In addition to myriad other “brown water” missions the U.S. Coast Guard is responsible for all icebreaking operations done by the U.S. government. Coast Guard assets include two arctic icebreakers, a Great Lakes-based icebreaker, and a fleet of smaller cutters to clear bays, rivers, and other waterways.
The first icebreaker in the Coast Guard was not a true icebreaker, but the Revenue Cutter Bear, which featured a reinforced hull and spent its career with the Coast Guard’s predecessor, the Revenue Cutter Service, serving from Seattle to present day Dutch Harbor.
The Great Lakes and areas like the Hudson Bay are also serviced by 140-foot icebreaking tugs, such as the Biscayne Bay and Sturgeon Bay. In addition to icebreaking, these cutters also conduct search and rescue, law enforcement, and aids-to-navigation.
Today, ocean-going icebreakers serve several purposes. In addition to opening up shipping channels, they conduct scientific experiments, escort ships, conduct law enforcement and search and rescue, as well as enforce treaties and environmental protections. The Healy also boasts more than 4,000 square feet of laboratory space for civilian, military, and NOAA scientists to collect data and conduct experiments while the cutter is underway. The crews help facilitate environmental protections, such as cleaning up oil spills or other issues, as well as rescue operations and law enforcement as needed.
Life on an icebreaker is hardly easy. The crew may be out of home port for more than eight months a year. Every person aboard must be accounted for twice a day. The job is hazardous, with deaths of crew members being documented due to accidents on both ocean-going icebreakers. Temperatures in the Arctic Circle can get lower than 35 to 50 degrees below zero.
A variety of cutters were used for icebreaking in the north Pacific, but the first true icebreaker was built for the Coast Guard in 1942. The Staten Island was the first of seven Wind-Class cutters built for the Coast Guard. At 269 feet in length, the cutters had the ability to list, or tilt, side to side to break free from ice.
The two iterations of the Mackinaw were both created to serve upon the five great lakes. The main reason for the icebreaking mission on the Great Lakes is to keep commercial vessels moving throughout the winter. The first cutter was built in 1944 and served for 62 years before being decommissioned and turned into a floating museum.
Today, the Polar Star and the Healy make icebreaking voyages. The Healy and Polar Star have participated in voyages to McMurdo Station, Antarctica, to help resupply the missions there. In 2015, the Healy became the first U.S. surface vessel to reach the North Pole unaccompanied. While the Healy has made voyages south, she generally is the Arctic icebreaker due to her lighter weight. The heavier Polar Star is an Antarctic icebreaker.
While it may seem that two icebreakers is enough for America’s needs, it hardly compares to other Arctic nations. Russia boasts twenty-seven nuclear powered icebreakers, and even Sweden has a fleet of five. There is little room for failure in missions to the Arctic and Antarctic, as there is only one cutter to service each area and there are no other backups. The Coast Guard has requested new icebreakers from Congress, but they have not been authorized due to the $1 billion price tag that comes with each new icebreaker.
The icebreaker USCGC Glacier is shown approaching McMurdo Station, Antarctica. A cargo vessel is seen in the left foreground docked at a floating ice pier. The U.S. Navy commissioned the Glacier in August 1955, after which she participated in the first Operation Deep Freeze, which included the construction of McMurdo. The Navy transferred the Glacier to the U.S. Coast Guard in 1966.
A lack of funding for the Coast Guard has long been one of the service’s biggest issues, and with an aging fleet of cutters and aircraft, the small allowance the USCG gets yearly to replace assets is spent elsewhere first. As the ice melts in the Arctic, traffic and commerce will continue to increase, and other Arctic nations are beginning to create a larger foothold in the area. Both Russia and Finland have contracts for even more icebreakers, leaving the U.S. stranded in the ice if the government cannot compete.
Editor’s note: A special thanks to Ensign Sam Krakower, USCG for his expertise in Coast Guard Arctic Policy.
One of the most challenging parts of deployment for many soldiers is being away from friends and family. Soldiers and family members alike often lean on others who share a similar experience during long periods apart.
But one family in the 1st Cavalry Division’s 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team is sharing an experience here to make deployment just a little bit easier.
Army Capt. Andrea Wolfe and her son, Army Spc. Kameron Wideman, both assigned to Brigade Support Medical Company, 215th Brigade Support Battalion, deployed to Kuwait recently from Fort Hood, Texas, for nine months in support of U.S. Army Central.
Wolfe, a native of Kingston, Jamaica, began her Army career as an enlisted lab technician 24 years ago.
“I had two sisters who were in the Army,” she said. “I followed them in. In a family of nine, we couldn’t afford college, so I had to do something to be able to get some kind of college education, and that was the way.”
As far back as she can remember, she said, she wanted to be a nurse. “It’s just something I wanted to get into to help people,” she added.
That aspiration propelled her through her career, taking advantage of educational opportunities in an effort to make her dream a reality. “I tried to get into the nursing program,” she said. “When I was a lab tech instructor in San Antonio, I put in my packet three times for the nursing program.”
After 17 years of enlisted service and multiple attempts, the frustrated sergeant first class decided to try something different.
“So I put in a packet to the [physician assistant] program, got picked up the first time, so I figured that was my calling, and I’ve been doing that since 2009,” she said.
Meanwhile, Wolfe was raising a family. Her son, Kameron Wideman, was born in 1996 at her first duty station in Fort Lewis, Washington. Brought up in a devoted military household, it was no surprise when he enlisted in the Army, Wolfe said.
“I was good in school, but I didn’t take it seriously enough, but the Army was always my fallback plan,” said Wideman, a behavioral health technician. “I initially wanted to join just so I could help people. That’s why I got into the medical field.”
Meanwhile, Wolfe and Wideman are tending to the physical and mental well-being of the soldiers deployed to Camp Buehring, Kuwait. Wolfe said that while her focus is on her job and taking care of the soldiers, the mom in her can’t help but feel some of the same concerns stateside parents feel about having a child deployed.
“As a mother, you still have that deep-down concern of ‘What if something happens to my baby? What am I going to do?'” she said. “But I can’t let him see that, because I need him to focus on his job and what I need him to do, and that’s to provide mental health, which is something that is very much needed in this day and age.”
Wideman said he enjoys having his mother right down the road. “I’m blessed,” he said. “I’m blessed to have her with me.”
Although Wideman has served only two years in the Army, he is no stranger to the deployment experience from a family member’s perspective. His mother, father, and stepfather all serve on active duty.
“All three of my parents have deployed at some point,” he said. “It was tough as a little kid saying goodbye to your parents. When you’re little, you tend to have a big imagination. You’re thinking, ‘Oh no! I’m probably never going to see my parents again,’ because you’re little, and you’re in your own head about it.”
But the experience of being the kid who was left behind didn’t prepare him to actually be deployed himself, he said.
“I still didn’t really know what deployment was,” he said. “It was like this random place that my parents were going to for like a year and then coming back. I didn’t really know how to picture where they were.”
Thankfully, he said, he had a source close to home to answer his questions.
“I had the normal questions like, ‘How are we going to be living?” and me being a millennial, ‘Is there going to be Internet?’ and things like that,” he said.
Wolfe and her husband, Army 1st Sgt. Andrew Wolfe, a company first sergeant at Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center at Fort Hood, Texas, help mentor Wideman through his Army career with advice and guidance.
Drive, Motivation, Discipline
Echoes of the same drive, motivation, dedication and discipline that exemplify Wolfe’s career path are evident in Wideman’s.
“We cross paths every now and then,” she said. “I don’t see him all the time. I let Kameron be Kameron. We are passionate about the military. This is our Army. My husband is a first sergeant, and I used to be an E-7 before I switched over, so that leadership is instilled in both of us, and that comes out in the way we raise our kids — the leadership, the discipline, the morale, the ethics, everything. This is the way you’re supposed to live.”
Wolfe said she often finds herself giving the same advice to her soldiers that she gives to her son.
“Get all you can out of the military, because it’s going to get all it can out of you, and that was my insight coming up,” Wolfe said.
“I don’t know how many colleges I went to, because I needed classes. I went to school all the time, and I was just taking advantage of the opportunities that were out there. That’s what I tell all my soldiers coming up in the military. You have to take advantage of it. No one’s going to give it to you. You have to go and get it.”
When it comes to sheer hardship under appalling combat conditions, it is hard to match what the 5307th Composite Unit (provisional), better known as Merrill’s Marauders, endured in the China-India-Burma campaign.
When the Japanese had overrun and taken Burma from its colonial master Great Britain in 1942, it had cut the only real overland route for military supplies heading to Chinese forces fighting the Japanese in mainland China. The famed Allied air transport route “over the hump” of the Himalayas was no substitute for a reliable road considering the amount of supplies needed.
U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt and U.K. Prime Minister Winston Churchill decided at a conference in August 1943 to form special American units for infiltrating Burma, modeled after the British Army Chindits, a long-range penetration unit that had already operated in Burma under Brigadier Ord Wingate. The plan was to disrupt Japanese communications and supply lines and capturing key points, the reopening of the Burma Road could be accelerated.
An Army-wide call for those interested in volunteering was put out under presidential authority, drawing about 3,000 recruits from stateside units. Many were specifically drawn from soldiers who already had experience in jungle fighting from earlier in the war. After assembly in India, they received months of intensive training in jungle warfare under the instruction of Wingate, including extended exercises with the Chindits. The 5307th was placed under the command of Brig. General Frank Merrill, the source of the name ‘Merrill’s Marauders’ eventually given to the unit by the press.
Conceived as a mobile raiding force, the Marauders were lightly equipped by conventional infantry standards, with no heavy weapons beyond light mortars, bazookas, and machine guns. Dense jungle and mountains made ground vehicles impossible, so supplies were to be carried by the soldiers themselves and hundreds of mules and horses. Resupply was limited to airdrops and whatever the unit could forage off the countryside in trade with indigenous locals.
Embarking on Feb. 24, 1944, the Marauders mission began with 2,750 men marching over a thousand miles through the Patkai region of the Himalayas, in order to get behind Japanese lines in Burma. Operating with indigenous Kachin scouts and Chinese forces, they began a series of raids against Japanese patrols, supply lines, and garrisons. Their ultimate goal was to capture the strategic Burmese town of Myitkynia, which had an important airfield and was along the route for an alternate road to China.
The Marauders were almost always outnumbered and outgunned by the Japanese 18th Division, which formed their primary opposition. Lacking artillery and out of range of any serious air support, they had to rely on surprise, training, and mobility to outfight the Japanese regulars, and they often found themselves on the defense because they were ill-equipped for fighting against larger forces.
But their greatest enemy, which inflicted more damage than even superior Japanese forces could, was the jungle. Malaria, amoebic dysentery, and typhus took an awful toll, inflicting more casualties than Japanese fire did. Soldiers shaking from fever and tormented by diarrhea had to force themselves through dense jungle and intense close quarters combat. Torrential rains, stinging insects, and snakes only added to their misery.
The issued K-rations were relatively light and compact, but at 2,900 calories per day were wholly inadequate for heavily loaded men marching, sweating, and fighting in the jungle. Even for men facing hunger, many components of the rations were so widely detested that they were often thrown away, and failed air drops only made the situation worse. Malnourishment and its accompanying weakness and exhaustion made the troops more vulnerable to already endemic diseases, and many of them were reduced to little more than walking skeletons.
Despite the enormous challenges, the Marauders managed to inflict far greater casualties on the Japanese then they suffered, and used their mobility and seeming ability to strike anywhere to throw Japanese forces into confusion. After dozens of skirmishes and several major actions, the 5307th managed to take the airfield at Myitkynia in August 1944 alongside elements of the Chinese Army, and the town itself after reinforcements arrived.
So decimated were the Marauders by disease and combat that only 200 men of the original task force were still present at the end of the campaign. Frank Merrill, who suffered a heart attack before being stricken with malaria by the end of the mission. Every last member was evacuated to hospitals to recuperate from months of hunger, disease, and exhaustion.
The 5307th was disbanded shortly thereafter, and in a very rare distinction every single member of the commando force received the Bronze Star for staying and fighting. They fought five major actions and dozens of smaller ones while marching over 750 miles through enemy territory, all the while fighting a different but even more deadly battle against hunger and disease. The unit was eventually redesignated as the 75th Infantry Regiment, from which today’s 75th Ranger Regiment descended.
Nicholson correctly identified two of the biggest problems paratroopers face in an assault. First, troops are vulnerable during their descent from hundreds of feet. Second, the soldiers are spread out over a large area by the nature of the drop.
The former cavalry officer suggested that “Bat-Men,” paratroopers fitted with special wingsuits that had become popular at airshows, could safely open their parachutes at lower altitudes, making it harder for ground troops to kill the attacking forces. These Bat-Men would also be able to steer themselves in the air, allowing them to land closer together and form up for their assault more quickly.
Oddly enough, Nicholson has a tenuous connection to the famous DC Comics character Batman. After Nicholson resigned his Army commission due to a series of high-profile squabbles with military leadership, he started National Allied Publications.
NAP became Detective Comics at the end of 1936 and Detective Comics released the first issue with the Batman character in 1939. But Nicholson had no part in creating the Dark Knight. He had left the company in 1937.
“This is great – you can help counteract the stereotype that only big bull dykes join the Army just by being there,” the recruiter said (yes, really).
That was one of my first introductions to how much my appearance would constantly be noticed – and openly discussed by others – as a female soldier. I had signed up to do Hometown Recruiting (between initial entry training and going to your first permanent duty station, you can spend a week helping local recruiters out for a few hours every day without getting charged leave, while still having your evenings free). Instead of going back to my hometown, I’d decided to visit a friend in New York City, and the station I was assigned to apparently thought my key asset was not looking the way they apparently assumed lesbians look.
Later in my military career, people regularly told me, “You’re really pretty for being in the Army.” This baffling pseudo-compliment made me uncomfortable, and I developed a joking stock response: “What, all the pretty girls join the Air Force?” … while at the same time wondering if what they meant was that as civilians go, I’m ugly. It was further confirmation that at least initially, my appearance was a key part of how people would form opinions of me as a soldier.
Recently, an internal email from the female officer heading an Army study on how to integrate women into previously closed ground combat jobs and units to the public affairs office was leaked and much of it published by Politico. In it, she urged that public affairs personnel choose photos of “average looking women” to illustrate generic stories. I’m not thrilled with all her word choices, but I’m worried that her core message has been obscured by quibbles over terminology and the relish media outlets and pundits take in trying to turn everything into a major story. If she had wrapped her message in more obfuscating language – perhaps saying women who do not seem to be trying to conform to modern beauty norms by use of appearance-enhancing efforts instead of the shorthand pretty, maybe it wouldn’t have led to the same degree of public outcry. (I also empathize with her on a personal level: I’m not careful in how I phrase messages that are not meant to be public and certainly wouldn’t want some of them leaked!)
The heart of her argument fell much farther down in the story: compared to photos where women troops are obviously wearing makeup, photos of female soldiers with mud on their faces “sends a much different message—one of women willing to do the dirty work necessary in order to get the job done.”
This immediately resonated with me based on my own experiences. While I was deployed to Iraq, I got a few days of RR in Qatar. While there, I went shopping, bought makeup, got a massage, and drank a few (carefully rationed!) beers. Upon my return to Mosul, Bruce Willis and his band (who knew?) came to our FOB on a USO tour. On a whim, I wore the mascara from my RR – it had been nice to feel feminine for a few days.
Guys asked me about it for weeks. All the male soldiers in my unit noticed I’d worn makeup. They commented on it. It changed how they looked at me and thought about me. And they all knew me, had known me for months or years already.
So when it comes to Infantrymen who haven’t served with women before, do I think that this picture might make them think differently about women joining the combat arms than these? Yes. Yes I do.
OK, I purposefully chose extreme examples. It’s not always that cut-and-dry. When my friends and I were discussing this story on social media, we argued about whether or not women in various photos were wearing makeup (yes, really). It isn’t always easy to tell, and for many women, makeup is a fraught issue. I know women who will never be seen without makeup. While I was in Advanced Individual Training at Goodfellow Air Force, one of my suitemates got up an hour before we had to do physical fitness training to put on full makeup. Full makeup – to go run for miles – in the heat of a Texas summer. I couldn’t wrap my mind around it. (Recently reading this piece on indirect aggression among young women made me think hard about my negative reaction and wonder if I’d react the same way now that I’m a decade older…)
Part of the kerfuffle about this, to me, comes down to the problems of real versus ideal.
In my ideal world, the way I look is meaningless, whether I wear makeup doesn’t matter – I’ll be judged on how competent I am. But in the real world, I have to be aware of the fact that (in normal settings) wearing makeup “increases people’s perceptions of a woman’s likability, her competence and (provided she does not overdo it) her trustworthiness.” So I’ve worn makeup to every job interview I’ve ever gone on. Once I’ve gotten the jobs, there have days I skipped wearing makeup to the office – I can work toward making my ideal world a reality by demonstrating to my colleagues that my appearance and competence aren’t connected. But the important days, when I wanted to make a good first impression? I lived in the real world.
In my ideal world, the way people dress is unimportant. But in the real world, I wore a suit on my last job interview, too – and so did my husband, because this isn’t just about gender. (Although apparently if either of us had applied to work in the tech world, it may have benefitted us NOT to wear suits.) You meet the social norms of the world you want to inhabit, and then you can work to change it from the inside. But if you thumb your nose too heavily at the mores of the organization you want to join, you risk not getting that opportunity.
Almost all of my women veteran friends who posted about this story on social media seemed (to me) angry that the ideal world hasn’t yet materialized, pissed off that people think about women’s appearances at all, irritated that men in the military might let something as trivial as eyeliner distract from the far more important question of whether or not a woman soldier can accomplish the mission effectively. I get that.
But several of the male troops and vets that I know said they got COL Arnhart’s point and agreed with the core message on at least some level (while agreeing the wording was suboptimal). I imagine part of this is that they aren’t triggered in the same way by words like “pretty” and “ugly,” which can be tremendously emotionally charged for women – and that may give them the space to more clearly acknowledge the real world we still inhabit. (Although one of them less charitably posited, “When we see a picture featuring an attractive female soldier, it undermines the message mostly because we’re all very immature.”)
All signs currently indicate that the Army will be opening ground combat arms jobs to women (I’m not as sure about the Marines). This is a tremendous step forward for both women and the Army. COL Arnhart, who has since stepped down, was – in my take of the situation – urging a couple of colleagues to be mindful of the real world we still inhabit while setting the stage for those women, in order to slightly diminish the obstacles that will be awaiting them. Those women, by demonstrating their competence, strength, and abilities, will help accomplish the mission, regardless of how they look – and that will help drag the ideal world once step closer to reality.
Speaking to reporters in Washington, D.C., Lt. Gen. Jon Davis said the review, commissioned by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Jan. 26, would study the two aircraft “apples to apples” to determine whether the 4th-generation Super Hornet can fill the shoes of the brand-new F-35C.
Davis noted that the Marine Corps owns a significant portion of the program’s institutional wisdom as well.
“I probably have the most experienced F-35 pilots in the department of the Navy on my staff right now,” he said.
Mattis’ directive, aimed at finding ways to shave cost off the infamously expensive Joint Strike Fighter program, dictates that the review assess the extent that improvements can be made to the Super Hornet “in order to provide a competitive, cost-effective fighter aircraft alternative.”
Davis said that F-35 manufacturer Lockheed Martin and Super Hornet maker Boeing would have opportunities to make their case for the aircraft.
However, he said, he expects the study to validate the need to have the technologically advanced F-35C deployed aboard carriers in the future.
“I think it will be a good study, and my sense is we’ll probably have validated the imperative to have a 5th-generation aircraft out there on our nation’s bow,” he said.
If F-35Cs are taken out of the picture as a result of the review, attrition rates of the 4th-generation Super Hornet may become an issue, Davis said, suggesting such a move would limit the aircraft’s ability to deploy in some situations.
“We’re not going backward in time, we’re going forward in time,” he said. “The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, we’re deployed, naval and expeditionary, and we want to make sure our Marines and our sailors have the very best gear in case something bad happens. And that’s 5th-generation airplanes.”
On Aug. 18, 1965, 5,500 Devil Dogs launched Operation Starlite, the first major U.S. ground battle of the Vietnam War.
After receiving intelligence that an attack against the U.S. base at Chu Lai was imminent, the Marines under the orders of Lieutenant General Lewis W. Walt had two choices: take up a defensive posture and reinforce the base or take the fight to the enemy. Walt, a World War II Silver Star recipient and Korean War combat veteran, made the choice to launch an aggressive pre-emptive assault against the Communists.
3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, and 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment – both stationed at Chu Lai – were chosen to move on Van Tuong, as well as 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, from the Special Landing Force, which made haste from the Philippines.
Over six days, the Marines would successfully destroy the Communist stronghold with both an amphibious force and a helicopter insertion to secure a decisive victory against a brutal enemy. There were more than six hundred enemy casualties in the conflict which would be marked as a critical victory and the first big test for an unknown enemy.
Two Medals of Honor, six Navy Crosses and fourteen Silver Stars were among the honors awarded to the brave men of Operation Starlite.
People who like compelling, well-crafted tales of America’s soldiers in action will like Ashley’s War: The Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield. Gayle Tzemach Lemmon’s recently released book tells the story behind the first team of female soldiers to join American special operators on the battlefield. The key to this book, however, is not simply that they are strong females, but that they are strong soldiers.
That message appears in the very first pages of the book, where she follows two soldiers on their first mission. The “newbies,” as she calls them, are preparing to go on a dangerous operation with an aggressive, seasoned Ranger team to capture an insurgent leader deep in Afghanistan. Lemmon identifies the newbies as “Second Lieutenant White” and “Staff Sergeant Mason,” sharing only at the very end of the introduction that White and Mason are women.
The book then flashes back to the story behind the creation of this unique unit, called Cultural Support Teams or CSTs. In 2010, the military’s Special Operations Command faced a problem – due to cultural mores that at best frowned on male-female interaction, American combat troops were effectively prohibited from communicating with Afghan women. That left half of Afghanistan’s population – potential sources of intelligence and partners to build lasting relationships – out of reach to American troops. So senior special operations commanders developed the CSTs to place female soldiers with American special operators in combat situations and engage with Afghan women on sensitive missions.
In describing the genesis of the CSTs as a unit, Lemmon also presents several of the individuals who volunteered for the pilot program. They are a cast of real characters, but make no mistake – these are smart alpha-women who are as fit and committed to success as any elite athlete. Readers learn about Anne Jeremy, the “serious, no-nonsense” officer who proved herself in combat by leading her convoy through a Taliban ambush of heavy arms fire that endured intermittently for 24 hours; Lane Mason, the 23-year-old Iraq War veteran who was a high-school track star in Nevada and volunteered for the CSTs to face down some demons in her past; Amber Treadmont, the intelligence officer from rural Pennsylvania who printed out the CST application within one minute of learning about the program; and Kate Raimann, the West Point grad and military police officer who played on her high school’s football team for all four years even though she hated football, just to prove that she could do it.
Lemmon’s depictions of these women are vivid, giving readers a textured understanding of who they are and what drove them to volunteer for an unprecedented program that would place them in incredibly dangerous situations. In fact, these nuanced profiles raise my sole problem with the book – namely, that there were so many interesting personalities that I couldn’t keep track of them all. Lemmon used a few Homeric epithets, like reminding readers late in the book that Lane was “the Guard soldier and track star from Nevada,” but a few more mental cues might have helped keep everyone straight.
But those are small drops of concern amidst an ocean of good writing and compelling moments. Lemmon deftly draws readers through the brutal candidate assessment (“100 hours of hell”), the women’s anxiety about whether they would be selected, their post-selection training at Fort Benning, and their subsequent deployments to Afghanistan.
One scene in particular encapsulates the challenging nature of the CSTs’ role. Kate, the football-hating football player, was on a raid of a compound to capture a key Taliban fighter. Her job, like all of the CSTs, was to assemble the compound’s women and children, gather as much information from them as possible, and protect them if necessary. Soon after the Afghan and American forces entered the compound, heavy contact erupted, and Kate began shepherding the group of women and children to a building nearby.
As she directed [the interpreter], Kate scooped up a small baby, barefoot and crying. She threw the little guy over her left shoulder and took off running as the sound of gunfire grew louder behind her. Using her right arm she grabbed the hand of a small girl and drew her close to her body.
“Stay with me, stay with me!” Kate urged, hoping the child would trust and understand her movements even if she didn’t understand her words.
Suddenly Kate felt the jagged terrain take hold of her left foot. She began tumbling forward as one of her boots got trapped in a deep hole she hadn’t detected through the green film of her night-vision goggles.
The baby, Kate thought. Instinctively she held him tight against her chest as the momentum of her fall sent her spinning into a diving, forward roll. She released the little girl’s hand just in time to keep her from falling, too.
A second later Kate lay on her back with the baby tucked up against her body armor. He hadn’t moved despite the somersault and was now just looking at her wide-eyed and silent.
Kate felt the baby’s warm breath on her neck, looked up at the twinkling stars above, and heard the rat-a-tat-tat of gunfire around her, maybe three dozen feet away.
What the fuck is my job right now? she asked herself as she hugged the baby tight and again took the hand of the little girl who was standing nearby. This is crazy.
The book juxtaposes “crazy” moments like that with poignant moments that further illustrate the CSTs’ unique position as women in combat environments. In one anecdote, a female civilian interpreter from California named Nadia meets three new CSTs, and they bond over perhaps the most non-military item of all: mascara.
The four women – Ashley, Anne, Lane, and Nadia – were in the washroom getting ready for the first meeting of the day when Anne and Lane broke out their traveling cosmetic kits. It was a small gesture, but for Nadia, it spoke volumes.
During her years overseas she had been around a lot of military women who frankly frightened her. They conveyed the impression that any sign of femininity would be perceived as weakness. But here, in this tiny bathroom, were three incredibly fit, Army-uniformed, down-to-earth gals who could embrace being female and being a soldier in a war zone. She found it refreshing – and inspiring.
“Oh my God, you wear makeup!” she burst out.
Anne laughed as she put the final touches on an abbreviated makeup regimen.
“Oh, yes, always have to have mascara on,” she replied. “I am blond and look like I have no eyelashes. I don’t want to scare people!”
Lemmon also peppers the book with several sidebars that add interesting and important context, like the value of interpreters and the history of military dogs. While a discussion about the evolution of female soldiers’ uniforms may not seem terribly interesting on its face, she deftly weaves it into the story because it mattered to the CSTs – the ill-fitting gear was obviously designed for men and therefore had bulges in places where the women didn’t need them and lacked material where they did. That seemingly whimsical anecdote illustrates just how unprecedented their mission was.
The book builds to an emotional climax with – spoiler alert – the first death of a CST soldier. It’s an undeniably tough moment, and Lemmon treats the subject – the agonized reaction of the soldier’s family and her sister CSTs – with appropriate respect. The Rangers serving with the deceased soldier sent the family a condolence card, with an important quote:
“Having a woman come out with us was a new thing for all of us,” wrote her weapons squad leader. “Being one of the first groups of CST, she really set a good impression not only on us, but also the higher leadership. I am sorry for your loss, but I want you to know that she was good at her job and a valuable member of this platoon.”
That statement, to me, seemed to summarize the whole point of the book: these women are not just strong females – they are strong soldiers.
“You can’t wrap love in a box, but you can wrap a person in a hug.” – Anonymous
US Air Force Veteran Elizabeth Laird, better known as the “Hug Lady” of Fort Hood, recently passed away at 83 years old. Over the years she wrapped her arms around more than 500,000 soldiers, according to the estimates of Army officials.
Initially, Laird volunteered to shake soldier’s hands. According to an interview with NBC’s Today Show, one soldier offered to give her a hug after she shook his hand. She went from handshakes to hugs from that moment on.
In 2003, she and Command Sgt. Maj. William “Joe” Gainey signed a memorandum of understanding formalizing her mission: Laird was now officially authorized to hug every Fort Hood soldier departing or arriving. She was there with open arms – no matter the time, weather, how large or small of a group, family circumstances, or her own cancer diagnosis.
“[She] wanted to make sure someone here at home is interested and waiting for them to come home again,” Laird’s son Richard Dewee said.
Col. Christopher C. Garver, a military spokesman, released a the following statement on Laird’s passing:
On behalf of the Soldiers, Airmen, Civilians, and Families of III Corps and Fort Hood, I want to extend our sincere condolences to the family of Mrs. Elizabeth Laird, known throughout Central Texas as “The Hug Lady.” She has long been associated with Fort Hood for her dedication, support, and genuine care for our Soldiers, Families and Civilian employees. For more than a decade, she has been personally saying farewell to our troops as they deploy and greeting them as they return. It is with heavy hearts that we express our gratitude for Elizabeth, not only for her service with the U.S. Air Force, but also in recognition of her tireless efforts to show her appreciation for our Soldiers and her recognition of their many sacrifices. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family and loved ones; she will be deeply missed.
Laird’s niece Becky Triplett posted the following on her Facebook page:
“When I talked to her the last time, she had been invited to the Rachel Ray show. When I asked if she was going she said ‘No I don’t think so, it wouldn’t be fair to the soldier coming or going. They deserve that hug more.’ She left a very good legacy. RIP Aunt Betty.”
An online petition to name the Fort Hood Deployment Center in Elizabeth Laird’s honor can be found here.
A New Zealand-based startup that works on regenerating human tissue has signed a development agreement with the U.S. Army to help treat troops who’ve sustained severe burns.
The Cooperative Research and Development Agreement, or CRADA, between Upside Technologies and the Army’s Medical Research and Materiel Command includes the company’s engineered skin product to treat wounds from IEDs and explosions.
“This U.S. Army input will be hugely valuable to Upside and will fully assist us in successfully progressing our product to the benefit of all burn sufferers, including U.S. warriors,” said Upside Chief Executive Officer Dr. Robert Feldman.
A graphic showing the new lab-made skin next to true human skin. (Photo from Upside Technologies)
Upside’s technology enables a small sample of unburnt patient skin to be grown in the laboratory into large areas of full-thickness skin. The lab-grown skin can be used as skin grafts in patients.
The Upside skin is said to be produced faster than that of any competitive product and has handling characteristics preferred by surgeons.
The Army “is pleased to provide guidance to Upside Biotechnologies as it navigates the U.S. FDA approval process for a novel skin replacement product,” said Susan Taylor, product manager for the Tissue Injury and Regenerative Medicine Project Management Office at the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity.
Burn wounds from explosions and IEDs continue to plague troops in war zones and account for a large portion of America’s casualties, statistics show.
“This product may provide a critical solution in the treatment of service members who have sustained severe burns,” Taylor added. “Our goal is to help Upside move this product as quickly and as safely as possible through the regulatory process, so it is available to our wounded service members.”
Russia has unveiled images of a new super-heavy intercontinental ballistic missile that media reports claim could wipe out France, Britain or the entire state of Texas.
Dubbed the “RS-28 Sarmat” but carrying the NATO codename SS-X-30 “Satan 2,” Russia is the only country to really deploy any type of super-heavy ICBM. The intention behind those missiles was to take out American ICBMs before the National Command Authority could order a nuclear strike against the Soviet Union.
The first such missile Moscow had of this type was the R-36, known to NATO as the “SS-9 Scarp.” The Scarp had a range of up to 9,600 miles on land targets, and could also be used as the Fractional Orbital Bombardment System, with a range of up to 24,850 miles. It carried a single nuclear warhead, but that warhead had a yield of 18 or 25 megatons, based on the version of the missile.
The next super-heavy Russian ICBM was the R-36M, known as the SS-18 “Satan.” Some versions of this missile carried the single 25 megaton warhead. Others carried up to 10 multiple independently-targeted re-entry vehicles, or MIRVs. With a range of almost 10,000 miles, this missile was bad news for whoever it targeted.
The RS-28/SS-X-30 reportedly has a shorter range (about 6,200 miles), but it has the ability to carry as many as 15 MIRVs. It can swap out the MIRVs for a single 40-megaton warhead.
That would make it the most powerful warhead on an in-service missile. The Soviet Union did detonate a 50-megaton warhead, the Tsar Bomba, in 1961 on Novaya Zemlya. The Tsar Bomba was delivered by a modified Tu-95 “Bear” bomber, but was only an experimental system.
The closest an American missile came to the punch that these Soviet or Russian super-heavy ICBMs had was with the LGM-118 Peacekeeper missile. The Reagan-era Peacekeeper (also known as the MX) had a range of 8,700 miles, and could carry up to 10 MIRVs — usually equipped with W87 warheads capable of delivering a 475-kiloton yield. The Peacekeeper was deactivated in 2005 in accordance with the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.
The SS-X-30 is slated to enter service in 2020, replacing the SS-18.
Makes the NATO codename of “Satan 2” seem pretty appropriate, doesn’t it?
Every year, thousands of Americans in the military spend their holidays serving their country abroad. This year is no exception. In 2020, there are service members on every continent, in over 170 countries. 14,000 are deployed in Afghanistan, 13,000 in Kuwait, and thousands more in Iraq, Bahrain, Saudia Arabia, and countless other countries. Being away from home on Christmas can be lonely and painful, but it has a certain beauty of its own.
Tradition is a big part of the military community, and celebrating the holidays is no exception. While stationed abroad, service members do whatever they can to make the season bright. It’s never the same as being home for the holidays, but the special moments spent on base make future Christmases at home all the brighter.
Each base celebrates differently, but holiday celebrations are pretty universal.
Just after Thanksgiving, the preparations begin. Decorations vary, but soldiers do their best to deck the halls with makeshift trees, wreaths, and even lights. Some recreation programs host decorating contests with prizes to get everyone in the Christmas spirit.
When the big day arrives, it’s often kicked off with a Christmas 5 or 10K. As the day goes on, you can expect to see service members going the extra mile to spread some smiles. Some might dress up as elves, Santa, or the Grinch, while others stroll about the base singing carols. It’s not all silliness, though. For those who want to, Christmas church services are usually offered all day long at the base chapel.
Christmas is one of the few days that just about everyone is invited to relax and enjoy themselves. Soldiers spend time calling family, playing games, or spending time outside if the weather allows. On some bases, it’s even warm enough to go for a celebratory snorkel!
Christmas dinner is typically a much-anticipated event. The meal is always next-level, with turkey or ham, all the fixings, and enough dessert to go around. In a touching twist, commanding officers often volunteer to serve their subordinates at dinner as a sign of appreciation and gratitude for their service. Often, the meal is accompanied by concerts or other live entertainment to raise morale. After dinner, soldiers gather for game nights or to watch classic Christmas films to bring the festivities to bring the evening to a peaceful close.
Every base is a little different, but at the end of the day, their individual traditions are part of what makes a Christmas deployment a special experience.
The people you share the season with might surprise you.
Many Americans are stationed in countries that don’t typically celebrate Christmas. One would expect to celebrate alone, but that’s not always the case. In some areas, like Bahrain, soldiers have been pleasantly surprised when the locals wished them a Happy Christmas. The culture on base often lightens up, too. Some soldiers have been surprised with pajama days, cocoa, and other luxuries that would normally be off-limits.
The holiday reminds you of your priorities.
More than anything, Christmas reminds soldiers of why they enlisted in the first place. When you sit down to Christmas dinner on deployment, you’re breaking bread with those who have vowed to protect their country, their families, and each other. You’re sacrificing your holiday to help protect your traditions back home. It’s not easy, but a Christmas spent serving your country is one you’ll never forget.
By now, we should all understand the life of Ian Fleming’s signature British spy is nothing like the real world of clandestine international espionage agents. The Silver Screen Bond is less clandestine, more clandestish. Even so, there are probably a million reasons any guy would want to be James Bond, and most of those reasons are why he’s a terrible spy.
1. He uses his real name
Secrecy is the most necessary element in the world of spies, so it’s a bad idea to use a real name. Even if James Bond is a cover name, he still uses the same cover name every time. Which is pretty much the same thing and seems like terrible espionage. Knowing how great Bond is with disguises, if he had to make up his own cover name every time, it would probably be just as useless.
He’s much better at thinking of bad puns after killing people. No wonder he needs so much help on every mission. Helping Bond can be hazardous to your health. For instance, a guy named Quarrel helps Bond throughout Dr. No and 007 lets Quarrel get torched by an armored flamethrower. Valentin Zukovsy saves Bond, his missions, and the world banking system in two films and Bond lets him get shot to death. And then, like a uniquely British STD, there’s the slew of women who die after a night with him.
2. He cares more about bedding women than any mission
That 007 cares more about sleeping with women than completing (or starting) a mission comes up more than once. In fact, in the first few movies, he doesn’t start his super-important missions until after sleeping with some woman he just met.
That those women usually don’t make it to the end credits is more evidence that James Bond should not be the clandestine agent Great Britain depends on for its security. It’s almost as if these women had to sleep with James Bond.
If Bond cared about them, they would probably have a higher survival rate. The only woman Bond ever saved without banging was M, and he couldn’t get away fast enough. It literally took 5 seconds. This also probably why she survives to be in other movies.
If Bond doesn’t care about them, he sure takes it personally every time one of them dies or betrays him — another terrible trait for a spy. Natalya Simonova was one the best Bond girls, but driving a tank around St. Petersberg trying to save her is a great way to blow your cover. Speaking of which…
3. He blows his cover on every mission
In Dr. No, Bond spends half the movie trying to convince an islander to help him infiltrate Dr. No’s radioactive island. He finally does and they sneak on in the middle of the night, only for Bond to give them away first thing the next morning when he sees a woman in a bikini.
In Goldfinger, he’s supposed to monitor Goldfinger, but instead of that, he immediately breaks into Goldfinger’s suite, introduces himself to Goldfinger’s employee, taunts him via radio, forces him to lose thousands of dollars, then bangs his employee! Is anyone surprised when Goldfinger knocks Bond out in his own kitchen? In my opinion, Jill got dipped in gold paint because she makes poor life choices.
That was Goldfinger’s employee. In Thunderball, 007 sleeps with his mark’s girlfriend.
4. He drinks like it’s his job
The drinking. All the drinking. The guy is clearly an alcoholic. In the U.S., you can’t even get a top secret security clearance with that much alcohol use, let alone be the top field agent. How does Bond not die in alcohol-related incidents? Or of cirrhosis?
He needs booze to do anything. Sure, we can give him a pass for having a drink while gambling. That helps maintain an effective cover. But how many does he need for that purpose? This is the guy who keeps a bottle of chilled champagne in his tricked-out Aston-Martin just in case he has a lady in need of an emergency picnic. And he pops the compartment open in a move that would make Glenn Quagmire proud.
With the exception of Timothy Dalton’s chronically misdressed Bond (he wears a shabby wool suit to work and a tuxedo to the carnival), 007 always looks impeccable. How does Bond always manage to look so suave and clean? With as much as he drinks and spends all night every night shagging some new girl, there’s no reason he shouldn’t be tired, unshaven, and smelling like liquor.
5. He gets captured all the time
Dr. No captures Bond and serves him breakfast. Bond immediately allows himself to be drugged by drinking the coffee like it was life-giving vodka. When he’s trying to turn a Russian general’s girlfriend in The Living Daylights, he CHUGS the martini she gives him. Drugged again. It’s a miracle he ever escapes anything alive. Poisoned vodka should have been enough to kill 007 in 1965 but then again, alcohol poisoning should have done him in a dozen times.
Alec Trevelyan captures him twice. In Afghanistan, he escapes capture from the Soviets, only to be immediately captured by the Muhajeddin. Elecktra King doesn’t have any special powers or weapons and she captures 007 AND M. Goldfinger captured 007 and carted him around the world for at least a week. James Bond drove up to Harlem in the 1970s, tailing a gangster, then walked right into his nightclub. He was captured and held at gunpoint in about thirty seconds. Later in the same movie (Live and Let Die) he does it again.
6. He never notices the mole in MI6
Every time he travels, every where he goes, the enemy always knows his exact schedule. It doesn’t matter if it’s Eastern Europe, Turkey, or Jamaica, enemy agents always know when his flight arrives and what the world’s top secret superspy looks like. It also doesn’t matter who the enemy is, SPECTRE, Russia, or Dr. No. Ignoring M16’s mole entirely, Bond spends a lot of tim in Dr. No trying to interrogate his people. When he finally subdues a geology professor who tires to kill him, 007 just shoots him instead of asking him anything.
In Casino Royale, he doesn’t even bother to check what bank account Vesper Lynd transfers the money to. That could have been a great clue into what was really going on.
7. He rarely searches his hotel rooms for thugs, bugs, or anything
In Goldfinger, Bond blows up a drug lab and then walk right to the bar (surprise) to bang a dancer (big surprise). He walks into her room and starts undressing, missing the thug waiting to kill him. He only notices in the reflection on her eyeball. As the attacker drops the blow, he spins around and lets the lady take it.
In From Russia With Love, after not being in his hotel for two days, he just waltzes in, disrobes and orders breakfast. He doesn’t search for bugs or bombs or anything. THERE’S SOMEONE IN HIS BED and he doesn’t even notice. When he finds out its a woman, He even allows himself to be filmed having sex with her, his Russian informant, who is double crossing him.
It’s a good thing SPECTRE is as incompetent as he is. Even Blofeld, the most epic of all his nemeses, met an ignominious end when Bond dropped his WHEELCHAIR down a smokestack.
8. He hangs out with the supervillains he’s supposed to take out
In Live and Let Die, 007 disarms and captures a woman by burning the assailant’s drawn gun hand with a cigar while breaking into his hotel room. She says she’s CIA… and that’s good enough for James Bond, even though she can’t do any actual spy stuff or shoot a weapon. He sleeps with her anyway, then spends the next day fishing with her.
Bond spends DAYS with Pussy Galore and Goldfinger without trying to escape even once. He drinks with Emilio Largo, vacations with Electra King, and bangs media baron Elliot Carver’s wife while staying at his house in Hamburg.
9. He’s a huge drain on the taxpayer
And doesn’t James Bond live a really lavish lifestyle for spy? Tuxedos, Aston-Martins, Gambling in the Riviera, not to mention all these other exotic locales? Why doesn’t SPECTRE set up shop in places that are little more out of reach for the West, like Sudan or North Korea? The Bahamas seems like a terrible place to start an evil plan or terrorist group. Bond’s life is one of tuxedos, luxury cars, and champagne.
Cost Benefit analysis: how much does it cost for James Bond to stop these villains vs. What the villains actually want. How much was that invisible car? How many people died to get Bond in Space? At some point we have to wonder if it wouldn’t be cheaper just to let the bad guys win one. But be advised: When he doesn’t get his way, he rebels and becomes an enemy of the state.
10. He destroys everything
He destroys national monuments, kills local cops, and troops who are only doing their job, even when Russia isn’t the bad guy. It’s not like the cops know who he is, they’re just trying to protect the innocent. Someone let James Bond know Blue Lives Matter. And he can’t just kill someone. It takes four cars, two helicopters, and a train to get to the bad guy. Even when he’s assigned to get one guy, 007 blows up half an african embassy to do it (and gets caught on camera in the process).
On that note, who is the bad guy here? Isn’t M16 supposed to be supporting justice and peace? Instead their main guy is blowing up dams and trashing cities. He drove a tank through an apartment in St. Petersburg.
If he pulled this stuff in the U.S. it would be on Fox News in heartbeat, and there goes his cover. He ruins weddings, birthdays, and lives.
BONUS: Q Branch isn’t that great either.
Pen grenade? Awesome. Magnet and/or laser watch? Perfect. Crocodile suit? Are you kidding me, Q?