Old Glory traveled through 10 states and touched more than 8,000 hands on its 4,216 mile journey across America this year. Now the third annual Old Glory Relay across the United States has come to an end.
Organized by Team Red, White Blue, the national event spans 62 days and brings together runners, cyclists, walkers and hikers who have a shared interest in connecting with veterans and civilians in the communities they call home.
“We really wanted this to be a unifying event for the organization and to demonstrate the power and the inspiration that comes with a community of veterans working on an epic undertaking together,” said Team RWB Executive Director Blayne Smith. “We figured if we could run a single American flag averaging 60 miles a day … that would be a demonstration of the good that we could do together if we all worked together formed as a team and committed to a big goal.”
With support from incredible members and sponsors like Microsoft, Westfield, The Schultz Family Foundation, Amazon, Salesforce, Starbucks and La Quinta Inn Suites, the event raised more than $1,250,000! Team RWB will then use the donations to help establish new chapters across the United States and to sponsor events where veterans and community members with a shared interest in social and physical activities can get together for a little PT and camaraderie.
But the Old Glory Relay takes that connection one step further, linking together Team RWB’s 210 chapters and over 115,000 members with their love for the Stars and Stripes.
“This is all about connecting folks to the American flag,” said Donnie Starling, Team RWB’s national development project manager. “One hand-off after another, under the symbol of Old Glory.”
“People see the flag, and they see different things,” remarked Navy veteran Sean Kelly. “But when they see people together in their community, they’re drawn to it. I think it’s an interesting time in our country – and to see a positive force that tries to pull people together, that’s a super important mission that I’m excited to be a part of.”
The Old Glory Relay began on Sept. 11 under the Space Needle in Seattle. Runners carried the flag through the Pacific Northwest, through California and across the desert Southwest and deep south.
The relay ended on Veterans Day in Tampa. And while it was a long journey through some grueling country, the feeling of accomplishment showed through from all the participants.
For Shawn Cleary, a runner in Arizona who delivered the flag to the Tucson team to finish out the Phoenix leg, being part of Team RWB has helped him to get to know a culture he wasn’t a part of as a civilian but had always respected as a military child.
“My life before Team RWB was kind of a college lifestyle,” Cleary says. “It started about two and a half years ago, I wanted to get healthy again, and I was starting to run.”
A friend suggested Cleary run with Team RWB. “I was just hooked,” he says.
There are tens of thousands of veterans and civilians alike who have gotten “hooked” and found a home with Team Red, White Blue. Through the organization, they continue to give back to one another and the community at large – and have an incredible time doing so!
There are many ways to get involved with Team Red, White Blue, so join the team and get started today. There are always local events happening, and keep an eye out for Team RWB’s national events like the Old Glory Relay!
In light of the controversy over the announced names of new fleet replenishment oilers, including one after Korean War veteran and gay rights activist Harvey Milk, here some other suggestions for future U.S. Navy ships:
Suggested America-class Amphibious Assault Ships
USS The Battle of Fallujah
During the Global War on Terror, the Marines have been fighting far from the ocean. However. those battles have featured just as much valor as was seen during Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, or Tarawa. Notable among these was the Battle of Fallujah in November of 2004. Perhaps the most iconic picture of Operation Iraqi Freedom was the one of First Sergeant Bradley Kasal gripping his M9 Beretta as he was assisted out of the house where he heroically protected a wounded Marine. No matter what you think of the Iraq War, the valor American forces showed during the battle should be honored.
USS Battle of Khe Sanh
During the Vietnam War, the Marine outpost at Khe Sanh was besieged for nearly three months as part of a six-month battle. Unlike the French at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, the Marines at Khe Sanh held out – with the aid of massive air power. This is one proud moment of Marine Corps history that deserves to be remembered – and it should not have taken nearly five decades to honor.
USS Battle of Khafji
One of the biggest fights the Marines had during Operation Desert Storm, the Battle of Khafji lasted three days. The Marines worked with Saudi and Qatari forces to free the city from its brief occupation by Saddam Hussein’s forces, knocking out at least 80 armored vehicles. That heroism is well worth remembering.
Suggested John Lewis-class replenishment ship
USS Joe Foss
He’s a Medal of Honor recipient, and either a Zumwalt or a Burke would seem more fitting, but Joe Foss was more than a Marine Corps ace. He was governor of South Dakota for four years, the first commissioner of the American Football League (now the AFC), and he was President of the National Rifle Association for two terms – leading America’s foremost defender of the Second Amendment.
Suggested Zumwalt-class destroyer
USS Robert A. Heinlein
While best known as the best American science-fiction author of all time, Robert Anson Heinlein graduated from the Naval Academy. While his career ended due to tuberculosis, Heinlein worked with Isaac Asimov at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard during World War II. This is a cultural giant of American literature and deserves to be recognized with the Navy’s most advanced surface combatant.
Suggested Arleigh Burke-class destroyers
USS Tom Clancy
The inventor of the techno-thriller genre made the United States Navy the big star in his first two novels. His iconic character, Jack Ryan, was a former Marine. Clancy was one of the few civilians to receive the Alfred Thayer Mahan Award for Literary Achievement from the Navy League.
USS Joe Rochefort
Rochefort is the unsung hero of the Battle of Midway. His code-breaking efforts gave Admiral Chester W. Nimitz the advance warning needed to send Raymond Spruance and Frank Jack Fletcher to ambush the Japanese fleet. Rochefort waited over 30 years to see his story told, and a decade afterward to be officially recognized.
USS Edwin T. Layton
There was one officer that Nimitz kept by his side throughout World War II. Edwin T. Layton was retained when Nimitz took over for Husband E. Kimmel and stayed until Japan signed the surrender documents in Tokyo Bay. If Rochefort was the unsung hero of Midway, Layton is the man who ensured Rochefort got some of the official recognition he deserved.
USS Brian Chontosh
Brian Chontosh received the Navy Cross for heroism during the initial invasion of Iraq. During a firefight on March 25, 2003, he personally cleared over 200 meters of trench and killed over 20 enemy troops. Sheer awesomeness (that arguably should have resulted in him receiving the Medal of Honor).
USS Justin Lehew
Then-Gunnery Sergeant Justin Lehew received the Navy Cross for his actions during March 23 and 24. On the 23rd, he led a team that rescued some of the members of the 507th Maintenance Company. The next day, he continuously exposed himself to enemy fire during an attack on a bridge, then while recovering Marines from an Amphibious Assault Vehicle that was hit.
USS Bradley Kasal
During the Battle of Fallujah, a photograph featuring then-First Sergeant Bradley Kasal being helped out of a building, clutching his M9 Beretta became an iconic image of Operation Iraqi Freedom. What happened before the photo, though, was the real awesome story: Kasal had shielded a fellow Marine from an insurgent’s grenades with his own body after both had been wounded. Kasal then refused evacuation until the other Marines in the house were safe. He got the Navy Cross. It should have been the Medal of Honor.
USS Justin A. Wilson
Corpsmen have long had a tradition of valor when it comes to treating wounded Marines on the battlefield. Justin Wilson is just one of the latest. He earned the Navy Cross by leaving his position, despite the threat of IEDs, to treat a wounded Marine explosive ordnance disposal tech, then did so again to find other wounded.
USS Arthur D. Struble
It is rare that a Vice Admiral is awarded a Distinguished Service Cross, but Stuble is one of two who got that honor. Struble received the Army’s second-highest decoration for valor for helping oversee the mine-clearance operation at Wonsan during the Korean War. Not too many people know about Admiral Struble’s service, and naming a ship after him would be a suitable way to change this.
The Army is manufacturing a new, lightweight version of its iconic .50-cal machine gun designed to better enable Soldiers to destroy enemies, protect convoys, mount weapons on vehicles, attack targets on the move and transport between missions.
The new weapon, engineered to be 20-to-30 percent lighter than the existing M2, will be made of durable, but lighter weight titanium, Army officials said.
The emerging lightweight .50-cal, described as still in its infancy stage, still needs to be built, riveted and tested.
The parts for the titanium prototypes will be built at Picatinny Arsenal, N.J. and then go to Anniston Army Depot, Ala., for riveting and further construction.
“We always want to lighten the soldier load. A major requirement is to engineer a 60-pound weapon compared to an 86-pound weapon,” Laura Battista, Product Management Engineer, told Scout Warrior in an interview Battista, told Scout Warrior in an interview.
“We will procure 30 and then go into full blown testing – air drop, full reliability, durability, maintainability and government standard testing. We’ll see how it did compared to the M2 and we will try to go to turn it into a program of record,” Battista added.
An Intimidating and Combat-Tested Weapon
The M2 crew-served machine gun, referred to as the “Ma Duece,” was first introduced in the 1930s’; it has both a lethal and psychological effect upon enemies.
“When enemies hear the sound of the gun, they tend to run in the other direction,” Battista explained.
The machine gun is currently used on Humvees, tactical trucks, M1 Abrams tanks, Strykers, some Navy ships and several aircraft such as CH-47 Chinook cargo helicopters and UH-60 Black Hawks. The gun can also be mounted on a tripod on the ground by infantry in a firefight or combat circumstance; the M2 has a solid range and can fire at point targets up to 1,500 meters and destroy enemy targets at distances up to 1,800 meters.
The .50-cal is effective in a wide variety of circumstances, such as convoy protection, air attacks and attacks upon small groups of enemies on foot or moving in small vehicles. Several variants of the machine gun can fire more than 500-rounds per minute.
“It can be used for anti-personnel (enemy fighters) and also against lightly armored vehicles and light unarmored vehicles. Any time you get into an up-armored (more armor) situation or reactive armor — it is not going to be very effective. It works against anything that does not have thick armor,” Lt. Col. Paul Alessio, Product Manager Crew Served Weapons Alessio, told Scout Warrior in an interview.
The Army owns what’s called the Technical Data Package, or TDP, for the new lightweight .50-cal; vendors will have to “build to print” and execute the government’s existing specs, Battista explained.
The Army currently operates 24,000 standard M2 machine guns and roughly 25,000 upgraded M2A1 .50-cal weapons designed with a number of improved features. The improved M2A1 is, among other things, engineered with what is called “fixed head space and timing” designed to better prevent the machine gun from jamming, misfiring or causing Soldier injury, officials explained. The M2A1 is also built to be more reliable that the standard M2; the M2 can last up to roughly 25,000 rounds, whereas the M2A1 can fire as many as 80,000 rounds, Alessio explained.
The Army plans to have initial prototypes of the new lightweight .50-cal built by this coming summer as a preparatory step to release a formal Request For Proposal, or RFP, to industry in the first quarter of 2017, Alessio said. An acquisition contract is expected several months after the RFP is released.
“We are looking to test this summer,” he said.
The lighter weight weapon will bring additional an additional range of mission sets for Soldiers who will be better able to transport, mount and fire the weapon against enemies.
“If you are a top gunner and you are having to move this weapon around – it is on a pedestal tripod. If it is lighter, you are going to be able to traverse the weapon a little bit easier than a 20-pound heavier weapon. That is one of the added benefits as far as getting it on and off the vehicle. If a soldier can do that by himself that is an added benefit,” Alessio said.
The M2 uses several different kinds of ammunition, including some rounds engineered to be “harder penetrating.” The weapon also uses an ammo can with 200 rounds; a top cover can be lifted off and the links between rounds are space to provide accurate timing as they are dropped into the weapon, he said.
Future .50-cal Innovations
The Army’s .50-cal program is also looking at a longer-term project to engineer a lighter weight caseless ammunition which will reduce the amount of brass needed, he added.
Further into the future, the service will also create requirements for a new externally-mounted weapon to replace both the M2 .50-cal machine gun and the Mk19 grenade launcher.
“This will be one weapon with a totally different new type of ammo that is not yet even in the developmental phase,” Alessio explained.
Aside from improving the weapon itself, the Army will also embark upon a simultaneous excursion to develop a lighter profile barrel.
“We will have many barrels that will lessen the logistic burden of having a spare barrel all the time. We are also hoping to save a lot of weight. We are hoping to save 16-pounds off of a 26-pound barrel,” Alessio said.
In addition, the Army plans to engineer a laser rangefinder, new optics and fire control technology for the .50-cal. Alessio said a new, bigger machine-gun mounted optic will likely be put on the gun within the next five years.
A laser rangefinder uses an algorithm created to identify the exact distance of a target — by combining the speed of light, which is known, with the length of time it takes the laser to reach the target.
The new addition to the weapon is called a Mounted Gun Optic, or MMO.
“It is basically an optic or direct view optic which will have some type of laser crosshair. This will improve lethality and an ability to put first round on target,” he added.
Finally, within five to ten years, the Army plans to have some kind of fire control technology added to the .50-cal; this will improve the accuracy of the weapon an increase its effective range by incorporating ballistic calculations such as the round’s trajectory through the air to target, Alessio explained.
(Editor’s note: We Are The Mighty has no political affiliation. This post is presented solely because of the veteran response in this case.)
Iraq War vet and music journalist Corbin Reiff didn’t take too kindly to Donald Trump’s comments on the campaign trail recently that insinuated that U.S. soldiers stole the money they were supposed to give out for Iraqi reconstruction projects. Reiff took to Twitter with the following burst of tweets, 140 characters per:
Just a small warning, I’m about to go on a bit of a rant.
This post is reprinted with permission from NationSwell, new digital media company focused on American innovation and renewal.
As soon as he wrapped up his studies in film and literature at Boston University, Henry Hughes followed family tradition and signed up for the Army. For the next five years, he took fire, dodged IEDs and grappled internally with the meaning of military service while on two tours of duty in Afghanistan with the 173rd Airborne Brigade. After Hughes returned home and earned another degree from the American Film Institute, he began making movies, including his short film,”Day One,” which tells the story of a female Army interpreter facing a moral quandary during her first day on the job: saving the newborn child of a known enemy. The film was nominated for this year’s Academy Award for best live-action short.
NationSwell spoke to Hughes, a Got Your 6 Storyteller, by phone from Los Angeles about the lingering questions from war and their portrayal on film.
What inspired you to serve your country?
For me, it was a long family tradition. We basically had someone in the Army since the [American] Revolution. I wanted to be part of that tradition.
Is there one question that you continually ask yourself about your experience?
It’s probably, “why is it not so simple?” It’s a very complex part of my life, not something that is full of simply good memories or simply bad memories: it’s a mixture of all types of life. So I always wonder why it’s not like anything else. At this point, why can’t it be simpler? Why is it so difficult for everyone to understand it?
I’m guessing that’s why did you decided to make the film “Day One?”
For sure, it’s about those questions. There’s not a reducible answer like the one I just tried to give you. So that’s why I thought I could make a movie about it instead, to kind of show the way it felt. So the movie is not a true-to-life of what exactly happened to me that one day. But the feeling when I’m watching the movie, it’s that sublime space of things that are horrible and beautiful in the same breath.
What’s the most important lesson civilians can take away from art that’s made about war?
I would say that everyone’s wartime experience is subjective. I don’t know if there’s some sort of universal experience.
What’s your favorite movie about war?
For me, it’s “The Thin Red Line.” I think it touches me because there’s no other war movie like it, that accepts the soulfulness of the warrior experience. A lot of movies don’t go that way, they kind of go along the more visceral, more experiential route.
What is the quality you most admire in a comrade?
What I actually admire most is hard to come by in our community: vulnerability. When it’s a vulnerability to look at your military experience, I really love meeting those people.
Who was the most inspirational person you encountered while serving?
I would say my interpreter on my second tour. She’s the one I based the movie on, or it’s inspired by her. She’s an Afghan-American woman, naturalized as an American citizen, but born over there. The deck was stacked against her, and she looked inside herself to find out what she thought was right and wrong. It wasn’t something that someone told her to do. She just had incredible integrity.
If you could change one thing about your service, what would it be?
I wouldn’t want one of my guys to be wounded or for any of my guys to die.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I would probably say chasing down my wife. It was a long shot, and it worked out. In 2010, after my first tour, I flew to New York without knowing she was there. We hadn’t spoken in a long time. We knew each other as children, when we were 13, and I hadn’t seen her in a number of years. I thought I could track her down, and so on Facebook messenger, I basically said, “Hey, I just landed in New York. Let’s hang out. We haven’t seen each other in a decade.” We went on one date and then a few more dates. She started me writing me a lot of letters when I was in Afghanistan again for my second tour, and we decided to be together.
How can the rest of us, as civilians, do more to support veterans?
Just look at them as people first. I feel like there’s a big divide on some level, but a lot of it is imagined. The fact of the matter is that all of those veterans are just people. I would look at them that way first and then look at their experience.
To you, what does it mean these days to be a veteran?
Well, it’s inescapable, I suppose. The definition of being a veteran is you can never not be a veteran one once you are one. And that speaks to, I think, how profound that experience is. There’s no way you can stop being a veteran.
The Navy announced Wednesday that sailors interested applying for fall classes should get their applications for tuition assistance turned in as soon as possible.
The Navy tuition assistance program covers up to 100 percent of tuition for eligible sailors. Eligibility depends on grades, active duty time (for activated reservists), accreditation of the chosen institution, and whether the sailor agrees to fulfill an obligatory 2 years of service beyond the his or her scheduled end of active service.
Covered under tuition assistance are high school and general equivalent degrees, vocational and technical programs, undergraduate and graduate programs, and certification programs. The funds can only be applied toward tuition, and may not be used for books, fees, and other course materials.
Tuition assistance is capped at 16 semester hours at $250.00 per semester hour, 24 quarter hours at $166.67 per quarter hour, and 240 clock hours at $16.67 per clock hour.
The Navy requires that sailors wishing to utilize tuition assistance follow these steps:
Notify the command
Complete required training
Complete education counseling and formulate an education plan
Submit education plan to Navy and review with counselor
Submit WebTA application at My Education Portal
Generate voucher and submit to institution
Command approval is required for tuition assistance, and that approval must come from the sailor’s commanding officer or by Direction Authority. Sailors will be required to enter their commanding officer’s email into the application.
There are specific obligations required for sailors utilizing tuition assistance. Grades must be a C or higher for undergraduate studies and a B or higher for graduate studies. Tuition assistance must be reimbursed for any grades that are determined to fall below those requirements.
Sailors must notify their Virtual Education Center of any changes in courses (including those changes which are not controlled by the sailor). Failure to notify the Virtual Education Center of changes can result in loss of tuition assistance and a requirement for reimbursement to the institution.
For more information and to apply for tuition assistance, Sailors can visit the Navy College Program.
Finding good leadership in the military can be difficult. Writing strong interesting characters for movies that audiences respect is a completely separate challenge. But after watching these iconic war films, we’d wager that most ground troops wouldn’t mind serving alongside these screen legends.
So here’s our list of enlisted leaders we’d follow into battle.
1. Gunny Highway (Heartbreak Ridge)
Played by Hollywood icon Clint Eastwood, this career Senior NCO took a bunch of misfits and turned them in hard-charging Reconnaissance Marines in just a few short movie hours. That’s badass and tough to pull off.
“Be advised that I’m mean, nasty, and tired. I eat concertina wire and piss napalm and I can put a round through a flea’s ass at 200 meters” — Gunny Highway. (Source: WB/Screenshot)
2. Sgt. 1st Class Horvath (Saving Private Ryan)
Played by veteran actor Tom Sizemore, this loyal sergeant to his CO just wanted to keep the men in line, fight hard and finish the mission.
Horvath didn’t get the respect he deserved in the film, but we know… we know. (Source: Dream Works/Screenshot)
3. Sgt. Elias (Platoon)
Played by long time actor Willem Dafoe, this seasoned soldier is the voice of his lower enlisted troops and brings a human element to an inhumane world.
4. Sgt. Eversmann (Black Hawk Down)
Played by Josh Hartnett, this newly assigned chalk leader is put to the ultimate test as he spearheads into the legendary Somalia raid and thinks of his men over himself. That’s leadership.
5. Don Collier (Fury)
Played by Brad Pitt and known in the film as “War Daddy,” he strives to keep his men alive and kill as many Germans in the process while not allowing his men see his softer side during the grueling tank battles of WWII.
6. Sgt. Maj. Basil Plumley (We Were Soldiers)
Played by Sam Elliott, this hardcore infantryman isn’t into coddling his men but cares about their health and the importance of taking the fight to the enemy.
7. Michael (The Deer Hunter)
Played by award-winning actor Robert De Niro, no emotional expense was spared when he brought to life this character who suffered great torment to keep his men from going insane while being held captive in a POW camp.
8. Gunny Hartman (Full Metal Jacket)
Played by R. Lee Ermy (retired Marine), Hartman took the audience by storm as he brutally trained his recruits to prepare for the dangers they’d soon face heading off to Vietnam.
WATM’s very own Chief Content Officer and veteran Chase Millsap just wrapped up filming and producing the incredible docuseries, Ten Weeks, that takes you inside the Army’s basic combat training.
Millsap worked alongside David Gale (WATM’s founder) and retired Army Col. Jack Jacobs, Chair of NYFA’s Veterans Advancement Program a Medal of Honor Recipient, to bring viewers deep within the life of five potential soldiers during their boot camp journey. The series offers a stunning and raw look at the humanity of these everyday citizens and their extraordinary rise to becoming one of America’s protectors.
To celebrate the project, they’ll be hosted by the New York Film Academy College of Visual & Performing Arts on January 26, 2021, for a virtual event open to students, military members and veterans. The team will share an exclusive trailer and then host a live discussion on the making of the series. Leading the panel event is Tova Laiter, Director of NYFA Q&A Series. She has interviewed hundreds of Hollywood luminaries including Adam Driver, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorcese and industry professionals at NYFA’s theaters in Los Angeles and New York City. We spoke with Eric Brown, Sr. Veterans Outreach & Recruitment Advisor, who has been instrumental in staging the January 26panel event.
Brown enlisted at just 18 years old. With a laugh, he told WATM that his first choice had actually been the Marine Corps. His mother talked him out of it, too afraid of him being at the forefront of the war. “I served in the Navy for about seven years and deployed for efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Brown shared. “I like what the Navy stood for and loved the opportunities I had as a Gas Turbine Technician.” After leaving the service in 2010, he attended the NYFA for a degree in fine arts and has been working for them over the past eight years. Working in support of this docuseries was an honor, according to Brown.
NYFA is a frequent partner with WATM and Brown shared that the school often involves their students in these types of collaborative projects. When the opportunity to showcase Ten Weeks came about, he jumped on it immediately. “Within the Division of Veteran Services, we host multiple events to connect with the veteran community,” Brown explained. Delivering good content to veterans is important to him, he said.
Another passion of his is getting more veterans involved in filmmaking. “I think there are a lot of stories out there that should be told … veterans are a very unique breed. We are civilians but we’ve transformed,” Brown shared.
When asked if watching the trailer for Ten Weeks brought back any fond memories of his own bootcamp experience, he laughed. Brown grew up in Miami and was a first generation American whose family immigrated from the Caribbean islands. Snow was not a word he was familiar with using. His basic training for the Navy took him to the Great Lakes in the middle of winter. “I caught pneumonia twice and I still had to go out there and PT. It was a pretty brutal experience,” he shared.
Although nothing as harsh as what he went through happens in the docuseries, Brown said the entire process for the prospective soldiers was completely relatable. Despite the hardship of training, he loved it. “I thought it was a very unique challenge and something I’d never be able to replicate again,” Brown said. This response is similar to what viewers will see from soldiers at the end of Ten Weeks. An incredible transformation and experience that changes them all, forever.
What does Brown hope the viewers of this docuseries take away from the project? The understanding of the weight and meaning of service. “I would like the audience to walk away with understanding the honor and commitment it takes. The integrity and courage for these service members to give up four years or 20 years or even ultimately … unfortunately those who may make the ultimate sacrifice for this country,” Brown said. “I want them to have an understanding of that and what it means, to serve. It isn’t just an incredible education. It’s about giving of yourself wholeheartedly to a cause that like-minded individuals believe in and to honor that.”
Those who watch Ten Weeks get a window view into the making of United States soldiers. The often young and bright-eyed graduates will head off to fight, for you and everyone else in this nation. They don’t do it for accolades or money, but for love. Brown’s last words are poignant and should be ingrained in every citizen of this country: “The uniform is not just an article of clothing, it’s a rite of passage and something that echoes through eternity.”
If you are a military member or veteran, sign up to take part in the virtual event to premiere the WATM-produced Ten Weeks trailer and join the discussion on the implications of service.
The controversy surrounding Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl continues to mount as rumors of a possible desertion charge against him spread — rumors as cloudy as the stories that surround his 2009 disappearance and capture.
Despite the fact that the Pentagon concluded in a 2010 investigation that he had simply walked away from his unit while serving at Combat Outpost Mest-Lalak in Paktika Province, Afghanistan, the truth behind the circumstances of his capture remains murky.
Some of his fellow soldiers call him a deserter, saying he planned to walk away the whole time. They also blame him for the deaths of soldiers killed while looking for him in the days following his disappearance.
Bergdahl was freed by the Taliban in May 2014 in exchange for five Guantanamo Bay detainees, a swap that only added to the controversy in that the Obama administration seemed to be negotiating with terrorists and also seemed to be attempting to make a feel-good story out of something that had dubious elements.
A smattering of detail emerged – some of it courtesy of his parents who ended their silence at a high-profile Rose Garden ceremony heralding his release – including a notion that as Bowe Bergdahl’s enlistment went along, he increasingly viewed himself as a conscientious objector.
But there’s a big difference between a conscientious objector and a deserter. In fact, military history shows that true conscientious observers would never desert.
Earning valid conscientious objector status in the U.S. military has always been a tough thing to accomplish. During the Civil War, the first American war to introduce forced conscription, objectors, like anyone else, could pay a $300 fine to hire a substitute.
During World War One, objectors were able to serve in noncombat roles. Those who refused were imprisoned in military facilities. The World War Two-era United States military was slightly more accommodating, allowing conscientious objectors to serve in the numerous, various New Deal work programs that were still necessary to the war effort.
Most of these programs were gone by the time of the Vietnam War, but COs could still find other ways to serve without violating their religious or social beliefs.
And some have demonstrated that being a conscientious objector doesn’t make you a slacker or a coward. In their stories one can see that true followers of their consciences would never use CO status as an excuse to shirk their duties.
Here are four examples of conscientious objectors who made their way to the front and served with valor:
1. Sergeant Alvin York
Alvin C. York (aka “Sergeant York”) had to fight to get conscientious objector status. His subsequent acceptance of the Army’s decision is an integral part of the mythos of the man.
After a life of drinking and fighting, a religious experience led York to renounce his lifestyle and turn to fundamentalist Christianity. The doctrine of his newfound faith included a rejection of secular politics and a devout pacifism. He even began to lead the prayers of his local church.
Three years later, the United States would enter World War One and Alvin York would register for the draft, as any dutiful American did. He applied for conscientious objector status, even appealing after his first request was denied.
By the time he arrived in France, York had come to believe God meant for him to fight and to win and that God would protect him as long as was necessary. One night, he and three other NCOs led thirteen privates to infiltrate the German lines and take out the machine guns. Somewhere along the way, one machine gun opened up on York and his compatriots, killing or wounding nine of the sixteen men. York didn’t even have time to take cover. He stood his ground and picked off the whole crew.
While he was taking out the German gun, another six Germans went over the top of their trench and charged at the lone American with fixed bayonets. York, having exhausted his rifle’s ammunition, pulled his sidearm and dropped all six before they could reach him. The German commander surrendered his entire unit to York. 132 men in total were led back to the American lines by York and his six surviving privates. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for this action.
York became one of the most decorated doughboys of the Great War and returned home a hero. A movie was made about his exploits, for which Gary Cooper would win an Oscar for the title role of “Sergeant York.”
York attempted to re-enlist in World War Two, but was too old for combat duty, instead becoming a Major in the Army Signal Corps.
2. Desmond Doss
If ever there was an example more different from Sergeant York’s, it’s the story of Desmond Doss. Drafted as a medic during World War II, Doss was a devout Seventh Day Adventist.
In today’s military, he might not ever have made it past basic training. He refused to train or work on Saturdays. He wouldn’t eat meat. He wouldn’t carry a weapon. Even in the face of taunts and threats from other members of his unit, he stood fast to his beliefs. His commanding officer tried to get him a section eight discharge, meaning he was unsuitable for military service, but Doss refused to accept this discharge because it amounted to being called “crazy” due to his beliefs.
But Doss wasn’t useless. He wanted to serve; he just wasn’t willing to kill to do it. He even worked overtime hours to make up for his Saturday Sabbath. Still, his fellow soldiers threatened to kill him as soon as they got into action. It was Doss’ dedication to saving lives that would earn him the love and respect of his unit. Doss would do anything to save his men, from going into the open field, braving snipers, or dodging machine gun fire. From Guam to Leyte to Okinawa, Doss repeatedly braved anything the Japanese could muster to pull the injured to the rear.
It was at Okinawa where Doss entered Army history. As his unit climbed a vertical cliffside the Japanese opened up with artillery, mortars, and machine guns, turning his unit back and killing or wounding 75 men. Doss retrieved them one by one, loading them onto a litter and down the cliff.
A few days later, in the mouth of a cave, he braved a shower of grenades thrown from eight yards away, dressing wounds, and making four trips to pull his soldiers out. The last time, a grenade critically injured him. He treated his own wounds and waited five hours for a litter to carry him off.
On the way back, the three men had to take cover from a tank attack. While waiting, Doss crawled off his litter, treated a more injured man, and told the litter bearers to take the other man. While waiting for them to come back, he was hit in the arm by a sniper and crawled 300 yards to an aid station. He was the first true conscientious objector to earn the Medal of Honor.
3. Thomas Bennett
Bennett was a student at West Virginia University in the Fall of 1967 as the war in Vietnam was heating up. He was committed to his country but was also deeply religious. His Southern Baptist beliefs kept him from killing even in the name of patriotism. Still, Bennett enlisted as a combat medic in 1968 to save the lives of his countrymen who would fight as he couldn’t.
He arrived in South Vietnam in 1969. A month later, Bennett’s bravery earned him a recommendation for a Silver Star. Two days after that, his platoon was dispatched to assist an ambushed patrol. They immediately came under fire from an entrenched enemy column with automatic weapons, mortars, and rockets.
As the point men fell wounded, he ran toward them and tended their wounds as he pulled each of them to relative safety. For the rest of the night and into the following day, he ran from position to position, aiding the wounded and pulling them back to safety. He ran just a bit too far trying to get to a man wounded ahead of the unit and was killed by an enemy sniper.
He received the Medal of Honor, the second conscientious objector to receive the U.S. military’s highest level of recognition.
4. Joseph LaPointe, Jr.
Joseph LaPointe, Jr. was an average guy from Ohio, a mailman who got married at twenty years old. He was also a devout Baptist. Drafted in 1968, he declared himself a conscientious objector, but still opted to serve in the Army, taking the role of field medic with the 101st Airborne.
He arrived in Vietnam in June of 1968. By the next year, he was in the area of Quang Tin, having earned a Bronze Star and a Silver Star. On June 2, he landed on a cavalry patrol as they came under heavy fire from a nearby bunker. Two men in the lead were wounded immediately.
As the patrol took cover, LaPointe ran forward to help. He shielded the men with his body as he performed first aid. He was injured twice before dragging the men to cover. He continued to protect the two men with his own body until a grenade killed all three.
Turkish warplanes struck suspected Kurdish rebel positions in Iraq and Syria on April 25, drawing condemnation from Baghdad and criticism from the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group, which is allied with Kurdish factions in both countries.
Syrian activists said the attack killed at least 18 members of the Syrian Kurdish militia known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, which is a close U.S. ally against IS but is seen by Ankara as a terrorist group because of its ties to Turkey’s Kurdish rebels.
The airstrikes also killed five members of the Iraqi Kurdish militia known as the peshmerga, which is also battling the extremist group with help from the U.S.-led coalition.
The YPG said the strikes hit a media center, a local radio station, a communication headquarters and some military posts, killing an undetermined number of fighters in the town of Karachok, in Syria’s northeastern Hassakeh province.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition group which monitors all sides of the conflict, said the strikes killed 18 YPG fighters.
The YPG is among the most effective ground forces battling IS, but Turkey says it is an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and that PKK fighters are finding sanctuaries in neighboring Iraq and Syria.
A Turkish military statement said the pre-dawn strikes hit targets on Sinjar Mountain in northern Iraq and a mountainous region in Syria. It said the operations were conducted to prevent infiltration of Kurdish rebels, weapons, ammunition and explosives from those areas into Turkey.
The military said in a later statement that the air strikes hit shelters, ammunition depots and key control centers, adding that some 40 militants in Sinjar and some 30 others in northern Syria were “neutralized.”
In an emailed statement to The Associated Press, the U.S.-led coalition said Iraq’s neighbors need to respect Iraqi sovereignty.
“We encourage all forces to … concentrate their efforts on ISIS and not toward objectives that may cause the Coalition to divert energy and resources away from the defeat of ISIS in Iraq and Syria,” it said, using another acronym for IS.
Iraq’s Foreign Ministry denounced the strikes as a “violation” of its sovereignty and called on the international community to put an end to such “interference” by Turkey.
“Any operation that is carried out by the Turkish government without any coordination with the Iraqi government is totally rejected,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmad Jamal told The Associated Press.
He cautioned against a broader Turkish military operation, saying it would “complicate the issue and destabilize northern Iraq.”
Although Turkey regularly carries out airstrikes against PKK targets in northern Iraq, this was the first time it has struck the Sinjar region. Turkey has long claimed that the area was becoming a hotbed for PKK rebels.
Sinjar Mayor Mahma Khalil said the strikes started at around 2:30 a.m., killing five members of the peshmerga and wounding nine. Khalil said he was not aware of any casualties among PKK rebels.
The peshmerga command called on the PKK to withdraw from the Sinjar region, saying the ” PKK must stop destabilizing and escalating tensions in the area.”
The PKK has led an insurgency in southeast Turkey since 1984, and is considered a terror organization by Turkey and its allies.
Last year, Turkey sent troops into Syria to back Syrian opposition fighters in the battle against IS and curb the expansion of the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish forces.
The Syrian Kurdish forces denounced the April 25 strikes on their positions as “treacherous,” accusing Turkey of undermining the anti-terrorism fight. The Syrian Kurds have driven IS from large parts of Syria and are currently closing in on Raqqa, the de facto capital of the extremists’ self-styled caliphate.
“By this attack, Turkey is trying to undermine Raqqa operation, give (IS) time to reorganize and put [thousands of lives in danger],” the YPG said on its Twitter account.
An airstrike in Idlib on April 25 killed at least 12 people, including civilians, the Observatory said. The area is controlled by hard-line rebel factions, some associated with al-Qaida. The Observatory said it suspected a Russian jet was behind the strike.
Associated Press writers Sarah El Deeb and Philip Issa in Beirut, Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Baghdad and Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria, contributed to this report.
The military has very talented photographers in the ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. Here are the best military photos of the week:
A formation of F-15C Eagles, assigned to the 493rd Fighter Squadron, and an F-15E Strike Eagle, assigned to the 492nd Fighter Squadron, fly over Gloucestershire, England, to attend the Royal International Air Tattoo air show at Royal Air Force Fairford July 7, 2016. The RAF Lakenheath aircraft were on public display, along with many other military aircraft from around the U.K., to provide an opportunity for the U.S. military and its allies to showcase their capabilities.
Airmen complete the Grog Bowl ritual during a combat dining out at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, July 9, 2016. The combat dining out is a modern informal twist on the ancient tradition of the military dining in.
Soldiers assigned to 1st Armored Division, Task Force Al Taqaddum, fire an M109A6 Paladin howitzer during a fire mission at Al Taqaddum Air Base, Iraq, June 27, 2016. The strikes were conducted in support of Operation Inherent Resolve and aimed at eliminating the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
A soldier assigned to the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade, crosses a river using a single line rope bridge at Camp Rudder, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., July 7, 2016. The Florida Phase of Ranger School is the third and final phase that Ranger students must complete to earn the coveted Ranger Tab.
NAVAL STATION ROTA, Spain (July 10, 2016) President Barack Obama departs USS Ross (DDG 71) after a tour aboard the ship. During the president’s visit to Naval Station Rota, he met with base leadership, toured USS Ross (DDG 71) and spoke to service members and their families during an all hands call. Naval Station Rota enables and supports operations of U.S. and allied forces and provides quality services in support of the fleet, fighter, and family for Commander, Navy Installations Command in Navy Region Europe, Africa, Southwest Asia.
AMSTERDAM (June 21, 2016) Amphibious dock landing ship USS Carter Hall (LSD 50) makes its way through the locks of the North Sea Canal enroute to Amsterdam for its second port visit after the ship’s participation in exercise BALTOPS 2016. BALTOPS is an annually recurring multinational exercise designed to enhance flexibility and interoperability, and demonstrate the capability and resolve of allied and partner forces to defend the Baltic region.
Lance Cpl. Mackinnly Lewis, a landing support specialist with Combat Logistics Battalion 2, Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response-Africa, guides an MV-22B Osprey during a helicopter support team exercise aboard Naval Station Rota, Spain, July 6, 2016. This training prepares Marines to deliver and recover supplies and equipment quickly and efficiently in potential future missions around Europe and Africa.
Marines with Headquarters and Service Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, Marine Rotational Force Darwin, fix a humvee during Exercise Hamel at Cultana Training Area, South Australia, Australia, July 8, 2016. Exercise Hamel is a trilateral training exercise with Australian, New Zealand, and U.S. forces to enhance cooperation, trust, and friendship.
Twenty-six nations, 49 ships, six submarines, about 200 aircraft, and 25,000 personnel are participating in the Rim of the Pacific exercise, the world’s largest international maritime exercise, from June 29 to Aug. 4 in and around the Hawaiian Islands and Southern California.
The Maritime Security Response Team is a highly specialized team with advanced counterterrorism skills and tactics.
The Coast Guard is the smallest of America’s armed forces, with about 42,000 active-duty personnel. Their task is to secure America’s maritime borders, about 12,380 miles in length – about six times that of the U.S.-Mexico border that has become a hot issue in the 2016 presidential campaign. The Coast Guard doesn’t just provide border security, it also is the primary maritime search-and-rescue organization of the United States government.
It’s a huge task, and the Coast Guard can be stretched very thin while carrying it out. Matters aren’t helped when you have some joker making false alarms, and the Coasties have been dealing with a bad one in the vicinity of Annapolis, Maryland. Over the last two years, the Coast Guard has responded to 28 false alarms – costing the service over $500,000 – from the same person.
The money is not the big issue. $500,000 from July 2014 to the present is a drop in the bucket given the Coast Guard’s budgets from 2014-2016 were just over $30 billion. The real issue centers around that fact that every mission launched means that Coast Guardsmen are risking their lives. That includes rescues, medevac missions from ships at sea, drug interdiction, enforcing safety regulations, training to keep skills honed, and of course, responding to false alarms. In the last ten years, two HH-65 Dolphin helicopters, a HH-60 helicopter, and a HC-130 Hercules have been lost during operations, with 18 of the 19 Coast Guardsmen on board being killed.
Lieutenant Commander Sara Wallace said in a Coast Guard release on this hoax caller, “Calls like these not only put our crews at risk, but they put the lives of the public at risk. Our efforts to respond to what may be a hoax can delay us from getting on scene to a real emergency.” There is a reason that the Coast Guard’s unofficial motto is “You have to go out, but you don’t have to come back.”
Penalties for calling in a false alarm include up to six years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and reimbursement to the Coast Guard for expenses incurred by the false alarm. Those penalties would apply for each count the hoaxer is convicted on.
Anyone with information on the hoaxer is asked to contact the Coast Guard Investigative Service via e-mail at CGIS-Baltimore@uscg.mil or the Coast Guard Sector Maryland-NCR Command Center via phone at (410) 576-2525.
Spencer Seabrooke is a Pro Slackliner and a cast member of Discovery’s new TV series PUSHING THE LINE, streaming on discovery+. Spencer is originally from the small town of Peterborough, Ontario. Growing up he spent his free time skateboarding, snowboarding, playing paintball and bridge jumping. At the age of 18 he founded a concrete finishing company. Always on the lookout for adventure, he searched for the next challenge to conquer.
What first attracted you to this sport?
I started rock climbing and whenever I got to the top I felt like it was missing something. I watched a movie about one of the other cast members on the show, Andy, and he had been highlining for a few years. He held a handful of the world records. I watched him and got super inspired by what he was doing. So, I went out and started doing it.
What was your scariest moment practicing the sport?
When you’re first starting, you learn to trust your gear. You’re looking back at all the knots that you’ve tied and the connections you’ve made. You look down and you see how far you’re going to fall if you mess one of those up. In the beginning, I feel like my fear was high at the night, but over time and the experience rigging, it slowly becomes more comfortable.
In the show you all refer to yourselves as a ‘dysfunctional but working’ family. How long have ya’ll known each other?
The sport of slacklining has been growing a lot in the last five years. It has been skyrocketing. It was [around that time] when we all started. We’ve been in it long enough and have done a lot of projects together. So, we kind of make a deal to get together once a year and do some rad stuff and catch up. That way we can stay at our top level. It really is like a family. When you’re rigging one of these lines and someone gets on the radio to say, ‘It’s okay for you to get on, everything is good here,’ your life is in another’s hands. You learn to trust each other.
What advice would you give to a veteran who wanted to try the sport out?
I would say get in touch with your local slackline community. Usually at a local park, kids and adults are doing it. You’ve got to start somewhere. The slackline community around the world is very inviting and everyone is welcome and are [willing] to show people the ropes. Get involved and see what your local community has to offer and see what you can put into it.
What was your favorite moment during the filming of the show?
Everything that we did was a lot of fun! I can’t ruin the show so you’re just going to have to tune-in! Watch the good stuff. I’d say the kilometer long zipline was my favorite part (laughs).
What is next for you?
For me, we’re keeping it local here in Canada. I’m trying to grow my own business, SlacklifeBC — we sell slackline products. We’re out to help the community here and teach everybody how to do it. So, tune-in! The show is premiering tomorrow, June 5th, on Discovery+! It’s really cool because I grew up watching the Discovery channel and it’s the kind of thing you watch and get stoked to go do something. It’s great that I’m going to be a part of it all now with the others. The audience will be able to get off their butts and go do it! (laughs)