A close friend of mine who has cared for more severely wounded warriors than most of us could count posted a link to this story. She took care of this brave warrior, but unfortunately he lost the battle, the battle against the demons that haunt so many of us. With tears in my eyes after reading it, I knew I had to share it.
He rarely spoke of it. Not to his family or best buddies, fellow Marines or medical staff watching over him.
But Cpl. Farrell Gilliam had endured far more by the time he died this year at age 25 than most people could comprehend.
The Camp Pendleton infantryman survived three months of combat in 2010 with the “Darkhorse” 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment in Sangin, Afghanistan — one of the deadliest battlegrounds of the war.
Amid firefights and insurgents’ bombs, Gilliam saw limbs strewn across the ground. He loaded broken, bleeding bodies for medical evacuation, and grieved for the friends they could not save.
Gilliam’s tour ended early when his legs were blown off by an improvised explosive device, or IED. “Farrell’s Fight,” his struggle on the homefront that his big brother helped him chronicle online, included more than 30 surgeries and three years of rehabilitation.
It was a story of triumph over wounds that would have been fatal in earlier conflicts. A story that was coming to an end, but not how anyone who knew him expected.
BOUHAMMER NOTE- I am pleased to welcome my good friend, Major Rusty Bradley (ret) as a new Guest Blogger here on Bouhammer.com. A Career Special Forces soldier with multiple deployments and an accomplished author, Rusty is a great addition to the list of guest bloggers here on this site.
As policy makers look to trim the Defense budget, they should start by cutting the dead weight around the Special Forces community and stop spending millions to train soldiers that would fail to meet the old standards.
Special Forces live by five simple truths.
Humans are more important than Hardware.
Quality is better than Quantity.
Special Operations Forces cannot be mass-produced.
Competent Special Operations Forces cannot be created after emergencies occur.
Most Special Operations require non-SOF assistance
These “truths” act as our compass through the labyrinth of unconventional warfare. But for more than a decade, the Army special operations community has ignored the second, third and fourth truth creating a Special Forces regiment rife with soldiers who would not make the cut before Sept. 11, 2001.
Historically, the Special Forces – designated the Green Berets by John Kennedy – only accepted the most highly qualified and capable soldiers. The standards were never compromised for any reason because the extreme situations and environments where Special Forces soldiers operate require the best our country can produce.
But the demand for Special Forces teams after Sept. 11, 2001 far exceeded the supply. To meet the demand, standards were lowered, corners were cut and training pipeline started graduating substandard soldiers. Look at it from this perspective, imagine the surgeon operating on your child graduated medical school because he could maintain a “D” average or just did not quit. Would you want that him doing surgery on the person you love most in this world?
Green Berets are supposed to be the most diverse and adaptive soldiers on the battlefield. Trained to think and operate like guerillas/insurgents, they are capable of operating far behind enemy lines working with and training rebel forces. They can also train government troops in counterinsurgency and foreign internal defense. Green Berets on horseback led the Northern Alliance to victory against the Taliban during the first years of the war in Afghanistan. Special Forces built and trained both the Afghan and Iraqi armies. On the African continent, Special Forces teams are helping Congolese troops fight the Lord’s Resistance Army led by Joseph Kony and in Colombia Special Forces teams trained soldiers to battle the FARC. Special Forces soldiers must be of the highest quality and caliber because that is exactly what your enemies will put against you.
In the summer of 2005, my Special Forces team was on patrol in northern Kandahar province. We were about to head into a valley where we were frequently ambushed by the Taliban. My team sergeant wanted to test fire the machine guns on our vehicles since we’d had to hastily leave for the patrol. We found a large vertical rock and used that as the target. My gunner was told to fire a short burst. I was in the lead truck and my gunner was a new sergeant who had just graduated from the Special Forces qualification course.
I gave the order to fire and stuck my fingers in my ears to muffle the thunderous boom of the .50 caliber machine gun. Click. Nothing happened. The new sergeant left a piece of the weapon back at the base camp. The gun was useless. The maintenance of weapons is a basic soldier skill, and the new sergeant failed. I found out later, he was part of a number of soldiers who had been allowed to enter the organization as long as they did not “quit.”
That was my first experience with the “new” Special Forces soldier. When I returned to Fort Bragg, I was horrified to learn that the standards had been dropped and would not be raised again because of the expansion of Special Forces. Every group was getting a fourth battalion and commanders needed bodies.
These less than qualified soldiers account for ninety percent of the problems in the command. I can think of at least half dozen cases where soldiers that would not have been selected are now getting charged with crimes ranging from drunk driving to theft. This kind of misconduct is an issue Army wide.
The Associated Press reported in February “enlisted soldiers forced out for drugs, alcohol, crimes and other misconduct shot up from about 5,600 in 2007, as the Iraq war peaked, to more than 11,000 last year.” The general officer corp has its own share of scandals from Army Gen. William “Kip” Ward’s unauthorized spending, sexual misconduct charges against Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair, and other episodes of gambling and drinking, according to the Associated Press. The Special Forces community is not immune to “big Army” problems. The issues are just more acute in our smaller community unless standards are upheld.
The problem won’t correct itself, but any objections to the lowering standards are considered non-compliance and is used as cause to deny promotion or schools for professional development to those blowing the whistle. Commanders and policy makers have forgotten how to object or say the word “no” anymore, even if it is detrimental to the force and ultimately the soldiers doing the job.
I’m saying no.
Our country deserves better than what we are giving and what they are getting. We must turn this trend around and get it back on a path to success or there will be fewer and fewer victories at the cost of more and more American lives. As a leader, I didn’t expect my soldiers to do things I would not do myself. You cannot hope for change, you must make it happen. Commanders need to establish higher standards for every candidate – man or woman – and purge the ranks of soldiers that no longer exemplify what it means to be a Green Beret. Cutting the dead weight will be painful at first as there are fewer soldiers to do more work, but it will leave the ranks filled with the best soldiers. If more soldiers, veterans and commanders do not begin to stand their ground and force this great country back on course, we face losing what we all hold most dear.
MAJ Rusty Bradley (Ret.) deployed to Afghanistan eight times, most recently in 2012. After 21 years in the U.S. Army, he was medically retired in 2014. Bradley is also the author of the book “Lions of Kandahar.” www.lionsofkandahar.com
This video is making the rounds on the internet right now, and I wanted to share it here with some commentary. It shows a combat outpost in Paktika province (my old stomping ground) getting “accidentally hit by one of our own aircraft’s 500lb bombs.
There are several key things about this video I wanted to point out. The first is for those that think women “deserve” or “belong” in the infantry. I am not sure if this is an Infantry or Cavalry unit, but it does not matter. You can tell from this video and from movies like Restrepo this is no place for a female. Not now, NOT EVER.
Second is this is what it means to be living at the tip of the spear. There is no Green Bean’s Coffee house, Flour or KBR cooks, or PX. This is an outpost built with sandbags, hescos, 2x4s and plywood. This is the home for these guys. Not everyone lives like this, and in fact I would say 98% of those overseas don’t live like this for their entire tour. Sometimes soldiers go in and out of this type of place every few weeks or months. I mean they have to get a decent shower sometime don’t they?
Lastly I would like to point out that the First Sergeant (1SG) is credited with saving lives in the story accompanying this video. If you read it at http://www.armytimes.com/article/20140218/NEWS/302180020/Video-500-pound-friendly-bomb-dropped-too-close-soldiers-Afghanistan you will see they state the 1SG knew this airstrike was going to happen and made everyone get into what we call “stand to”, which means everyone at the ready, in their fighting positions with all their protective gear on. I am sure some guys bitched and cried as they were forced to get out of bed and go get in their fighting positions, but I bet they were glad they have the 1SG they do afterwards. This is a prime example of “hard right” vs. the “easy wrong”.
This is beyond sad, this is despicable. How are we supposed put trust into the leaders that the Administration have put in charge of the efforts in Afghanistan if they are not capable of answer simple questions to Congress that they, of anyone, should know.
How many American troops have been killed in Afghanistan this year?
None of the witnesses at the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Afghanistan had an answer.
How much is the U.S. spending in Afghanistan? Mr. Rohrabacher asked.
No one could say.
“We’re supposed to believe that you fellas have a plan that’s going to end up in a positive way in Afghanistan?” Mr. Rohrabacher asked. “Holy cow!”
Mr. Rohrabacher’s incredulous questioning came during a two-hour hearing on U.S. policy in Afghanistan that revealed increasing congressional frustration with U.S. policy as the administration tries to rescue its plan to keep thousands of troops in Afghanistan through the end of this decade, if not beyond.
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D., Va.) called the witnesses’ inability to rattle off the facts “a stunning development.”
“How can you come to a congressional oversight hearing on this subject and not know” the answers? He asked. “Like that wouldn’t be a question the tip of one’s tongue.”
If they were leaders of a company, they would be fired.
If they were leaders of a military unit, they would be relieved of command.
If they were elected representatives, they would probably be voted out of office.
The administration needs to quit helping out its cronies or anyone it can find to fill positions, and start putting in qualified personnel into key positions. It is almost like they are on a co-ed D-league softball team and they look to the stands to find anyone they can to fill an outfield position.
The idea that U.S. officials didn’t have basic facts about the war in Afghanistan on the tips of their tongues seemed apt for a conflict that has fallen off the radar in Washington, where battles over the budget, President Barack Obama’s health care program and talks with Iran have eclipsed interest in America’s longest war as it winds to a close.
I know I have been gone or a while and I am very sorry about that. My last post was on September 11th, and it has been way to long. Part of it was because of my extremely busy work schedule and part was technical. Up until two days ago I could not even get to this website from my home network. Thanks to several calls with G0Daddy and Verizon we got it fixed and I now have access back to bouhammer.com.
Anyway, I have missed blogging and I am so glad to be back on here. This is truly therapeutic and is something I need to do.
So for my first blog after the longest period ever of being silent, I would like to wish whomever is still reading this blog, a very Happy Thanksgiving. As you gather around the table with your family and friends this Thanksgiving please take a moment and give thanks for all of those who have stood watch over the defense of our Country and continue to do so as we enjoy the holiday and our freedoms. There are tens of thousands of men and women who won’t be with their families this Thanksgiving, but hopefully will by next Thanksgiving. Pray for them as they sacrifice away from their families and for their families who I am sure are holding an empty seat for them this year.
…but we still have our son’s and daughters fighting, bleeding and dying in Afghanistan. America is still there taking part in killing bad guys and trying to save the good ones.
DoD Identifies Army Casualty
The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.
Staff Sgt. Michael H. Ollis, 24, of Staten Island, N.Y., died Aug. 28, in Ghazni Province, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when insurgents attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device, small arms and indirect fire. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light), Fort Drum, N.Y.
For more information the media may contact the Fort Drum public affairs office at 315-772-8286.
SSG Ollis is not the only casualty, I just selected his name for this post as it was announced on this R.E.D Friday.
When I first heard about the book, Outlaw Platoon, I knew it was one I wanted to read for several reasons. One was because it was about Afghanistan, two was because it was from the time I was there in 2006-2007 and the most important reason was because it was about my area of operation.
The Outlaw Platoon was in 2/87 INF (Catamount) of the 10th MTN Division. The same exact Battalion that the Afghan Army soldiers I was embedded with, were partnered with. I earned my 10th MTN combat patch from these guys. I served shoulder to shoulder with them and fought with them.
The author, Sean Parnell, and I first met when I interviewed him on my old radio show, You Served. Since that time he and I have talked several times and got to hang out together. I consider him a friend and I think he feels the same way. We get it, we get each other and we understand what both went through because we ate the same dirt together. I am sure I have stood in the line at chow with him and his soldiers but never knew it. I have been to FOB Bermel and know that area well.
I will have the book review for Outlaw Platoon out this week, that I promise. In the mean time I encourage you to watch this NRA Life of Duty video of Sean and his platoon. I will post part two when it is released. Spare the 20 or so minutes it takes to watch this to get a glimpse of what this platoon went through.
Operation Overlord, also known as D-Day happened 69 years ago today. This video created by the US Army in 1969 and hosted on the NRA Life Of Duty site is a tribute to this famous day in our country’s history. The original Army piece was 28 minutes long, but Life Of Duty has condensed it into about 6 minutes.
These were warriors that truly exemplified what it meant to be courageous and brave.
June 6, 2013 marks the 69th anniversary of “Operation Overlord” – the D-Day invasion where more than 160,000 allied troops landed on a 50-mile stretch of French Coastline to fight Nazi Germany on the beaches of Normandy, France in 1944. The invasion led to the deaths of more than 9,000 allied forces, but the victory resulted in a significant turning point for Europe’s history. Today, we would like to honor the allied forces that participated in the invasion by sharing a film created by the U.S. Army in 1969. In this film, the drama and battle action of the landing at Normandy is portrayed along with the fierce combat that took place to overcome “Fortress Europe” (compliments of the National Archives).
This is a great video tribute to not only a warrior Seal but his selfless and loyal military working dog. I don’t think most of America realizes how much our military relies on dogs in its day to day operations or how vital they are to not only neutralizing the threat but also saving American lives.
Another short, but very touching video tribute to our fallen. Not necessarily profiling a historic battle or place, but the feelings and impact are the same regardless. This is only a few minutes long and well worth those few minutes on this honorable weekend.
The Bouhammer [boo-ham-er] blog is owned by a 22-year Retired Army First Sergeant. It is now one of the leading and award-winning blogs written primarily on operations in Afghanistan and other military related topics. This blog also focuses on foreign policy, national security and politics. Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoy what you see. Click Here to Contact Bouhammer
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