101st Airborne Division: ‘Rendezvous with destiny’ endures

To the German Commander,


The American Commander

─ Acting 101st Airborne Division commander Brig. Gen. Anthony C. McAuliffe’s reply to German forces on Dec. 22, 1944, the day Germans demanded an immediate surrender in Bastogne, Belgium.

NCO Journal

However, among all the actions taken by one of the most highly decorated divisions in the U.S. Army, none means more to Soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division than the classic retort of acting division commander McAuliffe to German forces in 1944. To 1st Sgt. Omar Mascareñas, of Fort Campbell’s Dental Activity and an officer of Fort Campbell’s Sgt. Audie Murphy Club, “Nuts” best illustrates the tenacity and bold mentality of the 101st Airborne Division.

“It tells you what we are like. We don’t believe that we could be defeated or that we have to surrender to anybody,” he said. “We’re going to make the mission happen, and that’s a good example of how you should continue regardless. He was surrounded; there was really no way, and for him to say that. …”

In his first address, the first commander of the 101st Airborne Division, Maj. Gen. William C. Lee, (left) said the division had a “rendezvous with destiny.” (Photo by Martha C. Koester)
In his first address, the first commander of the 101st Airborne Division, Maj. Gen. William C. Lee, (left) said the division had a “rendezvous with destiny.” (Photo by Martha C. Koester)

In December 1944, the 101st was tasked with protecting the critical transportation hub of Bastogne, Belgium, which was under siege. There, German forces issued an ultimatum: Surrender immediately or face annihilation from a blitz of German artillery. Yet, McAuliffe refused with his classic reply, boosting the sagging spirits of American Soldiers. The siege was broken by the division on Dec. 26, 1944.

“[The 101st Airborne Division] will find a way,” said Sgt. 1st Class Erin L. Trudden, student detachment NCOIC, Medical Company Blanchfield Army Community Hospital. “We will figure it out as we go.”

“When I first got here, I was assigned to the 101st Sustainment Brigade, the youngest of the brigades here,” said Master Sgt. Peter A. Mayes, a former member of the 101st Sustainment Brigade Lifeliners and public affairs NCO for the division. “As Col. Michael P. Peterman, the 101st Sustainment Brigade commander, said, ‘It is our parachutes that basically got those Soldiers into Normandy.’ That’s part of my history.”

“I just always go back to the verse in the division song, ‘We have a rendezvous with destiny; our strength and courage strike the spark that will always make men free,’” said Sgt. 1st Class Brian Ramirez, NCOIC of perioperative services at Fort Campbell’s Blanchfield Army Community Hospital. “It’s that strength and courage of the 101st that just ‘strikes that spark’ to give hope to people who don’t have freedom. I think the 101st has displayed that many times in history and will continue to do that in the future. It’s one of the great privileges of serving here.”

About the Screaming Eagles

Units such as 1st Brigade Combat Team, “Bastogne;” 2nd Brigade Combat Team, “Strike;” and 3rd Brigade Combat Team, “Rakkasans” have helped build the strong heritage for the NCOs of the 101st Airborne Division.

“You find that with a lot of the 101st Soldiers, this is not just a division, it’s the division,” Trudden said. “There are very few places [around Fort Campbell] where you don’t see the [101st] flag. Everything around here is ‘Eagle this,’ ‘Eagle that,’ ‘Screaming this,’ ‘Screaming that.’ It’s very much embedded, and when you say Fort Campbell, it’s an automatic association with the 101st.”

The Screaming Eagles of the 101st Airborne Division boast an impressive combat record fought on the beaches of Normandy to the mountains of Afghanistan. A monument at the Don F. Pratt Museum at Fort Campbell, Ky., depicts Soldiers in the combat operations in which the 101st Airborne Division took part. (Photo by Martha C. Koester)
The Screaming Eagles of the 101st Airborne Division boast an impressive combat record fought on the beaches of Normandy to the mountains of Afghanistan. A monument at the Don F. Pratt Museum at Fort Campbell, Ky., depicts Soldiers in the combat operations in which the 101st Airborne Division took part. (Photo by Martha C. Koester)

“This is ‘Screaming Eagle Country,’” Mayes said. “No matter where you go in this town, you are going to see Abe [the Screaming Eagle on the insignia of the 101st Airborne Division] somewhere. That is what this place is all about. This is Abe’s home. This is Abe’s world, and we’re proud of it.”

The division was first activated Aug. 16, 1942, at Camp Claiborne, La. In his first address to Soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division, commander Maj. Gen. William C. Lee said that though the division had no history, it had “a rendezvous with destiny,” and the division was to be called on when the need was “immediate and extreme.”

Those words ─ “a rendezvous with destiny” ─ would prove so inspirational that the words would be incorporated into the division’s song, “Screaming Eagles.”

“Just think about what that says,” Mascareñas said. “Every time a commander gets ready to deploy, they always say they are getting ready for another ‘rendezvous with destiny.’ It’s just a perfect phrase for it.”

“I have been a Soldier for a long time, but when I went downrange with [the 101st Sustainment Brigade], that’s where my mettle met the road,” Mayes said. “That’s my pride.”

As Screaming Eagles, “we understand where we came from; we understand how iconic our leaders are,” Mayes said. “Those are giants. We are standing on their shoulders, and we have to live up to their legacy. Anything less would be unacceptable.”

However, none of the groups of the 101st Airborne Division garners as much attention as the legendary 506th Infantry Regiment or “Band of Brothers,” which traces its roots back to World War II.  The regiment made its mark multiple times in history, whether parachuting into Normandy or capturing Adolf Hitler’s outpost, his Eagle’s Nest at Berchtesgaden.

“I ask a lot of my new Soldiers if they have seen the ‘Band of Brothers’ miniseries,” Mascareñas said. “If they answer, ‘No,’ a sergeant has to take that Soldier to go watch it. When they come back, the Soldier says, ‘Wow!’”

Air-assault operations are a significant part of the 101st Airborne Division’s history, and training is critical for NCOs. Thousands of Soldiers and leaders assigned to the division train each year at the Sabalauski Air Assault School, widely known as the 10 toughest days in the Army.

“When my Soldiers graduate [from Air Assault School], you see a transformation,” Mascareñas said. “When you get [the wings on your uniform], you just moved a mountain. I have been to Airborne School, and I have been to Air Assault School. Air Assault School was probably the best training I received. Just the way it was run, it was so professional ─ ‘dress right dress.’ It’s all about standards and attention to detail, and that’s where you learn those things.

“All that tradition spills out to the tenant units, like my unit. A few months ago, my unit achieved a 52-percent Air Assault-qualified [rate], which is unheard of in a dental company. You won’t find that anywhere else. But why did we do that? Because we feel we are a part of the 101st, and we want to be a part of that tradition.”

Role models

The 101stAirborne Division has turned out its fair share of high-profile leaders, both officer and enlisted.

“You’re looking at men who are considered legends at what they do,” Mayes said. “Everyone knows retired Maj. Gens. Jeffrey J. Schloesser, John F. Campbell, David H. Petraeus, current Command Sgt. Maj. Alonzo J. Smith and retired Command Sgt. Maj. Marvin L. Hill. We all know those names. When you think of the Army of the past 10 to 12 years, that is this Army.”

NCOs look to Smith, the current 101st Airborne Division command sergeant major, for inspiration, members of Fort Campbell’s Sgt. Audie Murphy Club said.

“A good example is Smith,” Mascareñas said. “He is my hero. That’s who I want to emulate because of what he went through. He was injured and was out of commission for a while. But to be able to come back, take the historic 101st downrange and come back with more history? Wow, he’s awesome.”

While on a combat operation in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in June 2010 with the 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, Smith’s vehicle was struck by rebels firing an 82 mm recoilless rifle, which severely injured his leg. Smith successfully underwent multiple surgeries and fought depression.

Another 101st Airborne Division role model who gained recent Armywide attention was Sgt. 1st Class Greg Robinson, the first Soldier with an amputated limb and prosthetic to graduate from the Air Assault School in April 2013.

Robinson, a combat engineer with A Company, 2nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, lost a portion of his lower right leg during a mission in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in October 2006.

“I don’t know of any other Soldier who could have done what he has done,” Mayes said. “The 10 toughest days [in the Army], and this guy just showed everyone he is more than capable of handling it.

“[That shows] the true spirit of what the 101st Airborne Division is all about ─ when you have that kind of imagery, that kind of passion: ‘I’m not giving up. My leg injury did not stop me. I own it instead.’”

A brotherhood

The 101st Airborne Division’s traditions honor the Soldiers who served before, with events such as the Week of the Eagles to present the best of the division and the Run for the Fallen, which is held on post to honor service members and is hosted by the division.

“One of the things I like when I go to the ceremonies on post is I see many of the veterans who were in the 101st,” Mascareñas said. “Just to talk to these old Soldiers brings a chill. It makes you want to be a better Soldier when you come to work because it’s not a regular unit. This is an historic unit, and when you come to work you just feel like you want to do better.”

The tenacity of the 101st Airborne Division on the battlefield is well documented and admired by many NCOs.

“I have a godson who is 12 and is a World War II fanatic,” Trudden said. “When I told him I was [making a permanent change of station] to Fort Campbell, he said, ‘You are going to the 101st?’ It was like I had been chosen for God status or something. ‘Do you know what they have done?’ he asked.”

Above all else, the resounding theme of the 101st Airborne Division is one of family unlike that at other installations, said Mascareñas, who was once told he could not shop at a shoppette at another installation because he had not earned his Airborne badge.

“Here [at Fort Campbell], it’s like, ‘Hey, why don’t you have your wings? Come on, let me show you how to get them,’” Mascareñas said. “I’m probably the 1 percent of this post [working in a dental clinic], but they treat me like I’m the 90 percent guy [in an Air Assault unit], as if I was a first sergeant in the 101st. That’s what I like about it ─ how they treat you like family and how they make you a part of the team.”

“I think if you come here and you drive around this post, and you’re not moved or if  it doesn’t make you wear your uniform with more pride and more satisfaction and a desire to do better, then you are in the wrong business,” Trudden said. “If so, you need to go away; you need to go get an application from McDonald’s, because they probably need a fry guy, and it just might be better suited for you than this unit.”



Aug. 16, 1942: The 101st division is activated at Camp Claiborne, La. In his first address to Soldiers, commander Maj. Gen. William C. Lee says that though the division had no history it had “a rendezvous with destiny.” The phrase becomes part of the division’s song and motto.

June 6, 1944: Screaming Eagles become the first Allied Soldiers to set foot into occupied France in the Cotentin Peninsula. The division plays a major role during D-Day operations by clearing a path for the 4th Infantry Division to land on Utah Beach; the division eventually links the Utah and Omaha beachheads and liberates the city of Carentan.

Sept. 17, 1944: The 101st jumps into Holland for Operation Market Garden. The division fights for the liberation of the Netherlands and spends 72 days in combat.

December 1944: The 101st is called to action during the Battle of the Bulge. The critical transportation hub of Bastogne, Belgium, is under siege, surrounded by enemy forces who demand an immediate surrender. Acting division commander Brig. Gen. Anthony C. McAuliffe refuses, with his classic reply of “Nuts!”  The siege is broken Dec. 26, but fighting continues until January 1945 as Allied units reduce Nazi advances in the Ardennes Forest.

Spring 1945: The 101st liberates the Landsberg concentration camp and captures Adolf Hitler’s mountain retreat in Berchtesgaden.

Nov. 30, 1945: The 101st is inactivated eight months after the German surrender.

September 1956: The 101st is reactivated at Fort Campbell. The activation of the 101st and the 82nd airborne divisions marks the culmination of the Army’s efforts to establish airborne operations.

September 1957: President Dwight D. Eisenhower sends elements of the 101st Airborne Division to safeguard the Little Rock Nine, a group of African-American students trying to attend classes at Little Rock Central High School in Little Rock, Ark.

July 29, 1965: The 1st Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division arrives. The remainder of the 101st deploys in December 1967 and makes history as the largest and longest airlift operation directly into a combat zone. The division is involved in combat operations from Saigon to Quang Tri province. In August 1968, parachutes are shed in favor of helicopter-borne operations. While in Vietnam, the 101st Airborne Division fights 45 operations and 17 Screaming Eagles earn the Medal of Honor.

February 1974: Commanding general Maj. Gen. Sidney B. Berry signs an order authorizing wear of the Airmobile qualification badge. On Oct. 4, 1974, the 101st is redesignated the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), which it maintains today.

March 1982: Elements of the 101st are sent to the Sinai Peninsula for peacekeeping operations. On Dec. 12, 1985, 248 Screaming Eagles are killed in a plane crash in Newfoundland as they were returning home from a Middle East assignment.

August 1990: The division is deployed to the Middle East in support of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. On Jan. 17, 1991, the division fires the first shots of Desert Storm and destroys Iraqi radar sites. A cease-fire comes Feb. 28, 1991, and the Screaming Eagles return by May 1.

1990s: The division supports U.S. and United Nations peacekeeping missions in Somalia, Panama, Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo.

November 2001: In response to terrorist attacks on 9/11, the 3rd Brigade Combat Team (Rakkasans) deploy to Afghanistan. The Screaming Eagles participate in combat operations including Operation Anaconda in the Shoh-I-Khot Valley, which dealt a major blow to the Taliban and al-Qaida.

February and March 2003: The division deploys to Kuwait for Operation Iraqi Freedom and fights its way to South Baghdad. In April 2003, the 101st Airborne Division is ordered to northern Iraq and conducts the longest air assault in history. Screaming Eagles also conduct the first province election in Iraq and kill Saddam Hussein’s sons Uday and Qusay.

Late 2005: The division deploys to Iraq again and assumes responsibility for northern Iraq. The Screaming Eagles help train Iraqi soldiers and transition major parts of the country to Iraqi units.

Fall 2007: The division again deploys to Iraq. In February 2008, it deploys to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. In June 2010, the entire division returns to Afghanistan to help restore Afghan people’s confidence in government and train Afghan National Security Forces.

 “Screaming Eagles”

The song for the 101st Airborne Division is titled “Screaming Eagles” and was written by Col. Samuel R. Loboda.

We have a rendezvous with destiny.

Our strength and courage strike the spark

That will always make men free.

Assault right down through the skies of blue;

Keep your eyes on the job to be done.

We’re the Soldiers of the hundred-first;

We’ll fight till the battle’s won!


“Old Abe”

One of the most recognized insignia in the Army, the Screaming Eagle patch made its official debut in 1942. The patch featured a white eagle’s head with a gold beak on a black shield topped with a crescent shaped Airborne tab. Its origins have roots in Wisconsin history.

Old Abe, the original eagle featured in the Screaming Eagle patch of the 101st Airborne Division, was wounded twice during the Civil War, though not seriously. A replica of the bird hangs in the division’s museum at Fort Campbell, Ky. (Photo by Martha C. Koester)
Old Abe, the original eagle featured in the Screaming Eagle patch of the 101st Airborne Division, was wounded twice during the Civil War, though not seriously. A replica of the bird hangs in the division’s museum at Fort Campbell, Ky. (Photo by Martha C. Koester)

In 1861, Chief Sky of the Chippewa tribe captured a bald eagle near the Flambeau River in northern Wisconsin. Chief Sky traded the eaglet for a bushel of corn to Daniel McCann of Eagle Point, Wis. McCann then sold the bird for $2.50 to Capt. John E. Perkins, commanding officer of a militia company called the Eau Claire Badgers. The unit renamed themselves the Eau Claire Eagles.

When the unit entered federal service, it was redesignated as C Company, 8th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment. The mascot was adopted by the new 8th Wisconsin, which was nicknamed the Eagle Regiment.

Soldiers named the eagle “Old Abe” after President Abraham Lincoln and assigned the bird as a member of the regimental color guard. During the Civil War, the Eagle Regiment carried Old Abe into battle, screaming at the enemy while tethered to a wooden shield. Old Abe was wounded twice during battle, though not seriously.

After the inactivation of the Eagle Regiment in 1864, veterans donated Old Abe to the people of Wisconsin. The eagle frequently traveled around the nation as part of veteran reunions and special exhibitions. In 1881, Old Abe died from the fumes of a fire near his aviary in the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison.

Upon his death, Old Abe was preserved and exhibited in the Capitol building’s Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Hall until a fire ruined the display in 1904. A few of Old Abe’s feathers survived and were preserved by the Wisconsin Veterans Museum in Madison.

It was in 1921 that the legend of “Old Abe” and the 101st unit designation merged. The 101st Division of the Organized Reserves was born, with headquarters in Milwaukee, Wis. In 1923, a new black version of a 101st Division insignia was approved for the unit. The former version featured a white eagle over flames on a royal blue shield.

The 101st Division of the Organized Reserves disbanded in Aug. 15, 1942; the next day the 101st Airborne Division was born. Old Abe was still on the insignia, but it was now topped with the Airborne tab.

Two other eagle mascots, “Young Abe” and “Bill Lee I,” were soon acquired by the division, but Young Abe died in 1943, while Bill Lee I died in 1956.

Army Reserve crowns first-ever Best Sapper Team

362nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

Soldiers from the 382nd Engineer Company, 365th Engineer Battalion, 411th Engineer Brigade of the 412th Theater Engineer Command (TEC) from Harrisburg, Penn., received the distinct honor of being titled the first Army Reserve Best Sapper Team on May 8 at Fort McCoy, Wis.

The Sapper Stakes competition was hosted by the 412th and 416th TECs, which account for all Army Reserve engineer assets and support units of more than 26,000 Soldiers including all Reserve Sapper teams. The two TECs collaborated to provide a unique competition for this unique type of Soldier.

Sappers are highly trained combat engineers who specialize in the forward support of infantry units conducting reconnaissance of bridges and roads, mine-detection and clearing operations, bridge, road and airfield construction and the use of explosives to aid allied units and impede enemy forces. Sappers often work with, or ahead of, infantry units on the front lines, so a variety of physical and mental demands were integrated as part of the competition.

“It feels pretty good,” said Spc. Dennis Kianka, a Peque, Penn., native and member of the 382nd team, “to come out here and actually win the whole thing. It’s just great.”

Team leader for the 382nd competitors, Staff Sgt. Chad Thomas, a native of Newtown, Conn., was thrilled to finish with the new title, but more impressed at the performance of his team in their efforts at the competition. He attributes their victory to their close-knit team spirit and drive.

“We’re not the best; we’re just the most well-rounded. We just did better than the other teams here,” Thomas said. “To have (an officer) here come up to me and say we were ‘the ones that stuck with it as a team,’ that to me, as a leader, is gratifying.”

Two other Sapper teams were honored for placing in the top three teams of the inaugural Reserve Sapper Stakes.

Soldiers of the 469th Engineering Company, 372nd Engineer Brigade, 416th TEC, from Dodgeville, Wis., claimed second place in the contest, only a few points shy of the 382nd Engineer Company.

The Wausau, Wis., Sapper team from the 428th Engineer Company, 372nd Engineer Brigade, 416th TEC, claimed the honor of third place for the overall competition.

Teamwork was essential to winning the events, and despite Thomas’ modesty, he does relent their camaraderie propelled them to first.

“We were all able to work together to get where we needed to be,” Thomas said. “We made a list of what we thought were going to be critical tasks for our team to execute so we could just get those points where we could. After that, I just told these guys to go out and, ‘you do you and we’ll be fine.'”

The competition consisted of a series of combat engineer tasks with each team competing against 14 other teams from across the country vying for the title. Teams were graded on their ability to conduct the tasks to standard in many events in the shortest time possible.

The events included two challenges testing the teams’ knowledge of conducting controlled blasts, bridge reconnaissance, land navigation, approaching and clearing a house in an urban environment, detecting and clearing mines, emplacing 30 meters of barbed wire, completing a ruck march of more than 10 miles and various other stations.

The TECs plan on conducting this competition annually to ensure Soldiers keep pushing themselves to learn more and be better trained, and be better trainers, for their units.

2nd Combat Aviation Brigade in Korea first to test rotational units

NCO Journal

Like all Soldiers arriving to Korea, NCOs of the 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, quickly learn the importance of being ready to defend South Korea at a moment’s notice in case of an attack from the north.

“It’s pretty much been the focus of every brief that we’ve gotten from anybody since we’ve been on the peninsula,” said 1st Sgt. Joel Green, the first sergeant of D Troop, 4th Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade. “‘Fight Tonight.’ Be ready to go right now.”

As part of the preparation to be ready to “Fight Tonight” — the motto of the 2nd Infantry Division in Korea — the brigade is beginning to use rotational units. Rotational units are entire units rotating into Korea for about nine months, while most of the Soldiers serving in Korea come over individually for longer stints.

The 4th Attack Reconnaissance Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment, from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., was the first rotational unit to take a spot at Camp Humphreys, South Korea. The squadron deployed to Camp Humphreys in late September. Green said the rotation has worked well.

Sgt. David Henson and Spc. Justin Stack work on removing the pitch control links on a helicopter at Camp Humphreys, South Korea. Henson said NCOs in Korea get lots of experience teaching and mentoring young Soldiers.
Sgt. David Henson and Spc. Justin Stack work on removing the pitch control links on a helicopter at Camp Humphreys, South Korea. Henson said NCOs in Korea get lots of experience teaching and mentoring young Soldiers. (Photos by Jonathan (Jay) Koester)

“I think there are a lot of benefits to it,” Green said. “The logistical problem would be the worst part about it, moving a large group as opposed to individuals. But when you have a ready unit, a whole unit, coming over ready to go, you don’t have to worry about integrating one or two people, or losing a key member of the team. We’re bringing the whole team with us. I think it’s a plus.”

The unit deployed with 30 OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopters, which will be left behind at the end of their deployment for the next rotational unit. Command Sgt. Maj. Stanley Williams, command sergeant major of the 4-6 Cavalry, agreed that deploying as a rotational unit has strong benefits for the mission of defending South Korea.

“There are an absolute ton of positives related to deploying a rotational force versus the turnover rate of a unit,” Williams said. “There are a few negatives, but they’re personal negatives, like we don’t get some of the benefits that the permanent party gets here. We don’t get [cost of living allowances], we don’t get [privately owned vehicles]. But on the positive side, the amount of training we’ve been able to do is heads-and-shoulders above what we would normally do in the States. We’re a stronger team than we’ve ever been. … And over here, the mission is real. There is no fake enemy across that DMZ. They’re real.”

Air power

The training for the 2nd CAB in Korea is constant because the mission is constant and important, said Sgt. Maj. Christopher Hawkins, the brigade’s S-3 (operations) sergeant major.

“It’s the only Army aviation brigade in the country,” Hawkins said. “We cover every aspect of the aviation mission there is to be had. We have [unmanned aerial vehicles], and are getting more. We have scouts. We have an attack battalion. We have fixed-wing. We have medevac, Chinook, Black Hawk. So even though we’re not a theater asset, we are a theater asset. We work with Eighth Army. We work with the 19th Expeditionary Sustainment Command. We’re the only aviation asset here, so you can almost consider us a theater asset, but we’re with the 2nd Infantry Division.”

If fighting starts on the penisula, not only will Soldiers need to be ready to fight immediately, they will need to fight together. That means their preparation needs to include all those Soldiers they will fight with, whether that means other battalions or their partners in the Republic of Korea army, Hawkins said.

“In the states, many units focus on their own mission and don’t really interact much with the other battalions,” Hawkins said. “Here, it’s day-to-day operations where you are going to go do a mission with another battalion. That’s kind of unique. I’ve been in 22 years, and it’s one of the first times I’ve seen that.

“With the CAB — this CAB in particular — we have partnership agreements with the ROK army aviation units and our ROK Army counterparts,” Hawkins said. “When we go to the field, a lot of times, we’ll go to the field with them, and it’s a joint learning environment where we have back briefs each night on what we’re doing, helping them bring their aviation assets further along.”

Training with the ROK army is made easier by those serving as a Korean Augmentation to the United States Army, or KATUSA. KATUSAs are Korean soldiers who serve with the U.S. Army during their required time of 21 months of Korean military service. KATUSAs have studied English and can ease communication, Williams said.

“Just to have the KATUSAs in your formations brings a vast amount of information and resources, because they speak the language and they know the customs,” Williams said. “We’ve done some training with the ROKs, and the good news is we’ve done a lot of joint training. We’ve done a lot of training with the infantry units and the armor units, along with our ROK counterparts, up at Rodriguez Range. We’ve done huge amounts of training.”

Importance of junior NCOs

Junior NCOs also appreciate the training environment in South Korea. Sgt. Matthew Godbold, an aircraft mechanic with B Company, 602nd Aviation Support Battalion, 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade, said the opportunities for professional development are many.

“It is an amazing place for professional development because you actually have a lot more time to focus on your job,” Godbold said. “It’s really good for first-assignment Soldiers because you have a wealth of knowledge from your senior NCOs and your junior NCOs. A lot of them have combat experience and a lot of experience on the job, so this is a great place for new Soldiers to come to get really good on-the-job training. The hours put into maintenance here are a lot more than in the States. So they get a lot more time on the aircraft and a lot more time to learn other skills, because they focus a lot here on soldiering skills as well, not just maintenance — the whole spectrum: whether it be soldiering, counseling, combat-skills training or overall maintenance, too.”

Sgt. Brian Pease of the 3rd General Support Aviation Battalion, 2nd Aviation Regiment, 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, checks a helicopter for cracks and erosion at Camp Humphreys, South Korea. “We work real hard over here because we have a constant mission, so we have to constantly keep our aircraft in the best working condition possible,” Pease said. “We’re constantly flying, so we just keep these aircraft coming in and out all day.” (Photos by Jonathan (Jay) Koester)
Sgt. Brian Pease of the 3rd General Support Aviation Battalion, 2nd Aviation Regiment, 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, checks a helicopter for cracks and erosion at Camp Humphreys, South Korea. “We work real hard over here because we have a constant mission, so we have to constantly keep our aircraft in the best working condition possible,” Pease said. “We’re constantly flying, so we just keep these aircraft coming in and out all day.”

With so many young Soldiers arriving to Korea, it’s a good trial-by-fire for NCOs, Godbold said. NCOs in Korea have to be ready to mentor young Soldiers in their duties and responsibilities.

“Soldiering and mentoring junior soldiers is really big here because there is a really big flow of, I guess you’d say, trouble,” Godbold said. “Soldiers come here, and this being their first unit, some just go crazy. It’s their first time getting a paycheck, so they go out and experience things. It’s a good thing to experience Korea and what the culture has to offer, but do it responsibly. It’s a big issue with NCOs having to keep an eye on their Soldiers to keep them out of trouble.

“Also, know your job well,” Godbold said. “Because new Soldiers, coming fresh out of training, coming here for the first time, you have to know how to train them so they can learn their job. So, job knowledge and basic Soldier skills would be good things for NCOs to have here.”

Sgt. David Henson, an aircraft mechanic with A Company, 4th Aerial Reconnaissance Battalion (Attack), 2nd Aviation Regiment, 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade, also spoke of the pressure of mentoring young Soldiers in Korea.

“A lot of new people fresh out of school come here, the newer privates,” Henson said. “As an NCO, you’ll have a lot of privates, so you get to do a lot of education, a lot of teaching and training. In that regard, for NCOs it’s great. Privates get a lot of training; they’re fresh and ready to learn.”

Adding to the heavy focus on training is the knowledge that the threat from North Korea is so immediate, Godbold said.

“The training here is high-impact,” Godbold said. “Our motto is ‘Fight Tonight.’ So we train in a way to always be prepared, because at any moment we could be stuck in a combat situation. Part of our training method is ‘train as you fight,’ so we go out in full battle rattle and shoot at these ranges.

“The training tempo is high, and they focus a lot on it,” Godbold said. “But on the opposite side, they also focus a lot on maintenance, especially in the combat aviation brigade. So you get the best of both worlds — it’s soldiering, combat skills and maintenance. You’re always busy at work.”


This Month in NCO History: May 28, 1944 — Courage on display in Artena, Italy

Staff Sgt. Rudolph B. Davila is the only U.S. Army Soldier of Filipino descent who fought in the European Theater of World War II to be awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions.

His award is a fitting remembrance as the Army this month celebrates the contributions of Asians and Pacific-Americans to the history of the country as part of Asian Pacific Heritage Month. Though the award may not have been as timely for Davila —  he waited 56 years to receive the nation’s highest honor, which was originally a Distinguished Service Cross — there was no hesitation from him when his company came under heavy attack May 28, 1944, during a firefight near Artena, Italy.

Davila was part of an offensive carried out by H Company, 7th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division, that broke through a German stronghold surrounding the Anzio beachhead.  He was leading his men over a hill when they came upon several German machine-gun nests waiting to pick apart an approaching 130-man American rifle company. The Germans turned their guns on Davila’s men, spraying the hillside with heavy fire.

While most of the platoon retreated, Davila stayed put, dropping into the grass and imploring his men to pass him a machine gun. With a hail of bullets whizzing by, Davila assembled the gun and fired back, eliminating one of the enemy positions. Davila then called for one of his men to man the gun while he moved forward. He crawled to another vantage point and directed his gunner’s fire with hand and arm signals to silence another of the German machine-gun nests, forcing the enemy back 200 yards.

Despite being wounded in the leg during the firefight, Davila continued pressing forward, running to a burned tank and firing from its turret. After abandoning the tank, Davila traversed a 130-yard expanse and reached a German-occupied farmhouse. Using a rifle and hand grenades, Davila killed five Germans and neutralized two more machine-gun nests ultimately forcing the enemy to abandon its prepared positions.

After the battle, Davila received a battlefield commission to second lieutenant and was eventually promoted to first lieutenant. His time in World War II ended in late 1944 when he was seriously wounded in the shoulder by a tank shell. A captain in his company told Davila he would be recommended for the Medal of Honor for his actions near Artena. But he received the Distinguished Service Cross instead, an honor he humbly lived with after returning home, marrying and teaching at a Los Angeles high school until his retirement in 1977.

In 1996, Congress reviewed the records of Asian-Americans who had earned the Distinguished Service Cross in World War II to see if they should have been awarded the Medal of Honor. On June 21, 2000, President Bill Clinton bestowed Davila and 21 others with the nation’s highest honor during a ceremony at the White House. Davila was one of seven of the recipients still living. His wife, Harriet Davila, who continuously petitioned the government for her husband to receive the Medal of Honor, had died six months earlier.

Davila died at age 85 on Jan. 26, 2002, in Vista, Calif. He was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

—      Compiled by Pablo Villa


Medal of Honor citation

Davila, Rudolph B.

Rank and organization: Staff Sergeant, U.S. Army, Company H, 7th Infantry.

Place and date: Artena, Italy, May 28, 1944

Entered service at: Los Angeles, California

Born: April 27, 1916, El Paso, Texas


Staff Sergeant Rudolph B. Davila distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action, on 28 May 1944, near Artena, Italy. During the offensive which broke through the German mountain strongholds surrounding the Anzio beachhead, Staff Sergeant Davila risked death to provide heavy weapons support for a beleaguered rifle company. Caught on an exposed hillside by heavy, grazing fire from a well-entrenched German force, his machine gunners were reluctant to risk putting their guns into action. Crawling fifty yards to the nearest machine gun, Staff Sergeant Davila set it up alone and opened fire on the enemy. In order to observe the effect of his fire, Sergeant Davila fired from the kneeling position, ignoring the enemy fire that struck the tripod and passed between his legs. Ordering a gunner to take over, he crawled forward to a vantage point and directed the firefight with hand and arm signals until both hostile machine guns were silenced. Bringing his three remaining machine guns into action, he drove the enemy to a reserve position two hundred yards to the rear. When he received a painful wound in the leg, he dashed to a burned tank and, despite the crash of bullets on the hull, engaged a second enemy force from the tank’s turret. Dismounting, he advanced 130 yards in short rushes, crawled 20 yards and charged into an enemy-held house to eliminate the defending force of five with a hand grenade and rifle fire. Climbing to the attic, he straddled a large shell hole in the wall and opened fire on the enemy. Although the walls of the house were crumbling, he continued to fire until he had destroyed two more machine guns. His intrepid actions brought desperately needed heavy weapons support to a hard-pressed rifle company and silenced four machine gunners, which forced the enemy to abandon their prepared positions. Staff Sergeant Davila’s extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit on him, his unit, and the United States Army.

Former NCO becomes ninth Soldier to receive Medal of Honor since 9/11


Army News Service

Former Sgt. Kyle Jerome White was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Barack Obama at a White House ceremony yesterday, making him the sixth living Army recipient, and the 14th from all services, to earn the medal in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

Obama opened his remarks in the East Room by paying tribute not just to White, but to what he referred to as the “9/11 Generation,” all those young citizens who came forth after Sept. 11, 2001, to volunteer their service knowing full well what the cost could be.

Former Army Sgt. Kyle Jerome White receives the Medal of Honor from President Barack Obama at the White House on May 13, 2014, for his life-saving actions during a Taliban ambush in Afghanistan in November 2007. (Photo by J.D. Leipold)
Former Army Sgt. Kyle Jerome White receives the Medal of Honor from President Barack Obama at the White House on May 13, 2014, for his life-saving actions during a Taliban ambush in Afghanistan in November 2007. (Photo by J.D. Leipold)

“For more than 12 years, with our nation at war, the men and women of our armed forces have known the measure of danger that comes with military service,” he said. “But year after year, tour after tour, they have displayed a selfless willingness to incur it — by stepping forward, by volunteering, by serving and sacrificing greatly to keep us all safe.

“Today, our troops are coming home,” he added, saying that by year’s end the war in Afghanistan will be over. “And, today, we pay tribute to a Soldier who embodies the courage of his generation — a young man who was a freshman in high school when the Twin Towers fell, and who just five years later became an elite paratrooper with the legendary 173rd Airborne — the Sky Soldiers.”

The president recounted the Nov. 9, 2007, ambush outside the village of Aranas, in which five Soldiers and a Marine would perish as White’s unit of 13 Americans and a squad of Afghan soldiers descended into what was called “Ambush Alley.” Suddenly, the chatter of AK-47s and the smoke trails of rocket-propelled grenades lit up the valley, sending shattered shards and chunks of red-hot metal and rock flying.

With nowhere to escape the three-pronged onslaught but down a steep decline, White, 1st Lt. Matthew Ferrara, Spc. Kain Schilling, Marine Sgt. Phillip Bocks and an interpreter were left stranded as the rest of the unit slid 160 feet down the mountain.

The 20-year-old then-specialist emptied one 30-round clip from his M-4. But as he went to slide another into place, an RPG screamed in nearby and, “It was just lights out,” White later described. That wouldn’t be the last time that day he would be rocked by a nearby explosion.

White saw his buddy Schilling trying to stay in the shade of what Schilling later recalled “as the smallest tree on earth.” Schilling had been wounded severely in his right upper arm, so White sprinted to Schilling, applied a tourniquet, then saw Bocks.

After four sprints and attempts to pull Bocks to cover, White was finally successful, and began administering first aid. He applied a tourniquet, but it was too late. Bocks wounds had been too severe, and he passed away. When White looked up, he saw Schilling take another round, this time to his left leg. Again, he sprinted to Schilling, But out of tourniquets, he had to use his belt to once again stop the bleeding.

While the one-way battle continued, White saw his lieutenant lying face down. He ran to Ferrara’s aid, but he was already dead. As White recalled in an earlier interview, he had accepted that he and Schilling weren’t going to make it through this firefight.

“It’s just a matter of time before I’m dead,” White had said. “I figured if that’s going to happen, I might as well help while I can.”

White smiles as the audience applauds after he received the Medal of Honor from President Obama on May 13, 2014. (Photo by J.D. Leipold)
White smiles as the audience applauds after he received the Medal of Honor from President Obama on May 13, 2014. (Photo by J.D. Leipold)

White next secured a radio, as both his and Schilling’s had been destroyed by small-arms fire. He relayed a situational report and called for mortars, artillery, air strikes and helicopter guns runs. Suddenly and for the second time that day, an explosion that “scrambled my brains a little bit there,” concussed White. A friendly 120-mm mortar round had fallen a bit short of its intended target.

Though struggling to keep Schilling and himself from falling asleep, White was eventually able to lay out a landing zone and assist the flight medic in hoisting all the wounded aboard. Only then did he allow himself to be medically evacuated.

Today, nearly seven years later, White and each of the surviving Soldiers of the Battle of Aranas, wears a stainless steel wristband made by one of the unit’s Soldiers. Each is etched with the names of those who didn’t come home: 1st Lt. Matthew C. Ferrara, Sgt. Jeffery S. Mersman, Spc. Sean K.A. Langevin, Spc. Lester G. Roque, Pfc. Joseph M. Lancour and Marine Sgt. Phillip A. Bocks.

“Kyle, members of ‘Chosen’ Company, you did your duty, and now it’s time for America to do ours,” Obama said. “You make us proud, and you motivate all of us to be the best we can be as Americans, as a nation.”

Following the ceremony, White offered his thoughts to the media.

“I wear this medal for my team,” White said. “I also wear a piece of metal around my wrist. It was given to me by another survivor of the 9 November ambush; he wears an identical one,” White said. “This has made it even more precious than the medal of symbol just placed around my neck. On it are the names of six fallen brothers; they are my heroes.”