Combat, violence and death cause pain and suffering in the human spirit. Many veterans struggle when they come home — they carry the burdens of war, they endure injuries seen and unseen, they are haunted by the fallen and feelings of guilt, they struggle to find community and purpose. The list of symptoms goes on.
“People think that SEALs are automatons, impervious to the stressors of combat. Unfortunately, no human is impervious to the physiological effects of war.”
Mikal A. Vega on Combat Related Stress
The good news is that there is healing to be found.
More and more, veterans like Navy SEAL Mikal Vega are sharing their stories and showing a way forward for their brothers and sisters in arms. Most recently, Vega created a short film called Message in a Bottle “in an effort to encapsulate the ‘why’ we serve, the ‘what’ is possible and the ‘how’ to get there.”
WATCH THE FILM:
Written and directed by Vega, a 22-year Navy SEAL veteran who can be seen in TV/Film projects such as can be seen in Transformers 3, S.W.A.T., Mayans M.C., and much more, the film was inspired by his own life story. That story may seem familiar to many veterans and it was depicted in this film in order to help others dealing with PTSD find non-pharmaceutical modalities for long-term healing.
In conjunction with Vital Warrior, Vega’s conscious action program designed to serve veterans and empower them with the ability to apply their military training to a healing lifestyle, Message in a Bottle shares Vega’s powerful message. Vital Warrior provides veterans with mental disciplines within the warrior ethos, teaching abilities specifically designed to tap into dormant creative aspects of self to offset and subsequently balance the cumulative destructive physiological effects culminated during a lifetime of service and/or war.
“We made this film with no budget other than what was absolutely required to bring this story to light. My story,” shared Vega on Instagram.
His goal in making the film is to not only help veterans and active duty service members, but anyone dealing with any significant trauma or stress to find inspiration through this film.
“Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan has been, and continues to be, the most difficult and rewarding thing I have done in my life. Naturally, it is the core of Vital Warrior and allows our clients to develop the awareness to learn the subconscious landscape, remove obstacles and choose a positive projection in their day to day thought patterns.”
I’ve taken Vega’s classes before and they were harder than anything I’ve done in a Crossfit or body-building program. The man’s mental discipline and fortitude are impressive and inspiring. I highly recommend them to anyone looking for a mental and physical shift.
Watch his film in the link above and pass it along. The message may reach someone who needs it most and by streaming it, you help support Vital Warrior and The CAMEO Theatre.
The McCurtain County VA Clinic and members of the local community gathered in Idabel, Oklahoma to celebrate World War II veteran Sydney Hunnicutt’s 102nd birthday.
“We truly care about the veterans in our community and we just want to make a difference,” said Lisa Morphew, registered nurse and clinic manager. “We love our veterans and want to show them that we’re here to help, whatever their needs are.”
VA clinic staff presented birthday cards and Jonathan Plasencia, associate director for the Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System, presented a gift bag to Hunnicutt on behalf of VA Voluntary Service.
Twelve of Hunnicutt’s family members were able to attend the party including several who were visiting from California. Dorothy Cash, Hunnicutt’s daughter, said she was grateful to the clinic and community who helped make the day special for her father.
Jonathan Plasencia shakes Sydney Hunnicutt’s hand.
“It means the world to us,” said Cash.
During World War II, Hunnicutt was drafted into the U.S. Army and deployed to the Philippines with the 63rd Infantry Regiment, 6th Infantry Division. During the Battle of Luzon, Hunnicutt fought the Japanese and was shot in his left hand. He lost two fingers and was later awarded a Purple Heart.
“It’s an honor to be here today to celebrate a member of the Greatest Generation,” said Plasencia, who drove from the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center in Muskogee to celebrate Hunnicutt’s milestone. “Veterans have many options for their health care and when they place their trust in VA, that is a privilege we do not take lightly.”
“It couldn’t have been better,” said Hunnicutt, who turns 102 on July 13, 2019.
Clinic staff join Sydney Hunnicutt for his 102nd birthday celebration.
Hunnicutt has been a patient at the clinic since it opened in 2017, and Dr. Jose Gomez has served as his primary care physician.
“He is so happy,” said Cash. “Dr. Gomez has been the best.”
Dr. Gomez said it’s been a privilege to provide care for Hunnicutt.
“I want to thank him for his courage and for putting his life on the line for us to be able to have the freedoms that we have,” he said. “It’s an honor just to shake his hand.”
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
Data breaches appear to be all the more common in recent years, with major firms across industries such as healthcare, social media, and finance falling victim to hackers. And such intrusions are becoming an increasingly costly problem for companies to fix; the cost of a data breach has risen by 12% over the past 5 years, according to data from IBM Security published in July 2019.
The circumstances behind a data breach will always vary depending on the situation. But there is a common thread that can be found across several recent hacks, including the Capital One breach from July 2019, according to Marc Rogers, a white-hat hacker and head of cybersecurity at Okta, an enterprise identity management firm.
For several companies that have been impacted by data breaches in recent years, the issue boils down to how these firms are managing the servers that are being used to store sensitive information, says Rogers.
“That’s probably the most common vector that I’m seeing across all of these breaches, is that companies don’t seem to know what data assets are out there,” Rogers said when speaking with Business Insider. “And consequently, there [are] a lot of insecure systems hanging on the internet that can be readily accessed.”
Take the Capital One breach as an example, which impacted 100 million people in the United States and six million people in Canada. Suspected hacker Paige A. Thompson is said to have obtained the sensitive information about Capital One customers and credit card applicants by exploiting a firewall misconfiguration in the company’s cloud infrastructure.
Security company Suprema, which operates a biometrics platform called Biostar 2, also fell victim to a hack that exposed the fingerprints of more than one million people as well as unencrypted usernames and passwords, The Guardian reported in August. That data breach can also be traced back to the way the compromised information was stored and managed, as the report said it was found on a publicly accessible database.
Boosting the security of the servers that store such information could dramatically cut down on the number of data breaches, according to Rogers.
“If we just got rid of that, I think you’d reduce the number of breaches we’re hearing about by at least half,” said Rogers.
At the same time, lawmakers are pressing for action to be taken in order to prevent a data breach like the one that impacted Capital One from happening again. United States senators Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) wrote a letter to the Federal Trade Commission in October 2019 calling for an investigation of Amazon over the Capital One leak, since the affected data was stored using Amazon Web Services. In the letter, Wyden and Warren accuse Amazon of failing to implement the same level of security in its cloud services as other tech firms like Microsoft and Google.
But experts have previously said that the responsibility to secure data should rest with the company itself, not the cloud-service provider.
“Step one in terms of mitigating these issues is [to] get out of this false sense of security that cloud users have, that Amazon will take care of it,” Ameesh Divatia, CEO and cofounder of data protection firm Baffle, previously told Business Insider.
Rogers says companies should start by getting an understanding of what data is out there by conducting a scan of their company’s public IP space and external assets. Doing so could help firms see if there’s any data out there that isn’t protected by a password, or is perhaps guarded by a default password that may not be strong.
“I’m getting used to hearing companies say ‘we had no idea that was out there,'” Rogers said. “Well somehow, these companies need to better track things.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Life without orders is like staring into the abyss — of choices. We all know finding a new groove is essential to success after the military, but which habits should die-hard, and which should you begrudgingly hang onto?
While it may seem like pulling a complete 180 is you “sticking it to the man,” he actually gave you a few good pointers.
Cursing – kick it
Swearing like a sailor may be the language of choice across all branches of the military, but average America is not ready to wade through the sea of f-bombs to catch your intended meaning. They also, sadly, don’t see the value in violent bluntness or the off-the-cuff nickname you would love to metaphorically slap them with.
While it would be abso-bleeping-lutely great if everyone could just cipher through like the rest of us, one slip up from the old….mouth and you can kiss that job or promotion goodbye.
Stay training- for something that matters – stick with it
The military is always training to achieve a specific goal or purpose. Your skills are constantly being sharpened, forcing you to become better than the day before. The discipline of living within a constant training cycle is a pace that throws many veterans for a loop after service.
As a civilian, you can pick what to train for, but the key to connecting who you are now to what you were before, could be remaining diligent in your training. Learn to cook like a chef or get a black belt; just do it with a clear date to make the cut.
Wake up and grind – stick with it
We’re melding two habits into one here – keeping up with PT and waking up early. There are clearly more hours in the day and zero chances for your pants to stop fitting if you keep with the military way of working out.
No one loves frosty morning runs, but no one hates the endorphins high that you get before breakfast, either. Take comfort, and a feeling of camaraderie in the fact that you’re in the best company before dawn, powering through PT like a warrior.
Living paycheck to paycheck – kick it
While there are many things to complain about in terms of military pay, there is one thing – a reliable paycheck, to count on. It would be great to believe that anyone past PFC would have a solid grasp on finances, that’s not the case.
Getting smart about not just how you’re spending, but what you actually need in terms of salary to support your lifestyle, is a requirement for success. Civilian life doesn’t come with BAS, BAH, and plenty of other little perks you don’t realize you have.
Take a hard look at your Leave and Earnings Statement well before you get out. If it looks like the grid of confusion, stroll yourself into one of the many free financial programs on post or online open to the military community.
Contingency plans – stick with it
No one takes over a compound without a plan b, so why tackle an entire second career without one? If your squad leader didn’t drill it into your head hard enough, they’re important, and you must be prepared to activate the next on the list when or if things go south.
Waiting for orders – kick it
Every day that you served, orders were waiting for you. The simplicity of a highly scheduled life is difficult to replicate, and after a short vacation from it turns out to be something most veterans miss.
Luckily, the military taught you what to do. Taking initiative in the absence of orders is battlefield common sense. Creating the mission (see above) and executing a series of orders, which, if followed, will achieve success, is how you make it one day at a time.
Who knew that folding clothes the “navy way” and putting on sheets so tight that you could bounce a quarter off of them would have such a profound affect on my life.
I grew up in Virginia Beach, where most students came from military families and knew what it was like to have military parents. They knew the struggle of parents who had to leave for months at a time, the amount of discipline that was applied to daily chores and homework, and of course the expectation to succeed at anything you do.
Fast forward nearly 20 years and I find that there were many small things instilled in me from my military parents that shape much of the person, husband, and father I am today. Most of what my military parents taught me stemmed from three mandatory rules that I now realize weren’t rules at all, but were actually gifts that have changed my life.
1. Finish what you started.
Baseball was everything for my family. Attending practices, winning games, and playing tournaments were some of my earliest memories. While my father was in love with the sport, that same passion didn’t come naturally for me. I remember wanting to quit right in the middle of a season, only to be denied by parents that “didn’t raise quitters.”
(U.S. Air Force photo by Justin Connaher)
The rule of “finish what you started” applied to everything in our lives including baseball. It was those moments when I wasn’t allowed to give up that led to many high school awards, graduating college, marrying my wife, and living unafraid to step through life’s open doors. I can even trace my career success that has lead me to my dream job, back to this foundational rule.
2. Treat others with respect.
If my dad was the source of inspiration for my dreams, my mother was the source of discipline to see them become a reality. She never missed a moment or opportunity for me to treat others with respect because she knew that it would set me apart in life.
I’m not quite sure, but I’m pretty sure “yes ma’am” were my very first words. I’ll never forget the time when my mother suspected that I had disrespected an older gentlemen in public. As we were driving home, my mother could sense something was wrong with me. She prompted me to tell her the truth, and believing I was in the wrong, she turned the car around. I was forced to face the man once again and apologize for being out of line with my comments. As a kid, I thought this was absolutely ridiculous and a waste of time. As an adult, I am thankful because my military mother instilled in me the importance of respecting people no matter who they are or where they come from.
I can honestly attribute living a life of treating others with respect to helping me win more clients, close more deals, gain promotions, and winning the heart of my wife. There’s no doubt I wouldn’t be who I am without a mother that championed the rule of treating others with respect.
3. Being a military kid is an asset.
My parents had traveled the world in the name of protecting and serving others. The pride they took in being a part of the military was evident in everything we did as a family. They held my sister and I to a standard that we didn’t realize was different, but it would end up making all the difference. We were challenged to be leaders on our sports team, in the classroom, and even when hanging out with friends.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Jorge Intriago)
They made sure that we knew that we were different (not better), than others, to help make a difference wherever we were. My sister and I witnessed this many times as they volunteered, helped those who were less fortunate, and never apologized for the lifestyle they lived because of serving in the military. Today, the most rewarding moments of my life have come from the foundation of making a difference instilled by my military parents. It has lead me to help build water wells in remote countries, prioritize time to volunteer on a monthly basis, and living with a sense of direction.
What my parents set as rules for our household, ended up being gifts that grounded me. Most of what I have and who I am are built upon the foundation of finishing what you start, respecting others, and not being afraid to be different. I am thankful for military parents that were intentional about making sure I knew the value of serving and living beyond myself. I can only hope that my daughter will one day realize these same rules, will be gifts given to her that will make her better like they did me.
Tyler Medina is the Brand Operations Manager at Simplr, a startup specializing in customer service outsourcing. He’s the son of two Navy veterans that served multiple tours overseas, and like most military kids, grew up all over the U.S. He currently lives in Nashville, TN with his wife Sabrina and 2-year old daughter Audrey.
This article originally appeared on Military Spouse. Follow @MilSpouseMag on Twitter.
The first step in quitting tobacco is thinking about it. If you think about quitting tobacco someday, whether it’s tomorrow or in five years, then you can develop the intention of changing your behavior.
The Great American Smoke Out is an event started by the American Cancer Society to help motivate people to quit tobacco. The event, which challenges you to quit tobacco for a day, is held on the third Thursday each November. This year, the Great American Smoke Out took place on 21 November.
Can you quit tobacco for a day? By quitting even temporarily, you are taking an important step toward living a healthier life. You will start to feel the health benefits of being tobacco-free within the first twenty minutes of quitting.
This article originally appeared on Marines.mil. Follow @USMC on Twitter.
Once in a lifetime, there comes a motion picture which changes the whole history of motion pictures. A picture so stunning in its effect, so vast in its impact, that it profoundly affects the lives of all who see it. One such film is, yes, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. And while I lifted that copy (which was originally intended to be tongue-in-cheek) straight from the trailer, the film’s legacy has proven the trailer correct.
Even those who don’t think they’ve heard some of the most memorable lines from the movie likely have, whether they smell of elderberries or they’ve heard of the knights who say “ni.” Perhaps the most memorable scene, however, is the one where Arthur is forced to fight the Black Knight guarding a small footbridge, one who refuses to accept defeat.
The story that exposes all of the historical narratives and false legends about the chivalry and bravery of Medieval knights through vicious mockery turned history on its head even further in the encounter with the Black Knight. On the Wired podcast “Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy” Monty Python member John Cleese spoke about the inspiration for the Black Knight scene in a memory of his time at school, where he was taught by a two-time World War veteran.
“There was a lovely guy named ‘Jumper’ Gee who died at the age of 101, and who managed to fight in both World Wars—I never came across anyone else who did that. He was a good teacher of English and I liked him enormously, and he would go off on these wonderful excursions where they were nothing to do with the subject he was teaching, and he told this story about a wrestling match that had taken place in ancient Rome. … There was a particularly tough contest in progress, and one of the wrestlers, his arm broke—the difficulty of the embrace was so great that his arm broke under the pressure—and he submitted because of the appalling pain he was in. And the referee sort of disentangled them and said to the other guy, ‘You won,’ and the other guy was rather unresponsive, and the referee realized the other guy was dead. And this was an example to ‘Jumper’ Gee of the fact that if you didn’t give up you couldn’t lose, and I always thought this was a very dodgy conclusion…”
Pictured: The Eleans crowned and proclaimed victor the corpse of Arrhachion.
The story “Jumper” was trying to relate is that of Arrachion of Phigalia, an athlete in ancient Greece who was skilled at the pankration event. Pankration was an event similar to today’s Ultimate Fighting Championship, where the winner must force his opponent to submit, through some kind of brute force. Arrachion was fighting for the championship. One ancient historian described the hold that not only killed Arrachion but caused his opponent to submit to the then-deceased Arrachion’s own hold.
It seems Arrachion’s opponent choked the life from the great wrestler as Arrachion wrapped part of his body around his opponent’s foot. Arrachion yanked the man’s ankle from his leg as the undefeated wrestler died in his opponent’s chokehold, and his opponent was forced to tap out from the pain. Arrachion, now dead, remained undefeated.
He got a statue for his efforts, the stupid bastard.
In theater, improvisation — or simply “improv” — is the art of spontaneously performing an unscripted scene. Performers might have props and/or prompts to work from, but the point is for an actor or comedian to build confidence and courage on the stage by figuring it out as they go.
We do the same thing in everyday life, reacting to and overcoming unexpected or unforeseen circumstances using the tools we have at our disposal. And the more we improvise in small ways, the more confident and comfortable we become in our ability to make quick decisions and problem solve when the situation turns serious.
Richard Dean Anderson as Macgyver.
(Photo courtesy of Paramount Television)
What would you do if your life — or the life of a loved one — was at stake and you didn’t have a weapon? The answer: channel your inner MacGyver and improvise. Utilizing an improvised weapon should never be the primary choice in self-defense; carrying a firearm along with appropriate defensive handgun training is a much more reliable option.
However, there are times when you may be without your primary defensive weapon and need to get creative. Traveling by air to a shady location and can’t take a gun or knife? Grab a cup of hot coffee from a gas station — it can be thrown in an attacker’s face should the need arise. The goal of an improvised weapon is to create distance or break contact and get away.
For some of us, the closest we’ll ever get to an improvised self-defense situation is using a shoe to squash a sinister and suspicious spider. But there are bad people in the world who are intent to do harm, and there’s no guarantee that you’ll never be a target. Confidence in utilizing improvised weapons requires the right mindset. Some would argue this is paranoia, but paranoia is a state of worry or fear — the opposite of a confident and prepared state of mind.
To gain a deeper perspective, we sought out the experts.
Clint Emerson is a former U.S. Navy SEAL and author of “100 Deadly Skills.”
(Photo courtesy of Clint Emerson)
In addition to being a retired U.S. Navy SEAL with over 20 years of experience, Clint Emerson is also the author of “100 Deadly Skills: The SEAL Operative’s Guide to Eluding Pursuers, Evading Capture, and Surviving Any Dangerous Situation.”
Emerson explained that self-defense is based on your environment and what you have access to. What you might be able to use to defend yourself at home, work, and other frequented locations should be thought about ahead of time, not mid-crisis.
“If you’re to the point that you’re reaching for anything around you to use as an improvised weapon while a threat is on you, it’s gone too far,” Emerson said during a recent phone interview with Coffee or Die. “They’re already too close, and that’s a bad day.
“You always want distance,” he continued. “If you have to pick up a baseball bat or you’re down to using your hands, things went wrong and you’re too close.”
If you don’t have a firearm in your home, Emerson suggests utilizing wasp spray or oven spray. Wasp spray can shoot a stream up to 30 feet and has the chemical strength to stop a threat long enough to allow you to escape. While oven cleaner is similar, it doesn’t provide the distance. Emerson said that the chemical agents are not natural and are therefore stronger than mace spray. He cautions, however, that this is for the home only. Carrying these as a form of self-defense outside the home could result in serious legal consequences.
In the case of close-quarter threats, Emerson recommends a pen made by Zebra, model F701, which can be found at most office supply stores. The stainless steel pen features a pointed tip and can be taken anywhere, even on an airplane. Its design and durability make it an ideal improvised weapon. Emerson said it’s important to practice your grip and defensive motions with it to better prepare yourself in case you’d ever need to use it. A solid grip combined with proper placement lend good puncture capability and can cause serious damage. Remember that the goal is to break contact and get away.
“It’s a mindset, a daily mindset that needs to become a natural part of us,” Emerson said. “We put our seatbelts on without even thinking about it — we just do it. Creating good habits now is better than being caught off guard in a bad situation or natural disaster. Staying prepared helps eliminate the element of surprise and that increases our chance of survival exponentially.”
Jeff Kirkham was a U.S. Army Green Beret who now runs ReadyMan, an organization focused on survival skills. Kirkham is also the inventor of the Rapid Application Tourniquet (RATS).
(Photo courtesy of Jeff Kirkham)
Jeff Kirkham served almost 29 years in the U.S. Army as a Green Beret. He’s also the leader of ReadyMan, an online resource for information, training, skills, and products to equip people for life, survival, emergency, and tactical situations. ReadyMan focuses on mindset, situational awareness, kidnap avoidance, escape restraints, and more.
Kirkham’s strongest piece of advice is to avoid — do everything in your power to be aware and not be a targeted victim — and the best way to do that is through training.
“The key to successful self-defense training is finding something that inspires you,” Kirkham said. “There are many great instructors out there and when it comes to training, something is better than nothing.”
In close-encounter situations, Kirkham said the best weapons are the ones we always have with us: hands, feet, knees, and elbows. Training to utilize the weapons we were born with will provide the confidence to engage the threat. Outside of that, anything in your hands can be a weapon — a pen, a book, a laptop case. It doesn’t have to be amazing, you just need to think and do whatever it takes to get away.
Everything is fair game when it comes to saving your life or avoiding injury. Kirkham classifies fingernails and teeth as secondary weapons and advised not to underestimate their power or be timid in their use. A dog can be another important asset, Kirkham said. Whether you obtain a trained protection dog or have one for a pet, man’s best friend can be a valuable protection source. Even a small dog can be enough of a distraction to buy time to escape.
To find out where you rate on the scale of preparedness, ReadyMan offers a Plan 2 Survive self-assessment. It encompasses everything from financial stability to survival situations and natural disasters and is a great way to evaluate yourself and become better prepared.
Fred Mastison is an international firearms instructor and expert in the fields of defensive tactics, firearms, and executive protection.
(Photo courtesy of Fred Mastison)
Rounding out the expert panel is Fred Mastison of Force Options USA. Mastison is an Army veteran and professional instructor in the fields of defensive tactics, firearms, executive protection, and close-quarter combatives. He also holds a seventh-degree black belt in Aikijitsu. Mastison trains law enforcement and civilians internationally.
Mastison echoed Emerson’s sentiment that when it comes down to being close enough to have to utilize an improvised weapon, things have gone too far. Situational awareness, avoidance, and distance are vital. However, when things get sideways, violence of action is key.
“If you can utilize a sharp object, like a pen, you would want to strike the face,” Mastison said. “The eyes and the bridge of the nose are very sensitive areas — if all you have are your hands, gouge the eyes or bite. The key is to do it with intent and force to break contact and escape.”
The common thread among this panel of experts is clear: situational awareness is vital. The proper mindset, training, and a clear understanding of your surroundings can help you avoid becoming a target. There are a variety of classes available for developing physical and mental self-defense tactics — seek them out. Being prepared and vigilant is crucial to our survival, whether it’s a human threat or natural disaster. It is up to each of us individually to be proactive and prepared, to be ready to protect ourselves instead of relying on someone else to save us.
This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.
The United States military is a brotherhood and sisterhood like no other. Those who serve together form a common sense of purpose and devotion to duty. It’s a level of trust not commonly found in civilian life. Those military friendships last forever. But as life moves, and when people leave the military, they often lose touch with those friends, some of whom they would have given their life for.
Tracking down old friends, particularly if you have been out of the service many years, is not always easy. But there is one company that can help. Together We Served (TWS) is a veteran-only website, launched in 2003. It provides veterans a highly-effective means to reconnect with old service-friends by simply entering their service history on their TWS Military Service Page.
TWS built an individual website for each branch of service and, with over 1.9 million veteran members, the chances of finding people you served with is high.
The secret behind TWS’s ability to connect more veterans is the depth of its databases. Over the past 16 years, TWS has built one of the most comprehensive databases of U.S. Military training and operating units in existence. Its databases span from WW2 to present day.
Military Service Page.
Sample Together We Served Military Service Page
By creating your Military Service Page on Together We Served, you can not only find veterans who went to the same basic training as you, or served in the same units or duty stations, but also those who participated in the same combat or non-combat operations. TWS’s search engine automatically matches the service information you enter on your Military Service Page with the service information on the Military Service Pages of all other TWS members. Those members, whose entries could match yours, get listed on your Service Page. That is what enables you to make contact with those you may know. This powerful feature helps veterans remember forgotten names.
Finding key people on TWS can be very helpful, especially if you need or can provide witness account to support a potential VA claim.
Take this opportunity to reconnect with the servicemen and women you shared some of the most important times of your life with. In recognition of your service, Together We Served provides all VA veterans with a FREE one year premium membership, providing unlimited people searches, when you join TWS via the following link:
In the early morning of July 16, 2019, an Army UH-60 Black Hawk rescue crew was alerted to a severely injured hiker who had fallen 500 feet down one of Colorado’s tallest peaks.
The hiker, a retired astronaut, had broken both of his legs and one arm in the fall and needed emergency care fast. But to get to a hospital for his injuries, the former Navy captain had to rely on the Army to pluck him from the unforgiving terrain.
It was the height of summer, a time when hikers flock to the state’s mountain ranges and when operations at the High-Altitude Army National Guard Aviation Training Site ramp up.
The site has a dual-hatted role. Primarily, it teaches helicopter crews how to fly and land in high altitudes. It also is a search and rescue outfit with experienced crews that can reach difficult spots where most civilian aircraft cannot.
A UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crew from the High-Altitude Army National Guard Aviation Training Site drops off a civilian rescue technician near the North Maroon Bells Peak near Aspen, Colo., July 24, 2018.
(Photo by Tyler McCready)
Each year, full-time Colorado Guardsmen at the site rescue about 20 people — mainly desperate hikers who have fallen or suffered from altitude sickness or a heart attack.
With two pilots and two crew chiefs, the Black Hawk crews will also pick up two rescue technicians, who are civilian volunteers that they train with, on their way out.
After already topping their annual average for saves, 2019 has proven to be a busy year.
“It’s nice that we’re able to take what we teach, the power management techniques, and apply them on the weekend or during the week when we’re making these critical saves,” said Lt. Col. Britt Reed, the HAATS commander.
For many, the July 16 mission is one of the recent missions that stands out. While climbing La Plata Peak, which pierces the sky at over 14,000 feet near Leadville, Jeff Ashby quickly became in need of help from the air.
The day before, Ashby, 65, who had flown to space three times, had just reached the summit of the mountain. During his descent, he lost his footing and slipped, hurtling down the mountainside before large boulders stopped him.
Hours later, a local search and rescue team member managed to navigate to the former astronaut and stayed with him overnight.
At first light, Chief Warrant Officer 5 Pat Gates and his aircrew, along with two rescue technicians, flew out to Ashby’s location.
A UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crew from the High-Altitude Army National Guard Aviation Training Site lowers a member of Mountain Rescue Aspen down to an injured hiker near the North Maroon Bells Peak near Aspen, Colo., July 24, 2018.
(Photo by Tyler McCready)
Once overhead, the crew used a hoist to lower the technicians, who prepped Ashby before he was pulled up into the helicopter. The aircraft then landed at a transfer site, where Ashby was taken to the hospital in a civilian medical transport helicopter.
While a collection of emergency responders helped out, the HAATS crew had the hoist capability to get Ashby out of danger.
“It’s great knowing that you have that kind of impact on somebody,” Gates said.
After being released from the hospital, Ashby wrote an email to Gates and the rest of the aircrew, thanking them for their efforts.
“He was very appreciative of everything, for the fact that the Army came to help out a Navy guy,” Gates said, smiling. “But, all in all, having a result like that is always the best case.”
Gates estimates he has helped with at least five rescues per year since he came to HAATS in 2009. And the total number of missions continues to increase, he said, almost quadrupling compared to when he first started.
Some of them even test the most experienced pilots, like Gates, who serves as the training site’s senior standardization instructor pilot.
A UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crew from the High-Altitude Army National Guard Aviation Training Site prepares to lower a civilian rescue technician near the North Maroon Bells Peak near Aspen, Colo., July 24, 2018.
(Photo by Tyler McCready)
A hairy rescue he still remembers was in 2015 at Crestone Needle, another mountain over 14,000 feet.
In that one, a hiker also slipped and broke his leg on top of other injuries. Since the hiker was stranded in a tight area, the aircrew had to lower a hoist 200 feet as winds kicked up to 25 knots and a thunderstorm loomed nearby.
“That was very interesting,” he said. “It required a lot that day to get the [helicopter rescue team] all the way down there to the injured party.”
The mission was taxing for the crew since they had to keep the helicopter as still as possible. At that height, Gates said, the hoist can sway about 10 feet on the ground to every 1 foot the aircraft moves in the air.
Pilots may also decide to quickly do a one-wheeled landing, one of which was conducted this summer, if there is enough room that the rotors will not chop into the mountain side.
“If they feel the safest way is to land the aircraft [is] by putting one wheel down or two wheels down or using the hoist,” Reed said, “then we’ll figure out what the best way is and we’ll do it.”
And then there are the “what ifs” every difficult mission presents, Gates said, which can be mentally draining when the crew is trying to prevent them all.
Other than a similar National Guard unit at Buckley Air Force Base, Colorado, that handles rescues on the front range of the Rocky Mountains, no state entity can replicate the landings and hoists of the HAATS crews.
“If we didn’t have these two organizations, then the [hikers] that got stuck would be in a lot of trouble,” Reed said, “because there is nobody else that can provide the resources that we can provide.”
Civilian rescue technicians treat an injured hiker before he is hoisted up into a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crew from the High-Altitude Army National Guard Aviation Training Site near Aspen, Colo., July 24, 2018.
(Photo by Tyler McCready)
As a crew chief, Staff Sgt. Greg Yost typically operates the hoist during rescues.
In June 2019, he lowered a hoist about 100 feet to save a skier who suffered cuts and an ankle injury after a small avalanche knocked him down, causing him to hit some rocks.
Hovering above 13,000 feet in that mission, the aircrew had to deal with strong winds in a narrow valley that drastically affected the power margin of the heavy helicopter.
“We were basically at our limit in power,” Yost recalled.
While tough at times, the missions do bring Yost back to a job he never wanted to leave. Before coming to Colorado, he served on a medical evacuation aircrew in Afghanistan, picking up wounded troops in sometimes hot landing zones.
In this video still image, a UH-60 Black Hawk crew from the Colorado National Guard’s High-Altitude Army National Guard Aviation Training Site perform a one-wheeled landing at or above 13,000 feet to rescue an injured hiker from Maroon Bells, Sept. 21, 2013.
(US Army photo)
“That wasn’t something that I really wanted to give up,” he said. “So the fact that HAATS regularly conducted those kinds of missions was a big driving force in me wanting to come to this unit so I could continue helping people.”
The work HAATS crews have done with hoist operations has led the Army to develop a standardized hoist training program last year, Gates said.
The training site also creates scenario-based evaluations from the rescue flights to teach students during its weeklong course. The lessons even give the students an opportunity to discuss how the flight could have gone smoother.
“That’s one thing we don’t do, is rest on our laurels,” Gates said. “We take information in from everybody that comes through here.”
A Marine scout sniper with Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division adjusts his scope at 29 Palms
A recent shortage of snipers has prompted a new “proof of concept” sniper position in the Marine Corps, according to “Marine Times.”
(Staff Sgt. Donald Holbert)
In mid-2018, the Marines announced the start of a new course for the specialized sniper position that was slotted to take place at SOI-West. The class was going to redistribute military personnel from the School of Infantry-West and the Basic Reconnaissance Course.
Although original plans were set for February of 2020, it has been moved to May to “provide sufficient staffing, and when resources would be available,” according to a “Marine Times” interview with Training and Education Command Official 1st Lt. Samuel Stephenson. Only Marines who hold the rank of Lance Corporal or above are eligible to take the scout sniper training course.
Candidates for Scout Sniper Platoon (2015)
(Sgt. Austin Long)
The new MOS is going to be “0315” and is a specialized scouting sniper position. The new MOS is guided towards Marine snipers with advanced patrolling ability. The core track will remain in the same vein as other “03” MOSs.
In fact, the 0315 MOS is essentially an abridged path for scout Marines in the 0317 MOS. According to “Marine Times” the training for 0317 would, “…divide the course, providing a shortened version for the initial 0315 MOS before that individual would then be shipped back to a unit to perform scout duties and guidance from unit 0317 snipers.”
(Robert B. Brown Jr., USMC)
The news of the upcoming course comes hot on the heels of recent deficiencies in sniper success rates. The “Marine Times” reported the significant failure rate led to the Marines producing only 226 snipers from 2013-2018. This figure is down approximately 25% from years past.
The same report also found that “less than half” of all Marines who took the sniper courses in 2017 passed, even though the eligibility and training requirements had remained static.
The new 0315 seeks to help remedy the need for more total snipers in the Marine arsenal by supplying a scout sniper course, while still creating an environment for upward mobility should Marines pass the more specialized advanced sniper courses.
There’s just something about the non-payday weekend after that sweet holiday break. Last weekend, everyone had some grandiose plans about getting out of town or spending three full days in a drunken haze. This weekend is different.
Sure, it’s another two days of having little expected of you — with the exception of what your first sergeant tells you at the obligatory safety brief. But it doesn’t feel like you’re getting some awesome time off compared to last week. So, I guess it’s time to actually do all that stuff you told yourself you’d do with your extra free time last weekend…
But it’s not all doom and gloom. Take a break from your chores or those SSD classes you keep telling your supervisor you’ll eventually do and enjoy some memes.
If you have ever found yourself standing in the middle of drop-off at a new school, blinking away tears while a sea of strangers swallows up your children, wishing you could stop putting your kids through this and just let them settle in one place for once…
…do not despair.
While we might not have roots, and while we might not give our children roots, we do have something different.
What is it? Let me explain…
What is our ultimate goal for our kids?
Recently, while reading Senator Ben Sasse’s The Vanishing American Adult, I stopped and pondered his suggestion that our society is raising a generation that might not be “fully equipped to confront the stark challenges ahead of them.” Basically, Sasse is worried that we’re raising kids who will not be prepared for adulthood.
My antennae zoomed up as I read on, contemplating my own kids, their peers and our military lifestyle.
(Photo by Tim Pierce)
Often, as military parents, we worry about what we are not providing our kids: stability, continuity and those thick, long roots. We worry about how the military lifestyle is affecting our kids now, in the present: are they scared? Nervous? Shy? Sad? Lost? Lonely? Anxious?
How is deployment affecting them? Is it interfering with their learning, their happiness, their ability to socialize?
But then I thought of what we are giving them, and deep down I believe it has the power to prepare them for the long-term in a truly awesome way.
As our children navigate the challenges and joys, the transitions and calm of military life, they grow vines that are wide and long. These vines grow across the country and around the world. They wind through friendships and communities. They guide our kids through unfamiliar territory and fortify them in the face of challenge.
They are what distinguish our kids. They are what prepare them for adulthood. And here’s why I think so…
1. Military kids learn about themselves by experiencing diversity.
I once read a meme that said something like, “Civilian kids see difference; Military kids see diversity.” I love that. It’s a beautiful way to think of the gift our children have to grow up in several different parts of the country, and perhaps the world.
Our children’s vines extend in and about unique people and places, helping them learn about the complexities of our nation and our world. Our kids don’t travel to foreign places as consumer tourists, passively observing popular landmarks, literally watching the world go by.
No, our kids actively participate in the life of different communities and cultures.
Whether it’s in a small American town or a vibrant European city, our children learn to adapt to social customs and appreciate the nuances of the locale’s lifestyle. In the process, they develop a sense of their own capabilities, as they overcome language barriers, navigate unfamiliar places, and understand different points of view. Our kids gain self-knowledge and experience self-reliance by living a life that requires them to step outside their comfort zone on a regular basis.
(Photo by Janice Cullivan)
2. Military kids learn early networking skills.
With every transition, our kids become accustomed to the process of getting to know people in their new surroundings. Whether they’re initiating conversations, joining kids on the playground or accepting an invitation to a new friend’s house, our kids are developing excellent communication skills.
Regardless of their personality – shy or outgoing, studious or athletic – they are getting practice in interacting with people from a variety of backgrounds, which will serve them well as adults. As they experience transitions, our kids learn not only how to socialize with friends, but how to form connections in a new place. They seek out clubs, teams and other activities where like-minded peers will gather.
In a way, this is actually giving them experience in early networking skills, challenging them to confront newness, identify what resources they need and reach out to the people who they believe can help them. Someday, when we are far away and they are on their own, they will use exactly the same skills to forge their own path.
3. Military kids are taught to persevere.
Hardship and struggle are realities of every life, military or not. The key to surviving that struggle is recognizing that eventually you’ll make it to the other side. It’s digging deep within yourself for the tools to help you get through difficult times. It’s perseverance, and it’s something military kids know intimately.
Frequent moves, coping with deployments and saying goodbye to friends demand that our kids cope with unusual challenges for their age. But in the process, they learn that while some situations are hard, they have the mental fortitude to push through.
When our service members are deployed, for example, we teach our kids to remember that it is a temporary hardship. Dad or Mom will be home after a certain number of months. In the meantime, we help our kids channel their anxieties into letters or other healthy outlets. When our kids feel the discomfort of a move, we help them take steps to feel more at home. We sign them up for activities or connect them to peers in our new unit. We help our kids grow their vines, extend them out, grab hold and pull through.
I’ll take vines over roots any day.
While deep roots might offer our kids the security of close family, stability and calm, it’s the vines that enrich their lives, lead them on paths of self-discovery and reveal just how rewarding tenacity can be.
The way I see it, roots are overrated…and they have the potential to make our kids stuck. But vines? To me, our kids’ vines are exactly what Sasse worries that the general population of kids lack. Military kids’ vines are a built-in mechanism to open their minds and hearts, and they can give our kids the mental fortitude and strength of character to face their futures as adults.
And as far as we parents are concerned, isn’t that all we really hope for?
This article originally appeared on Military Spouse. Follow @MilSpouseMag on Twitter.