Calling all singers, dancers, performers and musicians! If you’ve ever thought about auditioning for AGT, now’s the time! This year, America’s Got Talent auditions are going virtual. We know our military community has lots of talent and are ecstatic to offer an audition opportunity for WATM readers, veterans, military spouses, and active duty service members.
Not sure if you have what it takes? Check out this list of military community members who made it pretty far. Take a look at their auditions to help you prepare yours.
Daniel Jens is a native of Milwaukee. He joined the Army after 9/11 and deployed to Iraq in 2006 with the 1st Cavalry Division. He auditioned for Season 3 with Edwin McCain’s “I’ll Be,” while playing the guitar. Despite forgetting the song’s lyrics during the Vegas Round, Jens advanced to the Top 40 Quarterfinal, where he sang The Police’s “Every Breath You Take.” Jens was eliminated in Part 1 of the Semifinals after performing Lonestar’s “I’m Already There.”
American Military Wives Choir, previously known as Homefire, helped give military spouses a voice through music. Their first single, “The Promise,” was commissioned by famed Producer David Foster and written by Charlie Midnight (“Living In America”), Jay Landers (head of A&R for Universal Music) and Bernie Herms (writer and producer for Natalie Grant).
The group came together after rigorous and quick casting at the request of Foster, who had a performance scheduled at the Kennedy Center and wanted to include a choir of military wives. Foster contacted CAMMO (The Center For Military Music Opportunities), and they quickly answered the call with an exhaustive search. The day after they met – and with only one rehearsal – these spouses found themselves on the Kennedy Center stage with Jewel, Chaka Khan and Chris Botti as the finale to a star-studded show of David Foster and Friends.
In the Stairwell was formed in 2004 by a group of freshmen at the Air Force Academy. Because of their rigorous coursework and other duties, the group could only sing “in the stairwell” – which is how the group got their name. The a cappella group was featured on Season 12. Now an official club at the Air Force Academy, cadets have dedicated time to practice each week. In the Stairwell’s audition was One Direction’s “Drag Me Down.” The judge’s reactions to the audition were mixed, but ultimately the group got enough yes votes to move forward in the competition. The group was cut in Week 2 of the semifinals.
Voices of Service were a vocal group act from Season 14 of AGT. They finished the competition in 5th place overall and returned to AGT: The Champions 2, where they were unfortunately eliminated in the primaries. Voices of Service includes Master Sgt. Caleb Green, Staff Sgt. Ron Henry, Sgt. Maj. Christal Rheams, and Sergeant First Class Jason Hanna. Voices of Service represents the diversity and excellence within our military and veteran communities and is an inspiring example for the nation that they serve, have served and continue to service through music. They have performed at the Canadian Embassy, American Legion Convention, the Joining Forces event at Vice President Joe Biden’s home, and many more. Check out their audition video to get some ideas of what the judges might be looking for this season.
A special submissions portal has been created for all WATM readers and will go live November 10. Be sure to follow our Facebook page to see FAQs and get the live link! Casting producers will be reviewing these submissions to select the right person to appear in a live remote virtual audition and the chance to participate in Season 16 of this hit show.
It’s hard to think of a more beloved — and sometimes hated — cultural touchstone in the military than MRE meals, or meals ready to eat. They’ve been around since the C-Rations of World War II and beyond, and have for decades offered a touch of comfort and a taste of home — albeit a highly engineered one that can last for years at high temperatures without spoiling. You can find MRE cookbooks that will tell you how to turn drink mix and generic toaster pastries into gourmet desserts, and there are scores of YouTube videos dedicated to taste-testing chili mac and the prized jalapeno cheese spread.
Well, it turns out there’s a lot of science that goes into each one of these compact rations packs, and sometimes the development of a new MRE menu item — such as the coveted pepperoni pizza slice — requires actual technological breakthrough. Today, we’ll talk to two people from the Combat Feeding Directorate in Natick, Massachusetts: Lauren Oleksyk, team leader for food engineering, who holds two patents in revolutionary food science, and David Accetta, an Army military historian and public affairs officer at the directorate.
The following is an edited transcript of this episode of Left of Boom:
Hope Hodge Seck 0:00
Welcome back to Left of Boom. I’m your host, Hope Hodge Seck. It’s hard to think of a more beloved — and sometimes hated — cultural touchstone in the military than meals ready to eat, or MREs. They’ve been around since the C-rations of World War II and beyond, and have for decades offered a touch of comfort and a taste of home, albeit a highly engineered one that can last for years at high temperatures without spoiling. You can find MRE cookbooks that will tell you how to turn drink mix and generic toaster pastries into gourmet desserts, and there are scores of YouTube videos dedicated to taste-testing chili mac and the prized jalapeno cheese spread. Well, it turns out there’s a lot of science that goes into each one of these compact rations packs. And sometimes the development of a new MRE menu item, such as the coveted pepperoni pizza slice requires actual technological breakthrough. Today we’ll talk to two people from the Combat Feeding Directorate in Natick, Massachusetts: Lauren Oleksyk, team leader for food engineering, who holds two patents in revolutionary food science, and David Accetta, an Army military historian and public affairs officer at the directorate. Welcome to the show.
Lauren Oleksyk 1:10
David Accetta 1:11
Hi, thank you very much for having us.
Hope Hodge Seck 1:14
So, Lauren, I am so interested in this really unique job that you have. So how did you end up as the team leader of food engineering, basically one of the top MRE developers for the military? Do you start taking the science career path to get here? Or do you get here through a love of the culinary arts? Or both? What was it for you?
Lauren Oleksyk 1:39
For me, it was a little of both. I specifically sought a career in the combat feeding division. While I was still in college, I majored in food science at a local university and started working at the soldier center as an intern. But I would say my interest in food science actually began as a child. I came from a large family and we had an enormous garden. So we canned most of our fruits and vegetables. And I learned very early on about food preservation, and my neighbors were dairy farmers. So my first job as a teen was in the milk-processing field. So I think I developed an early interest in that and also in nutrition and packaging, and I love to cook. So a career in food science was a perfect fit for me.
Hope Hodge Seck 2:24
When did you encounter your first MRE? or How did you get interested in the military side of boot development in the first place?
Lauren Oleksyk 2:32
Well, I interned at a soldier center in the combat feeding division, and I was immediately drawn to the science and technology side of ration development. And one of my first tasks there was to develop cereal bars for survival rations. You know, I had some product development experience when I was in college. But this was my first real hands on experience with product development. And I assumed it would be not too difficult, you know, I develop a cereal bar and test it out, and it will be ready to go. And I quickly learned all about the military constraints and requirements for rations and realize that this was really a unique job.
Hope Hodge Seck 3:12
Can you give a rundown on what those requirements and constraints are?
Lauren Oleksyk 3:16
Probably the most difficult challenge is, rations have to withstand a three-year shelf life. So that’s at 80 degrees Fahrenheit, that’s a long time that these foods have to be shelf-stable and not spoil. They also have to be extremely compact and lightweight and durable enough to survive airdrop, they have to withstand extreme climatic changes that range from minus 60 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. So our packaging has to be really, really durable to protect rations for that long of a period of time. And we have nutritional requirements that are mandated by the Office of the Surgeon General. Also we have to consider operational scenarios. Where will these rations be issued? This is a lot to consider. It’s not as simple as if you were developing a food for the commercial market.
Hope Hodge Seck 4:05
So the cereal bar was it a hit? Did it meet the requirement? Is it still out there in the world.
Lauren Oleksyk 4:11
It is still a component of survival rations. These rations have very, very long shelf life requirements, sometimes in excess of three years. And the cereal bars are still packaged in that ration, but it’s a special-purpose ration and it’s not readily used unless it needs to be. There’s less variety in that type of ration compared to the MRE.
Hope Hodge Seck 4:31
And I’m not sure how long you’ve been at the combat feeding directorate. But what other MRE recipes have you created or developed since you got there?
Lauren Oleksyk 4:40
I’ve been there a long time. It’s going on 37 years now.
Hope Hodge Seck 4:44
Oh my goodness.
Lauren Oleksyk 4:46
Yeah. And over the years, I was involved in the development of a few MRE items. One in particular, I have a co-patent on the MRE shelf-stable bread, and this bread is stable for three years due to a series of what we call hurdle technologies that keep the bread from staling or spoiling. So this product and technologies that we use to stabilize it form the basis of several other big items in the MRE. To this day, things like the shelf-stable pizza that you’ve heard about, and shelf-stable sandwiches that are in some of our other rations.
Hope Hodge Seck 5:22
That’s incredible. Can you go through what those technologies are that keep the bread for example, from going stale or otherwise spoiling?
Lauren Oleksyk 5:32
The technologies used for bread and baked goods are, we call them hurdle technologies. And this is a way to preserve foods that have intermediate moisture contents without having to subject them to a thermal sterilization process. Essentially, you introduce hurdles to microbial growth. And you do that by using specific ingredients that control water activity that control the product’s pH, control the moisture content, in the case of something like a shelf-stable pizza, it would control the migration of moisture from one part of the food to another, because you might have a lot of components. Like in the case of the pizza, you have the dough, the sauce, the cheese, the toppings, and they all have different moisture contents and water activity. So if you don’t control how that migrates from piece to piece, you are going to introduce the opportunity for microbial spoilage. So we use ingredients, and we also control the headspace in the package. And everything we can do to prevent that spoilage. And we test the safety of the food throughout its three-year shelf life to confirm that it’s safe to consume and nothing will grow. That’s an example of a hurdle technology. And it’s employed in different ways for different intermediate moisture products.
Hope Hodge Seck 6:51
And I know this MRE pizza slice pepperoni pizza slice, I’ve actually tried it, it came out a few years ago, and it was sort of the holy grail of MRE. And as I understand, was a highly requested item since its release. Have you tracked soldier service member feedback? And what are you hearing about how well it’s going over in the field?
Lauren Oleksyk 7:12
Well, we should actually start getting that data soon. It was incorporated into the MRE in 2018, and really first fielded around 2019. Every year, we actually do field tests and evaluation with soldiers and we get that feedback from them. So this will be the first year that we actually can start collecting data on the fielded Pizza to assess how well it’s accepted. But prior to it going into the MRE, we did a number of field evaluations on just that item like all MRE components. It had to be warfighter-tested and approved before it went into the ration. And the pizza definitely was a highly accepted product. They had been asking for it for years, and it was very well received. So we’re hoping that the field test results going forward confirm that, and we’ll keep a close eye on it.
Hope Hodge Seck 8:02
What sort of feedback do you solicit in these surveys that you’re talking about getting the data back from?
Lauren Oleksyk 8:07
We ask them to rate the acceptability of the components, especially if we’re testing new prototypes. So they’re given a scale from one to nine, and they rank how well they like the product. We also do consumption studies, where we measure how much of each item they eat, and how much they throw away, so we can assess whether something is under-consumed. And if we see that trend, we’ll ask them questions regarding that: why aren’t they consuming it? And then every year, based on that data, we make decisions on whether something’s retired from the MRE or replaced with something else. And a lot of times the demographics might change of the military. So things that were well loved by warfighters, you know, back in the ’70s and ’80s are not well-liked by you know, some of the military personnel today who might prefer different foods that reflect more of what they ate when they were growing up.
Hope Hodge Seck 9:03
I know for example, cigarettes are no longer included in MREs and they were historically included in combat rations many years ago. But how often our items are tired and what are some of the most recent items to be retired?
Lauren Oleksyk 9:17
Things that were very popular years ago like chicken a la king, ham and lima beans to go way back, those things were retired, and today we have things like burritos and vegetarian options, things that they request and are much more familiar with — the MRE pizza. But in terms of what’s taken in and out every year, it varies.
David Accetta 9:35
It’s all based on the soldiers and feedback and and it’s actually not just soldiers. We also do the surveys with Marines, because the Army and the Marine Corps are the primary consumers of the MREs. So we need to get their feedback and ask them what do they like, what they don’t like, and then what they don’t like, gets retired, and we try to figure out what they do like, which is how we got to the pizza. And then a lot of the other things that are in MREs — If you looked at the menu from today versus the menus from the early 80s, when they first came out, you’ll see great differences in the entrees. Because the original MREs were pretty much based on traditional American comfort food, the same way that the previous series of rations, meal combat-individual, and before that the Army C-rations. You know, as we did more surveys and got more feedback from military personnel, we found out what they liked and what they didn’t like. And Lauren alluded to it when she said things that they remember growing up, and you’ve got so much more diversity in the Army now, you’ve got people from all different ethnic backgrounds. So there’s a lot of different types of food. It’s not just standard American comfort food, it’s not pot roast, and it’s not those kind of things anymore.
Hope Hodge Seck 11:01
So one of my favorite things about MREs, henever I’ve had the chance to eat them downrange is all the little side items that they come with, all the little packages you can open and the jalapeno cheese spread and the snacks for later. It’s really fun opening them up and seeing all the items that are inside and how they all work together. And you know, of course there are those people who make little recipes in the field with whatever they have or trade them back and forth. So how does a new complete MRE menu come about? And what are sort of the parameters for ensuring complementarity of taste and nutritional balance and appeal for everything that’s in the package as a whole, developing a new menu?
Lauren Oleksyk 11:47
We consider three things really. The first one are the warfighters’ recommendations and their desires, you know, and the MRE pizza is an example of that. But secondly, and probably more importantly, we have to think about military requirements and the operational scenario where the ration will be used. And then lastly, we look at leading-edge food science and packaging technologies, because sometimes the science itself will bring us in a direction that says we can develop something that otherwise wouldn’t have been able to be developed before, because it’s a new technology that we can utilize. In addition to the three-year shelf life requirement for a new menu, we have nutritional guidelines that we have to follow. So there might be a nutrient that’s lacking in a menu. And so we’ll develop a food that specifically has that nutrient in it. So that as a whole when you put all those components together, the MRE is nutritionally complete. As far as taste and palatability, the combat feeding division is outfitted with a sensory lab, where technically trained panelists can examine the foods’ organoleptic properties. So this would include the appearance odor, flavor, texture, and overall quality. And we do that over the duration of the product shelf life. So we’ll rate the products on a scale and we try to achieve a score above a six. So you know,one being dislike, nine being like. And we’ll try to get a six at the end of a product shelf life to ensure that it’s acceptable once it’s issued, six or better. So that’s kind of our internal goal. But we also utilize general consumer panels who rate a new product based on just a matter of how much they like it. They don’t really look at the technical aspects of the food, but whether they like it or not. And then we have military human research volunteers that are located at soldier center. And we solicit them to test new prototypes and to participate in focus groups to get their feedback. And then after we do all of that is when we’ll conduct our annual or biannual field tests with military personnel. And that’s where every new MRE component must be tested and accepted before it will go into a ration.
Hope Hodge Seck 13:52
When you’re talking about this technical expert panelists, who are those people?
Lauren Oleksyk 13:57
They are primarily food technologists, they’ve undergone specific training in sensory evaluation. So we all have varied thresholds where we can pick up very subtle changes in flavors and odors. And we have a good range of us so they look across you know, people who have a very low threshold for salt, say. Some others might have a very low threshold for rancidity, or bitterness. And so combined, this group of technical panelists really can do a thorough evaluation of foods. And we’ll do it not only when a food is first developed, but even after it’s been stored for three years.
Hope Hodge Seck 14:35
That’s fascinating. So you talked about the hurdle technologies that led to bread and then to pizza, which was sort of like this revelation. Are there current scientific food challenges that you’re currently working through to pave the way to develop more items?
Lauren Oleksyk 14:53
Yes, there are. And one of the reasons is we’re very focused right now on the fact that soldiers and units might be in environments where they have to go longer without resupply. So right now, we’re very focused on reducing the logistics burden by reducing the weight and size of rations so that soldiers in small units can carry more. And this is becoming critically important. And it’s it’s dictating the development of smaller and more compact, nutrient-dense foods. So some of the technologies we’re really advancing right now are drying technologies to reduce the weight of foods, and compression technologies to reduce the volume of foods. And that’s includes things like vacuum microwave drying, and ultrasonic agglomeration, which is a compression technology. And sometimes we’re developing new prototypes, using a combination of those two technologies to make these very nutrient-dense, compact foods, in some cases can actually be entire meal replacement bars.
Hope Hodge Seck 15:56
The way you’re describing it, immediately, what comes to mind is the rations that are sent to space with astronauts, when you’re talking about drying and making things as late as they possibly can be. Are there any similarities there?
Lauren Oleksyk 16:10
Yes, very similar requirements. In fact, we collaborate with NASA, and have worked with them on many dense and compact items such as meal replacement bars that they’re considering for their menus for the mission to Mars. And also, we work with them on developing entrees that are used at the International Space Station. So the similarities and requirements for astronauts and military personnel are very, very similar. And in fact, NASA has long shelf-life requirements too, even longer than military rations in some case, but lightweight products in very dense products are required by both.
Hope Hodge Seck 16:50
How soon might we see a meal replacement bar out in the field and fully developed and being used by troops on the go?
Lauren Oleksyk 16:58
We’re working on a new ration called the close combat assault ration. This is a ration that’s designed to be extremely lightweight and compact. So we’re developing these nutrient-dense bars. Now they’re in the prototype stage for the close combat assault ration that’s going to be field-tested soon. Some of the first prototypes will be field-tested in the near future, the bars that we’re looking at for that ration are not necessarily full meal replacement bars. But they using the technology for drying and compression that enable us to make a full meal replacement bar if needed.
Hope Hodge Seck 17:34
And how much lighter it might these rations be than the typical MRE package?
Lauren Oleksyk 17:39
The ration components themselves, it depends on how much moisture you remove. But we’ve achieved anywhere between 40 to 70% decrease in weight on a component level, because essentially, you’re just taking the fresh food and you’re removing the moisture, but you can dial in how much you want to remove for palatability purposes. We know that war fighters don’t necessarily want to consume all dry bars. So we want to be able to offer a variety of moistures in these products so that it’s something they want to consume. So it depends, you know, the weight reductions depend, but we have metrics and goals to achieve about a 40% reduction in weight. And we can achieve the same and volume if we compress the product as well.
Hope Hodge Seck 18:27
As we’re talking about many development. I know in the last couple of decades, there’s a lot more service members who want to eat, say keto, or paleo, even Whole 30 — these diets that are really dependent on protein and vegetables and probably really hard to sustain in the field. And I’m sure there are things that it’s just like, yeah, there’s no way to make shelf-stable rations that fit that bill. But are you looking at any ways to develop additional menus that cater to people who have specific food requirements like these, or want to, I guess, eat a little bit more whole food or protein-heavy, whatever the case may be?
Lauren Oleksyk 19:12
With regard to the MRE, there is no requirement from the military services to develop keto or paleo menus. All the menus in the MREs have to meet the nutritional standards for operational rations. You know, and as I mentioned, that was that’s mandated by the Office of the Surgeon General. But we do listen to some of their desires for this for certain types of foods. And one example of that is we currently have four vegetarian meals in the MRE out of the 24 menus. Four of them are vegetarian, two new vegetarian entrees were approved for the latest MRE: cheese pizza and the Mexican-style rice and bean bowl. And every every ration is labeled in accordance with FDA regulations so individual soldiers can see the list of ingredients and they can determine for themselves, you know whether it’s a product that they want to consume, but in general, you know, we want them to consume the entire MRE, because that is a nutritionally complete ration and it will optimize their performance and health if they consume it all.
Hope Hodge Seck 20:14
In my journeys around the internet, I have found this trove of MRE enthusiasts who live on places like YouTube, where they’ll buy old MREs that are decades old and taste-test them or make Top Chef-style recipes, combining different ingredients, using the Kool-Aid powder and the, you know, you name it just really mixing things up. So do you ever kind of watch those YouTube videos? Or pay attention to that little subculture? And do the fans of MREs who kind of live out in the civilian world and are just interested in these things, do they ever inspire you in your work?
Lauren Oleksyk 20:51
I do watch those. I love those videos, they make me laugh, first of all, but I also think it’s so fun to see how creative they get with the types of things they make. I read the comments, I find the comments are very interesting and helpful. And I will bring, when I read something like that, I will have little brainstorm sessions at work. And we’ll talk about what people think and you know, some of the ideas that come from those videos in terms of new product lines. So yes, I do watch them. And a lot of times, you know, if they’re a positive review, it can be actually somewhat rewarding to know that you were part of the development of those products, I see that a lot with the flameless ration heater that they show inside the MRE, that was a development that — I was one of the original developers of the flameless ration heater. And even though it’s not a food item, it allows soldiers to actually have a hot meal now in the field, where before 1992, they didn’t always have a way to heat their entrees. So a lot of those YouTube videos will show people using the flameless ration heater and heating up their entree and it’s quite enjoyable to watch them.
Hope Hodge Seck 22:03
I love that so much.
David Accetta 22:05
The flameless ration heater was a huge, huge development that to help soldiers — well, all troops in the field. You know, having been in the Army for a long time, before flameless ration heaters, you have to come up with creative ways to to heat your food. Otherwise, you know, your food was essentially the same temperature as it was outside, whether that was 40 degrees or 70 degrees. The flameless ration heater made a huge difference to the morale of troops, because it gave them the ability to have hot food anywhere that they were. So they didn’t have to rely on using the heat from the engine of the vehicle that you happen to be next to, or finding some other creative way to heat up your MRE components without making a fire.
Hope Hodge Seck 22:55
Something that still gives troops a lot of joy is the instructions that those heaters come with. And the fact that they tell whoever is eating the MRE to put the whole package, balance it on “a rock or something” are the words that people really get a kick out of. Do you know how that particular bit of instruction that language came about?
Lauren Oleksyk 23:17
Yes, I happen to know that. Since we developed the flameless ration heater, we also developed the instructions that are on the bag. And initially that when we were designing the pictograms that you see on the package itself, we were trying to come up with an object that you lean the flameless ration heater on top of, at an angle, which helps it to heat faster. And we couldn’t think of an object. And my colleague next to me said, well, let’s just use the rock or something in the picture. And we did we put a rock and we called it the “rock or something” as a joke. And we left it in because people thought it was funny. And it actually brought some humor to the field. So we decided over the long term to leave it in there and we still hear about it all the time.
Hope Hodge Seck 24:04
That is so amazing.
Lauren Oleksyk 24:06
Hope Hodge Seck 24:06
So I do have to ask about a little bit more MRE myths and legends. Anyone who’s ever been out in the field is eating these and so they get talked about a lot and there are all these rumors that are flying around. First of all, the gum that comes with the current mre, they say it’s a laxative to keep things moving along. Is there any truth in that rumor?
David Accetta 24:27
Lauren Oleksyk 24:30
The gum at one point had a xylitol component which can have in some people a laxative effect, but it was it’s not intentionally in the MRE to to serve as a laxative. So yes, that is not exactly true.
David Accetta 24:46
The xylitol in the gum is to help prevent tooth decay. So it was designed for situations where you didn’t have the ability to brush your teeth. You could chew the gum and then that would help with the health of your teeth in the field.
Hope Hodge Seck 25:05
So there was a hidden benefit, but it was not what people were thinking.
Lauren Oleksyk 25:09
Hope Hodge Seck 25:10
Other one that I think spans your career is even back in the ’90s, maybe even in the early 2000s, maybe even longer — Charms candy, were part of some MRE menus and those were notorious for being bad luck. I think even in the Generation Kill miniseries, they come across the Charms dump, where everyone’s just gotten the Charms out of their MRIs to be on the safe side. So do you know anything about how that charms rumor came about? And when Charm stopped being part of the MRE?
Lauren Oleksyk 25:42
I’m not sure when exactly they were removed, they are no longer in the MRE today. And I know, I’ve heard of the curse of the Charms. Back in the day. If a warfighter received a ration with Charms in it, they would deem to bring bad luck, so they would get rid of them. I’ve heard stories of soldiers holding bags out to collect everyone’s Charms at feeding time to get rid of. David might have more experience with that.
David Accetta 26:08
Yeah, we don’t really have a good idea of exactly when or how Charms became associated with bad luck. But I mean, I do remember hearing that, that if you ate the Charms when you were in field, say in a training environment, then that would guarantee that it would rain on you. And then later on, as we got into more combat operations in different parts of the world, they became associated with soldiers getting injured or killed. Which is why some troops were very adamant about not having the Charms and getting rid of them as soon as they could. I think some of that might have to do with the popularity or lack of popularity of the Charms, of hard candy. So those had been part of military rations for a long time going back to World War II. And I kind of think personally that, generations later, troops were just not all that fond of hard candy, and just didn’t want to eat them, you know, whereas it was probably much more popular in the ’40s and ’50s.
Hope Hodge Seck 27:21
Makes sense. It’s good to get to get to the bottom of that one. I could talk to you all for hours. I think this is really fascinating stuff. And I love the work that you do. But I know we have to wrap up. So my final question is for each of you. What is your favorite MRE menu and why?
Lauren Oleksyk 27:39
Okay, well, for me, it’s the MRE pepperoni pizza, of course, partly because my team is the team that developed the item but also because I love pizza. And I also like the vegetarian taco pasta. So those are my two favorites.
Hope Hodge Seck 27:54
David Accetta 27:55
I have, I think very strange sense of taste. And that’s what most people would politely describe it. My favorite MRE was the omelet with ham. And that was also my favorite of the meal combat-individuals and the canned rations. And that was really good for me because most people didn’t like either one of those. So I could always trade whatever I had for that one. Now of the of the newer-generation MREs, I like the cheese tortellini, it’s even though it’s a vegetarian meal and I’m not a vegetarian. I like the cheese tortellini. And just as a point of trivia, the only ration I mean, the only entree that is still in the MRE menu from the original menu is the spaghetti. And everybody likes the spaghetti and during Desert Storm and going into Iraq in in 2003, as well, that one was really popular and I remember soldiers fighting over who was going to get the spaghetti because they like the spaghetti and that one also came with M&Ms. So that was a jackpot if you pull the the spaghetti MRE out of the box.
Hope Hodge Seck 29:19
Love it, jackpot indeed. Well, I have a very fun memory of being very hungry on a late night in Afghanistan and finding a first strike ration that had a pepperoni sandwich in it, and it tasted just so good. And I don’t think anything will ever taste as good as that item did.
David Accetta 29:39
And that is all due to the work that Lauren and her team did with the shelf-stable bread that enabled the pepperoni sandwich. But you’re exactly right. And we tell people that because you mentioned the the MRE videos on the internet and you know, MREs get a lot of criticism. Not only from troops, but also from civilians who may pick one up somewhere and they eat it. And they’re not designed to be gourmet food. And you know, what we like to tell people is that the true benefit of an MRE can’t be found if you’re sitting in your kitchen or your living room eating it. The benefit of an MRE is when you’re cold, wet, tired and hungry, sitting in the dark in the rain on a mountainside in Afghanistan. And you can open up an MRE and you can have hot food, and you can have something that reminds you of home and have better times and that’s really what the benefits of the MRE are and how you can really appreciate them.
Hope Hodge Seck 30:42
Well, Lauren, and David, thank you so much for coming on the show today.
David Accetta 30:46
Thank you. Great being here.
Hope Hodge Seck 30:57
Well, I don’t know about you, but that episode made me hungry. I’ll take the barbecue beef MRE: It comes with a side of black beans and shelf-stable tortillas and that delicious jalapeno cheese. Do you have any favorite memory recipes or stories about how you enjoy them in the field? Are there any combat ration myths and rumors that we didn’t get to on today’s episode? Hit me up at email@example.com and let me know. Hit subscribe on the show today, and if you use Apple podcasts, please do leave a rating and review. And until next time, remember to check out Military.com for all the information and news you need about your military community.
The military is known for its clever vocabulary. If you cut out the obscenity, you’re left with a collection of terms that are either more accurate (i.e. it’s not exactly a ‘shovel,’ it’s an “entrenching tool”) or overly sarcastic (i.e. it’s not “beating the crap out of someone,” it’s “wall-to-wall counseling”).
This overly sarcastic way of referring to things that generally suck is a coping mechanism. It’s a way to add color to the typical monotony that comes with military service. The following terms might sound exciting on the surface, but there’s a general understanding among troops to not get hyped over any of them — but it’s always a good laugh when the new guy doesn’t get it.
Cleaning connexes… Just as much fun as getting drunk in the barracks.
(U.S. Army Photo by Spc James C. Blackwell)
Out of context, this one sounds like a couple of guys within the company getting together, having a good time, and maybe accomplishing a few things in the process — and, to be honest, that’s how it almost always turns out when the NCOs turn their back for longer than two seconds.
In actuality, a “working party” is four or five lower enlisted and two NCOs. The troops will do most of the heavy lifting while the NCO that still has a spine remembers what it was like to be a private joins in. The other supervises while pretending to do work. The moment the lazy NCO turns away, three of the original lower enlisted will start slacking until the motivated NCO says something like, “the faster this gets done, the sooner we can go.” But that never happens. Ever.
There are always more pointless details to be done.
Want a real force multiplier? Why not boost morale or, you know, add more troops?
(Meme via The Salty Soldier)
“The Good-Idea Fairy”
It almost sounds whimsical. It’s as if, out of the blue, a good idea was magically sprinkled into the heads of the chain of command and logic reigned supreme.
In practice, this term is used when a lieutenant gets a wild hair up their ass after coming to an agreement in the echo chamber that is staff meetings. Suddenly, that lieutenant can’t wait to implement the newest and best “force multiplier” that has never been thought of before.
These force multipliers never really have an end-game, though, so it’s basically just a fancy way of saying, “I wonder how the troops would react if we did this?”
You can typically tell if someone earned their stuff or if they’re just really good as ass kissing by checking their ribbons rack. If they have multiples of lesser awards that are common among the lower ranks, you know they’ve worked hard from the beginning.
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Paris Maxey)
Certain awards, medals, and badges confer the highest amount of respect. In some cases, a highly-decorated troop commands greater respect from those around them than the unproven leaders above them.
When the awards, medals, and badges are referred to as “chest candy,” however, it’s basically saying that none of those awards have any real substance. Take the airborne wings in the Army, for example. They look nice and say that the person is airborne qualified — but don’t, by any stretch of the imagination, think that means that “five jump chumps” are actual paratroopers. Same goes for many other awards that are handed out like it was Halloween to troops — typically anything given to staff officers who found that week’s “force multiplier” without doing a fraction of the work their subordinates did.
Chances are high that your training room clerk is dealing with more secret information than you ever will.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Gina Randall)
“Some secret, squirrel-type sh*t”
There’s nothing wrong with being in the conventional military, and yet troops will jump at any conceivable chance to play the “if I told you, I’d have to kill you” card at the bar. If it’s labelled confidential, you know they’re going to see “some secret, squirrel-type sh*t!”
In actuality, unless you’ve got CIA operatives coming into your S3 and demanding confidentiality agreements, the red stickers are actually really f*cking boring. The closest any regular military troops are ever going to get to secret information are personnel records. They’re confidential because they could realistically be used against someone. “Secret squirrel” is almost entirely used for this kind of mundane crap that is technically classified.
If you honestly think the General nothing better to do than to inspect every single room in the barracks for lint, you’ve lost your mind.
(DoD Photo by Gloria Montgomery)
“Dog and pony shows”
The military is all about prestige and perfectionism when it comes to general officers swinging by to “inspect the troops.” Everyone will spend days getting ready to impress the two-star and get the nod of approval.
Nine times out of ten, the general won’t come to the barracks. They’ll meet at the company area and talk for thirty minutes before they go on their way. That one time they do inspect the troops, the chain of command will try to guide the general to the room that they know is spotless — typically an empty room that was quickly converted to look like it’s actually occupied.
This drawn-out procedure is known as putting on a “dog and pony show” and, unfortunately, neither dogs nor ponies are typically involved.
Even worse is when troops get reprimanded for speaking to the Chaplain. Which, unfortunately, does happen in some of the toxic units…
(U.S Marine photo by Lance Corporal Tayler P. Schwamb)
You’ll often hear the commander or first sergeant tell you that their door is always open if you need to talk. When this policy works the way it should, it’s fantastic. It gives the little guy in the formation a strong ally when it comes to personal or professional issues.
Unfortunately, although their door may indeed always be open, it doesn’t mean you’re safe from reprimand. There are those in the chain of command who take it way too personally when a troop goes directly to the commander. They feel like the troop “jumped” the chain of command to fix something.
The hurt feelings are doubly potent if the problem is “toxicity in the troops’ leadership.”
There are few words in the English language that stir up a tornado of hateful emotions in a Marine quite like “stay with the LT,” “the trucks aren’t coming,” and “hike.” There are plenty of mandatory hikes a Marine has to do annually — and command always throws in a few more, just for good measure.
We, the infantry community, can’t drag ass in physical fitness. And if you’re not a grunt, you should at least learn how to hike like one. Why? For bragging rights. It’s all we’ve got, Marines — everyone else has funding.
No gear loss today!
(Breach Bang Clear)
The very first thing you should do is figure out how to pack the gear list in a way that doesn’t resemble a gypsy wagon. Now, I don’t know what kind of gateway-to-Narnia bags they’re using in the S3 to fit all this garbage, but you’re going to have to find a way to make it work.
Pack the heaviest things in the bottom center and fill any empty space with smaller objects. Repeat this process, layer after layer, until you reach the top. Putting the heaviest things on the bottom allows you to maintain a more comfortable center of gravity — your pack should swing with you not against you.
Remember: Pack your socks last and nearest to the top.
Werewolves aren’t the only ones scared of a silver bullet.
(Seymour Johnson Air Force Base)
You’ll often hear people citing some study that claims the human body can re-hydrate within 45 minutes. Well, go tell those people to find you a box of grid squares because you don’t need that negativity in your life.
Before your hike, take a minimum of two days to drink two gallons of water and a Pedialyte. Yes, you read that right: Pedialyte. Baby Gatorade. While you’re at it, put two additional bottles of Pedialyte in your bag. You’ll thank me later.
Sunflower seeds are also good!
Food and snacks
The day before a hike, you should carb load, just like a marathon runner. This will ensure you have enough energy for the journey and a strong finish. Runner’s World has an in-depth guide on how to carb load properly and I highly recommend reading it. Bear in mind that you will have to make some changes to fit the task, but the overall strategy is pretty solid.
Pack some snacks that can be eaten with one hand and are biodegradable. Fruits, such as apples and bananas, are perfect. They’re easy to eat and you can toss the core/peel into the woods. You’re nourishing the earth before we scorch it later!
You’re going to end up with so many of these
(The Marine Shop)
Preparation: The feet are the infantryman’s Cadillac. Take care of your feet. I’ll say it again: Take care of your feet. Clip your nails, wash them every time you take a shower, and change your socks at least once during the day. At night, do not sleep with socks on so they can breathe. Also, moisturize (yes, use that lotion for its intended purpose).
Score bonus points by getting yourself a foot massage or a pedicure once a month. Remember, it’s manly if it’s for the sake of survival.
These puppies are going to get you through this hike, through combat, and through the rest of your life, so take f*cking care of them.
The Hike: During every rest period, change your socks and immediately put your feet back into your boots. If you leave them out too long, the inflammation will set in and it will be more difficult to put your boots on. If you packed intelligently, your socks should be easily accessible.
Tip: Some people wear a pair of dress socks over their boot socks to ease rubbing.
Also, never wear brand new boots on a hike.
This is your life now and there’s no way to go but forward. It’s going to hurt, it’s going suck, but you’re going to crush it. Believe in yourself and keep up the pace.
Can I NJP myself?
Some of the greatest stories I’ve ever heard were told on a hike — sexual conquests, actual conquests, accusations, and confessions. Marines love telling stories and they love hearing them. You’ll hear about that time the lieutenant got ripped off by that stripper or that Staff Sergeant has a weird fetish that involves putting on an animal costume.
A compelling story will help you forget that your feet are bleeding until, suddenly, it’s done.
Normal screen time suggestions have been thrown out the window! We’re stuck at home, we’re enjoying the great outdoors but we’re also taking full advantage of programs offering free streaming options. Take a look at these game-changing programs that are offering widespread access to the masses, free of charge.
Amazon is offering free streaming on kids’ shows through the pandemic to all users with or without an account. However, any new user can sign up for 30 days of free content before committing to an entire year. Choose from their extensive selection of free streaming options or link up your card and rent/buy movies and shows as needed. But considering the trial comes with free shipping on all your Amazon orders, why not?! The grace period is also good for previous customers who no longer subscribe. Prime Video will cost you 9 annually, or per month.
Stay in and listen to the radio. Or for all you essential soldiers, tune in on your way to and from work. SirusXM Premier is offering all of its paid content free through May 15 — that’s over a month of access to music, talk shows and their exclusive programming. The service normally runs per month.
CBS All Access
Stream for free through April 23 with ViacomCBS. Users can use the promo code GIFT to access shows from Nickelodeon, the Smithsonian Channel and over 1,000 Paramount movies. Perfect for all you milspouse moms and dads who are suddenly homeschooling!
Considering social distancing was extended through April and in many states, much longer, now is the perfect time to cash in on your free 30 day Hulu trial. All you need is an email address that has not yet been associated with the program. Normally or per month (the latter comes commercial free), Hulu is ideal for watching current and past TV shows. Users can also bundle their Hulu account for a deal on additional streaming options.
In 1937, a young Chicago woman named Aida Garaffa lived across the street from a young man named Gerald “Jerry” Bonsonto.
A trip to a local shop would join the two hearts together in love.
“My sister and I were walking to the corner of Throop Street. There was a grocery store where we bought ice cream. When we came out of the store we saw Jerry,” explained Aida Bonsonto who recalled that first meeting with her future husband.
“He asked me if I wanted to go to the movies with him. He wasn’t a big fellow. He was about five-feet four-inches but he was handsome,” she said.
But world events, specifically World War II, would interrupt their courtship.
“The war was going on. He was drafted,” explained the youthful 97-year-old. “He was inducted on Dec. 12, 1942. We were engaged and then he left for training at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.”
Aida Bonsonto with her husband Gerald “Jerry” Bonsonto pose for a photo, circa 1946.
Bonsonto trained as a medic and paratrooper and was assigned to the 307th medics of the 82nd Airborne Division.
“He landed in Africa first,” explained Bonsonto. “And he also served in Sicily, Italy, Ireland, England, France, Holland, and Germany. He was in the Battle of the Bulge.”
It was there where bullets fired by a German sniper found their mark hitting Pfc. Bonsonto. When she found out, she went to Holy Family Church in Chicago. The same church where the couple would be married later on June 8, 1946.
“When we found out he was wounded, I crawled from the door to the altar of Holy Family Church. I asked God to spare his life,” she said.
“They didn’t know if he was going to live,” she said. “He was badly wounded.”
But Jerry lived.
He was evacuated and sent to hospitals in England and Capri, Italy before he was discharged and sent home to the United States.
“He was never the same after that. He had a lot of pain,” she said.
Before he came home he sent the woman who would become his wife two boxes containing a parachute. Rationing was in effect, even after the war ended, and fabric was expensive. But a parachute made of silk and nylon provided Bonsonto with the material she needed for her wedding dress.
Aida Bonsonto wears a wedding dress, circa 1946, made from a parachute, that was sent home to her by Army medic Gerald “Jerry” Bonsonto who served with the 82nd Airborne Division during World War II.
“I told the seamstress I wanted a sweetheart neckline with long sleeves,” said she said. “And the bridesmaids dresses were all made in Chiffon.”
“An Italian woman made the wedding dress and the bridesmaid gowns out of the parachute,” explained Bonsonto.
It turned out the wedding dress was not the only thing she owned that was made from a parachute.
“While he (Jerry) was in Normandy, he had a French lady make me a nightgown out of a parachute. It was all made by hand,” she said.
And the cost was not what one might expect.
“It cost him two packages of cigarettes. That’s all she asked for it”, said Bonsonto.
Bonsonto shared that she still keeps the nightgown.
“I only wore it when I got married,” said Bonsonto. “I kept it as a souvenir with the wedding dress. She also stitched my name on the nightgown. It’s very pretty.”
While she waited for Jerry to return home, life went on in her neighborhood in Chicago.
“We used to sit outside at night and have coffee and pastries. We slept near the fire hydrant when it was hot at night,” explained Bonsonto. “My brother put a loudspeaker on our parlor window and we would have a street dance.”
The family of Aida Bonsonto pauses for a photo with Brig. Gen. Kris A. Belanger, Commanding General, 85th U.S. Army Reserve Support Command and a wedding dress made from a World War II parachute that her husband sent home.
(Photo by Sgt. David Lietz)
But the party to end all parties was when World War II ended Sept. 2, 1945.
“It was remarkable how people celebrated. I think people celebrated at least three days on this block. People danced in the streets. It was like a festival,” she said.
When Jerry returned home he started working for his dad driving a truck and never talked about his wartime experiences, according to Bonsonto.
“He wore his combat boots every day working on the truck to remind him of what he went through,” said Bonsonto. “He wore them until he couldn’t wear them anymore when they fell apart.”
Her beloved Jerry passed away in 1980.
“Everybody liked him. He was funny. He minded his business, he worked and came home,” recalled Bonsonto.
Now Bonsonto has stated that she will loan the parachute wedding dress she wore on her wedding day to the 82nd Airborne Division War Memorial Museum at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Her next concern was how to get the wedding dress to the museum.
On Memorial Day of 2019, Brig. Gen. Kris A. Belanger, South Carolina native and commanding general of the Chicago-based 85th U.S. Army Reserve Support Command, traveled to suburban Orland Park to meet with Bonsonto and her family and pick up the dress.
A religious card taped into a scrapbook compiled by Aida Bonsonto showcases her husband’s military service during World War II.
“My mom has wanted to (loan) this parachute wedding dress for years,” explained her daughter-in-law, Caroline Bonsonto. “She has been contacting different museums for years. This is something she has been pursuing.”
“There’s lots of stories about these parachute wedding dresses but not a lot of actual dresses in museums,” explained John Aarsen, museum director for the 82nd Airborne Division War Memorial Museum. “We love them. It helps tell the stories about the families.”
The museum currently has one parachute wedding dress on display.
“By having this parachute wedding dress we can rotate them for display,” according to Aarsen who also serves as a U.S. Army Reserve brigadier general at the 451st Expeditionary Sustainment Command in Wichita, Kansas.
At the end of the evening, completed by a hearty meal and good fellowship, Bonsonto turned the dress over to Belanger.
Belanger is scheduled to bring it to the 82nd Airborne Division War Museum where a wedding dress made from a parachute will help tell future generations about the love story of a soldier named Jerry and his bride Aida.
“I thought it was quite an honor to be a part of taking a piece of history and making it public,” said Belanger. “Making history in such a way that it means so much to a family. It was an honor they trusted me to take a historic family heirloom and then display it for all to see. It is really incredible.”
In an interview with PBS News Hour’s Judy Woodruff, retired Adm. Bill McRaven, the former SEAL who oversaw the 2011 raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound as the head of Joint Special Operations Command, told Woodruff that there’s only thing a SEAL recruit has to do during their grueling training: “Not quit.”
“So, the one thing that defines everybody that goes through SEAL training is that they didn’t ring the bell, as we say,” McRaven said. “They didn’t quit. And that’s really what you’re trying to find in the young SEAL students, because, in the course of your career, you’re going to be cold, wet, miserable. You’re going to kind of fail often as a result of bad missions, bad training.”
McRaven started out his Navy career as a SEAL, rising through the ranks until he was charged with overseeing the entire special forces community as the commander of the US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM).
While tenacity is an essential part of being a great SEAL, there’s a lot of training that goes into being a part of the Navy’s most elite fighting squad.
A U.S. Navy SEAL (Sea, Air and Land) candidate navigates a suspended cargo net at a Naval Special Warfare elevated obstacle course, May 11. SEAL candidates use the obstacle course in preparation for attending the Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) course.
(U.S. Navy photo by MC1 Les Long)
(U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Abe McNatt)
2. Candidates learn the ropes at Naval Special Warfare orientation, which lasts three weeks and orients trainees to what lies ahead at Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training.
“During Orientation, officers and enlisted candidates become familiar with the obstacle course, practice swimming and learn the values of teamwork and perseverance. Candidates must show humility and integrity as instructors begin the process of selecting the candidates that demonstrate the proper character and passion for excellence,” according to the SEALs and Surface Warfare Combatant Craft website.
(U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Lynn F. Andrews)
3. SEAL candidates start the Surf Passage, one of the most well known parts of SEAL training.
Surf Passage is a notoriously challenging part of BUD/S training, as Business Insider previously reported. During orientation, SEAL and Special Warfare Combatant Craft Crewmen candidates, usually divided into teams of six or seven, carry their boats above their heads down the beach toward the ocean. They must take their boats waist-deep into the water before they can get in, and paddle out toward breaking waves, which can be three to five feet high — or larger.
Sometimes boats flip over, scattering crew and gear in what’s called a “yard sale.” But if teams successfully make it out past the breakers, they get to ride the waves back to shore.
(U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Abe McNatt)
4. You’re basically guaranteed to get sandy at BUD/S or Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training, which lasts 24 weeks.
Before prospective SEALs even enter training, they must take a physical exam, as well as a test called the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), one called the Computerized-Special Operations Resilience Test (C-SORT), and a physical screening test consisting of a 500-yard swim, push-ups, pull-ups, curl-ups, and a 1.5-mile run.
“So, while it is important to be physically fit when you go through training, you find out very quickly that your background, your social status, your color, your orientation, none of that matters,” according to McRaven, who recently wrote the memoir, “Sea Stories: My Life in Special Operations.”
“The only thing that matters is that you go in with this purpose in mind and this — the thought that you are just not going to quit, no matter what happens.”
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd class Megan Anuci)
(U.S. Navy photo/Petty Officer 2nd Class Shauntae Hinkle)
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley)
SEAL Team seven members jump from an MC-130J Commando II during Emerald Warrior/Trident at Naval Air Station North Island, Calif., January 19, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Erin Piazza)
SEAL Qualification Training students endure a long hike after finishing their second day of close quarters combat instruction.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Christopher Menzie)
16. SEAL recruits participate in a land training exercise during the Seal Qualification Training, a 26-week course after BUD/S.
Recruits also receive weapons training, medical training, and demolitions training during SQT. They also learn how to operate in cold weather.
(U.S. Navy photo)
17. After 24 grueling weeks in BUD/S, SEAL candidates receive their SEAL Qualification Training diploma.
So check out our list of why you shouldn’t be too nice in the military.
1. Your fellow brothers and sisters will end up venting to you on a daily basis.
If you’re that sweet guy or gal who is nice enough to listen to everybody’s problems — stand by for handing out free therapy sessions.
Best news ever! (Image via Giphy)
2. You just might get put into someone’s friend zone.
You know that hot guy or girl who works down at supply?
Because you haven’t shown signs of having a backbone — instead of going out with them on Saturday night — you’re going to be watching them leave the barracks with your co-worker who has a backbone.
They’re not coming back anytime soon. (Image via Giphy)
3. People will ask for favors — a lot of favors.
You know how you’re bad at saying no because you’re too nice? Well, have fun standing somebody else’s duty Saturday night while they’re off having an excellent time at the bar.
FML. (Image via Giphy)
4. If you get even a little upset, everyone will think the “nice guy” is going crazy.
You listen to everyone’s problems 24/7, but when you decide to emote at all — everyone now thinks you’re the crazy one.
It’s okay for everyone else, but just not the nice guy or gal. (Image via Giphy)
5. You could get pushed to the side.
People have crazy schedules this day and age. So when they need to make space in their lives for something important, they might reschedule a meeting with you — the accommodating one — to make room.
Son-of-a-b*tch! (Image via Giphy)
6. Your chain of command could assign you extra duty.
Many times a bad assignment will come down the pipeline, and your chain of command needs to assign someone to work an outside event. If you’re that person who rarely gives anyone sh*t, you may be the one they ask to come on in on Saturday because you never say no.
Yeah. So, we’re going to need you to come in on Saturday. (Image via Giphy)
The US Marine Corps continues to grapple with hazing at its storied recruit training center at Parris Island in South Carolina, where the service punished at least eight drill instructors and a number of officers for abusive behavior last year, the Washington Post reported May 15, 2019, citing multiple internal investigations.
The incidents uncovered by the Post involved female drill instructors in the 4th Recruit Training Battalion mistreating female recruits. Battalion drill instructors reportedly humiliated, physically assaulted, and even endangered recruits.
These incidents come despite the Corps’ best efforts to curb these unacceptable and dangerous practices.
In one situation, a drill instructor allegedly made a recruit put “feces soiled underwear” on her head.
The DI acknowledged the incident but stressed that the dirty underwear, which the recruit reportedly left under her bed, did not contain any feces. “I was speaking hypothetically and failed to handle the situation with a clear mind through frustration,” the drill instructor said, according to documents obtained by the Post. “I was not trying to embarrass the recruit and more so wanted her to understand why and how it wasn’t acceptable.
Recruits stand in formation during their initial drill evaluation Feb. 10, 2014, at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Octavia Davis)
That incident, which occurred in May 2018, sparked an investigation, one that came on the heels of another investigation following reports that a drill instructor had “roughed up,” as the Post described it, several recruits, even going so far as to threaten to break one of their necks.
Another reported case involved a drill instructor forcing female recruits to repeatedly suffer the effects of CS tear gas in a chamber. While the facility is normally used to introduce recruits to the effects tear gas, recruits are typically only required to enter the chamber once.
In total, the Post discovered more than 20 incidents of hazing and abuse at Parris Island and the Marine Corps’ West Coast recruit training center in California over the past seven years.
Marine recruits get gassed inside chamber during chemical defense training on Parris Island.
(U.S. Marine Coprs photo by Cpl. Octavia Davis)
By the far the most serious incident involved former Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Felix, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison after abusing recruits at Parris Island. He was accused of physically assaulting recruits, as well as targeting Muslims like 20-year-old Pakistani-American recruit Raheel Siddiqui, who fell to his death after Felix physically struck the young man in a 2016 altercation.
And abuse goes well beyond the scope of the recently uncovered investigations. In 2012, a recruit had to get skin grafts due to chemical burns suffered after a drill instructor forced him to train in unsafe conditions. The instructor, former Sgt. Jeffrey VanDyke, was sentenced to a year in military prison in 2014 for abusive behavior, cruelty, and mistreating recruits.
The senior officer in charge of Parris Island, Brig. Gen. James Glynn, stressed to the Post, that while problems do occur, there are more than 600 Marines serving as drill instructors and 98 percent of them do their jobs without incident.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
With the Pentagon making strides to include women in combat arms roles, you might actually be surprised to hear that the Army’s top counterterrorism force has included female operatives for nearly 30 years.
That’s right, the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment “D,” also known as “Delta Force,” has a history of hiring female soldiers to serve alongside male operators, having begun the practice in the 1990s.
More commonly referred to as “the Unit,” Delta Force is home to some of the most elite soldiers in the world, famously called “operators.” The selection phase for prospective operators is nothing short of grueling. Former Delta operator Eric Haney details in his book, “Inside Delta Force,” this process which sees candidates hike and orient over adverse terrain, perform rigorous physical testing and training, and psychological evaluations.
Upon completion, a candidate isn’t out of the woods yet, and can still be dropped or withdrawn from the course if the instructor cadre feels he’s unfit to serve with the unit.
An intensive Operators Training Course follows, which trains each soldier in a variety of skills which they’ll eventually use in real world situations. Millions (you read that correctly) of rounds of ammunition are expended on a monthly basis, honing each candidate’s proficiency with a variety of firearms. Vehicle instruction, VIP protection, surveillance, and even tradecraft (i.e. the art of spying) are all part of the OTC curriculum.
Operators are trained to blend into any environment and urban setting, though sometimes, that’s very difficult to do with a gaggle of military-aged males hanging around in groups.
In 1982, the Unit attempted to solve this problem by recruiting female operators. After putting a small group of candidates through a modified, yet still highly arduous, selection course, four women were able to graduate and meet the standard set before them. However, this solution turned out to be a bust, due to friction between male operators and the new female selectees to the unit.
Eight years later, Delta made another attempt to bring women into the fold, after SEAL Team 6 the Navy’s counterpart to the Unit, had demonstrated some success in pairing a female petty officer with a frogman, posing as a romantic couple, while reconnoitering objectives in Panama prior to Operation Just Cause in 1989.
In 1990, Delta began targeted recruitment initiatives that brought women into what was then referred to as the Operational Support Troop. Female candidates were once again put through a difficult unique selection and training course in order to bring them up to speed on firearms usage, espionage skills and tradecraft, advanced driving techniques and more, so that they could serve on surveillance and reconnaissance missions overseas along with male operators.
U.S. Army Cultural Support Team soldiers, with Special Operations Task Force – South, speak with a young Afghan girl in Darvishan Village, Khakrez District, Afghanistan, June 10, 2011. The CST serve as enablers, supporting U.S. Army special operations forces by engaging the female population. The CST also assist in medical civic action programs, search and seizures, humanitarian assistance and civil-military operations.
Among the first female operators to be recruited to the Unit’s OST was, in fact, the same Navy petty officer who served briefly with SEAL Team 6 in Panama, according to Sean Naylor in his book “Relentless Strike.” Later on, the OST was re-branded as “G Squadron” — a name which it apparently still has today.
In the mid-to-late ’90s, Delta Force was active in the Balkans, along with SEAL Team 6. It’s since been understood that female members of G Squadron were critical in helping make Delta missions a success in the region, with male and female operators posing together as lovers or married couples while conducting surveillance.
Today, the recruitment, selection and training process for G Squadron members is wholly unknown and completely classified, as is the modern iteration of OTC for Delta’s assault-troop operators. The requirements for OTC still stipulate that candidates sent over for selection be male, so it could be assumed that female operators continue to be brought in and trained through a modified program of their own.
However, what we do know is that women do indeed operate with the most elite special operations force in the world, undercover and sometimes even in plain sight.
Most people hate meetings –especially with large groups.
Sure, meetings are a great opportunity to get business done in the military, but many of the meetings I have attended and personally ran were squandered opportunities. I hate thinking about the hours of productivity lost sitting in meetings. Sometimes this was because of how they were structured; at other times, the people who called the meeting had no idea what they wanted to get out of it in the first place.
In my experience, most meetings fail because many of the participants don’t come to the meeting prepared, fail to read the room and end up sucking the productivity out of the room before any real work can get done. Yes. I’m pointing fingers, but one of them is pointing toward a mirror.
For me, meetings have been trial and error experiences, and it took me about 16 years before I came to the realization that I’ve been part of the problem. Below are three lessons I’ve learned over the years:
1. Don’t shoot from the hip and have your top lines ready.
I’ve gone to way too many meetings unprepared, not sure of what I wanted to contribute prior to walking into the room. I don’t recommend ever bringing a script, but definitely figure out your topline message ahead of time. Your topline message is the idea that you want the boss or other people in the room to take with them when they walk away from the table. Once you figure this out, write down 3-4 key points that support your message and talk through them.
Even if you have your topline ready and your supporting points in hand, step back and ask, “So what?” If we identify a threat, what are we doing about it? If we identify a risk, how are we mitigating it? By asking, “so what” we not only ensure what we’re communicating is relevant to the listener, and not wasting our time or theirs, but we also ensure that we’re not presenting problems without solutions to our leaders.
2. Don’t go too deep.
I might know 1000 details on the topic I’m briefing in a meeting, but you have to ask yourself: Is it helpful? Maybe not. Therefore, it helps to know what is “above the line” or “below the line” in communication. Above the line is all the information the leader needs to know to make a decision or form a judgment about a topic. Below the line are all the details that aren’t necessary. These two characterizations change as you rise in the organization.
What’s above the line for a battalion commander is (hopefully) different than what’s above the line for a division commander. I’ve lost the attention of many leaders by mixing the two and going into too much detail in meetings, wasting minutes and confusing my messages.
I can’t tell you how many times I failed to pay attention and either covered an issue that was already addressed or tried to push through with my prepared briefing even though I knew time was running out (because the major talking ahead of me wasn’t prepared and went into excruciating detail on his topic).
Nothing will take the energy out of a meeting faster than when someone fails to read the room. Even when I’ve sat there with my notecards and top lines ready to go, I’ve learned that I need to continue to edit based on the atmospherics in the room. Is the boss fidgeting in his chair? Did someone bring up a topic that dampened the mood of everyone else, therefore your good idea will fall on deaf ears? These are a few areas that we need to read when in meetings and adjust accordingly. Maybe my three-minute briefing can be shortened to one minute for the sake of everyone’s sanity.
One last thing. Don’t ever walk away from a meeting without understanding the due-outs and the next steps on the topics discussed. If you do, then the meeting was a waste. If there’s time at the end or before everyone leaves, do a quick check and make sure you heard and understood your obligations.
Meetings don’t have to be wasted time. We all have a responsibility to play a part. We need to come prepared, maybe even rehearse, so we aren’t reading a piece of paper. We need to understand what’s important to the people in the room and not show off our brilliance on a topic. And finally, we need to actually pay attention, read the room and adjust our contribution to the meeting as needed. I will probably never utter the words, “I can’t wait for this meeting,” but at least I can play my part not to make it a wasted opportunity.
Do you have what it takes to be one of the few, the proud, the danceable? In this classic from a few years back, Marines bust a move when their favorite jam, Carly Rae Jepsen’s ‘Call Me Maybe,’ comes on:
The US’s long-awaited Space Force was officially established on December 20, when President Donald Trump signed the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act.
Space Force was created from US Air Force Space Command but is still part of the Air Force, much like the Marine Corps is a part of the Navy Department. Space Force is not meant to put troops into space but will provide forces and assets to Space Command, which leads US military space operations.
The secretary of the Air Force has to tell Congress by February 1 how Space Force will be organized and its expected funding needs. But there are still “thousands and thousands of actions that are going to have to take place” over the next 18 months, Air Force Gen. Jay Raymond said on December 20
Among those is the renaming of Air Force bases to reflect the space mission, according to Raymond, who is head of US Space Command and will lead Space Force as its first chief of space operations.
“We do have a plan to rename the principal Air Force bases that house space units to be space bases,” Raymond said.
“I just want to point out, though, that we will rely very heavily on the Air Force to operate those bases,” he added. “But we’ll work to rename those to match the mission of the base.”
Raymond mentioned five Air Force bases that could be renamed — Patrick Air Force Base, for example, could become Patrick Space Base — but he said “his list wasn’t necessarily all inclusive,” Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said in an email last week, adding that the service was “still working through the details” and didn’t currently have any other information about renaming bases.
Below, you can see some of the bases that may soon have new names.
A C-17 Globemaster III at Buckley Air Force Base, March 19, 2019.
(US Air Force/Airman 1st Class Michael D. Mathews)
Located in Aurora, Colorado, Buckley AFB’s host unit is the 460th Space Wing, the mission of which is “to deliver global infrared surveillance, tracking and missile warning for theater and homeland defense and provide combatant commanders with expeditionary warrior airmen.”
In its day-to-day operations, the 460th SW directly supports combatant commands around the world.
Runners exit the north portal of Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station during the Zombie Tunnel 5k Fun Run, Oct. 20, 2017.
(US Air Force/Steve Koteck)
Cheyenne Mountain AFS is located near Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, home to the headquarters of North American Aerospace Defense Command and US Northern Command.
While Raymond didn’t mention Cheyenne Mountain by name, it is a big part of US space operations. It is the alternate command center for NORAD and Northern Command and is a training site for crew qualification.
“NORAD and USNORTHCOM use just under 30% of the floor space within the complex and comprise approximately 5% of the daily population at Cheyenne Mountain,” according to NORAD. But it is owned and operated by Air Force Space Command, which is now Space Force.
Staff Sgt. Heather Heiney takes photos on the flight line at Peterson Air Force Base, July 3, 2019.
(US Air Force/Tech. Sgt. Frank Casciotta)
In addition to hosting the headquarters for NORAD and Northern Command, Peterson Air Force Base is headquarters for Air Force Space Command and now for Space Force.
It is also home to the 21st Space Wing, the Air Force’s most geographically dispersed wing and the fifth-largest wing in the Air Force by number of units.
The 21st SW uses a network of command-and-control units as well as ground- and space-based sensors operated by units around the world to provide missile warning and space control to NORAD.
50th Operations Support Squadron students at Schriever Air Force Base, January 10, 2019.
(US Air Force/2nd Lt. Idalí Beltré Acevedo)
East of Peterson AFB in Colorado Springs, Schriever AFB’s host unit is the 50th Space Wing, the mission of which is “to evolve space and cyberspace warfighting superiority through integrated and innovative operations.”
The 50th SW and its 16 units around the world provide “command and control of more than 185 satellites, to include commercial, DoD and civil assets,” the base’s website says.
The wing runs satellite operation centers at Schriever AFB and remote-tracking stations and command-and-control facilities across the planet, at which it monitors satellites throughout their service life.
Air Force Gen. Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, head of Northern Command and NORAD, tours Vandenberg Air Force Base, August 7, 2018.
(US Air Force/Tech. Sgt. Jim Araos)
Vandenberg Air Force Base
Located in a remote area north of Los Angeles, Vandenberg AFB is headquarters for the 30th Space Wing, which manages space and missile testing for the Pentagon, launches satellites and spacecraft, and supports the Minuteman III ICBM force development evaluation program.
Vandenberg is also home to the 14th Air Force, which on December 27 was redesignated as Space Operations Command, which “directly supports the US Space Force’s mission to protect the interests of the United States in space; deter aggression in, from and to space; and conduct space operations.”
SPOC comprises the five space wings on this list as well as the 614th Air and Space Operations Center, which is the SPOC commander’s command-and-control center at Vandenberg.
Among other things, SPOC will provide space domain awareness and electronic warfare, satellite communications, missile-warning and nuclear-detonation detection, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance for Space Force and Space Command and other combatant commands.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, May 23, 2019.
(US Air Force/1st Lt Alex Preisser)
Patrick Air Force Base
Patrick Air Force Base is on Florida’s Atlantic coast near Orlando, and its host unit is the 45th Space Wing.
The wing operates the Eastern Range, which supports rocket and missile launches at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Kennedy Space Center. It also oversees satellite launches at Cape Canaveral for the US military and civilian agencies and commercial entities.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket was launched from Cape Canaveral on Monday with Starlink satellites in the first launch of 2020 and the wing’s first launch as a part of Space Force.
“The effects the new Space Force will have on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Patrick Air Force Base has not been announced yet, but continuing to successfully accomplish the mission without interruption is our top priority,” 45th Wing commander Brig. Gen. Doug Schiess said January 3.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.