Here's what you didn't know about the Queen's Guards - We Are The Mighty
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Here’s what you didn’t know about the Queen’s Guards

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  If you’ve ever been to Buckingham Palace, you’ve probably noticed the armed guards wearing the bearskin caps standing sentry. These aren’t your average security guards roaming through shopping malls. They are Queen’s Guards and are fully-trained operational soldiers — and most have been deployed to combat zones.

The guards are hand picked from five different infantry regiments and identified by the various details of their uniform such as button spacing, color badges, and the plumes in the bearskin caps.

Here’s what you didn’t know about the Queen’s Guards

Since 1660, the guards have been responsible for protecting the British royal residents of St. James and Buckingham Palace.

Every morning at 11:30 during the summer and every other day during the winter, the changing of the guard commences in the forecourt of Buckingham.

During an hour long ceremony, the detachments slowly pass over the guard responsibilities to the incoming troops marching in from their barracks. While on duty, the guards may not eat, sleep, smoke, stand easy, sit or lay down during their shift.

Today, most sentry posts have been moved away from the public to avoid confrontation with curious tourists — the guards carry rifles with live ammunition.

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VA chief says he’d stay if Trump wants him

As a new administration prepares to take charge in late January, the man who’s lead the Department of Veterans Affairs through nearly three years of turbulence says if President-elect Donald Trump wants him to stay aboard, he’ll keep working to reform the sprawling agency.


“I haven’t yet received a call,” says Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald. “But I would never turn my back on my duty.”

Trump has reportedly looked into several candidates for the post, including former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown and former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, but some are calling for McDonald to stay on.

During a recent “Town Hall”-style meeting at the West Los Angeles VA Jan. 4, McDonald fielded questions from the veteran audience that touched on service lapses and recent scandals, including accusations and fraud within the VA and a perceived lack of accountability.

“A certain employee here lost 30 vehicles and still drew a $140,000 salary,” one veteran and VA employee complained. “There’s no accountability with people in management.”

McDonald agreed he inherited a VA plagued with bad actors, but said most of the local VA leaders who were in office when he took over are no longer employed by the VA.

For McDonald the changes haven’t happened fast enough. Speed, he laments, is his greatest challenge. Future VA Secretaries will feel the need for speed as well.

Here’s what you didn’t know about the Queen’s Guards
Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. James A. Winnefeld, Jr. and (left) Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald (center) receive a brief on a firearms training driving simulator during a tour of the Center for the Intrepid, Dec. 19, 2014. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jonathan Snyder)

“One of the things I talk about in my top 10 leadership principles is the need to get the right leaders in place,” McDonald told WATM in an exclusive interview. “I changed 14 of my 17 top leaders, but it’s two and a half years later, and we’re not done yet.”

Many of the veterans at the town hall meeting asked McDonald to address problems specific to them — bad record keeping or missed appointments. While the VA secretary said he’d get those problems fixed, he argued its a good sign the complaints focus on the tactical rather than larger systemic problems.

“Two and a half years ago, many of the comments I got were things like, ‘it’s too hard to get an appointment,’ ” he says. “Now, more and more, we’re hearing about individuals and that individual service.”

When you run a large customer service organization, you want to get from anecdotes to specific situations so you can deal with them,” he added.

Talking to McDonald, you can hear how his time as CEO of Procter  Gamble colors his view of running the VA.

“The brands you like the most, ones you can’t do without, you feel like you have an intimate relationship,” he says. “That intimacy leads to trust. What you want to do is measure the trust and measure the emotion that comes out of the experience that you have.”

Those are the metrics that he says matter.

“The fact that trust of the VA has gone up from 47 percent to 60 percent, it’s not where we want it to be, but the fact that it’s gone up says the veterans are seeing a difference,” he said. “What we’ve seen is ease of getting care has gone up 20 points, and the effectiveness of care has gone up about 12 points. Trust, then, has gone up 13 points.”

Here’s what you didn’t know about the Queen’s Guards
(VA photo)

While veterans’ trust in the system has gone up, McDonald said, there are still calls for more services to be transitioned to private organizations. Many argue private doctors and specialists are more efficient and provide a quicker turnaround for vets in need, while others say moving toward privatization is a bad idea.

For McDonald, a careful mixture of both is the right way forward.

“Since I’ve been the secretary, we’ve gone from 20 percent of our appointments in private medicine to now 32 percent in the private sector, so there has been some degree of privatization,” he says. “We’ve done that in a very evolutionary way, where if we didn’t have a skill, specialty, or a location, we would send people into the community.”

“As I looked at this, privatizing VA services wholesale didn’t make sense to me,” he added.

He explained what he calls the “three-legged stool” of the VA: valuable medical research (to the tune of $1.8B per year), training 70 percent of doctors in the United States, and providing the “best patients” for clinical work – patients with unique situations.

He also said many veterans organization don’t want total privatization.

“They like the integrated care that the VA provides, and they like having medical providers who are familiar with their unique situations,” McDonald says. “They typically have a number of issues that need to be resolved simultaneously.”

Whether he stays in the job or not, McDonald feels it’s important the next VA secretary has a similar pedigree to his — one that combines military experience with top-line business credentials.

“It’s important to have somebody who’s a veteran, obviously, because they have to have credibility with the veteran population, but somebody who’s also run a large organization,” he says. “I think it’s advantageous to have somebody who’s run a large organization and understands the importance of getting the right leaders in place, of setting the right strategies, of making sure the system’s robust, of setting the right culture.”

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6 Army Chaplains who made the ultimate sacrifice

Chaplains have long held a special place in many troops’ hearts. In fact, at times, they become legends. In the Army, the first chaplains were authorized on July 29, 1775. They’ve been with the troops on the front lines ever since.


Some chaplains have made the ultimate sacrifice. The most famous instance was that of the “Four Chaplains” who were on board the transport SS Dorchester when it was torpedoed by U-223 at 12:55AM on Feb. 3, 1943.

Here’s what you didn’t know about the Queen’s Guards
Painting of the rescue of USAT Dorchester survivors by USCGC Escanaba (WPG-77) on Feb. 3, 1943, in the North Atlantic Ocean. (U.S. Coast Guard image)

According to HomeofHeroes.com, when the transport was hit, the four chaplains, Rabbi Alexander Goode, Rev. George L. Fox, Rev. Clark V. Poling, and Father John P. Washington promptly began to aid the troops who were on the stricken vessel.

One sailor was heading back to his bunk for gloves, but Rabbi Goode instead handed his over. Despite a loss of power, they got some of the troops to the deck. Then, they began handing out life jackets, even as the Dorchester was rapidly headed to a watery grave.

Finally, when the life jackets ran out, they gave up their own. They were among the 668 who went down with the Dorchester, but many of the 230 men who were saved owed their lives to the Four Chaplains, each of whom received the Distinguished Service Cross posthumously.

Here’s what you didn’t know about the Queen’s Guards
Army Capt. (Chaplain) Emil Kapaun performs Mass in the field, Oct. 7, 1950. (Photo: U.S. Army Col. Raymond Skeehan)

In the Korean War, two other chaplains notably made the ultimate sacrifice. Chaplain Emil Kapuan, a Catholic priest, was captured during the Chinese offensive of 1950 — and shortly after his capture, he shoved a Chinese soldier who was trying to execute an America.

Then, while held as a POW, he would steal drugs and smuggle them to a doctor. He continued to steal supplies and bolster the morale of his fellow prisoners. He would die in captivity on May 25, 1951. In 2013, he was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.

Here’s what you didn’t know about the Queen’s Guards
Chaplain Herman Gilbert Felhoelter. (U.S. Army photo)

Then there was the case of Chaplain Herman G. Felhoelter, also a Catholic priest, who, during the initial salvos of the Korean War, offered to stay behind with a medic to help the wounded. As he was providing comfort, North Korean troops attacked and wounded the medic, who escaped.

The North Koreans then proceeded to carry out what became known as the Chaplain-Medic massacre, killing the wounded Americans and the chaplain. Felhoelter received the Distinguished Service Cross posthumously for his actions.

These cases only begin to scratch the surface of why the troops love their chaplains.

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This is the all-Jewish force who took it to the Nazis in North Africa

The French military doesn’t get a lot of love these days; their crushing defeat and capitulation in 1940 still colors the way the world sees the armed forces of France. It’s a completely undeserved reputation, however. The French are much better at fighting wars than you might think.


Here’s what you didn’t know about the Queen’s Guards
The Free French Foreign Legionnaires assault a Nazi position.

One part of this is the French Foreign Legion and its cadre of criminals, strongmen, war junkies, and other badasses who decided to get a clean slate by joining the Legion. In World War II, the Legion was just a capable as it is today — and they capitulated to no one. In 1942, they were joined by a group of Jewish soldiers who decided they had enough of the anti-Semitism in Europe.

And they were going to prove their mettle.

Related: This is why the French are better at war than you think

In 1940, the British created 15 divisions of some 30,0000 Jewish soldiers from the Mandate of Palestine. Within two years, the Jewish troops were sent to fight in North Africa, where the Nazi Afrika Korps routed the Allies time and again.

Here’s what you didn’t know about the Queen’s Guards
The Jewish Brigade in formation. (Imperial War Museum)

At a small oasis in Libya, guarding an old Turkish fort, the Free French Foreign Legion begin to reinforce their position. The fort, called Bir Hakeim, was a sort of last stand for the Allies. If Field Marshal Erwin Rommel could punch his army through the French position, he could take the vital port city of Tobruk. Near the end of the Legionnaires’ lines was a place called Bir-el Hamat.

This is where the Jewish fighters of WWII would make their presence felt.

They were a small group of 400 minelayers sent by the British and led by Maj. Félix Liebmann to reinforce the French position. They had no heavy weapons and were generally poorly armed and equipped. Rommel’s men targeted the Jewish position as the weakest point and sent a truce flag over to demand the Jewish surrender. When they refused, the Nazis hit the Jewish defenders with everything they had.

Here’s what you didn’t know about the Queen’s Guards
Jewish Brigade troops in infantry training.

The combined German-Italian force was trying to get around the Free French line to surround and destroy the remaining French, advance on Tobruk, and destroy the British 8th Army.

Unable to radio the French a few miles up the road, the Jewish fighters held their position using molotov cocktails on the tanks that didn’t get destroyed in the minefield. For eight days — low on water, ammunition, and supplies — the Jewish troops withstood relentless, constant bombardment and fought the Afrika Korps to a standstill.

On the last day, the French and Jewish forces got the word to retreat. They held off the Nazis long enough for the British 8th Army to retreat — and they did, in the middle of the night. Three-fourths of the unit were killed or wounded at Bir-el Hamat and they marched 60 some miles all the way to Gasr el-Abid.

When they arrived, they folded up their flag, a gold Star of David on a blue and white striped background — a precursor to the modern-day state of Israel’s flag. Observing the men folding their colors, French Foreign Legion commander General Marie-Pierre Koenig demanded why they stopped flying their flag. Under the British, Maj. Liebmann explained, they were not allowed to fly their own colors.

Here’s what you didn’t know about the Queen’s Guards
Flag of the Jewish Brigade Group.

Koenig had the flag attached to his jeep, next to the Free French flag, at equal stature.

The British 8th Army was able to to defeat the Afrika Korps at el-Alamein the very next month, in a pivotal battle that kept the Axis from advancing into Egypt and capturing the Suez Canal. By 1944, the Jewish Brigade (as they came to be called) was formed to take the fight to the Nazis in Italy.

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Here’s what the US military’s future helicopter fleet could look like

In what the participants call a “unique” collaboration, government agencies and aerospace corporations are working together to develop advanced platforms and technologies for vertical lift that are intended to replace virtually all the current rotary wing and tilt-rotor aircraft being used by the four U.S. military services.


The results of those efforts are likely to also influence future civilian and international vertical lift programs.

The ultimate goal is to produce a family of vertical lift aircraft that can serve as transports for personnel and cargo and perform attack, scout, search and rescue, anti-submarine and anti-surface ship missions from land or sea at speeds and ranges far exceeding existing capabilities.

During a forum at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., Sept. 23, the industry and government representatives said the focus was on achieving the maximum commonality of aircraft components and open architecture in mission systems to reduce production and sustainment costs and promote interoperability among individual aircraft and services.

Here’s what you didn’t know about the Queen’s Guards
The Sikorsky X-2. (Courtesy photo)

The coalition of talent is working on two separate but closely related programs: Future Vertical Lift and Joint Multi-role Technology Demonstration, which are managed by the Army with participation by the Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force.

Under the FVL part of the effort, Bell Helicopter is working on an advanced tilt-rotor aircraft called the V-280 Valor, which advances the technologies produced for the V-22 Ospreys that are operated by the Marines and Air Force Special Operations Command and in the future by the Navy.

For FVL, Boeing-Sikorsky team is building a “coaxial” helicopter called the SB-1 Defiant, which uses counter-rotating rotors for vertical operations and a rear-mounted propeller for high-speed level flight. It builds on technology demonstrated by Sikorsky’s X-2 that hit speeds of 260 knots, or 300 miles an hour.

At CSIS, Chris Van Buiten, vice president of Sikorsky Innovations, and Vince Tobin, VP for advanced tilt-rotor systems at Bell, said their aircraft will fly next year in preparation for a competitive “fly off” for the FVL program.

Both of those firms, Rockwell Collins and other companies are participating in the JMR program, which is focused on developing a new generation of mission systems and avionics that would go into any future vertical lift aircraft and, the panelist said, could be retrofitted into some of the legacy platforms that are likely to remain in service for decades.

The Rockwell Collins officials said the advanced computer systems being developed in the JMR effort would allow the future vertical lift platforms to be “optionally manned,” meaning they could be operated as unmanned systems as well as flown by humans.

Bell has also introduced an unmanned tilt-rotor proposal, the V-247 Vigilant, with a folding wing and rotor for the Marines.

Dan Bailey, program director of JMR/FVL for the Army, said the technology demonstration program is expected to culminate in 2020, and will “set the conditions for the future” as they seek to replace all the military’s vertical lift systems over decades.

The FVL competition for the air frame should conclude in 2019, he said.

Bailey said the vertical lift “airframe designs we have today are very limited on what we can get out of them.” And the ability to increase efficiency in those platforms “is limited.”

“We need new platforms,” he said.

Bailey and the others stressed the importance of pushing open architecture capabilities in the systems developed under JMR. Open architecture generally means the software within mission systems and other aircraft avionics is independent of the hardware. That allows rapid and relatively inexpensive changes in the systems as technology improves or mission requirements change.

Bailey said the FVL/JMR program provides the ability to partner with industry “that is unique” and will allow the government “to do this efficiently.”

To meet the multi-service requirements of the FVL program, Van Buiten and Tobin said their aircraft could be produced with the rotor and wing folding capabilities that the Navy and Marines require for shipboard operations.

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One woman remains in Marine Special Ops training

Five days into the first U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command assessment and selection course to admit women, one female Marine has washed out and one remains.


Capt. Nicholas Mannweiler, a spokesman for the command, told Military.com that two women, a staff sergeant and a corporal checked in Aug. 9 at the command’s headquarters near Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and began the first 19-day phase of assessment and selection on Aug. 11.

Related: First female Marine to attempt infantry course dropped on final attempt

The staff sergeant washed out of the course the following day during a timed ruck march, Mannweiler said. The news was first reported by Marine Corps Times.

Here’s what you didn’t know about the Queen’s Guards
Marines with the Lioness Program refill their rifle magazines during the live-fire portion of their training at Camp Korean Village, Iraq, July 31. | Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Jennifer Jones

Both the corporal and the staff sergeant came from administrative military occupational specialties, Mannweiler said. He did not disclose their identities or ages.

Mannweiler said he couldn’t say how many started the AS class for operational security reasons, but noted that 32 Marines, including the female staff sergeant, have departed the course so far.

The first phase of assessment and selection tests physical fitness and a range of aptitudes to ensure Marines are physically and mentally prepared for what will be 10 months of intensive follow-on training to become Marine Raiders. Alongside physical training, Marines receive classroom instruction in land navigation skills, MARSOC and special operations history, and nutrition and fitness.

In January, Maj. Gen. Joseph Osterman, then the commander of MARSOC, called AS Phase 1 a holistic profile for the Marines who qualify to enter the training pipeline.

Military.com broke the news in March that a female staff sergeant had been accepted for AS, just months after a mandate from Defense Secretary Ash Carter had required all military services to open special operations jobs and other previously closed fields to women.

Osterman said then that MARSOC leadership had leaned into the new reality, reaching out to all eligible female Marines through the command’s recruiting arm to give them the opportunity to apply.

The current AS phase is set to conclude Aug. 22. If the female corporal in AS can make it through this phase, she will enter a second, more secretive three-week AS phase. Following that is MARSOC’s individual training course, which covers survival, evasion, resistance and escape [SERE], special reconnaissance, close urban combat, irregular warfare and more over the course of nine intensive months.

Those who wash out of AS have up to two chances to re-enter the pipeline, Mannweiler said, as long as they have enough time left on their contracts and until their next promotion, and the command has enough boat spaces to accommodate them.

While MARSOC recruiters have received interest from other female Marines, the command is not currently processing any other applications from women, Mannweiler said.

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How the Pentagon spent $28M on Afghan uniforms with the wrong camouflage

The US Department of Defense may have wasted nearly $30 million over the past decade on uniforms for the Afghan military that featured a camouflage pattern inappropriate for the country’s desert landscapes, a top government fiscal watchdog said June 21st.


A 17-page report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction says $28 million has already been spent by the Pentagon on the uniforms — and perhaps another $72 million will go toward them in the next decade.

According to the analysis, the Pentagon decided in 2007 on a uniform for the Afghan National Army that included a camouflage pattern that presented two problems: First, it included a forest pattern for a Middle Eastern country dominated by deserts — and second, the US government didn’t own the pattern, meaning it had to pay a private company for its use.

Here’s what you didn’t know about the Queen’s Guards
Afghan National Army soldiers standing out against their environment. Army photo by Pfc. David Devich.

The report said that because the Department of Defense opted to use a private pattern, it cost the Pentagon an additional $26 million to $28 million. What’s more, it added, is that the department could have used one of the many patterns it already owns that’s just as effective — or ineffective — as the woodland camouflage pattern.

“Our analysis found that DOD’s decision to procure ANA uniforms using a proprietary camouflage pattern was not based on an evaluation of its appropriateness for the Afghan environment,” the report states.

“Our analysis found that changing the ANA uniform to a non-proprietary camouflage pattern based on the US Army’s Battle Dress Uniform … could save U.S. taxpayers between $68.61 million and $71.21 million over the next 10 years,” it added.

Here’s what you didn’t know about the Queen’s Guards
Applying standard camo. Army photo by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod.

Because the US military continues to use the proprietary design, SIGAR recommended in the report that the Pentagon conduct a cost-benefit analysis to determine whether there is a more cost-effective alternative in outfitting Afghan troops.

SIGAR, a congressionally ordered watchdog group that monitors US financial activities in Afghanistan reconstruction, said it shared its report with the Pentagon and department officials expressed “general agreement” with contents in the report.

The Department of Defense did not immediately respond to the SIGAR report as of June 21st.

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The world’s most expensive bomber traces its roots to World War II

The B-2 Spirit is the most expensive bomber ever built, with a $500 million fly-away cost that climbs much higher when the RD costs are taken into account. The B-2’s story, though, really starts in World War II – because the B-2 was the culmination of an idea.


Aviation historian Joe Baugher notes that Jack Northrop, the founder of Northrop Aviation, had been pursuing the flying wing since 1923. By 1940, he got a technology demonstrator up.

The next year, the U.S. Army Air Force was looking for a long-range bomber that could hit Europe from bases in the U.S. in the event England were to be knocked out of the war.

Here’s what you didn’t know about the Queen’s Guards
XB-35. (USAF photo)

Northrop submitted a four-engine propeller-driven design that the Army Air Force designated the B-35. It was to have a range of 8,150 miles, a top speed of 391 miles per hour, and a maximum bomb load of 51,070 pounds. Production versions were to have up to 20 .50-caliber machine guns for defense.

The plane had a difficult development, and fell behind schedule. The Army Air Force, though, saw potential and kept it as a research project. Northrop was asked to develop a jet-powered version known as the YB-49, replacing the propeller-driven engines with eight jet engines. While this increased the top speed to 493 miles per hour, it cut the range down to about 4,000 miles.

Here’s what you didn’t know about the Queen’s Guards
YB-49 takes off. (USAF photo)

The plane had its share of problems. Keeping the plane steady was very difficult in the best of times, and it was missing targets when it dropped bombs. Then, one of the YB-49s crashed on June 5, 1948, killing all four crew, including United States Air Force Capt. Glenn Edwards.

There were also hot disputes over the plane’s manufacturing. Northrop insisted on having his company build the B-49 and its variants, while the Air Force wanted Northrop to work with Convair, which had designed and built the B-36 Peacemaker and B-32 Dominator bombers. Jack Northrop would later claim that the Secretary of the Air Force had demanded that Northrop agree to a merger of his company and Convair.

Here’s what you didn’t know about the Queen’s Guards
Photo by U.S. Air Force

Northrop would abruptly retire and sell off his interest in the company he founded. However, shortly before his death in 1981, he was returned to Northrop, where Air Force officials took the extraordinary step of showing him a scale model of what would become the B-2 Spirit. The B-2 would be able to reach operational status in 1997, largely because by this time, the technology to address the stability issues had been developed.

Today, 20 B-2s are in service with the Air Force, and the service plans to buy another flying wing, the B-21 Raider.

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Soldiers sue for benefits after non-honorable discharges related to PTSD

Hyper-vigilant during his military stint in Iraq, always on the alert that he was in danger of being killed, Steve Kennedy found he could not turn it off.


An Army soldier who had led several teams during his time in Iraq, and won numerous awards, Kennedy uncharacteristically started using alcohol and putting himself in dangerous situations, hoping to get hurt.

Diagnosed with major depression they could not treat, the military gave Kennedy a less than honorable discharge blamed on an absence without leave to attend his wedding. Once out of the service he was diagnosed with severe post-traumatic stress disorder.

Here’s what you didn’t know about the Queen’s Guards
According to RAND, 20-30% of veterans are diagnosed with PTSD. (Courtesy photo illustration)

Alicia Carson took part in more than 100 missions in less than 300 days with an Army Special Forces unit in Afghanistan, and served in combat on a regular basis. When she returned home, she was found to have PTSD and a traumatic brain injury.

After presenting a physician’s diagnosis, she asked to be excused from National Guard drills. The National Guard then discharged her with a less than honorable discharge because of her absenses.

The two Army veterans filed a federal class-action suit April 17 asking that the Army Discharge Review Board give “liberal consideration” to their PTSD diagnoses as former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hegel had instructed in 2014.

They are being represented by supervisors and student interns at the Jerone N. Frank Legal Services Organization at the Yale Law School.

Kennedy, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, members of the Yale Law School team and others held a press conference on the suit at the law school after it was filed with U.S. District Judge Warren W. Eginton in Bridgeport’ federal court.

Kennedy and Carson are filing on behalf of themselves and more than 50,000 similarly situated former military personnel.

Here’s what you didn’t know about the Queen’s Guards
In 2014, only 42% of veterans were enrolled in the VA. (Veterans Affairs photo)

Blumenthal had worked with the former secretary of defense to put in place the Hegel memo to correct discharges that were based on actions tied to brain trauma and PTSD.

“This cause is a matter or justice, plain and simple. …Steve Kennedy has been through hell. The special hell of a bad paper discharge resulting from post-traumatic stress, one of the invisible wounds of war,” the senator said.

He introduced Conley Monk, a Vietnam veteran, who was part of a different war but experienced the same bad papers due to actions committed while suffering from PTSD, something that was not even recognized medically in that era.

Monk, however, benefitted from the review board following Hegel’s memo after a lawsuit filed against the Department of Defense.

Also read: 5 things military spouses need to know about PTSD

Blumenthal said the discharges resulted in a stigma for both of them and Carson, as well as a loss of benefits.

Kennedy has since put himself through school and is expected to get his doctorate this year in biophysical chemistry at New York University. With an honorable discharge, he would have been eligible for $75,000 in benefits he never received.

The senator said a lawsuit should not have been necessary to move the review board to do the right thing and follow the law.

“The Department of Defense has failed to provide the relief the law requires,” Blumenthal said.

The Army does not comment on pending lawsuits.

Blumenthal said he has spoken to Secretary of Defense James Mattis about this issue.

“He has been sympathetic, but these men and women are not seeking sympathy. They want real results. …They deserve consistent standards and fair treatment,” he said. Blumethal said they are not seeking any financial renumeration.

Kennedy lives in Fairfield, while Carson lives in Southington. She was not at the press conference.

Related: Not all PTSD diagnoses are created equal

Carson suffered from severe PTSD-related symptoms, such as nightmares, loss of consciousness, loss of memory, trouble sleeping, irritability, feelings of being dazed and confused, and photosensitivity, a vision problem recognized as a symptom of traumatic brain injury.

Jonathan Petkun, who is among the law students representing Kennedy and Carson, is also a former Marine and a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan.

“With this lawsuit, we are asking the Army to live up to its obligations and to fairly adjudicate the discharge upgrade applications of individuals with PTSD,” he said.

Petkun said since 2001, more than 2.5 million military personnel have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, with more than half deployed more than once. At the same time, some 20 percent are estimated to be suffering from PTSD or PTSD-related conditions.

“Instead of giving these wounded warriors the treatment they deserve, too often the military kicks them out with less than honorable discharges based on minor infractions, many of which are attributable to their untreated PTSD,” Petkun said.

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The surprising link between spirituality and performance

Throughout history, humans have often weaponized faith. This makes any discussion of the intersection between wellness and spirituality especially tricky because it can be divisive – which is counterintuitive to our relatively inclusive military and veteran cultures.


However, as a Marine I’m always ready to tackle tough things, and as a social scientist invested in teaching veterans how to optimize their performance at home and work, I cannot ignore the compelling data surrounding the positive effects of spirituality.

Here’s what you didn’t know about the Queen’s Guards
Maj. Alejandro Sanchez, chaplain, Puerto Rico Army National Guard, says a prayer during the ceremony that marked the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. (U.S. Army photo)

What does spiritual fitness have to do with anything?

There are explicit, direct, trackable ties between resilient trait cultivation and spirituality. These ties include common-sense connections to things like behavioral health, social support, and philanthropic leanings, and the more mysterious connection between positive thoughts and their impact on us at a cellular level.

From Stanford to Duke University to Oxford, some really interesting research is being conducted globally on the ways in which spirituality and religiosity (self-reported connection to organized religion) can improve everything from healing and recovery time to pain tolerance and longevity. The protective effects faith offers when it comes to depression and anxiety conditions are especially significant.

Here’s what you didn’t know about the Queen’s Guards
U.S. Army paratroopers with the 82nd Airborne Division, pray before the Chaplain’s Anniversary Jump onto Sicily Drop Zoneat Fort Bragg, N.C., July 25, 2013. Deputy Chief of Chaplains, Brig. Gen. Charles R. Bailey led the prayer. Fort Bragg Chaplains celebrated the 238th anniversary of the Chaplains Corps with an airborne operation. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Brian P. Glass/Released)

Many scholars and scientists who are not religious do believe that at some level we’re wired for spirituality. For example, at the top of Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs sits transcendence – or the human need to connect with something bigger and outside of ourselves.

The protective factors offered by spirituality and religiosity are very powerful – even more powerful than many of the behavioral health practices that the military currently invests in financially. Because of this, the topic deserves a closer look in any honest conversation about building resilience.

So what’s the tie-in to resilience?

The links between spirituality, religiosity, and resilience can be found in three main areas that are significant not only statistically, but also practically in terms of health benefits.

1. Behavioral Health

People who identify as individually spiritual enjoy a number of benefits at the psychological and neurological levels. However, these health benefits are amplified and extended with higher levels of subjective religiosity – in particular when people take their spirituality a step further and practice it with some kind of community.

For example, binge drinking and promiscuous sex – which are high-risk for our bodies – are generally discouraged by major world religions. Religious people across demographics and age exhibit lower rates of smoking, alcohol abuse, drug use, and almost all risk-taking behaviors than their nonreligious peers. They also enjoy lower rates of depression and anxiety, better mental health, and even a slower progression of dementia.

In short, people who gather around an idea of virtue and live it out with community support are less likely to engage in physiologically high-risk behaviors. This tendency toward healthier living results in better long term health outcomes.

2. Social Support

People who are very religious tend to be members of a faith community and enjoy strong social ties as a result.

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Chaplain Commander Dale Marta of the 14th Marine Regiment, HQ Battery leads a memorial service, in Agadir, Morocco, in honor of those that lost their lives on April 18 at the West Fertilizer Plant. A similar ceremony was held two days prior in honor of the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing.

Many faiths encourage both the practice of gratitude and giving to others outside of the social contract (which is essentially the idea that if I do something nice for you, you’ll do something nice for me). They prompt members to give to people who can’t fulfil their end of the social contract. This is the essence of philanthropic giving, which has demonstrated physical, mental, and emotional health benefits.

Of course, you needn’t be spiritual to give generously, but religious Americans give significantly more both financially and in terms of volunteer hours than their nonreligious peers.

3. Positive Thought

Researchers have found an inexplicable link between the practice of prayer and lowered blood cortisol levels and increased high-level cognitive capabilities. Because the brain influences bodily functions like heart rate, blood pressure, and the immune system, shifting what happens in the brain through spiritual practice can have significant physical impacts.

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U.S. Marines participate in a formation run prior to a physical-training competition. Elements of the 15th MEU are ashore in Djibouti for sustainment training to maintain and enhance the skills they developed during their pre-deployment training period.  (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Jamean Berry)

In fact, in prayer (unlike in meditation) the relationship centers of the brain light up. The parietal lobes light up too. These lobes are on the side of the brain and allow you to experience feelings of empathy. In the Christian tradition there’s a sacred text that speaks to being transformed by the renewal of your mind, and today we’re understanding that spiritual practice can actually grow your empathy and increase your ability to connect deeply with others.

Aren’t there downsides to religion?

It’s true that all of the benefits of a beloved social community can also turn negative. If acceptance lowers blood cortisol levels, rejection raises it. So many people have been battered by faith communities around the world. However, although finding an affirming community of faith is a complicated process, it is also important because it reinforces the helpful behaviors and activities listed above.

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U.S. Army Capt. Christopher Butera (left), chaplain of the Fires Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, receives ashes from Capt. Robert Allman, chaplain of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment. The Regiment hosted a prayer breakfast in observance of Ash Wednesday. (U.S. Army Photo by Spc. Joshua Edwards)

If you’re curious, but don’t have a tradition you feel drawn to, commit to doing some research. Maybe take a cultural literacy course on world religions to orient yourself. Then, carve out time to ask yourself big questions in a sincere way. Do some research, some learning, and look for an affirming faith community that feels like an authentic choice and fit.

The three pillars of a resilient life are social support, self-care, and spirituality. The individual value of these pillars is backed irrefutably by science, and – when practiced together – their benefits increase exponentially.  

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Resources

This PTSD and trauma-engagement program welcomes veterans of all faith backgrounds. It provides resource for active duty servicemembers and veterans looking to bring spirituality to their day to day.

  • Big Question Inspiration
  • What has “faith” or “spirituality” looked like in my past? What does it mean to me?
  • How would I assess my current spiritual health? Do I spend time on it? Do I think about it at all?
  • What do I believe?
  • Where do I need to go to learn more?
  • Who can I reach out to as I figure this out?

About the Author

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Dr. Kate Hendricks Thomas is a U.S. Marine veteran and wellness coach who writes about resilience building, creating strong communities, and the science of spirituality. You can find her new book, “Brave, Strong, True: The Modern Warrior’s Battle for Balance”, here.

 

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What is Hazardous Duty Incentive Pay and why do you need it?

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U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Alex McClendon, 633rd Aerospace Medicine Squadron bioenvironmental engineer technician, prepares to enter a simulated contaminated area during Integrated Base Emergency Response and Capability training at Langley Air Force Base, VA


Hazardous Duty Incentive Pay is part of the U.S. military’s Special and Incentive pay system and is intended to help the services address their manning needs by motivating service members to volunteer for specific jobs that generally otherwise pay them more in the civilian sector.

Each hazardous duty incentive pay amount is in addition to base pay and other entitlements.

Title 37 U.S. Code, chapter 5, subchapter 1, outlines several types of S&I pay, and sections 301a and 310 specifically address Hazardous Duty Incentive Pay and Hostile Fire/Imminent Danger pay, respectively.

HDIP is payable to both enlisted and officers of all the service branches unless specified.

Section 301 (a) addresses the following S&I:

1. Flying Duty (crew members)

Who: Flight crew who are not aviators and regularly fly.

How much: $110 – $250 per month, determined by rank

2. Flying Duty (non crew members)

Who: Anyone on flying duty who isn’t crew, but still performs duties related to flight.

How much: $150 per month

3. Parachute Duty

Who: The crazies who jump out of perfectly good planes.

How much: $150 per month, except for High Altitude Low Opening (HALO) jumps at $225 per month

5. Pressure Chamber Duty, Acceleration and Deceleration Duty, Thermal Stress Duty

Who: 301 (a) (5-7) all pertain to those service members who agree to be guinea pigs.

How much: $150 per month

8. Flight Deck Duty

Who: Those on a flight decks that are more dangerous than normal, because aircraft hurtling towards them at breakneck speeds is just another Tuesday (i.e. on ships).

How much: $150 per month

9. Toxic Pesticides Personal Exposure

Who: Those who are regularly exposed to toxic pesticides in relation to their jobs.

How much: $150 per month, because nothing says “thank you for your service” like toxin poisoning and $150

10. Toxic Fuel/Propellants and Chemical Munitions Exposure

Who: Those doing jobs that expose them to toxic fuels or propellants or chemical munitions.

How much: $150 per month

11. Visit, Board, Search and Seizure (VBSS) – Maritime Interdiction Operations

Who: Navy personnel who are part of a team that conducts VBSS in support of Maritime Interdiction Operations — basically modern-day American pirates on the good guys team.

How much: $150 per month. Commence to booty jokes.

Section 310 Hostile Fire/Imminent Danger Pay

Who: Those who are subject to hostile fire, explosions of hostile mines; on duty at/ deployed to areas where their status as a service member could put them at risk of threats of physical harm as a result of civil unrest, civil war, terrorism, or wartime conditions

How much: $225 per month

For more information on hazardous duty incentive pay and S&I, check out Military Compensation.

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‘Vets Make Movies’ lets former troops express themselves with film

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(Photo courtesy of LACMA)


On any given weekend, visitors to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art might notice a gathering of fledgling filmmakers behind cameras capturing some action or seated in front of desktop editing station assembling their footage into a coherent narrative.

And the sight of filmmakers hard at work might not strike passersby as unusual — after all, this is LA, home of Hollywood and the epicenter of the movie business. But this group at LACMA isn’t just any collection of potential Spielbergs or Bays.

Welcome to “Veterans Make Movies,” a three-year initiative focused on highlighting the veteran experience presented in collaboration with the Los Angeles Public Library. In 2013, LAPL launched Veterans Resource Centers within library branches throughout Los Angeles in response to the growing need for veteran support programs and social services.

Watch “Tacit Veritas” by veteran filmmaker Levi Preston:

The library identified the lack of an expressive outlet for veterans to share their perspectives about service or their unique coming home story to a wider audience of both veterans and civilians, so LACMA offered to develop a multilayered filmmaking program tailored to veterans’ personal, creative, and social needs, building on the museum’s ongoing initiative to engage communities through art and film. The program is free to students, in part due to the support of organizations like the Institute of Museum and Library Services, Sony Pictures Entertainment, and The Safeway Foundation.

VMM is an 8-week curriculum that takes a group of 16 military veterans through a series of 3-hour workshops taught by artists and industry experts. The graduation exercise for each student is to create a 3-minute short film suitable for screening at the end of the session.

“These classes are designed to take somebody who’s never picked up a camera before and learn how to make a film,” says Sarah Jesse, LACMA’s associate vice president of education.

Watch “A Chaos Within” by veteran filmmaker Jason Fracaro:

Jesse explains that the basic premise of the course is that when it comes to the medium of film, “you can’t separate the technical aspect from the story aspect.”

The course starts with analysis of a wide variety of filmmaking technics “to give students a sense of how others have communicated,” Jesse says. That’s followed by reflective writing exercises that are then morphed into storyboards that guide the filmmakers as they actually shoot the footage. After that comes the extensive process of editing and post producing the work, arguably the most important part of realizing the artistic vision.

Jesse points out that an important part of getting vet students into the right frame of mind is creating the right atmosphere.

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VMM participants work on post production. (Photo courtesy of LACMA)

“It’s a safe place where vets feel comfortable sharing experience,” she says. “It’s not a therapy program, but art-making is cathartic.”

Jesse explains that halfway through the second session the instructors, who are also veterans, feel like they have added to their knowledge of the military community as much as they’ve managed to teach the students about filmmaking.

“The vet experience is diverse and people can have a lot of different types of jobs in uniform,” she says. “We went into this thinking we were going to bridge the military-civilian divide but we’ve also seen a vet-vet divide.”

Jesse says the instructors have noted a camaraderie develop between the vets over the course of the eight weekends they spend together.

“They crew for each other’s films,” she says. “They help each other out.”

Word-of-mouth about VMM has quickly spread around the LA veteran community.

“We’ve had a ton of people apply,” Jesse says. “It’s catching on.”

Veterans can begin to apply for VMM’s winter/spring session starting October 15, 2016. Access the application here.

To watch other veteran-made movies created in the VMM program go here.

And if you’re going to be in LA on October 30, check out VMM’s celebration of Veterans in the Arts and Humanities Day. Television legend Norman Lear (creator of “All in the Family,” “One Day at a Time,” and “Maude”) will be in attendance to screen a collection of veteran films. For more information go here.

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This is the rifle Vasily Zaytsev used to wage a one-man war in ‘Enemy at the Gates’

First used by the Russians in 1891, the Mosin-Nagant was modified from a standard service weapon to a sniper rifle in the 1930s. This five-shot, bolt-action rifle was a highly effective killing tool on the battlefield because of its sturdy construction and accuracy.


The Mosin-Nagant rifle typically weighs in at 8.8 pounds and has a muzzle velocity of nearly 3,000 feet per second — but the rifle is only as good as the man or woman who pulls its trigger.

During the Battle of Stalingrad, talented Russians snipers used the Mosin-Nagant PU version to wreak plenty of havoc against their Nazi adversaries. One of those talented sharpshooters was none other than the Soviet hero himself, Vasily Zaytsev.

Related: The 6 best Hollywood sniper shots ever

Zaytsev’s remarkable story was brought to life in 2001’s feature film “Enemy at the  Gates” starring Jude Law.  As a young boy, he learned his expert marksmanship skills while hunting game and tracking wolves near his home in desolate Siberia.

In 1937, Zaytsev was recruited into the Red Army, volunteered to be transferred to the front lines and waged a one-man war against the Nazis and reportedly killed 250 enemy troops with his Mosin-Nagant.

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The Hero of the Soviet Union Vasily Zaitsev (left)

Reportedly, Zaitsev was involved in a historical sniper duel with Maj. Konig, the former head of the German Army’s sniper school. During an afternoon of stalking one another, Zaitsev scored a righteous kill shot eliminating the German sniper from the war — using his famous Mosin-Nagant.

Roughly, 17 million Mosin–Nagant were produced during War World II, and its devastating 7.62 x 54R round is still used today in several Russian-made weapons.

Also Read: These 4 guns were used to make the longest sniper kills in history

Check out Lightning War 1941’s video to see this effective sniper rifle in action for yourself.

YouTube, LightningWar1941