Dr. Laura Sidari is speaking out because her family suffered a horrendous loss on Christmas Day 2017.
The Air Force psychiatrist at the Wright-Patterson Medical Center on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, and her husband, Dr. Anthony Sidari, a rheumatologist, lost their 4-year-old son, Leon, to complications of influenza. He passed away at a medical facility elsewhere from bacterial pneumonia following the flu, two days following onset of symptoms on Dec. 23, 2018.
Although the Sidari family had vaccinated for the flu in prior seasons, Leon died prior to receiving his flu shot that season, Sidari said. He had been scheduled to be vaccinated Jan. 3, 2018.
“Last year, if I had seen a story like my own, I would have prioritized the flu shot differently,” she said. “As a physician, even I was unaware of the significant risk that the flu posed to my healthy child. Through reaching out to others, including other physician parents, I have discovered that I am not alone in that misconception.”
“Leon’s story places a name and a face — a beautiful and loved and special human being — behind the numbers that are often buried in databases and scattered across headlines,” Sidari said. “As difficult as it is for me as a mother, I share Leon’s story so that someday other families may not have to. As I have devastatingly learned through Leon, flu-related complications are often aggressive and difficult to treat.”
Healthy children may be more at risk for suffering a flu-related death. Research of flu-related deaths provides evidence for the flu shot providing a 65 percent reduction in risk for flu-related mortality in healthy children, and a 41 percent reduction in mortality risk for children with pre-existing medical issues. Approximately 80 percent of children who pass away each season from flu-related complications did not have their flu shot that season.
Four-year-old Leon Sidari passed away from bacterial pneumonia following the flu two days after the onset of symptoms on Dec. 25, 2017.
“Being healthy is a risk factor for rapid death,” Sidari said. “I didn’t even know that as a physician. Compared to other pediatric populations, they die more quickly.”
As of Oct. 6, 2018, there have been more than 180 children lost to the 2017-2018 influenza season, according to online information published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many of these children died before reaching the hospital.
Sidari is quick to point out that she is speaking only from her perspective as a mother — not a pediatric specialist — who made sure her children received every vaccination recommended. After Leon’s death, she tried to learn as much as she could about influenza in the hope that the Sidari family’s then 2-year-old son, Tristan, and 7-week-old son, Cameron, would not also pass away.
“I really wanted to understand the likelihood that we were going to lose our other children,” she said. “That’s how I found this information.”
The mother, with the full support of her husband, now wants to dispel the common misconception that good health affords protection against the flu, and the entire Sidari family received flu shots at the Wright-Patterson Medical Center immunization clinic the first week of October 2018.
The American Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC recommend the flu shot for everyone older than the age of 6 months with few medical exceptions.
The Sidari family faces this holiday season without their first-born, who loved Christmas. His mother remembers him as good big brother who was kind and sensitive, loved cats and gave compliments. Small things are what mattered to him.
“Nothing prepares you as a parent for coming home and having to unwrap Christmas presents for a child who never can,” she said.
“As parents, there are many demands on our time and energy, particularly around the holidays,” Sidari said. “The flu shot can too easily and understandably slip through the cracks due to busy schedules.
“In my experience, it is worth prioritizing this time of the year. This is a necessary appointment. Bringing awareness to the flu shot will not bring Leon back. I do, however, believe in the healing power of connecting with others,” she said.
She also encourages people to explore multiple options if flu shots are unavailable through their usual source.
“It is my hope that Leon’s story can help save lives,” Sidari said. “Especially for children like Leon, I encourage other families to consider making the flu shot a priority, this season and every season. It’s the best way of reducing risk we have. #FluShotsForLeon.”
An F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jet made its initial flight after receiving the first US Air Force “Ghost” paint scheme, May 23, 2019.
The design was chosen by a poll held by Brig. Gen. Robert Novotny, 57th Wing commander, on his social media account to add a new look to the 64th Aggressor Squadron (AGRS).
“I love this job, and I love what we do at Nellis Air Force Base, so I want to take any opportunity to boast about our fine men and women who do great work for their nation,” said Novotny.
“Social Media gives me a chance to connect directly with the folks who have a similar passion for military aviation.”
Aircraft painters for Mission First (M1) assigned to the 57th Aircraft Maintenance Group sand the tail of an F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jet assigned to the 64th Aggressor Squadron inside the corrosion shop on Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, May 1, 2019.
(US Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Bryan Guthrie)
Jesus Yanez, 57th Maintenance Group Mission First (M1) aircraft painter, sprays the underside of an F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jet assigned to the 64th Aggressor Squadron inside the corrosion shop on Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, May 8, 2019.
(US Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Bryan Guthrie)
Troy Blaschko, 57th Maintenance Group Mission First (M1) aircraft painter, peels off letters for the masking, inside the corrosion shop on Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, May 7, 2019.
(US Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Bryan Guthrie)
An F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jet assigned to the 64th Aggressor Squadron (AGRS) received new decals and stenciling inside the corrosion shop on Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, May 16, 2019.
(US Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Bryan Guthrie)
Peter Mossudo and Troy Blaschko, both 57th Maintenance Group Mission First (M1) aircraft painters, place masking for stenciling on an F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jet inside the corrosion shop on Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, May 16, 2019.
(US Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Bryan Guthrie)
An F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jet assigned to the 64th Aggressors Squadron Viper Aircraft Maintenance Unit on the flight line at Nellis Air Force base, Nevada, May 21, 2019.
(US Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Bryan Guthrie)
Senior Airman Rodolfo Aguayo-Santacruz, 926th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron (AMXS) crew chief, prepares to control an F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jet getting towed out of the corrosion shop on Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, May 20, 2019.
(US Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Bryan Guthrie)
A US Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon with the “Ghost” paint scheme at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.
In their 75 years building, fighting and serving on every continent – even Antarctica – only one Navy Seabee has been bestowed with the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for valor in combat.
Marvin G. Shields was a third-class construction mechanic with Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 11 and assigned to a nine-member Seabee team at a small camp near Dong Xoai, Vietnam. The camp housed Army Green Berets with 5th Special Forces Group, who were advising a force of Vietnamese soldiers including 400 local Montagnards.
Shields, then 25, who enlisted in 1962, was killed in an intense 1965 battle in Vietnam. His actions under fire led to the posthumous medal, awarded in 1966, “for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.”
On June 10, 1965, Dong Xoai came under heavy fire from a regimental-sized Viet Cong force, who pummeled the camp with machine guns and heavy weapons. The initial attack wounded Shields but didn’t stop him.
“Shields continued to resupply his fellow Americans who needed ammunition and to return the enemy fire for a period of approximately three hours, at which time the Viet Cong launched a massive attack at close range with flame-throwers, hand grenades and small-arms fire,” his award citation states. “Wounded a second time during this attack, Shields nevertheless assisted in carrying a more critically wounded man to safety, and then resumed firing at the enemy for four more hours.”
Still, Shields kept fighting.
“When the commander asked for a volunteer to accompany him in an attempt to knock out an enemy machinegun emplacement which was endangering the lives of all personnel in the compound because of the accuracy of its fire, Shields unhesitatingly volunteered for this extremely hazardous mission,” reads the citation. “Proceeding toward their objective with a 3.5-inch rocket launcher, they succeeded in destroying the enemy machinegun emplacement, thus undoubtedly saving the lives of many of their fellow servicemen in the compound.”
But hostile fire ultimately got Shields, mortally wounding him as he was taking cover.
“His heroic initiative and great personal valor in the face of intense enemy fire sustain and enhance the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service,” the citation states.
The five-day Battle of Dong Xoai also garnered a Medal of Honor for a junior Green Beret officer, 2nd Lt. Charles Q. Williams, who was wounded several times in the battle and survived the war.
Shields’ unit – Seabee Team 1104 – had come together just four months before the attack on their Dong Xoai camp, Frank Peterlin, the team’s officer-in-charge, recalled in a 2015 Navy news article about the Navy’s 50th commemoration of the battle and Shields’ award.
“In the evening, he [Shields] would have his guitar at his side and would love to sing and dance, especially with the Cambodian troops at our first camp,” said Peterlin, who attended the ceremony. “Marvin was always upbeat. At Dong Xoai, he was joking and encouraging his teammates throughout the battle.” Peterlin, a lieutenant junior-grade at the time, was wounded amid the fight and earned the Silver Star medal for his actions leading the men.
Shields, who was survived by his wife and young daughter, has been long remembered by Port Townsend, Washington, his hometown.
At the time of his death, the Port Townsend Leader newspaper wrote of him and his service: “A 1958 graduate of Port Townsend High School, Shields was one of the first employees on the Mineral Basin in Mining Development at Hyder, Alaska, when the locally organized project was initiated there by Walt Moa of Discovery Bay. He worked at Mineral Basin during the summer before graduating from school and returned there as a full time construction worker in 1958. He was called into the Navy early in 1962, and was due to be discharged in January.”
The Navy honored his memory with a frigate in his name (retired in 1992). The official U.S. Navy Seabee Museum in Port Hueneme, California, has a large display about him its Hall of Heroes. Navy Seabees have never forgotten Shields, who is buried in Gardiner, Washington. Inscribed on his black-granite headstone is this: “He died as he lived, for his friends.”
The keen-eyed viewer may have noticed Tyrone “Rone” Woods, played by James Badge Dale, sporting a Rolex Submariner 116610 in Michael Bay’s 2016 film 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi. Some may write this appearance off as a Hollywood product placement by Bay, a known Rolex fan. However, the watch actually shows great attention to detail in Rone’s story and is an integral part of Navy SEAL history.
Rone’s Submariner is identifiable by its iconic cyclops magnifier (Paramount Pictures)
Rolex introduced the Submariner watch in 1954. While the watch has evolved into a luxury item that broadcasts wealth and success today, it was originally designed as a rugged, no-nonsense tool watch that professional divers could depend on. Its uni-directional rotating bezel allowed them to time their dives, its robust and accurate movement meant that it could keep good time in an age before battery-powered quartz timepieces, and its water-resistance rating of 660 feet meant that it could do all of this at the depths that professional divers operate at.
In 1962, the first two Navy SEAL teams were formed and they quickly adopted the Submariner as their dive watch. Tudor, Rolex’s more affordable sister brand (think Chevrolet to Cadillac), also made Submariners which were issued to the Navy’s elite warriors. By 1967, Rolex had picked up on the professional military application of their watches and utilized it in a magazine advertisement saying, “For years, it’s been standard gear for submariners, frogmen, and all who make their living on the seas.”
In 1967, a Rolex Submariner cost 0, or about id=”listicle-2648518781″,600 in today’s money (Rolex)
The Submariner, in both its Rolex and Tudor forms, was so ingrained in Navy SEAL culture and essential to their specialized missions, that it became standard issue. One Vietnam veteran recalled in an interview, “During the training in BUD/S we were issued our Tudor watches, black face for enlisted and blue faced for officers, and these went with us to our next duty station.” Indeed, the SEALs took their issued Submariners with them to the jungles of Vietnam. Like other servicemembers who purchased their own Submariners, the SEALs valued the watch for its ruggedness, dependability, and accuracy.
U.S. Navy SEALs Harry Humphries and Fran Scollise wearing their issued Submariners in Vietnam (Rolex Magazine)
In the decades after Vietnam, the advent of battery-powered dive computers and the evolution of Rolex into an expensive luxury brand caused the Navy to cease its issuance of Submariners to the SEALs. Today, however, some Navy SEALs still maintain the elite organization’s relationship with Rolex on their own dime. While Rone did not wear a Rolex Submariner 116610 as depicted in 13 Hours, he did wear a Rolex Sea-Dweller 16660, a more robust descendant of the Submariner with a greater water-resistance rating.
Rone wearing his Sea-Dweller (Cheryl Croft Bennett)
Before he joined the CIA’s Global Response Staff in 2010, Rone posted on RolexForums.com looking for a shop in the San Diego area where he could sell his Rolex Sea-Dweller and Panerai Luminor (the Italian Navy’s original issued dive watch). Although his post received no replies, the thread has since become a tribute to the late operator since his death in Benghazi in 2012.
Rone’s first and only post on the forum (RolexForums)
Though the fate of Rone’s Sea-Dweller is unknown, the fact that he is shown wearing a Rolex in 13 Hours is a testament to the care and attention to detail that Bay put in to depicting him and the other Americans in Benghazi during the 2012 attack.
At the height of the Vietnam War, up-and-coming commo guys who wanted to learn the art of radio operation would walk into a classroom and see a huge number five written on the chalkboard.
Inevitably, someone’s curiosity would win out and they’d ask what the big number meant. The instructor would then calmly tell them, “That’s your life expectancy, in seconds, in a firefight. So, listen up and you might learn something that’ll keep you alive.”
That number wasn’t some outrageous scare tactic. During the Vietnam War, the odds were tremendously stacked against radio operations — and that 5-second life expectancy was, for some, a grim reality.
To make matters worse, you can’t really control the volume on those radios since the dial was on the wearer’s back. Radio chatter could give your position away, too.
(USMC Historical Archives)
In all fairness, that number was on the more extreme side of estimates. The life expectancy of a radio operator in the Vietnam War ranged between five to six seconds all the way up to a slightly-more-optimistic thirty seconds, depending on your source. If you look at all of the things the radio operators were tasked with, it becomes abundantly clear why commo guys weren’t expected to last long.
The first and most obvious tally in the “you’re screwed” column was the overall weight of the gear radio operators were expected to carry into battle. The PRC-77 radio system weighed 13.5 lbs without batteries. Toss in batteries, some spare batteries, and the unsightly, large encryption device called the NESTOR and you’re looking at carrying 54lbs on your back at all times. Now add your weapon system onto that and try to keep up as you fight alongside your unencumbered brethren. It took a lot of getting used to — but they managed.
If the weight wasn’t problem enough, next comes the antennae. They weren’t all too heavy, but they were extremely uncomfortable to use and would often give your position away to the enemy. The three-foot version was easier on the radio operator, but it wouldn’t work in thick jungles. For that environment, the radio operator needed a ten-foot whip antenna to stick out of their back, which was a great way to draw unwanted attention.
The Viet Cong knew what it meant to take out a guy with a giant, ten-foot antenna sticking out of their back — you might as well have painted a bullseye on them. You take out the radio operator and you effectively avoid dealing with air support. Additionally, it was well known that a radio operator’s place in the marching order was at the heels of the officer-in-charge — two high-priority targets in one spot.
And it wasn’t just the bullets that radio operators had to watch out for. The large antenna also acted as a targeting point for mortars and other explosives. All they had to do was aim for the antenna and they could wipe out anyone near the radio operator. As terrible as it sounds, this meant that the radio operator would sometimes move in isolation, away from the rest of the squad.
It’s unclear exactly how many radio operators lost their lives during the Vietnam War. While many radio operators were fulfilling their MOS, others just had a radio strapped to them in times of need. One thing is for certain, though: Being a radio operator back in the Vietnam War puts you among the most badass troops the military has to offer.
To hear one of these badasses explain what life was like in his own words, check out the video below.
In September, 2013, four masked men entered the Westgate Shopping Mall in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi. In the terrorist attack that ensued, 71 people died, including 62 civilians, five Kenyan troops, and the shooters themselves. More than 200 others were wounded in the attack, which included the collapse of a significant part of the building after a three-day siege. Caught in the attack were oil workers from an international firm who stopped for lunch.
The oil company’s staff were in a second-floor sushi restaurant when their security personnel back at the office learned of what was originally reported as a robbery. Given their background, the two men (their names were never given) immediately identified it as more – it had to be a terrorist attack. They were right. That day, four militants from the Somali terror group, al-Shabaab, infiltrated their way into Kenya and into the mall carrying assault rifles and grenades. The two men headed over to the mall to rescue their embattled comrades.
In their first efforts to get into mall via basement delivery ramp in the parking garage, they ran into a hail of bullets and were forced to double back. On their way back, they ran into 100 people cowering behind an armored car. They rallied the civilians and helped guide them to the safety of the main road in front of the mall. As they exited, they could see bloody hands waving for help as shots were fired on the roof of the car park. The hand disappeared into a mall coffee shop. The SAS veteran enlisted two Kenyan plainclothes policemen and two Kenyan policemen with assault rifles to help them attack the fire escape.
Onlookers during fighting at the Westgate Mall area.
When the six men arrived at the coffee shop, they found 20 dead and 100 more sheltered in place. As one of the officers watched the stairs, the men persuaded the others to climb down the fire escape. There was a “bloodbath” in the adjacent car park rooftop. As the civilians went down the fire escape, the 18-year SAS veteran and the Irish Ranger split up. The SAS operator went out onto the rooftop as the Ranger continued on toward the sushi restaurant where his charges were held.
The SAS paired injured people with the uninjured to hasten their retreat and covered the bodies of the dead. Meanwhile, the Ranger had come under fire from the militants, and his two Kenyan policemen returned fire. He bolted toward the restaurant, where he found the oil company staff hiding in a storeroom, then convinced them to race back to the coffee shop while the policemen held the terrorists at bay. The two men reconnected in the cargo area, hustling the oil company’s staff into a company car. With their charges safe, they pleaded for the Kenyan police to assault the car park, but were rebuffed. The police were waiting on a SWAT team and would not advance without them.
Inside the Westgate Mall after it reopened.
The Brit and the Irishman couldn’t wait. With the help of a uniformed Kenyan soldier and a Sikh civilian who had already escaped the mall, they went back into the fray. They found a Red Cross ambulance that was struggling to remove the dead and wounded people from the roof of the car park. The men worked for an hour with the emergency medical personnel before doctors could arrive. They were about to leave when they got a text from another friend inside the mall.
They went in to retrieve him, too. The three remaining men exited via the trusted route of the fire escape just three hours after the terror attack began. The men rescued all of their personnel and friends, along with hundreds of trapped civilians, aided in the triage of the wounded, and exited the danger zone without any injury to themselves. By the time they left the mall, the police had still not cordoned off the local area. The siege of the mall would last almost two more full days.
Believe it or not, movies usually get the alarms and alerts in fighter jets wrong. (I know, this is shocking information coming from a website that once specialized in identifying mistakes in movies like Basic, The Hunt for Red October, and The Marine.) The fact is, the worst alarms are rarely loud chimes or claxons. Setting off a bunch of horns in the cockpit while a pilot is already stressed would create more problems than it solved.
(U.S. Air Force)
Instead, the worst alarms are usually announced by a calm voice. And pilots often hate that voice.
So here, in a nutshell, is what’s going on. As engineers started making fourth-generation jet fighters, it became apparent that they needed too many alarms to do it all with lights and sounds. No, it would be much faster and more precise to have a human voice say the exact thing that the pilot needs to know.
And also, experiments had shown that pilots losing consciousness could respond to oral instructions for a longer period than they could understand other auditory or visual alarms.
But the last thing a pilot needs in the emotional roller coaster of a dog fight over Eastern Europe or an engine failure over the ocean is someone emotionally screaming at them through their controls. So jet manufacturers hired voice actors to do careful and calm voice recordings. The first was an actor named Kim Crow.
It was Crow’s job to warn pilots that they were about to crash into the ground, that a missile is in the air and hunting them, or that radar on the ground has a lock on them.
So, pilots should love that little voice that calmly alerts them to an emergency, right?
Well, no. And for a few good reasons once you give it a good thought. First of all, these alarms usually go off when things are going very badly. No matter how calm the voice is, you’re going to have an emotional reaction to a voice you only hear when there’s a risk you’re about to die, crash, or accidentally destroy a multi-million dollar aircraft.
But, worse, pilots can’t always spare a hand to turn off the alarm when things are going wrong. Obviously, if you’re dodging Iraqi missiles in Desert Storm and get too close to the deck, you’re going to be too busy escaping the missiles and gaining altitude to toggle off an alarm. But that easily means that some of the most stressful three minutes of your life has a soundtrack, and it’s a woman saying, “Missile alert,” over and over even though you already know there’s a missile.
And so pilots started giving the voices in their planes nicknames, usually derogatory ones. America’s became known as “Bitchin’ Betty.” Britain is known for calling theirs “Nagging Nora.” And Australia reportedly uses “Hank the Yank” because their country apparently thought pilots could quite easily respond to a male voice.
Or maybe Hank is a female nickname in Australia. We’ve never been fighter pilots in Australia.
But while military pilots have mixed feelings toward the voices in their planes, they seem to work. And many of the same tactics are used in civilian planes and helicopters for the same role and for the same reasons.
But just imagine if Siri, Alexa or Cortana only spoke to you when everything was going horribly wrong and wouldn’t shut up during your crises. Yup, you wouldn’t like them much either.
When James Elliott Williams enlisted in the Navy in 1947, World War II was over, and the South Carolina native probably thought he might have a career no different, better, or worse than any other enlisted sailor. History would have other ideas. He just wanted to join the Navy, so bad in fact, he was only 16 when he enlisted. He and a county clerk altered his birth certificate to make him old enough to join. That was just the first bold move of his career.
It’s notable that the most decorated enlisted sailor in Navy history isn’t a SEAL or anything like that, he was a Boatswains Mate.
Chief Ryback approves.
Today’s Boatswain’s Mates now train, direct, and supervise the ship’s personnel in the maintenance of the ship as well as operate machinery to load and unload supplies. They’re kind of the jack of all trades sailor, the oldest rate in the Navy. They repair the ship, provide security, and even drive the damn things. Not three years into James William’s enlistment, the Korean War broke out, and Williams was aboard the destroyer USS Douglas H. Fox. Being a Boatswain’s Mate, he ended up on numerous small boat raiding parties into North Korea.
It suited him just fine. Williams continued his enlistment even after the war ended. His real moment to shine came during his time in Vietnam.
Yeahhhhhhhh buddy. I don’t know this guy, but I’d follow him anywhere.
Williams was the Petty Officer in charge of overseeing patrols in the Mekong Delta as the Vietnam War was heating up in 1966 and 1967. At the time in his career when other NCOs would be seeking a quiet place to end their enlistment, Williams was tossing ammunition over his shoulder and telling junior sailors everything was going to be okay – and it was, because Williams was going to see to that.
That’s what happened on Oct. 31, 1966, when Williams’ two boat patrol was ambushed by two enemy boats on the river. He collected his “19-year-old and scared to death” gunners, and directed a return fire that destroyed one boat and sent the other running away for dear life. It wouldn’t get away, as the sailors chased the damaged enemy boat right into…
An enemy stronghold.
Suddenly, they were outnumbered 65-to-1. The VC opened up on the Americans with withering AK-47 and RPG fire. You can probably guess what happened next.
If you guessed the Americans retreated, I’m showing you this photo again because you clearly forgot about it.
Williams led his boat and its crew into the enemy formation, with fortified bunkers shooting at them from the riverbanks, enemy boats swirling around them, and all kinds of different ordnance being thrown their way. As he attacked enemy sampans, junks, and other river craft, he called in for help from UH-1B Huey helicopters as the night fell on the South Vietnamese inlet where Williams and his crew were absolutely laying waste to the Viet Cong.
For three hours, Williams and company fought and wrecked an entire hub of VC shipping and supply along with the 65 boats and untold manpower defending it. The Navy wrecking crew killed 1,000 enemy troops in the process while disrupting the VC supply lines in the entire region.
That’s how James Williams earned the Medal of Honor.
Aside from the Medal of Honor he earned on that day, Williams other awards and decorations include the Navy Cross, the Silver Star with gold star, the Legion of Merit with combat V, the Navy and Marine Corps Medal with gold star, the Bronze Star with combat V and two gold stars, the Purple Heart with two gold stars, and a ton of other unit commendations and service medals.
He left the military as a Boatswain’s Mate First Class, E-6, but was made an honorary Chief in 1977.
American planners looking at contending with North Korea, ISIS remnants and copycats, and fighting in megacities against near-peer enemies have identified a shortfall of current U.S. training and focus: our enemies are turning to tunnels more and more, but modern U.S. forces have no idea how to best fight there.
An Army infantryman is lowered into Vietnamese tunnels during a search-and-destroy mission in Vietnam, 1967.
(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Howard C. Breedlove)
First, to define the problem. Insurgent and terrorist cells — notably ISIS, but also many others — have turned to tunneling to hide their activities from the militaries sent to stop them. Some of this is to allow fighters and supplies to flow across the battlefield undetected and unchallenged, but some of it is to hide intelligence and weapons or to force security forces to move through dangerous tunnels during last-ditch fighting.
Meanwhile, North Korea has been tunneling for decades just like communist forces did in Vietnam. Their military assets, including ballistic missiles and warheads, have been stored and moved through tunnels for years, making it harder to ensure an aerial first strike gets them all in one go. Iran has entire missile factories underground.
An Iranian missile is fired during testing. Iran has built three underground missile factories. In a potential war with the country, expect that someone will have to secure all the subterranean sites.
(Tasnim News Agency)
Modern infrastructure is increasingly built underground, from cable networks and natural gas systems to, increasingly, power lines. This leaves both America and its enemies vulnerable to disruptions of modern water supplies, information sharing, and power supply of multiple types due to underground attacks.
But Americans haven’t fought underground on a large scale since Vietnam, and even the exploits of the heroic tunnel rats pale in comparison to what would be required to take and hold underground territory, especially under the cities and megacities that the bulk of human population will live in within a few decades.
So, the military has turned to DARPA and to long-term planners to figure out how American warfighters will maintain an advantage.
DARPA announced a new grand challenge last year called the DARPA Subterranean Challenge. The agency opened two research tracks: one for teams that wanted to compete in a physical challenge and one for those who would compete in a virtual challenge.
No matter the course selected, teams have to develop systems that will give American forces and first responders an advantage in human-made tunnel systems, the urban underground (think subways), and natural cave networks. The final event won’t happen until 2021, but the winner of the physical challenge will get million while the virtual track winner will get 0,000.
“We did recognize, in a megacity that has underground facilities — sewers and subways and some of the things we would encounter … we have to look at ourselves and say ‘okay, how does our current set of equipment and our tactics stack up?'” Col. Townley Hedrick, commandant of the Infantry School at the Army’s Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, Georgia, told Military.com in an interview. “What are the aspects of megacities that we have paid the least attention to lately, and every megacity has got sewers and subways and stuff that you can encounter.”
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Daron Bush roleplays a simulated casualty at Camp Gonsalves, Okinawa, Japan, Feb. 16, 2018. Imagine having to get injured Marines through miles of caves to medevac within the golden hour.
Still, there’s a lot to be done. Troops will need less cumbersome armor or will be forced to fight bare in cramped quarters. Batteries will need to be light and compact, but even then it will be impossible to carry enough power to use many of the modern gadgets soldiers are used to. Many current technologies, like most radios and GPS, are useless with a few feet of rock disrupting signals, so special guidance and comms are essential.
Even with new gadgets and tactics, subterranean fighting will be horrible. Cramped quarters limit maneuverability, favoring a defender that can set up an ambush against an attacker who doesn’t have room to maneuver. Front-line medics will take on increased responsibility as it will be essentially impossible to evacuate patients from complex cave systems within the golden hour.
So, expect a call for modern tunnel rats within the next few years. But, good news for the infantrymen who will inevitably get this job: You’ll be equipped with a lot more than just a pistol and flashlight, and you might even have enough room to walk upright.
The UCLA/VA Veteran Family Wellness Center is honored to continue to serve and support the military-connected community during COVID-19! For appointments call (310) 478-3711 x 42793 or email email@example.com
Every Marine knows the saying, “Pain is Weakness leaving the body.” It’s the motto that drill instructors use to encourage recruits to dig just a little deeper during boot camp and it’s often repeated when physical training takes a turn from hard to brutally hard. The military, especially the Marines, know that pain is the beginning of resilience, our ability to bounce back from difficult situations and complete the mission. But while some pain often prepares our servicemen and women for strength in war, we are often at a loss for what to do when our families or even children are challenged with pain and stress once we return. So when the VA wanted to start helping veteran families they smartly turned to one of the few and the proud.
Marine Veteran Tess Banko is no stranger to pain. By twenty three years old, she had survived homelessness, a massive back injury (for which she was medically discharged) and the suicide death of her husband, also a Marine. When her world seemed to be coming apart, Tess did the opposite of what most of us would do. Instead of allowing her pain to overwhelm her, she fought back. She dug into her pain both physically and mentally. Along the way, she volunteered to empower and assist others, went to college (she was crowned homecoming queen), and ultimately, found the tools inside to help her (and her family). Tess is the epitome of resilience and now she’s bounced back to take on a new mission.
Today, Tess is the executive director of the UCLA/VA Veterans Family Wellness Center, a one of a kind partnership between UCLA and the West Los Angeles VA system. Tess and her team are part of the first VA program specifically designed to help not only veterans, but their families. To support their work, the team is relying on cutting edge research from UCLA just a few blocks from the VA campus. UCLA, the university which revolutionized kidney transplants and invented the nicotine patch, is now offering veterans and their families a state of the art resiliency program. Families Over Coming Under Stress (FOCUS) is a resiliency training regimen for individuals, families with children and couples facing adversity or issues like traumatic stress.
With Tess at the helm, she’s not only pioneering a new way of thinking for the VA, she’s also helping others find their path through trauma. Tess sat down with We Are The Mighty to discuss her work, passion and journey into resilience.
WATM: First things first, thank you for everything you do for military families. How do you describe yourself and your work here at VFWC?
Tess: Well it’s really easy to give a title. I’m the executive director of the UCLA/VA. Veteran Family Wellness Center. But really, I’m a social worker and public administrator.
WATM: And a Marine? What made you join the Corps?
Tess:I think it was really a lot of wanting to be part of something that made a difference. When I was younger I used to go to the [El Toro] airshow with my grandfather and that’s the first time I ever laid eyes on a Marine standing there in the uniform. You know guiding people, I mean it was airshow duty. I didn’t know at the time probably how much fun that wasn’t, but they were motivating and just really interacting with the public, and there were are all these exciting machines and demonstrations. So, it really made an impact on me as a little girl. The wider world was calling.
WATM: Did your family have a history of military service?
Tess: I didn’t find out until many years later that my own grandfather was actually in the Army. He never told those stories to the family because I think he was embarrassed. He said that a lot of his friends were being sent off to war but he served two years in a non-combat role, got out and went into aerospace engineering and he was one of the first Mexican-American designers of bomb and missile systems at White Sands, NM. I personally saw the military as one of the only places that you could go as far as your own two feet would take you basically or your hard work that you put into it. That’s one of the reasons why I was excited to join.
Tess: And I like a good challenge. The Marine Corps seemed like a good fit. So I joined [as] an engineer.
WATM: Did you find the challenge you were looking for? Especially as a female Marine in the engineers.
Tess: When I joined it was very idealistic. I wanted to be just one of the guys and I saw myself in that way. I never saw myself in terms of being a woman, only a Marine and that actually caused a lot of problems and disappointment at the time as we have only just begun to move more fully into gender integration among the services. And it was really challenging for me because as I said I never saw myself as anything other than a Marine. I always just wanted to do my job.
WATM: What made you transition out of the Marine Corps?
Tess: I got hurt.
WATM: You got hurt?
Tess: Yes. We were training and I noticed that there was something wrong with my back because my leg had stopped functioning. I was in my early 20’s and the command atmosphere gave this impression that you had to white knuckle it through anything. I was told, ‘There’s no problem, there’s no problem. You just need to keep going.’ It turned out that I had a herniated disc in my back and it was it was crushing the nerve to the point where it began to permanently kill the nerves. I was standing there on the rifle range and I just fell over on my side because my leg finally gave up. They called an ambulance and rushed me into emergency surgery in Japan.
WATM: Did you feel like you had the resiliency skills that prepared you for that experience?
Tess: My life growing up was challenging. My parents were very young when they had children. I was the only person in my immediate family to successfully graduate from high school. My parents had dropped out at 17, which kind of spells disaster for a young couple with four children. And so it was really a life of learning to adapt, moving from place to place, experiencing homelessness as a child, living between motels and being chased by bill collectors. You know all that bad stuff for [a child] but even from a young age I adopted a viewpoint of life that was more curious than anything. It was less ‘Oh my God, why is this happening to me?’ and more ‘huh this interesting.’ It was just a minor shift of perspective. I developed that curiosity and a different way of looking at problems and I think that’s a key part of resilience.
WATM: Did you know what resilience was growing up?
Tess:I did not. I think it was something that I saw modeled by example. My grandmother was a very kind and giving woman, she taught me so much. She always went out of her way to help people in the community even when she seemed in the midst of a lot of uncertainty in life. So, paying that forward, even on active duty I was volunteering in the local community teaching English to Okinawan children. I’ve always been so curious about other people and their lives. It’s a great education.
WATM: And then you lost your husband (also a Marine). How do you process all of that?
Tess: It was a surreal experience having the casualty assistance team knock on the door. I can remember I opened it a crack. It didn’t make sense in my mind what was happening so I opened the door a crack and a Marine stuck his foot to keep me from shutting it. Then I saw the Colonel. And then it finally hit me that it was real. My husband wasn’t coming home. When you’re actively experiencing shock, pain or trauma it’s less thinking about resilience and more survival mode kicking in. It was one second, one minute at a time. The days blurred together. I mean being emotionally injured is much like being physically injured, it can take a long time to wrap your head around. There’s no linear pathway. Also, processing trauma is not just about moving through pain but about overcoming fear. There’s the fear that you as a person or things in your life will never be the same. Sometimes you don’t know what other people are going to think. Usually some of the fear ties back to being afraid that people are going to judge you if you feel broken. And I think that really was hard for me to overcome, but it was necessary. I think that being gentle with yourself is a skill.
WATM: You not only survived but thrived? You went back to college and grad school and now you literally work with Neuroscientists.
Tess: The science behind the brain fascinates me because people that are in pain sometimes seem to think, ‘I’m damaged forever and I’m never gonna be able to do or be anything. There is no coming back from this.’ I understand where you’re at if it’s crossed your mind, I’ve been there too, but there’s so much possibility. We can’t change what happened but our brain is essentially plastic and able to rewire. The body and mind actively try to repair themselves, and we can support our own process through building resilience. There are a lot of tools for that belt, resilience isn’t just a buzzword.
WATM: Is that thesis behind your team’s work at the VFWC?
Tess: Exactly. The center is a place of hope and healing. We teach tangible skills, identifiable tools, for veterans and their families to be able to overcome challenges and build better relationships. The FOCUS model that’s our cornerstone is pretty incredible.
WATM: Is there anybody else out there that’s focusing on families like this?
Tess: Not in this way. From a wellness-based resilience perspective this is the first center of its kind, especially paired with the VA which traditionally only sees individual veterans. They took a huge step to open their doors to couples and families too. When you think about it, though, our families, friends and communities are on the front lines supporting after military service.
WATM: So this is a groundbreaking VA partnership all based in science?
Tess: Yep. That’s why UCLA is such an amazing partner because the VFWC is just blocks away from world class researchers. The Center falls under the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and the Nathanson Family Resilience Center which focus on resilience for all families, not just veterans. The research behind our programs is about understanding what drives human behavior and growth. Based on that, VFWC programming is tailored to veterans and their families with really firm research and evidence backing it up.
WATM: Classic, intel drives operations model. But you have specific model for your programs as well. What is FOCUS?
Tess: FOCUS is Families Overcoming Under Stress. It’s a holistic model that was co-created between UCLA and Harvard University and currently in use on over 30 active duty military bases around the world. Our center represents the first wider translation of FOCUS from active duty into the veterans community, which are distinctly different populations. It’s a departure from traditional therapy models.
WATM: What can veterans and their families expect when they come to the center?
Tess: When somebody comes into the center in general we start with a consultation that helps us to really guide veterans and family members to the resources that they might be needing. It’s starting where the individual is. We have individual, couples, early childhood, military sexual trauma, and combat veteran adaptations, plus group sessions and special workshops and events. We keep our doors open for veterans and family members regardless of discharge, benefits or when they got out. The building we’re housed in also offers veterans with VA benefits massage, reiki, mindfulness and yoga. There’s even a drum circle and Taichi.
WATM: And children?
Tess: Especially children. Research that was done as far back as the Holocaust indicates that trauma can be passed down from generation to generation. In cases of post-traumatic stress, suicide and even repeated deployments, the effects of secondary trauma is a very real thing. A lot of the times we see families with children who don’t know how to talk to them about certain issues or there’s not a huge understanding of the developmental piece of what’s behind behaviors. Kids aren’t just mini-adults, the human brain is still developing until the age of 25! So, we support both the parents and children to find a closeness and ability to communicate more as they move through the journey.
WATM: That sounds pretty awesome especially for the VA. How would you describe starting the center?
Tess: It’s been a lot of pioneering. Improvising. Being resilient. There are so many people who care in the VA system and a whole lot of need. Offering another avenue for assistance is important to the team here.
WATM: What is your vision for the center and the future of resilience in the VA?
Tess: I would love to see the VA expand the VFWC’s holistic wellness model to include centers in every facility, especially coupled with a research institution. Veterans and their families would really benefit. Both our families, and wider communities for that matter, are really impactful in our individual wellness. One of the great things about the VFWC is our ability to seek additional community resources. It’s a long table and there is no one size fits all for wellness, reintegration, and healing.
WATM: So now you you’ve gone through your own experience gone through two years here. What does resilience mean to you?
Tess: I think the Marine Corps says it really, well you adapt and you overcome. Sometimes it seems like pull-through comes from out of nowhere because we’re born with it, but sometimes life can bring those levels low. Resilience is that wellspring that allows for course correction and being able to bounce back. Resilience to me also means working on saying, “hey something’s wrong here” and being open to assistance. First step for me personally of breaking the cycle was my own acknowledgment of what I was facing. For instance, I couldn’t talk to my family being sexually assaulted on active duty and I now know that’s common to those who have experienced trauma. I simply didn’t have the vocabulary, I had to organize the words in my own mind. We really need each other to get through hard times, so it’s crucial to develop.
WATM: What does 2019 look like for you and VFWC?
Tess: We’re working on piloting a new transition program, TEAM, for those at any point after active service based on the core FOCUS model paired with the ideas of identity ,mission, meaning and purpose. These are four essential elements of transition. Your perception changes along the transition to civilian life just like my perception changed of myself when I got out of the Marine Corps. It really was a rediscovery of who I was, where I was. I had to find a new mission. For me that happened to be serving people, but it could be different for others. It can be challenging to figure these things our while also providing for yourself or a family. We want to offer veterans and their families the resilience tools before they even need them.
WATM: Do you have any advice specifically to the families
Tess: There is no one size fits all to happiness, health and healing. If one thing doesn’t work, move forward. No matter what you face, keep reaching out and moving forward. Families, you are vital to service. You’re heard and seen. You matter.
The sprint-drag-carry portion of the ACFT is rough. Especially for those of you over 25 who haven’t moved quickly in years. This event is especially a bummer for those Officers and Staff NCOs that only move fast if they’re getting shot at or trying to leave work for Leave unnoticed.
To excel, you have to be well rounded in strength, endurance and cardio since it’s not only challenging, but also the fourth challenge out of six.
Its placement in this test means you’ll be fatigued before you even start, making performance more difficult.
If this portion of the ACFT worries you, here are a few tips for improving at the sprint-drag-carry.
This is obvious… No? Just think before you waste your precious PT time.
Photo by Spc. Alonzo Clark
Focus on your weak points in training
The sprint-drag-carry test is meant to test your agility and strength endurance, so you’ll need to train for both. But, there’s a good chance that you’re better at one of these variables than the other.
If you know that your strength is better than your endurance, the farmer’s walk and sled drag portions of this test probably won’t be too difficult, but the sprints and side shuffles might be.
If that’s the case, you should continue strength training but make a special effort to perform sprints, and longer distance runs to build up your endurance whenever possible.
Some specific work for highly-fatiguable muscles will to make your life easier on test day.
Photo by Kevin Fleming
Work on your quads and calves
Believe me when I say that the heavy backward sled drag is one of the more challenging movements in the entire ACFT test, and it’s going to burn the hell out of your quads and calves. But that’s not the worst part; you still have to run two miles after doing this test.
To prepare, spend time specifically training both your quads and calves. I’d recommend training with moderate resistance and high rep ranges if possible, like 15-30 reps or more.
Training with this type of rep range is going to work your quads and calves close to how the sled drag will and doing so will help prepare you to endure the pain you’re going to have to push through.
You don’t need to be a farmer you just need to pick up some heavy stuff and walk.
Photo by Pfc. Kelsey Simmons
Practice heavier and longer farmer’s carries
Farmer’s carries are a straightforward exercise but a challenging one. Fortunately, training them is easy, though.
The test requires that you carry two 40lb kettlebells for a total distance of 50 meters. In your training, you should go heavier and for longer distances.
By teaching your body to hold heavier weight for a longer time, that 50-meter carry will feel like you’re bringing in a bag of groceries from the car.
Only training when your fresh is a sure-fire way to ensure you get kicked in the mental toughness organ come test day.
U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Casey Hustin, 17th Field Artillery Brigade
Practice the sprint-drag-carry when you’re fatigued
The sprint-drag-carry portion of the ACFT test is challenging in its own right, but remember that it’s the fourth test, which means you’re going to be fatigued before you even start.
When you practice the sprint-drag-carry in training, you do want to train this test when you’re fresh since doing so will allow you to put forth the maximum effort and, as a result, make maximum improvements.
But, it would be best if you still were prepared to perform at a high level when you’re fatigued. To prepare, perform the sprint-drag-carry training after you’ve done some demanding workouts.
Practicing the sprint-drag-carry after regular training will help you understand how to perform under fatigue and also know which of the five sections of this test will be the most difficult when you’re fatigued.
Knowing these details can help you determine which sections of the test will require the most improvement.
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Train each section separately
In this test, you’ll need to perform a sprint, sled drag, shuffle, farmer’s walk, and a final sprint. While practicing this routine in its entirety is a smart idea, you can also train each section separately to gain specific improvements.
On training days, try breaking down the test by putting maximum effort into each exercise, but add rest between sets.
This practice will help improve each aspect of the test, specifically.
You don’t need to be a fitness genius to train for this test. You just need to change up your training by doing workouts that are closer to the test. Of course, if you aren’t training at all that will be the first hurdle to overcome. Check out the Mighty Fit Plan to help get yourself in the habit of training. You LITERALLY get paid to train so there’s no excuse.
Today, the M16 rifle and M4 carbine are ubiquitous among American troops. These lightweight rifles, which both fire the 5.56mm NATO round, have been around for decades and are mainstays. The civilian version, the AR-15, is owned by at least five million Americans. But the troops hauling it around almost got a similar rifle in the 1950s that fired the 7.62mm NATO round.
It’s not the first classic rifle to be designed to fire one cartridge and enter service firing another. The M1 Garand, when it was first designed, was chambered for the .276 Pedersen round. The reason that round never caught on? The Army had tons of .30-06 ammo in storage, and so the legendary semi-auto rifle was adapted to work with what was available.
The story is much different for the M16. Eugene Stoner’s original design was called the AR-10 (the “AR” stood for “Armalite Rifle” — Armalite was to manufacture the weapon). This early design was a 7.62mm NATO rifle with a 20-round box magazine.
According to the National Rifle Association Museum, this rifle went head to-head with the FN FAL and the T44 to replace the M1 Garand. The T44 won out and was introduced to service as the M14. This doesn’t mean the AR-10 was a complete loss, however. Sudan and Portugal both bought the AR-10 for their troops to use and, from there, the rifle trickled into a few other places as well.
Portugal bought the AR-10 and used it in the Angolan War.
(Photo by Joaquim Coelho)
Armalite, though, wasn’t ready to give up on getting that juicy U.S. military contract, so they began work on scaling down the AR-10 for the 5.56mm cartridge. The Army tried the resulting rifle, the AR-15, out in 1958 and liked what the saw, pointing to a need for a lightweight infantry rifle. It was the Air Force, though, that was the first service to buy the rifle, calling it the M16, which serves American troops today.
The AR-10 made a comeback of sorts during the War on Terror. Here, a Marine general fires the Mk 11 sniper rifle.
(USMC photo by Cpl. Sharon E. Fox)
Despite the immense popularity of the M16, the AR-10 never faded completely into obscurity. During the War on Terror, operation experience called for a heavier-hitting rifle with longer range. In a way, the AR-10 made a comeback — this time as a designated marksman rifle in the form of modified systems, like the M110 Semi-Automatic Sniper System and Mk 11 rifle.
Variants of the AR-10 are on the civilian market, including this AR-10 National Match.
(Photo by Vitaly V. Kuzmin)
Over the years, the AR-10 has thrived as a semi-auto-only weapon, available on the civilian market, produced by companies like Rock River Arms and DPMS. In a sense, the AR-10 has come full circle.
There is undoubtedly no worse place for troops to live and fight in than the trenches of old. Soldiers would dig fighting positions into the ground and, with no way to continually clear out the rodents, water, sewage, and bodies, the fortifications would become ripe with disease.
The sand around you was your home. The sandbags above the parapet were your only protection from snipers. The walls that surrounded you could collapse under enemy artillery fire and quickly become your coffin.
Despite all of these glaring faults, their purpose is clear when you look at the bigger picture.
They could fight for months and not even take a single inch.
(Imperial War Museums)
Trenches have been used as early as the Roman Empire, but the scale at which they were used swelled drastically on the western front of the First World War. During WWI, trenches were built in three distinct rows: The main firing trench (used for direct combat), the support trench (used as a second line of defense and as a place for officers, medics, cooks, and other supporting troops), and the reserve trench (used for housing).
Soldiers knew in advance where they’d hold off the enemy and they’d begin building fighting positions there for cover. The enemy would show up, see the trenches, and quickly dig their own at a safe distance. Inevitably, both sides would find it impossible to dislodge the opposition and so they’d dig in deeper.
Many of the problems we associate with trenches today ran most rampant within British units, as they believed that the trenches would be temporary and the war would keep moving — it didn’t.
That entire red line was almost entirely a trench system between both the Allied Powers and the Central Powers
(The History Department of the United States Military Academy)
Meanwhile, many French and German trench systems were built with the long-haul in mind. They better fortified their walls and created much more hospitable bunkers. They understood that trenches weren’t to be used to advance, but rather to stall the enemy. Each row within the trench systems was designed to make it as difficult as possible for the enemy to take it over.
If the enemy managed to make it across No Man’s Land (the expanse of ground between opposing forces’ fortifications), they’d come across fields of barbed wire that would slow their movement and alert sentries that heard the rustling. Then, they’d come into the first trench, which was typically dug into asymmetrical zigzags that not only minimized the effect of shrapnel, but also provided as small of a field of fire as possible for invaders.
The trench rows were designed to be able to be taken from the rear. While enemy forces swarmed the first trench, defenders could hop over top the next trench back and open fire. This defense mechanism sounds like it’s begging to be exploited, but that would require the enemy to flank around the trench line first. Both sides would prevent this from happening by creating hundreds of miles of trench systems. Often, there was no way around.
The trenches did exactly what they were built to do. They ensured the enemy couldn’t get past. With no viable option for advancement, militaries were able to send men elsewhere — who would then create more trenches and offer little room for the enemy.
To learn more about trenches, check out the video below.