cunel, France, which also resulted in him being awarded the Medal of Honor. The Meuse-Argonne Offensive was fought from Sept. 26, 1918, until the armistice on Nov. 11, 1918. It stretched along the Western Front during World War I and was the largest frontline commitment of Soldiers by the U.S. Army during the war.  Its objective was to push through enemy lines and capture a railroad station in Sedan, France, to cut off a vital German supply route.

On Oct. 12, according to his Medal of Honor citation, Woodfill was leading his company through a dense fog towards the village of Cunel when it came under heavy fire. Then a lieutenant, Woodfill set out ahead of his line with two Soldiers trailing and located a German machine gun nest. Woodfill successfully flanked the nest and eliminated three of its four occupants with his rifle. The fourth occupant charged Woodfill. After a hand-to-hand struggle, Woodfill killed the enemy with his pistol.

The company continued its advance when it came under fire again. Woodfill once again rushed ahead. Despite being hindered by the effects of mustard gas, Woodfill shot several of the enemy while taking three others prisoner. Minutes later, Woodfill rushed a third machine gun pit and killed five men with his rifle before jumping into the pit with his pistol, where he encountered two German soldiers. With his ammunition exhausted, Woodfill grabbed a nearby pickax and killed both.

With the machine guns silenced, Woodfill’s company continued its advance through Cunel under severe fire.

At the end of the war, Woodfill was the most decorated American Solider to have participated. Along with the Medal of Honor, Woodfill was the recipient of the French Croix de Guerre, the Italian Meriot di Guerra, the Montenegrin Cross of Prince Danilo and various other awards. He resigned from the Army upon his return to Fort Thomas in November 1919 but re-enlisted three weeks later. With the Army trimming its force to pre-war levels, Woodfill rejoined the ranks as a sergeant.

Pershing selected Woodfill to join Sgt. Alvin York and Lt. Col. Charles Whittlesey as pallbearers at the burial of the Unknown Soldier at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery on Nov. 11, 1921. He retired as a sergeant in 1922.

Woodfill joined the Army in 1901 and spent time in the Philippines, Alaska, Kentucky and along the U.S.-Mexico border before ending up in Fort Thomas, Ky., in 1917. On Christmas Day of that year, Woodfill married Lorena Wiltshire and the couple purchased a home in Fort Thomas.

After World War I, Woodfill was encouraged to run for U.S. Congress, an effort he rebuffed. Instead, he worked as a carpenter, a watchman and even tried starting an orchard before the nation — and the Medal of Honor recipient — was thrust into global conflict once again. In May 1942, two months after his wife died, Woodfill was commissioned an Army major and spent two years as an instructor in Birmingham, Ala.

In 1944, Woodfill resigned from the Army and moved to a farm in Switzerland County, Indiana. He was found dead there Aug. 13, 1951. Woodfill was originally buried in the Jefferson County Cemetery near Madison, Ind. His remains were moved to Arlington National Cemetery in August 1955.

— Compiled by Pablo Villa

Master sergeant talks about resilience, strength, being Gold Star wife

Army News Service

Master Sgt. Jennifer Loredo said she hadn’t been looking for love when she first met fellow Soldier Eddie Loredo, though he turned out to be the love of her life. The two Soldiers ended up married.

But in 2010, an improvised explosive device ended Eddie’s life while he was on deployment in Afghanistan. The loss devastated his wife.

Master Sgt. Jennifer Loredo speaks with an audience member who was touched by her story after a military family forum Oct. 22, 2013, at the 2013 Association of the United States Army Annual Meeting and Exposition, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Lisa Ferdinando)
Master Sgt. Jennifer Loredo speaks with an audience member who was touched by her story after a military family forum Oct. 22, 2013, at the 2013 Association of the United States Army Annual Meeting and Exposition, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Lisa Ferdinando)

Loredo, now an Army Master Resilience Trainer, shared her story of love, loss, and resilience during a military family forum Oct. 22 at the 2013 Association of the United States Army Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington, D.C.

When she met Eddie in 2004, Loredo said, they were an unlikely match. She had been a newly promoted sergeant first class, and he had been a specialist.

“At the time, I was focused on two things: raising my daughter, and my career,” Loredo said. “I had been married and divorced very young and wasn’t really looking to be in a relationship or even take a chance on love.

“Little did I know, I would fall head over heels for him and experience things that I thought were only possible in sappy romance novels,” she said.

Marriage came. Later, they welcomed the addition of a new family member, a baby named Eddie.

Loredo spoke about the challenges associated with a dual-military marriage. There were the separations and her infantry husband’s many deployments to war zones. There was also juggling the responsibilities of being a wife, a Soldier, and a mother of two children.

Loredo, who works now for the Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness Program, also talked about her devastating loss.

Her husband, Staff Sgt. Edwardo Loredo, who everyone called “Sergeant Eddie,” was killed by an IED blast in Jelewar, Afghanistan, on June 24, 2010.

“I lost the love of my life,” Loredo said.


Resilience after tragedy

Staff Sgt. Edwardo Loredo talks to his squad before a mission in Afghanistan in the spring of 2010. (Photo courtesy of the Loredo Family)
Staff Sgt. Edwardo Loredo talks to his squad before a mission in Afghanistan in the spring of 2010. (Photo courtesy of the Loredo Family)

Loredo was deployed in Afghanistan the same time as Eddie, although they were in different locations. She was flown south straightaway when word came of his injury. He was in a hospital in Kandahar, she said.

“It was the day before his 35th birthday, and I remember the day like it was yesterday,” she said. “On that day, my worst fears — the things that we had talked about before each of Eddie’s deployments — came true.”

By the time she made it to the hospital, it was too late, she said. Loredo ended up escorting her husband’s body back to the United States. Though it was the hardest thing she ever had to do, she said she was thankful that she was “by his side every single step of the way.”

The days and weeks after his death were a blur, she said. But she will always remember the outpouring of support from her command, Soldiers in her company who were still in Afghanistan, her casualty assistance officer and so many others.

“The support that was given to me and my children was absolutely incredible,” she said.

“For the longest time, I thought I knew exactly what the word ‘sacrifice’ meant, what it felt like. And maybe I did. After all, I was — I am — an American Soldier,” she said.

Now, she is part of the Gold Star family, she said, “one of many, many women who know what seeing their loved one make the ultimate sacrifice feels like.”

She was comforted by the support she received after Eddie’s death. She is dedicated to helping those who follow, she said.

“I can look them in the eye and tell them that they’re going to make it, that America will forever be grateful for their family’s sacrifice,” she said.


Strength and resilience moving forward

Everyone in the Army family should get to know who their Master Resilience Trainer is, she said, and find out when the next training session is taking place.

“Resilience training has given me skills that will stick with me for the rest of my life and that I have the enjoyment in teaching to others,” she said.

The key to taking care of oneself, she said, is balance, routine, and setting priorities.

“If you don’t take care of yourself, how are you going to take care of others?” she said.

Her life, she said, is the “juggling act.” But she said she’s lost track of how many times she’s fallen off one or all of the wagons of balance, routine, and setting priorities.

“It has not always been pretty,” she said.

Looking back, she said, her 19 years in the Army have been filled with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, but she believes she is exactly where she is supposed to be in life.

“The one thing that I have going for me is that I’ve gotten back up each and every single time and will continue to do so,” she told the audience at the forum. “You can too. Let’s do it together.”

Bradley Master Gunner Course graduates embody ‘higher standard’ of NCOs

NCO Journal

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.

Sgt. 1st Class Travis Larson is the maintenance team chief of the Bradley Master Gunner Course at Fort Benning, Ga. Larson organizes the course’s maintenance team and all of its classes, students, resources and planning. (Photo by Pablo Villa)
Sgt. 1st Class Travis Larson is the maintenance team chief of the Bradley Master Gunner Course at Fort Benning, Ga. Larson organizes the course’s maintenance team and all of its classes, students, resources and planning. (Photo by Pablo Villa)

“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.

Moving forward

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.”

NCOs awarded for excellence in educational leadership

Army News Service

Two NCOs have been named recipients of the Larry Strickland Educational Leadership Award for their excellence in educational leadership and commitment to the development of Soldiers.

Command Sgt. Maj. Ronald Johnson of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., and Sgt. 1st Class Rodney Harris of Fort McCoy, Wis., said they were honored and surprised by the recognition.

Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III greets the recipients of the Larry Strickland Educational Award — Command Sgt. Maj. Ronald Johnson of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., (center) and Sgt. 1st Class Rodney Harris of Fort McCoy, Wis. —at the Association of the United States Army Annual Meeting and Exposition on Oct. 21, 2013, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Lisa Ferdinando)
Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III greets the recipients of the Larry Strickland Educational Award — Command Sgt. Maj. Ronald Johnson of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., (center) and Sgt. 1st Class Rodney Harris of Fort McCoy, Wis. — at the Association of the United States Army Annual Meeting and Exposition on Oct. 21, 2013, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Lisa Ferdinando)

The award is named for Sgt. Maj. Larry Strickland, who served in the Army for 30 years. He was the sergeant major to the Army’s deputy chief of staff for personnel when he was killed Sept. 11, 2001, in the terrorist attack at the Pentagon. The Association of the United States Army presents the award in his honor each year.

Johnson and Harris were guests, along with the winners of other Army awards, at the Sergeant Major of the Army Recognition Luncheon on Oct. 21 at the Association of the United States Army Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington, D.C.

At the luncheon, the vice chief of staff of the Army, Gen. John F. Campbell, and Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III recognized the contributions of NCOs to the force.

Those being recognized at the luncheon, Chandler said, have demonstrated the best about noncommissioned officers and Soldiers.

“That’s excellence in what they do — their commitment to their profession, their commitment, their character and their confidence,” Chandler said.


Apprenticeships prepare Soldiers for life after the Army

Johnson works on a partnership between the Army Continuing Education System and the United Association in its “Veterans in Piping” apprenticeship program.

Active-duty Soldiers take part in the apprenticeship program at no charge, he said, to learn valuable skills that will qualify them for civilian jobs in fields such as plumbing, welding, pipefitting, and heating and air-conditioning.

“We were the first Army installation to pilot this apprenticeship program with active-duty Soldiers,” Johnson said.

In these difficult fiscal times, Soldiers who are about to leave the Army often worry about getting a job after the service, Johnson said. The program provides the skills for Soldiers to succeed in the civilian world.

“In the last 10 months, we’ve put almost 80 Soldiers through the apprenticeship program. They left active duty and went straight into highly-skilled, highly-paid work with great benefits,” Johnson said.

It is a win-win program, no matter how you look at it, he said.

Not only does it help Soldiers and their families, it reduces the amount of unemployment compensation the Department of Defense may have to pay, he said.

It also provides employers with the best employees, since Soldiers are disciplined and hardworking, Johnson said. It is also a great recruiting tool, since it shows the Army takes care of its own.

“As we draw down, we have to take care of our Soldiers and our families,” he said. “It’s all around just the right thing to do.”


Sergeant first class earns Ph.D.

Harris said he has taken advantage of all the educational opportunities afforded to him as a member of the Army and he encourages all Soldiers to do the same.

“You always have to have a fallback plan, no matter what,” he said.

“Knowledge is the baseline of everything we do, with your job, interactions with people,” said Harris. “It doesn’t just help you with your job, it helps you later in life.”

Harris, who entered the Army with a bachelor’s degree, earned his master’s degree and a doctorate in philosophy while in the military.

He said he uses his own story as an example to encourage Soldiers to really focus on their own plan and plot a path that will help them for advancement in the military and when they leave the service.

“It helps them get promoted,” said Harris, who also volunteers as a tutor for high school students. “It shows when their leaders look at them, that they have the initiative and the drive to excel and exceed the standard.”

Harris has been a proctor for Soldiers who are deployed or in the field, which allows those Soldiers to have continuity in their courses and complete their coursework while they are on assignment.

In addition to college courses, the Army offers free e-learning with thousands of courses in information technology, business, leadership and personal development, he said.

Harris said Soldiers tell him that they had no idea the Army offered so much in the way of free education.

“They tell me ‘I’m glad you pushed that,'” he said. “I also made it a block in their counseling and make sure they are staying on the right path.”


Other NCOs also recognized

More than 350 people attended the luncheon that honored the exceptional leadership of non-commissioned officers.

Other NCOs recognized were:

  • Sgt. 1st Class Krystal Jarret, Army Recruiter of the Year
  • Sgt. 1st Class Mariela Richardson, Army Reserve Recruiter of the Year
  • Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Mannel, Army National Guard Recruiter of the Year
  • Sgt. 1st Class David Stover, Army Drill Sergeant of the Year
  • Sgt. 1st Class Ryan McCaffrey, Army Reserve Drill Sergeant of the Year
  • Sgt. 1st Class Rodney Harris, Strickland Award winner
  • Command Sgt. Maj. Ronald Johnson, Strickland Award winner
  • Retired Sgt. Maj. Andrew McFowler, Bainbridge Award winner

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.