In 2016, an Iraqi-American artist sat down with Bahjat Abdulwahed — the so-called “Walter Cronkite of Baghdad” — with the idea of launching a radio project that would be part documentary, part radio play, and part variety show.
Abdulwahed was the voice of Iraqi radio from the late 1950s to the early 1990s, but came to Philadelphia as a refugee in 2009 after receiving death threats from insurgents.
“He represented authority and respectability in relationship to the news through many different political changes,” said Elizabeth Thomas, curator of “Radio Silence,” a public art piece that resulted from the meeting with Abdulwahed.
Thomas had invited artist Michael Rakowitz to Philadelphia to create a project for Mural Arts Philadelphia, which has been expanding its public art reach from murals into new and innovative spaces.
After nearly five years of research, Rakowitz distilled his project into a radio broadcast that would involve putting the vivacious and caramel-voiced Abdulwahed back on the air, and using Philadelphia-area Iraqi refugees, and local Iraq war veterans as his field reporters. It would feature Iraqi music, remembrances of the country and vintage weather reports from a happier time in Iraq.
“One of the many initial titles was “Desert Home Companion,” Rakowitz said, riffing on “A Prairie Home Companion,” the radio variety show created by Garrison Keillor.
Rakowitz recorded an initial and very informal session with Abdulwahed in his living room in January 2016. Two weeks later, Abdulwahed collapsed. He had to have an emergency tracheostomy and was on life support until he died seven months later.
At Abdulwahed’s funeral, his friends urged Rakowitz to continue with the project, to show how much of the country they left behind was slipping away and to help fight cultural amnesia.
Rakowitz recalibrated the project, which became “Radio Silence,” a 10-part radio broadcast with each episode focusing on a synonym of silence, in homage to Abdulwahed.
“The voice of Baghdad had lost his voice,” Rakowitz said, calling him a “narrator of Iraq’s history.”
It will be hosted by Rakowitz and features fragments of that first recording session with Abdulwahed, as well as interviews with his wife and other Iraqi refugees living in Philadelphia.
Rakowitz and Thomas also worked with Warrior Writers, a nonprofit based in Philadelphia that helps war veterans work through their experiences using writing and art.
The first episode, on speechlessness, will launch Aug. 6. It will be broadcast on community radio stations across the country through Prometheus Radio Project.
One participant is Jawad Al Amiri, an Iraqi refugee who came to the United States in the 1980s. He said silence in Iraq has been a way of life for many decades.
“Silence is a way of survival. Silence is a decree by the Baath regime, not to tell what you see in front of your eyes. Silence is synonymous with fear. If you tell, you will be put through agony,” he said at a preview July 25 of the live broadcast. He said he saw his own sister poisoned and die and wasn’t allowed to speak of it.
When he came to the US in 1981, his father told him: “We send you here for education and to speak for the millions of Iraqis in the land where freedom of speech is practiced.”
Lawrence Davidson is an Army veteran who served during the Iraq War and works with Warrior Writers also contributed to the project. He said the project is a place to exchange ideas and honestly share feelings with refugees and other veterans.
The project kicks off on July 29 with a live broadcast performance on Philadelphia’s Independence Mall — what Rakowitz calls the symbolic home of American democracy. It will feature storytelling, food from refugees and discussions from the veterans with Warrior Writers.
Andrew Brennan’s grandfather pulled him out of school after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, like many parents and grandparents did that day. As soon as his car left the parking lot, Brennan’s grandfather, a World War II veteran, turned to him and said words the future Army officer would never forget.
“The war that’s going to follow this is going to change your generation. You need to be on the right side of it,” he said.
When Brennan turned 17, he tried to drop out of school to join the Marine Corps. His father’s response was something akin to “the hell you are,” but the young man’s resolve was the same. He felt he should be doing something. He felt needed.
The Pennsylvania native eventually attended West Point and served in Afghanistan. But his mission didn’t stop there. He lost friends there, as many post-9/11 veterans did. Now he looks to the Vietnam generation for an example of what comes next.
Andrew Brennan, a U.S. Army veteran, in Afghanistan in 2011. (Photo from Andrew Brennan).
While recovering from a hiking injury, Brennan met some bikers who were rolling to the nation’s capital as part of Run for the Wall, a Vietnam veterans’ tradition where motorcycle enthusiasts drive cross-country to meet at the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C.
“I bump into these guys, and I’m really taken aback by it,” Brennan says. “All these awesome traditions that started around their memorial inspired 30 years’ worth of group healing for the Vietnam generation.”
The riders continue on in the annual tradition called Rolling Thunder which advocates for full accountability of all prisoners of war and troops missing in action from U.S. wars. Brennan did the math. In the next 10 years, the Vietnam veterans may not be able to make the ride. Vets from the Global War on Terror will soon be the ones making noise for American POW/MIAs.
And Brennan wondered what memorial they’d ride to.
He wondered where 3 million veterans who lost family and friends in the Global War on Terror would grieve. There is no memorial for his war because the 1986 Commemorative Works Act requires groups like Brennan’s to wait 10 years after the conflict ends before a memorial can be considered.
It took 60 years to get a World War II memorial built on the Mall and 42 to build a Korean War Memorial. Twenty-five years after Desert Storm, there is still no memorial for that conflict.
Brennan realized he needed to change that law. His continuing mission is to erect a memorial for the post-9/11 generation of veterans. A feat easier said than done.
His memorial idea is written in a broad way so he can be as inclusive as possible. From the likes of Johnny Michael Spann, the first American killed in Afghanistan who worked for the CIA to operators from other “three-letter agencies,” Brennan believes the country’s longest and most unconventional war should recognize all who fought it — including the unconventional forces.
“I really want to make sure that we’re able to honor the folks we’ve lost and will lose in the future while paying tribute to the service we all provided,” Brennan says. “I also want to honor the veterans that aren’t wearing the uniform anymore.”
Brennan is the real deal. He’s met with senators and congressmen and enjoys broad, bipartisan support. Actually getting an amendment introduced is a different feat altogether, but he’s willing to play the long game. His initiative is a decade-long development plan, but he needs the veteran community to mobilize to get the law changed and the ball rolling.
The months following the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, would forever shape the way the military does business.
In an effort to provide some sense of comfort to the families of those who perished that September day, the US Army Human Resources Command established the Joint Personal Effects Depot at present day Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, in Arlington, Virginia.
Its close proximity to the Pentagon made Arlington the perfect area to account for and process personal items of fallen warriors, return them to the families, and help provide closure.
But as America’s resolve strengthened, the young men and women of this country took up arms to defend the freedoms of its citizens against an unconventional new enemy in a war against terror thousands of miles away.
With the possibility of a rising number of casualties stemming from this new war, America’s military was faced with a new challenge — how to care for its fallen?
As the war on terror intensified, the need for an expanded personal effects facility soon became evident and the JPED was relocated from Arlington to Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland.
Working out of old and sometimes dilapidated World War II era warehouses, workers at the JPED ran an assembly line operation without heat in the winter or air conditioning in the summer until 2005, when the decision was made to consolidate the Joint Personal Effects Depot, along with the services’ mortuary, to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
“I was assigned to the depot in Aberdeen as a mortuary affairs specialist with the Army Reserve and I can say it was less than ideal conditions to work in,” said Nelson Delgado, JPED operations management specialist and retired Army Reserve master sergeant.
“Back then, everything was moved from station to station,” he said. “It was cramped and there was too much room for mistakes. One day, General Schoomaker (retired Gen. Peter Schoomaker, 35th Chief of Staff of the US Army) showed up and asked us what we needed.
“That’s how we got to Dover.”
In March 2011, construction of the current 58,000 square-foot state-of-the art facility was finally completed by the Philadelphia District Corps of Engineers at a cost of $17.5 million. A few months later in May, the first personal effects processed there.
Staffed by a mix of active and Reserve component Soldiers, Airmen, and Marines, as well as a handful of Department of the Army Civilians and contractors, the JPED, along with the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations facility provides dignity, honor, and respect for the families left behind.
When Soldiers make the ultimate sacrifice in theater, their personal effects are inventoried, packed, and rushed to the JPED, usually within five days.
“If it comes through the front door, it has to be accounted for by us and sent to the family,” said Delgado. “We don’t throw anything away.”
“Sometimes, what might seem insignificant to you and me may, in fact, be very important to the families. We’ve actually had instances where families have called back asking for something like a gum wrapper that was given to the service member by a child,” he said.
As items arrive at the depot, they are carefully x-rayed and screened for unexploded ordnance in a blast-proof corridor before they are ever brought into the main facility.
From there, items are brought into an individual cage where they are inventoried and packed for shipment to the service member’s primary next of kin.
“All the preparations are done, from start to finish, in one single room,” Delgado said.
“We ensure there are two Soldiers present in the cage at all times in addition to a summary court martial officer. This gives us a system of checks and balances and also reduces the risk of cross contamination of items,” he added.
Each cage is equipped with photographic equipment, washers and dryers, and cleaning materials. As items are inventoried, they are carefully inspected and then individually photographed. Soldiers go through great pains to ensure each item is soil-free and presentable for the family members.
“We want to make sure everything that the individual service member had with them in theater is returned to the family,” Delgado said. “What we don’t want to do is make a difficult situation worse.”
“If an item is soiled or bloodstained, we will stay here as long as it takes to get it clean so it can be returned. Besides memories, this is all the families have of their loved ones,” he said.
After items are cleaned and inventoried, they are carefully packaged into individual plastic foot-lockers.
Each item is pressed and folded. They are placed neatly in the containers, and wrapped tightly with several layers of packaging paper and bubble wrap. Smaller items, such as rings, watches or identification tags, are placed into small decorative pouches, inscribed with the service member’s individual branch of service.
Items such as Bibles, flags, or family photos are placed at the top of the first box, so that they are the first things the families see upon opening it.
“We emphasize box one, because that is usually the box the families will open first. But that doesn’t mean we neglect box two, or box six, or even box 10,” Delgado said. “We treat each box the same way because we really want the families to know we care about their loved one.”
“That’s why we take our time and make sure items are neat and presentable, not just stuff thrown in a box.”
After the items are finally packaged and sent to the transit room, Soldiers scour the cage one last time and sweep the floor before exiting. Great attention to detail is given to make sure everything is accounted for and nothing is overlooked.
Soldiers at the JPED are meticulously screened for duty fitness by HRC’s Casualty and Mortuary Affairs Operations Division before they are ever assigned there.
Assignments at the JPED can be emotionally taxing on the Soldiers working there.
Soldiers regularly attend resiliency training to help them cope with the tasks they are asked to perform. The JPED chaplain is as much there for them as he or she is for the grieving families attending dignified transfers.
“This is a job that not a lot of people want, or can do, but at the same time, this can be the most rewarding job you will ever do,” Delgado said.
“Taking care of the personal effects is the last part of the process. This is what helps bring some sense of closure to the families. The families don’t see what goes on here, but we get to know the service members and their loved ones by working here. We develop a closeness and connection with them,” he added.
For Delgado and others working at the JPED, that connection sometimes hits close to home.
“Sometimes you see kids as young as 19 years of age coming through here,” he said. “I have a 19-year-old kid at home. Sometimes it hits a little too close to home. I don’t know anyone working here that hasn’t cried at one time or another.
“I spent 23 of my 25-year Army Reserve career as mortuary affairs and I was blessed to get assigned to the JPED. This is our way of giving back to the families of the fallen. It’s an honor to do this.”
The AH-1Z aircraft is an updated version of the AH-1W, bringing new capabilities and features into the squadron’s arsenal.
“The AH-1Z’s are replacing the AH-1W’s, which are essentially from the 1980’s,”said Marine Corps Capt. Julian Tucker, the squadron’s ground training officer. “Some big takeaways on the new aircraft can be summarized into greater fuel capacity, ordnance capabilities, and situational awareness.”
The AH-1Z can carry and deploy 16 Hellfire missiles, effectively doubling the capacity of its predecessor, the AH-1W. Updated avionics systems and sensors are another important aspect of the upgrade. The upgraded capabilities allow the squadron and Marine Corps Base Hawaii to further project power and reach in the Asia-Pacific region.
“With the new turret sight system sensor, we can see threats from much further out than before,” Tucker said. “Obviously, that’s a huge advance for our situational awareness.”
Marine Corps Maj. Christopher Myette, the assistant operations officer for the squadron, piloted one of the new Vipers back from Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.
“Having the displays under glass is a big change from the old steam gauges,” Myette noted on the new digital display systems. “Another thing you notice is that in the electrical optical sensor, there’s a night and day difference.”
The updated electrical systems create a new situation for Marines like Sgt. Jeremy Ortega, an avionics technician with the squadron.
“The new Zulus incorporate systems from the AH-1W and the UH-1Y and essentially combine them,” Ortega said. “The upgraded turret sight systems create much more in-depth images, which allow pilots to pinpoint targets better and get more descriptive, accurate pictures.”
Marines like Ortega are essential to keep the squadron at the peak of readiness during the transition, Myette said.
“Maintenance Marines have done an outstanding job of accepting the new aircraft,” Myette said. “They have really done the majority of the heavy lifting on this project, and we definitely appreciate them.”
Although there will be a learning curve working with the new system due to its modernity, Ortega said he is excited to work with the upgraded helicopters.
“Times are changing and things are evolving,” Ortega said. “It’s time for the AH-1W’s to go to bed. And, the AH-1Z’s are the perfect candidate to replace them.”
Shortly after the surviving forces of the Battle of Crete had evacuated, the British landed agents from the Special Operations Executive, also known as the Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare, to advise and assist the resistance and conduct intelligence gathering. Crete was heavily garrisoned and an important part of Germany’s plans both in the Mediterranean and Russia.
Friedrich-Wilhelm Müller, the German general commanding the 22nd Airlanding Division and assigned as the military governor of Crete, had a reputation for brutality that earned him the nickname “the Butcher of Crete.” The British decided to hatch a plan to get rid of him. However, they wanted to do more than just kill him; they wanted to strike fear into the hearts of the Germans everywhere.
Major Patrick Leigh Fermor and Captain William Stanley Moss conceived the plan to kidnap General Müller at the Club de Chasse in Cairo in 1943. Along with two members of the Cretan resistance, George Tirakis and Manoli Paterakis, they planned to infiltrate the island, link up with other members of the resistance, abduct the general, and then get off the island. They intended to do all of this while foregoing bloodshed. They also wanted to make the Germans believe it was a British-only operation to avoid reprisals against the local Cretans.
Because, as we mentioned, Müller was an a-hole… even more than your average Nazi.
Everything was set to begin on February 4, 1944. The four men took off from Cairo and flew towards Crete ready to parachute onto the German-held island and begin their mission. Unfortunately, once over the drop zone, only Major Fermor jumped because of bad weather. The rest of the team tried a dozen more times before finally deciding to attempt a landing by sea. This was finally accomplished on April 4, but during the time between when Maj. Fermor landed on the island and the rest of the team arrived, General Müller was replaced by General Heinrich Kreipe. The British forged ahead with the abduction of Kreipe.
Fermor, dressed as a shepherd, reconnoitered the general’s daily routine and finalized the plan to take the general. On the night of 26 April, the four man team, with Fermor and Moss dressed as German Military Police, set up a fake checkpoint to catch the General’s car as he returned to his quarters for the night. When the general’s car stopped Fermor and Paterakis grabbed Kreipe while Moss clubbed the driver with a baton and with the help of Tirakis, pulled him from the car. While the Cretans moved General Kreipe to the back seat Fermor and Moss took up positions in the front seat impersonating the general and his driver.
The group then headed off to make their escape, successfully passing through 22 other checkpoints. After an hour and a half, Moss, the two Cretan members of the team, and the general left the vehicle with Fermor to abandon. He left the car on a beach on the north side of the island along with documents indicating that the kidnapping had been carried out by British Commandos and that the general had already been removed from the island as well as a note indicating how sorry they were to have to leave behind such a beautiful car.
The group rendezvoused with Fermor and began their trek to the south side of the island for the extraction back to Egypt. By the next day, the Germans issued a proclamation notifying the civilians on the island that if General Kreipe was not returned in three days reprisals would begin. Meanwhile, German troops scoured the island and planes took to the air to search for the group. The group evaded the Germans and hiked across Mount Ida while Fermor and Kreipe recited the poetry of Horace. The team finally reached the southern coast and was picked up by a British Motor Launch on 14 May 1944. They returned to Egypt where General Kreipe was interrogated before being transferred to a POW camp in Canada.
Major Fermor was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and Moss was given the Military Cross. General Kriepe was finally released by the British in 1947. In 1950, after censorship from the war had eased, Moss released his account of the operation in a book called Ill Met By Moonlight which itself was turned into a movie in 1957. Finally, in 1972 Kreipe was reunited with his kidnappers on a Greek TV show.
It’s easy to see American military members in uniform and sort of lump them all in together as a single unit – that’s kind of the point of part of their lives. But it’s only a part of their lives. Once the uniform is off or they’re out of the military, what remains is a person. The Military Fresh Network aims to show that U.S. military members can serve their country while being the unique individuals they were created to be.
The Military Fresh Network provides them a platform to promote their real passions. From music to fitness, active military members and veterans alike turn to the Military Fresh Network to join a family and put their talents to work for them.
(Military Fresh Network)
If you look at Hank Robinson’s (above) ten years of Army infantry service, with his three Bronze Stars and Combat Infantryman Badge, you might be quick to lump him in with the stereotypical infantry grunt and all the baggage which might come along with it. But get to know the person and you’ll see a man who became enamored with metal work – so enamored he started his own engraving business after spending years perfecting his chosen art form. This is a man who now helps others work through PTSD via art therapy.
Then you realize you were too quick to judge. We all are. It’s sometimes hard to see past the decorations and the uniform. The Military Fresh Network is here to help change all that. Jimmy Cox, the founder of the Military Fresh Network, is as passionate about the talents of the people on the network as he is about his own.
Gabrielle Torres funded her college education through Miss America scholarships, but the dual-bachelors student will also be an Army officer upon graduation.
(Military Fresh Network)
“This is finally something we can do and show for ourselves,” says Cox, a 23-year veteran of the U.S. Army. “The reason so many people don’t join the military today is the same reason they didn’t join ten years ago – they don’t want who they are to get lost. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Your life does not have to be on hold while you wear the uniform. The Military Fresh Network shows them that. “
On the Military Fresh Network’s website, you can see the stories of dozens of America’s finest troops, officer and enlisted, who took the oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States out of uniform and in their natural habitat. There, you can read their stories, see the faces of the men and women who serve, and realize their talents and skills in a way never before seen – ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
Air Force veteran, Navy spouse, and fitness professional Tarryn Garlington is also a civilian working for the Army.
The site is broken down by branch of service and by the kind of skills and talent on display. Here you can see military members at their finest, playing musical instruments, bodybuilding, giving fitness tips, even showing off their street art and business savvy. It truly is a way to get to know America’s vets as real people, to interact with them, and appreciate people on a new level.
“I had my own following when I started in graphic design,” says Ana Valencia, a U.S. Army senior NCO who is also a Military Fresh Network volunteer. “The Military Fresh Network provided me with a huge platform for my work, so I became a huge advocate.”
In 2019, the Military Fresh Network will even be joining the ranks of the Military Influencer Conference sponsors. If you’re interested in starting your own business and don’t know where to begin, the Military Influencer Conferences are the perfect place to start. There, you can network with other veteran entrepreneurs while listening to the best speakers and panels the military-veteran community of entrepreneurs can muster. Visit the Military Influencer Conference website for more information.
Then you can post your own business skills on The Military Fresh Network.
The stark vision of the Four Chaplains with linked arms praying while their ship sank 78 years ago lives on. Today, we honor their courage, devotion and ultimate sacrifice.
It was two years after the United States entered into World War II. The Four Chaplains – who would leave an extraordinary legacy – boarded the SS Dorchester, all coming from completely different backgrounds but completely united in a commitment to bring spiritual comfort to their men.
Chaplain George Fox was a veteran of World War I, having served as a medic. He was highly decorated, having received the Silver Star and Purple Heart for his service. Fox had lied about his age and was just 17 years old when he left for war. When he returned, he finished high school and went to college. He was eventually ordained a Methodist minister in 1934. When war came calling, he volunteered to become an Army Chaplain. On the day he commissioned, his son enlisted in the Marine Corps.
Chaplain and Rabbi Alexander Goode earned his PhD from Johns Hopkins University in 1940, while finishing his studies to become a Rabbi – like his father before him. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, he applied to the Army to become a Chaplain. In 1942, he was selected for Chaplains School at Harvard.
Chaplain Clark Poling was the son of a minister and was ordained as one for the Reformed Church in the late 1930s. After war broke out, he was called to serve. His own father had served as a Chaplain during World War I. He headed to Army Chaplains School at Harvard.
Chaplain John Washington was ordained as a Catholic Priest in 1935, having served the church all his life in some form or another. When the war began, he received his appointment as an Army Chaplain.
All four men from different corners of the country and varied faiths, met at Harvard in 1942 and became friends. A year later they’d be on a ship together, all ready to serve.
On February 3, 1943, the civilian liner SS Dorchester, which had been converted for military service, was en route to Greenland with 902 military members, merchant marines and civilian workers. It was being escorted by Coast Guard Cutters Tampa, Escanaba and Comanche. It was a chilly morning as the new day began and the water temperature was hovering around 34 degrees with an air temperature of 36 degrees.
The Coast Guard alerted the captain of the Dorchester that U-Boats had been sighted and he ordered the crew to sleep in their clothes and life jackets. Most of them ignored it though, because it was either so hot down below or they couldn’t sleep well with the life jackets on.
At 12:55am, a German torpedo struck their ship.
A large number of men were killed instantly from the blast and many more critically injured. It knocked their power and communications out, leaving them unable to radio the other ships for support. By some miracle, the CGC Comanche saw the flash of light from the explosion and headed their way to help. They had radioed the Escanaba for added support, while the Tampa continued its escort of the fleet.
According to records, panic and chaos had quickly set in. Men began throwing rafts over and overcrowding soon set in, causing capsizing into the frigid waters. But four Chaplains became a light in the dark for the terrified men. They spread out throughout the ship comforting the soldiers and civilians, bringing order to the frenzy. As the life jackets were being passed out, they ran out.
The Four Chaplains took theirs off, giving them to the men.
Engineer Grady Clark witnessed the whole thing. Each Chaplain was of a different faith, but worked in unison to serve and save the men.
Despite their orderly work, the ship continued to sink. They helped as many men as they could. When it was obvious the ship was going down, the Chaplains linked arms and began praying together. It was said that the crew in the waters below could hear hymns being sung. Survivors would later report hearing a mix of Hebrew and Latin prayers, melding together in a beautiful harmony as they went under, giving their lives to save the rest.
Of the 902 men, only 230 survived.
Before boarding the ship and leaving to serve, Chaplain Poling asked his father to pray for him. The words were poignant and a deep insight to the character of the man he was and those he died alongside. He asked his father to pray “Not for my safe return, that wouldn’t be fair. Just pray that I shall do my duty…never be a coward…and have the strength, courage and understanding of men. Just pray that I shall be adequate.”
Although many fought for these brave men to receive the Medal of Honor for their bravery and heroism, the stringent requirements prevented it from happening. They all received the Purple Heart and Distinguished Service Cross. In 1961, Congress created the Special Medal for Heroism, The Four Chaplains Medal. It was given to them and them only, never to be awarded again.
On August 9, 2014, Staff Sergeant Brandon Dodson lost both his legs to an improvised explosive device blast in Shah Pusta, Afghanistan. He was on his fifth deployment.
About 19 months later, in mid-March 2016, Brandon completed a Team Semper Fi surf camp. It was his fifth time surfing since his injury.
“What’s really interesting about surfing,” says Brandon, who was born and raised in California and surfed all his life, “is it’s the only thing in my life that’s easier since I’ve been injured. Sitting versus having to stand up, I actually surf better now than I did before.”
“The part that’s really difficult is getting from the car to down by the water and paddling out through the breakers,” Brandon continued. “I’m either in big prosthetic legs, or short house legs or a wheelchair — none of which work well in sand. Once I’m in the water, though, I’m totally independent.”
Brandon’s journey to the waters off San Clemente, California by way of Afghanistan has been a truly remarkable one.
Born at Naval Air Station Lemoore in central California (his father was a Marine), Brandon enlisted in July 2003 and was deployed to Iraq a year later. He served as part of a Marine Expeditionary Unit on a ship off the coasts of southeast Asia in 2006, and deployed to Iraq a second time in 2007.
After returning home and serving as a drill instructor in San Diego, Brandon was deployed to Afghanistan in 2012 and again in 2014. He uses the word “surreal” to describe that most recent deployment.
“We were living in nice built-up barracks with anywhere from 3-man rooms to 12-man rooms,” he explained. “We had Wi-Fi, we had a gym, we had a nice chow hall, we had laundry, we had salsa nights, movie nights — we had all the amenities. We’d go from that to doing patrols outside the wire for five days and killing bad guys.”
When Brandon stepped on the pressure plate connected to five pounds of homemade explosives, he was on day one of a three-day operation—the last patrol of his deployment. He was MEDEVAC’d to Camp Bastion, where he remained in a coma for two days.
“I was told I needed 19 liters of blood transfused into me,” he recalls. “I bled out roughly four times the amount of blood in a human body. Then they flew me to Landstuhl; that’s where I woke up. I was there for 3 days, in and out of surgery. I landed in Bethesda August 14, and I’ve been here ever since.”
Brandon’s wife, Jasmine, first learned about the Semper Fi Fund during his initial recovery in Bethesda and Brandon got to know the Fund’s representatives as his recovery progressed.
“When you’re inpatient at Walter Reed, you’re approached by about 1,000 nonprofits that want to see you,” he explains. “The Semper Fi Fund stood out because they had actual people that came around that were damn near employees at the hospital, they’re there all the time. They were so nice, they had so much good advice, and they were able to talk to my wife and family and were able to comfort them in so many ways.”
The support provided to Brandon and Jasmine and their family included helping Brandon’s mother and two brothers with their wages so they could step away from their jobs and be with him during his initial recovery period.
“They helped us to go on a family vacation for my one-year Alive Day,” Brandon added, “and they provided me with the ability to participate in multiple different events — not just surf camp, I did a water skiing camp, another surf camp in Virginia Beach, and I handcycled the Marine Corps Marathon in 2015 with Team Semper Fi.”
“A lot of guys that are injured like me, traumatically injured, some don’t take advantage of opportunities like this,” Brandon says. “They’ll sit and not go on trips and they don’t want to go out in public and not try anything new, and I think that’s the wrong way to go about it. My wife and I, we’ve taken every trip and opportunity—stuff I’ve done before, like surfing, and stuff I haven’t done.”
“The Semper Fi Fund, they’re the best nonprofit for wounded warriors out there, and they help in any capacity. Not just handing out money, even though that’s part of it, but if you need a special adaptive piece of equipment or car modifications, plus they run all these adaptive sports programs—surfing, skiing, all kinds of athletic sports. Anything you can think of, they offer a camp for it. As a Marine, I would say that the Semper Fi Fund is the number-one nonprofit, they’re amazing.”
Looking back over his experiences of the last dozen years or so, Brandon says that he doesn’t get worked up over small things anymore (“like dumb stuff I see on Facebook”)—and has reached an interesting family-oriented perspective on his injury.
“There’s nobody really handicapped in my life, nobody’s in a wheelchair,” he says. “My wife and I, we both had really healthy families growing up, so I was never really exposed to handicapped people at a personal level. It’s not like I was judging them in any way, I don’t think, I was just unaware.”
“Now, what really makes me happy is that my son was only 18 months old when I was injured, so the way he’s growing up, this stuff is not gonna faze him at all. That’ll make him a better person, which makes me happy.”
We Are The Mighty is teaming up with Semper Fi Fund and comedian Rob Riggle to present the Rob Riggle InVETational Golf Classic. The veteran-celebrity golf tournament will raise money and awareness for Semper Fi Fund, one of our nation’s most respected veteran nonprofit organizations, in support of wounded, critically ill and injured service members and their families. Learn more at InVETational.com.
A lot of American troops find something to love about cultures they discover during their service. One World War I veteran left Ohio and discovered the magical history of Medieval Europe amid the fighting and squalor of the trenches. When he returned to the rolling hills next to Ohio’s Little Miami River, he decided to build that magic in his own backyard. Literally.
Complete with sword room.
Just north of Loveland, Ohio sits a structure that has no business standing in the American midwest. Harry D. Andrews began constructing a full-scale replica of the castle where his medical unit was stationed in Southern France. It was built brick-by-brick by Andrews himself on land he acquired from buying yearlong subscriptions to the Cincinnati newspaper, The Cincinnati Enquirer, taking stones from the Little Miami River, and even using bricks formed from milk cartons.
It took him 50 years to complete the project.
Though it has come to be known as Loveland Castle, the building began its life as Chateau Laroche – French for “Rock Castle” – and Andrews was a huge fan of the Medieval Era of European History. As the Castle Museum’s website reads:
[It was built as] “an expression and reminder of the simple strength and rugged grandeur of the mighty men who lived when Knighthood was in flower. It was their knightly zeal for honor, valor and manly purity that lifted mankind out of the moral midnight of the dark ages and started it towards the gray dawn of human hope.”
Loveland Castle via Instagram
Harry D. Andrews was born in 1890 and served as a medic in France during World War I. While “over there,” he contracted spinal meningitis and was declared dead. Except that he was very much alive and in hospital at the actual Chateau La Roche in southwest France. It would take him six months to recover. By the time he was declared alive, the war was over, and his fiancée was married to someone else. So Andrews stayed in Europe and toured the castles. He never much cared for modern war and believed the weapons used by knights in the Medieval Era were much more fair to a fighting man.
That’s when Harry Andrews gave up on women and dedicated his life to recreating the Medieval Era right there in his native Ohio. As he built the castle, he also constructed a year-round hotbed garden, a secret room, and wrote a book about immigration. As a lifelong Boy Scout leader, he donated the castle to his scouts when he died in 1981. Called the “Knights of the Golden Trail,” they guard the castle to this day.
The recent incident involving the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Mahan (DDG 72) and an Iranian speedboat is a reminder that the South China Sea is not the world’s only maritime flashpoint.
The Persian Gulf is such a hot spot as well — mostly with the many instances where Iranian vessels have harassed American ships, with the closest encounter being within 150 yards. When you are talking about ships weighing thousands of tons, that is getting awfully close. Ships cannot turn and stop on a dime. As a result, an incident like the one involving USS Mahan could very well touch off a war.
First there’s the risk of the warning shots actually hitting the incoming vessel.
There’s also the possibility that a suicide speedboat will hit an American ship. The October 2000 attack on the destroyer USS Cole (DDG 67) took place in port with a small fiberglass boat.
Iran’s “fast attack craft” that have a history of harassing American ships are, in some cases, larger, and pack heavy machine guns and rocket launchers. Those incidents have also produced warnings of a “tactical miscalculation” that could lead to an armed conflict.
Something like the Boghammer, which became notorious for its attacks on tankers in the Iran-Iraq War, displaces about six and a half tons. It has a top speed of 45 knots (or nautical miles per hour). When these speedboats get within 1,000 yards, they are less than half a knot away — and at top speed, an American ship could have as little as 40 seconds to react. A Boghammer could easily carry a murder-suicide bomb similar to that used to attack the Cole.
The damage one of those boats can do is best reflected in the Cole attack. Only this time the damage would be suffered while at sea, not while refueling in a port where assistance is readily available. It cost $250 million to repair the Cole, which was out of action for 14 months, according to MaritimeTerrorism.com.
Understandably, an American ship commander would be very nervous about the possibility of such an attack.
All it would take would be one commander deciding that the Iranian “fast attack craft” posed a threat to his ship; defensively sinking the craft could kick off Iranian retaliation. American and Iranian forces would start exchanging fire in small naval and air actions. The United States would probably win most of those — albeit in some cases, there might be damage to ships or aircraft.
Iran, though, would likely start launching ballistic missiles at Israel, trying to use the same gambit Saddam Hussein did in 1991.
The Iranian-American War would then be on in earnest.
David Burnett was a U.S. Army Special Operations Crew Chief with the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. You might know it better as the “Night Stalkers.” He even wrote a book about his time with the Night Stalkers. His latest project isn’t about the Army, however. It’s for the Army, for the military. It’s an invention borne of necessity – as all great inventions are – and could save lives.
In short, David Burnett wants you out of his helicopter as soon as possible.
While he was in the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, troops would board his Chinook for the ride, normally hanging their go bags and other gear inside with carabiners and bungee cord. These are the usual, practical things with which American troops deploy to combat zones. While sitting in a brightly-lit flightline with the cabin lights on, this was no big deal. But U.S. troops, especially special operators, don’t fly to the enemy with the cabin lights on. They’re usually flying in at night, blacked out. It was in those situations David Burnett realized he and his Chinook were spending a lot more time on the ground than they wanted.
The good guys were having trouble releasing their stowed gear. It was still connected to the aircraft. All the old methods of fixing their gear didn’t offer quick-release functionality. David Burnett decided he was going to do something about that.
The Tac Clamp was born.
Burnett’s creation isn’t just a metal clamp. It can be hooked and fastened for quick release, or it can be placed on a tactical track for movement in a ready room, a hangar, arms room, or even the back of an aircraft. With the push of a button, the Tac Clamp will release its iron grip and let the special operator free to bring the fight to the enemy – and it works. It works really well. Burnett’s clamp has been submitted to aircrews at MacDill Air Force Base for review and is currently being field-tested by Navy Search and Rescue teams.
“I deployed with the 160th five times as a crew chief, and I saw this problem constantly on the aircraft and on vehicles too,” Burnett says. ” The reason was because all of these outdated methods they were using don’t offer quick release and is not very intuitive. This is something you clamp inside the aircraft but is not exclusive to the aircraft. If they were doing a ground assault and they can hook the Tac Clamp in their gear and just push a button to release it.”
Burnett even created a Tac Clamp for aerial photography.
Currently, Burnett is working on getting one of the military branches to accept the Tac Clamp for consideration for small-business contracting programs. He currently has two proposals submitted, one for the Air Force and two for the Army. It’s been a long road for Burnett, but he hasn’t given up. What he’s offering is something he’s seen a need for in the military, one that could potentially save American lives. He’s already getting feedback on his aluminum clamp from troops in the field.
“Troops tell me they need a small version, made of hard plastic, one they can attach to their kit,” says Burnett, who enjoys the innovation. “All branches of service, they’re realizing they can streamline innovation process by allowing small businesses to propose their technologies and get new products and innovative technologies fielded within 18 months.”
Researchers from MIT and NASA have developed an airplane wing that can change shape and increase the efficiency of aircraft flight, production, and maintenance, according to MIT News.
On a traditional airplane wing, only parts of the wing, such as flaps and ailerons, can move to change the plane’s direction. The wing designed by the MIT and NASA researchers would be able to move in its entirety.
The wing is made of hundreds of small, identical pieces that contain both rigid and flexible components which make it lighter and more efficient than traditional airplane wings. Since the wing could adjust to the particular characteristics of each stage of flight (takeoff, landing, steering, etc.), it could perform better than traditional wings, which are not designed to maximize performance during any part of a flight.
Wing assembly under construction.
“We’re able to gain efficiency by matching the shape to the loads at different angles of attack,” NASA research engineer Nicholas Cramer told MIT News.
The wing’s parts are arranged in a lattice structure that creates a large amount of empty space and covered in a thin, polymer material. Combined, the wing’s materials and structure make it as firm as a rubber-like polymer (though much less dense) and as light as an aerogel.
MIT graduate student Benjamin Jenett told MIT News that the wing performed better than expected during a test in a wind tunnel at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.