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 now safe to say that Disney+ has a bonafide hit on its hands with their new Star Wars series, “The Mandalorian,” and it’s pretty easy to see why. The gritty worlds depicted in the series are ripe with believable characters, well shot and choreographed action sequences, and of course, an adorable (and highly meme-able) character just begging to become a hit toy this Christmas. I’ll admit, as the sort of guy that tends to prefer Kirk over Solo, I wasn’t all that excited ahead of time about “The Mandalorian,” but three episodes in, it’s safe to say that I’m a convert.
What won me over? Well, I’m a sucker for a space western (I am, after all, a card carrying Browncoat), but it’s not just the “shootout at the OK Corral” vibe of the show that gets me; it’s also the weapons tech. Star Wars may take place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, but the technology depicted in the franchise has always been more about the future than the past, and much like “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” “The Mandalorian” is choke full of technology that may seem at home in the 24th century, but is actually on the verge of becoming a reality right here and now.
While I’ll try my best to avoid them, here’s fair warning: spoilers ahead.
What sort of tech is that? Well there’s…
Weapons that can see through walls
In episode 3 of “The Mandalorian,” Mando is doing a bit of reconnaissance on a building he may want to blow his way into (trying my best to avoid spoilers here), so he shoulders his breach-loading doom-rifle and syncs it with his helmet, using the rifle to help him see the heat signatures of people through the walls of the building. This sort of gear would certainly come in handy for galactic bounty hunters, but is also finding its way into use with first responders and the U.S. military already.
Systems like Lumineye will soon allow soldiers to use a handheld device to identify targets and locate potential threats on the other side of an opaque barrier using wall penetrating radar.
This system won’t work from a few hundred yards away like Mando’s, but his setup seems to be FLIR based rather than using radar technology. As FLIR themselves point out, most walls are actually too thick or well insulated to allow the detection of heat signatures, putting Mando’s version a bit further into the realm of science fiction… unless those walls are made out of some really thin space dirt or something.
Jet Packs that actually work
Boba Fett, the character that’s arguably responsible for the existence of “The Mandalorian” (despite never actually doing anything cool in any of the movies) may have become a pop-culture icon thanks to nothing more than a kickass helmet and a jet pack, which made it sort of disappointing when the protagonist of this new series was shown hoofing it everywhere. By the end of episode 3, we do get to see some jet-pack-packing Mandalorians take to the sky in one hell of an action sequence, proving that there’s more to being able to fly than just falling in a Sarlacc pit.
While not quite the same in practice, British Royal Marine-turned-inventor Richard Browning has been raking in headlines for a few years now with his own jet pack suit that often draws comparisons to Iron Man (the first installment of which was helmed by John Favreau — the same guy that created “The Mandalorian”). Recently, Browning made a pretty damn cool looking flight off of the HMS Queen Elizabeth.
Take on Gravity Jet suit demo with HMS Queen Elizabeth
Granted, the “Gravity Jet Suit” isn’t just a pack you wear on your back like you see in “The Mandalorian,” so Browning doesn’t have two free hands to dual-wield pistols… but dual wielding is a pretty dumb thing to do in a fight anyway. Instead, Browning and co. developed an M16 mount for the jetpack that, honestly, comes with its own problems.
A grappling cable that works
Mando uses his grappling cable for a number of things, from climbing moving vehicles to killing bad guys, and while the U.S. military isn’t quite ready to start spearing dudes with grappling hooks in the field, they have already begun fielding machines that assist in climbing (or reverse-repelling) up walls. These systems aren’t quite small enough to be wrist-mounted like Mando’s, but are pretty damn effective when it comes to climbing. I had a chance to try out a version of this technology at Shot Show a few years ago, but I didn’t look quite as cool as the Mandalorian when I did it.
A system similar to this one has already found its way into SOCOM’s inventory, and the exact system I used has since been contracted to the Chinese government for their special operators.
A Chinese company that acquired gay-dating app Grindr is reportedly selling it off after the US government labeled it a national security risk.
Chinese gaming company Beijing Kunlun Tech Co Ltd acquired a 60% stake in Grindr in 2016, before buying the rest in 2018.
But sources told Reuters that the company did not clear its purchase with the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), a US government agency which assesses the national security risk of foreign investments.
The sale prompted a review, after which CFIUS told Kunlun that its ownership of the California-based app constitutes a security risk, sources told Reuters.
But as hard as it is to sing, when it is done right, it is one of the most rousing pieces of music one can hear. Whether the singer goes the traditional route or decides to add a little bit of flourish, the song can get you right in the feels.
Here are some of the more memorable renditions of the national anthem.
You can argue she has one of the top five Super Bowl halftime shows ever. (That catch is legendary)
But in 2016, Lady Gaga put her talented voice to work and delivered a rousing version of the anthem. What followed was a clinic to young singers on how to add personal flair to the song while still not taking attention away from the song itself.
Ok, I know… this version didn’t take place at a sports event. In fact, it was probably the farthest from a sporting event that it could be. In the days after 9/11, with flights in and around the States shut down, many Americans found themselves stranded overseas during one of the darkest moments in American history.
In London, many found themselves wandering around and milling about tourist spots.
The Queen, breaking royal tradition, allowed the Star-Spangled Banner to be played during the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace.
Make all the Royal Family jokes you want, but this was one of the classiest moves of all.
After the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, Bostonians and the rest of the country rallied together in unity. One of the best examples of this was the first Bruins game after the bombing. After a touching tribute to the victims, Rene Rancourt, the Bruins long-time singer, started singing the anthem.
Two lines in, he did what most singers don’t do…. He stopped.
Realizing the crowd was taking over out of emotion, Rancourt let them run with it.
There are times when we truly come together as Americans, and this was one of them.
At Super Bowl XXV, America and her Allies were ten days into the air assault portion of the Gulf War. The biggest military engagement since Vietnam, Americans were rightfully worried for the aviators flying sorties over Iraq and the troops who were preparing for the inevitable ground assault to liberate Kuwait.
In fact, ABC didn’t even air the halftime show, instead cutting to an ABC News Special Report with Peter Jennings.
This was also a unique time. With the combination of media attention because of the war, the recent fall of communism in Eastern Europe, and the growth of global television, this Super Bowl was one of the first broadcast around the world, reaching over 750 million people.
Enter Whitney Houston.
Wearing a simple tracksuit and backed by the Florida Orchestra, Houston started off strong and only got stronger. Known for her powerful vocals, she gave us one of the most tremendous renditions of our anthem our country has seen to this day. The nation went crazy for it, to the point it was released as a single and got to #20 in the Billboard Top 100. (Houston donated the proceeds to charity).
This is the benchmark singers are measured against when taking on the Star Spangled Banner.
The national anthem is definitely not easy to sing, but when it’s done right, there’s nothing better.
A decade ago, Russia’s Defense Ministry closed down a military base in Pskov Oblast, leaving hundreds of people unemployed. Without income or investment in infrastructure, the town began to collapse around its residents. (Current Time)
America’s military and police working dogs’ needs are fully supported and funded by the government, until they retire. The costs of their care after years of dedicated service can be high. This is where Project K9 Hero jumps in.
According to their website, their vision is to ensure quality of life for America’s retired Military Working Dogs and Police K9 Heroes by providing the needed assistance for their medical, food and end-of-duty services. These dogs have worked and trained their entire career. Many will retire with serious medical issues that can be costly and may also suffer from anxiety or PTSD. Project K9 Hero has made it their mission to ensure these heroes receive everything they need to enjoy their retirement years.
MWD and Police K9s that have what are deemed “special needs” are considered first by the board of directors of Project K9 Hero for financial assistance. Many also have to demonstrate that their care is a financial burden on their owners. They accept dogs into their program that have served within all branches of the military or law enforcement.
(Project K9 Hero)
Project K9 Hero is a national 501c3 nonprofit organization that relies on the generous donations of the public and corporate sponsorships to continue their vital work to support these heroes. Currently there are no public funds to support these K9s. Some go on hundreds of deployments and missions, serving this country faithfully for years on end. But once that service ends, their support lies in the hands of nonprofits and those that adopt them.
Project K9 Hero has been heavily involved in working on legislation to support K9s for years. The K9 Hero Act will allocate million in federal grants to be awarded to nonprofits for the medical bills of retired military working dogs and police K9s. But Project K9 needs the public’s help to get the bill moving forward. It was introduced into Congress in November of 2019 but has not been brought forward for a vote yet. The public can help support and move this legislation by asking their representatives and senators to support this bill.
On Project K9 Hero’s website, founder Jason Johnsons stated, “For me it’s a legacy as the Founder of Project K-9 Hero. I want to make sure that the work is being carried on for generations to come. It’s time our government take into consideration that if we’re going to use them and treat them like heroes when they’re on duty and during their service that we’re going to treat them the same way in retirement.”
(Project K9 Hero)
The needs of America’s K9 heroes go beyond medical and financial, though. They also need safe and secure retirement homes as well. Project K9 is currently fundraising to build a rehabilitation and rehoming facility in Tennessee which will allow them to further their mission. According to their website, it will be a 6,340 square foot facility that will have kennels, a play zone, a veterinary clinic and grooming facility. It will also become their corporate headquarters.
Around 90 percent of MWD and police K9s are adopted to their handlers, who usually get the opportunity to adopt first. While the public tends to be quick to adopt MWD and K9 puppies that don’t make the cut for the program, the older dogs aren’t adopted quite as quickly. This facility will aim to support these heroes by providing an enriching, safe and healthy environment for those in need of an immediate home. The public can donate to support this facility or purchase items in their REDD (remember every dog deployed) collection, which will support the opening of this facility.
Project K9 Hero wants to make sure that the loyal service MWD and Police K9s provided to this country is never forgotten. Their statement on their website says it all: Protecting Those Who Protected Us. To learn more about this nonprofit and how you can support their mission of taking care of our K9 heroes, click here.
With the pool of qualified recruits shrinking, a new Army marketing campaign debuted on Veterans Day to target younger cohorts — known as Generation Z — and focus beyond traditional combat roles.
To do this, the Army is asking 17-to-24-year-olds one question: What’s Your Warrior?
The query is at the heart of the new strategy, and is designed to introduce young adults — who may know nothing about the military — to the diverse opportunities on tap through Army service, said Brig. Gen. Alex Fink, chief of Army Enterprise Marketing.
Over the next year, 150 Army career fields — along with eight broad specialty areas — will be interlinked through digital, broadcast, and print outlets, Fink explained, and show why all branches are vital to the Army’s overall mission.
The ads, designed to be hyper-targeted and highly-engaging, he said, will give modern youth an idea of how their unique identities can be applied to the total-force.
What’s Your Warrior is the Army’s latest marketing strategy, aimed at 17-to-24-year-olds, known as Generation Z, by looking beyond traditional combat roles and sharing the wide-array of diverse opportunities available through Army service.
So, instead of traditional ads with soldiers kicking in doors or jumping out of helicopters, What’s Your Warrior pivots toward the wide-array of military occupational specialties that don’t necessarily engage on the frontlines — like bio-chemists or cyber-operators.
The campaign will unfold throughout the year with new, compelling, and real-soldier stories meant for “thumb-stopping experiences,” Fink explained, regarding mobile platforms.
And, with so many unique Army career-fields to choose from, Fink believes the force offers something to match all the distinctive skillsets needed from future soldiers.
One of the vignettes featured is Capt. Erika Alvarado, a mission element leader for the Army Reserve’s Cyber Protection Team, where she is on the frontlines of today’s cyber warfare.
Another example is 2nd Lt. Hatem Smadi, a helicopter pilot who provides air support to infantrymen, engineers, and other branches to secure the skies.
A U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopter.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jerry Saslav)
Their stories — along with others — will tell the Army mission more abundantly, something previous marketing strategies “didn’t do the best job of,” Fink admitted.
“Young adults already know the ground combat role we play. We need to surprise them with the breadth and depth of specialties in the Army,” Fink said. “This campaign is different than anything the Army has done in the past — or any other service — in terms of look and feel.”
The backbone of the new push isn’t just showing the multitude of unique Army branches — such as Alvarado’s and Smadi’s stories. It goes beyond that, he said, and is meant to show how individual branches come together as one team to become something greater than themselves — a sentiment their research says Gen Z is looking for.
“Team” is also the key-subject of chapter one. An initial advertisement, unveiled as a poster prior to Veterans Day, depicts a team of soldiers from five career tracks — a microbiologist, a signal soldier, an aviator, a cyber-operator, and a ground combat troop — all grouped together.
“By focusing on the range of opportunities available, What’s Your Warrior presents a more complete view of Army service by accentuating one key truth — teams are exponentially stronger when diverse talents join forces,” Fink said.
Roughly five months after the team in chapter one, chapter two will be unveiled and focus on identity, he said. At this checkpoint, soldier’s personal stories will be shared through 30-60 ad spots, online videos, banner ads and other formats to tell their story.
U.S. Army recruits practice patrol tactics while marching during U.S. Army basic training.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Shawn Weismiller)
“We know today’s young men and women want more than just a job. They desire a powerful sense of identity, and to be part of something larger than themselves,” said Secretary of the Army Ryan D. McCarthy. “What’s Your Warrior highlights the many ways today’s youth can apply their unique skills and talents to the most powerful team on Earth.”
The campaign will be the first major push for the Army’s marketing force since they moved from their previous headquarters near the Pentagon to Chicago — in an effort to be near industry talent, Fink said.
Although not quite settled in, the force’s marketing team started their move to the “Windy City” over the fall. Since then, they have led the charge on a variety of advertisements and commercials, both in preparation of What’s Your Warrior, and other ongoing efforts.
At the Chicago-based location, the office makeup is roughly 60% uniformed service and 40% civilian employees, Fink said.
Chicago is also one of 22 cities tapped by Army leaders as part of the “Army Marketing and Recruiting Pilot Program.” The micro-recruiting push — focusing on large cities with traditionally lower recruiting numbers — has utilized data analytics, and been able to tailor messaging for potential recruits based on what’s popular in their location, sometimes down to the street they live on, Fink said.
How “What’s Your Warrior” will target those cities — and others — remains to be seen.
That said, Fink believes the new campaign will speak to today’s youth on their terms, in their language, and in a never-before-seen view of Army service and show how their skillsets are needed to form the most powerful team in the world: the U.S. Army.
If you watch a movie and see troops lighting up a cigarette, you’ll probably notice that Zippo in their hand. Search-and-destroy missions in the Vietnam War were often referred to as “Zippo missions.” There’s simply no denying the fact that American troops have long had an intimate relationship with Zippos.
Troops are always searching for reliable gear as, oftentimes, the stuff we’re issued is absolute trash. That’s where Zippos come in. They’re reliable and compact, two criteria that “military-grade” items tend not to satisfy. But it’s not just that they work well — they’ve had a long history with troops.
Zippos during WWII were primarily used to light cigarettes. Vietnam, however, was another story.
(U.S. Marine Corps)
The American Zippo Manufacturing Company was founded in the 1930s, but when World War II started, the company ceased all production for consumer markets altogether and instead manufactured lighters exclusively for troops being sent to war. Millions of them were carried by troops and, no matter what, they knew they could rely on their trusty, metal lighter to spark their cigarette during a long day of ass-kicking.
Some units who performed these Zippo missions were referred to as “Zippo Squads.”
Zippos took on a different function during the Vietnam War. Aside from reliably lighting cigarettes, they were used to light flamethrower tanks when the built-in, electrical igniter didn’t work. They were also used as mirrors to shave, to heat up popcorn, and the list goes on.
In fact, Zippos became synonymous with Vietnam War operations as troops would raze villages with lighters on seek-and-destroy missions. But Zippos weren’t just for burning things down — they actually became a kind of cultural timepiece.
Some of the best pieces of military history.
(Photo by Joe Haupt)
In Vietnam, troops began engraving designs onto the sides of the hardy, metal lighters as a way to pass the time. By looking at those engravings, we’ve been able to glean some insight into the mindset of troops from the era. It might have been just an idle habit at the time, but such historical artifacts are invaluable for future generations.
The practice of engraving Zippos is one that carries over to modern-day service members. It may not be as popular as it once was, but troops all over still use the iconic lighter to spark up cigarettes or even burn frayed paracord.
Regardless, one thing is for sure — Zippos remain one of the most iconic pieces of unofficial military gear.
I’m a Green Beret, US Army Special Forces. Right after I earned my green beret and reported to my unit for this first time, I found out we were going to combat in a few weeks and I would be leading a team of older, battle hardened green berets into battle. My commander told me right before he introduced me to my team, “You’re in command now…. Do something with it.”
Now, I’m a veteran and I find myself wearing a few hats – I’m a business owner, Executive Director of a non-profit, and author. COVID-19 has really hurt my companies – all of my business contracts this year are canceled / postponed. I have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Its forced me to grow my hair out – I look like Moses from the ten commandments.
I’m sure a lot of you are in the same boat.
What do you do? Do you sit and wait for something good to happen? Do you close shop and use COVID-19 as an excuse for why you failed?
Or do you follow my company commander’s advice and do something about it?
Things are tough for everyone.
People are feeling uncomfortable to say the least.
Let’s be honest about who we are and what we are experiencing. That feeling of discomfort isn’t something we should hide or pretend we’re not going through. Let’s embrace this deliberate discomfort and be vulnerable. Most of the time, we put up a front – we fake it until we make it. We’re pretending to be someone we are not. COVID-19 has given us a beautiful gift. This is a time where there’s no more faking. Its just us – stripped down – stressed out – trying to hold it together.
No more pretending that everything is fine.
Here’s what I believe – If COVID-19 is affecting you, I believe that YOU can do something about your situation. I believe you can dare to win by getting comfortable being uncomfortable. I believe that its only through discomfort that we find solutions, learn, grow, and improve. It’s only through deliberate discomfort that you can achieve your full potential.
In the past 8 years, my company has worked with 13 x NFL teams, MLB teams, and numerous corporate clients to identify, assess, and develop the leadership behaviors required to win. We help them to do this by showing them the DELIBERATE DISCOMFORT mindset.
Now I appreciate that you may not have served in the military, but I know that at some point all of you realize that something needs to change. I hope that you don’t wait for something bad to happen to be the person you were destined to be.
There are a million “experts” out there telling you to seek comfort, to look for the easy path. I’m telling you the opposite. I’m telling you to seek discomfort. To take the road less traveled. To be vulnerable. To dare.
I am looking at COVID-19 as a blessing. I took my company commander’s advice and did something. I transitioned my business model to online training. One of the ways we reach our tribe is through our best-selling book, Deliberate Discomfort: How US Special Operations Forces Overcome Fear and Dare to Win By Getting Comfortable Being Uncomfortable.
If you want to learn more, Deliberate Discomfort is available in hardback and e-book on Amazon, Barnes Noble, and other book sellers. This week we are launching our e-book for a limited, one-week only .99 price.
Military culture is something you definitely have to be a part of to understand. Bob from accounting trying to relate to the strictness of your Drill Sergeant dad’s rules and regulations from a civilian perspective boils your red-hot American blood faster than anything else.
Sure, growing up a military brat separates you from the rest of the world, but also gains you entrance into the greatest 1% club out there. Here are the signs you might have grown up a military brat.
You have no idea how to answer, “Where are you from?”
Well, that depends. Do you mean where I lived the longest? Where I was born? Where I spent my best years? To be perfectly honest, you have no idea, so you just throw a random state (or country) out there and hope it makes you sound as cool as you look.
You’ve visited more countries than most adults
In most cases, a 16 year old reminiscing of skiing the Alps on holiday or discussing the economic impact of buying American grocery staples abroad would sound like a big fat lie. But not for you, you cultured darling. You spent your three-day weekends on a multi-country European tour instead of grabbing burgers and a movie.
You have to explain why you were born in another country but aren’t from there
No, I wasn’t born in America. No, I’m not a foreign citizen. No, I do not have a family heritage from that country either; I was just born there. Yes, it’s very annoying to explain this to people dozens of times.
You know your Social Security Number
You don’t need to call mom to ask her your personal information, you’ve got that on lock along with your service member parent’s as well.
You can’t stand civilians freaking out over moving…down the street
You’re crying over the sentimental loss of moving two blocks down in the same neighborhood while keeping the same circle of friends, same zip code and same schools? Please, do explain to me how sympathetic I should be toward you (eye roll).
You know the metric system
Amid a long list of random knowledge nuggets that you possess, growing internationally meant exposure to a system the entire world works within…except America.
Being late is a crime you’ll never commit
If you’re early you’re on time and if you’re on time, the Captain will likely treat it as if you just committed a crime against time itself. Ten minutes early is precisely on time in your book.
Bowling is your party trick
A weird yet common pastime in military culture…bowling. Nearly every duty station had a bowling alley and you’ve likely spent an unhealthy amount of time practicing your spins.
You’ve ridden on an airplane next to a Humvee in the cargo hold
Space-A flights are something else. There are no peanuts, no TVs in the headrests and zero chance you’ll snag a window seat.
You were “hella” cool with your ID card
Don’t even try to deny it. You thought you were crazy important toting around that ID card as a kid.
Getting up early is the standard operating procedure
Sleeping until 0700 hours sounds like a vacation after growing up a military child. Your entire neighborhood believed exercise was best before the sun rose each day.
Your parents take respect to a whole new level
Preparing your less than lazy friends for a stay at your house may have required an entire operation in itself.
When you were raised among Rangers, nothing scares you
“Your parents scare me,” might be a phrase you’ve heard a time or 20. But whether you were raised by Seals, Rangers or Green Berets, 200 pounds of American fighting muscle looks like your favorite uncle, not a death sentence.
The movie “12 Strong” arrives in theaters this Friday, and tells the harrowing story of the first U.S. special forces mission in Afghanistan following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The following is the second part of an Army.mil exclusive three-part feature recounts the events of the Green Berets’ first mission in Afghanistan, as they sought to destroy the Taliban regime and deny Al-Qaida sanctuary in that country.
ON THE GROUND
Special operations forces have a famously tight bond. As the Green Berets stepped off the SOAR’s highly modified MH-47 Chinooks into Afghanistan, they stepped back in time, to a time of dirt roads and horses. They stepped into another world, one of arid deserts and towering peaks, of “rugged, isolated, beautiful, different colored stones and geographical formations, different shades of red in the morning as the sun came up,” said Maj. Mark Nutsch, then the commander of ODA 595, one of the first two 12-man teams to arrive in Afghanistan. The world was one of all-but-impassable trails, of “a canyon with very dominating, several-hundred-feet cliffs.” It was a world of freezing nights, where intelligence was slim, women were invisible, and friend and foe looked the same.
They arrived in the middle of the night, of course, to the sort of pitch blackness that can only be found miles from electricity and civilization, at the mercy of the men waiting for them. “We weren’t sure how friendly the link up was going to be,” said Nutsch. “We were prepared for a possible hot insertion. … We were surrounded by — on the LZ there were armed militia factions. … We had just set a helicopter down in that. … It was tense, but … the link up went smoothly.”
The various special forces teams that were in Afghanistan split into smaller three-man and six-man cells to cover more ground. Some of them quickly found themselves on borrowed horses, in saddles meant for Afghans who were much lighter and shorter than American Green Berets. Most of the Soldiers had never ridden before, and they learned by immediately riding for hours, forced to keep up with skilled Afghan horsemen, on steeds that constantly wanted to fight each other.
But that’s what Green Berets do: they adapt and overcome. “The guys did a phenomenal job learning how to ride that rugged terrain,” said Nutsch, who worked on a cattle ranch and participated in rodeos in college. Even so, riding requires muscles most Americans don’t use every day, and after a long day in the saddle, the Soldiers were in excruciating pain, especially as the stirrups were far too short. They had to start jerry-rigging the stirrups with parachute cord.
“Initially you had a different horse for every move … and you’d have a different one, different gait or just willingness to follow the commands of the rider,” Nutsch remembered. “A lot of them didn’t have a bit or it was a very crude bit. The guys had to work through all of that and use less than optimal gear. … Eventually we got the same pool of horses we were using regularly.”
Nutsch had always been a history buff, and he had carefully studied Civil War cavalry charges and tactics, but he had never expected to ride horses into battle. In fact, it was the first time American Soldiers rode to war on horseback since World War II, and this ancient form of warfare was now considered unconventional.
“We’re blending, basically, 19th-century tactics with 20th-century weapons and 21st-century technology in the form of GPS, satellite communications, American air power,” Nutsch pointed out.
And there were military tactics involved. Even the timing of the attacks was crucial. Nutsch remembers wondering why the Northern Alliance wanted to go after the Taliban midafternoon instead of in the morning, but it accounted for their slower speed on horseback, while still leaving time to consolidate any gains before darkness fell. (They didn’t have night vision goggles.)
Supported by the Green Berets, Northern Alliance fighters directly confronted the Taliban over and over again. Some factions, like Nutsch’s, relied on horses for that first month. Others had pickup trucks or other vehicles, but they usually charged into battle armed with little more than AK-47s, machine guns, grenades and a few handfuls of ammunition. Meanwhile, the Taliban had tanks and armored personnel carriers and antiaircraft guns they used as cannons, all left behind by the Soviets when they evacuated Afghanistan in the 1980s.
It took a lot of heart, a lot of courage. “We heard a loud roar coming from the west,” said Master Sgt. Keith Gamble, then a weapons sergeant on ODA 585, as he remembered one firefight. “We had no clue what it was until we saw about 500 to 1,000 NA soldiers charging up the ridge line. I called it a ‘Brave Heart’ charge. What the NA didn’t realize was that the route leading up the ridgeline was heavily mined. The NA did not fare too well, as they received numerous injuries and had to retreat. We continued to pound the ridge line with bombs until the NA took it that evening.”
“They weren’t suicidal,” Nutsch, who worked with different ethnic groups, agreed, “but they did have the courage to get up and quickly close that distance on those vehicles so they could eliminate that vehicle or that crew. We witnessed their bravery on several occasions where they charged down our flank (to attack) these armored vehicles or these air defense guns that are being used in a direct fire role, and kill the crew and capture that gun for our own use.”
Should every American Citizen serve in the military? Should women be required to register for the selective service (draft)? What should the future of the Selective Service look like?
Navy veteran Shawn Skelly and Marine Corps veteran Ed Allard are commissioners for the Commission on National, Military and Public Service. Their mission is to recommend answers to these and many more questions to Congress by March 2020. Shawn and Ed visited Borne the Battle to discuss the two years of data that the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service has gathered to answer those and many other questions.
Some of the goals of the National Commission are:
Reviewing the military selective service process.
Listening to the public to learn from those who serve.
Igniting a national conversation about service.
Developing recommendations that will encourage every American to be inspired and eager to serve.
According to their interim report, the Commission has learned:
Americans value service.
Americans are willing to consider a wide variety of options to encourage or require service.
Some Americans are aware of the details of the Selective Service System while many are not.
Some Barriers to Service include:
Military Service is a responsibility borne by few.
National Service is America’s best-kept secret.
Public Service personnel practices need an overhaul.
Civic knowledge is critical for our democracy, but too few Americans receive high quality education.
Finally, the commissioners came on Borne the Battle to let listeners know that they can provide input.
Click here to learn how – deadline is Dec. 31, 2019.
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
There’re few things in the United States that are as American as Kentucky Straight Bourbon. How American is it? In 1964, the United States Congress actually declared Bourbon to be a “distinctive product of the US,” therefore protecting its name and production methods from foreign knockoffs.
There are also few things as American as helping each other out in times of crisis. And right now, as we all know, these are incredibly challenging times. Thankfully, folks all across the United States are working hard to help each other out.
You’ll find this same American spirit in companies like Evan Williams. During a global pandemic, Evan Williams is introducing their veteran-focused American-Made Heroes Foundation. This new foundation is designed to support nonprofits who work with the veteran community, helping the brave Americans who have served our country — especially the ones who may be further struggling due to this ongoing health crisis.
Evan Williams has grown into one of the biggest Bourbon brands in the world, known for its smooth taste and value. They’ve shown the world that you don’t have to pay outrageous prices or deal with obnoxious gimmicks to enjoy a great Bourbon. And as they’ve grown, they’ve made a great effort to give back — the American-Made Heroes Foundation is Evan Williams’ way of giving back to those who served.
With the COVID-19 outbreak, a lot of things in life have been put on hold. A lot of nonprofits that support veterans and their families have had to cease operations while figuring out their next steps. Now, more than ever, these nonprofits need support, and Evan Williams is committed to providing that support. The American-Made Heroes Foundation Fund provides grants of up to ,000 to support nonprofit community organizations in the United States that provide services to US military veterans and are impacted by COVID-19.
Each year, they also honor six inspiring veterans who have dedicated their lives to serving our country and its citizens. After choosing veterans to honor, Evan Williams features these Heroes and their exceptional stories of honor, bravery, and service to their community on a special edition bottle.
This year, they honored six amazing Americans and donated to the charity of choice of each veteran. Here’s a small sampling of the selected heroes. We encourage you to go check out the other stories, which are just as inspiring:
Eduardo “Eddie” Ramirez
Eduardo “Eddie” Ramirez hails from San Francisco, California, where he studied electrical engineering and worked at NASA’s Research Center. He enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 1981 when he was 21: kicking off a decorated 22-year career that would take him to Japan, Germany, Italy, and Spain. Along the way, he served in the Persian Gulf War, earned five advanced degrees, and had two children-both born overseas.
“There are so many different opportunities the military has to offer,” says Eddie, who took full advantage of the training and education programs that taught him persistence, determination and attention to detail. He worked as an aerospace ground equipment mechanic, a radio communications maintainer, and a professional military education instructor, before retiring as Flight Chief of the Airmen Leadership School in 2003. But his record of service continued.
Leveraging his master’s degree in Public Administration, Eddie went to work for the Department of Labor, before moving on to the Department of Veterans Affairs (V.A.). As an Administrative Officer for Mental Health, he spent nearly a decade advocating for veterans and strategizing ways to improve the V.A.’s processes. “I’ve always had a sense of ownership and giving back to my fellow veterans,” Eddie says. His friends describe him as a “big guy with a big heart.”
After 35 years of federal employment, Eddie returned to the Bay Area to pay it forward. He is the founder and CEO of OneVet OneVoice: a non-profit organization that assists some of California’s 1.8 million veterans with healthcare, education, housing, and job opportunities. He also established the American Legion Cesar E. Chavez Post #505, the San Francisco Veterans Film Festival, and the Veterans Town Hall Collaborative.
Eddie has chosen OneVet OneVoice as his charity for this year, and you can learn more about their mission at https://onevetonevoice.org/
Missionary. Marine. Advocate. There are many ways for a person to serve, and Jonathan Hiltz has done them all. Jon grew up helping the poor in Mexico, then enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps after the events of 9/11. He deployed to Fallujah with the 8th Marine Regiment as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, where he spent a year working as a Nuclear Biological Chemical Defense Specialist.
“The Marines was kind of countercultural to what I did [before],” Jon explains. As a missionary, “I was serving people, helping people-and then I went to war.” In reality though, the military was just a different kind of service. He did a bit of everything: weapons detection, interior guard, convoy security-even distributing ballots to Iraqis to help facilitate their first elections.
Upon completion of service, Jon chose to exit the Marines and return to his missionary roots. He enrolled in St. Louis Christian College and began volunteering to help the homeless. “It was just a progression,” Jon says of his work. “What are the needs? I’m going to start checking off the boxes.” He is the founder of the Arise Veteran Foundation in St. Louis, Missouri; and Love Goes: a non-profit working to alleviate poverty in Southern Illinois.
Today, Jon lives with his wife, Amber, and three children in Marion, Illinois, where he also works as a Peer Support Specialist at the VA Medical Center. There, he helps other veterans cope with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and substance abuse. “I use my story a lot to help other people,” he says, referring to his own struggles with PTSD. “I’ve been in combat, too. You can still do better. You can have a good career. You just need help sometimes.“
Mary Tobin grew up watching her mother do everything in her power to help those in need-even when her own family didn’t have much. She left Atlanta, Georgia, at age 17 to join the United States Military Academy at West Point. It was in her third year of training that 9/11 drastically altered the trajectory of her career. She deployed to Iraq six months after graduating: the only woman and black officer in her unit.
“Everything I ever learned about leadership, I learned in that first deployment,” Mary says, which also earned her the Combat Action Badge. She completed a second deployment to Iraq with the Combat Aviation Brigade, before becoming a senior leader of a military intelligence unit in South Korea. It wasn’t long after that the injuries she sustained in Iraq caught up with her: putting an end to her 10-year career. For the first time, Mary was a soldier without a mission.
Driven by the commitment she made at West Point-to fulfill a lifetime of selfless service to the nation-Mary began working with volunteer organizations that supported veterans, women of color, and the homeless; including USA Cares and Community Solutions. “I had to feel like I was having a positive impact on someone or something,” she explains. “I served with some pretty amazing people. I want to live a life worthy of those who gave their lives for our freedom.“
Mary has chosen The Mission Continues as her charity, where she currently serves as the executive director. The Mission Continues: is a national nonprofit that empowers veterans to become leaders in their communities and supports neighborhood transformation efforts. “I am a product of what happens when you no longer call me broken and you tell me I’m strong,” she says. “There are millions of ‘little Marys’ out there who need THIS Mary to remind them that they can be whatever they desire. It’s the least I can do.“
In addition to giving grants to these veterans’ nonprofits of choice, Evan Williams has also given over 0,000 to 501c3 organizations that serve veterans and the greater military community over the last five years. And while that is generous by any means, they aren’t done yet.
Thank you, Evan Williams for not just throwing up a patriotic image on your bottle. Thanks for honoring veterans by putting them right next to your brand and giving to those organizations that serve those who served.