Guard Soldier’s Father Forges Tokens of Appreciation for the Nation’s Heroes

Since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Randy Dack has made more than 4,000 “lucky” horseshoes for military service members worldwide. Randy made his first “Soldier’s shoe” for his son, Adam, prior to his first deployment in 2002 with the Nebraska Army National Guard’s 1-134th Cavalry. (Photo by SGT Jessica Villwok.)

GRAND ISLAND, Neb. – Randy Dack still remembers every detail from Sept. 11, 2001.

Randy, the blacksmith at Grand Island’s Stuhr Museum, vividly remembers hearing, “they just hit the World Trade Center.”

As terrible as the attacks were, Randy admits that his most immediate thoughts went to his son who had recently joined the Nebraska Army National Guard.

“Adam had been in boot camp about two weeks on that day,” he says.

Adam made it back home to Nebraska from Basic Training, but he didn’t stay there for long. Shortly after his return in 2002, Adam, who now serves as a Sergeant First Class in Hastings’ Troop A, 1-134th Cavalry, began preparing for a peacekeeping mission to Bosnia-Herzegovina.

After hearing the news that his son was heading overseas as part of a major mobilization of National Guard Soldiers, Randy, who began his career as a farrier, remembered the story of Dunstan the Blacksmith, the devil, and how a horseshoe came to be lucky.

In the story, a blacksmith named Dunstan was working in his shop when the devil walked by and became intrigued by the sound of a pounding anvil. When the devil realized the blacksmith was making horseshoes to protect a horse’s hooves, he thought that as a cloven-hoofed animal himself, that he, too, should have horseshoes to protect his feet.

So, the devil made a deal with the blacksmith to make him shoes. The blacksmith, realizing whom he was dealing with, ensured that every shoe he put on to the devil’s foot was still red hot from the fire while driving the nails down deep into the devil’s feet. After all of the shoes were on, the devil paid the blacksmith and left. Knowing it was bad luck to do business with the devil, the blacksmith threw the money into the fire.

Later, as the devil walked down the road, the nails drove deeper into his feet. Finally, unable to take any more pain, the devil stopped alongside a well and tore the shoes off, throwing them down the well.

To this day, it is a blacksmith tradition to ring one’s anvil three times at the end of the day to drive the devil out until the next morning, or, if the devil sees a horseshoe, he turns and runs away from it, remembering all the pain and torture the shoes had caused him.

“That is the reason a horseshoe is supposed to bring you good luck,” Randy says.

With that story in mind, Randy decided to make a miniature horseshoe for his son to carry in his pocket during his deployment. It would soon come to be known as the Soldier’s shoe.

Before leaving for Bosnia, Adam went to visit his dad at the museum one more time. He listened to the story as he looked at the keepsake. “That way you can carry your luck with you on the field,” Randy told Adam after the story.

Randy recalls, “Adam just stood there for a minute and looked up at me and said, ‘Every guy in my troop needs one.’”

“So, I made 65 more to give to every Soldier from his troop to take with them to Bosnia.”

All 65 Soldiers and horseshoes made it home safely, but they didn’t stay home for long.

Soon, the unit was notified of another deployment to Iraq, and a few years later, they were off to Afghanistan. Before the Afghanistan deployment, Randy once again made horseshoes for the entire unit, but this time at the request of Major General (MG) Judd Lyons, Nebraska adjutant general at the time. After MG Lyons learned about the keepsakes from Adam’s commander, he wanted to make sure all Soldiers could carry their luck with them in the field.

Randy gladly made enough horseshoes for every Soldier.

After that request, Randy began keeping horseshoes with him to give to any service member he came across. He has passed out horseshoes at gas stations, restaurants, and the Stuhr Museum. He also continues to tell recipients the story behind the symbol.

“It has just become a tradition, and working here at the museum, I have seen a lot of Soldiers come through. You can always tell a Soldier.”

He could even see the Soldier in an old friend he hadn’t seen in years. It turns out one of Randy’s high school classmates had chosen the Army as his career path.

Frederick Drummond, who at the time was a Major with the 82nd Airborne Division, came by the Stuhr Museum one day. Randy continued his new tradition of telling the story of Dunstan while he made his old friend a horseshoe to take home.

The next summer, MAJ Drummond came back to the museum while home on leave. He told Randy he thought he had lost his horseshoe which he later found. The close call made MAJ Drummond realize how much the tiny horseshoe meant to him and that he wanted all of his 500 troops in the 82nd to have horseshoes for their deployment.

Randy filled the order and just a month later, he received a phone call requesting more.

“It turns out one of the guys from the 82nd had been talking to someone in the 101st Airborne,” Randy says. “The 101st ordered 500 shoes.”

“We recruited friends to help with that,” laughs Sarah Dack, Randy’s wife.

It’s easy to see the pride Sarah and Randy have, not only in their son, but for all the men and women serving their country.

“Since 2002, my wife and I have given out well over 4,000 horseshoes,” Randy says. “I’ve got horseshoes under the ocean in submarines, in the Air Force, Army, and Marines. All branches.”

Randy and Sarah are all smiles as they talk about the service members and families they’ve touched, and hope they are making a small difference, even for those they’ve never met.

There have also been some tough memories created through their efforts.

“This story is hard to tell,” Randy says, his voice choking up.

One busy summer afternoon as Randy worked in his museum blacksmith shop, he noticed a young man standing in the back of the crowd wearing a Marine Corps shirt, missing part of one leg and standing on crutches. The man waited for the crowd to leave before he approached the blacksmith. “I hate to ask,” Randy recalls saying, “but did that happen overseas?”

The Marine replied yes and began telling his story.

The young man had joined the Marines out of high school. Shortly after finishing training he was deployed to Iraq, and was in country for three weeks when his vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device. When he woke up, he was at Landstuhl Medical Center in Germany.

A nurse approached the wounded Marine and they began talking. She told the Marine about the vacation she and her husband took before she left for deployment. They had gone to a little museum in Nebraska that had a blacksmith who told the story about the Devil and the horseshoe. The nurse pulled a little horseshoe out of her pocket and handed it to the recovering Marine. She told him to take it because he needed it more than she did.

Then, as he stood in the blacksmith’s shop balancing on his crutches, the young Marine veteran dug into his pocket and pulled out the horseshoe.

“‘This shoe hasn’t left me since that day,’” Randy recalls the Marine saying. “‘I just got out of Bethesda (Naval Hospital) and I wasn’t going to go home to San Francisco without going through Nebraska and finding that museum and that blacksmith to say thank you.’”

After hearing the story, Randy made the Marine another horseshoe and asked him if he knew the nurse’s name and address, to which the Marine replied yes. Randy gave the Marine the second horseshoe and told him to send it back to her.

“That story of the Marine,” Randy says with watery eyes, “I still about lose it every time I tell it. When he left, I had to close the shop in the middle of the afternoon.”

“I cry every time he talks about that,” says his wife.

After discovering a miniature horseshoe similar to the ones Randy makes himself at a gun show in Hastings, Neb., it turns out the gesture has been practiced by blacksmiths for decades. Randy looked at the horseshoe – almost identical in every detail to the ones he makes – and then turned it over. On the back was the date – 1942. In 1942 there was a blacksmith in the Cavalry at Fort Hood, Texas, who made small horseshoes for every Soldier in his troop before they were sent overseas.

Randy now encourages other blacksmiths to do the same for service members.

“I’ve presented at one of the national blacksmithing conventions about doing this and sending these over,” Randy says. “Hopefully there are a lot more blacksmiths who are doing it.”

Randy and Sarah say they know what sacrifices military members and their families make. The horseshoes are just small ways to say thank you, to let them know they are not forgotten, and that they appreciate the fact that service members are missing birthdays, anniversaries, ball games, and family gatherings to serve.

“We just want to say thank you,” Randy said. “When they reach in their pockets and feel the horseshoe, it reminds them that there are people back home thinking of them.”

It takes a special person to promise to defend the American way of life at any cost. The Army National Guard has been defending grateful citizens of the State and the Nation for 382 years, making this branch of the U.S. military older than the country itself. If you want to be part of a proud legacy of serving part-time in your community during a crisis like a natural disaster, or protecting your fellow citizens overseas when your country needs you, contact a local recruiter to learn more.

From an original article by SGT Jessica Villwock, 11th Public Affairs Detachment, Nebraska Army National Guard, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil in January 2019.

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California Officer Balances Guard Service with Teaching the Next Generation of Medicine

KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – To the Soldiers assigned to Train, Advise and Assist Command-South (TAAC-South), Major (MAJ) Nathan Wall, with the California Army National Guard’s 40th Infantry Division, is simply the deputy logistics and medical operations officer for the unit.

However, back home in Loma Linda, Calif., he goes by Dr. Wall, especially with the students of Loma Linda University School of Medicine, where he is a professor.

“I teach molecular genetics and biochemistry to first- and second-year medical students,” MAJ Wall says. “I am also the program director for the Ph.D. programs in biochemistry and in cancer biology for the Ph.D. students.”

MAJ Wall also leads a research group within the university that studies the biochemical and genetic issues associated with cancer.

“We focus on the understanding of how cells undergo a process called apoptosis, or programmed cell death, in hopes that by understanding this process we can design experimental therapeutics that will induce this phenomenon in cancer cells,” he explains.

Balancing Civilian/Military Roles

With a very active role in the university, MAJ Wall manages to balance life as a professor and a California Army Guard Soldier.

“MAJ Wall is a caring and thorough officer,” says Army MAJ Erik Underwood, logistics officer for TAAC-South. “He truly embodies what we call a Citizen-Soldier®; he is exactly the type of leader and Soldier the [Army] National Guard looks for.”

MAJ Wall says he was motivated to enlist after watching the fall of the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York on 9/11.

“It was heart wrenching, and I knew then that I wanted to join Army.”

At the time, he was at Yale University completing a post-doctoral fellowship, and chose to complete his original plans before joining the Army.

Following Yale, he moved with his family to Massachusetts to complete his second post-doctoral training at Harvard Medical School. Only after moving to California to work at Loma Linda University was he able to commission with the California Guard.

“I have been in the Army for 10 years now, and I can say I have never had a bad day in uniform.”

During his time with the Guard, MAJ Wall has served in medical, logistics, and operations specialties. While each required a different focus, the officer has been able to make transitions easily.

“[He] has transitioned from the medical side to logistics very well, and has been able to tie in both branches,” says MAJ Underwood, a native of Yorba Linda, Calif. “His desire to learn, as you can see from his educational background, I believe, has made him successful in his transition.”

MAJ Wall gives credit to his wife and kids for his successes as both a professor and Soldier.

“I would have never joined [the Army] if my wife wouldn’t have joined with me,” he says. “Even though I am serving [in Afghanistan] now, they are serving back in the States in my absence.”

Though he and his family have to deal with separation during deployments and training as part of military life, it’s something the family has experience with from MAJ Wall’s time in graduate school.

MAJ Nathan Wall, of the California Army National Guard’s 40th Infantry Division and the deputy logistics officer for Train, Advise and Assist Command-South in Afghanistan, works in his office in Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. (Photo by Army SSG Neysa Canfield, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division.)

MAJ Nathan Wall, of the California Army National Guard’s 40th Infantry Division and the deputy logistics officer for Train, Advise and Assist Command-South in Afghanistan, works in his office in Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. (Photo by Army SSG Neysa Canfield, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division.)

Serving in uniform and educating others in the classroom complement each other, he says, adding that he doesn’t consider himself only a professor or only a Soldier – he’s both.

“For me, one makes the other better. As a Soldier, the skills that I am able to develop affect who I am as a professor, as a father, son, and spouse, and vice versa.”

Nearing End of Deployment

As his nine-month deployment at TAAC-South nears the end, MAJ Wall says he is excited to see his family and his students back at Loma Linda.

“Whenever I get an opportunity, I take some time to put some of my lessons together in preparation for my return to the school,” he says. “I am very thankful for the university and their patience and their ability to let me be a Soldier.”

MAJ Underwood says he feels grateful to have had the opportunity to have MAJ Wall as part of his team during the deployment.

“I think our unit made a great decision in picking MAJ Wall for this deployment,” MAJ Underwood says. “He has done a lot of good for Afghanistan and TAAC-South. The fact that he has a very successful career in his civilian life shows how patriotic he is and how much he wants to serve his country.”

So, if you are interested in having a civilian career and serving your country and community, both of these things can be done simultaneously when you join the Army National Guard.

Guard service is part-time, which gives Soldiers the flexibility to pursue a career outside of the military. Plus, with the Guard’s education benefits, paying for college or a trade school is easier than you might think. Guard Soldiers also receive training in a career in fields like engineering, aviation, infantry, transportation, and more. Check out all of the options on our job board, and contact your local recruiter to learn more.

From an original article by Army SSG Neysa Canfield, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil in August.

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STEM Careers in the Guard: A Spotlight on Science

This fall, On Your Guard is taking a look at STEM, or Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, careers offered by the Army National Guard. These are jobs that require problem solving skills and a strong desire to figure out how things work. They are also typically high paying jobs that are in demand in the civilian workforce.

So why is that important? Because Guard service is typically a part-time commitment, many of our Soldiers make the most of their skills training and the Guard’s education benefits to build successful full-time civilian careers.

This week, we’ll take a look at Science careers.

If you’re good at analyzing complex problems and finding ways to solve them, you may be interested in one of the Army National Guard’s science careers. These can range from jobs in medicine to biology, chemistry, physics and environmental science.

First Lieutenant (1LT) Michelle Warner-Hersey, who joined the Guard after college, applied her dual degree in the science-related fields of athletic training and sports management – and a minor in coaching – to become a 74A Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Officer in the Ohio National Guard.

Chemical Units are trained to defend against weapons of mass destruction that could involve chemical, biological, nuclear, or radiological agents.

1LT Warner-Hersey and her team, the 155th Chemical Battalion, are trained on how to use personal protective gear to enter a contaminated area, and how to use detection equipment that allows them to assess and understand the environment, “knowing whether we’re entering an area that is suitable for life or not suitable for life, whether it can be mitigated by our protection equipment, or we need to get back out and get something at a higher level.” 

1LT Michelle Warner-Hersey of the Ohio National Guard

1LT Michelle Warner-Hersey of the Ohio National Guard

The team’s objectives are contamination avoidance, determining what contaminants they might be dealing with, and conducting decontamination to ensure that the team is not bringing anything hazardous outside, thereby expanding the contamination area.

“The mission, in general, is to save lives, mitigate human suffering and prepare for follow on forces.”

So far, 1LT Warner-Hersey has not had to respond to any disasters.

“We learned a lot from 9/11. Luckily all of our information is kind of in the what-if world, because we haven’t had to deal the hazards of mustard gas or Agent Orange and things that used to be used,” she explains. “Even things like 9/11 when there wasn’t a specific hazard, but everyone was affected by the dust, smoke, and asbestos, those are things we could have responded to and maybe will in the future.”

Or, as she and members of her Unit like to say, “We train really hard to hope to never do our job.” 

To be able to do this kind of job, 1LT Warner-Hersey says Soldiers will have to be able to understand how chemicals, radiological material, and biological agents react. This requires an aptitude for science and math. And while 1LT Warner-Hersey always liked science, she says math was not her strong suit.

Her determination solved that problem. 

“I just studied a lot and got a lot of help, mainly because I was so interested in the science part that I didn’t have a choice but to figure out how to learn the math side.” 

A CBRN Soldier will also have to be able to make quick decisions, says 1LT Warner-Hersey. She notes that protective gear can make communication difficult because it can inhibit motor function, and masks can make it more difficult for speech to be understood.

Those obstacles, too, are overcome in training by acclimatizing the body to the protective gear.

“You really have to figure out how to handle yourself in a really stressful, fast-paced environment when you’re limited on how you function normally.”

That includes things like speaking differently to be understood through a mask and using hand and arm signals.

For more on what the equipment and a training exercise look like, check out this video, which features 1LT Warner-Hersey and her former Unit. 

Training in the CBRN field can also translate to civilian careers, especially in working for HAZMAT teams or providing HAZMAT training. 1LT Warner-Hersey says she knows of Soldiers who’ve applied their skills to work in crime labs, lab testing and drug testing on the civilian side.

So if you have the aptitude for, and an interest in, a career in science, be sure to visit our job board to check out these Military Occupational Specialties (MOSs):

74D Chemical Operations Specialist

12Y Geospatial Engineer 

68A Medical Equipment Repairer

92L Petroleum Laboratory Specialist

94H Test, Measurement and Diagnostic Equipment Maintenance Support Specialist

Guard careers in closely related fields, like Engineering, Math, and Technology might also be of interest to you. One way to narrow down your options is to contact your local recruiter.

 

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