BRS vs. High-3 Legacy: Everything to Know About Your Retirement Choices

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By Navy Lt. Cmdr. Alison Maruca, Assistant Director of Strategic Communications for Military Compensation Policy, Retired & Annuitant Pay

So, let’s chat retirement for a quick minute. You took the Blended Retirement System training last year, right? Probably because your boss told you to get it done so she could report 100 percent completion for your unit, right? And it was probably the most boring two hours of your life, right? So, now that we’re halfway through 2018, how much do you actually remember about BRS and retirement from that training? Not much, #amIright?

Exactly. So let’s break it down.

Who’s eligible for BRS?

Anyone who was in the military as of Dec. 31, 2017, is automatically grandfathered into the High-3 Legacy retirement system. Remember, that’s the one where you multiply the number of years you serve by the average of your highest 36 months of basic pay by 2.5%. This option requires you to serve at least 20 years to qualify for retirement. However, if you have less than 12 years of service (active duty) or less than 4,320 points (Reserves/National Guard), then you have a choice to make. You can either stick with the High-3 system or opt into BRS.

First, let’s be frank. This is a highly personal decision, and quite honestly, we support you either way. But we (the Department of Defense) want to ensure you have the right tools and information to make the best choice for you and your family.

So. You need to take a hard look at your finances and your goals. Chat with your spouse or family. Make an appointment with your installation’s personal financial manager or another trusted advisor and run the BRS calculator. See which choice is best for you.

If you want to stick with the High-3, great! Enjoy that retirement and ride off into the sunset!

Army soldiers prepare to execute a rehearsal of a night mission for live fire operations during Decisive Action Rotation 15-02 at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calif., Nov. 11, 2014. Army photo by Sgt. Charles Probst

If you choose BRS, that’s great too! There are some great benefits to BRS, IF you decide it’s the best choice for you. So let’s look at how you can 1) take ownership of your retirement, and 2) make the most of it.

Remind Me Again What BRS Is?

Through the Blended Retirement System, you don’t have to serve 20 years to walk away with government-provided retirement benefits. So, if you don’t think you’ll make a career out of your military service (and that’s FINE!), BRS would be a great choice for you. If you do plan to serve 20 years, the important thing to remember is that if you opt into BRS early and maximize your Thrift Savings Plan contributions, you could have a retirement that is potentially equal to or more than what you might earn with the legacy retirement system.

There are three main parts of BRS that make it different from the High-3 Legacy system:

Defined benefit: Monthly retired pay for life after at least 20 years of service. This is part of BOTH retirement options. However, under BRS, the defined benefit multiplier changed from 2.5% to 2.0%. So apply this to the formula:

  • High-3: Number of years you serve X Average of your highest 36 months of basic pay X 2.5%
  • BRS: Number of years you serve X Average of your highest 36 months of pay X 2.0% (This results in about a 20% reduction in monthly retired pay. However, you have the opportunity to make up the difference by maximizing your TSP contributions and receiving the government matching funds.)

Defined contribution: Government automatic and matching contributions of up to 5 percent of basic pay to your Thrift Savings Plan. Even if you’re sticking with the legacy system, TSP is still something you should consider. While the government won’t match your contributions (that’s BRS only), TSP is a great way to augment your monthly retired pay.

Continuation pay: A one-time, midcareer bonus in exchange for an agreement to perform additional obligated service. It’s a direct cash payout, much like a bonus, and is only available to service members enrolled in BRS. Service members who are eligible may receive a payment of at least 2.5 times your monthly basic pay. Reservists and members of the National Guard are eligible to receive 0.5 times their monthly basic pay as if serving on active duty. However, this is unique to each service, so ensure you check with your Manpower/Personnel office to find out more information. You can find more information on continuation pay here.

So, if you opt into BRS and serve 20 years or more and qualify for retirement, you have a pretty sweet deal. But the cool part is that even if you DON’T stay for retirement (which again, is totally OK), you still walk away with your TSP. And don’t worry, you’re always vested (entitled to) your own contributions and earnings. However, to become vested in the Service Automatic Contribution (1%), you must have completed two years of service. After two years of service, you are considered fully vested.

AND what’s even cooler is that, say you get out of the military completely and you get a civilian job with a 401(k) – you can roll your TSP into that company’s retirement fund. Or, you can choose to leave your TSP alone until you’re of the age to tap into it (which is 59 1/2, btw). Even if you’re not contributing to it anymore, your TSP will continue to grow over time based on the market’s performance. So, you could potentially have a tidy sum that you can access when you finally retire from working. Let’s just call this what it is … a win-win.

What’s Next?

First and foremost, like we said already, it’s critically important that you make this decision fully armed with the information you need to make the best choice possible for your financial future. That means going to your installation’s financial manager, talking with your spouse or someone you trust. Deeply consider what you want your life after the military to look like, how you’ll get there and how either the High-3 system or BRS can help you get there.

If you are one of those folks who is grandfathered into High-3 and choose to stay there, then there’s nothing you need to do. Just keep going to work, doing great things and getting closer and closer to retirement.

If you decide that BRS is the way to go, remember that you have until Dec. 31, 2018, to opt in. That can be done via MyPay if you’re a soldier, sailor, airman or Coast Guardsman, or MarineOnline for you Marines. Once it’s done though, you can’t change your mind. The decision is final.

Then, after that, double check your TSP contribution to ensure that you receive the government matching benefit. If you opt in, you automatically receive the 1 percent government contribution. But YOU have to physically adjust anything after that to ensure you receive the government matching. If you don’t make any TSP changes, your existing contribution rate stays the same, even if that is zero. And if you can’t afford to contribute the full amount right now, that’s totally OK. But think about what you can contribute now and then factor in pay raises or bonuses for potential opportunities to increase your contribution when you can.

If you’re a Reservist, this applies to you, too. But your TSP contributions come from your weekend drill pay. But, any time you’re on long-term active duty orders, your contributions will continue, but come from your basic pay.

So, let’s recap for a hot minute.

While planning for retirement might not be on your mind now, it’s really, really important that you take a second to thoroughly think through your options: BRS v. High-3. And if you’ve made your decision and BRS is it, ensure you opt in by the deadline, Dec. 31, 2018. However, after Dec. 31, 2018, your retirement choice will be irrevocable. If you’ve already opted in, or once you do so, ensure your TSP contributions are adjusted to maximize your TSP and ensure you receive the government matching capability. You’ll be able to adjust your TSP contributions at your leisure any time moving forward.

We just ran through a lot of pretty dense stuff. But, like we said, we, the Department of Defense, are totally cool with whatever choice you make. We just want to ensure you have the tools and resources to make an educated decision. Your retirement is your future, be sure you’re financially prepared for it – and give yourself a high five for making the right choice for you!

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BRS vs. High-3 Legacy: Everything to Know About Your Retirement Choices

How This Army Musician Became a Comic Book Writer

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Comic book characters are popular in the military – it’s hard to go far without seeing comic book figurines, bobbleheads or some other sort of memorabilia at a service member’s work station – so it doesn’t surprise me that one soldier’s passion for comics turned into a bit of a second career.

Army Sgt. 1st Class Phillip Johnson plays trumpet in the Army Field Band in Washington, D.C.

“It’s great to have a job where you not only get to do what you love, but you’re doing it for reasons that really matter,” Johnson said.

He loves the trumpet so much that he also spends his free time teaching the instrument to students. But he also loves writing, and his love for both is what got him into the comic book industry.

“I actually wrote a blog post – kind of an essay – comparing the comics medium to jazz and how they’re similar,” Johnson said. “Writing comics, you are basically making small group jazz, like a jazz combo. You’ve got maybe a horn, piano and bass drums, and if you replace any one person, the product completely changes.”

Johnson was a comic book fan as a kid, which bolstered his vocabulary and gave him a leg up at school.

“By the time I went off to kindergarten, I was already using words like ‘nuclear reactor,’” he said.

Army SFC Phillip Johnson tutors a student on the trumpet.

He then grew up, got into music and found his way to his Army career, which brought him to the national capital region. Several years ago, he found a flier for a comic store called Third Eye Comics in Annapolis, Maryland, and he decided to check it out.

“I didn’t know anything about comics anymore. I just knew what I knew from the old days when I was a kid,” he said.

The store owners turned out to be incredibly friendly and clearly loved the genre. Johnson said their exuberance was infectious, so he started writing his own comics.

“Writing original stories is extremely exciting and super fun,” he said.

The first graphic novel he wrote was “Last Sons of America,” which is available at the store that reignited his passion.

“It’s basically a world in which Americans can’t have kids anymore,” Johnson said of the book’s storyline. “I try to tell stories that matter to me, and then dress them up in exciting, comic book-y ways.”

Army Sgt. 1st Class Phillip Johnson, an Army Field Band trumpeter, also writes comic books and graphic novels.

Those original stories led him into working on licensed projects, which can be turned into TV shows and movies. His first was the Adventure Time series.

“I’d never seen it, and I just started mainlining the show,” Johnson said. “I didn’t know if I was going to like it, but I ended up really digging it.”

That led him to the opportunity to help with “The Power of the Dark Crystal,” a 12-part comic book series that’s the sequel to the 1982 classic cult film “The Dark Crystal” by Muppet creator Jim Henson.

“That was a huge thrill because I am the biggest Jim Henson fan ever,” Johnson said. “It’s a guy whose whole life was just about making beautiful things and being creative and making the world a better place. I love his work, so getting to write ‘Dark Crystal’ was ridiculous.”

Johnson’s story is a great reminder that whatever your passion is, even as a child, you can turn it into something later in life!

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Disclaimer: The appearance of hyperlinks does not constitute endorsement by the Department of Defense of this website or the information, products or services contained therein. For other than authorized activities such as military exchanges and Morale, Welfare and Recreation sites, the Department of Defense does not exercise any editorial control over the information you may find at these locations. Such links are provided consistent with the stated purpose of this DOD website.

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How This Army Musician Became a Comic Book Writer

Sailor Earned MoH Saving Lives on WWI Battlefields

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By Katie Lange
Defense Media Activity

This blog is part of a weekly series called “Medal of Honor Monday,” in which we’ll highlight one of the 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients who have earned the U.S. military’s highest medal for valor.

Did you know that in all of World War I, only 21 sailors earned Medals of Honor? John Henry Balch was one of them.

Navy Pharmacist’s Mate First Class John Henry Balch. Navy photo

Born in 1896 in Edgerton, Kansas, Balch joined the Navy in May 1917 and became a pharmacist’s mate first class (a current-day hospital corpsman). He was assigned to the 2nd Division, American Expeditionary Forces, and was sent to Europe to fight with the Allies in World War I.

Twice, Balch risked his life beyond the call of duty to help his injured comrades.

Balch served with the 6th Regiment of the U.S. Marines during a battle at Vierzy, France, on July 19, 1918. It was a fierce fight, but Balch put his own fears aside to help the others. He was assigned to the dressing station — a military first-aid post close to the combat area — but he didn’t stay there. Time and again that day, he left the safety of the station, fearlessly exposing himself to intense machine-gun fire and explosives to help and collect wounded men to take back to safety. He spent 16 hours doing this.

A few months later, that gallantry was on full display again. Despite heavy gunfire, on Oct. 5, 1918, during a battle at Somme-Py, Balch went ahead of his troops to successfully set up a dressing station on the battlefield.

Before either of those incidents, however, Balch was injured during the Battle of Belleau Wood, one of the most significant battles of the war. Thankfully, he recovered.

A soldier on a stretcher receives medical treatment at a dressing station in Europe during World War I, March 5, 1919. National Archives photo

Balch was honorably discharged from the Navy in 1919 and was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroics that same year.

He eventually returned to service during World War II as a lieutenant in the Naval Reserve, serving at home and in Australia and the Philippines. In the 1950s he retired as a commander, having earned many other awards during his service, including the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star, the Purple Heart and the French Croix de Guerre.

Balch died in October 1980 at the age of 84. He’s buried at Riverside National Cemetery in Riverside, California.

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Sailor Earned MoH Saving Lives on WWI Battlefields

Military Duo Explains How They Became Popular Kids’ Book Authors

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Creators of ‘Connor the Courageous Cutter’ Offer Tips to Entrepreneurs

By Katie Lange
Defense Media Activity

What books do your kids read? The classics like “Green Eggs and Ham,” “The Giving Tree” and “Goodnight Moon?” Did you pick them for their awesome illustrations, or were you focused on selections that support good values?

For Navy Chief Petty Officer Rod Thompson and Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Scott McBride (also a Navy veteran), they realized a dream that combined both.


Video by Air Force Senior Airman Jared Bunn

The two men met in church, and when McBride realized Thompson did screenwriting on the side, he figured he was the right person to help him kickstart an idea a college advisor had given him: writing children’s books.

“I walked up to him one day and said, ‘Hey man, I’ve got this idea for a story called ‘Connor the Cutter’ because I have a son named Connor, and Rod’s like, ‘Dude, I have a son named Connor,’” McBride said.

So the two sat down with their families, hashed out some ideas on a napkin – which is now framed memorabilia – and the next thing you know, “The Adventures of Connor the Courageous Cutter” was born.

“A week later, we had the first draft written,” Thompson said.

Thompson and McBride framed the napkin on which they made their first “Connor” outline.

Defining Connor the Cutter

The series is about a boy named Connor who’s the new kid in school and is finding his place in the world – er, sea, that is. He is a boat, after all.

“Connor, to me, represents the timid spirit within everyone who wants to do well in life but doesn’t know where they’re going, or the rules,” Thompson said.

Connor is courageous and brave, but he’s not perfect.

“One of the things I love about this series is it’s OK that your heroes have flaws,” Thompson said. “Connor the Cutter is kind of this hero character, but he does make bad decisions, he is tempted by peer pressure, and he is afraid. And I think those vulnerabilities make him relatable.”

Illustration courtesy of “The Adventures of Connor the Courageous Cutter.”

So how did they manage to make this happen on top of their military and families duties?

From Concept to Finished Product

Thompson and McBride said their respective branches really helped them set goals and push past any obstacles. There was no stifling of creativity.

“I think we’re blessed that the Navy and Coast Guard have allowed us to do this,” McBride said.

So where does this creativity come from?

“Most of my thoughts come to me, story-wise, driving down the road. Every morning I’ll have random thoughts in my head, and I’ll call Scott and say, ‘I’ve got this really cool idea,’” Thompson explained.

They figure out the overall theme for each new story before they start creating the key details,  time and weather.

“Setting is huge. You can convey emotions,” Thompson said. “It’s the reason why, when you watch a movie, most sad scenes are on a rainy day. It invokes sadness.”

Next, they do a pre-rough draft where they throw all their ideas onto the page in story format. From there, they work as a team to edit it down and bring it together. They’ll often let the stories “marinate” for a few months to make sure they still like them. McBride even has his family read them for input. Then it’s off to the publisher, who sends more feedback, edits and suggestions.

McBride (center left) and Thompson (center right) chat with their families, who have helped them during their book-writing venture.

An illustrator then interprets what they’ve written, and they work together to make sure the drawings are what they want to convey.

“Once we saw the illustration and the colors [for the first book], my mind was blow. I was like, ‘Wow. Connor was just words on a page, and now he’s come to life,’” McBride said. “I think that’s so cool.”

Why Children’s Books?

Their motivation was easy – to inspire and bring hope.

“In the Coast Guard, our core values are honor, respect, devotion and duty,” McBride said. “We hope these books help the younger generation reinforce these values.”

“For every life lesson we’ve learned the hard way, we’re going to teach it to kids the easy way,” Thompson said.

Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Scott McBride signs copies of “The Adventures of Connor the Courageous Cutter” for children.

And it appears to be making a big splash on children and adults.

“We wanted to teach kids awesome messages, and the next thing you know, you’ve got random people coming up to you, thanking you for writing a story that’s touched their soul,” Thompson said.

Advice to Budding Military Entrepreneurs

The men had three major tips for anyone looking to pursue a business dream – write it down, do some research, and make it happen.

“If you’ve got a goal or dream, write it down. … Now you’re accountable to yourself,” McBride said. Then, develop a plan and do some research. “I think a lot of people get so paralyzed by fear of failure, but if you’ve got the goal, reach for the stars.”

Rod Thompson (left) and Scott McBride sit at a table to work on their “Connor the Cutter” series.

Find a way to make it happen – especially since you can almost always find the steps to get you there on the internet, Thompson said.

“Coming from a military lifestyle, you have to be willing to put in those extra hours,” he said. “You have to be willing to put in the extra time, to really put yourself out there, to fail, and to continuously drive yourself – even when you don’t want to be driven – to get things done.”

This duo’s biggest obstacle is that they’re stationed separately – Thompson lives in Norfolk, Virginia, while McBride is in Maryland. But thanks to technology, they can collaborate pretty easily.

So if you have an idea, don’t hesitate to get started!

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Disclaimer: The appearance of hyperlinks does not constitute endorsement by the Department of Defense of this website or the information, products or services contained therein. For other than authorized activities such as military exchanges and Morale, Welfare and Recreation sites, the Department of Defense does not exercise any editorial control over the information you may find at these locations. Such links are provided consistent with the stated purpose of this DOD website.




This entry was posted in DoD News, Education, Military Children, Military Families, Rotator, This Is Your Military and tagged authors, children’s books, Connor the Courageous Cutter, Connor the Cutter, entrepreneurs, Rod Thompson, Scott McBride. Bookmark the permalink.

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Military Duo Explains How They Became Popular Kids’ Book Authors

Warrior Games, Teammates Help Navy Vet Through Cancer

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Hundreds of service members and veterans compete in the Department of Defense Warrior Games every year. While many think those athletes are all missing limbs or were wounded in service, that’s not the truth – far from it, actually.

There are service members and veterans with upper-body, lower-body and spinal cord injuries. Others suffer from traumatic brain injuries, visual impairment, serious illnesses and post-traumatic stress, and many of these impairments didn’t happen while on duty.

Alexis King- Navy Warrior

On #nationalcancersurvivorsday take a moment to let #TeamNavy athlete Alexis King inspire you. Learn about how she beat cancer and became a #NavyWoundedWarrior #WarriorGamesFor more stories from Warrior Games, follow Commander, Navy Installations Command and Navy Wounded Warrior.Video by NPASE West’s MC3 Morgan Nall

Posted by Navy Public Affairs Support Element on Sunday, June 3, 2018

Video by Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Morgan Nall

Retired Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Alexis King, a Houston native, was diagnosed with cancer in late 2014, shortly after becoming a first-time mother. And she really struggled with her new reality.

“I felt myself going deeper and deeper into depression,” King said. “I stopped answering phone calls. I stopped answering texts. I shut everybody out until my phone didn’t ring anymore.”

She said there were days when she was too weak to hold her newborn baby.

Alexis King in bed with her baby while getting cancer treatment.

But eventually, she was introduced to the Warrior Games. Initially, the sports that were offered weren’t something she ever would have considered doing.

“I’m not the athletic type,” she said.

But King decided it was time to challenge herself.

“I’m going to stop saying no to all of these things, because one thing that cancer did teach me was that you never know when it’s your last day,” she said.

Retired Navy Yeoman 3rd Class Alexis King competes in a discus competition at the 2018 Department of Defense Warrior Games. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Morgan K. Nall

King is currently in remission. She competes in the shooting and field events, and the bonds she’s made with other competitors have helped her tremendously because they’re all facing similar struggles.

“They give me so much motivation,” she said.

Check out more of King’s amazing story in the video above.

#knowyourmil

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Disclaimer: The appearance of hyperlinks does not constitute endorsement by the Department of Defense of this website or the information, products or services contained therein. For other than authorized activities such as military exchanges and Morale, Welfare and Recreation sites, the Department of Defense does not exercise any editorial control over the information you may find at these locations. Such links are provided consistent with the stated purpose of this DOD website.

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Warrior Games, Teammates Help Navy Vet Through Cancer

100 Years Ago, WWI’s 1st American Hero Fought For Life with a Knife

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By Army Col. Richard Goldenberg,
New York National Guard 

This blog is part of a weekly series called “Medal of Honor Monday,” in which we’ll highlight one of the 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients who have earned the U.S. military’s highest medal for valor.

He was 26 years old, 5-foot-4, weighed 130 pounds and came from Albany, New York. And on the night of May 15, 1918, Pvt. Henry Johnson, a member of the all-black New York National Guard 369th Infantry Regiment, found himself fighting for his life against 20 German soldiers out in front of his unit’s trenchline.

New York Army National Guard Sgt. Henry Johnson, circa 1919. Johnson was part of the 369th Infantry Regiment, the Hellfighters from Harlem, who fought under French command in WWI as an all-black combat unit. Photo courtesy of the NYS Military Museum

Johnson fired the three rounds in his French-made rifle, tossed all his hand grenades and then grabbed his Army-issue bolo knife and started stabbing. He buried the knife in the head of one attacker and then disemboweled another German soldier.

“Each slash meant something, believe me,” Johnson said later. “There wasn’t anything so fine about it. … Just fought for my life. A rabbit would have done that.”

By the time what a reporter called “The Battle of Henry Johnson” was over, Johnson had been wounded 21 times and had become the first American hero of World War I.

Johnson’s actions that night brought attention to the African-American doughboys of the unit, the New York National Guard’s former 15th Infantry, redesignated the 369th for wartime service.

The 369th Infantry, detached under French command, arrived on the front-line trenches in the Champagne region on April 15, 1918. They were relieved to be free of supply and service tasks of past months and ready to join the fight, now under the command of the French 4th Army.

The American Expeditionary Forces detached the all-black regiment to bolster an ally and preserve racial segregation in the American command. The French were less concerned about racial inequality and welcomed the regiment that would earn its nickname as the “Hellfighters from Harlem.”

The regiment’s first battle would otherwise be a footnote in World War I history, fought by only two soldiers, were it not for the scrutiny the all-black regiment faced at the time.

After weeks of combat patrols, raids and artillery barrages, Pvts. Henry Johnson and his buddy Needham Roberts, 17, of Trenton New Jersey, stood watch near a bridge over the Aisne River at Bois d’Hauzy during the night of May 15.

An enemy patrol with an estimated 20 to 24 troops was determined to eliminate the outpost and bring prisoners back to learn about the all-black American force.

Around 2 a.m., shots rang out and the sounds of wire cutters alerted the two American soldiers. Johnson, opening a box of grenades, told Roberts to run back and alert the main line of defense. But at that moment, the first enemy grenades landed in their position.

Johnson stalled the German patrol with grenades of his own as Roberts was struck down with shrapnel wounds to his arm and hip. When out of grenades, he took up his French rifle.

“The Labelle rifle carries a magazine clip of but three cartridges,” noted Arthur Little, the 1st Battalion Commander in his 1936 book “From Harlem to the Rhine.”

“Johnson fired his three shots – the last one almost muzzle to breast of the Boche (German) bearing down upon him. As the German fell, a comrade jumped over his body, pistol in hand, to avenge his death. There was no time for reloading. Johnson swung his rifle round his head, and brought it down with a thrown blow upon the head of the German. The German went down, crying.”

President Barack Obama bestows the Medal of Honor to Sgt. Henry Johnson. Accepting on his behalf is Command Sgt. Maj. Louis Wilson, of the New York National Guard, in the East Room of the White House, June 2, 2015. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Bernardo Fuller

As Johnson looked over to assist Roberts, he saw two Germans lift him up to carry him off toward the German lines.

“Our men were unanimous in the opinion that death was to be preferred to a German prison,” Little wrote. “But Johnson was of the opinion that victory was to be preferred to either.”

Johnson reached for his bolo knife and charged. His aggressiveness took the Germans by surprise.

“As Johnson sprang, he unsheathed his bolo knife, and as his knees landed upon the shoulders of that ill-fated Boche, the blade of the knife was buried to the hilt through the crown of the German’s head.”

The Army adopted the bolo knife from its experience in the Philippine Insurrection of 1899. The big knife, used by Philippine insurgents, was heavily weighted along the back of its curved blade, and was devastating for close-quarter combat.

Turning to face the rest of the German patrol, Johnson was struck by a bullet from an automatic pistol, but continued to lunge forward, stabbing and slashing at the enemy.

The enemy patrol panicked, Little wrote. Overwhelmed by Johnson’s ferocity, and with the sound of French and American troops approaching, the Germans ran back into the night.

“The raiding party abandoned a considerable quantity of equipment (from which estimate of strength of party is made), a number of firearms, including automatic pistols, and carried away their wounded and dead,” reported the New York National Guard annual report of 1920.

By daylight, the carnage was clear. Even after suffering 21 wounds in hand-to-hand combat, Johnson had stopped the Germans from approaching the French line or capturing his fellow soldier.

“He killed one German with rifle fire, knocked one down with clubbed rifle, killed two with bolo, killed one with grenade, and, it is believed, wounded others,” the National Guard report said.

The French 16th Division, which commanded the Hellfighters, quickly recognized the actions of Johnson and Roberts. The two soldiers received the French Croix du Guerre, that country’s highest military honor.

The French orders, dated May 16, state Henry Johnson “gave a magnificent example of courage and energy.”

They were the first U.S. soldiers to earn this distinction, and Johnson’s medal included the coveted Gold Palm for extraordinary valor.

From that point on, Johnson was known as “Black Death.”

The regiment would go on to prove itself in combat operations through the rest of the war, receiving the Croix de Guerre for its unit actions alongside some 171 individual decorations for heroism.

Johnson would be singled out for his heroism and actions under fire. Former President Theodore Roosevelt called Johnson one of the “five bravest Americans” to serve in World War I.

The question of whether the African-American 15th New York Infantry would fight as well as any other unit was answered in the darkness of May 15, 1918.

After the war, Johnson and Roberts returned home as national heroes. Promoted to sergeant, Johnson led the New York City parade for the 369th in February 1919.

Johnson’s extensive injuries however, prevented his return to any normal civilian life. He had difficulty finding work. He died destitute in 1929 and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Some 97 years after his combat service in France in 1918, the Department of Defense reviewed his records and recommended his Medal of Honor, presented by then President Barack Obama in 2015.

“We are a nation – a people – who remember our heroes,” Obama said during the Medal of Honor ceremony at the White House. “We never forget their sacrifice, and we believe it’s never too late to say, ‘Thank you.’”

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Disclaimer: The appearance of hyperlinks does not constitute endorsement by the Department of Defense of this website or the information, products or services contained therein. For other than authorized activities such as military exchanges and Morale, Welfare and Recreation sites, the Department of Defense does not exercise any editorial control over the information you may find at these locations. Such links are provided consistent with the stated purpose of this DOD website.

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100 Years Ago, WWI’s 1st American Hero Fought For Life with a Knife

It’s Time to Make the Doughnuts! How to Build Your Business

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By Jose Ibarra
Defense Media Activity

So you have a business idea, you’ve done your research on the market and have the technical knowhow to produce and make it happen. But then reality sets in when it’s time for funding your dream. How do you make it happen?

I Have a Great Business Idea

After the military, some veterans go and start their own business and become very successful. But how did they do it? That road may not always be clear to someone who has never dealt with starting a business. So you start with an idea and a cool name for your idea, maybe even an attractive logo your friend who’s handy with Photoshop designed for you. You’re ready now and now one can stop you … right?

Oh, we need money, some good old-fashioned capital to make things happen.

OK: how are you going to get someone to see your vision of starting your dream business?

A lot of questions need to be answered before you even think of making that first dollar that you will proudly frame and display to remind you of how much your business has progressed.

Air Force veterans Rico and Shelenia Nelson own Krack of Dawn Donuts, which they were able to start using funds they got with help from the Small Business Administration. Photo courtesy of SBA

Business for Our Future

Waking up at the crack of dawn may not be everyone’s cup of tea – or coffee, for that matter – but someone has to make doughnuts for America. That’s exactly what Air Force veterans Shelenia and Rico Nelson are proudly doing at Krack of Dawn Donuts, a shop they own. For Shelenia and Rico, business ownership provided the independence to build a better future not just for their family, but especially for their disabled son, Cory.

“We wanted to give Cory more than what life was offering him,” Shelenia said. “Opening our doughnut shop, Krack of Dawn Donuts, has enabled our son to work beyond what we ever thought possible – and has also created a great economic opportunity for our family.”

Making It Happen

Shelenia and Rico had a business idea and made it happen, but not without its challenges. You need money to make money – capital – and like many new entrepreneurs, that was a challenge they faced. They pitched bank after bank and had no luck qualifying for a business loan. They pretty much felt like this idea of being a business owner might not become a reality until a Wells Fargo banker referred them to LiftFund. Then – cha-ching! – they got the break they needed to move forward on a life-changing entrepreneurial journey.

The referral to LiftFund was a dream saver, qualifying Shelenia for a $70,000 loan with a Small Business Administration guaranty.

“If it wasn’t for LiftFund, we wouldn’t be where we are now,” Shelenia said.  LiftFund is a designated SBA 7(a) Community Advantage lender, whose pilot program allows for the lending organization to provide more capital to a business if the business is lacking in collateral.

Taste of Success

Through their success at Krack of Dawn Donuts, Shelenia and Rico hope they can help other veterans who are seeking the dream of making their own mark in the civilian world.

Knowing is half the battle when it comes to starting a business. If you’re a military spouse, veteran or service member interested in starting, purchasing or growing a business, SBA’s ecosystem supports your path to finding your moment that matters. Visit SBA.gov/MyVetBiz to find out how.

Follow Sgt. 1st Class Jose Ibarra on Twitter: @IbarraDoDNews

Original blog posted by the Small Business Administration. 

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It’s Time to Make the Doughnuts! How to Build Your Business

A Message on Leadership to the West Point Class of 2018

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From the Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Public Affairs

The following is an excerpt of Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford’s keynote speech to the United States Military Academy Class of 2018 cadets during their graduation ceremony held at West Point, New York, May, 26, 2018. Remarks have been edited for brevity and clarity.

I want to personally thank you for answering the call to serve during a very challenging time. You chose to join an Army at war.

Today there are more than 178,000 soldiers actively supporting missions around the world. Many are in harm’s way, and they’re joined by thousands more sailors, airmen and Marines. As we celebrate today, I’d ask you to keep them and their families in your thoughts and prayers.

Dunford congratulates a U.S. Military Academy cadet during the commencement ceremony May 26, 2018. DoD photo by Army Sgt. James K. McCann

This is also Memorial Day weekend, and I’d ask you to be particularly mindful of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice and our Gold Star families.

While those of you graduating today should be proud of what you’ve accomplished, I know that you recognize you didn’t get here by yourself.

Appropriately enough, the superintendent had you recognize your families as we began the program. I think all of us on the dais have the best seat in the house today because we have the chance to look out there and see the faces of the parents, grandparents, siblings and friends – their faces beaming with pride, and they should be.

I’d also ask you to recognize the faculty and staff here at the academy. You couldn’t have the premier leadership experience in the world were it not for their efforts. And perhaps most importantly, they have shown you what right looks like and they also have reason to be proud of you today.

There were smiles abound as U.S. Military Academy cadets took their seats on the field to kick off their graduation ceremony May 26, 2018. DoD photo by Army Sgt. James K. McCann

Class of 2018, you might find it hard to imagine, but I’ve been in your shoes. Although it’s been 41 years ago this week, I can clearly recall my own graduation and commissioning and how anxious I was to get on with the next phase of my life.

I wasn’t particularly interested in what my graduation speaker had to say, and I’m going to make a bold assumption: I’m going to assume that many of you share that sentiment on graduation day about the graduation speaker.

So with that in mind, I won’t go long this morning. As you prepare for the challenges of Army leadership and the next chapter of your lives, I’d like to leave you with just a few thoughts.

The first point I would make is that the profession of arms is dynamic: To be successful, you have to anticipate and embrace the constant changes in the character of war.

Here at West Point, you have studied military history and you recall the price paid in the 20th century by armies that were slow to adapt.

One hundred years ago, leaders on both sides of World War I were slow to grasp the significance of emerging technologies and the changing character of war. The price for that delay was high – 10 million in uniform were killed, a figure that is unfathomable today.

To some extent, you can say the same about the eve of World War II. For example, while the blitzkrieg reflected the German’s appreciation for the potential of armor supported by close-air, major western armies continued to view the tank as merely an infantry support weapon.


Watch Dunford’s entire speech

Frankly, as we look back at change over the past century, most of the changes occurred after significant failure. But there were notable exceptions.

In the years before Vietnam, a small number of Army leaders considered how the helicopter might be employed to enhance mobility on the battlefield. Among them were men like Jim Gavin from the West Point class of ’29, Hamilton Howze from the class of ’30 and Hal Moore from the class of ’45. Their ideas rapidly evolved from articles and briefings to the 1965 combat deployment of the 1st Cavalry Division – airmobile.

These soldiers drove innovation that combined emerging technology with operational concepts. They fundamentally changed Army maneuver, and their ideas remain relevant today.

The moral of the story is that there is no substitute for taking a clear-eyed look at the threats we will face and asking how our force must adapt to meet those threats.

Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford renders honors alongside Army Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen, superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy, while the national anthem plays during the commencement ceremony for the U.S. Military Academy Class of 2018. DoD photo by Army Sgt. James K. McCann

There is no substitute for leaders like Jim Gavin who recognize the power of new ideas, new technologies and new concepts. More importantly, there is no substitute for leaders like Hal Moore with a bias for action and the drive to affect change. And for the Class of 2018, I believe the need to aggressively lead change is going to be particularly important to you.

I say that because the pace of change and the speed of war has greatly accelerated, and, in many ways, the environment you’re going to lead in is very different than the one that confronted lieutenants in 1918, 1968, or frankly, even in 2008.

So regardless of where you find yourself serving in our Army, challenge yourself to be the kind of leader that continues to think about, write about, and lead change. Bring your intellectual curiosity and your openness to new ideas that you established here at West Point, bring that with you forward in your days as an Army leader.

Be inspired by those soldiers who pioneered air assault and the many others who have enabled the Army to adapt and win throughout our nation’s history.

U.S. Military Academy cadets react after receiving their diplomas during their graduation ceremony, May 26, 2018. DoD photo by Army Sgt. James K. McCann

Class of 2018, earlier I mentioned how clearly I remember my graduation day and how disinterested I was in the speaker, but there is something else I remember about the day I was commissioned.

Like you, I had studied military history and I remember finding it difficult to identify with the exploits and courage of those who went before me.

I remember wondering how I would meet the expectations of my future platoon. How would I respond if I was called to lead them in harm’s way? Or how would I deal with tough leadership issues that we know we will all experience? I wondered if I would remember anything that I learned in school.

You may be sitting here at this point having similar thoughts. You may wonder how you’ll measure up to your predecessors: the Pattons, the Eisenhowers or the Bradleys.

Closer to home, you may wonder how you’ll measure up to some of the leaders who have influenced you here at West Point.

U.S. Military Academy cadets march onto the field to kick off their graduation ceremony May 26, 2018. DoD photo by Army Sgt. James K. McCann

But if you look at how these leaders succeeded, I believe you’ll recognize the method. And you’ll remember that the fundamentals of leadership are the most important aspect of our profession. And they are a part of our profession that hasn’t changed since President Jefferson founded this institution in 1802.

The primary reason your predecessors were successful is that they recognized that after West Point, it was no longer about their individual capabilities. They knew it was about their team. They knew it was about instilling an esprit in their units and a will to fight in their individual soldiers. They knew it was about establishing a bond of absolute trust between the leaders and the led. In the end, they knew that character, competence, courage and commitment are all part of the sticker price of being an Army leader. After West Point, you get no more credit for that – it’s a given.

When you check into your units, your soldiers will just want to know that you’ll lead from the front and put their interests ahead of your own.

To paraphrase one of your more quotable predecessors, General George Patton: “Wars may be fought with weapons, but they are won by men and women. It is the spirit of the soldiers who follow and of the officers who lead that gain victory.”

U.S. Military Academy cadets throw their hats up as their graduation ceremony concludes May 26, 2018. DoD photo by Army Sgt. James K. McCann

Class of 2018, what I’m really telling you is this: If you take care of your soldiers, they’ll take care of you. If you lead, they will follow, and together, you’ll take the hill.

Thank you in advance for taking care of the young men and women who will proudly follow your lead, and thanks for carrying on the traditions of the long gray line.

God bless you, Semper Fidelis and Army strong.

Learn more about the 950+ cadets who make up West Point’s Class of 2018:

Today’s the day! This morning, #USMA2018 will graduate from #USMA and commission into the #USArmy as second lieutenants and join the #LongGrayLine.

Posted by West Point – The U.S. Military Academy on Saturday, May 26, 2018

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A Message on Leadership to the West Point Class of 2018

The Royal Wedding: Joining Together Military Kids on Both Sides of the Atlantic

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Diana Hosford holding an American flag and TAPS seal on the steps outside of St. George’s Chapel at the Royal Wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. Photo courtesy of Diana Hosford

By Diana Hosford,
Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors

About a month ago, I received surprising but exciting news – at the request of a U.K.-based charity called The Diana Award, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) would be invited to the Royal Wedding, and I would attend to represent our national organization that provides compassionate care to the families of America’s fallen military heroes.

The Diana Award encourages and empowers young people to create change in their communities as a living legacy to the Princess of Wales.

I had first met Diana Award CEO Tessy Ojo at a TAPS event earlier this year. We began to speak about how these children in the U.K. are a living legacy to the princess just as surviving military children in the U.S. are the living legacy of the service and sacrifice of their fallen loved one. We decided that a program to mentor bereaved British children in the way similar to how we mentor bereaved American children would be a wonderful way to start off our partnership.

In the coming months, we will establish a team of military mentors drawn from all three services in the U.K. Fortunately, there is already a British Army officer who has been volunteering with TAPS since 2013; he will help us recruit, grow and train our team.

We will also be working with another partner organization called Scotty’s Little Soldiers, an English organization that provides opportunities for surviving military children. Our heroes have long worked side-by-side on the battlefield as part of a coalition, so it makes good sense for our families to come together on the home front to support one another as well.

The Duchess of Sussex waves to representatives from Prince Harry’s charities before the start of the carriage ride. Photo by Diana Hosford

A few weeks after receiving Tessy’s invitation to attend the Royal Wedding festivities with The Diana Award, one of Prince Harry’s charities, I arrived in England.

I felt a tremendous responsibility to honor our fallen heroes and their surviving families, so I wore a dragonfly on my hat – a symbol of a loved one who has passed who is watching over us. It was a lovely way to recognize these families and their fallen heroes and to acknowledge the late Princess Diana as she watched over her son on his most special day.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex leaving St. George’s Chapel. Photo by Diana Hosford

The occasion was a celebration of the love and unity of these two people coming together, their families coming together, and our countries coming together.

How fitting that at the same time, TAPS and The Diana Award are also coming together to do wonderful things for military children on both sides of the pond.

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The Royal Wedding: Joining Together Military Kids on Both Sides of the Atlantic

Active Duty? Enroll to Continue TRICARE Coverage After Retirement

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By TRICARE.mil staff

Retiring from active duty – whether a medical retirement or a regular retirement – is a significant life event. You should know before you retire which TRICARE programs best suit your and your family’s needs.

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Once you retire, you’ll only have 90 days from your retirement date to enroll in a TRICARE plan to continue TRICARE coverage. Otherwise, you will have no TRICARE purchased care coverage and will only be able to access care at military hospitals and clinics on a space-available basis.

If you retire from active duty and are under age 65, you can choose either TRICARE Prime (where available) or TRICARE Select (available worldwide). You should decide before you retire which one is best for you.

You may reenroll in TRICARE Prime if you live in a Prime Service Area or live within 100 miles of an available primary care manager and waive your drive-time access standards. You can see if you live in a PSA by using the TRICARE Plan Finder.

If you choose not to reenroll in TRICARE Prime or don’t live in a PSA, then you may enroll in TRICARE Select. With TRICARE Select, you can see any TRICARE-authorized provider you choose, but you save money when you use TRICARE network providers. Referrals are not required for most health care services, but some services require prior authorization from your TRICARE regional contractor.

If you live overseas, you may seek coverage under TRICARE Overseas Program (TOP) Select. TOP Prime and TOP Prime Remote options are not available after retirement.

If you or a family member are, or become, entitled to premium-free Medicare Part A after your retirement, you or they will lose TRICARE coverage unless enrolled in Medicare Part B. With Medicare parts A and B, you or they will have coverage under TRICARE For Life.

For more information on how to enroll in a TRICARE plan, visit Enroll or Purchase a Plan on the TRICARE website. Learn more about TRICARE plans during retirement in the Retiring from Active Duty Brochure.

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Disclaimer: The appearance of hyperlinks does not constitute endorsement by the Department of Defense of this website or the information, products or services contained therein. For other than authorized activities such as military exchanges and Morale, Welfare and Recreation sites, the Department of Defense does not exercise any editorial control over the information you may find at these locations. Such links are provided consistent with the stated purpose of this DOD website.

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Active Duty? Enroll to Continue TRICARE Coverage After Retirement