Military stories from past to present, both wars.

Graduation from Parris Island

January 14th, 2014 Posted in The SandGram v1.0 | 4 Comments »

This is part of a book my friend and former Marine DI is writing.  I love Ken’s work and can’t wait until the book arrives.  So keep and eye out for Ken Capps and his next book.


Parris Island, South Carolina
June 2004
The night before graduation, Schulz dismissed all three of his junior drill instructors, and an hour before final lights-out, he exited the duty hut and walked among his platoon. He’d left his Smokey on his desk in the duty hut. Quietly he called his men to the quarterdeck, a large open area in front of the duty hut, and asked them to, “please gather ‘round.” Not an order, not a command, but a respectful plea to a group he respected. The platoon stood shoulder to shoulder in a tight formation with just enough room between them to sit cross-legged on the deck if told.
            “At ease, at ease,” Schulz began as he motioned with both hands palms down in a gentle pushing motion. “I want to start by saying thank you for voluntarily enlisting into the world’s finest fighting force, the United States Marine Corps, and coming here to keep me entertained these last seventy-three days.”
            Sensing the relaxed atmosphere, the platoon broke into laughter, which slowly tapered off as Schulz held up his hand to continue his speech.
            “I am proud of you. Each and every one of you came here knowing that you are about to step into harm’s way. For two hundred twenty-nine years, brave men like you have stepped forward to join a brotherhood which stands against tyranny, for justice, and with pride—representing those who cannot stand or fight for themselves . It’s been tough on you, I know. It was tough on me when I was in your boots, and that is now something we share in common. This is my Marine Corps, and you can’t come in unless you measure up, unless you pass the test … or this would just be a daycare.”
Laughter broke out again. Schulz extended his arms and pointed at the young faces before him in sweeping motions. “And thanks to all of you for allowing me the joy of passing on the tradition of my Marine Corps to you.
            “You now all share two birthdays that will define you for the rest of your life. November 10, 1775, the birthday of your Corps, and June 18, 2004, tomorrow, the day you officially become Marines. But tonight before you spend your very last night together as a platoon, before you close your eyes, remember this place and what you have learned. The sound of your boots striking the ground in unison as one, like thunder.”
His voice rose to a crescendo as he lifted his chin, clenched his fists, and closed his eyes. The platoon roared in response to his obvious emotions conjoining with his words. Slowly, the roar of the platoon faded and calmed, but Schulz was still bathing in the moment, as he lowered his chin and opened his eyes.
            “No matter if you stay in for one more day or retire after thirty years, you are a Marine forever. Take what you have learned here and use it to better your lives.”
The platoon soaked in every word and could barely contain their emotions at his candid, fatherly words. They patted each other on the back and let out the occasional Ohhh-rah . Their normally stone-faced visages softened in the moment as they smiled in satisfaction at this—their moment. And more of that to come tomorrow.
            “It is my honor to embrace you as my brothers, as Marines.”
            At the completion of Schulz’s speech, the squad bay erupted into an explosion of sounds that blasted through the windows and reverberated off the bulkheads louder than thunder, perhaps louder even than combat. It continued while Scholz waded his way through the crowd of smiling faces to shake the hands of each and every Marine in his platoon. He was proud of them all.
            The euphoria lasted well after lights-out as the fledgling Marines milled about, talking and spending just a few more moments trying to cut the edge of the excitement down enough to fall asleep.

Veterans Day, hanging with Hero’s

November 11th, 2013 Posted in The SandGram v1.0 | 3 Comments »

Veterans Day weekend is a busy one.  It falls on the Marine Corps Birthday weekend so usually I have to block off the whole weekend for the many different events going on around the Metroplex.

We had the Young Marine Ball on Saturday night with RV Burgin as the Guest Speaker for the kids.   Now there is a guy you just love to hear speak.  He spent the better part of two years slugging it out in the Pacific war.

One of his Marines wrote a famous book called “With the old Breed” detailing much of their time over in the Pacific.  Years later he finally got around to writing his book, “Islands of the Damned” which I really enjoy reading because it’s a view that you normally don’t get.

One of the things I do is to deliver Marine Birthday cake to a few Marine Shut-ins after our ceremony.  It reminds them of their proud heritage when I show up in my Dress Blues to bring the cake by.

Dan Burnham is from my church and has served in every branch of the service over a 30 year period.  His time in the Marine Corps was during Korea when he was attached to the 1st Regiment, 1st Marines from 1952-3.  He was on the Soul Corridor with only six minutes of ammo for his 4.2 mortars to fend off any attacks.  Dan is a tough fire plug of a guy and I’m betting even tougher back then.


My other local hero is Bill Stanbery.


I’m friends with his son and grandson a current Marine Officer (a family we love) and I love to hear Bill’s stories from when he joined the Corps in March of 1944.  He fought in Saipan and Okinawa with India Company, 3rd Battalion, 6th MarDiv followed by stints with 2nd MarDiv and the 3rd Amphibious Corps.  Because of his Italian heritage, he was marked “PTO” which was Pacific Theater Only.

Bill gives a lot of credit to the Marine Corps for shaping him and making him the man is today.  It’s those lessons in life that carried over to his time during the Korean War a few years later.

A friend got Bill to sign up with the local Army Reserve unit (extra drill money) but when Korea kicked off, he found himself with the Army’s 24th Divisions G-2 unit.  His claim to fame it being the third set of boots to be in Korea 26 May 1950 with KMAG.

This is where it gets interesting.  Later on the North Koreans are running the Army units down this road and Bill is sent up to destroy a couple of artillery pieces that were left behind.  He had to go spike the breeches so they couldn’t be used against them.

After the last one, he took some white Phosphorus in left arm as it blew up.  This didn’t feel good and with the Koreans a mile behind them, shooting at them, he didn’t have time to worry about it.   As he and his crew were racing down this road, he noticed a Soldier prostate on the side of the road.

Bill wasn’t about to let the Koreans desecrate his body as they rolled past so he ordered the driver to stop.  The Driver, AJ complained that they didn’t have time for this dead guy.  Bill told him “We don’t leave our brothers behind” something that was ingrained in his brain from his past Marine Corps Days.

When he reached down to pick up this dead body, he realized the Soldier was still alive.  So instead of strapping him across the hood like he planned, he held his body as the M-8 scout car raced down the hill.  When they arrived at the local MASH unit, the Doctor said “You should have left him, there’s nothing we can do for him.”  That didn’t go over well with Bill and he asked where the next hospital was.  Getting directions, his driver raced them to the next place through miles of bad guy land while getting shot at.

Arriving at this hospital, he went in to find a Doctor.  This Colonel came out and looked over the Soldier and while he agreed that the other doctor was out of line for telling him to leave the body, there wasn’t much they could do, he had lost a lot of blood.  Bill found out when kind of blood he needed so he stopped a transport truck with 10 replacements in it and got 8 of them to jump out to give blood.  He returned with the bodies for blood donations and asked the Colonel if he would operate on him now?

The Colonel said he would do his very best and “Oh by the way, what is your name Soldier?”  Bill said “Sgt Bill Stanbery Sir”

Now fast forward to February of 51, Bill gets sent home on Emergency leave for his dying father (a WWI Vet) and you can imagine the stuff that he had endured up to that point before he left.  After the funeral, he returns to Japan to rejoin his unit.

Standing there in the Admin shop, the desk Sergeant calls “Next” with all the flair of a DMV wait line.  When Bill puts his orders down on the desk, the Sgt turns white.  Bill looks at him asks “Sgt, are you ok? You look like you have seen a ghost.”

The Sgt, Archie Mimes, looks up at Bill and says, “No I’m looking at an Angel.  Do you remember saving a Soldier on the side of the road? That was me.”

Bill was shocked that he had made it.  Sgt. Mimes calls out his Capt and Bill tells the story to him.  The Captain was shaking his head and said “Here I have heard that story a few times and thought it was embellished some, but wow, it really did happen. “

He then looked at Bill and asked “Do you really want to go back to Korea?”  Bill, very humble, says, “That is what my orders say, but I’d rather not.”

The Captain and Sgt Mimes have a little talk and next thing you know, Bill is working on the G-2 Staff there at Camp Drake in Japan.

Years later, he is going up before a  re-enlistment board.  As he is sitting in the chair in front of a few Officers and SNCO’s, they are waiting on the head of the board to arrive.  When the Colonel walks in, he see’s Stanbery and says “Hello Sgt Stanbery, what are you doing here?”  Bill doesn’t recognize him and replies that he is here for the board.

The Colonel turns around and says, “Gentlemen, I served with Sgt Standbery over in Korea and if there is a man among us, he is.  I think this meeting is over, thanks for coming out Sgt Stanbery.”

That was the Doctor who was able to save Sgt Mimes life in 1950.  Thanks to a dedicated Soldier and Former Marine.


We live in a small world and your actions have reactions, both good and bad.  Bill lives on the side of the line where I aspire to make the type of good decisions that he would make in tough situations.  So next time you are facing a hard choice (hopefully not with bullets hitting the dirt all around you as you struggle with a limp body) ask yourself, “What would Bill do?”


Semper Fi and Thanks to all the Vets past and present!!


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Nuru House: Capt Alex Martin’s adventures continue

September 3rd, 2013 Posted in The SandGram v1.0 | 1 Comment »
Sundays are quiet here at Nuru House.  It’s a day to sleep in, wash clothes, finish house chores, read in the hammock, have a leisurely walk, go to church…It’s a day to center.  To relax.  I just got in off the bus from a weekend in Nairobi (which is the opposite of relaxing) and spent the past 30 minutes staring at a concrete wall in my room thinking about how I wished I was outside in the hammock, reading.  I also wished I was sipping a margarita in the hammock, but that would be impossible.  Thinking of these two things at once took me thirty minutes of wall-staring.  Thirty minutes!  Nairobi will do that to a man.
The second week of my six week turnover with Jake was fantastic.  We spent a lot of time in the field, taking meetings, getting to know our local partners, and discussing each Nuru program in-depth.  I did my part by asking tons of dumb questions (I do believe there is such a thing) and listening more than I spoke (which for me, as you all well know, is some sort of miracle) and Jake did his part by patiently answering my dumb questions.  It was a week in which I learned a little bit more about how things work out here – in this house, in this village, & in this country – and a little bit more about myself. This learning occurred in the same place it did back in the Marine Corps…in the field.
The Field.  Nuru Kenya staff and Nuru International ex-pat staff are constantly out in the villages with our farmers, each program working to accomplish their own distinct goals, but inextricably tied to the larger mission.  There is no confusion with any of the 280 staff here, the mission is to end extreme poverty here and we serve the farmers.  ‘Shamba’ is Swahili for ‘farm’.  This week I learned the most by walking from shamba to shamba.  We were collecting loan repayments.  This was not fun work, yet each farmer paid what they could, or told the Nuru Kenya staff member (who are fellow farmers from their very same communities) when they could pay at least a little something back.  Loan repayment last year was 98% – an incredible figure that has been one of the benchmark of how Nuru is different from other development companies.  This year will be different.  Farmers in this region mostly farm maize (corn) and they do so on roughly 1-acre plots.  Most farmers have just one acre, some have two…and each acre, previous to the introduction of Nuru’s planting and harversting methods and quality fertilizer inputs sold to farmers on loan, would produce 3-4 bags of maize.  Each shamba has an average of 5-6 family members.  It takes 6 bags of maize to feed a family until the next harvest…so, each family here was always hovering at or below the extreme poverty level.  After Nuru’s inputs and training farmers were producing 20 bags of maizer per acre!  And then they’d have plenty to eat, and could sell the rest.  That excess money would go into the Nuru savings program and help the families sustain financial shocks, like death, which happens often out here.  In Kuria West the long rains start in Feb and is harvested in August.  The short rains are in-between.  Here the farmers will try to plant beans or tobacco.  Each season is a gamble (as it is anywhere in farming) but Nuru has experienced incredible success with the maize yields these past few years.  But, like I said, this year is different.  This year is different because the crops were hit with a never seen before disease, MLND.  Nuru worked hard to contain the crop eating disease, and was quite successful.  But then the once-in-a-decade drought came.  And then a once in a life-time flood.  And the farmers were flat out.  As we walked from shamba to shamba we saw the effects of acts of God and nature.  Families I saw had a harvest of just a single bag of maize.  And so, tragically, here begins what I’m told is called the hunger season.
Observations.  (1.) Hard working people take pride in not taking hand outs.  Meeting these farmers and their families who knew they were on the verge of a very rough time ahead was inspiring.  They smiled when we came, because they knew we were going to be there for them next season.  This season they will do what they have always done, endure.  I’ve never seen such pride as three hundred schillings (less than $3) was carefully fetched from a cow skin envelope hidden in a thatched roof and handed over as a partial payment for the season’s fertilizer…they knew next season would be better and they were grateful Nuru International had forgave 50% of the total loan payment, but understanding of why the other 50% must be collected…to keep the organization running.  And they need Nuru’s partnership to keep moving forward.  The Kenyan Women’s Micro-finance agency pulls the tin roofs off of farmer’s shacks if loans aren’t repaid.  Nuru is respect based…and as such has a much higher loan repayment than KWMF.  A valuable lesson.  (2.) The best toys are simple toys. In the field I saw boys, maybe 8, playing with their only toy: a soccer ball-volleyball-dodgeball made of plastic bags wrapped tightly, held together by a few strands of thin rope.  This toy was shared by all the boys in that valley.  I kicked it back and forth with them in a lumpy dirt field.  They ran after the ball and smiled and laughed.  It was their great sandlot stadium.  I thought about the power of a single soccer ball made of plastic bags and string. (3.)  Farmers and Marines have a lot in common.  My back hurt.  My feet were worn.  We didn’t eat or drink water because the Nuru farmers who took us from shamba to shamba didn’t eat or take water (Jake never does, in fact, he fasts from the time he leaves the Nuru house until night when he returns) and we kept going under the hot Kenyan sun.  I realized how much I missed those long Marine patrols – walking that frontier-desert land with the best men.  We could patrol forever.  We had colt rifles and bowie knives and tobacco in our lip.  We used foul language and drank black coffee.  We smelled like bandits – a fantastically-foul blend of the lubricant we’d clean our rifles with, burnt garbage, and sweat.  We knew honest work is hard work and hard work is the best work.  And being a Marine is good, hard, honest work.  We loved each other.  Walking through the shambas I missed those long patrolling days.  And then I laughed, because if I would have said that to the former-me actually walking the long patrol, I would have punched the shamba-walking me in the face.  (4.) They are buidling a rail road from central africa, to the coast, via Tanzania.  I love that I live and work in a place that still builds rail roads.  Walking through the shambas I missed those long patrolling days.  And then I laughed, because if I would have said that to the former-me actually walking the long patrol, I would have punched the shamba-walking me in the face.
Closing thoughts.  I sat alone in a small, dark pub in the Hilton Hotel in Nairobi on Saturday night sipping on a cold draft pint.  I had no smart-phone and no computer to occupy my time with google and wikipedia searches and so I asked the bar man for a pen and I set out to solve the world’s problems on a napkin.  A Zambian man came up next to me and asked for a pint.  We made small talk.  He told me he worked for the World Bank.  I ordered another beer.  He lived in Maryland with his family.  We talked about Zanzibar and Kenyan politics and how it’s funny that his 12 year old son could be so much cooler than he ever was.  We talked about Zambia and Africa in general and everywhere else in the world and then we talked about America.  He asked me how I felt about my country.  I said Ioved her deeply.  He said that he loved her as well.  He said he thought America was “a miracle,” and we talked at length as to why and then he said that he believed our challenge was to keep it that way…I agreed.  We gently touched pint glasses and at that moment I felt very lucky and blessed to be where we are from….the miracle-America.
Last bit.  On one particular shamba visit I learned how to plow a field by a farmer.  Being raised in southern-California and never having been much west of the I-5 freeway, I knew I was at a disadvantage, but being a Marine unable to pass on any challenge, I confidently got behind the farmer’s plow and his two cows and I started down the field.  To say I was bad at plowing would be an understatement.  But I kept at it….I think even the cows knew I was a coastal California kid.  A pathetic excuse for a wanna-be farmer.  At the end of the session I asked the farmer, with a Southern California smile, would he like to hire me to plow his fields next harvest?  The farmer looked at my uneven, ugly rows, then looked back at me with sweet disgust and said, flatly: “no.”
And that’s how I’ll leave it…with that personal failure-vignette that demonstrates no matter what your position or status in the world there’s some wonderfully humble-farmer-expert out there knowing you suck, and isn’t afraid to tell you so.
That’s learning.
Much respect and love to all,
asm, american.
p.s. picture of said plowing-fail attached.  I’ll be a farmer yet!

The Adventures of a Marine

August 25th, 2013 Posted in The SandGram v1.0 | No Comments »

One of the finest Officers I have ever worked with has taken a position over in Kenya.  He is an excellent writer and here is his first update.  Captain Alex Martin, USMC Officer and a man of the world…



alex N Kenya


Hey friends…an update from my first week on the project…
Waking up.  It’s Saturday morning at the Nuru House in Isibania, Kenya and I’m halfway through my second cup of black coffee, well-rested after being lulled to sleep by a hard evening rain.  I was dog tired after my first full week on the project here.  It’s a gratifying fatigue – the type we knew at the start of a long deployment; the sort where your mind, body and soul attempt to find a compatible rhythm in a new environment.  I’ve been walking everywhere and so my feet are getting tough again.  I’m happy for that.  On Thursday afternoon a woman in her fifties passed me on a rough gravel road.  She had a bag of seed on her head.  Her grand-daughter was strapped to her back.  She was barefoot.  She smiled and waved as she passed.  It was one of hundreds of moments this week alone that I realized just how soft and weak I am.
Location.  The Nuru House is located in Isibania, a tough Tanzanian border town inhabited by tough border people.  Isibania is in Kuria West, which is one of the absolute poorest districts in Kenya.  The Nuru Regional Training Center (Nuru Kenya’s Headquarters) is about 2 1/2 miles from our house, off the main road that makes its way north and east back to Nairobi.  The trip is 8 hours by bus across the great Rift Valley (though ours took 11 due to a few breakdowns).  Kuria is south of Lake Victoria and west, northwest of the famed Masai Mara, an extension of Tanzania’s legendary Serengeti.  The land here is rich and inspiring and rivals the majesty of Scotland’s Hebrides.  That such beautiful land is the background to such a devastating human landscape of poverty and disease is ironic.  As Jake and I walked all across the Kurian countryside so I could learn the favored routes to visit our farmers I thought about this irony.
History.  East Africa is considered the craddle of mankind.  Discoveries in the Olduvia Gorge by the Leakeys’ in 1959 and in Lake Turkana confirmed some of man’s earliest remains.  The Indian Ocean’s monsoon winds brought the first foreigners and by the 8th century Arabs had settled on the coast establishing rich trade routes which sent off leopard skins, tortoise shells, ivory, rhinoceros horns, gold and slaves in exchange for metal tools, swords and other implements of a ‘civilized’ culture.  This Arab-African contact spawned the birth of the Swahili culture.  By the 15th century the Portuguese conquered most of what is now coastal Kenya; then the Omani’s ruled, profiting from a lucrative slave trade ran from their new sultanate’s capital, Zanzibar.  Slavery was banned by a league of Christian nations in 1873 and the British sent delegates to enforce the new treaty.  By 1887, realizing the richness of the region and with the support of a growing empire, the British established the Imperial British East Africa Company.  Railroads and infrastructure were built to support the trade.  In 1920 Kenya became a crown colony and an independent republic in 1964.  The nature of politics here are fascinating, tribal and turbulent.  I’m looking forward to trips to Nairobi to debate with the Cereals and NGO Board and to meet with the Ministries in advocacy of Nuru’s cause.  I think this will prove to be a fascinating and frustrating aspect of my job here.
My job here.  Nuru International is a U.S.-based social venture started by my friend Jake Harriman that equips the poor living in remote, rural areas to end extreme poverty in their communities. Nuru is a Kiswahili word that means “light.” Nuru International currently works in rural Kenya.  He was inspired by his time in the Marine Corps that there needed to be a development angle to fighting terrorism.  His thesis is that by ending extreme poverty, we can curb the recruitment of thousands to the terrorists ranks. He spent his time at Stanford Business School developing his model which are inspired by the eco-system of Palo Alto’s best approaches to design thinking. Nuru defines extreme poverty not strictly in an economic sense, but rather by describing it in a holistic context predicated on basic human rights, specifically the ability to have access to meaningful choices.  Nuru started here in Kuria West and has done nothing any other development company has ever done…they have created an enabling environment in which local people can be the answers to their own problems.  The mission of Nuru International in Kenya is to exit and leave behind Nuru Kenya (NK) which would be the world’s first self-sustaining, self-scaling, integrated development model to end extreme poverty.  Nuru Kenya has four “impact programs” (agriculture, community economic development (or, simply, a savings collective that allows families to survive economic shocks, including hunger seasons and disease), education and healthcare); these impact programs are supported by a monitoring and evaluation program which monitors impact and fueled by a social enterprise division which is a for-profit entity that earns money and directly supports the non-profit work and a leadership program that develops local leaders and enables them to spread the Nuru model throughout the country.  Jake’s vision is bold.  Something like this has never been done before, which has the attention of many philanthropists dissatisfied with the NGO status-quo. But when talking to him you feel like you’re in the presence of a Steve Jobs or Einstein…someone who truly believes the world can be changed and has the capacity to effect such change…truly put a ding in the universe.  The Ethiopia program started this summer, which will hopefully prove that the success of the Nuru design model is not specific to Kenya.  Then Jake will take Nuru to a post-conflict state.  Refine the “technology” and make the “design” open source to governments, NGO’s and businesses around the world. My job in all this?  I’m the Team Leader for a bunch of wonderful development specialists.  I have five main tasks over the next two years: 1.) Manage and prepare an Executive Director for Nuru Kenya and 280 local staff, 2.) ensure each impact program proves impact; 3.) manage the NK budget, 4.) lead, develop and care for the Ex-pat foundation team and 5.) scale Nuru Kenya into a second district.  These five things will drive us towards our overall goal:  Nuru International’s exit from Kenya by the end of 2015. It’s going to be a busy two years…
Hard & simple.  I sipped on a warm Tusker beer yesterday after the day’s work, watching the busy activity of the valley from a plastic chair on our compound’s porch.  I reflected on the week. Farmers moved slowly home from their fields. Mothers were busy around fires and children were carrying water home in bunches of two and three.  It felt good to be here.  Free of a constant buzz.  Free of my smartphone and the news of the world.  Here the air was thick and sweet smelling.  The rains quickly approached from the Tanzanian plains.  It felt good to be in the rain, drinking warm Kenyan beer.  I went inside and looked at my room. A bed.  A desk.  A couple pairs of pants, a few shirts.  Two books, a few pens. A coffee cup.  My knife.  Muddy boots. A few hundred Kenyan Schillings ($3 or $4 worth).  It was simple.  The mission ahead will be a hard one for our team and local counter-parts here.  And for those farmers we serve and those we will try to serve in the years ahead who face extreme poverty each day, exponentially harder.  That said, it’s nice to face ‘the hard’ from a position of simplicity.  After all, that’s something we all know to be true — what’s most important us is often the most simple…
Tutaonana baadaye,

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Insights from an Army Officer

August 21st, 2013 Posted in The SandGram v1.0 | No Comments »

1.  The same people who approved “morality waivers” to make retention goals are now in charge and wondering why we have so many DUIs, Suicides, and Sex Assaults.

2.  Seeking treatment for mental health issues is a long-term plan, you’re never “cured” and the DOD has absolutely no way to balance keeping the soldier in the force (trained/schooled/promoted) and getting him the treatment he needs.

3.  We write policies telling our subordinates to do things that we will not do (cough *counseling subordinates* cough) and we don’t punish units for failing.

Case in point:

IG inspections.  Generally, these don’t exist anymore. Subordinate units get “Staff Assistance Visits” to check that they are doing the things the higher staff is interested in, but not necessarily the way the Army says they will be done (for example, using DTMS to schedule training.)


If a unit has an SAV and fails it completely, the end result is that they will be reinspected, at a later date, to be determined.  Usually, that later date is after the people on both staffs have moved on, so what was broken before is still broken.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  So for failing to pass inspection, a unit has no penalty… what is the motivation to apply resources to the problem to fix it?

We write policies outlining “good order and discipline” telling our soldiers how to behave, but we have no means within those policies to ensure they are being followed, and no penalty for not following the directives.  We might, naturally, punish a soldier who does not uphold the standards published, but we don’t punish that soldier’s leaders for failing to influence them to behave within standards.

Platoon leaders don’t get an ass chewing if their platoons fail muster inspection, Platoon Sergeants don’t get shit-canned unless their personal behavior is outside the lines of good order and discipline, and only then if it’s for an egregious error like a DUI or raping the CG’s cat.

Company, Battalion, and Brigade commanders don’t get relieved for the failures of their units, they are the cream of the crop in terms of Army officers, (supposedly) and so of course these things can’t be indicative of lax standards of discipline on their part.  We chase shadows trying to figure out why we have major and minor discipline problems spreading through our formations like a cancer (or more appropriately, like syphilis) when the answer is plain to the casual observer:  we have these problems at the rate we have now because we tolerate them.  We tolerate the command climates that permit these things to happen.  We don’t look at undisciplined soldiers as a leadership failure, we see it as an individual soldier problem.  We do not look at leaders and hold them responsible for the actions of their troops.

When was the last time the CG walked through the barracks, at night, on a weekend, and asked troops “when is the last time your battalion and brigade commander came through here after hours to check on you?”

I guaran-damned-tee you if it happened once, there would be brigade, battalion, and company level leaders in the barracks every weekend.  Even better, what if he straight relieved the company commander/1SG of the barracks he was most displeased with, and reprimanded the Battalion commander?

What if the CG found PFC Ghettoblaster at the PX with his pants around his ass, hat on backwards, etc. (violating appropriate dress policy)  and held him there until his chain of command arrived, and the CG held the Team leader, Squad leader, and Platoon Leader, Platoon Sergeant, and 1SG responsible for PFC Ghettoblaster’s failure to understand and adhere to the standard?  What if he posted them at the PX until they were relieved by the chain of command of the next PFC Ghettoblaster found in the PX?  Bet there’s be a lot less underwear showing at the PX.  (And yes, this would work if the person violating the policy was a dependent, too.  The only modification being the chain of command explaining why their soldier hasn’t explained the standards of dress to his dependents.)

I’m not suggesting that an O8 spend his days making uniform corrections at the PX, or walking through the Barracks every weekend.  The CG only needs to do these things once–that’s all the influence he needs to apply to the problem to reinforce that it is important to him–and will energize his subordinate commanders to fix the problem.

Apply this methodology to “fixing” the sex assault problem in the Army:

CG gathers BN and BDE commanders–again, the theoretical cream of the crop–and tells them “this division has a problem with sexual assault.  The next sexual assault that happens, I will relieve the chain of command from battalion down to fire team.  What are your recommendations to fix the problem?”  They might come up with some hair-brained ideas, but they may just hit upon a decent solution–now that they have skin in the game.

We don’t relieve leaders except for their personal failings–we no longer hold them accountable for the failures of their units.  There is no multiple wave relief, either, for exceptionally bad failings, we might relieve one leader (usually a Captain or LT) but a LTC?  Not happening.  A COL?  nope.

And that, in a nutshell, is the problem.



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“Where do we get such men?” SLCDA 2013

August 4th, 2013 Posted in Military | 9 Comments »

“Where do we get such men?” Summer Leadership and Character Development Academy (SLCDA)

This famous line from the old movie “Bridges of Toko-Ri” embodies a powerful message in the context of why the Military helps form such strong bonds that you would be willing to sacrifice yourself for your buddy.  That of course was in the 50’s depicting the Korean War.

In more modern times, it would say “Where do we get such men and women?”  The answer to that question was revealed to me this past week at Quantico, Virginia when 96 High School students from 26 different states around the country, attended our Summer Leadership and Character Development Academy (SLCDA).


I sometimes question as a parent, where we are headed as a nation.  As you watch the nightly news or hear your student talk about things going on at school, does it not make you wonder what can be done to help fix the holes in the crumbling dyke?

The Marine Corps has its share of faults, but one thing it does right is produce leaders.  From the lowest Enlisted Marine to the highest General, we instill our Corps values into each and every person, Honor, Courage and Commitment.

Over the years, friends have asked me what makes a Marine different from the other branches.  I reply “how many of those round stickers with the Eagle, Globe and Anchor that says “US Marine Corps” do you see on any given day driving down the road?  I challenge you to count them one day and it would seem that the smallest branch of the Military has the most members.  It’s because we brand those three words into the heart of every recruit who goes through training.  We belong to the best band of brothers anyone could dream of and you’ll find that most folks who have served in the Corps may have only completed one tour but it’s a brand for life.”

So, while we are awesome on the battlefield, our Commandant has tasked the Marine Corps to teach our values to the local community.  We call this “Connect with America” and “Community Outreach” where we share our values and traits in hopes that a student will take this back to their school and is a better person down the road for it.


General Amos receiving a thank you from Mark Tisler on behalf of the entire SLCDA who signed the left side of the award.

We aren’t looking for future officers in the Military either, but for a student who attends SLCDA and one day as CEO of Apple discusses about the lessons they imparted from our course.

We put a program together that lasted seven days aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico and staffed by 31 Reserve Marines.  Let me reiterate that… Reserve Marines.  Our Cadre consisted of all ranks from Sgt to Colonel and spanned all MOS’s (military job specialties) and a also covered the entire gambit from F.B.I. and Secret Service agents, bankers, businessmen, pilots, small business owners, salesmen, firemen, EMT’s and Public Affairs.  That is a small taste of what our Marines do Monday through Friday if they aren’t putting on their uniform to relax around fellow Marines.  They were absolutely the best I have ever worked with, bar none.

Our program tenants are based on Ethics, Character Development and Leadership training.   Every class, every guest speaker was put together in such a way to ensure these students were constantly exposed in different ways to the same message.

We started the week out with the Commandant of the Marine Corps who took 20 minutes out of his incredibly busy schedule to talk to our group about his vision of where they should go down the road.  He wants leaders who will excel in the business world and all sectors of life.


Next we had the Travis Manion Foundation speak on “If not me, then who?” a powerful message about being the person to make things happen.  This was based on Travis, a Marine officer who was killed on his second tour of duty in the war.  Someone asked him why he volunteered to leave again when he didn’t have to.  His reply “If not me then who” and that reflects who we are as Marines, duty bound.


Col Barney Barnum, a Medal of Honor Recipient spoke to the class about character and the battle in Vietnam that changed his life.  He was only in country five days when he was wounded twice in an ambush that left him head of a Marine Rifle Company. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on December 18, 1965 — for “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty”


Col Harvey “Barney” Barnum, explaining to the kids what courage and character means.

That night we had a Skype VTC with Casey Heynis from Australia.  Here was a young man bullied through his most important school years and has started a campaign to counter bullies everywhere.   I am hoping that our kids will have the courage and guts to make a stand against this at school when they return.  Be the champion for the weak and role models for others to emulate.


Casey Heynis from an interview in Australia

The Holocaust Museum while horrific and sad at the same time, ties into that theme of “if not me, then who?” and having the courage to stand up against bullies.  What if a General had stood up in front of Hitler and pointed out that it wasn’t right to kill the Jews? That act of courage alone may have helped the other Generals to agree and possibly talking him out of it.  Of course, they didn’t and we lost over 6 million Jews during those years.  We want our kids to be the ones to stand up and say “Stop, this isn’t right!”

To demonstrate these things we have been discussing, we spent a day at The Basic School, where the students were put into stressful real life situations and they had to make a life or death decisions.  They were critiqued after each challenge and I think they realized what our young Marines face every day in Afghanistan or any number of countries that we send relief to.


Next we moved into our college/life prep agenda.

Joe Shusko, a retired Marine LtCol and former HMX-1 pilot gave a talk on “tie in’s for life” and how to motivate yourself and your friends to accomplish anything you desire in life.  Here is a man, over 60 years old who still runs five and half minute miles every day.  He is what every Marine dreams of being and if I could be just a 1/10th of the man he is, then I will have led an honorable and fulfilling life.


LtCol Joe Shusko from the Marine Raider ’09 reunion

I was able to give my extreme goal setting lecture to the students that discussed and showed them where they are now and working backwards from a dream job, build a solid road map to ensure they achieve their goals in life.


“Taco” Bell in Iraq and guest speaker on extreme goal setting.

Mrs. Laura Lacey spoke to the kids about service projects and how to come up with the ideas from inception to funding and finally execution.  This is her specialty and only a few lucky students are able to take this class every year in the Stafford High School.   Her amazing presentation that night was eclipsed by her talk the next day as we worked on graves at Quantico National Cemetery as our service project.  See, not only is she a service project specialist, but a noted Marine Corps Historian as well.

from the

from’s interview of Laura Lacey

The conclusion to our speaker panel ended with a movie called “Taking Chance” about a Marine Corps Officer named LtCol Mike Stobl who escorted a young fallen Marine home to Wyoming.  After working on the headstones in the cemetery, we stressed how we pay our respects to our fallen.  Following the movie, the real Mike Stobl (not Kevin Bacon) walked down to the front of class and discussed his journey with Chance and the profound changes it had on his life.

LtCol Mike Strobl on set with Kevin Bacon during the shooting of "Taking Chance"

LtCol Mike Strobl on set with Kevin Bacon during the shooting of “Taking Chance”

All in all, this was a great week with Physical training challenges, Character development, Ethics and Leadership.  We concluded with a top notch graduation put on by 2ndLt Valle (a former Gunny) which highlighted the transformation of 96 students throughout the week.

IMG_2084 IMG_2075 IMG_2092

I thank all the staff reading this, because this endeavor would have failed without your professional and caring support. Here is a shot of our 2013  Staff during the Tuesday evening Sunset parade.

2013 staff


I also want to thank the parents who allowed us to divest some of the Marine Corps traits and values to your students.  Please excuse them when they answer every question with a “Yes Sir/Ma’am” or “OOOhhhh RRRRRRhhhhaaaaa,” as it helped form the bonds with new friends that will hopefully last forever.

Semper Fi,

LtCol Bell


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2013 Stolen Valor Tournament – South Regional Bios

June 5th, 2013 Posted in The SandGram v1.0 | No Comments »

My favorite time of the year thanks to Jonn and Mark over at “This Ain’t Hell”   please make sure you go vote on this awesome ultimate Poser contest.


For the North Regional Bios, CLICK HERE.

For the West Regional Bios, CLICK HERE.

A quick note:  as Nietsche once said, “Battle not with monsters lest ye become a monster; and if you gaze into the abyss the abyss gazes into you.”

All these sad sacks of shit actually made me sad today.  So I’m telling you up front, this is perhaps the worst round of bios I ever wrote.  My soul just feels beat up.  It started with Crocheron and lasted all the way to the end.  I just want to go home and mow my lawn and try to forget these people exist.  Unfortunately, cutting grass won’t even start to assuage my sadness and anger towards these people.

So, my sincere apologies on this one.  I have no good one-liners in here, and I’m feeling a ton of hate in my heart for them right now.  That almost never happens.  Literally, almost never.  Sure, I get upset at them like everyone else, but it generally goes away when I see the kind deeds of others.  Not with this crew.  Not looking for a pick me up, just wanted to explain that these folks suck, and offer my sincere apology.

Now, as you know, I usually have some decent video at the end.  Today I am starting with it.  I had a better song picked out, but this one suddenly appeared in my mind’s eye as I went through this today.

I have re-written history
With my armies of my crooks
Invented memories
I did burn all the books
And I can still hear his laughter
And I can still hear his song
The man’s too big
The man’s too strong



1) Kenneth “Ghoul” Crocheron


Marky is a little boy who suffers from a rare “disease called retro-peritoneal fibrosis which simply means there’s a fibrous coating of crud all over his organs. His prognosis is unknown, since the disease is so rare.”  He loves the military, as can be seen from the pictures of him there.  Well meaning soldiers and veterans have gone out of their way to treat him the way he deserves.

Enter Green Beret Colonel Kenneth Crocheron who showed up to befriend this valiant child.  Only….well, I’ll let his mother say it:

Colonel, Uncle Kenneth Crocheron is a FAKE.  This week it was finally confirmed and proven that our former beloved family friend, Ken, has been deceiving us for the 10 yrs we’ve known him…..deceived many many more innocent family members and friends and co-workers over the last 40+ yrs.  He IS NOT a Green Beret, IS NOT a COLONEL, or any other army officer. IS NOT honorable in any way, regardless of the GOOD DEEDS he may have done for our family, it was all under the guise of rescuing us and trying to impress us with his clout.

Seriously, what kind of shitbag do you have to be to pull this off?

I know this is getting long for a bio, but listen to the anguish here:

He has deliberately insulted EVERY military serviceman that has ever sacrificed for our country….We are beyond hurt, beyond belief, beyond pain. No words can handle this.

Shocked and betrayed.

[Our prayers are with you Marky.  I saw your last update was good, and we’ll be thinking of you.]

16) Richard “Coke and a Smile” Sandberg


Trading bombs to get cocaine to enjoy “recreationally” with your hot wife?  Sure, who among us hasn’t on occasion done that?  But…


A former Marine, Sandberg claimed that he served in “Special Ops Recon SS Marine Corps” and was deployed to war zones in Iraq, Somalia, Africa and Pakistan, according to the affidavit. However, his official military personnel file indicates that he was discharged after two years of service in 2005 as a lance corporal, and he was never deployed.

Ah, Lance Coolie, you’ve done it again!

On a good note, Wife is a go-er and apparently somewhat single now, so if you live in Denver, you might want to hit that up.  In addition to her hubby being in jail, I’m predicting he’ll be a first round loser in the premier tournament of the year.

8) Charles Austin Vanderburg


(Not his actual picture)

The correction says it all:

Charles Austin Vanderburg, 64, said in an interview he earned 18 medals including the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and the Air Force Cross for heroism and a Purple Heart during 20 years in the U.S. Air Force. The Press-Enterprise received numerous calls and emails from veterans and veterans’ organizations questioning whether Vanderburg actually had received these honors.

Documents from the National Archives’ National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, show that Vanderburg did not earn these four medals, nor did he serve in Vietnam. He was in the Air Force from 1967 to 1987, the records state.

20 years in the Air Force, and he still had to make shit up.  Dude.

9) William James Burley


I love the picture.  Looks like every qalat it Afghanistan doesn’t it?  Because there’s so much wood around everything is built from it.

This shitdick decided to play act as a state cop and stake out an Outlaw Motorcycle club.  Not sure what half-assed scheme he planned to use on that one.  Dude had already been arrested earlier on conspiracy to commit robbery and possession of a silencer, following an attempted robbery in East Greenwich.

AND THEN this dickhead hired an attorney who came after This Ain’t Hell to take down a video we didn’t even have up.  Play cop?  Sure.  Stake out biker groups, why not?  Silencers and robbery?  Who hasn’t?  Phony SEAL, I’m down with that.  But threaten us with lawyers and AGAIN not file suit?  For shame sir, for shame!


4) SFC “Walmartian” Coombs


Looks like the Spec4 Mafia claimed a scalp on this one…

Meet “SFC” Coombs, he is most popular for making appearances at the Wal-Mart on Skibo and talking like a green beret from Hollywood.

Unfortunately for Mr. Coombs, he failed the questionnaire given by SPC Hunt. For all you posers out there: if a “leg” soldier asks you what the 4th week of airborne school is like, it would f*cking behoove you to inform him that there are only 3 weeks in Army Airborne School, not 4. Also, when he asks you what the hardest part of the 18 Delta Course is like (since a very good friend of mine is an SF medic), you might not want to say language. As my friend told me, language was the easiest part of the actual pipeline. Again, you fail.

Real SF guys prefer Targets to Walmart.

13) Eugene “Greyhound” Pottinger


Here’s another phony taking advantage of a nice lady who tries to help people:

He joined the military and served primarily in Vietnam from age 18-38. In those 20 years his title would be Commander Navy Seal. Things began to get emotional for me as he talked. I could see the hurt in his eyes and that made me sad. He said that he spent 5 years in the states and the first 8 months training to become a seal. His mission was to seek and destroy. He was a POW (Prisoner of War) for almost 4 years.

I agree with what Jonn said:  I’m sure the lady’s heart was in the right place and this scoundrel took advantage of that. I’m grateful that there are people out there like the young lady who would welcome veterans into their towns and buy them a good meal, but she’s lucky that she got away from this scum bucket with her life. He doesn’t look like the brightest bulb in the chandelier.

You know, this whole bracket is depressing the shit out of me.  Someone needs to drop a MOAB on the South Regional.

5) Timothy “Mossad” Maynard


Timothy Maynard was a phony from West Virginia who had also defrauded the Social Security Administration out of about $14,000. He claimed to be a SEAL, Recon Marine, Special Forces, CIA Agent, and even an Israeli Mossad agent to name a few. Our buddy Don Shipley busted him out which led to his eventual arrest on the charges for bilking Social Security.

Don sent us pictures of him posing with the remnants of the stuff that a neighbor of Timothy Maynard found in the phony’s house. The neighbor had done some free home repairs for Maynard based on Maynard’s phony stories and this is the extent of his fairy tales.

The picture above is Shipley’s hair, attached to some dude surrounded by Maynard’s bullshit.  Don’t stare directly into the hair, it’s like a basilisk, will turn your shit to stone man.

12) Sam “You donated to who?” Samford


OK, so this assclown was a “conservative talk show host” who was also a Navy SEAL (of course) with harrowing tales of firefights in Grenada and crashing in Iran.  And then he fahked up:  He gave a $2.50 donation to Newt Gingrich.

First off, who donates $2.50 to a campaign?  The postage for a thank you note and the man hours alone would cost more than that.  Anyway, it happened that this was the 175,000 donation to ole Newt, so he got a momentary notoriety.  Which led to people listening to his radio show for the first time, and then the media got involved.

The trouble is, Samford is not a Navy Seal and never was.

Action News has the documents to prove it. We filed Freedom of Information Act requests with the NationalPersonnelRecordsCenter in St. Louis, MO. They sent us documents that prove Samford did enter the Navy Reserves in 1978.

But that’s where the truth about Samford’s military career ends. Inside those same papers, we found an interesting piece of information. The papers say Samford’s naval career started on November 22, 1978 and ended on December 11, 1978.  He was in the Navy for just 19 days.

You don’t say?

SOCNET has some fun clips from the radio show if you are interested.

3) James Edward “Combat Action” Ferris


By now EVERYONE knows the story of Ferris.  The leader of the Korean War Veterans Association and BFF’s with Joe Biden, Ferris decided to honor his brother by wearing his medals, but declined to tell anyone that’s what he was doing.  It’s not bad enough that he was actually authorized to be in the KWVA by his actual record, it turned out that his brothers bio didn’t match the real world either.

Frank served in the Marines from January 1944 until May 1946 and he went back into service from 1957 until 1965 and spent his entire career as a cook, not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s awful difficult to imagine that somehow he earned a Combat Action Ribbon that wasn’t somehow annotated on his records. So it looks like James Ferris not only lied in wearing medals he didn’t earn, he also lied to the reporter and the KWVA Board about his brother’s awards.

But, we made a new friend out of it!  [/waves to Sam from the Corn]
14) Phillip Mark “Swiss Cheese” Thompson

Phillip Thompson

I once said of another man that he had

[T]he body of Hercules, the facial hair of a young Brad Pitt, the calves of James Woods, and the winsome smile of Steve Buscemi. Were the man to be immortally carved into granite, it would make even the Aphrodite Kallipygo weep tears of blood. For more perfect buttocks on a man one could search an eternity and find none half so sublime.

It didn’t take an eternity, because Swiss Cheese here is that man.  And his bio is amazing.   2 Silver Stars, 5 Purple Hearts, 3 Bronze Stars.  8 Deployments to Iraq, 6 to Afghanistan.  And he earned his name:

“Yea I have been shot 2x in the back, 1 in shoulder, 1 in chest, 1 in neck and had my thumb shot off. The docs were able to reconstruct my thumb so I have it. I have alot of high awards for valor and heroism but I would give all of them back to have some guys on my team back. As Special Forces Operators, we have a brotherhood and we have each others backs thru thick and thin..”

Alas, in addition to it all being crap, now he gets to look forward to utilizing that wonderful posterior for the benefit of mankind.  And by mankind, I mean the other inmates who will treat him like Andy Dufresne.  What’s with all these cops?  I love me some law enforcement, but how are they blind to these chuckleheads?

6) Jason “VIN Number” Conley


This guy claims to have the MOS of “91wM6VW1” which as Jonn notes, reads more like a Vehicle Identification Number than a Military Occupational Specialty.  He was a Ranger Medic (tabbed not scroll’d) with three deployments.  Well, actually he was a PFC in the Vermont Guard who deployed to dangerous San Antonio, Texas, and then failed a wizz quiz 6 months into his service.   And he was a 68W, not a 91W.

You can read the rest over at Scotty’s place.  I’m not even sure what this clown was trying to accomplish here.  Is he a musician or something?

11) Donice “Michael Jordan of Hookers” Armstrong


I have a hard time believing this chick was bright enough to pass an ASVAB.  Pretty sure she couldn’t spell ASVAB.

NPRC said “who?”

For some reason it reminded me of Col Jessup in a Few Good Men: “Promote ‘em all, I say, ’cause this is true: if you haven’t gotten a blowjob from a superior officer, well, you’re just letting the best in life pass you by.” Yeah, well I served in the infantry, so I’ll just take your word on that one.

7) Christopher “Spirit Guide” Tirao

Christopher Tiroa

This guy claims that his Indian Great Grandfather gave him the spirit name of “Rolling Thunder”.  I don’t want to second-guess his skills as a Shaman, but when I talked to my spirit guide about you (he’s a narcoleptic wombat with severe halitosis) he said your spirit name was “Stories stink worse that a white man’s ass after a week-long Taco Bell bender.”  But, the spirits do tend to equivocate like that.

The dude does have some skill at being where everyone else isn’t though.  He was in Nam in 1978, and in the “Gulf” in 1986.  Then he went to Iraq from 1990-1999.  He was a SEAL, Special Forces, in the Air Force and the Marine Corps.   He’s also the only recipient EVER of a Silver Cross and Distinguished Star.  I don’t know what a Silver Cross is, but it must be badass.

If I make it through this bracket my new Indian name will be “I should have swallowed the entire bottle of Ambien last night.”

10) Andrew “25 Years and a Big Chicken Dinner” Underwood

Andrew underwood

Seriously, these folks today are driving me to drink.  Everyone else is scamming someone, this clown here managed to crush himself.

A military judge sitting as a special court-martial convicted appellant, pursuant to his pleas, of six specifications of false official statement, six specifications of wearing unauthorized ribbons and insignia, and one specification of false swearing, in violation of Articles 107 and 134, Uniform Code of Military Justice, 10 U.S.C. §§ 907, 934 (2006). The military judge sentenced appellant to confinement for twelve months and a bad-conduct discharge. Pursuant to a pretrial agreement, the convening authority approved only thirty days’ confinement and a bad-conduct discharge. At the time of trial, appellant was a Command Sergeant Major with over twenty-five years of service assigned to the Criminal Investigation Command (CID).

Twenty Five years in the Army and he pissed away his retirement, and has to find a job that will take a dude with a bad conduct discharge.  I wish I had more on this guy, because right now I actually feel pity for him.

2) Chelle Lynne “ATC/CNO/CAP” Anderson-Tesla

Chelle Tesla

Chelle Lynne Anderson-Tesla is currently a major in the Civil Air Patrol in Virginia and assigned to HQ, VA Wing as Director of Aerospace Education. She got that job because she represented herself as combat-wounded Army Aviation Captain, and a UH-60 Blackhawk pilot.   At one point she was claiming to be the CNO (Chief of Naval Operations).  Well, either that or she couldn’t even spell NCO right.  She claims that she earned a Purple Heart when her Blackhawk was shot down in Iraq and, of course, because of that incident she claims she suffers from TBI and PTS.   Of course, she’s here on TAH, so you already know that none of that is true; as her records show, she’s never been to Iraq.  She was a PFC Air Traffic Controller for about 13 months.

Germany, Iraq, same diff.  You know the German motto: come for the schiese videos, stay for the small arms and RPG fire.

15) Leo “Phony Baloney” Maloney

Leo Maloney

His bio is awesome:

 In 1966 he was inducted into the army and during basic training he was recruited to become a black ops contractor for a clandestine government agency, and his life changed forever. He traveled the world to strategically important hotspots. As an independent contractor, he was never required to accept a particular assignment, but rather selected ones that met his criteria that it was in the best interest of the country, although once a mission was underway, there was no turning back. Unlike many of his peers, he survived to tell his story.

Actual tale of the tape: 47 days at Fort Jackson.  If you want to read this sorry sack of shit’s books, you can find them at Amazon.  And after shopping there, flush your head in a used public toilet.


And now, I am going to go listen to Barney songs until the urge to kill folks subsides.

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Another Poser, “Colonel Mike”

May 28th, 2013 Posted in The SandGram v1.0 | 1 Comment »

This is my Police Chief and I love this guy!  He busted this loser poser Mike McDowell pretending to be a one Star General and attached to the DIA.  The photos say it all.  Great job by Deanna Boyd for this piece which was the front page of the Fort Worth Telegram.

S/F Taco

mcdowell1 mcdowell2 Mcdowell3 mcdowell4



Fort Worth police say ‘Colonel Mike’ created an elaborate ruse about a military career

Posted Saturday, May. 25, 2013


View photos

By Deanna Boyd

FORT WORTH — When Brig. Gen. G.B. McDowell passed away on Veterans Day 2011 near Seattle, condolences in an online guest book lifted up his son, Col. Michael Douglas McDowell.

Top military officers, like now-retired Maj. Gen. J.T. Furlow, wrote that it was a pleasure to have known Michael McDowell’s father and to have served with Michael McDowell throughout the years.

“You are a warrior of valor, a knight of devout courage, and a soldier of the highest order,” Furlow wrote to Michael McDowell. “Your Father is looking down from Heaven proud of the son he raised. Godspeed as you promote up to the very rank your Father held.”

Retired Gen. David Petraeus, then director of the Central Intelligence Agency, left his own heartfelt message for McDowell and his fiancee at the time, Christy.

“My staff and I are praying for you and Christy and your mother as you go through this time of sorrow and grief over the loss of your father,” Petraeus wrote. “General McDowell was a great man and leader, and I am confident that you will accomplish even more than he did in his lifetime.

“Thank you for your devout and faithful service to your country and for being a great man that leads by example.”

Current and former board members of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association, who had come to know “Colonel Mike” over the last decade, chimed in.

“It is with deepest regret that I did not have the opportunity to meet this great American and service man. And a great honor to call his son and legacy a friend,” wrote Sgt. Stephen Hall.

But the legacy, it turns out, was a lie.

McDowell, 57, has never been in the military. Neither had his father — actually an Irving evangelist who died in 1985 while leading a revival in California.

The comments from top military officers were fake; investigators believe they were written by McDowell to go along with the phony obituary that he’d created for his father.

“I thought the guy did a pretty good job writing that. It’s better than I could have done,” Furlow said in a telephone interview from East Texas.

“Unfortunately, there’s a lot of these people out there that are taking away the glory of people who have done things. … This individual has to be sick to do stuff like this.”

Now, McDowell faces criminal charges as local and federal investigators continue to dig into a ruse that they say spanned at least 15 years and enabled him to fool government agencies and immediate family members.

He was arrested this month in Fort Worth on suspicion of impersonating a public servant and could face charges ranging from forgery and tampering with a government document on the state level to impersonating a military officer on the federal level.

Investigators have uncovered evidence that McDowell acquired special access for at least one Fort Worth police association board member to tour the Washington Navy Yard when it was closed to the public.

He persuaded Texas Department of Public Safety employees to issue him valid driver’s licenses without his picture or fingerprints because of his work as an “intelligence officer.”

And he obtained Purple Heart recipient license plates.

“We jokingly refer to this as the old Leonardo DiCaprio movie, Catch Me If You Can — the military edition,” said Fort Worth police officer Brad Thompson, lead investigator in the case.

Just how far McDowell’s impersonations reached and what else he may have gained remain under investigation.

“One of the issues that came up from one of our people who was in D.C. was that he met him inside the secure area of the airport, dressed in his uniform, and picked him up in a vehicle with government tags,” Thompson said. “We heard that from multiple people, that he picked them up in vehicles with government tags on them.”

McDowell, who police say has acknowledged posing as a military officer, did not respond to several messages from the Star-Telegram seeking comment. His attorney, Charlie Burgess, also did not return repeated phone calls.

B.G. “Jug” Burkett, a Vietnam veteran and author of Stolen Valor, estimates that 70 percent of those who invent or embellish military records “do it out of low self-esteem,” motivated by the automatic respect that such distinction can bring.

“The general thing he is doing is not uncommon. But how elaborately he has done this, he’s at the top of the heap, obviously,” Burkett said.

Something wasn’t right

The unraveling of McDowell’s scam began after an impromptu visit to Police Chief Jeff Halstead in December.

Halstead had met McDowell once before, introduced to the then “colonel” in 2010 by Sgt. Rick Van Houten, then police association president, during a luncheon. McDowell gave the chief a business card that said “Col. Michael McDowell, USA Directorate for Counterintelligence Near/Middle/Far East Operations”

Halstead did not initially recognize the man in uniform waiting in the lobby of his office Dec. 28 but invited him in after being reminded by McDowell of their previous introduction.

McDowell explained that he’d been promoted to general and was in the area working from Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth and Fort Hood.

He offered to set up a special tour of the White House or the Pentagon the next time the chief was in Washington, D.C., and said he was “happy to help” if the department ever needed him, according to McDowell’s arrest warrant affidavit.

Halstead, who had worked with high-ranking military officers while with the Phoenix Police Department, said he believed that something was amiss.

McDowell’s uniform seemed ill-fitting. He smelled heavily of cigarettes. A challenge coin that McDowell presented to prove his military membership came in a case that looked old and worn.

Still bothered by the meeting two months later, Halstead asked his special investigations section to check into whether McDowell was an impostor.

His double life soon began to fall apart.

‘This guy was a fake’

The Defense Intelligence Agency told officer Thompson that McDowell was not an employee, and other federal agencies confirmed that McDowell hadn’t been in the military at all.

A special agent with the DIA inspector general’s office told Thompson that McDowell was an impostor who had been warned in August about the consequences of impersonating a military officer.

That warning came after Flower Mound police became suspicious of McDowell while working a domestic dispute in which he had reported that his wife, Christy, repeatedly hit him with a set of car keys Aug. 5 at an apartment they shared.

Two days after the alleged assault, McDowell told investigators that he didn’t want to pursue charges and that the Army would provide her help.

As proof, he gave the detective a letter on Army and Defense Department letterhead and from a commanding officer in counterintelligence that ordered McDowell to bring his wife to Washington, D.C., for an evaluation at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

“There was something that just didn’t sit right,” said Capt. Wess Griffin, a spokesman for Flower Mound police.

McDowell apparently told the feds that he would stop the impersonations.

But four months later, the “general” strolled into Halstead’s offfice.

Fort Worth police launched a full investigation. On May 2, McDowell was arrested on suspicion of impersonating a public servant. He was released from the Mansfield Jail on May 7 after posting bail.

“I knew in my mind within 15 minutes that this guy was a fake, but it took a lengthy investigation to prove it to my heart,” Halstead said. “I have such deep respect for our military. His fraud became very offensive to me.”

Perfecting the con

McDowell played his character well.

Inside his briefcase, he carried files labeled “Top Secret.” He sometimes handcuffed the case to his wrist while in public.

During meetings, he’d place three cellphones before him. When he couldn’t be reached on his D.C. phone number, his voice mail message informed callers that someone from the command staff would get back to them.

Once, an officer overheard him talking top-secret military matters on his cellphone.

“I’m not on a secure line and that information is back in the office, but off the top of my head, I’m thinking North Korea or Syria,” McDowell was heard telling the caller.

He later admitted that no one was on the other end of the line, Fort Worth Detective Mike Carroll said.

In a May 2 search of his north Fort Worth home, police seized three military uniforms — the dress uniform he’d worn while meeting with Halstead in December and two field uniforms. The medals and ribbons adorning his uniform included the Distinguished Service Cross.

Police took away bags of apparent military records and found scores of letters to and from women in which he used a fake military rank.

“He had some correspondence with [U.S. Sen.] Kay Bailey Hutchison’s office back when she was still in office,” Thompson said. “… We do know that he represented himself as a military officer to her office to obtain passes for the White House.”

The oldest documents uncovered were a card and an envelope, addressed to “Maj. McDowell” and mailed to a Hurst post office box in 1998.

McDowell’s Facebook page, in an area viewable only by friends, reads like an impressive résumé, beginning with his 1974 graduation from Irving High School and listing military schools and military jobs, ranging from the Army Ranger School to the National War College.

Inquiries by the Star-Telegram found that only the part about high school is true.

“I think, by and large, he sold it to people who had never been around the military much,” Thompson said. “If he was interacting with real military, he would almost always seem to interact with a different branch.”

McDowell’s real employment history is far less impressive.

He was a licensed peace officer for a short time in the late 1970s and early ’80s, working less than two years for the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department and only two months for the Highland Village Police Department, documents show.

He’d also worked as a car salesman, a volleyball referee and a security guard, police say.

‘He could walk the walk’

Word of the ruse shocked McDowell’s friends, several of them Fort Worth police officers.

“There just never was really anything that would make you suspicious, even for us,” said retired Sgt. Jon Fahrenthold, a former Irving High classmate with whom McDowell had reconnected in the past 10 years.

“He had done his research, and he could walk the walk and talk the talk.”

In high school, McDowell was known as “Doug” — a tall kid with curly hair who sang in the a cappella choir and had a beautiful tenor voice.

McDowell told Fahrenthold that he now went by “Mike” because of his military profession.

“He said it just sounded more macho, a guy thing,” Fahrenthold said.

Van Houten met McDowell about seven years ago through another police association board member.

He would introduce McDowell to Hall two years later while board members were in Washington for National Police Week and, eventually, to Halstead, at the 2010 luncheon.

“I wouldn’t have introduced him to the chief had I not believed him and thought he was a friend,” Van Houten said.

“I was completely fooled by it.”

Many of those interviewed by the Star-Telegram said McDowell liked to offer things and once coordinated a White House tour for police association board members.

On the day of the tour, a uniformed McDowell met the Fort Worth officers outside the White House but didn’t accompany them in.

“I was very unimpressed with the tour,” Van Houten said. “It was just your standard White House tour that anybody can do.”

The officers say they were disgusted upon learning that McDowell was not who he said he was.

“It’s one thing to impersonate somebody you’re not,” Van Houten said. “But to impersonate anyone in the military, especially with everything the military has gone through over the past 10 years — to claim to be part of that when he clearly isn’t, it’s shameful.”

‘He’s in like a fantasy world’

McDowell had other secrets, too, including being married to two women for the past year and a half.

One believed that he was a military officer. The other had no clue.

McDowell and his first wife, Karen, married on Dec. 7, 1979, and have two grown daughters.

The couple separated in May 2011, just seven months before McDowell married his second wife, Christy, at a Las Vegas chapel on Christmas Eve.

Reached at her north Fort Worth apartment last week, Karen McDowell said she believed that Christy was just a girlfriend of McDowell’s and didn’t know that the two had married.

She said she filed for divorce May 10 after learning about McDowell’s arrest.

Karen McDowell said she doesn’t believe that Michael McDowell would impersonate a military officer. Although he had uniforms and even Purple Heart license plates, she said, she believes that he was just fascinated by the military.

“He’s a nice guy,” Karen McDowell said. “… Somebody’s blowing this up to what it isn’t. From what I’ve known of him, he’s too smart to do anything crazy like that.”

Even if he has done what he’s accused of, Karen McDowell said, it didn’t hurt anyone.

“He’s in like a fantasy world, I think,” she said.

It was a fantasy world that McDowell apparently wanted to keep alive even after death.

Police recovered a letter he wrote to Karen McDowell and his two daughters in 2009, to be opened when he died.

In it, he confided about his double life as a military intelligence officer whose mission was to pose as a civilian and gather information vital to national security. He wrote that the government had staged an accident at a jewelry store in 1993 to provide income for his work.

Until this month, Christy McDowell believed that her husband was a military officer and that Karen McDowell was his ex-wife.

In a message to the Star-Telegram, Christy McDowell said learning the truth behind her husband and marriage has plunged her into depression. She said she sensed that something wasn’t right all along.

“He kept telling me that I was crazy but time and time again I found things wrong, that didn’t make sense,” she wrote. “He had lied to me so much that I really thought I was crazy.”

A relative, who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation, said she suspects that McDowell’s jealousy of his half brother might have prompted the military ruse.

Gerald “Jerry” McDowell was a Marine captain who’d been injured in Vietnam and received a Purple Heart. He died in 1999 at age 55.

“The jealousy just kept growing and growing and growing until it exploded into what you have now,” she said.

Deanna Boyd, 817-390-7655 Twitter: @deannaboyd

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Memorial day means what?

May 23rd, 2013 Posted in Military | 1 Comment »



Another Memorial Day arrives and like most weekends and holidays, I will be working .  When passengers board my commercial airliner, many are confused between the two holidays, Memorial and Veterans weekend, so with my short hair and Marine Corps lanyard I hear a lot of things like “Happy Memorial Day” to which I reply “come see me on Veterans Day.”

For me on Memorial Day, I usually give pause and think about the guys I knew who are now gone.  The horrors of war that are tucked away, not discussed with friends or spouses.  During the time I spent over in Iraq and Afghanistan , pulling the trigger against the enemy was not something I experienced.  That can be a good thing but then you sometimes wish for extreme payback to an enemy who has hurt your friends through their cowardly actions using IED’s.

When Iraq comes to mind, it sometimes feels like yesterday, but then I realize that it was almost seven ago which is eons to my kids who barely remember me being gone.  It’s a good thing they didn’t see the tears from their mother when she found out that I had volunteered to serve over there just as thousands of others had done.  A scene probably played out in many households across our nation.

American’s have left for war across the world or have volunteered to serve knowing that at any minute a conflict could come up that requires them to face the very real possibility of taking another human’s life or being killed in the process.  It’s not something we talk about to others or amongst ourselves.  You just pray that when the time comes, God gives you the strength to do the right thing and take care of your brothers in arms.

My tour in Iraq was interesting to say the least.  As the Assistant Air Boss at Al Taqaddum, I was never outside the wire kicking in doors (like the young guys did), but we were around for the aftermath of their patrols most of the time.  Our mission was to launch the rescue CH-46’s to pick up those who were wounded and more often than not we would end up helping the wounded in some fashion since the hospital was next door to our tower.

One day in particular stands out.  I had our best Sgt. on the desk one afternoon when I left for chow.  It was a long hot miserable walk to the chow hall, made worse since the Colonel and I were required to carry our “Brick” radio everywhere so that we could be reached at a moments notice and this thing was huge!

On the way home, the radio crackled “Sir, are you up?” Since the Colonel was on leave in the states, I knew it was me he needed.

“I’m here, what’s going on Sgt. K?” The sun was burning down on me as my boots plowed through the fine dust wondering what our troublesome Lance Corporal had done this time.

“Sir, we have a MASS CASS (massive causalities) on the way.”  His voice very calm over the radio.  He didn’t know if they were arriving by air or ground or how many so I detoured to the hospital as the call came in that they were at the North Entry Control Point inbound, but he still no idea how many.  I needed to put eyeballs on the situation to cut out the confusion that usually follows.

This is one of those things that will get your heart pumping, not knowing how many. It could be just a few or a ton of guys you are talking about and the exact number determines how many CH-46’s you have to launch and whether or not you need to break crew rest for more helo lift. A whole slew of considerations on getting the fastest medical evacuation service to our troops.

I arrived at the side entrance, a large unloading spot to the hospital with about 12 staff members milling about smartly.  They were all on hand because you really don’t know what you have until the doors open up.  We heard that an Army team was ambushed in their Bradley and blown up with a particularly nasty IED mixed with a sort of napalm concoction.  Everyone was pretty tense with only nervous banter being thrown about, especially from the new Sailor standing next to me.

The ambulance arrived, turned around and backed up.  The loud diesel engine shut off followed by the doors flying open and a silence settled over the group of us standing there.  Slowly, the first of four forms materialized out of the back.  He was burned beyond anything I had ever seen.  The skin was dripping off him in places.  His ears were gone along with his nose.  Pieces of his gear melted into his body and flesh charred. His guttural cries as he moved inch by inch out of the ambulance.  The young Sailor next to me vomited into the top of a small Hesco barrier that was filled with dirt when the overpowering smell of burnt flesh hit him.  The nurses were trying to be gentle with them, tears in their eyes as the Doctors and orderlies assisted their movement to the ER.  This was no doubt a horrible one as each Soldier looked as bad as the first.  Lots of emotions flash through my mind, none of them I’m able to express without being tossed out of the Marine Corps or attacked by CAIR .

This really affected everyone standing there that day. These events were barely mentioned later, because as much as you wanted them to survive, you were watching the walking dead (I fear they knew it too).

We lost one there on the ER table, another on the flight to Ballad Air Base in Northern Iraq , followed by a third death over the Atlantic and the fourth Soldier; he succumbed to his injuries and passed on in San Antonio .

That is what I think about when Memorial Day arrives.  It’s the service members who will never return to see their families again.  The young men and women who volunteered to serve their country with no thought as to their safety, all willing to pay the ultimate price with their lives.  That is what this weekend is about so the rest of America can enjoy the time off Monday with friends.

As you tip that cold drink, cook that steak and hang out with your friends, please remember those men and women who have served over the years to give us the freedoms we have.  They paid for it with their lives.

To those men and women, and the many hundreds of thousands before them who have passed, gone West and now guarding the gates of heaven, God Bless you for your duty and Godspeed.

Semper Fi,


ps, this is a repost from last year and one that I feel captures what Memorial day means to me.

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How to gain five pounds and love it.

May 16th, 2013 Posted in The SandGram v1.0 | 1 Comment »

When I was down in Camp Lejeune, there was one of these great fried chicken and BBQ chain restaurants off base called “Smith Field’s BBQ” which I enjoyed weekly.  They have the best damn chow and how I miss it so here in Texas.  So how they got my email, I’m not sure but since I love their product I figured I would promote their deal.  They spread some of the love to our guys over in the Stans and that is good to go.  Well done Smith Field’s!!

Smithfield’s Chicken ‘N Bar-B-Q® Feeds Deployed Troops, Receives ‘A Big Thank You from Afghanistan’

Raleigh, N.C. (May 16, 2013) – Smithfield’s Chicken ‘N Bar-B-Q® (SCNB) recently shipped care packages with official SCNB t-shirts and all of the ingredients needed to prepare their famous eastern NC-style chicken, Bar-B-Q, and other southern staples to U.S. troops stationed in Afghanistan.  Although they knew their donation would be consumed and most likely appreciated, SCNB was not fully aware of the impact and reach their gift would garner.  A few weeks after the delivery, Richard Averitte, SCNB’s Operations Director & Director of Marketing, received the following letter:

‘Good afternoon Mr. Averitte.

Recently you sent our unit a generous donation out here in Afghanistan. We were able to have an awesome BBQ. I was able to take some pictures. Again                it is people like you who keep the morale high when it is low. I will be back in NC sometime in November and I will be sure to visit SCNB everyday that I am there. Thanks again for your donations, the team thoroughly enjoyed it. Not only did we feed the team, but we fed over 100 personnel.

Very Respectfully,

Wesley S. Wallace CPT, LG’

“The most important aspect of the donation, was making sure our troops know that the American people haven’t forgotten them and that we appreciate their service,” said Averitte.  “Receiving a personalized thank you and pictures of them enjoying our food on the battlefield was an unexpected and fulfilling surprise.”

Smithfield’s Chicken ‘N Bar-B-Q is no stranger to community involvement, most recently supporting the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, Rex Blood Center, InterAct as well as donating food, supplies and participating in local school fundraising events.

About Smithfield’s Chicken ‘N Bar-B-Q®  (SCNB Chicken ‘N Bar-B-Q®)
Smithfield’s Chicken ‘N Bar-B-Q® (SCNB) is an established fast-casual concept with over 30 restaurants in North Carolina. SCNB offers an in-house dining menu and a takeout menu, drive-thru service and offers bulk items and party packs for special events and occasions. Learn more about SCNB at, follow SCNB Chicken ‘N Bar-B-Q® on Twitter (@scnbnc), or become a fan on Facebook at

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