An After-Action Report by Donn B. Murphy, PhD, Participant in the Army Strong Experience

I served  proudly for three years in the 174th Military Police Battalion, Kansas National Guard, in Leavenworth, Kansas,.  With Fort Leavenworth nearby, the military was influential on my growing up.  I then served two years on active duty at Fort Sheridan, IL, and Camp Drake, Japan as a Corporal, during the Korean War.   Regrettably,  I can find no photos from that time.  I just wasn't good with scrapbooks, etc.

It was my great pleasure to take part in the ARMY STRONG EXPERIENCE at Fort Meade, MD, in June 2009.  About 30 people were invited to spend two days embedded with the troops, learning more about our modern professional United States Army.  We were hosted by Corporals and Captains, Generals, and the Secretary of the Army, who spoke to us when we finished our "tour."

I was proud to be back among the troops as a "guest soldier" for a couple of days.  I would encourage any young person to give very serious consideration to the possibility of a career in the US Army.  My own experience in the service, and this "refresher course," have confirmed my belief in the honorable vocation that is the US Armed Forces.

We often take our Armed Forces for granted, as impersonal aggregates or abstract entities rather than dedicated and sharply skilled professional individuals working together on our behalf.  This event allowed us to meet and actually train with some of the outstanding men and women, of all ranks, typical of the many Americans who put their lives on the line every day as our valiant protectors and peace-keepers.

If you come in contact with young men and women who are choosing a career path, you might suggest that they check out the array of opportunities in our U.S. Army.  A variety of educational benefits are available, both in and after service, including: eArmyU, the GI Bill, the Army College Fund, the Army's College Loan Repayment Program, tuition assistance, and scholarships for ROTC and AMEDD.  Interested young people can ask specific questions from the virtual "Sergeant Star," at  Take a look!  He's awesome.

At Fort Meade, we were the particular guests of the U.S. Army Accessions Command, the U.S. Army Golden Parachute Team, and the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit.


LTG Benjamin C. Freakley.

Lieutenant General Freakley is the Commander, U.S. Army Accessions Command.
  He is a riveting and inspiring public speaker, who welcomed us to the program and laid out our two-day mission. and schedule.

Brigadier General Arnold N. Gordon-Bray - U.S. Army Cadet Command.
Every ROTC program across the country falls beneath the Cadet Command


COL John Fenzel, III, Commander, U.S. Army Accessions Support Brigade, was a friendly presence and presenter throughout our stay at Fort Meade.  A fascinating Green Beret with an impressive military career, he is also a thoughtful writer, whose first novel THE LAZARUS COVENANT will be published this fall.

CSM Tory Hendrieth
Command Sergeant Major

SGT DaShawne Browne
Drill Sergeant

SGT Joshua W. Harrison
Drill Sergeant

SGT Stephanie Rodriguez
Drill Sergeant

We trained with two elite units of the U.S. Army, in Tandem Parachute Jumping and Marksmanship.


LTC Daniel Hodine
SGM Thomas Fuller
Sergeant Major
SSG Joshua J. Olson

LTC Hodine, SGM Fuller and SSG Olson were with us throughout our Army Strong Experience,
  supporting, guiding and inspiring us, especially during our  Marksmanship training.


I was honored to have our instructor, SGT Coffey (photo on the right), as my personal coach. Although I had qualified with a 45 pistol in the Military Police, I had never fired a shotgun before.  However, with SGT Coffey's swift and expert tutoring, I placed second in a friendly competition among the eight members of our group.

On the Pistol Range, we fired first at a single target and then took on the Steel Challenge Shooting Association's five-target "Smoke & Hope". The name comes from the idea that you "Smoke" (hit) the first four large rectangle targets as fast as you can and then "Hope" you can slow down enough not to miss the last much smaller circular one! Scoring is based on the time it takes you to hit all five targets.


Pistol Marksmanship                                  Drill Sergeant Harrison

      Command SGM Tory Hendreith
 Sergeant Travis Tomasie
Champion Handgun Marksman
   Colonel John Fenzel, III


LTCOL Anthony Dill

SGM Michael Eitnear
Sergeant Major

LT COL Dill and SGT MAJ Michael Eitnear were with us throughout our Army Strong Experience,
answering questions and providing advice and insights, especially during our tandem jump experience.


Our instructor on the ground was Golden Knight Sergeant 1st Class Mike Elliot, who tandem jumps with President George Bush, Sr. each year on the President's birthday.  My tandem Jumper, who "had my back" - and my life in his hands - was Golden Knight SFC Kurt Isenbarger, who has made an astounding 12,000+ jumps.  He was one of five Knights who set a record with 33 formations in 2008 at the Conseil International du Sport Militaire World Games in Hyderabad and Mumbai, India.  (That record was later beaten by Belgium, but I'm sure the Knights will be back....  Stay tuned.)

Off we go, into the wild blue yonder....

Kurt was also chosen to make a tandem jump that day with the Secretary of the Army, so I feel especially privileged.  My friendly and efficient "personal photographer/videographer" was SFC Eric Heinsheimer.  We dropped from about 8,500 ft, free-falling at about 120 mph with a small white parachute, until our big black-and-yellow chute opened.  This resulted in a very sudden rush upward, and then a peaceful descent and a smooth landing.  This was a truly unforgettable experience for which I will always be grateful.




Class Photo with the Secretary of the Army - June 3 & 4, 2009

At the conclusion of the Army Strong Experience, we were given two "challenge coins" as mementos of our days at Fort Meade. These coins have been traditionally carried by service personnel as a sort of proof of membership in a particular military unit.  It is considered a gesture of great honor when a coin is given to a person outside the unit, as a symbol of friendship and camaraderie.  The red flag coin below was given us, as is customary, in a handshake, from the Secretary of the Army (at left - red tie), who spoke at our completion ceremony.  The second coin was given to us by Colonel John Fenzel, III (b ack row, 2nd from left), as a remembrance token from the Accessions Support Brigade.  I will treasure these medallions as reminders of this extraordinary Experience, and of the men and women who every day devote their lives selflessly to the security of all Americans.

I want to thank publicly all the other personnel we met, but who are not mentioned here. This would include soliders who drove us from place to place and set up audiovisual equipment, those who prepared a barbecue dinner for us, the editors of our tandem-jump photography, the parachute-packers, the animals and handlers who gave us a remarkable Military Working Dogs demonstration, the unit which  which prepared a future combat systems display, the U.S.Army Field Band musicians who performed for us, the Soldier of the Year who spoke eloquently to us, the military and civilian personnel who provided written materials and guidance throughout our stay, and the "behind the scenes" administrators and others who prepared and executed this event so successfully, including Ms. Kerry L. Meeker and other members of the Office of the Chief of Public Affairs at the Pentagon.


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