Yeoman 2nd Class Kenny Jones wears his pride for Virginia Beach — its culture, its beachfront, its military presence — on his sleeve.
He’ll soon be wearing that pride on his feet.
Jones, who last month celebrated six years of service for the Coast Guard, recently won an Instagram contest to design a Nike shoe. The contest, organized by the @nikesbornothing Instagram account (and not affiliated with Nike), encouraged fans of the Nike SB Dunk shoe to design a version to represent a city of their choice.
Jones, 28, picked Virginia Beach, the place where he grew up. His father, a Navy man who served on submarines, moved the family there when Jones was in first grade.
The shoe he designed is Navy blue, a nod to the region’s large Navy and Coast Guard populations, and the Nike swoosh is silver, a reference to the Navy’s steel ships.
On the side is a trident, representing the King Neptune statue that guards the Virginia Beach oceanfront. A musical symbol references some of the music superstars that hail from Virginia Beach, like Pharrell and Timbaland. Blue waves and a tan outsole evoke the sand and surf.
Sometimes Virginia Beach can be overlooked, Jones said, but it’s a place that people are proud of, and his design was a way to display this pride.
“I want them to continue to feel proud of the area that we’re from,” Jones said. “Everything about it, whether it’s the oceanfront that we have, or the military aspect, to be proud of those who serve in this area.”
For Coast Guard members, Hampton Roads, a coastal region that includes Virginia Beach, Norfolk, and Chesapeake, the city where Jones lives and works for the Coast Guard Communications Command, has special meaning, he added, since so many members have been stationed in the region.
When he posted his Virginia Beach design on his Instagram account, it attracted a boatload of likes. In late March, the @nikesbornothing account announced that Jones’ design had won its “Have a Nike SB Day” contest.
It wasn’t just fellow Nike enthusiasts that embraced Jones’ design. Posting on Twitter, Virginia Sen. Mark Warner congratulated Jones for his win, adding, “I cannot wait to wear the real thing.”
Jones also received a shout out from Jason M. Vanderhaden, Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard, who tweeted his congratulations.
For Jones, who said he is naturally a quiet guy, the response, especially from prominent leaders like Warner and Vanderhaden, has been an overwhelming experience.
And he’s taking it as a sign.
Jones took the money he was saving for a new pair of Nikes and instead used it to buy a new iPad and Apple Pencil. He’s watching online videos to teach himself design, a way of “investing in myself.”
“I feel like I got an opportunity, so I don’t want to waste it,” he said.
He wants to pursue the dream he’s had for a long time: to design shoes and other apparel. These days, when he’s not at work or spending time with his wife and their three-year-old son, he’s working on making that dream come true.
And he’s waiting for a special custom pair of Virginia Beach-themed Nike SBs. As the contest winner, Jones’ custom design will be created by a company called ReverseLand.
When will the shoes be available? He says he’ll let his fans know on Instagram.
For nearly four years, Marine Corps Systems Command has been working on a new dress blues coat for women that more closely resembled the coat worn by male Marines. The Corps wanted a more unified look between the two uniforms. On Nov. 16, 2018, the first class of female Marines graduated from boot camp on Parris Island wearing the new coat.
“I was honored to be a part of history and stand out on the renowned parade deck to witness the newest Marines who will enter into the operating forces,” said Marine Corps Systems Command Sgt. Maj. Robin Fortner said. Fortner served as the parade reviewing official. “All the Marines looked sharp. The uniform represents the United States Marine Corps and its proud, rich legacy, which was exemplified by the Marines.”
The most obvious difference for the new women’s uniform is that the standing collar now matches the men’s dress blues coat, instead of using the old standard lapel.
The old women’s dress blues coat next to the classic men’s dress blues.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Photo by Sgt. Mallory Vanderschans)
Other improvements include a white belt and a seam in the upper-torso area to allow for Marines to more easily alter the coat to better fit their body types. It is also longer, an addition that gives it balance with the uniform trouser but also allows the wearer greater mobility and range of motion.
The reason the changes took so long to design and then enact is the attention to detail paid to making the improvements. The approved changes in the jacket worn by Marines with November Company, 4th Recruit Training Battalion (the class who graduated on Nov. 16) is actually the third and final attempt at improving women’s dress blues.
Drill Instructors and Marines with November Company, 4th Recruit Training Battalion march towards the Peatross Parade Deck before their graduation ceremony Nov. 16, 2018 at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C.
(U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Lance Cpl. Yamil Casarreal)
Researchers interviewed female Marines from I and II Marine Expeditionary Forces along with surveys conducted with Marines in the National Capital Region, Parris Island, Camp Lejeune, Cherry Point, Yuma, and the entire west coast. An additional 3,000 women filled in the information online as well.
The coat is now available for sale at the Marine Corps Exchange.
In the Marine Corps, traditions don’t change fast, if at all. But female Marines who modeled the coat during its trial phase tell current Marines to give the coat a try before forming an opinion about it – they might be pleasantly surprised when they look in the mirror.
“Before I joined the service, my first impression was the iconic male uniform coat I saw on commercials,” said Sgt. Lucy Schroder who traveled with the designer to model the uniforms and answer questions from fellow Marines. “When I got to boot camp and they gave me my coat, I was confused because it looked different than what I expected. The more we progress in time, the more female Marines are having a voice and opinions on how they want to look, which will hopefully draw the attention of future recruits.“
Deployments suck for everyone in the family. There are countless resources out there to help military dependents, but not too many troops know what to do with their beloved pets. Our pets are just a much a part of our family as anyone else and deployments can be just as rough on them as they are on people.
The hardest part is that there’s no way to sit down with your pet and explain to them that you’re going away. One day you’re giving them plenty of love and the next you’re gone for a while.
If you have a pet and are about to deploy, there are several things you need to do to make sure they’re given the best care until you can come home to make one of those adorable reunion videos.
I’m not crying. Just someone cutting onions, I swear.
The best thing you can do is to keep their routine as unchanged as possible. Keep them with people you know will love them as much as you and, if you can, keep them in the same place that they’re used to. In their furry minds, they don’t really grasp the concept of time so it’s just like you’re taking a really long time coming home.
(Meme via Pop Smoke)
Not everyone you know is willing to take in your buddy at a moment’s notice. Thankfully, there are many great organizations that can assist you if you can’t find boarding for your pet. Dogs on Deployment and Guardian Angels for Soldier’s Pet are two fantastic organizations that will foster your pets with loving homes.
Both groups provide free boarding for your pet until you come home. They work by connecting troops with boarders in their area who will give them plenty of love.
(By the way, if you’re just reading this because you love animals, these pets need foster homes and they’d love to let you help.)
(photo by Senior Airman Keenan Berry)
While you’re deployed, you can still send your pet some love. They won’t recognize a chew toy you ordered on-line as being a gift from you but they will immediately recognize your scent if you send back home a blanket you’ve been sleeping with. Most pets are intelligent enough to recognize your face and voice over a video call, but it’s not the same.
(Photo by Sgt. Valerie Eppler)
When the time finally comes for you to reunite with your fur-baby, don’t freak out if they freak out. They’ll be jumping with joy and probably knock something over with their tail in excitement. It kind of goes without saying but you should give them the same amount of love that they’re giving you.
If you were among the millions of Americans that tuned into the Super Bowl last night, you probably saw the powerful, patriotic ad in the lead up to kick off. Featuring Marine and Medal of Honor recipient Kyle Carpenter, the NFL spot is a video set to Johnny Cash’s spoken word song, “Ragged Old Flag.”
Tracing the flag’s (and America’s) journey through major wars and events, the video also shows images of protest and anger with several shots of the flag being burned before going back to images of the military, first responders and ordinary, everyday Americans.
The video spot struck a nerve immediately with some saying it was a dig at Colin Kaepernick.
Cash released the song as part of his 47th album in 1974, at a time during great turmoil in the USA, much like today. The U.S. was winding down its involvement in Vietnam and was dealing with the Watergate scandal with President Richard Nixon just resigning the office. The song was penned to be an optimistic song for Americans dealing with such tumultuous times.
Cash, an opponent of the war and believer in social justice, had actually met Richard Nixon a couple of years before and performed several songs for him, including an anti-Vietnam War song, “What is Truth” and “The Ballad of Ira Hayes,” a heartbreaking song about one of the Flag Raisers of Iwo Jima and his life as a Pima Indian.
Cash himself would open his concerts with the song and preface it with the following:
“I thank God for all the freedom we have in this country, I cherish them and treasure them – even the right to burn the flag. We also got the right to bear arms and if you burn my flag – I’ll shoot you.”
“Ragged Old Flag” was a hit upon its release with his fans who embraced the message that one can have criticisms of this country but should still respect those people and images that symbolize it. It is a message that resonates with many to this day.
The moving lyrics of the song:
I walked through a county courthouse square On a park bench an old man was sitting there I said, your old courthouse is kinda run down He said, naw, it’ll do for our little town I said, your old flagpole has leaned a little bit And that’s a ragged old flag you got hanging on it.
He said, have a seat, and I sat down Is this the first time you’ve been to our little town? I said, I think it is He said, I don’t like to brag But we’re kinda proud of that ragged old flag
You see, we got a little hole in that flag there when Washington took it across the Delaware And it got powder-burned the night Francis Scott Key Sat watching it writing say can you see And it got a bad rip in New Orleans With Packingham and Jackson tuggin’ at its seams.
And it almost fell at the Alamo
Beside the texas flag, but she waved on though She got cut with a sword at Chancellorsville And she got cut again at Shiloh Hill There was Robert E. Lee, Beauregard, and Bragg And the south wind blew hard on that ragged old flag
On Flanders field in World War one She got a big hole from a Bertha gun She turned blood red in World War Two She hung limp and low a time or two She was in Korea and Vietnam She went where she was sent by Uncle Sam
She waved from our ships upon the Briny foam And now they’ve about quit waving her back here at home In her own good land here she’s been abused She’s been burned, dishonored, denied, and refused
And the government for which she stands
Is scandalized throughout the land And she’s getting threadbare and wearing thin But she’s in good shape for the shape she’s in ‘Cause she’s been through the fire before And I believe she can take a whole lot more
So we raise her up every morning We take her down every night We don’t let her touch the ground and we fold her up right On second thought, I do like to brag ‘Cause I’m mighty proud of that ragged old flag
USAA is stepping forward to honor the nation’s nearly 18 million veterans with its #HonorThroughAction challenge. Country music star Chris Young, who has close ties to the military community, is joining forces with the organization for Veterans Day.
Young has had an impressive career in country music. But despite number one hits, world tours and numerous awards, he remains a humble man, deeply appreciative of America’s service members. Early in his career he spent a lot of time playing on military bases throughout the United States and had friends who were closely connected to the military growing up. But it hits home for him, too. His grandfather served in the Marine Corps during the Korean War and then later in Young’s music career, his sister joined and served as a Marine herself.
When USAA approached him to help lead and promote its campaign, he didn’t hesitate to say yes. The goal of the campaign is to flood the internet with images of people with the letter “V” on their hands and messages of gratitude for America’s veterans. Young shared that he felt it was a visible way to truly say thank you by overflowing social media with personal messages, reaching even more veterans. “It’s an awesome way to use social media as an outreach platform to really make it a huge day of thanks for their sacrifice and service,” he explained. “I normally have my name talked about much more than my sister and this is a way for me to use all of my platforms to say thank you to her, too.”
Young has spent considerable time overseas performing for the troops, something he said he truly enjoys. He’s gone to Iraq multiple times, Kuwait and even as far as Japan. Young also shared how he once had the opportunity to go to a Forward Operating Base on the border of Iran, which was impacting in more ways than one. “Their PX was a tractor trailer… It was a small FOB. I was playing acoustic with another guitar player because that’s really all we had room for, since it was a much smaller base,” Young explained. “Everybody was very thankful and I was like, ‘What’s going on?’ because it was over the top saying thank you. But then a service member told me I was the only non-military entertainment that had ever played for them. That just blew my mind.”
This experience was pivotal for Young, he said. Although he’s spent time playing at bases throughout the world and inviting service members to shows, playing for those service members in particular was different. It cemented for him that any opportunity he has to say thank you, he’s all in. “I am very honored that USAA wanted to partner with me to not only say thank you to the 18 military US military veterans but also do something like this where people can actually take part in it too,” he explained.
USAA’s third annual #HonorThroughAction challenge is really easy. Participants can simply draw a V on their hand – for veterans – and then add the initials of anyone in particular who has served that they want to highlight. Then simply snap a picture and share on social media along with the hashtag, #HonorThroughAction. It only takes a moment and is an actionable way to make your thank you more meaningful. The goal is to flood all social media platforms with these posts, reaching as many veterans as possible. “This might be the most important thing someone sees on their [social media] feed that they didn’t expect to,” Young explained. “I just really encourage anyone who sees my posts or reads this article to go do it.”
This Veterans Day, pause for a moment and truly breathe in the sacrifice of our country’s heroes. Let us use our collective power to ‘break’ the internet with images of gratitude for those who willingly raised their right hands to die for us. They are worth that and so much more.
It’s a reality no one likes to face: accidents happen in wartime, and sometimes the wrong people get killed. Once the fog of war is lifted, someone has to sort out what happened and why, no matter how much the truth hurts. There are many infamous, tragic examples of the U.S. military losing good people to friendly fire, the most well-known perhaps, being the story of ex-NFL star and Army Ranger Pat Tillman.
Friendly fire incidents are not unique to the United States military. Notable examples of casualties inflicted by friendly forces can be found all the way back to the ancient Greeks. An Austrian army even fought a full-on battle against itself on one occasion. The fog of war can be thick and pervasive.
Tillman was killed in Afghanistan while attempting to support his own unit.
In the wake of a friendly fire incident, especially a public one, even if it’s not as well-known as the Tillman incident, there must still be accountability. Friendly fire, it should be noted, is a distinctly different event from a fragging, as far as the Army and the Uniform Code of Military Justice are concerned. A friendly fire incident involves the killing or wounding of friendly forces while engaging with what is thought to be a hostile force. “Fragging” is simply premeditated murder. An investigation of the incident will reveal who is at fault for which potential offenses. When a troop or unit is found to have committed a friendly fire incident, depending on the severity, the investigators will first look into the type of error committed.
The two offenses most likely to be charged in such an incidence are involuntary manslaughter or the lesser charge of negligent homicide. For the involuntary manslaughter charge to stick, investigators have to prove “a negligent act or failure to act accompanied by a gross, reckless, wanton, or deliberate disregard for the foreseeable results to others.” Pointing a pistol believing it to be unloaded and firing it accidentally killing someone is an example of involuntary manslaughter. For a negligent homicide charge, all the prosecution has to prove is negligence, even a simple failure to act that resulted in the death of another.
During Desert Storm, 77 percent of American vehicle losses were attributed to friendly fire.
Dereliction of duty is another charge that could be levied in a friendly fire investigation. This would mean the accused knew he or she had a duty to perform and willfully neglect to perform them or knowingly underperform them without a reasonable excuse – though ineptitude is a defense against this charge.
While these are the most common charges for those accused of friendly fire incidents, in the U.S. military, few of these -charges ever go to a court-martial and those that do usually result in an acquittal. The reason for this is not a failure to respond to the issue of friendly fire, friendly fire incidents have been around since the beginning of war and will continue to occur in wartime. It is simply difficult to prove that negligence or wanton disregard was at play for troops who had to make split decisions in combat situations. Even the best troops can make bad decisions with tragic consequences when bullets start to fly.
During World War II, the US accidentally bombed neutral Switzerland more than once.
Even when charges aren’t pursued by courts-martial, troops are still able to be punished through non-judicial punishment. Career-ending letters of disapproval can be written, troops can be put behind desks, pilots can be grounded. The difference is in proving negligence.
In the case of Pat Tillman, his fellow Rangers saw movement and muzzle flashes from Tillman’s position while they were being attacked from the surrounding areas. Since they reasonably believed they were firing at the enemy, it did not meet the charges of negligent homicide or involuntary manslaughter. While none of the soldiers involved were criminally liable, seven received non-judicial punishments for various offenses, including dereliction of duty.
Seventy-five years ago yesterday, troops crossed the English Channel and disembarked onto the shores of Normandy to send the Nazis scum back to where they came from. Countless American, British, and Canadian lives were lost within moments of landing and many more died to secure the beach. It was a feat few higher-up believed would work, but they did the impossible.
This week, many troops gathered on this hallowed ground to pay respects to those lost and ceremonies were held in their honor. They were beautiful and heart-warming, seeing the younger troops helping the older WWII vets.
Now, logically speaking, all of the troops and veterans should still be in the area before going back to their respective bases or homes. I’m just saying, the ceremonies were fantastic. But veterans never change, and the WWII vets could still probably out-drink most of us. If you’re a young soldier in the area, buy the older gents a beer. They deserve it!
The ceremonies may have one, more polite, version of how it went down. Get them a round, and you’ll learn that the fire in them is still burning seventy-five years later.
Alicia Sims was at her neighbor’s house to get some Tylenol when she heard a knock at the front door. At first she thought it was one of her five children.
“Come in,” she hollered.
There was no reply.
“It’s unlocked, come in,” she yelled.
Again, no answer.
She went to the door and there stood a chaplain and another man. Immediately, Alicia’s thoughts turned to her husband, Jacob, a 36-year-old MH-47G Chinook pilot in the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment who was deployed to Afghanistan at the time, in October 2017.
“Is he okay?” Alicia asked.
The two did not immediately reply.
“Is he okay?” she asked again, clinging to the hope that her husband was only wounded. “Just tell me where I have to go.”
“If he was okay, I wouldn’t be here right now,” the chaplain replied.
Then, he delivered the news: Jacob’s Chinook had crashed during a nighttime raid in Afghanistan’s Logar Province. Six crew members were injured. Jacob was dead.
High school sweethearts, the couple began dating when Alicia was a sophomore. She married Jacob the day after she graduated. As a married couple, they’d been through thick and thin. Five children, countless deployments, moving across the country. Not an unusual story for military families in the post-9/11 era.
A chief warrant officer in the Army’s elite aviation outfit the “Night Stalkers,” based at Fort Lewis in Washington, Jacob had steadily advanced in his career over the years. Having dedicated her life to her family, Alicia, for her part, had never gone to university or had a career of her own. Instead, she’d held down the home front while her husband deployed over and over again — more times than she can now remember — to the war zones in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places such as Kosovo. And now the nightmare had come true. Her husband, the father of their five children, wouldn’t be coming home this time.
Alicia was devastated, and she would grieve. Yes, that would come. But not yet. In the immediate roil and tumble of the single worst instant of her life, the first thing that went through Alicia Sims’ mind was how she was going to give her children the news that their father had died.
“My first thought was, Now I’ve got to tell my five kids this,” Alicia says in a telephone interview with Coffee or Die Magazine from her home in Clarksville, Tennessee.
“I’d been with Jacob half my life, and I was a stay-at-home mom,” she continues. “All I could think was: What am I going to do? How am I going to support these kids? I don’t even have an education. How am I going to pay bills? There were a lot of things running through my mind.”
In the first days following Jacob’s death, Alicia’s needs revolved around simple things like food, laundry, and getting the children to school. She also had to go to Dover, Delaware, to receive her husband’s body.
“I had to come back and plan his funeral and do all of that. And when you’re being pulled in all those different directions, you don’t think about grocery shopping or food or anything else,” she says.
As time went on, however, the immediacy of the tragedy faded and the long-term reality of being a single mother set in. Consequently, Alicia’s worries evolved to encompass larger issues — more complicated problems than a simple check or a home-cooked meal by a neighbor could fix. Above all, she needed a college degree to land a job that could support her and her five children. But how would she ever find the time to go to school? Their youngest child, a daughter named Harper, was just shy of 2 years old when Jacob died, and Alicia couldn’t afford day care or preschool. Plus, in a few years the two oldest daughters would be thinking about going to college — how was she ever going to pay for all that?
The walls seemed to be closing in until something incredible happened — an unexpected encounter that forever changed the course of Alicia’s life. At an event for families of the fallen, a Special Operations Warrior Foundation representative approached Alicia, informing her that the organization had begun funding preschool programs. And then the magic words: “Are you interested?”
“And so the youngest of my five was one of their first kids that they put through preschool, which is very fortunate for me,” Alicia later explains. “None of my kids have ever been in preschool or anything like that, so Harper is the only one. Last year she was in preschool and this year she’s in pre-K, fully funded by the Special Operations Warrior Foundation.”
Today, Alicia Sims is a single mother, raising three daughters, aged 15, 14, and 4; and two boys, aged 11 and 10. The youngest daughter, Harper, will have her education paid for by the Special Operations Warrior Foundation from preschool to university. Her two older daughters are enrolled in a college preparation academy, and her son has been receiving math tutoring — all paid for by the foundation.
With her children’s educational needs provided for, Alicia has been able to pursue a college degree in social work.
“Knowing the [Special Operations Warrior Foundation] is just an email away if we were to need anything education-wise, it puts my mind at ease. Because I don’t have to worry about what to cut this month to pay for tutoring or anything like that,” Alicia says.
She adds: “Because my youngest gets to go to preschool, and I don’t have to worry about day care, it’s allowed me to better myself to further my own career so I can take care of myself and my kids and not have to rely on other people.”
Typically after a tragedy, the immediate outpourings of grief and sympathy taper off as time goes on. And it is the family, the survivors, who are left to live with the enduring consequences of their loss, while others — no matter how well intentioned their initial expressions of sympathy may have been — are able to move on.
“Everybody else goes on with their lives, while our lives are still kind of at a standstill,” Alicia says. “But one thing I can say about the [Special Operations Warrior Foundation] is that they have never lost contact. Every few weeks, you know, they’re reaching out to make sure I don’t need anything. That the kids don’t need anything. ‘Is anybody struggling? Do they need a tutor?’ There’s a constant outreach just to make sure we’re okay.”
The Special Operations Warrior Foundation is an organization that provides college scholarships, as well as educational assistance as early as preschool, for the children of special operations soldiers killed in combat or training. The 40-year-old 501(c)(3) charitable organization distinguishes itself from other nonprofits by committing its resources to the children of the fallen for the long haul — from “cradle to career,” as the organization’s CEO and president, Clay Hutmacher, tells Coffee or Die Magazine.
“Our kids, I think, need this holistic approach because they’ve been through a traumatic event,” Hutmacher says. “They’ve lost a parent and most of them are in a single-parent home. Our strategy is to invest in these kids up front. And, you know, preschool statistically significantly enhances your kid’s chances of going on to higher education.”
That “holistic” approach is yielding results. Some 90% of the children sponsored by the Special Operations Warrior Foundation go on to pursue a college education immediately after high school — 20% above the national average. Moreover, between 92% and 93% of the foundation’s sponsored children graduate a four-year institution in five years or less — about 30% above the national average.
Currently, the Special Operations Warrior Foundation counts 882 children in its programs — the average age is 7. With up to $8,000 available per year for a child to go to preschool, the foundation also pays for tutoring and for specialized high school programs such as the college preparation courses in which Alicia Sims has enrolled her two oldest daughters. The organization also provides benefits to about a dozen children in need of special education.
“We pay for college visits, and we pay for study abroad,” Hutmacher says. “We help with internships just to defray some of the costs of relocating and all of that. And then we run [the students] through a program to prep them for college study skills, financial management, writing their essays, all that kind of stuff. And then, of course, we fully fund their [college degrees], and we don’t care where they go. We don’t care if they go to Harvard or to community college to be an auto mechanic.”
Our nation will always need special operators. And those elite warriors will likely remain perpetually engaged in combat, whether covertly or overtly, to hold the world’s dark forces at bay beyond the edges of America’s borders, guaranteeing the peaceful life we enjoy and so often take for granted.
Each day when Hutmacher arrives at work, he takes a minute to pause in the main hallway of the foundation’s Tampa, Florida, offices. The walls are covered with photos of the college graduates the Special Operations Warrior Foundation has sponsored over the years — a stark testament to the toll of our nation’s wars, no doubt. But also a measure of all the good the foundation has done for the families left behind in the wake of those tragedies.
“You walk in this building every day and we’ve got pictures on the wall of kids that we’ve helped. The job satisfaction is off the chart,” Hutmacher tells Coffee or Die Magazine.
After a military career that spanned some 41 years — from his days as an enlisted Marine to retiring as an Army major general at the upper echelons of the special operations community — Hutmacher understands the reality of the threats facing our nation, as well as the constant expenditure of courage and sacrifice needed to keep those threats at bay.
“Behind every name, there’s a whole family whose lives are changed forever. Their struggle is just beginning. You know, their lives were changed in the blink of an eye and not for the better. And there’s many, many challenges ahead,” Hutmacher says.
Thus, each morning, as Hutmacher stands in that hallowed hallway and takes stock of the good work his organization has done, he also understands there’s a lot of work left to do. In this endless endeavor, Hutmacher says he is continually inspired by the exceptionalism of the men and women who’ve stood up to fight for our country.
“You have unique men and women that have chosen a life of service, and they are generally very, very talented and they could have done many other things,” Hutmacher explains. “But they chose a life of service. So I feel like it’s the least we can do to take care of their children.”
For her part, Alicia Sims says that thanks to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, her children are not simply surviving the trauma they’ve experienced. Rather, they’ve been galvanized to lead uniquely successful lives in honor of the legacy of their father’s heroic service and sacrifice.
“There’s a whole group of people standing in their corner, cheering them on, wanting them to succeed in life,” she says. “It is definitely putting more of an importance on furthering their education because, like I explained to them, you know, if your father hadn’t have died, we wouldn’t have been able to ever pay for all five of our kids to go to college. So this is an opportunity they wouldn’t have had otherwise. They see the importance of that. And they want to make sure he didn’t die in vain, and they’re making him proud, and they use the benefits they have to their fullest potential.”
The Special Operations Warrior Foundation was founded in the wake of Operation Eagle Claw — an April 1980 operation ordered by President Jimmy Carter to attempt to rescue the 52 hostages held at the US Embassy in the Iranian capital of Tehran. Five Air Force personnel and three Marines were killed in the ill-fated mission, leaving 17 children without a father.
At first, the charitable organization was focused on providing college scholarships to the children of special operators killed in combat or training. Yet, as its financial resources have improved over the years, its mission has expanded. Apart from the “cradle to career” philosophy espoused by Hutmacher, the foundation now also supports the children of living Medal of Honor recipients (if they’re associated with special operations forces), as well as the families of special operators who have been gravely wounded in training or combat.
“It’s a very amazing foundation. There’s no questions asked. You simply fill out a form just so they kind of know what’s needed, where the money needs to go. And it’s taken care of,” Alicia Sims says. “If the foundation wasn’t a part of our lives, I don’t know what we’d do.”
A triathlete and an outwardly laid-back guy (despite his six and a half years as a Marine and rising to the rank of major general in the Army), Hutmacher has a passion for his work that radiates through the telephone connection. In short, the man embodies the spirit of service, displaying a boundless drive to better others’ lives and to draw his own quiet happiness from that selfless endeavor. One small example: Hutmacher writes — by hand — a congratulatory note to every college student sponsored by the foundation who earns a 3.5 GPA or higher.
“I want to encourage the students to continue and to succeed. That’s my passion,” Hutmacher says. “I’m not a professional fundraiser, I’m a stick wiggler. But I get fired up about this job. Especially when I see the impact on these kids. It’s awesome.”
Hutmacher’s anecdotes exemplify his personal commitment to the foundation’s mission. He recounts the story of Josh Wheeler, a 39-year-old Army master sergeant who served with Delta Force and was killed during a hostage rescue mission in Iraq in 2015.
Throughout the course of his storied military career, Wheeler earned 11 Bronze Star Medals including four with Valor Devices. He was posthumously awarded the Silver Star, the Purple Heart, and the Medal of Patriotism.
When Wheeler left behind a wife and four sons, the Special Operations Warrior Foundation stepped in to help. And when one of Wheeler’s sons started having trouble in school, Hutmacher organized a cruise for the two of them around Tampa Bay as a “team-building” opportunity. Later, Hutmacher visited Wheeler’s family at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. He brought them takeout Chinese food like their father used to do. Seemingly small gestures, perhaps, but in the end they made all the difference.
The son who had once been struggling in school went on to study at North Carolina’s Sandhills Community College. He earned a 3.5 GPA in his first quarter. Last quarter, he earned a 4.0 GPA, Hutmacher proudly says.
“That’s what it’s all about,” he explains. “You see, these are kids that have been through some tough times. So, to me, that’s why we’re here. We invest in each and every child to make sure they succeed.”
Army Sgt. Cameron Meddock, a Ranger, died in combat in Afghanistan in January 2019. After his daughter, Brinley, was born the following April, the Special Operations Warrior Foundation immediately reached out and enrolled her in their program. Next year, Brinley is set to attend preschool under the foundation’s sponsorship.
“I was six months pregnant when my husband was killed in Afghanistan,” said Meddock’s widow, Stevie, in a statement. “Looking or planning for the future seemed impossible. Special Operations Warrior Foundation reached out to me to help ease some of that stress for me. Knowing that my daughter will have the opportunity to have an education without the associated financial burden has taken a huge weight off my shoulders and given me something positive to look forward to.”
Starting in eighth grade, years from now, Brinley is slated to attend a college success academy. If she chooses to go to college, she’ll graduate in 2040.
“It’s a lifetime commitment,” Hutmacher says. “We pour our hearts and souls into these families.”
A native of Wenatchee, Washington, Hutmacher commanded at every level during his three tours with the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. He rounded out his illustrious career serving as commanding general of Army Special Operations Aviation Command, deputy commanding general of Army Special Operations Command, and director of operations at US Special Operations Command in Tampa.
When he retired in 2018 — just one month shy of 41 years of active-duty service — Hutmacher briefly considered working for a military contractor. However, an unexpected opportunity arose to take the reins of the Special Operations Warrior Foundation as president and CEO. It was a fork in the road, but after some careful consideration, he knew where his heart lay.
“It’s the dream job,” Hutmacher says. He admits, however, that fundraising is a “constant struggle.” For one, the foundation doesn’t pay for TV advertisements — its only paid advertising commitment is a $5,000 spread in the Air Commando Journal.
“The worst part of this job, to be honest with you, is asking for money. I’m not shy, but I hate to ask,” Hutmacher says. And this year, COVID-19 hasn’t helped matters. Many of the foundation’s annual fundraising events were canceled due to the pandemic.
“It’s not only us, everybody’s in the same boat,” Hutmacher says. “This is going to be a struggle for us to maintain our revenue, but it is what it is.”
To recoup a portion of its lost fundraising, the foundation has added some virtual events this year — including a virtual bourbon tasting hosted by Bardstown Bourbon Co. Additionally, Hutmacher lauds the efforts of veterans and active-duty personnel who occasionally embark on audacious fundraising endeavors on the foundation’s behalf. After all, service to one’s nation doesn’t necessarily end when the uniform starts collecting dust in the closet.
“We get a lot of current and retired special operators who feel driven to support us,” Hutmacher says.
One notable example is David Goggins, a retired Navy SEAL who has run numerous ultramarathons and performed other mind-boggling athletic feats — such as multiple world-record attempts to complete the most pullups in 24 hours — to raise money and awareness for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation.
In some ways, Alicia Sims and her children were prepared for loss in ways that civilian families aren’t. The children, in particular, had gotten used to dad not being around due to the nonstop pace of deployments and training, which became part and parcel of life in the special operations community in the post-9/11 years. The couple’s youngest child, Harper, who was almost 2 when Jacob died, spent precious little time with her father.
“I mean, he maybe saw her four months out of those two years. Between training and deployment,” Alicia says. “Everybody asked me shortly after why the kids were adapting so easily. And the reality of it is, they were used to him being gone. You know, it wasn’t abnormal. He was gone more than he was there.”
Special operations forces bore a heavy burden in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. And despite all the talk these days about so-called great power competition, America’s special operations units remain embroiled in counterterrorism combat in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, as well as various other sites in Africa and Asia.
Irregular warfare may not be the topic du jour in the Pentagon’s polished hallways, but America’s special operations forces remain engaged in nearly endless combat in some rough corners of the world. Consequently, the need for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation’s mission isn’t going away. Last year, the foundation added 79 children to its programs — roughly an even split between commissioned and enlisted families — representing 39 fatalities. And this year, the Special Operations Warrior Foundation has added 40 new children to its programs, with some 12 to 16 more pending.
Clearly, the toll of counterinsurgency warfare has not abated — even if the lion’s share of that war effort occurs in the shadows. Overall, nearly 400 children supported by the Special Operations Warrior Foundation have graduated from college. And the foundation currently has 190 students enrolled in college programs. Overall, since its inception in 1980, the organization has provided benefits to more than 1,400 children, representing more than 1,130 fatalities.
Hutmacher explains that he had been a “benefactor” and a “big fan” of the Special Operations Warrior Foundation for years. While he was on active duty he saw firsthand the value of the foundation’s work to the families of the fallen, as well as the peace of mind it gave special operators as they went into the breach, again and again, on their country’s behalf.
“We had a lot of missions where we lost a lot of people,” Hutmacher says, going on to highlight how the foundation’s work reaches beyond the families it directly benefits.
“I’ve had dozens and dozens of active special operators from all the services share with me that it gives them peace of mind to know that if something happens to them the Special Operations Warrior Foundation will be there for their kids,” Hutmacher says. “You’d be hard pressed to find anybody in the special ops community who doesn’t get some peace of mind knowing that we’re out there.”
Similarly, Alicia Sims is confident that her personal experience with the foundation has sent a positive message to those men and women in the special operations community who are still fighting our country’s wars.
“I’m actually still in contact with everyone who survived that night,” Alicia says of the helicopter crash that killed her husband. “Knowing that there will be people there to take care of their families, God forbid something happens, helps them to not dwell on the ‘what-ifs’ when they’re going into combat. They know that their families will be taken care of. And that’s a huge relief.”
“When I flew AH-6 attack helicopters, there were a couple of times when I wasn’t sure what the outcome was going to be on some of those missions,” Hutmacher says. “And, you know, my first concern was always about my kids … if I had one wish, it would be that my kids were taken care of.”
Marines never change. We’re simple creatures. Whether it’s in the air, on the land, at sea, or in the outer reaches of space, we’re going to find a way to restrict everyone’s liberty by doing what we do best: getting drunk and fighting things.
Any place we go, you’ll know we were there. Not just because of the trail of destruction and bodies we leave in our wake, but because we’ve found a way to distinguish ourselves by looking and acting like the most primitive humans to ever exist in the modern era.
This type of thing will not change in space, no matter how far we go. Here are a few things that Marines will still do, even if we’re in the Andromeda system:
1. Get married to an alien stripper in their first month
Once we establish colonies on other planets, you know there will be tons of alien strip clubs and tattoo parlors set up just outside the gates of any military installation — and you know where they’ll get their business? The Space Force Marines. One of the FNGs is bound to fall in love with an alien stripper and marry it within a month of arriving on station.
It’ll become a competition to see who can hit someone on a planet’s surface from orbit.
(U.S. Marine Corps)
2. Throw space rocks at each other
When Marines get bored of waiting, they end up finding rocks to throw at each other. No, I’m not kidding. This is a popular pastime among Marines.
This won’t change, even if they’re in space. If anything, the lowered gravity will only make this more enjoyable.
We might even try to eat it.
(U.S. Marine Corps)
3. Find dangerous alien creatures to interact with
If you’ve ever been in a desert with Marines, then you know we’ve got some uncanny ability to find rattlesnakes and scorpions to play with. Here’s what would happen in the Space Force: Marines arrive on a new planet and find some kind of acid-spitting alien creature and decide it would be a good idea to pick it up and keep it as a pet.
Pro-tip: Don’t touch anything you aren’t familiar with.
(U.S. Marine Corps)
4. Eat strange, alien plants
There’s always that one Southern guy in your platoon who, while in a jungle, will just rip moss off trees and drink the water from it — or they’ll see some leafy plant and chew on it when they run out of tobacco.
Chances are, they’ll do the same on some distant planet.
The Mars rover already did it, but it lacked a human touch.
If you like to read and are in the military, chances are that you aren’t reading for the hell of it, but reading to learn. Reading history, military leadership and self-improvement books are a great way to work toward developing skills to help improve your chances of success as a leader.
While the intent is admirable, there is a more practical problem with this approach. According to the forgetting curve, we forget most of what we read in the days or weeks after we encounter the material. Research has found that we generally remember as little as 10 to 20% of what we read.
I read a lot and I’m continually looking for ways to help me retain the important ideas, passages and quotes I come across. And I’m not alone.
Since humans first started writing practical advice for leaders, people have tried to figure ways to remember these lessons and incorporate them into their daily lives. The Stoic philosopher Seneca even commented on this over 2000 years ago:
“We should hunt out the helpful pieces of teaching and the spirited and noble-minded sayings which are capable of immediate practical application—not far-fetched or archaic expressions or extravagant metaphors and figures of speech—and learn them so well that words become works.”
So how do we learn the words so well that we turn them into works? The key is to counter the forgetting curve and increase our ability to recall the information we gain from reading. Thankfully, memory research has some answers for us.
Here are 3 tips for remembering what you’re reading:
Use your hands.
One of the ways in which we can better remember what we read is to get our hands involved in the process. In other words, using a highlighter to mark important passages or a pen to write marginalia (notes in the margins) helps us with retention.
In their book, The New Science of Learning: How to Learn in Harmony with Your Brain, educators Terry Doyle and Todd Zakrajsek argue that by adding the sense of touch to learning, we create multi-sensory pathways in the brain. Studies have shown that a multi-sensory approach to learning greatly increases the probability of recall.
Build an external hard drive.
From Marcus Aurelius to George Patton and Leonardo da Vinci to Bill Gates, these leaders and inventors kept personal notebooks or notecards where they captured quotes, maxims, ideas or anything else they found of interest. As we look back now into their private writings, we find evidence of the intellectual growth that made them successful. For instance, Patton copied down insights at West Point that would eventually become his fighting style decades later.
Typically when I finish a book, I return to it and transfer my margin notes, highlighted passages or additional reading (footnotes and endnotes are great for this) into my notebook. This extra step takes about thirty minutes, but it is worth it.
I continually look back through my notebook, gaining more familiarity with the subject. This “external hard drive’ is a great place to review ideas when I need them, and I don’t have to worry about it crashing!
Talk about it!
Finally, when we discuss what we read, we increase the chances we won’t forget it. By talking about it, we force our brains to recall the information. Research has shown that in recalling information, we strengthen the memory.
If I am reading a book I enjoy, I will bring it up in conversation with friends and family members. As we discuss an aspect of the book, I typically find that we will come up with even more applications for the quote or idea put forth by the author.
So, next time you pick up a book, don’t just read it cover to cover and put it away. Grab your highlighter and a pen. Mark passages and make notes in the margins. Find a small notebook where you can capture insights, quotes and tidbits worth remembering. And talk about your books with family and friends, always looking for ways to recall the information. If you do these things, you will be able to follow the advice of Seneca, and know the words so well that you turn them into works.
Space Force quietly released its motto back in July without much frill or fanfare.
Semper Supra means Always Above, and it’s one of those mottos with a neat origin story (more on that later!), but it feels like it’s not exactly perfect for the newest branch of our military. Maybe it could have been worse? We’re not entirely sure.
Space Force also finally issued its logo to help with brand awareness and hopefully encourage the American public to take the newest military branch seriously.
The branch even unveiled a flag, so it’s pretty clear that Space Force isn’t going anywhere. Let’s unpack the motto, the logo and the flag because there’s a lot to understand about these branding efforts.
Semper Supra is supposed to represent the branch’s role in establishing, maintaining and preserving US interests and freedom operations in space.
The logo was designed by the same agency who works on Air Force branding and like with all military insignia, the details are important. The delta symbol was first used in 1961 and was selected to honor the Air Force and Space command’s heritage. But contrary to what we’re all thinking, the Space Force logo is apparently not an homage to Star Trek.
The colors black and silver represent the environmental boundaries between Earth and space. The delta’s outer border is silver and signifies protection against all adversaries and threats in the space domain. The black portion on the inside signifies the vast darkness of deep space. Inside the delta are two spires that represent the action of a rocket launching in the atmosphere. In the center of the delta is a visual representation of Polaris, the North Star. This symbolizes how the core values guide the Space Force mission. Finally, there are four beveled elements inside the delta representing the other four branches of the military.
Apparently, the logo creators didn’t think it was worthwhile to include the Coast Guard in their nod to the other military branches. Dang. Sorry, Coast Guard.
So let’s get back to Semper Supra. Space Force Chief Gen. Jay Raymond recently tweeted, “We are building a new Service to secure the space domain – the ultimate high ground. Our strategic imperative is to ensure that our space capabilities [and] the advantages they provide the nation [and] our Joint and Coalition partners are always there.”
It might just be us, but that statement sounds an awful lot like a reference to Obi-Wan Kenobi’s “high ground” comment to Anakin in “Revenge of the Sith.”
“It’s over, Anakin. I have the high ground,” Kenobi says.
Kenobi just said it with fewer words.
So who had the final say in the Space Force motto? Airman First Class Daniel Sanchez, 86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs broadcast journalist, that’s who. The junior Airman enlisted in the Air Force when he was 33 after unsuccessfully trying to find his footing in the civilian world. While preparing to go to basic training, Sanchez would listen to service songs, which is where he said he got the earliest ideas of the Space Force motto. It was while listening to the Coast Guard’s service song, Semper Paratus, that inspiration struck. Then Sanchez started thinking about the Marine Corps motto – Semper Fidelis – and the unofficial Navy motto – Semper Fortis. The translation, Always Faithful and Always Courageous, struck a chord.
Then, while training to become an Air Force broadcast journalist at Fort Meade, Sanchez and some of his colleagues started greeting one another with the motto he created – Semper Supra. Sanchez says that he liked the alliterative sound of the motto.
Six months after joining the Air Force, the Space Force became an official branch of the military. Sanchez shared his idea for the motto with his leadership command, who encouraged him to make a formal proposal.
Chief Gen. Raymond spoke with Sanchez and told him that the motto was a perfect fit.
Sanchez says the entire selection process still feels unreal. He hopes to eventually transfer to the Space Force and complete OCS. Always above, Airman First Class Sanchez.
Looks like it’s about time to get back to the grind, guys. Grab that razor and shave off that poor excuse for a block-leave beard because Uncle Sam is about to get his dues again. You got all the warm and fuzzies from telling your family and friends you’re in the military, but now it’s time to do actual military stuff again.
On the bright side, next week is going to be lazy. While you’re slugging through the motor pool, know that you’re not alone —your chain of command is in the same boat. They just can’t show it since, ya know, burdens of leadership and all.
Oh? You thought the 100% accountability urinalysis was to “ensure good order and discipline?” Hell no. Your NCOs want to get out of PT just as much as you do.
Here’re some memes to help bring you back into the military mindset:
Jumping from a perfectly good airplane is inherently dangerous, even for qualified Army Airborne personnel. Why someone would fake their way into jumping without being certified or trained is anyone’s guess, but there was Staff Sgt. Joshua Stokes in August 2014, making the jump. Somehow, he landed like a paratrooper, and no one would figure out his entire Army life was a sham.
Not yet, anyway.
Stokes was on his way to a staff position at his battalion headquarters when his company’s Air NCO noticed something was off about his Airborne Graduation Certificate. His was the only one in the entire 82d whose name wasn’t printed in all caps. It was just the first in a long line of falsified documents that Stokes had in his service record. The Air NCO wasn’t going to let it go. When Stokes wouldn’t produce the paperwork for his parachutist badge, he called Fort Benning’s Airborne School.
That’s when the 82d Airborne discovered Staff Sgt. Joshua Stokes had never attended Airborne School. And the long effort to unravel all of Stokes’ false records began. It wasn’t only that he wasn’t jump qualified. There was much, much more, according to an Army Times story from 2018.
A U.S. Soldier jumpmaster, assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division instructs Paratroopers from various units during pre-jump training at Pope Army Airfield, N.C., Aug. 7, 2019. Paratroopers perform routine airborne proficiency training to maintain their skills and keep readiness alive.
(U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. Gin-Sophie De Bellotte)
An Army investigation discovered the soldier had been sending false documents to the Electronic Military Personnel Office for almost as long as he’d been in the military. Some falsehoods were small, like claiming to have attended Sniper School and even being an instructor there for three years. Others were egregious, like claiming to have received the Purple Heart and Good Conduct Medal – for a time period before he was ever in the Army.
Stokes’ graduation certificate was dated for a Sunday, not a Friday as per Airborne tradition. HIs jump log lists dates of jumps he made when he was actually stationed with the 10th Mountain Division. He had never attended Sniper School, let alone work as an instructor. Stokes claimed to have finished Jump School, but he had never received jump pay. For all his denials, there are photos of Stokes wearing the Purple Heart in his dress uniform. Stokes’ Good Conduct Medal dates back to January 1992, when he was still in high school. He not only faked his way into the famed unit, he had faked his way through almost his entire Army career.
U.S. Army Paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division go through pre-jump safety procedures, Aug. 7, 2019, at Pope Army Airfield, N.C. During this procedure strong emphasis is placed on the way troops exit the Paratroop door to maximize their safety during the operation.
(U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. Gin-Sophie De Bellotte)
The real Stokes entered the military in the California National Guard with the name Asche before changing his name to Stokes. As Stokes, he entered active duty in May 2003. His first assignment was at Fort Drum with the 10th Mountain Division. His record shows he was a sniper then, but the Army’s Sniper School has no record of that. Army investigators found that at least ten false documents had been added on a single day in 2007.
Army Times found Stokes on Facebook and reached out for comment, but none was forthcoming. The Army confirmed with Army Times that Stokes was administratively separated from the Army sometime between the start of the investigation and the writing of the Army Times story, but could not explain why, as those records are protected by privacy laws. One thing is for certain, the Army believes Stokes falsified all the questionable documents and added them to his record on his own.