The Road Less Traveled: Wali Tasleem’s Journey From Afghan Commando to Successful American - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

The Road Less Traveled: Wali Tasleem’s Journey From Afghan Commando to Successful American

There’s an old saying that the best things in life are worth waiting for. For Mohammad Wali Tasleem, born into the chaos of war, all he ever wanted was a safe place to call home.

Growing up in Afghanistan, finding peace and serenity wasn’t easy. Tasleem’s earliest memories involve death and tragedy, stories seemingly unfathomable to most of us, but all too common and relatable to Tasleem and his family and friends.

At an early age, he saw his relatives fight against the Soviet invasion of his homeland. He vividly remembers being on the run and exiled to Pakistan during his childhood, as if it were only yesterday. No matter where Tasleem and his family turned, they couldn’t evade the perils of war. He knew there was a hard choice he had to make, but it was one he was willing to commit his entire life to.

At the age of 17, Tasleem took up the call to arms and enlisted in the Afghan Army — embarking on the fight against tyranny and terror, just as his ancestors had done. Fighting for his loved ones, fighting for his country, and fighting for a place to call home became his calling. In over a decade’s worth of service, based on his skill, diligence, and honor, Tasleem ascended to the ranks of major and company commander. Moreover, he became one of the most trusted and reliable leaders for joint Afghan-US efforts combating the Taliban in the region.

It was during those high-profile endeavors that he crossed paths with Black Rifle Coffee Company CEO Evan Hafer and Jeff Kirkham. Little did Tasleem know that their bond of brotherhood forged in the midst of war would provide him with a life-changing opportunity down the road — but only after he had arrived in the United States in search of his own version of the American dream.

“We were together for a long time in Afghanistan,” Tasleem recently told Coffee or Die Magazine. “They are my brothers. They always had my back. They still do. That’s why me and my family are here in Utah. But things weren’t always as great as they are now.”

The Road Less Traveled: Wali Tasleem’s Journey From Afghan Commando to Successful American
Photo courtesy of Wali Tasleem.

Unbeknownst to Hafer and Kirkham, Tasleem, his wife, and their five children arrived in the United States in February 2015. Two years after applying for a special immigration visa, they eventually settled in Charlottesville, Virginia. At long last, Tasleem and his family didn’t have to worry about being targeted by the Taliban or becoming casualties of war. But arriving in a new country completely foreign to them presented a handful of unique challenges that were hard to overcome.

“I came from a very well-to-do family in Afghanistan. We helped out a lot of people. We had a nice car and house, but when I came here we lost that,” Tasleem said. “We came here to live a safe life but didn’t have the comforts of back home. We were starting over. It was hard.”

Tasleem recalled the numerous struggles they endured upon arriving in the United States. First and foremost, a stable job was hard to come by. After working for several months as a security guard, Tasleem began working full-time at a gas station. While he was thankful for the opportunity, it wasn’t the type of job that could support his family.

The Road Less Traveled: Wali Tasleem’s Journey From Afghan Commando to Successful American
Photo courtesy of Wali Tasleem.

On top of that, the neighborhood they lived in was rough. Their public housing sector had a high frequency of crime; drive-by shootings were a regular occurrence. After fleeing Afghanistan, the Tasleem family now had to endure worries about their safety in their newfound home in the United States. A little over a year into their journey in America, Tasleem and his wife were beginning to have second thoughts and were considering moving back overseas.

“We were having such a hard time. My wife and I knew we couldn’t go back to Afghanistan, but I had reached out to my youngest brother in India and told him about our life here,” Tasleem said. “We had made plans to move there, but things changed when I reconnected with Jeff and Evan.”

Tasleem recalled reaching out one evening to Kirkham, whom he had serendipitously connected with on social media. When Kirkham learned about Tasleem’s situation, he promptly reached out to Hafer in order to do whatever it took to help their friend. In no time, Tasleem was headed to Utah to meet up with his friends at Black Rifle Coffee Company headquarters — men whom he hadn’t seen in a very long time. 

The Road Less Traveled: Wali Tasleem’s Journey From Afghan Commando to Successful American
Photo courtesy of Wali Tasleem.

The rest, as they say, is history. Just when Tasleem was about ready to give up on his pursuit of the American dream, his long-lost friends at BRCC inspired him to do otherwise. They offered him a job and a means to move his family from Virginia to Utah.

“I called my wife and turned on the camera,” he said. “I showed her pictures of the mountains and joked with her, ‘Look, I’m in Afghanistan.’ But that’s when I told her, ‘We don’t have to move back home or to India, I found my brothers and have a job here in Utah. We are going to be so happy.’”

Over the past three years, life couldn’t have been better for Tasleem and his family. He started out in the company’s print shop, and his hard work and leadership skills earned him a big promotion after just a year with the company. Today, he is tasked with the responsibility of being the facility manager at the BRCC roasting plant in Salt Lake City. 

“Maintenance and general contracting, renovation, remodeling, things like that. Inside and outside the building, I’ll take care of everything,” he said.

But that’s not all Tasleem has strived to accomplish. He, alongside his brothers at BRCC, has helped move six other Afghans who served with him overseas to the United States — a testament to the company’s mission of giving back to those who have served and put their lives on the line for a greater purpose.

The Road Less Traveled: Wali Tasleem’s Journey From Afghan Commando to Successful American
Wali Tasleem with Black Rifle Coffee vice president and co-founder Mat Best. Photo courtesy of Wali Tasleem.

“There are six other Afghans here that BRCC has helped like me. There are seven of us now,” Tasleem said. “Their stories are similar to mine. They were soldiers and interpreters who served with us over in Afghanistan. I am happy they are here with us. They are as important here and as respected as they were back there. It’s an amazing feeling to have them here.”

While Tasleem’s commitments at BRCC keeps him busy, he and his growing family (now with seven children, six boys and a girl) have taken advantage of the beauty and majesty of mountainous Utah, which reminds them a lot of Kabul and their home in Afghanistan. In his free time Tasleem enjoys taking his family hiking and exploring the outdoors, as well as getting together often for picnics. 

Tasleem also serves as president of the local Afghan community, which has several hundred families in the greater Salt Lake City area, and has played an integral role in helping them assimilate to life in America.

After years of fighting against and enduring never-ending terror, the Tasleem family is finally living a peaceful life — which is all they ever wanted.

“My three years in Utah with Black Rifle Coffee Company have given so much positive change to my life” he said. “I’m so thankful for Evan, Jeff, Mat [Best] and everybody else here. It’s not just a great company. It’s a brotherhood, it’s a family. I couldn’t be happier, and I’m excited about what we can accomplish together in 2021.”

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Scott Eastwood thinks It’s time you start buying goods that are Made Here, in America

We’ve all seen the labels on our clothes, our cars and everything in between. As much as we hate to admit it, sometimes it’s cheaper (and easier) to buy products that aren’t made here in the good ole’ U.S. of A.

Actor Scott Eastwood (The Outpost, Fury) and his business partner, serial entrepreneur Dane Chapin, are on a mission to change that story. Along the way, they’re highlighting some amazing American workers, companies and veterans.

“Supporting the American worker is not a political issue. It’s just what we should do,” Chapin said in an exclusive interview with We Are The Mighty. Chapin’s latest venture? Partnering with actor Scott Eastwood to cofound Made Here, a company dedicated to selling American-made goods.

“Made Here exists to celebrate the excellence of the American worker by exclusively partnering with American manufacturers to make, market and license the best goods this country has to offer,” Chapin explained. Eastwood echoed his comments, adding, “The feeling of pride in our country that we share is something that is expressed in our products.”

And just like its incredible mission, Made Here has one hell of a story.


A commitment to service is more than a nice sentiment or a long-lost ideal for Chapin and Eastwood. For both men, it’s personal. Chapin’s father served in the Army and spent much of his time helping injured veterans before he passed away. Chapin continues to honor that legacy in his work and in personal projects, such as supporting the Encinitas VFW. Eastwood’s father (you might have heard of him – Clint?) was scheduled to deploy to Korea when he was in a plane crash, returning from a visit with his parents. The plane went down in the ocean en route from Seattle to Eastwood’s then duty station, Fort Ord. The Independent Journal from Oct. 1, 1951, reported:

Two servicemen, who battled a thick gray fog and a strong surf for almost an hour last night following a plane landing in the ocean near the Marin shore, are returning to their service units today uninjured.
Army Pvt. Clinton Eastwood, who wandered into the RCA radio station at Point Reyes after struggling in the ocean, told radio operators he and the pilot were forced to land their AD-2 bomber in the ocean and left on life rafts.”

While that grit and resilience is certainly what Clint is known for, perhaps lesser known is that he instilled those qualities in his son. Scott is bringing that same passion and determination to Made Here.

Made Here Brand

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“When Dane approached me about this idea a few years ago, I was automatically and immediately all in,” Eastwood shared. “For hundreds of years, ‘American-made’ has been synonymous with high quality,” he said. “It’s all the hard-working folks across the country that make our brand possible. I want to honor the iconic heritage of American manufacturing and let people know it’s very much alive and well.”

The company did a soft launch last month on their website and are ecstatic to be partnering with Amazon to launch a Made Here store front later this month. While Made Here is currently limited to apparel, Eastwood and Chapin have hopes to expand their product line as they move forward. “We’d love nothing more than to showcase all types of products,” Chapin said. “And the more veteran-owned and military-spouse owned businesses we can highlight, the better. We can never repay the debt of service we owe our veterans and military families, but American workers and manufacturers are what make our country the best in the world. We want people to know what they’re buying and feel good about their purchases, and what a benefit to be supporting those who have served us.”

While Made Here in and of itself is incredible, equally impressive is their “In a Day” series they launched, showcasing what Americans can accomplish in just 24 hours. Eastwood and Chapin couldn’t think of a better place to start than 24 hours on the USS Nimitz. “I couldn’t believe how down to earth, humble and hard-working those people were,” Eastwood said. Chapin added, “We joked about how they’re all working ‘half-days,’ recognizing that their 12 hour half-day is more than most people do in a full day. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

IN A DAY | AIRCRAFT CARRIER – Scott Eastwood and the Made Here team aboard the USS Nimitz

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Made Here is here to stay and WATM couldn’t be more excited to cheer this company on as it promotes American workers and American ideals. “At a time when the country is so divided,” Chapin said, “we can all get behind supporting one another and buying goods that are Made Here.”

MIGHTY CULTURE

The 13 funniest military memes for the week of May 3rd

The Marines and Aussie Airmen recently made the news because of a misunderstanding in local dialect and cultural differences. The story then got blown out of proportion, as was reported by LADBible, that the Aussies were ‘banned’ from using their slang. Sure, on the surface, it sounds like a funny headline but when you look a bit deeper into it – the entire situation isn’t as dumb as people are making it out to be.

One of the slang terms to get axed was “nah, yeah.” Anyone who’s ever talked to someone from the Midwest who also says it, knows that just means “yeah.” Another one was “lucked out.” Which isn’t a problem at all if you figure out the context clues to know that it was used either literally or sarcastically.

Aussie slang isn’t really all that difficult to understand. The only one that could actually cause confusion is their slang for sandals – which is ‘thongs.’ Having personally seen an Aussie compound while on deployment, it’s a little jarring to read the signs outside their showers reading “must wear thongs before entering” and expecting everyone to be rocking a Borat man-kini.


Anyways – here are some memes.

There’s an Avengers: Endgame reference in the third meme – so if you don’t care about a minor throwaway joke from early in the film that has since been used in the post-release trailers…

The Road Less Traveled: Wali Tasleem’s Journey From Afghan Commando to Successful American

(Meme via Infantry Follow Me)

The Road Less Traveled: Wali Tasleem’s Journey From Afghan Commando to Successful American

(Meme via The Army’s Fckups)

The Road Less Traveled: Wali Tasleem’s Journey From Afghan Commando to Successful American

(Meme by WATM)

The Road Less Traveled: Wali Tasleem’s Journey From Afghan Commando to Successful American

(Meme via Coast Guard Memes)

The Road Less Traveled: Wali Tasleem’s Journey From Afghan Commando to Successful American

(Meme via Disgruntled Vets)

The Road Less Traveled: Wali Tasleem’s Journey From Afghan Commando to Successful American

(Meme via Valhalla Wear)

The Road Less Traveled: Wali Tasleem’s Journey From Afghan Commando to Successful American

(Meme via ASMDSS)

The Road Less Traveled: Wali Tasleem’s Journey From Afghan Commando to Successful American

(Meme via Do You Even Comm, Bro?)

The Road Less Traveled: Wali Tasleem’s Journey From Afghan Commando to Successful American

(Meme via Private News Network)

The Road Less Traveled: Wali Tasleem’s Journey From Afghan Commando to Successful American

(Meme via Military Memes)

The Road Less Traveled: Wali Tasleem’s Journey From Afghan Commando to Successful American

(Meme via Pop Smoke)

The Road Less Traveled: Wali Tasleem’s Journey From Afghan Commando to Successful American

(Meme via Decelerate Your Life)

The Road Less Traveled: Wali Tasleem’s Journey From Afghan Commando to Successful American

(Meme via Dank MP Memes)

MIGHTY CULTURE

Everybody looks up

In this video, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, a member of the Defense Innovation (Unit) Board, talks about how space exploration, and the development of technologies that make it possible, can inspire a new generation to seek careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.


Everybody Looks Up

vimeo.com

As with the Apollo and space shuttle missions of previous generations, the U.S. Air Force was once again an integral part of a launch that had everybody looking up. It was an event which will undoubtedly inspire future STEM generations to consider a career in the Air Force.

In a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, NASA astronauts Air Force Col. Robert Behnken and retired Marine Corps Col. Douglas Hurley launched at 3:22 p.m. EDT May 30, from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida–the same launch pad used for the Apollo 11 Moon Landing mission.

They were the first astronauts to fly into space from U.S. soil in nine years aboard the first commercially built and operated American spacecraft to carry humans to orbit, opening a new era in human spaceflight.

The astronauts’ spacecraft then docked with International Space Station’s Harmony module at 10:16 a.m. EDT May 31, where Behnken and Hurley were welcomed as crew members of Expedition 63 by fellow NASA astronaut Navy Capt. Chris Cassidy.

The Road Less Traveled: Wali Tasleem’s Journey From Afghan Commando to Successful American

Astronaut U.S. Air Force Col. Robert Behnken is welcomed aboard the International Space Station after he and retired Marine Col. Douglas Hurley docked their SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft on Sunday, March 31, 2020. The two astronauts were the first to launch from American soil in nine years. (STILL PHOTO FROM VIDEO // NASA)

In addition, U.S. Air Force “Guardian Angel” pararescue forces were pre-positioned in key locations, alert and ready to deploy at a moment’s notice, had the astronauts needed to abort the launch and splash down within 200 nautical miles of the launch site. An HC-130 Combat King II aircraft along with two HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters were set to deploy from Patrick Air Force Base, Florida, if needed.

These aircraft will carry a team of up to nine pararescue specialists along with rescue equipment and medical supplies. The pararescue specialists would jump from the aircraft with inflatable boats and an inflatable ring called a stabilization collar to steady the capsule and other equipment in the water.

The Road Less Traveled: Wali Tasleem’s Journey From Afghan Commando to Successful American

Pararescue specialists from the 304th Rescue Squadron, located in Portland, Oregon and supporting the 45th Operations Group’s Detachment 3, based out of Patrick Air Force Base, prepare equipment during an April astronaut rescue exercise with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and SpaceX off of Florida’s eastern coast. The pararescue specialists, also known as “Guardian Angels,” jumped from military aircraft and simulated a rescue operation to demonstrate their ability to safely remove crew from the SpaceX Crew Dragon in the unlikely event of an emergency landing. The pararescue specialists are fully qualified paramedics able to perform field surgery, if necessary. (PHOTO // U.S. AIR FORCE)

For contingency landings outside of the 200 nautical mile-radius, a C-17 Globesmater III aircraft would have deployed with the same type of team and equipment to execute rescue operation from either Charleston AFB, South Carolina, or Hickam AFB, Hawaii, depending on the splashdown location.

The “Guardian Angels” will also be ready when the astronauts return to Earth.

This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Defectors living openly in US happens ‘far more often than people would think’

A former Russian official whose background matches descriptions of a high-level CIA spy hurriedly extracted from Russia has been living openly outside Washington, DC, under his own name.

According to documents from a 2017 real-estate purchase reviewed by Insider, Oleg Smolenkov bought a house in the DC area in 2018 for $925,000.

Intelligence sources told Insider that such a situation — a former agent living under his own name — was less unusual than it might at first appear, partly because of precedent and the unique personality type of high-level sources.


Smolenkov was named in Russian media Sep. 10, 2019, as a possible identity of the extracted spy. Reuters and the BBC were among Western outlets to also report the name.

A spokesman for the Kremlin said Smolenkov had worked for the Russian state but reportedly dismissed reports that a high-level spy had been extracted as “pulp fiction.”

The Road Less Traveled: Wali Tasleem’s Journey From Afghan Commando to Successful American

Smolenkov was named in the wake of reports by The New York Times and CNN that described an unnamed Russian official who worked for the CIA for decades before fleeing to the US in the wake of the 2016 presidential election.

The descriptions from Russia of Smolenkov’s work for the Kremlin, the timing of his disappearance in 2017, and his presence in the suburbs of Washington, DC, appear to match the reports.

When an NBC News reporter knocked on the door of the Smolenkov house Sep. 9, 2019, he was intercepted by unidentified men asking what he was doing.

Two former FBI officials told NBC News that they thought the man in Virginia was the intelligence asset.

That asset is reported to have supplied critical information that helped shape the US government’s understanding of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

The asset’s identity remains unconfirmed. Among assets in a similar position, however, the practice of living openly in a Western country under a real name would not be unusual, according to a former US Drug Enforcement Agency agent who regularly ran intelligence and drug-cartel sources.

“Not shocking at all to those of us who have been there,” said the former member of the DEA’s special-operations division, which handles high-level investigations and sources.

“A guy like Smolenkov spent decades working his way to the top of the Russian government and succeeded while also being an asset for the CIA,” the source said. He asked for anonymity to protect former sources and assets around the world.

“That level of political success at the same time he knew every day for decades he could be revealed and arrested usually requires a special level of ego and appetite for risk,” the source said.

“So it’s not shocking that the first reports said he turned down a chance in 2016 to escape before being convinced by the media coverage that he finally had to go in 2017. Getting him to give up that level of status inside his own homeland along with the status he secretly held with the CIA … it’s a powerful combination.”

Three other former intelligence agents contacted by Insider were less willing to talk about the story, which immediately grabbed the attention of the media and intelligence circles Sep. 9, 2019.

But all three noted that Russian intelligence assets tended to keep their identities intact after defection despite usual pleas from their handlers to adopt fake names and go into hiding.

All three noted that the Russian defectors Sergei Skripal and Alexander Litvinenko lived openly in the UK after fleeing Russia and continued to consult for intelligence services and private companies under their own names.

The Road Less Traveled: Wali Tasleem’s Journey From Afghan Commando to Successful American

Footage of Sergei Skripal’s 2006 trial.

(Sky News)

Both men were poisoned in cases where UK has blamed the Russian state.

Skripal and his daughter narrowly survived a nerve-agent poisoning in 2018, while Litvinenko died in 2006 after drinking tea laced with radioactive poison.

“It’s unlikely that someone with the level of ambition to rise that high in the Kremlin while working as an agent for the Americans would want to easily drop the social status that came with both sides of their double life,” the former DEA agent said.

“And it gets even harder to convince them they’re actually threatened and need to go into deep witness-protection programs if they have families that probably didn’t know they were working for another country on the side.

“Then you add that these are people rather used to risk and living off their wits and so ego plays a huge role.”

When asked how often high-level defectors refused to completely abandon their old life and identity, the former DEA agent said “far more often than people would think.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Why medics telling you to change your socks is actually sound advice

If you’ve ever gone to see a medic or corpsman, chances are they’ve offered up their standard set of advice: drink some water, take a knee and change your socks. Troops use this “profound medical expertise” as a catchall for any kind of ailment you may have.

Your feet are starting to boil over from this ruck march? You should have a pair of socks in your pack. Starting to vomit profusely? Change your socks and down some Motrin. Here’s a pair of socks with your name on it, buddy!

All jokes aside, when medics recommend you change your socks, here’s why you should heed their advice.


The Road Less Traveled: Wali Tasleem’s Journey From Afghan Commando to Successful American
“Huh. That doesn’t look good. You should change your socks about that,” said every medic ever.
(U.S. Army photo by Capt. Michael Merrill)

It doesn’t matter if you’re the laziest airman in the chAir Force or the most intense operator in SOCOM, wearing the same pair of socks two days in a row is extremely unhygienic. Regardless of how active you are, your feet will get nasty and socks just collect all those germs and bacteria.

Being in the military means that your feet are constantly put to the test, exposed to all the crud that troops walk through in the field. If you shower and put on a fresh set of clothes every morning, you’ll be fine. But if you’re constantly on the move and have to skip your morning routine, all that bacteria is left with nowhere to go but into your skin.

Letting that nastiness build up on the soles of your feet can lead to a fungal infection, which leads to countless other foot-related problems. I’ll spare you the graphic details (and images), but it’s not pretty. Just know that trench foot is a very serious condition that will take you out of fight and it can happen if you wear dirty, sweaty socks too long.

The Road Less Traveled: Wali Tasleem’s Journey From Afghan Commando to Successful American
It really can cure (almost) everything!

But let’s not forget one of the biggest concerns of foot health: popped blisters. Over the course of a ruck march, the friction of your boots constantly hitting the pavement could cause your feet to form blisters. Those blisters may be painful, but they’re actually your body’s way of trying to heal the damage your feet sustained.

If that blister were to pop, though — which, if you’re on a ruck march with no rest stop in sight, is highly likely — then all that bacteria in your socks could infect that tiny, seemingly insignificant wound. That wound could turn gangrenous by the time you finish the 24-miler. In the worst possible scenario, the bacteria then makes its way into your bloodstream and you go into septic shock, which is very much life-threatening.

The only way to prevent this from happening is to take the advice from your medic or corpsman and change your socks at every occasion.

MIGHTY CULTURE

WATCH: The Oldest Trainee in Fort Sill History

Most people who join the Military are young adults. In fact, as of 2012, the US Army reported the average age of people who enlist is 20.7 years. That’s almost as young as young adults come. Generally speaking, the maximum age of enlistment for most military branches is 35. However, there is one caveat: if you’ve served in the military before, they can waive the age limit. This means that some trainees might be even older. of course, that’s a rare exception. But it happens. Like with Spc. Swanson, BCT trainee at Fort Sill.  

A peek inside basic training at age 49

Fort Sill, an Army post in Lawton, Oklahoma is one of four Army BCT locations. It is also the post where John Swanson made the record for being the oldest trainee in Sill history. Swanson did his nine-and-a-half weeks of training at age 49, which was allowed because he had been in the military previously. The fact that he had also been in combat before earned Swanson a lot of respect from his fellow trainees. 

Swanson said his experience at Fort Sill not only re-trained him for the military, but it also gave him an inside view of the younger generation. He now has a much better understanding of how things work today versus the way things worked when he was a young adult. One of the things his Fort Sill Gen Z peers taught him was how to find humor in everything. Before re-doing his training at age 49, he found himself to be a lot more serious. Now Swanson has lightened up. 

Keeping up with the kids half his age couldn’t have been easy

Many of the other trainees, often half of Swanson’s age or even younger, watched in amazement at what Swanson was doing. The fact that he was so much older than them but was physically able to keep up with all the strenuous activity that Basic Training involves was notably impressive. 

Some even said it motivated them to push a little bit harder than they might have otherwise. Watching Swanson push on, doing things like one-armed push-ups when one of his shoulders started to hurt, gave them a true role model right in front of their faces. 

No slack for Swanson

Age and prior service didn’t mean they went easy on Swanson throughout his second time around at Basic Training either. They treated them just as they treated every other trainee, which is the way it should be. Giving Swanson slack would have defeated the purpose of re-enlisting anyway. But we can’t help but wonder what it was like for the Drill Sergeants shouting at him knowing full well he was twice their age.

Related: 5 of the worst misconceptions to have when joining the military

MIGHTY CULTURE

This band’s veterans served in all conflicts from WWII to the GWOT

The Iowa Military Veterans Band boasts a roster of 100 veterans who have served in almost every conflict from WWII to the GWOT. These musician veterans represent every branch of the military – even the Coasties!

And the crowd went wild!

The Iowa Military Veterans Band got together to perform at the dedication of a WWII monument back in 1996. That just made sense, since the majority of the veterans at that time served in WWII. Others served in Korea and Vietnam in both combat and combat support units. But the crowd responded so well to their performance that these talented musicians decided to stay together and permanently form a band. They’re still going strong 20 years later!

Music has been a part of military history since, well, forever. Back in the day, regiments used to perform on the field to convey orders and keep the grunts motivated. Then militaries got wise and formed official bands that traveled with their units to keep up the espirit de corps. In fact, that’s where marching bands as we know them came from! These days, there are plenty of examples of great military bands. Some have even gained fame from shows like America’s Got Talent.

It’s not likely the Iowa Veterans Band is going to perform for AGT anytime soon, but maybe they should think about it?

Service is part of their blood

Iowa Military Veterans Band
The Iowa Military Veterans Band in all their glory

Here’s what makes this band so special. It’s the only one of its kind in the entire country. True to their military roots, the Iowa Military Veterans band is officially a nonprofit organization. They’re all about giving back, helping their community, and improving the lives of veterans. They help support other VSOs in the Iowa veteran community. All concerts are free and most of the admin expenses are paid for by veterans themselves.

They keep going thanks to generous donations from Iowa businesses and individuals. Not once have they used tax dollars for support. 

An orchestra of veterans

Of course, these accomplished musicians in the Iowa Military Veterans Band play a variety of instruments. This includes the usual you’d expect in a band like trumpets and clarinets. But there are also some harp and euphonium musicians, too! As a matter of fact, the band even has a vocalist. With that in mind, most of the band’s set lists are performances of songs by great American composers. These include the big names like Karl King, Meredith Wilson, John Philip Sousa, Irving Berlin and George M. Cohan.

In a normal year, the band plays between six and seven concerts from early May to Veteran’s Day in November. All members volunteer their time for rehearsals and shows to share their love of music with the people of Iowa.

MIGHTY CULTURE

How this veteran went from homeless to graduate school

Harold Taylor was raised by a mother who gave birth to him at 14 years old. She kept him, despite her family’s continuous pressure to give him up for adoption. With her constant support and encouragement, years later, he found himself playing as the starting running back for the Lincoln University football team on a full scholarship. He was also in ROTC and had gone through basic as a cadet, planning to be commissioned as an officer when he graduated. The football team folded and he lost his scholarship, so he went home to St. Louis, MO. He found himself just sitting around, a pastime he didn’t enjoy. So, he called an Army recruiter.


Taylor went on to serve in the Army from 1990-1998. He served in combat during Desert Storm and was a part of the 82nd Airborne Division for three years before he separated from the military. When he left the Army, he went on to serve something else – alcohol.

The Road Less Traveled: Wali Tasleem’s Journey From Afghan Commando to Successful American

“I chose alcohol over everything,” he said. He describes a situation where his girlfriend at the time gave him an ultimatum; her or alcohol. He left right then and went to the corner store to buy beer. When he returned his things were packed up sitting outside. Taylor took his stuff and went to a boarding house in St. Louis while his addiction only got worse. Taylor shared that he became increasingly paranoid, thinking people were following him and trying to hurt him. He quickly started accumulating a heavy police record and soon found himself homeless.

He recalls the time – after years of being homeless – where he was sleeping in an abandoned vacant building under a pile of clothes to keep warm. One day people came into that vacant building to board it up, and he felt them kick him, but they didn’t see him because he was buried under the clothes. “I remember spending Thanksgiving laying there thinking I am going to die in this building,” he said.

Taylor shared that almost dying is what finally made him realize he was wasting his life away. He explained that he had set what he thought was a controlled fire to keep warm and he woke up with the blanket covering him completely engulfed in flames. He escaped without injury and vowed to make a change. It was 2012, and the day after that fire, he took a bus to the Jefferson Barracks VA and asked for help. He was immediately put into substance abuse treatment and given the care and support he needed. Taylor was soon diagnosed with anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, caused by his time in service.

The Road Less Traveled: Wali Tasleem’s Journey From Afghan Commando to Successful American

When he finished his initial treatment, he was brought to The Joseph Center – a veteran’s homeless shelter in East St. Louis, IL, which provides trauma-informed services for male military veterans. It was founded by Martha Watts and her husband, Carl. She was a former VA nurse and wanted more for the veterans she was serving.

Taylor admits that he wasn’t initially the best resident of The Joseph Center, rebelling often against their rules. Taylor smiled when he remembered his case manager Mr. Anderson pulling him aside one day after a few weeks of what he called his “nonsense behavior” and telling him he was too bright for what he was doing. He went into his room immediately after the conversation and said he started changing.

Taylor went on to graduate with his associate’s in criminal justice, which he shared was both ironic and humorous due to his criminal record. He didn’t stop with just his associate’s but graduated (with honors) with his Bachelor of Social Work degree. He had a professor in that program that asked, “Why stop”? He took her advice to heart and is now finishing up his last two semesters for his Master of Social Work. His picture is on a billboard now for the University of Missouri-St. Louis, with other student veterans. “I’m happy, I like the person I see in the mirror now,” said Taylor.

These days, Taylor doesn’t recognize the man he used to be before The Joseph Center. He is a career counselor at Employment Connections in St. Louis and plans to work for the VA one day serving veterans like him. He’s also a passionate advocate for people of color serving in the military. Taylor shared a story of coming home and having someone use a derogatory term towards him because he was a black man in uniform. “We serve our country, all of us, but then we come home to this kind of brutality and disrespect. I didn’t fight for that, we didn’t fight for that,” he said. He said he is proud to be who he is, but wishes people who didn’t look like him could put his shoes on for a bit.

It is with this in mind that Taylor is not only a graduate student and full-time career counselor, but also a part-time case manager at The Joseph Center. He spends his shift at the center as a mentor to the new veterans coming through the homeless shelter and hopes that by leading by example he can help them find their way – just like he found his.

MIGHTY CULTURE

That time the Louisiana National Guard celebrated ‘Saudi Gras’ in Desert Storm

Everyone who deploys during a holiday makes a special effort to feel as if they aren’t really missing it. No matter how short the war is, no one wants to miss one of those crucial days. Even if the entire buildup and fighting lasted just a few months, you still want that piece of home. The Louisiana National Guard was no different in the Gulf War. No way were they going to miss Mardi Gras.


So the celebration may not have been as raucous as it is on Bourbon Street. Nor was it a family affair as it is in other wards and and cities in Louisiana. Still, it was important to the men and women who deployed to Saudi Arabia during operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield. Mardi Gras isn’t something to be casually missed, so the unit threw their own version: Saudi Gras.

In 1990, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq invaded neighboring Kuwait, sparking off a huge U.S. military buildup in Saudi Arabia call Operation Desert Shield as a bulwark against further Iraqi aggression. It was part of a larger plan to go on the offensive and expel Iraq from Kuwait in an operation known as Desert Storm. The forces required to execute Desert Storm and secure Saudi Arabia took a while to arrive. From August 1990 to January 1991, American and Coalition troops began arriving in the Saudi Kingdom.

One of those units called to action was the Louisiana National Guard, who arrived in late January and early February. Their only problem was that Mardi Gras began on Feb. 12 that year.

The Road Less Traveled: Wali Tasleem’s Journey From Afghan Commando to Successful American

(Louisiana National Guard)

Mardi Gras is a Christian tradition, a celebration that begins on the Feast of the Epiphany and runs through Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. While Mardi Gras may not be a big deal in the rest of the United States, for the French-descended people of Louisiana, it is. For them, it’s more than beads on Bourbon Street – it’s a time of celebration, good food, parades, and family. Some 8,000 miles away from the French Quarter, the members of Lousiana’s National Guard deployed to Saudi Arabia decided they wouldn’t let the holiday pass them by.

Saudi Arabia saw its first-ever Mardi Gras celebration, dubbed “Saudi Gras” by those who were a part of it.

The Road Less Traveled: Wali Tasleem’s Journey From Afghan Commando to Successful American

(Louisiana National Guard)

The beer was non-alcoholic (by necessity and general order), the parade queen was a Lt. Col. who volunteered to dress in drag, and the Saudi Gras King, a member of the 926th Tactical Fighter Group and native of New Orleans, was given the title “King Scud.” Elsewhere, Louisianans formed ad-hoc krewes, those celebrating Mardi Gras with the pledge to form a group that hosts a party, builds parade floats, and attends social events all year long.

You can take the troops out of Louisiana, but you can’t take Louisiana out of the troops.

popular

6 reasons Marines go crazy for the M27 automatic rifle

Over the course of the past two wars, Marines learned a lot of lessons and gained a lot of new weapons and equipment to increase their effectiveness on the modern battlefield. But when we started to realize just how outdated the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon became, the search for a replacement began.

The M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle did just that for the standard Marine infantry squad, much to the disdain of many Marines until they realized its application fit a larger spectrum than the M249. Every Marine has their favorite gun and once the M27 became more widely used, it wasn’t long before it became a grunt’s best friend and greatest ally.

Once you hear an automatic weapon begin firing bursts, adrenaline and primal instinct start flowing and you get this sudden urge to break things. The M27 offers this experience to infantry Marines everywhere and that can be reason enough for a grunt to fall in love with it — but the love they have for the IAR goes beyond the feeling of automatic fire.

Here are the main reasons the M27 gets so much love:


The Road Less Traveled: Wali Tasleem’s Journey From Afghan Commando to Successful American

It’s just a fun weapon to shoot.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Aaron Henson)

They’re fully automatic

Of course this is #1, Marines love weapons that fire on full auto or ones that cause explosions. It’s the chaos and destructive power that will get them motivated to break the enemy’s stuff.

The Road Less Traveled: Wali Tasleem’s Journey From Afghan Commando to Successful American

It’s hard to miss with an M27.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Caleb T. Maher)

They’re accurate

The M27 is insanely precise and when its shooter has mastered the basic fundamentals of marksmanship, it creates a dangerous duo. An automatic weapon is only as good as the rifleman holding it. Let that Marine also be an expert in ammo conservation and they’ve become one of the most effective players on the board. 

The Road Less Traveled: Wali Tasleem’s Journey From Afghan Commando to Successful American

The weight makes it easier to maneuver and shoulder-firing isn’t a problem, either.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Holly Pernell)

They’re light-weight

As opposed to the M249 SAW’s 17 pounds unloaded, the M27 comes in 8 pounds lighter when it’s loaded. Unfortunately, you’ll make up that weight with the amount of ammo you’ll have to carry but at least the weapon’s weight isn’t a problem.

The Road Less Traveled: Wali Tasleem’s Journey From Afghan Commando to Successful American

You’ll be surprised at how clean it is even after it’s fired 800 rounds.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Tojyea G. Matally)

An automatic rifle that’s easy to clean

The M27 features a gas-operated short-stroke piston which means the carbon residue is mostly outside of the chamber which means most of the clean-up is done on the inside of the hand guards.

The Road Less Traveled: Wali Tasleem’s Journey From Afghan Commando to Successful American

They can even be fired from helicopters.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Breanna L. Weisenberger

Versatility

In the case of urban combat, size matters. The shorter barrel, the easier your life will be. Maneuverability is key and being able to fit yourself and your weapon in tight quarters helps a lot. Also considering the fact that it can fire on semi-automatic and is a closed-bolt system, this weapon can be the first through the door.

The Road Less Traveled: Wali Tasleem’s Journey From Afghan Commando to Successful American

Just look at that design.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Caleb T. Maher)

They’re beautiful

Let’s be honest, the Heckler Koch design just looks good in your hands and when an automatic gun is both pleasing to the eyes and functionally sound, it’s good for the soul.

MIGHTY CULTURE

These may be the top 6 finalists for the new Space Force logo

Anyone with a passing interest in the military, politics, or current events has probably heard by now that there’s a U.S. Space Force on the way, just as soon as Congress can shell out eight billion dollars for the effort. But lack of actual funds didn’t stop Vice President Mike Pence from making the announcement about the Space Force. Love him or hate him, you have to admit that once the President decides to do something, the Trump Administration moves quickly to do it.

The White House is already building a Space Force culture. It’s starting with a logo for the new branch and it wants a handful of special Americans to help choose the new look.


There were few reports that a political action committee related to President Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign sent out an email blast just hours after VP Pence’s announcement. The email blast from the Trump Make America Great Again Committee featured six images that looked more like NASA mission patches than military branch logos.

The Road Less Traveled: Wali Tasleem’s Journey From Afghan Commando to Successful American
The Road Less Traveled: Wali Tasleem’s Journey From Afghan Commando to Successful American

The email itself was signed by Brad Parscale, Campaign Manager for Donald J. Trump for President, 2020. It encouraged recipients to prepare to “buy a whole line of gear” related to the Space Force and the logo they were asked to pick. One of the logos was a direct rip of the current NASA logo, while another implied that Mars would be the eventual goal of the new Space Force.

The Road Less Traveled: Wali Tasleem’s Journey From Afghan Commando to Successful American
The Road Less Traveled: Wali Tasleem’s Journey From Afghan Commando to Successful American

These logo possibilities may or may not have anything to actually do with the real Space Force. But the email blast was apparently sent to members of the news media, including ABC’s Justin Fishel and CNN’s Jake Tapper, and did imply that President Trump personally wanted input on the Space Force logo.

But only Trump’s campaign donors can officially vote for a logo via the email sent directly from the Trump Make America Great Again Committee.

The Road Less Traveled: Wali Tasleem’s Journey From Afghan Commando to Successful American
The Road Less Traveled: Wali Tasleem’s Journey From Afghan Commando to Successful American

Meanwhile, in a less official capacity, Bloomberg asked eight leading industry designers to design Space Force logos for the military, and what they came up with was decidedly different, blending traditional military patches, corporate logos, nostalgia for pop culture, and even President Trump himself.

The Road Less Traveled: Wali Tasleem’s Journey From Afghan Commando to Successful American
MIGHTY CULTURE

Here’s how this Army general wishes he could handle internet trolls

Anybody that spends even the slightest bit of time on social media today is woefully aware of internet trolls. If, by some miracle of a chance, you haven’t had a run in with one of these anger facilitators on platforms like Facebook or Twitter, you’ve still almost certainly seen their kind surfacing in the comments sections under news articles and YouTube videos as though these digital outlets are little more than the sharpie-laden door of a bathroom stall.

They strike without warning, offering nonsense arguments without context or citation, caps-lock tirades, or insulting one-liners that someone, somewhere apparently thinks is funny while the rest of us are stuck scratching our heads or shaking our fists. In the societal hierarchy of the digital domain, internet trolls rank somewhere just below trantrum-throwing toddlers in terms of discourse, but their presence has become such an expected bit of online life that most of us log into our social media platforms of choice with our eyes already rolling in anticipation.


But what if it didn’t have to be that way? That was clearly on Lt. Gen. Ted Martin’s mind this week. The deputy commanding general of Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) released a hilarious video on Twitter Wednesday showing exactly how he’d like to handle the masses of keyboard warriors.


Twitter

twitter.com

“I got another snarky comment,” Martin tells a member of his staff after calling him into his office. “Can you get ahold of [Army Cyber]? I need to find out about @jackwagon. I don’t know who that is.”
The Road Less Traveled: Wali Tasleem’s Journey From Afghan Commando to Successful American

Not the hero we deserve, but the hero we need. (US Army photo)

Obviously, war fighting is serious business, as is training for the same–but it’s nice to see someone at the 3-Star level exercising his sense of humor in what has otherwise been one brutal year.

Unfortunately, we probably won’t be able to get the 10-digit grid coordinates of every snarky jackwagon with a black belt in keyboard-fu, but at least we know we’re not the only ones that wish we could send a tank platoon and some Rangers after them.

Bravo Zulu, sir.

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.

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