LEGO Masters attracted the attention of millions of viewers with its first season in the first half of 2020. The reality competition show was hosted by Will Arnett and pit teams of two against each other to take on LEGO building challenges and prove themselves to be LEGO Masters. Builds were judged by two Lego Group creative designers and the show incorporated various guest stars to serve as hosts and judges. On November 11, 2020, it was announced that the show had been renewed for a second season which would begin filming in 2021. The Veterans Day announcement was coupled with the announcement of a partnership with the Merging Vets & Players charity.
Founded in 2015 by FOX Sports NFL Insider Jay Glazer and former Green Beret and Seattle Seahawk Nate Boyer, MVP connects combat veterans with former professional athletes to provide them with a new team, assist in their transition and show them that they are not alone. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, MVP is currently working to help veterans remotely—that’s where LEGO Masters comes in.
Lockdowns and quarantines forced people all around the world into their homes. While the new reality was difficult for some, the effect it had on combat veterans was even greater. To counter the stress of confinement, many people turned to building LEGO. “One of our vets, Robin Fox, [brought] up that he uses LEGOs to help his PTSD,” Glazer said. From that mention, other veterans in MVP were inspired to pick up LEGO sets and start building. The idea culminated in the partnership with LEGO Masters.
LEGO Masters provided hundreds of LEGO sets to MVP to allow vets to find the joy and peace of building during this challenging time. “I’m really proud to be able to be here as a representative for LEGO Masters to present these LEGO sets to MVP chapters all around the country,” Arnett said.
Currently, MVP has chapters in Los Angeles which serve the Pacific region, Las Vegas which serve the Rocky Mountain region, Chicago which serve the Midwest, Atlanta which serve the Southeast and New York which serve the Northeast. Combat veterans can join by submitting proof of eligibility including Authorized Campaign Medals, a military pay statement reflecting Hostile/Imminent Danger Pay, or Korea duty. Though a DD-214 can generally provide sufficient information for eligibility, MVP encourages interested veterans to reach out for assistance.
Master Sergeant George Hand US Army (ret) was a member of the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, The Delta Force. He is a now a master photographer, cartoonist and storyteller.
Our assault team leader, Daddy-Mac, who would also accept Mac-Daddy as his call sign, had come to frown over the team’s overall performance during our pre-alert cycle weapons shake-out at Ft. Bragg’s Range 44, the most all-encompassing free-firing-est range on post.
We just didn’t take the shake out for what it was really worth. There was an opportunity there to train up and improve on skill sets… not just spray bullets down range to check the function of the gun. Really, that IS what the shake-out was about, but D-Mac saw it as an opportunity wasted; he was correct of course.
Shake-out meant we brought everything we had in our team room weapons vault and rocked the bejesus out of the Casbah for a day and night free-fire episode to make sure every aspect of our weapons were on point. Soldiers headed home for the evening would pull over and line the road shoulders to gaze at the spectacle; one they had never witnessed.
We focused our attention on crew-served machine guns, AT-4 anti-tank rockets, and the Carl Gustav 84mm recoilless rifle (also an anti-tank weapon). Since our team weapons were already loaded for alert, we grabbed extra machine guns from the Unit arms room.
M-240 7.62 x 51mm (short barrel) crew-served machine gun.
We the men of Daddy-Mac’s assault team drove to the range to set up and wait for Mac-Daddy to arrive with the ammunition he brought from the Unit’s magazine. A potential easy day of zero coordination at the Unit ranges turned into one of modest coordination due to us not being allowed to fire automatic weapons on our Ranges.
On our compound our ranges were always open, so we never had to call up Range Control to request permission to open fire; we just coordinated for space internally and started shooting. To shoot machine guns and rockets meant we had to schedule a time and place to train from Range Control, then report when we started and stopped our training.
That restriction never actually stopped us from grabbing a few Ak-47s on an occasional day off from the usual grind to just blindly pump full-auto magazine after magazine of hate into a dirt berm. This was typically coupled with a thunderous “GET SOME” to compliment the cloud of erupting dirt plumes.
7.62 x 39mm AK-47, AK: Автома́т Кала́шникова, Avtomát Kaláshnikova — (“Kaláshnikov’s Automatic Rifle) 47 is the year that Kaláshnikov invented it.
There were times when we pumped a little too much hate into the berms, and Range Control would literally hear the automatic fire, or some loser would hear it and rat on us to Control. That typically lead to a report of admonition to filter down to team level whereby Daddy-Mac would quiz with an arched brow:
“Were any of you potato-head pipe-hitters rock-n-rollin’ on the ranges last week?”
“Gosh, Mac-Daddy… no Sir; none of us were doing that. That’s just awful; why, there ought to be an investigation and men severely punished!”
AT4 Anti-tank rocket.
“Lose the bullcrap. If you find out or you think you know who did it tell them to nix the Tom-Foolery.” Sure, message delivered in his Dad-Mac style; message gratefully received by us all. The fact was, Mac-Daddy always had our six, and by Lucifer we all had his too.
Daddy Mac pulled up in a cargo truck, and we started to pull and stack crates of ordnance. As shirts came off, we the almighty men of Mac-Daddy’s assault team became painfully aware that there was far, far more ammunition than we could ever expend ourselves:
“Lord Jesus, Daddy-Mac… just what time are you expecting the Chinese hoards to attack? Aha…”
Mac-Daddy returned regard with just a heavenward arch of brow: “Right now, so let’s get started!”
Author (left) and Daddy-Mac joking as they prep for range fire.
In all, there were 17,000 rounds of 7.62 x 51mm for the machine gun, 25 AT-4 Anti-Tank rockets, and 50 rounds for the recoilless rifle. Every single report of either of those rockets was a guaranteed bell ring for the gunner. My head hurt just looking at it all.
“Daddy-Mac… we can’t shoot all these rockets, not by regulation we can’t; we’ll tear our pericardiums with all that concussion… we won’t be fit for duty with shredded heart sacks,” I whined.
“Guys, today is a good day to get good,” he began with a sinister grin that was developing across his face, “and that’s what we are going to do; we’re going to get good on all these weapons. Lock and load; I’ll open the range,” and Mac-D fenced with Range Control to open his range.
One of the bros grabbed an AT-4 and plopped in a firing pit behind cover and started to administratively prepare it for fire.
“Nope, nope, nope… not like that.” Mac-Daddy interrupted, “That is no longer how we employ AT. Sling that rocket and stand back 50 meters from the pit. At my signal you’ll, sprint to the pit and take cover. Once you start your sprint, I’ll call out your target. You need to have your distance figured out during the sprint. Once under cover, prep your rocket then pop up and fire. If you take longer than five seconds on your pop up… you fail whether you get a hit or not.”
Now I was pumped. This was realistic training, yes it was!
84mm Carl Gustav Recoilless rifle.
I did field a reservation about this training scenario: range conduct was very rigid and confining. Weapons were only to be loaded strictly on the firing line under strictly-controlled guidelines. Sprinting with loaded ordnance from a distance behind the firing line was absolutely out of bounds!
“Daddy-Mac, Range Control would crap a cinder block if they saw this,” warned a pipe-hitter.”
“Well Range Control ain’t here are they, so there’ll be no masonry crapping… now on your mark, get set, GO!”
So it went, and the competition was red-hot with second after second being shaved off of best times. Expended AT-4 tubes were strewn about making the firing line look the blast side of Mt. St. Helen. The machine gun rattled away thousands of rounds of jacketed lead further heating the already blazing-hot North Cackalacky summer day.
“Good Christ… you could glaze ceramics out here…” lamented a gunner.
Mac-Daddy: “What you meant to say was, RELOAD!” The gun spat and the rockets belched on.
A Range Control truck hockey-slid at our firing line and a cantankerous man scowled from his window:
Firing the 84mm Carl Gustav Recoilless rifle.
“Cease fire, cease fire!! …you’re destroying my range!”
The machine gun had been digging deeper and deeper V-shaped ruts into the known-distance berms, and some of the armor target subjects were just… simply… gone.
Mac Daddy closed the distance to the truck’s window and:
“How about you get off my range, tough guy! You can’t put me on check fire; I own this range! What you need to do is, first of all, get the f*ck off MY range, and second, you need to get some more armor out here and fill in those ruts in the berms before I come out here next. Fire at will, boys!!” And the machine gun rumbled, and the rockets red glared.
“You probably should send this one to depot,” I suggested as I turned in the machine gun to the armorer that night, “she’s seen better days.”
The moral of the story is: when Daddy-Mac tells you to jump, you request how high and crouch, because Mac-Daddy is going to make you jump.
As for what we took away from Mac-Daddy’s lesson, there was palpable embarrassment how we pissed away a live-fire opportunity on an admin shake-out, and we never treated it the same way. Every belt of machine gunfire, every rocket salvo was preceded by a physically taxing event that mimicked an engagement under the stress of combat. How could we have been so obtuse? We didn’t know, but it wasn’t going to happen again.
As the eastern seaboard prepares for Hurricane Dorian, the fourth hurricane of the 2019 season, staying prepared and having a plan is critical to surviving a potential disaster.
During the 2019 Hurricane Awareness Tour, organizations shared insights on how to prepare and stay aware of tropical weather systems that affect different areas, including those more inland.
“Ninety percent of the fatalities of tropical systems historically are from the water,” said Ken Graham, National Hurricane Center director. “In the last three years, 83 percent of fatalities from tropical systems have been inland flooding, more than half in automobiles.”
Graham also emphasized that the lower category hurricanes require just as much consideration for preparation due to their ability to cause catastrophic damage.
“In the last decade, Category 1 storms have produced 3 billion worth of damage and 175 fatalities,” Graham said.
Hurricane Dorian as seen from the ISS on Aug. 29, 2019.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration offers tips to help prepare for hurricanes.
Gather information. The NOAA emphasizes to “know if you live in an evacuation area. Assess your risks and know your home’s vulnerability to storm surge, flooding and wind. Understand National Weather Service forecast products and especially the meaning of NWS watches and warnings.”
Plan and take action. Put together a disaster supplies kit which has items including water, food, a flashlight and a first aid kit. To see the full suggested contents of the kit, visit https://www.ready.gov/build-a-kit. Planning and taking action includes having an emergency plan, guarding the community’s health, protecting the environment, following instructions from local officials for evacuation and be alert for other potential weather hazards including tornadoes brought in by the hurricane.
Recover. This highlights the need to wait for the area to be declared safe before returning home, and to remember that recovery takes time.
Resources. Know the resources offered for preparation before a hurricane occurs as well as the resources available for recovery including the NOAA, Ready.gov, and the National Weather Service.
A number of U.S. troops with unexplained symptoms such as impaired concentration, anger, irritability and impulsivity, as well as physical problems such as high blood pressure, peripheral neuropathy and low sex drive, have chronic lead poisoning, according to a report Wednesday in The New York Times Magazine’s At War Blog.
Thirty-eight troops — mostly from Special Forces units — have gone to Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York for a special test that measures the level of lead in one’s tibia bone. Of those, a dozen registered bone lead levels higher than normal, with four having roughly twice the expected amount.
Two-ton “Super sacks” like this one contain lead bullets removed during a reclamation project at a former firing range at Camp Withycombe, Ore. Approximately 300,000 thousand pounds of bullets were removed from the soil in an effort to return the land to its original condition.
Dozens of other service members sought treatment at the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Functional Medicine for lead and other metal poisoning, including those tested at Mount Sinai.
While the numbers are small compared with the 1.3 million active-duty personnel currently serving, the diagnosis is significant for these troops, who have wrestled for years with symptoms that mimic traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) but who also have physical manifestations.
One of the those diagnosed, Steve Hopkins, a former Special Forces major who is now retired, called receiving the test results “a big deal.” After bouncing from doctor to doctor and being told by Army physicians that he likely had depression or PTSD — or was malingering — Hopkins was grateful to put a name to his debilitating illness.
“It was a big weight off my shoulders and off my family,” he said. “I mean, we were in crisis.”
Soldiers of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, demonstrate how to operate a M-4 carbine during a training exercise with troops from the 341st Romanian Infantry battalion during a cross-training event at the Bardia Firing Range near COB Adder, Iraq.
(U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Terence Ewings)
Hopkins was diagnosed in 2012 after falling severely ill and traveling to Walter Reed National Naval Medical Center, Maryland, where he was seen by NavyCapt. Kevin Dorrance, also now retired. Like Hopkins’ physicians at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Dorrance originally thought Hopkins’ issues were mental health-related. But he noticed that one medical test, an erythrocyte porphyrin test, consistently came back as elevated.
He consulted with a colleague at the Uniformed Services University for the Health Sciences who, according to Dorrance, immediately suspected lead exposure. Dorrance then sent Hopkins to Mount Sinai for the K X-ray fluorescence, or KXRF, test to measure his bone lead levels.
Hopkins, then 42, had levels two-and-a-half times what is typical in a man his age.
Spc. Justin Dreyer from the Special Troops Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, is instructed how to fire a rocket-propelled grenade launcher by a Soldier in the 341st Romanian Infantry Battalion at the Bardia Firing Range near COB Adder, Iraq.
(U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Terence Ewings)
Other service members followed Hopkins to Mount Sinai, including Master Sgt. Geoff Dardia, a Special Forces training instructor who has deployed to combat zones seven times. Dardia’s results were 30 percent higher than normal.
Lead exposure in the U.S. military can occur on firing ranges, during military operations and while working and living in environments where lead is common — on military bases in cases of lead abatement and repair work and in countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq, which continue to use leaded gasoline.
Troops can inhale lead or ingest it by firing weapons or eating, drinking, smoking or chewing tobacco on ranges. If lead is absorbed, it is present in the bloodstream for up to a month, where it can be detected by a blood test, and it remains in soft tissue for up to 90 days.
It is then absorbed into the bones, where levels can increase with additional exposure. But the medical community and government agencies that study environmental exposures say once it is in the bone, it leaches back into the bloodstream only under certain medical conditions, such as a broken bone, pregnancy, osteoporosis or kidney disease.
Affected veterans, along with Dorrance and Dr. Mark Hyman, director of the Center for Functional Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, say this isn’t correct — and they’d like to see more physicians considering the possibility of chronic lead exposure in cases of unexplained symptoms in troops, rather than dismissing their patients as mental health cases.
“The fact that we have a lack of intellectual curiosity about a condition that likely is pervasive in the U.S. military is criminal,” Hopkins said.
“Here you are dealing with a group of men, highly trained, highly skilled, emotionally stable individuals who want to work. These are not wackadoodles,” Hyman said.
Dorrance, Hopkins and others want to call attention to the issue of lead poisoning in the U.S. military and have pressed the Defense Department for broader testing and treatment — for acute and long-term exposure. They want the Pentagon to purchase a KXRF machine and conduct mandatory baseline screening and ongoing testing for troops who work in environments where they face chronic exposure.
They also would like to see more acceptance in the medical community for diagnosing and treating lead in bones. Chelation is an FDA-approved outpatient treatment for acute lead exposure, but both Hopkins, who took an oral chelation medication, and Dardia, who used both oral and intravenous chelation agents, say it worked in their cases.
They say troops deserve to have the general medical community understand what a handful of physicians — those who treat civilian workers often exposed to lead in jobs such as smelting, soldering, bridge repair, and foundry work — understand. That chronic lead exposure can make a person sick.
“The fact that we have a lack of intellectual curiosity about a condition that likely is pervasive in the U.S. military is criminal,” Hopkins said.
“The reason it’s being sidelined is it’s not understood,” added Dorrance. “There’s this discomfort with not knowing that’s the problem with doctors.”
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
Our military does an incredible job of protecting our global interests, but they don’t do it alone. They’ve got a bunch of very good doggies that help them out.
Case in point: President Donald Trump announced in October 2019 that a military dog named Conan played a role in the raid against ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in northwest Syria, but he’s far from the first dog to help out the military.
Dogs have been working as bomb sniffers, message carriers, and guards for US military branches since at least World War I, when a stray Boston bull terrier wandered on to an Army training field and went on to become a unit’s mascot as they traveled to Europe.
In the decades following, trained dogs traveled across the world as they worked with the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force. And their natural skills and instincts are honed in training, making these dogs become the perfect working companions for the troops.
Some of the dogs even became military heroes, sniffing out the enemy, and attacking when needed.
Here are some of the good dogs who have helped the US military over the years.
1. Stubby, a Boston bull terrier, is the most famous US military mascot from World War I.
Before Stubby became the famed dog he is today, he was just a stray pooch who wandered his way on to an Army training center in New Haven, Connecticut.
While on the training grounds in 1917, Private First Class Robert Conroy took him in and Stubby ended up on the front lines of World War I as the mascot for the 102nd Infantry, 26th Yankee Division of the United States Army.
According to The Purple Heart Foundation, Stubby took part in 17 battles, detected traces of gas to warn soldiers, located wounded men on battlefields, and learned drills and bugle calls, and how to decipher English from German.
Following his efforts, Stubby participated in parades, met three presidents, and received dozens of awards, including a Purple Heart.
Rags with Sergeant George E. Hickman, 16th Infantry, 26th Division.
(US Army Signal Corps)
2. Rags was a message carrier for troops in Europe during World War I.
Rags, a stray terrier in Paris during World War I, became a war hero after befriending US Army Private James Donovan in 1918, according to K9 History.
The dog soon became a carrier for Donovan’s unit, carrying messages from the 26th Infantry Regiment to the supporting 7th Field Artillery Brigade.
Rags lost an eye and Donovan was injured by poisonous gas during the Meuse-Argonne Campaign, a major battle in France in 1918. Donovan later died of his injuries.
Rags, meanwhile, lived out his life in Maryland, and died in 1936.
3. Chips is the most famous dog of World War II — and he once single-handedly attacked a hidden German gun nest.
After the US entered World War II, thousands of people donated their dogs to be trained for guard and patrol duty, and Chips was one of them.
The German shepherd-collie-husky mix took part in Allied campaigns in North Africa, Italy, France, and elsewhere in Europe, and was able to take down a hidden German gun nest during the 1943 invasion of Sicily, according to Inside Edition.
He later went on to guard a conference between British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and US President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Lee’s family ended up adopting Lex when he took an early retirement.
“We knew that’s what Dustin would have wanted out of this,” Jerome Lee, the slain Marine’s father, told the Associated Press at the time. “He knew that we would take care of Lex and love him, just like our own.”
Lex died in 2012.
A United States Air Force Belgian Malinois.
6. Cairo, a Belgian Malinois, was part of the SEAL team that took down al-Qaida’s longtime leader, Osama bin Laden in 2011.
Cairo was part of the SEAL Team 6 that helped take down al-Qaida’s longtime leader, Osama bin Laden, in a 2011 raid in Pakistan.
Though there are no available photos of Cairo, his story should be known.
Her handler, Cpl. Juan Rodriguez, ran past a known IED to apply a tourniquet and carry her back to safety.
Lucca then retired to California to live with Gunnery Sgt. Christopher Willingham.
“She is the only reason I made it home to my family and I am fortunate to have served with her,” Willingham said at the time. “In addition to her incredible detection capabilities, Lucca was instrumental in increasing morale for the troops we supported.”
She received a Dickin Medal in London in 2016, the highest valor award for animals in the UK.
Wonderful dog, Conan.
(White House photo)
8. Conan was injured while taking down Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State terrorist group.
A Belgian Malinois named Conan helped take down Islamic State terrorist group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in October 2019.
President Donald Trump published a photo of the Conan on Twitter, after announcing he had “declassified a picture of the wonderful dog” after the Pentagon had declined to reveal any information about the dog.
For the first time in their history, the Army will be completely reliant on the internet and social media to complete their summer recruitment of soldiers. With COVID-19 impacting their ability to do face to face recruitment events, they’ve become innovative. Their goal: 10,000 new soldiers.
The Army paused briefly in processing new applicants and significantly reduced the number of recruits at basic training to ensure they could reduce risks of infection and keep potential soldiers and staff safe. Once all measures were in place, the Army hit the ground running for recruitment.
The Army typically sends between 10,000 to 15,000 future soldiers to basic training every summer. The challenge, however, will be making that happen through a computer. In the months leading up to the summer push, most recruiters are inside high schools and continually interacting with youth. Although the pandemic prevented that, recruiters got creative.
These past few months have seen recruiters actively engaging on platforms like Facebook, Instagram and even playing video games with potential future soldiers. Although this definitely helped the Army somewhat maintain their recruiting numbers, a bigger push is needed to ensure mission readiness.
The Army’s virtual nation-wide hiring campaign will run from June 30 to July 2, 2020. Those who are eligible and join during the hiring event can earn a ,000 bonus, on top of other available bonuses and student loan payoffs. This campaign will be a test of the Army’s digital footprint and their ability to reach potential young soldiers virtually.
Command Master Sergeant Tabitha Gavia is the senior enlisted leader for U.S. Army Recruiting Command at Fort Knox, Kentucky. It is her command leading the national hiring event. “We are responsible for the mission that the Army gives us every year, to recruit a certain number of Army and Army Reserves,” she shared.
According to an Army press release, “Army National Hiring Days is an all-Army effort to inspire individuals across the nation to ‘Join Us.'” This will be the first time that the Army has collectively come together as a whole to leverage the digital space in a nation-wide recruiting effort.
The Army has over 150 career opportunities for those that want to join. When someone signs up, they will also pick their job at the same time. When they finish basic training, they are sent to their specialist training for their chosen career field.
During Army National Hiring Days, those who want to learn more about the Army and inquire about joining can visit their recruitment website. There they’ll find a wealth of information about careers, qualifications, and specific hiring incentives.
There are always unique challenges to recruiting, even without a global pandemic. “External environments are the real challenges. One in particular is the significant number of people who simply aren’t qualified to serve in the armed forces,” Gavia explained. According to a recent 2019 study by Mission: Readiness, they found that as much as 75% of America’s youth is ineligible to serve. The three top reasons for ineligibility include being undereducated, involved in crime or physically unfit.
Gavia shared that another unique challenge in recruiting is that many young people simply don’t know enough about the Army, especially if they don’t live near a base or weren’t raised in a family of service. “We have to get people to get to know us and overcome preconceived notions and fears,” she said.
One example of a current fear is the recent ongoing protests and the involvement of the U.S. military in shutting them down. This led to a lot of potential recruits to question whether they wanted to be a part of the Army or any armed service at all. “Our recruiters faced backlash in their communities. They then had to explain that this is one aspect of supporting the country, but becoming part of the team there would be other things you would be doing and that this isn’t a true reflection of the Army,” Gavia shared.
The Army is also seeking to create a more diverse service. They aim to be the national leader in embracing a more diverse and inclusive environment. “It’s important to stress our diversity. Our strength really lies within our diversity….We want the public to understand and know this is important and a part of who we are,” said Gavia.
To learn more about the Army’s mission and dedication to inclusiveness, you can check out their website which details their commitment to diversity. For those who are interested in learning more about the Army and how they can make a difference by becoming a soldier, click here.
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier has been guarded for 24 hours a day, seven days a week, nonstop since July 2, 1937. The Tomb Sentinels that protect the site are the best of the best the U.S. Army has to offer and nothing short of Armageddon is going to break that discipline. By the time Hurricane Sandy hit the D.C. area in 2012, it was a “superstorm,” expected to kill more people and cause more damage than any hurricane since Katrina in 2005.
That didn’t faze Sgt. Shane Vincent one bit.
“This is what we all volunteer to do,” Staff Sgt. Michael Buelna, the commander of the first relief, told ABC News. “For us we don’t really think anything of it, it’s what we do.”
When the Sentinels due to stand watch during that timeframe found out they could be without power and food for an extended period of time, they brought extra. And they also brought MREs. They were as prepared as anyone else for a hurricane. The difference was they would be standing in it for their shifts and shift changes.
Soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Regiment continue to stand guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, despite the worsening weather conditions surrounding Hurricane Sandy.
Like other government sites, the cemetery was closed by order of the Federal government. There would be no visitors, no crowds, no curious onlookers to catch the changing of the guards. The Tomb Sentinels would still guard the tomb, exposed to the elements, with their M-14 rifles – the unknown soldier would not be left alone. There were only a few slight differences in their routine.
Instead of Army dress blues, the six Tomb Sentinels on duty wore wet-weather ACUs. Instead of “walking the mat” for 21 paces back and forth, they would operate from “The Box,” a small guard shack made of green cloth. They also wouldn’t have to be at attention for the duration. It was more than ceremonial guard duty, the men of the 3rd Infantry Regiment would have to stay vigilant during the storm.
Sentinels from the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) continue to stand guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, Va., Jan. 22, 2016.
(U.S. Army photo by Cpl. Cody Torkelson)
For Sgt. Vincent, it presented an opportunity. He’d told his fellow Tomb Sentinels that if the time ever came, he would volunteer for a full day of guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier – something that had never been done before.
“I stayed out there for the entire shift,” said Vincent. “I was the one that was out there, others would come and show love and spend time with me out there.”
As for Sandy, Sgt. Vincent, he was unimpressed, saying it was a basic storm, the worst of it only came when the winds picked up and even then, he enjoyed watching the rain fall sideways. He even walked the mat a few times.
It was a cold February in 2014 when I was staying at a tiny U.S. Army installation right near the Demilitarized Zone in South Korea with the rest of my company. We hadn’t been there long before we got our first mail drop, right before Valentine’s Day. Some of us got care packages, but everyone in my platoon got a letter.
These letters were sent by elementary school kids back in the States — probably around third grade — and they were just as you’d expect: immaculate spelling, artwork that rivaled the classic greats, and fine calligraphy. Jokes aside, receiving that letter put me in an interesting head-space.
At that point, the war in Iraq had mostly died down. Marines were still being sent to Afghanistan, but just a handful of months prior, we were reflecting upon the 12th anniversary of the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks that kick-started the whole shebang.
1st platoon, Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment in South Korea. C. 2014.
What I realized then and there is that, just a decade earlier, I was the elementary school kid writing a letter to some service member who was, at that time, fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan. In fact, I was even younger than whoever penned my letter when I saw the events of that fateful September day repeated on the news. The kid who wrote the letter in my hands now wasn’t even around in 2001.
It never occurred to me, especially back at the turn of the century, that I would one day enlist to fight in the same war that started when I was a kid.
When I was growing up, you’d hear this left and right: “Don’t join the military, you’ll go to war and die.” I always dismissed it as ignorant. After all, my father fought in the war before this one and he came back, didn’t he? But, at the time, half of that statement was true. If you enlisted immediately after 9/11, there was a near guarantee you’d go to war.
That sentiment followed me through boot camp.
I joined the Marine Corps at the age of 17 and I was still sure I’d go to war. But, with time comes change — and that’s exactly what happened. From the time I went to MEPS and had an old guy tell me to turn my head and cough to the time I walked across the parade deck at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, everyone said I would go to war. My recruiter, my drill instructors, everyone.
But once I got to the School of Infantry, things had mellowed out a bit.
I never went to war. In fact, a lot of people I served with never did. The crazy thing is that it was the reason we enlisted. We were kids when 9/11 happened and we grew up during the war that it spawned. We had time to grow angry about what had happened and we enlisted for a lot of the same reasons as our predecessors.
Marine Corps Ball in 2014. That’s me on the left.
What blows my mind the most, however, is that I completed my service over two years ago and that war is still going on, even if the Marine Corps infantry isn’t actively involved. Meanwhile, that kid who wrote me the letter is probably sitting in a high school classroom learning about 9/11 as a historical event — not as something that happened to them.
Looking for a dessert that won’t just impress your houseguests but could impress them years from now? Look no further than the first name in cakes, pies, and other fine desserts: The Pentagon. The Department of Defense has a brownie recipe that is sure to end the clear and present danger to your sweet tooth.
Just imagine being able to whip up some sweet treats for your unborn children, whether you’re currently pregnant or not.
Kinda like this but without all that green sh*t.
The Pentagon’s brownie recipe is (perhaps unsurprisingly) the only recipe that tells you exactly how things are gonna be and does it in the vaguely threatening manner that only the United States military is capable of. The consequences of diverging from the recipe aren’t listed, but you definitely get the feeling there might be consequences:
Shortening shall be a refined, hydrogenated vegetable oil or combination of refined vegetable oils which are in common use by the baking industry. Coconut and palm kernel oils may be used only in the coating. The shortening shall have a stability of not less than 100 hours as determined by the Active Oxygen Method (AOM) in Method Cd 12-57 of the Commercial Fats and Oils chapter in the Official and Tentative Methods of the American Oil Chemists Society. The shortening may contain alpha monoglycerides and an antioxidant or combination of antioxidants, as permitted by the Federal Grain Inspection Service (FGIS), and the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and regulations promulgated thereunder.
“And parties found to have added walnuts to said brownies shall pay a 00 fine and serve no less than three years in a federal correctional facility because that sh*t is gross.” That’s not in the recipe, but it should be in every brownie recipe.
But the brownie regulations don’t stop at shortening. Each ingredient has more specific sourcing instructions than a vegan hipster with Celiac Disease. Even adding the eggs is enough to make any baker wonder what a legal chicken is.
“Whole eggs may be liquid or frozen and shall have been processed and labeled in accordance with the Regulations Governing the Inspection of Eggs and Egg Products (7 CFR Part 59).”
The strict regs came about in part because the military needs their baked goods to be edible for much longer than the average baker needs them. The U.S. military’s brownies are said to last up to three years, just in time to bake brownies for the kids currently in high school that will be deploying to Afghanistan by then.
It takes a different kind of individual that voluntarily chooses to put on a uniform and do the toughest jobs necessary to protect the United States. Most career assignments aren’t glamorous or exciting but they are necessary to prevent the free reign of criminals and terror. Everyone has their own reasons why they joined but service becomes about the welfare of your team and your mission.
Law enforcement and the military have separate mission statements yet run parallel in the grand scheme of things. Through experiences, foreign and domestic, each branch and department forge a bond within their units that last a life time. As much as civilians try to understand us, they’ll never fully ‘get it’ but it’s nice to share a drink a with someone who does — a kindred spirit, your cousin-in-arms.
At the start of every career of public service, an oath is sworn to protect the Constitution of the United States. Criminals and terrorists don’t care about what color your uniform is; your gender, religion, race, or creed; or if you’re behind a desk. In the eyes of the wicked, all are a threat to their ambitions of power and wealth. Veterans can also be found within their ranks.
Here’s why the NYPD is the most badass police department in the country
The War on Terror started on our soil and the first ones to respond were police and fire departments. Our rights as Americans to live free of tyranny are constantly under assault by religious radicals. Cities where our people are most free are prime targets for those who seek to destroy our way of life. Police departments train officers to prevent and respond to these threats and are not alone in the defense of the Nation.
Toward the Sounds of Chaos: Operation Moshtarak – Hearts and Minds
They have struggled to win the hearts of the people
Politics aside, there are good men and women who do the right thing day-in and day-out. Some things are easier said than done and defeating an aggressive media campaign against those in uniform is one of them. Earning the trust of the community we patrol differs in difficulty contingent on the actions of our predecessors. Both uniforms know what it’s like to have the public turn on you for something someone else did.
American Takedown: Intercepting Drug Traffickers (Season 1, Episode 1) | A&E
Traffickers will smuggle anything into the U.S. to make a profit: drugs, contraband, even people. They are a mounting problem for the Department of Defense and joint operations are necessary to secure our borders. Coast Guardsmen are usually the butt of the joke when other branches sit at the Thanksgiving table but it’s all in good fun. We know they kick ass at hunting down traffickers, hurricane relief, and rescues out at sea.
Our law enforcement shares this mission, sometimes working alongside the military to keep the U.S. safe.
“So there I was about to end my shift when suddenly…”
Both have crazy stories we can’t share with civilians
Everyone has a wild story or two that can’t be told to civilians because they won’t understand the humor in it. The kinds of stories that made you turn to your buddy and give a ‘you seeing this sh*t?’ kind of look. Rest assured, both military and police have these and they’re great to share over drink.
We’ve all poked fun of the U.S. Coast Guard. We get it. They’re like the red-headed stepchild of the Armed Forces. The very mention of their existence is almost always met by other troops spouting off the same, “yeah, well, they’re not always DoD!” Once you put your jokes about them aside, however, you’ll realize that they’re every bit as badass as the next troop.
For instance, the Coast Guard maintains their very own specialized forces that are on par, in terms of training and mission capacity, with the rest of the SOCOM units. And this isn’t an exaggeration, considering the fact that they’re constantly training with the SEAL teams.
They’re called the Maritime Security Response Team, or MSRT.
If they walk like a duck, dress like a duck, and operate like a duck…
(U.S Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer Robert Nash)
The MSRT is the full-time counter-terrorism assault arm of maritime law enforcement. They’re tasked with being the first responders to terrorist situations that require boarding and securing hostile vessels — in all waters, both domestic and abroad.
Originally a part of the Coast Guard’s Deployable Operations Group — or DOG, before it was dissolved in 2013 — the MSRT remains the go-to team in responding to piracy the world over.
Just to throw it out there, aiming a rifle from one of these is a headache, but these guys have mastered the art.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Ross Ruddell)
Each assault element is broken down into several teams. The Direct Action Section is the main group of vessel-boarding operators that are extensively trained in close-quarters combat. Then, the Precision Marksmen Observer Team provides rear support through the lens of a high-powered sniper rifle, which is often aimed from moving aircraft or boats. Finally, the Tactical Delivery Teams bring the rest of their MSRT comrades into the fold.
The teams also include personnel that are specifically trained in handling chemical, biological, radioactive, nuclear, and high-yield explosive environments, mixing the talents of EOD and bomb squad units with CBRN capabilities.
Go ahead and sh*t talk the Coast Guard to the face of an MSRT… I’ll wait.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Ross Ruddell)
The MSRT is called in for situations that involve neutralizing terrorists or pirates. The scope of their mission is huge — if it’s in the interest of America to neutralize a threat at sea, they will. Their area of operations includes the often-misunderstood international waters.
As with most Special Operations, their movements are not often discussed in the news — but they go everywhere. Recently, one of their known areas of operations has been off the coast of Syria in the Mediterranean Sea and all around the coast of Africa.
On June 6, 1944, Onofrio “No-No” Zicari stormed Omaha Beach in one of the deadliest battles of World War II: D-Day. The 21-year-old New York native survived the sniper fire and artillery bombardment, enduring what he would later remember as one of the most harrowing memories of his life. The experience was so traumatic, it would give him nightmares for the remainder of his life. But at the suggestion of his caretaker and with the support of charitable donations, the 96-year-old Las Vegas resident is making his first trip back to France for the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings.
“Maybe this will bring me some closure,” Zicari said. “So that’s why I’m going. Maybe there is something there that will help me put this all behind me. I’m 96 years old, how much longer can it go, you know?” he laughed. “Maybe I’ll see the beach.”
Zicari was offered the opportunity by Forever Young Senior Veterans, a nonprofit that organizes trips for veterans of U.S. wars, granting them an opportunity to return to the places they fought. Before he would accept the invitation, which includes joining a group of surviving World War II veterans to travel to several sites in Normandy, Zicari had one stipulation — he needed his caretaker and family friend Diane Fazendin to accompany him. “If she wasn’t going, then I wasn’t going,” he said. A GoFundMe set up for Zicari raised ,222, with nearly half of that coming from a donation from the Italian-American Club. With that amount, Fazendin can accompany Zicari throughout his journey, which begins June 3 and runs through June 10, 2019.
Onofrio “No-No” Zicari (left) mans a machine gun position.
However, the logistics of travel hasn’t been the only thing keeping the D-Day veteran from returning to France. The trauma of that day left Zicari with PTSD that continues to this day. “I was having nightmares, in fact, I just had one the other night. This all brings back a lot of memories for me,” he said.
To face those beaches again, Zicari found encouragement through his PTSD support group at VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System. The group of World War II, Korean, and Vietnam veterans meets every Friday, and enjoys camaraderie in addition to the peer support. “They’ve really helped me,” he said. “It was a huge relief for me when I found this group. It wasn’t until I moved to Nevada 30 years ago that I enrolled at this VA. Another Vet told me about the PTSD support groups at the VA. So I said, ‘alright, I’ll go.’ I was relieved when I was talking to the other veterans. They understood my feelings. And I’ve stayed right there with them for nearly 30 years.” When Zicari joined the group, there were six other World War II veterans who regularly attended the meetings. “Now it’s just me,” he said.
Zicari was drafted into the Army at the age of 19, where he trained to become a supply soldier. After training for months for desert warfare in preparation for deployment to Northern Africa, he soon found himself in Scotland and Wales, preparing for a completely different kind of warfare. His company began practicing for amphibious landings in preparation for the inevitable invasion of continental Europe in what would eventually come to be known as Operation Overlord. “We knew we would have to go, but we didn’t know when,” Zicari said. That day, June 6, 1944, would soon arrive. Despite months of preparation of training, nothing could prepare him for what would come. “The night before, we were joking around. We didn’t know what to expect. We were all gung ho. Until we landed, then it stopped.”
The next morning, Zicari’s unit arrived in Normandy in preparation to land on Omaha Beach – the most heavily defended area of five sectors allied infantry and armored divisions would land on during the D-Day invasion. “We were the fifth or sixth wave to hit Omaha Beach,” he said. “Our landing craft was knocked out, it took a couple of direct hits and killed a couple of sailors that were on board. The boat got grounded on a reef. After it beached, we had to get off and landed in the water and almost drowned. I was the ammo man for a machine gun crew, and I carried two boxes of ammo, another guy carried two barrels, one carried a magazine, one carried the tri-pod, it was the five of us. Our gunner lost the barrels. He didn’t want to drown, so he just dropped them. I had the ammo, and I said, ‘what am I going to do with this ammo?’ So, I let go of the ammo.”
Onofrio “No-No” Zicari (right) poses for a photo with Mickey Rooney (middle) and fellow soldiers.
Once Zicari finally got his head above water, he was struck by the chaos that laid in front of him. “We didn’t know where we were,” he said. “All we kept hearing was ‘gotta go inland, gotta go inland! Can’t go back!’ But we got pinned down there for quite a long time. We saw a lot of dead soldiers. It was havoc. I can’t explain what war is. We were all gung ho before we landed, but once we saw what was going on, I said ‘I want to go home.’ A lot of prayers were said on that day, believe me.”
Zicari was able to join up with the remainder of his outfit, but struggled to shake loose many of the horrors around him. “I was in shock. I was numb. I didn’t know what to do. Everybody was lost. I got pinned down by a pillbox, and we had shells landing all over. I got up and went alongside a landing craft that was beached. I looked over and I see this redheaded soldier, and he was sitting on his helmet. He got hit bad. He looked at me and just started to laugh, ‘I’m going home, I’m going home.’ Whether he made it home or not, I don’t know. But that stuck with me.”
After several hours of intense fighting, Zicari was wounded by a piece of shrapnel in the knee. Although the wound was relatively light, medics recommended he seek immediate care. “They wanted to send me back to the hospital ship, but I told them no. I didn’t want to lose my outfit.” Zicari said. “They might send me to the infantry, and I didn’t want to go to the infantry, that’s for sure.”
When the intensity of the battle had died down, and the Germans were pushed back from their positions on the beachhead, Zicari and his unit had the task of bringing the ammunition and supplies onto the beaches. While the initial intensity of the fighting had decreased, they still faced occasional artillery and sniper fire. But the worst job was soon to come. “On the third day, we had to go back and pick up the bodies and equipment on the beaches,” he said. “After that, I never went back again. It was too sad.”
After Normandy, Zicari continued fighting across France, even making it to Belgium and relieving the 101st Airborne following the Battle of the Bulge in Bastogne and surrounding Ardennes Forest. But it was June 6 that would shape his memories of the war; memories that he hopes to put to rest 75 years later.
Onofrio “No-No” Zicari (middle) with his PTSD peer support group.
Following the war, Zicari moved to California with his wife, where they raised six children. His family became close friends with their neighbors, Fazendin and her husband. Even after the Zicaris moved to Nevada, they kept in touch. “We’ve been friends for many years,” said Fazendin, who currently lives in Florida and has acted as Zicari’s caretaker for a recent cruise and other short trips. This will be her first time traveling to Europe, and the furthest the two will travel together.
Zicari lives independently in his Las Vegas home, near much of his family. Even though he doesn’t own a cell phone or watch, he stays sharp by doing four crossword puzzles each day and completing woodworking projects. His garage is adorned with massive birdhouses and wooden trains that he has perfected over the years. He gets his socializing by meeting with his fellow veterans at the VA. His PTSD peer support group even meets up for a holiday meal at the Medical Center cafeteria. And it was with their encouragement, the help of his caretaker, and financial support of charitable donations that Zicari will finally be able to make his return to Omaha Beach in June 2019.
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.