Airman shares experience of being in DC for historic activation - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

Airman shares experience of being in DC for historic activation

Airman 1st Class Courtney Mitchell (front) in Washington D.C. Photo by Master Sgt. Matthew Heckt.

As a fourth-grade schoolteacher in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Airman 1st Class Courtney Mitchell is always looking for appropriate real-life material to work into her class lessons.

Mitchell, an intelligence analyst in the New Jersey Air National Guard, found plenty of that and more on her first activation: establishing security around the United States Capitol building and ensuring the safety and security of elected officials after the Jan. 6 riots.

“It was surprising but not shocking to know the Guard would have to be activated after what happened,” Mitchell said. “We really didn’t think about it. It was just time to pack up and get ready to go. Like our motto reads, ‘Always Ready, Always There!’”

Mitchell’s group, the 140th Cyber Squadron — part of the 108th Wing at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst — arrived in Washington D.C. on Jan. 10 and have not yet left.

“We have been training to ensure a peaceful transition of power for the 59th Presidential Inauguration, and that we can meet the challenges that come with missions that are sensitive to people such as this,” Mitchell said. “I never thought I would be in a position to make such a difference for my community, state, and country.”

Airman shares experience of being in DC for historic activation
Mitchell with her family. Courtesy photo.

It’s a definite role reversal for Mitchell and her husband, a retired chief master sergeant who spent nearly 29 years on active duty with the New Jersey Air National Guard and National Guard Bureau. Courtney Mitchell, who was named the 2017 Armed Forces Insurance New Jersey National Guard Spouse of the Year, spent nine of those years as the military spouse — but now it’s her husband’s turn, which she finds “pretty cool.”

She is also impressed with the way so many soldiers and airmen have been activated and moved in such a short amount of time.

“Our leadership has been amazing and has helped us navigate through some unprecedented times,” she said. “We are prepared and ready to protect the Capitol and perform the mission. This is an honor for me. I know from watching my husband through his career that these types of domestic operations and responses have been practiced and rehearsed for years.”

Read: Military groups to participate in Inauguration Day parade

Mitchell had been to the Capitol several times before, but never in this capacity. Her unit’s basic needs were met “pretty quickly,” she says, allowing the guardsmen to concentrate on their mission.

“This is a great opportunity to be part of an event that supports the peaceful transition of power and ensures the safety and wellbeing of our fellow Americans,” she said.

Mitchell wants Americans to see the Guard’s activation to the Capitol as a reason not for fear, but to be inspired.

“I want everyone to look at our soldiers and airmen here, and view us as an example of unity and strength,” she said. “When people see the National Guard, they know we are here to help. We are more than just a security force. We have come together from all over to stand together, side by side, for the love of our country.”

She adds that there is strength in unity.

“We will become stronger tomorrow for the challenges we face today,” Mitchell said.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Veteran stays busy with elaborate LEGO builds

Airman shares experience of being in DC for historic activation

Thousands of pieces, elaborate instructions, and finished products that are intricate and impressive: That’s what fans get in adult-level LEGO kits. Projects that come with as many as 9,036 serialized bricks – creating a Roman Coliseum – and cost hundreds of dollars each. Yes, hundreds – that same kit retails at $449.99 a pop.

It’s a hobby that veteran Eric Rickards and girlfriend, Charlotte Murnan, know well. In fact, they have an entire dedicated “LEGO room.” It wasn’t an afterthought with an extra bedroom, however, they purchased their house near Tampa, FL with their hobby at the forefront of “new home must haves.”

The room is lined with heavy shelves that display completed LEGO builds, like a replica of Central Perk from Friends and the Hogwarts Quidditch field. Meanwhile, Ikea tables host in-progress builds. 

“LEGO can be really intricate and that’s what I love most about it,” Rickards, who served 12 years active duty in the Army, said.

Murnan added, “It’s such a fun thing to do to take our minds off other stuff.”

The hobby began after the pair had been searching for an interest they could share. Rickards suggested building the LEGO Hogwarts Castle. Murnan, an avid Harry Potter fan, agreed, and they began their first build.

“I wasn’t expecting to like it as much as I did, but there’s something therapeutic about seeing it come to life,” she said.

The hobby has only grown since the onset of COVID-19. Former travel buffs, the couple hunkered down in their Memphis house at the start of the pandemic, before permanently relocating to Tampa for Murnan’s job as a Senior Financial Analyst in Investor Relations. Meanwhile, Rickards, who was medically discharged, dealt with a recurring injury. He realized it wasn’t feasible to remain a mechanic, and went to school to study history.

The move prompted them to do away with one of the biggest inconveniences about their former house: not enough space for LEGOs.

From there, the duo began seeking out and buying new LEGO projects, even buying new kits as they’re released, just so they can get their hands on the goods before they sell out.

Airman shares experience of being in DC for historic activation

“We have 15 in the box right here, so [my favorite] could change,” Rickards said. He cited his current favorite build as their Nintendo screen; it’s a retro tv that has a turn crank, causing Mario to jump up and down.

They have retired sets – kits that LEGO no longer manufacturers – these they find on eBay or through niche Facebook groups. Rickards cited Wall-E as a project he’s excited to tackle next. 

“You have to track them down and they’re a little pricey. It took me a while to pull the trigger, but I finally got it.”

Airman shares experience of being in DC for historic activation

There’s also the Ghostbusters car, a Land Rover, an incredibly detailed flower bouquet, even more Harry Potter builds, including a house crest made up of 17,000 individual dot pieces, the carousel they built with Rickards’ mom – she’s a long-time carousel collector. And Murnan’s favorite, a custom selfie portrait of the two; she likes the sentimental touch. The latter was made at a LEGO portrait studio in London wherein users can take a photo and purchase a custom brick set. 

Airman shares experience of being in DC for historic activation

As for the finished project themselves, the pair remains in awe of LEGOs engineering and completed designs. For instance, a T-rex that seemingly defies gravity to stand on its hind legs, a book they received as a free gift with purchase where the bricks come together to look like real pages. All of which, and more – for a total of over 40 completed builds – are shown throughout their home.

“It’s such a fun thing to do to take our minds off of other stuff. And with COVID – all bets are off – we could be in there building on a weeknight,” Murnan laughed. “We can work on builds and relax; it’s such a stress relief.”

MIGHTY CULTURE

Losing my mind for America: A Veteran’s Thank You to Post Traumatic Stress

I have Post Traumatic Stress (PTS). There, I said it. Now I must be one of America’s “poor, broken warriors” that just doesn’t belong at home or in the workplace. I guess I should now explain how debilitating this injury can be or how no one is helping me. Maybe it was the time in the service that broke me. Yet, all those assumptions are untrue. In reality, I have never felt better.


Since my diagnosis, I’ve married, become a father and not only held a job but risen to a leadership role. I am far from broken and so are the rest of my military brothers and sisters. There is no doubt my path had ups and downs. There may have even been a few rock bottoms, but nothing was actually ever as bad as it seemed at the time. The bottom line is that PTS is scary. It’s terrifying, that for the first time in your life, you don’t have a say in what is happening within your own mind. As many of my fellow veterans already know, courage is rising above fear. In our own minds, we have to find courage every day.

My first panic attack was the most embarrassing. I was driving home a few months after my third deployment to Iraq. My little brother was in the passenger seat when the phone rang. I answered it and the impersonal voice told me, “you have duty on Monday.” It was Saturday. I hung up the phone and grabbed the steering wheel with a death grip. I just could not comprehend how my schedule two days in the future had changed. Slowly my vision narrowed. My breathing became labored. My eyes teared up. The look on my brother’s face turned pale white with terror. I slammed on the brakes and broke down. The years of deployments came flowing out. The phone call was just the tipping point for me. Duty didn’t matter. As veterans will attest, schedules change all the time. It was such an innocent call. Yet, this time was different. The circuits in my brain had reached capacity. There was just no more room left for even a minor change. I stared at my younger brother as he sat in silence. I knew I was not okay.

It took another two years before I did anything about my fractured mind. Frankly, I avoided my thoughts. I tried to hide my injury. I was convinced that I could fix myself just as I had done with every other challenge in my life. First, I tried working out. It helped a little. Then, I tried booze. It helped too much. Lastly, I tried writing. It was too painful. Not surprisingly, nothing actually worked until I went to see a doctor.

Airman shares experience of being in DC for historic activation

I avoided seeking help for years because I was scared of what would happen to my body and career. Let me dispel any rumors right now. PTS treatment is designed to fix you. Not give you a scarlet letter for life. My family and the men with whom I served were nothing but supportive throughout the entire process. Despite my own fears, I was never pulled from a deployment or seen as weak. Once again, I learned that PTS was all about fear. My own fear of something that wasn’t real.

For six weeks, I went through Cognitive Processing Therapy. I was hesitant at first. I didn’t think that discussing old memories would help. It seemed like a lot of useless talk. I was wrong. I analyzed my memories over and over again. My doctor asked me to write about them even though they were painful. In the end, I came to realize the things I remembered had become like a bad game of telephone etched into my brain. These memories had changed over the years and my brain had rebuilt itself to survive them.

Over 10 years of service, my brain had changed. It had become a truly lethal muscle. I could sense danger and act faster than most, but I could barely process an email, endure a traffic jam or sit through a phone call. Only after seeking help, I learned that I could retrain my mind. I just needed to break down old nerve endings and create new ones. After many days and too many sleepless nights, I learned some truly important things about living with PTS.

First, invest in yourself. There was no one who could make me a Marine and a Green Beret. I had to do that myself. There is no one who could fix my brain but me. I had to commit myself to the task. Rebuilding your brain is like remodeling your house. You keep the stuff you like and knock down the stuff you don’t. I kept honor, sacrifice and pride. I threw out guilt, sorrow and anger. At first, my transformation moved slowly. But when I truly invested in me, my brain changed. I became a better soldier, husband and friend.

Second, it’s all about control. I gained a control complex in the military. Like most 20 year olds, I thought I could control the world. But in my reality, I actually did. People lived and some even died by the decisions I made. My brain thrived off of control. I craved it, demanded it and needed it. But true control is never possible. The only thing in this world we can control is ourselves. For almost a decade, I had it wrong. I thought I could control the world without concern for myself. The switch happened gradually, but became evident when I let my wife drive me to work on a Tuesday. For the first time in almost a decade, I let someone else take control. It felt amazing.

Lastly, and most importantly, you have to know your limits. There are some things that your brain can handle well and others it won’t. Everyone’s limits are different. For me, I don’t go into overcrowded places at night. Why? Am I afraid that I will have panic attack? No. I just know that my brain goes into mental overdrive in places like that and I won’t have fun. I did reteach myself patience. In war, patience can be lethal. At home, it is expected. I don’t get angry when I have to wait for things. Veterans, this one is the most important, especially for any of you who have just entered the daunting VA process. Waiting is just time and none of us can control it. There will also be some things that are difficult to get back and age doesn’t help. Sure, it is much harder to remember minor details or focus like I used to be able to, but I also don’t run six minute miles anymore. You learn to live with it.

I do know for certain that by committing to PTS treatment, I have explored places in my mind that I didn’t even know existed. You get to re-write your own personal story and you may find that the plot has changed. I am a Green Beret that likes poetry, statistics and even watching The Voice. Yeah, I am part nerd but I am also part warrior. I would have never been able to know both parts of me without PTS. I am thankful I lost my mind for America. For those of you who are suffering or lost today, I am confident you will find the way as well. Good luck with the journey my brothers and sisters. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.

MIGHTY CULTURE

These are the airborne firefighters that handle the most intense wildfires

Within the military, being airborne comes with a special brand of badassery that you won’t find within any non-airborne unit, or, as we call them, “legs.” Even more badass are the troops that have proven themselves by jumping directly into combat — like the paratroopers over D-Day or the 75th Rangers at Objective Rhino in Afghanistan.

But jumping into certain danger with nothing but your gear and a parachute isn’t something exclusive to the military. There exists a certain breed of firefighters who are so fearless that they are always on-call to jump into newly-formed wildfires.

Meet the Smokejumpers.


Airman shares experience of being in DC for historic activation
The relationship between the smokejumpers and Army paratroopers really does run deep.
(U.S. Forest Service photo by E.L. Perry)

Born of a need to quickly get firefighters into middle-of-nowhere locations, the first smokejump was made on July 12th, 1940, into Nez Perce National Forest by Rufus Robinson and Earl Cooley. They dropped allegedly on a dare, equipped with just enough gear to establish a fire line and hold off the flames until more help could arrive.

That first jump was so successful that smokejumping was quickly adopted throughout many major Forest Services located in rural areas susceptible to wildfires. Then-Major William C. Lee of the U.S. Army saw the smokejumpers training and adapted their methods into the Army’s newly formed airborne school at Ft. Benning — and later into the 101st Airborne Division.

The U.S. Army assigned the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, the only all-black airborne unit in U.S. military history, as smokejumpers as a precaution against potential fire balloon bombs that Japan supposedly had at the ready, poised to burn down American forests. The Japanese “Operation Firefly” never came to fruition, but the men of the 555th helped fight natural wildfires, thus further proving the need for smokejumpers

There are countless hoops a firefighter must go through before becoming a smokejumper today. Typically, they’re only selected from firefighters who’ve proven themselves capable as part of both a conventional firefighting unit and a hotshot crew, a small, elite team made up of 20 of the country’s best wildland firefighters who go into the heart of the flames. Then, they must go through a rigorous training schedule, which includes pararescue jumping — regardless of whether they’re an airborne-qualified veteran or not.

Despite the many dangers that smokejumpers face, fatalities within the ranks are infrequent because of the insane amount of planning that goes into each jump. They’ll only jump into a location that is a safe distance away from the flame itself — as the updraft from the flames could catch and incinerate any firefighter — and into areas area clear of slopes or trees. This could require the smokejumper to ruck miles out of the way while carrying up to 150lbs of gear.

When they finally arrive at the fire, they must then determine the likely route the flames with travel and keep clear the way for reinforcements.

For a more in-depth look at how smokejumpers conduct a wildfire mission, check out the video.

MIGHTY CULTURE

How to support the military community without leaving home

COVID-19 has left people facing new levels of stress and feelings of isolation. This may be especially true for members of the military, veterans, and their families. But as the need for support has grown so has a desire to pitch in, particularly among those finding themselves with more time available as get-togethers and social outings are curtailed. 

Enter virtual volunteering: a way to give back to the military community while following social distancing and other healthy practices.

Amy Palmer is president and CEO of Soldiers’ Angels , a national nonprofit organization that has been providing aid, comfort and resources to service members, wounded heroes, veterans of all generations, and military families since 2003. In 2019 alone, some 50,000 volunteers, or “angels,” devoted more than 170,000 hours to the cause, offering support to almost half a million members of the military community. 

“When the COVID-19 crisis began,” Palmer says, “we quickly pivoted, highlighting activities that volunteers could do in their pj’s at home.” 

Here are some of the virtual volunteering opportunities available to angel team members or on your own:

Write letters. Tired of communicating by email or tweet? Writing letters to service members deployed overseas is a low-commitment way to brighten mail call. 

Send a care package of homemade goodies. Pandemic baking, as many of us have learned, may be creatively satisfying, but it’s not all that kind to our waistline. As part of an Angel Bakers Team, you can enjoy the pleasure of whipping up a batch of your celebrated cookies, brownies or scones and then ship the sugary treats to service members who are eager for a taste of home. 

Put your sewing machine to use. There’s an ongoing need for masks at VA hospitals across the country. With just basic sewing skills you can help front-line healthcare workers protect themselves, their co-workers and their patients against the spread of COVID-19.  This video shows how to sew the preferred type of mask that has a pocket for the insertion of a filter.

Make a no-sew blanket. You don’t need a sewing machine, a needle or even thread to make a cozy blanket for injured service members, a military mom who’s snuggling with a newborn, or deployed troops who will welcome warmth from home. The video on this website demonstrates how to make the blanket with only two large pieces of fleece fabric, scissors and tape, and, ideally, a helper. 

Weave paracord bracelets. Tucked into a care package, a paracord bracelet may seem like a small token but it can be a valuable survival tool. Unraveled, the nylon line of cord can be put to use as a fishing line, boot laces, floss or even emergency sutures. Most likely, this won’t be necessary, and the homemade paracord bracelet will remain a treasured item that service members carry on them at all times. Crafting these bracelets can be a fun at-home activity for the whole family or a company-wide volunteer action. 

“The bracelets take about 15 minutes to make,” Palmer said. “Companies like Lockheed Martin have sent us thousands.” (Paracord bracelets for military service members must be made from MIL-SPEC cording in the colors black, olive green, tan, or camo only.) 

Help pamper a deployed female warrior as part of a Ladies of Liberty team. The all-female volunteers send a monthly care package to an “adopted lady” that includes personal care items, treats like body scrubs and facial masks, haircare products and leisure materials like books, magazines and adult coloring books and colored pencils. 

For the holidays

Gather Treats for Troops. Want to put all those packets of candy corn and fun-sized chocolate-peanut bars to better use than keeping your kids up at night from a sugar rush? Donate excess Halloween candy, or if you’re a small-business owner, become a candy collection site, so our heroes can enjoy a sweet reprieve.

Join the Holiday Stockings for Heroes program. Stuff holiday stockings with small gifts like beef jerky, playing cards, puzzle bucks, holiday candy, caps, travel-sized games and a handwritten note and drawings from the kids. 

Adopt a military family for the holidays. Military and veteran families often balance tight budgets, and those budgets might be stretched even more than usual with the pandemic leading to furloughs, job losses or reductions in hours. The Adopt-a-Family program is a way to spread some cheer during the winter holidays. For each family adopted, you’ll be expected to provide a minimum $50 – $100 grocery gift card for a holiday meal and gifts for each child in the family. Can’t adopt a military family on your own? Consider teaming up with another family, or with members of your church, workplace or community group.

This article originally appeared on Military Families Magazine. Follow @MilFamiliesMag on Twitter.

popular

You have to see the tombstones in this Soviet military cemetery

Somewhere in an Estonian Forest, causal hikers will come across a sea of red star-adorned metallic strips jutting out of the ground. Like some giant shark jaw, the 9,000-foot area is next to a wooded area, covered with what are actually aircraft tail fins, which are really grave markings of Soviet airmen.


Which are all really creepy.

Airman shares experience of being in DC for historic activation
Wikimedia Commons

These days, what was once a Warsaw Pact airstrip is now near a NATO-run military installation in Estonia, a former Warsaw Pact signatory. The base, Ämari Air Base, had the name Suurküla under the Soviet Union until 1991. The fins bear the names, and some even bear the likenesses of the pilots, many of whom were probably at the controls of the plane their eternal tail fin came from.

Suurküla was the home of several Sukhoi Su-24 Fencer medium bomber squadrons, from which many of the tail fins originated in some form. Now it’s the home of Estonian and NATO Air Forces whose mission is to monitor activity on the nearby Baltic Sea, as well as a fleet of F-16s from Denmark.

Airman shares experience of being in DC for historic activation
Wikimedia Commons

Just because these pilots happen to be buried below the aircraft that likely killed them, don’t think for a minute the Soviet Union’s air forces were nothing to write home about. For a time, the Soviets possessed superior technology and boasted the world’s largest air force. The Baltic States’ air force posture could actually cover much of the country in case of a NATO invasion.

This Estonian air base and the men stationed here contributed a large part to the defense of their countries, the men buried here gave their lives for it. If you ever visit Ämari Air Base, be sure to pour out a sip of vodka for these comrades.


Feature image: Wikimedia Commons

MIGHTY CULTURE

How to honor the bombing of Pearl Harbor

National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day is December 7. On Monday, the American flag will fly at half-staff from sunrise until sunset to honor the 2,403 service members and civilians who died in the attack. 

In the early hours of what many expected to be a quiet Sunday on December 7, 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service attacked the still-neutral United States at Naval Station Pearl Harbor. Much of the rest of the world was involved in WWII’s ongoing conflict, but the United States hadn’t yet declared war on Germany or Japan. 

The attack was swift, cruel, and ruthless. Aircraft boldly marked with bright red discs proclaiming them as Japanese attacked the harbor from all directions. Torpedo planes flew low over the water and launched torpedoes toward the attack’s primary target – Ford Island’s Battleship Row. The attack struck four battleships – the USS West Virginia, the USS Oklahoma, the USS California, and the USS Nevada and damaged four others in the navy yard. Dive bombers destroyed buildings, aircraft, and hangers at Hickam Field and on Ford Island. 

Service personnel attempted to escape the burning ships by jumping into oil-covered water, which resulted in them being burned alive. The attack killed several thousand Americans and injured 1,178 others. All told, three cruisers, three destroyers, and a minelayer were destroyed, along with 188 aircraft and damage sustained to 159 others.

Ships burn at Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941.
Burning and damaged ships at Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7 1941. Photo courtesy of the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

That was just the first wave.

The second squadron of Japanese planes arrived about half an hour after the first. This wave of dive bombers concentrated on the southeast side of Ford Island. The battleship Pennsylvania was damaged, as were two other destroyers at the Ford Island dock. The USS Nevada famously tried to pursue the dive bombers, but at least six bombs struck the battleship, and the captain of the ship intentionally beached it to prevent further damage. 

The entire attack took less than two hours and left the US Pacific Fleet in almost complete ruin. The following day, President Roosevelt gave his now-famous Infamy speech. The first line of Roosevelt’s speech called the surprise Japanese attack “a day which will live in infamy.” Though the speech was relatively short – just over seven minutes – it’s one of Roosevelt’s most famous. An hour after Roosevelt’s speech, the United States Congress declared war on the Empire of Japan. America was no longer neutral in the war against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. Within months, the war effort was mobilized, and service members were preparing to deploy across the country.

The USS Missouri 

In January 1945, the USS Missouri left for the Pacific Theater from Pearl Harbor. Throughout its 50 year career, the battleship saw conflict in three separate wars. 

On her maiden voyage, the USS Missouri provided anti-aircraft deference for aircraft carriers conducting bombing strikes. One month after launching, the USS Missouri helped support the invasion of Iwo Jima. In April 1945, the USS Missouri bombed Okinawa’s shores as part of the Pacific theater’s land invasion. In April, the ship was the target of several kamikaze attacks. From March through May, the USS Missouri crew fired on 16 enemy aircraft and claimed five kills. By the end of the war, the USS Missouri was used as a surrender ship and served as the physical location for the end of WWII. 

The ship’s final voyage was sailing into Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1991, to mark the attack’s 50th anniversary. 

In 1998, the USS Missouri was donated to the USS Missouri Memorial Association and became a Pearl Harbor museum ship. Visitors can explore the decks, wardroom, and quarters and learn how the sailors lived. The Surrender Deck offers visitors a chance to explore the significance of the place where WWII officially ended. Because visitors cannot explore the USS Missouri in person, the National Park Service has made a virtual tour available. 

National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day 

Airman shares experience of being in DC for historic activation
Members of the Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam Honors and Ceremonies participate in a flag folding during an ash scattering ceremony at the USS Utah Memorial for Pearl Harbor survivor William Henderson. Henderson served aboard USS Helena (CL 50) during the 1941 Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Tiarra Fulgham/Released)

In 1994, the US Congress designed December 7 as the National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day. Most years, Pearl Harbor survivors, veterans, and visitors come together to honor those killed in the attack. Generally, these events converge at the Pearl Harbor National Memorial and end with a commemoration ceremony. 

Currently, the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, the museums, and the USS Arizona memorial are open to the public. The Park Theater is still closed and is expected to remain so through next year. This year, the commemoration event will focus on Battlefield O’ahu and be held at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center. 

This year’s commemoration will compress the usual week-long series of events to better protect WWII veterans. The event will be closed to the public but will be live-streamed via the Pearl Harbor National Memorial Facebook page. Honor the events of Pearl Harbor by watching the commemoration.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Veterans finding connection through social and physical activities

Did you know that there are 3.5 million post-9/11 veterans nationwide, and that 250,000 more service members will leave active duty this year to join them? These veterans often face isolation, lack of physical fitness, and a lack of purpose in a world that doesn’t understand the military.

Team Red, White & Blue‘s mission is to enrich the lives of America’s veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity. Utilizing a nationwide network of chapters, Team RWB hosts and participates in events designed to bring veterans together and engage in the communities where they live and work.

Whether it’s workouts, races, social activities or community service projects, Team RWB members, also known as Eagles, support each other through shared values and experiences; there’s probably an RWB chapter near you.


Joining Team RWB is easy

Visit the Team RWB homepage to sign up. New members also receive a free Team RWB Nike t-shirt ( shipping and handling charge). New eagles are also quickly connected to their local chapter to learn about upcoming local activities. More than 160K veterans, their families, and non-military supporters have already joined Team RWB.

This is Us – Team RWB

www.youtube.com

Team Red, White Blue is a nonprofit founded by veterans working to solve the epidemic of loneliness through physical activity. Team RWB is the bridge connecting communities where veterans and civilians work together to gain common understanding.

Team RWB takes the best of military service–the camaraderie and physical challenges–and creates a new family of Eagles connected through physical activity.

“Staying active both physically and socially is key for a lot of veterans, especially those who have been wounded, ill or injured,” said Tampa VAMC Chief of Recreation and U.S. Army veteran Geoff Hopkins. “It’s very important for those veterans with ‘invisible wounds,’ such as PTSD, to engage in activities in the community, to draw them out of their dark places and get them interacting with others.”

Take the 1776 Challenge

Independence Day is for celebrating our nation’s freedom. This summer, Team Red, White Blue will showcase their commitment to the men and women who have fought for our freedom with the 1776 Challenge.

Team RWB invites you to join all Team RWB Eagles across the nation. Whether you do it with someone else or weave it into your workout, you will know that thousands of others will be taking on that day’s unique challenge with you! Dedicate your hard work and sweat to celebrate our nation’s veterans and their commitment to this great nation. Every time you “check in,” you will be entered into a chance to win prizes!

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

6 ways to give back during a pandemic

Everyone goes through tough times, and taking care of each other is part of what it means to be an American. This year, holiday volunteering is a little trickier than usual. With COVID-19 cases rising nationwide, many in-person volunteering opportunities have been adapted or put on hold. That said, the need for generosity and support is higher this year than it has been in decades. 

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to help without leaving the house, and others that are simple and low-risk. These are a few of the safest, most impactful options to lend a helping hand in 2020. 

1. Donate to Toys for Tots

Due to the economic impact of COVID-19, there are more families facing financial hardship than ever. This loss is felt more keenly than usual around the holidays, so Toys for Tots steps in to help. The charity has donated 584 million toys to date, and donating this year is easier than ever. Through their virtual donation page, you can donate a toy in just a few clicks

2. Donate blood

While this one isn’t virtual and may not be recommended for those at high risk, donating blood is a way to give back that’s truly lifesaving. There’s always a need, and it takes less than an hour at a Red Cross blood drive location near you. If you’ve already had COVID and have since fully recovered, you can also donate plasma to help other patients get fight the illness. 

3. Donate supplies to shelters

Shelters aren’t immune to the pandemic, nor the annual cold and flu season. Donating supplies is a low-risk way to help the homeless this Christmas. Frequently needed supplies include: 

  • PPEs- Gloves, surgical masks, and goggles, 
  • Cleaning supplies and garbage bags
  • Thermometers
  • Fever-reducing OTC medications like Tylenol
  • Linens- Towels, sheets, blankets, etc
  • Foods and hydrating fluids- Instant soups, teas, Pedialyte, Jell-O

Contact shelters in your area to review current donation policies and check which items they need the most.

4. Deliver food to seniors

While volunteering in senior centers is limited in most areas, you can still help by bringing older folks hot meals! Meals on Wheels delivers food to both seniors living on their own and those living in centers to help them maintain their independence and reduce their risk of injury or illnesss. 

Since the elderly are at higher risk of developing complications from COVID-19, less trips to the grocery store mean fewer changes to get sick. You can help either by volunteering to deliver meals, or by donating to help support the program. 

5. Volunteer virtually

If you prefer adding a more personal connection to your charity efforts, virtual volunteer options are a great option. If you have skills that can be offered virtually, consider donating your services. Offer virtual tutoring, music lessons, therapy, or any other special skills you’d like to share! Volunteer Match can help match you with opportunities that are good fit.

Even if you don’t have any virtual services to offer, you can help by volunteering for support call centers. Soldiers’ Angels has countless ways that families can give back to the military community all year round. 

6. Adopt a family

Perhaps the most personal way to help this Christmas is by “adopting” a family. You connect with a family in need, preferably with children close in age to your own, find out what they’d like for Christmas, and make their holiday dreams come true. To get paired with a family, contact your local branch of the YMCA or Salvation Army

MIGHTY CULTURE

The touching tribute Korean pilots put together for their fallen

Aviation journalist and expert Ian D’Costa shared a video on Oct. 1, 2018, we had to pass on. This Korean news video, originally published on bemil.chosun.com, loosely translated from Korean as “Military News”, is a dignified and heart-wrenching tribute to South Korea’s repatriated fallen soldiers from the Korean Conflict.

On Oct. 1, 2018, South Korean President Moon Jae-in cancelled the traditional South Korean military anniversary parade in favor of holding a ceremony for the arrival of remains of South Korean soldiers killed during the Korean conflict. The remains were repatriated in early 2018 from North Korea, flown to Hawaii’s Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency for DNA identification and, once verified as South Korean servicemen, scheduled to return to South Korea for formal military burial.


D’Costa managed to find the Korean in-flight newsreel video of a Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) F-15K Slam Eagle of the 11th Fighter Wing from Daegu, South Korea joining other aircraft including FA-50 Fighting Eagles of the 8th Fighter Wing at Wonju, South Korea as they escort the remains flight in a ROKAF C-130H transport.

The newsreel video published on bemil.chosun.com shows an F-15K Slam Eagle crew fly right wing formation alongside the remains flight C-130H and, with perfect military precision, render a final in-flight salute before dropping back to fly wedge formation while escorting the aircraft. It’s a heart-wrenching moment to see.

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The video goes on to show the precise and reverent loading of the remains onboard the C-130K flight in Hawaii for return to South Korea. The remains repatriation flight was escorted by two ROKAF F-15K Slam Eagles and two FA-50 Fighting Eagles.

The dignified gestures attendant the handling of military remains is an important ritual in observing the personal loss to families of fallen servicemen. In this case, the rituals are also a historic part of the slow healing process between the two fractured Koreas.

Airman shares experience of being in DC for historic activation

The aerial funeral procession in flight near South Korea as it returns from Hawaii.

(bemil.chosun.com photo)

According to several sources including CNN, South Korea suffered 217,000 military and a staggering “1,000,000” civilian casualties during the entire Korean Conflict which began on June 25, 1950, and continued to varying degrees until April 27, 2018, when talks between North and South Korea brokered by the United States brought an end to the conflict. According to reports, 7,704 U.S. servicemen remain unaccounted for following the end of the Korean Conflict.

Thanks to Ian D’Costa of The Tactical Air Network, Sightline Media Group and We Are The Mighty for letting us know about this story.

Top image: screenshot from video published at bemil.chosun.com.

This article originally appeared on The Aviationist. Follow @theaviationist on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Finally – this is the Army’s new parental leave policy

The Army has doubled the amount of parental leave available to fathers and other secondary caregivers of newborn infants with a policy that also provides more leave flexibility for mothers.

Secretary of the Army Mark T. Esper signed a directive Jan. 23, 2019, that increases parental leave from 10 to 21 days for soldiers who are designated secondary caregivers of infants. The new policy makes the Army’s parental leave comparable to that of other services and in compliance with the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act.


Mothers will now be granted six weeks of convalescent leave directly after giving birth and can be granted another six weeks of leave as primary caregiver to bond with their infant anytime up to a year after birth.

“We want soldiers and their families to take full advantage of this benefit,” said retired Col. Larry Lock, chief of Compensation and Entitlements, Army G-1. He said parental leave is a readiness issue that ensures mothers have the time they need to get back in shape while it also takes care of families.

Airman shares experience of being in DC for historic activation

A soldier shares a high-five with his daughter.

The new policy is retroactive to Dec. 23, 2016 — the date the NDAA legislation was signed for fiscal year 2017.

In other words, soldiers who took only 10 days of paternal leave over the past couple of years can apply to take an additional 11 days of “uncredited” leave as a secondary caregiver.

An alternative would be to reinstate 11 days of annual leave if that time was spent with their infant.

Eligible soldiers need to complete a Department of the Army Form 4187 and submit it to their commanders for consideration regarding the retroactive parental leave.

Fathers can also be designated as primary caregivers and granted six weeks or 42 days of parental leave, according to the new policy. However, only one parent can be designated as primary caregiver, Lock pointed out.

If a mother needs to return to work and cannot take the six weeks of leave to care for an infant, then the father could be designated as primary caregiver, he said. However, if the mother has already taken 12 weeks of maternal leave, that option is not available.

Airman shares experience of being in DC for historic activation

Sgt. 1st Class Michael Lewis, a motor sergeant assigned to the 232nd Engineer Company, 94th Engineer Battalion, plays with his daughter.

(Photo by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Heather A. Denby)

Until now, mothers could receive up to 12 weeks of maternity leave, which had to be taken immediately following childbirth. Now, only the six weeks of convalescent leave needs to be taken following discharge from the hospital. The second six weeks of primary caregiver leave can be taken anytime up to a year from giving birth, but must be taken in one block.

In the case of retroactive primary caregiver leave, it can be taken up to 18 months from a birth.

This provides soldiers more flexibility, Lock said.

The new directive applies to soldiers on active duty, including those performing Active Guard and Reserve duty as AGRs or full-time National Guard duty for a period in excess of 12 months.

Summing up the new policy, Lock said the Military Parental Leave Program, or MPLP, now offers three separate types of parental leave: maternity convalescent leave, primary caregiver leave, and secondary caregiver leave.

Mothers who decide to be secondary caregivers are eligible for the convalescent leave and the 21 days for a total of up to nine weeks.

Parents who adopt are also eligible for the primary or secondary caregiver leave.

The new policy is explained in Army Directive 2019-05, which is in effect until an updated Army Regulation 600-8-10 is issued.

This article originally appeared on the United States Army Follow @USArmy on Twitter.

Articles

The B-52 Stratofortress may stay in the Air Force for 100 years

They sure don’t make ‘em like they used to. That’s something that can be said for most things in modern society, all over the world. For some reason, it seems like everything used to be built to last and whatever we’re doing today just doesn’t measure up. 

For evidence of this fact, look no further than the B-52 Stratofortress bomber. Once built to fight World War III not long after the start of the Cold War, the B-52 has managed to stick around for well over 50 years. Now it looks like it might be around for another 50 years after.

When it was first introduced in 1955, the B-52 bomber wasn’t winning any beauty pageants. That’s how it earned the nickname “Big Ugly Fat F**ker,” or “BUFF” for short. But if it’s going to win anything, it’ll win a lifetime achievement award.

Airman shares experience of being in DC for historic activation
“Oh, I really wasn’t expecting this! I just want to thank Boeing, the U.S. Air Force, all the pilots…” (Airman 1st Class Victor J. Caputo – U.S. Air Force)

The Air Force has built hundreds of these aging beauties, capable of flying more than 8,800 miles on eight turbojet engines without an aerial refuel, dropping 70,000 pounds on an enemy target and then, ostensibly, returning home (with an aerial refuel, of course). That’s a pretty big mission, one only the specially-designed B-52 could fulfill. 

On top of that, it was designed to carry nuclear weapons, as part of the Strategic Air Command’s Cold War-era deterrent strategy. These planes stay aloft for hours protecting the northern skies of the United States and its allies. 

Airman shares experience of being in DC for historic activation

Its staying power is largely due to its low cost of operation and maintenance, its ability to reliably drop ordnance on any target anywhere in the world and its combat performance – the B-52 has dropped bombs in almost every major American conflict since it entered service. 

“When we built the B-52, it was supposed to be a high-altitude nuclear bomber, right? Going to the adversary,” Maj. Gen. Andrew Gebara, Director of Strategic Plans, Programs, and Requirements at Air Force Global Strike Command, told Defense One. “Then it became a low-altitude nuclear bomber. And then it became a high-altitude carpet bomber in Vietnam. And then it became a standoff cruise missile shooter in Desert Storm. And then it became a precision strike close air support platform in Afghanistan and Iraq.” 

Like any aircraft that outlasts its expectations, it did require a facelift now and then. 

Airman shares experience of being in DC for historic activation
Of course, we all know it’s what’s on the inside (lots of bombs) that counts (U.S. Air Force photo)

In 2013, the Air Force gave its B-52 fleet a major upgrade, called Combat Network Communications Technology (CONECT). It involved replacing the B-52’s electronics, communications technology, computing and avionics. Software upgrades were added, as were new computer servers, modems, radios, data-links, receivers and digital workstations.

Part of that massive overhaul also included upgrading the plane’s primary capabilities: dropping bombs. Its internal weapons bays were adapted to fit modern JDAM bombs, cruise missiles and decoy missiles. It also got its bomb payload increased by 66%. So today’s B-52 Stratofortresses are smarter, relay more information to and from ground control and are deadlier than ever before. 

Airman shares experience of being in DC for historic activation
The majestic BUFF takes its grandchildren for an outing over the South China Sea (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Cmdr. Joseph Stevens)

Now the Air Force is considering giving the B-52 program another major overhaul to the 76 that are still flying today. They’ll be replacing its current Pratt & Whitney TF33 engines (first added in 1966) with new, more efficient ones. Combined with utilizing smaller aircrews, this means the B-52 could fly for more than 100 years, according to a new report from Defense One

The Air Force says it will be the biggest modernization program in the airframe’s history and will allow the B-52 to outlast its supposed replacements, the B-1B Lancer and B-2 Spirit bombers. It will serve right alongside the Air Force’s newest bomber, the B-21 Raider, well into the 2050s.

Airman shares experience of being in DC for historic activation
Pictured: Functional beats flashy (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Marc Feliz)

Now, with the new modernization effort, the Air Force is going to turn the classic BUFF into a modern bomber of the 21st Century. According to Air Force officials, the B-52’s original design made it the perfect plane to upgrade for range and weapons capabilities. This also made it cheaper to upgrade than to design and build a new aircraft. 

They sure don’t make ‘em like they used to.

MIGHTY CULTURE

9 retorts that prove the Ancient Spartans were funnier than you thought

The ancient Spartans are legendary for their courage and discipline, but these warriors were also famous in their time for their dry, sarcastic humor. A “laconic phrase,” a phrase that is especially concise and blunt, is actually named after Laconia, the Greek region where Sparta was located. Some Greeks attributed the Spartan terseness to ignorance, but others thought differently. The Athenian philosopher Plato wrote, “If you talk to any ordinary Spartan, he seems to be stupid, but eventually, like an expert marksman, he shoots in some brief remark that proves you to be only a child.” Here are some of the best examples of Spartan wit.


1. King Demartus

According to the ancient Roman historian Plutarch, King Demaratus of Sparta was once being pestered by a man with endless questions, especially who was the best among the Spartans. The irritated king finally responded, “Whoever is least like you.”

2. King Pleistoanax

Plutarch also describes King Pleistoanax, who heard an Athenian orator claim that the Spartans had no education. Pleistoanax retorted, “True, we are indeed the only Greeks who have learned no evil from you.”

3. Stellos 

In Zack Snyder’s 300, after hearing from a Persian emissary that the Persian archers’ arrows would blot out the sun, the Spartan soldier Stelios jokes that the Spartans will fight in the shade. This actually comes from Herodotus’s Histories, the ancient source on the Persian War, except it is spoken by the soldier Deinekes. However, an ancient source from Plutarch does mention King Leonidas telling his men, “Eat well, for tonight we dine in Hades.”

4. Commander Pausanias

After the Spartans routed the Persian invasion at the Battle of Plataea, the Spartan commander Pausanias decided that the banquet the Persians had set out for themselves should be served to himself and his officers instead. Upon seeing the feast, Pausanias cracked that, “The Persian is an abominable glutton who, when he has such delicacies at home, comes to eat our barley-cakes.” Spartan food was notoriously disgusting. When a traveler from Sybaris visited Sparta and tasted their infamous “black broth” he exclaimed, “No wonder Spartans are the bravest of men. Anyone in their right mind would rather die a thousand times than live like this.”

5. Spartan women

It wasn’t just the Spartan men who cracked jokes. Unlike most Greek women who were expected to be subservient to their husbands, the women of Sparta held considerable political and economic power. The Spartan men were always preparing for a war or fighting one, so the women were expected to manage their households themselves. A non-Spartan woman once asked Queen Gorgo, wife of Leonidas, why the Spartan women were the only ones who could rule over men. Gorgo responded, “Because we are also the only ones who give birth to men.”

6. Short but sweet

When King Philip II of Macedon (father of Alexander the Great) invaded southern Greece, he sent a message to the Spartans asking if he would be received as a friend or enemy. The Spartans’ reply was brief: “Neither.” Offended, Philip sent a threat: “You are advised to submit without further delay, for if I bring my army into your land, I will destroy your farms, slay your people, and raze your city.” The Spartans’ reply was just as short as before: “If.”

7. Spartan response 

The Macedonians eventually did conquer Greece, and the later Macedonian king Demetrius I offended many Greeks through his extravagance and prideful attitude. He even forced the ambassadors of Athens, his favorite of the Greek cities, to wait two whole years at court before speaking to them. Sparta resented the Macedonian rule, and sent only one ambassador to the court on behalf of the city. Demetrius was infuriated and demanded to know if Sparta had really sent only one man to speak with the king; the Spartan responded, “Aye, one ambassador to one king.”

8. King Agesilaus II

King Agesilaus II of Sparta was respected for his martial virtue as well as his wit. Someone asked him what the boundaries of Sparta were, as unlike most Greek cities Sparta had no defensive walls. Agesilaus drew his spear and extended it, claiming that the borders were “as far as this can reach.” When asked why Sparta had no walls, he pointed to the armored citizens and explained that “these are the Spartans’ walls.” After Agesilaus was wounded in a battle against Thebes, the Spartan warrior Antalcidas joked that “The Thebans pay you well for having taught them to fight, which they were neither willing nor able to do before.”

For the Spartans, humor was more than just entertainment. It taught them how to think on their feet, how to conserve resources by training them to be economical with their words, and encouraged camaraderie between the citizens. All of us have something to learn from this warlike people, not just from their wisdom, but from their wisecracks.

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