HBO’s epic miniseries Chernobyl is quickly gaining fans around the world, including in Iran, where an adviser to President Hassan Rohani has suggested that it carries lessons for political leaders.
The five-part series has been widely praised for its dramatization of the world’s worst civilian nuclear disaster, including portrayals of victims sacrificing themselves to prevent an even greater catastrophe following an explosion at the Soviet-built power plant in 1986.
The adviser, Hesamedin Ashena, who also heads the presidential research arm known as the Center For Strategic Studies, on June 4, 2019, highlighted the joint U.S./U.K. production’s central theme — “What is the cost of lies?” — and said “those in politics and government” could learn from that “mind-boggling question.”
Ashena did not elaborate.
He appeared to have Iranian politicians in mind, since he posted his tweet in Persian. Ashena routinely tweets in English when directing his comments toward Westerners.
In a separate tweet, he shared an HBO promotional image for Chernobyl.
The show appears to be reaching Iranians who, despite restrictions that include tough Internet filtering and censorship as well as U.S. financial sanctions, are usually quick to access the latest Hollywood and Western movies and TV series.
Several episodes have already appeared online dubbed or subtitled into Persian.
When asked by another Twitter user whether he had downloaded the series or has an HBO subscription, Ashena cited the Filimo.com portal, a video-on-demand app that makes Iranian and Western movies and TV shows available to customers.
Not often discussed
There has been little public debate within Iran’s state or semiofficial media about the safety of the country’s nuclear facilities, although some Iranians have used open letters, blogs, and social media to question the need for a nuclear program or warn about the potential health or environmental risks of nuclear energy.
In 2012, comments by an Iranian health official who had expressed concerns about nuclear health hazards and suggested that there had been “accidents” at one of the country’s nuclear sites were quickly removed from the website of a semiofficial news agency.
Iranian officials have said their facilities have been designed and built based on the latest state-of-the-art technology and don’t pose a threat to the environment or people.
They have also maintained that the Russian-built Bushehr nuclear reactor that went online in southern Iran in 2011 is safe and build to withstand earthquakes up to magnitude 8. Earthquakes are a frequent occurrence in Iran.
HBO’s miniseries appeared to rekindle a debate about nuclear safety among Iranians.
“If this happens in Iran, would our health system be ready to handle so many irradiated patients?” a user who claims to be a physician tweeted from Tehran.
A scene from HBO’s Chernobyl.
In a reference to Iranian defiance at Western criticism of its contentious nuclear program, the same user reminded those who repeat the state-promoted slogan of “nuclear energy is our absolute right” not to forget Chernobyl.
The HBO miniseries has shone a bright light on Soviet attempts to cover up the scale of the Chernobyl disaster.
Some Iranians on social media said that scenario was all too familiar for Iranians living in an ideologically driven system that frequently silences critics under the pretext of national security or to avoid grim accounts of life in Iranian society.
Iran has steadfastly insisted its nuclear efforts are strictly for civilian purposes, but the U.S. and other governments as well as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have accused Tehran of duplicity and stonewalling about its nuclear activities.
International fears that Iran was seeking a nuclear bomb-making capability led to a deal between world powers and Tehran in 2015 that the United States has since abandoned in favor of renewed sanctions and other economic and diplomatic pressure.
The most interesting thing about pleading guilty to a capital crime in a military court is the defendant needs to be able to convince the presiding judge that he or she is actually guilty of the crime, and not just taking the deal to avoid the death penalty. Another interesting tidbit is that defense lawyers can only allow the defendant to make such a plea if they truly believe he or she is guilty.
So when Staff Sgt. Alberto Martinez offered to plead guilty to avoid the death penalty for murdering two of his officers in Iraq, you’d think that would be a gift to the prosecution. You’d think that, you really would.
Lt. Allen left behind four children with his wife.
Martinez convinced his lawyers of his guilt and offered to plead guilty to premeditated murder, convince the judge, and avoid the death penalty. He was willing to testify that he threw a claymore mine into the window of a CHU occupied by his commanding officers, Capt. Phillip T. Esposito and First Lt. Louis E. Allen on a U.S. military base near Tikrit, Iraq in 2005.
The claymore exploded and tore the two sleeping officers to shreds, as it was designed to do. It was the first fragging accusation of the Global War on Terror. Witnesses told the 14-member jury that Esposito derided Martinez for his lax operation of the unit’s supply room. Another witness testified that she had delivered the murder weapon to Martinez a month prior. Another witness said Martinez simply watched the explosion happen, unconcerned about a follow-on attack. It was a well-known fact that Martinez and Esposito did not get along.
A temporary memorial for US Army officers Phillip Esposito and Louis Allen erected in Tikrit, Iraq in June 2005 after both officers were killed in an alleged fragging incident at Forward Operating Base Danger on June 7, 2005.
Martinez was arrested and transferred to Fort Bragg for trial. A New York Times investigation revealed that Martinez offered the guilty plea two full years before his trial ever took place – but the offer was rejected by the prosecution, who wanted to send Martinez to death row.
If the defense offered it to the prosecution, it means they truly believed their client was guilty, as per Army regulations. Then Martinez would have to convince the judge of his guilt. The judge could then accept or reject the plea. Martinez never made it to the judge. The Army took it to trial and lost their case against Martinez in just six weeks.
Esposito with his daughter Madeline before deploying in 2005.
The defense argued that all the evidence and witness accounts were purely circumstantial and since no one took receipt of the claymores, which was usual for the Army then, it can’t be proven that Martinez had access to them or even knew the rarely-used mines were available.
Martinez was cleared of the charges, released from prison, and honorably discharged from the Army. He died in January 2017 of unknown causes, and no charges have ever been filed for the deaths of Capt. Esposito and Lt. Allen.
Training away from home is part of the military way. Schools, deployments, overnight sessions — all of these and more are a regular occurrence for military members. And then, on the other side of things, are their families, left to hold down the fort at home.
Over time it’s a schedule that everyone becomes used to … that is, until young kids are involved. While older kids can certainly understand the logistics of a parent being away (even if they don’t like it), with toddlers or babies, it’s another story. They simply aren’t old enough to grasp what’s taking place. They cry, they act out, and they’re confused as to why mom or dad disappears for days, weeks, or even months at a time.
Teaching these training schedules to kids is certainly hard, but it’s also one that can leave them better emotionally equipped in years to come.
Talk about it
When parents are away at training, it’s ok to tell your kids — in fact, you should tell your kids that, “Daddy’s at work” or “Mommy had to go on a work trip.” These explanations might not make sense in the status quo, but they will teach them that sometimes parents are gone, but it’s nothing to worry about. We know they will come back, and in the meantime, it’s ok to miss them and talk about what they’re doing.
Adjust the conversation in a way that’s age-appropriate, so your kids can still remain informed without being confused or overwhelmed with military training schedules.
Keep it busy
When a parent is in the field, it’s a good time to bring out the fun distractions. Not only will this make it easier for the parent at home, but the kids will have an easier time with the transition. This is true for kids of all ages, not just the littles! Check out local family-friendly events. Get out the “messy” or “outside only” toys and share some new family fun. Make crafts, cook together, or try something new. It’ll give the kids something to talk about once the other parent comes home, and it will speed up everything else in the meantime.
Did we mention this helps the time go faster?
Learn about the process
What’s mom or dad off doing, anyway? Sounds like the perfect time for a lesson. Use this time to talk about what’s being accomplished during this time away. Talk about the history of the armed forces, look into camping gear to talk about field stays, and help your kids find your spouse’s location on a globe or map. When at a school, discuss new jobs and how the training will help mom or dad learn.
Sure, the kids might get bored (and probably will), but keeping this info handy will help them become smarter individuals.
Have them help
Technically, this takes place before your loved one ever leaves. Allow your kids to be involved in the getting-ready-to-leave process. Plan and wash laundry, fold clothes, get out the suitcase and start packing. Older kids can be in charge of a checklist and ensure everything has been added to the luggage.
No one likes training schedules or time away, but making your children a part of the process can ease their fears about mom or dad being away. Help your little ones add this coping mechanism to their toolbox of growing emotions.
When it’s time for travel or days away for your military member, don’t worry about the kids! They are smarter and more adaptable than we realize. Talking about what’s ahead and staying busy in the meantime will help the time pass in a way that’s healthy rather than taboo.
The top Marine Corps general is officially putting an end to the long-standing tradition of toughing out the rain without an umbrella, which has become a point of pride for the amphibious service.
“Umbrellas are good to go,” Gen. David Berger told reporters at the Pentagon — at least when Marines are wearing their service or dress uniforms.
Berger will make the move official in a new Marine Corps-wide administrative message to be released this week. Effective immediately, all Marines are authorized to use small, black umbrellas under certain conditions.
“Marines may carry an all-black, plain, standard or collapsible umbrella at their option during inclement weather with the service and dress uniforms,” the commandant’s message to Marines states.
Leathernecks in camouflage combat utility uniforms will still need to brave the rainfall.
The change follows an April survey on the matter from the Marine Corps’ uniform board. Officials declined to say how many Marines who answered the survey viewed the addition of umbrellas to the uniform lineup favorably.
When the survey was announced in April, some readers said umbrellas weren’t necessary since Marines are already issued raincoats and covers. Others argued that dress and service uniform items are too expensive to ruin in the rain, especially for lesser-paid junior Marines.
For others, the move came down to common sense.
“Using an umbrella looks more civilized and professional than standing outside getting drenched,” one reader said.
Until now, only female Marines have been allowed to use umbrellas in service and dress uniforms. They must carry the umbrellas in their left hands, so they can still salute.
Male Marines have for decades been some of the only service members barred from using umbrellas when in uniform.
The policy made headlines in 2013 when President Barack Obama was giving a speech in the rain outside the White House. Marines standing next to Obama and the Turkish president held umbrellas for the two men while they stood in the rain.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
The following is an interview with Sgt. 1st Class Robert Ford, one of the soldiers entrusted with maintaining the tank capabilities at Army Prepositioned Stocks-5.
Look through the pictures to see how Ford and a team of contractors reattach a turret on an Abrams M1A2. Ford also recently passed the board for entry into the Sergeant Audie Murphy Club, and he talks about what he learned.
With nine years of service, Ford is on his third overseas deployment, having served in both Afghanistan and South Korea. (The interview was edited for clarity and length.)
Abrams M1A2 tanks stored at an Army Prepositioned Stocks-5 warehouse at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, Sept. 10, 2019. APS-5 is a massive amount of ground force equipment positioned to provide strategic planners options to win in the US Central Command’s area of responsibility.
(US Army photo by Kevin Fleming)
What is the most important thing to know about maintaining the Abrams M1A2?
Ford: The most important thing to know about the maintenance of tanks is that they are very big and very expensive. Even the smallest components can cost a lot more than the average military vehicle, which means it’s that much more important to get the maintenance on them right.
For example, the operation we recently did to put a turret back on a tank had to be completed with extreme care and precision as not to damage the vehicle. The cost of error is one of those things you can’t help but to think about when planning maintenance on these.
Sgt. 1st Class. Robert Ford, quality assurance for tanks, 401st Army Field Support Battalion-Kuwait, watches as contractors at Army Prepositioned Stocks-5 work to lift a 30-ton turret at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, Sept. 23, 2019.
(US Army photo by Kevin Fleming)
I noticed a huge team effort in putting the turret back on the tank. Is that a special event for people here?
Ford: We rarely pull turrets off or put them on, so every time it does happen it seems like it becomes a bit of a spectacle. That’s because we are lifting a 30-ton piece of equipment and moving it around with no room for error. It’s definitely something to see and experience.
It takes a lot of eyes to ensure that turret is coming out and going in straight. The turret is a machine fit — only just big enough to get into the hole of the tank. If anything is off to the left or right, there is a possibility of damaging equipment and that equipment is very expensive. In this case, the turret was level and fit well into its proper place.
Sgt. 1st Class. Robert Ford, quality assurance for tanks, 401st Army Field Support Battalion-Kuwait, stands in front of an Abrams M1A2 tank at Army Prepositioned Stocks-5 at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, Oct. 6, 2019.
(US Army photo by Kevin Fleming)
What is your role in a maintenance operation like this?
Ford: I fill the quality inspection role while [the contractors] are doing the majority of the work. As the contracting officer’s representative, I ensure the terms of the contract are fulfilled. I also verify and accept the completed work on behalf of the government.
As you can see there [in the third photo], the guy on the tank is in charge of the crane. I’m just there for safety reasons and then just to ensure it’s put together properly and safely. That’s all I’m looking for. But, if they need my advice as an expert on the vehicle, then I’ll interject when I feel it’s necessary. I try to stay back and let them do the job.
A contractor with Army Prepositioned Stocks-5 directs a crane operator to briefly stop lowering a 30-ton turret onto an Abrams M1A2 so others could check its alignment to the mount at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, September 23, 2019.
(US Army photo by Kevin Fleming)
I noticed you jumped in a few times to help give directions. Is that typical?
Ford: There were a couple instances where they were unsure on how to move forward on that operation and, you know, time is always of the essence. That’s when I stepped forward to provide another set of eyes. But this was their operation, and I was mostly just watching it come together.
Some of the contractors have more familiarity with older tank models because they used those when they served. Sometimes I have to help fill the knowledge gap they have to help things along. But they have familiarity with each other — using hand signals they worked out that I don’t know, and that’s important for working as a team.
Ernie Boyd, work center supervisor at Army Prepositioned Stocks-5, provides positioning guidance as a crew lowers a turret back on an Abrams M1A2 tank at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, Sept. 23, 2019.
(US Army photo by Kevin Fleming)
Can you tell me a little about the team doing the work?
Ford: I think the team takes their role very seriously. Take Ernie Boyd for example. He is a retired Marine with 14 years of experience working on tanks. He is one of my go-to guys for tanks and for solving work center issues.
He definitely takes his work seriously — you can tell. He’s a supervisor for the work center, but during this turret operation, he was doing a lot more than supervising. He was extremely hands-on in ensuring that operation went according to plan.
Sgt. 1st Class. Robert Ford, quality assurance for tanks, 401st Army Field Support Battalion-Kuwait, provides another set of eyes for a maintenance operation to place a turret back on an Abrams M1A2 tank at Army Prepositioned Stocks-5 at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, Sept. 23, 2019.
(US Army photo by Kevin Fleming)
What is Army Prepositioned Stocks-5?
Ford: APS-5 is a massive set of equipment placed here to make rapidly deploying units faster. We give the warfighter the material capability they need to complete their missions.
Looking at the big picture, our job is to ensure APS-5 continues to provide viable strategic options to win.
All of our tanks are stored inside our warehouses ready for issue. They are configured for combat, meaning a unit can come in, hop in a tank, and drive it off the lot. They’re quick and ready to roll out for any mission.
This mission is important because there will come a day when a deploying unit will need this equipment, and if it’s not ready, then it could slow their mission down. It can be a life or death situation. Being able to provide the warfighter with the most ready equipment is our focus every day.
A maintenance crew at Army Prepositioned Stocks-5 reattaches a 30-ton turret to an Abrams M1A2 tank at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, Sept. 23, 2019.
(US Army photo by Kevin Fleming)
Tell me about the first time you saw Army Prepositioned Stocks-5.
Ford: I walked into one of our warehouses and saw an entire battalion worth of tanks. They were in lines all facing each other as far as I could see — 72-ton vehicles all the way down from wall to wall.
You don’t often get to see something like that. Usually tanks are scattered out in fragmented lines waiting for operations or maintenance.
When I first saw it, I definitely felt excited about our mission and my part in it because I am the only tank [quality assurance] soldier here. All those tanks sitting there embodied my reason for being in Kuwait.
Contractors with Army Prepositioned Stocks-5 watch closely as a crane lowers a 30-ton turret back onto an Abrams M1A2 tank at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, Sept. 23, 2019. The turret is machine-fit to the tank, and must be placed carefully to avoid costly damage.
(US Army photo by Kevin Fleming)
What do you think of DFAC food?
Ford: Um, keeps me alive. I haven’t died or anything yet (laughter). Dry chicken and rice are great — just be sure you have plenty of water so you can swallow the chicken.
Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles in lots maintained by the 401st Field Support Brigade at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, Oct. 22, 2016.
(US Army photo by Kevin Fleming)
I know you will soon be inducted into the Sergeant Audie Murphy Club. Why did you decide to go to the board and what did you learn?
Ford: Sergeant Audie Murphy Club provides continuous opportunities to serve throughout a career and beyond. The club’s mission is to develop and build professional noncommissioned officers and to provide community service to every Army community. So every duty station I go to from here forward, I get to go out to do good things for people while representing the Army and the NCO corps.
I learned it’s a big challenge, and with big challenges like that you don’t succeed on your own. I had to seek out a lot of mentorship and leadership scenarios from my leaders and all the way up through brigade. I had to expose my flaws and weaknesses; that way, they could help me correct those weaknesses. It’s just not enough to go in having read a book. You have to have real-life application of regulations and policies.
Trucks bring in APS-5 equipment from Camp Buehring back to Camp Arifjan during the 155th Armored Brigade Combat Team turn-in, Feb. 5, 2019.
(US Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Veronica McNabb)
Of the Army values, which stand out most to you?
Ford: I think loyalty is a big one for me. Your loyalty is always being tested. You have to constantly be loyal to your seniors, your peers, your subordinates, your unit, the Army, and the nation. You have to buy into that mission to really give it all that you have – you can’t waver on that.
Respect is another huge value for me. Without respect, you can’t have trust. Without trust, you can’t be a leader and you can’t be led. That’s our primary job, and you can’t be a good leader without first being a good follower.
Soldiers assigned to the 155th Armored Brigade Combat Team prepare to move 22 M1A2 Abrams Tanks from an Army Prepositioned Stock-5 warehouse to a remote staging lot during a large-scale equipment issue at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, June 29, 2019.
(US Army photo by Justin Graff)
What advice would you give to young soldiers?
Ford: Don’t be afraid to fail, just put yourself out there. You never really know how much support you have until you are out there asking for support, so put yourself out there and allow people to help you.
We have a lot of good leaders in the military. They see you taking initiative and they see your desire to better yourself, they’re going to pick you up and provide you with what you need.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Some military traditions make sense to nearly everyone — little things that show mutual respect, like leaders serving food to their subordinates on holidays or NCOs electing to eat after their guys. Other traditions are odd at first blush, like messing with the new guy or passing through an archway after graduating a class or achieving a higher rank, but civilians can generally understand where they come from.
But then there are the ones that require a lot of explaining to your civilian family members. Every time, these story begins with a, “well, you see. It kinda goes back to…” and more often than not, the explanation just makes them tilt their head in confusion.
At one point, the following traditions may have meant something to one person or a group, but today, the original meaning is buried beneath decades of military bearing and tradition. We mostly just do them because, well, if it ain’t broke — and no one’s getting UCMJ’d for it — why bother stopping?
10. Paratroopers and cherry pies
When you finish going through Army Airborne School, your head will be spinning, filled with all of the information you’ll need to not shatter every bone in your body when you make a landing. You’ll have to master the art of hooking up your static line and perform countless parachute landing falls before you’re even able to get the chance to actually jump out of a perfectly good airplane.
Finally, the moment of truth arrives — you finally get to jump with your unit in the 82nd. Your superiors will recommend that you fill your cargo pockets with Hostess Cherry Pies first. They’ll often say it’s for some reason like, “in case you get hungry when you land” or whatever. Who are you to argue?
When your big moment finally comes and you take in the sights while falling gracefully, you’ll hopefully have your PLFs burnt into the back of your mind as second nature. Everything will happen so fast that you’ll forget those cherry pies in your pants. When you land, you’ll squish all those pies and leave a nice red stain on your uniform.
9. Actual callsigns
In pop culture, callsigns are the coolest things ever. You’ll often see some badass names, like Iceman, Maverick, or Snake used in TV and movies. They’re always just made up because they sound cool and the storytellers don’t really know how the military works.
In reality, callsigns are usually unit designations followed by a number to signify who they are in said unit. So, for example, the commander of the Alpha company “Black Sheep” would be known as “Black Sheep 6,” and the first sergeant of the same unit is “Black Sheep 7.”
If you’re looking for unique callsigns, those are in the aviation world, and they’re typically less cool and more nonsensical. For example, if you eat a Pop-Tart one time in front of another pilot, your callsign is now forever “Pop-Tart.” Good going, Pop-Tart. That’s your callsign until the end of time.
8. The grog bowl
At civilian parties, if there’s a punch bowl, it’ll be centrally placed and it may or may not have some kind of alcohol in it. Whenever the military throws a unit ball, that punch bowl will most certainly have alcohol in it… plus a whole slew of other random things that would make anyone throw up.
Most of the leadership of the unit gets a chance to add one ingredient to the grog bowl (which is a toilet bowl) and offer some kind of nonsense to explain why their chosen ingredient has some kind of significance to the unit.
You can expect classic grog bowl ingredients, like hot sauce, because of the deserts the unit deploys to, ground coffee, because of the long hours the troops works, a cup of salt, because of the sweat that troops give to the cause, and a dirty sock because… reasons?
7. Blood wings and blood stripes
When civilians get promoted or graduate some school, the accomplishment is usually met with a party or a card that’s signed by everyone in the office. That sounds pleasant. Troops, on the other hand, almost always lose a bit of blood over it.
Blood wings and blood stripes are, essentially, the same thing. You get the wings from a school and the stripes from a promotion. Then, everyone takes turn punching it in. It’s technically considered hazing, but the troop receiving the blood wings/stripes usually agrees to it. There (typically) isn’t any malice or hate involved in the ceremony and troops usually walk away with a bit more pride in whoever bled for their new badge/rank.
6. Challenge coin “duels”
There’s nothing really odd about challenge coins in general. It’s basically the same thing as collecting trading cards as a kid, but instead of aiming for a holographic Charizard, you’re aiming for the coolest-looking coin with the most badass backstory.
Usually, officers will keep the coolest coins on their desk in their office to casually gloat about and enlisted troops keep them in some drawer at home, but sh*t gets real when troops take their coins to the bars. The ensuing game basically goes like this:
Troops unsheathe their coolest coin. If you don’t have your coin on you, you buy the drinks. If everyone has a coin, whoever has the “least valuable coin” buys the drinks. Since the “value” is determined by backstory and design — both of which are subjective — this game almost always ends in a shouting match over who has to pick up the tab.
5. ‘Stache contests
In case you haven’t nailed down the common thread between all of these traditions, the military is engaged in a perpetual pissing contest. Troops are in constant contest to see who can do literally anything better than the next guy; to see who is the most macho of the troops. It should come as no surprise that one of the most macho things out there, facial hair, gets quantified into some sort of challenge.
The problem with this is that the military doesn’t allow most versions of facial hair — that is, with the exception of a very thin mustache. A word of warning: The first two weeks of a mustache-off makes every contestant look pathetic.
Mustache contests usually begin at the start of the deployment (presumably, when troops’ wives have less of a say in the matter) and, after a certain point, someone is declared a winner. Yet, the Air Force has unanimously decided to make March their official contest month. Whichever airman grows the best mustache by the end of March wins a high five or whatever.
4. The West Point pillow battle royale
At some point during the first years of the most intense academy for the U.S. Army’s future officers, students are offered a unique way of handling the stresses of simultaneously earning a college education while enduring four years of constant military training. These future warriors, trained in all things warfare with the intention of becoming the Army’s next generation of great leaders, settle things the exact same way as children at slumber parties — with a pillow fight.
As goofy as this sounds, things got serious. Yes. “got” — very much in the past tense, as this tradition was unceremoniously banned in 2015 in response to numerous injuries. Most cadets donned full kevlars and vests and beat the hell out of each other with pillows. More than thirty plebes that year were sent to the hospital for serious injuries, despite the strict no-hard-objects-in-the-pillows rule.
Thankfully, they had PT belts on or this could have gotten even more out of hand.
3. Blasting up the lieutenant’s patrol cap
In the technical terms, a “blasting cap” is a small, sensitive primary explosive device used to detonate a larger, more powerful and less-sensitive secondary explosive. Soldiers in the artillery world take this term literally whenever they welcome a new platoon leader.
When the platoon first goes out for a live-fire exercise with a brand new lieutenant, they’ll take the officer’s patrol cap (either willingly or otherwise) and tape it to the end of the barrel or backplate of a rocket pod. Then, the first round goes off; it’ll take the cap with it. The officer is then expected to retrieve the nearly-burnt-to-a-crisp cap so they can remain in uniform after the ceremony is done.
No one really knows when or where this began, but every artillery officer since then has had to buy a new cap the following day.
2. The sword butt tap at weddings
Most of the traditions on this list are kept within the realm of the military and don’t often affect civilians directly — with the major exception of military weddings. They are one of the most beautiful ways to introduce a new civilian spouse into our world. The troop’s comrades will attend wearing full dress uniforms, each carrying a sword to signify the protection they’ll offer the new spouse, as he or she is now kin.
The new comrades will serve as either groomsmen or bridesmaids and post guard outside of the chapel, or wherever the ceremony is held, and form a beautiful archway with their swords under which the married couple will walk.
Then, whoever is at the very end of the archway on the civilian spouse’s side will give a loving spank with their sword. Not a hard one, mind you, just a nice gentle way of letting them know that they’re now a part of the grander military family.
1. The Court of Neptune
Whenever a Navy vessel crosses a certain point on the globe, all sailors who’ve never done so get to be initiated into an unofficial fraternity of sailors who’ve been there before. The most famous example of these ceremonies is the moment a vessel crosses the Equator at any point in the world.
Officially, it’s called the “Crossing the Line” ceremony, but sailors know it as “the Court of Neptune.” The uninitiated (known as “slimy polliwogs”) must bow before King Neptune (as portrayed by the ship’s captain) and entertain his queen, Davy Jones, the Royal Baby, and his dignitaries (portrayed by other high ranking members of the crew) with a talent show.
Regardless of how the young sailors perform, they’re found guilty of being polliwogs and must answer for their crimes. They’re “punished” by eating an extremely spicy or disgusting breakfast and are forced kiss the Royal Baby’s greasy belly. Only then can they have their slimy polliwoginess washed in seawater to finally become trusty shellbacks.
Follow any of that? Neither did any of us other slimy polliwogs…
For seven decades, the NATO alliance has practiced collective defense and deterrence against evolving international threats, and over the years, its capabilities have changed accordingly.
NATO’s most “powerful weapon,” according to Jim Townsend with the Center for a New American Security, is the “unity of the alliance,” but the individual allies also possess hard-hitting capabilities that could be called upon were it to face high-level aggression.
Heather Conley with the Center for Strategic and International Studies believes that Russia is likely to continue to press the alliance through low-end influence and cyberwarfare operations. Still, she explained to Business Insider, NATO needs to be seriously contemplating a high-end fight as Russia modernizes, pursuing hypersonic cruise missiles and other new systems.
So, what does that fight look like?
“I’ve always likened it to a potluck dinner,” Townsend told Business Insider. “If NATO has this potluck dinner, what are the kinds of meals, kind of dishes that allies could bring that would be most appreciated?”
“If a host is looking to invite someone who is going to bring the good stuff, they are for sure going to invite the United States,” he explained, adding that “in all categories, the US leads.”
Nonetheless, the different dinner guests bring a variety of capabilities to the table. Here’s some highlights of the many powerful weapons NATO could bring to bear against Russia.
Capt. Andrew “Dojo” Olson, F-35 Demonstration Team pilot and commander performs a dedication pass in an F-35A Lightning II during the annual Heritage Flight Training Course March 1, 2019, at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Alexander Cook)
1. F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter
“The air side of the NATO equation is led by the United States with the F-35 and other various aircraft,” Townsend told BI.
The fifth-generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is an aircraft that rival powers have been unable to match its stealth and advanced suite of powerful sensors.
While some NATO countries are looking at the F-35 as a leap in combat capability, others continue to rely on the F-16, an older supersonic fighter that can dogfight and also bomb ground targets. And then some countries, like Germany, are considering European alternatives.
Royal Air Force Eurofighter EF-2000 Typhoon F2.
2. Eurofighter Typhoons
The Eurofighter Typhoon is a capable mutli-role aircraft designed by a handful of NATO countries, namely the UK, Germany, Italy, and Spain, determined to field an elite air-superiority fighter. France, which walked away from the Eurofighter project, independently built a similar fighter known as the Dassault Rafale.
Observers argue that the Typhoon is comparable to late-generation Russian Flanker variants, such as the Su-35.
While each aircraft has its advantages, be it the agility of the Typhoon or the low-speed handling of the Flanker, the two aircraft are quite similar, suggesting, as The National Interest explained, that the Eurofighter could hold its own in a dogfight with the deadly Russian fighter.
A B-52 Stratofortress deployed from Barksdale Air Force Base, La., sits on the flight line at RAF Fairford, England, March 14, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Tessa B. Corrick)
The US provides conventional and nuclear deterrence capabilities through the regular rotation of bomber aircraft into the European area of operations.
American bombers have been routinely rotating into the area since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, according to Military.com. That year, the Pentagon sent two B-2 Spirit bombers and three B-52s to Europe for training. The B-1B Lancers are also among the US bombers that regularly operate alongside NATO allies.
US Navy P-8 Poseidon taking off at Perth Airport.
4. US P-8A Poseidon
“There’s also the maritime posture, particularly as Russia continues to rely on a submarine nuclear deterrent. We need a stronger presence. That’s why we’re seeing Norway, the US, UK do more with the P-8As,” Conley, the CSIS expert, told BI.
Facing emerging threats in the undersea domain, where the margins to victory are said to be razor thin, NATO allies are increasingly boosting their ability to hunt and track enemy submarines from above and below the water.
While there are a number of options available for this task, the US Navy P-8A Poseidon patrol plane, which was brought into replace the US military’s older P-3 Orions, are among the best submarine hunters out there.
Norwegian frigate HNoMS Helge Ingstad (front) leads Turkish frigate TCG Oruçreis, Belgian frigate BNS Louise Marie and a Swedish Visby-class corvette during Trident Juncture.
(NATO/LCDR Pedro Miguel Ribeiro Pinhei)
Another effective anti-submarine capability is that provided by the various frigates operated by a number of NATO countries.
“The NATO allies, in particular Italy, France, Spain, all have frigates that have very capable anti-submarine warfare systems,” Bryan Clark with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments told BI.
“They have active low-frequency sonars that are variable-depth sonars. They can find submarines easily, and they are very good against diesel submarines.” These forces could be used to target Russian submarines in the Eastern Mediterranean and into the Black Sea.
“Norway and Denmark also have really good frigates,” he explained. “They could go out and do anti-submarine warfare” in the North Sea/Baltic Sea area, “and they are very good at that.”
An AH-64D Apache helicopter from 1st Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment, based at Forward Operating Base Speicher, Iraq.
6. AH-64 Apache gunship
The Apache gunship helicopter, capable of close air support, has the ability to rain down devastation on an approaching armor column.
The attack helicopters can carry up to sixteen Hellfire missiles at a time, with each missile possessing the ability to cripple an enemy armor unit. The Hellfire is expected to eventually be replaced with the more capable Joint Air-to-Ground Missile.
The Cold War-era Apache attack helicopters have been playing a role in the counterinsurgency fight in the Middle East, but the gunships could still hit hard in a high-end conflict.
7. German Leopard 2
The Leopard 2 main battle tank, which gained a reputation for being “indestructible,” is a formidable weapon first built to blunt the spearhead of a Soviet armor thrust and one that would probably be on the front lines were the NATO alliance and Russia to come to blows.
While this tank, a key component of NATO’s armored forces, took an unexpected beating in the fight against the Islamic State in Syria, it is still considered one of the alliance’s top tanks, on par with the US M1 Abrams and the British Challenger 2.
Observers suspect that the Leopard 2, like its US and British counterparts, would be easily able to destroy most Russian tanks, as these tanks are likely to get the jump on a Russian tank in a shoot out.
The aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) and ships assigned to the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group (HSTCSG) transit the Atlantic Ocean while conducting composite training unit exercise (COMPTUEX) on Feb. 16, 2018.
(US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Scott Swofford)
8. US Nimitz-class aircraft carriers
A last-minute addition to last year’s Trident Juncture exercise — massive NATO war games designed to simulate a large-scale conflict with Russia — was the USS Harry S. Truman, a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, and its accompanying strike group.
The carrier brought 6,000 servicemembers and a large carrier air wing of F/A-18 Super Hornets to Norway for the largest drill in years.
“One thing the NATO naval partners have been looking at is using carriers as part of the initial response,” Clark told BI. The US sails carriers into the North Atlantic to demonstrate to Russia that the US can send carriers into this area, from which it could carry out “operations into the Baltics without too much trouble,” he added.
America’s ability to project power through the deployment of aircraft carriers is unmatched, due mainly to the massive size, sophistication and training regimen of its carrier fleet. The UK and France also have aircraft carriers.
(DoD Photo By Glenn Fawcett)
9. PATRIOT surface-to-air missile system
PATRIOT, which stands for “Phased Array Tracking Radar to Intercept on Target,” is an effective surface-to-air guided air and missile defense system that is currently used around the world, including in a number NATO countries.
There is a “need for an integrated air and missile defense picture,” Conley told BI. “That is certainly a high-valued protection for the alliance.”
NATO is also in the process of fielding Aegis Ashore sites, land-based variants of the sea-based Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System, that can track and fire missiles that intercept ballistic targets over Europe.
The U.S. Navy submarine USS North Dakota (SSN-784) underway during bravo sea trials in the Atlantic Ocean.
(U.S. Navy Photo)
10. US Virginia-class submarines
Virginia-class submarines, nuclear-powered fast attack boats, are among the deadliest submarines in the world. They are armed with torpedoes to sink enemy submarines and surface combatants, and they can also target enemy bases and missile batteries ashore with Tomahawk cruise missiles.
These submarines “could be really useful to do cruise missile attacks against some of the Russian air defense systems in the western military district that reach over the Baltic countries,” Clark told BI.
“You can really conduct air operations above these countries without being threatened by these air defense systems. So, you would want to use cruise missiles to attack them from submarines at sea.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The Army’s Green Berets need mountain warfare training — and what better place to do it than on the so-called roof of the world?
About the size of the US state of Georgia, Nepal is wedged between India and China along the length of the Himalayan mountain range. The mountain kingdom is home to eight of the world’s 14 highest mountains, including 29,029-foot Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak. For two 1st Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) Green Berets, this was the perfect turf on which to hone their mountain warfare prowess.
In September and October, the pair of Special Forces soldiers spent six weeks with the Nepali Army High Altitude and Mountain Warfare School (HAMWS), training on all sorts of hard-charging mountain warfare skills, including ascending and descending techniques, survival and rescue techniques, the use of special equipment, and cliff assault tactics.
And for the pièce de résistance, the Green Berets put their new skills and equipment to the test scaling Thorang Peak, a 20,200-foot mountain. At that altitude, there’s roughly half as much air pressure — and half as much oxygen — as at sea level.
“Marrying a deep expertise in mountain warfare tactics and mountaineering techniques with breathtaking terrain, the program succeeded in not only sharpening our capabilities but in forging strong bonds between new friends,” a detachment commander from the 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) said, according to a Department of Defense release.
Nepal has more than 13,000 peaks higher than 6,000 meters, or about 19,700 feet. (Alaska’s Denali, the highest mountain in North America, is 20,310 feet high.) For the past 30 years, the Nepali Army’s HAMWS has hosted some 16 foreign students from 23 participating countries. This year, four total students from the US, Pakistan, and Bangladesh participated.
US Special Operations forces have trained in Nepal for years — including parachute jumps in the shadow of Mount Everest in the country’s Khumbu region.
On April 25, 2015, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake devastated much of Nepal’s Himalayan landscape, killing about 9,000 people. Ancient monuments in the capital city of Kathmandu were turned to rubble. A massive avalanche at Mount Everest base camp killed 24 people, National Geographicreported.
After the 2015 earthquake, the deployed Army Green Berets ditched their training and went into real-world search and rescue mode. Among other efforts, they performed a helicopter rescue mission in the Himalayas, saving 30 stranded trekkers, including an American named Corey Ascolani.
US military personnel traveled to Nepal in 2017 for a humanitarian aid mission called Pacific Angel 17-4.
The US has another, more clandestine military connection to Nepal, dating back to the Cold War when the CIA supported Tibetan guerrillas based in Nepal’s Mustang region. Known as the Chushi Gangdruk, the CIA-backed irregular Tibetan force conducted cross-border raids against Chinese forces inside Tibet — a lingering point of contention between Beijing and Washington.
Russia, already the owner of the world’s longest Arctic coastline, has spent the past few years bolstering its presence there.
Now changes wrought by climate change are giving Moscow more territory to work with in the Arctic as the US is still looking for ways to get into the high north.
Russian sailors and researchers explored five new islands around the Novaya Zemlya archipelago in the Arctic Ocean off Russia’s northern coast during an expedition in August and September 2019.
The islands, ranging in size from about 1,000 square yards to 65,000 square yards, were first spotted in 2016 but not confirmed until the expedition by Russia’s Northern Fleet and the Russian Geographical Society.
The new islands are “associated with the melting of ice,” expedition leader Vice Adm. Aleksandr Moiseyev said on Oct. 22, 2019, according to state news agency Tass. “Previously these were glaciers, but the melting of ice led to the islands emerging.”
The discoveries come as Moscow has boosted its military presence in the region, refurbishing Cold War-era bases, setting up new units, opening ports and runways, and deploying radar and air-defense systems.
In all, Russia has built 475 military facilities in the Arctic over the past six years and deployed personnel, special weapons, and equipment to them, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said in March 2019.
US officials regard Russian activity in the Arctic as “aggressive” and have questioned their Russian counterparts on it.
Russian President Vladimir Putin greets Russian officials, including Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, upon arrival at the remote Arctic islands of Franz Josef Land, Russia, March 29, 2017.
“When I was as at the [Arctic Conference in 2017] and [with] the Russian ambassador … I asked him, ‘Why are you repaving five Cold War airstrips, and why are there reportedly 10,000 Spetsnaz troops up there?'” Navy Secretary Richard Spencer said at a Brookings Institution event on Oct. 23, 2019, referring to Russian special operation forces.
“He said, ‘search and rescue, Mr. Secretary,'” Spencer added.
Asked whether Russia was a competitor or partner or both in the Arctic, Spencer said he “would love to say both” but expressed concern.
“I worry about their position there,” he said, pointing to the Northern Sea Route, which cuts shipping time between Europe and Asia by 40% compared to the Suez Canal route but runs through Russia’s Exclusive Economic Zone. In April, Moscow said foreign ships using that route would have to give notice and pay higher transit fees.
“That said, dialogue must remain open. We have to keep those avenues of communication,” Spencer added. “You’ve seen the arguments compared to the Suez Canal, the time and dollar savings by going over north, that’s happened. It’s going to continue to happen. We have to be present.”
Catching up in the high north
The emphasis on the Arctic is a part of the “great power competition” described in the 2018 US National Defense Strategy, which outlined a turn away from two decades of combat against irregular forces in the Middle East and toward revisionist foes like Russia and China.
But the US still has some catching up to do when it comes to the Arctic.
The US has just one heavy icebreaker, the decrepit Polar Star, operated by the Coast Guard. Russia, which gets some 25% of its GDP from the Arctic, has more than 40 icebreakers of varying sizes with more on the way. The Coast Guard recently awarded a contract to build three new icebreakers, but the first isn’t expected until 2024.
Marines have deployed on rotations to Norway since 2017 and taken part in exercises in Alaska with the Army and Air Force in an effort to get used to harsh conditions at higher latitudes. But the Navy’s biggest moves have come at sea.
Sailors and Marines aboard the USS Gunston Hall observe an underway replenishment with the USNS John Lethall, Oct. 6, 2018.
(US Navy photo by Mass Comm. Specialist 3rd Class Colbey Livingston)
“We did Trident Juncture. We went north of the Arctic Circle, [and for the] first time since 1996 we had a carrier strike group and amphib ships north of the Arctic Circle,” Spencer said at the Brookings event.
Trident Juncture in late 2018 was NATO’s largest exercise since the Cold War and included the carrier USS Harry S. Truman. One of the Navy ships accompanying Marines to the exercise, the USS Gunston Hall, was banged up by rough seas during the journey.
“We learned a lot, where we had to shore up our learning and where we had to shore up our sets and reps,” Spencer said. “Gunston Hall hit some heavy weather, [which] tore the hell out of the well deck.”
Some sailors suffered minor injuries aboard the Gunston Hall, which had to return to the US. Bad seas also forced another ship, the USS New York, to detour to Iceland, but it eventually made it to the exercise in Norway.
“I’ll write a check for that kind of damage any single time, when I saw what we’d learned from going up there,” Spencer said.
Sailors signal an E-2D Hawkeye ready for launch on the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman, Oct. 27, 2018.
(US Navy photo by Mass Comm. Specialist 2nd Class Thomas Gooley)
The Truman’s trip above the Arctic Circle after a two-decade absence, like the USS Theodore Roosevelt’s participation in the Northern Edge exercise in Alaska for the first time in a decade, is significant, and recent Navy exercises in Alaska laid the groundwork for future training up there, but whether the Navy will be back for good is uncertain.
“We will be in the Arctic Circle … in the high north in the Atlantic and the high Pacific in the Bering Straits on a regular basis,” Spencer said at the Brookings event.
“Will we have permanent basing up there? I don’t know. Would I like to see a logistic center up there — something like a Nome [in Alaska] — that would be great,” Spencer added.
Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer with Cmdr. Kevin Culver, commanding officer of the amphibious dock landing ship USS Comstock, in Seward, Alaska, Sept. 17, 2019.
(US Navy photo by Mass Comm Specialist 2nd Class Nicholas Burgains)
As of late September 2019, the Environmental Security Technology Certification Program, which is tasked with finding innovative and cost-effective methods to meet the Pentagon’s high-priority environmental needs, was deciding on proposals to guide Arctic infrastructure projects, according to John Farrell, executive director of the US Arctic Research Commission, who sat in on the panel making the decision.
“They were in the midst of making final selection on proposals to directly address this very topic of Arctic infrastructure design — a design tool that would look at the rapid environmental changes that are going on and give guidance to engineers better than the current guidance they have, which is outdated, about how to design infrastructure that will last 20, 30, 40 years in a rapidly changing environment,” Farrell said at a Hudson Institute event at the end of September 2019.
“This is of great importance to places like Thule Air Force Base in Greenland and other bases that we have in the north, not just in the US but pan-Arctic,” Farrell said.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Veterans receive a 10% discount on the lowest available rail fare on most Amtrak trains.
Use the Fare Finder at the beginning of your search on www.amtrak.com and select ‘Military Veteran’ for each passenger as appropriate to receive the discount.
Military personnel save 10% and get ahead of the ticket line
With valid active-duty United States Armed Forces identification cards, active-duty U.S. military members, their spouses and their dependents are eligible to receive a 10% discount on the lowest available rail fare on most trains, including for travel on the Auto Train.
An Amtrak train at Penn Station, NYC.
Just use the Fare Finder at the beginning of your search on www.amtrak.com and select ‘Military’ for each passenger as appropriate to receive the discount.
Additionally, Amtrak supports and thanks troops by welcoming uniformed military personnel to the head of the ticket line.
The veteran/military discount is not valid with Saver Fares or weekday Acela trains.
The veteran/military discount does not apply to non-Acela Business class, First class or sleeping accommodation. Veterans can upgrade upon payment of the full accommodation charges.
The veteran/military discount is not valid for travel on certain Amtrak Thruway connecting services or the Canadian portion of services operated jointly by Amtrak and VIA Rail Canada.
The veteran/military discount may not be combined with other discount offers; refer to the terms and conditions for each offer.
Additional restrictions may apply.
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
Not all uniforms are created equal. If you need any proof of that, just look at an American airman standing next to a United States Marine while both are in their dress blues. Or check out the Navy’s old “blueberries.” Hey, we all make mistakes, but the important thing is that we handle it and fix what we need to. Some militaries don’t. This is about the ones who don’t.
To be perfectly clear, winning a war isn’t about the coolest or sharpest uniform. But respecting an adversary might help prevent a war, and wearing a uniform that looks like Willy Wonka designed it isn’t going to earn respect. For the record, I fully acknowledge all of these guys are badass and would easily murder me in any altercation.
They’re probably on their way to my house now.
All I want is gin.
While the Beefeaters are a real military unit (and can probably totally kill me with a matchstick if they wanted to), I still have to question their use of the throwback jersey. The Yeomen Warders of Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London, and Members of the Sovereign’s Body Guard of the Yeoman Guard Extraordinary (their full name) is comprised completely of British soldiers who have at least 22 years of service under their belt but there is nothing utilitarian about their choice of dress. Is that guy going to impale someone with the replica of a palace?
Greek Evzones guarding the Ministry of Funny Walks.
Greek Presidential Guard
I question any uniform that has little balls on the toes. The Greek Presidential Guard – also known as the Evzones – still wear the uniform of an elite Greek soldier from yesteryear. And while I praise other units who do this, like U.S. Marines, and the French Foreign Legion, the outfit’s foustanella (the skirt-like item) has 400 folds, one for each year of Turkish occupation. I genuinely question any uniform that has their undying grudge sewn into it. Also, I have to say if you’re going to wear a 100-year-old-plus military uniform, it’s weird to carry an M1 Garand rifle.
Italy’s Carabinieri police force are totally awesome crime fighters who are now part of the country’s official armed forces. Although that’s a relatively new development, the Carabinieri have been around since the mid-1800s. They look like they should be the captains of wooden sailing ships back then.
Ugandan People’s Defense Forces Air Force
Uganda’s air force work uniform looks like they couldn’t decide if they wanted to blend in with the ground or with the water and decided not to make a choice. To make it worse, the dress uniform looks like it hasn’t changed much since the days of Idi Amin.
While I totally respect traditions, I will always question the efficiency of wearing two uniforms at the same time. I don’t mind the look of a skirt-like uniform, but when the wearer is already wearing pants, I begin to question how this uniform came to pass.
The Spanish Legion
I genuinely love the history of the Spanish Legion, but their dress uniforms make them look like a cheap male stripper who came to Kathy the secretary’s bachelorette party or someone’s mother accidentally shrank the entire unit’s shirts while doing laundry this week.
North Korean dress uniforms are what people who steal valor think dress uniforms are supposed to look like. I can only think of two countries North Korea has fired shots at since Kim Il-Sung was born from a star’s vagina or whatever they say his origin was, and most of the North Korean soldiers who fought in the Korean War were killed in it. What the hell are all these medals and orders for? Fewest calories consumed?
Two sailors partnered with Meals On Wheels (MOW) Mesa County to deliver meals to local clients in the Grand Junction, Colorado, area during Western Slope Navy Week, July 23, 2019.
The mission of MOW is to promote the independence, health, and well being of the elderly through quality nutritional services. This is the first time Navy Outreach has partnered with the organization during a Navy Week.
“We were really glad to have the sailors here to help us, and a lot of the clients were looking forward to the interactions,” said Amanda Debock, program manager. “We gave them a route that had a large amount of veterans and they were especially excited to have their meals delivered by active duty sailors.”
MOW Mesa County provides affordable lunchtime meals to seniors age 60 and older in Mesa County. Today, the program prepares and serves more than 120,000 meals annually and 500 or more per day.
Lt. Jacob Cook and Navy Aviation Structural Mechanic 2nd Class Giovanni Dagostino, both assigned to Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 117, rode along with volunteer Steve Kendrick to deliver lunch to 19 clients.
“I have never volunteered with Meals on Wheels myself,” said Cook. “This experience has been really great just to go out and see what they do as an organization and to meet the people in this community that they serve and take care of.”
Seven clients included in the route were Navy, Army or Air Force Veterans that served during Word War II, the war in Vietnam and throughout various other periods.
“I was surprised how excited some of the veterans were when we showed up at the door,” said Kendrick. “We had one vet that was almost in tears when he saw the sailors come to the door in uniform. A lot of them just acted like [the sailors] were just part of their family. It seemed like it was a very special event for everyone.”
Started in 1970 by a group of concerned citizens, Meals on Wheels Mesa County has been serving nutritious meals to seniors for 49 years.
The Navy Week program brings sailors, equipment, and displays to approximately 14 American cities each year for a week-long schedule of outreach engagements designed for Americans to experience firsthand the Navy the nation needs.
Thank you for your service isn’t enough. Although service members are proud to wear the uniform and serve their country, their devotion often comes at a cost and with a heavy weight. Operation Song is working with the VA to help carry that burden, through music.
Nashville Grammy and Dove-nominated songwriter Bob Regan knows good music. He’s written a string of hits for the famous guitar-town over multiple decades and knows the power of a song. In the early 2000s he began touring for the Armed Forces Entertainment overseas. From the Emirates to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Djibouti, Japan, Western Europe and Kosovo, he met several service members whose stories stuck with him. Regan was made aware of the large number of service-related injuries and the difficulty of transitioning after service.
It was there in the hot desert of Afghanistan that he began to wonder if weaving their stories into a song might bring peace.
Regan founded Operation Song in 2012 and started at the VA Medical Center in Murfreesboro, TN. “Eight hundred and fifty songs later, we have veterans from all the way back to World War II, spouses, children and parents. None of this was planned out but the need was there so we just kept going,” he explained.
Initially, Operation Song was working specifically with the post 9/11 veterans but that quickly changed. “At the VA, we started to see a lot of Vietnam Veterans and then Korean War veterans. Once in a while we were getting a World War II veteran too. There’s not many of them left. We began to seek them out and we’ve been honored to tell some of their stories while they are still with us,” Ragan said.
He shared that for the first seven years, it was intensely busy and he was trying to do everything as Operation Song continued to grow. With support and sponsors, they were able to bring in Kyle Frederick as the Executive Director, who had a background as a songwriter, musician and nonprofit manager.
“I love it. It makes perfect sense to me; I have family members that are veterans. I understand the concept and it is a great thing,” Frederick said. “We are fortunate to have great writers just down the road. These men and women who can listen for a few hours and literally a few hours later there is a work of art that’s therapeutic. It never doesn’t work.”
“Songwriters are really skilled at taking all these pieces and hanging them on an arc with a melody. I think what makes it so effective is when we work with veterans that have PTSD and traumatic brain injuries, is that they come in and say, ‘I could never write a song.’ We tell them, ‘Good, you are the perfect candidate,'” Ragan said with a laugh.
The songwriters tell them to just share whatever they want, starting with a simple conversation. The magic and healing begins from there. The guitar starts strumming and the songwriter takes those pieces of their lives, crafting them into a song. Regan shared that watching the veterans’ faces as the songs come alive is worth more than anything. “Over and over we’ve been told ‘I’ve never told that to anyone before,'” Ragan said.
For several years they’ve been working with survivors of Military Sexual Trauma, bringing peace through melody and storytelling. As they were creating healing for veterans, they realized there was more they could do for the families of those veterans. Spouse retreats started and they began serving the children of veterans, too.
One memorable song, Lima Oscar Victor Echo, tells the story of falling in love with a service member, a song military spouses everywhere can relate to. One of the lines of the chorus is strikingly raw, saying, “I wasn’t ready for this mission but I guess I’m signed up, too.” The song highlights not only the reality of sacrifices made by spouses of service members but the love that makes it worth it all.
Operation Song also began bringing healing to Gold Star Families.
Nanette West lost her son, Kile West, to a roadside bomb in 2007 while he was deployed to Iraq. He died trying to rescue others who were trapped, receiving the Bronze Star and Purple Heart for his heroism. Nanette journeyed to Iraq in 2011 to retrace her son’s steps, spending two years there as a defense contractor. The experience brought her closure and the music she created with Operation Song, peace.
The words of the song are a stark reminder of the cost of our almost 20-year war: “You swore to bring your troops back against all the odds and you kept your promise to every single one. If you could, I know you would stay. You gave your life on Memorial Day but I’m prouder than you could ever know. Even though it’s hard to let you go, so many miles away from home. You’ve always been the braver one. My hero, my soldier, my son.”
Nanette helped perform My Hero My Soldier My Son with Jenn Franklin at the Grand Ole Opry in August 2020. There were no dry eyes in the audience.
Although COVID-19 has made it near impossible to work in person for song writing, Operation Song isn’t letting that stop them. Instead, they are using technology to their advantage. “We’ve discovered that we can reach more people. We were like, ‘Wow, this works online,'” Frederick said.
“It’s been incredibly rewarding for me and the best thing I’ve ever done,” Regan shared. While he’s loved his long and successful career as a songwriter, using his abilities to give back to those who serve and sacrifice has been the joy of a lifetime. Despite writing over 850 songs for the military community since 2012, they are just getting started. Operation Song’s mission says it all: Bringing them back, one song at a time.
To learn more about Operation Song and the incredible work they are doing for our country’s military, veterans and their families, click here.