‘From Cradle to Career’: Special Operations Warrior Foundation Leaves No Child of America’s Fallen Special Operators Behind - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

‘From Cradle to Career’: Special Operations Warrior Foundation Leaves No Child of America’s Fallen Special Operators Behind

Alicia Sims was at her neighbor’s house to get some Tylenol when she heard a knock at the front door. At first she thought it was one of her five children.

“Come in,” she hollered.

There was no reply.

“It’s unlocked, come in,” she yelled.

Again, no answer.

She went to the door and there stood a chaplain and another man. Immediately, Alicia’s thoughts turned to her husband, Jacob, a 36-year-old MH-47G Chinook pilot in the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment who was deployed to Afghanistan at the time, in October 2017.

“Is he okay?” Alicia asked.

The two did not immediately reply.

“Is he okay?” she asked again, clinging to the hope that her husband was only wounded. “Just tell me where I have to go.”

“If he was okay, I wouldn’t be here right now,” the chaplain replied.

Then, he delivered the news: Jacob’s Chinook had crashed during a nighttime raid in Afghanistan’s Logar Province. Six crew members were injured. Jacob was dead.

Alicia and Jacob Sims. Photo courtesy of Alicia Sims.

High school sweethearts, the couple began dating when Alicia was a sophomore. She married Jacob the day after she graduated. As a married couple, they’d been through thick and thin. Five children, countless deployments, moving across the country. Not an unusual story for military families in the post-9/11 era.

A chief warrant officer in the Army’s elite aviation outfit the “Night Stalkers,” based at Fort Lewis in Washington, Jacob had steadily advanced in his career over the years. Having dedicated her life to her family, Alicia, for her part, had never gone to university or had a career of her own. Instead, she’d held down the home front while her husband deployed over and over again — more times than she can now remember — to the war zones in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places such as Kosovo. And now the nightmare had come true. Her husband, the father of their five children, wouldn’t be coming home this time.

Alicia was devastated, and she would grieve. Yes, that would come. But not yet. In the immediate roil and tumble of the single worst instant of her life, the first thing that went through Alicia Sims’ mind was how she was going to give her children the news that their father had died.

“My first thought was, Now I’ve got to tell my five kids this,” Alicia says in a telephone interview with Coffee or Die Magazine from her home in Clarksville, Tennessee.

“I’d been with Jacob half my life, and I was a stay-at-home mom,” she continues. “All I could think was: What am I going to do? How am I going to support these kids? I don’t even have an education. How am I going to pay bills? There were a lot of things running through my mind.”

In the first days following Jacob’s death, Alicia’s needs revolved around simple things like food, laundry, and getting the children to school. She also had to go to Dover, Delaware, to receive her husband’s body.

“I had to come back and plan his funeral and do all of that. And when you’re being pulled in all those different directions, you don’t think about grocery shopping or food or anything else,” she says.

Jacob Sims with two of his five children. Photo courtesy of Alicia Sims.

As time went on, however, the immediacy of the tragedy faded and the long-term reality of being a single mother set in. Consequently, Alicia’s worries evolved to encompass larger issues — more complicated problems than a simple check or a home-cooked meal by a neighbor could fix. Above all, she needed a college degree to land a job that could support her and her five children. But how would she ever find the time to go to school? Their youngest child, a daughter named Harper, was just shy of 2 years old when Jacob died, and Alicia couldn’t afford day care or preschool. Plus, in a few years the two oldest daughters would be thinking about going to college — how was she ever going to pay for all that?

The walls seemed to be closing in until something incredible happened — an unexpected encounter that forever changed the course of Alicia’s life. At an event for families of the fallen, a Special Operations Warrior Foundation representative approached Alicia, informing her that the organization had begun funding preschool programs. And then the magic words: “Are you interested?”

“And so the youngest of my five was one of their first kids that they put through preschool, which is very fortunate for me,” Alicia later explains. “None of my kids have ever been in preschool or anything like that, so Harper is the only one. Last year she was in preschool and this year she’s in pre-K, fully funded by the Special Operations Warrior Foundation.”

Today, Alicia Sims is a single mother, raising three daughters, aged 15, 14, and 4; and two boys, aged 11 and 10. The youngest daughter, Harper, will have her education paid for by the Special Operations Warrior Foundation from preschool to university. Her two older daughters are enrolled in a college preparation academy, and her son has been receiving math tutoring — all paid for by the foundation.

With her children’s educational needs provided for, Alicia has been able to pursue a college degree in social work.

“Knowing the [Special Operations Warrior Foundation] is just an email away if we were to need anything education-wise, it puts my mind at ease. Because I don’t have to worry about what to cut this month to pay for tutoring or anything like that,” Alicia says.

She adds: “Because my youngest gets to go to preschool, and I don’t have to worry about day care, it’s allowed me to better myself to further my own career so I can take care of myself and my kids and not have to rely on other people.”

The Sims family’s five children, now aged 15, 14, 11, 10, and 4. Photo courtesy Alicia Sims.

Typically after a tragedy, the immediate outpourings of grief and sympathy taper off as time goes on. And it is the family, the survivors, who are left to live with the enduring consequences of their loss, while others — no matter how well intentioned their initial expressions of sympathy may have been — are able to move on.

“Everybody else goes on with their lives, while our lives are still kind of at a standstill,” Alicia says. “But one thing I can say about the [Special Operations Warrior Foundation] is that they have never lost contact. Every few weeks, you know, they’re reaching out to make sure I don’t need anything. That the kids don’t need anything. ‘Is anybody struggling? Do they need a tutor?’ There’s a constant outreach just to make sure we’re okay.”

The Special Operations Warrior Foundation is an organization that provides college scholarships, as well as educational assistance as early as preschool, for the children of special operations soldiers killed in combat or training. The 40-year-old 501(c)(3) charitable organization distinguishes itself from other nonprofits by committing its resources to the children of the fallen for the long haul — from “cradle to career,” as the organization’s CEO and president, Clay Hutmacher, tells Coffee or Die Magazine.

“Our kids, I think, need this holistic approach because they’ve been through a traumatic event,” Hutmacher says. “They’ve lost a parent and most of them are in a single-parent home. Our strategy is to invest in these kids up front. And, you know, preschool statistically significantly enhances your kid’s chances of going on to higher education.”

That “holistic” approach is yielding results. Some 90% of the children sponsored by the Special Operations Warrior Foundation go on to pursue a college education immediately after high school — 20% above the national average. Moreover, between 92% and 93% of the foundation’s sponsored children graduate a four-year institution in five years or less — about 30% above the national average.

Currently, the Special Operations Warrior Foundation counts 882 children in its programs — the average age is 7. With up to $8,000 available per year for a child to go to preschool, the foundation also pays for tutoring and for specialized high school programs such as the college preparation courses in which Alicia Sims has enrolled her two oldest daughters. The organization also provides benefits to about a dozen children in need of special education.

“We pay for college visits, and we pay for study abroad,” Hutmacher says. “We help with internships just to defray some of the costs of relocating and all of that. And then we run [the students] through a program to prep them for college study skills, financial management, writing their essays, all that kind of stuff. And then, of course, we fully fund their [college degrees], and we don’t care where they go. We don’t care if they go to Harvard or to community college to be an auto mechanic.”

A 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) MH-47 in flight. Photo by Staff Sgt. Reed Knutson, courtesy of DVIDS.

Our nation will always need special operators. And those elite warriors will likely remain perpetually engaged in combat, whether covertly or overtly, to hold the world’s dark forces at bay beyond the edges of America’s borders, guaranteeing the peaceful life we enjoy and so often take for granted.

Each day when Hutmacher arrives at work, he takes a minute to pause in the main hallway of the foundation’s Tampa, Florida, offices. The walls are covered with photos of the college graduates the Special Operations Warrior Foundation has sponsored over the years — a stark testament to the toll of our nation’s wars, no doubt. But also a measure of all the good the foundation has done for the families left behind in the wake of those tragedies.

“You walk in this building every day and we’ve got pictures on the wall of kids that we’ve helped. The job satisfaction is off the chart,” Hutmacher tells Coffee or Die Magazine.

After a military career that spanned some 41 years — from his days as an enlisted Marine to retiring as an Army major general at the upper echelons of the special operations community — Hutmacher understands the reality of the threats facing our nation, as well as the constant expenditure of courage and sacrifice needed to keep those threats at bay.

“Behind every name, there’s a whole family whose lives are changed forever. Their struggle is just beginning. You know, their lives were changed in the blink of an eye and not for the better. And there’s many, many challenges ahead,” Hutmacher says.

Retired Army Maj. Gen. Clay Hutmacher, president and CEO of the Special Operations Warrior Foundation. Photo courtesy of Clay Hutmacher.

Thus, each morning, as Hutmacher stands in that hallowed hallway and takes stock of the good work his organization has done, he also understands there’s a lot of work left to do. In this endless endeavor, Hutmacher says he is continually inspired by the exceptionalism of the men and women who’ve stood up to fight for our country.

“You have unique men and women that have chosen a life of service, and they are generally very, very talented and they could have done many other things,” Hutmacher explains. “But they chose a life of service. So I feel like it’s the least we can do to take care of their children.”

For her part, Alicia Sims says that thanks to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, her children are not simply surviving the trauma they’ve experienced. Rather, they’ve been galvanized to lead uniquely successful lives in honor of the legacy of their father’s heroic service and sacrifice.

“There’s a whole group of people standing in their corner, cheering them on, wanting them to succeed in life,” she says. “It is definitely putting more of an importance on furthering their education because, like I explained to them, you know, if your father hadn’t have died, we wouldn’t have been able to ever pay for all five of our kids to go to college. So this is an opportunity they wouldn’t have had otherwise. They see the importance of that. And they want to make sure he didn’t die in vain, and they’re making him proud, and they use the benefits they have to their fullest potential.”

The Special Operations Warrior Foundation was founded in the wake of Operation Eagle Claw — an April 1980 operation ordered by President Jimmy Carter to attempt to rescue the 52 hostages held at the US Embassy in the Iranian capital of Tehran. Five Air Force personnel and three Marines were killed in the ill-fated mission, leaving 17 children without a father.

At first, the charitable organization was focused on providing college scholarships to the children of special operators killed in combat or training. Yet, as its financial resources have improved over the years, its mission has expanded. Apart from the “cradle to career” philosophy espoused by Hutmacher, the foundation now also supports the children of living Medal of Honor recipients (if they’re associated with special operations forces), as well as the families of special operators who have been gravely wounded in training or combat.

“It’s a very amazing foundation. There’s no questions asked. You simply fill out a form just so they kind of know what’s needed, where the money needs to go. And it’s taken care of,” Alicia Sims says. “If the foundation wasn’t a part of our lives, I don’t know what we’d do.”

A helicopter in ashes during Operation Eagle Claw. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

A triathlete and an outwardly laid-back guy (despite his six and a half years as a Marine and rising to the rank of major general in the Army), Hutmacher has a passion for his work that radiates through the telephone connection. In short, the man embodies the spirit of service, displaying a boundless drive to better others’ lives and to draw his own quiet happiness from that selfless endeavor. One small example: Hutmacher writes — by hand — a congratulatory note to every college student sponsored by the foundation who earns a 3.5 GPA or higher.

“I want to encourage the students to continue and to succeed. That’s my passion,” Hutmacher says. “I’m not a professional fundraiser, I’m a stick wiggler. But I get fired up about this job. Especially when I see the impact on these kids. It’s awesome.”

Hutmacher’s anecdotes exemplify his personal commitment to the foundation’s mission. He recounts the story of Josh Wheeler, a 39-year-old Army master sergeant who served with Delta Force and was killed during a hostage rescue mission in Iraq in 2015.

Throughout the course of his storied military career, Wheeler earned 11 Bronze Star Medals including four with Valor Devices. He was posthumously awarded the Silver Star, the Purple Heart, and the Medal of Patriotism.

When Wheeler left behind a wife and four sons, the Special Operations Warrior Foundation stepped in to help. And when one of Wheeler’s sons started having trouble in school, Hutmacher organized a cruise for the two of them around Tampa Bay as a “team-building” opportunity. Later, Hutmacher visited Wheeler’s family at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. He brought them takeout Chinese food like their father used to do. Seemingly small gestures, perhaps, but in the end they made all the difference.

The son who had once been struggling in school went on to study at North Carolina’s Sandhills Community College. He earned a 3.5 GPA in his first quarter. Last quarter, he earned a 4.0 GPA, Hutmacher proudly says.

“That’s what it’s all about,” he explains. “You see, these are kids that have been through some tough times. So, to me, that’s why we’re here. We invest in each and every child to make sure they succeed.”

Army Sgt. Cameron Meddock, a Ranger, died in combat in Afghanistan in January 2019. After his daughter, Brinley, was born the following April, the Special Operations Warrior Foundation immediately reached out and enrolled her in their program. Next year, Brinley is set to attend preschool under the foundation’s sponsorship.

“I was six months pregnant when my husband was killed in Afghanistan,” said Meddock’s widow, Stevie, in a statement. “Looking or planning for the future seemed impossible. Special Operations Warrior Foundation reached out to me to help ease some of that stress for me. Knowing that my daughter will have the opportunity to have an education without the associated financial burden has taken a huge weight off my shoulders and given me something positive to look forward to.”

Starting in eighth grade, years from now, Brinley is slated to attend a college success academy. If she chooses to go to college, she’ll graduate in 2040.

“It’s a lifetime commitment,” Hutmacher says. “We pour our hearts and souls into these families.”

Army Sgt. Cameron Meddock, a Ranger, seen here with his wife, Stevie, died in combat in Afghanistan in January 2019. Photo courtesy of The Darby Project/Facebook.

A native of Wenatchee, Washington, Hutmacher commanded at every level during his three tours with the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. He rounded out his illustrious career serving as commanding general of Army Special Operations Aviation Command, deputy commanding general of Army Special Operations Command, and director of operations at US Special Operations Command in Tampa.

When he retired in 2018 — just one month shy of 41 years of active-duty service — Hutmacher briefly considered working for a military contractor. However, an unexpected opportunity arose to take the reins of the Special Operations Warrior Foundation as president and CEO. It was a fork in the road, but after some careful consideration, he knew where his heart lay.

“It’s the dream job,” Hutmacher says. He admits, however, that fundraising is a “constant struggle.” For one, the foundation doesn’t pay for TV advertisements — its only paid advertising commitment is a $5,000 spread in the Air Commando Journal.

“The worst part of this job, to be honest with you, is asking for money. I’m not shy, but I hate to ask,” Hutmacher says. And this year, COVID-19 hasn’t helped matters. Many of the foundation’s annual fundraising events were canceled due to the pandemic.

“It’s not only us, everybody’s in the same boat,” Hutmacher says. “This is going to be a struggle for us to maintain our revenue, but it is what it is.”

To recoup a portion of its lost fundraising, the foundation has added some virtual events this year — including a virtual bourbon tasting hosted by Bardstown Bourbon Co. Additionally, Hutmacher lauds the efforts of veterans and active-duty personnel who occasionally embark on audacious fundraising endeavors on the foundation’s behalf. After all, service to one’s nation doesn’t necessarily end when the uniform starts collecting dust in the closet.

“We get a lot of current and retired special operators who feel driven to support us,” Hutmacher says.

One notable example is David Goggins, a retired Navy SEAL who has run numerous ultramarathons and performed other mind-boggling athletic feats — such as multiple world-record attempts to complete the most pullups in 24 hours — to raise money and awareness for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation.

In some ways, Alicia Sims and her children were prepared for loss in ways that civilian families aren’t. The children, in particular, had gotten used to dad not being around due to the nonstop pace of deployments and training, which became part and parcel of life in the special operations community in the post-9/11 years. The couple’s youngest child, Harper, who was almost 2 when Jacob died, spent precious little time with her father.

“I mean, he maybe saw her four months out of those two years. Between training and deployment,” Alicia says. “Everybody asked me shortly after why the kids were adapting so easily. And the reality of it is, they were used to him being gone. You know, it wasn’t abnormal. He was gone more than he was there.”

Special operations forces bore a heavy burden in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. And despite all the talk these days about so-called great power competition, America’s special operations units remain embroiled in counterterrorism combat in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, as well as various other sites in Africa and Asia.

Irregular warfare may not be the topic du jour in the Pentagon’s polished hallways, but America’s special operations forces remain engaged in nearly endless combat in some rough corners of the world. Consequently, the need for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation’s mission isn’t going away. Last year, the foundation added 79 children to its programs — roughly an even split between commissioned and enlisted families — representing 39 fatalities. And this year, the Special Operations Warrior Foundation has added 40 new children to its programs, with some 12 to 16 more pending.

Alicia Sims, bottom left, at a memorial ceremony for her husband, Jacob. Photo courtesy of Alicia Sims.

Clearly, the toll of counterinsurgency warfare has not abated — even if the lion’s share of that war effort occurs in the shadows. Overall, nearly 400 children supported by the Special Operations Warrior Foundation have graduated from college. And the foundation currently has 190 students enrolled in college programs. Overall, since its inception in 1980, the organization has provided benefits to more than 1,400 children, representing more than 1,130 fatalities.

Hutmacher explains that he had been a “benefactor” and a “big fan” of the Special Operations Warrior Foundation for years. While he was on active duty he saw firsthand the value of the foundation’s work to the families of the fallen, as well as the peace of mind it gave special operators as they went into the breach, again and again, on their country’s behalf.

“We had a lot of missions where we lost a lot of people,” Hutmacher says, going on to highlight how the foundation’s work reaches beyond the families it directly benefits.

“I’ve had dozens and dozens of active special operators from all the services share with me that it gives them peace of mind to know that if something happens to them the Special Operations Warrior Foundation will be there for their kids,” Hutmacher says. “You’d be hard pressed to find anybody in the special ops community who doesn’t get some peace of mind knowing that we’re out there.”

Similarly, Alicia Sims is confident that her personal experience with the foundation has sent a positive message to those men and women in the special operations community who are still fighting our country’s wars.

“I’m actually still in contact with everyone who survived that night,” Alicia says of the helicopter crash that killed her husband. “Knowing that there will be people there to take care of their families, God forbid something happens, helps them to not dwell on the ‘what-ifs’ when they’re going into combat. They know that their families will be taken care of. And that’s a huge relief.”

“When I flew AH-6 attack helicopters, there were a couple of times when I wasn’t sure what the outcome was going to be on some of those missions,” Hutmacher says. “And, you know, my first concern was always about my kids … if I had one wish, it would be that my kids were taken care of.”

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Green Beret leads crisis innovation for Team Rubicon

September is disaster preparedness month, which the military is highly trained to respond to. When Team Rubicon needed someone to lead Crisis Innovation, they chose a Green Beret – naturally.

Lee Harvey is a retired Green Beret but he led a very interesting career before donning that coveted headwear. “I joined the military as a young lad and did four years. Then I went to college and played college football. I went to the NFL, left the NFL and went to NASA where I was an engineer. Then I woke up one day and said ‘I want to be a Green Beret’,” he said with a laugh.


Growing up Harvey actually wanted to be a fighter pilot, but discovered he was terrified of heights. He figured flying a plane with that fear wasn’t a good match, but had it in his head to take on what he deemed the toughest job in the military. “One of the reasons I joined the Green Berets is because I was afraid of heights. I’ve made over 300 jumps out of airplanes, but I am still afraid of heights and still hate flying…I don’t believe in letting fear hold me captive,” Harvey explained.
‘From Cradle to Career’: Special Operations Warrior Foundation Leaves No Child of America’s Fallen Special Operators Behind

(Lee Harvey)

After retiring from the Army, Harvey was working as a Nuclear Engineer at the Air Force nuclear weapons center. Co-founder and CEO of Team Rubicon, Jake Wood, was looking for someone with a special forces background to fill the leadership role in Crisis Innovation and was referred to Harvey.

When Harvey received the job description, he was intrigued. “I said, ‘You want me to travel around the world and problems?’ That’s what I’ve done, I’ve been in 50 or 60 different countries as a Green Beret. It’s right in my wheelhouse and I get to help people,” he explained. “It’s that selfless service that I really enjoy. They aren’t about themselves, they are about serving communities and humans, relieving human suffering.”

Team Rubicon got its start in 2010 when two Marines, Wood and William McNulty decided to head to Haiti after they saw that relief from the recent earthquake was slow and dismal. They found that by utilizing the leadership and medical abilities they gained in the military – they could make a difference. Since its inception, they’ve gone on to respond to disasters all over the world.

‘From Cradle to Career’: Special Operations Warrior Foundation Leaves No Child of America’s Fallen Special Operators Behind

(Lee Harvey)

“Being in the Green Berets, preparedness is near and dear to our heart. It’s what we do – we plan and prepare. The preparedness month started in 2004 by FEMA, it was designed to get homeowners and individuals prepared,” Harvey explained. He referenced a study that came out indicating only around 70 percent of people in the U.S. actually have survival supplies in their home and less than 50 percent have a preparedness plan.

It’s something Team Rubicon wants to change.

One quick way to start in evaluating preparedness Harvey encouraged is to review insurance policies. When a hurricane was coming his way, he examined his own policies. Harvey was shocked when he found out his hurricane insurance didn’t include wind damage – which was a separate policy. “Read the fine print,” he said.

Go bags. Words that are music to the ears of the military but especially Green Berets. Harvey recommends one for each person on each side of the house. “What happens if a tree falls on the front of your house and you can’t get to it? Then you can’t get out. I make two… one for the front and one for the back, well, actually three because I always have one in my car too,” he said with a laugh.

‘From Cradle to Career’: Special Operations Warrior Foundation Leaves No Child of America’s Fallen Special Operators Behind

(Lee Harvey)

Harvey stressed that although there are lists out on the internet for go bags, each person will have different needs. He shared that his bags include epi pens for his son, who has allergies. While the reference lists are a good start, time needs to be invested in your go bag. “Each go bag should be tailored to fit your needs. Take a day and thoroughly plan it out. Once you do that, you already know it’s there. When you need it is when you don’t have it,” he explained.

Another tip from Harvey was to check your go bags quarterly and when you pack your radio, don’t put the batteries in it until it’s going to be used. This is because even though it is turned off, it will continue to utilize the battery making it ineffective when you need it the most.

“Our coach used to say ‘you are only as good as your last play’. So, if your last play is that you forgot to pack a go bag and a hurricane is coming…There’s no tomorrow, you don’t get a chance to do tomorrow over so make a plan,” he said. Harvey also stressed that people need to listen to their local authorities and not try to ride out a disaster just because they have a go bag.

Leading Crisis Innovation for Team Rubicon has been an incredible experience, Harvey shared. He’s grateful to be a part of something he equates with “selfless service” once again. He also hopes that those reading this article will be inspired to prepare for themselves and their family. Oh – and pack multiple Green Beret approved go bags, of course.

To learn more about Team Rubicon and their mission, click here.

MIGHTY CULTURE

The future of the Army will be swarms of robots

In future combat, Army units may deploy a large unmanned aerial system that can serve as a mothership capable of unleashing swarms of autonomous aircraft for various missions.

With near-peer competitors advancing their anti-access and area-denial capabilities, the Army requires innovative ways, such as this one, to penetrate through enemy defenses, said Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. James C. McConville.

“Quite frankly, if you’re going to some type of integrated air defense environment, I would prefer to have unmanned aircraft leading the way,” he said.


McConville, an aviator who has piloted several Army helicopters, spoke April 16, 2019, at a conference hosted by the Army Aviation Association of America, or Quad A.

“We want industry to be listening,” he said about the conference, “because we are telling them where we think we’re going and what we want them to develop.”

‘From Cradle to Career’: Special Operations Warrior Foundation Leaves No Child of America’s Fallen Special Operators Behind

Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. James C. McConville speaks at a conference hosted by the Army Aviation Association of America, or Quad A, in Nashville, April 16, 2019.

(Photo by Sean Kimmons)

Senior leaders expect the future battlefield to have dispersed units operating in densely-populated areas, where they will be contested in multiple domains, such as the air.

To be successful, they say, soldiers need to be able to present several dilemmas to the enemy, which is why the Army developed its new concept of multi-domain operations.

“We must penetrate enemy anti-access and area-denial systems in order to allow follow-on forces to disintegrate,” McConville said, “and find freedom of operational and tactical maneuver to exploit enemy forces.”

FARA/FLRAA

The Future Vertical Lift Cross-Functional Team has started to rapidly develop two aircraft — the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft and Future Long Range Attack Aircraft, which aim to replace some AH-64 Apache and UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, respectively.

For the FARA program, the team expects to award two vendors next year to create competitive prototypes that will perform a government-sponsored fly-off in 2023, Brig. Gen. Walter Rugen, the team’s director, said in March 2019.

Earlier this month, a request for information, or RFI, for the joint FLRAA program was released in an effort to further refine requirements for the Army, Special Operations Command and Marine Corps.

Both programs are set to achieve initial fielding by 2028-2030, McConville said, adding no decisions have yet been made on how many will be procured.

The general, though, did say that air cavalry squadrons may receive FARA, while there would still be room for Apache helicopters.

“So for the old cavalry folks, you can dust off your Stetsons and shine up your spurs,” he said. “We see the Apache helicopter remaining in the attack battalions and being incrementally improved for some time into the future.”

‘From Cradle to Career’: Special Operations Warrior Foundation Leaves No Child of America’s Fallen Special Operators Behind

Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. James C. McConville speaks at a conference hosted by the Army Aviation Association of America, or Quad A, in Nashville, April 16, 2019.

(Photo by Sean Kimmons)

FLRAA, he added, will likely be fielded first to units with forced- or early-entry missions like the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), 82nd Airborne Division, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne), and some National Guard units.

“We will acquire these aircraft with competitive prototyping processes to ensure the capability is there before we buy,” he said. “We want to fly, we want to try, before we actually buy and we’re looking for innovation from industry as we go forward.”

Under development is also a new aviation engine through the Improved Turbine Engine Program as well as a 20 mm gun, he said.

Future aircraft will also require a Modular Open System Architecture. The general envisioned it to have something similar to how smartphones can easily receive and complete updates every few weeks.

“We think this is absolutely critical because we want to be able to field new capabilities very quickly into our aircraft of the future,” he said.

As a former OH-58 Kiowa pilot, McConville said it took too long to make updates on the reconnaissance helicopter.

“You would have to rewrite the entire code and flight test it,” he said. “It was a big deal just to change a screen thing, which we should be able to do in seconds.”

While modernization efforts may affect other programs, the general said that change is necessary.

If senior leaders in the 1970s and 1980s failed to modernize the force, he said, soldiers would still be flying AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters instead of Apaches and UH-1 Huey utility helicopters instead of Black Hawks.

“We must modernize the Army,” he said. “We’re at that critical time right now and we feel that with the modernization priorities, the National Defense Strategy, where we see the world evolving, we must do that.”

This article originally appeared on United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

A woman made it through SEAL officer test for the first time

The Navy marked a first earlier this year when a woman completed Navy SEAL officer assessment and selection, Military.com has learned.

At the quarterly meeting of the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services in December, a Navy official disclosed that the woman had reached the end of the physically and mentally demanding two-week SOAS process in September. Ultimately, however, she was not selected for a SEAL contract, officials said.

While the military formally opened SEAL billets — and all other previously closed jobs — to women in 2016, no woman has yet made it to the infamous 24-week Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training to date. If the woman had been selected for a SEAL contract at the end of SOAS, she would have been the first to reach BUD/S.


Capt. Tamara Lawrence, a spokeswoman for Naval Special Warfare, said the candidate had not listed the SEALs as her top-choice warfighting community. She was awarded placement in her top choice, Lawrence said.

‘From Cradle to Career’: Special Operations Warrior Foundation Leaves No Child of America’s Fallen Special Operators Behind

US Navy SEAL candidates during Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training.

(US Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Abe McNatt)

“We do not discuss details of a candidate’s non-selection so it does not interfere with their successful service in other warfighter communities,” she said.

Candidates for SOAS are taken from college Reserve Officer Training Corps programs, service academies, and the Navy’s Officer Candidate School, all prior to getting their first Navy contract. Lawrence declined to specify which pathway the recent female candidate had taken out of concern that doing so would reveal her identity.

Lt. Grace Olechowski, force integration officer with Naval Special Warfare Command, said five women had been invited to participate in SOAS since the pipeline was opened to women. Three had entered SOAS to date, but only one had completed assessment and selection.

Military.com broke the news in 2017 that a first female student had entered SOAS — an ROTC student at a U.S. college. She ultimately exited the process before reaching the selection panel, however.

Lawrence said the SEAL officer selection process is candidate-neutral, meaning the selection board does not know the gender or other personal information of the candidates.

‘From Cradle to Career’: Special Operations Warrior Foundation Leaves No Child of America’s Fallen Special Operators Behind

U.S. Navy SEAL candidates participating in Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Sean Furey)

“Selection is based on the candidate’s scores during the two-week SOAS assessment,” she said. “This process ensures every candidate has a fair and equal chance based on Naval Special Warfare standards.”

It’s also possible that not listing the SEALs as a primary career choice would factor against a candidate in the selection process.

The selection panel is made up of senior SEAL officers, Lawrence said, who use SOAS assessment data along with resume information to select “the most competitive candidates.”

Roughly 180 candidates are selected every year to attend SEAL officer assessment and selection, she said; on average, the top 85 candidates are chosen to continue on to SEAL training. There are four two-week SOAS blocks held every year.

While SOAS precedes the award of a final SEAL contract, it is not for the faint of heart. It was previously called “mini-BUD/S” in a nod to its grueling and rigorous nature.

“Physical stress and sleep deprivation are applied to reveal authentic character traits,” the Navy says on its official Naval Special Warfare recruiting site. “Performance and interview data on every candidate is meticulously documented and presented to the NSW Selection Panel.”

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

The 13 funniest military memes for the week of January 17th

In case you missed it, a 59-year old OEF veteran is reenlisting after a nearly ten year break in service. It took about a year to get the waivers and to cut the red tape, but Army regulations still require him to go through Basic Training all over again in June. I mean, that is what it is, but his military record kinda shows even more of how pointless that is…

His story begins when he enlisted in the Marines in ’78, got out and became a cop, reenlisted during Desert Storm as an infantryman, stayed in long enough to go to Afghanistan as PSYOPs, got out again to become SWAT, and now he’s looking to do it all over again.

I’m just saying – I know that the drill sergeants probably give him the appropriate amount of guff that’s required in Basic and understand that his knowledge of previous conflicts can be instrumental to teaching the younger troops. But imagine being that young, dumb trainee who thinks they’ve got jokes for the “old dude in his platoon” only to learn that he’s been kicking in door before their parents were born.


If only to be a fly on that wall… Anyways, here’s some memes.

‘From Cradle to Career’: Special Operations Warrior Foundation Leaves No Child of America’s Fallen Special Operators Behind

(Meme via Army as F*ck)

‘From Cradle to Career’: Special Operations Warrior Foundation Leaves No Child of America’s Fallen Special Operators Behind

(Meme via Vet TV)

‘From Cradle to Career’: Special Operations Warrior Foundation Leaves No Child of America’s Fallen Special Operators Behind

(Meme via United States Veteran Network)

‘From Cradle to Career’: Special Operations Warrior Foundation Leaves No Child of America’s Fallen Special Operators Behind

(meme via US Army WTF Moments Memes)

‘From Cradle to Career’: Special Operations Warrior Foundation Leaves No Child of America’s Fallen Special Operators Behind

(Meme via Call for Fire)

‘From Cradle to Career’: Special Operations Warrior Foundation Leaves No Child of America’s Fallen Special Operators Behind

(Meme via Team Non-Rec)

‘From Cradle to Career’: Special Operations Warrior Foundation Leaves No Child of America’s Fallen Special Operators Behind

(Meme via Not CID)

‘From Cradle to Career’: Special Operations Warrior Foundation Leaves No Child of America’s Fallen Special Operators Behind

(Meme via Coast Guard Memes)

‘From Cradle to Career’: Special Operations Warrior Foundation Leaves No Child of America’s Fallen Special Operators Behind

(Meme via Leatherneck 4 Life)

‘From Cradle to Career’: Special Operations Warrior Foundation Leaves No Child of America’s Fallen Special Operators Behind

(Meme via Valhalla Wear)

‘From Cradle to Career’: Special Operations Warrior Foundation Leaves No Child of America’s Fallen Special Operators Behind

(Meme via ASMDSS)

‘From Cradle to Career’: Special Operations Warrior Foundation Leaves No Child of America’s Fallen Special Operators Behind

(Meme via Pop Smoke)

‘From Cradle to Career’: Special Operations Warrior Foundation Leaves No Child of America’s Fallen Special Operators Behind

(Meme via Decelerate Your Life)

MIGHTY CULTURE

These are the national parks that make America the most beautiful country in the world

FOX News Journalist Abby Hornacek is no stranger to the outdoors. Growing up in a family of athletes, she’s now brought her love for fitness and travel to the FOX Nation series, Park’d

In 2020, disabled military veterans received one of the best benefits of service the country could give them: free access to the most breathtaking sights in the country they served. 

A partnership between the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation allows veterans with a service-connected disability an Access Pass that allows for free entry and discounts on park amenities. 

There are so many reasons why this is an incredible benefit for America’s disabled veterans (and Gold Star Families, by the way). On Park’d, you can see FOX’s Abby Hornacek hike, surf and RV across the country in the most stunning national parks, but here are a few she’s visited everyone should see for themselves.

1. Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Nowhere else in America – perhaps on Earth – will nature lovers see a more stunning, otherworldly sight than Canyonland National Park. One of two national parks in the Moab area of Utah, Canyonland National Park is a park filled with dozens of the outdoor enthusiast’s must-do and must-see lists. 

From Grand View Point, visitors can see much of the park’s painted, jaw-dropping landscape in all its technicolor glory. The Mesa Arch is probably its most famous landmark, and with one look, visitors will see why. Canyoneering and camping is a must for any visitor, but the thrill seeker can watch Abby Honacek rappel a 120-foot drop into the park’s “Medieval Chamber” and consider taking the challenge.  

2. Acadia National Park, Maine

Maine’s Acadia National Park isn’t just a sight to see for so-called “leafers” looking for explosions of color among the fall foliage. It’s called the “Crown Jewel of the North Atlantic Coast” for a reason. Hiking in Acadia means literal cliff walks, offering a full panoramic view of the Maine coastline and the beautiful forests below. You may even get a glimpse of the majestic Peregrine Falcons that call Acadia home. 

When Abby Hornacek visited Acadia National Park for FOX Nation’s “Park’d,” she was able to take in the full grandeur of the park’s vastness by gliding far above the treetops. The park is so vast, in fact, that reaching some of its outlying islands could take a full day’s boat ride. Hornacek and company got in some good lobstering along the way.

3. Channel Islands National Park, California

From the Atlantic Coast to the Pacific Coast, Abby Hornacek took in Channel Islands National Park, south from the coast of Santa Barbara. In true California style, she took in some of the best waves on the West Coast, surfing in the cool Pacific waters off the “Galapagos of North America. A visit to Channel Islands National Park is an experience in one of the most ecologically diverse places on the continent. 

Kayaking across Santa Cruz island, she was able to experience the California coast as it was when untouched by human contact. Kayakers and hikers to any of the five Channel Islands will have an opportunity to see green peaks, pristine coastlines and an intense array of wildlife, from sea lions and island foxes to the American Bald Eagle.

4. Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado 

Visitors without a lot of time to explore Mesa Verde’s 5,000 natural wonders and 600 Native American cliff dwellings can still have an amazing experience inside the park’s 52,000 acres. Abby Hornacek explored as much as possible through a zipline excursion, which gave her a panoramic view of the park and its deep canyons. 

For a more up-close and personal view of the vistas of Mesa Verde, visitors can hike the Petroglyph Point Trail, for views of the canyons, cliffsides, and expansive work of art that nature created. The best view comes from hiking to Park Point Fire Lookout, the highest point in the park. At 8,572 feet, those who make the trek will be able to see Utah, New Mexico and Arizona on a clear day.

Anyone  planning on seeing as much as possible in Mesa Verde should prepare for camping in the park, as it was just certified as an International Dark Sky Park, perfect for stargazing in the clear Colorado skies. 

5. Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas

Arkansas’ natural wonder was established long before the idea of creating national parks even existed. It’s easy to see why. The lush green landscape is fed by thermal springs from thousands of feet below ground mixed with the cold ground water of the area. What makes this park unique is how closely the park is integrated to the surrounding area.

Abby Hornacek explored the history of the town, which featured rustic bathhouses and other tourist attractions using the storied healing power of the spring water. She even gets a lesson in beer brewing using Hot Springs’ famous water supply from the locals. Follow Hornacek as she summits Music Mountain, the park’s highest point for a breathtaking view. 

6. Yosemite National Park, California

No list of breathtaking national parks would be complete without including California’s Yosemite National Park. The park is home to 1,200 square miles of glacier-carved peaks, stunning river valleys and the majestic waterfalls that dot the landscape – a truly unforgettable experience. 

Visitors will also see the forest of grandiose, ancient Giant Sequoias and the storied, legendary granite summits of El Capitan and Half-Dome. On Park’d, viewers can follow FOX’s Abby Hornacek as she braves a zipline over the mountains of the Yellowstone National Park and rafts the formidable Yellowstone River. 

What’s even better? If you’ve served or are currently serving our beautiful country, then you get a free year of FOX Nation, where you can catch a new season of Park’d on July 3rd. Check out the FOX Nation website for more details!

MIGHTY CULTURE

Marines return from deployment just in time for Thanksgiving

The Marines and sailors of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit are concluding their 2019 deployment this week, just in time for Thanksgiving.

Departing in waves from the three ships of the Boxer Amphibious Ready Group, the 11th MEU conducted an amphibious landing aboard Camp Pendleton, California, and aircraft landings at Miramar, California, and Yuma, Arizona.

At each site, Marines and sailors were greeted by family members and welcomed home after seven months away.


During the deployment, the Boxer ARG and 11th MEU spent time in the U.S. 7th Fleet and U.S. 5th Fleet areas of operations, and conducted training in Kuwait, Jordan, Djibouti, Brunei, the Philippines, and Malaysia.

‘From Cradle to Career’: Special Operations Warrior Foundation Leaves No Child of America’s Fallen Special Operators Behind

Families and friends of Marines with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 163, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW), await their loved ones at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., Nov. 25, 2019.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Jaime Reyes)

“We have traveled a long way and the Marines and sailors of the 11th MEU have risen to every challenge. They have built important partnerships and have been ready to help, ready to respond, and ready to fight if necessary,” said Col. Fridrik Fridriksson, commanding officer of the 11th MEU. “I am incredibly proud of each and every Marine and sailor in the ARG/MEU team.”

11th MEU consists of the command element; the aviation combat element comprised of Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 163 (Reinforced); the ground combat element comprised of Battalion Landing Team 3/5; and the logistics combat element comprised of Combat Logistics Battalion 11.

Boxer ARG is comprised of amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4), San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock USS John P Murtha (LPD 26), and Harpers Ferry-class amphibious dock landing ship USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49).

The ARG/MEU departed their home port of San Diego and began their deployment May 1, 2019.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This is how the military gets ready to deploy anywhere in the world in 18 hours

Typically, troops get their orders to deploy many months in advance. In times of stability, you’re looking at twelve months gone and then twelve months at home. Everyone in the unit has ample time to get their ducks in a row before heading off to war.

But when sh*t hits the fan, the United States Armed Forces can gear up entire brigade-sized elements of troops and put boots on the ground in just under eighteen hours.

Now, getting troops ready to go isn’t the hard part — troops usually keep a rucksack packed and a rifle on standby in the arms room. It’s the logistical nightmare that comes with transporting all of the required gear that makes this feat truly impressive.


‘From Cradle to Career’: Special Operations Warrior Foundation Leaves No Child of America’s Fallen Special Operators Behind

At any moment, the Currahee are ready to drop in like it was D-Day all over again.

(U.S. Army photo by Major Kamil Sztalkoper)

In the Army, brigades that are officially ready to deploy are called Division Ready Brigades. In the Marine Corps, they’re called Marine Expeditionary Units. To be certified as one of these units, there are several requirements, including pre-deployment training, gear staging, and mountains of paperwork.

The 506th Regimental Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division out of Fort Campbell, KY, earned “reactionary force” status in 2007 and, impressively, has maintained it ever since.

“The purpose of the division ready brigade is to quickly move Soldiers and equipment to support emergency situations requiring DoD support,” said Col. Thomas Vail, the then-506th RCT commander told the Fort Campbell Courier. “We are well prepared for this task in terms of leadership, Soldier discipline, and staff expertise. The 506th RCT has conducted rehearsals and back briefs just like any combat mission tasked to the brigade.”

They earned this by staging a mock deployment to get everyone, including their gear and vehicles, ready to go to Fort Irwin’s National Training Center. All vehicles needed to be staged, all artillery guns needed to be prepped, and all connexes had to be packed with everything they’d need within 72 hours of landing.

‘From Cradle to Career’: Special Operations Warrior Foundation Leaves No Child of America’s Fallen Special Operators Behind

These Marines are always on call… Ready to be tagged in.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Scott Pittman)

To remain ready, some units have pre-staged gear that they never touch. As you can imagine, having and stashing gear only to be used for rapid deployment requires cash — which, unfortunately, isn’t in excess for many units.

The Marines, however, have always been known for doing more with less. In this case, they do this by keeping their Marines on a fifteen month cycle: they spend nine months training stateside and six months aboard a Navy vessel offshore.

They strategically place their Marines on the Naval vessels nearest to where they expect to be fighting and stay ready to hop onto landing crafts at any moment. The Marines of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit take this one step further by remaining permanently forward-deployed out of Okinawa.

Maj. Jacob R. Godby, the 31st MEU assistant operations officer, said,

“The size of our AO requires us to train for a wide variety of missions which requires an extensive range of equipment and the best trained Marines anywhere. In Okinawa, we have the resources and training grounds that allow us to train for almost any mission we could be tasked with. MEUEX allows us to begin putting the pieces together as we move closer to embarking for our next patrol.”

It’s a logistical headache, but it’s a challenge that only the most intense units have been able to successfully pull off. If there’s crisis in need of the U.S. Armed Forces, these guys can be there within the day, letting other troops bring in the rest of the gear after them to establish a more permanent presence.

Articles

PETA declares war on US Marines drinking cobra’s blood in Thailand

This time, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, better known as PETA, didn’t have to create gruesome imagery of animals secretly being hurt or mistreated to get people’s attention. The Pentagon’s public affairs apparatus did it for them. And there’s nothing secret about it.

Every year, United States Marines and Thailand’s Marines take part in a blood-drinking ritual as part of the annual Cobra Gold joint training exercise. Thai troops conduct a ceremony in which a king cobra snake is beheaded and its blood is shared among the participants.  

The photos prompted members of PETA to protest the treatment of king cobra snakes in front of Thailand’s embassy to the United States in Washington and in front of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s house. 

PETA: The same people who found a problem with this guy (Wikimedia Commons)

Drinking the cobra’s blood is more than just a source of cool photos of United States Marines, it’s taught to the Marines by the Thai armed forces as part of its jungle survival training. The blood of the cobra, they say, can be used as an alternate source of hydration when water isn’t available or isn’t clean enough for drinking. 

PETA has been protesting the use of cobras (and geckos, chickens and insects) in the exercise ever since it discovered that the exercise existed. Cobra Gold is the largest military training exercise in Southeast Asia, and the joint U.S.-Thai exercise covers interoperability, disaster response and other military operations between the two countries. 

Multi-National Forces march in formation after the conclusion of the official opening ceremony of Cobra Gold 2017 (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Marc Castaneda)

The 39-year-old exercise is conducted in and around Thailand, but often has many other partners and observer nations. The coming exercise will include live-fire exercises, land-mine reduction, and other simulated war games. 

It’s not just an important military exercise, it’s also a partnership-building exercise. Many different nations have joined Cobra Gold, either as participants or observers. China became an observer in 2015 and Burma joined the exercise for the first time in 2016. 

Lance Cpl. Dakota Woodward, from Brandon, Florida, drinks cobra blood Feb. 8 during exercise Cobra Gold 2015. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Isaac Ibarra/Released)

But PETA isn’t targeting the exercise itself, just the part where the Thai soldiers tame, kill and drink the blood of a king cobra and other wild animals as part of the exercise. The organization calls it unnecessary, and a zoonotic disease vector “on par with COVID-19.”

PETA also has a problem with the way Marines and Thai troops are taught to kill the animals they eat for survival, claiming the method of killing chickens isn’t approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association, and that geckos should be killed by blunt force trauma, among other issues. 

Photos of the Cobra Gold exercise and of United States Marines drinking cobra’s blood have been public since long before PETA first learned about the event in 2020. That seems to bother the organization just as much.

“The fact that the general public was able to see footage of our U.S. Marines taking part in something so cruel set this apart,” said PETA Associate Director Ashley Byrne, who may not have ever actually met a Marine. “I don’t think that this reflects the values that we want associated with our country.”

On top of the protests, PETA filed a petition for rulemaking with the Department of Defense to eliminate the unnecessary killing of animals as part of Cobra Gold. In the petition, the organization offers an alternative to Thailand’s jungle survival training, which includes “instructional books and videos created by former military survival instructors, interactive video programs, and a focus on non-animal sources of sustenance.”


Feature image: U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Micaiah Anthony

MIGHTY CULTURE

4 myths about the Air Force people can’t stop believing

The Air Force has enough people from other branches making fun of it. Airmen don’t need to be the subject of ridicule for things they don’t deserve. The facts people can use to poke fun at the Air Force are so plentiful, why go through all that extra effort to make stuff up? Just because it seems like something the Air Force would do doesn’t make it real.

The chocolate fountain inside a DFAC in Iraq? Yes, that existed. I can say I saw it with my own eyes. To be fair, there was one in the Army chow hall on Camp Victory, too, but I’ll let the Air Force take the heat for it. Dining facilities with made-to-order omelets and a salad bar? The Air Force has that, too. And yes, it was not too long ago the Air Force did its annual PT test on a stationary bike.

The reasons to poke fun are plentiful.


Related: The complete hater’s guide to the Air Force

There’s no need perpetuate myths about airmen. Forget, for a moment, that Air Force “barracks” are nicer than most Holiday Inns (no, airmen do not get swimming pools… not at their living quarters, anyway) and help us debunk these continuously repeated myths that are both untrue or unjustly attributed to the Air Force.

‘From Cradle to Career’: Special Operations Warrior Foundation Leaves No Child of America’s Fallen Special Operators Behind

How’s that taste, shipmate?

1. The Stress Card Myth.

This has been debunked on We Are The Mighty before, but it’s important enough to reiterate here. For anyone joining the military, no, you will not be issued a Basic Training “Stress Card” that allows you to take a “break” from training if your nerves get a little frayed. The Air Force is still very much a military branch and, while the Air Force might have the “easiest” time in Basic Military Training, you will still get yelled at, still do PT ad nauseam, and it will all be very stressful.

That’s the point.

If anything, BMT is only getting more difficult as time goes on. Where it was once a six-and-a-half week course, it’s now eight weeks. Now that airmen spend more time in joint-service operations — and thus become “battlefield airmen” — it’s important that they be able to handle themselves under stress, which can often mean under fire.

Besides, it was the Navy who had the closest thing to a Stress Card.

Related: The truth behind basic training “Stress Cards”

‘From Cradle to Career’: Special Operations Warrior Foundation Leaves No Child of America’s Fallen Special Operators Behind

Tech. Sgt. Zachary Rhyner medically retired in 2015 due to wounds sustained in combat that prevented mobility below the knee. Rhyner is an Air Force Cross recipient and Special Tactics combat controller attached to the 24th Special Operations Command. Rhyner served 11 years, earning three Purple Hearts in six deployments.

(U.S. Air Force)

2. The Air Force has no enlisted warfighters.

The Air Force’s enlisted troops are mostly happy with rendering a sharp salute to our officers as they taxi out on their way to the wild blue yonder, the battlefield the Air Force controls with unrelenting hostility toward would-be interlopers both on the ground and in the air.

But there are many Air Force specialties that have nothing to do with simply letting others go into combat while waiting on the flight line. The Air Force’s battlefield airmen aren’t limited to conventional forces, like Security Forces Phoenix Ravens, the airmen who protect aircraft on the ground in a hostile environment. USAF Combat Controllers, TACPs, Weather Technicians, and Combat Rescue Officers will all deploy anywhere in the world with the best special operators from any branch. And when the sh*t hits the fan, you will be happy to know that Air Force Pararescue Jumpers are on their way to bail you out.

Fun Fact: When Air Force PJs go into action, their alarm is the Leeroy Jenkins battle cry.

‘From Cradle to Career’: Special Operations Warrior Foundation Leaves No Child of America’s Fallen Special Operators Behind

The closest any of these guys will get to the stick is flying a drone.

(U.S. Air Force)

3. We all fly planes.

This one is mainly for civilians. Anyone who’s met the average junior enlisted airman will be happy to know that flying a plane, especially for the United States Air Force, is not something you can just sign up to do. As a matter of fact, it’s incredibly difficult to get behind the stick of any Air Force aircraft anywhere.

That includes training aircraft.

The closest enlisted airmen will get to being in the cockpit’s hotseat aboard a USAF aircraft is either in a simulator or stealing one off the flightline. And before you scoff at the last part, it happens a lot more than anyone might expect.

Now read: That time a Marine mechanic took a joyride in a stolen A4M Skyhawk

‘From Cradle to Career’: Special Operations Warrior Foundation Leaves No Child of America’s Fallen Special Operators Behind

(Laughs in Coast Guard)

4. The Air Force is the “smartest branch.”

I hate to debunk this one because it saves me so much stress and hassle whenever a bunch of veterans are at the bar comparing the size of their brains based on branch of service. Eventually, someone pats the airman on the back and says, “Hey! At least you’re the smartest branch!”

This myth transcends every branch and era. Inevitably, some Facebook commenter, veteran or civilian, will remark on how the Air Force is the smartest without actually reading this article and the myth will perpetuate itself. While the Air Force handles a lot of high-tech equipment and research laboratories, the people who handle that aren’t taking the ASVAB. And if they were, they would probably ace it for any branch they were going into.

Sure, the Air Force works on satellites, the Navy works on nuclear reactors, the Army operates geospatial imaging systems, and the Marines have to at least know enough to pick up Air Force women at the bar. The actual branch that is the most difficult to get into is – wait for it – the Coast Guard.

The military divides enlisted candidates into three tiers, with the top tier being those with a high school diploma and tier two being recruits with a GED. The Air Force recruits 99 percent tier one candidates, but the Coast Guard won’t even look at anything other than tier one unless they’ve been in the military before. If you prefer to judge by using minimum ASVAB score, the lowest the Air Force will go is 36, while the Coast Guard’s minimum is a solid 40.

The Coast Guard is also the smallest branch of the military, but has no trouble recruiting new Coasties. This means they’d rather send you down the street to the Army than let a substandard Coast Guardsman slip through the cracks. Meanwhile, in the Air Force, they say, “there’s a waiver for everything.”

MIGHTY CULTURE

Five 9/11 Memorials from around the world

Earlier this year, a French publisher had to issue an apology after a huge social media backlash emerged against their undergraduate-level history textbook which claimed that the attacks on 9/11 were “orchestrated by the CIA.” “This phrase which echoes conspiracy theories devoid of any factual basis should never have been used in this work,” the publisher said. “It doesn’t reflect the editorial position either of Ellipses publications or the author.”

Despite the incredible oversight of the publisher, it’s worth noting that the French have stood in solidarity with the United States in remembering 9/11 with a temporary memorial on its 10th anniversary. However, other nations across the free world have erected permanent memorials. After all, 9/11 began the War on Terror that freedom-loving countries have been fighting for 19 years. Here are some memorials that stand out.


‘From Cradle to Career’: Special Operations Warrior Foundation Leaves No Child of America’s Fallen Special Operators Behind

(Dr. Avishai Teicher—Public Domain)

1. 9/11 Living Memorial Plaza—Jerusalem, Israel

Opened in 2009, the 9/11 Living Memorial Plaza is a cenotaph remembering and honoring the victims of the attacks. It measures 30 feet tall and is made of granite, bronze, and aluminum. A piece of melted steel from Ground Zero forms part of the base on which the monument rests. The names of all the victims, including five Israeli citizens, are embedded on metal plates and placed on the circular wall. It is also the first and only monument outside of the United States to list all the names of the nearly 3,000 victims of the attacks.

‘From Cradle to Career’: Special Operations Warrior Foundation Leaves No Child of America’s Fallen Special Operators Behind

(Memoria e Luce)

2. Memory and Light—Padua, Italy

Inaugurated on the 4th anniversary of the attacks, Memoria e Luce, as it’s known in Italian, was a gift from the United States to the Italian city of Padua. It features a six meter long, twisted steel beam recovered from Ground Zero. The structure in which it is housed mimics an open book and is reminiscent of the facades of the Twin Towers. The book is also open in the direction of the Statue of Liberty, further cementing the relationship between our two nations.

‘From Cradle to Career’: Special Operations Warrior Foundation Leaves No Child of America’s Fallen Special Operators Behind

(SINCE 9/11 Charity)

3. Since 9/11—London, England

Throughout the War on Terror, Britain has been one of our strongest allies in combating those who wish harm on the West and the free world. Located at the Queen Elizabeth II Olympic Park, the memorial sculpture was a gift from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to the United Kingdom. It is made entirely out of steel recovered from Ground Zero. The memorial is cared for by the SINCE 9/11 charity. Founded on the 10th anniversary of the attacks, the charity’s focus is educating British students on 9/11 to “ensure that the legacy of 9/11 is one that builds hope from tragedy.”

‘From Cradle to Career’: Special Operations Warrior Foundation Leaves No Child of America’s Fallen Special Operators Behind

(Memorial Mapping)

4. Twin Towers and Lost Dogs Monument—Ontario, Canada

Located in the Beautiful Joe Heritage Society Park, this stone sculpture represents the Twin Towers. The towers rest on a pentagonal base and honors both the human and canine rescuers who took part in the search and rescue effort following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The memorial is particularly dedicated to a Yellow Labrador police canine named Sirius who died in the collapse of the South Tower. The plaque on the memorial reads, “This plaque honors the devotion and bravery shown by the many K-9 police units during the search, rescue, and recovery of victims of these attacks. Their heroic deeds will not be forgotten.”

‘From Cradle to Career’: Special Operations Warrior Foundation Leaves No Child of America’s Fallen Special Operators Behind

(Memorial Mapping)

5. Donadea 9/11 Memorial—Donadea, Ireland

Dedicated in 2003, the Donadea 9/11 Memorial was crafted by a local stonemason and sculptor. The structural representation of the Twin Towers features the names of victims inscribed on the stone. Though it serves as a memorial to all 9/11 victims, it is dedicated to Irish American firefighter Sean Tallon, whose father was born in Donadea. Tallon was a Corporal in the USMC Reserves and probationary firefighter at Ladder 10, the fire station directly across from the World Trade Center. He was one of the first people on scene when the first plane hit and was killed when the towers fell.

After 9/11, Americans swore that we would never forget. The beautiful and touching memorials listed here show that good people around the world won’t forget either.

popular

5 coffee brands to buy for when you’re stuck on duty

The two most welcomed smells in the military are coffee and gunpowder, and if you’re in the field, you may get both. There are few things that are as satisfying as your favorite cup of Joe when you’re on duty in garrison, training, or forward deployed. Nobody wants to be that guy who falls asleep on post — legal consequences aside, it’s just downright embarrassing.

Staying alert begins with preparation and tactical knowledge of the endless options vying for our patronage. The brands of coffee we enjoy say a lot about ourselves and what’s important to us. When we stand post, looking out into the abyss, reflecting on our lives and why we fight, a warm cup in our hands is a welcomed friend.

Black Rifle Coffee Company


Black Rifle Coffee Company is a veteran-owned and operated brand that brings a level of professionalism and attention to detail that can only be expected from veterans. While massive corporations will sacrifice quality for profit, this company’s quality assurance team will not. Not only do they make a mean brew, but they are also a positive reflection of veterans, successfully assimilating and thriving in the private sector.

Cafe Bustelo

‘From Cradle to Career’: Special Operations Warrior Foundation Leaves No Child of America’s Fallen Special Operators Behind

 

Café Bustelo is like a Marine infantry sergeant: aggressive, strong, and possibly foreign. It has a balanced taste, but it will definitely give you the intense energy boost that one needs at zero-wtf. It’s small, lightweight, and you can toss it in with the gear. The officers and Staff NCOs aren’t going to deny free coffee, either.

Folgers, classic roast

‘From Cradle to Career’: Special Operations Warrior Foundation Leaves No Child of America’s Fallen Special Operators Behind

Folgers is the brand people love to rag on, but let’s be honest here: it’s pretty good. Their marketing is even better. There is a 100% chance that when you saw the name, you sang the jingle in your head. “The best part of wakin’ up is Folgers in your cup.

Folgers seals its product in airtight plastic containers, ensuring that when you need it, it’s still fresh. Plastic containers bring their own benefit to the field because they’re water resistant, which is particularly important when it’s raining sideways.

The crucial part of the equation, no matter which brand you select, is the water-to-grounds ratio. For every six fluid oz of water, add one tablespoon of coffee — two tablespoons for a strong cup, and three or more if you want to see sound.

Starbucks

‘From Cradle to Career’: Special Operations Warrior Foundation Leaves No Child of America’s Fallen Special Operators Behind
It’s okay to like sugary things, even if First Sergeant makes fun of you.
(Luke Air Force Base)

 

There’s a stigma against drinking Starbucks in the military because, in 2004, an email circulated around the internet stating that the company did not support the war or the troops. This rumor has been proven false, but the truth somehow doesn’t usually have the same reach of the rumor mill.

Bringing Starbucks to the office or field is a Bootenant move, albeit a delicious one. If you’re a staff NCO, you know your role as an advisor to the brass, guide him to more rugged-fix-bayonets coffee when your little booter is ready. Until then, enjoy the Caramel Frappuccinos and other embarrassingly named treats they’re willing to share.

Good ol’ standardized, rust-bucket, gut-rot coffee from Uncle Sam

‘From Cradle to Career’: Special Operations Warrior Foundation Leaves No Child of America’s Fallen Special Operators Behind
US Marine Corps Private First Class Faris M. Tuohy drinking a cup of coffee aboard a ship off Eniwetok after two days of fighting, Marshall Islands, Feb. 1944
(United States National Archives)

We live in a society where we can have whatever we want, whenever we want it. We’ve come a long way, but sometimes that rust-bucket coffee from the mess hall is exactly what the doctor ordered. There were times in Afghanistan when a hot cup of mud after a patrol would hit the spot. Warriors do more with less, they’re a hardened breed, and that’s why they never take life — or coffee — for granted.

MIGHTY CULTURE

The Top 10 military charities of 2020

The holiday season is all about giving to those we love. It’s also a perfect time to give to those in need! These 10 charities are among the most highly-rated charities helping those who are more deserving of care than almost anyone: military personnel, veterans, and their families. The military community carries the weight of protecting our country. If you’re able to help, consider donating to one of these charities to lift a little of that weight off their shoulders. 

1. Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund

The mission of the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund is to help severely injured military personnel to receive the care they need to return to military service or transition back into civilian life. So far, the fund has raised $200 million for rehabilitation facilities, programs, and financial assistance. 

Their eight Intrepid Spirit Centers offer comprehensive treatment, including the treatment of traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress. Over 90% of patients treated there are able to resume Active Duty. 

2. Fisher House Foundation

When soldiers are injured, having the support of their families is more important than ever. The Fisher House Foundation builds homes at military and VA medical centers worldwide so that families can stay together throughout medical treatment. Each Fisher House has up to 21 suites which include private bedrooms and bathrooms and access to a shared living room, kitchen, dining area, and laundry room. 

The Foundation also offers the Hero Miles program, through which people can donate frequent flyer miles to assist military families with travel expenses, with a similar program offered for no-cost hotel stays. Last but not least, their grant program offers scholarship funds for the children and spouses of veterans. 

In 2019, over 32,000 families were served, with over 500,000 served since the organization was founded. More than $25 million has been provided to students through scholarship awards, and over 70,000 flights have been covered. 

3. Semper Fi & America’s Fund

Semper Fi, one of the most renowned military charities, is dedicated to helping combat wounded, ill, and catastrophically injured veterans and their families. Their Transition Program helps servicemen and women recover and adapt to post-injury life, connect with their communities, and reach their career goals. They fund numerous adaptive fitness and sports programs, as well as therapeutic art and music classes. They also offer direct financial assistance to help support military families throughout the healing process. 

Semper Fi has been directed by military spouses from the start, so every program is designed with empathy and understanding. So far, $231 million has been provided in assistance, with services offered to 25,500 service members. 

4. Armed Services YMCA 

The ASYMCA is a segment of the YMCA dedicated to helping young enlisted military service members and their families. They’re the oldest US military support organization, dating back to 1861. All services and programs are provided at no cost and require no annual membership fees. Instead of focusing on one particular form of care, ASYMCA aims to be a constant resource throughout military life; from transitioning between bases to deployment. 

In total, they’ve provided care for 25 thousand military family members, and their volunteers have logged 11 thousand hours. In recent months, ASYMCA has also increased emergency relief services, launched virtual youth programs, and provided childcare for the children of essential workers to help military families impacted by COVID-19. 

5. Wounded Warriors Family Support

The Wounded Warriors Family Support organization works to improve the lives of military personnel and the families of those who were injured or killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The challenges faced by wounded warriors and their loved ones are complex, so the program focuses on comprehensive care. 

Services include caregiver respite, veteran career training, adapted vehicles, and long-term care for veterans with spinal cord and brain injuries. They also offer all-expense-paid vacations to help veterans reconnect with their families! 

6. Mission Continues

Returning to civilian life often leaves veterans feeling a sense of purposelessness. Mission Continues is all about providing veterans with ways to provide service in their own backyards. More specifically, the organization gives veterans the tools to make an impact in underserved communities. In the process, veterans have the opportunity to get invested in their community, bond with fellow veterans, and reignite their passion for helping others. 

7. Homes For Our Troops

When severely injured veterans return home, their home is the same. Unfortunately, their abilities may be different. Homes For Our Troops donates personally-customized homes to help post-9/11 veterans live full, normal lives. Charity Navigator, America’s biggest independent charity evaluator, rated HFOT in the top four percent of charities, with a four out of four star rating. 

So far, HFOT has built 313 homes, with 90 cents of every donated dollar going directly to the project. The veterans helped never pay a cent.

8. Hope for the Warriors

Hope For The Warriors began on Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, NC back in 2006. Military families realized how much of an impact war had on service members and their loved ones back at home. They started Hope For The Warriors to support the military community through transition programs, peer engagement, and health and wellness programs. Their approach is holistic and well-rounded, aimed at addressing each factor that affects a service member’s life.

Even today, the organization is run by military families and combat veterans. 

9. K9s For Warriors

When we have a bad day, many of us turn to our dogs for comfort. Veterans can rely on dogs for a whole lot more. K9s For Warriors provides fully-trained service dogs to post 9/11 vets suffering from PTSD, traumatic brain injuries, or military sexual trauma. Their service dog program is based on research conducted by Purdue School of Veterinary Medicine to ensure that both vets and their service dogs are receiving the care they need. Vet care, assistance with housing, and home-cooked meals are also offered, so vets can bond with their support dog worry-free. 

In 2018, 122 vets were paired with service dogs, with over $13 million raised in total.

10. Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors

The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, better known as TAPS, has spent the past 27 years giving comfort and care to those coping with the death of a loved one in the military. They provide 24/7 phone support, plus ongoing grief counseling resources, seminars, and youth programs. In 2019, TAPS welcomed close to 7,000 newly bereaved military families, and they answer over 19,000 calls to their helpline each year. Their staff is mostly made up of survivors of military loss who have already been through TAPS and want to help others in similar shoes. 

For more charitable military organizations to donate to, check out this comprehensive list by the Charity Navigator.

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