It doesn’t matter what it is, somebody wants to be the best at it. For as long as time, competition has driven people to learn new skills and improve on the ones they know in order to rise to the top of their field. This desire to be best is what has baseball players at the batting cage long after the sun has set. It’s what keeps runners sprinting down the track, shaving milliseconds off of their personal best.
This same competitiveness is what drives some medics within the United States Army. In one recent competition, 283 medics entered to see if they could earn the Expert Field Medical Badge. Only 17 — just six percent — met the requirements to be awarded the EFMB in a June 2018 test held at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
U.S. Army Spc. Austin Braussard-Rangel, a platoon medic assigned to 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, assesses and prepares a mock casualty with a neck injury to be removed from a vehicle during the Expert Field Medic Badge testing.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Christopher Gallagher)
So, what does it take to earn this badge? The requirements are many. The easy part, if you could call it that, is passing the Army Physical Fitness Test with scores of at least 60 in all three areas— earninga cumulative score of 180 or more. Of the other ten requirements, five are completed under simulated combat conditions.
Communications skills are also tested among candidates trying to earn the Expert Field Medical Badge — after all, that MEDEVAC won’t call itself.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Christopher Gallagher)
Among the myriad skills tested is communication. Candidates for the EFMB must be able to prepare and transmit a MEDEVAC request correctly and be familiar with both communication procedures and the operation of field radios.
U.S. Army Sgt. Alex Pickens (left), a lab technician assigned to the Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, passes a mock casualty over a barrier with his litter team during the Expert Field Medic Badge testing at the Medical Support Training Center on Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Christopher Gallagher)
During the competition, candidates must also negotiate an obstacle course while carrying a litter (under simulated combat conditions, of course) with three other candidates. There are eight obstacles to overcome, including an upstairs/uphill carry, a downhill/downstairs carry, a barbed-wire obstacle, and a trench obstacle.
Handling a chemical attack is also part of the EFMB evaluation. After all, a casualty can’t wait for the poison gas to dissipate.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Christopher Gallagher)
Candidates also face a 100-question test — on which they need to get at least 75 questions right. Marksmanship (EFMB candidates much achieve the rating of Marksman or better), evacuation skills, and even cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) techniques are also tested. As many as 25 percent of candidates can pass a given course, but rates of as low as five percent are not unheard of.
The Expert Field Medical Badge is reserved for only the fiercest competitors — those who strive to be the very best at helping others in even the most dire of circumstances.
Deep in the swamp – or what feels like the swamp at least – lies a training ground whose memories haunt your dreams forever. What pops up when your headlamp goes off? Why does the ground look like it’s moving? It’s all in here… it’s all Fort Polk.
The itsy-bitsy swarm of spiders
It’s night and you are patrolling through the Vietnam-like jungles of Fort Polk in search of the elusive “G Man.” The humidity is so thick you could cut it with a knife and as you scan the ground with your headlamp, tiny flashes of light shimmer back at you from the grass, bushes, and trees that surround you. No those aren’t water droplets and you didn’t suddenly walk into a diamond mine.
They are spider eyes and there are hundreds of them across every inch of ground within “The Box.” In Louisiana, there exist such species of spiders, like the massive Banana Spider who live to haunt you forever. According to local wildlife guides, they’re likely hiding or in webs between trees which wouldn’t affect you unless you’re doing such things like digging foxholes, fighting positions, or traipsing through the wilderness in the dark. All things which in fact, you will be doing in the box while training there. Good thing you packed a flame thrower just for this instance.
The first few days after arriving at Fort Polk for training usually involve unpacking Conexes, unloading vehicles at the rail yard and attending training classes. The weather during this period is likely sunny and warm, giving a false sense of hope that perhaps it’s not so bad here after all. Then at the precise moment, your unit enters the box, the monsoon hits.
With an average yearly rainfall around 60 inches, it’s nearly double the national average. Your hooch is in mortal danger of becoming swept away (with your body in it) when the puddle quickly becomes a raging river.
Beware of the “swamp ass”
You wake up- you’re sweating. You go to sleep-sweating. You stand still and you’re sweating. Not only is it embarrassing, but it’s stinky. This particular form of “booty-dew” is nearly impossible to solve since it’s likely you only rucked in with a few extra shirts or socks, which are likely still wet from last night’s flash flood that swept through the camp.
Gators, mosquitos, and horses- oh my!
Fort Polk is home to a host of species we’re all terrified of. Ever parachuted into a cloud of fog to see nothing, but hear the pounding of hooves coming straight for you? Welcome to Fort Polk. Wondering what that fast-moving cloud is that covered the sliver of sunshine? It’s mosquitos. They’re so bad down here that slapping yourself in the face is not only “normal” but it’s a tactical strategy. You’re not crazy, they are. Another fun fact about this paradise you ask? Louisiana has one of the highest populations of alligators in the U.S.
So when that nearby flood pond looks like the salvation from “swamp ass” you’ve been looking for, think again. If you’re lucky enough to avoid the real-life jaws of death, perhaps you should check your ankles after the LT’s suggestion to save time. Leeches are just another of God’s greatest creations awaiting your arrival to Fort Polk.
Finally, the Conex is packed, the vehicles loaded and you’re on the march out. You’ve survived. There’s something special waiting for you…next year’s rotation back to this paradise.
Pamela Foley was 17 and pregnant in 1982 when her parents said she wasn’t welcome in their house, and wasn’t keeping her baby.
She searched and wondered for decades what happened to the child she gave up for adoption before the two reconnected in January 2019. They met again for the first time in 36 years at the National Veterans Wheelchair Games.
Foley, an Air Force veteran, who uses a wheelchair because of multiple sclerosis, pushed up from her chair July 9, 2019, as the two embraced and held each other tight.
“Let me look at your face!” Foley sobbed as she held her daughter’s face in her hands. “My baby!”
The two have since been inseparable at 2019’s Games, with her daughter, Carrie Knutsen, cheering on her birth mom, laughing and finishing each other’s sentences. While the two have filled each other in on the last 36 years, they cemented the reunion with matching tattoos of two hearts and a double helix DNA that Carrie designed.
Pamela Foley competed in bowling, 9-ball and slalom at this year’s Wheelchair Games, but will most remember her reunion with the daughter she was forced to give up for adoption 36 years ago.
Foley never stopped hoping this day would come, always marking Carrie’s birthday on her calendar. Carrie, based on what little information she had, would sometimes see a face in the crowd and wonder if they were related.
When Pamela told her parents she was pregnant 36 years ago, she wasn’t surprised at their reaction.
“They said, ‘You’re going to live with your sister in Virginia.’ They’re the type they always have to impress people, and if anybody had found out their daughter was pregnant, they couldn’t have that.”
Pamela got to spend time with her baby after giving birth April 29, 1983, in Roanoke, which made it even harder.
“That was the emotional pain,” she said. “They let me have her while I was there, feeding and clothing her. I saw and held her and was a blithering idiot. I had 30 days after signing the paperwork to change my mind. So I called my mom, crying in the hospital.”
“What would happen if I kept her?” Pamela asked.
“Oh, don’t come home,” her mom replied.
“And I’m crying more as I’m thinking of changing my mind. Then I thought about it. I was 17. I didn’t have a job, I had no resources. I didn’t know anything. I didn’t have any skills.”
Carrie interjects with a laugh: “I mean, you gave birth, that’s a pretty good skill. Just saying.”
“It just happens,” Pamela deadpans. “You just do it. It was going to happen regardless.”
Catholic Charities told Pamela the adoption records would be sealed for 18 years, then she could find information about her baby.
Although she was named Lisa Marie on the birth certificate, her adoptive parents — Casey and Marie — took parts of their name and changed her name to Carrie.
“It was a huge blessing for them, and they are amazing people,” Carrie said. “They changed my name because they wanted to give me a piece of them. I never wanted for anything. I went to college, I finished grad school. I don’t have any memory of not knowing I was adopted. They told me when I was young.
Mom and daughter got matching tattoos of two hearts and double helix DNA to commemorate the reunion. Carrie, who is a graphic artist, designed the artwork.
“I always wondered if she was a movie star and occasionally wondered why they gave me away. I knew I was born in Roanoke, so anytime we were there, I’d look at faces in the crowd and wondered if they resembled me or were family.”
Pamela moved back home after giving birth and graduated from high school. She joined the Air Force in 1985, married and had another daughter, Samantha, in 1986. She was diagnosed a year later with multiple sclerosis and separated from the military. She divorced her first husband, remarried and had a son, Sean, in 1991. Tragedy struck in 1993 when Samantha died after she fell through a glass table while playing.
“It was the worst thing in the world,” Pamela said. “It was worse than giving my baby away.”
Pamela and her husband, Michael, had another daughter, Megan, in 1994.
And in 2001 — 18 years after giving birth to Carrie — Pamela asked to see the adoption records.
“They were so rude. ‘Nooooo, these are sealed records. You have to get a lawyer and petition the court.’
“I let it drop,” she said. “We didn’t have that kind of money, and at that time, there was no internet like there is today. I did find an adoption registry and filled out all the information, what I knew. I never heard anything.”
Carrie filled out a similar registry around the same time.
“I thought, ‘What the hell? Maybe?’ I never heard and forgot all about it.”
She married in 2011, and tried to find more about her family’s health history, but hit the same road block with sealed records.
Another 17 years passed while Pamela watched a show about reuniting lost family members. There was a phone number for a private investigation company at the end of the program, and she gave them a call. For id=”listicle-2639220262″,000, she was told, they could probably find her daughter. Pamela reached out to the birth father and they split the cost.
In December 2018, the investigation firm sent Carrie a letter she almost didn’t open.
“I just stuck it in my purse, and when I opened it later, they said they had a client who was looking for me,” she said. “I thought it was probably my mother, but it might be a scam. I got in touch with them, and on January 2 told them they could use my e-mail. I’m sitting at work and 10 minutes later, I get an e-mail from Pam.”
This’ll get ya. Pamela Shears Foley was forced to give up her baby, Carrie Knutsen, at 17. They found each other in January and met for the first time in…
Pam wrote: “Hi my name is Pamela Foley … You might be the child I gave up 35 years ago. I would like get to know and possibly meet you sometime in the future … I know this a lot to take in, but I’m hopeful we can stay in contact.”
Carrie wrote back: “Hi, Pam! What a way to start a new year! You’re right, it is a lot to take in — but in an exciting way! For 30 years, since I first found out I was adopted at the ripe old age of 5, I have wondered everything about my birth family. I am thankful for my parents who have given me everything — the best life I could have ever imagined. But I’ve always had those thoughts in the back of my mind — who are they, where are they, what do they like, what do they look like, and so on. This is a fascinating new journey!”
The two e-mailed back and forth all day.
Does the rest of your family “know about me? If so, when did you tell them?” Carrie asked.
“Everybody in my life knows about you and has for many years,” Pam replied. “I don’t hide my past from my children, so they know about you and that we are in contact. They are also very excited!
Carrie said that made the difference in their new relationship.
“The biggest part for me was finding out I was nobody’s secret,” she said. “I was wanted.”
They are making plans to visit one another after the Games, and Carrie hopes to get to the 2020 event in Portland. She has since been in touch with her birth father and is finding other family members, too.
“We use social media a lot, and I’m getting all these friend requests from cousins, aunts, a grandma on my birth father’s side … my grandparents died in 2014 and now I get another grandma,” Carrie said as she dabbed a tear from her eye. “I’m finding out that I’ve had, like, 30,000 family members I never knew I had who had been praying for me my whole life. It’s wonderful.”
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
When Coach John Wooden arrived at UCLA in 1948, the athletic department promised him they would eventually get him a nice gym. But until then, he had to share a poorly lit, unventilated facility with the wrestling team, the cheerleaders, and the gymnastics team, often with everyone practicing at the same exact time. This existence was Wooden’s reality for 16 years.
I’m sure during those first years at UCLA, the administration continued to promise that construction on the new facility was right around the corner. Wooden could have been tempted to hold off on pushing his basketball program until the perfect gym was completed. Yet, it was in that ragged facility he shared with the other teams that he built the winning team for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship in 1964 and 1965. Reflecting on his team’s success he wrote, “You could have written a long list of excuses why UCLA shouldn’t have been able to develop a good basketball team….you must take what is available and make the very most of it.”
Coach Wooden’s lesson is the one we need for 2021. How many of us put life on hold in 2020 when the Coronavirus changed our reality to wait for that time when things were back to “normal?” We put off activities like getting in shape or connecting with friends and family because we were waiting for the return of the familiar. Those of us who fell into this hopeful state wasted the time and resources we had available to just maintain the status quo. It’s almost been a year since the world changed. What do you have to show for your new normal?
In 2021, let’s heed the coach’s wisdom and make the most of the resources at our fingertips. Start that project you’ve been putting off. Begin that hobby you bought all the parts and pieces for back in March but never started. Do body weight exercises while you wait for your gym to re-open. Call that family member you weren’t able to visit over the holidays or focus on that relationship that took a hit while you were both stuck at home all the time. Whatever it is, don’t make any more excuses. Focus on action. Remove from your vocabulary the phrase, “When things return to normal, I’m going to…”
Finally, I would like to leave you with a passage that was written down 2000 years before Coach Wooden set foot in that run-down gym at UCLA. It was written by the Roman philosopher Seneca in a treatise titled, On the Shortness of Life. He said, “Life is divided into three periods, past, present, and future. Of these, the present is short, the future is doubtful, and the past is certain.” In other words, the only thing we can affect is the present so don’t let another year go by without taking action on whatever it is in your life that you’re putting off for a post-COVID world.
In 12 months we are going to do what we inevitably do before a new year. We’re going to reflect. Let’s look back on 2021 and know that we made the most of it; that we didn’t wait for a new gym. Instead, we found opportunities within our individual realities and we seized them. Let this be our new normal.
As a child, Maj. Scotty Autin loved reading Marvel comic books. One of his favorite characters was Gambit, a fictional quick-handed, card-playing thief from New Orleans.
“Considering I’m from Louisiana, I was always drawn to Gambit,” said Autin, deputy commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District. “I read all the comics that featured him and watched the X-Men animated series just to see him. I remember as a 10-year-old, I would practice throwing playing cards just to be like him.”
So when Autin was invited to participate in “Excelsior! A Celebration of the Amazing, Fantastic, Incredible and Uncanny Life of Stan Lee” Jan. 30, 2019, at The Creative Life, or TCL, Chinese Theatre, formerly known as Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, in Hollywood, it was an offer he couldn’t refuse.
Prior and active-duty military service members with the Veterans in Media and Entertainment, Los Angeles; 311th Sustainment Command, U.S. Army Reserves, Los Angeles; U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District; the 300th Army Band, Los Angeles; American Legion Post No. 43, Hollywood, California; and American Legion Post No. 283, Pacific Palisades, California, pose for a picture prior to the start of “Excelsior! A Celebration of the Amazing, Fantastic, Incredible and Uncanny Life of Stan Lee” at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.
(Photo by Dena ODell)
The event was a memorial tribute to Lee, the legendary writer, editor and publisher of Marvel Comics, who died in November 2018.
But it wasn’t just because Autin grew up reading Marvel comic books that made participating in the ceremony so important to him; it also was a way to honor Lee’s service to the nation as a fellow Army veteran.
Crowds start to gather Jan. 30, 2019, in front of the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood prior to the start of “Excelsior! A Celebration of the Amazing, Fantastic, Incredible and Uncanny Life of Stan Lee” at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.
(Photo by Dena ODell)
Lee was a member of the U.S. Army Signal Corps during World War II. While in the service, he started out as a lineman, before the Army realized his writing skills and moved him into technical writing for training manuals, films and posters with a group that included the likes of Oscar-winner Frank Capra and Pulitzer-winner William Saroyan. After the war, Lee returned to Timely Comics, later renamed Marvel, where he served as the editor and co-creator for decades.
He was proud of his military service, said Lee’s longtime friend, Karen Kraft, an award-winning television producer, Army veteran and the chairwoman of the Veterans in Media and Entertainment, or VME, Board of Directors.
An artist sketches a drawing of Marvel Comic creator Stan Lee with actor, producer and director Kevin Smith during “Excelsior! A Celebration of the Amazing, Fantastic, Incredible and Uncanny Life of Stan Lee” at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.
(Photo by Dena ODell)
“He was very proud to have enlisted and was hoping to serve overseas, but his skill set was quickly discovered as a writer, illustrator and storyteller,” Kraft said.
Lee’s appreciation for his military service carried over to his civilian role at Marvel Comics, where it can be seen in the patriotic themes of “Captain America,” she said.
Paul Lilley, an Army veteran, actor, producer and member of Veterans in Media and Entertainment, center, helps fold a flag to present to “Agents of Mayhem” “Legion M” and “POW! Entertainment!” during “Excelsior! A Celebration of the Amazing, Fantastic, Incredible and Uncanny Life of Stan Lee” at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.
(Photo by Dena ODell)
Organizers of the event, which included VME, wanted to ensure that piece of Lee’s life wasn’t lost during the tribute ceremony. So they organized a color guard. A bugler was brought in to play, “Taps.” An Army band was asked to perform. Autin brought American flags he had flown in Iraq on Veterans Day to present to Lee’s daughter, J.C., and the sponsors of the event. American Legion’s Post No. 43, Hollywood, and Post No. 283, Pacific Palisades, California, got on board to help with a wreath-laying ceremony.
First encounter with Lee
Growing up in Rochester, New York, Kraft was drawn to the comic book creations of Lee.
She and her older brothers would go to the comic book store once a month, where she soon fell in love with Marvel Comics — the artwork, the words, the lettering, the coloring.
Jimmy Weldon, World War II veteran and a member of the American Legion Post No. 43, Hollywood, takes in all of the activities prior to the start of “Excelsior! A Celebration of the Amazing, Fantastic, Incredible and Uncanny Life of Stan Lee” at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.
(Photo by Dena ODell)
“No two comic books are the same,” she said. “It so captivates you that you don’t realize you’re reading a comic book. Your mind is filling in the gaps between the boxes and the pages because you’re so enthralled by it. That’s a power; that’s a storytelling magic.”
Kraft first met Lee at a comic book convention when she was young. After the convention and at the recommendation of her mother, Kraft wrote Lee a “thank you” letter, and he wrote a “thank you” letter back. From there, the two kept in touch, she said.
Later, when Kraft worked for the Discovery Channel, she interviewed Lee and other comic book talents for the documentary, “Marvel Superheroes Guide to New York City.” The documentary entailed traveling around New York City to the locations that inspired Lee and other comic book artists.
A military service member salutes the U.S. flag during the playing of “Taps” at “Excelsior! A Celebration of the Amazing, Fantastic, Incredible and Uncanny Life of Stan Lee” at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.
(Photo by Dena ODell)
After she left Discovery Channel, Kraft worked with Lee on various projects. Their initial chance encounter and continued correspondence developed into a decades-long friendship.
In Kraft’s eyes, Lee had his own superpower — the ability to connect with people.
“Stan was marvelous in the use of his vocabulary and the way he created these characters you can relate to,” she said. “He created this entire world with all of these different artists … Every character he created is a co-creation. That’s also pretty stunning — including all of these people and inspiring all of that creativity from artists and writers.”
Jere Romano, post commander of the American Legion No. 283, Pacific Palisades, California, left, along with his wife, Martha, place a wreath by a cement plaque of Marvel Comic book creator Stan Lee’s signature.
(Photo by Dena ODell)
Lee was known for a process called the “Marvel Method,” a creative assembly-line style he used in comic book-making. Lee would write in the captions, another artist would sketch the scene, another would color it and a different artist would finish the lettering. Some credit Lee’s process to his Army experience, where everyone had a job, or Military Occupational Specialty.
Throughout the years, Kraft said, Lee always opened his home and office to her and allowed her to bring veterans over to visit, where he would share his World War II stories. The two both joined the American Legion Post No. 43, Hollywood, together and Lee became an advisory board member of VME.
Members of the Veterans in Media and Entertainment present a U.S. flag to a Legion M representative during “Excelsior! A Celebration of the Amazing, Fantastic, Incredible and Uncanny Life of Stan Lee” at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.
(Photo by Dena ODell)
“He would talk to veterans about his military service … he loved to share his story,” she said. “His superpower is people. He’s extremely generous, very open with his time, very kind, very funny and very positive. And, he was very proud of his military service. We bonded over that.”
Crowds of people gather in the TCL Chinese Theatre Courtyard in Hollywood during “Excelsior! A Celebration of the Amazing, Fantastic, Incredible and Uncanny Life of Stan Lee” at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.
(Photo by Dena ODell)
Kraft recalled one time when Lee spoke to about 300 military veterans with VME.
“I remember in the last meeting, he was very emotional when he said to the veterans in the audience, ‘You’re the real heroes in my world,'” she said. “It was very, very touching.”
A legion of fans
The tribute to Lee at the TCL Chinese Theatre was nothing short of honoring his legacy of bringing very diverse groups together. Directors, producers, military service members and veterans, artists, writers, comic book fans and celebrities packed the theatre courtyard on the day of the event.
The diversity of the crowd didn’t surprise Kraft, who said Lee made everyone feel like they were a part of his family.
A cosplayer dressed as Spiderman holds a single red rose while listening to friends and fellow colleagues of Marvel Comic book creator Stan Lee pay tribute to him during “Excelsior! A Celebration of the Amazing, Fantastic, Incredible and Uncanny Life of Stan Lee” at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.
(Photo by Dena ODell)
On a small stage on the left-hand side of the courtyard, a military color guard posted the flags, while a bugler played “Taps” in the background. Army band members played “Amazing Grace” on bagpipes. Those who worked closely with Lee approached the microphone one-by-one to give testimonials of how he impacted their careers and their lives, including actor, director and producer Kevin Smith. A wreath was placed near a stone plaque engraved with Lee’s signature. Folded flags encased in wooden boxes were presented to the sponsors of the event, which included Agents of Mayhem, Legion M and POW! Entertainment. A flag was later presented to Lee’s daughter on the Red Carpet.
Following the courtyard tribute, celebrities, military members and others walked the Red Carpet leading inside the theatre, where celebrity panelists and others also paid tribute to Lee.
Actor, producer, writer and director Kevin Smith addresses the crowd to pay tribute to his friend, Stan Lee, during “Excelsior! A Celebration of the Amazing, Fantastic, Incredible and Uncanny Life of Stan Lee” at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.
(Photo by Dena ODell)
The diversity of the crowd, the presenters and the celebrities at the event spoke to Lee’s impact and reach across not only generations, but ethnic and social lines, Autin said.
“During the ceremony, I stood next to a gentleman who was about my age,” he said. “I was in my military dress uniform, and he was dressed as Mr. Fantastic (of the Fantastic Four). To the outside observer, that had no context of the situation, the sight would have looked like it was straight from a Marvel movie script. However, to us, we were both there to honor a man in our own way. The man that had an impact on us individually, as well as our entire generation.”
Lee loved a crowd and would have loved the ceremony and all of the military representation, Kraft said. He would have snapped off a smart salute to all of the men and women in their dress blues, said a quick-witted phrase, and there would be lots of hugging and smiles.
From left to right, actors Titus Welliver, Wesley Snipes, Laurence Fishburne and Bill Duke, along with a guest, pose for a picture on the Red Carpet during “Excelsior! A Celebration of the Amazing, Fantastic, Incredible and Uncanny Life of Stan Lee” at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.
(Photo by Dena ODell)
“I’m proud that he touched so many lives and inspired so many people to come together,” Kraft said. “People with very different passions, but yet they all share this passion for super heroes — people pushing themselves beyond what they think possible to do what’s right and to be good in this world.”
For Kraft, looking up into the Hollywood Hills, it’s hard to imagine Lee not being there anymore, but she finds solace in his legacy and what he taught her — the power and importance of storytelling to human nature.
Maj. Scotty Autin, deputy commander, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District, reflects in the background of a wreath honoring the late Marvel Comic legend Stan Lee during “Excelsior! A Celebration of the Amazing, Fantastic, Incredible and Uncanny Life of Stan Lee” at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.
(Photo by Dena ODell)
“Every culture cherishes its legends, its myths, it’s identity through storytelling,” she said. “Storytelling done truly well really uplifts you … It helps carry you through tough times; it pushes you to do bigger and bolder things. His signature was ‘Excelsior,’ which in Latin means ‘upward to greater glory.’ It means keep pushing yourself, keep moving on, keep trying.”
“I think that’s the power of these superheroes that Stan Lee created,” Autin added. “They each speak to us directly for different reasons, they each show us that it’s OK to be flawed or struggling, but also push us to lean on our strengths and help others.”
For some people, making history is not about what they’re doing but instead why they’re doing it.
On Sept. 6, 2019, six airmen from the 347th Rescue Group completed the HC-130J Combat King II’s first flight to be operated by an all-female aircrew.
While most would be excited just to make history, this crew’s “why” is less about the recognition but more about representation.
“We don’t want to be noticed for being women,” said Senior Airmen Rachel Bissonnette, 71st Rescue Squadron (RQS) loadmaster. “Any person who meets the bar can be an aircrew member. What we want is for the girls who think they can’t do it, to know that they can.”
71st Rescue Squadron (RQS) loadmasters prepare to load a container delivery system on to the ramp of an HC-130J Combat King II, at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, Sept. 6, 2019.
Capt. Sarah Edwards, 71st Rescue Squadron (RQS) pilot, prepares for takeoff in the cockpit of an HC-130J Combat King II at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, Sept. 6, 2019.
(US Air Force photo by 2nd Lt. Kaylin P. Hankerson)
71st Rescue Squadron (RQS) pilots prepare for takeoff in the cockpit of an HC-130J Combat King II at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, Sept. 6, 2019.
(US Air Force photo by 2nd Lt. Kaylin P. Hankerson)
Senior Airman Rachel Bissonnette, left, and Tech. Sgt. Colleen McGahuey-Ramsey, right, both 71st Rescue Squadron (RQS) loadmasters, look out the back of an HC-130J Combat King II as it flies over south Georgia, Sept. 6, 2019.
(US Air Force photo by 2nd Lt. Kaylin P. Hankerson)
Tech. Sgt. Colleen McGahuey-Ramsey, 71st Rescue Squadron (RQS) loadmaster, visually confirms the target for a loadmaster-directed rescue drop, Sept. 6, 2019.
(US Air Force photo by 2nd Lt. Kaylin P. Hankerson)
Morgan Lerette, a former Army intelligence officer who spent 18 months in Iraq, writes about his experience as a Blackwater operative with countless missions in his new book, ‘Welcome to Blackwater: Mercenaries, Money and Mayhem in Iraq.’ His memoir recounts what it is like to be a modern-day Ronin in the sands of Iraq. At a time when U.S. civilian employers discriminated against hiring veterans, he ventured with Blackwater at the age of 23 at the recommendation of a friend. This was the start of a road bathed in prostitutes, gold, blood and the ruthlessness required to be successful in clandestine operations. Yet, balancing weight retains one’s humanity.
“Blackwater was a real turning point in my life, much more than my stints in the military,” said Lerette, now 40. “I wanted to write about the people, my brothers and how we survived.”
We Are The Mighty, with the support of Onward Press and United States Veterans Artists Alliance, bring you this exclusive interview with a warrior who lived the dream most combat Military Occupational Specialties dream of: to be set loose upon the enemies of the west and give no quarter – for money.
WATM: Politicians constantly debate the morality of hiring contractors to protect our interests abroad, regardless that the practice of hiring mercenaries is as old as war itself. How has Blackwater impacted the evolution of warfare?
I think [people] really have to understand the paradigm of where Blackwater came in. The ground combat ended, and the interim government was created in Iraq. As soon as that interim government was created and we gave them sovereignty, it went from a Department of Defense mission to a Department of State mission.
They didn’t have the power to protect their own diplomats as they were running around all over Iraq. So that’s really where Blackwater came in. The war was not planned well as it was. What compounded it was that Blackwater came in and were told they had diplomatic immunity and the rules of engagement were different than the other soldiers. It opened up this gray space where we could operate autonomously.
There was no check and balance in place.
No grownup supervision of what we were doing, when we were doing it, or how we were doing it. I think that’s really when it went bad. If you don’t have the government agency that you are contracted by in the vehicles with you – there is no way for them to supervise. I don’t put the blame on Blackwater entirely or the State Department entirely. They both failed to make sure that people were doing the right thing at the right time.
WATM: Your book is brutally honest about a different kind of deployment than is usually experienced overseas. How did you forge a bond between you and your peers to become brothers?
It is very similar to what you go through in the military. You go in there with a number of people you recently met, who you would not normally come into contact with, and are tasked with protecting an individual and each other. You can’t trust that the Iraqis are going to welcome you with open arms. You can’t expect that the State Department people are going to be able to help you out. You have to trust and count on that person sitting next to you with their body armor and rifle.
The bonding was very similar [in that aspect]. Where it was dissimilar is when you come home from a contract there is no support system. As a unit in the Army or the Air Force, you leave as a unit and come back as a unit. You go to your base and it’s comfortable.
As a contractor it’s really just you.
Your new buddies, people whom you would literally die for and would die for you, are scattered across the nation. It makes it hard to keep that camaraderie, so people start chasing those contracts. They go back for the camaraderie and adrenaline of war. Whereas in the military they tell you when to go.
WATM: Some corporations have propaganda that they will hire veterans but when it comes time to put their money where their mouth is, they do not. How has this barrier for veterans to assimilate into the civilian world affected recruitment to companies like Blackwater?
It definitely helped. When I got into Blackwater in 2004 you had a number of special operations soldiers that have trained for years and years and they never really got to do their job. [For example] you had a guy who trained for [a job] for three years and at the end of it they say ‘okay, that was great, but I still want to [keep doing it.’] That’s where a lot of these guys were: special operations, SEALs, Rangers, Recon Marines and they didn’t get to go to war like they were trained for.
This was their chance to extend that service – to get their war.
Blackwater definitely took advantage that there were people who haven’t seen combat but were trained for it. Even to this day, since I came out with the book ‘Welcome to Blackwater,’ people say to me, ‘Well, how do I join?’
Those companies are saying, ‘This is your chance at war, Iraq has dwindled down to 2,500 troops and Afghanistan the same way. They get there and they sit as a gate guard and they’re frustrated because they really think this is their chance. It’s just not the way it was back then and you don’t have the option of finding that fortune like you used to.
WATM: Current and former members of the military have this idea that Private Military Contracting is the final frontier of combat. Would you encourage or discourage their pursuit of fortune?
Yeah, so, the money dried up a number of years ago. It’s definitely not paying what it did when I was with Blackwater in 2004-05. Not only has the money dried up but so have the missions. It used to be a lot of escorting diplomats around combat zones. Now, the majority of jobs are within site security.
Gate guard, tower guard.
Whereas we were making around $210,000 a year, if you’re a gate guard in Kuwait, you’re going to make around $60,000 a year. I would not encourage anyone to go to the final frontier because the final frontier is no longer available.
WATM: Onward Press is an avenue for warriors to give up the sword and pick up the pen. What was your experience working with them on ‘Welcome to Blackwater’?
Onward press is specifically looking for people who have been in the military community, such as spouses, who want to get their story told and be able to tell that story well. Every veteran has an amazing story and being able to put that on paper, get it done, put it on Amazon and be able to purchase it – it takes professionals to do that.
So, Onward Press bridged that gap for me.
They were able to say ‘yes, you do have a good story, you have a good voice, but here’s how you should be able to frame it. Here’s how you get started, here’s where you need to add stuff, here’s where you need to take out stuff. In order to make sure the story was entertaining, and it flowed and people would actually be interested in it.
It’s an awesome organization but writing your experience is very cathartic. Even if I don’t become a bestseller, it’s almost a way for me to give my story over to paper. It took some of the burden I have carried with me throughout my almost three years in Iraq. To be able to give that over to something else, for that reason, it is very, very cathartic.
WATM: Is there anything you would like to say to our readers and the military community?
There is honor in service. There are a lot of extremely intelligent people that don’t have college degrees that do the same thing as me. I’m not unique or special. What I was, was willing to reach out. I couldn’t get to where I needed to go. That goes all the way back to reaching out to figure out my G.I. Bill, to figure out the VA, to getting my book about Blackwater to a publisher and get published.
Whether you’ve spent three to 30 years in the military, set that pride aside and ask for help. If I hadn’t asked for help there is no way I could have published Welcome to Blackwater.
A lot of these stories about soldiers, airmen, sailors, Marines would be lost if we can’t get them documented.
So, reach out. Heck, reach out to me. Go to my website www.welcometoblackwater.com and shoot me an email and I’ll get back to you. I’m always willing to help.
‘Welcome to Blackwater: Mercenaries, Money and Mayhem in Iraq’ is available now on Amazon.
About Onward Press
Onward Press is the publishing imprint of the United States Veterans Artists Alliance, Inc., a 501-c-3 educational non-profit. www.usvaa.org
Our mission is to publish well-written, compelling books by military veterans, spouses, military brats, and other family members. Also, people who served in other agencies overseas and their family members.
We are interested in great stories well-told, and are not limited to military, veteran or government-service topics. We publish literary novels, non-fiction, memoirs, mystery, true crime, suspense-thrillers, to name just a few.
All books are available as e -books, trade paperbacks, hardcover and audio. We pay royalties to our authors and provide editorial guidance and engaging cover art.Onward Press is open for submissions. Please see Submission Guidelines.
Learn more about Welcome to Blackwater: Mercenaries, Money and Mayhem, here.
MSG Williams (Left) and SSG Ron Shurer (Right) with an Afghan Commando.
We recently sat down with Master Sgt. Matt Williams and Staff Sgt. Ronald Shurer of ODA 3336, the first Green Berets to receive the Medal of Honor from the same team. The men recount their harrowing experience, and talk about the brotherhood within the Special Forces community, and what the Medal of Honor means to them.
On April 6, 2008, Operational Detachment-Alpha 3336 entered the Shok Valley in Afghanistan with their Afghan Commando partners to capture a high-value target. Almost immediately upon insertion, the team came under heavy RPG and machine gun fire. Within minutes of landing, the team was dealing with their first casualty and began coordinating an evacuation down the side of a mountain in a foreign language, all the while calling in danger close ordnance to repel the enemy onslaught.
MSG Williams while on a mission in Afghanistan
(Photo Courtesy of U.S. Army MSG Matthew Williams)
Green Beret teams were some of the first Americans into Afghanistan after 9/11, and the unique nature of their mission inspired Williams and Shurer. Both men feel strongly about the brotherhood that is established within the Special Forces community and speak to those feelings throughout the interview. “I’ve read books, and seen movies, but until you’re in the Q Course, you see that the focus isn’t this tough, lone soldier. It’s much more of a team aspect,” said Shurer. “They’ve got to find those guys with the strong personalities but can play as part of a team, that’s why it kind of fit well with me.” Shurer added.
MSG Williams receives the Medal of Honor from POTUS
(Photo Credit: Sgt. Keisha Brown)
As with many other Medal of Honor recipients, the award has changed their lives as they are now part of the Medal of Honor Society, and have appeared on national media to share their heroic actions and remember the efforts of others.”You’re not wearing it for yourself, you’re wearing it for all those guys who didn’t come home, and everyone out there who is still doing the job and still doing the mission,” said Shurer. “If nothing else it puts me in a position to highlight great things that are done constantly by SF teams, special forces teams are always, are constantly out there doing these things” added Williams, “I hope you see a representation of the great things that all the men and women that serve the country are capable of doing and do” he added.
Check out the full video above. Click to read the official citation for MSG Williams and SSG Shurer
As prior and present service members are gathered for the public USS Utah Memorial Sunset Ceremony, there is one thing on everyone’s mind: remembrance. Remembering the bravery of the crew that was lost 78 years ago, remembering the honor possessed by each soul onboard and the legacy they left behind. Fifty-eight members of the USS Utah (BB-31/AG-16) crew were lost that day, but today they are celebrated.
The capsizing of the USS Utah is honored every year on the eve of December 7. The former battleship, that was once used for target and gunnery training, was the first ship to be struck by two torpedoes during the attack on the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor on Dec 7, 1941.
As the amber rays of the sunset reflected upon the island of Oahu, USS Utah survivor Warren Upton along with World War II veterans Roy Solt and Burk Waldron were greeted by applause from those attending the ceremony.
Jacqueline Ashwell, superintendent of the National Park Service, gave thanks to those that served and showed gratitude to everyone honoring the fallen ship.
Jacqueline Ashwell, superintendent of the National Park Service, says a speech during the USS Utah Memorial Sunset Ceremony in Pearl Harbor, Dec. 6, 2019.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Allen Michael Amani)
“There’s often a phrase that is associated with the USS Utah,” said Ashwell. “That somehow she is the forgotten ship of Pearl Harbor. It is obvious that the USS Utah is not the forgotten ship. We are all here to remember her and her crew.”
Ashwell recounted the memory of the late U.S. Navy Master Chief Jim Taylor, who served as a full-time volunteer to Navy Region Hawaii Public Affairs Office until his passing earlier this year. He served as a liaison for the survivors of Pearl Harbor and their families.
“He helped lay to rest many Pearl Harbor survivors who chose to come back and have their ashes spread in these waters around the Utah and for those who served on the Utah to be placed within the ship,” said Ashwell.
USS Utah Survivor Warren Upton was embraced by many families in attendance as he shook hands and gave hugs to those that thanked him for his service.
“This ceremony was very good,” said Upton. “I really miss Jim. He was a friend to all of the old Utah sailors.”
The ocean breeze and the water washing up against the memorial site are the only sounds heard as Musician 1st Class Collin Reichow, from Herndon Va., plays “Taps” upon his bugle. Sailors of many different ranks render a salute as the melody flows from his instrument. The ceremony comes to an end as everyone is reminded to never forget USS Utah.
A US Army Ranger, Tim Abell (Army Ranger) and Harry Humphries (SEAL) at a VETNET event. Photo credit Harry Humphries.
Harry Humphries has lived an amazing life, first as a highly decorated Navy SEAL in the Vietnam War then to partnering alongside fellow SEAL Richard Marcinko in business, and, most recently, to working on Hollywood blockbuster films such as The Rock, Black Hawk Down, The Transformers films, Lone Survivor and most recently Da 5 Bloods. He shares leadership and character traits that have served him across his diverse and storied career.
WATM: Tell me about your family and your life growing up?
Born in New Jersey and raised on the Jersey Shore. The Atlantic Ocean was my playground where I became skilled in most things aquatic. Under the tutelage of strong family leadership, specifically from my grandparents, the concept of Love of nation, Pride of Family and God was deeply instilled in my psyche.
This was during and shortly after World War Two, as with most Americans, my pride of country was deeply instilled. My four uncles fought in Europe — all came home safely….naturally, at this early age in my life I knew I would serve as well.
WATM: What is the most distinct memory of your mother and your father?
My parental experiences resulting from their divorce was a split upbringing for my sister and myself. Actually, our grandparents filled that role, however, that is not to say that my mother wasn’t a wonderful mom, a very strong woman, and extremely supportive of me through my mistakes and successes. Her remarriage was a blessing, as my stepfather became my first athletic coach and as a former college athlete and 101st Airborne Master Sergeant who made all five combat jumps in Europe became my mentor. Fairness on the athletic field and a pursuit of excellence in athletics was deeply ingrained in me as a result.
WATM: What values were stressed at home?
Faith, pride in self and pride in family, a strong sense of determination, tenacity, whatever you start finish, if it gets dark look towards your faith and most importantly, never quitting and finishing what was started.
WATM: What influenced you to join the US Navy and SEALs, what was your experience and what lessons did you take away from your service?
I joined the Naval Reserve as a Prep School senior, 1st classman at Admiral Farragut Academy in Pine Beach, New Jersey. My goal was to attend the Naval Academy, the reserve program at Farragut guaranteed an appointment, however the goal was not to be achieved. After attending Rutgers and Monmouth College for a few years, my reserve unit was called to active duty. I chose to serve out my two-year active obligation at that time which ultimately led to me extending several years in order to get Underwater Demolition Training UDT/R at Little Creek VA. Class 29 where I graduated as class Honor Man. Clearly my most treasured achievement.
I received orders to Underwater Demolition Team 22, UDT 22, where I made several Platoon deployments to the Caribbean after which a billet became available for an enlisted slot in the new command, SEAL TEAM 2. Again, another excellent achievement which changed my life. Reporting aboard was an experience I shall never forget, the quality of personnel, professionalism, all the attributes of becoming part of this outstanding organization was life changing to me.
The early days of the SEAL program were extremely secretive, not as publicized as today’s teams. One didn’t volunteer to punch a ticket and get out. The incentive was to operate with personnel at a level of professionalism not equaled in most commands.
My period was pre, during and some post-Vietnam. Having made two tours, one with Dick Marcinko’s 8th Platoon, ST2 when we were heavily engaged in the TET Offensive of 68 operating on the Cambodian Border supporting the CHAU DOC PRU led by DREW DIX MEDAL OF HONOR recipient for these actions. The 8th Platoon performed excellently going into the city seeking, engaging with the VC. I went with DREW and a fellow SEAL, Frank Thornton into the city on a “company” vehicle armed with an M-2 HMG in the rear. Our mission was to rescue some USAID Medical Personnel who were held captive in their villa by the insurgent VC. After several intensive firefights, the mission was successful, but unfortunately we lost one of our SEALs later in the day, Ted Risher, Frank and I were with Ted on a rooftop prepping a 57 recoilless rifle position overlooking the VC Command Center when Ted took a round in the head.
After several days operating in and around Chau Doc with Drew and his PRU, the platoon was ordered back to Can Tho base. The VC had been killed, captured or melded back into the local population. The city was free.
I returned to country, assigned to MACVSOG operating as a detached SEAL working for the CIA’s Phoenix program as The PRU Advisor in CAN THO Province. I remember this assignment as a dream job, working undercover, if you will, as an enlisted guy telling O-5s and 6s how we were going to execute our battle plans. I split my 150-man team into smaller units and spread them around the province. The plan worked very well increasing our operational tempo many fold.
My last action leading my PRU team was on a VIP Capture Kill mission for a high-ranking VC Commander when I was wounded in both legs. I’m here today only because of my troops. We fought our way out of the ambush and coordinated an air assault on the VC forces covered in a tree line. The UH-1 “POP POP” sounds are truly magnificent to hear, and the sight of WP rockets (no longer in the inventory) hitting as directed is beautiful to see in such times as these.
I eventually wound up in YOKOSUKA Naval Hospital recovering from leg wounds. It was during this time I spent weeks in a ward filled with young Marines ages 18 to 21ish. Mostly amputees. As the senior enlisted guy on the floor, I became their Gunny, sometimes maintaining discipline, sometimes feeding those who had no limbs to feed themselves, sometimes coaching those who needed a prod to get up and rehab their abilities to walk. Truth be told here; it was them who gave me the drive to get up and walk from bed to bed initially until I was able to get around to help them.
The lessons I learned here are immense but simply put, all warriors have a mutual respect for one another. I swore I would never forget these troops, a memory which has instilled a burning passion in me to help my fellow veterans, a passion which lives on to this day.
Dick Marcinko (left) and Harry Humphries (right) in Vietnam, 1968. Photo credit unknown.
WATM: What values have you carried over from the SEALs into advising and producing?
Whether factual or fantasy, the characters playing military or law enforcement rolls must be as realistic as possible, we owe that to them.
I see my role as the reality conscience of the Writer, Director, Producer and HODs. Then on to the training of talent enabling them to appropriately play a role in many cases totally unfamiliar to them.
A shot of the SEAL Team (actors and real SEALs) in The Rock. Photo credit IMDB.com.
WATM: What is the most fulfilling project you have done and why?
Without hesitation I can say that BLACK HAWK DOWN was my thesis as an advisor and Co-Producer. My role entailed acquisition of period correct Equipment; Weapons, and to some extent Costume, assisting the departments in accuracy as pertained to their areas. My role as liaisons to DOD was immense. Jerry Bruckheimer and Ridley wanted the training to be as realistic as possible, once we had DOD’s Production Assist Agreement in place all specific training was provided by USASOC components, the commands being portrayed; the 75th Ranger Regiment provided a gentlemen’s RIP program, the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment DELTA actors were trained at Bragg blowing and kicking doors, etc. the 160th SOAR provided UH-60 training on the simulators at FT. Campbell, etc.
USASOC stood up a detachment of Rangers, 160th Black Hawks and Little Birds, AIRSOC provided transport of all personnel and equipment to Morocco. A remarkable support effort, probably never to be repeated.
Most importantly, I was blessed to have Colonels Tom Mathews (OIC of the 160th element in Mogadishu) and Lee Van Arsdale, ( the C Squadron Commander of the CAG unit). As part of the Military department with me.
Bruce Willis, Paul Francis, Cole Hauser, Johnny Messner, and Eamonn Walker in Tears of the Sun. Photo credit IMDB.com
Taylor Kitsch, Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster and Emile Hirsch in Lone Survivor. Photo credit IMDB.com
David Denman, John Krasinski, Pablo Schreiber and Dominic Fumusa in 13 Hours. Photo credit IMDB.com.
Thad Luckinbill, Chris Hemsworth and Navid Negahban in 12 Strong. Photo credit IMDB.com.
Delroy Lindo, Norm Lewis, Clarke Peters, Isiah Whitlock Jr., and Jonathan Majors in Da 5 Bloods. Photo credit IMDB.com.
WATM: What was your experience like in working with such talents as Ridley Scott, Michael Bay, Antoine Fuqua, Tony Scott and Dominic Sena on projects like The Rock, Con Air, Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, Gone in 60 Seconds, Tears of the Sun, GI Jane, Bad Boys 2 and the like?
This is a tough question, all you mention have been great to have worked with. I’d have to say my projects with Ridley Scott all were excellent experiences. Ridley is without question one of the finest gentlemen I have ever known. As a director, few can compare with his talent, to call him friend is a blessing.
Mike Bay is a loyal friend, working with Mike is like an uncle/nephew experience. I understand and respect his drive for excellence, he truly stands out as a master of the work he does in the action genre. Not only is he truly a friend but also the guy who has worked me the most throughout our careers.
Working with Mike, thanks to Jerry Bruckheimer, on The Rock stands out to be more than just my first project but has to be the most enjoyable yet to be surpassed. Additionally, 13 HOURS stands out to me as my second favorite film. It tells an action story that had to be told accurately.
My projects with Tony Scott stand out in my mind as another exceptional talent and friend, may he rest in peace. We truly lost a great one with him leaving us.
Pete Berg, another friend for life. Working with Pete has always been a pleasure. His work on Lone Survivor was outstanding. I was proud to have played a small role in that project as military Liaison, consultant and Co Producer. Pete is the only director I’ve worked with who shoots as fast as Mike Bay, a joy to watch.
Antoine Fuqua, another artist in his field was also a pleasure to work with on Tears of the Sun. Working with Bruce Willis, we had an outstanding time both shooting and training. Hawaii locations weren’t shabby either.
Most recently Kevin Kent, (my #2 and SEAL war hero) and I had the pleasure of working with SPIKE LEE on DA 5 BLOODS, in retrospect, a Vietnam War period film. Spike was the consummate professional knowing what he wanted and how to get it. The recent loss of Chadwick Boseman, the lead, was a shock to us all. His athletic performance always at top speed was no indication of his condition. An excellent actor, another loss to the world.
Ridley Scott on the set of Black Hawk Down. Photo credit directorseries.net.
Eric Bana and Harry on set for Black Hawk Down. Photo credit Harry Humphries.
Mike Moriarty, Harry Humphries and Kevin Kent on set, 13 HOURS. Photo credit IMDB.com
WATM: What leadership lessons in life and from the SEALs have helped you most in your career?
The most important element of leadership is to create a team and to love the members of that team. The rest will follow if you do that right. Without the team there is no success.
Bruce Willis and Harry Humphries on (HS TRUMAN CVN 75) set for Tears of the Sun. Photo credit Wikipedia.
WATM: As a veteran, how do we get more veteran stories told in Hollywood?
Veterans in Media and Entertainment is probably the best source of veterans in the industry. I did a talk with them several years back. Since The Rock I have put over a 100 SEALs, Marines and Rangers as special skills extras or talent in films and projects. I have been able to help a bunch of veterans in the industry.
WATM: What are you most proud of in life and your career?
My greatest pride resides in assisting veterans as with the VETNET program with Jerri Rosen, who started Working Wardrobes in Orange County offering dress clothing and job training for people who couldn’t afford them. Many veterans were coming through Working Wardrobes for suits and/or dress clothes for work and interviews, so VETNET was created to focus more directly on veterans.
Many of the California veterans are poverty stricken or homeless where they need help restarting in the civilian world. With VETNET we help them write resumes and get prepared for job interviews. We focus on the transitioning veterans as well as those that have come upon hard landings. The core of our program stresses that Veterans having fallen on hard times need to remember who they are and where they came from. It is imperative they believe that and then the pride in self returns. It makes no difference if you came from a high-speed combat unit or support. We all took the same oath essentially offering our lives to support and defend The Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic…..
Jerri Rosen, Harry Humphries and the Plank Owners of the VETNET team. Photo credit Harry Humphries.
The U.S. Air Force, RAF and Italian Air Force are the only ones to have the ability to carry out Bio-containment missions aboard their aircraft.
In the next hours, a Boeing KC-767A tanker and transport aircraft of the 14° Stormo (Wing) of the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF) will depart from Pratica di Mare Air Base, near Rome, to carry out the air evacuation of an Italian student stuck in Wuhan, China, who could not be repatriated along with the others on Feb. 2, 2020, because he developed fever. While the same aircraft has already taken part in a previous flight to the Chinese town that is the coronavirus epicentre, the next one will be in “bio-containment” configuration.
This kind of missions are flown with an aeromedical isolation crew that can take care of the patient in isolated area of the aircraft (with bathroom) because he/she has been exposed to, or infected with, highly infectious, potentially lethal pathogens. For this reason, aircraft involved in this tasks require specific disinfection and decontamination procedures after the mission.
Considered the peculiar health conditions of the patients, it is also important to make sure the quality of the flight is not affected by the so-called major and minor stressors of flight:
Major stressors are Hypoxya and Barometric pressure changes that can induce expansion of trapped gas, decompression and sickness
Minor stressors are Dryness, Noise, Vibrations and turbolence, Temperature changes and overall Fatigue of flight
ATIs (Air Transit Isolators) are boarded for these missions. An ATI is a self-contained isolation facility designed to transport safely a patient during air evacuation, protecting healthcare personnel, air crew and the aircraft from exposure to the infectious agents. The ATI provides a microbiologically secure environment using a multi-layer protection: around the rigid or semi-rigid frame, a PVC “envelop” surrounds the patient while allowing observation and treatment of the patient in isolation and an Air Supply Unit puts the ATI unit under negative pressure, with HEPA Inlet and Outlet filters that filter out 99,97% of particles 0.3mm and larger preventing the passage of potentially infected micro-particles. Four 12V batteries with an operating time of 6 hours each provide the ATI 24 hours independent time.
The team is usually composed of a Team Leader, a doctor who is responsible for coordinating the mission, manages relations with the civil entities involved and supervises all the operations. At least two medical officers (an anesthesiologist and an infectious disease specialist) are responsible for the health management of the patient while six non-commissioned officers take care of the patient and carry out transport procedures.
Needless to say, all the team wears protective gear that may vary according to the required Biosafety Level and that can range from simple gown, facial mask and gloves up to the Full body suit (tychem C) with positive pressure gloves.
The Aeronautica Militare has started developing the bio-containment evacuation capability since 2005, with the purchase of the ATI systems. Military doctors and nurses attended the training courses of the U.S. Army Institute of Infectious Diseases in Maryland, while the assets used for this peculiar mission were certified by the Centro Sperimentale Volo (Flight Test Wing). The ATI has been certified in extreme conditions after undergoing Rapid decompression, Vibration, Electromagnetic and Environmental Tests and can be carried by the ItAF C-130J, the C-27J and the KC-767A that have carried out some bio-containement missions in the last few years: on Nov. 25, 2014, a KC-767 repatriated an Italian doctor who developed a fever and was positive at the Ebola virus after working at a clinic located few miles west of Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown. Earlier, on Jan. 24, 2006, a C-130J transported back to Italy a patient suffering from a severe form of pulmonary tuberculosis resistant to any pharmacological treatment.
The bio-containment capability is based on the use of special ATI (Aircraft Transport Isolator) stretchers, used to board the patient, and the smaller TSI (Stretcher Transit Isolator) terrestrial system, required to transfer the patient from the aircraft to the ambulance upon arrival.
Just a few air forces are able to conduct bio-containment flights like those described above: the U.S. Air Force and UK’s Royal Air Force are the other services capable to perform such mission.
In Italy, the bio-containment mission is a military capability available for civilian use (for this reason it is called a “dual use” capability): it was developed in coordination with the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Interiors and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as the Protezione Civile (Civil Protection).
So if a zombie were to come lumbering up your block right now, what would you do? Reach for your weapon? Bolt the doors and windows and stay inside? Rush to your nearest gun shop? Maybe try to make it on post? If you’ve watched even one episode of The Walking Dead, or if you’re a fan of any of the jokey zombie movies that have come out in the last few years, you and your buddies have probably spent at least one evening over beers talking about what you would do if zombies suddenly decided to rush you.
It turns out that you’re not the only one thinking about these plans. In fact, the DoD has been considering what the military should do if a zombie apocalypse were to take place.
“This plan was not actually designed as a joke.” So starts out CONPLAN 8888, better known as the Counter Zombie Dominance Plan (CZDP), unveiled by the Joint Combined Warfighting School back in 2009.
It’s easy to make fun of, for sure, but there might be some real training gems nestled inside this strange idea. The plan’s overall purpose isn’t to actually train and prepare for zombies, but what the military should do to “preserve non-zombie humans” from the very significant threats posed by a zombie horde. It’s also endearing that the DoD is thinking outside the box when it comes to training. Even more comforting is knowing that even if an army of the undead were to attack civilization, there’s no chance they’d win. Here’s why.
No matter if we get attacked by fast or slow zombies, they’re no match for modern aircraft. Fighter jets have serious destructive potential, and they’re incredibly accurate. And since we’re pretty sure zombies never got the training on how to shelter in place, they’d probably just stand out in the open with fighter jets zipping overhead.
This goes without saying but putting on your gear will definitely help prevent you and your buddies from being bitten by zombies. In most zombie scenarios, they’re limited to human strength, so we’re pretty sure they can’t chew through your IOTV.
Landmines are nothing to mess with, but fortunately, most humans know to stay away from minefields once the first device is detonated. We’re counting on zombies not being so smart and would expect them to continue navigating the field, even while the mines exploded all around them. And since zombies are fairly easy to predict, herding them into minefields could be an effective way to deal with them.
Mass charges are all zombies really do. They overrun their target and bite them until they become zombies too. Machine gun fire would put a stop to that quickly.
This one is pretty obvious, but so often overlooked in a takeover of the undead scenario. The truth is that the explosive firepower of tanks means that very few zombies could survive an attack. Even if ammo was low, tanks could easily just run over swarms of zombies, fixing the problem.
Training against fake nations and fake enemies is nothing new
CZDP explores what would happen after a political fallout, a broken chain of command, and a target-rich environment, as would happen if zombies were to suddenly take over the earth. It’s just like when the military issues training guides to combat fictional nations like the “Pineladians” or the “Krasnovians,” both fictional countries the military trains to fight against.
Fictional countries the military trains to fight aren’t new. In fact, it’s a standard part of lots of military training. Zombies aside, the military does this by design – in part to ensure that they don’t set off any political red flags by having our service members train against nation-states, and because it helps things stay light in the face of what could be some really dark scenarios.
Of course, the Pentagon doesn’t actually believe that a zombie takeover is likely, but the training for battling the undead is remarkably useful for other training events. And, since the training manual is so absurd, students at the Joint Warfighters College actually paid attention, were engaged in the lesson, and explored the basic concepts of planning and order development – all very important things for the future leaders of the military.
Thousands of women across the Air Force provided feedback to the Women’s Initiative Team, playing a pivotal role in the first women’s hair policy change in 70 years. On February 19, 2021, U.S. Air Force senior leaders directed a second racial, gender and ethnic disparity review of racial, gender and ethnic disparity in the Department of the Air Force.
Empowered Airmen Can Solve Any Problem
In August of 2020, General C.Q. Brown, Jr. released a series of action orders to “Accelerate Change or Lose.” The guidance states that in order to compete with near-peer adversaries, the U.S. Air Force must re-examine which attributes the service requires to fight and win in a high-end fight. Gen. Brown’s strategic approach describes a ‘people-first’ approach that enhances the quality of life of Airmen and their families and improves the U.S. Air Force’s ability to be an attractive service for future prospects.
General Brown’s guidance reads, “We must develop leaders with the appropriate tools to create and sustain an environment in which all Airmen can reach their full potential, valuing the many aspects of diversity within our Air Force. These efforts must also enhance the quality of service and quality of life for our Airmen and their families, making the U.S. Air Force an attractive career choice for all Americans.”
Women’s Initiative Team
Maj. Alea Nadeem, a Reserve Airman who serves as the leader of the Air Force Women’s Initiative Team, has played a key role in bringing about positive changes for women across the Air Force. Major Nadeem teamed up with Master Sgt. Jonathon Lind, a fellow leader who was made aware of the issues with the female hair policy when one of his young Airmen experienced complications first-hand. Master Sgt. Lind’s wife, a fellow Airman, also remarked that she was considering leaving the Air Force due to the same issues.
Together, the Airmen were able to collect input and data from thousands of women Airmen across the force and present their findings to decision makers. With the backing of dozens of commanders and years of research and data in hand, they went on to deliver their findings to the 101st Air Force Uniform Board. Their report stated that constraints to hair grooming standards resulted in damage to hair, migraines and in some cases, hair loss. Additionally, the feedback revealed that the existing hair policy had failed to support a culture of inclusion for almost a quarter of Total Force Airmen.
On January 21, 2021, the Air Force announced that women would be permitted to wear their hair in two new styles – two braids or a single ponytail. The 101st Air Force Uniform Board sourced ideas from Airmen across the Air Force, including the thousands of Air Force women who provided feedback to the Women’s Initiative Team. The Air Force chief of staff approved the new policy after considering feedback from the force, the uniform board recommendation, and the professional image and standards of the Air Force and U.S. military.
The hard work, dedication and thoughtful risk-taking displayed by Maj. Alea Nadeem and Master Sgt. Jonathan Lind has garnered attention across the service, including top Air Force leadership. In a news release dated Jan 21, 2021, the 101st Uniform Board recognized the Women’s Initiative Team for their research and support.
Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force JoAnne Bass also voiced her support saying, “In addition to the health concerns we have for our Airmen, not all women have the same hair type, and our hair standards should reflect our diverse force. I am pleased we could make this important change for our women service members.”
In December of 2020, the Air Force released its first report on the findings of an Air Force Inspector General independent review into racial disparity. The IG report defines racial disparity as “existing when the proportion of a racial/ethnic group within the subset of the population is different from the proportion of such groups in the general population.”
The review goes on to state that while the presence of a disparity alone is not evidence of racism, discrimination, or disparate treatment, it presents a concern that requires more in-depth analysis. Key stakeholders within the Air Force and Space Force have now been tasked to identify the root causes of these disparities.
The report also states that the data does not address why racial disparities exist in these areas, and that while the data shows race is a correlating factor, it does not necessarily indicate causality. While the first investigation was focused on Black/African American Airmen and space professionals, future efforts of the review will not be exclusive to a single minority group.
On February 19, 2021, Air Force senior leaders directed the Department of the Air Force Inspector General to conduct an additional independent review of racial, gender and ethnic disparity in the Department of the Air Force.
Senior leaders stated that “Ensuring fair and equitable discipline and development for all our Airmen and Guardians is critical. We are committed to promoting an environment free from personal, social and institutional barriers that might prevent our members from rising to their highest potential. Diversity makes us a stronger and more capable force.”
Additionally, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer/Questioning Initiative Team (LIT) and the Indigenous Nations Equality Teams (INET) were formally established by the Department of the Air Force in early 2021 under the umbrella of its Barrier Analysis Working Group.
Originally created in 2008, the Barrier Analysis Working Group was dedicated to analyzing data, trends and barriers to service for the civilian workforce. Since then, the group’s focus has broadened to include Airmen as well. As of March 2021, the Department of the Air Force has established the following initiative teams:
Black/African American Employment Strategy Team, Disability Action Team, Hispanic Empowerment and Action Team, Indigenous Nations Equality Team, LGBTQ Initiative Team, Pacific Islander/Asian American Community Team and Women’s Initiatives Team.
Airmen or Guardians interested in getting involved with the Barrier Analysis Working Group should contact SAF/ODI at SAF.ODI.Workflow@us.af.mil.