A View from Inside a Turret and Under a Green Beret

Green Beret and author Tony Schwalm.

Green Beret and author Tony Schwalm.

Tony Schwalm commanded a tank company in Desert Storm, but it left him with a gnawing feeling that the mission was incomplete. So, he gave up the status he’d earned in the conventional Army to forge a new path as an “unconventional warrior” – a Green Beret.

Schwalm not only made it through the Special Forces Qualifications Course – known as the Q Course – he was later brought back to help redesign the test of physical strength, stamina and wits.

Now a retired Lt. Colonel, Schwalm traces his personal journey from tank commander to commander of Special Forces officer training at Ft. Bragg in his book: The Guerrilla Factory: The Making of Special Forces Officers – The Green Berets.

Schwalm is a Tampa Bay resident who just returned from Afghanistan where he was assigned to the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force as a Army civilian leading a group of social scientists supporting special operations forces.

“On the ground, you are, especially in Afghanistan, you are living in a completely asymmetrical 360  degree shooting gallery,” Schwalm said. “You don’t know where the threat is, there’s no lines, there’s no rear area. Everyone, over there, lives in harms’ way.”

The 11-year conflict in Afghanistan and his experience in Desert Storm shaped Schwalm’s strong belief in the value of Special Forces or SF.

Courtesy: Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Courtesy: Simon & Schuster

He wrote his book so people would understand the training – both physical and mental – behind Special Operations forces. He also wanted to explain the differences between say a Navy SEAL and an Army Green Beret.

Schwalm splits them into two camps: Superman and Daniel Boone.

“The Superman is the one that most civilians think of, a barrel-chested freedom fighter, very handy with his weapons, physically attractive as well. You want the whole package,” Schwalm said. “Superman does things on a very short timeline usually measured in minutes or hours.”

He said Daniel Boone better describes the Special Forces warrior like a Green Beret because he’s known for working with other cultures over a long period of time.

“He learns languages. He lives with people. He subjects himself to great privation going for long, long expeditions,” Schwalm said. “That resonates with me because Army Special Forces, the Green Berets, when they go they go for a long time measured in months and years and that’s what Afghanistan has become.”

He said the book is for anyone who wants to know what it means to be in the military – what it means to send out U.S. Forces whether conventional or Special Forces.

“This is what it looks like from inside the turret. This is what it looks like from under the Green Beret,” Schwalm said.

Listen to Schwalm read a section of his book HERE.

Military Dog Photo of the Week: PUPPIES!

A new member of the Department of Defense military working dog breeding program. Photo credit DoD Puppy Program.

For his weekly Military Dog Photo, Kevin Hanrahan introduces us to “The Puppy Program” run by the Department of Defense.

The program is located at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. From birth to eight weeks , the puppies are reared at the Military Working Dog Center in a state of the art whelping facility.

Trainers are looking for specific traits when breeding and selecting future working military dogs:

  • Solid temperament
  • working ability
  • medical soundness

This information and photos are from Kevin Hanrahan (solider writer: balancing the sword and the pen) and is being published with permission from Bernie at the Department of Defense Breeding Program.

AA4- litter Round-table. Photo credit: DoD Puppy Program.

Breaking the Brass Ceiling: Suing to Allow Women in Combat


Captain Zoe Bedell, US Marine Corps Reserves; First Lieutenant Colleen Farrell, US Marine Corps; Staff Sergeant Jennifer Hunt, US Army Reserves; and Major Mary Hegar, Air National Guard – plaintiffs in groundbreaking suit challenging combat exclusion policy — in San Francisco, CA. (Photo courtesy: SWAN)

Four women have filed a legal challenge against Defense Secretary Leon Panetta saying the policy that excludes women from combat puts them at a professional disadvantage and is unconstitutional.

The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in a California federal court and includes the advocacy group Service Women’s Action Network as a plaintiff along with:

  • Major Mary Jennings Hegar, a combat helicopter pilot in the California Air National Guard;
  • Staff Sgt. Jennifer Hunt, a civil affairs soldier in the Army reserves;
  • Capt. Alexandra Zoe Bedell, a logistics officer in the Marine Corps reserves;
  • 1st Lt. Colleen Farrell, an active-duty Marine air support control officer.

The Executive Director of SWAN, Anu Bhagwati, wrote in a press statement:

Opening all assignments to qualified women and breaking the “brass ceiling” will help transform this culture and bring about the change that our military desperately needs in order to be a truly professional force in the 21st century.

Bhagwati, a former Marine Corps captain, told the Stars and Stripes the combat exclusion policy does not reflect modern warfare or military values.

“Rather than enforcing a merit-based system, today’s military bars all women, regardless of their qualifications, from access to prestigious and career-enhancing assignments, positions and schools, and thus is directly responsible for making service women second-class citizens.”

The Pentagon spokesman had no comment on the lawsuit, but defended Panetta’s record on women saying he opened up more than 14,000 positions that had been closed to women and lifted a rule not allowing women to live with combat units.

Two New National Cemeteries for Florida Veterans

The Sarasota National Cemetery was opened in 2009. Photo courtesy of the American Legion Kirby Stewart Post 24 in Bradenton.

Florida veterans will soon have two more options for burial at VA National Cemeteries in the state. Currently, there are seven national cemeteries, but large populations of veterans in north and east central Florida are still not served.

So, the Department of Veterans Affairs purchased land for two new cemeteries to accommodate about 247,000 veterans living more than 75 miles from any of the current cemeteries.

For veterans in the Daytona and Melbourne region, the VA purchased 318-acres, known as Acosta Groves, on US. Route 1 in northern Brevard County. Veterans living in the Tallahassee region will have a new cemetery on 250 acres along Apalachee Parkway.

Veterans in the Tampa Bay area have to drive an hour north to Bushnell’s Florida National Cemetery for burials because Bay Pines National Cemetery in Pinellas County only has room left for cremated remains.

: St. Augustine National Cemetery. Dade monuments.

: St. Augustine National Cemetery. Dade monuments. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some 1.6 million veterans live in Florida. A VA survey showed that many are not using their burial benefits because the national cemeteries were too far away according to Michael Nacincik of the VA National Cemetery Administration.

Nacincik said 80 percent of burials are from within a 75 mile radius of a national cemetery.

“So, the VA uses that as a benchmark when we’re looking at veterans populations to place that cemetery that captures that 75 mile circle,” Nacincik said.

It will take about 18 months to construct and open the cemeteries in Tallahassee and near Daytona.  In the past five years, the VA has opened new cemeteries in Jacksonville, South Florida in Lake Worth and Sarasota. The St. Augustine National Cemetery has been closed to new burials since 1997.

Nacincik said that the NCA is also expanding national cemeteries to under-served veterans in western New York, southern Colorado and Omaha.

The VA National Cemeteries Administration offers an online map of 131 national cemeteries it oversees in 39 states and Puerto Rico. Nearly 4 million Americans including veterans from every war are buried in the cemeteries and 33 soldier lots and monument sites.

6 Tips for Dealing with Media When a Love One Dies in War

Pfc Brandon Lucas Buttry, Jan. 10, 1993 – Nov. 5, 2012. Photo courtesy of Steve Buttry’s blog.

One of the blogs I follow – The Buttry Diary – is written by Steve Buttry, a digital journalist and trainer. Most recently, Steve took on the role as family liaison for the media when his nephew, Brandon Buttry, was killed in Afghanistan earlier in November.

Steve did it out of love and because as a journalist he felt it was one thing he could do to help the family. His experience led to these tips from his website and blog posting for relatives of the fallen, news media and military public affairs officers.

Here are a few of his tips:

  1. Designate a relative/spokesperson to deal with the media – I have written about soldiers killed in war and other sudden newsworthy deaths and I know that, however sensitive journalists try to be, we are an intrusion. But many families also want to tell the story of the person they have lost. I realized right away that I could help my family by playing this role.
  2. Initiate contact with the media – Journalists are resourceful and they will be calling people who have the family’s phone number. Or they will find family members on Facebook or will find an email address. Or they will come knocking at your door. I decided to announce Brandon’s death to the media, telling them from the first that I would be handling media inquiries and giving them my phone number and email address.
  3. Gather the facts – Get the who, what, when, where, how and why directly. Be sure to get your facts correct. Even a seemingly small error in fact in a news report might draw an emotional reaction from someone in the family. Don’t presume you know everything you think you know. I was mistaken about a detail of Brandon’s adoption and quickly corrected myself to reporters when I learned of my error (fortunately no one had reported that detail yet).
  4. What’s unique about this soldier – Consider what about your situation will make your soldier’s story stand out to the journalists: Did a parent or sibling serve in the military? Did a recent letter, email or Facebook message discuss the danger of battle (or reassure loved ones about the soldier’s safety)? Was the soldier riveted as a child by news accounts of 9/11 (Brandon was 8 at the time)?
  5. Decide how open you want to be – As a journalist, my inclination was to grant interviews with the news media and to grant access to events. But that wasn’t my call. The closest family members need to decide what they can handle and whether they want do do interviews. The person handling the media carries out the parents or spouse’s wishes.
  6. Provide photos – I would advise sending all media a half-dozen or more photos of your loved one — two or three military shots, a family photo or two and some photos of him or her as a child and teen-ager. Digital media outlets are interested in slide shows and photo galleries, and I should have been savvy enough to think of sending out more photos.

My condolences go out to the entire Buttry Family and my highest professional respect to Steve personally for stepping up and helping all news media do a better job in a time of personal family anguish. You can read his full blog entry HERE.

Pilot Program to Turn Military Skills into Civilian Credentials

Aircraft Systems Inspector Steve Zerbato fires up the twin engines of an F/A-18F Super Hornet, as Aircraft Mechanic Kirk Hale sits behind during a pre-induction maintenance inspection Dec. 9. On the ground Aircraft Electrician Rob Peterson, Sr. (left) and Aircraft Systems Inspector Phillip Yates provide ground and safety support outside the Fleet Readiness Center Southeast maintenance hangar at Cecil Commerce Center. (U.S. Navy photo by Vic Pitts/Released)

There will soon be help for some service members transitioning from military to civilian jobs. The Department of Defense has pilot program for five occupations that cover 17 military specialties:

  • aircraft mechanic
  • automotive mechanic
  • health care
  • supply and logistics
  • truck driver.

The program began in October, Frank C. DiGiovanni told the American Forces Press Service, and will determine if additional, external training is necessary to meet civilian credentialing.

 “Some of these licenses and credentials require a certain level of experience to qualify,” he said. So, the program will eventually assess service members at various stages in their military careers, he said.

The pilot program is one of several credentialing and licensing initiatives at the federal level.

In Florida, streamlining credentialing and professional licensing is the goal of the director of the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs, Mike Prendergast. He plans to ask Florida lawmakers to start the process in the coming 2013 legislative session.

There is Recovery from TBI: One Army Sergeant’s Story

Army SGT Amber (Greer) Brooks in June 2011 three months after her accident. The medical team had to shave off her waist-length strawberry blonde hair to access her skull and save her life.

“The big shock to me was ‘Why am I not at work? Why can’t I go to work? I don’t understand why I can’t be around people I served with.’” Army SGT Amber Greer said. “It was a huge shock to me and something that was so foreign to me. I probably cried for about a week that I couldn’t go to work.”

That’s how Greer described her struggle to recover from multiple injuries including Traumatic Brain Injury after a traffic accident in 2011.

Thankful for her recovery and hoping to encourage others  traveling the same path, Greer (now Amber Greer Brooks) sent me this recent update:

By Amber (Greer) Brooks

Recovering from any major trauma is extremely difficult and takes a lot of time and patience. I spent from March 20, 2011-August 17, 2011 in the hospital only to end up in one of the Army’s Warrior Transition Units (WTU).

These WTU’s are designed for soldiers to go to heal and transition either back into the Army or back into civilian life. Fortunately for me, the Army decided that I met the standards of being returned to the Army.

Since then, I have married a wonderful man and will be taking a new job in the Army.

I am leaving for training in January 2013 to work for the Army as a contractor. I will be signing and negotiating government contracts on behalf of the Department of the Army.

I have also scored the highest on my Physical Fitness Test (APFT) ever (even before the auto accident) with a perfect 300! 46 push ups in 2 minutes, 80 sit ups in two minutes, and running two miles in 14 minutes 51 seconds.

Anyone can achieve anything, it just takes a lot of focus, motivation, and never giving up.

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