With the Pentagon making strides to include women in combat arms roles, you might actually be surprised to hear that the Army’s top counterterrorism force has included female operatives for nearly 30 years.
That’s right, the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment “D,” also known as “Delta Force,” has a history of hiring female soldiers to serve alongside male operators, having begun the practice in the 1990s.
More commonly referred to as “the Unit,” Delta Force is home to some of the most elite soldiers in the world, famously called “operators.” The selection phase for prospective operators is nothing short of grueling. Former Delta operator Eric Haney details in his book, “Inside Delta Force,” this process which sees candidates hike and orient over adverse terrain, perform rigorous physical testing and training, and psychological evaluations.
Upon completion, a candidate isn’t out of the woods yet, and can still be dropped or withdrawn from the course if the instructor cadre feels he’s unfit to serve with the unit.
An intensive Operators Training Course follows, which trains each soldier in a variety of skills which they’ll eventually use in real world situations. Millions (you read that correctly) of rounds of ammunition are expended on a monthly basis, honing each candidate’s proficiency with a variety of firearms. Vehicle instruction, VIP protection, surveillance, and even tradecraft (i.e. the art of spying) are all part of the OTC curriculum.
Operators are trained to blend into any environment and urban setting, though sometimes, that’s very difficult to do with a gaggle of military-aged males hanging around in groups.
In 1982, the Unit attempted to solve this problem by recruiting female operators. After putting a small group of candidates through a modified, yet still highly arduous, selection course, four women were able to graduate and meet the standard set before them. However, this solution turned out to be a bust, due to friction between male operators and the new female selectees to the unit.
Eight years later, Delta made another attempt to bring women into the fold, after SEAL Team 6 the Navy’s counterpart to the Unit, had demonstrated some success in pairing a female petty officer with a frogman, posing as a romantic couple, while reconnoitering objectives in Panama prior to Operation Just Cause in 1989.
In 1990, Delta began targeted recruitment initiatives that brought women into what was then referred to as the Operational Support Troop. Female candidates were once again put through a difficult unique selection and training course in order to bring them up to speed on firearms usage, espionage skills and tradecraft, advanced driving techniques and more, so that they could serve on surveillance and reconnaissance missions overseas along with male operators.
U.S. Army Cultural Support Team soldiers, with Special Operations Task Force – South, speak with a young Afghan girl in Darvishan Village, Khakrez District, Afghanistan, June 10, 2011. The CST serve as enablers, supporting U.S. Army special operations forces by engaging the female population. The CST also assist in medical civic action programs, search and seizures, humanitarian assistance and civil-military operations.
Among the first female operators to be recruited to the Unit’s OST was, in fact, the same Navy petty officer who served briefly with SEAL Team 6 in Panama, according to Sean Naylor in his book “Relentless Strike.” Later on, the OST was re-branded as “G Squadron” — a name which it apparently still has today.
In the mid-to-late ’90s, Delta Force was active in the Balkans, along with SEAL Team 6. It’s since been understood that female members of G Squadron were critical in helping make Delta missions a success in the region, with male and female operators posing together as lovers or married couples while conducting surveillance.
Today, the recruitment, selection and training process for G Squadron members is wholly unknown and completely classified, as is the modern iteration of OTC for Delta’s assault-troop operators. The requirements for OTC still stipulate that candidates sent over for selection be male, so it could be assumed that female operators continue to be brought in and trained through a modified program of their own.
However, what we do know is that women do indeed operate with the most elite special operations force in the world, undercover and sometimes even in plain sight.
Author’s note: The Islamic Republic of Iran doesn’t have diplomatic relations with the United States. In Iran, the media and the internet are closely monitored by the government. However, it’s impossible to keep track of everyone. And sometimes, despite the tremendous risk involved, an Iranian is eager to share their story and hit back at the pervasive propaganda that Iran’s government uses to control its people.
The vast military camp was on the outskirts of a small city. The soil was nearly frozen. There wasn’t a tree or any greenery in sight. Concrete buildings made up the complex where Farhad (a pseudonym for his real name) would receive his two months of mandatory military training. He wore light brown and dark green fatigues, a belt, and a pair of poorly manufactured combat boots.
First, Farhad marched for a while. After that, his picture was taken, along with the other conscripts. He then was shown to his barracks and bunk. While many training camps in Iran don’t permit leaving the base, he was allowed to go home every weekend.
Iranian soldier in basic training barracks.
(Screenshot of video posted on Youtube by Persian_boy.)
“Soldiers need food. Their food was shitty — rice with little pieces of meat — and this helped to lessen expenses,” he said.
The food may have been bad but remaining connected to his family was one of the benefits. He and the others there were allowed to call home anytime after 5 PM using the phone booths set up on the grounds of the camp.
As for the training he received, Farhad called it a “joke,” especially the shooting portion.
The firearm he was issued — a Heckler Koch G3 — has been around since 1959. If he would have been part of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC, or Sepâh), he would have been issued an AK-47 instead. According to Farhad, you go out on the range one time and shoot a dozen bullets. Your results are written on a scorecard, and then it’s back to marching. “You march a lot,” he recalled.
Farhad further described what he learned about weapons: “Not much. Effective range. Pure fire range. Caliber. Rate of fire. Weight. How many bullets they take. How to discharge. How to aim. How to safely check a weapon. How to clean your weapon. How to carry it. How many ways there are to carry it. Different types of weapons in the military. Things like that.”
In addition, he didn’t receive any combatives or medical training. “They aren’t trying to make soldiers. They want a work force,” Farhad said.
More so than actually training in combat or tactics, the Islamic Republic of Iran is interested in creating soldiers submissive to its religious ideology. Farhad said that religious indoctrination was a major part of his training experience, but he and many others didn’t take the sermons seriously. In fact, they would question and mock the mullah’s lecture whenever they had the chance.
“The mullahs really got frustrated with us,” Farhad said. “No one cared about them and made fun of them when they could and laughed and argued with them and put holes in their arguments all the time.”
Iranian soldiers marching.
(Screenshot of video posted on Youtube by Persian_boy.)
When asked if this resulted in a consequence for him or anyone else involved, Farhad said no. “We didn’t get in trouble. Pretty much everyone was doing it.”
Even the non-commissioned officers (NCOs) in the camp didn’t follow the written rules that governed it.
One night on watch duty, Farhad smelled something weird. There was a little place outside of the chow hall that was mostly blocked from view, and when he looked out there, he saw two NCOs smoking. It didn’t take long to figure out they were smoking marijuana, which is a felony for a soldier in the Iranian military. He investigated further in the morning, finding remnants from dozens of marijuana cigars on the ground.
Farhad’s boots and the frigid cold gave him the biggest problems, though. In addition to the blisters all over his feet from marching, he also had an infection to keep at bay. And despite how cold it was, the military didn’t provide their conscripts with warm enough clothing. During a particularly cold watch duty assignment, he and the others on duty passed around a poncho, each using it for a few minutes to keep warm.
When training concluded, there was a ceremony where everyone dressed their best, but, unlike basic training graduation in America, family and friends were not permitted to attend. To his recollection, only one conscript failed to complete the training.
Farhad then spent two years in the Iranian military, which only solidified the negative impression he started with.
“It’s such a shitty, unreliable, broken system,” he said. “Whenever I see these websites talking about Iran’s military might, it makes laugh. They have no idea what they are talking about.”
Enough messing around. Dad’s got the gag gifts and the cushy hunting gear. He doesn’t need another beautiful knife or the latest gizmo for convenience in the field. No, what Dad wants is to be ready for when shit hits the fan, dammit. Time to get tactical.
That means simple, effective gear that’s built to be tough and trustworthy in the field. Finding the gear you can trust your life with is the tricky part, friends. That’s why we went to our experts: The entire team here at SOFREP put our heads together to pick our favorite tactical gear. So whether it’s a solar panel that will never fail, a contingency knife that’s always ready to go, a tactical boot that’ll help you pound ground, or the ultimate loadout box for all the important stuff you’ve already got, here’s the gear we stand by. It certainly stands by us.
1. Overland Solar Bugout Panel
When things go south, power is… well, power. Overland Solar makes the daddy of all solar chargers for a serious off-the-grid setup. It’s good for 130 watts of power in various conditions and produces seven amps an hour thanks to high solar cell efficiency. It charges in low angle light, and when it’s overcast, rainy, and even lightly snowing. Plug and play with your camper, or throw it on the roof of your micro-cabin for solid power basics.
Everything needed for a range kit, nothing more. Polycarbonate shooting glasses, soft foam earplugs, adjustable fit muffs. It’s the perfect replacement gear for the old, beat up shit you’ve had for years. The earmuffs and earplugs are good for 31 and 27 decibels, respectively. And anyway, the best gift you can receive this year is healthy eyeballs and eardrums in old age.
What’s the right level of protection for your bedside equalizer? This thing. It’s got just the right pairing of quick access and safety: open it using RFID access card or keycard or LED-backlit access code. Its Soft Stop door technology means you can open it silently, or set it to a decibel mode for family safety. Oh, and it’s heavy-duty 12-gauge steel.
Nobody in the movies ever needs to fix a jammed rifle or disassemble one for cleaning. This is not the way of the world, though. The Real Avid Armorer’s Master Wrench has everything you need for rifle housekeeping: torque wrench attachment point, armorer’s hammer, castle nut wrench, multiple hammerheads, muzzle brake wrench, and more. With it, as long as you have ammo, you’ll be fine.
Zese Germans make a sehr gut firearm. They also make a prime red dot sight for MSR platforms of all calibers. It’s waterproof, runs off one included battery for up to 20,000 hours, has 10 daytime brightness settings, and two for night vision use. At just a hair over a Benjamin, it might be the perfect tool for target acquisition at close and mid-range.
Curved handle, simple sheath, skeletonized, full-tapered tang, and a 3.5-inch blade: this knife is ready to go when it needs to be. It’s intended as an everyday carry, but you’d be forgiven for showing off its maple handle and black oxide no-glare finish 80CrV2 steel blade. Its beauty is terrible to behold, especially if the beholder is trying to fuck with you.
What does a glove buy you? Try serious hand protection in a combat situation thanks to carbon fiber knuckles, a reinforced synthetic leather palm, and rubberized grip padding. Gloves so affordable rarely come with bonus features, but these ones do: their four-way spandex helps with a comfortable fit, and each glove has two-way touchscreen-friendly fingertips. They’ve got everything you need to throw hands without hesitation.
Ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene is a hell of a material. Ask a scientist if you want the nitty-gritty, but basically, it’s got the highest impact strength of any thermoplastic humans can currently manufacture. It can stop 9mm and .44 rounds up to 1,400 fps, which means you want it in your vest. And because it’s flexible and lightweight, you won’t mind it in your carry-on luggage, or wherever else you have to take it.
SW’s Recruit Tactical Range Bag is made out of ballistic fabric, with oversized zippers and rubber foot skids for protecting your gear. Its two internal pockets are big enough for your handguns, and the main compartment has all the room you need for ammo, ear protection, and the like. External pockets include seven magazine slots, plus tons more room for all the extra crap you’re lugging around.
The best way to get serious about cleaning your gun properly is to get all the right gear. This one has everything you’ll ever need, and then some: 22 bronze bore brushes for every caliber of shotgun, rifle and pistol, cleaning patches, memory-flex cables, obstruction removal tools, precision cleaning tools, and quality solvent. It totals over 40 components and comes in a nylon case. If you don’t keep everything clean with it, well, that shit’s on you.
Viridian makes a mean laser sight. Their Tacloc holsters pull triple duty: they secure your weapon; aid in a smooth, accurate, quick draw; and activate the integrated laser sight instantly when that draw happens. The company makes them for your Beretta, Glock, MP 45, Sig Sauer, and several other guns. And, thanks to rugged Kydex construction and a seven-year warranty, it’ll last.
The perfect tactical boot is well suited to any situation. That’s what makes the Salomon Quest 4D our go-to. It’s got the support and grip of a mountain boot, thanks to a serious outsole and supportive midsole. And its uppers are built for combat: anti-reflective, with anti-debris mesh, mudguard, and waterproofed materials like Goretex. Oh, and the Ranger Green looks damn sharp, too.
Finally, a fix for the annoying, simple problem: you can’t get your brim low enough when you’re wearing your eye protection. A simple notch in this cap fixes that problem. But it’s also just a quality cap: button-less at the top, so your hearing protection fits smoothly, 98 percent breathable, stretchy cotton, moisture-wicking headband, low profile fit, hook-and-loop for your patch of choice. It might be the last ballcap you ever buy.
Minimalistic in all the ways you want, full protection where you need it. That’s the deal with this plate carrier, which is fully adjustable to fit all body types, holds a front and backplate, and is made of durable, rigid, weather-resistant 600D polyester with PVC coating. The straps are padded so you’ll stay cozy, princess.
When it comes to thinking tactically, it’s easy to forget your feet. Don’t. Darn Tough makes some of the best socks out there today. They’re built around performance merino wool with durable, breathable, comfortable design elements. They’re the perfect tool for staying light on your feet all day, no matter the terrain or operation.
Kelty’s been the name behind top U.S. forces tactical gear for decades. This one is issued to spec ops soldiers, and its features make it clear why. It’s got easy access through top and side loading panels, storage options for all your gear, and then some, and its aluminum suspension system is lightweight but durable. And 50 liters of storage is just right for most ops.
This modular vehicle rifle rack and rigid MOLLE panel will mount to any vehicle to help you haul your gun plus MOLLE pouches and extra accessories. It’s made of injection-molded glass-reinforced nylon, perfect for holding plenty of weight. The panel can be installed in under a minute with no tools thanks to mounting straps.
Our favorite cooler company already makes indestructible boxes to keep stuff cold — so the pivot to indestructible boxes for important gear is an easy one. This is our favorite gearcase around: it’s waterproof, dustproof, and stackable, and can be outfitted with dividers and caddies to organize and store your gear just the way you like.
Stay up to date on the latest news, insider info, and the best tactical gear and equipment reviews. Annual subscribers to the Team Room get full access to all SOFREP stories, plus the TeamRoom’s award-winning military documentaries, SPEC OPS training footage and war stories, forums and community chats, podcasts, and exclusive interviews.
On Feb. 12, 2019, the US and Thailand launched Cobra Gold, one of the largest multi-national exercises in the world.
The annual exercise brings together 29 nations as participants or observers; nine participating countries include the US and Thailand as well as Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, China, India, Indonesia, and South Korea, according to a US Army release.
The exercise, which will end on Feb. 22, 2019, includes a field training exercise, humanitarian and disaster relief components.
One of the most anticipated aspects of the exercise is jungle survival training, when Royal Thai Marines teach their US counterparts how to identify edible foods, including plants and animals.
During the training, US troops have the opportunity to eat scorpions and geckos, and drink snake blood — all skills necessary to survive if one becomes isolated from their unit.
U.S. Marines drink the blood of a king cobra during jungle survival training as part of Cobra Gold 19 at Ban Chan Krem, Kingdom of Thailand.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Kenny Nunez)
1. These Marines aren’t drinking snake blood just for show.
Jungle training teaches essential skills for survival in a wild, tropical environment.
Marines learn skills from identifying poisonous plants, differentiating between venomous and non-venomous snakes, and finding water sources if they get lost.
One of the instructors interviewed by Marine Staff Sgt. Matthew Bragg said that drinking animal blood is one way to stay hydrated in the absence of another water source.
US Marines cheer on comrades during the highly anticipated jungle survival training during exercise Cobra Gold.
(US Army National Guard photo by Spc. Mary Calkin)
A Royal Thai Marine instructor shows US Marines different types of snakes during jungle survival training.
(US Army National Guard photo by Spc. Mary Calkin)
U.S. Marines watch as Royal Thai Marine instructor shows off a snake during Cobra Gold 19.
(U.S. Army National Guard photo by Spc. Mary Calkin)
Royal Thai Marine Corps instructor passes around freshly cooked meat during Cobra Gold 19.
(U.S. Army National Guard photo by Spc. Mary Calkin)
A US Marine eats a scorpion in jungle survivor training during Cobra Gold 19.
(US Army National Guard photo by Spc. Mary Calkin)
U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Austin Gassaway eats a plant during jungle survival training as part of Cobra Gold 19.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Kenny Nunez)
Royal Thai Marine shows US Marines what to eat in the jungle during the exercise.
(US Army National Guard photo by Spc. Mary Calkin)
Royal Thai and U.S. Marines learn how to make fire in the jungle during Cobra Gold 19.
(U.S. Army National Guard photo by Spc. Mary Calkin)
9. Marines also learn skills like building fires and alternate ways to stay hydrated.
“I didn’t know that ants are a trace of water. Wherever they’re filing to, they know where the location of water is,” said US Army Spc. Louis Smith.
Smith said that new knowledge is something he’d take back home with him.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The chief of police of Washington D.C’s Metropolitan Police Department, Peter Newsham, visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Aug. 14 with many of his senior leaders and police officers and participated in a wreath-laying ceremony and other events, giving us a good chance to see how American and foreign dignitaries are allowed to show their respect for the tomb and all it represents. Here are 15 photos from that visit, all taken by Elizabeth Fraser, Arlington National Cemetery.
Morgan Lerette, a former Army intelligence officer who spent 18 months in Iraq, writes about his experience as a Blackwater operative with countless missions in his new book, ‘Welcome to Blackwater: Mercenaries, Money and Mayhem in Iraq.’ His memoir recounts what it is like to be a modern-day Ronin in the sands of Iraq. At a time when U.S. civilian employers discriminated against hiring veterans, he ventured with Blackwater at the age of 23 at the recommendation of a friend. This was the start of a road bathed in prostitutes, gold, blood and the ruthlessness required to be successful in clandestine operations. Yet, balancing weight retains one’s humanity.
“Blackwater was a real turning point in my life, much more than my stints in the military,” said Lerette, now 40. “I wanted to write about the people, my brothers and how we survived.”
We Are The Mighty, with the support of Onward Press and United States Veterans Artists Alliance, bring you this exclusive interview with a warrior who lived the dream most combat Military Occupational Specialties dream of: to be set loose upon the enemies of the west and give no quarter – for money.
WATM: Politicians constantly debate the morality of hiring contractors to protect our interests abroad, regardless that the practice of hiring mercenaries is as old as war itself. How has Blackwater impacted the evolution of warfare?
I think [people] really have to understand the paradigm of where Blackwater came in. The ground combat ended, and the interim government was created in Iraq. As soon as that interim government was created and we gave them sovereignty, it went from a Department of Defense mission to a Department of State mission.
They didn’t have the power to protect their own diplomats as they were running around all over Iraq. So that’s really where Blackwater came in. The war was not planned well as it was. What compounded it was that Blackwater came in and were told they had diplomatic immunity and the rules of engagement were different than the other soldiers. It opened up this gray space where we could operate autonomously.
There was no check and balance in place.
No grownup supervision of what we were doing, when we were doing it, or how we were doing it. I think that’s really when it went bad. If you don’t have the government agency that you are contracted by in the vehicles with you – there is no way for them to supervise. I don’t put the blame on Blackwater entirely or the State Department entirely. They both failed to make sure that people were doing the right thing at the right time.
WATM: Your book is brutally honest about a different kind of deployment than is usually experienced overseas. How did you forge a bond between you and your peers to become brothers?
It is very similar to what you go through in the military. You go in there with a number of people you recently met, who you would not normally come into contact with, and are tasked with protecting an individual and each other. You can’t trust that the Iraqis are going to welcome you with open arms. You can’t expect that the State Department people are going to be able to help you out. You have to trust and count on that person sitting next to you with their body armor and rifle.
The bonding was very similar [in that aspect]. Where it was dissimilar is when you come home from a contract there is no support system. As a unit in the Army or the Air Force, you leave as a unit and come back as a unit. You go to your base and it’s comfortable.
As a contractor it’s really just you.
Your new buddies, people whom you would literally die for and would die for you, are scattered across the nation. It makes it hard to keep that camaraderie, so people start chasing those contracts. They go back for the camaraderie and adrenaline of war. Whereas in the military they tell you when to go.
WATM: Some corporations have propaganda that they will hire veterans but when it comes time to put their money where their mouth is, they do not. How has this barrier for veterans to assimilate into the civilian world affected recruitment to companies like Blackwater?
It definitely helped. When I got into Blackwater in 2004 you had a number of special operations soldiers that have trained for years and years and they never really got to do their job. [For example] you had a guy who trained for [a job] for three years and at the end of it they say ‘okay, that was great, but I still want to [keep doing it.’] That’s where a lot of these guys were: special operations, SEALs, Rangers, Recon Marines and they didn’t get to go to war like they were trained for.
This was their chance to extend that service – to get their war.
Blackwater definitely took advantage that there were people who haven’t seen combat but were trained for it. Even to this day, since I came out with the book ‘Welcome to Blackwater,’ people say to me, ‘Well, how do I join?’
Those companies are saying, ‘This is your chance at war, Iraq has dwindled down to 2,500 troops and Afghanistan the same way. They get there and they sit as a gate guard and they’re frustrated because they really think this is their chance. It’s just not the way it was back then and you don’t have the option of finding that fortune like you used to.
WATM: Current and former members of the military have this idea that Private Military Contracting is the final frontier of combat. Would you encourage or discourage their pursuit of fortune?
Yeah, so, the money dried up a number of years ago. It’s definitely not paying what it did when I was with Blackwater in 2004-05. Not only has the money dried up but so have the missions. It used to be a lot of escorting diplomats around combat zones. Now, the majority of jobs are within site security.
Gate guard, tower guard.
Whereas we were making around $210,000 a year, if you’re a gate guard in Kuwait, you’re going to make around $60,000 a year. I would not encourage anyone to go to the final frontier because the final frontier is no longer available.
WATM: Onward Press is an avenue for warriors to give up the sword and pick up the pen. What was your experience working with them on ‘Welcome to Blackwater’?
Onward press is specifically looking for people who have been in the military community, such as spouses, who want to get their story told and be able to tell that story well. Every veteran has an amazing story and being able to put that on paper, get it done, put it on Amazon and be able to purchase it – it takes professionals to do that.
So, Onward Press bridged that gap for me.
They were able to say ‘yes, you do have a good story, you have a good voice, but here’s how you should be able to frame it. Here’s how you get started, here’s where you need to add stuff, here’s where you need to take out stuff. In order to make sure the story was entertaining, and it flowed and people would actually be interested in it.
It’s an awesome organization but writing your experience is very cathartic. Even if I don’t become a bestseller, it’s almost a way for me to give my story over to paper. It took some of the burden I have carried with me throughout my almost three years in Iraq. To be able to give that over to something else, for that reason, it is very, very cathartic.
WATM: Is there anything you would like to say to our readers and the military community?
There is honor in service. There are a lot of extremely intelligent people that don’t have college degrees that do the same thing as me. I’m not unique or special. What I was, was willing to reach out. I couldn’t get to where I needed to go. That goes all the way back to reaching out to figure out my G.I. Bill, to figure out the VA, to getting my book about Blackwater to a publisher and get published.
Whether you’ve spent three to 30 years in the military, set that pride aside and ask for help. If I hadn’t asked for help there is no way I could have published Welcome to Blackwater.
A lot of these stories about soldiers, airmen, sailors, Marines would be lost if we can’t get them documented.
So, reach out. Heck, reach out to me. Go to my website www.welcometoblackwater.com and shoot me an email and I’ll get back to you. I’m always willing to help.
‘Welcome to Blackwater: Mercenaries, Money and Mayhem in Iraq’ is available now on Amazon.
About Onward Press
Onward Press is the publishing imprint of the United States Veterans Artists Alliance, Inc., a 501-c-3 educational non-profit. www.usvaa.org
Our mission is to publish well-written, compelling books by military veterans, spouses, military brats, and other family members. Also, people who served in other agencies overseas and their family members.
We are interested in great stories well-told, and are not limited to military, veteran or government-service topics. We publish literary novels, non-fiction, memoirs, mystery, true crime, suspense-thrillers, to name just a few.
All books are available as e -books, trade paperbacks, hardcover and audio. We pay royalties to our authors and provide editorial guidance and engaging cover art.Onward Press is open for submissions. Please see Submission Guidelines.
Learn more about Welcome to Blackwater: Mercenaries, Money and Mayhem, here.
The title of “influencer” is almost cringe-worthy these days. From entitled social media personalities who complain when they have to pay full price at a restaurant, to the viral hot takes from people who are pandering to their audience, there’s definitely plenty of “cringe” to go around.
But what about the veteran social media personalities who are out making a positive difference, or at least making your day a little brighter? You know, the ones who aren’t thriving on division or ego, but rather on their own talent to entertain and inspire.
This Veterans Day, We Are The Mighty is highlighting the top five veteran influencers that we think you should really be paying attention to. From modest followings to millions of followers, these are the service members who turned their trigger fingers into Twitter fingers … who went from dropping bombs to dropping dope memes … who went from … sorry, I’ll stop. Just make sure you check them out!
Justin Lascek | @justin.lascek
Recently severely wounded. Green Beret Medic.
Justin is a relative newcomer to the social media scene, but with just a single photo, he inspired millions of people and established himself as someone worth following.
On Sept. 6, 2019, he posted a photo to Instagram from his hospital bed. Wearing his green beret, a pair of sunglasses, and an epic beard, he flexed for the camera while almost completely naked, covered in fresh scars, and missing his lower legs. The caption read:
“Six months ago, give or take a day, my life was changed. Chaos. Pain. Survival. Scared. I’m going to die. Tell her I love her. Wish I had been better. Everyone do your job. In 2018 I wanted to die. I figured my luck would run out after the close calls on the first trip. And it did. But brothers and sisters, known and unknown, kept me here.
And I’m alive. And since the blast, I have never wanted to die. I was strapped into the Skedco during a hellish movement for the boys. The sun was in our faces. I gripped their hand and knew I didn’t want to die.
And I’m alive. It can be surreal when the reality hits. But my soul isn’t in turmoil. There was so much uncertainty last year, but now it’s clear without wavering or uncertainty.
Because I’m alive. Cheating death and myself gives an understanding of how special life is. Not just for me, but everyone. Especially you, the one who hurts, the one who thinks death will end the pain. I see you. Stay with us a little longer.
And be alive.”
It’s hard to read that and not be inspired, and we have a hunch that his 39,000 followers on Instagram agree with us. The post ripped through timelines and news feeds like a lightning bolt, and he has continued to publish even more motivational posts since then. He might still be recovering from his wounds, but this Special Forces medic continues to be ‘Doc’ by inspiring the masses.
Astin Muse | @amuse31 & @ArmyAmuse
Former Drill Sergeant. Current Army Recruiter. Entertainer.
If Astin Muse weren’t still in uniform, she’d probably be a star on Saturday Night Live. This U.S. Army drill sergeant turned recruiter has made herself military-famous with hilarious sketch comedy that she films herself and posts on the internet. The sketches range from sarcastic observations about life as an NCO, to hilarious reenactments of basic training buffoonery.
The military hasn’t always made it easy for her to pursue laughs though. Muse has had to go to battle with military leadership trying to shut her down, citing obscure military regulations as a way to clamp down on her social media profiles. Fortunately, she’s been able to continue the comedy with a few compromises that really hasn’t affected the quality of her sketches. With 128,000 followers on Facebook and 29,000 followers on Instagram, there are plenty of people who appreciate her brand of comedy either way.
The best part? She frequently offers actual career advice to her active duty followers who need an objective outside opinion. Afterall, she’s a non-commissioned officer in the greatest Army in the world first, comedian second!
Jack Mandaville | @JackMandaville
Writer. Entertainer. Vietnam veteran. Best friends with Scott Stapp. Single mom. Compulsive liar.
We seriously don’t understand how Jack Mandaville isn’t an A-list comedian celebrity yet. With only 33,000 followers on Instagram, this former Marine and Iraq war veteran is a once-in-a-generation talent that, so far, the veteran community has been able to keep to ourselves.
He started off as one of the founding writers behind the infamous DuffelBlog satire website, before going on to work at RangerUp where he and fellow funnyman Pat Baker cooked up hilarious internet videos on the regular. After stealing the show as one of the supporting cast in the feature film “Range 15”, Jack has gone on to produce near-daily internet marketing videos for companies like StrikeForce Energy, Black Ops Grooming, and Black Rifle Coffee Company by day, and headline Vet TV’s “Checkpoint Charlie” series by night.
If you like to laugh, if you appreciate brutally honest humor that takes no prisoners, or you’re just entertained by a man that clearly has no shame, then Jack Mandaville is a must-follow.
Jennifer Marshall | @Jenn13Jenn13
Private Investigator @deepsourceinvestigations. Host @thecw. Max’s Mom in Stranger Things 2. Actress. Patriot. Veteran. Volunteer for Pinups for Vets.
With acting credits on hits like Stranger Things, Hawaii Five-O, and NCIS, Navy veteran Jennifer Marshall is a serious talent making her way through Hollywood. But there’s more to the sailor-turned-actor than meets the eye: She volunteers for non-profit Pin-Ups for Vets, and before that, she spent time teaching in East Africa. As if that wasn’t enough, she’s also a private investigator for Deep Source Investigations in California.
With 12,000 followers on Instagram, Marshall offers a peek behind the curtains of the many productions she has worked on, while simultaneously advocating for a variety of veterans issues that often go unresolved, or even worse — unnoticed. And if you like what she has to say on Instagram, then you’ll love her as a host on The CW’s “Mysteries Decoded”!
Vincent “Rocco” Vargas | @vincent.rocco.vargas
Army Ranger. Drill Sergeant. Border Patrol Officer. Actor on FX’s The Mayans. Author. Entrepreneur.
You may know him as Ranger Vargas if you served alongside him during his time at 2nd Ranger Battalion, or even Drill Sergeant Vargas if you had the pleasure of going through Basic Training with him at the helm. But most reading this probably know him as “Rocco” from his Article 15 Clothing days making satirical military comedy videos alongside Mat Best and Jarred Taylor.
But these days, he’s known for his role as “Gilly” on FX’s Sons of Anarchy spin-off Mayans M.C. Vargas did the near-impossible when he landed that role, as many Youtube sensations never quite make the jump into a traditional acting career. The show is in its third season, and promises to be just the start in what will likely be a long acting career for the combat veteran-turned-thespian.
If you’re one of his 146,000 followers on Instagram, then you also know that he keeps himself busy on and off the set. He’s published multiple books, hosts the Vinny Roc podcast, and founded Throwbacks Barber Company — now open and cutting hair in Utah. This is one veteran on the go, and is definitely worth keeping up with on social media!
The colorful sticks of wax have been a dietary staple for members of America’s 911 Force ever since the internet gods gave us all the gift that keeps on giving: a near-perfect meme riffing on the “stereotype” of how we Jarheads are the dumbest of all service members — so dumb that we eat crayons and paste with the same vacant zeal of that mouth-breathing, short-bus rider from kindergarten whose mom dropped him on his head. Mmmmmmmm, crayons.
Praise be to the meme lords who bless us with their bounty.
Having served on active duty for more than 10 years, Marine Corps veteran Tashina Coronel knows a little something about eating crayons. The 35-year-old mother of three in Waco, Texas, recently developed a line of novelty confections targeted toward the massive market of crayon-eating Devil Dogs.
“You throw a crayon at a Marine, and they’re going to eat it,” said the former administrator. “Yes, crayons have always been edible, but mine taste better.”
Coronel said she’s been in the dessert-making business for seven years. After leaving active duty in 2014, she attended the San Diego Culinary Institute. She now owns and operates Okashi by Shina. The name, which pays tribute to Coronel’s Japanese heritage, translates to “Sweets by Shina.”
Tashina Coronel on active duty. Photo courtesy of Tashina Coronel
Coronel’s packs of 10 Edible Crayons sell for on her website. She has received hundreds of orders and an overwhelmingly positive response since launching the colorfully named specialty chocolates.
“My website just went live two weeks ago, and it’s been surreal how many orders have come in,” she said. “I got 130 orders in two days.”
Each crayon is cleverly titled according to its corresponding color: Blood Of My Enemies, Glow Strap, Little Yellow Bird, Green Weenie, Blue Falcon, Hazing Incident, Zero-Dark Thirty, Tighty Whities, Silver Bullet, and Butter Bars.
Okashi by Shina’s set of chocolate “Edible Crayons.” Photo courtesy of Tashina Coronel
Okashi by Shina also offers a Crayon Glue MRE Set that includes an edible glue bottle filled with marshmallow cream.
Coronel said she used several Facebook groups for Marines to focus group her idea before launching the product.
“I didn’t really know if people were going to take it personally,” she said. “I didn’t want people to be like, ‘Oh, she’s jumping on the bandwagon to insult us; she sold out.'”
After designing her product and developing names for the crayons, Coronel shared her concept in the Marine Facebook groups.
“I loved the idea right away,” said Marisha Smith, a former Marine KC-130J crew chief who saw Coronel’s Facebook posts. “It’s an ongoing joke that we eat crayons, so we’ve just taken it and run with it. I plan to send some of the crayons to friends in November for the Marine Corps Birthday. I’m sure any Marine or service member in general would get a kick out of these. The fact they taste great too is just a plus.”
Coronel said before her website went live, most of her orders were coming from friends and family. Since getting some initial press coverage, fulfilling orders has become a full-time job.
“The majority of orders are actually coming from male Marines,” she said. “It means a lot that my brothers are looking out for and supporting me. With everything going on in the world right now, the coolest thing about this is I really enjoy being a morale booster and giving people a reason to laugh and have fun. I love being able to bring something to Marines that’s their own and share a little bit of our culture with others.”
Prepping for quarantine like …
Coronel said her family and God are the main driving forces in her life. Her husband, who served as a Marine artilleryman, has stepped up to help fulfill orders and handle the increased demand.
“My family inspired me to start my own business, and my husband is really supportive,” she said.
Coronel said she hopes to open a brick-and-mortar location to expand her operations and eventually partner with military exchanges to sell her products on bases. She said she knows there are a lot of challenges ahead, but she’s ready to chase her dreams.
“As a Marine, I know if somebody calls us crazy, we’re just going to show them how crazy we are,” she said. “Nothing’s really an insult unless you call us soldier. Then it’s like, we’re fighting.”
Football is back! That means it’s time for me to remind everyone about the best organization around, one that provides homes for America’s wounded warriors, Jared Allen’s Homes for Wounded Warriors. Allen has long been one of the U.S. military’s biggest fans. In his 12 years in the NFL, Allen was one of the hardest-hitting defensive players around. His foundation builds houses for wounded vets that are specifically adapted for their wounds, at no cost.
Now the Jared Allen Homes for Wounded Warriors is teaming up with Maxim, allowing readers to vote for their favorite cover model, with all proceeds going to building more homes for wounded vets.
Allen has been working with veterans for ten years now, ever since returning from a USO trip to visit troops in the field. He saw what U.S. military veterans experience in combat zones and wanted to give thanks to those who sacrificed themselves for service. The goal is simple: raise money to build or adapt homes suited to the needs of wounded Iraq and Afghanistan veterans – and do it at no cost to them – even if they can only help one warrior at a time. That’s where Maxim – and you – come in.
Readers can vote for their favorite potential Maxim cover model once per day for free, or they can make a “Warrior Vote” where they pay one dollar for every vote, with a minimum donation of . After voting for their free daily vote, all subsequent votes cost a dollar, with again, a minimum of . In order to generate votes, models are able to offer voting rewards, similar to rewards offered on Kickstarter. The winner receives ,000 and a Maxim cover photo shoot while other proceeds go toward Jared Allen’s Homes for Wounded Warriors.
Robin Takizawa is a Los Angeles-based model and makeup artist, currently in second place in her group. Her father is a Vietnam vet and Purple Heart recipient.
“I was extremely excited to find that the competition was also a fundraiser for Jared Allen’s Homes for Wounded Warriors,” says 2019 entrant Robin Takizawa. “Sadly, there isn’t enough support for veterans once they return. Sometimes home no longer feels like it. This is a cause close to home because my father is a Vietnam veteran and Purple Heart recipient. His combat wounds healed without physically altering his life, however many he knew and served with did not meet the same fate.”
“Ever since I was a little girl, I always dreamt about being in Maxim. I loved the glamor and over-the-top sexiness that comes from being self-confident,” she continues. “It’s an honor to know my bid in this contest is also a chance to fundraise for such an amazing cause.”
Allen with Navy Corpsman Thomas Henderson and family after giving Henderson the keys to his new home. Henderson lost his leg in an IED attack in Afghanistan.
For Allen, the ten-year journey is one of the best things he’s ever accomplished. Even though his grandfather and younger brother were Marines, the experience changed Allen, inspiring him to create Homes for Wounded Warriors.
“I knew I had to do something to serve our country,” Allen once said of the Jared Allen Homes for Wounded Warriors. “I feel the best way to do that is serve those who serve us.”
For seven decades, the NATO alliance has practiced collective defense and deterrence against evolving international threats, and over the years, its capabilities have changed accordingly.
NATO’s most “powerful weapon,” according to Jim Townsend with the Center for a New American Security, is the “unity of the alliance,” but the individual allies also possess hard-hitting capabilities that could be called upon were it to face high-level aggression.
Heather Conley with the Center for Strategic and International Studies believes that Russia is likely to continue to press the alliance through low-end influence and cyberwarfare operations. Still, she explained to Business Insider, NATO needs to be seriously contemplating a high-end fight as Russia modernizes, pursuing hypersonic cruise missiles and other new systems.
So, what does that fight look like?
“I’ve always likened it to a potluck dinner,” Townsend told Business Insider. “If NATO has this potluck dinner, what are the kinds of meals, kind of dishes that allies could bring that would be most appreciated?”
“If a host is looking to invite someone who is going to bring the good stuff, they are for sure going to invite the United States,” he explained, adding that “in all categories, the US leads.”
Nonetheless, the different dinner guests bring a variety of capabilities to the table. Here’s some highlights of the many powerful weapons NATO could bring to bear against Russia.
Capt. Andrew “Dojo” Olson, F-35 Demonstration Team pilot and commander performs a dedication pass in an F-35A Lightning II during the annual Heritage Flight Training Course March 1, 2019, at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Alexander Cook)
1. F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter
“The air side of the NATO equation is led by the United States with the F-35 and other various aircraft,” Townsend told BI.
The fifth-generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is an aircraft that rival powers have been unable to match its stealth and advanced suite of powerful sensors.
While some NATO countries are looking at the F-35 as a leap in combat capability, others continue to rely on the F-16, an older supersonic fighter that can dogfight and also bomb ground targets. And then some countries, like Germany, are considering European alternatives.
Royal Air Force Eurofighter EF-2000 Typhoon F2.
2. Eurofighter Typhoons
The Eurofighter Typhoon is a capable mutli-role aircraft designed by a handful of NATO countries, namely the UK, Germany, Italy, and Spain, determined to field an elite air-superiority fighter. France, which walked away from the Eurofighter project, independently built a similar fighter known as the Dassault Rafale.
Observers argue that the Typhoon is comparable to late-generation Russian Flanker variants, such as the Su-35.
While each aircraft has its advantages, be it the agility of the Typhoon or the low-speed handling of the Flanker, the two aircraft are quite similar, suggesting, as The National Interest explained, that the Eurofighter could hold its own in a dogfight with the deadly Russian fighter.
A B-52 Stratofortress deployed from Barksdale Air Force Base, La., sits on the flight line at RAF Fairford, England, March 14, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Tessa B. Corrick)
The US provides conventional and nuclear deterrence capabilities through the regular rotation of bomber aircraft into the European area of operations.
American bombers have been routinely rotating into the area since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, according to Military.com. That year, the Pentagon sent two B-2 Spirit bombers and three B-52s to Europe for training. The B-1B Lancers are also among the US bombers that regularly operate alongside NATO allies.
US Navy P-8 Poseidon taking off at Perth Airport.
4. US P-8A Poseidon
“There’s also the maritime posture, particularly as Russia continues to rely on a submarine nuclear deterrent. We need a stronger presence. That’s why we’re seeing Norway, the US, UK do more with the P-8As,” Conley, the CSIS expert, told BI.
Facing emerging threats in the undersea domain, where the margins to victory are said to be razor thin, NATO allies are increasingly boosting their ability to hunt and track enemy submarines from above and below the water.
While there are a number of options available for this task, the US Navy P-8A Poseidon patrol plane, which was brought into replace the US military’s older P-3 Orions, are among the best submarine hunters out there.
Norwegian frigate HNoMS Helge Ingstad (front) leads Turkish frigate TCG Oruçreis, Belgian frigate BNS Louise Marie and a Swedish Visby-class corvette during Trident Juncture.
(NATO/LCDR Pedro Miguel Ribeiro Pinhei)
Another effective anti-submarine capability is that provided by the various frigates operated by a number of NATO countries.
“The NATO allies, in particular Italy, France, Spain, all have frigates that have very capable anti-submarine warfare systems,” Bryan Clark with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments told BI.
“They have active low-frequency sonars that are variable-depth sonars. They can find submarines easily, and they are very good against diesel submarines.” These forces could be used to target Russian submarines in the Eastern Mediterranean and into the Black Sea.
“Norway and Denmark also have really good frigates,” he explained. “They could go out and do anti-submarine warfare” in the North Sea/Baltic Sea area, “and they are very good at that.”
An AH-64D Apache helicopter from 1st Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment, based at Forward Operating Base Speicher, Iraq.
6. AH-64 Apache gunship
The Apache gunship helicopter, capable of close air support, has the ability to rain down devastation on an approaching armor column.
The attack helicopters can carry up to sixteen Hellfire missiles at a time, with each missile possessing the ability to cripple an enemy armor unit. The Hellfire is expected to eventually be replaced with the more capable Joint Air-to-Ground Missile.
The Cold War-era Apache attack helicopters have been playing a role in the counterinsurgency fight in the Middle East, but the gunships could still hit hard in a high-end conflict.
7. German Leopard 2
The Leopard 2 main battle tank, which gained a reputation for being “indestructible,” is a formidable weapon first built to blunt the spearhead of a Soviet armor thrust and one that would probably be on the front lines were the NATO alliance and Russia to come to blows.
While this tank, a key component of NATO’s armored forces, took an unexpected beating in the fight against the Islamic State in Syria, it is still considered one of the alliance’s top tanks, on par with the US M1 Abrams and the British Challenger 2.
Observers suspect that the Leopard 2, like its US and British counterparts, would be easily able to destroy most Russian tanks, as these tanks are likely to get the jump on a Russian tank in a shoot out.
The aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) and ships assigned to the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group (HSTCSG) transit the Atlantic Ocean while conducting composite training unit exercise (COMPTUEX) on Feb. 16, 2018.
(US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Scott Swofford)
8. US Nimitz-class aircraft carriers
A last-minute addition to last year’s Trident Juncture exercise — massive NATO war games designed to simulate a large-scale conflict with Russia — was the USS Harry S. Truman, a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, and its accompanying strike group.
The carrier brought 6,000 servicemembers and a large carrier air wing of F/A-18 Super Hornets to Norway for the largest drill in years.
“One thing the NATO naval partners have been looking at is using carriers as part of the initial response,” Clark told BI. The US sails carriers into the North Atlantic to demonstrate to Russia that the US can send carriers into this area, from which it could carry out “operations into the Baltics without too much trouble,” he added.
America’s ability to project power through the deployment of aircraft carriers is unmatched, due mainly to the massive size, sophistication and training regimen of its carrier fleet. The UK and France also have aircraft carriers.
(DoD Photo By Glenn Fawcett)
9. PATRIOT surface-to-air missile system
PATRIOT, which stands for “Phased Array Tracking Radar to Intercept on Target,” is an effective surface-to-air guided air and missile defense system that is currently used around the world, including in a number NATO countries.
There is a “need for an integrated air and missile defense picture,” Conley told BI. “That is certainly a high-valued protection for the alliance.”
NATO is also in the process of fielding Aegis Ashore sites, land-based variants of the sea-based Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System, that can track and fire missiles that intercept ballistic targets over Europe.
The U.S. Navy submarine USS North Dakota (SSN-784) underway during bravo sea trials in the Atlantic Ocean.
(U.S. Navy Photo)
10. US Virginia-class submarines
Virginia-class submarines, nuclear-powered fast attack boats, are among the deadliest submarines in the world. They are armed with torpedoes to sink enemy submarines and surface combatants, and they can also target enemy bases and missile batteries ashore with Tomahawk cruise missiles.
These submarines “could be really useful to do cruise missile attacks against some of the Russian air defense systems in the western military district that reach over the Baltic countries,” Clark told BI.
“You can really conduct air operations above these countries without being threatened by these air defense systems. So, you would want to use cruise missiles to attack them from submarines at sea.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Civilians sometimes try to understand the military, but between media depictions, the stories of bygone eras, and common misconceptions, there are a lot of jobs within the service that the public just doesn’t understand at all.
Here’s a list of just six jobs from the Army that civilians don’t understand:
This guy has to be able to provide emergency first aid under fire, read a battlefield to exploit enemy missteps, and call in helicopters and supporting fire when necessary, all while dodging bullets and attempting to outmaneuver an enemy who likely grew up in the fields he’s fighting in.
(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Kenneth Pawlak)
It’s easy to understand the infantry stereotypes of dumb grunts. In the old draft Army, lots of guys were shucked into the infantry and other combat arms branches to simply fill uniforms and foxholes. If they were dumb — oh well, their draft would end soon anyway.
Modern infantry is very different. While grunts today have a well-earned reputation for being occasionally immature and often crude, they also have a well-earned reputation for precision and tactical and strategic foresight.
Today, we expect 19- and 20-year-old specialists and corporals to lead small teams, positioning themselves and two other soldiers in the exact right position to have the maximum impact, sometimes without guidance from squad and platoon sergeants too busy with other tasks. It’s the age of the “strategic corporal,” and we simply can’t afford dumb grunts.
Soldiers bow their head in prayer during a Memorial Day Ceremony while deployed to Afghanistan.
(U.S. Army photo by Maj. Richard Barker)
People imagine the nerdiest kid from their Bible study class — and those kids do join as chaplain’s assistants sometimes — but the mission they’re required to do is less, “badly sing songs on guitar” and more “kill any threats to the chaplain while providing religious support to members of your faith, as well as Christians, Jews, Wiccans, Pagans, and members of any other faith who happen to be in your unit.”
See, chaplains and their assistants are tasked with tending to the spiritual needs of all members of the unit, even the atheists. The chaplain can only fire a weapon in a purely defensive way — and that very, very rarely happens. So that means the assistant, who also helps everyone, has to eliminate any threats to the chaplain when they’re working near the front.
Meanwhile, the chaplains and their assistants also provide counseling services to soldiers with various issues, from marital infidelity to survivor’s guilt to suicidal thoughts or actions.
That’s an Army tug, one of the service’s smaller watercraft. Larger vessels are big enough to carry multiple tanks and trucks at once.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Thomas Belton)
Most people assume that the Army has no ships or boats and, if they do, it must just be a couple of jet skis or landing crafts for hitting beaches. Well, the Army doesn’t have any ships, but they do have quite a few boats that are key logistical assets, moving massive amounts of much-needed supplies between ports and beaches. The vessels are both larger than people think and more capable than they appear.
Some of the vessels can carry everything from humvees to tanks. The larger vehicles can carry trucks, armor, and literal tons of ammunition, weapons, or food. The Army also has tugs and dredges to keep rivers and ports open. Some of the ships can cross the ocean, but typically operate near the shore or on rivers. And yes, watercraft operators deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, where they provided a key logistical service on rivers and canals.
These are military police. That is not a radar gun.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jameson Crabtree)
Yes, military police break up bar brawls and issue speeding tickets like you see in the movies. But many of them are also trained in maneuver warfare and have that as their primary role, meaning that they’re much more focused on defending American convoys from determined Taliban attacks — complete with machine guns, rockets, and IEDs — than whether you’re driving 22 in a 20-mph zone.
They’re equipped and trained for the maneuver mission with Mk. 19 automatic grenade launchers, M2 .50-cal. machine guns, and AT-4 anti-tank recoilless-rifles. The military police branch also includes investigators who serve as true detectives on base, solving crimes from petty theft to sexual assault to murder.
Truck drivers load ammo during an exercise.
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Joshua Boisvert)
Like infantry, these guys have a reputation for being dumb. Worse, they’re also assumed to be “in the rear with the gear.” But there’s an old strategy that states tactics win battles and logistics wins wars — and smart enemies know to attack the supply chains.
There’s a reason that so many images from Iraq and Afghanistan are of burning trucks. The insurgents were smart enough to target the fuel trucks and supply convoys to starve out remote outposts, putting the truck drivers in the crosshairs. Meanwhile, training the drivers takes a long time since most of them have to learn to drive everything from humvees to armored semi-trucks with loads ranging from two tons to over five.
An Iraqi-American soldier refuels vehicles during a drivers training class.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jessica DuVernay)
Notice that mention of fuel trucks above? Yeah, Army petroleum supply specialist may sound like a glorified gas attendant, but these guys have to build and maintain fuel points across the battlefield, sometimes within range of enemy artillery or mortars.
Imagine a gas attendant who’s willing to stay at their post as enemy shells are blowing up the huge bags of fuel surrounding them, trying desperately to get a final few, crucial gallons of fuel into the helicopter before it takes off the beat back the attack.
Master Sergeant George Hand US Army (ret) was a member of the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, The Delta Force. He is a now a master photographer, cartoonist and storyteller.
Master Sergeant Bill — and that was his real last name — had a trick back, so he claimed. It seemed to flare up just as we were on the cusp of an unpleasant mission. My gosh, it didn’t seem to trouble him much at all during “good deal” trips, no Sir. Whether or not it was a valid ailment, that we shall never know, but the timing of the affliction sure seemed suspect over the years.
Well sure, I understood as well as the next man, that with all of the non-stop training we did to satisfy our charter to deploy in just a few hours, to deploy to the four corners of the planet and be ready to sustain combat for several days… a brother just needed a break now and then to harness and hold a semblance of sanity — “to each his own,” I often rationalized.
“Woo, yeah brother… I can feel my back getting ready to go out again. Yes sirree I can feel it coming on.”
“$hit Bill, your back goes out more than a hooker on East Central… I don’t suppose your back is just feeling the freezing cold early on, is it?”
“What freezing cold?”
“Yeah, the freezing cold of our trip to Fairbanks Alaska for Arctic weather training.”
“Oh, yeah… well I guess that is coming up, isn’t it…”
“Oh, well yeah… I guess it is, Bill.”
(Arctic warfare training always promised deep snow and freezing temperatures)
There were a few brothers that had a perceived penchant for backing out of what we called “bad deal trips,” in favor of pursuing only the “good deal trips.” They were just slick like that. Again it was just a perception, but perception is the better part of reality in most cases.
Three of the guys earned the following monikers:
Samuel: Good deal Sam, bad deal — scram!
William: Good deal Will, bad deal — chill!
Martin: Good deal Marty, bad deal — departy!
Ah, but Sergeant Bill… now he just carried his maneuvers a smidge farther than the rest, and he didn’t deserve any finesse in his moniker:
Bill: Good deal Bill, bad deal — fake a back injury!
When I look back on some of our more gruesome training missions I am aware, ever so aware, that I do not recollect his presence there. There was the Arctic training in Alaska where we endured temperature plummets as low as -45 degree Fahrenheit while we made death marches on skis and snowshoes all night long.
No Sergeant Bill — threw his dang back out.
There was the trip to British Guyana 100 miles south of the infamous Jones Town where some 950 followers of Jim Jones’ “religion” committed suicide by poisonous Kool-aid in honor of their leader. Triple canopy jungles, All night movements again on foot and by tactical assault boats through snaking inland riverways in the sweltering heat.
No Sergeant Bill — threw his dad-blamed back out.
Hey but the desert mobility training trip where we planned extreme long range patrols… Bill was there! Oh, but his back got to acting up, and he stayed in the rear at the communications relay station — bless his lame heart. If that were not enough, then there was this thing that happened:
Long range tactical patrols meant movement all night long. Before the sun comes up, we stopped and set up camouflage nets. We then performed work priorities, set out guards, and tried to sleep in the frying pan desert as best we could.
(An Austrian Pinzgauer, the vehicle of choice for desert mobility movements)
We played the tactical game to the hilt because we knew there were Russian helicopters flying the desert looking for our Rally Over Day (ROD) locations at this particular state-side training venue. To be spotted was a compromise and we would have to pack up and run from them in daylight— a losing situation.
To the lonely sound of the buzzing of deer flies, punctuated by the omnipresent smacking noise of the swatting of deer flies, was the low rumble of men in fitful sleep. Very suddenly came the booming of the heavy rotor blades of a Russian Hind-D attack helicopter looming at some 75 feet of altitude… with spineless Bill leaning out of a cargo window pointing wildly to us on the ground.
(The very intimidating Russian attack helicopter Hind-D)
“I’m going to kill him pretty soon… I’m going to kill spineless Bill. I’m going to chop him up into pieces then burn each of the pieces to ashes. I’m going to collect up those ashes and tamp them down into the barrel of a 12-pound Napoleon cannon, and fire his ashes out of over a field full of cow sh!t; when the cows come to eat the grass I’m going to kill them too and then burn the grass… and I’m going to do it all on a piping-hot Summer’s day,” projected the oath a particularly agitated brother.
The moral of the story here could possibly be: whether your back injury is real or faked, and perception being the greater part of reality, your shenanigans will not write you a day pass from… THE UNIT CARTOONIST!
My first impression is that Mat Best is the kind of guy you want to party with. Or at the very least take a shot with. Whether it’s bikini snaps, whiskey or coffee, you can tell within seconds of meeting Mat that he is all about living life to the fullest. For real.
The former Ranger turned contractor is the internet icon behind Article 15 clothing, Leadslingers Whiskey, and most recently Black Rifle Coffee Company. But that’s just the beginning of Mat’s second act. He’s walking into the WATM office as the author of his newly released memoir, Thank You For My Service, and he has something powerful to say to us all…(spoiler alert).
For the first time, Mat’s taken down some walls and opened himself up in his book in a way that even his business partners have never seen. He’s honest. He’s vulnerable, and even better he’s embraced the awkward. Especially when it comes to the most cliche statement in the history of veterans, “Thank you for your service.” A statement that has been awkward and fallen flat to so many veterans is now Mat’s source of strength.
As we mic up for the interview, I am just beginning to realize that my initial impressions don’t even scratch the surface of Mat’s world. This is man and warrior who has garnered billions of views across the internet with his hilarious videos, yet, his humour is the tool that has lifted him from tragedy. This is a very different Mat than we have seen on Youtube or Instagram and for damn sure I am going to listen to what he has to say.
WATM: Can you give us a brief intro about you?
Mat Best:My name is Mat Best. I am an internet influencer. I hate that, just kidding. My name is Mat Best, and I’m the co-founder of Black Rifle Coffee.
WATM: Are you a Navy Seal?
Mat Best: I am not a Navy Seal, although I am taking tips from their hairstylists.
WATM: So if you’re not a Navy Seal, why’d you write a book?
Mat Best:I thought we have to get the message out about the amazing individuals of the 75th Ranger Regiment, which is where I came from and grew up. So that’s the story I wanted to tell.
WATM: I love it. All right, Good.
Mat Best:You were happy with that one. He was like, “I gotta hit the Navy Seal jokes.”
WATM: I didn’t even write that joke but yes, it makes me happy. Ok, let’s go back to when you’re in the Army. What kind of soldier would you say you were?
Mat Best: I would say that I was the team room jokester, but then took my job very serious, and I would like to think of myself as an absolute professional while I’m doing my job.
WATM: Is there anything you’ve learned, especially being in the Ranger Regiment, that’s helped you in business and now writing a book?
Mat Best: Absolutely. I think being in the military, specifically the Ranger Regiment, you consistently solve complex problems. It’s you and your buddies on the ground and you’re presented with all these crazy situations, and you can’t ask for help. It’s up to you and the team to execute and follow through with the mission plan. And I think that is so attributable to business, because no one tells you what to do, what the right answer is. You’re just in a gunfight, and you got to fix it. And sometimes it’s ugly. And so, all those lessons learned in the military directly apply to business. And that’s why at Black Rifle, we try to hire so many veterans, because they come from such a diverse background, that they have so many applicable skills that a lot of civilians don’t have.
WATM: What do you think makes Black Rifle Coffee Company special compared to other companies?
Mat Best:Mainly, I would say what makes Black Rifle Coffee so special is our mission statement and our values. We’re very transparent with what we put out there, and we always say, “Vote with your dollar.” And I think it’s refreshing in American culture to know who you’re supporting when you purchase a good, and not only a good, but a very high quality good. So that’s what we take pride in. When you buy Black Rifle Coffee, you know what our mission statement is, and you know what we’re going to do.
WATM: Was there anything specifically from your time in uniform that transformed you into who you are today?
Mat Best:I’ve had a few tragedies with friends while deployed, and honestly, it just really gave me this profound perspective on life. That it’s insanely short, you never know when it’s going to end, and that only supported my goal to make people laugh, humor through horror. We have one shot at this life, there’s no dress rehearsal, let’s just live it to its fullest. And it’s okay to enjoy life. Have fun, laugh. We don’t know how long we’re going to be here. And so those experiences really helped develop me to who I am today, to not really sweat the small stuff. Let’s focus on the big stuff, health, well-being, and all that.
WATM: Did you ever get an article 15?
Mat Best:No. That’s why I laugh. People will say, “You started a company called Article 15 Clothing.” I’ve got a good conduct medal, man.
WATM: What did that transition look like for you?
Mat Best:Yeah, mainly when I got off active duty, I moved here to Los Angeles, and I had absolutely no clue what I was going to do. I went through a pretty deep and heavy transition and learned a lot about myself, what I wanted to do. Kind of regaining that sense of purpose and what I wanted to devote my life to, which subsequently made me be a contractor, because I really missed the team mentality and the brotherhood. For a while, I thought I really missed war, but what I really missed was the camaraderie and the brotherhood that was enveloped in that experience. And so, once I became a contractor, that made it very clear in my mind that this is what I want to do. I want to live in this community, and I want to provide value in this community.
WATM: How did you decide to go down this route of entrepreneurship, especially on video content and being an influencer?
Mat Best: I needed an outlet creatively. So I just started making YouTube videos to make five people laugh, and five turned to a thousand, a thousand turned to 100,000 and it kind of snowballed effect. And what I realized is that there was such a want and need for that style of content that hadn’t been done before. And it’s pretty cool to see a lot of other influencers in the military making people laugh, doing callback jokes to basic training, just creating that military experience so we can not relive it, but have those fond memories of service post-service.
WATM: What do you think about the term ‘influencer?’
Mat Best:I think ‘influencer’ applies to certain people. I think influence means you have influence, you’re not just famous for posting a likable photo. And I think people are finding that out on Instagram, where they have followers, and they have certain engagement metrics, but they’re not able to influence a message or a culture or something like that. It’s a tricky term. Overused.
WATM: What do you feel when somebody says, “Hey Mat, thank you for your service?”
Mat Best: It’s a challenging question when people say, “Thank you for your service,” I think there is a sense of empathy and appreciation in the statement, but I think civilian culture has been so conditioned just to say that. Everybody wants to support veterans until it’s time to support veterans. I think a basic statement of, “Thank you for your service,” isn’t enough. Let’s go work on treatment of individuals that have moral grief and transition issues. Let’s actually impact people rather than just say that. And again, that’s my personal opinion. There are a lot of people out there that really appreciate that statement, but that’s why I named my book. “Thank You for My Service,” because I really, really appreciated being part of the community I was in special operations and doing the job. I mean, taxpayers let me go jump out of planes and fast rope out of helicopters. How cool is that?
WATM: So let’s get into the book, ‘Thank You For My Service.’ Why should we ‘thank YOU for your service?’
Mat Best:We shouldn’t thank me for my service. I want to thank you for your service and my service. No, I thought it was a funny play. Some people read it immediately and go, “Whoa, that’s super douchey.” And they go, “Oh, I get it. What he’s trying to say there.” So it was a play on that whole societal thing of people don’t know if they should thank veterans for their service. And most importantly, what an amazing experience for me to grow up. I would never even be close to the man I am today if I didn’t serve in such an amazing unit, like 75th ranger regiment. So I’m just proud of it, and I want to share that experience that I’m not a victim. It made me a better individual, even with all the stuff I saw. So I want to be a good steward of that community, and hopefully influence people to serve their country, serve their communities, and know that’s a powerful thing.
WATM: So is writing a book. Congrats man, that is a huge step and powerful.
Mat Best: Thank you. And it’s not in crayon. My book’s not in crayon, guys. This is a big moment.
WATM: Obviously, you put a lot of time into doing this.
Mat Best: I don’t think I ever really set out to write a book. It was never a part of that. I had not journal entries, but I guess you could say that I documented some of the worst times in my life, because I didn’t ever want to forget how crappy it felt. And so whenever I’m feeling down, I can look back at transitioning out of the military. I can look back at losing friends and being like, “This is why I’m here. This is what’s going to motivate me. Get off your suck. Wake up, let’s go f*cking work.” And so it really just transcribed into me talking to people, having influence, and people said, “I want to know Mat’s whole story.” And really for me, the only way to tell my entire story is to put it on paper. I mean you can do videos, you can chat about it, but a lot of people just see the extension of my personality through the entertainment and the skits that I do, which I fully enjoy. But that’s a singular perspective on my personality. So, kind of wanted to put it all in there, make people laugh, write something that no one else has ever seen in their life before, because it’s a completely different book than an average military book, that’s for sure.
WATM: In the book, you talk about how you’ve used humor as a way to get through some very tough points in your life. Are there specific instances in the book that [were] very powerful for you?
Mat Best:Yeah, I think that’s a loaded question, but it’s a good one. I think there’s certain aspects and stories in the book that you’ll see where humor, I applied humor in a very dark situation, where people were just trying to kill us, and now we’re cleaning up the aftermath, and you can tell people are a little shook up and rattled. So I just used humor to kind of offset that, get their head in the game, realize we’re here for a mission. This is really messed up. Because when do you expect ever to, as an individual, to just see people blowing up and body parts flying and shooting people? No one sets you up for that experience until it happens. You’ve got to combat it with humor a little bit. Still being a professional, obviously, but easing the moment, I would say.
WATM: Was there ever a moment you looked at the book and said, “I can’t believe I’m writing this right now?”
Mat Best:There were multiple times in the book, absolutely, where it was very challenging for me to relive a few things and I got kind of caught up and almost definitely pretty much cried a few times where I’m like, “I’ll set that down.” And there was definitely other times in the book where I had to go get a shot of whiskey or a glass of wine because I’m like, “I don’t want to be that open about this, you know? And I’m like, “But that’s how I make a good book. I have to be honest and transparent and show my struggles and my successes, because that’s what’s going to influence people to live their own quality of life.” If I just write this top level crap book that’s like, “Look at me, I served the country, I’m awesome. I do business,” what value does that bring?
WATM: We don’t want to give it all away. But do you think there’s something that maybe the audience doesn’t know that they’re going to find in this book?
Mat Best:For sure. Yeah. I put a lot in this book that no one’s ever known. To quote Evan Hafer, my business partner at Black Rifle Coffee, he said, “I didn’t want to read your book. I didn’t want to read it.” And I’m like, “Well, thanks for being honest, man.” He’s like, “Well, I’ve known you for six-plus years. I know your stories.” And then when he finally read it, he went, “Dude, I couldn’t put it down. It was so interesting, and I got to a see side of my friend I didn’t even know.”
WATM: Would you say you’re fully transitioned out? Do you feel like you’re a civilian at this point, or is there always going to be a part of you that’s related to the military?
Mat Best:At least now in the workings of Black Rifle, I’ll always be part of the military for sure. To say that I don’t go look back at old photos or old experiences and miss it and for some reason still wish I was deployed fighting a war when I have a beautiful wife and a successful business, it’s still in there. So it’s always there, and I’ll always be a part of the community for sure, because I just want to see it be successful.
WATM: You offer a lot, especially to veterans out there, but not always just the veterans. Is there any advice or things that you would love your followers or people that read the book to know that you really live by?
Mat Best: Yeah, I would say as far as the transition piece, it’d be proper planning prevents piss poor performance. You have to have a mission plan going into anything. It’s just like when you’re going to the grocery store, and you have kids, all right, I need the car seat. You’re planning, you’re in that planning phase. And I think what I didn’t do when I got out, I didn’t plan for anything. I’m like, “I’ll figure it out,” in my absolute stubborn ways. And that set me up for a nosedive. And so going forward, I’ve always tried to plan, plan for the worst, expect the best, kind of thing. I know I’m just saying catchphrases, but they actually are applicable if you follow them. I mean, anybody can read a Pinterest quote, right? But if you live it, that’s a different story.