Jocko Willink is a former U.S. Navy SEAL officer who is now a leadership instructor, speaker, and coach. A recipient of the Silver Star and the Bronze Star, he was commander of SEAL Team Three’s Task Unit Bruiser during the Battle of Ramadi and now he shares the lessons he learned from active duty.
The Jocko Podcast, where Jocko and Echo Charles “discuss discipline and leadership…extensively,” has over 28 million views on YouTube (and probably 20 million of them are mine playing this video).
After retiring from the Navy, Jocko co-founded Echelon Front, a premier leadership consulting company. (Without ever having spoken to him) I’d describe his philosophy as disciplined-based: we can’t control what happens to us, but we are in full control of how we respond. He doesn’t demonstrate patience for excuses; instead, he champions the idea of meeting your objective through strength and hard work.
Over the past few months, our lives have radically changed in ways both large and small. From how we go about our weekly errands to how we socialize with our wider communities. Social distancing has quickly brought to the forefront just how intrinsic human interaction is to our mental and emotional well-being.
As is always the case in times of crises, we can find hope in the examples of resilience and adaptability shown by people across the country. To see how this crisis is bringing people together in solidarity, you need only look at the selflessness of our health care workers and essential-service employees.
Beyond the physical and emotional tolls, these uncertain times have naturally affected our spiritual and religious lives, as well. Our new reality of social distancing affects weekly services, prayer and support groups and even religious holy days.
Spiritual Labyrinth at Nashville VA Medical Center.
Comprised of 775 men and women, VA Chaplaincy tends to the spiritual needs of Veterans and VA staff across the VA health care system. Their primary role is to provide advocacy and spiritual support for VA patients.
The photo above is of the South Texas VA chaplain staff in 2017.
Chaplaincy turns to communications platforms
VA Chaplaincy, like other aspects of VA, has been challenged to think-outside-the-box, be innovative and be creative in the manner of providing spiritual care.
Like many of us, VA’s chaplains have turned to various communications platforms to connect with the people they serve. Using video conferencing tools and VA Video Connect, chapel services, group meetings and other interactions have continued largely uninterrupted.
By broadcasting services, many chaplains have even noticed a rise in attendance. More people are attending virtually than could physically fit in the hospitals’ chapels.
Chaplains in the Central Texas Health Care System began sending out “daily devotionals.” These short messages of hope and encouragement are sent via email throughout their health care system.
“The responses have been so overwhelmingly positive,” said Chaplain Byron Singleton. Singleton is chief of chaplains for the Central Texas Health Care System. “Those daily emails are circulating to active duty U.S. military personnel around the globe.”
Oftentimes, our spiritual, emotional and mental well-being are far more personal, rather than based in a broader community. With social distancing in place, families can no longer visit their loved ones in hospitals. Chaplains routinely facilitate video calls with patients’ families, wearing the necessary PPE, of course.
Chaplains call every Veteran at high-risk for self-harm
In San Antonio, chaplains have gone out of their way to individually telephone every Veteran in their health care system who may be at high risk for self-harm. They check on Veterans and offer any assistance they might need. Chaplain Kerry Haynes, chief of Chaplain Services at San Antonio VA: “A simple phone call seems to lift their spirits and remind them they are not alone.”
This personal touch isn’t just for VA patients. Chaplains, who routinely support clinicians on their rounds, also have begun to hold daily meditations for VA staff at the beginning or end of their shifts. This provides a moment of calm in their busy days.
These are exceptional times. Now more than ever, we need to remember that compassion and empathy are indispensable. We’re all in this together, and together we will persevere.
If you’ve ever gone to see a medic or corpsman, chances are they’ve offered up their standard set of advice: drink some water, take a knee, and change your socks. Troops use this “profound medical expertise” as a catchall for any kind of ailment you may have.
Your feet are starting to boil over from this ruck march? You should have a pair of socks in your pack. Starting to vomit profusely? Change your socks and down some Motrin. Jodie got your girl and you haven’t been the same since? Here’s a pair of socks with your name on it, buddy!
All jokes aside, when medics recommend you change your socks, here’s why you should heed their advice.
“Huh. That doesn’t look good. You should change your socks about that,” said every medic ever.
(U.S. Army photo by Capt. Michael Merrill)
It doesn’t matter if you’re the laziest airman in the chAir Force or the most intense operator in SOCOM, wearing the same pair of socks two days in a row is extremely unhygienic. Regardless of how active you are, your feet will get nasty and socks just collect all those germs and bacteria.
Being in the military means that your feet are constantly put to the test, exposed to all the crud that troops walk through in the field. If you shower and put on a fresh set of clothes every morning, you’ll be fine. But if you’re constantly on the move and have to skip your morning routine, all that bacteria is left with nowhere to go but into your skin.
Letting that nastiness build up on the soles of your feet can lead to a fungal infection, which leads to countless other foot-related problems. I’ll spare you the graphic details (and images), but it’s not pretty. Just know that trench foot is a very serious condition that will take you out of fight and it can happen if you wear dirty, sweaty socks too long.
It really can cure (almost) everything!
But let’s not forget one of the biggest concerns of foot health: popped blisters. Over the course of a ruck march, the friction of your boots constantly hitting the pavement could cause your feet to form blisters. Those blisters may be painful, but they’re actually your body’s way of trying to heal the damage your feet sustained.
If that blister were to pop, though — which, if you’re on a ruck march with no rest stop in sight, is highly likely — then all that bacteria in your socks could infect that tiny, seemingly insignificant wound. That wound could turn gangrenous by the time you finish the 24-miler. In the worst possible scenario, the bacteria then makes its way into your bloodstream and you go into septic shock, which is very much life-threatening.
The only way to prevent this from happening is to take the advice from your medic or corpsman and change your socks at every occasion.
Happy Birthday, America! It’s that time of year when we celebrate our freedom and the birth of the country we all know and love. This year, we proudly boast number 244 — sure there’s no real guide for what to give Lady Liberty and Uncle Sam this go-around, but luckily, we have some crowd favorites.
From old faithfuls, like fireworks exploding in the sky, to regional traditions like BBQs and the juiciest watermelon around, let’s all bask in the excitement that is Independence Day.
First, we start with the obvious fare: grilling, summer dishes, and of course, fireworks. Whether you’re a family who drops serious dough to hear the big ka-booms, or prefers to swirl sparklers in your backyard, you’re celebrating all the same. Join in with family and friends — from a safe distance, of course — to plan your day of American food-loving fun.
Hitting the zoo
Yes, the zoo! Check out your local animals this July 4th for free admission at many locations. Military members and their families can earn free access when visiting the zoos in Cincinnati or Birmingham. Everyone located elsewhere can still earn military discounts and a guaranteed fun day of animal viewing, along with activities themed red, white, and blue.
As the July heat has hit, spending the day in or near the water come July 4th is a crowd favorite. Certain water parks are offering free military admission this Fourth. (A welcome change as we’ve all been waiting for water parks to reopen, even at lowered capacities.) Meanwhile, the rest of us can enjoy days of swimming and boating near our duty station of choice.
District of Columbia National Guard supports Fourth of July mission
Most years, military bases are home to big 4th of July celebrations. They host everything from food trucks, to parades, to massive fireworks shows. However, with the pandemic in play, many of these events have been postponed or canceled outright. As an alternative, some fireworks shows are offering drive-in shows instead. Think of an old fashioned drive-in theater, but where the sky is the screen instead. To see if your area is hosting a drive-in show, check local event pages.
While 2020 is calling for a different form of celebrating this year, it doesn’t mean military members and their families can’t still party-it-up this 4th.
USAA is stepping forward to honor the nation’s nearly 18 million veterans with its #HonorThroughAction challenge. Country music star Chris Young, who has close ties to the military community, is joining forces with the organization for Veterans Day.
Young has had an impressive career in country music. But despite number one hits, world tours and numerous awards, he remains a humble man, deeply appreciative of America’s service members. Early in his career he spent a lot of time playing on military bases throughout the United States and had friends who were closely connected to the military growing up. But it hits home for him, too. His grandfather served in the Marine Corps during the Korean War and then later in Young’s music career, his sister joined and served as a Marine herself.
When USAA approached him to help lead and promote its campaign, he didn’t hesitate to say yes. The goal of the campaign is to flood the internet with images of people with the letter “V” on their hands and messages of gratitude for America’s veterans. Young shared that he felt it was a visible way to truly say thank you by overflowing social media with personal messages, reaching even more veterans. “It’s an awesome way to use social media as an outreach platform to really make it a huge day of thanks for their sacrifice and service,” he explained. “I normally have my name talked about much more than my sister and this is a way for me to use all of my platforms to say thank you to her, too.”
Young has spent considerable time overseas performing for the troops, something he said he truly enjoys. He’s gone to Iraq multiple times, Kuwait and even as far as Japan. Young also shared how he once had the opportunity to go to a Forward Operating Base on the border of Iran, which was impacting in more ways than one. “Their PX was a tractor trailer… It was a small FOB. I was playing acoustic with another guitar player because that’s really all we had room for, since it was a much smaller base,” Young explained. “Everybody was very thankful and I was like, ‘What’s going on?’ because it was over the top saying thank you. But then a service member told me I was the only non-military entertainment that had ever played for them. That just blew my mind.”
This experience was pivotal for Young, he said. Although he’s spent time playing at bases throughout the world and inviting service members to shows, playing for those service members in particular was different. It cemented for him that any opportunity he has to say thank you, he’s all in. “I am very honored that USAA wanted to partner with me to not only say thank you to the 18 military US military veterans but also do something like this where people can actually take part in it too,” he explained.
USAA’s third annual #HonorThroughAction challenge is really easy. Participants can simply draw a V on their hand – for veterans – and then add the initials of anyone in particular who has served that they want to highlight. Then simply snap a picture and share on social media along with the hashtag, #HonorThroughAction. It only takes a moment and is an actionable way to make your thank you more meaningful. The goal is to flood all social media platforms with these posts, reaching as many veterans as possible. “This might be the most important thing someone sees on their [social media] feed that they didn’t expect to,” Young explained. “I just really encourage anyone who sees my posts or reads this article to go do it.”
This Veterans Day, pause for a moment and truly breathe in the sacrifice of our country’s heroes. Let us use our collective power to ‘break’ the internet with images of gratitude for those who willingly raised their right hands to die for us. They are worth that and so much more.
In the Air Force fighter community, there is a coveted and rare marker painted near the cockpit of certain planes, just beneath the pilot’s name, rank, and call sign. It’s 6-inch green star with a 1/2-inch black border that signifies that the aircraft has emerged victorious against an enemy jet in aerial combat.
A U.S. P-51 with the decals showing aerial victories of Nazi, Italian, Japanese, and U.S. planes.
(Pima Air and Space Museum)
The Army Air Corps and U.S. Air Force have allowed pilots to mark their victories on their fuselages for decades, but the height of the tradition was during World War II when the frequent aerial combat combined with the sheer numbers of planes in the air at once led to dozens of pilots having to kill or be killed on any given day.
In that era of fierce fighting, the U.S. Army Air Corps allowed most pilots to mark their aerial victories with a small replica of the enemy pilot’s flag, placed beneath the pilot’s name on the fuselage. This was typically either a decal or a bit of paint from applied by the ground crew. There were also some cases of fighter groups painting the silhouettes of the planes they had shot down.
But, eventually, the use of flags, silhouettes, and some other markings fell out of favor when it came to aerial victories, though the Air Force does still allow bomber crews to use bomb silhouettes to mark their missions.
F-15E Strike Eagle #89-0487, the only F-15E to achieve an air-to-air kill, sports the green star on its fuselage while parked at Bagram Air Field in 2008.
“Aerial Victory Marking. Fighter aircraft awarded a verified aerial victory are authorized to display a 6-inch green star with a 1/2 inch black border located just below and centered on the pilot’s name block. The type of aircraft shot down shall be stenciled inside the star in 1/2 inch white lettering. For aircraft with multiple aerial victories, a star is authorized for each aircraft shot down. No other victory markings are authorized.”
Modern aerial victories are rare, not because the U.S. loses but because the Air Force dominates enemy air space so hard and fast that typically only a handful of pilots will actually engage the enemy in the air before the U.S. owns the airspace outright. In Desert Storm, about 30 U.S. pilots achieved aerial kills in about 30 aircraft. At least two of those aircraft, the F-14s, have since retired.
Meanwhile, there are almost 2,000 fighter aircraft in the U.S. inventory. So, yes, the green stars are very rare. So rare, the air wings occasionally brag about the green-star aircraft that are still in their units.
For anyone wondering about how we invaded two countries at the start of this century without shooting down any enemy aircraft, Iraq lost most of its aircraft during Desert Storm and the following year while Afghanistan had no real air force to speak of in 2001. Most aircraft destroyed in Syria were killed on the ground.
If you watched the White House press briefing on COVID-19 today, you might have wondered what the Coast Guard folks were doing on tv for a Presidential Address about a global pandemic. And then, upon further inspection of their uniforms and seeing the “USPHS” and a cross embroidered over the left breast pocket where it usually says, “U.S. Coast Guard,” you might have been wondering, “Who are these people and what do they do?”
Introducing the U.S. Public Health Service.
WATCH: Trump gives coronavirus update at White House
According to their website, “Overseen by the Surgeon General, the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps is a diverse team of more than 6,500 highly qualified, public health professionals. Driven by a passion to serve the underserved, these men and women fill essential public health leadership and clinical service roles with the Nation’s Federal Government agencies.
For more than 200 years, men and women have served on the front lines of our nation’s public health in what is today called the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service. The Commissioned Corps traces its beginnings back to the U.S. Marine Hospital Service protecting against the spread of disease from sailors returning from foreign ports and maintaining the health of immigrants entering the country. Currently, Commissioned Corps officers are involved in health care delivery to underserved and vulnerable populations, disease control and prevention, biomedical research, food and drug regulation, mental health and drug abuse services, and response efforts for natural and man-made disasters as an essential component of the largest public health program in the world.”
And, fun fact: they wear uniforms.
According to their site, “Few things inspire pride and esprit-de-corps more than the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) uniform. By wearing the uniform, Commissioned Corps officers display a profound respect for their country, their service, and themselves. Uniforms promote the visibility and credibility of the Commissioned Corps to the general public and the Nation’s underserved populations whom officers are devoted to serving.
The PHS uniform traces its roots back to 1871 when John Maynard Woodworth, the first supervising surgeon (now known as the Surgeon General), organized the service along military lines. The uniforms reflect the proud legacy and tradition of the more than 200-year-old service. Uniforms link today’s officers to their heritage and connect them to past officers. Since they represent the Commissioned Corps history and tradition, rigorous standards apply to wearing the uniform and every officer upholds those standards with pride.
Similar to the other services, the Commissioned Corps has several uniforms including the Service Dress Blues, Summer Whites, Service Khakis, and Operational Dress Uniform (ODU) Woodland Camouflage. Each uniform reflects the great responsibility and privilege that comes with being a commissioned officer.
U.S. Public Health Services Lt. Cmdr. Angelica Galindo, conducts a patient assessment at the Escuela Elemental Urbana in Cidra, Puerto Rico. U.S. Air Force photo/Larry E. Reid Jr.
So are they in the military?
Nope. They’re non-military uniformed service that is not trained in arms. But they are trained in health care. In fact, Corps officers serve in 15 careers in a wide range of specialties within Federal agencies such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In total, Corps officers have duty stations in over 20 federal departments and agencies.
KOYUK, Alaska – United States Public Health Service Veterinarian Doctor Mary Anne Duncan examines one of two dogs owned by Koyuk residents. Duncan and USPHS Veterinarian Doctor Wanda Wilson walked through the community of 350 to examine 48 dogs and three cats. Coast Guard photo/Walter Shinn
But what do they actually do?
Careers are available in the areas of disease control and prevention; biomedical research; regulation of food, drugs, and medical devices; mental health and drug abuse; and health care delivery. USPHS has physicians, dentists, nurses, therapists, pharmacists, health services, environmental health, dietitians, engineers, veterinarians and scientists.
It is my staunch belief that warriors are born and not created. In the case of either you can trace back through your past to your first ever action that made you realize — though not likely back then at the time — that you were destined to take the warrior’s or the leader’s path through life.
I came up through Army infantry at 19 years old gravely afraid of heights, a condition that kept me from becoming a paratrooper, the gateway training to the elite forces. After two years in the infantry, I was ready to jump even without a parachute if that was what it took to get me out of that horror show.
I made it into the Green Berets only to be met with great disappointment, as in those years between wars I felt we were more of an in-case-of-war-break-glass unit with peacetime ambition and an equally disappointing budget. The thought of going to war with my Green Beret A-Team scared me to the extent that I ran arms-flailing to the Delta Force, where I immediately faded into anonymity by a sea of raw talent and sheer badassery. I was home.
But even after arriving at the unit, which requires one of the toughest selections on the planet, I came to realize that the essence of my warrior spirit had been with me all along. I can finally go back to the very early days of my own basic army training and identify an event that has stayed with me for so many years. Finally, I think I understand what it meant and why the simple memory has remained close to my heart for so many decades.
Search as I have for hints of warrior potential during my coming of military status in basic training, I’m put finally in mind of a trivial incident that remains to impress me still today. I have thought of it often in attempts to make sense of it. Since it is mine, I shall own the interpretation.
It was during my own Infantry Basic Training in Sand Hill Georgia, where my platoon and I were waiting in the pine woods for a couple of hours between training events. At times like those, there was nothing to do but notice and complain about how hot it was, and it was plenty hot.
We boys huddled under the shade of an awning in our steel helmets. In that year I learned that shade was indeed only a state of mind, and had little physical impact on the Georgia swelter; where a boundary blocked the direct sun’s rays, the humidity served to usher the heat around obstacles, presenting it to who would cower. “We” huddle and bitched and complained and moaned, making it all the worse. I quickly grew annoyed with the negative attitude of the group to the extent that I, but for slight, sniped at them verbally.
The “group” — my group: the hayseed from under the Bible Belt who spoke maybe just a little too fondly of his female cousin, the guy who came in for college; he already had one semester and constantly wanted everyone to know that by saying things like: “Yeah, but that doesn’t detract from or minimize the context of what I’m saying,” the fellow who was given the choice by a judge of either the Army or jail, the black man whose dad and grandad were both in the Army before him, the white dude who felt a patriotic debt to the country but really had no clue what that meant, the Chicano who wanted something different out of life… anything other than what he was living at the time.
And then there was — OMG! — that Asian fellow who during a group debate on race and equality announced to the group: “If there is a man here who can sh*t with his pants on, let him stand now and show it!” As God as my witness, he did say that. I resigned to the notion that he was trying for something along the lines of “We all put on our trousers one leg at a time.”
I suffered too from the heat, but the urge to bellow seemed so futile, only adding to the misery. Knowing no better, I decided to remove myself from the crowd, so I stood and stepped some fifty feet away in direct view of the blazing sun. There I squatted in the muddy sand and hung my head and thought:
“The heat is bad, but it’s better than being in the shade with the pity patrol. Bad means there is a worse; there is even a worse than this… somewhere. This too is bearable. All things, no matter the intensity, are always bearable. Here, I’m setting an example for all my platoon — see me here, guys? It’s not so bad!”
Indeed remarks wafted over:
“What the hell’s the idiot doing?”
“He can’t last out there like that.”
“Someone needs to go get him; he’s delirious, he is.”
“Yeah, holy crap, man!”
You see, now no longer were they absconded in their own misery; they were submersed in mine. I had taken their suffering away, even if for this brief bout of minutes. “I complained because I had no shoes, and then I saw a man who had no feet.” Bad begets worse, and even worse is tolerable.
I think by wanting to be alone I had only drawn attention to myself… but it was done, and now I would give them a show. This is how we deal with the pain. This is how we stand up and take it… how we shake it off and defy it! This is how a much grander force within us makes a thing like the Georgia swelter such an insignificant trifle — “pour it on, Blythe! Fire your weapon!”
From the nose of my drooped head, beads of sweat were queued up and falling in serial. I decided that I would count off 100 of them before I went back to the shade. When 100 beads had fallen, I decided that I would let yet another 100 fall before I relented… then another 100, followed by another then another concatenation of 100.
After 500 had fallen, I stood and removed my helmet. I shook my face wildly, like a dog shakes off pool water upon exit. I wiped my face with my sleeves as I trudged back to the shade and the group. I remarked as I squatted back down:
“Yep… it’s a real scorcher out there today, brothers.”
And there was nothing but silence and a man who reached out his canteen my way, which I graciously declined.
Sometimes we imagine the Earth was gifted with us, to just be us, our mystical, magical, wonderful selves. Other times we might wonder if the planet might get along just swimmingly without us. Ask ten people if they “march to the beat of a different drum,” and you will get ten affirmative answers every time. Now watch when the different drumsticks start their cadence how many stand, step out, and march… and keep marching until 500 beads of their sweat have rolled from their nose and hit the ground.
As I have searched and debated over the years to answer the question are warriors born or made, I often think back to the quote from Heraclitus nearly 2,000 years ago,
“Out of every one hundred men, ten shouldn’t even be there, eighty are just targets, nine are the real fighters, and we are lucky to have them, for they make the battle. Ah, but the one, one is a warrior, and he will bring the others back.” (Heraclitus c. 535 – c. 475 BCE)
Sunbaked skin presses against the butts of rifles, as sweat runs down foreheads, brimming along chin straps and soaking into shirt collars. Their eyes scan the urban terrain, searching for enemies from the surrounding grassy hills of Camp Guernsey, Wyoming.
Marines and airmen from around the globe trained together for the first time in the advanced tactical course from June 9-20, 2019.
“Move, I have you covered,” said Marine Corps Sgt. Justin Roman, Marine Corps Security Forces Training Company instructor.
Shots ring out and echo through a desolate neighborhood of tan shipping containers stacked and strewn about. Feet pound and guns sway as a small-fire team run to their next sheltering place. A cadre calmly walks behind, eyes watching for mistakes.
“A small mistake in training could cost you your life in a real-world situation,” said Staff Sgt. Jesse Koritar, 90th Ground Combat Training Squadron training instructor. “Correcting mistakes in a controlled environment will instill muscle memory and effective tactical decision making will become normal.”
A machine gun lets loose from a dark window aimed for a dilapidated shack near their shelter. The sound reverberates through their rib cages as they press forward to their objective.
U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Nicholas Ponce, 90th Security Support Squadron tactical response force member, holds down a tactical angle during the advanced tactical course at Camp Guernsey, Wyo., June 19, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Ashley N. Sokolov)
“It’s important to break their fears,” Koritar said. “When it comes to ‘the moment’ we don’t want them to freeze and cause the potential death of others.”
Getting the students into a normalcy of hearing gunfire and moving forward, despite inner fears, is paramount to molding a successful tactical response force and is one of the goals of ATC.
The team stacks up for their next move, communicating each other’s positions. All the while, covering down on different tactical angles, with their M4 carbine, watching for a shooter.
From a window overlooking an open courtyard, shots are fired. With the distraction from another fire team, they can move towards their objective. Passing by windows, one member scans for possible targets, while his partner watches their back.
“Clear. Move,” Roman said after each window.
Marine Corps Sgt. Spencer Hockaday, Marine Corps Security Forces Training Company instructor, rappels Aussie-style down the Cheyenne Fire Department training facility in Cheyenne, Wyo., June 17, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Ashley N. Sokolov)
The modified shipping containers now tower overhead, blocking them from view of their counterparts in the courtyard windows.
They clear out a makeshift building, planning to move farther into the city. Lined up at the door, an airman sends out cover fire as the team makes a run for shelter.
Pop! A plume of white smoke escapes a training improvised explosive device set off by the first airman’s advance between two buildings.
“The first two,” said Staff Sgt. Mathew Nason, 90th GCTS training instructor. “You’re dead.”
The mission must press on.
“We get them exposed in the urban environment or with the payload transporter van so they know what to look for,” Koritar said. “The trip wire and IED training is important, it’s a simple attack and the threat is real.”
U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Ryan Mason II, 91st Security Support Squadron tactical response force member, and Senior Airman Kevin Freese, 341st Security Support Squadron TRF, navigate terrain during the advanced tactical course at Camp Guernsey, Wyo., June 19, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Ashley N. Sokolov)
In the clouds a UH-1 Huey from Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, banks to land in an open field for infiltration and exfiltration exercises down the road. Another team runs, heads tucked down, below swishing blades to load up.
Over the course of 11 days, the students learned a multitude of skills, including: urban operations, rappelling down a 56-foot rappel tower, helicopter operations, close quarters combat and PT van and vehicle assaults.
“I am learning a lot of new stuff I haven’t seen before and the stuff I already know, I am just practicing and getting better at it,” said Airman 1st Class Jose Villalvazo-Vazquez, 91st Security Support Squadron tactical response force member. “At the end, no matter if you know it or not, practice is what helps you perfect it.”
Not only does every student need to polish their individual skills, they also learn to work as a cohesive team.
“At the beginning of this course one of the classes’ weaknesses was team cohesion,” Koritar said. “We have guys who come from different bases, who have never worked together. When they walk into our door we teach them to have accountability, to take care of their people and to meet and rise to a higher standard every day.”
Airman 1st Class Benjie Phillips and Senior Airman Alvaro Aguilera, 91st Security Support Squadron tactical response force members, clear a multi floored building during training at the Cheyenne Fire Department training facility in Cheyenne, Wyo., June 17, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Ashley N. Sokolov)
The course mixes the members into groups and expects them to quickly learn how to communicate and work as a cohesive team. Communication is important during combat situations; however, there is a more prominent reason for a team like this to bond together.
“I tell these guys, you’re going to eat together, sleep together, you’re going to hang out on your off time together, to build that foundation to trust their buddy,” Koritar said. “You want all of your guys on the same page, that tight-knit community where they are ready to die for their buddy if need be.”
Creating a team that would walk through hell together isn’t a tranquil task. It leaves sweat stains, dirt-streaked faces and bruised and bloody limbs.
“We have been failing, we’ve been growing, we’ve been getting to know each other. That’s what it means to learn,” said Villalvazo-Vazquez.
To protect one of America’s greatest assets, it takes dedication, pride and a well-taught team. The perfect team is constantly looking for improvements, budding to be the best and is willing to train and work in the most grueling of conditions.
“The goal is to take a trained member from any base and have the tactics across the board to be the same throughout,” Koritar said.
The ATC had their first blend of students including Marines and airmen from around the globe; some traveling from as far as, Aviano Air Base, Italy and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska.
U.S. Air Force Airmen disembark a UH-1 Iroquois, during the advanced tactical course at Camp Guernsey, Wyo., June 19, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Ashley N. Sokolov)
“Integration of different people including Marines, allows us to see different aspects in training,” said Airman 1st Class Damion Rodriguez, 91st SSPTS TRF member. “The mixed course forces us to get to know other people, how they see things, and how they work and cope with responsibilities and tasks given.”
The learning and improvement observed throughout the training wouldn’t be a possibility without a central location and experienced cadre shaping members to TRF standards.
“These exercises are beneficial to the students because they don’t always have the training areas or the equipment and resources to actually make these complex scenarios happen,” Koritar said. “At Camp Guernsey we have the training ranges, time and cadre to help evaluate and mold these guys and help them become successful and do the TRF mission.”
After gallons of water have been converted into sweat and uniforms abused by rocks and dirt, the students skilled in all areas of the TRF mission earn the right to graduate. Thus allowing them to be placed on any fire team and not miss a beat, ensuring America is continuously under protection from adversaries around the globe.
Momma babysits inmates at Arizona State Prison. Dad served as a Marine in the 90s. My little brother drives a 23%-interest, blacked-out Dodge Charger, which means — you guessed it — he is also a Marine. I, on the other hand, chose to study theatre and English.
My brother and I were raised (like nearly all children of military/law enforcement parents) on a diet of heavy structure, logic, toughness, discipline, preparedness, and accountability. He ordered seconds; I drew a pretty picture on the menu with a crayon.
From one generation to the next — see the resemblance?
The closest I ever came to military service was yelling, “1, 2” as a toddler in the bath when my dad would call out “sound off” from his living room recliner.
The closest I ever came to being a corrections officer was babysitting an 8-year-old kid obsessed with cramming Cheerios up his nose. He claims his record was 12, but when I told him to prove it, he could only fit, like, 6 or 7. Liar.
I say “corrections officer” because my momma prefers the term “corrections officer.” She thinks the term “prison guard” describes a knuckle-dragging extra in an action movie — who, by the way, always seem to get killed in movies. Like dozens of them just get absolutely mowed down, usually by the GOOD guys, and nobody cares. Nobody! Do you know what it feels like to be in a large room full of people who cheer and clap every time Jason Statham snaps the neck of your could-be mother on-screen? Not super great.
It always occurred to me as odd that I noticed that in movies and my momma never did. But it highlights an important aspect of growing up in that atmosphere — you don’t really talk about how or why you feel a certain way. Which, if you’re coming from a prison system or a military system, is completely understandable. In those worlds it’s all about short, useful information: yes sir, copy, etc.
I think that rigid structure ironically led me to be drawn to things I found subjective and expressive — sort of like Malia Obama smokin’ weed, or Jaden Smith doing, uhhh, whatever it is that he’s doing. However, that made me a sort of black sheep — not really feeling like I belonged on either side of the fence.
Here’s what I mean: I can go out and absolutely slam some brews with my little brother and his military brothers. We can talk about why we think the Raiders can’t seem to win a damn game, we slug each other in the arm, and tell each other truly depraved jokes.
But, I’m still gonna end up hanging on his shoulder, telling him how much I love him, and I’ll inevitably tear up while telling him I cried reading a Wilfred Owen poem that reminded me of him while he was deployed. That’s just who I am. They never really quite feel comfortable in emotional moments. And that’s okay — it’s just a difference — like how my brother looks like a Jason Statham character (it’s a love/hate thing with that guy) when he’s shooting a gun, but I look kinda like Bambi trying to learn how to walk.
Conversely, if I’m out with some of my theatre or comedy buddies, the military/prison differences are highlighted. They are, for instance, fifteen minutes late to everything. I, personally, would rather take a shot of bleach than be late. Sure, they can be comfortable discussing how they feel (maybe even too much) — but they are terrified of any confrontation. I once had an actor sit me down and ask me what being in a fight felt like. Me, the guy who cries at Silver Linings Playbook, was seen as traditionally masculine.
Plus, they’re always excited to hear me suggest a “blanket party” until they find out what it is. Bummer.
So either way, my folks shaped who I am. The military and the prison — they shaped my folks. Those systems; the words, the discipline, the people — it’s impossible to separate them.
Even though I’ve never fastened a utility belt at 5 a.m. and willingly locked myself in a prison with violent offenders, even though I could never imagine what it feels like to tie up your boots and go to war for your family — the lessons they learned while they did those things for me, even if indirectly, shaped who I am.
It is only because my folks got their hands dirty, raised me to embrace who I am — to follow what I believe in — that I have the dear privilege to sit here, criss-cross-applesauce, and type this up while I blow gingerly at a decaf coffee that’s a little too hot for my lips.
Halloween festivities in 2020 are bound to be a bit different due to the pandemic, but for military families, unique ways of celebrating are nothing new. Life on military bases is similar to “normal” life in many ways, but it does come with its own set of pros and cons. To learn how to celebrate Halloween like a military family, keep reading!
1. If you’re still adjusting to life at a new base, things are usually kept simple.
Moving to a new base is a significant change for the entire family. When you’ve just started unpacking, military families know it’s okay not to go all out for the holiday. The kids are all about the candy, anyway! Make some quick caramel apples together, let them go crazy with the face paint, and watch a spooky movie with popcorn and candy. Easy.
2. You get LOTS of discounts!
Military discounts are always a thing, but the holidays are the perfect time to make the most of it. Military families get discounts on costumes, decorations, fabric…pretty much anything! HalloweenCostume.com offers $10 off a $50 order with a military ID. Spirit Halloween, Jo-Ann Fabrics, Michael’s, Kirkland’s, Home Depot, and Lowes all offer discounts as well. The discounts are usually around 10-15% which doesn’t seem like much, but if you’re stocking up on decorations or planning costumes for the whole fam, your wallet will notice the difference!
3. Decorations spice things up.
The only problem with military housing is that it all looks the same. To add some personality and spooky style, lots of military fams get creative with their Halloween haunted house decor. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Have the kids help choose a theme and run with it. They can even decorate the windows with this washable window paint!
4. Some families send cards to friends afar.
One of the toughest parts of being a military kid is moving around a lot. If they used to have a group of best buddies to trick or treat with, reach out to stay connected and send some fun. Help them decorate Halloween cards and tape their friend’s favorite candy inside for a thoughtful surprise.
5. The pumpkin carving contests are next level.
Show off your military pride and pumpkin carving skills! Are you a pro with a pocket knife? A pumpkin carving contest is probably happening, so put your skills to good use and kick some pumpkin carving butt. Alternatively, you can use paint for a longer-lasting decoration. You can go for a patriotic pumpkin, or remind everyone which branch of the military is the best…but we’re not taking any sides! May the best pumpkin win.
6. They make the most of on-base Halloween activities.
Almost every base has their own set of scheduled autumn activities, which usually include a costume contest, games, trick or treating, and haunted houses for the big kids. The events will likely be modified this year to keep kids COVID-free, but the on-base festivities still have a lot of benefits. There are usually more rules and security, so your kids can celebrate without roaming sketchy neighborhoods in the dark. If this is your first year on a base, see what activities are planned this year and get involved!
7. After the fun, families often give back.
Who hasn’t overdone it in the candy aisle? If you have tons of leftover candy after trick or treating comes to a close, don’t toss it out. Instead, donate it to Treats for Troops to help service members overseas enjoy a Kit Kat or two! Happy Halloween!
On Oct. 1, 1978, President Jimmy Carter wrapped the Space Medal of Honor around the neck of Neil Armstrong, the first human to set foot on the moon. It was the first-ever of such medals awarded, even though the medal was authorized by Congress in 1969 — the year Armstrong actually landed on the moon.
Better late than never.
Astronaut Neil Armstrong received the first Congressional Space Medal of Honor from President Jimmy Carter, assisted by Captain Robert Peterson. Armstrong, one of six astronauts to be presented the medal, was awarded for his performance during the Gemini 8 mission and the Apollo 11 mission.
The list of men also receiving the Space Medal of Honor that day was a veritable “who’s who” of NASA and Space Race history: John Glenn, Alan Shepard, and — posthumously — Virgil “Gus” Grissom. They received the medal from the President of the United States, in the name of Congress, and on the recommendation of the NASA administrator.
Today, as the list of Space Medal of Honor recipients grows, it continues to have such esteemed names joining their ranks, as earning it requires an extraordinary feat of heroism or some other accomplishment in the name of space flight while under NASA’s administration. Just going to the moon doesn’t cut it anymore — Buzz Aldrin still does not have one.
President Clinton presented the Congressional Space Medal of Honor to Captain James Lovell for his command of the nearly disastrous Apollo 13 mission. Actor Tom Hanks portrayed Lovell in the movie Apollo 13 the same year he received the medal.
(Clinton Presidential Library)
Recipients can also receive the award for conducting scientific research or experiments that benefit all of mankind in the course of their duties. In practice, however, most of the recipients of the Space Medal of Honor died in the course of their duties. The crew of the ill-fated Challenger disaster who died during liftoff and the crew of the Columbia shuttle, who died during reentry are all recipients. To date, only 28 astronauts have earned the Space Medal of Honor, and 17 of those were awarded it posthumously.
Though the award is a civilian award, it is allowed for wear on military uniforms, but the ribbon comes after all other decorations of the U.S. Armed Forces.
Identifying the remains of fallen soldiers from the Korean War is a long and arduous process. Given that it’s been sixty five years since the war ended and the North Koreans weren’t too keen on keeping the bodies labelled, it’s an extremely challenging — but not impossible — prospect.
But each passing year makes the challenge that much greater. Between the years 1990 and 1994, over 400 remains were repatriated back to the United States and, last month, we saw the return of 55 more. There have been many success stories within the identification process over the years, but it takes time.
The DPAA Laboratory at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, is the first U.S. stop for returned remains. The base is home to the largest and most diverse skeletal identification laboratory in the world, staffed by more than 30 anthropologists, archaeologists, and forensic odontologists, according to a United Nations Command release.
Any idea who or what you’re looking at here? Didn’t think so.
DNA remains one of the best tools for identification — but there is a downside. DNA matching doesn’t exactly work like many people believe. A sample profile looks something like this:
My hopes are that the family of Charles McDaniel has found peace.
(Department of Defense)
Without anything to compare it to, you’re just looking at a complex graph. The Department of Defense only starting keeping a library of service members’ DNA after 1991.
As morbid as it might sound, one thing that DNA evidence can catch conclusively is whether the remains are even human. The remains of British Royal Air Force Flight Lieutenant Desmond Hinton were set to be returned to the UK in 2011, but analysis concluded that the North Koreans gave the family back the bones of a dog instead. It is unknown at this time how many of the returned remains were not those of a human.
There is workaround in the case of unregistered DNA, however. A fallen service member’s DNA may still be floating around this world within their relatives. Children and siblings make for the easiest comparisons, but that process can only be done if there’s a way to connect the remains to living family or descendants — you can’t just go testing at random.
Remains that have been kept with their dog tags are, of course, much easier to identify. Given the name of the deceased, it becomes easier to track down anyone who may be a DNA match with the fallen. Bones are analyzed and the DNA is compared to that of the living relatives. If they’re a match, the family can get closure.
Unfortunately, there was only one set of dog tags returned and it still hasn’t been announced whether a successful match has been found.
For his efforts, he was awarded the Silver Star in 1996.
Another way of identifying a potential match for DNA testing is by comparing the list of the missing troops of a given battlefield to where the North Koreans believed that they found the remains. This is how many of the remains were accounted for after being transferred as part of 1954’s Operation Glory, during which both sides exchanged remains in accordance with the ceasefire treaty. But nearly all of the remains that were withheld were not found on the battlefield, but rather in a prisoner of war camp. The North Koreans have kept the existence of such camps very secretive, along with any associated headcounts or rosters. To date, there has only been one written record of Allied lives lost behind enemy lines — and it was a secret list, penned by Private First Class Johnnie Johnson.
Pfc. Johnson was a prisoner of war held captive by a North Korean major known only as “The Tiger.” For lack of a more polite word, it was a grueling hellhole that held over 700 American prisoners of war. The young Johnson risked his life every day by keeping an accurate record of every single troop’s name, rank, unit, hometown, and date of death if applicable. He was only one of 262 to walk out of that camp alive.
He managed to bring the list back hidden inside a tube of toothpaste. The “Johnnie Johnson List” of those held at The Tiger’s Camp came to light in 1995 and has been instrumental in the identification of the 496 remains.
The process of identifying these new remains will take a long time. The remains of 1st. Herman Falk were positively identified this week and plans are being made to honor the fallen soldier with a proper funeral. It should be noted that his remains were repatriated back in the 90s — and that the positive identification of others may take just as long. But the work won’t stop until each set of remains has been paid their just diligence.