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This Month in NCO History: Feb. 26, 1991 — Bravery among the tanks at Desert Storm

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.

WCAP NCO named to Impact25 list of women who have made a difference

NCO Journal

It’s been a momentous year for Sgt. Elizabeth Marks.

The combat medic and U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program swimmer spent the summer garnering international headlines for a grand gesture while winning four gold medals in swimming at the Invictus Games. That led to an appearance at the ESPYs, the awards show that recognizes sports’ highest achievements, to receive the Pat Tillman Award for Service. She followed that up by smashing a world record and winning two medals during her first trip to the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The list of hardware is already impressive. But it received another addition earlier this week.

Marks was named to the ESPN Women’s Impact25 Athletes and Influencers list Tuesday. The list highlights the top 25 women who made the greatest impact in sports and the societies in which they live. Marks joined names such as Simone Biles, the Olympic gymnastics gold medalist who was also the magazine’s Woman of the Year; Kathryn Smith, the National Football League’s first female full-time coach; and Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee.

“It’s extremely special to even be mentioned,” Marks said on Twitter about being an Impact25 nominee.

Her unveiling as an honoree was marked by an essay written by Prince Harry. The British royal was at the center of the moment that opened the world’s eyes to Marks.

In May, she made international headlines for her gesture at the Invictus Games in Orlando, Florida.

Marks was decorated with her fourth gold medal at the Games by Prince Harry, who created the competition, an international Paralympic-style, multi-sport event, which allows wounded, injured or sick armed services personnel and veterans to compete. After he placed the medal around Marks’ neck, the 26-year-old gave the award back.

Marks wanted Prince Harry to deliver the medal to Papworth Hospital in Cambridge, England, where she spent the duration of the inaugural Invictus Games in 2014. Marks traveled to London in the fall of that year to compete in the Games when she collapsed with respiratory distress syndrome. Her condition worsened and she was eventually hospitalized and placed on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO, life support to help her breathe. She missed the Games, but Marks said she was fortunate to come back alive. She said donating one of her medals was the only way she could think of to repay the hospital staff. Her request was honored June 1.

“This is an incredible achievement by any standards,” Prince Harry wrote about Marks’ appearance in the Impact25 list. “And I know this is how she wants to be defined, by her achievements and her abilities. But as an Army sergeant wounded in service to her country, her journey to get to this point has been remarkable. To me she epitomizes the courage, resilience and determination of our servicemen and women. Using sport to fight back from injury in the most remarkable way, she sums up what the Invictus Games spirit is all about.

For Marks, her ordeal in 2014 wasn’t the first time she had to endure an arduous hospital stay. In 2010, after suffering devastating injuries in Iraq, she grew nervous about the words being bandied about her such as “end of service” or “retirement.” Marks called her father to vent her frustrations. The former Marine told his daughter to write what was most important to her on a piece of paper. She scrawled “FFD” in pencil on a torn sheet of paper. The acronym stood for “fit for duty.” She was deemed fit for duty on July 3, 2012, after several painful surgeries and exhaustive rehabilitation. Marks has not stopped trying to live up to the notion, resuming her job as a medic while also competing for WCAP.

She was back in the pool one month after her ordeal in England. Two months after leaving the hospital, she broke an American record in the SB9, a disability swimming classification, 200-meter breaststroke. Less than two years later, she set a new world record in the 50-meter breaststroke in the SB7 division.

“I was told it’d be six months before I got into a pool again,” Marks told the audience at the ESPYs where she became the first active-duty Soldier to receive the Pat Tillman Award. “I got into a pool about a month out of my coma. Without those physicians, without their service, I would’ve died. I hope that my service could eventually mean that to someone.”

Marks received a standing ovation after accepting the award on the stage of the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. She thanked her father and the Pat Tillman Foundation for turning an “absolute tragedy into a triumph.” She also thanked her fellow injured service members throughout the world for their support. She said any success she found at the Rio Paralympics would be because of them.

And find success she did. Marks broke her own world record in the breaststroke to win the gold medal. She then had a heroic swim in her leg of the 4×100 medley relay to help the Americans win a bronze medal after getting off to a difficult start.

The feat seemed to cap off a storied sports year for Marks. But this week proved otherwise. And that should suit her desire to inspire her fellow Soldiers just fine.

WCAP NCO forced to skip last race, but still closes strong at Rio Paralympics

NCO Journal

Sgt. Elizabeth Marks bowed out of what would have been her final race at the 2016 Rio Paralympics.

But that didn’t rob fans of seeing her finish her inaugural Games in impressive fashion.

The Paralympic swimmer from the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program of Fort Carson, Colorado, said Saturday on Twitter that she would not participate in the SM8 200-meter individual medley competition, which was scheduled for that day in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, due to an undisclosed medical issue. Her message exhibited the unselfishness that has garnered Marks so much attention this year.

“I didn’t have my best to give, but another girl might,” the tweet stated.

But Marks’ best was definitely on display the previous night.

On Friday, Marks swam the second leg of the women’s 4×100 medley relay. The Americans finished in third place behind Great Britain and Australia. While the finish wasn’t golden, the fact that the U.S. team was able to reach the podium at all was an impressive feat given its difficult start. And Marks began turning the tide.

Hannah Aspden struggled as she swam the opening backstroke leg of the medley. She fell about five meters behind the pace of the leaders and came to the end of her 100-meter swim in fifth place, with sixth-place Japan not far behind. That’s when Marks went to work.

The 26-year-old swam the breaststroke leg, the same event in which she had already claimed a Paralympic gold medal. Marks’ effort during the medley was frenzied. She managed to speed into fourth place past the Netherlands before the turn. From there she closed the gap on third-place Canada to less than 10 meters. Marks did this despite being in the pool with five swimmers who compete in faster disability classifications. She would finish the leg with a time of 1:28.52, not even a half-second slower than her winning time of 1:28.13 in the SB7 100-meter breaststroke the previous weekend, which set a new world record.

It was prime position for her teammates Elizabeth Smith and Michelle Konkoly to wrest third-place away from Canada. It also ended up being the end to her time in Brazil. Marks finished the Games with a gold and bronze medal, fitting hardware for a Soldier and competitor who has been in the headlines throughout the year.

Marks gained international attention earlier this year after asking Prince Harry to take one of the gold medals she won at the Invictus Games in Orlando, Florida. Marks wanted the British royal to give the medal to the English hospital that saved her life. In 2014, while traveling to the Invictus Games in London, Marks fell ill and required a lifesaving procedure at Papworth Hospital in Cambridge. She missed the Games that year, but said she was lucky to come home alive. Offering her medal to the hospital was the best way she could say “thank you.” The gesture caught the world’s attention, culminating with her being awarded the Pat Tillman Award for Service at the ESPYs in July.

Her ordeal in England wasn’t the first time Marks underwent a stint in the hospital. She suffered bilateral hip injuries while deployed to Iraq as a combat medic in 2010. Those injuries are what pushed Marks to the pool in the first place. She has previously stated that she hopes her accomplishments can offer faith and optimism to her fellow wounded Soldiers.

Now, armed with medals earned on the grandest stage in sports, it appears Marks will remain a beacon of hope for quite some time.

Soldiers shine at Olympics as runner wins, loses, wins silver medal

NCO Journal

While he holds the distinction of being an All-American runner from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Spc. Paul Chelimo never won an NCAA championship.

Now, he’s an Olympic medalist.

But the path to the silver medal claimed by Chelimo on Saturday night in the men’s 5,000-meter race at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, wasn’t easy. In fact, it was downright unusual.

The 25-year-old water treatment specialist and member of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program at Fort Carson, Colorado, stayed with the front of the pack of 15 runners throughout the race. He opened up his stride in the final 150 meters to outkick every competitor save for the exceptional Mohamed Farah. Farah won the 10,000 and 5,000 in Rio, the same pair of races he won at the 2012 London Olympics.

But Chelimo’s second-place finish was astounding, considering he was relatively unheralded and needed a frenetic effort at the end of his semifinal qualifying race just to earn a spot in the final. Nonetheless, Chelimo finished the final with a personal best time of 13:03:90, and the American celebration began as his second-place effort meant the first American medal in the race since 1964.

But on the way to a television interview, officials dropped a bombshell – Chelimo was disqualified. He was notified during the interview. A crestfallen Chelimo stepped back from the microphone but continued the interview.

“My intention was not to impede anyone,” Chelimo said.

Spc. Paul Chelimo, center, opens up his stride in the final 150 meters of the 5,000-meter race at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Spc. Paul Chelimo, center, opens up his stride in the final 150 meters of the 5,000-meter race at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Just like that, Chelimo’s impressive feat was nullified. Television replays showed his left foot land slightly out of bounds while rounding a curve. He could also be seen extending his arm while bumping occurred among the pack of runners. Neither of these actions is uncommon in distance running and officials have discretion when considering whether they give runners unfair advantages. In Chelimo’s case, the initial verdict was lane infringement.

But this edition of the Olympics has not been without unique appeals. The U.S. women’s 4×100 relay team successfully lobbied to rerun their race after they complained of being impeded by Brazilian runners. They went on to win the gold medal.

U.S. track officials appealed Chelimo’s disqualification immediately. After further review by the governing International Associations of Athletics Federations, Chelimo was reinstated as the silver medalist an hour after being stripped of the honor.

“Now, I’m really happy,” Chelimo told reporters after the successful appeal. “It’s the best feeling ever. It’s the best, best feeling ever.”

NCO helps lead boxer into history

Team USA’s Olympic gold-medal drought for men’s boxers will last 16 years.

But one of the country’s female boxers vaulted herself into the annals of boxing with her performance Sunday. And an NCO from WCAP had a hand in it.

Claressa Shields beat Nouchka Fountijn of the Netherlands by unanimous decision for the women’s middleweight boxing title. It was Shields’ second consecutive gold medal win, having previously claimed the prize at the 2012 London Olympics. Shields is the first American to win back-to-back gold medals.

One of the coaches that helped her make history is an NCO.

Sgt. 1st Class Joe Guzman is part of the coaching staff led by Billy Walsh. For Guzman, who is an assistant boxing coach for WCAP, the Olympics are familiar territory. He was part of the staff for Team USA Boxing at the 2012 London Olympics as a trainer. This time around, he is a full-fledged assistant, part of a staff that includes Augie Sanchez in addition to Walsh.

The coaching staff led bantamweight Shakur Stevenson to the gold-medal match Saturday but fell short against Cuban Robeisy Ramirez Carrazana.

NCO completes pentathlon

Sgt. Nathan Schrimsher entered the final day of action in the modern pentathlon in ninth-place overall after an impressive day of fencing.

But the 24-year-old motor transport operator and WCAP member couldn’t close the gap. Schrimsher finished in 11th place among the field of 36 athletes. He was the only American competing in the pentathlon.

The best performance by an American in the competition came in 1912 when George S. Patton, the man who would eventually become a famed U.S. Army general, finished in fifth place at the Summer Games in Stockholm, Sweden.

NCO ranked in top 10 heading into final day of modern pentathlon

NCO Journal

No American has ever won the modern pentathlon since its inception at the Olympic Games in 1912. An NCO is in a decent position to be the first.

Sgt. Nathan Schrimsher heads into the final day of the competition Saturday in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in ninth place overall. Schrimsher, a motor transport operator and member of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program at Fort Carson, Colorado, is America’s lone competitor in the modern pentathlon. The 24-year-old is being coached at the Olympics by fellow WCAP member and 2012 Olympian, Staff Sgt. Dennis Bowsher.

The modern pentathlon is rooted in military endeavors, Schrimsher told the Albuquerque Tribune last month. The competition — which consists of fencing, swimming, jumping, running and shooting — is comprised of events that a 19th century cavalry Soldier would have to be proficient in.

“He had to have the ability to ride a horse he had never met before, to be able to cross land or water by running or swimming, and then be able to defend himself with a sword and gun to deliver the message across enemy lines to the commander,” Schrimsher said.

Schrimsher showed his savvy with the épée sword during the first day of competition Thursday. He scored 20 wins, good for 220 points and a No. 9 ranking. The competition concludes Saturday with the swimming, jumping and run-shoot events.

No matter the outcome, Schrimsher said he is grateful to represent his country both on sports’ biggest stage and as a Soldier.

“The Army has supported me for three years,” he said. “Without that support it would be extremely hard on me. But it’s an honor to be able to represent not only my country through athletic perspective, but to represent the Army is awesome.”

NCO leads 2 boxers into gold-medal bouts

Team USA boxing will have two shots at a gold medal.

Claressa Shields punched her ticket to the women’s middleweight gold-medal match after beating Kazakhstan’s Dariga Shakimova by unanimous decision Friday in their semifinal match. Shields joins Shakur Stevenson (men’s bantamweight) as the two U.S. boxers remaining in the hunt for the country’s first gold medal since Andre Ward claimed the hardware in the light heavyweight division of the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece.

When the pair returns to the ring for action Friday and Sunday, they will have an NCO in their corner.

Sgt. 1st Class Joe Guzman is part of the coaching staff led by Billy Walsh. For Guzman, who is an assistant boxing coach for the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program at Fort Carson, Colorado, the Olympics are familiar territory. He was part of the staff for Team USA Boxing at the 2012 London Olympics as a trainer. This time around, he is a full-fledged assistant, part of a staff that includes Augie Sanchez in addition to Walsh.

Shields will fight Nouchka Fontijn of the Netherlands on Sunday. Stevenson faces Cuba’s Robeisy Ramirez Carrazana on Saturday.

Nunn competes in 50k race walk

Staff Sgt. John Nunn finished 42nd out of 80 competitors in the 50-kilometer race walking competition Friday.

Despite missing out on a medal, finishing the race was momentous enough for the dental hygiene specialist. Nunn, a WCAP member, was in danger of missing out on his third Olympic berth earlier this year before mustering the fortitude that has made him a standout Soldier.

Nunn was stricken by the flu during the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials, which took place February in Santee, California. In order to qualify, Nunn was told he would have to finish the race in order to punch his ticket to Rio despite having previously attained the “A” standard time required for the team at a race two months earlier.

So with a body temperature topping 100 degrees, chills, aches and swollen eyes, Nunn took to the track and ended up winning with a personal best time.

Nunn finished the race Friday with a time of 4:16:12.

Sgt. Nathan Schrimsher fences during modern pentathlon competition at the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto, Canada, in this July 2015 photo. Schrimsher is ranked ninth overall heading into the final day of competition at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Tim Hipps / Army News Service)
Sgt. Nathan Schrimsher fences during modern pentathlon competition at the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto, Canada, in this July 2015 photo. Schrimsher is ranked ninth overall heading into the final day of competition at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Tim Hipps / Army News Service)