High stakes on the frozen tundra of remote Alaska - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

High stakes on the frozen tundra of remote Alaska

This post was sponsored by Kensington Books. The author’s comments below on the novels are his own.

Most people are never more than an arm-length from civilization. They live in their apartments, suburban homes, or occasionally they live a short drive out of a town. But there are still places out there that are remote and removed enough to truly be considered the frontier. There is civilization of a sort there filled with rougher men and women for whom the questions of past – When will I eat next? Is that figure on the horizon friend or foe? Will I make it through the winter? – are real questions.

It turns out such a setting is also a great setup for a murder mystery.


High stakes on the frozen tundra of remote Alaska

Stone Cross is a new release and second in the Arliss Cutter series by Marc Cameron. Marc is a former United States Marshal and popular author of multiple series including three novels in the New York Times bestselling Jack Ryan series. Marc is also a resident of Alaska, something which adds verisimilitude to this new entry.

In this new atmospheric thriller, Cutter and his partner get assigned to protect a US Judge traveling to adjudicate a case in a remote Yupik village in western Alaska. Someone in the village has sent a letter threatening the life of the Judge and Cutter has to navigate the suspicions and resentment of the local indigenous people to protect the Judge from harm. Of course, complications ensue and it appears the safety of the Judge is only a secondary story.

High stakes on the frozen tundra of remote Alaska

The primary conflict of the novel revolves around the murder of a local handyman and the disappearance of a young husband and wife from the lodge the three of them were caretaking. Cameron’s characters have their endurance tested in bringing the case to its resolution.

Stone Cross does an outstanding job of establishing a dark and foreboding place where human beings feel like visitors to something older and more primeval. Everything feels more dangerous in this novel and even the characters begin to take on the stark and sharp-edged characteristics of the setting. It is a case where the simplicity and bleakness reduces each character to primal archetypes where survival is earned rather than given.

Ultimately this book works as a stand-alone but there are strong hints of continued Alaskan adventures ahead for Arliss Cutter. Based on this strength of this novel, one would do well to go back and pick up the first novel Open Carry and be ready for inevitable future entries in this series.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Meet Julie Golob: Army veteran, professional shooter, NRA board member

When she was 8 years old, Julie Golob got an unexpected Christmas present from her grandfather — he had bought all his grandchildren life memberships to the National Rifle Association.

“He was an all-around Rush Limbaugh guy, World War II veteran, the guy back in the ’80s wearing the NRA cap when it wasn’t so popular. We weren’t exactly thrilled,” Golob said, laughing, “but I knew how much it meant to him, something he so believed in.”

Decades later, Golob is thankful for a gift that ended up reflecting so much of where life would take her.


High stakes on the frozen tundra of remote Alaska

Julie Golob is a decorated professional shooter for Team Smith Wesson.

(Photo courtesy of Julie Golob)

Golob is now not only a recently seated member of the NRA’s Board of Directors, she is also a successful author and one of the most decorated female competitive shooters in America. She is the only woman to have won all seven divisions of the United States Practical Shooting Association (USPSA) National Championships, as well as a multiple International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC) Ladies Classic title winner. In 2017, she won the gold in the Lady Classic division at the IPSC Handgun World Shoot.

Her career in competitive shooting began as a teenager in Seneca Falls, New York, where her dad taught her to shoot for fun and competition. She was recruited by the U.S. Army to join their shooting team after high school by enlisting to serve in the military police.

“The Army marksmanship unit was the cream of the crop,” Golob said, “so having a dedicated unit for shooters was definitely exciting. It was one of those things that I really needed to make the commitment for, signing up for five years to be a soldier in the Army.”

High stakes on the frozen tundra of remote Alaska

An AMU poster of Golob from 1999.

(Courtesy of Julie Golob)

But commitment is one thing Golob has never lacked when it comes to shooting. “Even as a kid,” Golob remembered, “I always wanted to be the best at something, and I was always frustrated that I couldn’t find out what that ‘best’ was. But when I found shooting, I realized that if I worked hard at it, I could set goals and I could meet them. And it’s that constant goal setting and achieving those goals that makes me feel very fulfilled. It gives me an empowered confidence.”

After her time in the Army, Golob took a break from shooting with the intention of becoming an English teacher — but she missed it.

“I missed the people in the sport the most,” Golob said. “I rediscovered all the reasons I enjoyed shooting from when I was a kid instead of doing it as a JOB job. I just did it for fun … and then it became a job again.”

High stakes on the frozen tundra of remote Alaska

Golob is the only 7 Division USPSA Ladies National Champion; she also has over 140 major wins in state, regional, and international competitions and more than 50 national and world titles.

(Photo courtesy of Julie Golob)

Golob also parlayed her shooting success into a second career as an author. Her first book, “Shoot: Your Guide to Shooting and Competition,” is a primer for anyone interested in learning more about the shooting sports.

Her second book grew out of the other most important role she plays: the mother of two young daughters. So she wrote “Toys, Tools, Guns, and Rules.”

“I was always finding resources that were for boys, dads and sons specifically,” Golob said. “And firearm safety is universal. It should be something every child learns. My husband is in law enforcement, so it’s a part of our lives. We always stop and answer the questions, they always know the rules, and it’s not anything that’s taboo.”

Her older daughter was 9 years old when they competed together in their first Empire Championship. “I love being a mom,” Golob said enthusiastically. “So being able to bring my daughter with me to a few competitions here and there is really icing on the cake.”

High stakes on the frozen tundra of remote Alaska

When not shooting, Golob participates in NRATV and posts tips and tricks to her own JulieG.TV YouTube channel. Golob also advocates for the Second Amendment as a guest on podcasts and TV shows.

(Photo courtesy of Julie Golob)

As another platform to further the understanding of and support for the shooting sports, Golob ran for and was elected to the NRA’s Board of Directors. She hopes the position will allow her to advocate to increase participation in shooting sports.

“I never even realized how many wonderful programs we have until I became a director, but we really need to connect the dots between those programs and the people who might be interested in them,” Golob said. “It’s not an ad on social media and that sort of thing — we really need to get back to that grassroots level, help the local clubs connect and reach the people in their communities.”

Although approximately only 10 percent of gun owners belong to the NRA, Golob is bullish on their role as “the lead organization, fighting the fight at the highest levels.” When asked why some gun owners might be skeptical about joining, she mused, “I think it comes down to identifying with a specific group. I do understand — I don’t agree with absolutely every message we put out. But we have 5 million members. That’s a huge number of voices. As a collective group, we are very, very powerful.”

High stakes on the frozen tundra of remote Alaska

“I love the thrill of competing and testing my skills on a challenging course of fire,” Golob wrote on her website’s blog at the end of the 2018 shooting season.

(Photo courtesy of Julie Golob)

Golob also is sympathetic to people who do not view the Second Amendment in the same way that she and the rest of the NRA’s membership do. “At the end of the day we all want the same things,” Golob said. “We want people to be safe, we want people to feel the world is a good place to live in, and we don’t want horrible things to happen. It’s just the direction of how we get there. We need to maybe not head in the opposite direction but maybe just take a whole new direction.”

To Golob, that new direction involves open communication between dissenting groups. While she is uncompromising on her wholesale support for the Second Amendment, she recognizes that the NRA may need to work harder to spread their message to skeptics. “We need to do a better job of connecting with people who have that emotional reaction and let them know that we are all on the same side,” she sad. “But the challenge is getting in the room. We’ve got to get in the room.”

At an age where many professional athletes hit “the mark of the slow decline,” as Golob laughingly described it, she somehow finds a way to balance her responsibilities as a shooter, a mom, an author, and now an NRA board member.

“When I was in the military,” she said, “I went to 24 matches in a year. And I don’t know if I want to live that life right now.”

SHOT Show 2019!!! | JulieG.TV

www.youtube.com

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

US military is America’s heaviest drinking profession

“This comes as a surprise,” said no one, ever, of a new analysis that finds military members drink alcohol more than workers in any other job.

A review of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s survey data from 2013 through 2017 by a behavioral health company has found that troops spend more days a year consuming alcohol than people in any other industry.

They also binge-drink more, imbibing at least four or five alcoholic beverages a day in one sitting at least 41 days a year, the most of any occupation. That’s the CDC’s definition of binge-drinking, depending on gender. The military personnel surveyed said they binge-drank about a third of the days they consumed alcohol.


Analyzing responses from 27,000 people in 25 industries, Delphi Behavioral Health Group, a Florida-based substance use treatment company, found that members of the military reported drinking alcohol 130 days out of the year, followed by miners, 112 days per year, and construction workers, 106 days. Miners were also second in binge-drinking, doing so 38 days out of the year, and construction workers were third, at 33 days.

High stakes on the frozen tundra of remote Alaska

(U.S. Air Force photo by Samuel King Jr.)

At the low end of the spectrum, health care and social assistance workers had a drink roughly 68 days per year.

For those who track the Pentagon’s yearly behavioral health surveys and media reports of arrests of service members for crimes ranging from misdemeanors to cases of sexual assault and even murder, the findings support what has been known for decades: the services have a drinking problem, and according to the Delphi report, it appears to be worsening.

The report noted that military personnel in 2014 reported drinking fewer than 100 drinks per year. Now, that number tops 130.

“People in the armed forces typically have ranked the highest every year since 2014,” said Ryan Serpico, Delphi’s lead researcher. “It’s shocking, but not shocking … [These results] enforce what we already know, but again, they shine a light on this, saying it’s a problem and we need to do something about it.”

The study was based on the CDC’s National Health Interview Surveys from 2013 through 2017, the latest year data was available. As with any study based on survey results, however, it comes with some caveats, including potential bias from respondents who chose to participate and their ability to accurately describe their drinking behaviors the previous years.

Also, of the nearly 27,000 survey participants, only 81 said they were in the military. So the findings could simply reflect the habits of 81 soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen who like to drink. A lot.

“I don’t know how the CDC executed the surveys,” Serpico said, “but when it comes to sample size number, we typically look for 26 respondents in order to make any judgements on the data.”

High stakes on the frozen tundra of remote Alaska

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Adam Dublinske)

Still, the findings echo the results of a survey frequently conducted by Rand Corp., a Washington-based think tank, for the Defense Department called the Health-Related Behavior Survey, or HRBS. While results from the 2018 survey have not been published, the 2015 survey found that 30 percent of troops reported being binge drinkers, and one in three service members met criteria that indicated they engaged in “hazardous drinking or possible alcohol use disorder.”

According to the 2015 HRBS, the percentage of these behaviors was highest in the Marine Corps, where hazardous drinking — described as drinking that results in negative consequences like risky behavior, missed work days or serious personal problems — was reported by nearly half the service.

The Air Force had the lowest percentages of these drinking issues, according to the survey.

Excessive drinking has been estimated to cost the Defense Department id=”listicle-2634691247″.1 billion per year in lost productivity and medical treatment. It also is thought to result in the loss of roughly 320,000 work days a year and lead to roughly 34,400 arrests per year.

Despite the impact of alcohol use, however, 68% of active duty troops said they perceived the military culture of being supportive of drinking, and 42% said their supervisor doesn’t discourage alcohol use, according to the HRBS.

Bri Godwin, a media relations associate with Delphi, said there appears to be acceptance of excessive drinking in the military but added that service members can take control of their habits — and those of others — by being mindful.

“There needs to be a conversation on drinking and how much it affects you or someone else. Are you mindful of the consequences — how is it affecting you mentally, physically and financially. You have to do a personal inventory, see how it’s affecting you and determine what you need to do to fix it,” she said.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

US Army Green Berets trained some airmen — here’s what they put them through

Throughout the Pacific Theater, US military units must overcome jungle terrain riddled with cliffs, poisonous creatures, dense foliage yielding mere yards of visibility, and muddy slopes that threaten to launch anyone down 30-foot ravines of twisted roots and jagged rocks.

Welcome to the jungle.

US Army Green Berets from 1st Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne), invited Team Kadena airmen to train with them at the US Marine Corps Jungle Warfare Training Center (JWTC) at Camp Gonsalves, Okinawa, Japan.

“The Special Forces detachment incorporated airmen from around Okinawa to attend a training exercise to bridge the gap in small unit tactics, communication techniques, and patient extraction procedures between our airmen and the Green Berets,” said US Air Force Staff Sgt. Michael Triana, an independent duty medical technician paramedic (IDMT-P) from the 67th Fighter Squadron.

“Each airman is trained in a different specialty providing various perspectives to achieve the tactical objectives presented by the detachment in the jungle.”


High stakes on the frozen tundra of remote Alaska

A US Army Green Beret and Air Force Staff Sgt. Mike Triana establish a security perimeter during a small unit tactics exercise, at the Jungle Warfare Training Center, Camp Gonsalves, Japan, Aug. 21, 2019.

(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Reft)

The Kadena airmen’s familiarity and experience with deployments to countries such the Philippines and Thailand enabled them to withstand the Green Berets’ jungle training program. The training enabled Triana and other airmen to expand their deployment skillsets in a severely restrictive jungle environment.

“As an IDMT-P the didactic aspect of the training improved our capabilities to deliver immediate medical care at the point of injury,” said Triana. “Learning patient extraction techniques provides the capability to safely gain access to an injured patient and remove them from an adverse situation such as a cliff or ravine.”

High stakes on the frozen tundra of remote Alaska

(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Reft)

This integration enabled the airmen to train in basic US Army Infantry squad and platoon tactics for the first time while simultaneously allowing the Special Forces detachment to hone its combat lethality and readiness posture for high intensity conflict against a near-peer adversary, according to a 1-1 SFG (A) command vision document.

“Small unit tactics and patient extraction training provided the skills necessary to perform the duties required in a tactical element or combat scenario,” said Triana. “This training opportunity has enhanced our readiness to respond to humanitarian relief efforts and deploy to a declared theater of armed conflict.”

High stakes on the frozen tundra of remote Alaska

Team Kadena airmen receive weapon familiarization training from a US Army Green Beret after a land-navigation course at the Jungle Warfare Training Center, Camp Gonsalves, Japan, Aug. 20, 2019.

(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Reft)

High stakes on the frozen tundra of remote Alaska

US Air Force Master Sgt. Thomas Donahue establishes a security perimeter during a small unit tactics exercise at the Jungle Warfare Training Center, Camp Gonsalves, Japan, Aug. 21, 2019.

(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Reft)

They are capable of conducting the full spectrum of special operations to identify and target threats to US national interests.

“We deploy to countries throughout the INDOPACOM area of responsibility to bilaterally train with partner nations. This partnership enhances capabilities to combat internal threats from violent extremist organizations or other hostile actors,” said a Special Forces detachment commander.

“This enables us to enhance not only our readiness and lethality to respond to a contingency or crises scenario, but also provides our foreign counterparts the skills they need to protect their sovereignty.”

High stakes on the frozen tundra of remote Alaska

(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Reft)

The Special Forces detachment is optimizing the joint training opportunities present on Okinawa, Japan. Working with adjacent military units from the Air Force, Marine Corps, and Army allows the detachment to enhance its advisory capacity and maintain readiness before deploying to a foreign country.

“Training with these airmen opens different channels in terms of capabilities, resources, and training value,” said a Special Forces medical sergeant.

“For our Air Force counterparts, it provides a valuable opportunity for them to learn tactical skills they may never have been taught. For us, seeing them motivated, aggressively engaging in these drills, and advancing in their understanding of small unit tactics is valuable feedback for an instructor and adviser on our skills.”

High stakes on the frozen tundra of remote Alaska

US Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force service members conduct intravenous hydration during a multi-day training event at the Jungle Warfare Training Center, Camp Gonsalves, Japan, Aug. 22, 2019.

(US Army/1st Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group)

The Marine Corps JWTC further enhances the Green Berets’ mission capabilities, offering a low cost, highly versatile training platform across more than 8,700 acres of heavily vegetated, mountainous terrain, according to the JWTC cadre.

“In preparation for high-intensity conflict against a near-peer adversary, our training methodology must adapt from our experiences conducting counter terrorism and counter insurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said the Special Forces detachment company commander.

“The opportunity to enhance our relationship with the Marine cadre at the JWTC has enabled my teams to train in the jungle, reinforcing the skills we require for this near-peer high intensity conflict.”

High stakes on the frozen tundra of remote Alaska

US Air Force Staff Sgt. Nathan Shelton guards his fire team’s retreat during a break-contact combat exercise as part of a multi-day training event at the Jungle Warfare Training Center at Camp Gonsalves, Japan, Aug. 22, 2019.

(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Reft)

High stakes on the frozen tundra of remote Alaska

A US Army Green Beret coordinates fire-team movements during a break-contact combat exercise as part of a multi-day training event at the Jungle Warfare Training Center, Camp Gonsalves, Japan, Aug. 22, 2019.

(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Reft)

High stakes on the frozen tundra of remote Alaska

US Army Green Berets conduct a multi-day field training event with Team Kadena airmen at the Jungle Warfare Training Center, Camp Gonsalves, Japan, Aug. 21, 2019.

(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Reft)

“Every country we operate in, we enhance our partnerships and alliances with our foreign counterparts,” said the SF detachment commander.

“When it comes to security, we are the preferred partner choice that shares their values and principles. The US is ready to assist them in preserving their sovereignty, and will maintain the rules-based free and open Indo-Pacific that has assured an unparalleled prosperity in the last 30 years,” the commander said.

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

The 13 funniest military memes for the week of March 8th

So apparently there are talks within the Senate to give each troop who deployed under the Global War on Terrorism $2,500 as part of the AFGHAN Service Act, which would also negotiate the end of the conflict.

On one hand, sure. I’d love the money. Bills suck ass and cash is king. On the other hand, well, let’s look at the lettering of the bill. It’s a one-time payment, and it’d be sent out to every troop who’s deployed anywhere under the Global War on Terrorism. I can only imagine the impending sh*tstorm that’d come when everyone got that check in the mail.

Deploying one time to Kuwait would get you the money, deploying multiple times to Afghanistan still only gets you one check and the older vets who served before 9/11 get nothing. See where I’m going here? The veteran community will turn into the freakin’ Thunderdome. But then again… that is a rent payment…


Anyways, enjoy some memes before the ensuing sh*tstorm!

High stakes on the frozen tundra of remote Alaska

(Meme via Keep Calm and Call for Artillery)

High stakes on the frozen tundra of remote Alaska

(Meme via Lost in the Sauce)

High stakes on the frozen tundra of remote Alaska

(Meme via Pop Smoke)

High stakes on the frozen tundra of remote Alaska

(Meme via Not CID)

High stakes on the frozen tundra of remote Alaska

(Meme via Coast Guard Memes)

High stakes on the frozen tundra of remote Alaska

(Meme via US Army WTF Moments)

High stakes on the frozen tundra of remote Alaska

(Meme via Air Force Nation Humor)

High stakes on the frozen tundra of remote Alaska

(Meme via Heretically Humid History Posting)

High stakes on the frozen tundra of remote Alaska

(Meme via Private News Network)

High stakes on the frozen tundra of remote Alaska

(Meme via Sh*t My LPO Says)

High stakes on the frozen tundra of remote Alaska

(Meme via Lance Corpsman)

High stakes on the frozen tundra of remote Alaska

(Meme via The Salty Soldier)

High stakes on the frozen tundra of remote Alaska

(Meme via Weapons of Meme Destruction)

MIGHTY CULTURE

The Road Less Traveled: Wali Tasleem’s Journey From Afghan Commando to Successful American

There’s an old saying that the best things in life are worth waiting for. For Mohammad Wali Tasleem, born into the chaos of war, all he ever wanted was a safe place to call home.

Growing up in Afghanistan, finding peace and serenity wasn’t easy. Tasleem’s earliest memories involve death and tragedy, stories seemingly unfathomable to most of us, but all too common and relatable to Tasleem and his family and friends.

At an early age, he saw his relatives fight against the Soviet invasion of his homeland. He vividly remembers being on the run and exiled to Pakistan during his childhood, as if it were only yesterday. No matter where Tasleem and his family turned, they couldn’t evade the perils of war. He knew there was a hard choice he had to make, but it was one he was willing to commit his entire life to.

At the age of 17, Tasleem took up the call to arms and enlisted in the Afghan Army — embarking on the fight against tyranny and terror, just as his ancestors had done. Fighting for his loved ones, fighting for his country, and fighting for a place to call home became his calling. In over a decade’s worth of service, based on his skill, diligence, and honor, Tasleem ascended to the ranks of major and company commander. Moreover, he became one of the most trusted and reliable leaders for joint Afghan-US efforts combating the Taliban in the region.

It was during those high-profile endeavors that he crossed paths with Black Rifle Coffee Company CEO Evan Hafer and Jeff Kirkham. Little did Tasleem know that their bond of brotherhood forged in the midst of war would provide him with a life-changing opportunity down the road — but only after he had arrived in the United States in search of his own version of the American dream.

“We were together for a long time in Afghanistan,” Tasleem recently told Coffee or Die Magazine. “They are my brothers. They always had my back. They still do. That’s why me and my family are here in Utah. But things weren’t always as great as they are now.”

High stakes on the frozen tundra of remote Alaska
Photo courtesy of Wali Tasleem.

Unbeknownst to Hafer and Kirkham, Tasleem, his wife, and their five children arrived in the United States in February 2015. Two years after applying for a special immigration visa, they eventually settled in Charlottesville, Virginia. At long last, Tasleem and his family didn’t have to worry about being targeted by the Taliban or becoming casualties of war. But arriving in a new country completely foreign to them presented a handful of unique challenges that were hard to overcome.

“I came from a very well-to-do family in Afghanistan. We helped out a lot of people. We had a nice car and house, but when I came here we lost that,” Tasleem said. “We came here to live a safe life but didn’t have the comforts of back home. We were starting over. It was hard.”

Tasleem recalled the numerous struggles they endured upon arriving in the United States. First and foremost, a stable job was hard to come by. After working for several months as a security guard, Tasleem began working full-time at a gas station. While he was thankful for the opportunity, it wasn’t the type of job that could support his family.

High stakes on the frozen tundra of remote Alaska
Photo courtesy of Wali Tasleem.

On top of that, the neighborhood they lived in was rough. Their public housing sector had a high frequency of crime; drive-by shootings were a regular occurrence. After fleeing Afghanistan, the Tasleem family now had to endure worries about their safety in their newfound home in the United States. A little over a year into their journey in America, Tasleem and his wife were beginning to have second thoughts and were considering moving back overseas.

“We were having such a hard time. My wife and I knew we couldn’t go back to Afghanistan, but I had reached out to my youngest brother in India and told him about our life here,” Tasleem said. “We had made plans to move there, but things changed when I reconnected with Jeff and Evan.”

Tasleem recalled reaching out one evening to Kirkham, whom he had serendipitously connected with on social media. When Kirkham learned about Tasleem’s situation, he promptly reached out to Hafer in order to do whatever it took to help their friend. In no time, Tasleem was headed to Utah to meet up with his friends at Black Rifle Coffee Company headquarters — men whom he hadn’t seen in a very long time. 

High stakes on the frozen tundra of remote Alaska
Photo courtesy of Wali Tasleem.

The rest, as they say, is history. Just when Tasleem was about ready to give up on his pursuit of the American dream, his long-lost friends at BRCC inspired him to do otherwise. They offered him a job and a means to move his family from Virginia to Utah.

“I called my wife and turned on the camera,” he said. “I showed her pictures of the mountains and joked with her, ‘Look, I’m in Afghanistan.’ But that’s when I told her, ‘We don’t have to move back home or to India, I found my brothers and have a job here in Utah. We are going to be so happy.’”

Over the past three years, life couldn’t have been better for Tasleem and his family. He started out in the company’s print shop, and his hard work and leadership skills earned him a big promotion after just a year with the company. Today, he is tasked with the responsibility of being the facility manager at the BRCC roasting plant in Salt Lake City. 

“Maintenance and general contracting, renovation, remodeling, things like that. Inside and outside the building, I’ll take care of everything,” he said.

But that’s not all Tasleem has strived to accomplish. He, alongside his brothers at BRCC, has helped move six other Afghans who served with him overseas to the United States — a testament to the company’s mission of giving back to those who have served and put their lives on the line for a greater purpose.

High stakes on the frozen tundra of remote Alaska
Wali Tasleem with Black Rifle Coffee vice president and co-founder Mat Best. Photo courtesy of Wali Tasleem.

“There are six other Afghans here that BRCC has helped like me. There are seven of us now,” Tasleem said. “Their stories are similar to mine. They were soldiers and interpreters who served with us over in Afghanistan. I am happy they are here with us. They are as important here and as respected as they were back there. It’s an amazing feeling to have them here.”

While Tasleem’s commitments at BRCC keeps him busy, he and his growing family (now with seven children, six boys and a girl) have taken advantage of the beauty and majesty of mountainous Utah, which reminds them a lot of Kabul and their home in Afghanistan. In his free time Tasleem enjoys taking his family hiking and exploring the outdoors, as well as getting together often for picnics. 

Tasleem also serves as president of the local Afghan community, which has several hundred families in the greater Salt Lake City area, and has played an integral role in helping them assimilate to life in America.

After years of fighting against and enduring never-ending terror, the Tasleem family is finally living a peaceful life — which is all they ever wanted.

“My three years in Utah with Black Rifle Coffee Company have given so much positive change to my life” he said. “I’m so thankful for Evan, Jeff, Mat [Best] and everybody else here. It’s not just a great company. It’s a brotherhood, it’s a family. I couldn’t be happier, and I’m excited about what we can accomplish together in 2021.”

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Here’s one of the hardest Army courses you’ve never heard of

In the thick heat of a Missouri summer, the number of Army Engineer Dive School dropouts rises faster than the steamy temperature.

“Does anyone want to DOR (drop out on request)?” said Staff Sgt. Andrew Holdner, as soldiers in soaked combat uniforms push through the pool’s waters in the early hours of a muggy July morning.

Holdner, a diving cadre instructor, looks over at the soldiers struggling in the pool. Two raise their hands. Four leave the class before noon.


Army has divers?

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By the time the physical training session finished in the late afternoon, another five followed.

One day into the first week of Engineer Diver Phase I course, a class of 12 has dwindled to two: the first, a soldier who had already passed the course two years ago. He left the Army and worked his way back. The other: a soldier who struggled swimming the endurance laps necessary to be a deep-sea diver but passed other aspects of the course, including the classroom lessons and physical training exercises.

The cuts come swiftly. Some quit out of their own accord. Others simply did not meet the rigid standards of the course. The Army designed it this way; to weed out the weak-minded, weak-willed and those unable to remain calm during extended hours underwater. In maritime conditions, Army divers must be prepared to act in seconds; they must react to sudden changes in currents, waves and the elements.

High stakes on the frozen tundra of remote Alaska

Staff Sgt. Andrew Holdner pours water on students as they attempt to complete flutter kicks. The water simulates the sensations of drowning. The exercise tests students’ ability to perform under extreme duress.

(Photo Credit: Joe Lacdan)

More than 90 percent of students won’t advance past the school’s first phase at Fort Leonard Wood. Among those who didn’t make the first week: recruits who had years of competitive swimming experience and former high school athletes.

The instructors know oceans, rivers and lakes can be a brutally cold, unforgiving places.

They attempt to make the course as unforgiving. At Davidson Fitness Center’s 25-meter pool, divers face two crucial initiation tests. Holdner said the majority of students don’t make it past these two exercises.

The first, students must swim the width of the pool in a single breath — underwater. Then the new recruits jump off a high dive board, surface, and swim to the far side of the pool and back and tread water for 40 minutes.

High stakes on the frozen tundra of remote Alaska

Pfc. Nolan Hurrish, right, emerges from the pool with other students during an Army engineer diving training exercise at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.

(Photo Credit: Joe Lacdan)

During the first half, students keep their heads out of water while using their hands and feet. During the second 20 minutes, they perform the “dead man’s float” — a survival technique where soldiers bend at the waist facing the water with arms out while holding their breath, simulating a floating corpse. When they need to breathe, they collapse arms and legs at the same time to raise their head above the water before dipping their faces back in the water.

In the second test, soldiers must swim 500 yards in 12 minutes and 30 seconds using breast stroke or side stroke, then do 50 pushups, 50 curl ups and six pullups. Finally, they must run a mile and a half in 12:30 or less.

As students attempt each exercise, they face the possibility of being dropped from the course and being reclassified into another career field.

“Every single time I’ve got to drop somebody,” said Sgt. 1st Class Eric Bailey, the lead instructor. “I feel bad because I know that they got into something that they knew nothing about. Because we’re a small field, very few people know that we exist.”

Students spend up to three and a half hours per day in the water, but also spend time in the classroom, learning about diving physics and how to maintain their equipment.

Dive instructors put students through a series of rites of passage, and ultimately test whether students can remain calm in situations that often cause heightened panic. The first such test came on the third day of training.

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In addition to remaining calm underwater and developing breathing skills, diving school students must maintain rigid physical fitness standards.

(Photo Credit: Joe Lacdan)

Test of Wills

A soldier’s exasperating screams echoed in the swimming complex as he struggled to retrieve his equipment at the bottom of the pool. Instructors removed the diver’s mask, fins and air regulator and tossed them into the deep end of the pool. When the course began earlier that week, he lagged behind classmates during endurance laps.

Now at 1:30 p.m., the weather conditions in central Missouri hovered at around 95 degrees.

Inside the swimming complex the heat and humidity make the poolside area feel like a pressure cooker, not making the training any easier. During the test, instructors rip off pieces of the students’ scuba gear. soldiers must descend 14 feet and retrieve the gear in a single breath.

Holdner and Bailey bobbed at the surface, shouting instructions. They slapped water into the faces of the two remaining students in an attempt to simulate the unpredictable sway of an ocean current.

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Pfc. Stephen Olinger dons swimming fins before a training exercise at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., in July 2018.

(Photo Credit: Joe Lacdan)

Here both instructors attempted to escalate the stress level to a fever pitch. Their screams, combined with the splashing water, simulate what instructors call a “rough sea state.” On missions, a diver’s rig might fail and they would no longer be able to breathe. Or divers may get bumped by an obstruction, falling debris, marine life or land they didn’t see. The current can also knock their air regulator off their suit.

When faced with the possibility of drowning, the diving instructors said water fills a swimmer’s nostrils, invoking feelings of nausea and sometimes vomiting. It can cause extreme panic, breaking down even the best of athletes and the most confident swimmers.

“We say water is the great equalizer,” Bailey said. “We have plenty of people that come here that are great physical specimens … They can do everything on land … But then, you put them in the water and guess what? They fall apart. They become two different people.”

Water can create extreme panic causing soldiers to lose their bearing, forcibly shoving fellow swimmers out of the way in order to reach for the shore. The violence of the water currents can push some soldiers to the edge.

“If you’re not comfortable,” Bailey said. “Water will bring out the worst in people.”

Bailey, a soldier with a neatly-combed crew cut and a stocky, fit build, teaches the class with a cool demeanor. He barks instruction with stern authority, but minutes later will crack a joke to put the students at ease.

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Army divers must be able to communicate with the crew above before going on a deep-sea dive. Though they must operate underwater with little instruction, a deep-sea diver will have the only view of the operation.

(Photo Credit: Joe Lacdan)

An experienced veteran diver of 13 years, he tested his mettle at sea on a diverse array of maritime missions across the globe. He faced one of his most difficult challenges during a deployment to Iraq along a river. A vehicle-borne improvised explosive device had damaged a bridge and infantry units needed engineer divers to perform reconnaissance underwater.

At the river’s center in the shadow of the bridge, Bailey, then a young soldier, entered the water. He and another diver descended nearly 40 feet into the river’s depths. Almost immediately after he entered the river’s pitch black waters, disaster struck.

“As soon as I hit that water, I lost my grip,” Bailey said. “The current took me and immediately just threw me back.”

As he felt the pull to the bottom, the river broke his helmet’s seal. Cold water rushed into his head gear. His suit remained attached to an umbilical air supply cord, restricting his movement. He waited for a teammate to pull him back to shore while calming his nerves in the face of extreme conditions.

“I couldn’t swim to the shore,” he said. “I wasn’t moving. The only way I was getting out of there is if I was getting pulled out. And now my helmet was flooded. So what would have happened if I had panicked or I was not able to remain calm?”

Soldiers must face the fear of drowning and their own mortality on each mission. And each time, Divers must tame their emotions or lives will be at stake. In the worst conditions, soldiers will operate with limited visibility while carrying up to 80 pounds of underwater gear.

“I’ve been in situations where I’m using my hands as my eyes,” Holdner said. “One little mistake can be an injury for you. It’s not an environment that’s going to go easy on you.”

Holdner, a youthful-looking staff sergeant with slicked back dark hair who sports a cascade of tattoos on his right arm, graduated from the course in 2010. He entered with a larger class — 96. Only six made the cut and advanced to Phase II. Holdner said the mental hurdles the course poses can be the most difficult to overcome.

Even the second-time student looked visibly rattled as the two jockeyed for position before descending below. Athletically built with a wide upper body, the student easily passed the physical fitness tests and he seemed likely to survive to the next phase in Panama City, Florida.

Then the unexpected happened.

Inexplicably, he swam to the poolside and signaled to the instructors he wanted to drop out. He decided he had enough.

One student remained.

The private’s panicked expression reflected his extreme duress. Of the 12 students who attempted the course, he was the only remaining soldier. The shortest student in the class, this soldier struggled to finish the swimming endurance drills earlier in the week. But he persevered to make it to the third day.

But his chances have dimmed.

As the private spent more time bobbing his head above the surface, he lost valuable time that could have been spent underwater searching for equipment.

An instructor then blew his whistle. The soldier didn’t make the cut.

Slowly, the soldier swam toward the pool’s edge. Still breathing heavily, he gingerly exited the pool and walked toward his gear. He must now wait for the Army to reclassify him into a new career field.

About 12 to 20 students begin each class. Only 1 to 3 normally graduate. Sometimes, as with the July 2018 students, none make it.

Although instructors must cut the majority of the students, they don’t take each decision lightly. Often before they pull recruits from the course, they have counseling sessions. They sit down with each student and explain why they cannot advance to the next phase.

Often, emotions spill.

“They’re in tears,” Bailey said. “This is something that they’ve wanted to do for a long time or this is something that they’ve told their family about and everyone is rooting for them and they don’t want to disappoint their family.”

Bailey said recruiters and drill sergeants often don’t have accurate accounts of engineer diver training. Soldiers then arrive at Fort Leonard Wood with misconceptions about the realities of training.

High stakes on the frozen tundra of remote Alaska

Navy instructors check Soldiers’ scuba equipment. Equipment management and maintenance is critical for diver safety, instructors said.

(Photo Credit: Joe Lacdan)

Promising Pair

Two Phase I diving school graduates joined the class of students who trained here in the July heat. Instead of sporting the black Army shirts with gold letters, they donned white shirts and brown swimming trunks to distinguish themselves from the current class. They continued to train with incoming classes to keep their skills fresh as they waited for Phase II in Panama City.

Pvts. 1st Class Stephen Olinger and Nolan Hurrish are only months into their Army careers.

Olinger, a bright-eyed recruit who was raised partially overseas, carries a swagger and self-confidence as he approaches each exercise. He graduated in March. Hurrish, a soft-spoken but diligent recruit from Wisconsin, has quietly passed each test. They don’t know if they will survive the next six months at Panama City. But they remain optimistic that in less than 16 weeks they will join the fewer than 150 Army divers worldwide.

“I have an attitude like ‘this is it,” Olinger said. “This is what I came here to do. If I fail out, I fail out. But I’m going to give it everything.”

The world’s five oceans, where many of the 12 dozen or so Army divers throughout the world must perform, can be ruthless.

The sea is an unpredictable, faceless adversary unlike any other soldiers face in the battlefield, and no less deadly.

Students will get their first taste of that adversary off the shores of the Florida Panhandle in Phase II of the diving school.

(Editor’s note: This is part one of a two-part series on the Army’s engineer diver training. For part two, click here.)

MIGHTY CULTURE

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

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

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


High stakes on the frozen tundra of remote Alaska

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

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

“Working party”

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

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

There are always more pointless details to be done.

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

(Meme via The Salty Soldier)

“The Good-Idea Fairy”

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

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

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

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

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

“Chest candy”

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

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

High stakes on the frozen tundra of remote Alaska

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

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

“Some secret, squirrel-type sh*t”

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

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

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

(DoD Photo by Gloria Montgomery)

“Dog and pony shows”

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

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

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

High stakes on the frozen tundra of remote Alaska

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

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

“Open-door policy”

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

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

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

5 reasons why the battle buddy system was secretly brilliant

Soldiers of the post-9/11 generation have been part of a social experiment aimed at preventing them from doing dumb things. The idea was to pair each troop with an assigned “best friend” — a battle buddy — and that each pair would keep an eye on one another. Troops have to make sure their comrade is doing the right thing and, if they aren’t, say something before both of them make the blotter- aka, the buddy system.

At its worst, soldiers end up in trouble because their Blue Falcon of a squadmate decides to throw caution to the wind and do whatever’s on their mind. But, as much as soldiers bemoan always having someone by their side — and the system’s goofy name — it’s actually brought about plenty more benefits than downsides.


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Even if that means you’re now forced to take that guy into less-than-pleasant situations.

(U.S. Army photo by Capt. Robert Taylor)

It makes sure no one is left out

Let’s call the “battle buddy system” what it truly is — a forced-best-friend system. Everyone from the social butterfly specialist to the dorky private is forced to at least talk to each other after they join the unit.

Granted, you’ll eventually either become actual friends through the process — or you’ll swap to someone you’re cooler with — but it opens the social gates for some of the shier soldiers in the barracks.

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If your squad leader is happy, everyone’s happy — or you should be terrified. Depends on the squad leader…

(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Matthew Keeler)

It eliminates much of the stress of being an NCO

Specialists and below often miss the bigger picture when they’re at the lowest rungs of the totem pole, but taking any kind of weight off their shoulders is a blessing. When you’ve got to watch over six soldiers, things get missed and mistakes happen.

When those six soldiers are keeping to themselves and keeping each other in check, there’s a better chance that they’re doing the right thing.

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Worst case scenario: You’ve got another person to help you win a fist fight against some overzealous douchebag.

(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Charles Highland)

It ensures someone will always watch your back

Soldiers stationed overseas in Korea or Germany know this all too well: You can’t even leave post without a battle buddy by your side. Drunk, American GIs being tossed into a foreign city without any means of figuring out how to get back in time for formation is actually pretty common.

Sure, now you run the risk of leaving two soldiers more lost than a butterbar on the BOLC land nav course, but the odds are better that they’ll at least be safe while they’re trying to find their way back.

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Hopefully, at least one of you listened to the safety brief.

(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Brian Johnston)

With the buddy system, it’s been proven that dumb stuff happens less frequently

As with everything in the Army, there have been studies upon studies that have analyzed the efficacy versus the cost of telling your squad to be friends with one another. Because, you know, even the Army can make something as simple as drinking a beer with your friend into a PowerPoint slideshow.

It’s simple, really. Soldiers who have a person that’ll say, “what are you doing, you friggin’ idiot?!” are less likely to end up in the commander’s office.

High stakes on the frozen tundra of remote Alaska

Everyone needs a good, steady shoulder every now and again. It’s the least you can do for someone who’ll do the same for you.

(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Tyler Kingsbury)

The buddy system gives soldiers at least one person to talk to when it gets rough

Those studies also point to why the battle buddy system was implemented to begin with — to help decrease the alarming number of self-inflicted deaths and injuries within the ranks.

Everything else on this list is all fine and dandy, but if just a single soldier is saved because they had just one person to talk to, the program is a success. If hundreds of soldiers were talked out of that darkness because their squadmate became their best friend, I’ll forever argue its merit, no matter how goofy it sounds calling another grown-ass warfighter my “battle buddy.”

MIGHTY CULTURE

This is Earth’s best defense against an alien invasion

Aliens have had a constant home in the minds of sci-fi enthusiasts and space nerds. The concept of extraterrestrial contact has been the centerpiece of many great movies, books, and games. Inevitably, if you’re talking about the arrival of an alien life form, the conversation turns itself toward a single question: How would Earth defend against an alien invasion?

Yes, Earth is home to the United States Marines, but we certainly can’t rely on a fighting force using broken, outdated equipment to take on a technologically superior race that has figured out faster-than-light travel. But just because we’re outgunned doesn’t mean we’ll ultimately fail.


That’s where The Infographics Show comes in. Not only have they created a solid defense strategy, they’ve also broken it down into three phases — a whole two phases shy of your brand new lieutenant’s plan to raid a single compound. The best part is, their plan revolves around something we’ve learned from history — if you don’t have the tech to fight even, just fight dirty.

Here’s how they break it down:

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Would you believe that these expensive pieces of technology can be destroyed by an object as small as a paint chip?

(NASA)

Phase 1 — Using space debris

Essentially, a piece of space debris as small as a screw could destroy non-shielded spacecraft just coming out of light-speed to enter Earth’s orbit. We could send missiles to destroy our own satellites to create a shield of debris around the planet, which will either destroy a large amount of alien spacecraft or, at the very least, hinder their ability to enter orbit, which would buy us enough time to prepare for the second phase.

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Give ’em the ol’ razzle dazzle.

(U.S. Army)

Phase 2 — Attack during entry

When a shuttle re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere, it experiences heat of up to 21,140 degrees Fahrenheit due to friction with the air. The extreme heat and thermal energy disrupts many communications devices and on-board sensors.

If an alien spacecraft experiences those same effects, the moment of entry into our atmosphere would be a great time to use a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, intercepting incoming spacecraft that, without sensors, would be difficult to see coming.

Then, we prepare for phase three.

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This wouldn’t be our first choice if our aim is to survive.

(U.S. Department of Defense)

Phase 3, Option 1 — Nukes

If the invading aliens are anything like us, they’re probably coming to Earth to colonize it. In that case, we could prepare all of our nuclear weapons and hold our own planet hostage.

If these aliens are, in fact, hostile and wish to cleanse the planet of our filthiness, then we threaten to detonate the nukes, which would render the planet uninhabitable and many of our resources unusable.

Take that, alien scum!

www.youtube.com

Phase 3, Option 2 — Guerrilla warfare

If our invaders are coming from a distant planet, light years away, their continued siege might prove very costly. After all, interstellar logistics are probably pretty complex. So, humans could resort to making life on Earth as nightmarish as possible by operating as small, guerrilla outfits.

It’d be something like the Vietnam War. Over time, the cost of war may eclipse any potential rewards, and the aliens will withdraw… hopefully.

Want more details? Check out the video below!

MIGHTY CULTURE

This Army vet started the Thousand Islands winery scene

The Thousand Islands Region in upstate New York is famous for the Saint Lawrence River seaway, impressive castles, gorgeous summers, and the salad dressing named for the region. Aside from the dressing, the region’s best-known features bear quite a bit of resemblance to the Moselle and Rhine River regions in Germany, which are famed for their beauty and wineries. One Army officer took notice of the similarities during his time in the service and decided to recreate the winery scene of the German river regions in the North Country.

(Thousand Islands Winery)

Steve Conaway joined the Army straight out of high school in 1981. He rose to the rank of Staff Sergeant before commissioning as an officer. His service in the Air Defense Artillery branch took him to bases across the United States, Greece, and Germany. When Conaway was posted to Fort Drum, NY, he discovered the Saint Lawrence River and the Thousand Islands Region. “The Saint Lawrence River reminded me of the rivers in Germany,” Conaway recalled. “The castles and the river were very similar.” During his five years in Germany, Conaway had become passionate about Riesling and, in 1999, had the idea to start a winery in the Thousand Islands and began conducting market research.

Through the course of his research, Conaway discovered that there were no wineries in the Thousand Islands Region. He contacted New York grape experts at Cornell University who informed him that grapes had never been grown in the Thousand Islands Region and could not be grown there because of the cold climate. Undeterred, Conaway continued his research and, using the limited power of the early internet, found that cold-hardy grapes were being grown by wineries across the border in Quebec. In 2001, then-Captain Conaway took a road trip to Canada to meet with the farmers and learn the trade. The Canadian farmers showed him how to nurse the grapes through the frost of winter and introduced him to a variety of cold-hardy grapes that could survive temperatures as low as -30˚ F.

The winery produces 23 varieties of wine (Thousand Islands Winery)

Before Conaway could put the newfound knowledge to use, his winery plans were interrupted by the events of 9/11. In response, Conaway deployed with the 10th Mountain Division in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. The deployment took him to Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan before he eventually arrived in Afghanistan. Now working as a contracting officer, Conaway helped to establish the initial coalition forces contracting footprint across all three countries including the first establishments at the former Soviet airbase at Bagram. However, perhaps his most important establishment was taking place back in the states.

With the help of his wife Erika, Conaway purchased an old dairy farm in Alexandria Bay, NY while he was deployed. Fittingly, the farm had previously been owned by a famed Riverboat Captain and an Army Reserves Captain, making Conaway the third Captain to own the farm. Upon returning from deployment in 2002, Conaway and his wife set to work converting the dairy farm to a winery. It took one year to get the winery going.

Capt. Steve Conaway and Sfc. Derrick Whitington in Afghanistan in 2001 (Steve Conaway)

In 2003, the same year that Conaway retired from the Army as a Major, the Thousand Islands Winery had one part-time employee and sold and produced 1,100 gallons of wine. The first four years saw the winery operating at a loss. “I bought the farm with houses, boat storage, and tenants,” Conaway said. “I had my military retirement income. So, I never counted on the winery to make any money initially.” Luckily, the fifth year of operation saw the winery turn a profit and it has turned a profit every year since.

The first year of operation, all of the winery’s sales were local. “I sold every bottle at retail out of the front door,” Conaway said. As the winery expanded, Conaway began distribution in liquor stores throughout New York State. In 2010, Thousand Islands Winery expanded into other states as well. Online sales have helped to expand distribution, but so has the Army.

Conaway takes great pride his product (Steve Conaway)

The 10th Mountain Division maintains two Brigade Combat Teams at Fort Drum, NY and one at Fort Polk, LA. Oftentimes, soldiers that have been stationed at one will eventually find themselves posted to the other. Thanks to a partnership with the 10th Mountain Division Association, Thousand Islands Winery wines made their way down south to Fort Polk where they can be found in the Class Six. In 2020, the Thousand Islands Winery had 65 employees in the summertime, including employees in Louisiana, and produced and sold over 75,000 gallons of wine. This year also saw the winery enter an agreement with Republic National Distribution Company as operations expanded into Kentucky, South Carolina, Virginia, Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Georgia.

Since 2007, the Thousand Islands Winery has received 168 medals in wine competitions throughout the country. Despite the doubt that many people had about the Conaways and their winery, the Thousand Islands Winery has thrived. “I didn’t know anything about private industry,” Conaway said about starting the business. “I got out of the Army and failure wasn’t an option.” Using the skills he had acquired throughout his 22 ½ years in the Army, Conaway was able to apply planning considerations like safety, hazmat, personnel structure, and organizational charts to the winery. “I encourage soldiers to fall back on the stuff they did while they were in the military,” Conaway said. “I always tell them, ‘If you want to be an entrepreneur when you get out of the military, everything you’re already doing translates into the civilian workforce.’”

Following Conaway’s success, other wineries have opened up in the Thousand Islands Region. In hopes of encouraging the industry to grow, the Thousand Islands Winery offers its services and nearly two decades of experience to other individuals and wineries in the form of specialized vineyard services. As the winery and the region grow, Conaway continues to serve as a leader in the Thousand Islands by applying the skills and knowledge he acquired in the Army to his business.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Boulder Crest Foundation announces $1 million matching donation challenge to support veterans

A long-standing Washington, D.C. donor has pledged to donate $1 million to the Boulder Crest Foundation in a matching challenge. The goal is to extend their ability to serve through vital services that target the needs of the military community. 

Ken Falke is the founder and Chairman of Boulder Crest Foundation. He’s also the co-author of the best-selling book, Struggle Well: Thriving in the Aftermath of Trauma. Falke served in the United States Navy for 21 years where he was an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician before retiring as a Master Chief Petty Officer. Early in the War on Terror, he began to see the increasing numbers of wounded EOD troops. He started a consulting company that worked to serve their needs. “After taking care of about 11 families, my wife and I started something known as the EOD Warrior Foundation,” he shared. Falke spent 16 years taking care of physically wounded EOD troops before leaving the foundation. 

Falke while serving in the Navy as an EOD Technician

Falke and his wife began hosting military families at their home for cookouts and nature trips. “One day my wife said, ‘Rather than having these families in our house, why don’t we build some cabins in the meadows?’ “We had 200 acres,” he explained. That idea his wife had is what started the whole initiative. In 2011, the Foundation was established with the mission of utilizing Post Traumatic Growth to target issues impacting the military community as a whole.

“It was the nation’s first privately funded wellness center for veterans and their family members. Our biggest donor was the Clark family of Clark Construction. They came to us three and half years ago and gave us a $10 million dollar gift and we bought a second facility in Arizona,” Falke shared. “We now have two beautiful centers and we do the exact same thing at both centers.”

Kathryn Buckland is a major in the United States Army, stationed at Fort Irwin, CA. She personally knows the power that the support and resources Boulder Crest Foundation can provide. “Boulder Crest and the PATHH program gave me the permission to openly admit that I was struggling and that it was okay,” she explained. “For years, I would tell myself that I was unworthy of seeking help because there were others in more dire situations or who had experienced more trauma than I have that needed those resources and opportunities more. As an athlete, student and now Army Officer, I have spent the majority of my life training, yet I was never trained on how to struggle well.”

Struggling well is a key concept that the Boulder Crest Foundation teaches within their programs for the military community. They don’t do this alone either. Falke shared that it is through partnerships with many nonprofits and organizations that they are able to truly make a difference. “You can go a lot further together than you can on your own,” he stated. 

Another thing the Foundation is working on is to remove the stigma associated with getting help, even if you haven’t seen combat. “I vividly remember when I did reach out for help, the individual peered over my shoulder to look at my uniform for either a combat action badge or combat medical badge, as if they could not understand why I was struggling if I had not been in engaged in combat over my deployment,” Buckland shared. “Not all veterans deploy and of those that do – not all have trauma directly related to their combat experiences, which is why it is critical to change the narrative about what our society perceives to be reasons for why our veterans are struggling.”  

Although veterans have struggled for years with invisible wounds, it has continually worsened over time as the wars raged on. When the Boulder Crest Foundation saw the numbers increasing for suicides among veterans as the world battled the COVID-19 pandemic, it was spurred into action to do more. One of the ways they will be able to tackle the needs of so many is through the generosity of others through the matching challenge. When this $1 million dollar gift is matched, it will allow the organization to serve over 300 more veterans. 

The organization has come a long way since its founding and has even opened their programs to the nation’s first responders and their families. The statement on their website says it all: We envision a world where all combat veterans, first responders, and their families have the training, skills and support they need to transform their struggle into lifelong Post-traumatic Growth.

To learn more about this organization and how you can support its efforts, click here

MIGHTY CULTURE

Veteran gets VA health care at home

It used to be difficult for Marine Veteran Kenneth Schmitt to load his wheelchair into his car and drive to the nearest VA facility. He no longer drives, and now receives VA medical care through the VA home based primary care program.


Angela Gard, assistant nurse manager of community-based care at the Milwaukee VA Medical Center, said home based primary care allows Veterans to stay in familiar and comfortable surroundings, remain functional and maintain quality of life.

High stakes on the frozen tundra of remote Alaska

Marine veteran Kenneth Schmitt and RN Farrah Mosely during a home based primary care visit in Elkhorn, Wisconsin.

Veterans Affairs

A nursing home alternative

“We try to keep people in their houses longer instead of going to a nursing home,” she said. “They’ve lived there forever. It’s not very often that they want to move.”

Schmitt, who lives in rural Wisconsin, receives his primary care at home through the Union Grove VA Clinic. The clinic, located about 40 miles south of Milwaukee, serves about 3,500 Veterans a year as they face the challenges of disability, aging and chronic disease.

“It works really well for Mr. Schmitt, who lives out in the country,” said Farrah Mosley, a registered nurse based at the Union Grove clinic.

High stakes on the frozen tundra of remote Alaska

Mosley does home based primary care from the Union Grove VA clinic.

Veterans Affairs

“For example, Mr. Schmitt is a diabetic,” Mosley said. “So, the dietician comes in and completes a nutrition assessment and collaborates with the Veteran to develop a plan of care with goals and outcomes. He has done really well with it and he has really brought his numbers down.”

Schmitt said he appreciates the care and the convenience offered by the program now that he doesn’t drive.

“I have been without a license for almost two years now,” Schmitt said. “Before that I had a power wheelchair that I loaded in my car, but it was so stressful. Even if someone was trying to help, it would just wear me down. By the time I would get back home, I was done for. Takes away a lot of stress.”

Learn more about VA home based primary care.

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.