Two boats idled together in the Adriatic Sea just off the coast of Northern Italy, battered mercilessly by the waves as eight pairs of eyes searched the sky. The silence stretched for long moments, a hint of anticipation on the cool sea breeze before a radio crackled to life.
There would be three jumpers in five minutes, transmitted the radio. The information was passed between the occupants of both boats as they caught first sight of the approaching aircraft.
Members of the 57th Rescue Squadron participated in over-water parachute training. July 9, 2019, with a dozen pararescuemen aboard a C-130J Super Hercules from the 86th Airlift Wing at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, as eight more awaited their descent from below.
First out of the aircraft was a rigged alternate method zodiac, or RAMZ, an inflatable, motorized boat that the jumpers used once they made it to the water. As they worked on setting up their vehicle, the members in the support boats began pulling in the discarded parachutes to be repaired if necessary and reused in the future.
Pararescueman assigned to the 57th Rescue Squadron parachutes into the ocean during over-water parachute training off the coast of Italy, July 9, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kelsey Tucker)
The 57th RQS participates in jump training at least once a quarter, over both land and sea, to keep their skills and knowledge sharp in case they are ever needed in an emergency. The training not only benefits the pararescuemen, but requires harmonization with the squadron’s support agencies and even other bases – in this case, the C-130 and its crew.
Pararescuemen assigned to the 57th Rescue Squadron prepare a rigged alternate method zodiac vessel during over-water parachute training off the coast of Italy, July 9, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kelsey Tucker)
“Just for us to do this training, it requires so much coordination from our support shops,” said Capt. Jordan, a combat rescue officer with the 57th RQS. “Just on the water we have boat drivers, people pulling in chutes and medical personnel. We are super grateful to have an amazing combat mission support section.”
Jumping on land is far different than jumping into the ocean, and carries different challenges – not only for the jumpers themselves but also for the support personnel down below.
Pararescuemen assigned to the 57th Rescue Squadron prepare a rigged alternate method zodiac during over-water parachute training off the coast of Italy, July 9, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kelsey Tucker)
“On land, all you really have to worry about is another aircraft coming into your airspace,” said Staff Sgt. Jared, a 57th RQS aircrew flight equipment technician and drop zone control officer. “On water, you have to worry about boats, airplanes and that you’re constantly moving. You have to go where the jumpers go, and then reset, come back to your position and get ready for the next jumpers.”
Through successful support and coordination, the 57th RQS was able to carry out the required training needed in order to remain proficient in their job, providing day or night personnel recovery operations in any condition, during peace or war.
It’s that time of year where military installations host their annual holiday parties. Even if they’re taking place via Zoom this year, military members can celebrate with those at work, usually with their family in tow.
While most holiday parties take place over fancy balls, bbq joints, or decorated event centers for the masses, this year is likely to become a little more quaint. Either with small parties or by joining virtually from the comfort of your own home.
The annual holiday party is a time for everyone to connect. Sure, you work with the same soldiers every day, but at a holiday party, you can let loose. You can celebrate, you can relax, and you can focus on a good time with work acquaintances. It’s an excuse to get together off the clock, and on someone else’s dime.
But no matter how many of these parties you attend, there’s bound to be these main iconic events. Take a look below and reminisce about the crazy fun times you’ve had at holiday parties of the past.
Santa makes an appearance
What’s a holiday party without Santa for the kids? (Maybe Santa is there for the adults too?) Inevitably, someone will yell an inappropriate comment about Santa’s libations, the location of his reindeer, or his lack of milk and cookies. (Santa can be difficult to pull off with a soldier physique.)
Where there’s Santa, there’s a loud adult making some type of observation.
Someone’s boss drank way too much.
Sure they’re the boss at work but at the party? They’re the boss of the bottle. And honestly, who’s surprised here? Whether they threw caution to the wind and showed up crazy, or hid in the background, pouring whiskey in their Coke can, drinking was on the agenda. But that’s all part of the fun — isn’t that the whole point of a work party?!
This is the military after all, no one’s surprised by a rough night! Let’s just all hope it didn’t lead to too rough of a morning.
You meet someone new
As a military spouse, maybe there’s a name that you’ve heard thousands of times but never were able to put a face with it. The holiday party is your chance to engage. Or, as a soldier, perhaps there’s a company legend whom you’ve never come into close contact with … yet. That paperwork ninja at battalion, or the crazy dude that everyone phones home about — you can meet them all in person (or via Zoom) at the holiday party.
Tag in, you’re in for a treat!
You see something you didn’t want to see
No party is complete without its uncomfortable moments. Welcome to your company/battalion/brigade event; it’s no different. At every get-together, you’ll overhear a piece of gossip you never wanted to hear, you’ll witness a child being next-level ornery, you’ll see someone shoot whiskey from their nose or shove in mac and cheese off the floor. Whatever it is, you didn’t want to view with your own eyes but it happened all the same.
No party — at least no party worth attending — goes on without a hitch. Embrace these events and be glad once you’re on the other side. After all, you’re making memories!
There’s a series of toasts
Get your drink hand ready, because you’re about to toast to him, her, the other guy, the girl down the hall, and more. Something about military folks getting together calls for announcements to be made and people to thank.
Unless you’re called upon to present, just sit back, raise your glass and sip to those you know and love … and to everyone else in attendance.
Company holiday parties are a great chance to get together outside of work. But that doesn’t mean its own character-filled events won’t take place. Instead, remain prepared and ready for anything — and if nothing else, enjoy the amazing people watching that’s about to begin.
What’s your favorite holiday memory from a military get-together?
It’s particularly poignant when members of the military community share their own stories. Hollywood has a fascination with depicting battles, wars, and heroes, but there’s an intimacy and truth that comes from the minds of those who actually lived those experiences.
Who better to explore war than those that fought it? Than those that are haunted by it? Than those who lost someone on the battlefield?
In honor of Veteran’s Day, we are proud to amplify the stories of three members of our own community who are exploring the military experience from very different, and yet very universal, perspectives. From memoirs to war poems to coffee digital publications, these storytellers are contributing to the dialogue about what it means to serve.
You won’t want to miss their work:
Just got my copy of #TheKnockattheDoor. I’ve read #BrothersForever and am looking forward to reading this. @TMFoundation @rmanionpic.twitter.com/adIdbBkBs3
Ryan Manion has devoted her life to carrying on the legacy of her brother, 1st Lt. Travis Manion, who was killed in the line of duty while serving in the United States Marine Corps. On April 29, 2007, Travis was ambushed in the Al Anbar province of Iraq, along with his fellow Marines and their Iraqi Army counterparts. “Leading the counterattack against the enemy forces, Travis was fatally wounded by an enemy sniper while aiding and drawing fire away from his wounded teammates,” reads his bio on the website of the Travis Manion Foundation, which empowers veterans and families of the fallen to thrive.
Ryan, who has served as the President of the foundation since 2012, is a well-respected member of the military community. On Nov. 5, 2019, Ryan joined Heather Kelly and Amy Looney Heffernan to release Knock at the Door, a book that shares their experiences about joining the Gold Star family and the inspiring and unlikely journey “that began on the worst day of their lives.”
It’s time to caffeinate the troops! For every bag of BRCC coffee you buy through November, we’ll donate a bag to the deployed troops overseas spreading freedom on a daily basis. #brcc #americascoffee #babgabpic.twitter.com/vBANDYQnmL
Logan Stark trained as an Infantry Assault Marine with the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines before becoming a Scout/Sniper on multiple deployments, including one to Sangin, Afghanistan. After his military service, he earned a degree in Professional Writing from Michigan State University, where he directed For the 25, a film about his Afghanistan deployment.
As the film garnered attention, Stark went on to write for USA Today and the New York Times’ At War blog. Now, he’s the Producer of Content at Black Rifle Coffee Company, where he manages the creation and dissemination of caffeine and freedom social media content. BRCC recently launched Coffee or Die, their online magazine sharing military stories and humorous anecdotes from the vantage point of veterans.
2019 Gannon Award Winner “The Art Of Warrior Poetry”
Justin Thomas Eggen, U.S. Marine Corps
Justin Thomas Eggen’s military career within 2nd Route Clearance Platoon, Mobility Assault Company, 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, 2nd Marine Division includes operating as a heavy machine gunner during Operation Moshtarak and clearing the IED threat for Operation Black Sand and Operation Eastern Storm in Sangin, Afghanistan. Like most veterans, Eggen struggled with many invisible wounds when he returned home from combat.
He decided to face the emotions straight on and became a writer, using pen and ink to explore his deployments through poetry. Since the release of his first book, Outside The Wire: A U.S. Marine’s Collection of Combat Poems Short Stories Volume 1, Eggen has released several volumes of work and connected with other veterans on speaking engagements, book tours, and a spoken word book tour with two other veteran poets they dubbed “The Verses Curses Tour.”
2020 is a different year and this is especially true as we have our Thanksgiving dinners lockdown style. We veterans are like family: we can pick on each other and laugh. Let an outsider pick on us and it’s fighting words. This year is like a deployment — we need to find the little things to laugh about. I hope everyone is staying safe and riding this “deployment” out with a smile. Here are some Thanksgiving memes to bring a chuckle as you are loading up on turkey and likely less fixings.
I hope those crayons go well with gravy.
You know trainees are licking their chops for this food, the DI is doing the same to scuff them up afterward.
Seems like a valid question.
Thanksgiving or not, the BCGs kill the mood.
The kids’ table
Aww, the Space Force.
Give me a break
That’s right, four days of no bs.
There goes all the fun on block leave.
Pass the mashed potatoes
Who doesn’t feel like this after stuffing themselves on a good holiday meal?
Should have skipped the seconds
No one is looking forward to that Monday morning run.
Just saying we do have different methods.
Get ‘er done
We all know this is going to be trouble.
We can’t help it
I may be a tad jealous of having a butler.
Three cheers for propane
What could go wrong?
We actually do like the Air Force, I swear
Just another day for the Air Force.
The military doesn’t do miracles.
It’s sad but true.
We hope you have an awesome, safe Thanksgiving, despite a global pandemic and travel restrictions. At least they can’t take your turkey.
The chief of police of Washington D.C’s Metropolitan Police Department, Peter Newsham, visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Aug. 14 with many of his senior leaders and police officers and participated in a wreath-laying ceremony and other events, giving us a good chance to see how American and foreign dignitaries are allowed to show their respect for the tomb and all it represents. Here are 15 photos from that visit, all taken by Elizabeth Fraser, Arlington National Cemetery.
We get it. No one likes to do manual labor. Unfortunately, you’re one of a handful of people assigned to a crappy detail and you realize that, for some reason, a certain someone else is “too busy” to help out. You work your ass off and they take it easy. If they’re the same rank as you (and same time in service), they’ll get the exact same amount of money from Uncle Sam as you — and worked half as hard for it.
So, you want to take the easy route, too? Alright. Gotcha. We can’t stop you — but we suggest you read the following points before you try to wiggle your way out of the working party.
F*cking your buddies is one of the only sins that can get you banished from the E-4 Mafia.
1. You could be blue falconing your guys
First and foremost, things need to get done. It doesn’t matter if it’s a bullsh*t detail made up to keep you guys busy until close-out formation. If the task came from up higher, someone will have to do it before everyone can go home.
If it’s something stupid that everyone — including the chain of command — agrees is exclusively for the purpose of killing time, alright. But if it’s something that obviously needs to be taken care of, like police calling the smoke pit, someone else will have to cover down for your laziness.
Yep. You’re totally “helping” with that clipboard in your hand.
(U.S. Air Force)
2. You’re being watched by everyone
The military may be big, but your unit isn’t. Word gets around. If you sham out of something, people will know that you weren’t there. If you show up and just do the bare minimum amount of work so you can still claim “you were helping,” people will know you really weren’t.
Things like this get remembered down the road. When you need a favor, people will bring up that time you screwed them that one time on a working party.
Dental is always a good excuse, but they give you appointment slips and your NCOs know this.
3. Your excuse may not be that valid
There’s a huge difference between having a reason and having an excuse. A reason can be backed up with physical proof; an excuse is made up on the spot. If you’re going to try to use an excuse, at least have something to back it up.
If you’re going to try to pretend that you’re going to be “at dental” at 1600 right before a four-day weekend, you’d do well to actually look up when the dental office is open that day. You’ll look like a complete idiot when someone looks at the printed-out schedule and points out that it closed at 1300.
Then again, being commo opens up a whole new world of skating. You’re not often lying when you say you have “S-6 business to handle.”
(U.S. Marine Corps)
4. You shouldn’t ever skate out of what is your job
There’s a general consensus that police calls, cleaning connexes, and mopping the rain off the sidewalk are all menial tasks that anyone could do. But units are only assigned so many people of your specific MOS or rating. If they came to you for a task and that is literally what you told Uncle Sam you’d do, you’re going to get in trouble under the UCMJ for not doing it.
Side note: if you really want a perfect way to get out of a detail, be a master at your job. If you’re a commo guy, be the best damn commo guy the military has ever seen. There may not be any computer or radio problems right when you’d otherwise be filling sandbags, but if you’re so valuable, they won’t even risk sending you out.
You do you, man — but never blue falcon your guys.
5. If you do it too often, you’ll lose all trust
Taking it easy everyone once in a while is fine. It’s the military, sure, but everyone is human. Skate out of something once in a blue moon, no one may even notice. If you bolt for the door every time the first sergeant says, “I need three bodies,” your career could be dead in the water.
Outside of the obvious UCMJ action that could easily be dropped on you, no one in your chain of command will believe you’re ready for the next rank. Your name will never be brought up when a school slot comes up. Even your peers will give you the cold shoulder — after all, it’s them you’re really f*cking, not the chain of command.
Emails- They are the bane of our existence, but they are how we communicate in the modern world. Each day, military leaders clean out their inboxes only to have them fill back up within hours. Unfortunately, quantity doesn’t equal quality. Too often, the purpose of the email is buried, with the sender seeming to aim for length rather than substance. Unfortunately, many of these garbled messages create misalignment in organizations, waste time, money and in some extreme cases–lives.
Why does it matter? It matters because being able to effectively communicate through writing provides leaders and staff officers with understanding and the ability to act. Additionally, when we communicate efficiently, we give the person we’re communicating with time back to focus on other things besides reading emails or multi-page SITREPs.
Eighty years ago, Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill faced a similar problem. Every day he received a large volume of typed reports in his black box from his War Cabinet. And as he pointed out in a 1940 memorandum titled BREVITY, “Nearly all of [the reports] are too long. This wastes time, while energy has to be spent in looking for the essential points.”
Fortunately for us, Sir Winston offered his staff four tips that can help us improve our communication skills today.
The aim should be reports which set out the main points in a series of short, crisp paragraphs
If a report relies on a detailed analysis of some complicated factors, or on statistics, these should be set out in an Appendix.
Often the occasion is best met by submitting not a full-dress report, but an aide-memoire consisting of headings only, which can be expanded orally if needed.
Let us have an end to such phrases as these: “It is also important to bear in mind the following considerations…..” or “Consideration should be given to the possibility of carrying into effect……” Most of these wooly phrases are mere padding, which can be left out altogether, or replaced by a single word. Let us not shrink from using the short expressive phrase, even if it is conversationalized.
Less is more. When writing emails, brevity is better. A long email can overcomplicate an issue and your main message may get lost in the process.
I’ve learned that it is best to open emails with one or two sentences that describe the purpose of your correspondence. It also helps to let them know upfront if you are telling them for awareness or if you want them to make a decision. When you do it well, you don’t need to write the letters “BLUF” because it will be inherent. If you have suspense, include it upfront. And then end your paragraph there.
So as many of us spend the next several weeks working from home, let us take a page from Churchill’s notebook.
Luke and Amy Bushatz knew they needed a big change or they weren’t going to make it. So, they packed up their life, two boys and headed west. Their next stop? Alaska.
“In 2015 we realized that to really seek mental health help and recover from this super challenging deployment that Luke went on in 2009 and 2010, where he sustained a mild traumatic brain injury, PTSD and we lost over 20 soldiers…. To do that, we had to get out of the active duty Army,” Amy explained.
While deployed in Afghanistan as an Army Ranger, Luke’s vehicle was destroyed by an improvised explosive device.
He was the only survivor.
They also knew they needed to move somewhere that would allow healing and give Luke the outside space he craved and desperately needed. “We knew when we spent time as a family camping, he felt a relief from all of those things. It was like watching someone take off a backpack… it was really a powerful transformation,” Amy said. On a whim, she suggested Alaska.
Luke researched and found a graduate program in Alaska that fit his goals. With her job at Military.com, where she is now the Executive Editor, Amy knew she could work anywhere. After selling some of their belongings and letting the Army move the rest, they filled their station wagon and hit the road. They planted their feet on Alaskan ground in June of 2016.
Although Luke eagerly dove in seamlessly, Amy shared that it took her some time to adapt. Realizing that Alaska wasn’t going to change, she knew she needed to adjust her own mindset. A competitive person by nature, she utilized that fire to challenge herself to spend time outside.
It changed her life.
(Courtesy of the Bushatz family)
When Amy realized she’d spent 20 consecutive minutes outside for over 1,000 days and it was changing her life, she felt called to share that commitment to the fresh air with others. She started a podcast, blog and co-founded the company Humans Outside, where she challenges everyone to spend 20 minutes outside a day, no matter the weather. She also snaps a picture each day of her outside time on Instagram to inspire others.
Luke also believes that being outside can have a deep positive impact. “Nature can be an escape or you can use it as a tool to refocus and reenergize so that you can then do the hard work of therapy, working on your relationship with others and yourself to be a complete person,” he explained. Luke stressed that going outside won’t solve your problems but can help put you in the headspace to tackle them effectively.
“Getting into the mountains helps him take that breath so that he can have the brain space to sort through stuff,” Amy said. She continued, “For someone who is dealing with a brain injury… Your injury does not look like an injury because you look perfectly healthy. Going outside is one of the major tools that helps us.”
“When you make a big decision to change the focus of your life, the whole paradigm of how you view your life changes. It was really back in 2015 that we made that decision and I was a mess. The decision was to either refocus my life or lose everything,” Luke shared. He continued, “That’s the thing with the outdoors, it helps me retool myself and my relationships.”
In 2017 he went to an event hosted by Remedy Alpine and it was there he found even more peace.
Remedy Alpine is a nonprofit organization that is owned and operated by veterans. Their purpose is to share their deep passion for the outdoors with their veteran community and help them navigate the healing experience that spending time outdoors can bring.
“One of my passions is going outside and taking veterans to the backcountry. I had started a master’s program with the intent of starting my own program. It just happened that God put me, Eric and Dave together. Instead of competing, we said, ‘Hey let’s do this together!” to make this specific program [Remedy Alpine] even bigger and better,” Luke shared.
Dave Joslin and Eric Collier met through the Wounded Warrior Project. They realized that they both had a deep passion for the serving veterans and also for finding healing in the solitude of the backcountry. It was there that Remedy Alpine came to life. They brought Luke on as a co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer in 2017.
(Courtesy of the Bushatz family)
“There is a big difference between solitude and isolation. Isolation is not good for your mental health and does not have good outcomes. Going to the backcountry, on the other hand, increases solitude which is linked to healing. But solitude doesn’t have to be done by yourself,” Amy explained.
Psychology Today says that solitude can in fact improve things like concentration and productivity while rebooting your brain and giving you the opportunity for self-discovery.
“You can find that solitude and find that good healing in the outdoors while overcoming physical challenges in a way that you can’t find at home trapped on your couch,” Amy said. She understands the difficulty of certain seasons impacting motivation, however. January in Alaska comes to mind for her, with its freezing temperatures and minimal daylight. But they still go outside and it makes all the difference in the world in their wellness.
Both Luke and Amy have simple advice on using the outdoors to create deep healing: Just try it. They did and they’ve never looked back.
To learn more about Humans Outside and how you can challenge yourself to spend more time outdoors, click here. Want to know more about Remedy Alpine and how they are helping veterans in Alaska? Check out their website.
It takes a different kind of individual that voluntarily chooses to put on a uniform and do the toughest jobs necessary to protect the United States. Most career assignments aren’t glamorous or exciting but they are necessary to prevent the free reign of criminals and terror. Everyone has their own reasons why they joined but service becomes about the welfare of your team and your mission.
Law enforcement and the military have separate mission statements yet run parallel in the grand scheme of things. Through experiences, foreign and domestic, each branch and department forge a bond within their units that last a life time. As much as civilians try to understand us, they’ll never fully ‘get it’ but it’s nice to share a drink a with someone who does — a kindred spirit, your cousin-in-arms.
At the start of every career of public service, an oath is sworn to protect the Constitution of the United States. Criminals and terrorists don’t care about what color your uniform is; your gender, religion, race, or creed; or if you’re behind a desk. In the eyes of the wicked, all are a threat to their ambitions of power and wealth. Veterans can also be found within their ranks.
Here’s why the NYPD is the most badass police department in the country
The War on Terror started on our soil and the first ones to respond were police and fire departments. Our rights as Americans to live free of tyranny are constantly under assault by religious radicals. Cities where our people are most free are prime targets for those who seek to destroy our way of life. Police departments train officers to prevent and respond to these threats and are not alone in the defense of the Nation.
Toward the Sounds of Chaos: Operation Moshtarak – Hearts and Minds
They have struggled to win the hearts of the people
Politics aside, there are good men and women who do the right thing day-in and day-out. Some things are easier said than done and defeating an aggressive media campaign against those in uniform is one of them. Earning the trust of the community we patrol differs in difficulty contingent on the actions of our predecessors. Both uniforms know what it’s like to have the public turn on you for something someone else did.
American Takedown: Intercepting Drug Traffickers (Season 1, Episode 1) | A&E
Traffickers will smuggle anything into the U.S. to make a profit: drugs, contraband, even people. They are a mounting problem for the Department of Defense and joint operations are necessary to secure our borders. Coast Guardsmen are usually the butt of the joke when other branches sit at the Thanksgiving table but it’s all in good fun. We know they kick ass at hunting down traffickers, hurricane relief, and rescues out at sea.
Our law enforcement shares this mission, sometimes working alongside the military to keep the U.S. safe.
“So there I was about to end my shift when suddenly…”
Both have crazy stories we can’t share with civilians
Everyone has a wild story or two that can’t be told to civilians because they won’t understand the humor in it. The kinds of stories that made you turn to your buddy and give a ‘you seeing this sh*t?’ kind of look. Rest assured, both military and police have these and they’re great to share over drink.
On Feb. 28, 2015, Staff Sgt. Sebastiana Lopez stepped out of her apartment on an early Saturday morning in Charleston, South Carolina. The humidity was low, making a good day for a motorcycle ride. As she went back into her apartment to swap her car keys for motorcycle keys, she didn’t know it was the first step toward a life-changing moment.
Lopez’s four older siblings served in the US military in different branches. She looked up to them, eventually joining the US Air Force. She served for seven years as a crew chief on C-17s. Lopez’s parents immigrated to the US illegally, and she felt that she owed her country for the new opportunities afforded to her. Joining the military was her way of saying thank you.
As Lopez was coming around a corner of the road on her motorcycle, an armadillo was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Her motorcycle and the armadillo collided causing her to crash into the curb, ejecting her from the bike and directly into a tree. She remembers bear hugging a tree and her leg kicking her in the face, breaking the motorcycle helmet visor. She fell to the ground and a plume of dust erupted. She never lost consciousness.
Lopez was dazed but immediately started thinking about how to survive. She tried to do blood sweeps, but her arms wouldn’t move. She saw that her leg was positioned at an unnatural angle and thought, “Well, that sucks. I probably need to put a tourniquet or something on that.” No matter how she looked at it, she wasn’t able to self-administer aid due to the extent of her injuries.
Her lung was punctured by a broken rib, she had several broken bones, an amputated (above the knee) right leg, lacerated liver, ruptured spleen, and many other internal and external injuries. Lopez was losing blood fast, and every breath felt like a million stab wounds, but she maintained a goal.
Sebastiana with her family after her accident. Photo courtesy of Sebastiana Lopez.
“So I kind of looked up at the sky, and I’m like, there’s nothing I can do about this except for — keep breathing,” Lopez said.
She focused on each breath, counting in her head while she held her breath to minimize the pain. Then panic crept into her mind: It was a Saturday morning, people were up partying the night before, and it’s unlikely anyone will be awake to find her. Lopez stayed calm but couldn’t help thinking that this might be the end.
“I was pretty happy with the life I had already lived — even though it was very short, 24 years old at the time,” Lopez said. She accomplished what she had always wanted to do, giving back to her country by joining the Air Force. As she settled into being okay with the fact that she was dying, a car drove past.
She said that the first thought that popped into her head was, “That’s a stupid-looking car.” Then she realized that the person driving that car might be her ticket out of there. Luckily, her motorcycle had come to a stop up the road. The bystander saw it and immediately threw his vehicle into reverse. He found Lopez lying next to the tree, and the fear on his face was evident. He panicked, and the first thing he asked her was, “Do you want me to call an ambulance?”
Side by side (right photo showing initial recovery, left showing extensive recovery) comparison showing just how much Sebastiana has recovered since her crash. Photo courtesy of Sebastiana Lopez.
The ambulance arrived, and even though Lopez couldn’t see him, she recognized the voice of one of the responders. He was an Air Force reserve pilot she had flown with during an operation in Malaysia when they were designated as a backup C-17 for the president while he toured that area of the world. Hearing a familiar voice, especially someone she knew from the military, immediately put her mind at ease. I might make it through this, she thought.
Despite the massive amount of blood loss, Lopez can recall up until the point when the hospital staff wheeled her into the OR. Her heart stopped not long after her arrival at the hospital, but they managed to get her back. She woke up a month later surrounded by her family, and she felt like she might have been in purgatory. A priest was close by and had been waiting to give Lopez her last rites in coordination with her Catholic beliefs.
“They knew telling me the news that, hey, you don’t have a leg anymore, was going to just tear me apart,” Lopez said. “To be quite honest, it didn’t. At least initially because I was just happy to wake up. It didn’t really hit me until a few months later that life was going to get pretty shitty and pretty hard, especially when I lost my hand function in both hands.”
Shortly after waking up from the coma, Lopez sustained a stroke and lost her speech. Her family added a degree of frustration when they unknowingly talked slowly and loudly to her, thinking she had lost the ability to process information as well. This was one more blow, but it didn’t shake Lopez — it was just another speed bump.
“I was like, Motherfuckers, I understand what y’all are saying — I just can’t verbalize my answer or write it even,” she said, adding that she felt trapped, much like when she was lying on the ground after her crash.
Lopez loves sports, and the driving force to compete again kept her internal fire blazing. As she completed her speech therapy and regained the ability to speak, she started to feel better about herself. Her first steps with her prosthetic leg brought even more confidence.
Even while Lopez completed speech therapy and physical rehabilitation, another battle loomed under the surface. One of the first movements she had to do was rolling from side to side, and whenever she did, the incision from her abdominal surgery would start bleeding. The hospital staff was growing concerned and asked her if she wanted to stop.
“I was like, ‘Hell no, I need to start moving!'” she said.
She recovered to an extent while staying at the Medical University of South Carolina hospital. She described it as similar to a scene out of Kill Bill when Uma Thurman’s character wills herself out of paralysis by saying, “Wiggle your big toe.”
Sebastiana competing in the Invictus Games. Photo courtesy of Sebastiana Lopez.
Lopez aggressively pursued her exercises while running a consistent temperature of 104 degrees Fahrenheit. From rolling side to side to putting on her socks by herself, she was making progress. But then she started losing energy again and didn’t feel well. Her recovery was coming along, but she lost function in her right arm. She was scheduled to be transferred to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for a higher level of physical rehabilitation.
Her new doctors ran tests and found out that Lopez was septic, which is a widespread, serious infection within the body that can have lethal consequences. She was transferred directly into the ICU.
Once recovered, Walter Reed brought on even harder rehabilitation training — and the results were even better. Lopez worked hard and rep after rep moved closer to her goal of competing again.
She spent hours every day sending signals to her hands and any other part of her body that wouldn’t readily move with her internal instructions. She eventually regained some command over the movement of her fingers.
Sebastiana Lopez Arellano powers a hand cycle during the 2016 Invictus Games in Orlando. May 9, 2016. DoD News photo by EJ Hersom, courtesy of Sebastiana Lopez.
After her incident, the Air Force enrolled Lopez in what’s called the Casualty Care Program and the Recovery Care Program. She was assigned a Recovery Care Coordinator (RCC). Lopez transferred to outpatient physical rehab, and one day while she was working on different exercises, her RCC walked up to her. She asked Lopez what she thought about doing an adaptive sports camp.
“No, I’m not ready. I’m still rehabbing my hand — I want to be able to wipe my butt first before I go compete or learn a sport,” Lopez responded. Her RCC told her a white lie: “You’re still in the US Air Force, you kind of have to.”
Lopez later found out that wasn’t the case, but she felt that the RCC knew she needed a little push. The RCC signed up Lopez, unbeknownst to her, for a beginner’s adaptive sports camp through the Air Force Wounded Warrior program.
What her RCC said was a beginners camp was actually the tryouts for the Air Force’s Wounded Warrior Games team. Lopez found out once she arrived at the “camp,” but with her no-quit spirit, she persevered and made it onto the team.
Within a year of her accident, Lopez competed in the Wounded Warrior Games and earned five gold medals for two-hand cycling races, shot put, discus, and sitting volleyball.
“The funny thing about the 2016 Warrior Games, I broke my arm the first day we got there,” she said, laughing. “So I competed the entire week with a broken arm.”
From that first Warrior Games to her most recent competition performance in the 2019 Team USA Parapan American Games, Lopez has achieved her goal of competing again — and then some. In addition to the medals from the 2016 Warrior Games, she went on to medal over 19 times in different events over the course of the next few years, and she even established a world record in discus.
Lopez has defied the physical disabilities that the armadillo caused that fateful Saturday morning in February 2015.
“I might still pursue [Team USA] in the future, between school and everything else — I’m kind of looking into starting a family soon, and I want to focus on that,” Lopez said. “I’m not saying that’s the end of the world for me. I probably will try to pursue it, but maybe 2024 for me.”
We tend to see leadership as a glamorous and desirable career destination, but the crude reality is that most leaders have pretty dismal effects on their teams and organizations. Consider that 70% of employees are not engaged at work, but it’s their boss’ main task to engage and inspire them, helping them leave aside their selfish interests to work as a collective unit with others. Instead, managers are the number one reason why people quit jobs. As the old saying goes, people join companies but quit their bosses.
As I highlight in my latest book, passive job-seeking, self-employment, and entrepreneurship rates have been on the rise even in places where macroeconomic conditions are strong and there is no shortage of career opportunities for people. For instance, in the US, there are now 6 million job seekers for 7 million job openings, but people appear to be disenchanted with the idea of traditional employment, mostly because it may require putting up with a bad boss.
To be sure, there are many competent leaders out there, but academic estimates suggest that the baseline for incompetent leadership is at least 65% (note this figure is based on analyzing mostly public or large companies), and, even more shockingly, there appears to be a strong negative correlation between the money we spend or waste on leadership-development interventions and the confidence people have in their leaders.
Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic is an international authority in psychological profiling.
An obvious question this sad state of affairs evokes is how one can work if his or her boss is incompetent. Clearly, it is always tempting to blame our manager for our unfavorable work experiences, but it may also be the case that the problem is us rather than them, with recent research indicating that all aspects of job satisfaction are influenced as much by employees’ own personalities and values as by the actual (objective) working circumstances they are in.
The way we experience our boss is no exception. Here’s a quick five-point checklist to work out what your manager’s probable level of competence might be.
1. He or she is generally liked, or at least well-regarded, by his or her direct reports
This would be consistent with the mainstream scientific view that upward feedback (feedback from those who work for the manager) is the best single measure of a manager’s performance. Conversely, how managers are seen by their own managers is mostly a measure of politics, likability, or managing “up.” If the answer is no, the probability that your boss is incompetent increases dramatically.
2. His or her team tends to achieve strong results compared with similar/competing teams (internally and externally)
Note this may happen even if the answer to question one is no, though generally speaking, both points are positively intertwined: People perform better when they like their bosses, and they like their bosses more when they perform better. Thus, if the answer is no, then your boss is probably not that competent.
3. He or she frequently provides you with constructive and critical developmental feedback to improve your performance
And does he or she do it for others in your team, too? If the answer is no, then chances are your boss is less than competent, as one of the fundamental tasks of any manager is to improve their team members’ performance by providing accurate and helpful feedback on their potential and performance.
A Ranger Assessment Course instructor (right), informs the class leader that he needs to improve his leadership skills at the Nevada Test and Training Range.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Thomas Spangler)
4. He or she knows you well and has an accurate picture of your potential, including your strengths and weaknesses
No bosses can do their jobs well unless they are fully aware of what their team members can and can’t do, which is a necessary precondition to assigning each employee to tasks and roles in which their skills and personality are best deployed. After all, talent is by and large personality in the right place. If you think your boss doesn’t know you, then he or she is less likely to be competent.
5. He or she seems truly coachable and continues to improve to the point of getting better on the job all the time
Just like your employability depends on your own ability (and willingness) to continue to develop key career skills and learn things that broaden your career potential, your boss should also be finding ways to get better. This means not just displaying the necessary humility and curiosity to learn — including from his or her own employees and customers — but also finding ways to keep their dark side or undesirable tendencies in check. In short, does your boss show self-awareness and the drive to get better, irrespective of whether that actually advances his or her own career? If the answer is no, then your boss has limited potential.
Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic is an international authority in psychological profiling, talent management, leadership development, and people analytics. He is the chief talent scientist at Manpower Group, cofounder of Deeper Signals and Metaprofiling, and professor of business psychology at both University College London and Columbia University. He has previously held academic positions at New York University and the London School of Economics and lectured at Harvard Business School, Stanford Business School, London Business School, Johns Hopkins, IMD, and INSEAD. He was also the CEO at Hogan Assessment Systems. Tomas has published nine books and over 130 scientific papers (h index 58), making him one of the most prolific social scientists of his generation.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Over the last two decades, special-operations forces have become the go-to choice for policymakers and military leaders around the world.
The successes of US and coalition special-operations units in the Global War on Terror (GWOT) and in Syria against ISIS have showcased the importance and utility of small teams of highly trained troops.
While the US and its allies have been fighting in the Middle East, the Chinese military has been paying close attention, especially to US special operations. As a result, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is increasingly investing resources in its own special-operations forces.
So with everyone gearing up for great power competition, how do Chinese special operations measure up against the US’s and what are the biggest difference between the two?
US special operators
US special-operations units can be divided into unofficial tiers.
Delta Force and SEAL Team 6 would be at the top (Tier 1), followed by the 75th Ranger Regiment, Night Stalkers, MARSOC, and SEAL and Boat Teams (Tier 2), and then the Special Forces Groups (Tier 3). Air Commandos are harder to categorize since they most often augment other units rather than deploy as teams.
It’s important to note that these tiers have more to do with mission sets and funding than with the quality of the troops.
For example, SEAL Team 6 is part of the National Mission Force (the Pentagon’s first responders, in layman’s terms) and has far more money to spend and resources to use than a “vanilla” SEAL team, but both are manned by SEALs.
Chinese special operators
Irregular warfare and special operations have been part of Chinese military culture since the time of Sun Tzu, whose writings highlighted the value of specialized individuals and units in warfare.
However, modern Chinese special operations are fairly new. The first unit, the Special Reconnaissance Group, was established in 1988. In the late 1990s, as part of PLA’s modernization, seven Special Operations Groups of between 1,000 to 2,000 men were created.
Now there is one special-operations brigade-size unit in each of the five theater commands, which are a rough equivalent of the US’s combatant commands.
The Navy’s Jiaolong (Sea Dragons) is probably the most famous Chinese special-operations unit after it successfully recaptured a ship from pirates in the Gulf of Aden and assisted the evacuation of civilians from war-torn Yemen, which became the subject of a Chinese propaganda movie.
All in all, China has between 20,000 and 40,000 special-operations troops of varying quality.
Crucially, Chinese special-operations units have more than doubled in number in the last two decades, showing that Chinese leaders are paying close attention to the high-reward, low-cost characteristics of special-operations units.
Both special but not the same
Since the early 2000s, the PLA has undergone a drastic modernization and professionalization process, transitioning from a mainly conscript force to a smaller, mostly volunteer military, though conscription remains as a policy.
The new force’s main aim is to fight short wars against regional adversaries while having a technological advantage.
Chinese special-operations units, and the PLA as a whole, have gained from that modernization and learned from the example provided by Western special-operations units over the past 60 years, but Chinese forces are still untested in combat.
On the other hand, US special-operations units have amassed an astounding level of combat experience in the last two decades. It’s not uncommon to have operators with double-digit combat deployments and hundreds of real-world operations under their belts.
Chinese special-operations units are also regionally focused and lack a centralized command like the US Special Operations Command (SOCOM). This could limit their effectiveness and hurt interoperability.
Moreover, Chinese special-operations units lack the dedicated aviation and maritime assets that American commandos have, namely the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, Special Boat Teams, SEAL Delivery Vehicle Teams, and the Air Force’s Special Operations Squadrons.
Without specialized insertion platforms, the utility of Chinese commandos is limited and their geographic scope localized. However, according to the US Army’s Foreign Military Studies Office (FMSO), the PLA is establishing aviation brigades that might resolve some of these asset shortcomings.
Additionally, there is a difference in mission sets.
Chinese special-operations units focus on direct action, special reconnaissance, and counterterrorism. Unlike US commandos, they don’t conduct unconventional warfare, foreign internal defense, counterinsurgency, hostage rescue, civil affairs, and psychological operations.
In a nutshell, in terms of mission sets, Chinese commandos are closer to World War II special-operations units than to modern US special operations. It’s not that they aren’t capable, but their scope is more limited, a reflection of the PLA’s strategic priorities.
But perhaps the biggest and most important difference is the people.
“Humans are more important than hardware,” is one of the five US special-operations “Truths.” Western special operators take pride in their independence and out-of-the-box thinking, which is encouraged if not expected by their leaders.
Units like Delta Force, the SEAL Teams, the Special Forces Groups, and allied units like the Special Air Service (SAS) excel because of their noncommissioned officers. When planning operations, it’s these NCOs who come up with the ideas and approach. Ironically, the British SAS have titled this enlisted-driven process “the Chinese Parliament.”
Conversely, elements of Chinese military culture, in particular the use of conscripts as well as differing views on unit cohesion, pose a significant barrier to small-team independence.
Allegiance to and scrutiny by the Communist Party complicates things further and adds another level of bureaucracy.
China is used to stealing and copying military technology and concepts, which is believed to be behind Beijing’s advances in fighter jets and other weapons. But when it comes to special-operations units, these cultural aspects aren’t easy to mimic.
The Gary Sinise Foundation, a non-profit that focuses on veterans, first responders, and their families, has helped send almost 2,000 people from Gold Star families to Walt Disney World near Orlando, Florida, as part of Snowball Express, a holiday season program that aims to help families of fallen service members.
Snowball Express started in 2006 and aims to create a five-day experience for the families that is fun, inspiring, and therapeutic. In 2017, Snowball Express became an official Gary Sinise Foundation program.
The program may be young, but through the tireless work of its supporters and members, it has quickly made an impact on participants. A tweet from Fallen Patriots, a non-profit that focuses on helping Gold Star family members get to college, said that participant Dale Mundell now wants to fly for American Air, the airline sponsoring the event, in order to help other family members take part in such events in the future.
I witnessed an international airport come to a complete stop today …
Airports got in on the festivities as well. The Killeen Airport, a familiar location for any service members who have activated or deployed through Fort Hood, Texas, welcomed Snowball Express participants and a man in a Santa costume met with the families.
In Nashville, other travelers stopped what they were doing and held a rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner. U.S. troops in the terminal stood at attention and saluted as the song was performed, and you can see bystanders drying their eyes in a Facebook video of the event.
Meanwhile, airport employees seem amped about the Snowball Express as well. The National Air Traffic Controllers Association sent tote bags to participants to help them get all their goods from location to location, and the controllers themselves posted photos on social media celebrating as flights took off from airfields under their control.
And around the Disney parks, other park goers and local residents have chimed in on social media as they ran into the crowds of Gold Star family members and were affected by the experience. For some, it was simply a great experience to see all the happy families, but for others, it was also a somber reminder that service members and first responders are still in harm’s way every day.
After all, some participants are as young as 2 or 3 years old, as Snowball Express participant Ramonda Anderson pointed out in a tweet.
If you’re interested in supporting the Gary Sinise Foundation, which also builds adaptive homes for disabled veterans, hosts free theater nights for veterans, and helps pay for training and equipment for first responders, they are always accepting donations on their website and are part of the Combined Federal Campaign. Use CFC number 27963.