Veterans pride themselves on their accomplishments after spending some of the best years of their lives serving. But that path to greatness starts when recruits first enter boot camp — all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.
Recruits arriving at MCRD San Diego — (Photo By: Cpl. Angelica I. Annastas)
As the world changes, so do the expectations of our future Marines, sailors, airmen, and soldiers as basic training gets revised based on new technology and evolving social norms.
But no matter how much things change, most of us we want our sons and daughters to have the same “in your face” training experience that we once endured.
Here are few ways boot camp has changed over the last several years.
1. Rifle Combat Optic
Back in the day, Marine recruits had to train and qualify on a rifle with their M-16s using precise breathing control, unsound vision and iron sights.
A few years ago, the Marine Corps decided to switch from the traditional iron sights to Rifle Combat Optics, or “red dot sights,” to help recruits better hit their targets.
From personal experience, the ability to home in and snipe out the enemy from far away is badass, but the downfall is if the optic takes a hard hit, the sight can be thrown off, limiting its effectiveness and you need to go back to the range to “zero” it back in.
With a set of iron sights, most damage isn’t severe enough to completely take you out of the fight.
2. Gender Integrated Training
In the mid-2000s, I marched into Naval Training Command Great Lakes to begin my path to become a corpsman. Little did we know that our division would get integrated with a female class. There’s nothing wrong with it generally speaking.
Being integrated means you’re going to train to fight on a ship alongside female recruits and might have a female Recruit Division Commander yelling at you to tie a bow knot faster.
Not saying women can’t be tough, but images like the one below suggest they may be too relaxed.
3. Weapons Training
In this day and age, Navy boot camp isn’t much more than eating three meals a day, memorizing your recruit handbook, some physical training here and there and eventually spending a long night going through battle stations.
My division spent a half of day snapping in, then firing approximately 30 rounds at a patched up target. That was it.
No wonder service members accidentally shoot themselves.
Back in the day, heading to the rifle range was a major event conducted as a massive outdoor range.
Navy Bootcamp during the 60’s in San Diego, Ca. “Look Ma, iron sights.”
4. Hard Training
The stress cards have been debunked awhile ago — they don’t exist.
What does exist is the fine line recruit trainers have to walk to avoid rules barring hazing. There have been quite a few reports of drill instructors being charged with hazing recruits in Parris Island. True or not, it’s a problem.
Not only do these reports shine a bright light on the way recruits are trained, it could also undermine the drill instructor’s authority.
In every branch of the military, there are going to have a few bad apples in charge who go overboard, but as one former Marine drill instructor stated: “you have to train for war to be effective in war.”
Gunny Hartman is hard, but he is fair. (Source: WB/Screenshot)
Having known many Marines who went through recruit training during the Vietnam War era, Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket” is a pretty accurate depiction of boot camp life back then. (Just the first act. The second and third acts aren’t known for their accuracy).
In some aspects, hazing is considered a right of passage, but punching or slamming recruits down isn’t cool.
5. Cellphone usage
I told you number five would shock you.
Remember when you showed up to boot camp and you got one phone call home to inform your family you arrived safely. Well, that still exists, but now in some Army boot camps you can call them on your personal cell phone at your drill sergeant’s discretion.
The recruits need to been in good standings to use their most prized possession on the weekends.
Note: Erase any sensitive photos you might have beforehand.
Can you think of any other changes not listed? Comment below.
A petition lobbying the White House to reinstate the official Navy rating titles removed in late September gained more than 100,000 signatures on We the People, a website created by the Obama administration to allow large groups of Americans to directly request changes to public policy.
Petitions that cross the threshold are guaranteed an official response from the administration, but activists are not guaranteed that it will be a “yes” response.
Ratings were essentially job titles in the Navy and they were incorporated into the method of address for most enlisted leaders. Some of the ratings, like those for gunner’s or boatswain’s mates, have remained the same since the Continental Navy instituted them over 240 years ago. Other rates, such as special warfare boat operator, are newer.
Navy officials say that they removed the rating structure to allow sailors to more easily cross-train between jobs or switch career tracks entirely. This increased flexibility in job choices would also, according to comments given to the Navy Times, make it easier for sailors to get specific duty stations.
For 241 Years Navy personnel have been identified by their Job specialty, known as a “Rating.” The oldest rates such as Boatswain Mates, and Gunners Mate predate the founding of this country. Being known by your job title was a sense of pride. A sign of accomplishment. The Secretary of the Navy and Chief of Naval Operations just senselessly erased this tradition.
While the White House promises an official response to successful petitions, it does so by putting the petition in front of the proper policy makers. According to the program’s “about” section:
With We the People, you can easily create a petition online, share it, and collect signatures. If you gather 100,000 signature in 30 days, we’ll review your petition, make sure it gets in front of the appropriate policy experts, and issue an official response.
In this case, that could mean that the petition would land on the desk of Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus or someone on his staff. But Mabus and his staff were the ones who made the decision to get rid of Navy ratings in the first place.
The petition could encourage senior Navy leadership to take sailor feedback more seriously moving forward and possibly even find a plan that accomplishes the leadership’s goals while preserving Navy tradition.
The woman who unsuccessfully ran for vice president on the ticket of Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain in 2008 may soon be in charge of the agency tasked with taking care of America’s veterans.
Several news reports indicate former Alaska governor and Republican VP pick Sarah Palin has been in discussions with the Donald Trump transition team in recent days to become the new Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
A Palin aide told ABC News that the conservative firebrand had told Trump her “megaphone … can be used in a productive and positive way to help those desperately in need.”
The reports on Palin don’t come out of left field, as the former governor has made veterans’ issues a major subject of her speeches across the country. In 2015, Palin addressed the massive Conservative Political Action Conference with a 30-minute speech devoted entirely to military and veterans issues.
“This bureaucracy is killing our vets,” Palin said of the VA in her CPAC speech. “They wait for months, they wait for years to get treatment at the VA, and they’re losing hope. The VA’s mistakes and coverups have cost the lives of over 500 vets in the last four years — and that doesn’t account for those who took their own lives.”
The Department of Veterans Affairs is one of the largest U.S. government agencies, with over 300,000 employees and a 2017 budget of $187 million.
Palin’s oldest son Track served in the Army with a combat tour to Iraq and her daughter Bristol is married to Medal of Honor recipient and former Marine Dakota Meyer
Chritsopher Nolan’s new “Dunkirk” movie features Sir Kenneth Branagh as the cool-under-fire Commander Bolton, but his character is largely based on a real British officer who underwent greater hardships to save British and French forces and was tragically lost at sea during the evacuation.
The original goal was to get 45,000 men out in two days before the defensive line at Dunkirk, the last Allied-held territory in the area, collapsed. A Canadian member of the Royal Navy, Cmdr. James Campbell Clouston, was assigned to getting as many men as possible off the “East Mole.”
The East Mole was actually one of two breakwaters used to protect the beach and channel from ocean currents. It was about a mile long and just wide enough for four men. It was a clear target for German planes to attack and provided little opportunity for cover. But, it was an efficient way to get large numbers of men off.
On the first day that Clouston and other members of a commanding party under Capt. William Tennant were operating on the beach, the number of troops evacuated rose from 7,669 to 18,527. Many of these men made it out thanks to Clouston’s efforts on the Mole, which was averaging 1,000 evacuations per hour.
Panic broke out on the Mole after a bomb blew a hole in a section. Troops attempted to rush off, but Clouston ordered a lieutenant to draw his revolver and restore order. The troops on the Mole were quickly corralled onto a trawler and sent away.
But word got out that the Moles were still in operation, and the pace picked up. One of the best days for the Mole came on June 1 when, despite a devastating air raid, over 47,000 men made it onto ships from the pier.
Clouston waved off the assistance of a second boat. Survivors said that he was worried the Germans would spot it and attack while the boat was stationary. He attempted to swim to another vessel a couple of miles away but was lost at sea.
Taliban rebels killed seven people and kidnapped another six along a highway in western Afghanistan, official sources told EFE Ingles July 12.
The incident, in which 10 rebels were also killed, took place on July 11 along a national highway near Farah, capital of a province by the same name, when the Taliban stopped several vehicles and captured more than 10 people, according to Nasser Mehri, spokesperson for the provincial governor.
“According to initial information, they killed seven of the kidnapped passengers,” explained Mehri, adding that five of the victims were former members of the Afghan security forces.
Mehri added the insurgents were planning to capture more people when the Afghan troops arrived and there was a shootout.
A police official from the province, who asked not to be named, told EFE that at least seven passengers are still being held hostage by the Taliban, and that security forces have launched a rescue operation in areas around the incident spot.
In 2016, the Taliban abducted hundreds of people from the country’s unsafe highways, including members of the security forces traveling in buses or in specific vehicles.
Afghanistan is witnessing its most violent phase since 2001, when the Taliban regime was overthrown with the help of the United States.
Since then, insurgents have been gaining ground in various parts of Afghanistan and currently control, influence, or are in dispute with the government over at least 43 percent of the territory, according to the US.
The military has very talented photographers in the ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. Here are the best military photos of the week:
We had to do a double take, and yes it’s real! A CV-22 Osprey performs a routine formation flight while en route to Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., Jan. 9, 2017. The 1st Special Operations Wing conducted a flyover for the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship game featuring the Clemson Tigers versus Alabama Crimson Tide.
Master Sgt. Michael Meyer checks on the tires of a C-130H Hercules at the 179th Airlift Wing in Mansfield, Ohio, during routine morning maintenance Dec. 28, 2016. The Ohio Air National Guard unit has a 40-year history of flying airlift missions since it received the first C-130B model in the winter of 1976.
Soldiers from Multinational Battle Group-East brave the cold to participate in a sledding competition on Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo, Jan. 8. Each sled was an example of high-tech Army engineering, carefully constructed for speed, style and comfort.
Talk about a ‘boom with a view! Soldiers in a M1A2 Abrams tank, assigned to 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, fire at targets at Fort Stewart, Georgia, Dec. 8, 2016.
ATLANTIC OCEAN (Jan 11, 2017) The amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD 5) conducts a live-fire exercise with the ship’s RIM 116 Rolling Airframe Missile weapon system. Bataan is underway conducting composite training unit exercise (COMPTUEX) with the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group in preparation for an upcoming deployment.
ARABIAN SEA (Jan 9, 2017) After being sprayed with Oleoresin Capsaicin Fire Controlman 2nd Class Tauren Terry demonstrates a takedown on Cryptologic Technician Maintenance 2nd Class David McDowell as Master at Arms 1st Class Cecily Schutt evaluates Sailors’ performance during security reaction force basic training on the flight deck of Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Mahan (DDG 72), Jan. 9. USS Mahan is deployed in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations in support of maritime security operations and theater security operation efforts.
Marines with Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response-Africa, fire their weapons during a rifle range near Naval Air Station Sigonella, Italy, Jan. 3, 2017. Marines with U.S. Marine Forces Europe and Africa, conducted a stress shoot, which involved a physically strenuous work-out followed by a course of fire aimed at testing the Marine’s cognitive function.
Cpl. Evangellos Kanellakos, a field radio operator with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, launches an RQ-11B Raven small unmanned aerial system during Exercise Alligator Dagger. The Raven provides aerial imagery up to 10 km away from its point of origin for close range surveillance, which can support forward observation of fires, identifying enemy locations, and to provide feedback for improving defensive and offensive positions.
We are always ready.
Sector San Francisco’s Incident Management Division (IMD) wrapped up operations on a case involving a World War II landing craft and a tractor it had been carrying, which both capsized in the Sacramento River. Initially a SAR case, all hands on board were okay, but diesel fuel entered the water. IMD worked with the responsible party of the landing craft, who hired a salvage company to mitigate the environmental threat of the pollution by removing the landing craft and tractor via crane.
These days, tattoos are so commonplace in the U.S. military that every branch has its own policy as part of its uniform regulations, but a few years ago that wasn’t the case. The U.S. Navy, however, has a long tradition of tattoos.
Here’s the meaning behind a few of the classics:
1. Fully-Rigged Ships
A tattoo of a fully-rigged ship from the age of sail means the sailor had been around Cape Horn, the rough, stormy waters around the southern tip of South America. A fully-rigged ship is one with three or more masts, square sails fully deployed.
2. Nautical Star
The star is a symbol of a sailor always to be able to find his way home. The nautical star is a five-pointed star in dark and light shades counterchanged to resemble a compass rose.
3. Shellback Turtle
Sailors can wear the Shellback Turtle when they get initiated into King Neptune’s Court after crossing the equator. If you’re unsure what exactly this means, We Are The Mighty has an explainer for you:
The crossed cannons mean a veteran has seen military service as a sailor.
Sailors earn a new swallow tattoo for every 5,000 nautical miles traveled, which is about 5,754 regular miles, roughly the distance between New York City and Tel Aviv. The circumference of the earth is 21,639 nautical miles, just about 4.16 sparrows.
A single anchor means the sailor crossed the Atlantic or has been a member of the merchant marine, a fleet of civilian ships that carries military cargo. In wartime, this fleet is mobilized to carry war materiel, including troops and supplies.
During World War II, the Merchant Marine took a beating with high casualties, entering the European war long before the United States itself. Since the U.S. was delivering war supplies to Britain through Lend-Lease, Nazi u-boats targeted U.S. shipping bound for the UK. The Merchant Marine casualty rate was 3.9 percent, whereas the Marine Corps’, the next highest, was only 2.94 percent.
7. Rope on the Wrist
A knot of rope on a sailors wrist identifies him as a deckhand, someone who maintains the hull, decks, superstructure, mooring, and cargo handling. Deckhands are still common in ocean-going vessels, though they’re far less likely to be maintaining wooden ships.
8. Hula Girl
Hula girls signify the sailor has been to Hawaii.
9. Crossed Anchors
Sailors wearing the crossed anchors on the webbing between their thumb and index finger are identifying themselves as boatswain’s mates, the guys who maintain the deck and take care of smaller boat operations and damage control parties.
10. HOLD and FAST
These words are a charm spelled out on the four front-facing fingers on each hand. Sailors hope it brings them good luck while gripping the rigging. Holding fast means the sailor isn’t going to let the line go, no matter what. Sailors were a superstitious bunch and life on a sailing ship was tough (to say the least). Anything that gave them the edge in saving their own lives was worth doing.
11. Pig and Rooster
The foot tattoos of pigs and roosters were worn by sailors in WWII in the hopes it would keep the sailor from drowning. The Navy shipped these animals in crates at the time. When ships went down, the crates floated, and the animals inside would sometimes be the only survivors
12. Compass Rose
Another good luck charm that allows a sailor to find his way home.
Worn on the soles of a sailor’s feet, these are thought to ward off sharks
14. Dagger through a Rose
This tattoo means the sailor is loyal and willing to fight anything, even something as sweet and beautiful as a rose
Wearing a dragon means the sailor has served in China.
16. Golden Dragon
When a sailor crossed the International Date Line, he earns the right to wear the Golden Dragon tattoo. The International Date Line is the imaginary line of longitude that separates two calendar dates. When someone sails from East to West, they set their clock back one hour for every 15 degrees of longitude they pass. When they pass the date line, they’ve gained a full 24 hours.
Sailors tattooed with harpoons were serving or had served in a whaling or fishing fleet.
18. King Neptune
Another badge of honor earned for crossing the Equator.
19. Palm Tree
The palm tree has two meanings, depending on your navy. Sailors in the Royal Navy during World War II could wear it after sailing on Mediterranean cruises. It can also be worn by U.S. sailors who served in Hawaii.
The Roman Empire had one of the best militaries of ancient times. It steamrolled over the Carthaginians, Greeks, Egyptians, Gauls, more than held their own against many other forces for centuries.
So, how did the world’s most powerful government organize its deadly legions? Well, it started with a group of eight men known as a contubernium – which was a little smaller than a typical infantry squad (usually nine personnel). Ten contuberniums, plus the command staff, formed a century of 85 men.
Six centuries – about 540 men – made up a cohort. This unit was roughly the size of a present-day infantry battalion. Ten cohorts, plus attachments including a force of cavalry, made a legion of about 6,000 men, roughly the size of a brigade.
The legions were the largest force in the Roman military. Only citizens could serve in the legions but the Roman military also had cohorts of auxiliaries which allowed non-citzens to serve in the Roman army.
These auxiliaries were usually slingers, archers, and additional cavalry. Many Roman citizens, who had to provide their own equipment, served as infantry.
After 25 years of service in the Roman army, legionnaires and auxiliaries could look forward to a generous retirement. Those who weren’t citizens gained Roman citizenship and all that meant, plus a plot of land and a generous retirement bonus.
The 38th Parallel between North and South Korea isn’t a place known for comedy, and lately it’s been even more un-funny than usual.
American General Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of U.S. forces in the country, recently said that tensions on the Korean Peninsula were at their highest level in more than 20 years. So Conan O’Brien took his late night show on the road to provide a little levity for the troops stationed along the DMZ.
They went to the Joint Security Area (JSA) on the border, the only place where North and South Korean troops stand face to face. The JSA is used to hold diplomatic engagements between the two countries who are still technically at war. They were startled to discover the North keeps a closed circuit television feed on the buildings in the JSA to monitor activity there.
While there, O’Brien and crew performed the first late night talk show ever performed in the Hermit Kingdom, albeit just a few feet across the border. His first guest was “The Walking Dead’s” Steven Yeun. Watch the whole segment below, then check out an outtake from the DMZ Gift Shop.
When the Army asked industry about three years ago if they could come up with a new, lightweight scout vehicle that could move in and out of enemy territory quickly but carry a deadly bite if backed into a corner, several companies answered the call.
But one of the most badass options offered up to Army commanders was the Northrop Grumman Hellhound.
It’s like a dune buggy and a Humvee met and had a baby. (Photo from Northtrop Grumman)
Just looking at the thing makes you say “hooah,” and it was the star of the show at this year’s Association of the U.S. Army convention in Washington.
With a top speed of 70 mph and a crew compartment that fits six fully-equipped soldiers, the Hellhound is still small enough to fit in the belly of a CH-47 Chinook transport helicopter. The vehicle is designed with enough power and room inside the crew compartment to accommodate a remote control weapon system and a host of high-tech defense and protective equipment, the company says.
It’s like a dune buggy and a Humvee met and had a baby.
“The high performance, highly mobile Hellhound is designed to allow users to easily gain access to highly restrictive terrain and capable of operating worldwide on primary and secondary roads, as well as trails and cross country in weather extremes,” the company says. “The Hellhound also introduces the capability of providing expeditionary power generation as well as an unparalleled capacity for powering on-board equipment.”
The Hellhound features a roof-mounted M230LF 30mm cannon, and designers also showed off a high-energy laser equipped one on the AUSA show floor. The cannon stows inside the vehicle for transport and the suspension can be lowered and raised based on terrain.
It is unclear whether the Army will ever buy the Hellhound, but clearly the company has pushed the envelope for all-terrain capabilities with a heck of a ballistic punch.
Former Army Ranger and West Point grad Matthew ‘Griff’ Griffin isn’t your average vet entrepreneur. He came up with the notion of building something of value when he was serving in Afghanistan during the early phases of the war, way before there was much of a logistics footprint in place. He saw that the Afghan people were in need of more than protection from the Taliban. They needed basic goods and services.
“I saw Afghanistan as a place to leverage the power of small business owners making a difference,” Griff said. “The region could benefit from more micro loans and fewer armored vehicles.”
When Griff left active duty he returned to Kabul doing some clinic work, but beyond that he wanted to find a way to assist with the country’s stability by creating a manufacturing base, starting with a single factory he stumbled across on the east side of the capital. The factory had the infrastructure; it was just a matter of what to manufacture.
As he was leaving the factory he found a flip flop on the floor — it was unique and a little funky, the kind of design Griff thought might resonate with fashion-minded millennials. He held it up and asked the factory manager if he could make them, and the Afghan local said sure. Combat Flip Flops was born.
Griff and his brother procured the materials from a far eastern supplier and got everything set up, but they’d no sooner returned to the U.S. than they were informed that the factory was shutting down — a casualty of the volatile socio-economic climate of Afghanistan. But the brothers were undeterred, plus they had a lot of money wrapped up in the materials sitting in the factory in Kabul.
Without any U.S. military assistance — the most effective way to operate, according to Griff — they went back in on a private spec ops mission of sorts, one designed to salvage what they could from their investment and work that had been accomplished already.
“We rented a ‘Bongo’ truck and packed the inventory of flip flops into bags designed to hold opium,” Griff said. “We were riding around the streets of Kabul trying to look inconspicuous, two white guys sitting on a pile of opium bags.”
They stored the 2,000-some pairs of flip flops in a warehouse on the outskirts of Kabul, and as they did a closer inspection of their wares they realized that the quality was such that they couldn’t be sold. They wound up giving all of them away to needy Afghans, which was better than nothing but not up to the standards of Griff’s vision.
They found another factory, and once again secured a supplier (and paid for it using Griff’s credit card), and this time failure came even faster and the factory closed down before any materials for the order of 4,000 pairs had been shipped. It was time for a more dramatic pivot in the business plan.
“We wound up taking the guerrilla manufacturing route and assembling the sandals in my garage in Washington state,” Griff said.
The company’s potential big break came in the form of a phone call from one of the producers at ABC’s “Shark Tank” TV show. Griff and a couple of his co-workers will appear on the episode scheduled to air on February 5. (Check your local listings.)
“We’re stoked to bring the Combat Flip Flops mission to the tank,” Griff’ said. “Every Shark has the ability to expand the mission, inspire new recruits to join the Unarmed Forces, and manufacture peace through trade. Over the past few years, we’ve survived deadly encounters to create an opportunity like this. Attack Dogs. Raging Bulls. If we need to jump in the water with Sharks, then it’s time to grab the mask and fins.”
“We’ve all seen and heard Shark Tank success stories,” Donald Lee, Combat Flip Flops’ CMO and co-founder, added. “We set our minds to getting on the show and in true Ranger fashion, we accomplished the objective. We hope this is the catalyst our company needs to provide large scale, peaceful, sustainable change in areas of conflict.”
In 2015, Combat Flip Flops’ sales increased 150 percent over the previous year. In keeping with Griff’s original corporate vision, the company donated funds for schools to educate Afghan girls and cleared 1,533 square meters of land mines in Laos, which keeps the local population — especially children — safer.
Griff has leveraged his service academy pedigree and military experience in incredibly productive ways. His entrepreneurial sense and — even more importantly — his worldview defies most veteran stereotypes and associated bogus narratives. His outlook and drive are distinctly that of the Post 9-11 warfighter — “the next greatest generation.”
Combat Flip Flop’s mission statement captures it:
To create peaceful, forward-thinking opportunities for self-determined entrepreneurs affected by conflict. Our willingness to take bold risks, community connection, and distinct designs communicate, “Business, Not Bullets”– flipping the view on how wars are won. Through persistence, respect, and creativity, we empower the mindful consumer to manufacture peace through trade.
On July 11, 2017, the Sri Lankan navy was conducting operations nine miles out to sea and spotted something surprising: an elephant swimming in the deep ocean.
Elephants are actually excellent swimmers for land animals, using their powerful legs to propel themselves forward and breathing through their trunk. But they aren’t true endurance swimmers or deepwater experts.
The F-14A Tomcat was a hard airplane to land aboard an aircraft carrier. Engine response was slow. A wingtip-to-wingtip distance of nearly 70 feet meant there wasn’t much room to deviate away from the centerline of the landing area on the flight deck. Any lateral stick input caused the airplane to yaw in the opposite direction, which forced the pilot to simultaneously feed in rudder to counter. The velocity vector on the heads-up display wasn’t accurate enough to be used as a flight path marker. The tail hook-to-eye distance was more than any other airplane in the wing, which made any vertical corrections very precarious in the endgame.
And for her crime of doing well in flight school, then-Ensign Carey Lohrenz was selected to fly Tomcats, the first female naval aviator to get orders to that community. And by accepting those orders, Lohrenz embarked on a pioneer’s journey, one that had more ups and downs than anyone could have predicted, and one that would have crushed the spirit of the average American woman.
But Carey Lohrenz isn’t an average American woman.
Lohrenz developed a love of sports while growing up in Green Bay, Wisconsin. While she claims she wasn’t a tomboy, she played little league hockey on boy’s teams until high school. (“I quit when they started taking a little too long to get off of me after a check,” she jokes.) After that she took advantage of her six-foot-tall stature and joined the volleyball and basketball teams.
At the same time another love was growing inside of her: aviation. Her father was an airline pilot who’d flown C-130s in the Marine Corps, and her mother was a flight attendant. Both she and her older brother were determined to fly, and they often discussed the best routes to make a career out of flying.
But Lohrenz didn’t discuss her dream with anyone else. “I didn’t want their doubts about what females could do at that time to taint my dream,” she said.
So as soon as she had her Psychology degree from the University of Wisconsin in hand, she followed her brother’s lead and applied for the Navy’s Aviation Officer Candidate School. Months later she reported to Pensacola, Florida for flight training.
Her brother was just over a year ahead of her in the training pipeline, and in spite of the fact he selected the transport community (and ultimately wound up flying E-6s) she wanted to fly tactical jets. And because her performance was at the top of her class, she got what she wanted.
But her selection for jet training came with some inherent tension. The combat exclusion law that prevented females from being assigned to carrier-based squadrons was still very much in place in the early 1990s. The only jets that females were piloting were shore-based EA-6s that flew missile profiles against surface ships for training.
“I got a lot of ‘why are you here?’ questions from instructors and fellow flight students,” Lohrenz said.
But she was undeterred and pressed on with an eye on what she hoped might happen. “If combat billets opened up I wanted to be in a position so that nobody could say I got a slot simply because I was a girl but because I was qualified,” she said.
But in spite of her hope and planning, it wasn’t looking good as she neared the end of her flight training.
“I got a call six weeks before I was supposed to get my wings that the combat exclusion clause hadn’t been lifted and there was no place for me to go,” Lohrenz said. “I could get out of the Navy or go to a non-flying job.”
She hung up the phone and went back to her scheduled flight brief and fought the instinct to cry.
The next day she went to her commanding officer and asked him to find “a third way.”
“I wasn’t taking no for an answer,” she said. And because she’d done well her CO went to bat for her.
But he didn’t have to try too hard because about that same time the combat exclusion law went away. Lohrenz pinned on her Naval Aviator’s Wings of Gold and got orders to VF-124, the F-14 training squadron at NAS (now MCAS) Miramar in southern California, the first female to go right from winging to Tomcats. (The other females were transferred from the EA-6 community.)
But the challenges for Lohrenz didn’t end there.
“I got to Miramar as the trifecta of bad things were happening,” she said.
There was the fallout from the Tailhook scandal that resulted in careers ending for several high-ranking and popular fighter crews. There was a Navy-wide reduction in force happening that was forcing people out of the service against their will. And there was disappointment in the Tomcat community about the fact that the F-14 wasn’t getting upgraded.
One of the instructors posted two articles on the main bulletin board in the ready room: One about how the upgraded F-14 was being cancelled, and one that highlighted that the cost to retrograde ships for females was $200 million.
“There was a lot of animosity that had nothing to do with me but merely my presence,” Lohrenz said. “It wasn’t an easy environment. It took an unwavering belief that I had the ability to do the job.”
She had the first hiccup in her flight training toward the end of the VF-124 syllabus, failing to qualify the first time she tried landing the Tomcat on the carrier. But she wasn’t alone. About 75 percent of her class failed the first time, primarily due to the weather conditions that resulted in rough seas that made an already difficult task of landing a beast of an airplane on the ship for the first time even harder.
Lohrenz focused on her additional training and qualified without any issues the second time through.
She joined her first fleet squadron – VF-213 “Blacklions” – at the most rigorous phase of pre-deployment training, one of two female pilots in the squadron.
The other female pilot was Lt. Kara Hultgreen. Hultgreen was senior to Lohrenz and had come to the Blacklions by way of the EA-6 community.
“Because she had a lot of flight hours people assumed she was experienced,” Lohrenz said.
Two months into Lohrenz’ tour tragedy struck. Hultgreen’s Tomcat had an engine stall in the landing pattern behind the carrier, and she lost control and crashed. While the backseater managed to initiate ejection in time to save his own life, Hultgreen was killed.
The mishap became a lightning rod of emotions and political agendas. Experienced pilots believed Hultgreen had mishandled a basic inflight emergency and that her death was her own fault. Others resented the level of effort that was put into recovering the Tomcat from the bottom of the ocean.
“Nobody addressed the details of the situation and it caused a lot of people to feel less valuable and hurt morale,” Lohrenz said. “And there was a bit of a leadership vacuum that could have nipped the whole thing in the bud.”
Lohrenz was now the sole female carrier-based fighter pilot.
“If I thought the spotlight was bad before it was now nuclear fusion level,” she said.
She was caught in a lose-lose matrix of sorts. “If I was stoic people thought I didn’t care,” she explained. “And if I showed emotion people thought I was a bitch.”
The atmosphere on the carrier was increasingly uncomfortable, even insulting, as the deployment wore on. Female crew were made to take pregnancy tests after every in-port period. The admiral in charge stated in a very public forum that the reason he supported women aboard ships was “because they made the carrier smell better.”
She tried to simply do her job, to fly the airplane and perform as a normal first-tour junior officer should, but that ultimately wasn’t enough to overcome the forces around her.
“To be cryptic about it, the rug was yanked out from under me by a cadre of people who didn’t want women in the military . . . period,” Lohrenz said.
She saw a shift in her commanding officer’s attitude. Her previous landing grade performance that had characterized her as a normal first tour pilot dealing with an airplane that was just plain hard to control now had her listed as “unsafe and unpredictable.”
“I was set up,” she said.
Lohrenz was given an evaluation board that pulled her out of the Tomcat community and assigned her to fly small propeller-driven transports from a shore base. She left the Navy shortly after that.
But in spite of the challenges and the emotional turmoil, Lohrenz has used the experience as a pivot point. “I went from Mach 2 to mom to entrepreneur,” she said.
During the course of being a homemaker, which included being a wife to a FEDEX pilot and raising four kids, she found herself increasingly being sought after for business advice, especially that pertaining to organizational change.
Lohrenz connected the dots and – after a short and semi-chaotic stint with a consulting firm run by military aviation alums – she launched Carey Lohrenz Enterprises. She is now in high demand as a consultant and keynote speaker.
Her efforts are anchored by her book Fearless Leadership that outlines her approaches to both business and life. The book is organized around the three fundamentals of “real fearlessness” — courage, tenacity, and integrity — and offers Lohrenz’ take on how to stay resilient through hard times.
And Lohrenz’ life would suggest that staying resilient is something about which she knows a thing or two.