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U.S. Army Africa Soldiers apply lessons of WWII to existing mission
By Rick Scavetta, U.S. Army Africa
KAIROUAN, Tunisia – Col. Stephen Mariano looked down into a foxhole carved atop a rocky hill leading close to El Guettar, exactly where in March 1943, troops from U.S. Army II Corps battled German panzers.
Nearby, retired Army Col. Len Fullenkamp conjured tales of U.S. Army Rangers beneath Lt. Col. William Darby marching via darkness along a nearby ridge to surprise sleeping enemy infantrymen with fixed bayonets. Soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division hacked fighting positions from strong rock as enemy tanks rumbled into the valley. U.S. Army artillery units skimmed shells across the desert at approaching German armor.
Mariano began to wonder, “Had my grandfather dug 1 of these foxholes? Was his artillery position someplace nearby? Did he fire on Germans coming through this gap?”
Mariano, 45, of Redlands, Calif., was amongst several U.S. Army Africa officers who took part in a four-day “staff ride,” – onsite discussions of Tunisia’s World War II battlefields geared toward finding insights into U.S. Army Africa’s present challenge – building cooperative relationships with African land forces to improve safety, stability and peace in the area.
In late 1942, U.S. forces landed in North Africa with British troops. Their initial fights have been with Vichy French units, who later joined the Allied trigger. Collectively, they pushed east into Tunisia, where they clashed with German and Italian troops amongst craggy, cactus-covered hills and washed out wadis.
As a U.S. Army Africa’s strategic planner, a appear back at the alliance among American, British and French forces presented Mariano a glimpse at an international coalitions’ increasing pains and how friction in between partners can doom a mission. On a far more personal level, the staff ride allowed him to recapture his family’s previous.
Henry Mariano, Sr., was a sergeant with the 2nd Battalion, 62nd Armored Field Artillery Regiment who survived combat in North Africa, Italy and France just before being wounded for the duration of the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium.
“This staff ride is a historic event, on a historic occasion, separated by 67 years,” Mariano mentioned. “To be here, where my grandfather was, is fairly potent to me.”
The tour started May possibly 27 outdoors Sidi Bou Zid, where U.S. forces suffered a horrible defeat in mid-February 1943. They stopped for the evening in Gafsa, a city in Central Tunisia that changed hands among Allied and Axis forces a number of times for the duration of the campaign.
The second day, they focused on the Allied defeat at Kasserine Pass, followed by the U.S. Army’s first strong gains against veteran German troops in the counterattack at El Guettar. The next day, U.S. Army Africa Soldiers ventured east to concentrate on British Gen. Bernard Montgomery’s attempt to punch by way of Axis defenses at the coastal town of Enfidaville, roughly 40 miles southeast of Tunis.
Perched on a craggy knoll close to Takrouna, Col. David Buckingham, U.S. Army Africa’s senior operations officer, bent the spine of Atkinson’s book, deep in thought about how for two days in mid-April 1942, New Zealanders came to death grips with Italian defenders in the limestone foothills outdoors Enfidaville.
Afterward, they paid respects to French and British Commonwealth troops buried nearby.
“Tying this employees ride together with Memorial Day, taking time to greater understanding leadership and really feel the sacrifice of our soldiers, has been each poignant and educational,” Buckingham stated.
At each and every quit, officers thumbed by means of worn copies of Rick Atkinson’s “An Army At Dawn,” at their hip as Fullenkamp spoke of the bravery, heroics, ingenuity, lunacy and debacles of the North African campaign. Soon after discussions, they poked by way of thorn bushes and cacti along the rocky terrain, browsing for battlefield remnants.
At El Guettar, Maj. Gen. William B. Garrett III, commander of U.S. Army Africa, identified a tin C-ration can and passed it to his senior logistics officer, Col. Mike Balser. Other folks found shards of shells and bullet casings. Lt. Col. David Konop, the command’s public affairs officer, located a hyperlink from a 30-caliber machine gun belt.
It was tough to not be overwhelmed in the presence of such history, to stroll this consecrated ground, Fullenkamp mentioned.
Like the 34th Infantry Division, they climbed the hills close to Fondouk Pass. They stood in the cold rain beneath Longstop Hill, just as the U.S. Army’s 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment had when they relieved the 2nd Battalion of the British Coldstream Guards, about Christmas 1942.
The U.S. Army Africa tour wrapped up in the Tunisian capital, Tunis, the prize the Allies had fought seven months to pry away from German control. The Soldeirs took portion in a Could 31 Memorial Day ceremony at the North Africa American Cemetery and Memorial near Carthage, Tunisia.
All agreed that their knowledge in Tunisia was in contrast to walking the U.S. battlefield of Gettysburg, tracing the footsteps of Pickett’s males from Spangler’s Woods to the Emmitsburg Road. Nor was it like stepping from the shores of Normandy onto Omaha beach’s Dog Green sector on D-Day staff rides.
This tour was focused on lessons the U.S. Army learned more than the course of a seven-month campaign across North Africa.
“No one’s ever carried out some thing like this, in this context, ahead of. We’re making use of the book ‘An Army At Dawn’ and we are an Army Service Component Command at dawn,” Mariano said. “That’s the connection. It’s brilliant. “
Early on, Garrett challenged his staff to ask tough queries along the way and encouraged them to talk about tactical operations, but also appear for insights into overall strategic objectives. In North Africa, U.S. Army leaders discovered revolutionary techniques to develop and succeed against usually-insurmountable odds, he mentioned.
“Talking about the past, in the present, that is what this is about,” Garrett said. “This staff ride is just a mechanism, a tool for assisting us think about the challenges leaders faced in Africa in the course of World War II and applying insights to our present concentrate.”
U.S. Army photo by Rick Scavetta
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