The world knew Rob Guzzo as an elite SEAL; a wonderful father; a talented actor; an ambitious student; and a skilled athlete.
But to me, he was all these things and so much more.
Unfortunately the world lost Rob Nov. 12, 2012 — a man who succumbedto the wounds that many do not see but are often more painful than those that bleed and scar.
Even in the midst of his pain, Rob made others happy. It was hard to know Rob’s struggle because you likely wouldn’t see it unless you knew him well or caught him in a moment he was talking about it.
But this is how I remember Rob Guzzo, and the man I had the honor to get to know and have in my life.
Rob made everyone smile.
Rob was the guy who was always smiling. Whether he was dressing up as a Teletubby, Irishman, or making a singing lessons video, Rob did anything to get a smile out of those around him. You simply couldn’t be around Rob and not smile. He would do goofy things to make people laugh and have a little fun.
Rob was a go-getter and driven.
This is a given, since we all know being a SEAL is no easy feat. Not only was Rob a SEAL, but he was in school to get his masters in addition to pursuing an acting career. He took his craft of acting seriously, and it was obvious he had the talent to soar. Rob was an inspiration to those around him, setting the example to go after your dreams.
Rob was an animal lover.
He loved his dog Sammi. He treated this dog like a princess. The depth of his love could be seen in the way he cared for Sammi and how he treated her.
He was protective of those he loved.
Rob would make sure I was OK if anyone bothered me, even if it was something that wasn’t a big deal. He did the same for others around him. He would make sure those he cared about were ok, even when he wasn’t.
He was loving and sensitive more than he let on.
Rob had a wonderful, giving heart. Sometimes he put up emotional barriers, so the full extend of his loving and sensitive side wasn’t always seen. But it’s who he was. When he did open up, he was one of the most loving and emotionally aware people I knew. It was an honor to get to know the deeper side of Rob, and I will always cherish that I got to see how deep he truly was.
Rob loved his family.
Rob spoke about his mom often, and when his daughter, Jena Mae, was born, it was obvious he loved this beautiful little girl that was his twin. He also loved his military family, and you could tell in the way he talked about Marc Lee that he would have given anything for his family.
He made the world brighter.
Whether Rob was out partying, on set, with people he didn’t know or his best friends and family, he was a ray of light. No matter what Rob did, he was a ray of sunshine. His smile and personality lit up any room or environment.
The world might have lost Rob Guzzo, but it didn’t lose his memory.
These are just a few things I remember and cherish about Rob. He forever impacted my life, and he is impacting many others through his story. He is still giving back even after he has left this Earth.
Let Rob’s passing remind us that even when our brothers and sisters bring us so much sunshine, they may be fighting battles we do not see. Check on each other — even in the times that seem great.
You might not know when your buddy is drowning, and one small act of friendship and brotherhood can be the thing that saves them.
Rob’s story will be featured on “The Warfighters,” a marathon event airing Veterans Day on the History Channel. Tune in to honor this amazing man and learn more about who he was.
Rob was beyond a SEAL, and his impact will go well beyond the time we got to have him here with us.
Medical treatment is a crucial element on the battlefield, helping keep troops in the fight and boost morale with the knowledge that if you’re hurt by the bad guys, someone’s got your back and will get you out of harms way.
While past wars featured medical evacuations draped over the shoulder of a comrade or on the back of a horse, technology has progressed to include a more effect way to get the wounded back to hospitals through the air.
In one of the first true MEDEVAC operations during the Siege of Paris in 1870, balloons were used to rescue civilians and soldiers in the Franco-Prussian war.
It’s reported that another of the first aerial MEDEVACs took place during World War I when an unknown Serbian officer flew a French Air Service plane with an injured comrade to a hospital. Back then, an injured soldier’s mortality rate decreased from 60 percent to 10 percent using aircraft to get them to medical care.
At this point, all documented MEDEVACs had involved fixed wing airplanes.
In April 1944, an Army Air Forces aircraft carrying Army Staff Sgt. Ed “Murphy” Hladovka and three wounded British soldiers was forced to land deep behind enemy lines near Mawlu, Burma. Then a brave Lt. Carter Harman flew his defenseless Sikorsky YR-4B into harms way, rescuing the four stranded men. The helicopter was so small it took four trips to lift everyone to safety.
Acclaimed aeronautical engineer Igor Sikorsky once said, “If a man is in need of rescue, an airplane can come in and throw flowers on him, and that’s just about all. But a direct lift aircraft could come in and save his life.”
During the Korean War, helicopters were more widely used in medical transport, spawning the growth of auxiliary surgical hospitals — later renamed to Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals, or “M.A.S.H.”
With this medical expansion considered a huge success, the U.S. began beefing up its medical wards on Navy ships, adding dozens of beds and expanding the number of surgical rooms to handle the incoming patients. An estimated 20,000 Americans had been successfully evacuated and treated during the war.
It wasn’t until Vietnam where things kicked into high gear. The UH-1 Huey was big enough that it could carry medical personnel and the wounded on the same bird. This reduced the mortality rate to one dead per 100 causalities.
Entering service in the 1970’s, the UH-60 Black Hawk provided even more room for medical personnel render more complicated medical treatments while in flight on multiple patients. Today, the Black Hawk is the go-to helo for MEDEVACs.
Equipped with the latest in defensive technology and maneuvering capabilities, the UH-60 Black Hawk has the ability to head out into some pretty dangerous situations and land on rough terrain to secure those men and women in need of top medical care.
Today, with the average response time decreasing, the survival rate for the wounded troops has reached an all-time high of a 92 percent.
Author’s note: This is a very hypothetical look at how a fight between two of America’s greatest expeditionary units could play out. Obviously, this battle would never actually happen since paratroopers and Marines rarely fight outside of bars. Both sides can only use their indigenous assets and their rides to the fight, no requesting Patriot missile support or a carrier strike group.
During the short War of Alaskan Secession in 2017, one brutal battle pitted an Army Airborne Brigade Combat Team against a Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU).
The fight centered on Fort Glenn, an abandoned World War II airfield on Umnak Island in the center of Alaska’s Aleutian Island Chain. The 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division attempted to take the fort for the Alaskan Independence Forces while the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit steamed north to capture it for the Federal Forces.
The Alaskans wanted the base to act as an early-warning installation and a platform for controlling Arctic traffic while the Federal Forces needed it as a marshaling and power projection platform for the invasion of Alaska.
The soldiers and Marines raced to the island, each unaware of the other’s plans. 4th Brigade caught a ride from Alaskan Air National Guard C-17s while the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit rode in on their dedicated Navy ships, the USS Peleliu and the USS Germantown, from where they were already steaming in the northern Pacific.
The paratroopers arrived first, jumping into the grass and wildflowers covering Fort Glenn. After Army pathfinders walked the runway and declared it safe for airland operations, C-17s began ferrying the unit’s heavy equipment onto the base.
It was at this critical moment that the Army colonel learned from one of his UAV operators that the 31st MEU was south of the island and steaming towards Deer Bay, a natural beach that sat at the foot of Fort Glenn.
This was a crisis for the airborne unit. A surprise winter storm approaching mainland Alaska had grounded the F-22s and other fighters captured as the war began, but the commander knew the MEU would still be able to launch its eight Harriers and four attack helicopters with the Navy’s ships safely out of the storm’s path.
The Army had limited options. They could attempt to defend Fort Glenn with what static defenses could be emplaced quickly, hide and set up an ambush at the beaches for when the Marines landed, or withdraw to the nearby high ground at Mount Okmok, a volcano that rarely erupts.
Javelin missile teams jumped out and positioned their launchers to screen for aircraft flying low and slow. Riflemen grabbed their assault packs and began setting up their own positions.
The soldiers waited and watched as the Marines’ amphibious assault vehicles crept into view. It wasn’t until the first of the Ospreys and SuperCobras neared the beach and spotted the humvees that the Javelin crews began firing.
The first missiles streaked toward the aircraft, but they had only limited anti-air capabilities. Two SuperCobras and two Ospreys came down, but the rest of the aircraft began evasive maneuvers.
The Humvees moved up from the dead space to give their gunners a shot at the Marines coming in. TOW missiles and 40mm grenades began striking the AAVs making their way to the beach while .50-cal gunners targeted the Marines Combat Rubber Raiding Crafts.
The Marines, though surprised to find the beach occupied, were masters of amphibious warfare. The command quickly ordered the landers to turn south where the terrain around Deer Bay would protect them from the missiles. The AAVs began suppressive fire to cover the movement.
The Marines knew that since the Army fired Javelins, an anti-tank missile that is a risky choice against helicopters, the Javelin was their only anti-air missile. So the Harriers were free to fly just a little too fast and a little too high for the Javelins, and therefore they were able to rain destruction.
Once the Harriers were airborne, it was over for the Army’s heavy weapons platforms. After destroying the Humvees, they went after the Army howitzers and the few M1135 Strykers on the island.
The Army attempted an organized withdrawal to the mountain as the two remaining SuperCobras returned with the Harriers. The LCACs and Landing Craft Units offloaded the Marines’ six Light-Armored Vehicles and 120 humvees. The surviving AAVs swam onto the shores.
Army mortar crews, riflemen, and the surviving Javelin firers fought a valiant delaying action, but the island provided little cover and concealment and they were destroyed.
By the time the storm had passed over the Alaskan mainland and the governor could send reinforcements, the resistance on Umnak Island had been essentially wiped out. There was simply too little cover and concealment for the paratroopers to defend themselves against the air and armored support of a MEU once the Marines knew that they were there.
US Air Force special operators evacuate wounded service members during a training exercise with an HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter. A U.S. special operations team is currently trapped in Marjah, Afghanistan and one of the Pave Hawks sent to rescue them has crashed. Photo: US Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Scott Taylor
More than a dozen U.S. Army special operations soldiers are trapped in Marjah, Afghanistan, taking cover in a compound surrounded by enemy fire and hostile Taliban fighters after a U.S. special operations solider was killed earlier in the day, senior U.S. defense officials told Fox News late Tuesday.
A U.S. official described the “harrowing” scene to Fox News, saying there were enemy forces surrounding the compound in which the special operations team sought refuge.
“On the map there is one green dot representing friendly forces stuck in the compound, and around it is a sea of red [representing hostile forces],” the official told Fox News.
A U.S. military “quick reaction force” of reinforcements arrived late Tuesday and evacuated the U.S. special operations soldier killed in action, and the two wounded Americans in the compound, according to a U.S. defense official.
The crew of the disabled helicopter also evacuated safely, the official said.
The rest of the U.S. special operations team remain in the compound to secure the damaged HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter in an area surrounded by Taliban fighters.
An AC-130 gunship has been called in for air cover as the U.S. troops now wait out the night.
Earlier in the day, two USAF HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters were sent to rescue the U.S. special operations team. One of the helicopters took fire and waved off the mission and flew back to base.
The other helicopter’s blades struck the wall of the compound while attempting a rescue of the special operations team, according to defense officials who compared the scene to one similar to the helicopter crash inside Usama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan on the mission to kill the Al Qaeda leader in May 2011.
The joint U.S. and Afghan special operations team was sent to Marjah to clear the area of Taliban fighters, who have retaken most of the town since November.
There were nine airstrikes on Tuesday in support of a clearing operation.
Earlier in the day, Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook confirmed to reporters that the fighting in Marjah remains ongoing.
“There’s fighting on the ground as we speak,” said Cook.
“Everything’s being done to secure the safety of those Americans and the Afghan forces,” he added.
The Taliban in recent weeks has focused its efforts on retaking parts of Helmand, and the U.S. has countered with U.S. special operations forces working with Afghan troops.
Military trainers in Germany just wrapped up a four-day competition to determine the best sniper squad in Europe and a Norwegian team took first place at the end of 27 events designed to test key tasks that snipers must complete in combat.
Eleven countries sent squads to the competition, and the U.S. sent five squads including paratroopers and Marines.
The competition, hosted by the U.S. Army Europe and organized by the 7th Army Training Command, took place at Grafenwoehr Training Area, Germany. Participants took part in multiple shooting competitions as well as casualty evacuation, ruck marching, and other general military events.
“The competition challenged the competitors’ physical and mental toughness as well as their marksmanship proficiency,” said U.S. Army Maj. Erick Nyingi, the officer in charge of the competition.
One of the most suspenseful and distinctly sniper-oriented events was the stalking lane, where squads had to proceed as far as possible without being detected by observers.
Some high-octane events included a high-angle shot lane where snipers rode in a Black Hawk helicopter and had to engage two targets in under two minutes using three rounds or less. There was also a water shoot where the snipers engaged targets from a boat.
The sniper squad competition is the 2016 version of the annual Best Squad competition held by U.S. Army Europe. Each year focuses on a different type of squad. Last year, it was infantry squads.
No matter which type of unit is highlighted, the goal is to bring NATO members and other allies together to share tactics and engage in friendly competition so the troops can share new tactics, and training techniques.
“Overall the competition will definitely meet the objective of getting the squads to exchange ideas and [tactics],” Nyingi said. “There was a lot of collaboration after each day’s events, and I believe the greatest dividends will be realized from this exchange of ideas.”
Most Americans don’t know much about General George Custer beyond the fact that he was killed — along with all of his troops — by Native American warriors at the Battle of Little Bighorn. Here are 9 other facts that illustrate there was a lot more to the man beyond the bad tactical decisions he made that day:
1. He didn’t graduate with the rest of his West Point class because he got in trouble
The night before he was supposed to graduate with the Class of 1861, he was the cadet duty officer. During his watch he came across two junior cadets having a heated discussion, and instead of breaking it up he suggested they settle it by fighting it out. He was punished by the officers on the staff for his lack of judgment and kept from getting his diploma and commission until a few months later.
2. His future father-in-law wasn’t a big fan at first
Custer had a romantic interest in Libbie Bacon, who was from a prominent Michigan family, but her father was concerned about his working class roots and excessive drinking.
3. He was given sick leave following the Battle of Antietam
Custer distinguished himself at the bloody Battle of Antietam near Maryland’s border with West Virginia on the Potomac River, but the campaign took a physical and emotional toll. He was given sick leave, which he used to return to Michigan and pursue his relationship with Libbie.
4. He pinned on his first general’s star at age 23
Custer remains the youngest general officer in U.S. military history.
5. He became a national hero after the Battle of Gettysburg (and his future father-in-law started to like him)
Custer led several charges at Gettysburg, including one where his horse was shot out from under him. On his final charge (mounted once again), Custer raised his saber and shouted, “come on, you Wolverines!” as he drove off the dismounted Rebels. His glory came at a great cost, however: 50 percent of the soldiers in his company were killed during the battle. The tales of his heroism spread far and wide, and his name was soon synonymous with victory in the war. His notoriety also shifted the attitude of Libby’s dad, and in time he was able to successfully ask for her hand in marriage.
6. He considered being a coal baron or a politician after the Civil War
Because of his celebrity Custer was well-connected, and as the military grew smaller and his sense of purpose after the war faded, he considered working in both the coal industry and politics. But before he could move on either option, Gen. Sherman summoned him to help move the country westward.
7. He was demoted to colonel for a while
As tends to happen after every major war, the U.S. Army downsized following the Civil War, which reduced the number of general officer billets. In order to remain on active duty Custer had to accept being reduced to the rank of colonel for a while.
8. While he was popular with troops during the Civil War, his men hated him while he blazed across the wild west
From his first days establishing a more permanent U.S. military presence in Texas until that fateful day on the plains of Montana he was constrained by an unresponsive military bureaucracy and limited resources, and those things contributed to a draconian, self-centered, and often hypocritical leadership style that tended to trash morale.
9. He was killed at Little Bighorn only 15 years after leaving West Point
Custer miscalculated his enemy on June 25, 1876. When his scout Bloody Knife told him there were more Sioux waiting for the Seventh Cavalry than they had bullets, he simply responded, “Well, I guess we’ll go through them in one day.” Somewhere Sitting Bull was saying the same thing, and his prediction proved to be the accurate one.
Here’s the Battle of Little Bighorn as portrayed in the movie classic “Little Big Man,” starring Dustin Hoffman as Custer’s scout and Richard Mulligan as Custer:
Steven and Katie Applegate never saw remote island living as part of their post-military life, but when the former EOD Sergeant turned unexploded ordnance (UXO) contractor saw a minefield of opportunity on Guam, he took it.
The south pacific island of Guam is a United States territory with a military history dating back to 1898. Home to Naval Base Guam and Andersen Air Force Base, the 212 square miles of shoreline have seen their fair share of military operations, leaving an estimated 10,000 plus undetonated ordnance in need of care under the exact expertise Steven Applegate possesses.
Katie Applegate, who shared she had never traveled farther west than Kansas, didn’t immediately pack her bags when her husband took off for his first short-term contract position. “He left in early 2020. The plan was for him to scope out the job and island with trips back and forth.”
As most 2020 stories go, COVID changed their plans, but not all impacts were negative. “We realized the school year was going to be really different, and travel not so likely, so when his contract got extended it was easier to just say yes,” she shared. “The island is now home to our five-year plan.”
Fresh out of a resort-oriented quarantine, Katie Applegate’s first impressions were a bit mixed. Even with a large American population and influence, Guam has its unique quirks. “The roads can be unpredictable, and the grocery shelves are weirdly overstocked with all one item or completely lacking what you’re looking for. So, between the two base commissaries, I’ve learned the art of food shopping,” she explains.
As a veteran couple, coming to Guam outside of military orders meant figuring it out without a sponsor. Luckily for the Applegates, the military community in Guam is still rallying around its own.
“Maybe it’s the small island bringing us all together, but I definitely still feel accepted by military spouses here,” she explained. “A lot of us (military) are here on contracts, as airline pilot families, active duty or permanent residents so there’s no reason for barriers.”
Steven Applegate explained the drastic difference in workplace satisfaction he’s experiencing here, “At work people get me, we speak the same language. It makes being direct that much easier.”
Contracting after service for organizations like the Department of Defense, often provides veterans with an atmosphere, team and skillset similar to what they did in the military. The Applegates feel fortunate his position on Guam does not come with the typical 3-1 rotation seen in other contacts.
“If you’re willing to travel, and in some cases relocate your family after retirement, this is really a good path,” he explains.
Guam definitely delivers on off-duty recreation opportunities. World-class hiking trails and once-in-a-lifetime snorkeling are keeping this couple plenty occupied and properly social-distanced.
The military has very talented photographers in its ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. This is the best of what they shot this week:
SURABAYA, Indonesia (Aug. 5, 2015) U.S. Navy Sailors assigned to Coastal Riverine Squadron (CRS) 3 and Indonesian Kopaska naval special forces members practice patrol formations during Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Indonesia 2015.
ATLANTIC OCEAN (Aug. 4, 2015) Sailors prepare for flight operations on the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD 3).
Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Equipment) 3rd Class I. J. Fleming helps stretch out the emergency crash barricade during drills on the flight deck aboard the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75).
Marines and Navy Corpsmen, assigned to various units in the 1st Marine Division, conduct tactical combat casualty care training during the Combat Trauma Management Course, taught by instructors with the 1st Marine Division Navy Education and Training Office, at the Strategic Operations facility, California.
An M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank crew with Company A, 4th Tank Battalion, fires its 120 mm main gun during the company’s pre-qualification tank gunnery at Range 500, Aug. 4, 2015. The live-fire exercise tests tank crews on their ability to work together on target acquisition and accuracy.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Martin, a maritime enforcement specialist at Coast Guard Port Security Unit 313 in Everett, Wash., along with other security division members, set up security zones on the pier alongside the Coast Guard Cutter Henry Blake, while conducting an exercise at Naval Station Everett.
Petty Officer 2nd Class David Burns, a Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak aviation survival technician, walks across the flight deck of the Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley during practice hoist operations while at sea.
A security forces Airman plunges into the combat water survival test at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colo.
Lt. Col. Todd Houchins, the 53rd Test Support Squadron commander, signals before the final takeoff of the last QF-4 Aerial Target on Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla.
Members of the 23rd Component Maintenance Squadron Propulsion Flight perform maintenance on a TF-34 engine July 27, 2015, at Moody Air Force Base, Ga. The 23rd CMS supplies the 74th and 75th Fighter Squadrons with TF-34s in support of Moody AFB’s A-10C Thunderbolt IIs.
paratroopers, assigned to 82nd Airborne Division, rig their rucksacks during a Basic Airborne Refresher course at the United States Army Advanced Airborne School, Fort Bragg, N.C.
An Army pilot, assigned to the 185th Theater Aviation Brigade, watches a MV-22 Osprey land during a personnel recovery training exercise in Southwest Asia.
USAFA cadets do, in fact, kill, skin, cook, and eat rabbits in the Expeditionary Survival and Evasion Training Program. The “sustenance” portion of the class teaches cadets how to find water as well as skin and cook a wild animal.
Air Force spokesman Zachary Anderson told the Air Force Times in July 2016 the Air Force tries to find the best balance between the humane treatment of animals and properly preparing aircrew cadets for real-world scenarios.
“The Air Force is aware of PETA’s concerns,” Anderson said. “However, the use of animals in Air Force survival training plays a critical role in equipping our airmen with skills needed to stay alive in a combat environment.”
While PETA wants the USAF to get out of the animal business entirely, the animal rights group also alleges the rabbits are sourced from a business that routinely violates the federal Animal Welfare Act.
Citing a FOIA request, PETA says the academy doesn’t file proper reports to the Department of Agriculture on the number of rabbits and chickens used and that the dealers aren’t even registered with the Agriculture Department.
“We were contacted by an individual who reported that cadets bludgeon docile, domesticated rabbits to death during these training exercises,” PETA Senior Laboratory Methods Specialist Shalin Gala wrote the Colorado Springs Independent. “This person expressed concern that cadets do not actually learn anything from killing tame animals who are used to being handled by humans… USAFA has previously informed the media that cadets are taught to kill animals with a rock or club.”
The Department of Agriculture did not have an open investigation at the time of the academy’s refusal to give up the practice.
The Air Force Times‘ Stephen Losey found the animals are sourced from Fancy Pants Rabbitry, a Gunnison, Colorado-based supplier. Fancy Pants’ owner Kathy Morgan, vehemently denies any wrongdoing.
“Our rabbits are raised in compliance with USDA standards as far as cage sizes and operations, so we are comfortable our rabbits are raised in the best possible conditions,” Morgan said. “They are treated humanely, and when necessary, they are dispatched humanely. I’m comfortable with the quality of our product and the quality of their lives while they’re with us.”
Fancy Pants sold roughly 300 rabbits per year for the past two years to the USAF Academy. PETA is correct that Morgan’s business is not registered with the USDA. Because it sells rabbits as food and meat, it is registered with the FDA.
There is a precedent for giving up meat in the field. DoD directives require that other means of training besides animals are to be used whenever possible. PETA was instrumental in the animal “sustenance” portion of the Army’s Dugway Proving Grounds survival course and the Marine Corps’ Mountain Warfare Training Center, saying tame chickens and rabbits are unlikely to be found in a combat zone.
The animal rights group wants the academy to switch to book and classroom learning.
That could be the response from more Marines and even other military service members of this Millennial generation, as fewer troops are claiming a religion than those of previous decades.
Earlier this month, Gen. Robert Neller, the commandant of the Marine Corps, issued an all-hands message to encourage his men and women and Navy sailors assigned to their units to take note of their own “spiritual fitness.”
“During this time, I ask each of you to reflect on what you and the Marines and sailors you lead are doing to achieve and maintain an optimal level of strength and resilience. Your leaders and chaplains at all levels stand ready to engage with you in this task,” Neller, a veteran infantry officer entering his second year as the service’s top general officer, wrote in the Oct. 3 message. “By attending to spiritual fitness with the same rigor given to physical, social and mental fitness, Marines and sailors can become and remain the honorable warriors and model citizens our nation expects.”
The general’s mention of honorable warriors and model citizens – most Marines serve four to eight years and then return to civilian life – harkens to a generation ago. In the 1990s — with a military facing force cuts, ethical scandals and retention concerns — then-commandant Gen. Charles Krulak often spoke with Marines about the importance of integrity, having a “moral compass” and courage to do the right thing.
It wasn’t specifically directed at religion or spirituality but took a broad, holistic approach at building better “citizen-soldiers.”
In this generation, will that challenge to look inward at their spirituality, however they define it to be, resonate with Millennial Marines? And, if so, how?
If religious affiliation is any measure of that, military leaders might well be worried.
Last year, the Pew Research Center found that fewer Americans were identifying as religious. In its 2014 Religious Landscape Survey, the Pew Research Center found that 70.6 percent of Americans identified with a Christian-based religion, with “Evangelical Protestant,” “Catholic” and “Mainline Protestant” the top groups. Almost 6 percent claimed non-Christian faiths – Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu, for example.
But almost 23 percent in the survey of 35,000 Americans said they were unaffiliated – known as “nones” – or nonbelievers, and 15.8 percent of them claimed no ties even to agnostics or atheists. That was a significant change from 2007, when 16 percent identified as “nones.”
The biggest group, 35 percent, among “nones” are Millennials, considered those born between 1981 and 1996, and “nones” as a whole “are getting even younger,” Pew found. It’s also an age group — 20 to 35 — that’s well represented within the military services.
So how will today’s Marines receive this latest message?
The Marine Corps hasn’t detailed just what the push for spiritual fitness will entail, but it’s described as part of leadership development and a holistic approach to overall fitness along with physical, mental and social wellness. The service’s deputy chaplain, Navy Capt. William Kennedy, said it wasn’t a program but “an engagement strategy to enable leaders at every level to communicate the importance of faith, values and moral living inside the Marine Corps culture of fitness.”
“Spiritual fitness is for everyone,” Kennedy said in an email response to WATM. “Every Marine has a position on matters of spirituality, belief in a higher being and religion. The individual Marine chooses if and how they will grow in spiritual fitness, enabling them to fulfill their duties successfully while deployed and in garrison.”
Scott said the Navy’s top chaplain Rear Adm. Brent Scott sent a letter to all Marine Corps’ chaplains, challenging them to “engage their commanders and the Marine Corps in conversations on spiritual fitness.”
A non-profit group, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, has criticized the Corps’ plan as an attempt to push religious, if not Christian, values on all Marines.
Mikey Weinstein, the group’s founder and president and a former Air Force lawyer, has threatened to sue the Marine Corps to stop it from mandating spiritual fitness training for every Marine rather than having it be voluntary. Weinstein told Military.com last week that the service’s plan to include spiritual fitness with some training and education courses is “nothing more than a Trojan Horse for fundamentalist Christians to proselytize to a captive audience.”
“If they call this ‘mental fitness,’ that’s great,” Weinstein told WATM. But while Marines are regularly tested in physical fitness and military proficiency, he said, “who gets to decide what Marines are spiritually fit?”
While troops can be required to sit through legal discussions with a judge advocate or medical training with medics, they can’t be required to attend teachings or preaching by unit chaplains, he said, citing separation of church and state. If the Marine Corps sets mandatory lectures, testing or measuring tools or classes that discuss things like faith or “a higher power,” for example, that will push it into religious beliefs and violate the constitutional prohibition against religious tests, Weinstein said.
“If they do it, they’ll be in court,” he said.
In 2010, MRFF threatened to sue the Army when it pushed out a similar assessment program on spiritual fitness for soldiers, and Weinstein said the service eventually revised it.
But “spiritual fitness” remains a popular concept around the military — a phrase that might seem to avoid any specific religion to many but still retains an element of a belief. The Air Force considers it one of its comprehensive fitness pillars, along with mental, physical and social. And spiritual fitness is often mentioned in programs to help build resiliency among troops, including those grappling with combat or post-traumatic stress and even in programs to strengthen relationships among military couples and families.
Navy chaplain Kennedy described spirituality generally as something “that gives meaning and purpose in life.” It also might “refer to the practice of a philosophy, religion or way of living,” he said. “For some this is expressed in commitment to family, institution or esprit de corps. For others, it may apply to application of faith.”
Military chaplains have the duty to advise commanders and service members on “spiritual matters.” They “are required to perform faith-specific ministries that do not conflict with the tenets or faith requirements of their religious organizations. Additionally, chaplains are required to provide or facilitate religious support, pastoral care and spiritual wellness to all service members, regardless of religious affiliation,” according to a July 2015 Defense Department Inspector General report on “rights of conscience protections” for troops and chaplains.
Weinstein, who said he’s Jewish but “not that religious,” said his group isn’t anti-religion and counts 48,000 active-duty troops among its members, with 98 percent who affiliate with a religion. Many supporters don’t want the military services telling them what or whether to believe, he said, adding that “thousands of military people [say] that’s my personal business.”
But is spiritual fitness inherently a part of something religious, or is it separate from a religious belief?
It may depend on who is defining it. A spiritual fitness guide briefing slide by the U.S. Navy Chaplains Corps, whose members advise Navy and Marine Corps units, describes spiritual fitness this way: “A term used to capture a person’s overall spiritual health and reflects how spirituality may help one cope with and enjoy life. Spirituality may be used generally to refer to that which gives meaning and purpose in life. The term may be used more specifically to refer to the practice of a philosophy, religion or way of living.”
Would having no religious affiliation or belief render one without spirituality? For some Leathernecks, the Marine Corps itself is like a religion, with its own spirituality that “non-believers” – like POGs or people-other-than-grunts – can’t understand.
The Marines’ own institutional bible, so-to-speak, the warfighting publication “Leading Marines,” stated in its 1995 edition: “This manual is based on the firm belief that, as others have said in countless ways, our Corps embodies the spirit and essence of those who have gone before. It is about the belief, shared by all Marines, that there is no higher calling than that of a United States Marine.”
Editor’s Note: This story has been changed to correct attribution from the Marine Corps Deputy Chaplain.
Everyone wants to throat-punch ISIS, right? Right!
But what is ISIS…really? And who attacked the World Trade Center? And what’s the deal with Syria?
Keeping track of terrorist groups can be confusing, so here’s the quick and dirty on three hard-hitting groups the U.S. is currently fighting:
1. Al Qaeda
Al Qaeda is a Sunni Islamic militant organization founded by Osama bin Laden circa 1988 and is responsible for the attacks against the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.
Originally organized to fight the Soviet Union during the Afghan War, al Qaeda continues to resist entities considered corrupt to its leaders, including differing Islamic interpretations and foreign (read: U.S.) occupation of their lands.
Al Qaeda operates under the belief that it is their duty to kill non-believers, including civilians.
After 9/11, a U.S.-led coalition launched an attack in Afghanistan to target al Qaeda, which had been operating under the protection of the Taliban government in the country. Operation Enduring Freedom successfully toppled the Taliban and dispersed al Qaeda throughout the region, but U.S. forces remain unable to fully eradicate the group.
From 1979-1989, the Soviet Union invaded and occupied Afghanistan. Afghan fighters known as the mujahedeen resisted, finally forcing the Soviet Union to withdraw from the country. In the aftermath, there was a power vacuum, with fighting among the mujahedeen until the Taliban was established in 1994.
The Taliban seized control of Afghanistan and imposed strict Islamic laws on the Afghan people. A Sunni Islamic fundamentalist political movement, the Taliban harbored al Qaeda operations, including bin Laden’s stronghold, which led to the U.S. invasion Afghanistan after the September 11 attacks.
Today, largely funded by opium production, the Taliban fights to regain control of Afghanistan, engaging with military forces in-country and claiming responsibility for terrorist attacks in the region.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or just the Islamic State, is a Salafi jihadist Sunni Islamic militant group established in 1999 with the intention of establishing their God’s rule on earth and destroying those who threaten it.
They are known for being exceptionally brutal, utilizing publicity and the social media to broadcast mass executions, beheadings, and crucifixions.
They once pledged allegiance to al Qaeda, but separated from it in 2014 and concentrated their attention on Syria and Iraq.
In January 2014, ISIS captured the city of Raqqa, Syria. For the next six months, the group overtook major Iraqi cities like Mosul and Tikrit before self-declaring a caliphate, an Islamic State with authority over the global Muslim population.
In August 2014, President Barack Obama approved airstrikes against ISIS.
The 1965 movie “The Battle of the Bulge” is generally considered by war movie buffs to be the most inaccurate war movie ever made. It stars Henry Fonda leading a large cast of fictional characters (though Fonda’s Lt. Col. Kiley was based on a real U.S. troop). The film was made to be viewed on a curved Cinerama screen using three projectors. Watching it on DVD doesn’t give the viewer the intended look, which especially hurts the tank battle scenes, according to the film rating website Rotten Tomatoes.
There are so many inaccuracies in the film that it comes off as interpretive instead of dramatic. In the film’s opening, a precursor to the errors to come, the narrator describes how Montgomery’s 8th Army was in the north of Europe; they were actually in Italy. The inaccuracies don’t stop there.
The weather was so bad at the launch of the German offensive that it completely negated Allied air superiority and allowed the Nazi armies to move much further, much fast than they would have had the weather been clear. In the 1965 film, the weather is always clear. When the film does use aircraft, the first one they show is a Cessna L-19 Bird Dog, a 1950s-era plane.
Despite the time frame of the real battle, December 1944- January 1945, and the well-documented struggles with ice and snow in the Ardennes at the time, there is no snow in the movie’s tank battle scenes. Also, there are few trees in the movie’s Ardennes Forest.
In an affront to the men who fought and won the battle, the film uses the M47 Patton tank as the German King Tiger tanks. The filmmakers show U.S. tanks being sacrificed to make the Tiger tank use their fuel so the Germans will run out. The U.S. didn’t need to use this tactic in the actual battle, as the Germans didn’t have the fuel to reach their objectives anyway.
Speaking of tactics, a German general in the film orders infantry to protect tanks by walking ahead of them after a Tiger hits a mine, which ignores the fact that a man’s weight is not enough to trigger an anti-tank mine and therefore none of them would have exploded until tanks hit them anyway.
Other inaccuracies include:
The uniforms are all wrong.
Jeeps in the film are models that were not yet developed in WWII.
Salutes are fast, terrible and often indoors.
The bazookas used in the films are 1950s Spanish rocket launchers (the film was shot in Spain)
American engineers use C-4, which wasn’t invented until 11 years after the war’s end.
Soldiers read Playboy Magazine from 1964.
The technical advisor on the film was Col. Meinrad von Lauchert, who commanded tanks at the Bulge… for the Nazis. He commanded the 2nd Panzer Division, penetrating deeper into the American lines than any other German commander. Like the rest of the Nazis, he too ran out of fuel and drove his unit back to the Rhine. He swam over then went home, giving up on a hopeless situation.
The reaction to the movie was swift: That same year, President Eisenhower came out of retirement to hold a press conference just to denounce the movie for its historical inaccuracies.