Category Archives: Feature

Old Guard Soldier honors fallen Soldiers at Flags In

by Staff Sgt. Luisito Brooks

“I have friends who died during my deployments to Iraq buried here,” said Sgt. 1st Class Ryan Joseph, infantryman, 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) as he pointed to the other side of the cemetery. “And placing that American flag in front of their graves, and every grave here, shows that we have not forgotten their sacrifice.”

Joseph and more than 1,000 other Soldiers from The Old Guard participated in the annual Memorial Day tradition of “Flags-in” in Arlington National Cemetery [ANC], Va., May 22, 2014.

Since 1948, when The Old Guard was named the memorial and ceremonial unit for the U.S. Army, the unit has had the distinct honor of placing more than 400,000 flags at every tomb, gravesite and cremation niche in ANC every year.

Joseph receives a bundle of flags prior to marching into Arlington National Cemetery for Flags In.

Joseph receives a bundle of flags prior to marching into Arlington National Cemetery for Flags In.

Joseph didn’t know much about Flags-in prior to being assigned to The Old Guard, but after visiting the friends he lost during his four deployments in ANC; he developed a deep appreciation for this event.

“Enough can’t be said about what this unit does to honor our nation’s heroes,” said Joseph. “There is not one servicemember buried here that isn’t visited and honored, and to me that’s very special.”

Joseph added that being able to serve his country at The Old Guard has been one of the highlights of his career.

“I am proud to be associated with this unit that has such a unique mission,” said Joseph. “On one day we are performing at Twilight Tattoo, and then the next day we get to honor these service members. I will remember my time at here and what this unit means to the country for the rest of my life.”

For Soldiers who are part of The Old Guard but don’t have a memorial affairs mission, Joseph said Flags in is their chance to pay homage to the generations who fought for the freedoms of today in America on this large scale.

“As a member of the U.S. Army Drill Team, we travel all over the world telling the Army story through our performances, but there’s no greater joy than to just take time to honor those who paid the ultimate price,” said Joseph, the U.S. Army Drill Team platoon sergeant.

While it was his third year participating in Flags-In, Joseph said the event continues to be a monumental moment in his life.

“No matter how many times I have done Flags in, it never gets old,” said Joseph. “The feeling of pride and hope is something I know will never fade.”

Lines of Soldiers began walking through the final resting place of some of our nation’s greatest heroes. Slowly, but surely, the rows of tombs, gravesites and cremation niches had waving flags in front. Joseph and his Soldiers paused at every grave to read the name printed on the tomb.

Joseph plants a flag at a grave in Arlington National Cemtery's section 60, where most OIF and OEF veterans are interred.

Joseph plants a flag at a grave in Arlington National Cemtery’s section 60, where most OIF and OEF veterans are interred.

“It’s a unique opportunity to stop for just a moment at each gravesite and reflect on the freedoms they died for,” said Joseph. “Laying a flag is very personal and solemn occasion for each Soldier out there.”

Joseph said one of the most humbling times over the past three years has been his opportunity to place a flag at the headstone of Sgt. Audie Murphy, the most decorated Soldier in U.S. Army history.

“What can I say other than he set the standard of how we need to be as Soldiers and leaders,” said Joseph. “As a member of the Sgt. Audie Murphy Club, I made it my mission to place a flag at Audie Murphy’s tomb each year.”

Even with the numerous amounts of Soldiers walking through the cemetery with ruck sacks filled with flags, the entire 624 acres took about six hours to cover.

Realizing that their mission was coming to a close, Joseph and his Soldiers went back through to ensure ever flag was centered and straight on the gravesite.

“It’s quite a sight, to see all the flags beautifully positioned in a row blowing in the wind,” said Joseph. “I hope people come out to see the all the flags this weekend, but when they do, I want them to walk away knowing that flags are a representation of what these fallen service members gave for our country, freedom.”

Sgt. Maj.’s 28-year career ends with one last fanfare

Sgt. Maj. Gregory Rock

Sgt. Maj. Gregory Rock

Sgt. Maj. Gregory Rock has used a combination of music and leadership to inspire people around the world. Now after 28 years of dedicated service to his country, seven presidential inaugurations and thousands of ceremonies and performances, Rock has finally hung up his colonial uniform patterned after Gen. George Washington’s Continental Army for good.

Soldiers from 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), held a retirement ceremony to honor Rock, a former U.S. Army Fife and Drum Corps [FDC] sergeant major, at Conmy Hall on Joint Base Myer Henderson Hall, Va., Jan. 13.

“I have spent a good portion of my adult life here in The Old Guard, and it has been an honor to serve as sergeant major of the Corps these last 11 years,” said Rock. “Retirement sneaks up on you when you are doing something you enjoy.”

When Rock first arrived at The Old Guard as a trombone player in 1988, however, he admitted to being very unsure about his military career.

“I came from the U.S. Army Field Band on Fort Meade, Md., so I felt like a duck out of water,” said Rock. “I had no idea where the Corps would take me.”

Rock would become only the third sergeant major in FDC’s 53-year history. He was the senior enlisted advisor to one of the U.S. Army’s premier musical organizations.

“I am the guy behind the scenes that makes sure everything and everyone is in the right place at the right time,” said Rock. “Everything that you see during a ceremony has a specific purpose. There is a history and a tradition behind what we do.”

Sgt. Maj. Gregory Rock (right) conducts a final inspection of troops during his retirement ceremony Jan. 13.

Sgt. Maj. Gregory Rock (right) conducts a final inspection of troops during his retirement ceremony Jan. 13.

Rock also had the task of maintaining continuity within FDC, and now that responsibility will be passed on to another noncommissioned officer.

Sgt. Maj. William White, the current Corps sergeant major, said he is honored to take over position from such a distinguished person.

“There was perhaps never a transition where someone was handed an organization as talented, gifted, put together and well-maintained as the one I inherited from him,” said White. “I learned a lot from Sgt. Maj. Rock.”

White said some people tend to get rattled when things become challenging and difficult, but Rock was the type of person to excel in just those situations.

“He brought a sense of calm to the job no matter how busy things got,” said White. “He called it ‘being in the eye of the hurricane.’”

Rock’s greatest memories were from the most mentally and physically demanding missions.

“Performing for Nelson Mandela and the Pope was crazy,” said Rock. “It was such a huge part of history, and I wouldn’t trade away those times for anything.”

Rock, his family and friends watch as The U.S. Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps passes by the reviewing stand at his retirement ceremony.

Rock, his family and friends watch as The U.S. Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps passes by the reviewing stand at his retirement ceremony.

Rock said the key to any success mission was surrounding himself with the right people.

“I did not make it this far without the help from people I have served with and those I love,” said Rock. “Every person that I have encountered in the military, good or bad, has taught me something.”

Rock said he doesn’t regret the instant when he decided to do something out of the box and join FDC.

“If I could give any advice to the next generation of Soldiers it would to push yourself outside your comfort zone, and trust the people around you,” said Rock. “It is the only way you’re going to grow as a leader.”

Rock said he has truly enjoyed being a part of FDC for so long, but he is looking forward to the next chapter in his life.

“I am glad to have my beautiful wife to share this journey with,” said Rock. “I am ending my time here with this great unit on the right note.”

Story and photos by Staff Sgt. Luisito Brooks, Old Guard Public Affairs

Old Guard Trains For NTC Rotation

Soldiers Train in PA

Old Guard Soldiers create a path through tall grass during a squad live-fire exercise at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa., Dec. 4.

Gunfire rang out across the mountainside as Soldiers moved through the woods toward the target area and engaged the simulated enemy.  When the squad cleared the objective and had begun assessing the situation, the platoon leader came over the radio to tell his squad the mission was complete and to regroup on his position.

Although this was only a rehearsal for the Soldiers assigned to Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), this field training exercise at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa., Dec. 2-13., will serve them well in the future.

Capt. Johnathan Green, executive officer, D Co., 3d U.S. Inf. Regt. (The Old Guard) said the unit is excited about the exercise because it’s their culminating event prior to a deployment to the National Training Center [NTC] in Fort Irwin, Calif.

D Co. is slated to augment 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wa., during their pre-deployment rotation at the training center early next year.

“We are doing a lot of fun things out here that some of our newer Soldiers haven’t necessarily done before to get them and us ready for NTC,” said Green.  “We’ll be going over some of the basics first, and then get progressively harder at each level.”

So far this year, D Co. has also trained at other sites like Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md. and Fort A.P. Hill, Va., all in anticipation for the deployment to NTC.

D Co. is slated to augment 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wa., during their pre-deployment rotation at the training center early next year.

Junior leaders, like Spc. Nicholas Corby, infantryman, D Co., 3d U.S. Inf. Regt. (The Old Guard), began the first few days by calling for artillery support, requesting medical evacuation, and conducting squad-level live-fire drills.

Corby said the two-week long training at Indiantown Gap was a great learning experience on how to lead and control his team to accomplish their mission even in hectic situations.

“We are coached to be proficient in communicating to our guys to ensure they know exactly where they need to be and what they need to do,” said Corby.  “As a leader, making sure we are safe and together is the most important thing out here, especially because we are shooting live rounds.”

Soldiers assigned to D Co., 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), and his Soldiers fire a M240B machine gun during a squad live-fire exercise at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa., Dec. 4. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Luisito Brooks)

Soldiers assigned to D Co., 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), and his Soldiers fire a M240B machine gun during a squad live-fire exercise at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa., Dec. 4. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Luisito Brooks)

The training D Co. did at Indiantown Gap is difficult to reproduce in the classroom.

“Unless we come out to places like this, we can’t verify that our training is paying off,” said Corby.  “This is definitely getting us ready for NTC.”

After the first three days, the unit went on to conduct platoon- and company-level operations.

Corby said the biggest challenge was the mountainous terrain, frigid temperatures and foreign surroundings; however they easily identified and overcame those issues.

“We weren’t used to walking over the rocks, and it took a little adjusting to get used to the unstable ground,” said Corby.  “The fog and snow is pretty crazy in this area because of the mountains.”

He explained that learning to adapt to different climates was a huge part of the exercise.

Aside from the many challenges, there have been several perks to this training as well.

“We are using the same equipment that we’ll be using at NTC, from communications to maintenance and vehicles,” said Corby.  “Soldiers are working with these systems now to transition smoothly when we get there.”

Green agreed.

“We have prepared to the standard,” said Green. “We will be ready to help 3rd Brigade in whatever way they need us.”

Capt. Wallace Rollins, platoon leader, Delta Company, 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), directs his Soldiers to an objective over the radio during a squad live-fire exercise in the evening hours at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa., Dec. 4. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Luisito Brooks)

Capt. Wallace Rollins, platoon leader, Delta Company, 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), directs his Soldiers to an objective over the radio during a squad live-fire exercise in the evening hours at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa., Dec. 4. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Luisito Brooks)

Story by Staff Sgt. Luisito Brooks, 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard)

Old Guard officer’s passion for shooting nets him award

Capt. Michael Marano shows off his trophy for taking 1st place in the 2013 World Skeet Shooting Championship.

Capt. Michael Marano shows off his trophy for taking 1st place in the 2013 World Skeet Shooting Championship.

“I have to keep myself calm and focused when I am standing there with my shotgun waiting on that target to fly,” said Capt. Michael Marano. “The best feeling in the world is turning that clay disk into dust.”

Marano, ceremonies and special events officer, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), has enjoyed the sport of skeet and trap shooting since his sophomore year at the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. in 2006. His passion and dedication to the sport would later lead him to a first place title at the 2013 World Skeet Championships.

Marano started shooting for sport because of an incident that sidelined him from his first love, football.

“I sustained a major injury to my shoulder and needed surgery,” said Marano. “I had to look for a less impact sport so I joined the skeet and trap team.”

Marano found that he was actually pretty good at it. He competed in many collegiate shooting competitions, and by his senior year, was named team captain by his coach and peers.

“I really enjoyed my time as a leader on the team,” said Marano. “We pushed each other to get better and to shoot more consistently.”

Marano destroys a clay pigeon at the 2013 World Skeet Shooting Championship in San Antonio.

Marano destroys a clay pigeon at the 2013 World Skeet Shooting Championship in San Antonio.

Marano received orders to Germany following his graduation from the academy.  Unfortunately, he couldn’t bring his shotguns or compete. Marano said he didn’t go a day without thinking about the sport he loved during the three years he spent overseas in Germany and his deployment to Afghanistan.

“It was pretty tough for me, but I knew that I would get back into the game when I got state side,” said Marano.

Marano’s prayers were answered when he was assigned to The Old Guard in Arlington, Va.

“I was excited about the unit and my opportunity to start shooting again,” said Marano. “I searched for different skeet and trap ranges in the area, and I went as often as I could.”

Marano connected with a member of the U.S. Army Shotgun Team [USAST] during one of his training sessions.

“We shot together very often so he knew what I could do,” said Marano. “He invited me to join the five-man team to contend with the best.”

The USAST competes in military, national, international and Olympic shooting competitions every year. The team finished in the middle of the pack during the 2013 Armed Forces Skeet Shooting Competition in Camp Lejuene, N.C.

“We did ok, but I felt as though I was still getting warmed-up,” said Marano. “We kicked our training into high gear after the competition.”

Marano takes aim at a clay pigeon during the 2013 World Skeet Shooting Championship in San Antonio.

Marano takes aim at a clay pigeon during the 2013 World Skeet Shooting Championship in San Antonio.

All of Marano’s hard-work paid-off during the 2013 World Skeet Championship at the National Shooting Complex in San Antonio, Texas.  Marano placed first in the B class category, shooting 438 out of 450 targets.

“The competition was tough, but my team helped me stay focused,” said Marano. “I felt right at home on the range shooting those targets.”

Marano considers it an honor to be a part of a team that represents the Army while also doing something he loves. He plans to continue shooting with the USAST as long as they will allow him.

“I am a very competitive guy,” said Marano. “One great thing about this sport is that there is always something to learn.”

 

Story by Staff Sgt. Luisito Brooks, 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard)

Running for a Cause – Old Guard Soldier runs Army Ten Miler in honor of cousins

By Staff Sgt. Megan Garcia

Staff Sgt. Daniel Castanon joined more than 35,000 people who traveled to the nation’s capital, Oct. 20, 2013, to run the 29th annual Army Ten-Miler.  For Castanon, this year would mark his second time participating in one of the nation’s largest races. Although he came with the goal to top his previous race record, his ultimate drive to do better than the year before would be found in two names.

Staff Sgt. Daniel Castanon poses for a photo after completing the Army Ten-Miler Oct. 20.

Staff Sgt. Daniel Castanon poses for a photo after completing the Army Ten-Miler Oct. 20.

“Mayleen Dilone and Justin Ortega” said Castanon, motor transport operator, 529th Regimental Support Company, 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard). “Those are the names of my two [9-year-old] cousins who were diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Last year, initially, I wanted to run the race just for the experience but this year my motivation behind running it and wanting to do well was because of them.”

Castanon, who unfortunately is accustomed to having family members who are diagnosed with cancer, said receiving this kind of news was even more devastating.

“It shook up the family a little because it’s something we’re not used to dealing with,” said Castanon “When you get the babies diagnosed with diabetes it’s like you’re taking away a little bit of their childhood. They have to learn to eat differently and take insulin shots. It’s stressful and can become stressful on the parents and it’s really a life-changing thing for kids to have to deal with at this age.”

Although Castanon had already begun vigorously training for the ten-miler, he said knowing this made him push a little harder. He lost 25 pounds over a six-month period and changed his diet completely, focusing more on portion control and eliminating fast foods and sodas.

“This year it wasn’t just about finishing because it wasn’t just about me,” said Castanon. “I was running in my cousins’ names as a tribute to them. That is why I really wanted to push myself and not come in at the same time I came in last year.”

Castanon’s aunt, Hilda Aponte, said the family was ecstatic about his plans.

“We are a very big family and we are all trying to find a cure for this, so it meant a lot to our family to find out he wanted to do this in support of his two little cousins,” said Aponte. “We made shirts and everything to send to him. We wanted to let him know we were rooting for him all the way from New York.”

The day of the race, Castanon wore this shirt as a constant reminder of what he was running for and to let them know he stood with them.

“It was my way to say ‘Although I haven’t seen you all in awhile, I’m thinking of you and I’m supporting you. I didn’t raise a whole bunch of money for the cause but I wore this t-shirt with your names on it because I care’,” said Castanon.

By mile six, Castanon admitted he felt very fatigued but knew he couldn’t give up on himself or his family.

“I knew they were tracking this run and I wasn’t going to let them down,” said Castanon.

In the end, he would stay true to his word. Castanon met his goal at the finish line, beating his previous time by almost 11 minutes. He made sure to let his cousins know he accomplished what he set out to do.

“I spoke with my Aunt Hilda after the race and I told her to tell them I did the best that I could,” Castanon said. “I told her to tell them everyone who I passed that day will know their names and know that they are fighters too.”

Old Guard Soldier earns his wings

by Staff Sgt. Luisito Brooks

I earned my air assault badge while attending Air Assault Course [AAC] at the Light Fighters School, Sep. 20, on Fort Drum, N.Y. It was the most physically and mentally demanding school I have ever experienced. To receive this badge I had to successfully complete the air assault, sling load and rappelling phases of training, and a 12-mile foot march. Even before I could begin training, I had to first pass day zero just to become a student. It’s certainly not for the weak-hearted.

Day zero began with a complete layout of every item on our packing list by the cadre, otherwise known as “sergeants air assault.” Soldiers were being sent back to their units for missing or unserviceable items and equipment. The Army preaches attention to detail because it could mean life or death. That philosophy would not be different at the AAC.

Then the class lined up at the nine-obstacle course starting point. I was worried most about the dreaded rope climb. I practiced my technique many times, so when I was face-to-face with the rope, there was no doubt that I was going to make it up.

The sergeants air assault pushed every Soldier to their mental and physical limits. They would remind us that they do not fail students, but it’s the students that fail themselves. The instructors gave outstanding blocks of instruction, and a day did not pass that I wasn’t learning something.

Capt. Patrick Jones pins the Air Assault Badge on Staff Sgt. Luisito Brooks' uniform at Fort Drum, N.Y.

Capt. Patrick Jones pins the Air Assault Badge on Staff Sgt. Luisito Brooks’ uniform at Fort Drum, N.Y.

Sling load phase was extremely difficult for those who did not study. I committed everything to memory, such as the tensile strength of equipment used in sling load operations, lift capabilities of supporting aircraft, and rigging and inspection of prepared loads. Even though I was totally exhausted at the end of the day, I found myself anxious everyday to study, learn and challenge myself more. I hosted many study sessions for the Soldiers that wanted it, and it made me proud that everyone that studied with my group passed.

The last thing that separated me from earning the badge was the 12-mile foot march.  I stood side-by-side with other Soldiers on the last day wearing a 30 pound rucksack, helmet and dummy M-16 rifle.

We moved to the starting point for the 12-mile road march. The cadre said we have exactly three hours. Stay on the right side of the road. Go!

The entire class took off running. I knew that if I pushed myself in the beginning, it would give me plenty of time at the end.

I completed the road march with time to spare and my hands and rifle raised high. I felt a sense of accomplishment and pride, but the realization that I was finally done didn’t hit me until the graduation ceremony. I feel more confident as Soldier and a leader because of this course. Air Assault!

Old Guard sweeps MDW Best Warrior Competition

Sgt. Robert Keifer, infantryman, Honor Guard Company, 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), administers a tourniquet to a simulated injured Soldier’s leg during the Military District of Washington’s [MDW] Best Warrior Competition, July 17, at Fort A.P. Hill, Va. Keifer outperformed six noncommissioned officers [NCO] to earn the title of the MDW NCO of the year. He will advance to the Department of the Army level this October at Fort Lee, Va. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Luisito Brooks)

Sgt. Robert Keifer, infantryman, Honor Guard Company, 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), administers a tourniquet to a simulated injured Soldier’s leg during the Military District of Washington’s [MDW] Best Warrior Competition, July 17, at Fort A.P. Hill, Va.

 

Story and photos by Staff Sgt. Luisito Brooks

Two Soldiers assigned to the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), swept opposing competition during the 2013 Military District of Washington’s Best Warrior Competition; earning the titles of the MDW noncommissioned officer and Soldier of the year.

“As I stood there waiting, I was pretty nervous until they called my name as the winner,” said Sgt. Robert Keifer, who was named the NCO of the year. “I was excited and proud that all the hard work paid off.”

The competition was held, July 15-19, at Fort A.P. Hill, Va.

During the competition, seven noncommissioned officers and three Soldiers were tested on basic and advanced warrior tasks and battle drills, day and night land navigation, urban warfare simulations, physical fitness, rifle qualification, a written exam, a ruck march and a board interview.

The competition was no walk in the park according to Keifer, who said it was one of the toughest things he has been a part of.

“I have been in a couple events like this, but at this level, you see the best out here. The key for my success was to keep focus throughout the week,” said Keifer, infantryman, Honor Guard Company. “Not only were we battling against each other, we were battling the heat as well. We had to make sure we ate and stayed hydrated.”

However, with water and other proper safety precautions in place, Soldiers demonstrated their mental and physical skills in temperatures well into the 90s. In the end, only two found themselves on top.

Spc. Michael Sands, infantryman, Delta Company, 1st Bn, 3d U.S. Inf. Regt. (The Old Guard), assembles four types of weapon systems during the MDW Best Warrior Competition.

Spc. Michael Sands, infantryman, Delta Company, 1st Bn, 3d U.S. Inf. Regt. (The Old Guard), assembles four types of weapon systems during the MDW Best Warrior Competition.

Spc. Michael Sands, MDW Soldier of the year, was nearly speechless when explaining how it felt to claim one of the coveted spots.

“I can’t put it into words,” said Sands, infantryman, Delta Company. “It’s very special. I felt privileged just to be selected.”

Sands said it was an added bonus wining alongside a fellow Old Guard Soldier.

“It was really rewarding to see both of us win. The Old Guard delivered a one, two punch,” said Sands, “He and I would study as often as possible to make sure we had things memorized. We really worked hard together to get to this point.”

Keifer agreed it was great to win with someone from the same unit.

“It’s like winning with my little brother,” said Keifer. “We have grown really close because of this experience. I am really looking forward to moving on and getting ready for the next competition. I’m glad The Old Guard will be represented at the next level.”

Keifer and Sands will compete in the Department of the Army’s BWC this October at Fort Lee, Va.

Sgt. Robert Keifer (left), infantryman, Honor Guard Company, 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) and Spc. Michael Sands, infantryman, Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), tackle a 5-mile road march during the Military District of Washington’s [MDW] Best Warrior Competition [BWC], July 17, at Fort A.P. Hill, Va. Keifer and Sands were named the MDW noncommissioned and Soldier of the year. They will represent The Old Guard at the Department of the Army’s BWC later this year. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Luisito Brooks)

Keifer (left) and Sands tackle a 5-mile road march during the MDW Best Warrior Competition July 17, at Fort A.P. Hill, Va. The two won Best NCO and Best Soldier, and will represent The Old Guard and MDW at the Department of the Army’s BWC in October.