So, the time for you to go to your first Marine Corps Birthday Ball came and went. Everyone got together to celebrate that time a bunch of drunks gathered at a bar in Philly and started a world-class war-fighting organization. And yet here you are, a couple hundred years later, so disillusioned by your command that you didn’t spend the $80ish on the ticket.
The Marine Corps has a long-standing history of warfare and professionalism. Our fighting spirit has been recognized by forces all over the world, both those we’ve fought against and those that’ve fought at our side. The Birthday Ball is a celebration of this history; that’s why we wear those sexy dress blues that the first Marines wore into battle.
Just because you don’t like your command or the politics of the military doesn’t mean you should skip out. Here’s why you should buy a ticket next year.
It’s an exclusive event
Sure, you have to buy your ticket, but those tickets aren’t for everyone. The event is only open to Marines and sailors attached to the unit. It doesn’t matter how rich or how famous you are, if you’re not in the Corps and you haven’t been invited by someone who is, you’re not getting in.
There’s tons of tradition
How much tradition? Precisely 243 years’ worth. And at the Ball, you genuinely feel it. From the cake cutting to the commandant’s birthday message, you truly feel like you’re a part of an organization that’s been kicking the asses of America’s enemies since before there was a USA.
Dress blues are sexy AF
Everyone and their grandmother knows that Marine dress blues are top-shelf sexy. They suck to wear and they’re hot as hell, yeah, but once you look in a mirror, you kind of stop caring about the details. Walking around in them makes you feel like a member of an elite organization. Plus, it feels great to take them off when it’s all over.
It’s not that time consuming
The ceremony typically only lasts a couple of hours and no one forces you to stay for the dancing after. If nothing else, show up out of respect for your uniform. After the ceremony is done, you’re usually allowed to go out and have a night on the town.
You’ll be on working party otherwise
Your command kind of tricks you into going by giving you a false choice: buy a ball ticket or be on the clean-up crew. Honestly, it’s much easier and way better to buy the ticket and be at the ball for a couple hours than to have to be there until the dancing is over.
After listening to feedback from the field, a few changes to the Air Force Basic Military Training curriculum will transform trainees into more combat-ready airmen.
The changes, which began Sept. 4, 2018, are entirely focused on readiness and lethality, airmanship, fitness, and warrior ethos.
“The future of BMT focuses on creating disciplined, warrior-airmen who are ready to support our joint partners in conflicts around the globe,” said Col. Jason Corrothers, former 737th Training Group and BMT commander who spearheaded the modifications. “These changes to refine the basic training experience are about increasing our readiness and lethality while simultaneously instilling airmanship and core values from the very beginning.”
Restoring readiness is one of the Air Force’s top priorities. The changes address readiness through a revamped expeditionary skills and weapons training curriculum, said Lt. Col. Jose Surita, 326th Training Squadron commander, who has overseen the development of the revamped curriculum.
Basic Expeditionary Airmen Skills Training which previously took place in week five of training, is resequenced to the final training week as the culminating event of BMT. Air Force recruits will also experience a beefed up Self-Aid/Buddy Care regimen, called the Tactical Combat Casualty Course.
“We need highly trained and ready airmen,” Surita said. “Readiness is the central theme across the BMT curriculum as we deliver trained and committed airmen capable of delivering 21st century airpower.”
There is also an increased focus on weapons handling and familiarization, said Surita.
Air Force Basic Military Training trainees prepare for a log climb and rope walk obstacle during the Basic Expeditionary Airman Skills Training.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Bennie J. Davis III)
Airmen’s Week, which was focused on a values-based “Airmanship 100” curriculum, was taught the week after trainees completed basic training. Airmen’s Week lessons, which are not being changed, are now incorporated throughout 8.5 weeks of BMT.
This change gives end-to-end ownership of the training to the military training instructor corps, delivering a continuous immersion that accelerates “mind to heart” adoption of the Air Force core values and warrior ethos principles
“Our airmen need to be technically capable, but they also need to be motivated,” said Master Sgt. Robert Kaufman, military training instructor. “Airmanship 100 lessons focus on their resilience and challenge recruits to commit to holding each other accountable to our core values.”
An Air Force Basic Military Training trainee attacks a dummy during an obstacle during the Basic Expeditionary Airman Skills Training.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Bennie J. Davis III)
With an emphasis on improving human performance, BMT will also see a bump up in the overall number of fitness sessions, increasing from 31 to 44 periods throughout training. Workouts will be a balanced mix of cardio, strength, and interval training.
“Physical fitness is a critical component of readiness,” said Master Sgt. Andrea Jefferson, military training instructor. “By increasing the number of physical training sessions, we build fitness habits that will help recruits perform both in the military environment, and in their personal lives.”
BMT curriculum changes also includes a purpose built heritage program that introduces recruits to Air Force heroes, and weaves heritage and warrior ethos throughout training.
An Air Force Basic Military Training Instructor watch an Air Force Basic Military Training (AFBMT) graduation.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Bennie J. Davis III)
“We will be introducing warrior identity, as well as Air Force history and heroes, every week throughout training,” said Master Sgt. Richard Bonsra, military training instructor. “Those topics will then be reinforced during all training events, such as naming physical training sessions after a fallen airman to cement the experience.”
Future changes to how heritage and warrior ethos are ingrained into BMT will include naming obstacles on the “Creating Leaders, Airmen, Warriors” Course after Air Force heroes, said Bonsra.
Air Force Basic Military Training Instructors train drill and ceremony movements at Air Force Basic Military Training at Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Bennie J. Davis III)
“Over the last 70 years, we have become the most dominant Air Force the world has ever known, but there is no doubt we must be, and can be better in the future,” said Chief Master Sgt. Lee Hoover, 737th TRG superintendent, “The next generation of airmen will take us there, so it’s critical we start them on the right foot. These changes ensure we move in that direction.”
Headquartered at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, the 737th TRG is the Air Force’s largest training group, comprised of nine squadrons and more than 900 permanent-party personnel. BMT, with an average daily load of 7,000 trainees, graduated more than 37,314 airmen in fiscal year 2017 and BMT instructors are postured to increase that number to more than 40,200 graduates in fiscal year 2019.
This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.
The grassy hill surrounding the arena is packed full of spectators and family members. The emcee calls out a dancer’s name; there’s movement in the crowd. The competitor makes it into the arena, throws out his hoops for his sequence.
Upon the dancer’s cue, the drum starts singing. Bells on his ankles sing in time with each beat of the drum and each step he makes.
He has five minutes to convey a story, using small hoops as his medium to paint each scene, as part of the 28th Annual Heard Museum World Championship Hoop Dance Contest held in Phoenix in 2018.
“The competition opens everyone’s eyes to the Native American culture,” said Timothy Clouser, the museum’s facilities director and a Navy veteran. “I find it very fascinating how each dancer puts their own artistic expression in their dance and story they are trying to convey. Not one dance is the same.”
Brian Hammill, an Army veteran of the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin and a previous World Hoop Dance champion, competed in Phoenix. He uses his dancing to help bridge the cultural gap between Native Americans and non-natives, sharing his culture everywhere he goes.
“As native people, we don’t give gifts of objects because an object goes away, but we give the gift of a song, or a dance,” Hammill said. “When you do that, if you give somebody a song, and you tell them, ‘Every time you sing this song, you tell the story,’ or ‘Every time you do this dance, you tell the story and you give it away,’ that dance will last forever. That’s how this hoop dance carries on; it’s given from one person to the next.”
Army veteran Brian Hammill of the Ho-Chunk Nation applies face paint before grand entry at the 28th Annual Heard Museum World Championship Hoop Dance Contest at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona, Feb. 10, 2018.
(Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Anita C. Newman)
The hoop dance is different than other Native American dances, such as powwow dancing. Powwows are inter-tribal celebrations of Native American culture. Tribal affiliation doesn’t matter, nor does what region someone is from. It doesn’t even matter if someone is native or non-native.
Powwow dancing consists of at least six categories. Men’s categories include the fancy dance, grass dance and traditional dance. Women’s categories are the fancy dance, jingle dress and traditional dance.
The hoop dance regalia is minimal compared to that of the powwow dances. Typically, a hoop dancer will wear a shirt, breechcloth, side drops, sheep skin, bells (or deer hooves) and moccasins. The colors and designs are specific to each person. The hoops are small and vary in size, typically depending on the height of the dancer. Sometimes they have designs on them, again, specific to each dancer.
“Traditionally, the hoops were made out of willow, depending on where the tribe was located,” Hammill said. “I make mine out of a very exotic wood called plastic.”
The hoop dance has different origin stories with a common thread that it originated in the Southwest. To some native nations, the hoop dance is a healing dance, Hammill said. A hoop would traditionally be passed over an afflicted person, then the dancer would break that hoop and never use it again.
“Basically, it was a way of taking away all that pain or sickness away,” Hammill said. “That’s not done in public. There is also a story of the children, the Taos Pueblo children. It is said that the children saw this ceremony taking place and began to emulate what they saw. Instead of telling the kids, ‘No, you can’t do this,’ the adults encouraged them. They began to sing songs for them. They took what was a prayer and made it something the kids could do. So, basically, the dance changed, it evolved.
“In the north, it tells of a warrior’s journey,” he continued. “As you see these hoops come together, they start to make formations. You’ll see the eagle, the butterfly, the warrior on the battlefield defending his family, the clouds in the sky.”
Each person, he explained, will see that dance in a different way, interpret the story differently. There are hundreds of hoop dance stories, but each one revolves around the sacred circle of life.
“The significance of the hoops is that it represents the circle of life. There’s no beginning and no ending,” Hammill said. “We are taught that each and every one of us — doesn’t matter who we are, where we come from, the color of our skin — we are all created equal in that sacred hoop.”
Another part of Hammill’s culture that he lives every day is the tradition of service.
“The way I was always taught is, as a native person, we are always here to serve the people,” he said.
U.S. Army veteran, Brian Hammill of the Ho-Chunk Nation, competes at the 28th Annual Heard Museum World Championship Hoop Dance Contest at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona on Feb. 10, 2018.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Anita C. Newman)
“We serve them by cooking and providing food for them. We teach them, or protect them. One of the greatest things I was always taught that we do, is we put ourselves in harm’s way to protect our families and our identity. It was something I’ve always wanted to do, I felt I needed to do.”
Hammill enlisted in the Army while still in high school. He went to basic training during the summer between his junior and senior years, and went on active duty after graduation.
“It’s just something that we do,” he said. “You’ll find that throughout the United States, there are a higher percentage of native veterans per capita than any other race.”
While he was stationed in South Korea, one of his first sergeants learned that he had danced while growing up, and asked Hammill to share his culture with everyone. He performed the men’s fancy dance for his fellow soldiers.
“A lot of these soldiers weren’t exposed to different cultures, so he had me do one of my first presentations there,” he said. “I called my dad in Wisconsin, and he shipped all of my dance regalia to me. I started doing presentations for the people I was stationed with, and in different areas throughout the Korean theater. That’s where I really got the passion to share the story, and I found out how important it is.”
Hammill was introduced to the hoop dance prior to his transition out of the military in 1994. Back then, he would travel about 120 miles from Fort Polk, Louisiana, to Livingston, Texas, where he performed and danced with the Alabama-Coushatta tribe.
“A good friend of mine, Gillman Abbey, basically gave me this hoop dance,” he said. “He told me the story. He told me every time I dance, to always make sure I share the story, and give the dance.”
He said the hoop dance helped him heal from his time in service. Still brand new to hoop dancing, Hammill actually competed in the World Hoop Dance Championship for the first time about six months after he got out of the military.
“I was 24, in the adult division,” he said. “I remember I was scared because this is a huge competition. Some of the dancers I’m still dancing with today pulled me aside, said to me, ‘Hey, you’re doing good. Let me show you some different moves. Let me help you.’ I’ll never forget that because that’s what really kept me coming back. Being here, feeling that hoop and how it affects people, it keeps me coming back. It took me a long time, about 15 years, until I won my first world title. I moved to the senior division and won four more. But it’s a family. It really is something we all have in common.”
When aspiring operators are being screened for selection into Delta Force, a collection of the most elite soldiers in the Army, they have to pass a series of rigorous and challenging tests, including a ruck march that they begin with no announced distance, no announced end time, and no encouragement. If they can complete this grueling ruck march, they will face a selection board and possibly join “The Unit.”
If they fall short, they go home.
Delta Force was pitched and built to be an American version of Britain’s Special Air Service by men like Col. Charles A. Beckwith, a Special Forces leader who had previously served as an exchange officer to the 22 SAS. Originally stood up in 1977, Delta was always focused on counter-terrorism.
Unsurprisingly, Beckwith got the nod to lead the unit he had helped pitch. He looked to the SAS itself for methods to winnow out those who might not be resolute at a key moment in battle, and embraced their stress event: a superhuman ruck march.
It wasn’t an insane distance, just 74 kilometers — or 40 miles. That’s certainly further than most soldiers will ever carry a ruck, but not an eye-watering number.
Col. Charles A. Beckwith, the first commander of Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta.
(U.S. Army Special Operations Command)
But SAS candidates conducted this training at the end of what were already-grueling weeks of training. And on the day of the final march, they were woken up early to start it.
But the real mind game was not telling the candidates how far they had to go or how far they had already gone. They were just told to ruck march to a set point that could be miles distant. Then, a cadre member at that point would give them a new point, and this would continue until the candidate had marched the full distance.
Beckwith told his superiors that he needed two years to stand up Delta Force, partially because he felt it was necessary to incorporate this and other elements of SAS selection and training into the pipeline, meaning that he would need to recruit hundreds of candidates to get just a few dozen final operators. President Jimmy Carter wanted a new anti-terrorism unit, and senior Army brass were initially loathe to wait two years to give it to him.
According to his book Delta Force: a memoir by the founder of the military’s most secretive special operations, Beckwith had to fight tooth and nail to get enough candidates and time for training, but he still refused to relax the standards. Beckwith successfully argued that, to make a unit as capable or better than the SAS, the Army would have to fill it with men as tough or better.
This couldn’t just be men great at shooting or land navigation or even ruck marching. It had to be those people who would keep pushing, even when it was clearly time to quit.
To make his argument, he pointed to cases where capable men had failed to take appropriate action because, as Beckwith saw it, their resolve had failed. He pointed to the 1972 Olympics in Munich where great German marksmen failed to take out hostage takers early in the terror attack because they simply didn’t pull the trigger.
Beckwith needed guys who could pull the trigger, he knew that the SAS process delivered that, and he didn’t want to risk a change from the SAS mold that might leave Delta with people too reluctant to get the job done during a fight.
And so, the “Long Walk” was born into Army parlance. This is that final ruck march of selection. It’s 40 miles long, it’s conducted on the last day of training when candidates are already physically and mentally completely exhausted, and the rucksacks weigh 70 pounds.
Oh, and there is an unpublished time limit of 20 hours. And candidates can’t march together, each gets their own points and has to walk them alone. And, like in the SAS version, they don’t actually ever know the full course, only their next point.
Members of Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta guard Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf.
Finally, while the first classes conducted the Long Walk at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, later iterations had to conduct the exercise in the mountains of West Virginia, adding to the pain and exhaustion.
Even men like future Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin, who came to the course after the existence and general distance of the Long Walk were known, talked about how mentally challenging the uncertainty would be. He lost 15 pounds in the tough training that led to the march, and then he struggled on the actual event.
In his book, Never Surrender: A Soldier’s Journey to the Crossroads of Faith and Freedom, Boykin says that he was exhausted by the 8-hour mark. Having started before dawn, he would still have to walk deep into the night with his heavy ruck to be successful, praying that every point was his last.
But the next point wasn’t the last. Nor was the one after that, or the one after that. The cadre assigning the points cannot cheerlead for the candidate, nor can they tell the candidate if they’re doing well or if they’re marching too fast. Either the candidate pushes themself to extreme physical and mental limits and succeeds without help or encouragement, or they don’t.
In Boykin’s class of 109, only about 25 people even made it to the Long Walk, and plenty more washed out during that test. Freezing in the weather and exhausted from the weight, terrain, and distance, Boykin did make it to the end of the course. But, interestingly, even completing the prior training and the Long Walk does not guarantee a slot in Delta. Instead, soldiers still have to pass a selection board, so some people train for months or years, are marched to exhaustion every day for a month during training, have to complete the Long Walk, and then they get turned away by the board, are not admitted, and don’t become capital “O” Operators.
Delta Force has undoubtedly made America more lethal and more flexible when it comes to missions, but there are strict standards that ensure that only the most fit soldiers can compete in this space. And the Long Walk forces everyone but the most tenacious out.
Master Sergeant George Hand US Army (ret) was a member of the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, The Delta Force. He is a now a master photographer, cartoonist and storyteller.
Student: “Sergeant, how long do I have to deploy my reserve parachute if my main fails to open?”
Sergeant: “The rest of your life, son… the rest of your life.”
There is no argument that Tier-1 units routinely engage in dangerous training: climbing skyscraper structures, engaging in gunfights in close quarters and confined spaces, hunkering down nexts to explosive breaching charges that are barely an arm’s reach away as they ignite… A cringe-worthy component to that list that hooks every seasoned operator’s attention is airborne operations, because most things that go wrong during them can be fatal.
The feature image, Toad Jumper, is of course a parody of “towed jumper,” an airborne term used to describe a paratrooper whose static line, a 15-foot nylon cord that pulls open the jumper’s parachute, doesn’t separate from the aircraft. On the rare occasion that the parachute pack fails to break free from the static line anchored to the jump aircraft, the paratrooper will be towed behind the aircraft at ~120MPH spinning and slamming against the airplane. It is a horrid and deadly event.
Paras line up and hooked up. Static lines are hooked to anchor cable; they are routed correctly OVER the men’s arms. Mac’s had looped under his arm.
My best friend and renowned firearms trainer Patrick Arther “Mac”McNamara was a towed jumper on his very first training jump with the Army’s Airborne School in Ft. Benning, GA. His static line had unfortunately looped under his arm, cushioning the tug of the line and preventing it from effectively pulling his parachute loose.
Mac spun wildly and bounced off of the kin of the aircraft… then his static line fortunately was able to pull away his pack and deploy his parachute canopy correctly. The violent tug of the static line ripped his biceps muscle from his humerus bone and pulled it down to his forearm. He was in severe pain and unable to use his damaged arm.
When it rains it pours, and since Mac was not able to use his arm, he could not steer his parachute for a safe up-wind landing. Rather than face into the wind a parachute defaults to running down (with) the wind at higher speed. Mac braced himself, cringing before the impending impact with the ground.
Patrick McNamara frame grab from one of his training videos reveals the gnarly scar on his left biceps, a staunch reminder of being a towed (toad) jumper
He hit with great speed tumbling and flipping in excruciating pain. Landing is the most critical step in a jump that the jumper can have the most control over. The jumper must correctly assess the wind direction and turn himself to face into the wind by maneuvering the lines that suspend him from his canopy.
A paratrooper must perform a proper Parachute Landing Fall (PLF) to preclude broken bones and other injuries, and finally, a jumper must quickly securehis parachute to prevent being dragged across the ground resulting in potential death.
Now, the instructors on the Drop Zone, the Black Hats, saw Mac’s cartwheel landing and began to scream at him through electrically amplified megaphone:
“HEY LEG! WHO THE HELL TAUGHT YOU TO DO A DOWN-WIND LANDING, LEG!”
A leg was a term used to refer to a soldier who was not airborne qualified. By military doctrine, soldiers can be referred to as regular straight-leg infantry, and airborne infantry. Leg is a mildly derogatory term, yet a moniker of pride used by airborne forces.
Airborne pipe-hitters from the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) packed in their jump aircraft
Now Mac was being dragged by the wind across the ground further contributing to his anguish, as he could not release his parachute connection on his chest. That further infuriated the Black Hats:
“GODDAMNIT LEG, PULL YOUR CANOPY RELEASES, LEG… YOU STINKING LEG!!!”
A fellow student ran in front of Mac’s inflated parachute and collapsed it. Mac now had to stow all of his parachute into a kitbag and carry his gear to an assembly zone where students were gathered… all with just one good arm and the other in extreme pain.
Airborne soldier about to make contact with the ground; always a tense moment
Mac stumbled to the assembly point. His assessment of the event sums up what an amazing warrior Pat Mac is, and why I regard him such esteem to this day (words to the effect): “I didn’t really know what to think at the time; I mean, it was my first time and I really had no idea what to expect. To me, that was just what jumping was like… what every jump would be like… and I was willing to accept that.”
Pulling open his BDU shirt he saw that his biceps had been reassigned south of his shoulder to his forearm; the skin was stretched so tight that it had taken on a transparent form revealing the color of the sinew and blood vessels thereunder. He showed it to a couple of other students to see if their arms all looked the same way; none did. Only then did Mac realize his plight.
Mac had to have surgery to pull his bicep back up to his humerus to re-attach it, leaving him a gnarly scarred reminder. One of my team brothers in Delta also suffered the same fate as Mac in jump school. His static line looped under his arm. When he jumped he was momentarily towed; his biceps torn and pulled down to his forearm.
His biceps never really recovered to its original position, rather a bit low on his humerus toward his elbow. It really looked funny when he flexed his biceps, intentionally flexing it often in the gym with accompanying remarks such as: “(flexing) Just came in to pump up ol’ Betsy here… I know she looks pretty ripped now, but you should have seen how ripped she was in jump school!”
The trauma associated with a towed jumper scenario would easily be “quittin’ time” for most folks, with no fault assigned or explanation required. For Pat McNamara it was just one entry in a long line of threats that tried to beat him down and prevent him from obtaining his warrior goal. He went on to be arguably the best physically fit and top-performing Delta Operator of our era, and continues today to even exceed the standards that we maintained in the Unit.
Today’s military has many antiquated training plans still written into the calendar. Troops will still practice drill and ceremony despite the fact that the need for marching into combat died out more than a hundred years ago. We still sharpen our land navigation skills despite the fact that we have overwhelming technological advantages that make the use of more primitive tools highly improbable.
However, the one training that always draws the loudest “but why?” from the back of the formation is bayonet warfare. And you know what? That loud, obnoxious dude isn’t entirely wrong — the last time “fix bayonets!” was officially ordered to a company-sized element in combat was by Col. Lewis Millet during the Korean War.
But bayonet training isn’t about just learning to attach a “pointy thing to your boomstick and poking the blood out of people,” as an old infantry sergeant once told me. It’s about laying the fundamentals of everything else.
It’s only silly if you make it silly. If you do, the other guy will knock the silliness out of you.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Melissa Marnell)
Bayonet training was officially taken off the Army’s basic training schedule back in 2010 because it created scheduling conflicts with other needed skills. Still, some drill sergeants find a way to work it in on their own time. The Marine Corps still learns the skill, but it’s a part of the greater Marine Corps Martial Arts Program.
The training is always conducted in stages. The first stage is to have the recruits train on pugil sticks — giant, cotton-swab-looking sticks. This teaches a warfighter the importance of maintaining a positive footing while trying to overpower an opponent. Literally anyone can take on anyone in a pugil stick match because it’s not about size or strength — it’s about control.
Learning to control your body while asserting dominance on your enemy is crucial in close-quarters combat. Once you’ve mastered the pugil stick, you can move on to bayonets.
“Yeah! Take that, tire! F*ck you!”
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Walter D. Marino II)
Fighting with a bayonet is less like fighting with a rifle that happens to have a knife attached and more like using a spear that has a rifle on it. Much of the same footwork learned while training with pugil sticks plays a role here. Maintain good footing, thrust your bayonet into the enemy, and send them to their maker.
Maintaining good footing is a fundamental of nearly every single martial arts form known to man. Instead of having troops learn a martial art (which would take years to yield workable results), troops can come to understand the importance of footwork by just stabbing a worn-out tire — much more efficient.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Maximiliano Bavastro)
The third and most vital lesson that’s secretly taught behind the guise of bayonet training is when the troops line up to conduct a full charge toward targets.
Sure, without the real threat of danger, the point may be missed by some, but it’s important nonetheless. If you and your unit are tasked with making a last-ditch effort to stop the enemy and all you have is your bayonet, many of you may die. But when you know for certain that you and your brothers will charge into death head-on with the hopes of gutting at least that one, last son of a b*tch… you’ve embraced the warrior lifestyle.
Sure, missing out on that life lesson doesn’t hurt the “combat effectiveness” that training room officers love to care about, but there’s little else that compares to the ferocity of a bayonet charge.
Unless you’re a Guamanian local, been stationed on Guam or have participated in the drop itself, Netflix’s new holiday movie may be the first time that you’ve of Operation Christmas Drop. In fact, the operation is the Department of Defense’s longest-running mission and the longest-running humanitarian airlift in the world. Here are five incredible facts about Operation Christmas Drop.
1. It started with a random act of kindness
During the Christmas season of 1952, a WB-29 Superfortress of the 54th Weather Reconnaissance Wing was flying a mission from Andersen Air Force Base in Guam. While over the Micronesian atoll of Kapinga-Marangi, the crew spotted islanders waving at them from down below. In the spirit of Christmas, the airmen collected supplies that they had on board, placed them in a container with a parachute attached and circled around to drop the care package. Since then, the operation has grown and continued every year.
2. It benefits islanders and airmen
According to an Andersen Air Force Base statement, “The event provides readiness training to participating aircrew, allowing them to gain experience in conducting airdrops while providing critical supplies to 56 Micronesian islands impacting about 20,000 people.” Aircrews coordinate the drops with the islanders via ham radio. Using Low-Cost Low-Altitude air drops, containers are dropped in the water just off the shore to avoid hitting any locals. In 2011, the drop included 25 boxes of IV fluids for Fais Island to combat an outbreak of dengue fever. In 2013, the drops included critical supplies of food and water for 30 recovery workers on Kayangel Island after it was hit hard by Typhoon Haiyan. In 2020, though additional safety measures will be put in place due to COVID-19, Operation Christmas Drop will go on. This year’s drop targets 55 Micronesian islands across a 1.8 million square nautical mile operating area.
3. The drops are completely legal
Unlike how it’s portrayed in the Netflix film, there is no Congressional issue with Operation Christmas Drop. The drops are conducted under the protection of the Denton Amendment. Also known as the Denton Cargo Program, it was launched in 1985. The program allows for space available on military aircraft to be used to carry humanitarian aid supplies to countries in need and for disaster relief. Aid under the Denton Program comes at minimal or no added cost to taxpayers since it utilizes excess space on scheduled military flights. Today, the program is administered jointly by USAID, the Department of State, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency and the Department of Defense.
4. The operation involves units across the Pacific
As mentioned in the Netflix film, Operation Christmas Drop involves international partners like Japan, Australia and the Philippines. While the U.S. Air Force’s 36th Wing and 734th Air Mobility Squadron are based at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam and play a major part in the operation, other organizations support the drop, too. The 374th Airlift Wing at Yokota Air Base, the University of Guam and the “Operation Christmas Drop” private organization all help to make the drop possible.
5. The drops are all donations
In the months leading up to the drop, volunteers set up donation boxes and raise money from local businesses and citizens. A week before the drop, volunteer service members, civilians and contractors collect and sort through the donations. Afterwards, riggers at Yokota and Andersen volunteer their spare time to build boxes to hold the donations. The majority of items dropped are school supplies, clothes, rice, construction materials, fishing equipment and toys.
While many service members will be quick to point out military inaccuracies in the film, the positive effect that the drop has cannot be argued. The relief and joy that Operation Christmas Drop brings to the people of Micronesia every year is an incredible achievement and a testament to the hard work and dedication of the volunteers that make it possible.
BM3 Taylor Schulte poses with the Kimball’s unicorn swim floatie, which will be displayed at the U.S. Coast Guard Museum in New London, Connecticut. (Courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard Museum)
In the video, it can be seen drifting at sea, a rainbow-bright mythological Equus cast aside as swimmers from the Coast Guard cutter Kimball clambered out of the water and away from an uninvited shark.
Despite calls for the swim watch to “sink the unicorn,” the giant inflatable darling of the Kimball’s now-infamous Aug. 26 swim call was retrieved from the Pacific Ocean and will have a new home at the U.S. Coast Guard Museum in New London, Connecticut.
Museum staff posted a photo Thursday of their latest acquisition, which will join the museum’s collection of mascots. The Kimball’s unicorn swim floatie will be displayed alongside such objects as a lighthouse keeper’s Salty Rabbit and Capt. Cluck, the mascot of the service’s aviation forces.
Unicorn Made Famous by Shark Incident Floats into History at Coast Guard Museum
According to Museum Curator Jennifer Gaudio, the collection helps document Coasties’ off-duty time, and the inflatable unicorn, which has been signed by the Kimball crew, is the rare artifact clearly associated with recreation time — a swim call interrupted by a shark in Oceania this year.
“We like to find objects that represent an event but it’s often difficult to find one that is so recognizable,” Gaudio said. “When I saw the video, I reached out to the other curator and the chief historian to see if it was something we wanted.”
The Kimball crew was taking an afternoon swim break Aug. 26 during Pacific operations when an 8-foot visitor — either a longfin mako or pelagic thresher — showed up to join the fun.
Not knowing the shark’s intentions as it swam toward crew members, the designated shark watch, Maritime Enforcement Specialist 1st Class Samuel Cintron, opened fire between the fish and the Coasties to deter the creature from getting closer.
Cintron fired bursts into the water at least three times, giving the swimmers time to reach the ship or the ship’s small boat.
The only injury to a crew member was a scrape to a knee, obtained as the Coastie climbed to safety.
But if the inanimate unicorn had feelings, it would have been devastated by the treatment it received that day. After landing a safe spot on the ship’s response boat, the floatie was tossed overboard to make room for the humans and subjected to the dual indignities of being discarded and hearing crew members tell Cintron to shoot it.
What a relief it must have been when it was lifted out of the water for return to the ship. And now, to live in a museum.
“I wasn’t sure we had room. We are still in a 4,000-square-foot space. And it’s big. Much bigger than I expected,” Gaudio said.
The U.S. Coast Guard Museum is housed in a portion of the library at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. Construction of a National Coast Guard Museum was slated to begin this year in downtown New London, but the project has been delayed by other initiatives in the area, according to National Coast Guard Museum Association officials.
The museum is expected to house much of the collection from the current Coast Guard Museum, and the unicorn is likely to make the move when the new facility is built, Gaudio said.
When it comes to advances in recruiting campaign marketing, the United Kingdom has retaken the crown. The innovative style that was once the backbone of the British Empire’s recruiting posters (which was subsequently adopted by the U.S. Army) experienced a resurgence in the past year, appealing to the finer qualities of the younger generation’s digital habits. It raised a lot of eyebrows, but it worked.
Applications to join the British Army have nearly doubled since the campaign began.
Every generation has its chosen medium. Some veterans may have been persuaded by the call to “Be All That You Can Be” via television ads. Others might have been swayed to join the Navy after watching a little movie called Top Gun.
At least one salty Marine out there was swayed with the promise of a muscle car. Enjoy that lease, Corporal.
On Jan. 3, 2019, the British Army launched a recruiting campaign that recalled the “Lord Kitchener Wants You” ads of the First World War. The 1914 poster featured the Empire’s Secretary of State for War, Horatio Herbert Kitchener, in a Field Marshal’s uniform, pointing to the viewer, calling on them to join the British Army to fight the Central Powers on the Continent.
Or wherever they were needed.
The ad was so successful and iconic it was later adopted in the United States, featuring J.M. Flagg’s Uncle Sam calling on Americans to do the same. Other countries also adopted the idea. And just over a century later, it’s back – and the passage of time hasn’t diluted its power one bit.
The original Kitchener poster along with its American and scary German imitations.
According to the Telegraph, the British Army has been struggling with retention and dwindling numbers. More people are leaving the service than joining. It stands to reason the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence is (probably) happy to report that the ads still pack a wallop. In a “resounding success” the first month, applications to join nearly doubled. In January 2019, applications rose to a five-year high, double from the same timeframe the previous year and almost twice from the previous month. The day the ads debuted, more people applied to join in a single day than any other day in the previous year. Hits to the Army’s website also doubled in January.
With monikers dubbing millennials and Gen-Zers “selfie addicts,” “binge gamers,” and “phone zombies,” the MoD called on the new generation of Britons to service. Surprisingly, the advertisements didn’t go straight to Instagram or Facebook, they went to billboards and other forms of outdoor advertising.
“The premise of the campaign is that this is the generation with the skills, the attitude, the drive to succeed; an army that’s not in the army yet,” Command Corporal Major, Warrant Officer Class One Steve Parker told the Telegraph. “People are the army, not in the army.”
The campaign uses these perceived weaknesses to highlight their useful, untapped potential in a series of video ads aired on television and on the internet that followed the release of the billboards.
It’s hard to pin down when, exactly, memes got their start. Some say they began with the original rage comics, others say the very first were painted on cave walls. Regardless, the beautiful internet memes of today allow anyone, anywhere to be a comedian. They give people a setup and a punchline — all you’ve got to do is change the text (and maybe photoshop a face on there).
When 2011 rolled around and the popularity of Facebook grew like the boot population at the off-base strip club, meme pages started cropping up, watermarks started getting slapped on, and entire brands have been built on shoddy internet graphics. Over time, people from the different branches of the U.S. Armed Forces started making memes to share their own experiences — and thus, the military meme page was born.
Initially, these pages were run by active-duty service members who were disgruntled about working conditions, but have since become mostly veteran-operated pages. If you thought the inter-service branch rivalries were rough, just wait until you take a look at the fight for the title of best military memes page.
Here’s the best each branch has to offer:
(Air Force Memes)
Air Force — Air Force Nation & Humor
The Air Force may not be the toughest, but they’ve certainly got brains — and that’s an essential asset in the world of memes. For memes of premium quality, check out Air Force Nation Humor.
There are plenty of great meme pages run by Marine Corps veterans, but Pop Smoke has, bar far, the best content. One of the best things about Pop Smoke is that the page’s main admin makes memes out of his own personal photos and doesn’t keep his identity a secret.
(Decelerate Your Life)
Navy — Decelerate Your Life
A lot of the best memes on Decelerate Your Life are actually about the Coast Guard, but here’s one that’ll make you laugh — especially if you’ve been on a float before.
Coast Guard — Coast Guard Memes
If you didn’t think the Coast Guard itself was enough of a meme, this page just gives everyone more to laugh about.
The six years of experience and hundreds of hours of flight time needed to become a pilot of the US Air Force’s oldest spy plane are no more, and now trainee pilots will be eligible to take the controls of the venerable Dragon Lady.
The new U-2 First Assignment Companion Trainer, or FACT, program will allow Air Force student pilots to jump directly into the U-2 pipeline and join the 9th Reconnaissance Wing.
“Our focus is modernizing and sustaining the U-2 well into the future to meet the needs of our nation at the speed of relevance,” Air Force Col. Andy Clark, commander of the 9th Reconnaissance Wing, said in a release.
Pilots from Beale Air Force Base go through pre-flight checks on a U-2 at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California, Sept. 29, 2018
(Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Schultze)
The new program is meant to create ” a new reconnaissance career path for young, highly qualified aviators eager to shape the next generation of [reconnaissance] warfighting capabilities,” Clark said. The first selection will be among fall 2018 undergraduate training pilots with the next round coming in about six months.
The change comes as the Air Force seeks to modernize the U-2 airframe and mission, as well as its pilot-acquisition and development process.
Once selected, pilots in the FACT program will go the T-38 pilot instructor training course at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph in Texas before a permanent change-of-station to Beale Air Force Base in California, where the U-2s are based.
Airmen refuel a U-2 at Beale Air Force Base, California, Aug. 9, 2018.
(Air Force photo by Senior Airman Justin Parsons)
The selectee will then be a T-38 instructor pilot for the next two years, and once they have the requisite experience, they will undergo the standard two-week U-2 pilot interview process.
If hired, they’ll then start Basic Qualification Training.
“The well-established path to the U-2 has proven effective for over 60 years,” Lt. Col. Carl Maymi, commander of the 1st Reconnaissance Squadron, said in a release.
“However, we need access to young, talented officers earlier in their careers. I believe we can do this while still maintaining the integrity of our selection process through the U-2 FACT program.”
A U-2 prepares to land at Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates, Nov. 16, 2017.
(Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Colton Elliott)
‘An art, not a science’
The U-2 entered service during the Eisenhower administration, carrying out covert missions high above enemy territory during the height of the Cold War. The aircraft have been overhauled and the missions have changed in the decades since, but the Dragon Lady remains one of the most unique and challenging aircraft US pilots can fly.
Today’s U-2s are larger than the original versions and are made of slightly lighter material, as less weight translates into more altitude — about one extra foot for each pound shed, according to Wall Street Journal reporter Michael Phillips, who ventured up in a U-2 in 2018, accompanied by Jethro, one of the few pilots who’ve qualified to fly it.
Every six years, each U-2 is totally overhauled by Lockheed Martin, which takes the plane completely apart and goes through “every wire, every connector, every panel,” Jethro told Phillips.
“They’ll X-ray it … make sure there’s no cracks, replace anything that’s broken, put it back together, new coat of paint, and it looks like a brand-new airplane again, and it flies like a brand-new airplane again,” Jethro added.
A U-2 is prepped for takeoff from Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, June 22, 2018.
(Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kristin High)
The long, narrow wings allow the U-2 to quickly lift heavy payloads of cameras and sensors to high altitudes and stay there for extended periods. It’s capable of gathering an array of imagery, including multi-spectral electro-optic, infrared, and synthetic aperture radar products that can be stored aboard or transmitted to the ground.
Some parts of the preparation process are still low-tech, however.
The U-2 has a central fuel tank fed by tanks in each wing. Crews will fill up the wing tanks and then look to see which way the aircraft leans. They they transfer fuel from one side to the other until it balances out.
“So it’s really kind of an art, not a science,” Jethro said.
U-2 pilots work in two-man crews, but the pilots go up in the aircraft alone. Their pre-flight preparations begin with donning a full-pressure suit, like those worn by astronauts, that regulates the pilot’s pressure and temperature.
“If the cockpit lost pressure at 70,000 feet” — the usual cruising altitude — “and I weren’t wearing a space suit, my blood would boil,” Phillips said.
Once suited, pilots head to the aircraft, accompanied by a crew member carrying their oxygen supply.
Pilots give the U-2 a traditional pat on the nose, shake hands with each flight crew member, and clamber into the cockpit, where a team of technicians hooks them up to an array of regulators and sensors.
A U-2 pilot prepares to board his aircraft at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, June 22, 2018.
(Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kristin High)
“I’ve got crew chiefs. I’ve got electricians. I’ve got different civilians for each of the sensors … so there may be 40 people around the aircraft, who are all there just to get you in the air,” Jethro said. “We don’t call it a takeoff. We call it a launch.”
The U-2’s 103-foot wingspan and broad turning radius make it hard to maneuver, and the wings, laden with fuel, are supported by bicycle-like wheels that break away during takeoff.
To help deal with those hazards, the other member of the two-man pilot team trails behind the U-2 at the wheel of a muscle car — like a Pontiac GTO or Tesla Model S — that can keep up with the U-2.
Other U-2 pilots who aren’t flying may be in Beale’s control tower, overseeing their fellow pilots’ missions.
During takeoff, the pilot wrestles with the plane as it gets off the ground.
“As soon as you throw the power up, you’re pushing 18,000 pounds of thrust out of the backend. You have those big, long wings, and it just wants to accelerate so fast,” said one U-2 pilot, identified only as Nova. “You gotta pull it up to about 40 degrees nose high just to keep the airplane within limits, and that is just one of the coolest feelings ever.”
“When you get a chance to look and just see the earth just falling away behind you so quickly, it’s awesome,” he added.
Temporary wheels, called “pogos,” that hold up the wings during takeoff drop away as the plane leaves the ground.
The U-2 ascends to about 70,000 feet for a typical mission. Up there, the curvature of the earth allows pilots to see 270 nautical miles in each direction — a field of vision of about 500 miles. It can map all of Iraq in a single mission.
On the edge of space, the cockpit is silent except for the raspy hiss of the breathing system, which sucks pure oxygen into the pilot’s helmet.
“The air pressure inside the cockpit is the equivalent to standing on top of Mount Everest,” Phillips said.
“Without the oxygen I’d be gasping for breath, and I’d be in danger of getting the bends,” he added, referring to an illness that occurs when dissolved gases enter the bloodstream as the body experiences changes in pressure.
“A lot of times when we get up to altitude, you’ll be able to look down and see the airliners,” Jethro, the pilot, said during the flight.
“And you can see that very gentle curve of the earth from here,” Phillips added, “It’s an extraordinary view.”
“When you get up there and you think, like, ‘What makes these people different from these people?’ And you just don’t see it from up there,” Nova, the other pilot, said. “It’s one world. There’s one planet.”
A U-2 lands at Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates, Nov. 16, 2017.
(Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Colton Elliott)
‘You’re in a small club’
The features that make the U-2 an exceptional high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft make it extremely difficult to land. Pilots have to perform a kind of controlled crash to bring the plane back to earth.
The two sets of wheels built into the plane are set up like bicycle wheels, with one set under the nose and the other under the tail. The massive wings, now relieved of their fuel, make the aircraft hard to control as it comes in.
The cars that saw the plane off zip in as it lands, their drivers giving the pilots a foot-by-foot countdown and alerting them to any problems. The cars can hit 140 mph while chasing an incoming U-2.
Once the plane has slowed down enough, one of the wings droops to the ground. Titanium skid plates on the bottoms of both wings help bring the plane to a full stop, at which point the temporary wheels are reattached. The plane then taxis off the runway.
Back on earth, technicians begin developing the imagery.
A flight can produce 10,500 feet of film, stored on a 250-pound spool, according to Phillips.
The U-2’s wet-film camera produces images that are clearer than digital images, which are analyzed with loupes or microscope-like optics that zoom in on the features captured on the film.
It’s an old-fashioned approach to aerial reconnaissance, Phillips noted. “But it works, and that’s why it’s still around,” one of the airmen overseeing the film-development process added.
After the first two undergraduate pilot training students are picked and enter the FACT program, the assignment process “will be assessed to determine the sustainability of this experimental pilot pipeline,” the Air Force said in its announcement.
For the time being, the Dragon Lady’s pilot corps will be a rare breed.
“A thousand pilots, [there are] way more Super Bowl rings out there. You’re in a small club,” Lt. Col. Matt Nussbaum, 99th Reconnaissance Squadron commander, told Phillips.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Welp, let’s get real. We’re stuck at home. We can sneak into eerily quiet grocery stores in hopes of acquiring even a single role of elusive toilet paper, go for a walk and pick up an emotional support latte at the Starbucks drive-thru, but aside from that, we’re required to stay the heck away from each other.
As disarming as it may feel, when we’re stuck at home, we’re not really stuck at all. Just think of all the things you’ve told yourself you’ll get around to “some time.” Instead of feeling stuck, consider quarantine life as a chance to slow down, look within and get around to some overdue self-care. Here are 10 ideas to get you started!
Sure, it might be hard to find eggs and rice, but there are still plenty of recipes you can make. Cooking is time-consuming, which means most of us let the grocery stores do a lot of the food prep for us. While there is an increasing number of healthy, pre-made meals on the market, they can’t compare to making meals from scratch. Learning to cook can be meditative and it gives your family a chance to spend time together and appreciate the food you share.
Exercise is not a new concept, but juggling work and family makes it a challenge to fit in consistent exercise. When you’re not in the habit of it, it’s natural to forget or put it off…what’s one more day? But in quarantineville, there’s plenty of time! You can learn to do the splits, work on your mile time or beat your squat record. Or just go for a walk. It doesn’t matter where you start. Just pick something enjoyable that you can maintain once regular life has resumed.
Break a bad habit
It takes 21 days to break a habit. Do you bite your nails? Drink Diet Coke on the reg? Have an adult beverage a little more frequently than the doc recommends? Take note of what triggers the behavior, like boredom or stress. Whatever your bad habit is, try replacing it with a different, healthier habit to make the change a little easier.
Learn a new skill
Another great health booster is using your brain in a new way. Learn a language, pull out the guitar that’s been gathering dust, try a drawing tutorial or learn how to fix that hole in the wall. Whatever you’re interested in, give it a shot!
Plan out financial goals
Look over your spending habits. Your career goals. Your retirement plans. Are you on track for where you’d like to be in five years? If you haven’t checked up on your finances, now’s a great time to buckle down and get serious about it.
Marie Kondo the whole house. That itchy sweater you never wear? Old textbooks you’ll never look at again? Your mother-in-law? Boy bye. (Okay, maybe the mother-in-law can stay. But the rest…get ’em outta here!)
Call old friends and relatives
We all have those two (or 10) people we always intend to call and never do. You’d be amazed how much light it brings someone when you simply pick up the phone and reach out. It’s a tiny action that shows you care. Especially when people are cut off from their normal social circles, a phone call can change someone’s entire day!
Surprise the ones you love
Not with presents…with your time! Make your partner a special meal or give them a massage. Get down on the floor and build a fort with your kids or bake cookies together as a family. Leave notes for each member to remind them what you love about them.
We love these military-themed novels, but don’t be afraid to broaden your horizons, either! If you’re used to non-fiction, try reading a fantasy novel. Maybe a little poetry or romance. Reading opens worlds, and you finally have time to jump into one!
Get a good night’s sleep
Last summer, I went on a 10-day camping trip. No work. No internet. No electricity. When it got dark, we would gather around the fire and tell stories. By 9:00, we were out cold. For the first time since I was a kid, I woke up feeling refreshed and energized — no coffee needed. While 9:00 pm is a little extreme, use this time to settle into a routine that helps you feel your best.
The quarantine won’t last forever, so make of it what you can! Rest, reset and get ready to jump back into life with a clean house and a full battery.
FOX News Journalist Abby Hornacek is no stranger to the outdoors. Growing up in a family of athletes, she’s now brought her love for fitness and travel to the FOX Nation series, Park’d.
In 2020, disabled military veterans received one of the best benefits of service the country could give them: free access to the most breathtaking sights in the country they served.
A partnership between the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation allows veterans with a service-connected disability an Access Pass that allows for free entry and discounts on park amenities.
There are so many reasons why this is an incredible benefit for America’s disabled veterans (and Gold Star Families, by the way). On Park’d, you can see FOX’s Abby Hornacek hike, surf and RV across the country in the most stunning national parks, but here are a few she’s visited everyone should see for themselves.
1. Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Nowhere else in America – perhaps on Earth – will nature lovers see a more stunning, otherworldly sight than Canyonland National Park. One of two national parks in the Moab area of Utah, Canyonland National Park is a park filled with dozens of the outdoor enthusiast’s must-do and must-see lists.
From Grand View Point, visitors can see much of the park’s painted, jaw-dropping landscape in all its technicolor glory. The Mesa Arch is probably its most famous landmark, and with one look, visitors will see why. Canyoneering and camping is a must for any visitor, but the thrill seeker can watch Abby Honacek rappel a 120-foot drop into the park’s “Medieval Chamber” and consider taking the challenge.
2. Acadia National Park, Maine
Maine’s Acadia National Park isn’t just a sight to see for so-called “leafers” looking for explosions of color among the fall foliage. It’s called the “Crown Jewel of the North Atlantic Coast” for a reason. Hiking in Acadia means literal cliff walks, offering a full panoramic view of the Maine coastline and the beautiful forests below. You may even get a glimpse of the majestic Peregrine Falcons that call Acadia home.
When Abby Hornacek visited Acadia National Park for FOX Nation’s “Park’d,” she was able to take in the full grandeur of the park’s vastness by gliding far above the treetops. The park is so vast, in fact, that reaching some of its outlying islands could take a full day’s boat ride. Hornacek and company got in some good lobstering along the way.
3. Channel Islands National Park, California
From the Atlantic Coast to the Pacific Coast, Abby Hornacek took in Channel Islands National Park, south from the coast of Santa Barbara. In true California style, she took in some of the best waves on the West Coast, surfing in the cool Pacific waters off the “Galapagos of North America. A visit to Channel Islands National Park is an experience in one of the most ecologically diverse places on the continent.
Kayaking across Santa Cruz island, she was able to experience the California coast as it was when untouched by human contact. Kayakers and hikers to any of the five Channel Islands will have an opportunity to see green peaks, pristine coastlines and an intense array of wildlife, from sea lions and island foxes to the American Bald Eagle.
4. Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Visitors without a lot of time to explore Mesa Verde’s 5,000 natural wonders and 600 Native American cliff dwellings can still have an amazing experience inside the park’s 52,000 acres. Abby Hornacek explored as much as possible through a zipline excursion, which gave her a panoramic view of the park and its deep canyons.
For a more up-close and personal view of the vistas of Mesa Verde, visitors can hike the Petroglyph Point Trail, for views of the canyons, cliffsides, and expansive work of art that nature created. The best view comes from hiking to Park Point Fire Lookout, the highest point in the park. At 8,572 feet, those who make the trek will be able to see Utah, New Mexico and Arizona on a clear day.
Anyone planning on seeing as much as possible in Mesa Verde should prepare for camping in the park, as it was just certified as an International Dark Sky Park, perfect for stargazing in the clear Colorado skies.
5. Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas
Arkansas’ natural wonder was established long before the idea of creating national parks even existed. It’s easy to see why. The lush green landscape is fed by thermal springs from thousands of feet below ground mixed with the cold ground water of the area. What makes this park unique is how closely the park is integrated to the surrounding area.
Abby Hornacek explored the history of the town, which featured rustic bathhouses and other tourist attractions using the storied healing power of the spring water. She even gets a lesson in beer brewing using Hot Springs’ famous water supply from the locals. Follow Hornacek as she summits Music Mountain, the park’s highest point for a breathtaking view.
6. Yosemite National Park, California
No list of breathtaking national parks would be complete without including California’s Yosemite National Park. The park is home to 1,200 square miles of glacier-carved peaks, stunning river valleys and the majestic waterfalls that dot the landscape – a truly unforgettable experience.
Visitors will also see the forest of grandiose, ancient Giant Sequoias and the storied, legendary granite summits of El Capitan and Half-Dome. On Park’d, viewers can follow FOX’s Abby Hornacek as she braves a zipline over the mountains of the Yellowstone National Park and rafts the formidable Yellowstone River.
What’s even better? If you’ve served or are currently serving our beautiful country, then you get a free year of FOX Nation, where you can catch a new season of Park’d on July 3rd. Check out the FOX Nation website for more details!