• MG Pat Work Disgraces US Military At 80th D-Day Celebration in France

    June 13, 2024
    Views: 4778

    On June 7, 2024, the author attended a memorial in Amfreville, France honoring the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment. The 507th parachuted into Normandy on June 6, 1944 as part of Operation Overlord with a little over 2,000 members. It left France 30 days later with under 800 effective fighting paratroopers after sustaining heavy casualties. The author’s grandfather was a platoon leader in the 507th in this historic military operation.

    The 82nd Airborne Division sent a chorus, color guard, and its command group to the 80th anniversary commemoration. The public affairs officer, LTC Santiago, was friendly and collected information from attendees, many of whom were related to heroes from the 507th PIR. Its chorus performed flawlessly, adding grace and honor to the solemn occasion. Then, it was time for the current commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, MG Pat Work, to speak to the crowd of several hundred that was in attendance.

    Ignorance of 82nd Airborne Division History. During the speech, MG Work talked about the combat operations of the 507th PIR during WW2. He discussed the Normandy campaign then transitioned into Operation Varsity, the spring 1945 airborne operation in which the 507th PIR made its second combat jump as a member of the then 17th Airborne Division. He seemed to have forgotten that the 507th also participated the Battle of the Bulge, that apparently little-known battle involving over 600,000 American/Allied/German troops and caused over 200,000 casualties. When the author served as a peacetime platoon leader in the 82nd long ago, he had to learn the division’s proud history. Commanding generals of units should know the history of their units.

    Ignorant of Coalition Building. During his speech, MG Work stated that WW2 Europe had been under the “Jackboots of the Huns.” This is troubling for several reasons. First, at best, it demonstrates MG Work’s possible ignorance of military history. According to www.worldhistory.org, “The Huns were a nomadic tribe prominent in the 4th and 5th century whose origin is unknown but, most likely, they came from somewhere between the eastern edge of the Altai Mountains and the Caspian Sea, roughly modern Kazakhstan. They became a formidable fighting force, displacing many other peoples, and contributed to the fall of Rome.” They ceased to be a major military threat by the late 400s and certainly had no members represented in 1944 in France during the Nazi occupation. One would think that basic knowledge of military and world history would be prerequisites for generalship in the US military.

    Second, at worst, it was the deliberate use of a derogatory term to describe the foes of the US military at Normandy and of Germans in general. Soldiers on all sides insult each other in the heat of battle and, given the hardship they endure during combat, the author defends the soldiers in the trenches for venting under fire. However, on June 7, 2024, there was no active combat in France and MG Work had prepared remarks. However, closer examination shows that the use of the word “Hun” in modern times is an intentional term used to insult German people at large. MG Work could have used the term “Nazi” appropriately and not insulted any modern Germans who are now American allies and in no way connected to nor responsible for the carnage in 1944 Normandy. According to www.slurs.info, “The word Hun is a racial slur that has been used historically to degrade and dehumanize Germans. The word is still used by some people for this purpose, and it is seen as offensive and hurtful to Germans. If you are unsure about whether or not it is appropriate to use the word Hun, it is best to err on the side of caution and avoid using it in any situation.” Perhaps MG Work should consider avoiding insulting our NATO allies in future speeches as a general officer.

    At the ceremony, delegations from several countries including Germany presented wreaths to honor the sacrifices of American soldiers at Normandy. The most prominent token was located in the middle of the grouping of wreaths and featured a large ribbon with the colors of the modern German flag. It had the following inscription in German: “Der Botschafter Der Bundesrepublik Deutschland” which translates to English as “The Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany.” Recall that Germany has been a loyal ally of the US and NATO member since 1955. Insulting and dismissing the reconciliation attempt by an ambassador of a NATO partner is not a good way for an American general to demonstrate prowess at coalition building.

    Other countries appear to have offered reconciliation at Normandy as well. The author toured the Bayeux cemetery of the Commonwealth last week and found that a large percentage of graves were actually those of German soldiers who were killed in 1944 France fighting the Allies. The cemetery appeared to treat these graves with the same respect as Allied soldiers. All had neatly groomed flowers and grass. The tombstone for an unknown German soldier was inscribed respectfully with “Ein Deutscher Soldat” which in English means “A German Soldier.” Notice the tomb was not inscribed with “A Hun Lies Here.” The Commonwealth even saw fit to bury the Germans in the section right next to a British soldier who was posthumously awarded the Victoria’s Cross. MG Work would do well to learn about reconciliation and the power of words to both build and destroy coalitions.

    Dissing and Other Juvenile Behavior. Following the ceremony, I approached MG Work to say hello. As a fellow USMA grad just one year behind him, I waited until the crowds dissipated then walked up and said I was a member of USMA class of 1996 and just wanted to say hi as a mutual member of the Long Gray Line. I also commented that I was at the ceremony because my grandfather had jumped with the 507th into Normandy as a platoon leader. He merely said “hi” then turned his back and walked away from me. While I can never be sure, it seemed from his terse comment and body language that he knew who I was from my past writings often critical of modern general officers. Perhaps this was acceptable behavior while he was a linebacker on West Point’s football team as a youth. However, “dissing” a fellow veteran at a formal event is another behavior better suited to an arrogant college kid and not a supposedly distinguished and polished commander of an elite and storied US division.

    Unable to distinguish potential vs actual courage. Recently, the US Army redesigned its uniforms yet again, bringing back the look of the WW2 era dress uniform. MG Work spoke to the crowd in his short jacket reminiscent of generals of old. The difference is that modern generals think they can capture the respect of the public by riding the coattails of generals of an era when America actually did win wars and senior leaders understood strategy and history. He spoke of how a PFC in the 2024 ceremony who had never been in combat somehow had the same courage as the WW2 veterans who fought and were being honored here. It seems the Presidential Unit Citation earned by the 82nd Airborne Division during Normandy is of equal importance to the same Presidential Unit Citation given to the 82nd Airborne Division members during the shameful US withdrawal from Kabul, Afghanistan in 2021 while under a truce and little to no enemy activity and no casualties save the terrorist bombing at the airfield gate. Just one of the 82nd’s 4 regiments at Normandy alone, the 507th, experienced a 60% casualty rate in only 30 days of combat in June 1944, exponentially higher than the 2021 82nd Airborne Division’s experience at Kabul airport. While the author believes that most of our modern military members have the capacity to show courage under fire, it is perhaps insulting to heroic veterans of old who actually did demonstrate courage in the largest military conflict in human history to insinuate that a soldier who has never seen war should be viewed as heroically as veterans who experienced casualties at a rate not seen in 80 years in our military. More US servicemembers died on June 6, 1944 than in 20 years of fighting in all of the US’s ill-fated expedition in Afghanistan.

    MG Work is likely a good and decent man. Undoubtedly, he was a great athlete at West Point. The author has fond memories of watching Army football games as a cadet and cheering for then cadet Work on the gridiron. However, there is a huge leap to be made from college athlete to a division commander. The former does not guarantee the latter. MG Work has a good pedigree on paper – command at all levels in the 101st Airborne Division, 82nd Airborne Division, and Ranger Regiment. He attended military advanced schooling up to and including the War College. However, his behavior and actions at a calm, staged event with a pre-planned speech betray that perhaps he is not ready yet for the big leagues. Not all junior officers are suited to be generals. He committed several ‘forced errors’ in baseball lingo. His unimpressive public performance at Normandy in 2024 shows he is perhaps in need of education in history, strategy, and social tact. America and its military members deserve better general officer leadership for its military. This is especially needed given the two decades of unethical behavior manifested by senior US generals in Iraq and Afghanistan and the up to 80% of senior generals who retire through the revolving door into the lucrative military industrial complex. Maybe then it will start to win wars and actually do what it is supposed to do. Instead, America is condemned to witness US military leadership perennially harking to an Army of yore and trying to pass off WW2 veterans’ glory as its own while it continues to lose the big wars.

    John Hughes, MD
    USMA Class of 1996 (#1 in class)

    Veteran of Haiti, Iraq, Afghanistan

    This letter is the opinion of the author and does not represent the stance of any organizations or corporations.

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    John Hughes

    Emergency Physician. United States Military Academy Class of 1996. #1 graduate. 3rd Generation West Pointer. 4 combat tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. STARRS member.
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    STIV

    Time for some hand to hand combat. I'll take MG work and his bad choice of words all day.

    STIV

    John Hughes

    Regrettable that so many have what appears to be toxic loyalty.

    STIV

    I just contacted MG Work.
    I asked, "Do you know John Hughes?"

    He said,
    "Yeah, I love the Breakfast Club."

    John Hughes

    Humor can be useful. In this instance, inappropriate.
    Will MG Work and the new postwar generation of generals take the profession of arms seriously?

    Richard Lopez

    I'm a retired Air Force MSgt. The demise of senior leadership began long ago. I was witness to the pusification of officers within the military. It has only gotten worse. GOD save us if we ever enter into real combat. Send the LGBTQ...in first.

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