Justin Constantine knows all about being challenged. In 2006, he survived an almost fatal gunshot to the head by a sniper in Iraq. It didn’t stop him. Instead, this now retired, Purple Heart recipient and decorated Marine fought through endless surgeries and therapy to become a successful entrepreneur and renowned motivational speaker.
President George W. Bush painted Constantine for his book, “Portraits of Courage,” and Constantine has received multiple awards for his work with veterans and advocacy efforts for those with disabilities. Constantine even gave a TEDx talk on being strong, which has transformed countless lives. Just as COVID-19 started igniting fear and anxiety throughout the world, he received a phone call from a doctor that would challenge his own strength.
Stage 4 cancer.
Constantine was told it was very severe and had spread from his prostate to his bones. Rather than let the currently incurable diagnosis stop him, Constantine is using it to motivate him to become an even better version of himself.
Constantine overhauled his diet completely, cutting out anything that could be harmful or “feed” his cancer. He exercises every day and implemented daily meditation into his routine. He shared that he’s lost 35 pounds since his diagnosis and is the healthiest he’s ever been. “I focus on why today was a good day and why tomorrow will be great too. I look at how I can infuse positivity in my life. It doesn’t mean unicorns and rainbows all the time, it means I make my glass half full,” Constantine shared.
Receiving his diagnosis during a world pandemic has been difficult, but Constantine has decided to continue to utilize his own past and current challenges to help motivate and encourage others. “I’m not saying it’s easy because you have to look at what your challenge is and choose to push past it. It takes effort,” he explained.
Constantine emboldens people to examine their lives and determine how they can have more purpose and happiness. “COVID is going to cast a long shadow over our lives. Things are a lot more complicated than they were a few months ago but with that comes time to think about what’s really important,” he shared.
Reports of increased suicide among veterans during COVID-19 has been present in the media, something that weighs heavily on Constantine. Despite dealing with his own significant medical challenges, he still remains focused on supporting veterans and encouraging them to seek support. “That’s so sad that someone has something that they are going through right now and it means life isn’t worth living. If they could step up and look down, they may see how many people care about them and want them to be here,” he said.
Constantine referenced his own experience of healing from his gunshot wound and then developing post-traumatic stress disorder. He sought counseling without hesitation for his PTSD, despite working for the FBI. He was very open about receiving services and it didn’t impede his continuing career. “I saw my counselor for 18 months for an hour each week. You could tell the difference in me if I missed a session. I encourage veterans to get the help they need and deserve for themselves and for their families,” he said.
Constantine often credits his wife, Dahlia, with being his rock. He shared that he knows how lucky he is to have her as his constant support and partner through life, especially since many people may not have that kind of presence in their own lives. To that he encourages all people and especially veterans who may be struggling to know they aren’t alone. “Together we are stronger; help is just a phone call away. There is always someone waiting to support you,” he said.
Throughout the past five months of the pandemic, Constantine has been consistently recording public motivational videos on his social media. He’s also been reaching out to veterans he identifies that may need support and doing his best to be an encouraging voice for them.
All while facing his own deeply personal challenge.
The effort Constantine exhibits may be born from his own experiences of recovering from his gunshot wound. When asked if he thinks surviving his near fatal wound made him more prepared to receive his current diagnosis, Constantine said yes. He explained that the experience definitely contributed to his commitment to overcoming cancer. “I think it was poignant. I feel that knowing that I overcame such a significant challenge before, makes me very confident that this too shall pass and I will push past this too,” he said.
Although Constantine may be facing the fight of his life, he continues to make the active choice not to fall into despair or spend his days thinking about his diagnosis. Instead, he’s doing what he’s always done: motivating others and living with purpose.
When preparing to travel, we typically think of how to artfully pack our suitcase to make it past TSA regulations. We’re often annoyed by the inconvenience of security measures, while trying to navigate busy and sometimes unfamiliar airports. Unfortunately, most don’t see the bigger picture. In the wake of September 11, stricter screening procedures were put in place to help deter violence in airports and on aircrafts. Although this has arguably increased safety while in transit, it has left some people feeling helpless once they arrive at their final destination.
Believe it or not, most Americans rely on others for their personal safety. Whether it’s the TSA, military, law enforcement, or private security, in the wake of an emergency, people commonly look to them as the sole providers of protection and safety. But we can’t count on others for an instant, effective response. This is even more of a concern when traveling in an unknown area, state, or country that prevents you from carrying a firearm or a handheld weapon.
Former federal air marshal Richard A. St. Pierre suggests that personal safety and accountability is always having an entrance and exit plan whether it’s at home, the airport, a restaurant, or a foreign country. There are measures you can take to maintain your personal safety in spite of restrictions imposed by your travel. But first, we’ll review some statistics and events that’ll hopefully help you understand why it’s important to be more prepared when traveling.
In January 2013, Sarai Sierra, a 33-year-old Staten Island mother and wife, was killed while traveling in Turkey. During an interview, her killer stated that after drinking alcohol and sniffing paint thinner he stumbled upon Sierra, who was walking alone. He told authorities that he attempted to kiss her and she resisted, striking him with her cell phone. Then, he dragged her into an alcove, where she attempted to fight him off for approximately 30 minutes. Some would conclude that traveling alone in Istanbul, Turkey, simply isn’t safe. But what about the incidents that happen in our backyard? On Oct. 1, 2017, at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival held in Las Vegas, Nevada, a gunman opened fire on concertgoers from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel, killing 58 and injuring more than 400. Our goal isn’t to talk about what the victims might’ve done, but to acknowledge that evil exists and prepare ourselves to combat it as best we can.
Studies show that, as of 2013, the average response time for law enforcement nationwide is 11 to 18 minutes. Conversely, a commonly cited statistic is that the average gunfight lasts three seconds, while a shooting incident lasts approximately 12.5 minutes. These statistics suggest that, on average, we may not be able to rely on others for help when we most need it, and we’re ultimately responsible for our own safety. With these numbers at our disposal it may be hard to understand why daily habits of preparedness aren’t more common compared to other “universal” safety rituals, like installing smoke detectors in our homes in case of a fire, wearing seatbelts while driving in case of an accident, and locking our doors to deter theft. Still, the average American neglects daily practices focusing on personal protection.
Here are some recommended steps that you can take to increase your awareness and safety before, during, and after traveling.
The first step in protecting ourselves, or loved ones at home or on the road is having a plan. Whether it includes carrying a firearm or an edged weapon, being proficient in hand-to-hand combat, or simply being able to remain calm, think, react, and communicate appropriately. It’s important to identify a survival resource and train it consistently, helping to develop an ingrained mental pathway for our safety habits.
If you’re traveling domestically, carrying a firearm once you arrive at your destination may be an option, but first you must research the firearms and carry laws of that locality. Does it have reciprocity with your home state? If not, what are the local licensing laws? If flying with a firearm or handheld weapon, you should check with both TSA and the airline to ensure you follow proper procedures to do so. For international travel, you don’t have this option.
Prior to travel, research your destination. If flying into an airport or arriving in a train station, look into the various modes of transportation within the area and how to access them. For example, is public transportation a practical option and known to be safe? To get an idea about crime trends throughout the transiting area, check out the free crime reporting website Spotcrime.com. It’s light on details, but it’ll give you an idea of what areas have high instances of crime.
If you’re using taxi or car services, identify reputable companies and pick-up locations ahead of time and know whether or not they’re regulated in that area. In the U.S., taxi services are regulated and have set prices in each state; they generally offer two to three different price brackets for daytime, nighttime, and peak hours. Furthermore, most taxis are outfitted with security cameras and GPS locators. If traveling internationally, not all cabs are regulated. If using a cab, you’re better off calling for one rather than hailing one. When the cab arrives, look for numbers and labeling on the outside. On the inside, look for a meter, radio, and badge. Know where you’re going and be aware of local currency conversions.
Other popular transportation options are ride-sharing services, such as Uber, UberX, or Lyft. Most ride-share services have come under regulation — the respective state and territory governments have set varying requirements on drivers before they’re eligible for work. Uber drivers are generally required to hold a state-based driver authority (much like a taxi driver), which usually involves a criminal history and medical check as well as providing proof of insurance. Aside from regulations most ride-share services have a number of different parameters in place to ensure passengers safety to include:
No Anonymity: Passengers are given a driver’s name, photo, vehicle information, and contact number. The trip is also kept on record.
GPS Tracking: Once your driver accepts you request, your trip is tracked via GPS on your phone and the driver’s phone. You also have the ability to share your ride with your friends or family so they can keep track of your ride.
Rating System: Drivers are anonymously reviewed by passengers on a scale of 1 to 5. Drivers may have their accounts deactivated if they consistently receive low ratings.
Make sure to note any neighborhoods or areas plagued with high crime and avoid them if possible. Crimereports.com is a great way to search crime data by region, address, zip code, or law enforcement agency.
Having a plan and knowing where you’re going will reduce any unnecessary loitering that could reveal to predators that you’re unfamiliar with the area.
If staying in a hotel, try to find a known, reputable brand. Most hotel chains have a rewards program and website to book reservations through, which often include a star rating system. When making your reservation, request a room off of the ground floor. Higher floors help prevent someone from walking in off the street and easily gaining access to your room. Once your reservation is made, record the hotel’s address and contact information, and store it somewhere that you can easily access once you arrive. Fumbling through your personal belongings creates distractions and opportunities for human predators.
If you’ve booked your travel accommodations through an online hospitality service that rents private residences like Airbnb or VRBO, knowing the area becomes even more important. Is the area of the rental safe? Is it accessible to public transportation? Will it be owner-occupied while you’re renting? Is there parking available at or near the rental, if renting a car or driving to your destination? Always know whom you’re renting from by reading previous renter reviews and renting from a verified source.
Don’t advertise solo travel or that you’re a tourist. Always move with confidence even if you feel unsure. Don’t be flashy with clothing or accessories. If traveling internationally, be sure to know local customs and dress accordingly. Be aware of cultural etiquette for the areas you’ll be visiting, whether in or out of the United States. Remember that anything you say or do in public can be overheard or observed. Like the World War II saying “loose lips sink ships,” gabbing openly about your plans, where you’re staying, or how excited you are to finally get out on your own could inadvertently put you at risk if you happen to be amongst the wrong crowd. Do your best to favor well-lit areas with lots of public traffic. If you plan to drink alcoholic beverages, know your limits, don’t leave drinks unattended, and don’t accept drinks from strangers. The importance of selecting a reputable car services applies doubly when you’re tipsy. We know of several people who’ve been mugged or worse because they had one too many and assumed that once they got in a cab everything would be fine.
The loose lips rule applies to hotel staff equally as anyone else. Have just one keycard made for your room, to help prevent misplacing or losing track of keys. When in your room, make sure to lock the door and utilize any additional security locks. Note that not all hotel doors have supplemental security features, so consider travelling with a rubber or tactical doorstop with which you can chock the door from the inside to make it harder for someone to force access. If there’s a safe in the room, always keep identification papers and high-dollar items locked up. If an in-room safe isn’t available, the front desk may have a safe deposit box. When leaving your room, place the do not disturb card on the outside of the door and leave the radio or TV on. This will make your room appear occupied, especially when traveling alone.
Prior to checking out of the hotel, double-check the safe for personal items. Do a full sweep of your hotel room to ensure you don’t leave any personal affects behind. Make sure not to leave anything in the trash that could be used to identify you, such as old boarding tickets, receipts, mail, or agendas. Although most hotels have stopped attaching personal information to room keys, turn in or take hotel keys with you.
Again, if you’re staying at a private residence that you booked through an online hospitality service, preparedness is paramount to your safety. Communicate through the site you book through, set expectations with your host for your visit ahead of time, and don’t leave personal items behind.
Try to remain especially alert at the airport or in any major transportation hub. Hundreds of thousands of people transit through these various networks on a daily basis from all over the world, making it a target-rich environment. As always, maintain accountability for your personal items and never leave them unattended. If you forget this last part, the incessant loudspeaker announcements in most major airports will no doubt remind you.
Even after travelling, safety is paramount. Once home, check your luggage to make sure you didn’t leave anything behind. Also, run periodic checks of your bank accounts and credit card statements to make sure none of your accounts were compromised. It’s also a good practice to occasionally check your credit statement for fraudulent activity.
Maintain awareness in all senses of the word. Just because you safely made it back to the comforts of your own home doesn’t mean that risks are no longer present. We often become complacent in our daily routines, and it’s just as important for us to maintain vigilance while conducting daily activities. Whether you’re traveling to and from work, to another state, across the country, or internationally, personal accountability and preparedness are the two most important factors to ensure that you and your loved ones don’t become victims.
Online research of crime reports in the area you intend to stay.
Lock sensitive items up in a hotel safe and copies of identification on your person.
Call for a taxi from an accredited company or ride-sharing service rather than hailing one.
Periodically check your bank and credit card statements to watch for any fraudulent activity.
Leave drinks unattended or accept any from strangers.
Travel alone, especially in unfamiliar areas.
Post information on social media regarding your whereabouts and status abroad until after you return home.
Leave receipts, boarding passes, and other information that can be used to identify you behind in hotel rooms.
Hana L. Bilodeau has over 15 years of law enforcement experience, serving both locally and federally. Most recently, she spent time with the Federal Air Marshal Service covering multiple domestic and international missions. Hana has a wealth of knowledge in a number of different defensive modalities to include her present role as a full-time firearms instructor for SIG SAUER Academy. Hana is also a per diem deputy with the Strafford County Sheriff’s Office, allowing her to stay current with the law enforcement culture.
This article originally appeared on Recoilweb. Follow @RecoilMag on Twitter.
When James Elliott Williams enlisted in the Navy in 1947, World War II was over, and the South Carolina native probably thought he might have a career no different, better, or worse than any other enlisted sailor. History would have other ideas. He just wanted to join the Navy, so bad in fact, he was only 16 when he enlisted. He and a county clerk altered his birth certificate to make him old enough to join. That was just the first bold move of his career.
It’s notable that the most decorated enlisted sailor in Navy history isn’t a SEAL or anything like that, he was a Boatswains Mate.
Chief Ryback approves.
Today’s Boatswain’s Mates now train, direct, and supervise the ship’s personnel in the maintenance of the ship as well as operate machinery to load and unload supplies. They’re kind of the jack of all trades sailor, the oldest rate in the Navy. They repair the ship, provide security, and even drive the damn things. Not three years into James William’s enlistment, the Korean War broke out, and Williams was aboard the destroyer USS Douglas H. Fox. Being a Boatswain’s Mate, he ended up on numerous small boat raiding parties into North Korea.
It suited him just fine. Williams continued his enlistment even after the war ended. His real moment to shine came during his time in Vietnam.
Yeahhhhhhhh buddy. I don’t know this guy, but I’d follow him anywhere.
Williams was the Petty Officer in charge of overseeing patrols in the Mekong Delta as the Vietnam War was heating up in 1966 and 1967. At the time in his career when other NCOs would be seeking a quiet place to end their enlistment, Williams was tossing ammunition over his shoulder and telling junior sailors everything was going to be okay – and it was, because Williams was going to see to that.
That’s what happened on Oct. 31, 1966, when Williams’ two boat patrol was ambushed by two enemy boats on the river. He collected his “19-year-old and scared to death” gunners, and directed a return fire that destroyed one boat and sent the other running away for dear life. It wouldn’t get away, as the sailors chased the damaged enemy boat right into…
An enemy stronghold.
Suddenly, they were outnumbered 65-to-1. The VC opened up on the Americans with withering AK-47 and RPG fire. You can probably guess what happened next.
If you guessed the Americans retreated, I’m showing you this photo again because you clearly forgot about it.
Williams led his boat and its crew into the enemy formation, with fortified bunkers shooting at them from the riverbanks, enemy boats swirling around them, and all kinds of different ordnance being thrown their way. As he attacked enemy sampans, junks, and other river craft, he called in for help from UH-1B Huey helicopters as the night fell on the South Vietnamese inlet where Williams and his crew were absolutely laying waste to the Viet Cong.
For three hours, Williams and company fought and wrecked an entire hub of VC shipping and supply along with the 65 boats and untold manpower defending it. The Navy wrecking crew killed 1,000 enemy troops in the process while disrupting the VC supply lines in the entire region.
That’s how James Williams earned the Medal of Honor.
Aside from the Medal of Honor he earned on that day, Williams other awards and decorations include the Navy Cross, the Silver Star with gold star, the Legion of Merit with combat V, the Navy and Marine Corps Medal with gold star, the Bronze Star with combat V and two gold stars, the Purple Heart with two gold stars, and a ton of other unit commendations and service medals.
He left the military as a Boatswain’s Mate First Class, E-6, but was made an honorary Chief in 1977.
Active-duty troops deployed to the US-Mexico border are increasingly bracing for confrontations rather than just running razor wire to deter their entry in the US, images published by the US military show.
In November 2018, US troops have been conducting non-lethal riot control training at bases in Arizona and California, and tactical training is expected to continue.
Soldiers and Marines were also apparently present on Nov. 25, 2018, at San Ysidro, a busy port of entry where border agents clashed with migrants, using tear gas against those who rushed the border.
Watch US troops engage in tactical training in preparation for violence:
This is how US troops are training for confrontations at the border.
Soldiers from 65th Military Police Company, 503rd Airborne Military Police Battalion, finish non lethal training in Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, Nov. 26, 2018.
(U.S. Army Photo by Pfc. Bradley McKinley)
Marines attached to Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force 7 join Customs and Border Protection at San Ysidro Point of Entry, California, Nov. 25, 2018.
(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Jesse Untalan)
Active-duty military personnel with riot shields were present at the San Ysidro port of entry Nov. 25, 2018, when CBP agents used tear gas and tactics to drive back migrants who rushed the border, some of whom threw rocks at US agents. Some critics have called the CBP response an overreaction.
US troops are authorized to provide force protection for border agents, but are barred by law from law enforcement in the US.
Soldiers from 65th Military Police Company, 503rd Airborne Military Police Battalion, take cover to conduct non lethal training in Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, Nov. 26, 2018.
(U.S. Army Photo by Pfc. Bradley McKinley)
Soldiers from the 65th Military Police Company, 503rd Airborne Military Police Battalion, conduct non-lethal riot control training in Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.
(U.S. Army Photo by Pfc. Bradley McKinley)
300 active-duty troops previously stationed in Texas and Arizona were shifted to California.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Ognjen Gajic, a lung expert and critical care specialist at the prestigious Mayo Clinic in the northern U.S. state of Minnesota, was interviewed by Ajla Obradovic, a correspondent with RFE/RL’s Balkan Service, about the coronavirus and the disease’s symptoms and treatment.
RFE/RL: How fast does a person’s health worsen after becoming infected? It seems that patients diagnosed with the coronavirus die rather quickly but recover more slowly compared to other diseases? Or is that an incorrect impression?
Ognjen Gajic: Critical illness [in people with the coronavirus] occurs on average after seven days of mild symptoms. From the moment one starts experiencing shortness of breath, [a patient’s condition can worsen] rapidly, sometimes within a few hours, and then intensive monitoring in a hospital intensive care unit is critical.
RFE/RL: How are COVID-19 patients treated? Is there a standard procedure?
Gajic: Most patients have mild symptoms and there is no specific treatment thus far other than controlling the symptoms — paracetamol (aka acetaminophen) for fever, weakness, and the like. Untested forms of treatment can be dangerous due to side effects and should not be used until research shows they are efficient.
I deal with the treatment of the critically ill, so I can say more about [those patients]. In many of them, the [COVID-19] disease progresses to severe bilateral pneumonia characterized by shortness of breath and hypoxia (that means oxygen deprivation in body tissue).
These patients should be immediately taken to the hospital for oxygen treatment and their condition should be constantly monitored so it is possible to respond in time [to these problems] with intense respiratory support, including respirators. Sophisticated intensive care with control and support of all organs is successful in about 50 percent of the most severely ill cases, although some patients may be on a respirator for several weeks before recovering or dying.
So far there is no proven specific treatment [for COVID-19] and untested experimental drugs should not be prescribed without the proper research [being conducted]. We are working with colleagues around the world on a day-to-day basis on research projects for new treatments and prevention.
RFE/RL: Is there any data so far on the underlying diseases that are, in some way, more pernicious in combination with the coronavirus?
Gajic: Rather than specific diseases, more important is [someone’s] physiological condition as far as their lungs and [general fitness]; elderly patients who are not fit and those with severe forms of chronic lung or heart disease have little reserve and little chance of successfully enduring intensive respiratory treatment.
RFE/RL: How much more infectious is the coronavirus than other communicable diseases and what is the best way for people to protect themselves? In the Czech Republic, for example, they require everyone to wear masks in public, while the World Health Organization has not cited this as essential for people who are not infected. Can you give some specific tips on protection?
Gajic: Masks should be left to health-care professionals. A thorough hand washing with soap and water is by far the most important tip and, at this point, isolation from all but essential contacts — especially groups — must be respected. Also, before coming to a health-care facility, first make contact by phone, since it is safer to stay home for home treatment if one is showing mild symptoms.
RFE/RL: I understand you worked with your colleagues from Wuhan. What is it that other countries can learn from them and apply in their response to the pandemic?
Gajic: Several colleagues from Wuhan hospitals have been at the Mayo Clinic in recent years and we have been doing joint research. At the beginning of the epidemic in Wuhan, we sent support in terms of treatment guidelines and [medical] staff protection. Now they are helping us. After some initial setbacks, our colleagues in Wuhan, with rigorous isolation measures, adequate equipment, and training, were able to prevent their health-care professionals from becoming sick despite working with critically ill patients.
RFE/RL: The latest information shows that the United States now has the largest number of infected people. Did the U.S. response to the epidemic come too late?
Gajic: I’m not an epidemiologist so I can’t comment on that. When it comes to the critically ill, U.S. hospitals provide fantastic care in these difficult conditions.
If you visit the USS Constitution in Boston these days, the cannons you’ll see on her gun deck aren’t the originals launched with the ship. The guns aboard the ship are replicas, and only two of them are capable of firing salute charges. Even when the sailors aboard Constitution fire salutes, it’s a far cry from the way cannons were loaded and fired when Old Ironsides was first laid.
In fact, they’re inaccurate replicas, with 18 of them even bearing the Royal Cipher of King George II.
The creator thought the ship’s original guns were confiscated from the British. He was wrong.
(USS Constitution Museum Collection)
USS Constitution was first launched in 1797 and saw action against the Royal Navy during the War of 1812. She took down five British warships, victories that stunned not only the Royal Navy, but the rest of the world. Her most famous victory was against the HMS Guerriere, the victory that earned her the nickname “Old Ironsides” when the Guerriere’s 526-pound broadsides bounced off Constitution’s hull as if it were made of iron. But the 30 24-pounder long guns and 20 32-pounder carronades it launched with weren’t captured from the British during the Revolution.
The guns aboard Constitution were never designed to stay solely aboard the ship, as weapons at that time were moved as needed. Shortly before the Civil War, she took an illegal American slaver as a prize off the coast of Angola and was decommissioned. The ship was turned into a training ship for Midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy. Eventually, she was turned into housing for sailors until the turn of the 20th Century.
The Constitution being refitted as training ship for Midshipmen.
It was around 1906 that Congress decided to restore Constitution to her former glory. After public outcry against the ship being used for target practice by the Navy halted its planned sinking, 0,000 was appropriated to restore the ship as a museum. This included new casts of cannon for her decks. Some 54 guns were going to be cast for the restoration. But the Naval Constructor in charge of the armaments, believing there was no documentation about the original guns, used a French design instead. So rather than long guns and carronades, the designer saved money by using the same gun on every deck.
In 1925, the Navy rectified this and went all-out in restoring Constitution. The new restoration scrapped all of the 1906 guns for being historically inaccurate. After four years in drydock, the guns the Navy used to replace the 1906 guns were also inaccurate. These were the aforementioned British-style weapons – but at least they represent the kinds of weapons found on the gun decks and spar decks. Two of them even fire salutes.
The two saluting guns aboard Constitution were retrofitted to fire 40mm shells of black powder just in time for the United States Centennial in 1976. On Nov. 11, 1976, the commanding officer of the ship decided to fire the salute guns in the morning and in the evening from the ship’s mooring in Boston Harbor – a tradition it has carried on ever since.
More than 100 years ago, European powers were in the middle of World War I and looking everywhere for potential enemies and allies. In 1916, even President Wilson believed it would soon be inevitable for the U.S. to enter the war on the side of England and the Triple Entente. Then, an explosion on July 30, 1916 shattered windows in Times Square, shook the Brooklyn Bridge, and could be heard as far away as Maryland.
But the effect that would have lasting impression was the shrapnel that peppered the nearby Statue of Liberty.
(National Board of Health)
German saboteurs moved to hit a munitions plant in New York City’s Black Tom Island (an artificial island near Liberty Island) that was already making weapons and ammunition bound for Britain and France. They did it in the early morning hours on the poorly lit, poorly defended ammunition depot.
It was part of a two-year German campaign of sabotage in the United States and shook far away America to its core. The outrage over the previous year’s sinking of the RMS Lusitania and the loss of 120 Americans aboard that ship already began to turn American public opinion against Germany.
The Great War had finally come home in a big way.
This was not the first explosion or “accident” that occurred in munitions plants or on ships bound for Europe. German agents operating out of New York and its port facilities hired German sailors and Irish dock workers to plant bombs and incendiary devices on ships and in plants working on war materials. The number of accidents aboard those ships skyrocketed. But the Black Tom incident was different.
Two million tons of explosives were set off in a single instant. Five people died and it’s fortunate more people weren’t killed, considering the size of the blast. The buildings on the landfill island were smashed and flattened.
(U.S. Army Signal Corps photo)
The shrapnel that exploded in every direction damaged the Statue of Liberty and didn’t just scar her lovely face, it popped the rivets that connect the arm that bears the torch of freedom, forcing the the arm to be forever closed to tourists. For a little while, even the years following the end of World War I, Black Tom was all America could talk about.
That is, until a new Germany rose from the ashes of the Kaiser’s Empire.
Native American Vietnam veteran Robert Primeaux shared his journey from a Lakota reservation to the Army and even to Hollywood.
As a young man, Primeaux was eager to get off the reservation and see the world. To leave, he decided to join the Army. He trained in Fort Lewis and Fort Knox before joining the 101st Airborne Division and sent off to Vietnam.
In 1972, Primeaux returned to the United States. His younger brother had been killed in a car accident, leaving Primeaux as the sole male survivor of his family.
However, he did not stay in the Army long. A car accident of his own put him in a coma for three weeks. After he recovered, he was discharged.
Primeaux then lived on his grandmother’s ranch while he recovered from his injuries. To help with his recovery, he began to self-rehab by working with the horses on the ranch. His love for horses gave him the opportunity to go to school through a rodeo scholarship from the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association (NIRA).
Between school and living on his family ranch, Primeaux met Michael Apted on the set of Thunderheart in South Dakota. Through this meeting, he landed a stunt role on Thunderheart and become eligible for access to the Union of the Screen Actors Guild.
Later, Primeaux moved to LA to begin his film career where he landed roles in Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman and a more prominent role in Rough Riders. This role as Indian Bob was special to Primeaux because the director John Milius specifically created it with him in mind.
Recently, Primeaux has worked as an advocate for fallen service-members.
Throughout his life, through thick and thin, Primeaux credited the Four Cardinal Lakota Virtues for helping him recover from the Vietnam War and his car accident. He listed the Lakota Virtues as:
Bravery. “Individual valor meant more than group bravery, and the warrior who most fearlessly risked his life earned the admiration of all the people and received the most cherished honors.”
Generosity. “If you have more than one of anything, you should give it away to help those persons.”
Fortitude. “All had to be borne without visible signs of distress.
Wisdom. “A man who displays wisdom, displays superior judgment in matters of war, the hunt, of human and group relationships, of band and Tribal policy, and of harmonious interaction with the natural and spiritual world.”
From childhood, Lakota Warriors were taught these four virtues. Primeaux stated that warriors who were taught the true meaning of these virtues learn to treat their Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
Gilbert Bates knew what a lack of understanding between people could lead to: violence and war. Bates was a Civil War veteran of the Wisconsin artillery who knew that people were basically good, no matter what the rumors said. If there was an area that was supposed to be hostile and dangerous for Americans, Bates would set out to prove the rumors wrong.
And he did so on more than one occasion.
After the Civil War ended, Sgt. Bates returned to his Wisconsin farm. Tensions between North and South were still high, even though the war had resolved the major issues. Northerner and Southerner were still mistrustful of one another. But Bates knew the South was in the Union for good. The victory was hard-won, but won nonetheless. So when his Wisconsin neighbors began to circulate rumors that the South was rising once more in rebellion and that any Northerner was not safe down there, Bates set out to prove them wrong by marching across the South with the U.S. Flag in hand.
Bates’ march received so much notoriety at the time that even Mark Twain, the famous American author wrote of it, predicting that Bates would “get more black eyes, down there among those unreconstructed rebels than he can ever carry along with him without breaking his back.” But everyone who predicted his demise greatly exaggerated.
Bates walked across the unreconstructed South, some 1,500 miles, through Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia to Washington, DC. He didn’t arrive on one leg and with an eye missing, as Twain predicted. The opposite was true, actually. Bates received genteel Southern Hospitality everywhere he went, even flying the American flag he carried over the former Confederate capital at Richmond. The only place he wasn’t allowed to fly it was over the U.S. Capitol building.
This march led to Bates taking on a bet. A wealthy friend of his bet the flag carrier that he could not do the same march across England without receiving a single insult. Bates, who had an incredible belief in the goodness of his fellow man took that bet.
Relations with England at the time of the Civil War were much different from the “Special Relationship” we enjoy today. In the 1860s, the British were more interested in King Cotton than supporting the United States against its rebels. In many ways, the English Crown supported the Confederacy, if not openly, then as an open secret. Still undeterred, Bates marched on foot – in full Union uniform – across the country. He walked some 400 miles from the border of Scotland to London to great fanfare. The English could not support him enough. He never paid for a meal or a place to sleep. By the time he got to London, the crowds swelled so much he had to take a carriage to the raise the Stars and Stripes next to the Union Jack.
Upon arriving, he telegrammed his friend, canceling the bet. To Bates, the event was worth more than any sum.
Special operations forces are the most highly disciplined, mission-capable, and formidable units in the world. They go through rigorous selection processes and training in order to conduct unconventional warfare tasks that are beyond the means of standard military forces.
The truth is, the world may never know exactly what these teams have accomplished, but their public records contain enough to earn global respect. In no particular order, these are ten lethal special operations units from around the world.
Formerly known as the Snow Wolf Commando Unit, named for the tenacity of arctic wolves and their ability to survive in harsh conditions, this is a specops unit of the People’s Republic of China. At their inception, they spent five years training in secret to conduct counter-terrorism, riot control, anti-hijacking, and bomb disposal for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.
They’ve trained alongside Russian special task force units during joint anti-terror exercises with the primary mission of maintaining peace and stability.
The unit prides itself on the speed and accuracy of their marksmanship, their strength and stamina, and their spirit of self-sacrifice. Each recruit must serve in the People’s Armed Police for 1-2 years before undergoing physical and psychological tests. Perhaps where they excel the most is in martial arts and close quarter battles, but their sniper squadron shouldn’t be discounted.
The SBS is the UK’s equivalent of the US Navy SEALs. The selection process for the elite team has a 90% failure rate and includes a grueling 4-week endurance test that grows increasingly more challenging and concludes with a 40 kilometer march — that’s 24.8 miles for my fellow Yankees — which must be completed in under 20 hours.
Graduates will master weapons handling, jungle training, complex fighting, and combat survival before they are officially inducted into the elite unit.
Born out of World War II, today, the SBS remains one of the most well-respected units in the world. Since 9/11, the Special Boat Service has been deployed against Al Qaeda, ISIS, and the Taliban, as well as on rescue missions around the globe, including in Sierra Leone and Libya.
Soldier in the Polish Naval Special Forces Unit GROM during NATO exercise Trident Juncture 15.
GROM is an acronym that loosely translates to the Group for Operational Maneuvering Response.
More poignantly, however, grom means “thunder” in Polish. It’s a unit that can trace its lineage to the exiled Polish paratroopers of World War II known as “the Silent Unseen.” 315 men — and one woman — trained for months in Great Britain before jumping into occupied Poland to oppose the Nazi hold there.
In 1990, the GROM unit was organized after Operation Bridge, a mission to help Soviet Jews enter Israel. Intelligence reports indicated a significant Hezbollah threat in the area of operations, so the elite counter-terrorist force was approved. It remained a secret from the public until 1994, when they deployed to Haiti for Operation Restore Democracy.
GROM performs rescue operations, including hostage recovery, as well as counter-insurgency missions. They have extensive weapons and medical expertise and have mastered a variety of military disciplines, including parachuting, amphibious insertion, diving, pyrotechnics, and vehicle handling.
Whether fighting terrorists or war criminals, GROM more than lives up to its name.
Business Insider reported that training for the Pakistani Special Services Group requires a 36-mile march done in 12 hours and a five-mile run in full kit in 20 minutes — if that’s true… then holy s***.
Created to combat terrorism, extremism, and separatism, SSG training consists of grueling physical conditioning, airborne school, a 25-week commando course, and hand-to-hand combat training. Reportedly, only 5% of recruits complete the rigorous training.
Due to their location, they are kept actively engaged in counter-terror missions. From hotspots along the India-Pakistan border to the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan to Operation Zarb-e-Azb, a joint military offensive targeting terrorist organizations, the SSG goes where the fire is hot.
Delta Force and soldiers pictured deep behind Iraqi lines during the 1991 Gulf War
6. Delta Force
Delta Force is the U.S. Army’s elite counter-terrorism unit, with Army Rangers and Green Berets among its numbers, but it also has operators from the Navy and Air Force. It’s been called many things — Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, the Combat Applications Group, and now the Army Compartmented Elements, but throughout its short history, it has maintained its superior ability to capture or kill high value targets, dismantle terrorist cells, and conduct covert missions in any area of operations.
Most of the missions executed by Delta Force remain classified — and it’s rare to find an official document that even acknowledges the unit — but one of its most notable accomplishments includes Operation Red Dawn, the capture of Saddam Hussein.
A leaked recruiting video gave a glimpse at different training methods for Delta Force, including tactical driving, vehicle takedowns, and assaulter team tactics. A testament to their precision, one of their final exams includes breaching operations with fellow team members playing the hostage as his brothers live fire against targets nearby. The operation builds trust within the team and provides the shooter a sober reminder not to hit the hostage.
Their training program is notoriously brutal and lasts fourteen months — if recruits can make it that long. One documentary team followed a group of potential recruits and saw 120 of them whittled down to 18 in two weeks. It includes one of the best marksmanship schools in the world, weapons handling, airborne courses including HALO jumps, hand-to-hand combat, diving, survival training, and explosive ordnance disposal.
These guys are lethal, but they value fire discipline. Rumor has it that they’re just issued a 6-shot .357 revolver as their official sidearm — with only 6 rounds, you bet they’re going to make each one count.
Also known as “Unit 269,” Israel’s Sayeret Matkal is a highly secretive special-operations brigade with almost legendary status. Since its inception in 1957, Sayeret Matkal has gained a reputation for its deep reconnaissance capabilities and counter-terrorism and hostage recovery missions.
They rely on secrecy, attacking in small numbers and in disguise, then fading away before the enemy realizes what happened.
The disguised task force was airlifted in with Land Rovers and a Mercedes-Benz. They managed to infiltrate the local army, kill the terrorists, and rescue all but four of the hostages. Only one Israeli soldier was killed in the attack.
That’s the thing with Sayeret Matkal — once you know it’s there, you’re already out of time.
Spanish Special Operations Forces (SOF) soldiers partner with a U.S. Marine during a mock non-compliant boarding as part of exercise Sea Saber 2004.
(U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Jeffrey Lehrberg)
3. Spain’s Special Naval Warfare Force
Spain’s Special Naval Warfare Force was created in 2009 when the country merged different units of the Spanish Navy into one combatastic entity. The “Fuerza” is comprised of the Special Combat Divers Unit, Special Explosive Diffusers Unit, and the Special Operations Unit — its main tactical predecessor.
The Special Operations Unit was responsible for maritime counter-terrorism, combat diving, air and amphibious insertion, combat search and rescue, and ship-boarding — today’s elite unit carries on the fight.
They have a strong history of utilizing those tactics in hostage rescue and pirate confrontation. In 2002, the hombres rana supported Operation Enduring Freedom in the Indian Ocean when they stormed a North Korean vessel transporting SCUD missiles to Yemen. Then, in 2011, they rescued a French hostage from Somali pirates.
And that’s just what’s known to the public — like the other elite units on this list, most of their missions remain classified.
Russia’s badass Spetsnaz is shrouded in mystery, but it dates back to the Red Bolshevik Guard, a paramilitary force organized during the height of the Russian Revolution in the early 20th century. Most of its members are comparable to U.S. Army Rangers, but an elite few train like Delta Force.
Recently, Russia has been increasingly modeling its Spetsnaz off American counterparts.
To a casual observer, they can appear difficult to distinguish from one another, but at the end of the day, there’s a reason Russia is trying to keep up with the United States.
Members of U.S. Navy Seal Team One move down the Bassac River in a SEAL Team Assault Boat (STAB) during operations along the river south of Saigon. November 1967.
1. U.S. Navy SEALs
I lied. I saved this one for last. Because, come on.
United States Navy SEALs are perhaps the finest special operations forces in the world. The competitive standard to even be considered for BUD/S training is to swim 500 yards in 10:30, 79 push-ups, 79 sit-ups, 11 pull-ups, and a 10:20 1.5 mile run. That’s just to get in.
Preparation to become a SEAL consists of Basic Underwater Demolition, Parachute Jump school, and SEAL Qualification Training — which have all been described lightly as “brutal” — then they do another 18 months of pre-deployment training.
SEALs deliver highly specialized, intensely challenging tactical capabilities including direct action warfare, special reconnaissance, counterterrorism, and foreign internal defense.
From the Korean War and the Vietnam War to Somalia to Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, to Operation Inherent Resolve, and, of course, the death of international terrorist Osama bin Laden, Navy SEALs have made their mark.
There are many myths about having a Department of Veterans Affairs‘ disability rating and serving in the military. The most common is that, if you have a VA disability rating, you can never serve in the military again. Or if you do serve in the military, you have to waive your disability rating or all of your VA disability compensation. None of these statements is completely true.
Because you can file a VA disability claim only after leaving active duty, this article is making the assumption that the military member has left active duty and is either transitioning into the Guard or Reserves or trying to return to active duty after a break in service.
Can You Serve in the Military with a Disability Rating?
The answer is maybe. Simply having a VA disability rating does not prevent someone from joining the military. However, the underlying medical condition may prevent someone from medically qualifying to serve again.
For example, you can receive a VA disability rating for knee surgery that you had while on active duty. If your knee has otherwise healed and you can perform your military duties, remain deployable and pass your PT test, then you may be eligible for continued military service.
However, other underlying medical conditions may prevent you from joining the military again. For example, it may be difficult to join again if your VA disability rating stems from a serious medical condition that prevents you from being able to perform your military duties, maintain deployability status or pass your PT test.
Can You Serve on Active Duty with a VA Disability Rating?
Provided you have been medically cleared to serve, simply having a VA disability rating isn’t enough to prohibit you from serving on active duty.
However, federal law prohibits members from receiving military compensation and VA disability compensation for the same day of service.
So, while you won’t have to waive your actual VA disability rating, you would need to suspend your VA disability compensation payments until after your active-duty service ends. After that, you can contact the VA to resume your payments.
What About Serving in the Guard or Reserves with a Disability Rating?
The same rules apply to members of the Reserve Component as they do for active duty. However, there is one big difference: You don’t have to suspend your VA disability compensation payments unless you are serving in a full-time capacity.
When you receive VA disability compensation, you receive it on a monthly basis.
When you serve in the Reserve Component, you receive military pay only on the days you serve (typically one weekend a month, and two weeks a year). You actually perform four drill periods on your weekend drill and receive pay for four days of work. You will receive only one day of pay for the other days you serve in the Reserve Component (Active Training, TDY, PME, etc.).
The typical Guard or Reserve member receives military pay for only a handful of days per month. They are in an inactive status and are not receiving compensation for the remaining days of the month.
Remember the rule above: “Federal law prohibits members from receiving military compensation and VA disability compensation for the same day of service.”
The law requires members of the Reserve Component to waive either their military compensation or VA disability compensation for days in which they received both forms of compensation. Thankfully, it’s easy to decide which pay to waive.
Keep in mind you have to waive your pay only on the days on which you receive both forms of compensation. In other words, the pay you waive is prorated — you don’t have to waive the full month of either of these payments, only the prorated amount for the days on which you received both.
Both the VA and Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) prorate the payments based on a 30-day month. This means each day of VA compensation is worth 1/30 of your monthly VA disability rate. Likewise, each day of military service is worth 1/30 of your base military pay.
So if you serve the traditional one weekend a month, two weeks a year, you would receive military compensation for 63 days of service (48 weekend drills and 15 AT days).
The VA sends members a copy of VA Form 21-8951 at the end of the year documenting the number of days on which they received military compensation and VA disability compensation for the same period of service.
If you waive your VA disability compensation, the VA will simply withhold future payments based on the number of days for which you received compensation in the previous year. If you were paid for 63 days of military service, the VA would withhold a little more than two months’ worth of disability compensation from future payments. You can even request that the VA withhold only a portion of your future payments until the full amount is withheld.
If you choose to waive your military compensation, you would need to repay the military in full. This would mean writing a large check to DFAS.
In most cases, you will have earned more military compensation than you received in VA disability compensation, so it would make much more sense to waive your VA compensation.
Yes, it may be possible to serve in the military with a VA disability rating, provided your underlying medical condition doesn’t prevent you from meeting requirements. If you serve on active duty, in the full-time Guard/Reserves, or you have been activated, you may need to suspend your VA disability compensation payments to comply with federal law. Otherwise, members of the Reserve Component may need to waive either their military compensation or their disability compensation for the number of days on which they received both forms of compensation on the same day.
It appears no one can find the Japanese island formerly known as Esanbe Hanakita Kojima.
Not even the Japanese Coast Guard, which has been out searching for the strategically significant sliver of land last sighted somewhere off the coast of Hokkaido.
Even worse, the island first named in 2014 may have shuffled below this mortal coil a fair while ago.
This was back in September 2018 when author Hiroshi Shimizu visited nearby Sarufutsu village to write a sequel to his picture book on Japan’s “hidden” islands.
Shimizu told the local fishing cooperative, which sent out a flotilla to its former location only to find it had disappeared.
Japanese officials now believe that the island that once rose about five feet above sea level, has been inexorably broken apart by the pack ice that covers the area throughout the bitter winter. The Guardian seems to confirm this.
The uncertain conclusion is that it has gradually, uncomplainingly, slipped beneath the surface.
The Japanese Coast Guard.
While Esanbe Hanakita Kojima, might have been too small to be of much practical use, it did have an importance well beyond its fragility.
Before its unexpected absence, the island marked the very western indent of another disputed island chain Japan calls the Northern Territories, while Russia claims the archipelago as the Kuril islands.
China’s South China Morning Post said that the island was formally named by Tokyo in 2014 as part of Japan’s multipronged attempts to reinforce its legal control over hundreds of outlying islands and extend its exclusive economic zone, (EEZ) appears to have sunk without a trace.
The Japanese coastguard has been tasked with carrying out a survey of the area to see if the remnants of the island remain.
It was last formally surveyed in 1987, when records showed it was about 500 metres off Sarufutsu.
The Japanese government used the island to buffer its EEZ a similar distance out to sea where Japanese waters mingle into Russian territory.
But even if they can find the waterlogged remains of Esanbe Hanakita Kojima, it can no longer meet the very basic international legal definition of an island — land — and Japan’s territorial claims appear to be about half a kilometer smaller.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Pigeons are one of the most annoying and disgusting parts of living in a city these days. But did you know that those winged rats were once well-decorated war heroes?
The World Wars had dramatically increased the pace of technological advancement and gave rise to early forms quick communication, such as radio and telephone. But radio was easily intercepted and telephone wires were obvious to the enemy. Pigeons, on the other hand, had a surprising 95 percent efficiency and could carry longer-form messages than those sent by telegraph.
Communications between squads and battalions were typically delivered by a runner — a troop that moved across the battlefield carrying a message. For higher level communications, signal troops would write messages on tiny pieces of paper that would then be rolled up and attached to pigeons. Pigeons have natural magnetoreceptors and an instinct to return home, both of which they use to send a message on its way.
These birds can travel great distances in a (relatively) short amount of time. Princess the Pigeon, for example, managed a 500-mile flight during World War II when she carried vital information about the British troops fighting in Crete to RAF in Alexandria, Egypt.
(Imperial War Museum)
Pigeons weren’t just sent as messengers. As early as World War I, innovators attached cameras to the birds who would then fly about the battlefield as the camera automatically snapped photographs.
As you’d expect, most photos came out terribly but, on occasion, you’d get a photo that would prove the idea wasn’t as terrible as it sounds.
(Imperial War Museum)
The most well-known story of the war pigeons is that of Cher Ami (which translates to “dear friend” from French). On Oct. 3, 1918, 195 American troops of the Lost Battalion were trapped behind enemy lines. Their position was surrounded on every side by German forces. To make matters worse, American artillery had started raining down on their position. Maj. Whittlesey affixed a message to Cher Ami and let her lose.
The message read, “We are along the road parallel to 276.4. Our own artillery is dropping a barrage directly on us. For heaven’s sake, stop it.”
Cher Ami was spotted by the Germans and shot down. Despite her wounds, she managed to take flight again and complete her 25-mile journey in just 25 minutes. She did this after taking a bullet to the chest, being blinded in one eye, and nearly losing the leg to which her crucial message was attached. Thanks to Cher Ami, all 195 men survived.
She was patched up and sent back home to the U.S. by Gen. “Black Jack” Pershing himself.