This is Callie, the only search and rescue dog in the entire U.S. military.
Callie and her handler, Master Sergeant Rudy Parsons, are assigned to the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron, Kentucky Air National Guard.
Callie was “born” out of experience.
In 2010, a catastrophic earthquake rocked Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti. The impoverished country’s infrastructure doubled under the strain of the magnitude 7 earthquake, which caused apocalyptic devastation.
The US military responded in force to the aid of the tried Haitians. In that humanitarian effort, the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) played a big part because of their unique capabilities. More specifically, it was AFSOC’s Combat Controllers (CCT), who specialize in airfield surveys and air traffic control, among other tasks, and Pararescuemen (PJ), who are the Department of Defense’s sole specially trained and equipped search-and-rescue (SAR) unit, that contributed the most.
Master Sgt. Parsons was one of the Pararescuemen that deployed to the Caribbean nation.
“Local sources were telling people that there was a schoolhouse that had collapsed with about 40 children inside,” Parsons had said in a 2019 interview. “A team of special tactics Airmen went over and started looking through the rubble, just carrying these rocks off, looking for these missing kids. A few days into the search, (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) was finally able to land. They brought a dog to the pile and were able to clear it in about 20 minutes. There was nobody in that pile.
“It had been a couple [of] days of wasted labor that could’ve been used to help save other lives. It was at that time that we kind of realized the importance and the capability that dogs can bring to search and rescue. Every environment presents different difficulties, but it’s all restricted by our human limitations. Our current practice is: Hoping that we see or hear somebody.”
When he returned to the US, Parsons advocated and pushed for a search-and-rescue K-9 capability. In 2018, almost a decade after Haiti, his determination bore fruits and the Search and Rescue K-9 Program was created. The program aims to increase the effectiveness of Pararescue teams during natural disasters by pairing PJs with specially trained dogs.
The first, and only, canine to have been accepted in the program is Callie, a Dutch shepherd. What differentiates her from other military working dogs (MWD) and special operations military working dogs (SOMWD) is her ability to located people, injured or not, in adverse conditions. Whether it’s in a forest, collapsed building, or the wilderness, Callie can use her nose, senses, and body to go where humans cannot go easily. And in emergencies, time is of the essence.
To be operational, Callie, and any future SAR dogs, has had to qualify in a number of insertion methods that Pararescuemen use, such as fast-roping, mountain climbing and rappelling, and parachuting (both static-line and military freefall).
Jocko Willink’s podcast “Jocko Podcast” hits hard, talks openly and bluntly about real topics and is unapologetic for every bit of it. These are the stories that need to be told and heard, especially by the military community. Tuning in requires headspace because the content flowing through your ears is so completely captivating that the monotonous life dragging on the other side of your ear buds becomes unimportant.
With well over 200 episodes, there’s a lot of ground to cover. Instead of going for an all-time must listen to list, we opted for our top five out of our recent listening history.
#221 Jonny Kim
In this episode, Jonny Kim — United States Navy lieutenant, physician and NASA astronaut — tells story after story, unimaginable events that are scattered throughout his young life that had every right to break him but didn’t. Kim’s outlook on these pivotal moments are completely inspiring, humbling and exactly why he’s accomplished all that he has.
He talks eloquently and intelligently through failed endeavors and perspective gained that we’re sitting here wondering how in the world he doesn’t have his own book already, let alone motivational speeches written from his comments.
Another unbelievable point in Kim’s story is the unplanned paths that led him to become a Navy SEAL, Doctor and Astronaut. Instead, he speaks clearly on specific events that shaped his journey and have led him to the next chapter in an already remarkable life.
#219 Ruth Schindler
Stories of the Holocaust are fading in both media, airwaves, and from the survivors themselves as time passes on. In this episode, like many others, Willink reads excerpts from the guest’s book and discusses passages in depth. Ruth Schindler’s book, “Two Who Survived” is the dual story of both her and her husband’s separate experiences as Auschwitz Holocaust survivors.
Reminding ourselves of both the magnitude and depth of the horrors experienced less than 100 years ago is critical to ensure nothing remotely close ever occurs again.
#118 Dan Crenshaw
Texas Congressman and former Navy SEAL Dan Crenshaw’s interview details a lot about the grit and determination of a warrior. From losing an eye in combat to running a successful first-time congressional campaign on a shoestring budget, this man knows how to push ahead.
Fun fact, Willink was one of Crenshaw’s BUDS instructors and the two discuss the dynamic in this episode. The interview goes on to discuss the differences in each’s paths to becoming a SEAL and how each approached life before and after. He’s on in episode #222 too.
#192 Sean Parnell
Leadership. Willink wrote an entire book dedicated to its ins and outs. This episode with Sean Parnell, author of “Outlaw Platoon,” talks a great deal about various seasons and types of leadership as the book is read throughout the episode.
Combat forges men in ways known and unknown to those undergoing its transformation. Who emerges on the other side says a lot about what’s in a man’s heart, in his soul. Jarring experiences and the forging of a seasoned soldier make up quite a bit of the air space in this episode. It’s a long talk, but well worth every minute.
#115 Dakota Meyer
Like we said up top, make headspace when you’re listening. The reading from Dakota Meyer’s book “Into the Fire” is emotional and vivid. There’s a refreshing amount of honesty going on when Meyer discusses his separation from the Marine Corps, PTSD and finding a new path after service.
This episode tops a lot of charts for good reason. Meyer’s book describes events surrounding a single choice- the choice to head in the direction everyone was trying to escape to look for his team. Revisiting the events of a single day in such detail will have you holding on to every word, analyzing every detail alongside Willink and Meyer in awe.
Honestly, there’s no wrong choice when listening. Pick up anywhere and you’ll find motivation, strength and zero bull. It’s American, it’s raw, it’s real.
Service members often encounter physical, psychological, and emotional adversity when protecting the freedoms this country was founded on. The injuries sustained both on and off duty require recovery in many forms – including physical competitions, religious programs, community outreach opportunities, behavioral health, and more. Some may only need a surfboard and a wave to ride.
Veterans, recovering service members and their loved ones attended the 12th Annual Operation Amped Surf Camp at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, Aug. 17-19, 2018. Operation Amped is a non-profit organization that promotes surf therapy to aid in the recovery of wounded, ill and injured veterans, and active-duty service members.
According to Joseph Gabunilas, Operation Amped co-founder, this program exists to provide a positive change in a participant’s future. Operation Amped accomplishes this by providing surf training once a year to wounded warriors, family members and veterans.
“It’s a good way to keep that negative stuff out of your mind while catching a wave,” said retired U.S. Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. David Simons, participant at Operation Amped. “Surfing has given me a goal, something to work towards and keep my focus straight.”
Recovering service members, veterans, volunteers, and their loved ones surf during the 12th Annual Operation Amped Surf Camp at San Onofre Beach at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, Aug. 18, 2018.
(Photo by Lance Cpl. Noah Rudash)
The organization, which began in September 2006, had helped nearly 300 recovering service members, veterans, and their loved ones. Along with the support and attendance of family members and friends, that number has now reached the thousands, said Gabunilas, who served in the U.S. Army. Having both the recovering service members and their loved ones in attendance, can provide the therapy needed to overcome the trials and tribulations they may be experiencing.
“Ocean therapy is good for the mindset,” said Simons. “It’s good for those that have difficult issues they’re dealing with.”
Recovering service members, veterans, volunteers, and their loved ones prepare to surf during the 12th Annual Operation Amped Surf Camp at San Onofre Beach at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, Aug. 18, 2018.
(Photo by Lance Cpl. Noah Rudash)
Some of the adversity these warriors face include the loss of fellow service members in and out of combat, overcoming pain and physical injury. For three days each year, with the support of organizations such as this one, participants move closer to recovery one wave at a time.
Provisions come from volunteers and supporters who donate surfboards, wetsuits, food, tents, and tables. Most importantly, they donate their time.
“This is my way of giving back,” said Gabunilas. “I served 21 years and this is another way I can give back to the brave men and women fighting for our country.”
This annual event drives a passion for surfing for some and provides a recreational outlet for warriors and their family members to enjoy while physically and mentally challenging themselves in the water. The next clinic is scheduled for summer 2019.
Weight was the issue. The B-25B, carrying a full combat load, was just too heavy to takeoff from the deck of the USS Hornet.
While the nation was still reeling in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold, Chief of Staff of the Army Air Force, assigned Lt. Col. James “Jimmy” Doolittle to conduct a bombing mission on Tokyo to disrupt Japanese aggression and momentum and embolden the American public for the task ahead.
A seemingly impossible mission, as the United States had no aircraft with enough range to reach the Japanese home islands from any U.S. or allied nation’s runways.
The attack would have to be launched from the sea. However, carrier-based aircraft could only carry one or two small bombs each and had such short range that one of the U.S.’s precious few carriers would have to approach dangerously close to Japan, making it an easy target. The mission was seemingly over before it began.
Until the airmen examined the problem from a unique perspective – perhaps a longer range B-25B bomber, never designed to launch from an aircraft carrier, could be stripped of enough excess weight to launch at sea, bomb the target and then fly on to friendly airfields in China.
U.S. Army Air Force B-25 Mitchell bombers launch from the deck of the U.S.S. Hornet on April 18, 1942 to bomb the Japanese home islands in what came to be known as the Doolittle Raid.
On April 18, 1942 Doolittle’s Raiders did just that, launching off the deck of the Hornet, with wooden broomsticks in place of machine guns to save weight and extra fuel tanks to make the journey, and successfully completed their mission over Japan.
While bombers haven’t flown off a carrier since, the same spirit of innovation and trust in airmen that made the Doolittle raid possible is still alive and well in today’s Air Force.
Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. David Goldfein has challenged leaders across the force to take risks, trust their people and embrace failure as a way to learn and grow.
One unit, the 99th Reconnaissance Squadron, welcomed this idea with open arms.
A mobile chase car driver pursues a U-2 Dragon Lady reconnaissance aircraft during its landing at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, Dec. 7, 2015. Mobile chase car drivers act as a second pair of eyes and ears for U-2 pilots during their launch and landings, radioing adjustments to the aircraft to make up for the pilot’s limited sight of the runway. Pilots of the 99th Reconnaissance Squadron have procured GPS-style aviation watches that aid pilots in communicating with ground chase crews and collect inflight data to help with training, tracking physiological aspects of the pilots.
(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kentavist P. Brackin)
“The path that we’re making for our new initiatives is actually modeled off the Doolittle Raider patch, and we actually look to that for inspiration,” said Capt. Syed, 99th RS pilot. “They achieved something in a moment of national crisis, and really lifted morale and mood of the nation by doing something everybody thought was impossible, and what we’re trying to do in our little squadron with a few people, is to change the make up and the culture, so that when people come into work they’re happy, they feel empowered, and the leadership has enabled that.”
Syed saw a need in the aging U2 and T-38 airframes around him that could be met by using off-the-shelf products. One was a GPS-style aviation watch that would aid pilots and collect inflight data to help with training, tracking physiological aspects of the pilots and, in some instances, aid in safely returning an aircraft when mishaps occur.
“It wasn’t anything that I did, it was really what the culture and the environment of this organization allowed us to do,” Syed said. “We were able to go from thought to having it on our wrist in 100 days. And in other organizations of the Defense Department, I think that’s almost impossible.”
Discover the future: A simple but powerful charge put forth by Lt. Col. Matthew Nussbaum, 99th RS commander, has invigorated his squadron with the willingness and enthusiasm to seek out what is possible within the constraints of the DoD.
Lt. Col. Matthew Nussbaum, 99th Reconnaissance Squadron commander, fosters a command climate that encourages his airmen to start projects without being afraid of failing. Products of his command range from resourcing their own aviation watches to creating software applications built by 99th RS members that can benefit flying squadrons.
(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Marianique Santos)
“There’s those that value initiative, mission command, execution, freedom of maneuver, but there’s a law of physics, so to speak, a law of humanity that bureaucracy grows. In the U.S. military, and the Air Force in particular, that bureaucracy has grown, and slowed us down,” said Nussbaum.
The culture of innovation being developed at the 99th is driving change, agility and initiative while disempowering the bureaucracy and putting the power of decision-making and freedom of maneuver back in its member’s hands, says Nussbaum.
In many ways, the 99th RS is similar to most Air Force squadrons, but what makes it stand out is its quest for information and learning.
“Knowledge is the key to everything,” said Maj. Ray, 99th RS pilot. “For us, in the case of being able to self resource and self heal, we’ve gotten into different areas to which we aren’t familiar like U.S. code, the defense, federal and Air Force acquisition regulation, and all these different entities, and what we’re discovering is that knowledge gives you the freedom to maneuver.”
Members of the 99th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron prepare Lt. Col. Jeff Klosky for a U-2 Dragon Lady mission, April 19, 2014, at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia.
(US Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Russ Scalf)
Ray and Syed credit their leadership with giving them the leniency and the freedom to be able to try and experiment, discover, learn and learn about learning. This symbiotic leader-follower relationship has allowed the team to progress rapidly.
“It’s a dynamic instability, F-16s are agile airplanes because they’re inherently unstable,” Ray said. “We’re not trying to destabilize command and control of the organization, what we’re trying to do is effect that same command and control at the user level – at the level of those who are out fighting and defending their nation. To resource them, and allow them to resource themselves, in ways people previously did not think was possible.”
Maj. Ray and Capt. Syed are 99th Reconnaissance Squadron who took initiative in learning the acquisitions process in order to make sure their squadron is equipped and ready to execute the mission.
(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Marianique Santos)
Freedom of maneuver isn’t without challenges, though. Some of the toughest challenges come from the individuals themselves and learning to work as a team.
Nussbaum cautions people who think the frozen middle is a place that exists in a certain group of people but instead that it is in all of us. A whole team approach is key to mission accomplishment and having the tolerance to let others try problem solving in their own way is vital. Allowing everyone to have a chance to participate and come up with solutions adds a sense of ownership and fun to the process.
Like Doolittle, the 99th and the Air Force face many challenges that require new approaches and open-mindedness. Untethering unit members to give freedom to explore all avenues of problem solving is a progressive way ahead and one the Air Force is taking seriously.
This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.
As a new military spouse, one of the biggest changes is your new coverage in health insurance. Whether your spouse’s status is active duty, retired, or with the reserves, you’ll have access to health insurance options that are envied by the rest of the population.
In fact, many cite military health insurance as one of the biggest work perks as a soldier. Considering its span, there’s no wonder, either. Last year, Tricare, the company that’s assigned to military spouses and dependents, covered more than 9 million beneficiaries, accounting for more than $50 billion. Now that’s some serious healthcare coverage!
The power of government pull
If covered services are billed to an in-network civilian provider, Tricare has a final say in how much is charged … and in many cases, they take care of it entirely. Of course, this is completely dependent on the type of coverage, service, and if the beneficiary has a deductible. But if it’s covered, they mean covered!
Oftentimes smaller companies leave the patient with much of the bill, which can be staggering without a big name to cap costs.
(It is worth noting that much of this could change, pending proposed medical billing transparency laws.)
How many of you have stood searching for an insurance card that was inevitably buried in the bottom of a wallet? With Tricare coverage, your military ID serves as your insurance card. This might sound minute, but there’s much to be said about not having to dig for an additional proof of insurance.
Patient advocacy and customer service
If you’re stuck with an unpaid bill, are mistreated, need a service that’s not covered, etc., your pool of resources is deep. Talk to Tricare and get instant movement on your issue, or stop in person for a meeting with patient advocates. You are not even close to being alone in this!
In rare cases, you can even look toward the chain of command to tip the scales in your favor, should logistics hit a stand-still. Look toward available services and divide and conquer until your medical needs have been met.
187FW Medical Airmen Provide No-Cost Healthcare in Training Mission.
Entire hospitals and customer service
Yes, as a military spouse, you’re entitled to be seen at military healthcare facilities. This means additional choices in patient care (and pharmacy pick up), with a quick dose of military history.
Check out stories of soldiers past while you walk the halls of your dedicated spot. This is a unique way of incorporating military-based themes into healthcare, while providing multiple options of qualified services for dependents.
Brandon Clinic provides medical care close to home.
Little paperwork and logistics required of the beneficiaries
In most cases, the paperwork is handled on the back-end, meaning you, the dependant, don’t have to worry about filing this or faxing that. The paperwork is handled on your behalf. There are, of course, exceptions to everything, but in comparison with civilian providers, you have a reliable resource to help keep bookwork in check.
As a current or upcoming beneficiary of military healthcare benefits, there’s much to be thankful for. What are some of your favorite perks of Tricare coverage?
The increase in rates of sexual misconduct at the military academies detailed in the Defense Department’s annual report of sexual harassment and violence are “frustrating, disheartening, and unacceptable,” the Pentagon’s director of force resiliency said.
Rates of sexual crimes continue to be high, particularly against women, and rates of alcohol abuse by cadets and midshipmen continues to be a concern, Elise P. Van Winkle said.
Navy Rear Adm. Ann M. Burkhardt, the director of DOD’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office; Nate Galbreath, SAPRO’s deputy director; and Ashlea M. Klahr, DOD’s director of health and resilience, briefed Pentagon reporters on the department’s report to Congress.
The survey covers the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y,; the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., and the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Midshipmen walking to class at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis.
Van Winkle and Burkhardt stressed that addressing sexual harassment and violence at the academies is a leadership problem. Both said solutions require changing the culture at the academies.
“We know it takes time to promote and sustain a culture free from sexual violence,” Van Winkle said. “Our cadets and midshipmen must model the ethical behavior we demand of our future officers. But it is leadership’s responsibility to ensure they have the moral courage to demonstrate this behavior.”
Burkhardt stressed that cadets and midshipmen must promote “a climate of respect, where sexual assault, sexual harassment and other misconduct are not condoned, tolerated or ignored.”
The report noted that the prevalence of unwanted sexual contact increased from the 2016 report, while the rate of cadets and midshipmen choosing to report has remained unchanged.
“Leadership establishes culture,” Burkhardt said. “Leaders enforce standards, and leaders ensure the safety of those entrusted to their care.” The survey shows that cadets and midshipmen have great confidence in senior leaders, but that they have less confidence in their peer leaders, she said. “This is an area we must improve,” the admiral added. “These are our future leaders. We must instill in them the responsibility to intervene and prevent this type of behavior.”
Past initiatives made short-term progress, but that progress could not be sustained. “We are looking at the entire life cycle of our cadets and midshipmen from acceptance into the academies to entrance into the active force,” Van Winkle said.
Basic cadets run on the U.S. Air Force Academy’s terrazzo in Colorado Springs, Colo., July 12, 2017.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Darcie Ibidapo)
Alcohol abuse is clearly a factor in sexual harassment and violence. The survey found that 32 percent of men and 15 percent of women had five or more drinks when drinking. Twenty-five percent of women and 28 percent of men said they had memory loss from their binges, Galbreath said.
The overwhelming majority of cadets and midshipmen understand the special trust placed in them and the responsibility they bear to behave honorably to all. The military must get rid of the bad apples that poison the barrel, Van Winkle said.
“We will not waver in our dedication to eliminate sexual assault from our ranks, nor will we back away from this challenge,” she said. “Our commitment is absolute. While we are disheartened that the strategies we have employed have not achieved the results we had intended, we are not deterred.”
The service academies mirror what is happening in the greater American population. The last time there was a comparable survey for colleges, the service academies were doing better than their civilian counterparts, Van Winkle said.
What do you get when you combine a ’90s childhood with military training? The best damn generation of soldiers, that’s what. Written by an elder millennial, this is the completely unbiased reasoning behind that statement.
Raised with an abundance of empathetic statements like “get out of the house and don’t return until the streetlights are on” gave future service members eighteen years to prepare for the nuances of military life. What exactly did an eight-year-old do with a 12-hour Saturday? They figured it out, and not with GPS, cell phones or viral videos to stream.
Military life aims to sharpen core human skills like navigation, an awareness of terrain, and stamina. ’90’s kids roamed in the back 40, hopped fences, dug foxholes (just for fun) and played the rudimentary version of land navigation-hide and go seek. Yes, the last generation outside became the last generation with an abundance of experience honing this primal skillset. Weekends were for pushing the limits of both physical boundaries, the body, and the mind. Getting lost made you better made you distinctly aware of how important it was to pay attention, because no one was coming to find you until well after dark.
Nicknames were so brutal, you longed for the days where the military would rebrand you into something (hopefully) better. Feelings were completely unacceptable in the ’90’s. The closer you became to a human Terminator, the emotionless badass who knew and did everything right, the better chance you stood at surviving childhood without the need for therapy.
If you’ve ever wondered why your current Staff Sergeant lacks empathy or seemingly takes joy in the majestic poems of correction spewing from his mouth, it’s because that was affection that was displayed. The harsher the nickname, the greater the chance some sort of affection was behind its origination.
’90’s kids firmly believe in coming in first. Competition flows through their veins, and the flashbacks to being pointed at and laughed off the dodgeball courts in gym class ensures they will do everything in their power to crush you and anyone else standing in their way. Participation ribbons did not exist, and even if the rare ones did, it would have been too embarrassing to ever admit they owned any. Trying is failing unless of course, you win.
Not only will they do whatever it takes to win, they will wait…patiently plotting, as dial-up internet taught them to. While newer generations become disgusted with anything less than instantaneous results or satisfaction, service members with ’90’s childhoods are the last to be taught patience through the agonizing experiences of rewinding videotapes, gluing their fingers together (for fun), or waiting until the show aired on prime time. The enemy can hide, but they are trained to wait.
Generation Y (elder millennials) was raised in a deeply patriotic time. G.I. Joe’s appeal hadn’t faded within the early years of this crop, instilling the message that military service was something to not just admire, but aspire to. Their grandparents remembered the Depression and World War II. Their parents lived through or served in Vietnam or the Gulf War. At every turn, the sacrifice of serving was remembered and valued.
If a history of roaming free or honing early marksmanship skills via NERF or BB guns hadn’t tipped the scales in Uncle Sam’s favor, witnessing 9/11 through their innocent eyes did. American flags flew abundantly in yards, while many awaited the day they became eligible to enlist, to do their part and keep their hometowns safe.
’90’s culture still reigns king with sitcoms and music, which has yet to go out of style. This space in time produced a “fly” crop of service members if you ask us.
Humans in the military rely on doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals to take care of them while they’re on the job. Military working dogs need someone to look after them, too. That job falls to military veterinarians. Military veterinarians provide medical and surgical care to all kinds of military working animals, but their responsibilities go far beyond that of a normal veterinarian.
What the job entails
The primary role of Army veterinarians is to provide care for animals- both for working animals and for military family pets. While on active duty, however, their responsibilities vary from mission to mission. They are highly involved in supporting public health and humanitarian projects, like creating vaccines and developing strategies to prevent the spread of animal-borne diseases.
They’re also in charge of inspecting food sold to service members to make sure it’s safe for consumption. They may even perform audits of major manufacturing plants to confirm that they’re following food safety protocols; think Coca-Cola and Ben & Jerry’s.
Things to know before you try it
After education, it’s basically an eight-year commitment. Most military veterinarians go through the Health Professionals Scholarship Program. The HPSP contract stipulates a minimum three year commitment to active duty, plus five years of reserve duty. While vets are rarely called upon during the five years on “inactive” duty, it’s always a possibility.
Veterinarians typically enlist as officers, not soldiers. When you become an Army veterinarian, you’re not signing up to fight. Instead of Basic Training, you attend a Basic Officer Leadership Course for a few months. It’s not as physically tough as the boot camp designed for soldiers, but you still have to be in decent shape. New veterinarian officers also attend a one-year internship program which doesn’t count toward your active-duty requirement.
Being involved in combat is always a possibility. While your job description is to care for animals and assist with humanitarian efforts, danger isn’t off the table. Most Army vets never see combat, but it has happened. If you’re sent to a combat zone, you will carry a weapon and should be prepared to fire it. Most missions are fairly low-risk, but veterinarians HAVE been wounded or killed on the job. Veterinarians are never assigned combat-related tasks, but if you’re in the vicinity of an unexpected attack, anything can happen. In other words, if you want a risk-free gig, this isn’t it.
Travel is part of the job description. Military veterinarians can be assigned to missions anywhere in the world. This is a pro and con in one. You get the opportunity to see amazing places. If you become a Special Forces vet, you can work on serious international animal health projects. The Navy’s marine mammal program is another option.
Regardless, you’re going to be moving around while on active duty. Family members and pets may be able to join you on some missions, but that’s not always an option. If you do have pets or children with you, you’ll need to make arrangements for their care while you’re working long shifts or overnight. If you’re on a combat mission, it’s important to have a network of friends and family to care for your pets while you’re away.
The options for advancement are appealing. If you’re considering a long-term career in the military, there’s a program for that. The Long-Term Health Education & Training program will cover the cost of veterinarians to continue their education in a number of specialties, like pathology, emergency/critical care, radiology, and surgery. After retiring from the military, veterinarians often start their own private practice or transition into teaching- all while receiving a hefty pension!
The pay is nothing to laugh at. The pay and benefits are very good compared to our civilian veterinary colleagues. When I started out four years ago at an assignment in the U.S., I was making about $75,000 a year. Now while assigned in Europe I am making about $100,000 a year. It can be kind of tough to calculate the exact salary because of all the different types of special pay, housing/living allowances, etc, and that stuff changes depending on where you are located.
You’re a veterinarian, but you’re also a military professional. This one bears repeating. While military veterinarians are there to care for animals, they’re also committing to serving the US Army. During your years of service, the army will decide where you work, when you work, and what your job entails. That might mean getting deployed to a combat zone even though you’d prefer to work on the home front. If you’re a leader who likes to carve your own path, you’ll probably be disappointed.
If you’re passionate about animals and interested in serving your country, becoming an Army veterinarian is probably a great fit. The benefits don’t hurt, either!
Steps to becoming a military vet
The U.S. Army’s Health Professions Scholarship Program is usually the first step to becoming a military veterinarian. You’ll have to convince the military that you’re worth the investment, but if you get the scholarship, the program covers your tuition while you earn your D.V.M. Alternatively, the Health Professions Loan Repayment Program can help those who have already completed school. Your military committment doesn’t begin until you’re done with school. At that point, you complete Basic Officer Training and an internship before beginning active duty. After three years of service, you can join the Army Reserve. There, you’re welcome to run your own practice. To get started, learn more about the process here or contact a recruiter. If you want to hear a first account of what it’s like becoming an Army Veterinarian, Elliot Garber can tell you all about it.
Momma babysits inmates at Arizona State Prison. Dad served as a Marine in the 90s. My little brother drives a 23%-interest, blacked-out Dodge Charger, which means — you guessed it — he is also a Marine. I, on the other hand, chose to study theatre and English.
My brother and I were raised (like nearly all children of military/law enforcement parents) on a diet of heavy structure, logic, toughness, discipline, preparedness, and accountability. He ordered seconds; I drew a pretty picture on the menu with a crayon.
From one generation to the next — see the resemblance?
The closest I ever came to military service was yelling, “1, 2” as a toddler in the bath when my dad would call out “sound off” from his living room recliner.
The closest I ever came to being a corrections officer was babysitting an 8-year-old kid obsessed with cramming Cheerios up his nose. He claims his record was 12, but when I told him to prove it, he could only fit, like, 6 or 7. Liar.
I say “corrections officer” because my momma prefers the term “corrections officer.” She thinks the term “prison guard” describes a knuckle-dragging extra in an action movie — who, by the way, always seem to get killed in movies. Like dozens of them just get absolutely mowed down, usually by the GOOD guys, and nobody cares. Nobody! Do you know what it feels like to be in a large room full of people who cheer and clap every time Jason Statham snaps the neck of your could-be mother on-screen? Not super great.
It always occurred to me as odd that I noticed that in movies and my momma never did. But it highlights an important aspect of growing up in that atmosphere — you don’t really talk about how or why you feel a certain way. Which, if you’re coming from a prison system or a military system, is completely understandable. In those worlds it’s all about short, useful information: yes sir, copy, etc.
I think that rigid structure ironically led me to be drawn to things I found subjective and expressive — sort of like Malia Obama smokin’ weed, or Jaden Smith doing, uhhh, whatever it is that he’s doing. However, that made me a sort of black sheep — not really feeling like I belonged on either side of the fence.
Here’s what I mean: I can go out and absolutely slam some brews with my little brother and his military brothers. We can talk about why we think the Raiders can’t seem to win a damn game, we slug each other in the arm, and tell each other truly depraved jokes.
But, I’m still gonna end up hanging on his shoulder, telling him how much I love him, and I’ll inevitably tear up while telling him I cried reading a Wilfred Owen poem that reminded me of him while he was deployed. That’s just who I am. They never really quite feel comfortable in emotional moments. And that’s okay — it’s just a difference — like how my brother looks like a Jason Statham character (it’s a love/hate thing with that guy) when he’s shooting a gun, but I look kinda like Bambi trying to learn how to walk.
Conversely, if I’m out with some of my theatre or comedy buddies, the military/prison differences are highlighted. They are, for instance, fifteen minutes late to everything. I, personally, would rather take a shot of bleach than be late. Sure, they can be comfortable discussing how they feel (maybe even too much) — but they are terrified of any confrontation. I once had an actor sit me down and ask me what being in a fight felt like. Me, the guy who cries at Silver Linings Playbook, was seen as traditionally masculine.
Plus, they’re always excited to hear me suggest a “blanket party” until they find out what it is. Bummer.
So either way, my folks shaped who I am. The military and the prison — they shaped my folks. Those systems; the words, the discipline, the people — it’s impossible to separate them.
Even though I’ve never fastened a utility belt at 5 a.m. and willingly locked myself in a prison with violent offenders, even though I could never imagine what it feels like to tie up your boots and go to war for your family — the lessons they learned while they did those things for me, even if indirectly, shaped who I am.
It is only because my folks got their hands dirty, raised me to embrace who I am — to follow what I believe in — that I have the dear privilege to sit here, criss-cross-applesauce, and type this up while I blow gingerly at a decaf coffee that’s a little too hot for my lips.
If you watched the White House press briefing on COVID-19 today, you might have wondered what the Coast Guard folks were doing on tv for a Presidential Address about a global pandemic. And then, upon further inspection of their uniforms and seeing the “USPHS” and a cross embroidered over the left breast pocket where it usually says, “U.S. Coast Guard,” you might have been wondering, “Who are these people and what do they do?”
Introducing the U.S. Public Health Service.
WATCH: Trump gives coronavirus update at White House
According to their website, “Overseen by the Surgeon General, the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps is a diverse team of more than 6,500 highly qualified, public health professionals. Driven by a passion to serve the underserved, these men and women fill essential public health leadership and clinical service roles with the Nation’s Federal Government agencies.
For more than 200 years, men and women have served on the front lines of our nation’s public health in what is today called the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service. The Commissioned Corps traces its beginnings back to the U.S. Marine Hospital Service protecting against the spread of disease from sailors returning from foreign ports and maintaining the health of immigrants entering the country. Currently, Commissioned Corps officers are involved in health care delivery to underserved and vulnerable populations, disease control and prevention, biomedical research, food and drug regulation, mental health and drug abuse services, and response efforts for natural and man-made disasters as an essential component of the largest public health program in the world.”
And, fun fact: they wear uniforms.
According to their site, “Few things inspire pride and esprit-de-corps more than the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) uniform. By wearing the uniform, Commissioned Corps officers display a profound respect for their country, their service, and themselves. Uniforms promote the visibility and credibility of the Commissioned Corps to the general public and the Nation’s underserved populations whom officers are devoted to serving.
The PHS uniform traces its roots back to 1871 when John Maynard Woodworth, the first supervising surgeon (now known as the Surgeon General), organized the service along military lines. The uniforms reflect the proud legacy and tradition of the more than 200-year-old service. Uniforms link today’s officers to their heritage and connect them to past officers. Since they represent the Commissioned Corps history and tradition, rigorous standards apply to wearing the uniform and every officer upholds those standards with pride.
Similar to the other services, the Commissioned Corps has several uniforms including the Service Dress Blues, Summer Whites, Service Khakis, and Operational Dress Uniform (ODU) Woodland Camouflage. Each uniform reflects the great responsibility and privilege that comes with being a commissioned officer.
U.S. Public Health Services Lt. Cmdr. Angelica Galindo, conducts a patient assessment at the Escuela Elemental Urbana in Cidra, Puerto Rico. U.S. Air Force photo/Larry E. Reid Jr.
So are they in the military?
Nope. They’re non-military uniformed service that is not trained in arms. But they are trained in health care. In fact, Corps officers serve in 15 careers in a wide range of specialties within Federal agencies such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In total, Corps officers have duty stations in over 20 federal departments and agencies.
KOYUK, Alaska – United States Public Health Service Veterinarian Doctor Mary Anne Duncan examines one of two dogs owned by Koyuk residents. Duncan and USPHS Veterinarian Doctor Wanda Wilson walked through the community of 350 to examine 48 dogs and three cats. Coast Guard photo/Walter Shinn
But what do they actually do?
Careers are available in the areas of disease control and prevention; biomedical research; regulation of food, drugs, and medical devices; mental health and drug abuse; and health care delivery. USPHS has physicians, dentists, nurses, therapists, pharmacists, health services, environmental health, dietitians, engineers, veterinarians and scientists.
You may have noticed a recent addition to the Air Force Portal homepage. A logo depicting a warrior looking over his shoulder with a fighter jet above him. It’s the face of the Blue Grit podcast. The podcast is the brainchild of Maj. Anna Fedotova, Los Angeles Air Force Base psychologist. The first of its kind in the Air Force, Blue Grit features conversations with current and former military leaders, mental health experts, elite athletes, veterans, and other individuals who have overcome significant adversity.
The idea for the podcast first occurred to Fedotova in 2017. On a daily basis, she was humbled and inspired by the stories of resilience and strength she heard from patients and colleagues.
“The idea of growth and perseverance has always been captivating to me. My job is to ask questions and listen, so why not try a podcast?” she said.
The fact the she had no funding, official support, experience or equipment didn’t deter her from pushing forward with her podcast. Looking back, she laughs, “in retrospect, it was the ideal beginning for a podcast about grit. There was only one way – up!”
Eight months later, with the podcast off and running, Fedotova found herself briefing Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein, about her podcast.
Blue Grit logo.
(U.S. Air Force graphic)
“I didn’t do it alone,” she is quick to add. “My leadership supported me from the beginning and there have been a hundred helping hands.”
Her guests have included author and speaker retired Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, Master Sgt. Israel Del Toro, who suffered burns over 80 percent of his body from a roadside bomb blast but continues to serve, and Dr. Gary Percival, whom many consider to be the father of survival, evasion, resistance and escape psychology.
“Blue Grit guests had included several former prisoner(s) of war, mental health practitioners and guests such as Maj. (ret.) Kat Portello, who in the blink of an eye went from a being a competitive bodybuilder to being a quadriplegic,” Fedotova said. “All of my guests have had unique experiences, but I continue to be surprised at how simple and consistent their techniques are for developing grit.”
Blue Grit is not only an opportunity for Fedotova to share techniques, tactics and procedures for developing grit. She also views it as a venue to have a broader conversation about mental health.
“I wanted a platform to steer the conversation from mental illness towards mental health,” she said. “I’m not implying happiness-ever-after. Mental health is about living a meaningful life, having an impact, deliberate practice, discomfort. That is grit.”
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.
Every job has its unexpected perks. Even being a Marine Corps aviator in World War II had some unexpected benefits. This is because Marines make do, as the saying goes, and are used to making the most out of whatever Uncle Sam provides them to get the mission done. They will even make miracles happen when it’s not part of the mission.
That’s just what Marines do, even when it comes to ice cream.
Everyone loves ice cream and I state that firm belief as someone who has been lactose intolerant his entire life. Marines these days give the Air Force a lot of smack for (almost) always having sweet treats present wherever there’s an Air Force dining facility. But let’s be real, after a few days, weeks, or however long being deprived of even the simplest luxury, a bit of ice cream goes a long way. Marine aviators in the Pacific Theater thought so, too.
The United States captured the island of Peleliu from Imperial Japan after more than two months of hard fighting toward the end of 1944. Marines on Peleliu were within striking distance of the enemy, but since there was no real threat at the time, they were not on combat patrols or supporting operations elsewhere in the theater. The Marines were getting bored and if you’ve ever made it past basic training in any branch of the military, you know there are few things more inventive or more dangerous than bored Marines.
One squadron commander, J. Hunter Reinburg, figured he could probably raise morale among his men if he could fix one of his F4U Corsair fighter-bombers to become a high-altitude ice cream maker. It wouldn’t be that hard. His crews cut the ends off a drop tank, created a side access panel, and strung a .50-caliber ammo can in the panel. He instructed the mess sergeant to fill the ammo can with canned milk and cocoa powder. All he had to do was get it cold enough to freeze – no problem for a high-altitude fighter.
There was something to Reinburg’s thinking. Ice cream has long been a staple of American morale. During the years of Prohibition, ice cream and soda jerks replaced bar nuts and bartenders for many Americans. Ice creams were marketed toward helping people cope with suffering during the Great Depression. When World War II broke out, other countries banned ice cream to enforce sugar rations — but not the United States. Americans loved the sweet treat so much the U.S. military even planned to build a floating ice cream factory and tow it into the Pacific Theater.
For Marines stranded on a hot island with no fresh food and no refrigeration, high-altitude ice cream was a great idea.
Army Air Corps bombers had been making the sweet treat in the same way for years, flying at frigid high altitudes while the hum and vibrations from the engine churned the milk and sugar into frozen ice cream. For the Marines, the first run was a disaster. Reinburg circled the island at 33,000 feet for 35 minutes. When he landed, the mixture was still liquid. But Marines don’t give up so easily.
The second run saw ammo cans bolted onto the underside of wings to keep the ice cream base far from the hot engines. The mixture froze, but didn’t have the creamy texture the men wanted so badly. The third run was the most inventive of all. This time Marines rigged the ammo cans themselves with propellers which turned a screw inside the ammo cans, churning the ice cream as it froze.
This time the ice cream was perfect. The only hitch was they forgot to let the Operations Officer, a Colonel, have a ration of ice cream.