Making rank has its privileges. Getting promoted means you get a new ID, you get to wear your upgraded rank insignia, your title officially changes, and, most importantly, you get paid more.
With all of the perks that come with picking up a rank, there are a few common aspects that service members would love to avoid — but won’t be able to.
Getting a promotion is considered an event epic, but these are the top 4 downsides to your career advancement.
1. Getting “tacked” or “pinned”
We do it as a celebration, and it’s a tradition to encourage us to never lose that rank — but advance onward. But for as steeping in tradition as it is, the whole ‘getting tacked’ can be super uncomfortable, too. Getting promoted also means you’re going to get tacked. That means your fellow service members, who are either the same rank or higher, can walk up to you and respectably strike your newly pinned rank.
It’s practically considered a birthright and it’s a way for your unit to show that they see the effort you’re putting into your career.
But with all that respect comes a downside. The jab could poke the pins into your skin through your shirt. Get smart and have your new rank sewn on your OCPs. This way, your unit colleagues will be forced to acknowledge your rank change with a love-tap on your arm.
2. Taking sh*t for your troops
Getting promoted means that now you’re in charge of a few troops, you’re also responsible for the mistakes they make.
If they get in trouble at the front gate for doing something wrong, your phone will be ringing to pick them up. You might be cursing your new rank change and you’re probably going to have to answer up for anything your subordinates have done.
3. Your promotion means you won’t be able to date that E-2 anymore
On Sept. 11, 2019, the Global War on Terrorism turned 18. The GWOT is by far the longest military conflict in U.S. history, eclipsing the previous contender (the Vietnam War) by at least eight years. In 2014, a group of like-minded individuals — veterans, spouses of veterans, and civilians — felt it was time to pay formal tribute to those who have served, and continue to serve, in the GWOT. These patriots formed the Global War on Terrorism Memorial Foundation, which officially became a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization on May 15, 2015.
The foundation’s mission is to become the Congressionally designated entity authorized to build a permanent GWOT memorial in Washington. According to the GWOT Memorial Foundation website, the memorial will “… honor the members of the Armed Forces who served in support of our nation’s longest war, especially those who gave the ultimate sacrifice … as well as their families and friends.”
Signing of HR873.
(Photo courtesy of GWOT Memorial Foundation.)
Unfortunately, the effort encountered an obstacle right out of the chute. The Commemorative Works Act of 1986 imposed a 10-year waiting period after the end of a conflict before it could be memorialized in our nation’s capital. Therefore, one of the first tasks was to lobby Congress for an exemption. In early 2017, two GWOT veterans, U.S. Representative Mike Gallagher, R-Wisc., and Seth Moulton, D-Mass., led the effort to do just that. They introduced HR 873, the Global War on Terrorism Memorial Act, which proposed the GWOT memorial as a commemorative work on federally owned land in the District of Columbia and exempted the project from the 10-year moratorium. Furthermore, the act authorized the GWOT Memorial Foundation as the organization with exclusive rights to commission the work.
In just six months’ time, despite a polarized political climate dominated by gridlock, the legislation swept through Congress with unanimous support — a testament to the project’s worthy goal. It was signed into law by President Donald Trump in August of the same year. GWOT Memorial Foundation president and CEO Michael “Rod” Rodriguez said he and his leadership were certainly pleased with HR 873’s speedy trip through Congress, but they weren’t surprised.
“[The fast turnaround] just speaks to the broad support that exists,” he said. “This really is a nonpartisan issue. We introduced the legislation shortly after President Trump’s inauguration — we weren’t really worried about it because there are no politics behind what we’re trying to do.”
(Photo courtesy of the GWOT Memorial Foundation.)
Rodriguez, who took the reins in 2018, shortly after the bill was passed, refers to himself as the man who has the “undeserved honor” of leading the project. However, he is immensely qualified to do so. The 21-year U.S. Army veteran is a former Green Beret with multiple post-9/11 deployments under his belt. Rod retired in 2013 as a result of injuries sustained in combat.
In addition to being the longest war in U.S. history, the GWOT also represents the first multi-generational conflict — which means we are now seeing soldiers who are the children of veterans who deployed early in the conflict. Rodriguez’ wife is also a 21-year Army veteran, and their son is an infantryman in the 82nd Airborne Division and recently returned from a deployment in Afghanistan. The three have 16 deployments between them.
“My son patrolled the same areas of Afghanistan in the Helmand province that my wife and I did,” Rod said. “I was there in 2005, she was there in 2006, and our son was there in 2017.”
Looking ahead to the completion of the memorial project, the foundation has narrowed down the location to three pre-established sites in the “reserve” — an area of the National Mall that stretches north/south from the White House to the Jefferson Memorial and east/west from the Washington Monument to the U.S. Capitol building. The construction of anything within the reserve requires Congressional approval.
GWOT Memorial Foundation president and CEO Michael “Rod” Rodriguez with President George W. Bush, who is the honorary chairman of the project.
(Photo courtesy of the GWOT Memorial Foundation.)
The reserve is a logical choice for the GWOT Memorial because it’s home to many of the existing war memorials in Washington. However, the foundation still did a great deal of research before settling on that location.
“This memorial does not belong to any one individual,” Rodriguez explained. “It’s to all those who served. So, in 2018, along with our architectural firm, we began conducting discussion groups across the country … to determine what the American people wanted. We talked to hundreds of people, [including] Blue Star families — families of those who are actively serving — and Gold Star families, obviously families who lost a loved one to the Global War on Terrorism. We spoke with veterans from all our country’s wars since World War II. We spent three days on Fort Bragg, sponsored by FORSCOM, talking to peer groups. We spoke to faith leaders to get their thoughts. And we also spoke to the greater part of our population — those who never wore the uniform.”
(Photo courtesy of the GWOT Memorial Foundation.)
Rod and his team took great care to educate the groups, explaining the GWOT Memorial project and showing the location and topography of the National Mall and its surrounding area. These groups were asked to complete surveys, not only to gather input on site selection but also ideas about the physical design of the memorial itself — hard structures, water features, shrubbery and other vegetation, etc. After synthesizing the qualitative and quantitative data collected in the surveys, the foundation confirmed that America overwhelmingly supported a plan to select a site within the reserve.
Rodriguez said that respondents were aware that Congressional approval would be required to build within the reserve. “I told them not to worry about the extra work,” he said. “It was the foundation’s responsibility to carry out the wishes of the American people.”
To obtain the required approval, the GWOT Memorial Foundation partnered with For Country Caucus, a bipartisan alliance of 19 veterans dedicated to finding areas of compromise to move the country forward. With a mantra of “policy over politics,” the caucus was an ideal group to champion the cause. On Nov. 12, 2019, the day after Veterans Day, House Representatives Jason Crow, D-Colo., and Mike Gallagher, R-Wisc., introduced the Global War on Terrorism Memorial Location Act, seeking permission to commission the GWOT Memorial on one of three sites near the Korean, Vietnam, and World War II memorials.
Proposed GWOT Memorial locations in the National Mall in Washington.
(Graphic by Tim Cooper/Coffee or Die.)
Fundraising is ongoing, with a present goal of million. This is a modest number considering that the World War II Memorial cost more than 0 million and the final tab for the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial was approximately 0 million. The actual design process for the GWOT Memorial has not yet begun, but Rodriguez and the foundation established the million goal as a starting point. Once the site is selected, he acknowledged that the price tag could potentially increase. Assuming Congress passes a GWOT Memorial Location Act bill quickly, the foundation hopes to dedicate the memorial by 2024.
Some critics might point out that the U.S. has never built a national memorial for an active war — so why start now?
“The Global War on Terrorism is old enough to vote, and it doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere anytime soon,” said Gallagher. “Honoring the service, as well as the sacrifices of all those who have served in the Global War on Terrorism, is overdue.”
“Just like this war has no precedence, this memorial has no precedence either,” Rodriguez added. “We really want to avoid what happened to the Greatest Generation. [Many of those veterans] never saw the World War II Memorial. They passed before it was completed. Furthermore, parents of fallen GWOT service members are in their 60s, 70s, and even older. If we don’t do this now, when is the right time? We share a sacred duty to honor all those who have selflessly served in our nation’s longest war. This is a charge [the foundation] does not take lightly — a charge we will remain loyal to and a charge we intend to keep.”
Embedded With Special Forces in Afghanistan | Part 2
Maneuver Advisor Teams (MATs) from the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB) are creating their own legacy. As one of the first U.S. Army units purposefully built for advising, our MAT helped prove the advisor force structure concept. We were tasked with advising an Afghan Kandak (Battalion) during our deployment and now we are tasked with developing how best to train a team capable of advising partner nation security forces anywhere in the world. Our MAT captured our lessons learned and creatively applied them to our current training plan. Advising skills are developed and tested in the field, and here’s how they can translate into better preparation for our next employment.
SFABs were created to lessen the burden on the brigade combat teams for Security Force Assistance (SFA) missions. Small teams of advisors are not a new concept. The U.S. Army has been forming ad hoc advising elements from brigade combat teams and employing them in Iraq and Afghanistan for years. Maneuver Advisor Teams are different than the ad hoc teams. An SFAB has thirty-six MATs, specifically designed with 11 experienced non-commissioned officers with several different mission operational specialties and a post company command captain. MATs are the decisive element within an SFAB. Since the formation of SFABs, there is a new standard for how advising is conducted. With more preparation, additional resources, and a structured recruitment process, the pressure is high for the MATs to excel in advising operations.
Developing the plan
We knew we had to capitalize on our lessons from Afghanistan. Initially, our post-deployment training included similar tasks and events any regular Army unit would face after returning from a deployment. First and foremost we conducted reset of our equipment and began fielding new equipment. Much of our newly fielded communications equipment was unfamiliar.
Based on our experience in Afghanistan, we identified a requirement to maintain a focus on integrating communications training in anything we planned to do. Collectively we prioritized our training objectives and started planning our training. Following guidance from our higher headquarters, our team training objectives were to become master trainers of our warfighting functions, be capable of operating decentralized and expeditiously, and that we all must be capable of winning a fight.
Each advisor must be a master trainer of their specific skill set. To accomplish this, we began our training cycle with an emphasis on individual skill set enhancement. Individual skill set enhancement included additional schooling. For example, our infantrymen attended schools such as Pathfinder, Master Marksmanship Training Course, Infantry Mortar Leaders Course, and Heavy Weapons Leaders Course while our combat engineer attended Master Counter IED Trainer Course. We also conducted individual tasks such as weapons qualification and medical refresher training. Our individual skill set enhancement set the foundation to continue to build our team’s operating capability.
Refining technical and tactical skills provided us with individuals who were sound in their crafts, however as advisors, we needed individuals who could also teach and instruct their craft as well. All team personnel who attended a skill enhancement school were required to train the entire team in specific skills they learned. Not only did this requirement broaden the skill set across the team, it also provided our advisors with an opportunity to practice teaching their skills. As advisors, being a master of your warfighting function is good, being a master trainer of your warfighting function is required.
Decentralized and expeditiously
While advising our Afghan kandak, we identified the need to be capable of operating decentralized and expeditiously. During advising missions in Afghanistan, we found ourselves often separated from our higher headquarters and we were reliant on our mission command platforms to communicate them. The numerous types of mission command systems we owned, although overwhelming at first, became our greatest team strength. We could establish our command post and obtain communication on all of our platforms within minutes. While training, we established our command post with all of our systems during every event.
We planned, resourced, and executed an off-site training event several hundred miles away to practice our decentralized and expeditious capabilities. By taking the team to Camp Blanding, Florida for a 10-day field training exercise, we were able to conduct multiple ranges, land navigation training, and a team command post exercise utilizing our mission command systems. We successfully moved our equipment, established our systems, and communicated with our higher headquarters on multiple platforms for the duration of the training event.
Later in our training cycle, we planned, resourced, and executed a second off-site training event. We decided to treat this off-site training event less conventionally than our previous event. During this exercise we established our command post in a civilian hotel room to simulate operating out of a safe house. We conducted our movements as if we were operating out of a safe house in a foreign country. We wore civilian attire for the duration of the exercise and practiced multiple team tactics, techniques, and procedures to limit our interactions with the general public. We continued to learn from this experience and shared lessons learned with the rest of our unit. Without our persistent focus and practice with our mission command systems, we would not have gained the confidence required to operate in such a decentralized manner. Our team was confident we could operate decentralized from our higher headquarters and survive expeditiously if required.
Winning the fight
The entire team must be capable of fighting as a small element. Engaging in direct combat while accompanying our partners was unlikely during our next deployment, however training and being prepared to fight was non-negotiable. We aggressively attacked this skill set during our collective training. We executed two team live fire exercises during our training cycle and one force-on-force simulation round exercise. Many of our advisors had limited participation in any type of live fire exercise prior to joining the 1st SFAB. However, by the end of our training cycle, our logistic advisor and mechanic advisor were capable of planning and leading a mounted react to contact under live fire conditions.
Our culminating live fire exercise consisted of a three-event exercise utilizing three non-standard tactical vehicles. The scenario included our advising team returning to base after a day of advising their partners. The team encountered a non-hostile militia checkpoint, struck an IED rendering one vehicle disabled, and lastly, encountered a complex attack triggered by a second vehicle-disabling IED blast. During the complex attack, the team was forced to abandon disabled vehicles and strongpoint hard structures adjacent to the road. The team treated their casualties, communicated with their partners for assistance, and defended in place. This training event required the entire team to be capable of conducting individual skills and collective tasks during live fire conditions.
Throughout the year of training, our team became master trainers of their warfighting functions, we became experts in our mission command systems while operating decentralized and expeditiously, and we developed the tactical skills to fight in defense of each other and our partners.
The United States Army found the right people, gave them advanced equipment, and provided the best training. Nearly three years from inception, our MAT continues to build our legacy. Using our lessons learned and applying them to our training is setting a standard that should be used as the SFABs continue to mature and are employed around the world. While our first employment was in Afghanistan, the anticipated future of the SFABs will take them to nearly every Combatant Command area of operations. As the advising force structure matures, the breadth of talent and expertise afforded by these small units will continue to act as the decisive point for the SFABs now, and into the future.
MAJ Gerard Spinney is an Infantry officer in the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade. He has multiple operational deployments in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Inherent Resolve, and NATO’s Resolute Support Mission. The views expressed in this article do not reflect those of the US Army or the Department of Defense.
For most people, a new calendar year brings celebration, enthusiasm and possibility. We write hopeful resolutions in our journals, craft vision boards to set positive intentions, and greet every conversation with a resounding, “Happy New Year!”
But 2021 is not normal or typical for many people, especially if you’re in the midst of a job transition or moving from the military to the civilian sector. While you’re focused on potential career options, connecting with prime networking contacts, and ensuring your resume and cover letter are in ideal shape, the people around you might come across as stressed, anxious and less than optimistic.
This part is not normal. With more people working remotely, job sectors feeling the strain of shifting and uncertain markets, and pandemic fatigue taking over, your ability to be patient and diligent is critical.
Consider this checklist to help you stay focused, motivated and ready when opportunity presents itself:
1. List what you can (and can’t) control. Seriously, make these lists. Even if it feels foolish, write down what you have the power to influence (i.e., how you organize your day, how much time you spend on social media, who you follow up with) and what’s outside of your control (i.e., unexpected emergencies that arise, what someone else says online, whether someone answers your call or responds to your email).
Stress often comes when we feel we’re losing control over things we actually can’t control. By listing what’s realistic, you may see you have more options than previously believed.
2. Write down what gives you energy. Do you feel inspired watching TEDx Talks about overcoming challenges or new technologies? Are you energized when you help others? Do you feel uplifted when your workspace is clean and organized? Make note of what gives you energy and makes you feel inspired and happy.
3. Ask yourself: Who inspires you? Who, in your life, lifts you up? Are there people in your network who are consistently cheerful, motivating and positive? Are there online influencers who post messages that you’re always saving and referring to later? Do you reference literary figures or heroes from books who inspire you to persevere?
Make note of these people and where they are in your life.
4. Celebrate every positive milestone. Did you send a resume and get a positive response? Celebrate! Did you reach out to three contacts on LinkedIn with a well-written note and schedule two phone meetings? Cheers! Were you able to look at the camera during the entire Zoom job interview without getting distracted? Yay for you! When stressed or uncertain, celebrate the milestones that confirm your actions are moving you forward.
It’s important to recognize the things you’re doing well and seeing positive results from.
5. Keep communicating. If you’re tempted to retreat when things get stressful or you’re feeling anxious, now more than ever you need to connect with others and communicate. Likely, the person you’re reaching out to is feeling similar emotions and could also use a check-in.
Now is not the time to isolate and wait for the stress to pass.
6. Draw upon your skills of resilience. During your time in the military, you learned how to be resilient, to adapt and to overcome — physically, emotionally and spiritually. Draw upon the same strength and focus you used then to help you now.
The environment you’re in today will change — maybe tomorrow, next week or this Spring — and you want to be ready and prepared to meet the opportunities that are presented.
As you navigate your military-to-civilian transition in 2021, recognize that the things that feel “off” or different to you are likely new for all of us. The world changed in 2020, and so did many of the companies, industries and systems on which we all relied. This is a great time to learn, adapt and find new paths forward to create a career for yourself in the private sector, if you can stay focused, motivated and open to possibilities.
How many military branches make you surrender your passport, catalog everything you brought to the recruitment center and give you a new identity, all before you sign your enlistment contract?
That’s the French Foreign Legion and that’s exactly how it works… at least according to a Reddit user with the handle FFLGuy, who did an “Ask Me Anything” session on Reddit in 2011. On other responses on Reddit he mentions serving as “a former légionnaire in the Légion étrangère,” as the French saying goes.
For anyone unaware, the French Foreign Legion is a highly-trained, highly capable fighting force fighting for France – but is open to anyone from any nation. What makes serving in the unit unique is that after three years, members can apply for French citizenship. They are also immediately eligible for citizenship if wounded in combat, a provision known as “Français par le sang versé” – or “French by spilled blood.”
Also unique to the Legion is being able to serve under an assumed identity and then retain that identity after serving. While the Legion used to force everyone to use a pseudonym, these days, enlistees have a choice of identities, real or assumed.
For the first week of your enlistment, you sign contracts and wait to find out if Interpol has any outstanding warrants for you. Once selected, you go right to training in Aubagne, in the Cote-d’Azur region of Southern France. You are stripped of everything, as the Legion now provides you with everything you need.
You are now wearing a blue Legion track suit and are working all day long. Cleaning, painting and cooking are the primary preoccupations, but members are taken away for physical and psychological testing. Also, the hazing begins. While that may not fly in America, this is the Legion, and there’s a 80 percent attrition rate. When would-be Legionnaires give up, it’s called “going civil.”
After two weeks of this “rouge” (red) period, you’re whisked away by train to Castelnaudary, where trainees spend the bulk of their basic training time. In total, the training is four months. Three of it will be spent here. It is from here you transition from engagé volontaire (voluntary enlistee), to actual légionnaire. The groups are split up into four groups of 25-45 would-be légionnaires.
Castelnaudary is where the foreign légionnaires learn French, work out, train, ruck, learn to use weapons and basically all the rudimentary things infantrymen do while in the infantry.Once at Castelnaudary, getting out of the Legion is very difficult. They will find a way to make you stay, the author writes: “Trust me when I tell you that it isn’t a wise choice.”
“Hazing at this point is constant,” the author wrote. “There will be many nights without sleep, and many meals missed. You are never alone and are constantly watched for even the tiniest mistakes. The consequences for mistakes are severe and painful; physically, psychologically or both. The environment is initially set up to ensure failure. You are broken down individually – both mentally and physically – slowly being built back up with larger and larger successes as a group.”
Hazing includes food and sleep deprivation, physical abuse and the like. As the author writes, “If you made it through Castelnaudary without being hit at least once, you weren’t there. “
Ten percent of the group who make it to Castelnaudary will go civil before they earn the coveted Kepi Blanc. It’s when your ceremony for earning the Kepi Blanc is when you officially are a Légionnaire. But the training is not complete. For three more months, you go through basic infantry training.
Those that quit or are not chosen to continue their training are given back their possessions, passports, a small amount of money for every day spent working, and a train ticket to the city in which they entered the Legion. They also have to resume their old identity.
With their old identity in hand, they must return to their country of origin.
(Photo Credit: Hollywood Reporter via Lou Pitt. Used with permission.)
Manager/producer and former Agent at ICM Lou Pitt shares about his life and experiences in the entertainment industry. His current clients include Oscar winning actor Christopher Plummer, New York Times best-selling authors Brad Meltzer, Lorenzo Carcaterra. Tilar Mazzeo, A.J. Hartley, Visual Effect Oscar winner John Bruno and Director Jason Ensler.
Former clients include Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gale Anne Hurd, Dudley Moore, Bruce Lee, Rod Serling, Nick Nolte, Blake Edwards, Howie Mandel, Paul W.S. Anderson and Jessica Lange.
WATM: Tell me about your family and your life growing up?
Pitt: I was born in Brooklyn, NY, where I spent the first six years, but my growing up years were in Miami Beach and Sarasota, Florida, until I moved to Los Angeles the summer of 1957. At 14, my single working mother wanted me to go to Kentucky Military Academy (KMI) which had its winter quarters in Venice, Florida, some 18 miles south of Sarasota. The Fall/Spring terms were in Lyndon, Kentucky, adjacent to Louisville. I spent all four years there. One of my roommates went on to West Point and retired as a Lt. Colonel after serving two tours in Vietnam. All the regimentation was on preparing teens for the military with a full ROTC program recognized by the Army with dedicated instruction by active military officers. Upon my initial arrival at KMI as a freshman, I found that my best friend from Sarasota, Jay Lundstrom had also committed to going there. We had become great friends and played Little League and Pony League together. In fact, it was really because of him that got me on my first team after badgering one of the coaches that I should be selected. Nobody should be left out, he reasoned. A classy gesture from a 9-year-old that became a life lesson about friendship in its purest form. We roomed together for most of the 4 years we were there and have remained good friends to this day. When I was chosen to be Captain of the KMI baseball team in my senior year, I said, “not without Jay.” We served as co-captains of the team.
Lou (left) with his buddy Jay (right) on the KMI baseball team where they were both co-captains.
WATM: Were you involved in any sports?
Pitt: I loved baseball and played shortstop. I continued playing throughout my years at KMI and beyond. My mother and I moved to California at the end of my junior year and returned to KY for my senior year in ’58. My dream was to play professional baseball where I was invited for a tryout with the Dodgers during the Christmas period 1957. It apparently went well with follow ups meant to happen following graduation. However, the rubber met road once in college following a pre-season workout with the start of season, a week away. The truth was, I came to the realization that I didn’t want to live out of a suitcase in pursuit of a dream. Went cold turkey and never picked up a baseball again until I played in a few Hollywood Stars games at Dodger Stadium thanks to my friend Jack Gilardi. I wanted to stay rooted in one place which had been absent most of my life. It was a decision I never looked back on or regretted. I went to Cal State Northridge and graduated in 1962 with a degree in theatre and a minor in English.
Fun fact: Famous actors Jim Bacchus (Gilligan’s Island, Mr. Magoo, Rebel Without a Cause), Fred Willard (Best in Show, Modern Family, Spinal Tap), and Vic Mature (Kiss of Death, The Robe, My Darling Clementine) attended and/or graduated from KMI as well.
Lou as a senior cadet at KMI in 1958.
WATM: Did you serve in the military?
Pitt: Yes, I was actually drafted into the Army but was fortunate to find a Reserve unit in Van Nuys in the nick of time. I was against the war and fortunate this option materialized given the dramatic escalation of the war. I did my Army Basic at Fort Ord and MOS school at Fort Gordon, GA. My MOS was a Military Policeman (MP).
While at Fort Gordon, a high security post at the time, I auditioned for a play that was being done on the base. I figured this would keep me out of trouble and away from the “lifers” (career EM’s and Officers). The play was “Look Homeward, Angel” and starred Army personnel and people from off-base. It was a great escape and I made a lot of friends from the local town along the way. One of them turned out to be Lt. Col. David Warfield who, as it turned out, was not one of the city folk, but the Adjutant General of Fort Gordon, the second man in charge of the base.
At the time, I didn’t know who he was as we were in “civvies” during rehearsals. He said if I ever needed anything, to let him know and gave me his card. Covered! The night of the first tech rehearsal, our barracks was subjected to a surprise inspection for drugs and each soldier was required to be sequestered by their bunks for however long it took. I knew I’d never make it to the theatre. Unexpectedly, he showed up at my barracks looking for me. His big black car rolled up outside of our building and heard determined footsteps that got louder and louder with each step. I was called out to the front of the barracks and he opened the car door himself. I had never seen a car that big in my whole life. The Col. said, ‘We can’t be doing this all the time, but hop in. I assume you’re not hiding drugs.’. I thought I was living in a Neil Simon play and it wasn’t going to end well after the final curtain.
Lou on stage in his role as Ben Gant in the stage production of “Look Homeward, Angel”
A newspaper clipping from the play “Look Homeward, Angel”. Lou is at the top.
WATM: How did you get involved in the entertainment industry?
Pitt: With an introduction by a friend’s dad, I secured my first job at Creative Management Agency (CMA) mailroom in 1964 predecessor of ICM Partners. At the time, it was the “Tiffany” of agencies with no more than 60 clients at the time and all of them big stars. The size of the mailroom was the average size of a closet. I was in the mailroom for about six months and then went to train on the desk of Alan Ladd Jr (Producer/Studio Executive; Star Wars, Blade Runner and Braveheart). Alan was my mentor along with Marty Elfand (Agent/Producer; Dog Day Afternoon, An Officer and a Gentleman).
While the agency was primarily motion picture focused, they sold variety shows and packaged Gilligan’s Island which made more for the agency than any star they represented. In the mid to late 60’s, I went to the Arthur Kennard Agency who represented TV stars (Raymond Burr-Perry Mason) and many stars of horror films like Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Vincent Price, Lon Chaney, Christopher Lee, and Richard Kiley who was starring on Broadway in “Man of La Mancha.” It was there, I signed Bruce Lee who was in the series, Green Hornet. At nights, he taught classes in martial arts. Bruce introduced me to Kung Fu. Among his clients were Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Mike Ovitz (CAA), Marvin Josephson (CEO International Famous Agency) and Tom Tannenbaum (Universal TV Studio Executive;) and many other Hollywood luminaries.
Bruce charged a minimum of 0 an hour, which was a lot of money in those days. The Silent Flute (later produced in 1978 as the Circle of Iron) was a script that Bruce wanted desperately to put together but couldn’t get anybody in Hollywood to take an interest. Coburn did his best to bring it to life in LA. We were together for about two or three years when Bruce said, “I will never be a star here, and the only way I will get this made is in Hong Kong.” Off he went. The rest is history as they say. Bruce died before making the film where the produced 1978 version starred David Carradine. In 1971, I went to work at IFA who, in 1975 merged with CMA to become ICM and remained there until 1998.
A picture of a friend, James Coburn, Chuck Norris, and Bruce Lee.
WATM: What values have you carried over from the Army and military school into Hollywood?
Pitt: KMI’s motto was, “Character makes the man.” That to me, defined the traits which mattered most to me in life. Responsibility, honesty, discipline and keeping one’s word. Promises made and promises kept. The centerpiece at KMI was always about the team effort and found it so applicable in a business so dependent on others for success.
Graduation Day 1958 from KMI.
WATM: What are some of your favorite memories with your clients both past or present?
Pitt: Meeting Princess Diana a few years after she married Prince Charles, that came about when I represented Dudley Moore. He did a film in 1985, “Santa Clause, the Movie,” that had a Royal Premiere during the Christmas holidays in London. Dudley’s girlfriend, my wife Berta and I met the Royal Family before the screen presentation. The filmmakers were positioned in a circle for the prince and princess’ arrival. When introduced, they walked inside the circle and greeted everyone individually moving from one to the other. Princess Diana spent a lot of time with each person and was interested in chatting about the movie. She asked a lot of questions and was truly engaged. In truth, Princess Diana weakened my knees. She was extraordinary, as anyone who ever met her could attest. I remember she was still in conversation with the first person while Prince Charles was pretty much done with the group…while encouraging her to “move it along.”
The other that comes to mind was the July 4 holiday opening weekend of “Terminator 2.” At the time, it earned a box office record million over the five day holiday. Having put all the pieces of the film together that included the rights, which were overly complicated as they were jointly held by Gale and Hemdale (who needed to be bought out if it was to ever work), the financing (Carolco) with three high-profile stars; Arnold, Gale Anne Hurd and James Cameron, each with their own schedules that needed to marry organically. It took four and a half years to put that film together and its success was a career game changer for everyone involved.
Lou with Arnold in Budapest, Hungary.
WATM: What was/is it like to represent Rod Serling, Gale Anne Hurd, Bruce Lee, Christopher Plummer, Gena Rowlands and Arnold Schwarzenegger?
Pitt: Rod was my first writer client and I was working with him during the latter part of his career. It was after the Twilight Zone and the Night Gallery series. Rod was a straight-forward, clear headed thinker and smoked a lot. He was a great storyteller with a distinctive voice and an incredible mind. Someone you could listen to for hours. Rod was a WWII veteran as well. He walked the walk.
Bruce was intense and serious but couldn’t have been more grounded at the same time. But mostly, self- assured about his career and looking to break new ground. I can still see Bruce’s smile. His frustration was that he couldn’t get the buyers in Hollywood to take the martial arts action genre seriously enough. By the late 70s it was obvious Bruce was ahead of his time and the martial art films exploded. I never doubted Bruce’s eventual success because he was so centered and full of confidence, talented and focused. It was not a question of if, it was a question of when and how. I really liked him and can tell you he was not that character portrayed in Quentin Tarantino’s movie.
Christopher is simply a very classy man grounded in empathy…especially among other actors regardless of their profile and standing in the business. A man of mischief when it’s playtime but utter discipline when it’s time to prepare and go to work…in fact, obsessively so in a good way. He literally and figuratively never walks in front of you, always behind whether on the red carpet or to a restaurant. “What can I get you” precedes “Hello.” Maybe the greatest storyteller I’ve ever met. He is dedicated to his work and truly loves his profession. Chris inhales the work and the most prepared person I’ve ever met. He has old fashioned manners in a good way. Prefers writing letters then sending emails. Behavior matters and thoughtfulness matters. He’s the first to the set and the first to be “off the book”. We’ve worked together for 45 years and he is a truly special friend.
Love Gale! Her first agent. Smart and I always felt like a partner in “how do we make this work”. She has such a strength, determination and intelligence about her that’s inspiring. She was like a teammate and that we were on an adventure together. There was great trust between us and an unusual giver of herself for others. She’s a “get it done” person that was always open to ideas. A wonderful inner sensitivity that was never far below the surface. We created a “no frills” concept for film budgets that were below a certain level in addition to films she made with or without Jim as a way to introduce new talent or stories that needed special handling.
Arnold is simply one of a kind. 24/7 was not just a descriptive phrase, it was a lifestyle. He defined the word, “commitment” and made a believer that anything is possible. The challenges were exciting because he broke ground that was transformative that defined a movie culture for the 80’s and 90’s. He defied gravity.
Gena Rowlands –What an extraordinary, graceful person she is. Never one to “work the room”, read the trades or lay judgement on anyone’s work in idle chatting. In the 45 years together, she never asked me what she was up for or when she was going to work. She figured if I had something to say, I’d let her know. As warm on screen as she was in her living room. Legendary and an elegant person that’s simply comfortable to just be around whether on a set or in the kitchen. Her career with John was a family centric of gifted actors that spilled into a comfort zone for others that followed. She and John rolled the dice on how to make movies that didn’t have any rules. She just makes you feel you want to kick off your shoes and just chat about stuff.
Lou, Berta, Dudley Moore, Brogan Lane, Peter Sarah Bellwood in Bora, Bora
WATM: What was it like working your way up in the industry in the 60s and 70s?
Pitt: The 60s broke the ground for what the system is today. No longer exclusive contract players, writers, directors, make-up, casting, etc. that could be controlled, and contracted out to other studios or disciplined for whatever infraction the studio bosses captiously inflicted on their talent. The emergence of stars making films away from the studio system and putting together the films they wanted to make as Producers. The emergence of Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster, Gregory Peck and others opened the door to an independent way of thinking, putting movies together and taking them to studios became the new norm…a new freedom with new rules to play by.
Mr. Plummer as Kaiser Wilhelm – “The Exception” which Lou produced.
WATM: What are words that you live by?
Pitt: “There are no bad meetings”
Character Makes The Man
Respect for all no matter the rank or position
Mark Twain’s quote about, “If you tell the truth, you never have to remember what you said.”
I remember when I was learning to type, there was a sentence designed for a speed test that stuck with me. “Do all that you can do as quickly and as quietly as when you were told to do it.” For me it was about “get it done” and don’t waste a lot of time getting there. Keep your eye on the ball.
WATM: What are you most proud of in life and your career?
Pitt: I have a remarkable family who’ve been loving, emotionally supportive and inclusive. I’m immensely proud to work in a business that I really love. To have worked with so many extraordinary gifted clients and colleagues who challenged the world every day with their ideas, their talent and trust, has been inspiring and exhilarating. Everyone has been a gift to me.
Over the last two decades, special-operations forces have become the go-to choice for policymakers and military leaders around the world.
The successes of US and coalition special-operations units in the Global War on Terror (GWOT) and in Syria against ISIS have showcased the importance and utility of small teams of highly trained troops.
While the US and its allies have been fighting in the Middle East, the Chinese military has been paying close attention, especially to US special operations. As a result, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is increasingly investing resources in its own special-operations forces.
So with everyone gearing up for great power competition, how do Chinese special operations measure up against the US’s and what are the biggest difference between the two?
US special operators
US special-operations units can be divided into unofficial tiers.
Delta Force and SEAL Team 6 would be at the top (Tier 1), followed by the 75th Ranger Regiment, Night Stalkers, MARSOC, and SEAL and Boat Teams (Tier 2), and then the Special Forces Groups (Tier 3). Air Commandos are harder to categorize since they most often augment other units rather than deploy as teams.
It’s important to note that these tiers have more to do with mission sets and funding than with the quality of the troops.
For example, SEAL Team 6 is part of the National Mission Force (the Pentagon’s first responders, in layman’s terms) and has far more money to spend and resources to use than a “vanilla” SEAL team, but both are manned by SEALs.
Chinese special operators
Irregular warfare and special operations have been part of Chinese military culture since the time of Sun Tzu, whose writings highlighted the value of specialized individuals and units in warfare.
However, modern Chinese special operations are fairly new. The first unit, the Special Reconnaissance Group, was established in 1988. In the late 1990s, as part of PLA’s modernization, seven Special Operations Groups of between 1,000 to 2,000 men were created.
Now there is one special-operations brigade-size unit in each of the five theater commands, which are a rough equivalent of the US’s combatant commands.
The Navy’s Jiaolong (Sea Dragons) is probably the most famous Chinese special-operations unit after it successfully recaptured a ship from pirates in the Gulf of Aden and assisted the evacuation of civilians from war-torn Yemen, which became the subject of a Chinese propaganda movie.
All in all, China has between 20,000 and 40,000 special-operations troops of varying quality.
Crucially, Chinese special-operations units have more than doubled in number in the last two decades, showing that Chinese leaders are paying close attention to the high-reward, low-cost characteristics of special-operations units.
Both special but not the same
Since the early 2000s, the PLA has undergone a drastic modernization and professionalization process, transitioning from a mainly conscript force to a smaller, mostly volunteer military, though conscription remains as a policy.
The new force’s main aim is to fight short wars against regional adversaries while having a technological advantage.
Chinese special-operations units, and the PLA as a whole, have gained from that modernization and learned from the example provided by Western special-operations units over the past 60 years, but Chinese forces are still untested in combat.
On the other hand, US special-operations units have amassed an astounding level of combat experience in the last two decades. It’s not uncommon to have operators with double-digit combat deployments and hundreds of real-world operations under their belts.
Chinese special-operations units are also regionally focused and lack a centralized command like the US Special Operations Command (SOCOM). This could limit their effectiveness and hurt interoperability.
Moreover, Chinese special-operations units lack the dedicated aviation and maritime assets that American commandos have, namely the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, Special Boat Teams, SEAL Delivery Vehicle Teams, and the Air Force’s Special Operations Squadrons.
Without specialized insertion platforms, the utility of Chinese commandos is limited and their geographic scope localized. However, according to the US Army’s Foreign Military Studies Office (FMSO), the PLA is establishing aviation brigades that might resolve some of these asset shortcomings.
Additionally, there is a difference in mission sets.
Chinese special-operations units focus on direct action, special reconnaissance, and counterterrorism. Unlike US commandos, they don’t conduct unconventional warfare, foreign internal defense, counterinsurgency, hostage rescue, civil affairs, and psychological operations.
In a nutshell, in terms of mission sets, Chinese commandos are closer to World War II special-operations units than to modern US special operations. It’s not that they aren’t capable, but their scope is more limited, a reflection of the PLA’s strategic priorities.
But perhaps the biggest and most important difference is the people.
“Humans are more important than hardware,” is one of the five US special-operations “Truths.” Western special operators take pride in their independence and out-of-the-box thinking, which is encouraged if not expected by their leaders.
Units like Delta Force, the SEAL Teams, the Special Forces Groups, and allied units like the Special Air Service (SAS) excel because of their noncommissioned officers. When planning operations, it’s these NCOs who come up with the ideas and approach. Ironically, the British SAS have titled this enlisted-driven process “the Chinese Parliament.”
Conversely, elements of Chinese military culture, in particular the use of conscripts as well as differing views on unit cohesion, pose a significant barrier to small-team independence.
Allegiance to and scrutiny by the Communist Party complicates things further and adds another level of bureaucracy.
China is used to stealing and copying military technology and concepts, which is believed to be behind Beijing’s advances in fighter jets and other weapons. But when it comes to special-operations units, these cultural aspects aren’t easy to mimic.
On Oct. 1, 1978, President Jimmy Carter wrapped the Space Medal of Honor around the neck of Neil Armstrong, the first human to set foot on the moon. It was the first-ever of such medals awarded, even though the medal was authorized by Congress in 1969 — the year Armstrong actually landed on the moon.
Better late than never.
Astronaut Neil Armstrong received the first Congressional Space Medal of Honor from President Jimmy Carter, assisted by Captain Robert Peterson. Armstrong, one of six astronauts to be presented the medal, was awarded for his performance during the Gemini 8 mission and the Apollo 11 mission.
The list of men also receiving the Space Medal of Honor that day was a veritable “who’s who” of NASA and Space Race history: John Glenn, Alan Shepard, and — posthumously — Virgil “Gus” Grissom. They received the medal from the President of the United States, in the name of Congress, and on the recommendation of the NASA administrator.
Today, as the list of Space Medal of Honor recipients grows, it continues to have such esteemed names joining their ranks, as earning it requires an extraordinary feat of heroism or some other accomplishment in the name of space flight while under NASA’s administration. Just going to the moon doesn’t cut it anymore — Buzz Aldrin still does not have one.
President Clinton presented the Congressional Space Medal of Honor to Captain James Lovell for his command of the nearly disastrous Apollo 13 mission. Actor Tom Hanks portrayed Lovell in the movie Apollo 13 the same year he received the medal.
(Clinton Presidential Library)
Recipients can also receive the award for conducting scientific research or experiments that benefit all of mankind in the course of their duties. In practice, however, most of the recipients of the Space Medal of Honor died in the course of their duties. The crew of the ill-fated Challenger disaster who died during liftoff and the crew of the Columbia shuttle, who died during reentry are all recipients. To date, only 28 astronauts have earned the Space Medal of Honor, and 17 of those were awarded it posthumously.
Though the award is a civilian award, it is allowed for wear on military uniforms, but the ribbon comes after all other decorations of the U.S. Armed Forces.
The horrifying events of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster have once again caught the world’s attention thanks to the recent HBO miniseries and subsequent Russian propaganda campaign, but films aren’t the only thing creeping out of what locals call the “exclusion zone” these days.
Now, thanks to one unusual group of scientists and researchers with priorities a guy like me can respect, there’s also Atomik Vodka: an artisanal booze concocted using ingredients harvested from inside the radioactive fallout-ridden territory surrounding Chernobyl.
Hopefully that burning in your throat isn’t cancer.
(Chernobyl Spirit Company)
After studying the amount of radiation that transfers from soil to crops within the Chernobyl exclusion zone, the team from the Chernobyl Spirit Company set about planting their own rye crops in the vast abandoned fields near the city of Pripyat, Ukraine (close to where the Chernobyl plant was located). They then watered their crops with irradiated water sourced from an aquifer that is also within the radiation exclusion zone.
Once the crops were ready for harvest, the team used the rye to make their new vodka, and even doubled down on its radioactive reputation by using pure water sourced from “below the town of Chernobyl about 10 km south of the nuclear power station” to dilute the vodka down to 40% alcohol, according to their website.
Once finished, the vodka is reportedly no more radioactive than the plastic bottle of Military Special we all acted like we weren’t taking swigs out of in the barracks when the First Sergeant came strolling around.
The boar depicted on the label was actually spotted living in the exclusion zone.
(Chernobyl Spirit Company)
“The laboratories of The Ukrainian Hydrometeorological Institute and the University of Southampton GAU-Radioanalytical could find no trace of Chernobyl radioactivity in ATOMIK grain spirit,” their website claims.
Just to be safe, they also went ahead and sent their new booze to the Southhampton University in the U.K. for further testing. They also confirmed that radiation levels were well below safety limits (as even the Chernobyl Spirit Company acknowledges that tiny levels of radioactivity can be found in many common products).
The novelty of this vodka also comes with some good intentions. Part of the idea behind Atomik Vodka is finding new ways to invigorate the economy in the communities that surround Chernobyl. Of the many concerns facing these communities, radiation isn’t really among them.
The Chernobyl Spirit Company includes this image of a “self settler” in her home in the Chernobyl area on their website explaining their process.
(Chernobyl Spirit Company)
“There are radiation hotspots [in the exclusion zone] but for the most part contamination is lower than you’d find in other parts of the world with relatively high natural background radiation,” Explains James Smith, a University of Portsmouth environmental scientist and founding member of the Chernobyl Spirit Company.
“The problem for most people who live there is they don’t have the proper diet, good health services, jobs or investment.”
Smith and his colleagues don’t imagine that the novelty of their vodka will make them rich. In fact, with plans to produce just 500 bottles per year, Smith says that he’s hoping the company pays well enough to make the business into a healthy “part-time job,” with an emphasis remaining on finding ways to bolster the standard of living for those residing in the region surrounding Chernobyl.
“Because now,” Prof Smith adds, “after 30 years, I think the most important thing in the area is actually economic development, not the radioactivity.”
Julia Yllescas was just seven years old when her father, Army Capt. Robert Yllescas, succumbed to injuries sustained in an improvised explosive device blast in Afghanistan in 2008, according to the Omaha World Herald. Now a high school senior, Julia honored her father’s memory by taking “angel photos” for her senior portrait, as reported by the KOLN TV station in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Susanne Beckman, owner of Snapshots by Suz, created the photos as a special gift for the family, she said on Facebook.
“I have been taking pictures of Julia since she was about 9 and I thought it would be a great idea to do these angel pictures for her as a special gift for her big milestone and to her family,” Beckman wrote. “I am an active-duty National Guard wife, which is what inspired the idea and the vision. I take a lot of pictures of military families and their special memories.
“I was very emotional when I edited the photos because my husband is active-duty National Guard and has been put in the same exact situations as Rob was, but I was lucky enough for him to come home. A lot of military spouses and kids such as Julia are not, and I am so thankful I was able to do something to honor her and her dad!” she continued.
In response to the photos, Yllescas told KOLN, “It almost felt when I saw those pictures that he truly was there. And to have a piece of him with me throughout my senior year. Because sometimes it feels like, ‘Where are you, why did you have to go?’ Just to have that on my wall and be like, ‘No, he is with me, even though I can’t physically see him.'”
Before he died, Robert Yllescas was presented with a Purple Heart by President George W. Bush. He was assigned to the 6th Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, at Fort Hood, Texas.
His memory lives on through his family, and especially in these photos.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
Getting a website with a .gov domain can be as easy as telling the government you’re a small-town mayor and filling out an online form.
According to a new report from cybersecurity watchdog Brian Krebs, someone was able to get a .gov domain by impersonating a small-town mayor using information he found online. The person used a fake Google Voice number and fake Gmail address, both of which reportedly cleared the government’s authorization process.
“I assumed there would be at least ID verification. The deepest research I needed to do was Yellow Pages records,” the unnamed source told Krebs.
A spokesperson for the US General Services Administration, which is in charge of issuing .gov domains, said in a statement to Business Insider that it was investigating the issue and couldn’t comment on open investigations.
In a separate statement to Business Insider, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency said protecting the integrity of the .gov domain from fraudsters is “critical” to national security. CISA is housed under the Department of Homeland Security, and a CISA spokesperson said that the agency has asked to take over control of authorizing .gov domains from the GSA.
“The .gov top-level domain (TLD) is critical infrastructure for thousands of federal, state and local government organizations across the country,” the CISA spokesperson said. “Its use by these institutions should instill trust. In order to increase the security of all US-based government organizations, CISA is seeking the authority to manage the .gov TLD and assume governance from the General Services Administration.”
Once the person obtained a fraudulent .gov domain, they were also able to access Facebook’s law enforcement subpoena system, which allows government agencies to request personal information on Facebook users, screenshots obtained by Krebs show. A Facebook spokesperson did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Marines in the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response Africa are prepared to rescue American civilians and fellow service members in the massive continent where they operate. And they recently went on an exercise focusing on saving downed aircrews, a mission known as tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel that often requires Marines entering enemy-held territory and providing medical aid.
The mission is simple enough to understand. When an aircrew crashes to earth, the personnel could be spread out, injured, and in imminent danger of an enemy patrol or other force finding them with their pants down. So the SP-MAGTF flies in, conducts search and rescue, renders medical aid, and extracts everyone.
But that simple mission comes with a lot of complications. There’s obviously the problem of enemy forces, since they get a vote on what happens. But aircraft shoot downs and crashes are naturally chaotic events, so the personnel the Marines are looking for could easily be spread out over miles of debris-strewn ground.
And there’s always the chance, though slim, that the enemy will try to get a mole into U.S. forces by having them impersonate a crew member or passenger, so the Marines have to verify everyone’s identity while also caring for the injured, some likely catastrophically.
And extraction is no picnic either. The Marines will have to carry out the litter wounded and possibly guide the ambulatory. They’ll often have to select and prepare their own landing zone and then secure it to keep out baddies. Only when all the wounded are aboard and safe can they collapse their perimeter and withdraw.
That’s why the Marines spend so much time and energy training for this and other emergencies. On game day, there won’t be much time to prepare, and their performance will determine life and death for themselves and potentially dozens of others.
There are things that can annoy you during your time in uniform, like PowerPoint presentations, waiting to be released for the weekend, and that private who clearly needed a waiver to get in. Wait, that’s not a private, that’s a lieutenant!
And then there are things that can kill you.
The US military has been at war for nearly 20 years, and anyone who has wanted to test their mettle in combat has had the chance. Thanks to modern battlefield medicine and overwhelming fire superiority in most situations, American service members are coming home alive at rates that have never before been seen in the history of warfare.
US Army soldiers fire 81mm mortars during a fire mission in an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, Nov. 6, 2019. US Army photo by Staff Sgt. Alex Manne.
Unfortunately, it’s not just bullets and IEDs that can — and do — kill our men and women in uniform. In fact, 74% of all US military deaths since 2006 have had nothing to do with combat.
1. Training. Train like you fight, fight like you train. It’s a good ethos to have in the business of war, but unfortunately, realistic training can have unintended consequences. Most recently, eight Marines and one US Navy sailor were killed when their Amphibious Assault Vehicle (AAV) sunk during training off San Clemente Island. This isn’t a common occurrence, but in 2017, 14 Marines and one sailor were hospitalized after their AAV hit a natural gas line. The last death occurred in 2011 after a Marine died while trapped in a sunken AAV in Oceanside Harbor.
Training accidents happen on land and in the air, too.
Special Forces Soldiers from the US Army’s 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) conduct an AAR after Counter Improvised Explosive Device training at Panzer Local Training area near Stuttgart, Germany, June 10, 2020. Photo by Sgt. Patrik Orcutt, courtesy of DVIDS.
Between 2015 and 2018, the US Army suffered 14 fatalities from vehicle rollovers. That number spiked in 2019, with eight soldiers killed in rollover accidents. According to a US Army safety brief video, vehicle training accidents kill more on-duty soldiers than any other single reason, with inadequate unit driver training programs contributing to 68% of these mishaps.
Airborne operations are inherently risky and are considered the most dangerous training the military conducts on a regular basis despite rigorous risk mitigation procedures. So far in 2020, there have been at least two deaths, preceded by four in 2019. The fatalities affect conventional and special operations troops alike while conducting both static line and military free fall training across the US Army, US Navy, US Marine Corps, and US Air Force.
Training accidents are readily apparent in how they impact the force, while other issues are not so obvious — or forgivable.
Senior Airman Frances Gavalis, 332nd Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron equipment manager, tosses unserviceable uniform items into a burn pit, March 10, 2008. US Air Force photo by Sr. Airman Julianne Showalter.
2. Toxic exposure. Although burn pits have been reduced to an oft-joked about condition of wartime service, their impacts on service members who served overseas are real. Toxic exposure from burn pits is difficult to track, but one organization says they have recorded at least 130 deaths from the more than 250 burn pits that were used across Iraq and Afghanistan. Many compare the issue to how Agent Orange afflicted veterans of the Vietnam War. Like Agent Orange, the full effects of burn pits will likely take decades of research before it’s impact on veterans is fully understood.
If you’ve deployed to Afghanistan, you’ve probably heard about “Mefloquine Monday” and the nightmares it causes. Due to the areas of the world the US military regularly deploys to, a variety of malaria medications have been used for decades, with some having detrimental effects on service members. Mefloquine, in particular, was considered so dangerous that the FDA put a “black box” warning — its most strict measure — on the drug in 2013. It’s difficult to attribute how many deaths are a result of the drug, but the drug’s effects on the brain may be contributing to suicide rates.
Military housing has come under fire in recent years for failing to address issues ranging from black mold to lead poisoning and even asbestos poisoning. The problem affects everyone in the military umbrella, from junior enlisted soldiers in barracks to families living in on-base housing. Despite multiple lawsuits, the US military still grapples with some leaders not taking the issue seriously — even though it’s now affecting service members’ children.
Members of the Uzbekistan National Guard show a US special operator de-mining techniques during exercise Invincible Sentry in the Tashkent region of Uzbekistan, Feb. 22, 2020. Photo by Staff Sgt. Steven Colvin, courtesy of DVIDS.
Depleted uranium has also affected multiple generations of US military personnel, with many suffering through cancer and other afflictions after being exposed.
Most recently, government documents revealed that the military knew Uzbekistan’s K2 airbase was poisoning service members stationed there.
“Ground contamination at Karshi-Khanabad Airfield poses health risks to U.S. forces deployed there,” said the classified report obtained by McClatchy dated Nov. 6, 2001. According to a 2015 Army investigation, at least 61 service members have been diagnosed with cancer or died after serving there, but that number does not include special operations troops at the secretive base.
There are many organizations available to help service members who have been impacted by toxic exposures. Veterans who are experiencing unexplained health issues are encouraged to reach out for help.
Lt. Gen. Mark Milley, III Corps and Fort Hood commanding general, and US Senator John Cornyn take questions from reporters during a press conference outside the main gate at Fort Hood, Texas, April 3, 2014. US Army photo by Sgt. Ken Scar, 7th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.
3. Fort Hood. K2 isn’t the only base responsible for death in the military. Fort Hood is quickly becoming known as one of the most dangerous places to be stationed in the US Army after a rash of murders and busted prostitution rings have been exposed. Twenty-three soldiers assigned to the Texas base have died this year alone; only one of those deaths happened in combat. The murder and dismemberment of Spc. Vanessa Guillen thrust Fort Hood’s issues into the national spotlight this year, and now multiple investigations have been initiated to find answers about why the base has devolved.
4. Suicide. Suicide afflicts both active duty troops and veterans alike. Between 2006 and 2020, 4,231 active service members died of self-inflicted wounds. In 2017, 6,139 veterans committed suicide, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. The reasons for taking one’s life vary, but over-prescription of opioids, toxic leadership, marital problems, and financial problems are all common reasons cited. Fortunately, the military has started to take the mental health crisis more seriously in recent years, with many senior leaders stepping forward to talk about their own struggles and encouraging troops to reach out for help if they need it.
Many of these issues can only be mitigated by calling out problems when they happen and being proactive about avoiding safety shortfalls. If you see something, say something. These problems won’t go away on their own.