The United States has numerous enemies abroad who are itching to steal state secrets or decipher troop movements. We live in an age where your phone, computer, or a friendly software update can betray you within seconds — without you knowing it. While the average serviceman may not be the target of a Russian honeypot, we are susceptible to human error.
Using these 3 tips, service members and their families can reduce the risk of OPSEC (Operational Security) violations. The consequences of violating OPSEC can range from being non-rec’d (not recommended for promotion) to court-martial under the Uniformed Code of Military Justice.
This list is by no means a way to inspire fear, but rather to orient you in the technical use of geotags, metadata, and VPNs.
It should go without saying, but here’s a quick reminder of the basics: don’t post troop movement information, don’t upload pictures inside operationally sensitive areas, and don’t post when, exactly, your husband is coming home.
Outside of those basics, keep these in mind:
Turn off Geotags
Most people don’t mind using geotags to let their social network know where they are. Plus, how are you going to brag to all of your friends if you don’t tag yourself at the Eiffel Tower? As a service member, you already know you can’t ‘check-in’ on Facebook or ‘pin’ the cool things you’re doing — but your apps do not. Sometimes, apps on iOS and Android products will automatically. This is how you can turn it off:
Navigate to ‘Settings’
Click on ‘Privacy’
Click on ‘Location Services’
Under “Allow Location Access” choose ‘Never.’
Open the Camera app on your Android smartphone or tablet
Tap on three horizontal lines to open the menu
Now, tap on the gear icon
There, you’ll see the camera settings
Tap on GPS tag (This option may have a slightly different title, depending on the device) and turn it off.
Yes. Cross platform is the Rosetta Stone of gaming.
You may have photos you’ve sent as an attachment or uploaded onto social media already.
Metadata is data is information about and contained within files on your computer. It can be used by hackers to reverse engineer a way into your PC because they may reveal the file paths in your directory. If what I said sounded like a foreign language, that’s ok — you don’t have to understand it all, but you should know how to protect yourself. You can remove (most) metadata by following these steps.
Right-click the image file.
Select “Properties” from the right-click menu.
Click the “Details” tab at the top of the “Properties” dialog box.
Open the folder containing your image files.
Select all the files you want to delete EXIF metadata from.
Right-click anywhere within the selected fields and choose “Properties.”
Click the “Details” tab.
At the bottom of the “Details” tab, you’ll see a link titled “Remove Properties and Personal Information.” Click this link.
Windows will ask whether you want to make a copy of the photo with this information removed, or if you want to remove the information from the original. Choose the option you prefer and click “OK.”
There no way to do it and the sky is falling.
For mac users, the process is a little more complicated and requires either the use of a third-party program or the command prompt. This link here will point you in the right the direction.
Use a VPN
A Virtual Private Network masks your IP address from the rest of the world by rerouting your internet packets through a series of servers. It makes the ISP (Internet Service Provider) not able to see what you’re doing and the rest of the world thinks you’re in a different country. Your internet speed will be reduced but your security will increase. It’s like a digital condom for your computer.
Using a paid VPN is highly recommended over using a free VPN because the public VPNs store your data and can be easily compromised, which defeats the purpose. A paid VPN will not store logs of what you are doing or who you are — there’s nothing to compromise if it doesn’t exist. I personally use PIA (Private Internet Access) and it’s the only VPN I can personally vouch for. A quick google search can help you judge which service and pricing option is right for you.
VPNs should not be used on government computers, or you risk violating other OPSEC protocols that you’re not aware of. If in doubt, ask someone from the Comm shop for clarity.
You’re welcome. From a “crayon-eating,” 0311 grunt.
No matter if you’ve been in for two months, two years or you are two generations removed from the military, everyone knows that tattoos and the service go hand in hand. Ever since the first tattoo shop opened its doors in America in 1846, ink has had a well-deserved place in the hearts and on the skin of service members.
Of course, tattooing didn’t get its start in America. Warriors from Maori tribes in New Zealand, to ancient Greeks, marked themselves to show strength, courage and confidence. Viking raiders tapped magical symbols into their skin using the ink made from sacrificial animals.
Even service members in the Revolutionary War were getting new ink to reflect their units and identities (not to mention to prevent being illegally conscripted by the British).
During the Civil War, pioneer tattooist Martin Hildebrant traveled to battlefields and inked various patriotic designs into service members’ skin. Records show that by 1925, as much as 90 percent of all US service members were tattooed; the Navy made up the bulk of those decorated. Apparently, sailors used new tattoos to showcase where they’d been, as a sort of secondary service record, and to showcase their achievements.
For example, a shellback turtle meant they’d crossed the equator, a golden dragon meant they crossed the International Date Line, and a golden shellback turtle meant they’d crossed both at the same spot.
But for as much as there’s always been ink in the military, there have also been regulations. It seems like every few years, some leadership gets it in mind that a new tattoo policy is in order. For years, there was a limit to the number of tattoos soldiers could have on their arms, but that’s no longer the case. However, the Army still doesn’t allow face, neck or hand tattoos, though a small ring tattoo can exist on each hand. As with all branches, there are always a few waivers that are granted by recruiters each year if it seems like a tattoo isn’t too distracting.
Just like the Army, the Air Force is revisiting some of its strict tattoo policies and lessening the regulations a bit. Before 2017, Airmen weren’t allowed to have tattoos on the chest, back, arms and legs that were larger than 25 percent of the exposed body part. Now, they’re allowed to have full sleeves or large back pieces, which is a big deal for anyone who’s been stuck halfway through getting a tattoo only to have to stop because of regulations.
So it goes without saying that getting a tattoo is as much a rite of passage in the military as is getting that first haircut in basic training. Of course, barbershops have been embedded at installations worldwide for decades, but for new ink, service members have always had to go off base. That’s led plenty of people to wonder why there isn’t a place to get new ink and a fresh fade all at the same place. Now, that’s no longer the case.
Nellis Air Force Base, located just outside Las Vegas, now has its own tattoo shop, making it that much easier to get a new tattoo. Senior leadership at Nellis said in a press release that they’re always looking for ways to improve the quality of life for Airmen and to lead from the front. So naturally, an on-base tattoo shop makes sense.
This is the first tattoo shop to be inside any Air Force or Army installation, making it incredibly unique. Now, we can’t speak to the quality of work you might receive there, but it’s still pretty cool that leadership is finally recognizing that there’s a very real, inky culture within the military and are taking steps to provide that service.
Maybe the decision to open the tattoo shop on base is a signal that leadership hopes artists and the Airmen can better handle the Air Force guidance on tattoo size and placement. Of course, that’s not to say whether or not the tattoos will be any good, but at least they’ll be within regs.
For decades, America was convinced that the Soviet Union was going to nuke the country and possibly the world. Even though the US and Russia were allies during WWII, once the war stopped, that partnership ended. Postwar Soviet expansion and takeovers of many Eastern European countries fueled plenty of fears of communism. Americans had long been wary and concerned about Joseph Stalin’s treatment of his own country. For their part, the Russians weren’t fans of Americans either, especially since the US government was unwilling to accept the Soviet Union as a legitimate part of the international community. After the war ended, any relations Americans had with the Russians froze … but you can still visit Cold War sites in America.
American leadership decided the best way to deal with the Soviets would be a strategy called containment, which meant that America’s only solution was a long term vigilance of Russian tendencies to invade countries and take over. The containment approach also provided the government with the rationale for an unprecedented arms buildup, beginning in 1950. Both Americans and the USSR had access to atomic weaponry. The ever-present threat of nuclear war had a huge impact on American domestic life. People started to build bomb shelters, drills were practiced in schools and public places, and movies showcased depictions of nuclear devastation. The government did its part too and built bunkers, reactors, and missile silos in preparation for a possible Russian invasion.
Though the Cold War might have ended, the traces of our fear, paranoia, and preparation still exist today. Check out this list of top Cold War tourism sites to visit in America.
Greenbrier Bunker, White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia
This fallout shelter is located at Greenbrier Resort. What’s strange about it is that no one in the hotel knew it was designated as a bunker or that the government planned to house all of Congress in the event of a nuclear attack. Apparently, the government somehow convinced resort staff that it was building a conference center and that the 7,000-foot landing strip outside the building was completely necessary. The bunker was never used, and now you can take tours of it and check out the less-than-glamorous digs reserved for Congress.
Hanford Site, Richland, Washington
This 586 square mile site has been producing plutonium since 1943 when the War Department took it over to conduct parts of the Manhattan Project. The last reactor was shut down in 1987, and formal cleanup began two years later.
Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, Philip, South Dakota
No surprise that this place used to house missiles, but what might be surprising is how many. At its peak, the South Dakota silo field houses 150 missiles. Now it’s down to just one, the Launch Facility Delta-09. Now it’s run by the National Park Service, and there are tours available of the underground control centers.
The Culpeper Switch, Culpeper, Virginia
In 1969, construction on a bunker that had lead-lined shutters and steel-reinforced concrete. The reason? To keep cash flowing in case a Soviet attack wiped out America’s banks. For many years, the Federal Reserve kept $4 billion in cash inside the bunker. The government moved the cash out in 1988 and gifted the site to the Library of Congress in 1992.
Titan Missile Museum, Sahuarita, Arizona
For 24 years, the US had 54 Titan II missile sites on high alert. President Reagan ordered all Title II missiles deactivated in 1981, and most of them were completely destroyed in the process. All except for one, which is now on display at the Titan Missile Museum in Arizona. The missile was never fueled and never carried a warhead, so it’s completely safe for the public.
X-10 Graphite Reactor, Oak Ridge, Tennessee
For two decades, the X-10, an artificial nuclear reactor, existed on a diet of uranium. It’s dormant now and has been since 1963. Located inside the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the reactor is now open to the public.
This is just a small sampling of the Cold War sites in America, even though the Cold War has officially been over for decades.
We live in a world full of uncertainty. This has always been the case. But when you have kids, that uncertainty becomes less abstract and action is required. It needs to be met with the understanding that it’s on you to take the proper precautions to protect your family when shit hits the fan. There’s truth in that saying “Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.” There’s also truth in the saying “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” The act of preparing helps you feel a bit less worried about hurricanes, floods, super viruses, and other such events. You can’t control anything; but you can control how ready you are.
One way to ensure you’re ready: prepare an emergency kits or go-bag. Companies like Uncharted Supply Co., Echo-Sigma, and Emergency Zone have made small fortunes in recent years selling premade emergency kits for this very reason. Affordable, portable, and packed with short-term survival essentials, their sole purpose is to arm people with the gear they need to get out of town should a life-or-death situation unfold right before your eyes.
Emergency kits are also commonly known as bug-out bags. Borrowing military terminology, the moniker refers to when U.S. troops were directed to retreat (or “bug out”) with their vital survival gear during dire situations in the Korean War. Some other common nicknames used today include the battle box, 72-hour kit, go-bag, and INCH bag, the latter of which stands for “I’m Never Coming Home”.
Not necessarily intended for long-term survival, the modern-day bug-out bag emphasizes being ready to go with everything you would need should an unforeseen emergency evacuation arise. And while the concept of proactively preparing for a worst-case scenario can seem like a daunting task, it’s also incredibly important.
“Natural disasters and society disasters such as a loss of power are not going to stop happening — we all know there will be something happening again sooner or later,” says Stroud. “It takes such little effort to prepare, yet the payoff can be very profound, and even save lives.”
Stroud, true to his reputation, doesn’t believe in taking the easy way out and is not a fan of the one-size-fits-all, ready-made bug-out bag. Why? For the simple reason that the hands-on nature of putting one together yourself makes you aware of its contents. “People must become comfortable making their own bug-out bags through research and learning,” he says.
“There is no shortcut here, and there is no company that is going to put together a grab-and-go kit that is going to work for your own family’s individual needs,” Stroud adds. “Most people will purchase such a kit and never open it or go through the contents to make sure they all work well.”
So what does the proper bug-out bag contain? While an emergency kit for single guy in his 50’s will vary significantly from the contents of one prepared by parents evacuating with a newborn, there are certain items both need to contain..
Now, it’s important to keep in mind that you aren’t planning for a glamping vacation or a weekend family escape to the woods. These evacuation essentials are geared toward survival purposes. They’re intended to keep you covered during the first 72 hours after an emergency strikes. You’ll want to source items that are easy to carry, durable in unpredictable conditions, and most importantly, useful in keeping you and your family safe.
Here, with Stroud’s help, are some of non-negotiables that need to be included in a bug-out bag
What to Pack in a Bug-Out Bag or Go-Bag
Water purification pump:The LifeStraw Mission, a gravity water purifier, weighs a little more than a pound but has the capacity to purify 12 liters of water per hour
There’s no shortage of online communities and websites completely dedicated to survivalism and preparedness. Popular digital destinations like The Ultimate Bug Out Bag Guide, The Prepared, and Ready To Go Survival are teeming with resources related to the topic, ranging from how-to-videos to in-depth gear reviews.
All of these sources keep updated master lists of everything you could possibly need in a bug-out bag. And a simple Google search for “bug-out bag essentials” will instantly return millions of results. But at the end of the day, only you can ultimately decide what needs to be included in your family’s survival kit. Personalization is paramount.
Stroud even brings it a step further, advising that every family member takes ownership of preparing for their specific needs.
“I recommend one bug-out bag per person,” he says. “Each family member, including all adults and any children capable of carrying, should have their own bug-out bag — personally designed — that they are familiar with.”
In addition to the general must-have survival elements, what should parents evacuating with kids in tow bring? Consider the below list a starting point. While there’s bound to be some crossover in the lists below, use your best judgement when curating each bag. Include any additional items that you feel would be absolutely necessary, and engage your kids in preparing their own bags so they’re familiar with the contents.
Bug-Out Bag Essentials for Babies
Diapers: Diapers are so lightweight, it’ll be easy to bring enough to last a 72-hour period. The absorbency of diapers also helps them come in handy as cold or hot packs when emergencies strikes.
Dry formula: Even if your baby is still breastfeeding, you’ll want to make sure to keep a healthy supply of dry formula packets on hand, just in case.
Bottle: Bring a bottle should you need to resort to using dry formula (plus, you can use the nipple as a pacifier, or store other items inside the bottle for extra protection).
Pacifier: Because a pacified baby beats a crying baby.
Antibacterial wipes While these can be used for the whole family, they’ll come in handy for a quick baby bath or other sanitation purposes.
Baby carrier You’ll want to be able to use your hands and carry your baby comfortably.
Bug-Out Bag or Go-Bag Essentials for Children Ages 3-6
Snacks: Food may be scarce, so be sure to bring some of your kid’s favorite snacks along. Bonus points if the snacks also pack a jolt of energy or nutrition.
Oral hygiene supplies: keeping to some routine habits, even in extreme situations, can help instill a sense of normalcy and independence―plus, healthy oral hygiene habits never hurt.
Multivitamins: your child’s diet can be severely challenged in an emergency, so stash a daily vitamin supplement in their bag.
Study walking shoes: terrain may be rough, so plan to pack a durable pair of walking shoes (that fit their ever-changing foot size) which can stand the conditions you may face.
Thermal blanket: A light, metal-coated space blanket is ultra-lightweight and designed to retain heat in colder temperatures. It can even be used as a make-shift shelter.
Ear plugs: depending on the scenario, ear plugs can help drown out frightening noises during the day and ensure a more sound sleep at night.
Bug-Out Bag Essentials for Children Ages 6+
Gum or hard candy: Whether they’re leveraged as an energy-booster or a pick-me-up when morale is low, you’ll be glad you brought a handful of sweets.
Pedialyte powder: Children aren’t the best at communicating when they’re thirsty, so avoid dehydration with a few packets of this electrolyte-infused powder.
Books: we’re not talking heavy, hard-cover books, but the mind can weaken faster than the body in times of stress―so keep a favorite paperback close by.
Other mind-occupiers: should boredom set in, it’s not a bad idea to have a deck of cards, coloring book, or other such extras on hand.
Emergency whistle: Kids six and older can let curiosity get the best of them, so arm them with an emergency whistle in case they get separated from the family.
Walkie-talkies: When whistles won’t cut it, or the family is planning to temporarily split up, a pair of walkie-talkies will definitely come in hand.
Additional Bug-Out Bag or Go-Bag Items to Keep in Mind
Power bank: pack a fully-charged power bank or two to keep cell phones and other necessary electronics charged. Ideally, you want a solar-powered bank that can be refueled via sunlight.
Document protection: during periods of uncertainty, it’s imperative to keep your family’s important documents (like birth certificates, social security cards, and passports) with you at all times, so invest in a waterproof document pouch for when you’re on the go.
Super Glue and duct tape: in an evacuation scenario, you never know when you’ll need to take a page from the MacGyver playbook (plus, Super Glue and duct tape can be used in a range of medical emergencies).
N99 masks: These face masks are effective at filtering out 99 percent of non-oil-based airborne particulate matter, including most pollution, bacteria, and viruses.
Extra money: In emergency situations, cash is king. Five-hundred dollars in small bills is a good amount.
Sunscreen: Because sun exposure is likely in emergency situations.
This covers the basics. The point here is to get you thinking about preparing and taking an active role in considering the worst. Luck, they say, is where preparation and opportunity meet. While it’s good to hope that the opportunity never arises in this case, you’ll be thankful to have prepared if it does.
Floating across the frozen backcountry on snowshoes is a unique way to see the wilderness. But finding a place to go out and enjoy the snow can be hard. A good summer hiking trail may not be a good snowshoe hike, but areas that are hard to access in the summer can become ideal playgrounds in the winter.
As a rule, steep terrain is out of the question in heavy snow. Snow angled steeper than 30 degrees is avalanche terrain. If that wasn’t enough to keep your snowshoes on more level snow, taking uphill steps in snowshoes is difficult, even with a heel lift.
While walking in snowshoes will feel clunky at first, they keep you from postholing, or falling into deeper snow drifts. Snowshoes make the backcountry accessible, even in the deepest, most powdery snow. Just be careful to ease into it and let your way of walking adjust to the snowshoes.
Snowshoeing provides entry to areas that aren’t always accessible when the snow melts.
(Adobe Stock photo.)
If you decide to head outside in the snow, here are some suggestions for snowshoe-friendly hikes across the colder parts of America. These hikes focus on national parks for several reasons: they offer reliable access, park staff can provide real-time information on snow and trail conditions, and emergency services are closer than at other locations.
Always make a plan, let others know it, and carry the right gear for the conditions. And one more tip from someone who has spent many cold days in the wilderness: a thermos full of coffee is often worth the extra weight!
Explore a different side of Paradise on a ranger-guided snowshoe walk.
(Photo courtesy of the National Parks Service.)
Mt. Rainier National Park, Washington
Stunning in all seasons, Washington’s Mt. Rainier National Park deserves attention from any fan of the snow. With trails ranging from easy to tough, there’s a snowshoe hike for most skill levels.
Looking for a beautiful introductory hike? The Nisqually Vista Trail is only a mile, and stays flat and level. The views are amazing on this kid-friendly hike, as the route takes you near the snout of the retreating Nisqually Glacier.
Beginners can also opt for a ranger-guided snowshoe walk, if you’re concerned about heading out into the wilderness on your own.
When there is adequate snow, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing is a popular activity along the carriage roads at Acadia.
(Photo courtesy of the National Parks Service.)
Acadia National Park, Maine
The old carriage roads of Acadia National Park make ideal snowshoe trails, especially when you consider that the National Parks Service grooms the trails. All told, the prepared trails run approximately 45 miles through forests and by lakes.
Note, the NPS also lays down ski tracks on some of the groomed trails. A snowshoer should stay off the ski tracks. They will slow you down and mess up the tracks for skiers.
Acadia is one of Maine’s highlights, right outside of Bar Harbor, another worthwhile destination.
And the best part of seeing Acadia by snowshoe? No mosquitoes.
Root Glacier and Donoho Peak in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve.
(Photo courtesy of the National Parks Service.)
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska
Tucked into a corner of Alaska that abuts Canada, Wrangell-St. Elias is something else. With soaring peaks, ancient glaciers, and icefalls the size of skyscrapers, the place defines “grandeur.”
And winter only improves the landscape. Bear in mind that the park is split into two halves, Nabesna in the north and McCarthy in the south, so you’ll have to choose which part you want to see. Both offer world-class hiking and are frigid in the winter. Bundle up for this adventure.
In the McCarthy area, the trails around the old Kennicott copper mine are stunning and take hikers along the Root Glacier. The glacier is NOT safe to cross in the winter without special training and equipment.
Up north around Nabesna, the Caribou Creek Trail offers stunning views on a clear day. But with generally more flat terrain than the south end of the park, an experienced hiker can explore off trail.
Mt. Sanford Route in Alaska’s Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve is an epic seven- to 10-day one-way route that requires flying to reach and then traversing nothing but ice and rock for the entire trip.
(Photo courtesy of the National Parks Service.)
Hiking in Alaska in the winter is different than most other places. Much of the state is a muskeg, a sort of mossy swamp that is nearly impossible to traverse in the summer. I have sunk up to my chest in muck while trying to line a canoe up a creek, but in the winter, the muskegs are some of the best hiking available. Everything is frozen and snow covered, making parts of the state (like the Mat-Su Valley) accessible.
Also, this far north, the days are very short around the solstice. The ideal time to see Alaska all draped in white is March, when the cold is still in full force, but the days are longer.
Hiking in the winter shows off the wilderness at its most beautiful — and also most brutal. But that is no reason to huddle indoors. Plan and prepare, then strap on the old snowshoes and walk around the woods.
Seeing the world covered in snow, and often devoid of crowds, has a way of making even sub-zero temperatures worth the effort.
Saber Junction: How Green Berets and Paratroopers Will Fight the Next Big War
U.S. Fleet Forces (USFF) Command will begin a second round of testing in 2019 on a two-piece organizational clothing variant that offers flame resistance and moves the Navy one step closer to delivering sailors a safe, comfortable, no-cost alternative to the Improved Flame Resistant Variant (IFRV) coveralls, with the same travel flexibility as the Type III working uniform.
USFF conducted the initial wear test on two-piece variants from May through September of 2018 and collected feedback from nearly 200 wear-test participants across surface, aviation, and submarine communities about everything from colors and design, to comfort and options like buttons and hook-and-loop fasteners. The command also received feedback from more than 1,700 sailors in an online survey about colors and design.
An information graphic describing the modernized, two-piece, flame-resistant organizational clothing wear-test design components for sailors.
(U.S. photo illustration by Bobbie A. Camp)
Fleet survey responses indicated that sailors liked the functionality of the Type III but would like to see the design in traditional Navy uniform colors. More than 70 percent of E-6 and junior sailors surveyed liked the navy blue blouse and trouser while a khaki version was the preference for chiefs and officers.
Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Anthony Flynn, assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75), demonstrates the operational de-blousing capability of the flame-resistant, two-piece organizational clothing prototype.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Stacy M. Atkins Ricks)
“Leaders are listening to the fleet when it comes to this design,” said USFF Fleet Master Chief Rick O’Rawe, a wear-test participant. “We have an obligation to keep our sailors safe in inherently dangerous environments, but we also want to be mindful of their time. This is going to be something that’s safe, easy to maintain, and doesn’t require half-masting of coveralls when it’s hot or having to change clothes every time you leave the ship. Never again should we have to pass the words ‘all hands shift into the uniform for entering port or getting underway.'”
Lt. Jamie Seibel, assigned to U.S. Fleet Forces (USFF) Command, demonstrates the operational wearability of the flame-resistant, two-piece organizational clothing prototype (khaki variant) aboard the Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser USS Vella Gulf (CG-72).
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Stacy M. Atkins Ricks)
The updated design, which won’t require sailors to sew on components, will be tested by 100 officers and enlisted sailors to see how well it performs from wash-to-wear without ironing, and how it holds up to laundering. The two-piece variant will allow for de-blousing in extreme climates and challenging work environments. An undershirt will continue to be tested with a flame-resistant, moisture-wicking fabric in black.
A sailor assigned to the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Truxtun (DDG 103) demonstrates the operational wearability of the black Gortex parka and the flame-resistant, two-piece organizational clothing prototype navy blue variant.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Stacy M. Atkins Ricks)
I have received so much feedback just from wearing the two-piece around the command every day,” said Yeoman 1st Class Kelly Pyron, a wear-test participant assigned to USFF. “The best part is that we’ll be able to transit from the ship and run errands in the two-piece; having one standard underway and in-port across the board will be much more convenient. I am excited to see the wear test moving into the next phase of evaluation.”
Once approved, the new prototype will serve as an alternative to the IFRV coverall for operational commands. The coverall may continue to be the prescribed clothing item for some sailors in applicable work environments.
Pyron expressed, “If a clothing item, that I will not have to buy, can make my life easier while keeping me safe, I’m all for it.”
There are no stupid questions…except for these ones!
When civilians have burning questions about the military, they turn to the only trusted source out there: the internet. Luckily for us, this means we get to relive our glory days and have a little bit of amusement. What’s the best thing to do when civvies ask something like, “Should I wear my cowboy hat at basic training for the Air Force?”
Gather a group of your military buddies, have some drinks, and turn the camera on:
Should you wear your cowboy hat to basic training? | Dumb Military Questions 101
For the record, it was a unanimous ‘yes’ to wearing your cowboy hat to basic training. It was the first time there was peace, belonging, and unbridled respect among the five branches.
Other questions were less universal or specifically catered to the specops vets in the group:
“How do special forces soldiers *really* open velcro quietly?”
Luckily, Green Beret Terry Schappert was on hand with a few suggestions. “Just throw a flashbang grenade. That gives you enough time and noise to open the velcro.” Problem solved. Thanks, Schappert.
“Are tall and strong soldiers more effective than short, thin soldiers?”
Now this one opened up some varied points. On the one hand, tall, strong soldiers can’t fit inside tanks, as U.S. Air Force vet Mark Harper sagely observed. But on the other hand, just look at U.S. Navy SEAL Remi Adeleke. Do we even need tanks? Really? If given the choice between the two…
Breastfeeding moms who also work face plenty of challenges, from a lack of dedicated pumping areas to unsupportive supervisors and colleagues. Things can be even tougher if your job is as a member of the armed forces, as Robyn Roche-Paull learned firsthand.
Per Romper, Roche-Paull was in the Navy when she had her baby in the 1990s, an era in which there were no breastfeeding policies, no deployment deferments, and just six weeks of maternity leave. When she returned to work, she had no time or place to pump, and she resorted to using dirty, chemical-filled supply closets that often didn’t lock.
A female supervisor even told here that she was “making all the women look bad with me asking for time to pump every three to four hours.” Yikes.
“There were no books on this subject, and no one to talk to about the questions and struggles I was facing,” she recalls, so when she left the Navy in 1997 she decided to fix that. She became a lactation consultant and created a Facebook group to collect stories from military moms that eventually became a book, Breastfeeding in Combat Boots.
“The page was way more successful than I ever dreamed, which in turn made me realize that I could have a website with all this information freely available to the public.”
The project morphed into a non-profit organization, also called Breastfeeding in Combat Boots, that provides resources to moms struggling to breastfeed while enlisted.
“Being successful with breastfeeding is a challenge. They have to overcome not only cultural issues, but finding time and place to pump, how to ship milk home from overseas, travel, deployments, and possibly exposure to hazardous materials, not to mention maintaining weight and physical fitness standards.”
And just as importantly, it’s a supportive community that can help moms realize that it is possible to balance the obligations of military service and motherhood, often through simply sharing photos of breastfeeding or pumping in uniform.
“These are moms who have decided that serving their country — a sacrifice in itself — is very important, but so is making sure that their babies receive their breast milk even if that means shipping their milk home from Afghanistan for six months,” Roche-Paull says.
This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.
Robin Olds was not known for obeying the spirit of Air Force regulations. From the start of his military career, he didn’t always do things by the book. He was West Point graduate whose time at the Academy was hastened so he and his class could catch the last half of World War II.
This legendary fighter pilot was actually almost a bomber pilot, told by an instructor he called “Military Bill” that he was too big for a fighter. But he flew bombers like fighters and performed illegal maneuvers whenever possible. Eventually so many reports of his ability came in that “Military Bill” was overruled and Olds was back in a fighter. Even when the Army’s top brass declared that West Pointers were to be squadron commanders only, Olds and a buddy went down to the personnel section of their outfit and asked the old, grey-haired sergeant in charge to send them to England, and it worked.
Olds’ entire career was results-oriented. Everything from planning Operation Bolo in Vietnam to being Commandant of the U.S. Air Force Academy. He turned an underperforming unit around with bold leadership and his distinctive out-of-regs mustache that he open admitted was a “middle finger I couldn’t raise in PR photographs.”
He spoke with authenticity and authority on all things military and aviation, so it makes sense that when Brig. Gen. Terryl Schwalier was a major, writing a paper for the Air Command and Staff College called “The Tactical Flight Commander — Developing Warriors,” he asked then-retired Brig. Gen. Robin Olds for his insights on the role of flight commander. In return, Schwalier received a five-page diagnosis on the institutional problems with the modern Air Force. Olds went on to describe how a commander can find fulfillment and still exemplify leadership, even in the current Air Force climate:
30 Nov 1981
Dear Major Schwalier,
Your question, or better request, is provocative, to say the least. I have thought much since receiving your Oct 21 letter, and the more I consider your topic, the more difficult it becomes to frame a reasonable or even useful response. I’ll try to boil down my thoughts, hoping something useful may distill.
First, let me get some negatives in perspective. In my view, current Air Force philosophy and practice have all but eliminated any meaningful role playable by an officer placed in a so-called position of command. Authority has evaporated, sucked up to the rarified heights of “they,” who are somehow felt to exist in the echelons above. For your information, “they” do not exist. Neither is there any “he” fulfilling that role. Authority is expressed through the medium of committee consensus, leadership has become a watered down adherence to the principles of camp counsellorship, with a 90% emphasis on avoiding any action that may in any way be questioned by any one of hundreds of piss ants on the administrative ladder above. In fact, leadership (and I use that term with contempt) has become a process of looking busy as hell while doing nothing, avoiding personal commitment, and above all, making no decision without prior approval.
Historical example: as a 22 year old Major, commanding a squadron in 1945, I was responsible for and empowered to: pay the troops; feed them; house them; train them; clothe them; promote; demote; reward; punish; maintain their personnel files, etc. When I retired as a BG in 1973, I possessed not one of those authorities or responsibilities. Get the drift?
And you ask the importance of a flight commander. I am tempted to say NONE. But that is not true, for in spite of the system, in spite of the executive and administrative castration, a man instinctively looks to a system of military authority in a military situation or system. If that authority is waffled or watered, he still looks to those appointed to the military echelons to do their best under the circumstances. A man (a nation for that matter) wants, demands, leadership. So today’s flight leader/commander leads and commands by example, by appeal to basic instinct, and by light footed avoidance of error, like walking a tightrope. He has responsibility, for sure. But he does not have authority, or freedom of discretion/interpretation. Unfortunately, in some units he really isn’t given much voice. Yet he functions, and if he is successful (perhaps a better word is “effective”) it is greatly to his credit for having done so under the prevailing circumstances.
Another thought. All else to the contrary, two basic demands are faced by the Flight Commander. One is PEACE, the other is WAR. It has been my experience, in the fighter business I hasten to add, that the man who may excel under the one is not necessarily worth a damn under the other. Many examples come to mind. I do not (and did not) condemn one man or the other, rather I accepted the challenge of recognizing the difference and choosing accordingly.
I hope some of this makes sense.
P.S. For your information, there is no such thing as HQ, USAF. The highest echelon is a faceless entity, composed of thousands of diverse individuals loosely arranged by a system of interlocking committees and headed by an individual technically labeled the “Chief of Staff.” Note he is not called the Commander. By law, he cannot be. By nature he is forced to be the consummate bureaucrat, fighting for the all mighty dollar, serving as a buffer between Sec Def / Congress and the people and mission of his service – a demanding, demeaning role playable by very few.
This letter was first released on the John Q. Public blog, whose author is a former USAF officer. He noted that Olds retired in 1973 and the letter was written in 1981. He acknowledged that much of what Olds was talking about was cleared away by the time Operation Desert Storm rolled around. But protracted war in the post-Cold War, post-9/11 world has caused much of the recurring problems of “Top heaviness, micromanagement, loss of combat focus, misprioritization” to return to the Air Force. This is the age where USAF leadership testifies to Congress about morale being “pretty darn good,” while the Air Force suffers from a crushing ops tempo and mistrust of leadership (note the occasion in 2011 where the USAF invited officers to apply for voluntary separation, revoked the offer, then gave them the boot anyway… or the occasion in 2014 where the same thing happened).
It’s nice to know it wasn’t always this way… and that it can be fixed.
Current band members Serj Tankian, Daron Malakian, John Dolmayan, and Shavo Odadjian (System Of A Down).
Throughout the Global War on Terror, many an American convoy has rolled to the heavy metal music of bands like Black Sabbath, AC/DC, and System Of A Down. As songs like Fortunate Son, Paint it Black, and For What It’s Worth have become synonymous with the Vietnam War, it’s not unreasonable to anticipate that songs like War Pigs, Highway to Hell, and Chop Suey will remind GWOT veterans of their time in country. System Of A Down in particular was extremely popular with service members in the early days of GWOT.
Formed in 1994, System consisted of Serj Tankian, Daron Malakian, Shavo Odadjian, and Andy Khachaturian who was later replaced by John Dolmayan in 1997. Originally playing under the band name Soil, System was derived from the name of a poem penned by Malakian titled Victims of a Down. “Victims” was changed to “System” in order to appeal to a wider audience and so that the band’s albums would be closer to their musical heroes, Slayer, on store shelves.
The band played an L.A. nightclub in 1995 and recorded a few demo tapes before their first official and professionally recorded song in 1997. The song, P.L.U.C.K., is an abbreviation for “Politically Lying, Unholy, Cowardly Killers”, refers to the Ottoman Empire and the Armenian Genocide. System then started playing more notable venues like the Whiskey-A-Go-Go and Viper Room and caught the attention of producer Rick Rubin. Rubin later signed the band to American/Columbia Records and the rest is history.
In 2006, it seemed like System itself was set to become history. The previous year saw the band’s last recordings with the double album Mezmerize/Hypnotize before their last performance in West Palm Beach, Florida on August 13, 2006. “Tonight will be the last show we play for a long time together,” Malakian said that night. “We’ll be back. We just don’t know when.”
True to their word, System returned from their hiatus in 2011 and began a world tour through North America, South America, Europe, and Australia. System’s popularity had not waned, with their only 2013 U.S. performance at the Hollywood Bowl selling out just a few hours after tickets went on sale. The next year, the band announced the Wake Up The Souls Tour to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. The tour included their first performance in their ancestral home of Armenia in 2015. System played a free concert in Republic Square in Yerevan, the country’s capital, which was met with wide acclaim.
Though System has continued to tour and perform, the band had not recorded any new material since 2005. That all changed on November 5, 2020 with the release of Genocidal Humanoidz and Protect the Land, the band’s first new songs in 15 years. The songs were written in 2017 and 2018 respectively and are inspired by the conflict faced by the ethnic Armenian people of the Artsakh region. The disputed border region saw the return of skirmishes in July 2020 which prompted responses by both Azeri and Armenian people around the world. The skirmishes escalated into a full-blown war on the morning of September 27, 2020.
Known to Armenians and the ethnically-Armenian people who call it home as Artsakh, the Nagorno-Karabakh region is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan. However, the people who inhabit the land view themselves as a self-determined independent state. The latest conflict sees Azerbaijan being backed by Turkey and fielding Syrian mercenaries as well as Israeli-supplied weapons systems like UASs. On the other side of the conflict, Artsakh Defense Forces are being augmented by Armenian Armed Forces as well as Armenian diaspora, communities of ethnic Armenians around the world which were largely formed by refugees of the Armenian Genocide.
Though a ceasefire brokered by Russia came into effect on October 10, conflict has continued. As of the writing of this article, Armenia has announced 1,177 servicemen killed and 21 captured. Azerbaijan has not released any of their official casualty figures, however, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has reported the deaths of 250 Syrian mercenaries. Both sides have reported civilian casualties and injuries totaling nearly 700. Additionally, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has reported some 40,000 Azerbaijani and 90,000 ethnic Armenians have been displaced as a result of the fighting.
In response to the war, System released their new songs to bring attention to the conflict that threatens their cultural homeland. Protect The Land was also released with its own music video depicting both diaspora Armenians and footage from the frontlines. “The time to do this is now, as together, the four of us have something extremely important to say as a unified voice,” reads the band’s statement on their website. “The music and lyrics speak for themselves. We need you to speak for Artsakh.”
The band is using their new music as a platform to raise funds through donations to the Aid for Artsakh Campaign under the Armenia Fund to provide aid to people who have been affected by the war. The band’s proceeds on purchases of the new songs are also going toward the Armenia Fund.
For the second time in two years, the Coast Guard is relaxing its policy on tattoos in what officials say is an effort to widen the pool of eligible service recruits.
According to a new policy document released Oct. 3, 2019, Coast Guard recruits and current service members may now sport chest tattoos as long as they are not visible above the collar of the Coast Guard operational dress uniform’s crew-neck T-shirt.
The new policy also allows a wider range of finger tattoos. One finger tattoo per hand is now authorized, although the location of the tattoo is still restricted. It must appear between the first and second knuckle. And ring tattoos, which were the only kind of finger tattoo previously authorized, will be counted as a hand’s finger tattoo, according to the new guidance. Thumb tattoos are still off-limits.
Finally, in a change from previous guidance, hand tattoos are also allowed. While palm tattoos remain out of bounds, Coasties and recruits can sport a tattoo on the back of the hand as long as it is no more than one inch in any dimension. One finger and one hand tattoo are allowed on each hand, according to the new policy.
The Coast Guard released a graphic to explain its new tattoo regulations.
“I am pleased to see the Coast Guard’s new tattoo policy reinforces a professional appearance to the public while adopting some of the very same tattoo standards that are now acceptable among the public,” Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Jason Vanderhaden said in a statement. “The new tattoo policy will expand our recruiting candidate pool and provide those already serving in the Coast Guard with a few new options.”
The Coast Guard last updated its tattoo policy in 2017 with rule tweaks that offered a little more leniency. Chest tattoos were allowed to creep up to one inch above the V-neck undershirt, where previously they had to remain hidden; ring tattoos were authorized.
Unlike some other services, the Coast Guard has not restricted tattoo size of percentage of body coverage on tattooable areas, but the 2017 policy stated that brands could be no larger than four by four inches and could not be located on the head, face or neck.
The other military services have all issued updates in recent years to address concerns in the active force and current trends in the recruitable population.
In 2016, then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter warned that services’ tattoo policies could be preventing otherwise eligible young people from serving. As the percentage of prospective recruits who can meet fitness, education and background standards shrinks, the service branches have even greater incentive to remove secondary barriers to service.
The Army loosened its tattoo policy in 2015, saying society’s view of body ink was changing; the Navy thrilled sailors with a significantly more lenient set of rules in 2016. The Marine Corps also released a relaxed 2016 tattoo update, and the Air Force did a 2017 about-face, allowing airmen to sport coveted sleeves.
Military officials have said they’re working to find the line between professionalism and practicality when it comes to tattoos.
“This is not an episode of [History Channel show] Vikings, where we’re tattooing our face. We’re not a biker gang, we’re not a rock and roll band. We’re not [Maroon 5 lead singer] Adam Levine,” then-Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller told Military.com in 2017. “You can get 70 percent of your body covered with ink and still be a Marine. Is that enough?”
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
Shrinking ice coverage in the Arctic has drawn the attention of NATO, Russia, and other countries to the high north, where the promise of more accessible waterways means potential military and commercial competition.
Since Russia’s 2014 seizure of Crimea and incursion in Ukraine, however, NATO members have been concerned about Moscow’s actions closer to home, and developments in recent weeks indicate the alliance is focusing on securing waterways around Europe, in the Baltic and Mediterranean seas and the eastern Atlantic — all areas that could be contested in a conflict with Russia.
Below, you can see what NATO is being warned about, and what the alliance is and isn’t doing to address it.
A Russian Ilyushin Il-22 Bizon and a Su-27 Flanker, flying along the Baltic coast, May 14, 2019.
(UK Ministry of Defense)
The Baltic Sea, bordered by six NATO member countries and with Russia’s second-largest city, St. Petersburg, at its eastern end, has always been a busy area.
Encounters between NATO forces and Russian forces at sea in the Baltic and in the skies over Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, where NATO members carry out air patrols, have been on the rise since 2014. (The air policing mission has actually been going on since 2004.)
That encounters include an incident this summer in which a Russian Su-27 fighter escorting Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu’s plane turned into a NATO jet, forcing it away.
These tensions have come with military buildup as well.
Starting in 2016, NATO deployed some 4,500 troops in battle groups to the Baltics and Poland. Since the end of 2017, Sweden, which like Finland is not part of NATO, has sent new military forces to Gotland Island, which it had withdrawn from in 2005.
In Kaliningrad, an exclave that is home to Russia’s Baltic Fleet, Moscow has deployed new weaponry, including nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, and upgraded facilities, including what appear to be active nuclear-weapon storage bunkers.
Summer 2019, Russia also set up a helicopter base on Gogland, a small island between Finland and Estonia. Estonian officials played down the military significance, but the base is still seen as a Russian move to assert its power in the region and keep its neighbors guessing.
The guided-missile destroyer USS Bainbridge participates in a photo exercise during exercise Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) in the Baltic Sea, June 9, 2018.
(US Navy/Mass Comm. Specialist 1st Class Theron J. Godbold)
NATO countries along the Baltic have sought a more robust presence, and Germany has taken the lead.
Among NATO members, Germany, which has been criticized for the paucity of its defense spending and the quality of its armed forces, has taken the lead and tried to bring NATO and the EU closer together on Baltic security.
Vice Adm. Rainer Brinkmann, deputy chief of the German navy, said in September 2019 that Russia was the “one main challenge” in the Baltic and that Western partners “must take appropriate measures to cope” and “to prevent the Baltic Sea from being a ‘mare clausum,'” or “closed sea.”
Like its neighbors, Russia has legitimate reasons to be in the Baltic, but the number of actors there, each with their own national and commercial interests, make it a delicate situation, according to Christopher Skaluba, director or the Transatlantic Security Initiative at the Atlantic Council.
“I think [the Russians] know that aggressive actions in the Baltic are likely to get the attention, in a way they probably didn’t want, of the NATO nations and Sweden and Finland.”
“The Baltic is pretty small place. There’s a lot of players. That piece of it gets really ugly really quick,” Skaluba told Business Insider in October 2019. “I think for lots of reasons, there are more incentives to avoid [conflict] than there are to … catalyze it.”
An F-35B fighter jet aboard the British aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, Oct. 13, 2019.
(LPhot Kyle Heller/UK Ministry of Defence)
A new battle of the Atlantic.
Russia’s navy is increasingly active in the North Atlantic, and though the level of that activity and the size of Russia’s navy don’t appear to reach that of the Cold War, it has set NATO on edge.
Growing tension between NATO members and Russia in the Atlantic has been called “the fourth battle of the Atlantic,” following World War I and II and the Cold War.
The UK in particular has struggled to keep up, calling on NATO allies to help track Russian subs thought to be lurking in and around British waters.
“In 2010, a Royal Navy ship was called on just once to respond to Russian navy ships approaching UK territorial waters. Last year we had to respond 33 times,” the UK’s then-defense minister, Gavin Williamson, said in May 2018.
The Royal Navy has built new aircraft carriers, equipping them with Britain’s first F-35s, and acquired US-made maritime patrol aircraft after scrapping its Nimrod patrol aircraft in 2010.
Royal Navy frigate HMS St Albans is currently the Nations on call warship for escorting foreign warships.
The UK and its allies in Europe want to keep “a critical choke point” between them open.
While any conflict in the Atlantic today is likely to look much different than previous battles, it’s likely to involve the English Channel and waters around it, especially the North Sea — at least that’s the concern of the five European countries who effectively revived the Cold War-era “Channel Committee” November 2019.
The pact signed on Nov. 7, 2019, by senior navy leaders from Germany, France, the UK, Belgium, and the Netherlands pledges to “harmonize” naval purchasing plans, potentially to include common procurement, according to Defense News.
But the countries also want to increase personnel exchanges and joint training and eventually recognize the professional qualifications of service members across the group.
“The Channel area is the front door to Central Europe and an important gate to the Baltic Sea,” the text of the pact says. “It is the critical choke point for the maritime traffic between the United Kingdom and continental Europe.”
The committee is also another military tether between mainland Europe and the UK, whose future relations with the rest of the continent remain in doubt amid the turmoil of Brexit.
The Mediterranean has also become a venue for what the US and others see as an emerging great-power competition.
NATO members in southern Europe have been focused on immigration from the Middle East and North Africa and the threat of terrorism emanating from those regions.
But Russian naval forces are a constant presence in the Mediterranean, traveling to and from Moscow’s bases in the Black Sea and and its base in Tartus, Syria, which is Russia’s only such facility outside the territory of the former Soviet Union.
With the ongoing civil war in Syria, the eastern Mediterranean has also become a venue for military operations, with Russian subs demonstrating their new ability to strike targets on land with missiles.
The Russian presence around the Mediterranean and Black seas, Iran’s presence in Syria, and antagonistic intra-alliance relations with Turkey all present security challenges for NATO, according to a recent Atlantic Council report.
“As the south becomes more congested and contested, and great-power competition intensifies, NATO defense, deterrence, and containment mission in the south is increasingly urgent and more complex,” the report states.
US Navy destroyer USS Carney fires it MK 45 5-inch lightweight gun at night while on patrol in the Mediterranean Sea, Sept. 11, 2016.
(US Navy photo by Mass Comm. Specialist 3rd Class Weston Jones)
The lack of a strategy in the Mediterranean could have more serious consequences for the alliance as a whole, according to one deputy secretary general.
NATO has made a lot progress improving its defense and deterrence against Russia since 2014, “but it was more talk than action when it came to addressing problems in the south,” Alexander Vershbow, a distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council and coauthor of the report, said during its presentation October 2019.
“This theme figured prominently in my farewell address to the North Atlantic Council three years ago, and unfortunately the situation hasn’t changed all that much since then,” added Vershbow, who was deputy secretary general of NATO and US ambassador to Russia.
According to the report, “many of the conventional defense and deterrence challenges associated with NATO’s east are now reemerging in the south,” including enhanced Russian anti-access/area-denial capabilities, provocative actions in the Black Sea, and hybrid activity on the ground.
Though NATO has taken steps to remedy its shortcomings in the Mediterranean — such as setting up a “hub of the south” at Joint Forces Command in Naples, Italy — establishing a maritime-focused enhanced southern presence there could be a way to counter Russia and sharing the burden of doing so among members, Vershbow said.
“Russia is back with a vengeance in the eastern Mediterranean and in the Black Sea,” which adds a geopolitical dimension to NATO’s need to project stability and bolster defense and deterrence, Vershbow added.
“The lack of an effective southern strategy could put alliance solidarity at risk if the publics in the southern NATO countries see the alliance as failing to address what they consider to be their priority concerns,” Vershbow said. “It could undermine their willingness to share the burdens of collective defense against Russia, and everybody loses in that scenario.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
September 11, 2001 means different things for different Americans. For some, the events of that date will forever be seared in their memories. For others, they were too young to know what was going on, yet they sensed something big had happened. For a younger generation, 9/11 is history. They read about it in textbooks that are absent the feelings of fear, anxiety, and stress that plagued so many Americans on that morning and the days following.
But, it’s an important date. It’s a date that represents sacrifice. Many people died, putting the lives of others before theirs. It’s a date that represents unity. Americans came together to offer up support to the families of the fallen. It also represents mistakes. Following the events of 9/11, Muslims and Middle-Eastern Americans had to weather the racial blowback that came from 19 men flying planes into the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania.
What’s important is that we remember. And that our kids know what happened that day, so the sacrifices, the story of Americans coming together, as well as the mistakes we made are not forgotten. And a great way to share memories is through stories. In her debut middle-school novel, Caroline Brooks DuBois gives us The Places We Sleep. It’s a story about a young girl navigating a new school (because her dad is in the Army) during the events of September 11, 2001. I recently interviewed Caroline to learn more about her book.
WATM: This novel touches on so many different themes: 9/11, racism, being a military kid, being a middle schooler, and being a young girl in middle school. Could you talk a little bit about the story you tell in The Places We Sleep?
Caroline: With Abbey, I attempted to create a middle school character who is as multifaceted as the pre-teens and teens I know and teach (and adore). Middle schoolers currently are living through very complex times, yet they are still concerned about their complexion, their hair, what to wear, who said what to whom, getting embarrassed in front of their peers, and so much more. In the story, Abbey navigates challenging world events along with the struggles of middle school and adolescence. Currently, teens and children are facing their own difficult world events, so I hope readers will see how Abbey perseveres and strives to be a good friend, to be kind, and to express empathy and tolerance to others.
Although I did not grow up in a military family, both of my grandfathers served in the military, as well as both of my brothers, my brother-in-law, and my sister-in-law. In the years that followed 9/11, my brothers and my brother-in-law were all called into active duty and deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq. These events were the seed for Abbey’s story. I knew I wanted to write about how world events have rippling effects on individuals and families in unexpected ways. But I also wanted to tell a story about a girl with whom readers could relate. Abbey’s story is about being a military child, but it’s also about identity, loss and grief, creating art in the face of tragedy, and friendship.
WATM: Who should pick this book up? Is this a book a parent could read with their middle schooler to talk about 9/11?
Caroline: Middle grade students I’ve taught have had only a fuzzy understanding of the events of 9/11 and are curious and want to know more. There are several great books for young readers on 9/11 that I’ve incorporated into my teaching over the years, as I’ve found reading stories offers an opening to difficult subjects. I hope The Places We Sleep will spark curiosity in young readers about 9/11 and the monumental lessons we learned and are still learning from that tragedy.
Although the story is written for middle-school age kids, adults have told me the story resonates with them as well. It allows readers to visit, or revisit, 9/11 in the safe space of a story. The current national trauma of the Coronavirus pandemic may have a similar traumatic impact on youth and adults. Reading with a child about a dark time in our history is one way to open up conversation on important topics such as resiliency, strength, attitude, and hope. My hope is that the book will leave readers with a memorable story about a girl who may not be all that different from themselves. If they see Abbey journey through difficult times and come out stronger, they too may be inspired and optimistic in the face of their generation’s own difficult times.
WATM: You chose to tell the story in Verse. Could you talk about that decision and why you think it will appeal to readers?
Caroline: As a teacher and parent, I’ve noticed the appeal of shorter and/or alternative forms of story-telling (e.g., books in verse, flash fiction, graphic novels, epistolaries, etc.), undoubtedly influenced by technology and reading online. Even though I have a love for long form and traditional novels, I’ve noticed how books in verse can create more white space between scenes as well as playful or dramatic visual messages with syntax, punctuation, and form, which can motivate or hook adolescent readers.
Abbey’s story came to me naturally in poetry, perhaps as a lyrical way to process 9/11 and my brothers’ deployment, but also likely because I’d recently completed my MFA in poetry. The snapshots or scenes that poems allow you to write provided me with the perfect medium for Abbey’s story.
Books in verse make great shared read-aloud opportunities. You’re never too old to be read to or to enjoy reading aloud to someone else. Where you may not have time to read an entire chapter with someone, there’s always time for a poem or two.
WATM: On top of all the other crazy events in the book, Abbey also deals with the struggle of puberty. A lot of middle school books gloss over this. But, it’s a main part of Abbey’s story. Could you discuss why you chose to address it in your novel?
Caroline: When I was a pre-teen, one of the few sources for making sense of puberty was Judy Blume novels, which we passed covertly between friends (Think: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret and Then Again, Maybe I Won’t). Changing bodies were cringe-worthy and carried heavy feelings of shame. Not enough has changed since then. I should know: I taught 7th grade for three years recently, and I saw it when girls cornered me at my desk to signal with their eyes they needed an emergency bathroom break, or when boys shut down in class conversations, avoiding branding themselves as not part of the pack. Novels that talk about puberty openly and other difficult issues are lifesavers for youth. Now more than ever, young readers need to be able to see themselves in books. Sometimes it takes a character in a book to show a reader they are not alone. Forewarning, my second reason is a little cerebral and a slight spoiler regarding Abbey’s character arc. Through her journey, Abbey makes a connection between coming of age (a.k.a, getting her period) and possessing the power to create life. She contemplates how the terrorists on 9/11 chose to destroy life. Coming of age brings with it many choices about how to act, and sometimes acting with integrity and authenticity means not following your peers—and that’s a true test of character.
WATM: Outside of classical literature, this is the first time I’ve ever read a novel in verse. Since you got your MFA in poetry, what are some of the must-reads in this genre?
Caroline: In this space, I’ll mainly mention notable middle-grade novelists who write in verse, but there are also numerous young adult novelists who write in verse as well. Disclaimer: These are a few of my own personal favorites and there are many others not included: Kwame Alexander (sports-themed Crossover and Booked), Sharon Creech (Love that Dog and Hate that Cat), Thanhha Lai (Inside Out Back Again), and Jacqueline Woodson (Brown Girl Dreaming). Additionally, Ellen Hopkins is a must-read author of books in verse for young adults; she tackles challenging topics such as drug addiction and mental illness in her unapologetic, in-your-face verse. One of my all-time favorite novels in verse is Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse, which tells the story of 14-year-old Billie Jo, who struggles to help her family survive the Dust Bowl.