Dominic Update- Italian, Writing and a Marathon

ntro

I hope you have been enjoying the posts. I have enjoyed writing them. Many of them are the results of mind-bending conversations I had with my students at Fort Dix a few months ago.

Some of the subjects were surprising, and others I just couldn’t wrap my head around or understand until I wrote them out. I did my best to capture and write about most of the things we talked about.

In the end there were over 40 subjects. Some of them I had touched on in previous posts and others that were brand new. I wanted to take a new turn and share some things in my own life.

A Promise Made

The great Sufi poet and philosopher Rumi once advised his students to write down the three things they most wanted in life. If any item on the list clashes with any other item, Rumi warned, you are destined for unhappiness. I decided to try this.

Here is my list:

  1. Learn about being Italian.
  2. Learn how to be a writer.
  3. Run a marathon.

Learning about being Italian

I went to Italy for the first time in May. I visited my grandfather’s ancestral village. It was an amazing experience. It was something I wanted to do all my life. It changed the way I saw my heritage and myself.

Being Italian-American moved from being a description or something explicit to my implied ethnicity and culture. My worldview was now colored by being “Italiano.” It moved from the margins of my life to the mainstream. I am doing it by learning how to speak the Italian language and cook Italian cuisine.

Italian is unlike any other language. It can turn expletives into blunt force trauma and words into a song. It has a rhythmic, staccato machine-gun sound that fuses together syllables and vowels into operatic phrases. It is wonderfully descriptive with full-on emotion- loving and swearing is a performance art.

I could not cook a month ago. I burned water when I boiled it. The culinary journey of learning to cook Italian cuisine has taught me a lot. As a boy in my grandmother’s kitchen spicy food aromas filled her small apartment morning until night.

It was an assault on the senses. You tasted it, felt it, and could touch it.

I remember her washing greens over the sink singing in Italian. I can see her at the kitchen table with her big, sharp knife cutting vegetables and putting them into a large simmering pot. She would reach out and squeeze my cheek. Her hand smelled like garlic, tomato sauce and cheese- smells of love, comfort and understanding. No wonder I became a fat kid…just sayin’.

Now with the help of the Food Network, my foodie girlfriend and a well-worn Italian cookbook I am on my way. I have made dinner at home every night for the past three weeks. It’s been hard, sometimes frustrating, but always rewarding.

After visiting Italy I learned to believe in my heritage. I have tried to strengthen that belief in learning the language, the culture through cooking and the history of my ancestors.

This really deserves its own post.

Learning how to be a writer

This one was tough. I always knew I was a writer, I just had to figure out how to make a living at it.

I will never make a lot of money at it, but I feel my work is valid. This is a point that I tear apart mercilessly in my conscience daily. I sometimes feel I am a worthless bum “working” on a pipe dream. Other times I feel I am on the verge of some of greater understanding of the workings of the universe.

In any endeavor there is an incubation period where you need to devote all your energy to learning something new. Writing is no different. It is a craft and art that demands daily devotion.

I am trying to find my art by working on my craft. I try to do it every day. I do know that I am happier chasing my dream than I have ever been before.

I feel free, comfortable and my decision to become a full-time writer is one of the best decisions I ever made. There are no shortcuts just hard work, like anything worthwhile.

Learning the craft of writing has been tough. I make mistakes and I am learning the job by making errors, facing criticism and paying for it with rejection. It’s almost a public flogging daily, but I am learning and I love it.

I finally got my website up-to-date and I have been posting daily. The reality is five people in America read my blog and maybe one or two folks in Europe. They are an informed and knowing public, lol. I certainly try.

Running a Marathon

I have decided to run my first marathon. I have walked a dozen marathons all over America. This will be the first one I will run.

At 40, you have passed the happy-go-lucky age and doing things on a lark for adventure. Training for this marathon has really become something I have come to enjoy, but it’s been tough.

I am not a small man. Everything about me, minus my height, is big. Imagine a man with a bowling bowl middle with a basketball for a head and tree trunks for legs.

Now you have a picture of a bald, fat guy huffing and puffing his way down the street every other morning. Watching a fat man suffer and sweat is like seeing a car wreck, you can’t look away, it defies explanation.

Four months ago I weighed 248 pounds- the heaviest I have ever been and a 100 pounds more than when I graduated high school, ouch! I am down to 230.

No excuses just lots of stress. When I feel stress I eat, I eat food that tastes good and is not good for you. Two months ago, I moved in with my girlfriend, started a creative writing program, but I wanted to do something really tough, something I had never done before, and something I dreaded to get me back on track.

I needed a slap in the face that felt good. The Indianapolis Marathon on October 17, 2015 seemed like just what the doctor ordered.

The training is hard and time consuming, but so worth it. I have been running four days a week with my training runs at 3 to 4 miles. Each week I add 2 miles to my long runs. I did 10 miles on Saturday.

A simple yet effective method for my method of doing the marathon is a walk/run combo. I walk a mile for every four miles I run. Simple, but it answers the mail. When I say run, what I really mean is a passive jog. I am a king cruiser, a model built for pleasure and enjoyment, not speed.

I am passed all the time by insanely fit runners stripped to the waist, wearing Daisy Duke Shorts, and tanned brown as nuts. They are wearing heart rate monitors and the latest footwear.

Not Dominic. I wear long basketball shorts and old, worn out superhero t-shirts featuring Captain America, the Punisher or Spiderman. I am a serious case of arrested development. I have a handful of faithful New Balance running shoes that I rotate on each run.

My only concession to fashion is that I wear a nuclear green safety hat, so my bald head doesn’t burn in the sun. I still dread the runs, but my breathing sounds more like a car dying than a cat wailing. I guess that must be progress.

So, now you got the list. What is your list?

 

Major Kent and Overcoming Obstacles

Intro

There is a bond between friends you make while serving in a war that is as strong as a brother’s love, an attachment that lasts until eternity.

Even in the most elite groups there are those who are more elite- and even within the innermost circles of excellence, there is the chosen one, the golden boy. I have never been that person. In the last group of men I served with it was a hero named Bruno.

Major Kent

Within a collection of Special Operations Warriors I worked with at Camp Morehead, Afghanistan one is a Green Beret Major named Kent. In the Special Forces Community Kent is somewhat of a legend.

Kent has a face and build that belongs on a Special Forces recruiting poster- he is charismatic, constantly smiling and reassuring others with his easy going manner. He is a leading man capable of awing audiences, easily portraying the hero he really is.

With his mane of golden hair that sweeps back from his face he always reminded me of the actor Brad Pitt, especially when he was trying to talk you into doing a “death run” with him.

Standing five feet ten inches tall he is immensely athletic even more impressive when you consider he has only one leg. He is lean from long endurance events, very fit from hours of working out and a robust build from never missing a day in the gym.

He is a compact, powerful man who exudes confidence and authority. Although his speaking voice is always calm, almost gentle, modulated only by a faint Southern accent from the assortment of army posts he has been assigned to all over the American Southeast.

Kent’s most annoying and enduring habit is breaking out into popular songs from the 80’s where he only knows a handful of the words. His singing is something that tends to bring to mind cats congregating on a backyard fence.

All that being said he one of the greatest friends I have ever had and in a sense saved my life by an example of his own courage.

Operation Volcano II

On July 27, 2007, Kent participated in an operation designed to capture a senior leader of the infamous Mahdi Army (High Value Target) in the city of Karbala, Iraq. Kent’s team “fast roped” from helicopters into the area. The insurgents attacked the American forces from three sides with rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47s.

With the insurgents targeting one of the American positions, Kent aggressively maneuvered his men to reinforce the beleaguered soldiers. It was then that he noticed an insurgent armed with an RPG, less than ten meters away from his position.

Disregarding any concern for himself, he bravely charged forward, shot and killed the insurgent, saving the Americans in the nick of time. Realizing that the US forces in the building were in grave danger, Kent exposed himself to enemy fire in order to gain a better position to cover the other soldiers in his unit.

From this location, he managed to limit the insurgent fire on his team. In the final moments of the engagement he rounded a corner and he found himself face to face with an AK-47-wielding Mahdi fighter.

Kent made a split second decision, firing at and killing the insurgent. However, as the terrorist fell to the ground fatally wounded, he let loose one last burst from his AK-47, which wounded Kent in the legs and back.

Despite being wounded in both legs and his back, Kent shot three enemy soldiers in the encounter and his actions earned him the Silver Star, the third highest award for valor.

He is one of the most talented leaders I have ever met. When most people would have given up or faced depression with losing a leg Kent saw it as simply another obstacle to overcome.

Overcoming Obstacles

Impossible to dislike, he has lived a charmed life, and his very presence in the unit has raised morale. People enjoy being around him, especially our Afghan Soldiers because he has the sunny aura of a man to whom even though something bad has happened to him he has not let it define him.

Although he would love nothing more than to be fighting dug-in entrenched insurgents alongside indigenous soldiers in the badlands, he used his knowledge to teach a new generation of Afghan and American soldiers.

His nickname is “Captain America” because he is the epitome of being a perfect soldier. Being decorated for bravery in the face of the enemy has led to some modicum of recognition.

But for Kent more anything else it has become the motivation to volunteer for dangerous assignments and protracted combat. His true gift comes in training soldiers and again, Kent uses his extraordinary talents to do just that.

He is an expert in preparing perspective Special Forces candidates for the rigors of combat. His calling seems to be training young men mentally for the brutality of what they could expect in combat and how to survive.

He stresses in each class he teaches that the horror of war and combat are survivable, that his students need to look at each other when the going is rough and in that process, there is a lasting bond that is developed, a bond of brotherhood of facing the worst circumstances and coming through it together.

He is on his fifth combat deployment and has a solid reputation as an operator and a shooter, something that is hard earned in the competitive world of Special Operations Warriors.

Leading By Example

An apostle for fitness, Kent is a running and lifting enthusiast and being his workout partner is a practice in torture and pain. His prodigious feats of strength and endurance include running over the two mountains we have the line the base.

Kent’s motto is that to lead soldiers in combat you have to lead by example. He believes the best example of your mettle is planning and conducting intense, grueling physical training.

He thinks that no worthwhile Soldiers would follow a boss who couldn’t demonstrate the tremendous and psychological prowess of a Combat Leader. The one large indicator of that ability to lead elite Soldiers is physical fitness. He looks at in two ways.

One was that it makes him feel good both physically and mentally, but in another way, it was like any trade smith practicing his craft. His vocation is leading men into battle and to do that you had to have physical, emotional and mental endurance.

The best way to practice and develop these traits was long, hard workout sessions where you test both your mind and your body. All of this is made more impressive because Kent does it all with a prosthetic leg.

Kent as a Teacher

Kent has a keen sense of humor and his full-time hobby is giving me a hard time. With his acerbic wit and anarchic temperament, even in the worst of circumstances he is always fun to be around.

But at his bedrock what makes Kent really tick is his understanding instinctively about balance in his life; without being able to articulate the why or what of a situation he knows what to do in almost any scenario.

Kent’s most enduring quality, the one that makes him a real hero, is that he is a far more honorable man than he’d ever admit; for him, there are some things that are fundamentally right, as there were some things that are fundamentally wrong.

Kent will be the first one to tell you that life is not fair; citing the loss of his leg as an example, but that has never stopped him from believing that life is what you make it.

Kent leads not mostly with just impressive bouts of endurance, but with his heart. He is loved and admired by Afghans and Americans Soldiers alike. In one cause Kent is a true champion.

His helping wounded Afghan Soldiers who have been crippled or hurt while serving with American Special Forces to get follow-on medical treatment in the States.

Watching Kent use spare parts from his own prosthetic leg to rebuild the artificial leg of an Afghan Soldier named Rahim, who survived a roadside bomb that killed two Americans, Kent is in his element.

Smiling as he re-tooled the leg and added a few pieces he explained to me the intricacies of prosthetics. Rahim is headed to the States in a few weeks, largely due to Kent’s lobbying on his behalf to Fort Bragg.

In typical, modest fashion Kent simply said, “We owe this to them. They fight and die beside us, it’s the least we can do.”

Haunted by Memories

I have suffered for a long time with some memories and times better left forgotten. War devastates not only our physical being but our very soul. In war, chaos overwhelms compassion, violence replaces cooperation, fear replaces rationality, and instinct dominates the mind.

When the mind and conscience is drenched in these conditions, the soul is disfigured and you can seem lost. It seemed like there was a removal of the center of my mind, and always there was the presence of my wartime experience and it affected everything I did.

For me the haunting of my memories from Iraq and Afghanistan were something I never really got over. I felt like I was trapped in a limbo where the past and present seemed to intermingle without differentiation or continuity. Nothing felt right until Kent helped me place my experience into perspective and helped to rejoin my body and mind.

What was once separate now felt joined. Kent’s own experiences far eclipsed anything I had been through, but over the last four months of us talking about what we had both seen and done in both life and death it help me to come to terms with what I had experienced.

He was unlike any other therapist or counselor because his own time in combat was so much like my own but far worse. From talking about what we had been through it took the mythic arena of war from something epic into the mundane.

We talked about the friends we lost, on more than a few occasions we came to realize we had known some of the same men but in different times of their lives. We talked about what had brought us to this point in our lives, to examine its nature and discover its truth.

I told Kent about how both Phil and Bruno had died. How those brushes with death had changed and lived with me. He told me about the loss of his leg and his countless months at Walter Reed and about coping with only one leg.

We both talked about why we had returned to Afghanistan after no one would have faulted us for not coming back. We focused on the spiritual dimension of combat for therein lies the great sway that allows young men to be drawn to what they think will be the glory of war.

In this effort, we went back the beginning of our careers and we talked about other warriors we had known who had fallen. Mostly we talked about the landscape of the inner self and how the soul is forever changed by the experience of war.

Kent summed it up best, “You never really get over the war. You always want the excitement and camaraderie that comes with being in combat. But the damage it leaves behind is something epic. In time, you just learn to live with it.”

What makes Kent a hero, in my mind, for evermore is how he listened and taught me ‘how to live with it.’ Bro, you will never really know how thankful I am for you giving me back my tomorrows when for so long I only lived in the todays.

 

Platoon Sergeant Jack Arnold

Intro

When I was a young cadet I had a great mentor in a gentleman named Sergeant First Class Jack R. Arnold. He was a three tour, Vietnam Veteran who had served as a Radio Operator with a Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP- pronounced “LURP”) Unit. His first two rows of medals were all medals for valor.

Jack was a character to say the least mesmerizing with his thick eyebrows, erect bearing and bulging muscles he seemed like he stepped from central casting to make boys into men into killing machines for the army.

He would address you with unblinking eyes and an iron voice giving you rigid commands in a machine gun staccato of verbal abuse that makes you wonder, “Is he serious?” It seems almost funny and nutty until you realize that this is really how he was, not acting a part but a man who lives “to soldier.”

He comes across when you first met him as utterly malevolent brutalizing you with his tirades and his astounding command of profanity. He crushes you at first and in time you learn he is secretly benevolent and there is a purpose behind his actions and it was to teach young men to survive the cauldron of war he lived through in Vietnam.

Jack would be unrelenting is his long, obscene abuse of the human language. His favorite was to stand at rigid and erect attention and to take his hand fully extended and chop it through the air to emphasize his point. His tirades were always drawn out descriptions of how messed up you were and the results of your stupidity and incompetence were going to, “… put young Soldiers in bodybags.”

To get an ass chewing from Jack was almost an assault of open eroticism in his description of the Soldiers he trains as “ladies,” “queers,” and “maggots.” His message was always very clear and he said to you (in effect) “By submitting to me, you will become men.”  After a time you came to believe him.  He was a sight to behold watching him “making corrections” on young Cadets.

August 1995, Kemper Military Junior College, Boonville, MO

The first time I ever saw Jack was when he was talking calmly to a football player. He told the boy to do pushups.  The urban raised football player looked at Jack like he was some sort of alien asking him to make an obscene gesture. At this point Jack begins to pivot back and forth in his jungle boots -which are perfectly bloused into his boots with the iron creases of his uniform.

And so begins one of the greatest moments of my military career as Jack looks at the football player and says, “Son, you were brought here, to Kemper Military Junior College to play football,” without pausing for a breath, he continues, “and football is a metaphor for war!”  He begins to dress down the shocked ball player, “You are a disgrace to this football program because you are not ready to be made into a warrior to fight on the gridiron. I was attempting to instruct you, but you failed in that mission as well,” like a car wreck you just couldn’t look away.

Jack then did something totally unexpected. He began to count the heads of all the people in the room. He took off his uniform top and put his feet on a table and knocked out 50 incline pushups. We all were transfixed by this awesome display Jack’s athleticism.

He cranked out those pushups like a piston in a machine and kept exhaling as he pushed up and down. After the last rep he bounced up on and looked menacingly into the eyes of the football player who just stared at Jack with his mouth open. Jack took a second to catch his breath and said, “Do you know what just happened here, son?” in a slightly malevolent tone.

The stunned jock could only shake his head back and forth not saying a word. Jack paused for a second, letting the question resounds throughout the room. I was thinking to myself, “Does he mean his yelling or those pushups?”

Jack brought out his hand in a flat arch to the boy’s chest, letting the middle finger of right hand stop dead center in the boy’s chest and said, “I will tell you what just happened here, son. I did two pushups for every person in here because it would take TWO of you to make one of ME!”

This last point he emphasized by pointing directly at himself. He would finish his verbal assault on the dimwitted jock concluding, “You boy, are an insult to your parents, to this school which has given you a scholarship to play football and most of all to yourself. I have given you a chance to prove yourself on the field of battle and you were weighed, tested and found wanting. But I, Platoon Sergeant Jack R. Arnold, will help you to become the man you need to be.”

Again, there was a pause and all these words were given the opportunity to sink in. “Now get out of my sight before I have a flashback of Vietnam you begin to get yellow skin and slant eyes.” Just like that he dismissed the chastised boy.

We all left in a hurry thoroughly impressed with our first meeting of Sergeant First Class Jack R. Arnold. As we left my buddy Julio turned to me and said, “Do you think that guy is serious?” I responded I didn’t know, but I did know was that I had found the mentor I was looking for to turn me into a Spartan.

Jack as a Mentor

Everything about Jack was intense from his workouts to his long conversations about the motives of fighting men. So much of what made him a person of almost superhuman stature in my memory has faded over time but never the lessons. He would wake up every morning at 5am and be in the gym by 530am and would lift for the next hour and half.

Every afternoon at 4pm, regardless of rain, snow and sun, he would ruck three days a week, 6 to 12 miles with a 65 pound rock. Every other day he would run 5 to 10 miles the other three days, Sunday was for Church because Jack was a heavy-duty Mormon.

In the end his body had been larded into an indomitable punishment-taker like a heavy duty truck with thick, knobby tires. With the physique of an amateur bodybuilder and the endurance of an Olympian, he was a sight to behold and emulate. What really made it impressive was, Jack was 45 years old. When most men his age were getting fat Jack almost seemed to be reversing the cycle.

He would explain this by starting every sentence with “Mr. Oto…” he would begin, because above all else I was a gentleman in training to become an Officer in the United States Army, at least the way Jack saw it. “Mr. Oto, your body is an extension of your will. You must train it the way you do men, relentless and with passion. To do this you must get the attention of men and how you do that is through the use of profanity.”  I have stored up tons of Jack’s gems but you get the idea.

What I loved about Jack the most was how uncomplicated he was. He talked openly about his experiences in Vietnam calling it “.. the best time of my life. All other experiences would fail after it.” He said to me once, “You know the reason I don’t have any problems from my service in Vietnam is because I never did anything there I either regretted or was not proud of.”  I came to believe his time there changed him in a lasting way.

After having been through several tours overseas I have come to understand just how profoundly such an experience does change you and haunts you for the rest of your life.

I did like one way Jack told me about his dealing with memories of Vietnam. We were running once down the Katy Trail- an interstate hiking trail that ran behind Kemper and goes all the way across Missouri.

As we were running he relayed a story to me from his third tour he looked at me and in his monotone robotic voice said, “Do you see the left side of my face, son?” I nodded that I did.  He continued, “When the Marines were fighting in Hue, you know that scene from the end of the excellent war movie ‘Full Metal Jacket’?”  I said yes.

We stopped running for a minute so I can tie my shoe and he looked at the far horizon, seeming to be lost in the moment of his memory. “A North Vietnamese soldier came out around a corner and caught Corporal Arnold half-stepping.  He took his rifle and butt stroked me to the left side of my face collapsing the left side of my face and breaking my jaw.”  I was shocked at the violence of his story.

He paused and said, “I was dazed by the blow, but through the pain I could see he was fixing his bayonet to his rifle and he was going to stab me in the guts.” I just gasped at this and asked, “Well, what did you do next?” anxious to hear what happened next. Jack simply a malevolent smile and said, “The only thing I could do.  I took that rifle away from that little gook son-of-bitch and I beat him to death with.” I was left awed by the story.

 

In 1995 when I returned from Airborne School Jack was relieved from his job for field stripping a .45 Caliber Colt Commander in the mess hall during dinner while everyone around him continued to eat. This was the last straw in a series of outrageous acts.

 

Right before leaving Kemper, he simply went to the position attention and saluted me and said, “Mr. Oto, I only hope that in whatever war you fight in, that war YOUR war will be as good to you as MY war was to me.” Not really knowing how to answer Jack’s bold statement- this happened a lot- I simply saluted.

October 2008, Fort Bragg, NC

13 years later I was walking out of the PX at Fort Bragg and literally ran into Jack. He looked at me for a few seconds, smiled and said, “Mr. Oto, how are you? No doubt you have fulfilled my prophecy for you and you have had the honor and privilege of leading men in battle?”  I laughed at this and smiled and told I was simply a Captain in the National Guard proudly serving while working as a school teacher full-time.

A scowl set in on his face and he asked how many tours of duty I had done overseas. I told him two, one in Iraq and one in Afghanistan.  He asked if I had been awarded any medals for valor or the Purple Heart for wounds received in closing with and killing the enemy.  I laughed at that one…. same old Jack.

He didn’t look he had aged a day. You could still see he was pumping weights regularly and at nearly 60 years old, he had just completed his second tour overseas to Afghanistan. We had dinner a couple of more times while I was at Bragg and caught up and it was good to see something never change.

Jack in his tough as hickory way had never made it passed Sergeant First Class. When I asked him why, he said, “Son, a computer is only good for two things: a paperweight and a place to set off a thermite grenade.  What does using a computer have to do with leading men into battle?”  I smiled at his answer and was glad to see some things never change.

Jack really was a character that seemed larger than life and almost as silly as George C. Scott in “Patton” but like Patton you find his over the top act enduring and if nothing else entertaining. I never doubted Jack was what he said he was but he did sometimes seem like he was an actor playing a role, an immensely entertaining and colorful role.

Ironically, Jack’s Birthday is July 4, 1950 but if asked “when he was born again- born again hard” his answer was April 1, 1967 the day he joined the army and later was sent to Vietnam. What an answer!

 

Major General Major General Raymond “Fred” Rees

Intro

One of my heroes is Major General Major General (MG) Raymond “Fred” Rees.

There are few American generals with as long or as distinguished service as MG Rees. Only three come to mind.

John Galvin

The first would be General John Galvin. Galvin started his career as an enlisted man in the Massachusetts National Guard, graduated from West Point in 1954 and served for 45 years in a variety of key assignments including division and corps command.

John Vessy Jr.

The second would be General John William Vessey, Jr. Vessey started his career in the Minnesota National Guard when he was 16 years old.  He received a battlefield commission during the battle of Anzio in World War II and went on to serve in the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

As a Colonel, he attended the Army helicopter school at the age of 48. In 1982, President Ronald Reagan appointed him as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Three years later when he retired at the age of 63 he was the last four star combat veteran of World War II on active service.  He retired with over 46 years of military service.

Douglas MacArthur

The last would be General of the Army Douglas MacArthur. He graduated from West point in 1903 at the top of his class. He served in World War I as the Chief of Staff and acting Division Commander of the National Guard’s famed 42nd Rainbow Division on the Western Front.  He was a Brigadier General at 38 years old.

In World War II, he commanded the Allied Forces in the Pacific. He oversaw the occupation of the Japan after World War II from 1945 to 1951.  During the Korean War, he was commander of the United Nations Forces until President Truman fired him.  When he retired from the military, he had served for over 52 years and had joined the army before the turn of the century.

Major General Rees

MG Rees was born in Pendleton raised in the small town of Helix in the northeast corner of Oregon. In the 2010 census Helix had a population of 184. Four of MG Rees’ uncles served in World War II.  The son of eastern Oregon wheat ranchers he graduated second from a class of seven from Helix High School in 1962 (Collins 2005).

MG Rees graduated from West Point in 1966. Of the 579 young men who received their commissions as second lieutenants at graduation four years later 30 of them would be dead (the highest number of casualties suffered by any class in Vietnam) and another one-third were civilians- the highest resignation rate in the history of the Academy (Atkinson 1989).

MG Rees’ classmates killed in Vietnam-7 percent- was almost identical with that of the academy’s classes that had served in World War II who had died fighting Japan and Germany. Yet they were hardly regarded in the same esteem (Atkinson 1989).

MG Rees commissioned as a Second Lieutenant of Armor and completed Airborne and Ranger Training before being assigned to the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment in West Germany.  In 1968 he served in Vietnam as the Assistant Training and Operations Officer of the 2nd Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division and later as commander of D Troop.

1968 was the most violent year for the war in Vietnam. At the end of January, the Vietcong launched the Tet Offensive.  U.S. troop numbers peaked at almost 600,000 and with it the numbers of American casualties rising to almost 16,600 killed. Troop D attached to the 199th Light Infantry Brigade served as a Recon Element.  Its job was to search out and engage the Viet Cong.

After returning from Vietnam, he served briefly on staff at Fort Lewis, WA. He completed training as an Army Aviator in 1971.  From March 1972 to August 1973 he served as an executive officer of an air cavalry troop and in a variety of staff assignments at Fort Bragg, NC.

In 1973 MG Rees entered law school at the University of Oregon and joined the Oregon National Guard. He practiced law in Pendleton from 1976 to 1978.  After 18 months in practice his father died and he took over his family’s 2,200 acre wheat farm (Collins 2005).

In the next several years MG Rees held several command and staff positions in the Guard such as commander of Company C, 2nd Battalion, 162 Infantry Regiment and 3rd Squadron, 116th Armored Cavalry Regiment.  In 1986 as the commander of 116th Armored Cavalry Regiment, he made Colonel.

In May 1987, MG Rees was appointed the Adjutant General (TAG) of the Oregon National Guard. This was the first of several times he would serve in this position. Promoted to Brigadier General in 1988, he was the first of the class of 1966 to reach that rank (Press 1991), and Major General in 1990.  After four years at the helm of the Oregon Guard, MG Rees became director of the Army National Guard at the National Guard Bureau (NGB) in 1991, then vice chief and acting chief of the bureau in 1994.

In 1994, he returned to Oregon for five years as TAG of the Oregon Guard, then again served alternately as vice chief and acting chief of the NGB, and from May 2003 until June 2005, MG Rees was chief of staff of the U.S. Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado (Collins 2005).  In July 2005, he became TAG for the third time.

National Guard Readiness in the 1990s

MG Rees’ contributions to both the Oregon Army National Guard and his nation are many. By serving at the state and national level, he was able to affect National Guard policy decisions five to 10 years out. As the acting director of the NGB in the 90’s he helped to lay the groundwork for several key projects that revolutionized and modernized the Guard for the 21st century.

One development was the Lavern E. The Weber Professional Education Center (PEC), on Camp Robinson in North Little Rock, Arkansas, is the national training center for the Army National Guard. It has a 75 acre campus consisting of 25 buildings and a total staff of approximately 420 military, civilian contractor personnel.  PEC annually provides instruction to over 20,000 members of the military force.

Another project was the Warrior Training Center at Fort Benning, GA which trains over 6,500 Soldiers in six courses each year (Little 2009).  The program started in the late 1990’s with the Army National Guard Pre-Ranger Program and by 2003 became the Warrior Training Center.  The program has grown each year, especially after the Guard become more involved in the GWOT.  The program’s six courses, which range from five to 17 days in duration, are Pre-Ranger (958 students in 2009), Combatives levels 1 and 2 (238), Air Assault (4,913), Pathfinder (209), Pre-Bradley Master Gunner (71) and Bradley Crew Evaluator (90) (Little 2009).

Under the leadership of MG Rees the program has been steadily been staffed with Soldiers and Officers from the Oregon Army National Guard as instructors and students. This has helped to fill gaps in Warfighter development by providing NCOs and officers with skill sets outside the Army’s traditional training venues for National Guard Soldiers.

During the 1990’s era, by participating in key missions the Oregon National Guard gained national recognition for achieving excellence in training and its ability to support civil authorities as needed.

In June 1998, the 41st Separate Infantry Brigade spent two weeks at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana. In 1999 alone, Oregon Soldiers deployed to over six foreign countries and 15 states.

State Partnership Program

MG Rees was the director of the NGB in 1991, when the fall of the Soviet Union and its old empire fell apart almost overnight. U.S. government officials looked for ways to reach out to the new democratic nations in the former Soviet Bloc without seeming like they were threatening Russia.

Latvia’s government made a request to develop a military based on the American National Guard. General Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Army General John Shalikashvili, the Commander of the NATO European Command embraced the concept of building a partnership with the small country and reached out to the NGB for help.  Under MG Rees’ direction the National Guard played the lead role in the military liaison teams.  By 2001 the National Guard had almost a decade of liaisoning with foreign countries and their militaries.

All over the nation Guard Soldiers helped construct roads, trails and buildings in many of the State’s National Forests and Parks and provided assistance during times of natural disaster and state emergency. These state missions and international partnership missions changed and modernized the Guard. When the nation went to war, the National Guard was ready.

Global War on Terrorism (GWOT)

Traditionally, the Guard’s role has been both as a state-level security force and a ready reserve component of the U.S. combat power for overseas commitments (Christ 2009).  With the Global War on Terrorism that role changed.

During the 9/11 terrorist attacks, MG Rees was serving again as TAG of Oregon. He was also second in command of the National Guard Bureau, which was responsible for putting 700 Guard members in 440 airports within seven days after the terrorist attacks (Collins 2005).  The NGB helped with supplementing border security at a time before the Department of Homeland Security existed.

During, the GWOT Oregon Soldiers have deployed all over the world and responded to natural disasters. In September, 2005, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, most of the 41st Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT) deployed as part of Task Force Oregon in relief and security efforts near the French Quarter in New Orleans.

By the end of the month, when Hurricane Rita wreaked havoc again on the Gulf Coast, the 41st took the lead of the newly designated Joint Task Force Rita to help in all disaster-related needs in Texas and Louisiana.

“This led to initial call-ups in the war on terror,” MG Rees says. “It was evident that the Oregon Guard could respond.” As another example, he points to the rapid response after Hurricane Katrina, “We were able, from a cold start here, to get 2,000 people ready to go in 72 hours” (Collins 2005).

In the spring of 2006, 41st IBCT went to Afghanistan, marking the first major deployment of the brigade to a combat zone since World War II. In 2009, the 41st IBCT deployed to Iraq.

By 2009 almost half of the Oregon Army National Guard 6,500 Soldiers would serve in the Global War on Terrorism, including Rees’ own son Christian as the commander of the 2nd battalion, 641st Aviation Regiment (Quesada 2009).

Conclusion

Major General Rees’ service as a transformational leader has truly been extraordinary. His most important legacy will be that during the GWOT demonstrated to the Regular Army that the National Guard was prepared when America needed its “ready reserve.”

The National Guard being involved in international projects and large army exercises increased federal funding for training and equipment allowed states to spend a greater part of its military budget on facilities and training areas. All this accomplished in a time of fiscal constraint.

The period of the 1990’s saw an extraordinary transformation in the National Guard. Improvements in facilities, training and evaluation produced a well-trained, well-equipped military force, which could be could be confidently called on to support the Regular Army in any future crisis.

At the state level MG Rees commanded the Oregon Army National Guard as it fought in two of America’s longest wars. At the national level MG Rees’ long-term strategy for modernizing the Guard made certain that the National Guard was ready when America called after 9/11.  MG Rees’ vision inspired trust, loyalty and international recognition for the National Guard by creating partnerships with key allies throughout the world.

At both the state and national level MG Rees carried a strategy he had planned while he was at the NGB. He had fine-tuned it as Oregon’s military commander.  MG Rees created a plan that both colonels and privates could grasp. It is a rare thing for a general to relay the character of the blueprint of the strategy for waging a military campaign for modernization on such clear terms and during times of crisis and budget constraints.  It was a case of applied, intellectual leadership, of getting big ideas on paper and communicated throughout a large organization.

When Major General Rees retires tomorrow he will have served his nation for 47 years. His service spans three of our nation’s longest wars (Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq), a multitude of peacekeeping operations around the world during the most historical modernization of the National Guard in its 400 year history.  He has been at the center of it all for nearly half of a century.  His selfless leadership and extraordinary devotion to duty shows MG Rees has led by example living up to the ethos and values of the institution to which he graduated from: Duty, Honor and Country.  His legacy will be felt for generations to come.

Bibliography

Atkinson, Rick. The Long Gray Line: The American Journey of West Point’s Class of 1966 . New York : Henry Holt and Company, 1989.

Christ, James F. The Bone Yard: Book One of the ETT Series. Ogden, UT: Mountainland Publishing , 2009.

Collins, Cliff. “Maj Gen Raymond (Fred) Rees: General Rees.” Profiles in the Law- Oregon State Bar Bulletin, 2005.

Little, Vincent. “Warrior Training Center’s ranks growing.” The Bayonet , 2009.

Press, Associated. “Oregon general gets Guard post .” Eugene Register-Guard, 1991.

Quesada, K. “Nearly Half of the Oregon Guard off to war in 2009.” The Oregonian, 2009.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Visiting England

Intro

In 2008, I was in Afghanistan on a small team mentoring the Afghan National Army (ANA). The British Army were the Battle Space owners in our area.

The British had been in Helmand since 2006 but 2008 had been their most their most active year yet. They provided Operational Mentoring and Liaison Teams (OMLT) to assist in training the ANA and Afghan National Police (ANP).

The OMLT had soldiers from the Royal Irish Regiment (1 IRISH) augmented by the Royal Highland Fusiliers, 2nd Battalion Royal Regiment of Scotland (2 SCOTS) and the Highlanders, 4th Battalion, Royal Regiment of Scotland (4 SCOTS).

The 9/12 Lancers, a cavalry regiment, provided some smaller units. Among them was Gavin.

My team, partnered with the British Army, and manned four Combat Outposts in the Upper Gereshk Valley in Helmand.

Gavin

Gavin reminds of the actor Chris Hemsworth (Thor) but with short hair. Gavin is a true British gentleman with a quick smile he always has a kind word when he sees you.

We only met a handful of times in Afghanistan, but became good friends over the last couple of years thanks to Facebook.

The Invitation

Gavin invited me to England to the Amalgamation Parade of the 9th/12th Royal Lancers (Prince of Wales’s) and The Queen’s Royal Lancers to form the Army’s newest regiment- The Royal Lancers.

Gavin was in-charge of the whole thing. Despite being busy he was a great host and always made time to see me.

The Setting

The ceremony took place in rural Yorkshire in the heart of England. With its fields and farms look like Tolkien’s description of the Shire in The Lord of the Rings.

Heather clad moorland, with wide open valleys, rolling green hills topped with towering pines, rushing rivers all make up Yorkshire.

The landscape smells of freshly tilted earth sprinkled with village pubs and small cottage homes that have flower boxes on window sills.

Sheep and ancient stone walls lined the two lane blacktop road that led to my Bed & Breakfast, a 400 year overlooking the 1,000 year old Bolton Castle.

Billy

I got a chance to see another old friend from Afghanistan. Billy is a British Army Captain from the Royal Irish Regiment. A slender, intense man he ends most of his sentences tacking on the word “so.”

It is an endearing quality that brought me right back to Afghanistan in 2008. I remember listening to the radio crackle with the accent of the Northern Ireland province of Ulster, where most of the men of the Royal Irish came from.

They had the habit of adding “so it is” or “so I will” for emphasis. The English always add “yeah” when asking you a question they assume you will give a positive answer to. I lost count the number of times I got asked, “You want a cup of tea, yeah?”

It brought back the politeness and civility that I experienced in Afghanistan working with the Brits among the death, dirt and sorrow of that tour. They are true professionals who know how to soldier hard and have fun.

Richmond Castle

The ceremony took place at Richmond Castle, a striking sight. The castle tower (the keep) is over 100 feet high. It’s perched on a rocky spur with 100 foot escarpment down to the turbulent River Swale.

It was originally built to subdue the unruly North of England by the Normans in 1091, making it the oldest surviving stone castle in England.

Richmond Castle overlooks the medieval settlement of Richmond. The town’s close proximity to the Yorkshire Dales National Park and castles makes it a popular tourist destination. The castle dominates Richmond’s stunning skyline.

It was a great location for an historical event.

The Event

The parade took place on May 2, 2015. In attendance were the Regiment’s Colonel-in-Chief, Her Majesty, the Queen of England and His Royal Highness, the Duke of York (Deputy-Colonel-in-Chief) Prince Andrew.

The Queen had been the Colonel-In-Chief of the Regiment since 1948. She wore a pink outfit to celebrate the birth of her great-granddaughter Princess Charlotte.

The weather was a perfect English day- wet and cold. Despite having warmer weather all week it was windy, overcast and sleet gray.

The Parade itself had a wonderful, festive vibrancy with all the soldiers dressed in their best uniforms. They marched through Richmond and into the castle.

I remember most is the horses as the Honor Guard and saber flashings as they passed the Queen. It was a dazzling display of the grandeur of the British Army on parade.

It was a beautiful day full of amazing colors, honors, and heritage. The men in the parade performed spectacularly and looked very professional. I was honored to be invited to such a magnificent occasion.

I really enjoyed my trip to England. I toured the museum of the British Army Green Howards (Alexandra, Princess of Wales’s Own Yorkshire Regiment), frequently known as the Yorkshire Regiment, a line infantry regiment of the British Army.

The museum is in the old Trinity Church in the center of the market area in Richmond. Showcased was the regiment’s service throughout the world in for Queen and country. From the “American War of Independence” (the British name of our Revolutionary War) through Afghanistan in 2012.

I had a great time seeing some old friends and making lots of new ones.