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Until every one comes home | The Magazine of the USO

Infantry Rush

September 19, 2014, 10:32AM

Army Sgt. Jonathan Gallogla rushes under direct fire during Expert Infantryman Badge qualification on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. The badge is awarded to Army personnel who hold infantry or special forces military occupational specialties and successfully pass the rigors of the course. U.S. Air Force photo by Justin ConnaherArmy Sgt. Jonathan Gallogla rushes under direct fire during Expert Infantryman Badge qualification on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. The badge is awarded to Army personnel who hold infantry or special forces military occupational specialties and successfully pass the rigors of the course. U.S. Air Force photo by Justin Connaher

Sailor Strength, Marine Muscle

September 17, 2014, 8:04PM

U.S. Navy sailors pull a combat rubber raiding craft carrying Marines into the well deck of the amphibious dock landing ship USS Germantown during amphibious operations in the Philippine Sea. U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Amanda R. GrayU.S. Navy sailors pull a combat rubber raiding craft carrying Marines into the well deck of the amphibious dock landing ship USS Germantown during amphibious operations in the Philippine Sea. U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Amanda R. Gray

Rapid Trident

September 16, 2014, 3:02PM

A U.S. soldier stands in formation during Exercise Rapid Trident’s opening ceremony in Yavoriv, Ukraine. Rapid Trident is an annual U.S. Army Europe-conducted, Ukrainian-led multinational exercise designed to enhance interoperability with allied and partner nations. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Joshua LeonardA U.S. soldier stands in formation during Exercise Rapid Trident’s opening ceremony in Yavoriv, Ukraine. Rapid Trident is an annual U.S. Army Europe-conducted, Ukrainian-led multinational exercise designed to enhance interoperability with allied and partner nations. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Joshua Leonard

Hot Topics for September 15

September 15, 2014, 9:24AM |

Al-Qaida's Syrian cell alarms US (Associated Press)

Women invited to apply for Ranger School (Army Times)

Paths to War, Then and Now, Haunt Obama (New York Times)

U.S. intelligence agencies remain uncertain about danger posed by Islamic State (Washington Post) 

Arab Nations Offer to Conduct Airstrikes Against ISIS, U.S. Officials Say (New York Times) 

Side Arm Throw

September 12, 2014, 7:58AM

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. David Garcia throws a practice grenade during a training class on Silver Flag Alpha, Nevada. Students completed the course as part of their predeployment training. U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Christian ClausenU.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. David Garcia throws a practice grenade during a training class on Silver Flag Alpha, Nevada. Students completed the course as part of their predeployment training. U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Christian Clausen

Thumbs Up

September 10, 2014, 8:43PM

U.S. Army Spc. Elliot Graham gives the thumbs up while negotiating a rope obstacle at the 7th Army Joint Multinational Training Command's Grafenwoehr Training Area, Germany. U.S. Army photo by Markus Rauchenberger U.S. Army Spc. Elliot Graham gives the thumbs up while negotiating a rope obstacle at the 7th Army Joint Multinational Training Command's Grafenwoehr Training Area, Germany. U.S. Army photo by Markus Rauchenberger

A U.S. Army explosive ordnance disposal technician recently rescued a woman from alligator-infested waters near Fort Stewart, Georgia.

Army Pfc. Nathan Currie from the 756th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Company was fishing on the south dock of Fort Stewart's Holbrook Pond when he heard a splash from a sedan driving into the pond.

Army Pfc. Nathan Currie, an explosive ordnance disposal technician with the 756th Explosive Ordnance Detachment, recently helped save a woman's life after her car went into an alligator- and snake-infested pond on Fort Stewart, Ga. Courtesy photo Army Pfc. Nathan Currie, an explosive ordnance disposal technician with the 756th Explosive Ordnance Detachment, recently helped save a woman's life after her car went into an alligator- and snake-infested pond on Fort Stewart, Ga. Courtesy photo The soldier dropped his fishing rod and sprang into action. Currie drove his car around the pond to where the submerged sedan was flipped over with only the driver's side tires visible above the murky water.

Dives into the pond

Currie, who hails from Oklahoma City, dove into the water to see if someone was in the car. He felt a body in the back seat and came back up for air. He then swam back into the car and pulled the woman from the vehicle.

The woman had been under the water about five minutes and was turning blue. Currie revived her with cardiopulmonary resuscitation and stayed with her until paramedics arrived on the scene.

Army Command Sgt. Maj. Wylie Hutchison, the senior enlisted leader for the Fort Stewart-based 188th Infantry Brigade, joined Currie at the scene and took part in the rescue. While Currie was performing CPR on the woman, Hutchison jumped in the pond and checked the vehicle three more times to ensure no one else was inside.

Alligators and snakes

"My Army training helped by preparing me to respond quickly and take action with courage and confidence under adverse conditions," Currie said.

An avid fisherman from Norman, Oklahoma, the 28-year-old Currie was on his first fishing trip to the large pond on Fort Stewart, which is home to alligators and snakes.

Currie is assigned to the Fort Stewart-based 756th EOD Company from the 63rd EOD Battalion, 52nd EOD Group, 20th CBRNE Command (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives). With its members serving on 19 installations in 16 states, the 20th CBRNE, with headquarters at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, is the U.S. Army's only formation that combats chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive threats.

A two-year veteran, Currie volunteered to serve in the U.S. Army's life-saving explosive ordnance disposal profession.

"I wanted to be an EOD tech because the job was challenging and very rewarding," Currie said.

Brave soldier

According to the 20th CBRNE Command’s Command Sgt. Maj. Harold E. Dunn IV, Currie's actions were not surprising for an Army EOD soldier trained to go into harm's way and dismantle explosive devices.

"Pfc. Currie is a direct representation of each and every trooper in the 20th CBRNE Command," said Dunn, a native of Roanoke, Virginia.

"He is part of a team that lives each moment of every day in service to others, a team of soldiers that continually prepare themselves through tough realistic training and then they execute with little or no thought regarding their own safety," Dunn added. "They drive themselves each day just a little further knowing they will, not could, be called to the front to clear the path for others to travel.”

Currie’s actions, "although extraordinary for most, are not surprising," Dunn said.

"We are all very proud of how he stepped forward when called -- without hesitation," he added.

Hanging On

September 9, 2014, 2:00PM

Marine Corps Sgt. Matt Boulis performs a supine pullup during an all-hands physical training session in Holt, Michigan. The event, which drew more than 60 Marines, included pullup variations, kettlebell exercises, medicine ball throws and partner abdominal workouts. U.S. Marine Coprs photo by Sgt. Kevin MaynardMarine Corps Sgt. Matt Boulis performs a supine pullup during an all-hands physical training session in Holt, Michigan. The event, which drew more than 60 Marines, included pullup variations, kettlebell exercises, medicine ball throws and partner abdominal workouts. U.S. Marine Coprs photo by Sgt. Kevin Maynard

This week, top scientists in the fields of brain science, psychology and traumatic stress will present their findings at the Staglin Family Vineyard for the Music Festival for Brain Health, where one Napa family, still rattled from the recent earthquake, will host a weekend of fine wine, exquisite cuisine, and hopeful commentary from some of the brightest minds in the field of brain science and resiliency.

Hosted by One Mind, in collaboration with the International Mental Health Research Organization (IMHRO), Garen and Shari Staglin offer their warm Rutherford estate as the backdrop for a unique mix of education, entertainment, and fine dining, which to-date has raised more than $200 million for mental health charities and research.

“If you think about brain disease, from early-life autism to adult forms of depression, PTSD and even late-in-life illnesses like dementia and Alzheimer’s, there’s probably not a family in America who doesn’t have a friend or family member who suffers from or has suffered from these illnesses,” said Garen Staglin, co-founder of OneMind and host of the Music Festival for Brain Health.

Featuring live music by Jewel and Vintage Trouble, the two-day event will kick off with a scientific symposium moderated by Steven E. Hyman, M.D., former director of the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), a Harvard University distinguished service professor, director of the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, and Professor of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology at Harvard. Other speakers include Dr. Eric S. Lander, one of the principal leaders of the Human Genome Project, Dr. Vikaas Sohal, IMHRO Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at UCSF, and retired Army Gen. Pete Chiarelli, who as Vice Chief of Staff of the Army led the Department of Defense efforts on post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury and suicide prevention.

“We still refer to the signature wounds in these latest wars as ‘invisible wounds,’ when there’s nothing invisible about traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress,” said Patrick Kennedy, OneMind co-founder and author of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008. “We need to recognize that these injuries are real, and that the expression of these injuries is often in behavior, and when we do that we ought to treat them as aggressively as we would treat any other injury of war.”

Though referred to as a “top priority” by Defense officials, much of the research on suicide prevention and brain health research conducted outside the National Institute of Health over the past decade has been funded by this single event. And according to Staglin, the millions raised every year—while considerable—is a drop in the bucket compared to the funding received by cancer and heart disease research. 

“This needs to be a top priority for Americans, especially those Americans with family members coming home from a decade of war," added Kennedy. "If we did the two of those things [recognize the physiological nature of the injuries and the way the symptoms are expressed], then I doubt we would facing the consequences, which—as we know—is nearly 20 veterans tragically taking their lives every single day.”

Music Festival for Brain Health guests walk through the Staglin Estate caves where they will taste some of the world's finest wines and enjoy celebrated cuisine from Napa Valley, with hors d’oeuvres by local favorites. Napa's finest vintners such as Screaming Eagle, Harlan Estate and Honig Vineyards all come together at the Rutheford, Calif., estate once a year to open their best bottles for for a one-of-a-kind tasting. Photo by Joseph Andrew LeeMusic Festival for Brain Health guests walk through the Staglin Estate caves where they will taste some of the world's finest wines and enjoy celebrated cuisine from Napa Valley, with hors d’oeuvres by local favorites. Napa's finest vintners such as Screaming Eagle, Harlan Estate and Honig Vineyards all come together at the Rutheford, Calif., estate once a year to open their best bottles for for a one-of-a-kind tasting. Photo by Joseph Andrew Lee

Breaking Down Barriers

September 8, 2014, 4:32PM

Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Ace Rheaume breaks down a door during close-quarters battle training as part of Fleet Combat Camera Pacific's Summer Quick Shot 2014 in the Angeles National Forest, California. DoD photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Christopher CarsonNavy Petty Officer 1st Class Ace Rheaume breaks down a door during close-quarters battle training as part of Fleet Combat Camera Pacific's Summer Quick Shot 2014 in the Angeles National Forest, California. DoD photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Christopher Carson

When people get fired up about supporting America’s troops, they usually do it in a big way.

Today, the USO announced it shattered the Guinness World Record for most signatures on a flag, collecting 115,405 signatures earlier this year. Part of the Every Moment Counts campaign, the certified record breaks the previous mark by more than 82,000 signatures. The flag will be unveiled to the public on a three-city tour that starts Thursday at the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati.

While 115,405 is a huge number, it’s also one with a lot of meaning. The USO asked those who signed the flag online to explain why they did it.

“My family’s military history goes back over 10 consecutive generations,” said online signer Beth Hish. “I did this for them and the thousands of others who serve and who have served our great nation.”

Hish said she directly benefitted from USO services as a teen when her family was stationed at Clark Air Base in the Philippines in the early 1990s. Those included a Billy Joel visit and performance at her high school.

“The concerts, school visits and activities brought a little piece of stateside comfort to a kid who was struggling to fit in to a new school [and] community. It was something familiar that I could connect with. USO programming [and] support is such a special gift to military members and their families. The least we can do is show our support in return. … That’s why I signed the flag.”

Others had similar stories:

“I signed the flag because I fully understand the importance of feeling support from all the non-military people in our great nation. I served eight years in the Army Signal Corps. … Every where I went the USO was there in some form or fashion … whether it was a recreation tent or a phone center and even on occasion seeing big-name musicians, actors and public figures all out showing their support for the U.S. military. I have not — nor will I ever — forget what our flag stands for and what it means to me. … Thank you USO for being there for all us.” –Former Sgt. Craig D. Matthews

“I signed the flag because I love America and I am proud to serve in the [Air Force] Reserve! The USO has provided me a place to rest and recuperate between flights on multiple deployments. I always feel welcome and safe.” –Carolyn Newhouse

“I signed the flag because all three of my sons have served or currently serve in the military. … [I am] very proud of my boys. The USO has been their for them when they transition from place to place. Thank you for all that you do for our military.” –Rosalee Morris

“My father is a Marine. My parents met at the USO. I was born and bred in the Marine Corps and work for the Air Force. I see every day what the men and women of our armed forces sacrifice for our country and am proud to support them in their endeavors. Thank you USO for your support … I might not be here if it wasn’t for your wonderful organization.” –Kim Chastain

(Editors note: Submissions lightly edited for style)

Smoke Screen

September 4, 2014, 8:25PM

U.S. Marines and Malaysian soldiers participate in a combined amphibious assault as part of Malaysia-United States Amphibious Exercise 2014 in Lahad Datu, Malaysia. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Melissa WengerU.S. Marines and Malaysian soldiers participate in a combined amphibious assault as part of Malaysia-United States Amphibious Exercise 2014 in Lahad Datu, Malaysia. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Melissa Wenger

Breaking it Down

September 2, 2014, 4:01PM

U.S. Marine Cpls. Armondo Cortez, left, and Estevan D. Hernandeza discuss their plan for dismantling the command operation center during the retrograde of Patrol Base Boldak in Afghanistan's Helmand Province last month. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. John A. Martinez Jr.U.S. Marine Cpls. Armondo Cortez, left, and Estevan D. Hernandeza discuss their plan for dismantling the command operation center during the retrograde of Patrol Base Boldak in Afghanistan's Helmand Province last month. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. John A. Martinez Jr.

A hit-and-run driver robbed Staff Sgt. Michael Smith of his arm and nearly his life, but failed to impact his single-minded determination.

Army Staff Sgt. Michael Smith prepares to cycle in the Warrior Games Trials at West Point, N.Y., in June 2014. Smith qualified for cycling, but opted to compete in swimming and track and field at the Warrior Games in Colorado next month. Courtesy photo Army Staff Sgt. Michael Smith prepares to cycle in the Warrior Games Trials at West Point, N.Y., in June 2014. Smith qualified for cycling, but opted to compete in swimming and track and field at the Warrior Games in Colorado next month. Courtesy photo “My commitment was to staying in the Army for 20 [years],” Smith said. “There was no way I was going to be shortchanged due to someone else’s negligence.”

After two years of intense rehabilitation and training at Brooke Army Medical Center, Smith’s persistence paid off. An above-the-elbow amputee, Smith met every standard and was approved earlier this month to return to duty as a career soldier.

“I’m very excited about what the future holds,” the 15-year veteran said. “With or without my injury, I want my daughter to know what true commitment looks like.”

Commitment never wavered

In the years since his accident, Smith’s commitment has never wavered.

A recruiter in Nashville, Tennessee, at the time, Smith was riding his motorcycle when a texting driver slammed into him from behind. He flew over the guardrail and was then hit midair by a driver coming from the opposite direction.

“I was knocked unconscious on impact, and when I woke up I was lying on the highway,” Smith recalled. “My boots and helmet had come off, and my arm was hanging on by the skin inside my jacket sleeve.”

Smith tried to move off the road but was unable. The texting driver had driven off but the second driver, a Navy corpsman, rushed over and tended to his wounds until the ambulance arrived. In the coming months, Smith underwent six surgeries due to infection, which eventually claimed most of his right arm.

Miraculous turnaround and rehabilitation

Not long afterward, Smith had another brush with death when he suffered kidney failure. His father drove up from Amarillo, Texas, he said, and sat by his bedside praying for hours.

“The next couple of days, I made a miraculous turnaround,” Smith recalled.

Facing a long rehabilitation and based on a recommendation from his cousin, who works at Brooke Army Medical Center here, Smith requested to be assigned to BAMC’s Warrior Transition Battalion.

A week-and-a-half later, he arrived at the Center for the Intrepid, BAMC’s outpatient rehabilitation center. Smith’s goal was to return to active duty, but he knew he was facing an uphill battle.

“I spoke to the CFI staff and they pushed me to do everything,” he said. “I knew I had to prove I could do just as much if not more than anyone else.”

Focusing on sports

With this goal in mind, the former high school athlete dove into every sport possible. He mastered shooting firearms. He ran Spartan races, Tough Mudders, and half-marathons. Tough Mudders are 10- to 12-mile obstacle courses designed to test strength, stamina and teamwork skills.

Smith also went rock climbing, skiing and snowboarding. He swam, cycled and took part in track and field. He joined soccer, basketball and kickball leagues.

Earlier this month, Smith nervously appeared before the Physical Evaluation Board. Yet he felt confident they’d approve his request to remain in the Army. He was thrilled when they declared him fit for active duty.

“I’ve been committed to the Army my entire adult life,” he said. “I feel very blessed that I have the opportunity to continue to serve.”

Return to duty, promotion

Smith, who is slated to be promoted to sergeant first class this week, hopes to resume his prior career in field artillery.

“I just want to be a regular soldier, go to combat if needed,” he said. “I honestly feel like there’s nothing I can’t do now, thanks to the support from my family, friends and the staff at the CFI who were with me every step of the way.”

As he awaits orders, Smith is filling his time with his other passion: sports. He’s slated to represent the Army in track and field and swimming at the Warrior Games next month, and continues to cycle daily in hopes of making the 2016 Paralympic team.

Motivating others

Smith said he believes to this day that he lost his arm for a reason.

“I would like to inspire and motivate others struggling with mental or physical challenges,” he said. “No one should let their injury determine who they are or who they want to be.”

Watching Out For You

August 25, 2014, 6:01PM

U.S. Army Spc. Jon Sweatt provides security during evening hours in Morghan Kachah village in Afghanistan's Kandahar province. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney HoustonU.S. Army Spc. Jon Sweatt provides security during evening hours in Morghan Kachah village in Afghanistan's Kandahar province. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney Houston