As the number of states impacted by the coronavirus pandemic increased, so did the number of soldiers activated to respond. Mobilizing personnel from the Army Reserve and Army National Guard meant civilian companies would have a deficit in its workforce, a known commitment attached to employers who hire talent from the reserve component. It can also lead to economic hardship for those who take a pay cut to fulfill military obligations — except for employees working in an environment with pro-military employment policies.
PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), as an example, employs over 1,500 veterans — with several activated as part of the COVID-19 response. In addition to maintaining the jobs of those called to active duty, PwC compensates them with 100% of their pay. Within its ranks, soldiers received notification they would be serving in various capacities, such as:
Providing epidemiological intelligence
Deploying medical resources
Helping stage combat hospitals in communities around the country
Capt. Paul Spranger, a PwC Senior Associate, is a staff officer with the Indiana Army National Guard. At the onset of the COVID-19 response, he said several of his colleagues were called to service in one capacity or another, leading different project teams to adjust responsibilities to accommodate them getting pulled in. At the time, Spranger was preparing epidemiological threat intelligence reports to advise his team on secondary and tertiary effects on disease transmission models.
He heard portions of his unit were being activated, then got the call himself for an operations officer-in-charge role for a patient transport task force.
“We have a number of areas within the state of Indiana that have limited capacity in order to transport patients from one care facility to another and as a consequence, essentially they needed additional help to move some of those patients in the event that the hospital system couldn’t facilitate the additional surge in patients,” Spranger said. “So, what I’m doing day to day is planning to prepare all of our different elements and all the different districts in the state of Indiana that have this need, and pre-positioning ambulance assets around the state. And then managing their movements and ensuring those areas have the coverage they need.”
He says soldiers are “ready to respond” to this sort of event.
“I’ve always been in a staff officer type role, and so as a consequence this is very similar — one of the essential elements of an operation that really never really changes. It’s just a lot of administrative, logistical, lots of planning and things like that, so it’s just a matter of putting the right talent — just like the civilian sector — in the right places to do the job that they know how to do,” he said.
PwC launched a Veteran’s Affinity Network in 2008 to support veterans in the workplace. The group, which is led by Lt. Col. Tim Stoner, has grown to more than 1,000 active members and 20 chapters. He said having such a resource makes transition easier on employees leaving active duty or returning to a civilian job after a combat deployment.
Stoner, a PwC Partner, is the commander of the 55th Medical Detachment in Indianapolis, Indiana. Through his civilian position at PwC he works with clients in cybersecurity, but it is aligned to the healthcare vertical. He sees crossover between his careers in and out of uniform.
“Both of those things have strong synergies with the military. From a cybersecurity perspective, everything we do in the military really revolves from a security perspective from three pillars: information security, operational security, and physical security. So, I think a lot of our military members have that in their DNA just based on service to the country and I think that plays well on my civilian career,” Stoner said.
Throughout the COVID-19 response, he had a dual–capacity role with evening calls and weekend duty to prepare the unit he commands for stateside support. He mobilized three teams to three different hot spots to stage Combat Support Hospitals on the east and west coasts. Logistically, he said, this mobilization “has been very easy” because FEMA had the lead on the national response.
Stoner has served in the Army for 32 years across all components, and says this pandemic is unlike anything he has seen.
“It’s unique. I’ve been called up and served many times — been overseas, been mobilized, been deployed. It’s usually with something that’s maybe known or seen, or is traumatic in result — that’s maybe more visible or palpable, if that makes sense,” he said. “We (the military) are great at emergency medicine and trauma medicine, and things like that, but this is obviously a different type of threat where it’s unlike anything I’ve done. It’s less traumatic and dramatic than maybe some of my combat tours, but this is equally as critical and life-taking, as we all know.”
Stoner adds the support from PwC has been “tremendous,” at every step from local levels up the chain to the CEO.
“We have a very supportive military lead policy as well as great things that support our folks, from flexible work arrangements, certainly to child care, emergency support and elder care support for families in need. Mental health resources and capabilities. I’ve never been in a consultancy that has this level of support for their people.”
The military community is huge on rivalry and houses some of the most inventive d*ck-measuring contests ever imagined. Each branch is currently and forever waging a friendly war with one another that shows no signs of stopping — not that we’d want it to. And Navy homies, you’re up.
We hate on each other for various reasons, but at the end of the day — we’re still on the same side. Do not get it twisted. If we didn’t mock our brothers and sisters, how would they know that we love them? Think of it more like healthy competition than bad blood.
We Are The Mighty is made up of members from all branches of service. This time around, it’s a soldier ribbing his fellow sailor counterparts. Upset? Wait until your retort comes around. Argue in the comment section and maybe you’ll bring up good snap-backs.
With the upcoming Army-Navy football game, now’s the time to break out the salt on those squids.
1. You guys are heroes during fleet week. We just show up drunk at Hooters.
Everyone wants to roll out the red carpets when you guys get drunk, but when we do, there’s a company-wide recall because the FNG got a DUI off-post.
2. In-country deployments versus at-sea deployments.
I mean, we get it: 7th Fleet is supposedly terrible. Want to know what else sucks? Damn near everything about Iraq and Afghanistan. Just know that your ships have mess decks instead of CONEXes filled with expired MREs.
3. If you’re not a fake Marine Seabee or Corpsman, we don’t know who the hell you are.
We’re constantly working with airmen because they’re our taxis. We constantly work with Marines because they’re cool. I mean, technically there’s got to be at least a few soldiers who run into a sailor while on active duty, but that’s rare.
4. Seabees get better toys while on actual in-country deployments.
On the subject of Seabees, if you don’t know, Seabees are kind of like construction workers. They get actual supplies and use actual tools to build actual buildings. Want to know what we get? Sandbags. And we get to use them like floppy Lego blocks.
5. We see them only as glorified sea-taxi drivers for their cooler sibling (Marines).
We use the Air Force when we’re trying to Uber the hell out of Afghanistan — and they do the same for the Marines and the fake Marines. Shy of launching a few missiles (which every branch does — there’s nothing special about your Tomahawks), your entire purpose is to deliver Marines as if terrorists ordered them on Amazon Prime.
6. How the hell did we lose the “drinking and cussing like a sailor” sayings to a bunch of beach-volleyball players that dress like anime schoolgirls?
Have a conversation with an soldier and they’ll use a expletives like a f*cking comma. Catch them out of uniform and they’ll have a bottle of something in their hands. Those sayings should be ours! But no, they go to you guys even though…
Lightning round: …your crackerjacks are silly. Your blueberries are pointless. We won’t ever let you live down Top Gun. The “100 sailors” joke will never stop being funny. Nearly your entire branch is made up of POGs. You literally call you lower enlisted “seamen.” You ruined Godsmack. And d*mm*t are we still jealous that your SEALs popped OBL instead of our Green Berets.
*Bonus* We’re still upset about those 14 years of Army / Navy games.
Go Army. Beat Navy. Let’s kick their asses for 13 more years and see how they like it.
Arguably the most famous (or infamous) male writer of the 20th century has a new short story coming out. An unpublished 1956 short story written by Ernest Hemingway will hit the pages of The Strand Magazine this weekend, 62 years after Papa wrote it, and 57 years after his death.
Known for his supposedly “masculine” style of writing and equally macho personality, Hemingway is probably most beloved for his novels The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and The Old Man and the Sea. But for true Hemingway aficionados, the short stories are where his real brilliance shines. Whether it’s two waiters complaining about their lives in a ‘Clean Well-Lighted Place,’ or a young boy having a brush with mobsters in ‘The Killers,’ the smaller bites of Hemingway are often the best. Fatherly got in touch with the editor of The Strand, Andrew F. Gulli, to get a sense for what the new story is all about.
“This is a tale about men who fought a war and were regrouping for the next big challenge,” Gulli says. “Their drinking and chatting about books, life, relationships, and the narrator for a brief moment questions if the sacrifice was worth it all.”
The story is called ‘A Room on the Garden Side,’ and was written by Hemingway in the last years of his life as a reflection on World War II. According to CNN, Hemingway sent a batch of stories to his publisher at some point after this story was written saying the stories were “boring” and that the publisher could “always publish them after I’m dead.”
For fans of Hemingway, the existence of a short story previously unavailable to the public is anything but boring. Although the 1999 posthumous Hemingway novel, True At First Light, was considered something of let-down by critics, the odds for a short story being decent are high while the stakes are considerably lower.
The Strand Magazine is available in every single Barnes and Noble bookstore nationwide in the magazine section. Though primarily a mystery magazine, The Strand has a long history of publishing long-lost manuscripts from beloved and deceased authors. The new issue, featuring ‘A Room on the Garden Side’ is out this weekend. You can also buy it directly from The Strand here.
This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Once eligibility is verified, the discounted Prime membership will be added to the customer’s cart, and the customer will be directed to complete the process by checking out.
People interested in the promotion should also know:
The discounted rate applies to only one year of Prime membership.
The promotion will extend the memberships of current Prime members by one year.
Customers can attempt eligibility verification only three times online. Amazon instructs anyone having trouble with verification to contact its customer-support team by email after the first failed attempt.
Prime Student and other discounted Prime members are not eligible to receive the discount.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
SOFREP recently published an exclusive piece covering the journey of the first female candidate set to graduate the Special Forces Qualification Course and earn her coveted green beret — an amazing achievement. Similarly, recent years have seen the services open their previously male-exclusive roles, including the opportunity to attend Ranger School and others, to women as well.
Women absolutely belong in Special Operations, and it would be narrow-minded to limit their opportunities to serve in special operations roles due to gender stereotypes: In SOF, this primarily refers to the different physical capacities between men and women, and the rigorous physical standards that must be met to serve in a special operations role.
It is the author’s opinion that there is a significant net benefit gained by reasonably adjusting female physical standards in a manner that accounts for the natural biological differences between men and women. What women physically lack in relative strength, vis à vis their male counterparts, they far compensate for in other unique qualities that SOF desperately requires.
For historical reference of the unique value proposition women offer, one only need to study the various exploits conducted by women such as Virginia Hall, a World War II-era Special Operations Executive (SOE) and Office of Strategic Services (OSS) operative, who conducted clandestine special operations for the Allies in Nazi-occupied France. Often disguised as a peasant woman, Ms. Hall skillfully employed her feminine prowess against the Nazis, resulting in unfettered freedom of movement throughout the French countryside.
Other special operations units have long relied on the value of women to conduct operations, noting that the coupling of male and female operatives during missions greatly reduced scrutiny from security services during the conduct of sensitive activities abroad.
SOF assessment and selection processes must evolve to reflect this. While traditional physical standards certainly have their place in special operations, the opportunity cost of not adjusting physical standards is too significant for the SOF community to bear. Does this mean standards are removed, curtailed, or made “easy?” Certainly not. It simply implies a measured and scientifically relevant culture shift that better enables women to succeed in special operations, beginning with physical standards.
It is important in this discussion to also frame the understanding of the largest limiting factor in SOF “production” — time. The oft-quoted SOF truths identify that SOF cannot be mass-produced and that humans are more important than hardware. The reason SOF cannot be mass-produced is due to the specific, rigorous, and just plainly lengthy screening and RAST (recruitment, assessment, selection, and training) processes required to produce a special operations professional.
That said, the notion of gender should have little to no discriminatory role in special operations manning. There simply is not the manpower to exclude a large population that offers unique value to special operations missions. Countless units experience significant manpower shortages and are being asked to “do more with less” because their RAST process cannot keep up with demand and attrition. This leads to burnout, which perpetuates the increased demands and greater stress on an already taxed force. This ultimately leads to greater attrition.
In the author’s experience, it took a grand total of about three years to transition from conventional operations to special operations, not counting the years of personal preparation beforehand. That process included an extensive remote screening; chain of command vetting and recommendations; an invitation to attend a lengthy assessment and selection course; an extensive security screening; completion of inter-service manning adjudication at the service component level; assignment to the unit; completion of an almost year-long training course; and additional follow-on qualification training to reach “fully mission capable” (aka mission-ready/deployable) status.
If that sounds like a lot, that is because it certainly was. And it is critical that women have equal opportunity to attempt such journeys alongside their male counterparts. The crossroads at which equal opportunity and SOF production meet are the reasonable adjustments of physical standards for women.
Much of traditional SOF processes focused on largely physical and mental capacities. Long rucks, hours wearing kit, and the ability to manipulate one’s body over, through, and around tricky terrain were paramount. The Army appears to have a penchant for long, solo rucks through tough terrain; the Air Force limits your ability to breathe through liberal use of “water confidence training” (aka supervised drowning); and the Marines like to ingest large quantities of drawing implements (particularly crayons).
Joking aside, however, it is the author’s opinion that these physical standards do not need to be exactly the same for men and women. Indeed, while recognizing the intrinsic differences between men and women, standards should rather reflect the reasonable demands of the special operations role future SOF professionals are expected to fill. Furthermore, a greater emphasis on personality traits and attributes is required. We are reminded of the wisdom, “the final weapon is the brain, all else is supplemental.”
As was recently identified (comically so) in the differences between Rangers and Green Berets, there are different folks needed for different strokes in special operations. If there ever was a “traditional” GWOT-era SOF image, it would probably include a tattoo-sleeved, Taliban-style beard-wearing Freedom Fighter wearing Oakleys, early-gen multi-cams, and riding a horse. Yet, that image is outdated and demonstrates but a snapshot in time. The error we now risk making is to project this archetype onto current and future conflicts.
The GWOT, while still ongoing in the form of counter-VEO missions across the globe, must also make room for Great Power competition. In this space, SOF are not calling for fire against insurgent positions in the mountains of Afghanistan. Rather, they are conducting sensitive, “low-visibility” operations across multiple domains and in low-intensity conflict regions that manifest themselves through multiple mechanisms of state power projection.
What does this mean?
Operating environments are evolving, and SOF must evolve along with these changes. This should include the evolution of certain norms and standards of what traditionally comprises a SOF professional. The target dictates the weapon, and the weapon dictates the tactics. Start with your desired end state and work from there.
In the realm of Great Power competition, it is less critical that an individual can carry a 65-pound rucksack through the West Virginia mountains at night using a map and compass: Rather, it is more critical that they be able to rapidly process vast quantities of complex datasets while performing real-time analysis of the ground truth before them.
Do those traditional methods have their place? Most certainly. The author would not significantly change them given the value of such experience. But do those methods need to be reasonably adjusted in order to increase opportunities for women to fill SOF positions and thereby add unique value to the SOF enterprise? Yes: We cannot afford inaction.
Chief Kuryla being promoted on the Glienicke Bridge, aka the “Bridge of Spies”. Photo credit Kuryla.
Steve Kuryla spent a lifetime serving in the intelligence community and in the U.S. Army. He was stationed in West Berlin and other hot locales around the globe. He has written a book titled “Six to Days to Zeus: Alive Day” that has been optioned in a screenplay and film production by two heavyweights in the Hollywood industry. A Deadline article in April of this year covers the production and is titled “Phillip Noyce To Direct Secret Iraq Mission Thriller ‘Alive Day;’ Mike Medavoy Producing.” He currently runs a program called Tier One Tranquility Base that helps veterans transitioning home where more information can be seen at https://tieronebase.org/index.html.
1. Can you share about your family and your life growing up?
I was born into a very poor Catholic family in Upstate New York, the Finger Lakes region. The house was a single travel trailer that we added onto as more kids came along. The house was built from recycled ammunition boxes as my dad drove explosives for the U.S. Army Depot. He’d bring the boxes home, then take the truck back to the owner. Our job was to have the boxes stripped and nails straightened before he got home. Eventually, there was enough lumber to build the house, but the floors were hardwood and dirt until I was in my teens.
2. What made you want to become a soldier and what was your experience like?
The only other option I had was to go work at a foundry, putting green sand into boxes so pump parts could be poured in “sand castings.” By 14 years old, I was living in the woods, showering in the school gym. Playing lacrosse, football and wrestling meant I was a year-round athlete. I joined the service as a way to get away from home. Suffice it to say, steel toed boots and Jack Daniels had a lot to do with my motivation to leave.
3. What are you most proud of from your service in the Army?
At this point in time, I’m not really proud of anything. We played “Whack-a-Mole” against the terrorists of the world, as far back as The Baeder-Meinhof Gang, Abu NIdal, the Red Army, PLO, Hamas, Hezbollah, etc……and I assumed our impact would be greater and bring peace. This is a hard question to answer that I am still pondering. The ripples go away from us. But maybe the one thing that I reflect on and “smile” about, not really pride…is the good we did in places that were hell holes. Srebrenica, Somalia, Bosnia, Bogota and some Central and South American places…….. we brought light to some very dark places.
Chief Kuryla received a Meritorious Service Medal (center) while stationed in West Berlin. The left patch is the Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOMM) patch. The right patch is the Berlin Brigade. Photo credit Kuryla.
4. What values have you carried over from the Army back into the civilian world?
Values I brought back into my civilian life: Never quit. “Life is about what you do to other people”…. do five meters, even when it sucks, just keep moving forward. Integrity is everything. Honor is a lost concept in the civilian world, but that doesn’t mean you should give up yours. Fighting for those who can’t fight for themselves is a way of life, not just a bumper sticker.
5. What was one of the toughest lessons to learn coming from the service to Hollywood?
One of the toughest lessons I learned coming from the military to Hollywood: Not everyone has a moral compass. There are those who are in it for the money only, others for fame and they’ll stab you in the back in two seconds and step over your corpse just to get two seconds of limelight. In the military, I was in a place where soldiers HAD TO climb through the filters of Ranger School, BUDS, Airborne Training…and when they finally got to my unit, or like units, they stood for something: those filters don’t exist in Hollywood. Eventually, you can find like-minded souls and “your tribe” and I am very lucky to have found Phillip Noyce and Mike Medavoy.
My respect for their character and what they’ve accomplished runs deep, so I’m very proud to know them and be working with them. They stand for the same moral compass I have lived my entire life. They make movies that resonate, make people think and it’s not just about “entertainment or money!” They make movies that are about the human condition and the SOUL…and that’s what I write about. Anyone can make a military recruiting movie that makes kids “wannabe” a SEAL, or Green Beret, but the people I’m involved with currently go way past the box office. They go straight to the soul and make people think, reflect and hopefully motivate the viewers to become better human beings. It would be very easy to have changed what I wrote in “Alive Day” and make it into some action movie that made a lot of money. But they stuck to the spirit of the story, the journey of Warriors and the consequences of a lifetime of war on the soul. I’m very, very lucky that Karma and Synchronicity came together, and I get to be among these Hollywood giants.
Steve’s book. Photo credit Amazon.com
Director Phillip Noyce on set for the filming of The Saint. Photo credit IMDB.com.
Mike Medavoy receiving his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Photo credit UPI.
6. What has it been like working on your book and soon to be feature film “Six Days to Zeus: Alive Day?”
Cathartic. Therapeutic. Had anyone told me I would be writing; I would have called them nuts. This started out to be a chronological document so a shrink and I could sort through my trauma closet and start working on my nightmares and PTSD. That turned into “The Observing Ego” template and I hit my stride and was able to start working on my issues. I came home with a rage syndrome that scared the hell out of people. Combined with my “adrenaline seeking behaviors,” I was socially unacceptable and targeted routinely by Law Enforcement as a possible “ax murderer.” And I loved it. It kept people away from me. I didn’t have to talk to anyone. I self-isolated, and was taking way too many narcotics and other meds from the VA. After 39 spinal reconstructions and surgery to repair my body from a T.O.W. missile strike, “Friendly Fire,” I found myself climbing back out of the crab bucket, living in a wheelchair as a homeless veteran in a park in N.C. to coming to California to see a Dr. G in Daly City who eventually got me out of the chair, surgically implanted a “Dorsal Column Stimulator” in my spinal cord, fused my pelvis and spine finally the correct way and turned my life around.
Photos of the surgery completed on Kuryla’s back. Photo credit Kuryla.
Photos of the surgery completed on Kuryla’s back. Photo credit Kuryla.
Broken screws and items removed after failed surgeries to repair Kuryla’s back. Photo credit Kuryla.
My wife has been a rock-solid warrior as well, sticking with me through thick and thin, when others simply walked away to preserve their own comfort zone. I was still in a chair most of the time when I met her, so she was either so very desperate that she’d marry a cripple guy with a brain injury and baggage from hell, or there is something about this woman that America missed. I often tell her she’s a SEAL that didn’t go active duty. She wrestles large animals every day as an Equine Veterinarian….. so wrestling with me is right up her alley.
Working on the book has been like peeling an onion. I had NO IDEA how deep I was into the Intel World. We never had time to reminisce. We just went to the next mission, sometimes having six or seven missions going at the same time in differing phases of “pre-deployment” to “planning” to active operations and then post mission BDA and assessments….. Everything from Non-combatant Evacuation (NEO) Operations to combat support missions to High Value Target (HVT) take downs, to Embassy clearing and hostage rescue, the Cold War, the War on Drugs and the Global War on Terrorism all blended together.
Pictures from Chief Kuryla’s time in West Berlin. Photo credit Kuryla.
Over a 30 year period, the mission tempo was pretty active at points that you just never kept up with it all. You just went to the next mission. So, taking the time to go back in time, from 1976 to 2006 and reconstruct the chronology has been very cathartic. Fleshing out the writing, changing names and dates to get through the Pentagon Pre-Publication Review process has been a hurdle, but I firmly believe in the process and signed the “non-disclosure agreements” with full honor and intent. This is a nine book series now…and future endeavors include a TV series as well as several other movies. T
here are 180 covert missions and seven combat tours to write about. Simple things like a 10 year war in Bosnia, Islam against Christianity, led to 9/11 the same day (in 1683 or there abouts) September 11th, for Bin Laden to hit the towers. No one in America seems to understand that the 10 year war in the Balkans led directly to 9/11. “The Asset” was a singular chapter, now a separate book will document American Intelligence, success and failures that led to the 20 year war we are currently in. As well as a look into future wars based on American Foreign Policy and future intent.
The night the wall came down in Berlin. Photo credit Kuryla.
A guard tower from Berlin. Photo credit Kuryla.
Before the Wall came down in Berlin. Photo credit Kuryla.
7. What leadership lessons in life and from the Army have helped you most in your career?
Listening more than talking… learning all the facts, not just those I want to hear, evaluating and taking the time to look at other perspectives were “leadership” skills that I emulated from some of the great men in uniform that I got to work with. Henry Shelton, David Patraeus, William B. Caldwell, Colin Powell, Stormin Norman Schwartzkopf, Keith Alexander, “Buck Kernan,” Kellog, Keene and a list of names no one would know… my mentors and those I tried to emulate are great Americans.
And those around me who were aware, conscious, watched me and recognized my potential are the ones I credit with my success in life. I never knew I could write. Didn’t know I had anything to say. “Talking about it” was contrary to everything I knew as honorable in the military. Compartmented Intelligence was just that. Compartmented with a “Must Know” caveat. When I got out, I was shocked at what American Society didn’t know about the rest of the world and what our soldiers were doing. Not just the TS/SCI stuff, but the basic foreign policy that put men and women in harm’s way. America, especially Congress, seem to be completely unattached, uninvolved in sending troops to war. I found a new mission in life, writing about soldier stories, explaining the chaos in a way that resonates at the human “vulnerability” level. When you connect with another human at the soul, then you’re doing something worth doing. Then you’re communicating, educating, making a difference. And that’s what the “Six Days to Zeus” series is doing. Connecting at the soul and revealing the journey of Warriors in a modern age.
Teufelsberg, German for Devil’s Mountain, in West Berlin during the Cold War. Photo credit Kuryla.
Book one, Alive Day is about “what happened.” Book two, “Please don’t call me Hero” is about the consequences of War on our bodies, brains and families back at “Fort Livingroom.” It’s a glimpse into the problems, but the unconscious damage we do to our families. They pay the consequences of the US going to war, but they never signed up for it. They get to pay anyway… even when we bring muddy boots back into Ft. Livingroom. Book three, “Walking off the War” is a glimpse into the awakening, the move to conscious intentional living and the medical miracles that got me out of a wheelchair and back on my feet.
The series continues for six more books going back to Berlin in 1976 and Covert Operations against Soviet Illicit Agents and Soviet Special Operations personnel, Spetsnaz working the Morse Code problem for NSA and other US Intelligence Agencies including the Potsdam mission and Field Station Berlin at “Devils Mountain” or Teufelsberg! Operation Elsa, stealing a brand-new Soviet T-72 Tank, Operation Porch Light that broke a Russian cypher and tore down 14 terrorist networks throughout Europe and the US, and many, many more.
Items that came with the Russian T-72 that Chief Kuryla “acquired”. Photo credit Kuryla.
Items that came with the Russian T-72 that Chief Kuryla “acquired”. Photo credit Kuryla.
Items that came with the Russian T-72 that Chief Kuryla “acquired”. Photo credit Kuryla.
Items that came with the Russian T-72 that Chief Kuryla “acquired”. Photo credit Kuryla.
8. As a service, how do we get more veteran stories told in the Hollywood arena?
Veterans have to be willing to talk. There is a syndrome where veterans don’t think they did anything special. It’s part of the problem that comes with honor and the “code” we live by. I am working to get a section on my author site for soldiers to write in, tell me their story and see if it’s worth pursuing. When guys like me don’t think they did anything special and are willing to bury it….they get shocked (like me too!) when they begin to tell their story and find out the world wants to know. The ripple effect of me telling my story has affected so many veterans and so many civilians, that it’s truly humbling. For some reason, after they read the book and the two weeks of silence goes by, (digesting time), they now have permission and they come tell me their story. Their trauma and how my writing has affected them, allowed them to heal and talk about what happened. And then I get to help them learn what I have learned: It’s no longer about what happened…it’s about what you do NEXT that counts!!!
A picture of one of the patches they took of Manuel Noriega (pictured). Photo credit Kuryla.
9. What would you like to do next in your career?
Make more movies, learn as much as I can about financing, producing, and getting the stories out there. Tour and talk to our next generation. We need to teach the lessons we’ve learned as soldiers, teach critical thinking skills, make them aware that “Freedom isn’t free” and engage our young minds in active communication. Our children are being hijacked…with our permission, by our silence and preoccupation and our lack of parenting involvement. The America we all fought for is being sliced and diced, subverted and our children’s minds are being targeted. We all need to influence that change, through writing, movies, plays, music and active communication and engagement! Our veteran population are some of the most gifted humans on the planet. I hope to be a part of that change.
More pictures of the morning they took Noriega and the patches removed from his uniform. The center photo is a breakfast with Noriega the morning of. Photo credit Kuryla.
10. What are you most proud of in life and your career?
Pride is not a luxury I indulge in. I am more grateful than anything else. I can’t say I’m proud of anything, but I am the luckiest man on the planet that I got to live the life I did. That I got to meet the people I love and fought with. Even the disasters, the trauma and the adversity….it all made me a better human being. After all this reconstruction and medical miracles, I truly am coming to a place of PEACE now…finding my inner strength again, counting my blessings and realizing just how lucky I have been. How blessed I have been to have worked with and fought beside some of the finest human beings God ever put on this planet. And that’s not a bumper sticker. I truly believe that “All evil needs to succeed is for good men to sit back and do nothing.”
I don’t mourn the loss of those I served with, I thank God that such men lived.
A weapons range goes hot on a cold winter morning four years ago in Fort Lewis, Washington. The silent cold air is replaced by the snapping of gun fire as the morning dew is knocked loose off the blades of grass. Soldiers’ breath is visible as they curse in despair, for they are at another range yet again, wet and freezing.
The smell of spent ammunition and wintergreen chewing tobacco is present as raindrops fall and turn into steam on the weapons’ hot barrels.
Like a dense Pacific Northwest fog, the memories dissipate, and Spc. Flavio Mendoza is dragged back to reality and the clacking of fingers on a computer keyboard.
Like many soldiers, Mendoza has surmounted many challenges in his life, from growing up in a tough, urban environment to coping with the heartbreak of losing something he loved.
But through all this, he pushed forward.
The urban jungle
Raised on the northeast side of Los Angeles, Mendoza said he knew he was always destined for more than what surrounded him in his gritty, inner-city upbringing.
But with the odds stacked against him, he had to make a choice from an early age his path in life.
Spc. Flavio Mendoza, assigned to the 22nd Human Resources Company, 4th Special Troops Battalion, 4th Sustainment Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, poses for a photo on Fort Carson, Colorado, Dec. 28, 2018.
(Photo by Sgt. Asa Bingham)
Mendoza’s parents, Flavio Sr. and Veronica Mendoza — both born in Jalisco, Mexico — always tried to give the best life possible for their family of five. They both worked during the day leaving Mendoza and his two sisters with their grandmother.
Twelve family members — both immediate and extended — packed into a two bedroom house made for claustrophobic conditions. To escape from the cramped living situation, Mendoza would play outside.
“I had a lot of friends around my age growing up,” said Mendoza. “Even though the neighborhood wasn’t one for us to be playing in, we still made the best of it.”
Graffiti lined the walls of the street like uncontrollable ivy growing wild. The gunshots from rival gangs trying to kill each other, followed by the police sirens and helicopters circling with their bright lights all just became natural.
He didn’t have to go far from his childhood home to find trouble, he said. Right next door was far enough.
“I remember cops always being at that house for something,” Mendoza said. “It seems like everyone from the gang hung out there. There was always cars filled with nothing but bald heads, and gangsters with guns rolling up, asking where I was from or if I banged.”
The gang life was calling for Mendoza, who was given many opportunities to join. He ignored the beckoning calls unlike some of his friends.
“A couple of kids I grew up playing with and thought were my homies broke into our house one day,” he said. “They stole anything and everything.”
Mendoza’s parents saw what was happening to the neighborhood. They saw what path their kids could go down if they weren’t careful. So in an effort to get away from the trouble they saved up their money and moved to Monterey Park, Los Angeles.
“I didn’t hear any sirens anymore, no more gunshots, and no more constant fear from always having to turn around and watch my back at night,” said Mendoza.
His upbringing gave him a burning desire to do more, to be better then what he saw around him. The noise. The chaos. The crime. It was all motivation to get away.
The great escape
“After graduating high school, I immediately wanted to join the Army,” said then 18-year old Mendoza. “I walked into the recruiter one day and told them that I wanted to join and go fight.”
Mendoza’s parents and family were hesitant about the Army; they wanted him to go to college.
“I tried for a semester or two, but I realized school just wasn’t for me,” he said. His goal was to get away and to serve his country.
Knowing only what he saw from movies and TV shows, Mendoza said he had his heart set on joining up as an infantry soldier, but his recruiter, a combat engineer, persuaded him otherwise.
“He asked me if I wanted to blow things up,” Mendoza said. “After showing me a couple of videos and stories of what a sapper was and did, I was hooked.”
Next thing he knew, Mendoza was hauling his own weight in duffel bags with a drill sergeant in his face yelling at him to get off the bus at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.
It was 2014, and his Army journey had just begun.
He spent days that felt like weeks pushing the earth away, counting “One, drill sergeant. Two, drill sergeant,” the never-ending pushups followed by the sprints, road marches, early mornings, yelling and apprehension that any moment a drill sergeant could burst in and make him question his decision to join.
“I would do it all over again,” said Mendoza. “It’s not that (One-Station Unit Training) was tough; it was more mental, like can you deal with the day to day suck and not quit.”
After completing OSUT, not knowing what to expect, Mendoza landed at his first duty station, Fort Lewis and was assigned to the 22nd Engineer Clearance Company, 864th Engineer Battalion, 555th Engineer Brigade.
“Life as an engineer had its ups and downs, but for the most part, it was fun,” said Mendoza. When soldiers aren’t training they’re cleaning. From picking up cigarette butts to sweeping and mopping, this was not what Mendoza thought he would be doing. But when it came time to train and learn engineer tactics and skills, Mendoza thrived.
“I made the best of friends doing the coolest stuff,” he said. From how to calculate demolition charges to identifying improvised explosive devices, Mendoza loved to learn the skills of an engineer.
Mendoza quickly gained the respect of his peers and leadership with his good attitude and even better work ethic.
“Working as an engineer is hard work, but being around good people makes it fun,” said Travis Ramirez, a former engineer who worked with Mendoza. “I could always count on Mendoza to have a good attitude. He was always making everyone laugh, even when the work we were doing was tough.”
His infectious personality brought many of his fellow engineers to his room after work and on weekends to just hang out and have fun. It was in these time that unbreakable bonds were formed and a lasting brotherhood was forged.
His work ethic and positive attitude were evident to his leaders, who gave him the responsibility of operating the Buffalo, a version of the mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle specifically used in route clearance operations as a mine interrogation asset.
Weighing in at more than 45,000 pounds and measuring a staggering 27 feet long, considerable skill and precision is required to maneuver the armored behemoth.
Mendoza was a perfect fit.
“I feel like I was given a higher level of responsibility driving the Buffalo,” said Mendoza. “The Buff is huge and an essential part to the route clearance mission. I had the best times in Buff 1-1.”
A US Army 759th Explosive Ordnance Disposal team Buffalo MRV.
(DoD photo by Ken Drylie)
On any given day, Mendoza could be found with his platoon conducting 12-mile road marches with upwards of 35-pounds on his back in full combat gear to repetitive field training exercises in the cold. The pace of training seemed endless, and within three years his body started feeling the effects.
“It was just chronic leg pain,” said Mendoza. “I went to go get it checked out and was going through physical therapy, but nothing was working.”
Mendoza was diagnosed with bone spurs in his shins.
He had gained so much from being an engineer — the memories of training exercises, the connections with fellow soldiers he now considers family. He never thought of himself doing anything else, no other job could match the bravado of being an engineer.
After going to physical therapy for close to a year, he received the news he had been dreading. His primary care provider permanently limited his physical abilities. He could no longer run. He couldn’t foot march. He wasn’t even supposed to jump anymore. He was forced to switch jobs and leave the engineer world.
“I felt like I was going to lose a part of me when I was told I had to switch,” said Mendoza, now assigned to the 22nd Human Resources Company, 4th Special Troops Battalion, 4th Sustainment Brigade, 4th Infantry Division at Fort Carson, Colorado.
The Army had served as his escape from a life he was sure would have landed him in jail or dead. He was not about to quit, he said.
Mendoza reclassified from combat engineer to human resources specialist.
A completely different world in his eyes
Instead of looking out the driver’s window of a Buffalo, he now stared into a computer screen. He went from patrolling for improvised explosive devices to scanning personnel records. From hearing loud explosions to now hearing the quiet clicks of a computer mouse.
Mendoza didn’t waver. He pushed forward, taking with him the same work ethic and positive attitude that drove him out of the streets of Los Angeles to become the soldier he is today.
“I still carry the engineer crest in my (patrol cap). It lets me know where I came from and that gives me pride,” said Mendoza. “Even though I’m away and in a new career field, I will always be an engineer.”
Whether you’re an avid leave-at-three-in-the-morning-and-stand-outside-Walmart-for-hours kind of shopper or more of the hell-no-I’m-not-leaving-my-couch kind, save your money on Black Friday and spend it all the next day: Small Business Saturday. Specifically, spend your money with these 6 veteran-owned businesses for everyone on your holiday shopping list:
Blue Angel not only has awesome coffee, but their merch is some of the best around. Who doesn’t need a mug that says “Coffee because crack is bad for you,” or “Death before decaf,” among other hilarious quips?
We know you love ‘Merica more than anyone and most of the people in your life do too. Nothing says pride like hanging The Lower 48 in Alder on your wall for all to see. Beautifully handmade by Dark Horse Wood, this gorgeous craftsmanship is a gift that will keep on giving.
Rumi Spice Blend Gift Box
For the cook:
The best kind of presents are ones that you can feel good about gifting. Rumi Spice was founded by veterans to connect Afghan farmers with the global food market to lay down a foundation for peace, one flower at a time. “Spice for good” sounds like something we can get behind—and that we can use as stocking stuffers. With Afghan saffron, wild black cumin and spice blends, the artisan chef in your family will appreciate not just the spices, but the meaning behind them as well.
Have that buddy you love to make fun of? Buy him this t-shirt from Military Muscle that has a box of crayons on it labeled USMC MRE (you’re welcome). Plus, you can feel good about it. For every t-shirt purchased, Military Muscle donates one to either someone deployed or a homeless vet.
If you’re looking for a smooth, tasty bourbon, look no further than Leadslingers to make your holiday spirits bright. With a light bourbon flavor born from its single barrel aging process, it’s double distilled and handcrafted in Moore, Oklahoma. It’s got top shelf flavor without the hefty price tag. It “melds sophistication and down home flavors, delivering hints of oak, toffee and vanilla; it’s sure to satisfy even the most distinguishing taster.”
The United States government was founded on the principle of separation of church and state. That being said, if the U.S. could select a single holy site and have everyone in America agree that it was not to be trifled with, the frontrunner would be the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier — the monument to those who fought and died for the U.S. but remain unidentified.
Arlington National Cemetery’s Tomb of the Unknowns is guarded 24 hours a day, seven days a week by the tomb sentinels of the 3rd Infantry Regiment, The Old Guard. And these guys do not mess around. When it comes to discipline, The Old Guard have such firm bearing that they can get stabbed in the foot with a bayonet and keep standing guard.
They will guard the tomb during hurricanes. They will stay at their post during epic snowstorms. There is nothing they won’t do to maintain a watchful eye on what might be America’s holiest of holies.
So, it should come as no surprise that when tourists are around the tomb, these sentinels don’t tolerate anything short of solemnity and adherence to the rules that govern such hallowed ground. In the past, numerous videos have shown how the Old Guard responds to those who try to get a closer look at the tomb by crossing barrier obviously in place to keep onlookers away.
And that’s just what they do when you try to cross the barrier for a photo (to fast-forward, the sentinel admonishes a woman for crossing the line at 1:00 into the video). Imagine what happens if someone suddenly tries to reach out and touch the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier itself.
Aside from getting manhandled (and probably tazed) by the Arlington Police, the Tomb Sentinels are carrying fully functional weapons. Whether they’re loaded weapons or if the sentinels have ammunition remains unknown (many sources say they don’t), but that’s not a reason to go testing the theory. What is known, however, is the sentinels will move much faster than we’re used to seeing them in order to stop you.
Quora user Chris Leonard, who used to be a part of the Old Guard, reminds us that maintenance work is done on the aging tomb all the time, but workers are expected to show the same reverence in touching the tomb for repairs that the sentinels themselves would observe — and the sentinels are watching them every second they’re at work.
Leonard recalled a moment where a maintainer touched the tomb in a manner inconsistent with the respect called for by the monument — he was leaning on it. The sentinel yelled at the man to stop as he quickly approached. The sentinel then “cross checked” the maintenance worker.
The maintenance worker later apologized to the sentinels.
In March, Wilma L. Vaught, Brigadier General, USAF (ret) is turning 90, and there is a celebration of her life and legacy at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial on March 14 from 1-4 p.m EST. She is one of the most highly decorated military women in United States history. Not only did she pioneer history for women with her many accomplishments, but she was also instrumental in the funding, building and creation of the Women in Military Service for America Memorial, which tells the story of military women and keeps their stories as a record of history.
Brig. Gen. Vaught joined the military in 1957. She graduated from the University of Illinois in 1952 and began working, but saw very little chance of advancement. Having come across an Army recruiting letter that offered her an opportunity to work in a management position (officer), she started looking into joining the military. In her research, she was given the advice to see if the Air Force had a similar program and when she found out they did she decided to join the Air Force.
1957 was after the Korean War but before the Vietnam War. When Vaught went through her training, she wasn’t taught how to use a weapon, instead, she went through a course on how to put on makeup and how to get in and out of a car tastefully. When she arrived at her first assignment at Barksdale AFB, she was assigned to the Comptroller Squadron but was sent to manage all the ladies on base until another female officer arrived.
Vaught always did the best at whatever job she assigned, and worked to take care of the Airmen below her. Throughout her career, men would find out that a woman was their next commander and try to get transferred. After a few months, people would come up to her and say, “When I heard you were coming, I wanted to be reassigned because I didn’t want to work for a woman. But I just want to let you know I don’t feel that way anymore, I would work for you anyplace.”
When asked what the key to her success was, she talked about the stories of helping people. She was known for taking over commands that may have been meeting the mission, but no one was taking care of the people. She knew how important it was for people to be put in for awards and promotions and made it a point to ensure that happened while still meeting the mission. She also continually pushed those she worked with to get their education or take required courses for promotion. Story after story of people whose lives were impacted by Brig. Gen. Vaught involved her pushing them harder to be their best.
Not only did those who worked for her want to follow her wherever she went, but her leadership also didn’t want to go anywhere without her. In 1966, when her bomber unit was preparing to deploy, her wing commander asked her to deploy to Guam with bomb wing in support of the Vietnam War. She told her boss she thought she couldn’t deploy, but he found a way to make it so that she would deploy. She was the only female deployed with 3,000 men, and spent six months working for the wing commander as a management analyst. She was the first woman to deploy for Strategic Air Command, but that wasn’t her only deployment. She was also deployed to Vietnam. While she wasn’t the first to deploy to Vietnam, she was still one of very few, and she was not issued a weapon or given fatigues to wear. But that doesn’t mean she didn’t have a weapon hidden in her hotel room in case she needed it. She was assigned to the MACV headquarters.
In June of 1948, President Truman signed the Women’s Armed Service Integration Act to replace the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) that was set to expire.
In November of 1967, President Johnson signed Public Law 90-130. This law removed the promotion and retirement restrictions on women officers in the armed forces. These laws had far-reaching effects and were a tipping point in the role of women in the military.
In 1982, she became the first woman to reach the rank of Brig. Gen. in the comptroller career field. The second woman to reach that rank as a comptroller didn’t happen for another 22 years. When she retired in 1985, she was one of the three female Generals in the Air Force and one of the seven female Generals in the U.S. Military.
She was a woman who changed the course of history for the women who followed behind her. With her can-do attitude and perseverance to get the job done, doors opened that stayed open for the women who followed her. But one of her most lasting impacts is the Women in Military Service for America Memorial located at Arlington. As president of the Women’s Memorial Foundation board of directors, she spearheaded the campaign that raised some million dollars for the memorial that was opened in 1997. It stands today as a place of record where visitors can learn of the courage and bravery of tens of thousands of American women who have pioneered the future.
The U.S. Army recently released a video in which Sergeant Major of the Army Dan Dailey implores all of those serving to get out there and share their reasons for enlisting — to, ultimately, recruit their friends. The video is entitled, Everybody is a recruiter.
So, ladies and gents: it’s official. Each and every soldier within the United States Army is now a recruiter. Who knew that we’d all manage to get in without even going through the recruiting course at Fort Knox? Now all we need to do is get our recruitment numbers up and we can all sport a recruiting badge!
If you can’t read between the sarcastic lines, SMA Dan Dailey probably has no intentions of shipping everyone into USAREC and crowd shopping malls across the country. First off, that’d be a logistical nightmare. And secondly, if we were all recruiters, then there’d be nobody left to mop the motor pool when it rains or perform lay-outs for the eight change-of-command ceremony this month.
What SMA Dailey was trying to convey is that everyone had their reason for joining and everyone should share their stories with civilian friends and family members in hopes of inspiring them to follow suit. But that’s not as fun as imagining a ridiculous situation in which we all become actual recruiters.
Here’s the video for the full context. For a look into the daily lives of Army recruiters through the lens of a joke that’s (mildly) at the expense of the most senior enlisted soldier (from one of his biggest fans), read on:
We can’t let them realize the Army isn’t all rainbows and sunshine until they get to Basic, now can we?
(U.S. Army photo by Lt. Col. Matthew Devivo)
1. We’ll all learn to smile through unpleasant situations
One of the biggest challenges a recruiter faces is keeping their military bearing at all times of the day. After all, recruiters, to many civilians, are the face of the military. As much as you’ll want to choke-slam that particularly obnoxious teenage applicant through your desk because they referred to you as, “bro,” you can’t. Not even once.
We’ll all have to quietly smile, correct them, and hope we don’t scare them into checking out the Navy’s recruiter instead.
The paperwork doesn’t even stop when you finally get them to swear in. It only ends when they’re the drill sergeant’s responsibility.
(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Brandy N. Mejia)
2. We’ll all become experts at doing mountains of paperwork by close of business
So, you’ve managed to get someone interested in enlisting — great work! Your job here is done. Just kidding — you’ve only just begun.
Think back to when you enlisted. Remember all that paperwork that was shoved in your face? That’s nothing compared to the paperwork recruiters have to complete. As a recruiter, you’ll have to scrub through every piece of paper that the applicant has touched to make sure they’re the right fit for the Army. Birth certificates, diplomas, arrest warrants — you name it. You’ll get so good at reading SAT scores that you’ll be able to sense which MOS a recruit is suited for well before they do.
It’d be great if all the people coming to the Army booth at the fair actually wanted to enlist — instead of just wanting to fail to impress their friends on the pull-up bar.
(Dept. of the Army photo by Ronald A. Reeves)
3. We’ll all learn to motivate lazy applicants who can barely do a single push-up
There’s nothing more disheartening than finding yourself staring down some scrawny kid who’s probably never broken a sweat in their life after spending the last twelve business days filing out their paperwork. You’re going to have to force out a smile and give a rousing, “you can do it!” when they start trembling after just one push-up.
But, hey, they don’t have any neck tattoos or active arrest warrants, so they’re the best chance you’ve got at getting your numbers up. God forbid you ever let your numbers slip near the end of the quarter…
But hey! At least you get your own snazzy business cards!
(Photo by Steven Depolo)
4. We’ll all judge our lives based on how “incentive points”
Oh, yeah. The incentive points. We couldn’t forget to include the primary reason why every recruiter drinks heavily when they get off duty. Recruiters need to get a certain amount of potential applicants to walk through their doors or else they face a stern talking-to. On one hand, the recruitment quota (or “goals”) isn’t as bad as most people make it out to be. On the other hand, it’ll likely become the single-most important thing in your life.
Getting those nice, little stars on your badge is basically the infantry equivalent of shooting better at the range. The better you shoot/recruit, the better your chances of winning impromptu pissing contests that have nothing to do with the situation at hand.
“What’s life like in the Army?” — Well, at first you’ll hate it. Then you won’t. Then you’ll miss it about two weeks after you get your DD-214.
(U.S. Army photo by Capt. Andrew J. Czaplicki)
5. We’ll all have to deal with the worst questions at all hours of the day
At some point in your recruiting career, you’ll get so tired of answering so many stupid questions that you’ll just stop sugarcoating everything. Now, it’s not out of some moral footing, but mostly because lying takes too much creative effort by the time you’re answering that question for the 87th time.
“So, I won’t be able to become a Delta ranger sniper and do James Bond sh*t?” — Not with that attitude you won’t! “What options are available for my ASVAB score of 25?” — Night school. “If I don’t like it, can I just quit at any time?” — Technically, you can quit whenever you feel like, but legally? F*ck no.
When I arrived at my first C-17A unit, I was chomping at the bit. Finally, after years of education and training, I was ready to join the fight. The September 11th attacks had occurred during my senior year at USAFA, and I had felt like I was missing out by not serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.
C-17 life could indeed be fantastic. The jet was amazing. I loved my coworkers, who were intelligent, mission-focused, dependable, and a lot of fun. My first C-17 trip was exhilarating: drinking German beer one day, and the next slipping on body armor, a helmet, and night vision goggles before descending into Iraq.
Yet I was also in for a rude awakening. The operations tempo came as a brutal onslaught. My office duties seemed designed purely to satisfy “the system’s” insatiable appetite for new PowerPoint products. Decisions from our C2 organization often seemed nonsensical. I saw colossal amounts of waste due to bureaucratic inefficiencies. As Iraq began its slow spiral into insurgency and then civil war, my naive idealism eroded. I felt confused, disoriented, and unhappy.
Discontent is a normal part of a military career. I have seen many, many servicemembers undergo a similar process of disenchantment. Some never recover; they descend into cynicism and bitterness, then escape at their first opportunity. Others, however, undergo a transformation. They still feel restless dissatisfaction with the status quo, but they find a kind of inner peace, reframe their journey as a positive quest, and channel their frustrations into a career-long effort to improve the institution.
I eventually realized that discontent is a two-edged blade. It is one of your most important assets, but you have to wield it well.
The Virtue of Discontentment
One definition of discontentment is a “restless aspiration for improvement.” That is what we are after.
The most important thing you can bring to military service is an ethic of integrity, professionalism, and excellence. You need to do what the institution asks of you, and you need to do it well. Everything builds on that foundation.
The second most important thing you can bring to military service is your discontent. Why? Because discontent is the motivator for the positive change you will introduce throughout your career.
When we are doing what the institution asks of us, we all largely look the same; most modern military forces are based on mass production of needed skill sets. However, our sources of discontentment are deeply personal, the product of our individual temperaments, interests, and unique life experiences. It is our discontentment–and our thirst for change–that brings our individuality and creativity into our military service. That ambitious individuality, multiplied across the entire military, is the galvanizing force that works against institutional decay, perpetually renews our Armed Forces, and prepares us for uncertain futures.
Discontent with the trench warfare of World War I is what led to revolutions in mechanized and maneuver warfare. Discontent with legacy thinking is what led to further revolutions in airpower, space power, and cyber power. Discontent with toxic leaders drives innumerable NCOs and officers to lead better, and to advocate for innovations in education, training, and evaluations that raise the bar for everyone. Discontent with family strain has fueled advocacy for spouse education benefits, easier cross-state licensing, and more stability and predictability over the course of military careers. Most value-adding innovations began with some individual soul who feels the strain of a problem and imagines ways to do better.
Productively harnessing your discontent is not automatic, however. You must master your discontent, or else it will master you. That means learning to manage your own emotions and steer your discontent into positive avenues of change.
Sources of Discontent
Our “restless aspiration for improvement” can originate in any number of ways. Here are a few that come to mind:
Disappointment: We have such high hopes and excitement for our military careers, but often find the reality different. Any time we encounter a disappointment, we have an opportunity to make military service more invigorating, rewarding, and satisfying.
Underperformance: Military forces train and equip for one purpose: to perform at their absolute best in war. We should absolutely be discontent with underperformance, because it is a kick in the ass to do better.
Inefficiencies: Nothing is more infuriating to ambitious high-performers than bogging down in wasteful inefficiencies. Unfortunately, these are endemic in government organizations that are highly bureaucratic, overregulated, and lack market incentives.
Misalignments: Modern military forces are incredibly complex, with thousands of synchronized parts. Building such an organization takes decades, and change takes time. That means the organization always lags behind the world. It frequently falls out of alignment, creating dangerous gaps–whether we are talking about evolving technologies, new organizational management constructs, or the shifting nature of family and social life for our troops. Our discontent is a summons to bring our organization into line with the modern world.
Abuses: Unfortunately, particular leaders or organizations can do great emotional or even physical violence to their members. Sometimes these abuses are deliberate, perpetrated by toxic leaders, bullies, or sexual predators. Other times they are structural, such as unconscious racism or sexism. Our discontent calls us to speak for victims, remedy injustices, and stop malevolence.
Stages of Discontent
Discontent progresses through stages, like a mountain ascent. You have to climb through each stage to arrive at the next. A continued ascent is never guaranteed; many people reach a particular stage but do not advance further.
Helplessness: When you first encounter frustrations, you feel like the system is unimaginably powerful and therefore unchangeable. You look for individuals to blame, often commanders or staffs who “don’t get it.” You complain about how stupid and broken everything is, but could not even begin to articulate a fix.
Understanding: You begin to understand *why* these frustrations exist. You realize there is often no one to blame, because so many problems are structural–originating in miscommunications, broken processes, perverse incentives, or other bureaucratic realities. You begin to appreciate how much work has gone into the existing system, and the problems that it does solve. You might not have solutions yet, but you sense the *kinds* of changes that need to occur.
Solutioneering: As you master your career field and gain a deeper understanding of how your organization works, you see possibilities for specific, actionable improvements. At this stage you may not know how to actually implement these changes; your confidence and skills are still developing.
Communication: Now you step into the arena. You write a white paper, blog post, or journal article. You brief a commander or pitch at an innovation competition. If you do it well, you show an expert understanding of the problem and articulate specific, compelling solutions. A conversation begins, allies (and enemies) appear, and your idea gets challenged and evolves. A coalition begins to take shape.
Execution: After all those years, everything comes together. You have a deep understanding of a specific problem, and an actionable proposal that has benefited from vigorous discussion. You have an audience, and a coalition that wants your proposal to succeed. Now you learn the fine art of walking an idea through the bureaucracy, winning the support of the right leaders, garnering resources, and navigating and possibly changing regulations.
If you reach the summit, you will look down and see that your discontent–your restless aspiration for improvement–has culminated in a real change. You will also realize that you are not alone; an entire expedition team stands with you.
Once you reach that summit, the journey continues. After that first victory, you will chase other sources of discontent, finding other opportunities to improve things. As a leader, you will want to help others make their own ascents. You might even rearchitect your organization to make such ascents a routine part of organizational life.
Managing Your Ascent
Harnessing your discontent is not an easy journey. There will always be plenty to love about military service, but the frank reality is that negative energy is often what drives progress–the dissatisfaction again, the thirst for something to be different.
Learning to manage that negative energy is one of your most important battles, because there are so many ways it can hurt you.
First, develop inner disciplines to manage your own psychology. This is a major theme in my other writings mainly because it as a major theme in my life. Staying committed to a large organization can be exhausting, and you will have days when negative thoughts and emotions flood in. The challenges only compound as you make your ascent, because each stage introduces new pressures and difficulties. Negative emotions will overrun you if you let them, undermining your effectiveness, your leadership, and your personal happiness. Many wise leaders have gone before you, and have developed an arsenal of techniques to manage their inner journeys. Learn from them. You want to lead from a place of inner centeredness that brings peace, confidence, and satisfaction.
Second, always strive to keep climbing through the stages. Moving through each stage takes time, practice, and experience. Keep forging ahead. Whatever you do, don’t get stuck in helplessness. Bitching and moaning can be cathartic sometimes, but if that is the sum of your legacy, your military service was too small.
Third, know when and how to take your rests. A restless aspiration for improvement can deplete you, especially when you are fighting hard, sustained battles. You need to replenish by focusing on whatever or whoever gives you energy, joy, and meaning. That can come through family, friends, work, spirituality, nature, books, hobbies, service, or almost anything else.
Fourth, take your journey in community. The greatest joy in military service is the series of relationships you form along the way. At every stage, you will find mentors further ahead in the journey. Learn from them. You will also build a network of like-minded peers. Finally, mentor others. When you see subordinates or peers feeling helpless, coax them along the journey; help them develop the understanding and skills they will need going forward.
Mastering your discontent, and steering all that energy into productive change, is an essential part of your journey through military service. It is also essential for life. You can apply the same framework and skills to the private sector, your relationships, and other aspects of your life.
Discontent is a guiding compass that points to your unique insights and offerings. Discontent is your gift to the world, but only if you let it be.