Two Army spouses joined forces at Fort Hood, Texas, to keep a military tradition alive, even as the pandemic continues to force closures.
As military balls face cancellations this year, even into 2021, Army spouses Maria Reed from Moving with the Military and Yvonne Coombes from Operation Deploy Your Dress (ODYD) pushed ahead with creating the ultimate dress shop at one of the Army’s largest installations.
ODYD is a non-profit organization that provides free dresses and other formal attire, including shoes and accessories, to service members and dependents. Located at military installations across the country, the boutique at Fort Hood is the eighth shop to open, with another opening at Fort Drum, New York, last month. More ODYD boutiques are set to open in 2021.
Moving with the Military is a home improvement and lifestyle television series dedicated to helping military families turn a house into a home. Reed, the creator of the series, also offers DIY tips and tricks to help create beautiful pieces for any personal space.
Together both Coombes and Reed designed and created a dress boutique for ODYD’s Ft. Hood location. While the two met in person at the annual Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year Award ceremony in 2019, it was Christina Hendrex, the spouse of the III Corps Command Sergeant Major, who connected them.
“She knew what I was doing with Moving with the Military and my design background, and said, ‘Hey, would you be interested?’” Reed said.
Reed adds she jumped on the opportunity because she believes in the mission and Fort Hood is her home. From there, a collaboration was born.
“The stars in Texas just aligned,” Coombes joked.
The dress shop was set to open in April of 2020, but the pandemic set their timeline back.
“We tried our hardest to meet the cutoff [before the pandemic] but we just couldn’t,” Reed said.
The Fort Hood location officially opened in September. The entire process to create a beautiful boutique space wasn’t an easy one, especially with COVID-19 guidelines and protocol, on top of regular military protocol for using a space on an installation.
“When doing something like this on a military base, you can’t nail or drill anything into the walls,” Reed said. “So we had to be really creative on how to create a functional yet beautiful space inside an industrial space.”
And outside of creating a space that was pretty to look at in the big picture, and functional for what ODYD needed, Reed also wanted to focus on the details.
“I wanted [people] to walk in and feel like they were at a real dress boutique,” Reed said. “We had all these little details from the platforms for women to stand on to try on their dresses to gorgeous flowers draping over the corners of the walls that just added an elegant touch to everything.”
“Even though we were in this warehouse, it didn’t feel like that by the end,” she added.
“Even down to those minor little details — she got these perfect chairs for when people are sitting and waiting … with little bows on the back … everything was just perfect,” Coombes said.
The day of the opening was a special one for Coombes and Reed. It was almost a year-long process, from idea to fruition, and both felt that the end result was better than what they could have imagined.
“When we first started Operation Deploy Your Dress … it was just a lot of us trying to find out where to put these dresses. It was just racks in a room with … pop-up canopies that we would put curtains around.
“I had some wild imaginations of what [Reed] could do because I had seen her other stuff, but when I walked in [to the Fort Hood location], I was seriously floored. It’s like walking into … what you see on ‘Say Yes to the Dress.’ It’s beautiful,” Coombes said.
“I wanted [shoppers] to have a very different experience when walking in. I didn’t want them to feel like they were getting a ‘used’ dress. And that’s what happened — the first four shoppers walked in … and wow; it was really spectacular,” Reed said.
Both Reed and Coombes wanted to make each military family that visited the Fort Hood location to feel special and welcome. They enlisted help from the local community to foster that connection as well.
“Instead of making several larger dressing rooms, we made some smaller ones and one handicap accessible one,” Reed said.
“Everyone who worked on it did an amazing job … A local home store here called Homebase donated materials. Moving with the Military donated the decor, and the spouses club donated some items,” she said.
“We had a service member, who donated his Saturdays [and who is] a professional carpenter, come and help build each weekend. His family, my family; we worked every Saturday — cutting, painting, building — until the space was done,” Reed said.
In the end, both Coombes and Reed couldn’t be happier with the space that was created at Fort Hood.
“We still love our other shops that have the big dressing rooms with all these spouses coming together to try on dresses, but the boutique [at Fort Hood] is just something else. Especially in a time when the spouses of Fort Hood need our support,” Coombes said.
“We want [ODYD] to be about the dresses, and about the love that has gone into deploying these dresses to military spouses,” Coombes said. “And Fort Hood exemplifies that.”
Just three days after opening, the location has served over 50 families.
“I know [Reed] helps one family at a time. But this is going to help so many families,” Coombes said.
Check out ODYD to find out if there is a location near you. Hours vary as each shop is run by volunteers.
Deployments are hard on everyone. But no one feels the sting of a deployment like the troops. The more senior troops who spout the phrase “not my first rodeo” like they came up with it really are used to the lifestyle change of deployments. They’ll kiss their family goodbye and tell them that they’ll see them in a few months. No special rituals required.
Younger troops who’ve never deployed often have no frame of reference for what’s about to happen. They’ve been preparing their entire career for this moment but they are lost. Since their leadership is often more focused on getting the missed holidays out of the way early — the Joes will fall into these same traps.
If your way of disseminating important information is through something that you KNOW puts people to sleep, don’t expect anyone to listen.
(Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kelsey L. Adams)
Forget about all of the actual pre-deployment checklists the CO put out
The commander thinks they’ve set up a nice plan for all of their troops to successfully get ready for a deployment. They probably even tasked a high-speed platoon leader with detailing it all out in a nice PowerPoint presentation to show all of the eager troops two weeks out.
Too bad no one is going to follow those plans. Troops won’t even follow the stupid simple recommendations like “unplug your car battery” or even “leave your car somewhere secure.” That’s just the light stuff. You can be certain that there’s a handful of people who never got their will finalized or a special power of attorney written.
NCOs might join in. But their excuse is to “watch out for them doing dumb stuff.” At least that’s what they tell their spouse.
(Photo by Sgt. James Avery)
The last few days of being stateside is usually filled with plenty of alcohol. From day drinking to barracks parties to bar hopping, younger troops will always have a glass or can in their hand.
To be fair, there isn’t much change in a younger troop’s drinking habits from a regular pay day to the day they find out that they’re deploying. They now just have an excuse to indulge (and a sympathy-earning reason for smelling like a brewery the following morning).
Troops never change.
The ritual of partying until you pass out
To put this as politely as possible for our more family-friendly audience, younger troops are trying have a good time with the person that they’re interested in. They often have a secondary goal while out barhopping: to find that last bit of companionship before going on a twelve month drought.
Whether they’re in the search of the “right one” or “the one right now” depends on the troop. But you can be sure that they’ll use the “I’m an American GI about to deploy” as a pickup line. This often leads directly into the next box on their checklist.
But then again, I’m a romantic who likes to believe love isn’t dead in this world.
(Photo by Airman 1st Class Isaac O. Guest IV)
Marry without hesitation
It’s just a part of military culture that troops often jump headfirst into a marriage that they aren’t prepared to be in. The promise to get out of the barracks isn’t much of a concern but if they’ve already found the one that they’re in love with (or occasionally “in love” with), they’ll tie the knot right away.
There is a financial benefit that troops keep in mind. The joke about troops and their soon-to-be spouse just after the BAH and Tricare has some grounding in reality. So why not nosedive into a presumably life long commitment for an extra bit of cash every month? Yikes. Save this very real ritual for when you’re ready.
Unless it’s something small or quick, don’t expect it to heal up before deploying either.
(Photo by Airman 1st Class Katelyn Sprott)
Getting a new tat (or five) is one of the more harmless rituals
Tattoos and troops also go hand in hand. Since they won’t be getting any new ink (or at least access to a clean and healthy environment) for a while, they’ll try to get that last idea that they had in mind done before stepping foot on that plane.
Plenty of troops also forget the logistics behind huge tattoos. Back pieces or intricate artwork like sleeves take a lot of time to ink and even more time to heal up before the artist could finish their work. So it’s not uncommon for troops to deploy with just the line work done and have to wait until they’re back to finish coloring it in.
Cool points downrange aren’t given for looks — they’re given for actions.
(Photo by Airman 1st Class Malissa Lott)
Buy all sorts of tacticool crap they probably won’t use- a pretty useless ritual
There’s kind of a misconception spread by video games that troops can just attach whatever they want onto their weapon or that they can use whatever tacticool stuff they want for their deployment. The actual truth is that if it wasn’t issued out (or sold at the Exchange), it can’t be used.
It’s their money so they can spend it how they like. But no platoon sergeant will ever let their private go outside the wire wearing some gear that looks operator AF but is really just cheap and painted black. Same goes for any kind of modification to their assigned weapon.
Oh the joys of life without responsibilities.
(Photo by Tech Sgt. Josef Cole)
Blow all of their money
This is possibly the dumbest ritual on the list. There are benefits to deploying while being young, single, and debt-free. Troops can blow every single cent in their bank account and not have to worry about making ends meet for the next few months.
There are at least three meals a day and a bunk to sleep on until they get back and blow all that money they saved.
Ned Stark was an honorable man, a protector of the realm— a king for the people, and a man who was wholly dedicated to the balance of power in leadership. How fitting then, that the mysterious man who wrote biting columns on the Air Force’s leadership development, chose the pen name “Col. Ned Stark.”
The columns went viral from their inception and have been regularly stirring the pot for a year. The columns have been applauded for their straight candid talk about the flaws in how the Air Force makes leadership decisions. Nobody knew the mastermind, the “true” Col. Ned Stark, behind these columns…Until now.
Col. Jason Lamb, director of intelligence, analysis, and innovation at Air Education and Training Command, previously known as Col. Ned Stark
(Ben Murray-Air Force Times)
“Col. Ned Stark” wrote under a pseudonym to protect his career from being targeted by the same leaders that he criticizes. It’s ironic that he also understands that he must write these covertly, lest his career be threatened by the same kind of power abuse that he sheds light on, “The power that comes with rank and command is inherently corrupting, and we must guard against those who fall prey […] We owe it to our airmen to ensure that they are better off with their leadership than without.”
But, within the last week, the infamous Col. Ned Stark has come forward and revealed himself as Col. Jason Lamb. Lamb is the director of intelligence, analysis, and innovation at Air Education and Training Command. He stands behind his columns purpose and hopes to continue and engage in the difficult (but arguably very necessary) conversations that the Air Force needs to be having more transparently.
Lamb graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1995. His father was a Marine Corps non-commissioned officer who served in the Korean War, and Lamb attributes his Ned Stark-esque streak of directness to his father.
Lamb first revealed his identity on the “War on Rocks” podcast last Monday. Lamb’s identity reveal was in large part due to the fact that, as Lamb said in an interview with Air Force Times, he thinks he has said all that he can under Col. Ned Stark, and can now engage in the conversation publicly.
Lamb argues in his columns that the Air Force is fixated on “risk avoidance” and that the hierarchical chain of upward mobility reflects that. He is also frustrated with the lack of frankness with which the Air Force system operates.
Lamb, second from left, speaks to attendees at the grand opening of the command’s “Fire Pit” workshop March 5, 2019, at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas
(Sean M. Worrell)
However, Lamb did not make criticisms without offering solutions. Lamb offered these two options as his ideas for the “next steps” the Air Force should make:
Create a new evaluation form for commanders that includes a section with command climate survey results against both similar units and Air Force averages.
Implement peer and subordinate evaluation sections that score leadership traits and characteristics on a quantitative scale, to include trustworthiness, approachability, propensity to empower, empathy, decisiveness, fairness, professionalism, and risk tolerance.
His sense of problem-solving and no-BS approach are some of the many reasons his columns caught fire in the military zeitgeist last year.
Lamb set up an anonymous “Eddard Stark” Gmail alongside his the beginning of his columns, and stated that, “Good gravy, a lot of people wrote in.”
Alongside that “good gravy” of writers, he drew the attention of Gen. Goldfein who, at last summer’s Corona meeting, made Lamb’s initial article required reading for top Air Force leaders. Goldfein was vocal in his support of Lamb’s column, and even extended a digital olive branch “Ned, I can assure you, your head is safe,” he wrote.
Although Lamb knows these changes will have to be made over a wide span of time, he still lobbies for “big changes” in how the Air Force can alter its risk-averse structure. Lamb, of course, seeks a wiser, more polished generation of leaders to come.
And, with the apparent parallels between Ned Stark and Col. Jason Lamb, grows the prospect of birthing a brighter generation of leadership for Westeros the U.S. seems even more plausible.
It’s now been a couple of years since my husband retired from 31 years of active military service. I was along for the ride from the beginning, as I met him mere months after he arrived at his first duty station.
We were so young when we married (19 and 22), and I had no idea what I was getting myself into — no, I really didn’t. I hear so many military spouses say the same, even if they grew up in a military family. Being the spouse of a service member is such a unique experience. In the past two years, I think I’ve gained some hindsight and perspective in looking back at those decades of military life, and I’m thinking about what I wish I’d known, what I’d do differently, what surprised me, and what I’m glad for.
Whether you’re a brand new milspouse or nearly at the end of your journey too, see if any of this resonates with you. And I’d love to hear what you’ve learned.
What I wish I’d known
1. Not to underestimate the effect military life would have on our family.
While by this point in the military spouse world it’s been drilled into us how important it is to create our own identity, pursue our own dreams and passions, that we’re not just military spouses (all good things, of course), it does no good to pretend military life won’t have an impact on the spouse and family. It will have an effect, whether it’s where you’re living, how much you see your spouse, if your kids will change schools numerous times, or the rest of the family stays put while the military member moves. It isn’t just another job, one that can be picked up and put down at will. It’s a completely different way of life.
U.S. Army Sgt.1st Class Danny J. Hocker, assigned to 2nd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment is embraced by his family during a welcome home ceremony in Vilseck, Germany, Oct. 23, 2008.
(US Army Photo by SPC Pastora Y. Hall)
2. To not look back with rose colored glasses.
Whether location, friends, a church, or community, lingering too long on the things I loved from past assignments did not serve me well in the early days at a new base. While it’s important to grieve and take stock before moving on, at times, dwelling on what was carved out a hollow space within me that refused to be filled with the new. This led to prolonged times of loneliness and disillusion that I think might have been shorter if I hadn’t played the comparison game.
3. To take care of myself.
I think younger spouses these days may have a better handle on this than I did, but I had to learn the hard way that the world would not stop spinning on its axis if I took a nap, planned a walk alone, or said a firm no to the latest volunteering opportunity so that I could make self-care a priority more often.
4. Friendships won’t look the same, and that’s ok.
Back to comparisons. It just stinks to say goodbye to the best friend you’ve ever had and be forced to start over again. Sometimes it’s easier to just…not. It’s exhausting to lay the groundwork for friendships and community connections, knowing it’s temporary anyway. But I wish I could tell young me that making room for others, whether they resemble any friend you’ve ever had or would even look for, is important and can also be surprising.
5. Don’t wait for people to make the first move or make me feel welcome.
There’s no sense in standing to the side and expect people to bring the welcome wagon to you,because you’re the new one after all. Sometimes you have to be brave first.
6. Not worry so much about how our kids would turn out.
I spent a lot of needless worry on this one. A lot. This is not to say that military life isn’t hard on kids–it is. But I had way too many sleepless nights on this. Of course, making sure my military kids had the resources they needed was important and I’m glad I gave attention to that. Heck, maybe they did turn out as functioning adults because I worried so much? We’ll go with that thought.
(US Army photo)
7. To make space for my husband again at the inevitable end of military life.
I’ll be honest–I wish I had done this better. While you’re in the thick of military life, it’s hard to believe it won’t always be like this. And while I gave lip service to how glad I’d be when he’d be home again regularly, no longer deploying, and become a regular part of the household after literally years of separation, the transition to civilian life was a little bumpier than I’d expected. I’d so carefully groomed my independent side for years (I had to, to survive), that creating space for him and for us as a couple was a much bigger adjustment than I’d expected.
What surprised me
1. How glad I am for the hard times.
They changed me, my perspective, and how I relate to others. It sounds cliche, but I wouldn’t have grown or appreciate life like I do now without the losses and pain that walked hand in hand with years of military life. I’m not sure I would have learned that lesson so well otherwise.
2. The utter relief that came with the end of his military service.
The knowledge that we wouldn’t ever have to move again unless we choose to, that I won’t be holding down the fort as my husband deploys or leaves for training, or that military life will no longer define every detail of our existence struck me the day the words “you are relieved from active duty” were spoken at my husband’s retirement ceremony. I didn’t realize how heavy that weight was until it was gone.
Capt. Joe Faraone reunites with his wife, Suk, Jan. 15, 2014, at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany.
3. What I’d miss.
The instant camaraderie, the shared experiences with other military families can’t be understood unless you’ve been there. The unique language, the dark sense of humor that comes with the “deployment curse,” the understanding of what we all go through is hard to replicate. Hearing the notes of reveille played basewide to start the day, the National Anthem at the end of the duty day, and the heartbreaking sound of Taps each night — the sadness of which will forever make tears gather in my eyes–those are some ‘little things’ I still miss. The travel, the adventure, the not knowing what would be around the next corner? Yes, I miss that, too.
4. How strong I am. How strong we all are.
One reason I stay involved in my work with military spouses is because it’s now part of me. Military families are a special breed. Military spouses have my heart, and will forever. I have witnessed families go through unspeakable things, times that would crush a normal person, and come out stronger and also willing to reach out and help others going through the same thing. Whether it’s creating a non-profit to make life easier for other military families, embracing their entrepreneurial spirit and start a pop-up business at a desolate duty station, or simply rolling out of bed each morning to tote kids to school and themselves to work while their spouse serves hundreds of miles away….you inspire me every day.
My husband retired after 31 years in the Air Force. Shortly after, I stumbled across this poem and felt it was written just for him…for us.
The Last Parade
Let the bugle blow
Let the march be played
With the forming of the troops
For my last parade.
The years of war and the years of waiting
Obedience to orders, unhesitating
Years in the states, and the years overseas
All woven in a web of memories.
A lifetime of service passes in review
As many good friends and exotic places too
In the waning sunlight begin to fade
With the martial music of my last parade.
My last salute to the service and base
Now someone else will take my place
To the sharp young airmen marching away
I gladly pass the orders of the day.
Though uncertain of what my future may hold
Still, if needed-before I grow too old
I’ll keep my saber sharp, my powder dry
Lest I be recalled to duty by and by.
So let the bugle blow
Fire the evening gun
Slowly lower the colors
My retirement has begun.
This article originally appeared on Military Spouse. Follow @MilSpouseMag on Twitter.
If you know anything about Marine infantry, you know that we’ve built up one h*** of a reputation over the past 243 years. Whether it’s destroying our enemies or our profound capability to drink an entire town dry of alcohol, one thing is for sure — we’ve made a name for ourselves. But, the biggest and most important reputation is the one we have on the battlefield.
But the infantry plays the biggest role — closing with and destroying the enemy. Some may even regard us as the best in this respect but, to be the best, you have to train like the best from the ground up. This all starts at the Marine Corps School of Infantry so here are some things you should know about how the Marine Corps makes Infantry Marines:
You’ll be pushed further than you were in boot camp.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Chelsea Anderson)
Infantry training is tough
You probably expected as much. But, let’s get this out of the way now: it’s tough but it’s not as tough as you’ll think it is. There are going to be lots of challenges but remember that the goal is to mentally and physically prepare you for being a professional war fighter.
A lot of late nights and early mornings, but it’s for the best.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo)
Not unlike the first 48 hours of boot camp, you’re deprived of sleep. Very unlike the rest of boot camp, the sleep deprivation doesn’t end after the first 48 hours. In fact, you might develop a mentality like, “I can sleep when I get to my unit.” But, chances are, you won’t.
It’s better than nothing though.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Shane T. Manson)
Malnourishment is a common side effect of joining the infantry
In boot camp, you get three meals at the mess hall each day with the exception of field week, where you get MREs, and the Crucible, where you get, like, one MRE for three days. In SOI, you get nothing but MREs – and believe me, your gut will feel it.
There might even be times your instructors don’t pull your platoon aside to make sure you eat; you’ll just have to eat when you can.
Okay, you might get tents in your unit.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Donato Maffin)
Sleeping indoors is rare
You might have expected this. Infantry Marines sleep outside no matter what. Sleeping inside is something you only get to do when you’re out of the field so get used to sleeping in the dirt under the rain.
Remember that they’re teaching you a lot of valuable lessons, even by being tough.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Orrin G. Farmer)
The instructors are more harsh
Just because they don’t scream in your face all the time like Drill Instructors doesn’t mean they’re better. Combat Instructors are, in a way, much easier to deal with. Overall, they’re way more harsh in the long run because they know you might end up in their squad or platoon and they want to make sure they trained you well enough to be there.
Two four-legged police officers ended their long careers with the Marine Corps Police Department aboard MCLB Barstow by getting their forever homes with their human partners, Sept. 12, 2018.
Military Working Dogs “Ricsi” P648, and “Colli” P577, both German shepherds, were officially retired in a ceremony held at the K-9 Training Field behind the Adam Leigh Cann Canine Facility aboard Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow.
Lieutenant Colonel Timothy Silkowski, MCLBB executive officer; Darwin O’neal, MCPD chief; Danny Strand, director, Security and Emergency Services; fellow police officers, and members of the Marine Corps Fire Department aboard the base gathered to see the two MWDs into their well-deserved retirements.
“Tony” Nadeem Seirafi was the first of five handlers Ricsi worked with beginning in 2010 aboard MCLB Barstow. He has since moved on to Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., but returned for the first time in years to pick up the dog he considers to be a friend.
“I love that dog and I’ve been dreaming about doing this for years,” Seirafi said. “Retired police dogs can be a little more stubborn than a regular dog, but they just basically want to be loved and lay on the couch and be lazy.”
Jacob Lucero was a Marine Corps military policeman partnered with MWD Colli when he was stationed Marine Corps Air, Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., from 2011 to 2012. Lucero moved on after the Corps to become a correctional officer and is now a student in his native Kingman, Ariz. Colli was sent to MCLB Barstow in 2016.
A United States Air Force Belgian Malinois on a M2A3 Bradley Fighting Vehicle before heading out on a mission in Kahn Bani Sahd, Iraq, Feb. 13, 2007.
“I started working with Colli when he was about a year and a half old,” Lucero said. “He’s now nine, which is a good age for a police dog to retire.”
He agreed with Seirafi there are some unique challenges to adopting a police dog, but they are worth it for the loyalty and love they give in return.
“One of the issues of adopting a working police dog,” Lucero said, “is that they sometimes need more socializing because they had only been with their handler or in a kennel.”
Both MWDs received certificates of appreciation acknowledging their retirement from the K-9 unit and “In grateful recognition of service faithfully performed.”
Lieutenant Steven Goss, kennel master, MCPD, concluded the ceremony with the reading of the short poem “He Is Your Dog”:”He is your friend, your partner, your defender, your dog. You are his life, his love, his leader. He will be yours, faithful and true to the last beat of his heart. You owe it to him to be worthy of such devotion.”
Army Sgt. Tyler Waters, a motor transport operator with the 337th Engineer Battalion, 55th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, 28th Infantry Division, placed 17th in the competition.
“I’ve been a fan of the show for years and I’ve always felt that I had the combination of strength and athleticism to excel on any of the ever-changing courses,” Waters said.
Waters came within seconds of advancing to the national competition held in Las Vegas, which would have required finishing in the top 15.
‘The experience was great’
“The experience was great,” he said. “It was interesting to see the different competitors from different walks of life that excelled in the course. Simply being physically fit, as some of the competitors appeared to be sculpted from stone, wasn’t enough.”
Sgt. Tyler Waters.
Waters credits both his family and his unit for supporting him through the competition.
“Being in the Army definitely helped to sharpen what I already envisioned as a strength of mine; my mental focus and toughness,” he said.
In his civilian life, Waters is a Pennsylvania State Trooper, which he said has many similarities to a military career and allows him to carry the same mindset he’s cultivated as a soldier at all times.
This mentality enabled Waters’ success in the American Ninja Warrior contest, and he said he hopes to compete again and reach the finals.
When I arrived at my first C-17A unit, I was chomping at the bit. Finally, after years of education and training, I was ready to join the fight. The September 11th attacks had occurred during my senior year at USAFA, and I had felt like I was missing out by not serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.
C-17 life could indeed be fantastic. The jet was amazing. I loved my coworkers, who were intelligent, mission-focused, dependable, and a lot of fun. My first C-17 trip was exhilarating: drinking German beer one day, and the next slipping on body armor, a helmet, and night vision goggles before descending into Iraq.
Yet I was also in for a rude awakening. The operations tempo came as a brutal onslaught. My office duties seemed designed purely to satisfy “the system’s” insatiable appetite for new PowerPoint products. Decisions from our C2 organization often seemed nonsensical. I saw colossal amounts of waste due to bureaucratic inefficiencies. As Iraq began its slow spiral into insurgency and then civil war, my naive idealism eroded. I felt confused, disoriented, and unhappy.
Discontent is a normal part of a military career. I have seen many, many servicemembers undergo a similar process of disenchantment. Some never recover; they descend into cynicism and bitterness, then escape at their first opportunity. Others, however, undergo a transformation. They still feel restless dissatisfaction with the status quo, but they find a kind of inner peace, reframe their journey as a positive quest, and channel their frustrations into a career-long effort to improve the institution.
I eventually realized that discontent is a two-edged blade. It is one of your most important assets, but you have to wield it well.
The Virtue of Discontentment
One definition of discontentment is a “restless aspiration for improvement.” That is what we are after.
The most important thing you can bring to military service is an ethic of integrity, professionalism, and excellence. You need to do what the institution asks of you, and you need to do it well. Everything builds on that foundation.
The second most important thing you can bring to military service is your discontent. Why? Because discontent is the motivator for the positive change you will introduce throughout your career.
When we are doing what the institution asks of us, we all largely look the same; most modern military forces are based on mass production of needed skill sets. However, our sources of discontentment are deeply personal, the product of our individual temperaments, interests, and unique life experiences. It is our discontentment–and our thirst for change–that brings our individuality and creativity into our military service. That ambitious individuality, multiplied across the entire military, is the galvanizing force that works against institutional decay, perpetually renews our Armed Forces, and prepares us for uncertain futures.
Discontent with the trench warfare of World War I is what led to revolutions in mechanized and maneuver warfare. Discontent with legacy thinking is what led to further revolutions in airpower, space power, and cyber power. Discontent with toxic leaders drives innumerable NCOs and officers to lead better, and to advocate for innovations in education, training, and evaluations that raise the bar for everyone. Discontent with family strain has fueled advocacy for spouse education benefits, easier cross-state licensing, and more stability and predictability over the course of military careers. Most value-adding innovations began with some individual soul who feels the strain of a problem and imagines ways to do better.
Productively harnessing your discontent is not automatic, however. You must master your discontent, or else it will master you. That means learning to manage your own emotions and steer your discontent into positive avenues of change.
Sources of Discontent
Our “restless aspiration for improvement” can originate in any number of ways. Here are a few that come to mind:
Disappointment: We have such high hopes and excitement for our military careers, but often find the reality different. Any time we encounter a disappointment, we have an opportunity to make military service more invigorating, rewarding, and satisfying.
Underperformance: Military forces train and equip for one purpose: to perform at their absolute best in war. We should absolutely be discontent with underperformance, because it is a kick in the ass to do better.
Inefficiencies: Nothing is more infuriating to ambitious high-performers than bogging down in wasteful inefficiencies. Unfortunately, these are endemic in government organizations that are highly bureaucratic, overregulated, and lack market incentives.
Misalignments: Modern military forces are incredibly complex, with thousands of synchronized parts. Building such an organization takes decades, and change takes time. That means the organization always lags behind the world. It frequently falls out of alignment, creating dangerous gaps–whether we are talking about evolving technologies, new organizational management constructs, or the shifting nature of family and social life for our troops. Our discontent is a summons to bring our organization into line with the modern world.
Abuses: Unfortunately, particular leaders or organizations can do great emotional or even physical violence to their members. Sometimes these abuses are deliberate, perpetrated by toxic leaders, bullies, or sexual predators. Other times they are structural, such as unconscious racism or sexism. Our discontent calls us to speak for victims, remedy injustices, and stop malevolence.
Stages of Discontent
Discontent progresses through stages, like a mountain ascent. You have to climb through each stage to arrive at the next. A continued ascent is never guaranteed; many people reach a particular stage but do not advance further.
Helplessness: When you first encounter frustrations, you feel like the system is unimaginably powerful and therefore unchangeable. You look for individuals to blame, often commanders or staffs who “don’t get it.” You complain about how stupid and broken everything is, but could not even begin to articulate a fix.
Understanding: You begin to understand *why* these frustrations exist. You realize there is often no one to blame, because so many problems are structural–originating in miscommunications, broken processes, perverse incentives, or other bureaucratic realities. You begin to appreciate how much work has gone into the existing system, and the problems that it does solve. You might not have solutions yet, but you sense the *kinds* of changes that need to occur.
Solutioneering: As you master your career field and gain a deeper understanding of how your organization works, you see possibilities for specific, actionable improvements. At this stage you may not know how to actually implement these changes; your confidence and skills are still developing.
Communication: Now you step into the arena. You write a white paper, blog post, or journal article. You brief a commander or pitch at an innovation competition. If you do it well, you show an expert understanding of the problem and articulate specific, compelling solutions. A conversation begins, allies (and enemies) appear, and your idea gets challenged and evolves. A coalition begins to take shape.
Execution: After all those years, everything comes together. You have a deep understanding of a specific problem, and an actionable proposal that has benefited from vigorous discussion. You have an audience, and a coalition that wants your proposal to succeed. Now you learn the fine art of walking an idea through the bureaucracy, winning the support of the right leaders, garnering resources, and navigating and possibly changing regulations.
If you reach the summit, you will look down and see that your discontent–your restless aspiration for improvement–has culminated in a real change. You will also realize that you are not alone; an entire expedition team stands with you.
Once you reach that summit, the journey continues. After that first victory, you will chase other sources of discontent, finding other opportunities to improve things. As a leader, you will want to help others make their own ascents. You might even rearchitect your organization to make such ascents a routine part of organizational life.
Managing Your Ascent
Harnessing your discontent is not an easy journey. There will always be plenty to love about military service, but the frank reality is that negative energy is often what drives progress–the dissatisfaction again, the thirst for something to be different.
Learning to manage that negative energy is one of your most important battles, because there are so many ways it can hurt you.
First, develop inner disciplines to manage your own psychology. This is a major theme in my other writings mainly because it as a major theme in my life. Staying committed to a large organization can be exhausting, and you will have days when negative thoughts and emotions flood in. The challenges only compound as you make your ascent, because each stage introduces new pressures and difficulties. Negative emotions will overrun you if you let them, undermining your effectiveness, your leadership, and your personal happiness. Many wise leaders have gone before you, and have developed an arsenal of techniques to manage their inner journeys. Learn from them. You want to lead from a place of inner centeredness that brings peace, confidence, and satisfaction.
Second, always strive to keep climbing through the stages. Moving through each stage takes time, practice, and experience. Keep forging ahead. Whatever you do, don’t get stuck in helplessness. Bitching and moaning can be cathartic sometimes, but if that is the sum of your legacy, your military service was too small.
Third, know when and how to take your rests. A restless aspiration for improvement can deplete you, especially when you are fighting hard, sustained battles. You need to replenish by focusing on whatever or whoever gives you energy, joy, and meaning. That can come through family, friends, work, spirituality, nature, books, hobbies, service, or almost anything else.
Fourth, take your journey in community. The greatest joy in military service is the series of relationships you form along the way. At every stage, you will find mentors further ahead in the journey. Learn from them. You will also build a network of like-minded peers. Finally, mentor others. When you see subordinates or peers feeling helpless, coax them along the journey; help them develop the understanding and skills they will need going forward.
Mastering your discontent, and steering all that energy into productive change, is an essential part of your journey through military service. It is also essential for life. You can apply the same framework and skills to the private sector, your relationships, and other aspects of your life.
Discontent is a guiding compass that points to your unique insights and offerings. Discontent is your gift to the world, but only if you let it be.
A US Navy flattop deployed to the Pacific has been flying a battle flag featuring Captain America’s iconic red, white and blue shield, photos from the ship’s deployment show.
The USS America (LHA-6), the first of a new class of amphibious assault ship, chose its battle flag, also known as a house flag, just before it deployed to the Indo-Pacific late last year.
The ship, the fourth to bear the name America, went for the superhero treatment.
“The iconic Captain America symbol — the First Avenger for this first-in-class fifth-generation amphibious assault ship — was the perfect fit,” Capt. Luke Frost, the ship’s commanding officer, told Insider.
Frost said the flag choice was “bold, graphic, with a clear patriotic and easily-identifiable association with the name ‘America.'”
In the vast Marvel Comics universe, Captain America, whose alter ego is Steve Rogers, is a patriotic supersoldier who fought the Axis Powers before being trapped in ice and revived in the modern age.
An experimental serum gave the Army soldier his power, but it is his almost-indestructible circular vibranium shield that is most representative of the character created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby in the 1940s.
Captain America is more than just Rogers. Others, such as close friend and Air Force veteran Sam Wilson, aka The Falcon, have also taken up the shield and the captain’s mantle to carry on the fight. And now, a ship filled with Navy sailors and Marines have made the fictional weapon its emblem in a show of joint warfighting at its best.
The first US naval vessel to bear the name “America” was a 74-gun ship of the line, the first ordered for the Continental Navy. The name was passed on to a troop transport vessel and later to a Kitty Hawk-class aircraft carrier.
The current USS America, which was commissioned in 2014, is different from other amphibious assault ships in that it lacks a well deck and features increased space for aviation assets.
The Navy and the Marines have used the ship for “Lightning Carrier” experiments, which have involved loading the ship up with a heavy configuration of around a dozen F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters.
In photos from the amphibious assault ship’s recent deployment, a lighter configuration of the fifth-generation fighters can be seen on the America’s deck as the new battle flag flies above.
Battle flags are a Navy tradition with a long history.”From Oliver Hazard Perry’s ‘Don’t Give Up the Ship’ flag at the Battle of Lake Erie to George Dewey’s ‘FIGHT!’ flag in the Battle of Manila and into the modern era, battle flags or ‘house flags’ have been used to motivate, rally, and inspire ship’s Sailors and Marines,” the America’s CO told Insider. “These flags express unit pride and the fighting spirit of the crew.”
In addition to its new flag, the America also features a number of other star-spangled decorations, such as the doors of the RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM) launcher cells, The Drive, which first reported the ship’s new flag, noted.
Burn pits are, without a shadow of a doubt, the post-9/11 veteran’s Agent Orange. Countless troops have been exposed to the toxic gases given off by the mishandling of dangerous substances, and twelve veterans have died as a direct result of this negligence. Everything from heart disease to lung cancer has been found in veterans who have been exposed to the fumes.
There were over sixty different lawsuits raised against KBR, a former subsidiary of Halliburton that oversees the waste “management,” and each was struck down in court. A final nail was added to the proverbial coffin recently when the Supreme Court ruled to uphold the decision of the Court of Appeals, stating KBR wasn’t liable for their actions because they were under military direction.
The ruling also goes for the Open Air Sewage pits that were constructed by KBR. In the simplest of terms, there were giant ponds of literal human sh*t next to troop housing and no one thought that it was a problem.
Not only is this horrible news for the troops and veterans who’ve been affected by burn pits, but it sets a precedent that protects civilian negligence if done for the U.S. military in a war zone. According to MilitaryTimes, KBR argued that they cannot be sued because they, essentially, were operating as an extension of the military. They also claimed that the only way to control contractors’ actions was through military oversight.
While the burn pits are the subject of the majority of the lawsuits, there are more claims against KBR. One such claim revolves around the wrongful death of Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth, a Green Beret at the Radwaniyah Palace Complex in Baghdad, Iraq. In January, 2008, he was electrocuted to death while trying to take a shower in a facility constructed by KBR. The plaintiffs argue that KBR was well aware of the shoddy work, but it wasn’t fixed and the troops were not warned.
This case was also dismissed.
Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it…
It is true that, in the past, the U.S. military has instructed personnel to burn waste in the absence of an alternate method of disposal, but it’s never been done at the scale for which KBR is responsible. There is a massive difference between troops in an outlaying FOB burning an oil drum filled with human waste and the 147 tons of waste burned daily at Balad in 2008.
The U.S. military is by no means blameless in this situation. It did put a “stop” to burn pits in Iraq in 2009, but the Government Accountability Office found 251 such pits in Afghanistan and 22 in Iraq in August, 2010. Today, the Department of Veterans Affairs is taking proper steps to right this wrong with the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry. If enough people register, our military will be forced to look at the true scope of this problem and act accordingly.
The truth is, there was a better solution to handling the waste, but that was skipped in favor of the most expedient route. Now, countless veterans have terminal illnesses for their actions and the Supreme Court has just given future contractors in the ability to take shortcuts — even if it’s certain to put troops in harm’s way.
You may have noticed a recent addition to the Air Force Portal homepage. A logo depicting a warrior looking over his shoulder with a fighter jet above him. It’s the face of the Blue Grit podcast. The podcast is the brainchild of Maj. Anna Fedotova, Los Angeles Air Force Base psychologist. The first of its kind in the Air Force, Blue Grit features conversations with current and former military leaders, mental health experts, elite athletes, veterans, and other individuals who have overcome significant adversity.
The idea for the podcast first occurred to Fedotova in 2017. On a daily basis, she was humbled and inspired by the stories of resilience and strength she heard from patients and colleagues.
“The idea of growth and perseverance has always been captivating to me. My job is to ask questions and listen, so why not try a podcast?” she said.
The fact the she had no funding, official support, experience or equipment didn’t deter her from pushing forward with her podcast. Looking back, she laughs, “in retrospect, it was the ideal beginning for a podcast about grit. There was only one way – up!”
Eight months later, with the podcast off and running, Fedotova found herself briefing Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein, about her podcast.
Blue Grit logo.
(U.S. Air Force graphic)
“I didn’t do it alone,” she is quick to add. “My leadership supported me from the beginning and there have been a hundred helping hands.”
Her guests have included author and speaker retired Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, Master Sgt. Israel Del Toro, who suffered burns over 80 percent of his body from a roadside bomb blast but continues to serve, and Dr. Gary Percival, whom many consider to be the father of survival, evasion, resistance and escape psychology.
“Blue Grit guests had included several former prisoner(s) of war, mental health practitioners and guests such as Maj. (ret.) Kat Portello, who in the blink of an eye went from a being a competitive bodybuilder to being a quadriplegic,” Fedotova said. “All of my guests have had unique experiences, but I continue to be surprised at how simple and consistent their techniques are for developing grit.”
Blue Grit is not only an opportunity for Fedotova to share techniques, tactics and procedures for developing grit. She also views it as a venue to have a broader conversation about mental health.
“I wanted a platform to steer the conversation from mental illness towards mental health,” she said. “I’m not implying happiness-ever-after. Mental health is about living a meaningful life, having an impact, deliberate practice, discomfort. That is grit.”
Senior warrant officers from around the Army congregated to discuss talent management on day two of the annual meeting of the Association of the U.S. Army in Washington, D.C.
Chief Warrant Officer 5 Doug Englen of the Army Talent Management Task Force served on a panel of five distinguished senior warrant officers to discuss a series of personnel reforms designed to help acquire, develop, employ, and retain the right talent among Army warrant officers. Warrant officers are subject-matter experts in their field, serving in diverse roles across the Army from flying helicopters to conducting offensive cyber operations.
Every community within the Army has its own unique talent management challenges. The warrant officer community, in particular, has struggled to retain the most experienced warrant officers.
“In 1991, we had 1,500 warrant officers with over twenty years of warrant officer experience. Today, that number is just 350, even though we still have the same number of warrant officers,” said Englen.
Since arriving to the task force over one year ago, Englen has helped the Army begin to address talent management issues specifically impacting warrant officers.
Senior warrant officers from around the Army discussed talent management at the Association of the U.S. Army annual meeting in Washington, DC. The Army has already implemented talent management reforms within the officer corps; some of these reforms are being expanded to warrant officers and enlisted personnel. These programs are part of a comprehensive series of reforms designed to modernize the Army’s personnel system and transform it to a 21st Century talent management system.
(U.S. Army photo)
“When an active duty warrant officer retires, he or she is placed on the regular Army retired list, unlike commissioned officers, who are placed on the reserve Army list,” said Englen.
“Title 37 of the U.S. Code prevents dual compensation of retirement and reserve pay,” said Englen, “But by offering our retiring warrant officers Selective Reserve (SELRES) status, we can allow them to serve in the Reserve component following their retirement from active duty without causing them to lose their retirement pay.”
Doing so would help the Army address at least part of its manning shortfalls in the Army Reserve, which is currently short approximately 4,000 warrant officers.
The warrant officer community is also incredibly diverse. Each career field, said Englen, requires its own unique approach to talent management.
Aviators, for instance, can require over a year’s worth of training before they can be assigned to their units. Under the current system, many warrant officers are promoted to chief warrant officer two (CW2) either during or shortly after flight school. The task force is drafting a new policy to “reset” a warrant officer’s date of rank once they complete flight school, allowing time to develop them as a warrant officer (WO1) for two years before being promoted to chief warrant officer two (CW2).
Senior warrant officers from around the Army discussed talent management at the Association of the U.S. Army annual meeting in Washington, DC. The Army has already implemented talent management reforms within the officer corps; some of these reforms are being expanded to warrant officers and enlisted personnel. These programs are part of a comprehensive series of reforms designed to modernize the Army’s personnel system and transform it to a 21st Century talent management system.
(U.S. Army photo)
Other communities, such as Special Forces and air defense, do not require extensive warrant officer training timelines, as they draw from their respective communities.
Instead, Englen noted, these communities are working to directly commission senior non-commissioned officers in the grades of sergeant first class through first sergeant to the rank of chief warrant officer two (CW2).
The Army has already implemented talent management reforms within the officer corps. Some of these reforms are being expanded to warrant officers and enlisted personnel. These programs are part of a comprehensive series of reforms designed to modernize the Army’s personnel system and transform it to a 21st Century talent management system.
These talent management initiatives aimed at the warrant officer community are expected to begin early 2020.
We learn from our siblings. We watch them. We copy them. We accidentally erase the save on their Pokèmon game when we’re 10 years old and they still, to this day, think the game file was “probably ruined from leaving it in the sun too long.”
Maybe siblings of construction workers know why it takes so long to fill in city potholes. Maybe siblings of newscasters know why they all talk in that really creepy rhythm. Maybe siblings of chess masters know the actual names of the “horsey” or the “castle” or the “boob-shaped thingie.”
Then, there are some things that all siblings of military personnel know…
Actually knowing how to mail a letter
On base, deployed, or on a ship — we send our love in envelopes. Now look to your left. Look to your right. Neither of those people can properly address an envelope without Google… unless they are both over the age of 70, in which case, you are 100% at a community center playing bingo and should pay better attention to that.
(Photo by Lt. Col. John Hall/173rd Airborne Brigade)
You do not need to set out a sleeping bag… or blankets… or anything at all
You know how military personnel sleep after coming home. They sleep like astronauts without gravity. They don’t need blankets or pillows. Hell, they barely need a floor.
The difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day
You celebrate the men and women throughout time who have served our country in any capacity on Veterans Day. But you also know that some men and women made the ultimate sacrifice for their loved ones, and they’ve got a day, too.
The many functions of a styrofoam cup
It turns out this can do much more than hold an .89 cent future-diarrhea-slushie from the gas station. Apparently, they can also: hold dip spit, sunflower seeds, and make a cell phone speaker louder…. Alright, it’s mostly for dip spit.
Why they might not tell a drunk dude at the bar that they served
Besides blabbering two inches away from your face for 45 uninterrupted minutes about their real estate failures and how quick their fastball was in high school, drunk dudes at bars can pose a lot of really uncomfortable and, frankly, dumbass questions. Much like college baseball scouts did to them in the 1980s — it’s best to ignore them.
Why you should willingly answer 3 a.m. calls from some random, 999-999-9999 number
Your civilian homies probably let anything outside their immediate area code go straight to voicemail. If your brother or sister is on deployment, though, you know you can get some calls at any hour of the night from some weird numbers. It’s worth it to stomach the pleas for help from a phony Nigerian prince if it means every 5th one is the resolute voice of your sibling, hundreds of miles away, asking what the new J. Cole album sounds like.
You have traded your soul for a spaghetti MRE
Once your lips have tasted the eternal glory of it, there can be no going back. Chef Boyardee will taste like blasphemy on the tongue. My soul is currently screaming silently from a jar in the pocket of my brother’s BDUs. I traded it long ago, and it was worth every dehydrated, calorie-packed ounce.