Being a first responder can suck. In fact, it often does suck… Yes, there are some clear benefits to being a part of the first responder family, but it’s grueling work that never stops. You’ve gotta be a special kind of person to put yourself on the line like that, day in, day out.
But there’s a silver lining to first responder life. One of the most underrated benefits of being a first responder is the special holiday treatment. It’s hard to describe and really has to be experienced to be appreciated, but you’re here already, so we’ll do our best.
The holiday season is the one time when being a first responder might be the best job to have.
This is what the average Security Forces gate shack looks like by noon, Christmas Day.
(The Japan Times)
This one is actually specifically for my Security Forces/Master of Arms/Military Police family. Our firefighter brothers and our siblings in the ambulances don’t typically face the same struggles in getting a simple lunch. Day in and day out, the constant nature of our work makes a daily lunch uncertain (to say the least).
Having that experience really makes the flood of holiday food that much easier to appreciate. It’s almost as if the other 11 months of being overworked and under-appreciated are a fair price to pay for all the love we get during this wonderful time of the year.
Something about having the higher-ups serve you gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling.
People are actually nice to you
It may seem like respect is always on the menu when dealing with first responders — and that’s true, to a degree. But we’re also often treated as though we’re invisible. First responders deal with the outside world in the worst of times. If you’ve dialed 911 and had responders show up at your location, chances are you were having at least a marginally bad day. So, it’s easy to see us first responders as inanimate objects — as tools of rescue. Save for a few occasions, we might as well be made of glass.
During the holidays, all of that changes. People understand that having to work on those days is a particular kind of suck that somehow stands out from the rest. This is the one time of the year when everyone sees you. Everyone tries to make you feel better, or, at the very least, expresses genuine care for your well-being.
Believe it or not, the schedule
There’s no denying that having to work on these special days is tough. No matter how great you’re treated or fed, it isn’t an easy undertaking. It messes with you, at least those first few times.
Conversely, working on those days often means some form of holiday schedule. This means about a week straight of work, either followed or preceded by a week of time off. Many of us use that time in conjunction with some leave and end up with a solid lump of time either to ourselves or with our loved ones.
Your work family will be going through the suck alongside you.
(Department of Defense)
Brotherhood is a standing and well-recognized benefit of being a first responder. During the holidays, first responders have a way of coming together and really being a family.
There are few better bonding moments than sharing some holiday goodies with your work-family over a 12-hour shift.
Military Marriage Day will be celebrated for the first time August 14th! In preparation of the holiday, I looked for a word to sum up military marriage. I knew my limited perspective couldn’t possibly take on the task alone, so I reached out to a vibrant military spouse group on Facebook to find my answer. Surely I’d see a pattern of responses that would lead to that one magic word I was looking for. Maybe it would be a short word like fun or more interesting words like amorous or idyllic. I posted my prompt asking, “How would you describe your military marriage in one word? Bonus if you add a gif.” Once it posted I closed my phone and finished making dinner for my littles.
Hopeful to get some great feedback, I opened my phone to see 600 comments and many more rolling in. Success! This is just what I needed. Surely there will be a clear outcome with a few outliers of course. I started scrolling fully expecting gifs of hugging teddy bears or Fez from That ’70s Show drawing a heart with his figures while mouthing “I Love You,” you know the ones. That was until I read the comments that busted the bubble of a one-sided reality filled with hot air and laughing gas, which clearly had me in this delusional state. My rose colored glasses cracked and all I could say was, DANG!
For perspective, the spouses who responded are roughly between 20 and 46 years old. Some have been married for over a decade while others are still in their honeymoon of under a year of marital bliss. This beautiful array of perspective was the reality check I needed. The truth is that there was no one word to describe military marriage. Although the majority of military spouses are women married to men, the military is not a monolith. We have male military spouses that are married to women as well as a growing LGBTQIA population meaning that everyone brings a different word to the conversation. On top of that, each branch, rank, career field, and current event experienced within a couple’s marriage will determine the challenges faced or encounters they’ll walk through. That one single word became more and more impossible to reach as I scrolled.
I did see some themes, which I believe gives a good array of what military marriage really is. Nearly everyone responded using a gif. Below is a breakdown of the groupings of words the milspouses shared.
10% – Confused/Mixed Emotion
I love this population that posted the confused gifs. I’m leading with them as not only because they were the smallest percentage, but mostly because they were the most honest. The perplexed faces of Ice Cube, Bill Cosby and other celebrities were popular in this group along with bipolar expressions like Anne Hathaway using a fan to transition her facial expression from happy to sad. This group alone shows that there is not one word for our relationships.
15% – On the Down Side
Lonely, sad, patiently or impatiently waiting. These are the gifs that showed the reality of the down side of military marriage. A popular gif was the character Oleg of Compare the Meerkat’s. Oleg’s sweet yet sad face outstretched hands had a caption of “Come Back.” A sucker punch to the gut of emotion I felt as a young spouse counting down yet another deployment. Others used SpongeBob or Pikachu to relay their feelings of grief due to separation.
17% – Illusion or Adventure
Rollercoaster rides, circus acts, and oblivious characters sitting calmly amongst chaos was a common description for military marriage. Although most are referring to military life in general, it definitely tells the story of how military marriages endure. The crowd favorite was a cartoon gif of a room on fire while the dog calmly sips coffee from a mug with a captain that says, “That is fine.” The clip comes from a 2013 webcomic called On Fire, but is a humorous depiction of the fires that surround military marriages as we try to maintain an illusion of an unbothered attitude.
28% – Letting Off Steam
From actress New York of Flavor of Love rubbing her temples to Stitch of the Disney movie Lilo Stich scratching his eyes out, this majority was not afraid to show some frustration. Gifs depicting chaos through dumpster fires, disasters and screaming let loose the realities of the stress that military couples deal with. Marriage takes work and is definitely not a simple cake walk. It takes intentionality and overcoming obstacles thrown at you from different directions. The emotion shared in these posts were real.
30% – Positive Vibes
I was relieved to see that the highest percentage of responses were in a range of positivity. Everything from a simple “okay,” thumbs up or Finding Nemo’s Dory singing “Just Keep Swimming” to dynamic duo gifs like Batman flapping Superman’s cape as if he were flying, hand holding and romantic gifs for grownups eyes only.
In the end, love wins!
A gif is worth a thousand words and the fact that I was looking for just one made it an impossible task. Many responses were sent in humor, yet there is a lot of truth in those pictures of sadness, anger, and lack of desire to acknowledge troubling realities. Military marriage is complex and filled with highs and lows. Those who expressed love and excitement where not the overwhelming majority, which tells me that there is some work to do in our relationships. I may have been searching for one word to describe military marriage for Military Marriage Day, yet what I discovered is all the more reason why our couples need a reason to celebrate.
After a century, World War I is finally getting the treatment in American cinema it so richly deserves. While some of the best war movies were World War I movies, Paths of Glory, All Quiet on the Western Front, and Lawrence of Arabia, there were also many misses. What’s surprising is that there are relatively few WWI movies, when compared to those depicting other wars.
No longer. 1917 is a new movie based on the Great War, coming in December. And it looks like it could be the definitive WWI movie.
The film takes place during the Third Battle of Ypres, where a British contingent of 1,600 men is due to walk into a German trap. Two Tommies are given the assignment to proceed on foot to warn the unit about their orders – the ones that take them directly into an ambush. Their mission takes them across the Ypres battlefields and through the deadly trench warfare that is now synonymous with the Great War.
What’s more remarkable about 1917 is that it’s based on a true story, one told to director Sam Mendes by his own grandfather, Alfred. Alfred Mendes received the Military Medal for “acts of gallantry and devotion to duty under fire” during the war. The Military Medal was replaced by the Military Cross in the UK armed forces in 1993, and would be the fifth-highest medal awarded by the United Kingdom today.
Relentless rain, mud, and death marked the Battle of Ypres.
The elder Mendes ran through snipers, trenches, moving artillery barrages, and machine-gun fire to deliver messages for two full days during the Battle of Poelcappelle. Mendes’ grandfather was raised on the Caribbean island of Trinidad but left to join the fight against Germany, joining the British Army in 1916, at the age of 19. He saw action at the WWI Battles of Passchendaele (Ypres) and Poelcappelle. He was sent to go find survivors of a failed attack during Poelcappelle. It was a dangerous assignment, one his commander said he might not return from.
Despite encountering all of World War I’s signature death traps, he still managed to find survivors while surviving himself. He made it back to his company’s shell hole intact.
“In spite of the snipers, the machine-gunners and the shells, I arrived back at C Company’s shell hole without a scratch but with a series of hair-raising experiences that would keep my grand and great-grandchildren enthralled for nights on end,” he would later write in his autobiography.
1917 is based on Medes’ experiences on this mission. The film is set to release on Dec. 25, 2019.
Whether you’re about to live it or are wondering if it’s a viable personal move (as well as a great professional move), there are many questions surrounding drill life. Known as being “on the trail,” drill sergeants and their families deal with a schedule and a lifestyle that differs from the rest of the military world. (And the rest of training units for that matter.)
Here are 5 truths of what it’s like to live on the trail, and what you can expect as a military spouse or dependent of an incoming drill.
It’s not like “regular” military life
If you’re a milspouse, you think “been there, done that,” right? Perhaps your spouse has been deployed, you’ve experienced several TDYs apart, and more. So if going drill is on the table you might be thinking, NBD. But the truth is, the life of a drill family greatly differs from the rest of the military.
Training units in general are a whole new world, but add in trainees that – at least for a portion of time – have to be supervised at all hours, and you’re looking at a schedule that’s spotty at best, and an unequal balance of parenting and household responsibilities. Be ready to pick up the slack; life on the trail is by far a family effort.
The hours are long
Military spouses are often left to handle things at home for days on end. Middle of the night calls when they have to go into work? Check. Last-minute overnights? Also a yep. Because trainees are involved, planning days ahead doesn’t always work. Everything could be listed out in excruciating detail, then something goes incredibly wrong, and drill sergeants have to return to work. Is that always the case? Of course not. Units do their best to keep hours low, but it’s always a possibility.
Experience depends on unit
Drill schedules take this to a new level. For instance, each MOS has its own timeline for basic and AIT scheduling. Each also comes with various rules on if/when weekends are non-work days, how many drills have to be present at each time, etc. But even furthermore, each individual company has its own rundown for days off, long weekends, especially in OSUT scenarios. (BCT and AIT in one location.)
If you have orders, the best source of information will be those who have been there first.
Stephen Colbert learns how “mean” drill instructors can be.
They’re loud, but not “in-the-movies” mean
When the “brown round” goes on, the voice escalates. Privates are talked down to, they’re encouraged to learn respect, and quickly. Being a drill means your spouse will have to, from time to time, be mean. But don’t freak out, either; it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Yes, drill school teaches how to break and build incoming soldiers, but personality plays into this, too. Each drill will have their owner leadership style, their own way of being heard. Donning the same headgear as Smokey the Bear won’t suddenly make your spouse a screaming, demanding individual.
Drills don’t like being gone either
It won’t take long for most military spouses to wish they had more time with their always-working spouse. But while they’re gone for hours, sometimes days, remember that they don’t like the schedule, either. They are likely getting little sleep and training round-the-clock.
Being married to a drill is definitely a grind, but with a solid effort, it’s also a great way to fast-track a military career.
Keep in mind that there’s light at the end of the tunnel, and incredible honor involved with life on the trail. It’s a great way for families to become tight-knit and rely on one another, even with crazy schedules.
China’s state-run news organization is being shamed for flaunting its “incredibly strong soldier morale” in a video showing a People’s Liberation Army service member participating in what appeared to be an obstacle course.
“This is the incredibly strong soldier morale of China’s PLA,” the People’s Daily tweeted in the caption, referring to China’s People Liberation Army. “They fear nothing.”
The service member, wearing a combat helmet and a load-bearing vest, could be seen dunking himself into a hole filled with water amid sounds of gunfire.
People on Twitter, some of whom are former US service members, mocked the People’s Daily’s characterization of the PLA troops:
In its latest report on the Chinese military, the US Defense Department said China continues to reform their armed forces in an effort to become a “world-class” military by 2049.
“In 2018, the PLA focused its training on war preparedness and improving its capability to win wars through realistic combat training during numerous smaller force-on-force exercises and skills-based competition exercises,” the Defense Department said in its annual report to Congress.
In the military, we had such a strong bond with those with whom we served. From day one in uniform, we had a battle buddy by our side. The closeness we had with our brothers and sisters is not something for those that didn’t serve to easily understand. Would your current co-workers pull ticks out for you from near your anus? Yeah, that actually happened to me … Thanks Mac, that’s what we call close! Do you think the people you work with now would run into gunfire for you?
We leave that family and often, many feel alone. This feeling is natural because being out of uniform is different from still serving. However, it’s what every veteran goes through as they leave their service. We may not talk about it at parties, but it’s as real as anything else in the world. This feeling can’t be ignored, but must be addressed.
It’s no secret that we have a suicide problem in the U.S. and even more profound in our veteran community. It’s a sad reality that we’ve lost more to suicide — over 108,000 — than combat during the Global War on Terror. Most of us know a brother or sister who’s taken their life after losing their personal battle at home. We can never eliminate the crisis, but we can certainly limit the amount who are overcome by their demons.
According to Stop Soldier Suicide, a nonprofit focused on reducing the number of service members and veterans lost to suicide, veterans are at a 50 percent higher risk of suicide than those who didn’t serve. By 2030, the number of veteran suicides will be 23 times higher than post 9/11 combat deaths. There has been a 93 percent increase in the suicide rate of male veterans aged 18 to 34.
I applaud people bringing attention to the issue through different methods. It may be doing 22 pushups a day, talking about why they served for 21 days or, I’ve also seen other messages and posts on social media raising awareness about the problem. We know there’s a problem, but I’m more for doing what Non-Commissioned Officers always do: Identify the problem, develop solutions and implement change.
Let’s be more proactive.
While serving, we saw our teammates every day. We were able to witness signs that they may be struggling. Being around each other so much, we could see if their behaviors changed, if they were down, if they showed the signs of depression and if they needed help. These checks are more difficult when we’re out of the military.
One of my favorite quotes: “You don’t need to have a patch on your arm to have honor.” – LT Kaffee at the end of A Few Good Men.
I’m challenging you to do one thing: pick up the phone and call someone you served with. Check on them. Ask them how they’re doing and listen. This is not a time to bullshit around the topic – ask them if they’re doing ok. How are they handling being out of uniform? Bring up the fact that it’s different and you feel the difference, too. We know how to accomplish tough tasks — this should be easier because of the love we have for those we served with. Have a real talk, reconnect and you may help someone suffering silently.
It’s not easy for people to acknowledge they’re having problems; generally, it’s not our veteran way. It’s not a disorder and we’re not broken. If we look out for each other and remove the stigma, we can mitigate the risks. Let’s show our love for our brothers and sisters. If you need help, reach out. And, reach out to others and do a buddy check.
As the world opens back up, use these military discounts to get out there. Keep a little extra money in your wallet, and remember that it never hurts to ask if a military discount is available.
Planes, trains, and cars
Airfare discounts for military families
Many airlines offer discounts to military service people and their families. Unlike government fares, military fares are set aside by airlines for military personnel on leave. To take advantage of the rates, call the airlines directly to inquire about a discount.
Service members and their families can use Space-Available flights to travel around the country and world at little to no cost. Though often unpredictable, military flights are perfect for families with flexible schedules and great planning skills. Contact your closest Air Mobility Command passenger terminal for specific information. Most terminals have a Facebook page where they post flight information, including their 72-hour flight schedule. More information and eligibility requirements can be found here.
Baggage fee discounts for military families
Many airlines—Alaska, Allegiant, American, Delta, and JetBlue—will waive or discount baggage fees for military families. After booking a flight, check the airline’s rules for checked luggage.
Travel perks through American Express Platinum
American Express now waives its annual fees on its credit cards, including its Platinum credit card. The card provides concierge booking services, five times the points for flights, worldwide airport lounge access, a $200 airline fee allowance, monthly Uber credits, and reimbursement for the TSA Precheck fee. Apply for the credit card and be sure to request its service member benefits.
Travel perks through Chase
Chase now waives its credit card fee for the elite card, the Chase Sapphire Reserve, for military members. The card comes with a variety of travel perks, including a $300 travel credit, Global Entry or TSA Precheck fee credit, car rental privileges, and complimentary airport lounge access. Apply for the credit card and be sure to request its service member benefits.
This new travel booking website, the co-brainchild of Priceline and the Department of Defense, provides an easy platform where military families can easily access unique rates on hotels, airfare, rental cars, vacation packages, and cruises.
Military families are eligible for a 10% discount on the lowest available fares, and military children up to 12 years old are eligible to receive a 10% discount on top of the standard children’s 50% discount.
Wyndham Worldwide Corporation offers a free membership program to military families. These condominium-style timeshares are located around the world for prices as low as $349 per week. Applications are required.
Prestigious military clubs around the world
For a nominal membership fee, military families can gain access to Marines’ Memorial Club & Hotel in San Francisco, only a few blocks from the Golden Gate Bridge. Reciprocal clubs around the world include the Victory Services Club in London and New York Athletic Club in Central Park.
The nonprofit In Honor of Our Troops Foundation offers free weeklong vacation accommodations for active-duty service members once a year. Restrictions apply.
Free and discounted campsites
Fees at various campgrounds across the nation are eligible to be waived or discounted. For instance, state parks will often waive day use and camping fees on a walk-up, first-available basis and via reservations if a military ID is presented. Tents for Troops is another nationwide program that connects the military with a minimum of two-night complimentary RV and tent sites. Other camping organizations, like KOA, may offer discounts on a location-by-location basis.
The Waves of Honorprogram permits any active-duty military, activated or drilling reservist, or National Guardsman and three of their dependents to one free admission per year to Sea World, Busch Gardens, or Sesame Place. Guests must present a military ID to participate and need to apply for the program in advance online through its Troop ID program.
The Public Benefit Corporation provides a wide variety of discounts ranging from car rentals, hotels and resorts, dining, movies, and especially for theme parks including Universal Parks, Six Flags, Seaworld, Legoland, and more.
This internet retailer website not only provides discounts on tactical gear, tools, and accessories but also on travel-related items like rental cars, hotels, cruises, and theme parks. It also offers discounted tickets for sports events like baseball, basketball, or hockey games in addition to race registrations and concerts. The membership is free.
The annual pass, normally $80, is free for active-duty military members and dependents including Reserve and National Guard members. Obtain the pass in person at any recreation site by showing a valid form of military ID.
Both Legoland resorts offer 10% off admission tickets for active military personnel when purchased at a ticket booth when a valid military ID is presented. Legoland Florida Resort & Water Park, though, gives active-duty service members free admission to its park without any restrictions or blackout dates and can be redeemed at the ticket booth.
This California amusement park offers discounts on admission tickets to active-duty personnel when a military ID card is presented. They also offer a Military Tribute Days program that gives free admission to active-duty service people, retirees, veterans, and one of their guests on specific days throughout the year.
Carnival offers reduced deposits, free room upgrades, and up to $50 onboard credit for trips booked months in advance. One must submit documentation to prove eligibility in advance otherwise benefits could be rescinded.
Food discounts for military families
Major restaurant chains like Hard Rock Cafe and Applebee’s often offer a significant discount on the overall bill if a military ID is presented before paying.
Retail, gas, and camping discounts for military families
With the Good Sam Club membership, which is more than half off its normal cost of $29 for active-duty military, people can access discounts on fuel at Pilot Flying J gas stations, Camping World SuperCenters, Good Sam parks and campgrounds, and other retail locations.
There’s just something special about Duffle Blog articles. Most joke news sites make it completely obvious that they’re jokes and should never be taken seriously. Most rational people would read a headline like “Are Millenials killing the telegram industry?” and take the joke at face value. Then there’s satire – an art form truly mastered by the folks at DB.
Actual satire is a joke about something taken to the extreme so the audience can see the absurdity in whatever is being ridiculed. Think Stephen Colbert when he was on Comedy Central. Great satire blurs those lines so obscurely that no one can really tell the absurdity. Think Don Quixote and how people believed it was a story about how chivalrous knights were.
On a much lighter note, half of all social media users were unable to connect Wednesday, and we got a new trailer for the upcoming Avengers film. I’m not saying it’s a coincidence, but it definitely smells like the greatest viral marketing strategy for a film to date.
If you survived the “Snappening,” enjoy some memes!
All good things, inevitably, come to an end. Whether you were counting down the days until you had your DD-214 in your hands or you stubbornly got your retirement paperwork after giving everything you had to Uncle Sam, there eventually comes a time for you to lace up your boots for the very last time.
That’s neither a good thing nor a bad thing — it’s just a thing. But your time in uniform has forever changed you. What life has in store for you after service is no one’s guess, but wherever you find yourself, know that you’ve still got a fire inside of you that will never die.
Being in the military really teaches you that motivating others isn’t always a matter of throwing a flashy office party. It can be something as small as a well-timed “good job” or expressing interest in someone’s well-being.
You’ll still conduct yourself like the troops
The Marines have a saying: “Once a Marine, always a Marine.” There’s a lot to that statement, but in one sense, it can be applied to everyone who served in the Armed Forces. There are a lot of things that you pick up in whichever branch you served that just won’t ever fully go away.
You’d be amazed at how far punctuality, polite greetings of the day, and standing up straight will take you. Shy of your ability to do whatever job, employers want someone who’s going to work well with a team, communicate effectively with others, be willing to take charge, and have the guts to make impromptu decisions that will benefit others and the company.
No pressure, but your guys are all crossing their fingers for your success. Don’t let them down.
Your passion and drive comes from within
It really doesn’t matter what you end up doing for a living after you’ve transitioned back to civilian life. You could get a job doing pretty much the same thing you were doing on the green side, you could use the GI Bill to learn a trade you always wanted to pick up, you could even try your hand at something artistic. It’s your life, and you’ve earned the right to pursue whatever you’re passionate about.
Want to open up an auto shop in your old hometown? Open it and give it your all every single day. Are you gifted in computer work after being a computer guy in the Army? It’s a damn fine job, and you’ll be great at it. Heard the jokes about the LT getting a degree in underwater basket-weaving and want to give it a shot? You will be the best damn underwater basket-weaver the world has ever seen.
Why? Because your leaders instilled in you a mission-oriented mindset. That’s what separates you from the “I might” or the “I could” people of the world. Your NCO made you into an “I will” kinda person.
What seems like simply reaching out your hand to someone will make a world of difference to everyone else.
You’ll never lose that will to help others
Where life takes you still doesn’t really matter. Wherever you find yourself, you’re still going to go out of your way to selflessly impact the life of another person. It doesn’t matter if you open a veteran-owned nonprofit to help the troops or you’re just taking care of the grandkids in your cabin hidden in the woods. You’re always going to strive for something bigger than yourself.
This is because veterans have always been taught to think of “one team, one fight.” Everyone may be fighting to reach the top, but you’ve got to help out your squad if they’re not able to reach the goal.
Whether your metaphorical squad in the outside becomes your coworkers, your family, or the entire veteran community as a whole, you’re always going to fight to help bring them up.
You’ll always find someone new to share a laugh with. Hell, even just telling civilians about some of the funny stuff we did is a great way to break the ice.
Your brotherhood with your fellow troops will last forever
Everyone you’ve ever met, from your squad mates to that admin clerk you occasionally bumped into before formation, will stay with you always. Even if they are no longer with us, the good times you had together will keep bringing a smile to your face whenever you’re alone in the sometimes-unforgiving civilian world.
When times got rough in the military, your brothers and sisters were always just a knock on a barrack’s room door away. Now they’re on, what seems like, the other side of the world. But are they really? It doesn’t matter if it’s been years, we all have someone we served with that we can call at a moment’s notice to talk to. We all swore to give our lives to protect our brothers and sisters in arms — answering a phone call is leagues easier.
Nearly every other veteran will embrace you as their own if you’re in need of a hand. Even civilians can occasionally earn that level of trust and respect if you let them into your new “squad.”
Stay the course, my friends.
You’re always going to be the flag bearer for the Armed Forces
Fewer people are enlisting in the Armed Forces than ever before. Fewer people have relatives that served, and it’s astounding how many people have never interacted with a veteran. That sucks for Uncle Sam trying to fill out the formations, but that gives you the advantage.
There’s no denying it. Finding your place in the civilian world will be hard, and there’s no road-map to follow. It will get lonely at times. Just keep holding onto that flag and others will see you for your true worth. Just as the flag-bearer in wars of old inspired the troops, you will, too. It will also help other vets find you in hopes of rekindling the camaraderie we all once had in the barracks.
You’re not the first person to ever leave military service, and you’re not going to be the last. Let it be your guide, even if you don’t know where you’re going.
More than 90 percent of those who attempt to become an Army diver fail in the first 14 days of training.
The hopefuls are often overcome, physically and mentally, by rigorous drills meant to winnow down recruits to the elite few.
The journey to become an Army diver begins (and often ends) at the Phase I course of the U.S. Army Engineer Dive School at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. In fiscal year 2018, only six enlisted soldiers attained the 12D (Engineer Diver) military occupational specialty. Although nine graduated Phase I of their Advanced Individual Training, or AIT, only the six went on to graduate from Phases II and III held at the Naval Diving and Salvage Training Center in Panama City Beach, Florida.
Sgt. 1st Class Eric T. Bailey, noncommissioned officer in charge and master diver for the 12D Phase I course, said a lot of the recruits arrive for training ill-prepared for what awaits them. The recruits have to pass a Diver Physical Fitness Test that, besides curl-ups and pushups, includes a timed 500-yard swim using the breast or side stroke, six pull-ups and a 1.5 mile run in 12 minutes and 30 seconds or less. They also need to pass the Class I Advanced Survival Swimmer Test. The ASST has five events including an underwater breath hold in which the trainees, in their full uniform, descend to the bottom of a 14-foot pool and swim the entire width of the pool on a single breath, touching the first and last of seven lane lines, before ascending. And that’s just Day 1.
Soldiers going through Phase I of Army Engineer Dive School honed their performance skills with the assistance of Performance Experts, or PEs, from the Fort Leonard Wood R2 Performance Center.
(US Army photo)
Throughout Phase I, students have to do increasingly arduous breath-holding drills, including “ditch and dons” which involve ditching their gear at the bottom of the pool then donning it again, making sure to clear their mask and snorkel. Bailey said the hardest part of the drill is for students to remain calm enough to don their gear even as their body urges them to breathe.
“They give up on themselves mentally, before they physically can’t do any more,” said Bailey.
As a result of the insanely high attrition rates, Bailey set out to find a way to “make soldiers better, faster.” And he thinks he has found it in the Fort Leonard Wood Ready and Resilient Performance Center or R2PC.
The R2PC is staffed with master resilience trainers-performance experts, or MRT-PEs, who are not only trained to increase soldier’s mental resilience but also have degrees in sports and performance psychology which they use to enhance soldier’s physical performance.
Dr. Kelly Dantin and Deanna Morrison, the performance experts on contract at the Fort Leonard Wood R2PC, observed the diver training and talked to the cadre and graduates of Phase I to get their input and develop a customized block of instruction for the 12D trainees. They found that if the students were physically prepared for the Phase I course, their next biggest challenge to graduating was their mindset. So they set about instilling in the students the mentality that quitting was “off the table” and simply not an option, Dantin said.
The performance experts started working with the 12D trainees in October 2018. The week prior to the students starting Phase I, Dantin and Morrison gave them training on techniques such as deliberate (or tactical) breathing, labeling (which includes the act of reframing a situation as a challenge instead of a threat) and Activating Events, Thoughts, and Consequences , or ATC.
ATC is a model that conveys that it’s thinking that determines what people do and how they feel, not the events that happen.”
Deanna Morrison (left) and Dr. Kelly Dantin make a list of what a person physically feels when they are calm during a block of instruction for students of the Army Engineer Diver Phase I course.
(US Army photo)
Students who fail from the Phase I course do so because they feel overwhelmed by the physical demands and don’t believe they can continue to perform over the entire course, Bailey said. To address this mental obstacle, the R2 performance experts teach the students a technique called segmenting. They teach them to break down the course into small chunks, and instead of thinking about the entirety of the course, just to think about making it until lunch. And then making it until dinner. And then making it until bedtime.
“Evolution by evolution, lap by lap, you can segment anything, breaking it up into bite-sized pieces,” that are manageable, Bailey said.
“We teach them how to perform better under pressure,” using both mental resilience and sports psychology, Morrison said.
In the four months since they started the R2 training, the course has achieved what previously took an entire year: graduating nine students out of Phase I. Bailey said that if the numbers bear out, he is looking at doubling the graduation rate in FY2019 from the previous year.
Bailey said he knows that the R2 training is working and has been a contributing factor with helping to reduce the attrition rates.
“Every time that we have done a debrief with a soldier that graduated, they said that training helped,” Bailey said. The students even start talking about the specific techniques, repeating what they learned from the R2 training. That success led to Bailey asking the MRT-PEs to continue to give the block of instruction in all future Phase I courses.
“Because of the R2 performance training we are sending to Florida soldiers that are better prepared, not only physically, tactically and technically, but also mentally,” Bailey said.
At the time I was taking my military parachute qualification and transferring it to a civilian skydive license at a drop zone in San Diego, California.
The skydiving community was outraged and I received hundreds of emails. “How could you say this!” “You’re ruining our industry!!!” were some of the nicer emails I received.
The truth is that a lot of drop zones — like gun ranges — are very poorly run, and the staff isn’t professional or nice. Worse yet, they sometimes overlook critical safety checks and often have lax protocols.
Most people probably didn’t watch the video all the way through. This is just more proof that people rarely read past the headline before they are ready to light the torches and start burning down the town square.
The video had millions of views and was titled something like, “A Navy SEAL tells us why he’ll never skydive again…” This, actually, isn’t true: I still enjoy skydiving and since I’m flying aerobatics in my plane I have to strap on a chute as well. Hopefully, I’ll never use it unless the wings fly off my RV8!
In the video below, I’m telling the story again but in greater detail. In addition, I give some practical advice on what to look for in a drop zone. I see so many people putting their lives in the hands of completely incompetent drop zone staff when there are some incredible professionals out there that will take care of you.
It’s so strange that something so dangerous never really gets scrutinized by the people that participate in it.
If you’re going for surgery you are probably going to do some research right? Isn’t it the same with skydiving? You’d hope so but no, most people don’t ask some basic questions.
This may not go for everyone, but typical military life usually means being away for months at a time. Because of this unique schedule, members of the armed forces tend to move on different romantic timelines than the average Joe. Often, that equates to getting a lot more serious a lot more quickly.
Being in the military might run in the family.
There are plenty of young adults who opt to join the military all on their own. That said, it’s not uncommon for military life to be passed down through generations. Serving one’s country is a badge of pride in many families. What does that mean for you? If you decide to settle down with someone in the armed forces, be prepared for your own kids to follow a similar path.
They’ll love you, but they also love their country. A lot.
Even if military life is completely new to you (or even seems a little crazy), respecting their decision to serve their country is non-negotiable. They’re doing it to protect not just you, but everyone else, too. That’s a lot of love!
You might have to move, more than once.
The military brat title exists for a reason. It’s not uncommon for military families to have to hop from base to base over the years, so prepare yourself for that possibility.
They’ll be gone often.
This goes without saying, but their schedules won’t be predictable. They’ll be gone for major holidays and life events, and you won’t have a say. If you can’t roll with the punches, stay out of the military dating game.
Their squad will be their second family.
Seriously. Whether they’re in the Army, the Navy, the Marines, or the Air Force, they learn right off the bat to stand by their team. They have each other’s backs, for better or worse. They’re responsible for getting each other home safely. When your partner’s battle buddies (brothers and sisters, really), are around, embrace it and give them time to catch up.
They may keep a few secrets.
The harsh reality is that veterans have seen a lot more than most civilians can imagine. They’ve seen pain, made tough calls, and experienced a different kind of heartbreak. When they return, they may not want to talk about it. If they seem like a closed door, don’t take it personally. They probably don’t want to burden you with difficult memories, and they may not be ready to relive them. It can take time to open up! At the end of the day, some secrets might just stay secret…and you have to be okay with that.
Complete strangers will take over your lives.
In a way, the government will dictate where you live. Where your kids go to school. When you can take that family vacation. People you’ve never met will decide whether your partner is home for the holidays. Flexibility is a must, as is loyalty. Starting a life with someone in the military means that you, too, will live a military lifestyle. Before you take that leap, make sure you can handle it!
Being a military spouse is scary.
When your partner is deployed, nothing is guaranteed. You can pray they are safe, but you can’t always be sure. It’s scary, but it also makes their return home so much sweeter. You really learn to cherish every moment together.
We all know Stone Cold Steve Austin from his years when he was the face of World Wrestling Entertainment. “The Texas Rattlesnake” was one of the toughest, most badass wrestlers who left an indelible mark in the ring — both on TV and on the silver screen.
Through partnering with Wargaming, the company responsible for the hit game World of Tanks, Austin recently sat down to interview three gentlemen who exhibited an entirely different type of toughness and heroism – World War II tankers. Their stories are powerful, harrowing and heartbreaking. In his first interview with Walter Stitt, Austin learned about the importance of foxholes. In his second interview with Clarence Smoyer, you could tell Austin was truly humbled hearing about Smoyer’s loss of a close friend.
The third veteran interviewed is tanker Joe Caserta.
When asked about joining the Army, Caserta said almost every male his age wanted to do their part. They felt betrayed by the Japanese and wanted to sign up. Caserta talked about being in the lead tank during the push into Europe. “The captain would assign somebody to be in the lead tank. ‘Okay Caserta, you’re gonna lead off the day.’ I went from the hedgerows all the way to France, Belgium and Germany.”
Caserta lived in his tank for weeks at a time. His unit was close because of this and they depended on each other. When Austin asked if the tank made them feel safe, Caserta told him that it did from small arms, but when it came to the 88 or the Panzerfaust (German version of the bazooka), “We didn’t stand a chance.”
Caserta told a great story that everyone who has ever been deployed can relate to. He talked about being sent a package which contained an Italian bread. His mother hollowed out the bread and hid a nice bottle of booze in it for him. (Talk about mom of the year!)
(Photo Courtesy of Joe Caserta)
Austin asked Caserta about how he received his Purple Heart and we heard another harrowing story.
Caserta was driving his tank and couldn’t see much and ran into a bomb crater. The tank was teetering. (When the tank is stopped in combat, you get the hell out.) Caserta bailed out and headed toward the rear in the midst of artillery and small arms fire. An artillery shell came in behind him and knocked him out. He had a concussion, a hole in his helmet and a shoulder injury.
“When I came to, my buddy was up on top of me and I shook him. His head was blown off. He was my tank commander. They peeled off my clothes, treated my wounds, pulled out the shrapnel and sent me back to my outfit. They made me a tank commander.”
Being in a tank was a scary time. Caserta recalled, “The worst was knowing that if you got hit, if anything, it’s gonna go right through the tank and it’s gonna burn up and catch fire. My greatest fear was burning up in the tank, which a lot of guys did, but it didn’t happened to me.”
Castera is proud he served his country and survived. “Not much more I can say about that.”
Caserta was reunited with Clarence Smoyer who Austin also interviewed. Caserta talked about how it was good for him to see Smoyer as he was dealing with depression as he got older.
“It was wonderful to see him again, because I’m starting to get a little depressed and feel that I don’t have too much time left.”
To continue the tank action, be sure to check out World of Tanks on PlayStation 4 or Xbox One today. Through the World of Tanks Tanker Rewards program, Wargaming offers tons of benefits and exclusive rewards both in-game and in person for all registered players. Be a part of our current WWE season and get endless opportunities to claim WWE and Tanker rewards. To learn more about the program, click here.