December Gift Ideas for Deployed Personnel - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

December Gift Ideas for Deployed Personnel

The holidays are right around the corner, but it’s not too late to find the perfect gift for the deployed service member in your life. Here’s a smattering of ideas to help you find that ideal gift to send to an FPO.

It sounds boring, but the best things to send in gift boxes are the most practical ideas. Now’s not the time to send a new piece of tech or some gadget that’s going to take a lot of mental concentration to figure out. The most important thing to remember is to keep the gift light. Think about what your service member is dealing with on a daily basis and try to find ideas that will lessen the load. 

Of course, don’t stress yourself out too much about what you include in your care package – the idea here isn’t so much the gift as it is the thought. No one wants to spend the holiday season deployed, so sending a care package can help bridge the distance between your home installation and a forward operating base. 

All of these gift ideas can fit right into a box for your service member, and right now, the Post Office is offering a free Military Care Kit that has everything you need to get your box to the right place, on time.

Twelve Days of Christmas in a box

This is a great gift idea for little ones to assemble, and it doesn’t have to cost a lot. Head to your nearest dollar store and find twelve different things that remind you of your service member – candies, chocolates, even small Christmas decorations. Have your little helpers write a number on each package and then wrap them all up. This way, your loved one will have twelve different “gifts” to open and might help the season feel a little more festive.

Hug in a box 

Speaking of little ones, a great idea is to send a hug from your kids to your deployed family member. To do this, have your child lie on a piece of paper and then trace their body with their arms in the shape of a hug. They can decorate the image and write a message, too, making it even more festive.

If you can’t find any paper that’s large enough, you could always buy a small pillow and do the same thing. Just make sure the pillow is small enough to fit in the care package box.

Get ready for Christmas in a box 

December Gift Ideas for Deployed Personnel
(U.S. Army Photo)

This tried-and-true gift idea is sure to help your loved one remember that they’re a home waiting for them after the deployment ends. 

To assemble this gift, gather up the following items:

  • A family picture in a festive holiday frame 
  • Personalized stocking filled with candy canes, treats, and other small gifts
  • A funny Christmas t-shirt or pair of lounge pants 
  • A mini Christmas tree 
  • Battery operated Christmas lights 
  • Mini ornaments

Wrap the small gifts and write a note asking your loved one to set up the tree with the lights and ornaments. Then package everything together and get it in the mail. You can rest easy knowing your loved one will know you’re thinking of them.

Time is of the essence!

Don’t delay on sending these packages. USPS shipping times are extended right now, so the sooner you get these gifts in the mail, the greater chance they’re get there on time. 

If you’re totally short on time or don’t feel creative, or if you just want to spread some extended holiday cheer, check out Operation Gratitude. Since its inception in 2003, Operation Gratitude has sent over three million care packages to deployed service members. Wish Lists items are always in need and always appreciated. 

What you send is definitely less important than sending something at all. Deployments are already tough for everyone; sending a gift might help the months apart suck less.

MIGHTY CULTURE

What happens when a massive pop star goes to boot camp?

Imagine a world where 18-year-old music sensation Billie Eilish, fresh off her six Grammy wins in February, had to report to boot camp at Fort Benning, Georgia, in March. How would the Army handle the media glare, and how would her fellow recruits react?

That’s the situation in Israel right now. Noa Kirel has been famous since age 14 for her YouTube videos that led to stardom on reality television, teen dramas and TV commercials. She recently signed a multimillion-dollar recording contract with Atlantic Records.


The Washington Post reports that Kirel, now 19, has been drafted into the Israeli Army to fulfill her required service under the country’s mandatory conscription law. Noa will serve at least two years before she can return to her career full time.

Some of our readers are old enough to remember Elvis Presley’s Army service 60 years ago. A lot has changed since then, and the Army didn’t have to deal with a pack of paparazzi and a bottomless appetite for gossip on social media at that time.

Things in Israel have not gotten off to a great start. Kirel pissed off the brass by making a commercial for Israeli streaming service Yes+ that has her playacting in American fatigues in a fake boot camp. She’s singing “Let the Sunshine In” from “Hair,” a show that even Israelis remember for its anti-war sentiments.

נועה קירל פרסומת ל YES+ | כוריאוגרפיה טל הנדלסמן

www.youtube.com

“Wonder Woman” actress Gal Gadot also did her Israeli military service, but she had yet to launch her acting career at that point. Still, she was already famous as the winner of the Miss Israel pageant, but local media insist that Kirel’s current fame dwarfs Gadot’s at that time.

Kirel may be causing chaos, but she chose to fulfill her obligation even though she could have opted out because she’s got only one kidney. Her commitment to serve no matter what counts for a lot in Israeli society.

“I felt that, because I was famous, I had to serve to set an example to others,” Kirel said. “I know people abroad will probably not understand this, not understand why I have put everything on hold, but it was clear to me that I had to do this.”

Kirel represents the first wave of a new problem facing the Israeli military. The modern definition of fame is changing, and there are dozens of Israeli youths becoming popular solely through their social media profiles on YouTube, Instagram and TikTok.

Making an exception for one big star might be a challenge that the Israeli Army is prepared to meet, but what happens when you’ve got a whole platoon of teenage celebrities reporting to boot camp?

That’s not a problem we’re likely to face anytime soon. It’s not likely the USA will have compulsory national service in the near future. We can’t even convince people to wear a mask over here.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

How to get your own free ‘Space Force’ ringtone

If you’re in the military or are a veteran and haven’t heard about the Space Force yet, it’s time to climb out from under that rock you’ve been living in. There’s a sixth branch of the U.S. military now, and it’s going to be a department of the Air Force.

December Gift Ideas for Deployed Personnel
The men’s department.

Although the Air Force has released very limited guidance on what the new branch will do, how it will roll out, or basically anything at all except that it’s called the ‘Space Force’ and will exist one day, the excitement the idea of a space force brings the military community is palpable.

December Gift Ideas for Deployed Personnel
Judged solely by the sheer volume of Space Force memes.

Also Read: 5 boring details a Space Force private will get stuck on

So if you’re excited to do your part, you can fully engulf yourself in the burgeoning Space Force culture, you can now enjoy the first Space Force song, sure to be shouted at the top of many a Spaceman’s lungs every morning during Space-ic Training.

This songified version of President Trump’s Space Force announcement was created by The Gregory Brothers, whose YouTube page is packed with pop culture songification. Due to the popular demand for the song to be made into a ringtone via the popular Air Force Facebook page Air Force amn/nco/snco, the Gregory Brothers responded immediately.

December Gift Ideas for Deployed Personnel
Thanks Air Force amn/nco/snco.

Check out: Why the name of the space-based branch should be Space Corps

Good luck getting this song out of your head now that it goes off every time your mom or dad calls you. You can get your free Space Force ringtone from The Gregory Brothers at their Patreon page.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Playful working dog headed home for cancer treatment

In the sun-blasted, 100-degree heat here, a military working dog is being held on a short leash. Rex, a German shepherd, is a muscular 85 pounds and covered in thick, brown fur.

His partner and handler, Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Jordan Fuentes, a master-at-arms, barks out commands, but Rex’s wagging tail signals that his mind is elsewhere.

An observer suggests that the humans take off their hats for comfort.


December Gift Ideas for Deployed Personnel

(Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Joseph Rullo)

“I wouldn’t do that,” Fuentes said.

Why? Does Rex become aggressive with the removal of hats? Is it a signal to attack?

No. Rex loves to steal hats to play with, Fuentes said. Rex likes to play with a lot of things. He looks for fun wherever he is —and of course does not know he has been diagnosed with cancer.

Rex, officially known as military working dog T-401, was diagnosed while being treated for an ear infection.

“I noticed dry spots on his ears,” Fuentes said. “I waited a little bit to mention it to the vet since I thought it was a reaction to the medicine.”

Fuentes said that ear infections are common in military working dogs that are deployed to desert areas because of the large amount of sand that gets into their ears, which, in Rex’s case, are prominent.

Testing, Diagnosis

Rex was first examined in March by the Camp Lemonnier veterinarian, Army Capt. Richard Blair. During a follow-up examination, Blair noticed other skin lesions that raised additional concerns.

“We had to dig deeper to determine what was really going on,” Blair said. Possible reason for the lesions included a reaction to the medication, a skin infection, or even allergies.

While the facilities at Camp Lemonnier are appropriate for the everyday care of working dogs, the base does have some limitations due to its remote location, Blair said. So, he worked with other vets in the area of operation to determine what caused the lesions.

“After some logistics challenges, we were able to get our samples submitted to a pathology lab in Germany,” Blair said. “After a few weeks, we got the results back.”

Fuentes said that he was working with Rex at the dog kennel on base when his kennel master got the call from Blair.

“Cancer was the last thing I would have thought of,” Fuentes said. “My heart sank when I heard the news.”

December Gift Ideas for Deployed Personnel

Military working dogs form strong bonds with their handlers.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christopher Griffin)

Getting Care, Beach Time

Rex has been a military working dog his entire life. He’s been deployed several times, including two tours here.

His behavior has not changed since the diagnosis, Fuentes said. He’s still a sweet dog who just wants to play tug of war.

Fuentes reached down and scratched Rex between his ears.

The bonds between service members can be strong. Serving in a combat zone, working long hours, getting through stressful situations and living together in small spaces has a way of making the bonds stronger.

Rex and Fuentes live together in a 7-by-20 container. Fuentes joked that Rex likes to take up all of it.

“He’s obnoxious,” Fuentes said. “He’s all up in your business, taking all of your space.”

The data on dogs with cancer is not as complete as it is on humans with cancer, Blair said. As a result, Rex’s prognosis isn’t certain, but getting him sent back to the U.S. is vital to his treatment.

At home, “he can get to more definitive care,” Blair said.

Rex will be redeployed in early August. His retirement paperwork has also been started.

After retirement, Rex “won’t have to work and can enjoy the rest of his life — just chilling,” Fuentes said.

Fuentes is scheduled to redeploy with Rex and said he hopes to adopt him — but he isn’t the only person trying. A former handler is also interested.

“It’s a race to the end to see who gets him,” Fuentes said.

Fuentes will be returning to Naval Air Station Lemoore, California. Rex has never been to the beach, he said, and he’d like to take him there.

​Honorable Service

Navy Capt. Charles J. DeGilio, Camp Lemonnier’s commander, presented Rex with a Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal at a ceremony here July 27.

DeGilio said that military working dogs, including Rex, fill an important role.

“Rex has served honorably to help keep the men and women of Camp Lemonnier safe,” DeGilio said. “I want to personally thank him for his service and wish him fair winds and following seas.”
MIGHTY CULTURE

Here are some of the best drinks to make this Father’s Day

Despite the ongoing cocktail revolution taking place in bars across the country, most innovations in the world of mixed drinks took place before your grandfather was old enough to drink. For this reason, most of today’s cocktails are simply riffs or variations on the classics. Below are five such cocktails, as well as modern day updates presented by Sother Teague, New York City barman, recent Wine Enthusiast Magazine Mixologist of the Year and author of I’m Just Here for the Drinks. This Father’s Day, make one or three for the dad on your list — even if that dad is you.


December Gift Ideas for Deployed Personnel

(Flickr / Sam Howzit)

1. The Old Fashioned and The Campfire Old Fashioned

A classic that’s name comes from the repeated request to have a cocktail made the way folks used to, the Old Fashioned is a pure presentation of the spirit/water/ sugar/bitters format that defined early cocktails. As such, it’s also easy to modify to your own tastes, as in this variation meant to evoke the experience of sipping whiskey by a campfire — something all dads deserve, but don’t all have time to enjoy.

Classic: The Old Fashioned

Ingredients:

  • Dash Angostura bitters
  • 2 oz rye
  • Spoon demerara or cane syrup
  • Lemon twist

Directions: Add first three ingredients to an Old Fashioned glass. Add a large lump of ice and gently stir to combine. Garnish with lemon twist.

New riff: The Campfire Old Fashioned

Ingredients:

  • Dash Angostura bitters
  • Dash Bittermens Hellfire Habanero Shrub
  • 1.5 tsp of cane syrup
  • .25 oz peated scotch
  • .75 oz rye
  • .75 oz bourbon

Directions: Add ingredients to an Old-Fashioned glass. Add a large lump of ice and gently stir to combine. Garnish with an orange twist.

December Gift Ideas for Deployed Personnel

2. The Negroni and The Secret Service

A classic with origins in Italy or Senegal depending on whom you ask, the Negroni is traditionally made with equal parts Campari, sweet vermouth and London Dry gin. Sother prefers double dose of gin to keep it punchy as the ice starts to melt, and his riff on the cocktail, the Secret Service, packs a wallop as well. It has notes of cinnamon and cocoa and is suitable for presidents or dads who always told you you could be commander-in-chief someday.

Classic: The Negroni

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 1 oz Campari
  • 1 oz sweet vermouth
  • 2 oz London Dry gin

Directions: Build all ingredients in a rocks glass. Add one large format ice cube. Stir to combine. Garnish with an orange twist.

New riff: The Secret Service

Ingredients:

  • 2 dashes mole bitters
  • 1.5oz Plymouth gin
  • .75 oz Maurin Quina
  • .75 oz Ancho Reyes

Directions: Pour all ingredients into a mixing glass and add plenty of ice. Stir to chill and dilute. Strain into a rocks glass filled with fresh ice. Garnish with an orange twist.

December Gift Ideas for Deployed Personnel

(Photo by Brianna Santellan)

3. The Margarita and The Retox

Among the most popular cocktails ever created, it’s hard to screw up a margarita, though if that were your aim you could start by buying that cheap mix they sell at your local grocery store. If an exemplary version is what you’re after, always opt for fresh lime juice, a better than average triple sec, and the best tequila you can afford. Sother’s riff on the classic marg is the Retox, which, as it’s name suggests, takes inspiration from the Master Cleanse. What better way to toast the health of dear old dad?

Classic: The Margarita

Ingredients:

  • 1 oz lime juice
  • .75 oz Cointreau
  • 2 oz blanco tequila

Directions: Rim half a double rocks glass with kosher salt. Combine ingredients into a shaker with ice and shake to chill and dilute. Strain and serve over ice in salt-rimmed glass. Garnish with lime wedge.

New riff: The Retox

Ingredients:

  • 2-3 slices of fresh jalapeno
  • .75 oz grade B maple syrup
  • .5 oz fresh lemon juice
  • 2 oz reposado tequila
  • Kosher salt for rim

Directions: Muddle jalapéno in base of tin, add syrup, lemon and tequila. Shake vigorously with ice. Double strain (to remove any pepper bits) into a half-salted rim glass of fresh ice. Garnish with lemon slice.

December Gift Ideas for Deployed Personnel

4. The Suffering Bastard and The Suffering Fools

Concocted by a chemist in Cairo as a specific for British soldiers dealing with both Nazis and hangovers during World War II, the Suffering Bastard features both gin and bourbon for a crisp cocktail that’s as bracing as it is refreshing. Sother’s take on this classic from the era of the Greatest Generation relies on Cognac from our allies in France and adds a touch of pineapple shrub for a Pacific Theater feel. Drink one with your war buff father-in-law, or after an assault from your own growing army.

Classic: The Suffering Bastard

Ingredients:

  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 1 oz Bourbon
  • 1 oz London Dry gin
  • 1 oz fresh lime juice
  • Ginger ale

Directions: Combine first four ingredients in a Highball glass. Add ice and gently stir. Pour ginger ale down the spiral of a bar spoon to fill. Garnish with a lime twist.

New riff: The Suffering Fools

Ingredients:

  • 1 dashes Angostura bitters
  • .5 oz pineapple shrub
  • .5 oz lime juice
  • 1 oz London Dry gin
  • 1 oz Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac
  • Ginger beer

Directions: Combine first five ingredients in a Highball glass. Add ice and gently stir. Pour ginger beer down the spiral of a bar spoon to fill. Garnish with candied ginger

December Gift Ideas for Deployed Personnel

5. The Vieux Carre and The Guatemalan Square

Created at the historic Hotel Monteleone in the late ’30s by New Orleans great Walter Bergeron, this split-spirit Manhattan by way of the Big Easy is slightly more complex than the other cocktails presented here but is absolutely worth the effort. Sother’s riff swaps out the Cognac for Guatemalan rum for a cocktail swirling with notes of fresh orange, vanilla and dark chocolate. Both drinks are aces, and as close to a vacation as you can get without hopping on a plane.

Classic: The Vieux Carre

Ingredients:

  • 1 dash Angostura bitters
  • 1 dash Peychaud’s bitters
  • .5 tsp Benedictine
  • .75 oz sweet vermouth
  • .75 oz rye
  • .75 oz Cognac

Directions: Combine all ingredients into a shaker with ice and stir. Strain into a rocks glass. Garnish with a cherry.

New riff: The Guatemalan Square

Ingredients:

  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
  • .25 oz Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao
  • .5 oz Carpano Antica
  • .5 oz Rittenhouse rye
  • 1 oz Zacapa 23 Rum


Directions: Stir all ingredients in a mixing glass to chill and combine. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist

This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

To DITY or not to DITY?

With each set of PCS orders, I wonder whether we should consider a Personally Procured Move (PPM), which is the official name of what most of us call a DITY, or Do It Yourself move. It’s tempting — you hear stories of military families making tons of money, and it seems like there is less chance of damaged goods. If you’re considering a DITY move this PCS season, here are six questions you need to ask yourself:

How much reimbursement will you get?

For most people, the main reason to consider doing a DITY move is to make a little money. Before you get started, be sure you understand exactly what you will and will not receive, whether you do a DITY, a full government move, or something in between.

All service members who are executing PCS orders are entitled to a wide range of travel entitlements, including:

  • temporary lodging,
  • monetary allowance in lieu of transportation (technically called MALT, but often just called mileage),
  • per diem for travel days,
  • dislocation allowance.

When you do a DITY move or a partial DITY move, you’ll also get an allowance for moving your belongings, based upon the distance and weight moved. From that allowance, you pay all the expenses of the move: packing materials, hired help, the actual transportation of your goods, and unpacking. Any excess reimbursement beyond your actual expenses is taxable income.

Contact your personal property office to be sure you understand your entitlements and the reimbursement requirements for your branch, including when you need to have your vehicle weighed (empty/full/both? start/finish/both?).

Can you manage an upfront cost?

All branches have a process for getting an advance of a portion of your anticipated move reimbursement, but it doesn’t always work out as expected. If you decide to do a DITY move, you should plan to pay for all expenses out-of-pocket and expect that it may take months to be reimbursed.

December Gift Ideas for Deployed Personnel

Is moving yourself realistic?

Doing a DITY move is work, especially if you have a lot of stuff or heavy things like a piano or old-school entertainment center. Do you realistically have the time, mental energy and physical strength to pack up everything you own, load it safely onto a truck — or into a moving container — and unload it all on the other end?

Do you have a lot of professional gear?

One major limitation of a full DITY move is there is no way to separate out professional gear weight. Service members and their spouses are permitted to deduct the weight of certain specified work-related items from the overall weight of goods. Separating professional gear is a big help if you are close to your weight allowance.

Will you be able to keep track of the paperwork?

DITY moves require extra paperwork and receipts, particularly when you go to file your income tax return. You’ll need weight receipts to get reimbursed by the military — requirements may vary by branch. Then, because DITY reimbursements are taxable income, you’ll need all your expense receipts to deduct from your income.

TIP: Experienced DITY movers recommend a designated folder or envelope for receipts, but also taking a photograph of every single receipt when you get it. Upload the picture to the cloud to ensure you’ll always have access to a copy.

Have you considered a partial DITY?

One of the easiest ways to get the benefits of a DITY move without the work is to do a partial DITY, which separates your move into two parts. The government movers take care of the things you don’t want to move, and you get reimbursed for the portion you do move. A partial DITY is a good solution if you aren’t sure you want to do a full DITY, or if you have certain items you want to move yourself.

DITY moves are a good option for different situations, but they are a lot of work and they may or may not make money. Understanding the reimbursements and the process will help you decide if it is the right option for you.

This article originally appeared on Military Families Magazine. Follow @MilFamiliesMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

The Royal Navy is testing jet pack assault teams

For decades, science fiction has been telling us that jet packs are right around the corner. But, while it seems there’ll still be some time before any of us are using them to get to work, the UK and US have been experimenting with jet suits for a number of applications, including defense.


Twitter

twitter.com

Of course, this isn’t the first time Gravity Industries’ jet packs have been spotted flying around Royal Navy ships. That’s fitting, seeing as Gravity Industries’ founder Richard Browning served in the British Royal Marines prior to beginning his new life as a jet pack mogul. Last year, he had the opportunity to fly his 5-engine jet pack suit around the pride of the Royal Navy, the HMS Queen Elizabeth.

Take on Gravity Jet suit demo with HMS Queen Elizabeth

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While the Royal Navy hasn’t announced any plans to adopt these jet packs for military purposes, both the Royal and U.S. Navies have acknowledged that they’ve been in contact with Gravity Industries. According to Browning himself, he’s already met with members of the U.S. Special Operations command — specifically, the Navy SEALs — to discuss what capabilities his jet packs could offer.

“We are always working with the brightest minds in Britain and across the world to see how emerging technology might support our military to keep them safe and give them the edge in the future.”
-UK Ministry of Defense statement

Last month, the Great North Air Ambulance Service (GNAAS), a UK-based charity that provides helicopter emergency services, began testing jet suits from Gravity Industries to see if they might allow paramedics to fly directly up to hard-to-reach locations where hikers and mountain climbers find themselves injured.

Paramedic Mountain Response!

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As GNAAS pointed out, “The undulating peaks and valleys can often mean the helicopter is unable to safely land close to the casualty, forcing travel by vehicle or foot.” That’s not optimal for emergency situations and could potentially even put rescue workers in danger. That’s where these jet packs could come in.

“In a jet pack, what might have taken up to an hour to reach the patient may only take a few minutes, and that could mean the difference between life and death,” GNAAS director of operations Andy Mawson explained.

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.


MIGHTY CULTURE

Decorated Marine and purple heart recipient begins new battle

Justin Constantine knows all about being challenged. In 2006, he survived an almost fatal gunshot to the head by a sniper in Iraq. It didn’t stop him. Instead, this now retired, Purple Heart recipient and decorated Marine fought through endless surgeries and therapy to become a successful entrepreneur and renowned motivational speaker.

President George W. Bush painted Constantine for his book, “Portraits of Courage,” and Constantine has received multiple awards for his work with veterans and advocacy efforts for those with disabilities. Constantine even gave a TEDx talk on being strong, which has transformed countless lives. Just as COVID-19 started igniting fear and anxiety throughout the world, he received a phone call from a doctor that would challenge his own strength.


Stage 4 cancer.

December Gift Ideas for Deployed Personnel

Constantine was told it was very severe and had spread from his prostate to his bones. Rather than let the currently incurable diagnosis stop him, Constantine is using it to motivate him to become an even better version of himself.

Constantine overhauled his diet completely, cutting out anything that could be harmful or “feed” his cancer. He exercises every day and implemented daily meditation into his routine. He shared that he’s lost 35 pounds since his diagnosis and is the healthiest he’s ever been. “I focus on why today was a good day and why tomorrow will be great too. I look at how I can infuse positivity in my life. It doesn’t mean unicorns and rainbows all the time, it means I make my glass half full,” Constantine shared.

Receiving his diagnosis during a world pandemic has been difficult, but Constantine has decided to continue to utilize his own past and current challenges to help motivate and encourage others. “I’m not saying it’s easy because you have to look at what your challenge is and choose to push past it. It takes effort,” he explained.

December Gift Ideas for Deployed Personnel

Constantine emboldens people to examine their lives and determine how they can have more purpose and happiness. “COVID is going to cast a long shadow over our lives. Things are a lot more complicated than they were a few months ago but with that comes time to think about what’s really important,” he shared.

Reports of increased suicide among veterans during COVID-19 has been present in the media, something that weighs heavily on Constantine. Despite dealing with his own significant medical challenges, he still remains focused on supporting veterans and encouraging them to seek support. “That’s so sad that someone has something that they are going through right now and it means life isn’t worth living. If they could step up and look down, they may see how many people care about them and want them to be here,” he said.

Constantine referenced his own experience of healing from his gunshot wound and then developing post-traumatic stress disorder. He sought counseling without hesitation for his PTSD, despite working for the FBI. He was very open about receiving services and it didn’t impede his continuing career. “I saw my counselor for 18 months for an hour each week. You could tell the difference in me if I missed a session. I encourage veterans to get the help they need and deserve for themselves and for their families,” he said.

December Gift Ideas for Deployed Personnel

Constantine often credits his wife, Dahlia, with being his rock. He shared that he knows how lucky he is to have her as his constant support and partner through life, especially since many people may not have that kind of presence in their own lives. To that he encourages all people and especially veterans who may be struggling to know they aren’t alone. “Together we are stronger; help is just a phone call away. There is always someone waiting to support you,” he said.

Throughout the past five months of the pandemic, Constantine has been consistently recording public motivational videos on his social media. He’s also been reaching out to veterans he identifies that may need support and doing his best to be an encouraging voice for them.

All while facing his own deeply personal challenge.

The effort Constantine exhibits may be born from his own experiences of recovering from his gunshot wound. When asked if he thinks surviving his near fatal wound made him more prepared to receive his current diagnosis, Constantine said yes. He explained that the experience definitely contributed to his commitment to overcoming cancer. “I think it was poignant. I feel that knowing that I overcame such a significant challenge before, makes me very confident that this too shall pass and I will push past this too,” he said.

Although Constantine may be facing the fight of his life, he continues to make the active choice not to fall into despair or spend his days thinking about his diagnosis. Instead, he’s doing what he’s always done: motivating others and living with purpose.


MIGHTY CULTURE

The 6 most awesome things to know about the Merchant Marine

In a March 2019 executive order, President Trump made a clear avenue for U.S. military veterans to transition into the Merchant Marine after their military service ends. This is a great thing for the men and women of the U.S. military who want to continue a life of service, but many will wonder what exactly the Merchant Marine is and what serving in it really requires.


During peacetime, the Merchant Marine is not a part of the military, but they do support military operations aboard ships like Kaiser-class replenishment oilers and Hope-class vehicle cargo ships. Its regular mission is the import and export of cargo in and out of the United States.

Components of the Merchant Marine are both civilian sailors and government-owned ships. During wartime, the Merchant Marine can be used as the sealift component of the U.S. Naval Reserve.

1. Call them “Mariners”

December Gift Ideas for Deployed Personnel
A Merchant Marine Academy graduation ceremony.

While the Merchant Marine could go by many names, the preferred term is “mariner.” The terms sailor, seaman, and Marine are used elsewhere, and merchant mariners don’t need to try and be more than they are – they have an illustrious history of their own.

2. It has an illustrious history of its own

December Gift Ideas for Deployed Personnel
“Look out! Americans!”

So much so, it’s worth mentioning twice. The merchant mariners of the United States have existed in some form or another since the founding of our country, and have distinguished themselves in “getting the stuff to the fight” whenever called upon.

Their first action came when a bunch of merchants off the coast of what is now Maine boarded a lumber schooner and sailed out to the HMS Margaretta in the aftermath of the Battles of Lexington and Concord. Yes, this is during the American Revolution.

The lightly-armed rabble of merchant seamen not only captured the Royal Navy’s armed sloop of war, they harassed the British for the remainder of the war.

3. It officially dates back to 1936

December Gift Ideas for Deployed Personnel

In the days leading up to World War II, Congress and President Roosevelt passed the Merchant Marine Act of 1936, which states:

“It is necessary for the national defense… that the United States shall have a merchant marine of the best equipped and most suitable types of vessels sufficient to carry the greater portion of its commerce and serve as a naval or military auxiliary in time of war or national emergency…

4. War is not kind to the mariners

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When the declaration of war on Japan forced the nationalization of the merchant marine fleet, it was a merger of American government needs and interest combined with the private sector’s means of getting the men and cargo to their destinations – for which the companies received handsome contracts. Weapons and armed guards from the U.S. Navy were then posted on ships.

And while you may think merchant shipping seems like an easy place to ride out the war, you’d be wrong. The merchant marine suffered the highest casualty rate of any branch serving in the war. For every 26 people who served aboard merchant marine ships, one of those would die, at a rate of almost four percent.

5. They didn’t get veteran status for 30 years

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Retired Merchant Marine captain Paul Washburn sits on top of a Merchant Marine life boat.

After all was said and done and American GIs went home and bought houses and went to college, merchant mariners struggled for the same benefits for risking their necks just as much as the guys who fought in the Army, Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard. World War II merchant mariners weren’t afforded veteran status until 1988.

Merchant Mariners who worked in hostile waters during the Korean War, Vietnam War, and Desert Storm are still waiting for veteran status.

6. The Merchant Marine never stops

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Oil and gas tankers on the high seas.

When the treaties are signed, and the troops go home, the U.S. Merchant Marine still has a lot of work to do. Who do you think took all those men and vehicles back to the United States? Or moved occupation troops to Japan? Or hauled cargo for the Marshall Plan in Europe?

The Merchant Marine.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Taking the blame: Why fighter pilots have to own their mistakes

Even the best fighter pilots make mistakes.

One of the things that often shocks new pilots is how brutally honest our debriefs can be. After nearly a full day of planning, briefing, and flying a mission, we’ll gather in a room and spend hours picking apart everything that went wrong. Even if all our objectives were met and the mission was a success, we’ll still comb through a “god’s eye view” of the flight, along with the various recordings from inside our cockpit.


Rank comes off in the debrief, meaning the most senior officer, or the most senior pilot, are open to just as much criticism as the newest wingman. I’ve been in debriefs where a young Captain held the Wing Commander’s feet to the fire over mistakes he made in the air. This usually comes as a shock to many in the military who are typically required to follow a strict hierarchy.

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When is comes to mistakes, fighter pilots worry more about improvement than they do about rank. (USAF Photo)

As with all things related to flying, prioritization is key—we’ll start with the biggest things that went wrong and try to uncover their root causes. I was recently explaining to a civilian pilot that in the debrief we spend 90% of our time on the 10% that didn’t go according to plan. They were amazed that 10% doesn’t go according to plan. In reality though, it can often be much higher.

The type of flying we do has more in common with sports than a typical commercial flight. We are fighting a thinking adversary that is specifically targeting our weaknesses. We, in turn, are making decisions that are trying to exploit theirs. As we fight to seize the initiative inside this decision loop; dozens of potential outcomes can occur at each phase of the mission. A mission therefore almost never goes exactly according to plan. It’s a dynamic environment that forces the pilot to perceive, decide, and execute in a harsh environment, often with limited information and time.

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A three-ship formation of Air National Guard F-16 Fighting Falcons flies over Kunsan City, South Korea. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Jeffrey Allen)

In training, if the bomber we were escorting was shot down, or if an enemy aircraft bombed the point we were defending, it’s usually multiple overlapping mistakes that led to the failure. In fact, everyone probably had an opportunity at some point to intervene and save the day. The fighter pilot debrief works because everyone is willing to take ownership of their mistakes.

Taking ownership is a skill. As fighter pilots, most of us are predisposed to win at all costs—within the rules and regulations. In the debrief though, with the mission already flown, the way to win is to accurately identify lessons that will make everyone better for the next flight. It’s a fragile environment that only works when everyone is willing to first look inward for failures to the mission.

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U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptors fly in formation with F-35A Lightning IIs (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Shane A. Cuomo)

It only takes one person trying to pass the blame for the collaborative environment to fall apart. Because it’s not stable, it requires constant maintenance, especially by those who could use their status to get by. The mission commander must be the first person to call themselves out for a mistake they made. Likewise, the pilot with the most experience must be willing to say they made a basic error that even a new pilot shouldn’t have made. The officer with the highest rank must be willing to set the example that rank doesn’t shield mistakes.

By treating everyone equally in the debrief, the mission can be analyzed in a sterile environment. We can figure out what went wrong and capture those lessons for future flights. To the casual observer it’s a brutal environment, but to the pilots in the debrief it’s just a puzzle on how to get better.

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.


MIGHTY CULTURE

LED therapy ‘worth every second’ for Gulf War vet

Eric Viitala, 49, is an Air Force veteran of the Gulf War who lives in Maine. He experienced low levels of energy and concentration for years after his service. He had headaches, couldn’t finish projects, and was losing interest in things.

“My wife would tell me I left the cupboard doors open and she would walk into them. Or I’d put the recycling in the trash.”

Shortly after the Gulf War, Viitala hit his head in an accident in Saudi Arabia. When he visited the War Related Illness and Injury Study Center (WRIISC) in East Orange, NJ, he was diagnosed with traumatic brain injury. At the WRIISC, a doctor referred him to the VA Boston Healthcare System’s light-emitting diode (LED) therapy program.


VA’s Center for Compassionate Care Innovation has been working with VHA staff in Boston to explore the use of in-home LED treatment since 2018.

Last year, Viitala completed a 12-week course of in-home LED treatment while in communication with his VHA health care provider. He still uses the treatment at least twice a week.

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Improvements in memory and energy way up

“There were huge improvements in my memory and concentration. My energy was way up. I’d pop up in the middle of the night and go clean the garage,” said Viitala. “It’s amazing because I have been dragging for years, but now I have the energy to go do things.”

During LED treatment, patients wear a lightweight headset affixed with light-emitting diodes. The arrangement of LEDs is customized for each person. The diodes do not generate heat and the treatment is painless and noninvasive. Each session lasts only 25 minutes. There is evidence to suggest that LED therapy promotes a healing response at the cellular level, due in part to increased blood flow.

When Viitala uses the LED equipment, he simply sits and relaxes with the LED headset on. The equipment was provided by VHA at no cost to the veteran and belongs to him permanently. He went to Boston for one round of treatment at the medical center and to pick up the equipment. But he communicated with his health care provider by phone during treatment.

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“It’s worth every second.”

“That was really helpful and beneficial for her to call and keep encouraging me. She would ask how it’s going. It helped remind me to do it.”

Viitala credits the staff members at the New Jersey WRIISC for validating what he was feeling and referring him to the LED clinic in Boston. He encourages fellow veterans with similar symptoms to ask their providers about LED therapy.

“Don’t be afraid to speak out. There’s nothing to lose with LED. Nothing hurts. They don’t have to go inside your body. There’s no drugs, no side effects. It’s worth every second.”

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

The ‘Survivor Tree’ is the only living thing to come out of the 9/11 rubble

More than a month following the devastating attacks on the World Trade Center, rescue workers found a life under the rubble, still holding on. It was a pear tree, Its roots and branches were twisted and broken, but all hope was not lost. The rescue workers decided to save this life too.


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The small tree was removed from Ground Zero and sent to a nursery in the Bronx. Even though it was still alive and in the hands of caring professionals, there was little hope for its continued survival. For years, New York’s Arthur Ross Nursery in Van Cortlandt Park took care of the Callery pear tree. By 2010, the staff thought the sturdy tree might survive being replanted once more – back at Ground Zero.

Now known as the “Survivor Tree,” it was replanted at the site of its near-demise once more as part of a 9/11 Memorial Ceremony in 2010. The tree is far from perfect, as one can clearly see the memory of the trauma the tree once suffered. Its new branches shoot off of a stump that reminds all of New York and the United States that wounds can heal, but memories remain.

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The tree, found at 911 Greenwich Street in Lower Manhattan, still survives. In its new home, the tree grows more and more as time goes on, thriving in the same soil where it nearly died along with some 3,000 American civilians and first responders. What’s most unique about this memorial is that it shares the hope of survival with communities that experience devastating losses in their own way.

The 9/11 Memorial gives three seedlings from the Survivor Tree to communities coping with tragedy of all kinds. The seedlings are then planted as a sign of hope and the possibilities of renewal and recovery. Seedlings from the Survivor Tree have been sent all over the world.

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Boston’s 9/11 Survivor Tree Sapling was planted at the Boston Public Gardens.

Boston, Mass., in honor of the three people killed in the bombing at its marathon on
April 15, 2013.

Prescott, Ariz., in honor of the 19 firefighting members of the Granite Mountain
Hotshots who died on June 30, 2013. The fires in Arizona resulted in the highest
number of American firefighters killed in a single incident since 9/11.

Gulfport, Miss., to remember those who died in the region devastated by Hurricane
Katrina in August 2005.

Newtown, Conn., in memory of the 20 school children and six adults who were killed
on Dec. 14, 2012, at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Joplin, Mo., in memory of the more than 150 people killed and more than 1,000 injured by a tornado in Joplin on May 22, 2011. The seedling for Joplin will be planted at Mercy Hospital Joplin, which was in the direct path of the tornado.

Madrid, Spain, in memory of the 2004 coordinated terror bombings against the
Cercanías commuter train system of Madrid that killed 190 people and wounded 1,800.
The actual planting of the tree is expected to take place at Spain’s embassy in
Washington, D.C. Madrid is the first international recipient in the program.

Orlando, Fl., in memory of the 49 people killed and 58 injured at Pulse Nightclub on June 12, 2016. The seedling has been planted at the Harry P. Leu Gardens in Orlando.

• The country of France, in memory of the 139 people killed and 368 people injured in Paris on Nov. 13, 2015, and the 86 people killed and 434 injured in the Bastille Day attacks in Nice on July 14, 2016. The seedling has been planted in Paris, France.

Manchester, England, in memory of the 22 people, including young adults and children, who were killed by a terrorist bombing at an Ariana Grande concert on May 22, 2017.

Charleston, S.C., in memory of the nine people killed in a shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

• The country of Haiti, which was devastated by Hurricane Matthew in October 2016. The Embassy of Haiti in Washington, D.C. will accept the Survivor Tree seedling on behalf of its country.

Parkland, Fla., where a gunman killed 17 people in February 2018, including students and staff members, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

London, in memory of those who lost their lives, and on behalf of the bereaved, survivors and all those affected by the tragic Grenfell Tower fire.

Puerto Rico, after the catastrophic Hurricane Maria, which left an estimated 2,975 people dead in its wake.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This is the only female Harrier pilot in the Corps

When people meet Capt. Kelsey Casey, they don’t initially think the petite, young woman with an energetic personality is a pilot in the U.S. Marine Corps, but once she starts talking, her charisma becomes apparent, and it’s understandable why she’s the only female AV-8B Harrier pilot in the Marine Corps.

Her dream of flying started at space camp at a young age. To her delight, she was picked to be the simulated pilot and climbed into a small, fake cockpit built to simulate a spaceship taking off.


“Coming out of the final mission, we walked down a hall and all along the walls were these giant posters with every single astronaut team that had been to space,” Casey’s voice changed as she remembered, her eyes searching for the memory. “There were women in some of the later ones. I looked up at that and thought, ‘if they can do it, maybe I can too.’ That’s where it started.”

Casey attended the U.S. Naval Academy following high school. She planned to major in aerospace engineering and Chinese, but learned she would have to attend a year longer than planned, putting her at the bottom of the list to be a pilot. This eliminated her goal of becoming a pilot via the academy route. To fulfill her dream, Casey had only one option — leave the academy.

Casey found herself trekking across the country with everything she owned, trying to navigate her way through a snowstorm. She was alone, scared and her dreams seemed unattainable.

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Capt. Kelsey Casey.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jeanette Mullinax)

It was her insatiable tenacity and refined grit which led her through the years that followed.

“I’m driving across the country, calling my mom for directions while she also signs me up for courses at a community college in California,” Casey said. “All I could think was ‘wow, my family is going to disown me, I just left this amazing school with a full-ride scholarship, what am I going to do?’ It was a scary thing to go through as a 19-year-old, but it made me better.”

The way Casey saw it, she had only two options: give up or complete her degree and fly. She chose the latter, and like all Marines, attacked the obstacles in front of her to accomplish her mission.

“She was always a little fireball and tireless,” said Nyna Armstrong, Casey’s mother. “She never grows any moss, she’s always moving and is always going in whatever direction she wants despite what challenges she might [face].”

After leaving the academy, Casey made her way to the Bay Area to attend San Francisco State University. During her senior year at SFSU, Casey found herself longing to return to the Naval Academy to fulfill her dream. Again she applied to the academy but was denied. At this point in her life, she was accustomed to adversity and was experienced at overcoming it.

Refusing to give up, she sought out information and spoke to mentors, who encouraged her to pursue a career as a military officer. As a result of her unwillingness to quit, she found a way to accomplish her dream. After she earned a Bachelor of the Arts degree in political science at SFSU, Casey left for Marine Corps Officer Candidate School.

“My daughters and I never look to have special treatment because we are women,” said Armstrong. “The fact she is the only female is a testament to her skill and her drive and her work ethic.”

Though her experience with the Marine Corps has been mostly positive, there have been interesting moments for Casey.

While sitting at breakfast with her Marines, a nice older gentlemen with a veteran hat approached them, Casey explained. They all were in flight suits and wearing the same patches when the gentleman asked their table if they were all pilots. He seemed surprised to see Casey and specifically asked her if they let her fly. She laughed and informed him that not only was she a pilot, but she was also the one in charge.

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Capt. Kelsey Casey.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jeanette Mullinax)

Interactions like these are somewhat common and highlight a misconception of gender roles in the military; situations such as this motivate Casey to keep proving them wrong.

“As you move, you just keep on making that shift until you finally look around and realize you’ve made it,” she said. “But I don’t feel like I’ve really made it until I’m at an event somewhere and someone comes up to me, and they say ‘I want my daughter or my son to be like you, you are a fantastic role model.'”

Casey believes that the most important lesson is to keep moving forward — an ethos she learned from her uncle, who told her “they can’t kill you, and they can’t stop time.” This advice has helped her overcome many obstacles.

“It’s okay if it doesn’t work out the first time, and you make horrible mistakes because the next thing you know, I ended up getting internships, worked at the state department as an intern, and I worked in a congressman’s office,” said Casey. “I also moved to Colorado to be raft guide for a while before going to The Basic School because I could and then I still ended up going to TBS, commissioning as an officer and becoming a pilot.”

Casey has come a long way since being that wide-eyed little girl with aspirations of flying.

“I don’t think I’m better than anybody else ever,” she said. “I’m very good at failing but I don’t give up after I fail. Just don’t give up. It might take way longer than you thought, it might be really, really hard but anything that’s worth it is going to be hard but it will be worth it.”

Despite a difficult start, Casey succeeded and continued to excel. She completed her training and earned her wings of gold.

This article originally appeared on the United States Marine Corps. Follow @USMC on Twitter.

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