Ft. Bragg Stories

One hundred years ago, the U.S. Army established Camp Bragg in the forests of the North Carolina sandhills. It was a primitive training ground where artillery soldiers prepared to fight World War I.

In 1922, Fort Bragg was designated as a permanent Army post. In the decades since, it's grown to become the largest military installation in the country.

To mark a century of history at Fort Bragg, WUNC and the Fayetteville Observer collaborated on a year-long series sharing personal stories from soldiers, veterans, and community members.

We also hosted storytelling sessions November 4, 2017 and August 18, 2018 at the Airborne and Special Operations Museum in Fayetteville. The free public events featured a curated hour of your stories, as told by veterans, active duty service members, and other people in the Fort Bragg community. 

Fort Bragg Stories is a production of WUNC's American Homefront Project, a national reporting initiative about the lives of military personnel and veterans. It's made possible through support from our listeners and from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

You can use an interactive timeline to navigate through stories from World War II to the present day.

This series is also available as a podcast.

FT. BRAGG STORIES: 'Time To Bow Out'

Dec 28, 2018
Zach Stamey / Focus Media

This year, after more than a decade of service as a linguist and a paratrooper, Jay Huwieler made the decision to leave the military.  

“It was a combination of feeling like I’d served my purpose, and at the same time feeling like there had been too many times when I was too far away from my wife,” he said.
 

Huwieler recalled his sergeant major telling him: “One day you’re not going to be in the Army. When it’s over, there needs to be a family there because you didn’t leave them behind.”

FT. BRAGG STORIES: 'More Happiness In My Life'

Dec 23, 2018
Jeremy Moore

Jeremy Moore was on a night patrol in Afghanistan in 2012 when he fell nearly 60 feet down an open well. He suffered serious injuries to his legs, spine, and head. He returned to Fort Bragg, determined to stay in the Army and keep working, even while he recovered from trauma that made routine activities difficult.

FT. BRAGG STORIES: 'What We Were Called To Do'

Dec 16, 2018
Bobbyand Alexia Fields pose for a photo under a tree.
Elizabeth Friend

Military service is the thread that weaves Bobby and Alexia Fields’ family life together. He’s on active duty at Fort Bragg, she serves in the Army Reserve. Together, they balance the demands of the Army with the responsibility of raising three young children.

FT. BRAGG STORIES: 'A Turning Point In My Life'

Dec 9, 2018
Portrait of Victoria Landes
Elizabeth Friend / WUNC

From 1942 until 1978, women who wanted to join the Army served in the Women’s Army Corps. Former Specialist Victoria Landes spent six years as a WAC during the 1960s, training to be a dental assistant at Fort Bragg.  

“When I graduated at 18, I really didn’t have any significant plans,” said Landes. “Going to college really wasn’t going to be an option.”

FT. BRAGG STORIES: 'The War Was Wrong'

Dec 2, 2018
Portrait of Hal Noyes
Hal Noyes

As a young man in the late 1960s, Hal Noyes faced the prospect of being drafted to fight in Vietnam.  He was opposed to the war, but decided to enlist, hoping to avoid combat.   

FT. BRAGG STORIES: From Agriculture To Airborne

Nov 25, 2018
Sgt. Michelle Blesam / U.S. Army

Growing up on his family’s farm in southern Alabama, Private First Class Tyler Dunn thought his future lay in agriculture.

“Our family farm, we’ve got roughly 3,000 acres that we row crop, we have chicken houses, and we have close to 3,000 head of cattle,” he said. “We’re a fairly large operation compared to those around us. I started physical labor [on the farm] around eight years old. I just enjoyed being in the field with my grandad and my father.”

FT. BRAGG STORIES: Helping Incarcerated Veterans

Nov 18, 2018
Portrait of former Staff Sergeant Josh Eisenhauer.
Dawn Erickson

 Lynn and Steve Newsom spent five years as co- directors of Fayetteville’s Quaker House. 

During their tenure, they advocated for better mental health care for incarcerated veterans, organizing a petition and vigil in April 2016 to draw attention to the plight of former Staff Sergeant Josh Eisenhauer. 

FT. BRAGG STORIES: 'No End In Sight'

Nov 11, 2018
Kelly Rodriguez and her son Antonio snap a selfie in uniform.
Kelly Rodriguez

Sergeant First Class Kelly Rodriguez deployed more than five times in the course of her 21-year military career, serving as an Army Combat Medic in Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, and twice in Afghanistan. She loved her work, but it exposed her to some of the worst realities of war.

FT. BRAGG STORIES: 'Journey Through Darkness'

Nov 4, 2018
Major Ivan Castro shared his story at a live storytelling event at the Airborne and Special Operations Museum in Fayetteville on August 18, 2018.
Elizabeth Friend

Retired Major Ivan Castro’s life was forever changed September 2, 2006, when a mortar landed near him in Iraq. Two of the men in his unit were killed and Castro was gravely injured. The attack left him completely blind, facing a long road to recovery.

FT. BRAGG STORIES: 'We Try To Debunk'

Oct 28, 2018
A mist photographed during Armando Nunez's first investigation at Cross Creek Cemetery, January, 2008.
Courtesy of Armando Nunez

In 2008, Armando Nunez and a friend decided on a whim to try their hand at ghost-hunting by taking pictures in a local cemetery. His wife Joanna and friend Tom Kuntz soon joined in and together they founded the Paranormal Research Organization of Fayetteville, or PROOF.

FT. BRAGG STORIES: 'A National Emergency'

Oct 21, 2018
Portrait of Leon Jones
Jean Wilson

Jean Wilson was a college freshman on October 22, 1962, when she heard President John F. Kennedy’s speech announcing the presence of nuclear-armed Soviet missiles on the island of Cuba.       

“It sounded like an emergency, like a national emergency,” Wilson said. 

FT. BRAGG STORIES: Hurricane Florence

Oct 14, 2018
Spc. Alvarez carries a package of bottled water to a family in New Bern, North Carolina, Sept. 21, 2018.
Pfc. Audrianna Arellano / 82nd Airborne Division Sustainment Brigade

Hundreds of soldiers aided in Hurricane Florence rescue and recovery efforts, even as some saw their own homes flooded or evacuated. 

Specialist Ruben Alvarez is a parachute rigger at Fort Bragg. During the storm, he volunteered to help evacuate houses, working long shifts with the 189th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion.

FT. BRAGG STORIES: Earning The President's Hundred Tab

Oct 7, 2018
Portrait of Spc. Jonathon Wannemacher
Sgt. Brian Stephenson / 49th Public Affairs Detachment, Fort Bragg

Specialist Jonathon Wannemacher is an infantryman in the 82nd Airborne. He’s also a skilled marksman. At age 26, he’s ranked as one of the top 100 competitive shooters in the country. He placed 81 out of roughly 1,200 shooters in the President’s Hundred Match, a national competition held this past July in Camp Perry, OH.

Portrait of Nicole Coschigano
Nicole Coschigano

The Base Realignment and Closure process of 2005 shut down 24 military installations across the country and consolidated many more.

Fort Bragg grew as a result, adding the U.S. Army Forces Command and U.S. Army Reserve Command.

FT. BRAGG STORIES: First Flight

Sep 23, 2018
Potrait of Bob Dean as a young man
Bob Dean

Bob Dean was a twenty-year-old rising senior at Cornell in 1950. When the Korean War started that summer, he was training with his ROTC class at Fort Bragg.

“I recall for the early part of the training, we had a heck of a good time,” said Dean, now 88. “We did not take it seriously.”
 

Dean was learning the basics of artillery leadership, including aerial observation. He was delighted to be the first in his class selected to go up in a small plane over the ranges to practice adjusting artillery fire from the air.  

It was his very first plane ride.

FT. BRAGG STORIES: 'The Checkpoints Went Up Overnight'

Sep 9, 2018
Fort Bragg
Fort Bragg

Growing up on Fort Bragg as the son of an active duty service member, Josh Groll saw the military installation as his home, a small town insulated from the rest of the world.

FT. BRAGG STORIES: 'Time Stood Still'

Sep 2, 2018
Portrait of Shelli Altopp-Miller
Shelli Altopp-Miller

In the fall of 2001, Shelli Altopp-Miller was living with her husband and two small children at Pope Air Force Base. He was on active duty with the Air Force, she was a stay-at-home mother. 

FT. BRAGG STORIES: 'Square Peg In A Round Hole'

Aug 26, 2018
Lynn and Steve Newsom hold a banner for Quaker House
Lynn Newsom

Steve Newsom and his wife Lynn spent five years as co-directors of Quaker House, the Fayetteville nonprofit that advocates for peace and supports service members who question their role in the military. 

As a young man growing up New Jersey, Steve thought he might spend his entire adult career in the military, joining the Navy in 1972. 

FT. BRAGG STORIES: 'He Stood Out In My Mind'

Aug 19, 2018
Mary Ellen Shugart holds a portrait of herself as a young Army nurse in Vietnam.
Matt Couch

Mary Ellen Shugart served two tours as an Army nurse in Vietnam in the 1960s and early 70s. She treated hundreds of soldiers, but the memory of one young man at Fort Bragg stayed with her through the years.

She recalled treating a soldier in the ICU and Recovery Ward at Womack Army Hospital in 1966. Injured in Vietnam, he’d been flown back to the U.S. for treatment for an abdominal wound.

FT. BRAGG STORIES: 'The War Is Over'

Aug 12, 2018
A portrait of Bill Reid, age 17.
Holly Reid

Bill Reid is 92 now, but back in 1944 he was just 18 when he was drafted to fight in World War II. He traveled by train from New Jersey to Fort Bragg for 17 weeks of training before heading off to Europe. 

On his first day at Bragg, Reid recalled he was not impressed with his initial assignment.

FT. BRAGG STORIES: 'More Than Ink And Skin'

Aug 5, 2018
Lewis Hunt's tattoo commemorates his grandfather, his parents, and his own military service.
Matt Couch

Tattoos have long been a hallmark of military service. Memorial tattoos, in particular, have a special place in the armed forces. Images inked on flesh can pay tribute to those who have served, salute the fallen, and help soldiers and their families commemorate life changing events.

FT. BRAGG STORIES: 'We're Ready To Start Healing'

Jul 29, 2018
Mike Duskin stands with his wife Maggie
Maggie Duskin

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Michael Duskin served with the 3rd Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg. During seven deployments over the course of 15 years, he and his wife Maggie established routines to cope with his absences and keep the lives of their three children running smoothly.

FT. BRAGG STORIES: 'It Made Me Understand'

Jul 22, 2018
Joe Garcia holds his infant daughter Joanna
Joanna Nunez

Joanna Nunez's father, Joe Garcia, served two tours in Vietnam before retiring from the Army in the early 80s. Growing up in Fayetteville, she recalls her father was often distant and irritable, with dark mood swings that were hard to predict.

FT. BRAGG STORIES: 'Not Afraid Of The Fight'

Jul 15, 2018
Portrait of James Quigg
Norman Kent Photography

Many soldiers who decide to leave the military put their training to use in civilian careers. James Quigg is no different, although his career choice is somewhat unusual.  

He's a professional mixed martial arts fighter known as the Gentleman Brawler. 

"It can be pretty miserable to fight me, even if you're winning," said Quigg. "I'm not afraid of the fight." 

FT. BRAGG STORIES: 'I Refused That Fate'

Jul 8, 2018
A portrait of Solomon Abanda
Solomon Abanda

Sergeant Solomon Abanda proudly serves in the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, but his path to get there has been complicated. 

Born in Cameroon, Abanda came to the U.S. at 19 to study.  After a series of missteps, he found himself living on the streets in Los Angeles.  

He was homeless for two years before a chance encounter set his life on a different course. 

FT. BRAGG STORIES: 'It's Like A Mad Rush'

Jul 1, 2018
Fireworks explode on the Fourth of July at Fort Bragg's Main Post Parade Field.
Pyro Shows

The Fourth of July is a big deal at Fort Bragg, where the annual concert and fireworks display regularly draw a crowd of 40,000.

Danny Sheckles is a pyrotechnician with Pyro Shows, a Tennessee-based company that produces firework displays at Fort Bragg and throughout the southeast.

FT. BRAGG STORIES: 'It Was A Hard Time'

Jun 24, 2018
Courtesy of Meg Miller

Lieutenant Colonel Frank Miller served in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam before retiring to Fayetteville to run a grocery store in the late 60s and early 70s.

 The Boulevard Supermarket on Bragg Boulevard was a small mom-and-pop store catering to the many young G.I's who cycled through Fort Bragg on their way to the Vietnam war.

FT. BRAGG STORIES: Ducking Out Of Operation Clean Sweep

Jun 17, 2018
Portait of Jay Huwieler
Jay Huwieler

Each year, the men and women of Fort Bragg celebrate All-American Week, a time to showcase the valor and pride of the 82nd Airborne.  

But the behind-the-scenes preparation is less glamorous. The prior week is spent deep cleaning every inch of the 163,000-acre military installation, an annual chore known as Operation Clean Sweep.

FT. BRAGG STORIES: Challenge Coins

Jun 10, 2018
Portrait of Steven Moore
Matt Couch / WUNC

Steven Moore has never served in the military, but for the past 16 years he's been serving the Fort Bragg community, specializing in the design of military challenge coins.

More than just collectible tokens, the coins are a concrete way to commemorate shared service and personal achievement. Commanders award them with a solemn handshake, and soldiers often treasure them as keepsakes.

“I’m told by the soldiers that they are highly coveted items, and gives them incentive to earn them,” Moore said.

FT. BRAGG STORIES: Remembering D-Day

Jun 3, 2018
Portrait of Kenneth "Rock" Merritt taken during World War II
Kenneth "Rock" Merritt

At 94, retired Command Sergeant Major Kenneth “Rock” Merritt is something of a living legend in the Fort Bragg community.

During World War II, Merritt was a young paratrooper with the 508 Parachute Infantry Regiment. He was one of thousands of soldiers who jumped into Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

“The war into Normandy, I guess simply put, it was hell. That’s really what it was,” Merritt said.

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