At the onset of World War II, writing letters was the preferred communication between soldiers and family members. In fact, oftentimes it was the only form of communication. Phone calls were few and far between, and usually, technology like telegrams were reserved for internal military communication. When it came to talking with loved ones, letters were their bread and butter. On average, each soldier wrote six letters per week — almost one every day — with each one taking up to four weeks to make it to their delivery address. If they were lucky, letters would be delivered in a single week. The process was long, tedious and expensive logistically, but also incredibly reassuring for those on the receiving end.
In June of 1942, the U.S. Government announced a change in the way they delivered mail. Rather than collecting and delivering physical letters, they created Victory Mail. Shortened to V-Mail, it was a technology that took images of letters, then shipped the films — rather than sacks and sacks of paper — then re-printed smaller versions back in the U.S. The service was discontinued on November 1, 1945.
The benefits of V-Mail meant reducing plane cargo space; a film was 1/37th the space and weight of a paper letter. Films recorded up to 40 letters per minute, holding 1,600 on each roll of film. V-Mail letters could also be delivered quickly. As this was considered the number one morale booster to soldiers, there was heavy motivation to make V-Mail a success.
V-Mail thwarted espionage
However, space wasn’t the only benefit to V-Mail, it also helped eliminate traitor and/or spy efforts against the U.S.
It did so in two ways:
First, all letters that went through V-Mail were censored. Sensitive information was deleted or removed from the correspondence altogether. There were folks whose entire job was to read letters and remove anything offensive or sensitive. Therefore, someone — willingly or not — sharing confidential information would have parts of their message redacted, ensuring nothing classified was transmitted.
Second, because V-Mail took images of letters, many spy tactics were made moot, to include invisible ink, microdots and microprinting. The latter two involved very small writings or codes that could only be deciphered by someone who knew what to look for, usually with a magnifying glass. But as V-Mail re-prints were at a quarter of the size of the original, tiny artifacts could not be identified. (It’s also likely that the image qualities were not clear enough to pick up such details.)
Original copies of letters were kept by the receiving Post Office, assigning numbers so that “no V-Mail letter could ever be lost.” However, this meant copies with secret ink, etc. would not be seen by its intended recipient.
Along with the speed of delivery, the ability to fight espionage was marketed as a patriotic way for V-Mail to help the war. In total, more than a billion V-Mail letters were sent until the end of the war in 1945.
Featured image: Left, National Archives; Right, WWII Museum
U.S. Army Sgt. Elizabeth Marks won the gold medal and set a new world record in the women’s SB7 100-meter breaststroke Saturday night at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.
“I had no idea [I was winning],” exclaimed Marks. “I can’t see when I am swimming. About 25 meters in, I have no idea where anybody else is. As long as I feel pressure on my hands, I know it is going well. I was just hoping for the best and putting everything I had into it.”
Marks served as a combat medic in Iraq and suffered serious injuries to her hip while deployed in 2010. Determined to stay in the Army and be declared fit for duty, she turned to swimming during her rehab in San Antonio.
She showed so much promise that she was accepted into the Army’s World Class Athlete Program in 2012, which allowed her to be declared fit for duty.
Marks fell into a coma in September 2014 after flying to London to compete in the Invictus Games. Doctors at Papworth Hospital put her on an external lung machine, saving her life.
She shocked everyone by returning to the pool less than a month after coming out of the coma and won gold at the World Military Swimming and Para-Swimming Open in February 2015 by defeating a field composed almost entirely of men.
Earlier this year, Marks won gold at the 2016 Invictus Games in Orlando. She asked Prince Harry, founder of the organization that puts on the games, to personally award her the medal. After he presented it to her, she returned it to him and asked that he give it to the staff at Papworth Hospital.
In July, Marks was given the Pat Tillman Award, which honors an individual with a strong connection to sports who has served others in a way that echoes the legacy of former NFL player and U.S. Army Ranger Tillman.
Marks will also compete in the S8 100m backstroke on Sept. 13 and the SM8 200m individual medley on Sept. 17.
Watch our interview with Elizabeth Marks at the 2016 Pat Tillman Award ceremony:
Museums are great places to learn about history. Exhibits and displays bring the past to life and can transport visitors back in time. The First Division Museum at Cantigny Park in Wheaton, Illinois, near Chicago does this for the division’s history. It also has a dozen tanks on outdoor display, and yes, you can climb all over them.
The First Division Museum should not be confused with the Army-curated First Infantry Division Museum at Fort Riley, Kansas. In fact, the First Division Museum was established by the Robert C. McCormick Charitable Trust. Known today as the McCormick Foundation, the trust was established by McCormick’s will following his death. A former colonel and First Infantry Division WWI veteran himself, McCormick fought during the Battle of Cantigny. Upon his return to Illinois, he renamed his Wheaton farm after the battle for the French city. The park that hosts the museum was also established by the McCormick Foundation and is so-named as well.
The first sight that museum visitors see is the expansive tank park. On display are First Infantry Division tanks ranging from the WWI-era M1917 Light Tank to the modern M1 Abrams main battle tank. The park is even home to the only surviving T26E4 Pershing experimental tank, of which only 25 were ever produced. As mentioned previously, all the tanks in the tank park are free to be climbed on, including the Pershing. The museum even installed the tanks on bouncy compressed rubber mulch so that guests can easily jump down from them.
Once guests have climbed on the tanks in the tank park, the museum offers an in-depth history of the First Division’s wars. The museum’s two wings are called First in War and Duty First. The former goes through the division’s history in WWI, WWII, and Vietnam while the latter details modern missions like counterinsurgency, deterrence, military assistance, and peacekeeping. Guests will be transported to the trenches outside of Cantigny, Omaha Beach at Normandy, the forests of Bastogne, and the jungles of Vietnam.
Aside from the museum, Cantigny Park offers visitors gardens, playgrounds, and plenty of well-maintained open space to enjoy. There’s even a golf course on site. Aside from tee time, the park’s $5 parking fee gets you access to all that it has to offer. However, Armed Forces Day, Constitution Day, Veterans Day, and the first Wednesday of every month are free days at Cantigny Park. Due to COVID-19, timed reservations for the museum are required for entry. Veterans, active duty, reserve, and National Guard members are eligible for the Honor Club at no charge. Upon verification of service, Honor Club members enjoy complimentary parking, a 10% discount at restaurants and shops, and discounted golf rates.
Colonel McCormick believed in fostering communities of educated, informed, and engaged citizens. Cantigny Park and the First Division Museum are the embodiment of this belief. If you’re ever in the area, it’s well worth your time, even if you just want to climb on some tanks.
China’s recent military parade included several new weapons systems and a flyover by the J-20, a stealth jet that many think incorporates stealth technology stolen from the US into a design built to destroy weak links in the US Air Force.
But the US has decades of experience in making and fielding stealth jets, creating a gap that no amount of Russian or Chinese hacking could bridge.
“As we see Russia bring on stealth fighters and we see China bring on stealth fighters, we have 40 years of learning how to do this,” retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Mark Barrett told Defense News’ Valerie Insinna at a Mitchell Institute event on August 2.
While China’s J-20 seeks to intercept unarmed US Air Force refueling planes with very-long-range missiles, and Russia’s T-50 looks like a stealthy reboot of its current fleet of fighters, a senior scientist working on stealth aircraft for a US defense contractor told Business Insider that other countries still lagged the US in making planes that could hide from radars.
The scientist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the classified nature of their work, told Business Insider the J-20 and T-50 were “dirty” fighters, since the countries lack the precision tools necessary to painstakingly shape every millimeter of the planes’ surfaces.
Barrett said of China’s and Russia’s stealth attempts, “There are a lot of stuff hanging outside of these airplanes,” according to Defense News, adding that “all the airplane pictures I’ve seen still have stuff hanging from the wings, and that just kills your stealth.”
Additionally, the US has stealth-fighter tactics down, while China and Russia would take years to develop a similar playbook.
Meanwhile, the US has overcome the issue of external munitions blowing up a plane’s radar signature by having internal weapons bays and networking with fleets of fourth-generation aircraft.
Because the F-35 and F-22 can communicate with older, non-stealth planes, they can fly cleanly, without weapons hanging off the wings, while tanked-up F/A-18s, F-15s, or F-16s laden with fuel, bombs, and air-to-air missiles follow along.
The F-35s and F-22s can ensure the coast is clear and dominate battles without firing a shot as older planes fire off missiles guided by the fifth-gen fighters.
The massive USS Gerald R. Ford will head out to sea for builders’ trials next month in a critical test before the US Navy intends to commission the ship later this year, USNI News reports.
The Ford will improve on the Navy’s Nimitz-class carriers with a rearranged flight deck, improved launching and landing systems, and a nuclear power plant with outsized capabilities that can integrate future technologies such as railguns and lasers.
The Ford’s commissioning will bring the count of full-sized carriers to a whopping 11 for the United States — more than the rest of the world combined.
The ship will sail out for a test of its most basic functions like navigation and communications, as well as a test of its nuclear-powered propulsion plant.
Its most advanced features, like its electromagnetic catapults for launching bomb- and fuel-laden jets from the deck, will not undergo testing.
The Ford, like almost any large first-in-class defense project, has encountered substantial setbacks and challenges as the Navy and contractors attempt to bring next-generation capabilities to the US’s aircraft carriers. Notably, the Navy has expressed doubts about the advanced arresting gear, which helps speeding planes land quickly and gently, saying it may scrap the program in favor of the older system used on Nimitz-class carriers.
An old sailor’s myth claims that any ship which fails to break a bottle of champagne during its christening ceremony is cursed forever.
This seemed to be exactly the case with the Soviet ballistic missile submarine K-19, later nicknamed “Hiroshima” by its crew after an accident in 1961 which almost resulted in a nuclear accident which would have rivaled the size and effect of Chernobyl, years later.
If it was any consolation to the horrified sailors who witnessed the champagne bottle bounce intact off the K-19’s stern during its induction ceremony, the sub was already thought to be cursed thanks to the deaths of a number of shipyard workers involved in its construction. Upon its acceptance to the Soviet Navy, its 35-year old captain, Nikolai Zateyev called the ship unfit for service, noting that the USSR’s rush to catch up to American submarine advances had caused the country to cut corners in designing its new vessels.
Regardless, the K-19 entered into active service and set sail on its maiden voyage in 1961, operating in the North Atlantic below the shipping lanes that crisscrossed the Atlantic. On the 4th of July — while millions of families made their way to parks to barbecue and watch fireworks in the United States — the K-19’s powerplant experienced a leak in its cooling system while the vessel was submerged southeast of Greenland.
If something wasn’t done to solve the cooling issue immediately, a nuclear meltdown would have followed, causing untold amounts of radiation to spew over the North Atlantic, and almost certainly travel over into Western Europe or even parts of Canada and the United States.
Zateyev ordered his crew to devise a “jury-rigged” cooling system, using scrounged-up parts and components of the submarine to re-route water into tubes around the reactors. In the meanwhile, members of the crew volunteered to go into the reactor spaces to attempt to fix the system, receiving fatal doses of radiation almost instantaneously.
None of the ship’s engineering crew would survive, and many more died from radiation poisoning in the years after the near-meltdown. Many of these sailors were later buried in lead coffins, quietly and away from the public eye.
According to David Miller in his book “Submarine Disasters,” a distress signal emitted from the K-19 was soon picked up by nearby American warships, whose crew offered to assist the stricken sub and her complement. However, Zateyev, worried about losing his ship to the United States — then the enemy during the height of the Cold War — decided instead to sail towards a nearby Soviet diesel submarine. That linkup allowed the K-19’s crew to offload safely.
In the aftermath of the near-catastrophe, the Soviet Navy sought to downplay the nature of the incident, forcing the crew of the K-19’s 1961 cruise to swear an oath of secrecy; violations would result in a lengthy stay at a gulag.
Nevertheless, a number were still decorated for bravery and their role in preventing what could have been an unmitigated disaster. Zateyev went on to serve in the Soviet Navy for another 25 years, passing away eventually from lung disease. The official report on the condition of the sick sailors stated that they were suffering from a form of mental illness.
That, however, wasn’t the end of K-19’s story. Now widely known throughout the Soviet Navy as “Hiroshima,” the ship was repaired and reentered into active duty.
In 1969, a collision with an American submarine disfigured Hiroshima, ending its patrol prematurely. In the 1970s, the submarine suffered a series of fires that killed 30 sailors and wounded scores more. The K-19 was clearly, by this point, living up to its curse.
The oath inflicted upon the 1961 cruise sailors was lifted after the fall of the Soviet Union, and what was once a closely-guarded secret was told to the world. In 2006, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev made public the courageousness of the crew in a letter to the Nobel Prize committee, nominating the survivors for a Nobel Peace Prize.
K-19 was finally retired from service in 1991 having been active for nearly 30 years, and accumulating hundreds of thousands of miles transiting through the world’s oceans. Instead of preserving the ship as a monument to the men who served aboard her, and had a hand in saving millions from nuclear poisoning, the Russian government elected to dismantle and dispose of the vessel, finally ridding its navy of the cursed ship.
When Jeremy Penderman joined the Army, he wasn’t quite sure what his job would entail.
“I’m not even sure the recruiter knew what the job was,” he said.
But Penderman, a multichannel transmission systems operator/maintainer, said the job hasn’t disappointed.
Now serving in Iraq with Fort Bragg’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, Penderman has an undeniable impact on his unit and the ongoing fight to retake the key northern city of Mosul from the Islamic State terrorist group, officials said.
So undeniable that Penderman, who has spent nearly seven years in the Army, was the recipient of a rare battlefield promotion in April of 2017.
In an impromptu ceremony near Al Tarab, Iraq, Sgt. Penderman became Staff Sgt. Penderman when Maj. Gen. Joseph M. Martin pinned the new rank to his chest.
Penderman, who was at the base repairing communications equipment, said the visit — and the promotion — were unexpected.
Martin, the commander of Combined Joint Forces Land Component Command — Operation Inherent Resolve and the 1st Infantry Division, was able to promote Penderman after determining that the soldier “demonstrated an extraordinary performance of duties” while filling a job that’s typically held by someone of a higher rank.
It was a special recognition for Penderman, who had spent nearly two years awaiting a promotion but still lacked the requirements for a typical bump in rank.
“It was a complete surprise,” Penderman told The Fayetteville Observer from Iraq last week. “I didn’t know anything about it.”
Penderman, 25, is a Durham-native who oversees communications for the 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute infantry Regiment, which has about 700 soldiers in Iraq and deployed late last year.
In that role, he leads a small team of soldiers who work to ensure troops can communicate across the battlefield, keeping a network in place to spur a constant flow of information from advise-and-assist teams embedded with Iraqi forces and between unmanned aerial vehicles and soldiers on the ground.
The job often sees him working with complex communications equipment, tapping into satellites and generally maintaining a tactical communications network in an austere and ever-changing environment.
Not bad for someone who knew little to nothing about his career when he joined the Army.
“I didn’t even know what an IP (address) was,” Penderman said. “I didn’t know anything about computers.”
Instead, Penderman had high hopes that baseball would be his future.
“I played everywhere,” he said of his time at the Durham School of the Arts. “But I went to college as an outfielder.”
That college was Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory, where Penderman received a scholarship to play baseball.
But after being redshirted his freshman year, he began to reconsider another dream.
Penderman always wanted to join the military. He wanted to follow in his brother’s footsteps as a Marine, although his parents urged him to try college instead.
He made a promise that he would give college a year, and, if that didn’t work, he’d be free to enlist.
Today, Penderman might have been a Marine if it wasn’t for one more discovery.
“I found out about the airborne,” he said.
Over spring break his freshman year — March 2010 — Penderman walked into a recruiting center and enlisted in the Army.
At first, he wanted to be an airborne infantryman, but a recruiter instead guided him through a list of available jobs.
He described Penderman’s current military occupational specialty, known as a 25Q, as “half infantry, half radios” and promised he could still become a paratrooper. Also, the job came with an enlistment bonus.
Since enlisting, Penderman spent more than four years in Germany with the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team before joining the 82nd Airborne Division about two years ago.
He has seven years in the Army and plans to apply to become a warrant officer in the Signal Corps. While he wants to stay in the Army as long as possible, he said the skills he’s learned have opened the door to a bright future no matter if he wears the uniform or not.
“It’s really set me up for success, whether I stay in or get out,” he said.
Penderman is noncommissioned-officer-in-charge of his battalion’s S6, or communications, shop.
Typically, that organization would have upward of a dozen soldiers, including an NCOIC and an officer. But Penderman’s shop has three soldiers and no officer.
That shows the faith and trust that leadership has in the soldier, officials said.
In training while preparing for the deployment, the battalion trained with the smaller force. But Penderman said little could have prepared him for another aspect of the deployment — a constant leapfrogging of the battlefield.
When Penderman’s battalion arrived in country, they set up more than 20 miles from Mosul to partner with the 9th Iraqi Armored Division, one of the local forces looking to take back the city.
“And we moved six times,” Penderman said. “As they gain ground and they move forward, we move forward with them.”
Today, he’s based out of a tactical assembly area near the village of Bakhira. From there, he’s near the border of the city and close to the fighting.
“We can hear them shooting off mortars,” Penderman said.
He’s also seen forces treating wounded. And he said that knowing he has played a role in the march into the city has been humbling.
“It’s fulfilling work,” Penderman said. “I get to impact the battalion on a daily basis… It definitely feels like I’m making a difference in my battalion and helping to make a difference in the fight in Mosul.”
In Tom Clancy’s fictional “Rainbow Six” universe, customizable teams of special operatives use intelligence from around the world to strike at threats against NATO. Designated “Rainbow,” the team was originally 30 members and is comprised of the best Delta, SAS, and other top NATO-member special operations units have to offer.
Rainbow deploys on quick notice around the world, fulfilling both a deterrent and a direct action role, mostly against terrorists.
The real-world NATO must have seen all of this and — in light of recent Russian aggression — decided Rainbow just wasn’t big and strong enough for the real world.
Instead, NATO announced in February the planned components of their Very High Readiness Joint Task Force. As part of the overall NATO Response Force, the VJTF does have special operators from around the world supporting it and an international intelligence network.
But VJTF doesn’t end at special operations. Dubbed “Spearhead Force,” it centers on a land brigade of approximately 5,000 troops that can hit a target and begin operations within 48 hours of notification. The primary component of the Spearhead Force will change year-to-year, coming from whichever country is in primary command of the unit. Germany is taking the first turn and leading the force in 2015 and has already taken the interim VJTF out for a spin.
In addition to their special operators and land forces, the VJTF will have air assets and naval forces on the ready. Britain has volunteered four fighter jets to the air mission already, in addition to 1,000 troops for the land component.
What units will make up the rest of the air component, as well as the exact forces in the maritime and special operations components, have not been announced.
Of course, the special operations support could be coming from Rainbow — if you believe the government is hiding an international special operations force from the American public.
Though the Navy is dancing in the end zone over its newest destroyer, the USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000), the futuristic ship has already lost one of the major pieces of its arsenal.
To be more precise, the 155mm Advanced Gun Systems will need a new round to fire.
The future guided-missile destroyer USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000) transits the Atlantic Ocean during acceptance trials April 21, 2016 with the Navy’s Board of Inspection and Survey (INSURV). The U.S. Navy accepted delivery of DDG 1000, the future guided-missile destroyer USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000). Following a crew certification period and October commissioning ceremony in Baltimore, Zumwalt will transit to its homeport in San Diego for a Post Delivery Availability and Mission Systems Activation. DDG 1000 is the lead ship of the Zumwalt-class destroyers, next-generation, multi-mission surface combatants, tailored for land attack and littoral dominance. (U.S. Navy/Released)
According to a report by Popular Mechanics, the Navy has cancelled the Long Range Land Attack Projectile (LRLAP). This round, guided by GPS satellites, was to have been used to hit targets as far away as 60 miles. One of the biggest issues came about because of the cut in the buy of the Zumwalt – from 32 ships to only three. The Daily Caller noted that cutting the size of the Zumwalt buy caused the per-unit cost to go up from $4.1 billion to $7 billion. That meant that the cost per shell went up to $800,000, largely because the RD cost is being borne by far fewer rounds than originally thought. As a result, the program met the Pentagon chopping block.
Now, this does not mean that the Zumwalt’s AGS is reduced to an ornament. The good news about the 155 round is that there are a host of options aside from the proverbial spitballs. Here are a few:
M107 High-Explosive: This is a conventional round – but there are a lot of them in stock, and it can still do a lot of damage. The M549 adds rocket assistance to increase range. Newer shells like the XM1113 and XM1128 will provide longer range and near-precision capability.
M864 Dual-Purpose Improved Conventional Munitions (DPICM): Think of this as a very small cluster bomb. The bomblets can take out armor or infantry, and it allows room for error. On a ship, these rounds could do a lot of damage to exposed antennas for radars and radios.
M712 “Copperhead”: This is a laser-guided artillery round. And a lot of UAVs have laser designators, including the MQ-8 Fire Scout (which can be operated off ships). While intended for land use, it should be noted that the Navy has used laser-guided weapons at sea, notably AGM-123 Skippers against the Iranian frigate Sahand during Operation Praying Mantis.
The M982 Excalibur 155mm round leaves the barrel of an M777 Howitzer during a live fire shoot conducted by Soldiers of the 4th Battalion, 27th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, at Oro Grande Range Complex, N.M., Dec. 5. The shoot was the first of its kind conducted outside of the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, Calif., and combat. (US Army photo by Sgt. Sean Harriman, 2nd BCT, 1st AD, Public Affairs)
M982 “Excalibur”: This is a GPS guided shell already in service with the Army. Costing $68,000 a shell, it doesn’t have the range that LRLAP would have brought to the table, but it is combat-proven in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Vulcano: The Vulcano from OTO Melara uses infra-red guidance to hit its targets at ranges of about 50 miles. The Italian firm offers this shell in 76mm and 127mm versions as well as its 155mm version. Laser guidance is also an option for these shells. Vulcano might be a better bargain than LRLAP, since it is also capable of being used as an anti-ship weapon.
John Lee Dumas is a former Army officer and Iraq War veteran. One day, he was driving his car, in his normal morning routine when the last podcast on his iPod ended. He realized in that moment the car was like the prison of his life. Luckily, he also realized what would be his escape from that prison.
“I saw podcasting as an opportunity where an amateur like myself could make connections, learn a lot, and improve my public speaking and interview skills along the way,” he said in an interview with Forbes. “I always saw the value in podcasting as it was a form of media that could be consumed while doing something else like driving a car, exercising, folding laundry.”
His show, Entrepreneur On Fire, is a show for the aspiring business owner, serial entrepreneur, or side-entrepreneur. To date, there are more than a thousand episodes of EOF, each featuring an inspirational interview with a budding business founder.
Dumas’s business relies on two streams of income which generate over seven figures in annual revenue, his Podcast Sponsorships and Podcasters’ Paradise. He even posts those figures on his website, EoFire.com. Part of this success is due to his epic production schedule. His show,puts out a new podcast every single day.
“After eight years as an Army officer, I learned at an early age the benefit of ‘batching’ your work,” Dumas says. “In order to run a 7-day a week podcast without getting burned out, I schedule eight interviews every Tuesday. This allows me to put my game face on for one day a week and execute 8 interviews at the highest level I am capable of. This batching ensures that I make the most efficient use of my ‘studio time’ so I can focus on other areas of my business the remaining six days in the week.”
Dumas is also the author of a how-to podcasting book, Podcast Launch, which give a 15-step tutorial in launching one’s own successful podcast, in his own words, using his own theories on growing an audience and monetizing it. He is currently working on a new book, The Freedom Journal: Accomplish Your Goal in 100 Days, a day-by-day companion to setting goals and planning how to reach them.
“My audience has grown to know, like, and trust the fact that every day, a fresh episode of EntrepreneurOnFire awaits. Another is that every day, my guest shares their interview that just went live with their audience, driving massive numbers of people to EntrepreneurOnFire who have never heard of the show before, and a certain proportion of which will subscribe and become listeners. With this happening seven days a week, the snowball effect is amazing.”
SSG Ken Lepore joined the Army National Guard post-high school to help pay for college and because he loves his country. Through his service in the Army National Guard, he has grown immensely as a professional and as a person. He credits his time on deployment and serving the U.S. in making him a more mature, educated and driven citizen. He now serves as a recruiter for the Army National Guard in Central Ohio and interacts with high schoolers looking for a challenge and the opportunity to serve. Lepore discusses his life experiences, insights and tips on joining the Army National Guard.
1. How long have you been in the Army and what have your experiences been?
I have been in about 15 years overall with about a 3.5-year break in service. My three tours were as a tank crewman and cavalry scout to Kosovo in 2004-2005, then Iraq 2006-2007, and again to Iraq in 2009-2010. I also deployed to support the relief efforts for Hurricane Katrina 2005.
2. When did you become an Army Recruiter?
I became a recruiter in 2015. Before that, I worked as a teacher, in college admissions and now work as an adjunct professor of history at Marion Technical College.
3. What are some of the obstacles that come up during the recruitment process?
The most notable obstacles for recruits to overcome are COVID, of course, their ASVAB score, physical things, legal issues and negative perceptions.
Overall, the answer to this really does depend on the areas where one recruits as well as knowing one’s recruiting area. But remember, it is always about being physically, intellectually and morally qualified. So, there is always the potential that the ASVAB can become an obstacle. For example, I rarely had issues with kids who could not pass the ASVAB, but I recruited out of suburban and exurban schools that have pretty highly ranked education programs.
Again, that does not mean that everyone I met and worked with passed the ASVAB, but it does mean that, based on how ASVAB scoring works, the vast majority of kids I worked with could read and do the math on at least an 11th-grade level. Again, a passing score is a 31 or above, and this is not a percentage, but a percentile.
The physical things are a different kind of obstacle, but even though we ask some questions with that APPLE-MDT process to try to discover any potential medical or physical issues early in the recruiting process, it is typically when conducting a thorough medical questionnaire that any physical/medical issues will become known. This does not necessarily mean that someone will be disqualified – we are recruiters, not doctors, so it is not our place to tell someone if they are disqualified, although we may have a pretty good idea.
But, it identifies the need for more documentation, typically medical docs, which are submitted to MEPS. For example, if someone tells me they had surgery on an ACL, I know that we are going to need documents, so we know they will be okay at training and doing their jobs without that ACL becoming an issue. Then, based on the questionnaire and any accompanying documentation, the doctors at MEPS can make a preliminary determination on if someone is physically qualified or not – if they say no, then we request a waiver.
So, let’s say that nothing is wrong or that there was something like the applicant had braces and the accompanying documents from the dentist show when the braces will be off, and we get preliminary approval, this means we can schedule them for a face-to-face physical at MEPS. This is not like a physical fitness test, but it is more like a sports physical at high school or college – makes sure everything bends the right way, height/weight standards, checks vision/hearing, urinalysis, etc. This is the point where the doctors at MEPS will officially stamp that paperwork as physically qualified, but if anything requires more documentation or is a disqualifier, they will let you know. If that happens, we either try to get the necessary documentation or request a waiver, if possible. There are some things, for example, that we cannot plan for or necessarily know beforehand too, like say astigmatism or a high cylinder in the eye or heart arrhythmia, but that is exactly why it is that two-part process.
Other obstacles are legal obstacles, and this does not just mean having felonies, but even having an unresolved parking ticket – those need to be paid. Again, this was not something I had much of an issue in my former recruiting area, but for others, like with the ASVAB, it can be a real problem, whether drug charges, or a DUI, theft, violent crimes, etc. We have regulations that will let us know what is okay and if a moral waiver and suitability review needs to be initiated.
But this is where that bit of common sense comes into play as well, because members of the military are expected to hold themselves to a high standard and because we need that trust with the public as well. Essentially, I was not afraid to tell someone to get out of my office because of their legal background. My old office partner was doing a sex offender check in the online registry (we do it for everyone), and the guy he was working with came up – process over, dude, we’re done here.
Another time, he and I were at the Franklin County Courthouse, getting court documents on someone as part of a background check, and a lawyer or a social worker came running up to us telling us that her client was perfect for the military and how the military could help him (it is illegal for recruiters to get involved to get charges dropped in order to allow someone to enlist); anyway, my old office partner calmly asked her if her client was someone she would want armed to the teeth, which made her pause. She replied that he was not. Bad choices will derail enlistment – this is not and cannot be the last resort, but rather a first choice.
So this is where the public perception can become a benefit or an obstacle to recruiting. I am someone who very much hates being lumped in as one of McNamara’s boys, and I do get annoyed with the aforementioned perspective that military service is for poor people and stupid people with no prospects in life. This obviously is not true at all – again, I have a graduate degree, and I chose to join twice, one of those times after I had my college paid for. But where this can become an obstacle is, for example, when some parents carry that military service is beneath their child, which I have experienced a couple of times, typically in some of the more affluent areas I recruited in.
I had a kid I was working with whose parents bought him a brand new Mercedes to stop talking to me. I said, “I don’t fault you, dude, that’s a $60,000 car, I don’t think you learned a positive life lesson, but I don’t fault you at all.” Another time, I was taking a young lady just to take her ASVAB, and only do that – nothing else. She just wanted to take it as a career exploration tool, and I told her I will be glad to help.
It was her grandparents who came on the attack, crying when they saw me in uniform, letting me know I was a monster, and they knew people who went to Vietnam and begging their granddaughter not to do this. Again, she was not going to enlist (ever), and I knew that – that’s why her guidance counselor contacted me out of all the recruiters. But I did take great offense to their behavior, and I tactfully reminded them that, among other things, I was/am better educated than both of them. Nonetheless, there does seem to quite often be an uncle or a family member or someone who had a bad experience with a recruiter or with the military, and that becomes a difficult obstacle — overcoming perceptions — particularly entrenched ones.
4. Are there any ways to combat these things, and if so, how?
So, combating the aforementioned obstacles really comes down to the obstacle itself. Something like a recruit being over height and weight standards is actually one of the easier things because I can supply them with a workout plan and make some dietary recommendations, but it is on them to follow it and make it happen. This is actually nice because it shows early on in the process how much someone wants to be in. I had a young man who lost 180 pounds to join, and that said everything I needed to know about his dedication, character, motivation, etc., and I knew that he’d do fine at training and in his unit.
Some of the other medical stuff does become more of a challenge, though, particularly because you don’t want someone to be a liability to themselves or others. But, as mentioned earlier, we can always try to request a waiver – it will get either approved or denied, but at the end of the process, you’ll know why. I worked with a young lady who had a penicillin allergy – we got all the medical documents, submitted them with the questionnaire to MEPS, and she was marked preliminarily as not qualified. So, we submitted a request for a waiver, which did get approved; then she took her physical, passed, and joined. The process took about a week and a half long, but that’s okay, as it shows that even with an allergy to a medicine, we took the right steps and she was taken care of.
Combating the legal obstacles is a little more cut-and-dry because in AR 601-210 and the National Guard’s accompanying documents, the Accessions Options Criteria and the Annex A as well as other regulatory guidance that comes out, it lets us know what we can work with, as far as having a legal background and what we cannot. However, I found that I never really had many problems with interested individuals having legal backgrounds beyond anything more than traffic violations, an occasional single DUI or drug charge – and yes, you can have a whole bunch of traffic tickets and still be able to enlist as an 88M Motor Transport Operator (truck driver), although I tended to steer bad drivers away from that MOS (no pun intended). But, I knew that pretty much anything beyond that, I probably was not going to work with that person anyway because I knew I would not want someone with multiple assaults, theft or domestic violence charges in my squad, so I wouldn’t bother. I cannot speak for other recruiters or other branches of the military, but as a student of history and of languages, I tend to pay attention to the patterns.
It is combating that obstacle of public perceptions that is the most difficult, but I found that I dealt with it two-fold – as a member of the military, and as a recruiter. This is one reason why we, as recruiters, need to be judicious about who we enlist and also not deceive or lie to people we work with. So, this essentially comes down to trust, as it ties into public perception. For starters, one of the best compliments I have ever received in my life was from an undergraduate philosophy professor at Ohio U, who told me that I dispelled every pre-conceived notion he had about people in the military. But because of my relative size (I’m 5’6” and 145 lbs), I do not exactly come off as that hard-charging, flag-waving recruiter, which is good, because that has never been my style.
Instead, I tried to make myself an example, to my soldiers, to my students and now to my recruits. When working with parents and teachers and guidance counselors, it is a similar thing. One soldier’s dad told me in an initial interview (he was prior service) that I was completely unlike any recruiter he had ever met. Several of my teacher and guidance counselor friends at my old schools have echoed similar things. They and my old boss told me that I recruit different kinds of people/soldiers than what they anticipate – actually, a lot of my old recruits have contacted me too and told me that they never could have seen themselves in the military or never even considered it until they met someone just like them – bookish, athletic-ish and trying to figure out how to pay for college.
And as I said, this was not really on my radar until my senior year of high school, so I get it. For me, it felt like I had the chance to show people that there should be zero stigmas from being an enlisted person in any branch of the military (but especially the Army National Guard) because before I turned 28, I had completed nine years in the Guard, three overseas tours, a graduate degree, no student loan debt, a myriad of languages and had a lived a fairly full life before I had attended my 10-year high school reunion. The little things that we can do to get rid of McNamara’s stigma and tip the hat to the importance of disciplined initiative drilled into my head at training. Besides, after you graduate from basic training and job training, you really do feel like you can accomplish anything – all obstacles become surmountable.