Ft. Bragg Stories Podcast

The Ft. Bragg Stories podcast uses personal narratives to explore life on and around this country's largest military base. It's a collaboration between the Fayetteville Observer and WUNC's American Homefront Project. You can hear other stories in the series at here. If you'd like to share your Ft Bragg story, you can send it here, or email us.

Subscribe to the podcast:

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

Jul 15, 2018
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." 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

FT.BRAGG STORIES: Answering The Call

Apr 6, 2018
Bill Wadford speaks at a live story-telling event in Fayetteville, N.C.
Matt Couch / WUNC

Rapid deployments are a fact of life for soldiers at Fort Bragg. Once notice is given, paratroopers have just 18 hours to prepare to go anywhere in the world.

FT. BRAGG STORIES: Bringing Shakespeare To Bragg

Mar 29, 2018
Joseph Henderson addresses a group of students enrolled at a summer arts enrichment program at Fort Bragg.
Rodrigo Dorfman

Joseph Henderson was inspired to use his training as an actor and children's educator to help military children and their families.  

FT. BRAGG STORIES: 'The Fireball Went Over'

Mar 23, 2018
Portrait of Richard Clapp
Courtesy Richard Clapp

"I was only in the military six months when the disaster happened," recalled Richard Clapp. He was 19 years old on March 23, 1994, fresh out of basic training and jump school. He'd been at Fort Bragg just three weeks. That afternoon he stood on Green Ramp waiting to make his first official jump with the 82nd Airborne.

FT. BRAGG STORIES: Helping Soldiers Find Their Voice

Mar 19, 2018
Courtesy Lenore Yarger and Steve Woolford

For 16 years, Lenore Yarger and Steve Woolford have answered the phone at the G.I. Rights Hotline, a number military service members can call for free and confidential counseling on benefits, regulations, discharges, grievances, and what it means to be a conscientious objector. The hotline is sponsored in part by Fayetteville's Quaker House, which has been advocating for peace since 1969.

FT. BRAGG STORIES: 'I Was Ready For A Challenge'

Mar 12, 2018
Courtesy Tom McCollum

When Tom McCollum transitioned from the 82nd Airborne to Special Forces, he knew the training would be tough.

FT. BRAGG STORIES: 'These Soldiers Are My Children'

Mar 5, 2018
Master Sergeat Judy Betancourt in 2009 with her six year old son Christian.
Courtesy Judy Betancourt

Master Sergeant Judy Betancourt found her calling in military service. A self-described female warrior, she's served 24 years in the Army, deploying overseas six times. But the job she loves has come at a personal cost. Her decision to remain on active duty after the birth of her son Christian meant months and years away from him.

FT. BRAGG STORIES: 'Finding Peace In The Present'

Feb 25, 2018
Portrait of Phil Sussman
Courtesy Phil Sussman

Before coming to Fort Bragg in 2016, Phil Sussman fractured his spine in a training accident, an injury he feared would end his military career.

"The pain was hands down the worst thing I've ever felt in my life, I can't even describe it," said Sussman. "I couldn't move, couldn’t roll over. It would bring my wife to tears every time she'd try to move me."

Still, Sussman was determined to continue his rigorous course of training.  His physical therapist, a former Green Beret, gave his blessing.

FT. BRAGG STORIES: 'Not A Shrinking Violet'

Feb 18, 2018
Portrait of Christina Railey, circa 1975.
Courtesy Patrick Railey

Patrick Railey was nine years old in 1970 when his father was killed in Vietnam. On the same day Chief Warrant Officer George Railey was fatally wounded, Patrick, his sister, and his mother were moving from Florida to their new house near Fort Bragg.

"I remember the scene of a military vehicle pulling up, well-dressed soldiers getting out and coming up to the house," Railey recalled. "You always knew that was bad news. You didn't want that to be your family."

Portrait of CPT. Kenisha Wilkerson
Matt Couch / WUNC

Kenisha Wilkerson was drawn to military service, despite some initial uncertainty.

"I was a little confused at first," said Wilkerson. "I was going back and forth, like, 'uhh, I might not be built for the Army.' But I knew I wanted to serve."

Portrait of Libby Brice
Matt Couch / WUNC

Libby Brice was 20 years old in 1961 when she got a job on post as a secretary for the Criminal Investigation Division, one of only three women in the unit.

Billy (left) and his brother Dewey, playing soldiers as children at Fort Bragg during World War II.
Courtesy Billy Herring

Billy Herring was seven years old when his family moved on to Fort Bragg in 1939, one of only three civilian families on post at the time. His father ran the dairy farm, supplying milk to the soldiers.

Lorie Southerland, with her husband Eric, at the opening of the new Fort Bragg Fisher House facility.
Keri Childress/Fort Bragg Fisher House

Lorie Southerland didn’t know the Fort Bragg Fisher House existed until the day she needed it.  

Her son, Spc. Michael Rodriguez, had just been killed in Iraq, and her out-of-town family needed somewhere to stay for his memorial service.  Fisher House opened its doors, as it has for hundreds of other military families, offering respite when loved ones come to Fort Bragg for medical treatment, or to mourn.

Portrait of Col. (Ret.) Fred Black
Courtesy of Fred Black

As a young lieutenant in 1969, Fred Black was one of a handful of African-American officers at Fort Bragg. He said racial tensions rarely came to a head on post, but black soldiers could face discrimination when they ventured into the wider community.

Portrait of Mike Thomas.
Matt Couch / WUNC

Mike Thomas was a young captain in the summer of 1990 when he got orders to deploy to Saudi Arabia as part of Operation Desert Shield. After spending nine months in the Gulf, he flew home to Fort Bragg.

Ft. Bragg Stories uses personal narratives to explore life on and around this country's largest military base.  And, now it's available as a podcast on iTunes, Google Play and Stitcher