British Army recruiters have embraced 360-degree videos, where the viewer can decide what direction they want to look at any given moment, and are using them to let potential recruits see different army jobs.
“Army Urban Ops” follows a squad as the men clear a series of buildings. It is the most watched of the 360-degree videos despite the big yellow blank adapters.
The tanker video is also great. The default view is down the gun as a Challenger II Tank races through the countryside, but swipe your finger on your phone or click and drag with your mouse to look left and see another tank firing its cannon and machine guns.
The airborne version puts the viewer into the middle of a paratrooper drop and a mountaineering one allows them to climb along a narrow ridge with soldiers.
Can you believe it is that time of year again? Tax season is here and it is usually the last thing you want to deal with, especially if your spouse is deployed. Deployment comes with stressors of its own; don’t let your taxes be one of them. As military families, we know that we often face special circumstances with our taxes. If you don’t know where to start, and are in need of some guidance, here are 4 things you should consider before filing your taxes.
1. Work with Your Legal Office
Did you forget to get a special power of attorney in order to file your taxes? Don’t worry! Your base legal office can help. They provide not only services to prepare a special power of attorney, but many other tax services as well. First thing you will need to do is find your legal office on a nearby military installation. Using the Armed Forces Legal Assistance website, enter your zip code and the distance you are willing to travel, you will find the locations of the nearest legal offices near you.
You will want to call ahead to ensure, however most of these services are available at legal assistance offices:
Wills, testamentary trusts, and estate planning
Domestic relations, including divorce, legal separation, annulment, custody, and paternity
Adoption and name changes
Taxes, including basic advice and assistance on Federal, State, and local taxes — see below for more details on this!
Landlord-tenant relations, including review of personal leases and communication and correspondence
Servicemembers Civil Relief Act advice and assistance
So once you find your office, give them a call and schedule an appointment. Also, don’t forget to ask them what documents to bring with you; you wouldn’t want to make a wasted trip!
2. If You Need Help Filing Your Taxes Get It
If you need help getting your taxes filed, your legal office has a Voluntary Income Tax Assistance program (VITA) that can help. Make sure to call and check with your legal center to see if this service is available at your installation. The VITA will help you file your taxes free of charge, but you will want to make sure to go as early in the day as possible in order to avoid long lines. If you have decided to go to a private tax preparer, make sure they are familiar filing returns for service members and their dependents. Or you can always file your taxes yourself for free using the Military One Source website. I personally have been using this service for years and it works great for me and my family’s needs.
3. Get The Other Things You Need
Whether you have decided to file with a professional, or do them yourself at home, there are still quite a few things you will need to ensure you have before you get started. A tax professional will let you know what to bring, but be sure to keep the following at hand and ready when filing:
• Military ID
• All W-2 and 1099 forms
• Social Security cards for all family members
• Deductions and credit information
• Bank account and routing numbers
• Receipts for child care expenses
• Last year’s tax return
• Special power of attorney authorizing you to do business on behalf of the deployed service member. If you don’t have this, call that legal office!
4. Give Yourself Plenty of Time
Lastly, but perhaps the most important thing to remember, ensure you give yourself enough time. Federal income taxes need to be filed no later than April 15, 2016, unless you qualify for an extension such as the Combat zone and hazardous duty extensions. If you or your spouse are serving in a combat zone or are receiving hostile fire or imminent danger pay, the deadline for filing income taxes is 180 days after your last day in the combat zone or hazardous duty area. The IRS has a list available of the combat zones. So make sure you have everything you need and make those appointments in time.
This time, we will go to the plane that everyone in the Air Force loves…and yet, it keeps ending up on the chopping block. That’s right, it’s time for us to discuss the Fairchild-Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II.
Why it is easy to make fun of the A-10
Let’s see, it’s slow. It doesn’t fly high, if anything, the plane is best flying very low.
As any of its pilots will tell you, it’s ugly — but well hung. (U.S. Air Force photo)
It’s not going to win any airplane beauty pageants any time soon due to being quite aesthetically-challenged. Also, when it was first designed, it was a daylight-only plane with none of the sensors to drop precision-guided weapons.
Why you should hate the A-10
Because it has this cult following that seems to think it can do just about anything and take out any one. Because its pilots think the GAU-8 cannon in the nose is all that — never mind that a number of other planes took bigger guns into the fight — including 75mm guns.
“Worry about the dollars and the pennies take care of themselves.” — anonymous
It’s worthwhile to keep that adage above in mind when you are being pitched to buy a franchise business.
One of the most costly mistakes veterans can make is paying too much upfront for a franchise that you can’t sell for the same price the next day. It’s the venture equivalent of buying a used Chevy for the price of new BMW.
I hate it when I receive letters from veterans who “want out” of a franchise they just bought. They feel snookered, trapped, and annoyed at themselves for not looking at the details before signing on the dotted line.
The best way to avoid buyer’s remorse is to become a smart shopper of franchise opportunities. Here are five tips to help you assess if you are more likely to make money or lose money in the franchise world.
1. Set higher standards
If your objective is to merely “go into business for yourself” or “own a franchise” then your aspirations are not high enough to be a successful business owner. After all, you will achieve your goal of business ownership the day you sign the franchise contract! Then what?
A more purposeful objective is to own a franchise that will make money for you. When you set high standards for your financial return on your invested time and savings your tire-kicking “due diligence” questions become more precise and purposeful.
2. Understand sales rep motivations
When you start to explore different franchise opportunities, you will come in contact with franchisor representatives and business brokers who have just one purpose—to sell you a franchise as fast as possible. These individuals are not your trusted friends or unbiased financial advisors. Certainly don’t sign any franchise agreement without prior review from an experienced corporate attorney who understands franchise valuations and royalty obligations.
3. Add up cost of acquisition
Sneaky franchise brokers are adept at hiding the true investment cost of a franchise purchase. If you sign up to buy a franchise, your cost of acquisition is more than the down payment. Include the amount you have to borrow to acquire the franchise plus other savings you may have to apply to the business until it achieves at least cash flow breakeven. (when net sales revenues exceed expenses every month) This is the total amount you will have at risk in your new business. How comfortable are you with this amount? What would happen if you lost it all?
4. Evaluate owner’s compensation
Another trick of franchise sales reps is to present impressive financial projections of average franchise unit performance. Look closely at these projections. Do they include a budget allocation for the owner’s salary, healthcare, adequate insurance and other real world expenses associated with running a business? If there is no allocation for an owner’s salary and benefits and you intend to work full time in the business, beware!
Remember, year-end profits should be your financial return on your invested capital, not your sole source of compensation for working 40 to 70 hours a week to keep the franchise alive! Of course, the business could fail to generate a profit too which means you as the founder earns nothing for a lot of work.
5. Understand market value
Buy low, then sell high. If you pay $25,000, $50,000, or $100,000 to buy into a franchise, then you should find evidence that other franchises can be sold at least for that much or more. Unfortunately, the opposite is often true.
Research the market for this brand of franchise. What are the average resale purchase prices in your state? Who buys up franchises when the owner wants out? Does the corporate office buy back franchises? What does the franchise agreement call for? Frequently, one regional franchise operator buys distressed properties at deep discounts.
Given all the risks associated with owning a business and personal obligation to repay debt, you should walk away from any franchise that cannot eventually be sold for at least two times your invested capital.
Unfortunately, I get too many letters from franchise buyers who are desperate to get out of a money-losing franchise. They realize they overpaid for a franchise usually within a year of purchase. They didn’t pay attention to the quantitative issues where they could lose hard cash because the sales reps kept their attention on how great it will be to at last be the boss of a money making business. At the end of the day, they didn’t make any money and didn’t have any fun as a business owner.
Now you know better.
Susan Schreter is a devoted Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program workshop presenter and founder of Start on Purpose, a service organization that empowers business owners anywhere in America to find and manage business funding with confidence. Connect with her at Susan@StartonPurpose.
The simple yellow flag, a coiled rattlesnake, and those four famous words have been emblazoned on everything from license plates to soccer jerseys, a Metallica song to a U.S. Army Drill Sergeant Badge, waved by classic Libertarians, Tea Party Republicans, and everyone in between.
For many, the Gadsden flag embodies the spirit of America and our willingness to fight for what we believe in.
Now, looking at the flag as a meme requires a strict interpretation of the first definition and a loose one for the second. Merriam-Webster describes it as “an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture.” Everything about the flag screams Americana. Its rebellious spirit has been carried with it since its inception and has many variations holding onto that spirit.
As for the definition of “an amusing or interesting item (such as a captioned picture or video) or genre of items that is spread widely online especially through social media.” That came after the internet became a thing.
Benjamin Franklin is often cited as starting the joke in the Pennsylvania Gazette in 1751. At the time, the Brits didn’t have Australia as a colony, so they sent their convicts to America. Franklin suggested that Americans repay the UK by sending them rattlesnakes.
He found the snake fitting. Unlike the current idiom of “snakes in the grass,” in pre-revolution America being called that was an honor — a symbol for the underdog. Something that, if stepped on, would strike back hard.
Fun fact: Franklin supported the symbol of the rattlesnake and never mentioned turkeys on the Great Seal until much later.
The rattlesnake stuck with Franklin and the Gazette years later when he created the “Join, or Die.” cartoon. It showed the rattlesnake cut into eight parts for the eight regions of the colonies. Bear in mind, New England is one segment, Delaware is considered part of Pennsylvania, and well, sorry Georgia. Historians think it’s because they were just frontier land and didn’t count back then.
The Boston Gazette printer, Samuel Kneeland, recreated it with the phrase “Unite and Conquer” coming from the snake’s mouth. In 1774, Paul Revere modified it into the masthead of Thomas’ Boston Journal. Already we’re seeing adaptations on what Richard Dawkins describes as memetics, or the cultural evolution that determines cultural relevance and success.
The cartoon would appear all across the colonies. Uniforms, newspapers, and Georgia put the whole “not being mentioned on the most iconic revolutionary era cartoon” aside and put it on their $20 bill.
For the traditional Gadsden flag that we all know of today, an anonymous writer to the Pennsylvania Journal by the name of “An American Guesser” penned the need for the flag.
“I observed on one of the drums belonging to the Marines now raising, there was painted a Rattle-Snake, with this modest motto under it, ‘Don’t tread on me.’ As I know it is the custom to have some device on the arms of every country, I supposed this may have been intended for the arms of America.”
The anonymous writer, who many historians believe was still Franklin, continues, “She never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders: She is therefore an emblem of magnanimity and true courage. … She never wounds ’till she has generously given notice, even to her enemy, and cautioned him against the danger of treading on her.”
Colonel Christopher Gadsden designed the flag and hoisted it as the personal symbol for his Marines and his flagship. Since then, the flag has been hoisted by Marines, American revolutionaries, and patriots across the nation.
The seven-month odyssey of a “blue-green” flotilla that saw combat in Yemen and Syria and conducted training exercises across a large swath of the globe demonstrates the enduring importance of the Navy-Marine Corps team overseas, commanders of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit said May 24.
Departing San Diego on Oct. 14, the 11th MEU and the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group reportedly supported a Jan. 29 raid in Yemen in which a Navy SEAL — Chief Petty Officer William “Ryan” Owens — was killed. They also brought artillery and infantry troops to Kuwait for later duty, providing firepower to Kurdish partners besieging Raqqa, the Syrian city that doubles as the capital for the terrorist Islamic State.
The howitzers manned by the Marines conducted more than 400 fire-support missions in Syria, firing more than 4,500 shells at ISIS targets, according to the 11th MEU.
“It was the right Marine air-ground task force to provide supportability, mobility, and lethality,” 11th MEU spokesman Maj. Craig Thomas said during a news conference May 24 at Camp Pendleton. “The Marines supported local Syrians who are fighting to rid ISIS from their country.”
Citing the classified nature of the Yemen operations, Thomas said he couldn’t comment on that raid.
His report card for the MEU comes during a series of debates not only about America’s policies toward Yemen and Syria but also grumbling concerns about the future of Marine expeditionary units.
Experts continue to fret about how Marine battalions will conduct their amphibious missions in an age of super-fast and precise, long-range anti-ship-air missiles, plus Pentagon budget woes that appear to prioritize submarines and destroyers over amphibious assault ships like the Makin Island.
That flagship vessel returned to San Diego on May 15. It and the fellow amphibious assault ships Somerset and Comstock combined to carry more than 4,500 sailors and Marines, spending three months in the Pacific Ocean and four months in the waters off the Middle East and Africa.
Beyond the combat operations in Syria, the group held exercises in Hawaii, Guam, Papua New Guinea, Malaysia, Djibouti, Oman, and the Persian Gulf. Marines also stood ready to evacuate the embassy in the South Sudanese capital of Juba during hostilities there — the sort of mission that makes an amphibious ready group and Marine expeditionary unit “the 9-1-1 organization from the sea,” 11th MEU commander Col. Clay Tipton said.
Retired Marine Col. Mark Cancian — a senior adviser with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a nonpartisan think tank based in Washington, D.C. — echoed Tipton’s perspective that the MEU remains a lasting example of flexible armed response from the sea.
“What makes a Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force so valuable is the ability of the Marines to mix and match capabilities,” Cancian said. “That’s what they’re doing and that’s what they should be doing.”
And that’s particularly important for Syria because how the Marines were used dovetails with President Donald Trump’s foreign policy goals — defeat the Islamic State without putting too many boots on the ground, he added.
“The thing that the Marine Corps can provide that’s really needed is fire power for allies like the Kurds or Iraqis — artillery, mortars, aircraft,” Cancian said. “So far, Trump’s policy has been adamant about not using infantry, except in a limited role to protect artillery and other units that are on the ground to add firepower for allies.”
If the mission in Syria grows, Cancian could envision Marine and Navy logistical heft toting more supplies to Kurdish militias or the Free Syrian Army, perhaps even occupying an airfield and using it as a forward operating base. The Corps also could deploy more artillery observers and so called “Joint Terminal Attack Controllers” who call in airstrikes, but Cancian doubts the White House would land a large number of “boots on the ground.”
Potential rivals at sea such as Russia, China, and Iran increasingly field anti-ship and surface-to-air missiles that can be fired from hundreds of miles away. Large amphibs, their hovercraft and lumbering armored troop carriers that take hours to wade ashore and unload, would be punished by precision missiles, experts contend.
The Makin Island is one of the world’s largest amphibs. But it’s also considered a transitional vessel, with similar but superior high-tech “Big Deck Amphibs” like the San Diego-based America poised to share space in the piers.
“The answer, to me, is that we had better prepare to fight for command of the sea,” said James Holmes, a professor of strategy at the U.S. Naval War College and a former Navy surface warfare officer who is widely considered one of the world’s top experts on maritime battle. “As the greats of sea power tell us, you have to be able to win command of the sea if you want to use the sea to do things like conduct amphibious landings.
“So we need to be ready to do these things, but chances are there will be delays while we fight our way into the theater, reduce shore-based missile batteries and on and on. Sea power is no longer just about navies,” he added.
Holmes believes the Marines might fret about the future of the amphibious fleet because ongoing studies have called for converting some assault ships into light aircraft carriers and replacing them with other vessels when they’re retired, but the Navy must strike the right balance.
“As far as priorities, certainly the types of ships we need to defeat our enemies and take command of the sea must take precedence,” he said, adding that it’s “a lot easier to improvise a fleet of amphibious transports than it would to improvise destroyers or nuclear-powered attack submarines.”
Holmes said Marines could be called to seize islands, much as they did in World War II. Cancian added that the Corps also might return to traditional missions like coastal artillery batteries, working alongside the Army and other services to to defend anti-ship missile batteries on the islands and shoals peppering the Pacific Ocean.
That concept is still a work in progress.
“The bottom line is that there’s no answer about the ultimate future of the ships and the marine expeditionary units, but we do know that in peacetime they’re very useful,” Cancian said. “You’re seeing in the Middle East just how useful they are.”
FORT ASHBY, W.Va. — It can be a challenge to reintegrate from the military into civilian life, especially if you’ve lost a limb and your former toe is now your thumb, Mike Trost said.
And he would know.
Trost, 53, of Maryville, Tennessee, served in the U.S. Army for 32 years until he suffered serious injuries in 2012.
“I was shot with a machine gun in southeastern Afghanistan,” he said of being hit in both legs, buttocks and his right hand.
Trost lost a leg and fingers, but via modern medical technology, he gained a toe for a thumb.
While he talks casually about his hand and refers to his new thumb as “Toemos,” Trost knows all too well recovery can be a physically and emotionally painful, long journey.
“It’s good to be around like company,” Trost said of spending time with veterans who sustained traumatic experiences during their time in the military. “There’s a bond. It’s different than you have with regular friends.”
Trost on Friday was in Fort Ashby for a turkey hunt that’s part of Operation Heroes Support — a local veteran-operated, nonprofit that provides outdoor experiences for disabled veterans, firefighters, police officers and first responders.
“The whole thing with the hunts is just to make you feel, even for one day, that there’s … nothing wrong with you,” he said. “And the people here are fantastic. They give a lot of time and energy.”
Trost and several other veterans from Wednesday through Sunday were at the residence of Bruce Myers and his wife Judy, located in rural West Virginia.
In addition to hunting, the group fished in a lake owned by Dave and Joyce Cooper — neighbors of the Myers couple. Skeet shooting was also on the agenda.
The Myers’s hosted a similar event last year and hope to continue the tradition.
“The veterans, they deserve it … they sacrificed,” Bruce Myers said of the former military members who were injured during their service to country.
Steven Curry, 33, of Nokesville, Virginia, was new to this year’s Fort Ashby hunt and killed his first two turkeys — a 19-pounder on Thursday and a bird that weighed over 20 pounds on Friday.
“It’s pretty exciting,” he said of his hunting success. “We were only in the woods about 20 minutes when I shot the first turkey.”
Curry was in a U.S. Army infantry unit from 2003 to 2008. During his service, he was hit by an improvised explosive device while in Iraq.
As a result, his left leg was amputated below his knee, he had a mild brain injury and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Brandon Rethmel, 30, of Pittsburgh, brought his wife and three young children to the event.
Rethmel was in the U.S. Army from 2006 to 2012. During that time, he was injured by a rocket in Afghanistan.
“I lost my leg below the knee,” he said. His right tricep was also destroyed and he suffered other shrapnel wounds.
“When I got out (of the military) I didn’t connect with people,” he said. “I isolated myself … It was really hard.”
Rethmel said Operation Heroes Support and events including the hunt, as well as support from his family, helped him reclaim his purpose.
“It’s saved my life,” he said. “It’s just really a great program and I hope more (veterans) get involved.”
Greg Hulver, 49, of Kirby, West Virginia, specialized in communications for the U.S. Navy from about 1985 to 1997. Today, he suffers from back injuries and other ailments including PTSD. The hunting events offer him a way to give and receive help, he said
“My military bond is what I have with these guys and that means the most to me,” he said. “There’s just something between us you can’t replace and you can’t get it anywhere else.”
Brady Jackson, 32, of Bristol, Virginia, returned to the event this year to help other veterans.
“I’d never gotten a chance to turkey hunt,” he said of his first experience at the Fort Ashby event last year. “I just had an absolutely amazing time.”
He started volunteering to help get donations for Operation Heroes Support in the fall.
“It’s honestly changed my life,” Jackson said of working with other veterans. “It’s given me a sense of purpose since I got out of the military.”
Jackson was in the U.S. Army for nine years. He was deployed to Iraq where he sustained minor blast trauma, burns and cuts from an explosion. While he knows he was lucky to survive that incident without serious injuries, he needed to spend time with others who understood his experiences.
That’s where Operation Heroes Support came in, he said.
“It’s more about campfire therapy than it is about hunting,” he said. “It’s about building relationships.”
Charles Harris, 26, a native of Placerville, California who now lives in Romney, West Virginia, lost his legs after being injured in 2012 while in a U.S. Army infantry unit.
Today, Harris is the president of the local Operation Heroes Support organization.
“It’s given me the ability to give back,” he said of his work with the group. “It’s like we’re back in the military (because) you can count on these guys … It’s like family.”
Harris said the group hopes to grow, include more public servants such as firefighters and police as well as military veterans. To make that happen, donations of cash, meals, airline tickets and other items and services are needed.
During his 20 years as a SEAL, Willink writes that he realized that, “Just as discipline and freedom are opposing forces that must be balanced, leadership requires finding the equilibrium in the dichotomy of many seemingly contradictory qualities between one extreme and another.” By being aware of these seeming contradictions, a leader can “more easily balance the opposing forces and lead with maximum effectiveness.”
Here are the 12 main dichotomies of leadership Willink identifies as traits every effective leader should have.
‘A leader must lead but also be ready to follow.’
Willink says a common misconception the public has about the military is that subordinates mindlessly follow every order they’re given. In certain situations, subordinates may have access to information their superiors don’t, or have an insight that would result in a more effective plan than the one their boss proposed.
“Good leaders must welcome this, putting aside ego and personal agendas to ensure that the team has the greatest chance of accomplishing its strategic goals,” Willink writes.
‘A leader must be aggressive but not overbearing.’
As a SEAL officer, Willink needed to be aggressive (“Some may even accuse me of hyperagression,” he says) but he differentiated being a powerful presence to his SEAL team from being an intimidating figure.
He writes that, “I did my utmost to ensure that everyone below me in the chain of command felt comfortable approaching me with concerns, ideas, thoughts, and even disagreements.”
“That being said,” he adds, “my subordinates also knew that if they wanted to complain about the hard work and relentless push to accomplish the mission I expected of them, they best take those thoughts elsewhere.”
‘A leader must be calm but not robotic.’
Willink says that while leaders who lose their tempers lose respect, they also can’t establish a relationship with their team if they never expression anger, sadness, or frustration.
“People do not follow robots,” he writes.
‘A leader must be confident but never cocky.’
Leaders should behave with confidence and instill it in their team members.
“But when it goes too far, overconfidence causes complacency and arrogance, which ultimately set the team up for failure,” Willink writes.
‘A leader must be brave but not foolhardy.’
Whoever’s in charge can’t waste time excessively contemplating a scenario without making a decision. But when it’s time to make that decision, all risk must be as mitigated as possible.
Willink and Babin both write about situations in Ramadi in which delaying an attack until every detail about a target was clarified, even when it frustrated other units they were working with, resulted in avoiding tragic friendly fire.
‘A leader must have a competitive spirit but also be a gracious loser.’
“They must drive competition and push themselves and their teams to perform at the highest level,” Willink writes. “But they must never put their own drive for personal success ahead of overall mission success for the greater team.”
This means that when something does not go according to plan, leaders must set aside their egos and take ownership of the failure before moving forward.
‘A leader must be attentive to details but not obsessed with them.’
The most effective leaders learn how to quickly determine which of their team’s tasks need to be monitored in order for them to progress smoothly, “but cannot get sucked into the details and lose track of the bigger picture,” Willink writes.
‘A leader must be strong but likewise have endurance, not only physically but mentally.’
Leaders need to push themselves and their teams while also recognizing their limits, in order to achieve a suitable pace and avoid burnout.
‘A leader must be humble but not passive; quiet but not silent.’
The best leaders keep their egos in check and their minds open to others, and admit when they’re wrong.
“But a leader must be able to speak up when it matters,” Willink writes. “They must be able to stand up for the team and respectfully push back against a decision, order, or direction that could negatively impact overall mission success.”
‘A leader must be close with subordinates but not too close.’
“The best leaders understand the motivations of their team members and know their people — their lives and their families,” Willink writes. “But a leader must never grow so close to subordinates that one member of the team becomes more important than another, or more important than the mission itself.”
“Leaders must never get so close that the team forgets who is in charge.”
‘A leader must exercise Extreme Ownership. Simultaneously, that leader must employ Decentralized Command.’
“Extreme Ownership” is the fundamental concept of Willink and Babin’s leadership philosophy. It means that for any team or organization, “all responsibility for success and failure rests with the leader,” Willink writes. Even when leaders are not directly responsible for all outcomes, it was their method of communication and guidance, or lack thereof, that led to the results.
That doesn’t mean, however, that leaders should micromanage. It’s why the concept of decentralized command that Willink and Babin used in the battlefield, in which they trusted that their junior officers were able to handle certain tasks without being monitored, translates so well to the business world.
‘A leader has nothing to prove but everything to prove.’
“Since the team understands that the leader is de facto in charge, in that respect, a leader has nothing to prove,” Willink writes. “But in another respect, a leader has everything to prove: Every member of the team must develop the trust and confidence that their leader will exercise good judgment, remain calm, and make the right decisions when it matters most.”
And the only way that can be achieved is through leading by example every day.
When Alonso Flores started a serious cycling routine about two years ago, he was totally on his own. Rousting himself out of bed at 0-dark-thirty to get into his gear and hit the road was a chore. And try telling your young family that you’re dragging at the end of the day because you got up to ride a bike at 4 in the morning.
It wasn’t easy.
But during a family cycling event sponsored by his home town of Yuma, Arizona, Flores met some riders that would change his life — and give him a sense a purpose he hadn’t had riding on his own.
“Now I feel like I’m part of something bigger than myself,” Flores said.
It was during that get together that Flores bumped into two other riders who were part of the veteran outreach group Team Red, White Blue, a national non-profit whose mission is to enrich the lives of America’s veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity.
Team RWB is focused on bridging the civilian-military divide through a shared interest in physical activity like running, hiking, CrossFit workouts, and yoga classes, along with participating in social and service-oriented events. And that’s how Flores, a 41-year-old heavy machine repair technician and civilian, got involved.
Spread across 199 chapters all over the world, the 110,000-member veteran’s group established in 2010 is geared toward creating a place for former servicemembers to meet and do a little PT — and invite their friends and family along to join them.
So Flores teamed up with his newly-minted cycling friends at Team RWB and started biking with them three times per week — waking at 4 AM, meeting at a coffee shop, riding 20 or so miles and chilling over a hot cup of mocha when the ride is done.
“Team RWB brings great teamwork. Before I met them I was riding by myself 20 miles a day,” Flores said. “Now I’m doing the same thing, but I feel like I have a purpose.”
For the third year in a row, Team RWB has sponsored its so-called “Old Glory Relay” — a cross country run-and-bike relay carrying an American flag from Seattle, Washington, to Tampa, Florida. Organizers say it’s intended to connect the Team RWB chapters and its veterans and friends with the communities they live in.
So when Team RWB was coming through Yuma for this year’s Old Glory Relay, Flores jumped at the chance to help. He and a couple other teammates helped carry the flag on the non-running parts of the trip between Yuma and Gilabend, Arizona — over 100 miles — in one day.
And while Flores didn’t carry the flag the entire 116 miles of his relay leg, the 47 miles he rode with the Stars and Stripes on his bike gave him a lasting impression of the country he’s come to love and those who’ve served to keep him free.
“I came here from Mexico when I was 11 years,” Flores said. “People always ask me if I miss Mexico and I tell them that I don’t know any other country than this one. And carrying the flag in the Old Glory Relay put an exclamation point on that.”
In fact, Team RWB has become a big part of Flores family’s life as well. He’s started bringing his 10-year-old daughter and wife along on Wednesday evening fun runs where other kids and parents do a little PT and come together later for dinner and companionship. And even though Flores didn’t have any military experience, that hasn’t stopped his new vet friends from counting him as one of their own.
“It’s just a great organization. I see that Team RWB shirt and I know what it’s all about,” Flores said. “Even if I don’t know the person, I know what Team RWB means and that I’m part of something bigger.”
Many have acknowledged that this has been one of the fastest-moving presidencies in recent memory, as President Donald Trump made moves on many of his campaign promises this week. From international relations, to military administration nominations and exploring ways to shake up long-held views on how things are done, Trump made the most of his first seven days.
1. He will defer to defense secretary and CIA director on torture
Despite firmly believing that interrogation tactics—such as waterboarding, which has been banned in the U.S.—work, he will follow the lead of new Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who has said in the past he does not find the practice of torture to be effective.
2. He values a stronger military over a balanced budget
During the campaign, Trump talked repeatedly about the need for a balanced budget, while also advocating for a stronger military. This week, he acknowledged it might not be possible to achieve both at the same time. In an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, Trump said, “Our military is more important to me than a balanced budget. Because we’ll get there with a balanced budget.”
3. His federal hiring freeze could heavily impact veterans
During his first week, Trump instituted a federal hiring freeze, similar to the ones both former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush implemented during their terms. Many veteran groups rushed to point out the move would have a ripple effect for veterans separating from military life and looking to gain employment at a government position, as well as for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
4. He announced his choices for the USAF and Navy secretary positions
With many positions in his administration left to fill, Trump announced his picks for two of the military secretary positions—both veterans themselves. Former congresswoman and U.S. Air Force Academy graduate Heather Wilson will seek confirmation for the Secretary of the Air Force position, while Army Reserves veteran and career businessman Philip Bilden was nominated to be the Navy secretary.
5. His choice to lead the White House budget office has opposed military increases in the past
Republican Mick Mulvaney took heat from Sen. John McCain during his hearing in front of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. McCain pointed out Mulvaney’s past votes in favor of withdrawing the troops from Afghanistan and against military funding increase. “It’s clear from your record you’ve been an impediment to that,” McCain said during the hearing, referencing Mulvaney’s support of the military.
6. He has plans to establish refugee camps in Syria
As mentioned during his campaign, Trump announced this week wanting to explore setting up ‘safe zones’ in Syria to house refugees, as an alternative to accepting them into the country, which he plans to ban. The safe zones would require an increase in military presence on the ground in Syria, something former President Barack Obama tried to avoid during his time in office.
7. He plans to double down on China in South China Sea
During Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s comments during his confirmation he said, “We’re going to have to send China a clear signal that, first, the island-building stops and, second, your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed.” The China state media responded by saying the U.S. would need to “wage war” to prevent them from the islands in the South China Sea.
A senior Air Force commander revealed that airmen flying drones over ISIS-controlled areas in Syria and Iraq are directing close air support strikes supporting allied troops on the ground using unmanned aircraft.
Flying primarily out of Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, the pilots use pairs of MQ-9 Reaper drones where one designates the targets and the other drops ordnance on it, said Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle, the head of Air Combat Command — a mission he calls “urban CAS.”
“What we’re finding is some of what we can do multi-ship with the MQ-9 is really paying dividends just because of the attributes of those airplanes with the sensor suite combined with the weapons load and the ability to buddy and do things together,” Carlisle said during a Feb. 24 breakfast meeting with reporters in Washington D.C. “We’re finding that as we’re able to practice this more sometimes we can bring them together and pair them off.”
Usually, Air Force Joint Tactical Air Controllers, Combat Controllers or Tactical Control Party airmen paint targets and walk aircraft into a strike, including Reapers. But in terror battlefields like ISIS-held Syrian cities or hotbeds in Iraq, the risk to American boots on the ground is too great to deploy terminal controllers, officials say.
Carlisle added that American unmanned planes are closely linked with ground forces fighting ISIS militants in the battle for Mosul, “doing great work with that persistent attack and reconnaissance.”
“And their interaction with the land component is increasing in the Mosul fight,” he added, hinting that even attack helicopters are now able to link into feeds from Reaper drones.
And there’s more Carlisle wants to do with his MQ-9 fleet.
With recent bonuses of up to $175,000 paid to Air Force unmanned aerial vehicle pilots, the service now has the breathing room to do more with its Reaper fleet than just surveillance or precision strikes with one drone, Carlisle said.
“Some of that [growth] is bearing fruit in that we’re getting a little bit of an opportunity to do some training and get to some other missions,” Carlisle said. “So we’re learning a lot about the MQ-9 and what it can do for us.”
In 1945, Sid Shafner, a member of the U.S. Army with the 42nd Infantry Division, liberated Marcel Levy from Dachau Concentration Camp in southern Germany. This month — just over seventy years later — the two met again.
Friends of the Israel Defense Forces sponsored the Denver, Colorado resident and his family on an eight-day trip to Israel and Poland as part of it’s “From Holocaust to Independence” delegation to Poland and Israel. The World War II veteran was honored at a Holocaust remembrance ceremony for his helping to set approximately 30,000 prisoners free. Marcel Levy was one of those who is alive today as a result of the Allied Forces’ heroic and compassionate efforts.
In an interview with ABC, Peter Weintraub, president of the organization who sponsored the trip, said the two men met for the first time when Shafner’s convoy was stopped near Marcel Levy who asked that Shafner and his men leave their route and help the prisoners – to which they agreed. The two men became friends.
On May, 10th at an Israeli military base, Levy, 90, who walks with a cane and Shafner, 94, who is in a wheelchair – had a reunion filled with tearful embraces that was captured on camera. Weintraub told ABC that Levy told Shafner, “Everything I have today, all of my children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, is due to you, Sid.”
This was the first time the organization reunited a survivor with his or her liberator.
Speaking shortly after the encounter, Rear Admiral Kenneth Whitesell, the commander of the USS George HW Bush carrier strike group, described Iran’s behaviour as “unprofessional” and “harassment”.
On Saturday, the spokesman of the Iranian armed forces, Brigadier General Masoud Jazayeri, responded, saying: “News disseminated by the US sources concerning unprofessional behaviour of Iranian vessels is not true”.
“We warn again that the US armed forces should change their behaviour,” Brig Gen Jazayeri was quoted as saying by Iran’s official IRNA news agency.
He blamed the United States for any kind of unrest in the Arabian Gulf.
Following Tuesday’s incident – in which one of the carrier’s helicopters was also threatened by an Iranian vessel, according to the US navy – Captain Pennington said he saw the main security threat in the Gulf as the “instability and a lack of predictability we currently see from Iran”.
He said this lack of predictability had been growing over the last three or four months.
Last year, there were 527 interactions between US and Iranian naval forces, 35 of which included Iranian activity deemed to be unsafe or unprofessional by US Naval Forces Central Command (Navcent).
Navcent has deemed Iran’s behaviour to be unsafe or unprofessional on six occasions so far this year, including on March 4 when a group of Revolutionary Guard vessels came within 550 metres of a US navy surveillance ship, the USNS Invincible. One of the vessels came to a standstill in the path of the ship and the USNS Invincible was forced to change course to avoid collision, Navcent said.
Revolutionary Guard navy commander Admiral Mehdi Hashemi claimed the US ship had acted unprofessionally, IRNA reported on Saturday.
It “exited from international route and changed its way toward [Revolutionary Guard] navy vessels present in the region and got as close as 550 metres to Iranian vessels”, Admiral Hashemi said.
Tuesday’s incident involving the USS George HW Bush took place as the carrier was on its way to the northern Gulf to launch air strikes on ISIL in Iraq and Syria. Navcent said on Friday that strikes on the group had begun. The carrier also launched strikes on ISIL while in the eastern Mediterranean last month.