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Army National Guard Year of the NCO

With more than 372 years of service, the Army National Guard' Noncommissioned Officer Corps has distinguished itself as the world' finest trained and most accomplished group of citizen-soldiers in the world. History has shown what this courageous and highly motivated corps of NCOs is capable of in our nation' battles. From Lexington and Concord to Buena Vista; Gettysburg and Vicksburg to San Juan Hill and the Argonne Forest; the jungles of New Guinea and beaches of Normandy to Heartbreak Ridge and Long Binh, to the current Global War on Terrorism, Army National Guard NCOs have been on the frontline defending freedom and democracy.

Guard NCO Invents Rhino Tank Plow

By CPT Thomas W. Mehl

The great success of the D-Day landings was almost lost until an Army National Guard Noncommissioned Officer' ingenious plan saved the breakout from the beaches and sealed the victory for Allied forces in the Normandy Campaign.

Four days after D-Day, June 6, 1944, Allied forces had penetrated about 25 miles inland. There, Gen. Omar N. Bradley' First U.S. Army was bogged down in the hedgerows of Normandy

The hedgerows of the Norman countryside, thick hedges three to five feet high, all atop centuries-old compressions of roots, vines and dirt three feet thick, presented a considerable tactical obstacle for the U.S. Army. When a tank attempted to transit the thick hedgerow vegetation, it rode up and exposed its lightly armored underbelly to German anti-tank weapons, or the tank simply became entangled and immobilized. Explosives were tried but this alerted German forces to the location of the breech and caused many casualties.

Enter Sgt. Curtis G. Culin, 29, a citizen-soldier of the New Jersey National Guard's 102nd Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron. In one of the finest examples of battlefield innovation in the history of American warfare, Sgt. Culin, in collaboration with three others from his unit, spent July 9-13, 1944, designing a four-pronged plow using iron from German roadblocks and beach defenses.

Nicknamed the rhino, the plow was mounted to the front of light and medium tanks, namely the M4 Sherman. The New York Times reported in a 1944 dispatch that the simple attachment was thought up by Culin overnight and was manufactured for 500 tanks in 48 hours. With the rhino attached to its front, the Sherman tanks cut a path straight through the hedgerows.

The rhino outfitted tanks caught the Germans completely by surprise and Gen. Bradley's First U.S. Army made a successful breakthrough of enemy lines at St. Lo on July 25, 1944 - the breakthrough that carried to the Siegfried line and ultimately led to victory in Europe less than a year later.

For their efforts in designing the rhino plow, Sgt. Culin and the three other members of the 102nd Cavalry, including one officer who insisted it would never work, were awarded the Legion of Merit. Later in 1944, Sgt. Culin lost his left foot and had part of his right thigh blown off in the savage fighting in Germany's Huertgen Forest.

The Supreme Allied Commander, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, credited the rhino plow with restoring the effectiveness of the tank in leading the drive to liberate France and for providing a tremendous boost to morale throughout the Army.

In a January 1961 address to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Eisenhower, then U.S. President, gave high praise to Sgt. Culin for his invention: There was a little sergeant. His name was Culin, and he had an idea. And his idea was that we could fasten knives, great big steel knives in front of these tanks, and as they came along they would cut off these banks right at ground level they would go through on the level keel" would carry with themselves a little bit of camouflage for a while. And this idea was brought to the captain, to the major, to the colonel, and it got high enough that somebody did something about it and that was General Bradley and he did it very quickly.

Culin was very modest about his invention. He told the Associated Press in a postwar interview that "my invention, if you want to call it that, was something anybody in the front lines would have come up with in a few days. Our squadron just happened to be the first to try it out and develop it.

Culin died in 1963, but his heroic and meritorious service in World War II has not been forgotten. In 1987, a memorial was unveiled in his hometown of Cranford, N.J., only a block from the house where he was raised.

The U.S. Army has designated 2009 as the "Year of the Noncommissioned Officer, honoring the service and sacrifice of NCOs like Sgt. Curtis G. Culin who are the "backbone of the U.S. Army.