‘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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The top 10 perks of being an Army wife

Deployments, moving, nights in the field, hardship tours – there are lots of reasons to hate the Army. No one promised that Army life would be easy, in fact, everyone said it would be hard. But if it were all bad, if there were no perks, so many of us wouldn’t have opted to stay in for ‘life’ – if by ‘life’ we mean about 20 years.

In fact, for some of us now nearing that magical 20-year mark, a future spent as something other than an Army spouse is actually kind of scary.


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

10. It’s easy to find your underwear

Stay with me. You know the really pretty Victoria’s Secret thong you spent on just to wear to meet him when he got home from Afghanistan (and you’ve worn for all the ‘good’ date nights since)? Yeah, that one. It’s on his shoulder, stuck to the velcro on his ACUs, probably as he gets called in to a very serious meeting with his CO.

Same goes for you, male spouses. Your Frederick’s of Hollywood elephant trunk thongs will get stuck, too – ugh. Never mind. Let’s all try to get that image out of our heads…

Bottom line (pun intended): Every delicate unmentionable you will own as an Army spouse will get stuck to and shredded by the velcro – and mentioned by all the other soldiers – if you wash your clothes with your soldier’s. Honestly, just be glad it was the sexy ones. It could have been the granny panties you save to wear during deployments.

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

9. Woobies

‘Cause without them you ‘would-be’ cold. Take a look at your couch. There’s no lovely chenille throw and no handmade quilt spread across the end. Oh no, you’re an Army spouse. That means you have a green camouflage poncho liner, better known as a “woobie”, adorning your relaxing space.

No one is quite sure where woobies come from, they just appear, and then they multiply – like Bebe’s kids, or maybe gremlins. Pretty soon you realize that there’s one on each of your kids’ beds, at the foot of your own bed and even in the dog’s bed. But there’s no better blanket for sneaking in an afternoon nap and, should you dare to argue that the woobie is inferior in any way, your soldier will set you straight.

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

(U.S. Army Europe photo by Spc. Joshua Leonard)

8. Eye candy

For reals. We’re not supposed to talk about it, but you know you look, we all do. We get to live in towns where the male to female ratio makes sports bars look like wine cafes. And, though there are nowhere near as many female soldiers, mandatory PT tests mean that there’s eye candy for the male spouses, too.

Soldiers have to work out for their jobs. Every year at Fort Bragg the entire 82nd Airborne Division runs together, all 22,000 of them, for the Division Run. And you know what the spouses do? We bring folding chairs, snacks and drinks, and get there early so we can nab a good viewing spot. Then we watch.

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

(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Robert Jordan)

7. Way off base

We get to correct the other branches when they call ours a ‘base’. One of these kids is not like the others – and it’s us. The others have “bases” we have “posts”. Why? Who knows? Who cares? Maybe it’s so we can annoy everyone else when we call their Base Exchange a “PX”.

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

(Photo by Staff Sgt. Russell Klika)

6. Dibs on ‘soldiers’

Along the same lines, we get to watch the others cringe when civilians refer to all service members as “soldiers”. Even though everyone in the military world understands that the word ‘soldier’ only applies to a member of the Army, this little drop of wisdom hasn’t managed to trickle down to our civilian friends – and we in the Army family think that’s just hilarious.

“How’s your ‘soldier’ doing on his cruise, Navy wife?”; “There are a lot less ‘soldiers’ in the Marine Corps, no?”; And, “It must be hard to be on that Air Force Base all by yourself when your ‘soldier’ is gone.” Comments like these always make us chuckle – because we know that a soldier by any other name is, well, not a ‘soldier’ at all.

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

5. Size matters

Okay, so maybe the Navy, Coast Guard and Marine Corps families get to live by the ocean and the Air Force families get better, well, everything (don’t act like you haven’t noticed). We’re the biggest. By far. (O’Doyle Rules!) The Army is about the same size as the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard – combined.

In fact, the entire Coast Guard could fit on just one Army post – with room left over for a few Army brigades. Fort Bragg even has an Air Force installation fully contained inside the Army post. So take pride in knowing that we’re the biggest. Maybe that knowledge will help you get through a long winter in middle of nowhere, because most Army posts seem to have all been built on the largest piece of crap land the federal government could afford.

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

(Photo by Hiro Chang)

4. The military balls

(And, no, this is not a rehash of number 8.) Most people get to go to the prom once, maybe twice in their lifetimes. (Three or four times if they were the freshman high school hussy who dated seniors.) We get to go every year. And there’s booze. And decent food.

And we can slow dance without being separated by a chaperone, and we’re even encouraged to get a hotel room. Military balls give us excellent reasons to go shopping, get our hair and nails done, and have our pictures taken with our spouses. Or, if nothing else, to give the yoga pants a night off.

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

3. We’ve got friends EVERYWHERE

Ever have this conversation? “Oh, you’re from Jeezbekneez, Kansas? I have a friend who lives there.” And one in Japan, and one in Hawaii, three in Alaska, two in Italy, four in Germany, one in Korea, and so forth and so on. Grade school classes could use our Facebook friends’ lists for geography lessons. Army families move. A lot. The upside: On a lonely night during a deployment we know we can get on Facebook and find one of those friends online, because 3 a.m. our time is 9 a.m. in Germany.

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

2. Never-ending hijinks

When kids play war, they play Army. Well, guess what? People who join the Army tend to never let go of that wild (ahem) spirit. The Army: Where the boys are men, the men are boys, and the women aren’t afraid of snakes. If you’re reading this, it’s probably because you already love a wild man or woman and are likely to view living somewhere surrounded by jokesters as an adventure.

(Note: This also applies to the Marine Corps, but it does not apply to the other branches. Those who volunteer for boots-on-the-ground duty tend to be a bit more devil-may-care.)

The soldiers around you will be the sweetest, most helpful versions of Steve-O and Johnny Knoxville imaginable, and that makes life very fun – and very funny. Living in an Army town means you will never have to open a door for yourself; you won’t linger on the side of the road with a broken down car; and if a disaster strikes there will be more volunteers than there is need.

But it also means your daily commute will resemble a NASCAR race and you shouldn’t be surprised when you stumble upon stupid human tricks involving nakedness, port-a-potties, 100-mile-an-hour tape, 550 cord and, occasionally, explosives.

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

(Photo by Elizabeth Alexander)

1. Family

Whether you come from a big family, a small family or no family at all, rest assured that you just joined the biggest family in America. Really. Your family is now more than a million strong – Army strong. There is no black, white, brown, red or yellow in the Army – just Green. It doesn’t matter if you’re from the north, south, east or west, educated or not so much, fresh out of high school or edging towards retirement.

I come from a big, tight-knit, family – and I love my family – but more than once I’ve cut short my visits “home” to go back to my Army home because I needed the support and understanding only my ‘Big Green Machine’ family could provide. My Army wife sisters were my newborn daughter’s first hospital visitors, they met her months before her own father did.

They opened their arms wide to me when I told them my dad was dying of cancer. They sent flowers to his funeral. They’ve helped me pack, clean and hold yard sales. They’ve, quite literally, picked me up when I was too weak to stand on my own. And they have laughed with me – oh, how they have laughed with me. We have watched each other’s babies grow, sometimes from afar, and we have shared so much of each other’s lives that the word ‘friend’ is simply not enough anymore. We are family.

A single thread is easy to break, but when you weave a bunch of threads together you get 550 cord, which is strong and secure enough for parachutes. That’s the Army. And we are Army Strong – because none of us stands alone.

This article originally appeared on Military Spouse. Follow @MilSpouseMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

How TrueCar helped get Navy Reservist Jesse Iwuji into the NASCAR race of his dreams

When Jesse Iwuji started racing cars, he never imagined his passion would blossom into a professional career. His passion for fast cars and racing started at the U.S. Naval Academy when he was playing football, running track, studying engineering/mathematics/sciences and learning how to lead sailors on surface ships.

Upon graduating from the Naval Academy in 2010 and becoming a commissioned officer in the Navy, Iwuji became a Surface Warfare Officer, but his love for driving never left. 

He bought a Corvette Z06 to drive daily and speed around tracks in Southern California, and between 2013 and 2015 spent time learning how to drive on track. In 2015 he was introduced to a NASCAR Late Model and a NASCAR K&N Pro Series team and then spent the last few years of his active duty service becoming a racecar driver. What Iwuji didn’t know was that his need for speed would run him up the NASCAR ladder and eventually earn him an opportunity to race in the 2020 NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship race weekend at Phoenix International Raceway, with TrueCar as his primary sponsor.

‘From Cradle to Career’: Special Operations Warrior Foundation Leaves No Child of America’s Fallen Special Operators Behind
Jesse Iwuji at the Nascar XFinity Race Nov 7th 2020 (Photo: Danny Hansen – HMedia)

After seven years of service, Iwuji joined the Naval Reserve to focus on driving. Now, he’s teaming up with TrueCar, the most efficient and transparent way to buy a new or used car from a trusted dealer, as the company’s military brand ambassador. 

“As someone who has served this country the last 10 years in the military, I’m excited to work with a brand like TrueCar that understands the unique needs and lifestyle demands of the military community,” Iwuji says. “I am proud to raise awareness of this fantastic program that can save active duty service members, veterans and their families a lot of time, stress, and money.”

Everyone who has served in the military knows that buying a car is one of the most common trappings among young troops and their families. While that new Mustang might be tempting, it’s important to make sure you don’t find yourself suckered into a bad deal. Thankfully, TrueCar recently launched TrueCar Military, a dedicated vehicle purchase program that provides exclusive military incentives and benefits, on top of TrueCar’s existing benefits, to those who have served our country’s armed forces and their families. As part of this program, veterans, active duty service members and their families can enjoy special military incentives, upfront pricing, a dedicated customer hotline and much more. 

TrueCar is no stranger to the military community — they’ve been supporting the community for years and through the DrivenToDrive program, where they provide brand new vehicles to deserving veterans. Now, they’ve taken their support a step further by sponsoring Jesse Iwuji, empowering him to live out his dream on the racetrack.

Inspired by the indomitable spirit of its program ambassador, SFC (Ret.) Cory Rembsburg, the DrivenToDrive program was launched by TrueCar in partnership with AutoNation and Disabled American Veterans (DAV). The program is back again this year — and with Jesse Iwuji involved, it’s better than ever. To celebrate Veterans Day on November 11, TrueCar awarded yet another vehicle to another amazing veteran. To see the surprise moment and Jesse present the vehicle to the 2020 DriventoDrive Recipient, check out the video or visit www.truecar.com/driventodrive/

To see Jesse in action and for more information about TrueCar Military benefits tailored to military members and their families, check out the video below.

MIGHTY CULTURE

6 ways to de-escalate an argument

Arguments are an unfortunate byproduct of any relationship. Even the best of partners will disagree on something from time to time. Of course, there are disagreements that walk the line between minor spat and major throw-down. When it comes to such arguments, a couple must perform a delicate balancing act that keeps the conversation on point while preventing things from escalating to a full-blown war of words. Sometimes a simple turn of phrase, a moment of patience, or a gentle touch is all it takes to cool everyone’s jets and bring the conflict to a peaceful resolution. Here’s what to do to prevent an argument from spinning out of control.


1. For the love of god, don’t interrupt

One of the main reasons an argument falls apart is because one or the other participant can’t get a word in. This never fails to be infuriating. People with a predilection for interruption will often simply wait until their partner is done talking and then jump in with an already formulated response, which is a way of signaling that they wait for their turn rather than listening. In order to keep the argument on message, give your partner the time they need to say their piece. “Even if you completely disagree with their point of view, it’s not healthy to shut them down,” says Maria Sullivan, a relationship expert and the vice president of Dating.com. “Let their voice be heard, just as you would want your partner to do the same.”

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

2. Mind your tone

When you raise your voice, your partner will begin to mimic your tone. From there, things can quickly escalate, until you find yourselves locked in a battle royale. The key, then, is to keep your tone even and calm. Not only will it keep the argument on track, but it will also help you to keep your thoughts organized. “If you take a deep breath and speak calmly and slowly, your significant other will do the same,” Sullivan says.

3. Keep things solution oriented

When couples argue, very often they tend to hammer at the problem over and over again, outlining what is wrong, why it’s a problem, and who’s responsible. This does nothing but fuel anger and resentment on both sides. Try to state the problem up front and then offer a solution. Saying something like, “I know it makes you angry that I don’t always get to the dishes; what’s a system we can put in place to make sure they’re done?” can diffuse an argument before it gets worse. “What has happened in the past is past. Look for a way to avoid it in the future,” says Susan Petang a lifestyle and stress management coach, and author of The Quiet Zone — Mindful Stress Management for Everyday People. “Asking your partner to come up with a solution or offering a collaborative solution makes it more likely they’ll stick to an agreement.”

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

(Photo by Trung Thanh)

4. Rely on the power of touch

When an argument gets heated, both partners tend to retreat into their corners, pulling apart, and avoiding any contact. This can even extend to body language, with crossed arms and legs sending a message to the other person to keep their distance. Before things begin to escalate, reach out for your partner and try to make a connection. You would be surprised how a simple touch can change the emotion in the room. “It is really hard to continue fighting with someone who is being vulnerable and either asking to be held or who takes their spouse’s hand in their own,” says Dr. Miro Gudelsky, an intimacy expert, sex therapist, and couples counselor.

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

(Photo by Jeremy Yap)

5. Take a break

There’s nothing wrong with calling a time-out. In fact, sometimes it’s the best way to cool down a dispute and keep things from rising into the red. Stepping out for a half-hour and taking a walk or doing a calming activity can be just what you need to gather your thoughts and approach the discussion rationally. “The reason we often feel regretful after arguing is because we get caught up in the moment and say things we don’t mean,” Sullivan says. “Take a breather and recollect yourself before continuing the discussion.”

6. Try a little humor

Yeah, you might not be feeling too funny in the moment, but a little laugh can take a lot of the stress and tension out of an argument almost instantly. You could throw out a one-liner like, “I’m sorry, could you yell a little louder?” or make a self-deprecating joke. Suzann Pileggi Pawelski, co-author of Happy Together: Using the Science of Positive Psychology to Build Love That Lasts, even recommends speaking with an English accent (or a different accent for our English readers!). “We have used it in our own relationship many times,” she says. “We find that this healthy habit can transform relationships by increasing awareness of unhealthy behaviors that we automatically fall into when arguing.”

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

Up late? 5 ways service members stay awake when the going gets tough

Exhaustion is the great equalizer. There comes a point for everyone when your body demands sleep, and if you aren’t willing to give it what it wants, things start to get rough. It doesn’t matter if you’re a soldier on post in a combat zone or a new mom trying to make it through the day after a sleepless night of diaper changes and bottle-boiling, the sandman comes for us all.

If you’re desperate for sleep, the best thing you can do is rack out and get some. If that’s not an option, however, here are some of the ways service members stay alert long after exhaustion has set in. They’re not always the healthiest options, but hey, if we were that worried about our health, we’d be getting some rest.


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

Instant coffee works best when you can chew it.

Caffeine

Ah, caffeine–the old standby. Whenever anyone’s tired, the first thing they think to do is pour themselves a nice hot cup of joe. Of course, in the field, that’s not always an option, but there are plenty of other ways to get your fix. Aside from the service-member favorite energy drinks, the most common field-sources of caffeine come in MREs (Meals Ready to Eat). Some even now come with sticks of caffeinated gum.

If you’ve got the time and the hot water, the small packets of instant coffee that come in MREs can make for a passable cup, but plenty of guys simply pour the pouches into their lips like a pinch of chewing tobacco. Might not be delicious, but it’ll help keep you up. Of course, too much caffeine poses a number of problems, including dehydration and nausea, so there are limits to what a lipper of coffee can do for you.

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

Nicotine

Not just for smoke breaks, nicotine can also go far in helping to keep you conscious and alert during long nights on post or in the campus library. A lot of service members pick up cigarette or chewing tobacco habits during their time in uniform, in part because it offers something to do during long stretches of downtime, and in part because of the kick of energy you can get from a properly timed smoke break.

Of course, nicotine comes with a whole host of negative side effects, so choose your weapons wisely when waging war against your own exhaustion.

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

Debate

Many service members stumble across this tactic on post: you and another person are stuck in one place for a while with nothing to do but look at the horizon, so you spark up a bit of conversation. Before you know it, you’re arguing about whether or not Darkwing Duck was a better show than Duck Tales and you’ve both managed to kill two hours of your shift… so powerful is the magic of useless debate.

It’s important not to let friendly debate boil over into a full-fledged fight, however, which can be a real challenge sometimes when you’re operating on little sleep.

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

Get physical

Long after caffeine has failed you and nicotine is just giving you the shakes, there’s one more thing you can do to help you overcome the heaviest of eyelids: get up and get moving. Something as simple as hopping off your chair for a set of push-ups can get your blood pumping again. Go for a walk around the office or your house, karate chop some old boards in your garage, or haze yourself with a few sets of burpees.

And as an added bonus, you can meet the criteria for “getting physical” by getting into a fist fight with your buddy once your Ducktales debate gets out of hand.

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

When your friends are counting on you, you do what you’ve got to do.

(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Ken Scar)

Just ride it out

Eventually, if you ride out your exhaustion well into the next day, some of the worse symptoms will begin to subside. You’ll feel strange, hazy, and detached… but conscious nonetheless. The human body is capable of playing dirty to get you to do the things you need to do (like sleep), but it’s also good at letting you stay in the fight when it becomes clear the things you need to do aren’t in the cards.

Just like hunger pains will subside after a time, so too will the horrible weight of exhaustion… at least, for a few hours. Once that second wind subsides, you’ll be hurting worse than ever. Hopefully, you’ll have a chance to rack out by then.

MIGHTY CULTURE

The luckiest duty stations worldwide

Luck has quite a diverse meaning within the military community. It’s sarcastically used to laugh at impossible situations, it can take years to ponder why it was on your side that day or is just used to define coveted situations or duty stations a few of us fall into. With Saint Patrick’s Day fast approaching, we’re looking at some of the luckiest duty stations worldwide through the many different definitions of the word.


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

Lucky to be a part of such a prestigious assignment

U.S. Army Garrison Benelux-Brussels-Schinnen is one post where you’ll feel you have a finger on the pulse of the world. That’s because NATO headquarters, located less than ten minutes away, is there. Special status cards, ID’s and privileges may apply to service members and their families depending upon the assignment. With Brussels being the administrative center for the European Union, it can be an exhilarating and fast-paced atmosphere.

The city boasts 14th-century architecture, and the opportunity to rub elbows with top business and government figures of today. As such a unique experience both culturally, and as an assignment within the military, lucky is exactly the feeling you’ll have if stationed here.

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

Lucky to experience such a remote location

U.S. Army Garrison-Kwajalein Atoll‘s location requires several zooms in if you’re searching on Google Maps. Home to the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site, turquoise waters, and coral reefs for miles. With its ultra remote location, the cultural history of The Marshall Islands is something you’ll remember experiencing forever.

Ancient skills like “wave piloting” have been studied by anthropologists for some time now and are stories or skills families can see firsthand. Remote island life happiness hinges on acclimation. It’s important to remember you won’t be marooned forever and begin to embrace as much sailing, snorkeling or scuba diving as humanly possible between shifts.

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

Lucky to stand on such historic ground

Hawaii tops many duty station lists for its beautiful location, but an assignment to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam is much more than a vacation. It’s the chance to stand at the center of one of history’s most iconic moments in time.

With the Pearl Harbor National Memorial essentially in your back yard, it’s time to take that deep dive into the pages of history. Those assigned here should feel lucky to inherit the legacy of this location and do their best to carry on the stories of those forever immortalized in her waters.

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

Lucky to live in a vacation destination

The Naval Air Station Pensacola is located along the pristine shorelines of the Florida panhandle, a year-round tourist destination. What caught our eye was the opportunity to not just live in a beach town but living oceanfront is made possible via affordable condo living. Who needs a gym membership when your daily swim can be in the Gulf of Mexico?

Another appealing feature of an assignment here is the potential to dive into the military landlord market. Rental opportunities are expanded to include vacation renters in addition to the military crowd.

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

Lucky to have a “home base” to experience Asia from

Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni is located on the main island of Japan, near the Yamaguchi Prefecture. If you’d have trouble pinpointing that on a map, you’re not alone. Cities like Hiroshima, Tokyo, Shanghai, and Seoul are all major metros within the geographic area. Flying from the United States to Asia is not cheap, making travel either costly, lengthy (to get it all done in one trip) or both. Being stationed halfway across the world has a major travel perk. What used to be a 12-hour plane ride is now two. Becoming conversationally fluent in the many Asian languages is also much easier while you’re completely immersed within it. We’re confident you’ll feel lucky to have such a unique and culturally rich experience in your life.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Here’s how US snipers handle the ‘life-or-death’ stress of their job

There are few “safe” jobs in armed conflict, but certainly one of the toughest and most dangerous is that of a sniper. They must sneak forward in groups of two to spy on the enemy, knowing that an adversary who spots them first may be lethal. Here’s what Army and Marine Corps snipers say it takes to overcome the life-or-death stress of their job.

“As a scout sniper, we are going to be constantly tired, fatigued, dehydrated, probably cold, for sure wet, and always hungry,” Marine scout sniper Sgt. Brandon Choo told the Department of Defense earlier this year.

The missions snipers are tasked with carrying out, be it in the air, at sea, or from a concealed position on land, include gathering intelligence, killing enemy leaders, infiltration and overwatch, hunting other snipers, raid support, ballistic IED interdiction, and the disruption of enemy operations.


Many snipers said they handled their job’s intense pressures by quieting their worries and allowing their training to guide them.

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

A Marine with Scout Sniper Platoon, 1st Battalion, 3d Marine Regiment, uses a scout sniper periscope.

(US Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Jesus Sepulveda Torres)

“There is so much riding on your ability to accomplish the mission, including the lives of other Marines,” a Marine scout sniper told Insider recently. “The best way to deal with [the stress] is to just not think about it.” An Army sniper said the same thing, telling Insider that “you don’t think about that. You are just out there and reacting in the moment. You don’t feel that stress in the situation.”

These sharpshooters explained that when times are tough, there is no time to feel sorry for yourself because there are people depending on you. Their motivation comes from the soldiers and Marines around them.

Learning to tune out the pressures of the job is a skill developed through training. “This profession as a whole constitutes a difficult lifestyle where we have to get up every day and train harder than the enemy, so that when we meet him in battle we make sure to come out on top,” Choo told DoD.

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

A sniper attached to Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment takes aim at insurgents from behind cover.

(US Marine Corps photo)

‘You are always going to fall back on your training.’

So, what does that mean in the field, when things get rough?

“You are going to do what you were taught to do or you are going to die,” 1st Sgt. Kevin Sipes, a veteran Army sniper, told Insider. “Someone once told me that in any given situation, you are probably not going to rise to the occasion,” a Marine scout sniper, now an instructor, explained. “You are always going to fall back on your training.”

“So, if I’ve trained myself accordingly, even though I’m stressing out about whatever my mission is, I know that I’ll fall back to my training and be able to get it done,” he said. “Then, before I know it, the challenge has passed, the stress is gone, and I can go home and drink a beer and eat a steak.”

Choo summed it up simply in his answers to DoD, saying, “No matter what adversity we may face, at the end of the day, we aren’t dead, so it’s going to be all right.”

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

A Marine scout sniper candidate with Scout Sniper Platoon, Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment.

(US Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Austin Long)

Do the impossible once a week.

Sometimes the pressures of the job can persist even after these guys return home.

In that case, Sipes explained, it is really important to “talk to someone. Talk to your peers. Take a break. Go and do something else and come back to it.” Another Army sniper previously told Insider that it is critical to check your ego at the door, be brutally honest with yourself, and know your limits.

In civilian life, adversity can look very different than it does on the battlefield. Challenges, while perhaps not life-and-death situations, can still be daunting.

“I think the way that people in civilian life can deal with [hardship] is by picking something out, on a weekly basis, that they in their mind think is impossible, and they need to go and do it,” a Marine sniper told Insider. “What you’re going to find is that more often than not, you are going to be able to achieve that seemingly-impossible task, and so everything that you considered at that level or below becomes just another part of your day.”

He added that a lot more people should focus on building their resilience.

“If that is not being provided to you, it is your responsibility to go out and seek that to make yourself better.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

The VFW wants you to be a gamer!

When you think of the VFW, what comes to mind? For many of us younger veterans the stigma is that your local VFW post is a dark, dusty bar with a bunch of older vets telling war stories. Whether that is fair or not, the VFW has had an issue attracting younger veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan to its ranks, despite the obvious benefit that the VFW provides to those vets.

One post in San Antonio is moving to change all that.

VFW Post 8541 has created a cyber café in its facility with the intent that younger veterans will have a place to hang out, build fellowship, have an escape and be part of the local veteran community. And no, this isn’t a couch with an Xbox and two controllers.


Take a look at this:

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

Video games have come a long way since Space Invaders and Pong. Nowadays, it’s a billion-dollar industry that continues to grow every year. Consoles continue to war with each other, video game franchises compete to have the best upgrades in graphics and gameplay, and players now compete in more organized tournaments. Esports has blown up quite a bit with professional leagues forming with players making six figures a year! (Tell that to your girl the next time she gets mad when you have a COD marathon!)

Even pro sports leagues are getting in on esports. The NBA, NASCAR and Formula 1 have all had their best stars compete when everything was shut down during Covid.

While some people scoff at the amount of time and energy people put into gaming, there have been proven benefits to veterans.

Video games have been increasingly recommended to veterans as a way to cope with the effects of PTSD, anxiety, and depression. How so? Mental health experts will tell you that a great way to deal with mental health issues is to find an activity that puts you into a flow or zone. Whether it’s running, shooting drills, surfing, reading a book, or playing a game, an activity that takes up your concentration and allows you to escape and give your attention completely to that task has proven to be beneficial.

Video games provide just that. Even the Department of Veteran Affairs now says that “Video games can help in overcoming such problems as PTSD and substance abuse disorders.”

This is something Bill Smith saw during his deployments and is now bringing to his VFW post.

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

Bill Smith is VFW post commander who served 32 years in the Army, most of it in the Special Forces.

He did two deployments to Afghanistan and one to Iraq. After getting out in 2015, he was involved with the VFW and was rapidly put in charge of Post 8541 when the post came under suspension 3.5 years ago. He went to a meeting to talk about the suspension and found himself nominated to take over. Immediately, he looked for ways to get things back on track. And boy, has he. Post 8541 has been the #1 post in Texas the last 2 years out of 298 in the state. That is based on membership, community services, legacy programs signups. For each new life member, you get points for that.

Right now, Bill’s priority is getting lots of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans to sign up. It has been an issue that many posts struggle with or don’t even try to attempt.

Not only has Bill’s post been starting to get a younger crowd, but it has been a good smooth transition.

As Bill says, “The only way to change it is to get in there and change it.” So, he went and found ways to attract younger vets.

“I was connected with the Texas Guard… just selling. I would get out and tell them this is what we have going on, come out and try it out. “Bill continues, “We had a banquet hall and one of the first things we did, was open up the hall for military functions.” A great example was a Special Forces Party that was held at the hall. The VFW picked up a id=”listicle-2647079334″,000 bar tab for the party to help with the costs. The next day the post had 40 new signups. Bill also created a family room at the post. Now if you want to get to the VFW, but have the kids, you can still go. While these were great steps, Bill was still thinking ahead of the curve. Which brings us to the cybercafé and video games.

Where did Bill get the idea?

“When I was in Afghanistan, I was embedded with French Special Forces. When I went to Bagram, I went to JOC and was berthing with some guys in 7th Group. As I was sitting there, I kept hearing. ‘Who shot me? Who did this?’

Bill saw in their down time they were gaming a lot. It was their escape and they spent a lot of time decompressing through video games. He also saw ODA guys playing in their down time.

“My sons are 26 and 23 and they game a lot, so I saw gaming was big. My oldest son’s friend, Sam Elizondo owns LFG Cybercafe and they sponsored a team for a tournament. Bill decided to talk

And talking to Sam, they came up with the cybercafé idea.

Sam Elizondo, after talking to Bill, decided to help make this idea into a reality. Sam said, “I think what I love most is that we arrived at this leg of the journey out of Bill Smith’s relentless drive to help people. He wants to give these younger combat veterans a place to heal and a place to be. It’s been a privilege to use my skill set for that mission.”

Sam’s background and livelihood are in gaming. He also comes from a military family. As Bill and Sam started planning, they knew they had to get the support of the current VFW Post members on board. After all, it’s their club and building a video game center in their post was something that might not sit well with Vietnam veterans. But to Sam’s surprise, the older vets were really receptive to the plan. Once they started seeing the plan turn into a reality, they became even more excited.

The buildout of the café started in January and is almost done. However, there was one big obstacle that Bill, Sam, and workers had to deal with. Covid -19 shut down the post for a while but they pushed through on building it out. Unfortunately, with the current rules, Texas has their post shut down just when they were about to open the café. While veterans will have to wait just a big longer before they can take advantage, the work that Sam did is utterly amazing.

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

This is just the first step. Most games will be provided via Sam’s company. There will be about 70 games for the PC consoles which he will manage the system remotely Right now the plan is to have 12 PCs and 6 Xboxes. Also, Grande Communications is installing fiber optic cable so that the Post will have the best download speed.

Microsoft also made a generous contribution. They shut down their brick and mortar store and decided to donate thousand in hardware. The post has had admittedly older computers (some running on Windows XP) so now they will have fast computers and fast internet connection. Sam is also helping build out a new business center with these resources so vets young and old can have access to computers.

So, what next?

Sam hopes, “Veteran Esports Competitions and just a better connected family of VFW’s. There is so much value in building out infrastructure like what POST 8541 is doing that the sky truly is the limit. They have the ability and the network to do some incredible things. It just needs to be embraced.”

Once COVID is over, the café will be open for vets to come game. The hope is it will be a place for them to escape the world and find comfort in fellowship. Bill and Sam are hoping other VFWs will take notice and build their own centers. This will hopefully lead to gaming competitions between local and long-distance posts.

The VFW has been a backbone of veteran activity for decades. Thanks for forward thinkers like Sam and Bill, it is shaping up to continue to be that backbone.


MIGHTY CULTURE

When coronavirus says ‘Stop,’ Travis AFB volunteers find a way to keep going

When restrictions to mitigate the spread of coronavirus closed Travis Air Force Base’s schools, shut services’ doors and canceled social gatherings, the community’s lifeblood stopped pumping.

“Everything just went dark,” said Air Force spouse Jessica Moser.


60th Air Mobility Wing Command Chief Master Sergeant Derek Crowder recognized the challenge, saying it was essential to engage people by strengthening their four pillars: mental, physical, spiritual and social.

Volunteers got innovative, finding ways to set activity abuzz and get the lifeblood pumping again. “The great things that we have going across the installation are important because even though we can’t gather in masses, there are still good opportunities that we can connect,” Crowder said. “That’s what will get us through this.”

It seems to be working.

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

Providing Essential Supplies

When Air Force spouse Jenn Taylor heard that local medical facilities needed masks, she volunteered to sew them. She wasn’t an expert seamstress, but she had the equipment and time, she said. “I thought that was really important,” Taylor explained. “Blood, sweat and tears go into it.”

Word spread, and now she sews masks only for Travis service members, who are required to wear them at work. Taylor even fulfilled a last-minute order for 12 service members leaving for Germany. Having the masks were necessary for their departure. A mom of three whose spouse is deployed, Jenn said productivity is important. “It can make you feel small and powerless if you don’t have something to focus on.”

Two neighbors now help prepare fabric, which increased her production from 10 masks per day to 30. They’ve made over 275 masks so far.

Like essential workers, some families need supplies, too. The struggling economy is making it tough for some to make ends meet. “A lot of spouses lost their jobs,” Moser said. An active community volunteer, Moser knew that, because of imposed restrictions, many local organizations had resources to give but no way to give them.

Moser provided the way.

She collaborated with the Cost of Courage Foundation, Operation Homefront and Blue Star Families to prepare bags of food, toys and supplies for Travis families. With the help of the Airman and Family Readiness Center, Moser organized a drive-through event, where families could pick up a bag.

Over 200 bags were given away – for free.

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

Boosting Morale

As Easter approached, Moser had one objective: spread joy. With no egg hunts or celebratory barbeques, she and other key spouses organized a drive-through Easter party. From the safety of their cars, families stopped at stations to take pictures with the Easter bunny, receive treats, select household supplies and enjoy the festive atmosphere. “There were a lot of happy children, and parents were grateful,” she said.

Crowder described other Eastertime efforts to spread cheer and lift spirits. On Easter, Travis’ Airmen Committed to Excellence group led a Chalk Cheer event. Dozens of families came to Travis’ David Grant U.S. Air Force Medical Center to support its 2,500 personnel by chalking encouraging messages and drawings outside. The event was a hit.

Crowder said he was heartened to hear that one medical center worker walked “the entire hospital just to see all of the messages that are out there.” Crowder has also sought to engage service members and families in ways that keep them sharp. In addition to a 30-day book challenge, designed to keep minds stimulated, Crowder launched a 14-day physical fitness challenge. He’s encouraging airmen to exercise in new ways while the gym is closed.

Airmen post their goals and workouts to Crowder’s social media, which cultivates a community of support and accountability. “It’s just great to see people thinking of different ways to challenge themselves physically,” Crowder said, praising airmen’s use of water jugs for weights and commitment to family bike rides. Multiple volunteers and organizations have found unique ways to support and connect, Crowder emphasized, adding that each person should find what works for them. “That’s going to be what helps us bounce back,” Crowder said. “It’s staying in tune with what’s going on across the installation.”

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

Serving Together

Service has helped volunteers push through their own challenges. “It’s stressful and scary,” admitted Moser, who also coordinated 1,000 care packages for dorm residents – twice. “But I guess I’d rather focus on the things that I can do rather than the fear and the unknown.”

Community members have sent volunteers patches, pictures of kids opening goodie bags and heartfelt notes of appreciation. “I think folks have seen where the Air Force and the installation have really wrapped their arms around the situation that we’re in and spread that message of ‘Hey, we’re going to take care of you,'” Crowder said. That, Crowder believes, is an example of what the Travis community – and the Air Force – is all about.

It’s transcending difficulties, making a difference and reaching a higher purpose.

It’s service before self, in action.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Why we cosplay: How three MilSpouses found an outlet in a world of uncertainty

Be it writing, crafting, sewing, makeup, painting or music, the arts are considered both a hobby and an outlet for many military spouses. One such hobby – cosplay – has begun to pop up more and more in the military community. Cosplay, by definition, is, “a performance art in which someone dresses up as a character from a book, a movie, or a television show.” Cosplay often combines sewing and various forms of crafting, including makeup and building, to make a costume. But to some, it is much more than a hobby – it is a form of self-expression. These three military spouse cosplayers share what cosplay means to them, and how it has ultimately changed their lives for the better.

“Cosplay gives me an attainable outlet that I would not have otherwise.”

For some, cosplay is a way to get back in touch with oneself when life doesn’t go as planned. Lexi Fontaine, 26, an Air Force spouse stationed in Virginia, grew up doing theatre. However, when Fontaine was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at 16, she had to stop performing for the sake of her health. 

When Fontaine and her new husband moved to Georgia in 2015, Fontaine noticed character appearances for birthday parties and other events were a huge hit. “I thought, ‘Well, that sounds fun, and sounds like something that I could do, and would enjoy doing.’ This was also at the beginning of my health journey, so I said, ‘why not?’” she said. 

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

Shortly after starting her own business, Fontaine realized that this wasn’t what cosplay was supposed to be to her. “I think what was hard for me was when I started the business, I didn’t feel true to myself when I was charging people,” she said. “Because, for me, dressing up was an extension of the escape that theater always was for me. Cosplaying, being able to take on the personality and the magic of other characters – especially Disney – gave me an outlet for creative expression that I felt like my health took away from me.”

Fontaine also enjoys how liberating cosplay can be. “I got some really really nasty comments about my weight when I was dressing up for events, and I was a fraction of the size I am now. They really discouraged me. But with cosplay, you’re allowed to dress up as whoever you want to dress up as, so long as you do it respectfully and like it; you have no obligation to conform to anybody else’s standards. I think that there’s something very freeing about that,” Fontaine said.

If you follow Fontaine on Tiktok, you’ve likely seen her singing, dancing and dressing up like various Disney characters. She even “duets” with other TikTokers who make similar content to hers. “TikTok is where I use a lot of my costumes now. A lot of acting duets and stuff I do are modern day characters inspired by Greek gods and goddesses, and being able to take that and create a character out of that, there’s something that’s also very empowering about that. I feel that way about creative outlets in general – being able to take all of this extra creative energy that is constantly going through my mind, and actually put it somewhere, it gives you the sense of accomplishment that I don’t really get from a lot of things right now,” she said. 

If you haven’t already, be sure to follow @minniefontaine on Tiktok to see her latest content!

“It feels like a way to express the inner desires of my soul.”

Whether she is splashing in the waves as Mermaid Harmony, frolicking in the forest as Fairy Moonfire or Live Action Role Playing (LARP) as the notorious villain in her local roleplaying group, Aj Smit is weaving joy wherever she goes. Affectionately known as “The Joy Weaver”, Smit, 31, is an Air Force spouse, author, speaker and owner of  In Joy Productions, a safe space for women to explore who they are through art, meditation and creative conversation. 

Smit started cosplaying seven years ago, when she and her husband lived in Hawaii. “We went to the Comic Con. I was selling things, and everybody else’s dressed up and I thought it’d be awesome.” When asked what drew her to cosplay, she replied, “Honestly, I didn’t want to be in ‘human’ clothes.”

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

She also created a business through cosplay with her character Mermaid Harmony, who entertained moms and kids. “I started [my Mermaid Harmony business] because I always wanted to be a mermaid growing up,” she said. “[My husband] Jared joined the Air Force, and so it was a perfect way to have my own business, be a mermaid and also take it with me anywhere I went. It just looked like the perfect job, and it became the best of both worlds.” she said. “There’s a lot of moms who have dreams, and they also want magical moments for their kids. The way that we strip imagination and fantasy from people nowadays, we only allow it into escapism and we don’t weave it into our everyday lives,” she said. “I wanted to change that.”

When it comes to cosplay, Smit says it gives her a way to explore aspects of herself without ramifications. “When I do my photo shoots, or when I go dress up or dance in the woods, paint or draw henna, it’s all a way to explore who I am,” she says. “And with LARPing, it’s all an expression of something I want to explore, discover or uncover, like a personality trait or something that’s not safe to explore in the regular human world.”

Smit says that she can also explore some of her “dark” side. “You know I can be a crazy power hungry satyr in a game and be like, ‘Nope, it’s my way or the highway,’ where I would never do that in the human world,” she says.

Be on the lookout for Smit’s new book, The Red Thread, out in September 2021!

“Cosplay gave me a way to reconnect with my Ffmily”

Ashleigh Magee is a busy woman. Not only is she an active duty sailor in the Navy, but she is also a military spouse AND entrepreneur. She owns Ashleigh Magee Coaching, where she helps women in the military community lose weight, get fit and build healthy habits. 

Magee says her love of cosplay started when she went to her first San Diego Comic Con. Because of her circumstances, she had to buy her first costume. “I went to my first [San Diego] Comic Con in 2013.I was able to get tickets really late, and I [had] just graduated from the Naval Academy. I was living out of the hotel, so literally the only thing at my disposal was ordering online. So I cosplayed as Princess Peach. And I had a friend dress as Mario,” she said.

Shortly after her first comic con, Magee tried her hand at making her own costume. “When I lived in Hawaii, I found this amazing hot pink sequin ABS dress and got it tailored to my body. So I have an 80s Princess Peach with pink high top Chuck Taylors.” she said.

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

She says cosplay helped her realize that she had other interests. “I’ve always been a theater kid. I also didn’t know I was a nerd until later in life.I was always the weird kid that didn’t fit in but I didn’t understand what that meant until I was in college. In college, I was finally around theater kids.”  So I think part of it is the theater kind of aspect but cosplay to me is an external expression of who we are and who we want to be.” she said. 

Magee credits cosplay with helping her reconnect with her creativity. “When the pandemic started, I was here alone. I’m extremely extroverted, and I had just moved here so I had time to make maybe three friends before everything shut down,” she said. “I was using my business as a coping mechanism, and just work work work work work work, and I was like, ‘I need to reconnect to my outlets,’ and this was also happening while I was reconnecting with my biological mom who instilled those things in me at a young age.”  

Magee says cosplay has also helped strengthen her relationship with her mother. “I grew up in a house where they taught me how to knit, and quilt, and we were always crafting. So it’s been really beautiful in that way. As I’ve reconnected to my own creativity, I’ve healed my inner child and strengthened my relationship with my mom, so it’s like all these beautiful things all wrapped up into one,” she said.

Her next project? “She [my mom] and I are actually doing a 2021 sewing project! We’re both going to make Victorian outfits – I’m talking skirt, corset, the whole nine yards!” she said.

The next time you’re at a convention and you happen to see a cosplayer, be sure to tell them how awesome their costume is. You never know how much they need to hear it!

MIGHTY CULTURE

This is how ants wage war

The fog of war and its consumption of life is not unique to the hands of man. Various animal species engage in war or war like hunting patterns; Ants vs termites, bees vs hornets, some prime apes and more. Out of all of Earth’s creatures, no other can compare to humans like the ant. To ensure the continuation of the colony the end justifies the means. Ants stab each other, use chemical weapons, and even enslave other colonies. This is how ants wage war.

Army Ants build borders

The North American Army Ant (Eciton burchellii), will establish an area of operation. The scouts conduct a search, it often leads to colonies discovering each other. As a result, there is a border dispute, and each side will send out a lone ant to stand off in a competition of height that represents the strength of each other’s colonies. The shorter ant will back down and the colony will surrender some of its territory.  If the victorious colony believes it can win all the territory through war, they will launch an all-out invasion. They will use sheer numbers to overwhelm the enemy without the use of scouts. This is total war, no mercy. Men, women, children are all fair game in the name of expansion.

Societies with population explosions, that extend into the millions, are prone to large-scale, intense, tactical warfare. It’s a nature of battle only possible among communities with plenty of excess labor force.

Mark Mofeett, ecologist

Ants are an invasive species by nature. No matter how hard humans try to exterminate them they grown more powerful by the day. Based in every country, every clime and place, like a Marine Corps but with a Napoleonic complex.

Big-headed ants (Pheidole megacephala) are an invasive species from Southern Africa and they use chemical warfare and deception to destroy their North American counter parts. For instance, Big-headed ants engaged in battle they will spray the enemy with pheromones that overpowers the pheromones of the enemy ants. The survivors of the battle will return to their colony and will be misidentified as foreign troops. All survivors are killed by their own brothers in arms.

If you think about the worst invasive species, ants frequently show up on those lists, and big-headed ants are among the most problematic.

Andrew Suarez, University of Illinois entomology professor and animal biology department head

Andew Saurez discovered that the diet given to Big-Headed ant species during larval development will dictate what job they have in the colony. Different foods will cause the ant’s hormone levels to change and that is what decides if they will be equipped with huge incisors and a big head or become a worker, nurse, etc.

Slave-maker Ants (Chalepoxenus) are another notorious species of ant that infiltrate host colonies disguising itself in pheromones, kill the queen and all the adults, then force the newborn ants to care for and defend the slavers and their young.

Among the approximately 15,000 known ant species, slave-making has been recorded in only 50. – Susanne Foitzik of the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz

Experts Czechowski and Godzinska enslaved ants also participate in rebellions.

  • Firstly, Acts of physical aggression directed by slaves to slave-makers
  • Secondly, Attempts of slaves to reproduce within a slave-maker colony
  • Thirdly, Sabotage activities of slaves leading to weakening of the slave-maker colony and population
  • Finally, Slave emancipation partial or complete self-liberation of slaves from slave-maker colonies

It is eerily similar in the way ants wage war and humans. We humans are an invasive species fighting for resources and the expansion of borders. Using deception and chemical warfare to confuse and kill the enemy and, in a way, create false flag operations that make each other kill their own. This is a testament to how humans do not have a monopoly on war.

It is a common sentiment that animals are innocent and incapable of battle. Yet, new discoveries in the animal kingdom contradict popular opinion with facts that warfare is a natural means to an end.

To revolt, to rebel against oppressors, to live free or die trying – liberty is as important to ants as it is as to humans. A cause worth going to war for.

MIGHTY CULTURE

As he approaches retirement, Wright examines his tenure as CMSAF

The 18th Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force carries a smile with confidence, which reflects his easy nature of engaging everyone wherever he goes. Who would have expected young dental technician Kaleth O. Wright in 1989 to one day become that man?


CMSAF18 Kaleth O. Wright – The Exit Interview

www.youtube.com

When he started his career in 1993, as a medical professional, Wright wasn’t sure of himself at first. But, with the help of mentors, he worked his way up the ranks. In 2016, he was serving as the command chief of U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa. After only a few months in the position, he was surprised to learn of his selection for the highest enlisted position in the United States Air Force.

“To be honest, my initial reaction was I was going to be the token black guy on the slate,” Wright explained.

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

Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson, Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. David L. Goldfein and Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright swear in delayed entry members during the Washington Redskins versus Philadelphia Eagles game at the FedExField in Hyattsville, Md., Sept. 10, 2017. The game was dedicated to the men and women of the U.S. Air Force in celebration of the service’s 70th birthday. (U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // SENIOR AIRMAN RUSTY FRANK)

However, he quickly realized that wasn’t the case and instead chose to embrace the opportunity presented to him.

“I decided…I’m going to take the opportunity to get the job, and then do the best that I can,” he said. “I guess, as they say, the rest is history.”

During his tenure, Wright worked with three Secretaries of the Air Force. He first worked with Acting Secretary Lisa Disbrow, then Secretary Heather Wilson, concluding his career with Secretary Barbara Barrett. Wright appreciated their guidance and leadership in tackling the position’s responsibilities and handling top issues that affected Airmen.

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

Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright, right, checks out a piece of 3D printed material with Staff Sgt. March Tiche, 60th Maintenance Squadron aircraft metals apprentice, during his tour Sept. 23, 2019, at Travis Air Force Base, California. Wright arrived at Travis AFB for a three-day visit to meet with Airmen and get a firsthand look at how Team Travis contributes to rapid global mobility. (U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // LOUIS BRISCESE)

“I’ve had a fantastic relationship with all of them, they were all really great personalities and they all gave me the space to get after enlisted issues,” he said. “So I’ve really appreciated the guidance, feedback, and the listening ear from all three of the secretaries.”

One of the most important relationships during his time as CMSAF was the one with Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen David L. Goldfein. They developed a great relationship, Wright saw him as a big brother as they collaborated on many different projects and decisions.

“We’re able to provide each other feedback…,” said Wright. “We have a lot of fun together. It’s really been great… I got a mini-Ph.D. in leadership just being able to sit beside him.”

Mentorship and guidance to help improve the force didn’t just come from top leadership Wright met with Airmen from around the world to provide feedback on issues that affected them directly. As he traveled and met with other chiefs to discuss policies, Airmen were included in the conversations to advocate for the changes they wanted to see.

The 18th CMSAF led many improvements for the force. He enhanced leadership development by rolling back additional duties, evolving Enlisted Professional Military Education, removing weighted Airman Promotion System tests, and improving talent management and leadership development processes.

He also pushed for joint-custody assignments, changed bereavement to the service’s sick leave policy, and helped make job-specific fitness tests, as well as the diagnostic fitness assessments, which are currently in beta testing.

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

Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright greets one of his former Airmen, Tech. Sgt. Amanda Taylor, 726th Operations Group command support staff superintendent, during a base tour Oct. 19, 2018 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. Wright and Taylor were stationed together at Osan Air Base, South Korea, between 2007 and 2008 where they used to play basketball together. (U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // AIRMAN 1ST CLASS ANDREW D. SARVER)

Initiatives he headed up also included increased dwell time for Airmen after giving birth and the Noncommissioned Officer Career Status Program, which includes indefinite enlistment based on high-year tenure and increased HYT for grades E-5 through E-9.

While addressing these issues, Wright built many relationships. The more he learned about Airmen accomplishing extraordinary things, the more he was determined to make the Air Force a better place for them.

“I think Airmen today are phenomenal,” Wright said. “I think they’re super talented in what we ask them to do. They’re creative, they’re innovative, they’re thoughtful, and they’re committed. I’ve just been amazed at what our Airmen have been able to accomplish, and what they do on a daily basis. And, to some extent, what they put up with on a daily basis.”

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

Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright (right) coins Senior Airman Isaac Buck, 512th Rescue Squadron special mission aviator, at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., Sept. 27, 2019. Wright recognized Airmen belonging to Team Kirtland that performed above and beyond their own call of duty with his challenge coin. (U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // AIRMAN 1ST CLASS AUSTIN J. PRISBREY)

Wright explained that he wants Airmen to keep improving themselves and each other.

“I’m a dental tech who became Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, and I think all too often, we provide Airmen with formulas for success…without the benefit of allowing them to dream, and for them to decide, ‘hey, this is what I want to be,'” he said. “It might be the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, or it might it be the President of the United States, but be dreamers – dream big.”

While trying to help those dreams come true, he acknowledges there are still challenges to be met.

“I do believe we have some areas we need to work on, and that’s racial inequality, as witnessed by what’s happening in our Air Force today, and I think we need to embrace technology and really invest in our IT infrastructure–some of the systems that we use are too old and too slow, and they slow our Airmen down,” he said.

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

U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright shakes hands with a 100th Security Forces Squadron Airman during a visit at RAF Mildenhall, England, Dec. 26, 2018. Both Wright and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein visited Team Mildenhall prior to heading back to the U.S. after a visit to U.S. Central Command during the holidays. (U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // STAFF SGT. CHRISTINE GROENING)

Wright put a spotlight on resilience as suicides across the service remain a concern. He prioritized ensuring programs and policies were in place and accessible, such as Task Force True North, which puts resources into squadrons to nurture mental health.

The CMSAF explained the service also needs “to do better with gender equality,” by improving diversity in recruitment, pilot accessions and leadership.

“I do think that in order for us to maintain our status as the greatest Air Force, we have to be tougher on ourselves than anybody else,” he said. “If we work on those areas, we’ll just become a better, more diverse, more capable Air Force.”

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

Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright speaks to U.S. Air Force Airmen during an enlisted all-call at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, July 26, 2018. Wright visited numerous units to speak with Airmen about enlisted issues. (U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // AIRMAN 1ST CLASS D. BLAKE BROWNING)

Wright understands there’s still a lot more work that needs to be accomplished. But as he reflects on his time in uniform and as CMSAF, he credits his mentors, family and the Team 18 staff on the growth and success of his venture.

Chief Master Sgt. Manny Piñeiro, Air Force First Sergeant special duty manager, taught him how to be passionate about helping people and Wright credits Chief Master Sgt. Kristina Rogers, senior execute to the office of CMSAF, with, “keeping us all in check.” However, he acknowledges his character development grew from Master Sgt retired Joe Winbush, Wright’s first supervisor, who he considers “my mentor, my pops” from early in his career.

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

Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright answers a question during an all-call with the Airmen from the 70th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing, Aug. 16, 2017 at Fort George G. Meade, Md. During the CMSAF’s visit he conversed with the Airmen about topics concerning airmanship, professionalism and future enlisted Air Force initiatives. (U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // STAFF SGT. ALEXANDRE MONTES)

As his Air Force career concludes, Wright will forever be part of a legacy of leaders.

While the service prepares for Wright’s transition, he noted the new top enlisted leader, Chief JoAnne S. Bass, holds the same passion and focus on the Airmen as well as awareness of how decisions can affect their lives and careers.

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

Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright and Chief Master Sgt. Manny Piñeiro, Air Force first sergeant special duty manager, meet with 92nd and 141st Maintenance Group Airmen to discuss the streamlining of the periodic inspection process at Fairchild Air Force Base, March 22, 2019. The periodic inspection is the most in-depth inspection Fairchild maintainers conduct on the KC-135 Stratotanker. The two-week inspection is conducted every 24 months, 1,800 flight hours or 1,000 landings. (U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // STAFF SGT. MACKENZIE MENDEZ)

“This type of work is never finished and I’m excited about our next Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force,” he said. “She actually helped build some of these programs and processes. I think she’ll have her own priorities and things she’ll want to work on and I’m confident that she’ll continue to work on some of the things that we literally started together.”

He leaves one last bit of advice to his replacement, “do you.”

“I told her don’t ever be concerned or worry about changing something, eliminating something, offending me, or what have you,” he smiled, wanting her to stay true to her conviction and values. “I had three and a half, almost four years to impact the Air Force. Now it’s your turn.”

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

Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright, views a loadmaster training video with Chief Master Sgt. Manny Piñeiro, Air Force special duty manager for first sergeants, and Capt. Joseph Hunt, 314th Airlift Wing chief of group tactics, at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, Oct. 3, 2019. Wright visited multiple units across the installation including the 19th AW, 314th AW, and 189th AW to learn about Herk Nation’s singular focus on Combat Airlift. (U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // AIRMAN 1ST CLASS AARON IRVIN)

This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.


MIGHTY CULTURE

Here are the Navy uniforms issued in the brig

Navy Personnel Command has a new uniform for prisoners at all ashore correctional facilities, and it’s uni-service.

Wearing of the new uniform will be mandatory starting May 1, 2019, for all prisoners in pre-trial and post-trial confinement at Military Correctional Facilities (MCFs) run by the Navy, regardless of the prisoner’s service affiliation, the Navy said in a news release last week.

The new standardized prison uniform (SPU) also will likely save the Navy money, the release states. The costs associated with buying and maintaining service uniforms for a prisoner become a tremendous and unnecessary fiscal burden to the Navy and the taxpayer, the service said.


The new uniform will come in two colors, dependent on the prisoner’s legal status, the release states. Those in pre-trial confinement will get a chocolate-brown uniform, and those in post-trial confinement will get a tan uniform.

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

Master-at-Arms 2nd Class Neah Rau, corrections specialist, Naval Consolidated Brig Chesapeake, models the new pre-trial standardized prisoner uniform.

(U.S. Navy photo by Yeoman 2nd Class John LeBaron)

Currently, prisoners at Navy MCFs wear their service utility uniforms, in line with the Navy’s theory that doing so helps maintain discipline and aids in rehabilitation.

“However, having prisoners wear their service uniform creates security and public safety challenges, such as difficulty in distinguishing staff from prisoners,” Jonathan Godwin, senior corrections program specialist with the Corrections and Programs Office of the Navy Personnel Command, said in a statement.

In addition, sentences often also involve total forfeiture of all pay and allowance, “and it is rare for a prisoner to return to active duty,” Godwin said.

The new standardized prison uniform (SPU) also will likely save the Navy money, the release states. The costs associated with buying and maintaining service uniforms for a prisoner become a tremendous and unnecessary fiscal burden to the Navy and the taxpayer, the service said.

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

Yeoman 2nd Class John LeBaron, corrections specialist, Naval Consolidated Brig Chesapeake, models the new post-trial standardized prisoner uniform.

(U.S. Navy photo by Master-at-Arms 2nd Class Neah Rau)

According to the release, the cost for a service-specific military utility uniform with one pair of trousers and a top is about . Add a fleece jacket, and the cost exceeds 0.

The new SPU top and trousers will cost approximately .50, the release states. Add a belt, buckle, ball cap and watch cap, and the price is about . With a jacket, the complete price to clothe a prisoner will be about .

“In addition to the enhancement of correctional security, improved public safety and significant fiscal savings, the wearing of the new SPU will produce numerous benefits across a wide range of Navy corrections operations,” Godwin said. “These include an SPU with a neat and professional look, an easier-to-maintain and care-for uniform, and less wear and tear on equipment, i.e. washing machines and dryers, and less cleaning supplies, i.e. laundry detergent.”

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

Do Not Sell My Personal Information