Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq

Slosh, plop, slosh, plop. The noise my boots made with every step seemed deafening. 20 or so Iraqi Special Forces soldiers and I were doing our best to be sneaky on our way to the target building, but it was the wet season, so Iraq’s infamous moon dust had already made the transition to sticky tar-like mud. 

Slosh, plop, slosh, plop. Our boots, caked in mud at this point, were getting worse with every step. We might as well have been a middle school orchestra doing sound checks.  

Before we got too close to our target house, I needed to remind the commander of the platoon I was advising about a key point we neglected on our last mission. “Remember, get one ladder up and clear the courtyard before the other ladder goes up and everyone starts jumping over the wall,” I whispered in my best broken Iraqi Arabic. I had to simultaneously motion with my hands to mimic a wall, a house, and a ladder. I wasn’t sure what was more confusing, my Arabic or the goofy hand gestures. 

Luckily, the commander was used to whatever an American trying to speak in his native tongue sounded like, so he nodded in the affirmative, which could mean “yup, got it” or “whatever, dude.” I guess we’ll see in a few minutes, I thought to myself. Fortunately, it only took seconds.

“Fuck’n Yalla!” he said with a huge grin, blasting me with his ashtray breath. Guess we’re good then. 

Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq
Iraqi counter terrorism soldiers assault an objective. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Sarah K. Anwar.

Our not-so-sneaky infil became a comically loud trot of mud-caked boots as we closed in on the target house. The Iraqi Special Forces soldiers stacked up on the wall outside the house, and the commander was directing traffic. The first ladder went up and a soldier climbed up and deliberately swept the courtyard with his rifle before stopping at the door into the house. 

With security posted, another ladder was placed against the wall. The other soldiers began silently scaling the wall, entering the courtyard, and stacking on the house in preparation for breaching the door. 

The third Iraqi in the stack emerged with a mini batting ram, cocked it back, and slammed it into the door. A sharp metallic clash rang out as the door flew inward and the soldiers flowed into the house. 

Up to this point, the Iraqis had been as silent as possible and relied only on streetlights to see, but now that the front door had been violently breached, the gig was up. They flicked on their “white lights” — the tactical flashlights they attached to their AK47s to illuminate rooms they were clearing — and started shouting commands to each other and whoever was inside as they methodically moved from room to room. Speed, surprise, and violence of action. Check, check, check. 

I watched as their lights reached the second floor, and then my radio crackled to life. “Joe, wrap it up. It’s fucking turkey time!”  

Shit, that’s right, I thought. It’s hard to track holidays with the constant grind of combat operations and training. I walked into the training compound that the Iraqis had just assaulted and found their commander. “Hey brother, great job on the ladder — big improvement from last time,” I said. “That’s it for tonight, we are on standby for ops this week.” 

He nodded, gave me a fist bump, and motioned for his soldiers to exit the house. 

They didn’t need to be convinced. They slung their weapons, lit cigarettes, and joked and exchanged slaps on the back just like soldiers have since man first formed armies. The life-or-death business of war is too important to take too seriously. 

I wished them “Tisballahhair,” or “good evening,” as I began my muddy slog back to the team house. The cool breeze coming off the Tigris River filtered through the rain-soaked palm trees, bringing with it a pleasant jasmine scent. During my first winter in Iraq, I was amazed that the smell of the city in the late fall and winter was so refreshing. But off in the distance, I could still hear the occasional bursts of gunfire and explosions mixed with the echoes of a call to prayer and horn blasts. Such was life in Iraq in 2004. 

The life-or-death business of war is too important to take too seriously. 

Even though I was far from home on Thanksgiving, I was living my childhood dream. I was a 24-year-old U.S. Army Green Beret on my second combat deployment living in the middle of Baghdad with my Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) training the Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF) and advising them on actual combat operations — which included everything from tracking down bad guys to conducting raids to kill or capture them.  

And there was no shortage of work to go around. We were located in northern Baghdad on the western bank of the Tigris, caught between the Shia enclave of Kadhimiya and the Sunni stronghold of Adimiyah. That put us right in the middle of the action, which is exactly where a modern Green Beret wants to be.

Our Saddam Hussein-era military barracks were within a combat outpost secured by a company of the U.S. Army’s 2nd Cavalry Division. Before the invasion, our home away from home was one of Hussein’s most feared prisons, run by his dreaded secret police. When we moved in, several of the Iraqis had horrific stories about being tortured there, and some even refused to work there. The Iraqi commander eventually brought in a local religious leader to bless the barracks and ensure no evil spirit lingered in the erie corridors of our compound.  

As was the case everywhere that early in the war, our living conditions were spartan, but we made the best of it. Our team house was a simple one-story concrete building fortified with sand bags over the windows and on the roof. We had a makeshift porch with a large grill that was glowing with charcoal and wafting smoke tinged with the sweet smell of bacon. Take that, jihad, I thought as I kicked my boots against the wall of the house in an effort to knock the mud off. 

I opened the door and rounded the corner into our living room and kitchen area, where the smell of turkey and stuffing overpowered the scents of Copenhagen, gun oil, and coffee that normally permeated the house. 

“What’s up, man? How’d the house go?” asked Matt, our Special Forces medic. Like most SF medics, Matt had a reassuring calm and sharp intellect that made him an asset on any mission. But what made him unique was that he could have been a stand-up comedian if he ever decided to hang up his green beret. At least once a day he had me laughing so hard it hurt — most recently performing a hilarious parody of Al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi’s manifesto. 

“It went well — hopefully we fixed our wall issue,” I replied. 

Inshallah habibi — grab a plate of chow!” Matt said, gesturing to our kitchen table, where Thanksgiving dinner was waiting. I happily obliged.

“Joe, your jundis are having ladder issues? That’s weird” The sarcastic comment came from Stu, our team’s intelligence sergeant. 

I knew that was coming. Stu had been on the team for several years and was part of 5th Group’s legendary initial push into Afghanistan in 2001. He was built like a linebacker and always plotting a prank. ODAs are tight, which means you never live down your screw ups; all you can do is smile and hope your skin gets thick — fast. A few of the other guys laughed. So did I. Here we go…

Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq
Commandos conduct a raid. Photo by Sgt. Daniel P. Shook, courtesy of Dept. of Defense. 

“Wait, what happened?” asked Jeremy, our communications sergeant. Jeremy had been on the team for years but missed our last trip due to a broken neck he sustained during training. He was a good ol’ boy from Missouri and sounded like Boomhauer from “King of the Hill,” so naturally the Army gave him the job that required him to talk on the radio.  

“Oh shit, that’s right, we have to tell you this one!” Matt replied. Well, at least Matt would make the story funny, I thought as I scooped some cranberry sauce onto my turkey.  

“Dude, so no shit there we were,” Matt said, opening with the proper war story preamble, “assaulting a huge-ass compound out west — some deck-of-cards clown’s house, which was awesome. The mission had everything: helo infil with fast ropes to the roof, a wall breech, the door gunners even lit up a guard tower. Pretty awesome op.” Matt was now standing to make more room to add animation with his hands.  

“It was going great until we were trying to get over this big-ass wall with these shitty ladders, and Joe, loaded with way too much bullshit, breaks a rung on the ladder, gets mad, throws the ladder to the side and tries to ninja climb over the 8-foot wall. He gets caught by his kit on the wall, so I get under him and push his ass over the wall like combat Winnie the Pooh!” Matt explained, reenacting my finest hour. 

“Well, that’s a technique,” Jermey said with his normal deadpan wit. Everyone got a good laugh. All I could do was finish fixing my plate and find a place to sit. Gary, our engineer, was my best bet. 

Gary was a wiry backwoods Southerner, and we went to Special Forces Selection and the Special Forces Qualification Course together. He had just earned a valor award for his calm under enemy fire during a raid in Samara, but you wouldn’t peg him as a Green Beret — or the guy who would remain calm while getting shot at for that matter. 

“We eating or waiting for Mom and Dad?” Gary asked as he spit Copenhagen into one of the ever-present dip bottles that lined our house floor. “Mom and Dad” were Mike, our senior noncommissioned officer, or more simply known as the team sergeant; and Trevor, our team leader and only commissioned officer. Neither was Mom or Dad specifically, but together they were a couple. 

“Hey, come eat!” Stu yelled into the office that adjoined our living room where Mike and Trevor would send reports back to our headquarters. These were definitely the good old days of limited connectivity and little to no micromanagement from higher headquarters. Sure, we still checked in over the radio with them daily, but it was mostly asking for forgiveness and not permission. Unfortunately, that dynamic has been replaced by nearly nonstop emails, messenger chatting, and teleconferences from every nook and cranny of today’s battlefield.

Our leadership duo emerged from the back office, Mike in the lead. He grew up in the infantry and had seen combat in the first Gulf War, Kosovo, the initial push into Afghanistan, and was on his second Iraq deployment. He was the most experienced guy on the team, an aggressive leader, and gave us a ton of space to succeed. 

Trevor was Mike’s commissioned counterpart, a humble officer who had every reason not to be: he was a West Point graduate who knocked out all of the Army’s hardest training by the time he was a captain. He also had the ability to understand every detail of what we were doing and how it tied into the big picture.

“Happy Thanksgiving three-five … again,” Mike said as he piled turkey onto his plate and sat down at our gaudy wood and fake-gold kitchen table. Trevor grabbed a plate last and sat next to Mike, our team now almost complete. 

“Intel update!” Josh said as he entered the room and took a seat with his plate of turkey, stuffing, and jelly-looking cranberry sauce. Josh had also been in SF for several years and was now running the Iraqi recon element that collected intel for our Iraqi Special Forces companies to action. 

It was normal for meals to be interrupted by intel updates, and Thanksgiving was no exception, so all eyes were on Josh. It had been a hell of a trip so far, with summer fighting in Najaf against Sadr’s boys, chasing Zarqawi and his hostages on every backstreet of Baghdad, another away game in Samara, followed by Operation Phantom Fury in Fallujah. The more information we could get, the better — you never knew when the next shithead would pop up for a round of whack-a-mole.

Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq
Joe and Josh in Iraq in 2004. Photo courtesy of Joe Kent/Coffee or Die.

But today would not be one of those days.

“No ops tonight — beer light’s on, nerds,” Josh said, as he pulled a green 22-ounce Tuborg “tall boy” out of his cargo pocket. “Right, Mike?” he asked, with a smart-ass grin, deferring to our senior NCO for the official approval. 

“I did say, happy Thanksgiving …” Mike said, motioning for Josh to pass him a beer. 

Josh was more than happy to oblige. He cracked open our refrigerator and passed around a combination of Tuborg, Hienekens, and Efes tall boys, graciously provided by our Iraqi Christian friends. They didn’t mess around when it came to beer. “It’s like they know no one in Iraq wants just a pint of beer,” Josh said. “The tall boy is their standard.”  

But just like any other Thanksgiving, you always seemed to be waiting on the weird uncle to show up. 

“Where is Seaux?” Mike asked suspiciously. Seaux, named after the famous Johnny Cash song, may be the origin of the phrase “stranger than fiction.” If he’s not, he definitely lived up to it. Seaux had fought in Grenada with the 82nd Airborne, then joined the French Foreigin Legion, but eventually found his way back into the U.S. Army and had served in every war the U.S. had been in from Mogadishu to Iraq. It probably comes as no surprise that Seaux loved going native and spent most of his time with a few Iraqis doing recon work. 

“I’m coming — don’t you flatlanders know I eat dinner at 4PM sharp?” Seaux grumbled from his room. “No respect for seniors.”

When Seaux hung out with us, he did so either dressed as a viking or as a native American, complete with a bow and arrow he used to shoot flaming arrows across the Tigris. Like I said, stranger than fiction. 

Before long, he emerged from his room and caught the beer that Josh tossed to him.

But just like any other Thanksgiving, you always seemed to be waiting on the weird uncle to show up.

“Cheers, fuckers!” Stu said, as he made a toasting motion. The rest of the team unceremoniously made the motion in return, cracked their beers, took a sip, and dug into their dinner. We may not have been home for Thanksgiving, but in our line of work, sitting down as a team — a family — for turkey that day seemed more like home in some ways than what we would have had back in the States.

“We’re lucky this year,” Trevor said with a grin. “The B Team busted their asses to get every ODA a turkey. Worked out well for everyone but Two-Three …” ODA 523 was just across the river from us, and we often supported each other on missions and shared intel a few times a week. 

“Do tell, sir,” Jeremy said. 

“Well, they drove one of their Mercedes to pick up their turkey in the Green Zone, and when they were coming back in to their base, I guess the kid on guard didn’t know it was them and lit up their car with his machine gun!” Trevor explained. 

Everyone paused; there’s nothing friendly about friendly fire. 

For the first couple of years of the war in Iraq, Special Forces ODAs in major Iraqi cities acquired local cars to drive around town so that they could conduct reconnaissance and low-profile assaults. That technique was a double-edged sword though. It worked great in that we could avoid contact with the enemy until we wanted to make it and got a great feel for Iraq at the street level. However, the most dangerous part of these operations was the re-entry to friendly lines. The guys guarding the gate were usually very young soldiers and were used to seeing military vehicles. Suffice it to say, that at two years into the war, all of us had stared down the barrel of U.S. weapons with our hands up screaming “I AM AN AMERICAN!” a few times. 

“Somehow, no one got hurt, the kid on the gun lit up the engine block,” Trevor continued. “Marty and Lee bailed out, and the car caught on fire and ruined their turkey!” All of us laughed at the cartoonish mental image of our buddies dodging some private’s hail of machine gun fire and their turkey getting cooked early. Like many things in war, the closest of calls would usually end up as a fun story to laugh about later. And sometimes … they didn’t. 

“Yeah, man. Better than last year when we got tossed out of the big Army chow hall because POTUS was coming and we looked like pirates,” Josh said with a laugh. He was referring to our last deployment when a high-strung mess officer rudely told us we couldn’t eat Thanksgiving dinner unless we were in uniform. We wanted to eat, but not that bad.

What we didn’t know at the time was that President George W. Bush was coming to eat with the troops at the chow hall we were trying to get into. In hindsight, it made sense why hooligans like us were turned away. There are plenty of perks that come with wearing the green beret, but sometimes it can work against you.

Looking around our makeshift living and dining room, I felt very grateful to be sitting there with my brothers. This was our second Thanksgiving together in combat; we didn’t know it at the time, but we’d be doing the same drill the next year on the Syrian border. 

The mood would be far more somber for that dinner. Our luck would run out by then, and we would have lost two teammates by the time we sat down for turkey again. Sergeant First Class Brett E. Walden and Army Sergeant First Class Robert V. Derenda paid the ultimate sacrifice, and their families are in my thoughts this Thanksgiving.

In retrospect, I guess we were all just getting warmed up. Most of us cracking beers in our Baghdad team house in 2004 would spend more Thanksgivings with teammates in combat zones over the next 14 years than with our actual families. Holidays spent in makeshift living spaces, living feet away from each other and always in-between intense combat operations, would become normal for all of us — and we wouldn’t have it any other way. 

Even then, I knew the bonds I forged with those men in that room would last for the rest of my life. After our third combat deployment, most of us had to move on to other assignments. All of us stayed in the fight and made efforts to stay in touch though. Josh and I forged a tight bond in Baghdad that remained long afterward. In fact, when I married my warrior soulmate, Shannon — a special operator herself — she insisted that Josh and his son be at every Thanksgiving and Christmas we shared as a family.

Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq
Joe and Shannon Kent with their two sons, Thanksgiving 2018. This was their last Thanksgiving together. Photo courtesy of Joe Kent.

But what I didn’t know was how all of them would be there for me 14 years later, during the darkest hour on the worst day of my life … the day I found out my wife, Senior Chief Petty Officer Shannon Kent, was killed in action while hunting ISIS in Syria alongside three other courageous Americans: Scotty Wirtz, a former U.S. Navy SEAL; Ghadir Thahir, a Syrian-American linguist; and Jon Farmer, a Green Beret Warrant Officer, from the 5th Special Forces Group — my old group. I had not seen most of my brothers from Three-Five in more than 10 years, but it didn’t matter. They were there for me, they cried with me, and they are still there for me and my sons to this day.

Unlike that Thanksgiving next to the Tigris in 2004, cracking jokes and telling stories over a modest turkey dinner, this Thanksgiving is going to suck. I can’t believe it has been almost a year since I last saw my wife in person. But what I am beyond thankful for is my sons, the short time I had with Shannon, and the love of my teammates. The bonds formed in the horrors of combat are lasting and unbreakable. 

Take the time this Thanksgiving to reach out to your brothers and sisters in arms — talk about the good times and work through the bad. Be there for each other because you never know when you’ll need them the most.

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

The Sergeant Major of the Army shares his reading list

Recently, I spoke with the Sergeant Major of the Army about COVID-19 and the challenges and opportunities we are facing right now as an Army and a Nation. He highlighted that now is the time to reassess our goals and set new ones.

One of your goals might be to read a book or two during this time. Goals are important and they are even more important now, as we all deal with the necessary restrictions to stop the spread.


We spoke again this week and he shared his reading list with me. He found that reading has helped him grow professionally and as a person. SMA Grinston also shared that reading helps him take a mental break from the day-to-day stressors of life. He even says that if he wasn’t a reader, he wouldn’t be the Sergeant Major of the Army.

You will notice that most of the books on this list aren’t about military battles or written by people in the Army for people in the Army. For the SMA, he likes to read about things outside the military to get new and fresh ideas. We both hope you find something on here that interests you.

The Reading List – in the SMA’s words:

Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq

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1. Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Richard M. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein

This is a controversial book –which is one of the reasons I like it. I read it when I was the FORSCOM Sergeant Major and it’s about choice architecture and how small changes to our environment can make a big difference. For example, the authors discuss an elementary school that placed food in different locations in the cafeteria to “nudge” the kids to make healthier choices…and it worked.

Since reading this book, I look at how I can make small changes to the placement of things in my personal life or in the Army to make it better.

Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq

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2. Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Action by Simon Sinek

I read this book as a brigade or division sergeant major, and it reminded me that sometimes in the Army we jump to the end first. When we ask our soldiers to do something, we focus on the how or the what and forget to explain the why.

Our enlisted Soldiers are smart, and when you explain the why to them, it increases their commitment to the mission. Sometimes, there isn’t enough time to explain why we are doing something, especially in the middle of a firefight, but most of the time we can. And as leaders, this is where we need to start.

Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq

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3. The Slight Edge: Turning Simple Disciplines into Massive Success and Happiness by Jeff Olson and John David Mann

After I was nominated Sergeant Major of the Army, people asked me for the keys to my professional success. I struggled to answer this question until the commander of the Old Guard recommended this book. Slight Edge helped me define for others how to be successful in the Army and how I got to where I’m at today.

The authors of this book look at what happens when you do something that no one else is willing to do and continue to do it over a long period of time. I’ve been in the Army for 32 years and every morning I wake up and do physical fitness. I read books for self-development. Doing those small things over time, year after year, made a difference in the long run. It’s about developing the discipline and commitment over a long period of time to achieve your goals.

Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq

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4. Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

I think I was a Platoon Sergeant or Sergeant First Class when I read this book. Malcolm Gladwell discusses how it’s not only innate abilities that make people successful, other factors play a major role too –like timing.

One of the examples he uses in the book is Bill Gates. Growing up, Bill Gates had access to a computer early in his life which afforded him the opportunity to get 10,000 hours of practice with programming. Yes, he was born in the right place at the right time, but he also took advantage of the opportunity to make himself better.

This book has helped me focus on looking at the opportunities within assignments. I remember when I was nominated to be the brigade sergeant major of an infantry brigade. That job gave me the requisite skills and opened doors that led me down a path to where I am today. We all have the opportunity to be an outlier if we have the right mindset.

5. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck

Since reading Mindset, there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t reference or think about it. She writes about two mindsets: Growth vs. Fixed. A growth mindset says that even though I’m not good at a certain skill, I can learn and get better over time. With a fixed mindset, we don’t even try because we think we can’t grow beyond our current skill set. This line of thinking becomes more dangerous the higher in rank and position that leaders go in the Army.

6. Becoming a Resonant Leader: Develop Your Emotional Intelligence, Renew Your Relationships, Sustain Your Effectiveness by Annie McKee

I read this one as a corps sergeant major and this is probably my all-time favorite leadership book. Have you ever worked for someone and knew they weren’t listening to anything you said? As leaders, our level of emotional intelligence has a major impact on the morale of our Soldiers. We have to listen to our people and be mindful and show empathy.

This book made me a better leader, sergeant major, and follower. I started paying more attention to my own mindfulness.

Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq

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7. Winning by Jack Welch

I read this one around the time I was a sergeant first class or first sergeant and it taught me about the importance of managing talent. Welch writes that the top 5% of any organization needs to be identified and properly managed. He also writes that there is a large population of strong performers that will never be the top 5%, but are also important to the organization. He discusses how to identify, manage, and motivate both groups.

8. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

This is the hardest book to read on this list. It took me a while to get through but I found it beneficial to understand the psychology of decision-making. I gained a much greater understanding and appreciation for how the mind works.

It’s difficult to read, but it helps us better understand how the mind works. If you like sociology and psychology books, this is a great starting place. The higher I go in position in the Army, the more I realize how important it is to understand human behavior. I have a greater appreciation now for how logic and emotion work together in the decision-making process and I know I’m a better leader and person for it.

Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq

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9. Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein

I read this one when I was a staff sergeant. I remember my battalion commander making all the officers read it and I wanted to learn something alongside them.

This was another controversial book when it was written. Heinlein uses science fiction to talk about what it means to be a citizen; he addresses the need for corrective training and several other issues that we see playing out today. This book is a fun read and makes for a great discussion between leaders in a unit.

Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq

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10. Once an Eagle by Anton Myrer

I read this one when I was a brigade sergeant major. It’s a thick one so if you decide to tackle it, it might take you awhile. I like Once an Eagle because it covers an entire career of an individual, his commitment to the Army, and the lessons he learns along the way. I found that when I read it, I put myself in the shoes of the main character and reflected on my own career.

Start today

During our interview, Grinston said he hopes you will want to read and take the opportunity now to start the habit of reading for professional development.

“I know life is difficult right now for a lot of people. But we will get through this.”

MIGHTY CULTURE

How vets can become airline pilots for free

Congratulations! You’ve decided to soar above the earth in your new career as an airline pilot! Being a pilot is a challenging yet rewarding vocation. If you love the thrill of flight, travel and working as a team it’s a great job to pursue. There’s only one thing stopping you.

Money. Let’s first look at what you’re getting for that hard earned cheddar.

You must earn several certifications. Too much time between practice flights can cause you to regress. It’s not just the cost of your training, it’s the cost of time building. In order to obtain your ATP or Airline Transport Pilot license you must have a certain number of hours in several different categories. You must also have a total of 1500 hours of flight time. This can be reduced down to 1250 if you have an approved associate’s degree, 1000 with an approved bachelor’s and 750 if you’re a prior military pilot. I’ll come back to the college aspect soon with info on how that can help you save money.

Next you must decide how to pay for it. You could use savings, take out a loan or go on game show! If that’s not an option (be honest, have you even auditioned for Jeopardy?) read on.

  1. Veteran Readiness and Employment or VR&E

This program was previously called Vocational Rehab and it does what it says. It helps vets with a VA disability prepare for a new job. That job cannot make your current disability worse but pulling out the tray table at 39,000 feet and enjoying a nice lunch isn’t too hard on the old body. You’ll need to fill out lots of paperwork and meet with a counselor to map your career objectives. RTAGers have used this program to obtain everything from initial flight training for enlisted vets to actual type ratings for airliners like the Boeing 737. It all depends on you and your counselor, and this can make the process tricky. Most VR&E counselors are not pilots, so you’ll need to come into your meeting prepared. Again, join the RTAG Nation to learn more. Check out this website for more info.

https://www.benefits.va.gov/vocrehab/
  1. Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act

Here’s another sleeper most vets miss entirely, as do their flight schools. WIOA is a federally funded program that helps get Americans into high quality jobs. Your flight school must apply to be an approved partner and you’ll again fill out a mountain of paperwork, take some nongraded skills tests and meet with a counselor. WIOA actually paid for my Commercial Single Engine Land and my Instrument Airplane certifications. It also paid for my checkride fees, gas money and other expenses. The flight schools get paid the money directly so it’s pretty hassle free. Like all things, make sure the check has cleared before you train, or you could end up paying out of pocket. You’ll also have to agree to a year of follow up calls ensuring you’re still employed. A small price to pay and it’s actually a great opportunity for you to extoll the virtues of allowing veterans to use this funding to the assigned counselors. Your spouse is even eligible in some cases. The couple that trains together, stays together.

https://www.dol.gov/agencies/eta/wioa

  1. Grants and Scholarships

This is the easiest one for motivated pilots but it’s the hardest one for lazy pilots! Scholarships for training exist within local communities and regions, you’ll just have to find them. Check with every aviation and veteran focused organization in your area. For example, many RTAGers are now training through “Campbell Strong” near Fort Campbell, KY. In fact, if you’re a Screaming Eagle or stationed nearby visit this website for more info right now.

You can also find great info about the millions of dollars in flight training scholarships available to you through Aviation Scholarships and their website or social media platforms. They’re an exhaustive source of info and will save you hours of research. Here’s the page to visit.

http://www.flightscholarship.info/
  1. Aviation Workforce Development Grants

This is a new program and the exact details are still forthcoming. The FAA has money to help encourage new pilots, but they can’t provide scholarships or any form of financial assistance directly to individual applicants. However, flight schools and charities that are approved may offer scholarship opportunities as a funded activity. So, tell your flight school to do some research. It could be lucrative for both the school and for you. If you’re interested in direct scholarships, the FAA also has a page to help you. Click on this link to start your research.

https://www.faa.gov/education/grants_and_scholarships/aviation/

5.     COO or Credentialing Opportunities Online

Each military service operates their own credentialing program, and like all things, they vary widely in scope and eligibility requirements. Many Army RTAGers are using this program to pay for $4000 of training annually, while other services can limit the amount further. The best way to learn more is to contact your local transition services office. If your flight school isn’t aware of this, they are losing serious money. Point them in the right direction. If they won’t try to get approved it might be time to factor that into your choice of flight schools. Just search for COOL and your service to find the link!

  1. The Bartering System

Remember that sketchy shop owner in Afghanistan? The one with the Macedonian, British, Soviet and now American merch? Ever cut a deal on something they were selling? You’re already an experienced international trader. Use your skill. Turn wrenches in exchange for flight time. Redesign their website. Get some training for free or cheap. How? What else could you offer a school?

Knowledge. Here’s two programs they probably haven’t heard of.

How about a paid internship? DoD SkillBridge allows you to spend several months training for your new career with an approved business. You can’t be paid, the internship must lead to a possible job and you must get permission from your command. You’ll still draw full pay and benefits from the military, and this is all before you sign out on transition or terminal leave from the service. This is designed to help you find work and avoid ending up on unemployment, as the military would end up paying for those benefits. What would 90 days of free labor mean to your new boss? They’ll be shocked to find out how amazing an opportunity they’ve been missing when they go to this website and find out more.

https://dodskillbridge.usalearning.gov/

How about tax credits? The Work Opportunity Tax Credit can help businesses receive credit for hiring veterans who have disabilities. As the name implies, getting this money involves dealing with taxes and it’s a lot of work, lol! That being said, vets could potentially earn employers up to $9600 in credit by hiring you. That could easily pay for a CFI for a budding E2A RTAGer. Have them visit this page for more deets.

https://www.dol.gov/agencies/eta/wotc

  1. VA Educational Benefits

Notice that I listed your “GI Bill” last because it should be your last resort. Yes Virginia, you really can use the educational benefits you’ve earned to train for a career as a pilot, however, in most cases, you must obtain your Private Pilot’s License first.

That is unless you are attending an approved degree producing program…

Programs like the one Mercer Community College administers with their flight school partner Infinity Flight Group. In fact, they even have a specialized “Enlisted to Airline” program just for veterans. Non-pilot veterans who were officers are eligible too. Many colleges offer training through flight affiliates and those may not cover the PPL. If you do the work, you could complete your commercial certificate with little to no cost out of pocket, just as many RTAGers E2A have done. So yes, vets can get their PPL for free!

Do your research before you commit to anything. Ask questions on RTAG Nation. Understanding all the different types of flight schools and certification options you have is crucial to your success. More info can be found via this link and the many RTAG Nation social media platforms.

https://www.va.gov/education/about-gi-bill-benefits/how-to-use-benefits/flight-training/

If you’ve been taking notes you now see that you can get the training for free if you work hard at it. With everything paid for you can use the GI Bill for the one thing that really benefits RTAGers.. getting a backup career in case you lose your medical or say, a pandemic crushes the industry. Yeah, like that’s ever gonna happen.. The GI Bill is a great way to finish your course of study on your overnights as that bright eyed, yet underpaid first officer, all while supplementing your abysmal first year airline pay with that sweet online military housing allowance.

But Erik, what about RTPs and First Officer bonuses?  Are they coming back?

You’re better off waiting for Godot (what, right over your head?).

OK, then you’re better of waiting for Han Solo to be rescued at the end of Episode VI. It’s not going to happen for a while but as Han said, “They’ll be another time.” Thanks to RTAG though, you’re much, much better off doing it yourself anyway. If you put forth the same effort in your search as it took me to compile and write this article then I can promise that you will not pay a dime for your training.

Remember that, this is YOUR training. Do not wait for someone else to hold your hand. Get out there and make it happen. Don’t wait for an RTP or First Officer bonus to rematerialize. Airlines go out of business. They don’t pay their bills when they do. You and your school will be stuck holding the bill. Since you’ll be trained guess who’s going to win that fight? Starting over in aviation is already a serious commitment fraught with stress and pitfalls you haven’t even imagined yet. Adding financial debt to the mix is just plain dumb, especially when it will take most of the recovery for you to be trained anyway. Get it done now. Be ready for the eventual recovery. Until then, remember our motto at RTAG…

Go fund yourself!

Sabby

Erik Sabiston is the bestselling author of Dustoff 7-3. Follow him on Instagram.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Actually, the military probably needs these beerbots

The Pentagon’s funding of MIT’s “beerbots” is getting some attention lately. Congress, reasonably, has posed the question of, “Why is the Pentagon researching beer delivery robots, especially while hotels and bars are already deploying robot bartenders?”

Well, the answer is a little more logical than you might think. So, Alexa, crack open a cold one and let’s talk about beerbots.


Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq

Waiters that are part of MIT’s “beerbot” program go into an office to work with humans.

(MITCSAIL)

First off, we think it’s awesome that Congress accepted the possibility that the military was researching beer-delivery robots in order to distribute cold beers more cheaply (and was seemingly okay with it so long as it wasn’t redundant). That being said, the actual MIT program is focused on figuring out how to get robots to best coordinate their actions in uncertain environments, something that could prove vital for everything from future hospitals to underground fighting.

See, MIT was building a system of cooperative robots, robots which could communicate with each other and share sensor data and other observations to work more efficiently. When they designed a complex, real-world situation to test them in, one obvious angle was to have them serve drinks in an office. And, surprise, the drink that graduates students want is beer.

www.youtube.com

And so, the “beerbots” were born. There’s a “PR2” robot that picks up drinks and places them in coolers which are carried by the “turtle bots,” and the turtle bots act as waiters. The turtle bots move from room to room, taking orders and either filling the orders or marking that the room has no orders.

And here’s the key part: The robots share their data with each other. The PR2 doesn’t know what orders are placed until the turtles get close, and the turtles rely on each other to map out routes and obstacles and to share drink orders to figure out the most efficient path to fill them.

Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq

Soldiers with the 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment, take part in an Army Asymmetric Warfare Group program designed to improve military tactics, techniques, and procedures while fighting underground.

(U.S. Army photo by Lt. Col. Sonise Lumbaca)

This is actually a complex logic problem for the bots when they also have to deal with humans moving from room to room and constantly creating and changing obstacles in the office.

And this is basically the starter level for robots that could help humans on battlefields of the future. Take subterranean warfare, an area so important that the U.S. is considering naming it as a new warfighting domain, for example. Robots helping humans underground will be physically limited in how they can communicate with one another as concrete or subterranean rocks block electromagnetic signals and lasers. So, robots will need to aid the humans there by carrying loads or ferrying supplies, and then communicate directly with one another to determine what’s going on in each section of the underground network.

Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq

Paratroopers with 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, fire during a squad live-fire exercise at Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia, March 14, 2018.

(U.S. Army photo by Spc. John Lytle)

Or, take a battle above ground. The Marines think they may be denied conventional radio communications in a war with China or Russia. Any robots helping them will only be able to communicate within a short range or by using lasers. Lasers, obviously, become short range communications when there are a lot of obstructions, like dense foliage or hills, in the way.

So, these robots will also need to complete moment-by-moment tasks while also coordinating their actions whenever they can communicate. All of this requires that the robots keep a constantly updating list of what tasks need completed, what humans haven’t been checked on in a while, and what areas are safe or unsafe for the robots to operate in.

Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq

MIT’s PR2 robot loads beers into the cooler of a “turtle” waiter bot as part of a program to improve robots’ ability to coordinate their actions in challenging environments.

(MITCSAIL)

Or, as MIT graduate student Ariel Anders said, “These limitations mean that the robots don’t know what the other robots are doing or what the other orders are. It forced us to work on more complex planning algorithms that allow the robots to engage in higher-level reasoning about their location, status, and behavior.”

From an MIT article about the team’s paper:

“These uncertainties were reflected in the team’s delivery task: among other things, the supply robot could serve only one waiter robot at a time, and the robots were unable to communicate with one another unless they were in close proximity. Communication difficulties such as this are a particular risk in disaster-relief or battlefield scenarios.”

So, yeah, at MIT, a beerbot is never just about beer. And the actual tech underlying these social-media-friendly beerbots is actually necessary for the less sexy but more vital missions, like disaster relief. And, potentially, it could even save the lives of troops under fire or wounded service members in the next few years or decades.

Let the military have its beerbots. And, if they sometimes use them for beer instead of medical supplies, well, they would’ve found a way to get drunk anyways.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Why soldiers probably shouldn’t worry that much when studying for the board

It’s one of the most nerve-wracking moments for a young specialist or sergeant hoping to move up in the ranks: stepping in front of the promotion board. In preparation, troops feel compelled to study and memorize every last question that the battalion’s first sergeants and sergeant major could possibly ask.

Throughout the process, each first sergeant will ask you questions that they believe to be paramount to both your role in particular and to NCOs in general. The subjects span the gamut, ranging from something like handling medical emergencies to spouting off regulations verbatim. And there’s no clear way of knowing what they’ll ask, so it’s best to study everything.

With that being said, you don’t have to go insane trying to fit every last regulation number in your head right before stepping into the board. You should still study and if you say that you didn’t because of an article you read on We Are The Mighty, you will be laughed by your chain of command — and me, as I hold my DD-214. Okay, especially by me, who may or may not screencap the conversation and send it to US Army WTF Moments. I digress.

Passing the board is about much more than your ability to parrot off semi-relevant information to higher ranking NCOs. It’s about your chain of command gauging your competency and potential to lead.


Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq

If your squad leader didn’t have faith in you, they never would have put you on that list.

(U.S. Army photo by Timothy Hale)

Long before your name even appears on any kind of candidate list, your first sergeant will consult your first line supervisor. If they think you’re ready, they will have a quick chat and your squad leader or platoon sergeant will argue for your promotion. If not, they aren’t even going to raise your hopes.

Your squad leader is (or should) always going to fight for you to advance your career. The moment your first sergeant is convinced that you’re ready for the next level of responsibility, you’ve successfully persuaded one-fifth of the board members.

Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq

It’s the big moment. Don’t lose your cool or else you’ll get rejected and have to come back again when they think you’re ready.

(U.S. Army photo by Timothy Hale)

Then it comes time to actually study. Your squad leader can’t cheat for you and give you the answers, but they can find out which topics each first sergeant might ask about. This means you should definitely take their advice if they advise you to study certain areas.

Next, we arrive at the big day: the promotion board. Keep as level of a head as you can. I don’t know if this will help you or stress you out further, but in the time between the previous person walking out and you showing up, they’re discussing you among themselves. It could be nothing more than a simple nod and a “I like this guy” but, make no mistake, they are talking about you.

Something as small as that nod of approval could seal your fate before you march in. The rest of the proceedings are just to convince anyone still on the fence.

Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq

Another bit of advice, try to take the board while you’re deployed. The questions tend to be easier (since your deployment is proving your worth to the Army) and you don’t need to get your Blues in perfect order.

(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Kimberly Hackbarth, 4th SBCT, 2nd Infantry Division Public Affairs Office)

You’re sitting in the chair now and the first sergeants are hitting you with questions. You find yourself stumped. There are two old tricks I’ve heard from NCOs but, as always, read your audience and choose wisely.

Some say you should give an answer and be confident about it, even if you’re not sure that it’s right.This shows that you’ll stick to your guns — but it could also make you seem like a complete dumbass.

Others say you should be humble, and respond with a respectful, “first sergeant, I do not know the answer to that question at this time.” If you admit you don’t know, it shows that you are honest — but it could also mean you’re unprepared if it was an easy question.

Both are technically good responses, but they could bite you in the ass. It all depends on the board members.

The first sergeants may drop some heavy-hitters on you, but the heaviest of all will come from the sergeant major. Impress him and you’re as good as gold.

Every unit and promotion board is different but, generally speaking, the sergeant major will ask you situational questions to determine your worth as an NCO. One question that stuck out for me was as follows:

You and a friend are drinking heavily by the lake. Your friend gets seriously injured and needs to get to the hospital. It’s fifteen minutes away on a path that no one takes, including law enforcement. Your cell phones are both out of service but you know the park ranger will make their rounds in one hour. Do you take the risk and drive there drunk? Or do you wait it out and risk them bleeding out?

It’s a trick question. You should answer in a way that demonstrates your understanding of military bearing and being an NCO. The only correct answers are, “I would never put myself in a position where myself and a passenger get drunk without having a legal way home” or “I would stabilize their wound then get to a point with better reception.”

Then again, I’ve also heard of a sergeant major asking a quiet and shy specialist to sing the National Anthem at the top of their lungs. It’s nearly impossible to know what’s going on in a sergeant major’s head.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Can you sue the military for medical malpractice?

In late December 2020, the Senate made a step forward in protecting military service members from medical malpractice at the hands of military doctors.


The 2020 National Defense Authorization Act now allows service members to file a claim for compensation if they feel they have been the victim of medical malpractice while serving in the military. This includes medical, dental, and other medicinal practices. These claims can be denied and they do not cover an attorney fees a service member might accrue while seeking legal counsel.

[rebelmouse-proxy-image https://media.rbl.ms/image?u=%2Fphoto-1551190822-a9333d879b1f%3Fixlib%3Drb-1.2.1%26ixid%3DeyJhcHBfaWQiOjEyMDd9%26auto%3Dformat%26fit%3Dcrop%26w%3D1350%26q%3D80&ho=https%3A%2F%2Fimages.unsplash.com&s=568&h=1582c3cb3e20650f7c31b16c300bbac9bced55470c8126ae476e0a0a112cbdf4&size=980x&c=1992007003 crop_info=”%7B%22image%22%3A%20%22https%3A//media.rbl.ms/image%3Fu%3D%252Fphoto-1551190822-a9333d879b1f%253Fixlib%253Drb-1.2.1%2526ixid%253DeyJhcHBfaWQiOjEyMDd9%2526auto%253Dformat%2526fit%253Dcrop%2526w%253D1350%2526q%253D80%26ho%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Fimages.unsplash.com%26s%3D568%26h%3D1582c3cb3e20650f7c31b16c300bbac9bced55470c8126ae476e0a0a112cbdf4%26size%3D980x%26c%3D1992007003%22%7D” expand=1]

Although this was heralded as a huge step for service members, many legal experts and families who have experienced medical malpractice while serving in the military see it otherwise. The Feres Doctrine, which was signed into law in 1950, states that military service members cannot sue military medical doctors for malpractice, giving them little to no recourse when malpractice has been committed. The new legislature in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act modifies this, allowing claims to now be filed, but service members still cannot sue for compensation due to malpractice.

This issue has come to head several times over the past seven decades, but recently military families have begun to fight it more furiously. Families like those of Rebekah Daniel, a Navy lieutenant who died during childbirth due to medical malpractice, cannot sue the doctor or the hospital because she was the active duty service member giving the family no compensation and no closure to losing their loved one at the hands of a medical professional.

Others like Army Capt. Katie Blanchard, who was lit on fire by a colleague of whom she had complained about as being dangerous to her and others, at the clinic in Fort Leavenworth, Kanas have no legal recourse with the government or with her superiors at the clinic due to the Feres Doctirne.

What this Means for Military Families Who Experience Medical Malpractice

In short, the new legislation put forth by the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act makes little to no change to the current Feres Doctrine that is still held into place despite Congressional hearings and Supreme Court cases that have asked for it to be overturned. Service members can file a claim against the government but as with all compensatory claims, these can be denied at the discretion of governing party which in this case, is the United States government.

In addition, this also means that there is no legal discourse for the medical professional who causes the malpractice. Military service members and their families are barred from suing medical professional meaning they are still allowed to practice medicine without any repercussions for their mistakes.

In short, service members can be seriously injured or die at the hands of military medical professionals but they nor their families have no legal recourse for justice.

[rebelmouse-proxy-image https://media.rbl.ms/image?u=%2Fphoto-1571772996211-2f02c9727629%3Fixlib%3Drb-1.2.1%26ixid%3DeyJhcHBfaWQiOjEyMDd9%26auto%3Dformat%26fit%3Dcrop%26w%3D1350%26q%3D80&ho=https%3A%2F%2Fimages.unsplash.com&s=684&h=f1a97710e0d3088626c39fc510db4f841a65960f83efa429c8afbe28e67c24cb&size=980x&c=202865400 crop_info=”%7B%22image%22%3A%20%22https%3A//media.rbl.ms/image%3Fu%3D%252Fphoto-1571772996211-2f02c9727629%253Fixlib%253Drb-1.2.1%2526ixid%253DeyJhcHBfaWQiOjEyMDd9%2526auto%253Dformat%2526fit%253Dcrop%2526w%253D1350%2526q%253D80%26ho%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Fimages.unsplash.com%26s%3D684%26h%3Df1a97710e0d3088626c39fc510db4f841a65960f83efa429c8afbe28e67c24cb%26size%3D980x%26c%3D202865400%22%7D” expand=1]

Can Dependents Sue for Malpractice?

Military spouses and any dependent of the military service member who receives care from a military doctor or at a military Medical Treatment Facility (MTF) can sue for medical malpractice including medical professionals, hospitals, and clinics. Military spouses and dependents do not fall under the Feres Doctrine.

In addition, a military service member can sue a civilian doctor under civilian court if a military service member is seen at a civilian hospital (which can only be done in cases of emergencies when life or limb is at risk). They still have no legal recourse, however, if a civilian medical professional is employed at a military treatment facility where they are receiving care and they experience medical malpractice at the hands of the civilian medical professional.

Why the Feres Doctrine Should Be Overturned

Medical is known by the military community to be mediocre at best. Service members frequently joke (and there are memes to prove it) they are often gaffed off when reporting an injury and told to “take a Motrin and walk it off.”

But service members don’t have much of a choice. Unlike their civilian counterparts and even their dependents, they cannot choose another doctor or hospital if the one they are visiting for treatment isn’t giving them proper care.

They do not have the resources offered to civilians to seek second opinions without paying out of pocket to do so, or to visit another facility unless prescribed by a doctor. Their choices are limited as it is and service members cannot even do their own due diligence when they feel their treatment isn’t up to basic medical standards.

And then when something dire happens resulting in further injury or death, there is no recourse. Service members are left standing between a rock and a hard place when it comes to medical malpractice, with the Feres Doctrine dumping dirt on top of them to keep them down.

When military service members sign that dotted line, they are under the understanding that they are putting themselves at risk for bodily injury and harm given the nature of their jobs. But they have a right to decent and ethical healthcare just like any other civilian. Whether an injury was sustained while in combat, in training, or unrelated to military service, military service members and their families should have the right to gain compensation when their medical case was handled improperly, especially when it causes more harm or death.

Additionally, doctors and medical professionals should be held accountable when they do not perform their duties accordingly or put a service member in more harm.

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

Sparta Science has its eye on serving the military

Sparta Science is movement diagnostic software which is used to reduce injury risk and increase readiness. Although originally created with athletes in mind, the military is now on their list of clients.

Dr. Phil Wagner is the founder and CEO of Sparta Science. His personal experiences with injury and inadequate support led him to creating the company. “This whole thing really started because I played high school and college football and I kept getting injured, finally being told I couldn’t play anymore. I moved to New Zealand to play rugby and the same thing happened. I finally said this is ridiculous…so I went to medical school,” Wagner said.


After graduating with his medical degree with a focus in biomechanics, Wagner dove into how science could target injury reduction and assess risk for possible future injuries. “I said let’s build this tech company that could gather data on how people move to better address rehab, performance and pain in general,” he said. Wagner continued, “Our mission is people’s movement as a vital sign. That’s where the company and the product came out of and it’s where we see ourselves fitting into, particularly in the military with the injuries we are seeing.”

This country relies on all of its soldiers, airmen, sailors, marines and coast guardsmen to be mission ready at all times.

But they aren’t.

Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq

Non-combat related musculoskeletal injuries account for a high percentage of why service members are undeployable, according to a study published in the Oxford Academic. In 2018, it was revealed that around 13-14% of the total force wasn’t deployable.

Although these injuries are negatively impacting mission readiness, they are also leading to lifelong complications. Musculoskeletal injuries are leading the cause of long-term disability for service members.

The impacts of no longer being able to serve due to injuries or suffering after retirement from the service are far reaching. “Mental health, movement and pain is so connected,” Wagner shared. He started working with the military after getting a call from Navy special forces asking if they could use it for their team.

“They had massive improvements the first year they did it, then they rolled it out to the other teams. I think for us, sports were our roots but our biggest growth and revenue comes from the government. It’s really satisfying because there’s so much more of a service and sacrifice approach that exists,” Wagner explained.

Statistics on nondeployable military personal with Major General Malcolm Frost

www.youtube.com

Major General Malcom Frost (Ret) served in the United States Army for 31 years. From 2017-2019 he led the Army’s Holistic and Fitness Revolution while he was the Commanding General of Initial Training for the Army. He was also responsible for developing the Army’s new fitness test, which launched in late 2020.

“Physical fitness and readiness drive everything…We are ground soldiers who must be on terrain in combat, therefore physical fitness is a huge part of what we do,” Frost said. He continued, “I would argue that we have neglected, in many ways, the most important weapon system in the United States Army and that is the soldier.”

Frost explained that by ignoring science, having outdated fitness training facilities, lack of professional support and long waits for medical care following injury – service members are suffering. “We have really injured and hurt a lot of our soldiers,” he said. He continued, “We were spending 500 million dollars a year just in musculoskeletal injuries alone for United States Army soldiers.”

Sparta Science approached Frost not long after he retired. “They said, ‘Hey, we would like to talk to you and understand the holistic fitness system better and show you what we [Sparta Science] can do,'” he said. So, Frost took a trip to California to visit their facility.

He was amazed at what he saw.

Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq

“Knowing how that could fit in, especially in the objective measurements side of the military, I thought it was the perfect match. So, I have been in the background helping them facilitate and move into the military channels to get Sparta on the map with leaders… I look at myself as the bridge,” Frost explained. He continued, “For me it’s exciting. I only get involved with organizations that I want to get involved with. They have to have a mission that I can get behind and where I can provide value. Sparta meets all of those in spades.”

Currently, you can find Sparta Science being used within the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.

So how does Sparta Science work exactly? According to their website, the person has to go through The Sparta Scan™ on their “force palate” machine. It will assess stability, balance and movement. Data is compiled and an individualized Movement Signature™ created. Sparta software then compares the results to the database to identify risk and pinpoint strengths. Then the system creates an individualized training plan to reduce injury risk and improve physical performance.

On July 21, 2020, the United States House of Representatives passed the National Defense Authorization Act for 2021. It includes provisions to create a commission to study the “force plate” technology and how it can increase the health and readiness of America’s military. That report will be due back to congress in September of 2021 to evaluate possibly implementing Sparta Science technology throughout all of the Department of Defense.

“Looking five years from now, I want to see the line graph [of injuries] going down on a global level,” Wagner shared. Frost agreed, “Sparta Science is a readiness multiplier”.

Sparta Science appears to have a deep commitment to bringing this technology to every branch of service to reduce injury and increase mission readiness. With the recent passage of the NDAA and their continuing education efforts, they are well on their way.

To learn more about Sparta Science, click here.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This could be the origin of the ‘lucky cigarette’

Smoking cigarettes has been a popular pastime among troops since the very first line formed at the armory. Everybody, both civilian and service member alike, has their reason for smoking, but one thing is consistent between the two crowds — flipping one cigarette upside down and saving it for last.

This last cigarette is referred to as the “lucky cigarette” and it’s considered bad luck to smoke it before the others in the pack. People all over the internet have speculated at the origin of this superstition, but it’s very likely that it all started with troops in WWII — and the Lucky Strike brand cigarettes they used to get in their rations.

So, if you’ve ever wondered why your veteran friend saves a single, specific cig for last, here are the best explanations we’ve found:


Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq

(U.S. Marine Corps)

World War II

In WWII, troops would get Lucky Strike cigarettes in their rations and each cigarette was stamped with the brand’s logo. It’s believed that those fighting either in Europe or the Pacific would flip every cigarette in the pack except for one. That way, when a troop sparked one, they’d burn the stamp first (this was before the days of filtered cigarettes).

That way, if a troop had to drop the cigarette for any reason, the enemy couldn’t quickly determine the country of origin — any identifying mark was quickly turned to ash. The last cigarette was the only exception — and if you survived long enough to smoke it, you were considered lucky.

Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq

U.S. Marine Corps LVTP-5 amphibious tractors transport 3rd Marine Division troops in Vietnam, 1966.

(U.S. Marine Corps)

Vietnam

Some swear that this tradition comes from the Vietnam War.

By this point, filtered cigarettes were becoming the norm, so you could only smoke ’em one way. Still, the tradition remained largely intact. Instead of flipping every cigarette on end, troops would invert a single one and, just as before, if you lived long enough to smoke it, you were a lucky joe.

Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq

Hopefully you can quit when you get out.

(U.S. Army)

In either case, having a “lucky cigarette” in your pack has since become a universal superstition.

Whether you’re in the military or not, flipping that one cigarette is considered good luck, even when your life isn’t in immediate danger.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Borne the Battle: Army veteran Nathan Goncalves

On this week’s episode, Borne the Battle features guest Nathan Goncalves, who shares his story of struggle and perseverance.

While Goncalves didn’t have the intrinsic calling to join the military, he enlisted at 23, seeking reform and discipline. It was in the Army that Goncalves sharpened his focus and developed lifelong friendships and mentors.


Rough transition

However, Goncalves’ transition back to civilian life was not easy. In fact, it turned out to be some of his lowest valleys–involving addiction, PTSD, and anger management.

But things started to change when Goncalves heard he was going to be a father. In this episode, he discusses how an intense work ethic allowed him to achieve a bachelor’s degree at UCLA in less than three years.

Goncalves applied to UCLA’s Law school to study corporate law. He was accepted, but a bitter divorce hampered those plans. Through his own experiences, Goncalves realized there was no advocacy for situations like his own. So he sacrificed a potentially lucrative corporate law career and switched to family law to offer services to homeless and low-income veterans.

Equal Justice Works Responds to Veteran Crisis

www.youtube.com

Goncalves is now hosted by Harriet BuHai Center for Family Law and sponsored in house by Equal Justice Works. He continues to fight for family integration for homeless and low-income veterans as they transition back into the civilian communities.

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Toast your service with one of these 7 veteran-brewed beers

It seems like every veteran entrepreneur opens a coffee shop, a t-shirt company, or a brewery. We ain’t mad atcha, especially if it’s a brewery.


This Veterans Day, raise a glass full of veteran-brewed goodness to toast all the great ones before us, those who have served with us and those yet to come. Here are 8 veteran-brewed beers to drink this Veterans Day (and hell, all year round):

Brotherhood Hazy IPA

Protector Brewery, San Diego, CA

What could be better than toasting the brotherhood than by buying a beer that gives back to it? A portion of every beer sold in the series is donated to the Navy Seal Foundation.

According to their website, this brew is fermented at a higher temp (72F) to blow up the fruity and juicy yeast strain esters. This series features a single hop profile of Azacca Hops to bring big citrus and tropical fruit tones. Protector is one of the fastest-growing breweries in SoCal and is owned and operated by a veteran Navy Seal.

W.A.S.P. Waffle Ale: A Breakfast Beer

Callsign Brewery, Kansas City, MO

Start your day right with a W.A.S.P. Waffle Ale that honors the Women Air Service Pilots (W.A.S.P.) from World War II. While it was brewed by women to honor women in uniform, this beer is for anybody who likes to be happy. With subtle caramel notes and a maple vanilla finish, Callsign promises you’ll be saying “leggo my beer.” We’ll drink to that.

Blessed Are the Peacemakers

Haint Blue Brewing Company, Mobile, AL

This Double Dry Hopped India Pale Ale with Citra is a crisp, flavorful IPA. You’ll want to save the cans for their awesome artwork, but you’ll want to drink all the beers, we promise.

Frogman Lager

The Bold Mariner Brewing Company, Norfolk, VA

The Frogman Lager is a fan favorite at this Norfolk brewery with a combination of caramel and bready-malt flavors and floral and earthy notes courtesy of the Bold Saaz hops. With 24 IBU, this is an easy beer to drink and an easier one to love.

KA-BAR Brown Ale

Railhouse Brewery, Aberdeen, NC

We give the KA-BAR Brown Ale two fierce knife hands. Their flagstaff beer, this is a rich, dark brown ale with notable nuttiness up front. It’s also described with a “slight roasty character and a hint of chocolate and toffee come through before ending with a subtle bitterness.”

While this beer is bottled, if you can make a trip to the taproom, it’s worth seeing in person: the tap handles for the KA-BAR Brown Ale come directly from the KA-BAR factory in New York.

Pineapple Grenade

Young Veterans Brewing Company, Virginia Beach, VA

One of our favorite beers to drink, the pineapple hefeweizen, is packed with sweet and tangy fruit flavors, perfectly complemented by spicy clove and hints of banana. This is one pin you’ll want to pull over and over again.

The Ground Pounder Pale Ale

Service Brewing Company, Savannah, GA

“The foot soldiers of the Infantry belong to the oldest and proudest branch of the army, their boots ‘always ready, then, now and forever.’ Our Ground Pounder Pale Ale honors those that have worn out their soles preserving the freedoms we cherish.”

The Ground Pounder is all around a great beer. It has nice spice and citrus notes with some bold, piney hop and a little bit of caramel. And, just because we know the Army is always a little extra, there’s some lime and crushed black pepper in this bad boy.

No matter what you’re drinking this Veterans Day, raise your glass not only to those around you who have served, but give a little toast to yourself, too. Here’s to you – cheers.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Why this schoolteacher grew a beard for a decade

On May 2, 2011, a Seattle-based school teacher shaved his face for the first time in a decade. It was one of those beard-growing events you hear about athletes doing or when people grow facial hair for a good cause. But the only thing special about Gary Weddle’s beard was when he started growing it, and the day he cut it, which all began on Sept. 11, 2001.


Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq

The 9/11 attacks were the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil – and the whole country watched.

Gary Weddle was a 40-year-old middle school science teacher during the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington. Though the teacher, based in Ephrata, Wash., was far from the tragic devastation of the attacks, he was still devastated by the loss of life and the destruction of some of America’s most iconic structures. He told the Seattle Times that he couldn’t eat, shower, or shave in the days that followed. So to work through his grief, he vowed that he wouldn’t – shave that is – until the architect of the attacks was killed or captured.

The day he got to shave his beard came nearly a full ten years later, on May 1, 2011, when President Obama announced to the world that U.S. intelligence had found his hiding place in Pakistan and that U.S. Navy SEALs attacked it and killed the terrorist mastermind in a daring nighttime raid.

Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq

President Obama announced that U.S. Special Operators killed Osama bin Laden on May 1, 2011.

After nearly ten years of nothing about Bin Laden, Weddle thought he might be buried with the beard. And he hated it. The facial hair only served as a reminder of the destruction of that day, and the justice left unserved to the man who planned the whole thing. So when he heard about the SEAL Team Six raid on Bin Laden’s hideout, he went straight for a pair of scissors.

The then-50-year-old had begun to look homeless in his long beard. Some even remarked that the graying beard resembled the one sported by Osama bin Laden himself. But after 3,454 days with the beard, having taught some 2,000 students, it took Gary Weddle 40 minutes to emerge from the bathroom clean-shaven. The students he currently taught at Ephrata Middle School were only two years old during the 9/11 attacks, and no one who worked with Weddle ever knew him without the beard.

When he walked into work the next day with his new look, few recognized him – and those who did say he looked ten years younger.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This Navy SEAL went from Nigerian prince to the Bronx to hero

Sitting across the table from Remi Adeleke is a pretty powerful experience. This is a man who exudes charisma and excellence.

You’d never know that he was born into African royalty, lost his father and everything his family owned, relocated to the Bronx, got caught up in illegal and dangerous activities, and found his way out not just in the military but as a United States Navy SEAL — one of the most elite military programs in the world.

Now, he gives back, helping at-risk youths the same way he was once helped: by believing in them.


Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq

“If you’re not uncomfortable when you’re training, you’re not training.”

(Photo courtesy of Remi Adeleke)

Unsung Hero

In his new book Transformed, Adeleke details his unlikely journey where he is both unflinching while admitting his mistakes and unsparing while reflecting on the people who helped him. As we spoke, he observed that many of the critical guides in his life were women — starting with his mother and his military recruiter.

In his book he details how Petty Officer Tiana Reyes managed to help a poor kid from the Bronx — with a record and an outstanding warrant for his arrest — qualify for the Navy SEALs. I don’t mean to spoil one of my favorite moments, but Reyes personally accompanied Adeleke to multiple court hearings to advocate for him.

“She knew that no one would take a chance on a kid from the Bronx,” he told me when I asked why she did it. It turned out that Reyes was from the Bronx, too, and she knew the obstacles facing families there. He promised her that he wouldn’t let her down and that promise guided him through boot camp, into BUD/S, and beyond.

The assistance she gave him would also inspire him to return to inner cities to help others.

“Strategic mentorship is how we can improve inner city environments. If military veterans, doctors, or successful actors came to the inner cities to mentor children, we could change their lives,” he said when I asked how we can make a difference for at risk youths.

Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq

Behind-the-scenes on ‘Transformers: The Last Knight.’

(Photo courtesy of Remi Adeleke)

Taking on a broken system — one kid at a time

“Honor, courage, and commitment were instilled into me by the Navy, as well as excellence. In SEAL training, just meeting the standard wasn’t enough. Now, my character is built on excellence: keeping my word, being on time, and pushing myself.” After his military career, Adeleke pursued writing, speaking, and acting, notably including a role in Transformers: The Last Knight.

He has climbed high but he hasn’t forgotten his roots.

“If make a mistake as a youth, you get marked,” he noted, adding that African American males who grow up in single-parent households are nine times more likely to drop out of high school and twenty times more likely to end up in prison than any other demographic. This becomes a cycle for these families — but it doesn’t have to be.

Now, the message he gives to inner-city youths is that they can be whatever they want to be — if they do the work. He tells them his own story, sharing the deficiencies he had to overcome. “You have to do the extra hard work. You have to. And if you do that, you really can be anything you want to become.”

[instagram https://www.instagram.com/p/BxQf9p-HkTt/ expand=1]Remi Adeleke on Instagram: ““M-J, Him J, Fade-away, Perfect.” All my #hiphop heads know where that line is from. . My @cityhopenow boys challenged your boy to a 3 on…”

www.instagram.com

“Everything that happens in our lives leads us to where we are today.”

He began with the drive to help and he hasn’t stopped.

“Ten years ago, I was living in San Diego and I decided to go find kids who needed help. I went to ministries and non-profits and asked if there were kids who needed to hear my message.” Now, Adeleke partners with non-profits like La Mesa City Hope, continuing to serve after his service.

His book details his incredible journey, but ultimately, it is about overcoming the odds — any odds, for anyone, anywhere. He has embodied that message and now he encourages others to do the same.

Transformed comes out on May 14, 2019, and is now available for pre-order.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This is why its important for troops to go through the CS chamber

Corson-Stoughton Gas, commonly known as “CS gas” or tear gas, has been a part of military culture since it was first mass produced in the 50s. Technically, it’s less-than-lethal — death from inhaling CS gas is rare, but it still hurts like hell to breathe in. You’re going to cry and all of the mucus in your body will try to escape at once. It’s not pretty.

So, why not subject troops to it regularly, on a every-six-months basis? What could possibly go wrong?

No really, I’m not being sarcastic. There are actually many good reasons to subject troops to a bi-annual deep cleanse in the CS chamber — and it’s a much more valid reasoning than the standard “it builds character” excuse that first sergeants use.


The very first moment troops are exposed to CS gas is the most important one — during initial training. This serves many different functions.

For starters, it builds confidence in your equipment. All of the “lowest bidder” jokes tend to go away when you realize that the mask you were assigned is perfectly capable of stopping the painful gas from entering your lungs.

It also serves as a way of teaching troops that pain is temporary. Troops have nothing to fear from temporary discomfort. Yeah, it’s going to hurt like hell, but you shouldn’t cower from it — just accept it and move on. Think of it like the scene in Dune when Paul Atreides faces the pain box.

“Fear is the mind killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.”
Brotherhood in Combat: One Green Beret’s Thanksgiving in Iraq

This is one of those moments where the phrase “suck it up, buttercup” is completely applicable because it will get easier the more you do it.

(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Caleb Barrieau)

Troops will walk in with their mask on, knowing that they’re to take it off in the middle of the chamber. And before you start coming up with a plan, no, you can’t just hold your breath to escape the pain. The drill sergeant will likely ask you to recite the Soldier’s Creed, sing the Marines’ Hymn — whatever gets you to open your mouth and take in a breath. And then you can leave.

Feeling the pain of CS gas is universal experience throughout the U.S. Armed Forces — but it doesn’t last long. Twenty or thirty minutes later and you’re back on your feet — until the exercise is put back on the training calendar.

Heading into the CS chamber twice a year can actually help you build up a tolerance to the gas that lasts a lifetime. The first time hurts like a motherf*cker. The second time just hurts like hell. The third time is a little better than that, and so on, until it just makes you slightly uncomfortable. It’s not a complete immunity, but it’s a strong tolerance.

Your eyes will still water but you’re not vomiting in the corner at the very least — so that’s good.