As Commander of American Legion Post 29, Lenoir, North Carolina, it is my pleasure to welcome you to our website.
We are a very active Post, made up of veterans working very hard to support Veterans, youth, and our community. As prior and present members of the United States Army, Maine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard, active, reserve or National Guard, we all have worked as part of the most well known team in the world, The United States Military.
Are you up to the challenge of continuing to work as a team to make the lives of our fellow veterans, their families, and our community better? If so, please join us as we make a difference through one of the many programs we sponsor.
Come sit down and visit with us at one of our coffee calls held every Tuesday and Thursday from 0800 to 1100 in the Dysart Kendall American Legion Building located at 401 Main Street, in Historic Downtown Lenoir, NC.
You can also visit our monthly meeting held the second Monday of every month at 1900.
Let us know how we can help each other as we make our community a better place for all to live.
I hope to welcome you to our Post in the near future!
Richard A. Keener
The American Legion-backed Stolen Valor Act of 2013 has passed the U.S. House of Representatives. The proposed law, which would criminalize the act of lying about receiving military medals and honors in order to defraud persons or institutions for profit, was introduced early this year by Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev. The congressman is a U.S. Army Reserve colonel and a member of Legion Paradise Post 149 in Las Vegas.
The new Stolen Valor Act of 2013 is a modified version of the Stolen Valor Act of 2005. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the 2005 statute as signed by President George W. Bush was in violation of the right of free speech since it could be interpreted as criminalizing the mere act of uttering a falsehood about being the recipient of certain honors. The newly proposed law, as suggested in the Supreme Court’s ruling, specifies that the falsehoods must be designed “with intent to obtain money, property or other tangible benefit.” These would include veterans benefits.
The Supreme Court’s decision defining the old law as unconstitutional came out of the United States v. Alvarez case of 2012. The case arose from a lie told by Xavier Alvarez in a public meeting several years before. At the time, Alvarez was an elected member of the board of directors of a water district in Southern California. In that instance, Alvarez had fraudulently represented himself as a retired Marine and Medal of Honor recipient for actions during the Iranian hostage crisis. A member of the public knew these claims to be false, pressed the issue and Alvarez – who also purported to a Vietnam veteran helicopter pilot, a former Detroit Red Wings hockey player, a police officer dismissed for using excessive force and the secret husband of a Mexican starlet – was prosecuted under the old Stolen Valor Act. In the end, the Supreme Court declared that Alvarez, and others like him, must have lied about military decorations and honors for tangible gain rather than just false boasting rights.
Last August, Legion leadership adopted Resolution No. 283, calling for amendment of the old Stolen Valor Act to “provide that the elements of fraud be incorporated into the previous…legislation” and resolved to back any new legislation that would meet the concerns expressed by the Supreme Court. That is what Heck’s bill did and, in late March, American Legion National Commander Jim Koutz wrote a letter of support to the Nevada congressman.
In early February, a companion Stolen Valor Act of 2013 was introduced into the U.S. Senate by Heck’s fellow Nevada Republican, Sen. Dean Heller, and Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont. That bill is still under committee consideration.
For the past 61 years, three American Legion districts in Pittsburgh have hosted an annual youth achievement dinner. The dinner recognizes students in Allegheny County for achievements in Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, American Legion Keystone Boys State and Auxiliary Girls State, Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC), academics, Oratorical Contest, the department’s essay contest on the responsibilities and duties of good citizenship, music and sports.
"The American Legion is dedicated to bringing the voices of our youth into the community and raising awareness about the remarkable achievements made by these amazing individuals year-round," said District 32 Commander Daniel Derence.
Allegheny County’s youth achievement dinner recognized 67 high school students this past April. The dinner was held at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum in Pittsburgh, with Legionnaires, parents, teachers and friends of the nominated students in attendance. The program featured an honor guard compromised of military and scholastic awardees from the JROTC programs, a POW/MIA ceremony, a guest speaker and the distribution of awards by Department of Pennsylvania Commander Joseph Cocco. Guest speaker was James Hales Jr., past department commander and a Marine combat veteran from the Vietnam War.
"This annual tradition focuses on (the Legion’s) Children & Youth (Pillar) by celebrating and recognizing the excellence of high school students," said Anne Manly, American Legion vice commander of Allegheny County. "The goal is to reward and inspire youth at the post and district levels and emphasize the importance of parents, families and guardians in the development of our nation’s young people and future leaders."
The students are nominated by Legion posts and guidance counselors. The selected students received a medal, a certificate of merit and a monetary award. Awardees included:
The 2012 Boys State and Girls State delegates that were recognized and are planning to attend military service academies included: Aaron Fonner, Jacob Kocsis, Joshua Burger, Channing Nolan, Megan Rosenberger Grace Meakem and Maria Fabi,
In a May 17 Pentagon news conference, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel again pledged strong action against those who perpetrate and condone by inaction military sexual assault (MSA). Seated side by side with Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, Hagel declared, “We’re going fix the problem (and) we’re going to fix it here.”
According to Hagel, finding a solution to the reportedly escalating problem of sexual criminality within the military will not be easy nor unilaterally accomplished. However, the defense chief indicated that commitment to finding a fix is universal within the group of top military leaders who met with President Obama the previous day.
“The military leaders in that room answered and responded – at the president’s invitation – (with) very honest evaluations about the issue and clearly articulated what they are all going to do and are doing to address it," Hagel said. “There wasn’t anybody in that room who wasn’t disappointed and embarrassed and didn’t recognize that we in many ways failed. But, we all have committed to turn this around and we will fix the problem. There is not a military leader in that room who isn’t committed.”
Hagel also pointed to the proactive stance of Congress in their convening of an independent MSA study panel whose findings and recommendations both he and Dempsey indicated would be key in addressing the crisis.
Accountability in the field, or lack thereof, is blamed as one of the causative factors in the mounting numbers of military sexual assaults. Hagel pledged to address that through a process of military culture change, beginning with the training or retraining of every service recruiter, per his directive of the day. The defense secretary also indicated that holding leadership accountable for finding a solution is critical. “It’s not good enough to say we have a zero tolerance policy,” he said. “We do, but what does that mean? How does that translate into changing anything? I want to know.”
Hagel said he has instituted a series of personally chaired weekly briefs during which leaders must report real progress rather than utter platitudes.
“The emphasis on prevention especially important," Dempsey said of MSA. "As the president made clear to us yesterday, we can and must do more to change a culture that has become too complacent. Now is the time for us to commit ourselves to our profession. Now is the time for character to be valued as much, if not more, than competence. Now is the time for moral courage at every level. There can be no bystanders."
Dempsey likened the challenge presented by military sexual assault to struggles against racial discrimination and drug abuse he witnessed during the early years of his military career. “The Army was broken,” he said. “(But) with moral leadership and recommitment to professionalism, we changed that course, we restored trust in the ranks, and trust between us and the American people. Today, the joint force is not broken; in fact it is remarkably resilient...but we have a serious problem that we must solve: aggressive sexual behavior that rips at the bond of trust that binds us together. We must change course.”
In response to a reporter’s question, Hagel repeated an earlier assertion that alcohol use plays a significant causal role in MSA. “Alcohol (is) a very big factor in sexual assault,” Hagel said. “Not (in) every case, but in many cases. There’s no question it does.”
Another reporter resurrected the topic of accountability. Many assault victims have complained of laxity in prosecution of sex criminals in the military with favoritism shown to some defendants. “You might argue that we’ve become a little too forgiving because if a perpetrator shows up in a court martial with a rack of ribbons and has four deployments and a Purple Heart, there is certainly the risk that we might be a little too forgiving of that particular crime," Dempsey said.
Both Hagel and Dempsey alluded to the many pieces of anti-MSA legislation just introduced into the House and Senate; at least10 in all. The most recent of them was the “Military Justice Improvement Act” of May 16. A reporter queried the pair’s views on one provision of the proposed law that would remove prosecution of sexual assault cases from the accused’s chain of command in favor of an outside prosecutor. While neither the defense secretary nor the general addressed the question directly, Dempsey did say, “Some of these congressional proposals could be game changers. And so we want to make sure, as the secretary said, that as we take a look at the proposals we understand how they fit together and more importantly what are the second and third order effects (because) in our system, we give a commander life and death decision-making authority. I can’t imagine going forward in solving this issue without commanders involved.”
Hagel said he has been talking with members of the House and Senate about their legislative proposals and will continue to do so. “(We are) not taking any position on any bill,” he said. “We are looking for components of every bill to see what makes sense.”
The defense secretary said he is also conferring with leaders of overseas military forces in an attempt to assemble a collection of best practices based on the handling of sexual assault cases within their services.
With around 700 student veterans enrolled, North Dakota State University in Fargo, N.D., has always been flush with veterans outreach organizations and clubs. What was missing among them was a veterans group that is as focused on volunteerism and community outreach as it is with providing veterans at the school a place to congregate.
Calie Craddock, a 22-year-old Guardsman from West Fargo, N.D., started NDSU Post 400 on campus to fill that void. When Craddock returned from a deployment last August, she was approached by Legionnaires from other parts of the state about the prospects of starting a post based at the school, where she is a student and an assistant veteran representative for VA.
It was an idea that had previously been floated to her when she was in-country in Kuwait. Stateside, she realized a Legion post could fill a niche at her school.
“We already have a quite a bit of veterans outreach organizations on campus, and the post seemed to be a natural transition into more of a community-based activism program,” Craddock said. “We have had past veterans organizations on campus that haven’t had the clout necessary. What’s awesome about the Legion is... it’s a tried-and-true organization that can support us while we pursue endeavors.”
Founded last fall, NDSU Post 400 now has about 40 members from the school’s students, alumni and faculty. Craddock, the post commander, has stayed true to her original vision, organizing the post’s involvement in community-oriented activities like charity races, volunteering on campus and focus groups intended to identify issues that the school’s veterans face.
Future projects include co-hosting a fundraiser dinner and event to help pay medical bills for a local Guardsman who has developed a brain tumor. Craddock and her members plan to host the event, in coordination with a local nonprofit organization, at nearby Fargo Post 2, located in the city’s downtown area.
Post 2, made up mostly of Vietnam and World War II veterans, has been crucial to Post 400’s development, serving as a mentor and sister post to Post 400. To repay the goodwill, Post 400 plans to lend its able-bodied, younger members to repair Post 2’s roof.
“The post commander is an Iraq vet, a little older than us, but he came from a similar conflict and knows where we are headed,” Craddock said. “They have an aging post and it needs some roof work. Our post intends on volunteering and helping them.”
This volunteerism perfectly complements the usual role that a Legion post plays on a college campus. Like the Legion posts founded at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and Hodges University in Naples, Fla., Post 400 offers a rallying point for the school’s student veterans and rekindles the bond that they enjoyed with their compatriots in the military.
“A lot of people on campus join fraternities or sororities," said Megan Tiegs, a member of Post 400 and student at NDSU. "The military is kind of like a fraternity or sorority, but you are with brothers and sisters. It really interested me as a college student, to know that there are other people on campus going through some of the same things as me, and that could identify having come from being on duty.”
Before Nathan Paler, an active reservist and student, joined Post 400, he noticed plenty of student veterans walking around his campus, he just never interacted with many of them. He says joining Post 400 and spending time around other members has not only allowed him to identify other veterans at his school, it’s helped him regain a “sense of belonging” that he knew in the military.
“I’m a little less on edge than I was before I joined,” Paler said. “Just walking across campus, you can tell who is in the military. Now that I know a lot more faces, I feel a lot more comfortable.”
The idea for a post on NDSU’s campus came from a speech given by Tahnee Sweep, a student and member of Post 400, to Legionnaires in the state. Sweep, whose father is the district’s commander, spoke at a district meeting and stressed the need for the Legion to serve veterans who are heading to colleges in large quantities, as conflicts overseas draw down and education benefits become more generous.
“A lot of people have the perception that the Legion is something where you go, you sit in a post, and everyone is in their 90s," Sweep said. "That’s just not the case."
Sweep says the “campus post” can serve the same function that Legion posts did years ago in the wake of World War II, when servicemembers flocked to schools and universities on the original GI Bill.
“For so many younger veterans, we need somewhere to go where we can talk to other people about Iraq or Afghanistan or other places we’ve been deployed, like the World War II vets had when they came home,” Sweep said.
But the post won’t be limited to current students. Craddock envisions Post 400 becoming an alumni club of sorts that can offer professional connections and even job services to current and former students who have become members.
“This post can be a great networking portal for students,” she said. “We have all these amazing backgrounds and experiences. We’re going to make sure we encompass that and take care of each other.”
The goal of taking care of one another embodies the Legion’s organizational mantra of veterans serving veterans and ultimately expresses what Craddock says is the foundation of NDSU Post 400.
“We want to be somewhere where (student veterans) can relate, tell stories of their good old days in uniform, or get help on how to get through the next day,” she said. “Reintegration can be really difficult for a lot of people, and we are hoping to make that a friendlier transition – especially on campus, where there isn't a lot of us, but there is enough."
Large-scale cyberattacks are happening so often that it’s nearly impossible to keep track of the onslaught. The most recent of these came March 20, when computers, servers and networks in South Korea were disabled by a malware attack cleverly named “DarkSeoul.” The attacks targeted South Korea’s largest banks and its main television broadcasting companies—rendering 32,000 computers inoperable and freezing economic activity for tens of thousands. What Gen. Keith Alexander, commander of U.S. Cyber Command, worries about is the enemy’s “transition from disruptive to destructive attacks.”
Indeed, cyberattacks can do far worse than simply disrupt service, disable computers or steal data; they can destroy facilities, systems and infrastructure that people depend on for life. Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta described this sort of cyberattack as “the next Pearl Harbor.” But that may be an understatement. Pearl Harbor decimated the Pacific fleet but left America’s vast industrial, communications and utilities infrastructure untouched. But an orchestrated cyberattack could sever our transportation arteries, cripple our energy and water utilities, freeze our financial system, blind our military, and scramble our communications networks – mixing the very worst of Pearl Harbor, 9/11, the 2003 Northeast Blackout and the 2008 economic crash. A Chinese general warns that military cyberattacks “may be as serious as a nuclear bomb.”
To get a sense of how important cyberspace is to the United States, think of this invisible domain as part of the global commons, just like the sea, sky and space. Indeed, Alexander likens “freedom of action in cyberspace in the 21st century” to “freedom of the seas…in the 19th century and access to air and space in the 20th century.”
More than 100 countries have “network exploitation” capabilities. For instance, the recent attacks against South Korea likely emanated from north of the 38th Parallel. Russia launched withering cyberattacks against Estonia in 2007 and Georgia in 2008. Iranian cyberattacks against the Saudi oil industry in 2012 destroyed 30,000 computers. The U.S. and Israel targeted Iran’s nuclear program with the Stuxnet virus— a cyber-smart bomb that sabotaged the computers controlling Iran’s uranium-enrichment program.
And then there’s China. Information-security firm Mandiant reported in February that the PLA’s cyber force—“Unit 61398”—is conducting “extensive” and “harmful” computer network operations from “four large networks in Shanghai.” Unit 61398 and related units have attacked government ministries in the U.S., Europe, Japan, India, Taiwan, South Korea, Australia and dozens of other countries; penetrated computer systems at U.S. defense firms, the Pentagon, NASA and other defense-related agencies; planted computer components in the United States with Trojan horse codes that could be activated to destroy or disable real-world facilities; and stolen massive amounts of information.
Alexander has called China’s cyber-espionage “the largest transfer of wealth in history.” The Pentagon reports China’s cyber-troops are “building a picture” of “military capabilities that could be exploited during a crisis.”
The good news amidst all this worrisome news is that Washington is finally allowing the Pentagon to treat cyberspace like any other theater of operations.
Toward that end, DoD will spend some $17.5 billion on cybersecurity over next five years, and CYBERCOM will grow from 900 personnel to nearly 5,000 in the next three years.
The expansion is part of a wider effort at CYBERCOM to field three new forces for the Information Age: a “cyber national mission force” to protect computer systems and networks that serve critical infrastructure; a “cyber combat mission force” to assist regional combatant commands in conducting offensive operations; and a “cyber protection force” to defend the DoD’s networks.
“This is an offensive team that the Defense Department would use to defend the nation if it were attacked in cyberspace,” Alexander bluntly explained during recent congressional testimony.
Related, the Pentagon is putting the finishing touches on “a defined framework for how best to respond to the plethora of cyber-threats we face,” according to Lt. Col. Damien Pickart. In other words, the Pentagon is developing rules of engagement for cyberspace.
Finally, top military planners are mapping everything in cyberspace—all the billions of computers, devices and related networks that make up this ever-growing invisible domain. Ominously dubbed “Plan X,” this DARPA research effort will ensure that the United States has “superior capabilities to rapidly plan, execute, and assess the full spectrum of military operations in cyberspace.”
All of this—the new cyber-ROEs, the phalanx of cyberwarfare units, the growing ranks and reach of CYBERCOM, the enhanced focus on the digital domain, the mapping of cyberspace—is a function of the growing likelihood that America’s enemies will use cyberspace to do far worse than simply steal from us or spam us. And it’s long overdue. As retired Gen. James Cartwright warned when he was vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “We lack dominance in cyberspace and could grow increasingly vulnerable if we do not fundamentally change how we view this battlespace.”
Alexander’s efforts provide every indication that the Pentagon has embraced that change.
To deter a cyber-Pearl Harbor, the next step is for policymakers to let it be known that the U.S. will make no distinction between a cyberattack on critical infrastructure and a traditional kinetic attack. It’s worth noting that Russian military officials argue that “the use of information warfare against Russia or its armed forces will categorically not be considered a non-military phase of a conflict, whether there were casualties or not.”
James Lewis of the Center for Strategic and International Studies warns there is a risk that North Korea and other cyber-rogues could “inadvertently trip over some threshold that will be seen as the use of force or an act of war,” thus accidentally triggering war in the non-cyber domain.
That explains why some military thinkers suggest that Washington should respond in kind to the next cyberattack. Updating a phrase from Cold War parlance, retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Harry Raduege notes that certain governments “only respond to somebody that’s going to be able to launch a mutually assured disruption of them.” Cartwright has even argued that Washington may have “to do something that’s illustrative” in order to communicate U.S. seriousness.
That may be exactly what Alexander’s cyber-warriors are preparing to do.
Fayetteville National Cemetery in Arkansas is nicknamed "Little Arlington."
The Fayetteville cemetery, located on 15 acres near the University of Arkansas, was constructed in 1867 to honor Civil War union soldiers. In addition to the Civil War soldiers, veterans from the Revolutionary War and 20th and 21st century wars are laid to rest in Fayetteville.
The more than 8,000 veterans in the Fayetteville cemetery include Cpl. Morris Nations, killed at Pearl Harbor; Sgt. J. Scott Lindsey, killed during the Persian Gulf War; and Medal of Honor recipient Sfc. Clarence B. Craft.
Since the original land purchase for $500, the cemetery has tripled in size, according to cemetery staff member Chris Turner. The cemetery has grown through the donations of nearby land, Turner said, noting that there is additional room for growth.
The cemetery, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, serves more than 135,000 veterans in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Missouri.
Military sexual assault (MSA), an issue of longstanding concern to The American Legion, has received assertive congressional attention with the May 16 introduction of bipartisan legislation that would reform certain aspects of military justice. Sections of the bill mirror a resolution adopted by Legion leadership a week earlier.
The Military Justice Improvement Act was introduced in both houses of Congress, headlined by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Mich. The 13-page bill is in clear response to a recently released Department of Defense report noting more than 26,000 incidents of military sexual assault or unwanted sexual contact in 2012, a sharp increase over the previous year. That same report, which also documented 3,374 official reports of MSA as opposed to a mere 238 convictions, quickly triggered a number of congressional calls for action and statements of outrage from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and President Barack Obama, among many others.
The Military Justice Improvement Act proposes that the military chain of command be removed from the prosecution of most crimes punishable by imprisonment for one year or more (except crimes that are uniquely military in nature, such as disobeying orders or going AWOL). Instead, that duty would fall to military prosecutors. Thus, say proponents, the pursuit of justice for sex crime victims would no longer be colored by personal favoritism toward suspects and reprisals against plaintiffs. This is the practice of several American military allies, including Australia, Canada, Germany, Israel, Norway and the UK.
The Military Justice Improvement Act also calls for changes to the Uniform Code of Military Justice concerning convening authorities: those who establish courts, assemble panels (i.e., military juries) and choose judges. Currently, convening authorities have the power to set aside guilty verdicts or change such a finding to a lesser included offense. Under the proposed law, this would no longer be so. The proposed legislation also requires a convening authority to prepare a written justification for any changes made to court-martial sentences. These provisions echo those contained in the Legion resolution adopted during the annual National Executive Committee Spring Meeting May 9 in Indianapolis.
Besides Gillibrand, Senate sponsors of the Military Justice Improvement Act include Sens. Mark Begich, D-Alaska; Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.; Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.; Susan Collins, R-Maine; Chris Coons, D-Del.; Al Franken, D-Minn.; Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii; Barbara Mikulski, D-Md.; Mark Pryor, D-Ark.; Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii; and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H..
On the House side, Benishek was joined by Reps. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii; Richard Hanna, R-N.Y.; Mike Johanns, R-Neb.; and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz. The Washington lawmakers’ announcement of the bill was attended by several victims of military sexual trauma and their advocates.
For veterans who qualify, there are multiple ways to join The American Legion. The traditional way is to fill out a simple form, which can be given to a recruiter or any Legionnaire who will make sure that the rest of the process is in motion. Prospective members may also join online.
Here’s a look at both methods, each of which can be done in a matter of minutes:
Paper form. After a new member completes the application form, a Legion representative will sign it and take it to the local post. If a candidate is signed up at a post, he or she can receive the membership card on the spot or will be sent the new card shortly thereafter.
Regardless of where a recruit is signed up, the post adjutant or membership chairman will log his or her information and then transmit the form to the department headquarters. The department will forward the information to National Headquarters, usually within a week. At that time, the information will be logged into the national system.
Online form. Prospective members also can sign up online. Visit www.legion.org/join and follow the easy prompts from there. This information will be processed by National Headquarters. Once processed, a membership card will be sent along with other new-member materials.
Once a member, you also can save time, effort and postage by renewing your membership online, and you may choose to take advantage of the Automatic Renewal Program now available nationwide.
Members can simply go to www.legion.org/renew and click "Renew Now" to safely and conveniently pay their dues. Once a member enters the information requested, he or she can set the account for automatic annual renewal, as well as select the option to receive email renewal notices instead of notices through the mail. If the membership is current, he or she may still choose to sign up for automatic annual renewal and/or to receive renewal notices by email only. Automatic renewal can also be set up by calling the toll-free American Legion customer service line at (800) 433-3318.
Benefits of American Legion membership
Regardless of whether a member joins via pencil or computer, the membership benefits will include:
• Discounts: These practical, money-saving discounts for you and your family will easily save you many times the cost of your annual membership dues.
• Magazine: Our nation’s leaders speak directly to citizens on the pages of The American Legion Magazine. The monthly magazine features in-depth analysis, historical stories, Q&As with high-profile officials, news about veterans issues and much more.
• Voice on Capitol Hill: The American Legion is the nation’s most influential, effective and dependable advocate of veterans affairs, fighting for better active-duty pay, improved housing for active-duty families and helping to ensure that VA’s medical system is effectively serving those who served.
• VA benefit assistance: Your membership helps support department service officers nationwide who assist veterans in preparing claims and obtaining their full military health-care benefits through VA.
On May 19 at Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, Va., eight women are graduating from America’s premier military leadership program for female cadets. Five of them will be commissioned as officers in the U.S. Army.
The Virginia Women’s Institute for Leadership (VWIL) is holding its 15th commencement ceremony since it started in 1995. At that time, women were not allowed to attend the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington. Consequently, VWIL was developed to provide a single-sex leadership program for women interested in pursuing careers in the Armed Forces.
With a current strength of 95 cadets, the program is led by retired Army Brig. Gen. Michael Bissell; he has been the commandant of cadets since 1999. He says VWIL has a different approach from other military programs in the way it develops women for military service. The institute teaches the principles of effective leadership to its cadets – one that recognizes the distinct difference in leadership styles between the two sexes.
"Women do not have to act like men to be good leaders," Bissell said. "They can be compassionate and understanding, yet they can be tough when they want to be. And that’s what we’ve been proving with the women coming out of our program – they’re great leaders."
Bissell noted that a VWIL graduate was the first woman to be accepted into the Army’s training school for the Rangers, an elite combat unit; another graduate had the extremely important duty of guarding President Bill Clinton’s "black box" that is used to order a nuclear strike.
Good leaders don’t have to be harsh and tough all the time, Bissell said, adding, "You can be approachable, use good common sense and listen to people."
Some women enter the VWIL program and try to act very aggressively, Bissell says, because they feel they need to do so to compete with men. "Screaming, yelling and that type of thing, and I’m not for that," he said. "I was never that way as a commander. You can be mad when you need to be and raise hell, but don’t be that way all the time. Do it on rare occasions, so that it means something."
Melissa Patrick is VWIL’s deputy commandant and a retired Army colonel. She served as an intelligence officer in Bosnia and Afghanistan, and earned her master parachutist’s wings with the 18th Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg. She also taught military history at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
"I think I learned while I was in the Army that you have to temper your leadership style in accordance with your own personality, and I had to make adjustments from what I thought was the proper way to lead – as a brand-new second lieutenant," she said. "So I can appreciate, in working with the young women who are cadets, that sometimes they are trying to be leaders that may not necessarily reflect what they’re comfortable with, because I’ve been through that. And I appreciate how you mature and evolve over time, so you can apply that to some of your coaching."
Good leaders, Patrick said, have to take into account what people are going through personally, to appreciate their own difficult situations. "You can’t just be focused on the rules," she said. "You have to lead by inspiring people, as opposed to driving them. In this program, we put a good deal of emphasis on a more professional approach, as opposed to using a lot of intimidation. And that approach is well suited to young women. There’s no point in trying to train them to be really aggressive."
Toughness many come naturally to some women, Patrick said, "which is fine. But for many, they need to learn how to inspire people, how to build trust and respect on the part of their subordinates, so we spend a lot of time working on that."
The First Captain of the cadets is Kaitlyn Cerow, VWIL’s commanding officer. She chose to attend Mary Baldwin because of the campus atmosphere and smaller class sizes, then got recruited by Bissell. She was drawn to VWIL, she said, because, "I wanted to be part of something bigger than myself, I wanted to better myself. I’m the type of person who loves a challenge and always had an inkling about a military career."
Cerow spent much of her sophomore year testing out different leadership styles. She describes her own style as "transitional" – adapting to the needs of the group being supervised, giving them more direction or more autonomy in helping them achieve a task.
"As a sergeant, I started realizing how important communication was," Cerow said. "I had to communicate with my squad leaders to make sure my people were okay, but then I had to take the platoon leaders’ ideas and channel them down through my (freshmen). I had to explain how things were working, and had to boost their morale, so it was really a refining process."
Communication is important, Cerow said, because "so many things can go wrong if you don’t communicate clearly what your expectations are or sometimes even what the plan is." As First Captain, she hears a lot of things secondhand and has to get at the bottom of whatever problem needs to be fixed. That requires a clear understanding of the circumstances.
Cerow doesn’t solve all the cadets’ problems. The corps has several committees that deal with various issues and brief her on the status. Sometimes, when a committee member reports a personnel problem in the freshmen quarters, Cerow replies, "Tell them they need to knock it off and figure it out. I’m not going to go down there every time there’s a ‘crisis.’"
Victoria Barrett is one of the eight seniors graduating this year and a platoon leader in the corps of cadets. Barrett has just been commissioned as an Army second lieutenant, heading for Airborne duty in Fort Bragg, N.C.
Her experience at Mary Baldwin with the corps, Barrett said, gave her a lot of opportunities, including going to Airborne school and qualifying as a parachutist.
Graduating from the VWIL program has "really transformed me," she said. I’ve learned confidence, my people skills have grown quite a bit, my leadership skills have really blossomed, and I look forward to using all those skills I’ve learned here in the Army, and it’s really prepared me as a leader."
A feature story on the VWIL program at Mary Baldwin College is scheduled to appear in the October issue of The American Legion Magazine.
Thirty-eight years after they made the ultimate sacrifice in what is known as the last battle of the Vietnam War, 13 U.S. servicemembers have come home. Fragments of their remains were laid to rest together, in one casket, May 15 with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery in northern Virginia.
"They may be gone, but they’re back on American soil," said Marian Boyd of Norfolk, Va., whose son, U.S. Marine Pfc. Walter Boyd, was among those remembered at the service. "He’d always told me in his letters to keep the faith. I put it in God’s hands."
Families of the 10 fallen Marines, two Navy corpsmen and one U.S. Air Force chopper pilot gathered with surviving veterans of the operation and others to pay homage to their fallen loved ones and comrades.
Veterans of the May 15, 1975, military mission to rescue the crew of the merchant ship S.S. Mayaguez came from across the country. Their association – the Koh Tang Mayaguez Veterans Organization – is named for the 5-mile-by-1-mile island off the coast of Cambodia where a 14-hour battle occurred less than three weeks after the fall of Saigon. Members of the club have been dedicated to the identification and repatriation of all who lost their lives in the joint operation, which involved U.S. troops of every service branch.
Nearly 200 Americans directly participated in the rescue attempt after Cambodian Khmer Rouge guerrillas captured the U.S.-flagged Mayaguez in the Gulf of Thailand on May 12, 1975. U.S. officials believed the ship and crew were held captive on Koh Tang Island, and three days later, President Gerald Ford authorized military action to free them.
Nine helicopters loaded with Marines and Navy corpsmen were deployed to the island. Two destroyers and an aircraft carrier moved into the waters surrounding it.
The first CH-53 chopper to go down – code-named Knife 13 – claimed all 23 onboard near the border of Laos and Cambodia. They were the first casualties of the mission. Eighteen more were killed in the assault, including the 13 who were shot down in the CH-53 Sea Stallion called Knife 31, off the shore of the well-fortified island.
Those who fought that day estimate that between 300 and 700 Khmer Rouge combatants were waiting in ambush as the U.S. forces, mostly young Marines, were inserted.
"We did not know the full scope of what was going on," said Dick Keith, a Marine first lieutenant at the time who had command of the U.S. troops from 7 a.m. until noon the day of the incident. "We were just flown in, given a quick brief, and were told that it was an area lightly defended."
That information proved wrong, as was intelligence that suggested the crew was held on Koh Tang. The Mayaguez and her crew were never on the island. The ship had been seized in the Gulf of Thailand, and the crew was held hostage on a fishing boat until released to the USS Henry B. Wilson after the destroyer took out Khmer Rouge gunboats that were guarding the captives.
The Americans who landed on the island were immediately pinned down by the larger force of well-armed guerrillas. With no way to fly back to extract them in broad daylight, the U.S. troops fought until nightfall when they were finally retrieved in a daring operation performed by Air Force pilots of HH-53 "Jolly Green" helicopters.
All U.S. personnel except three – Marine Lance Cpl. Joseph N. Hargrove, Pfc. Gary C. Hall and Pvt. Danny G. Marshall – were delivered to U.S. ships or accounted for that night. The fates of the three Marines remain unknown. They are believed to have either died fighting or were taken captive and later executed by the Khmer Rouge. "Until their bodies are recovered, it’s all speculation," said Al Bailey, president of the Koh Tang Mayaguez Veterans Organization. Those three, along with one other Marine and one Air Force pilot, who lost their lives that day are now the only members of the insertion force who remain unaccounted for. The operation put the last 41 names on the Vietnam War Memorial Wall in Washington.
The Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command conducted no fewer than 10 recovery efforts between 1991 and 2008 to find and retrieve the remains of the 13 who went down with Knife 31. Another 13 who were shot down in the chopper survived were rescued at sea. The JPAC efforts involved underwater retrieval of remains from the crash site off Koh Tang Island and DNA testing to confirm the last of the fallen men, U.S. Marine Pfc. Daniel A. Benedett of Seattle, in January 2013.
"It’s final closure ... they finally are at peace in American soil," said Dan Hoffman of Columbia, S.C., who addressed the 94th American Legion National Convention in Indianapolis last year. The story of the battle and the organization’s persistent search for answers and reconciliation appeared in the August 2012 American Legion Magazine. (Click here to see video)
"There really is no such thing as closure with a missing person," said Judy Vandegeer of Massachusetts, whose husband, Richard, was the pilot on Knife 31. At the service, she was seated next to Max Cleland, former U.S. senator and VA secretary, who lost three limbs in the Vietnam War. "In my private life, PTSD happens in strange ways," she explained after the service, noting that loud noises late at night can still disturb her in the way they do combat veterans who suffer from the condition. "It’s almost like having a double personality."
She, like all 13 families represented at the service, was greatly appreciative of the ceremony at Arlington, attended by approximately 200. The funeral included flag presentations to all the families, a flyover by an EC-130J, rifle volleys, the playing of Taps, and the "President’s Own" U.S. Marine Band. Marines conducting military honors were from the Marine Barracks Washington, known as the "8th and I," which was founded by President Thomas Jefferson and is the oldest post active post in the Marine Corps.
"I think everyone here felt greatly honored," Vandegeer said. "It was beautifully done."
Among the families was 24-year-old Erik Neff, an Air Force veteran inspired by the sacrifice of his uncle, Andres Garcia, who was among the 13. "To be that young and give your life for something greater than yourself is something to look up to," he said after the service.
His mother, Sara Johnson, was so moved by her brother Andres’ sacrifice that she joined the Navy and served nearly eight years. She was 14 when word came of her brother’s death. She received the U.S. flag on behalf of the family at the Arlington ceremony. "We always thought of him as a hero," she said.
Veterans of the Mayaguez operation continue to search for answers about the three who were unaccounted for and the other two whose remains have not been located. "It’s kind of like being in a bad plane crash and surviving," said Bailey, who was 19 when he was one of the first Marines on Koh Tang Island. "We all have a form of survivor’s guilt."
The camaraderie of the club and its efforts to reconcile the battle and its effects have helped Bailey cope with his own PTSD, he said. "When you almost die together, you never forget one another," he added. "It’s a bond that cannot be replaced. It’s a brotherhood. What I want most is to find the rest of my brothers."
The remains of the 13 were buried in one casket, together, as they had died. "They’re going to have 13 names on one headstone," Hoffman said. "There’s nothing else like it in Arlington."
The 13 buried at Arlington on the 38th anniversary of their sacrifice were:
U.S. Marine Pfc. Daniel A. Benedett
U.S. Marine Pfc. Lynn Blessing
U.S. Marine Pfc. Walter Boyd
U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Gregory Copenhaver
U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Andres Garcia
U.S. Marine Pfc. James J. Jacques
U.S. Marine Pfc. James R. Maxwell
U.S. Marine Pfc. Richard Rivenburgh
U.S. Marine Pfc. Antonio R. Sandoval
U.S. Marine Pfc. Kelton R. Turner
U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman Bernard Gause Jr.
U.S. Navy Hospitalman Ronald J. Manning
U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. Richard Vandegeer