The Pentagon is using more equipment and technology from the civilian sector, but service members have been finding ingenious uses for civilian items for a long time.
1. Detecting tripwires: Silly String
Tripwires have been a problem for centuries, but a modern toy has provided a solution. Silly String can be sprayed through open doors, windows, and other choke points to check for booby traps before soldiers and Marines move through.
2. Stopping bleeding: tampons
Tampons are known for stopping a certain kind of bleeding, but deployed service members realized that small tampons can plug a bullet hole, quickly controlling bleeding while the injured awaits a medical evacuation.
3. Marking bombs: flour and ear plugs
Once a mine or IED is found, its location has to be communicated to others. Some units will draw on the ground with flour from a squeeze bottle, making symbols that say the type of danger and its location.
Flour doesn’t work well in wet environments or anywhere the ground is a light beige or dirty white. There, disposable ear plugs can work better. Mine clearance will find a mine and drop a brightly colored ear plug on it. Soldiers following behind them know to watch out for these markers.
4. Cleaning weapons: baby wipes, cotton swabs, and dental scrapers
Weapons maintenance is important, but good materials can be hard to find. Still, some of the best cleaning can be done with baby wipes, cotton swabs, and dental scrapers. They’re used to wipe down surfaces, get to hard to reach areas, and remove burnt on carbon, respectively.
5. Sewing: dental floss
When uniforms rip, soldiers away from a base have to personally fix them. Dental floss is strong, easy to work with, and available to troops at the front. To make a sewing kit, troops throw floss in a cleaned out mint or dip can along with a couple of sewing needles.
6. Waterproofing: Soap dish or condoms
A service member’s poncho should keep their gear dry, but even recruits in boot camp know better. Wallets, maps, and notebooks are better protected in a soap travel dish. When a dish isn’t available or an awkward items needs protected, condoms can be unrolled over them. This technique works well for waterproofing boots before crossing a stream.
7. Cleaning radio contacts: pencil eraser
This one is so effective, it’s become official Army doctrine. The contact points where microphones or antennas meet with a radio can become tarnished and dirty. Erasers can get these spotless quickly, something which has been incorporated into Army manuals such as Field Manual 44-48, “Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures for the Sensor Platoon.”
8. Making terrain models: marking chalk
Marking chalk is that chalk contractors use with string to mark exactly where a wire should run or a cut should be made. The chalk doesn’t come attached to the string though, it comes in 5-gallon jugs. The military, which has to build sand tables that represent the terrain in their area of operations, realized they could use different colors of this chalk to make different colored sand. Water can be represented with blue, vegetation with green, and hazardous areas with red or yellow.
Transitioning to a civilian career doesn’t have to be boring. Here are 7 ways to join the civilian workforce while preserving the adrenaline rush that made the military rewarding (and, dare we say, fun):
1. Wilderness guides
Wilderness guides help campers, hunters, and adventurers navigate the backcountry safely while teaching them survival techniques. Vets who excelled in survival training and loved patrolling through the woods will excel here. Most guides hold a certificate or degree that can be paid for with the G.I. Bill, but a degree isn’t required. Avg. Salary: $42,000
Vets who want to keep working in small teams under challenging conditions might enjoy firefighting. Candidates need to maintain their fitness and can get a toehold by volunteering for a fire company, getting a fire science degree, or preferably both. And you can really ramp up the energy as a smoke jumper. These elite firefighters parachute ahead of the path of a wildfire, laying down the first line of defense against it spreading. Avg. Salary: $39,000
Diving demands attention to detail and the ability to work under pressure, especially when something goes wrong. All diving work includes the inherent danger of working underwater, of course, but those who want to up the ante can work in shark tanks, underwater caves, or even nuclear reactors. Avg. Salary: $41,000
4. Law enforcement
Photo: Oregon Department of Transportation – SWAT Team
There are many parallels between the military and law enforcement. Both require teamwork. Both wear uniforms. Both demand comfort around weapons. And both require a lot of discipline. Many police departments (like Oakland PD, for instance) have programs to recruit veterans. Also, vets can collect the G.I. Bill at many police academies on top of their academy pay from the police department. Avg. Salary: $41,000
It may not be as exciting as carrier operations, but civilian pilots are needed to fly everything from jetliners to air ambulances to news choppers. Military pilots with lots of flight hours and a good safety record can easily transition to a civilian career. Those without any experience will need to stop off at a civilian flight school first — an expensive and time-consuming proposition, but ultimately worth the effort for those who want to take to the skies. Avg. Salary: $61,000
6. Helicopter lineman
Vets who loved hanging out of helicopters while on active duty might be interested in working for utility repair companies that need people to work on remote high-voltage power lines. Aerial lineman walk along the wires or ride in a hovering helicopter. Many companies require that applicants have lineman experience before working in the air, so vets entering the field will likely start in a ground position before moving up to helo ops. Avg. Salary: $56,000
7. Videographer or photographer
Media agencies need footage and pictures from extreme weather events, war zones, and disaster areas. Media specialists and combat camera vets are ready-on-arrival for these sorts of assignments. And like the military, the job requires a lot of travel and can be dangerous. Avg. Salary: $52,000
Retired Army Staff Sergeant Travis Mills went out on a foot patrol on April 10, 2012. It was his third tour in Afghanistan. He woke up on his 25th birthday to find that he’d stepped on on improvised explosive device, or IED, and that he’d suddenly become a quadruple amputee.
David Vobora was an NFL athlete who’d been dubbed “Mr. Irrelevant” after being the last draft pick of the season in 2008. While playing for the Seattle Seahawks, Vobora blew out his shoulder. It would ultimately force him to retire from the NFL at just 25 years old.
In the intervening years, Mills and Vobora forged an unlikely friendship.
“I had 25 good years with my arms and legs, and now I got the rest of my life to still keep living and pushing forward,” Mills said during an interview on “The Ellen Degeneres Show” yesterday.
“Something was missing,” Vobora, who is now a personal trainer, said. He noted that his work with professional athletes and wealthy clients was failing to fill a void in his life.
When Vobora met Mills, “I just knew I had to work with him.”
Mills talks about his predicament with lots of humor. When thanked for his heroism, Mills somewhat shrugs and replies, “I didn’t do more than anyone else. I just had a bad day at work, you know; a case of the Mondays.”
His wife, with whom he is expecting their second child, is equally humorous. “I’m in it for the handicapped parking,” Mills quotes her as having said shortly after his leg had to be amputated.
The military has very talented photographers in its ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. This is the best of what they shot this week:
Lithuanian soldiers and U.S. Marines from the Black Sea Rotational Force engaged opposition forces in a partnered attack during Exercise Saber Strike at the Pabrade Training Area, Lithuania.
Cpl. Tyler R. Garretson, a crew chief assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 263, monitors the flight line out of the rear of a MV-22B Osprey after completing fast-rope and rappelling training with Marine Corps Special Operations Command, near Marine Corps Air Station New River, North Carolina.
A Green Beret, assigned to 3rd Special Forces Group-Airborne, conducts free-fall training in a wind tunnel while a civilian sky dive instructor observes in Eloy, Arizona.
Sailors participate in a low light small arms training exercise aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Ross (DDG 71). Ross is conducting naval operations in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations in support of U.S. national security interests in Europe.
Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Equipment) 2nd Class Kyle Cawein, from Lake Isabella, Calif., stands by to prepare an aircraft to be launched from the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74).
Rescue swimmers and aircrewmen from Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod, Mass., conduct hoist training evolutions.
Rescue swimmers and aircrewmen from Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod, Mass., conduct hoist training evolutions.
Team Special Operations Command (SOCOM) Air Force Tech. Sgt. Isreal Del Toro braves the 110 degree heat index during track and field competition for the 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games on Marine Corps Base Quantico.
U.S. Air Force Senior Airmen Krystalane Laird (front) and Helena Palazio, weapons loaders with the 169th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, South Carolina Air National Guard, download munitions from an F-16 fighter jet that was just landed after a monthlong deployment to Łask Air Base, Poland.
Seattle Seahawks rookie long-snapper Nate Boyer may be a long shot to make the team’s final 53-man roster, but overcoming long odds is nothing new to the 34-year-old former Green Beret.
Boyer admits he was “stoked” the first time he saw a No. 48 jersey hanging in his locker at the Seahawks training facility, but he quickly re-focused on the task at hand.
“I’m really excited to be here and I am taking advantage of every second,” he said after meetings at the Seahawks training facility. “I am training as much as they will let me, and on my own I am doing things to get myself to where I need to be to have a legitimate shot at competing for the job. It is work, fun work, but I am considering it like a job.”
Though multiple teams contacted him at the conclusion of the NFL draft, Boyer says it was a “no-brainer” to sign with the Seahawks as an undrafted free agent.
“In some ways, I didn’t make it easy on myself, but I never do,” said Boyer, a University of Texas graduate who will have to unseat a veteran long-snapper to earn a place on the Seattle roster. “This is the best team in football. Everything is built around toughness and grit. They like guys with a chip on their shoulder. In that sense it’s ideal for me, but at the same time it means I am competing with guys with the same mindset who have done it at a high level for a long time.”
Boyer served six years in the Army, with tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, before deciding in 2010 to walk-on to the Texas football team. At the Longhorns’ tryout, Boyer had two strikes against him. He was 29 years old – a decade older than most first-year college students – and, more importantly, he never had played a down of high school football.
What he lacked in skills, Boyer made up for in grit, determination and leadership, so much so that then-Longhorns coach Mack Brown was willing to give the undersized athlete a chance as a walk-on safety.
“You always want to give back to our military guys,” Brown explained. “We thought it would be great to give him a shot. He was older and we thought his leadership skills would be good for our team.”
Boyer red-shirted his first season and played in one game on special teams the following year as a redshirt freshman. When Boyer asked Brown about his chances of ever playing in the Longhorns’ secondary, the coach pulled no punches and told the 5-11, 195-pound athlete he did not have the skills to crack the game-day lineup.
“He wasn’t as talented as a lot of players on our defense,” Brown explained. “We had a lot of great players at that time in our secondary.”
Boyer told Brown his goal was to make an impact on the field, but the head coach had his doubts that could happen. Brown said he told Boyer, “You are helping us out. You are being a good teammate.”
For Boyer, that wasn’t enough. The Longhorns were graduating two long-snappers, and Boyer decided he would win the job to replace them. There was one obstacle to overcome, however. Boyer had never snapped a football. Undeterred, he taught himself to deep snap and won the starting job in 2012, playing in the final 12 games as the snapper on point-after-touchdowns and field goals.
Though Boyer had joined the 19th Special Forces Group of the Texas National Guard and spent the summers of 2013 and 2014 deployed to Afghanistan, he continued to refine his deep-snapping skills while deployed by snapping into goal posts and creating a target out of plywood.
Boyer says he had no doubt he would find a way to contribute to the Longhorns’ success.
“To do anything great you have to sacrifice an incredible amount,” Boyer said. “You have to be willing to give up things, so during any time off I had overseas, I would go snap a football for a half-hour instead of watching an episode of ‘Entourage’ or playing video games. Other guys sit around and B.S., and there’s nothing wrong with that, but what I wanted meant every spare moment I had was going to be focused on football and extra time in the weight room.”
Boyer ultimately played in 38 consecutive games for the Longhorns, recording more than 500 snaps for Texas without one bad snap.
Boyer was a two-sport athlete (baseball and basketball) at Valley Christian High School in Dublin, Calif., which did not field a football team. However, Boyer says he learned the true meaning of teamwork while in the military. He also credits his Special Forces experiences with providing lessons in trust and selflessness that laid the foundation for him to become one of the oldest athletes to play Division I college football.
“You have to have trust in your teammates in the military, especially when you are deployed and working with a Special Forces team,” the former staff sergeant said. “You have to trust that they are going to do their job, and then you do your job and everybody stays in their lane. Everything is all about serving for the guy next to you, that selfless mindset. That’s why I eventually was able to play college football even though I was 29. I knew what it would take and what I would have to sacrifice to make it happen.”
A would-be filmmaker, Boyer is following a unique script for his own life. After graduating high school in 1999, he worked on a fishing boat in Southern California and did other odd jobs to fund month-long backpacking trips across Europe. After September 11th, he participated in relief work in the Darfur region in Sudan, an experience that motivated him to join the military.
“I had gained this patriotism and realized how fortunate we are for what we have,” said Boyer, who received a Bronze Star for service in Iraq in 2008.
At Texas, Boyer excelled on the field and in the classroom. He earned his undergraduate degree in kinesiology in 2013 and received a master’s degree in advertising in December 2014, earning first-team academic All-Big 12 honors following the 2012, 2013 and 2014 seasons.
While Boyer’s goal one day is to make films that spotlight “unsung heroes” and “situations that need attention,” the next act in his own football life story is continuing to be written.
“I think he’s going to be able to hit somebody,” Seattle head coach Pete Carroll said of his newest Seahawk, who has added 25 pounds since leaving college. “It’s a great opportunity for us to have a guy come to the program with his background. We cherish competitors, we cherish tough guys, we cherish guys that can overcome odds, and he’s done all that. We’ll see what happens. Gresh [starter Clint Gresham] better get ready.”
Boeing just announced that the U.S. Navy awarded the company a more than $12 million contract for “non-recurring design and development engineering for an engineering change proposal” to transition the Blue Angels from Hornets to Super Hornets. This prospect is exciting for aviation aficionados and air show fans nationwide — not to mention the Blue Angels pilots themselves — so how soon will the change happen?
To find out WATM spoke with Navy Capt. David Kindley, the Naval Air System Command’s program manager for both Hornets and Super Hornets. Not only is Kindley the man in charge of supporting the Navy’s Hornet and Super Hornet fleets with engineering updates and maintenance improvements, during his Navy flying career he amassed almost 3,400 flight hours in both the old and new versions of the airplane.
Kindley started the conversation by making it clear that the contract “is by no means the transition taking place. We don’t have a specific date. It could take years.”
However, he explained that the genesis of the current effort was a desire from Radm. Del Bull, the Chief of Naval Air Training (the Blue Angels’ parent command), to “move the transition to the left,” as Kindley put it.
“There’s a perception in the fleet that NAVAIR moves too slowly,” Kindley said. “We see this as an opportunity to show we can go faster.”
The first challenge for the program office and relevant fleet commands is to identify 11 Super Hornets (including a couple of two-seat F/A-18Fs) that can be turned into Blue Angel assets. (The Blue Angels only take 7 airplanes — not including “Fat Albert,” the C-130 they use to ferry parts and support personnel — on the road with them, but they have 11 in their possession.) Boeing isn’t manufacturing new Super Hornets specifically for the demonstration team, so the Navy will have to “rob Peter to pay Paul,” as the old saying goes, to make it happen.
“Super Hornets are a precious commodity,” Kindley said. “This transition is competing with the fact that the fleet is desperate for them.”
Kindley explained that the early version of the Super Hornet didn’t incorporate the advanced mission software used by fleet squadrons, and therefore those jets are only good for training new pilots on basic handling and not the full warfighting capability of the airplane. That makes them good candidates for use by the Blue Angels who don’t need drop bombs and shoot missiles while they’re flying their air show routine.
Kindley isn’t concerned about the basics of transitioning a squadron from “legacy” Hornets to Super Hornets. “We do this all the time,” he said. “This isn’t hard.”
But he allows that the Blue Angels aren’t just another Navy squadron, and he sums up their specific challenges to NAVAIR as “springs, smoke, and paint.”
“Springs” refers to the mechanical device that Blue Angels jets have attached to the control stick that creates 7 pounds of forward pressure, which allows pilots more positive control and allows them to fly smoother. However, there’s an air conditioning duct in the Super Hornet cockpit that doesn’t exist in the regular Hornet right where the spring should attach, so the engineers have to figure out a workaround.
During the show, Blue Angels jets do something other fleet jets don’t do under normal circumstances: They trail smoke. That dramatic effect is created when special chemicals mix with the air behind the plane. Creating that effect is the “smoke” part of Kindley’s concerns.
The real estate required to make smoke is realized by taking the gun out of the nose and replacing it with a tank. After conducting the initial engineering investigation, NAVAIR engineers discovered two things: The subcontractor’s production line for making the tanks is shut down, and it doesn’t matter anyway because the old tank won’t correctly fit into the Super Hornet’s nose, so they have to have new ones made.
And then there’s the paint. “Painting an airplane isn’t hard,” Kindley said. “But un-painting an airplane can be really hard.”
What he means is as Boeing strips a Super Hornet to bare metal, corrosion could be discovered. That sort of discovery demands that the contractor reach back out to NAVAIR with a “request for engineering investigation.” That potential makes it hard to scope a contract because there’s no way to know exactly how much corrosion an airplane might have until the paint comes off. And, of even greater concern to Kindley, it’s tough to predict how much time the entire process of repainting 11 jets might take.
And when it gets down to the nitty-gritty of transitioning the Blue Angels to new jets, time will matter a lot. The team’s show season ends each year in early November. The pilots, maintainers, and other support personnel have a few weeks off over the holidays, and then they start training for the next season the follow February, operating out of NAF El Centro in California’s Imperial Valley about an hour east of San Diego. That means whatever refresher training pilots and maintainers need has to occur before the show routine training starts — basically, the time between Thanksgiving and Valentines Day.
While the justification for all of this effort is that Super Hornets are easier to maintain and cheaper to fly than legacy Hornets, anyone who’s flown both types, like Kindley, knows that the Super Hornet has a lot more thrust available. That performance improvement alone should make for a more dynamic Blue Angels show in the future with faster climbs and tighter high-G turns.
But before they push the current show’s envelope, Blue Angels pilots wanted to see how the Super Hornet performed doing the current routine. Last year the team’s commanding officer, Capt. Tom Frosch, and the opposing solo pilot, Marine Capt. Jeff Kuss (who was killed in a mishap while launching on a practice sortie out of Nashville two months ago), successfully flew their parts of the routine using a Super Hornet simulator.
“The Super Hornet was designed to fly inverted for twice as long as the legacy Hornet can,” Kindley explained. “There was only one move — “the double Farvel” — that we were concerned about, but we found we won’t have to modify the airplane at all.”
Kindley would also like to see the crowd-pleasing “high alpha pass,” where the lead and opposing solo planes fly down the show line at very slow speed while cocked up at an extreme angle, flown even slower and more cocked up.
“The Super Hornet flies slower better than any airplane I’ve ever seen,” Kindley said. The legacy Hornet flies with about 60 knots of forward airspeed at 25 alpha (the angle between the line of the fuselage and the direction of the airplane’s travel); the Super Hornet can fly even slower at 60 alpha. But, Kindley warns, the engines on a Super Hornet are spread farther apart than a legacy Hornet and so flying in a maximum alpha regime close to the ground could cause a controllability problem if a Super Hornet pilot loses an engine.
Kindley also described the legacy Hornet’s flight control response as “crisper,” meaning the airplane took fewer control inputs to get exactly where the pilot wanted it — obviously an important detail considering how close together the Blue Angels fly in the diamond formation — but he said that would be a training issue for the team and not something that required NAVAIR engineers to rewrite the Super Hornet’s flight control laws.
Overall, Kindley characterized the Blue Angels approach to modifying the show with Super Hornets as “walk before you run.”
“I don’t speak for them, but I imagine they’d start by flying the current routine and then, once they got comfortable, seeing how the show could be adjusted to accommodate the Super Hornet’s performance,” he said.
When asked by WATM what the current Blue Angels pilots thought about the potential for Super Hornets, Lt. Joe Hontz, the team’s public affairs officer, said in an email, “We know there are discussions about the possibility of an upgrade down the road. Until a decision is made, we will continue to fly a safe demonstration on the reliable F/A-18 Hornet, which has been a strong platform for the team since 1986.”
After he parked and got out of his car, he didn’t introduce himself or offer any welcome. The unnamed instructor just said, “okay everybody get over here and sign your death waivers.”
This was my first introduction to a GoRuck Challenge, a team endurance event run by former U.S. military special operators. It was the 83rd challenge to take place in Dec. 2011 — running around Tampa, Fla. with 24 people. Since then, it’s grown to more than 2,500 events that now comprise various skill levels.
GoRuck Challenges usually attract a certain demographic of people: Former military personnel, law enforcement, and fitness enthusiasts. Especially with the ominous intro from our instructor, a former Green Beret, anyone taking part in a GoRuck event knows it will be rough, to say the least.
“We want to promote the sport of rucking,” Kit Klein, partnership manager for GoRuck based in Jacksonville, Fla., told The Tampa Bay Times. “We’re trying to put it on the map.”
The “sport of rucking” that GoRuck promotes now consists of “GoRuck Light,” a four to five hour challenge that covers seven to 10 miles, “GoRuck Tough,” a 10 to 12-hour challenge covering 15 to 20 miles, and “GoRuck Heavy,” a much more demanding 24-hour-plus challenge that can cover more than 40 miles.
But those times and distances can vary, as one of the company’s mottos is to “under-promise, over-deliver.” (For the GoRuck Tough challenge I was on in Tampa, we did roughly 23 miles over 15 hours).
“Your class is led from start to finish by a Special Operations Cadre whose job is to build a team by pushing you to overcome, together,” reads the description of the challenges on the GoRuck website. “You stay with your class the entire time aka a true team event, never in any way confused with a road race or a mud run. And no, your Cadre is not a drill sergeant and no, this is not bootcamp. That stuff belongs to the military, this is simply an event about your team.”
All of the challenges require participants to carry around weights or bricks in a backpack, which is why these events exist in the first place.
In 2008, GoRuck was a new company making rugged backpacks designed to withstand the rigors of military combat. Founded by former Special Forces soldier Jason McCarthy, he sent his bags to friends in the field to test out and he quickly realized selling backpacks may not be his only business.
McCarthy spent two years developing the bags that make up most of GoRuck’s product line (four styles, starting at $195). Early on, he battle-tested his prototypes, literally – sending them to Green Beret buddies in Afghanistan and Iraq. Then he grew concerned about sending unproven gear to men in danger, so he established another proving ground: the GoRuck Challenge. In these team-oriented endurance runs, which are led by combat veterans and incorporate Special Forces training, participants carry a GoRuck sack loaded with rocks or bricks.
“The original intent was very nearsighted,” McCarthy told The Cincinnatti Enquirer of starting his first challenges. “I had a bunch of inventory and wanted people to know about our bags.”
People did learn of GoRuck, and more: “People kept describing this as a life-changing event,” McCarthy told the Enquirer. “I got more and more and more requests to host events.”
An Iraq war veteran, McCarthy began the events in 2010 while attending business school at Georgetown University, according to The Washington Post. Beyond marketing his bags, he told The Post, his goal is “to build better Americans” with his challenges. He does this by promoting leadership, teamwork, and honoring the sacrifices of military service members.
“It’s spiritual, emotional experience they take away,” Derek Zahler, a GoRuck cadre and former Special Forces soldier, told News4Jax. “They get to learn a lot more about themselves. Especially their goals and what they perceive their ability to achieve those goals are.”
The company has moved beyond backpacks and challenging events, however. It now sells apparel, fitness items, and even firearms gear, which it developed in 2014. In that year, the company had $10.8 million in revenue — nearly 30 percent more than the previous year’s figures.
A retired University of Wisconsin administrator was elected national commander of the nation’s largest veterans organization today during The American Legion’s 99th national convention.
Denise H. Rohan, a Vietnam-era veteran of the US Army, is the first woman to be elected to the top position of the 2 million member American Legion.
“Women were allowed to vote for national commander of The American Legion back in 1919, before they could vote for the president of the United States,” Rohan said. “The American Legion has always believed that a veteran is a veteran regardless of gender, race, or religion. If I can offer a different perspective than other Legionnaires, that’s great. But I am excited to build on the great programs, dedicated service and proud legacy of the many Legionnaires who came before me.”
Rohan has served The American Legion since 1984. While commander of Post 333 in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, she established Sons of the American Legion Squadron 333 and chartered Boy Scout Troop 333. She has also served as the department (state) commander of the Wisconsin American Legion.
She was employed with the University of Wisconsin Madison as the assistant bursar of student loans until her retirement in 2012. She managed the University of Wisconsin Madison, University of Wisconsin Green Bay, and University of Wisconsin Colleges’ $120 million loan portfolio made up of approximately 200 different federal, institutional and state programs in compliance with all laws, regulations, and policy.
Rohan was responsible for the efficiency and design of the computerized student loan accounts-receivable system.
You’re 11 years old, standing in the middle of the school lunchroom with your meal tray. As you gaze over top of your sandwich, anemic vegetables, and cookie snack pack, you anxiously wonder who will make room for you at their table.
Whether we’re 11, 27, or 80, our human bodies read social anxiety like a physical threat. Will you be able to find and keep food? Experience physical safety? Find meaning in work and life? Throughout history, all of these things have been made exponentially more difficult without a tribe or group.
Stress hormones surge when you’re feeling lonely or rejected, and when they’re elevated too long, you may begin to have difficulty communicating, displaying empathy, or engaging in high-level thinking. This makes connecting with others even more challenging, and your isolation can easily become self-perpetuating.
The good news is, you can increase your health and performance at work and home by finding or building a tribe.
The strange but true fact is that there’s nothing more important to your physical health than community. This is true even if you’re an introvert. It’s true even if your tribe embraces unhealthy behaviors like smoking, high rates of divorce, alcohol abuse and more.
In the military, your tribe is easy to identify. Your tribe may be your branch of service, unit, platoon, or even fireteam. From the first day of training, you and other members of your tribe are working to overcome challenges together. Camaraderie continues as you train, deploy, and socialize together in the coming years.
In Gates of Fire, his epic novel about the Spartan 300, Steven Pressfield writes:
“War, and preparation for war, call forth all that is noble and honorable in a man. It unites him with his brothers and binds them in selfless love…There in the holy mill of murder the meanest of men may seek and find that part of himself, concealed beneath the corrupt, which shines forth brilliant and virtuous, worthy of honor before the gods.“
For many, military service offers the kind of community they’ve never experienced. In this community, we may find purpose, self-knowledge, identity, and so much more. Challenged by our tribe, we grow stronger, faster, and ideally into better leaders.
However, when we inevitably leave the military, we may find ourselves unmoored – adrift in a sea of isolation and alienation that threatens to sink us into depression, stress, and declining performance at work and home.
Crossing the Chasm
In the age of an all-volunteer military, we often hear about the military-civilian divide. It’s not just a divide, though – it’s a chasm.
If you’re a male veteran, only about 12 percent of peers in your age group have served in the military. If you’re a woman who served, that number drops to 3 percent.
When you leave the military you’ll likely struggle to find people who have a deep understanding of your service, experiences, and the unique culture and traditions of military life. Data shows us that alienation – or feeling out of place – is strongly correlated with PTSD and other stress injuries. Finding or building a tribe is critical to good physical, relational, and mental health.
When you’re part of a group and have a deep sense of belonging, a relaxation response takes place in your body and brain. In fact, every system of your body works better when your relaxation response firing. For example, when you’re relaxed and eating a salad, your body absorbs 17 percent more iron than when you’re stressed and eating a salad. Being part of a community results in a positive cycle.
So how do I find a tribe?
As you begin your search for a tribe, one of the most important things you can do is stay humble. Don’t let your veteran status, and all the good things that come with it, become a limiting factor as you build new relationships. Build relationships with veterans and civilians alike.
On the veteran front, give yourself permission to be around people who understand what you’ve just lived through. A great starting place is any post-9/11 veteran organization – they’ll get you connected with veterans who are in a healthy place.
Team Red White and Blue’s entire mission is to build social community at the local level – to bring people together. Team Rubicon and The Mission Continues can help you discover purpose through service.
Purpose is also key. Ask yourself what your passion, ideal volunteer work, or dream venture looks like, then get to work. You may find your civilian tribe doing volunteer work, as part of a faith group, or while living your purpose-driven life.
Finding your tribe may feel tough at first, but like most things it gets easier with practice.
CHECK OUT THESE TRIBES
Volunteer with Team Rubicon, a veteran-led disaster response nonprofit, to rebuild communities around the nation after natural disasters.
Meet up with civilians and fellow veterans for a hike, run, or yoga class with Team Red White Blue.
Put your unique skills to use for a local non-profit, and get paid doing it, as part of The Mission Continues.
Check out a faith community of your choosing
Sign up for a local sports league or class
About the Author
Dr. Kate Hendricks Thomas is a U.S. Marine veteran and wellness coach who writes about resilience building, creating strong communities, and the science of spirituality. You can find her new book, “Brave, Strong, True: The Modern Warrior’s Battle for Balance”, here.
There’s a very good reason Audie Murphy is one of the most decorated veterans to every wear the US Army uniform.
Murphy was born on June 20, 1925 in Texas. His family was extremely poor, partially due to having twelve young mouths to feed. When his father abandoned the family when Audie was fifteen years old, he was forced to pick up some of the slack by hunting and doing what work he could to keep food on the table. Unfortunately, his mother died just a year after his father left.
Shortly thereafter, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Audie attempted to join the various branches of the U.S. military but was turned down in each case owing to his age and diminutive stature -five and a half feet tall (1.66 meters) and weighing only about 100 pounds (45 kg).
About seven months later, just ten days after he turned seventeen, he tried again. Having gained some weight (getting up to a whopping 112 pounds / 50.8 kg) and with falsified testimony from his sister claiming he was actually 18, this time Audie was able to get into the army. He was then shipped off to North Africa and later deployed to Sicily.
Despite his small size, Murphy proved to be a phenomenal soldier. In 1944, after witnessing the death of a friend during Operation Dragoon, he charged a group of German soldiers, took over their machine guns and other weapons, and proceeded to take out the other enemy soldiers within range using their own artillery. He was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross for his actions that day, the first of many medals.
During another battle shortly after this, to cover retreating Allied soldiers, he jumped onto a tank that had been hit and was on fire, exposing himself to the advancing enemy soldiers. Why did he put himself in such an exposed position on a tank that could potentially explode at any minute? There was a .50 caliber machine gun on the tank.
As Private Anthony Abramski said of the event,
It was like standing on top of a time bomb … he was standing on the TD chassis, exposed to enemy fire from his ankles to his head and silhouetted against the trees and the snow behind him.
Nevertheless, over the course of the next hour, he held off six German tanks and several waves of enemy soldiers, who were all trying desperately to take out the little American who was the only thing in their way at that point. He only retreated when he ran out of ammo. Once this happened, having sustained a leg wound and completely exhausted, Audie said in his book To Hell and Back,
I slide off the tank destroyer and, without once looking back, walk down the road through the forest. If the Germans want to shoot me, let them. I am too weak from fear and exhaustion to care.
Despite the leg wound, as soon as he caught up with his retreating soldiers who had now re-formed, he turned them around and managed to reclaim a stretch of forest from German occupation. According to the official report, in that battle, he killed or severely wounding at least fifty German soldiers by himself. For this act of bravery and for “indomitable courage and his refusal to give an inch of ground [saving] his company from possible encirclement and destruction…” he was awarded the U.S. Medal of Honor.
He rose through the ranks and was a captain when he was pulled out of the war in 1945. All in all, he earned 33 awards and decorations for his exemplary service during the war. He was just 20 years old at the time and, as one movie critic later put it, knew more of death than he did of life.
When Murphy returned from the war, he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition that often went undiagnosed at the time. After being featured on the cover of Life magazine, he found himself in Hollywood without work, sleeping in rough conditions. He caught his big break in 1949 when he starred in the film Bad Boy. That same year, he released the aforementioned autobiography titled To Hell and Back, which topped the bestseller charts. He went on to star as himself in a movie with the same title in 1955; it was Universal’s top-grossing film for nearly 20 years until Jaws usurped it.
Acting seemed to suit him. He made no less than 44 feature films while he was in Hollywood, many of them westerns, and also filmed a 26-episode western TV series called Whispering Smith, which aired in 1961 on NBC. It was criticised for being too violent, however, and cancelled after just 20 episodes were aired.
A man of many talents, Murphy also dabbled in poetry and song-writing as well as horse breeding and racing. Thanks to his earnings from acting, he was able to purchase a ranch in Texas. He was living an incredibly comfortable life, far grander than what he had known as a child.
Yet all was not well with Murphy. Back to his post traumatic stress disorder, he became dependent on sleeping pills to combat the insomnia he experienced after the war. Realizing he had become addicted to them, he locked himself in a motel room for a week, while he worked through the withdrawal symptoms. He ended up beating the addiction and went on to break the taboo of talking about the mental disorders many soldiers suffered when they returned home. His willingness to do so opened up discussions about psychological care for veterans upon their return to the US.
Murphy ended up marrying twice, divorcing his first wife after just two years, and having two sons with his second wife. He appeared to be happy with his family, with more than enough money in the bank to keep them comfortable (though he squandered much of it on gambling in his later years); had acted in dozens of movies; and had amazing war stories to tell his grandkids about. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to get to that stage of his life.
On May 28, 1971, Murphy was in a private plane flying on a business trip from Atlanta, Georgia to Martinsville, Virginia. The weather conditions were less than ideal: rain and fog shortened the pilot’s visibility considerably, and he had a questionable instrument rating. He called in to the Roanoke, Virginia airport to say that he would be landing shortly due to poor conditions. The plane, carrying five passengers including Murphy, never landed in the Roanoke Valley. It crashed into Brush Mountain twenty miles away, close to Blacksburg. Everyone in the crash was killed. Murphy was just 45 years old. The site of the crash has since been turned into a monument, and in the 1990s, the Appalachian Trail was rerouted to go past it.
That wasn’t quite the end for Murphy, though. After a funeral in Arlington Cemetery, where his grave remains the second most visited (after Kennedy’s), he was posthumously awarded his final medal, the Texas Legislative Medal of Honor. It was presented to his last remaining sister, Nadine Murphy, on October 29, 2013 by Governor Rick Perry.
A military family had their U-Haul stolen in Georgia during their PCS to Louisiana. Inside the moving van was their infant son’s ashes.
Benjamin and Kassandra Benton were high school sweethearts. When Kassandra found out she was pregnant with baby Wyatt, she didn’t believe the doctor — she was a Neuroblastoma cancer survivor at just seven years old and her entire abdomen was “nuked,” as she called it. “Some people may remember me from Extreme Home Makeover; I’m the one who made necklaces to raise money for kids with cancer,” she shared.
But she was pregnant and 14 weeks along. Kassandra was considered high risk and went into labor at home unexpectedly at just 24 weeks. Ben delivered baby Wyatt who wasn’t breathing while Kassandra continued to hemorrhage. EMS personnel rushed them to the hospital where they were both saved. But they’d spend five months watching Wyatt fight for his life.
Ben headed to Air Force basic training not long after Wyatt’s birth. Kassandra kept him up to date through letters. “Some of the bad things I’d leave out scared that Ben would get discouraged and drop out. It was hard,” she said.
Eventually, she had to call him to come home. Wyatt’s brain shunt was overrun with infection and there was nothing more they could do. “We decided instead of Wyatt living his whole life in the hospital, we’d take him into hospice where he could see the outside … where we could cuddle and enjoy his last days,” Kassandra explained.
On November 12, 2015 he took his last breath.
“We held him. We loved him and we made sure he felt that. He was our world and he still is. Because of Wyatt I have my two beautiful daughters,” Kassandra said. She went into labor early with both girls but because of her experience with Wyatt, she recognized the signs and got to the hospital early. Charlotte and Amelia are here because of him, Kassandra said.
The young family was on their way to Ben’s new duty station at Barksdale Air Force Base when they stopped at a motel in Georgia for the night. When they awoke, their U-Haul was gone. Although it was found days later, it was empty except for a few bags of clothes. Wyatt’s ashes, hand and footprints and hand mold were still gone. It was all they had left of him.
A local nonprofit near Barksdale Air Force Base has stepped forward to help. EveryWarrior is offering a $3,000 reward through the Covington, Georgia Police Department for the return of Wyatt’s remains. The military spouses at the base have also rallied behind the Benton family, establishing a GoFundMe page to support their needs.
In the end though, they just want Wyatt’s remains returned safely and don’t care about the rest of their stolen things. Kassandra has pleaded through every media interview for the person who took his ashes to please “have heart” and bring him home. For the Benton family, it feels like they are mourning his loss all over again.
In a Facebook post on March 6, 2021 she pleaded once again. “Keep sharing, keep looking, and keep the hope. I believe, I have to believe Wyatt will find his way back to me. It’s the only thing keeping me going. And a THANK YOU! To everyone who is helping us on this search, and who’s donated for my family, and who is praying for us. You are our village…”
If you have information about Wyatt’s stolen remains, please contact the Covington Police Department at 770-786-7605.