Category Archives: Army Life

Calling it: Another One of Those Days

Whenever I have a bad day at work, I’ll tell Mrs. Horseshoe to remember days like this when the time comes for us to decide whether we should stay in the Army or leave. We’ve had more days to remember lately than I can remember in a long time.

Recently, as a result of the government shutdown and the budget issues the federal government has had, my work life has been chaos. On a Thursday afternoon I was told that an upcoming Temporary Duty (TDY) trip was cancelled. Definitely cancelled, not going to happen. So I came home and gave my wife the good news, I wouldn’t be gone for two weeks after all. We made plans for the weekend and invited some friends over for dinner on Sunday. On Friday afternoon, as I’m walking out the door, I get another call that says the TDY is scheduled again and I have to leave on Sunday. So, I get whopping 36 hours of advanced notice I’m to leave for a week. I spent my drive home trying to figure out how to apologize to her for my career. My wife and I have been fighting all weekend, and I’m sure this ihas something to do with it.

I don’t mean to complain; life could be much worse. My best friend is in Afghanistan away from his infant child. Two weeks isn’t so bad. This job is tough as it is, but if the federal government can’t get its act together and the Army can’t do the little things right, than its an organization I don’t think I can spend another decade and a half with.

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The Army Isn’t Hard

It’s anecdotal at best, but my neighbor’s boy recently came home from Afghanistan. By the accounts of his proud father, he’s a decorated combat medic. Like most of the other combat medics in Afghanistan, he saved a few lives and did a lot of good for his unit and the Army. Standing in my driveway, we discussed his plans for the future and with the Army. He’s considering many things, transferring to the Air Force or just getting out entirely. What made me pause more than anything was that this young man, a combat veteran from a nasty part of Afghanistan had to say about the Army. “It’s too easy; the right place, the right time, the right uniform.”

Everyone from military bloggers, think tanks, and general officers worry aloud about losing the best of the officer corps as we transition into a peacetime Army. What about the talented junior enlisted Soldiers who have no desire to stay around and become enlisted leaders, the backbone of our Army?  Who is staying, those who reenlist because they have no other choice, or no aspirations but being in the right place at the right time in the right uniform? For the sake of our country, I hope not.

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America the Beautiful Free Military National Park Pass

From the US National Park Service

America the Beautiful!

Fellow Active Duty Service members and dependents, if you haven’t heard about the National Park Service’s FREE Annual Military Pass, then read on. As of May 19th, 2012, the National Park Service started giving free America the Beautiful passes to active military members and their dependents. Not only does this include admission for you, but the occupants of your vehicle or the pass holder or you plus three other adults. Annual passes usually cost 80 dollars.

You may not know this, but visitors to national parks usually pay to enter a national park. For example, it costs 25 dollars to enter the Grand Canyon National Park in a vehicle. All you need to do is present your CAC card or military dependent ID to get an annual pass. I went to my local ranger station and did it in about 5 minutes. This is definitely worth your time,and I can honestly say that the Park Rangers I’ve met love to see the military out in their parks. I recommend calling ahead to ensure that the ranger station you are going to visit isn’t out of military passes. I’ve heard they go rather quickly around military installations.

If you haven’t visited a national park, pack up your family and go visit one! A great way to save some serious money during summer block leave is to go to MWR, rent some camping gear, and take the family out into a National Park. Keep in mind that the “big name” parks, Yosemite and Yellowstone, to name a couple usually fill up in advance. However, National Forests rarely do. As an added bonus, a lot of National Forests will let you take Rover and maybe even build a campfire while there are greater restrictions at National Parks.

Another interesting item you may want to consider purchasing is a National Parks “passport”. Inside of every ranger station and visitor’s center in each of National Parks, Forests, Monuments, and Memorials there is usually a stamp for that area with the day’s date. You can stamp a “cancellation” of that park in the passport which is organized by region. These things are so cool I’ve convinced a few of my friends to buy them as well. The passport is a great way for your family to keep track of all the great national parks that you’ve visited.

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Stealing Your Brother’s Valor

Pretending to be someone that you’re not makes a man a fraud. Pretending that you’re a veteran when you’ve never served at all makes you a lying coward. Serving in the military and embellishing ones record for personal gain makes you a complete scumbag and an embarrassment to the military. In a recent Stars and Stripes article, a man named Timothy Michael Poe claims to have been injured by a rocket propelled grenade while in Afghanistan. According to the article he said “By the time I turned and went to jump on my guys, I yelled ‘grenade’ and the blast had hit me.” Apparently this blast ended his purported fourteen year career. “When I was laying there I thought I’d never see my daughter walk down the aisle or throw the baseball with my son or be able to hold them and see them. … I didn’t want my life to be over.”

In reality, Mr. Poe served nine years in the Minnesota Army National Guard as a supply clerk. Their spokesperson said they looked at his record “very carefully” and didn’t find any evidence of his supposed injury. They acknowledge he spent one month in Afghanistan. He wasn’t injured in combat. Period. What really pisses me off about this story is that Poe actually is a veteran. He should be commended for his nearly decade-long period of service to his country. However, exaggerating as much as he did, he should be brought back into the Minnesota National Guard, stripped of any rank and awards he had, and be publicly drummed out of the Army.

Unfortunately, this seems like a trend and not a rarity. There is always someone in military news circles who is being exposed as a fraud. The most disappointing of these cases is always the veteran who fakes his exploits for personal gain. Whether it is a politician running for office, or a dirtbag claiming Special Forces credentials to become a consultant, they story is often the same. The frauds were actually soldiers, but they somehow recreate their history with heroic exploits and daring.

Veterans and currently serving soldiers, be proud of your service and who you are. Be thankful that you were lucky enough to avoid being wounded in combat. I served as an Infantryman in Afghanistan, but I didn’t earn my Combat Infantryman’s Badge. I’m comfortable with that because I know I had an important job to do and it didn’t happen to be in a combat role. If it has ever crossed your mind to embellish your history, throw an extra tab, badge or ribbon that you haven’t earned on your uniform, don’t do it. Don’t even think about it. You are betraying your service to your country and the service and sacrifice of those who have came before you. I have been privileged to work with Soldiers who have earned Purple Hearts and valor awards. Nearly all of them would rather have not been wounded, or have had to have been placed in circumstances that warranted their heroism.

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Gold Stars

When I walk my dog through my neighborhood, I can feel my heart drop to the pit of my stomach. I come across a small house that has seen better days.  There’s a newer Sport Utility Vehicle parked in the driveway. It’s the customized license plate that always gets me: Gold Star Family. There but for the grace of God, go I.

The Gold Star was approved in 1918 by Woodrow Wilson as an emblem which represented a family member who was killed in combat. It was mounted on a black armband. Later on, the symbol was also used on banners which had a blue star for a deployed service member or a gold star for those who would never come home, those killed in action. During the Great Wars of the 20th Century, there wasn’t a community in the United States unfamiliar with this symbol. Luckily, because of the relatively small size of the military and its capability, most of America is unfamiliar with the Gold Star.

What does this is all mean? To be honest, I’m not sure. What should you do when you come across a Gold Star family member? From my experience with Gold Star family members, they may be willing to share their story. If I could ask one thing, it would be that every time you see a Gold Star, remember that those casualties in the newspapers and on the internet aren’t simply names that will become statistics. Those who never came home aren’t measurements to gauge the success of a war. Those men and women were, and are, much more than that. They were family.

For more information on Gold Star Mothers and other Gold Star Organizations, see the links below.

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The Evangelical Staff Officer

As a Staff Officer during a deployment, it’s easy to find oneself chained to a desk, and bored. Such was the case during a recent deployment to Afghanistan. After working in close quarters with my boss, Matt, I began to pick up his sophomoric sense of humor. As a matter of fact, I embraced it. Matt had known for awhile that he was going to be leaving our unit and moving up to work at our higher headquarters. He was qualified for the newer job and we really weren’t too busy doing what we were doing. This meant that I would take over for Matt and a replacement take over my position.

About two weeks out from when Matt was to leave, he received a message from an eager young Lieutenant named Dan. Dan was just finishing his Officer Basic Course and was naturally excited to deploy to the fight and become a member of the team. Naturally, we were just as excited to have someone new to play pranks on. Dan’s email read something like this:


My name is Lieutenant Dan and I found out that I will be coming to work with you in theater. I am very excited and I was looking for some advice as to what I should be doing to prepare for the deployment…

Very Respectfully,

Lieutenant Dan

All things considered, not a bad first introduction, right? Matt’s response was as follows:

LT Dan,

I am moving to our higher headquarters, CPT Horseshoe will be taking over for me. He is a good guy, but he is extremely religious, so be sure to watch your language around him. (Let’s just say I’ve had a few Inspector General Inspections because of it).

Good luck to you,

-CPT Matt

Matt “bcc’d” me on this email and I waited.  LT Dan emailed me shortly thereafter.

CPT Horseshoe,

CPT Matt has informed me that he is moving so I will be working for you. I look forward to it. I just finished my officer basic course and I have in-processed at our home station, so I should be deploying to you in a few weeks. Is there anything I should do in the meantime to prepare for deploying?


LT Dan

Because Matt trained me, I had to follow on with the joke. Not to mention, it was pretty funny.

LT Dan,

It is truly a blessing to have you joining our team. Don’t worry too much about getting ready for the deployment, just enjoy your time at home and take care of any last second personal business. Just to let you know, our religious services on our FOB are a bit lacking, but we do the best we can. We don’t have church services on Sundays, but Fridays because of schedule. I know it isn’t the Sabbath, but we make due.  Once again, we’ll be praying for your safe arrival.

God Bless,

-CPT Horseshoe

I later found out LT Dan was slightly concerned about his future boss, but he was okay with it since I seemed like a nice guy. One of my new Soldiers that met LT Dan back at home station also told me that Dan went to a small, religious college and had a Christian radio station license plate holder on his car. Shit. I’m going to get fired for pretending to be religious with a guy who actually is.

A few weeks later, LT Dan arrived in my office. He was going to be assigned to a subordinate unit and would only be on the FOB for the next day. During our conversation, I did the right thing with my prank. I pretended it never happened. Using my profanity laced Army vocabulary to describe our situation, Dan became even more puzzled. We parted ways.

Later, after the deployment ended, LT Dan and I were working in the same office; we compared notes on my supposed evangelism and had a good laugh about it. In the end, the prank was a success. We had confused a Lieutenant.

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It’s Kind of Funny

Infantry School Graduation Rehearsal, Fort Benning, Georgia.

After several long and trying months, the time had finally come for the Army’s newest class of Infantry 2nd Lieutenants to saunter across a stage, shake a few hands, and wander off into the big Army. We spent at least two entire days rehearsing. The more we tried to get it right, the more things went wrong. It was supposed to be a simple process; we were to march up through a door to the back stage area and wait for our name to be called. Halfway across the stage, each of us would shake the hands of our instructors, and various senior ranking officers and enlisted personnel who had no idea who we were, but were proud of our successes or something like that.

Our Company Commander, MAJ “M” was an extremely intense character. Between giving surreal safety briefs and screaming often at us, no one really knew how to take him. As the day wore on, MAJ M said that, “If anyone else laughs during this rehearsal, they won’t participate in the graduation ceremony”.  This was a bridge too far.

Soon enough, the rehearsal process was messed up again. I recall that people were out of order or the timing of the ceremony was wrong. At this point, most of the cadre were head hunting for a Lieutenant to crack a smile. Surely enough, someone did.

John, a fit and intelligent West Pointer who would later serve with distinction in the 101st Airborne Division in Afghanistan, was the victim of the day. MAJ M saw John chuckle slightly and all hell broke loose.

“Do you think this is fucking funny?!” bellowed a veiny and red-faced Major. “Do you think we like rehearsing for this over and over again and you lieutentants can’t even keep focused?! This isn’t funny!”

“It’s kind of funny.” replied John, somewhat quietly.

That was the last straw. All forty lieutenants from my platoon were taken outside and yelled at for about 15 minutes by our platoon advisor, a man we endearingly referred to as Captain Insane-o. John was pulled, at least initially, from the graduation ceremony which his parents drove over a thousand miles to see. After a last second change of heart, John was hastily thrown back into the ceremony, but there was one issue. No one added his name to the roster to be called.

So, as John walked across the stage, the name of the person directly after him was called instead. If this continued, it would have caused a cascade of wrong names and no one’s name would have been called at the correct time. The cadre pulled the officer after John out of the line, and the ceremony continued on as planned. The average spectator would never have noticed anything went wrong, except of course for the family of the officer who was pulled from the line. He never walked across the stage.

It’s kind of funny.

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The Horseshoe Formation

Ah, I can almost feel the freedom of a four-day weekend beckoning to me. The end of the duty day is here, the floors are mopped and still wet, the police call has come to an end, and the First Sergeants and the Command Sergeant Major seem to be pleased that their little empire is presentable enough to be evacuated by its citizenry.  Of course, anyone who has spent at least a month in the Army knows there is one more task yet to be completed; the safety brief.

The safety brief, the final chance for leaders to espouse last minute advice, wisdom, threats and orders to Soldiers before they venture off into a perilous world.  Well, it really isn’t that dangerous, and come to think of it, it’s the exact same world they were in before but with ninety six hours of freedom from adult supervision. Historically, four day weekend are disastrous ventures for the Army. If one believes the safety briefs, it is entirely probable, likely even, you will die. Moreover, you will die on a motorcycle, intoxicated and committing adultery while assaulting your spouse. The only thin red line that holds these Final Destination type deaths from us is the safety brief.

Contrary to the movies, it’s damned near impossible to address a large group of people standing in a rectangle. Command Sergeants Major believe that no matter how big the formation, the secret powers of a Sergeants Major Academy Ring will allow their voice to overcome the laws of physics and project their voice even into the farthest reaches of the Milky Way.  The Romans figured out how sound waves travel a couple thousand years ago and in turn built the circular amphitheater. Army Officers learned this same lesson and invented the horseshoe formation.

“On the Command of Fall Out, fall out and form a horseshoe formation around me”.  That’s how it begins. The commander, depending on his personal style and aptitude, either gives a recollection of the events that have been accomplished recently, a philosophical treatise on safety, and a reminder that we deserve to have some fun, but to have it safely.  The horseshoe formation is a chance for a commander to impart wisdom and guidance to his masses, whether they want to hear it or not.

That’s why I have decided to name my blog the Horseshoe Formation. I don’t really know what it will become, or where it will go. However, the main point of it is for me to put my thoughts out there, maybe put a smile on your face, and perhaps even impart a shred of wisdom.  Welcome, and thank you for visiting.

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