I haven’t been this excited about Forever Stamps since an LT I worked with in Korea monologized about how investing in them would save money over time as the price of stamps continued to rise. Now seems as good a time as any to take his advice, especially considering these new Military Working Dog stamps are just so CUTE patriotic.
According to a press release, “Each block of four stamps features one stamp of each of the following breeds — German shepherd, Labrador retriever, Belgian Malinois, and Dutch shepherd — that commonly serve in America’s armed forces. The background of each stamp features a detail of a white star. A star appears in the center of each block. The stylized digital illustrations are in red, white, blue and gold to represent the American flag and patriotism.”
The 9 Biggest Myths About Military Working Dogs | Military Insider
According to CNN, an estimated 2,300 military working dogs serve on U.S. bases worldwide. Both male and female dogs are chosen, they are given specialized training, and they are treated with the respect and dignity of their fellow service members. Military working dogs have even received medals for their heroism.
The bond between the handler and the dog is so strong that many handlers will adopt their MWDs after their service. When a military working dog is finally laid to rest, they are given full military honors.
Now, the rest of us can help commemorate their sacrifice, devotion, and bravery with these stamps.
The horrifying events of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster have once again caught the world’s attention thanks to the recent HBO miniseries and subsequent Russian propaganda campaign, but films aren’t the only thing creeping out of what locals call the “exclusion zone” these days.
Now, thanks to one unusual group of scientists and researchers with priorities a guy like me can respect, there’s also Atomik Vodka: an artisanal booze concocted using ingredients harvested from inside the radioactive fallout-ridden territory surrounding Chernobyl.
Hopefully that burning in your throat isn’t cancer.
(Chernobyl Spirit Company)
After studying the amount of radiation that transfers from soil to crops within the Chernobyl exclusion zone, the team from the Chernobyl Spirit Company set about planting their own rye crops in the vast abandoned fields near the city of Pripyat, Ukraine (close to where the Chernobyl plant was located). They then watered their crops with irradiated water sourced from an aquifer that is also within the radiation exclusion zone.
Once the crops were ready for harvest, the team used the rye to make their new vodka, and even doubled down on its radioactive reputation by using pure water sourced from “below the town of Chernobyl about 10 km south of the nuclear power station” to dilute the vodka down to 40% alcohol, according to their website.
Once finished, the vodka is reportedly no more radioactive than the plastic bottle of Military Special we all acted like we weren’t taking swigs out of in the barracks when the First Sergeant came strolling around.
The boar depicted on the label was actually spotted living in the exclusion zone.
(Chernobyl Spirit Company)
“The laboratories of The Ukrainian Hydrometeorological Institute and the University of Southampton GAU-Radioanalytical could find no trace of Chernobyl radioactivity in ATOMIK grain spirit,” their website claims.
Just to be safe, they also went ahead and sent their new booze to the Southhampton University in the U.K. for further testing. They also confirmed that radiation levels were well below safety limits (as even the Chernobyl Spirit Company acknowledges that tiny levels of radioactivity can be found in many common products).
The novelty of this vodka also comes with some good intentions. Part of the idea behind Atomik Vodka is finding new ways to invigorate the economy in the communities that surround Chernobyl. Of the many concerns facing these communities, radiation isn’t really among them.
The Chernobyl Spirit Company includes this image of a “self settler” in her home in the Chernobyl area on their website explaining their process.
(Chernobyl Spirit Company)
“There are radiation hotspots [in the exclusion zone] but for the most part contamination is lower than you’d find in other parts of the world with relatively high natural background radiation,” Explains James Smith, a University of Portsmouth environmental scientist and founding member of the Chernobyl Spirit Company.
“The problem for most people who live there is they don’t have the proper diet, good health services, jobs or investment.”
Smith and his colleagues don’t imagine that the novelty of their vodka will make them rich. In fact, with plans to produce just 500 bottles per year, Smith says that he’s hoping the company pays well enough to make the business into a healthy “part-time job,” with an emphasis remaining on finding ways to bolster the standard of living for those residing in the region surrounding Chernobyl.
“Because now,” Prof Smith adds, “after 30 years, I think the most important thing in the area is actually economic development, not the radioactivity.”
Troops and veterans have little sympathy for the clowns that put on a military uniform around Veterans Day just to try and get 10 percent off their restaurant bill. For lack of a more polite word, the military community offers nothing but unbridled rage to those unworthy of wearing uniform who degrade it in the public eye.
But there is another form of so-called “stolen valor” that rarely gets brought up within the military community — and that’s in-service stolen valor. The Army simply refers to it as being a “PX Ranger,” named after the fool who goes to the PX, buys a Ranger tab, and slaps it on without even stepping foot on the course, let alone completing it.
In addition to going against many official regulations, the troops who do this are damaging the good order and discipline of the military far more than the phonies who make laughable attempts to shave a few bucks off their lunch.
You should know which awards you have. After all, you were likely there to receive them.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Russell Martin)
Now, to be clear, there’s a huge difference between in-service stolen valor and the obligatory embellishments that come with military storytelling. It’s one thing to tell a group of younger Joes that, “no sh*t, there you were…” and it’s another to wear an unearned award to back up your claim. For starters, everyone knows to take service stories with a grain of salt. Amplifying a few details to get the point across is harmless; wearing accolades you’ve not earned, on the other hand, is strictly forbidden by Article 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Depending on the severity of the infraction, the accused could face a maximum punishment of forfeiture of all pay and allowances, a bad conduct discharge, and up to six months in confinement. According to the rules, there’s no distinction made between the guy who adds an extra oak leaf cluster to an Army Commendation Medal and the scumbag who tells everyone their Silver Star is “still being figured out by their last unit.”
There’s just some things you can’t just “yeah, well, you see. What had happened was” your way through. Being a ranger is one of them.
(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Steve Cortez)
This harms the military in several ways, the most prominent being that it takes away from the hard work and dedication of those who spent blood, sweat, and tears to get recognized. Regardless of the decoration, there’s weight behind it. If you see an NCO wearing a Ranger tab, you can assume that they’ve got a solid understanding of what it takes to be a bad*ss. They will become the go-to expert on all things relating to operational and tactical planning. If that understanding is built on a lie, then the entire unit suffers.
Because it is punishable under the UMCJ and it’s assumed that wearing a decoration means you’re worthy of it, there shouldn’t have to be the background checks that have inevitably cropped up because of these Blue Falcons. Sure, the old lady at the register still doesn’t ask for a Ranger School graduation certificate when someone buys the tab, but these phonies have helped foster an unwarranted level of scrutiny among the troops. Any real Ranger can easily provide proof, yes, but it’s a shame we need to spend time validating what we’ve already earned because of a few bad apples.
There isn’t anything wrong with being the average Joe in the formation. The moment you raised your right hand and completed your branch’s initial entry training, you’ve earned the respect of all the brothers and sisters who’ve come before you.
Embrace who you are. If you want to be better, go out and be better. Talk to your training room about getting into that school you want. Do extraordinary things in your unit to get that prestigious award. Request a change in MOS if you feel like you’re being held back by your position in the unit. Whatever you do, don’t just pin yourself with something unless you’ve earned it — or else you’re no better than the prick screaming for a military discount after buying a uniform online.
120 miles Northeast of Los Angeles lies the fictional country of Atropia. That’s the name of the area given to what the commanders at the Fort Irwin National Training Center call ‘The Box,’ a 1,000 square mile area in the Mojave Desert used to train U.S. & allied troops and their commanders in large scale combat and the realities of modern warfare.
I was honored to visit Fort Irwin and witness the lives of some of the 10,000 soldiers and dependents stationed there.
(Courtesy of Kent Matsuoka)
The Department of Defense routinely provides what they call ‘Civic Leader Tours’ to local communities so we might learn and take our experiences back to the rest of the civilian population.
As the closest Army installation to Los Angeles, they hope that their outreach here helps influence creative leaders in Hollywood to provide realistic depictions of military life, instead of the harmful portrayals of dangerous PTSD damaged veterans, or fanciful representations of larger than life superheroes the public can’t relate to.
Two of the most important lessons learned from my visit with the brave men and women stationed at Fort Irwin were quite different from what is commonly portrayed by Hollywood or suggested by our leaders in D.C.
The first is the importance of counterintelligence and public relations in modern warfare. One of the greatest assets the U.S. Military has is in its technological advantages. Comprising of an area larger than Rhode Island, with complete control of the land, airspace, and electronic signals in the area, the commanders of the 11th Armored Cavalry that make up the Opposing Forces (OPFOR) not only have the home field advantage of knowledge of the terrain, but the ability to jam or spoof GPS, track radio transmissions, and operates a closed intranet with its own “Falsebook”, “Tweeter”, and even an “Atropia News Network” for the actors portraying the citizens and insurgents that the visiting units must contend with.
(Courtesy of DVIDS)
One past engagement involved the visiting unit accidentally killing some innocent civilians, and exasperated the situation when a young junior officer came off as unsympathetic when approached by role-playing journalists for the ‘Atropia News Network’ that went viral in the simulation. Another involved a helicopter of the visiting unit being ‘shot down’ by the OPFOR, and reached by insurgents before the visiting unit could rescue the crew. The insurgents then were able to strip the helicopter of its valuable electronics and armament, which were then sold on ‘Falsebook’ and provided the OPFOR additional resources to use against the visiting unit.
Commanders and troops must contend not only with the unforgiving desert terrain as they attempt to approach Atropia, but frequently find themselves either without technological advantages they rely on such as the jamming of their GPS guidance systems, or the targeting of their radio transmissions by OPFOR artillery units that require strategic thinking instead of brute force.
The second, and more important lesson learned was through conversations with some of the spouses and dependents of the troops also invited to participate.
(Courtesy of DVIDS)
They expressed a desire to see more depictions of the difficulty they face at home as their spouses are deployed. Less than 10% of the American population has ever served or come from a military family, and the difficulties they face from constant relocation, inability to conduct some legal transactions without their spouse, or simply the loneliness and worry faced by a deployed spouse is something often forgotten in our rush to war.
Although Hollywood has had a long and beneficial relationship with the military, depictions of the experience of those most affected by a soldier’s deployment are often overlooked. Recent productions such as NatGeo’s ‘The Long Road Home’ or the book ‘Sisters of Valor’ by Rosalie Turner offer an insight into the sacrifices made on the homefront are often glossed over.
As tensions in Korea heat up and the conflict in the Middle East continue with no end in sight, we’ve become used to the sights of soldiers in combat, but thanks to the outreach by Army OCPA-West, the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, and the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, let’s hope we can continue to be a witness not only to the brave men and women serving our country, but to those left behind as well.
If you’re interested in finding out more about how you might be able to access military assets or knowledge for your project, give the Department of Defense a call and see if it is something they might be able to support.
Navy veteran and creative writing gold medalist Patrick Ward is excited to share his work at this year’s Vet Gala at the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival (NVCAF). His featured story can be found among the 15 short stories and poems displayed in Writers’ Row at the festival’s Artist and Writer Exhibition.
“Writing has helped bring me back to the person that I want to be,” Ward said. “I’m truly grateful for the opportunity to be here and to share my story with others. We all have stories to tell. My hope in telling mine is that it inspires someone while I’m here.”
Inspiration and healing
Gary Beckwith, creator of the annual Veterans Literacy Jam at Battle Creek VA Medical Center and one of this year’s NVCAF writing event organizers, says he hopes veterans realize their potential and leave feeling healed.
Navy Veteran and creative writer, Patrick Ward (right), listens during a discussion at the writing workshop at the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival. Ward’s story is among the 15 short stories and poems displayed in Writers’ Row at the festival’s Artist and Writer Exhibition.
“I believe that writing can be a cathartic experience,” said Beckwith. “The writing workshops and Vet Gala were designed to, not only highlight the talents of our writers, but were organized with the hopes that veterans leave here feeling inspired.”
During the festival, writers take the opportunity to speak about their writing and how it has affected their health, emotional well-being and recovery.
Army veteran Otto Espenschied has used writing to help him overcome Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and cope during a nine-year battle with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Recently receiving a gold medal for his short story titled, “I Don’t Have PTSD,” he explains that writing and participating in this year’s festival has helped him understand that he is stronger than he ever knew.
“It’s hard to dream when you’re barely holding on,” he said. “Writing has helped get me through some tough times, but I’m alive. I can hug my daughters and my wife each day. What more can I ask for?”
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
“I will not take my own life by my own hand until I talk to my battle buddy first. My mission is to find a mission to help my warfighter family.”
These words constitute the Spartan Pledge, a solemn oath meant to reverse the disturbing trend of suicide among veterans of the U.S. military and active duty personnel.
According the 2018 Annual Suicide Report released by the U.S. Department of Defense, 541 service members died by suicide in 2018, including 325 active duty troops. The data collected for this report show the suicide rate is 24.8 per 100,000 service members, up from 21.9 in 2017 and 18.7 in 2013. These 2018 numbers represent a six-year high.
Similarly, the 2019 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report published by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs is bleak as well: 6,139 U.S. veterans took their own lives in 2017 — 16.8 per day, up from 5.9 in 2005. This rate is one and a half times that of the general (non-veteran) population.
Boone Cutler on deployment when he was a member of the U.S. Army.
(Photo courtesy of Boone Cutler’s Facebook page.)
In 2010, retired U.S. Army paratrooper Boone Cutler decided it was time to do something about these tragic statistics. Cutler came from a family with a long-standing tradition of military service. His father served in Vietnam, his grandfather in World War II. “My grandpa was actually the longest held POW in World War II,” Cutler said. “We take a lot of pride in that and give him a lot of respect. He was captured the day after the Pearl Harbor attack and was held from December 8 until the end of the war.”
Cutler was inspired to join the Army after learning about the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989. “I remember the headline,” he said. “The 82nd Airborne Division had just jumped into Panama. I left home at 17 and joined the Army Airborne Infantry when I was 18. He later reclassed his military occupational specialty (MOS) and joined the psychological operations (PSYOP) community. Cutler deployed to Sadr City, Iraq, in 2005 as a PSYOP Team Sergeant. Serious orthopedic and traumatic brain injuries sent him to Walter Reed Army Medical Center for two years. While there, doctors told him he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a diagnosis he had no intention of accepting at the time.
The years that followed were difficult. Cutler was on several prescription drugs, and he grappled with violent outbursts and suicidal thoughts. In 2010, he was shocked to learn that he wasn’t alone. In a conversation with his closest “battle buddy” from Iraq, Cutler asked his friend if he’d ever considered suicide. “Every day,” his buddy answered.
Holy fuck, thought Cutler. How could guys be so close on active duty — literally covering each others’ backs in a kinetic environment, know everything about each other, every hiccup, every burp, every fart … literally everything … and we don’t know this about each other after we come home?
Shortly thereafter, he called another friend who had been on his team. He discovered that teammate was struggling, too. He had been contemplating taking his own life and hadn’t left his home in two years. This was the genesis of the Spartan Pledge — a battle drill that, in Cutler’s words, helps warfighters “know what to do when they don’t know what to do.”
“We made an agreement,” Cutler said. “We knew we couldn’t actually stop each other from killing ourselves, but it was kind of a respect thing — if you’re going to do that, I can’t stop you. But don’t leave me spinning around on this planet for the rest of my life, wondering what happened and if there was something I could have done. Now [the pledge] is two sentences, but it literally started out as, ‘Motherfucker, you’d better call me.'”
Around this same time, Cutler learned about GallantFew, a then-new organization with a mission to help veterans in transition. GallantFew executive director Karl Monger soon became a close friend and mentor to Cutler. While talking on the phone, the topic of veteran suicide came up, and Cutler mentioned how he and his buddies were dealing with it. Monger stopped him mid-sentence. “Boone,” he said. “I think you’ve really got something there. This is something we should promote.” GallantFew began to introduce the pledge through its network, during one-on-one meetings with veterans in crisis. From there, it took root around the country and continued to grow organically.
A 2017 video, aptly titled “The Spartan Pledge,” featured commentary by Cutler and conversations with others who were inspired to “pay the pledge forward” in unique ways. Army veteran and Redcon-1 music artist Soldier Hard shared his idea to incorporate the pledge into his concerts. “Every warfighter knows about taking an oath,” he said. “We take oaths very seriously. Why not invite warfighters in the audience to come up on stage and take the Spartan Pledge?”
The video also featured U.S. Navy veteran and New York City firefighter Danny Prince, who told Cutler he wanted to honor the victims of 9/11 — those who died in the attacks, as well as our fallen military in the Global War on Terrorism. Prince had collected some steel from the World Trade Center wreckage. He and former U.S. Marine and commercial airline pilot Steve “Luker” Danyluk proposed to forge that steel into a commemorative sword. Two months later, the project was complete.
U.S. Navy veteran and New York City firefighter Danny Prince used steel collected from the wreckage of the World Trade Center to forge this commemorative sword.
(Photo courtesy of Boone Cutler.)
“Every warfighter who joined in this current era is there because of what happened at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 9/11,” Cutler said. “So we’ve come full circle now by creating a sword out of that tragic event that inspires people to live. That’s humbling. That’s something that touches your heart. When people touch that sword, it’s like connecting with all the souls that were lost.”
In 2011, Cutler launched a weekly talk radio show in the Reno, Nevada, area, called “Tipping Point with Boone Cutler,” which served as a platform for the former paratrooper’s raw, no-holds-barred style. That show aired through 2016. These days, Cutler spends his time spreading the word about the Spartan Pledge and connecting with his brothers and sisters in arms, both active duty and retired. “We’ve built a solid network from all walks of life,” he said. “We put our differences aside to save lives. It’s an amazing unifier.”
Cutler was a featured guest at the 2019 VetXpo conference in Dallas in October, which was sponsored by the GallantFew. His presentation, one of the many highlights of the weekend, was a spot-on snapshot of the state of the veteran community, the civilian world’s perception of warfighters, and why warfighters have such a challenging time with transition.
A dog tag stamped with the Spartan Pledge.
(Photo courtesy of Boone Cutler.)
He shared his observation that, after Vietnam, Hollywood and the media habitually portrayed warfighters as “crazy vets.” As late as 2010, nearly half of all human resources managers said it was “difficult to hire” veterans due to PTSD — but they didn’t have a real understanding of PTSD. Cutler concluded that it was “PTSD phobia” that made it difficult to hire veterans, not PTSD itself. If PTSD was truly the problem, he continued, a woman who was raped or a person who lived through a natural disaster or a car wreck would also be difficult to hire. Yet, strangely, that did not seem to be the case — only veterans with PTSD posed this difficulty. Fortunately, due to advancements in mental health and organizations like GallantFew, the civilian population is beginning to understand PTSD, those affected by PTSD are talking about it more openly, and the associated phobias are fading.
As critical as he was of the civilian population, Cutler made it a point to hold his fellow warfighters accountable, too. He acknowledged that the transition to the civilian world is difficult, calling it a “different set of rules.” In the military, it is understood that everything can change and adjustments must be made. “If we’ve adjusted to those environments,” Cutler challenged the audience, “why are we so stubborn to adjust to this one?”
His answer was startlingly simple: At a time when most young people are learning to become independent — starting families, getting careers and making their own decisions — those who join the military are entering an authoritarian environment, in which they rely upon someone else, a squad leader, to tell them what to do and when to do it. The upshot? Warfighters have to develop their own “inner squad leader.”
(Photo courtesy of Boone Cutler.)
“My squad leader talks to me all the time,” he admitted. “I’m gonna do some stupid shit. BAM! Squad leader talks to me: ‘Don’t do that.’ Every one of us needs to build that squad leader [into your brain] who tells you what to do. You’re not doing your PT? Squad leader ought to have a knee up your ass pretty quick!” As you can imagine, Cutler’s presentation was peppered by frequent, self-deprecating laughter.
However, the humorous tone quickly turned somber when he invited Annette, a Gold Star mother, to join him at the front of the room. Cutler shared Annette’s story with the audience, recounting how her son had tragically ended his own life after transitioning out of the military. He then asked everyone to come forward, circle around, and lay hands on Annette while he led the group in the Spartan Pledge.
“I authored it,” he said later about the pledge, “but it doesn’t belong to me. It’s important to me that your readers know [the Spartan Pledge] is hallowed ground. There’s a fiefdom everywhere in our community these days, so I don’t want to attach my personality to this thing. To be clear, I legally own it, but that’s just to make sure no one pulls any bullshit.”
The Spartan Pledge has been featured on a NASCAR vehicle, inked on the bodies of warfighters, and incorporated into special ceremonies across the country. In the final minutes of Cutler’s 2017 Spartan Pledge video, he said that people frequently ask what he plans to do with it next.
“I’m just the author,” he said, laughing. “I’m not doing anything with the Spartan Pledge because it belongs to the community. The question is: What are you going to do with it?”
Buy a Bag, Give a Bag: Our first donated bags arrive to deployed troops in Iraq
Military and law enforcement working dogs are vital. They not only add capabilities for the units they serve with, like finding the enemy faster due to their powerful sense of smell; they also save their lives in the process. These dogs willingly sacrifice themselves in the process of saving their team. Atos was one of them.
Randy Roy served four years in the 2nd Ranger Battalion of the Army in the 1980’s and went on to become a law enforcement officer in Iowa. He began working with the K9 unit and training dogs. In 2007 he was approached by the United States Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) to become a Contract Trainer for their military working dogs. Roy and his family left their home in the Midwest and settled outside of Ft. Bragg in North Carolina shortly after that.
Atos was the first military working dog he trained.
Roy shared that USASOC acquired Atos in the summer of 2007. “Atos was a goofball, hard head, Malinois. He was awesome. Atos was kind of stubborn but very trainable and learned quickly,” said Roy. He continued on saying, “He was very sociable with everyone. They truly become part of the team and he certainly became a team member.” When Atos finished his training, he deployed to Iraq.
It was while in Iraq that he was assigned to his handler. The handler had just lost his previous military working dog, Duke, who was killed in action during a firefight. Roy shared that at first, Atos’ handler didn’t want to like him, most likely because the loss of Duke was so fresh. But Atos grew on him quickly.
Jarrett “Fish” Heavenston and Roy connected on that deployment, with Heavenson often volunteering for Atos’ training and happily donning a bite suit. Heavenston joined the Army at seventeen in 1991 and completed seven years as a ranger. He also worked in jungle warfare and USASOC. Heavenston wanted to do something different, so he left the Army and joined the Air Force in 2001 as a Combat Controller where he stayed until he retired in 2016.
“They [working military dogs] recognized who their tribe or pack was and they were very protective of them. We are kind of look, dress and walk the same; if you weren’t part of that pack they were alert and watching you and on guard,’ said Heavenston. As a Combat Controller, he was with many different dogs; he shared that some dogs were approachable, and friendly and that’s how Atos was described.
On Christmas Eve in 2007, Heavenston and his team were tracking enemy combatants. The brush was incredibly thick and woody. “It was very tough to move in the brush. We knew they were in there and waiting for us,” he shared. Heavenston said that he was helping to guide the handler as he was casting Atos out. The dog was able to find and track the guy they were looking for because of his keen sense of smell; but that meant that the team lost sight of Atos.
Although Atos quickly made his way through the brush, the team moved behind him much more slowly due to the difficulty of navigating the tough terrain. “You have the best-trained guys in the world out there, but it doesn’t negate that what you are doing is really hard,” said Heavenston. He shared that between the rough terrain and fading daylight, it was a tough operation.
“The dog is on him the dog is on him” is what Heavenston remembers hearing from the communications with an aircraft above them. They didn’t realize it was Atos at first, but eventually, they heard the commotion.
Shortly after that, the enemy combatant blew himself up, killing not just himself, but Atos.
Four members of their team were wounded that night, some grievously. “Had Atos not done what he had done, it would have been much worse,” shared Heavenston. He knows that if Atos hadn’t engaged with the enemy and forced him to detonate his bomb early, there would have been certain loss of human life that Christmas Eve.
“There are hundreds of dogs out there who have made the ultimate sacrifice. There are many of us within the military that are here today because of what they did,” said Heavenston. It was with this in mind that his company, Tough Stump Technologies (which Atos’ trainer, Roy, became a part of), decided to hold an event in Atos’ honor.
Touch Stump Technologies partnered with K9 for Warriors to raise money through their event for the organization, which is working to end veteran suicide and return dignity to America’s heroes by pairing them with service dogs. Dogs are paired with veterans who are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), or have suffered military sexual trauma (MST).
The event will celebrate the life and sacrifice of Atos and all working dogs on March 13, 2020.
Heavenston also shared that his company is working hard to develop technology that would allow the military to better track their military working dogs. “If we had this on Atos that night, that narrative would have been a lot different,” said Heavenston. The hope is that with specialized GPS tracking capabilities, they won’t lose dogs like they lost Atos.
Working dogs are an integral part of the military and law enforcement. On this K9 Veteran’s Day, take a moment to remember the dogs like Atos that willingly sacrificed their lives to save their people. Every loss is felt deeply, and the gratitude for the lives they’ve saved is unmeasurable. Don’t forget them.
As a rookie with the Los Angeles Police Department, Charles Bennett was sitting in his squad car with his white partner when the senior officer turned to Bennett and said, “You’re not black, I’m not white — we’re blue. And trust me; if something ever happens to you at 3 o’clock in the morning, they’re going to call guys, and they’re not going to care what color or nationality you are. They’re going to roll out here and solve the problem and win. We’re going to find out whoever hurt you, and we’re going to arrest them and do what we have to do.”
Those words resonated with Bennett 10 years later when he found himself answering the call to bring justice after a fellow officer’s death.
Charles Bennett retired in 2010 after serving 33 years on the LAPD. Photo courtesy of Charles Bennett.
Bennett started with the LAPD in 1977 and spent his last 10 years as a supervisor within the LAPD’s elite Special Investigation Section (SIS). The SIS completed surveillance on suspected criminals for all of the LAPD’s units and sometimes neighboring departments. Bennett said that his unit had a 99% conviction rate because of the airtight cases they built by observing the suspects planning the robbery, and sometimes watching the crime happen and making an arrest immediately after.
During his 33-year career, he rose through the ranks to detective three, which is a specialized detective who is considered a subject matter expert within the LAPD. He specialized in robbery and tracking down cop killers. One case in particular has always stood out in his mind.
Mylus Mondy was a US Customs and Border Protection agent who was murdered March 9, 2008. Mondy had just left his shift at the Los Angeles International Airport and had stopped by a Bank of America ATM in Ladera Heights, an unincorporated area in Los Angeles.
A robber was holding someone at gunpoint at the ATM location when Mondy went to withdraw from the ATM. When he saw Mondy, the robber struck him on the head with the pistol and demanded money. When Mondy tried to get away, he was shot and killed him.
Bennett’s team was called in to bring the murderer to justice. The team spent approximately a day and half chasing down leads, gathering evidence, and identifying different addresses to surveil.
Bennett supervised while one of his rookies in SIS sat “on the point,” gathering information on traffic to and from one of the locations, scanning for their suspect, and collecting every little detail that might lead to an arrest. Suddenly, the rookie broke radio silence to report, “Boss, it’s No. 1, and he’s on the move.”
Footage from the security camera footage at the ATM where US Customs and Border Protection agent Mylus Mondy was shot and killed. Photo courtesy of Charles Bennett.
Bennett asked if he was absolutely sure.
“I’m 1,000% sure,” the new officer fired back. Bennett ordered his man to let the suspect turn the corner and avoid alerting him of their presence in front of his house. Bennett knew others might be inside the suspect’s house and, if alerted, would destroy any evidence the SIS unit would need to finalize charges against him.
As 23-year-old McKenzie Carl Bryant turned the corner, the SIS team waited patiently. Once there was a good cushion of distance between Bryant and his house, they brought down the hammer and arrested him.
“That guy is doing life without possibility of parole now, and you know, it was a really good feeling,” Bennett said of Bryant’s arrest. “You understand that you just got justice for a fellow officer who you didn’t know. You didn’t need to know him because you knew he was out there doing his job the best he could, and he didn’t deserve what happened to him.”
Footage from the security camera footage at the ATM where US Customs and Border Protection agent Mylus Mondy was shot and killed. Photo courtesy of Charles Bennett.
The all-hands-on-deck approach to cases like Mondy’s murder is what Bennett enjoyed most about working within SIS, as well as their ability to remain silent professionals. He said there were officers who worked on tracing leads and then fed verified information to the officers conducting ground surveillance. Though some LAPD units knew what SIS was doing, the unit largely remained anonymous. The LAPD command handled press conferences regarding the work of the SIS unit but never named them.
“We always go to the fallen officer’s funeral, which is always sad,” Bennett said.
In another case, Bennett helped arrest three of the five men responsible for the death of an officer.
“There were a lot of people quietly slapping us on the back, including the chief,” he said.
In those times of sadness, the quiet slaps on the back brought back that “good feeling.” While they couldn’t change what happened, at least they had achieved some kind of justice for the fallen officer and their family.
It’s the red, white and the blue. It’s the patriotism, the pride and the spirit. It’s songs about the homeland, and it’s thanking those who serve — pledging allegiance to all it represents. It’s the recognition of the American flag, and we’re here for it!
Celebrate the U. S. of A. with us through these favorite memes.
And a S/O to our forefathers for their support:
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Each Firebrand Flag incorporates the same fire-retardant, kevlar fabric that keeps our service members and first responders safe. Our flags maintain strict adherence to height, width and color specifications. To ensure our Flags can never BURN, we reinvented the manufacturing process right here in the U.S. so that you can rest assured that our Firebrand Flags will always stand for the values we hold dear. Get your Firebrand Flag here.
The Gary Sinise Foundation, a non-profit that focuses on veterans, first responders, and their families, has helped send almost 2,000 people from Gold Star families to Walt Disney World near Orlando, Florida, as part of Snowball Express, a holiday season program that aims to help families of fallen service members.
Snowball Express started in 2006 and aims to create a five-day experience for the families that is fun, inspiring, and therapeutic. In 2017, Snowball Express became an official Gary Sinise Foundation program.
The program may be young, but through the tireless work of its supporters and members, it has quickly made an impact on participants. A tweet from Fallen Patriots, a non-profit that focuses on helping Gold Star family members get to college, said that participant Dale Mundell now wants to fly for American Air, the airline sponsoring the event, in order to help other family members take part in such events in the future.
I witnessed an international airport come to a complete stop today …
Airports got in on the festivities as well. The Killeen Airport, a familiar location for any service members who have activated or deployed through Fort Hood, Texas, welcomed Snowball Express participants and a man in a Santa costume met with the families.
In Nashville, other travelers stopped what they were doing and held a rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner. U.S. troops in the terminal stood at attention and saluted as the song was performed, and you can see bystanders drying their eyes in a Facebook video of the event.
Meanwhile, airport employees seem amped about the Snowball Express as well. The National Air Traffic Controllers Association sent tote bags to participants to help them get all their goods from location to location, and the controllers themselves posted photos on social media celebrating as flights took off from airfields under their control.
And around the Disney parks, other park goers and local residents have chimed in on social media as they ran into the crowds of Gold Star family members and were affected by the experience. For some, it was simply a great experience to see all the happy families, but for others, it was also a somber reminder that service members and first responders are still in harm’s way every day.
After all, some participants are as young as 2 or 3 years old, as Snowball Express participant Ramonda Anderson pointed out in a tweet.
If you’re interested in supporting the Gary Sinise Foundation, which also builds adaptive homes for disabled veterans, hosts free theater nights for veterans, and helps pay for training and equipment for first responders, they are always accepting donations on their website and are part of the Combined Federal Campaign. Use CFC number 27963.
The Marines Corps is a war fighting organization and our colors fly the emblem of the Eagle, Globe and Anchor. Recruits earn the E.G.A. after experiencing the Crucible of training and the final test to identify as a Marine. There are no former Marines, once a Marine, always a Marine. Every new Marine shed a tear under the statue of Iwo Jima on Parris Island and other recruit training depots in the United States. Those who said they didn’t are lying. We grow old and crusty, but the pride never fades.
The Eagle, Globe and Anchor is an emblem used to represent the Marine Corps. Whether it appears on a uniform, printed page, or a flag, the Eagle, Globe and Anchor is an icon of greatness. – Head Quarters Marine Corps.
The American Bald Eagle represents service to our country via our national bird. In its beak it carries a streamer with Semper Fidelis, always faithful in Latin. The Marine Corps has a proud history of never taking up arms against the Capitol and are the President’s Fist in conflicts abroad. Marines love America and bleed red, white, and blue. If they weren’t clad in moto-gear when they were active duty, you can best your last dollar they have a tattoo, or a veteran hat stashed away in some footlocker at home with their uniforms and medals.
The Globe represents our area of operation – every clime and place. Marines are the tip of the spear regardless if the mission is humanitarian aid or to topple empires. Within 24 to 28 hours, America will have boots on the ground to deliver democracy and combat injustice, tyranny, or despair. As a result, Marine Expeditionary Units stationed in international waters tasked with the defense of our nation around the world. They protect every embassy and provide refuge to U.S. Citizens overseas in times of chaos.
The Anchor represents our maritime traditions dating back to the birth of the nation. It reminds us the marriage between the Marine Corps and the Navy as a department of the Navy. Jokingly also known as the men’s department by the infantry stationed on Navy ships. Regardless of the rivalry between the two branches, when it’s time to invade a threat to our national security, we pull together and get it done. The Corpsman is the anchor of a rifle squad, and if you call Doc a squid, we’ll give you a meritorious a** beating. Therefore, they’re part of the Fleet Marine Force and the only ones we consider one of our own.
The E.G.A. is sewed on top of our hearts on our camouflage uniforms
The Eagle, Globe and Anchor is sewn on our cammies because it was branded on our hearts during the fires of the Crucible. We’re a brotherhood. It doesn’t matter what color you are, gay or straight, what’s between your legs, or what name you call God. In a Marine Corps infantry battalion, the only thing that matters is that you carry your own weight, fire straight, and take care of the person to your left and your right. Our branch is small relative to the size of the other branches. We don’t need everyone. We need the few, the proud, the Marines. Semper Fidelis.
On Saturday, Aug. 3, a team of over 30 Navy SEALs will swim across the Hudson River to honor military veterans and their families, as well as those who died during the 9/11 attacks and the wars that followed.
It will be the first Navy SEAL Hudson River Swim and Run — and the first ever legally sanctioned swim across the Hudson River. The event has the full support of New York City and state officials as well as the NYPD, FDNY, Port Authority of New York, New Jersey Police Department, and New Jersey State Police.
The benefit will help the GI Go Fund, which supports veterans and their families with housing, health care, employment services, and financial aid.
Swimming over two and a half miles in the currents of the Hudson is a great challenge — but that’s how the frogmen like it.
“We get nowhere in life by staying in our comfort zone. Results come when we get uncomfortable, challenge ourselves and push pass our perceived limits. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t apply that lesson, and I won’t get to where I need to be in life if that trend doesn’t continue,” shared Remi Adeleke, a SEAL embodying the idea of service after service.
“The route we chose is important,” said Kaj Larsen, one of the Navy SEAL swimmers. “We are swimming to the Statue of Liberty because it is an iconic symbol of freedom, the same thing we fought for overseas. Ellis Island represents the diversity that makes us strong as a nation. And finally the Ground Zero memorial, which has deep significance for the country, the SEAL teams, and me personally.”
Larsen and his team train beneath the Statue of Liberty.
Larsen was in First Phase of SEAL training on 9/11. His roommate LT Michael Murphy, a Medal of Honor recipient, was from New York. His father was a New York firefighter and when Murphy was killed on June 28, 2005 in Afghanistan during Operation Red Wings, he was wearing an NYFD t-shirt under his uniform.
“There is an inextricable connection between the SEAL community and New York. Our fates were intertwined on September 11, so it is an honor to come back here with my fellow SEALs and compete in this event and give back to the city,” said Larsen.
First the frogmen will swim from Liberty Park to the Statue of Liberty. From there they head to Ellis Island. Finally they swim to Battery park and run as a unit to the Freedom Tower and the site of a new memorial dedicated to Special Operations Forces.
At each stop they will perform a series of push-ups and pull-ups culminating in a ceremony at the SOF memorial.
A weapons sergeant with the 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) who heroically fought up a mountain through a barrage of enemy fire to help rescue his detachment members will receive the Medal of Honor.
The White House announced today that Master Sgt. Matthew O. Williams went above and beyond the call of duty during an operation on April 6, 2008. Williams — a sergeant at the time of the operation — was assigned to Special Operations Task Force-33 in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom.
Williams will receive the highest military award for valor at a White House ceremony, Oct. 30, 2019. A “Hall of Heroes” induction ceremony at the Pentagon is slated for Oct. 31, 2019.
In April 2008, Williams joined 14 other Special Forces operators and roughly 100 Afghan commandos on a mission to take out or apprehend high-value enemy targets that were operating out of a mountain-top village within Shok Valley.
Then-Sgt. Matthew Williams with other team members assigned to 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne), wait on a hill top for the helicopter exfiltration in eastern Afghanistan, late spring 2007.
(Master Sgt. Matthew Williams)
Shortly after the joint force dropped into the area and organized into elements, the lead command and control team started their treacherous hike up a near-vertical mountainside toward the objective.
It did not take long for the adversary to respond. A barrage of heavy sniper and machine-gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades rained down on the team’s location.
In the ensuing chaos, the lead element was pinned down at a higher elevation and isolated from the larger military force. Further, they had sustained injuries and were requesting support.
In response, Williams organized a counter-assault team and led them across a waist-deep, ice-cold fast-moving river, and fought their way up the terraced mountain to the besieged lead element’s location.
Joined by his team sergeant, Williams positioned his Afghan commando force to provide a violent base of suppressive fire, preventing the enemy force from overrunning the team’s position. In turn, the actions of Williams and his team allowed the first command and control element to consolidate and move the casualties down the mountain.
As Williams worked to defend the force’s position, an enemy sniper took aim and injured his team sergeant. With disregard for his safety, Williams maneuvered through an onslaught of heavy machine-gun fire to render aid.
Then-Sgt. Matthew Williams assigned to 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne), conducts long-range weapons training at Camp Morehead, Afghanistan, during the fall of 2009.
(U.S. Army Master Sgt. Matthew Williams)
Once his team sergeant was secure, the joint team egressed off the mountainside. Williams descended with his team sergeant off a near-vertical 60-foot cliff to a casualty collection point and continued to provide first aid.
With more injured soldiers coming down the mountainside, Williams ascended through a hail of small arms fire to help with their evacuation, and also repair his operational detachment commander’s radio.
As Williams returned to the base of the mountain with three wounded soldiers, enemy forces maneuvered to their position in an attempt to overrun the casualty collection point. Williams and the Afghan commandos quickly responded with a counter-attack and courageously fought back the attacking force.
As the medical evacuation helicopter arrived, Williams exposed himself to insurgent fire again to help transport casualties. Once the injured were secure, Williams continued to direct Commando fires and suppress numerous enemy positions. The team’s actions enabled the evacuation of the wounded and dead without further casualties.
The entire Shok Valley operation lasted for more than six hours. During that time, Williams and the joint force fought back against about 200 adversaries, all while they were subjected to a series of friendly, danger-close air strikes.
Williams is the second member of his detachment to receive the Medal of Honor for this operation. The president presented Staff Sgt. Ronald Shurer II the Medal of Honor at a White House ceremony Oct. 1, 2018.