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A “Nobody” From Oklahoma: The Career of MSG. Joshua Wheeler

MSG. Joshua Wheeler, USA. KIA
MSG. Joshua Wheeler, USA. KIA

“Sweet Mother of God. Would you look at that?”, a co-worker mumbled as he handed me a copy of MSG. Wheeler’s official DoD photo.

“Yeah, 30 of these guys show up in one place, you can damn sure bet they aren’t on a Train, Advise & Assist mission”, I snorted.

MSG. Joshua Wheeler
Delta Force ISIS Raid

I won’t rehash all the information that is being talked about concerning the recent “Delta Force” raid that has been all over the news. We have also seen the video. The DoD has confirmed that one member of The Unit was killed in action. This public statement is highly unusual as The Unit does not actually function within the regular military and even the smallest details about their missions are kept secret. I suspect in this case, the release of the video by the Kurds forced their hand. All of this may seem like  semantics these days. Especially with all the Hollywood-like press these types get, but it is germane to the existence of the ubiquitous term, “operator”. That was never supposed to be a cool-guy phrase. It is an attempt by some JAG / DOJ lawyer at linguistic gymnastics. The goal being to cover their asses from liability should something go very, very wrong and some international group claim violation of the Laws of Land Warfare.

MSG. Joshua Wheeler, USA. KIA
MSG. Joshua Wheeler, USA. KIA

Seriously. Think about it. It’s a nothing-phrase given to a “nobody” that only a weasel-bureaucrat could come up with. It’s almost an insult. Much like calling someone, “Mister” inside of Washington, DC. What it really says is YOU don’t have a title, rank, rate, position, or job. You are just a nobody. The public was never to know of The Unit’s existence. And that’s the way they like it.

And the people who join The Unit willingly take up that mantle. They spend significant parts of their military careers being something: Tabbed. Scrolled. Jump Qualified. Free-fall Qualified. Pathfinder.  EIB/CIB., Etc. Only to step off the career track and just…kinda…disappear. It’s an amazing transformation.

So what’s my point? Well…I wish to bring two facets about the above image to your attention. The first surprised some readers on our Facebook page. MSG. Wheeler wasn’t a kid. Yes, while war is a young man’s game, those who get recruited by The Unit tend to be mature Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines who have already done quite a bit professionally. As an example, I have heard through the grapevine that he was a  member of the 75th Ranger Regiment for 7 years before moving on to other jobs. A significant accomplishment in it’s on right.

MSG. Joshua Wheeler, USA. KIA
MSG. Joshua Wheeler, USA. KIA

The second point I wish to make is instead of looking at the videos of the raid discussing gear and guns, I wish for you to take a closer look at the ribbons and devices on MSG. Wheeler’s uniform. If you are not familiar with how that works, start on his left side top and work your way down even just a few rows. How many bronze stars is that? 11?! And that is JUST ONE ribbon! Take a gander at a few more. Now take a few minutes to look at the devices also on his left side –the metal badges. 4 of those devices ALONE could be 4 separate military careers. And we haven’t even gone over to his right side where there is always something of interest such as foreign military jump wings.

I hope the magnitude of what you are looking at registers as significant. Because it should. And you were never supposed to see the totality of a “nobody’s” career. It’s downright astounding to look at his uniform. Any wanna-be can buy a plate carrier and a sleeve-tat, but it takes years of hard work to shoulder that rack. “Sweet Mother of God”, is right.

MSG. Joshua Wheeler's Body at Dover AFB
MSG. Joshua Wheeler’s Body at Dover AFB

In closing, these “nobodies” deserve more than some video-game caricature split between the lies of a lawyer and the fantasies of some XBOX programmer: an amalgamation of dork and dweeb that’s more about profits than patriotism. Everybody wants to do the cool-guy shit but it’s the, “nobodies” who actually do the not-so-cool-work. They train. And risk. And persevere. Day in and day out. Their families suffer and their children go-without. The least you can do is take 5 minutes and at least try to understand what a real operator’s career is like.



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