Military

FT. BRAGG STORIES: 'Not Afraid Of The Fight'

8 hours ago
Portrait of James Quigg
Norman Kent Photography

Many soldiers who decide to leave the military put their training to use in civilian careers. James Quigg is no different, although his career choice is somewhat unusual.  

He's a professional mixed martial arts fighter known as the Gentleman Brawler. 

"It can be pretty miserable to fight me, even if you're winning," said Quigg. "I'm not afraid of the fight." 

About 84,000 service members are married to another member of the military, and some find it hard to balance their marriages with their careers.

Tony Jaber, now 93, was part of the 30th Infantry Division, nicknamed Old Hickory, which was sent into Normandy right after D-Day. It soon found itself badly outnumbered by some of Germany’s toughest units in a battle at the small French town of Mortain.
Jay Price / WUNC

Three-quarters of a century after its World War II battles, an entire division of thousands of National Guard soldiers is up for the highest honor a military unit can receive.

FT. BRAGG STORIES: 'I Refused That Fate'

Jul 8, 2018
A portrait of Solomon Abanda
Solomon Abanda

Sergeant Solomon Abanda proudly serves in the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, but his path to get there has been complicated. 

Born in Cameroon, Abanda came to the U.S. at 19 to study.  After a series of missteps, he found himself living on the streets in Los Angeles.  

He was homeless for two years before a chance encounter set his life on a different course. 

FT. BRAGG STORIES: 'It's Like A Mad Rush'

Jul 1, 2018
Fireworks explode on the Fourth of July at Fort Bragg's Main Post Parade Field.
Pyro Shows

The Fourth of July is a big deal at Fort Bragg, where the annual concert and fireworks display regularly draw a crowd of 40,000.

Danny Sheckles is a pyrotechnician with Pyro Shows, a Tennessee-based company that produces firework displays at Fort Bragg and throughout the southeast.

Congress mandated the card in 2015, but provided no funding. So the VA struck a deal with Office Depot.

As the Senate considers Robert Wilkie's nomination for VA secretary, veterans groups worry that the agency's leadership gap has slowed its work.

FT. BRAGG STORIES: 'It Was A Hard Time'

Jun 24, 2018
Courtesy of Meg Miller

Lieutenant Colonel Frank Miller served in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam before retiring to Fayetteville to run a grocery store in the late 60s and early 70s.

 The Boulevard Supermarket on Bragg Boulevard was a small mom-and-pop store catering to the many young G.I's who cycled through Fort Bragg on their way to the Vietnam war.

Gabriella Bulgarelli / WUNC

For James Roy Gorham, growing up in the small farming community of Falkland, NC was full of tough lessons, and he learned many of them from his father.

For her new album, Nashville singer-songwriter Mary Gauthier collaborated with veterans to write songs about war, service, and life after the military.

FT. BRAGG STORIES: Ducking Out Of Operation Clean Sweep

Jun 17, 2018
Portait of Jay Huwieler
Jay Huwieler

Each year, the men and women of Fort Bragg celebrate All-American Week, a time to showcase the valor and pride of the 82nd Airborne.  

But the behind-the-scenes preparation is less glamorous. The prior week is spent deep cleaning every inch of the 163,000-acre military installation, an annual chore known as Operation Clean Sweep.

FT. BRAGG STORIES: Challenge Coins

Jun 10, 2018
Portrait of Steven Moore
Matt Couch / WUNC

Steven Moore has never served in the military, but for the past 16 years he's been serving the Fort Bragg community, specializing in the design of military challenge coins.

More than just collectible tokens, the coins are a concrete way to commemorate shared service and personal achievement. Commanders award them with a solemn handshake, and soldiers often treasure them as keepsakes.

“I’m told by the soldiers that they are highly coveted items, and gives them incentive to earn them,” Moore said.

Civilian contractor Terry Pullum of Evolving Resources Inc. gives young Marines their first hands-on lesson in flying the InstantEye quadcopter.
Jay Price / WUNC

One Marine in each rifle squad will be designated to fly small drones and run some of the Marines' expanding array of other digital devices.

FT. BRAGG STORIES: Remembering D-Day

Jun 3, 2018
Portrait of Kenneth "Rock" Merritt taken during World War II
Kenneth "Rock" Merritt

At 94, retired Command Sergeant Major Kenneth “Rock” Merritt is something of a living legend in the Fort Bragg community.

During World War II, Merritt was a young paratrooper with the 508 Parachute Infantry Regiment. He was one of thousands of soldiers who jumped into Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

“The war into Normandy, I guess simply put, it was hell. That’s really what it was,” Merritt said.

In California - a state with strong differences with the White House on immigration policy - about 400 troops are on border duty. But they're keeping a low profile.

FT. BRAGG STORIES: 'I Looked Into That Soldier's Eyes'

May 27, 2018
David Goforth training at Fort Bragg in 1980.
David Goforth

As a young man, David Goforth served in the National Guard throughout the 1980s. He enjoyed weekends practicing drills at Fort Bragg until he came upon a training accident that gave him pause. 

FT. BRAGG STORIES: 'They Don't Tell You Much'

May 20, 2018

Debbie Crain and Laura Lauffer both grew up near Fort Bragg, both with fathers in the military. Crain's father fought in World War II, Lauffer's served in Vietnam. Like many who have seen combat, neither man talked much about their experiences. As adults, both women found themselves looking for answers about their fathers' military service.

President Donald Trump shakes hands with Acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie, during an event on prison reform in the East Room of the White House, Friday, May 18, 2018, in Washington
Evan Vucci / AP

Acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie is President Donald Trump's pick to permanently lead the beleaguered department.

FT. BRAGG STORIES: 'For Me, This Was Home'

May 13, 2018
Laura Monk holds a portrait of her husband Austin, who passed away in 2011 after battling leukemia.
Matt Couch / WUNC

Laura Monk was a newlywed when she moved to Fort Bragg with her husband Austin in 2009. He deployed to Iraq shortly after. While serving overseas, he was diagnosed with leukemia. They spent most of their two-and-a-half year marriage negotiating his illness and cancer treatments.

The military has made progress diversifying its chaplain corps. But it faces a shortage of chaplains of all faiths.

A model of a bronze monument that would commemorate a top-secret World War II program that brought hundreds of Russian aviators to Elizabeth City to train alongside Americans.
Jay Price / WUNC

A man who wants his Virginia museum to be the home of a monument honoring a secret World War II spy mission has traveled to Russia, where he plans to march in a parade while advancing his case.

The VA in Florida has begun offering telehealth programs in dance, visual art, and music. The programs link therapists with veterans in their homes.

FT. BRAGG STORIES: 'Fifteen Months Is A Long Time'

May 6, 2018
Portrait of Sergeant Major LaMonta Caldwell
Matt Couch / WUNC

Sergeant Major LaMonta Caldwell spent 31 years in the Army, deploying all over the world, but the 15 months he spent fighting in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley were the toughest test of his military career.
 

During his 2008 deployment, he and his soldiers came under fire on a daily basis while struggling to improve their position in the rugged mountains surrounding the valley. The unit lost eight men in combat, another fifteen were wounded.

FT. BRAGG STORIES: Pay Day On Hay Street

Apr 29, 2018
Fayetteville Observer file photo of the 500 block of Hay St. in July, 1973.
Fayetteville Observer

Downtown Fayetteville has transformed since the 1960's and 70's, when Hay Street was synonymous with seedy bars and strip clubs, but for thousands of soldiers who came through Fort Bragg on their way to the Vietnam War, memories of wild nights on Hay Street are indelible. 

FT. BRAGG STORIES: 'Everybody Talks On The Tattoo Table'

Apr 20, 2018
Kayla Knight prepares to get tattooed at the All American Tattoo Convention in Fayetteville.
Matt Couch / WUNC

Soldiers stationed at Fort Bragg support a thriving tattoo industry in Fayetteville and the surrounding towns. For some, the process of getting ink is just as important as the artwork.

Hundreds of troops have arrived to assist Border Patrol agents.  But National Guard operations are not yet fully underway.

Deana Martorella Orellana's mother, Laurel Martorella (left), and Orellana's sister, Robin Jewell, hold her Marine Corps photo. Orellana killed herself a year after leaving the Marines. She had agreed to undergo counseling the day she died.
Jay Price / American Homefront

Female veterans are nearly 2 1/2 times more likely to commit suicide than civilian women, according to data from the Veterans Administration Suicide Prevention Program. The same data show male veterans are 18 percent more likely to kill themselves than civilian men. Why are female veterans struggling? The advocacy group Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) released six recommendations on the mental health needs of women service members and veterans based on a poll of veterans in the civilian world and women on active duty.

Female veterans are nearly 2 1/2 times more likely than their civilian counterparts to kill themselves. Advocates say women's mental health challenges are different from those of men.

The Bureau of Land Management has partnered with Team Rubicon - a veterans group - to train former service members to fight wildfires.

FT. BRAGG STORIES: 'You Could Get In Trouble'

Apr 13, 2018
Portrait of Josh Groll
Elizabeth Friend

The start of the Iraq War in 2003 divided the country and mobilized a new anti-war movement. Josh Groll was in middle school at the time. His parents were firmly opposed to the war, but unlike many other anti-war protestors, Groll's dad was on active duty, and his family was stationed at Fort Bragg.

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