Halloween festivities in 2020 are bound to be a bit different due to the pandemic, but for military families, unique ways of celebrating are nothing new. Life on military bases is similar to “normal” life in many ways, but it does come with its own set of pros and cons. To learn how to celebrate Halloween like a military family, keep reading!
1. If you’re still adjusting to life at a new base, things are usually kept simple.
Moving to a new base is a significant change for the entire family. When you’ve just started unpacking, military families know it’s okay not to go all out for the holiday. The kids are all about the candy, anyway! Make some quick caramel apples together, let them go crazy with the face paint, and watch a spooky movie with popcorn and candy. Easy.
2. You get LOTS of discounts!
Military discounts are always a thing, but the holidays are the perfect time to make the most of it. Military families get discounts on costumes, decorations, fabric…pretty much anything! HalloweenCostume.com offers $10 off a $50 order with a military ID. Spirit Halloween, Jo-Ann Fabrics, Michael’s, Kirkland’s, Home Depot, and Lowes all offer discounts as well. The discounts are usually around 10-15% which doesn’t seem like much, but if you’re stocking up on decorations or planning costumes for the whole fam, your wallet will notice the difference!
3. Decorations spice things up.
The only problem with military housing is that it all looks the same. To add some personality and spooky style, lots of military fams get creative with their Halloween haunted house decor. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Have the kids help choose a theme and run with it. They can even decorate the windows with this washable window paint!
4. Some families send cards to friends afar.
One of the toughest parts of being a military kid is moving around a lot. If they used to have a group of best buddies to trick or treat with, reach out to stay connected and send some fun. Help them decorate Halloween cards and tape their friend’s favorite candy inside for a thoughtful surprise.
5. The pumpkin carving contests are next level.
Show off your military pride and pumpkin carving skills! Are you a pro with a pocket knife? A pumpkin carving contest is probably happening, so put your skills to good use and kick some pumpkin carving butt. Alternatively, you can use paint for a longer-lasting decoration. You can go for a patriotic pumpkin, or remind everyone which branch of the military is the best…but we’re not taking any sides! May the best pumpkin win.
6. They make the most of on-base Halloween activities.
Almost every base has their own set of scheduled autumn activities, which usually include a costume contest, games, trick or treating, and haunted houses for the big kids. The events will likely be modified this year to keep kids COVID-free, but the on-base festivities still have a lot of benefits. There are usually more rules and security, so your kids can celebrate without roaming sketchy neighborhoods in the dark. If this is your first year on a base, see what activities are planned this year and get involved!
7. After the fun, families often give back.
Who hasn’t overdone it in the candy aisle? If you have tons of leftover candy after trick or treating comes to a close, don’t toss it out. Instead, donate it to Treats for Troops to help service members overseas enjoy a Kit Kat or two! Happy Halloween!
People say dumb things all the time, it’s a fact of life. But there are certain gems that we’ve all heard civilians say in reference to military life that we just can’t make up. Many of those questionable comments will elect a chuckle or two while others cause dramatic eye rolls and lip biting (and not the sexy kind). WATM decided to capture some of the most memorable (and stupidest) comments. Buckle up!
Civilian: “Do you know my friend? He’s in Bravo company.”
Sure, because there’s only around a half a million soldiers in the Army. I’ll text him right now.
2. Civilian: “Have you ever waterboarded anybody?”
Why is this question a real thing? And did you actually think they’d be honest with you either way? Yeah, Karen. Every Tuesday we round up some people and have our own little “ice bucket challenge” on base. Bye.
3. Civilian finds out member is deploying: “I hope you don’t die over there.
This is said wayyyyyy more than it ever should be – which is never. What else can the service member say to this one except “thanks” or “me too”?
4. Civilian: “I could never join the military, I couldn’t take people telling me what to do all the time.”
This one plays on repeat like the baby shark song you can’t get out of your head. Listen Todd, unless you are a dictator, there’s always someone telling you what to do. The police, your boss and little pesky things like laws. It’s a part of life, the military is just a little louder.
5. Civilian to military spouse: “Well, you know what you signed up for.”
No, we didn’t. When we marry our service member, we do it because we love them and want to spend our lives with them. We aren’t given a list of things that can go wrong (thank you Murphy) or a book on how to do actually military life. Hell, our spouses don’t even know how our own insurance works! We get it done.
6. Civilian: “Got any of those meals y’all eat in war?”
Yeah, Carol. I keep them in my trunk for snack time. No! Nobody carries around MRE’s or keeps them to eat on the regular; troops don’t even want to eat that crap when they are in the field training or overseas “in war” and have to.
7. Civilian: “I’m so tired, I only got 6 hours of sleep last night.”
Listening to civilians talk about how tired they are after sleeping in their soft beds is beyond annoying. All over the globe there are American service members working continuously to keep you safe, shut up.
8. Civilian: “Do you guys get any free time?”
Define the word “free”. When deployed or on mission, that would be a negative Nancy. Stateside service members are also still working and have very little time to hang out around the water cooler either. It is what it is. ‘Merica.
9. Civilian: “If I didn’t get injured I would have become Special Forces.”
Listen Frank, I am sure you reeeeally wanted to be Special Forces. It’s an admirable goal, seriously. Buttttt, we don’t believe you.
10. And finally…. our best one yet. Civilian: “2020 is the worst year of my life.”
We get it, 2020 sucks the big one. But as the civilians around us complain about “restrictions” and that the government is “controlling” their lives, we are rolling our eyes so hard it hurts. Shut. Up. No, we don’t wish ill on anyone, but this complaint is definitely sure to get a service member or milspouse riled up. Those in the military community have been experiencing setbacks, missed holidays and loneliness for some time now. When this pandemic is behind us, it is our hope that when you continue on with your regularly scheduled programming, you’ll be more grateful for what you do have.
Master Sergeant George Hand US Army (ret) was a member of the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, The Delta Force. He is a now a master photographer, cartoonist and storyteller.
My Delta Selection class gifted the Unit with ten U.S. Army Rangers. K2 was one of the ten. He spoke very little, but his Ranger brothers spoke for him:
“Yeah, well, there’s strong and then there’s K2 strong,” was a catchphrase among the men. I guess so… or, I mean I just didn’t get it. He was medium in every way as I saw it; medium build, personality, intelligence, spirit… I just didn’t see where the super strength part came into play.
Perhaps I would eventually.
In my day, the Unit was a very evenly split down center with 50% of the operators from the Rangers and the other half, including me, from the Green Beret groups. To us, the Rangers were rigid meatheads; to them, we were lazy cheaters. I resented but agreed with the Rangers’ assessment of us Green Beanies — in fact, it is the very reason why I left the groups to seek out Delta.
K2 and I rarely spoke at first. I remember the first time during our Selection and Assessment course. It was the night before our final test of strength and endurance. We were given a chance to sleep for almost three hours.
Twenty men hit the ground in their bags to saw logs. Another man from the groups and I sat and chatted up a host of disparate nonsense.
K2 sat up looking like a mummy in his bag, unzipped, and revealed a disenchanted expression:
“You guys mind shutting the phuq up? We’re trying to sleep here.”
He zipped and lay back down.
Army Green Berets are respected for their flexibility, broad reach, and extraordinary
ability to improvise.
“That’s the first thing he’s said to me this whole month!” I whispered to my bro. “Same here!” my bud whispered back… ah, but we whispered! You see, us lazy cheaters still caught on to the fact that we were asses for talking while the men tried to sleep, and we both felt a distinct aura coming from the man whose strength wrought an aphoristic statement from his brethren: the night is as long as K2 is strong.
We graduated and moved on to the next training phase in Delta, the advanced skill training course, one that would last for some six months. The heavy lift subject for us was Close Quarters Combat (CQB), a subject for which Delta has no known peer. It’s a subject that I claim total immersion for myself. I ran through CQB scenarios in my mind even as I walked to the restroom at Taco Bell; I didn’t just enter the restroom, I cleared it first.
Countless days and the thousands of bullets whizzing by inches from everyman rendered a couple of holes through pant legs. That was cringeworthy… but so far nobody was getting hit. That is, up until the day K2 got hit squarely in the leg from a 9 x 19mm round from a Heckler and Koch MP5 submachine gun. The stray round had rabbited along a wall and punched through K2’s leg.
9x19mm Heckler and Koch MP5 submachine gun.
“I’m hit,” he stated as flatly as he stated his name the first day of training.
K2 was hit with a flyer shot that missed its target. It was a good thing it happened in training, as a “thrown round” once assigned to a Sabre Squadron could get a man getting reassigned from the Unit. K2 looked instantly worried, not about his injury… rather his ability to remain with the class.
We returned to training K2-less, as he was taken to the compound clinic for treatment in-house. To take him to the main post hospital would raise unnecessary attention. His wound was a through-and-through one; no bone was broken, though the bullet did spank a long bone good as it passed.
Word was that K2 would remain in training for as long as he felt he could continue. That was great news — except for the bad news, which was we had a ten mile run scheduled for that Friday. It would not be possible for K2 to finish that. The collective question from the class was couldn’t K2 skip, or at least defer that run?
The answer was he had to complete all events with the class.
Bullet wound as seen from the compound clinic.
(Courtesy of MSG Carlos Sanchez)
Friday was a gloomy morning where we collected to start the run.
“How’s it going, K2?” I asked.
“Not so good, Geo… those twinkies and raisin vinegar I had for breakfast this morning are really talking to me,” the K2 responded. I laughed and slapped him on the back.
We ran, and K2 ran. He ran in the middle of the pack with his head up; he had an almost-indiscernible limp. We whispered back and forth that K2 looked great and how great it was that he looked so great…
At perhaps the six mile mark, K2 slipped to the back of the pack slowly. His head was bowed low and he was no longer paying attention to his surroundings. He ran the next couple of miles in an intermittent skip, as if he were trying to hop on his good leg. We stressed for him.
Eight miles in, K2 fell back behind the pack. Falling back is not falling out, we postured; he’s still in the run. Two men fell back to run with K2 to encourage or even pull him along.
“Get back up in formation!” warned the cadre. That was certainly the end of it, as nobody dared to disobey ANYTHING at this point long into training. The two men stayed back with K2. Another man fell back and then I stuttered my step to join the pull for K2.
“If you don’t finish with the formation you will not pass the event!” the cadre cautioned.
K2’s shoe was soaked in blood from where his wound had begun to seep. It made a wet splatting noise with each step. K2 regarded our staying back with him with pain and disbelief… and more pain still. He couldn’t run any faster; he just couldn’t do it, but we weren’t going to leave him.
And then a thing happened.
Ahead of us, the Delta cadre sergeant looped his formation back, back around and brought it up behind the K2 clan at a reduced speed. We, the mighty, ran with our heads up over the finish line. The sergeant disappeared.
In the mingling sea of back-pats and handshakes, K2 grabbed a shake from me, thanking me for what I had done. I “confessed” to him that I was lazy and a cheat and used him as an excuse to fall back and take a gravely-needed rest… a thing that made him grin a powerful K2 grin.
“Good luck in training today, Geo,” K2 bid me as we parted.
“RGR, K2… break a leg!”
K2’s run diet: vinegar and twinkies.
George Hand is a retired Master Sergeant from the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, and the Seventh Special Forces Groups (Airborne). The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own.
There are more rumors and myths floating around about the Central Intelligence Agency then there are actual facts. “The Agency” or “The Company” is charged with preempting threats and furthering national security objectives by collecting and analyzing intelligence and conducting covert action while simultaneously safeguarding our nation’s secrets. It’s a broad mission, and a lot of trust has been granted to them by the American people to carry it out.
But it takes a special kind of person to thrive in the CIA.
Who, or what, are they looking for? And do those who served at the tip of the spear while in the military have a competitive advantage? If so, is a U.S. Navy SEAL better than a U.S. Army Ranger? Or does a Green Beret’s experience hold more weight when competing for one of the few spots available as a gray man?
The CIA doesn’t publicly answer any of those questions, instead opting to keep their ideal candidate’s qualifications vague. So we reached out to a few veterans of the Agency to see if they noticed any trends.
Hafer while deployed to Africa.
(Photo courtesy of Evan Hafer)
Evan Hafer, former CIA contractor
Evan Hafer is in the coffee business these days, but he started out as a U.S. Army Special Forces NCO (noncommissioned officer) before transitioning to contracting for the CIA. He’s deployed dozens of times around the world on their behalf, and he even assessed and trained those who were trying out for the Agency’s elite high-threat, low-visibility security force toward the end of his career.
“It all depends on what kind of officer you’re looking for,” Hafer said. “When you look at paramilitary operations, they have a wide variety of objectives. A good portion is working by, through, and with foreign nationals while conducting covert action. For a long time, Special Forces did a lot of covert action, so they made for the best agents in that respect.”
Hafer while deployed to Afghanistan.
(Photo courtesy of Evan Hafer)
Hafer went on to explain that there are different types of jobs at the Agency that require different skill sets. “Typically a good Ranger NCO will make a great guy for on-the-ground, high-threat, low-visibility security work. And Marines across the spectrum are pretty good at a lot of different things.”
Hafer made sure to note the difference between conducting direct action (DA) in the military’s special operations units and gathering intelligence for the CIA. “If you like blowing doors down, intel will bore the fuck out of you,” Hafer said. “It’s a lot of writing, and regardless of background, guys who enjoy DA might not like the intel job.”
“If you’re a hammer and every problem is a nail, then you won’t like being the pen.”
(Photo courtesy of Bob Baer)
Bob Baer, former CIA case officer
You may recognize Bob Baer from his work hosting investigative shows on the History Channel or delivering commentary on CNN, but before that he spent 21 years as a CIA case officer. He deployed around the world, speaks eight languages, and even won the CIA’s career intelligence medal.
“It’s almost always Special Forces,” Baer said about the ideal background for working operations in the CIA. “These guys are out in places training locals. I found the SF guys, especially the ones who have experience working in strange places, to be most effective.”
(Photo courtesy of Bob Baer)
He even went so far as to say that elite Tier 1 operators (that many would assume to be perfect for the job) often don’t work out. “For them, it’s so low-speed — there’s not as much excitement as they’re used to. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Delta or SEAL Team Six guy make the adjustment.”
Baer echoed Hafer’s sentiment toward the U.S. Marines, saying, “It seemed the Marines did a good job adjusting.” And admitted that he usually preferred a military background over a straight academic: “All in all, people who were in the military were best because they learned about dealing with government BS, while the least equipped were always the academics.”
Robyn, like Baer, was a case officer for the CIA and spent years running sources around the world — to include active combat zones. She asked that we not use her last name but was happy to offer her thoughts on not just the ideal military resume, but also what it actually takes to be a successful case officer regardless of background.
“At the end of the day, you’re selling a lemon. You’re convincing someone to commit espionage and provide intel against their country in exchange for whatever is valuable to them,” Robyn explained. “You have to convince them that you care, that their life matters — whether it does or not.”
“So the guys that do well are the guys that understand the human factor,” she continued. “They have to understand what makes someone tick and pretend to be concerned. People are not going to put their lives at risk for someone who doesn’t care. You have to care.”
Robyn recalled a former state trooper who she worked with that did well, noting that a law enforcement background laid a solid foundation for talking to people who can be difficult to extract information from, such as witnesses and victims.
“The militant guys don’t do well,” Robyn said, noting that there’s a difference between being militant and being from the military, and that it takes a unique person to operate in the gray for months or even years at a time. “They’ve gotta operate without mental, emotional, or personal boundaries. There’s no commander’s intent, and the mission isn’t always clear. A renaissance man will do better than the fire-breather, even if they both come from Special Forces. We need the guys who can jump between philosophy and tactics while maneuvering in all different environments.”
The one thing that Hafer, Baer, and Robyn all agreed on is that no single bullet point on a resume qualifies someone for the difficult work of the CIA. They all emphasized that it takes a special person, and the best people at the Agency often have certain intangibles that you either have or you don’t. It seems it takes much more than a trident or a tab to make it into the nation’s most elite intelligence agency — and that’s a good thing.
Trojan Footprint: Embedded with Special Forces in Europe
The first time John Cruise III and Steve Turner discovered they shared a connection beyond fishing, they were surprisingly not on the Atlantic Ocean.
Turner booked Cruise’s company, Pelagic Hunter Sportfishing, for a charter, and as they fished for mahi, the talk flowed freely. During the course of their conversation, they learned something else.
Cruise and Turner are Marines.
“He was very assertive and very structured and very good at what he did, and that aligned perfectly with me,” Turner said.
Cruise, a major at Camp Lejeune, is in his 22nd year of military service. For 12 of those years, he has run a small charter-boat business that caught the largest fish at the renowned Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament earlier this year in North Carolina.
Cruise captained a 35T Contender boat that hauled in a 495.2-pound marlin.
“I’ve had a lot of opportunities to build this business and to continue to work and to transition toward retirement,” Cruise said. “But there are challenges that come with that. The Marine Corps job is my main effort. It’s my most important job.”
Cruise, 47, got a late start as a Marine.
The Toms River, New Jersey-native moved to Florida and tried his hand at roofing, fixing cars and being a handyman. He studied to become a mason but realized that wasn’t his calling.
Cruise enlisted when he was 25 years old.
“I was trying to get him into the Marine Corps when he was 18, 19, but he wanted to do his own thing, so I just let him go,” John Cruise Jr., a Vietnam War veteran, said of his son. “… His drill instructor says to me, ‘Mr. Cruise, your son is like an Energizer bunny. He does not stop. I can’t keep up with him.”’
The younger Cruise said he was a gunnery sergeant before becoming a chief warrant officer. He switched to the limited duty officer program.
Pelagic Hunter Sportfishing consists of four full-time employees, not counting Cruise or his wife, Jessica, a real-estate agent who answers calls and relays messages to her husband. Cruise tries to respond during lunchtime or on his way to and from his job at the Marines.
Two other men run charters for Cruise, including Capt. Riley Adkins.
“He’s very good at reading people, and if he wants it done, you better have it done before he walks on the boat,” Adkins said. “I’ve baited for him many a day, and if it is not down to the ‘T’ of what he wants, you’re going to hear about it.”
Marine Maj. Cruise (left) pictured with his father, a Vietnam veteran. Photo courtesy of the Cruise family.
Adkins and second mate Kyle Kirkpatrick assisted Cruise during Big Rock. The size of their crew and boat (35 feet) was much smaller than most of the more than 200 other boats in the field.
“John approaches fishing, and especially tournament fishing, like nobody I have ever seen,” said Kirkpatrick, who served a decade in the Marines. “He approaches it and treats it just like a mission, so he does all of his planning, all of his preparation ahead of time. You can absolutely tell when you work on John Cruise’s boat that you’re working for a Marine officer. Very meticulous. Perfectionist.”
Cruise’s father has fished his entire life, but Cruise took it a step further.
Whether it was surf fishing, freshwater fishing or fly fishing, the boy seldom returned empty-handed. It was not unusual for Cruise to call his father, breathless with excitement, alerting him to a freshly discovered hot spot.
“In his bedroom on his wall, he has nothing but tuna, because I did a lot of tuna fishing, too,” the elder Cruise said. “I had tuna on the wall, mahi, all kinds of different kinds of fish, and he would keep them in his bedroom on his wall, all pictures of all kinds of fish. He was a real fisherman.”
Said his son: “We catch a lot of fish, and we have a good time doing it.”
Stories of just how good are just below the surface.
Cruise mentions, almost matter of factly, how he has caught several bluefin tuna in the 600- to 700-pound range. One even weighed nearly 850 pounds, the largest fish Cruise said he ever caught. The day before Big Rock, John Cruise Jr. mentioned his son caught two or three swordfish, all weighing at least 150 pounds.
And despite some doubters, Turner insists Cruise’s quick thinking once helped him land an 84-pound wahoo.
“He’s a student of the ocean,” said Turner, who is retiring from the Marines this summer after 24 years. “That man studies the ocean harder than any human I’ve ever met — waater temperatures, water breaks, depth, species, migration, patterns, historical data.”
Starting a business while on active duty is challenging, Cruise said.
“You have to put a lot of money and energy and effort upfront, and it took us about three solid years before we really got on our feet and started … about three years of really breaking even,” Cruise said.
“If you’re going to open a business, make sure you love it and you have passion for it and reach out to the people who are very successful and have done it before. Try to pick their brain to see what works the best.”
And, most of all, evolve.
Cruise said that is crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic. He estimated more than 20 charters were canceled in April; a full-day charter can cost id=”listicle-2647408673″,200 or more, according to his company’s website.
“We’ll definitely have some impacts this year,” Cruise said. “It slowed the business down in regard to summer and some of the expectations that we were expecting for this upcoming season.”
Business has rebounded since then, though, Cruise said.
Cruise is the captain of the Pelagic Hunter II. He and mates Riley Adkins and Kyle Kirkpatrick won the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament in June by catching a 495.2-pound marlin that they battled for 5½ hours.
The father of three intends to retire from the military “in the next year or so,” thus freeing time to devote to his business and more tournaments.
Until then, there are more fish to catch.
“I have the ability to make adjustments, work hard, prepare and apply those techniques,” Cruise said. “I can give the same exact spread to — pick a captain — and he may never know how to apply it the way we do. You’re constantly making adjustments and changes. It’s a really cool thing to do, and I love it.”
But as hard as it is to sing, when it is done right, it is one of the most rousing pieces of music one can hear. Whether the singer goes the traditional route or decides to add a little bit of flourish, the song can get you right in the feels.
Here are some of the more memorable renditions of the national anthem.
You can argue she has one of the top five Super Bowl halftime shows ever. (That catch is legendary)
But in 2016, Lady Gaga put her talented voice to work and delivered a rousing version of the anthem. What followed was a clinic to young singers on how to add personal flair to the song while still not taking attention away from the song itself.
Ok, I know… this version didn’t take place at a sports event. In fact, it was probably the farthest from a sporting event that it could be. In the days after 9/11, with flights in and around the States shut down, many Americans found themselves stranded overseas during one of the darkest moments in American history.
In London, many found themselves wandering around and milling about tourist spots.
The Queen, breaking royal tradition, allowed the Star-Spangled Banner to be played during the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace.
Make all the Royal Family jokes you want, but this was one of the classiest moves of all.
After the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, Bostonians and the rest of the country rallied together in unity. One of the best examples of this was the first Bruins game after the bombing. After a touching tribute to the victims, Rene Rancourt, the Bruins long-time singer, started singing the anthem.
Two lines in, he did what most singers don’t do…. He stopped.
Realizing the crowd was taking over out of emotion, Rancourt let them run with it.
There are times when we truly come together as Americans, and this was one of them.
At Super Bowl XXV, America and her Allies were ten days into the air assault portion of the Gulf War. The biggest military engagement since Vietnam, Americans were rightfully worried for the aviators flying sorties over Iraq and the troops who were preparing for the inevitable ground assault to liberate Kuwait.
In fact, ABC didn’t even air the halftime show, instead cutting to an ABC News Special Report with Peter Jennings.
This was also a unique time. With the combination of media attention because of the war, the recent fall of communism in Eastern Europe, and the growth of global television, this Super Bowl was one of the first broadcast around the world, reaching over 750 million people.
Enter Whitney Houston.
Wearing a simple tracksuit and backed by the Florida Orchestra, Houston started off strong and only got stronger. Known for her powerful vocals, she gave us one of the most tremendous renditions of our anthem our country has seen to this day. The nation went crazy for it, to the point it was released as a single and got to #20 in the Billboard Top 100. (Houston donated the proceeds to charity).
This is the benchmark singers are measured against when taking on the Star Spangled Banner.
The national anthem is definitely not easy to sing, but when it’s done right, there’s nothing better.
Instagram has fully dominated the zeitgeist. The “can I get your number?” of years’ past has mutated into the “what’s your IG handle?” of the new era. But you don’t have any need for that anymore. You’re married to a member of the United States armed forces. So here’s a handful of accounts to bring your carpal-tunnel thumb scrolling into the new age with a bit of inspiration for the loved ones of military members.
This account is one of the most popular MILSO (military significant other) accounts on Instagram. ArmyWife101 covers everything from veteran’s issues to perfect care packages to promoting fellow MILSO accounts.
[instagram https://www.instagram.com/airmantomom/?hl=en expand=1]Amanda (@airmantomom) • Instagram photos and videos
Amanda has a great account for any woman who has transitioned from military to service to motherhood. In addition to having a very current IG profile, she also runs a podcast under the same @—a perfect program to underscore a jog around the block.
[instagram https://www.instagram.com/themilitarywifeandmom/ expand=1]Lauren Tamm (@themilitarywifeandmom) • Instagram photos and videos
Lauren is a military wife and mother of two who documents her life closely for her followers. It gives fellow military spouses a gentle look into the life of someone who can empathize with the struggles and triumphs of someone who is facing life as a military mother. Her shots are artfully composed and sure to crack a smile.
[instagram https://www.instagram.com/reccewife/ expand=1]Kim (@reccewife) • Instagram photos and videos
Kim is a tough ass, salt of the earth, no-nonsense Canadian military spouse. Her sardonic wit gives her profile a bit of an edge and is perfect for anyone who wants a glimpse into the parallel life of a military spouse across our northern border.
[instagram https://www.instagram.com/soldierswifecrazylife/ expand=1]Julie (@soldierswifecrazylife) • Instagram photos and videos
If you want something a bit more personal— Julie has you covered. She’s a military spouse and mother of two who fills her account with personalized messages of support in a non-partisan, playful way. She’s a spoonful of honey on your IG feed.
[instagram https://www.instagram.com/humans_on_the_homefront/ expand=1]Humans on the Homefront (@humans_on_the_homefront) • Instagram photos and videos
This handle is, unfortunately, inactive since 2017 (although the hashtag is alive and well). However, it has 61 posts archived to sort through. Each detailed post tells the stories of the brave men and women who serve our country, as well as the incredible people who love them. Any military spouse, parent, relative, or friend could get a twinkle of inspiration from this account.
[instagram https://www.instagram.com/movingwiththemilitary/?utm_source=ig_embed expand=1]Moving With The Military (@movingwiththemilitary) • Instagram photos and videos
This account is like “Extreme Home Makeover: Military Spouse Edition.” Maria operates the account, which shows makeovers that they do for USOs, military spouses, and a whole other assortment of charitable military work. It’s a breath of positivity on your feed.
Lizann works this account as a super valuable resource to MILSOs everywhere. She creates workshops and masterclasses to give tips and advice to newly minted military spouses dealing with everything from deployment to surviving the holidays at your parents.
[instagram https://www.instagram.com/support_lgbt_military/ expand=1]Support LGBT Military (@support_lgbt_military) • Instagram photos and videos
This is a beautiful account filled with stories, profiles, and (best of all) memes that empower LGBT veterans and service members. The account is highly active and, with over 10K followers, has a massive community with which to interact.
[instagram https://www.instagram.com/thewaitingwarrior/?utm_source=ig_embed expand=1]Michelle Bowler (@thewaitingwarrior) • Instagram photos and videos
Michelle Bowler balances mothering four children with the difficulties of being an “Army wife” at Ft. Campbell. Her IG account’s message is clear—”you are not alone.” Her whole goal is to act as a supportive lens to all MILSO’s and loved ones of first responders. Michelle also has a podcast with 46+ episode of interviews with spouses of all experiences, talking about various parts of military and first responder spouse life.
I never went to Afghanistan. Iraq was my war, and when I think back about my deployments, there are very few things that I miss. I definitely don’t relish the sand storms or the dirt or the myriad of dangers lurking behind every piece of trash (and there is a sh#%load of trash).
Instead, I sometimes think back to those quiet moments of deployment, especially ones when I needed the rush of nicotine before stepping off on patrol or the pull of a long drag to settle down from one. Those frequent cigarette breaks with my fellow Marines were some of the most memorable moments of my life. I cherish them.
It’s been a decade since I was in the sandbox and I don’t smoke anymore, but as I unlock the door to We Are The Mighty, I have the crazy urge to light up. I’m nervous. Unlike other conflicts in our history, there isn’t a sacred place, a monument, for veterans of my generation to visit and reflect on our war and maybe even smoke a cigarette like old times. While that place may come someday, today we only have each other, and that’s why I’m nervous. I’m about to meet Staff Sgt. David Bellavia, the first and only living Medal of Honor recipient from the Iraq war.
The Medal of Honor is the nation’s highest award for valor, and it often comes at a significant price. Since WWII, 60% of all medals awarded for valor are posthumous and, for those who are able to receive the medal while living, the process is often long and arduous. Many are forced to relive and describe one of the worst days of their life — over and over again. As I prepare for the interview, I want to be sensitive to all Staff Sgt. Bellavia and his platoon in the 2-2 Ramrod faced during their war. But their story is special. They fought, and Staff Sgt. Bellavia earned his honor during hand-to-hand combat while clearing houses [Official Citation] in one of the most iconic battles: Fallujah.
Fallujah is a place that almost every Iraq war veteran has heard of. Like Iwo Jima or Hue, this battle defines an entire war. As I contemplate this idea, Staff Sgt. Bellavia and his full Army escort enter my office. As I reach out to shake Staff Sgt. Bellavia’s hand, I can’t help but think I am shaking the hand of a man who is the living monument to my war.
As I meet Staff Sgt. Bellavia, thankfully, he calms my nerves. First, he’s a very humble, open guy. He introduces himself as “Dave.” A modest father of three who’s been called back to service to tour the country in the wake of his medal ceremony. Second, he’s funny — like, really funny. He cracks a joke about how hard it is to put on a uniform after fifteen years, and I can relate; there’s no way I could wear my uniform now either. This is exactly the kind of guy who I would share a cigarette with. We laugh together as the cameras turn on.
Staff Sgt. David Bellavia MOH Lincoln Memorial Visit.
Welcome to We Are The Mighty. So, we all have a crazy story of how we got in uniform… What’s yours?
DB: Sure. I joined the Army in 1999. My Army story’s a little bit crazy because my son was born with some birth defects. He’s good now, but the Army didn’t know what to do. So they put me on what’s called a “compassionate reassignment.” So right out of basic training, infantry cord, I go to a recruiting station for two and a half years, which is the worst gig because you’re not a recruiter, you’re not an infantryman. You’re just there telling the Army story, which you don’t know anything of because you don’t have an Army story. And when September 11th happened, the Army was like, “Hey, your son’s not officially healthy. You either get out or go on what’s called an ‘All Others Tour.'”
What’s an “All Other’s Tour”?
DB: So, I had a choice of basically getting out of the Army or just going for three years without my family… and I chose the Army. And so I went to Germany for three years. I didn’t see the family except for block leave, and that was really tough. But it was the best decision I made because of the relationships and the guys, it was really special.
Special? How so?
DB: Yeah. It’s always great to introduce young 18-year-old Americans to Bavarian beer.
Haha. Nice. Did you deploy from there?
DB: Yeah. I deployed to Kosovo in 2002, and then back-to-back from Kosovo to Iraq for 12 months, 2004 to 2005.
Kosovo? What was that like?
DB: It’s unbelievable. The one thing that I learned is that, for whatever reason, those kids in Kosovo could burn a DVD of a movie that is still in production. I don’t even know … they’re like, “Hey, have you seen X-Men 2?” I’m like, “It comes out in a month,” and like, “Here it is.” I’m like, “How is that possible? How do you have access to B-roll footage of a Marvel film before it’s made?” But these guys, [they] can’t figure out plumbing. [They] can’t get a mass transit system, but [they] can burn any movie within hours of Ron Howard saying, cut.” It’s done. It’s crazy.
Do you have a family history of military service?
DB: I grew up on Lake Ontario. Small little town. My dad was a dentist. I was the youngest of four kids. Every one of my brothers has like either multiple master’s degrees or like PhDs. I had two brothers who went to seminary. My grandad was in the Normandy campaign. [Not] D-Day. This was the 35 days after D-Day, but it was the hedgerows, ton of fighting. He would tell me his World War II stories at like … I’d be six years old just listening to this stuff. He’s still with us. He’s 99.
Was he your inspiration for joining the Army?
DB: The other thing was, I remember in high school, before the book came out, before there was a ‘Black Hawk Down’ movie, I watched the [bodies] being just dragged through the streets [of Mogadishu], that really affected me. I wanted to avenge that.
So before you got into the Army, what did courage mean to you?
DB: I had no idea what I was getting into. They told me 11 XRAY meant like extra special infantry. So courage to me was being able to endure rain and having wet socks because there was no thought of combat. Kosovo was the big war and no offense, but it wasn’t really much of a war. It was kind of a … when I got to Kosovo it was like, “Hey, take your helmets off. Soft cap.”
Let’s jump ahead. So you end up in 2-2 from 1st Infantry Division, The Ramrods. And now we’re at war with Iraq. What does that feel like?
DB: Well, I mean, first of all, we’re watching the invasion of Iraq in like a chow hall with a potato bar in Kosovo. And so the 1st Infantry Division had such an incredible legacy of just always being first to fight. We had our own movie. I remember watching The Big Red One movie, if I’m going to join the Army, I want to be in The Big Red One. No one questioned why Lee Marvin was like a 62-year-old squad leader in D-Day. You know what I mean? He’s got all white hair.
Yeah, he must have been passed over a few times…
DB: Do you know what I’m saying? Like, why is he here? I love that movie. I loved just all the stories of what The Big Red One stood for. And the take away was that, we were a peacekeeping, forward-deployed division in Germany and a war was happening in Afghanistan. A war was happening in Iraq, and we were going to miss out on it. And so my chain of command took it upon themselves in nine months of Kosovo to just train us for what was coming down the road. And we hated that because we were doing 15-hour patrols and presence and yet we were doing bunker drills and clearing houses and my God, all that training ended up saving our life because we were so ready when the fight initially came.
A year later, you were in Iraq outside Fallujah. And it was also your birthday?
DB: Yeah, November 10th  was my 29th birthday. And I just remember thinking … as a kid, I’d walk through a cemetery, and I would see people born and died on the same day on their tombstone. And I just thought, “Man, that’s gotta just be the worst.” I was just, “Get me to midnight. At least I can have something different on there.” There were a lot of times where you just give up.
And you were a squad leader at this point?
How did you manage the stress maybe even fear that you were about to lead your soldiers in one of the most violent battles of the Iraq war?
DB: When I was on block leave from Iraq, I ran into a crusty Vietnam guy, and he told me … I was telling him everything I was going through. I was so mad. I saw like a UPS guy, and I couldn’t understand why people were normal. They had no connection to what the hell was happening. And I was looking at this UPS guy deliver packages and be so happy, and I’m like, “What the … how is this?” … and this Vietnam guy told me, he’s like, “You still believe that you’re coming home. And once you give that up, once you just acknowledge that you have no control over this, everything is far more manageable. You can compartmentalize everything.” It was the best advice that we had is that it’s not about you… don’t worry about your own survivability, worry about your subordinates, worry about them, put all your … anything that causes stress, put that below your young guys and then if you come home, that’s a bonus.
Is that what you were thinking when you got to a house full of insurgents in Fallujah? The house where you earned the Medal of Honor?
DB: So yeah, this is basically what happened in Fallujah. So [in] Anbar Province, 82nd Airborne leaves, Marine Corps comes in. This is their fight. It’s very awkward to be receiving anything for Fallujah when so many Marines… you got Brian Chontosh, Brad Kasal, and Rafael Peralta, legends in the Marine Corps, did so many incredible things. We were there just to supplement them.
You did much more than support.
DB: Fallujah was left basically unmolested for six months, and the Marine Corps had a very difficult time breaching through. So what ended up happening is everyone was on one side from the north pushing in, and the only real clear breach lane [was ours]. We got into the city expecting everyone to be on our shoulder. And when we pushed through, it took like two days for the rest of the task force to get into the city. In that 48-hour period, we had very little support, and we were pretty much the only game in town. And it developed this really odd way of, you got to your objective, you cleared it, and then you massaged back, started the invasion again, cleared it. Uh-oh, come back, do it again. And so you’re refighting in neighborhoods that you’ve been almost four times at that point. And so we got a report that there were six to eight, possibly 10 bad guys in a little neighborhood block. And we were clearing all these different buildings out and nothing. I mean, we’d get blood, or you’d see a weapons caches, but you just missed the guys, and we finally end up in the last house, and that’s when it all went down.
And then your soldiers get trapped inside?
DB: Yeah. So I’m on one side of the house, the other guys are on the other side, and basically, these guys are shooting belt-fed machine guns through a door. We have to break contact. My two guys outside with 240 Bravos that were John J. Rambo firing those things from the shoulder. Those rounds are coming in, the PKM rounds are coming out. No one can move. If anything that night that really took the most intestinal fortitude, it was standing in that door with that SAW because, again, I don’t know how many people there are. I just know that there’s fire coming out. And I got to be honest with you, you come up with a plan, and then you’re going to execute the plan, and then you just want to stall because your legs won’t walk, your body won’t move.
So you grab a M-249 SAW and charge inside? What were you thinking? What was going through your head at this point?
DB: I remember thinking to myself, “I want to hook my finger around this trigger, not the way we’re trained to do, which is to three-second burst. But if I get hit, I want to just hold it down and just get enough fire.” And as soon as I get in that door frame, I’m looking at these guys [and] they’re not intimidated at all. The SAW was a runaway. On the range, you would break the links, point it to a safe direction. But here it’s just, “Well, I’ll just keep it on them.” I’m not hitting anything, I’m not hitting them, and I just clunk out on ammo. Those 200 rounds went like nanoseconds. It felt like far too quick. So I’m like, “could I have shot 200 rounds at like five feet and missed every single person?” I just found my body just running out of the house. And as I’m doing it, you hear, and you feel rounds everywhere, and you’re just like, “Man, that was worthless.” And so I was upset. I was angry.
And you traded the SAW for an M-4 and went back inside the house?
DB: Well, it was me, [and] Scott Lawson, who died in 2013, but he went in with me, and I had three SAW gunners. I was worried that these [insurgents] were going to run out of the house and we’re going to lose them and then they’re going to kill someone or we’re going to get killed by them down the road. So I set up the SAW gunners around the courtyard, and I was just going to run in there like an idiot and try to push them out. And again, I had no real idea how many were in there. I like my chances against wounded guys that we’ve been shooting at repeatedly. So I figured me and Lawson could at least ding them up and then the next wave of Americans could finish them off.
And you did finish them off. Five to be exact. I have one specific question. There’s a moment that I read about that. Did you smoke a cigarette during the fight?
DB: I did. I did. So, okay, understand that when you’re in [the house] … your night vision works like a cat’s eye, right? I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. I’ve never been in this building before. And after this guy jumps out of a wardrobe and I hit him five times, I was just like, “Man, I need a smoke.” I don’t have my helmet, my IBA is open, I don’t … my rifle is somewhere in the smoke. And I just am like, “You know, I need a smoke right now.”
With the enemy still in the house?
DB: I’m an infantryman. I know how to smoke at night. I’m well-rehearsed at cupping the hands and holding. And so my biggest fear was that my guys were going to come in the building and because I was just around the enemy, I was going to get popped. So I just tried to hug a wall where I knew I couldn’t be hit by anything and just have a quick smoke and that’s when this guy jumps off the roof right in front of me and breaks his leg or does something horrible to himself. But it was just, yeah, it was stress level … that’s the weird thing about that close quarter proximity. You’re super confident. “I’m Thor, I could do all of this, America.” And then you slip and fall and almost get your head blown off, and you’re like, “What am I thinking? I’m an idiot. This was a horrible idea.” And then you see fear in the [enemy’s] eyes, and you’re like, “Oh, they’re scared, I got this, everything’s great.”
That’s the most badass smoke break that I’ve ever heard of.
DB: In the moment, grab a smoke.
Let’s move into afterward. You got out of the Army. What have you been doing since you left?
DB: So I came home right during the whole political soccer ball of Iraq. So I started a group with a bunch of other Marines called Vets for Freedom, and we just went out there and said, “Hey, don’t send us to fight unless you want us to finish it. Right? I mean, we didn’t vote for this thing. We’re the ones adjudicating this fight. You want to defund it. I mean, we lost our buddies out there. This is more important than some political soccer ball.” And so in order to become apolitical, we became uber-political, and I just hated it. That’s not what we wanted to do. So I started focusing more on just veterans in normal life.
Do you think Veterans can find some kind of “normal” in civilian life?
DB: We’re not walking around with high and tights, we’re not wearing camouflage to work, but the type of men and women who served this country are special, and we’re volunteering to do it. And when we come home, we would like to make America as great as we did serving it in uniform and we want to be teachers and we want to be coaches, and we want to lead at home the way we did in battle.
What was it like taking off the uniform and leading in a different way?
DB: The first thing I learned right off the bat is that no civilian wants to know when you’re going to the bathroom. Right? Because I’m accustomed to being like, “Hey, I’m going to go to the bathroom. I’m going to go take a leak.” No civilian ever wants to hear that. So I learned some tough lessons right off the bat.
And now, as a business owner, what do you tell other veterans when you see them?
DB: When I wore the veteran thing on my sleeve, I found that I was a bigger spectacle. And so I just decided to just compartmentalize that. Let it go, move on with your life, tell them, “Oh yeah, I served too,” and most people, especially the Vietnam generation, they didn’t get any of this reflexive love. They didn’t get free tickets to Bush Gardens. They didn’t get applause when they walked through the airport. So I’ve been really appreciative of that Vietnam generation protecting us from what they went through, and also their ability to kind of do a victory lap for our generation when we come home. And these guys in the workplace, what they’ve been able to accomplish. I love that. When I find out someone’s a vet, it’s like a Christian in the Catacomb, a little wink. You do the secret handshake, and that resume goes right to the top. I want that … I don’t care what you did.
You’re also a family man now, what do you tell your kids about courage and service?
DB: I tell them that the United States Army is the greatest … we’ve been fighting bullies since 1775 right? I’ve always told my kids, “I will never … if you come home with a fat lip because you were defending someone who couldn’t defend themselves, I don’t care what the school does, I don’t care what the law does. You will defend people who can’t defend themselves. That is why we’re on this earth.” We’re there to take care of our weaker brother. We’re there to take care of our weaker sister.
You also co-wrote a best selling memoir about your experience in Fallujah called House to House. Can you tell me briefly about the book?
DB: Well, yeah I’ve been going through that for a while. When I came out, there were very few memoirs written but, I don’t know if I would’ve made that choice again because I didn’t want to write [about me]. I wanted to write about my soldiers. My soldiers were the greatest men I’ve ever met in my life. They still are. And what we did together, we weren’t SEALs, we weren’t Green Berets [or] Recon. We were just knuckle-dragging, mouth-breathers. That’s what we were, just average soldiers doing above average things because we found ourselves in those situations.
One last question. Do you still smoke?
DB: I am a recovering smoker. I do some tobacco products here and there and nicotine lozenges, a little dip. But I’m trying to beat that. But now the smoking is definitely gone. I’ve graduated.
Dave, this has truly been an honor. Anything else I missed?
DB: No, you got it.
Click HERE to read more about Staff Sgt. David Bellavia’s actions which, earned him the distinguished role as the first and only living Medal of Honor recipient of the Iraq war.
My “one night in Da Lat” was a pleasant reprieve from the war and normal combat operations that we had been conducting. I’d heard of the city, but never believed all of the stories I’d heard. Stories about the beautiful architecture, the green and lush gardens, cool weather, and about the graceful people — certainly a Shangri-La such as this couldn’t exist in the Vietnam I’d come to know. But low and behold, it did.
In stark contrast to what I had come to expect, this beautiful city, now grown into a true metropolitan area filling much more of the mountain encircled bowl, represented a softer, subtler side of Vietnam.
Not found in Da Lat were the loud bars and crowds of rowdy people. In their place were quiet enclaves where people would meet, have a drink, and talk in a quiet atmosphere. Here couples and families would stroll down the wide boulevards and enjoy the fragrant air and quiet neighborhoods. Also included was the central market area where you could find virtually anything you needed, from sweaters to shoes to fast food.
40 years later and none of that has changed in Da Lat, it’s only gotten bigger and it was a pleasure to see that the city and people were as I remembered them.
“I will not take my own life by my own hand until I talk to my battle buddy first. My mission is to find a mission to help my warfighter family.”
These words constitute the Spartan Pledge, a solemn oath meant to reverse the disturbing trend of suicide among veterans of the U.S. military and active duty personnel.
According the 2018 Annual Suicide Report released by the U.S. Department of Defense, 541 service members died by suicide in 2018, including 325 active duty troops. The data collected for this report show the suicide rate is 24.8 per 100,000 service members, up from 21.9 in 2017 and 18.7 in 2013. These 2018 numbers represent a six-year high.
Similarly, the 2019 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report published by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs is bleak as well: 6,139 U.S. veterans took their own lives in 2017 — 16.8 per day, up from 5.9 in 2005. This rate is one and a half times that of the general (non-veteran) population.
Boone Cutler on deployment when he was a member of the U.S. Army.
(Photo courtesy of Boone Cutler’s Facebook page.)
In 2010, retired U.S. Army paratrooper Boone Cutler decided it was time to do something about these tragic statistics. Cutler came from a family with a long-standing tradition of military service. His father served in Vietnam, his grandfather in World War II. “My grandpa was actually the longest held POW in World War II,” Cutler said. “We take a lot of pride in that and give him a lot of respect. He was captured the day after the Pearl Harbor attack and was held from December 8 until the end of the war.”
Cutler was inspired to join the Army after learning about the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989. “I remember the headline,” he said. “The 82nd Airborne Division had just jumped into Panama. I left home at 17 and joined the Army Airborne Infantry when I was 18. He later reclassed his military occupational specialty (MOS) and joined the psychological operations (PSYOP) community. Cutler deployed to Sadr City, Iraq, in 2005 as a PSYOP Team Sergeant. Serious orthopedic and traumatic brain injuries sent him to Walter Reed Army Medical Center for two years. While there, doctors told him he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a diagnosis he had no intention of accepting at the time.
The years that followed were difficult. Cutler was on several prescription drugs, and he grappled with violent outbursts and suicidal thoughts. In 2010, he was shocked to learn that he wasn’t alone. In a conversation with his closest “battle buddy” from Iraq, Cutler asked his friend if he’d ever considered suicide. “Every day,” his buddy answered.
Holy fuck, thought Cutler. How could guys be so close on active duty — literally covering each others’ backs in a kinetic environment, know everything about each other, every hiccup, every burp, every fart … literally everything … and we don’t know this about each other after we come home?
Shortly thereafter, he called another friend who had been on his team. He discovered that teammate was struggling, too. He had been contemplating taking his own life and hadn’t left his home in two years. This was the genesis of the Spartan Pledge — a battle drill that, in Cutler’s words, helps warfighters “know what to do when they don’t know what to do.”
“We made an agreement,” Cutler said. “We knew we couldn’t actually stop each other from killing ourselves, but it was kind of a respect thing — if you’re going to do that, I can’t stop you. But don’t leave me spinning around on this planet for the rest of my life, wondering what happened and if there was something I could have done. Now [the pledge] is two sentences, but it literally started out as, ‘Motherfucker, you’d better call me.'”
Around this same time, Cutler learned about GallantFew, a then-new organization with a mission to help veterans in transition. GallantFew executive director Karl Monger soon became a close friend and mentor to Cutler. While talking on the phone, the topic of veteran suicide came up, and Cutler mentioned how he and his buddies were dealing with it. Monger stopped him mid-sentence. “Boone,” he said. “I think you’ve really got something there. This is something we should promote.” GallantFew began to introduce the pledge through its network, during one-on-one meetings with veterans in crisis. From there, it took root around the country and continued to grow organically.
A 2017 video, aptly titled “The Spartan Pledge,” featured commentary by Cutler and conversations with others who were inspired to “pay the pledge forward” in unique ways. Army veteran and Redcon-1 music artist Soldier Hard shared his idea to incorporate the pledge into his concerts. “Every warfighter knows about taking an oath,” he said. “We take oaths very seriously. Why not invite warfighters in the audience to come up on stage and take the Spartan Pledge?”
The video also featured U.S. Navy veteran and New York City firefighter Danny Prince, who told Cutler he wanted to honor the victims of 9/11 — those who died in the attacks, as well as our fallen military in the Global War on Terrorism. Prince had collected some steel from the World Trade Center wreckage. He and former U.S. Marine and commercial airline pilot Steve “Luker” Danyluk proposed to forge that steel into a commemorative sword. Two months later, the project was complete.
U.S. Navy veteran and New York City firefighter Danny Prince used steel collected from the wreckage of the World Trade Center to forge this commemorative sword.
(Photo courtesy of Boone Cutler.)
“Every warfighter who joined in this current era is there because of what happened at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 9/11,” Cutler said. “So we’ve come full circle now by creating a sword out of that tragic event that inspires people to live. That’s humbling. That’s something that touches your heart. When people touch that sword, it’s like connecting with all the souls that were lost.”
In 2011, Cutler launched a weekly talk radio show in the Reno, Nevada, area, called “Tipping Point with Boone Cutler,” which served as a platform for the former paratrooper’s raw, no-holds-barred style. That show aired through 2016. These days, Cutler spends his time spreading the word about the Spartan Pledge and connecting with his brothers and sisters in arms, both active duty and retired. “We’ve built a solid network from all walks of life,” he said. “We put our differences aside to save lives. It’s an amazing unifier.”
Cutler was a featured guest at the 2019 VetXpo conference in Dallas in October, which was sponsored by the GallantFew. His presentation, one of the many highlights of the weekend, was a spot-on snapshot of the state of the veteran community, the civilian world’s perception of warfighters, and why warfighters have such a challenging time with transition.
A dog tag stamped with the Spartan Pledge.
(Photo courtesy of Boone Cutler.)
He shared his observation that, after Vietnam, Hollywood and the media habitually portrayed warfighters as “crazy vets.” As late as 2010, nearly half of all human resources managers said it was “difficult to hire” veterans due to PTSD — but they didn’t have a real understanding of PTSD. Cutler concluded that it was “PTSD phobia” that made it difficult to hire veterans, not PTSD itself. If PTSD was truly the problem, he continued, a woman who was raped or a person who lived through a natural disaster or a car wreck would also be difficult to hire. Yet, strangely, that did not seem to be the case — only veterans with PTSD posed this difficulty. Fortunately, due to advancements in mental health and organizations like GallantFew, the civilian population is beginning to understand PTSD, those affected by PTSD are talking about it more openly, and the associated phobias are fading.
As critical as he was of the civilian population, Cutler made it a point to hold his fellow warfighters accountable, too. He acknowledged that the transition to the civilian world is difficult, calling it a “different set of rules.” In the military, it is understood that everything can change and adjustments must be made. “If we’ve adjusted to those environments,” Cutler challenged the audience, “why are we so stubborn to adjust to this one?”
His answer was startlingly simple: At a time when most young people are learning to become independent — starting families, getting careers and making their own decisions — those who join the military are entering an authoritarian environment, in which they rely upon someone else, a squad leader, to tell them what to do and when to do it. The upshot? Warfighters have to develop their own “inner squad leader.”
(Photo courtesy of Boone Cutler.)
“My squad leader talks to me all the time,” he admitted. “I’m gonna do some stupid shit. BAM! Squad leader talks to me: ‘Don’t do that.’ Every one of us needs to build that squad leader [into your brain] who tells you what to do. You’re not doing your PT? Squad leader ought to have a knee up your ass pretty quick!” As you can imagine, Cutler’s presentation was peppered by frequent, self-deprecating laughter.
However, the humorous tone quickly turned somber when he invited Annette, a Gold Star mother, to join him at the front of the room. Cutler shared Annette’s story with the audience, recounting how her son had tragically ended his own life after transitioning out of the military. He then asked everyone to come forward, circle around, and lay hands on Annette while he led the group in the Spartan Pledge.
“I authored it,” he said later about the pledge, “but it doesn’t belong to me. It’s important to me that your readers know [the Spartan Pledge] is hallowed ground. There’s a fiefdom everywhere in our community these days, so I don’t want to attach my personality to this thing. To be clear, I legally own it, but that’s just to make sure no one pulls any bullshit.”
The Spartan Pledge has been featured on a NASCAR vehicle, inked on the bodies of warfighters, and incorporated into special ceremonies across the country. In the final minutes of Cutler’s 2017 Spartan Pledge video, he said that people frequently ask what he plans to do with it next.
“I’m just the author,” he said, laughing. “I’m not doing anything with the Spartan Pledge because it belongs to the community. The question is: What are you going to do with it?”
Buy a Bag, Give a Bag: Our first donated bags arrive to deployed troops in Iraq
Our military is faced with a conflicting dichotomy. On one hand, we tout that we are the most technologically advanced military force on the planet. On the other, the Pentagon states that we need to upgrade our defenses to keep up with the looming threats. Depending on which briefing you attend, you may hear that the Department of Defense (DoD) is operating under a very tight budget; meanwhile, the news media points out the United States spends more on defense than any other nation in the world.
So what gives? What is really happening?
To fully grasp the intricacies of the U.S. military’s budget and expenditures, we must take a holistic look at the budgetary process.
Who’s Really in Charge of the Military?
Each year, the service components draft their needs and submit them in a prioritized list to the Secretary of Defense. These lists are consolidated and given over to the president. The president, not being a military man, relies on the suggestions and vision of the service chiefs. In January of every year, the president submits his budget proposal (for the next year) to Congress.
The House and Senate each have their own Armed Services Committee, who eventually reconcile the two agendas; they determine what the military is authorized (how much they’re allowed to have) and what the military is appropriated (what they’re allowed to purchase that year). Once reconciled, Congress votes on the National Defense Authorization Act late in the calendar year. The NDAA then becomes law; the military must purchase those designated items.
This begs the question: who determines what the U.S. military will be comprised of? Sadly, it appears that the commander-in-chief merely makes recommendations; it is the Congress who has the final say.
Unfortunately, two flaws can be spotted in this system. First, it may be possible that a member of Congress may skew military appropriations in order to curry favor with their constituents. For example, Senator Susan Collins from Maine successfully petitioned to build the third Zumwalt-class destroyer to keep her state’s Bath Iron Works shipyard in business; at the time, it was a ship the Navy did not want. Second, once the appropriations are issued, it becomes a monumental fight to change them. What if a service realized that they need to change what they are purchasing because of a new threat? It would face the huge task of convincing Congress of the need to change the purchasing strategy mid-stream. It may prove more difficult than the effort itself.
There’s a consensus among military analysts that posits the technological advantages of our adversaries. They assert that Russia and China have already surpassed the United States in terms of technological abilities. In these analyses, they credit foreign missiles with absolute reliability and perfect accuracy while discrediting our own.
This trend has spurned the admirals and generals into action; there is a palpable emphasis in developing futuristic weapons to not only meet the challenge, but to far exceed it. At this point, I will concede that there is value in developing weaponry for the future. However, I will dispute the overwhelming emphasis currently placed upon it. If one is focused on a futuristic battle, you may not be prepared for the near-term skirmish.
The DoD budget for Fiscal Year 2021 stands at 8 billion in total. Of that, 4.3 billion is being spent on Research, Development, Testing, Evaluation (RDTE); this is the highest value in our country’s history. This money will be spent on the development of weapons that do not yet exist. Items such as laser rayguns, howitzers with global reach, and deflector shields sound good in theory, but the technology isn’t mature enough to make them a reality.
Each service component has a number of pet-projects that are purely hypothetical at this point: the Air Force’s B-21 stealth bomber concept boasts unmatched abilities, when it hasn’t even flown yet; the Navy’s electromagnetically driven catapults and elevators still haven’t proven their worth; the Army’s search for a robot that can autonomously carry an infantryman’s load hasn’t reached fruition; and all of the services are constructing massive databases to help each keep track of maintenance and availability at extreme cost.
I do not believe these programs should be canceled, but they should not be the national priority. These programs should be relegated to the “back burner” until technology can catch up to the promised capabilities.
Right now, the U.S. military is, by far, the strongest force on the planet. Let’s review recent history.
In 1991, the U.S. military dismantled the Iraqi army in 96 hours. Later, in 2003, the US military crushed the Iraqi army in less than weeks, while using only two divisions as the spearhead. In Afghanistan, the U.S. military forced the Taliban government to fall within three months. Since that time, the United States has held control of Afghanistan longer than the Russians or Alexander the Great ever did.
Think about that.
Those are astounding time frames. But like any sports team, all the competitors would like to defeat the champion and claim the title. So, the United States must be vigilant to keep the hyenas at a distance. Because of that, I propose that Washington maintain its current force as its primary effort, while slowlydeveloping its future capability as a secondary effort.
For a moment, let’s set aside the on-going technological revolution. The major weapons systems in the U.S. arsenal are sound, combat-proven, and worthy of keeping. Sure, they will require upgrades to keep pace with technological developments, but they are largely superior to most nations’ weapons. Our weapons systems cannot be allowed to fester or grow obsolete while we chase new futuristic weapons that are years from production. Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld once said, “You go to war with the army you have, not the one you might want or wish to have at a later time.”
The reality is that new weapons are prohibitively expensive and take too much time to build; because of the costly price tags of the new weapons, the Pentagon invariably ends up buying fewer new weapons and ends up lagging behind our adversaries in terms of the sheer total number of systems; during these extensive construction times, we must maintain our current force structure by funding the “in-place” weapons systems.
Political doves often create conspiracy-laden theories that accuse the most outlandish plots. One of them touts that the average citizen does not truly comprehend how much the weapons manufacturing industries fuel the U.S. economy overall. True, the military-industrial complex affects many jobs in many states, but the funding of programs just to create “jobs” eventually hurts the military. It is sometimes necessary to cancel a project and shift its money to another more worthwhile project. This may hurt some Congress-members, and it may mean shifting funding to another defense company, but in the end, the United States will benefit from the security gained from a good piece of military hardware.
To unravel the convoluted budgetary process and streamline defense acquisition, the president should request a special meeting with both Congressional Armed Services Committees to appeal for one-time special monetary powers to shift defense spending toward ‘at risk’ military capabilities. Funds would have to be shifted on an emergency basis, with the aim of purchasing the best items now rather than perfect items far in the future. The president should propose:
1) The RDTE value should be reduced by 10 percent for one year. Research could still continue with the remaining .9 billion, although some delays could be expected. The .4 billion could be used elsewhere.
2a) Purchase another eight F-15EX fighters for id=”listicle-2645629724″.2 billion, as the Air Force did last year. This would serve to augment the F-15 fleet during the slow expansion of the F-35 acquisition.
2b) Along a similar vein, initiate the purchase of sixteen F-16V Block 72 fighters for id=”listicle-2645629724″.3 billion. Just the addition of the AN/APG-83 Scalable Agile Beam Radar (SABR) will be a great improvement of the Viper’s potential, given that the F-16 will still be flying beyond 2030.
3) Purchase another Virginia-class Block V submarine with the additional Virginia Payload Module for .75 billion. This would help in the Navy in two ways: the VPM capability will assist with the aging SSGN line of ships, which will retire soon; it will bring up the submarine production schedule, which had slowed over the last two years. This will alleviate concern of the shrinking attack submarine numbers. Further, insist that all future acquisition of Virginia-class attack submarines be equipped with the VPM missiles to ameliorate the retirement of SSGNs.
4) Disburse id=”listicle-2645629724″ billion to change the structure/composition of the Littoral Combat Ship. To date, twenty LCS ships have been laid down. These ships are misfits within the Navy, not truly fulfilling any particular mission. The president should insist that the remaining ships in the class (fifteen hulls) be re-configured as mini-arsenal ships. Using the current hull design, the super-structure would have permanently installed VLS systems to house the Naval Strike Missile, the Harpoon Block 1C anti-ship missile, the Standard Missile 2 missiles or the Standard Missile 6; all of these guided by the SPY-1F Aegis radar; however, this would most likely eliminate the helicopter landing pad in the stern of the ship. In short, the last fifteen LCS ships would be turned into offensive weapons systems and serve as an interim frigate until a new ship design is introduced.
5) Implement a significant change to an Army major acquisition program. Currently, three Services use a variant of the V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft. The Army, however, insists on building its tilt-rotor from scratch. This is costly and time-consuming. The commander-in-chief should bring the Army into the DoD fold by demanding the purchase of the latest CV-22 version to replace the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft program. This would save billions in developmental research. As an incentive, the commander-in-chief would offer id=”listicle-2645629724″ billion to this effort. The Army would benefit from the improvements made by the other Services, while taking advantage of an active production line.
6) Purchase another Arleigh Burke-class Flight III destroyer, specifically designed to fulfill the air defense role, for billion. The Arleigh Burke is the workhorse for the Navy, and should continue for the foreseeable future. The Flight III design serves as the stopgap until the Navy can fill the role that aging cruisers are struggling with.
7) Lastly, the Army must complete upgrading its ground combat vehicles. Usually, this is a multi-year project. But in the light of increased adversaries, it should be completed sooner. 0 million is needed for sixty upgraded Stryker double V-hull combat vehicles with heavier weapon systems; 0 million would convert 168 Bradley vehicles to the new M-2A4 configuration; 0 million would purchase twenty-nine new M-1A2C Abrams tanks (about a battalion’s worth); all part of on-going programs.
The transfer of developmental funding to active, “ready” programs would require Congressional buy-in. But time can also be an enemy; thus, to keep our strategic advantage, it is worth the venture to shift our defense dollars to more meaningful projects. By shifting billion dollars, the president could ease the burden upon the Navy to restore its ship-building schedule; it would help the Air Force keep its fourth-generation fighters ahead of contemporaries; and bring the Army forward in its long-term upgrading process. This shift may slow the development of futuristic weapons, or it may invigorate the program managers to operate more judiciously.
A shift of billion dollars is a small number to Congress. But it is a valuable number in terms of maintaining our decisive edge over our enemies.
U.S. Army Reserve Lt. Col. Lisa Jaster was 37 years old when she attended Ranger School. While the average age of attendees in the course ranges in the early 20s, that didn’t deter her, and in October of 2015 she graduated from the course.
She was the first woman in the U.S. Army Reserve to do so.
Four years later, her advice to others is simple.
“You have to be ‘all-in,'” said Jaster. “Be willing to give everything you have for the school and maintain your integrity. The first week is published therefore you know what to expect and how to succeed. Once you’ve passed the physical entrance exam (RAP week), you will need to have the mental toughness to push through conditions that could beat a lesser person down.”
“Do not let ‘quit’ in,” she continued. “That means once you allow quitting into your mind as an option, it will move in, live there, steal your motivation, and eventually defeat you from within.”
Maj. Lisa Jaster in late 2015, after her graduation from Ranger School that previous October.
(Courtesy of Lt. Col. Lisa Jaster)
The all-in attitude that Jaster says is the key to success for Ranger school has also been tantamount to accomplishments in other aspects of her life. As a citizen soldier, she demonstrates that one can serve their country while continuing to have a civilian career.
In the past three years, Jaster has been a senior project engineer with Shell Oil Co. before becoming the director of civil engineering for MS Engineering. She also has become a professional speaker with Leading Authorities, holding engagements across the country.
In the Army Reserve, she has been a battalion executive officer, an engineering team lead supporting the Iraqi Security Forces during Operation Inherent Resolve, and is now the brigade executive officer for the 420th Engineer Brigade, 416th Theater Engineer Command.
Throughout all of her experiences, her definition of leadership and what is expected of leaders has one constant: be consistent in your words and actions, and set the example for others to follow. This definition has served her well in both her military and civilian life.
“Everyone needs to be led as an individual, and each individual brings something to the fight as long as they are vested in the end state,” said Jaster. “A leader is someone who inspires those around them to be better versions of themselves.
U.S. Army Reserve Lt. Col. Lisa Jaster, executive officer, 420th Engineer Brigade, poses with her family after promotion from Maj. to Lt. Col. Jaster graduated from Ranger School in 2015, the first female officer in the Reserve to do so.
(Photo by Capt. Daniel Johnson)
“Traditionally,” she continued. “I have said that consistency is the most important aspect of leadership to ensure subordinates can perform in the absence of guidance,” After Ranger School, I have created the three Cs – Consistency, Communication and Competence. There are a lot of other aspects to being an effective leader, but these are necessary starting blocks.”
Jaster approaches her personal life with the same care as her professional one. A dual military couple, she and her husband, Marine Corps Lt. Col. Allan Jaster, have two children. Their support of each other and their children has been a critical factor in their accomplishments.
“Balancing the Citizen (employee, mom, wife, sister, daughter, and individual) with the soldier is very complicated,” said Jaster. “I used to try to silo both aspects of who I am but found that so much bleeds over from one job to the other that I need to be fluid with those lines.
“What that means,” continued Jaster. “Is that Army conference calls can happen during cheer practice, and I might need to review proposals for work while I am in the field with the Army. It means being open and honest with my spouse, my military boss, and my civilian supervisor about what I can handle and what might be coming up. Having a strong support team with regards to extended family, friends and hired help is critical to ensure nothing at home drops.”
Jaster does not want her Ranger School experience to define her. Since her completion of the course, she has advised to not identify soldiers and civilians by their race, sex or creed, but their skills, attributes and performance.
She created the hashtag #deletetheadjective for social media to emphasize her message, and throughout all of her speaking engagements, she has consistently stated the best teams are those with the highest level of competencies, not just a group identity. Being in the Army Reserve has allowed her to serve her country while creating awareness, and discussion, of the topic.
U.S. Army Reserve Lt. Col. Lisa Jaster, executive officer, 420th Engineer Brigade, receives a new patrol cap from her family signifying her promotion from Maj. to Lt. Col.
(Photo by Capt. Daniel Johnson)
“Ranger school was just part of my path,” said Jaster. “It was not an end state. I have a larger public voice because of graduating from Ranger School. My true failure or success is what I decide to do with that voice. If I can live by the Ranger Creed and set an example which brings our community together for a smooth gender integration, then that is the goal I am striving for.”
Looking forward to the future, Jaster continues to strive for excellence. Whether in uniform or out, she has used her previous accomplishments to continue to fuel her drive to succeed and set the example for others to follow. Her discipline and dedication to her family, civilian profession, and military career is a standard she refuses to let falter.
“Ranger School does not make me a good or a bad officer,” said Jaster. “It does mean there are certain external expectations of me that were previously only self-imposed. This gives me an additional drive to continue to train martial arts, strength, endurance and tactics, even when time constraints make it difficult and my current job doesn’t require it.
“I am looking forward to being a battalion commander,” she continued. “After battalion command, I am not sure what the Army holds, but I plan to stay in uniform as long as I can.”
Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright just wanted to get airmen talking — to each other, friends, family — with the service’s one-day pause to break down unresolved feelings they may have buried deep inside.
Wright doesn’t expect commanders at each base to draft a plan of what they believe could prevent suicide, which has plagued the service’s ranks in recent months, with 78 airmen taking their own lives between Jan. 1 and July 31, 2019. But the top enlisted airman hopes the effort might help struggling airmen again feel a sense of purpose when they come into work, even if they carry baggage from their personal lives with them.
“While mental health is a part of it, I personally think a larger part of this solution is us just being good human beings,” he said during a recent interview. Military.com accompanied Wright and Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein on a trip to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, last week.
Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright speaks to Team Travis airmen.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. David W. Carbajal)
The Air Force in August 2019 ordered a one-day “tactical pause” that had commanders and airmen address a rise in suicides across the force. As of Aug. 1, 2019, the service had exceeded the number of suicides in all of 2018 by nearly 20 people.
Wright said suicide has become the leading cause of death in the Air Force despite airmen serving overseas in combat.
“If some initiatives [at bases] came out of that, then I think that’s great. But it really wasn’t designed to develop prevention initiatives,” he said Oct. 9, 2019.
“All of the airmen that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, connecting with and talking to who’ve thought about committing suicide, none of them — not one — pointed to a program or a process or mental health [initiative]. … They all pointed to the thing that kept them going, and that was another person,” Wright said, but added some have been in therapy programs to keep talking to someone they’re comfortable with.
Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright listens to an Airman’s question.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. David W. Carbajal)
Wright said he’s heard feedback from airmen who’ve felt the most hopeless during deployments, unable to connect with someone from their unit or loved ones back home.
On those occasions, help came from a friend or teammate — sometimes even a stranger — asking the simplest questions like, “How are you? Is there anything I can do?” Wright said.
“That’s all it was — meaningful connections,” the chief said.
“It makes a big difference if you walk into a work center where you feel like, ‘Hey, I’m a valued member of his team, and my supervisor, my teammates, they care about the things that I’m going through’ versus, ‘Hey nobody cares,'” Wright said. “This is about making airmen feel valued.”
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.