What North Koreans really think of their supreme leader - We Are The Mighty
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What North Koreans really think of their supreme leader

What North Koreans really think of their supreme leader
Why does it always look overcast in North Korea?


The Center for Strategic and International Studies‘s Beyond Parallel released new polls that shed light on one of the most obscure areas in global studies — the opinions of ordinary North Korean citizens.

North Korea’s 25 million citizens live under an oppressive, totalitarian government that freely detains or even puts to death citizens that stray from official messaging in any way. Simply listening to outside media not sanctioned by the state can result in death.

But the small survey, which gives a voice to those living under unimaginable scrutiny, reveals what many in the international community believe to be true — North Koreans are unhappy with their state and risk severe punishments to cope with it in their personal lives.

Also read: What you need to know about North Korean threats

“This is the first time we’re hearing directly from people inside the country,” Dr. Victor Cha, head of Korea studies at CSIS, told The Washington Post.

Beyond Parallel carried out the survey so that it would present minimal risk to those involved. Ultimately, they wound up with a small sample size that nonetheless conveyed a sentiment with near unanimity: North Koreans know that their government does not work, and they criticize it privately at extreme personal peril.

What North Koreans really think of their supreme leader

Out of the 36 people polled, zero said that the country’s public distribution system of goods provides what they want for a good life.

Out of the 36, only one said they do not joke in private about the government.

While it may not seem like a big deal to those in the West who enjoy free speech and can readily make jokes about their government, consider this 2014 finding from the United Nations on the state of free speech in North Korea:

State surveillance permeates the private lives of all citizens to ensure that virtually no expression critical of the political system or of its leadership goes undetected. Citizens are punished for any “anti-State” activities or expressions of dissent. They are rewarded for reporting on fellow citizens suspected of committing such “crimes”.

Beyond Parallel reports that formal state-organized neighborhood watches “regularly monitor their members” and report any behavior that deviates from what the state deems appropriate.

The picture painted by Beyond Parallel’s research paints a picture starkly in contrast with the images we see flowing out of North Korea’s state media, which usually feature Kim Jong Un smiling broadly while touring military or commercial facilities.

The US and international community have long tried to lobby North Korea’s greatest ally, China, to exert some influence on the isolated dictatorship to ease the suffering of the North Korean people, and protect the region from Pyongyang’s nuclear belligerence.

What North Koreans really think of their supreme leader

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Why tech execs want to ban robot weapons

Artificial intelligence experts shook up the tech world this month when they called for the United Nations to regulate and even consider banning autonomous weapons.


Attention quickly gravitated to the biggest celebrity in the group, Elon Musk, who set the Internet ablaze when he tweeted: “If you’re not concerned about AI safety, you should be. Vastly more risk than North Korea.”

 

The group of 116 AI experts warned in an open letter to the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons that “lethal autonomous weapons threaten to become the third revolution in warfare.” Speaking on behalf of companies that make artificial intelligence and robotic systems that may be repurposed to develop autonomous weapons, they wrote, “We feel especially responsible in raising this alarm.”

The blunt talk by leaders of the AI world has raised eyebrows. Musk has put AI in the category of existential threat and is demanding decisive and immediate regulation. But even some of the signatories of the letter now say Musk took the fear mongering too far.

What this means for the Pentagon and its massive efforts to merge intelligent machines into weapon systems is still unclear. The military sees a future of high-tech weapon systems powered by artificial intelligence and ubiquitous autonomous weapons in the air, at sea, on the ground, as well as in cyberspace.

The United Nations has scheduled a November meeting to discuss the implications of autonomous weapons. It has created a group of governmental experts on “lethal autonomous weapon systems.” The letter asked the group to “work hard at finding means to prevent an arms race in these weapons, to protect civilians from their misuse, and to avoid the destabilizing effects of these technologies.”

What North Koreans really think of their supreme leader
United Nations General Assembly hall in New York, NY. Wikimedia Commons photo by user Avala.

Founder and CEO of the artificial intelligence company SparkCognition, Amir Husain, signed the letter but insists that he is against any ban or restrictions that would stifle progress and innovation. He pointed out that the campaign was organized by professor Toby Walsh of the University of New South Wales in Australia, and was meant to highlight the “potential dangers of autonomous weapons absent an international debate on these issues.”

The industry wants a healthy debate on the benefits and risks of AI and autonomy, Amir told RealClearDefense in a statement. But a blanket ban is “unworkable and unenforceable.” Scientific progress is inevitable, “and for me that is not frightening,” he added. “I believe the solution — as much as one exists at this stage — is to redouble our investment in the development of safe, explainable, and transparent AI technologies.”

Wendy Anderson, general manager of SparkCognition’s defense business, said that to suggest a ban or even tight restrictions on the development of any technology is a “slippery slope” and would put the United States at a competitive disadvantage, as other countries will continue to pursue the technology. “We cannot afford to fall behind,” said Anderson. “Banning or restricting its development is not the answer. Having honest, in-depth discussions about how we create, develop, and deploy the technology is.”

What North Koreans really think of their supreme leader
USAF photo by Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson

August Cole, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and writer at the consulting firm Avascent, said the concerns raised by tech leaders on autonomous weapons are valid, but a ban is unrealistic. “Given the proliferation of civilian machine learning and autonomy advances in everything from cars to finance to social media, a prohibition won’t work,” he said.

Setting limits on technology ultimately would hurt the military, which depends on commercial innovations, said Cole. “What needs to develop is an international legal, moral, and ethical framework. … But given the unrelenting speed of commercial breakthroughs in AI, robotics, and machine learning, this may be a taller order than asking for an outright ban on autonomous weapons.”

But while advances in commercial technology have benefited the military, analysts fear that the Pentagon has not fully grasped the risks of unfettered AI and the possibility that machines could become uncontrollable.

“AI is not just another technology,” said Andy Ilachinski, principal research scientist at the Center for Naval Analyses. He authored a recent CNA study, “AI, Robots, and Swarms: Issues, Questions, and Recommended Studies.”

What North Koreans really think of their supreme leader
USMC photo by Sgt. Lucas Hopkins

Defense has to be concerned about the implications of this debate, he said in an interview. AI is transforming the world “to the level of a Guttenberg press, to the level of the Internet,” he said. “This is a culture-shifting technology. And DoD is just a small part of that.”

Another troubling reality is that the Pentagon has yet to settle on the definition of autonomous weapons. In 2012, the Department of Defense published an instruction manual on the use of autonomous weapons. That 5-year-old document is the only existing policy on the books on how the US military uses these systems, Ilachinski said. According to that manual, a weapon is autonomous if “once activated, it can select and engage targets without further intervention by a human.”

Policies and directives are long overdue for an update, he said. “We need to know what AI is capable of, how to test it, evaluate it.”

He noted that the Defense Science Board, a Pentagon advisory panel, published two studies on the subject in 2012 and 2016 but provided “no good definition of autonomy or AI in either of them.” These are the Pentagon’s top experts and “they can’t even get it straight.”

What North Koreans really think of their supreme leader
USAF photo by Master Sgt. Dennis J. Henry Jr.

Something about Musk’s warning strikes a chord with scientists that truly understand AI, Ilachinski observed. When Google’s Deepmind created a computer program in 2015 that beat the world’s Go champion, it was a landmark achievement for AI but also brought the realization that these algorithms truly have minds of their own. “This is an issue of great concern for DoD.”

There are areas within AI that scientists are still trying to wrap their heads around. In advanced systems like Deepmind’s AlphaGo, “you can’t reverse engineer why a certain behavior occurred,” Ilachinski said. “It is important for DoD to recognize that they may not able to understand completely why the system is doing what it’s doing.”

One reason to take Musk’s warning seriously is that much is still unknown about what happens within the brains of these AI systems once they are trained, said Ilachinski. “You may not be able to predict the overall behavior of the system,” he said. “So in that sense I share the angst that people like Elon Musk feel.”

On the other hand, it is too late to put the genie back in the bottle, Ilachinski added. The United States can’t let up because countries like China already are working to become the dominant power in AI. Further, the Pentagon has to worry that enemies will exploit AI in ways that can’t yet be imagined. Anyone can buy a couple of drones for less than a thousand dollars, go to the MIT or Harvard website, learn about AI, download snippets of code and implant them in the drones, he said. A swarm of smart drones is something “would have a hard time countering because we are not expecting it. It’s very cheap and easy to do.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

Alleged Benghazi plotter convicted for terrorism, not murder

A Libyan militant was convicted Nov. 28 of terrorism charges stemming from the 2012 Benghazi attacks that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans. But a federal jury found him not guilty of murder, the most serious charge associated with the rampage he was accused of orchestrating.


The attack became instant political fodder in the 2012 presidential campaign, with Republicans accusing the Obama administration of intentionally misleading the public and stonewalling congressional investigators, though officials denied any wrongdoing. Some were particularly critical of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s handling of the conflict, which dogged her during her presidential campaign.

What North Koreans really think of their supreme leader
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified before the House Select Committee on Benghazi. (Image under Public Domain)

But the seven-week trial of Ahmed Abu Khattala was largely free of political intrigue.

Jurors convicted Khattala on four counts, including providing material support for terrorism and destroying property and placing lives in jeopardy at the U.S. compound, but acquitted him on 14 others. Even with the mixed verdict, Khattala, 46, still faces the possibility of life imprisonment for his conviction on a federal firearms charge.

Prosecutors accused Khattala of directing the attack aimed at killing personnel and plundering maps, documents and other property from the U.S. mission in Benghazi. But defense attorneys said their evidence against him was shoddy.

Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed in the first attack at the U.S. mission, along with Sean Patrick Smith, a State Department information management officer. Nearly eight hours later, at a CIA complex nearby, two more Americans, contract security officers Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, died in a mortar attack.

What North Koreans really think of their supreme leader
The United States Air Force Band plays the national anthem during the dignified transfer of the remains J. Christopher Stevens, U.S. ambassador to Libya, and three other Americans, Sept. 14, 2012, at Joint Base Andrews, Md. (USAF photo by Senior Airman Perry Aston.)

“Today, a small measure of justice was meted out,” CIA Director Mike Pompeo said in a message to CIA employees. Of Khattala he added: “It took intelligence to find him, soldiers to assist in capturing him, law enforcement to interview him, and a legal team to put him away. Khattala’s sentencing is to follow; but no term in prison will bring our people back.”

Prosecutors acknowledged they lacked evidence to show Khattala personally fired any gunshots, but argued he orchestrated the violence out of his hatred for U.S. freedoms and his suspicion that Americans were operating a spy base in Benghazi. They said Khattala led a group of militia “hitmen” who could be seen on surveillance footage toting weapons and a gas can the night of the attack. Their case relied heavily on the testimony of informants, including one who was paid $7 million to befriend Khattala, help the government gather information on him, and arrange his capture.

Related: US bodyguard gives harrowing account of Benghazi attack

Defense attorneys sought to discount the informants as liars who were paid for their stories. Federal public defender Michelle Peterson said in closing arguments that prosecutors were playing to jurors’ emotions to make up for shoddy evidence, including blurry surveillance video and cellphone records she described as inconclusive. Khattala is a deeply religious man who believes in conservative sharia law as outlined in the Quran, which “is not the same thing as terrorism,” Peterson said.

But prosecutors argued the evidence was enough to convict Khattala on all counts.

“He was there to kill Americans, and that is exactly what he and his men did,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael C. DiLorenzo told jurors.

What North Koreans really think of their supreme leader
A man rallies in front of a burning vehicle in Benghazi, Libya (Image via website of Congressman Mike Bost)

The trial, which opened Oct. 2, was one of the most significant terrorism prosecutions in recent years in a U.S. civilian court, even though the Trump administration had argued such suspects are better sent to the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The mixed verdict could revive that debate, even as newly captured terror suspects — including a second man charged in the Benghazi attacks — are instead brought to federal court.

Supporters of the military commission system argue valuable intelligence is lost when suspected terrorists are afforded protections of the American legal system. But prosecutors said Khattala, who was interrogated at length during 13 days aboard a Navy transport ship headed to the U.S., provided information about other members of the Islamic extremist militia group blamed for the Benghazi attack. Among the men he pegged was Mustafa al-Imam, who was captured last month and awaits trial in the same federal courthouse in Washington.

Jonathan Hafetz, a senior attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union who has handled terrorism cases, said the Khattala trial showed federal courts are capable of handling terror cases, even with his acquittal of murder charges.

“No court system can pretend to protect due process if it only achieves the resolution the government wants in every case,” he said.

Articles

That time cadets at West Point rioted over Egg Nog

From the beginning, heavy drinking was fairly commonplace among the cadets at the United States Military Academy at West Point (founded in 1802). In an attempt to stem this in 1826, the academy’s strict superintendent and the “Father of West Point,” General Sylvanus Thayer, began a crackdown by prohibiting alcohol on campus. As Christmas approached and the cadets realized that the prohibition would put a damper on their traditional Christmas Eve festivities that included consumption of a fair amount of eggnog, a bold few began to plan away around the problem.


What North Koreans really think of their supreme leader
Photo: Flickr/Erin Stevenson O’Connor

Back then, eggnog was always an alcoholic beverage (see: What is Eggnog Made Of and Who Invented It?), often made with rum or whiskey. Luckily for the cadets, both liquors were plentiful near campus, being served by three taverns within easy travelling distance: Benny Haven, North’s Tavern and Martin’s Tavern, just across the Hudson River.

Determined to make their season bright, a small cadre of cadets set out to smuggle some liquor into the North Barracks and chose Martin’s Tavern across the river as their supplier. A few nights before Christmas, three cadets crossed the Hudson, drank a bit at the bar, then purchased three to four gallons of whiskey to go. They then ferried the contraband back across the river. Met at the dock by a guard, they reportedly bribed him with $0.35  ($7 today) to look the other way while they unloaded the loot and snuck it into their rooms where it lay hidden until Christmas Eve.

On the fateful night, the superintendent assigned only two officers to monitor the North Barracks: Lieutenant William A. Thorton and Captain Ethan Allen Hitchcock. Things were quiet at first, and Hitchcock and Thorton went to bed about midnight. At about 4 a.m., however, Hitchcock was awakened by noise coming from one of the cadets’ floors above him. Upon investigation, he discovered a small group of obviously drunk cadets and ordered them to return to their rooms.

No sooner had he dispersed that group than Hitchcock realized there was another party in an adjoining room. Crashing that one as well, Hitchcock found these cadets so inebriated that he later reported they attempting to hide under blankets, and one even thought he could avoid detection by stubbornly keeping his face behind his hat. Unlike the first party, however, things got heated in the second room, and after Hitchcock left, the drunk-mad cadets decided to arm themselves with their bayonets, pistols and dirks to attack, and perhaps even kill, Hitchcock.

Thus began the Eggnog Riot. While the drunken cadets were gathering their weaponry, it sounded to Thorton and Hitchcock a few floors below as if the parties had simply resumed. Returning to the cadets’ floors, Hitchcock met Jefferson Davis (yes, that Jefferson Davis), then a cadet who was also drunk. Vainly trying to help his friends, Davis burst into the party-room just ahead of Hitchcock shouting: “Put away the grog boys! Captain Hitchcock’s coming!” Hitchcock soon joined them and ordered Davis to his room, which likely saved him from later expulsion, since he missed out on the remainder of the riot. Had he been expelled, of course, his future in the military and politics, culminating in becoming the President of the Confederacy, likely wouldn’t have ever happened. (See: What Ever Happened to Confederate President Jefferson Davis?)

Other cadets who had already made preparations to attack began assaulting Hitchcock and now Thorton, who had joined the fray. Thorton was threatened with a sword and knocked down with a piece of wood, while another cadet actually shot at Hitchcock.

Realizing things were spiraling out of control, Hitchcock ordered a cadet sentinel (who apparently had not been invited to the party) to get “the ‘com,” meaning the Commandant of Cadets; however, in their drunken state the rioting cadets thought he had summoned regular army men from a nearby barracks to attack them. Seeking to defend the honor of the North Barracks, even more cadets armed themselves (in total including about one-third of all cadets at the academy), and, as is standard operating procedure in any proper riot, the mob began arbitrarily breaking anything in sight, including windows, furniture and other items.

Eventually, the ‘Com came, and since the cadets truly respected his authority, they finally regained a semblance of composure, and the so-called Eggnog Riot ended sometime Christmas day.

Over the next week, Inspector of the Academy and Chief Engineer of the Army, Major General Alexander Macomb, entered Orders No. 49 and 98, the latter of which placed 22 cadets under house arrest, and the former began a court of inquiry.

The investigation revealed that the riot caused $168.83 in damage (around $3,500 today), and identified 19 ringleaders who were subsequently court-martialed between January 26 and March 8, 1827. Cadets Aisquith, Berrien, Bomford, Burnley, Farrelly, Fitzgerald, Gard, Guion, Humphreys, Johnson, Lewis, Mercer, Murdock, Norvelle, Roberts, Screven, Stocker, Swords, and Thompson stood trial, and other cadets, including both Jefferson Davis (who was among the 22 originally under house arrest, but otherwise went unpunished) and Robert E. Lee testified for the defenses. Eleven of the group (Berrien, Bomford, Burnley, Farrelly, Fitzgerald, Guion, Humphreys, Johnson, Lewis, Roberts and Stocker) were dismissed, and the remainder were allowed to stay, although Gard, Murdock and Norvelle chose to leave the academy anyway.

As a result of the riot, in the 1840s when new barracks were constructed, they were designed so that the cadets had to actually go outside to move between floors in an attempt to prevent another mob uprising.

Bonus Eggnog:

Here’s George Washington’s (yes, that George Washington) eggnog recipe (not verbatim):

Mix together well:

1 pint brandy

1 cup rye whiskey

1 cup rum

½ cup sherry

Separately, separate the yolks and whites of one dozen eggs. Then beat with the yolks:

¾ cup sugar

Add the liquor into the sugar-egg mixture, slowly at first, beating constantly so it fully incorporates.

Then add, again beating together slowly:

1 quart cream

1 quart milk

Separately, beat the whites stiff and gently fold those into the mixture. When incorporated, let it set in a cool place for several days, and as George said, “taste frequently.”

Articles

This slave escaped to join the Union Navy then bought his former master’s house

If there’s such a thing a revenge served warm, the story of Robert Smalls best describes it. Smalls was born into slavery in 1839 Beaufort, South Carolina. He was hired out by his master in Charleston by the age of 12, working the hotels, docks, and wharves of Charleston Harbor.


It was while he was working in the hotel he met his wife, Hannah Jones, whom he married in 1856. She had a daughter already, and the two had a son and daughter. At the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, Smalls was pressed into service on board the CSS Planter, a Confederate transport. This is where he would make history.

While the Planter’s three white officers were ashore, the seven slave crewmen decided to make a break for the Union blockade. The slave escape wasn’t just a spur-of-the-moment decision. They planned the escape meticulously, even picking up their families, who were hiding near the southern wharf.

He brought the ship and its cargo of cannon and ammunition to the Union, as well as the Confederate Navy’s code book and the map of Charleston’s harbor defenses.

What North Koreans really think of their supreme leader
From a spread about Smalls in Harper’s, ca. 1862

President Lincoln and the U.S. Congress would award the prize money for the capture of the Planter to Smalls and his crew. Smalls’ bravery and skill became the instrumental argument for allowing black troops to fight for the Union.

“My race needs no special defense, for the past history of them in this country proves them to be equal of any people anywhere,” Smalls said. “All, they need is an equal chance in the battle of life.”

Smalls himself enlisted with the Union as a Naval pilot, eventually ending up back on the Planter, now a Union transport, as a free man. He piloted the USS Keokuk during a major attack on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor.

When the Keokuk’s skipper wanted to surrender during the failed assault, Smalls took command and got the ship to safety. For this, he was promoted to the Keokuk’s captain. When the war ended, Smalls took the Planter back to Charleston for the ceremonial raising of the American flag at Fort Sumter.

What North Koreans really think of their supreme leader
The raising of the Union flag at For Sumter, 1865.

He returned to Beaufort, S.C. as a freeman during Reconstruction. He opened a store for newly-freed slaves and purchased his old master’s house. He eventually allowed his old master’s wife to move back into the house shortly before her death. The house still stands.

511 Prince Street – The Robert Smalls House from Lowcountry Real Estate on Vimeo.

Smalls went on to serve in the South Carolina House of Representatives and Senate as well as the South Carolina militia as a major general. He was eventually elected to represent South Carolina in the U.S. House of Representatives and served for four years before his death in 1915.

MIGHTY FIT

5 perfect fitness jobs for veterans

Do you still love fitness? Are you transitioning out of the military and thinking about what the next steps of your future career will be?

Think about a hobby you love. Can you make your hobby into a job or even just a part-time position for starters?

How about a job in the fitness industry? There are many veterans in the fitness industry, including myself, a tactical fitness writer. But writing is far from the only option in the multibillion-dollar fitness business. From personal trainers, gym owners, strength coaches, supplement affiliates, inventors and program developers to athletes who compete in all types of competitions, there are plenty of fitness-related career paths.


If fitness is part of your life or used to be, consider finding that love again. You might find something inside you that reconnects with the world you left behind when you first joined the military.

Here are some of the many fitness career paths that can help you get moving again, fine-tune your fitness knowledge and skills, and teach people who need your motivation, passion and example.

What North Koreans really think of their supreme leader

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman David Carbajal)

​1. Group Trainer

One of the easier ways to get involved in training people is to lead a group at an established fitness center. Or you could build your own outdoor fitness boot camp program, especially if the weather permits most of the year. A group training instructor could be as basic as a boot camp fitness class or a learned training program on spin bikes, yoga, kickboxing, Zumba, barre, aquatic fitness or CrossFit. No matter what you pick, these are fun ways not only to teach others, but to get your own workout accomplished with a group of people who need your leadership. It can also be a good supplemental income if you can spare an hour or two a few days a week.

2. Personal Trainer

Like the title suggests, this business model is more personal, and you get to really know and develop training programs for the goals, needs and abilities of a client. Personal training is also better paying than group fitness. You can offer personal training as part of an existing fitness center or set up your own hustle and train people at their own homes or in an outdoor area.

3. Online Fitness Business

If you like to create content for people to read or view, you may find a promising business model with a website store and social media. Whether it is through your own products, articles and videos or using an affiliate model, you can make significant income online with just a little bit of technology skill.

What North Koreans really think of their supreme leader

(U.S. Marine Corps photos by Lance Cpl. Bridget M. Keane)

4. Invent a Fitness Device

Two friends of mine created companies around their inventions. Randy Hetrick of TRX and Alden Mill of Perfect Pushup fame both created products that fit into the fitness industry very nicely and maybe even revolutionized it to some degree.

5. Can You Still Compete?

Many veterans are still going hard-core after service and compete in professional racing and sports from CrossFit Games, to the Olympics and Paralympic Games, to becoming sponsored and professional athletes in the racing world. Moving that athletic fame into social media and internet fitness businesses is a great way to continue training and helping others, as well as earning a living.

Fitness is important for the transitioning veteran. Whether you decide to make fitness part of a way to make extra income, or you just get involved in volunteer coaching in your community, you will find that the physical activity you do and the coaching and teaching you provide are helpful to you and others.

Find the Right veteran Job

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

How a ragtag band of civilians got strong for service women

On the day I reported for duty as a volunteer in an extreme Army experiment of women’s strength, I stopped my car at the gate, watched the guard approaching, and thought about turning around. I’d seen the movies. I’d watched A Few Good Men and Private Benjamin and winced at the exhausting runs, pushups, shouting by grouchy drill instructors and general toughness required to thrive on a military base. I was a civilian at the edge of a world full of camo and shorn heads and running in formation and all I could think was, Do I have what it takes to get through this?

It was May of 1995, and scientists at the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine (USARIEM) on the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Command (USASSC) base in Natick, Massachusetts, were kicking off a seminal study to determine if women could get strong enough to perform the toughest military tasks usually assigned to men. With only one female soldier available for the seven-month program, the scientists had recruited 45 ordinary civilians. I was a 24-year-old cub reporter in average shape who loathed running. It was time to put on my big-girl pants and push myself past my limits.

From the start, our ragtag band of women seemed an unlikely crew to take on such a lofty pursuit. More weekend walkers than G.I. Janes, we came to the base at varying fitness levels, shapes and sizes, and our ranks included stay-at-home moms, teachers, a landscaper, a student, a prison guard, a bartender and one journalist. But with mighty hearts and iron will, we intended to smash through those expectations. They said women couldn’t do it. We hit back: Watch me.

Sara and several other women she trained with

We did everything asked of us and more. I strapped on a 75-pound backpack and hiked two miles over rugged terrain, and though I ended up shuffling more than running the first time, I finished (albeit with shredded heels and blood blisters). I ran until I was sick while dragging a 110-pound trailer through thick woods and a meadow choked with weeds and wildflowers. I lifted more, more, more each week, carried sandbags and heavy metal boxes until my hands were calloused, pushed through five-mile backpack hikes and sprinted up steep hills.

I was honored to carry water for the women doing the work of defending our country, and I felt pressure to show up for them—a lot of people were watching us, after all. The experiment had made international headlines even before it began when a controversy about women in combat almost shut us down, and now the big TV networks were pressing for access to the base to film us in action (they never got it—my newspaper had the exclusive). At the time, females were still banned from most ground combat roles. I knew that on average we possess around 50 to 60 percent of males’ upper body strength, but I also knew women who could perform incredible physical feats. I didn’t think it was fair for anyone to be banned from a job based on averages.

The test subjects formed fast, tight friendships to help get us through the rigorous training regimen and quickly developed our own rallying cry. In the first week, one of us blurted, “Do what?” when told to do something that seemed near impossible. “F— that!” I replied under my breath. For the rest of the study, we’d shout that call and answer to get psyched up before our toughest tests. Everyone on post knew who we were, and for a long time I noted skeptical glances and heard a snide remark or two while running through the base. But by the end, the soldiers, officers and civilian personnel were openly cheering us on.

This week marks exactly 25 years since the research scientists who designed the study, principal investigator Everett Harman and Pete Frykman, released their results. The full story of our journey is a little-known piece of military history that will be told for the first time in my forthcoming book The Strong Ones: How a Band of Civilian Women Made Their Mark on the Armyout February 9.

Spoiler alert: We did it. The data showed 78 percent of test subjects could now qualify for Army jobs categorized as “very heavy,” in which soldiers must occasionally lift 100 pounds, whereas only 24 percent could at the beginning. We also showed a 33 percent improvement on the 75-pound backpack test, going from 36 minutes to 27.5 minutes for two miles. And we did it all efficiently by training 1 ½ hours a day, five days a week.

News clip of the study proving women could pass army tests

In 2016 when I learned all military jobs were opened up to women, I began my research for The Strong Ones to find out how we might have helped change things. I won’t give away the ending, but I will say the test subjects affected future military women in more ways than one.

It’s been inspiring to watch women kicking butt in so many new roles in every branch over the past few years, and interesting to hear more than a few I’ve met along the way hit back at their doubters the same way we did back then: Watch me.

For a sneak peak, see The Strong Ones book trailer below.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Coastie and World War I vet flew in a zeppelin over the Arctic

Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Edward “Iceberg” Smith was the only American military officer invited on a bold, new expedition in the late 1920s: An 8,000-mile journey over the Arctic in the Graf Zeppelin, one of the premier airships at the time.


What North Koreans really think of their supreme leader

Lt. Cmdr. Edward “Iceberg” Smith, an Arctic expert, World War I veteran, and Coast Guardsman invited to take part in the 1931 Aeroarctic Expedition.

(U.S. Coast Guard Compass)

Smith was one of the top experts on icebergs at the time, an interest he discovered after his service in World War I. The young Coast Guard officer had been assigned to convoy duties during the war, but was assigned to the international ice patrol soon after.

His research into sea ice, especially the iceberg-forming area near Greenland, led to him receiving the first doctorate degree ever bestowed on a Coast Guardsman. It came from Harvard in 1930.

This scientific zeal drew the attention of Arctic explorers planning in the late 1920s to fly an airship to the North Pole while a submarine simultaneously made the same journey under the ice. The submarine would then bore its way to the surface, and the two crews would meet for handshakes and an exchange of mail before departing.

The trip went through a number of redesigns as the death of its leader, mechanical problems with the submarine, and funding issues all challenged elements of the plan.

But, in 1931, the plans were finalized for the Graf Zeppelin to meet up with a Russian icebreaker near the North Pole and exchange mail before collecting a large amount of scientific data and returning to Berlin — all within a single week. As Smith wrote in his notes following the trip, earlier expeditions along a similar route, conducted on foot, had taken almost a year to go one direction.

What North Koreans really think of their supreme leader

The Graf Zeppelin in Berlin.

(U.S. Coast Guard Compass)

The zeppelin took off on July 24, 1931, and proceeded to Berlin and then Leningrad for additional fuel and hydrogen before setting off north for the Pole. They crossed into the Arctic Circle at 7 p.m., July 26.

While the trip was certainly easier than a traditional Arctic expedition, it was still very dangerous. The men on board had limited emergency gear and food if the zeppelin was forced down by bad weather or mechanical failure. But, as long as the ship held up, it was reported as actually being quite pleasant despite how cold it was.

The Arctic ice sheets that proved treacherous for explorers on foot were quite beautiful from the sky by all accounts. And Russians, excited about their men meeting up with the zeppelin in the historic journey, had sent the airborne expedition off with crates of prime caviar.

What North Koreans really think of their supreme leader

A photo of the Arctic ice fields in 1931. The shadow on the ice is from the Graf Zeppelin.

(U.S. Coast Guard Compass)

The zeppelin usually flew between 200 and 500 meters off the surface, and scientists, including Smith, took measurements of the temperature, wind speeds, and other data while photographing areas about which little was previously known.

On July 27, the crew made radio contact with the Soviet icebreaker Malygin and was able to meetup with it a few hours later. The zeppelin was sent down to hover just over the surface of the sea with anchors fashioned from canvas buckets — and the icebreaker had been specially decorated for the occasion.

Despite the festive air, the exchange of mail was conducted quickly because floating ice packs were drifting dangerously close to the zeppelin and leaders were worried the engines could be damaged.

During the night of July 28th, the men dropped packages of mail and potatoes down to a Soviet station on the route before continuing north. This was the zeppelin’s last mail mission during the trip — all that was left was collecting additional scientific observations as it finished its loop back to Berlin.

What North Koreans really think of their supreme leader

The Graf Zeppelin’s 8,000-mile route through the Arctic Circle to the North Pole and back.

(U.S. Coast Guard Compass)

Smith helped capture the exact geography of the area over which the airship transited, and he published his findings later that year in an article titled “The Aeroarctic Expedition,” in The Geographical Review.

His notes called into doubt the existence of previously observed islands and confirmed that one island was, in fact, just a peninsula of a larger one.

The men of the expedition were greeted as heroes in Berlin, and crowds thronged to hear tales of their dangerous exploits. But, since they had suffered none of the mechanical failures of previous airship attempts, they had nothing to report except for 8,000 miles of beautiful views and dutifully collected scientific data.

The Graf Zeppelin was returned to its normal transatlantic route until the Hindenburg disaster in 1937 nearly ended zeppelin travel. For the next few decades, the only real zeppelin program to speak of was managed by the Goodyear Company as only America had the required helium reserves to conduct lighter-than-air travel safely.

American zeppelins would go on to serve in World War II, but not under the care of Coast Guard officers like Smith. Instead, they belonged to the Navy and were used primarily for anti-submarine duties.

All photos are courtesy of the Coast Guard Compass which published an article and accompanying photos about Smith and the Aeroarctic Expedition in 2015. To learn more about Smith and the Coast Guard’s role in exploration, you can read their article here.

Articles

Military and first responders can get great discounts at this online site

Anyone who chooses a life of service to this country or their local community deserves some perks. Those who work (or have worked) in the U.S. Armed Forces, law enforcement, or in a first-response capacity all sacrifice for the greater good — and the greater good should give them something in return.

In 2011, the founders of GovX imagined a way for these Americans of service to access the perks they’ve earned by providing exclusive pricing on brand-name merchandise, tickets, and travel services — all in one online store.


The ambitious GovX team created an e-commerce platform to support this mission of serving those who serve, and they made it completely free to join. The site uses a proprietary verification system to limit membership to those with eligible service-related backgrounds, so that these members have exclusive access to the deals, and brands have the protection of a “closed” site to offer them. (Want to know if you qualify? Click here.)

For more than six years, GovX has developed partnerships with more than 300 brands and hundreds more sport organizations, events, attractions, and travel service providers, making it possible for those who serve our country to treat themselves and their families without breaking the bank.

“To some, ‘Thank you for your service’ may sound a little overplayed, but we mean every word of it.” – Alan Cole, GovX CEO

The online retail site has exploded over the last several years, thanks in large part to the word-of-mouth advocacy of its loyal member base. With more than 2.5 million members, GovX is the leading online shopping destination exclusively for verified military personnel as well as federal, state, and local government workers.

What North Koreans really think of their supreme leader

The GovX retail catalog has expanded with premium brands like Oakley, Under Armour, Vortex Optics, The North Face, and more, but the perks of membership don’t stop at gear and apparel. The number of member discounts for professional and collegiate sports has also dramatically increased (GovX is an official sponsor of Major League Baseball, among other things), new partners like Tough Mudder have joined the mission, and members are saving more than ever on travel and activities for their families.

The success of the GovX business model is about reflexively giving back to the military, law enforcement, and first responder communities.

The mission of GovX was always intended to be more than just shopping discounts. The core of the company was built around supporting America’s service members any way possible. In 2015, the company launched “Mission Giveback”, a monthly donation program where a portion of every order on GovX.com goes to support a nonprofit serving the military and first-responder communities. Since the program’s inception, GovX has donated over 0,000 to these nonprofits, supporting organizations like Semper Fi Fund, Our Military Kids, National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, the Green Beret Foundation, and many others.

But the company doesn’t limit its community support to this program. Through a coordinated partnership with San Diego State University, GovX recently gave a ,000 check to the San Diego Police Foundation — providing a direct impact on the daily lives of law officers in the company’s hometown. Year round, GovX participates in fundraising events and regularly contributes to causes that impact those within the GovX community.

“Our members are the ones doing incredible, tough, brave, honorable things every day and we try to shine a light on those people and actions, because they deserve it.” – Aaron Pelander, VP Marketing, GovX

As GovX moves in to its seventh year and beyond, it will continue to evolve and grow as a company. But one thing that will never be lost during its progress is the mission — serving those who serve. GovX will keep its members and the wider military and first-responder communities at the center of its decision making, and it will continue to negotiate deals and benefits on their behalf for one simple reason: these Americans of service deserve it.

MIGHTY TRENDING

This determined soldier will compete in 2018 Olympics

Whether she’d posted a personal-best time or suffered a collision on the track, Emily Sweeney would flash her trademark smile to fans, media, or anyone who watched her compete. Even when sliding during frigid winter storms in challenging conditions, the New York National Guard Soldier kept smiling.


But for six months during the winter and spring of 2014, that bright-eyed grin couldn’t hide bitter disappointment.

A charismatic Olympic hopeful, Sweeney had entered the 2013 World Cup season as a favorite to make the 2014 Winter Games. When Sweeney lost the final spot on the 2014 U.S. Luge Team, missing the Olympics for the second time, she shut herself off from the sport to which she had dedicated most of her life.

“It’s something that I’ve wanted for so long and it’s something that’s very tangible for me,” said Sweeney, who in December, finally qualified to participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.

For Sweeney, the road to PyeongChang could be described as anything but easy.

Tough matchup hits close to home

Photos and murals of past Olympians adorn the walls of the Lake Placid Olympic Training Center. Medals of previous Olympic greats in bobsled, figure skating, and luge sit encased in the facility’s trophy room.

Some former Olympic competitors still work at the facility, including former silver medalist Gordy Sheer, Team USA’s director of marketing and sponsorship. Sweeney, like other Olympic hopefuls, spent much of her youth here.

As a seven year old, Emily idolized her older sister, Megan, who competed in the luge program at the junior levels. She later joined the USA Luge program herself, after participating in a “slider search” in Rhode Island at age 10. Her sister remained a hero to her.

“I wouldn’t be here or be the person I am today without her,” Emily said. “I was really pushed by Megan from early on because I saw the potential of what I could be through her and that was really inspiring to me.”

After she turned 16, Sweeney showcased tremendous speed on luge tracks across the globe. And she demonstrated enormous potential in the sport in her first year competing.

What North Koreans really think of their supreme leader
Sgt. Emily Sweeney (left) is congratulated by her sister, Megan, after qualifying for the 2018 Winter Games in luge women’s singles Dec. 16 at Lake Placid, New York. Emily missed making the 2010 Games in Vancouver after losing to Megan in a race off. Emily Sweeney makes her Olympic debut next month in PyeongChang, South Korea. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Jennily Leon)

During the 2009 World Cup season, Sweeney began competing at a higher level. She built her luge resume by nabbing Norton Junior World Champion honors and earning bronze medals at the Junior World Cup in Winterberg, Germany and a gold medal at Park City, Utah.

And during the 2009 season, Emily began to beat her older sister and some of her national team peers during practice runs and some competitions. During one World Cup competition in Park City, Utah, she called her parents with concerns about competing with her sister and hero.

“She was very upset,” said Sweeney’s mother, Sue. “She was worried that she was going to beat Megan in the race and it would be the end of Megan’s (Olympic bid).”

Dreams of the Olympics, of course, had always been on her sister’s mind, and her own as well.

“I’ve always wanted that moment of walking in on opening ceremonies,” said Sweeney. “That is the epitome of what I want … to walk in with my whole team and have ‘USA’ on our backs.”

Later that year, during the final World Cup competition in Lillehammer, the final two spots for the 2010 Olympic team came down to two competitors. Both wore the name “Sweeney” on their uniforms.

Also Read: This Army athlete was awarded the same Olympic silver medal twice

Jarred by the prospect of beating her idol, the sisters made a pact to leave everything on the floor on their next competition.

Emily went on to lose to her sister in a race off at the Olympiacenter in Norway, falling by two tenths of a second. Due to a medical waiver, another team member took the final spot for the 2010 Vancouver team, while Emily remained on stand-by as an Olympic alternate. Emily still traveled to British Columbia to cheer on her sister from the stands.

“Going to the Olympics and watching her was difficult,” Emily said. “I’m glad I went, I’m glad I supported her. I wouldn’t have changed that for the world. But it was tough standing on the other side of the track watching my dream happen.”

After she missed a shot at Vancouver, Emily would make a life decision that would set the foundation for life after luge.

An athlete and a soldier

Jack Sweeney, Emily’s grandfather, had long been an inspiration in Emily’s life. While she would prepare meals for him, he’d relay stories to her about his days in the Navy. Emily said her grandfather instilled in her a sense of pride for her country and also inspired her to join the Army National Guard.

Joining the military sparked a change in Emily. She often took a leadership role during basic combat trainng at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. She did the same during her advanced individual training there, where she learned to be a military policeman. She even graduated with honors from the Army’s military police school.

Once in the Army, Emily also opted to join the World Class Athlete Program.

“I thought it was a great avenue of opportunity,” Emily said of her decision to join the Army. “I knew I wanted to continue being an athlete, but I didn’t want to only be an athlete. I wanted something else to pursue beyond my athletic career.”

After joining the Guard, Emily became more of a leader for USA Luge as well, not only competing for the program, but also helping the program identify and recruit talented youth to the sport during talent searches.

Sochi slips away

Around Thanksgiving 2013, Sweeney knew it. Her parents, as they checked at the World Cup standings online also knew: Emily would not be competing at the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia.

What North Koreans really think of their supreme leader
Sgt. Emily Sweeney waves to the crowd at the Lake Placid Olympic Center Dec. 16. Sweeney qualified for her first Olympics Dec. 14 and will join fellow Army World Class Athletes Taylor Morris and Matt Mortensen in PyeongChang, South Korea. (U.S. Army photo by Joe Lacdan)

A season that began with promise, instead led to complications with her sled, dealing with minor injuries and slower finish times on the World Cup circuit.

After her final races had finished for 2013, Sweeney sat in her hotel room. Her boyfriend, Italian luge team member Dominik Fischnaller, brought her a cup of her favorite ice cream.

And then for six months, Sweeney walked away from the sport to which she had dedicated a great chunk of her childhood. Instead of weight training and spending hours on the track, Sweeney removed herself from any luge or exercise activities. Instead, she retreated to her home in Lake Placid and contemplated her future in the sport.

“I went from being an Olympic hopeful, training at 100 percent,” Emily said, “to just stopping everything.

“I was really at a point where I said, ‘What’s the point?’ What’s the point of doing this if I’m not getting the results I’m wanting?’ It took a while, I closed myself off.”

She began working as a waitress and hostess at local restaurants. And while she’d visit her ailing grandfather in neighboring Saranac Lake, she mostly cut herself off from family and dealt with struggles the best way she knew: internally.

“We lost her for a while,” Sue said. “It was tough. She didn’t even watch the (2014 Winter) Games.”

“Emily had to refine her sliding and her motivation,” Megan said. “It took her a long time. But I think that’s normal when you have a dream and become so disappointed … It was very, very tough because she knows she’s good.”

The Army gets her rolling

In May 2014, Emily remained withdrawn from the luge community. It would be just the wakeup call she needed to get back on track with her sport.

She received orders to attend Warrior Leader Course (now the Basic Leader Course) that spring at Fort Dix, New Jersey. During the month-long course, she took tests on her leadership skills, land navigation and various drills to prepare to become a noncommissioned officer .

After giving up her strict luge-related training routine and regular exercising, Emily had lost muscle mass. She’d dropped 20 pounds from her 5-foot-5-inch frame. As a result, for the first time since enlisting in the Guard, she failed to score a 300 on her Army Physical Fitness Test.

“(WLC) kind of pulled me out,” said Sweeney. “It gave me a schedule that I had to adhere to again. I kind of got back into the military mode and then after that I got back into my training.”

Shortly after graduating WLC, Sweeney resumed luge-related activities. She began lifting weights again, and changed her routine, and began working out at JEKL gym in Plainville, Connecticut. There Sweeney took part in grueling gymnastics-based training to strengthen her core muscles using various gymnastics apparatus pieces including rings, the high bar and parallel bars.

“It definitely put me in my place pretty quickly,” Sweeney said.

The old Emily had returned, away from the luge track too. She began reconnecting with friends. She spoke with family members more often.

And that familiar smile came back.

“Everybody always kids her about her smile — she always has a big smile on her face,” said her mother, Sue. “But it’s true — it’s part of who she is. Once you start to see her smile coming back, you know she’s starting to feel much more like herself.”

In December 2015, during World Cup competition on their home track in Lake Placid, Sweeney and teammates Erin Hamlin and Summer Britcher swept the field. It marked the first time the U.S. women knocked out the dominant German team.

“We’re more of a force to be reckoned with now,” Sweeney said.

During a fall, Sweeney suffered injury to her wrist that required surgery in 2016, proving to be a minor setback. But she bounced back to stellar marks in 2017.

“The (wrist) injury really didn’t worry me,” USA Luge coach Bill Tavares said. “For her it was all mental. When I knew that she was mentally strong coming into this year then there was no worry on my part.”

What North Koreans really think of their supreme leader
Sgt. Emily Sweeney receives congratulations after competing in a sprint run race Dec. 16 at the Lake Placid Olympic Center. Sweeney qualified for her first Olympics after not making the 2010 and 2014 teams. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Jennily Leon)

Hitting her stride

The 4,242-foot luge course in Winterberg, Germany presents a daunting challenge to competitive lugers. Those who accept its challenge must enter the course’s labyrinth in near-perfect form. In November, Sweeney and her USA teammates traveled to Winterberg to face the mighty German team that built an Olympic juggernaut on this course.

At the track’s midpoint, a turn drops competitors into the labyrinth where sled speeds multiply.

After placing second earlier in the World Cup competition at on this track, mishaps on one of her runs sent Sweeney tumbling out of contention and she thought she missed her chance to clinch an Olympic berth.

But then she bounced back later that day to take her first World Cup gold in the sprint race, upsetting 2014 Olympic champion, Germany’s Natalie Geisenberger, on her home course. Instead, her shot at an Olympic berth would have to wait.

Also Read: These 5 military drills would be amazing Olympic events

When dealing with the difficult highs and lows of competing against the best in the world, she turned to Grandpa Sweeney. Emily said her grandfather helped keep her grounded and objective while remaining committed to her family and country.

“He’s probably a big part of her personality,” Sue said. “He’s always been one of her best friends. And she’s looked to him for advice.”

As Sweeney begins final preparations for the Winter Games, she will do so with a heavy heart. Jack Sweeney passed away at age 88 on Jan. 3. Emily said her grandfather helped keep her grounded and objective while remaining committed to her family and country.

Olympian at last

Sweeney learned that she had reached the pinnacle of her career unceremoniously — not by an announcement on the track, or from posting a career-best time — but in a text.

Dec. 14, after having dinner with her parents and returning to the Lake Placid training facility, Sweeney received a message from her mother, Sue.

“See you in PyeongChang,” the text read.

Sweeney’s mother had been tracking the Nation’s Cup live stream on her phone. The Nation’s Cup was a pre-qualifying event for the World Cup later that week. Had Raychel Germaine qualified for the World Cup, she could have potentially knocked Emily out of Olympic competition. But she didn’t, and the final Olympic women’s luge slot went to Emily.

 

(The U.S. Army | YouTube)

“It was just a peaceful moment,” Sweeney said, “I was stunned.”

She received congratulations from Fischnaller, her boyfriend of eight years. Then came a flood of 30 messages and well wishes from family, friends and teammates.

“I’m really happy for her,” teammate Summer Britcher said. “I know how hard she works. I’m very happy that she’s met this goal and I’m really excited to compete alongside her in (32) days.”

Sweeney will join 2014 Bronze medalist Hamlin and Britcher on the USA roster in PyeongChang in February. The impact of reaching her dream did not hit her until after finishing World Cup competition in the women’s sprint race Dec. 16, Sue Sweeney said.

A heavy snow blanketed Lake Placid’s Mount Van Hoevenberg Dec. 16, and athletes faced a wind chill so bitter that exposed fingers and toes could feel like frozen blocks of ice. During the women’s sprint race, Sweeney posted an efficient run in these slick conditions, but a mishap at turn seven hurt her final time, eventually knocking her out of sprint qualification. Unfazed, she posted a better time in her second run.

The weight of realizing her Olympic dream began to creep in. Still clad in her helmet and orange and blue leotard, Sweeney waved to her 80 supporters, family and friends. And once more she flashed her wide grin.

“Emily’s missed two Olympic teams very narrowly,” Sheer said. “In 2014 … that was a real tough one for her. It takes a certain type of person to be able to bounce back from something like that and to be able to keep fighting and I give her all the credit in the world.”

Then after 15 minutes of speaking with local and national media members, Sweeney locked arms with her older sister, rosy-cheeked from the stinging wind chill. Standing amid swirling snowflakes, Megan whispered into her younger sister’s ear:

“I’m so proud of you,” Megan said.

Next stop: South Korea

When Emily dons the USA colors at PyeongChang next month, she knows he will be representing more than herself. She will also represent WCAP, the National Guard and the U.S. Army. Sweeney, who currently ranks eighth in the International Luge Federation women’s singles, will join fellow WCAP athletes Matt Mortensen in men’s doubles and singles competitor Taylor Morris.

At 24, the Olympics will wrap Sweeney’s fourteenth year in the sport and she plans to bring home a medal for her team.

“Going to the Olympics isn’t enough for me,” Sweeney said “I want to go to the Olympics and do something. So it’s not over — the work isn’t over.”

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

3 important lessons for navigating marriage after the military

I awake with a start. John isn’t in bed beside me. Throughout his military career, I never could grow used to an empty bed. Unlike before, I hear him breathing. He is in his recliner on the other side of the room. Either insomnia, a migraine or back spasms have pulled him away from me tonight. I ask if he is ok before realizing he is sound asleep. The rhythmic sound of his breath lolls me back to sleep as well.

There was a time, early in our marriage, where we both craved one another’s attention. We never wanted to leave each other’s side. Twenty years later, three kids, two deployments and many many nights apart, we’ve become more accustomed to absence then togetherness.

We are relearning what it looks like to be together, always.


Quarantine and Retirement 

I’ve been hearing from friends whose spouses are either recently retired or working from home currently with no end in sight. The struggles are similar. Our routine at home is now chaotic. It’s similar to the disruption of reintegration but for a much lengthier stretch.

These three hard truths about what marriage is like after the military, apply just as much to what marriage is like during quarantine. But don’t panic! You will get through this, and it is possible to still like one another by the end of this long stretch of too much time together.

Here are a few things I have learned:

1. Be flexible and forgiving

It is extremely difficult to continue forward with the routine when there is a new person in your space. Knowing that your spouse is just one room away while you are trying to get your to-do list complete is frustrating. It would be much more fun to join in watching that movie or whatever else is happening. I mean after all isn’t more time together what you craved during that last deployment?

Look, it’s ok not to want to be together 24/7 even if that’s all you were craving in the normality of 2019. For many of us, 2020 has brought more together time then we could have imagined. It’s ok not to spend every second together. It’s also equally ok to not finish that crazy to-do list and just enjoy some extra time with your soldier.

Drop the guilt. Everyone right now understands the need to focus on mental health. Plus, there’s no need to worry about unexpected guests dropping by, so yes, the dishes and laundry can wait.

2. Find time to be alone, even if you have to hide in a closet 

I am an introvert. I used to wake at 0500 to see John off to PT and soak up the quiet early morning with a book and a cup of coffee before the kids woke up. Our new normal means that this house is never empty. The kids are doing e-learning and even the hobbies that once took John out of the house after retirement have ceased. There is much togetherness going on.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the extra time with one another, but sometimes it can be too much. In those moments, I need a timeout. I need to recharge by being alone.

What does this look like when the whole world is shut down?

Here are a few ways I’ve figured out how to get my alone time.

  • Long drives through backroads with the radio cranked all the way up
  • Walks through the neighborhood
  • Adult coloring books while listening to an audiobook
  • Noise-canceling headphones while writing
  • Longer showers
  • Sitting in the closet with the lights off enjoying the silence

3. Open communication makes all the difference

Communication while in the military had its challenges. We spent ten years learning how to communicate long distance, how to keep the dialogue going across oceans, and then how to understand one another after surviving vastly different challenges. My world of toddlers was not the same as his of war. It took effort to hear what the other was saying and the perspective we each brought to the conversation. The same is true now.

One of the things we’ve learned since retirement is that just because we’ve been married twenty years doesn’t mean we actually know the other person well. We may have been married but we inhabited very different spaces during that time.

All of this togetherness now is giving us the opportunity to get to know one another for who we are today. We are learning how to ask questions and how to listen in new ways. It’s a little like dating, the excitement and frustration are there. The only difference being the commitment to keep doing this, to keep trying, to keep growing together, and to maybe come out of this year closer then we were when it began.

The most important lesson I’ve learned during this time of increased togetherness and struggling to get everything done in the weirdness of 2020 is to be kind to myself. It’s time to drop the guilt because it isn’t mine to carry.

Articles

A brief history of the Berlin Wall, “the monument to Communist failure”

As of 2015 the Berlin Wall has been down almost as long as it stood separating the German people. The wall built by the Communist German Democratic Republic (GDR – better known as East Germany) around the Western sectors of Berlin became a longstanding symbol of the divide between Western Capitalism and Eastern Communism during the Cold War. In the 28 years it stood, no place on Earth was so central to world events as Berlin and the reason for that is the Berlin Wall. Twenty-six years after its fall, it’s worth a look to see the how Cold War history played out surrounding such a central, divisive symbol.


After World War II, West Germany was occupied by France, England, and the United States, East Germany was occupied by the Soviet Union. Berlin, despite being deep in Soviet-occupied territory, was also partitioned in a similar way. After the Berlin Airlift ended a Soviet blockade — really an attempt to push the West out of Berlin through economic strangulation — fears of further drifts toward a full Communist state in the East prompted many to emigrate to West Germany in exponential numbers. These were mostly young, well-educated Germans whose flight became known as a “Brain Drain” of East German intelligentsia and workers. Only 61% of the East’s working age population remained. Something had to be done and what better way to make people want to stay in your country than by walling them in and threatening them with constant torture and execution?

What North Koreans really think of their supreme leader
Memorial crosses of those killed by East Germany while trying to cross to West Germany

The borders around West Berlin were closed on August 13, 1961 as the Soviets tore up the streets, erected fences, and placed barbed wire. Families were suddenly split, jobs were lost and the United States had no official response. The U.S. didn’t actually think there was valid reason for its permanent erection. Then-Secretary of State Dean Rusk said, “The Wall certainly ought not to be a permanent feature of the European landscape. I see no reason why the Soviet Union should think it is—it is to their advantage in any way to leave there that monument to Communist failure.”

Erected in 1961, it was called the “Anti-Fascist Protective Wall” by the GDR, who placed rows of barbed wire a guard towers along the wall. It would soon become a symbol for the corruption and lack of freedom for those living in the Soviet Union-dominated Eastern Bloc, as the world recognized it as a true “Iron Curtain,” a means to keep East Germans from getting to West German freedom, instead of keeping West Germans out of the East Germany. It would be upgraded three times after its construction.

What North Koreans really think of their supreme leader
Robert Kennedy and Berlin Mayor Willy Brandt at the Berlin Wall

President Kennedy denounced its construction and appointed retired Army General Lucius D. Clay as Ambassador. Clay was the mastermind of the Berlin Airlift, former military governor of American-controlled Germany, nicknamed “the Kaiser” and was wildly popular with Berliners. Following Kennedy’s order to reinforce the Allied defenders of West Berlin, Clay ordered 1,500 men with vehicles and trailers from West Germany, through East Germany to West Berlin, where they were met by Clay and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson as a show of strength and a reassertion of the Allies’ access to Berlin.

In June, 1963, President Kennedy visited the Berlin for the first time with General Clay to reaffirm the U.S. dedication of support for West Germany and to remind the Soviet Union of that support.

Hundreds of East German died trying to get to freedom on the other side of the wall, thousands were successful in defecting across the wall. They would dig tunnels below the wall, flying hot air balloons, through the sewers, or just driving cars at max speed through weaker sections. One East German guard even drove his tank through the wall to defect. Western guards were not able to help defectors until they were on the Western side of the wall.

In 1988, the year before the Berlin Wall fell, Bruce Springsteen played the Berlin Wall in a concert organized by East German Communist authorities in an attempt to pacify East German youth. Communist authorities saw rock music as a “nefarious cultural weapon” (and for much of the music of the 1980’s, that assertion isn’t far off), so the concert was a surprising shockk to much of the world, most of all East Germans. Springsteen didn’t miss the importance of the event. After playing Born in the U.S.A. in front of 300,000 East Germans, he delivered a short speech in German:

“I’m not here for any government,” he began. “I’ve come to play rock and roll for you in the hope that one day, all the barriers will be torn down.”

What North Koreans really think of their supreme leader
Springsteen in East Germany (wikimedia commons)

The crowd went wild. Sixteen months later, on November 9, 1989, the government of the German Democratic Republic, better known as East Germany, announced Germans living in the East would then be free to visit West Germany and West Berlin. That day, East and West Germans crowded the Berlin Wall, and systematically chipped away and demolished it.

Articles

Afghan soldier opens fire on US troops, wounds seven

An Afghan soldier has opened fire on American troops, wounding at least seven of them, before being shot dead in a military base in northern Afghanistan, officials said, in the second so-called “insider attack” in the past week.


Abdul Qahar Araam, spokesman for the US military, said on June 17th that the attack took place at Camp Shaheen in Mazar-i-Sharif. Araam added that the soldiers returned fire and killed the attacker.

General Dawlat Waziri, a spokesman for the Afghan defense ministry, also confirmed the incident.

What North Koreans really think of their supreme leader
Presentation of the Resolute Support colors. Photo from Wikimedia Commons

The Resolute Support, the international training mission to Afghanistan, announced on its Twitter feed that seven US service members were wounded, adding that there were no US fatalities.

Al Jazeera’s Rob McBride, reporting from Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, said NATO soldiers were training their Afghan counterparts at the base where the attack took place.

“A source told Al Jazeera that the attack happened at the end of a training exercise,” he said.

“We understand that the soldiers were getting back into their vehicle when a soldier from the Afghan national army picked up what is said to be a rocket-propelled grenade and fired it at the group of soldiers, and that is how these injuries have happened.”

What North Koreans really think of their supreme leader
A helicopter flies over Mazar-i-Sharif. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Another insider attack

Three US soldiers were killed and a fourth was wounded on June 11 when an Afghan soldier opened fire on them at a base in eastern Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province.

Taliban claimed responsibility for that attack. Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the armed group, said at the time that a Taliban loyalist had infiltrated the Afghan army “just to attack foreign forces.”

On June 17th, Mujahid praised the Camp Shaheen attack in a statement sent to the media, but did not claim Taliban responsibility.

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The Taliban Flag. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

In April, scores of Afghan soldiers were killed when fighters breached security at the camp, detonating explosives and shooting hundreds at a mosque and dining hall on the base. The attackers were disguised in Afghan army uniforms.

Coalition countries, led by the US, are considering sending thousands more troops to Afghanistan to help advise and assist Afghan forces struggling against Taliban and the ISIS.

On June 19th, US Secretary of Defense James Mattis said he would present options on Afghanistan to President Donald Trump “very soon.”

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