How to make yourself hard to kill, according to a special operator - We Are The Mighty
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How to make yourself hard to kill, according to a special operator

Time and again in my line of work, people ask me, “What did you do to prepare?” I usually respond with some sort of reference to steel genitalia, eating large amounts of bacon, and shooting nails from my eyes. That usually wows people.


After the hilarity that is EVERY encounter with me, I give them an answer that always seems to underwhelm. “I try to be as strong as I can. All the time. I just want to be the strongest guy out there. That’s my number one goal. Then it’s cardio and mobility.”

Seriously, that’s it.

If you want, I can get into long physiological discussions about how stronger people are less taxed by the same effort expressed on an event by a weaker person. There are so many examples out there, I won’t even bother to ham-handedly try to quote them or paraphrase a saying they came up with.

Related: 4 key differences between the Green Berets and Delta Force

Do you wanna geek out and banter about the Krebs Cycle? Wanna quote grip strength tests designed by dudes that don’t lift trying to extrapolate the best anaerobic exercise for slow twitch muscle fiber performance? Well, tough crap, I am not that good. The point is this — I can stomp on the ground and scream until I am blue in the face, but it doesn’t matter. I can only tell you what I have seen, and what I think works.

The fact of the matter is this: the stronger man nearly always wins. This isn’t story time, and Goliath wins in real life kids. The freakishly strong 30-year-old whips the young buck more frequently than he doesn’t. The underdog is a great story — but there is a reason why he is the underdog. It’s cause no one thinks he can win, and he most likely won’t. Think Vision Quest:  could Louden Swain really beat Shute? Uh, hell no. That dude carried logs up and down steps like, all day, like a damn boss. Plus, Shute looked like he was about 195 pounds as a high school wrestler, and Matthew Modine’s character dropped to 168 pounds to fight him… sorry, I digress.

How to make yourself hard to kill, according to a special operator
U.S. Army Capt. Jason Parsons, a Medical Activity pharmacist assigned to Fort Jackson, lifts a weighted trap bar during the Urban Assault Course at the Best Ranger Competition 2016 on Ft. Benning, Ga., April 15, 2016. The 33rd annual David E. Grange Jr. Best Ranger Competition 2016 is a three-day event consisting of challenges that test competitors’ physical, mental, and technical capabilities. (U.S. Army Photo by Staff Sgt. Brian Kohl)

After covering what I do to prepare, the conversation progresses. Next comes, “What is the typical military member/SOF Operator?” Well, I can’t tell you that. I’ve seen huge, jacked, 225-pound football players quit, cry, and fail. I have seen un-athletic, uncoordinated 155-pound 18-year-olds dig deep and carry those 225-pound guys. There is a single commonality amongst all those that make it, compared to those that don’t, strictly physically speaking. That commonality is strength.

Across the board, the men and women that pass tough selections and outperform their peers in the military are simply stronger than their peers. I did not say “bigger,” I said stronger. Stronger in all tasks, globally stronger. Can you throw on one-third of your bodyweight in armor and gear and carry your friend 400m at a dead sprint? No? Well then, Turbo, I don’t care what your marathon time is.

“Well, fine then. Describe your ideal team mate” is usually what follows next. Which is weird, that people want me to talk about my dream teammate, which is a guy.

How to make yourself hard to kill, according to a special operator
A group U.S. Army Ranger students, assigned to the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade, carries a zodiac boat to a a river to be able to disembark a mission on Camp Rudder, Eglin Air Force Base, Fl., July 7, 2016. The Florida Phase of Ranger School is the third and final phase that these Ranger students must complete to earn the coveted Ranger Tab. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Austin Berner)

Anyway, give me a 180-200-pound guy that can squat, deadlift, press, clean, and snatch close to the “accepted” standards for athletic performance. Add in cardio to his regimen — sprints, preferably. Every once in a while, with safety in mind, force him to work longer than 40 minutes. It should be taxing. Every single gym session works him toward a common goal — mobility, flexibility, strength, power, explosiveness, and injury prevention. If any workout doesn’t directly benefit (without excluding) those tenets, then don’t do it. Strength is priority numeral uno. Cardiovascular/cardiorespiratory conditioning is second, tied with mobility and injury prevention. Everything else — aesthetics, fad training ideas, things you read in muscle and fitness about your abs- throw them away. Let’s not get cute until we are in the top 10 percent of our weight class.

In the current fitness enthusiast world we find ourselves today, I almost always get the following retort next: “BUTBUTBUT what about functional strength? Big guys aren’t the only useful ones. Who cares how much I can lift in the gym real life is where you need it, I have mad cardio and sick abzzzz blah blah blah.”

I will put this as plainly as I can. Being globally stronger, stronger as a whole person, will translate to “functional capability”. I could not give a rat’s ass if a teammate of mine can’t do a nifty “fitness trick” like a double under, or a handstand pushup, or a muscle up. Why would I? Can you give me a real life task where a double under directly translates? Let me head you off here — we took care of “cardio” already. Double-unders are a barely useful parlor trick.

Related: 5 key differences between Delta Force and SEAL Team 6

If you cannot pick me up wearing my kit and all my gear — I weigh 260 pounds loaded down — then you are useless, and you don’t get a spot. Sorry, but this is real life. You don’t get to scale real life. I don’t care if you can take half of your bodyweight and move it from ground to overhead 30 times reeeeaaaaallly fast. How fast can you lift 140 percent of your bodyweight to your shoulder and run 100 meters to cover? Oh, you can’t? Then stop with all the “functional fitness” crap to support your point as it applies to the SOF environment. Or produce the science and vetted studies to back up your point. Pro tip — those studies don’t exist.

How to make yourself hard to kill, according to a special operator
Workout with a buddy, but don’t actually carry them unless you are taking turns. Photo: U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Michelle Kapica

I want to break this down to brass tacks. In my experience, both in the military and the SOF community, stronger people really are harder to kill. I can tell you from first hand experience, and from second and third hand experience. If you focus 80 percent of your energy to making yourself as strong as you can be, you will be more useful, around for longer, and more likely to be a success in this small focus group.

I liken it to fighting — good fighters want to be stronger later in the fight. Ask an experienced fighter how it is to fight someone that is truly stronger than they are. It is unnerving. Better fighters do this with strength training.

In the end, I always use this analogy:  “You can always dig deep and find bigger lungs. In the fight, in the heat of the moment, a true warrior can find a couple more steps, another sprint. That’s going to be there. But strength? You can’t just find a 100-pound PR when you need it. If you can’t lift 280 pounds off the ground and you need to move 350 — well, get as amped up as you would like. Your double unders aren’t going to help you now.”

And if you train to be able to run away, to simply exist as opposed to being strong enough to finish the fight, well, then run away is all you got. And that’s not the business we are in.

-Aaron

The author of this article is an active duty special operator.  We are protecting his identity by only using his first name.  This article first appeared in The Havok Journal on 26MAR14.

MIGHTY MOVIES

The new Captain Marvel trailer is filled with military comic references

Every time a new comic book movie is set to come out, nerds flock to the internet and try to decode each and every detail in the trailers to figure what’s going to happen. Doing that kind of sleuthing relies heavily on having a deep understanding of comic book lore.

Last night, the new trailer for Captain Marvel dropped and, in short, it looks amazing. Since they’re changing much of her story from the comic books into a single, condensed, easy-to-follow plot, it’s left some civilian comic book fans scratching their heads.

Truth is, you need a good understanding of military culture to truly grasp the comprehensive awesomeness of this trailer.


Top 10 Super Heroes who were Military Veterans

www.youtube.com

How to make yourself hard to kill, according to a special operator

Kinda spoiler-y: but these guys are called the Star Force and they’re evil. Take what you will about the plot details from that.

(Marvel Entertainment)

In the comic books, Captain Marvel, otherwise known as Carol Danvers, was an Air Force Intelligence officer turned fighter pilot who went by the callsign, “Cheeseburger.” She later joins NASA and is promoted to colonel before being caught in an explosion with an alien known as Captain Mar-Vell.

The explosion intertwines his alien superpowers with her and she takes on the moniker of “Ms. Marvel” before eventually taking on the title of “Captain Marvel” herself. She occasionally teams up with other superheros, like Spider-Man, the X-Men (which is actually how Rogue gets her flight and super-strength), the Fantastic Four, and, later, becomes a leading member of the Avengers.

The film, on the other hand, takes all 41 years of storytelling and condenses it down to her just being an F-15C pilot that gets caught in the explosion. The match-cut editing of the trailer suggests that she’s going to have to slowly piece together knowledge of her previous life on Earth before eventually becoming the hero the Marvel Cinematic Universe needs in Avengers 4.

How to make yourself hard to kill, according to a special operator

That’s right. The Coasties may be getting a big screen superhero adaptation before the sailors do.

(Marvel Entertainment)

From the little bits shown in the trailer, we can see she was stationed at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, and has Test Pilot School patches on her uniform. Earlier this year, Brie Larson, who plays Danvers in the film, took a trip to Nellisa AFB to get inspiration for her character from the real-life Brig. Gen. Jeannie Leavitt, who is the 57th Wing commander, the first female fighter pilot, and the inspiration for this new take on Captain Marvel. It’s no coincidence that Brig. Gen. Leavitt flew an F-15C, just as Carol Danvers will in the film.

Another awesome Easter Egg is her wingman, Lt. Maria “Photo” Rambeau. In the comics, Rambeau isn’t too noteworthy of a character. In the trailer, we see her taking on the moniker that her daughter, Monica, has as a callsign. Monica Rambeau later becomes an Avenger (more commonly known as Spectrum) and serves in the Coast Guard before becoming a superhero. Since this film is set in 1995, that leaves more than enough time for Monica to grow up and become a superhero by the time Avengers 4 takes place.

If you watch carefully, you’ll notice Carol’s cat is named Goose, a subtle nod to Top Gun. In the comics, the cat is actually named Chewie and is actually a demonic alien that can go through pocket dimensions that tries to kill Rocket Racoon at every occasion. In the film, the kitty just seems to be a regular cat with a name fitting of everyone trying to become a pilot in the late 80s and early 90s.

Check out the full official trailer below.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The Navy is pursuing stealthier torpedoes for submarines

Navy weapons developers are seeking a high-tech, longer range, and more lethal submarine-launched heavyweight Mk 48 that can better destroy enemy ships, submarines, and small boats, service officials said.

The service has issued a solicitation to industry, asking for proposals and information related to pursuing new and upgraded Mk 48 torpedo control systems, guidance, sonar, and navigational technology.

“The Mk 48 ADCAP (advanced capability) torpedo is a heavyweight acoustic-homing torpedo with sophisticated sonar, all-digital guidance and control systems, digital fusing systems, and propulsion improvements,” William Couch, Naval Sea Systems Command spokesman, told Warrior Maven in early 2018.


Naturally, having a functional and more high-tech lethal torpedo affords the Navy an opportunity to hit enemies more effectively and at further standoff ranges and therefore better compete with more fully emerging undersea rivals such as Russia and China.

The Mk 48 heavyweight torpedo is used by all classes of U.S. Navy submarines as their anti-submarine warfare and anti-surface warfare weapon, including the Virginia class and the future Columbia class, Couch added.

A Mk 48 torpedo is 21 inches in diameter and weighs 3,520 pounds; it can destroy targets at ranges out to five miles and travels at speeds greater than 28 knots. The weapon can operate at depths greater than 1,200 feet and fires a 650-pound high-explosive warhead, available Navy and Lockheed data states.

How to make yourself hard to kill, according to a special operator

Mk-48 ADCAP torpedo aboard USS Louisville.

Navy efforts to pursue new torpedo technologies are happening alongside a concurrent effort to upgrade the existing arsenal.

For several years now, the Navy has been strengthening its developmental emphasis upon the Mk 48 as a way to address its aging arsenal. The service restarted production of the Mk 48 torpedo mod 7 in 2016.

An earlier version, the Mk 48 Mod 6, has been operational since 1997 and the more recent Mod 7 has been in service since 2006.

Lockheed Martin has been working on upgrades to the Mk 48 torpedo Mod 6 and Mod 7, which consist of adjustments to the guidance control box, broadband sonar acoustic receiver, and amplifier components.

“The latest version of the Mk 48 ADCAP (advanced capability) is the mod 7 Common Broadband Advanced Sonar System. The Mk 48 ADCAP mod 7 CBASS torpedo is the result of a Joint Development Program with the Royal Australian Navy and achieved initial operational capability in 2006,” Couch said.

With Common Broadband Advanced Sonar System, or CBASS, electronics to go into the nose of the weapon as part of the guidance section, Lockheed and Navy developers explained.

CBASS technology provides streamlined targeting, quieter propulsion technologies, and an ability to operate with improved effectiveness in both shallow and deep water. Also, the Mod 7 decreases vulnerability to enemy countermeasures and allows the torpedo to transmit and receive over a wider frequency band, Lockheed and Navy developers say.

The new technology also involves adjustments to the electronic circuitry to allow the torpedo to better operate in its undersea environment.

How to make yourself hard to kill, according to a special operator

Mk-48 ADCAP torpedo was loaded into USS California.

Modifications to the weapon have improved the acoustic receiver, replaced the guidance-and-control hardware with updated technology, increased memory, and improved processor throughput to handle the expanded software demands required to improve torpedo performance against evolving threats, according to Navy data on the weapon.

Improved propulsion, quieting technology, targeting systems, and range enhancements naturally bring a substantial tactical advantage to Navy undersea combat operations. Attack submarines are often able to operate closer to enemy targets and coastline undetected, reaching areas typically inaccessible to deeper draft surface ships. Such an improvement would also, quite possibly, enable attack submarines to better support littoral surface platforms such as the flat-bottomed Littoral Combat Ships. Working in tandem with LCS anti-submarine and surface warfare systems, attack submarines with a more capable torpedo could better identify and attack enemy targets near coastal areas and shallow water enemy locations.

A Military Analysis Network report from the Federation of American Scientists further specifies that the torpedo uses a conventional, high-explosive warhead.

“The MK 48 is propelled by a piston engine with twin, contra-rotating propellers in a pump jet or shrouded configuration. The engine uses a liquid monopropellant fuel,” the FAS analysis states.

Submarine operators are able to initially guide the torpedo toward its target as it leaves the launch tube, using a thin wire designed to establish and electronic link between the submarine and torpedo, the information says.

“This helps the torpedo avoid decoys and jamming devices that might be deployed by the target. The wire is severed and the torpedo’s high-powered active/passive sonar guides the torpedo during the final attack,” FAS writes.

In early 2018, Lockheed Martin Sippican was awarded a new deal to work on guidance and control technology on front end of the torpedo, and SAIC was awarded the contract for the afterbody and propulsion section, Couch explained.

The Mk 48, which is a heavy weapon launched under the surface, is quite different than surface launched, lightweight Mk 54 torpedoes fired from helicopters, aircraft and surface ships.

The Navy’s Mk 48 torpedo is also in service with Australia, Canada, Brazil, and The Netherlands.

This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

From homeless to Hollywood: 10 questions with Army veteran Steve Kuryla

Steve Kuryla spent a lifetime serving in the intelligence community and in the U.S. Army. He was stationed in West Berlin and other hot locales around the globe. He has written a book titled “Six to Days to Zeus: Alive Day” that has been optioned in a screenplay and film production by two heavyweights in the Hollywood industry. A Deadline article in April of this year covers the production and is titled “Phillip Noyce To Direct Secret Iraq Mission Thriller ‘Alive Day;’ Mike Medavoy Producing.” He currently runs a program called Tier One Tranquility Base that helps veterans transitioning home where more information can be seen at https://tieronebase.org/index.html.


How to make yourself hard to kill, according to a special operator

1. Can you share about your family and your life growing up?

I was born into a very poor Catholic family in Upstate New York, the Finger Lakes region. The house was a single travel trailer that we added onto as more kids came along. The house was built from recycled ammunition boxes as my dad drove explosives for the U.S. Army Depot. He’d bring the boxes home, then take the truck back to the owner. Our job was to have the boxes stripped and nails straightened before he got home. Eventually, there was enough lumber to build the house, but the floors were hardwood and dirt until I was in my teens.

2. What made you want to become a soldier and what was your experience like?

The only other option I had was to go work at a foundry, putting green sand into boxes so pump parts could be poured in “sand castings.” By 14 years old, I was living in the woods, showering in the school gym. Playing lacrosse, football and wrestling meant I was a year-round athlete. I joined the service as a way to get away from home. Suffice it to say, steel toed boots and Jack Daniels had a lot to do with my motivation to leave.

3. What are you most proud of from your service in the Army?

At this point in time, I’m not really proud of anything. We played “Whack-a-Mole” against the terrorists of the world, as far back as The Baeder-Meinhof Gang, Abu NIdal, the Red Army, PLO, Hamas, Hezbollah, etc……and I assumed our impact would be greater and bring peace. This is a hard question to answer that I am still pondering. The ripples go away from us. But maybe the one thing that I reflect on and “smile” about, not really pride…is the good we did in places that were hell holes. Srebrenica, Somalia, Bosnia, Bogota and some Central and South American places…….. we brought light to some very dark places.

How to make yourself hard to kill, according to a special operator

Chief Kuryla received a Meritorious Service Medal (center) while stationed in West Berlin. The left patch is the Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOMM) patch. The right patch is the Berlin Brigade. Photo credit Kuryla.

4. What values have you carried over from the Army back into the civilian world?

Values I brought back into my civilian life: Never quit. “Life is about what you do to other people”…. do five meters, even when it sucks, just keep moving forward. Integrity is everything. Honor is a lost concept in the civilian world, but that doesn’t mean you should give up yours. Fighting for those who can’t fight for themselves is a way of life, not just a bumper sticker.

5. What was one of the toughest lessons to learn coming from the service to Hollywood?

One of the toughest lessons I learned coming from the military to Hollywood: Not everyone has a moral compass. There are those who are in it for the money only, others for fame and they’ll stab you in the back in two seconds and step over your corpse just to get two seconds of limelight. In the military, I was in a place where soldiers HAD TO climb through the filters of Ranger School, BUDS, Airborne Training…and when they finally got to my unit, or like units, they stood for something: those filters don’t exist in Hollywood. Eventually, you can find like-minded souls and “your tribe” and I am very lucky to have found Phillip Noyce and Mike Medavoy.

My respect for their character and what they’ve accomplished runs deep, so I’m very proud to know them and be working with them. They stand for the same moral compass I have lived my entire life. They make movies that resonate, make people think and it’s not just about “entertainment or money!” They make movies that are about the human condition and the SOUL…and that’s what I write about. Anyone can make a military recruiting movie that makes kids “wannabe” a SEAL, or Green Beret, but the people I’m involved with currently go way past the box office. They go straight to the soul and make people think, reflect and hopefully motivate the viewers to become better human beings. It would be very easy to have changed what I wrote in “Alive Day” and make it into some action movie that made a lot of money. But they stuck to the spirit of the story, the journey of Warriors and the consequences of a lifetime of war on the soul. I’m very, very lucky that Karma and Synchronicity came together, and I get to be among these Hollywood giants.

How to make yourself hard to kill, according to a special operator

Steve’s book. Photo credit Amazon.com

How to make yourself hard to kill, according to a special operator

Director Phillip Noyce on set for the filming of The Saint. Photo credit IMDB.com.

How to make yourself hard to kill, according to a special operator

Mike Medavoy receiving his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Photo credit UPI.

6. What has it been like working on your book and soon to be feature film “Six Days to Zeus: Alive Day?”

Cathartic. Therapeutic. Had anyone told me I would be writing; I would have called them nuts. This started out to be a chronological document so a shrink and I could sort through my trauma closet and start working on my nightmares and PTSD. That turned into “The Observing Ego” template and I hit my stride and was able to start working on my issues. I came home with a rage syndrome that scared the hell out of people. Combined with my “adrenaline seeking behaviors,” I was socially unacceptable and targeted routinely by Law Enforcement as a possible “ax murderer.” And I loved it. It kept people away from me. I didn’t have to talk to anyone. I self-isolated, and was taking way too many narcotics and other meds from the VA. After 39 spinal reconstructions and surgery to repair my body from a T.O.W. missile strike, “Friendly Fire,” I found myself climbing back out of the crab bucket, living in a wheelchair as a homeless veteran in a park in N.C. to coming to California to see a Dr. G in Daly City who eventually got me out of the chair, surgically implanted a “Dorsal Column Stimulator” in my spinal cord, fused my pelvis and spine finally the correct way and turned my life around.
How to make yourself hard to kill, according to a special operator

Photos of the surgery completed on Kuryla’s back. Photo credit Kuryla.

How to make yourself hard to kill, according to a special operator

Photos of the surgery completed on Kuryla’s back. Photo credit Kuryla.

How to make yourself hard to kill, according to a special operator

Broken screws and items removed after failed surgeries to repair Kuryla’s back. Photo credit Kuryla.

My wife has been a rock-solid warrior as well, sticking with me through thick and thin, when others simply walked away to preserve their own comfort zone. I was still in a chair most of the time when I met her, so she was either so very desperate that she’d marry a cripple guy with a brain injury and baggage from hell, or there is something about this woman that America missed. I often tell her she’s a SEAL that didn’t go active duty. She wrestles large animals every day as an Equine Veterinarian….. so wrestling with me is right up her alley.

Working on the book has been like peeling an onion. I had NO IDEA how deep I was into the Intel World. We never had time to reminisce. We just went to the next mission, sometimes having six or seven missions going at the same time in differing phases of “pre-deployment” to “planning” to active operations and then post mission BDA and assessments….. Everything from Non-combatant Evacuation (NEO) Operations to combat support missions to High Value Target (HVT) take downs, to Embassy clearing and hostage rescue, the Cold War, the War on Drugs and the Global War on Terrorism all blended together.

How to make yourself hard to kill, according to a special operator

Pictures from Chief Kuryla’s time in West Berlin. Photo credit Kuryla.

Over a 30 year period, the mission tempo was pretty active at points that you just never kept up with it all. You just went to the next mission. So, taking the time to go back in time, from 1976 to 2006 and reconstruct the chronology has been very cathartic. Fleshing out the writing, changing names and dates to get through the Pentagon Pre-Publication Review process has been a hurdle, but I firmly believe in the process and signed the “non-disclosure agreements” with full honor and intent. This is a nine book series now…and future endeavors include a TV series as well as several other movies. T

here are 180 covert missions and seven combat tours to write about. Simple things like a 10 year war in Bosnia, Islam against Christianity, led to 9/11 the same day (in 1683 or there abouts) September 11th, for Bin Laden to hit the towers. No one in America seems to understand that the 10 year war in the Balkans led directly to 9/11. “The Asset” was a singular chapter, now a separate book will document American Intelligence, success and failures that led to the 20 year war we are currently in. As well as a look into future wars based on American Foreign Policy and future intent.

How to make yourself hard to kill, according to a special operator

The night the wall came down in Berlin. Photo credit Kuryla.

How to make yourself hard to kill, according to a special operator

A guard tower from Berlin. Photo credit Kuryla.

How to make yourself hard to kill, according to a special operator

Before the Wall came down in Berlin. Photo credit Kuryla.

7. What leadership lessons in life and from the Army have helped you most in your career?

Listening more than talking… learning all the facts, not just those I want to hear, evaluating and taking the time to look at other perspectives were “leadership” skills that I emulated from some of the great men in uniform that I got to work with. Henry Shelton, David Patraeus, William B. Caldwell, Colin Powell, Stormin Norman Schwartzkopf, Keith Alexander, “Buck Kernan,” Kellog, Keene and a list of names no one would know… my mentors and those I tried to emulate are great Americans.

And those around me who were aware, conscious, watched me and recognized my potential are the ones I credit with my success in life. I never knew I could write. Didn’t know I had anything to say. “Talking about it” was contrary to everything I knew as honorable in the military. Compartmented Intelligence was just that. Compartmented with a “Must Know” caveat. When I got out, I was shocked at what American Society didn’t know about the rest of the world and what our soldiers were doing. Not just the TS/SCI stuff, but the basic foreign policy that put men and women in harm’s way. America, especially Congress, seem to be completely unattached, uninvolved in sending troops to war. I found a new mission in life, writing about soldier stories, explaining the chaos in a way that resonates at the human “vulnerability” level. When you connect with another human at the soul, then you’re doing something worth doing. Then you’re communicating, educating, making a difference. And that’s what the “Six Days to Zeus” series is doing. Connecting at the soul and revealing the journey of Warriors in a modern age.

How to make yourself hard to kill, according to a special operator

Teufelsberg, German for Devil’s Mountain, in West Berlin during the Cold War. Photo credit Kuryla.

Book one, Alive Day is about “what happened.” Book two, “Please don’t call me Hero” is about the consequences of War on our bodies, brains and families back at “Fort Livingroom.” It’s a glimpse into the problems, but the unconscious damage we do to our families. They pay the consequences of the US going to war, but they never signed up for it. They get to pay anyway… even when we bring muddy boots back into Ft. Livingroom. Book three, “Walking off the War” is a glimpse into the awakening, the move to conscious intentional living and the medical miracles that got me out of a wheelchair and back on my feet.

The series continues for six more books going back to Berlin in 1976 and Covert Operations against Soviet Illicit Agents and Soviet Special Operations personnel, Spetsnaz working the Morse Code problem for NSA and other US Intelligence Agencies including the Potsdam mission and Field Station Berlin at “Devils Mountain” or Teufelsberg! Operation Elsa, stealing a brand-new Soviet T-72 Tank, Operation Porch Light that broke a Russian cypher and tore down 14 terrorist networks throughout Europe and the US, and many, many more.

How to make yourself hard to kill, according to a special operator

Items that came with the Russian T-72 that Chief Kuryla “acquired”. Photo credit Kuryla.

How to make yourself hard to kill, according to a special operator

Items that came with the Russian T-72 that Chief Kuryla “acquired”. Photo credit Kuryla.

How to make yourself hard to kill, according to a special operator

Items that came with the Russian T-72 that Chief Kuryla “acquired”. Photo credit Kuryla.

How to make yourself hard to kill, according to a special operator

Items that came with the Russian T-72 that Chief Kuryla “acquired”. Photo credit Kuryla.

8. As a service, how do we get more veteran stories told in the Hollywood arena?

Veterans have to be willing to talk. There is a syndrome where veterans don’t think they did anything special. It’s part of the problem that comes with honor and the “code” we live by. I am working to get a section on my author site for soldiers to write in, tell me their story and see if it’s worth pursuing. When guys like me don’t think they did anything special and are willing to bury it….they get shocked (like me too!) when they begin to tell their story and find out the world wants to know. The ripple effect of me telling my story has affected so many veterans and so many civilians, that it’s truly humbling. For some reason, after they read the book and the two weeks of silence goes by, (digesting time), they now have permission and they come tell me their story. Their trauma and how my writing has affected them, allowed them to heal and talk about what happened. And then I get to help them learn what I have learned: It’s no longer about what happened…it’s about what you do NEXT that counts!!!
How to make yourself hard to kill, according to a special operator

A picture of one of the patches they took of Manuel Noriega (pictured). Photo credit Kuryla.

9. What would you like to do next in your career?

Make more movies, learn as much as I can about financing, producing, and getting the stories out there. Tour and talk to our next generation. We need to teach the lessons we’ve learned as soldiers, teach critical thinking skills, make them aware that “Freedom isn’t free” and engage our young minds in active communication. Our children are being hijacked…with our permission, by our silence and preoccupation and our lack of parenting involvement. The America we all fought for is being sliced and diced, subverted and our children’s minds are being targeted. We all need to influence that change, through writing, movies, plays, music and active communication and engagement! Our veteran population are some of the most gifted humans on the planet. I hope to be a part of that change.
How to make yourself hard to kill, according to a special operator

More pictures of the morning they took Noriega and the patches removed from his uniform. The center photo is a breakfast with Noriega the morning of. Photo credit Kuryla.

10. What are you most proud of in life and your career?

Pride is not a luxury I indulge in. I am more grateful than anything else. I can’t say I’m proud of anything, but I am the luckiest man on the planet that I got to live the life I did. That I got to meet the people I love and fought with. Even the disasters, the trauma and the adversity….it all made me a better human being. After all this reconstruction and medical miracles, I truly am coming to a place of PEACE now…finding my inner strength again, counting my blessings and realizing just how lucky I have been. How blessed I have been to have worked with and fought beside some of the finest human beings God ever put on this planet. And that’s not a bumper sticker. I truly believe that “All evil needs to succeed is for good men to sit back and do nothing.”

I don’t mourn the loss of those I served with, I thank God that such men lived.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4′ will introduce new Battle Royale map

For the first time since launch, the latest “Call of Duty” game is getting a major update to its Battle Royale mode: A new map named Alcatraz.

As you might expect, the map is directly based on the infamous prison island in the San Francisco Bay.


How to make yourself hard to kill, according to a special operator

The Battle Royale mode in “Call of Duty: Black Ops 4” is named “Blackout” — it’s a big hit with fans of the series.

(Activision/Treyarch)

Given the relatively small size of the island, the new Blackout mode is geared towards close-quarters gameplay.

As you can see above, Alcatraz is full of multi-level buildings where most of the fighting will take place — a major change from the sprawling, region-based Blackout map that arrived with “Call of Duty: Black Ops 4” in November 2018.

Alcatraz is a free addition for anyone who owns the game, and arrives on the PlayStation 4 on April 2, 2019; Activision says it will head to Xbox One and PC on an unspecified date.

Check out a trailer showcasing the new map right here:

Official Call of Duty®: Black Ops 4 — Alcatraz Trailer

www.youtube.com

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY MOVIES

Sonic the Hedgehog is a lot less weird-looking in this new trailer

After decades of appearances in video games, cartoons, plush figurines, and all other manner of merchandising, Sonic the Hedgehog is getting his own live-action film.

That film — titled “Sonic the Hedgehog” — was scheduled to arrive November 2019. But the first trailer for it landed earlier this year, and the reaction was strong to say the least. Strongly negative, that is.

The issue mostly centered on the look of Sonic:


How to make yourself hard to kill, according to a special operator

Old Sonic (left) and new Sonic (right).

(Sega/Paramount Pictures)

After years of cartoon depictions of the speedy blue hedgehog, the pseudo-real version of Sonic had some people freaking out. So much so, in fact, that the film’s director vowed to change the look of Sonic ahead of the movie’s release.

Moreover, the movie was delayed to re-work Sonic’s look — it’s now scheduled to arrive on Feb. 14, 2020.

Now, six months later, we’ve got a new trailer with a much, much less weird-looking Sonic.

How to make yourself hard to kill, according to a special operator

No teeth! More cartoony! And he’s got gloves!

(Paramount Pictures/Sega)

Take a look at the latest trailer for “Sonic the Hedgehog” right here:

Sonic The Hedgehog (2020) – New Official Trailer – Paramount Pictures

www.youtube.com

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

Articles

Ranger takes flip flop company from Kabul to the Shark Tank

Former Army Ranger and West Point grad Matthew ‘Griff’ Griffin isn’t your average vet entrepreneur. He came up with the notion of building something of value when he was serving in Afghanistan during the early phases of the war, way before there was much of a logistics footprint in place. He saw that the Afghan people were in need of more than protection from the Taliban. They needed basic goods and services.


“I saw Afghanistan as a place to leverage the power of small business owners making a difference,” Griff said.  “The region could benefit from more micro loans and fewer armored vehicles.”

When Griff left active duty he returned to Kabul doing some clinic work, but beyond that he wanted to find a way to assist with the country’s stability by creating a manufacturing base, starting with a single factory he stumbled across on the east side of the capital. The factory had the infrastructure; it was just a matter of what to manufacture.

As he was leaving the factory he found a flip flop on the floor — it was unique and a little funky, the kind of design Griff thought might resonate with fashion-minded millennials. He held it up and asked the factory manager if he could make them, and the Afghan local said sure. Combat Flip Flops was born.

Griff and his brother procured the materials from a far eastern supplier and got everything set up, but they’d no sooner returned to the U.S. than they were informed that the factory was shutting down — a casualty of the volatile socio-economic climate of Afghanistan. But the brothers were undeterred, plus they had a lot of money wrapped up in the materials sitting in the factory in Kabul.

Without any U.S. military assistance — the most effective way to operate, according to Griff — they went back in on a private spec ops mission of sorts, one designed to salvage what they could from their investment and work that had been accomplished already.

“We rented a ‘Bongo’ truck and packed the inventory of flip flops into bags designed to hold opium,” Griff said. “We were riding around the streets of Kabul trying to look inconspicuous, two white guys sitting on a pile of opium bags.”

They stored the 2,000-some pairs of flip flops in a warehouse on the outskirts of Kabul, and as they did a closer inspection of their wares they realized that the quality was such that they couldn’t be sold. They wound up giving all of them away to needy Afghans, which was better than nothing but not up to the standards of Griff’s vision.

They found another factory, and once again secured a supplier (and paid for it using Griff’s credit card), and this time failure came even faster and the factory closed down before any materials for the order of 4,000 pairs had been shipped. It was time for a more dramatic pivot in the business plan.

“We wound up taking the guerrilla manufacturing route and assembling the sandals in my garage in Washington state,” Griff said.

The company’s potential big break came in the form of a phone call from one of the producers at ABC’s “Shark Tank” TV show. Griff and a couple of his co-workers will appear on the episode scheduled to air on February 5. (Check your local listings.)

“We’re stoked to bring the Combat Flip Flops mission to the tank,” Griff’ said. “Every Shark has the ability to expand the mission, inspire new recruits to join the Unarmed Forces, and manufacture peace through trade. Over the past few years, we’ve survived deadly encounters to create an opportunity like this. Attack Dogs. Raging Bulls. If we need to jump in the water with Sharks, then it’s time to grab the mask and fins.”

“We’ve all seen and heard Shark Tank success stories,” Donald Lee, Combat Flip Flops’ CMO and co-founder, added. “We set our minds to getting on the show and in true Ranger fashion, we accomplished the objective. We hope this is the catalyst our company needs to provide large scale, peaceful, sustainable change in areas of conflict.”

In 2015, Combat Flip Flops’ sales increased 150 percent over the previous year. In keeping with Griff’s original corporate vision, the company donated funds for schools to educate Afghan girls and cleared 1,533 square meters of land mines in Laos, which keeps the local population — especially children — safer.

Griff has leveraged his service academy pedigree and military experience in incredibly productive ways. His entrepreneurial sense and — even more importantly — his worldview defies most veteran stereotypes and associated bogus narratives. His outlook and drive are distinctly that of the Post 9-11 warfighter — “the next greatest generation.”

Combat Flip Flop’s mission statement captures it:

To create peaceful, forward-thinking opportunities for self-determined entrepreneurs affected by conflict. Our willingness to take bold risks, community connection, and distinct designs communicate, “Business, Not Bullets”– flipping the view on how wars are won. Through persistence, respect, and creativity, we empower the mindful consumer to manufacture peace through trade.

Watch Griff’s presentation at TED Talks Tacoma:

MIGHTY MOVIES

The ‘Black Widow’ trailer came at us like a Russian spy in the night

The teaser trailer for Marvel Studios’ Black Widow is here and if you don’t have the soundtrack already pumping in your blood, then you need to re-watch with the sound on.

We’ve always thought of the MCU’s Natasha Romanov as a woman with no family and no past, just a bunch of red in her ledger, but this trailer hints at something more.


Taking place between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, Scarlett Johansson’s standalone film is rumored to be the last for the original Avengers and the first for Phase Four. It doesn’t look like it will disappoint.

Take a look:


Marvel Studios’ Black Widow – Official Teaser Trailer

www.youtube.com

Watch the trailer:

In what appears to be a nice Russian-spy-family-reunion, Romanov is surprised by a guest who matches her fighting style move-for-move. Yelena Belova (played by Midsommar’s Florence Pugh, who is having a great year) is another alumna of the Red Room. Also to join in are David Harbour’s (Stranger Things) Red Guardian/Alexei Shostakov and Rachel Weisz’s (The Mummy) Iron Maiden/Melina Vostokoff.

There’s even a nice dinner scene with comedic relief and everything.

How to make yourself hard to kill, according to a special operator

Romanov and her “sis” have unfinished business with their “family.”

Looks like the villain will be Taskmaster, who, in the comics, injected himself with SS-Hauptsturmführer Horst Gorscht’s primer, giving himself genius-level intellect and superhuman athleticism. He’s a master combatant, swordsman, marksman, and mimic.

How to make yourself hard to kill, according to a special operator

Black Widow, Marvel Studios

At San Diego Comic-Con, a fight scene showed Taskmaster’s ability to mimic the movements of his adversary. Given that Romanov’s fighting technique was always so unique compared to the other Avengers, this should make for a visually exciting film. We can also hope for fun cameos (Robert Downey Jr. is already rumored to be one of them).

Directed by Cate Shortland (Lore), Marvel Studios’ Black Widow will open in theaters May 1, 2020.

MIGHTY FIT

5 ways CrossFit benefits veterans

Have you ever wondered why there’s so much hype surrounding CrossFit? Well, it seems veterans are benefiting from the intense workouts in more ways than one.

Take Air Force Veteran Rachel Escolas for example. She tried out CrossFit for the first time while on deployment in Kandahar in October of 2012. After deployment, she had a burning passion for the sport and eventually became certified as a trainer in 2014 while founding her own CrossFit gym, CBUS Lifting Co.


CrossFit benefits the veteran community in several ways.

How to make yourself hard to kill, according to a special operator

Air Force veteran Rachel Escolas powers through the workout of the day at her gym, CBUS Lifting Co.

(CBUS Lifting Co.)

Fitness

It’s no secret that as soon as military personnel are shipped off to boot camp or basic training, fitness becomes heavily incorporated into their lifestyle. Physical activity becomes second nature, and is essential to keeping in the best shape for performing day-to-day duties.

With its dynamic arrangements of barbell work, Olympic lifts, strength training, and more, CrossFit can kick anyone’s a** into shape. CrossFit requires discipline and dedication, qualities that already run deep among every branch of the military. The trainers are like drill sergeants that don’t cuss. They don’t let anyone slack and they keep an eye on proper form, correcting when necessary.

How to make yourself hard to kill, according to a special operator

There’s nothing like sharing the pain of a workout with others.

(CrossFit323)

Camaraderie

Do you remember waking up at 3:00 or 4:00 am to run in formation, in the cold, heat, sleet, or snow? Who would have thought that veterans would grow to miss that nonsense? Behind any grueling physical fitness routine is camaraderie that stems from accomplishing goals collectively, as a team.

When veterans get out of the military, there’s often a gravitation toward working out in a team environment, like the one CrossFit provides. There’s a sense of community that’s built into a CrossFit gym that’s unlike any other. Regular gyms are fine places for lifting and letting off steam, but fostering more than surface-level acquaintances there is a rarity.

Navy veteran and CrossFit trainer Isabel Beutick states, “Crossfit, for me, has kept me in tight circles. I loved the camaraderie I had in the Navy, and that’s the same feeling I get when doing CrossFit. That tight-knit community.”

How to make yourself hard to kill, according to a special operator

Certified CrossFit Trainer and Navy veteran Isabel Beutick, demonstrates how to achieve proper form in an overhead squat.

(CrossFit 323)

Workout modifications

Although there have been major medical advancements throughout the years, an increasing number of veterans come back with combat-related injuries, both physical and mental. It has become evident that, for many, pills are not the solution. Alternative means of healing are helping mend bodies and minds.

CrossFit is not just an outlet for mental stress, there are many attentive trainers out there invested in providing workable modifications to compensate for physical injuries. With the right trainer, there’s nothing stopping a veteran from completing a CrossFit workout, no matter the ailment.

How to make yourself hard to kill, according to a special operator

Above, Army Veteran Juan Puentes says, “CrossFit is hard sh*t. It reminds me of all the challenging sh*t I did in the military.”

(CrossFit 323)

Competition

Although CrossFit promotes a team mentality, there’s also an element of competition. To put it lightly, veterans are extremely competitive. Daily workouts are timed and everyone knows who comes in first and last. Now, we’re not saying we should focus on this entirely, but it kindles the fire in veterans to keep pushing.

Throughout your CrossFit experience, trainers keep track of daily goals on a whiteboard or online. This data helps the competitive veteran see their progress and the progress of others and gets them ready to compete in national tournaments.

How to make yourself hard to kill, according to a special operator

The ‘Murph,’ dedicated to Navy Seal Michael P. Murphy, is only one of many WOD’s created to honor fallen warriors.

Hero WODs

Hero WODs (workouts of the day) honor fallen service members and provide a way to bridge the civilian-military divide. Most veterans find it complicated to connect with civilian friends, family, and co-workers because they’ve experienced things that are, frankly, hard to explain.

What’s unique about CrossFit’s Hero WODs is that everyone is aware that the workout honors a fallen service member. People truly give it their all on these particular workout days. These workouts create a bond between civilians and veterans that’s truly fascinating to witness.

Articles

Why the Hellfire is one of America’s favorite missiles

The AGM-114 Hellfire missile was created to give America an advantage against the Soviet military’s massive tank formations.


But now the missile is used as everything from an anti-personnel weapon to bunker buster.

The Hellfire was conceived in 1974 in response to an Army request for a helicopter-launched, fire-and-forget, anti-tank missile.

What came out of the program was the AGM-114A Hellfire missile which followed a laser designator to reach its target. It carried a 17-pound warhead and was deployed around the world.

As the missile evolved, versions were created that provided better missile guidance, lethality, and safety.

How to make yourself hard to kill, according to a special operator
Hellfire missiles bring a lot of boom. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Paul Peterson)

While early models had a limited ability to turn in flight and relied on laser designators, newer models carry radar systems and are more agile.

The most nimble variants, the AGM-114R and AGM-114T, can even turn quickly enough to kill enemies behind the aircraft.

New warheads make the missile more lethal against a wide range of targets. The shaped-charge warheads from the original Hellfire have given way to tandem high-explosive warheads to defeat reactive armor.

How to make yourself hard to kill, according to a special operator
Don’t worry. Be happy. (Unless you’re the target.) (Photo: U.S. Army Sgt. Aaron R. Braddy)

The metal augmented charge of the AGM-114N is a thermobaric warhead which fills an enclosed space with a highly reactive metal and then detonates the mixture, creating a massive, secondary explosion.

Meanwhile, adaptations to the Hellfire and its launchers allow more and more platforms to carry it. The Navy now deploys the AGM-114L on ships so they can better protect themselves from attacks by fast boats and other threats.

How to make yourself hard to kill, according to a special operator
The Littoral combat ship USS Coronado is not afraid of you. (Photo: U.S. Navy Petty Officer Second Class Michaela Garrison)

The Hellfire’s iconic air platform is still the Apache, but it catches rides on AH-1s, drones, Blackhawks, Kiowas, and even modified Cessnas.

Land vehicles employ the missile as well. Lockheed self-funded the development of the Long Range Surveillance and Attack Vehicle which can fire the Hellfire or the DAGR, a smaller weapon with most of the Hellfire II’s technology.

The Hellfire’s finest hours came in the 1991 Persian Gulf War when Army Apaches claimed 500 Iraqi tank kills with the missile. That’s not even counting Hellfire kills achieved by AH-1 Cobras.

Articles

West Point, Ranger School grad is the first female US Army infantry officer

How to make yourself hard to kill, according to a special operator
Capt. Kristen Griest participates in Ranger School. | Photo by Spc. Nikayla Shodeen, US Army


The U.S. Army has just announced that Captain Kristen Griest’s request to change her military occupational specialty from Military Police to Infantry has been approved, according to a report posted by the Ledger-Enquirer.

“Like any other officer who wishes to branch transfer, Capt. Griest applied for an exception to Army policy to transfer from military police to infantry,” Fort Benning Spokesman Bob Purtiman said. “Her transfer was approved by the Department of the Army over the weekend.”

Griest, a West Point graduate, was one of three women to successfully complete Ranger School last August. She is scheduled to graduate from the Captains Career Course at Fort Benning this week. The Army has not announced her next assignment.

How to make yourself hard to kill, according to a special operator
Captain Kristen Griest | Photo by U.S. Army

Articles

9 photos that show how the Coast Guard fights fires at sea

Fire trucks can’t reach too far past the coast, and plenty of fires break out on ships and oil platforms off American shores. When the fires happen in America’s territorial waters, it often falls to America’s Coast Guard to rescue the survivors and fight the flames.


Here are nine photos of the Coast Guard protecting lives and property by acting as firefighters at sea:

1. The Coast Guard fights fires in their areas of operations. Everything from small boats like this one …

How to make yourself hard to kill, according to a special operator
Fishing vessel Bigger Dirls on fire in Hopkins Point Marina in Jonesport, Maine on Thursday, Sept. 9, 2016. No one was aboard at the time. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Stephanie Horvat)

2. …to huge fires like the one that destroyed the Deepwater Horizon.

How to make yourself hard to kill, according to a special operator
Fire boat response crews battle the blazing remnants of the offshore oil rig Deepwater Horizon. A Coast Guard MH-65C dolphin rescue helicopter and crew documented the fire while searching for survivors. Multiple Coast Guard helicopters, planes, and cutters responded to rescue the Deepwater Horizon’s 126-person crew. (Photo: U.S. Coast Guard)

3. For smaller fires, it’s often enough to pump water onto them, and the Coast Guard is lucky that plenty of salt water is usually available.

How to make yourself hard to kill, according to a special operator
Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Cory Langston fights the boat fire from the Coast Guard 29-foot response boat in Hopkins Point Marina in Jonesport, Maine on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2016. The was no one aboard at the time of the fire. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Stephanie Horvat)

4. What’s unlucky is that it will often take Coast Guardsmen time to reach the crisis, and it’s their job to rescue survivors. For instance, they pulled four fishermen and a dog from this ship after it exploded.

How to make yourself hard to kill, according to a special operator
U.S. Coast Guard crews rescued four fisherman Thursday after their vessel caught fire and exploded near St. Simons Island Sound. A Coast Guard 45-foot Response Boat—Medium crew from Station Brunswick located and rescued the crew and their dog from the 58-foot fishing vessel Predator. (Photo: U.S. Coast Guard Station Brunswick video)

5. Rescue operations are relatively simple for small vessels, but it takes a lot of planning to be able to rescue people from large ferries, cruise vessels, or industrial ships.

How to make yourself hard to kill, according to a special operator
A Coast Guard Station San Juan crewmember monitors passengers using the marine escape system from the 561-foot Caribbean Fantasy ferry vessel a mile from San Juan Harbor, San Juan, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2016. The Coast Guard received initial notification around 7:40 a.m. that the ferry was on fire. (U.S. Coast Guard photo courtesy of Station San Juan, Puerto Rico.)

6. Sometimes, the Coast Guard asks for help from nearby, civilian vessels that are commonly known as “good Samaritans.” These vessels assist with rescue, firefighting, and recovery operations.

How to make yourself hard to kill, according to a special operator
A local San Juan, Puerto Rico-based tug crew use a fire hose to cool the hull of the 561-foot Caribbean Fantasy ferry vessel that caught fire earlier a mile from San Juan Harbor, San Juan, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2016. The Caribbean Fantasy’s engine room caught fire, which began to spread to other compartments forcing passengers and crew to abandon the ferry vessel. (U.S. Coast Guard photo courtesy of Station San Juan, Puerto Rico.)

7. Good Samaritan vehicles can even assist with larger operations, like the extinguishing of this oil platform fire.

How to make yourself hard to kill, according to a special operator
Four offshore supply vessels extinguish a fire on an oil production platform fire near Grand Isle, Louisiana, Jan. 5, 2017. There were four people aboard the platform who evacuated into the water and were recovered by the offshore supply vessel Mary Wyatt Milano. There were no reported injuries. (Coast Guard imagery courtesy of Coast Guard Aviation Training Center Mobile)

8. The Coast Guard still maintains oversight and supervises the efforts.

How to make yourself hard to kill, according to a special operator
More imagery from the fire on an oil production platform fire near Grand Isle, Louisiana, Jan. 5, 2017. (Coast Guard imagery courtesy of Coast Guard Aviation Training Center Mobile)

9. When the fire is near other ships or structures, the Coast Guard takes steps to control the burning vessel, preventing it from drifting and catching other vessels on fire.

How to make yourself hard to kill, according to a special operator
A Coast Guard Auxiliary crewmember maintains positive control of a flame-engulfed pleasure craft near Great Neck Creek in Copiague, New York, April 30, 2016. The Copiague Fire Department assisted the Coast Guard Auxiliary crew and extinguished the fire onboard the vessel. (U.S. Coast Guard Photo)

Articles

My Attempt To Capture Afghanistan Wound Up Capturing America Instead

How to make yourself hard to kill, according to a special operator
Oregon National Guardsmen in Afghanistan, 2008. (Photo: Gary Mortensen)


Afghanistan. Distant, foreboding, little understood.

Known as the “Graveyard of Empires” the carcasses of countless soviet war machines rust away in mute testimony to the futility of that savage war. The more I read about Afghanistan the less I seemed to know. Watching the news was even more confusing and it appeared America had entered this same graveyard and that we were now fighting elusive ghosts otherwise known as the Taliban.

I remember watching the newscasts in the 1990’s of the Taliban as they rose like a cancer throughout the country, oppressing women, killing those who opposed them and imposing their radical version of Islam on all. Nothing made a deeper impression on me than the public destruction of the massive Banyam Buddhas and the wholesale  “cleansing” of Afghanistan’s precious ancient history. Then came 9/11.

In 2010, then our 9th year of the war, I was still struggling with understanding why we were there, who we were fighting and maybe most importantly who were we helping? I got it in my mind that I wanted to make a sort of “combat travel film” that didn’t just following brave men in combat but one that also helped to explain more about the land and the people. Digital technology now makes every soldier a potential documentarian and it was under these auspices that I started to look for a story. It didn’t take long and it would change my life.

Enter Team Cobra

A Sergeant friend of mine told me about a group of all-volunteers from the Oregon National Guard who, in 2008, wanted to deploy to Afghanistan to “impart change” by helping the local population and training the Afghan National Army.  They would return a year later as one of the most decorated units in Oregon National Guard history. While I didn’t at the time know the particulars, I knew I had to tell their story.

Of the 17 men that deployed, I interviewed 6 of them. I had between 2 and 4 hours of initial interview footage from each man. With each interview their stories started to intertwine and after the interview process my real work began. I listened to these stories on my headphones over and over again. Their journey to Afghanistan was over, but mine was just beginning. I watched countless video clips and looked at thousands of photos, each one representing a puzzle piece.  Weeks turned to months. The sound of the newspaper being delivered in our driveway served as a reminder that I might have missed another night’s sleep. I was learning about Afghanistan, about the diversity of the people, about courage, about honor and about loss.

Watch Gary Mortensen’s ‘Shepherds of Helmand’ on The Mighty TV here.

 

Earlier that year I had lost my mom to a long and protracted battle with cancer. My father followed a few weeks afterwards. In my own sorrow I consumed myself with telling the story of Team Cobra. They too knew loss. One of their leaders, Bruno DeSolenni had died in an IED attack and the impact on these men would be profound and everlasting.

Each night as I worked on the film I felt closer to these guys, even though they had only met me months earlier for a few hours. But that didn’t matter, I felt a huge responsibility to tell their story in a way that would honor them.  I was nervous to show the final cut to them because I wanted to tell the story right. They were gracious and thankful and said to my relief that it was faithful.

When the film finally debuted almost a year later everyone of the soldiers were there for the premiere. They stood on the stage after the screening and answered questions. It was after this that I really got to know them, not just as soldiers but as people.

In my attempt to make a film about Afghanistan, I ended up making a film about America. It’s seems so easy to accept the popular indictment that we have lost it as a country. But I would submit that all around us are exceptional people. I am proud to say I know six of them. They are simply some of the finest people I have ever met and I know that if I was ever in need I could call any of them and they would be there for me. Not because I’m special, it’s because that’s just what they do. They went to Afghanistan to help, some of have gone back, one didn’t come back and  some of them are there today.

I am honored to call Jerry Glesmann, Paul Dyer, Marking Browning, Dave Hagen, Dominic Oto and Steve Cooper my friends. They helped me more than they will every know.

How to make yourself hard to kill, according to a special operator
Gary Mortensen is an award-winning documentary film director, President of Stoller Family Estate (a premiere Oregon winery), and is active in helping to preserve and share the stories of our veterans. See more at www.veteranslegacies.com.

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