Author and historian Alex Rose knows that choosing the American Revolution as subject matter comes with a level of risk in that most people’s knowledge of that period of history begins and ends with what they were taught at a very young age.
“We generally think of George Washington as chopping down a cherry tree and not lying about it and being above it all,” Rose said. “But the truth is he was a complicated man. And he did lose a lot of battles.”
AMC adapted Rose’s book Washington’s Spies to create the series “Turn,” now in its second season. The network asked Rose to act as a historical consultant, and he was more than happy to come aboard to help the show’s writers get the details correct.
“We’re very conscious that we’re dealing with the touchstones of American history,” Rose said. “But the problem with touchstones is they can become petrified and set in stone.”
Season One of “Turn” introduced viewers to Abe, a simple man who wants any threat of war to go away so he can enjoy a simple life as a cabbage farmer. But the late 18th Century was anything but a simple time in America.
“People had to make choices,” Rose said. “And if you got caught on the wrong side you could be hanged.”
Further Rose pointed out that most American’s “default position” was that of loyalist and not rebel. “Over time loyalists have been portrayed as cowards,” he said. “There’s a lot more to it than that. We think that politics are complicated these days, but they were more so back then.”
The arc of the shows across the first season followed Abe’s transition from average American, son of a Tory loyalist, to the leader of the nation’s first spy ring.
“Season One was the genesis of the spy ring,” Rose said. “People were learning the ropes. In Season Two the ring is coming together, which brings its own challenges.”
In Season Two Abe is totally set on being a spy. “He’s going to do whatever it takes, even if it causes collateral damage,” Rose said.
Season Two also features an infamous figure: Benedict Arnold, commonly thought of as America’s greatest traitor.
“He enters the show in his prime,” Rose explained. “He was one of the great war heroes, the best generals they had. We have to see him in that light. He didn’t start off as a bad guy.”
Rose said that overall the goal of “Turn” – along with entertaining – is to show that the period of the American Revolution was a “magnificent time” and not just what he calls a “goodie versus baddie narrative.”
“Remember, they don’t know what we know,” Rose added. “They don’t know who wins in the end.”
For more about Season Two of “Turn” go to the official show site here.
On June 22, 1941, Nazi Germany broke its non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union, invading the Russian-held area of Poland. Nazi tanks streamed across the border between the two occupiers, arriving in the Lithuanian town of Raseiniai the next day.
The resistance there almost threw a wrench in the entire Nazi war plan.
As the Nazis advanced on the town, Soviet mechanized divisions moved to defend it. The local tank garrisons happened to be equipped with Kliment-Voroshilov tanks, an advanced armored vehicle invulnerable to almost anything the German infantry could throw at them.
Anti-tank weapons were useless. The Nazis tried everything to disable the KV tanks — other tanks, artillery, anti-aircraft guns, but nothing worked. Even the vaunted sticky bomb couldn’t stop them.
As this day wore on, the KV started tearing up Nazi anti-tank weapons and heavy machine guns as “armor piercing” rounds bounced right off the tank’s skin. The Russians even took out 12 trucks. German engineers threw satchel charges at the tank, with little effect.
According to MK, Nazi battle group commander Colonel Erhard Raus wrote in his account of the action that an 88-mm anti-aircraft gun couldn’t even put a dent in the KV tank’s armor.
“… It turned out that the crew and the tank commander had nerves of steel. They calmly watched the approach of anti-aircraft guns, without interfering with it, as long as it didn’t not pose any threat to the tank. In addition, the closer the anti-aircraft gun, the easier it is to destroy. A critical time in the duel of nerves, when settlement began to prepare the gun to fire. While gunners, nervous, bridged and loaded the gun, the tank tower turned and fired the first shot! Every shot hit the target. The heavily damaged antiaircraft gun fell into the ditch.”
The KV harassed the attacking Germans throughout the night and by morning, the full force of the German infantry attacked the lone KV tank. The tank struck down as many as possible with its machine guns, but it wasn’t enough. The troops were finally able to throw grenades down the tank’s hatches and kill the crew.
Pitched fighting at Raseiniai lasted three days. The lone Soviet tank delayed them by a full day, taking on two full Nazi mechanized divisions.
Russians have tried for years to postulate why the lone tank stopped and didn’t even try to maneuver. The most likely reason is that the tank ran out of gas. Red Army supply lines to Lithuania weren’t very good to begin with and a Nazi invasion sure wouldn’t have helped.
For 22 hours, the KV blocked the road, preventing the Germans from advancing into greater Russia, destroying or killing every Nazi man and machine in sight.
The Eastern Front of World War II is remembered by history for its brutality. Prisoners and war dead between the German Wehrmacht and the Soviet Red Army were treated with shocking disregard by any standard on both sides. The Nazis considered the Russians subhuman — theirs was a war of extermination.
In this instance, however, the German troops removed the Russian tank crew from their KV and buried them in the nearby woods with full military honors. Colonel Raus recounted in his memoirs:
“I am deeply shocked by this heroism, we buried them with full military honors. They fought to the last breath … “
The M14 is one of the worst DMRs in history, and should have never been adopted by the military.
That’s a powerful statement, but a mostly objective one.
While the M14’s design originated from what General Patton dubbed “The greatest battle implement ever devised” — the M1 Garand — by the 1950s it was already outdated. Military small arms development had seen unparalleled growth throughout World War II and this growth continued into the Cold War.
Listen to the WATM podcast to hear our veteran hosts and a weapons expert discuss the M14 and its replacement:
While Russia was hurriedly developing its first true assault rifle, the AK-47, NATO was still hung up on the concept of a battle rifle. Though this makes perfect sense in retrospect.
Private 1st Class Carlos Rivera, a squad designated marksman with Alpha Company, 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, scans his sector while providing security in the district of Spin Boldak, Afghanistan, July 30, 2012. (Photo: US Army)
Experience in WWII and the frozen hell of Korea hammered home the importance of increased firepower without sacrificing range, reliability or power. Hundreds of soldiers reported the smaller M1 Carbine and its light .30-caliber cartridge were ineffective against winter-coat-wearing Chinese and Korean human wave attacks, but the .30-06 M1 never suffered this problem. Interestingly, post-war investigations suggested the M1 Carbine’s light weight and high cyclic rate of fire were more responsible for this lack of stopping power than the cartridge itself — meaning, most soldiers simply missed their targets because of the gun’s recoil.
This is a lesson the Army forgot when it pressed a select-fire .308 rifle into service only a few years later.
Enter, the M14.
The one thing the M14 has going for it, is its method of operation. It’s a long-stroke, piston-driven action that’s very similar to the most prolific, assault rifle in history: the AK-47. Like the AK, the M14’s action can tolerate debris and fouling better than the direct-impingement M16. While the rifle’s hard-hitting 7.62x51mm NATO round is vastly superior to the M16’s 5.56mm at defeating light cover and the dense foliage found in South East Asian jungles, it also makes the rifle very tough to control.
On a side note, carrying a combat load of 7.62 isn’t much fun, and doesn’t offer the average infantryman nearly as much firepower as the same weight in 5.56 rounds.
But that’s not what makes the M14 so awful. It’s the design itself – especially for the role it has been shoehorned into: the Designated Marskman Rifle. The vaunted DMR bridges the gap between the M4 and dedicated sniping weapon systems like the M24. Infantrymen from every branch fielding a DMR in combat have nothing but praise for the guns’ performance in the vast expanses of Iraq and Afghanistan.
So, if soldiers love the gun, it must be pretty decent, right? Sure, so long as the rifle is clamped into a very heavy, expensive chassis and the soldier carrying it never drops it, or touches the handguards. Seriously, disturbing the gun’s bedding – the way it’s glued into a stock — doesn’t just shift point of impact, it reduces overall accuracy. Therein lies the biggest problem with the M14: accurizing the rifle and holding on to that accuracy.
Accuracy is a measure of consistency when it comes to rifles. Given that a DMR must, by definition, extend the effective range of a squad, its DMR needs to reliably hit targets beyond the reach of the infantryman’s standard rifle or carbine. Yet, according to military standards, acceptable accuracy from the M14 is 5.5 inches at 100 yards – a full inch larger than the M16’s standards. While the M14’s 7.62mm round is great for this, the gun is not.
Camp Perry shooters have long since abandoned the M14 because of the difficulty in accurizing the rifle compared to the M16 – and they aren’t alone. The Army noticed the problems and prohibitive costs associated with maintaining M14s in country, which lead to the solicitation of a replacement rifle to meet new specifications for the Semi-Automatic Sniper System program.
Funny thing, the Army decided the M16 was more accurate, and more easily tuned into a sniper rifle – except for the caliber. Which is why the M14 EBR’s replacement, the Mk-11, is built off an AR-10: the 7.62 big brother of the M16.
In all fairness, the Global War on Terror presented a combat theater the U.S. military wasn’t prepared to fight in. Plus, the M14 wasn’t meant to be a sniper or DMR platform when it was developed in the 1950s. Even still, Armalite had been producing civilian and military AR-10 rifles since the late 1950s, and could have just as easily been pressed into service.
Better yet, since the AR-10 shares it’s method of operation with the M16, advancements on one could likely be applied to the other. And, the guns shares the same manual of arms, so no additional training is required for soldiers transitioning from one to the other.
The bodies of the missing sailors “were located in the flooded berthing compartments” after rescue workers were able to gain access to areas of the Fitzgerald that were damaged in the collision with the ACX Crystal.
The sailors’ bodies are being transferred to the Hospital in Yokosuka, Japan, where the 7th Fleet is headquartered, to proceed with the identification process, the statement added.
The Fitzgerald and ACX Crystal collided on Saturday at 2.30 am local time in Japanese waters.
Two people injured during the incident, including the destroyer’s commander Bryce Benson, were evacuated.
Watch cliff divers, bungee jumpers, or even just kids fooling around and jumping into a lake. At some point, one or more of them will yell “Geronimo!” It’s a safe bet that at some point, we’ve all yelled this name.
It seems like a pretty random thing to yell when jumping from a bridge, cliff, or plane, but it’s actually from the military tradition of paratroopers yelling it as they jumped from a perfectly good airplane.
But where did the paratroopers come up with it?
It dates all the way back to the origin of paratroopers. In 1940, the Army was still developing the strategy of dropping troops out of planes. On the eve of the first test jump, soldiers from from Fort Benning started a night of drinking with a viewing of a wild west movie beforehand. This was likely the 1939 film “Geronimo” starring Andy Devine and Chief Thundercloud.
After the movie, Pvt. Aubrey Eberhardt boasted that he wasn’t scared of the jump, despite being the tallest man in the unit. This caused his fellow soldiers to call him out on his bragging, saying he would forget his name at the door, as the troops were supposed to shout their name when they jumped.
Everyone in their jump group successfully jumped — all the soldiers remembered their names and shouted them as they made their jumps.
The 6’8″ Eberhardt did them one better — when his turn at the door came, he shouted “Geronimo!” — and a new military tradition was born.
Some of the top military brass weren’t in love with the new tradition, but others thought it evoked the bravery and daring of the Apache chief — the last holdout against American expansion to the West. They let the paratroopers keep the tradition.
Civilians just kinda took it from the paratroopers. And who could blame them, with that kind of pedigree?
It was one of the most dangerous and daring raids of World War II, and it resulted in the most medals of honor bestowed on America’s airmen from any battle in any war.
In the summer of 1943, the U.S. Army Air Force launched the audacious Operation Tidal Wave, an effort to destroy the largest supply of oil production for the German war machine in Ploesti, Romania.
The Ploesti oil fields produced a third of all Axis oil in Europe, so it was a prime target for an Allied attack. But unbeknownst to the Allies, it was also one of its most heavily defended cities in Europe — second only to Berlin.
Flying from Benghazi, Libya, a force of five bomb groups – the 98th and 376th from the Ninth Air Force and the 44th, 93rd, and 389th from the Eighth Air Force – (totaling 177 B-24 Liberator bombers) conducted the raid. The most effective way to strike the targets was to come in at tree-top level and use bombs with delayed fuses to allow planes to clear the area before detonation.
The force would have a series of troubling events before they even reached Ploesti.
In the early morning hours of August 1, 1943, just after the bombers began their mission, an overloaded bomber crashed on take-off and later the lead plane winged over and crashed into the sea.
As the raid approached its target, the 98th Bomb Group fell behind, separating the planes into two groups. Then a navigational error sent the lead group away from Ploesti and toward Bucharest. Realizing their mistake, the 93rd, led by Lt. Col. Addison Baker, turned north toward the refineries. Seeing this, the 376th, led by Col. Keith Compton and mission commander Brig. Gen. Uzal Ent, also turned toward the target but turned away to look for a better entry point when they hit the anti-aircraft defenses.
The overwhelming ground fire soon overwhelmed many of the planes during the attack, and the pilots did everything they could to maintain course and strike their target.
In a final act of heroism, the pilots of a shot up plane tried to gain enough altitude for the crew to bail out but were too late – the plane crashed into the target, killing all on board.
Pilots Lt. Col. Baker and Maj. Jerstad were both awarded the Medal of Honor.
The 376th, unable to find a suitable line to the main refineries, was ordered to bomb targets of opportunity before coming home. One six-plane element breached the defenses and hit its target but was ineffective.
Just as the remnants of the 93rd and 376th were leaving the target, the straggling 98th and 44th, which followed the correct course, arrived with the fifth group, swerving north to hit a separate compound.
Due to the confusion, the first groups over the target hit anything they could. This meant the next two groups approached with their primary targets already in flames. To make matters worse, not all of the planes evacuated the target area, so pilots already dodging smoke and ground fire had to watch out for other bombers too.
Despite the hellacious conditions, Col. John Kane’s 98th Bomb Group and Col. Leon Johnson’s 44th Bomb Group flew on and attacked their targets with precision. For their bravery and leadership, both men were awarded the Medal of Honor.
While the 98th and 44th fought their way through Ploesti, the 389th attacked the Campina facility to the north. Though more lightly defended than the main facility, the bombers still encountered heavy resistance.
Lieutenant Lloyd Herbert Hughes’ plane was hit numerous times in its fuel tanks and streamed fuel as it entered the target area. Motivated by duty and mission, he flew his plane into the inferno to hit his target. His own plane caught fire. Hughes attempted a crash landing but he and five other crew died. The enemy captured the rest. Lt. Hughes received the Medal of Honor for his devotion to duty.
The top turret gunner, Sgt. Zerrill Steen, continued to fire on enemy positions until his ammunition was exhausted. Steen was part of an air crew under Lt. Robert Horton. Horton’s plane was heavily damaged and went down, killing nine of the 10 crew. Sergeant Steen was captured and awarded the Distinguished Service Cross while in captivity.
Of the 89 returning planes, over a third were unfit to fly afterward. Five pilots received the Medal of Honor, three of them posthumously.
The high cost of the mission did not bring about great success. While the refinery at Campina was put out of action for the remainder of the war, the losses in oil production were repaired within weeks.
Due to the losses suffered by the attackers, August 1st came to be known as ‘Black Sunday.’
Jacob Parrott was a U.S. soldier who participated in the legendary Civil War mission popularly known as the Great Locomotive Race. His bravery as a member of the Union crew that stole a Confederate train led to recognition as the nation’s first Medal of Honor recipient.
Prior to the Civil War, the democratic peoples of the United States resisted the very idea of military medals. Americans connected a chest covered in fruit salad with the kind of European traditions the new nation was designed to eliminate.
Give the credit to Lt. Col. Edward D. Townsend for first suggesting a medal of honor to his boss Commanding General of the U.S. Army Winfield Scott in 1861. Scott resisted, but the idea took hold. After Secretary of Navy Gideon Welles supported legislation for a Navy version, the Army got on board with the concept and Congress passed legislation that created the award.
The April 1862 mission, led by civilian spy James Andrews, was designed to cut off Confederate supply lines by destroying rail tracks and telegraph communications along a route between Marietta, Georgia and Chattanooga, Tennessee. Andrews’ raiders boarded a train in Marietta and hijacked it when passengers got off for breakfast at the first stop heading north.Advertisement
If Confederate troops holding Chattanooga could not be resupplied from the South, Union generals believed they could take the city and speed up the South’s defeat, ending the war at least two years before the actual surrender at Appomattox.
Confederate soldiers chased the train. Andrews’ men had to switch trains over the course of the journey and their replacement train ran out of water and fuel before they could complete their mission. The men scattered and Andrews was executed by Confederates for leading the mission. Parrott was captured and flogged before imprisonment. He was later returned to the Union Army in a prisoner exchange.
The story has been told on film before. Disney made “The Great Locomotive Chase,” a 1956 movie starring Fess Parker as James Andrews. Parker was at the height of his Davy Crockett fame. Claude Jarman Jr., best known as Jody in “The Yearling,” played Jacob Parrott in his final movie role before ending his on-screen career to join the U.S. Navy.
The movie tries to appeal to all audiences. The Confederates are honorable men who have a mission and so are the Union spies. Parker even tries to shake hands with his Confederate nemesis William Fuller (played by Jeffrey Hunter) before he goes to the gallows. There are opponents but no one’s really the villain.
Jacob Parrott was one of six Army volunteers who received a medal of honor on March 25, 1863. Because he’d been physically abused in a Confederate prisoner of war camp, Parrott was the first man to receive his medal in recognition of his sacrifice. He was joined that day by Sgt. Elihu H. Mason, Cpl. William Pittinger, Cpl. William H. H. Reddick, Pvt. William Bensinger and Pvt. Robert Buffum.
AUSA will be publishing three more Medal of Honor graphic novels this year, featuring Mitchell Red Cloud Jr., a Native American soldier who sacrificed his life in Korea, Wild Bill Donovan, the WWI hero who later founded the OSS, and Roger Donlon, the first recipient from the Vietnam War and the first Special Forces recipient.
The United States says it is expelling nearly three dozen Russian diplomats as it announced new economic sanctions and other punitive measures in response to alleged Russian hacking during the presidential election.
The moves, announced on December 29 by the White House, had been widely publicized ahead of time, including by President Barack Obama in an interview earlier this month.
But the moves also come less than a month before Obama leaves office and his successor, Donald Trump, assumes the presidency. Trump has repeatedly brushed aside intelligence assessments and White House statements about the alleged Russian hacking, raising the question about whether the new sanctions will remain in place after his inauguration on January 20.
A White House statement said two Russian diplomatic compounds in Maryland and New York, believed to be involved in intelligence gathering, were ordered closed, and 35 Russians, identified as intelligence operatives, were being expelled from the country.
Additionally, nine top officials and entities associated with the Russian military intelligence agency, the GRU, and the main Russian security agency, the FSB, were being hit with new financial and travel sanctions.
“These actions are not the sum total of our response to Russia’s aggressive activities. We will continue to take a variety of actions at a time and place of our choosing, some of which will not be publicized,” Obama said in a statement.
The CIA, the FBI, and the broader U.S. intelligence community have concluded that hackers, likely operating with the authority of the highest levels of the Russian government, broke into Internet servers and e-mail accounts belonging to the U.S. Democratic Party, and other officials during the election campaign.
On December 9, The Washington Post reported that the CIA had determined the intent of the Russia hackers was to help Trump win the presidency, not just to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system.
The New York Times also reported that intelligence officials had concluded Russian hackers accessed Republican Party computers but didn’t release potentially damaging e-mails or other materials.
That led analysts to conclude that the intent of the Russian hacking was to in fact help propel Trump to the White House. He ultimately prevailed in the November 8 election, defeating Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Those conclusions have been repeatedly dismissed by Trump. In a December 11 television interview, he asserted that the CIA conclusions were being used by Democrats to undermine his electoral victory.
But Trump has also faced growing pressure in Congress, including by top Republican lawmakers, who have called for a full inquiry into the extent of Russian hacking.
The Kremlin has repeatedly denied it was behind any hack of the Democratic Party or U.S. electoral systems, though President Vladimir Putin has also made cryptic comments suggesting possible involvement of Kremlin officials.
Get a group of people off the street, throw them in some cammies, make them do a ton of pushups, put TV cameras in front of them and see if they have what it takes to become Delta Team 6 Air Commandos.
Does anyone ever win those?
But the HISTORY network is trying it again, and this time they may just have gotten it right.
With a roster of no-joke pipe hitters serving as instructors, it’s as if HISTORY took BUD/S, Ranger School, Special Forces Qualification and SERE school, baked them in a cake and fed it to 30 wannabes with extreme prejudice.
That, combined with the fact that the show dubbed “The Selection: Special Operations Experiment” is backed by Peter Berg — the dude who directed “Lone Survivor” — and how can you go wrong?
“Throughout the history of our nation, Special Operations training tactics has played an integral part in our military endeavors and this series gives viewers a rare glimpse into what it takes to be selected among the elite,” said Paul Cabana, Executive Vice President and Head of Programming for HISTORY. “‘The Selection’ will offer civilians the unique opportunity to take part in an immersive, authentic course instructed by different branches leading together, while giving viewers insight into the origins of these challenges.”
With the instructors challenging them both mentally and physically, including tear gas, interrogation simulation, and psychological warfare among other tests, the participants are driven to the point of breaking and are able to remove themselves from the program at any stage. This is not a competition series – no cash rewards – only a test against oneself to see if the mind has the will and strength to push the body to complete the challenges.
“The Selection” will run for eight episodes and premieres December 8. Check out the trailer below and see full episodes on the HISTORY website.
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:
The Thunderbirds Delta formation flies by One World Trade Center during a photo chase mission in New York City May 22, 2015.
Capt. Nicholas Eberling, a solo pilot for the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds Air Demonstration Squadron, maneuvers his F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft to close in on the refueling boom of a KC-135 Stratotanker from McConnell Air Force Base, Kan.
The USS Constitution (America’s oldest warship) may be in drydock for the next few years, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still “virtually” tour her on Google Maps.
An F/A-18E Super Hornet assigned to the Sunliners of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 81 launches from the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) during an air-power demonstration.
Four containerized delivery system bundles parachute from an United States Air Force C-130 Hercules during a joint humanitarian assistance and disaster relief training mission, in Kosovo.
USS WASP, At sea – Two F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters complete vertical landings aboard the USS Wasp during the opening day of the first session of operational testing.
Louisburg, N.C – U.S. Marines assigned to Force Reconnaissance Platoon, Maritime Raid Force, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit , conduct a high altitude low opening jump during category 3 sustainment training in Louisburg, N.C.
On Sept. 6, 2005, Air Force Pararescueman Master Sgt. Mike Maroney plucked 3-year-old LaShay Brown out of flood-ravaged New Orleans during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
And for a decade after that, they lost touch.
At the time of the rescue, Maroney had spent six days on missions, and was battling post-traumatic stress disorder.
“When we were going to drop [Brown] off she wrapped me in a hug…that hug was everything. Time stopped,” Maroney said in a 2015 Air Force release. “Words fail to express what that hug means to me.”
The hug was captured in an iconic photo by Veronica Pierce, an airman first class at the time. Maroney didn’t know who Brown was, or how she’d fared.
The PJ went on to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan, keeping the photo to inspire him during tough moments. But according to a 2015 Air Force release, he always wondered what happened to the girl, especially around the anniversary of the rescue.
In 2015, they were reunited after 10 years on an episode of “The Real.” Since then, they’ve have stayed in touch.
Two years later, LaShay, now a Junior ROTC cadet, invited Maroney to her school’s JROTC ball. And Maroney accepted.
“I’m going because I would do anything to repay the hug to LaShay and her family. They mean as much to me as my own,” Maroney told People.com.
LaShay has intentions of joining the military but hasn’t decided which branch she will choose, a decision Maroney supports.
“I am proud of her no matter what she does and will support her in everything she does,” he told People. “I think she understands service and I believe that she will do great things no matter what she chooses.”
Christopher Brown squats among knee-high rows of green garlic. He grasps a stalk at its base and tugs it from the ground with a satisfying crunch. After popping several plants from the soil, he peels back their papery protective layers, revealing bulbs that are a brilliant, glossy white.
Six months ago, much of this Skagit Valley farmland was a mucky soup of tangled grass, mud and standing water under stormy skies. Today, it’s a pleasant 70 degrees. Rows of produce, from garlic and sugar snap peas to kale and broccoli, spring from the valley’s soft loam.
A three-time Marine combat veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, Brown struggled to adjust when he returned to the U.S. So, too, did many of the men and women who are now harvesting produce alongside him — military veterans from all branches, of all ages.
Welcome to Growing Veterans, the thriving nonprofit that has transformed the life of Brown, its president and co-founder, and the lives of many of its workers and volunteers.
Together, they use sustainable practices to plant, grow and harvest a rich variety of produce for sale at farmers markets and donation to food banks. It is satisfying work, but there’s a deeper mission at stake: helping veterans reconnect — to each other, and to the communities they serve. And, in the process, tackling the pervasive isolation that underlies many of the issues they face.
In the morning, they park their cars in the gravel driveway of a former dairy farm. They greet each other with hugs. As they work, they share stories — funny stories, sad stories, terrifying stories — from their time in the service. They talk politics. Medications. Family. Civilian life.
Brown has a story of his own. In 2008, he returned from his final tour of duty. “There was a lot of guilt, grief, anger, frustration and anxiety,” he says. He also had to cope with a mild traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
His struggles were not unique. Along with PTSD, many returning veterans face depression. Substance abuse. Unemployment. Homelessness. And suicidal thoughts.
There was a lot of guilt, grief, anger, frustration, and anxiety
Brown’s Marine battalion, the 2/7, has a suicide rate four times that of all young male veterans. At least 15 men from the battalion have taken their own lives since he left the military.
“When I went back to get my undergraduate degree,” he says, “I made a commitment to myself that I would pursue an education and a career where those losses would not be in vain.”
Brown also began working on his own mental health. He spent over two years in group and individual counseling, processing his traumas and learning coping strategies. Following the advice of his counselor, he started growing plants as a way to reconnect with life.
Soon, he was harvesting food from his own garden for dinner, and he was feeling better and better. “I realized that there really is something to working with food and growing plants,” he says.
And then, just before he turned his thoughts to graduate school at the University of Washington, he says, it clicked: Why not combine food and sustainable agriculture with helping veterans?
For the past four years, he has done just that. Along with counselor-turned-farmer Christina Wolf, who serves as operations manager, Brown co-founded Growing Veterans on a 3.5-acre site north of Bellingham. The organization has since leased its expansive Skagit Valley location and a half-acre spot in Auburn, and continued to deepen its connections with regional farm agencies, veteran service providers and nonprofits.
Brown, who just completed his master’s in social work at the UW, and Wolf have also deepened their organization’s focus on mental health. Each of Growing Veterans’ nine employees has completed a peer-support training program designed to tackle veteran isolation and prevent suicide.
And beyond providing life-sustaining social support at its farms, Growing Veterans helps people connect with as many meaningful opportunities as possible: through other local and national veteran organizations, business and community networking, and educational projects.
There’s plenty of excitement cropping up for Growing Veterans. More community partners. More acreage planted. More people receiving healthy, sustainably grown produce. More veterans beginning the journey to healing.
But there’s also tremendous power in the present: The warmth of the sun. The fertile soil that gently gives way under each step. And the rhythm with which dirt-covered, callused hands pick and peel bunches of garlic, set them aside, and then begin anew.
When Growing Veterans was just getting off its feet, Christopher Brown embarked upon another journey: He took on a master’s degree in social work at the University of Washington.
Now a newly minted graduate, Brown recently transitioned from executive director of Growing Veterans to president of the board of directors — freeing up time to launch his career as a PTSD counselor for veterans.
His professors supported him as he focused many of his research projects on furthering the mission of Growing Veterans. And, though his concentration was in integrative health and mental health practice, Brown also learned about leadership and community building.
“Many of my professors also ran their own foundations and brought their worldly experience to the classroom,” he says. “They helped challenge and refine not only my understanding of how to work with others, but my view of the world, too.”
For more on Growing Veterans visit their website here.