Army culture: Make room for recovery - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

Army culture: Make room for recovery

From January 2018 to June 2020, I served in key development positions as a battalion operations officer, battalion executive officer, and brigade executive officer. My key development time was the hardest I have ever worked in my life. Fortunately, I had great teammates, worked for wonderful bosses, had the opportunity to coach and mentor junior officers and NCOs, and formed lifelong bonds I will cherish for the rest of my life. Despite being part of a great team, stress took its toll, and by the end I was something of a wreck; my personal life was strained, I was mentally and physically exhausted, and, to add insult to injury, I had also gained about ten pounds. 

Fortunately, my next assignment was one that advertised a much slower pace and exposure to parts of the Army I had never seen. Needless to say, I arrived excited. I would get to spend time with my family, refocus on my fitness, and get my life together while preparing for my future. However, myriad self-imposed expectations and a constant drive for excellence became destructive. I was still waking up at 0530 every day to go to the gym, do PT, and get to work early. Falling back on old habits, I once again found myself checking emails and responding to every single text or call at all hours of the day. 

Despite a desire to recover, I continued to run at the same pace I had for the last two and a half years. My drive never turned off. I continued to redline and found myself once again breaking down. I thought I had slowed down, but I never truly began the recovery process.

Merriam-Webster defines “recover” as “to bring back to normal position or condition,” and The American Psychology Association defines “recovery time” as “the time required for a physiological process to return to a baseline state after it has been altered by the response to a stimulus.”  The common element in each definition is a change in state. The drive for excellence during a demanding period is counterproductive, or even harmful, during recovery. We must give ourselves permission to power down, throttle back, and take time to heal. Not giving ourselves permission to slow down can impede recovery, multiply the damage incurred during a high demand period, and cause lasting negative impacts to our physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual well-being.  

In CADENCE!

“If the Soldier cannot recover properly from the acute training load…then the training load will accumulate and not be absorbed. The continued volume and intensity of the workload becomes chronic. This failure to properly progress the workload increases risk of underperformance…” FM 7-22, pg 4-7, “Physiology

In 1908, psychologists Robert M. Yerkes and John Dillingham Dodson demonstrated an empirical relationship between stress and performance, known as the Yerkes-Dodson Law. The law dictates that performance increases with physical and mental stress, but only to a point. When stress becomes too great, or endures for too long, performance begins to decrease. This relationship is often depicted by a bell curve:

While not explicitly mentioned, the Yerkes-Dodson Law can be found throughout the new FM 7-22, Holistic Health and Fitness. FM 7-22 mentions recovery, or some variant of, 623 times. Clearly, the Army recognizes recovery is a requirement, and not just for physical fitness. In addition to physical recovery, FM 7-22 explicitly mentions mental, spiritual, nutrition, and sleep dimensions. However, despite encapsulating a recovery requirement in the Holistic Health and Fitness program, the OPTEMPO within many BCTs remains unsustainably high, impeding any progress made with the publication of the new doctrine.

EXERCISE!

“Soldiers’ roles and jobs change, complicating the requirements for sustained character and psychological training across a Soldier’s lifecycle. …Therefore, commanders must consider this doctrine as providing best solutions and messaging for the collective mental health of the unit—procedures and tactics that allow Soldiers to prepare for, thrive in, and recover from the ordinary and extraordinary stressors that might degrade readiness.” FM 7-22, pg 9-1, “Mental Readiness”

FM 7-22 and other like programs are a much-needed step in the right direction, providing comprehensive doctrine and tangible steps individuals and leaders can take. However, they fail to address the cultural aspects at the root of the recovery problem. In my experience, some unit cultures, particularly divisional units, value work for the sake of work, not work for the sake of output. A Soldier who completes their assigned tasks on time, or even tasks beyond their assigned workload, but leaves at a reasonable hour is often seen as less committed or lazy. However, a Soldier who comes in early and stays late is seen as hard working and dedicated, despite producing little to no value for the organization.  

When leaders tie value to input instead of output, they risk creating a culture where how hard and how long one works is equally, and sometimes more, important than what one produces.  Worse, those cultures often also associate work length and effort to commitment and dedication to the organization. In these environments, it matters less what one does, as long as you do it for as long and as hard as you can. One of the most important things a person can do in these cultures is to be seen as “really getting after it”, regardless of what “it” is or whether “it” truly advances the organization or not.

This is not to say performance and output go unnoticed in these cases. Poor performers are eventually identified and rated accordingly. However, cultural norms allow average performers to “muscle through it” by putting in long hours, yet be viewed as equal to or more valued than the high performing individuals who complete their work on time while maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

These cultural norms manifest themselves at both operational and institutional levels. Many commanders consider it acceptable to text, call, or email about non-emergent work at night, over weekends, and during leave periods. This naturally creates pressure for subordinates to respond, regardless of the time of day. It is routine for Soldiers to avoid behavioral counseling or therapy because they fear admitting they need help will harm their career.  Over my 15 year career, I have routinely observed Soldiers at all ranks lose leave because the high OPTEMPO consistently produces a pressing requirement.  Finally, there is the phenomenon of “waiting on the word”, where Soldiers will wait around for hours until the commander leaves, despite not having any assigned tasks to accomplish, just in case the boss needs something or has a question.  

At the institutional level, the issue manifests in how assignments are viewed and managed.  I’ve seen many raise an eyebrow when an individual seeks a job that isn’t viewed as “hard charging.” Instead, the expectation is that careerists who want to advance and eventually command must seek the hard jobs and “keep rowing.”   Human Resources Command considers these high pressure nominative or competitive broadening assignments career enhancing, meaning that they increase one’s chance for promotion or CSL selection.  

Based on this, why would someone who wants to promote and command select slower paced broadening jobs to round out the professional skill set and allow them and their family to recover when the Army has already told them that choice does not make them the most competitive?  As a result, many Soldiers, especially those on track for early promotion or with high potential for CSL selection, will move from serving two years in high stress, key development billets to equally high pressure nominative or competitive broadening billets to maximize promotion and selection chances.  

Ask yourself a question: when is the last time you took a four-day pass?  Why do so many leaders overvalue work for the sake of work or disparage those who require recovery?  Why do career managers often discourage people from picking  jobs where they can rehabilitate an injury, be home every night for dinner, and build memories with their families? Resting our muscles after lifting weights enables muscle tissue growth, in turn allowing us to lift more the next time. Similarly, resting our minds, bodies, and families after a hard push in a key development billet enables us, and our families, to push hard again in the next big job.  

HALT!

“Recovery: The period of four to eight weeks when the Soldier begins to prepare for the primary mission. It is characterized by low workloads and general adaptation and recuperation.”, FM 7-22, pg Glossary-8

Recovery is a physiological necessity. This is an immutable fact that both high performers and the institutional Army recognize on an intellectual level. Still, both struggle with recovery, conceptually and in implementation. Fixing this problem requires action at the individual, unit, and Army levels; it also requires senior leaders to lead from the front in execution.

 We can take three steps to improve the recovery process. First, we must give ourselves PERMISSION to recover. We must acknowledge it is permissible to perform below peak output all the time, and throttling down is both healthy and necessary. Second, we must recognize  recovery is a process that takes TIME. These issues cannot be fixed over a long weekend. The length of the recovery period is tied to the length and intensity of the high demand period. Finally, we must be DELIBERATE about our recovery. We must budget time and resources for recovery the same as we would a training exercise. Like training, we must also avoid things that distract or pull us away from our recovery efforts.

At the cultural level we must shift how we view recovery. The Army’s Holistic Health and Fitness program is an amazing start and does a lot to cement recovery concepts into our doctrine. However, it requires leaders at every level to embrace it and put it into practice in tangible ways. First, effectively managing organizational capacity increases efficiency and enables routine working hours. Working late nights and weekends may be required to accomplish some missions, but those should be the exception, not the expectation.

Second, senior leaders at all levels must change their messaging and lead by example.  How can they expect subordinates to truly recover if they are not willing to stop sending emails on the weekend, leave the office on time, unplug and actually take leave, or see a doctor when sick or injured? If board guidance and selection continue to weight high pressure operational assignments over broad experience, then what incentive is there to change the mold? Senior leaders must live the reforms for them to take root. Leaders at all levels must make it clear that long work hours, lost leave, and weekend emails are not a badge of honor, nor will they be viewed in a positive light.  

In addition, we must embrace a concept of active recovery while in high stress, high demand jobs. When I was a battalion operations officer, my commander made a point to leave the office at 1730 each day. Even better, he chased everyone out, including myself, the command sergeant major, battalion executive officer, company commanders, and first sergeants. Making a habit to leave on time, being present for the little league game, or turning off the phone for date night are examples of “recovery in contact” that allow for some respite while enabling continued performance in a high demand job.

Finally, our culture must re-examine how it views assignments. Slower paced assignments should not be derogatively viewed as “taking a knee,” but rather rounding out areas in an individual’s professional development. Instead of pushing Soldiers from one high-pressure assignment to another, branch managers and senior leaders should encourage a greater diversity in assignments, not just in the operating force, but the generating force as well.  Not only does the slower pace allow the individual and the family to recover, but the breadth of experience will benefit the Soldier in their next critical assignment.

RECOVER!

Recovery can be uncomfortable. Over my 15-year career, the Army has trained and conditioned me to go farther, push harder, and move faster in everything I do. There was a metric for everything and if you didn’t perform better than before there was more work to do until you did. Trying to break this mindset is hard. In fact, forcing yourself to slow down and recover in many ways is more difficult than simply continuing to push the pace. However, we must remember one unalterable fact: what got you here, will not get you there. Maintaining the habits that made you successful in a high demand job will not make you successful while executing recovery.

Recovery is necessary. Recovery is a process. Recovery is healthy. While it may feel uncomfortable to power down, do less, and not push to our limits, we must realize this is a mental trap. Our personal growth happens as we consolidate gains, reflect, and rest during our recovery periods. By changing how we view recovery and taking a more deliberate approach in its execution, we can maximize our recovery, capitalize on our growth, and be ready to perform at our peak when called to do so.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This camp is inspiring young women to pursue careers in aviation

An avionics technician recently returned to her place of inspiration, an event that helped her further set her sights on the skies right after she graduated high school in 2015.

Senior Airman Lydia Kamps, an avionics technician with the 756th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, had the opportunity to return to the Experimental Aircraft Association’s GirlVenture Camp during the Oshkosh Air Show in Wisconsin as a mentor — not just a participant. She was able to share how her path of becoming an airman is taking her toward the goals she set for herself in aviation, a path most young women in the audience haven’t considered.

“Not only do I get to share my experiences from flying general aviation and my time in the Air Force, I get to inspire others and give them direction for their aviation dreams,” Kamps said. “It is even cooler that I am so close in age to the girls I mentored because I can really connect with them and help them realize their career goals are entirely possible even at a young age.”


It was the second year in a row Kamps used the Air Force Recruiting Services’ We Are All Recruiters program, or WEAR, to get approval for a permissive temporary duty to the summer event.

Army culture: Make room for recovery

Senior Airman Lydia Kamps, a 309th Aircraft Maintenance Unit F-16 Fighting Falcon avionics technician, Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., speaks to young women during the Experimental Aircraft Association’s GirlVenture Camp held July 22-24, 2019 during the EAA’s AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wis. This is the second year in a row Kamps volunteered as a mentor at AirVenture and its air show, one of the largest aviation events in America.

“The airshow and GirlVenture Camp is always one of the best parts of the year,” Kamps said. “It is an awesome opportunity to connect with so many different people, the aviation professionals I mentor with and the girls that attend the camp. I was also able to meet up with old friends and aviation enthusiasts from all around the world and nerd out over hundreds of airplanes!”

A WEAR event is an event where the interaction of Air Force personnel educate and increase public awareness of the Air Force and could potentially provide numerous leads for recruiters. These events enhance the AFRS mission to inspire, engage and recruit future airmen to deliver airpower for America.

“GirlVenture is one of the many outreach engagements we participate in to achieve the Air Force’s rated diversity improvement objectives,” said Maj. Lindsay Andrew, AFRS Detachment 1 director of operations, Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas. “This year, AFRS Detachment 1 manned a booth at Kidventure to inform, influence and inspire young aviation enthusiasts at Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Senior Airman Kamps’ enthusiasm and expertise made her a perfect match for the type of spokespersons AFRS needed at GirlVenture.”

Approval for WEAR is limited to those events where airmen are directly speaking to potential applicants or influencers about Air Force opportunities. Applicants are defined as individuals within the 17- to 39-year-old range; and influencers can be defined as parents, community leaders, teachers, counselors, coaches and more.

Army culture: Make room for recovery

Senior Airman Lydia Kamps, F-16 Viper avionics technician at the 309th Aircraft Maintenance Unit, Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, takes a photo with young aviation enthusiasts during the Experimental Aircraft Association’s GirlVenture Camp held July 22-24, 2019 during the EAA’s AirVenture in Osh Kosh, Wisconsin.

“It can be challenging to share Air Force experience with the high school ladies as many of them have not ever considered the military and have misconceptions,” Kamps said. “However, when I describe the technical skills I have gained from working on jets and mention the benefits of education, travel and camaraderie, they are intrigued and anxious to find out more. Additionally, when we are walking around the grounds looking at the aircraft and watching the jets fly in the shows they are amazed and encouraged to learn more.”

WEAR events are approved on an individual basis and must be first approved by the individual’s commander in accordance with AFI 36-3003 Military Leave Program. Air Force members may receive up to 14 days permissive TDY per year to attend WEAR events.

“My flight chief introduced me to the WEAR program last year when I was submitting leave to volunteer,” Kamps said. “The program makes it a lot easier to take time from work and fully focus on mentoring and getting the most out of one week packed with people and airplanes.”

While inspiring others, the avionics technician said she was also mentored by other airmen sharing their story.

Army culture: Make room for recovery

Airman 1st Class Lydia Kamps.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Robert L. McIlrath)

“This year we had the privilege of hearing from Col. Kim Campbell about flying in Operation Iraqi Freedom and other accomplished aviators like the Chief Systems Pilot Bebe O’Neil who is prior Air Force,” Kamps said. “The speakers were definitely a highlight for me and the girls.”

A bond was created between the mentor airman and participants through shared activities and experiences on the air show grounds.

“Many of them are intimidated by the military, especially since the majority that serve are gentleman, but when they see me and find out about my success even as a woman, they are encouraged to not let that hold them back from their career goals,” Kamps said. “Several girls are already looking at working toward being fighter pilots, and appreciate how I started out flying general aviation and later enlisted with the same goal of commissioning that I am currently pursuing.

“For others, hearing from my experience might just have been the first spark to their wanting to join the Air Force,” she continued. “It was an honor to share my experiences as an avionics technician and tell them about all the opportunities the Air Force offers.”

This article originally appeared on United States Air Force. Follow @USAF on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

A military brat shares the real insider details to enlisting in the military

I’m joining the Navy.

Four words my father NEVER expected to hear come out of my mouth. Even more surprising because I was 26 years old when I said them. But come on, I was a proud BRAT, all too happy to follow in the family footsteps.


Once the shock wore off, the conversations began, and I have never been so thankful to come from such a strong military family as I was during the enlistment process. My father served 26 years in the Navy. My grandfather was in for 4. One uncle was in 20 years while another was in for 30! Add in my cousins (1 Navy, 1 Army, 2 Air Force) and I had a wealth of knowledge to pull from as I started my journey into service. But even with all that, nothing could prepare me for what I was going to face as I tried to enlist.

Enlisting Is Not As Easy As It Looks

In every TV show and movie, they show the young, bright-eyed kid going into a recruiter’s office and then walking out the same day with a ship date. For me, it was more like the scene from Sex in the City where Charlotte had to knock on the temple doors three times before the rabbi would talk to her about converting to the Jewish faith.

From the day I decided I wanted to enlist until I shipped off to Chicago for Boot Camp was two years and three days. Yes, you read that right. For two years I fought to enlist. Most people would have given up. Decided that the universe was saying the military was not their path and walked away. But not me. I knew that to achieve the goals I had set for myself and the military was the way to get there.

For someone looking to enlist and leave tomorrow, keep in mind that there is paperwork, and more paperwork, and even more paperwork that must be done. Waiver to sign (especially if you are older and have lived a little). ASVAB to take, jobs to pick, and quotas to be filled at specific times. Make sure that you go in with a realistic expectation of when you may ship out.

Don’t Buy The First Car You Test Drive

I got lucky. Because I am a military BRAT, I knew that the recruiter was essentially a military car salesman. If you’re anything like me you just pictured a guy in a cheap suit with too much cologne on trying to convince you that the neon yellow 1980’s vehicle sitting on the lot is a *classic* and not a lemon. That’s not exactly what I mean when I say that recruiters are salesmen. But it can be close.

The whole job of a recruiter is to hit a goal number of new recruits put into boot camp each month. They have jobs that are easier to fill (an example being an undesignated Sailor) and some that are harder to fill (a Navy nuke for example). They know when there will be lulls in numbers for the year and when high recruiting time is (right before high school graduations is a peek time!) A savvy recruiter is going to word their pitch to entice new recruits to sign up for the window that works for their quotas more than what will work for the recruit because many do not know enough about the process to know how to question what is being said.

If you walk into the recruiting office and things sound too good to be true, use the same line I did, “May I please take this paperwork to read over with my father/uncle? I would like them to help me understand some of the military terminology since they are both in/veterans.” Don’t be afraid to use the resources available to you in a military family to make sure you’re not being worked over. This will let your recruiter know that you’re taking the process seriously, that you have someone to walk you through the grey language they may use, and that you’re not going to be an easy tick on their number sheet.

Do Your Research

Remember when I said it took me 2+ years to leave for boot camp? Well, it was 1 year and 6 months from, “Hi, I want to enlist,” to me picking a job and signing a contract. Then another 6 months until I was able to ship out because the quotas for October were open while the ones for April were not. Part of the long wait for me was that I was not willing to sign a contract that I didn’t agree with. Prior to ever walking into their office I had researched the jobs I would take, the ASVAB scores that it would require to get them, and what jobs would require a 5-year vs 4-year commitment.

My entire goal for enlisting was that I wanted to go back to school to get a degree in education and eventually get my teaching license. I knew that I was a “one and done” Sailor. For me to have the career outside the military that I wanted, I needed a job that was a bit more desk duty that flightline chaos. Growing up in such a military family I was able to grill everyone on which jobs would allow for more personal time and which were 24/7 on-call positions. The fact that I am not at all mechanically-inclined (I blew up a car engine because I didn’t know to change the oil) meant I was not going to be working on planes or helicopters any time soon. And I am not good with blood and guts so medical was not for me. But paperwork, heck yeah! I love the meticulous nature of keeping files and writing awards and all the tasks that would drive a less organized person batty. Add to that my intention to focus on English teaching after the Navy and an administrative position was perfect for me.

Of course, my recruiter and the Sailors at MEPS doing my paperwork didn’t see it that way. They saw my ASVAB scores and my prior college experience as a way to earn their version of bonus points. They wanted me to enlist in as a nuke. Their pitch included telling me that I would earn enlistment bonuses since it was such a selective process to get the job, that A-School was in my favorite city of Charleston, SC and I would have time to explore while I was there for a year, and that I would have my pick of bases on both coasts and Japan.

Sounds great right? I mean, what smart person would turn down that offer?

One that has done their research!

I knew that as great as a year in Charleston sounded, nuke school had a nearly 90% fail rate. Meaning, if I did not pass, I would enter the fleet as an undesignated Sailor with no official job and be at the mercy of the military where I ended up. And even if I did do well in school, with only a 10% pass rate I was going to have to spend most of my time studying, not enjoying shrimp and grits at Poogan’s Porch. Oh, and that pick of bases? They didn’t mean ALL Navy bases. They meant ones with the right ships for the stand I picked up. And once on said ship, I would have to wear a pretty device that would alert me if I was picking up too much radiation and might start to glow in the dark.

Take your time and DO THE RESEARCH! Come in with documents to let your recruiter know you’ve look into the options, you understand why that branch of the military is the best fit for you, and you know what you want to get out of your time in service, whether it is 4 years or 30. And it allows you to really understand what it means to be committing to your enlistment. It is much easier to make the best out of a strange new situation (which it is no matter how much military you have in your family) when you have prepared yourself before getting to boot camp. Oh, and don’t let your pride get in the way when doing your research either. If the job you want requires a high ASVAB score, study, study, study! Hire a tutor. Bust your butt to do well because as much as I hate saying that a test can decide your military fate, it has a big role in what opportunities are available to you. Knowing what score you need on a test is just as important as knowing how many pull-ups you will be required to do in a fitness test when it comes to background research.

Tackle The Tough Stuff Before Leaving

To enlist, I faced some challenged. The biggest one was my weight. I have never been a skinny girl and I certainly wasn’t when I walked into the recruiter’s office. I knew I was going to have to lose weight and get into better shape before Boot Camp, but I didn’t expect that recruiters wouldn’t even speak to me because they didn’t think I had the ability to do that. A personal trainer, new cooking skills, and a half-marathon to keep me motivated had the weight off before they knew what hit them. But it was an eye opener from that point as to just how much physical standards were going to rule my life while I was enlisted. I was able to get a crash course in nutrition and fitness before shipping out when I had always assumed that boot camp would be where I was whipped into shape. The stamina I had to complete every task, and the pallet to deal with boot camp food, were built in the months before I left and it made those challenges something I didn’t have to face and be ridiculed for while I was being turned into a Sailor.

And I’ll admit, I had a very weird fear about boot camp. I’m pretty modest. I lied. I’m very modest. And no matter who I asked, everyone told me that showering with others was just part of the deal. No way around it, I was going to have to get over my modesty and wash up just like everyone else. So, what did I do? Well, not what most people may do but it certainly helped me! I found a local art class that needed figure models. Yup. I bared all for about 10 art students to tackle my debilitating fear of having to do the same in front of a bunch of strangers on my first day at boot camp. While it didn’t make me want to strut my stuff in front of 40 women I’d never met before, it certainly made it less awkward. Then again, by the time I got a shower for the first time in boot camp it had been almost 48 hour since my last one, I was exhausted, fighting a migraine from lack of sleep and would have been ok if the male recruits hopped in with me as long as I was allowed to get clean finally!

I know everyone has a different fear, different challenge they are facing, prior to heading out to boot camp. I do get that. However, I will say boot camp is not the place to face it. Do everything you can prior to leaving the comfort of your home to prepare you for what is to come. Boot camp is new for everyone. No matter how much the military is a family tradition, your boot camp experience will take you out of your comfort zone, put you with people you never would have met otherwise and test you in ways you never imagined, physically and mentally.

So, go in ready and willing to learn, leave your hang-ups at home, and keep your eyes on the end of the situation, not the tough day you are in at the moment. Before you know it all the preparation, the researching, will pay off and you will be able to proudly wear the uniform you worked so hard to earn. There is no feeling like graduation day when you realize you are now part of an elite group of people that are willing to put their lives on the line to protect their country.

This article originally appeared on Military Spouse. Follow @MilSpouseMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

A hidden Civil War fort in Queens, NY is the reason the Corps of Engineers have the insignia they do

What does a building supposedly designed by Robert E. Lee have to do with the US Army Corps of Engineers insignia? More than you think.

Fort Totten is a stunning piece of land located on Cross Island Parkway between Totten Avenue and 15 Road in Queens, New York, which is actually an abandoned Civil War fort – hidden in plain sight. 

It’s even on the MTA subway map, even though it’s partially obscured by the legend explaining the different symbols on the map mean. 

The underfunded and almost obscure city park is located in the Bayside area of Queens. As a military installation, it was built in 1862 to protect against Confederate ships from approaching New York via the East River. 

Civil War History

Fort Totten was initially called Fort at Willets Point. The government purchased the land in 1857 from the Willets family, but the name was changed to Fort Totten in 1898. The original intent of Fort Totten was to defend the East River, but it was also to add auxiliary support to Fort Schuyler, which faces the East River in the opposite direction. Fort Totten was part of several installations of seacoast defense in the US that started during the first year of the Civil War. The initial design was created by Robert E. Lee in 1857 and modified by Chief Engineer Joseph G. Totten, where the installation got its name.

Fort Totten was designed with four tiers of cannons facing the water, for a total of 68 defensive guns. The only other installations in the US to share this feature are Castle Williams, Fort Wadsworth, and Fort Point. 

Construction on Fort Totten was abandoned after the Civil War, in part because masonry forts were considered obsolete after the war. Only one tier and part of a second tea of the two seacoast walls were completed.

Army culture: Make room for recovery
(NYC Parks)

WWI and onward 

When the United States entered WWI, coastal defensive installations got an upgrade. Because threats from German shifts seemed unlikely, these installations became mobilization and training centers. Garrisons were reduced to provide trained heavy artillery crews for the Western Front. 

After WWII, Fort Totten’s last heavy armament, the mortars of Battery King, were removed, and the Harbor Defenses of Eastern New York were inactivated. 

In December 1941, Fort Totten became the headquarters for the anti-aircraft portion of the Eastern Defense Command. Then in 1954, the installation became a Project Nike air defense site. No Nike missiles were located at Fort Totten, but it was the regional headquarters for the New York area. By 1966, it was home to the 1st Region, Army Air Defense Command. It also headquartered the 66th Anti-Aircraft Missile Battalion and the 41st AAA Gun Battalion. 

Army culture: Make room for recovery
(NYC Parks)

Currently, the 77th Sustainment Brigade, subordinate units, and the 533rd Brigade Support Battalion of the Army Reserve call Fort Totten home. But most of the installation is a public park and open for tours. Most of the Civil War-era buildings are in ruins, giving Fort Totten an old world-new world sort of offset vibe. Visitors can also explore the Cold War era buildings, including a movie theater, former officer’s quarters, a laboratory, and a hospital. The entire area has a spooky stopped-in-time feel, especially if you’ve never seen any old military ruins. 

In the middle of the part is a building called The Castle, which was once the officer’s club. Now it’s home to the Bayside Historical Society. The Castle hosts historical exhibitions, cultural programs, and events. In 1986, The Castle was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Like the rest of the Civil War buildings, The Castle was designed by Robert E. Lee in his pre-Civil War capacity as a military engineer. Some historians suspect that Lee didn’t actually design it, just signed off on the plans. 

The building was designed in a neo-Gothic style and wasn’t created specifically for Fort Totten but was the approved generic design for use in all military installations during that time. Identical structures could be found at installations around the country during that time, and the Corps of Engineers eventually adopted the design as their insignia.

MIGHTY CULTURE

The 13 funniest memes for the week of November 16th

The weeks between major four-day weekends always blow. You get into a rhythm of sitting on your ass, drinking, and playing video games for an extended period of time only to have a few days of extremely intense duty to make up for all the work you’ve been missing and will miss over the holidays.

Meanwhile, you’re getting pressure to get that damn certificate in to the training room because Uncle Sam won’t let you take block leave unless you’ve proven to them that your car isn’t sh*t and you won’t drive while tired.

But on the bright side, it’s payday week and there’re a lot of video games coming out for you to waste your paycheck on. Anyway, enjoy some memes.


Army culture: Make room for recovery

(Meme via Disgruntled Vets)

1. What’s worse? Dealing with 110-degree heat, the constant threat of enemy attacks, actual enemy attacks, incoming mortar fire at 0200, and being treated like absolute garbage by your unit, foreign allies, and the locals you’re defending or dealing with your civilian coworker’s bullsh*t on Monday mornings?

Tough call.

Army culture: Make room for recovery

(Meme via Smokepit Fairytales)

Army culture: Make room for recovery

(Meme via Lost in the Sauce)

Army culture: Make room for recovery

(Meme via Military Memes)

Army culture: Make room for recovery

(Meme via PT Belt Nation)

Army culture: Make room for recovery

(Meme via Coast Guard Memes)

Army culture: Make room for recovery

(Meme via Sh*t My LPO Says)

Army culture: Make room for recovery

(Meme via Air Force amn/nco/snco)

Army culture: Make room for recovery

(Meme via Private News Network)

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MIGHTY CULTURE

PBS Memorial Day Concert to air May 24, 2020

Capital Concerts announced that a special presentation of the NATIONAL MEMORIAL DAY CONCERT, hosted by Tony Award-winner Joe Mantegna and Emmy Award-winner Gary Sinise, will air on PBS and feature new performances and tributes filmed around the country to honor all of our American heroes.

Due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the traditional live concert on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol will not be held – to ensure the health and safety of all involved.

The special 90-minute presentation of the NATIONAL MEMORIAL DAY CONCERT will air on Sunday, May 24, 2020, as a celebration to the heroes currently fighting COVID-19. This year marks its 31st year as a way to honor and remember our troops, Veterans, wounded warriors, all those who have given their lives for our nation and their families.


“In this unprecedented time, when the nation needs it most, we will bring Americans together as one family to honor our heroes,” said Executive Producer Michael Colbert. “This has been the mission of the NATIONAL MEMORIAL DAY CONCERT for 30 years, and we look forward to sharing stories and music of support, hope, resilience, and patriotism.”

America’s national night of remembrance will feature new appearances and performances by distinguished American statesman, including: General Colin L. Powell, USA (Ret); Tony, Emmy and Grammy winner and two-time Oscar nominee, Cynthia Erivo; world-renowned four-time Grammy Award-winning soprano superstar Renée Fleming; country music star and Grammy-nominated member of the Grand Ole Opry, Trace Adkins; Grammy Award-winning gospel legend CeCe Winans; Tony Award-winning Broadway star Kelli O’Hara; Tony Award-nominated actress Mary McCormack; members of the National Symphony Orchestra under the direction of top pops conductor Jack Everly; and a special message from General Mark A. Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Broadway and television star Christopher Jackson will open the show with a performance of the national anthem. The broadcast will also feature performances from previous concerts by Academy Award-nominated actor Sam Elliott; Oscar nominee and Emmy and Tony-Award winner Laurence Fishburne; and actor/producer/director Esai Morales.

Woven throughout the program will be messages of thanks and support from prominent guest artists for active-duty military, National Guard and Reserve and their families, Veterans, and Gold Star families; the messages include gratitude for for first responders, doctors, nurses, grocery clerks, truck drivers, postal workers – all those who are on the front lines, putting their lives at risk now in the fight against this virus.

Hosts Joe Mantegna and Gary Sinise will also share several powerful segments that highlight stories of generations of ordinary Americans who stepped forward and served our country with extraordinary valor in its most challenging times.

The NATIONAL MEMORIAL DAY CONCERT airs on PBS Sunday, May 24, 2020, from 8:00 to 9:30 p.m. E.T., as well as to our troops serving around the world on the American Forces Network. The concert will also be streaming on Facebook, YouTube and www.pbs.org/national-memorial-day-concert and available as Video on Demand, May 24 to June 7, 2020.

Other participants

Also participating in new and some past selected performances are members from the U.S. Army Herald Trumpets, the U.S. Army Chorus, the U.S. Army Voices and Downrange, the Soldiers’ Chorus of the U.S. Army Field Band, the U.S. Navy Band Sea Chanters, the U.S. Air Force Singing Sergeants, and Service Color Teams provided by the Military District of Washington, D.C.

The program is a co-production of Michael Colbert of Capital Concerts and WETA, Washington, D.C. Executive producer Michael Colbert has assembled an award-winning production team that features the top Hollywood talent behind some of television’s most prestigious entertainment awards shows, including the ACADEMY AWARDS, GRAMMY AWARDS, COUNTRY MUSIC AWARDS, TONY AWARDS, and more.

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

This is why Iran’s Special Forces still wear US green berets

When looking at Iran’s 65th Airborne Special Force Brigade, you might notice a few striking similarities — the yellow enlisted chevrons seem a lot like the the yellow chevrons on old Army greens, for example. Before the Iranian Revolution, their unit insignia looked a lot like the De Oppresso Liber crest that signifies the United States Army Special Forces.

The distinctive green beret worn by the Iranians may not be the same shade of green worn by today’s U.S. Army Special Forces, but Iranian special operators wear green for a reason — they were trained by Americans.


In the 1960s, the United States sent four operational detachments of Army Special Forces operators to Iran to train the Shah’s Imperial military forces. The Mobile Training Teams spent two years as Military Assistance Advisory Group Iran. Before they could even get to Iran, the soldiers had to pass the Special Forces Officer course at Fort Bragg, then learn Farsi at the Monterey, Calif. Defense Language Institute. Only then would they be shipped to Iran to train Iranian Special Forces.

It’s been a long time since the 65th was a part of the Imperial Iranian Special Forces. Now called 65th NOHED Brigade (which is just a Farsi acronym for “airborne special forces”), the unit’s mission is very similar to the ones the U.S. Special Forces trained them for in the 1960s. They perform hostage rescue, psychological operations, irregular warfare, and train for counter-terrorism missions both in and outside of the Islamic Republic.

Army culture: Make room for recovery

Inside the Iranian military, the unit is known as the “powerful ghosts.” The nickname stems from a mission given to the 65th in the mid-1990s. They were tasked to take buildings around Tehran from the regular military – and were able to do it in under two hours.

Since their initial standup with U.S. Special Forces, Iran’s 65th Airborne Special Force Brigade survived the 1979 Iranian Revolution, then they survived the brutal Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, and now advise the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as they fight for the Iran-dominated Assad regime in Syria against a fractured rebellion.

Army culture: Make room for recovery

NOHED members operating a machine gun in highlands of Kordestan during Iran–Iraq War of the 1980s.

The legacy of the harsh but thorough training with American Green Berets continues in Iran. The current training includes endurance and survival in desert, jungle, and mountain warfare, among other schools, like parachute and freefall training, just like their erstwhile American allies taught so long ago.

MIGHTY CULTURE

16 Thanksgiving memes that only 2020 could bring

2020 is a different year and this is especially true as we have our Thanksgiving dinners lockdown style. We veterans are like family: we can pick on each other and laugh. Let an outsider pick on us and it’s fighting words. This year is like a deployment — we need to find the little things to laugh about. I hope everyone is staying safe and riding this “deployment” out with a smile. Here are some Thanksgiving memes to bring a chuckle as you are loading up on turkey and likely less fixings.

  1. Military dinners
Army culture: Make room for recovery

I hope those crayons go well with gravy.

  1. The DI
Army culture: Make room for recovery

You know trainees are licking their chops for this food, the DI is doing the same to scuff them up afterward.

  1. AF living
Army culture: Make room for recovery

Seems like a valid question.

  1. Beer goggles
Army culture: Make room for recovery

Thanksgiving or not, the BCGs kill the mood.

  1. The kids’ table
Army culture: Make room for recovery

Aww, the Space Force.

  1. Give me a break
Army culture: Make room for recovery

That’s right, four days of no bs.

  1. Restrict this
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There goes all the fun on block leave.

  1. Pass the mashed potatoes
Army culture: Make room for recovery

Who doesn’t feel like this after stuffing themselves on a good holiday meal?

  1. Should have skipped the seconds
Army culture: Make room for recovery

No one is looking forward to that Monday morning run.

  1. Turkey hunting
Army culture: Make room for recovery

Just saying we do have different methods.

  1. Get ‘er done
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We all know this is going to be trouble.

  1. We can’t help it
Army culture: Make room for recovery

I may be a tad jealous of having a butler.

  1. Three cheers for propane
Army culture: Make room for recovery

What could go wrong?

  1. We actually do like the Air Force, I swear
Army culture: Make room for recovery

Just another day for the Air Force.

  1. Poor Joe
Army culture: Make room for recovery

The military doesn’t do miracles.  

  1. Gas masks 
Army culture: Make room for recovery

It’s sad but true.

We hope you have an awesome, safe Thanksgiving, despite a global pandemic and travel restrictions. At least they can’t take your turkey. 

MIGHTY CULTURE

The 13 funniest military memes for the week of August 30th

In case you didn’t know, the former Secretary of Defense, Chaos Actual, Gen. James Mattis (ret.) wrote an Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal and it’s just ahead of his memoir covering how he learned leadership from his time as a young buck Lt to his time leading the Pentagon.

Of course, Mattis makes a very in-depth analysis into why America’s allies are vital and some insight into his resignation last December – but he also makes a case against the tribalistic political-sphere that seemed to envelope 2019. He’s always remained apolitical, despite sitting in the Trump cabinet. The petty squabbling and BS just distracts from the mission.

I know reading lists were sort of his thing – and it’d be kind of awkward for him to put his own book on his own reading list for people to buy and read. So just assume it’s on there since I don’t think he’s even updated it since he was last in the office.


Anyways, here are some memes to get your extended weekend started while I shamelessly give an unsponsored plug for the Patron Saint of Chaos’ new book.

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MIGHTY CULTURE

A beginner’s guide to snowshoeing

Blinded by the wind and stung by the cold, we set up our camp as the day grew dark around us. The two of us had snowshoed to Dogsled Pass, deep in the Talkeetna Mountains of south central Alaska. We hoped to explore nearby alpine valleys over the next two days.

Despite the uncooperative weather, we were not disappointed — to see Alaska in the winter is to see the real Alaska.

Snowshoeing is unlike regular hiking. Everything is heavy, from the extra insulating layers to the snowshoes themselves. Movement is slower, more deliberate. And risks like avalanches and hypothermia have to be considered.


But despite the challenges and risks, snowshoeing opens up an entirely new world for outdoors enthusiasts. Terrain considered impassable during the summer — such as muskegs, bogs, and boulder-fields — becomes traversable when everything is frozen or buried in snow.

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The author’s cousin, Esther, rests for a moment near Dogsled Pass.

(Photo by Garland Kennedy/Coffee or Die)

While walking in snowshoes is an acquired skill, once you get used to wearing clown-sized shoes, walking over even the deepest, most powdery snow feels like gliding.

Imagine a snow hike without post-holing into snow drifts every few steps. And most modern snowshoes, like the MSRs we wore, have spikes on the bottom, so walking on ice becomes trivial. While modern snowshoes may lack the iconic look of vintage snowshoes, the modern ones are lighter, narrower, and stronger.

The area of the wilderness that my cousin, Esther, and I chose to visit last winter is notoriously rough. In 2018, a Russian hiker went missing, presumably dead, only a few miles from where we set our snow camp. The wilderness is always indifferent to people, and winter adds a new dimension to that calculus.

The Hatcher Pass area is an iconic hiking destination in all seasons. From the Independence Mine State Historical Site to the towering granite peaks that dot the region, the Southern Talkeetnas are a magical place. There’s even a crashed TB-29 Superfortress on a nearby glacier.

Army culture: Make room for recovery

Finding shelter from the wind behind a boulder. Staying well-fed and hydrated is even more important when it’s below zero.

(Photo by Garland Kennedy/Coffee or Die)

Our route took us from the Independence Mine over Hatcher Pass (not easy with the full weight of a winter pack!), then north up Craggie Creek. Dogsled Pass, where we camped, separates the headwaters of Craggie and Purches Creeks.

From there we snowshoed the upper rim of Purches Creek to the headwaters of Peters Creek. Here’s a warning: walking in snowshoes is … unique. It forces you to take very wide steps, and doing so repeatedly over so many miles caused me quite a bit of knee pain.

A doctor later informed me that I had managed to pull my patella sideways. It was painful, but not enough to stop me from walking.

The lesson? Ease into snowshoeing. I pushed too hard too fast and got hurt. Build your strength over time, preferably by doing day trips instead of extended expeditions. A day pack weighs little and causes a lot less strain, whereas a pack for a winter overnight trip is quite heavy.

Army culture: Make room for recovery

An abandoned mining shack near the headwaters of Craggie Creek. The area experienced a tremendous mining boom in the early 1900s.

(Photo by Garland Kennedy/Coffee or Die)

And as usual for winter excursions, dress in layers, manage your temperature well, and drink lots of water! Proper hydration aids in temperature regulation. I’m a fan of hydration bladders for hiking, just make sure that the outlet hose does not freeze.

As a general safety rule for winter hiking, carry some sort of emergency beacon device, as well as extra layers.

For a new snowshoer, try to find a flat, scenic trail and keep things moderate. Walking with all that extra weight on your feet takes acclimation. As a rule, avoid snowmachine trails (snowmobile trails, in the lower 48) to make sure you don’t get run over. One of the big perks of wearing snowshoes is that you are not forced to stick to the main trail network.

If done right, snowshoeing is a wonderful experience. To see the world draped in snow is something special and very much worth the added effort.

The Liberation of Normandy in WW2 [D-Day 75th Anniversary, Part II]

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This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

The Navy freaked out when it got rid of bell-bottom pants

Some uniform changes are welcome in the U.S. military (goodbye, ABUs!) and some are very much not. There are uniform features troops love because it actually makes their jobs easier. There are fabrics that are easier to wear, and there are styles that just became iconic over time. For instance, imagine if the Marine Corps suddenly changed their dress blues to an all-white uniform to match the Navy whites – there would be rioting from Lejeune to Pendleton.


That’s almost what happened when the Navy ditched the bell-bottoms on its dungarees.

Army culture: Make room for recovery

That just does not look like a good work uniform.

The U.S. Navy had been sporting the flared cuffs on its work uniforms since 1817. The idea was that sailors who would be working on the topmost decks, who were presumably swabbing it or whatever sailors did up there back then, would want to roll their pants up to keep them from getting wet or dirty. Sailors were also able to get out of their uniforms faster in the event that they had to abandon ship for some reason.

When in the water, then-woolen pants even doubled as a life preserver. Now, that’s a utility uniform. In 1901, the fabric of the uniform was changed to denim, and the Navy’s dungarees were born. They still sported bell-bottom pants.

Army culture: Make room for recovery

The Navy will still find ways to look absurd to the other branches, don’t you worry.

Bell-bottoms even appeared on the sailors’ dress uniform as far back as the early 19th century. The Navy got rid of the bell-bottom on its dungarees at the turn of the 21st Century, some 180 years later. In 1999, the Navy phased out the pants with flared 12-inch bottoms for a utility uniform that features straight-legged dark blue trousers. Sailors were not thrilled.

“They are trying too hard to make us look like the Coast Guard and the Air Force,” said Petty Officer Chad Heskett, a hospital corpsman on the frigate USS Crommelin. “It’s taking too much away from tradition. It will cost the Navy more to buy these new uniforms.”

By 2001, the bell-bottoms were gone.

Heskett wasn’t alone in his disdain for the new uniforms. The loss of “tradition” was echoed throughout the Navy, as is often the case with new uniforms. The Navy was adamant about the change, however, and the new utility uniforms were phased in on schedule. It turned out to be a good decision.

For tradition, the Navy will always have its crackerjacks.

MIGHTY CULTURE

The oldest recruit to complete Marine Corps boot camp

Today, the average Marine recruit attending boot camp at MCRD San Diego or Parris Island is 21 years old. However, when Paul Douglas attended boot camp in 1942, he was 50.

Douglas was born in 1892. He worked as an economics professor from 1916-1942. He also ran for and won a seat on the Chicago City Council in 1939. By the time WWII broke out, Douglas had become acquainted with many high-profile politicians including future Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox. With Knox’s help, Douglas enlisted in the Marine Corps five months after Pearl Harbor. Driven by the surprise attack on American soil, Douglas was determined to become a Marine and see combat.

Leaving behind his wife, child, and career, Douglas reported to Parris Island, South Carolina for boot camp. Despite being old enough to have fathered his own drill instructors, Douglas shined during training. He completed boot camp and earned the coveted title of United States Marine. “I found myself able to take the strenuous boot camp training without asking for a moment’s time out and without visiting the sick bay,” he wrote of his experience at The Island.

Following completion of boot camp, Douglas was assigned to the personnel classification section at Parris Island. With some help from his political influence in the Roosevelt administration, Douglas was promoted to corporal after three weeks, and staff sergeant a month after that. After seven months as an enlisted Marine, Knox and Douglas’ CO recommended he be commissioned as a Marine Corps officer. He became a captain and served as division adjutant to 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines.

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Every Marine is a rifleman and Douglas was no exception (U.S. Marine Corps)

During the Battle of Peleliu, despite his position as an adjutant, Douglas made several trips to the front to help evacuate the dead and wounded. During one of these mercy missions, he noticed that the Marines were low on flame thrower fuel and ammunition for their rocket launchers. After grabbing the supplies, Douglas braved heavy mortar and machine gun fire to resupply his fellow Marines. For his actions, he was awarded the Bronze Star. Later during the Battle of Peleliu, Douglas was wounded by shrapnel and earned his first Purple Heart.

Douglas later served during the invasion of Okinawa. He was promoted to major, but still ran around the battlefield with the vigor and energy of a younger Marine. While carrying out another resupply mission for Marines at the front, Douglas was hit in his left forearm by machine gun fire. Pfc. Paul E. Ison was part of the resupply mission. “If I live to be 100 years old I will never forget this scene. There, lying on the ground, bleeding from his wound was a white-haired Marine major. He had been hit by a machine gun bullet. Although he was in pain, he was calm and I have never seen such dignity in a man,” Ison recalled. “He was saying ‘Leave me here. Get the young men out first. I have lived my life. Please let them live theirs.'” Douglas was evacuated and, despite his protests, returned to the states.

Army culture: Make room for recovery
Douglas is presented with his Bronze Star (U.S. Marine Corps)

He was sent to a hospital in San Francisco before he was moved to Bethesda. After more than 14 months, he was dismissed from the hospital and medically retired from the Marines. Douglas only partially regained use of his left hand. However, in recognition of his courage in combat and exemplary service, Douglas was promoted to Lt. Col. in 1947.

He returned to Chicago as a war hero and was elected as an Illinois State Senator in 1949. During the race for the senate seat, his opponent notably refused to debate him. Making light of the situation, Douglas debated himself, switching chairs to answer his own questions. During his time in office, Douglas proudly displayed the flag of his beloved Corps in his office. He served as a state senator for 18 years until he retired at the age of 74. He died in his home in 1976.

In recognition of this exemplary Marine, the Parris Island visitor center is named for Paul Douglas. The memorial marker on the building reads, “By his personal courage, fortitude and leadership, the Honorable Paul H. Douglas demonstrated the personal traits characteristic of Marine leaders.”

Army culture: Make room for recovery
Douglas (third from the left) meets with President Truman in 1949 (Public Domain)
MIGHTY CULTURE

This vet and real-life Santa makes wooden toys for kids every year

Where the Marine Corps has its Toys for Tots, the Army can count on its elderly retirees – at least one of them, anyway. As of Christmas, 2019, Army veteran Jim Annis turned 80 years old. For the past 50 Christmas seasons, the former soldier spent months creating hundreds of wooden toys for children who otherwise might not have anything to open on Christmas morning. When the Salvation Army comes through for these families, Annis comes rolling along right behind them.


Annis spends hundreds of dollars from his own pocket every year to make wooden toys for needy children. The one-man Santa’s Workshop spends much of his free time throughout the year crafting and painting these toys in preparation for Christmastime. By the time he’s ready to donate the pieces to the Salvation Army, Annis has created as many as 300 toys, finished and ready to hand out to the little ones.

“When the Salvation Army gives out the food and clothes to people in this area, I give out my toys,” Annis told Raleigh-Durham’s ABC-11 affiliate. “It feels like you’re sort of forgotten about at Christmas time.”

In case you’re bad at math, creating 300 toys per year for the past 50 years, makes for about 15,000 toys total. But for Annis, it’s not about the money. He was one of those needy children during his childhood. He came from a working family with five children to take care for.

Army culture: Make room for recovery

Jim Annis, a one-man Santa’s Workshop.

(WTVD ABC-11)

Annis gets wooden scraps for free from homeowners and pays only for the tools of production and the acrylic paint for the toys. His costs run about id=”listicle-2641673298″,000 but his return on investment is the smiles of young kids who will get a toy for Christmas this year. Kids can get an array of cool, handmade toys, from fire trucks and dolls to piggy banks. Jim Annis will also make special gifts for American veterans and their loved ones.

“I have to sort of feel right in here,” Annis told North Carolina’s Spectrum News. “That’s the joy I know I’m giving some of the kids, I’m giving them something that I didn’t have a whole lot at Christmas time.”

If you want to donate to materials to this vet’s Christmastime cause, you can call Jim Annis at 919-842-5445.

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