Florida Teen Selected To Write Eulogy For WWII Silent Hero

leo k chalcraft

U.S. Army Private Leo K. Chalcraft drowned off the coast of Normandy Christmas Eve 1944, just weeks after turning 19.

The toughest writing assignment 16-year-old Konner Ross will have this year is to write a eulogy for a young man she’s never met. But there’s a part of him the Largo High School junior never forget – his green eyes.

“They have his wallet from when they found it on the beach and on his identification card, it says (he has) green eyes and brown hair,” Ross said. “I didn’t know he had green eyes until then. So, that seems like something small, but it was really cool to learn for some reason.”

Ross is describing U.S. Army Private Leo K. Chalcraft, a St. Petersburg native drafted to serve in World War II. He drowned off the coast of France in 1944 on Christmas Eve, just weeks after turning 19. Continue reading

Florida Inducts Six Veterans into New Hall of Fame

Sam Gibbons while he was serving in the U.S. Army during WWII. Courtesy of the Gibbons Family.

Sam Gibbons while he was serving in the U.S. Army during WWII. Courtesy of the Gibbons Family.

The late, former Congressman Sam Gibbons was a member of the U.S. Army’s 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment. He parachuted into Europe on D-Day and also fought in the Battle of the Bulge.

“I was the third man to step out of plane #42, and dropping 800 feet to start what some have called ‘The Longest Day,’” Gibbons wrote in his World War II memoir I Was There.

Gibbons passed away peacefully in his sleep last year at age 92.

This week, Gibbons was posthumously inducted into the Florida Veterans Hall of Fame. His son was there to accept the honor bestowed by Gov. Rick Scott.

In all, six Floridians were welcomed into the first class of the new Florida Veterans’ Hall of Fame. They were given Hall of Fame Medals and Certificates.

1.            John R. D. Cleland, Major General (Retired), U.S. Army (Melbourne)

2.            The late US Rep. Sam M. Gibbons, former U.S. Army Major (Tampa) – represented by his son, Clifford Sam Gibbons

3.            John L. Haynes, Major (Retired), U.S. Marine Corps (Monticello)

4.            Robert F. Milligan, Lieutenant General (Retired), U.S. Marine Corps (Tallahassee)

5.            Jeanne Grushinski Rubin, Captain (Retired), U.S. Navy (Sunrise)

6.            Robert J. Silah, Captain (Retired), U.S. Navy (Tampa)

The Veterans Hall of Fame recognizes those who have made a significant contribution to the state of Florida after their military service.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott presents a Hall of Fame medal to an unidentified inductee, Nov. 12, 2013.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott presents a Hall of Fame medal to an unidentified inductee, Nov. 12, 2013.

Medal of Honor Recipient Saluted for Willingness to Question

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno unveils the Hall of Heroes plaque at an induction ceremony for Medal of Honor recipient former Army Capt. William Swenson at the Pentagon, Oct. 16, 2013. DOD photo by U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Aaron Hostutler

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno unveils the Hall of Heroes plaque at an induction ceremony for Medal of Honor recipient former Army Capt. William Swenson at the Pentagon, Oct. 16, 2013. DOD photo by U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Aaron Hostutler

There was a delay of more than two years before former Army Capt. William Swenson was presented with the Medal of Honor even though Marine Sgt. Dakota Meyer received his Medal of Honor in 2011 for the same battle.

Some attribute the delay – officially blamed on “lost paperwork” – to Swenson questioning why his many calls for help during the 7-hour battle were rejected by superior officers.

Secretary of Defense Chuck acknowledged in his speech Wednesday at the Hall of Heroes Ceremony that mistakes were made.

Yes, Will Swenson proved his valor on the battlefield.  It is well documented.  It should be well documented.  But he also did something else that represented tremendous courage and integrity.  And I’ve always thought the two indispensable elements of anyone’s life are courage and character.  And if we’re without those in some measure, it’s a pretty hallow existence.

He questioned — he dared to question the institution that he was faithful to and loyal to.  Mistakes were made, in his case.  Now, that’s courage and that’s integrity and that’s character.  As the institution itself reflected on that same courage and integrity institutionally, the institution, the United States Army, corrected the mistake.  They went back and acknowledged a mistake was made and they fixed it.

Another great dimension of our republic, of our people, we have an inherent capability to self-correct.

Hagel went on to state that the Army self-corrected its mistakes and he apologized to Swenson:

We’re sorry that you and your family had to endure through that, but you did and you handled it right.  And I think that deserves a tremendous amount of attention and credit.  We celebrate you today, Will.  We celebrate your family.  We celebrate your very brave colleagues who have been recognized, those who didn’t make it back, their families today.  But we celebrate all the good things about our country today because of you.  And we’re grateful.

Former Army Capt. William Swenson and President Barack Obama stand as the citation is read prior to the presentation of the Medal of Honor on Tuesday.

Former Army Capt. William Swenson and President Barack Obama stand as the citation is read prior to the presentation of the Medal of Honor on Tuesday. Photo courtesy of PBS News Hour web stream.

PTSD: Army to Standardize Diagnosis and Treatment

Photo courtesy of the VA.

The Army is changing how it assesses post traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, and its treatment reports the Army News Service. The plan being put into action is to standardize diagnosis and treatment within the military branches and the VA.

Army Medical Command Policy Memo 12-035 (Apr. 10, 2012) spells out the guidelines for PTSD assessment and treatment. Among the changes:

  • Discontinuing the “forensic psychiatric model” because it was focused too much on “malingering”
  • Standardizing care such as use of the most effective medications and dropping others
  • Standardizing new treatments based on research in military medicine but also first responders who deal with traumatic stress

Army medical leaders said it is critical to address and eliminate the stigma associated with seeking treatment for PTSD.

“There is still a stigma in society and in the Army, but I’ve seen an improvement over the years. We want Soldiers to reach out and seek help from the Army or even outside the base if they so desire,” said Maj. Gen. Richard W. Thomas, commander, Western Regional Medical Command.

The full Army News Service article is available HERE.

Military Child Month: A Video Honoring Their Service

Two quick things about this video that celebrates April as Military Child month.

First, it is produced in remembrance of U.S. Army Sergeant First Class Jared C. Monti, Medal of Honor (posthumous) 2009.

Second, watch for the daughter of Off the Base contributor Jackie Dorr. Paisley appears in the video 3:18 in holding her “Daddy Doll.”

Sending a virtual hug to all the children of military parents, in my experience, you can never get enough hugs!

Army Sergeant Sacrifices His Life to Save Afghan Child

Sgt. Dennis Weichel Jr., a Rhode Island Army National Guard infantryman mobilized with Company C, 1st Battalion, 143rd Infantry Regiment, sits inside a Black Hawk helicopter prior to a mission earlier in his deployment in Afghanistan. (U.S. Army courtesy photo)

Sgt. Dennis Weichel Jr. died in Afghanistan while saving the life of an Afghan child. His sacrifice has been noted elsewhere in the media including ABC Good Morning America and the following account from Kris Gonzalex U.S. Army.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (3/29/12) — The actions of one Rhode Island National Guard Soldier epitomized the Army Value of selfless service, “doing one’s duty loyally without thought of recognition or gain,” as he heroically saved an Afghan child without regard for his own life.

Sgt. Dennis Weichel Jr. died March 22, from injuries sustained when he was struck by an armored fighting vehicle after moving an Afghan child to safety.

“Sadly, today we realized the death of a Rhode Island National Guard Soldier in a combat zone, and we are once again reminded of the enduring sacrifice our Soldiers and Airmen have made, and continue to make, in service to this great country,” said Army Maj. Gen. Kevin McBride, adjutant general of the Rhode Island National Guard, in a press release March 23.

Weichel, an infantryman, mobilized with Company C, 1st Battalion, 143rd Infantry Regiment, 56th Troop Command, to Camp Atterbury, Ind. in November 2011, and then deployed forward to Afghanistan in early March.

On the morning of March 22, Weichel and members of his unit were leaving the Black Hills Firing Range in Laghman province, Afghanistan, when they encountered multiple Afghan children in the path of their convoy. Weichel was among several Soldiers who dismounted to disperse the children away from the vehicles.

As one child attempted to retrieve an item from underneath a U.S. Army mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle, , known as an MRAP, Weichel moved her to safety and was struck by the MRAP in the process.

Continue reading

Afghan Shootings Could Complicate U.S. Mission

The deaths of Afghan civilians, who were allegedly shot by an American soldier, could make the U.S. mission even harder. Here, an Afghan soldier leaves a home where civilians were killed Sunday in the southern province of Kandahar. Photo by AP.

By Alan Greenblatt with National Public Radio:

It’s unlikely that the killing of 16 Afghan civilians on Sunday, allegedly by a U.S. Army staff sergeant, will drastically alter the course of the war.

U.S. and NATO strategy calls for a sizable contingent of international troops to stay in Afghanistan until 2014, with residual support after that. That timetable is unlikely to change.

But the task U.S. forces face in trying to stabilize the country could well be made more difficult by the shootings.

“No one is going to accelerate the timetable for departure,” says Rajan Menon, an international relations professor at Lehigh University. “The real question is what the next two years are going to look like.”

The recent shootings come on the heels of other events that have offended and upset Afghans, including the inadvertent burning of copies of the Quran by American soldiers in February and video footage of Marines urinating on corpses that emerged in January.

President Obama has expressed regret for all the incidents, but his administration has shown no sign that it will change policy as a result of the most recent shootings.

“Without underestimating the magnitude of this event, we’ll maintain a course that makes sense,” says Rick “Ozzie” Nelson, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “We have to keep in mind the strategic implications of this [war].”

You can read the full NPR story HERE.

16 Afghans Reportedly Stalked, Killed by U.S. Army Sergeant

Residents sat with the bodies of shooting victims in the Panjwai district of southern Afghanistan.(Mustafa Khan/European Pressphoto Agency)

The New York Times is reporting that a United States Army sergeant went door to door in a rural part of southern Afghanistan methodically killing 16 civilians among them nine children and three women.

Residents of three villages in the Panjwai district of Kandahar Province described a terrifying string of attacks in which the soldier, who had walked more than a mile from his base, tried door after door, eventually breaking in to kill within three separate houses. At the first, the man gathered 11 bodies, including those of four girls younger than 6, and set fire to them, villagers said.

A report in the Washington Post quotes Pentagon officials as saying that the attack is the act of one soldier who was from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. and assigned to a special operations team.

Villagers described cowering in fear as gunshots rang out as a soldier roamed from house to house firing on those inside. They said he entered three homes in all and set fire to some of the bodies. Eleven of the dead were from a single family, and nine of the victims were children.

U.S. officials said the shooter, identified as an Army staff sergeant, acted alone, leaving his base in southern Afghanistan and opening fire on sleeping families in two villages. Initial reports indicated he returned to the base after the shooting and turned himself in. He was in custody at a NATO base in Afghanistan.

U.S. Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta has issued a written apology and personally called Afghanistan President Karzai.

Army Drawdown: 9 Things You Need to Know

A Soldier aims an XM25 weapon system at Aberdeen Test Center, Md. Five XM25s are being used now in Afghanistan. Photo courtesy of Army.mil.

The Army Times offers insights into who will feel the biggest impact from the budget-driven drawdown scheduled to begin March 1 such as anyone who can’t pass the PT test, physical fitness test or “terminal” NCOs.

These are the nine areas Army Times staff writers Jim Tice and Lance M. Bacon say to watch:

  1. Enlisted Tenure Rules – soldiers must get promoted within a shorter period of time to be retained.
  2. Fewer Enlisted Promotions – a 6 percent reduction is expected.
  3. New Rules for NCOs – increases in service obligations.
  4. Promotions for Sergeant, Staff Sergeant – 40 percent of the military education points must be NCOES achievements.
  5. Early Outs for Enlisted – the details still to be resolved.
  6. Tougher Officer Promotions – percentages to return to pre-war levels.
  7. Passed Over Officers – selected continuation will be adjusted but remain.
  8. Getting Files in Order – update photos, review records, know when your board convenes.
  9. Kick Out the “Dirtbags” – soldiers with a patterns of misconduct will not be retained.

To get full details, you can read the Army Times article HERE.

Army Mom Uses Websites, YouTube, Facebook to Learn

Graduation from the Armor Basic Officer Leader Course at Fort Benning. Dorie Griggs with her son Nelson and family. Photo by Stanley Leary.

I’m on the steep learning curve on how to become the mom of a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. After four years of being the mom of an Army ROTC cadet at The Citadel, I thought I was pretty aware of the real military process.

I was wrong.

Over the years I have learned how to navigate various military related web sites. In my previous professional positions, I honed my Internet research skills. Those research skills and my drive to learn are coming in handy now.

The past few months, I’ve heard from other mothers of soldiers that they too are learning a lot. We learn more from our own research than from what our sons or daughters tell us directly.

I found great support from other mothers in particular about the various processes. Our children are busy starting their new careers. Many of them are in training that requires them to turn in their cell phones and don’t allow for computer access. It is during these periods, when we can’t hear directly from our own sons or daughters, that we as parents and spouses reach out to each other.

Armor school Basic Officer Leader Course graduating class. Photo by Stanley Leary.

The Army’s Family Readiness Groups (FRG) appears to be most helpful to spouses of military members. So far, I’ve not found them to be particularly helpful to family who do not live near the base. My son is scheduled to be deployed in the fall. I wonder if the FRG will be more helpful at that time.

I’ve found the base websites to be very helpful with back ground information.  During Armor BOLC both the website and the Facebook groups posted updates. The same was true when I researched Ranger School, Reconnaissance Surveillance Leader Course (RSLC), and Airborne School.

I found I could get lost in research on these sites. I also found answers to many of my questions on the various Facebook groups. To find more information on the particular training your soldier is going through, I have had  great success using the search window on the main base website. I used the search window to find the links to the various training pages and Facebook groups listed above.

Airborne soldiers during an exercise. Photo by Stanley Leary.

To find the Facebook group for my sons battalion and regiment, I put 3-69 Facebook in the search window on the main Fort Stewart website.

At Fort Stewart, they have an extensive website and also a variety of Facebook groups. Fort Benning does as well. Through these sites I’ve come to “meet” other parents and staffers who were more than willing to answer my questions.

If you want to find the group for your soldier, enter the base name in the Facebook search window. Once you find a site, you can also check the “Likes” section on the right side of the page to see what other related groups are listed.

YouTube is another source of information that I believe is under utilized by parents. I also know that sometimes you can have too much information. The videos in particular may not be very comforting if you are worried about the training your loved one is going through.

If you’d like find videos about the training or unit your soldier is in just enter the name in the search window of YouTube. I try to watch the videos posted by an official source like this one about the U.S. Army Basic Training.

Airborne graduation. Photo by Stanley Leary.

While my son was in college, he was involved in learning Modern Army Combatives. I found some training videos that helped me understand that discipline. One website gave me the background and another link showed a series of training videos. Now that he is active duty, the other videos I’ve found about the Rangers training, and the U.S. Army Special Forces are ones you need to be ready to watch. I wouldn’t recommend them to someone struggling to come to terms with this extremely challenging career choice.

The greatest gift I have received is the many new friendships, most virtual, that I have formed. Our children are on a path most of us haven’t traveled. The parents with military background help those of us without that experience.

The training we go through as family members isn’t physically grueling, but it is tough emotionally. We have peaks and valleys. The best you can hope for is that the peaks out weigh the valleys. Reaching out to others who understand this dynamic may not literally save your life, but the military family community can ease the stress.

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