If you’ve never shipped out to boot camp, then you’ve probably never encountered the “last chance” moment all recruits experience before their training kicks off.
Within hours of arriving, the staff gives every newbie a chance to come clean about something they may have lied about to their recruiter or throw an item or two away they weren’t supposed to bring with them into what’s known as the “amnesty box.”
If a boot does toss something away in the box, it’s confidential and they won’t be penalized. But don’t think for a second that the boxes don’t get opened by the staff for a good laugh.
The Air Force is to ditch a nearly a half-billion dollar contract issued to a Chicago-based company to make bunker-buster bombs after complaints by lawmakers about the company’s ties to a Russian oligarch.
The Air Force awarded a contract worth $419.6 million to A. Finkl & Sons Co. to produce bomb bodies for the 2,000-pound BLU-137 penetrator warhead, which is meant to replace the BLU-109.
Finkl’s contract was slightly smaller than the $467.9 million award given to Ohio-based Superior Forge and Steel Corp to make 300 bomb bodies in the first year with the potential for as many as 3,500 more over four years.
However, according to Bloomberg Government, a group of lawmakers protested the decision, saying Finkl was not eligible for the award because of its foreign parent company, Swiss steel-maker Schmolz + Bickenbach, which is partially owned by Viktor Vekselberg, a Russian billionaire and aluminium magnate who has been hit by US sanctions.
By awarding the contract to Finkl, Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Mark Kelly told Bloomberg, the Air Force had “turned their back” on Ellwood National Forge, a longtime bomb-maker that employs 2,000 people and is based in Pennsylvania. Ellwood had worked on every previous generation of the bunker-buster warhead.
Vekselberg, born in Ukraine and based in Switzerland, is worth more than billion and holds an 11.34% stake and 1.25% stake in Schmolz + Bickenbach through two holding companies, both of which have been hit by US sanctions against Russia over that country’s actions in Crimea and Ukraine. (His stakes in Schomlz + Bickenbach were not large enough to draw sanctions on that company.)
Early 2018 the US imposed sanctions on Russian individuals and entities over Moscow’s suspected meddling in the 2016 US election — including assets worth between id=”listicle-2602523867″.5 billion and billion belonging to Vekselberg and one of the holding companies in question.
Kelly and nine other Republican members of Pennsylvania congressional delegation protested the decision in a July 27, 2018 letter, saying they were “so surprised” Ellwood has missed out on the contract “despite submitting the lowest cost bid and possessing far more experience than either of the companies that won a contract.”
“Perhaps more troubling is that one of the companies that was awarded a contract is the subsidiary of a foreign-owned conglomerate, even though the request for proposal explicitly barred foreign owned, controlled or influenced companies from applying to this contract,” the letter said.
In an Aug. 30, 2018 letter seen by Bloomberg Government, the Air Force appeared to concur, saying Finkl should have been ineligible because of foreign ownership and that it had sent “a notice of termination” to the Chicago-based firm. The Air Force’s letter did not mention Vekselberg.
Munitions maintainers assemble BLU-109 munitions during the Combat Ammunitions Production Exercise at Osan Air Base in South Korea, May 25, 2010.
(US Air Force photo photo by Staff Sgt. Stephenie Wade)
Ellwood also filed a protest of the contract award, on which the Government Accountability Office has yet to rule. It is not clear whether the Air Force will reassign the contract or open it to a new round of bidding.
US sanctions on Russia over alleged meddling in the 2016 election have created other headaches for the Pentagon and lawmakers.
Under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which President Donald Trump signed into law in August 2017, the US can put secondary sanctions on entities and individuals doing business with the Russian intelligence or defense sectors.
The latest defense authorization bill contains a waiver process for US partners that buy Russian weapons, but the Pentagon has said allies aren’t certain to be spared “from any fallout” from Russia sanctions.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Loose lips sink ships, the old saying goes. Nothing could be more true. And the combination of an international audience with highly classified intelligence along with a complete lack of understanding for what’s important and what’s not can be disastrous. It should come to no surprise for anyone reading that a Congressman learned this the hard way.
Back then, at least, it was enough to cost him the next election.
This f*cking guy.
In the early days of World War II, the Japanese didn’t really understand Allied submarine technology. Most importantly, they had no idea American and British submarines could dive so deep. When fighting Allied subs, the Japanese set their depth charge fuses to explode at a depth roughly equivalent to what their submarines could handle, which was a lot more shallow than American and British subs could dive. As a result, the survival rate of Allied submarines encountering Japanese ships was amazingly high.
For the first year or so of the war, the Americans enjoyed this advantage in the Pacific. Japanese anti-submarine warfare was never sophisticated enough to realize its fatal flaws, and American sailors’ lives were saved as a result. Then Kentucky Congressman Andrew J. May made a visit to the Pacific Theater and changed all that.
Droppin’ charges, droppin’ bodies
The Balao-class submarines of the time could dive to depths of some 400 feet, much deeper than the depth Japanese ships set their depth charges to explode. Congressman May was informed of this during his visit, along with a ton of other sensitive war-related information. Upon returning from his junket in the war zone, May held a press conference where he revealed this fact to the world, informing the press wires that American sailors were surviving in incredible numbers because the charges were set too shallow. The press reported his quotes, and eventually, it got back to the Japanese.
Who promptly changed their depth charge fuses.
A depth charge-damaged submarine.
Vice-Admiral Charles Lockwood was understandably livid when he heard the news, not just because a Congressman had leaked sensitive information to the press for seemingly no reason, but because he knew what the tactical outcome of the reveal would be. And Admiral Lockwood was right. When the Japanese changed their fuses, it began to take its toll on American submarines, which might have normally survived such an attack. He estimated the slip cost ten submarines and 800 crewmen killed in action.
“I hear Congressman May said the Jap depth charges are not set deep enough,” Lockwood reportedly told the press. “He would be pleased to know that the Japs set them deeper now.”
When the time came for May’s re-election campaign after the war in 1946, the reveal (which became known as The May Incident) along with corruption allegations became too much for the Kentucky voters, and May lost his seat in the House of Representatives. May served nine months in a federal prison for corruption.
Osama bin Laden is dead. ISIS has been disbursed to the winds. Al-Baghdadi saw the wrong side of Army Special Forces. That means it’s open season on terrorists’ most-wanted leaders. Since no one usually wants to carry this mantle, the United States government sometimes has to decide for them. In the weeks following the death of ISIS’ first caliph, the State Department announced a $10 million reward for two members of our old enemy, al-Qaeda.
If you’re looking for a cool couple of million and have some spare time…
Michael Evanoff, the assistant secretary for diplomatic security, told reporters that the State Department was announcing a reward for two senior members of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. It’s offering million for information on Sa’ad bin Atef al-Awlaki and up to million for Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al-Qosi. The United States alleges the two terror group members have encouraged its membership to make attacks against the United States and its citizens.
Al-Qosi is a Sudanese national who was Osama bin Laden’s driver and cook from 2006 to 2010. He was captured by American forces and imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay, where he was sentenced to 14 years in prison. The former driver and cook was released to Sudan in July 2012 in exchange for his cooperation. Al-Awlaki is a senior commander for AQAP who was also a field commander for AQAP fighting the Saudi-led invasion of Yemen.
Which means he’s probably as good at war as the Saudis.
Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al-Qosi is not any kind of field commander or operative, at least not that the United States has released. The Supreme Court has since ruled material support for terrorism is not a war crime and therefore cannot be prosecuted under the Guantanamo military tribunals, but he has not challenged his previous convictions. Instead, he turned to advocating support for attacks on American nationals and American military forces worldwide, which put him in the State Department crosshairs.
At the Second Battle of Mukalla in 2015, Sa’ad bin Atef al-Awlaki was a field commander who led troops against the Saudi coalition. American troops were stationed near Mukalla, but not much is known about the interactions between U.S. and AQAP forces during the battle. AQAP was forced to abandon the town.
It was another assignment for Pfcs. Marco Garcia and Jovany Castillo, two soldiers inching toward completing the second phase of the Army’s Practical Nurse Course at William Beaumont Army Medical Center. The basic task of measuring vital signs of patients at a local hospital was the assignment, an important but mundane task for health care professionals. Little did they know, their training would be tested in an unforeseen way.
Castillo and Garcia had been together throughout their Army journey since enlisting in October 2017. Together they had endured Army basic training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, went on to Advanced Individual Training for the first phase of the Practical Nurse Course at Fort Sam Houston, Texas and ended up at Fort Bliss, Texas for the final phase of the course before arriving to their first permanent assignment.
Working alongside each other, the two soldiers made their rounds through patients, mostly children, checking temperatures, blood pressure and pulses.
“We were going around the department, and went into one room where a [toddler] was sitting up in a chair, watching TV eating cereal,” explained Castillo, 25 and native of Huntington Beach, California. “Mom was right behind her on her phone, so we asked if it was alright to get the [patient’s] vitals.”
After consenting, the two began recording the patient’s vitals as they had practiced dozens of times before.
“One thing we’re taught is to interact with the patient, even if it’s an infant,” said Garcia, 26 and native of Spring, Texas. “[The patient] was placing a lot of cereal in their mouth, so we let the mom know but said [the toddler] was okay.”
Moments later, while the two soldiers were still checking the patient, the child began to gasp for air, as the excess cereal had apparently obstructed her airway, springing the two soldiers to action.
“For a second I thought ‘Is this really happening?’ but right away I went to the baby, while [Garcia] went to go get help,” said Castillo. “I was in shock a little, but got over it right away.”
“We looked at each other and [Castillo] went over to help,” said Garcia. “Since he was helping, I went to get a nurse. I trusted him, I knew he was going to do what he needed to do.”
According to Castillo, the patient’s mother had picked up the patient and began tapping the back of the patient in a manner that would have further lodged the obstruction into the trachea, so he instructed her on proper infant choking procedures while assisting the child.
“[The mother] had the baby, I just adjusted her hands and showed her the correct position, then I started tapping the baby’s back,” said Castillo. “Honestly, those were the longest three or four seconds of my life because I was so scared for the little baby. I kept on [patting her back] until I finally heard her take a breath and that’s when I was relieved.”
“When I got back the baby was crying the nurses checked on the baby and made sure everything was okay,” said Garcia.
“It was quick thinking on [the soldiers’] part,” said Robyn Gerbitz, a Registered Nurse and one of the Practical Nurse Course Instructors at WBAMC. “They took the initiative immediately, we could have had a very bad [outcome].”
One of Gerbitz’ lessons for new soldiers includes introducing them to the mantra, “respiratory leads to cardiac,” defining the link between pulmonary and cardiac arrests due to buildup of carbonic acid and lowered oxygen levels in the bloodstream.
“We do a lot of hands-on work in clinical rotations,” said Gerbitz. “These guys are quick thinkers, I’m very proud of them.”
Whether Garcia and Castillo’s quick reaction was a reflection of their medical training kicking in is not certain, since the two soldiers are still weeks away from completing the rigorous 58-week curriculum.
“Instructors make sure we understand and are well equipped to deal with such situations,” said Castillo. “For me, it kind of just happened and I’m happy the way things turned out, it was a rush.”
Before joining the Army, Castillo was going to college while working at a fast food restaurant and Garcia worked with produce at a grocery store. Neither soldier ever thought they would be saving someone’s life just a year into their military service.
“It’s definitely something I joined to do, to help people,” said Garcia. “You learn something new every day. This is a stepping stone for sure.”
After ensuring the baby was stable, the pair just went about their duties and continued checking other patients’ vitals.
“I had just walked in and the nurses told me about the situation,” said Gerbitz. “The director [of the local hospital] recognized the Soldiers right then and there. They reacted humbly, went about their duties. I believe wherever they go, they’re going to make good nurses.”
NATO allies and a handful of partner countries are gearing up for the alliance’s largest joint military exercises in decades.
Ahead of the Trident Juncture exercises, which are expected to include 45,000 troops, 10,000 vehicles, 60 ships, and 150 aircraft from 31 countries training side by side in and around Norway in fall 2018, the alliance is stressing strength and transparency, and just invited Russian observers so they can get the message up close.
The US Navy admiral commanding the exercise hopes Russia will take them up on the offer.
“I fully expect that they’ll want to come. It’s in their interests to come and see what we do,” Admiral James Foggo told reporters at the Pentagon on Oct. 5, 2018, “They’ll learn things. I want them to be there so they can see how well [NATO allies and partners] work together.”
“There’s a strong deterrent message here that will be sent,” he said. “They are going to see that we are very good at what we do, and that will have a deterrent effect on any country that might want to cross those borders, but especially for one nation in particular.”
Soldiers load an M777 howitzer during live-fire training at the Grafenwoehr Training Area in Germany, Sept. 10, 2018, as part of Exercise Saber Junction 18.
(Army photo by Markus Rauchenberger)
So far, Russia has yet to accept the offer.
The drills, Article 5 (collective defense) exercises, will include land, air, and amphibious assets training to repel an adversary threatening the sovereignty of a NATO ally or partner state. The admiral refused to comment on whether or not the exercise would include a nuclear element, as an earlier Russian drill did.
Although it was previously reported that these exercises are the largest NATO drills since the Cold War, they are actually the biggest since 2002, Foggo clarified at Oct. 5, 2018’s briefing. The allied drills come on the heels of massive war games in eastern Russia involving tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of Russian and Chinese troops preparing for large-scale military operations against an unspecified third country.
The purpose of Trident Juncture, according to handouts presented at Oct. 5, 2018’s briefing, is “to ensure that NATO forces are trained, able to operate together, and ready to respond to any threat from any direction.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Everyone has to hit the head (bathroom) at least a few times a day (if you don’t, you should probably consult with a doctor ASAP). For troops in the field, using the restroom might not always be as easy as just visiting the nearest toilet.
In fact, some forward-deployed troops don’t even have access to running water, so flushing their waste away through a series of pipes would simply be impractical.
So, how do troops make a number one or two while in the field? Well, keep reading and be slightly amazed!
This might sound like some new way to smoke tobacco, but it’s far, far from it. These public urinals are constructed from large pipes that are halfway buried. This way, all the human pee collects several feet underground instead of pooling on the surface.
You know how cats sometimes burr small holes in the kitty litter before dropping the payload? Well, the military adapted that idea when it comes to human waste disposal and created what are known, aptly, as “cat holes.”
According to field manuals, proper cat holes are 12-inches long, 12-inches wide, and 12-inches deep. This method of waste disposal is meant to be temporary and quickly covered up if a squad needs to get on the move.
Have you ever made brown in a Ziploc bag? Well, if you have, that’s exactly what it’s like taking a dump in a WAG bag — except this one has a bunch of biodegradable odor neutralizers inside.
Since holding a WAG bag open while taking care of business isn’t easy, use some sort of container (like a bucket) to keep the bag open.
Remember the cat hole we talked about earlier, and how they’re made for temporary use? Well, the straddle trenches are like that — only permanent. To properly use the straddle trench, squat over the rectangular hole and release.
According to Army regulations, the trenches are supposed to be 1-foot wide, 2 1/2-feet deep, and 4-feet long.
Yes, we have “Porta-sh*tters” located on the frontlines. For the most part, they’re located on the larger FOBs. To keep these maintained, allied forces pay local employees who live nearby to pump the human discharge out of the poop reservoirs.
The US has three bombers — the B-1B Lancer, the stealth B-2 Spirit, and the B-52 Stratofortress — to deliver thousands of tons of firepower in combat.
Some form of the B-52 has been in use since 1955. The B-1B took its first flight in 1974, and the B-2 celebrated its 30th year in the skies in 2019. A new stealth bomber, the B-21, is in production and is expected to fly in December 2021, although details about it are scarce.
The US Air Force has been conducting missions in Europe with B-52s and B-2s in order to project dominance against Russia and train with NATO partners, but the bomber fleet has faced problems. The B-1B fleet struggled with low readiness rates, as Air Force Times reported in June 2019, likely due to its age and overuse in recent conflicts.
Here are all the bombers in the US Air Force’s fleet.
A B-1B Lancer takes off from Andersen Air Force Base in Guam on Oct. 11, 2017.
(US Air Force)
The Air Force’s B-1B Lancer has had problems with mission readiness this year.
The Lancer is a long-range, multi-role heavy bomber and has been in service since 1985, although its predecessor, the B-1A, was developed in the 1970s as a replacement for the B-52.
The B-1B is built by Boeing and has a payload of 90,000 pounds. The Air Force is also looking at ways to expand that payload to carry more weapons and heavier weapons, including hypersonics.
The Lancer has a wingspan of 137 feet, a ceiling of 30,000 feet, and can hit speeds up to Mach 1.2, according to the Air Force. There are 62 B-1Bs currently in service.
A US Air Force B-1B Lancer over the East China Sea, Jan. 9, 2018.
(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Reft)
The B-1B was considered nuclear-capable bomber until 2007, when its ability to carry nuclear arms was disabled in accordance with the START treaty.
The B-1B is not scheduled to retire until 2036, but constant deployments to the Middle East between 2006 and 2016 “broke” the fleet.
Service officials and policymakers are now considering whether the Lancer can be kept flying missions, when it should retire, and what that means for the bomber fleet as a whole.
B-52F dropping bombs on Vietnam.
(US Air Force)
The B-52 bomber has been in service since 1955.
The Air Force’s longest-serving bomber came into service in 1955 as the B-52A. The Air Force now flies the B-52H Stratofortress, which arrived in 1961.
It has flown missions in Iraq during Operation Desert Storm and during operations against ISIS.
The B-52H Stratofortress can carry a 70,000 pound payload, including up to 20 air-launched cruise missiles, and can fly at 650 mph. It also recently dropped laser-guided bombs for the first time in a decade.
The Stratofortress is expected to be in service through 2050, and the Air Force has several upgrades planned, including new engines, a new radar, and a new nuclear weapon.
A B-52 bomber carrying a new hypersonic weapon.
(Edwards Air Force Base)
As of June 2019, there were 58 B-52s in use with the Air Force and 18 more with the Reserve.
Two B-52s have returned to service from 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG) at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona, also known as the “boneyard,” where retired or mothballed aircraft are stored.
One bomber, nicknamed “Ghost Rider” returned in 2015, and the other, “Wise Guy,” in May.
“Wise Guy,” a Stratofortress brought to Barksdale Air Force Bease in Louisiana to be refurbished, had a note scribbled in its cockpit, calling the aircraft, “a cold warrior that stood sentinel over America from the darkest days of the Cold War to the global fight against terror” and instructing the AMARG to “take good care of her … until we need her again.”
The B-2 Spirit stealth bomber is the only stealth bomber in operation anywhere.
The B-2 was developed in a shroud of secrecy by Northrop Grumman. It is a multi-role bomber, capable of delivering both conventional and nuclear munitions.
It has a payload of 40,000 pounds and has been in operational use since 1993. July was the 30th anniversary of the B-2’s first flight, and the Air Force currently has 20 of them.
A B-2A Spirit bomber and an F-15C Eagle over the North Sea, Sept. 16, 2019.
(US Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Matthew Plew)
The Spirit can fly at an altitude of up to 50,000 feet and has an intercontinental range.
The B-2 operates out of Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, and three of the bombers are currently flying out of RAF Fairford in the UK.
From Fairford, the B-2 has completed several firsts this year — the first time training with non-US F-35s, its first visit to Iceland, and its first extended flight over the Arctic.
(US Air Force)
Little is known about the B-21 Raider, the Air Force’s future bomber.
What we do know: It will be a stealth aircraft capable of carrying nuclear and conventional weapons.
Built by Northrop Grumman, the B-21 is named for Doolittle’s Raiders, the crews who flew a daring bomb raid on Japan just a few months after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The Air Force said last year that B-21s would go to three bases when they start arriving in the mid-2020s: Dyess Air Force Base in Texas, Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, and Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri.
Air Force Magazine reported in July that the B-21 could fly as soon as December 2021.
Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Stephen Wilson said on July 24 that he has an application on his phone “counting down the days … and don’t hold me to it, but it’s something like 863 days to first flight,” according to Air Force Magazine.
The B-21 also loomed over the B-2’s 30th anniversary celebrations at Northrop’s facility in Palmdale, California, where the B-2 was built and first flew.
Company officials have said work on the B-2 is informing the B-21’s development, and recently constructed buildings at Northrop’s Site 7 are thought to be linked to the B-21.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
If there were any one weapons manufacturer that was worthy of being called the “Arsenal of Democracy,” it would be the Springfield Armory. The armory was founded by George Washington in 1777, meaning it’s nearly as old as the country itself. The Springfield, Mass. institution was the nation’s first depot for its weapons of war and has supplied the United States in every war from the War of 1812 to Vietnam.
Today, the nation’s first federal armory is a national historic site, run by the National Parks Service and housing the largest collection of American firearms in the world. Until 1968, however, it was an innovative firearms manufacturer, producing the weapons that won wars for the United States. From the get-go, the site of the Springfield Armory was of critical defensive importance to the young United States. It was the site where New England colonists trained to defend the colony from nearby native tribes. When the time came for revolution, Gen. Washington and his artillery chief, Henry Knox, chose the site for its defensive terrain.
After the revolution, the armory was critical to the defense of the young republic. In putting down Shay’s Rebellion, the defenders of the arsenal proved the United States was capable of maintaining its own stability and security. Later, it produced arms for the War of 1812, despite resistance to the war in the New England states, and it may have been one of the deciding factors in the Union victory in the Civil War.
Union troops with Springfield Armory 1861 rifles.
(National Parks Service)
The mass production techniques used by the armory at Springfield were so advanced for the time that from the start of the war to the end of the war, production increased 25 fold to more than a quarter-million rifles every year. That far outpaced what the Confederates could produce. By the end of the war, the armory wasn’t just a producer, it was designing and testing new arms for the future. It was experimenting with concepts that wouldn’t become widespread for another half-century, including interchangeable parts and even an early assembly line.
Some of the most iconic small arms ever produced by the United States to serve on the foreign battlefields of the 20th Century were produced at the Springfield Armory. The Springfield Model 1903 rifle, the M1917 Enfield Rifle, and Springfield is where John Garand developed the first practical semi-automatic rifle for military use – a weapon Gen. George S. Patton called “the greatest battle implement ever devised.”
You may have heard of the M1 Garand.
(Library of Congress)
The last weapon the armory developed and produced was the M14, a version of the M1, but eventually, the M1 family was replaced by the M16 family of rifles as the U.S. military’s standard-issue infantry weapon in 1964. By 1968, the legendary facility would be shuttered despite producing other arms for use in the Vietnam War. When the armory refused to build the new M16, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara had the armory closed.
In the years that followed, the buildings of the Springfield Armory complex were restored and the place was turned into a museum, run by the Parks Service.
Historically, the military has relied on clearly defined boundaries of acceptable interaction between the officer and enlisted ranks to maintain good order and discipline.
It is a long-standing custom that dates back hundreds of years and has proven itself effective time after time. But not everyone feels it’s a custom worth holding on to.
“I think there should not be a difference between officer and enlisted ranks,” said former Air Force officer Shannon Corbeil. “I believe we should all reach rank based on experience and accomplishment.”
On the other hand, Chase Millsap — another former officer — believes the military should maintain its course because officers bring leadership experience accomplished through higher learning and training.
Retiring from the armed forces can be a very stressful transition because there is no magic crystal ball that allows you to see into your future as a civilian. Veterans often have strong networks built over the course of their military service, but as useful as these networks are, they are also apt to keep you from branching out into something new, or taking time off to pursue uncharted possibilities. You don’t know what you don’t know, so it is easy to fall into a trap where income becomes the driving force behind career decisions rather than a deep introspective look into what you really want out of life. This leads to a pursuit of employment rather than fulfillment, and ends in a contract that forces you to trade more of your precious time for money. After giving so much to your country, and asking your family to sacrifice just as much or more, taking time to reconnect with them and yourself before a second career is worth your consideration. You might be pleasantly surprised where it will lead.
Consider the following in your calculus:
Military service didn’t leave much room for hobbies and passions. Do you have any languishing in the recesses of your life?
Military regulations and culture compelled you to identify yourself by an all-consuming job title, which in turn suppressed your identity as an individual. You were the Admiral, the Colonel, Skipper, Warrant, Chief, Senior, Top, OPSO, COS, the LPO, the First Sergeant. Do you really know who you are anymore without a job title to define you?
Time keeps ticking, but money comes and goes. Is time more valuable than money when you realize that you can bank one but not the other?
This last thought is the one that gave me the most pause. If you are shackled to a life dictated by consumerism and workism, your “one day” list becomes less and less achievable. This is paradoxical, because chances are you might be making a decent salary on top of your retirement income, but you don’t have time for you, your spouse, your kids, your dog, your forgotten hobbies, or your wild and crazy ambitions. Why? Because your new job might provide a comfortable existence and a title to impress your friends, but it doesn’t guarantee you will have time for anything on your bucket list. How many successful people have all the toys in the world but no time to use them? More than you think. In this article, I will argue that as a veteran, you have been given all the resources you need to thrive in a life of your choosing. To be clear, I am not suggesting that you become completely “checked out” and retreat from society never to work again. Instead, I am advocating for a period of time that prevents you from rushing headlong into a second career. This will give you some “maneuver space” to sort through the stress, the noise, and the pressure that is screaming at you to immediately get a job and keep slogging forward. That space might be a few months, or it might be a few years, but either way, it is time well-spent.
Try this little exercise. Mentally fast forward to the end of your life. You are looking back on your experiences wondering why you worked your whole life, yet missed out on so much living. Maybe you wanted to take a year and surf the south Pacific, or fish the great rivers in Alaska, or hike the Appalachian Trail, or follow the Tour de France, or start a business, or write a novel, or raise alpacas, or sell it all and buy a sailboat…but you didn’t, and now you are too old and tired to do anything but look back with sadness and regret. You realize there was always something standing in the way; there were always reasons why you couldn’t. So, instead of doing, you resigned yourself to watching others as you scrolled through your social media feeds and groused about your boss, staff meetings, the person who chews their food too loudly in their cubicle, the jerk who cut you off on your commute, and the endless mundane aspects of life in “The Matrix.”
As you contemplate those lost dreams, you might be asking yourself with a twinge of frustration, “Why didn’t I go for it? What was I afraid of? What was the worst thing that could have happened to me if I had unshackled myself from the ‘golden handcuffs,’ put down the electronic tether, and lived the life I always imagined?” You might be surprised to learn the worst thing that could have happened was nothing from which you could not have quickly recovered.
Now, rewind to the present. Ask yourself this question, “Have I ever allowed myself to fail?” If you made it all the way through a 20-year (or more) career, chances are the answer is a resounding no! So why do you think you will start failing now? I’ll let you in on a little secret…you won’t. You already know how to succeed. The sad truth, however, is that many of us never take a chance, because we focus on the reasons we shouldn’t…the fears…rather than the reasons we should…the inspiration.
Every military member goes through transition class on their way out of the service. You learn that it is possible to reinvent yourself, but it isn’t easy. You are instructed to make a list of your assets, your liabilities, and any gaps you have in your skill set, then cross-reference it against what you need to break into a sector outside of what you have been doing for the past twenty-plus years. You are told to be willing to move to an area where that sector has a presence, be patient, be willing to evangelize yourself, build a network in your new community, use your hard-earned benefits to get the education or certifications you need to fill in any gaps, and be willing to start at the bottom. If you do these things while exhibiting all the qualities that made you successful on active duty, you will succeed.
What if I told you that same blueprint for reinventing yourself professionally is just as useful for reinventing yourself personally, and going after those “one day” dreams before you blindly (or deliberately) trade one overlord for another. With a little bit of planning and foresight, you can do it, and if I haven’t made my position clear, I think you should. When else will you get a planned break in your professional life to do something crazy?
I started my transition playing by the rules. I spent hours…no, weeks…working on a resume. I went to career fairs. I interviewed for jobs. I received job offers. None of it felt right in my gut. I started terminal leave in June 2018 in a panic-stricken state, grasping for a lifeline. At my wife’s urging I had been exploring the idea of trade school using my GI Bill benefits, but I was afraid to commit. “It’s not what I am expected to do,” was my typical reason, which was ridiculous. I was afraid of the unknown and everything that came with it. That was the truth. I had reached the first portal of fear, and with my wife’s encouragement, I stepped through it.
Once again, I found myself grasping for the familiar and hiding from my fears. I applied for a government job overseas, knowing it wasn’t what I really wanted. A friend was recruiting me to come back to the staff I had left a year and a half earlier, but after I submitted my resume, there were knots in my stomach. “What am I doing,” I asked myself. “Is this what I really want?” I wasn’t ready for staff meetings and point papers again. I wasn’t ready for days when I went to work at dawn and came home after dinner just to get up and do it all over again while my life ticked away a second at a time.
My wife had a dream that we could sell it all and go sailing. I was adamantly opposed. “If there is one thing I learned at the marine trade and technology school,” I joked, “it is don’t buy a boat!” The truth of the matter is I was terrified of selling everything and buying a boat. There were too many voices in my head telling me it would be our ruination…MY ruination. I hid behind my biggest fear – money. We couldn’t afford it. End of story.
But, it wasn’t.
It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you put your mind to it. As I tell my children, there is a solution to every problem, we only need to outthink it. So we looked at the problem again and realized we could afford it. But, I still wasn’t ready to commit. I needed a push.
Fate intervened on my behalf. Much to my surprise, my resume never made it through the initial screening for the civil servant position, so I never got the job interview on the staff overseas. Despite my ego being bruised, I actually breathed a sigh of relief. I was a free man again. A few weeks later, after some long, introspective conversations with my wife, I agreed to the sailing adventure. Failure had somehow opened a pathway to an outcome I did not think possible. That was in March 2019. Four months later, we would be boat owners after an exhausting push to sell, donate, or repurpose just about everything we owned. Three months after that, we would be getting underway from Hampton, VA for a 1,600 nautical mile ocean passage to Antigua.
How did we go from “normal life” to “boat life” so quickly? We followed the same blueprint I received in the transition seminar. We laid out a plan, prioritized our resources, and focused everything we had on the achievement of our goal. I had already filled in the knowledge gaps by becoming a certified marine mechanic. Anyone who knows boats will tell you that 90% of boat ownership is boat maintenance, so I felt confident I could handle that responsibility with my new skills. I grew up sailing, so that wasn’t an issue, but living aboard a boat full-time was another story. We hired a couple who had twice circumnavigated with their kids as “cruising coaches.” We built a network by talking about our plans with people who could help and guide us. We made sure we were able to fund our dream by paying cash for a boat and living within the means of my retirement income. Using our new and growing network, we found a boat, brokered the deal, and moved aboard on July 31, 2019.
It was not an easy transition from land life to sea life. In fact, it was harder than anything we had ever done. Being a military family, we were used to relocating and starting over every couple years, so we put all that experience to good use. But, this time it was different. It was all on us to get it done. There were at least three distinct points when we wanted to quit. We didn’t, largely due to the encouragement and instruction we received from people who had walked the same path. The rewards for persevering are too many to list. Suffice it to say, I answer to no master. I have learned more about myself and my family in six months than I have in six years. I have swum with a whale in 19,000 feet of water halfway between Bermuda and the Leeward Islands. We have sailed our way through 50-knot squalls and come out the other side stronger and more resilient. I have made lifelong friendships with people I would never have met had I stayed in my “safe” bubble. I have gained valuable perspective by using this time away from the rat race to sort myself; to be a better husband, father, and friend.
A good counterargument to this conversation would go something like this – “My professional stock is highest immediately after I retire. It will be irresponsible for me not to take advantage of that transition point and start building my professional resume in the real world. Statistics support the fact that I most likely will change jobs several times as I find my niche, so it doesn’t matter what I do. The important thing is to get into the ring and make a name for myself.” So you get a job and a fancy-sounding title that you eagerly post on LinkedIn. You beef up your profile with a power photo that has you leaning into the camera with a smile that says, “I’m a go-getter!” You add a description underneath that says something like, “I’m a results-oriented leader with a proven track record of astonishing accomplishments, fiscal maturity, operational prowess, cunning initiative, etc, etc, etc.” It becomes your identity, and it is the right thing to do, isn’t it? I certainly thought it was. But for me, at least, it wasn’t. I am not getting any younger. Neither are you. The counterargument doesn’t hold up, in my opinion. You can always get a job and make money, but you can’t make more time. Another aspect of this counterargument is that your network will abandon you if you take time for yourself and your family. I also believe that this is invalid, and would go so far as to suggest that your network will respect you more for leading in this manner.
We as Americans have it all backwards. We work and work and work until we hit the “golden years,” then we retire with the idea that we are going to take off from our empty nest and explore the world. I have heard so many tragic stories about people who FINALLY get some time to do the things they have always wanted to do only to be sidelined by unexpected health crises that leave them debilitated or worse. Derek Thompson, a senior staff writer for The Atlantic wrote a compelling article in February 2019 titled, “Workism is Making Americans Miserable,” where he argues that work has become, unfortunately, the, “centerpiece of one’s identity and purpose.” It’s an excellent, thought-provoking read.
Work, pay taxes, then die.
As a retiring military member, you have the resources to do what you want – healthcare, education opportunities, steady income, and many more benefits to jumpstart your second life. You only need to face down your fears and embrace the possibilities that lay before you. I am not done working, but I guarantee whatever employment I pursue in the future will be far different than what I thought I had to shoehorn myself into when I first transitioned from service. We have had a lot of people tell us how amazing our life is…how lucky we are…how courageous we are to be out sailing with our kids full time. We don’t see ourselves as different or special. We are just us, living a life of our choosing. We realized in hindsight that fear had been holding us back, not resources. Once we made our decision, we were flabbergasted by how everything suddenly seemed to align behind us. It was all there to begin with, but we were blinded by our fears of the unknown, and therefore too afraid to take a chance.
Fear is paralyzing, and in the weeks surrounding my transition there were days when I didn’t want to get out of bed and face reality. In the middle of those dark moments, a very wise friend of mine asked me to stretch my hands out in front of myself palms up, then she had me clench my fists. She looked at me and said, “There won’t be room for anything new in your life if you are holding onto everything so tightly, afraid to let go. You have to open your hands and be willing to release – toxic relationships, needless possessions, clutter, the wrong career, convenience, the safe and easy path, money. But more importantly, you have to open your hands so what you really want has a place to land.”
I stood there for a moment clenching and unclenching my upturned hands. I am not a particularly spiritual person, but I was shocked at how profoundly her simple exercise struck a chord. “Money comes and money goes, and it should,” she concluded, “but even though we have had our backs to the wall a number of times, we always believed we would be fine because we kept our hands, figuratively of course, upturned and open.” She and her husband are better now than ever after launching their own business nearly twenty years ago. They had been let go from their previous jobs at the same time, when their kids were still young, and their stress levels already high. In that moment of darkness, they chose to open their own business and live life according to their own terms. It wasn’t easy, but looking back, they wouldn’t want it any other way.
In the final analysis, it’s not about how much you have, but what you do with it. Achieving your ambitions means making decisions, prioritizing and leveraging resources, and aligning efforts. Do you want to be linked in right away, or checked out to gain some perspective and clarity? The choice is yours, and it doesn’t matter how big your proverbial or actual boat is. It only matters that you believe in yourself and face down your fears. Trust me, someone always has a bigger boat. You can find dozens of YouTube channels where people are sailing the world on every manner of boat imaginable. I used to watch some of them and say, “Look at their boat. It’s so ugly, or small, or dilapidated.” My wife would answer, “Yeah, sure is…but they are doing it!” How true. Would you rather be sitting in a staff meeting wishing you were doing it, or actually doing it?
I’ll close with this final thought. Many, if not all of us, who are retiring from a career in the service lost shipmates, close friends, and comrades in training and combat. A few years ago, standing on a beach in Italy looking out into the Adriatic Sea, where a friend in Air Wing 17 had perished during a nighttime training flight off the USS George Washington (CVN-73) in 2002, I made a promise that if I somehow made it through my military career, I would not squander the opportunity to fulfill dreams and live an amazing life. I felt like I owed that to those who couldn’t. Life is short, and precious. Don’t let fear hold you back. Don’t let a false sense of obligation keep you from doing the things on your “one day” list. If you do, that list will go unfulfilled.
We keep a sign on our boat that reads, “Everything you want is on the other side of fear.” It is a constant reminder for us to keep pushing forward. You can, too.
Glenn Robbins is a retired Naval Officer cruising full-time on a 46-foot catamaran named FEARLESS with his wife Andi and their two children, Gavin and Alexis.
ODA-525, the Sharkmen just prior to deploying out to the Iraqi desert. (Photo courtesy of Robert “Blade” Gardner, third from the left in back row)
The 1st Special Forces Group was a great place to be when they activated in 1984 in Ft. Lewis, Washington state. I made a mad dash to get out of Ft. Bragg and into the First. We were the only Green Beret unit on the post so it was like being “away from the flag pole” as we used to say, or away from the stressful prying eyes of the higher headquarters. That coupled with the novelty of new digs in a new hood just made it a pleasant place to be.
We weren’t even on the main post: We were in a little gouge of a satellite cantonment area across the freeway from the main post. It was very low-visibility and even, shall I say it, cozy there in our outskirt haven.
There the boys were being boys in their own Green Beret fashion and pipes suddenly became vogue on the premises. It seemed that you just might not be cool… unless you were smoking a pipe.
It wasn’t a “stoner-esque” sort of pipe smoking; it was like your grandpa sort of pipe smoking — ol’ geezer pipes that should have been the last thing that made you look cool, and yet somehow they did. It was kinda nice taking a break outside the team room in the middle of the day to go outside and… do a bowl. Except we weren’t doing bowls, we were… smoking pipes. Just, smoking pipes. Then a few taps of the pipe against the concrete steps and back to work.
(left) My own pipe from back in my Green Berets days as it sits on my desk today. One of my favorite pipes carried by a teammate was this Zeus head pipe. (SOFREP/George E. Hand IV)
Conversations took on a vastly different character and demeanor when were were smoking pipes. We could be talking quantum physics while descending the stairs to the porch, but once those pipes were torched:
“Big of a scorcher out today, eh?”
“Looks to be a bit of weather coming in from the nor-east tho…”
“Might be in for a coolin’ off — that’d be nice for a spell…”
The way we felt we looked smoking our pipes notwithstanding, this is rather more in keeping with the way people actually saw us.
Three of my team brothers and I had made a rare excursion to the main post for some harassment and all-around hateful time. Our Company Commander admonished us to “just stay the hell away from that place unless absolutely necessary,” knowing Green Berets over there would always draw attention and scrutiny.
We grabbed lunch at main Post Exchange (PX) and sat outside on a patio.
After lunch we instinctively pulled out the burners for some pleasing pipe puffing and discussion about the weather. It didn’t take long for a grumpy Master Sergeant to interrupt us: “Excuse me… you men are out of uniform,” meaning smoking pipes. That was most certainly not the case but he was grumpy and decided to call our bluff knowing that Green Berets were not heavy into drill and ceremony, pomp and circumstance. My Team Sergeant, a Master Sergeant himself replied:
“We’re not out of uniform, Sarge, we’re just smoking pipes!”
“And that’s out of uniform!” he huffed.
“Horse shit, Sarge… you know there’s nothing in AR670-5 that prohibits smoking a pipe while in uniform.”
Just knowing the title of the manual that governed the wear of the military uniform was enough of a counter-bluff and the grumpy Sergeant snorted off.
AR (Army Regulation) 670-5 governs the configuration and wear of the military uniform.
Another shenanigan the seemed to catch on with the A-Teams was bringing dogs to work. All types of dogs. Huntin’ dogs, coon dawgs, guard dogs. Take a break, smoke your pipe, pet yer dawg — Basic Dude Stuff! That concept, the dogs, never had a chance of getting off the ground. It was like a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs: just too much there to go wrong.
Command Sergeant Major (CSM) Douglas J. Turner was an affidavit-sworn baddass. West Point had voice recordings of him from Vietnam calling in an artillery barrage on his own position because he was being overrun by Viet Cong. His voice was as calm as if he were reading from the day’s weather report. I had been assigned to his Battalion before he left the 7th Special Forces Group in Ft. Bragg. We bought him a really nice pistol as a going-away gift when he left. And now we were both in the same unit again.
Herstal Belgium Fabrique Nationale’s (FN), Browning Hi-Power, 9 x 19mm
CSM Turner stepped squarely into a pile of dog crap outside our team room building one day as he headed up to our room. He walked just inside the door of our room and — SPLOOSH — stepped into a puddle of fresh dog p00. He cocked his head down to observe the puddle of crap that he had just stepped in. Raising his head he spied a dog curled up next to one of the men’s desks.
Slowly trending over he reached down to pet the dog, which suddenly snapped its jaw up and bit the CSM on the hand. Douglas J. Turner stood back up, looked at his bleeding hand, and glared at the dog. The room of men became a petrified forest. D. J. Turner sucked the bite wound on his hand as he stepped out the door.
“Wha… what will become of us now?” Pondered one of the men, and we were all sorely afraid.
The next morning we gathered for our usual morning Physical Training (PT) formation. Outside our building the same dog that bit the CSM the day prior was leashed off to the stair rail. The CSM came by and, pointing to an exercise apparatus at the edge of the formation field, directed a man to “Chain that dog to the pull-up bars!” The man did so.
Forming up and not really taking note of the dog fasted at the bars, we were brought to attention as CSM Turner received the morning report. He then addressed the entire battalion:
“YOU MEN HAVE BEEN BRINGING YOUR DOGS TO WORK LATELY. I HAVE BEEN SEEING DOG SHIT AROUND MY COMPOUND AND EVEN STEPPED IN SOME DOG SHIT. YESTERDAY ONE OF THEM EVEN BIT ME!”
“FROM NOW ON THE NEXT TIME I SEE ANOTHER DOG IN MY BATTALION AREA, IT WILL BE SHOT!”
A measured chuckle emanated from the formation. D. J. walked over and stood by the dog. Another chuckle arose. With that CSM Douglas J. Turner reached to his lumbar and pulled out the pistol we got him when he left 7th Special Forces Group. He snatched back the slide, pointed the gun at the dog’s head and fired. The dog froze momentarily in a sort of seizure, then flopped over dead.
The distraught dog’s owner cried out and broke formation sprinting toward the CSM. Several men grabbed and restrained the man, carrying him up to their team room where they placed a guard on him to prevent him from getting out. The CSM returned to his office where he sat and quietly waited for the Military Police to arrive and take him away; which they did. Some say that it was just CSM Turner’s way of telling the world that he had had enough and was ready to retire from it all.
That is the extent of what happened to him. He was retired from the U.S. Army.
Later that day we broke from the team room to head downstairs for a peace pipe ceremony:
“Shame about Ingram’s dog there.”
“Shouldn’t oughtta be bringin’ a bitin’ dog to work that’s not potty trained tho.”
“Course, don’t make much sense a-shootin’ a dog over any of it neither.”
I’ve known for a long time that some men and women really don’t enjoy the holiday season. In recent years I’ve had encounters that really brought home to me how many people there are in this situation, and how deep is their pain.
I’ve been convicted that we – the VA – and we – the community of faith – really should find some way to address this deep, aching need that some of our brothers and sisters feel.
Planning this service brought home to me many reasons why people might suffer during the holidays.
The first one that comes to mind is grief — loss of a loved one or a friend — but it’s not the only reason.
Alienation from family or even geographic distance from them can do it.
Painful memories of events that happened in the holiday season might be a reason.
Some people are experiencing loss of a job or other economic difficulty.
Even good things might make the holidays difficult; think about retirement, empty nest, or moving to a new home.
Any big change that affects a strong part of your self-identity might cause loneliness and feelings of isolation.
Even the loss of what might have been can be so painful.
I’m supposed to say something helpful, here, but I don’t want to offer quick fixes or simple tips; What brings healing is going to be distinctive for each person. Still, there are some principles that can help many.
Chaplain Jonathan Landon.
We may suppress our painful feelings, because we don’t want to burden others, but giving ourselves freedom to acknowledge the pain may be helpful by itself. Concealing those feelings can leave us feeling lonelier, and leaves those who care about us helpless to comfort us. So if you need to cry, then cry. And if you need to be hugged, say that, and let your family members and friends reach out to you and meet your need.
I can’t be so presumptuous as to guarantee it, but if you acknowledge your pain, and people offer space to let it out, and make that giving of mutual support into a time for bonding, maybe you can let the pressure off a little bit. Maybe you can relieve the tension of those who care about you, who are trying to avoid stirring up painful feelings. Then you may just find that there’s some room for laughter, smiles, and enjoyment.
You see, what most of us really need is not the quick fix or the simple solution; it’s caring relationships. One of the key themes of the time leading up to Christmas is the prophecy that foretold the coming of Jesus, giving him the name or title of “Emmanuel”, which means, “God with us.” This Word teaches me that I am never alone in any loss or pain, no matter what my emotions may tell me.
But the message is not only about God being with us; we have the opportunity to show the presence of God to others, by living God’s love in truth and caring for them. Some people came here today because they’re struggling with the holidays. Some people came here because they care about who is struggling with the holidays. Some care because of their faith. Some of them just care because they see a human in pain and they don’t want anyone to suffer alone.
Don’t forget: in the midst of your own pain, you have opportunities to come alongside of others — to be with them, as God is with us.
In this fairly recent tradition, the Blue Christmas service usually happens on or close to the 21st of December, the night of the winter solstice, the longest and darkest night of the year.
It’s an appropriate symbol for a time when many people feel alone, lost and in pain. But that’s not the only meaning of the night of the 21st. Because what happens at sunrise on the morning of the 22nd?
The days begin to get longer. At first, it’s by tiny increments and you hardly notice it, and then it grows faster and faster and you can’t miss it. It’s inevitable. The light returns. That, too is part of the symbolism of this night and this service. The light returns. No matter how long the night will be — or has been — the light returns.
Chaplain Jonathan Landon is the chaplain at the Eugene VA Health Care Center.