This Army veteran built his own castle in Northern Arizona - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY BRANDED

This Army veteran built his own castle in Northern Arizona

Navy veteran Stephanie Sanchez found out what goes into a veteran’s one-of-a-kind and self-sufficient home.


In a castle on 116 acres in the White Mountains of Northern Arizona, TL Johnson and his wife Donna live completely off the grid, using his Army experience to maintain a self-sufficient lifestyle is his unique home.

When asked why he chose this space, in a remote desert landscape, TL said, “It’s sort of like living on another planet, and the rest of the world doesn’t exist.” With room to breathe, space for pets, and no one around to bother you, the home—what neighbors call either the Military Fort or the Castle on the Hill—is the perfect example of a veteran creating his ideal place to live.

TL built the castle from rocks on the property, as well as reclaimed materials such as wood from old telephone poles and a 1800s schoolhouse in Flagstaff, AZ. The house operates completely on electricity from solar panels on the roof, or, when the weather is other than sunny, a windmill that hangs 42-feet above the ground.

For TL, home is the place you can come back to, once you’re done with work or adventures, and put your feet up and relax. This is his place. “For some reason, the peace and quiet, it just calls to me.”

Sounds like home.

Brought to you by Veterans First Mortgage.

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This is how the Old Glory Relay brings veterans and their communities together

Team Red, White  Blue’s mission is to enrich the lives of America’s veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity. This effort is focused on bridging the civilian-military divide through a shared interest in physical activity like running, hiking, CrossFit workouts, and yoga classes, along with participating in social and service-oriented events. Spread across 199 chapters all over the world, the 110,000-member veteran’s group established in 2010 is geared toward creating a place for former servicemembers to meet and do a little PT — and invite their friends and family along to join them.


But while having lots of members and a host of chapters across the country is a great thing for a young veteran service organization, there’s a challenge in keeping it all connected. That’s why Executive Director Blayne Smith and his colleagues decided to link up with Team Red, White  Blue’s various members with a little run among friends.

This Army veteran built his own castle in Northern Arizona
(WATM Photo: Tim Kolczak)

And what if this little run wasn’t so little? What if it spread across the entire country?

“We really wanted this to be a unifying event for the organization and to demonstrate the power and the inspiration that comes with a community of veterans working on an epic undertaking together,” Smith said. “We figured if we could run a single American flag averaging 60 miles a day … that would be a demonstration of the good that we could do together if we all worked together formed as a team and committed to a big goal.”

So in 2014, on a shoestring budget and with just a couple company reps doing most of the logistical legwork, the Old Glory Relay was born. Now spanning 4,216 miles and involving upwards of 1,300 runners and cyclists, the 2016 Old Glory Relay will see an American flag passed between participants — including veterans and their supporters — down the West Coast, across the desert Southwest, through the Deep South, and ending in Tampa, Florida, after 62 days culminating in a Ruck March on Veterans Day.

“For this year we decided to go even bigger. It’s a bit more ambitious, it’s a longer route but more members and more chapters will get to participate,” Smith said. “There’s something really powerful about running a few miles carrying an American flag. It’s really invigorating to run with it and hand it off to the next person knowing you’ve done your part to get it across the country.”

With the support of the presenting sponsor, Microsoft, along with other partners, Amazon, Westfield and Starbucks, the race began at the Space Needle in Seattle on Sept. 11. The relay will be following a route through Portland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles through the end of the month. The relay then turns east, through Phoenix, Tucson and San Antonio before crossing the South through the Florida Panhandle to Tampa.

Team Red, White  Blue has done a ton of legwork to prepare for the relay, mobilizing local chapters to help carry the flag and get their communities energized to cheer runners along. Smith said school kids, local police and fire stations and residents along the way all turn out to motivate the runners and keep the relay going. And while the event is geared toward unifying the chapters and its members in a good cause, it’s the spirit of shared sacrifice and appreciation for the men in women who served in uniform that really makes the Old Glory Relay special.

This Army veteran built his own castle in Northern Arizona
(WATM Photo: Tim Kolczak)

“This is what happens when you slow people down enough to move on foot through a town with an American flag and see what happens. All those human connections start to happen,” Smith said. “America is a beautiful place. But the most beautiful terrain in America is the human terrain, and you don’t see it if you don’t slow down. And that’s what this is all about.”

You can support Team Red, White Blue and the Old Glory Relay by following the Old Glory Relay website, sharing your own photos and videos with the hashtag #OldGloryRelay, and by tracking Old Glory via the “OGR Live” webpage for up-to-the-minute information on the runners’ and cyclists’ status.

Text OGR to 41444 to learn more and donate!

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This is how a decorated PJ found ‘love at first sight’ after he retired

“Just be quiet for a second. You hear that?” retired Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Rob Disney asks a visitor. When she nods, he says, “Absolutely nothing. That’s what I love the most about this place.”


Disney’s life wasn’t always so tranquil. A 21-year pararescueman in the Air Force, Disney was often being sent in when Army Green Berets, Marine Force Recon, or Navy SEALs had gotten into a situation where they couldn’t get out without help.

During one of his deployments Disney was shot in the face with an AK-47 and lost all feeling in his face for several months. Disney received the Purple Heart for his injury and has a host of awards to show for his bravery.

But to help those combat memories fade, Disney bought an amazing mountain retreat after retirement, saying it was “love at first sight,” with the deal being sealed when he went out on the porch with a cup of coffee.

“It definitely was my destiny,” Disney told the host of the video. The house, built with both log and drywall, has three bedrooms and a finished basement. While the house in the mountains may have been Disney’s destiny, it’s not the first house Disney has owned. The experience of buying homes and closing “quite a few mortgages” during his 21 years of service has given him some valuable insights.

“Something that is very very important in anybody who is going to buy a home is that they need to find a mortgage company that they can absolutely trust and have a rock-solid foundation with,” Disney said, adding that Veterans First was the one he trusted most.

Disney closed on his house of destiny 13 years to the day after he was shot, and moved there exactly a year later.

“I took one of the worst experiences of my life and turned it into one of my best memories,” he said.

Disney also demonstrated some guitar skills. He started playing at age 15, shifting from the banjo, which didn’t attract the attention he sought from girls.

“Still play all the time, every day,” he said, describing it as an emotional release.

The full video from Veterans First mortgage is embedded above.

MIGHTY BRANDED

This Army veteran built his own castle in Northern Arizona

CASTLE ON THE HILL – WHITE MOUNTAINS OF ARIZONA

Travel with Navy veteran Stephanie Sanchez and visit a house made of stone and wood using materials from the surrounding land. Check out how an Army Veteran built his own Castle on 116 acres using solar and wind for power, a well for water and live totally off grid in Northern Arizona in the White Mountains.


Brought to you by Veterans First Mortgage.

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Here’s what happened 6 other times US embassies were attacked

The 2012 attack on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya wasn’t the first time such an outpost was stormed by locals. It wasn’t even the first time one was attacked in Benghazi. The Foreign Service of the United States isn’t all handshakes, ribbon cuttings, and talk. The people dedicated to improving relations with other countries while advancing U.S. foreign policy inherently put themselves at risk.


This Army veteran built his own castle in Northern Arizona
Photo: 13 Hours/Paramount Pictures

U.S. Diplomatic posts had been attacked with varying tactics and varying success before the infamous assault in Benghazi. Here’s how six others went down:

1. 1900 – Peking (Beijing), China

Anti-foreign, anti-Christian sentiment combined with severe drought in China led to armed violence against foreigners in the country as well as a general uprising against all external forces. The militias were called “Boxers” in English.  The Qing Empress Dowager Cixi supported the uprising as the Boxers converged on Beijing in full force, declaring war on all foreign powers. Five hundred diplomats, foreign civilians, and Christians barricaded themselves inside the two-square-mile Foreign Legation Quarter in the Chinese capital. The Boxers laid siege to the diplomatic area as German and U.S. Marine defenders kept them at bay, even under intense artillery fire.

This Army veteran built his own castle in Northern Arizona
Eight-Nation Alliance Soldiers (U.S. Army Center of Military History)

A 20,000-man relief army from eight nations invaded China. Japan, Russia, the British Empire, France, the U.S., Germany, Italy, and Austria-Hungary. The army marched 100 miles fro Tianjin to the capital in just over two weeks. British, Russian, Japanese, and French troops fought the Chinese Boxers at the city walls, trying to breach the gate. The Americans attempted to scale the walls instead of assaulting a fortified gate. Indian and Sikh troops from the British contingent were the first to break the siege of the Foreign Legation. Fifty-five of the almost 500 besieged were killed.

This Army veteran built his own castle in Northern Arizona
The U.S. Army in Beijing — then called Peking (U.S. Army Center of Military History)

2. 1927 – Nanking, China

Nationalist revolutionaries captured Nanking from a Chinese warlord in 1927, over a decade after the fall of Imperial China. These revolutionaries consisted of Chinese citizens and some Chinese Communists, but was mostly made op of the National Revolutionary Army (NRA), who would later be a U.S. ally against the Japanese in World War II. When the NRA captured Nanking, enraged Chinese fighters and citizens rioted and looted foreigners homes and attacked the American, British, and Japanese consulates.

The British sent eight warships led by the aptly-named HMS Vindictive while the U.S. Navy sent five destroyers of its own up the Yangtze River to relieve the foreign citizens and evacuate them. Every time the ships steamed into the city, they came under attack.The American and British sailors returned fire with overwhelming force, silencing the Chinese guns each time. Only one British and one American sailor were killed.

3. 1967 -Benghazi, Libya

Two years before Qaddafi’s coup toppled the regime of the Elderly King Idris I, the people of Libya were still fiercely proud of their Arab nationalism. At the onset of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Egyptian propaganda convinced the locals of Benghazi U.S. Navy planes were assisting Israel in their pre-emptive strikes against Egyptian airfields and other military targets. Outraged, thousands of Egyptian migrant workers and local mobs attacked the U.S.Embassy in Benghazi, overwhelming a Libyan military detachment the government dispatched to quell the uprising. The Embassy staff held the mob back with ax handles, rifle butts, and tear gas, even after the building was set on fire.

This Army veteran built his own castle in Northern Arizona
Benghazi in 1967 (Library of Congress)

The British tried numerous times to break through the mob to rescue the battered Americans, who stayed on the roof, trying to destroy classified material throughout the day. Eventually a British armored column managed to break through and extract the Americans. They also helped hundreds of Americans trapped in the area of the city by protecting them inside the British camp. The British moved the Americans to an airfield where they were extracted by the U.S. Air Force cargo planes.

4. 1968 – Saigon, South Vietnam

In 1967, during the Vietnam War, the United States turned over the defense of Saigon to the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam). By 1968, the U.S. Embassy in the capital at Saigon was defended by four Vietnamese police posts, with two U.S. Army military policemen at the entrance gate, two U.S. Marines in a guard post, with a third Marine on the roof of the embassy. On the night of January 31, 1968, 19 Viet Cong sappers open fire on the MPs at the gate, SP4 Charles L. Daniel and Pvt. 1st Class William E.  Sebast, who returned fire and secured the gate. The VC then blew a hole in the perimeter wall. The first two VC fighters through the wall were killed by the Army guards, but Sebast and Daniel were killed by their attackers. The Vietnamese policemen abandoned their posts when the first shots were fired.

This Army veteran built his own castle in Northern Arizona
The hole the VC blew in the Saigon Embassy wall (U.S. Army photo)

Inside, the Marines locked down the Embassy and started shooting into the breached wall. Inside the Embassy, the three Marines, two Vietnamese, and six American civilians jocked up and prepared for the VC assault. Meanwhile, Marines in their barracks five blocks away proceeded to the Embassy asa quick reaction force, but met with heavy resistance from the VC inside. As dawn broke, Military Policemen shot the locks off the gates and drove through it in a jeeps as MPs and Marines stormed the grounds. The 101st Airborne landed by helicopter on the roof and cleared the building.

5. 1979 – Islamabad, Pakistan

The Masjid al-Haram, or Great Mosque of Mecca, the holiest site in the Islamic religion, was itself taken over by Islamic fundamentalists. These terrorists believed their leader was the Mahdi, the redeemer of the Islamic faith, and called on the overthrow of the Saudi regime. Naturally, this caused ripples of outrage throughout the Islamic world. Radio reports varied, but some in Pakistan erroneously suggested the United States was responsible, began climbing the walls and trying to pull them down.

This Army veteran built his own castle in Northern Arizona
The U.S. embassy in Islamabad burning (Library of Congress)

The staff retreated to the secure communication vault as the embassy was burned down around them. They locked themselves in the building until nightfall, when a Marine snuck out the back door. The Marine found the entire Embassy empty and so the 140 people quietly escaped the grounds. A similar event happened at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, Libya at the same time, for the same reason.

6. 1979 – Tehran, Iran

When the Shah of Iran abdicated the throne in 1979, he jetted around the world from place to place, searching for a country who would grant him asylum. Unbeknownst to much of the world, the Shah was also suffering from terminal cancer. In an act of compassion, U.S. President Jimmy Carter allowed the Shah to enter the U.S. for treatment. The people of Iran saw this act as complicity with a brutal regime and worried the U.S. was setting the stage to reinstall the Shah’s dictatorial regime once more, as they had done in 1953.

This Army veteran built his own castle in Northern Arizona
The American Embassy in Iran being overrun in 1979 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The Tehran Embassy had been taken over on February 4th and held for three hours before the Foreign Ministry of the new government of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini convinced the attacker to give it back within three hours. On November 4th, students at the University of Tehran  planned and stormed the embassy again and would hold hostages for 444 days. The Iranian government used the hostages to secure passage of its Constitution and other Khomeini-era reforms, and hold parliamentary elections. A U.S. military attempt to rescue the hostages the next year failed miserably in the deserts of Iran.

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

After the 1979 Embassy takeover, U.S. diplomatic posts worldwide were subjected to mortars, RPGs, and vehicle-borne improvised explosives. but a U.S. ambassador hadn’t been killed by in the course of duty since armed Islamic extremists in Kabul, Afghanistan killed Ambassador Adolph Dubs in 1979. That all changed in September 2012 when an armed militia stormed a diplomatic compound in Benghazi and killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.

(The story  of the six government security contractors (also U.S. military veterans) who came to the rescue of the compound where Stevens was killed can be seen in Paramount Pictures’ adaptation of 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, in theaters Friday, January 15th.)

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This is what happens when you give a Marine and a Ranger motorcycles

Sponsored by PenFed Credit Union


Wil Willis knows a thing or two about weapons. He was born into a military family, served as an Army Ranger for four years, then transferred to the Air Force to become a pararescueman for another ten years. Since his time in service, he’s found ways to utilize the skills he learned on active duty as both an entertainer and an instructor.

Now an actor and writer, Willis is perhaps best known for his work on Forged in Fire, a competition series where world-class bladesmiths compete to create iconic edged weapons from history. He also teaches veterans and members of the first responder community about tactical combat casualty care.

So, yeah, he’s kind of bad ass.

U.S. Marine Weston Scott met up with Willis to connect over a past-time they both love: hitting the road on two wheels.

In this episode of “Paving the Way,” Willis and Scott hang out in their favorite Los Angeles garage working on their bikes and chatting about what it means for them to ride.

“I don’t do anything illegal. It’s not out of control. But I definitely am more aggressive than a lot of other riders. I ride every day.”

His riding style might be “fast and loose” but Willis insists it helps him slow down.

“I think being left alone with your thoughts can be scary sometimes, especially when you’re talking about a transitional period. I’ve got through it a bunch of times. Everybody’s had rough times. For me, getting back on the back was a way of slowing everything down in my mind. I do believe there’s something spiritual I get out of riding.”

Check out the episode above to find out more about why Willis rides every day, but Scott sums it up nicely: “It’s just good for the soul.”

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This storied American brand is helping vets get into their homes — literally

Founded more than 130 years ago, Sears is one of the most recognizable brands in America.


With everything from power tools, to appliances and auto parts — and a myriad other products for every American home — Sears has been a part of making life better for generations.

But the company has gone well beyond simply supplying consumers with the products they need and has played a key role in helping America’s veterans have a safe place to live. For almost a decade, Sears has sponsored the Heroes at Home initiative where it has helped raise more than $20 million to rebuild 1,600 homes across the United States.

This Army veteran built his own castle in Northern Arizona
Sears celebrity designer Ty Pennington (third from right) with Sears and Rebuilding Together volunteers look on as a veteran resident is the first to use an accessibility ramp built by the Sears Heroes at Home for the Holidays program at the Open Hearts Residential Living Center for veterans in Decatur, Ga., founded by U.S. Army veteran Missy Melvin. As part of its long-standing commitment to supporting veterans and military families, Sears brought back its Heroes at Home program for the holiday season to immediately assist in building dozens of wheelchair accessibility ramps at the homes of low-income veterans before Christmas. (PRNewsFoto/Sears, Roebuck and Co.)

This year, Sears teamed with the non-profit Rebuilding Together to construct wheelchair access ramps for vets in need. Dubbed the “Heroes at Home for the Holidays” program, Sears shoppers donated more than $700,000 to support the campaign, exceeding the program’s goals.

According to the Center for Housing Policy and the National Housing Conference, 26 percent of post-9/11 veterans (and 14 percent of all veterans) have a service-connected disability and face housing accessibility challenges as they transition from military to civilian life.

“We’re thankful for the incredible generosity of our Shop Your Way members and associates who have carried on Sears’ long tradition of supporting our nation’s veterans and military families,” said Gerry Murphy, Chief Marketing Officer, Sears. “The holidays are not only about giving, but giving back. Our members have proved once again that simple, small gestures by many can result in immediate, long-term impact for America’s veterans.”

See a video of the first Heroes at Home for the Holidays ramp project which was built with the help of celebrity designer Ty Pennington for Air Force vet and non-profit director Missy Melvin and her veteran care facility.

Sears continues to raise funds for Heroes at Home in-store and online through the sale of limited-edition products, including a Kenmore patriotic washer/dryer pair, a Heroes at Home Christmas ornament and a Craftsman hat.  For more information, visit sears.com/heroesathome.

 

MIGHTY BRANDED

One of the world’s largest cable companies was founded by a World War II sailor

Ralph Roberts didn’t leave the Navy with the dream of starting the world’s biggest telecommunications provider. When he left the service, television was an emerging technology and radio still dominated the airwaves. The company he would soon found would go on to be America’s largest cable provider at one point – and one of the biggest supporters of military veterans.


The story of Ralph Roberts isn’t a stereotypical rags-to-riches tale set in early 20th Century America. The young Roberts was the son of a wealthy family of immigrants who owned a number of pharmacies in the New York City area. When he was still a boy, his father died of a heart attack and, having lost their fortune, they went to live in Philadelphia. His new stepfather was also a business owner, running a successful cigar company. This early exposure to the freedom of running a self-owned business no doubt influenced Ralph’s decision to attend the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.

It was 1941 when Roberts graduated. Later that year, the United States would be pulled into World War II with the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Roberts, like many wealthy businessmen, could have probably avoided service with a draft deferment or through government connections. He didn’t. Instead, he opted to join the Navy, where he served for the duration of the war at the Philadelphia Navy Yard.

This Army veteran built his own castle in Northern Arizona

Roberts married his wife Suzanne during his first year in the Navy.

After the war, Roberts became a “serial entrepreneur.” He started by selling a series of golf clubs, most notably a putter with which he persuaded legendary Hollywood personality Bob Hope to pose with, asking him to do a veteran a favor. He marketed it as the “Bob Hope Putter.” He then went to work in subscription sales for the Muzak company, which made… muzak, music for entertainment productions that could be easily licensed and replicated. Eventually he started working for the Pioneer Suspender Company, a business which he eventually owned. When beltless polyester pant hit the market in the early 1960s, Roberts worried it was the death knell for his business, so he began to look elsewhere.

That’s when he discovered a small cable television provider in Tupelo, Miss. that serviced some 1,200 people. Back in the early days of television, rural customers struggled to get clear reception from over-the-air broadcasters like NBC, CBS, and ABC. The focus was in providing services to major metropolitan areas. In those days, cable wasn’t a package of new and diverse channels, it was just a way to get clear reception using cable instead of a broadcast antenna.

Roberts sold his suspenders company and and bought American Cable Systems. He soon redubbed it Comcast.

This Army veteran built his own castle in Northern Arizona

Comcast would eventually become the country’s largest cable provider, a conglomerate that would acquire other, smaller cable companies and internet service providers, all with Ralph J. Roberts in his trademark bowtie at the helm. Though Roberts died in 2015, the company still regards serving veterans as a core corporate responsibility, supporting National Guard and reserve troops when they’re activated, providing low or no-cost internet services and computers to low-income veterans, pledging to hire 21,000 veterans by 2021, and funding veteran-related initiatives through partner organizations.

One such organization is the Military Influencer Conference, a three-day event that brings together important and emerging entrepreneurs, influencers, creatives, executives, and leaders who are connected to the military community. The annual conference focuses on delivering actionable insights from the stories of others and fostering an environment where people of diverse backgrounds and skill sets are motivated to forge legitimate relationships through conversation that lead to powerful collaborations.

For more information on the Military Influencer Conference, visit MilitaryInfluencer.com. To learn more about Comcast’s initiatives for veterans, visit its corporate page.

MIGHTY BRANDED

What Corpsmen and Marines do in combat for one another will make you proud

Since 1775, the Marine Corps has been involved in some of the most epic battles in military history. From the flag raising at Iwo Jima to kicking down doors in Fallujah, it’s pretty much a guarantee that a Navy Corpsman was right next to his brothers during the action.


The bond between U.S. Marines and their Corpsmen is nearly unbreakable.

Richard Linklater sheds a charismatic light on this tight brotherhood in 2017’s “Last Flag Flying,” starring Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston, and Laurence Fishburne.

This Army veteran built his own castle in Northern Arizona
U.S. Navy Corpsman dressing the back wound of a Marine who was hit by the enemy in the battle of Iwo Jima. (February 1945.)

What many people don’t know is that the Marine Corps doesn’t have an independent medical section. Since the Corps falls under the Department of the Navy, the majority of the medical treatment Marines get in the field is through the Naval Hospital Corps — except for reservists, who have different options.

Navy Corpsmen have fought with their Marine brothers and sisters in “every clime and place” since their creation. They train with their Marines in nearly every single aspect of warfare. The experiences — and hardships — they go through together builds a tight-knit bond of respect that lasts well beyond their service together.

This Army veteran built his own castle in Northern Arizona
HM2 Lamonte Hammond and HM3 Simon Trujillo from Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines treat a wounded Marine during a firefight in the Helmand province, Afghanistan. (Source: Cpl. Artur Shvartsberg)

On multiple occasions, the “Docs” have run into harm’s way to render care to their wounded brothers — that tradition and heroism carries on to this day.

The Geneva Convention states that Corpsmen are technically non-combatants and are only supposed to discharge their firearms to protect their patient — but that’s no fun.

This Army veteran built his own castle in Northern Arizona

In the film Last Flag Flying, Larry “Doc” Shepherd (Steve Carrell), is a former Navy Corpsman and Vietnam veteran who loses his only son during the Iraq war.

Faced with tragedy, Shepard looks to reunite with his former Marine brothers for their most crucial mission yet: To bury Shepherd’s son and ultimately reconnect the brotherhood they shared 30 years ago.

The bond never dies.

Last Flag Flying is set for release Nov. 3, 2017.

Check out the film’s trailer below.

YouTube, Amazon Studios

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Marine MP and MMA champ break down the fighting in ‘Jack Reacher: Never Go Back’

How realistic is the combat in “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back?” To find out, we went to veteran owned and operated Military Muscle Gym in Davie, Florida, where owner Kelsey De Santis — a Marine Corps MP turned martial arts trainer — and MMA star Anthony “Rumble” Johnson broke down the weapon strategy, positioning and disarmament techniques from the film.


Any object can be a weapon, but you have to “make it count”

Positioning is key to destabilizing an opponent and gaining an advantage

Disarming a gun attacker at close range, according to a U.S. Coast Guard Weapons Specialist

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This Army veteran built his own castle in Northern Arizona

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5 ways US military combat uniforms have changed since Vietnam

When you’re asked what’s the most important tool for any U.S. service member who’s facing down a bad guy in battle, the most obvious response is his or her weapon.


When it comes down to it and the shots are flying, it’s the rifle or handgun that can make the difference between victory and defeat. But there’s a lot more to it than that, and oftentimes it’s what the trooper is actually wearing that can determine whether the bullets start flying in the first place.

Military uniform designers and suppliers over the last half century have been developing new ways to help soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines avoid fights if they want to and to survive them when things go loud. From things as simple as pocket placement and camouflage, to fabrics that won’t burn or show up in night vision goggles, the folks who build combat uniforms for America’s military have taken the best of material science and matched it with the conditions and operations troops are facing in increasingly complex and austere combat environments.

While the “modern” battle uniform traces much of its lineage to the Vietnam War, a lot has changed in the 50 years since that utilitarian design changed the course of what U.S. service members wear when they fight.

Ode to Tactical Pants

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This Army veteran built his own castle in Northern Arizona

The Vietnam war saw the first major evolution in combat uniforms since World War II. When troops needed better access to their gear, clothing manufacturers answered the call.

(U.S. Military photo via Propper)

1. Combat uniform pockets

It was really the Korean war that introduced the pant-leg cargo pockets we all know today, according to an official Army history. But combat uniforms issued to troops in Vietnam took those to another level.

With bellowed pleats and secure flaps, there were few items the side cargo pocket couldn’t handle. Vietnam-era combat blouses also used an innovative angled chest pocket design that made it easier to reach items in the heat of battle.

In the 1980s, the U.S. military ditched the angled chest pockets for vertical ones, mostly for appearance, and the combat trousers maintained their six-pocket design until the 2000s.

But when America went to war after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, pocket placement and design took a quantum leap. Way more “utilitarian” than combat threads of Vietnam and the Cold War, the new battle rigs are like night and day — with everything from pen pockets near the wrist of a combat blouse, to ankle pockets on the trousers to bellowed shoulder pockets.

Interestingly, it was special operations troops that developed the shoulder pocket later adopted by both the Marine Corps and Army for their combat uniforms. During the opening days of the Global War on Terror, spec ops troops cut cargo pockets off their extra trousers and sewed them onto the arms of their combat jackets, giving them extra storage within an arm’s reach.

Modern combat uniforms now also incorporate internal pockets for knee pads and elbow pads, so when a trooper has to take a knee or go prone in a hurry, he’s not banging his joints on the dirt.

This Army veteran built his own castle in Northern Arizona

Marines in Iraq were issued fire-resistant flight suits to guard against burns from IED strikes.

(U.S. Marine Corps)

2. Combat uniform material

By Vietnam, the heavy cotton and polyester of the Korean War-era uniform were replaced with a tropical-weight cotton ripstop that was wind-resistant yet cooler for troops operating in the sweltering heat of Southeast Asian jungles.

Both trousers and jackets were made of this cotton-poplin material for years, until the Army adopted the so-called “Battle Dress Uniform” in the early 1980s. That uniform was made with a nylon-cotton blended material with was more durable and easier to launder than the Vietnam-era combat duds.

But the military was forced to offer a variation of the BDU in cotton ripstop after operations in Grenada proved the nylon-cotton blend material too hot in warmer climates.

Though today’s combat uniforms are made with similar materials to those of the BDU-era, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan proved that some front-line troops need kit that’s resistant to the flame and flash of roadside bombs and IEDs.

Early on, some troops — including Marines deployed to Iraq — wore flight suits manufactured with flame resistant Nomex during combat operations. But that fabric wasn’t durable enough for the rigors of battle on the ground. So companies developed new, more durable flame-resistant fabrics for combat uniforms like Defender-M and Drifire.

Now all the services offer variants of their standard combat uniforms in flame-resistant material that protects troops against burns from improvised bombs.

This Army veteran built his own castle in Northern Arizona

American Special Forces soldiers adopted the camouflage pattern of ARVN Rangers dubbed “tiger stripe” to blend into the Southeast Asian jungles.

(Image by Bettmann/CORBIS by Shunsuke Akatsuka via Flicker)

3. Combat uniform camouflage

Ahhh, camouflage.

It’s like the 1911 vs. (everything) debate, or the M-16 versus the AK-47 argument.

For decades, the question of camouflage patterns has been as much art as it was science. And over the last half century, the U.S. military has seen no fewer than 11 different patterns bedecking America’s warfighters.

This Army veteran built his own castle in Northern Arizona

The six-color Desert Combat Uniform is the iconic look of Operation Desert Storm.

(U.S. Military photo via Propper)

Most Joes in the Vietnam War were clad in olive drab combat uniforms. But special operations troops began using camouflage garments in greater numbers during the war, and acted as the bleeding edge for pattern development within the wider military.

From ARVN Ranger “tiger stripes” to old-school duck hunter camo, the commandos in The ‘Nam proved that breaking up your outline saved lives. With the adoption of the BDU in 1981, the military locked into the service-wide “woodland” camouflage pattern.

This Army veteran built his own castle in Northern Arizona

The Marine Corps was the first service in the U.S. military to dramatically change its uniforms from the BDU design. The service also was the first to adopt a “digital” camo pattern.

(U.S. Military photo via Propper)

In the early ’90s, the services developed desert combat uniform with a so-called “six-color desert” pattern (also known as “chocolate chips”). These uniforms were issued to troops conducting exercises and operations in arid climates and were more widely issued to service members deployed to Operation Desert Storm.

The woodland BDU dominated for more than 20 years until shortly after 9/11. And it was the Marine Corps that took the whole U.S. military in an entirely different direction.

This Army veteran built his own castle in Northern Arizona

Soldiers complained that the UCP didn’t really work in any environment

(US Army)

The Corps was the first to adopt a camouflage pattern with so-called “fractal geometry” — otherwise known as “digital camouflage” — that diverges from the curvy lines and solid colors of woodland to a more three-dimensional scheme designed to literally trick the brain. While the Marines adopted a digital woodland pattern and a desert version in 2003, the Army decided to try a single pattern that would work in a variety of environments a year later.

Dubbed the Universal Combat Pattern, or “UCP,” the green-grey pallet flopped, with most soldiers complaining that instead of working in a bunch of environments, it made Joes stand out in all of them. As in Vietnam, special operations troops engaged overseas adopted a commercial pattern dubbed “Multicam,” which harkened back to the analog patterns akin to woodland.

This Army veteran built his own castle in Northern Arizona

The Navy recently adopted a new camouflage uniform in a pattern developed by the SEALs.

(U.S. Navy)

Pressure mounted on the Army to ditch UCP and adopt Multicam, and by 2015, the service abandoned the one-size-fits all digital pattern and adopted Multicam for all its combat garments.

Likewise, the Air Force and Navy experimented with different patterns and pallets since the Army adopted UCP, with the Sea Service issuing a blue digital uniform for its sailors and the Air Force settling on a digital tiger stripe pattern in a UCP pallet. In 2016, the Navy ditched its so-called “blueberry” pattern for one developed by the SEALs — AOR 1 and AOR 2 — which looks similar to the Marine Corps “MARPAT” digital scheme.

The Air Force still issues its Airman Battle Uniform in the digital tiger stripe pattern to all airmen except those deploying to Afghanistan and on joint missions in the combat zone.

This Army veteran built his own castle in Northern Arizona

New uniforms incorporate innovative technology from the outdoor sports industry.

(DoD)

4. Combat uniform design

Aside from the rapid development and deployment of new camouflage patterns, some of the most impressive changes to U.S. military combat uniforms have been with their overall design.

Gone is the boxy, ill-fitting combat ensemble of troops slogging through the rice paddies and jungle paths of Southeast Asia. Today’s battle uniform traces its design to the high-tech construction of the extreme outdoor sports world, from high-altitude climbing to remote big game hunting.

Troops in the services now have uniforms that have pre-curved legs and arms, angled and bellowed pockets that stay flat when they’re empty, Velcro closures and adjustable waists. The services even use specially-designed combat shirts that ditch the jacket altogether and use built-in moisture-wicking fabric to keep a trooper’s torso cool under body armor yet provide durable sleeves and arm pockets for gear needed in the fight.
With integrated pockets for knee pads and elbow pads, the new combat uniforms’ design takes “utilitarian” to a whole new level.

This Army veteran built his own castle in Northern Arizona

US Marines inside the Citadel in Hue City rescue the body of a dead Marine during the Tet Offensive.

(Photo via Flickr)

5. Combat armor

Aside from the actual clothing an American combat trooper wears, there are a host of new protective items that make up his or her battlefield loadout. These items have evolved exponentially over the last half century, and many uniform manufacturers have supplied protective accessories to integrate with their clothing.

This Army veteran built his own castle in Northern Arizona

Students from the Saint George’s University of Medicine pose with a member of the 82nd Airborne Division during Operation Urgent Fury.

(U.S. Military photo via Flickr)

Late in the war, the Vietnam-era soldier or Marine was issued a body armor vest that would protect him against grenade fragments and some pistol rounds. Made of ballistic nylon and fiberglass plates, the armor was best known as the “flak jacket.” It was heavy and didn’t protect against rifle rounds.

In the 1980s, the U.S. military developed a new body armor system using steel plates and Kevlar fabric that could stop a rifle round. First used in combat during Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada, the so-called Personnel Armor System for Ground Troops, or PASGT, was a revolution in personal protection.

This Army veteran built his own castle in Northern Arizona

Today’s armor and helmets are lighter, more protective and offer a host of methods to modify the loadout for specific missions.

(Photo courtesy Propper)

Still heavy and bulky, armor evolved over the years since 9/11 to be lighter, with a slimmer profile and much more protective than the flaks of yore. Today’s vests can protect against multiple armor-piercing rifle rounds, shrapnel and pistol shots — all in a vest that weighs a fraction of its PASGT brethren.

Like the armor vest, the “steel pot” of Vietnam has changed dramatically in the last 50 years. The new Army Combat Helmet and Marine Corps Lightweight Helmet can take multiple bullet strikes and shrapnel hits, allow for greater mobility than the Vietnam-era one or the PASGT and now incorporate various attachment points for accessories like night vision goggles, IR strobes and cameras.


MIGHTY BRANDED

Bob Hope entertained the troops for decades, and his legacy continues

Bob Hope was among the brightest stars during his era. He was known for his comedic one-liners and performances over a long career in entertainment.


He passed away in 2003 at the age of 100 but left a legacy of humor and humanitarianism having traveled the world for more than half his life to deliver laughter and entertainment to American troops. His legacy of service to the troops lives on through the Bob Dolores Hope Foundation, thanks to his granddaughter Miranda Hope and Easterseals.

You can help support veterans with Easterseals Southern California. Shop at any Vons or Pavilions in Southern California and donate at the register!

Articles

How Marines honor their fallen heroes — on the battlefield and at home

By WATM guest Christian Bussler


“You are there for your brothers, and that’s all that really matters.”

It was that one line from the trailer of the upcoming movie “Last Flag Flying” that caught my attention and transported me back to another place and another time — Al Anbar province, September 2005.

At the time, I was a Marine staff sergeant on my third combat tour in three years. I had just returned to Iraq after being wounded by an IED the year prior.

On this deployment, I was to be the top NCO for all Mortuary Affairs operations in and around Al Taqaddum Air Base, Iraq. My job was to recover our fallen warriors from the battlefields and return them home with honor.

This Army veteran built his own castle in Northern Arizona
(USMC photo)

As unassuming as that movie quote may be for anyone else, for me, those words ignited a spark. They instantly connected me to how my Marines and I felt about the fallen who were in our care back then. We would stop at nothing to return them home — because they were one of us, they were our brothers, and in the end, that was all that really mattered.

“Last Flag Flying,” which will be released in select theaters Nov. 3 and hit theaters nationwide on Nov. 22, stars Steve Carell who takes a departure from his normal funny-man roles by portraying former Navy Corpsman Larry “Doc” Shepherd who tracks down two of his Marine buddies he hasn’t seen in 30 years (played by Laurence Fishburne and Bryan Cranston). Shepherd reveals he had been notified two days prior that his son, a Marine, was killed in Iraq.

He asks his friends for their help to lay his son to rest.

A story like this automatically kicks me square in the feels. In the short two minute trailer, I immediately recognized the two sides to this parable. One is a story of old warriors coming together to honor a son killed at war. The other is rarely depicted in movies in a time of strife. It is the human cost of warfare, the cost beyond the obvious war dead. It is the sacrifices made by their families and communities.

This is a truth that has replayed across our country close to 7,000 times over the last 16 years. The movie takes a look at this cost that has spared few communities in some way or fashion by our recent conflicts.

During my time in Iraq, my Marines and I would go to vast extremes to recover our fallen warriors. The thoughts of those families pushed us to work harder — no matter what it took or how difficult it was, we were going to get them home to their families.

Through helo crash scenes we crawled on our hands and knees, combing through the desert sands in search of remains and personal effects. We spent countless hours swinging sledge hammers to break apart the solidified parts of melted vehicles to recover the minutest fragments of DNA.

Repeatedly we put ourselves directly into harm’s way to gather our fallen brothers from the battlefields to get them home. We believed we actually worked for the families of the fallen. They would want us to go that extra mile to ensure that their loved ones were taken care of the best way we could, and we did exactly that, no matter the cost.

This Army veteran built his own castle in Northern Arizona
(USMC photo)

The connection between “The Last Flag Flying” and my experiences extends to how today we honor our fallen warriors with flags. In Iraq, my Marines and I changed the way we flagged the transfer cases of our fallen to pay them a deeper honor.

Before our tour in 2005, flags were merely taken out of a cardboard box, placed upon the transfer case, and tied down with a white cord. It just was how things were done going all the way back to whenever they first started flagging caskets. Realizing these flags were eventually given to the families, I knew we could do better. Instead we ironed and starched every flag so that they were crisp and sharp.

We also implemented a new technique so there was zero chance of the flag touching the ground. These procedures were eventually adopted by the military.

The common thread between my experience and “The Last Flag Flying” is that in our own ways, the director and I were trying to reveal the same narrative.

Quietly and largely unseen, brothers go to great lengths to care for their fallen brothers. And the story of sacrifice doesn’t just end on battlefields, it continues into the homes of our Gold Star families. It is felt on the everyday streets of our communities, and it is remembered in the resting places of our honored fallen.

WATM contributor Christian Bussler is a former Mortuary Affairs Marine and is the author of “No Tougher Duty, No Greater Honor- A memoir of a Mortuary Affairs Marine,” available through Amazon.com, CreateSpace.com, Kindle and soon at your local bookstores.

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