We all start the new year with the best intentions. Ideally, we carry those warm and fuzzies from the holiday festivities well into the early months of the year to come. We’ve just seen our loved ones, cracked open a gift or two, and have heard enough Christmas carols to keep our spirits high.
If you’ve been using the same New Year’s resolution for years and have yet to find success, then it’s probably time for some change. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered: Below is a list for the four “Fs” that should play a leading role in your new year.
A strong mind is an absolute must!
A popular resolution is to make this year (any year, really) the year you really turn it all around. This is the year you ditch the dad bod in exchange for one that would make Marvel come calling. This year is the year, right?
Now, we’re not saying the odds are against you, but it’s probably a good idea to set a more personalized goal than, “I want to lose 50 pounds.” Instead of only focusing on the weight, look to other signs of improved fitness. Consider mental and emotional fitness, too.
If you’re not taking care of your heart and mind, chances are you won’t follow through on the body.
(US Army photo by C. Todd Lopez)
There’s on old saying that says a veterans leaves service with at least 2 of these 4 things: an ex-spouse, bad joints, bad credit, and a DD214.
Yeah, it’s a joke, but there’s always a nugget of truth in jokes. We all leave with a DD214 and many of us leave with a divorce under our belts. Sadly, far too many of us also leave with horrible credit as a result of poor transitioning skills or preparation.
Committing to getting your finances together is one of the best things you can and should do for yourself and your future in the coming year. Credit is just as, if not more, important than cashflow in many circumstances, so righting that ship really should be a priority.
You can’t go wrong getting your pockets together.
Don’t forget what really matters.
(Jackie Hampton Photography)
This year, commit to being present for your family. Now, this isn’t to criticize how present you are or aren’t already (I probably don’t know you, so…) but we could all be closer. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being closer to your loved ones.
Not a thing.
Take a long and hard look in the mirror this new year.
It’s time to plan out some things. Take a real, deep, and introspective inventory of yourself. Determine what you want and where you want to go… then determine how you’ll get there.
If you come into the new year without a longterm plan, but end it with something concrete, you’re in good shape.
At the qualification range, a group of Soldiers congregate during the lunch break. Unexpectedly, a Sergeant Major descends upon them In his growling voice he barks about their uniform deficiencies and how the range is not to standard. As quickly as he appears, he vanishes, and for a few minutes, Soldiers awkwardly stare at each other thinking, “what the hell?” The proverbial Sergeant Major storm did little to change the unit, and the Soldiers resume their meal and continue as if it never happened.
The role of the senior noncommissioned officer is not ensuring all Soldiers have eye protection and reflective belts or ensuring the lawns in their footprint are pristine, fixing deficiencies using the “leadership” methodology described above. Young Soldiers across the Army picture master sergeants and sergeants major holding coffee cups, spewing anger, and never actually doing anything. The problem with the senior NCO leadership is this image and the fact that they’ve made this image a reality!
When senior NCOs see a unit’s problem with standards and discipline they think it’s a problem that can be fixed right away with a spot correction, but in reality it is a systemic problem of failing to develop the unit’s NCOs and aspiring leaders. NCOs in a unit not enforcing standards either don’t know the standards or are ignoring them. A senior NCO can go around making all the spot corrections in the world; it will never fix corner cutting, shortcomings of communication, and lack of discipline.
The senior NCO’s job is to establish the standard, outline the expectations, and develop leaders across their formation. This leadership eventually trickles down to the most junior Soldier. However, the current methodology of leadership from the first paragraph and perception of senior NCOs is something leaders must overcome to fulfill their roles.
Here are five ways senior NCOs can enhance the image of our profession and, more importantly, improve their unit.
Get out. Emails can be checked at a later date. The window to engage with Soldiers is limited, while access to a computer usually is not. Running effective meetings frees up space to see Soldiers. Identify quality engagement opportunities that maximize presence across the formation.
Speaking with the leadership and disappearing to another event before engaging the Soldiers who are actually doing the training doesn’t change perceptions. Ensure leaders understand the expectation that battlefield circulation is an opportunity to see training and highlight the great work of leaders and Soldiers in their formation.
Teach. In most cases, the senior NCOs are the most experienced tacticians, with the most deployments, live fires, and combined training center rotations. Offer techniques, tactics and best practices to make the event better. Share this wisdom with not only the NCOICs, but with the most junior Soldiers. Attack the negative images of senior NCOs from both angles; from the top down and the bottom up.
Even if the senior NCOs aren’t experienced in their Soldiers’ field, their perspective can help them understand the bigger picture and relevancy of the tasks or training.
Listen. Establish two way communication with Soldiers at events. People like to talk about what they do. Learn about them, their concerns, issues, and complaints. Don’t interrupt, listen and take notes to fall back on and read later.
Ask leaders and Soldiers what help or resources they need. This is something a senior NCO can impact immediately. Helping to fix problems with range control, logistics, line unit and staff relations, and coordination between units is NCO business.
Remember the people you talk with don’t see the world from the same lens as a senior NCO. When responding, do not belittle or be condescending, you will lose the battle for personal respect, damaging the reputation of the senior leadership position.
Make the Correction. Any unsafe acts need to be corrected immediately. However, in most cases, there is another approach than the sergeant major storm. Meet with the leadership before departing. Have a professional conversation with NCOs discussing the issues and why it’s important for everyone to enforce the standard. Enable and empower the NCOs to make the correction. It doesn’t matter if leaders agree or disagree with the standard, it’s the NCO’s job to enforce them.
Finish by highlighting a positive. The first engagement and the last will be the two things people remember. It is easy for anyone to dwell on the negative, but at most training events, there are good things happening. This may be the only time that Soldier sees their senior NCO leadership and that impression will stick for a while.
Follow up. Before visiting the unit again, reflect on the notes taken. Address the issues and concerns, and follow up with unit leadership if they people weren’t at the event. Send an email to leaders to reinforce the message. The next time there is an opportunity to observe the unit, see if things changed.
The origin of the American sniper is vague, with reports dating back as early as the American Revolution. The first established peacetime sniper school within the U.S. military was the U.S. Marine Corps Scout Sniper course in Quantico, Virginia, in 1977. The U.S. Army followed suit with their sniper school at Fort Benning, Georgia, in 1985. Brotherly competition between the two branches is infamous and continuous, predating the establishment of peace time training for snipers.
As far as sniper legends go, the Marine Corps has Carlos Hathcock, aka White Feather, with 93 confirmed kills during the Vietnam War. Of the Viet Cong enemies he eliminated, several were known for their brutality — including a woman known as “Apache.” According to Military.com, “‘She tortured [a Marine she had captured] all afternoon, half the next day,’ Hathcock recalls. ‘I was by the wire… He walked out, died right by the wire.’ Apache skinned the private, cut off his eyelids, removed his fingernails, and then castrated him before letting him go. Hathcock attempted to save him, but he was too late.”
On the U.S. Army’s side is Adelbert Waldron, also a legendary Vietnam War sniper, with 109 confirmed kills. After serving 12 years in the U.S. Navy, Adelbert joined the Army, starting out as a buck sergeant and deployed to the Mekong Delta area. Major General Julian Ewell, commander of the 9th Infantry Division, recalled a story about Waldron’s eagle eye: “One afternoon he was riding along the Mekong River on a Tango boat when an enemy sniper on shore pecked away at the boat. While everyone else on board strained to find the antagonist, who was firing from the shoreline over 900 meters away, Sergeant Waldron took up his sniper rifle and picked off the Viet Cong out of the top of a coconut tree with one shot.”
Coffee or Die spoke with both Army snipers and Marine Scout Snipers about their professional differences.
Black Rifle Coffee Company’s Editor in Chief, Logan Stark, started his career in the Marine Corps in May 2007. He spent four years in the service and deployed three times.
Stark passed sniper indoctrination and, later, the Scout Sniper course. He said the most difficult part of the school was the actual shooting. It wasn’t standardized, 1,000-yard shots on paper, but shots from 750 to 1,000 yards on steel. Their range was elevated, which made calculating wind calls for their shots more difficult.
“You get these swirling winds coming off of the mountains, mixing with the wind coming off of the ocean, which makes reading wind extremely difficult to do,” Stark said, adding that “suffer patiently and patiently suffer” was a saying they often clung to during training.
However, the difficult conditions are what helped them hone in on the skill set Marine Scout Snipers are expected to perfect — which is, according to Stark, being an individual who can rapidly and calmly process information and execute a decision off that assessment.
“That’s why I joined the Marine Corps, was to do stuff exactly like that,” he said. “There wasn’t a worst part — it was fun.”
While Stark never worked directly with Army snipers, he has learned through the sniper community that the major difference is “the reconnaissance element to the Marine Corps Scout Sniper program. We’re meant to be an independent unit with four guys going out on their own without any direct support.”
Phillip Velayo spent 10 and a half years in a Marine Corps Scout Sniper platoon. He passed the Scout Sniper course on his second attempt and was an instructor from 2015 to 2018. Velayo now works as the training director for Gunwerks Long Range University.
Velayo has worked with Army snipers in the past and from talking with them, he learned that the Army’s sniper school is shorter — five weeks — compared to the Marine Corps’ school, which includes a three-week indoctrination course in addition to the 79-day Scout Sniper basic course. He added that he believes Army snipers place more emphasis on marksmanship than on mission planning because the Army has designated scouts, whereas Marine Corps snipers are responsible for shooting and scouting.
Velayo presented an example: If you take a blank-slate Marine and put him through Scout Sniper school and do the same with a soldier on the Army side, he said, “I mean, you’re splitting nails at that point, but honestly, I’m going to give it to the Marine side that we hold a higher standard to marksmanship than Army guys.”
Brady Cervantes spent the better part of a decade, starting back in 2006, with the Marine Corps as a Scout Sniper, and deployed four times. Cervantes passed the Scout Sniper school on his second attempt after his first try was cut short due to family matters that pulled him out of class.
“One thing I do respect about the Army is that they have certain calibers of curriculum that we may not,” Cervantes said, regarding differences between the two sniper schools, adding that the Army possibly goes into more depth as far as mission focus for a sniper. However, he said that he believes the Marine Corps maintains the highest standard within the military’s sniper community.
Cervantes said that if you take any Marine Scout Sniper and place them in a different sniper section, their shooter-spotter dialogue is uniform so they can function seamlessly as a team. In Cervantes’ experience overseas, the Army sniper teams he was around didn’t appear to have a clear-cut dialogue between their shooters and spotters.
But at the end of the day, Cervantes said, “if you’re a brother of the bolt, you have my respect.”
Ted Giunta served in the U.S. Army’s 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment from 2003 to 2009, transferring to the sniper platoon in 2006. He deployed four times as a sniper, three of those as the sniper section leader. Since leaving the military, he has been working with the U.S. Department of Energy, specifically pertaining to nuclear transportation. He is one of the two long-gun trainers for his entire agency.
Giunta attended the U.S. Army Special Operation Target Interdiction Course (SOTIC). He believes that the Marine Scout Sniper program and the Army Sniper program are similar in how they train and evaluate their candidates. SOTIC, on the other hand, was a “gentleman’s course,” where they weren’t smoked or beaten down but evaluated on whether they could do the job or not.
Giunta said comparing Marine Scout Snipers to 75th Ranger Regiment snipers comes down to the level of financing for the unit. Because his unit and their mission set was Tier 2 and often worked with Tier 1 units, they had better access to training and equipment, which gives them the edge over Marine Scout Snipers. Giunta said the work as a sniper is an art form, and no matter what branch you are in, you make it your life.
Andrew Wiscombe served in the U.S. Army from 2005 to 2010, deploying to forward operating base (FOB) Mamuhdiyah, Iraq, from 2008 to 2009 as part of the scout sniper team.
Wiscombe said that Army snipers who belong to a dedicated sniper/recon section are comparable to Marine Scout Snipers. As far as a soldier who goes through the basic sniper school and then returns to an infantry line unit where they aren’t continually using their skills, they won’t be on the same level, he said.
The biggest difference Wiscombe is aware of relates to how they calculate shooting formulas. “I know we use meters and they use yards, so formulas will be slightly different,” he said. “The banter may be different, but the fundamentals remain the same for any sniper. At the end of the day, there is some inter-service rivalry fun and jokes, but I saw nothing but mutual respect for very proficient shooters and spotters all around.”
Jaime Koopman spent eight years in an Army sniper section, from 2008 to 2016. He has worked with Marine Scout Snipers several times in a sniper capacity; he also had two Marine Scout Sniper veterans in his section after they switched over to the Army. Koopman worked alongside the Marine Scout Sniper veterans as well as others while competing in the U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) International Sniper Competition.
Koopman’s experience with Marine Scout Snipers showed him that their training is a little different from Army snipers, but it’s comparable. “The Marine Corps Scout Sniper is an MOS for them, so the school is longer, affording them the opportunity to dive a little deeper in each subject area,” he said, “whereas an Army sniper is expected to gain the deeper knowledge outside the school house with his section.”
As far as the most recent standings from the 2019 USASOC International Sniper Competition, first and second place positions were held by U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) teams while third place was claimed by a Marine Scout Sniper team. The 2020 competition has been postponed due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Your crusty ol’ Sergeant Major was partially right when he said that you’ll have a hard time out in the civilian world. Sure, it’s amazing to forget what 0500 is after setting your alarm clock to “8 am” and the overtime pay is nice, but everything would be a lot better if you didn’t have to deal with so many civilians.
Not all of them are bad, though. There are plenty of civilians who could have fit right into any squad if their career had taken a different turn, but there are plenty others that will always irk veterans.
If they were troops, you could yell at them until you’re blue in the face or make them do push-ups until you get tired, but, sadly, that kind of behavior only nets you weird looks. So, we think it’s best just to avoid interacting with the following low-lives.
If only civilians wet themselves at the sight of a knife-hand. Then things would get moving again.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Ken Scar)
The biggest hurdle you’ll face is the utter lack of f*cks given about professionalism and the need to get things done right the first time. Your “until mission complete” mentality is entirely at odds with the folks who get paid by the hour regardless.
In some civilian jobs, there isn’t any real incentive to go that extra mile. Those who slack off still get paid on time. If you try to cover for their laziness, you’ll end up doing double work for none of the extra pay. It’s a trap.
The “relax, it was just a joke” doesn’t seem to fly with civilian bosses.
(U.S. Marine Corps)
The jokers that can’t take a joke
Troops and veterans have a wicked sense of humor. In one moment, we’re prim and proper — professional enough to show off to your grandmother. In the next, we open our mouths and tell rotten jokes that’d make grandma blush.
That’s entirely how we show our love for one another — by belittling every bit of someone and expecting them to do the same in return. But civilians can’t throw shade like veterans can. You make a tiny, seemingly innocent remark, like how their hairline is so jacked up that they should just cut their loses and shave it bald and suddenly, you find yourself dealing with HR.
“Oh, you went on a camping trip and didn’t have electricity for a night? That’s cute.”
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Erin Piazza)
Being in the military, you know exactly where you stack up against another person professionally. Your rank is right there on your chest, collar, or sleeve. If it’s the same, you go to time in grade or service. If those are similar, you move to your medals, awards, and so on. Respect is earned and rewarded accordingly.
Most people in the civilian world are so caught up with trying to make themselves look better that they’ll confuse what they’ve done with where they stand comparatively. The fact that some dude’s dad just bought a new yacht doesn’t mean jack sh*t if you’re both sitting in same-sized cubicles. Nothing outside of work should matter during work but, apparently, the one-upper thinks it does.
Back in the day, you’d learn real quick why that’s a dumb idea. Ask anyone who’s ever been the reason for a 4-day weekend recall formation.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Aaron S. Patterson)
The glory seeker
“One team, one fight” is the mantra of the military. If one person fails, everyone fails. If one person succeeds, everyone succeeds. We’re all in the same foxhole, wearing the same shade of green, fighting for the same flag. Being a team player isn’t something that comes naturally for some folks.
The drive for personal success outweighs the need to get things done for these guys. They’ll beg, borrow, steal, or lie to anyone if it means they can get that raise and they’ll never look down to see every shoulder they’re standing on. To make things worse, they’re also the same type that believes that the world revolves around them and they’re owed the right to do whatever misdeeds they commit onto others.
Just smile, nod, and mess with them.
(U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Pfc. Heather Atherton)
The armchair political commentator
Troops come from all backgrounds and make up a fairly balanced slice of the American population. Personal identity, race, religion, sex, orientation, political affiliation, and whatever else — none of that matters while you’re on duty and trying to complete the mission. Those kind of talks are best kept for when you’re out of uniform and can realistically not have duty on your mind.
Yet, in the minds of these civilians, veterans are often seen as some sort of subject matter expert for all things military. I couldn’t tell you what the other company in my battalion was doing while I was still in the Army and yet people will press you on whether it was a just idea to implement sanctions on wherever.
These are probably the same guys to say to you because you’re a vet “I would have joined, but…”
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Bryan Nygaard)
The “excuses, excuses, excuses” guy
If you mess up in the military, you take it on the chin like an adult and you drive on. You’re late? Own up to your mistake or be honest about why you’re late. You may get reprimanded, but no one really cares after that. Just get back to the mission.
There is no magical excuse that will immediately absolve anyone of any of their shortcomings — but goddamn will these as*holes try to find it. Problem with me? It was the other guy. Problem with my performance? Must have been a computer problem. You get the point. These types will always let you down and never seek to improve themselves because they’ll honestly believe their own BS.
When the closest VA clinic is miles away, or you have a hard time traveling from place to place, the last thing you want to do is make a trip to the doctor’s office. We get that. Your time is valuable.
In 2005, VA created My HealtheVet next to a coffee shop inside the Portland VA Medical Center. The small kiosk (and floppy disk drives) are long gone. However, the concept remains the same. Give veterans’ the opportunity to play an active role in their health care while saving them time in the process.
Today, over 4.9 million veterans have registered online for VA’s patient portal, My HealtheVet, to refill their prescriptions, download and share their medical records, schedule and view appointments, and send secure messages to their health care teams.
Over 140 million prescriptions refilled
Get this: My HealtheVet has refilled more than 143-million prescriptions over the last 14 years. It could take you just a couple of clicks to order your next prescription. And it will be delivered right to your doorstep.
It’s easy to sign up for an account, and it’s completely free! You can even upgrade your account the next time you’re at a VA clinic to access all of My HealtheVet’s features:
Refill prescriptions online
Schedule and view VA appointments
Download and share your medical records, including medical images
Send secure messages to your health care teams
Access to mental health resources
Gain knowledge through the Veterans Health Library
Click to learn more information about My HealtheVet and start saving time today!
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
Deployments, moving, nights in the field, hardship tours – there are lots of reasons to hate the Army. No one promised that Army life would be easy, in fact, everyone said it would be hard. But if it were all bad, if there were no perks, so many of us wouldn’t have opted to stay in for ‘life’ – if by ‘life’ we mean about 20 years.
In fact, for some of us now nearing that magical 20-year mark, a future spent as something other than an Army spouse is actually kind of scary.
10. It’s easy to find your underwear
Stay with me. You know the really pretty Victoria’s Secret thong you spent on just to wear to meet him when he got home from Afghanistan (and you’ve worn for all the ‘good’ date nights since)? Yeah, that one. It’s on his shoulder, stuck to the velcro on his ACUs, probably as he gets called in to a very serious meeting with his CO.
Same goes for you, male spouses. Your Frederick’s of Hollywood elephant trunk thongs will get stuck, too – ugh. Never mind. Let’s all try to get that image out of our heads…
Bottom line (pun intended): Every delicate unmentionable you will own as an Army spouse will get stuck to and shredded by the velcro – and mentioned by all the other soldiers – if you wash your clothes with your soldier’s. Honestly, just be glad it was the sexy ones. It could have been the granny panties you save to wear during deployments.
‘Cause without them you ‘would-be’ cold. Take a look at your couch. There’s no lovely chenille throw and no handmade quilt spread across the end. Oh no, you’re an Army spouse. That means you have a green camouflage poncho liner, better known as a “woobie”, adorning your relaxing space.
No one is quite sure where woobies come from, they just appear, and then they multiply – like Bebe’s kids, or maybe gremlins. Pretty soon you realize that there’s one on each of your kids’ beds, at the foot of your own bed and even in the dog’s bed. But there’s no better blanket for sneaking in an afternoon nap and, should you dare to argue that the woobie is inferior in any way, your soldier will set you straight.
(U.S. Army Europe photo by Spc. Joshua Leonard)
8. Eye candy
For reals. We’re not supposed to talk about it, but you know you look, we all do. We get to live in towns where the male to female ratio makes sports bars look like wine cafes. And, though there are nowhere near as many female soldiers, mandatory PT tests mean that there’s eye candy for the male spouses, too.
Soldiers have to work out for their jobs. Every year at Fort Bragg the entire 82nd Airborne Division runs together, all 22,000 of them, for the Division Run. And you know what the spouses do? We bring folding chairs, snacks and drinks, and get there early so we can nab a good viewing spot. Then we watch.
(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Robert Jordan)
7. Way off base
We get to correct the other branches when they call ours a ‘base’. One of these kids is not like the others – and it’s us. The others have “bases” we have “posts”. Why? Who knows? Who cares? Maybe it’s so we can annoy everyone else when we call their Base Exchange a “PX”.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Russell Klika)
6. Dibs on ‘soldiers’
Along the same lines, we get to watch the others cringe when civilians refer to all service members as “soldiers”. Even though everyone in the military world understands that the word ‘soldier’ only applies to a member of the Army, this little drop of wisdom hasn’t managed to trickle down to our civilian friends – and we in the Army family think that’s just hilarious.
“How’s your ‘soldier’ doing on his cruise, Navy wife?”; “There are a lot less ‘soldiers’ in the Marine Corps, no?”; And, “It must be hard to be on that Air Force Base all by yourself when your ‘soldier’ is gone.” Comments like these always make us chuckle – because we know that a soldier by any other name is, well, not a ‘soldier’ at all.
5. Size matters
Okay, so maybe the Navy, Coast Guard and Marine Corps families get to live by the ocean and the Air Force families get better, well, everything (don’t act like you haven’t noticed). We’re the biggest. By far. (O’Doyle Rules!) The Army is about the same size as the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard – combined.
In fact, the entire Coast Guard could fit on just one Army post – with room left over for a few Army brigades. Fort Bragg even has an Air Force installation fully contained inside the Army post. So take pride in knowing that we’re the biggest. Maybe that knowledge will help you get through a long winter in middle of nowhere, because most Army posts seem to have all been built on the largest piece of crap land the federal government could afford.
(Photo by Hiro Chang)
4. The military balls
(And, no, this is not a rehash of number 8.) Most people get to go to the prom once, maybe twice in their lifetimes. (Three or four times if they were the freshman high school hussy who dated seniors.) We get to go every year. And there’s booze. And decent food.
And we can slow dance without being separated by a chaperone, and we’re even encouraged to get a hotel room. Military balls give us excellent reasons to go shopping, get our hair and nails done, and have our pictures taken with our spouses. Or, if nothing else, to give the yoga pants a night off.
3. We’ve got friends EVERYWHERE
Ever have this conversation? “Oh, you’re from Jeezbekneez, Kansas? I have a friend who lives there.” And one in Japan, and one in Hawaii, three in Alaska, two in Italy, four in Germany, one in Korea, and so forth and so on. Grade school classes could use our Facebook friends’ lists for geography lessons. Army families move. A lot. The upside: On a lonely night during a deployment we know we can get on Facebook and find one of those friends online, because 3 a.m. our time is 9 a.m. in Germany.
2. Never-ending hijinks
When kids play war, they play Army. Well, guess what? People who join the Army tend to never let go of that wild (ahem) spirit. The Army: Where the boys are men, the men are boys, and the women aren’t afraid of snakes. If you’re reading this, it’s probably because you already love a wild man or woman and are likely to view living somewhere surrounded by jokesters as an adventure.
(Note: This also applies to the Marine Corps, but it does not apply to the other branches. Those who volunteer for boots-on-the-ground duty tend to be a bit more devil-may-care.)
The soldiers around you will be the sweetest, most helpful versions of Steve-O and Johnny Knoxville imaginable, and that makes life very fun – and very funny. Living in an Army town means you will never have to open a door for yourself; you won’t linger on the side of the road with a broken down car; and if a disaster strikes there will be more volunteers than there is need.
But it also means your daily commute will resemble a NASCAR race and you shouldn’t be surprised when you stumble upon stupid human tricks involving nakedness, port-a-potties, 100-mile-an-hour tape, 550 cord and, occasionally, explosives.
(Photo by Elizabeth Alexander)
Whether you come from a big family, a small family or no family at all, rest assured that you just joined the biggest family in America. Really. Your family is now more than a million strong – Army strong. There is no black, white, brown, red or yellow in the Army – just Green. It doesn’t matter if you’re from the north, south, east or west, educated or not so much, fresh out of high school or edging towards retirement.
I come from a big, tight-knit, family – and I love my family – but more than once I’ve cut short my visits “home” to go back to my Army home because I needed the support and understanding only my ‘Big Green Machine’ family could provide. My Army wife sisters were my newborn daughter’s first hospital visitors, they met her months before her own father did.
They opened their arms wide to me when I told them my dad was dying of cancer. They sent flowers to his funeral. They’ve helped me pack, clean and hold yard sales. They’ve, quite literally, picked me up when I was too weak to stand on my own. And they have laughed with me – oh, how they have laughed with me. We have watched each other’s babies grow, sometimes from afar, and we have shared so much of each other’s lives that the word ‘friend’ is simply not enough anymore. We are family.
A single thread is easy to break, but when you weave a bunch of threads together you get 550 cord, which is strong and secure enough for parachutes. That’s the Army. And we are Army Strong – because none of us stands alone.
This article originally appeared on Military Spouse. Follow @MilSpouseMag on Twitter.
Veteran James Petersen noticed five unused planting beds on the grounds of the PFC Floyd K. Lindstrom Clinic in Colorado Springs. He realized they would be perfect for a butterfly garden.
Petersen is a social worker for the VA Eastern Colorado Healthcare System (VAECHS). He and his “Butterfly Brigade” filled the planters with soil and flowers. The brigade includes VAECHS volunteers and patients.
“The beds hadn’t been touched in years,” said Peterson. But he welcomed the challenge. “I thought this would be a great opportunity to engage our veterans, as well as create a place for them to socialize between appointments.”
The garden features perennial and annual flowers. It also contains milkweed, the only food eaten by the monarch caterpillar.
The garden is an official monarch waystation.
A painted lady butterfly stops at the garden.
“The monarch butterfly is endangered, declining almost 90% over the past 20 years,” Petersen noted. Because of their efforts, the garden now is an official monarch butterfly migration pathway station.
Petersen has planted flowers to attract butterflies before. When he returned from five years in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said he “found a lot of therapeutic value in gardening.” As a result, Petersen went through the master gardener program at the Missouri Botanical Garden.
“When I worked at the St. Louis VA last summer, I planted a monarch butterfly garden,” he said. “Several of the veterans on my caseload worked with me in planting the garden. They loved it.”
A painted lady butterfly stops at the garden.
Place of change for butterflies and veterans
“This is a place to meditate, minimize stress, socialize and observe the many changes butterflies encounter, much like our own lives,” said clinic director Kim Hoge. She further called the garden a “spiritual refuge” and thanked clinic employees for donating their time, money and resources to build it.
Peterson said just as caterpillars become butterflies, veterans change when they transition to civilian life.
“This garden will do our part for conservation. It will also create a therapeutic place for veterans to hang out,” he said. “They will appreciate the symbolism of transformation and metamorphosis. Especially those who are dealing with traumatic histories.”
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
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.
Being in the field sucks for almost everyone involved. Lower enlisted get thrown into collective tents, leaders have to train their troops in crappy conditions, that one staff officer never shuts up about how they could “kill for a Starbucks,” and everyone has to deal with everyone else’s crap. Your experience and level of suckitude may differ.
Civilians pay money to go camping and feel “more rugged” when they wake up outdoors to the sound of birds chirping, so it can’t be all bad, right? In the famous words of nearly every old-timer who never shuts up about how much harder it was back in the day: Suck it up, buttercup. Things will be alright once you learn to look at the positives.
Unfortunately, you can’t substitute the food. Hope you enjoy your eggs with extra salt…
(U.S. Army Photo by Staff Sgt. Nancy Lugo)
Bring personal gear with you
It’s no secret that the military buys from the lowest bidder. The gear you’ve been issued has been used repeatedly by several other troops before it finally got to you. If you don’t have complete faith in the gear that was handed to you, you can always pick something up with your own cash.
Of course, you should always stay within regulations for most gear, like rucksacks and body armor, but unless you’re specifically told not to do so, you can probably get away with bringing a personal sleeping system in addition to the one your unit supplied.
You never truly know someone until you’ve played with them as your partner in Spades.
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Opal Vaughn)
Bring stuff to do outside of training
There will be downtime. Exactly how much will differ between units, but you’ll at least get a moment to breathe every now and then. In those moments, you’ll need something to do other than lose your mind.
It’s the field, so it’s obviously a stupid idea to bring a TV and video games. If you do, you deserve to be mocked for it. But you can never go wrong with bringing a deck of cards and getting a game of Spades going.
With profit margins like that, you can put it on your resume when you leave the service.
(Photo via U.S. Army WTF Moments)
Sell wanted stuff to other troops
No one ever brings everything they need to last the entire time in the field. Some may load up their hygiene kit but forget razors. Your unit may be just given MREs and mermites and nobody thinks to bring a bottle of Tabasco. You’ll even find people who think a single pack of cigarettes will last them the full two weeks. You could be the guy who makes a quick buck off of the under-prepared.
Even if you don’t smoke or dip, there will be others in your unit that do. You’ll see them start to get on edge after they’ve run out by the end of the first week. At that point, no one will bat an eye if you sell them a pack for . I mean, technically, MPs might because it’s frowned upon by the court of law to sell tobacco without a license, but those profit margins are mighty fine.
No one will blame you if you take pre-CS chamber selfies. We don’t want to see your face covered in snot and tears.
(U.S. Army photo by Cpt. Gregory McElwain)
Of all the regrets veterans might have few about their time in the service, few rank higher than failing to take advantage of photo opportunities with the squad. Years down the road, when those vets are reflecting on how awesome they once were, they’ll be disappointed to find the only hard evidence is a handful of photos from promotion ceremonies and an awkward snapshot from a unit ball.
Don’t be that guy. Bring a camera or have your phone’s camera primed. If it seems like a dumb idea or if things generally sucks, take a photo. Tragedy plus time almost always equals comedy gold. You’ll thank yourself later.
Your leaders are wellsprings of information, both good and bad. It’s up to you to learn the difference.
(U.S. Army photo courtesy of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 8th Special Troops Battalion)
Actually listen to what your leader wants to teach you
There aren’t too opportunities for a leader to truly break down training and give you a hands-on experience outside of being in the field. That’s why you’re there in the first place.
They’ll have everything planned out to try and prepare you for what’s coming later. Listen to them. They’ve got much to tell you. Believe me when I say this: Your leader wants to teach you everything they know to make you better. If they don’t, they’re not a leader.
So, I finally got around to binge-watching Netflix’s Space Force recently. It’s nowhere near as bad as critics are making it out to be. The writers knew enough about military culture to poke fun at our soon-to-be real sister branch while simultaneously giving it a solid storyline to keep me invested. And, uh. Yeah. That’s about it. Pretty solid and I enjoyed it. I hope it gets a second season, but I hope it can flesh out some of its side characters a bit more.
If you can’t tell, my normal schtick of riffing on military news in the opener of these memes pieces is going to be a lose/lose situation this time for fairly obvious reasons. There are many more voices out there that could probably articulate the proper words for this situation far better than I could. I don’t want to take anything away from those conversations. I curate memes and practice a stand-up routine that will probably never get me to a late-night writer gig. I think I’m funny, but I’m probably not.
But that’s why we love memes, isn’t’ it? It’s a brief distraction from the sh*tstorm of daily life and outside is currently a Cat-5 Sh*ticane. It’s the slight exhale of breath at a mildly funny meme followed by a, “Heh. That sucks. I remember doing that sh*t.” That gets us through whatever we’re doing. Memes won’t undo whatever it is that’s going on around us, but it’s a good quick break from it all.
So just sit back. Relax. And remember what Bill and Ted taught us… Just be excellent to each other. Anyways, here’s some memes.
1. Well, at least you don’t have to get him/her a gift right away.
I’m sorry, what? I will more than likely still get my spouse a gift and squirrel it away until they get home, but also why is that the one thing you think I am thinking about the most? Our gift to each other will be a phone call or a quick Skype call. That is better than any other gift either one of us could get each other.
2. Well, you signed up for this, why are you surprised?
I may shank the next person that says that. Just saying. I fell in love with a human not their occupation. Their occupation is a small part of who they are and we adjust to the situation. We are simply making it each day at a time.
3. Wait, the military won’t send him/her home for the holidays?!
You realize that the military does not care what day of the week it is let alone a holiday. Stop with the silliness. The service members are on a deployment, field exercise, staff duty, etc. they cannot come home.
4. Why are you staying here? Why aren’t you just moving home?
Well, I have a whole life and network system I have established at the base that I can’t just abandon. Yes, I miss my family and will come home to visit them, but it isn’t possible for me to move home while my spouse is away.
5. He’s only in overseas why don’t you just go visit him/her?
Are you planning on paying for the ticket or…? We are living on a budget and don’t have the luxury of always going to visit each other. The idea is great but not practical. Also, do you know what a war zone is?
Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. displays some holiday spirit as he speaks to the soldiers of 1st Armored Division in Germany.
(US Army photo)
6. At least you don’t have kids, it would be so much worse.
Thank you? It is still hard to be apart from my spouse even though we don’t have kids. Can someone just hand me a bottle of wine the next time someone tries to comfort me with that.
7. Well at least the kids are young, they won’t remember.
The kids will still miss their parent. The kids will still ask where they are first thing in the morning. Looking around the house, seeing if their dad/mom will surprise them or waiting patiently by the phone to hear their voice. No it won’t be easy no matter the age of our kids, but we make it work.
8. Isn’t it nice to have your own space? I love when my husband isn’t home.
Well, I much prefer when he is home, but that is just me. We have spent enough time apart I am ready to be together again. Sure a nice weekend apart spent with family or my girlfriends is nice, but after a few months I am more than ready for him/her to be home.
Lancer Brigade soldier makes it home for the holidays.
(US Army photo)
9. Ask when is he coming home and immediately respond with, “Well, that isn’t too far away.”
One day is too far away. Yes, my countdown app has helped me stay focused and able to remember we are one day closer, but somedays (most days) it is far too many days away. Minutes feel like days, days feel like weeks, weeks feel like months, and so forth. It is a long and frustrating experience I would not wish on my worst enemy.
10. Why are you visiting his side of the family? He’s not even home.
They are still family. No matter if my spouse is home or not I am going to see my in-laws at holidays. They are as special to me as my own family and I want to see them. It is silly to think that just because my spouse isn’t home I would not go see that side of the family.
11. Aren’t you scared he’s going to get lonely being so far away?
Well, yes he may get lonely, but so will I. Yes, we will have struggles, but we also have each other. We also have our phones, Skype, Facebook messenger, various apps that will get us through the time apart. We also have our friends that will help us deal with the frustrations that come with time spent apart.
Soldiers gather together during a Christmas service at Combat Outpost Shur Andam, Afghanistan.
(U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. Joshua Edwards)
12. Well, one year my spouse had to go out of town for an extended weekend so I completely understand what you are going through.
Seriously, if anyone comes to me with this this holiday season you better be handing me a bottle of chardonnay with that comment. Yes, some couples go through time apart from their loved one, but no one understands the separation like other military significant others. It is a different, it is an everyday struggle, a daunting task that only can be dealt with by fellow military spouses that understand the hardships that will happen and that are happening.
This article originally appeared on Military Spouse. Follow @MilSpouseMag on Twitter.
Kevin Baetz was born in Westwood, New Jersey and raised in Hollywood, Florida. He served with 1st Battalion, 9th Marines Regiment and deployed on the 24 Marine Expeditionary Unit where he earned the Humanitarian Service Medal during the 2010 Haiti earthquake crisis. He also served in Marjah, Afghanistan in 2011 alongside We Are The Mighty’s interviewer Ruddy Cano. Upon relocating to St. Augustine Florida with an Honorable Discharge, he took up a job at the Fountain of Youth Archeological Park as a Blacksmith, reenactor and grounds keeper. It was here that he got into reenacting the Spanish colonial life of the 16th century in the state of Florida.
Fountain of Youth Archeological Park is home to the first Catholic mission in the United States. The cross of coquina and other weathered documents were found in 1909 that verify that this site was contemporary with Ponce de Leon’s landing in Florida in 1513. Dr. Luella Day MacConnell’s mission, the owner in 1909, was to prove that her property was the location of Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth. The archeological site has been a window into the past with findings such as the earliest known remains of Christian burials of indigenous people, artifacts, and even a prehistoric finds 500 years before the Spanish arrived.
WATM: How did you first become interested in being a war reenactor?
I did reenactment before the Marine Corps. I got into the 16th century reenactment because I worked at the original 16th century settlement site that the Spaniards had here in St. Augustine. It is the longest continuous settlement since 1565, its part of the job and I’m really into it.
WATM: What kind of gear do you usually work with?
Well, it depends. A lot of the clothing is custom by this tailor we know out in Italy, Luciano. The clothing is really important but weapon wise; it’s matchlock arquebus, cannons, long swords – it all depends what we’re portraying for the day. As a job it’s either cannoneer or shooting off the matchlock.
WATM: What kind of historical training do you receive?
Training as a job is basically: show up and work with the other reenactors here at the site. For someone who’s new-new, like they want to get into it, they should do it for fun to see if they like it. For example, my buddies and I go downtown dressed up to drink. That part isn’t so much reenacting but reliving that style of life — we wear funny clothing, order wine, play card games. If someone comes up to us and wants to get involved and wants to hang out, just like anything else, we have loaner gear. If they’re serious enough they start to buy their own gear.
As far as weapons training, it’s like any other weapons. Safety, this is how one of these things works. Carrying the weapon as a display, walking around downtown as a soldier. We do not shoot the weapons at people, we don’t do a lot of that. As reenactors, you give people the run down; how it works, how much powder you’re supposed to use, but in town you’re not going to do that.
WATM: What was your favorite battle to reenact?
A lot of the stuff we do out of here is two [main] 16th century battles. The big one is the recreation of Drake’s raid, [his English expedition] came into the town and burned it to the ground. One of [Francis Drake’s] guys got killed fighting the Spaniards, so, he took revenge. He came back and rebuilt it. It’s really the only true battle we recreate in the United States from this era and St. Augustine specifically.
The more intense ones are over in Europe. You have the Battle of Grolle in the Netherlands, That’s a massive one. You got some that go on in Spain…the anniversary of the Battle of Pavia in Italy is coming up. That one puts all other to shame – full contact, shock and smash, regal.
WATM: Is there anything you want to say to the military audience?
I don’t know, it’s fun! (laughs) I enjoy reenacting, it has put me in contact with a good number of veterans. Especially guys my age that miss the comradery and get the chance to put on funny clothing, drink, pretend gamble and have a good time. People should try it out, I enjoy it.
The park is open from 09:00 am to 06:00 pm daily and has attractions such as the navigator’s planetarium, blacksmithing, Timucuan burials and village, Nombre de Dios mission, cannon firing, classical boat building excavations, the 1565 Menendez settlement, and drinking from the Fountain of Youth itself.
Be it known by this that I, Alonzo Soriano, shareholder and resident of Brillar, contributed and certify to the public that I was present at the beginning of the rising and setting of the Sun. By order of the Royal Crown of Aragon he made his description at the Fountain which is good and sweet to the taste. It was in the year 1513. – FROM THE SORIANO VELLUM AT PONCE DE LEON’S FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH ARCHAEOLOGICAL PARK
When Chad Hennings won the top award for College Football’s best inside lineman in 1987, it significantly raised his stock for the NFL draft. He would need it. Despite being the best in the game in his day, he still wasn’t drafted until the 11th round. The reason is that Hennings played football at the Air Force Academy, and would have to serve four years in the military before he could pursue his NFL dreams.
He wouldn’t have to do that today. Defense Secretary Mark Esper just signed a new memo, laying out the guidelines newly-graduated academy athletes need to pursue professional sports careers instead of entering the military.
Hennings spent four years as a pilot and would actually get his last four years waived by the Air Force. By the time he got to the Dallas Cowboys, he was already 27 years old – almost elderly by NFL standards. Luckily for Hennings, he really was one of the best linemen ever to play the game. After his first start in 1992, he went on to win three Super Bowls and snag 27.5 sacks before retiring after the 2000 season. But other athletes weren’t so lucky.
The issue of letting service members who can play at a professional level attempt that dream has been hotly debated by both pro sports fans and policymakers in Washington. The NCAA is big business now, and the NFL is even bigger, generating 5 million and .1 billion in annual revenues, respectively. The pressure to maintain popular talent is definitely on, but the service academies mean more than just big bucks for big-time athletes. They’re supposed to, anyway. There are many who are against the idea.
One in particular.
Before the Obama Administration, academy athletes were required to fulfill their service obligations. The Obama Administration allowed academy athletes to defer their service if they were good enough to be drafted by the NFL. Shortly after Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds was allowed to be drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in 2016, the Pentagon rescinded that policy. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis believed the academies “exist to develop future officers,” and those trained officers should fulfill the expectations of their education.
President Trump stepped in in June 2019, saying there was such a short window of talent between their college career and potential professional sports careers, that academy athletes should be allowed to try and take advantage. On Nov. 15, 2019, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper signed a memo that dictates what the athletes must do to try and take advantage – which includes getting permission from the SECDEF and either serving their commitment or paying the government back for their education.
These days, academy grads usually owe the military five years of service after graduation. Under the new athletics policy, once permission is obtained from the Secretary of Defense, the athlete must agree to return to the military and serve those five years. The waiver is then reviewed by the DoD every year while the athlete is in his pro sports position. If they can’t pass the medical standards when they get to the military, they’ll serve five years in a civilian job. If they don’t do either of those, they’ll be charged for their education.
It’s not impossible for service academy grads to serve first and then join the NFL. In addition to the Cowboys’ Chad Hennings, Navy’s Roger Staubach, Mike Wahle, and Phil McConkey as well Army’s Glenn Davis and Alejandro Villanueva all had successful NFL careers after serving their obligations.