While the Fourth of July may look a little different this year, you can still celebrate the holiday in style with virtual concerts, televised fireworks, a museum tour or a virtual run. Look up, and you may even catch a military flyover.
USO holiday concert
The USO will host a first ever Fourth of July concert on its Facebook, YouTube and Twitch channels at 12 a.m. EST and 12 p.m. EST to accommodate times zones around the world. The concert, the first of a three-part summer series airing through Labor Day, will be headlined by country music legend Clint Black. The concert will include a special nod to American surf music by the iconic Mike Love and The Beach Boys and will feature special guests John Stamos, comedian Iliza Shlesinger, actor/musician Craig Robinson, and “America’s Got Talent” world champion Shin Lim.
A Capitol Fourth
The 40th annual broadcast of A Capitol Fourth will air on PBS Saturday, July 4 from 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. EST, as well as on American Forces Network for troops around the world. The program can be heard on NPR member stations nationwide, and it will be streaming on Facebook, YouTube and PBS. This year’s concert, co-hosted by John Stamos and Vanessa Williams, features pre-taped performances without a live audience.
The National Veterans Memorial and Museum in Columbus, Ohio will be open July 4 to share the stories of our nation’s veterans. In a press release, Lt. General Michael Ferriter, president and CEO of the museum, said that the facility is excited to welcome guests during the holiday weekend to share the stories of veterans from the Revolutionary War to today.
“This year is an opportunity to create a new tradition of celebration and remembrance,” Ferriter stated.
Museum goers will find the exhibit “So Ready for Laughter: The Legacy of Bob Hope,” which explores Hope’s major tours and travels during World War II. The exhibitfeatures nearly 50 artifacts and an original documentary. Highlights include rare and unpublished photographs of Hope; wartime correspondence between Hope and servicemembers; WWII-era relics engraved to Hope; videos of his traveling, wartime troupe; and Hollywood Victory Caravan programs and scrapbooks. Details can be found here.
Ruck, walk or run for independence
Get out and move your feet with the USO’s “Four on the 4th – Ruck, Walk Run for Independence.” The virtual fun run, presented by Delta Air Lines, includes USO music playlists, a Facebook live rise and shine warm-up featuring Robert Killian, the National Anthem sung by the USO Show Troupe and a virtual celebration.
“With so many of us stir crazy during the pandemic, this is a great, all-inclusive, safe event for families to get out and celebrate the holiday,” said Bob Kurkjian, president USO West. “Families can, run, walk or even ruck the event.”
Registration is , with proceeds going to the USO. Participants will receive a USO branded t-shirt, downloadable bib, face mask and medal. Ahead of the event, tune into The Annual Bob Hope USO Radiothon event on Thursday, July 2, 2020 from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. PST, an event that brings together our nation’s troops, the funniest comedic talent, and Bob Hope USO’s dedicated community partners.
2020 Salute to America
This year, 1,700 service members will provide aerial, musical and ceremonial support to the 2020 Salute to America event, held in Washington, D.C. This year’s celebration will honor cities of the American Revolution and military aircraft will fly over Boston, New York City, Philadelphia and Baltimore. From there, they will join other DOD and heritage aircraft to fly over the nation’s capital. The exact timing has not yet been announced but more details can be found here.
During World War II, the infamous German General Erwin Rommel once said, “Give me the Maori Battalion and I will conquer the world.” Maoris were descended from Eastern Polynesians who canoed all the way from Polynesia to New Zealand in the 13th century. That’s a distance of at least 900 miles. They canoed 900 miles.
So if that’s not enough to give you an indication of how terribly awesome they are, there’s the haka:
The haka is a foot-stomping, tongue lashing, rhythmic dance performed by warriors to intimidate their enemies and proclaim their strength before the gods. It has become more widely known around the world because New Zealand sports teams perform a haka before meeting their opposition on the field.
Modern militaries also perform the haka, and we’ve got some of the best right here, ranked by how intense they are:
Prince Harry performs haka during day with NZ military
The Duke of Sussex paid his respects to the people of New Zealand with a haka and you can just see the concentration on this face. I’m no mind-reader, but I have no doubt his inner monologue reads “don’t f*** up don’t f*** up don’t f*** up.”
1. 2/1 RNZIR Battalion bids farewell to fallen comrades
“This video shows the soldiers of 2/1 RNZIR Battalion performing their unit haka, powerfully acknowledging the lives and feats of their fallen comrades as they come onto the Unit’s parade ground. It is also an emotive farewell for they will leave via the waharoa (the carved entrance way) for the very last time,” wrote the NZ Defence Force.
This is a pretty powerful way to say goodbye.
Now just imagine if a whole battalion did that before a fight. It’d be unsettling at the very least. And it was. In the fall of 1942, the 28th Maori Battalion played a pivotal role in the Second Battle of El Alamein, which would mark the culmination of the North African Campaign. Rommel’s defeat forced him to withdraw to Tunisia, where the Germans would surrender the following spring. After encountering the Maori, Rommel had nothing but praise for the fierce warriors.
As an American, this ritual could seem….strange — but that’s kind of the point. The haka was meant to freak out the enemy. It challenged opponents and displayed a tribe’s pride, strength, and unity.
It is a full-body masterpiece of movement and shouts. The details are fascinating, including showing the whites of the eyes, sticking out the tongue, slapping thighs and stomping, and chanting — and as you can see, these guys take it very seriously.
Few things can truly lift a deployed troop’s spirits like hearing the words, “Hey you, you got mail” before having a big ol’ box plopped on their lap. It doesn’t matter what’s inside — just the fact that someone remembered them while they were away makes things better. Some troops are lucky enough to have family members who send out weekly boxes of momma’s cookies, but even those without a constant support network get love from churches, schools, and youth groups.
In the earlier years of the Global War on Terrorism, everybody sent care packages. There was a time when you’d be hard pressed to find someone who wasn’t putting something together to send abroad, whether it was for a cousin, a friend, a friend’s cousin — whoever. That same war still lingers today and troops are still struck with the same homesickness.
Care packages are the classic cure to homesickness and, even today, they remain the best remedy.
Don’t get me wrong. They will still fight each other over a box of Girl Scout Cookies.
Some of the older items that were frequently put in care packages for troops, like socks, bars of soaps, and candies that (hopefully) won’t melt after being left in the desert sun for hours, are still appreciated today. Any time troops get sent handwritten notes and children’s drawings, they’ll feel obligated to write back — but things have changed since the beginning of the war.
Fewer troops are in direct combat roles and, thankfully, deployments have gotten shorter. Today, troops are less likely to be put directly in harm’s way for over twelve months at a time, but they’re still not home. What this means is that necessities that may have once helped forward-deployed troops remember what a shower feels like are now stockpiled in the chaplain’s office.
Everyone learns how to play spades while deployed. Why not give your loved one a nicer deck of cards to play with?
Living conditions while deployed have changed a lot since 2001. Today, it’s far less common to see grunts crammed in a hastily made hut. Showers are definitely more abundant and troops have access to places where they can buy their own hygiene goods. That’s not to say that every single American GI is living a life of luxury, but the general level of “suckiness” has been reduced.
In short, this means that troops aren’t hurting for baby wipes like they used to. They’re still helpful to troops who leave the wire, but they’ll more than likely just be used so a troop can skip showering for a day. What troops need now are things for the mind, not the body. Books, movies, and games help pass the time. Without electricity, troops will always pull out a deck of cards and get a game of Spades going.
The joys of having money and pretty much nothing to spend it on…
The leaps and bounds in technology have also changed the definition of hot-ticket care-package items. Troops no longer need to wait in long lines and hope that there’s still enough time on their pre-paid card to call home. Bases have been getting better and more expansive WiFi networks through the USO, which now allows troops to simply use their smartphone to call home while off-duty.
This boost in technology also does a lot of heavylifting on the part of AAFES, the service that sells regular goods to troops. Instead of hoping that they might have a new pair of running shoes or a fresh hard-drive for storing movies in this month’s package from home, they can just order stuff off Amazon.
Military cooks always try to shove the healthy options down our throats. What we really want is some junk food that reminds us of being back home.
Which brings us back to what troops of today actually want and need. Anything given by a family member with sentimental value is always going to hit home. As corny as it sounds, troops will still put photos of their family and loved ones up on display, just as they have since photography was invented.
Any comfy fleece blankets will be used instead of the Uncle Sam-issued sleeping systems. I’ve personally known troops to keep those cheapo blankets they give out on international flights and use them for twelve months instead of the issued gear.
Sweets are always going to be enjoyed and shared — especially the homemade goods. It doesn’t matter if it was their own momma who made the cookies or someone else’s momma, they’ll be devoured.
It’s kind of a taboo thing to say, but troops will always ask for it, so it’s worth mentioning. If you know that the deployed troop smokes or dips, they could really use some actual stuff instead of the maybe-poisonous, maybe-just-awful tobacco products the locals sell.
It might seem like ancient history to some, but troops are still deployed in the Global War on Terrorism. That war has drawn on long enough that the needs of deployed troops have changed, but homesickness (and its remedy) remains the same.
By the time the physical training session finished in the late afternoon, another five followed.
One day into the first week of Engineer Diver Phase I course, a class of 12 has dwindled to two: the first, a soldier who had already passed the course two years ago. He left the Army and worked his way back. The other: a soldier who struggled swimming the endurance laps necessary to be a deep-sea diver but passed other aspects of the course, including the classroom lessons and physical training exercises.
The cuts come swiftly. Some quit out of their own accord. Others simply did not meet the rigid standards of the course. The Army designed it this way; to weed out the weak-minded, weak-willed and those unable to remain calm during extended hours underwater. In maritime conditions, Army divers must be prepared to act in seconds; they must react to sudden changes in currents, waves and the elements.
Staff Sgt. Andrew Holdner pours water on students as they attempt to complete flutter kicks. The water simulates the sensations of drowning. The exercise tests students’ ability to perform under extreme duress.
(Photo Credit: Joe Lacdan)
More than 90 percent of students won’t advance past the school’s first phase at Fort Leonard Wood. Among those who didn’t make the first week: recruits who had years of competitive swimming experience and former high school athletes.
The instructors know oceans, rivers and lakes can be a brutally cold, unforgiving places.
They attempt to make the course as unforgiving. At Davidson Fitness Center’s 25-meter pool, divers face two crucial initiation tests. Holdner said the majority of students don’t make it past these two exercises.
The first, students must swim the width of the pool in a single breath — underwater. Then the new recruits jump off a high dive board, surface, and swim to the far side of the pool and back and tread water for 40 minutes.
Pfc. Nolan Hurrish, right, emerges from the pool with other students during an Army engineer diving training exercise at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.
(Photo Credit: Joe Lacdan)
During the first half, students keep their heads out of water while using their hands and feet. During the second 20 minutes, they perform the “dead man’s float” — a survival technique where soldiers bend at the waist facing the water with arms out while holding their breath, simulating a floating corpse. When they need to breathe, they collapse arms and legs at the same time to raise their head above the water before dipping their faces back in the water.
In the second test, soldiers must swim 500 yards in 12 minutes and 30 seconds using breast stroke or side stroke, then do 50 pushups, 50 curl ups and six pullups. Finally, they must run a mile and a half in 12:30 or less.
As students attempt each exercise, they face the possibility of being dropped from the course and being reclassified into another career field.
“Every single time I’ve got to drop somebody,” said Sgt. 1st Class Eric Bailey, the lead instructor. “I feel bad because I know that they got into something that they knew nothing about. Because we’re a small field, very few people know that we exist.”
Students spend up to three and a half hours per day in the water, but also spend time in the classroom, learning about diving physics and how to maintain their equipment.
Dive instructors put students through a series of rites of passage, and ultimately test whether students can remain calm in situations that often cause heightened panic. The first such test came on the third day of training.
In addition to remaining calm underwater and developing breathing skills, diving school students must maintain rigid physical fitness standards.
(Photo Credit: Joe Lacdan)
Test of Wills
A soldier’s exasperating screams echoed in the swimming complex as he struggled to retrieve his equipment at the bottom of the pool. Instructors removed the diver’s mask, fins and air regulator and tossed them into the deep end of the pool. When the course began earlier that week, he lagged behind classmates during endurance laps.
Now at 1:30 p.m., the weather conditions in central Missouri hovered at around 95 degrees.
Inside the swimming complex the heat and humidity make the poolside area feel like a pressure cooker, not making the training any easier. During the test, instructors rip off pieces of the students’ scuba gear. soldiers must descend 14 feet and retrieve the gear in a single breath.
Holdner and Bailey bobbed at the surface, shouting instructions. They slapped water into the faces of the two remaining students in an attempt to simulate the unpredictable sway of an ocean current.
Pfc. Stephen Olinger dons swimming fins before a training exercise at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., in July 2018.
(Photo Credit: Joe Lacdan)
Here both instructors attempted to escalate the stress level to a fever pitch. Their screams, combined with the splashing water, simulate what instructors call a “rough sea state.” On missions, a diver’s rig might fail and they would no longer be able to breathe. Or divers may get bumped by an obstruction, falling debris, marine life or land they didn’t see. The current can also knock their air regulator off their suit.
When faced with the possibility of drowning, the diving instructors said water fills a swimmer’s nostrils, invoking feelings of nausea and sometimes vomiting. It can cause extreme panic, breaking down even the best of athletes and the most confident swimmers.
“We say water is the great equalizer,” Bailey said. “We have plenty of people that come here that are great physical specimens … They can do everything on land … But then, you put them in the water and guess what? They fall apart. They become two different people.”
Water can create extreme panic causing soldiers to lose their bearing, forcibly shoving fellow swimmers out of the way in order to reach for the shore. The violence of the water currents can push some soldiers to the edge.
“If you’re not comfortable,” Bailey said. “Water will bring out the worst in people.”
Bailey, a soldier with a neatly-combed crew cut and a stocky, fit build, teaches the class with a cool demeanor. He barks instruction with stern authority, but minutes later will crack a joke to put the students at ease.
Army divers must be able to communicate with the crew above before going on a deep-sea dive. Though they must operate underwater with little instruction, a deep-sea diver will have the only view of the operation.
(Photo Credit: Joe Lacdan)
An experienced veteran diver of 13 years, he tested his mettle at sea on a diverse array of maritime missions across the globe. He faced one of his most difficult challenges during a deployment to Iraq along a river. A vehicle-borne improvised explosive device had damaged a bridge and infantry units needed engineer divers to perform reconnaissance underwater.
At the river’s center in the shadow of the bridge, Bailey, then a young soldier, entered the water. He and another diver descended nearly 40 feet into the river’s depths. Almost immediately after he entered the river’s pitch black waters, disaster struck.
“As soon as I hit that water, I lost my grip,” Bailey said. “The current took me and immediately just threw me back.”
As he felt the pull to the bottom, the river broke his helmet’s seal. Cold water rushed into his head gear. His suit remained attached to an umbilical air supply cord, restricting his movement. He waited for a teammate to pull him back to shore while calming his nerves in the face of extreme conditions.
“I couldn’t swim to the shore,” he said. “I wasn’t moving. The only way I was getting out of there is if I was getting pulled out. And now my helmet was flooded. So what would have happened if I had panicked or I was not able to remain calm?”
Soldiers must face the fear of drowning and their own mortality on each mission. And each time, Divers must tame their emotions or lives will be at stake. In the worst conditions, soldiers will operate with limited visibility while carrying up to 80 pounds of underwater gear.
“I’ve been in situations where I’m using my hands as my eyes,” Holdner said. “One little mistake can be an injury for you. It’s not an environment that’s going to go easy on you.”
Holdner, a youthful-looking staff sergeant with slicked back dark hair who sports a cascade of tattoos on his right arm, graduated from the course in 2010. He entered with a larger class — 96. Only six made the cut and advanced to Phase II. Holdner said the mental hurdles the course poses can be the most difficult to overcome.
Even the second-time student looked visibly rattled as the two jockeyed for position before descending below. Athletically built with a wide upper body, the student easily passed the physical fitness tests and he seemed likely to survive to the next phase in Panama City, Florida.
Then the unexpected happened.
Inexplicably, he swam to the poolside and signaled to the instructors he wanted to drop out. He decided he had enough.
One student remained.
The private’s panicked expression reflected his extreme duress. Of the 12 students who attempted the course, he was the only remaining soldier. The shortest student in the class, this soldier struggled to finish the swimming endurance drills earlier in the week. But he persevered to make it to the third day.
But his chances have dimmed.
As the private spent more time bobbing his head above the surface, he lost valuable time that could have been spent underwater searching for equipment.
An instructor then blew his whistle. The soldier didn’t make the cut.
Slowly, the soldier swam toward the pool’s edge. Still breathing heavily, he gingerly exited the pool and walked toward his gear. He must now wait for the Army to reclassify him into a new career field.
About 12 to 20 students begin each class. Only 1 to 3 normally graduate. Sometimes, as with the July 2018 students, none make it.
Although instructors must cut the majority of the students, they don’t take each decision lightly. Often before they pull recruits from the course, they have counseling sessions. They sit down with each student and explain why they cannot advance to the next phase.
Often, emotions spill.
“They’re in tears,” Bailey said. “This is something that they’ve wanted to do for a long time or this is something that they’ve told their family about and everyone is rooting for them and they don’t want to disappoint their family.”
Bailey said recruiters and drill sergeants often don’t have accurate accounts of engineer diver training. Soldiers then arrive at Fort Leonard Wood with misconceptions about the realities of training.
Navy instructors check Soldiers’ scuba equipment. Equipment management and maintenance is critical for diver safety, instructors said.
(Photo Credit: Joe Lacdan)
Two Phase I diving school graduates joined the class of students who trained here in the July heat. Instead of sporting the black Army shirts with gold letters, they donned white shirts and brown swimming trunks to distinguish themselves from the current class. They continued to train with incoming classes to keep their skills fresh as they waited for Phase II in Panama City.
Pvts. 1st Class Stephen Olinger and Nolan Hurrish are only months into their Army careers.
Olinger, a bright-eyed recruit who was raised partially overseas, carries a swagger and self-confidence as he approaches each exercise. He graduated in March. Hurrish, a soft-spoken but diligent recruit from Wisconsin, has quietly passed each test. They don’t know if they will survive the next six months at Panama City. But they remain optimistic that in less than 16 weeks they will join the fewer than 150 Army divers worldwide.
“I have an attitude like ‘this is it,” Olinger said. “This is what I came here to do. If I fail out, I fail out. But I’m going to give it everything.”
The world’s five oceans, where many of the 12 dozen or so Army divers throughout the world must perform, can be ruthless.
The sea is an unpredictable, faceless adversary unlike any other soldiers face in the battlefield, and no less deadly.
Students will get their first taste of that adversary off the shores of the Florida Panhandle in Phase II of the diving school.
(Editor’s note: This is part one of a two-part series on the Army’s engineer diver training. For part two, click here.)
The US Army is not so strong anymore on its recruiting slogan —”Army Strong.”
The largest of the US military branches is struggling to find new recruits, especially those between the ages of 18 and 24, and is coming to the conclusion that the Army’s brand isn’t resonating with millennials.
“Army Strong” has been the Army’s slogan for a little over a decade, but it began to be fazed out of recruiting ads back in 2015.
The Army— which has nearly 1 million soldiers in the active-duty and reserve forces, and the Army National Guard— is now looking for a slogan that tells more of a story, Sergeant Major of the Army Daniel Dailey recently told reporters.
“I think we have to change our marketing strategy as an Army, and we are looking at that right now,” Dailey said.
“Army Strong” has also been the frequent butt of jokes and memes, often used with photos of overweight soldiers.
“One of the major responses we get when we survey folks who don’t have experience with military service is strength, so we know the ‘Army Strong’ resonates…but I don’t think it tells the story, the full story of being a soldier,” Dailey added.
“‘Army Strong’ is a good, I think, bumper sticker, ad campaign, but it doesn’t tell the story, so I think that we’ve got to do a better job telling the story of being a soldier,” he said.
In this sense, the Army wants a slogan that’s closer to “Be All You Can Be,” which it had great success with in the 1980s and 1990s. Dailey said people continue to tell him they remember the “Be All You Can Be” slogan to this day.
“‘Be All You Can Be’ was a national identity to the Army … it is still today,” Dailey said. “I can say, ‘Be All You Can Be’ and people just — it was the national identity to the Army.”
Dailey said other Army slogans like “Army of One” have struggled and they want something that not only appeals to young people but also influencers in their lives like parents and other family members.
When parents show enthusiasm for the military their children are more likely to enlist, according to research.
The US Navy has also struggled to find a recruiting slogan that captures the attention of millennials and their influencers. They recently retired their last slogan, “A Global Force For Good,” in favor of, “Forged By The Sea.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Steve Houghton’s rugged face shone orange in the firelight as he pulled in a deep breath of the frigid Montana backcountry air and shifted in his chair before taking his turn at a personal story. The stress lines of an often-furrowed brow and eyes tinged with sadness advertised the toll of an especially bruising year for the former motor transportation Marine.
The snipers and special operations soldiers around the campfire were half-expecting a familiar tale of combat trauma and trouble transitioning to civilian life. If anyone in the group of 17 military veterans had a thousand-yard stare, it was Houghton.
A crackle from the fire disturbed the brief silence as the circle waited for him to speak.
“You know, I didn’t know how much I needed this,” Houghton said with a somber Montana drawl as he opened up to the men and women who two days earlier were complete strangers. “It’s been a rough 2020 for me, and before I came out here, I was in pretty bad shape. I went through a divorce, and I’ve struggled with other issues. But the last two days have put a smile on my face even while I was sleeping.”
Houghton and 16 other military veterans traveled to eastern Montana’s vast swath of public lands Nov. 6 through 10 for an inaugural event hosted by Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (BHA), a nonprofit committed to preserving North America’s outdoor heritage of hunting and fishing in a natural setting through education and advocacy on behalf of wild public lands and waters.
After launching its Armed Forces Initiative in June, BHA developed its first-ever Veteran Dual Skill Acquisition Camp, where BHA mentors covered skills such as e-scouting, shot placement, field-dressing, meat considerations, carcass disposal, and education about public lands and related legislative issues. But as Houghton and the others quickly learned, the best parts of camp weren’t listed in the promotional materials that drew them to the event.
“I’ve been on my own for quite a while now, and I was kind of getting into a real rough spot just before I came out here,” Houghton continued. “But getting out in the woods with a bunch of veterans has made a world of difference. I feel supported on multiple levels, and it just feels really good. I’ve learned so much, and I think this is about the most therapeutic stuff I’ve experienced since I got out of the Marines. It gives you back that sense of camaraderie and that mission that, once you’re out, you just lack in life.
“This gives me hope for the future with myself and other veterans that are struggling to find a sense of meaning again. Just being around everybody and seeing that you’re not alone, it’s been absolutely incredible — absolutely lifesaving. You’re saving lives with this.”
Knowing nods and grunts of approval from Houghton’s newfound tribe validated his sentiments. There was the sergeant major from the 19th Special Forces Group, the recently retired special operations pilot, Marine snipers and grunts, Army snipers and other soldiers, sailors, National Guard members, and an Air Force member who cheerily absorbed all the standard trash talk that always gets heaped on extra thick for members of the “Chair Force.”
Morgan Mason, BHA’s Armed Forces Initiative coordinator and a former Army intelligence analyst, coordinated the camp. Mason was 20 when he participated in the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
“When I left the Army, I just wanted to head West and break free of everything,” Mason said. “I spent a lot of time on public lands, and they were my source of decompression. I thought it was amazing that I could go do all these outdoor activities — whitewater rafting, mountain biking, climbing, hunting.”
Mason said his experiences led him to the path he’s on now. His passion and mission are to make sure all military members and veterans can have the same experiences outdoors that were integral to his transition and that continue to enrich his life. For BHA’s Armed Forces Initiative, he focuses on three pillars: active-duty programming, veteran programming, and legislative efforts.
BHA has forged a unique relationship with the US military to develop its active-duty programming initiative. It has partnered with several major military installations, including Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and Camp Pendleton, California, to promote outdoor activities on public lands among military members at those locations and others.
“Spending time outdoors is like a reset button for your brain,” Mason said. “For military members and veterans who are dealing with issues like post-traumatic stress, survivor’s guilt, or opioid addiction, outdoor activities like hunting aren’t a cure-all, but having these experiences makes you a better person because they destress your mind by dumping some dopamine into your brain and making you feel good. We want people to feel the weight of the world drop off their shoulders and feel that stress melt away, and public land makes that possible for everyone.”
Mason put together the veteran camp as a pilot program for the veteran programming pillar, picking a diverse group of veterans — both mentors and mentees — from a pool of candidates who applied for the mule deer and whitetail hunt in Montana.
“We tried to bring folks of various skill levels and experiences,” Mason said. “Some are first-time hunters — never shot a deer until this camp — and some have been hunting since they were kids.”
Mason organized the camp around two focus areas: tactile and cerebral. The tactile portion covered skills such as stalking, glassing, and other field tactics. The cerebral portion consisted of campfire talks and bonding over shared experiences and public lands education.
One of the topics around the campfire was the Accelerating Veterans Recovery Outdoors Act, which advanced through the US Senate Nov. 10. The bipartisan legislation would require the secretary of Veterans Affairs to establish an interagency task force on the use of public lands to provide health and wellness for veterans through outdoor recreation. That means if President Donald Trump signs the act into law, the federal government will study the health benefits of trips and activities like BHA’s veteran hunt.
It didn’t take long for fast friendships to form in the teams and hunting parties Mason organized. Houghton hooked up with BHA mentor and former Idaho National Guardsman Matthew Carlock and husband-and-wife-duo Andrea and Patrick Nofio — both Navy veterans — to form “Team Send It.”
Carlock’s stocky frame and boundless energy in the backcountry terrain earned him the moniker “The Mountain Goat,” and after Houghton bagged his first of four deer, Carlock helped pack the whole animal back to camp so he could give a demonstration on how to field-dress a deer, a vital skill that several first-time hunters put to use in short order.
On the second day of camp, Andrea earned her nickname, “Eagle-Eye Andrea,” when she spotted at about 300 yards a beautiful six-pointed mule deer buck at the 11th hour of a long day of following the Mountain Goat up and down endless ridges and valleys in frigid conditions. The Alaska native said she “saw every wild animal you could ever see” growing up in the Great North State, but her father, who raised four daughters, never took her hunting.
“I’d been thinking about it for a long time, but there’s so many barriers to entry,” Andrea said about finally learning to hunt with BHA’s support. “Hunting is expensive. You need a mentor, and you need to just be really intrepid.”
Andrea said she and Patrick jumped at the opportunity when they heard about the Montana hunt because it removed a lot of the intimidation factor they felt.
“The vast knowledge that is shared freely by everybody here has just been amazing,” Patrick said. “We’re checking off bucket list items with this trip, getting out here and finally putting the miles down, and being able to share in the pride and camaraderie of harvesting an animal with all these awesome veterans — it’s really meaningful and just an absolutely phenomenal experience.”
Around the campfire each night, a common theme kept permeating the conversation: Nobody gets veterans like other veterans.
Healthy competition, trash talk, and crude humor were sources of bonding throughout the weekend.
After former Army sniper Jim Vinson shared his personal story around the fire one night, he couldn’t help but end with a flex: “I smoked a doe last night at 511 yards, so somebody needs to top that.”
On a long hunt the day after Andrea bagged her buck, Carlock — The Mountain Goat — promised Team Send It they’d likely find deer if they’d follow him for yet another long push to a far-off ridge.
“Yeah, we’ve heard it before, Matthew,” she said. “Just the tip, just for a second, just to see how it feels.”
Houghton, who needed eight rounds to bag his four deer and was dubbed by his Team Send It brethren “Two-Shot Steve,” howled at the joke. “I love veterans,” he said.
Andrea, who is currently enrolled as a college student in Montana, said, “Yeah, I don’t usually get to make those kinds of jokes these days. I really miss being around veterans.”
After three days, on the Marine Corps birthday, the veterans broke down the camp. A handful of them held a small ceremony, taking down the American flag that had flown proudly at the entry path and folding it in accordance with military tradition. Together, they had killed 18 deer over three days and would feed their friends and families for months to come.
They shared some hot coffee on a final cold morning together, traded hearty hugs, handshakes, and contact information, and left for home — batteries recharged by new friendships and experiences and with plenty of great stories and newfound respect for public lands to share with friends and family.
While many a news outlet regularly reports when Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates flip-flop as to who is the richest person in the world, with Bernard Arnault and Warren Buffet nipping at their heals, as we previously noted in our article on the richest people in history, Bezos and Gates’ combined wealth barely matches that of the known fortune of former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi who ruled over that oil rich country for over three decades before being ousted and then killed in 2011. So how wealthy was Gaddafi? In the years since his death, so far nearly $200 billion dollars have been found in secret accounts, real estate holdings, and other investments directly belonging to him. No matter whether he acquired it ethically or not, assets are assets, and Gaddafi had the most of any known person so far this century by a huge margin.
Another individual who has more or less ruled a petroleum-rich nation for about two decades now is likewise rumored to secretly have a net worth in excess of $200 billion. We are, of course, talking about Vladimir Putin. But is Putin actually the richest person in the world, or are these just rumors?
To begin with, as you might imagine being born in the Soviet Union in 1952, Putin didn’t exactly start out life in the lap of luxury. In a bit of 1950s-era role reversal, his father was a cook and his mother a factory worker. Putin himself would grow up to join the KGB in 1975 working a variety of positions with that institution over the years. While you might envision Hollywood spy type scenarios were his daily life, in fact, according to journalist and biographer Masha Gessen, “Putin and his colleagues were reduced mainly to collecting press clippings, thus contributing to the mountains of useless information produced by the KGB.”
Putin in the KGB.
The first rumor that Putin was using a government position to stash away quite a lot of money for his own personal gain came in the early 1990s when he, in his then position as head of the Committee for External Relations at the Mayor’s Office in St. Petersburg, allegedly helped broker a million deal to acquire various food supplies for the city. In a nutshell, various companies were granted permits that would allow them to supply a huge amount of materials to foreign entities, and in exchange would be given an equivalent value back in foodstuffs to then be used within the famished city. The thing was, as far as anyone can tell, while the companies did send out the materials, no foodstuffs came back in return. The matter was ultimately investigated by one Marina Salye at the behest of the city council, with Salye in turn claiming Putin’s signature could be found authorizing the deals.
She states, “The raw materials were shipped abroad but the food didn’t materialise. There’s 100% proof that in this Putin was to blame. As a result in 1992 – when there was no food at all – the city was left with nothing. The evidence I have is as solid as it gets…. Putin – well, his committee – made bartering contacts to get food for the city. He issued licenses. And commodities – wood, metal, cotton, heating oil, and oil – flew out of the country.”
That said, while she states Putin was to blame and, at least according to her, she had definitive proof, she did not find any evidence that Putin had received anything in return for the apparently botched deals. As for Putin, he claimed the companies that had been given the export permits in the deal were to blame for foodstuffs not coming back as they were supposed to have- implying that Putin had no knowledge the deals wouldn’t be completed as originally brokered when he issued the licenses.
The city council would move forward with further investigation, but ultimately Mayor Anatoly Sobchak put a stop to it and the matter was dropped. While you’ll read in many outlets reporting this story that Salye would die of so-called natural causes mere weeks after she made these accusations and the investigation was killed, in truth she would go on to help found the Free Democratic Party of Russia and more or less continually rail against Putin to anyone in the media and public who would listen, until eventually giving up in 2000 after the election and moving to the countryside. There she lived until her death at the age of 77 in 2012, though she did give a handful of interviews during that span, still unabashedly anti-Putin.
A portrait of Marina Salye during the 2012 Protests after the 2011 Russian elections.
As for Putin, from that 1992 political position, he worked his way up to becoming one of a trio of Deputy Prime Ministers, and was known to be Boris Yeltsin’s preferred successor, despite before this being a relative unknown among the wider public. Ultimately he did indeed become president in 2000 after winning the majority vote.
Once elected, Putin, like his predecessor, reported his finances and holdings publicly, including his salary and exact amount in his many bank accounts. He has continued to do so since. The result? Over the years while his salary has changed regularly from year to year, he has made approximately 0K-0K annually in that span, for example in 2018 reporting an income of 5K. Today between his wife’s and his own accounts, the couple seem to have a little over a half a million in cash in various bank accounts, though why he isn’t investing this is rather curious given his apparent lack of any other investments and almost complete lack of actually needing any cash for his day to day life given the government foots the bill for most everything. Of this, Putin states, “Honestly speaking, I don’t even know what my salary is. They deliver it to me, I take it, put it my bank account and don’t even count it…”
As for his other assets, he also owns a studio sized apartment in Saint Petersburg, a slightly larger apartment in Moscow, owns a small garage, a couple cars, a small plot of land outside of Moscow, and otherwise has various minor assets of no great worth.
Of course, over the years people can’t help but notice that Putin has a collection of watches he wears very publicly whose purchase price combined is around that of his reported entire net worth, ringing in at about 0,000-0,000 if various reports are to be believed. For reference, the highest valued watch he has been spotted wearing costs around 0,000- a Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar watch.
On top of that, the clothing he can often be seen wearing is likewise extremely expensive, such as his 00+ tailored suits from outlets like Kiton and Brioni. Not just expensive suits, in one photo of him working out, Putin can be seen wearing sweatpants that cost over id=”listicle-2641610333″,400 a pair, apparently made from silk, cashmere and the tears of impoverished children, along with a similarly priced top.
On top of that, among other mansions, he is long rumored to own an estate known as “Putin’s Palace” near Praskoveevka, widely reported to be worth id=”listicle-2641610333″ billion by media outlets. However, this was actually sold in 2011 to one Alexander Ponomarenko, a former associate of Putin’s, for somewhere around 0 million. (Note, the exact amount has not been publicly disclosed, but Ponomarenko has indicated it’s in the ballpark of that widely reported figure.)
Ponomarenko purchased the estate from a group led by businessman Nikolai Shamalov. Ponomarenko claims he decided to buy the company behind the estate project, and thus the mansion, as it was a steal of a deal owing to the project being stalled from lack of funds to complete the estate and the business group wanting to cut their losses on it rather than complete it.
That said, Russian businessman Sergei Kolesnikov, who is exiled from Russia, claims the palace was built specifically for Putin’s use. He claims Putin was able to afford its construction in part thanks to a gift given him by the aforementioned Nikolai Shamalov in the form of 94% of the shares in a company called Lirus Holding. Among other personal knowledge of the development of the palace, Kolesnikov claims Shamalov himself told him this and, to quote him, “I have no reason not to believe (him).”
However, no documents concerning any ownership connected to the project seem to indicate Putin, or any holdings of Putin’s, ever were directly involved with this estate. That said, some contract documents concerning its construction allegedly have the signature of one Vladimir Kozhin, one of Putin’s inner circle of confidants. Of course, this still doesn’t definitively indicate whether Putin actually owned the palace or even was behind its building at all- simply, allegedly someone he is close to was involved in some capacity and later someone else he is close to bought it- a bit of a theme for a lot of these rumors.
Putin himself denies he had anything to do with the palace being built. Nevertheless, Putin allegedly frequents the palace and Federal Protective Service guards have been seen at the mansion, along with locals reporting seeing Putin in the area regularly.
Of course, among the extremely wealthy with such mansions, it’s not uncommon at all to allow friends to guest in one’s estates whenever they please, so Putin would not have to actually own the thing to stay there, nor would it be a big ask to do so- more or less par for the course among the exorbitantly wealthy.
That said, on top of all this estate, Putin has been connected to causing to have had built or secretly owning several other mansions, yachts, planes, etc.
Whether he actually owns any of these or, like Putin’s Palace, seemingly is just using them when he pleases, his flashing of extreme wealth in the case of his watches and other such items, along with an awful lot of not implausible allegations of widespread corruption within his government connected to him, has led to the belief that he has boatloads of money secretly stashed away in accounts throughout the world.
Others speculate Putin is simply using the government coffers to finance all these extravagances. For many items, this would not actually be that uncommon for a major world leader, if a lot more excessive than most. For example, the replacement Air Force One planes the U.S. President will soon have at his disposal has a budget of over billion. The U.S. President also gets a pretty posh mansion (The White House) and vacations spots to go to at their leisure with the tax payer footing the bill for quite a lot of such perks with few batting an eye at this.
But, of course, the U.S. government isn’t funding 0,000 watches for the President (though bullet proof tailored suits occasionally worn by the president are presumably paid for by the U.S. taxpayer. To attempt to clarify these items, requests have been made to the Russian government asking if, for example, Putin’s watches are actually his or property of the state that he is just wearing, but no answer to this question has been given that we could find.
Whatever the case, yet others claim Putin is simply enriching many people around him and it is they who are then happy to provide Putin with anything and everything his Judo-master heart can desire.
Yet others claim it is all three- Putin is enriching himself through shady means and using government funds and people he is helping make wealthy to get whatever he wants while he’s in office.
But the question of the hour is not whether Putin’s net worth is more than he is letting on- that is very apparently true by his watch collection alone, whether he purchased them or they were gifted. The question of the hour is whether he is secretly the richest person in the world with a net worth in excess of 0 billion as so many claim.
So what does the man himself say about all these rumors? “I am the wealthiest man, not just in Europe but in the whole world…”
Case closed, right? He admitted it! Well, in truth, he wasn’t finished talking. He goes on, “I collect emotions. I am wealthy in that the people of Russia have twice entrusted me with the leadership of a great nation such as Russia. I believe that is my greatest wealth.”
Of course, whether he collects emotions or not doesn’t inherently negate the first part of that statement, simply that he considers that a greater wealth than whatever he has possession-wise.
Argue amongst yourselves whether this was Putin cleverly admitting to being the wealthiest person in the world while making it seem like he was saying he wasn’t, and also simultaneously admitting he’s a Lizard Person given a hallmark of these creatures is apparently feeding on human emotions…
For a more direct answer to the question about the rumors of his extreme wealth, he clarifies, “It’s just chitchat, nonsense, nothing to discuss… They picked it out of their noses and smeared it on their pieces of paper.”
The Press and Information Office of the President of the Russian Federation’s also asserts of these rumors, “This information has no substance. As you may know, the declarations of Mr. Putin’s income and property are published annually… We recommend you to use only reliable sources henceforward and not to believe fake news in 2018.”
Naturally, nobody seems satisfied with these assertions given his apparent and frequent flashing of wealth far beyond what anyone with his salary should be able to afford.
So what do others who might know a little more say? First, we have political analyst and noted critic of Putin Stanislav Belkovsky who claimed to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in 2012 that Putin had net worth of approximately billion, though how he came up with this figure isn’t exactly definitive nor inspiring confidence in his hard knowledge here. In his own words, “The figure of billion emerged in 2007. That figure could now have changed, I believe at the level of -70 billion…. Maximum we cannot know. I suspect there are some businesses I know nothing about.”
Mildly more concrete, at least in terms of given something more specific, he also claims much of this wealth is because of Putin’s alleged 4.5% stake in Gazprom, 37% stake in Surgutneftegas, and allegedly 50% ownership of Gunvor. How he knows this, however, isn’t fully clear. Belkovsky simply states he got this information through sources he has within the companies. It’s also noted that for a time Gunvor was co-owned by a friend of Putin’s, billionaire Gennady Timchenko.
So what do the three companies say? For whatever it’s worth, Corporate Affairs Director of the Swiss-based Gunvor Group, Seth Thomas Pietras, states, “President Putin has never had any interest in, investment in, or involvement with Gunvor Group either directly or indirectly… Mr. Belkovsky’s claims are based on absolutely nothing and are fundamentally ridiculous. And the U.S. government, despite its statement has never sanctioned Gunvor in any capacity, nor has it provided any evidence of its own.”
Moving on to Surgutneftegas, they likewise deny Putin owns any shares.
Gazprom, which is majority owned by the Russian government itself, with the rest of the stock publicly traded, likewise shows no records of Putin owning any shares.
Belkovsky counters these denials by the companies and lack of records stating Putin has a rather elaborate network of off-shore companies and funds that own the shares, which all ultimately mask that he himself actually owns, or at least, controls them.
Moving on to the CEO of Hermitage Capital Management, Bill Browder, he is the one that seems to have started the widespread rumor that Putin’s personal wealth is in excess of 0 billion, stating before a Senate Judiciary Committee
I believe he is worth 0 billion. The purpose of the Putin regime has been to commit terrible crimes in order to get that money…He keeps his money in the West and all of his money in the West is potentially exposed to asset freezes and confiscation. Therefore, he has a significant and very personal interest in finding a way to get rid of the Magnitsky sanctions.
On this latter note, one of Browder’s former associates, Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, was investigating corruption within the Russian government and allegedly found evidence of various Russian officials taking part in a near quarter of a billion dollar tax fraud scheme. Magnitsky himself was then arrested for allegedly being the mastermind behind the tax fraud, and died while in jail before his trial. At the partial encouragement of Browder, the U.S. then passed the Magnitsky Act in 2009. In an oversimplified nutshell, this allows the U.S. government to sanction various individuals thought to be human rights offenders, ban them from entering the U.S., and more importantly freeze their assets where the government is able. The bill was essentially meant to allow the government to legally hold somewhat accountable those thought to have been involved in Magnitsky’s death.
As for hard data, however, Browder offers little.
Next up, noted economist Anders Aslund, author of the book Russia’s Crony Capitalism: The Path from Market Economy to Kleptocracy, states, “I would estimate that Putin is worth around 0-160 billion. We can see that Putin and his friends have taken -15 billion from Gazprom every year since 2004. That’s just Gazprom. There are large numbers of transactions being made… What’s much more difficult is to see where the money goes. It’s typically Cyprus, Cayman Islands, British Virgin Islands and Willmington, Delaware…”
As to how he came up with these figures, he states, “My assessment is that since Putin’s circle got its looting fully organized around 2006, they have extracted -25 billion a year, reaching a total of 5-325 billion, a large share of the Russian private offshore wealth. Presuming that half of this wealth belongs to Putin, his net wealth would amount to 0-160 billion. Naturally, Putin and his cronies cannot enjoy their wealth. It is all about power. If they are not the wealthiest, they fear they will lose power.”
Why he assumes Putin would get half of these alleged amounts instead of some other percentage isn’t fully clear.
On that note, like so many before, nobody seems to be able to actually offer hard evidence that Putin has any money stashed away anywhere not publicly known, which when talking sums of allegedly 0 billion, is a pretty neat trick for someone who has been so highly scrutinized, including by the U.S. Senate, who presumably if they wanted could just ask the CIA or other entities good at collecting such data to look into it. Given, instead, they are asking the likes of Browder, it has been presumed and widely claimed, that the CIA and other such government entities have no definitive intelligence on this either.
From this lack of a paper trail directly linking money or assets to Putin, yet his clearly lavish lifestyle indicating he does indeed have access to an awful lot of money, this has led many to conclude that Putin himself doesn’t actually officially own most or all of the wealth attributed to him, but rather he is leveraging his position and connections to enrich those close to him who, in their gratitude, are then more than happy to provide Putin with any money or items he wants, from access to mansion to yachts to sweatpants that keep his Judo-jubblies ultra comfortable when working out.
As alleged evidence for this, we turn to 11.5 million documents from the Panama Mossack Fonseca law firm made public in 2016, dealing in off-shore holdings by over 200,000 entities. While Putin himself is not listed in any of them, the documents do reveal three close associates of Putin’s among those having off-shore holdings partially managed by the law firm, with a combined amount of around billion between the trio.
Despite not owning these assets, there are many claims by various individuals that Putin uses some of these like his “personal bank account”, most notably the holdings of a man claimed by many in the media as Putin’s best friend- famed Russian musician and conductor Sergei Roldugin. Not just a friend, Roldugin is also the godfather to one of Putin’s children and was the man who introduced Putin to Putin’s wife.
As for where Roldugin supposedly got his extreme wealth, beyond his noted music career, starting in the 1990s Roldugin began investing in various oil and other business entities, to great success. Beyond all of this, in 2019, Roldugin also was accused of being involved in a massive multi-billion dollar money laundering scheme in conjunction with Sberbank CIB, which allegedly profited him greatly.
That said, for those using these records as proof of Putin having money elsewhere via his associates, it should be again noted these are the records of well over 200,000 entities throughout the world. And the vast majority who are using the firm are doing so completely legitimately, including actor Jackie Chan who reportedly had six perfectly above board off-shore companies the law firm helped manage various facets of. So that three among Putin’s numerous friends who are exorbitantly wealthy should be included isn’t necessarily proof of anything other than they wanted to have some assets outside of Russia, which isn’t uncommon among the wealthy in Russia. As some formerly close to Putin who have had their assets stripped and forced to flee the country demonstrate, having some off-short holdings is probably a good security blanket of sorts, just in case.
On this note, political scientist professor and author of Putin’s Kleptocracy, Karen Dawisha, stated before her death from lung cancer in 2018, “Why is it that 0 billion left the country last year? Because they believe that their wealth can only be secured in the long term outside their own country.”
Coming back to the posed question of whether Putin is secretly the richest person in the world, whether these funds are being held for him or not, this is still not Putin’s money, not just technically, but we’re guessing regardless of the amount of good-will Putin has built up with these various businessmen and women, should he no longer be in power, they might quickly find themselves less than willing to continue to support his lifestyle, if that is what has been happening as is widely believed. And some speculate he might even find himself in a rather unsafe circumstance in that case.
For example, one-time billionaire and the man formerly known as “Putin’s banker”, but now exiled from Russia, Sergei Pugachev, says “Everything that belongs to the territory of the Russian Federation Putin considers to be his. Everything – Gazprom, Rosneft, private companies. Any attempt to calculate it won’t succeed. He’s the richest person in the world until he leaves power.”
As for leaving power, he goes on that Putin chose not to leave office after his first term and beyond, not because of a desire for continued power, but rather because he feared for his own safety should he no longer be in that position. Even today, Pugachev claims, “I don’t see any guarantees for him [if he steps down]. Putin doesn’t see them either,” which is why he finds it unlikely that Putin will ever willingly leave office. Though it should be noted that Putin himself has stated he will not be running for president at the end of his current term in 2024.
Also for whatever it’s worth, Pugachev, despite having billions stripped from himself by the Russian government, being currently in fear for his life, and in exile, states, in his opinion, Putin himself is not evil, nor did Putin originally plan to setup a corrupt government when he took power, simply that, “He surrounded himself with like-minded people whom he didn’t know very well and who had served with him in the KGB. They immediately began enriching themselves….Putin wanted to get rich, too. He was a pragmatic person. We talked about this. He didn’t want to leave office poor.”
As for the Russian government’s position with regards to Pugachev, it is claimed that Pugachev defrauded the government of hundreds of millions of dollars which is why the one-time bosom-buddy of Putin originally had to go on the run.
Pugachev counters, “The state steals something then has to defend its theft. In my case the scale is huge, but in other respects this is a normal contemporary practice in Russia.” This has all left the one-time billionaire with, by his own account, only about million to his name which he kept in off-shore holdings. It must be rough…
In truth, this amount is unfortunate for him because Pugachev allegedly was offered a deal from a Russian official that if he paid 0 million to certain entities, his legal issues in Russia would be made to be resolved to his benefit and he could return to Russia.
Further siding in the camp that Putin doesn’t have hundreds of billions stashed away he officially owns, the aforementioned Karen Dawisha, who perhaps gives some of the best account and most concrete details of the alleged corruption within the Russian government in her Putin’s Kleptocracy book, states that Putin’s real wealth comes from his position. “He takes what he wants, When you are the president of Russia you don’t need a written contract. You are the law.”
Again backing up this position, financial investigator L. Burke Files, states, “Putin controls wealth through proxies.” He then makes up examples to illustrate, “Sergey owes his fortune to Putin, so when Putin asks Sergey a favor, the favor must be honored. A luxury cruise, use of a private dacha, expensive consumer goods, etc….Ivan owns a shipping company and owes his wealth to Putin, so when Putin requests a favor, Ivan— like Sergey—honors the request.”
So, is Putin the richest person in the world? While, as Gaddafi demonstrated, it is possible to squirrel away 0 billion secretly, given the level of scrutiny thrown Putin’s way by governments the world over looking into the matter, with nobody seemingly able to come up with any hard evidence, most think this figure grossly inflated, though it is generally accepted that he probably does have at least some significant amount stashed away somewhere.
For most, however, the explanation for his rather luxurious lifestyle is more reasonably explained by the simple fact that he can pretty much have the Russian government foot the bill for anything he wants without much uproar or oversight. And it does seem like an awful lot of his compatriots have gotten exceedingly wealthy during his tenure at least in part thanks to their connections with Putin and him leveraging his position to help facilitate their enrichment. Thus, if that is what has happened, it’s reasonable enough that many of those are happy to scratch his back whenever he feels the need for a new yacht or the like, without Putin needing to have anything in his name to avoid the backlash that would result should he be discovered to have such.
But as to answering the question of Putin’s own wealth, as the consensus seems to be that most of his wealth is tied up in his position and associates, rather than funds he directly has, it seems a bit of a stretch to call him the richest man in the world, though not a stretch at all if talking the money he currently has strong influence over. His position as President of Russia alone would be enough for that.
And as to the idea that he really does have 0 billion simply being held in other people’s names, as alluded to, we’re guessing even if many of these individuals are actually holding money for Putin, that should he step down from power and ask for that money be given to him en masse, or even remain in power and ask for a combined sum of 0 billion, that shortly thereafter memorials and monuments would be being built for the former Russian leader who sadly died in his sleep of natural causes…
Thus, to sum up, while given his lifestyle and various possessions, Putin most definitely does have access to quite a lot of wealth between the Russian government and a lot of friends in high and wealthy places, when talking his own assets, there simply isn’t any real hard data to date backing up the claim that he is the wealthiest person in the world. And, while not impossible certainly, it would be quite the hat trick to squirrel away a couple hundred billion without any world governments able to find hard evidence that he owns a dime of it. Of course, while some might argue access to vast sums should still count- access is not ownership, even if one can benefit from it on some level.
In the end, unless he really is one of the Lizard People, he’s probably not immortal, so at some point in the next few decades he will shuffle off this mortal coil and, perhaps then, like Gaddafi, more definitive data will be revealed. Or perhaps sooner when he no longer has the protection of his position in 2024, as he is constitutionally unable to run for the presidency that year. Although, of course he could always do as he did in 2008 and take a different position while remaining in power.
Whatever the case, for now, at least, while it is technically possible he does have 0 billion in secret, and even probable that he has drastically more than he is letting on publicly, which isn’t difficult given his paltry public assets for a man in his position, given the current data at hand, the needle is seemingly tilted more towards Gates and Bezos being wealthier than Putin, at least in terms of money and assets they officially own.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
The good news is that part of Congress actually did its job as the legislative branch of government. The House of Representatives passed a law, specifically, the latest National Defense Authorization Act, which specifies the budget for the Department of Defense, and allows for its expenditures. It also lays out some provisions for the Pentagon and its five branches to follow. This year’s NDAA is no different, but it has some new, noteworthy provisions.
And yes, there’s a 3.1 percent pay raise for U.S. troops. Glad we can all agree on something.
The Space Force
The NDAA allowed for the creation of the U.S. Space Force and the position of the Chief of Space Operations at the level of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but reporting to the Secretary of the Air Force. The new branch’s structure will be similar to the way the U.S. Marine Corps is housed inside the department of the Navy, so expect a lot of jokes about how the Space Force is the men’s department inside the Department of the Air Force.
The Space Force will replace the current space command at the cost of .4 million.
Sadly, some still don’t have faces.
Paid Parental Leave for Federal Workers
The new compromise defense authorization bill will allow federal employees 12 full weeks of parental leave after having a child. The 8 billion bill allows the new provision for all 2.1 million federal workers. Starting Oct. 1, 2020, any adoption, birth, or fostering will receive the benefit. Employees must be employed for at least one year and stay for at least 12 weeks after taking the leave.
Don’t read the comments, it’s already been happening.
Desegregating Marine Corps Boot Camp
Women training at the Marine Corps’ Parris Island facilities will no longer be separated by gender, according to the new NDAA. The Corps is one of the last areas of gender segregation in the Armed Forces. Due to low volumes of female recruits, the Corps has already desegregated some basic training classes in South Carolina, but San Diego will remain segregated for a couple more years.
When we envisioned our first publication for this blog, we never dreamed we would be interviewing one of our own founders for it. Or, that the topic would be her diagnosis and recovery of COVID-19. Despite the initial anxiety and concern over her positive test, she chose joy. Every day.
Samantha Gomolka is a Physician Assistant for a dermatology office in Buffalo, New York. Her state is arguably the hardest hit with COVID-19 and although schools and businesses were shut down, she continued to work and treat patients. “It was my biggest fear…. That if my family got sick, it would be because I brought it home. It was a heavy weight to carry,” she said.
Gomolka shared that she researched the signs and symptoms heavily, watching closely for fever or any shortness of breath. When she started with a cough and headache, she didn’t initially think it could be COVID-19. A few days later, the fever and body aches came. “In that moment, you are kind of stuck between the place of fear and disbelief,” she said. Gomolka said she just knew she had it. She quarantined herself in a guest bedroom, praying she wouldn’t pass it to anyone else in her family. A call to the public health department gave her the verbal instructions of self quarantine and presumption of COVID-19 based on symptoms, but there was no test available to her due to being considered low risk, and lack of other comorbid conditions.
Gomolka wouldn’t get one, until she ended up in the emergency room.
“Getting up from the bed to walk into the kitchen is not usually challenging. With this, there was an air hunger. It became a conscious effort to breathe in and out all day long. The feeling that I could never get enough air was making me live right under the threshold of panic,” she shared. Gomolka finally went to the emergency room when breathing became even more difficult and was placed on oxygen for hours. It was there she received her Chest X-ray, CT scan and COVID test, which revealed she did in fact have the virus. Then her husband, who had just returned from a long deployment overseas, started getting sick too.
Their family was quickly and officially served with mandated home quarantine paperwork by their local sheriff’s office, unable to leave their home at all. Contracting this virus and bringing it home to her family — her biggest fear — could have caused despair. Instead, she found the beauty in it.
“It comes down to perspective….. to find the opportunities for beauty. You have to choose joy,” she shared. Gomolka shared that having time slow down for her family was a blessing. Relationships were strengthened and hearts were lifted. What could have been a time of anxiousness was an opportunity to reconnect and spend time in a space of gratefulness.
Gomolka also shared that initially she hesitated in going public with their diagnosis, wondering if people would respond in a negative way. The result was completely opposite of that. “We had an entire community, local and virtual of people who just rallied around us and lifted my family up,” she said.
She shared stories of receiving aid from the Green Beret Foundation, needed medications on her doorstep, warm meals and groceries were provided, gift cards for expenses, activities for her children, and even coffee creamer. All of this during a time that could have easily slipped their family into a dark space, was nothing but light. Gomolka shared that her family feels like they could never repay the true value of these gifts. Instead, they plan to pay it forward.
“We are trying to figure out how we make that kind of difference in someone else’s life and come to their aid in a way that makes impactful change,” she said. One of the ways she’s going to do this, is to immediately go back to work treating patients with emergent conditions and skin cancer. She and her husband also signed up with the New York Blood Center, the American Red Cross, and Upstate University Hospital with the National Plasma Antibody project, hoping they can give their plasma for use in critically ill COVID19 patients. They also plan to try to complete errands and shopping for members of their community who are immunocompromised or elderly.
“We are always going to encounter challenges, but how do you respond to them? Find the good,” she said. She continued on saying that this experience has broadened her definition of what a hero is. “As a military family we tend to think of heroes as someone in a camouflage uniform, but that has changed for me,” she said. Gomolka explained that now, her version of a hero are the people who run towards danger while the rest of us “hunker down”. The grocery store workers, health care professionals, and deliverymen — to name a few.
When asked what she would tell those reading this article, she smiled and shared that although she knows her diagnosis and experience is not the same as others, she wants people to know that together we can make it through anything. She implored people to “pause, and take it all in and find the beauty”.
More than 250 new Virginia Beach City Public School (VBCPS) secondary teachers (those who teach children between the ages of 11 and 18) and school counselors participated in scenario-based training at Tallwood High School in Virginia Beach, Aug. 22- 23, 2018, which afforded them a unique opportunity to learn about and experience firsthand some of the challenges military families face during a permanent change of station (PCS) move.
The training, titled “The PCS Challenge – Building Empathy for Transitioning Students,” engaged the participants by simulating a military PCS move in an effort to help them better understand the lives of military families and helped to generate empathy toward transitioning military-affiliated students. Local Hampton Roads installation school liaison officers (SLOs) provided intrinsic value and credibility to the training by ensuring the information presented was both timely and relevant with regard to military policies, culture and trends. Throughout the scenarios, the SLOs donned the hats of detailers, Fleet and Family representatives, and various school staff members to test the mettle of the participants. They also provided feedback and expertise in their respective areas to assist the participants when questions or issues came up.
Each participant was given a family assignment and an initial duty station to start. Some were given the role of the service member, others played the role of a spouse, a child, or multiple children if applicable. Of the family units that had multiple children, a least one of those children had special needs and were enrolled in the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP), which is a mandatory enrollment program that works with other military and civilian agencies to provide comprehensive and coordinated community support, housing, educational, medical, and personnel services to families with special needs.
The training scenarios included military acronyms and jargon, emotional stages of the PCS cycle, a duty station wish list or “dream sheet,” receiving orders for the service member and/or connecting with the Fleet Family Support Center for the spouse, doing a pack out and deciding what items could be taken with the family to the new duty station based on rate/rank and the weight of household goods allotted, choosing specific housing to meet the needs of the family, and deregistering and registering a child/children in a new school. Like a real PCS move, each choice made along the way by the participants caused a potential impact on the service member, the family unit as a whole, and ultimately the child(ren).
Karen Phillips, a School Liaison Officer for Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek, plays the role of a detailer for simulated military service members during a scenario exercise as part of The PCS Challenge ” Building Empathy for Transitioning Students training that was offered by the Military Support Program for Virginia Beach Public Schools at Tallwood High School in Virginia Beach, Aug. 23, 2018.
(U.S. Navy photo by David Todd)
One of the biggest obstacles military families face during a PCS move is not having enough time to prepare, especially when faced with the various items required by the school districts for student enrollment. The training scenarios amplified the stress levels by giving the participants a very short period of time to make major family life decisions.
“Because this training was interactive and simulated, each participant actually became a member of a military family,” explained Debbie Patch, the Regional School Liaison Officer who assisted VBCPS with the training. “Each participant was given characteristics with their new military family role and each participant played their role accordingly. The groups made ‘family’ decisions based on their unique situation. It is my hope that this training provided the participants with an experience that will give them a greater awareness of the unique challenges military students face as a result of their parent’s service to our country. I believe that once someone has experienced this training, there can be no doubt that all military children ‘serve too.'”
Although many of the participants did not have a background of working with military families, some were military spouses new to the area and were able to offer some hands-on experience to help their peers.
“Their life experiences make it real for the people in their group,” said Karen Phillips, the SLO for Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek who was one of four SLOs in attendance to assist VBCPS and the teachers during the training. “They are not just hearing from us [SLOs], they are hearing it from people with experience who are sitting right there at the table with them.”
Participants discuss their pack out and family housing selection during a scenario exercise as part of The PCS Challenge ” Building Empathy for Transitioning Students training that was offered by the Military Support Program for Virginia Beach Public Schools at Tallwood High School in Virginia Beach, Aug. 23, 2018.
(U.S. Navy photo by David Todd)
The training was originally developed by Army SLOs that work for Fort Belvoir in Fairfax County, Virginia. The collaborative team of SLOs and VBCPS personnel were fortunate to see the training delivered to Northern Virginia school personnel last year and were eager to bring the PCS Challenge to Virginia Beach Schools.
“The ‘PCS Challenge’ was a collaboration that began between Virginia Beach City Public Schools, the Navy Regional Mid-Atlantic School Liaison Officer, and the VBCPS SLOs,” said Natalie Meiggs, the Coordinator of Military Support Programs for Virginia Beach City Public Schools. “An area of support for transitioning military students was identified through a needs assessment that was conducted from a Department of Defense Education Activity [DoDEA] grant called ‘Project GRIT.'”
The basic session of the PCS Challenge took approximately 80 hours to develop and the content in each session is tailored to meet the audience. The sessions range from one to two hours depending on the complexity of the scenarios and the number and type of participants in attendance. Overall, more than 300 hours have been devoted to developing and crafting the program.
Meiggs explained that approximately 25 percent of the school division’s student population is comprised of active duty, military-dependent youth, and noted that VBCPS is committed to providing support, resources and enrichment programs to enhance the educational experiences of those children and their families.
“Our military-connected students transition about every three years,” she explained “So they could possibly attend six to nine schools in their K-12 educational career.”
“The goal of the PCS Challenge training for teachers is to help them understand more about military life and build empathy about the moving process,” said Phillips. “After participating in this interactive session, teachers will better understand the challenges military families face when having to PCS and be inspired to assist in making the transition smoother for their students.”
Debbie Patch, the Regional School Liaison Officer, helps to hand out family assignment packages to participants during The PCS Challenge ” Building Empathy for Transitioning Students training offered by the Military Support Program for Virginia Beach Public Schools at Tallwood High School in Virginia Beach, Aug. 23, 2018.
(U.S. Navy photo by David Todd)
VBCPS has further demonstrated their commitment to military families by collaborating with SLOs on various other projects, including “Art of Being a Military Child,” military volunteer opportunities and Navy birthday school outreach, the Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story oyster restoration project, and the 5th Grade STEM LAB Learning Day field trip at NAS Oceana, among others.
Meiggs said she always looks for new ways to improve the training and values the feedback she receives during each session, but emphasizes that military families should contact their respective SLOs prior to PCSing to help navigate the nuisances of school districts and ease the school enrollment process.
“I want to continuously learn from the participants each time the PCS Challenge is completed,” she said. “I am always learning how the training can be improved to increase understanding of the military culture and how I can improve my own practice of supporting our military families. The PCS Challenge is adapted to meet the needs of the audience each time it is delivered.”
Patch said the training is also beneficial for SLOs, who work directly with military families and schools across the Hampton Roads area during the school year, as well as during summer and winter breaks.
“The SLOs work daily with families who face real educational challenges as they move from state to state, and city to city,” she said. “Each state and city have different educational policies and procedures that must be navigated by military families. SLOs have been able to ensure that this training emphasizes to educators that military families’ frame of reference is the previous school’s policies and experiences. Enabling local teachers to understand this mindset helps them to better understand military families and how to support them.”
In addition to the recent training, VBCPS and SLOs have offered similar training to military family life counselors; as well as coordinators, directors, administrators, school counselors, teachers, and leadership teams throughout VBCPS since its inception. Similar training is scheduled to be offered to Chesapeake Public School’s elementary school counselors in September 2018, with secondary school counselors training scheduled later in the year.
A dual-military family is adjusting to life under the same roof after almost two years apart.
It’s not uncommon in the military community to have a unique story of how you and your spouse met. But for Army Sgt. Jared Jackson and his wife, Spc. Christina Jackson, their happily–ever after didn’t start with being pronounced husband and wife. They’ve spent their entire courtship and marriage living thousands of miles apart — until now.
When Christina and Jared were introduced by a mutual friend, they hit it off quickly. But the fireworks were strictly plutonic. For three years, they – along with a mutual friend — were inseparable, referring to themselves as “the three amigos.”
“We did everything together,” Christina said.
And becoming a couple wasn’t even a thought. It wasn’t until Jared moved to Hawaii that they entertained the idea of having a romantic relationship.
“We tested the waters and we decided to start dating,” she said.
Having established a strong friendship, the main challenges presented with dating for Jared was the distance and three–hour time difference.
“We communicated well, but trying to find the right time to call would be hard,” he said.
He couldn’t build the consistency he wanted with both Christina and her 8–year old daughter because all they had were phone calls and short visits.
“I wanted to make sure they know I’m here to stay,” Jared said.
The Jacksons both craved stability for their new family. Christina says her daughter, “wanted this father figure. And when she finally got him it was hard on her because he would come and go. He would come see us, then he would leave.”
After dating for a year, they married with the expectation of being stationed together.
“My mindset was thinking that the military was going to put us together and it wouldn’t be that long,” Jared said, but waiting for approval dragged on. “It’s bothering me because I’m married but yet I still feel like I’m kind of a bachelor because I’m here by myself.”
Christine was also losing hope and eventually wanted to get out of the military. She was told by her NCO that she’d get orders right after being married. That didn’t happen. And she was further stressed by all of the paperwork requirements and chasing after people for answers.
Each service branch has a program for assigning married couples to the same duty location or within 100 miles of each other, according to Military OneSource. Couples can look into joint assignments through offerings like the Air Force Joint Spouse Program and the Married Army Couples Program. But for the Jacksons, this wasn’t a smooth process.
After almost a year of not knowing when they could be together, they were finally given orders to the same duty station. Now they had new challenges to tackle.
For the first time in his life, Jared was a full–time parent. Christina’s daughter is adjusting to a two-parent home where they both share an equal role in raising and disciplining her.
“I’ve been trying to give him more of that responsibility in that role and just say whatever he says goes,” Christina said.
Jared wants to establish a good father/daughter relationship, with Christina’s support of his role helping to ease the adjustment.
“I appreciate that Christina always validates me and tells me ‘you’re doing a good job.’ It keeps me motivated,” he said.
One thing they did not do was leave their family cohesiveness to chance, so they attended premarital counseling.
“We went into this already knowing how we both wanted to parent. He knew what I expected and I knew what he expected,” Christina said.
And now the family will be adding a new member, a son, in July.
Throughout their time apart, they kept communication fluid and honest, sharing their hopes and frustrations without hesitation. This put the relationship in a healthy place during their entire transition.
Christina says for help and support if you’re are dealing with a similar situation, to find a military spouses club. Share your experiences and find others who have gone through the same thing.
Jared advises, above all, make sure that even when you get discouraged keep the communication strong. Also do your research so that you know what should be happening with job assignments.
When it comes to their parenting advice on blending a family, they simultaneously agree that the answer is patience.
So apparently there are talks within the Senate to give each troop who deployed under the Global War on Terrorism $2,500 as part of the AFGHAN Service Act, which would also negotiate the end of the conflict.
On one hand, sure. I’d love the money. Bills suck ass and cash is king. On the other hand, well, let’s look at the lettering of the bill. It’s a one-time payment, and it’d be sent out to every troop who’s deployed anywhere under the Global War on Terrorism. I can only imagine the impending sh*tstorm that’d come when everyone got that check in the mail.
Deploying one time to Kuwait would get you the money, deploying multiple times to Afghanistan still only gets you one check and the older vets who served before 9/11 get nothing. See where I’m going here? The veteran community will turn into the freakin’ Thunderdome. But then again… that is a rent payment…
Anyways, enjoy some memes before the ensuing sh*tstorm!
San Francisco’s housing shortage has gotten so dire that developers are increasingly eyeing old military sites.
For the last several years, the development company Lennar has been building a 12,000-home community at the Hunters Point Shipyard, the former site of a top-secret nuclear-testing facility operated by the US Navy. Across the bay, Lennar is also participating in a joint venture to add 8,000 residential units to Treasure Island, another former Naval base.
Now the company has set its sights on a naval weapons station in Concord, a city less than an hour from San Francisco. The land is scattered with dozens of empty bunkers that once housed World War II munitions, but Lennar wants to turn it into a full-fledged community with 13,000 homes.
2006 aerial view of the former San Francisco Naval Shipyard at Hunters Point.
The plans call for many of the bunkers to get torn down, but a few could be transformed into pop-up cafés or beer halls.
The idea is just a proposal for now, but here’s what the community could look like when it’s finished.
The Concord Naval Weapons Station spans 12,800 acres, but developers plan to renovate less than one-fifth of that land.
More than 7,600 acres are currently occupied by the US Army. Another 2,500 acres have been set aside for a regional park. Lennar intends to use around 2,300 acres for its planned community.
“In terms of the Bay Area, this is certainly one of the largest contiguous pieces of land that is available for this kind of planning,” Craig Hartman, the project’s lead architect, told Business Insider. Hartman’s firm, Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, was hired by Lennar to create an architectural vision for the site.
The station is technically just north of Concord, but developers hope the new community would be an extension of the city.
Developers want to build a hiking trail that connects the community to Concord. Hartman said it would be the first time the two areas were physically linked since the Navy occupied the site.
But developers also don’t want to alter the land too much.
“It still has this beautiful rolling form of typography,” Hartman said. “That is a really, really important part of the history of the site.”
Most of the bunkers would need to get removed to make way for new development, but a few could be converted into neighborhood hangouts, like bars or cafés.
“Our intention is to examine them and, to the extent that some of them could be used, that will be the goal,” Hartman said. “We certainly would not be trying to save all of them.”
Developers already know that the structures are sturdy and that no more weapons are stored inside.
“They’re designed to actually withstand major blasts,” Hartman said.
But the bunkers will have to be inspected to see if they’re waterproof.
Once the structures are torn down, the concrete could be repurposed and used to build new roads.
The bunkers sit along 150 miles of defunct railroad tracks. Steel from these tracks could help finance some of the project.
The tracks were built by the Navy, but they’re no longer operational.
They were the site of a notable anti-war incident: In 1987, an Air Force veteran sat in the middle of the railroad to protest the United States’ participation in a war in Nicaragua. The train ran into him going 17 miles an hour, fracturing his skull and slicing both his legs. In solidarity, a group of anti-war protesters dismantled some of tracks.
The new community could have 13,000 homes, including apartments and single-family units.
A quarter of the residences would be affordably priced, according to the plan; that means the prices would be set so that lower-income families, veterans, teachers, and senior residents would spend less than 30% of their total income on housing.
The prices of the remaining units would range in order to cater to multiple income levels, Hartman said.
“This will not solve the Bay Area’s problems by a long shot, but the density and the mixture of housing is important,” he added.
Hartman expects that most of the residents who move in would be relatively young.
The development could also include a new sports complex and public schools.
The developers’ plan sets aside more than 6 million square feet for commercial space, including offices and retail stores. Another 2.3 million square feet would be for an academic campus that might eventually house a university or research and development center.
Separately, developers plan to build six public schools — or as many as the local school district requires.
Pedestrian walkways and bicycle lanes would run through the community like a spine.
The neighborhood could also feature shuttles and buses that connect residents to a BART station (the Bay Area’s main public transportation system). Residents also have the option to walk to the North Concord BART station, which would be less than a quarter mile away from some of the development’s offices, shops, and homes.
“You could live in this place and, if you wish, not even own a car,” Hartman said.
But there are some environmental concerns to address before any residents could move in.
The naval station is a Superfund site — a label given to hazardous waste sites that pose a risk to human health or the environment.
In 1944, a load of munitions exploded at the station as the weapons were being loaded onto a cargo vessel. The Navy has been working to clean up the land since 1983, when it identified around 1,200 acres that had been contaminated. The soil at the site contains chromium, a radioactive isotope, and the groundwater contains industrial chemicals like trichloroethene and tetrachloroethylene.
The Environmental Protection Agency says the land doesn’t present a risk to human health, but levels of contamination in the groundwater still aren’t considered safe. Last year, Concord’s former mayor, Edi Birsan, said the land was “not suitable for public habitation.”
Construction could begin next year, but the entire project would likely take up to 35 years to complete.
Concord’s city council still needs to vote on the development plan, but the city already has a roadmap for how to move forward: Nearby sites like Treasure Island and Hunter’s Point were also cleared for development despite a legacy of Navy weapons tests in those areas.
If the new Concord community follows in their footsteps, it could soon offer new homes and a refurbished set of bunkers.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.