The Army is serious about cyber operations

U.S. Army Cyber Command

The Army, having recently graduated the first two groups of cyber defense NCOs at Fort Gordon, Ga., is well on its way to benefiting from the investment it is making in its cyber mission force. Having had the opportunity to spend time with these elite cyber-skilled NCOs, I’m excited about the future of our cyber mission force and the quality of NCOs who are signing up to be part of the U.S. Army Cyber Command team.

Today, we are working through tough challenges associated with using these Soldiers in a heavily contested environment while simultaneously working through Army processes to establish this new capability. The task is to define this unique skill and the special considerations that must be made to recruit, train, manage and retain the talent necessary to be successful.

I would like to share some points regarding Army Cyber Command, our status as the Army’s newest operational command and some of the topics we are addressing as we find common solutions to the challenges we face today as seen from our senior enlisted leaders.

My first lesson learned at Army Cyber Command has been that the application of leadership principles in highly technical fields requires a different approach to connect with the Soldiers we lead. Though the fundamental elements of leadership are shared across most aspects of military operations, I have found that to have a credible place on the team in a cyber organization, leaders must spend the time necessary to truly understand what our operators are doing in their specific roles on the team.

Often, we tend to rely on our training systems to ensure the proper certifications are in place. Our goal is to ensure these Soldiers have the legal authority to sit behind their workstations while relying on technical experts to get the mission accomplished. But if we expect to know our Soldiers and relate to the challenges associated with the unique aspects of these tasks, then we must spend time learning the technical details of their jobs.

Since assuming the responsibilities as the U.S. Army Cyber Command’s sergeant major, I’ve spent a great deal of time engaged with our cyber teams across the force and have gained a good understanding of what it takes to be a cyber professional. I’ve spent time with our operators throughout the Army.

Having been asked the question why I spend so much time with them my response is shaped by my time as a Bradley master gunner. My experience has been that, once I was no longer working on guns and planning ranges and training qualifications, if I wanted to stay connected to our Soldiers and understand what their concerns and challenges were, I had to go to the motor pool and “break track” with them. I now see our cyber operation centers as my motor pool.  Cyber leaders must spend the time with our operators to understand what they do — even when we are well out-paced intellectually in their domain.

I’ve also spent time visiting with senior leaders across the Army discussing cyber operations. I’m certain that we have a significant challenge associated with educating our force about our mission and the important role our teams will play on the future battlefield as we fully integrate into full-spectrum operations across all domains of warfare.

Many senior leaders are cyber illiterate about basic processes that we might think are commonly understood.  Ask the question what happens when a Soldier clicks on a link in a phishing e-mail, and the reply is usually something like it will destroy his computer and, “that’s what he deserves.”

Many haven’t recognized that we are all interconnected and that one action by one Soldier can impact our weapon systems, our navigational systems, our mission command capabilities and more.

The very definition of “cyberspace” is complex and is debated throughout the Department of Defense. However, most people do understand what their network is, that it is connected to the worldwide Internet and that other networks across the globe are also connected to the Internet.

They also understand that their computers, Blue Force Tracker, precision-guided munitions, unmanned aerial vehicles, etc., and even our basic rifleman in today’s modern battlefield are all connected to that network.

When we begin to understand that the cyber battlefields are the pathways and connections between those devices, then we begin to understand the importance of what our cyber units do. Once we realize that cyberspace is a domain that can be navigated just like the streets of Fallujah, then it becomes real and relevant to leaders in the Army.

Unlike in the theaters on land, at sea, in air, and in space, cyber operations don’t come with the uniforms of an occupying army, nor flags stamped on a predator drone. The reality is that their digital footprint can disappear in seconds. Not only is it difficult to determine who might have been responsible for an attack, the lines between acts of war, terrorism, espionage, crime, protest and more are frequently blurred. It’s not always easy to separate the good from the bad in cyberspace.

That’s why it is so important that we get serious about cyberspace and invest now in the Soldiers and NCOs who have the ability to apply their skills toward this difficult mission.

We are in the forming stage of developing our capabilities within the various types of units and teams that make up U.S. Army Cyber Command, and that doesn’t happen without input and participation from NCOs in the process. As we build capacity and begin operating, we will rapidly generate requirements. Very soon, we will not have the forces available to work the volume of requirements once commanders realize the value these organizations bring to their force and warfighting capability.

As we move toward the establishment of a Cyber Center of Excellence at Fort Gordon, we will refine our understanding of doctrine and how we fight and will employ these teams and their capability. We will work through the difficult questions such as, “What authorities are required? What operational platforms will we need? Will we need to deploy teams to work close-access to the key terrain they operate in or can their tasks be accomplished remotely?”

Many key decisions will have to be made about how to manage the talent these Soldiers represent. How do we acknowledge their skills and compensate them accordingly? How do we develop a career model that best employs these Soldiers across the total force, enables them to have the ability to move to the enlisted grade of E-8 and E-9 while maintaining their skills, and ensures they remain current on the latest technology and techniques required to accomplish these unique tasks?

To be sure, these are significant challenges that will require significant effort and investment to address. But our nation has already recognized the seriousness of the threat. Our Army has recognized the importance of employing Soldiers in this critical role and will make the right decisions required to ensure we not only maintain their skills, but also enhance and grow them as we move to meet evolving threats.

I have an enormous amount of respect for our cyber-skilled NCOs and the amount of pride they take in accomplishing their mission. Most often they do so quietly, unnoticed and with little recognition for their critical role in our national defense.

Command Sgt. Maj. Rodney D. Harris is the senior enlisted advisor of the U.S. Army Cyber Command. Harris enlisted in the Army as an infantryman in 1985. He has previously served as the command sergeant major of the 177th Armor Brigade, command sergeant major of the Corps of Cadets at the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. and command sergeant major of Eighth U.S. Army and Combined Joint Task Force-8.

In Korea, NCOs get real taste of partnership through KATUSA program

NCO Journal

One of the important lessons learned from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is the need to train and work in tandem with the in-country partners of the U.S. Army.

Nowhere has that important practice been as complete and as enduring as in South Korea. Since 1950, soldiers from the Republic of Korea’s army have served side-by-side with their U.S. counterparts. Though every Korean male must serve in the Korean military for at least 21 months, only about 3,600 Koreans earn the privilege to serve with the U.S. Army as a Korean Augmentation to the United States Army, or KATUSA.

These KATUSAs serve alongside U.S. Army Soldiers and are functionally part of the U.S. Army — from morning physical training, to tactical training, to the rest of the workday — said Staff Sgt. John Dills, community relations NCO for Eighth U.S. Army at Yongsan Garrison in Seoul, South Korea.

“They work with you, they do PT with you,” Dills said. “They do everything, but they are a step aside. They are not down or up or below or above, but just a step aside you. Chain of command-wise, they fall under you, but they still fall under the Korean government. So it’s a unique partnership.”

Korean soldiers who apply to become KATUSAs must first pass a standardized English test. Of those who pass the test, a lottery is drawn from the qualified applicants. About 1 in 10 of the applicants are accepted to be a KATUSA, according to Eighth Army officials.

Cpl. Kyupin Jung, a KATUSA working with Eighth Army’s G-4 (Logistics), said he applied to become a KATUSA so he could learn more English and experience a different culture. When done with his 21 months of service, Jung expects to finish his degree in mechanical engineering.

“In Korea, military service is mandatory,” Jung said. “I looked at the options — the Korean army, navy, air force and marines — and I decided the KATUSA program would be good for me. I can study English and experience American culture, so I applied. It’s hard to get into KATUSA, so I was lucky.”

KATUSAs get about two months of training before they begin working alongside the U.S. Army, said Cpl. Young Ho Kim, a KATUSA serving as a translator for Eighth Army.

“We have about four weeks in ROK army basic training, then go to KTA, which stands for KATUSA Training Academy, and take about three weeks of American-style basic training,” Kim said. “We learn about the military acronyms and the cultural differences between the U.S. Army and the ROK army. We have to memorize the ranks and insignias, because it’s different than the ROK army side. Then we have to pass a PT test. Then we are ready to go.”

Cpl. Young Ho Kim (center) sits with his fellow KATUSAs during a training session at Yongsan Garrison in Seoul, South Korea. Kim said he had enjoyed learning from the style of leadership he has seen in the U.S. Army. “The U.S. Army tries harder to understand us person-to-person. They respect differences and the difficulty of being a Soldier,” Kim said. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester)
Cpl. Young Ho Kim (center) sits with his fellow KATUSAs during a training session at Yongsan Garrison in Seoul, South Korea. Kim said he had enjoyed learning from the style of leadership he has seen in the U.S. Army. “The U.S. Army tries harder to understand us person-to-person. They respect differences and the difficulty of being a Soldier,” Kim said. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester)

The KATUSA program started in 1950 during the Korean War with a request from Gen. Douglas MacArthur to Republic of Korea President Syngman Rhee. In July 1950, Rhee put all ROK forces under U.S. command. Gen. MacArthur used the Korean soldiers to fill critical shortages. The liaison program has continued since then without a formal written agreement.

After the Korean War, the program continued with Korean soldiers spending about 18 months as part of the U.S. Army before returning to the ROK army to train others. But South Korea developed its own training centers, this practice ended, and KATUSAs now spend virtually their entire military service in the U.S. Army.

Eighth Army commander Lt. Gen. Bernard Champoux in January told the Korea Times that the KATUSA program is critical to the success of the U.S. Army, and he has requested more KATUSA soldiers from Korea. KATUSA soldiers help out in areas where U.S. Army NCOs have less experience, said Sgt. Michael Falcon, an Early Warning Systems Patriot missile operator with D Battery, 6th Battalion, 52nd Air Defense Artillery Regiment, 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade.

“They’re excellent soldiers,” Falcon said. “They work very hard. They’re always smart, especially when it comes to Excel and PowerPoint. They’re a great help with that stuff, they really are. They’ve been a pleasure to work with.”

Because of their knowledge of English, KATUSA soldiers often fill the critical role of translator and intermediary between the U.S. and Korean forces, said Cpl. Taelim Kim, a KATUSA serving in Eighth Army’s Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion command group.

“I feel the program is really important for the ROK side as well as the U.S. Army,” Kim said. “For the U.S. Army to stay in Korea, the language is a real big issue. KATUSAs are the main key to easing those language problems. KATUSAs hold a critical role because they are the translators to the U.S. Army and also to the ROK side.”

For U.S. Army NCOs and Soldiers serving for the first time in Korea, KATUSA soldiers can help ease the transition to a new culture, said Staff Sgt. William Sobczak, an intelligence sergeant for Eighth Army’s G-2 (military intelligence).

“A lot of KATUSAs are highly educated, otherwise they wouldn’t be KATUSAs. It’s not just a stereotype,” Sobczak said. “They are not all from well-to-do families, but they’re all a cut above the rest of the conscripts in the Korean Army. Most of them speak English pretty well and are pretty friendly. They’ll take Soldiers out and show them around. I’ve gone out shopping with KATUSAs; there’s an exchange of cultures.”

But that cultural exchange isn’t always easy, Sobczak said. It’s important for American NCOs serving in Korea to try to understand the differences without being judgmental, he said.

“I would tell Soldiers new to Korea to be as open minded as possible,” Sobczak said. “There are a lot of cultural differences. When I was a private, I would walk in and see my KATUSA roommate washing his feet in the sink and say, ‘What are you doing?’ Or he’d walk around in his ‘tighty-whitey’ underwear. There aren’t a lot of boundaries and personal space [in Korean culture]. So you have to be open-minded and experience the culture as much as possible. The KATUSAs are a good way to facilitate jumping into the culture.”

Sgt. Johnston Albert Jr. (right) and Cpl. Il Shin Kim, both Soldiers with A Detachment, 176th Financial Management Support Unit, 501st Special Troops Battalion, 501st Sustainment Brigade, demonstrate immediate lifesaving measures while U.S. and South Korean soldiers observe during sergeant’s time training in October on Yongsan Garrison, South Korea. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester)
Sgt. Johnston Albert Jr. (right) and Cpl. Il Shin Kim, both Soldiers with A Detachment, 176th Financial Management Support Unit, 501st Special Troops Battalion, 501st Sustainment Brigade, demonstrate immediate lifesaving measures while U.S. and KATUSA Soldiers observe during sergeant’s time training in October on Yongsan Garrison, South Korea. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester)

When working with KATUSAs, U.S. Army NCOs also should remember the long-term goals of the partnership and how their relationships could affect those goals, said Staff Sgt. Tommy Morales, a manpower NCO with Eighth Army.

“It’s important for young NCOs to know that the KATUSAs are the future leaders of Korea. The relationships we build with them now can have positive effects for the long term because they’re going to be politicians and working for the government,” Morales said. “The way we treat them now can have lasting effects in the long run.”

The military police force on Yongsan Garrison is a good example of how KATUSAs are seamlessly incorporated into the U.S. Army. Each two-person MP team is made up of one U.S. Soldier and one KATUSA. Cpl. Sang Hyun, a KATUSA serving as an MP, said serving eight-hour shifts with a U.S. Soldier allows for a lot of cultural exchange and gives him a chance to practice English. Hyun plans to complete his education in architectural engineering when he completes his 21-month term as a soldier.

There is a commonly held perception that KATUSA soldiers have it easy compared to soldiers serving in the ROK army. Hyun said that is not always the case.

“Many young soldiers become KATUSAs because they think it is easier than being a ROK army soldier. They should abandon that thought,” Hyun said. “Being a KATUSA is also hard, it’s just a different type of hard. … We have two chains of command, the U.S. chain of command and the ROK chain of command, so we serve two masters. It can be hard.”

Sgt. Yong Joo Park, a KATUSA who works in Eighth Army headquarters, said he sees the program as a blessing. It offers benefits and opportunities that he wouldn’t find if he was serving in the ROK army. However, Park said he would like to see more communication between the sides than he sometimes witnesses.

“Maybe I’m greedy, but I still think there are improvements we can make to this program,” Park said. “One of the big problems is KATUSA soldiers are timid in a way to speak with their U.S. Army NCOs. So, a lot of them begin to think they are being disadvantaged compared to the U.S. Soldiers. But they don’t really say that out loud.”

Park said he hopes to see classes and training for both sides to help ease misunderstandings. Both sides could understand the other better with some help, he said.

“That’s important for the alliance to understand each other, rather than just thinking about ourselves and what we can get from the other side,” Park said. “That’s not an alliance; that’s just trying to benefit from the other side. We have to try to benefit from each other. That’s what this is for.”

Command Sgt. Maj. Ray Devens, Eighth Army’s command sergeant major, recently told the Korea Times that he has been amazed by what he has seen from the KATUSA program.

“There is no other country that allows its citizens — their children — to come to our Army and fall under our leadership,” Devens said. “They help us a great deal and, the partnership we get between the KATUSAs and our Soldiers is a really key part. … When we have aggressors that come toward us, they are the ones who are going to fight together.”

While serving in the U.S. Army, KATUSAs play many roles in addition to the one they’ve been assigned. They serve as informal translators, help U.S. Soldiers understand Korean culture and help ensure the Korean-U.S. partnership continues to run smoothly. In the end, it is the KATUSAs who ensure the motto of the ROK-U.S. alliance — “Katchi Kapshida” or “Let’s Go Together” — stays true.

Newest Medal of Honor recipients inducted into Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes

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NCO Journal

One day after President Barack Obama awarded them the nation’s highest award for valor, the three most recent living recipients of the Medal of Honor were inducted into the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes on Wednesday along with 21 posthumous recipients.

“Today, we not only recognize the heroism of these 24 brave Americans, we also recognize the significance of the Medal of Honor,” said Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel at the ceremony. “The names that grace the walls of the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes belong to Soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who represent the essence, the finest, the best of military service — the willingness to sacrifice your life for the lives of those around you.”

From left, Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel look on as Gen. Raymond T. Odierno and Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III unveil the plaque honoring the most recent recipients of the Medal of Honor who fought in World War II during the Hall of Heroes induction ceremony Wednesday at the Pentagon. (Photo by Michael L. Lewis)
From left, Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel look on as Gen. Raymond T. Odierno and Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III unveil the plaque honoring the most recent recipients of the Medal of Honor who fought in World War II during the Hall of Heroes induction ceremony Wednesday at the Pentagon. (Photo by Michael L. Lewis)

Hagel was joined by Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh; the chief of staff of the Army, Gen. Raymond T. Odierno; and Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III in hosting the ceremony at the Pentagon Auditorium, which was filled with the recipients’ family members, members of Congress, and Soldiers from ranks high and low.

McHugh praised the recipients’ extraordinary valor, but also did not shy from apologizing for the delay in presenting the medals, which the Army determined should have been awarded, in some cases, nearly 70 years ago.

“As proud and as historic as this day may be, it is, frankly, not without some controversy and some lingering concern,” McHugh said. “This effort indeed began … because there was a belief — we now know justified — that Jewish and Hispanic service members who fought in World War II, Korea and Vietnam may have been unjustly denied the Medal of Honor due to the racial or religious prejudice of those times.”

The review also found others who should have been similarly awarded, McHugh said. But he noted that their omissions had little to do with prejudice.

“For reasons that really had nothing to do with our imperfect history, we can only assume they were overlooked and missed instead through the influence of a longstanding and ongoing evil — that of the military bureaucracy,” he said.

McHugh praised the countless hours of work that researchers conducted so that the Army can say it has “at last righted all our wrongs.”

“I do personally take heart in the Army’s ensuing effort and pride in those people who pored over the thousands of pages of decades-old records, who pieced together the narratives and stories that had been faded by time, who were able to identify and at last help us properly recognize the individuals we honor at this moment,” McHugh said.

Though the recipients are remarkably diverse, they share a common bond, Odierno said.

“Each of our heroes are different, whether it be their rank; age; unit; campaign; geographic, ethnic or religious diversity,” he said. “But they are all bound together as Soldiers — ordinary men who, under the most chaotic and difficult conditions, displayed extraordinary courage at the risk of their own lives to protect their fellow Soldiers and simply accomplish the mission. It’s because of men like them through the generations that I’m so proud to wear this uniform.”

Hagel, McHugh, Odierno and Chandler then listened as each citation was read, and presented the three living recipients and family members of the 21 posthumous recipients with a cased Medal of Honor flag, authorized by Congress to be flown by those who’ve received the award.

“Every one of the stories is awe-inspiring,” Odierno said. “Taken together, the actions of these 24 Soldiers are an incredible illustration of the competence, commitment and character resonant in our Soldiers, in our veterans and in our Army.

“We are a nation that stands for liberty and freedom, and we believe that all should be given the opportunity to fulfill their dreams,” Odierno continued. “We have taken too long to recognize these men, but they represent the soul and fabric of this great nation, for which they so nobly served.”


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The importance of a leader FTX

U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy, Sergeants Major Course, Class 64

The job of new commanders’ and new first sergeants’  is to develop a cohesive, mission-ready team capable of accomplishing missions across the full spectrum of operations. These challenges are compounded by the various cultures, values and norms of unit organizations. However, there are tools available to make this transition into command easier and to help move the organization in the right direction.

I found that one of the most effective tools is to conduct a leader field training exercise. This type of exercise can set the stage in presenting your command philosophy, training objectives and the way ahead for the company. Furthermore, a leader’s FTX can synchronize the leaders’ objectives and common operating picture with that of their subordinates.  The FTX builds confidence, teamwork and cohesion while providing a unique opportunity for a company to transition into a well rounded, knowledgeable and trained unit.

On June 1, 2009, I became a first sergeant. I worked diligently for 16 years to earn this rank and had reached a goal I set when I joined the Army in 1993. After my change of responsibility ceremony, I walked into the 172nd Chemical Company headquarters prepared to execute the duties entrusted to me. As I sat in my leather chair and looked around my office, I reflected on the great leaders I’ve encountered in my past. I wanted to be the best first sergeant for each Soldier within my company.

I conducted my first “close of business” formation on the Friday after I assumed the first sergeant duties. As part of the formation, I brought a .50-caliber machine gun from the arms room. I put the weapon in front of the formation and asked for volunteers. I wanted them to clear the weapon, break the weapon down and put it back together. But the platoon sergeants came forward and informed me that our machine guns had remained in the arms room without use since before any of them could remember.

For the next 90 days, I handled situations of all kinds and constantly found myself bogged down by the rigors of paperwork and Soldier concerns. However, I never forgot about that Friday. I soon learned that my objectives for this job were not going to come to fruition unless I personally made the time to accomplish them.

Therefore, I watched how the company operated. I took notes on command climate concerns, lack of discipline, leader technical and tactical competence, and a multitude of other unit situations.  Then the platoon sergeants and I started to develop a plan to fix my concerns. We wanted to take every NCO to the field for three days to set the stage for success for our company. I discussed the plan with the commander. He was so in tune with our plan that he wanted to include our platoon leaders. The commander and I developed a three-day leader FTX that revolved around our command philosophy, our training objectives and the way ahead for the company.


Our first goal when conducting the FTX was to frame and implement a common command philosophy. First, the commander and I sat down and reflected on exactly what our expectations and goals were for the unit. We framed these expectations and goals in accordance with the “Be, Know, Do” principles. Slowly, a command philosophy started to form that captured our thoughts. We reviewed our higher headquarters’ command philosophy to ensure that it met their intent as well.

Lineage and Honors

Second, I wanted our Soldiers to take pride in our unit. I noticed in my initial observations that many Soldiers thought of our unit as a place they had to come to pass the day, and many did not take any pride in their unit.

To counter this thought process, I researched the unit’s lineage and honors. Our unit had a rich and wonderful history, but that history was unknown to our Soldiers. I captured this history on a nice plaque that the commander and I unveiled during the FTX. We ensured that being aware of this history was part of the command philosophy.

Unit Motto and Logo

Finally, the commander and I realized that our unit did not have a motto or logo. So we asked for volunteers in the company to think of potential new mottos and logos.  Through a combined effort, led by the commander, our unit came up with a new motto and logo that would be the sounding board for our Soldiers in the future. During the FTX, the commander and I dedicated the evenings as a time for our leaders to come together and discuss our developed philosophy, our unit lineage and honors, and our motto. Together, these products provided an opportunity to instill pride and purpose into our unit.

Training Objectives

Another goal when conducting the FTX was to train our leaders in the unit’s Mission Essential Task List. This included individual and collective training tasks that many of our leaders overlooked when developing training. Specifically, I wanted a place away from Soldiers where I could help our leaders learn the tasks that they may have not been confident in. I kept thinking back to that Friday where our company did not have the technical knowledge of our primary weapon system. We used Day 1 and Day 2 to teach these tasks. The commander and I broke these tasks down into “shoot, move, communicate, adapt and survive.”


For our shooting tasks, I brought out every weapon system that the unit worked with and ensured every leader could work them proficiently. In the low-stress environment during the FTX, the leaders responded well to the training and were able to admit their weaknesses to their peers. In return, those who understood the weapon systems conducted one-on-one training with those who did not.

It was amazing to see the progress our leaders made during these two days. This training was the first time I felt our leaders were developing confidence in their craft. For each training event, I personally certified every leader, including the commander. He wanted to show the other leaders that he was not above the training.


For our moving tasks, I informed our leaders to leave their personal GPS at home. I taught our leaders how to use the military’s GPS along with the Blue Force Tracker system and a map. We required each leader to maneuver in their vehicles more than 50 kilometers of terrain in their vehicles and reached several checkpoints along the way. Many became lost, but we took the time to address their mistakes. Prior to the FTX, many NCOs and officers relied on their Soldiers to get them to the objective and never concerned themselves with land navigation. But after the FTX, their confidence soared once they learned how to use the systems available to them.


Our next task was communication. We needed to ensure our company leaders could operate their radio systems. However, their initial knowledge of the radio systems was as limited as that of our shooting and moving systems. Many leaders could only operate our radios on the most basic of settings. In fact, some of our leaders did not know how to turn the radio systems on. We taught them how to build man packs, troubleshoot vehicle systems, load frequency hop and secure data, and raise antenna systems. As in the shooting and moving tasks, we certified each leader in operating this equipment, but in a low-stress environment away from their Soldiers.

Adapt and Survive

Adapting and surviving were taught as one task. During this training, I reiterated to our NCOs and officers that many of these skills are perishable. For example, I taught them how to use hand grenade simulators, pyrotechnics, flares and smoke grenades. Many had never seen or used trip wires. I taught them how to set up triple-strand concertina wire. Finally, on the last day of the FTX, the commander and I set up a stress-fire and reflexive-fire range. Few leaders had ever participated in these types of advanced ranges. We instructed each leader how to plan, prepare and execute both ranges. In addition, we showed our leaders exactly how to train by example.  Many left the ranges and the FTX feeling more confident in their craft.

The Way Ahead

Our final FTX goal was to set the stage for how our unit would function in the future. We dedicated our early mornings to discussions on this topic. This time provided the commander with a chance to focus our leaders on how to plan training. He worked with each leader, showing them how to use installation resources. In addition, he provided standards for his weekly training meetings. He showed the flaws in the current training outlines and provided a basis for future planning. I took this time to provide the framework for our daily, weekly and monthly battle rhythms. I re-introduced a monthly professional development program requirement for every leader. In addition, I discussed how our unit would conduct promotions, Soldier and NCO of the Month boards, monthly counseling requirements, counseling packets, evaluation reports, physical fitness training, the weight control program, charge of quarters duties and a multitude of other requirements the commander and I found to be substandard.

Finally, I talked about the concerns I found during my initial 90-day observation assessment.  These issues included examples of bad leadership at all levels. It also included disciplinary concerns with our Soldiers. I noticed a genuine lack of discipline within the ranks, from not saluting officers or not standing at parade rest when talking to NCOs. There were uniform concerns, haircuts out of tolerance and a failure to maintain equipment. This time provided me with the opportunity to discuss how I would operate as a first sergeant. Although not all leaders agreed with some of the foundations we laid, they did understand the way ahead for the unit.

The FTX set the stage and focused our leaders on the way ahead for the unit. It was crucial in building confidence, teamwork, cohesion and a common operating picture for our leaders. The FTX set the stage for a unique transition of our company into a well-rounded, knowledgeable and trained unit.

Master Sgt. Roger A. Matthews is a former Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear first sergeant with more than 20 years of active-duty service. During his last assignment, he was a Equal Opportunity Advisor and Installation Victim Advocate for Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. He is currently a student in Class 64 at the United States Army Sergeants Major Academy located at Fort Bliss, Texas.

President awards ‘long overdue’ Medal of Honor to 24 Soldiers, including 17 NCOs

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NCO Journal

In an emotion-filled ceremony at a crowded East Room at the White House on Tuesday, President Barack Obama awarded the Medal of Honor to 24 Soldiers who fought in the Vietnam War, Korean War and World War II.

“The presentation of our nation’s highest military decoration — the Medal of Honor — is always a special occasion,” Obama said. “But today, it is truly historic. This is the single largest group of service members to be awarded the Medal of Honor since the Second World War. And with several of these Soldiers recognized for their valor during that war, this ceremony is 70 years in the making. As one family member has said, this is long overdue.”

The newest living recipients of the Medal of Honor stand during a ceremony at the White House on Tuesday. From left are retired Sgt. 1st Class Melvin Morris, retired Master Sgt. Jose Rodela and retired Sgt. Santiago J. Erevia. (Photo by E.J. Hersom)
The newest living recipients of the Medal of Honor stand during a ceremony at the White House on Tuesday. From left are retired Sgt. 1st Class Melvin Morris, retired Master Sgt. Jose Rodela and retired Sgt. Santiago J. Erevia. (Photo by E.J. Hersom)

The awarding of the medal comes after a review Congress mandated in 2002 of hundreds of personnel records belonging to service members who should have received the Medal of Honor for their heroic actions, but didn’t due to the fact they were Hispanic, African-American, Jewish or simply overlooked. The Army alone scrutinized more than 600 recipients of the Distinguished Service Cross and found 24 whose actions merited the nation’s highest award for valor. But of that group, only three were still living when Army officials notified the recipients or their family members last year.

“Some of these Soldiers fought and died for a country that did not always see them as equal,” Obama said. “But ask their fellow veterans, ask their families, and they’ll tell you that their extraordinary deeds merited the highest recognition. And today, we have the chance to set the record straight.”

Obama described the group of two dozen men as “Americans by birth and Americans by choice — immigrants, including one who was not yet even a citizen.” They included 17 noncommissioned officers, 17 Hispanics, eight who fought in the Vietnam War, eight who fought in the Korean War, and seven who fought in World War II.

“They were so young — many in their early 20s,” Obama said. “And when their country went to war, they answered the call.  They put on the uniform and hugged their families goodbye.”

Erevia receives the Medal of Honor from President Barack Obama on Tuesday. (Photo by E.J. Hersom)
Erevia receives the Medal of Honor from President Barack Obama on Tuesday. (Photo by E.J. Hersom)

But once on the battlefield, they performed valorous actions that, in every instance, saved the lives of many Soldiers, often at the cost of their own, Obama explained.

“They fought in the rocky hills of Italy, the blood-stained beaches of France, in the freezing mountains of Korea, the humid jungles of Vietnam. Their courage almost defies imagination,” he said. “When you read the records of these individuals, it’s unimaginable the valor that they displayed: running into bullets; charging machine gun nests and climbing aboard tanks and taking them out; covering their comrades so they could make it to safety;  holding back enemies, wave after wave, even when the combat was hand-to-hand; manning their posts — some to their very last breaths — so that their comrades might live.”

Obama singled out the three living recipients — retired Sgt. Santiago J. Erevia, retired Master Sgt. Jose Rodela and retired Sgt. 1st Class Melvin Morris. He recalled that the humble Rodela hadn’t even told his neighbors of his being awarded the Medal of Honor, neighbors who would likely be shocked when they saw the evening news that night. He joked of wanting to ask for marriage advice from Morris, who has been married to his wife, Mary, for 53 years. And he spoke of Erevia’s penchant for doing push-ups to stay in shape.

Rodela receives the Medal of Honor from Obama on Tuesday. (Photo by E.J. Hersom)
Rodela receives the Medal of Honor from Obama on Tuesday. (Photo by E.J. Hersom)

“These are extraordinary Americans. They are exemplary Soldiers,” Obama said.

All three former NCOs then received their medals from the president wearing perfectly arranged Army Service Uniforms bearing the insignia of their former units. Afterward, Obama called the three up again to laud their heroism and service.

“In the thick of the fight, all those years ago, for your comrades and your country, you refused to yield,” Obama said. “And on behalf of a grateful nation, we all want to thank you for inspiring us — then and now — with your strength, your will and your heroic hearts.”

The medal was then accepted by family members on behalf of the posthumous recipients, with Obama frequently comforting them as they became emotional during the reading of the citation. Among the family members was Sgt. Ashley Randall, who, unbeknownst to her, was serving in Afghanistan as a generator mechanic with the exact same battalion that her grandfather, Pfc. Demensio Rivera, was in when he was killed in action in Korea. Additionally, Command Sgt. Maj. Michael A. Grinston, the command sergeant major of the 1st Infantry Division, accepted the medal on behalf of Sgt. Candelario Garcia, who was serving in the 1st Infantry Division when he performed the actions that would, more than 45 years later, earn him the Medal of Honor.

Morris receives the Medal of Honor from Obama on Tuesday. (Photo by E.J. Hersom)
Morris receives the Medal of Honor from Obama on Tuesday. (Photo by E.J. Hersom)

The other family members who accepted the Medal of Honor on behalf of their deceased relatives:

  • Lenora Alvarado, on behalf of her father, Spc. 4 Leonard L. Alvarado,
  • Richard Conde, on behalf of his father, Staff Sgt. Felix M. Conde-Falcon,
  • Shyrell Jean Copas, on behalf of her father, Sgt. Ardie R. Copas,
  • Tina Duran-Ruvalcaba, on behalf of her father, Sgt. Jesus S. Duran,
  • Charles Baldonado, on behalf of his brother, Cpl. Joe R. Baldonado,
  • Tyronne Espinoza, on behalf of his father, Sgt. Victor H. Espinoza,
  • Pete Corrall, on behalf of his uncle, Sgt. 1st Class Eduardo C. Gomez,
  • Laurie Wegner, on behalf of her uncle, Pfc. Leonard M. Kravitz,
  • Iris Negron, on behalf of her father, Master Sgt. Juan E. Negron,
  • Michael David Peña, on behalf of his father, Master Sgt. Mike C. Peña,
  • Joe Rodriguez, on behalf of his uncle, Pvt. Miguel A. Vera,
  • Nancy Weinstein, on behalf of her husband, Sgt. Jack Weinstein,
  • Dominga Perez, on behalf of her father, Pvt. Pedro Cano,
  • Miriam Adams, on behalf of her uncle, Pvt. Joe Gandara,
  • Alfonzo Lara, on behalf of his brother, Staff Sgt. Salvador J. Lara,
  • Patricia Kennedy, on behalf of her father, Staff Sgt. William F. Leonard,
  • Alice Mendoza, on behalf of her husband, Master Sgt. Manuel V. Mendoza,
  • Robert Nietzel, on behalf of his first cousin, Sgt. Alfred B. Nietzel,
  • Dr. Terry Schwab, on behalf of his father, 1st Lt. Donald K. Schwab.

“It is very rare where we have the opportunity to reflect on the extraordinary courage and patriotism of such a remarkable collection of men,” Obama said, concluding the ceremony. “We are so grateful to them.  We are so grateful to their families.  It makes us proud and it makes us inspired.”

The families were treated to dinner at the White House following the ceremony. The recipients will also be inducted into the Hall of Heroes at the Pentagon in a ceremony today.


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