5 Hollywood directors who served and filmed real wars - We Are The Mighty
Articles

5 Hollywood directors who served and filmed real wars

Before Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper,” Hollywood directors “got it right” by serving in the military.

Here are five legendary Hollywood directors who served on the front lines with their cameras:


John Ford

5 Hollywood directors who served and filmed real wars

Ford joined the Naval Reserve in the days leading up to America’s involvement in World War II. In 1941, he was put in charge of a documentary film unit that took him to battles around the world.

He won back-to-back academy awards for his Navy documentaries The Battle of Midway and December 7th. He won an Oscar every year between 1941 and 1944 for directing two feature films and two documentaries, according to his IMDb biography.

After the war, Ford continued to serve in the Navy Reserve and was activated one last time during the Korean War to film This is Korea!, a propaganda documentary about the beginnings of the war. Ford was promoted to rear admiral upon his retirement.

Ford starting making films in 1914 when he followed his older brother Francis – who became an actor after having worked in vaudeville – to Hollywood. The beginning of his silver screen career was modest, he was his brother’s assistant, handyman, stuntman, and double.

After three years in the business, Ford got his first break as a director and went on to direct nearly 60 silent films between 1917 and 1928 before pioneering “talkies.”

Ford’s Hollywood career went from 1917 to 1966, and he served in the Navy from 1934 to 1951.

William Wyler

5 Hollywood directors who served and filmed real wars
Photo: IMDb

Wyler directed three documentaries while serving as a major in the United States Army Air Forces: The Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress, Thunderbolt, and The Fighting Lady.

For The Memphis Belle, Wyler flew over enemy territory on actual bombing missions to capture war footage. Wyler and his crew went on four missions to get enough footage to make the movie. On one of these missions, Wyler’s sound man, Harold Tannenbaum, was shot down and killed, according to William Wyler: The Life and Films of Hollywood’s Most Celebrated Director.

Wyler won an academy award for best director on The Best Years of Our Lives, a story about three veterans returning from World War II, which he filmed after serving in the military.

John Huston

5 Hollywood directors who served and filmed real wars
Photo: IMDb

In 1942, Huston joined the Army Signal Corps as a captain to make films, but most of them were considered too controversial and were either not released or censored. His time in service is described in his New York Times Obituary:

While in uniform, he directed and produced three films that critics rank among the finest made about World War II: Report from the Aleutians (1943), about bored soldiers preparing for combat; The Battle of San Pietro (1944), a searing (and censored) story of an American intelligence failure that resulted in the deaths of many soldiers, and Let There Be Light (1945).

The last, about psychologically damaged combat veterans, was suppressed for 35 years for being too anti-war. It had its first public showing in 1981 and won critical approval.

Huston earned a Legion of Merit for courageous work under battle conditions and retired as a major.

Frank Capra

5 Hollywood directors who served and filmed real wars
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Capra enlisted in the Army in 1917 when the U.S. declared war on Germany but was discharged the following year after catching the Spanish influenza. He moved to Los Angeles to live with his brother, and while recuperating, answered an open casting call which landed him on the set of John Ford’s film, The Outcasts of Poker Flat.

Over the course of twenty years, Capra became one of Hollywood’s most influential filmmakers, winning three Oscars as Best Director. His film, It Happened One Night became the first film to win five Oscars, including Best Picture.

Capra rejoined the Army Signal Corps during World War II and made the Why We Fight patriotic film series.

George Stevens

5 Hollywood directors who served and filmed real wars
Photo: IMDb

Stevens also joined the Army Signal Corps and headed a combat motion picture unit from 1944 to 1946. His unit filmed the Normandy landings, the liberation of Paris, and the liberation of Nazi extermination camp Dachau, which was used as evidence in the Nuremberg trials and de-Nazification program after the war.

Many critics claim that the somber, deeply personal tone of the movies he made when he returned from World War II were the result of the horrors he saw during the war, according to his IMDb biography.

NOW: How The Screenwriter Behind ‘American Sniper’ Got It Right

AND: The Veteran Community Gives ‘American Sniper’ A Huge Thumbs Up

Lists

7 things you don’t know about US Army Special Forces

Special Forces soldiers are the snake-eaters, known for slipping into enemy territory, living off the land, and then killing all the enemies of America they find. They trace their unit lineage back to the Office of Strategic Services in World War II, served with distinction as both warriors and spies in the Cold War, and snuck into Afghanistan to hunt the Taliban before anyone else.


But for all most people think they know about Special Forces, there’s a lot they don’t. Here are 7 things that might surprise you.

1. They have a reputation for “creature comforts.”

 

5 Hollywood directors who served and filmed real wars
Staff Sgt. Andrew Smith

While Green Berets are known to rough it on missions, they’re also known for bringing blankets and cots to training exercises. Operators have a grueling deployment schedule and are required to prove their skills to their teammates every day. So when they show up to a training event, they’re likely to cut loose and enjoy some barbecue and football in their off-time.

2. Green Berets are as much teachers as fighters.

5 Hollywood directors who served and filmed real wars
Photo: Us Army Staff Sgt. Gina Vaile-Nelson

 

While SF soldiers are very capable fighters, it’s just as important to their mission that they are good instructors. Green Berets are called on to deploy all over the world, build lasting relationships with local groups friendly towards the United States, and then teach those groups how to kill effectively. The SF soldiers then begin going on missions with the locals and fight side-by-side.

3. In the Special Forces, they are required to learn new languages.

 

5 Hollywood directors who served and filmed real wars
Photo: Spc. Daniel Love

Of course, training the locals to kill their enemies is a lot easier when everyone speaks the same language. Special Forces soldiers attend 18-24 weeks of foreign language and cultural training at the Special Operations Academic Facility at Fort Bragg.

The language these soldiers learn usually depends on what Special Forces Group they are later assigned to, since each group has a certain region of the world it needs to be oriented toward.

4. They’re in about 90 nations everyday.

5 Hollywood directors who served and filmed real wars
Photo: US Army Visual Information Specialist Jason Johnston

Operators need access to so may bi- and trilingual service members because they are in about 90 nations every day. In 2015, they’ve already visited at least 135 according to media reports. This represents a significant increase in operational tempo. Eight years ago SF visited only 60 countries.

5. They’re still in Iraq and Afghanistan.

5 Hollywood directors who served and filmed real wars
Photo: US Air Force Tech. Sgt. DeNoris Mickle

Two of the countries people might not be surprised to find Special Forces is in Iraq and Afghanistan. While most military units have been pulled out of these countries, the Green Berets never left Afghanistan and may have never fully leave Iraq. Currently, Special Forces soldiers are advising troops in both countries. In Afghanistan they are fighting shoulder-to-shoulder against insurgents with commandoes they have trained. In Iraq, they are advising Iraqi Army and militia units who are trying to roll back ISIS.

6. Recruits can enlist straight into Special Forces.

5 Hollywood directors who served and filmed real wars
Photo: US Army Sgt. Justin P. Morelli

Believe it or not, a recent high school graduate could walk into a recruiting office and enlist for 18X, Special Forces Candidate. These recruits go through basic training and then immediately enter the Special Forces training pipeline. If they fail or are simply aren’t selected during the Special Forces assessment, they are re-assigned to infantry.

It wasn’t always this way. In the past, Special Forces typically wanted soldiers to be older and more seasoned in the regular Army before making the jump. The older SF soldier even have a name for the younger generation making it through the Q-course: “SF Babies.”

7. “Weekend warriors” can be Green Berets.

5 Hollywood directors who served and filmed real wars
Photo: US Army Staff Sgt. Shane Hamann

The National Guard has SF companies across the south. Green Beret and UFC fighter Tim Kennedy continued serving by switching to a National Guard unit in Texas.

These soldiers drill like other National Guard soldiers, but are still required to maintain the same certifications as Active Duty SF.

NOW: The Special Forces who avenged 9/11 on horseback

OR: Here’s what it’s like when Special Forces raid a compound

Articles

This is how the Iraqi army beat ISIS in less than a week

Iraqi armed forces have pushed out Daesh from Tal Afar city while some parts of the district bearing the same name remain under the terrorist group’s control, a senior army official said Aug. 27.


“Joint forces of the army and the Hashd al-Shaabi — a pro-government Shia militia — have liberated two neighborhoods of Al-Askari and the Al-Senaa Al-Shamaliya, as well as the Al-Maaredh area, Tal Afar Gate, and the Al-Rahma village in the eastern part of the city,” Lt. Gen. Abdul-Amir Yarallah, Mosul operation commander, said in a televised statement.

While all parts of the city have been recaptured, fighting for control of some parts of Tal Afar district continues.

5 Hollywood directors who served and filmed real wars
Troops on the streets of Tal Afar, Iraq. Photo courtesy of DoD.

Yarallah said only the Al-Ayadieh area and its surrounding villages in the district now remain in Daesh’s grip, adding the armed forces were advancing “towards the last targets in order to liberate them”.

On Aug. 27, the Iraqi government launched a major offensive to retake Tal Afar, involving army troops, federal police units, counter-terrorism forces and armed members of Hashd al-Shaabi — a largely Shia force that was incorporated into the Iraqi army last year.

5 Hollywood directors who served and filmed real wars
A member of the Iraqi Security Forces establishes a security perimeter around an HH-60M Black Hawk helicopter. Photo by Capt. Stephen James.

Ministry of Displacement and Migration official Zuhair Talal al-Salem told Anadolu Agency 1,500 people fled the district’s surrounding villages and areas.

“The displaced people were transferred from security checkpoints to Nimrod camp, where they are receiving relief assistance,” Al-Salem said.

 

 

Nimrud camp in the southeast of Mosul is said to have a capacity to house 3,000 families.

The ministry transferred some 500 displaced families to the camp after checking their names August 26 in the district of Hamam al-Alil, south of Mosul.

Articles

4 urban myths with military roots

Urban legends, old wives tales, myths, and folklore all come from somewhere. In the 20th century, the military was an important facet in the lives of many, especially during WWII and the Cold War years. Some of the lore was bound to find its way into civilian life, here are just a few you may have heard:


1. Carrots help your night vision

While it’s true carrots are good for your eyes, because they’re loaded with beta carotene and thus vitamin A. That’s where the ocular benefits end. In the thousands of admonished children and thousands of unfinished dinner plates between WWII and today, the idea of carrots being good for you morphed into a super power where you gain the ability to see at night.

The myth started in WWII, as German bombers struck British targets at night during the Blitz. British authorities ordered city wide blackouts in an attempt to lead the bombers off course or hope they would strike off target. The British fought off the German Blitz because of a new technology which allowed them to see the bombers coming from far off. It wasn’t carrots, it was radar.

5 Hollywood directors who served and filmed real wars
But cabbage will still totally clean you out.

The radar RAF fighter pilots had on their planes allowed them to detect bombers before they crossed the English Channel. One pilot, John Cunningham, racked up and impressive 19 kills at night.In an effort to keep the radar technology under wraps, the British Ministry of Defence told reporters pilots like Cunningham ate a lot of carrots.

The British public ate it hook, line, and sinker. Victory gardens began producing carrots to augment food supplies and alleviate shipping issues. BBC radio would broadcast carrot dessert recipes (this is why carrot cake is a thing, when it definitely should not be) to get the public behind carrots as a sweetener substitute.

2. You lose most of your body heat through your head

Your mother never let you out of the house on a cold day without warning you to wear a hat, but this old wives’ tale comes from an experiment the military conducted on body heat loss. They put people in arctic survival suits and put them in Arctic conditions. The survival suits only covered the people from the neck down, so there was nowhere for the heat to escape, except up through the head (You try explaining this to your mom).

5 Hollywood directors who served and filmed real wars
MOM, I swear to god it comes out of my feet.

The amount of heat loss from your body depends on the temperature outside, how much surface area your skin has and how much skin you have exposed to the elements.

3. The military puts saltpeter in food to curb sex drives

This one even made it to the lore of boarding schools and colleges. You had no problems before you went to boot camp or boarding school. Now it seems like your libido took a vacation. What changed? It must be the food!

The logic for this is astounding. If there really is saltpeter in the food at basic training, then this must mean Taco Bell is an aphrodisiac (pro tip: it’s not, though the food quality standards are probably similar). The problem has less to do with the food and more to do with the campaign hat. It’s your drill sergeant is stressing you out.

5 Hollywood directors who served and filmed real wars

Even if the services put saltpeter in the food, the medical truth is saltpeter doesn’t even suppress sex. It doesn’t help your libido either. Saltpeter is an ingredient in gunpowder and in that way it helps things go bang but it will never help or hurt your ability to go bang.

4.  Civilians tie yellow ribbons to support the troops

At least it didn’t start out that way. There was a John Wayne film produced in 1949 called “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon,” in which the female lead actually did wear a yellow ribbon for her cavalry officer lover. But the real custom of tying a yellow ribbons around things came from the 1979 Iranian Hostage Crisis.

5 Hollywood directors who served and filmed real wars
That’s not the tying I meant.

In 1972, Tony Orlando and Dawn produced a song called Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree, which was pretty popular. by 1979 the symbolic act resurfaced en masse as the hostages were held for 444 days. The practice came around again in 1991 during Desert Storm and was associated with deployed U.S. troops ever since.

 

 

NOW: The 6 craziest military myths

OR: The 4 biggest myths Marines keep telling themselves

Articles

7 gifts for the moto veterans in your life

Christmas is right around the corner and time is running out to get something great. Here’s a quick primer for anyone still shopping for that special veteran.


1. Toys

5 Hollywood directors who served and filmed real wars
GIF: Youtube/RCSparks Studio

You can take a second to pretend your grown, bad-ss service member doesn’t love toys if you need, we’ll wait. All done? Cool. On the upper end of the price spectrum there are remote-control tanks that fire pellets while on the lower side model A-10 Warthogs are available.

2. Vintage gear

5 Hollywood directors who served and filmed real wars
Any World War II gear could be cool, but a motorcycle would win Christmas. Photo: Wikipedia/Terry Whalebone

Most vets embrace the history of their unit, making vintage military items a great gift. Soldiers and Marines may appreciate this antiqued compass or sailors could go for a telescope. Airmen can try the classic bomber jacket.

3. Military movie memorabilia

5 Hollywood directors who served and filmed real wars
Photo: Youtube screenshot/MBS-MoviesBestScenes

Speaking of bomber jackets, Maverick’s jacket from Top Gun is available for movie buffs and movie weapons can be fun. Of course, getting the actual movies can be a great gift too.

4. Rucks and other bags

5 Hollywood directors who served and filmed real wars
Photo: US Army National Guard Master Sgt. Paul Wade

Former soldiers and Marines hate their heavy rucksacks while they’re marching around the desert, but love gear bags for everything from camping to running around town.

Surplus stores will usually have the real deal while good military-inspired bags are available all over the place. Make sure to match camouflage patterns to the service member. Marines don’t want to wear Army digital, soldiers don’t want to wear MARPAT, and no one wants to wear aquaflage.

This is especially important if the veteran is still in the service. The military branches usually only allow black bags or those with matching camouflage to be worn while in uniform.

5. Books

5 Hollywood directors who served and filmed real wars
Photo: Courtesy Adam and Brian Makos

Bookworms always have a lot of great options from the military. The new novel “Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War” generated a lot of buzz this year, and Marine Phil Klay’s “Redeployment” is a brilliant collection of short stories. Former paratrooper Michael MacLeod’s memoir, “The Brave Ones” follows a 41-year-old enlistee in the War on Terror from recruitment through two deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

WATM has previously covered quadruple amputee and 82nd Airborne Division veteran Staff Sgt. Travis Mill’s new book, “Tough as they Come” as well as history writer Adam Makos’ “Devotion,” the true story of a Medal of Honor recipient who crashed his plane behind enemy lines in Korea to try and save his best friend.

6. Swag

5 Hollywood directors who served and filmed real wars
Photo: NavyChief.com

Troops love them some stickers, t-shirts, and other swag so that everyone knows how cool they are. Nearly all units and branches are represented at shops like cafepress.com, but check first to see if the service member’s unit sells items directly.

Purchases made from a unit typically support that unit’s morale fund, helping them pay for events at home and overseas. There are also vet-owned companies that make awesome military gear like Grunt Style, Ranger Up, and Article 15.

7. Weapons

5 Hollywood directors who served and filmed real wars
Photo: Public Domain/Nicolas von Kospoth

Uncle Sam’s gun clubs love their weaponry, both in the professional sphere and at home. Obviously, match the gift to the vet. If they don’t already have a knife or gun, maybe get something else off the list.

Lists

5 ethical ways troops can avoid working on the weekend

Moments of levity are a must. It’s those little moments of relaxation that give our nation’s war fighters the rest they need operate at peak efficiency. That, and everyone would rather spend their downtime drunk than sitting at battalion staff duty on their day off.


Nobody wants to get a call informing them that their weekend plans have officially gone to sh*t. We know you don’t want to do it, but we’re going to advise against going AWOL, getting locked up, ending up in the hospital, or flat-out telling your superior to f*ck off. There are a few ethical ways to wiggle your way back into doing nothing productive until Monday.

5 Hollywood directors who served and filmed real wars

“Nope… I don’t see that ’09 Mustang bought at 39% interest rate… he must be gone already.”

(Photo by Sgt. Melissa Bright)

Park somewhere else

Form habits. Let everyone know your routine.

If you park your car in the exact same place, day in and day out, pretty soon, that’ll become the go-to indicator of your presence. If, one day, you happen to park your car in the other parking lot, they’ll take a quick glance and assume you’re not there. Now just be sure to keep your phone on silent and never answer your door.

5 Hollywood directors who served and filmed real wars

“I’m so sorry, I’d love to help, but I got this thing. Yes. That totally legit thing.”

(Photo by Airmen 1st Class Dana Cable)

Be busy

Someone has pull staff duty or charge of quarters (CQ). The goal here isn’t to screw over the unit, it’s to hot potato that responsibility onto someone else.

If you let your superior know that you’ve got responsibilities that you can’t or “can’t” wiggle out of, like “helping someone in your unit move,” they’ll probably pick that other guy.

5 Hollywood directors who served and filmed real wars

Bonus points if you tell them you’ll be somewhere without service and you just turn your phone off.

(Photo by Airmen 1st Class Frank Rohrig)

Be out of town

Let everyone know you’ve got big plans. Be obnoxious about it. Everyone from the lowest private to the battalion commander should know that your ass has tickets to whatever.

If you plan on having fun, whoever is coming to ruin your weekend should know well in advance that you’re not going to be anywhere near.

5 Hollywood directors who served and filmed real wars

If they do take the time to go check the paperwork and you were bullshitting, then plausible deniability is your only way out…

(Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Brian Morales)

Put in a 4-day pass (or say you did)

Having a piece of paperwork that says the commander has approved you to do nothing all weekend is great. Take a photo of it with your phone and send it along any time someone asks you what you’re doing.

Or, if the NCO is out on the prowl, trying to find some lower-enlisted to pull CQ and you feel like your poker face is good enough, go ahead and say your 4-day pass is up at battalion and hope they don’t call your bluff.

5 Hollywood directors who served and filmed real wars

Just keep one by the door, if you have to.

(Photo by Airman 1st Class Joshua Magbanua)

Be drunk or “drunk”

If there’s any tried-and-true method that every member of the E-4 Mafia and LCpl Underground know too well, it’s this one: Never answer your door without a bottle of beer in your hands.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve actually been drinking; it doesn’t matter if it’s 0900. There’s no way you can go to some BS duty if you might be intoxicated. Always keep that in mind.

Lists

The most important battles in US history

The American military has been kicking ass and taking names for over 240 years. In all that time, it’s amassed a massive list of important victories and defeats. Below is a list of some that reshaped American history for better or worse.


The list is voteable, so click to advance your picks for most important battles and strike down ones you find less important.

The Most Important Battles in US History

NOW: The story of Waterloo, one of the most epic battles in history

OR: The most important guy in military aviation history you’ve ever heard of

Articles

The Army is preparing its medics for a war without medevac helos

The Army’s top surgeon said Aug. 18 the service is working with its combat medics to deal with casualties that can’t be airlifted immediately out of the battle zone and back to surgical facilities for hours or days, arming the first responders with new gear and techniques designed to keep a soldier alive well past the so-called “Golden Hour” that’s contributed to a record-level survival rate for wounded troops.


Lieutenant Gen. Nadja West said the Army’s 68W Healthcare Specialist cadre will have to be armed with sophisticated sensors to measure a patient’s vital signs, be trained to use new lifesaving equipment like tourniquets that can wrap around a patient’s waist or chest and be given technology that will allow them to “reach back” from the battlefield to surgeons in the rear who can deliver expert advice far from the operating room.

“We’ve had the luxury of air superiority so we could evacuate our casualties at will,” West told WATM at a recent meeting with defense reporters in Washington, D.C. “We’re trying to make sure that in an environment where it’s not as permissive — where we’re going to have to retain casualties longer — we have the ability to do this prolonged care.”

5 Hollywood directors who served and filmed real wars
Specialist Thomas Appelhanz, C Company, 6th Battalion, 101st Combat Aviation Brigade flight medic checks to ensure IV fluid is flowing properly to a wounded Afghan National Army soldier during a patient transfer mission at Forward Operating Base Tagab, Kapisa province, Afghanistan Nov. 5, 2012. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Duncan Brennan

West added that in Afghanistan, for example, there were cases where patients were flown out of the combat zone and back to Bethesda Naval Medical Center and on the operating table within 24 hours. But in future wars, that capability might not exist.

In the wars since 9/11, the Army has benefitted from American air dominance which allowed slow-moving, poorly-armed medical evacuation helicopters to speed to the battle and pick up wounded in a matter of minutes. That’s led to a 93 percent survival rate for wounded soldiers, a 75 percent increase since the Vietnam war.

But the Army is worried that wars in the near future won’t allow a speedy MEDEVAC, so its medics will have to deal with situations like potential limb loss from tourniquets staying on longer than usual to fluid pooling in the brain or organs, West said. That doesn’t mean that all of the sudden 68Ws have to be trained as vascular surgeons, but they do have to be able to get detailed information that’ll help keep their patients alive.

5 Hollywood directors who served and filmed real wars
Army Spc. Trent McIlwraith, of Edmond, Oklahoma., a combat medic for Bravo Company, 1-179th Infantry, 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, administers an I.V. to Tech Sgt. Gevoyd Litlle, of Columbus, Ohio, an explosive ordinance disposal technician supporting Task Force force Maverick in Operation Lionheart on Sept. 12. U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Zackary Root.

“Telehealth is going to be very important and we’re working on that,” West said of capabilities being developed for detailed medical communication on the battlefield.

“So you’re actually talking to a vascular surgeon when you’re down range and say ‘Hey I’m looking at this vessel, what do I need to do?’ ” West explained. “You’re not going to make them trauma surgeons, but at least you have someone that can give them the expertise that can do things right there.”

West also said the Army was experimenting with ways to attach sensors to soldiers so that intensive care specialists in the rear can get detailed information about a patient’s condition and be able to render advice to a medic on managing the casualty over a longer period.

“So I see not having to train them on every single thing, but having the reach-back capability to say okay, I’m looking at this, what do I need to do?” she said. “That’s what I see in the future. Rather than trying to overload them with everything, give them the reach back to help them answer those questions.”

Articles

Leadership in the face of a pandemic: How one Commanding Officer kept his community safe

Last year, the world began waging a war against a new enemy: COVID-19. As the threat emerged and casualties mounted, the year 2020 brought changes in the way people conduct business, accomplish personal tasks, pursue education, and celebrate milestones. The pandemic also highlighted the mandate for a different type of leader: one who shares information transparently while taking appropriate measures to mitigate risk and – crucially – recognizing the importance of a more personal and human approach to communication. 

Captain David Baird, USN, Commanding Officer of Naval Station (NAVSTA) Rota, Spain, has been that leader. Baird and his leadership team developed and executed a plan to keep members of the NAVSTA Rota community safe, healthy and mission-ready. A central tenet of that plan was, in Baird’s words, “calm, compassionate, clear and factual communication.” 

His strategy has been successful. 

5 Hollywood directors who served and filmed real wars
Rear Adm. Scott Gray, commander, Navy Region Europe, Africa, Central, greets Capt. David Baird, commanding officer of Naval Station (NAVSTA) Rota, Spain, during his tour of the installation, Dec. 9, 2020. NAVSTA Rota sustains the fleet, enables the fighter and supports the family by conducting air operations, port operations, ensuring security and safety, assuring quality of life and providing the core services of power, water, fuel and information technology. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Eduardo Otero)

Since the start of the pandemic, the number of COVID-19 cases within the NAVSTA Rota community has remained low and relatively isolated. Meanwhile, the atmosphere on the base has been calm, and compliance with recommended public health measures has been high. Baird’s success navigating a public health crisis while fighting this new enemy, Covid-19, is a case study in effective leadership.

Preparing to Battle a New Kind of Threat

As COVID-19 ravaged Spain in Spring 2020, the NAVSTA Rota community remained focused on its mission. With cases rising sharply throughout the country, Baird and his leadership team were closely monitoring the spread of the virus and had taken measures to prepare for what might come.

By the end of March 2020, Spain was under a state of emergency, with all non-essential businesses closed and non-essential workers under a stay-at-home order. NAVSTA Rota had switched to a “minimum manning posture,” many base facilities were closed, and base schools had transitioned to remote learning. By early April, face coverings were required in all buildings.

Implementing these drastic operational changes was a massive undertaking, but an equally difficult challenge was less straightforward: successfully leading the NAVSTA Rota community through the pandemic. It was a tall order at a time when uncertainty about the virus warranted panic and fear, and face-to-face interaction had suddenly become extremely limited. Fortunately, Baird was able to draw on his combat and risk management experience to devise a strategy that all would embrace and that would keep everyone safe and informed, while also allowing his command to accomplish its mission.

Developing a Communication Strategy

5 Hollywood directors who served and filmed real wars
Rafael Posadas Palomo, a reporter for Spain’s First National Television’s show, España Directo, interviews Capt. David Baird, commanding officer of Naval Station (NAVSTA) Rota, Spain, during a press visit to the installation. Naval Station Rota sustains the fleet, enables the fighter and supports the family by conducting air operations, port operations, ensuring security and safety, assuring quality of life and providing the core services of power, water, fuel and information technology. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Benjamin Lewis)

Early in the pandemic, one of Baird’s first orders of business was figuring out how to communicate with the entire NAVSTA Rota community to keep everyone informed and avoid panic. With limited information, people were understandably anxious and feared for the safety of loved ones, both locally and back in the US. 

Baird harkened back to advice a mentor once gave him: Rather than treating others the way you want to be treated, “treat them the way you want your children or your parents to be treated.” Baird added, “The parent part was so important, because many of us were worried about elderly parents, [who are] at a higher risk.” Baird summarized the advice another way: “View others in the way you view the people you care about the most.”

With that axiom as a backdrop to his communication philosophy, Baird was keenly aware of the importance of transparently sharing credible, accurate information. However, he recognized that “there is no such thing as perfect communication.” Rather, it’s an ongoing process of constant improvement and an effort to “connect with [people] in a meaningful way.” 

All of this was the foundation for the communication plan that he and his leadership team devised. With in-person gatherings not an option, they had to find alternate ways to reach members of the NAVSTA Rota community. Baird and his public affairs officer (PAO) decided they would “use every other means available,” including social media and AFN Rota radio to share information, answer questions, and keep the community informed in real time.

Communication without face-to-face interaction

In developing the communication strategy, Baird recalled his conversation, many years earlier, with the PAO at Naval Air Facility Atsugi in Japan regarding the 2011 Fukushima disaster and how the command had communicated about the evacuation of dependents. Answering questions and sharing information ‘round the clock via Facebook proved to be the most effective communication tactic. 

Baird explains, “people crave every piece of information they can get. If information is not provided by an official source, they’re going to find an unofficial source that probably isn’t as credible.” He and his team determined that communication via Facebook would work well in the face of this new crisis, and he began publishing frequent updates on the Naval Station Rota Facebook page.

Initially, the updates consisted primarily of data on the spread of COVID in the Andalusia region of Spain, but in late March 2020, Baird began taking a new approach. As members of the Rota community were suddenly confined to their homes and severely restricted from daily activities, sharing numbers wasn’t enough. He wanted to put the information into perspective and help them truly understand what it all meant.

He explained, “I started telling stories using some of my life experiences to help figure out: How can we frame our current situation, and what does the future look like?” 

Baird talked about everything from personal courage, to fear, to his experiences training for an Ironman triathlon and as a member of the rowing team at the United States Naval Academy. Each update was focused on helping the NAVSTA Rota community understand the current situation and where it was all headed, while keeping everyone motivated. The updates were honest, personal, and empathetic, and they quickly resonated with the community. Readers commented on the posts, thanking Baird for his candor, positivity, and leadership.

In response to one of Baird’s early “story-telling” updates, a member of the Rota community commented, “NAVSTA Rota is exemplifying true leadership right now. Capt. Baird, you are setting the standard for military leadership through this experience and I hope other commanders follow your example.”

A hallmark of Baird’s updates is transparency. He has been careful to share what his leadership team knew – and what they didn’t know – at all times: “Acknowledging  there are a lot of things that we don’t know is important to establish credibility and maintain credibility about the things that [we] are stating as fact.”

He also explained the “why” for each new constraint on daily activities: “Every restriction we put into place was grounded in some sort of data.” His explanations, along with his acknowledgement of how difficult and frustrating the restrictions could be, made the news more palatable to the NAVSTA Rota community.

As one Facebook follower commented, “We know this is a super challenging situation and one that none of us planned on or wanted to be in, especially while living abroad. But we truly do appreciate your transparency and communication, and we commend you for how leadership has handled this difficult time here.”

The constant COVID-related communications through Facebook, town hall meetings and on AFN Rota – more than 300 since the start of the pandemic – prompted more than 10,000 comments and questions from the NAVSTA Rota community; a clear indication that members have been engaged and paying attention. 

The global military community takes notice

Current members of the NAVSTA Rota community weren’t the only audience for Baird’s Facebook updates. Among the thousands of people following along were family and friends of service members stationed in Rota, retired service members, and those who served at NAVSTA Rota in the past. Baird’s leadership has meant a lot to them.

One parent wrote, “My daughter and son-in-law and granddaughter are currently stationed on your base during this crazy event. I’m extremely pleased with the way NSR is keeping everyone posted on the current issues in and around the base and country.” 

Another parent simply said, “Our son and family are with you. Glad you are in Command.”

In response to one of Baird’s very candid updates about the need for all members of the NAVSTA Rota community to keep their guard up, a Navy retiree had this to say:

“As a sailor who once served in Rota, ultimately retiring from the US Navy, I have seen and read many memos of consequence. Your writing and eloquence in communicating the current issues on healthcare and the pandemic are simply outstanding. I have not, as a healthcare professional, seen better than what you transmit. If more leaders did what you do, we would all be in a better place pandemic-wise.”

The path forward and lessons learned

5 Hollywood directors who served and filmed real wars
Javier Ruiz Arana, mayor of Rota, left, speaks with Capt. David Baird, commanding officer of Naval Station Rota, Spain, during a flag raising ceremony held by the city of Rota in honor of citizen efforts in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. During the ceremony, a new monument was revealed honoring the victims, those who recovered, and the citizens who contributed in the fight against the disease. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Eduardo Otero)

Baird and his leadership team continue to remain vigilant and share continual communication amidst the gradual lifting of COVID-related restrictions in Spain and rollout of the vaccine. As of April 2021, Naval Hospital Rota had already administered both doses of the Moderna vaccine to thousands of members of the NAVSTA Rota community, including active duty service members and US civilian workers, along with their adult family members. TRICARE-eligible retirees and family members were also offered the vaccine. 

More than a year into the pandemic, Baird continues to refine his leadership strategy. He explains, “I’ve realized that maintaining a sense of calm is important.” He also recognizes that it is important to “meet people where they are in terms of their current level of knowledge of the COVID situation.” When imposing new COVID-related restrictions or making changes to the base routine, Baird must provide context and justification to explain why those measures are necessary.

In addition, new people are coming to the Rota community all the time, so it’s a continuous process to bring everyone up to speed on local requirements.

Baird says that one of the most important lessons learned through this pandemic is “the value of having a team that works well together and supports one another.” Indeed, Baird has been surrounded by a strong team who helped navigate all aspects of the pandemic. Long before the vaccine became available, the Naval Hospital Rota team established a very effective testing and contact tracing system. DoDEA leadership quickly transitioned base schools to remote learning. The Public Health Emergency Officer (PHEO) examined every line of operations on the base to confirm that sufficient COVID restrictions were in place. The Spanish Liaison Office translated more than 1,700 pages of legal documents to ensure Baird and his leadership team understood the current Spanish laws and policies. Baird’s PAO worked around the clock ensuring that all communication reflected the latest restrictions and guidance, some of which changed several times per week. And MWR leadership made numerous overhauls to their supply chain and other processes at base eateries to accommodate changing restrictions.

Members of the base community also came together to help and support each other. They made and distributed homemade face-coverings before masks were widely available. They purchased food and other items for those who had PCS’d to Rota and were required to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. They looked out for each other’s children and pets. And they complied with base and local COVID safety measures.

Successfully navigating through the pandemic has been a group effort, but it all starts at the top. Through his leadership, Baird set the tone for an environment where members of the NAVSTA Rota community could trust and support one another. 

As COVID restrictions are gradually lifted and the future remains unknown, the wisdom Baird offered to the community last year, in the throes of the pandemic, still rings true and illustrates why he has been an effective leader for NAVSTA Rota during this crisis: “The transition process will take time. We will need to proceed slowly and methodically. It will be frustrating at times, and we may need to reverse course at times. But each transition will bring us one step closer to our new normal, and each step forward will be a sign of improvement. It will be a long road to travel, but I look forward to traveling it with all of you.”

Featured image: Capt. David Baird, commanding officer of Naval Station (NAVSTA) Rota, Spain, receives the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine from Hospitalman Viviana Lao, assigned to U.S. Naval Hospital (USNH) Rota, Spain, at NAVSTA Rota’s movie theater on 16 January, 2021. USNH Rota has begun administering the vaccine to frontline healthcare and first responders as part of the vaccination campaign. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Eduardo Otero)

Articles

WATCH: Everything You Need to Know about a VA Loan

In this episode of SITREP, host Paul sits down with Rick Bettencourt to discuss VA Home loans. The intensity of the housing market means that now more than ever, veterans and active duty service members are looking for the least expensive way to buy a home.

This video covers everything from how to apply, PCSing tips, credit scores and more. It’s a long and comprehensive video that lasts for almost two hours. If you’re interested in learning more about a VA loan we’re covering the highlights here until you have time to watch the full video.

This year, the VA is expected to guarantee or close on 1.7 million loans, marking the second record-setting year for the VA. That means the VA expects 1.7 million veterans and active duty service members are expected to purchase or refinance their homes.

What is a VA Home Loan?

VA home loans were created in 1944 as a way to help World War II veterans coming back from the Pacific and European theaters buy homes with reasonable interest rates. Since 1944, nearly 30 million VA loans have been guaranteed through the system.  

It’s important to remember this benefit isn’t just for veterans – it’s for any active duty, reserve, national guard personnel who met the service requirements. Surprisingly, only 14% of veterans nationally choose to use a VA loan.

Where does VA Home Loan money come from? 

Contrary to what many assume, the VA does not issue money for a VA loan. Conventional lending institutions like banks and credit unions issue the funds. The VA guarantees 25% of the amount borrowed by the veteran. Imagine a veteran chooses to finance $400,000 for a home after certifying eligibility through the VA. Then the VA issues the lender a Certificate of Guarantee. The COG means that 25% of whatever the lender issues is covered. If the service member is not able to make payment or defaults on the loan, the VA will send a check to the lender for 25% of what’s borrowed. In other words, the VA is taking 25% of the risk for the lender. That’s one of the reasons why the VA has the best rates and the most favorable credit guidelines. VA loans don’t require Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI), unlike conventional loans.  

VA Home Loan borrowing limits + the Blue Water Navy Act 

5 Hollywood directors who served and filmed real wars
The Airman and Family Readiness Center at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, houses the Personal Financial Readiness office, where professional counselors assist Department of Defense cardholders with budgeting, car buying, credit and more. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jasmine M. Barnes)

As a result of the Blue Water Navy Act, there is no limit on the amount of money a veteran or service member can borrow to purchase a home. That means eligible veterans, service members, and survivors who are fully eligible for a VA home loan no longer have limits on loans over $144,000. However, in order for this to be true, one of these two criteria must be met:

  • Never used your home loan benefit, or paid a previous VA loan in full and sold the property (in this case, you’d have your full entitlement restored), or
  • Used your home loan benefit but had a foreclosure or compromise claim (also called a short sale) and repaid us in full

First-time use VA Home Loan 

You are eligible to use your VA loan as many times as you like. However, non-disabled veterans and active duty service members might be required to pay a funding fee and/or a subsequence use fee if you choose to use your VA loan more than once. Veterans with a 10% or more service-connected disability have no funding fees.

PCS and VA Home Loans 

It’s entirely possible to retain ownership of a home, PCS, and use a VA loan to buy a new home at a new installation. There will be a subsequent use fee associated with this purchase because active duty Service members are not exempt from subsequent use fees. The one exception to this rule is if an active duty Service member has been awarded a Purple Heart. In that case, they are exempt from all funding fees in perpetuity.  

Researching a VA Home Loan lender 

 If you’re considering purchasing a home, it’s highly recommended that you explore the VA Home Loan page, where you can look up quarterly, and annual lender volume reports. This will help you understand which lenders might be more amenable to VA loans. How to shop for a mortgage is equally as important as selecting the perfect house for you and your family. The more research you put into this part of the process, the better the result. You should look for a VA home loan lender who is familiar with military culture and understands your unique experiences as a Service member.

VA Home Loan Funding Fees

Funding fees are not out of pocket costs when you purchase a home. This amount is financed into the cost of the loan. For veterans with first-time use, the funding fee is 2.3% of the loan amount. On a $100,000 loan, the funding fee is $2,300, so the loan amount would be 102,300. Funding fees change based on how much money is being financed. If you choose to put a 5 or 10% down payment on the house, the funding fees will change.

How to apply for VA Home Loan + Documents needed to apply for VA Home Loan 

 Rick Bettencourt suggests asking around among the military community to find a lender. After you’ve selected a VA-approved lender, you’ll need to obtain a Certificate of Eligibility (COE). The COE proves you meet initial eligibility requirements for VA loan benefits. It also ensures the lender knows how much entitlement you can receive.

Next, pre-qualifying your loan amount can help you save time and avoid potential surprises. You’ll need to provide information about your income, credit history, and other information. A pre-qualification letter helps establish the price range for a home you can afford. It doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be approved for your loan.

You’ll need to gather a copy of your LES if you’re on active duty, your DD-214 if you’re a veteran, along with any relevant financial paperwork that establishes your income and marital status.

Credit score for VA Home Loan 

The VA doesn’t require a certain credit score but having a higher score might mean better interest rates and loan terms. Private lenders that issue VA loans usually want to see scores between 580-660 to be eligible for a loan.

Three tips for first-time buyer with VA Home Loan 

Rick says the best way to make the home buying process fun and enjoyable is to follow these three tips.

  • Have an honest conversation about the financial feasibility of making a home purchase. Having a candid conversation will help make sure that you and your family are ready.
  • Research various lenders that work with VA loans and make sure you select a good lender.
  • Make sure you have some money saved. Home inspections, escrow, and appraisal costs should all be prepared for ahead of time. Know what you can spend comfortably before you pull the trigger.

Watch the video for the complete conversation, which includes info about buying multi-family homes, waiting periods and more.

Featured photo: A home is advertised for sale in Hampton Roads, Va., Jan. 3, 2017. The 733rd Civil Engineer Division Housing Referral Office at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va. hosts a monthly home buying and selling seminar for all U.S. service members and civilians with access to the installation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Teresa J. Cleveland)

Articles

The last murdered Russian ambassador died after Iranians overran an embassy

It seems like a country just can’t get world power status until they have an embassy overrun by locals in Tehran.


The United States Embassy in Iran was infamously overrun in 1979, with American hostages being held for 444 days. The last U.S. Ambassador to Iran, William H. Sullivan, was not among those hostages, and fortunately none of the American embassy workers were killed.

5 Hollywood directors who served and filmed real wars
If you’re in Tehran and a crowd gathers outside your embassy, the situation could go downhill really fast.

Also Read: This deadly failure in the Iranian desert lives in hostage rescue mission infamy

Probably less well-known is when the citizens of Tehran overran the Russian embassy in 1829. At the time, Iran was known as Persia and the two countries just concluded a two-year border war — which did not go well for the Persians.

Persia, especially the capital, was full of anti-Russian sentiment. The Persians had been forced to give up much of their northern border areas, lost access to the Caspian Sea, and most importantly (for these events) liberated any Armenian held captive to move to Russian territory.

The first official postwar Russian envoy to Persia was the renowned Russian comedy writer Alexander Griboyedov. The playwright and author recently married into Russian aristocracy, which resulted in his Persian posting.

Shortly after the Tsar sent Griboyedov to Tehran as Minister Plenipotentiary (a rank just below an official ambassador), two Christian Armenian women and one Armenian eunuch escaped from the Persian royal family harem, seeking refuge in the Russian embassy.

5 Hollywood directors who served and filmed real wars
A portrait of Griboyedov.

The Shah demanded their return, but Griboyedov wouldn’t give in. The terms of a treaty gave the Armenians the right to return to Russia. Thousands of angry Persians turned out to protest the Russian embassy, but Griboyedov wouldn’t budge.

The National Interest cited “contemporary accounts” in the telling of this story, saying the locals were incited by mullahs to storm the building. The Minister Plenipotentiary, other Russian diplomats, and the embassy guards in the building tried to fight as best they could but were overwhelmed.

Their bodies were dragged into the streets of Tehran, each decapitated in turn.

Griboyedov’s body was eventually returned to his native Tbilisi, now in Georgia. Shah Fath-Ali sent an envoy to Tsar Nicholas I of Russia as an apology for Griboyedov’s death, along with an 88-carat diamond, known as the Shah Diamond, in the hopes the Tsar wouldn’t return with the Russian army.

5 Hollywood directors who served and filmed real wars

The diamond is still on display in the Kremlin, a grim reminder of how even the most powerful nations can still be victims of a mob.

Articles

ISIS troops reportedly targeted US advisers with a mustard agent in Iraq

An Iraqi outpost with US and Australian military advisers in western Mosul was hit with an ineffective “low grade” mustard agent by Islamic State forces on Sunday, according to CBS News.


At least six Iraqis were treated for breathing issues at a field clinic, while none of the advisers were believed to have been injured.

The Pentagon released a statement saying that the ineffective attack “further displays the desperation of ISIS as they seek to hold an untenable position in Mosul,” ABC Australia reported.

“My advice right at the moment is no Australian troops were affected but Australian forces did provide assistance following the attack, said Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. “That’s my current advice received in last few minutes.”

US defense officials in Iraq could not be reached for comment.

Related: Mattis warns Syria against using chemical weapons again

This was reportedly the second chemical attack in recent days — an Iraqi military officer also claimed that ISIS forces launched a rocket loaded with chlorine in the al-Abar district in West Mosul, one Associated Press report said.

This wouldn’t be the first time ISIS militants were allegedly using chemical agents to fend off coalition fighters. Troops embedded with the Kurdish forces also reported that ISIS was using chemicals in their mortar attacks, judging by the coloration of its plumes of smoke.

Mosul, the second-largest city in Iraq, has seen heavy action since Iraqi Security Forces launched their campaign earlier this year to liberate the ISIS-controlled city.

Since then, ISF troops, backed by the coalition forces, have managed to reclaim the sparsely populated areas of eastern Mosul, however, the battle to retake western Mosul still rages on — with large portions of it requiring door-to-door combat. Some reports claim that more than half of western Mosul has been liberated.

Articles

Thousands of Irishmen deserted their military to fight Hitler

It’s sometimes easy to forget that World War II wasn’t originally a world war and that many countries hoped to let continental Europe fight it out against each other (including the United States). Some countries held on to hopes of remaining neutral and passed strict laws to prevent their people from joining the fight.


For those who wanted to take the fight to the Nazis, this was a bit of a problem. A few dozen U.S. pilots defied neutrality laws to join the Royal Air Force while some American soldiers like Lewis Millet ran away to join the Canadian Army.

For Irish soldiers, approximately 4,500 of them, the best option was to run away from the Emerald Isles and join the British Army. Irish Brigades had served well in other conflicts including World War I, the Mexican-American War (against the U.S), and the American Civil War (on behalf of the Union).

5 Hollywood directors who served and filmed real wars
Irish soldiers kill time during the first World War. Photo: Public Domain

The men were grouped into the 38th (Irish) Infantry Brigade which was formed at the request of Prime Minister Winston Churchill. The 38th was commanded by Brig. Morgan John Winthrop O’Donovan.

O’Donovan was a World War I veteran who received the Military Cross for bravery. He led the 38th Brigade from soon after its formation in early 1942 to July of that year, overseeing the initial training and preparations to ship out to North Africa.

O’Donovan was later replaced by Brigadier Nelson Russell, another World War I veteran and holder of the Military Cross. Russell got his for leading a daytime raid of an enemy trench as a 19-year-old lieutenant.  He was also known for a stint playing cricket for Ireland.

Under Russell, the 38th Irish Brigade was sent to the invasion of French North Africa. After suffering a bomb attack by the Luftwaffe as they were getting off of their ships, the Irish Brigade fought its way through Africa alongside the British and American forces. The Irish were deployed into the mountains around Tunis during the battle for the capital.

5 Hollywood directors who served and filmed real wars
The war in Tunisia was characterized by tank combat and blistering temperatueres. Here, British soldiers practice anti-tank marksmanship in the Tunisian Desert. Photo: British Army Sgt. Loughlin

When the Allies made it into the city, the Irish Brigade was the first to march through the streets. After the celebrations at Tunis, the 38th was sent with other victorious units to prepare for the landings at Sicily in Operation Husky.

The Allies landed on Jul. 9, 1943. The 38th’s major objective was a small village at the center of the Axis defenses in the Sicilian mountains. They made it to the objective and, on Aug. 3, began their assault against it. In a single night of fighting, they pushed the Axis our of the village and away from the ridgeline. They continued to push forward, helping other Allied soldiers capture and kill Axis forces.

5 Hollywood directors who served and filmed real wars
Soldiers with the 38th (Irish) Infantry Brigade search houses in Sicily in 1943. Photo: Public Domain

On Aug. 17, after just over 5 weeks of fighting, the Axis had been pushed off the island and forced to return to Italy.

The Irish Brigade was then sent to take part in the invasion of Italy, a task which would occupy them for the rest of the war. They came ashore just a few days after the initial landings and then began pushing the Germans north past one defensive line after another. By this time, the Italian Army had withdrawn from the war and it was only German soldiers holding the peninsula.

Still, the Fuhrer’s troops made the Allies fight for every mile with well-established defensive lines that the 38th Irish and the other Allied forces had to break through. The Irish didn’t make it out of Italy and into Austria until May 8, 1945, the same day that Nazi Germany surrendered to the Allies.

Since the men of the 38th (Irish) Infantry Brigade were mostly deserters from the Irish Army, they were officially blacklisted in Ireland from any jobs that received any money from the state and were branded as traitors by both the government and the population.

This punishment lasted for nearly 70 years until a 2013 pardon cleared all men of the Irish Brigade of wrongdoing.

For a more detailed account of the Irish Brigade’s exploits in Tunisia and Italy, check out the Irish Brigade’s campaign narratives and suggested reading.

Do Not Sell My Personal Information