Bet you think you’re a good driver. No one can knife across three lanes of traffic and make an exit doing 73 mph like you can, hoss. You even throw around the occasional courtesy wave.
Former Army Engineer and “Oscar Mike” host Ryan Curtis fancied himself above average in the driving department until he met Jim Wilkey at Bobby Orr Motorsports, where the two-tour Vietnam Vet proceeded to hand our host his ass.
A former Navy Seabee, Wilkey is now one of Hollywood’s most highly-regarded stunt drivers, flipping cars and drifting in such modest cinematic offerings as “The Dark Knight” trilogy and “Mad Max: Fury Road.”
When he’s not rolling on “action,” Wilkey teaches the art of stunt driving to amateur road warrior wannabes on his home track in Camarillo, CA.
Watch as Wilkey puts Ryan through a day’s worth of paces and Ryan makes an unwise decision to challenge the master in a timed stunt lap, in the video embedded at the top.
Is anyone else feeling some anxiety with regards to our Mandalorian’s decision-making? This week, he brings the Yoda Baby on a reckless adventure with very shady sidekicks. It’s just very irresponsible parenting, to be honest.
But hey, more fun guest stars.
Here’s your spoiler warning.
The Mandalorian, Disney+
Chapter six of The Mandalorian is called “The Prisoner” because Mando (I’m stillstruggling with this nickname…is every Mandalorian called “Mando”?) our Mandalorian accepts a job from Space Santa, officially known as Ranzar Malk (played by Patriot’s Mark Boone Junior), to release a prisoner from a New Republic prison ship.
We’re not really given a backstory into why he chose to go meet up with this dude from his past but it’s immediately clear that he walked into a hostile environment.
Usually in an ensemble heist situation, we’re introduced to a ragtag crew of lovable characters with specific skills, but here it’s just a list of annoying enemies.
There’s Mayfeld (played by Bill Burr), who will be running point on the operation because Space Santa is retired. Then there’s a Twi’lek named Xi’an (played by Game of Thrones’ Natalia Tena), who likes to do a full-body hiss and play with her knives, which I can appreciate. There’s the droid Zero (played by Apple Onion’s Richard Ayoade), who is a droid so our Mandalorian already dislikes him for reasons that haven’t been explained yet. And then there’s Burg (Clone Wars’ Clancy Brown), who Mayfeld immediately insults for his looks.
(Also, why do guys do this to their friends? I’m genuinely asking. Why do you guys insult each other all the time? I can’t imagine introducing my girlfriends and being like, “This is Sally, she’s our DD tonight, and that ugly slut is Jane, who has promised to buy the first round…”)
It’s like Guardians of the Galaxy meets Suicide Squad.
The Mandalorian, Disney+
So…when our Mandalorian accepted Space Santa’s job, he was under the impression that his Razor Crest wouldn’t be part of the deal. In other words, his plan was to — again — just leave the Yoda Baby alone on the ship and then fly off to some illegal and dangerous mission?
Instead, he’s surprised when all these greedy criminals, one of whom already bears a grudge (Xi’an, who also maybe used to have a sexual history) board his ship and fly it and the Yoda Baby into harm’s way.
And, like, literally the only thing keeping the baby hidden was a button? Which Burg immediately pushes during a skirmish where he tried to take off Mando’s helmet.
The only good thing about all this was Bill Burr’s reaction:
“What is that? Did you guys make that thing? Is it like a pet?”
The Mandalorian, Disney+
Just like in previous episodes, the Yoda Baby’s race is rare — none of these scoundrels recognize him or register his significance other than sensing he’s important to Mando. The Yoda Baby is then dropped again when the Razor Crest is yanked out of hyperspace and docked on the prison ship.
This kid is going to need a therapist, I swear.
The Mandalorian, Disney+
The distraction is enough to move the crew into the bulk of the episode. They board the prison ship, which is supposed to be manned by droids only. Our Mandalorian proves himself by taking out the first wave of them. Within the control room, however, they discover a young New Republic prison ward.
Unfortunately for this kid, he becomes collateral damage (RIP Matt Lanter), but not before activating a New Republic distress call. Now we’ve got a ticking clock, spurring the group into action.
They find their prisoner, another Twi’Lek named Qin (played by Berlin Station’s Ismael Cruz Cordova), who is Xi’an’s brother — stranded there by Mando. The crew rescue Qin and shove Mando into his cell, which actually made things interesting.
Would the crew take off with the Yoda Baby in the Razor Crest, leaving Mando locked in a New Republic prison? Potentially forcing him to team up with them as he builds toward the season finale?
Oh. No. He busts out in two seconds. He busts out so quickly that he’s able to also track down and imprison each of the other crew members before they were able to reach the ship?
Holy crap, he’s so cute.
The Mandalorian, Disney+
Speaking of which, back on the Razor Crest, Zero has learned that the Yoda Baby is an expensive asset and sets off to hunt him. Right before he’s able to shoot the child, the Yoda Baby readies his adorable little Force powers and BOOM the droid drops.
Cute moment when the Yoda Baby thinks he did it, only to reveal that Mando is standing behind the droid, having just shot him.
This leaves Qin, who tells Mando he’ll go clean and urges the bounty hunter to just do his job and deliver the bounty.
I was kind of hoping to see the Twi’Lek in carbonite but apparently it wasn’t necessary.
Mando delivers Qin to Space Santa, who abides by the “no questions asked” policy with regards to the missing crew, and takes off.
As he leaves, Space Santa orders an attack ship to kill him…
…but in a fun twist, Qin discovers the New Republic distress beacon on his person right before an echelon of X-Wings drop out of hyperspace and destroy the ship.
baby yoda was shook #TheMandalorianpic.twitter.com/qZ0CWBXdYS
You’ve seen them before at this time of year — United States Marines in their full dress blues standing near bins full of toys with the signature logo of the Toys for Tots program. And you’ve definitely seen this commercial:
Just two years after the end of World War II, a Marine Corps Reserve officer named Maj. Bill Hendricks wanted to donate a Raggedy Ann doll his wife had made to a charity in the Los Angeles area, but he couldn’t find one that met what he had in mind.
What he did find were thousands of children who needed toys.
“That first year we delivered the toys ourselves,” Hendricks told said in an interview before his 1992 death. “We were winding up the campaign on Christmas Eve, delivering toys right up to midnight. A master sergeant and I went to a place where three kids were waiting up for us. I can still see their faces. After leaving the toys, one of the children followed us out to the car and said, ‘Thank you very much.’ That ‘thank you’ was worth the effort.”
The first run was so successful, the USMC expanded it to a nationwide effort the next year. Every Marine Corps Reserve site worked with the local community to collect and distribute millions of toys.
In the years following, the Marines received star-studded help from the likes of Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin. The logo was designed by Walt Disney himself.
Now the effort is augmented by the nonprofit Toys for Tots Foundation, which expanded the number of toys collected to 16 million worth an estimated $243 million every year. The foundation regularly receives four-star ratings from Charity navigator and in 2003 was on Forbes’ Top Ten Children’s Charities.
The increasing threat of nuclear conflict between the United States and North Korea cast a shadow over the August 9 observance of the 72nd anniversary of the US atomic bombing of Nagasaki, Japan in the final days of World War II.
“A strong sense of anxiety is spreading across the globe that in the not-too-distant future these weapons could actually be used again,” Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue told the crowd at the city’s Peace Park. The ceremony was held a day after US President Donald Trump vowed to respond to North Korea’s continuing threats with “fire and fury like the world has never seen.”
Mayor Taue also lashed out at Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for refusing to enter negotiations for the UN Nuclear Prohibition Treaty, calling his stance “incomprehensible to those of us living in the cities that suffered atomic bombings.” Japan routinely abhors nuclear weapons, but has aligned its defense posture firmly under the so-called US “nuclear umbrella.”
Taue and the other dignitaries led the audience in a moment of silence as a bell was rung at the exact moment a US warplane dropped a plutonium bomb onto the port city, killing as many as 70,000 people.
The Nagasaki bombing happened three days after 140,000 people died in the atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima, the world’s first using of nuclear weapons. The bombings hastened Japan’s surrender to Allied forces on August 15, 1945, bringing the six-year-old global conflict to an end.
When We Are The Mighty sat down with Sylvester Stallone, Sly revealed some truly astonishing things about one of action movie history’s most beloved characters: John Rambo. Most of us blacked out when Stallone revealed that Rambo didn’t originally join the Army but came to in time to learn a few great things that make the character much deeper than we ever imagined.
That was just info from Stallone. It turns out there’s much more, so we dove a little deeper.
Somehow, the character of John Rambo has entered the folklore of the Kamula people on the island nation of Papua New Guinea, despite limited access to film and television. The Rambo of folklore is said to be a gunrunner who fought in the 10-year civil war in nearby Bougainville, and will come back to defend Papua New Guinea in case of World War III. In Kamula culture, along with other tribes, Rambo is said to symbolize peak masculinity.
Rambo’s trademark knife wasn’t supposed to exist
In the book First Blood, on which the movie and character John Rambo is based, Rambo never had a survival knife of any kind, let alone a giant one to use to bring down the entire police force of Hope, Wash. Stallone added the knife for effect, hoping to make the weapon a character all on its own.
Rambo wasn’t a killer – originally.
John Rambo never actually kills anyone in First Blood. There is only one death in the entire movie, and that happened as an accident when an overzealous cop falls from a helicopter while shooting at Rambo. In subsequent movies, that all changes of course. Rambo’s body count is 76 in First Blood: Part II, and 132 in Rambo III. In Rambo, he appears to kill the entire Burmese Army with one .50-cal.
Stallone hated the first cut of First Blood.
The first time Stallone saw the edit for First Blood, he hated it. It was three and a half hours long, and Rambo’s dialogue was terrible. At first, Stallone wanted to buy the film so he could burn it. Instead of that, he re-cut the film to 93 minutes with most of his dialogue removed, which is what you see when you watch it today.
Without ‘Rambo’ there would be no ‘Predator’
When Rocky Balboa took on Ivan Drago in Rocky IV, no one in Hollywood was quite sure who Rocky’s next opponent could possibly be. The joke was made that Rocky would have to fight some kind of Alien in Rocky V. After a while, Screenwriters Jim and John Thomas began to take the idea seriously and wrote a Rocky-Rambo Hybrid movie that we call Predator.
In Rocky V, Rocky fought a former student named Tommy Gunn. In the street. Outside a bar. In case you were wondering.
John Rambo was almost played by John Travolta
Imagine how different action movie lore would be today if Sylvester Stallone hadn’t been in the writing and casting process. John Travolta was considered for the role of the former Green Beret and one-man wrecking crew before Stallone stepped in and nixed the idea.
Travolta also almost became Forrest Gump and Pete “Maverick” Mitchell of Top Gun fame.
Arthur John Rambo of Lincoln County, Mont. gave his life to save his fellow soldiers in Tay Ninh, Vietnam.
There actually is a John Rambo on “The Wall.”
Arthur John Rambo was an artilleryman with the 11th Armored Cavalry in Vietnam. He was mortally wounded by multiple hits from rocket-propelled grenades on Nov. 26, 1969. As he and his fellow artillerymen came under heavy mortar fire, a nearby self-propelled howitzer took an RPG hit and caught fire. Rambo cleared his fellow soldiers out of the way and attempted to drive the vehicle, still burning, away from the area where it wouldn’t be a threat. He did so successfully, but the vehicle took two more RPGs. The last, killing Rambo in action. Arthur John Rambo was posthumously awarded the Silver Star.
“Nothing is over!” Damn right.
Rambo commits suicide. In the book.
… and in the original cut of the movie. Remember when Sylvester Stallone re-edited the entire movie? Rambo killing himself didn’t make the final cut, even though that’s what happens in the book. Instead, Stallone asked a few Vietnam vets what troubles they face, and Stallone wrote a speech at the end of the movie to let the world know.
That original movie sounds awful. Thank god for Sylvester Stallone.
The military has very talented photographers in the ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. Here are the best military photos of the week:
Since March 2015, the Air Coalition has consistently flown nearly 4,500 flying missions a month, striking more lucrative targets to greater effect. Targets include strikes against logistics, command and control, weapons manufacturing areas, and Daesh financial resources, impacting Daesh’s ability to sustain combat operations and impacting their decision-making capability.
The Air Coalition now stands at 20-nations. The broader Coalition is more than 60 countries.
Senior Airman Tariq Russell, a 21st Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler, shakes the paw of his partner, PPaul, at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., June 14, 2016. MWD handlers are assigned one dog for their entire duration at Peterson AFB.
U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dennis Hoffman
An Army paratrooper, assigned to 173rd Airborne Brigade, descends onto Frida Drop Zone in Pordenone, Italy, June 29, 2016, after exiting a United States Air Force 86th Air Wing C-130 Hercules aircraft during airborne operations.
The 173rd Airborne Brigade is the U.S. Army Contingency Response Force in Europe, capable of projecting ready forces anywhere in the U.S. European, Africa or Central Commands’ areas of responsibility within 18 hours.
An trainee undergoing Basic Combat Training with 13th Infantry Regiment at Fort Jackson, S.C., exits the skyscraper obstacle and falls several feet onto a mat, June 22, 2016.
PEARL HARBOR (June 29, 2016) Families wave as the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) renders honors to the USS Arizona Memorial as the ship prepares to moor at Joint Naval Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam to participate in Rim of the Pacific 2016.
MEDITERRANEAN SEA (June 28, 2016) An F/A-18E Super Hornet assigned to the Wildcats of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 131 launches from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69).
Candidates with Delta Company, Officer Candidate School (OCS) conduct the Fireteam Assault course aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., June 13, 2016. The mission of OCS is to educate and train officer candidates in order to evaluate and screen individuals for qualities required for commissioning as a Marine Corps officer.
A Marine with Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 533, Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Crisis Response – Central Command 16.2, directs an F/A-18D Hornet returning to an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, June 9, 2016. VMFA(AW)-533 operates and conducts strikes as part of the Aviation Combat Element of SPMAGTF-CR-CC in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, the operation to eliminate the ISIL terrorist group and the threat they pose to Iraq, Syria, and the wider international community.
A boatcrew from Coast Guard Station Port Canaveral, Florida, enforces a safety and security zone during a rocket launch off the coast of Cape Canaveral, June 24, 2016. The Coast Guard helps provide safety and security services for launches out of the Kennedy Space Center.
Capt. Peter F. Martin relieves Capt. Brian K. Penoyer of command of Sector Houston-Galveston during a change-of-command ceremony at the Bayport Cruise Terminal in Bayport, Texas, June 17, 2017.
Ships hunting subs faced a sort of odd challenge when it came to confirming their number of kills. After all, their target was often underwater, there weren’t always a lot of other ships around to confirm the kill, and the destroyed target would sink additional hundreds of feet under the ocean.
“Are you sure you killed the enemy sub?” “Umm, I filled the ocean with explosives. Does that count?” “No, but that sounds awesome.”
But sub hunters came up with a solution. See, most of a sub sinks when it’s destroyed underwater, but some items float. These items include oil, clothes and the personal belongings of submariners, the occasional packet of documents, and, disturbingly enough, human remains.
It’s definitely kind of nasty, but it’s also good for ship commanders who need to prove they actually sank an enemy sub or five. Commanders would take samples of the water or collect pieces of oily debris.
In Britain, it was traditional by World War II to dip a bucket into the water, scoop up the soup of oil, seawater, and debris, and then keep it on the ship, often in the freezer or refrigerator if they had one.
“We took this photo as we dropped bombs on the sub. Good enough?” “I mean, the sub still looks super intact in this photo. Not good enough.”
(U.S. Navy Reserve)
When they returned to port, intelligence officers would take the buckets to confirm the kills and collect what other info they could.
Obviously, a pile of documents or sub gear was preferred, but the bucket would do when necessary.
This physical evidence of the kill was important, and some ship and boat commanders failed to get credit for claimed kills because they brought no evidence.
“This time, we filled the ocean with explosives, and then took a photo of the second, larger explosion that followed.” “Eh, guess that’ll work.”
There were other ways to get kills confirmed. If multiple ships had hydrophone and sonar operators who heard the sub suffer catastrophic danger before losing contact with the sub, their crews could confirm the kill. Or intercepted intelligence where enemy commanders discussed lost subs could be matched up with claimed kills. Photos were great for subs that were sunk near the surface.
But the preferred method was always physical evidence.
It became so well known, however, that some sub commanders would pack a torpedo tube with random debris and then shoot it into the ocean when under attack. The bubbles from air exiting the tube combined with the trash floating to the surface could fool attackers on the surface, giving the sub a chance to escape after the surface ship left.
The Japanese I-26 submarine, a legendary sub presumed sunk in October, 1944.
Eventually, this caused commanders on the surface to prefer the collection of human remains that floated to the surface. Since it was very rare for submarines to carry dead bodies, that was usually a safe proof.
All of this makes it sound like confirming submarine kills was an imprecise science — and that’s because it was. After the war, governments exchanged documents and historians and navy officers tried to piece together which ships killed which other ships and when. Most ship crews saw an increase in their total kill count, since previously suspected kills could now be confirmed.
But some who had previously gotten credit for kills later found out that they were duped by decoy debris — or that they had gotten a confirmed kill for a sub that actually survived and limped home.
President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for Defense Secretary called the invasion of Iraq a “strategic mistake” at a conference last year, in an audio recording obtained by The Intercept.
In a wide-ranging speech at an ASIS International Conference in Anaheim, California that covered everything from Iran, ISIS, and other national security issues, retired Marine Gen. James Mattis told attendees: “We will probably look back on the invasion of Iraq as a mistake, a strategic mistake.”
The assertion is not particularly controversial, given the faulty intelligence that led to the invasion, the many missteps afterward, and the unraveling of a country that eventually gave birth to the terrorist group ISIS.
But it is interesting as it’s the first known instance of Mattis portraying the invasion in a negative light, especially given his leadership of 1st Marine Division in 2003, which he led across the border and, eventually, into Baghdad.
“I think people were pretty much aware that the US military didn’t think it was a very wise idea,” he said. “But we give a cheery ‘Aye aye, Sir.’ Because when you elect someone commander in chief — we give our advice. We generally give it in private.”
Mattis, like many other generals before the war, offered his advice to his boss Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on the problems of going into Iraq. This frank advice is expected of high-ranking military officers, but ultimately it’s up to the civilian leadership to make the decision.
Still, seven retired generals eventually came out publicly against Rumsfeld in 2007 in what was dubbed “the generals’ revolt.” Mattis, still on active duty at the time, was not among them.
He was asked specifically about whether there was a scenario in which he may have retired in protest during a talk in San Francisco in April 2014. Mattis allowed some unethical orders and other scenarios that would lead him to do so, but he said, “you have to be very careful about doing that. The lance corporals can’t retire. They’re going. That’s all there is to it.”
He added: “You abandon him only under the most dire circumstances, where the message you have to send can be sent no other way. I never confronted that situation.”
Since retiring from the military in 2013, Mattis has given a number of speeches while working as a fellow at Dartmouth and Stanford. In July 2014, for example, he told students at Stanford: “There is no strategy right now for our engagement with the world. We need to know the political end state for what we want to achieve.”
In light of the controversy over the announced names of new fleet replenishment oilers, including one after Korean War veteran and gay rights activist Harvey Milk, here some other suggestions for future U.S. Navy ships:
Suggested America-class Amphibious Assault Ships
USS The Battle of Fallujah
During the Global War on Terror, the Marines have been fighting far from the ocean. However. those battles have featured just as much valor as was seen during Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, or Tarawa. Notable among these was the Battle of Fallujah in November of 2004. Perhaps the most iconic picture of Operation Iraqi Freedom was the one of First Sergeant Bradley Kasal gripping his M9 Beretta as he was assisted out of the house where he heroically protected a wounded Marine. No matter what you think of the Iraq War, the valor American forces showed during the battle should be honored.
USS Battle of Khe Sanh
During the Vietnam War, the Marine outpost at Khe Sanh was besieged for nearly three months as part of a six-month battle. Unlike the French at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, the Marines at Khe Sanh held out – with the aid of massive air power. This is one proud moment of Marine Corps history that deserves to be remembered – and it should not have taken nearly five decades to honor.
USS Battle of Khafji
One of the biggest fights the Marines had during Operation Desert Storm, the Battle of Khafji lasted three days. The Marines worked with Saudi and Qatari forces to free the city from its brief occupation by Saddam Hussein’s forces, knocking out at least 80 armored vehicles. That heroism is well worth remembering.
Suggested John Lewis-class replenishment ship
USS Joe Foss
He’s a Medal of Honor recipient, and either a Zumwalt or a Burke would seem more fitting, but Joe Foss was more than a Marine Corps ace. He was governor of South Dakota for four years, the first commissioner of the American Football League (now the AFC), and he was President of the National Rifle Association for two terms – leading America’s foremost defender of the Second Amendment.
Suggested Zumwalt-class destroyer
USS Robert A. Heinlein
While best known as the best American science-fiction author of all time, Robert Anson Heinlein graduated from the Naval Academy. While his career ended due to tuberculosis, Heinlein worked with Isaac Asimov at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard during World War II. This is a cultural giant of American literature and deserves to be recognized with the Navy’s most advanced surface combatant.
Suggested Arleigh Burke-class destroyers
USS Tom Clancy
The inventor of the techno-thriller genre made the United States Navy the big star in his first two novels. His iconic character, Jack Ryan, was a former Marine. Clancy was one of the few civilians to receive the Alfred Thayer Mahan Award for Literary Achievement from the Navy League.
USS Joe Rochefort
Rochefort is the unsung hero of the Battle of Midway. His code-breaking efforts gave Admiral Chester W. Nimitz the advance warning needed to send Raymond Spruance and Frank Jack Fletcher to ambush the Japanese fleet. Rochefort waited over 30 years to see his story told, and a decade afterward to be officially recognized.
USS Edwin T. Layton
There was one officer that Nimitz kept by his side throughout World War II. Edwin T. Layton was retained when Nimitz took over for Husband E. Kimmel and stayed until Japan signed the surrender documents in Tokyo Bay. If Rochefort was the unsung hero of Midway, Layton is the man who ensured Rochefort got some of the official recognition he deserved.
USS Brian Chontosh
Brian Chontosh received the Navy Cross for heroism during the initial invasion of Iraq. During a firefight on March 25, 2003, he personally cleared over 200 meters of trench and killed over 20 enemy troops. Sheer awesomeness (that arguably should have resulted in him receiving the Medal of Honor).
USS Justin Lehew
Then-Gunnery Sergeant Justin Lehew received the Navy Cross for his actions during March 23 and 24. On the 23rd, he led a team that rescued some of the members of the 507th Maintenance Company. The next day, he continuously exposed himself to enemy fire during an attack on a bridge, then while recovering Marines from an Amphibious Assault Vehicle that was hit.
USS Bradley Kasal
During the Battle of Fallujah, a photograph featuring then-First Sergeant Bradley Kasal being helped out of a building, clutching his M9 Beretta became an iconic image of Operation Iraqi Freedom. What happened before the photo, though, was the real awesome story: Kasal had shielded a fellow Marine from an insurgent’s grenades with his own body after both had been wounded. Kasal then refused evacuation until the other Marines in the house were safe. He got the Navy Cross. It should have been the Medal of Honor.
USS Justin A. Wilson
Corpsmen have long had a tradition of valor when it comes to treating wounded Marines on the battlefield. Justin Wilson is just one of the latest. He earned the Navy Cross by leaving his position, despite the threat of IEDs, to treat a wounded Marine explosive ordnance disposal tech, then did so again to find other wounded.
USS Arthur D. Struble
It is rare that a Vice Admiral is awarded a Distinguished Service Cross, but Stuble is one of two who got that honor. Struble received the Army’s second-highest decoration for valor for helping oversee the mine-clearance operation at Wonsan during the Korean War. Not too many people know about Admiral Struble’s service, and naming a ship after him would be a suitable way to change this.
This week’s Borne the Battle features Air Force Veteran David Tenenbaum, the creator of Honor Media and Heroes Linked.
From a young age, Tenenbaum wanted to help others in need. Inspired by his father, a Holocaust survivor liberated by US forces, he grew up with the stories of seeing good people standing against great injustice. Like the men who freed his father, he wanted to follow in their footsteps, to do good for others.
His journey began in 2001, at Officer Candidate School a month before 9/11.
Tenenbaum served in the Air Force for six years as an Aircraft Instructor Navigator, leading stateside and overseas operations for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft. He left the service during a downsizing period to begin a new journey, but the Great Recession made it a rough transition.
Moving to Los Angeles, Tenenbaum pursued a new profession direction: media production. He created Honor Media, a nonprofit that supports other Veteran nonprofits with media production, distribution, photography and social media support. He is also the director of Heroes Linked, an online platform that pairs Veterans with mentors to help them get to the next step in their post-military journey.
The moment Otto Catalan had waited almost two decades for had finally arrived. Sitting in a small office, surrounded by his doctors and other medical staff, the blind U.S. Navy Veteran could only hope for one thing: to see the face of his teenage son for the first time.
“I see a lot of flashes, and they’re getting brighter,” he said. “Wow. It’s amazing.”
He turned his head to the right and saw bright flashes of light reflecting off the white coat of Miami VA Chief of Ophthalmology Dr. Ninel Gregori. When he turned to the left to talk with his son, he paused and began to cry. Gregori hugged him.
“Thank you very much, guys,” he said. “I’ll work hard, so I can see. It’s been 19 years, and I have been able to see my son. Thank you. Thank you so much.”
Catalan is keeping true to his word and continuing to work hard to learn how to use his new Argus® II prosthesis or “bionic eye.” Even though he struggled for years to come to terms with the loss of his sight, Catalan now feels optimistic about moving forward and beginning a new life.
“I’m learning something new everyday,” he said. “This prosthetic will help me be more successful in life. It’s already helping me be more mobile at home, and it’s going to make a big difference for me at work.”
Catalan’s struggles with vision loss began in 1989, when he was serving as a ship serviceman in the U.S. Navy. While he was on guard duty aboard a ship in the middle of the Persian Gulf, everything suddenly went dark.
“It felt like I was walking in the dark,” he said. “I told my superior officer, and he sent me to a doctor, but they couldn’t find out what it was. We went back to Virginia. They did extensive tests, and that’s when they found out I had retinitis pigmentosa.”
Catalan was scared when he heard the diagnosis. He never heard of retinitis pigmentosa and didn’t know what it would mean for his future. He was immediately removed from the ship and sent to rehab, and would eventually be medically separated from the military.
What is retinitis pigmentosa?
“Retinitis pigmentosa is one of the most common inherited diseases we see in ophthalmology,” Gregori said. “For people with this condition and certainly in Mr. Catalan’s case, the retina becomes very thin, and the photoreceptors, which convert light into electrical signals, gradually die off over time. Initially, peripheral vision, or the side vision, goes away, and then finally the central vision disappears.”
Catalan’s eyesight continued to deteriorate. Still needing to make money, he took a job as a cook. As his conditioned worsened, he struggled to tell if food was cooked and even burned himself multiple times. It was at this point that Catalan knew he needed help, so he went to the Northport VA Medical Center in New York.
“My doctors told me I needed to start preparing because I was going to be permanently blind soon,” he said. “After I heard that, I remember crying all the time. I couldn’t even hear someone say the word ‘see’ because I would burst into tears.”
The Northport VAMC referred Catalan to the VA Connecticut Healthcare System to participate in its Eastern Blind Rehabilitation Service’s three-month training program. While sitting through the training sessions and listening to the instructors and other Veterans, Catalan unexpectedly learned a valuable life lesson.
“Once I met other blind Vietnam Veterans at VA Connecticut and saw how well they were dealing with their situation, I never cried about my own condition again,” he said.
Throughout the program, he also learned to perform everyday tasks, such as shave his face, eat with utensils, identify clothing and walk with a cane. He stayed an additional two months to learn to use a computer and screen-reader technology.
Moving to Florida
In 2005, Catalan heard about ophthalmology research being conducted at the Miami VA Healthcare System and the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, which serves as the ophthalmology department of the University of Miami Health System. He moved his family to Cutler Bay, Florida and transferred his care to the then Miami VA Medical Center—where he worked with Roberta Goldstein, now retired Miami VA visual impairment services team coordinator.
“Roberta was great,” he said. “She referred me to the prosthetics department at the West Palm Beach VAMC, so I could get equipment to help me go back to work. She’s the best.”
Shortly after receiving his prosthetics equipment, Catalan landed a job as a resource specialist with Marriott Hotels—where he still works today. He says Marriott has been accommodating to his condition, and he hopes to be considered for promotion one day.
In March 2015, he received a phone call that would help his chances of getting that long-awaited promotion and also change his life.
One of my hopes was to see my son’s face for the first time
When he heard about the “bionic eye,” Catalan requested an evaluation for the device at the Miami VA Eye Clinic. With the help of the low vision Miami VA team, Gregori selected him for the Argus II® screening evaluation and personally called his home to ask if he was still interested.
“He was a perfect candidate,” Gregori said. “His personality was extremely important. With artificial vision, the patient must have the patience to learn to interpret the lights and images he or she is seeing. Learning to use the Argus II is like learning a new language, so individuals with both an optimistic personality and a strong willingness to work hard are the best candidates for the technology.”
Dr. Gregori is the Miami VA chief of ophthalmology and an associate professor of clinical ophthalmology at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute. In 2004, she was part of the surgical team that implanted the first Argus II® retinal prosthesis in a Florida patient, a non-Veteran from Tampa. She was eager to bring the new technology to the Miami VA, where she proudly serves South Florida Veterans and has lead the ophthalmology department for the past 10 years.
“Miami VA Medical Center Director Paul Russo and Chief of Surgery Dr. Seth Spector both enthusiastically welcomed the idea of making the bionic eye available to our Veterans. It would not have been possible without their support,” Gregori said.
It felt like I had just given somebody the best Christmas present
Catalan underwent surgery to implant the Argus® II, a new prosthesis approved in 2013 by the Food and Drug Administration to treat people with end-stages of retinitis pigmentosa, at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute on Nov. 24, 2015. Catalan’s bionic eye was activated Dec. 11 by the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute’s biomedical engineers, under the supervision of Miami VA’s Dr. Ninel Gregori. Even though Gregori and her team had already been through the experience of turning on the prosthesis with a previous patient, Catalan’s moment was emotional nonetheless.
“When it was turned on, Mr. Catalan started crying, and it brought tears to my eyes,” Gregori said. “It felt like I just gave somebody the best Christmas present I had ever given to anybody in my life. That’s why I went into ophthalmology.”
“After 19 years, the first thing I saw was my son’s face,” Catalan said. “I could also see Dr. Gregori, and when we walked around the hall, I was able to tell where the door and window frames were for the first time. That might not mean a lot to other people, but it meant so much to me.”
Catalan continues to work with the Miami VA Blind Rehabilitation Team, lead by optometrist Dr. Kasey Zann, to learn how to use the Argus II® in his everyday life. Blind Rehabilitation Outpatient Specialist Linh Pham visits his home and trains him to use the device in his home environment and in public. He also works regularly with Gregori and her team at the Miami VA Eye Clinic.
“The Miami VA Healthcare System has amazing low vision and blind rehabilitation resources for Veterans. It is an ideal setting for rehabilitation after Argus II implantation,” Gregori said.
At home, Catalan now sees objects and walls, and can even see lights and motion on his television for the first time. His next goal is to learn to use his new computer at work. After his training, he will be able to see shapes, the different windows and letters on his computer screen.
During an outing with his family in early 2015, Catalan was surprised to see a sight he had not seen in years.
“On New Year’s Eve, I was able to see the fireworks outside for the first time in 19 years. My mouth stayed open for a while,” he said. “Now, when I’m walking on the grass, I can see the lines where the grass is versus where the sidewalk is. The fact that I’m walking outside and can see the lights makes it all worth it.”
About the Argus® II Retinal Prosthesis System
The Argus® II Retinal Prosthesis System—made by Second Sight Medical Products, Inc.—is an artificial retina, or bionic eye, that converts images into light and uses a miniature video camera that is mounted on a pair of glasses, said Gregori. Once the images are converted, they are wirelessly transmitted to a surgically implanted prosthesis located in the patient’s eye. The implant then stimulates the retina to produce an image that is sent to the brain for interpretation.