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.
That sweet, sweet DD-214 can’t come soon enough. You’ve served your country honorably for all those years and now, finally, it’s time to close that chapter of your life. You’ve either got some big plans for your life after service or you’re just planning on winging it. Whatever the case, you’re ready to hang that uniform up for good and move on, into the great unknown.
Not to sound like the exit briefing slideshows that they’ll make you endure, but we’ve got to warn you: You’ve probably got a few misconceptions about what civilian life has in store for you.
Don’t worry about telling everyone you were in the military. We know. We all know.
(Meme via Sh*t My LPO Says)
“I can just fall back into my old life”
Let’s get the most obvious — yet somewhat depressing — misconception out of the way first: You’ve changed. You’re not the same person that you were when you stepped on that bus to head out to Basic/Boot Camp. And to be entirely honest, you’ve probably grown better for it.
But at the same time, the world didn’t stop spinning while you were gone, and others have changed in your absence — for better or for worse. Your family and your old friends have adapted to you not being around for years. They’ve developed hobbies, relationships, and interests without you, so jumping back in might just feel… odd. Hell, even your old job has carried on in your absence.
It’s not going to be easy, so just ease your way back into civilian life. Accept that the world is different now.
And don’t forget your references. You know your boys back in the military will talk you up.
(Meme via Pop Smoke)
“My skills won’t translate to civilian life…”
Over the years, you’ve perfected the art of putting your mind to tasks and getting them done. By now, your work ethic is probably phenomenal and you’re highly mission oriented. That just so happens to be a skill that every employer wants — but it’s not the only skill they’ll want.
When building a resume, pick aspects of your service and let those shine, too. For example, being an infantry squad leader taught you personnel management skills. Being a medic gave you skills in property accountability and acquisitions. Stuff like that.
If you feel, in the bottom of your heart, that your passion lies in underwater basket-weaving, you be the best f*cking underwater basket-weaver this world has ever seen. Maybe don’t lock yourself into crippling debt to get there, though.
“I’ll be 100% student loan debt free”
One of the key selling points of military life was the GI Bill and the promise of a tuition-free college experience. Now, don’t get me wrong: If you play your cards right, this might be exactly what happens. But know the GI Bill won’t cover your expenses at just any school.
If your plan is to go through a technical school or a smaller college, outstanding. Carry on to the next misconception. If you’ve got your mind set on a specific career path, look into exactly how much assistance the GI Bill can offer you. Then, evaluate if it’s worth taking out a sizable loan to pursue your goals.
If there’s anyone who’s earned the right to chase after their dreams, it’s a veteran who’s given the world their all.
You don’t have to hide all of your military bearing. Just know when to turn it on and off.
(Meme by CONUS Battle Drills)
“Civilian coworkers are going to be garbage”
You’ve spent years knowing that an individual’s failure has consequences for the entire unit. Many civilians don’t have that same kind of all-for-one way of thinking. They’ll see working hard at this job as a stepping stone to something bigger and better down the road. You will encounter blue falcons in the civilian world — but they aren’t all bad.
Many civilians are genuinely good people who just aren’t as loud as we tend to be. Some people legitimately want to help everyone succeed.
Keep the a**holes at an arm’s length, but don’t shut out everyone and adopt some sort of “holier than thou” mentality because of your service. In short, don’t be a civilian blue falcon.
You’ll be the odd duck — but at least your stories are funnier.
(Meme via Shammers United)
“I’ll never find friends like I did in the military…”
The tiny ray of sunshine is that you won’t be alone in this world. Just as you’ll find some co-workers to be good, decent people, you’re sure to find good friends, too. Open up a bit and try to socialize.
And if worst comes to worst and all civilians annoy you, you can always find the nearest VFW or American Legion and hop in for a beer or two. Vets tend to befriend other vets fairly easily.
Roland Emmerich is the writer and director behind some of the most badass military military movies of our time. He loves to combine state of the art computer graphics with amazing battle sequences. You can thank him for the dogfights in Independence Day and for the famous “Aim Small, Miss Small” quote from ThePatriot (I still whisper this line every time I snap in at the rifle range). But now, Emmerich is taking on the most pivotal moment in the U.S. Navy’s 244 year history: the Battle of Midway.
We Are The Mighty joined the director for a sneak peak into the film’s key scenes and to discuss how he had to convince the Navy that he was the right man to direct a film about their greatest comeback — a film that he’s been trying to make for over 19 years.
Roland Emmerich speaking with us at his edit bay in Hollywood
“You can’t tell the story of Midway without Pearl Harbor,” Emmerich explains before we watch the opening sequence. He’s right. That infamous day, December 7, 1941, was arguably the U.S. Navy’s greatest defeat, but it was also the first key moment that led the American Navy towards their victory at Midway. The film’s depiction of the surprise Japanese attack is incredibly accurate — especially the scenes on battleship row, as well as the salvage operations afterwards. The U.S. carriers were away from Pearl Harbor that day and this stroke of luck would come back to haunt the Japanese fleet.
“The Navy is a family and I wanted to show that,” Emmerich tells us. Many of the Naval Aviators who would be pivotal during the Battle of Midway returned to Pearl Harbor as the fires still raged and oil slicks covered the water. In the following hours and days, the sailors of the carriers USS Enterprise and USS Hornet would learn that their friends from basic training, prior deployments, and even the Naval Academy had been killed in the attack. Midway depicts the personal toll that the attack took on these sailors and we watch the seeds of revenge being planted.
Woody Harrelson stars as ‘Admiral Chester Nimitz’
In the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Navy and the entire military struggled to determine a response. With only a few carriers and support ships left to fight against the massive Japanese Navy, there could be no room for mistakes. The U.S. needed to make a comeback and fast. “It’s important for the audience to understand how bad the situation really was for Nimitz… morale was low,” Emmerich describes. He goes on to explain how Admiral Nimitz, played by Woody Harrelson, took command of the Pacific Fleet facing not only a daunting enemy but also a shortage of experienced sailors to strike back. The coming battle would depend upon a series of unknown heroes.
Patrick Wilson stars as ‘Lieutenant Commander Edwin Layton’
However, Nimitz did have one advantage: the intelligence unit under command of Lieutenant Commander Edwin T. Layton, played by Patrick Wilson, had broken the Japanese code and were ciphering through thousands of messages in an underground bunker nicknamed the “Dungeon.” Even members of the Navy Band were pulled in to help with the effort. However, the codebreakers could only guess as to the location of the Japanese fleet and the leaders in Washington decided it was time to hit the Japenese homeland instead.
Despite their desire for revenge on the Japanese fleet, the crews of the carriers Enterprise and Hornet were assigned to escort duty, and to make matters worse they would be escorting Army Bomber pilots. The mission known as the “Doolittle Raid” is a key moment both in history and in the film. As the massive waves of the North Pacific rage over the carrier decks, we are transported into the ready room where dive bomber pilot Lieutenant Dick Best, played by Ed Skrein, is frustrated that the Army pilots are given the chance to strike the Japanese first.
Aarron Eckhart stars as ‘Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle’
When the fleet is detected before the scheduled departure point, the bomber pilots under Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle, played by Aarron Eckhart, make the pivotal decision to launch despite the weather and the risk of running out of fuel. Emmerich reinforces the tension in this scene on the flight deck where Navy pilots take bets that the massive B-25 bombers won’t even make it into the air. The entire scene is incredibly powerful and only reinforces Emmerich’s reputation for blockbuster filmmaking. While this is a scene we can watch over and over again, it was a moment the carrier crews would never forget. They wanted their own piece of history and it would soon come with a gamble from a gutsy Admiral Nimitz.
With only one chance left for a strike on the Japanese fleet, Nimitz relied on Layton’s codebreakers to determine the exact location of the next battle so that the U.S. could surprise the enemy just as they had surprised the U.S. months before. Layton and his team were not able to directly read the Japanese code, but they could make predictions based on bits of information. All signs pointed to Midway as the target, and even with the risk of failure, Nimitz ordered the two carriers into battle. In addition, Nimitz knew that his Naval Aviators, especially Lt. Dick Best, were prepared for the gloves to come off.
Dick Best (Ed Skrein, left) and Clarence Dickinson (Luke Kleintank, right)
“The World War II generation was special and I wanted to ensure their heroism was not forgotten,” Emmerich explains, as we prepare to watch the final battle of Midway. We are in the cockpit of an American Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bomber above the same Japanese fleet that struck Pearl Harbor. With enemy aircraft swarming overhead and massive fires from anti-aircraft guns below, Emmerich’s Midway shows the insane odds these pilots faced as they thrust their aircraft into nosedive attacks. In a matter of minutes, a series of bombs strikes the Japanese fleet. The explosions and smoke remind us of the first few moments of the movie, when the Americans are left bruised, but not broken. As the lights come on, it’s obvious that Emmerich has indeed created a film that honors the U.S. Navy’s greatest comeback.
However, as we discuss the challenges of making a movie of such epic portions and detail, Emmirch recounts how the production was a series of endless problems. “None of the carriers from that time still exist, and it’s hard to even find aircraft… I knew we would need the Navy’s help,” Emmerich explains. But the Navy had to make sure Emmerich was the right man for the job.
The Battle of Midway is such a pivotal moment in U.S. Navy history that it had to be told right. When Emmerich met with the U.S. Navy Admiral he’d have to convince, he explained that this is “a movie about Dick Best and the other unknown heroes of the Enterprise and Hornet.” That’s what the Admiral needed to hear, and the Navy agreed to support the production and even provided current Naval Aviators to ensure every scene was as accurate as possible. In some cases, Emmerich had to start from scratch to rebuild 1942-era planes and carrier decks.
Director Roland Emmerich (right) behind the scenes on the set of Midway
From first look, Midway is poised to not only to be an iconic depiction of the Navy’s greatest comeback but also a film that depicts the human variables that are so crucial in determining the fate of battles. Roland Emmerich’s film Midway releases on November 8th, 2019, and will be an amazing way to honor the sacrifices of all servicemembers this Veteran’s Day.
It should come as a surprise to no one that the men and women who fought for the United States are the ones who care most about how it’s run — and the people who run it. For the third year in a row, American military veterans are shown to volunteer, assist neighbors, join civic groups, vote, and engage public officials at rates higher than non-veterans.
The finding comes as a result of the 2017 Veterans Civic Health Index, a study conducted in cooperation with Got Your 6, a veteran’s empowerment nonprofit designed to encourage and enable veterans to continue serving in their local communities while fostering greater cultural changes in the United States, and the National Conference on Citizenship, a Congressionally-chartered national service project dedicated to strengthening civic life.
Civic health, defined as a community’s capacity to work together to resolve collective problems, has been shown to positively impact local GDP, public health, upward income mobility, and has other benefits that strengthen communities. By releasing this annual study, Got Your 6 and its partners aim to eliminate common misconceptions about veterans, while highlighting the civic strength of America’s returning servicemen and women.
The study found that veterans are what it calls “the strongest pillar of civic health” in the United States and calls on the country to adjust the way it frames veteran reintegration. Consistent with Got Your 6’s mission, the study aims to help in changing the perception of veteran transition from one of a series of challenges to the opening of a potential source of leadership and training.
Significant findings from the study include:
(2017 Veterans Civic Health Index)
73.8 percent of veterans always or sometimes vote in local elections versus 57.2 percent of non-veterans.
(2017 Veterans Civic Health Index)
Veteran volunteers serve an average of 177 hours annually – more than four full work weeks. Non-veteran volunteers serve about 25% fewer hours annually. Delivering critical services to a community without regard for wages or reward is a vital service to local areas in the United States.
In this, specifically, the female veteran population goes above and beyond the call of duty.
(2017 Veterans Civic Health Index)
In terms of involvement, 11.5 percent of veterans have attended a public meeting in the last year versus 8.3 percent of non-veterans. The rate at which veterans belong to a local or national civic association was significantly higher as well. These groups can have a large collective impact on American communities.
(2017 Veterans Civic Health Index)
Some 10.5 percent of veterans worked with their neighbors to fix community problems, compared to 7.7 percent of non-veterans. But engagement goes beyond fixing problems, it’s also about stopping them before they start — something veterans are proactive in doing.
More than that, engaging one’s community forms the bonds that can bring people together in good times and in bad. Veterans who transition from the military tends to miss the closeness and brotherhood aspects of their service, leading them to more often reach out within communities.
(2017 Veterans Civic Health Index)
It should also come as no surprise that the youngest generation of veterans (23.4 percent of all veterans are younger than 50) is a diverse one, inclusive of more females (one in six) and ethnic minority groups. The United States, as a whole, is becoming more diverse and the veteran population is a reflection of that diversity.
As a subset of U.S. population (just nine percent of Americans are veterans), vets are more likely to lend a hand to their neighbors and fellow citizens, leading the charge in recovery operations for the multitude of natural disasters that affected the U.S. in 2017.
With these numbers, we can reasonably expect veterans to continue being at the forefront of civic action in American communities. This is the country veterans earned through hard work and, in some cases, sacrifice. The maintenance of the nation understandably means a great deal to this relatively small group of Americans.
If the result of this study predict a trend for the future, the country is in good hands.
There’s an old saying within the writer’s world. “Write what you know.” Meaning that every artist should always put a bit of their own life experiences into their creations to help create the feeling that the world they’re creating is real enough – regardless of its fictional setting. This is especially important when it comes to analyzing works created by war veterans when they tell stories dealing with war.
This leads us to literature’s biggest question about authorial intent: Is The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien an allegory for WWI? From the mouth of Tolkien himself, it’s not. Yet scholars still debate this.
The honest answer is that it’s much deeper than a surface level “the orcs are really these guys” and “the ring actually means this thing.”
If you’re still not convinced… If the One Ring was about the bomb, then the eagles would have definitely been the ones to drop the Ring in Mt. Doom and not about the struggles of two hobbits going in on foot.
(United States Department of Energy)
The novel was released in 1954, and, as people do, there was speculation that it was about either World War I or World War II. The straight-forward nature of Sauron being purely evil and the works of the Fellowship purely good puzzled Tolkien’s life-long friend and Jesuit priest, Father Robert Murray, who also questioned if it was a message about Christianity – since Tolkien himself was a devout Catholic.
His response to both was included into the forward to the second edition of The Lord of the Rings, which Tolkien has this to say:
As for any inner meaning or ‘message,’ it has in the intention of the author none. It is neither allegorical nor topical…. I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence.
Later on in life, many questioned if the One Ring was also symbolic of atomic weapons. This is easily debunked by the simple fact that he began writing The Lord of the Rings in 1934 – many years before the Manhattan Project was even known.
Need to come up with a war-torn hellscape that’s riddled with death and decay? Tolkien’s mind went to the worst hell he could imagine: the swamped trenches of the Battle of the Somme.
In Tolkien’s eyes, his work were, and always should be viewed as, a fairy tale. This is why the chapters of The Hobbit feel slightly disconnected from each other – because they’re meant to be bedtime story-sized chunks to read to children at night.
When it came time for his magnum opus, The Lord of the Rings, it was intended as a more mature follow-up to that world while still holding true to its fairy tale spirit. Sauron is the unequivocal embodiment of evil. Frodo Baggins, though flawed and unlikely to be the hero, was a nuanced embodiment of good. The core of the series is always that good, no matter where it comes from, will always triumph over evil.
The debate lies in the unexpected journey of how that happens, which brings us back to writing what you know.
To be fair, this place would be what Tolkien’s friend Father Murray may have called an allegory for Heaven.
As every combat veteran can tell you, war is a hell that you can never really get out of your mind. Tolkien himself saw his two best friends die within the first day of combat, a first aid station he was at destroyed with many inside, and he would be sent back to the rear for health reasons. He would eventually learn his battalion, and everyone he knew would be destroyed by the end of the war.
Tolkien’s survivor’s guilt would haunt him throughout the rest of his life. This is reflected in the most powerful moment of The Lord of the Rings – Frodo’s return to the Shire. Frodo lost many of his friends along the way. What was once a happy, cheery little town felt alien to him. He couldn’t just slip back in like nothing had happened because, it did. His scars healed but still hurt while his mind wandered. This is not unlike what happened to Tolkien, but it’s not unique to him.
But this isn’t where Frodo’s story ends. Neither is it for every returning veteran. For all of his good deeds, Frodo is allowed passage into the Undying Lands. He can be free of his pain and know that he fought the good fight. His battles with his trauma were over. This pained and injured hero can finally have his happy ending.
There is no allegory for the pure good and pure evil of The Lord of the Rings. The Orcs weren’t the Germans (from either war), and the Hobbits weren’t the peaceful Welsh. The story is meant to be interpreted by anyone who sees themselves in Frodo’s shoes (well, in the metaphorical sense. Hobbits never wear shoes.)
Tolkien wrote the fairy tale he’d have wanted to hear as a returning veteran. To be told that no matter where you’re from, no matter how big or small, no matter the pain you endure, no matter the friends you lose along the way, your story will eventually have a happy ending.
This is the basis for the Fox Searchlight film Tolkien about how his life experiences influenced his writing. Check it out in theaters May 19th.
A Puerto Rico National Guard member takes the temperature of an incoming traveler at Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Photo by Staff Sgt. Marimar Rivera.
A deadly pandemic, a Category 5 hurricane and two earthquakes. While this sounds like cataclysms from the Old Testament — it’s not. Puerto Rico has been dealing with a range of natural disasters for the past three years.
In the center of them all is the Puerto Rico National Guard, stepping up to the challenges each provides.
“It’s certainly showing that the Puerto Rico National Guard is a flexible and adaptable force,” Maj. Gen. José Reyes, adjutant general, said.
The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the lives of just about every American. The mantra of elected officials has been, “Flatten the curve,” meaning stop the spread of the virus. PRNG is doing its part to accomplish that by conducting medical evaluations of everyone entering Puerto Rico.
Earlier this year, PRNG and other federal and state agencies started screening incoming passengers at the international airport in San Juan by installing 11 infrared cameras that measure a person’s body temperature.
If a passenger has a temperature of 100.3° or over, they are immediately taken to a triage area and tested for COVID-19.
This is a 24/7 operation with about 260 PRNG members participating — roughly 60 are assigned to each six-hour shift.
Laiza Rivera, a medical student at Central Caribbean University, took the oath of office to become a 2nd Lt. in the Puerto Rico National Guard on April 2. Here she signs her enlistment contract as Gen. José Reyes looks on. Photo by First Sgt. Luis E. Orengo.
In addition to military personnel, 150 students from Puerto Rico’s four medical schools have volunteered for this mission as well.
This actually worked as an unintentional recruitment campaign when four of them decided to join the PRNG. One of them is 2nd Lt. Laiza Rivera.
The 27–year-old says she was going stir-crazy being home all day because of the lockdown so she decided to volunteer at the airport. Rivera, whose major is ophthalmology, was already in the process of joining but inspired the other three student-volunteers to join as well.
PRNG has similar operations at other ports of entry.
PRNG’s ability to adapt is illustrated in its revised plan for annual training. Ordinarily, large groups of personnel would attend exercises at the national training center in California, as well as another location in Louisiana. Not this year. In an effort to practice social distancing, those exercises will be modified to be conducted in smaller groups at Camp Santiago in Puerto Rico.
Additionally, classes that would normally be held in a conference room have switched to video conferencing.
In 2017, Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico.
Under Reyes’ command, the island’s combined military forces provided its residents with just about everything they needed.
They provided MPs to the local police departments to maintain law and order; engineers cleared hundreds of miles of debris from roadways; and they conducted search and rescue operations in flooded communities and evacuated stranded citizens. The Army aviation unit conducted countless flights to and from the center of the island (its most rural and isolated area) to deliver food, water and emergency supplies.
Puerto Rico still hasn’t fully recovered from the hurricane and the 56 year-old general predicts that won’t happen for another 10 to 12 years.
If the hurricane wasn’t bad enough, Puerto Rico was shaken by two major earthquakes in January. There were 10,000 people who either partially or completely lost their homes.
Reyes, who was born and raised in Puerto Rico, presented a plan to Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced to relocate these refugees. PRNG then established five major camps, each with a capacity of about 1,700. In partnership with FEMA and other agencies, they relocated over 10,000 people in 56 days.
While no one can predict when an earthquake will occur, there is an established hurricane season for the Caribbean and it’s happening now.
Under Homeland Security Presidential Directives Nos. 8 and 9, states and territories are required to conduct preparatory training in response to the threats that pose the greatest risk to national security, including natural disasters.
PRNG is on it conducting emergency management exercises for hurricanes, earthquakes, pandemics and even tsunamis with all 78 municipalities on the island. Until last year, exercises were only for Category 5 hurricanes. The new exercises anticipate all these disasters happening concurrently.
Puerto Rico has had a lot thrown at it over the past three years and, in theory, it all could happen again. PRNG will be ready if it does.
Additionally, Reyes knows Guard units from other states, as well as additional DOD personnel, has Puerto Rico’s back and will be there to support him.
Reyes came out of retirement to take on this command and he’s glad he did.
“It’s a tremendous honor to command the Puerto Rico National Guard, eight-five hundred strong, fully committed men and women with an unbreakable sense of service towards the people of Puerto Rico and our nation,” he said. “I’m very proud of each one of them.”
It was a cold February in 2014 when I was staying at a tiny U.S. Army installation right near the Demilitarized Zone in South Korea with the rest of my company. We hadn’t been there long before we got our first mail drop, right before Valentine’s Day. Some of us got care packages, but everyone in my platoon got a letter.
These letters were sent by elementary school kids back in the States — probably around third grade — and they were just as you’d expect: immaculate spelling, artwork that rivaled the classic greats, and fine calligraphy. Jokes aside, receiving that letter put me in an interesting head-space.
At that point, the war in Iraq had mostly died down. Marines were still being sent to Afghanistan, but just a handful of months prior, we were reflecting upon the 12th anniversary of the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks that kick-started the whole shebang.
1st platoon, Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment in South Korea. C. 2014.
What I realized then and there is that, just a decade earlier, I was the elementary school kid writing a letter to some service member who was, at that time, fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan. In fact, I was even younger than whoever penned my letter when I saw the events of that fateful September day repeated on the news. The kid who wrote the letter in my hands now wasn’t even around in 2001.
It never occurred to me, especially back at the turn of the century, that I would one day enlist to fight in the same war that started when I was a kid.
When I was growing up, you’d hear this left and right: “Don’t join the military, you’ll go to war and die.” I always dismissed it as ignorant. After all, my father fought in the war before this one and he came back, didn’t he? But, at the time, half of that statement was true. If you enlisted immediately after 9/11, there was a near guarantee you’d go to war.
That sentiment followed me through boot camp.
I joined the Marine Corps at the age of 17 and I was still sure I’d go to war. But, with time comes change — and that’s exactly what happened. From the time I went to MEPS and had an old guy tell me to turn my head and cough to the time I walked across the parade deck at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, everyone said I would go to war. My recruiter, my drill instructors, everyone.
But once I got to the School of Infantry, things had mellowed out a bit.
I never went to war. In fact, a lot of people I served with never did. The crazy thing is that it was the reason we enlisted. We were kids when 9/11 happened and we grew up during the war that it spawned. We had time to grow angry about what had happened and we enlisted for a lot of the same reasons as our predecessors.
Marine Corps Ball in 2014. That’s me on the left.
What blows my mind the most, however, is that I completed my service over two years ago and that war is still going on, even if the Marine Corps infantry isn’t actively involved. Meanwhile, that kid who wrote me the letter is probably sitting in a high school classroom learning about 9/11 as a historical event — not as something that happened to them.
Navy veteran and creative writing gold medalist Patrick Ward is excited to share his work at this year’s Vet Gala at the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival (NVCAF). His featured story can be found among the 15 short stories and poems displayed in Writers’ Row at the festival’s Artist and Writer Exhibition.
“Writing has helped bring me back to the person that I want to be,” Ward said. “I’m truly grateful for the opportunity to be here and to share my story with others. We all have stories to tell. My hope in telling mine is that it inspires someone while I’m here.”
Inspiration and healing
Gary Beckwith, creator of the annual Veterans Literacy Jam at Battle Creek VA Medical Center and one of this year’s NVCAF writing event organizers, says he hopes veterans realize their potential and leave feeling healed.
Navy Veteran and creative writer, Patrick Ward (right), listens during a discussion at the writing workshop at the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival. Ward’s story is among the 15 short stories and poems displayed in Writers’ Row at the festival’s Artist and Writer Exhibition.
“I believe that writing can be a cathartic experience,” said Beckwith. “The writing workshops and Vet Gala were designed to, not only highlight the talents of our writers, but were organized with the hopes that veterans leave here feeling inspired.”
During the festival, writers take the opportunity to speak about their writing and how it has affected their health, emotional well-being and recovery.
Army veteran Otto Espenschied has used writing to help him overcome Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and cope during a nine-year battle with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Recently receiving a gold medal for his short story titled, “I Don’t Have PTSD,” he explains that writing and participating in this year’s festival has helped him understand that he is stronger than he ever knew.
“It’s hard to dream when you’re barely holding on,” he said. “Writing has helped get me through some tough times, but I’m alive. I can hug my daughters and my wife each day. What more can I ask for?”
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
U.S. Army Reserve Lt. Col. Lisa Jaster was 37 years old when she attended Ranger School. While the average age of attendees in the course ranges in the early 20s, that didn’t deter her, and in October of 2015 she graduated from the course.
She was the first woman in the U.S. Army Reserve to do so.
Four years later, her advice to others is simple.
“You have to be ‘all-in,'” said Jaster. “Be willing to give everything you have for the school and maintain your integrity. The first week is published therefore you know what to expect and how to succeed. Once you’ve passed the physical entrance exam (RAP week), you will need to have the mental toughness to push through conditions that could beat a lesser person down.”
“Do not let ‘quit’ in,” she continued. “That means once you allow quitting into your mind as an option, it will move in, live there, steal your motivation, and eventually defeat you from within.”
Maj. Lisa Jaster in late 2015, after her graduation from Ranger School that previous October.
(Courtesy of Lt. Col. Lisa Jaster)
The all-in attitude that Jaster says is the key to success for Ranger school has also been tantamount to accomplishments in other aspects of her life. As a citizen soldier, she demonstrates that one can serve their country while continuing to have a civilian career.
In the past three years, Jaster has been a senior project engineer with Shell Oil Co. before becoming the director of civil engineering for MS Engineering. She also has become a professional speaker with Leading Authorities, holding engagements across the country.
In the Army Reserve, she has been a battalion executive officer, an engineering team lead supporting the Iraqi Security Forces during Operation Inherent Resolve, and is now the brigade executive officer for the 420th Engineer Brigade, 416th Theater Engineer Command.
Throughout all of her experiences, her definition of leadership and what is expected of leaders has one constant: be consistent in your words and actions, and set the example for others to follow. This definition has served her well in both her military and civilian life.
“Everyone needs to be led as an individual, and each individual brings something to the fight as long as they are vested in the end state,” said Jaster. “A leader is someone who inspires those around them to be better versions of themselves.
U.S. Army Reserve Lt. Col. Lisa Jaster, executive officer, 420th Engineer Brigade, poses with her family after promotion from Maj. to Lt. Col. Jaster graduated from Ranger School in 2015, the first female officer in the Reserve to do so.
(Photo by Capt. Daniel Johnson)
“Traditionally,” she continued. “I have said that consistency is the most important aspect of leadership to ensure subordinates can perform in the absence of guidance,” After Ranger School, I have created the three Cs – Consistency, Communication and Competence. There are a lot of other aspects to being an effective leader, but these are necessary starting blocks.”
Jaster approaches her personal life with the same care as her professional one. A dual military couple, she and her husband, Marine Corps Lt. Col. Allan Jaster, have two children. Their support of each other and their children has been a critical factor in their accomplishments.
“Balancing the Citizen (employee, mom, wife, sister, daughter, and individual) with the soldier is very complicated,” said Jaster. “I used to try to silo both aspects of who I am but found that so much bleeds over from one job to the other that I need to be fluid with those lines.
“What that means,” continued Jaster. “Is that Army conference calls can happen during cheer practice, and I might need to review proposals for work while I am in the field with the Army. It means being open and honest with my spouse, my military boss, and my civilian supervisor about what I can handle and what might be coming up. Having a strong support team with regards to extended family, friends and hired help is critical to ensure nothing at home drops.”
Jaster does not want her Ranger School experience to define her. Since her completion of the course, she has advised to not identify soldiers and civilians by their race, sex or creed, but their skills, attributes and performance.
She created the hashtag #deletetheadjective for social media to emphasize her message, and throughout all of her speaking engagements, she has consistently stated the best teams are those with the highest level of competencies, not just a group identity. Being in the Army Reserve has allowed her to serve her country while creating awareness, and discussion, of the topic.
U.S. Army Reserve Lt. Col. Lisa Jaster, executive officer, 420th Engineer Brigade, receives a new patrol cap from her family signifying her promotion from Maj. to Lt. Col.
(Photo by Capt. Daniel Johnson)
“Ranger school was just part of my path,” said Jaster. “It was not an end state. I have a larger public voice because of graduating from Ranger School. My true failure or success is what I decide to do with that voice. If I can live by the Ranger Creed and set an example which brings our community together for a smooth gender integration, then that is the goal I am striving for.”
Looking forward to the future, Jaster continues to strive for excellence. Whether in uniform or out, she has used her previous accomplishments to continue to fuel her drive to succeed and set the example for others to follow. Her discipline and dedication to her family, civilian profession, and military career is a standard she refuses to let falter.
“Ranger School does not make me a good or a bad officer,” said Jaster. “It does mean there are certain external expectations of me that were previously only self-imposed. This gives me an additional drive to continue to train martial arts, strength, endurance and tactics, even when time constraints make it difficult and my current job doesn’t require it.
“I am looking forward to being a battalion commander,” she continued. “After battalion command, I am not sure what the Army holds, but I plan to stay in uniform as long as I can.”
From detecting improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan to being on the front lines during World War I, military working dogs have been used to help service members win battles for generations. The same holds true today, as Cpl. Cody Hebert, military working dog handler, 2nd Law Enforcement Battalion and his military working dog, Ziggy, give us a look into their everyday lives.
“We start our daily duties when we come in every morning,” Hebert said. “Those duties include cleaning out the kennels and doing any tasks like preparing for any type of training that we might be doing that day.”
When it comes to training, there can be different variations that can influence the handlers and the dogs in order to become mission ready.
“Just like us, the dogs have training jackets for everything that they learn,” Herbert said. “This includes commands they know, training they have done, what they are good and bad at and even which handlers had them in the past.”
U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Casey Deskins, with the Military Police Department at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Kaneohe Bay, plays with Ronnie, his military working dog partner.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Cohen A. Young)
For a MWD handler, it is important to know the history of who and what the dog knows and how they are currently performing. Each handler creates a special bond with their dog to instill confidence in both the dog and themselves. “When you and your dog deploy, there should be confidence in everything you do,” Herbert said. “If you’re on patrol with an explosive detector dog, not only do you have to trust to follow him, but the unit also has to be able to trust you and your dog because they are going to follow every step that you take.”
Cpl. Sean Grady, a dog handler and pointman with Echo Company, 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, and Ace, an improvised explosive device detection dog, pause for a break while sweeping a chokepoint during a patrol.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Alfred V. Lopez)
Training can take on different types of aspects between the dogs and their handlers. Training can involve doing an agility course to recreate real life situations, practicing commands for listening and direction and physical training to build strength and stamina.
“We have the opportunity to spend time with the dogs after hours almost anytime,” Hebert said. “We’re given the chance to build a bond and reward the dogs for all that they do. If we are willing to do that, the dogs are willing to work with us by listening to the commands while working for longer periods of time as well.”
Lance Cpl. Jeremy D. Angenend, combat tracker handler, Military Police, III Marine Expeditionary Force, out of Okinawa, Japan, and his dog Fito play around at Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan.
The best way for the dogs to learn is to let them know that they are getting rewarded by either a ball or positivity and sometimes even belly rubs from their handlers.
“These dogs get taken care of like us,” Hebert said. “They get attention, exercise, training and medical care. As handlers, we’re trained to know the information just like how the dogs know what they are looking and listening for.” A MWD’s average military career is eight years before it can retire.
Lance Cpl. Joseph Nunez from Burbank, Calif., interacts with Viky, a U.S. Marine Corps improvised explosive device detection dog, after searching a compound while conducting counter-insurgency operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan, July 17, 2013.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Alejandro Pena)
“It just depends on the dog for when it retires,” Hebert said. “Most of the time they retire because of medical reasons. Going full speed and biting constantly puts a lot of strain on their bodies. Just like us, as the dogs get older their bodies aren’t able to do as much.”
Whenever a dog retires from the service, they have a chance to be adopted by their handlers.
Whether a MWD is spending time with its handler or training to protect Marines, they will always be rewarded for doing their job in every clime and place.
After decades of readiness decline, the Air Force is working to accelerate its recovery, ensuring the service is prepared to combat rapidly evolving threats.
Today, more than 75% of the Air Force’s core fighting units are combat ready. The service’s goal is for 80% of those units to have the right number of properly trained and equipped airmen by the end of 2020 – six years faster than projected before the Air Force developed a recovery plan.
“Restoring the readiness of the force is our top priority,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein. “And the budget Congress recently passed will have a significant impact for airmen across our active, guard and reserve components.”
To do this, the Air Force is focusing on three key areas: people, training, and cost-effective maintenance and logistics.
Cost-effective maintenance and logistics
The third element of restoring the readiness of the force is weapons system sustainment — the parts, supply and equipment — to make sure our aircraft are ready to go when needed.
“There are a thousand fingerprints on every aircraft that takes off. From air traffic control to crew chiefs to weapons loaders to avionics technicians — it is a total team effort,” Goldfein said. “When the plane is twice the age of the team, it makes it harder. So we are looking at new methods across the board for how we are maintaining an older fleet with a younger workforce.”
Focused efforts in Conditions-Based Maintenance Plus, additive manufacturing and retention, are helping to create solutions to achieve a more combat ready force.
CBM+ represents a conscious effort to shift equipment maintenance from an unscheduled, reactive approach at the time of failure, to a more routine and predictive approach. The Condition-Based Maintenance Plus approach to maintenance is based on evidence of need before failure occurs. Evidence of a need forecasted by analyzing data collected automatically by sensors.
“We’re trying to take some of those lessons learned in technologies and capabilities that (commercial airlines) are using and apply it into our inventory, and we’re starting to see some benefits,” said Gen. Arnold W. Bunch Jr., Air Force Materiel Command commander.
Airmen at Travis Air Force Base, California, are implementing innovative strategies to reduce man-hours and increase mission effectiveness with the procurement of a 3D hand scanner, capable of producing three-dimensional representations of aircraft parts. The device has also been used to inspect aircraft damage.
The scanner was first used in November 2018 to inspect the landing gear of a C-17 Globemaster III after a bird strike. Since then it has greatly reduced the time required to complete damage inspections.
“One of our C-5 aircraft went through a hail storm in 2013 and we found many dents on all the panels,” said Master Sgt. Christopher Smithling, 60th Maintenance Squadron assistant section chief for aircraft structural maintenance. “We’ve performed an inspection of this aircraft every 180 days and we’ve had to measure every dent that’s still on the wing’s surface. The first few times we did that, it took us 48 hours. We had that C-5 in our hangar last week and we were able to inspect the four primary structural panels in 30 minutes.”
The 60th MXS is also in the process of procuring two 3D printers, one polymer printer and one metal printer, so they can reproduce aircraft parts.
“With the two additive manufacturing units, we will be able to grab any aircraft part, scan it and within four to eight hours we will have a true 3D drawing of it that we can send to the additive manufacturing unit to print it,” Smithling said.
That capability, Smithling said, will decrease the time Travis aircraft are out of service.
Solutions to maintenance readiness are also being sought with advances in Additive Manufacturing or 3D printing. Traditional manufacturing is a subtractive process, beginning with cutting a lump of material to create a needed part. Three dimensional printing, one type of a larger set of techniques labeled additive manufacturing, extrudes or prints a base material in layers to create 3D solids.
For the Air Force, readiness is first and foremost about people. In fiscal year 2018, Congress provided funding to allow the Air Force to address a serious shortage of maintainers by adding 4,000 active duty maintainers.
Airmen at aircraft maintenance squadrons around the service began innovating with new scheduling, accelerated hands-on training courses and virtual reality simulators to get new maintainers proficient quickly; keeping more aircraft ready to fly and improving operational readiness.
Col. William Maxwell, chief of aircraft maintenance division at the Pentagon, has been charged in his new role with assessing the maintenance enterprise for the director of logistics in order to develop the strength of the maintenance career field and to share the best practices and solutions developed by the airmen on the flight line.
Maxwell said there are a lot of changes ahead for the aircraft maintenance community in order to develop and retain their airmen to sustain an aging fleet.
“The (aircraft maintenance community) is a passionate group of people and it’s fun to be a part of that,” Maxwell said, “because I love that passion I see in the airmen taking care of these weapon systems out there.”
This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.
There can be no doubt that terrifying things can happen in times of war. However, in most cases it can at least be counted on that the enemy one faces is a living human being.
What happens when other, more supernatural forces creep into war zones? What are soldiers to do when faced with mysterious phantoms, ghosts, apparitions and entities against which they have no experience and which they have not been trained to fight? War zones have attracted tales of hauntings and supernatural phenomena since time unremembered, and certainly one of the more modern such places of paranormal terror is the desolate battlefields of the war in Afghanistan. This is a place that is not only plagued by fighting and violence, but also apparently strange forces that have shown some soldiers here that human enemies are not always the only thing to be scared of in these bleak, violent wastelands.
Several mysterious reports came from a United States Marine who had just come back home after serving a tour of duty in Afghanistan. The witness tends to be quite secretive about his role in the war, only stating that his unit was “relatively safe,” and only suffered two non-combat related casualties. The witness claims to have had a couple of potential encounters with ghosts during his service, and one of them occurred as he was sitting with some superiors and colleagues within a makeshift office in the desert which had three rooms. There were reportedly four other people in the cramped room with him when, as he was standing near the backdoor, he noticed his Lieutenant step through the door and enter a small adjoining contractor’s office. He saw the man clearly, but at this point there was nothing particularly strange about it, and the witness explained “he was wearing a FROG suit and everything. Nothing unusual about him. Even had the moustache.”
Just 30 seconds later a call came through asking for the Lieutenant and the witness went to the contractor’s office to fetch him. Strangely, the room was completely empty – nobody was there. Since there was no other door out of the office, the witness asked if anyone had noticed the Lieutenant leave, but nobody had, even though there were four others in the enclosed space and it seemed that somebody would have noticed such a thing. The witness went to the rear door of the office they were in and looked around but there was no one there either. Even a look outside showed no signs of anyone. It was as if the Lieutenant had just disappeared into thin air. The witness explained:
I said ‘Disregard Sgt., nobody is around, looks like I was seeing things.’ Then, my roommate a fellow Lance says to me “That’s bull****, you and I both know somebody is in that room,” and I just said “Nope. You saw it too. Someone walked in, and nobody came out, but nobody is there.
Another incident in the very same office happened one evening at around 10PM. The witness claims that he was alone after working late and on his way out when the door to the contractor’s room opened by itself and stayed open. He went to investigate and shone a flashlight about into the dim space but no one was there. He said that at the time he had a very strange feeling like he was being watched and that it was quite unsettling. The very same witness claimed to have seen other strange things during his tour. He also says that there was a mysterious heat signature that would be seen on infrared equipment wandering and pacing around out in the desert outside in the dark, yet when it was observed with different cameras or the naked eye, nothing was there and there was no response when they called out into the night.
Another witness who reported strange, ghostly figures in the desert claimed that his unit was plagued by a mysterious phantom that would appear around the outskirts of their camp and vanish in the blink of an eye. The first time it appeared was a little after dusk, a couple hundred yards from their position. One of the men, described as a “random PVT,” told the others that there was a person out in the wilderness just standing there. The witness looked and at first couldn’t see anything but after a moment could make out a dark blob in the vague shape of a person. The Sergeant apparently was called over and saw it too. When asked where the figure had come from, the private explained that it had “just popped up.” Whoever was out there there was just standing motionless with its back to them. The witness described the eerie scene and what happened next:
So we watch this “person” for about 3hrs, who just stands there, motionless, with its back to us. You could put optics on it and see it was a person, adult male, average height and build. Best part: we “borrowed” a thermal monocular and this f*cker doesn’t register in it. ZERO F*CKING HEAT SIGNATURE. Then randomly, just poof, gone. Random PVT spends the next 6 weeks telling everyone about the ghost we saw.
Around 6 months later, the same witness was out on patrol when two of his unit reported seeing two figures standing on top of a berm a couple of hundred yards away. Anticipating an enemy IED (Improvised Explosive Device), they stopped the vehicle and examined the figures, which appeared to be men just standing with their backs to them. They were motionless and would not respond when called to, just like the strange phantom previously seen 6 months earlier. The Lieutenant called it in and some of the men got out to go investigate. The witness would explain what happened next thus:
We dismount, LT calls over terp asks if he knows what’s up. Terp gives blank stare and shrugs. LT decides we should go have a look-see and do some hearts-and-minds sh*t. I stay in the truck (which feels like 140 f*cking degrees), 20min goes by LT comes back with weird look on his face and says ‘we’re outta here.’ Later that day I asked another guy WTF happened, he says they get within 50yds of aforementioned “persons” and, presto, gone. I ask “what do you mean, gone?” and he just looks at me with this blank stare and says “gone. They were there, and then they weren’t. Weird huh?’
In another account, a marine who served in Afghanistan and Yemen from 2009-2013 relates an odd experience. One evening at 1AM, the witness had just finished setting up a patrol base with four members of his squad while the other seventeen men slept. In front of the patrol base was a huge, open field and to the left was, rather spookily, an Afghan cemetery. As the witness was looking out over the field on watch duty, he claims that a rock came hurtling through the air to land at his feet. Thinking this to be peculiar he peered out into the darkness over the field, which was wide open with no blind spots or hiding places, but he couldn’t see anyone there nor any movement. As he was looking, another rock reportedly was tossed in his direction from the field. The witness put on night vision equipment but could still see no one there, and infrared turned up no heat signatures either. The night was completely quiet and that field was totally empty. Yet another rock would be lobbed at him as he tried to figure out what was going on, and the whole thing was quite unnerving. The marine would say of the eerie incident:
At this point I’m kinda freaked out. This happened right after my team leader died. So I was freaked out and nothing to rule out what threw rocks at me because no one was there.
Equally as bizarre as any of these accounts of strange intruders is that of another soldier who was operating with a special forces squad in the mountains of Afghanistan with the mission of setting up a hide-to-survey in a village several miles away that was believed to be harboring a Taliban person of interest who the military had been tracking for years. The squad’s main goal at the time was to observe the village for a few days for any suspicious activity or persons, as well as to collect any useful information that could be later used in a raid. To this end they set up a team of six men at the base and two others whose job was to creep in closer to observe from a different vantage point.
Things went well at first, but on the second day the squad began having trouble maintaining radio contact with the observation team and the TOC (Tactical Operations Center). They found that transmissions were plagued by static and sometimes would not go through at all. It was chalked up to the magnetic content of the rocks in the area and the witness and some of the men went out to re-position the Satcom in order to get a better signal. As they were doing this at around dusk, one of the soldiers said he spotted a man wearing a white robe who looked to be flitting and running through the rocks outside of the village. When this was reported the men were immediately suspicious, and the witness would say:
There was something odd about the way he described it, but we were more worried about being compromised. Needless to say, we folded up our sh*t and got ready to move out. We weren’t going to end up in some Lone Survivor type clusterf*ck. We were the f*ck out of there. So at this point it’s late dusk, and we were moving pretty quick. Everyone is on high f*cking alert, we are a small element in a remote area without ready access to any kind of quick reaction force and we had no reliable comms.
The team continued their hasty trek back towards their outpost, and the witness took up the rear, walking backwards and making sure they weren’t being followed or leaving a clear trail, his gun trained on the darkness the whole time. As he did this he spotted a fleeting glimpse of something white moving in the distance, although he could not be sure just what it was or if it was following them. Oddly, he would later report that at the time he had begun to sense the smell of freshly baked bread permeating the air and a sudden onset of a feeling of peace and relaxation, which he sensed was emanating from the direction they had come from. This sensation was so profound that he actually slowed down, and thoughts danced through his head of running over to this comfortable place he felt pulling at him from where they had been. He shook off this daze and reported to the other men what he had seen and that he thought they were possibly being trailed, to which an officer replied that he had seen something white moving as well. The witness would say:
I asked my dudes to keep their eyes open for anything, because I thought I had seen someone trailing us. Our senior scout piped in “That’s strange mom, (I was mom, long story) I thought I saw some dude in white on the ridge in front of us.” At this point all the hairs on my neck are standing up. Everything felt strange. The air felt heavy, and sort of sweet. The silence hummed loudly.
With the night steadily moving in, a sense of urgency, panic, and dread set in and the men picked up the pace, even though they were already exhausted from hauling their heavy packs over the uneasy, rugged terrain. As darkness creeped over the landscape to slowly envelope them in pitch blackness, they put on their NODS (night vision goggles), turning the world into a green haze. The night was incredibly silent, even more than usual, and there was no movement out there in the mountainous moonscape bathed in the green cast of the night vision goggles. But this eerie silence would not last, and this is when things allegedly got very strange indeed. The witness describes it best:
Hallucinations happen. But what happened was beyond comprehension. First, we heard a sound like a huge airplane taking off. A loud low buzz that slowly increased in pitch. We had to yell over comms to hear each other. Everywhere I looked, I kept seeing what looked like glowing eyes staring back at me, but once i would center my focus on where I saw them, they would disappear. We were f*cking panicked. Everyone was holding their rifles at the high ready, we were expecting some kind of ambush attack and we started talking out the RP we would meet at if we needed to start a peel and move. Then it all just stopped. Everything got dark. The only thing I could hear was my breath and the blood pumping in my head. We stopped, dug into the side of the mountain, and performed SLLS (Stop look listen Smell) for about 10 minutes. Nothing. Not even bugs. The air and the land were silent.
Baffled, frightened, and overcome with fatigue, the men quickly resumed their trudge through the wilderness back to their camp, very aware that something very possibly malignant and beyond their experience was out there in the dark somewhere. As they scrambled over loose rock and through scrub and brush the witness claims that he suddenly noticed on a parallel hillside the very clear sight of a man dressed in light colored robes, which seemed to be slowly making his way towards their position. Bizarrely, it seemed that that the stranger was just passing through any obstacles he came across as he moved slowly but inexorably closer. The witness would describe the rest of the surreal encounter thus:
He seemed to melt over and around the rocks, it was f*cking unnatural the way he was moving. Through the NODS, his eyes glowed. I scoped up on him, and saw that he was looking directly at me. It was pitch black, there is no way he could have saw us from that distance without any kind of night optics. Suddenly, he stopped. He picked up one of his limbs and held it in the air, almost like he was waving at me. Then the arm melted back into his form, like it wasn’t an arm at all, but some kind of extendable proboscis that was meant to look like an arm from a distance. I was about to ask the guy’s if they could see him, when he suddenly disappeared.
The witness also saw lights flickering in the distance near the town, which he presumed to be the enemy closing in on the area where the booming sound had originated. The team moved on and managed to make it back to their recovery location. They went on to recount their strange experiences and were reportedly told that it was probably all attributable to weariness, panic, and adrenaline. The whole thing was more or less forgotten until a few days later, when the story would take another weird turn. According to the witness:
The reason we did the observation was so we could bring the intel back for a raid that was to be conducted. The raid was ‘successful’, in the sense that finding a deer hit by a car is a successful deer hunt. Apparently, the team that moved into the village found it completely abandoned. They also found several men in the area where I had seen the lights the night we were hauling ass out of there. The corpses had been ripped to shreds, and based on the sheer amount of blood, the general consensus was that there were more men that were killed there than just the bodies that were found. It went in the official records as a successful raid with several enemy KIA’s. Unofficially? No one has any idea what killed them. All I know is whatever it was…it chose. It chose those men and not us.
Whatever that “it” was remains unknown. Another account that most certainly belongs here is one given by a commenter on another article of mine on mysteries in the war in the Middle East. It is an account that seems hard to really categorize, but seeming to deal with ghosts, demons, or some other supernatural beings. The commenter, Jerry Aberdeen, related a truly bizarre experience that happened to him when he was stationed in Mosul, Ninewah Province in 2004, and it is so intriguing and fitting that I felt compelled to share it here. Jerry Aberdeen explains his very weird story thus:
I was attached to 2/3 INF 3 SBCT at FOB Patriot. A call went out on the radio that FOB Diamondback (the airfield) was under attack. Everyone on every FOB from, Courage, Blickenstaff, Patriot and Marez jumped into the closest vehicle and headed to the airfield to counter the attack. I was in a vehicle with some other infantry guys, an engineer and a PsyOps guy. When we got to the airfield we saw some dudes trying to climb over the wall. The gunner opened up on them and the rest of us took up a position in a ditch on the other side of the road and opened fire. There were three of us side by side, the engineer, the PsyOps guys and myself. We fired and one guy and he dropped from the top of the wall (hard to tell who actually shot him). Right after he fell there was stream of black smoke coming out of him. The engineer made that comment that he must have been wearing a suicide vest and it malfunctioned. A few seconds later the black smoke grew larger and started to take a human looking form. What happened next all three of us saw and there was no doubt. The now fully materialized black smoke was standing upright and now had red smoky glowing eyes and a weird looking mouth. The damn thing actually smiled at us and turned to, sort of run but it just dissipated after it took a few steps. Very hard to describe how it all happened. All three of us just looked at each other wide eyed for a second or two. After it was all over we only spoke about once then never again.
So far here we have been looking at assorted isolated incidents of the strange and supernatural, but the war in Afghanistan also seems to have certain places that draw in such bizarre tales. One such place is a lonely outpost called Observation Point Rock, also known as simply “The Rock,” which sits exposed around 20 meters (65ft) above the desert and situated near what appears to be a looming, giant rock, but which is actually the ruins of a caved-in, ancient mud fort, complete with arrow slits and the crumpled remains of turrets. Captured from the Taliban in 2008, the isolated outpost typically holds a small contingent of U.S. Marines to keep watch and guard it, and in addition to its reputation as being a harsh, forbidding place full of dust and grit and sporadic rocket attacks by Taliban fighters, it has also gathered about it an even more sinister reputation of being an intensely haunted and cursed one.
Almost as soon as the Marines moved in there were strange stories and dark rumors swirling about the place. It was said that Taliban fighters had been buried alive in the caves below, and that there were numerous bodies of Russian soldiers buried here during the failed Soviet invasion of these lands. One group of Marines digging a trench claimed to have come across a human leg bone, which led to the discovery of another piece of human remains, followed by another and another, including skulls and whole desiccated corpses and skeletons, which were all believed to have possibly been Russian since a stake with Russian writing was found. They would later find out that a contingent of Russian soldiers had been supposedly executed there in the 1980s after being found by the Taliban while using the rock as a hideout. Also among the macabre remains were found shards of ancient pottery long buried within the dry earth with more inscrutable, unknown origins.
With the creepy ambiance and all of the bodies said to be entombed here it was perhaps no surprise that weird reports would start popping up amongst those stationed here in these badlands. Noises with no discernible source, objects moving on their own, strange lights, disembodied cries or screams, the sound of footsteps or crunching gravel even when there was no one there, the sudden onset of heavy feelings of dread … the men serving here were often plagued with various strange phenomena. Electrical equipment was also said to often malfunction here, and that fresh batteries had a habit of going dead within minutes. On some occasions, machine gun fire or incoming rockets could be heard, but nothing was hit and none of the guns had been fired. There were cases of movement seen on the perimeter only to turn up no trespassers on thermal equipment and no footprints. A Sergeant Josh Brown, 22, once said of Observation Point, “The local people say this is a cursed place. You will definitely see weird-ass lights up here at night,” and another soldier named Lance Corporal Austin Hoyt, 20 has said:
This place really sucks. The Afghans say it’s haunted. Stick a shovel in anywhere and you’ll find bones and bits of pottery. This place should be in National Geographic — in the front there are weird-looking windows for shooting arrows. You know, they say the Russians up here were executed by the Mujahidin.
Strange phenomena were said to have been going on before they had even arrived. The British soldiers who had occupied the base before them also supposedly had experienced such strangeness, and even warned the American troops of what to expect when they got there. They claimed that lights prowled the bleak landscape, that phantoms and shadows moved about in the desert which were only briefly glimpsed by infrared cameras before vanishing, that there were dancing lights that could be observed through night vision goggles, that there were often noises and voices from nowhere, screams or shrieks out in the desert at night, and that to touch any relics or bones found there was to invite great misfortune.
Although the tales of the supernatural surrounding the haunted base are numerous, some stand out as particularly creepy. One Corporal Jacob Lima had a few spooky stories to tell concerning the Observation Point Rock. In one account he claimed that one night he was startled by a chilling scream coming from one of the men. When Lima ran to investigate, he found a Corporal Zolik cowering in fear at his guard post. Zolik claimed that as he had been sitting there, he had felt breath on his ear and heard a clear voice whisper something in Russian. The man was so terrified that he begged Lima to stay with him until his shift was finished. As they waited there together Lima said on several occasions they heard footsteps up on the observation post above them, even though no one else was there. At one point during the night Lima was scanning the area with thermal imaging and allegedly saw what looked like another soldier with “balled fists” standing out in the desert. As he tried to discern whether it was friend or foe, the mysterious figure vanished into thin air right before his eyes. The whole incident was enough to make Zolik desperately requested a transfer out of there. Interestingly, other men also frequently reported hearing disembodied whispers in Russian around the outpost.
On another occasion, Lima was on watch and suddenly heard a dog that was kept there, named Ugly Betty, barking wildly at something. Thinking it could be the enemy, Lima put on his night vision goggles and scanned the night for movement, which turned up what appeared to be a figure in the distance. Not sure what he was seeing, he switched to thermal imaging and tried to find the figure again but it was gone. When he went back to night vision he was able to see the mysterious figure again, which had inexplicably closed a large distance in just moments. A switch back to thermal once again turned up no heat signatures at all, even though Lima was sure that the whatever-it-was was still there. At some point in all of this switching between thermal and night vision, he lost sight of the figure altogether, at which point he claims he felt a heavy tap on his shoulder. When he turned around there was supposedly no one there. Somewhere out in the night, the dog was still barking.
Observation Point Rock is not the only supposedly haunted military outpost in Afghanistan – another notorious one is called Forward Operation Base Salerno. The location of the base already lends itself well to spooky tales, as on its outskirts is an old Afghan graveyard, which is overlooked by two high watchtowers. Indeed, it is these towers that are said to be intensely haunted by what appears to be the spirit of a little girl, said to be sometimes heard or seen wandering around aimlessly either in the towers themselves or in the area around them.
One frightening report concerns two paratroopers with the 2nd Battalion of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment named Painter and Jackson, who one night were on watch duty when they were startled by a blood curdling, shrill laugh emanating from their radio, so high-pitched as to almost cause pain. The laugh was described as sounding like that of a little girl, and Painter would claim that “No grown man in the Army could have made it.” When the unearthly laugh stopped, the two men radioed to others on watch but it turned out that no one else had heard a thing. The very next evening, the two men were on watch duty again in the same place, still rather unnerved by what had happened the night before. As they sat there in the dark, they claim that they heard movement and footsteps in the tower, particularly on the trap door that led to another level, even though they were the only ones there. The room also allegedly suddenly became very cold for no apparent reason.
This was unsettling enough, but then there came a call over the radio from the other watch tower, claiming that they were detecting a small, 3-foot-tall figure wandering around in the dark outside. Creepily, although no details of the strange phantom could be seen, what did appear to be clear was that whatever it was reportedly seemed to be waving at them. Jackson says he went out onto the balcony to investigate but saw nothing but the desolate nighttime landscape and that graveyard out in the murk. A scan of the surroundings with thermal imaging equipment also turned up no heat signatures of any kind. After that, the scared men reluctantly continued the rest of their shift with no further such phenomena. Interestingly, although this incident was indeed frightening, neither of the men felt that the ghost was malevolent, but rather that it seemed to just want to play.
In this case the figure had been small but rather indistinct, yet other stories add more eerie detail. On another occasion that supposedly happened years earlier, two Marines were in one of the watch towers when they looked out and clearly saw through their night vision goggles a young girl walking along in the desert night with a goat, but when they took the goggles off the both the girl and the goat were gone. As soon as they put the goggles back on the girl was back, this time shockingly standing on the watchtower balcony, much to the horror of the guards. The event was so upsetting that these toughened Marines were supposedly reduced to tears and refused to go back to the tower. This is not even an isolated incident, and there have been other sightings of a ghostly little girl out walking abut, either by herself or with a goat, both always undetectable by thermal imaging or night vision.
Adding to ghostly lore of Forward Operating Base Salerno is the account of an Airman who had done two deployments in Afghanistan and had spent much of that time stationed at the base, where he stayed at a compound designated for aviation personnel. One night, he says he was out with another person from his platoon to go visit a friend of theirs who was doing guard duty at one of the towers. The friends spent some time chatting and, by the time they left the guard, it was quite late and the moonless night was pitch black, making it hard to get back to their compound since they did not have night vision goggles with them. They got lost and decided to head back to the guard tower to ask for directions back. As they set out into the night again towards the compound, they claim they heard a rustling and footsteps like someone coming up behind them, but when they looked, no one was there. This would happen several times as they picked up their pace and finally reached their destination. Could this have been the same spectral little girl? The mysteries of this place have yet to be explained, and there have been so many strange, unexplained phenomena at Forward Operating Base Salerno that it has become almost legendary in the region among military personnel.
What lies behind cases like these? Is there anything to them, or is this all the result of a scared mind seeing the world through the cracked sense of stress, horror, fatigue, and hallucination? There are many who say that this is precisely what it is. However, although I can see this being the case with lone, isolated individuals, it becomes harder to explain in these terms when the apparition is seen and experienced by several men at once. Is this possible that it is just a mass hallucination where each one sees exactly the same thing at exactly the same time down to every detail? Is this something that truly happens with mere hallucinations? There is also the fact that they may be lying, which is a possibility, but then again we are dealing with men with more on their mind, like staying alive and combating the enemy, than coming up with fanciful tales for the amusement of it all. Then there is the possibility that something truly strange is really going on, but what that could be remains evasive.
In the end, it certainly seems that war zones can attract just as many strange specters, phantoms, and assorted entities and spooky tales of hauntings as any old derelict house or secluded, darkened forest. In fact, some of the most haunted places in the world are places that have been cast under the shadow of violent battle and strife, whether that is happening now or a dark piece of history from centuries ago. War zones and battlefields consistently draw to themselves such eerie stories, as if they are not only collecting ghosts in the sense of memories of a bloody past, but also literal ones as well. Is it because places so saturated with killing, anguish, and horrific struggle somehow tether the spirits of the dead to them? Does all of this negative energy manifest itself in some bizarre and mysterious fashion beyond our understanding? Is it because the gruesome horrors of war have managed to pervade the landscape and etch themselves onto the very fabric of reality, like light onto film, with events and individuals playing back like a video? We may never know the answers to questions such as these, but one thing that becomes apparent when looking at these accounts is that sometimes those in the field face terrors both human and otherwise, and must come face to face with fear both living and dead.
Some kids dress up as cute animals for Halloween, some dress up as pretty princesses… and some dress up as Ellen Ripley from the 1986 thriller Aliens. To pay homage to James Cameron’s sci-fi series — and perhaps to pass some movie wisdom onto the next generation — one dad created a costume to beat all costumes for him and his daughter.
It’s a real-life replica of the power loader that Ellen wears in the movie to destroy the Queen. And this dad definitely took the “real-life” thing to a new level when he built the highlight of the whole get-up: the fully-functioning forklift feature for his daughter to sit in, complete with retractable supports.
Unsurprisingly, Reddit, along with everyone else on the internet, is going crazy over it. And we have so many questions. What is it made of? How on earth did he manage to build this monstrosity? And isn’t it heavy?!
But how this dad created the realistic robot costume might not be all that different from how the original one came into existence. In 2016, 30 years after Aliens was made, director James Cameron revealed the process of building the power loader.
“We were literally down on the floor, cutting out big pieces of foam core,” he explained, “We hung it on a pipe frame and we had a guy stand there and put his hands down into the elbows of the arms and lift them.”
While the details of this dad’s robot suit are unclear, one thing is for sure: Any parent who not only builds a costume this cool but also carries it (and his daughter) around all night trick-or-treating deserves more than one award. And a couple pieces of her Halloween candy, too.
This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.