If you didn’t pick the U.S. Army that day you walked through your local strip mall mulling over which branch to choose, then you missed out.
Let’s face it. The demonym most people use for troops and service members is soldier. And there’s a damn good reason for that!
#1. We do awesome sh*t constantly.
Can you believe that civilians actually pay to go camping or to the shooting range?
You can forever play the “Oh, you think that is cool? Well I did…” stories in the lunch room at work.
#2. Because James Earl Jones.
The Marines may have Kylo Ren from the new Star Wars films, but we had his grandpa, Darth Vader.
#3. No one ever wanted to dress up as a Marine, Sailor, or Airman as a kid.
Kids running around with toy guns? They’re playing Army.
G.I. Joe? Mostly associated with the Army.
Those little green Army men? You get my point.
#4. We actually get to play with our cool toys.
Show of hands. How many airmen and sailors actually got to fly the planes or steer the ships their branch is known for doing? Now how many soldiers got to use the weapons our branch is known for using? Thought so.
#5. The Army has style.
We have always had the freshest looking uniforms throughout military history. Even when you’ve low crawled in the mud, Army uniforms look better than whatever the hell the Navy calls their blueberry uniforms.
#6. Our boy, Captain America, is one of the most recognizable fictional characters.
Show a picture of Captain America to nearly anyone. I bet you that they can tell you exactly what his name is and his branch of service.
#7. No guts. No glory.
Yeah. Things suck some times. No denying that.
But if you don’t embrace the suck, live the suck, love the suck, and become the suck — you don’t have the privilege of calling yourself a bad ass.
#8. You personally get to deliver 5.56mm of freedom at a max effective range at 500 meters to piece of sh*t terrorists.
Every branch has POGs (Persons Other than Grunt.) Every branch has a version of a grunt. The Army has the highest “Hooah Sh*t” per capita. At least our POGs try to elevate themselves above their “glorified cheerleader” status.
The only down side is knowing that when you get out, you will never be as bad ass as you were when you were doing “Hooah Sh*t.”
#9. Almost every iconic General officer in American history was in the Army.
Crack open a history book. Nearly every great General gained their notoriety in the U.S. Army. You’re in good hands.
Not to discredit the other branches who have given our country the best military tacticians the world has ever seen (because this list is done ‘tongue in cheek’ and at the end of the day, we’re all brothers and sisters on the same team).
As the sun rises over the jungle canopy, the workers are already on the move. They take in the crisp scent of the morning air as they head up the rocky mountain path, slipping between the trees of a wet, dew-covered forest in Vietnam.
At the top of the green mountain ridge, Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Quoc Bao Lam is waiting to greet them with a smile and a handshake before getting started on the day’s work.
On a normal day, Lam is a master-at-arms with the military police at Naval Station Everett, Washington, but today he’s part of a unique assignment. He is acting as the lead linguist for a recovery team deployed by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency on its fourth mission to Vietnam.
Lam works at an excavation site found on a remote mountain peak in one of the Vietnamese jungle’s most austere locations. The site is only accessible by helicopter, and the nearest village is about 5 and a half miles away, down a long steep rocky trail on the brink of being overgrown by the jungle. Being at a site so removed, a linguist is a necessity for a successful recovery mission.
Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Quoc Bao Lam, left, a linguist deployed by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, talks with local people in Quang Binh, Vietnam, Sept. 6, 2018.
(Photo by Senior Airman Donald Hudson)
“Nothing in this mission could be accomplished without the skill sets and abilities of an experienced linguist on the team,” said Marine Corps Capt. Mark Strickert, DPAA senior recovery team leader. “Linguists translate intent, interpret body language, serve as cultural advisors, facilitate negotiations and build camaraderie with the local community and government officials we work with so closely every day. Linguists are the underlining glue in the tireless steps we take to fulfill our nation’s promise to bring our fallen home.”
The mission of DPAA is to provide the fullest possible accounting for missing service members to their families and the nation from past conflicts.
The total number of service members unaccounted for from the Vietnam War was 2,646, but through the work of DPAA, 1,052 of those missing have been found, identified and repatriated. The work of DPAA continues to find the remaining 1,594 missing U.S. service members from the Vietnam War.
The work to recover missing service members starts with intense analyzing of historical records from all sides of a conflict surrounding the missing individuals. This is followed by interviewing eye witnesses, gathering local accounts and pinpointing and evaluating possible dig sites. Once all the data has been compiled and strongly suggests a specific area, recovery teams are brought in to dig and sift the soil, looking for remains of the missing individuals.
U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Quoc Bao Lam.
(Photo by Senior Airman Donald Hudson)
When Lam first learned about DPAA and its missions to Vietnam to recover missing troops, he felt an instant connection and he knew he had to find a way to contribute.
“I wanted to be a part of this important work,” Lam said, “to have an opportunity to help my fellow service members and their families find closure, and possibly help to find some of the lost or fallen friends of my father.”
Lam moved to America at age 8 with his mother and siblings. His father, Ouang Lam, had left five years prior to escape prosecution and possible execution at the end of the Vietnam War.
From the start of the conflict, Ouang fought with South Vietnam’s army. As U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War increased, the U.S. Army began seeking out local people who could speak English, Chinese and Vietnamese to help U.S. troops better navigate the region.
Becoming a translator
After applying to train with the U.S., Ouang was sent to Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, to get a better grip on the English language and military terminology. Once proficient in English, he was sent to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where he was taught how to fly medical helicopters before going back to his country and the war.
For the rest of the war, Ouang delivered supplies and wounded U.S. and South Vietnamese troops by helicopter. He regularly came under fire and, throughout the conflict, lost fellow aircrew, friends and family. Ouang made it to the rank of chief warrant officer 3 at the war’s end.
North and South Vietnam were reunited. Those who had worked with the Americans were soon hunted by the authorities. Ouang had to leave his country to save his and his family’s lives.
Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Quoc Bao Lam, right, lead linguist, translates for Marine Corps Capt. Mark Strickert, left, senior recovery team leader while deployed by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency in Quang Binh, Vietnam, Sept. 6, 2018.
(Photo by Senior Airman Donald Hudson)
Ouang began building a new life for his family in Chicago, thanks to a religious group that sponsored individuals who had fought alongside U.S. troops during the war. They brought foreign veterans and their families to the U.S. to ensure they were not harmed by the new Vietnamese government.
After all he experienced during the war, Ouang was against war for the rest of his life. Ouang urged his children to go to school and not join any military service, but Lam wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps. Luckily before his father passed away, Lam was able to explain why he chose to serve in the military after realizing school was not for him.
“My father was incredibly upset and did not talk to me for some time,” Lam said. “After a few years I sat down with him and talked about why I joined the Navy. While he still did not like the idea of me being in the armed forces, over time came to be very proud of my service to the country that has given his family so much.”
If it wasn’t for Ouang’s close work with the U.S. during the war, he may never have gotten out of Vietnam after the country’s reunification and would have never had the chance to provide his family with the American dream.
“Lam’s father is always watching from above and he would be proud of Lam working to find his lost friends from so long ago,” said Lam’s mother. “We have been proud of everything that he has done so far in life, to give back to the U.S. for all the U.S. has done for our family. We are extremely proud.”
After weeks of facilitating negotiations, advising on cultural differences and interpreting body language, Lam’s mission in Vietnam came to a close.
From his position atop the mountain, Lam surveyed the green valley below, as the setting sun cast the sky in hazy blues and purples.
Few things in this world are stronger than the bonds forged by troops who fought together in combat. Those who survive life-threatening ordeals on the battlefield become closer in ways that others may never understand. When one of them loses their closest friend, it’s a tragedy that hurts forever.
What could be a more fitting for the coming Memorial Day than to write about what that friend means to you?
This memorial day, AARP is collecting stories about
the friendships forged in war. Close friendships forged on the front lines of Vietnam and in the Nazi POW camps of World War II all the way to the remote combat outposts of Iraq. Veterans are writing stories of the best friends they met during these trying times. Two crewman stationed aboard the ill-fated USSIndianapolis, Marines fighting in the frozen wastes around the Chosin Reservoir, a young lieutenant and his radioman in the jungles of Vietnam.
Some survived the war. Many did not. What they have in common is that they’ll never be forgotten. Corporal Charles Thomas was that buddy for Lt. Karl Marlantes.
Marlantes was a newly-christened Marine in Vietnam when Thomas was assigned to be his radioman. Like any good young officer, Marlantes listened to his more experienced corporal when he made suggestions. The young man even saved his lieutenant’s life on a mission in the mountains near the DMZ. Marlantes told AARP The Magazine:
“In early December 1968, we were on a long mission, high in the mountains, and it was monsoon time. We couldn’t get resupplied and were without food for three or four days. It was also cold, but we had no extra clothes, just the stuff rotting on us. One night I got hypothermic, really hypothermic. I couldn’t think and started shivering. Everybody knew hypothermia kills you. And Thomas just laid me on the ground and wrapped a quilted poncho liner around us and hugged me. And then his body heat got me back. Saved my life.”
(Courtesy of Karl Marlantes)
Corporal Thomas was an outstanding Marine in combat and a talented radioman. Sadly, during an assault on an NVA position in 1969, Marlantes had to send Cpl. Thomas around the hill to set up an ambush. Following his orders, Thomas left the safety of his cover and made a dash for the objective with his squad. That’s when three rocket-propelled grenades struck, killing him and one other. Marlantes, now 73, recalled the moments afterward for AARP:
“I had to go through all the guys’ bodies to pull out, if you can believe this, anything like pictures of naked girls, so their parents wouldn’t be upset — it’s bad enough that their kid comes home in a body bag. And I pulled a letter out of Thomas’ pocket from his mother and remember it said, “Don’t you worry, Butch.” We knew each other only by last names and nicknames. I never knew he was Butch, that his mother called him that. “Don’t you worry, Butch, you’ll be home in just 11 more days.”
Watch Karl Marlantes look back and tell the story of Cpl. Charles Thomas.
These days it’s hard to think of a veteran who could have served from WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. It’s happened, of course.
But imagine a veteran of the War of 1812 and the Mexican War fighting in the Civil War. That’s a span of more than 60 years — much longer than the 24 years that separated the beginning of WWII and the Vietnam War. Then again, during the 20th century, pivotal battles weren’t literally in our front yard.
An average 69-year-old might be happy to ride out his golden years from a rocking chair.
See, Burns already lived twice as long as the average American of the time and was ready to do more for his country. But Gettysburg was much further north than the Confederates could ever attack – or so he thought.
Burns was considered “eccentric” by the rest of the town. That’s what happens when you’re fighting wars for longer than most people at the time spent in school.
When Confederate Gen. Jubal Early captured the town, Burns was the constable and was jailed for trying to interfere with Confederate military operations. When the Confederates were pushed out of Gettysburg by the Union, Burns began arresting Confederate stragglers for treason.
His contributions to the Union didn’t end there.
On the morning of July 1, 1863, Burns watched as the Battle of Gettysburg began to unfold near his home. Like a true American hero, he picked up his rifle – a flintlock musket, which required the use of a powder horn – and calmly walked over to the battle to see how he could help.
He “borrowed” a more modern musket (now a long-standing Army tradition) from a wounded Union soldier, picked up some cartridges, then walked over to the commander of the 150th Pennsylvania Infantry and asked to join the regiment.
Herbst Woods was the site of the first Confederate offensive of the battle. Burns, sharpshooting for the Iron Brigade, helped repel this offensive as part of a surprise counterattack.
John Burns was mocked by other troops for showing up to fight with his antiquated weapon and “swallowtail coat with brass buttons, yellow vest, and tall hat.” But when the bullets started to fly, he calmly took cover behind a tree and started to shoot back with his modern rifle.
He also fought alongside the 7th Wisconsin Infantry and then moved to support the 24th Michigan. He was wounded in the arm, legs, and chest and was left on the field when the Union forces had to fall back.
He ditched his rifle and buried his ammo and then passed out from blood loss. He tried to convince the Rebels he was an old man looking to find help for his wife, but accounts of how well that story worked vary. Anyone fighting in an army outside of a uniform could be executed, but the ruse must have worked on some level–he survived his wounds and lived for another 9 years.
The Battle of Gettysburg was a major turning point in the Civil War. The Confederates would spend the rest of the war – two years – on the defensive.
“So raged the battle. You know the rest. How the rebels, beaten and backward pressed, Broke at the final charge and ran. At which John Burns — a practical man — Shouldered his rifle, unbent his brows, And then went back to his bees and cows.”
Burns became a national hero after the battle. When President Lincoln stopped in the Pennsylvania town to deliver the Gettysburg Address, he asked to speak with Burns and met the veteran at his home.
He was photographed – a big deal at the time – and a poem was written about his life. A statue of Burns was erected at Gettysburg National Military Park in 1903, where it stands today.
The base reads “My thanks are specially due to a citizen of Gettysburg named John Burns who although over seventy years of age shouldered his musket and offered his services to Colonel Wister One Hundred and Fiftieth Pennsylvania Volunteers. Colonel Wister advised him to fight in the woods as there was more shelter there but he preferred to join our line of skirmishers in the open fields when the troops retired he fought with the Iron Brigade. He was wounded in three places. – Gettysburg report of Maj.-Gen. Doubleday.”
The Purple Heart is the U.S. military’s oldest medal — but it’s more than just a medal. It’s a symbol of a sacrifice made on behalf of a U.S. troop for his or her unit, mission, and country. It represents a tangible, physical offering — a risk to life or limb. An officer can’t write themselves a Purple Heart package with some fancy wordplay. To get one, a military member must be wounded or killed in action against an enemy. There’s a reason people, veteran and civilian alike, take notice when they see it — it always means something.
So it’s nice to know that those who made such a sacrifice get a little bit extra.
President George W. Bush awards a Purple Heart medal and citation to U.S. Navy sailor Jefferson Talicuran of Chula Vista, California, on Thursday, July 3, 2008, at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.
(White House photo by Eric Draper)
1. Medical Priority Upgrades at the VA
The VA prioritizes veterans into eight categories, ranging from Group 1, those with a 50-percent military disability rating or higher, and Group 8, veterans who have no service-connected conditions and are ineligible for medical care. A Purple Heart recipient will automatically be placed in at least Group 3, so they’re never responsible for a copay for medical treatment.
2. The Forever GI Bill
In order to qualify for GI Bill benefits, most troops must serve at least 36 months on active duty. Purple Heart recipients will get full benefits no matter how long they spent on active duty — and they get the full benefits offered in the bill.
President Barack Obama awards Sgt. James N. Rowland, a Rohnert, Calif. native, the Purple Heart for wounds received in combat. The ceremony was held in Al-Faw Palace on Camp Victory in Baghdad, Iraq on Apr. 7, 2009.
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Kimberly Millett)
3. Preferential hiring in government jobs
When applying for a federal government job, all honorably discharged veterans who served active duty get hiring preference over non-veterans. Vets get five-point preference if they served during a war, served during a campaign for which a campaign medal was created, or served during certain periods or for certain lengths of time.
Ten-point preference is given to veterans who have a service-connected disability — including Purple Heart recipients.
4. Commissary and MWR access
The 2019 National Defense Authorization Act makes Purple Heart recipients eligible for on-base shopping and Morale, Welfare, and Recreation area use starting in 2020.
President Trump shakes hands with U.S. Army Sgt. First Class Alvaro Barrientos, after awarding him with a Purple Heart, with Tammy Barrientos at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, on Apr. 22, 2017 in Bethesda, Maryland.
5. State Benefits
Many states offer some sort of extra benefit to Purple Heart recipients. In Arizona, in-state university tuition can be waived for Purple Heart recipients. In South Carolina, children of Purple Heart recipients are eligible for free in-state university tuition. Check with your state VA to be sure — individual states offer property and income tax breaks that you may never hear about in a national discussion.
Warning: Major spoilers below. Do not read if you haven’t seen “Spider-Man: Far From Home.”
Director Jon Watts calls “Spider-Man: Far From Home” a “con movie,” and if you’ve seen it already, you know exactly why. The movie uses the audience’s collective knowledge of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to present a story that completely messes with their heads.
From the real motives of the movie’s villain, Quentin Beck (aka, Mysterio; played by Jake Gyllenhaal), to the surprise cameos, “Far From Home” is a rapid-fire series of twists, all the way to the post-credit scene.
And Watts said that sleight-of-hand feel was ingrained in the project from the development phase — which began just weeks after “Spider-Man: Homecoming” opened in theaters in 2017 — because of the movie’s villain.
“It was such a core concept because it’s Mysterio’s whole philosophy,” Watts told INSIDER. “When you’re dealing with a character who works in illusions and deception, that’s going to be one of the major themes.”
So Watts beefed up on his con movies, specifically spending a lot of time studying “The Sting” and “The Usual Suspects,” and embarked on telling a unique Marvel movie, one where almost everything is not what it seems.
Below, Watts gave INSIDER insight on 6 of the biggest spoilers in “Far From Home,” including stuff you may not catch until you see the movie again.
(Jay Maidment/Sony Pictures)
1. The moment Watts knew the bar scene, in which Peter Parker hands over the E.D.I.T.H. glasses to Mysterio, would work.
Halfway through the movie — after Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and Mysterio defeat one of the Elementals — the two have a celebratory drink at a bar. The scene gradually becomes a dramatic moment in which Peter Parker questions if he has what it takes to be a superhero like his idol, Iron Man. He even doubts if he’s worthy to have the high-tech E.D.I.T.H. glasses that Tony Stark had Nick Fury give him earlier in the movie. By the end of the scene, Parker hands Mysterio the glasses, which have an AI embedded in them that can power all of Stark Industries’ weapons.
But once Parker walks out of the bar, it’s revealed that Mysterio played a huge trick on him. The bar was actually an illusion. Many of the patrons were working for Mysterio and the decor was all artificially projected by clones (they were actually sitting in an abandoned storefront). It was all a con job to get the glasses from Parker so Mysterio could have control of Stark’s high-tech weapons. Even the Elementals Spidey was battling was an illusion put together by Mysterio.
The ambitious scene was one Watts knew had to hit perfectly with the audience if the movie was going to work.
“The movie hinges on that scene,” Watts said. “It’s a culmination of Mysterio’s con. I anticipate that a lot of people will know that Mysterio is the villain, they aren’t just exactly sure how or why.”
Watts said there were not multiple versions of the scene shot. What you see in the movie is how the scene was scripted. And though he spent months with the screenwriters getting the scene to feel right, he wasn’t convinced it would work until Holland and Gyllenhaal got their hands on it.
“What’s great about working with actors like Tom and Jake is that they bring it to life,” he said. “They have to make sure that none of it feels false. I remember the first time we ran it, we tweaked a couple of lines but as soon as they started going through it between the two of them, it was a huge relief for me. It was one of those moments where you have talked about it a lot and prepared so much, but it has to come to life with the actors or the whole movie feels false.”
2. The bar scene is also filled with hidden messages to influence Peter Parker to give up the glasses.
The whole trick with the bar scene is Mysterio has to get the glasses without ever asking for them. Peter has to be the one who hands them over. Watts said to drive that home, along with watching how classic con movies from the past have done it, he also studied how deception is done on people in real life. And his major takeaway was visual persuasion.
“You may not have caught this, but all the things on the wall behind Quentin [in the bar scene] are things that feed into the idea that Peter would hand the glasses over to him,” Watts said. “So even the art direction is part of the con. There’s military medals, that sort of helps remind Peter what Quentin said about being a hero soldier. There’s a picture of glasses, again, embedding that idea. So there are all these things in the background of the bar in Peter’s eye line that will subconsciously motivate him to hand these glasses over.”
Did you catch any of those visuals? Keep an eye out for them in the bar scene next time you see the movie.
3. The origin of “The Blip” term.
One of the funniest moments in the opening of the movie is the reveal of the term “The Blip,” which refers to people who were affected by Thanos’ snap that happened in “Avengers: Infinity War” and then came back after the events in “Avengers: Endgame.”
Watts said it was something that they came up with while writing the movie.
“We had our own logic,” he said. “‘The Snap’ was what made everyone disappear, but for everyone who came back it was like no time had passed. So we felt, ‘It’s just like a blip to them.’ That’s just how we started talking about the passage of time. And we also felt it was just a funny phrase to refer to this devastating event.”
And thanks to the term, a running joke came out of it.
Though The Blip felt like just moments for people affected, they were actually gone for five years. So they came back five years older. It does wonders for one of Peter Parker’s high-school classmates, Brad (Remy Hii). Pre-blip he was a short geek, but in those five years, he hit puberty and post-blip he’s a hunky stud clashing with Parker for MJ’s (Zendaya) affection.
4. Quentin Beck is behind some of the most memorable Stark Industries tech, but never got the credit.
Another great thing about the bar scene is that it gives us Mysterio’s backstory. And it’s steeped in MCU lore.
It turns out he’s the one who created B.A.R.F., the binary augmented retro-framing tech Stark shows off in the beginning of “Captain America: Civil War” — though it was Stark who came up with the silly name (and took the credit).
Mysterio’s past in the movie is a little different than his origin in the comics. In the pages of “The Amazing Spider-Man,” Quentin Beck is a special-effects wiz and stunt man who turns to crime when his dreams of making it big in Hollywood fizzle out. But for the movie, Watts realized that Beck would fit perfectly in the MCU if he made him a bitter former employee at Stark Industries.
“The idea around that was we knew Quentin would have a relationship with Tony,” he said. “The illusion tech that Quentin uses, we’ve actually seen it in the Marvel universe from the beginning. Tony has always dealt with holographic tech, but it’s never been said who made it. And then it really comes to the fore in ‘Civil War.’ But Tony didn’t make it. He doesn’t build all the Stark tech on his own, there’s a whole organization that does it. So we thought that would be how Mysterio pulls this all off. Once that clicked, then we just decided he would have a team of disgruntled Stark Industries employees. We used that B.A.R.F. flashback as a jumping-off point.”
5. The return of J. Jonah Jameson.
The mid-credit scene in “Far From Home” is a fun moment for those who were fans of the Sam Raimi movies, as the beloved character J. Jonah Jameson makes a cameo. And like those movies from the early aughts, actor J.K. Simmons returned to play the role.
In the scene, Jameson is not the loud-mouthed editor of the Daily Bugle, but a loud-mouthed host of an Alex Jones-like TV show. In the middle of Manhattan, Jameson appears on a billboard and shows shocking footage of Mysterio, just before his death (which he doctored to make it look like Spider-Man killed him), revealing the true identity of Spider-Man: Peter Parker.
“It made so much sense in the context of the story we were telling,” Watts said of bringing back Jameson. “We knew we wanted Mysterio to be the one who revealed Peter’s identity and it had to be on the news, so we felt if it’s on the news it has to be the Daily Bugle, and if it’s going to be the Daily Bugle, it has to be J.K. Simmons. There was never any question about. And if he didn’t do it, we weren’t going to do it. We would have come up with something else.”
But why make Jameson a TV personality? Watts said putting him on TV instead of overseeing a newspaper was just commenting on the times we live in today.
“He’s still doing a very similar character to what he was doing in the Sam Raimi movies, but now there’s just a real-world comparison that there wasn’t before,” he said. “It’s less that he has changed and more that the world has changed.”
6. Nick Fury and Maria Hill were really Skrulls.
“You didn’t see that one coming, right?” Watts asked with a laugh.
We certainly did not. In the scene that immediately follows the end credits, we are given the movie’s biggest con: Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and fellow S.H.I.E.L.D. member Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) were really Skrulls the entire movie. Yes, Skrulls, those shape-shifting beings we were introduced to in “Captain Marvel.”
It turns out Talos (Ben Mendelsohn) and one of his compatriots came to Earth with instructions from Fury (who we learn is lounging out in space on a big ship) to hand deliver the E.D.I.T.H. glasses to Peter Parker. Clearly things got a little complicated. But it is a fun coda for a movie that completely messes with the audience.
“Once you get into the vocabulary of a con man movie like this, I feel you have more leeway to just keep doing reversals like that,” Watts said. “Everyone is lying. Everyone is hiding something. No one is who they seem. It just made sense that at the end of it we would do this. As we were developing the story, there was always a lingering question of, ‘But, how could anyone fool Nick Fury? His super power is being skeptical.’ But we knew he needed to be fooled in order to make the story work. So as soon as I saw ‘Captain Marvel’ it became obvious how we do it.”
Watts added: “When you watch the movie again with this knowledge about the Skrulls there are some fun things you will catch, especially Fury’s dialogue.”
This article originally appeared on Insider. Follow @thisisinsider on Twitter.
When you’re the closest neighbor to a country like North Korea, you tend not to put up with a lot of provocative behavior from unfriendly countries. It should be no surprise that there’s a huge difference between how the United States and South Korea respond to violations of their airspace. The U.S. will send the most advanced fighters to intercept the perpetrator and escort them back to international airspace.
South Korea comes in guns blazing.
In late July 2019, Russian military aircraft, two Tu-95 bombers and one A-50 airborne early warning and control aircraft, flew into South Korea’s air defense identification zone off the east coast of the Korean Peninsula. But the Russians didn’t stop there. The A-50 flew closer to South Korea, entering its airspace. In response, the South launched interceptor planes who scrambled into the area firing flares and live ammo at the intruder.
The Russian got the message and quickly evacuated the area – and maybe his pants. But he didn’t stay gone for very long. Just a few minutes later the Russian returned to South Korean airspace.
The Russian Tu-95 “Bear” Bomber
Scrambled South Korean fighters again rolled out the red carpet for the visiting Russian A-50, this time with twice as many flares and many, many more rounds fired in the Russian’s direction. The Russians, of course, deny all of this.
“If the Russian pilots had identified such a threat to themselves, they would have immediately given an appropriate response,” Lt. Gen. Sergei Kobylash told Russian state news media.
Although it’s unclear what the “appropriate response” from the Russian fighters might be, the Russians did say their aircraft were flying over international waters and not violating any treaty obligations. Kobylash said the South Korean air defenses scrambled and merely escorted the Russians, but they did it over neutral airspace. He described the South Korean Air Force’s actions as “aerial hooliganism.”
Russia’s A-50 airborne early warning and control aircraft.
No matter what the South Koreans did or did not do in the face of the Russian aircraft, South Korea lives in what has become a rough neighborhood in recent years, with provocations from North Korea increasing in number and in the severity of potential threats, along with a more aggressive China and Russian air and naval forces, South Korea takes its defense very seriously.
South Korea’s presidential national security adviser, Chung Eui-yong, told Russia as much, saying another incident will warrant a much stronger response from the Republic. This was the first foreign military violation of its airspace since the 1950-1953 Korean War.
We love our military officers. Let’s put that out there right now before the light, verbal hazing commences.
Once an officer is fresh out of training, we call them a ‘boot,’ which is military for being a brand new guy or gal in the service. Depending on what branch or unit you’re in, the timeline for being a boot can last a year — or until you complete a combat deployment.
In any case, the training officer candidates undergo can be quite difficult, but it can be even harder to earn the respect of the men and women who will serve under them. Earning a college degree and getting commissioned is easy compared to earning the respect of your entire unit through service.
Earning respect starts with choosing your words and how you carry yourself carefully. Here are a few words boot officers should not say for a long, long time — if ever.
A significant reduction in the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan won’t impact upon the security of the war-torn country, a spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani said on Dec. 21, 2018.
It was the first official Afghan reaction to reports in the U.S. media that President Donald Trump is considering a “significant” withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, with some quoting unnamed officials as saying the decision has already been made.
“If they withdraw from Afghanistan it will not have a security impact because in the last 4 1/2 years the Afghans have been in full control,” Ghani’s spokesman, Haroon Chakhansuri, said via social media.
The Wall Street Journal quoted an unnamed senior U.S. official on Dec. 20, 2018, as saying that Trump “wants to see viable options about how to bring conflicts to a close.”
The AFP news agency quoted a U.S. official as saying the decision has already been made for a “significant” U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.
“That decision has been made. There will be a significant withdrawal,” AFP quoted the official as saying.
CNN also reported that Trump has already ordered the military to make plans for a withdrawal of perhaps half of the current 14,000-strong force.
NATO has so far declined to comment on the reports, saying only that is aware of the reports.
In response to an RFE/RL question, NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said, “The Afghan Army and police have been fully in charge of the security of Afghanistan for over four years. They are a brave, committed, and increasingly capable force, who have ensured the security of the parliamentary elections earlier this year.”
“Earlier this month, NATO foreign ministers expressed steadfast commitment to ensuring long-term security and stability in Afghanistan,” Lungescu said.
“Our engagement is important to ensure that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for international terrorists who could threaten us at home.”
However, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius, whose NATO-member country is a contributor to Resolute Support, voiced skepticism that even a partial U.S. withdrawal could be supplanted by the remaining members.
“Frankly, I do not believe that we can split forces and rely that something can be done in the absence of an important player. It’s difficult really to say,” Linkevicius told RFE/RL.
The Western-backed government in Kabul has been struggling to counter attacks from the Taliban and other militant groups since the withdrawal of most NATO combat troops in 2014.
U.S. officials have been attempting to push the Taliban to the negotiating table with the government in Kabul. Many Taliban leaders insist that U.S. forces depart before substantial peace talks can take place.
The reports came a day after Trump surprised and angered many U.S. lawmakers, administration officials, and international allies by saying he was pulling “all” U.S. troops out of Syria, where they are leading a multinational coalition backing local forces in the fight against Islamic State (IS) militants.
It also came shortly before Trump announced that his defense secretary, Jim Mattis, would be leaving his post at the end of February 2019.
U.S. media are reporting that Mattis opposed Trump’s move to withdraw from Syria. In his resignation letter, Mattis said his views were not fully “aligned” with those of the president.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
A U.S.-led coalition has been in Afghanistan since 2001, when it drove the Taliban from power after Al-Qaeda militants — whose leaders were being sheltered in Afghanistan — carried out the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
However, the Western-backed government in Kabul has struggled to counter attacks from the Taliban and other militant groups since the withdrawal of most NATO combat troops in 2014.
U.S. officials have been attempting to push the Taliban to the negotiating table with the government in Kabul. Many Taliban leaders insist that U.S. forces depart before substantial peace talks can take place.
Mohammad Taqi, a Florida-based political analyst, told RFE/RL’s Radio Mashaal that a rapid U.S. withdrawal would be “a huge mistake.”
“If we look at it in context of talks with the Taliban, then it seems [the] Taliban have already strengthened their position,” he said. “Now the reports of [a U.S. withdrawal] show a weakening stance by the U.S., which could subsequently undermine [the] Afghan government’s position.”
On Dec. 20, 2018, Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special peace envoy for Afghanistan, questioned the Taliban’s determination to end the 17-year war after the group’s representatives refused to meet with an Afghan government-backed negotiating team.
Khalilzad said that, while he was certain the Afghan government wanted to end the conflict, it was unclear whether the Taliban were “genuinely seeking peace.”
Khalilzad’s remarks came following his latest face-to-face meeting in December 2018 with the Taliban, which was held in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) and was also attended by Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.
The U.A.E. hailed the talks as “positive for all parties concerned,” while the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Khalid bin Salman, claimed the meetings will produce “very positive results by the beginning of next year.”
U.S. authorities have moved to seize a French painting that was taken by Nazi forces from a Ukrainian museum near the end of World War II.
Manhattan federal prosecutors said in a statement on March 21, 2019, that the painting — called An Amorous Couple, by Pierre Louis Goudreaux — was stolen from the Bohdan and Varvara Khanenko National Museum of the Arts in Kyiv around 1943.
U.S. officials said the painting had been missing for years, held by a London private collector and then in Massachusetts. It resurfaced in 2013 when it was listed on a website for an unnamed New York auction house.
The FBI determined it was bought from a Missouri auction house in 1993 by a New York dealer who had consigned it to the auction house.
The Bohdan and Varvara Khanenko National Museum of the Arts in Kyiv.
The prosecutors said they were seeking a court order to seize the painting and return it to the Kyiv museum.
In recent years, U.S. officials have stepped up efforts to locate art seized from Ukraine by Nazi forces and return it to Ukraine.
In December 2018, U.S. authorities moved to claim a 107-year-old painting of Russian Tsar Ivan the Terrible that was stolen from a Ukrainian art museum during World War II.
That painting by Mikhail Panin, called The Secret Departure Of Ivan The Terrible Before The Oprichnina, was part of the permanent collection of a museum in the Ukrainian city of Dnipro before the war.
Early on in your military career, you learn that the equipment you’re issued is very cheaply made. The Kevlar helmets everyone gets are no exception. This invariably leads troops toward the same, common question: “Can this thing really stop a bullet?”
Dr. Matt Carriker, a veterinarian and YouTuber, had the same thought, and he decided to put the helmets to the test. Of course, the helmets our troops wear are thoroughly tested before being issued, but we have to wonder where they drew the line between cost efficiency and bulletproofing.
Now, we’ve all heard of cases where these helmets have saved lives of our troops in-country, so it’s safe to say that the protective gear can stop 7.62x39mm bullets, but what about other rounds? That’s exactly what Dr. Carriker decided to test.
Demolition Ranch is a YouTube channel that is, if nothing else, known for putting our favorite firearms through insane tests to see how they perform. He’s even done a reliability test for a Hi-Point Model JCP. Now, if you know anything about firearms, then you know Hi-Point is notorious for their cheaply made firearms.
But he also does bulletproof tests to see how just about anything, including Legos, airplane windows, and even a solid bar of silver, stand up against firearms. In this test, he decided to examine how effective our standard issue helmets are at stopping rounds from lever-action rifles.
For the sake of thoroughness, Dr. Carriker uses an arsenal that spans of the gamut of calibers. His collection includes a .22 LR, .38 Special, .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum, .30-30 Winchester, and, finally, a .45-70 Xtreme Penetrator. He starts small and steps up to see exactly what deals some damage.
Of course, because this is Demolition Ranch we’re talking about, he eventually moves on to test his AK-47 and Barrett M107A1 .50 BMG against these helmets. Why? Because, America and science!
Now, just to be clear, we know these helmets aren’t designed to stop bullets entirely — they’re mostly designed to protect your brain from shrapnel and keep your skull from smacking against hard surfaces. Even if they’re not meant to bring bullet to a dead stop, wearing one is better than nothing, so be sure to put yours on and keep your watermelon intact!
Check out the video below to see helmets get put to the ultimate test!
Palestinian terror groups claimed responsibility for firing more than 100 rockets and mortars from Gaza into Israel from May 29 to May 30, 2018, in the worst bombardment seen since the 2014 Gaza war referred to as Operation Protective Edge.
Israel’s Channel 10 estimated that more than 115 rockets and missiles were launched from Gaza into Israel after the first sirens were heard near the Gaza border at 6 p.m. on May 29, 2018. Other estimates listed the number as high as 130.
Despite the heavy barrage, no civilian casualties have been reported on the Israeli side as its Iron Dome missile defense system shot down many of the projectiles. Israel’s Defense Forces (IDF) said three of its soldiers were wounded by mortar fragments on Tuesday, Haaretz reported.
The IDF said on Twitter that it struck 25 military targets in Gaza in retaliation for the increased fire.
“The IDF is prepared for a variety of scenarios and is determined to act against terror operatives.,” the IDF said.
Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the rocket attacks claiming it was in response to Israel’s killing of over 100 Palestinians participating in sometimes violent protests along its border since March 30, 2018.
“Qassam and Jerusalem Brigades (the groups’ armed wings) announce joint responsibility for bombarding (Israel’s) military installations and settlements near Gaza with dozens of rocket shells throughout the day,” the groups said in a joint statement, according to Reuters.
Israel also imposed a naval blockade on Gaza on May 29, 2018, and stopped a boat with 17 Gazan protesters from reaching Israel, the Jerusalem Post reported.
Israel’s Defense Ministry said on May 30, 2018, it believed the fighting had come to an end. Hamas said it had agreed on a ceasefire with help from Egypt, which shares a border with Gaza Haaretz reported.
Israel said it would be willing to respect the ceasefire, with Egypt acting as a moderating force. However an Israeli official told Haaretz that Israel was prepared to ramp up its retaliatory attacks if rocket launches resume.
The Gaza border has been the site of mass protests aimed at lifting Israel and Egypt’s blockade on the Gaza Strip which has been in place since 2014.
Rocket launches from were common during Israel’s war with Gaza in 2014. The 7-week war saw 73 deaths on the Israeli side and over 2,000 deaths on the Palestinian side, according to various estimates by Israel, the UN and Hamas.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
At this spot on the western side of the Dnieper River in central Ukraine, some 30,000 Soviet soldiers died under Nazi artillery during World War II. Yet, on this hot June day, there’s nothing to suggest that this particular place was once on the deadliest front of the deadliest war in human history.
“What horrors happened here,” says my 55-year-old Ukrainian father-in-law, Valeriy Deriy, who is a Red Army veteran of the Cold War. “Can you imagine?”
We’ve hired a zodiac boat for the day, embarking from a yacht club in the riverside town of Horishni Plavni. To get to the so-called Island of Death, our captain weaves through narrow, overgrown channels that branch off the main course of the Dnieper River.
Tucked away in a dense forest on the island, there’s an old Soviet war memorial. You’d hardly notice it from the water, unless you knew what to look for. Valeriy explains that one can still find evidence of war in the surrounding woods. Old artillery pieces, bullets, rifles, and boots. That sort of stuff.
“Some people want to forget the past. But it’s impossible,” he tells me. “It’s always there.”
Between August and December 1943, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union fought the battle for the Dnieper River. It was one of World War II’s largest battles, comprising some 4 million soldiers stretched along a nearly 900-mile-long front.
After Nazi Germany’s defeat at the Battle of Kursk, the Soviets pressed their advantage and pushed the Nazis back across Ukraine. The third longest river in Europe, the Dnieper — which runs roughly north to south down the middle of Ukraine to the Black Sea — was a natural physical obstacle for the advancing Red Army.
The Nazis took to the heights on the western bank to set up their artillery, which they used to devastating effect. The Red Army crossed the river under heavy fire, improvising makeshift means to get across. Soviet losses were staggering — accounts vary, but roughly 400,000 Red Army soldiers died in the Dnieper River battle of 1943.
The Other Side
Earlier, Valeriy and I stand at a spot on the opposite, eastern bank of the Dnieper River.
“My great-grandfather said the water ran red with blood in the war,” Valeriy says as we stand on the riverbank, looking to the other side.
Valeriy explains that his great-grandfather fought in that Dnieper River battle, and he crossed the river at this very spot. Right where we’re standing. I’m left a bit speechless.
His great-grandfather couldn’t swim, Valeriy continues, but Soviet commanders would have him shot if he’d refused the crossing. So he held on to a log for flotation and kicked his way across. Somehow, he survived.
“It was October, and the water was already very cold,” Valeriy says, shaking his head. “What a nightmare.”
Today, at this spot where so many died in World War II, there’s a simple old Soviet memorial crumbling, halfway reclaimed by the forest. A dilapidated Soviet tank and artillery piece sit in the foliage, too. But that’s it. You have to rely on your imagination to appreciate what happened here.
There’s not a cloud in the sky and the hot breeze feels good on my face. On a day like this, it’s hard to appreciate what happened here about 77 years ago. I can hardly imagine the fear felt by Soviet soldiers as they stood at that same spot on the river shore, looking to the far side like lost souls about to cross the River Styx.
And then I remember what it was like to stare across no man’s land in eastern Ukraine. I remember the fear I felt under the Russian artillery and sniper shots. And I imagine, at least a little, what those Soviet soldiers must have felt.
The trench lines in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region — where Ukrainian troops have fought a war since 2014 to keep a Russian invasion force at bay — are only about five hours away by car. We could be there by dinner, if we wanted to.
True, we’re much too far from the trenches to hear the daily rumble of battle, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. The war is always there.
Standing on the riverbank, Valeriy says to me: “History has been hard on Ukraine. But things will get better. We’re fighting for our democracy, just like your country did. And we’ll win it, too. Just like you did. I still have hope that my daughter and my grandchildren will see an amazing, free Ukraine.”
Still looking across the river, facing the same divide his great-grandfather once faced, Valeriy adds: “We’ll get there.”
Valeriy never served in Afghanistan. He was posted instead to East Germany and worked in signals intelligence, a specialty that paved the way for his future civilian career as a German language interpreter.
“It was an unwritten rule in the Soviet army that only one brother would have to be in Afghanistan at a time,” Valeriy explains. “And my brother went in my place.”
Valeriy’s older brother, Sergiy, was drafted into the Red Army and served in the war in Afghanistan from 1982 to 1984.
In fact, both brothers had volunteered for the war. But their mother had secretly gone to military officials and asked that only one son be allowed to go. Sergiy ultimately volunteered without Valeriy’s knowledge. It wasn’t until their mother died in December 2012 that Valeriy learned the truth.
Sergiy was a sergeant in a signals unit deployed near the Salang Tunnel in the Hindu Kush Mountains. The combat he experienced was terrible, Sergiy tells me, but he doesn’t go into much detail about the war very often. And when he does, his eyes adopt a distinctly distant look, as if he’s looking past me, in an attempt to articulate memories that no words could ever really recreate.
Today, both Deriy brothers live in the town of Horishni Plavi — it’s where my wife, Lilya, grew up.
On a warm June afternoon, our family gathers at a park by the Dnieper River to grill shashlik — Ukraine’s version of a barbecue. Both Sergiy and Valeriy are wearing NASA baseball caps, gifts from me and my wife.
It’s the first time we’ve all been together since the coronavirus lockdown was lifted on June 5, and we’re in good spirits. We make toast after toast until our legs are a little wobbly. We’ve brought along an iPhone speaker and grill the meat while we cycle through a playlist of staple rock hits — songs by bands like the Scorpions, Led Zeppelin, Metallica. That’s my in-laws’ favorite kind of music. Mine too.
We end up cooking more meat than we could ever hope to eat in a day. And we maintain a steady pace with the cognac toasts. And, as it’s prone to do, the conversation between Valeriy, Sergiy, and myself returns to the ongoing war in Ukraine’s east.
“The Russians were never our friends. Stalin invaded us, and now Putin has, too,” Sergiy says. “The only county that ever really cared about us was the United States.”
“We’ll never forget what your country has done for us,” he adds, speaking specifically about America’s delivery of Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine.
Then Valeriy abruptly stands.
“Please,” he says, beckoning me to shake his hand, “I want to shake the hand of a citizen of the country that put a man on the moon.”
I stand and shake my father-in-law’s hand and feel proud of my country. And I’m particularly proud that he’s proud of my county, too.
A generation ago, we would have been enemies. Our countries were poised at opposite ends of the earth, ready to unleash nuclear Armageddon to destroy one another.
Today, we are a family.
No One Forgets
Located on the east bank of the Dnieper River, roughly 190 miles southeast of Kyiv, Horishni Plavni was founded by Soviet youth volunteers in 1960 as a place to live for workers in the nearby iron-ore mines.
Originally, the city’s name was “Komsomolsk,” a reference to the All-Union Leninist Young Communist League, or “Komsomol.” The town was renamed Horishni Plavni in 2016 as part of Ukraine’s decommunization laws—a set of measures that went into effect in 2015 to curb Russia’s cultural influence.
Across the country, all Soviet-era names of settlements and roads have been changed to new Ukrainian ones. All reminders and relics of the Soviet Union have been removed or made illegal — including playing the Soviet national anthem and displays of the hammer and sickle flag.
Horishni Plavni’s main thoroughfare was once called Lenin Street. Now it’s named Heroes of the Dnieper River Street. The statue of Vladimir Lenin that once stood in the city center is gone. Only an empty pedestal remains — a common sight in Ukraine these days.
Yet you can’t totally erase the past. World War II is too deeply ingrained in Ukraine’s national psyche, and its physical environment, to ever be forgotten.
Soviet-era war memorials still stand around Horishni Plavni. At a riverside park, children play on the marble ramps of a towering, Soviet-era war memorial. In a nearby field, a row of Soviet tanks are on permanent display. Teenagers sit in the shade of the turrets and drink beer and listen to music.
Despite all their years living under Soviet propaganda, my father-in-law and uncle-in-law have a surprisingly pro-American perspective on the war.
“The Soviet Union could have never won without American help under lend-lease,” Valeriy tells me, referring to the American policy from 1941 to 1945 to provide materiel assistance to the Soviet Union’s war effort.
“And thank God the Allies landed in France,” Valeriy adds. “Otherwise Stalin would have taken over all of Europe.”
No War Ever Ends
After our shashlik picnic is over, Sergiy visits his brother’s apartment, where my wife and I are staying. He brings with him a photo album from his time in the Soviet army, including his deployment to Afghanistan in the 1980s.
I’m thrilled to have a look and listen to his stories from the war.
Sergiy recalls how his commander in Afghanistan justified the Soviet war by the need to defend the Soviet Union from U.S. nuclear missile strikes.
“We were told that America was evil, and that we were fighting in Afghanistan to defend the world from America,” Sergiy tells me. “It was all a lie, of course.”
Incredibly, Sergiy bears no ill will toward the country — my country — that was responsible for the death of many of his comrades.
“The Soviet Union did the same to America in Vietnam,” Sergiy says of America’s covert effort from 1979 to 1989 to arm and finance Afghanistan’s mujahideen fighters to fight against the Soviets. “It was the Cold War, and we were enemies. And that’s what enemies do to each other.”
Now, Sergiy has welcomed me — an American veteran of another war in Afghanistan — into his family with open arms. More than that, I’d even say that Sergiy and I share a special bond because we share a common battlefield. We remember the same places, and in some cases, the same enemies. Sometimes, as I’ve learned, former enemies actually have more in common with each other than they do with their fellow citizens who know nothing about war.
As he goes through the old photos, Sergiy’s face flashes with various contradictory emotions. Pride and pain. Nostalgia and regret. For Sergiy, war was both the worst and the best experience of his life. Therein lies that great paradox that faces all soldiers who’ve home to live in peace.
If war was so terrible, why do we sometimes miss it?
Sergiy, for his part, remembers his friends from the army fondly. But there’s a dark cloud, too, that hangs over every good memory.
“The Soviet Union lied to me. They lied to all of us,” Sergiy says as he flips through the photo album’s pages.
He pinches his lips and slowly shakes his head.
“They wasted so many lives,” he adds.
Soldiers rarely fight for the reasons dictated to them by the governments that send them to battle. Rather, once the bullets start flying, a simple sense of duty to defend one’s friends, and to not disappoint their expectations, is what inspires one to act courageously.
Yet, once soldiers are separated from their wars for a while — either by time or by distance — the moral clarity of duty may erode, leading them to question the justice of their individual actions in combat. The simple kill-or-be-killed morality of combat no longer shields them from thoughtfully considering the consequences of the things they did in war.
In many ways, life in peace is much more complicated than life in war. That was certainly true for my uncle-in-law. Although Sergiy came through the war in Afghanistan physically unscathed, he was left irrevocably jaded about Soviet communism.
In 1985, just a year after his discharge from the Soviet Army, Sergiy began law studies at Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, Ukraine’s premier university.
“I felt so at peace. Finally, no war, no suffering. Only a bright future,” Sergiy recalls of his arrival in Ukraine’s capital city to begin his studies.
But it didn’t last. In April 1986, an explosion ripped through reactor No. 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
The Chernobyl plant is located only about 60 miles north of Kyiv. And so, spooked by the threat of radiation, Sergiy was unsure whether he should stay in Kyiv to finish his law degree. The reborn optimism and happiness he’d felt just a year earlier, fresh from his wartime service, quickly gave way to feelings remembered from the war — dark feelings that he’d wanted to forget forever.
“When I was in Afghanistan, I always felt like death was chasing me,” Sergiy remembers. “And when I came back to Ukraine, I thought I could be free from that fixation on death. But Chernobyl happened, and here death finally caught me. A long and painful death. I remember I said to myself, ‘How ironic, death didn’t catch me in the war, but it did in civilian life.'”
Sergiy ultimately stayed in Kyiv to finish his law degree. After graduating from law school in 1991, he returned to his hometown of Horishni Plavni (then called Komsomolsk). The Soviet Union broke apart that year, further upending his world.
When Ukraine’s economy subsequently collapsed in the 1990s, Sergiy ultimately abandoned his law career and took up work as a hired hand. It was his only option to make a living. He never went back to practicing law.
My uncle-in-law, who is a devoutly religious man, has struggled with his demons from Afghanistan. And his family life has had its ups and downs. But he’s never given up hope for his country, even as Ukraine has gone through revolutions and an unfinished war to finally free itself from Russian overlordship.
“I try to stay positive, despite everything that’s happened to our country,” Sergiy says. “It would be so wrong not to believe in our future. I always have hope. It’s just a matter of time. Our future generations will be truly happy and free.”
As young men, Soviet propaganda told Valeriy and Sergiy that America was their mortal enemy. Yet, as older men, they’ve both shown the remarkable moral courage to abandon their former worldviews and embrace the promise of democracy.
Above all else, Valeriy and Sergiy now believe in the justice of freedom and democracy rather than conformity and communism. And the two Red Army veterans wholeheartedly believe that the United States is a force for good and a beacon of hope for freedom-loving people around the world.
It’s true that history hasn’t been kind to Ukraine, and my in-laws have not led easy lives.
Yet in spite of everything, their faith in America remains unbroken. And, with America’s promise lighting the way, they still extoll the justice of their own country’s democratic path, no matter its attendant hardships.
In the end, they choose to reject their Soviet past but not forget it. When the work of building a democracy gets tough, as it so often does, they look to the past to remember what they’re working so hard to achieve.
“Democracy hasn’t been easy, but I’d rather live as a free man than go back to the way things were before,” my father-in-law says.
Freedom, after all, usually means more to people who’ve experienced the alternative.