Everyone goes through tough times, and taking care of each other is part of what it means to be an American. This year, holiday volunteering is a little trickier than usual. With COVID-19 cases rising nationwide, many in-person volunteering opportunities have been adapted or put on hold. That said, the need for generosity and support is higher this year than it has been in decades.
Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to help without leaving the house, and others that are simple and low-risk. These are a few of the safest, most impactful options to lend a helping hand in 2020.
1. Donate to Toys for Tots
Due to the economic impact of COVID-19, there are more families facing financial hardship than ever. This loss is felt more keenly than usual around the holidays, so Toys for Tots steps in to help. The charity has donated 584 million toys to date, and donating this year is easier than ever. Through their virtual donation page, you can donate a toy in just a few clicks.
2. Donate blood
While this one isn’t virtual and may not be recommended for those at high risk, donating blood is a way to give back that’s truly lifesaving. There’s always a need, and it takes less than an hour at a Red Cross blood drive location near you. If you’ve already had COVID and have since fully recovered, you can also donate plasma to help other patients get fight the illness.
3. Donate supplies to shelters
Shelters aren’t immune to the pandemic, nor the annual cold and flu season. Donating supplies is a low-risk way to help the homeless this Christmas. Frequently needed supplies include:
PPEs- Gloves, surgical masks, and goggles,
Cleaning supplies and garbage bags
Fever-reducing OTC medications like Tylenol
Linens- Towels, sheets, blankets, etc
Foods and hydrating fluids- Instant soups, teas, Pedialyte, Jell-O
Contact shelters in your area to review current donation policies and check which items they need the most.
4. Deliver food to seniors
While volunteering in senior centers is limited in most areas, you can still help by bringing older folks hot meals! Meals on Wheels delivers food to both seniors living on their own and those living in centers to help them maintain their independence and reduce their risk of injury or illnesss.
Since the elderly are at higher risk of developing complications from COVID-19, less trips to the grocery store mean fewer changes to get sick. You can help either by volunteering to deliver meals, or by donating to help support the program.
5. Volunteer virtually
If you prefer adding a more personal connection to your charity efforts, virtual volunteer options are a great option. If you have skills that can be offered virtually, consider donating your services. Offer virtual tutoring, music lessons, therapy, or any other special skills you’d like to share! Volunteer Match can help match you with opportunities that are good fit.
Even if you don’t have any virtual services to offer, you can help by volunteering for support call centers. Soldiers’ Angels has countless ways that families can give back to the military community all year round.
6. Adopt a family
Perhaps the most personal way to help this Christmas is by “adopting” a family. You connect with a family in need, preferably with children close in age to your own, find out what they’d like for Christmas, and make their holiday dreams come true. To get paired with a family, contact your local branch of the YMCA or Salvation Army.
For the past few years, both Army and Navy break out with new uniforms to honor some aspect of their service or academy heritage during the much-anticipated Army-Navy Game. The 2019 game will feature the Black Knights honoring the 1st Cavalry Division with their uniforms while Navy is wearing throwback unis reminiscent of the days of Navy legend Roger Staubach – who will surely be in attendance.
While it’s cool to see all the thought and effort that goes into making one of college football’s biggest rivalries an epic game, not all of the uniforms were on target. Here are a few of the all-time best.
6. Navy’s 2013 “Don’t Give Up The Ship”
These majestic blue and gold digs honored not only the traditions and history of the Naval Academy but also included a traditional design with a historical, entirely relevant message underneath the uniform. Navy didn’t give up the ship, beating Army 34-7.
5. Army’s 2012 “1944” Tribute
This year, Army sported black and gold uniforms that honored its World War II heritage, incorporating real-world battle maps of the 1944 Battle of the Bulge. Their helmets this year also featured the black spade logo to honor the 101st Airborne Division. But badass uniforms were not enough to beat Navy, who won 17-13.
4. Navy’s 2015 Ship Helmets
While Navy’s uniforms this year may be par-for-the course college football jerseys, each helmet was specifically painted with a different kind of ship in the Navy’s fleet. Ranked Navy beat Army 21-17.
3. Army’s 2017 10th Mountain White-Outs
Almost as if Army predicted the weather, the Black Knights’ 2017 all-white tribute to the 10th Mountain Division came when the game was pretty much played in the middle of a snowstorm. Army topped Navy 14-13.
2. Navy’s 2019 Staubach-Era Throwbacks
Yes, it may seem unfair to add this year’s Navy uniform to the list, but choosing to honor the Staubach-era Navy team by wearing a throwback to their uniforms is a thoughtful touch for the aging “Comeback Kid,” who will turn 78 in 2020. Staubach led the Mids to numerous come-from-behind victories, including over vaunted rival Notre Dame. The Heisman Trophy-winner then led the team to the 1964 National Championship, but fell to number one Texas in the Cotton Bowl.
1. Army’s 2018 “Big Red One” Uniforms
In 2018, the Black Knights honored the 100th Anniversary of the End of World War I with an homage to the 1st Infantry Division with these sweet black and red combo uniforms. I’m not saying this is why ranked Army topped Navy for the third year in a row, but I’m also not ruling it out.
Emails- They are the bane of our existence, but they are how we communicate in the modern world. Each day, military leaders clean out their inboxes only to have them fill back up within hours. Unfortunately, quantity doesn’t equal quality. Too often, the purpose of the email is buried, with the sender seeming to aim for length rather than substance. Unfortunately, many of these garbled messages create misalignment in organizations, waste time, money and in some extreme cases–lives.
Why does it matter? It matters because being able to effectively communicate through writing provides leaders and staff officers with understanding and the ability to act. Additionally, when we communicate efficiently, we give the person we’re communicating with time back to focus on other things besides reading emails or multi-page SITREPs.
Eighty years ago, Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill faced a similar problem. Every day he received a large volume of typed reports in his black box from his War Cabinet. And as he pointed out in a 1940 memorandum titled BREVITY, “Nearly all of [the reports] are too long. This wastes time, while energy has to be spent in looking for the essential points.”
Fortunately for us, Sir Winston offered his staff four tips that can help us improve our communication skills today.
The aim should be reports which set out the main points in a series of short, crisp paragraphs
If a report relies on a detailed analysis of some complicated factors, or on statistics, these should be set out in an Appendix.
Often the occasion is best met by submitting not a full-dress report, but an aide-memoire consisting of headings only, which can be expanded orally if needed.
Let us have an end to such phrases as these: “It is also important to bear in mind the following considerations…..” or “Consideration should be given to the possibility of carrying into effect……” Most of these wooly phrases are mere padding, which can be left out altogether, or replaced by a single word. Let us not shrink from using the short expressive phrase, even if it is conversationalized.
Less is more. When writing emails, brevity is better. A long email can overcomplicate an issue and your main message may get lost in the process.
I’ve learned that it is best to open emails with one or two sentences that describe the purpose of your correspondence. It also helps to let them know upfront if you are telling them for awareness or if you want them to make a decision. When you do it well, you don’t need to write the letters “BLUF” because it will be inherent. If you have suspense, include it upfront. And then end your paragraph there.
So as many of us spend the next several weeks working from home, let us take a page from Churchill’s notebook.
Members of the military who have long been barred by law from collecting damages from the federal government for injuries off the battlefield will finally be able to do so after Congress stepped in to amend the law.
The legislation represents progress for injured service members – but still limits who among them may press for damages.
Up until the end of World War II, the U.S. government enjoyed “sovereign immunity,” a vestige of British rule when “the king could do no wrong” and the government could not be sued.
But in 1946, faced with the prospect of World War II veterans returning from the front only to be hit and killed in an accident on base, Congress enacted the Federal Tort Claims Act. Congress felt that it was only fair to allow people to recover damages for personal injury from the government when the government was negligent or irresponsible about caring for people’s safety.
There were exceptions. Certainly Congress could not allow a soldier – or his family – to sue the government if, due to the orders of a superior officer, he were wounded or killed in battle. So the Federal Tort Claims Act prohibited suits by soldiers or sailors injured due to wartime combatant activities.
But later rulings limited servicemembers’ rights even more, in ways not suggested by the language of the act.
The first of these was a case filed by the surviving family members of a soldier. Lt. Rudolph Feres was a decorated World War II veteran who had parachuted into Normandy on D-Day. He survived that battle and others through the end of the war only to return to the U.S. and die in a barracks fire caused, according to his wife, by the explosion of a boiler known to be faulty.
Feres’ widow also claimed that no fire guard had been posted on the fateful night. Joined to the case were two soldiers who claimed malpractice by army surgeons.
The court decided that the existing benefits scheme for military deaths and injuries was ample and denied the claims. To the further chagrin of the Feres family, the controversial ruling took on the name the “Feres Doctrine.”
Cases sustaining Feres expressed the concern that allowing civilian courts to intervene in cases of this type would interfere with military discipline. Thus, the court declared that soldiers could not sue the government for damages for negligently caused injuries “incident to service,” even if they did not involve combat.
All of these rulings meant that anyone who had the misfortune of getting hurt while on active duty, even if it wasn’t in combat, could never sue for damages – while if the same person had gotten hurt on the job as a civilian, they would have had that right.
This disfavored treatment for servicemen was underscored in the aftermath of the space shuttle Challenger explosion, during which families of civilian crew members were able to file lawsuits against the government, but the family of the pilot who was a Navy captain on active duty could not.
The Feres Doctrine were therefore seen by many as unfair. Others, like the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, criticized Feres because of its departure from the plain language of the Federal Tort Claims Act, which limits the exclusion to wartime “combatant activities.” Still others believe that Feres fails to hold the military accountable for the kind of mistakes for which others are required to pay damages.
The Feres Doctrine nevertheless has continued to hold sway, with the Supreme Court refusing to reconsider the doctrine as recently as May 2019. Justice Clarence Thomas, in a dissent from the court’s denial of certiorari in that case, Daniel v. United States, paraphrased Justice Scalia in stating that “Feres was wrongly decided and heartily deserves the widespread, almost universal criticism it has received.”
In 1950, speaking for the Supreme Court in the Feres case, Justice Robert Jackson admitted, “If we misinterpret the Act, at least Congress possesses a ready remedy.” That “ready remedy” finally came almost seventy years later, due to the persistence of a soldier suffering from terminal cancer.
Green Beret goes to Congress
Sergeant First Class Richard Stayskal is a former Green Beret and wounded Iraq veteran whose military health providers missed a 3-centimeter mass in one of his lungs on a CT scan.
After military physicians repeatedly attributed his health problems to asthma or pneumonia, Sgt. Stayskal learned from a civilian pulmonologist that he actually had stage 4 lung cancer. Sgt. Stayskal continues to receive treatment for his cancer, although he says it is deemed incurable.
But Sgt. Stayskal was barred by Feres from pursuing a malpractice case in court.
So Stayskal enlisted the support of California Congresswoman Jackie Speier, a Democrat, who introduced a bill to allow current and former service personnel to bring medical malpractice claims against government health providers.
A compromise version of the bill was incorporated into the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2020. Adding the bill into a “must-pass” piece of defense legislation assured its passage. It was passed by both houses of Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support. President Trump signed the measure into law on Dec. 20, 2019.
Cup only half-full
The new law does not cover everyone. A lawsuit like the original Feres case, by the survivors of someone who perished in a barracks fire, would still not be allowed. That’s because the legislation only allows claims by those who allege to have been victims of medical malpractice by military health care providers.
And claims cannot be brought in federal court, as is normally the case under the Federal Tort Claims Act. Rather, they must be pursued through a Defense Department administrative procedure under regulations that the Department of Defense is required to draft.
Research suggests that most claimants don’t care whether their cases are decided through a court, an administrative procedure or even mediation. Rather, they care about having a respectful hearing in which a third party has carefully considered their views, concerns and evidence.
Those who worked to pass this legislation will likely scrutinize the Defense Department’s regulations and procedures to see whether such a forum has been provided.
American warships are capable, lethal, and imposing, so much so that it can be easy to forget that they are still just lumps of metal floating through highly damaging saltwater while running at high power as hundreds or thousands of sailors prowl their decks.
Here’s how sailors make sure that all the sailing, work, and seawater doesn’t doom the ship before it can shoot its way through enemy fleets:
Hull Maintenance Technician 2nd Class Ryann Galbraith brazes piping aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt.
(U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Michael Hogan)
One of the most important parts, besides avoiding enemy missiles and shells, obviously, is making sure that the saltwater stays in the ocean and doesn’t get inside the ship. That’s why the Navy has hull maintenance technicians like Ryann Galbraith, above. They work on all the plumbing, decks, structures, and hulls, patching, welding, riveting, etc. to keep fluids and steam in dedicated pipes.
U.S. Navy divers, assigned to Southwest Regional Maintenance Center, drop a cofferdam into the water prior to performing underwater hull maintenance on the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer.
(U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Trevor Welsh)
Of course, the hull itself can be vulnerable, accumulating barnacles and other sea life and rusting from the exposure to water and salt. To deal with this, the Navy sends sailors around the ship, often in small boats, to touch up paint or clean off risky accumulations. Also, they send divers under the water to clean the hull and perform more maintenance.
Chief Fire Controlman Ryan Pavelich and Fire Controlman 2nd Class Robin Norris inspect the closed-in weapons system on the USS Wayne E. Meyer.
(U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kelsey L. Adams)
But the ship also needs to be able to hit back if it comes under attack, and weapons like the Phalanx close-in weapons system allow it to knock the enemy’s missiles and other airborne threats out of the sky. But, you guessed it, all those moving parts and sensitive electronics need a lot of maintenance as well.
Wires fray, parts wear out, electronics degrade. Fire control sailors make sure their weapons will protect the ship when called upon.
Chief Machinist Mate Benjamin Carnes and Gas Turbine Systems Technician 1st Class Johnathan Hovinga make final inspections in preparation to start the main engines on the littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth.
(U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Antonio P. Turretto Ramos)
The maintenance can get a lot more complicated when you go inside the ship. The engines on Navy ships, whether fueled by diesel, gasoline, or nuclear, are pretty complicated. They need to be regularly inspected, pumps and belts have to get replaced, oil and other fluids need to be changed.
And that’s all if everything goes according to plan. When engines experience a real breakdown, it can necessitate people crawling through the engine or the ship getting towed into port for drydock maintenance. So, doing the maintenance is worth the effort.
Gas Turbine System Technician Fireman Steven Garris, from Youngsville, Pennsylvania, changes a burner barrel to prevent soot build up in a boiler aboard amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard.
(U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Diana Quinlan)
But Navy engines actually have a lot of maintenance needs with few civilian equivalents. The sailor above is changing out the burner barrel on an amphibious assault ship. Do any of your vehicles have burner barrels? Mine don’t. And few people need specially trained staff to keep their nuclear reactors from poisoning the passengers.
Onboard USS Wasp, Petty Officer 2nd Class Jarrod Prouse conducts repairs on the handle of a Collective Protective System hatch.
(U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Rebekah Adler)
Other routine maintenance on ships is much more sensitive and demanding as well. Navy ships have doors that need to be welded properly, or else lethal substances could leak through when the ship is in a chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear environment.
Hull Maintenance Technician 2nd Class Alexander Fleischer, from Crystal Lake, Ill., assigned to the submarine tender USS Frank Cable, welds a gusset while performing repairs to the cradle of a crane aboard the ship.
(U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Heather C. Wamsley)
By the way, there are so, so many pictures online of sailors welding. That’s not surprising since ships are made of metal and that metal needs to be repaired. But still, so many pictures. This particular one shows a hull maintenance technician repairing a crane cradle on a submarine tender.
Aviation Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class Scott Skeate, Aviation Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class Darryl Johnson, Aviation Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class Luke Hart, and Airman Apprentice Mccord Brickle perform maintenance on a waist catapult shuttle on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz.
(U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jacob Milner)
Most Navy ships have specialty systems not seen on civilian vessels or even on most other vessels of the fleet. For instance, carriers have catapults that, except for the USS Gerald R. Ford, are powered by steam. The catapults have to be repaired as parts wear out, and they have to be carefully calibrated even when everything is working properly.
Every day, scores of US military commands reach millions with posts aimed to inform and inspire: videos of valor, motivational photos, and, yes, puppy pics.
The military has codified the rules for managing these official accounts. But sometimes these social-media pros flub it — even the four-star command responsible for the US’s nuclear weapons.
Here’s a blooper reel of some of the military’s most embarrassing and dumb social-media mistakes since 2016.
A still image from a video posted by US Strategic Command.
(US Strategic Command)
1. ‘#Ready to drop something much, much bigger’
US Strategic Command, which oversees the US’s nuclear arsenal, ringed in 2019 with a reminder that they’re ready, at any time, to start a nuclear war.
Playing off the image of the ball dropping in New York City’s Times Square, STRATCOM’s official account posted a tweet that included a clip of a B-2 dropping bombs. The command apologized for the message.
The A-10 Thunderbolt is armed with a 30mm cannon that fires so rapidly that the crack of each bullet blends into a thundering sound.
(US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Corey Hook)
In May 2018, the internet was debating whether the word heard on a short audio recording was “Yanny” or “Laurel.” Then the US Air Force joined the debate, referring to a recent strike on Taliban.
“The Taliban Forces in Farah city #Afghanistan would much rather have heard #Yanny or #Laurel than the deafening #BRRRT they got courtesy of our #A10,” the official US Air Force Twitter account said.
The A-10 gunship carries a fearsome 30mm cannon used to destroy buildings, shred ground vehicles, and kill insurgents. It can fire so rapidly — nearly 3,900 rounds a minute — that the sound of each bullet is indistinguishable from the previous one, blending into a thundering “BRRRT.”
The US Air Force apologized for the tweet and deleted it, acknowledging it was in “poor taste.”
Mindy Kaling’s joke briefly got some props from the US Army.
2020 was not great. We’ve been shut in and locked down with nowhere to go and little to do. Thankfully, our essential master distillers and whiskey workers kept calm and carried on, releasing some amazing bottles of bourbon, scotch, and rye that we can enjoy in the confines of our own homes. Of course, the usual hyper-limited editions came and went this year, snapped up the moment they hit the shelf, often at 10x the retail price. But in 2020 there were still plenty of new stellar whiskey releases, bottles that are more reasonable and accessible. That’s why you won’t find any impossible to find bottles on this list (minus, well, a few exceptions). What you will find are what we think is the best whiskey of 2020, from long-aged scotches to new expressions of tried-and-true bourbons.
This jaw-dropping bourbon is still available on shelves here and there but you may have to do a bit of searching to find a bottle. Bottled in bond means the whiskey has to be whiskey from a single distiller, barreled in one season, aged at minimum four years and entered the bottle at 100 proof. This vintage did an even longer stint. Seventeen years in the wood helped create a wonderfully complex bourbon. There are notes of vanilla, toffee, and sassafras as well as a punch of oak and a pulsing cherry that this a whiskey to sip slowly and savor. $200.00
One of our favorite annual releases, this years is an impressive bottle. Four Roses master distiller Brent Elliot hand selected four batches, two 12 year olds, one 16 year and one 19, from four different bourbon recipes to blend together a brilliant whiskey. It fruity, rich and spicy with subtle oak. This bourbon clocks in around 111.3 proof, so we like it neat, but it can handle a drop or two of water. $220.00
To celebrate the brand’s 150th anniversary, the folks at Old Forester created this special edition that knocked our socks off. Master distiller Chris Morris selected 150 barrels and from those master distiller Jackie Zykan created three different batches, each meant to amplify traditional Old Forester flavors. While all three batches are highly sought after, Batch 1 is a fruit bomb that will shock and awe your palate. Loaded up with apple, pear, and apricot, the whiskey finds its balance against a plume of spice and a herbal peppermint. Old Forester founder George Garvin Brown would be proud. $540.00
Okay. We lied, this 16 year old Russell’s Reserve 2003 is basically impossible to find*. But master distiller Eddie Russell knocked this limited offering so far out of the park, we had to pay it a little tribute. Sweet sixteen years ensconced in oak gave this bourbon a dark hue and rich layers of smoke. At 89.5 proof, it’s a sweet and spicy mouthful awash in caramel, vanilla, leather and tobacco that’s worth a bit of a quest. $250.00
While the folks at Beam-Suntory also dropped a stellar 15 year old Knob Creek as a limited edition this year, the brand’s 12 year grabbed our attention and prominent spot on our bar thanks not only to its depth but also its accessibility and more modest price point. For around $60 this is a bottle with quite a bit of wow factor for your taste buds. Big traditional notes of caramel, vanilla and spice but the extra three years in the barrel compared to the standard bearing nine year, have added enhanced balance and created a deeper more luxuriant mouthful. $58.00
A new addition to the Ardbeg core range, Wee Beastie displays a shocking amount of depth for a single malt only aged a short five years. It’s an excellent Islay whisky and currently one of the most affordable to emerge from the island. After a quick stint in both ex-bourbon and Oloroso sherry casks is already loaded up with a deep chocolate flavor, licorice, salt and pepper, a heap of peaty smoke and traditional Islay medicinal notes make Wee Beastie a helluva dram. $120.00
Port-finished whisky can be a bit of a sticky wicket. If the spirit sits too long, the wine flavors overpower the whisky. If it doesn’t rest long enough, the experience can be fairly middling. Thankfully, Rachel Barrie and her team at GlenDronach got this one just right. Port Wood takes the brand’s Highland spirit — aged in Pedro Ximénez and Oloroso sherry casks — and builds more flavors through another maturation cycle in port pipes from the Douro Valley in Portugal. The result is an exquisitely fruity dram, balanced by pungent baking spices and toasty wood. $90.00
When we heard the name, we thought this latest drop from Glenmorangie was going to be an overly sweet and cloying marketing gimmick. But second guessing Dr. Bill Lumsden and company is a fool’s errand. Glenmorangie Cake is in fact quite divine. A lovely heat gently radiates the palate, while flashes of peanut butter, shortbread, coconut cream pie and a hint of pineapple sparkle through a lingering pear syrup with a weighty toasted nutty finish. It’s just weird enough to make a great whisky. $120.00
Islay maker Bruichladdich is probably best known for their wicked peat bombs in the Octomore series, but they do make some un-peated expressions as well, including their delicious house style Classic Laddie and their annual release Black Art. This year’s edition, 08.1 was barreled way back in 1994 and while it’s objectively an expensive bottle, it’s actually not ridiculously priced for a 26 year old single malt. Black Art is a delectably complex whisky, and while it did more than two and a half decades in the barrel, the oak is gentle texture soft and supple. Sweet notes a la vanilla, fruit, and caramel dance around tobacco, spice and dried herbs, making every sip incredibly luxurious. $550.00
Given the chance, we think Wild Turkey Rare Breed Rye, could quickly become a go to for many rye enthusiasts. While the rye portion of the mash bill is only 51% it’s still packs a good dose of spice. It’s barrel proof, uncut at 112.2 proof, giving it a pleasant intensity and loads of flavors like caramel, fruit, biscuits and mellow saltwater taffy note that lead to a spicy, peppery finish. $72.00
One of the most interesting, recent ideas in whiskey, Pinhook’s Vertical Series took 450 MGP rye barrels and is releasing them as they age from four to twelve years, so consumers can track the evolution of flavors with time. The four year rye, concocted by master taster Sean Josephs, is a phenomenal whiskey. It’s a high rye, 95% with 5% malted barley, spirit that after only four short years in wood is already, fruity, spicy, complex and balanced. We can’t wait to see what another year, and the next eight, in the barrels yields. $50.00
The Little Book series is, in part, the passion project of Freddie Noe, the eighth in his line to craft whiskey at Beam. Each drop has been extraordinarily successful both in terms of sales and as a quality whiskey. The fourth release, “Lessons Honored” is a tribute to his father master distiller Fred Noe. A blend of a 4-year-old Kentucky Straight Brown Rice Bourbon, 8-year-old Kentucky Straight “high rye” Rye Whiskey and a 7-year-old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, “Lessons Honored” is a robust glass. Clocking in at 122.8 proof, a splash of water mitigates the heat but won’t mitigate the spice that finds balance against lush fruit, caramel, and vanilla. $204.00
Michter’s limited releases tend to sell out in short order but we have still seen a few of the 2020 Toasted Barrel Strength Barrel Finish Ryes on the shelf, so if you see one snap it up. The brand uses two different barrels to make this expression, a traditionally charred new American oak variety and then a second more lightly “toasted” one made from 2 year air dried wood. The result is a complex and intense whiskey laden with caramel, cherry, brown butter and of course spice with a finish that will take any rye lover straight to their happy place. $280.00
Every troop should be proud of their service. From the gung-ho infantryman to the admin clerk, everyone should take pride in being a tiny cog in the giant gears that keep this country safe. While you’ll be hard-pressed to find troops in service wearing branch-specific clothing while off-duty (the uniform is good enough), most troops sport some kind of decal on their car.
There’re many practical reasons for this — the most obvious being that police officers tend to be more lenient about minor traffic infractions (this works better the further away from post you are), but it can also be an effective conversation starter with other troops and veterans.
But the type of moto car decal you sport (or don’t) says more about you than you might think. So, what’s on your car?
There’s also the chance that it’s a new car and they just haven’t found the right moto sticker yet.
(Photo by Dan Ox)
At the very beginning of the list is the troop that just isn’t into all the hype. This troop will probably serve for one or two contracts, PCS to Fort Couch, and pick some sort of functional college degree path.
If your ride is devoid of decals, you’re probably not really into getting drunk with the guys in the barracks and would much rather stay at home and play video games or spend time with the family. Every four-day weekend, you’re nowhere to be seen because you’re off pretending you’re not in the military. And, honestly? No one else in the unit noticed.
There’s a 35% chance that all of this troop’s best stories about being in the military involve just tagging along with some grunts who are doing cool stuff.
Or you can cut out the middle man and get a veteran license plate. These are actually pretty cool when you get the paperwork filled out for one.
(New York State Department of Motor Vehicles)
Small, yet classy branch decal near the license plate
You did your part and you are a low-key badass. You don’t need to overdo things, but you’re proud of what you’ve done. Maybe you were the quiet infantryman who handled business. Maybe you were the platoon sergeant who took great pride in looking after your Joes.
You don’t need to brag. Your stories are probably told and exaggerated by other people — and you don’t correct them, you just smile and enjoy.
There’s a 73% chance that your stories are actually more interesting than anyone else’s at the bar.
It’s only a matter of time before we start seeing these stickers rolling through the stargate.
(Meme via Private News Network)
Military spouse stickers
Let’s be clear up front: This list item isn’t about the military spouses themselves — they’re safe from ridicule. This one’s for the dead-eyed troop who drives the family minivan to work.
You were once this mighty badass that struck fear into the hearts of your enemies. Now your life consists of making quick runs to the grocery store just so you can have a smoke without your wife yelling at you and maybe finally get the damn theme song of Paw Patrol out of your f*cking head.
There’s a 0.3% chance that you’ll let your troops go home by 1700 because you’d rather not face the family just yet.
Chances are also high that if you’ve blocked out your rear-view window, you’re probably layering on more than one sticker.
(Image via RallyPoint)
One single, large-as-f*ck decal that blocks out the rear-view mirror
By this stage, all sense of normalcy has been abandoned. Once you go full hooah, there’s no turning back — embrace it.
Your eyes are always ahead of you because there’s no way in hell you can look back. There are many different types of decals that range partially transparent, so you can actually drive properly, to the fully opaque Eagle, Globe, and Anchor that prevents you from seeing the red and blue lights of the cop that’s going to pull you over.
There’s a 50% chance that the other side of your rear-view decal has a gun rack — even if it’s on a Honda Accord.
I get the ribbon rack and the rank you reached when you retired, but it’s assumed that, at one point, you were a butter bar and a private. We get it.
(Meme via Popular Military)
Your complete military record
You’ve put everything you’ve ever done in the military on full display for the world to enjoy. Just showcasing your rank, unit insignia, and maybe a prestigious medal or two isn’t enough for you. You’re willing to spend hours searching online for that NATO Kosovo medal decal just to let everyone know that you went there one time.
The only thing more impressive than your military career is the amount of dedication you have to telling everyone about it.
There’s a 99.9% chance that you’ll start a conversation with, “as a veteran, I…”
To be fair, you can become internet famous, just like the “Moto as F*ck Marine Truck” guy.
(Meme via r/USMC)
Every single sticker your branch has ever sponsored to the point where you can’t see any of the original paint
You served and, goddammit, you’re going to let everyone know! There won’t be a shadow of a doubt in anyone’s mind when you roll up (blasting Free Bird, of course) that you wrote a check for everything up to and including your life — even if you’re just pulling into the company area on post.
Everyone should bask in all of your veteran glory. It is, frankly, an insult that you can’t get a 10% discount on all seventy-nine military bumper stickers you ordered on Amazon (because you’ve already bought out the stock at your local AutoZone).
There’s a 84.9% chance that you consider wall-to-wall counseling a legitimate method of training troops.
An enlisted leader is proving the Coast Guard’s reach extends far beyond America’s coastlines.
Bahrain is the epicenter of the Combined Maritime Forces — a partnership comprised of 33 different nations dedicated to combating terrorism and piracy, while promoting maritime safety. Command Master Chief Lucas Pullen, the first Coast Guard member to hold a senior enlisted leadership role for a coalition force, serves as its liaison. The decision to put him in that position instead of a sailor was done purposefully, he says.
Since the CMF operates as a part of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, a coastie brings objectivity, Pullen explained. In the midst of extensive Navy operations, him being in the Coast Guard more clearly defines his position and role.
“With this there are no blurred lines on who does what, I am able to specifically make sure things are working for the coalition side of things,” Pullen said.
The Oklahoma-native enlisted in the Coast Guard in 1998 to become a Boatswain’s Mate, a rating that is the operational core of almost every mission. After completing basic training, he was assigned to Small Boat Station South Padre Island, Texas, according to his official biography. As an operator, he gained experience “in maritime law enforcement to include fisheries, counter-narcotics, and counter-migrant operations, as well as search and rescue, and maritime security operations.”
Pullen’s extensive 22-year Coast Guard career prepared him for his new role as the senior enlisted leader of the CMF. He now works directly with senior military leaders from the multi-national partnership to promote security and stability across 3.2 million square miles of international waters.
“As a command master chief, one of my main jobs is the people and their families,” he said.
Working directly with members of the coalition has been an incredible experience, Pullen added. He described a typical day as starting with sharing Arabic coffee with a Kuwaiti leader and ending with tea and scones with the British. He loves the diversity and continuous ability to learn from the other nations’ military leaders, he said, also expressing his position in Bahrain will serve him well for further Coast Guard positions, although none will probably be as unique and involved.
Prior to Bahrain, the Pullen family was stationed in Guam — a duty station the kids did not want to leave. Marcy Pullen, who has moved 10 times with her husband, didn’t initially think she and the couple’s children would be eligible to PCS to Bahrain. It is typically an unaccompanied tour but a waiver changed that.
Photo courtesy of Candice Baker.
“I didn’t hesitate, I said let’s go,” she said.
Her husband praised his family’s resiliency and strength. Their oldest son, Tucker, is 17 and about to start college. If he attends the same college all four years, it’ll be the longest he’s ever lived anywhere.
Adjusting to life in Bahrain has included a unique set of experiences for the family, due to the political influence, culture, and customs. Seated to their left could be a fellow military kid while on their right, a Saudi Arabian royal.
Sixteen-year-old Cheyenne shared her struggle with not being able to just go explore or do things independently off base because it isn’t safe, especially for girls. Bahrain is a very conservative country where most women are either hidden or extensively covered when in public. But Levi, 13, also says there’s some good to being a military kid in Bahrain.
“I loved getting to do new things like learning how to play cricket with the Australian military kids. You get all of these amazing experiences that are out of the way and interesting,” he said.
All of the kids did agree on one thing: the food is amazing. One of their favorite things to eat is Baklava, a sweet dessert dish made with nuts and honey.
Pullen also credits the Coast Guard with preparing his family for such a unique assignment in the Middle East.
“Our quality of life thought process is very different from the other branches. I think we are very resilient as a service because we go into these remote locations without big military bases. We pick up all the military challenges without the resources there to support us,” he explained.
Marcy Pullen echoes his sentiment, reflecting on how hard it was as a new Coast Guard spouse and mom. She takes those lessons and experiences with her, using what she’s learned to help all military families who may be struggling to adjust to life in Bahrain.
Lucas and Mary Pullen Photo courtesy of Candice Baker.
With one year left in Bahrain, travel remains high at the top of their bucket list — though COVID-19 and tensions overseas have heavily restricted movement. As the Pullen family reflected on their journey, they agreed each move has brought new lessons and memories. They eagerly anticipate their next Coast Guard adventure that can take them anywhere.
There is a very robust veteran community within the entertainment industry. Veterans in Media and Entertainment is a nonprofit networking organization that unites current and former members of the military working in the film and television industry. The Writers Guild Foundation has a year-long writing program for veterans. And hey, We Are The Mighty is a company founded on a mission to capture, empower, and celebrate the voice of today’s military community.
The military community makes up a small percentage of Americans, but plays a global — and exceptionally challenging — role. It makes sense that many veterans have stories to tell. Not all of those stories are about their military experiences, but many are. Hollywood loves a good hero story, but there’s more to the military than those few moments of bravery.
The military is a mind f*** unique lifestyle, one that does involve war and sacrifice, but also really weird laws and random adventures — and in a Post-9/11 world, we are now seeing an influx of veterans ready to dissect that world.
Enter Xanthe Pajarillo.
“Veteran narratives are begging for more diversity. When our representation in the media is limited to war heroes or trauma victims, it creates a skewed portrait of who service members are,” said Pajarillo, the creator of Airmen, a web series that explores the dynamics of queerness, romantic/workplace relationships, and being a person of color in the Air Force during peacetime operations. It emphasizes the unshakable bonds and relationships that veterans make during their time in service.
U.S. Marine Corps veteran Chloe Mondesir, who will play Airman 1st Class Mercedes Magat.
It’s important to recognize that there is much more to military service than what is traditionally portrayed in film and television (which tends to be the rare stories of heroism in battle and/or the traumatic effects of war).
American society has placed heroes on a pedestal, which is a very high standard to meet for our troops — and one that often involves a life-threatening circumstance. Not every troop will see combat (this is a good thing… but we don’t always feel that way when other members of our team are shouldering the burdens of war), and even those who do engage in battle but live when others die experience survivor’s guilt and symptoms of trauma.
It’s time to tell the reality of military service: the warrior’s tale, yes, but more importantly, the stories of the humans living their lives while wearing the uniform.
“Ultimately, I created Airmen to help bridge the gap between civilians and veterans. The characters are active duty, but their experiences are universal. We are complex individuals with successes, failures, and insecurities just like everyone else. I hope when someone watches the show – civilian or veteran – they’ll feel less alone in the world,” says Pajarillo.
Which is exactly what Airmen is setting out to do — and now the series is ready for the next stage of production, beginning with a campaign at SeedSpark, a platform designed to change the entertainment industry to reflect the world we actually live in.
When Army Veteran Corrin Lee Mac heard of the Lebanon VA Medical Center and Lebanon Valley College’s The Seeing Lens group, she thought the idea was “far-fetched.” The 10-week therapeutic photography group is for Veterans in recovery. However, as Mac–pictured above–went through the program, she discovered that it worked for her. “It promotes mindfulness. Looking through the lens, this second in time, you are here in the moment.”
Veterans who participate in The Seeing Lens are issued a camera and textbook for duration of the program. Each week focuses on a different aspect of recovery and ties it to a photographic technique. For example, clarity and attention are linked with the concepts of aperture and depth of field.
Members of the inaugural group had their photos displayed in an exhibit at Lebanon Valley College and the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. The exhibit will return to Lebanon VAMC later this year.
Graduates gathered at the college to talk about the impact the program and the exhibit had on their lives.
“Every Veteran can experience it in their own way, but something that would be in common between Veterans was the supportive nature of it, the non-judgmental atmosphere, ” said Army Veteran Robin Ann Pottoroff.
You are more thoughtful and creative.
“It makes you slow down and look at the world in a different way,” said Navy Veteran Mike Robertson. “You are more thoughtful and creative. It calms a racing brain.”
Lebanon VAMC recreation therapist Amy Cook, a founder of the program, was struck by “really seeing what the camera can do as a recovery tool. Once the Veteran picked up the camera, it was life-changing.”
Project alumni suggested that other Veterans in recovery give The Seeing Lens a try.
“Give it a shot. It worked for me,” said Navy Veteran Patrick Dougherty. “And I was the most negative person, a naysayer. So if it helped me, it can pretty much help anyone.”
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
Taking care of others, and showing love and appreciation for others, is a core reason why retired Maj. Dennis “DJ” Skelton chose to stay in the Army. He continued to serve for 21 years, even after suffering grievous wounds during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004.
Skelton told his story to a large crowd of soldiers, veterans, and Army civilians during the “Why We Serve” ceremony hosted by the Army’s chief information officer/G-6, Sept. 5. During the event, 30 young men and women from the Baltimore and Richmond areas raised their right hand to take the Oath of Enlistment.
“I was kind of a punk kid growing up in a small farming community in South Dakota,” he said. “I barely graduated high school and had absolutely no discipline whatsoever, which is why I had a hard time holding down a job.”
Shortly after getting expelled from the University of South Dakota, Skelton eventually found his way to an Army recruiting office. A year later he was sent to training at Monterey, California, to learn Chinese at the Defense Language Institute.
Retired Maj. Dennis “DJ” Skelton shared his story to a large crowd of soldiers, veterans, and Army civilians during a “Why We Serve” ceremony, Sept. 5, 2019.
(Courtesy photo Maj. Dennis DJ Skelton)
At one point, two officers pulled Skelton aside and asked him, “‘Why are you here?'” Skelton looked up and couldn’t answer the question, he said.
Instead of turning Skelton away, the two officers decided to take an opportunity to encourage the young private. They encouraged him to become an Army officer.
“That was the first time in my life that I had been pulled aside by someone that looked at me from a distance and chose to spend some extra time with someone they did not know. They saw something in me that I didn’t see,” Skelton said.
Skelton eventually made it to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. After graduation, he moved to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington. Not long after his arrival, he was told to prepare for a deployment in Iraq.
“I remember sitting on the tarmac waiting for the plane to load up,” he said. “No one in my unit has ever [deployed] before. I remember standing in front of my platoon — naive — and I looked at those family members and said, “‘I promise you this: I will bring all of your sons and daughters home.'”
Two months later, Skelton was wounded and in a coma. One of his soldiers, “went through a volley of fire to drag my body through the kill zone,” during a battle in Fallujah, Skelton said emotionally.
Battling for his life, Skelton was flown back for treatment at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Maryland.
“This is 2004, and there was no Warrior Transition Unit. West Point professors, [and] enlisted soldiers that I served with found out that I was wounded and showed up at the hospital. They would cook food every night and delivered it to my parents, sister, and loved ones, because I couldn’t do that,” he said with sorrow.
Retired Maj. Dennis “DJ” Skelton discusses why he chose to stay in the Army after suffering grievous wounds during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004, during a “Why We Serve” ceremony at Fort Belvoir, Va., Sept. 5, 2019.
(Army CIO G6 photo)
A year later, Skelton was out of the hospital, and the Army was quick to start his medical evaluation board process. It was one thing to be injured, but the feeling of rejection and being told he no longer provided value to the Army felt worse, he said.
Skelton eventually convinced the Army to let him stay as he spent the next six years bouncing through various assignments.
“For six years, I did what everyone told me to do: ‘Be resilient.’ And for six years … what I learned is that I hate the word resilient more than any other word in the English language.”
To others, resilience is the measurement of time that it takes to get back to normal, Skelton added.
“For six years, I tried to get back to the point where I had two eyes [and] two limbs so I could go hunting, climbing, and fishing. That was a source of happiness. I want to go back to a time when I was not peppered with shrapnel so that I can look handsome again,” said Skelton, with sadness in his voice.
“The reality is we can’t; these negative things that happen to us are now forever part of us,” he said.
It took time, but Skelton eventually saw his injury as a source of his strength. Through it all, he recognized that each person brings value and worth to a team or organization, he said.
So to answer the question, ‘Why do I serve?’ I made a promise on a tarmac that I bring my soldiers home,” he said.
“Even though it took six years, I finally made my way back into the infantry. And even though it wasn’t [my same] platoon, I got to command the same company in which I was a platoon leader,” he said. “Some of my privates were now my NCOs. And I got to bring them back home.”
We love supporting veteran-owned businesses, especially when they give back to the community. Yesterday, Redline Steel founder and owner Colin Wayne took to Instagram with superstar Megan Fox to announce that this Memorial Day, they’ll be donating $2M worth of products to the military community. Keep reading to find how to claim yours.
[instagram https://www.instagram.com/tv/CAa15AQhLVr/?utm_source=ig_web_button_share_sheet expand=1]Colin Wayne on Instagram: “@meganfox / @redlinesteel and I partnered up to create a Memorial Piece and plan to donate over M in product for the month of May to…”
Colin Wayne on Instagram: “@meganfox / @redlinesteel and I partnered up to create a Memorial Piece and plan to donate over M in product
While this offer sounds extreme, serving the military community is embedded in who Wayne is. WATM sat down with Colin to talk about everything from his military career, his close encounter with death in Afghanistan, his pivot to creating home decor, lessons in entrepreneurship and what this community means to him.
WATM: Alright man. First question: Tell us how your military career started. Like the early stuff.
Wayne: It started with JROTC. And you know, most people would say it’s kind of nerdy, my brother — even he was a nerdy guy — but I loved, I did the Raider team because it was the Army side and I genuinely enjoyed it. I gave up sports to do all of that and a lot of my friends. I was criticized to a degree on that, but it was a tight knit bond. It was a good culture. We had a solid program. We had Colonel Walker, he was the O6 and then we had a first Sergeant Jones. Great examples, great leadership and that was kind of the early adaptive days of joining the military was through that.
I actually dropped out of high school and got my GED. I got held back in first grade, so I did first grade twice. I was already kind of older in my class. And then I got kicked out of my mom’s house. I wasn’t a bad kid, but I didn’t listen. I was stubborn by nature. And so she’d ground me and I’d just walk out the front door and be like, ‘Okay, mom,’ and just do whatever I wanted. The first thing that I ever had as a kid was, “I’ll do it myself.” And that’s was literally my first sentence ever that I put together is what my mom says was, “I’ll do it myself.” And so I’ve always had that mentality of that exact statement.
WATM: You dropped out of high school?
Wayne: I got kicked out of my mom’s, moved in with my dad. I was mid-junior year and I ended up going from block schedule to seven periods and it was going to hold me back an entire year. We didn’t find that out until midway through the semester. And at this point, I was just about to be 17. I didn’t want to be 19 years old and graduate high school. That sounds horrible. I didn’t like school as it was. And so I convinced my parents to emancipate me and ended up getting my GED and joining the military a few days after my 17th birthday.
Wayne: I enlisted as Military Police in 2006. When I graduated from AIT, for the military police school, OSUT training, I came back to my unit and I remember the first thing, me and my brother were both in the same unit. It was 128 Military Police Company. And we had a unit that was deployed to Iraq at that time. And this was in ’07 and there they were there from ’07 to ’08, but they needed a backfill — they had to backfill 10 slots. They needed 10 MPs and five medics. He was a medic. I was an MP. We both volunteered to go backfill, basically people that were severely wounded and injured.
That’s one of the first things that I remember as kind of an early private, volunteering to go to that. They ended up, I don’t know, maybe they pulled from another battalion to make up that info strength, but we ended up not going. And I ended up transitioning to another battalion and going to Egypt for Operation Brightstar about six months later.
That was an incredible deployment to Cairo, West Egypt. Civilian clothes the whole time. And I did a cruise on the Nile River, got to see the Sphinx, got to see the pyramids. We went shopping in some of the plazas there. We had to have Egyptian police escorts. And there’s a platoon of those guys, but we definitely stood out like a sore thumb. We still had to wear high and tights and shades. We definitely looked like we did not belong there.
WATM: Hilarious. Not to jump ahead here, but I do want to get to the Redline stuff. Was Afghanistan your next deployment?
Wayne: No, Iraq. Iraq in ’09 and ’10. And then Afghanistan 2012.
WATM: And you were wounded in Combat? Can you tell us a a little bit more about your injury, recovery, some of the struggles that you had and how that changed you.
Wayne: Yes. It was May 3, 2012 and I was in the Paktika province, which is right near Pakistan. And it was, I would say it’s another traditional day. Spring fighting had just started a couple of months before that March. At that point, I was at a base called FOB Boris, which has been shut down. Our base got overran twice, to kind of paint a picture, with Taliban, literally on the inside of our base. We got rocketed. May 3 in particular, we had at least three or four IDF attacks prior to this point, so it was kind of just happening throughout the entire day.
I was in the gym and I heard the IDF alarm siren going off. And my thinking was, ‘I’m in a concrete structure,’ and you don’t have long — you’ve got seconds to make a decision. ‘Okay. I’m not outside. I’m in somewhat of a secured location.’ It’s a small gym. It’s literally the size of half of a single wide trailer, to kind of give you perspective. You could easily throw a tennis ball and hit the other wall with very little effort. And so I started running to the middle of the gym because there was two big open wood doors and so I just went to the middle. There was concrete on all sides, except the roof. The roof was just a normal structured roof, no concrete. My thinking really, really quick was, ‘Hey, if this explodes, shrapnel is going to come, I’ve got to get away from the weakest points, which are the doors.’ And so I ran and it was essentially a direct impact on me. I ran right where the rocket exploded and it was like three and a half feet from me.
WATM: Oh %*#.
Wayne: Right. So you know how big the concrete cylinders that they have, those concrete blocks, like a traditional one. They’re not wide, but it was a direct impact on the corner of that building, right in the middle, dead center. And it was right under that corner structure. It took out a quarter of the wall, right at the very top corner and you can see shrapnel and the roof was caved in. And if it would have been a couple of inches lower, because you’ve got to think, the concrete barrier’s only like 15 inches.
If it wouldn’t have hit that, it would have been literally a direct impact right where I was running to. And so I just say it’s through the grace of God I survived and was shielded. And I sustained nerve damage at L1 through L3. And my back had to have lumbar block fusion surgery for it. I had shrapnel that went all the way through my leg and had to have six months of physical therapy for it. I have permanent tinnitus in my left ear and then treated for TBI. And then I was medevaced twice. The first time we were still under fire. And then we were also a fire support team as well. There’s about 85 people on the entire base. It’s pretty small. And we were returning fire as incoming rounds were coming in and two Black Hawks, just like you’d see on a movie, flew in while rounds are coming in, we’re shooting back at them.
And you know, obviously, I don’t know what the hell is going on. They ended up flying me through a Black Hawk, with priority to Bagram and then they did full CT scans and x-rays and all kinds of different testing there, to figure out what was going on. Come to find out the, I guess the, whoever the, what do they call them? Crew chiefs? Or the medics on the helicopter? They gave me too much morphine. And obviously I don’t remember any of that, but it depletes your white blood cell count and restricts your oxygen flow. And that’s what ended up happening. It took three days for that to recover back to normal rates without oxygen. And I had to do breathing treatments from all the dust and debris. To kind of paint a more vivid picture of the incident, I remember that I blacked out — I remember regaining consciousness. I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. I knew I was hit, but I didn’t know the impact. I could feel something dripping from my leg, but I couldn’t see it. It’s pitch black; we’re a blackout FOB. And I was yelling for a medic, but nobody would come.
And I think mentally what hurt the most is I was working out with a couple of battle buddies and they left. I was there by myself and it felt like, I would say realistically, like 20, 30 minutes, it definitely was not that long. But you know, when you’re going through that, it felt like eternity. I’m sitting in pain. I don’t know what’s going on. My ears are ringing. It’s just a crazy scenario. And you know, I remember yelling for a medic and ‘I’m hit,’ and I just kept saying it, ‘Medic, medic!’
And I couldn’t — I tried to stand up, but I couldn’t see anything. I literally couldn’t see anything. And then they came in, they had flashlights and I actually have the raid tower footage. One of those Raytheon towers that go up 107 feet, we have the actual footage of them carrying me out of the gym, so it’s kind of cool. They sent me the CD. They mailed it to me when I got home.
WATM: That’s kind of hilarious.
Wayne: And it says ‘Superman returns.’
WATM: It’s good that you can watch it.
Wayne: Yeah, I love it.
WATM:You pull that out at the parties?
Wayne: I think that helps mental fortitude to get past something like that. It’s one of those pivoting moments that you can either adapt and overcome it, or you’re going to let that absorb you. And that really defines you as a person, is how you adapt to that comfortability. Even openly talking about it. It doesn’t bother me. It’s just a chapter and we’re past it and I can block it off and keep going.
WATM: Did that end your Army career, at that moment?
Wayne: No, I came back and transitioned into recruiting and I really enjoyed my time in recruiting. I did a photoshoot with a local photographer, right when I got done doing my physical therapy. Started a Facebook page and it started to go viral, so I had over a hundred thousand followers in the first 30 days of having the page. And you know, I’m just a guy from Alabama. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I got a change of lifestyle discharge.
WATM: And at that point, had you considered bodybuilding and modeling?
Wayne: I didn’t know what to expect. I’ll be honest, but I was making about three times more than the Army was paying me. And I was just like, ‘Man.’ I didn’t know if it was going to be a career, but it was working and I was like, ‘Why not focus on this? This is really cool.’ Within the first six months, I had over a million followers across social media and I just kept leveraging that and growing it and then what a lot of people don’t know is I actually own five other pages within the fitness space on Facebook and have over 4.2 million followers on it.
And so I leveraged it to grow my personal brand. And so I started to understand the power of social media. If I could go back, I would have done things a little bit different. I would have put more of a focus into YouTube. But you know, it is what it is. Grew those pages and that helped leverage pretty much everything that I wanted from landing over 50 plus magazine covers. Covers with Iron Man, Muscle Fitness, Men’s Fitness, Men’s Muscle Health. I mean, even fashion magazines, like Vanity. Hype, in Europe. And for that, I did kind of a Gary Vaynerchuk approach of give, give, give, take.
WATM: I’m just curious. What’d your Army buddies say about all this? Were they like, ‘Bro, what are you doing?’
Wayne: (laughs) Yeah, yeah. That’s exactly what it was at the beginning until they saw, you get half a million followers within a few months and then a million, and then you start working with Under Armor and Nike and they’re like, ‘Oh my God.’ Everybody questioned it. Everybody questioned, ‘What the hell are you doing? How are you going to model in Alabama? That’s not a thing.’ And I’m like, ‘Well, I don’t really know, but it’s working, I’m doing the social media thing and I’m able to reach out, I can kind of cold call. I can establish a rapport.’ And I just kind of instinctively knew the inner workings of how to market and brand myself. And that’s without a coach and the highest level of education a GED. Just kind of started to understand the power of value and leveraged my value to get whatever it is that I wanted.
WATM: How was your physical journey into bodybuilding and modeling? Did you have issues with that? How did your combat injuries help you in that regard or make it even more challenging to find success?
Wayne: I would say 100% made it more challenging. I can’t do compression style training. And so a lot of it is adaptive, just HIIT style, high intensity interval, they call it, it’s like an 80s style. It’s like cut training, time under tension. I wanted to get lean, but also gain lean muscle at the same time. And so I just had to adapt and pivot my work training to kind of sustain the injuries and I didn’t want to make it worse than what it was. And so I’ve kind of just found my own routine and adapted and not put limitations with what I can and can’t do. There’s always a workaround.
WATM: Awesome. So how did you get into the steel business? And when did it occur to you that you thought I can add value to Red Line and start working on that front?
Wayne: I started Red Line in January of 2016, that’s officially when we started the LLC. Initially I just wanted to be a customer. I have a son, his name’s Carsyn. At the time, he was about four years old, loved baseball. He’s in T-ball, but absolutely loved baseball. And I reached out to a local shop and wanted to have a piece made and he reached back out and said ‘I’m backlogged about 10 to 12 weeks, but when we get caught up, I’ll let you know.’ And I said, ‘Okay, no worries.’ Ten minutes later, swear to God, 10 minutes later, he reached back out and says, ‘Holy shit, it’s Colin Wayne. I can’t believe it’s you!’ He said, ‘I can do this for you and have it done this week. And just let me know anything you want. I got you.’
And I pivoted the entire thing from, I said, without hesitation, ‘Maybe I can help you. And I do consulting, would love to kind of look at your business plan.’ And I spit out some information that kind of was like, ‘Look, man, I wanted to be a consumer. You didn’t have a followup sequence. You’re missing the mark. This is obviously an incredible product. I was willing to pay a premium for it for myself. You’re backlogged 10 to 12 weeks. There’s no way for very next day, and so that shifted the entire paradigm of my business plan. The plan for me was he already has the product, he has a preexisting business. He knows how to manufacture. He knows how to do CAD work. He already has the basics. I just need to come in here, create an infrastructure and help on the marketing backend. And so now, I had to figure out how in the hell to even run this machine. I didn’t have a clue and I still don’t really know, which is ironic because we have the largest customized steel manufacturing plant in the United States. And that was within three and a half years of an E-com business.
June 15th will be our four year anniversary of the website. We’ve shipped over four million products. We just hit our one millionth order about three weeks ago. And we’re about to hit 1.1 million projected probably Friday of this week. We have over 215,000 verified customer reviews on our website. And we’ve got over a billion, with a B, impressions for our business Redline Steel through paid ads.
WATM: That’s impressive. And you met the President?
Wayne: We attended the White House for Made in America week, which was really cool. Got a selfie with the president, which you probably saw on Fox News. And what was awesome, what I really, really appreciated a lot and it was kind of like an overwhelming feeling, just like when we hit our one millionth order, that was an overwhelming feeling, was President Trump, I tried to give him a flag and he wouldn’t take it. He wanted to buy one. And so that to me, yeah, that to me meant a lot because this was exactly what he said was, ‘If you donate the flag, it stays within the White House. But if I buy one, I can actually bring it with me.’ And so I don’t know, a month or two after the event, his administration reached out and said, ‘President Trump wanted to purchase a flag.’ And so we invoiced him, he paid it and we mailed him a flag. Then he actually wrote a letter. I asked him for a photo; he wrote us a letter that’s hanging up on my wall and he’s thanking me for the flag that he bought. That was a few months after the event. That was really cool. And what’s weird is as an entrepreneur, I’m always looking ahead. So it’s hard to reflect on what we’ve done and accomplished. Especially given the amount of time. Time is very valuable, but it almost becomes irrelevant because I’m so forward thinking that when I hit a hundred thousand orders, it was an overwhelming feeling. And that never took place again until three weeks ago, when we hit our one millionth. Even at 999,000, it didn’t sink in.
I’m a pretty, I would say a pretty dominant, strong-willed character, kind of an alpha, but I teared up, bro. I’m not going to lie. It was such an overwhelming, like, ‘Oh my God.’ Because I wanted this so bad. So I set, I’m really, really big on goal orientation and like setting something and you follow through with it. And so last year my goal was to hit that one million benchmark and I didn’t. Mentally, it really messed with me, man. I was upset at myself. I felt like a let down. I told my customers, I was kind of prophesying it. I was telling employees, man, we’re going to hit this and we didn’t hit it. I think that I have to kind of what I call being from Alabama, that fixated mentality of I don’t care if we’re up a hundred to zero, we missed the field goal. We missed this tackle. We missed these core principles, this KPI, what can we do to improve and sustain that growth? If we mess up, what can we do to not have that again? It’s kind of that AAR that goes into effect on a mass scale.
When you think about it, a million orders within that three year benchmark as an online business is very, very, very rare. You’re at that one of one tenth of a percent, but to me, it’s so realistic that it should have happened a while back. And so I lose track of that time and you don’t really appreciate what it is until you finally hit it.
WATM: How did you move past that? Improved comms? Leadership? Something different?
Wayne: We hired a recruiting firm, and I know that that was a pivoting moment for us when we actually invested into very, very solid leadership. My goal is to step down as the CEO within the next 18 to 24 months. I’ve never really publicly talked about it, but I’m big on passion and what’s in the best interest of the business. And so I would rather be the dumbest guy in the room and have other people very strong at what they do in those positions. And so hiring a recruiting firm to bring on talent that are very, very vetted has definitely played a significant role.
The challenge for me, most of the time has been, I can oversell and we can’t manufacture and produce product fast enough. I guess you could call it a rich man’s problem.
It’s been a challenge because I don’t want a bad customer journey experience, but at the same time, you want cashflow to keep up with the fixed and variable expenses. And so it’s a very thin line of balance between the two and running a lot of different departments at a business that’s scaling 30, 40 times year over year. We have an incredible team that’s been able to implement what is actually needed and applying an ERP system and looking at ways to advance our business so much further than what it currently is. So that the next four to five years we transition to that billion dollar valuation at that three, 400 million EBITDA. I think investing in the right leadership and then from the military stance, I would say, I was a Staff Sergeant, so I was kind of rounded for leaders. I liked the leaders that led from the front. I was fortunate enough to have compadre leaders that you can learn from and some great leaders, ones that you would genuinely walk into battle with and feel very comfortable that they have your sticks.
Applying that to my business in the sense that I’m not going to step on their toes, I trust their judgment calls. So I’ve allowed them to run those departments and essentially there’s a chain of command and they work through that. And that’s how we operate here. I’m not here to tell your department how you do it, go to your department head. And from there, you’ll follow the chain.
With COVID, we had to pivot our business model. So mid-March, I think it was actually exactly March 15. It was on a Sunday, somewhere right around there. I was driving to work. I had something on my heart to give back to the medical staff. My step-mom passed away earlier in the year and she did 35 years as a registered nurse. And we had a nurse piece, a stethoscope with the shape of a heart and it said, ‘Nurse life,’ in it. And so that was our first product and it kind of evolved from there. I did a live stream on Redline’s page and I said, ‘I want to give a thousand of these away for free.’ The response was incredible. Within about 30 to 45 minutes, we were completely sold out and started to see a massive demand and just requests for other items. So we pivoted to an entire give back collection.
That was on Sunday. I came in Monday when my team was here and I said, ‘Look, every day this week, we’re going to create a product category and we’re going to launch it.’ The first day, we launched, we ended up launching 19 products in total from military and all first responders to even mail carriers, even airline. And then we went into more recently with teacher appreciation day. We launched a teacher apple and now with Memorial Day, we have a fallen soldier Memorial piece that we’re going to release.
WATM: What’s the why behind that?
Wayne: One, I’m a humanitarian. I love to give back. I really do. I genuinely do. But from a business side that allowed free cashflow to sustain the business so that I didn’t have to furlough any of my employees. And then to take it a step further, we ended up putting in a purchase order of over 250,000 units through a local company and source them to cut the pieces for us. And that ended up giving them over 1400 working hours for their employees that would have gotten furloughed. So it’s not just the impact within Redline. We also helped hundreds of families across North Alabama sustain a job and working hours.
WATM: You’re doing amazing things, Colin. Thanks for your time.
Wayne: It’s been an incredible journey, man. I’m excited for what happens next. Thank you.