The Leadership Development Course taught at Air University at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, seeks to improve people skills and allow students to learn from previously failed experiences. Key points of discussion are developing exceptional leaders and combating toxic leadership tendencies. Another focus area is emotional intelligence, or the ability for Airmen to understand and control their emotions, while understanding others to effectively lead.
“Toxic leadership is a very big topic in the media today,” said Dr. Fil Arenas, Air University associate professor of leadership studies. “Toxic leaders are leaders that not only cause serious harm to their followers, but to their organization. We’re trying to get away from all these abusive behaviors. There is a large gradation in the literature of toxic leadership that goes from trace toxics, to completely abusive leadership that causes people to commit suicide; that is the extreme scale.”
To keep pace with the constant evolution of technology and understanding of the psychology of personalities, the Air Force has shifted how it looked at leadership and how to develop effective leaders.
“Leadership isn’t just about intelligence and just having IQ doesn’t make you an effective leader,” said Lt. Col. Andrew Clayton, Air University assistant professor of leadership studies. “You have to be able to connect with people, create relationships and understand how you impact the environment.”
Janine Belasco, a U.S. Air Force simulation specialist, acts as a male avatar during a virtual empathy and interpersonal communication exercise, at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., The simulation was adopted as a capstone for Air University’s new Leadership Development Course.
The shift to developing leaders’ interpersonal skills presented a training opportunity in an area that was unfamiliar to Air University, prompting Clayton to ask local education experts for support and guidance.
He was introduced to Janine Belasco, a trained actress with no military affiliation, and her line of employment — virtual empathy and leadership training.
“It is the most important work to me,” Belasco said. “To help people be able to talk about how they feel and to help people be able to feel empathy before they become leaders so they can react to others with true emotions and acts of caring is very important.”
Lt. Col. Andrew Clayton, Air University assistant professor of leadership studies, mentors a student during an empathy and interpersonal communication exercise at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala. A need to look at leadership development differently sparked Clayton to look to local education institutions for guidance on a new training opportunity for empathy and leadership.
For those who aren’t familiar with the Army rank structure, there are three directions an Army specialist can go in terms of rank change. They can be demoted to private first class, losing responsibilities and pay. They can be promoted to sergeant, gaining responsibilities and pay.
Or, a third direction, they can be “laterally promoted” to corporal, where they gain lots of responsibilities but no pay.
This is why corporal is the worst rank in the Army.
An Army corporal is sent to roll up ratchet straps near trees while an Army specialist is paid the same to take a photo of them doing it.
(U.S. Army Spc. Andrew J. Washington)
See, corporal is an enlisted level-4 rank, equal in pay to a specialist. This is a holdover from back in the day when the Army had two enlisted rank structures that ran side-by-side. There were specialists-4, specialists-5, 6, 7, 8, and 9. Specialists got the same pay as their noncommissioned officer equivalents. So, a specialist-9 got paid the same as a sergeant major.
Specialists were expected to be experts in a specific job, but weren’t expected to necessarily lead other soldiers. So, it was unlikely that they would pull duties like sergeant of the guard, and they were only rarely appointed to real leadership positions. The rest of the time, they just did their jobs well and got left alone.
But specialists were slowly whittled down in the 1960s-80s. After 1985, only one specialist rank remained. It was paid at the E-4 level, same as a corporal.
Today, specialist is the most common rank in the Army.
But some specialists are so high-speed, so good at their jobs, so inspiring to their fellow troops, that the Army decides it must have them as leaders now. And, if they aren’t eligible for promotion to E-5 just yet, then we’ll just laterally promote them to corporal and get them into the rotation anyway.
So, the soldier gets added to the NCO duty rosters, gets tapped for all sorts of work details that pop up, and gets held to a higher standard than their peers, even though they’re drawing the same paycheck every month.
They can even be assigned to positions which would normally go to a sergeant, like senior team leader.
“All of the work, none of the pay.”
Meanwhile, their specialist peers are so well known for cutting up that the symbol of their rank is known as the “sham shield,” a play on the Army slang of “shamming” (skipping work, known as skating in the Navy).
The Army needed someone to go out and take photos of a bunch of guys getting hit with CS gas in the middle of the desert. They, of course, turned to a corporal.
(Side note: the rest of the occupations in the top 5 most stressful jobs have an average salary of ,562. E-4s pull in about ,000 depending on their time in service.)
A U.S. Army specialist is “promoted” to corporal, a promotion that he will never regret.
(U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Christina Turnipseed)
Next, when corporals are laterally promoted, they only move up the feeding chain a tiny amount, moving from specialists to guys who are ostensibly in charge of specialist, but still below all other NCO, officers, and warrant officers.
And we said ostensibly for a reason. Specialists aren’t known for always caring what a corporal says. Or what anyone else says, but corporals get particularly short shrift. And this is especially bad for corporals who are appointed to that rank in the same unit they were specialists in. After all, that means they have to now direct the guys they were hanging out with just a few days or weeks before, all without the benefit of a more concrete promotion.
Army Cpl. Quantavius Carter works as a movement noncommissioned officer, logging all the measurements necessary for the paperwork to ship the vehicle.
(U.S. Army Sgt. Elizabeth White)
But their job is important, and most corporals are appointed to that rank because higher leadership knows that they’ll take it seriously. Like we mentioned, corporals can be assigned to jobs that would normally require a sergeant. They sent to supervise everything from crap details to automatic weapons teams.
They are, truthfully, part of the backbone of the Army, but they still often have to share barracks rooms with drunk specialists.
So, yeah, buy your local corporal a drink when you get a chance, because they’re stuck in a tough job with no extra pay and little extra respect. Worst rank in the Army.
How many military branches make you surrender your passport, catalog everything you brought to the recruitment center and give you a new identity, all before you sign your enlistment contract?
That’s the French Foreign Legion and that’s exactly how it works… at least according to a Reddit user with the handle FFLGuy, who did an “Ask Me Anything” session on Reddit in 2011. On other responses on Reddit he mentions serving as “a former légionnaire in the Légion étrangère,” as the French saying goes.
For anyone unaware, the French Foreign Legion is a highly-trained, highly capable fighting force fighting for France – but is open to anyone from any nation. What makes serving in the unit unique is that after three years, members can apply for French citizenship. They are also immediately eligible for citizenship if wounded in combat, a provision known as “Français par le sang versé” – or “French by spilled blood.”
Also unique to the Legion is being able to serve under an assumed identity and then retain that identity after serving. While the Legion used to force everyone to use a pseudonym, these days, enlistees have a choice of identities, real or assumed.
For the first week of your enlistment, you sign contracts and wait to find out if Interpol has any outstanding warrants for you. Once selected, you go right to training in Aubagne, in the Cote-d’Azur region of Southern France. You are stripped of everything, as the Legion now provides you with everything you need.
You are now wearing a blue Legion track suit and are working all day long. Cleaning, painting and cooking are the primary preoccupations, but members are taken away for physical and psychological testing. Also, the hazing begins. While that may not fly in America, this is the Legion, and there’s a 80 percent attrition rate. When would-be Legionnaires give up, it’s called “going civil.”
After two weeks of this “rouge” (red) period, you’re whisked away by train to Castelnaudary, where trainees spend the bulk of their basic training time. In total, the training is four months. Three of it will be spent here. It is from here you transition from engagé volontaire (voluntary enlistee), to actual légionnaire. The groups are split up into four groups of 25-45 would-be légionnaires.
Castelnaudary is where the foreign légionnaires learn French, work out, train, ruck, learn to use weapons and basically all the rudimentary things infantrymen do while in the infantry.Once at Castelnaudary, getting out of the Legion is very difficult. They will find a way to make you stay, the author writes: “Trust me when I tell you that it isn’t a wise choice.”
“Hazing at this point is constant,” the author wrote. “There will be many nights without sleep, and many meals missed. You are never alone and are constantly watched for even the tiniest mistakes. The consequences for mistakes are severe and painful; physically, psychologically or both. The environment is initially set up to ensure failure. You are broken down individually – both mentally and physically – slowly being built back up with larger and larger successes as a group.”
Hazing includes food and sleep deprivation, physical abuse and the like. As the author writes, “If you made it through Castelnaudary without being hit at least once, you weren’t there. “
Ten percent of the group who make it to Castelnaudary will go civil before they earn the coveted Kepi Blanc. It’s when your ceremony for earning the Kepi Blanc is when you officially are a Légionnaire. But the training is not complete. For three more months, you go through basic infantry training.
Those that quit or are not chosen to continue their training are given back their possessions, passports, a small amount of money for every day spent working, and a train ticket to the city in which they entered the Legion. They also have to resume their old identity.
With their old identity in hand, they must return to their country of origin.
Ryan Hendrickson is a retired Green Beret who’s been through a lot. Despite overwhelming challenges, he refuses to wear the title of victim and instead calls himself a survivor. He wants you to do the same.
Tip of the Spear wasn’t supposed to be a book. It started as a journal for Hendrickson, a way to work through his thoughts and post-traumatic stress. But after a few months, he saw something in those writings – as did friends. “The therapeutic effect I got from writing actually turned into a book. I had to see the silver lining in something as bad as stepping on an IED [improvised explosive device]. A lot of people that were reading it said the book talks to everyone — not just military — as far as not being a victim in your life,” Hendrickson explained.
In September of 2010, Hendrickson was deployed to Afghanistan as an 18 Charlie, a Special Forces Engineer with Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th special forces. He had just completed the elite schooling to earn the coveted Green Beret and was feeling on top of the world. The first chapter of Tip of the Spear takes the reader vividly through what it’s like to arrive in Afghanistan – and the mission that changed his life.
When Hendrickson and his team entered the deserted Afghan village before dawn, he said he knew something big was coming. When his interpreter went too far ahead of uncleared ground, he had no choice but to quickly and quietly get him back. “I grabbed him by the back of the shirt and moved him around. You never like to have any unknown area or blind spot, so I put the muzzle of my M-4 in the doorway of the compound and stepped back… right onto the IED,” he shared.
Hendrickson said he didn’t realize he hit it at first, remembering that he just felt like he couldn’t breathe because of the heavy dust and ammonia in the air. “As the dust started to clear, I saw that my boot was six inches away from my leg…When I reached behind my knee to pull my leg up, my boot sort of flopped over with my toes pointed at me. I saw these two pearly white objects sticking out of my pant leg. Then it kicked in that it was bone,” he said.
It was then that Hendrickson realized it was really bad. His team couldn’t rush in to support him either, since they knew that if there was one IED, there were probably five. His interpreter started a tourniquet, effectively saving his life. After a while, his team was able to safely make it to him and they got him out. “We could hear the Taliban on chatter celebrating that I got hit and that they were going to move into position to ambush us. They splinted the leg the best they could to put the lower and upper part together,” he said.
Hendrickson was in theater for over a week as they tried to stabilize him and keep him alive. When he made it to San Antonio, it would take 28 surgeries to reattach his leg. Then the real work began. “I had a sergeant major who came in to see me; he told me if I could get medically cleared he’d send me back to combat. That was the big driving factor behind me taking control of my life and hitting rehab as hard as I could. That and knowing the Taliban were cheering when I got hurt. I wasn’t going to let them beat me or win,” he explained.
Although he was medically retired, Hendrickson refused to accept it. After spending a grueling year in rehabilitation, he passed all the required tests and was reinstated into active duty through a special waiver. In March of 2012 – only a year and a half after almost losing his leg to an IED – his boots were back in the sands of Afghanistan.
It wasn’t easy though, he shared. The guys he was working with were concerned he’d be a liability. Hendrickson was sent to the biggest known IED province of Afghanistan, a real test given his own experience. He had to prove himself to his teammates and did it by methodically finding IED after IED, keeping them all safe.
Hendrickson would continue to serve and deploy for years after that. In 2016, he earned a Silver Star for heroic efforts during a difficult seven-hour firefight in Afghanistan. “It wasn’t what I did, it was what we did…It’s the same thing all of us say, we were just doing our job,” he shared. He headed home fromAfghanistan in 2017 and found himself struggling with a lot, mentally.
After trying unsuccessfully to talk with a counselor, he sought help through the chaplain. He advised him to write, using that avenue to tell his story and work through his thoughts. Those thoughts and writing were unknowingly turning into a story of his life, both the good and the bad. It was here that he found healing and the deep resiliency he needed to never feel like a victim again.
Tip of the Spear will bring the reader on a powerful journey through a difficult childhood leading to military service spanning three branches, ultimately leading Hendrickson to become an elite Green Beret. The story culminates with the unfathomable challenge of coming back from an injury that almost took his life and was certainly considered the end of his military career. Hendrickson refused to quit and fought his way past the odds stacked against him.
It’s Hendrick’s hope that readers will use his journey to be inspired to do the same in their own lives. Anything is possible he says, but first you have to become a survivor, not a victim.
To purchase your copy of Tip of the Spear, click here.
Several shootings involving police have occurred this year, bringing on an outpouring of civil unrest in the form of widespread protests or riots, and cries for reform to reduce police brutality and institutional racism.
“Defund the police” has become a common refrain throughout the US and has grown in popularity in several cities. New York City shifted approximately $1 billion away from the New York Police Department. The Seattle City Council approved a 14% decrease in the Seattle Police Department’s budget.
A main focus of the discussions surrounding police reform has been to call standards in law enforcement training into question. Both sides of the debate have proposed suggestions — from banning chokeholds to preventing police from carrying firearms.
Coffee or Die spoke with Mark Mireles, a veteran of both the US Marine Corps and the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), about what he believes would help law enforcement in situations that lead to the use of lethal force.
Mark Mireles by his squad car during the 1992 Rodney King riots in LA, to the rear of the Foothill police station, the epicenter of the Rodney King beating. Photo courtesy of Mark Mireles.
Mireles served as a Marine for four years in the 1980s. He worked as an LAPD police officer for 28 years before retiring and entering the private security industry.
His nearly three-decade-long career in the LAPD unfolded across Los Angeles’ most violent years. Mireles has engaged criminals in all varieties of hand fighting, less lethal deployment, and lethal deployment. Three times he earned the Medal of Valor, which is the highest award for personal bravery bestowed to LAPD’s officers.
Mireles trained under the legendary Jean Jacques Machado and is a third-degree black belt in Brazilian jiujitsu (BJJ). Mireles also holds a black belt in judo, which is the parent art of BJJ. He won the World No-Gi Championship in the masters black belt ultra-heavy division in 2019. He is also a four-time Gold Medalist in the World Police and Fire Games in both freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling, and earned All American honors in the Olympic-style Greco-Roman wrestling.
There is a movement gaining momentum for law enforcement officers to be trained in Brazilian jiujitsu. This form of martial arts has been around for centuries and has been used by a wide variety of professions, from your average security officer in a mall to the most highly trained US military special operations soldier.
BJJ is defined by GracieMag as “a martial art of Japanese origin in which one essentially uses levers, torsions and pressure in order to take one’s opponent to the ground and dominate them. Literally, jū in Japanese means ‘gentleness,’ and jutsu means ‘art,’ ‘technique.’ Hence the literal translation by which it’s also known, the ‘gentle art.'”
Mireles explained why he believes law enforcement officers should receive the best training possible in “handcuffing, arrest and control, defensive tactics, and I’m talking about outside of less lethal” because “officers — and this is nationally — put their hands on people every single day, but they get the least amount of training for that.”
He highlighted two recent examples that drew international attention: the Kenosha, Wisconsin, shooting of Jacob Blake and the Atlanta shooting of Rayshard Brooks. One major factor he pointed out in both situations is that the police officers involved failed to fully control the suspect with their first physical contact.
In BJJ, there are multiple levels of proficiency deemed by the color of belts. Beginners are white belts, followed by blue, purple, brown, and black. Black belts are considered masters of BJJ.
“If the officers were trained in tactics to a blue belt level, they would have been successful, I believe,” Mireles said about the Atlanta and Kenosha incidents. “To thwart the problem by being able to take the suspect and control them and take them down to the ground rather than getting into these extended tussles.”
Mark Mireles won a silver medal in judo during the 2017 World Police and Fire Games. Photo courtesy of Mark Mireles.
Mireles believes the primary mission of law enforcement is to “save and preserve human life, and to do everything that you can to do that.” BJJ is a practical approach to add as an additional step in the escalation of force before an officer has to resort to their pistol in a use-of-force event. Mireles specified there are obvious circumstances where an officer goes straight to their pistol or police rifle during active shooter or hostage scenarios.
In Mireles’ view, the officers involved in the Rayshard Brooks shooting did an “above and beyond job on verbalization” in their attempts to keep Brooks calm during the encounter. He added that there is a lot of speculation as to whether the officer should or should not have returned fire after Brooks shot the Taser at police, but he wants to focus on the point where the Atlanta officers could have stopped the situation from reaching the deployment of lethal force.
He believes that hand fighting — anything involving physical contact from the forearms to the hands — is critical for officers to know. Handcuffing a suspect is performed by law enforcement daily, and it’s at that point when suspects fight and/or try to run away, according to Mireles. In his opinion, BJJ teaches you how to manipulate the hand to control a person’s body, and this hand manipulation is crucial during the process of handcuffing a suspect or during other physical contact. This is when the Atlanta officers could have stopped the escalation from going further.
The Kenosha Police Department shooting of Jacob Blake is a similar situation in which the officers on scene lost control during an arrest attempt. Over his 28-year career, Mireles has implemented his experience in martial arts and has been involved in events just like those leading to the Kenosha and Atlanta shootings.
Las Vegas POLICE Officer Uses JIU-JITSU to Control Larger Suspect (Gracie Breakdown)
“I would offer, and I could be wrong, but these officers in Atlanta and Kenosha — in that time where they’re trying to hold on to the suspect — that they don’t have, they could have much better training in hand fighting to better control their suspects,” said Mireles.
He said his experience helped him gain control of suspects he was pursuing, preventing a further escalation of force. Mireles believes BJJ would possibly have helped these officers from having to resort to lethal force. He added that from what he could see and according to the state laws in Wisconsin and Georgia, these officers were justified in their use of lethal force.
Mireles combined his law enforcement, military, and martial arts experience to start a BJJ academy, where 70% of his attendees are either police officers or firefighters. He has received positive feedback from his trainees on how directly applicable the training is and how it has helped them in their careers. To Mireles’ knowledge, very few police academies actually train their cadets in hand fighting or BJJ.
Something that Mireles teaches at his academy is what he feels is the only way to approach a suspect who is resisting arrest. He said, “You’re trying to get a noncompliant person to become compliant through verbalization, but when it comes time to use force, that force has to be decisive and explosive.”
Mireles taking on his Russian competitor during the 2017 World Police and Fire Games. Photo courtesy of Mark Mireles.
Mireles described a blue belt in BJJ as “life insurance” for officers. “It’s going to go a long way on the street, and if it’s not your thing, do it anyway, because it’s life insurance,” he said. “If you love your wife, your significant other, your kids, you have to do everything you can to make sure that you go home safe at the end of watch, and hand-to-hand combat skills are very important to do that.”
“Going home safe” doesn’t just mean being physically safe; it also means protecting your job and reputation when it comes to policing. Mireles believes the use of BJJ to prevent an escalation to less lethal or lethal force with a suspect resisting arrest is a way to ensure that.
Setting up a national, standardized level of hand-fighting training for the entirety of law enforcement would be a difficult and time-consuming task. Mireles recommends that law enforcement officers join their local BJJ gyms and start learning on their own personal time while waiting for their department to implement training procedures for hand fighting.
“If you’re a true professional, you’re going to do everything to push yourself to the highest level of proficiency, and that’s only going to occur through training,” said Mireles. “Invest in your survival rate, both literally and through civil liability, by training in hand fighting.”
Just as a step away from the regularly scheduled news that is probably left in better hands than the “meme guy,” did you know that former President George W. Bush had his museum debut at the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington D.C. this week?
Yeah. And I mean, they’re actually pretty good. He’s got plenty of artwork that you can find around, but his most recent series has been stylized portraits of wounded Post-9/11 veterans – with the exception of the veteran’s eyes, which are drawn realistically. I’m no art critic, but I can tell that it draws you in, and you find yourself staring into the very souls of the veterans, and the rest kinda pulls you into how they feel.
I guess that goes to show you that after he got his “Presidential DD-214,” even the former commander-in-chief made a name for himself in the art world. See? Now can you all get off my back for using my GI Bill on a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree?
Anyways, here are some memes while I reevaluate my creative endeavors.
Firefighter helicopters, bulldozers, and airplanes —oh my! When a wildfire sparked in the scrubby hills outside Sacramento, California, on May 1, Cal Fire sent ground crews, machinery, and multiple aircraft after it, in what was both a rapid response and an early season warmup for what authorities expect to be a fire-heavy summer. Cal Fire officials from Butte addressed the need to pre-position equipment and personnel during a May 5 press conference for fire preparedness week.
Dubbed the Salmon Fire, the blaze that sparked on May 1 was 100% contained by May 4, burning only 32 acres.
Watch the video below to see how they did it:
The video covers nearly every element of wildfire attacks.
Field crews chop and cut trees near the fire to limit fuel with chain saws and hand tools, within feet of the blaze. There are also specially equipped fuel-clearing bulldozers on hand.
Overhead, helicopters circle to dump water, including both California’s new Fire Hawk H-60s (modified versions of the military H-60 Black Hawk), which use internal water tanks, and older helicopters carrying so-called “Bambi Buckets.” The video captures the helicopters refilling with water from a pond.
Above the helicopters, Grumman S-2T aircraft (former Navy submarine hunters) orbit and wait their turn to dive over the flames to release chemical retardants.
During the Cal Fire Butte Unit event on May 5, the California Office of Emergency Services Fire Chief Brian Marshall said that pre-positioning personnel and equipment enables them to catch the fires when they are small and more easily extinguished.
“To date, we’ve spent almost $24 million in pre-position funding to make sure that local jurisdictions have the resources available to have the capacity available to stop the fires when they’re small,” Marshall said. “Because when they’re a million acres — it’s difficult, it’s time-consuming, but if we can jump on that fire when it’s small, we will be highly successful.”
YouTube user Max McGregor posted the video of the Salmon Fire operations.
On Feb. 28, 2021, during the NHL Florida Panthers’ Black History Night home game event at BB&T Center, the team honored local war hero Sergeant Willie Brinson, a decorated Vietnam War veteran and Purple Heart recipient, with a special ‘Heroes Among Us’ opening ceremony tribute where Brinson shared his personal military story — along with a powerful message about race & unity:
“In combat, there’s no race, everybody depends on each other. There’s no black and white situation. You get shot, you’ll bleed red blood,” said the retired Army vet in the video shown in the arena during the game.
WATCH THE TRIBUTE VIDEO:
Brinson enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1964 and served until 1967. He was deployed to Pleiku, Vietnam, and was wounded in combat on the front lines just ten months later while serving as infantry. Brinson, who attended the game with his wife Brenda, was given a heartfelt standing ovation from Panthers fans and players inside BB&T Center.
Other highlights from the game included donating portions of the night’s 50/50 raffle to the Urban League of Broward County, a community-based organization dedicated to empowering communities and changing lives in the areas of education, entrepreneurship, jobs, justice, housing, and health. Their mission is to enable African-Americans and others in historically underserved communities to secure economic self-reliance, parity, power, and civil rights.
Panthers’ forward Anthony Duclair wore custom Willie O’Ree skates to honor the NHL’s first Black player and amplify the message of social justice, equality, and empathy. Earlier this year, the Boston Bruins honored O’Ree by retiring his jersey No. 22 and raising it to the rafters. While he debuted for the Bruins 63 years ago, it was only three years ago that he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame under the builder category.
“I did something for my country but at the same time I look at the guys who gave their life to defend this country and what it stands for,” proclaimed Brinson.
As part of the Florida Panthers ‘Heroes Among Us’ program, the team honors a military hero during each home game at BB&T Center with a special opening ceremony and dedicated tribute video shown in the arena during the second period. Since its creation by Florida Panthers ownership in 2013, the ‘Heroes Among Us’ program has honored hundreds of local veterans and encouraged unity within the military community.
In 1980, Walter Banks Beacham enlisted in the United States Navy. He was excited for the signing bonus of $4,000, a cool $12,000 when adjusted for inflation in 2018. In 1984, Mark Richard Gerardi joined the U.S. Army Reserve. In 1986, Cedrick L. Houston joined the Navy. The next year, Chris Villanueva joined the Army. Zachary Pitt joined the Navy in 1989. And, finally, in 1992, George Perez joined the Army.
The trouble was that these were all the same person.
Beacham assumed the identities of six different individuals he came across through his life in coastal California. The Oakland native even somehow managed to enlist as himself, social security number and all, twice. The Los Angeles Times reported that Beacham was able to do this because he looked like he could be any of a number of ethnicities and he was able to procure fake drivers’ licenses, social security cards, and other identifying paperwork to support his claims.
Keep in mind, this was during the height of the Cold War and military recruiters have quotas to make. They relied a lot on personal integrity to make sure they put good — and real — people into the U.S. military. And there was a time when young Walter Beacham really did want to serve his country, but he failed to adapt to military life when it counted, and the rest is history.
*Note: Beacham is not in any of the photos below. I used photos that give an idea of how much time passes.
1. Walter Banks Beacham
The first time he enlisted, Beacham was drawn in by the guaranteed signing bonus and he really wanted to defend his country. When the recruiter came to his home, he saw Beacham and a few of his friends sitting, smoking, and drinking. He was able to recruit them all.
But the Navy wasn’t really for him. After six weeks and a few AWOL incidents at boot camp near San Diego, he was done.
“I put away my uniform, I got my money, I took a cab out of the front gate and then a Greyhound to L.A.,” he told the Los Angeles Times.
What graduating from Army basic training looked like in 1980.
2. Walter Banks Beacham, Jr.
Maybe it wasn’t the military that was the problem — maybe he just wasn’t cut out for the Navy. Six months after leaving the Navy, he was on a bus, headed for Army basic training. This time, he simply threw a “Jr.” on the end of his name. When the Army asked if he’d ever served before, he said no, and that was that.
For about six months.
The Army eventually realized his Social Security Number matched that used during his previous, Navy life and he was promptly discharged from the U.S. Army.
What graduating from the Navy’s boot camp looked like in 1980.
3. Walter Banks Beacham
When he got back to his native Oakland, it was only three months before he decided to give the life of a sailor another chance. He dreamed of foreign lands and exotic ports and was ready to forego the sign-on bonus (if necessary). He again used his real name and was shipped back to San Diego. He made it through five weeks this time.
“I would have made it through but, five weeks into it, they found drugs in my urine and one of the company commanders was still there from the time before and he saw my name on a list,” Beacham said. “I went AWOL.”
A U.S. Army Korean DMZ patrol in 1984.
4. Mark Richard Gerardi
In 1984, he joined the Army again, this time using an alias of his high-school friend. Beacham borrowed his friend’s diploma and birth certificate and was off to Fort Dix, New Jersey, for basic training — which he completed.
He was sent back to California, attached to a unit in San Francisco, and eventually sent over to Korea for three weeks. It was all for naught when he got a girl pregnant and then left her. She threatened to turn him in to the Army. Beacham tried to play it cool, but eventually bolted. He never heard from them again.
“I guess they just cut you loose after awhile. I don’t know,” Beacham told the Los Angeles Times.
Navy boot camp graduates in San Diego, 1986.
5. Cedrick L. Houston
In 1986, Beacham used the name of someone he met in Hollywood who was trying to be a dancer. He told the aspiring dancer he would get him work if he could use his identification papers… to join the Navy.
He actually finished Navy basic training this time around and was sent to learn to be a submariner on the East Coast of the United States. Of course, it didn’t last. He used a racial slur during the course of his duties and the Navy ended up booting him out for it.
“I was selling doughnuts on the base there until classes started and I called this sailor a silly-ass cracker,” Beacham said. “And they put me out of the Navy for that.”
6. Chris Villanueva
Back in California in 1987 and using the name Walter Banks Beacham again, he went down to Glendale, outside of Los Angeles, to join the Army as a truck driver, which is where he got his new name, Chris Villanueva. The real Villanueva was an unemployed truck driver Beacham ran into in the Valley one day. The born-again Villanueva (Beacham) was sent to basic training at Fort Sill, Okla. and was sent to Germany right after.
He survived another boot camp only to come under suspicion for some cocaine found in soldier’s duffel bags while in Germany. He was afraid he would get arrested for it, so he went AWOL again and headed for home.
7. Zachary Pitt
Beacham doesn’t even remember the real Zachary Pitt, but the new Zachary Pitt made it through Navy training in San Diego in 1989 and was inducted into the Navy as a Mess Management Specialist — better known as “a cook.” When his ship was set to leave for Japan, Zachary Pitt just walked out and disappeared.
“I met him in the Bay Area. I don’t even remember if he was white or Mexican,” Beacham said of the real Zachary Pitt.
Army basic training graduates in 1992.
8. George Perez
In his last enlistment in 1992, he left before he even received his signing bonus. Now George Perez, Beacham completed Army basic training at Fort Bliss in Texas and was back at Fort Sill for AIT, where he became an artillery unit’s forward observer. This time, he just couldn’t do it.
“Something happened,” he recalled later. “I couldn’t stick around. Time was choking up on me. I was in trouble for staying out late, and I was afraid I’d be busted right then.”
Eventually, he was caught by civilian police officers and turned over to the U.S. military, who court-martialed him on multiple counts of wrongful enlistment, AWOL charges, and desertion. At age 34, he pled guilty to all of them. The old U.S. military would have executed this guy. Luckily for Beacham, there was no war on and he spent just under eight months in an Army prison and was released with a dishonorable discharge.
When you think of famous musicians who have honorably served in the United States Armed Forces, the mind immediately goes to Elvis Presley — and how could it not? Photos abound of the handsome, young Elvis in a crisp Army uniform. When he arrived at the airport to attend basic training, the airport was mobbed with screaming fans.
Upon being drafted, Elvis Presley entered the United States Army in spring of 1958 and served until spring of 1960, receiving his discharge from the Army Reserve in 1964. At the time of his draft, he was the most well-known entertainer in the Armed Forces, but he didn’t let his fame get in the way of service. Despite being offered a safer, cushier role in the Special Services as more of an entertainer and recruiting tool, Elvis chose instead to serve as a regular soldier.
However, Elvis isn’t the only famed musician to serve their country. Let’s look at eight other musicians you might be surprised to learn served their country in the United States Armed Forces.
Tracy Lauren Marrow, better known by his stage name, Ice-T, is one of many young adults who found themselves turning to military service as a way out of a tough situation. Dealing drugs on the streets of Los Angeles to support himself, he knew he needed to turn his life around when his daughter was born.
Marrow enlisted in the Army and served four years in the 25th Infantry Division at the Tropic Lightning Schofield Barracks in Hawaii.
During his time in Hawaii, Marrow served as a squad leader at Schofield Barracks. It was during this time that he purchased musical equipment and began work to hone his skills, save money, and prepare to launch a career in music. As Ice-T, Marrow went on to a dynamic career, first as a Grammy Award-winning musician, rapper, and songwriter, then as an actor on television on the hit show Law Order: Special Victims Unit.
American rock legend Jimi Hendrix remains one of the most influential guitarists of all time, despite an incredibly short career of only four years.
Well known for his groundbreaking instrumentalization on electric guitar and his legendary performance at Woodstock, Hendrix entered the military as one of two choices given to him by police after being caught twice in stolen cars: it was prison or the military.
Hendrix enlisted in May 1961 and was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division and stationed in Kentucky. Hendrix next completed paratrooper training and was given the prestigious Screaming Eagles Award in early 1962.
However, it seems that Hendrix wasn’t well-suited to military service and was given an honorable discharge just six months later. While Hendrix later claimed that he received a medical discharge after breaking his ankle in a parachute jump, he was actually discharged due to “unsuitability” for service.
Johnny Cash receives an award from a Marine sergeant during his performance for military personnel at the naval station.
The Man in Black was first a man in uniform. Johnny Cash, singer, songwriter, and one of the bestselling musicians of all time, had a career that spanned decades, genres, and generations.
Before he was an award-winning musician, Cash served in the United States Air Force. At age 18 and directly after high school, Cash enlisted and attended basic training at Lackland Air Force Base and technical training at Brooks Air Force Base in Texas.
He was assigned to the 12th Radio Squadron Mobile of the Air Force Security Service in Germany as a Morse code operator, intercepting Soviet transmissions.
His earnings in the military allowed him to buy his first guitar while stationed in Germany and he actually formed his first band, the Landsberg Barbarians, in the Air Force. Upon his discharge, he took advantage of the GI Bill to attend a radio announcing course in Memphis before launching his country music career.
And if it weren’t for his time in Germany, we probably wouldn’t have this version of “I Walk the Line” to contemplate!
Singer, songwriter, and grassroots activist, Willie Nelson is one the most famous voices in country music. He’s well-known for his work supporting American farmers and advocating for the legalization of marijuana through his role as co-chair of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).
He grew up in Texas during the Great Depression. After tumultuous early years, he moved to Arkansas to live with his grandparents, and he began playing honkytonks to avoid field work.
After he left high school, Nelson enlisted in the Air Force and served for about nine months before receiving a medical discharge due to back issues.
And while he didn’t serve very long, he has stayed passionate about veteran issues throughout his storied career as a singer, songwriter, author, and actor, advocating for increased medical care for veterans and supporting veteran advocacy groups, helping to raise awareness about homelessness among veterans.
Yes, that MC Hammer.
Stanley Burrell, known professionally as MC Hammer, is an American hip-hop recording artist, dancer, and producer who enjoyed tremendous success during the 1980s and ’90s with hits such as “U Can’t Touch This” and “2 Legit to Quit.”
After graduating from high school in Oakland, Burrell took undergraduate classes in communications. Discouraged by his lack of success, he was at a crossroads. He vacillated between considering work as a drug dealer or a job in the military.
He ultimately decided to join the United States Navy for three years, serving as an Aviation Storekeeper 3rd Class at the Naval Air Station at Moffett Field in Mountain View, California, until his honorable discharge.
Jazz legend John Coltrane was one of the most influential saxophonists and composers of all time. Known for his own recordings (more than 50) and his collaboration with other jazz greats, including Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk, Coltrane died young of liver cancer but leaves behind an exceptional musical legacy.
To avoid being drafted by the Army in 1945 during World War II, Coltrane enlisted in the Navy on the day the first atomic bomb was dropped on Japan. He trained as an apprentice seaman and was sent to Pearl Harbor.
During this time, his musical talents came to light, and he joined the Melody Masters, the base swing band. By the end of his service, he had assumed a leadership role in the band, and it was during this time that he made his first recording with other Navy musicians, playing alto saxophone on jazz standards and bebop tunes.
With a career that has spanned more than six decades, Tony Bennett is the living voice of American pop standards, jazz classics and, more recently, contemporary duets with other legends such as Amy Winehouse and Lady Gaga. He has earned 19 Grammy awards, two Emmy awards and is a Kennedy Center Honoree. He has sold more than 50 million records worldwide.
However, before he was Tony Bennett, he was Anthony Benedetto, who was drafted into the United States Army in November 1944 during the final stages of World War II. As a replacement infantryman, he served across France and into Germany, and in March 1945, he joined the front line.
During active combat, Bennett narrowly escaped death several times and he participated in the liberation of a Nazi concentration camp, where American prisoners of war from the 63rd Division were also freed.
During his service, he also sang with the Army military band under the stage name Joe Bari, and played with many musicians who went on to have post-war music careers. Once discharged, Bennett studied at the American Theater Wing on the GI Bill.
George Strait with U.S. Army Chief of Staff Peter J. Schoomaker at the 2005 San Antonio Stock Show Rodeo, before Schoomaker swore in a new group of Army recruits in front of rodeo fans.
Country music singer, songwriter, and producer, George Strait, AKA the “King of Country,” is considered by many to be one of the most popular and influential country music artists of all time. George Strait is famed for his neo-traditionalist style, his cowboy look and 60 No. 1 Billboard country music hits.
In 1971, Strait eloped with his high school sweetheart, Norma, then joined the United States Army. He was enlisted in the Army from 1971 to 1975 and was stationed in part in Hawaii. While there, he launched what would become a lifelong career, singing with the Army-sponsored band called Rambling Country.
Strait’s commitment to the men and women of the Armed Forces has continued throughout his illustrious career. He even served as the spokesman for the Wrangler National Patriot program, which raises awareness and funds for American wounded and fallen military veterans and their families.
Navy veteran and creative writing gold medalist Patrick Ward is excited to share his work at this year’s Vet Gala at the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival (NVCAF). His featured story can be found among the 15 short stories and poems displayed in Writers’ Row at the festival’s Artist and Writer Exhibition.
“Writing has helped bring me back to the person that I want to be,” Ward said. “I’m truly grateful for the opportunity to be here and to share my story with others. We all have stories to tell. My hope in telling mine is that it inspires someone while I’m here.”
Inspiration and healing
Gary Beckwith, creator of the annual Veterans Literacy Jam at Battle Creek VA Medical Center and one of this year’s NVCAF writing event organizers, says he hopes veterans realize their potential and leave feeling healed.
Navy Veteran and creative writer, Patrick Ward (right), listens during a discussion at the writing workshop at the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival. Ward’s story is among the 15 short stories and poems displayed in Writers’ Row at the festival’s Artist and Writer Exhibition.
“I believe that writing can be a cathartic experience,” said Beckwith. “The writing workshops and Vet Gala were designed to, not only highlight the talents of our writers, but were organized with the hopes that veterans leave here feeling inspired.”
During the festival, writers take the opportunity to speak about their writing and how it has affected their health, emotional well-being and recovery.
Army veteran Otto Espenschied has used writing to help him overcome Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and cope during a nine-year battle with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Recently receiving a gold medal for his short story titled, “I Don’t Have PTSD,” he explains that writing and participating in this year’s festival has helped him understand that he is stronger than he ever knew.
“It’s hard to dream when you’re barely holding on,” he said. “Writing has helped get me through some tough times, but I’m alive. I can hug my daughters and my wife each day. What more can I ask for?”
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
Today is the mighty Chuck Norris’ 80th birthday! In honor of this landmark (uh, how is this not a national holiday?) day, we wanted to go back to the good old days of the internet. Before arguing over the color of a dress or if Jordan or Lebron is better (don’t start), we bonded over Chuck Norris facts. Those statements that if attributed to another person would be unbelievable but totally plausible when it referred to the great Norris.
So, we wanted to share our top Chuck Norris facts! Make sure to share any of your favorites too.
Before we do, we also want to shout out Chuck for his amazing life. He was born Carlos Norris in Oklahoma and his family eventually settled in California. After high school, he joined the Air Force and ended up being stationed in South Korea where he picked up both martial arts and the nickname Chuck.
Coming home, he opened his first martial arts studio and started participating in tournaments. After winning multiple karate world championships, he opened more studios and became a trainer for the stars. He taught Steve McQueen, Priscilla Presley, the Osmonds and Bob Barker (that’s how he beat up Happy Gilmore so easily).
He also gave us the Total Gym and Chuck Norris jeans.
And with that, our favorite Chuck Norris facts!
1. Chuck Norris threw a grenade and killed 50 people, then it exploded. 2. Chuck Norris’ leg was once bit by a cobra. After five days of excruciating pain, the cobra died. 3. Chuck Norris doesn’t try to survive a zombie apocalypse. The zombies do. 4. Chuck Norris can kill your imaginary friends. 5. Chuck can set ants on fire with a magnifying glass. At night.
6. Chuck Norris once went to Mars. That’s why there are no signs of life. 7. Chuck Norris knows Victoria’s secret. 8. Chuck Norris doesn’t wear a watch. He decides what time it is. 9. Chuck Norris created giraffes when he uppercutted a horse. 10. Chuck Norris doesn’t cheat death. He wins fair and square.
11. Chuck Norris puts the “laughter” in “manslaughter.” 12. Chuck Norris can kill two stones with one bird. 13. Chuck Norris has a diary. It’s called the Guinness Book of World Records. 14. Chuck Norris found the last digit of pi. 15. Chuck Norris can hit you so hard your blood will bleed.
16. Chuck Norris doesn’t worry about high gas prices. His vehicles run on fear. 17. Chuck Norris can delete the Recycling Bin. 18. Chuck Norris can strangle you with a cordless phone. 19. Chuck Norris can squeeze orange juice out of a lemon. 20. Jack was nimble, Jack was quick, but Jack still couldn’t dodge Chuck Norris’ roundhouse kick.
On September 11, 2001, America was attacked. Thousands of innocent people lost their lives at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. From the ashes of that horrible day rose a wave of patriotism that unified a nation to say in one voice, “We will never forget.”
Across the country, and especially in the state of New York, monuments and memorials to the people we lost that September day stand in keeping that promise. Of course, the most prominent of these is the 9/11 Memorial & Museum in Manhattan which is located at the World Trade Center. The memorial fountains bear the names of the people that perished there nearly two decades ago and the museum houses incredible artifacts and stories collected from that day. However, remnants of that day can be found elsewhere too.
One of the reflecting pools (9/11 Memorial Museum)
Roughly 190 miles north of the World Trade Center lies the city of Saratoga Springs, NY. Just over 30 miles north of the state capital of Albany, Saratoga Springs is a hub for thoroughbred horse racing as the home to the Saratoga Race Course as well as the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. The city is also in close proximity to the Saratoga National Park which preserves the Revolutionary War site of the Battles of Saratoga. Nestled among some of the town’s famous natural mineral springs stands a sculpted metal structure paying tribute to the tragedies that took place on 9/11.
Tempered By Memory (Author)
Crafted from World Trade Center steel, Tempered By Memory serves as the focal point of the town’s 9/11 Memorial Monument. A plaque at the memorial explains to visitors that the Saratoga Springs community lost residents in the attack and how first responders, ironworkers, and humanitarians from the area assisted with response and recovery efforts in the aftermath. In 2002, Saratoga Springs residents and businesses created a respite program which granted retreats to 178 NYC firefighters, policemen, and their families.
In 2010, the Saratoga Arts Center Council, Saratoga Springs City Council, and the Saratoga Springs Naval Support Unit entered into a collaboration to bring steel artifacts from the World Trade Center to the community. After a year of work by local sculptors and a volunteer team of ironworkers, crane operators, and community-wide support, Tempered By Memory was completed in 2011. On the eleventh anniversary of the attack, the sculpture was donated by Saratoga Arts to the City of Saratoga Springs. Reinforced by the healing and restorative properties of the natural mineral springs that surround it, Tempered By Memory invites visitors to quietly reflect on the history of the site and transcend the tragedy.
However, if the sculpture brings more pain than healing and a visitor finds themself in need of further inspiration of hope, they need only look off to the side. Planted a few yards away from the center of the memorial is a rather unassuming tree. Compared to the large and lush trees in the park, this diminutive Callery Pear Tree appears to be out of place.
In fact, the tree is called the Survivor Tree and was grown from a seedling of the last standing Callery Pear Tree that once stood on the site of the original World Trade Center. The attack on 9/11 nearly destroyed the original tree which now stands at the 9/11 Memorial Museum. Since its return to the site in 2010, the original Survivor Tree has spawned seedlings which have been gifted to communities that have endured tragedy. In addition to Saratoga Springs, recipients of Survivor Tree seedlings include Las Vegas, Parkland, Boston, Manchester, and Paris. The trees serve as a reminder of hope, strength, and unity through adversity.
Saratoga Springs Survivor Tree (Author)
Though memorial events for the 19th anniversary of the 9/11 attack will look different compared to previous years as a result of COVID, tributes like Tempered By Memory and Survivor Trees across the country and around the world stand as monuments to the memory of the people lost on that terrible day and the loved ones that they left behind.