“Army Journalist of the Year: Gary Bloomfield”
“I was an Army brat, so we moved every few years. When I was 3 to 5, we lived in France, until De Gaulle decided to kick all U.S. Forces out, giving us 72 hours to leave. I had a French nanny, and when we came back to the States, I only spoke French, so for two years, I was put in Special Ed at school, until I learned English. My dad was an NCO with Army Air Defense Command, so we ended up at Air Force bases, so I always felt like a bastard step-child, since most of the other ‘brats’ were Air Force. I spent elementary school in Colorado Springs, junior high in south Kansas City, and high school in Stuttgart, Germany, where I met my wife, still happily married, 46 years and counting.”
Describe to me the moment you decided to join the military. Who or what led you to that decision?
“Not my decision to join the military. I was drafted, lottery #16, in the very last year of the draft. Anyone under #125 could expect to get the notice from Uncle Sam. My father was an Army Sergeant Major, had already been to Vietnam, and figured I’d end up there, so he wanted me to get a student deferment. I was taking a few classes at the University of Texas in El Paso at the time and could have gotten the postponement, but I didn’t want to get my college degree, then still have to serve, so I told him no. Then he encouraged me to run off to Canada, wait a few years until the war was over, then possibly get amnesty and return to the States. That would have been an easy move because I have many relatives in Toronto. But again I refused. I actually thought that was a somewhat hypocritical suggestion on my dad’s part because a few years earlier he felt heavyweight champion Cassius Clay – the future Muhammad Ali — had been unpatriotic for refusing to serve, and was stripped of his title. And now dad was asking me to run off to Canada to avoid military service. Again I said no, shipped out to Fort Polk, Louisiana. I was sent to Korea instead of Nam.”
(Soldier on Korean DMZ looking into North Korea)
What was your job in the Army? What type of training did you have to undergo to be certified for that position?
“I started out as an Army journalist, went back to the same school for advanced training as a photo-journalist and newspaper editor. All of the military services send students, including civilians to the Defense Information School. Along the way, I also picked up a secondary MOS as a video cameraman. In Germany, I was with the U.S. Army Europe News Team, carrying 2 Nikon cameras, a video camera, bulky VHS recorder, and tripod, plus a backpack with film, batteries, VHS tapes, charger, cords, etc.”
(German WW2 veteran)
Who are some of the soldiers you worked with that had an impact on your service?
“My NCOIC when I was editor for the 2nd Infantry Division’s INDIANHEAD newspaper in Korea, was Sergeant First Class Sheppard Kelly, and he tormented the hell outta me on a daily basis. He demanded excellence and wouldn’t accept anything less and often made me re-do an article I’d written or re-do a newspaper page he felt didn’t look right, often very late at night. After getting verbally beat down so often I learned to do things right the first time, and do my very best on even simple mundane tasks. I hated him then, but Sheppard Kelly has had more influence on me as a military photo-journalist and as a published author than anyone I’ve ever known. Fortunately, in recent years we’ve reconnected, long distance, and my next book – on the Korean DMZ – is dedicated to Sheppard Kelly.”
(Republic of Korea Solider)
When you hear the term “leader” who is the first person that comes to mind?
“Army Lieutenant Colonel Ted Behncke, executive officer with the Kansas City Recruiting Battalion, when I was the public affairs chief. He treated everyone with respect and acted as a buffer for a commander who was slightly bonkers. We keep in touch, and I’m glad to call him a close friend.”
Describe to me your most profound experience while wearing a uniform.
“For my writings with the 2nd Infantry Division in Korea, I was selected as the Army Journalist of the Year, and this opened a variety of jobs if I wanted, including a stint with Soldiers Magazine, or European Stars and Stripes or Pacific Stars and Stripes. I got orders for Germany, and took a chance with a newly created assignment, as part of the fledgling U.S. Army Europe News Team. It included coverage of the World Helicopter Championships in Poland; the International Military Pilgrimage to Lourdes, France, the European Military Ski Championship in Switzerland, Pope John Paul II’s visit to Germany, plus numerous trips to the former Iron Curtain and the divided city of Berlin.”
“I was scheduled to shoot photos and video footage of a massed parachute jump at the Mannheim Air Show. The plan was for me to lie down on the back ramp of a Chinook helicopter, with a video camera lashed to the ramp to film the parachute team as it ran out the back. I would photograph the jumpers as they descended, while other members of my news team would cover them from the ground. But three days before the air show my mother called to say my dad had terminal cancer and that I needed to get home right away to say goodbye. I told her I could fly out the next Monday after the air show, but she said that would be too late, so reluctantly I told my team members that I would have to fly home right away, and that someone else would have to take my place on the Chinook. Two days later I arrived at the hospital and walked into my dad’s room. He was sleeping so I looked around and saw a news flash on the TV – “Chinook helicopter crash at Mannheim Air Show. All on board dead.” I was stunned and wondered who from my team was on the Chinook. Later I found out that two had taken my place – one to shoot video and the other to shoot 35mm black and white and color photos. That was more than 35 years ago, and still, every year, on the anniversary of the Air Show tragedy, I prefer to be alone and remember the friends I lost and the paratroopers and aircrew who perished that day. My dad survived another year, but I had to get out of the Army to take care of my parents and started going to college, on the GI bill.”
What taste, touch, or smell symbolizes the Army to you?
“My mom was a lousy cook, and I can honestly say I can’t think of one dish she made that I miss. While everyone else at basic training complained about the food, I loved it. The one smell that brings back miserable memories is diesel exhaust. In Korea, back in the mid-70s, I often rode in a Gamma Goat, and the smoke fumes often seeped into the cabin area. The Goat also busted eardrums and rattled the bones, and my body ached for hours every time I crawled out to stretch my legs. As far as ‘touch’ I recall the bitter cold of the winters in Korea. Just breathing in the bitter cold air, it felt like I was getting mini-icicles on my lungs.”
(M60 Tank firing)
How has military service changed you? How have you continued to serve after the Army?
“I grew up as an Army brat, was drafted and served as a photojournalist for ten years, got my bachelors and masters degrees on the GI bill, then served as managing editor for VFW magazine for six years, and in Army public affairs for another 14, so I’ve been ‘in the Army’ all my life. The transition to civilian life has been simple, because now I’m a published author, writing about the military and American history. I also mentor others writing their own books. For the Veterans Writing Project, I’ve mentored hospitalized veterans and judged their entries while I was with VFW magazine. And lately, I’ve been helping transitioning vets with the resumes and LinkedIn Profiles.”
What should the average civilian know about the military?
“The American military today is the most powerful in the world. Unfortunately, due to the continuing wars on terrorism, our service men and women (and their families) endure multiple deployments. Eventually, it takes a toll, on the service members, their spouses, and their children, and very few outside of the military community can fathom that impact. Unfortunately few outside the military community could care less. With my latest books, I want to showcase the tireless efforts of our men and women in uniform.”
(Sentry at Guard-post)
The service provides such an outstanding education on life: what did you learn about yourself, what did you learn about others, and what did you learn about the world?
“When my daughter was born, my father – a cantankerous Army Sergeant Major – gave me the following advice, realizing that just maybe he wasn’t always the perfect father: ‘Whatever I did right as a father, learn from that and do better. And whatever I did not so great, learn from that and do the opposite.’ I’ve applied that same philosophy in my Army career, as I took on more responsibilities and became a supervisor. Looking back on the many supervisors and co-workers I’ve had, many of them fantastic, a few bozos, and one or two totally incompetent, I’ve adapted the following dictate: ‘Whatever they did great, learn from it and do better. And whatever they did not so great, learn from it and do the opposite.’
“In recent years, after I retired, and as I watch close friends retire, I’ve seen just how important it is to have a purpose for getting out of bed every morning. Three close friends have passed away within two years of retiring because they crawled into a bottle and tried to drown their loneliness with booze. I’ve got enough writing projects to keep me busy for at least the next five years, but I tell everyone contemplating retirement, to get a part-time job, or volunteer, or get a dog as a battle-buddy, but after taking a little time to re-charge the batteries, find something to do, have a reason for getting out of bed. Have a reason for feeling good about yourself, and not just reflecting on your military career.”