How the Army's 'Robin Sage' puts Special Forces hopefuls to a final, make-or-break test in the forests of North Carolina - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

How the Army’s ‘Robin Sage’ puts Special Forces hopefuls to a final, make-or-break test in the forests of North Carolina

Every few months, several North Carolina counties host a unique special-operations event.

Robin Sage is a four-week exercise that all Special Forces candidates must pass before they graduate and don the coveted Green Beret.

Named after Col. Jerry Michael Sage, an Office of Strategic Services (OSS) operative who was captured by the Nazis and attempted to escape more than 12 times before succeeding, Robin Sage is the culminating exercise of the Special Forces pipeline.

How the Army’s ‘Robin Sage’ puts Special Forces hopefuls to a final, make-or-break test in the forests of North Carolina
Special Forces candidates listen to a briefing during the final phase of field training known as Robin Sage in central North Carolina, July 9, 2019. 

It takes place in the fictional country of Pineland, which spans about 50,000 square miles in the woods of North Carolina.

The Army’s Special Forces, known as Green Berets, mainly specialize in training and supporting foreign forces, counterterrorism, and reconnaissance, as well as carrying out its own small-scale raids and ambushes.

Green Berets operate in 12-man detachments and work with and through partner forces. They receive extensive cultural and linguistic training that enables them to operate anywhere in the world.

But it is during Robin Sage that they get their first real taste of what Special Forces does.

The road to Robin Sage

How the Army’s ‘Robin Sage’ puts Special Forces hopefuls to a final, make-or-break test in the forests of North Carolina
A Special Forces candidate leads mules to a staging area to be loaded with rucksacks for a long-distance movement during the final phase of field training known as Robin Sage in central North Carolina, June 7, 2020. 

To make it to Robin Sage, prospective Green Berets must first pass the Special Forces Assessment and Selection (SFAS), a 21-day course that pushes candidates to their physical and mental limits.

Those who successfully complete SFAS move on to the Special Forces Qualification Course (SFQC), or Q Course.

There have been almost 30 different versions of Q Course during its nearly 60-year history. Until recently, it was close to two years long. However, the course was revamped in 2019 and now lasts about six months. It is broken into four major phases: Small Unit Tactics, Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape (SERE), Military Occupational Specialty training, and Robin Sage.

After several months of training, students come together for Robin Sage and work as a team using the different skills they have learned.

Free Pineland!

How the Army’s ‘Robin Sage’ puts Special Forces hopefuls to a final, make-or-break test in the forests of North Carolina
Special Forces candidates School meet with role players acting as village leaders during the final phase of field training known as Robin Sage in central North Carolina, July 9, 2019. 

In the fictional scenario of Robin Sage, Special Forces candidates must help a guerrilla force, which is usually led by retired Green Berets, overthrow the illegitimate government of Pineland.

“Today, we read a lot about proxy warfare, and that is what Robin Sage is in a nutshell,” Steve Balestrieri, a retired Special Forces warrant officer who also served as an instructor for the course, told Insider.

“The Special Forces candidates have to meet up with and make rapport with a third-world nation guerrilla force, train them up, and then work by, with, and through that guerrilla force to conduct combat operations against a numerically superior enemy occupying force,” Balestrieri said.

During Robin Sage, students are tested on what they have learned in Q Course. They teach their partner force small-unit tactics, provide medical care, build outposts, and establish communications with headquarters.

They also conduct reconnaissance, raids, ambushes, and numerous other missions and are tested on other challenges they might encounter on the battlefield.

For example, teams are often presented with war-crime scenarios, where their partner force wants to “execute” a prisoner or “destroy” a village. It falls on the team to successfully negotiate those delicate situations without losing the support of their allies or violating the laws of war.

How the Army’s ‘Robin Sage’ puts Special Forces hopefuls to a final, make-or-break test in the forests of North Carolina
Special Forces candidates move a simulated casualty during the evaluation and final phase of field training known as Robin Sage in central North Carolina, July 11, 2019. 

It’s the ever-important human element that makes Robin Sage special. The social interactions between the team and the “guerrillas” might mean mission success or failure on the battlefield.

“Our Robin Sage [infiltration] was supposed to be brutal, our rucks weighing more than 100 pounds each,” John Black, a retired Green Beret, told Insider.

“We had packed everything in preparation for more than two weeks in the field with no resupply. Two Blackhawk choppers dropped us off behind enemy lines where we were to meet our partner force in the middle of the night,” Black said. “We walked and walked with this guy for hours in what seemed like a circle — he was lost. The captain asked to help him navigate with the map. Turned out we had been circling the camp for hours and the solution was simple — ask if he needed help.”

Perhaps the most important aspect of Robin Sage is the hands-on lesson it provides to future operators about the main mission of Special Forces, which is unconventional warfare — activities that help a resistance movement or insurgent force take on a bigger power.

“As a Green Beret, I feel Robin Sage is imperative and really gets you to think about the real mission of Special Forces, to work with and through a partner force,” Black added. “Very little of what a Green Beret does is kicking in doors and getting bad guys. Robin Sage definitely helped prepare me for life as an operator on a team.”

How the Army’s ‘Robin Sage’ puts Special Forces hopefuls to a final, make-or-break test in the forests of North Carolina
A Special Forces candidate crosses a water obstacle during the final phase of field training known as Robin Sage in central North Carolina, July 9, 2019. 

“What makes Robin Special is how well and smoothly it’s run from the time the student teams go into isolation until they [infiltrate] and are actively engaged with the G-Force,” Balestrieri said, referring to the guerrilla force.

“It rams home how important is, when operating in a guerrilla warfare/unconventional warfare environment, to at least have the nominal support of the population,” Balestrieri added.

Robin Sage is so realistic that a few years ago, a student was killed and another wounded by a police officer who wasn’t aware of the event and thought that they were robbers. Since then, before every Robin Sage begins, local communities are thoroughly notified.

The exercise and its lessons largely are what differentiate Green Berets from other US special-operations units.

“Robin Sage is tremendously important in the career of every Special Forces soldier, because it takes everything that you’ve been taught thus far in the SFQC and gears it toward SF’s true mission, which is unconventional warfare,” Balestrieri said.

As the US prepares for a renewed era of great-power competition with China and Russia, and as irregular warfare becomes increasingly important, Robin Sage is more relevant than ever.

MIGHTY CULTURE

How the Army museum is shaping up to be an amazing tribute to all soldiers

Museums aren’t just buildings constructed to hold relics of a bygone era so that bored school kids can sleepily shuffle around them. They’re rich representations of lives once lived; they’re a way to reflect on those who came before us so that we can learn the history of the men and women who shaped the world we all live in today.

This is what the National Museum of the United States Army, currently under construction at Fort Belvoir, VA, will offer once it’s opened to the public in 2020. As a living museum, it will encompass the full military history of the United States Army, from its humble beginnings as ragtag colonial militiamen in 1636 to the elite fighting force it is today — all to inspire the soldiers of tomorrow.


How the Army’s ‘Robin Sage’ puts Special Forces hopefuls to a final, make-or-break test in the forests of North Carolina

I’m going to go out on a limb and say the kid’s learning center probably won’t include a “shark attack” as the very first attraction.

(U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Casey Holley)

The construction of an Army museum has been a long time coming. Before ground was broken in September, 2016, the Army was the only branch of the Department of Defense without a standing national museum. It’s got a lofty price-tag of 0 million, but it’s actually paid for mostly through donors. Over 700,000 individuals and many corporations have given to museum.

The 84-acre site, where the installation’s golf course used to be, sits just thirty minutes from Arlington National Cemetery and will be open to the public. The 185,000 square-foot exterior of the building is already completed, but the interior is still under construction. The museum also has four of largest artifacts in place as the building needed to be constructed around them. It also has the potential to hold countless other artifacts, documents, and images, along with many pieces of artwork made by soldiers and veterans, or for the soldiers and veterans, on display.

Along with the historical exhibits will house the “Experiential Learning Center” for the kids. The area surrounding the museum will include an amphitheater, memorial garden, parade ground, and a trail to give the patrons a taste of life in the Army in both a fun and informative way.

This is amazing for many different reasons. First and foremost, it’s something that everyone should learn about. Every generation of soldier will have their own dedicated area of the museum and through a vast collection of artifacts, you’ll be able to see the evolution of our country’s defenders. Over 30 million men and women have served, and through the museum, all of them, across the nearly 250 years of history, will be represented on some manner.

It’ll also give veterans a place to take their kids of grandkids and say, “this is where we fought. This is why we fought. And this is how we did it.”

The museum seems to be striking the perfect balance between being light enough to keep children entertained while also being perfectly honoring all who have served in the Army.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Army culture: Make room for recovery

From January 2018 to June 2020, I served in key development positions as a battalion operations officer, battalion executive officer, and brigade executive officer. My key development time was the hardest I have ever worked in my life. Fortunately, I had great teammates, worked for wonderful bosses, had the opportunity to coach and mentor junior officers and NCOs, and formed lifelong bonds I will cherish for the rest of my life. Despite being part of a great team, stress took its toll, and by the end I was something of a wreck; my personal life was strained, I was mentally and physically exhausted, and, to add insult to injury, I had also gained about ten pounds. 

Fortunately, my next assignment was one that advertised a much slower pace and exposure to parts of the Army I had never seen. Needless to say, I arrived excited. I would get to spend time with my family, refocus on my fitness, and get my life together while preparing for my future. However, myriad self-imposed expectations and a constant drive for excellence became destructive. I was still waking up at 0530 every day to go to the gym, do PT, and get to work early. Falling back on old habits, I once again found myself checking emails and responding to every single text or call at all hours of the day. 

Despite a desire to recover, I continued to run at the same pace I had for the last two and a half years. My drive never turned off. I continued to redline and found myself once again breaking down. I thought I had slowed down, but I never truly began the recovery process.

Merriam-Webster defines “recover” as “to bring back to normal position or condition,” and The American Psychology Association defines “recovery time” as “the time required for a physiological process to return to a baseline state after it has been altered by the response to a stimulus.”  The common element in each definition is a change in state. The drive for excellence during a demanding period is counterproductive, or even harmful, during recovery. We must give ourselves permission to power down, throttle back, and take time to heal. Not giving ourselves permission to slow down can impede recovery, multiply the damage incurred during a high demand period, and cause lasting negative impacts to our physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual well-being.  

In CADENCE!

“If the Soldier cannot recover properly from the acute training load…then the training load will accumulate and not be absorbed. The continued volume and intensity of the workload becomes chronic. This failure to properly progress the workload increases risk of underperformance…” FM 7-22, pg 4-7, “Physiology

In 1908, psychologists Robert M. Yerkes and John Dillingham Dodson demonstrated an empirical relationship between stress and performance, known as the Yerkes-Dodson Law. The law dictates that performance increases with physical and mental stress, but only to a point. When stress becomes too great, or endures for too long, performance begins to decrease. This relationship is often depicted by a bell curve:

While not explicitly mentioned, the Yerkes-Dodson Law can be found throughout the new FM 7-22, Holistic Health and Fitness. FM 7-22 mentions recovery, or some variant of, 623 times. Clearly, the Army recognizes recovery is a requirement, and not just for physical fitness. In addition to physical recovery, FM 7-22 explicitly mentions mental, spiritual, nutrition, and sleep dimensions. However, despite encapsulating a recovery requirement in the Holistic Health and Fitness program, the OPTEMPO within many BCTs remains unsustainably high, impeding any progress made with the publication of the new doctrine.

EXERCISE!

“Soldiers’ roles and jobs change, complicating the requirements for sustained character and psychological training across a Soldier’s lifecycle. …Therefore, commanders must consider this doctrine as providing best solutions and messaging for the collective mental health of the unit—procedures and tactics that allow Soldiers to prepare for, thrive in, and recover from the ordinary and extraordinary stressors that might degrade readiness.” FM 7-22, pg 9-1, “Mental Readiness”

FM 7-22 and other like programs are a much-needed step in the right direction, providing comprehensive doctrine and tangible steps individuals and leaders can take. However, they fail to address the cultural aspects at the root of the recovery problem. In my experience, some unit cultures, particularly divisional units, value work for the sake of work, not work for the sake of output. A Soldier who completes their assigned tasks on time, or even tasks beyond their assigned workload, but leaves at a reasonable hour is often seen as less committed or lazy. However, a Soldier who comes in early and stays late is seen as hard working and dedicated, despite producing little to no value for the organization.  

When leaders tie value to input instead of output, they risk creating a culture where how hard and how long one works is equally, and sometimes more, important than what one produces.  Worse, those cultures often also associate work length and effort to commitment and dedication to the organization. In these environments, it matters less what one does, as long as you do it for as long and as hard as you can. One of the most important things a person can do in these cultures is to be seen as “really getting after it”, regardless of what “it” is or whether “it” truly advances the organization or not.

This is not to say performance and output go unnoticed in these cases. Poor performers are eventually identified and rated accordingly. However, cultural norms allow average performers to “muscle through it” by putting in long hours, yet be viewed as equal to or more valued than the high performing individuals who complete their work on time while maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

These cultural norms manifest themselves at both operational and institutional levels. Many commanders consider it acceptable to text, call, or email about non-emergent work at night, over weekends, and during leave periods. This naturally creates pressure for subordinates to respond, regardless of the time of day. It is routine for Soldiers to avoid behavioral counseling or therapy because they fear admitting they need help will harm their career.  Over my 15 year career, I have routinely observed Soldiers at all ranks lose leave because the high OPTEMPO consistently produces a pressing requirement.  Finally, there is the phenomenon of “waiting on the word”, where Soldiers will wait around for hours until the commander leaves, despite not having any assigned tasks to accomplish, just in case the boss needs something or has a question.  

At the institutional level, the issue manifests in how assignments are viewed and managed.  I’ve seen many raise an eyebrow when an individual seeks a job that isn’t viewed as “hard charging.” Instead, the expectation is that careerists who want to advance and eventually command must seek the hard jobs and “keep rowing.”   Human Resources Command considers these high pressure nominative or competitive broadening assignments career enhancing, meaning that they increase one’s chance for promotion or CSL selection.  

Based on this, why would someone who wants to promote and command select slower paced broadening jobs to round out the professional skill set and allow them and their family to recover when the Army has already told them that choice does not make them the most competitive?  As a result, many Soldiers, especially those on track for early promotion or with high potential for CSL selection, will move from serving two years in high stress, key development billets to equally high pressure nominative or competitive broadening billets to maximize promotion and selection chances.  

Ask yourself a question: when is the last time you took a four-day pass?  Why do so many leaders overvalue work for the sake of work or disparage those who require recovery?  Why do career managers often discourage people from picking  jobs where they can rehabilitate an injury, be home every night for dinner, and build memories with their families? Resting our muscles after lifting weights enables muscle tissue growth, in turn allowing us to lift more the next time. Similarly, resting our minds, bodies, and families after a hard push in a key development billet enables us, and our families, to push hard again in the next big job.  

HALT!

“Recovery: The period of four to eight weeks when the Soldier begins to prepare for the primary mission. It is characterized by low workloads and general adaptation and recuperation.”, FM 7-22, pg Glossary-8

Recovery is a physiological necessity. This is an immutable fact that both high performers and the institutional Army recognize on an intellectual level. Still, both struggle with recovery, conceptually and in implementation. Fixing this problem requires action at the individual, unit, and Army levels; it also requires senior leaders to lead from the front in execution.

 We can take three steps to improve the recovery process. First, we must give ourselves PERMISSION to recover. We must acknowledge it is permissible to perform below peak output all the time, and throttling down is both healthy and necessary. Second, we must recognize  recovery is a process that takes TIME. These issues cannot be fixed over a long weekend. The length of the recovery period is tied to the length and intensity of the high demand period. Finally, we must be DELIBERATE about our recovery. We must budget time and resources for recovery the same as we would a training exercise. Like training, we must also avoid things that distract or pull us away from our recovery efforts.

At the cultural level we must shift how we view recovery. The Army’s Holistic Health and Fitness program is an amazing start and does a lot to cement recovery concepts into our doctrine. However, it requires leaders at every level to embrace it and put it into practice in tangible ways. First, effectively managing organizational capacity increases efficiency and enables routine working hours. Working late nights and weekends may be required to accomplish some missions, but those should be the exception, not the expectation.

Second, senior leaders at all levels must change their messaging and lead by example.  How can they expect subordinates to truly recover if they are not willing to stop sending emails on the weekend, leave the office on time, unplug and actually take leave, or see a doctor when sick or injured? If board guidance and selection continue to weight high pressure operational assignments over broad experience, then what incentive is there to change the mold? Senior leaders must live the reforms for them to take root. Leaders at all levels must make it clear that long work hours, lost leave, and weekend emails are not a badge of honor, nor will they be viewed in a positive light.  

In addition, we must embrace a concept of active recovery while in high stress, high demand jobs. When I was a battalion operations officer, my commander made a point to leave the office at 1730 each day. Even better, he chased everyone out, including myself, the command sergeant major, battalion executive officer, company commanders, and first sergeants. Making a habit to leave on time, being present for the little league game, or turning off the phone for date night are examples of “recovery in contact” that allow for some respite while enabling continued performance in a high demand job.

Finally, our culture must re-examine how it views assignments. Slower paced assignments should not be derogatively viewed as “taking a knee,” but rather rounding out areas in an individual’s professional development. Instead of pushing Soldiers from one high-pressure assignment to another, branch managers and senior leaders should encourage a greater diversity in assignments, not just in the operating force, but the generating force as well.  Not only does the slower pace allow the individual and the family to recover, but the breadth of experience will benefit the Soldier in their next critical assignment.

RECOVER!

Recovery can be uncomfortable. Over my 15-year career, the Army has trained and conditioned me to go farther, push harder, and move faster in everything I do. There was a metric for everything and if you didn’t perform better than before there was more work to do until you did. Trying to break this mindset is hard. In fact, forcing yourself to slow down and recover in many ways is more difficult than simply continuing to push the pace. However, we must remember one unalterable fact: what got you here, will not get you there. Maintaining the habits that made you successful in a high demand job will not make you successful while executing recovery.

Recovery is necessary. Recovery is a process. Recovery is healthy. While it may feel uncomfortable to power down, do less, and not push to our limits, we must realize this is a mental trap. Our personal growth happens as we consolidate gains, reflect, and rest during our recovery periods. By changing how we view recovery and taking a more deliberate approach in its execution, we can maximize our recovery, capitalize on our growth, and be ready to perform at our peak when called to do so.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This Marine Veteran is pioneering a new VA program to help veterans and their families

This post is sponsored by the UCLA/VA Veteran Family Wellness Center (VFWC).

The UCLA/VA Veteran Family Wellness Center is honored to continue to serve and support the military-connected community during COVID-19! For appointments call (310) 478-3711 x 42793 or email info@vfwc.ucla.edu

Every Marine knows the saying, “Pain is Weakness leaving the body.” It’s the motto that drill instructors use to encourage recruits to dig just a little deeper during boot camp and it’s often repeated when physical training takes a turn from hard to brutally hard. The military, especially the Marines, know that pain is the beginning of resilience, our ability to bounce back from difficult situations and complete the mission. But while some pain often prepares our servicemen and women for strength in war, we are often at a loss for what to do when our families or even children are challenged with pain and stress once we return. So when the VA wanted to start helping veteran families they smartly turned to one of the few and the proud.


Marine Veteran Tess Banko is no stranger to pain. By twenty three years old, she had survived homelessness, a massive back injury (for which she was medically discharged) and the suicide death of her husband, also a Marine. When her world seemed to be coming apart, Tess did the opposite of what most of us would do. Instead of allowing her pain to overwhelm her, she fought back. She dug into her pain both physically and mentally. Along the way, she volunteered to empower and assist others, went to college (she was crowned homecoming queen), and ultimately, found the tools inside to help her (and her family). Tess is the epitome of resilience and now she’s bounced back to take on a new mission.

Today, Tess is the executive director of the UCLA/VA Veterans Family Wellness Center, a one of a kind partnership between UCLA and the West Los Angeles VA system. Tess and her team are part of the first VA program specifically designed to help not only veterans, but their families. To support their work, the team is relying on cutting edge research from UCLA just a few blocks from the VA campus. UCLA, the university which revolutionized kidney transplants and invented the nicotine patch, is now offering veterans and their families a state of the art resiliency program. Families Over Coming Under Stress (FOCUS) is a resiliency training regimen for individuals, families with children and couples facing adversity or issues like traumatic stress.

With Tess at the helm, she’s not only pioneering a new way of thinking for the VA, she’s also helping others find their path through trauma. Tess sat down with We Are The Mighty to discuss her work, passion and journey into resilience.

WATM: First things first, thank you for everything you do for military families. How do you describe yourself and your work here at VFWC?

Tess: Well it’s really easy to give a title. I’m the executive director of the UCLA/VA. Veteran Family Wellness Center. But really, I’m a social worker and public administrator.

WATM: And a Marine? What made you join the Corps?

Tess: I think it was really a lot of wanting to be part of something that made a difference. When I was younger I used to go to the [El Toro] airshow with my grandfather and that’s the first time I ever laid eyes on a Marine standing there in the uniform. You know guiding people, I mean it was airshow duty. I didn’t know at the time probably how much fun that wasn’t, but they were motivating and just really interacting with the public, and there were are all these exciting machines and demonstrations. So, it really made an impact on me as a little girl. The wider world was calling.

WATM: Did your family have a history of military service?

Tess: I didn’t find out until many years later that my own grandfather was actually in the Army. He never told those stories to the family because I think he was embarrassed. He said that a lot of his friends were being sent off to war but he served two years in a non-combat role, got out and went into aerospace engineering and he was one of the first Mexican-American designers of bomb and missile systems at White Sands, NM. I personally saw the military as one of the only places that you could go as far as your own two feet would take you basically or your hard work that you put into it. That’s one of the reasons why I was excited to join.

WATM: Wow.

Tess: And I like a good challenge. The Marine Corps seemed like a good fit. So I joined [as] an engineer.

WATM: Did you find the challenge you were looking for? Especially as a female Marine in the engineers.

Tess: When I joined it was very idealistic. I wanted to be just one of the guys and I saw myself in that way. I never saw myself in terms of being a woman, only a Marine and that actually caused a lot of problems and disappointment at the time as we have only just begun to move more fully into gender integration among the services. And it was really challenging for me because as I said I never saw myself as anything other than a Marine. I always just wanted to do my job.

WATM: What made you transition out of the Marine Corps?

Tess: I got hurt.

WATM: You got hurt?

Tess: Yes. We were training and I noticed that there was something wrong with my back because my leg had stopped functioning. I was in my early 20’s and the command atmosphere gave this impression that you had to white knuckle it through anything. I was told, ‘There’s no problem, there’s no problem. You just need to keep going.’ It turned out that I had a herniated disc in my back and it was it was crushing the nerve to the point where it began to permanently kill the nerves. I was standing there on the rifle range and I just fell over on my side because my leg finally gave up. They called an ambulance and rushed me into emergency surgery in Japan.

WATM: Did you feel like you had the resiliency skills that prepared you for that experience?

Tess: My life growing up was challenging. My parents were very young when they had children. I was the only person in my immediate family to successfully graduate from high school. My parents had dropped out at 17, which kind of spells disaster for a young couple with four children. And so it was really a life of learning to adapt, moving from place to place, experiencing homelessness as a child, living between motels and being chased by bill collectors. You know all that bad stuff for [a child] but even from a young age I adopted a viewpoint of life that was more curious than anything. It was less ‘Oh my God, why is this happening to me?’ and more ‘huh this interesting.’ It was just a minor shift of perspective. I developed that curiosity and a different way of looking at problems and I think that’s a key part of resilience.

WATM: Did you know what resilience was growing up?

Tess: I did not. I think it was something that I saw modeled by example. My grandmother was a very kind and giving woman, she taught me so much. She always went out of her way to help people in the community even when she seemed in the midst of a lot of uncertainty in life. So, paying that forward, even on active duty I was volunteering in the local community teaching English to Okinawan children. I’ve always been so curious about other people and their lives. It’s a great education.

WATM: And then you lost your husband (also a Marine). How do you process all of that?

Tess: It was a surreal experience having the casualty assistance team knock on the door. I can remember I opened it a crack. It didn’t make sense in my mind what was happening so I opened the door a crack and a Marine stuck his foot to keep me from shutting it. Then I saw the Colonel. And then it finally hit me that it was real. My husband wasn’t coming home. When you’re actively experiencing shock, pain or trauma it’s less thinking about resilience and more survival mode kicking in. It was one second, one minute at a time. The days blurred together. I mean being emotionally injured is much like being physically injured, it can take a long time to wrap your head around. There’s no linear pathway. Also, processing trauma is not just about moving through pain but about overcoming fear. There’s the fear that you as a person or things in your life will never be the same. Sometimes you don’t know what other people are going to think. Usually some of the fear ties back to being afraid that people are going to judge you if you feel broken. And I think that really was hard for me to overcome, but it was necessary. I think that being gentle with yourself is a skill.

WATM: You not only survived but thrived? You went back to college and grad school and now you literally work with Neuroscientists.

Tess: The science behind the brain fascinates me because people that are in pain sometimes seem to think, ‘I’m damaged forever and I’m never gonna be able to do or be anything. There is no coming back from this.’ I understand where you’re at if it’s crossed your mind, I’ve been there too, but there’s so much possibility. We can’t change what happened but our brain is essentially plastic and able to rewire. The body and mind actively try to repair themselves, and we can support our own process through building resilience. There are a lot of tools for that belt, resilience isn’t just a buzzword.

WATM: Is that thesis behind your team’s work at the VFWC?

Tess: Exactly. The center is a place of hope and healing. We teach tangible skills, identifiable tools, for veterans and their families to be able to overcome challenges and build better relationships. The FOCUS model that’s our cornerstone is pretty incredible.

WATM: Is there anybody else out there that’s focusing on families like this?

Tess: Not in this way. From a wellness-based resilience perspective this is the first center of its kind, especially paired with the VA which traditionally only sees individual veterans. They took a huge step to open their doors to couples and families too. When you think about it, though, our families, friends and communities are on the front lines supporting after military service.

WATM: So this is a groundbreaking VA partnership all based in science?

Tess: Yep. That’s why UCLA is such an amazing partner because the VFWC is just blocks away from world class researchers. The Center falls under the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and the Nathanson Family Resilience Center which focus on resilience for all families, not just veterans. The research behind our programs is about understanding what drives human behavior and growth. Based on that, VFWC programming is tailored to veterans and their families with really firm research and evidence backing it up.

WATM: Classic, intel drives operations model. But you have specific model for your programs as well. What is FOCUS?

Tess: FOCUS is Families Overcoming Under Stress. It’s a holistic model that was co-created between UCLA and Harvard University and currently in use on over 30 active duty military bases around the world. Our center represents the first wider translation of FOCUS from active duty into the veterans community, which are distinctly different populations. It’s a departure from traditional therapy models.

WATM: What can veterans and their families expect when they come to the center?

Tess: When somebody comes into the center in general we start with a consultation that helps us to really guide veterans and family members to the resources that they might be needing. It’s starting where the individual is. We have individual, couples, early childhood, military sexual trauma, and combat veteran adaptations, plus group sessions and special workshops and events. We keep our doors open for veterans and family members regardless of discharge, benefits or when they got out. The building we’re housed in also offers veterans with VA benefits massage, reiki, mindfulness and yoga. There’s even a drum circle and Taichi.

WATM: And children?

Tess: Especially children. Research that was done as far back as the Holocaust indicates that trauma can be passed down from generation to generation. In cases of post-traumatic stress, suicide and even repeated deployments, the effects of secondary trauma is a very real thing. A lot of the times we see families with children who don’t know how to talk to them about certain issues or there’s not a huge understanding of the developmental piece of what’s behind behaviors. Kids aren’t just mini-adults, the human brain is still developing until the age of 25! So, we support both the parents and children to find a closeness and ability to communicate more as they move through the journey.

WATM: That sounds pretty awesome especially for the VA. How would you describe starting the center?

Tess: It’s been a lot of pioneering. Improvising. Being resilient. There are so many people who care in the VA system and a whole lot of need. Offering another avenue for assistance is important to the team here.

WATM: What is your vision for the center and the future of resilience in the VA?

Tess: I would love to see the VA expand the VFWC’s holistic wellness model to include centers in every facility, especially coupled with a research institution. Veterans and their families would really benefit. Both our families, and wider communities for that matter, are really impactful in our individual wellness. One of the great things about the VFWC is our ability to seek additional community resources. It’s a long table and there is no one size fits all for wellness, reintegration, and healing.

WATM: So now you you’ve gone through your own experience gone through two years here. What does resilience mean to you?

Tess: I think the Marine Corps says it really, well you adapt and you overcome. Sometimes it seems like pull-through comes from out of nowhere because we’re born with it, but sometimes life can bring those levels low. Resilience is that wellspring that allows for course correction and being able to bounce back. Resilience to me also means working on saying, “hey something’s wrong here” and being open to assistance. First step for me personally of breaking the cycle was my own acknowledgment of what I was facing. For instance, I couldn’t talk to my family being sexually assaulted on active duty and I now know that’s common to those who have experienced trauma. I simply didn’t have the vocabulary, I had to organize the words in my own mind. We really need each other to get through hard times, so it’s crucial to develop.

WATM: What does 2019 look like for you and VFWC?

Tess: We’re working on piloting a new transition program, TEAM, for those at any point after active service based on the core FOCUS model paired with the ideas of identity ,mission, meaning and purpose. These are four essential elements of transition. Your perception changes along the transition to civilian life just like my perception changed of myself when I got out of the Marine Corps. It really was a rediscovery of who I was, where I was. I had to find a new mission. For me that happened to be serving people, but it could be different for others. It can be challenging to figure these things our while also providing for yourself or a family. We want to offer veterans and their families the resilience tools before they even need them.

WATM: Do you have any advice specifically to the families

Tess: There is no one size fits all to happiness, health and healing. If one thing doesn’t work, move forward. No matter what you face, keep reaching out and moving forward. Families, you are vital to service. You’re heard and seen. You matter.

Marine Veteran Tess Banko is the executive director of the UCLA/VA Veterans Family Wellness Center (VFWC). To learn more about the center’s work or begin your own resilience training please contact familycenter@nfrc.ucla.edu or Phone 310-478-3711, ext 42793.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Brains vs brawns: A Green Beret and a Ranger meet

Green Berets rely on their problem-solving abilities to survive in combat. Much of SF selection seeks to assess this talent. The Special Forces qualification course itself develops and improves creativity. Many times, military problems must be solved with the application of force. Green Berets are not afraid to get their hands dirty, but they understand the power of working with and through others.

There is a story that has been told in the SOF community for years. I don’t believe it is factual, but there is a lot of truth in it. The story goes like this:

The new Secretary of Defense had been confirmed and was touring the Pentagon, taking briefings on the capabilities of his forces. He had a well-deserved reputation as a no-nonsense guy. After a briefing on Special Operations Forces, he was escorted to lunch by a Green Beret officer.


The Secretary’s confused look did not bode well as they walked through the E ring. “I understand how SOF is different from conventional forces, but the Rangers and Green Berets seem just alike to me. You have a Special Forces Tab and a Ranger Tab. What’s the difference?”

“The units are very different, sir. While both units are composed of very capable soldiers, selected for intelligence and fitness, Rangers attack the enemy directly, while Special Forces work by, with, and through indigenous forces to accomplish tasks far beyond their numbers.” The Green Beret secretly hoped he would not be pulled into the eternal Ranger versus SF discussion for the 10,000th time. He prided himself in his teaching abilities, but this guy was being obtuse.

“They dress just alike, they are both ARSOF units, and they both have direct-action capabilities. How are they so different?” It seemed the Secretary was going to force this. The next four years of Special Forces missions hinged on the new Secretary’s understanding. As they walked through an area of temporary construction, the Green Beret had a flash of inspiration.

“Sir, humor me here; let’s do a little demonstration. Rangers are highly aggressive. They pride themselves on their toughness and discipline. They follow orders without question. Do you see that huge soldier with a tan beret? He is a Ranger.”

As the Ranger approached, the Green Beret called out, “Hey, Ranger! Come here.”

The Ranger moved toward them, sprang to attention, and saluted. “Rangers lead the way, sir. How may I be of assistance?”

“Can you help us here for a moment? This is the new Secretary of Defense. He wants to know more about the Rangers. Will you help me educate him?”

Pointing to a new section of hallway, the Green Beret officer said, “Ranger, I need you to break through that wall.”

“Hooah, sir. Would you like a breach or complete destruction?”

“A man-sized breach would be fine.”

With that, the Ranger removed his beret and assumed a three-point stance six feet from the wall. With a grunt, he launched himself into the wall, punching his head and shoulders right through the drywall. Hitting a 2×4 on the way through, he was a little stunned, but he continued to work, smashing a hole wide enough for a fully kitted Ranger to pass through. Staggering to his feet with a trickle of blood running down his face, he appeared a little disoriented.

“Thank you, Ranger. Great job. You are a credit to the Regiment. You need to go to the aid station and get someone to look at that cut.”

The Secretary was incredulous. He had never seen such a display of pure discipline and strength. “That was astounding. What could Special Forces possibly do to match that?”

The Green Beret was also impressed, but not surprised. “The Rangers are highly disciplined sir, but Special Forces selection and training also produce strong, disciplined soldiers. We deploy older, more mature soldiers in very small numbers. They understand that they are a valuable strategic resource, and are selected for their advanced problem-solving abilities.”

The secretary seemed displeased. “Frankly, that sounds like bullshit. It seems that these Rangers are the finest soldiers in the Army. What could Special Forces do that the Rangers cannot?”

As he spoke, a Green Beret Staff Sergeant walked by. Not as young or lean as the Ranger, he had a commanding presence and a serious look filled with confidence. The Green Beret officer called him over.

“Hey Mike, can you help us here for a moment? This is the new Secretary of Defense. He wants to know more about the Special Forces; will you help me educate him?”

The staff sergeant shook the secretary’s hand and introduced himself. “How can I help you, sir?”

Pointing to an undamaged section of the hallway, the Green Beret officer said, “Mike, I need you to break through that wall.”

“No problem. Would you like a breach or complete destruction?”

“A man-sized breach would be fine.”

The staff sergeant removed his beret and stood for a moment in silent thought six feet from the wall. He scanned the area and smiled broadly as he found the perfect tool for the job. “Hey Ranger,” he said, “Come here.”

Know your abilities, learn your environment, and use your resources deliberately. Green Berets know that finding just the right tool can be the most important part of the job. The Ranger in the story can take down a wall. The Green Beret can take out walls until he runs out of Rangers, and then one more.

As a force multiplier in the real world, the Green Berets can enlist large units with local knowledge to fight beside them. A single 12-man A-Team can train and employ a 500-man infantry battalion. That is a significant return on investment for the taxpayer.

Value yourself, and use your rapport skills to build partnerships. Many hands make light work; don’t do everything yourself. Green Berets know that there is no limit to what one can do if other people are doing the work.

This article originally appeared on SOFREP. Follow @sofrepofficial on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

The 13 funniest military memes for the week of December 13th

Awh yeah! It’s Army-Navy Game time, folks! You’d think troops would hate the game, but we f*cking love it! Any other day of the year and you’d be hard-pressed to find a single troop who’d actively give a damn about a bunch of academy soon-to-be butter bars who finally show up for some sports PT. But nope! It’s about branch pride this weekend!

Even the Marines full-heartedly accept they’re apart of the Navy for one afternoon. That entirely depends on if they win, of course. Vegas odds put the Midshipmen at a slightly better chance of winning after the Army went on that five-game losing streak, but they’ve come back from worse odds.

If Navy does win, they get the Commander-in-Chief Trophy back at Annapolis. If Army wins, they retain the trophy because the wins are spread out like it’s a “Rock, Paper, Scissors” style match-up since Army already lost to Air Force… Wait a second…


That was almost six weeks ago? Huh. Even when the Army is having a sh*tty year, we all kind of forget about the Air Force Academy… Anyways, here are some memes.

How the Army’s ‘Robin Sage’ puts Special Forces hopefuls to a final, make-or-break test in the forests of North Carolina

(Meme via US Army WTF Moments Memes)

How the Army’s ‘Robin Sage’ puts Special Forces hopefuls to a final, make-or-break test in the forests of North Carolina

(Meme via Army as F*ck)

How the Army’s ‘Robin Sage’ puts Special Forces hopefuls to a final, make-or-break test in the forests of North Carolina

(Meme via On The Minute Memes)

How the Army’s ‘Robin Sage’ puts Special Forces hopefuls to a final, make-or-break test in the forests of North Carolina

(Meme via Call for Fire)

How the Army’s ‘Robin Sage’ puts Special Forces hopefuls to a final, make-or-break test in the forests of North Carolina

(Meme via Team Non-Rec)

How the Army’s ‘Robin Sage’ puts Special Forces hopefuls to a final, make-or-break test in the forests of North Carolina

(Meme via Not CID)

How the Army’s ‘Robin Sage’ puts Special Forces hopefuls to a final, make-or-break test in the forests of North Carolina

(Meme via Coast Guard Memes)

How the Army’s ‘Robin Sage’ puts Special Forces hopefuls to a final, make-or-break test in the forests of North Carolina

(Meme via Disgruntled Vets)

How the Army’s ‘Robin Sage’ puts Special Forces hopefuls to a final, make-or-break test in the forests of North Carolina

(Meme via Valhalla Wear)

For everyone crying out “but what about your pro-mask seals?” I’d like to politely ask you when was the last time you saw anyone actually carry a pro-mask with them out on patrol in an accessible position and not in the bottom of a ruck (or in the vehicle) for any reason other than the TOCroach LT randomly tagging along. 

Exactly.

How the Army’s ‘Robin Sage’ puts Special Forces hopefuls to a final, make-or-break test in the forests of North Carolina

(Meme via Private News Network)

How the Army’s ‘Robin Sage’ puts Special Forces hopefuls to a final, make-or-break test in the forests of North Carolina

(Meme via Decelerate Your Life)

How the Army’s ‘Robin Sage’ puts Special Forces hopefuls to a final, make-or-break test in the forests of North Carolina

(Meme via Pop Smoke)

How the Army’s ‘Robin Sage’ puts Special Forces hopefuls to a final, make-or-break test in the forests of North Carolina

(Meme via @CollegeGameDay Twitter)

Go Army, Beat Navy!

It’s technically a photo from last year but since it’s still relevant and I’ve held onto it since then, so it makes it in. Bite me.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Naval aviators talk the dangers and thrills of taking off and landing on an aircraft carrier

The US Navy’s carrier-based pilots are skilled aviators who have to be able to take off and land on a ship moving swiftly through the open ocean. Two experienced naval aviators recently talked to Insider about the thrills and the dangers of the job.

Fighters and other aircraft aboard the US Navy’s Nimitz-class aircraft carriers are launched using steam catapults. The new Ford-class carriers use the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS), a more advanced catapult system.


“Taking a cat shot is the most exciting roller coaster you will ever be on in your life,” Lt. Cmdr. Matt Deppen, who has served for 11 years and trapped on every aircraft carrier in the Navy except the USS Ronald Reagan, told Insider.

“It’s zero to a buck 70 [170 mph] in two, two and a half seconds,” Capt. J.J. Cummings, commanding officer of the USS Gerald R. Ford, told Insider. “The ride, I argue, is the best part of this. The traps are great, but in my view, the catapult is a blast, literally.”

“It’s the ride of a life. It’s great,” he explained. “I think the best part of flying off the ship is the catapult shot. There’s no ride like it in the world.”

The USS Gerald R. Ford recently wrapped up its first Fleet Replacement Squadron carrier qualifications for naval aviators while operating in the Atlantic Ocean. Cummings said that activities aboard the first-in-class ship have brought back memories of his first catapult launch more than 20 years ago.

“I still remember vividly my first trap on board the USS America in a T-2 Buckeye, and I remember even more vividly my first catapult shot,” he told Insider.

“As the catapult fired, I wasn’t ready for that. Those Gs,” Cummings added, revealing that he still remembers shouting out as his aircraft shot off the carrier’s flight deck.

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An F/A-18F Super Hornet, assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 41, launches from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) in the Red Sea, April 18, 2019

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Skyler Okerman

‘The craziest 15 to 18 seconds of your life’

Landing a plane on an aircraft carrier can be exciting too, but it isn’t an easy task. It can be both difficult and dangerous, Deppen told Insider, saying, “I think the toughest thing is landing a plane onboard an aircraft carrier.”

To land on a carrier, Navy pilots have to bring their aircraft in just right. Once on deck, a tailhook on the plane will snag a collection of arresting wires, bringing the plane to a stop.

“When you roll in behind the boat, your heart is pounding,” Deppen said. “It’s the craziest 15 to 18 seconds of your life. It’s the toughest thing we do in naval aviation.”

There is a thin margin of error, he explained, adding that “it can go south really quickly and develop into a very bad situation.” He told Insider it can be “very terrifying.”

www.dvidshub.net

The stress of landing on a carrier gets ratcheted up even more at night, when the carrier is just a “dot of light miles out and you’re in the middle of the ocean with no land for a thousand miles away,” Deppen said.

“You’re like, well, crap, I have to land on that thing. It is not easy, and it really gets your blood flowing.”

Still, the naval aviators love to fly. “The plane handles like no other airplane I can get my hands on,” Deppen said of the F/A-18 Super Hornet, the Navy’s main carrier-based fighter. “I just think it’s awesome.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

5 next-level ways to celebrate Independence Day

With the Fourth of July nearly upon us, let’s consider how we go about celebrating the independence of the United States. American-as-f*ck movies, barbecues, and brews (before we go ahead and start our own explosive light show) are the most popular ways to go about it.

But there’s nothing wrong with upgrading a few of those ideas.

How the Army’s ‘Robin Sage’ puts Special Forces hopefuls to a final, make-or-break test in the forests of North Carolina
Beware of going Full Veteran.

Related: 8 veteran AF ways to celebrate Independence Day

Right now, everyone is thinking of celebrating July 4th in the same way you are — and that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with however you want to celebrate independence; that’s the beauty of it. But there’s also nothing wrong with constantly trying to outdo each other in a race to create the best party either.

It’s time to Manifest Destiny all over your backyard with these simple ways to upsell everyone on American democracy.


How the Army’s ‘Robin Sage’ puts Special Forces hopefuls to a final, make-or-break test in the forests of North Carolina

“Yeah, spruce ale. Prove me wrong.” – Ben Franklin

1. Upgrade your brew to something an American Patriot might drink.

Since Budweiser is now owned by a Brazilian-Belgian transnational conglomerate, it’s hard to call it the official beer of America’s independence. And while there are many more American beers not yet owned by other countries, we might as well drink what the Founding Fathers drank. Now we just need to find out what this was…

Luckily for us, Yards Brewing Company already did. Using letters and other documents written by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Ben Franklin, the brewers recreated a golden ale, porter, and spruce ale, each of which were once brewed by the Fathers themselves.

2. Upgrade those movies.

I know, the story of a Maverick fighter pilot who plays by his own rules gives you a massive bard-on. But did you know there are other movies that make Top Gun look a high school kid’s fevered daydream while dropping some real knowledge on you?

For example, First Blood, while fictional, has all the same badassery of Top Gun without being so over-the-top that it’s laughable. And it comes with a real message at the end.

How the Army’s ‘Robin Sage’ puts Special Forces hopefuls to a final, make-or-break test in the forests of North Carolina

Philadelphia, home of Benjamin Franklin, has to use sparklers.

3. Take advantage of state laws when buying fireworks.

The great thing about these United States is that powers not reserved for the Federal government are delegated to the States — and the Feds don’t give a damn about fireworks. So, just because it might be illegal to purchase in one state doesn’t mean you can’t drive to another to pick up your 4th of July Arsenal of Democracy ammunition.

Sorry, Pennsylvania.

How the Army’s ‘Robin Sage’ puts Special Forces hopefuls to a final, make-or-break test in the forests of North Carolina

Even if you prefer the hot dog, you can even expand those flavors, like with Chicago-style dogs.

4. The meats.

Burgers and hot dogs are classics. No one will argue with you there. But that doesn’t mean that’s all you have to make. There are a lot of crowd-pleasing ways to use those coals you got fired up: brisket, pork chops, steaks, chicken, ribs… the list is endless.

And while the meat is where good BBQ starts, remember the many flavors of America. There’s the tangy mustard-based sauce of the Carolinas (try that with some cole slaw). Or maybe you’re into a heavier, smoky Kansas City-style sauce. There are many to choose from — don’t skimp out.

How the Army’s ‘Robin Sage’ puts Special Forces hopefuls to a final, make-or-break test in the forests of North Carolina

“We already have Tim Hortons. Next stop, Ottawa.”

5. Succeed where the Revolutionaries failed.

In 1775, Col. Benedict Arnold tried to capture Quebec and free the Canadians from the British yoke. Outnumbered, cold, and outgunned, he was turned back in a rout. It ended the American excursion in Canada during the Revolution — but it doesn’t have to be forever. Arnold tried to invade Canada in November.

SAD.

This is July and they’ll never expect it.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Gina Elise knows how to make a first impression

I’m in an Uber driving north, passing by the Hollywood Sign. I am supposed to be headed south. My driver swears he knows a shortcut. Ok, Raffee, we’ll see, bro — but my land nav skills are telling me we’re headed towards a disaster and I’m late.


Really late, and this is not the impression I want to send to the woman waiting for me at the famous Hollywood American Legion. I’ve just arrived, thanks to Raffee’s shortcut. He earned his 5 stars today. As I rush to the entrance of the historic building that rightfully looks like a bunker defending the Hollywood Hills, I realize that I’ve just traveled back in time.

Before me is a marvelous Pin-Up model posing before a row of flags and one large cannon. She’s got it all. Hair perfectly curled, a vintage-inspired 1940s dress, and a smile that is making our cameraman blush. This is an image that could sell war bonds or find its way onto the nose cone of a B-24. Wow, I just learned that Pin-Ups For Vets‘ Founder, Gina Elise, really knows how to make a first impression.

How the Army’s ‘Robin Sage’ puts Special Forces hopefuls to a final, make-or-break test in the forests of North Carolina

Pin-Ups for Vets Founder Gina Elise at the Hollywood American Legion.

(Photo courtesy of @markharper147)

Here I am, nervous and fumbling with my bag as Gina takes photo after photo almost effortlessly. She’s a pro. It’s been 13 years since Gina founded Pin-Ups For Vets, a non-profit organization that supports active military and veterans by producing an annual fundraiser pin-up calendar. The Pin-Ups For Vets Ambassadors visit ill and injured veterans in VA hospitals across the country (Gina’s volunteered in 31 of the 50 states). The organization also purchases thousands of dollars of rehabilitation equipment for VA therapy departments.

The photoshoot is coming to end when Gina tells me she has a surprise. She’s baked an eight-layer brownie for me and the cameraman. Seriously, is there anything that Gina can’t do? Right now, she’s off to change before our chat. As I bite into the absolutely delicious snack, it hits me that Gina, like the brownie, has many layers that only get sweeter and sweeter.

How the Army’s ‘Robin Sage’ puts Special Forces hopefuls to a final, make-or-break test in the forests of North Carolina

Pin-Ups for Vets Founder, Gina Elise, at the Hollywood American Legion.

(Photo courtesy of @markharper147)

I’m downstairs at the American Legion. It’s dark and the smell of cigars lingers. This is definitely a place for veterans and is home to some pretty amazing movie history. Just out of the corner of my eye is the long bar where Jack Nicholson had a conversation with a ghost bartender in The Shining. And, just like old Jack, I wonder if my eyes are playing tricks on me as Gina approaches in a fresh new dress.

How the Army’s ‘Robin Sage’ puts Special Forces hopefuls to a final, make-or-break test in the forests of North Carolina

Pin-Ups for Vets Founder, Gina Elise, at the Hollywood American Legion.

(Photo courtesy of @markharper147)

You ready?

GE: [She smiles]. Yes.

So, what were you doing before you came here?

GE: Today?

Totally. I am curious about what you do when you aren’t owning photoshoots?

GE: I was wrapping up some details for our upcoming visit with hospitalized veterans! I was also trying to see if our CBS News clip was up online yet, so I could share it on our Facebook page. I like to keep our supporters up-to-date about things that we’re doing.

And baking Brownies?

GE: I wanted to bring dessert for you guys. These bars have seven ingredients with a chocolate glaze on top.

Thank you. [I can still taste the glaze]

GE: I was also planning a morale-boosting pin-up makeover for a female Air Force veteran. We have multiple projects going on all the time. I have to be a multi-tasker.

Makeovers?

GE: It’s one of the things that we’ve been doing for a while. We do makeovers for female veterans and military wives as a fun way to give back to them and pamper them. I also just released a casting call for our 2020 calendar. It’s our 14th edition! We’ve received more submissions this year than ever before!

What does it take to be a Pin-Up in the calendar?

GE: Well, we look for female Veterans who have great stories to share. We ask them to submit their picture, tell us a bit about their military service and why they would like to be in our next calendar and what that would mean to them.

Last year’s calendar at the Queen Mary was amazing. It’s still hanging in my office. How do you find these places?

GE: The 2019 Pin-Ups For Vets calendar was photographed on the Queen Mary. Producing the calendar every year is like making a film — from location scouting to casting to styling to pre-production to photography to post-production to editing and printing. It takes months. I want it to be top notch so people want to order it year after year. Many of our supporters collect them, and some have the entire calendar collection — all the way from 2007, our first edition.

And you do this all yourself?

GE: I have a lot of amazing volunteers, many of whom are female veterans.

How the Army’s ‘Robin Sage’ puts Special Forces hopefuls to a final, make-or-break test in the forests of North Carolina

Pin-Ups pose on the Queen Mary for the 2019 Pin-Ups for Vets Calendar.

(Photo courtesy of @pinupsforvets)

Really? Are you recruiting an army of Pin-Ups?

GE: It’s really a sisterhood of volunteers. They are coming together, after their military service, to give back to their brothers and sisters. One of our volunteers recently told me, “I came for the service. I stayed for the sisterhood.” I think that having images of female veterans in the calendar is a starting point to tell their story. Images are powerful. People want to know, “Who is she?” Then, they find out that she is a veteran. It makes people think twice, as it is a common assumption that veterans are only men. The ladies constantly tell me that they are often mistaken for being a military spouse. They are not assumed to be a veteran because their gender. I think that the calendars have started changing peoples’ minds on what a veteran is.

You’ve definitely changed my mind. What’s the craziest place you’ve seen your pictures?

GE: They’ve gone all over the world. We are constantly shipping care packages to deployed units.

I have to ask: has anybody painted you on the side of their Humvee?

GE: Soldiers put my name on a helicopter!

Ok, that’s pretty cool. I mean, not a lot of people get their name on a helicopter.

GE: It was a great picture.

Yeah, I have to get that picture. OK?

GE: Of course.

How the Army’s ‘Robin Sage’ puts Special Forces hopefuls to a final, make-or-break test in the forests of North Carolina

Gina Elise painted on the side of an AH-64 Apache Helicopter.

(Photo courtesy of @pinupsforvets)

It’s pretty amazing that you’ve used an iconic 1940s fashion style to embrace femininity within the military culture. How do the ladies even start to learn how to be a Pin-Up?

GE: The ladies who volunteer with us have adopted the 1940s style so well. They watch YouTube tutorials about how to do their hair and makeup. There’s something about presenting yourself in this vintage style that makes you feel really confident. It’s a beautiful celebration of a woman. It’s really about embracing our femininity. I love how I feel when I get dressed up. It gives me confidence.

Really? Confidence doesn’t seem to be hard for you at all. You’re a natural leader.

GE: I was shy growing up. Being involved in leadership classes in junior high and high school were life-changing for me. They gave me a sense of responsibility at a very early age, and showed me what I was capable of doing. Maybe that is why I connected so well with the military community — because there is such a focus on strong leadership.

A little bird told me that you are a Colonel?

GE: Honorary. The American Legion made me an Honorary Colonel. It was incredible. We are so grateful to the American Legion. They’ve been so supportive of what we do.

How the Army’s ‘Robin Sage’ puts Special Forces hopefuls to a final, make-or-break test in the forests of North Carolina

Pin-Ups for Vets Founder, Gina Elise, at the Hollywood American Legion.

(Photo courtesy of @markharper147)

Roger that, Colonel. So, when do we get to see the book of all the Pin-Up pictures?

GE: A coffee table book? I’ve thought about that! Our supporters have asked me to do a coffee table book before. I would love to see that!

Have the fans asked for anything else?

GE: Yes! I actually have an idea for a television show.

Oh really? Let’s talk about that later after I finish this amazing brownie.

GE: Any time.

Be sure to visit www.pinupsforvets.com for more info.

MIGHTY CULTURE

What It’s Like to Transition Off Active Duty, in GIFs – Part IV

Need to get caught up? Check out Part I, Part II, and Part III.


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Part IV: Hitting Your Stride

First couple of paychecks under your belt, and you’re ready to look for a place. Game on! You didn’t watch those hundreds of hours of HGTV for nothing.

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You found a place! Time to get your stuff out of storage and find out what broke during the PCS. You’re not sure how your dresser was shattered into five million pieces, but who cares? You’re too excited.

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When you went through TAP and everyone told you to file a VA disability claim, you said “no thanks.” You’re not that hurt, and other people need it more, right?

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But lying awake with your bum ear ringing (and/or your knees throbbing, back hurting, your amygdala telling you you’re about to be eaten by a bear in the comfort of your own bed), you’re beginning to question the wisdom of that decision. Ok, maybe it’s time to file a claim.

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You can figure this out! It’s just some paperwork, right? A visit to eBenefits to check out the details suggests otherwise.

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You call in reinforcements in the form of a VSO. For the low, low price of zero dollars and your medical records, they’ll take care of it for you. Score! Asking for help isn’t that bad. You should do it more often.

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You realize you haven’t talked to any of your old military friends in months, so you text a buddy who separated around the same time. As it turns out, they’re dealing with the same stuff. You communicate through memes, which is surprisingly cathartic. You’re not alone!

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Everybody from your therapist to your partner to your Facebook ads seems to think you’ll feel better if you start exercising again. You attempt an old PT workout, but it’s not the same when nobody is yelling at you. Time to try something new.

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Ok, apparently there’s exercise outside of pushups/situps/running and it’s actually fun. Now, you’re a lean, mean dancing machine.

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Your new exercise routine has got you on an endorphin high. Things are really looking up!

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You love your job, but one of the things you miss most about the military is serving others, so you track down a volunteer gig in your community. Sense of purpose restored!

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At some point, you begin to realize that your military service will always be a part of who you are (a huge part), but it’s not your entire identity forever. You have an opportunity to use your skills and experience to benefit your community, to learn new skills and have new experiences, and to write your next chapter. It’s actually pretty exciting.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Watching YouTube videos took this Green Beret from Afghanistan to the NFL

Everyone has a different way of passing the time during deployments. Some people work their way through seasons on Netflix, some CrossFit their way to a better physique, while others pursue academic goals. For Green Beret Nate Boyer, it was watching YouTube videos and practicing those skills that helped him chase his dream of becoming a professional football player.


In Sunday’s Super Bowl commercial, we see the journey of Nate Boyer. Following his service in the Army, Boyer wanted to go to college and to be a starter on the Texas Longhorns football team.

There was only one tiny wrench in his plan: he had never played football.

Boyer was told he was “too small, too slow, too old. Nobody wants a 30-year-old rookie on their team.” But just ask Boyer: he’s no ordinary rookie. Following tryouts, Boyer learned that there would be a starting position open as a long snapper for the Longhorns.

“I didn’t even know what a long snapper was,” he said.

Boyer learned and honed the skills through YouTube and watched as his dreams came true:

YouTube

www.youtube.com

YouTube

You’re never too old to pursue your dreams.

MIGHTY CULTURE

The 13 funniest military memes for the week of January 10th

There hasn’t been a more shining example of how great the military meme community can be than when its faced with a possible WWIII. The media is reporting every last detail, the civilians are clutching their pearls, and the vets? We’re completely unphased at the prospect of another multi-decade war.

All geopolitics and possible danger aside, at least gearing up for war is a hell of a lot better than just sitting around doing CQ, motor pool Mondays, and online correspondence courses…


Actual war may be benched – but the meme war will continue!

How the Army’s ‘Robin Sage’ puts Special Forces hopefuls to a final, make-or-break test in the forests of North Carolina

(Meme via Army as F*ck)

How the Army’s ‘Robin Sage’ puts Special Forces hopefuls to a final, make-or-break test in the forests of North Carolina

(Meme via Jenna Boom)

How the Army’s ‘Robin Sage’ puts Special Forces hopefuls to a final, make-or-break test in the forests of North Carolina

(Meme via Roller Vader)

How the Army’s ‘Robin Sage’ puts Special Forces hopefuls to a final, make-or-break test in the forests of North Carolina

​(Meme via US Army WTF Moments Memes)

How the Army’s ‘Robin Sage’ puts Special Forces hopefuls to a final, make-or-break test in the forests of North Carolina

(Meme via Call for Fire)

How the Army’s ‘Robin Sage’ puts Special Forces hopefuls to a final, make-or-break test in the forests of North Carolina

(Meme via Team Non-Rec)

How the Army’s ‘Robin Sage’ puts Special Forces hopefuls to a final, make-or-break test in the forests of North Carolina

(Meme via Not CID)

How the Army’s ‘Robin Sage’ puts Special Forces hopefuls to a final, make-or-break test in the forests of North Carolina

(Meme via Victor Alpha Clothing)

How the Army’s ‘Robin Sage’ puts Special Forces hopefuls to a final, make-or-break test in the forests of North Carolina

(Meme via Lost in the Sauce)

How the Army’s ‘Robin Sage’ puts Special Forces hopefuls to a final, make-or-break test in the forests of North Carolina

(Meme via PT Belt Nation)

How the Army’s ‘Robin Sage’ puts Special Forces hopefuls to a final, make-or-break test in the forests of North Carolina

(Meme via Disgruntled Vets)

How the Army’s ‘Robin Sage’ puts Special Forces hopefuls to a final, make-or-break test in the forests of North Carolina

(Meme via Pop Smoke)

How the Army’s ‘Robin Sage’ puts Special Forces hopefuls to a final, make-or-break test in the forests of North Carolina

​(Meme via Decelerate Your Life)

MIGHTY CULTURE

6 military terms that aren’t as pleasant as the FNG might think

The military is known for its clever vocabulary. If you cut out the obscenity, you’re left with a collection of terms that are either more accurate (i.e. it’s not exactly a ‘shovel,’ it’s an “entrenching tool”) or overly sarcastic (i.e. it’s not “beating the crap out of someone,” it’s “wall-to-wall counseling”).

This overly sarcastic way of referring to things that generally suck is a coping mechanism. It’s a way to add color to the typical monotony that comes with military service. The following terms might sound exciting on the surface, but there’s a general understanding among troops to not get hyped over any of them — but it’s always a good laugh when the new guy doesn’t get it.


How the Army’s ‘Robin Sage’ puts Special Forces hopefuls to a final, make-or-break test in the forests of North Carolina

Cleaning connexes… Just as much fun as getting drunk in the barracks.

(U.S. Army Photo by Spc James C. Blackwell)

“Working party”

Out of context, this one sounds like a couple of guys within the company getting together, having a good time, and maybe accomplishing a few things in the process — and, to be honest, that’s how it almost always turns out when the NCOs turn their back for longer than two seconds.

In actuality, a “working party” is four or five lower enlisted and two NCOs. The troops will do most of the heavy lifting while the NCO that still has a spine remembers what it was like to be a private joins in. The other supervises while pretending to do work. The moment the lazy NCO turns away, three of the original lower enlisted will start slacking until the motivated NCO says something like, “the faster this gets done, the sooner we can go.” But that never happens. Ever.

There are always more pointless details to be done.

How the Army’s ‘Robin Sage’ puts Special Forces hopefuls to a final, make-or-break test in the forests of North Carolina

Want a real force multiplier? Why not boost morale or, you know, add more troops?

(Meme via The Salty Soldier)

“The Good-Idea Fairy”

It almost sounds whimsical. It’s as if, out of the blue, a good idea was magically sprinkled into the heads of the chain of command and logic reigned supreme.

In practice, this term is used when a lieutenant gets a wild hair up their ass after coming to an agreement in the echo chamber that is staff meetings. Suddenly, that lieutenant can’t wait to implement the newest and best “force multiplier” that has never been thought of before.

These force multipliers never really have an end-game, though, so it’s basically just a fancy way of saying, “I wonder how the troops would react if we did this?”

How the Army’s ‘Robin Sage’ puts Special Forces hopefuls to a final, make-or-break test in the forests of North Carolina

You can typically tell if someone earned their stuff or if they’re just really good as ass kissing by checking their ribbons rack. If they have multiples of lesser awards that are common among the lower ranks, you know they’ve worked hard from the beginning.

(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Paris Maxey)

“Chest candy”

Certain awards, medals, and badges confer the highest amount of respect. In some cases, a highly-decorated troop commands greater respect from those around them than the unproven leaders above them.

When the awards, medals, and badges are referred to as “chest candy,” however, it’s basically saying that none of those awards have any real substance. Take the airborne wings in the Army, for example. They look nice and say that the person is airborne qualified — but don’t, by any stretch of the imagination, think that means that “five jump chumps” are actual paratroopers. Same goes for many other awards that are handed out like it was Halloween to troops — typically anything given to staff officers who found that week’s “force multiplier” without doing a fraction of the work their subordinates did.

How the Army’s ‘Robin Sage’ puts Special Forces hopefuls to a final, make-or-break test in the forests of North Carolina

Chances are high that your training room clerk is dealing with more secret information than you ever will.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Gina Randall)

“Some secret, squirrel-type sh*t”

There’s nothing wrong with being in the conventional military, and yet troops will jump at any conceivable chance to play the “if I told you, I’d have to kill you” card at the bar. If it’s labelled confidential, you know they’re going to see “some secret, squirrel-type sh*t!”

In actuality, unless you’ve got CIA operatives coming into your S3 and demanding confidentiality agreements, the red stickers are actually really f*cking boring. The closest any regular military troops are ever going to get to secret information are personnel records. They’re confidential because they could realistically be used against someone. “Secret squirrel” is almost entirely used for this kind of mundane crap that is technically classified.

How the Army’s ‘Robin Sage’ puts Special Forces hopefuls to a final, make-or-break test in the forests of North Carolina

If you honestly think the General nothing better to do than to inspect every single room in the barracks for lint, you’ve lost your mind.

(DoD Photo by Gloria Montgomery)

“Dog and pony shows”

The military is all about prestige and perfectionism when it comes to general officers swinging by to “inspect the troops.” Everyone will spend days getting ready to impress the two-star and get the nod of approval.

Nine times out of ten, the general won’t come to the barracks. They’ll meet at the company area and talk for thirty minutes before they go on their way. That one time they do inspect the troops, the chain of command will try to guide the general to the room that they know is spotless — typically an empty room that was quickly converted to look like it’s actually occupied.

This drawn-out procedure is known as putting on a “dog and pony show” and, unfortunately, neither dogs nor ponies are typically involved.

How the Army’s ‘Robin Sage’ puts Special Forces hopefuls to a final, make-or-break test in the forests of North Carolina

Even worse is when troops get reprimanded for speaking to the Chaplain. Which, unfortunately, does happen in some of the toxic units…

(U.S Marine photo by Lance Corporal Tayler P. Schwamb)

“Open-door policy”

You’ll often hear the commander or first sergeant tell you that their door is always open if you need to talk. When this policy works the way it should, it’s fantastic. It gives the little guy in the formation a strong ally when it comes to personal or professional issues.

Unfortunately, although their door may indeed always be open, it doesn’t mean you’re safe from reprimand. There are those in the chain of command who take it way too personally when a troop goes directly to the commander. They feel like the troop “jumped” the chain of command to fix something.

The hurt feelings are doubly potent if the problem is “toxicity in the troops’ leadership.”

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