Milton Palmer – Captain, United States Army

From contemporary press reports:

One veteran Ranger describes Ranger School as “about as close to terminal misery as the Army gets.” Few would argue with him. The program is the Army's most rigorous leadership training school. Of the 3,300 soldiers who begin the grueling nine-week course each year, fewer than half finish. And half those who do graduate had to repeat one of the course's four segments before they could wear the Ranger Tab.

The stamina required to graduate is a cachet for soldiers and their careers, regardless of branch. Those who complete the program wear the Tab as a badge of honor. Some consider washing out to be one of the worst humiliations a soldier can suffer.

Captain Milton Palmer felt that pain. He had to withdraw from the program in 1994 because of severe frostbite he suffered during the mountain phase of the course. So driven was he to get the Tab that he quickly re-allied for Ranger School against his father's advice to wait for a cycle in warmer weather.

“This second time around, we were really concerned about how he would do in the mountain phase,” said his father, Nathan Palmer, before his son's burial at Arlington National Cemetery. “But once he got through that, we thought that the danger was over.”

Never in his worst dreams did Nathan Palmer fear a training exercise in Florida would take his son's life.

Captain Palmer and three of his classmates died of hypothermia on February 15, 1995, suffered during such an exercise in the Florida swamps on Elgin Air Force Base. It was the worst incident in the Ranger School's 44-year history. Also dead are Second Lieutenant Curt G. Sansoucie, 23; Second Lieutenant Spencer D. Dodge (buried at West Point); and Sergeant Normal Tillman, 28 (buried in Alabama).

The accident left many in the military community wondering whether Ranger training exceeds the limits of acceptable training. But those familiar with the program insist that anything other than a tough, realistic regimen won't do the job. “We have to train like we fight,” said a former Ranger who now teaches in a college Reserve Officer Training program. “Realistic training is going to cause injuries and possible death. It is the way of a Special Forces soldier's life.”

The program takes soldiers through close combat exercises at Fort Benning, Georgia, desert training in the sunbaked plains of Texas at Fort Bliss, mountain training in the Appalachian Mountain of Dehlonega, Georgia, and swamp training along the Yellow River bordering Elgin Air Force Base in the Florida panhandle. In 68 days, students get detailed instruction and repetitive exercises in squad, platoon and company light infantry tactics. They rotate through leadership positions and are constantly graded on their ability to organize and stage such complex missions as raids and ambushes. The physical demands of the course, coupled with unrelenting pressure and physiological stress fueled by minimal food and rest, have broken some of the Army's best and brightest.

Colonel Gaelen Jackman, the commander of the Ranger Training Brigade, told Army Times in December 1994: “If you put the stresses on these soldiers and have them stretch themselves under tough circumstances, what comes out on the other end is a soldier who is much more confident in himself and confident in his skills.”

But four soldiers from Jackman's most recent training cycle didn't make it out alive. On February 15, they were in the ninth day of what one official said was the 16-day swamp phase. At 11 am that day, they boarded boats and paddled down river. A few hours later, they proceeded on foot through the swamp to simulate an assault on an enemy position. They were supposed to be wading through water that was knee to chest deep, but because of tides that were running higher than usual, the swamp's waters were neck-deep in some places. When the trainees reached these deep pockets, they fashioned rope bridges to enable them to continue. By this time, they had been in the murky waters for nearly 6 hours and began to have problems. The first complaint – numbness – by a member of the group came at about 5:30 pm. By the time a helicopter arrived to evacuate him, two others required medical attention.

All three were taken to the clinic at Elgin. At about 7:30 pm, two other soldiers had to be evacuated by a jungle penetrator, a device that permits helicopter evacuations in dense jungle cover. They were flown to the hospital here both died (Army officials declined to say which victims they were because of ongoing investigations). Subsequently, the rescue efforts for Palmer and another student were hampered by dense fog. Fort Benning officials said it took Ranger instructors at least four hours to carry the soldiers the one kilometer to clear the swamp, and another 40 minutes to transport them by ambulance to the Troop Medical Clinic. Although instructors administered cardiopulmonary resusciation during the trek, Palmer didn't make it; the other student survived. Lieutenant Colonel Richard Rachmeler, the 6th Ranger Battalion commander, finally aborted the exercise between 11 pm and midnight.

Dodge became separated from the group. He was found dead the next morning, 200 meters from high ground and face down in the mud. The question on many minds is: Did the Ranger instructors do enough? Should the exercise have been aborted sooner? Regulations govern the duties of Ranger instructors, safety officers and other cadre on site, but Fort Benning officials has refused Army Times' requests for details about those regulations.

Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Spenneberg, the executive officer of the Ranger Training Brigade, said unexpected weather conditions played a big part in the disaster. “Under the same conditions, this has not happened before. There was nothing to indicate (training) should be stopped,” he said.

But others familiar with this  phase of training said that the accident had more to do with a lack of timely leadership decisions, inadequate safety risk assessments and a Ranger ethic gone awry. Jackman told the Washington Post on February 17 that the soldiers had been in the swamp 6 hours, twice the time usually allowed in Ranger training. The water temperature was 52 degrees; the air temperature was 65 degrees. Jackman said that students aren't usually exposed to water for more than three hours under these circumstances, “but because of the time it took to construct the rope bridges and to medevac the first three students, a lot of time was eaten up.” This prolonged immersion in the water with water-logged uniforms is what probably led to hypothermia, Army medical experts say. Even mildly cold water can speed the onset of hypothermia because water saps heat from the body faster than air. In addition, those familiar with Ranger training said soldiers as this phase of training weigh ten to fifteen percent less than they did when they started training. A significant percentage of lost weight is in body fat, a substance that helps insulate the body from the cold. Fatigue and physical stress, constant companions to Ranger trainees, also could have made them more vulnerable to hypothermia, they said.

These facts lead many to wonder why the Army didn't cancel the training exercise when the first soldier complained of being unreasonably cold. Students in the swamp cycle before this faces similar conditions, said Lieutenant Commander (Retired) Michael Walsh, a retired Navy SEAL commander and a long-time member of the military special operations community. Soldiers were in high water, he said, but there were no mishaps. Somebody should have realized that the water was going to get even colder by nightfall and pulled the soldiers out of the swamp, said Major General (Retired) Kenneth Leuter, a former Fort Benning commander, in a New York Times interview on February 17, 1995.

A retired senior Army officer with broad experience in high-risk training told Army Times that the incident was the result of a poor risk-assessment. “When was the last time they confirmed at what point should an exercise be aborted?” he asked. “Perhaps they need to update their regulation.” The school has safety regulations for training, which include preparing risk reports on a training site before putting students in the water. On-site safety officers are also required to refer to past risk reports. Army officials refused to provide recent risk assessments or safety regulations to Army Times. Others have suggested the incident was caused by poor leadership, as was probably the case, said one former Ranger, in an earlier incident in 1977 in which two students died of hypothermia during the same phase of Ranger training. The only report at the Army Safety Center regarding this incident was an interim document, lacking conclusions and recommendations, said spokesman Larry Retta.

But the former Ranger, who went through the Florida phase following that episode, said a squad of eight soldiers in that incident was moving two to three meters apart through swamp waters that were 50 degrees Fahrenheit with instructors with instructors monitoring them, front and rear. When the rear instructor moved to relay a message to the lead instructor, four students in the rear echelon became separated. Two died trying to find their way back to the platoon. In the next training cycle, “our patrol length ended up being 10 to 12 kilometers longer, with more on dry land, because instructors were afraid to keep us in the water too long,” said the Ranger, who spent 21 years as a Special Forces officer. At that point, officials had established a 50-degree threshold at which soldiers were allowed to be in the water. Still others say the Ranger ethos that encourages the myth that “Ranger Tabs will keep you warm,” probably contributed to the deaths. After going through nearly two months of harsh training, Rangers said soldiers are reluctant to slow their pace as they near the end of the course, even at risk to their health. “I've seem guys hobbling on broken vertebrae, frozen feet, blistered and frost-bit just so they could stay in Ranger training,” said a Ranger-trained soldier with the 1st Ranger Battalion, Savannah, Georgia.

Even though Palmer fell ill in cold weather in his first effort, his parents suggested the Ranger ethos is probably what spurred him to try again during a cold-weather cycle. “Milton was propelled by integrity and honor,” said his mother, Patrica Palmer. “He was not coerced by outside influences. He was his own man.” Rangers from corporals to colonels are proud of what they call a “drive-on” attitude that enables them to preserve during tough times.

Jackman pointed to the actions of Rangers during the October 1993 incident in Somalia as reflecting the attitude that is honed during Ranger training. In that incident, soldiers – many of them Rangers – engaged in a vicious firefight in Mogadishu in an effort to save the crew of a downed American helicopter. Eighteen soldiers died in that incident. “That's what the Ranger ethos is all about,” said Jackman.

Before the February 15, 1995 incident, three soldiers had died in Ranger training since the 1977 tragedy. In 1985, a soldier participating in the swamp phase drowned while trying to cross a stream against a strong current. In March 1992, a soldier died during the mountain-training phase. Officials weren't aware at the time that he carried the sickle cell anemia trait, a condition that can be fatal if an individual is placed at high altitudes and under stress. In August 1992, a student fell to his death while participating in the “slide for life” on a cable about 50 meters above ground that slants downward over water.

As the facts of the February incident emerge, the Ranger community has closed ranks. Major General Jay W. Hendrix, Ranger School Commandant, for example, has refused repeated requests for interviews. Fort Benning officials say Hendrix has refused to speak because he doesn't want to taint the investigation in progress. Those involved with the incident said there's nothing to hide. Rangers are reticent to talk because, as one 26-year-old Ranger put it, “for those of you who are not Rangers you cannot probably ever understand.” This Ranger has participated in the search for one of the trainee victims. A senior noncommissioned officer with the 6th Ranger Battalion said, “I could sit here and tell you what it's like to go through Ranger School. I could describe in detail what we are trying to do and the dangers they face, and you would only make it sound goofy.”

One Ranger, who failed the Florida phase of Ranger training and had to endure the perils of Yellow River swamp twice, said: “The hard truth is, Ranger training, like war, is often a dangerous business.” But Defense leaders said that doesn't forgive the deaths of four soldiers. They are demanding answers.

Ranger training will never be “risk free” said Defense Secretary William Perry two days after the incident. It is “very arduous and difficult, but we should have even more substantial safeguards against this kind of accident.” “You can be sure that one of the principal purposes of our investigation is to determine whether the safeguards and whether the procedures we use will need to be changed,” Perry said. Army Secretary Togo West said that soldiers need to be rigorously trained to be successful on the battlefield. But, he added, “I don't want to see them injured or killed on our training fields. Events like these are a tragedy for all of us in the Army family, and we feel especially sorry for the families of the soldiers we lost,” West said. General Wayne Downing, head of the Special Operations Command, and a former Ranger, told Senators February 23 that training deaths can never he justified. “We tried to do realistic training, but good units don't kill their own people in combat, and they don't do it in training either,” Downing said. “These kinds of casualties in training are unacceptable.”

The Army Criminal Investigation Division, Army Safety Center, Army Inspector General and Hendrix are conducting investigations of the February tragedy. Retta, a spokesman for the Army Safety Center, said investigators will study how long the soldiers had been in training, the behavior of the instructors and the accuracy of the risk hassessment. Investigators will also question the decision by instructors to continue the exercise in chest-deep water just two degrees above the 50-degree limit established in 1977. It may take months for Army officials to conclude their investigations.

But some of the dead soldiers' family members aren't satisfied with the early explanations they've received. At a memorial service for Dodge in Canandaigua, New York, February 22, his uncle, the Rev Arthur Becker of Albany, said the family should be “angry at a system that allowed this to happen. Angry at a protocol that didn't have a way to stop this.” Alberta Tillman, whose son, Norman, died that day, said she doesn't know what story to believe. “Every story we hear is a little different,” she said. “They've mentioned fog, they've mentioned ankle-deep water. Then I hear it was up around his neck. I just don't think they watched over them closely enough. “He was my fourth child. None of the others have ever gone through anything that dangerous,” she said. “I hope that one day Army officials will come back to me with better answers.

Milton Palmer had a passion for all things military. He grew up in a military family. His father, Nathan Palmer, was an infantry officer for 20 years. Knowing the perils of an infantry career, Nathan Palmer never encouraged his con to go into combat arms. “But I think my career influenced him to go into the infantry,” Nathan Palmer said. With that in mind, Milton Palmer set out to become a leader from the moment he stepped onto the grounds of the Citadel in South Carolina. He was one of 10 students in the entering class of 600 in 1986 who were on a full Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) scholarship. He was named one of four battalion commanders as a senior. “He was an extra-mile kind of guy,” said Robert Palmer, who went to school with Milton. The two are not related. On February 23, 1995, a day before his son was to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery, Nathan Palmer talked about how he worried that Milton would be hurt during Ranger training. The young officer had to drop out of Ranger training when he was injured during the mountain phase of the course. “When he came home for Christmas, we spent a lot of time cautioning him about guarding against cold weather injuries. We were relieved when he finally made it through that phase in late January,” his father said.

Milton Palmer was scheduled to go to Korea after Ranger School. He had earned the Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal, National Defense Service Ribbon, Army Service Ribbon, Expert Infantryman Badge and Parachutist Badge. He is survived by his parents.

March 2, 1995: EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Florida.

The corpse lay on a stretcher. Frantically, desperately, relentlessly, a Ranger pounded on the stiff, cold chest. “Live! Live!” a mud-caked soldier demanded. “Come on, Ranger! Live! Live!” A comrade tried to breathe for him, mouth – to -mouth, blue lips to blue lips. So ended a death march through the Florida swamps where the Army Rangers, America's elite fighting men, fighters, fell short of their creed: “Never shall I fail my comrades.”

Four students in the Army's Ranger school died. A fifth barely survived. Others suffered from hypothermia –their bodies submerged in 52-degree water for 11 hours. Now, less than two weeks after the most botched-up training exercise in the 44-year history of the U.S. Army's Ranger School, relativesand friends of the dead men ask questions. Who screwed up? Who killed our sons? “It's not making any sense,” said Teresa Redditt, sister of Sgt. Norman Tillman, buried last week in Grenada, Mississippi. “Why did they leave them out there so long?” “You may push people to the edge, but you have to know where the edge stops. You can't push someone over the edge,” said Guy Gheysens, best friend and college classmate of Captain Milton Palmer. Palmer, a graduate of the Citadel, will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery. “When you're going to play realistic war games, you should have realistic medical help with you,” Gheysens said. Evidence assembled from the National Weather Service, the Okaloosa County Department of Emergency Services and hypothermia experts points toward a conclusion: The Army knew, or should have known, that it sent its trainees into a potentially lethal situation –then ignored obvious signs of acute hypothermia until it was too late.

Thus far, the Army has given only sketchy reports about what happened on the dark night of February 15. It said the trainees died of hypothermia after enduring the swamps “longer than expected” in water “deeper than expected.” It blamed rescue delays on “dense fog” and “tree cover.” Secretary of Defense William Perry called it an accident. But on Friday, as questions of negligence surfaced, the Army began asking itself hard questions: Did the Ranger command inadvertently drive soldiers to their deaths? How could it fail to heed five days of weather warnings? Who ordered the swamp exercise to proceed — no matter the risk?

Army criminal investigators also want to know about the Ranger regimen itself. Did excessive exercise and fatigue, combined with sleep deprivation and food restrictions –plus a lack of protective gear, safety supplies and on-scene advanced medical equipment –contribute to the deaths? “We're in shock,” said Army spokesman Rich McDowell at Fort Benning, Georgia. “They are questions we are very interested in getting answers to.” He said someone could face dereliction-of-duty charges. That could lead to courts-martial. The dead were the “best of the better,” as the Rangers like to say.

Second Lieuteanant Spence Dodge, 23, West Point 1994, president of the class, bright, handsome, upbeat, devoted Catholic, never a curse word. He assisted handicapped athletes in the Special Olympics. They called him “the Old Man” because he was older than other cadets. He had gone regular Army for two years before West Point. He wanted to be a general. So did Palmer, one of the highest ranking cadets at the Citadel, class of 1990, an Indiana native, son of a career infantryman. At 27, Milton was a captain. “Extraordinary, charismatic, imposing physically and a born leader by his silent nature,” said Gheysens, his best friend. “He was right on his way to the top.”

Second Lieutenant Curt Sansoucie, 23, an Army kid from Rochester, New Hampshire: Army grandfather, Army father, Army brother. Sansoucie was Dodge's classmate at West Point, '94. At age two, he wanted a steel pot helmet. In his teens, he knew the names of generals, first names, last names, birthdays. Tillman, 28, the only enlisted man among the dead, the only husband, the only father, a 5,000-meter college track star, mortarman in the 82nd Airborne Division. Punch, everyone called him.

The four men — all from small-town America, two black and two white — saw Ranger school as an adventure, a test of their nerve and the best leadership school the Army offered. The Ranger Training Brigade, based in Fort Benning, Georgia, takes 3,000 men a year — women are not eligible to attend Ranger school — and puts them through conditions often exceeding the rigors of combat. For 68 days, they endure fatigue and hunger, 20 hours a day, in four phases: forest, desert, mountain and swamps. The goal: Make them the toughest fighting men in the world. Lots don't make it. Some flunk out. Some are recycled. Some suffer injuries. The Army seldom gives casualty figures.

Ranger Class 3-95 began with 334 “hopefuls,” as the Army calls them. Only 102 would attempt to make the death march. On February 11, Class 3-95 hit the sugar-white beaches of the Florida Panhandle, near a stretch of bayous and long-leaf pine forests. By Tuesday, heavy rains had made a flood zone of the Cypress and Cedar swamps along the tea-colored Yellow River. Their outdoor classroom was a land almost as dense as the Amazon. And the next day, Ranger school –designed to “closely approximate” combat — became deadly. The Army won't answer questions about what happened. Did higher-ups get the repeated flood warnings? Did the Army perform the standard risk assessment, a mandatory check of the water temperature and depth? Was there an emergency backup? A safety net? Sirens? Strobe lights? Flashlights? Oxygen? Medics? Where were the instructors? Who ordered the march? In camouflaged uniforms, three 34-man platoons set off sometime around noon in inflatable zodiac boats, paddling down the swollen Yellow River to a remote northwestern corner of Eglin Air Force Base. Apparently, the trainees tried to execute a three-pronged attack on a dry-land objective. There, other soldiers waited, pretending to be the enemy.

Only Alpha platoon played it safe, deciding to assault over dry land. Bravo and Charlie chose the swamps. No sun. Water temperature: 52 degrees, only two degrees above where the Army would have called off the exercise. About 3:30 pm, the shivering men got out of the boats, lugging rucksacks. To Lt. Paul Salmon, another '94 West Pointer, his felt like 100 pounds. The men, trying to build rope bridges, found the water over their heads. Aching, they tried to hang on to their weapons. A life vest kept Salmon afloat, he thought. The symptoms of hypothermia set in. Muscles stiffened. Blood pressure rose. Vision blurred. The men got confused. “It was easily the scariest night of my life,” a friend of Dodge wrote to his father in Aurora, New York. “The water was up to our neck.” Sometime around 5:30 pm, the Army said, a soldier in Bravo started shaking uncontrollably. Someone — finally — called for a rescue chopper. By radio, Lieuteantnat Colonel Richard Rathmeler, the battalion commander, kept in constant touch with the troubled platoon. The exercise proceeded.

At 5:45 pm, the Army said, the chopper lifted out three men: Second Lieutenant Beof Voorhees, Specialist Joshua Pentz and Corporal Scott Littlejohn. They lived. Some men dropped their weapons. Some quit. Some carried their comrades in a 4 1/2-hour trek to dry ground. Salmon, believing he was on dry ground, drifted off to sleep. He fell unconscious in the water, his temperature dropping to 80 degrees. Captain John Finkel grabbed him. “I was basically dead,” Salmon later told his mother. Night fell. Fog obscured the moon. A second medivac chopper dropped a “jungle penetrator” — a long hoist with seats attached to the bottom — and lifted Salmon and Tillman above the trees. Tillman's heart kept fluttering, as his comrades worked on him for hours. “He never gave up,” said Sergeant Kenny Shepherd. “He never called it quits. God did.” Salmon opened his eyes five hours later. “I woke up in the hospital with six doctors around my head.” He called his mother, a preacher. “By God's grace, I'm alive.”

From the field that evening, Rathmeler or another officer twice called Colonel Galen Jackman, the Ranger Training Brigade commander in Fort Benning, said Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Spenneberg, an Army spokesman. Once about 5:30 p.m., then about 8 p.m. At Eglin, people assumed the worst: 100 men dying in the swamps. That's when the Army hit the panic button. The Air Force mobilized every doctor it could find. Okaloosa County alerted two local hospitals and seven paramedic squads. In the swamps, Rangers carried Palmer to high ground. They tried to warm him. They stripped off his fatigues, wrapped him in a sleeping bag and hugged him with their own cold bodies. Two jeep-like Army ambulances took hypothermic soldiers to Camp Rudder, where county medics waited with oxygen, IVs and cardiac machines. It was about 11:30 p.m. Palmer's heart fluttered. An EKG showed camel humps, a lethal rhythm. He was motionless, pulseless, cold to the touch, not breathing. For one, two hours, no one gave up. Rangers, then medics, then emergency room doctors at Fort Walton Beach Medical Center, tried valiantly. “Everyone poured their hearts out,” said Hank Christen, a county official.

The heart of Sansoucie ceased during another monumental resuscitation effort. Medic Darrel Welborn warmed the IV fluids on the engine of his Ford pickup. “Come on, buddy.” “Hang in there.” “Help us out!” A lieutenant from New York breathed into Sansoucie's mouth. “I'll never forget the look in a dead man's eyes,” he wrote his father the next morning. Sometime after 2 am, the soldiers counted their men, and one was missing. They searched all night. Dodge sat peacefully in waste-deep water, not far from the inflatable boats. He had made it back to where the march began. The bodies came home, two with scratches and bruises.

The Army and the Rangers were everywhere, assisting families with arrangements, providing honor guards, offering condolences and posthumous Ranger tabs for the grave. Palmer's father, Nathan, got a telephone call from a general. “He told us our son had departed and investigations were being done.” Tillman's daughter, Clarissa, 5, said her daddy was fine. “He's in the sky with the birds and the angels.”

Cadets return from capital after somber dose of reality

February 26, 1995

For Kirby Baker, reality struck like a bullet. It is not surprising, as nothing drives home the danger of soldiering like a military funeral. Had the Citadel senior been able to speak to the grieving survivors of Captain Milton Palmer, he would have tried to explain the inexplicable.

“I never met him, didn't know his family or friends,” Kirby said. “But I stood in the back of the chapel and felt like I lost a friend. He was part of something that's part of me.”

Palmer, a 1990 Citadel graduate, was one of four soldiers who died recently during an Army Ranger training mission in Florida. His funeral was Friday at Arlington National Cemetery. Cadet Kirby was one of five Citadel students in Washington last week attending the National Model North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Conference at Howard University. The conference gives students from a dozen colleges around the country a chance to study how NATO operates. Rather than slides and lectures, participants are assigned a NATO country, then asked to function as representatives of that nation through various hypothetical scenarios. In one story line, a terrorist group seizes a French jetliner with 187 passengers, threatening to explode a nuclear bomb in Algiers unless their demands are met. What does NATO do? Who leads the way? Who takes the blame if things go wrong?

Of course it is all fiction and no one gets hurt if a wrong decision is made. In the brisk, late-February air at Arlington Cemetery, however, it became strikingly clear to the cadets that decisions made by real-life generals and politicians are far more than academic exercises. Cadet Frank Anders could not attend the service – Serbia was threatening to invade Macedonia Friday and Norway had to have its say – but has a greater appreciation now for the consequences of military action. “You have to really consider that one life lost is one too many,” says Anders, who is headed for a career in the Navy.

Anders also spoke about the night Palmer died, how all lights on The Citadel campus were shut off at 11 p.m., and cadets saluted as two buglers played their mournful tribute. The fact that Palmer was only 27, a peer really, struck many cadets, he said. Palmer, U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., said last week, “was a stellar cadet and soldier and exemplified all that is positive about the S.C. Corps of Cadets, The Citadel, and the all-volunteer military.”

“It was like we lost a brother,” senior Dan Vallini said after the service. “I think it helped me see things in a bigger perspective.”

None of the local students could have foreseen what was coming when they were tapped for the conference and drew Norway for their country. Vallini gracefully acknowledges the group was not expert on the subject. “When I heard we had Norway, I knew a lot of research would have to be done,” he said. Helping somewhat was the fact that sophomore Cadet Kristian Rasmussen, a Floridian of Norwegian descent, was part of the team. As well, the squad – which also included senior T.J. Romano and adviser Will Brownlee, a 1993 graduate soon to enter law school – picked the brains of Norwegian Embassy officials after a long van ride up to Washington. When news came that Capt. Palmer's funeral would also take place last week, all wanted to attend. “When you talk about troops and forces and sending men into danger's way, you don't really think about it until you see one of your own in a casket with an American flag draped over it,” Brownlee said. When they arrive home in Charleston today, Col. Bill Gordon, a Citadel history professor serving as interim dean of undergraduate studies, has no doubt his students won't be the same young men he sent off to the Capitol a few days ago.

“They've sort of seen the thing come full circle,” Gordon said. “They've seen the high issues and abstractions, and they've seen the human level.”

“They'll be different,” he said. “They'll be smarter.”

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