Over 58,000 Americans gave their lives in service during the Vietnam War and over 150,000 were wounded. When troops returned home, it wasn’t to fanfare. Instead, they were labeled baby killers and spit on. It’s a stain on history one modern veteran refuses to let go.
Steve Downey was a combat medic in the Army who deployed to Iraq at the height of the conflict. When he looks back at how Vietnam veterans were treated and his own time in service, it leaves him both disgusted at the world and proud of how the troops handled it. “They were spit at and ridiculed. But what do soldiers do? They don’t lay down, they say here’s my new fight, let’s go,” he said.
When Vietnam War troops returned home, there were almost none of the promised GI benefits of today. The government had left them behind. Following the war and through the decades of tireless efforts of surviving Vietnam War veterans, Congress was forced to make changes to honor those veterans and the ones who would come after.
It wouldn’t be until the first Gulf War when American attitudes would shift. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 would increase patriotism and appreciation for troops tenfold.
“We veterans who came after Vietnam Veterans owe them a debt of gratitude for our increased quality of life, care and veteran benefits,” Downey explained. “Every iconic image of war or the military is either modern day troops or World War II veterans. Vietnam and Korean War veterans are being skipped and it seems like we don’t care. It’s insulting when you really get into it.”
Downey came back from his Iraq deployment and began working at Walter Reed in the organ transplant department. After separating from the Army, he’d also leave medicine and discover a passion for technology which led him to opening his own business. In 2020, he’d join the marketing part of the team at Berry Law, headquartered in Nebraska.
Founded in 1965 by Vietnam War Veteran and Bronze Star recipient John Stevens Berry Sr., The military law division serves veterans in all 50 states and is tirelessly dedicated to the military community. In 2020, the team began to talk about ways to honor Vietnam Veterans. Operation Triumphus, an initiative under Berry Law Firm, was established, with Downey at the helm of the project.
“The idea here is to allow Vietnam Veterans the opportunity to preserve their stories, their legacy and then we can provide their triumphant return home they deserve. It’s a deserved celebration led by every veteran that came after them,” Downey explained.
The website for the initiative states “Our objectives are to provide an interactive museum which helps share the stories of Vietnam Veterans; to help connect our lost brothers and sisters in arms; and to inspire ongoing gratitude for a generation of Veterans who were spat upon and ridiculed when they came home. We cannot replace the feelings of betrayal and loss that some Veterans felt on their return, but we can correct the course of sentiment to make sure that future generations understand and honor their legacy. The Vietnam generation said ‘Never Again!’ and fought hard to get better treatment for Veterans. Their actions helped future service members and Veterans get better treatment, and we feel it is our duty to repay them for their sacrifices and vigilance.”
After building the site from scratch, he’s got his eyes on engaging the military community next. “One of the biggest target audiences for me right now is not just the Vietnam veterans but their spouses and families,” Downey said.
With the experiences most Vietnam War veterans faced, many are hard pressed to share their stories openly. He’s hoping by engaging with spouses and other family members about this project, it’ll be a healing experience for the veterans. It’s long overdue for these heroes and their families.
This statement featured on the organization’s website truly drives home the mission of Downey’s passion project for the firm: “We are Veterans of wars in Vietnam and the Middle East. We are sons paying tribute to fathers. We are a grateful nation determined to provide an eternal Triumphal Procession these Vietnam Veterans deserve.”
To learn more about Operation Triumphus or to share your Vietnam War story or your loved one’s, click here.
Learning to snowshoe, ski and stay warm in the cold might sound like a fun hobby.
But for Soldiers at the Cold Weather Leaders Course at the Northern Warfare Training Center here, learning these things can mean the difference between a failed or successful mission and it could also be the difference between life and death.
Staff Sgt. Jonathan Tanner, an instructor at the NWTC, was deployed twice to Afghanistan, once from 2007 to 2009 and another time from 2014 to 2015.
During one of those tours, he said, he recalls being over 9,000 feet in the mountainous terrain of the eastern part of the country during a heavy snowfall, with snow drifts up to 12 feet tall.
“The snow stopped us dead in our tracks,” he said. “We were trying to remove snow from equipment with our e-tools.”
During a Black Hawk resupply mission, the helicopter had no place to land so it hovered above the snow while the crew chief jumped out, post-holing himself in the snow shoulder high. Post-holing is a term for sinking into the snow waist or chest high when not wearing skis or snowshoes. The crew chief had to grab the struts of the helicopter to be pulled out, Tanner recalled.
No one had skis or snowshoes and “we couldn’t do our jobs.”
Tanner and the other instructors at NWTC say they are professionally and personally invested in ensuring those kinds of situations never happen to Soldiers again.
Sgt. Sarah Valentine, a medic and an instructor, said most Soldiers that come to the school don’t know how to snowshoe, ski or survive in the cold. Instruction begins with baby steps.
First, they learn how to wear their cold weather clothing, she said. Then they learn to walk with snowshoes. A little later they learn to walk on snowshoes carrying a rucksack, and finally, they learn to tow an ahkio, or sled, carrying 200 pounds of tents, heaters, fuel, food and other items.
Next, they advance to skis, learning how to walk uphill, how to turn and stop going downhill, and then how to carry a rifle and rucksack going cross-country.
Staff Sgt. Jason Huffman, a student, said that besides enduring the cold, pulling the ahkio was the most challenging aspect of the school.
For that portion of the training, four of about 10 Soldiers are harnessed to the sled like sled dogs. Huffman said going on level terrain is easy, but most of the terrain near the school isn’t level and it is challenging to pull the ahkio uphill, especially from a dead stop.
Going downhill, the challenge is holding the ahkio back so it doesn’t get away, he said. When the students get tired, they are replaced by other students in the squad, who in turn rotate back out once they’re tired.
Spc. Tamyva Graffree, a student from Newton, Mississippi, said pulling the ahkio uphill was the most challenging part of the course. Of going downhill, she said it would have been nice to pile on and ride it down.
Staff Sgt. Manuel Beza, an instructor and medic here, said the students are not allowed to ride the ahkio downhill. “It will definitely go fast. But if they did that, it would be a bad day. The ahkio has no brakes and no way to steer.”
Beza said he sympathizes with the students’ pain. While the ahkio can be handled almost effortlessly over level terrain, going even 500 feet uphill can tire Soldiers out.
But when roads are nonexistent and vehicles break down from the cold, ahkios give the Soldiers the option to move out with their gear, he said.
Once students demonstrate competence on snowshoes, they are given a set of “White Rocket” skis, which can be used in both downhill as well as cross-country skiing.
The difference between a dedicated downhill or Nordic ski and the White Rocket ski is that the heel in the White Rocket isn’t locked into the ski binding so the foot can move similar to walking, said Sgt. Derrick Bruner, an instructor.
A Soldier can learn to use snowshoes in two hours, but about 40 hours is allotted for ski training at the school.
Because training time is limited, Soldiers learn just the basics, Bruner said. For instance, they learn to stop and turn going downhill using a wedge movement instead of a more advanced technique like turning or stopping with skis parallel.
A wedge consists of bringing the toes of the skis together and the heels of the skis out and carving into the snow on the inner edges of the skis by rotating the ankles inboard.
Skipping the fancy art of parallel skiing cuts down on injuries as well, he said, because there’s less chance of them crossing.
Going uphill involves side-stepping or walking up in herringbone fashion, which is the opposite of the wedge, with toes of the skis outboard, heels in.
To assist with uphill climbing, Soldiers apply special wax to the bottom of their skis.
Sgt. Dustin Danielson, a student, explained that the wax goes on just the middle third of the ski where the person’s weight is. He made hatch marks with the wax on his skis and then took a piece of cork to spread it evenly all around.
After skiing just a few kilometers, the wax tends to come off and more has to be applied, he said.
Sgt. Jessica Bartolotta, a student, said they were not given wax on the first day. On the second day of training, students were allowed to wax their skis. The point, she said, was to illustrate just how important the wax is in providing friction to grip the snow going uphill. She said the wax had no noticeable effect on slowing the skis going downhill.
Another thing the instructor did early on during the first day of ski training was to observe how well the Soldiers were skiing and to break them up into three groups of skill levels so the slow learners wouldn’t hold back the more natural skiers, she said.
Bartolotta said skiing was her favorite part of the course and she plans to take it up as a hobby.
Sgt. Chris Miller, a student from Little Rock, Arkansas, said this was his first time skiing and he fell a lot. “I’m a big guy and it’s hard to keep my balance.”
Miller measured his progress by the number of falls. The first day he said he fell 12 times and just once after three days. He said he’s still trying to perfect the art of stopping using the wedge.
Sgt. Shamere Randolph, another student, said he fell a bunch of times as well, but prefers skis to snowshoes because it’s much faster to get from point A to point B.
Sgt. Bruno Freitas, a student, said that his skis were difficult to use on the last day of training when the temperature rose and the snow turned to slush. In below freezing conditions, the skis work much better than they do in slush, he said.
About four years ago, the Army decided to do away with ski training at the NWTC, said Steven Decker, a training specialist. He said he’s not sure why the decision was made, but said he’s glad that skiing was reintroduced this year.
Canadians and Japanese go everywhere on skis, he said. They find it very relevant to mobility. In fact, “when the Japanese attend the course here, they can ski circles around us.”
The downside to skiing, he said, is that it takes a while to learn. For an entire platoon or company to move out on skis, it might take an entire winter and a lot of training time dedicated to making that happen.
But he and the other instructors all agreed that learning to ski is worth the time and effort.
Sgt. Derrick Bruner, an instructor, said snowshoes are “loud, slow and clunky” to use compared to skis and that skis provide better floatation over the snow. “Skis are a million times better once you get the technique down.”
Staff Sgt. Jack Stacy, an instructor, said when he first arrived at NWTC, he went out into the terrain in a vehicle that broke down. He didn’t have skis or snowshoes with him and ended up having to walk back to headquarters, “post-holing” it back all the way.
“It was the most miserable time I’ve ever had here,” Stacy said. “I’ve always made sure my skis or snowshoes are handy ever since.”
The past year was a busy time for the US Air Force.
Aside from coordinating and carrying out airstrikes against ISIS and other militant groups around the world, the branch also had to maintain its typically high level of readiness. The branch compiled a year in review, showcasing the US Air Force in action.
These are some of the most striking images the branch captured over the past year.
A soldier conducts a jump from a C-130 during the Japanese-American Friendship Festival at Yokota Air Base, Japan.
In September, soldiers also executed jumps out of a C-130 at the Combined Arms Training Center Camp Fuji, Japan.
During 2014, the long-delayed F-35 next-generation fighter was moved to its new home at Luke Air Force Base, in Arizona. Here is one F-35 being escorted by an F-16.
The Air Force helped Marines load cargo during the closure of bases throughout Afghanistan during the past year, as the US-led combat mission in the country wrapped up.
Drone operators were also constantly called upon throughout 2014. An MQ-1B Predator, left, and an MQ-9 Reaper taxi to the runway in preparation for takeoff at Creech Air Force Base, in Nevada.
In November, the Air Force carried out training operations alongside the Army and the Marines in Idaho.
Training took several forms throughout the year. Here, Air Force ROTC cadets observed the refueling of a B-2 over New Jersey as part of an orientation flight program.
Here, a C-17 is guided into an aerial refueling mission during a training flight.
Beyond airframes, personnel train in a variety of other combat-related skills. Here, Staff Sgt. Michael Sheehan fires a man-portable aircraft survivability trainer, or MAST, at Saylor Creek Range at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho.
Dedicated personnel within the Air Force train to be firefighters capable of responding to a range of emergencies at a moment’s notice. Here, an airman puts on his helmet as part of training in ventilation techniques.
Members of the 334th Training Squadron combat controllers and the 335th Training Squadron special operations weather team ready themselves for a physical training session.
Here, Air Force service members take part in the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program, which is open to all service members.
Of course, just like in every service branch, the Air Force puts a premium on discipline. At Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, Tech. Sgt. Chananyah Stuart unsparingly reminds a trainee of the procedures for entering the dining facility.
2014 also included integration exercises for the various service branches — such as Exercise Valiant Shield, which was held in Guam in September.
After a practice demonstration over Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, aircraft from the Thunderbirds, one of the Air Force’s demonstration squads, wait for clearance to land.
Here, an F-22 performs aerial demonstrations at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, in Alaska.
The Air Force also lent some of its older aircraft out as memorials during 2014. Here, airmen tow an F-15 to the Warner Robins, Georgia city hall for a memorial display.
The Air Force deployed a vast range of aircraft in 2014. Here, a T-38 Talon flies in formation with a B-2 during a training mission.
In April, a host of C-130Js and WC-130Js flew in formation over the Gulf Coast during Operation Surge Capacity, a training mission.
Here, U-2 pilots prepare to land in a TU-2S, a trainer aircraft for pilots before they undertake actual missions in the U-2.
Members of the 101st Rescue Squadron also practiced a simulated rescue and tested the defensive capabilities of a HH-60 Pavehawk.
The US Air Force Honor Guard Drill Team performs at Mount Rushmore. Between the rise of ISIS and fears of Russian aggression in eastern Europe, 2014 presented the US Air Force with a range of challenges that it continues to try to meet head-on.
Chips, a German shepherd, collie, husky mix, was the most famous and decorated sentry dog in World War II, one of 10,425 dogs that saw service in the Quartermaster Corps’ new “K-9 Corps.” Prior to the K-9 Corps, dogs such as Admiral Wags on the carrier Lexington and World War I canine hero Sergeant Stubby were mascots without any official function.
The K-9 Corps was the culmination of a program begun by the Dogs for Defense, a civilian organization created in January 1942 by a group of notable dog experts and the American Kennel Club. Concerned about the vulnerability of America’s long coastline to infiltration by enemy saboteurs, it offered to provide the Army and Coast Guard with trained sentry dogs. After some initial resistance, the Army authorized an experimental program using 200 dogs. The success of that program caused the Quartermaster General to authorize the acquisition of 125,000 dogs (later reduced). Of the 10,425 dogs that served in the military during the war, most conducted sentry duty along America’s coastline and at military installations. But roughly 1,000 dogs were trained as scout dogs. Chips was one of those dogs.
Chips’ owner was Edward J. Wren of Pleasantville, New York, who enlisted Chips in the Army in August 1942. After training at the War Dog Training Center in Front Royal, Va., he was assigned to Pvt. Rowell. Chips participated in Operation Torch, and was one of three dogs assigned guard duty for the Roosevelt/Churchill Casablanca Conference.
In the predawn hours of July 10, 1943, the 3rd Infantry Division under the command of Maj. Gen. Lucian Truscott landed on the shore of southern Sicily near Licata in Operation Husky. Among the troops that hit the beach was the 3rd Military Police Platoon, 30th Infantry Regiment, containing Pvt. John R. Rowell of Arkansas and his sentry dog, Chips. As dawn broke, the platoon was working its way inland when a machine gun nest hidden in what appeared to be a nearby peasant hut opened fire. Rowell and the rest of the platoon immediately hit the ground. But Chips broke free from his handler and, snarling, raced into the hut. Pvt. Rowell later said, “Then there was an awful lot of noise and the firing stopped.” The soldiers heard someone inside the hut fire a pistol. Roswell said he then “saw one Italian soldier come out with Chips at his throat. I called him off before he could kill the man. Three others followed, holding their hands above their heads.”
Chips suffered powder burns and a scalp wound from the pistol fired at close range. Medics treated Chips and released him to Rowell later that day. That night, while on guard duty Chips alerted Rowell of an infiltration attempt by ten Italian soldiers. Together they captured all ten.
Within days the story of Chips’ heroics had swept through the division. Chips was awarded the Purple Heart and Silver Star. More was to come. The platoon’s commander, Capt. Edward G. Parr put in a recommendation that Chips receive the Distinguished Service Cross for “courageous action in single-handedly eliminating a dangerous machine gun nest and causing surrender of its crew.”
War Department regulations prohibited the awarding of decorations to animals. But in the case of Chips, Truscott’s attitude was “regulations be damned.” He waived them and on November 19 in Italy he personally awarded Chips the Distinguished Service Cross.
The people back home learned of Chips’ heroism in newspaper stories published on July 14, 1944. While most people were thrilled, acclaim was not universal. The next day the War Department released a statement that it was conducting an investigation, noting the War Department regulations. In addition, William Thomas, the national commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, angrily wrote letters to the president, secretary of war, and adjutant general of the U.S. Army protesting that the Purple Heart was a decoration for humans, not animals. Then Congress got into the act. After a debate lasting three months, it decided no more decorations were to be awarded to non-humans adding “appropriate citations may be published in unit general orders.” This meant that at least they would receive honorable discharges.
Though they took away his medals, that didn’t make Chips any less a hero. Among those who honored Chips was Supreme Commander Gen. Dwight Eisenhower. But, when Eisenhower leaned down to pet him, Chips, only knowing that Eisenhower was a stranger and possibly stressed from the attention he had been receiving, nipped the general’s hand.
Chips remained with the 3rd Infantry Division throughout the war. Shortly before he was honorably discharged, the men in his platoon unofficially awarded him a Theater Ribbon with arrowhead for an assault landing and eight battle stars. He returned home to the Wren family in December 1945.
Chips died seven months after coming home from complications of his war injuries at the age of 6. He is buried in the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery in Westchester County, United States of America.
WWI is regarded as the world’s first “total” war, not only because of the enormity of its destruction and the sheer loss of human life, but also because so many non-combatants on the home front were tapped to help in their nation’s war efforts. As men left for combat, women could increasingly be found working in and managing such traditionally male-dominated fields as transportation and industry, and many women departed for the dangers of the front as nurses, laundresses, cooks, and drivers—often for the purpose of freeing more men up for the actual fighting.
While much of this is well-known to the typical First World War buff, what many do not know is that Russia—and Russia alone—created all-female combat units to actively fight alongside men on the front. According to Melissa Stockdale’s article “‘My Death for the Motherland Is Happiness’: Women, Patriotism, and Soldiering in Russia’s Great War,” the most famous of these units was known as The First Women’s Battalion of Death, and it’s estimated that approximately 6,000 Russian women served in such battalions throughout the war.
To understand how these battalions came about, one must first understand some basics of the Russian domestic situation at this time.
In March of 1917, Tsar Nicholas, submitting to the fact that he could no longer fight the tides of revolution, abdicated the throne to an incredibly precarious—albeit democratic—new government. The following months saw a flood of liberal and egalitarian policies instituted throughout Russia, with women getting the vote, as well as legal entitlement to equal pay.
Meanwhile, the new government also believed that victory in the World War was vital to the country’s self-interest. Laurie Stoff, author of They Fought for the Motherland: Russia’s Women Soldiers in WWI and the Revolution, writes that this meant newly appointed Minister of War Alexandra Kerensky was now faced with the mammoth task of breathing life into a war effort of which the majority of Russians—especially Russian soldiers—wanted no more part. Insubordination rates and violence against officers (especially officers with aristocratic backgrounds) were at an all-time high, and after three years at the front in often horrific day-to-day conditions, most of Russia’s soldiers simply wanted to go home.
Kerensky’s answer to low morale was the creation of what he called “shock battalions,” or “battalions of death,” which he envisioned as brigades of the most disciplined, exemplary Russian fighters. They would theoretically be deployed to various places along the front to awe and inspire war-weary soldiers.
Kerensky’s vision of these shock battalions coincided almost exactly with an idea brought forward by a peasant-woman-turned-soldier named Maria Bochkareva (while by no means common, there were a number of known incidents of individual women serving in otherwise all-male units throughout Europe during this time). Bochkareva asserted that a disciplined, exemplary battalion of Russian women could serve to “shame” the weary and unmotivated soldiers at the front.
While Bochkareva earnestly believed in a woman’s ability to fight, The Ministry of War mostly saw her proposal as the perfect propaganda tool to compliment their shock battalions—if even women, they reasoned, were answering their country’s call to arms, then surely men would feel obliged to follow suit. Thus, Kerensky gave his permission for the First Women’s Battalion of Death to be formed, led under Bochkareva’s command.
According to historian Richard Abraham, The First Women’s Battalion of Death was made public in late May with a major publicity campaign throughout St. Petersburg, and within a matter of weeks the Battalion had over 2,000 female recruits from a diverse range of backgrounds and education levels.
Enlistment was open to women aged eighteen and older, with women under the age of twenty-one required to have permission from their parents to join. According to Stockdale, the recruits were also made to swear an oath in which they promised everything from “courage and valor” to “cheerfulness, happiness, kindness, hospitality, chastity, and fastidiousness.” After these initial requirements were met, as well as the passing of a health evaluation, the women were marched off to training grounds to begin the process that would turn them from “women to soldiers.”
This process first entailed the shaving of their heads, ridding the women of one of their most “impractical” and outwardly feminine features. As no uniforms for women existed, the recruits were administered clothes designed for men that were often ill-fitting on the female frame; this proved especially problematic in regards to footwear, as their boots were often impossibly over-sized. To further enforce their new identities, Bochkareva discouraged and punished excessive smiling and giggling—behavior she considered overly-feminine—and instead encouraged spitting, smoking, and cursing among her recruits.
Along with these physical transformations, the women also began a grueling daily training process designed to prepare them for battle. The recruits rose at five o’ clock each morning and drilled until nine o’ clock at night, at which point they slept on bare boards covered by thin bed sheets. Their training consisted of strenuous exercises, marching drills, lessons in hand-to-hand combat, and rifle handling.
Any behavior deemed “flirtatious” or at all feminine was strictly prohibited, and Bochkareva was known to punish even minor transgressions with corporal punishment. She stomped out any signs of traditional femininity not only in an attempt to make “warriors of the weaker sex,” but also in order to curb government anxiety that female soldiers at the front would result in illicit sexual relations. As one official stated, “Who will guarantee that the presence of women soldiers at the front will not yield there little soldiers?” Bochkareva thus deemed the sexlessness of her soldiers as a mark of her own professional dedication and triumph.
Stockdale states that while on the home front these female soldiers were publicly celebrated, their reception in combat was decidedly less welcome. Upon arriving at the front, the Battalion was met with boos, jeers, and an overall sense of resentment by male soldiers. Not only did the deep-rooted misogyny of the military complex and culture at large shine through, but in general, the exhausted men were antagonistic to anything that they perceived as an attempt by their leaders to prolong the fighting.
Even when the Women’s Battalion proved itself both disciplined and courageous under fire, male soldiers remained angered and insulted by their presence. Within just a few months, Bochkareva was forced to disband the unit, allowing her women to join groups elsewhere wherever they saw fit. In her memoir, Yashka, My Life As A Peasant, Exile, and Soldier, Bochkareva, wrote:
“They could not stand it much longer where they were. They were prepared to fight the Germans, to be tortured by them, to die at their hands or in prison camps. But they were not prepared for the torments and humiliations that they were made to suffer by our own men. That had never entered into our calculations at the time that the Battalion was formed.”
Upon the ultimate Bolshevik takeover in the fall, Russia withdrew from the war altogether, and the ill-fated women’s battalions faded into practically less than a footnote in Russian history. Some scholars speculate that this is because the battalions were so closely associated with the military propaganda of the old regime, whereas others assert that it had more to do with the Russian people’s desperate desire to return to some sense of normalcy after years of international and internal warfare.
Stockdale writes that the women soldiers themselves had an extremely difficult time readjusting after their return home. Their close-shaven heads made them instantly recognizable as former members of female battalions, and they were easy targets in the mist of the Bolshevik fervor taking hold of the country; there are eye-witness accounts of former battalion members getting beaten, sexually assaulted, and even thrown off moving trains during this period.
Remarkably, many of the former battalion members continued in their desire to fight, with a large number joining both the revolutionary and anti-revolutionary armies on individual bases in the years to come.
Each year, the website Global Firepower ranks countries in what they call the “global firepower index,” a ranking of the world’s 126 most powerful militaries. The index uses a 50-point algorithm to determine a nation’s military power. Their system focuses on the diversity of weapons systems and provides bonuses and penalties for things like nuclear arms, diversity of force structures, and alliances (like NATO). The formula is interesting because it makes a smaller but more technologically advanced country competitive with larger militaries from less advanced countries.
Here are the top ten:
Italy has a large drop off in available manpower and military aged persons. Italy outnumbers the Germans in almost every area, from aircraft and land forces to seapower. And while Italy has almost twice the resource availability, it has half the labor force to work those resources.
Germany’s economy is significantly superior to Turkey’s, even though Turkey has half the annual defense budget. Still, Germany can’t keep up in available manpower.
Turkey’s large manpower reserve and land forces put it next to Japan. Its large external debt and lack of diversity in naval power keep the gap between numbers 7 and 8 quite big, however. It’s important to note Turkey is also a member of NATO and its military is probably designed around the wars it is most likely to have to fight.
While the Japanese have an available manpower that seems to dwarf the British, their force is (by law) for homeland defense, which focuses on seapower and artillery. Their economy far surpasses the UK’s, however.
6. United Kingdom
The UK and the French look remarkably similar at first, but the real disparity is in fixed wing aircraft, fleet strength, and economics. The French have less foreign debt and operate a larger military despite a much smaller defense budget.
Despite the looming specter of WWII failure, the French are very good at projecting regional power, especially in their former colonial sphere of influence.
Unfortunately for India’s chief rival Pakistan, India is the fourth most powerful force on the planet, while the Pakistanis sit at #13.
Aside from leading in manpower, the Chinese also have trillions in foreign currency reserves and purchasing power.
Russia is first in terms of geographical land mass, which is important for defensive wars, especially when it comes to external invaders.
1. United States
Is anyone really surprised by this? The U.S. may not top manpower, but they do beat all in terms of land systems. airpower, and naval force, along with a host of other factors, like logistics.
Historians always want to talk about how battles were won with a general’s brilliance or a unit’s bravery. Sometimes they are, but sometimes they are decided in somewhat less elegant ways. For instance, here are seven times alcohol played a major role in the outcomes:
1. A German officer loses key bridges on D-Day because he got drunk with his girlfriend
In his book, “Pegasus Bridge,” Stephen E. Ambrose of “Band of Brothers” fame details the night of drinking German Major Hans Schmidt had before his unit was attacked by British Paratroopers. His men were guarding two key bridges over the river Orne, and he was supposed to order their destruction if the allies came close to capturing them. The bridges were wired with explosives and could have been destroyed instantly with an order from Schmidt.
But, Schmidt was drinking the night of the attack and wasn’t there to give the order. When he sobered up, he tried to get to the battlefield and accidentally rode past the British lines. He was captured with his driver and the British held the bridges, protecting Allied paratroopers from a German counterattack.
2. A nearly crushed army survives because an enemy commander is too drunk to attack
On Dec. 31, 1862, the first day of the Battle of Stone River, the Confederate Army attacked the Union near Murfreesboro, Tennessee. General Braxton Bragg’s battle plan worked nearly as designed and thousands of Union soldiers were captured. The attack would’ve been more successful, but Maj. Gen Benjamin F. Cheatham’s brigades were severely late and disorganized after the drunk Cheatham fell from his horse while rallying his troops.
The Union Army nearly retreated, but the generals decided they had just enough troops left to hold the position, troops they likely wouldn’t have had if Cheatham had attacked as planned. The Federal soldiers held it together for two days before Union artillery wiped out 1,800 Confederates in less than an hour on Jan. 2, 1863. The Union gained the momentum and won the battle.
3. Ulysses S. Grant’s entire military career
Ulysses S. Grant had a well-documented alcohol problem, but historians think it may have actually made his career. James McPherson won a Pulitzer Prize for his book, “Battle Cry of Freedom.” In it, he says that Grant’s “predisposition to alcoholism may have made him a better general. His struggle for self-discipline enabled him to understand and discipline others; the humiliation of prewar failures gave him a quiet humility that was conspicuously absent from so many generals with a reputation to protect; because Grant had nowhere to go but up, he could act with more boldness and decision than commanders who dared not risk failure.”
Basically, Grant was already dealing with so much disdain because of his alcoholism that he didn’t care if he failed. This caused him to be more aggressive in battle than other generals were likely to be. Grant once cut himself off from everything but ammunition and medical supplies on purpose so he could attack Vicksburg. When the attack failed to take the city, Grant just turned the attack into a two-month siege (that ultimately succeeded). It should be noted, however, that Grant was absent for some of the siege since he was enjoying a two-day bender on the River Yazoo.
4. Samurai party so hard they don’t realize they’re under attack
Imagawa Yoshimoto, a powerful Japanese commander in 1560 with 35,000 soldiers, decided he wanted to try and take the capital of Japan at the time, Kyoto. On his way to Kyoto, Yoshimoto attempted to capture fortresses owned by Oda Nobunaga. Nobunaga was only able to raise 2,500 samurai to face the opposing force.
Nobunaga marched with his forces to a fortress near Okehazama, Japan. When Nobunaga saw Yoshimoto’s forces drinking and partying, he ordered a small force to occupy the fortress and plant the flags of the army all around it. With the rest of his men, he slipped around the drunken samurai and approached from the rear.
Nobunaga’s fought against 12 to 1 odds, but the victory was complete. Yoshimoto reportedly left his tent to complain about the noise before he realized he was hearing an attack, not the party. Yoshimoto wounded a single enemy soldier before he was killed. Nobunaga and his forces killed all but two of the senior officers before the remaining samurai fled or surrendered.
5. Ottoman sultan loses his entire navy for some casks of wine
Ottoman Sultan Selim II drank so much his nickname was, “The Sot.” His love of wine is one of the most popular explanations for his invasion of Cyprus in 1570. Though the invasion went well at first, this play for the famed Cypriot wine would cost the sultan dearly.
As fortresses in Cyprus fell to Selim, Pope Pius V was trying to get European leaders to build a naval armada to attack the Ottomans. It took over a year for the countries to agree on the alliance’s terms, but Europe created a massive naval fleet that confronted the Ottomans at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571. When the naval battle began, 300 Ottoman ships faced off against 200 Christian ships of greater quality. Historians believe 90 percent of ships in the Mediterranean at the time were involved in the battle.
Despite having roughly equal forces, the Christians stomped Selim so hard they made a profit. 12 European galleys were sank, and 8,000 Christian fighters died. But, Christians liberated 15,000 slaves and captured 117 galleys. The Ottomans lost most of their Navy both in terms of ships and personnel. Selim II did still capture Cyprus with his armies and was able to drink its famed wines to his content, but it probably took a lot of drinking for him to forget what he paid for it.
6. Russian troops get bored before a battle and drink too much to fight
In “A History of Vodka,” Vil’i͡am Vasil’evich Pokhlebkin details what Russian fighters drank while they waited for a small enemy force to arrive for a battle in 1377. It’s mostly mead, ale, and beer.
While the exact numbers of troops on each side are no longer known, the armies of five Russian warlords were assembled at the river. But, they were so drunk that the Mongols of the Blue Horde just showed up and started slaughtering them. The supreme commander of the forces, Ivan Dmitriyevich, drowned along with some of his staff before the horde even made it to him.
It’s definitely the best known of the entries on this list. The prince of Troy claimed a Greek king’s wife as a prize owed to him by Aphrodite. The wife, Helen, agreed and was married, kicking off a war between the Greeks and the Trojans.
After nine years of war, a Greek general came up with a plan of faking a retreat and leaving an offering of a giant wooden horse. Greek soldiers hid out in the horse. The horse was towed into the city and the Trojans began a night of epic celebrations.
They drank, sang, and feasted until they passed out. That’s when Greek soldiers crept from the horse. opened the gates, and slaughtered every Trojan they encountered.
Mark Bowden is one of the greatest investigative reporters of our age.
“Black Hawk Down,” his exhaustive work on the experience of U.S. troops in Mogadishu, brought renewed attention to the oft-forgotten story. It also resulted in the film, which remains a favorite of the military-veteran community.
His most recent book, “Hué 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam,” is just as exhaustive and compelling. The book is a master work, five years in the making.
The Battle of Hué was the longest and costliest fight of the entire Tet Offensive. On the morning of Jan. 31, 1968, a coordinated attack from 8,000 North Vietnamese Army Regulars, Viet Cong infiltrators, and Vietnamese civilians quickly captured much of the city in a single night.
American and South Vietnamese troops were woefully outnumbered in Hué. Facing the Communist forces there were the ARVN 1st Infantry Division and 200 of their American and Australian advisors at the MACV compound. By the time the sun came up that day, the Communists controlled the city south of the Huong River – except the MACV compound.
A view from a Marine machine gun position on the outer Citadel wall of Hué City during the 1968 Tet Offensive.
The Marines from MACV would have to go on the offensive, fighting their way across the river to rescue the brilliant and highly-respected ARVN General Ngô Quang Truong and what remained of his 1st Infantry. Then they had to expel the Communists from the area.
Hué would become a case study in urban combat, the first time since the Korean War the Marines would fight in a city like that. The battle lasted almost a month, turning 40 percent of the city’s buildings to rubble and costing the lives of 380 ARVN troops, 147 Marines, 74 U.S. Army soldiers, 8,000 Communists, and more than 5,800 civilians.
It was also the turning point in American popular support for the war.
Bowden’s book covers the history of the war until that point, especially from 30,000-foot view from the White House and General William Westmoreland’s MACV Headquarters. What’s truly unique and fascinating about Bowden’s style is the personal narratives that drive the history of the story.
“Hué 1968” is a gripping tapestry of nonfiction storytelling, with personal stories of people on the ground woven into the history and politics of the war. The enemy is no longer a nameless, faceless mass of targets; the NVA and VC are characters in the story of the war in Vietnam, with names, families, and lives. With these stories comes the understanding of why the McNamara doctrine of “limited warfare” would never have worked against the Vietnamese.
The book gives the eyewitness account of a young Vietnamese girl who turns on the southern regime and becomes a Viet Cong operative just as much as it follows the junior enlisted Marine radio operator Jim Coolican, who was stationed at the MACV compound. Personal narratives from every side of the conflict continue like this throughout the book.
Bowden traces the details of a young VC as he traverses the Ho Chi Minh trail and moves to infiltrate the city. He even painstakingly documents the “logistics miracle” – as one U.S. Navy captain called it – of the Tet Offensive’s movement of men and weapons into South Vietnam.
NVA and VC soldiers assault the city of Hué in South Vietnam, January 1968.
If you know the history of the Vietnam War, you know what’s coming in the Tet Offensive and it keeps you turning pages. No matter how familiar you are, you get to see the war from all sides – the NVA, the VC, ARVN leadership, American troops, American leadership, even Ho Chi Minh and North Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap’s points of view are covered in remarkable detail.
The fall of Hué was the most successful attack of the entire Tet Offensive and even then the city was retaken by Feb. 24. Both sides bought into their own propaganda. The Communists believed that the South was ready to rise against the despotic Thieu regime and expel the Americans — they just needed a hand to get started.
Viet Cong forces climb on an abandoned U.S.-built Marine Armored Vehicle during the Battle of Hué.
The north came to depend on that uprising for the long-term success of the Offensive. The Americans and South Vietnamese were caught off guard because they thought the enemy was weak and could not launch an attack on that scale, let alone capture a city like Hué.
Until the Tet Offensive, a majority of Americans believed the war was going well and believed government officials who used statistics and body counts to insist that American involvement could soon come to an end. Body counts weren’t the metric used by the Communists. For the north, their success was defined by killing or wounding as many Americans as possible, destroying the ARVN, and inciting a popular uprising in the South.
Marines hold a Viet Cong flag they ripped down from the provincial headquarters in Hué.
The United States claimed a military victory in Hué but Hanoi would never be intimidated by a limited war. The prolonged violence and media bias against the war after the Tet Offensive eroded public support for it as well.
The U.S. began a strategic withdrawal from Vietnam the next year and left completely in 1973. South Vietnam fell to the Communists just two years later. Hué was just the beginning of the end.
Mark Bowden is an award-winning author and correspondent for The Atlantic. He is also a contributing editor for Vanity Fair. Filmmakers Michael Mann and Michael De Luca (who produced the 1995 heist movie “Heat”) purchased the rights to “Hué 1968” and plan to turn the book into a miniseries.
The Department of Defense Warrior Games began in 2010 as a way to celebrate the the talents of injured or ill warrior-athletes. The 2015 games showcased some of the finest talent of the American and British wounded warrior communities. Showcased below are 13 of the most inspiring photos from the games.
While the games are about celebrating recovery and the warrior spirit, there are winners and medals. The Warrior Games closed on Sunday with the Army winning the overall competition. Check out the the final medal counts and more photos at Defense.gov.
1. U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Marcus Chischilly takes off during the swimming finals at the Freedom Aquatic and Fitness Center in Manassas, Va., June 27, 2015. Chischilly is a member of the 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games All-Marine Team. The 2015 DoD Warrior Games, held at Marine Corps Base Quantico June 19-28, is an adaptive sports competition for wounded, ill, and injured Service members and veterans from the U.S. Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Special Operations Command, and the British Armed Forces.
2. Lance Cpl. Charles Sketch is presented with a gold medal during a standing ovation from spectators from around the world at the 2015 Marine Corps Trials. Competition provides opportunities for the Marines to train as athletes, while increasing their strength so they can continue their military service or develop healthy habits for life outside the service. The Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment enables wounded, ill, or injured Marines to focus on their abilities and to find new avenues to thrive.
3. A member of Team Air Force throws the shot put during field competition for the 2015 DOD Warrior Games, Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., June 23, 2015.
4. Retired Marine Cpl. Ray Hennagir, an Orlando, Florida native, keeps his eyes on the ball during sitting volleyball practice at the 2015 Marine Corps Trials.
5. U.S. and British athletes compete in the 100-meter sprint at the 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games on Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., June 23, 2015.
6. U.S. Marine Corps veteran Ray Hennagir prepares to shoot the ball during the wheelchair basketball championship game at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., June 23, 2015.
Photo: DoD News EJ Hersom
7. Army visually impaired cycling teams finish together to take gold, silver and bronze during the 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games on Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., June 21, 2015.
8. U.S. Marine Corps veteran Peter Cook practices swim form during the 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games on Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., June 21, 2015.
9. U.S. Marine Corps veteran Jenae Piper prepares to serve during the bronze medal volleyball game during the 2015 Department of Defense (DoD) Warrior Games at Marine Corps Base (MCB) Quantico, Va, June 26, 2015.
10. Army Staff Sgt. Monica Martinez, left, And Army Staff Sgt. Vestor ‘Max’ Hasson compete, but in separate 1,500 meter wheelchair race categories during the Army Trials at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas April 1, 2015.
11. U.S. Marine Corps veteran Clayton McDaniels’ son receives a gold medal on behalf of his father whose team won the wheelchair basketball championship game at the 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games on Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., June 23, 2015.
12. U.S. Army Sgt. Blake Johnson, Bethesda, Md., attempts to block the shot of his Air Force opponent while playing a wheelchair basketball game during the 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games at Barber Fitness Center, on Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., June 20, 2015.
13. A member of Special Operations Command throws the shot put during field competition for the 2015 DOD Warrior Games, Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., June 23, 2015.
Go to an Army career counselor or recruiter and he has all sorts of cool jobs you can sign up for. Soldiers network satellites, engage in hacking wars, and shoot awesome weapons at targets and enemies.
It’s like your childhood video games, fireworks, and backyard games all got awesome upgrades and now you can get paid for it.
But some of the Army’s best jobs are actually in the past, like those that allowed people to get intimately acquainted with tactical nuclear weapons or fire awesome Gatling guns. So here are six of those badass jobs Pvt. Skippy can’t do in the Army anymore:
1. Nuclear weapons basic maintenance specialist
Yeah, the Army used to have a nuclear weapons program and it employed a group of men with a whole three weeks of training to disassemble and repair those weapons.
For obvious reasons, tank-delivery motorcycle riders were re-classed after the Army figured out how to use tanks to recover one another. (If it’s not obvious, it because repair personnel protected by literal tons of armor are safer than those riding motorcycles and protected by only their uniforms).
Full disclosure, there are a few different signal intelligence jobs that could have been included in this list. Most of them have been folded into other specialties or been quietly terminated as their own job because the march of technology has made them unnecessary. After all, how much Morse intelligence is there to collect anymore?
The reason that Morse interceptor was selected for the list is that it’s the only one of these lost signal intelligence jobs that was once held by Johnny Cash. Cash did the job in the Air Force, not the Army, but still.
6. Chapparal/Vulcan Crewmember
The Chapparal and Vulcan were M113 armored vehicles equipped with anti-aircraft weapons. The Vulcan packed a six-barrel Gatling gun that could be deployed separately from the M113 when necessary, while the Chapparal carried AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles. While the Chapparal role was largely replaced with the Army Avenger program, no direct descendant of the Vulcan exists.
While the Vulcan was largely outdated for anti-aircraft operations, the Army gave up a great ground weapon when it lost the Gatling gun. Vulcan crew members could fire 20mm rounds at up to 6,600 rounds per minute, targeting low-flying aircraft or enemy infantry and vehicles.
Heroes come in many forms; some are even furry and four-legged. Due in part to their superior ability to sniff and hear trouble, dogs have long been a fantastic ally and a great protector of humans. After all, it was Lassie who, through a series of barks, told the grown-ups that Timmy was in trouble again (Note: Timmy never actually fell down a well. Mineshaft, sure, but no well.) Dogs can also be quite brave and have been known to run into dangerous situations without a moment of hesitation. Throughout history, several dogs have gained a reputation as being courageous in wartime.
Here are the stories of five such dogs that became war heroes and helped saved human lives:
Gunner – Australia’s Alarm
Japanese bombs started raining down on the capital city of Australia’s Northern Territory, Darwin, around 10 am on February 19, 1942, just over two months after the Japanese bombing of America’s Pearl Harbor. After the initial attack, which sunk eight ships and badly damaged 37 others, soldiers went looking for the injured among the rubble.
Under a destroyed mess hall, they found the smallest survivor of them all, a six-month-old male stray kelpie (an Australian sheep dog). He had a broken leg and was whimpering. Eventually, the injured pup ended up in the hands of Leading Aircraftman Percy Westcott. He made it his duty to get this dog help. Westcott took the dog to the doctor, who said he couldn’t treat any “man” who didn’t have a name or serial number. So, Westcott named the kelpie “Gunner” and gave him the number 0000. Satisfied, the doctor put a cast on Gunner’s leg and set them on their way.
From that point forward, Gunner and Westcott were inseparable. When Gunner’s leg began healing (despite his habit of chewing the cast), he would join Westcott on his daily tasks. One day not long after the attack, as the men worked on repairing several planes in the airfield, Gunner started barking and jumping up and down. The men paid no attention to the dog, but within a few minutes Japanese raiders swooped in and commenced shelling Darwin again.
Luckily, the men and Gunner managed to dive to safety, but it was another surprise attack. Well, to everyone but Gunner. In general, Australian Kelpie hearing, even more so than many other breeds of dogs, is fantastic. Two days later, Gunner again started making a commotion. This time, the men knew to find cover and prepare for the upcoming attack.
From February 1942 to November 1943, over sixty air raids were commenced on Darwin. Gunner warned the soldiers of nearly every one, saving countless lives. Another amazing aspect of this was that Gunner never barked when Australian planes took off or were returning. He was able to differentiate between Australian aircrafts and Japanese aircrafts. It is not known what happened to Gunner after the war.
Rip the Rescue Dog
The Blitz commenced on London on September 7, 1940. For the next 57 days, German bombers enveloped the city in destruction. Right after a particular heavy shelling during one of the first days of the Blitz, an Air Raid Warden named E. King found a hungry stray walking the streets. He threw it some meat and the dog refused to go away. The dog followed King back to his post and, eventually, became something of a mascot. But Rip, as they called him, soon showed his worth beyond a simple mascot.
Rip came out with King after a bombing one night and his nose started twitching. Rip followed the scent to a collapsed building and started digging. What Rip found was a man, still alive, buried beneath. It was probably the best image this man had ever seen; a barking, sniffing mutt.
Despite never being formally trained, Rip became England’s first urban search and rescue dog. It was reported that he found and rescued over hundred people with his sensitive, life-saving nose. Due to Rip, today London’s police force and military trains hundreds of dogs per year to be part of their urban search and rescue teams.
In 1945, Rip was awarded the Dickin Medal for bravery, an honor bestowed animals for their service during war. On the medal, it reads “For Gallantry. We Also Serve.” Rip passed away in 1946 and is buried in Ilford Animal Cemetery in London.
Antis – The “German” Who Saved Frenchmen
As French Air Force gunner Robert Bozdech came barreling toward Earth in his now-disabled plane, death was on his mind, not making a new best friend. But that is exactly what happened when he crashed landed in Northern France, ominously known as “No Man’s Land.” He, amazingly, emerged from the wreckage of his plane barely hurt, but heard sounds from a nearby farmhouse. Thinking it was the enemy, he took out his gun, ready to shoot. What emerged was a gray ball of fur, a German Shepard puppy. He took the pup in his leather jacket and hitched a ride back two hundred miles to St Dizier Air Base. Bozdech’s peers were stunned he was still alive, much less having a new best bud.
Antis, named so because Bozdech loved to fly Russian ANT dive-bombers, became not just a loyal friend, but a seasoned war veteran. Much like Gunner, he barked in warning about oncoming enemy fire. Just like Rip, he learned how to sniff and dig for survivors. Robert and his comrades also considered Antis a good luck charm and, most importantly, braver than many a human soldier. He would hide away in Bozdech’s gunner plane to ensure that he would be there to protect his pal. Antis would also run into enemy fire to notify others where the injured men were. He was even once injured himself, yet that didn’t stop him from performing his duties. Several days after being injured, he somehow snuck onto Bozdech’s plane as a stowaway.
After the war, Antis was also awarded the Dickin Medal and lived with Bozdech the rest of his life, passing away at the age of 14 in 1953.
Salty and Roselle Safety Guides on 9/11
While 9/11 wasn’t necessarily during war, it was certainly an act of war and war-like situation. Salty and Roselle were both part of the Guiding Eyes for the Blind program in New York, but came upon their fates differently. Roselle was only one and half when she was introduced to Michael Hingson, the man she was to guide. Hingson had been blind since birth, but earned a masters in physics from the University of California. On September 11, 2001, he was working as a computer sales manager on the 78th floor of the World Trade Center Tower 1.
Roselle was asleep when the plane struck the 99th floor. Calmly and cooly, she guided Hingson, and several others in the office, down over 1400 hundred darkened stairs and out of the door. The whole escape took about an hour, but within moments of making it to the street, Tower 2 collapsed, sending debris everywhere. Roselle was struck by pieces, but she was unfazed and continued moving, just like she was trained to do.
As Hingson said,
She saved my life. While everyone ran in panic, Roselle remained totally focused on her job. While debris fell around us, and even hit us, Roselle stayed calm.
Salty had always loved fast-paced, city-living. When he was introduced to Omar Rivera, it was a perfect match. Rivera had gone blind due to glaucoma, but continued to work for New York’s Port Authority as a senior systems designer. He was working on the 71st floor of the World Trade Center Tower 1 on 9/11. Salty was lying next to Rivera when the plane hit. The whole building swayed, but Salty calmly got up, offered Rivera his guidance, and lead them down the stairs. At one point a co-worker, thinking the dog needed help, tried to take Salty’s leash, but he refused to leave his master’s side. They made it out the door and were two or three blocks away when the second tower collapsed.
Both Salty and Roselle were given the Dickin medal for their heroics despite all the chaos around them. Salty passed away in 2008 and Roselle in 2011. They are remembered as American heroes.
Dogs weren’t the only animal to be bestowed the honor of a Dickin medal. In fact, pigeons were awarded the medal thirty two times, more than every other animal combined. It was given eighteen times to a dog, three times to a horse, and once to a cat. The cat’s name was Simon and he was given the medal in 1949 for his efforts in raising morale, surviving a cannon shell injury, and killing off a rat infestation during the Yangtze Incident. The Yangtze incident involved the British Royal Navy ship Amethyst being trapped on the Yangtze River for three months during the Chinese Civil War.
It isn’t known whether the dog was purposefully domesticated by humans or if they were self-domesticated, with certain of the gray wolves becoming friendly with humans from continually scavenging food scraps around human camps. Also, similar to the domestic cat that all likely descended from just a handful of cats, it is thought that all dogs descend from just a handful of gray wolves in a small number of domestication events. In the dogs’ case, this probably took place in East Asia, with the dogs quickly being bred and spreading throughout the world, even to North America around 10,000 years ago.
Janae Sergio came into the idea of joining the military a little differently than the rest of us. Homeless since the age of 15, she happened to meet a Navy recruiter through a friend. Being a sailor was not something she ever saw herself doing, but the decision changed her life. Now she’s looking to help others avoid similar situations.
These days, Janae has a full life, working for the federal government and managing a $5 billion budget for U.S. Navy Pacific Fleet maintenance. She has a husband and two children. Her life sounds a lot like many veterans’ lives, and it is. All that changed a little bit when she became Insta-famous, the kind of fame achieved through having many, many followers on Instagram.
Her fame came as a total shock. She was only on the app to make sure it was safe for her daughter. The next thing Janae Sergio knows, she has 30,000-plus followers and is gaining more every day. When she found out about the Maxim Cover Girl contest, it seemed very far from possible.
Janae and the Sergio family at their home in Hawai’i.
(Courtesy of Janae Sergio)
“Some of these girls, they dedicate their lives to their physical appearance and I haven’t had that option,” she says. “I’ve been busy working. So I was like, you know what, let me just put my name in the hat and see what happens… and it’s been like this huge whirlwind.”
Sergio began her adult life at a little bit more of a disadvantage than most of us. Between the ages of 15 and 18, she lived on the streets of Los Angeles. She credits her Christian faith with keeping her from the all-too-common trappings of many women forced to survive the streets. She never fell into drugs or prostitution to survive. She turned to the strict, structured life of homeless shelters.
“At the time, I didn’t realize it, but there were a few people on the streets who were homeless as well, who felt kind of protective of me because I was just this tiny little, naive, pretty girl,” Sergio says. “You’re just trying to live day to day and you don’t know what the future holds. You don’t know whether the situations you’re in are good or bad, you’re just trying to survive.”
One day, it all changed. Through a friend, she met a Navy recruiter. A few of her friends had joined, but she wasn’t really the type of girl, so she thought, to join the Navy. Still, it ended up capturing her attention for the same reasons as many others; a new career, the possibility for travel, and, of course, that reliable paycheck. But she didn’t even have a high school diploma yet. When she decided to join, she was able to make her case to the Navy, who accepted her. She could get her diploma later.
Janae Sergio took to the Navy very well. Basic Training life wasn’t so bad for her. She was used to a rigid living structure after three years of homeless shelters— only in the Navy, she didn’t have to cook for herself. She spent eight years in the Navy, joining in 2000 and sticking around for the post-9/11 era.
She’s worked very hard all her life, often doing more than one thing at a timein order to make the best of the situations she’s in. While she was in the service, notonly did shereceiveher diploma,she also earned a Bachelor’s in Business Management. She got married, had a baby, and lived the life of a sailor, deploying to sea twice in her career.
“I feel like once you have been at the bottom, rock bottom, you know what it’s like to be there and you don’t ever want to go back there,” she says. “You know what I mean?”
Then, one day, she accidentally became an Instagram model.
The thing for Sergio is that she can’t just be a visible person with a huge following and not do something responsible with that kind of fame. She now coaches service members who achieve similar Insta-fame and wants to use her popularity to do good things. That’s why the Maxim Cover Girl contest is important to her.
“It’s not so much about the photo or the magazine,” Sergio says. “I’m actually still a little nervous about that. The Maxim contest has this thing called “Warrior Votes,” where you vote for a small payment. That donation goes to the Jared Allen Home for Wounded Warriors. I wasn’t a homeless veteran but I was homeless and then the Navy changed my life. So I thought, what better thing for me to get involved with so that I could share my story on a grand level and really inspire people in the masses.”
The Maxim cover competition also comes with a ,000 prize which Sergio plans to put to good use as well. First, another issue close to her heart is helping at-risk youth in Hawai’i, giving part of that prize to a local organization called Hale Kipa. Second on her mind is, of course, helping veterans and their families through some of the hardest times of their lives. For that, she wants to donate to the Fisher House Foundation, who provide housing and food to loved ones of military and veterans to stay close to their wounded or sick troop as he or she recovers.
“I always encourage people, if they want to give back to the homeless, to do it in their community. So I found [an organization] that was local,” she says. “And the Fisher Houses are a really cool cause that gives families an opportunity to stay together during treatment. And so I love that.”
You can vote for Janae while helping homeless veterans find housing through the Jared Allen Home for Wounded Warriors. When she wins, you can feel good about being part of an effort to get young Hawaiian children off the streets and keep a roof over the heads of the families of America’s wounded warriors.