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).
Four spouses and two fiancées of veterans eligible for the Department of Veterans Affairs‘ family caregiver program have filed a lawsuit against the VA for denying or improperly revoking their benefits.
In a suit filed Jan. 22, 2018, in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, the plaintiffs, led by Florida resident Zamantha Tapia, fiancée of Army veteran Cesar Silva, allege that the VA did not follow the laws and regulations governing the department’s Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers program, which provides compensation and health benefits to those who provide care for seriously injured post-9/11 veterans.
According to the suit, Silva and Tapia’s application was denied, and the benefits of the other plaintiffs were inappropriately downgraded or terminated without proper investigation or determination.
In 2017, veterans and their caregivers enrolled in the program began seeing their benefits curtailed or terminated — often with no reason given, other than that their VA providers determined they no longer needed help with their daily activities.
In August 2018, the VA Office of Inspector General found that across the VA, facilities didn’t adequately manage the program, failing to provide consistent access to it, improperly accepting ineligible veterans and declining to monitor the health statuses of nearly half the veterans it discharged from the program.
The IG also learned that the department paid out .8 million to caregivers of veterans who weren’t eligible for the program, and the VA “failed to manage the program effectively because it did not establish governance that promoted accountability for program management,” staff members wrote in the report.
In 2015, plaintiff Jennifer Wilmot and her husband George Wilmot, an Army National Guard veteran who served from October 2007 to May 2013, were booted from the program.
The Wilmots were accepted into the caregiver program in 2013 but should have received the highest level of compensation rather than the level they were awarded, according to attorneys Jason Perry and Luke Miller.
Then came the dismissal.
“After completing a comprehensive review of your medical records, it appears that you have met the intention of the program and your participation will be discontinued,” VA officials wrote to the Wilmots.
The lawsuit calls the termination “arbitrary and capricious.”
Silva was deployed to Iraq from November 2003 to August 2004, sustaining shrapnel injuries in an attack. According to the lawsuit, he received a VA disability rating of 70 percent in 2009 for rotator cuff strain and impingement and suffers from chronic headaches, degenerative joint disease, back pain and neuropathy. He also has PTSD, TBI, memory loss, depression and irritable bowel syndrome.
Tapia and Silva applied for the family caregiver program in 2014 but were denied. According to the suit, the VA found that Silva did not need assistance for physical injuries and said his mental health conditions were not service-connected. They reapplied in 2017, but following a phone assessment, VA officials said that Silva was not “receiving medical treatment” — an error, the lawsuit alleges — and that Tapia was “an enabler.”
According to Perry, an attorney in Wellington, Florida, and Miller, of Military Disability Lawyer LLC in Salem, Oregon, the plaintiffs have asked the court to certify the suit as a class action, meaning that other affected caregivers could sign on if it is approved.
They estimate that the VA received more than 100,000 applications for the family caregiver program between May 2011 and September 2018 and, therefore, thousands may be able to sign on to the possible class action.
The plaintiffs also are requesting that the VA stop what they perceive as arbitrary dismissals from the program and are seeking monetary compensation in an amount “to be determined at trial,” according to the suit.
The federal government has until March 25, 2019, to file a response in the case, and a status conference is scheduled for March 29, 2019, according to court documents.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
We recently had the chance to attend a veterans’ charity event with a new non-profit upstart. We’ve previously covered the Team TORN training facility in Issue 37 and on RECOIL TV. Now they’ve started an organization for wounded veterans they’re calling the TORN Warriors Foundation. The owners of Team TORN are both veterans with decades of service to this country who were looking for a way to give back to their brothers and sisters in uniform.
Earlier this year, President Trump awarded the Purple Heart to Marine Corps Master Sergeant Clint Trial. Clint lost both of his legs in an IED blast while serving in Afghanistan. The award ceremony went viral on social media specifically because it was all but deliberately ignored by mainstream media. Despite the ability of news moguls to pick and choose what they think is worthy of people’s attention, Clint’s family continues to persevere in the face of grave adversity. We had the chance to meet him, as well as a tight-knit group of other vets, at the event Team TORN hosted at their training facility.
The goal of TORN Warriors is to help wounded veterans recover and rehabilitate through outdoor activities to include shooting and off-road driving. Their school-house is uniquely set up to provide these opportunities in-house, and we were honored to be asked to assist with the effort.
Held over a three-day weekend, TORN Warriors’ inaugural event started on Friday night with a social call at the TORN Team House. We got the chance to speak with Team TORN owners and reps from some of the companies who pitched in to make this event possible, including gear manufacturer First Spear and Black Rifle Coffee. The mastermind of the Work Play Obsession podcast and MMA fighter Kelsey DeSantis were also present. The veterans themselves, including several combat amputees, got the chance to mingle with this network of supporters and tell their stories. We all got a brief overview of the Team TORN facility and had the chance to watch MSgt Trial take a few laps in the TORN Racing off-road rig. He will be riding shotgun in this rig for the Best In The Desert Vegas to Reno off-road race, Aug.16-18, 2019.
Saturday morning we were up bright and early for range day. We started on the flat range, running a whole slew of different pistols and carbines, allowing the vets and their supporters to run guns side-by-side. We love a good reason to shoot guns just as much as anyone, but we were also able to capture a moment that encapsulates not only the TORN Warriors mindset, but the crux of what makes the veteran community — and those who support them — so special. Watching veterans literally hold each other up so that they can succeed is what organizations like this are all about. The range session ended with a shoot-off between the wounded vets, with the winner taking home a new Springfield XDm.
After lunch, we went back out to the range. This time we were shooting longer-range targets from platforms, with combat vets both shooting and coaching to make sure everyone achieved repeat hits on steel out to nearly 500 yards. As part of the fundraising effort, TORN Warriors sold raffle tickets for a table full of prizes including everything from hoodies to custom pistols, some of which were handmade by veterans themselves. The drawing was live-streamed on the foundation’s social media, with all winning tickets being drawn straight from a prosthetic leg belonging to one of the vets on site.
Sunday morning had as back behind a long gun, running the Team TORN “Giffy Challenge” course. This rifle course is named in honor of fallen Marine Gunnery Sergeant Jonathan Gifford, who was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross for actions in Afghanistan. This is a true run-and-gun course, with shooters having to navigate point-to-point across a high-altitude course of fire stretching over 7000 feet in elevation. There are no flat spots or shooting platforms. Every shot must be taken from field conditions against steel targets hidden in thick brush. While the course is often shot as a man-on-man exercise, we ran it in teams that once again paired vets with sponsors and supporters. The capstone event, after lunch, was a 20+ mile off-road ride that put us all on dirt bikes or in ATVs across open country.
All in all, this was a fantastic experience and a true grassroots effort on the part of TORN Warriors. Their entire focus is going hands-on to help those among the veteran community who need it most. But make no mistake, those who are able to donate or support the effort absolutely have a place at the table here. Whether you are a veteran or a supporter of our nation’s defenders, TORN Warriors wants to get you involved in the action. If you are interested in trying to find a way to give back, please consider the TORN Warriors Foundation as a place to start. We know there are beaucoup organizations out there with similar missions, but the level of personal attention that this charity gives to both the veterans they serve and the companies who support them makes them worth a hard look.
This article originally appeared on Recoilweb. Follow @RecoilMag on Twitter.
The scene of the Italian Air Force display team performing their trademark final maneuver has gone viral, so much so President of the United States used it for a message of encouragement to Italy.
Italy is, after China, world’s most affected country by the Novel Coronavirus pandemic. The latest figures tell of about 2,500 tested positive to Covid-19 and more than 1,800 people deaths. For about a week now, the whole country is on lockdown to slow down the new infections and death toll and the Italians have relied on emotional flashmobs and social media initiatives to break monotony and lift spirits.
Among all the things that have been used to boost morale in this tough period, one has really emerged as a symbol of unity: the Frecce Tricolori, the Italian Air Force display team. A clip showing the Frecce’s ten MB.339A/PAN aircraft performing their final maneuver went viral quickly reaching well beyond the (virtual) borders of the Italian social media channels.
As aviation enthusiasts (especially those who attend airshows) know, the Frecce Tricolori display is constituted by an uninterrupted sequence of some thirty figures, the performance of which requires on average some 25 minutes. Following the performance of the first part of the programme with all ten aircraft, the solo display pilot detaches, alternating his own manoeuvres with the ones flown by the remaining nine aircraft. The display, which has a more or less fixed structure, but can occasionally be modified, always concludes with the Alona (Big Wing), the long curved flypast with a tricolour smoke trail by nine aircraft with undercarriage down, performed in harmony with the broadcasting of the voice of Luciano Pavarotti singing “Nessun dorma”, the famous aria from the opera “Tourandot”.
The first time the team broadcasted the “Nessun Dorma” performed by Luciano Pavorotti during their final maneuver was in 1992 during the Frecce Tricolori’s second North American tour for the celebrations of the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus. Boosted by the experience accrued during their preceding overseas transfer, the Frecce Tricolori achieved a remarkable success with the public, flying, between Jun. 11 and Jul. 31, 1992, 14 displays and flybys in the USA and Canada. It was at that point, during “Columbus 92”, that the practice of broadcasting the famous aria became the norm: the “Nessun Dorma” was preferred to other musical pieces test-broadcasted during the displays carried out during the North American tour.
As an Italian who has watched the Frecce Tricolori perform their display hundreds times, that final maneuver that draws in the sky the longest Italian flag, always gives me shivers.
As said, the clip posted these days (that, based on the setting, was probably filmed at Jesolo, on the Adriatic coast near Venice, during one of the airshows held there in the last years), has gone viral. Some users on social media said the scene symbolized the end of the Coronavirus: the larger formation trailing a tricolor smoke encompasses the smoke trail of the soloist “virus plane”, turning it invisible. Whatever the meaning you give it, it’s the moving end of the Frecce’s display.
Even President Trump used the clip for a tweet of encouragement to Italy.
For those who don’t know them, the Italian Frecce Tricolori are one of the world’s most famous display teams. They also hold several records.
First of all the team’s size: the Italians are the only ones to fly with 10 aircraft.
Another peculiary which makes the Frecce (also known as PAN – Pattuglia Acrobatica Nazionale – Italian for National Aerobatic Team) unique is the fact that the whole display is executed in sight of the public. Separations, transformations and rejoins are always performed in front of the spectators, a circumstance which requires absolute preciseness in all phases of the display.
By the way: another record accomplished by the Frecce Tricolori is the fact that they separate into two formations (one flight of 5 and another of 4 aircraft) which then fly an opposition pass and subsequently rejoin in less than two minutes. Rejoin time is a factor that can influence deeply a flying display.
One more peculiarity of the PAN is the Downward Bomb Burst, a maneuver which has been part of the Pattuglia’s tradition since its creation, having been part of the Italian Air Force heritage for 90 years now. It is a maneuver in which the aircraft, starting from a high altitude and in formation, dive towards the ground and then separate into 9 individual elements which depart in different directions, finally returning for an opposition pass, at three different levels, over the same point. This is a very spectacular and complex manoeuvre, which no one else is capable of reproducing, especially due to the difficulty in opposition passing and rejoining in the very short time frames required for a display.
The other record of the Frecce Tricolori is tied to the Solo’s Lomçovak. This is a display which is typically executed by propeller aircraft, and foresees a “standing roll” followed by a vertical spin, reverse and subsequent aircraft pitch down. Such a manoeuvre is usually “outside the flight envelope” for most jet aircraft, but the PAN’s Solo pilot can execute it in complete safety, thanks to the outstanding handling capabilities of the MB.339.
The aircraft the team flies is the PAN variant of the single engine tandem seat training and tactical support aircraft. Apart from the livery, it differs from the standard model serving with the Aeronautica Militare’s 61° Stormo (Wing) at Galatina (Lecce) airbase by the presence onboard of the coloured smokes generation system; this device is controlled by two buttons: one on the stick, for white smoke, and one on the throttle for coloured smoke. The system is fed from an under wing fuel tank filled with a colouring agent which is discharged through nozzles placed in the jet exhaust. The agent, vaporised in the jet exhaust, produces a coloured trail. Another PAN aircraft peculiarity is that in order to enhance manoeuvrability along the aircraft longitudinal (roll) axis, and to reduce wing loading, it flies with no tip tanks. These are cylindrical 510 litre tanks which are only mounted on the aircraft for long-range ferry flights. They are replaced by an ad hoc wingtip fairing which covers the wingtip tank attachment points. Since 2002, the PAN also received Mid Life Updated MB.339s. This MLU programme has integrated the previous series models with updated structural features and avionics, such as GPS, formation flying position lights, a new V/UHF radio equipped with a new tail antenna, in addition to reinforced nose and tail. The MB.339 has equipped the PAN since 1982, when it replaced the FIAT G.91, a light fighter bomber aircraft which entered service with the Frecce Tricolori in 1963. The MB.339A/PAN will be replaced by the M-345 HET (High Efficiency Trainer).
There are many myths about having a Department of Veterans Affairs‘ disability rating and serving in the military. The most common is that, if you have a VA disability rating, you can never serve in the military again. Or if you do serve in the military, you have to waive your disability rating or all of your VA disability compensation. None of these statements is completely true.
Because you can file a VA disability claim only after leaving active duty, this article is making the assumption that the military member has left active duty and is either transitioning into the Guard or Reserves or trying to return to active duty after a break in service.
Can You Serve in the Military with a Disability Rating?
The answer is maybe. Simply having a VA disability rating does not prevent someone from joining the military. However, the underlying medical condition may prevent someone from medically qualifying to serve again.
For example, you can receive a VA disability rating for knee surgery that you had while on active duty. If your knee has otherwise healed and you can perform your military duties, remain deployable and pass your PT test, then you may be eligible for continued military service.
However, other underlying medical conditions may prevent you from joining the military again. For example, it may be difficult to join again if your VA disability rating stems from a serious medical condition that prevents you from being able to perform your military duties, maintain deployability status or pass your PT test.
Can You Serve on Active Duty with a VA Disability Rating?
Provided you have been medically cleared to serve, simply having a VA disability rating isn’t enough to prohibit you from serving on active duty.
However, federal law prohibits members from receiving military compensation and VA disability compensation for the same day of service.
So, while you won’t have to waive your actual VA disability rating, you would need to suspend your VA disability compensation payments until after your active-duty service ends. After that, you can contact the VA to resume your payments.
What About Serving in the Guard or Reserves with a Disability Rating?
The same rules apply to members of the Reserve Component as they do for active duty. However, there is one big difference: You don’t have to suspend your VA disability compensation payments unless you are serving in a full-time capacity.
When you receive VA disability compensation, you receive it on a monthly basis.
When you serve in the Reserve Component, you receive military pay only on the days you serve (typically one weekend a month, and two weeks a year). You actually perform four drill periods on your weekend drill and receive pay for four days of work. You will receive only one day of pay for the other days you serve in the Reserve Component (Active Training, TDY, PME, etc.).
The typical Guard or Reserve member receives military pay for only a handful of days per month. They are in an inactive status and are not receiving compensation for the remaining days of the month.
Remember the rule above: “Federal law prohibits members from receiving military compensation and VA disability compensation for the same day of service.”
The law requires members of the Reserve Component to waive either their military compensation or VA disability compensation for days in which they received both forms of compensation. Thankfully, it’s easy to decide which pay to waive.
Keep in mind you have to waive your pay only on the days on which you receive both forms of compensation. In other words, the pay you waive is prorated — you don’t have to waive the full month of either of these payments, only the prorated amount for the days on which you received both.
Both the VA and Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) prorate the payments based on a 30-day month. This means each day of VA compensation is worth 1/30 of your monthly VA disability rate. Likewise, each day of military service is worth 1/30 of your base military pay.
So if you serve the traditional one weekend a month, two weeks a year, you would receive military compensation for 63 days of service (48 weekend drills and 15 AT days).
The VA sends members a copy of VA Form 21-8951 at the end of the year documenting the number of days on which they received military compensation and VA disability compensation for the same period of service.
If you waive your VA disability compensation, the VA will simply withhold future payments based on the number of days for which you received compensation in the previous year. If you were paid for 63 days of military service, the VA would withhold a little more than two months’ worth of disability compensation from future payments. You can even request that the VA withhold only a portion of your future payments until the full amount is withheld.
If you choose to waive your military compensation, you would need to repay the military in full. This would mean writing a large check to DFAS.
In most cases, you will have earned more military compensation than you received in VA disability compensation, so it would make much more sense to waive your VA compensation.
Yes, it may be possible to serve in the military with a VA disability rating, provided your underlying medical condition doesn’t prevent you from meeting requirements. If you serve on active duty, in the full-time Guard/Reserves, or you have been activated, you may need to suspend your VA disability compensation payments to comply with federal law. Otherwise, members of the Reserve Component may need to waive either their military compensation or their disability compensation for the number of days on which they received both forms of compensation on the same day.
Chief Kuryla being promoted on the Glienicke Bridge, aka the “Bridge of Spies”. Photo credit Kuryla.
Steve Kuryla spent a lifetime serving in the intelligence community and in the U.S. Army. He was stationed in West Berlin and other hot locales around the globe. He has written a book titled “Six to Days to Zeus: Alive Day” that has been optioned in a screenplay and film production by two heavyweights in the Hollywood industry. A Deadline article in April of this year covers the production and is titled “Phillip Noyce To Direct Secret Iraq Mission Thriller ‘Alive Day;’ Mike Medavoy Producing.” He currently runs a program called Tier One Tranquility Base that helps veterans transitioning home where more information can be seen at https://tieronebase.org/index.html.
1. Can you share about your family and your life growing up?
I was born into a very poor Catholic family in Upstate New York, the Finger Lakes region. The house was a single travel trailer that we added onto as more kids came along. The house was built from recycled ammunition boxes as my dad drove explosives for the U.S. Army Depot. He’d bring the boxes home, then take the truck back to the owner. Our job was to have the boxes stripped and nails straightened before he got home. Eventually, there was enough lumber to build the house, but the floors were hardwood and dirt until I was in my teens.
2. What made you want to become a soldier and what was your experience like?
The only other option I had was to go work at a foundry, putting green sand into boxes so pump parts could be poured in “sand castings.” By 14 years old, I was living in the woods, showering in the school gym. Playing lacrosse, football and wrestling meant I was a year-round athlete. I joined the service as a way to get away from home. Suffice it to say, steel toed boots and Jack Daniels had a lot to do with my motivation to leave.
3. What are you most proud of from your service in the Army?
At this point in time, I’m not really proud of anything. We played “Whack-a-Mole” against the terrorists of the world, as far back as The Baeder-Meinhof Gang, Abu NIdal, the Red Army, PLO, Hamas, Hezbollah, etc……and I assumed our impact would be greater and bring peace. This is a hard question to answer that I am still pondering. The ripples go away from us. But maybe the one thing that I reflect on and “smile” about, not really pride…is the good we did in places that were hell holes. Srebrenica, Somalia, Bosnia, Bogota and some Central and South American places…….. we brought light to some very dark places.
Chief Kuryla received a Meritorious Service Medal (center) while stationed in West Berlin. The left patch is the Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOMM) patch. The right patch is the Berlin Brigade. Photo credit Kuryla.
4. What values have you carried over from the Army back into the civilian world?
Values I brought back into my civilian life: Never quit. “Life is about what you do to other people”…. do five meters, even when it sucks, just keep moving forward. Integrity is everything. Honor is a lost concept in the civilian world, but that doesn’t mean you should give up yours. Fighting for those who can’t fight for themselves is a way of life, not just a bumper sticker.
5. What was one of the toughest lessons to learn coming from the service to Hollywood?
One of the toughest lessons I learned coming from the military to Hollywood: Not everyone has a moral compass. There are those who are in it for the money only, others for fame and they’ll stab you in the back in two seconds and step over your corpse just to get two seconds of limelight. In the military, I was in a place where soldiers HAD TO climb through the filters of Ranger School, BUDS, Airborne Training…and when they finally got to my unit, or like units, they stood for something: those filters don’t exist in Hollywood. Eventually, you can find like-minded souls and “your tribe” and I am very lucky to have found Phillip Noyce and Mike Medavoy.
My respect for their character and what they’ve accomplished runs deep, so I’m very proud to know them and be working with them. They stand for the same moral compass I have lived my entire life. They make movies that resonate, make people think and it’s not just about “entertainment or money!” They make movies that are about the human condition and the SOUL…and that’s what I write about. Anyone can make a military recruiting movie that makes kids “wannabe” a SEAL, or Green Beret, but the people I’m involved with currently go way past the box office. They go straight to the soul and make people think, reflect and hopefully motivate the viewers to become better human beings. It would be very easy to have changed what I wrote in “Alive Day” and make it into some action movie that made a lot of money. But they stuck to the spirit of the story, the journey of Warriors and the consequences of a lifetime of war on the soul. I’m very, very lucky that Karma and Synchronicity came together, and I get to be among these Hollywood giants.
Steve’s book. Photo credit Amazon.com
Director Phillip Noyce on set for the filming of The Saint. Photo credit IMDB.com.
Mike Medavoy receiving his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Photo credit UPI.
6. What has it been like working on your book and soon to be feature film “Six Days to Zeus: Alive Day?”
Cathartic. Therapeutic. Had anyone told me I would be writing; I would have called them nuts. This started out to be a chronological document so a shrink and I could sort through my trauma closet and start working on my nightmares and PTSD. That turned into “The Observing Ego” template and I hit my stride and was able to start working on my issues. I came home with a rage syndrome that scared the hell out of people. Combined with my “adrenaline seeking behaviors,” I was socially unacceptable and targeted routinely by Law Enforcement as a possible “ax murderer.” And I loved it. It kept people away from me. I didn’t have to talk to anyone. I self-isolated, and was taking way too many narcotics and other meds from the VA. After 39 spinal reconstructions and surgery to repair my body from a T.O.W. missile strike, “Friendly Fire,” I found myself climbing back out of the crab bucket, living in a wheelchair as a homeless veteran in a park in N.C. to coming to California to see a Dr. G in Daly City who eventually got me out of the chair, surgically implanted a “Dorsal Column Stimulator” in my spinal cord, fused my pelvis and spine finally the correct way and turned my life around.
Photos of the surgery completed on Kuryla’s back. Photo credit Kuryla.
Photos of the surgery completed on Kuryla’s back. Photo credit Kuryla.
Broken screws and items removed after failed surgeries to repair Kuryla’s back. Photo credit Kuryla.
My wife has been a rock-solid warrior as well, sticking with me through thick and thin, when others simply walked away to preserve their own comfort zone. I was still in a chair most of the time when I met her, so she was either so very desperate that she’d marry a cripple guy with a brain injury and baggage from hell, or there is something about this woman that America missed. I often tell her she’s a SEAL that didn’t go active duty. She wrestles large animals every day as an Equine Veterinarian….. so wrestling with me is right up her alley.
Working on the book has been like peeling an onion. I had NO IDEA how deep I was into the Intel World. We never had time to reminisce. We just went to the next mission, sometimes having six or seven missions going at the same time in differing phases of “pre-deployment” to “planning” to active operations and then post mission BDA and assessments….. Everything from Non-combatant Evacuation (NEO) Operations to combat support missions to High Value Target (HVT) take downs, to Embassy clearing and hostage rescue, the Cold War, the War on Drugs and the Global War on Terrorism all blended together.
Pictures from Chief Kuryla’s time in West Berlin. Photo credit Kuryla.
Over a 30 year period, the mission tempo was pretty active at points that you just never kept up with it all. You just went to the next mission. So, taking the time to go back in time, from 1976 to 2006 and reconstruct the chronology has been very cathartic. Fleshing out the writing, changing names and dates to get through the Pentagon Pre-Publication Review process has been a hurdle, but I firmly believe in the process and signed the “non-disclosure agreements” with full honor and intent. This is a nine book series now…and future endeavors include a TV series as well as several other movies. T
here are 180 covert missions and seven combat tours to write about. Simple things like a 10 year war in Bosnia, Islam against Christianity, led to 9/11 the same day (in 1683 or there abouts) September 11th, for Bin Laden to hit the towers. No one in America seems to understand that the 10 year war in the Balkans led directly to 9/11. “The Asset” was a singular chapter, now a separate book will document American Intelligence, success and failures that led to the 20 year war we are currently in. As well as a look into future wars based on American Foreign Policy and future intent.
The night the wall came down in Berlin. Photo credit Kuryla.
A guard tower from Berlin. Photo credit Kuryla.
Before the Wall came down in Berlin. Photo credit Kuryla.
7. What leadership lessons in life and from the Army have helped you most in your career?
Listening more than talking… learning all the facts, not just those I want to hear, evaluating and taking the time to look at other perspectives were “leadership” skills that I emulated from some of the great men in uniform that I got to work with. Henry Shelton, David Patraeus, William B. Caldwell, Colin Powell, Stormin Norman Schwartzkopf, Keith Alexander, “Buck Kernan,” Kellog, Keene and a list of names no one would know… my mentors and those I tried to emulate are great Americans.
And those around me who were aware, conscious, watched me and recognized my potential are the ones I credit with my success in life. I never knew I could write. Didn’t know I had anything to say. “Talking about it” was contrary to everything I knew as honorable in the military. Compartmented Intelligence was just that. Compartmented with a “Must Know” caveat. When I got out, I was shocked at what American Society didn’t know about the rest of the world and what our soldiers were doing. Not just the TS/SCI stuff, but the basic foreign policy that put men and women in harm’s way. America, especially Congress, seem to be completely unattached, uninvolved in sending troops to war. I found a new mission in life, writing about soldier stories, explaining the chaos in a way that resonates at the human “vulnerability” level. When you connect with another human at the soul, then you’re doing something worth doing. Then you’re communicating, educating, making a difference. And that’s what the “Six Days to Zeus” series is doing. Connecting at the soul and revealing the journey of Warriors in a modern age.
Teufelsberg, German for Devil’s Mountain, in West Berlin during the Cold War. Photo credit Kuryla.
Book one, Alive Day is about “what happened.” Book two, “Please don’t call me Hero” is about the consequences of War on our bodies, brains and families back at “Fort Livingroom.” It’s a glimpse into the problems, but the unconscious damage we do to our families. They pay the consequences of the US going to war, but they never signed up for it. They get to pay anyway… even when we bring muddy boots back into Ft. Livingroom. Book three, “Walking off the War” is a glimpse into the awakening, the move to conscious intentional living and the medical miracles that got me out of a wheelchair and back on my feet.
The series continues for six more books going back to Berlin in 1976 and Covert Operations against Soviet Illicit Agents and Soviet Special Operations personnel, Spetsnaz working the Morse Code problem for NSA and other US Intelligence Agencies including the Potsdam mission and Field Station Berlin at “Devils Mountain” or Teufelsberg! Operation Elsa, stealing a brand-new Soviet T-72 Tank, Operation Porch Light that broke a Russian cypher and tore down 14 terrorist networks throughout Europe and the US, and many, many more.
Items that came with the Russian T-72 that Chief Kuryla “acquired”. Photo credit Kuryla.
Items that came with the Russian T-72 that Chief Kuryla “acquired”. Photo credit Kuryla.
Items that came with the Russian T-72 that Chief Kuryla “acquired”. Photo credit Kuryla.
Items that came with the Russian T-72 that Chief Kuryla “acquired”. Photo credit Kuryla.
8. As a service, how do we get more veteran stories told in the Hollywood arena?
Veterans have to be willing to talk. There is a syndrome where veterans don’t think they did anything special. It’s part of the problem that comes with honor and the “code” we live by. I am working to get a section on my author site for soldiers to write in, tell me their story and see if it’s worth pursuing. When guys like me don’t think they did anything special and are willing to bury it….they get shocked (like me too!) when they begin to tell their story and find out the world wants to know. The ripple effect of me telling my story has affected so many veterans and so many civilians, that it’s truly humbling. For some reason, after they read the book and the two weeks of silence goes by, (digesting time), they now have permission and they come tell me their story. Their trauma and how my writing has affected them, allowed them to heal and talk about what happened. And then I get to help them learn what I have learned: It’s no longer about what happened…it’s about what you do NEXT that counts!!!
A picture of one of the patches they took of Manuel Noriega (pictured). Photo credit Kuryla.
9. What would you like to do next in your career?
Make more movies, learn as much as I can about financing, producing, and getting the stories out there. Tour and talk to our next generation. We need to teach the lessons we’ve learned as soldiers, teach critical thinking skills, make them aware that “Freedom isn’t free” and engage our young minds in active communication. Our children are being hijacked…with our permission, by our silence and preoccupation and our lack of parenting involvement. The America we all fought for is being sliced and diced, subverted and our children’s minds are being targeted. We all need to influence that change, through writing, movies, plays, music and active communication and engagement! Our veteran population are some of the most gifted humans on the planet. I hope to be a part of that change.
More pictures of the morning they took Noriega and the patches removed from his uniform. The center photo is a breakfast with Noriega the morning of. Photo credit Kuryla.
10. What are you most proud of in life and your career?
Pride is not a luxury I indulge in. I am more grateful than anything else. I can’t say I’m proud of anything, but I am the luckiest man on the planet that I got to live the life I did. That I got to meet the people I love and fought with. Even the disasters, the trauma and the adversity….it all made me a better human being. After all this reconstruction and medical miracles, I truly am coming to a place of PEACE now…finding my inner strength again, counting my blessings and realizing just how lucky I have been. How blessed I have been to have worked with and fought beside some of the finest human beings God ever put on this planet. And that’s not a bumper sticker. I truly believe that “All evil needs to succeed is for good men to sit back and do nothing.”
I don’t mourn the loss of those I served with, I thank God that such men lived.
It looks like the list for the Army’s senior enlisted promotions got pushed out — which is fantastic news for everyone who got picked up. Congratulations! You worked hard and it’s paying off.
To the rest of you, my condolences. But let me be clear here: I’m not pitying the NCOs — oh no, they’ll get their time to shine (or get RCPed for staying in at the same rank, whichever comes first). My heart aches for the soldiers beneath the NCOs that didn’t make the list. Get ready for a world of hurt because your platoon sergeant is about to take their frustrations out on you.
The ancient Spartans are legendary for their courage and discipline, but these warriors were also famous in their time for their dry, sarcastic humor. A “laconic phrase,” a phrase that is especially concise and blunt, is actually named after Laconia, the Greek region where Sparta was located. Some Greeks attributed the Spartan terseness to ignorance, but others thought differently. The Athenian philosopher Plato wrote, “If you talk to any ordinary Spartan, he seems to be stupid, but eventually, like an expert marksman, he shoots in some brief remark that proves you to be only a child.” Here are some of the best examples of Spartan wit.
1. King Demartus
According to the ancient Roman historian Plutarch, King Demaratus of Sparta was once being pestered by a man with endless questions, especially who was the best among the Spartans. The irritated king finally responded, “Whoever is least like you.”
2. King Pleistoanax
Plutarch also describes King Pleistoanax, who heard an Athenian orator claim that the Spartans had no education. Pleistoanax retorted, “True, we are indeed the only Greeks who have learned no evil from you.”
In Zack Snyder’s 300, after hearing from a Persian emissary that the Persian archers’ arrows would blot out the sun, the Spartan soldier Stelios jokes that the Spartans will fight in the shade. This actually comes from Herodotus’s Histories, the ancient source on the Persian War, except it is spoken by the soldier Deinekes. However, an ancient source from Plutarch does mention King Leonidas telling his men, “Eat well, for tonight we dine in Hades.”
4. Commander Pausanias
After the Spartans routed the Persian invasion at the Battle of Plataea, the Spartan commander Pausanias decided that the banquet the Persians had set out for themselves should be served to himself and his officers instead. Upon seeing the feast, Pausanias cracked that, “The Persian is an abominable glutton who, when he has such delicacies at home, comes to eat our barley-cakes.” Spartan food was notoriously disgusting. When a traveler from Sybaris visited Sparta and tasted their infamous “black broth” he exclaimed, “No wonder Spartans are the bravest of men. Anyone in their right mind would rather die a thousand times than live like this.”
5. Spartan women
It wasn’t just the Spartan men who cracked jokes. Unlike most Greek women who were expected to be subservient to their husbands, the women of Sparta held considerable political and economic power. The Spartan men were always preparing for a war or fighting one, so the women were expected to manage their households themselves. A non-Spartan woman once asked Queen Gorgo, wife of Leonidas, why the Spartan women were the only ones who could rule over men. Gorgo responded, “Because we are also the only ones who give birth to men.”
6. Short but sweet
When King Philip II of Macedon (father of Alexander the Great) invaded southern Greece, he sent a message to the Spartans asking if he would be received as a friend or enemy. The Spartans’ reply was brief: “Neither.” Offended, Philip sent a threat: “You are advised to submit without further delay, for if I bring my army into your land, I will destroy your farms, slay your people, and raze your city.” The Spartans’ reply was just as short as before: “If.”
7. Spartan response
The Macedonians eventually did conquer Greece, and the later Macedonian king Demetrius I offended many Greeks through his extravagance and prideful attitude. He even forced the ambassadors of Athens, his favorite of the Greek cities, to wait two whole years at court before speaking to them. Sparta resented the Macedonian rule, and sent only one ambassador to the court on behalf of the city. Demetrius was infuriated and demanded to know if Sparta had really sent only one man to speak with the king; the Spartan responded, “Aye, one ambassador to one king.”
8. King Agesilaus II
King Agesilaus II of Sparta was respected for his martial virtue as well as his wit. Someone asked him what the boundaries of Sparta were, as unlike most Greek cities Sparta had no defensive walls. Agesilaus drew his spear and extended it, claiming that the borders were “as far as this can reach.” When asked why Sparta had no walls, he pointed to the armored citizens and explained that “these are the Spartans’ walls.” After Agesilaus was wounded in a battle against Thebes, the Spartan warrior Antalcidas joked that “The Thebans pay you well for having taught them to fight, which they were neither willing nor able to do before.”
For the Spartans, humor was more than just entertainment. It taught them how to think on their feet, how to conserve resources by training them to be economical with their words, and encouraged camaraderie between the citizens. All of us have something to learn from this warlike people, not just from their wisdom, but from their wisecracks.
Grunts may not pass literacy tests with flying colors, but it definitely isn’t any indication they’re not intelligent creatures. The infantry is full of different types of people with different ideologies and perspectives. Collectively, we can even develop philosophies based on our experience with the job. But what some of us don’t think about is recording the thoughts and ideas that bounce around inside our heads.
Keeping a journal is more than just a method of remembering events that go on in your life. Writing down your thoughts and ideas could actually help you develop your mental strength as a warrior. Additionally, there are other benefits that come with doing this, beyond just keeping track of the one thing your First Sergeant did today that really pissed you off.
Here’s why grunts should keep a journal:
It might help to write about a day like this.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Devon Burton)
A tool to fight stress
You may just want to chain smoke some cigarettes and trash talk your command with your friends, and that may work. But conversations can be cut short, and you may not even say 100% of what you’re thinking. Writing down your thoughts as they are, without a filter, can help relieve you of the stress you’re feeling on day 12 of a 10-day field op.
You felt a certain way about this. Why not write it down?
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Matthew Callahan
Recording your thoughts
You may not feel like sharing everything that goes on in your head with your friends. That’s okay. Write it down. This may be useful if you have a good idea regarding tactics or standard operating procedure that you feel you may not remember later. This is like taking notes but in a way that ties into the rest of your thoughts and feelings.
If you miss some shots on the range, you should record it to look at later so you can figure out how to avoid making the same mistakes in the future.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Reba James)
Tracking your growth
At the end of the day, it helps to go over the events in your head and think about the positives and negatives. Additionally, writing these things down and writing your thoughts on how to improve yourself can help you track your personal growth. Even something like recording your physical fitness test results can help you see what you can improve on.
Even the worst memories are worth recording.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Amaia Unanue)
Writing things down is always a good idea when you have to remember them later on. But doing something as simple as writing down the day’s events and your thoughts on them can help you keep your memory sharp which is a valuable skill no matter where you go.
Maybe the next time you’ll remember how you solved that problem.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Sarah Anderson)
Improve problem-solving skills
While writing your thoughts and feelings about the day’s events, you may find that there was a problem you couldn’t solve earlier, but while writing it down, you discovered the solution. It’s like thinking back on an argument and thinking of the perfect response that didn’t occur to you in the moment.
When an Air Force major called J.J. completed a solo flight in the U-2 in late August 2016 — 60 years after the high-flying aircraft was introduced — he became the 1,000th pilot to do so.
J.J., whose name was withheld by the US Air Force for security reasons, earned his solo patch a few days after pilots No. 998 and No. 999. Those three pilots are in distinguished company, two fellow pilots said.
“We have a pretty small, elite team of folks. We’re between about 60 and 70 active-duty pilots at any given time,” Maj. Matt “Top” Nauman said during an Air Force event at the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum in New York City.
“We’re about 1,050 [pilots] right now. So to put that in context, there are more people with Super Bowl rings than there are people with U-2 patches,” Nauman added. “It’s a pretty small group of people that we’ve hired over the last 60 to 65 years.”
Pilots at Beale Air Force Base go through pre-flight checks on a U-2 during the 2018 Marine Corps Air Station Miramar Air Show, Sept. 29, 2018
(Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Schultze)
The U-2 pilot cadre has remained small in part because the Air Force has long sought applicants with extensive experience and flight time — six years and 1,200 rated hours — to fly a challenging, single-seat plane up to 13 miles above the Earth, all while snapping reconnaissance images. Pilots from all backgrounds, from fighter to trainer, can apply, as can transfers from the Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard.
The Air Force also recently introduced a program allowing student pilots to go directly to the U-2 training pipeline, though that program will only send a few fliers to the Dragon Lady.
The mission itself also keeps the ranks trim. “Part of the reason that we cut so many of the applicants is it’s a really difficult plane to fly,” said Nauman, who joined the U-2 program in 2012.
The first phase is an interview at Beale Air Force Base, California where the U-2s are based, meant to assess “self-confidence, professionalism and airmanship” on the ground and during flights in a TU-2, the U-2 training aircraft.
99th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron airmen prepare a U-2 pilot for a mission at Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates, March 13, 2019.
(US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Gracie I. Lee)
On a 2012 fact sheet about the application process, the Air Force said pilots “selected for an interview generally possess a strong flight evaluation history, strong performance evaluations, and exceed the minimum flight experience requirements.”
“When you do an interview, you actually go out to Beale for two weeks,” Nauman said. “You’ll sit down and talk with the different commanders, the directors of operations, [go] over your flight records, your performance reviews, and just kind of your overall goals. ‘So why do you want to fly the U-2? What is it that brought you here?'”
An applicant who makes it through the interviews in Week 1 moves on to Week 2, “where you actually get to fly the aircraft,” Nauman said.
“For some folks, they may have never seen a U-2 in person, and the first time they actually touch the jet is Day 1 of their interview,” Nauman added. “They’ve read about it. They’ve seen it. They’ve talked to some people they knew, but by Week 2 they actually put in you a two-seater with an instructor and you have to demonstrate the ability to land the aircraft.”
A U-2 pilot waits for maintainers and crew chiefs to finish final checks before the scheduled flight time at Beale Air Force Base, California, Oct. 26, 2017.
(US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Justin Parsons)
While the U-2 excels at high-altitude reconnaissance missions — its ceiling is above 70,000 feet — taking off and landing are more challenging in the ungainly aircraft, which has a 105-foot wingspan and only two landing gear, under the nose and the tail.
Landing requires a kind of controlled crash in which the pilot descends and slows until the plane stalls, dropping onto the runway — all done with the guidance of fellow pilots racing alongside in cars.
“It’s extremely difficult to land,” Nauman said. “You could YouTube videos of bad U-2 landings all day and see interview sorties that look a little bit sketchy. Understand we have a very wide runway and very experienced acceptance flight instructors, so it is safe despite what you might see.”
Applicants do three acceptance flight sorties, during which they perform flight maneuvers, approaches and landings, and other scenarios, including driving the chase car that assists landing U-2s. After that, a decision is made about whether the applicant will be offered an assignment.
A U-2 lands at Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates, Nov. 16, 2017.
(Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Colton Elliott)
If you do the flying portion of the interview but aren’t picked, “we will not interview you again,” the Air Force says. “Basically, you get one shot.”
U-2 flight training includes time in the T-38 trainer and time to get other qualifications pilots may need, before moving on to flying the actual U-2, on which trainees must complete two courses: basic and mission. Those take about three months each.
The whole training program can take nine months to a year. The 1st Reconnaissance Wing, which Maj. J.J. joined in August 2016, has eight classes of three new pilots each year.
The solo flight that made J.J. the 1,000 solo pilot was his seventh in the aircraft but his first without an instructor. That first solo was to be followed by a few more two-person outings, after which he would never again have to fly the U-2 with someone else.
US Air Force Maj. Sean Gallagher greets his ground support crew before a U-2 mission somewhere in Southwest Asia, Nov. 24, 2010.
Trainees adjusting to the technical challenges of the U-2 also have to adapt to the physical strain of operating it.
Cruising at 70,000 feet puts the plane above the Armstrong Line — the point at which the boiling point for liquids, like blood, is equal to the normal human body temperature — and requires pilots to wear a space suit that weighs about 70 pounds. Pilots also have to breathe pure oxygen before flying to rid their system of nitrogen.
The suit can be a physical and psychological stumbling block. Interviewees must sit in it for at least 45 minutes to prove their mettle before moving on.
“So you get suited up. You go out to the aircraft. It’s pretty warm on the ground, so it could be an endurance test at times,” Maj. Travis “Lefty” Patterson, a U-2 pilot, said at the event.
“If you’re delayed in take off, your core temperature is heating up pretty rapidly as you’re sitting in, effectively, a plastic bag with a fishbowl” on your head, Patterson added.
The cabin is also pressurized, Patterson said. Previous generations of U-2 pilots flew at what felt like about 29,000 feet — roughly the height of Mt. Everest. (That altitude, along with the challenges of longer and more complex missions in the 2000s, took a toll on pilots’ health.)
A U-2 pilot prepares for takeoff at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, Dec. 12, 2018.
(US Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Bailee A. Darbasie)
In the last decade however, the Air Force has brought the U-2’s cockpit altitude down.
“We’re only sitting at about 15,000 feet — a little higher than you would on a normal airliner,” Patterson added. “We still wear that suit in the event that there’s a malfunction or we have to eject or something like that.”
The pilot is strapped into that suit and flying at that altitude for up to 10 hours or 12 hours. But with their focus on the task at hand, a pilot can forget they’re even wearing the suit, Patterson said.
Upon return, however, pilots still getting used to the Dragon Lady may feel the strain acutely.
“I think after my interview sortie, I came back and [said], ‘Wow, I feel like I just did three days of straight Crossfit,’ just because I didn’t know all the tricks of the trade,” Patterson added.
“A good U-2 pilot will land, and you won’t be able to tell from the outside, but inside it’s almost like you’re flailing around. You’re moving the yoke around. Your feet are moving the rudders. It’s kind of like a full-body workout sometimes.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Capt. Todd Marzano, commanding officer, Pre-Commissioning Unit (PCU) John F. Kennedy (CVN 79) and his crew officially unveiled the seal of the US Navy’s second Ford-class aircraft carrier currently under construction at Newport News Shipbuilding on Nov. 6, 2019.
The seal is crafted to integrate elements that honor President John F. Kennedy, his service to the Navy, and his vision for space exploration.
It features 35 stars located around the outer ring that represent John F. Kennedy as our nation’s 35th president. The 35th star is positioned after his middle initial and the two gold stars placed between CVN and the number 79 symbolize the fact that this is the second aircraft carrier bearing his name and legacy.
The Roman numeral “CIX” or 109, is a tribute to President Kennedy’s heroic naval service as commander of Patrol Boat 109 in the South Pacific. Additionally, the moon backdrop represents President Kennedy’s instrumental role in the nation’s space program.
The ship’s crest for the Ford-class aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy (CVN 79).
(US Navy graphic)
“No nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in the race for space,” said President Kennedy during a Sept. 12, 1962, speech at Rice University on the nation’s space effort. “For the eyes of the world now look into space, to the moon and to the planets beyond, and we have vowed that we shall not see it governed by a hostile flag of conquest, but by a banner of freedom and space.”
Anchoring these and other elements on the seal is the ship’s motto — “Serve with Courage.”
“Our motto exemplifies President Kennedy’s life,” said Marzano. “From the first day of his presidency, he challenged every American during his inauguration speech to ‘ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.’ He regarded serving one’s nation as an honor and held the utmost respect for those who did so with courage, especially when faced with adversity.”
Pre-Commissioning Unit John F. Kennedy reaches another milestone in its construction as its dry dock area is flooded three months ahead of its slated production schedule, Oct. 29, 2019.
(US Navy photo by Mass Comm Specialist 3rd Class Adam Ferrero)
“John F. Kennedy displayed extraordinary courage, both in combat as a naval officer, and as president of the United States,” said Marzano. “The seal design and ship’s motto are a very powerful and fitting way to honor his legacy.”
Most recently, on Oct. 29, 2019, the ship’s dry dock was flooded officially launching the aircraft carrier approximately three months early to the original schedule. PCU John F. Kennedy will be christened at Newport News Shipbuilding-Huntington Hills Industries in Newport News on Dec. 7, 2019.
In addition to the unveiling of the seal, and the flooding of the ship’s dry dock, other milestones have been completed to include laying of the ship’s keel on Aug. 22, 2015, and placement of the 588-metric ton island superstructure on May 29, 2019.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Russia is no stranger to carefully crafting military propaganda for Western audiences. From “doomsday” submarines to missiles with “unlimited range,” the Kremlin has a knack for the dramatic when they know it’ll capture the world’s digital attention span. If I’m honest, that’s why I clicked on the link for a recently uploaded video of Russian president Vladimir Putin training with the Russian Judo team.
I expected to see a carefully crafted bit of propaganda meant to hide Putin’s advancing age. Instead, I was surprised to find that the 66-year-old man actually does seem rather spry and capable. Moreover, despite some rust on the joints, he genuinely does appear to know what he’s doing on those mats.
Most real martial arts training looks like this: two people working on techniques at 50% intensity.
(Image released by the Kremlin)
It’s worth noting that despite years of training in multiple forms of martial arts, I’m no expert in Judo. My background began with scholastic wrestling and led to a passionate pursuit of martial arts throughout my time in the Marine Corps. I secured multiple waivers to earn my black belt in the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program by the time I was a corporal, and then proceeded to join the Corps’ first formal mixed martial arts team, Fight Club 29, under the tutelage of (then) Sergeant Major Mark Geletko. During my time there, I trained largely in American boxing, Muay Thai, and Pankration, before transferring to a unit near Boston, where I studied Brazilian jiu-jitsu for a time under Rickson Gracie Cup Champion Abmar Barbosa. Since then, I’ve gotten out of the Corps and moved to Georgia, where I’ve focused largely on Filipino martial arts systems.
I went undefeated in my short semi-pro fighting career, but I left the world of competition behind when I took a solid right hook in sparring and lost much of the vision in my right eye (since repaired). I’m not the toughest or baddest fighter in the world, the country, or probably my state – but I have been around long enough that I can usually pick the real fighters out of a crowd when I see them.
If I were to sum up my expertise, I’d call myself a jack of multiple martial arts trades, but certainly a master of none. I’ve had the good fortune to train with a number of masters though, and it’s not a title I take lightly.
Despite Vladimir Putin holding a black belt in Judo, this video suggests that he’s no master either, though he could have been close once. Coming back to a discipline you’ve left stagnant for years is a lot like riding a bike: you may never forget how to do it, but when it’s been a while, you still look a little foolish. And Putin does indeed seem a bit silly executing the agility drills at the opening the video.
From there, the video moves to what I expected to see: a young man with a black belt serving as Putin’s training dummy and doing a fine job of allowing himself to be thrown, rolled, and balled up, meaning the former KGB agent didn’t need to execute any judo techniques with the requisite form or intensity necessary to actually take down an opponent in a real fight. Putin’s footwork and use of leverage does, however, suggest an active awareness of his body and what it’s supposed to be doing as he executes throws and leg sweeps. Form and leverage are integral to the proper execution of these types of techniques, and while the intensity is lacking, the form does largely seem present.
For plenty of 66-year-olds, this stretch is death defying enough.
(Image released by the Kremlin)
These drills aren’t meant to be street fights, they’re meant to develop the muscle memory required to execute these movements with little or no thought, and in that regard, Putin shows a level of competency in the footage that suggests that at least some of the martial arts awards and honors bestowed upon him may have been legitimately earned.
Of course, I’ve read pieces like this one in the Washington Post where “tough guys” have accused Putin of lacking real chops, since the only footage one tends to find of him are in training environments such as this, but in truth, these claims are largely foolish grabs for attention rather than legitimate criticisms. Training of the sort shown in this video is not only completely normal, it would make little sense for a 66-year-old man to climb in the ring and spar at 100% with anyone just to silence an internet troll–even for someone as bravado-based as Putin.
Putin may not look like a spring chicken in this video, but he does appear to harbor a level of martial arts competency that, while rusty, is certainly more impressive than I’ve seen out of other celebrity martial arts “masters” like Steven Seagal. Is Putin as dangerous as he wants the world to believe? Probably not–but for a Bond villain on the downward slope of his 60s, he doesn’t appear to be a pushover either.
World War I, The Seminal Catastrophe of the 20th Century, hasn’t spawned nearly as many films as did the Second World War that was to follow only 20 years later. For every Warhorse, Lawrence of Arabia, and All Quiet on the Western Front, there are troves of iconic films like Schindler’s List, Dunkirk, Thin Red Line, Saving Private Ryan, Sands of Iwo Jima, The Longest Day, etc…
Perhaps this is related to the good versus evil rationale on which WWII was fought, whereas WWI had a much more nuanced and convoluted reason for its existence, i.e. a series of binding treaties that exploded into a global war.
In the newest WWI film, 1917, the overarching causes behind why the soldiers are in trenches become irrelevant thanks to an expertly-crafted, human story that envelops the viewer with a common principle found in all wars and in the films that depict it; you fight for the soldiers next to you. Along with sharp performances and thoughtful writing, the filmmakers enlist a technique as difficult to achieve as it is powerful in its reception; a simulated single camera shot following the action from mission-start to mission-finish.
The film’s use of one continuous shot (or perhaps a few hundred stitched-together shots) is designed for one specific reason; to put the audience in the shoes of two young British soldiers, tasked with carrying an urgent message of life or death to the frontlines. Effectively nullifying the safety blanket of the traditional editor where multiple shots can be combined into a film, 1917’s continuous shot leaves very little room for error with the director, cinematographer, and other crew on set. In military terms, to make this film a blockbuster, Director Sam Mendez took a chance with a 0 million sniper shot, and he nailed it.
When Mendez and cinematographer Roger Deakins (both Oscar winners) decided to craft 1917 using only one shot and rely on the edit only to mask or stitch the various sequences together, they set out to bring the audience into the world of frontline war-fighting. There are no breaks. There are no pauses between frames or shots or scenes to give your brain time to catch up. The viewer is embedded with these men from mission-start to mission-finish and thus given a proximity not often afforded to audiences. The result is a visceral and captivating glimpse into the heartbreakingly painful agonies of war; especially a war as devastating as WWI. Yet, in doing so, it also provides the audience with a heightened sense of triumph as the young soldiers conquer insurmountable odds.
Whereas the creative choice of using one shot adds elemental gravitas and depth to 1917, it’s execution also proves the filmmakers’ dedication to this story. Due to the complexity and continuous nature of the one-shot format, the planning of every shot, performance, movement, light, wardrobe detail, effect, etc. called for the utmost military precision.
Employing the preparation, foresight, ingenuity, and assiduousness needed to lead an army into battle, Mendez and his lieutenants triumphed.