As the Joint Base Langley-Eustis Sergeant Audie Murphy Club president, I have the distinct honor of serving with motivated and dedicated leaders from various Army military occupational specialties. These noncommissioned officers are some of the finest leaders within their career fields, and they consistently strive to better themselves, the installation and the surrounding community.
As stated in U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command Regulation 600-14, “the TRADOC Sergeant Audie Murphy Club is an elite organization of NCOs who have demonstrated performance and inherent leadership qualities and abilities characterized by those of Sergeant Audie Murphy.”
When one first views this statement, the word “elite” stands out above all. All NCOs should want to achieve their goals, strive for excellence, be distinguished leaders of Soldiers, help their community, and attempt to stand out within their peer group, among many other things.
The SAMC is an all-volunteer organization of NCOs that continuously assists the installation and local communities through participation in volunteer activities and various installation-level events. The SAMC relies on those members who earn the prestigious Sergeant Audie Murphy Award to support club participation and assist in a wide array of opportunities that may not normally be available to all NCOs.
Those who wish to earn the SAMA can expect to spend a significant amount of time studying regulations, with current SAMC members who take pride in inculcating knowledge into aspiring candidates. Additionally, candidates will participate in several physical and mental challenges, such as physical fitness performance testing and an installation level board.
Why would an NCO want to do all this for a medallion?
It’s not about the medallion or the title. SAMC efforts do not go unnoticed, by an NCO’s chain of command or by the members of the Centralized Selection Board. During fiscal year 2016, the sergeant first class promotion board field after-action report stated that “NCOs were viewed favorably if they were inducted into prestigious professional clubs such as Sergeant Audie Murphy.” The report also recommended that “Soldiers seeking to set themselves apart from their peers should seek membership in distinguished organizations, such as the Sergeant Audie Murphy Club.”
This does not mean an NCO should only use the club as a way to get promoted, but rather as a way to interact with leaders of all MOSs and ranks, learn critical regulations to better their military knowledge, and have the ability to give back to the community that supports Soldiers each and every day. Remember, the SAMA is an outstanding achievement, but being a SAMC member is where the hard work begins. It is what an NCO learns on the path to induction, it is the leadership development he or she obtains on that path, and it is the opportunities that present themselves along the way. Once you have been on the SAMC path for a while, NCOs are able to give back to not only their communities but also to a larger group of NCOs who help keep the professional development legacy going.
Any leader who is qualified and ready to take the necessary steps toward induction should contact his or her post’s SAMC president, or a chapter member within their installation. These members will assist with the induction process in accordance with TRADOC Regulation 600-14 and their SAMC-established by-laws. Additionally, they may provide study topics for each level SAMC board, study group times and locations, and assist in preparing for the induction process.
A new Military Advisor Training Academy at Fort Benning, Georgia, will train both noncommissioned and commissioned officers assigned to a new type of unit: the Security Force Assistance Brigade.
The first six-week course at the academy is scheduled to begin in October as the first Soldiers for the new unit report to Fort Benning. Eventually, six SFABs will stand up.
These new brigades will have no junior enlisted Soldiers. They will be staffed with 500 senior NCOs and officers who will have the expertise to help train foreign militaries.
The effects that the SFABs will bring to the Army will actually be three-fold, said Col. Brian Ellis, maneuver division chief in the directorate of force management at the Pentagon who led planning for the new brigades.
“First, the Army will more effectively advise and assist foreign security forces,” he said.
“The second is to preserve the readiness of our brigade combat teams by reducing the need to break apart those formations to conduct security assistance missions.”
This will preserve BCT readiness for full-spectrum operations.
The third role of the SFAB is to help the Army more quickly regenerate brigade combat teams when needed. If the Army needs another BCT, for example, junior Soldiers would fall in on an existing SFAB, which is already full of senior NCOs and officers. Having a pre-built command structure in place will significantly speed up the process of generating new brigades, Ellis said.
An SFAB serves as a “standing chain of command for rapidly expanding the Army,” said Lt. Gen. Joseph Anderson, the Army’s deputy chief of staff for operations and training.
In the meantime, the SFABs will be the Army’s first permanent units whose core mission is to conduct security cooperation activities, he said, allowing quick response to combatant commander requirements.
SFABs will be designed on the model of infantry and armored brigade combat teams, Ellis said, with a framework staff of NCOs in the grade of staff sergeant and above, and officers who are captains and above. Each brigade will have a cavalry squadron and two maneuver battalions, either infantry or armor.
Each company will have three teams of four trainers and a company headquarters. And even the headquarters will serve as a training team, Ellis said.
Soldiers will report by battalions to the Military Advisor Training Academy. The first battalion will begin training at the academy in October.
The academy itself will have a cadre of approximately 70 instructors, including some special forces soldiers, Ellis said.
After the initial six-week course, SFAB officers and NCOs will receive follow-up training in foreign languages, cultural studies and foreign weapons, Ellis said. He explained that it will take about a year to train a unit up to full operating capability so that an SFAB can deploy to assist a combatant commander.
The first SFAB unit will be permanently stationed at Fort Benning. The second one, which is planned to stand up in the fall of 2018, will be a National Guard brigade, Ellis said. The third SFAB will be in the regular Army, and it is planned to begin training in the fall of 2018, though permanent stationing and resourcing decisions haven’t been made yet past the first brigade.
Currently, the Army has three BCTs deployed for advise and assist missions, Ellis said. It may be a few years before the new SFABs will be able to handle all of that demand.
In the meantime, the 3-353rd Armor Battalion at Fort Polk, Louisiana, will continue training BCTs to handle security force assistance missions.
Ellis said the Army’s six SFABs should eventually be able to handle the bulk of SFA missions, in support of security cooperation, stability operations, and counterinsurgency operations.
Fort Carson’s senior enlisted leaders are well accustomed to early-morning workouts, but just after 6 a.m. one day earlier this month, a few gathered at the Colorado post’s Waller Physical Fitness Center to try something new.
This year, the U.S. Army introduced a new fitness test for fresh recruits and Soldiers seeking to change career fields — the Occupational Physical Assessment Test, or OPAT.
“We wanted to gain some knowledge about this new test,” Command Sgt. Maj. Michael A. Crosby, the 4th Infantry Division and Fort Carson command sergeant major, said after completing the rigorous exam. “This was a leader development (exercise) for our command sergeants major, select NCOs and career counselors. There was a lot of learning that took place this morning, and I wanted to start with the CSMs just so they could understand what our recruits and current Soldiers who reclassify will have to go through.”
Ten senior enlisted leaders donned PT uniforms and prepared themselves for the test. Sgt. 1st Class Rene Ramos, 4th Infantry Division retention officer, put them through the OPAT’s paces, starting with the standing long jump, then moving to the seated power throw, deadlift and aerobic interval run.
Before each event, Ramos and staff relayed the exact standard that future test-takers must meet. They also explained directions, instructed on proper form and warned participants of possible pitfalls.
Ultimately, the veteran Soldiers made the test seem easy, but most said it was harder than it looked. Participants started with the long jump, then moved on to the power throw, where they sat against a wall and heaved a weighted ball as far as they could throw. Next up came the deadlift. Then everyone ended his test with a 20-meter shuttle run.
The four physical fitness tests together measure a future Soldier’s muscular strength, cardiorespiratory endurance, and lower body and upper body explosive power.
The “Standing Long Jump” is designed to assess lower- body power. Recruits stand behind a take-off line with their feet parallel and shoulder-width apart. They will jump as far as possible with a two-foot take-off and landing. Results of the test are measured in centimeters.
The “Seated Power Throw” is designed to assess upper-body power. Recruits sit on the floor with their lower back against a yoga block and upper back against a wall. They hold a 4.4 pound (2 kg) medicine ball with both hands, bring the medicine ball to their chest and then push or throw the medicine ball upward and outward at an approximate 45 degree angle. The throw is scored from the wall to the nearest 10 centimeters from where the ball first contacts the ground.
The “Strength Deadlift” is designed to assess lower-body strength. Recruits stand inside a hex-bar and perform practice lifts to assure good technique. Then they begin a sequence of lifts starting with 120 pounds and working up to 220 pounds. Recruits are scored by the largest amount of weight they can properly deadlift.
The “Interval Aerobic Run,” always performed last, is designed to assess aerobic capacity. The test is similar to what is commonly referred to as the “Beep Test.” The evaluation involves running “shuttles” or laps between two designated points that are spaced 20 meters apart. The running pace is synchronized with “beeps,” produced by a loud speaker, at specific intervals. As the test progresses, the time between beeps gets shorter, requiring recruits to run faster to complete the shuttle. Recruits are scored by the level they reach and the number of shuttles they complete.
“I believe this is a game-changer, especially for the young civilian who is showing an interest in the U.S. Army,” Crosby said of the Army’s newest fitness assessing exam. “They now have to pass the Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery and the physical, but they must also select a military occupational specialty and meet the standards on the OPAT to qualify for the MOS they selected.”
Some MOSs in the Army require greater strength and stamina than others, and the OPAT, combined with the current requirements for enlistment, will help the Army assess individuals to determine to which occupations they are best suited, both physically and mentally.
“This is absolutely an adequate test,” Crosby said. “I think it serves two purposes — one, it’s going to increase readiness of the Army, and two, it’s going to reduce injuries for our Soldiers as they join.”
It’s important for senior enlisted leaders to become familiar with the new test because the Army plans to add upward of 6,000 active-duty Soldiers and 1,500 Army Reservists to its ranks by September.
Recruiters on the Front Range will be responsible for administering the new test, and they’ll be busy in the coming year. U.S. Army Recruiting Command will see the largest in-year mission increase in the command’s history, bringing the original mission of 62,500 Soldiers to 68,500. The Army has also added $200 million in incentive bonuses, fully opened enlistment to those who have previously served and increased the number of two-year enlistment opportunities to assist with the planned increase.
Sgt. Young Min Dillon possessed an undaunted spirit throughout his Army career.
That notion was no more evident than in the last conversation he had with his father.
“I told him before he went into battle, ‘… don’t be a point man in a war. The point man is in front of the battle all the time. You could get killed doing that,’” Larry Dillon told the Rocky Mountain News of Denver, Colorado, in 2003.
His son’s reply was pointed and showed an awareness of the situation in which he was about to embark. It would eventually earn him a space in the annals of Army history as a recipient of the Silver Star.
“Well, if I get killed, I get killed,” the younger Dillon said.
Sgt. Dillon was part of Headquarters Battery, 82nd Field Artillery, 3rd Armored Division when it took part in the liberation of Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm. On Feb. 26, 1991, Dillon was part of a brigade on its third day of a march through southern Iraq. The unit was spearheading VII Corps’ vast effort to encircle Iraq’s President Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guards.
The few Iraqi fighters the brigade encountered were from second-string units who would waved white flags when spotting U.S. forces, according to a first-person account written by Lt. Col. M. Thomas Davis for the Washington Post in 1993. But the elite Republican Guards were determined to fight. On the third day of the march, the 3rd Armored Division found them.
After a few light skirmishes, the 2nd brigade of the 3rd AD became locked in combat with two brigades of the Guards’ Tawakalna Division. Dillon was at the front of the battle with one of the battalion’s fire-support teams. He was charged with accompanying the tank carrying the commander of the 4th Battalion, 8th Cavalry, and to direct artillery fire onto the targets he designated.
The battle with the Tawakalna went well into the night. Dillon stayed near the battalion commander’s tank, a precarious location given that the vehicle he was sharing with Capt. Perry Patton and their junior enlisted driver was an older model M113 armored personnel carrier, known as an APC or a track.
After nightfall, the brigade regrouped and its commander initiated a new plan to pierce through Iraqi lines. The tanks would attempt to penetrate the front about 15 miles east of their location in an operation dubbed Phase Line Bullet.
As the firing batteries moved into position, Dillon discovered his vehicle had a problem. One of the radios in the track had stopped working. Dillon decided it had to be replaced. He pulled the 30-pound device from the track, flagged down a humvee and asked its young driver to take him to the rear.
He arrived at the tank battalion’s operations center and acquired a replacement radio before jumping back into the humvee. By then the battle had erupted again. The young driver was unnerved by the tracer rounds zipping through the darkness around them and was unwilling to return to the front. Dillon grabbed another Soldier and ordered him to drive the vehicle back to the forward lines. In short order, the humvee pulled up behind an M1A1 Abrams tank as enemy fire lit up the night around it. Dillon exited the vehicle with the radio and told the driver to return to safety.
For several minutes, Dillon ran through darkness from tank to tank as he sought Patton and his track. Tank fire bellowed around him as he finally located it. He jumped inside, replaced the radio and climbed through the open top hatch to man the vehicle’s sole .50-caliber machine gun. By then, midnight was nearing and an artillery barrage from U.S. forces was about to begin.
American artillery unleashed wave after wave of rounds. Years later, Davis, recalled what transpired next in a May 30, 1993, editorial published in the Washington Post:
“From my track, about 400 yards to the rear, I observed our artillery preparation in awe. Behind me, our large guns and rocket launchers were firing feverishly. In the distance, their shells exploded, marking the invisible horizon with a long line of flame and smoke. Hearing enemy artillery rounds falling behind me, I turned to see if they were hitting any of our units. Satisfied that the Iraqis had not found the correct range … I turned forward just in time to observe a single shell detonating in the distance off to my left front, far short of the rounds that continued to rain on the enemy lines. Immediately I heard Capt. Patton yelling on the radio, confirming my fears that one of our rounds had fallen short.”
One of the rounds fired during the attack had malfunctioned. Its cargo of bomblets fell onto Dillon’s track, one of them landing just behind his right shoulder. Dillon’s flak jacket was shredded by the blast, leaving his shoulder and upper arm mangled and bloody. The Soldier fell back into the track, bleeding profusely.
Patton and the track’s driver pulled Dillon from the vehicle and immediately administered first aid. At one point, Dillon regained consciousness before he was loaded onto a medical vehicle. Unfortunately, he died before reaching the battalion surgeon.
Davis personally delivered an account of Dillon’s actions to his grieving family. He also expressed his appreciation for the young sergeant who would be posthumously awarded the Silver Star for his actions that day.
“Sgt. Young Dillon did not have to replace his inoperative radio. No one asked him to,” Davis wrote. “He did not have to return to the front. No one would have ever known the difference had he stayed in the rear. But his loyalty and determination to do the right thing, to complete his mission, to stand at his post, compelled him to take action despite the obvious risks. He was where he wanted to be, doing what he wanted to do, and it cost him and us his life.”
Dillon’s father echoed those sentiments to the Rocky Mountain News.
“My son — all Soldiers — they know what the risks and dangers are,” Larry Dillon said. “They know they’re risking their lives. … Even though there’s anger and sadness because they died in a conflict like this, they’re not dying in a useless cause, not dying in vain.”
Dillon is buried at Fort Logan National Cemetery in Denver, Colorado. He was born Nov. 28, 1963, in Seoul, South Korea. His military home of record was Aurora, Colorado.
Sgt. Ruth Hanks has many memories to choose from when explaining why she cherishes her job as a tomb guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.
Perhaps it was when an honor flight of U.S. military veterans, either World War II- or Korean War-era, stopped to watch the changing of the guard at the tomb in the cemetery’s Memorial Amphitheater. Hanks wondered if one of the veterans paying tribute that day had fought alongside one of the unknown Soldiers.
“Veterans see that Soldier will never be forgotten,” she said. “It’s a big thing.”
Or, maybe it was the first time she heard, “Oh, [the Soldier is] a female. I didn’t know they could do that,” while on duty as a sentinel at the tomb. Though sentinels are focused on performing their tasks, they do hear a few of the public’s comments.
Hanks knows that when she ultimately leaves the prestigious post she will have amassed a wealth of pride, experience and knowledge to share with other Soldiers about her momentous opportunity.
“I am always trying to bring it back to the unknowns so that everybody remembers what we are here for,” Hanks said. “I am there for the unknowns, and I will perform to the best of my ability.”
Demanding, yet humbling
Hanks, a military police officer, comes from a family of military service members, and acknowledges the responsibility she shoulders as the fourth female sentinel. For the most part, though, she sees herself as just another one of the guys.
“It’s a role for other females to look up to, but at the same time, from my point of view I’m just a sergeant in the United States Army who wants to do a job,” Hanks told her college newspaper.
It was after being deployed to Afghanistan in 2013 that she began researching the Old Guard, its specialty platoons and the Tomb of the Unknowns.
“I also happened to run into an old Tomb Guard Identification Badge holder and talked to him a little bit,” Hanks said. “That kind of set in stone what I wanted to try to do during my next assignment.”
Since 1948, Soldiers of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment “The Old Guard” have served in the distinguished duty as sentinels, guarding the tomb in any kind of weather, 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. The Guard is changed every 30 minutes from April 1 to Sep. 30 and every hour from Oct. 1 to March 31. During the hours the cemetery is closed, the guard is changed every 2 hours.
The impeccably attired tomb guard wears the Army dress blue uniform, which is reminiscent of the style worn by Soldiers in the late 1800s. Sentinels shine their shoes, medals and belt buckles for hours to meet the high standards of uniform preparation.
During the ceremony, the relief commander appears on the plaza of the cemetery’s Memorial Amphitheater and announces the Changing of the Guard. The new sentinel leaves the tomb quarters, which is beneath the amphitheater, and unlocks the bolt of his or her M-14 rifle ─ the signal to begin the ceremony.
The relief commander walks out to the tomb, salutes and faces the spectators, asking them to stand and remain silent during the ceremony. The relief commander conducts an inspection of the weapon, checking each part of the rifle once. Then, the relief commander and the relieving sentinel meet the retiring sentinel at the center of the matted path in front of the tomb. All three salute the unknown Soldiers. (The tomb contains the remains of one each for World War I, World War II and the Korean War. The previously unknown Soldier from the Vietnam War was identified as 1st Lt. Michael Blassie. After DNA identification, Blassie’s remains were moved to Jefferson National Cemetery, Missouri.)
The relief commander orders the retiring sentinel to pass on his or her orders, who replies, “Post and orders, remain as directed.” The new sentinel says, “Orders acknowledged,” and steps into position. When the relief commander passes by, the new sentinel begins walking at a cadence of 90 steps per minute.
The tomb guard marches 21 steps down the mat behind the tomb, turns and faces east for 21 seconds, turns and faces north for 21 seconds, then takes 21 steps down the mat and repeats the process. After the turn, the sentinel executes a sharp “shoulder-arms” movement to place the weapon on the shoulder closest to the visitors, signifying that the sentinel stands between the tomb and any possible threat. The number 21 was chosen because it symbolizes the highest military honor that can be bestowed posthumously ─ the 21-gun salute, according to arlingtoncemetery.mil.
Sentinels are considered to be the best of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, which is headquartered at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Virginia. Each Soldier must be in superb physical condition and have an unblemished military record. An interview and a two-week trial determine the Soldier’s capability to train as a tomb guard. Once chosen, he or she will undergo many hours of intensive training and testing, which focuses on overall performance, uniform preparation and knowledge of the tomb and Arlington National Cemetery.
Hanks credits leadership training and the maturity that comes as a noncommissioned officer for preparing her to take proper responsibility as a tomb guard, whether she is executing her duties in front of veterans or family members.
Sgt. Kevin E. Calderon, another tomb guard, shares Hanks’ sentiments.
“Coming down here to the tomb, I’ve developed myself so much to the point I know exactly what I’m looking for when I see a Soldier,” Calderon told Army publications. “Every day here is training. You become a trainer. When new candidates arrive, the goal isn’t to make them as good as you. You want them to be better. It’s the epitome lifestyle of an NCO.”
A great sense of time management and a supportive family has also helped her cope, she said.
“My family loves it,” she said. “When they came out here for my Tomb Guard Identification Badge ceremony, they got to see me out there, and they really enjoyed it. It’s just overwhelming pride that you see in your family. I don’t do it for that, but seeing that is just phenomenal. It’s one of those things; you just want to make your parents proud, so it was pretty neat.”
It wasn’t until 1994 that women were permitted to volunteer to become sentinels when the 289th Military Police Company was attached to the Old Guard, according to the Society of the Honor Guard, Tomb of the Unknowns. The MP branch is a combat support unit.
In 1996, Sgt. Heather L. Johnsen became the first woman to earn the Tomb Guard Identification Badge. She volunteered for duty in June 1995 and earned her badge in 1996. Since then, two additional female Sentinels who are also NCOs were awarded the badge ─ Sgt. Danyell E. Wilson in 1997, and Staff Sgt. Tonya D. Bell in 1998.
Women must meet the same requirements as male Soldiers to be eligible as tomb guards. The only difference is that women have a minimum height requirement of 5 feet 8 inches, which is the same standard to be a member of the Old Guard. Male sentinels must be between 5 feet 10 inches and 6 feet 4 inches tall.
“I do not get treated any differently,” Hanks said. “The crowd might have more of a response because there is a female there, but when it comes to work and training, it’s absolutely the same.”
Hanks foresees that her praise of the tomb, guards and the military ritual will endure long after she has moved on from her duty, urging prospective visitors to Washington, D.C., to stop by the Tomb of the Unknowns for the Changing of the Guard. “Check this out, and I’ll tell you a little story about them,” she would say.
“I would be passing on history,” Hanks said. “The motto of the tomb guard is ‘Soldiers never die until they are forgotten. Tomb guards never forget.’ That’s what we have to keep doing.”
The Sentinel’s Creed
My dedication to this sacred duty is total and wholehearted.
In the responsibility bestowed on me, never will I falter.
And with dignity and perseverance.
My standard will remain
Through the years of diligence
And the discomfort of the elements,
I will walk my tour in humble reverence to the best of my ability.
It is he who commands the respect I protect,
his bravery that made us so proud.
Surrounded by well-meaning crowds by day,
alone in the thoughtful peace of night,
this Soldier in honored glory rest under my eternal vigilance.
To join ‘The Old Guard’
Prospective noncommissioned officers and enlisted Soldiers interested in joining “The Old Guard” may call The Old Guard Recruiting Office at commercial 703-696-3007 or email Old Guard Recruiting at email@example.com
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