The Gary Sinise Foundation, a non-profit that focuses on veterans, first responders, and their families, has helped send almost 2,000 people from Gold Star families to Walt Disney World near Orlando, Florida, as part of Snowball Express, a holiday season program that aims to help families of fallen service members.
Snowball Express started in 2006 and aims to create a five-day experience for the families that is fun, inspiring, and therapeutic. In 2017, Snowball Express became an official Gary Sinise Foundation program.
The program may be young, but through the tireless work of its supporters and members, it has quickly made an impact on participants. A tweet from Fallen Patriots, a non-profit that focuses on helping Gold Star family members get to college, said that participant Dale Mundell now wants to fly for American Air, the airline sponsoring the event, in order to help other family members take part in such events in the future.
I witnessed an international airport come to a complete stop today …
Airports got in on the festivities as well. The Killeen Airport, a familiar location for any service members who have activated or deployed through Fort Hood, Texas, welcomed Snowball Express participants and a man in a Santa costume met with the families.
In Nashville, other travelers stopped what they were doing and held a rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner. U.S. troops in the terminal stood at attention and saluted as the song was performed, and you can see bystanders drying their eyes in a Facebook video of the event.
Meanwhile, airport employees seem amped about the Snowball Express as well. The National Air Traffic Controllers Association sent tote bags to participants to help them get all their goods from location to location, and the controllers themselves posted photos on social media celebrating as flights took off from airfields under their control.
And around the Disney parks, other park goers and local residents have chimed in on social media as they ran into the crowds of Gold Star family members and were affected by the experience. For some, it was simply a great experience to see all the happy families, but for others, it was also a somber reminder that service members and first responders are still in harm’s way every day.
After all, some participants are as young as 2 or 3 years old, as Snowball Express participant Ramonda Anderson pointed out in a tweet.
If you’re interested in supporting the Gary Sinise Foundation, which also builds adaptive homes for disabled veterans, hosts free theater nights for veterans, and helps pay for training and equipment for first responders, they are always accepting donations on their website and are part of the Combined Federal Campaign. Use CFC number 27963.
Twenty-four years after the Marine Corps got its first female aviator, another woman pilot is making history.
Capt. Anneliese Satz is the Marine Corps’ first-ever female F-35B Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter jet pilot. The 29-year-old from Boise, Idaho, has spent the past four years training as a naval aviator.
Now, she’s cleared to operate the cutting-edge fifth-generation stealth, supersonic fighter aircraft in combat. She’s the first woman to complete the F-35B Basic Course, designed specifically for the Marine Corps variant of the fighter jet. The F-35B can take off and land vertically from amphibious assault ship flight decks and austere locations with little runway space.
Satz is joining the “Green Knights” with the Japan-based Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121. VMFA-121 was the first F-35B squadron to complete an operational deployment with a Marine expeditionary unit aboard a Navy ship.
Capt. Anneliese Satz conducts pre-flight checks prior to a training flight aboard Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Ashley Phillips)
Satz recalled the first time she took off in the Joint Strike Fighter in a Marine Corps news release announcing her career milestone.
“The first flight in an F-35 is by yourself,” she said. “… It’s an exhilarating experience.”
Satz was licensed to fly the single-engine Robinson R44 light helicopter before joining the Marine Corps. Since switching to fixed wing, she’s flown the T-6 Texan II tandem-seat, turboprop trainer and the T-45C Goshawk carrier capable jet trainer, which prepares naval aviators for tactical missions.
Capt. Anneliese Satz puts on her flight helmet prior to a training flight aboard Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Ashley Phillips)
She then joined Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501, where she trained to fly the military’s newest fighter jet. Showing up and working hard are what allowed her to succeed, she said in the release.
Satz also credited the instructors, maintainers and other members of Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 for helping her complete the F-35B Basic Course.
“This is a phenomenal program made possible by all of their hard work,” she said in a Marine Corps news release. “I am thankful to have had the opportunity to learn from all of them. I am incredibly excited to get to VMFA-121 and look forward to the opportunity to serve in the Fleet Marine Forces.”
Capt. Anneliese Satz conducts pre-flight checks prior to a training flight aboard Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Ashley Phillips)
Earlier this week, another female Marine aviator made history when she became the first woman selected to fly the Corps’ other Joint Strike Fighter variant — the F-35C.
First Lt. Catherine Stark will join the Navy’s fleet replacement squadron, Strike Fighter Squadron 125, where she’ll fly the F-35 variant designed for carrier operations.
Female Marines have been able to fly only since 1993 when the service opened pilot positions to women. Then-2nd Lt. Sarah Deal, a CH-53E heavy-lift helicopter pilot, became the Marine Corps’ first female aviator in 1995. And Capt. Vernice Armour, an AH-1W Cobra pilot, became the service’s first black female pilot in 2001.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
The tough talk coming out of the Kremlin has been increasingly more provocative in the days since American and Russian troops were involved in an Aug. 25, 2020 armored vehicle crash that injured seven U.S. service members.
U.S. official Capt. Bill Urban says the Russian troops used “deliberately provocative and aggressive behavior” in northeastern Syria. There is a series of established means for the Russian and American forces in the country to communicate and the Russians blatantly disregarded those channels.
Instead of communicating a request for passage through an American-controlled zone, a convoy of Russian armored vehicles made and “unauthorized incursion” into the area. They met a joint American and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) convoy, which they decided to “aggressively and recklessly pursue.”
As the U.S. convoy moved, it was sideswiped by Russian vehicles, and buzzed by an extremely low overflight from a Russian helicopter. While the seven servicemembers sustained injuries consistent with vehicle accidents, all are said to have returned to regular duty.
There are now videos of the provocative behavior circulating on social media sites. The Russian Embassy in the United States blamed the US for the collision, after Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mike Milley and the chief of Russia’s General Staff, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, discussed the incident via telephone.
General Gerasimov said the American-led coalition in Syria was informed of the Russian convoy’s passage and that it was the US convoy that was attempting to block and delay the Russians’ passing through the area. The Pentagon confirmed the conversation, but none of the details announced by the Russians.
The National Security council released a statement to CNN that revealed the vehicle struck by the Russians was a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected All-Terrain Vehicle (M-ATV) and that Russia’s behavior was “a breach of deconfliction protocols, committed to by the United States and Russia in December 2019.”
This most recent clash between American and Russian military forces came near the northeastern Syrian town of Dayrick. A number of incidents involving US troops coming under attack from Russian-back Syrian government forces have occurred in recent weeks, including a rocket attack on a U.S. base and a skirmish between Syrian and American convoys.
Russia is opposed to the continued American presence in the SDF-controlled eastern provinces of Syria, which contain much of the country’s oil fields – and are used by the Kurdish-led SDF to fund its continued anti-ISIS operations in Syria. Though President Trump has ordered all but 500 US troops to leave Syria, the United Nations estimates there are still some 10,000 or more ISIS-affiliated fighters operating in the country.
The last time American forces engaged in a direct altercation with Russians in Syria, it resulted in a four-hour firefight between Syrian government troops with the help of Russian mercenaries and a cadre of U.S. troops in an SDF headquarters building. No Americans were harmed.
Pigeons are one of the most annoying and disgusting parts of living in a city these days. But did you know that those winged rats were once well-decorated war heroes?
The World Wars had dramatically increased the pace of technological advancement and gave rise to early forms quick communication, such as radio and telephone. But radio was easily intercepted and telephone wires were obvious to the enemy. Pigeons, on the other hand, had a surprising 95 percent efficiency and could carry longer-form messages than those sent by telegraph.
Communications between squads and battalions were typically delivered by a runner — a troop that moved across the battlefield carrying a message. For higher level communications, signal troops would write messages on tiny pieces of paper that would then be rolled up and attached to pigeons. Pigeons have natural magnetoreceptors and an instinct to return home, both of which they use to send a message on its way.
These birds can travel great distances in a (relatively) short amount of time. Princess the Pigeon, for example, managed a 500-mile flight during World War II when she carried vital information about the British troops fighting in Crete to RAF in Alexandria, Egypt.
(Imperial War Museum)
Pigeons weren’t just sent as messengers. As early as World War I, innovators attached cameras to the birds who would then fly about the battlefield as the camera automatically snapped photographs.
As you’d expect, most photos came out terribly but, on occasion, you’d get a photo that would prove the idea wasn’t as terrible as it sounds.
(Imperial War Museum)
The most well-known story of the war pigeons is that of Cher Ami (which translates to “dear friend” from French). On Oct. 3, 1918, 195 American troops of the Lost Battalion were trapped behind enemy lines. Their position was surrounded on every side by German forces. To make matters worse, American artillery had started raining down on their position. Maj. Whittlesey affixed a message to Cher Ami and let her lose.
The message read, “We are along the road parallel to 276.4. Our own artillery is dropping a barrage directly on us. For heaven’s sake, stop it.”
Cher Ami was spotted by the Germans and shot down. Despite her wounds, she managed to take flight again and complete her 25-mile journey in just 25 minutes. She did this after taking a bullet to the chest, being blinded in one eye, and nearly losing the leg to which her crucial message was attached. Thanks to Cher Ami, all 195 men survived.
She was patched up and sent back home to the U.S. by Gen. “Black Jack” Pershing himself.
While the saga of Private First Class Jessica Lynch, a soldier assigned to the 507th Maintenance Company who was captured by Saddam’s forces during Operation Iraqi Freedom, is well known, the incredibly heroic story of the attempt to rescue that unit isn’t. Now, the brave Marine behind that rescue attempt is retiring.
According to a report by the Marine Corps Times, Sergeant Major Justin LeHew is set to retire after 30 years of service in the Marine Corps. His most recent assignment has been with the Wounded Warrior Battalion — East, based out of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.
LeHew became a legend while serving as a platoon sergeant with Company A, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines, Task Force Tarawa during the initial stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom. When the chain of command learned about the dire situation the 507th Maintenance Company was in, they sent LeHew’s unit to try to rescue the soldiers.
According to his Navy Cross citation, when they arrived on the scene, LeHew helped his Marines evacuate four soldiers from the beleaguered maintenance unit. Then, an intense, three-hour-long firefight broke out. When an AAV-7 was destroyed, LeHew sprang into action.
One of the AAV-7s destroyed in the Battle of Nasiriyah. Justin LeHew earned the Navy Cross for heroism in retrieving dead and wounded Marines from a similar vehicle.
(USMC photo by Master Sergeant Edward D. Kniery)
According to a release by the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, he made multiple 70-yard sprints to the destroyed vehicle, retrieving nine dead and wounded Marines, picking body parts out from the wreckage — all while under fire from the enemy.
He received the Navy Cross for his actions while on another deployment to Iraq with C Company, 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment. Around the time he was awarded the Navy Cross, he would again distinguish himself in combat — this time in Najaf. During a battle against insurgents, he repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire, helping, once again, to evacuate the wounded, including taking one Marine with a sucking chest wound straight to a forward operating base. For his actions, he received the Bronze Star with the Combat Distinguishing Device in 2005.
After his second tour in Iraq, LeHew held a number of senior leadership positions.
In a 1989 incident, the Air Force crew of a B1-B bomber found itself unable to lower the front landing gear during a training flight and was forced to execute an emergency landing in the dry lake bed at Edwards Air Force Base, California.
Investigators later blamed a hydraulic failure, but the crew in the air just knew that they had to reach the ground safely. The Air Force routed the plane to a dry lakebed in California that was often used for landing the space shuttle.
The dust of the Rogers Dry Lake bed is more likely than most surfaces to allow for a safe skid, reducing the risk to the crew and plane. The full landing is visible from a few angles in this video from airailimages:
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has long had a track record of hitting new lows when it comes to atrocities. Well, they also do stuff to their recruits that even Gunny Hartman from “Full Metal Jacket” wouldn’t do.
According to a report by the London Daily Mail, ISIS recruits at a training camp in Yemen once lined up to be kicked in the groin as part of their training to join the terrorist group. The image was part of a propaganda video put out by the radical Islamic terrorist group, which has been suffering substantial reverses in its original stomping grounds of Iraq and Syria.
As a result, ISIS is setting up its training camps in a safer venue. Yemen, which has been suffering through a civil war between Iranian-backed Houthi rebels and the Saudi-backed government since 2014, has fit the bill as that relatively safe area for the terrorist group, despite an air campaign carried out by a Saudi-led coalition.
The terrorist group al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, an affiliate of al-Qaeda, has operated in Yemen as well.
The photograph of the junk-kicks was part of a montage that also showed recruits going through assault courses, doing pull-ups, and taking target practice.
As for why the junk-kicks were included, the Daily Mail claimed that ISIS may have been trying to show how tough their recruits were. But because it was merely a photograph, there was no way to tell if the exercise put any of the prospective terrorists out of commission.
The USS Missouri has been described as the most famous battleship ever built.
Nicknamed “Mighty Mo,” the Missouri was an Iowa-class battleship that saw combat in World War II, the Korean War and the Gulf War.
Before finally being decommissioned in 1992, the Mighty Mo received three battle stars for its service in World War II, five for the Korean War, as well as two Combat Action Ribbons and several commendations and medals for the Gulf War.
A Japanese A6M Zero Kamikaze about to hit the Mighty Mo off Okinawa on April 11, 1945, as a 40mm quad gun mount’s crew is in action in the lower foreground.
(US Navy photo)
In April 1945, the Missouri took one of its only known hits when a Japanese Kamikaze pilot evaded the Mighty Mo’s anti-aircraft guns and hit the battleship’s side below the main deck. But the impact caused minor damage.
General of the Army Douglas MacArthur signs the Instrument of Surrender on the USS Missouri on Sept. 2, 1945.
(US Navy photo)
The Mighty Mo fires a salvo of 16-inch shells on Chongjin, North Korea, in an effort to cut enemy communications in October 1950.
(US Navy photo)
The Mighty Mo sailed the Mediterranean in 1946 in a show of force against Soviet incursion. Four years later, in September 1950, the battleship joined missions as part of the Korean War.
As the flagship of Vice Adm. A. D. Struble, who commanded the 7th Fleet, the Missouri bombed Wonsan, and the Chonjin and Tanchon areas in October 1950. For the next three years, the Mighty Mo would bombard several other areas too, including Chaho, Wonsan, Hamhung, and Hungnam.
The Mighty Mo was later decommissioned, for the first time, in February 1955 at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.
Large harbor tugs assist the battleship USS Missouri into port for recommissioning with the San Francisco skyline in the background in 1986.
(US Navy photo)
But in 1986, with the Cold War still raging, the Mighty Mo was brought back to life as part of the Navy’s new strategy that sent naval task groups into Soviet waters in case of a future conflict.
The Navy also modernized the Mighty Mo as part of its recommissioning, removing some of its five-inch guns and installing Harpoon and Tomahawk cruise missiles, Stinger short-range surface-to-air missiles, and Phalanx close-in weapons systems.
The Mighty Mo fires a Tomahawk cruise missile at an Iraqi target in January 1991.
(US Navy photo)
And these new weapons were put to use during the Gulf War, where the Mighty Mo fired at least 28 cruise missiles, as well as several hundred 16″ rounds, on Iraqi targets.
In fact, the Mighty Mo had a fairly close call when it was firing 16″ rounds in support of an amphibious landing along the Kuwaiti shore.
The Missouri’s loud 16″ guns apparently attracted enemy attention, and the Iraqis fired an HY-2 Silkworm missile at the ship. But the British frigate HMS Gloucester came to its rescue, shooting the missile down with GWS-30 Sea Dart missiles.
The USS Missouri arrives in Pearl Harbor, where it now permanently rests next to the USS Arizona, in June 1998.
In 1992, the Mighty Mo was decommissioned for the second and last time. The battleship was removed from the Navy’s reserve list in 1995, and moved to Pearl Harbor as a museum and memorial ship in 1998.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. David L. Goldfein emphasized the essential role airmen have when it comes to space superiority during the 34th Space Symposium, April 17, 2018, in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
“Our space specialists must be world-class experts in their domain,” said Goldfein. “But, every airman, beyond the space specialty, must understand the business of space superiority. And, we must also have a working knowledge of ground maneuver and maritime operations if we are to integrate air, space and cyber operations in a truly seamless joint campaign.”
Space is in the Air Force’s DNA, said Goldfein. The service has been the leader of the space domain since 1954 and will remain passionate and unyielding as the service continues into the future, he added.
“Let there be no doubt, as the service responsible for 90 percent of the Department of Defense’s space architecture and the professional force with the sacred duty to defend it, we must and will embrace space superiority with the same passion and sense of ownership as we apply to air superiority today,” Goldfein said.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Scott M. Ash)
Space enables everything the Joint Force does, and space capabilities are not only vital to success on the battlefield, but are also essential to the American way of life.
Goldfein also discussed the importance of working with allies and partner in space.
“As strong as we may be as airmen and joint warfighters, we are strongest when we fight together with our allies and partners,” said Goldfein. “Integrating with our allies and partners will improve the safety, stability and sustainability of space and will ultimately garner the international support that condemns any adversary’s harmful actions.”
The importance of space is highlighted in both the recently published National Security and National Defense strategies. In addition, the President’s Budget for Fiscal 2019 offers the largest budget for space since 2003.
(U.S. Air Force / United Launch Alliance)
Goldfein acknowledged that investing in technology is vital, but investing in the development and training of our joint warriors is equally important, he said.
“We must make investments in our people to strengthen and integrate their expertise,” said Goldfein. “We are building a Joint-smart space force and a space-smart Joint force. That begins with broad experience and deep expertise.”
Goldfein went on to underscore how space enables all operations, but it has become a contested domain. The Air Force must deter a conflict that could extend into space, and has an obligation to be prepared to fight and win if deterrence fails.
“We will remain the preeminent air and space force for America and her allies,” said Goldfein. “The future of military space operations remains in confident and competent hands with airmen. Always the predator, never the prey; we own the high ground.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Imagine an airplane so quiet that it’s virtually impossible to hear it coming and going from the ground. This may seem like science fiction to most, but for the US Army’s YO-3 ‘Quiet Star’ scout aircraft, it was an incredible and unparalleled reality — still unmatched today.
In the late 1960s, the Army put forward a requirement for a small observation aircraft that could fly just above 1,000 feet without being detected by North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops. Navy, Air Force and Marine reconnaissance aircraft were too noisy and easily detectable, allowing for NVA commanders to hide their soldiers well in advance of surveillance flights, rendering such missions useless.
To solve this problem, in 1968 the Department of Defense contracted Lockheed’s storied Skunk Works black projects division to build an aircraft suitable for the job. Skunk Works had, by this time, already developed the U-2 Dragon Lady and SR-71 Blackbird spy planes for the Air Force and CIA, so designing something substantially smaller, slower and cheaper would be a considerably easy task, well within their capabilities.
According to Rene Francillon in his book, “Lockheed Aircraft Since 1913,” the aerospace company had already attempted to build something similar two years earlier using a Schweizer glider fitted with a ‘silenced’ powerplant for quiet flights. Known by the codename PRIZE CREW, this glider was sent to Vietnam for operational testing and was determined successful enough that the concept was worth exploring further.
When the 1968 request appeared, Lockheed was already well-prepared.
To meet the Army’s needs, Lockheed took another Schweizer glider and modified it heavily, using fiberglass — a fairly novel technology on aircraft at the time — and lightweight metals to reduce weight and increase endurance. The cockpit was redesigned to hold a pilot and an observer/spotter in a tandem configuration under a large bubble canopy for enhanced visibility.
Propeller aircraft aren’t normally known for being very quiet or inconspicuous. The noise of their piston engines and the propeller blades beating the air around it into submission can be heard from a fair distance off. However, Lockheed’s best and brightest made it work.
By connecting a small 6-cylinder engine to the propeller using a belt and pulley system, and by adding fiberglass shielding to the engine compartment, the aircraft became nearly noiseless, even with its engines on at full power. Exhaust from the engine would be ducted and funneled to the rear of the plane using a special muffler, further reducing any potential for sound generation.
Lockheed finished developing this new stealth aircraft in 1969, dubbing it the YO-3 Quiet Star. By 1970, nine Quiet Stars were sent on their maiden combat deployment to Vietnam, beginning a 14-month rotation to the country in support of American troops on the ground.
Before a typical observation mission, a YO-3 would be fueled up and launched, then flown around the air base it had recently taken off from so that personnel on the ground could listen for any sounds out of the ordinary — note that “ordinary” for the Quiet Star was almost absolute silence.
If any rattles were heard, the aircraft would land immediately, be patched up with duct tape or glue, and be sent out on its mission.
Though the Quiet Star was designed to fly safely at 1,200 feet and above, it was so undetectable that its pilots were able to take it down to treetop level with NVA or VC troops being none the wiser. The effectiveness of night missions was enhanced through the use of a low-light optical system designed by Xerox, the same company known for building copying machines.
No YO-3 ever took a shot from the bad guys during its deployment to Vietnam, simply because the Communists weren’t able to detect it. With its spindly wings and dark paint scheme, the YO-3 couldn’t be distinguished easily from the darkness of the night, and by the time enemy troops realized something had passed overhead, it was already gone.
Sadly, the Quiet Star arrived in Vietnam far too late to make much of a difference at all. It was pulled out of the country and relegated to testing roles with NASA, though a few of the 11 units produced by Lockheed were acquired by the FBI and the Louisiana Department of Fish and Game.
The FBI used its Quiet Stars to locate kidnappers, while Louisiana game wardens used theirs to catch poachers.
The Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 2004. These countries don’t have much in the way of air assets. According to FlightGlobal.com, as of 2017, the three countries combined have three L-39 trainers, one L-410 transport, three C-27J transports, and 13 helicopters that operate either as search-and-rescue or training assets.
The NATO Baltic Air Policing Mission was established just after these countries joined NATO and is designed to protect their airspace. The mission usually consists of detachments of aircraft — four initially, but in recent years, as many as 16 aircraft have been sent for this mission — that operate out of airbases in Poland, Lithuania, and Estonia.
On Jan. 8, the United States ended its most recent run as part of this mission. Four F-15C Eagles from the 493rd Fighter Squadron, part of the 48th Fighter Wing, were deployed to Lithuania for four months. They worked alongside F-16AM Fighting Falcons from Belgium for this mission.
These four months proved to be fairly busy, according to the Air Force Times. Russia has been aggressive with its neighbors, most notably Ukraine. Since tensions with Ukraine have heated up, NATO routinely sends two detachments. The American detachment operated out of Šiauliai International Airport in Lithuania.
Russian Air Force Su-30 (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
While there, on at least two occasions, the American pilots intercepted Sukhoi Su-30 Flankers. These multi-role jets, assigned to the Russian Navy, flew near the airspace of the Baltic States. The U.S. Air Force F-15s were scrambled in response to intercept them. These encounters were caught on tape.
You can see these encounters on the video below. One thing you won’t see are the types of buzzing stunts that Russia has pulled on American ships and planes in the past.
Picking up the pieces after a public tragedy is tough when you are self-employed. But it’s doable.
In August 2007, my husband and I were living the dream — just four years earlier, I’d founded my own public relations practice just outside of Washington, DC. A few years after that, my husband joined me in the business and added his graphic and website design skills to our offerings. Our business prospered and we were busy taking care of our 3 kids from his first marriage, and dreaming about buying a home and getting pregnant or adopting.
Life was looking up, and we headed to the beach in Georgia for a week of much needed rest with some friends.
We spent one idyllic day at the beach with the kids swimming and all of us in the sun and having fun. I remember riding a beach coaster bike with fat tires and the basket full of sandy magazines, and feeling like all of my DC stress was peeling off with the ocean breeze. I still remember the sound of those wheezy pedals as I headed back to the beach house to get ready for a big meal with the gang.
Then our lives – quite literally – blew up.
I realized on the way back that I’d missed a call from my mom, so I called her back and she didn’t pick up. I then called my aunt, who told me that my brother, US Army Specialist Christopher Neiberger, age 22, was killed in combat that day when a roadside bomb exploded.
It felt like my life also exploded in that moment. I remember dropping the phone. I remember hearing someone screaming. Then I realized that the person screaming was me. It was the moment everything changed.
We hurried to my parents’ home in Florida. A news release was issued by the Army after our family was notified, and soon I was managing reporters not for my clients — but on behalf of my humble and grieving parents.
Only 24 hours after I’d been carefree and pedaling on that beach bike, I sat down alongside my two surviving brothers to talk with our hometown newspaper and tried to sum up what the legacy of my little brother would be.
Those days in Florida were busy — our friends and family wanted to be with us, and we were also meeting with the military, planning a funeral for our hometown, and organizing a burial service at Arlington National Cemetery.
Before long, one of my clients called.
I had turned in a magazine story just before going to the beach and she needed me to check my interview notes and fix something. I paused, told her what had happened, and said I would try to find time to fix it later that evening.
I sent the revised copy to her standing with the laptop at the end of the driveway using a neighbor’s WiFi signal, as my parents were still on dial up. I also sent an email to our clients updating them on our situation and extending our time away to two weeks. I looked up at the stars and wondered how the hell we were going to survive this.
But survive it we did. His funeral was held in the church my husband and I had married in — and it drew hundreds of people — including demonstrators, counter demonstrators, TV crews, and hundreds of people who just wanted to show they cared. It was touching, overwhelming, and so much more all at the same time.
We flew home to DC the next day to get ready for the family to arrive for the burial service. I frantically vacuumed sand out of my living room carpet, bought towels because I had no time to do laundry, answered the door for floral arrangements and casseroles, and made a plan to get everyone to the cemetery on time in rush hour traffic with the army casualty officer.
Ten days after Chris was killed in combat in Iraq, he was buried in section 60 at Arlington National Cemetery.
The media covered the burial with our family’s permission, so there was footage on the news and in newspapers around the country.
I got up early the day after the burial service to say goodbye to my family and picked up the newspaper — there was a photo on the front page of the metro section of The Washington Post showing us getting our flag the day before at the cemetery. I made a mental note to pick up a few more copies and started to go back to bed — I was exhausted from the last 10 days.
My husband and I looked at each other and it was like a light bulb went off in both of our heads. It was our wedding anniversary. We agreed on cards and dinner. Then my husband said his stomach still hurt, and he thought he should see our doctor. I always think he’s a hypochondriac, since my dad is a doctor, so I joked, “I’ll even drive you to the appointment since it’s our anniversary.” It was such a normalizing moment — a reminder that we were “us” and life could somehow start again.
But even after all we’d just been through, life still had other plans.
Our doctor told us to get back in the car and drive straight to the emergency room. Oh crap, I thought.
In the hospital, they called a doctor out of surgery on someone else to look at my husband. Now anxiety began churning my stomach into ugly knots. I knew they wouldn’t do that unless there was something really wrong.
And he had emergency surgery that night for a condition that could have killed him — an incarcerated hernia that, thankfully, didn’t go septic.
We never got the cards. Or dinner. An evil nurse threw me out of his hospital room.
I sat in the waiting room and wept into the same Washington Post I’d collected from my driveway that morning. In 11 days we went from being on vacation, to my brother dying, to that hospital waiting room. I was emotionally now at rock bottom.
Hopefully nothing tragic ever happens to you. While my story might be unique to me, all of us face struggles in life. It’s challenging to figure out how to start again, after tragedy strikes. Here’s what I did to rebuild, and my advice:
1. Start slow and take time off.
My husband had a month long recovery, so we did not attend business meetings or networking events for a while — and thankfully much of DC shuts down in mid-August. Yet client emails kept coming in. I mowed the lawn and we ate some of the casseroles people had brought, and read our email. We took our time to ease back into the rhythm of business life.
2. Continue to communicate with your clients and contacts.
After a tragedy is when your clients and contacts need to hear from you. Some of them will legitimately care about you and want to know you are OK or how they can help. Others will be concerned about the ongoing work you do for them and how their work might be impacted by what you’ve gone through.
3. Lean on people you trust.
This is where having a network is a huge bonus. I had a friend who typically helped cover press calls for my clients while I was out town on vacation each year. She helped me beyond that first week, and knowing she was there to help my clients gave me one less thing to worry about.
4. Keep your contact lists — not just your client lists — and communication systems up-to-date.
While I had a list of our active clients, I didn’t have a ready-made list of some of our other contacts, like the people we networked with or former clients. We didn’t have a business e-newsletter (like we do now) that I could easily send a message out to or a business Facebook page. Having those would have made letting people know we were taking time off, and letting them know when we reopened, a lot easier.
5. Signal when you are ready to start working again.
Only you know when you are ready. Some of your contacts or current clients may want to offer new work or get started on a project, but be unsure of your availability and not want to bother you. So you have to signal that you are ready again for business — whether that means you write emails, or you make phone calls, or send out an e-newsletter and make a Facebook post.
6. Remain open to new things.
In those first couple of weeks back in the office, I was sent two proposals and invited to bid on them. I looked at them and thought, wow, these would be great. I wasn’t hopeful I’d win the work, but I thought writing responses to them would get me back into my groove. Just the act of writing them, would let me dream about doing new work and get my creativity flowing. Amazingly, we won both of those jobs, and a few months later, I took on a gig managing public relations for an organization that assists families of fallen troops.
7. Have good insurance and know your risk exposure.
Thanks to good health insurance, we didn’t face a huge bill from my husband’s emergency surgery. Because we are both self-employed, this event drove home how important it is to have good health insurance and to know what our risk exposure is financially if something happens. Every year, we use what my husband calls “the scariest spreadsheet ever” for open enrollment for work benefits during November and December, so we can evaluate the real financial impacts if a “major medical event” were to happen to one or both of us when we choose a health plan.
8. Keep a cash reserve in the bank that you can easily access.
We also had a cash reserve in the bank when our tragedy hit in 2007. We could afford to take some time off and not be stressed about paying our bills, but we also didn’t want to dip too heavily into the kitty either. A good rule of thumb is to keep at least three to six months of what you need to pay the bills in easily-accessible accounts (meaning your funds are not tied up in IRAs, or investments with withdrawal penalties).
9. Seek help when you need it.
I began getting back “out there” at networking events and it wasn’t all good. At a women in business networking event, everyone attending had to get up in front of the entire group and talk about their business and family. I did fine on the business part, but when I got to the family part I cried and felt embarrassed. The reality was that I had spent so much time tending to everyone else and their needs in all of this — that somewhere deep inside I had forgotten to take care of myself. I found help with a therapist and the peer support of other gold star families.
Life can change in an instant and right now we may all feel like we are living in a state of perpetual crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Making some preparations — whether it involves getting your finances or insurance in order, keeping your records and contact lists straight, or being flexible and taking care of yourself — can give you stability and boost your peace of mind.