These special dogs that serve on the front lines in warfare, search for drugs, explosives, and capture dangerous individuals are primarily Belgian Malinois, German Shepherds, Czech Shepherds, and Dutch Shepherds. These breeds are chosen for their speed, strength, and ability to perform incredible nose work for search.
They work for our Military, Private Contractors, Law Enforcement, TSA, Border Patrol, Prisons and other entities, yet wherever they work, the scope of what they do is the same and they give tirelessly of themselves.
Their service can span up to 12 years and some working dogs can have as many as four handlers in their career. When they retire, it’s a given that they are wanted by those they worked beside for so long.
When these dogs retire it can be hard for the handlers to afford the cost of transportation home for their best friend and partners. Flights from places like Afghanistan can exceed $3000 and once home there is no “retirement” fund for veterinary care. It’s all on the handler to provide.
That’s where Mission K9 Rescue comes in. Since 2013 the Houston based organization has rescued almost 1000 working dogs, reunited over 600 with former handlers, and paid out over id=”listicle-2646195386″,000,000 in veterinary care!
You can feel the joy in their work and especially in the recent reunion in San Antonio, Tx of MWD Iskra and her handler, Jake. For those that wonder, “Iskra” is the Russian word for “Spark”.
Jake met Iskra in February 2016. He said it took them a few weeks to bond, but when they did they were inseparable! They were certified in three months and then went to Explosive Detection School as a team. After training the pair traveled and worked in New York, Jerusalem, and Sicily. Soon after, the pair was deployed to Iraq where they spent the balance of their time together in Baghdad. Jake said that Iskra worked tirelessly and gave him all the love in the world.
After coming home, Jake was reassigned and had to say goodbye to his best friend. He hoped one day to be able to adopt Iskra when she retired, to continue the bond they shared. His joy was made complete when he learned that she was ready to retire and that Mission K9 Rescue would be making the reunion possible.
The reunion photos are all you need to see the love and bond that these two partners share. We owe a debt of appreciation and gratitude to working dogs and the humans they serve.
The history and role of military women throughout the years is fascinating. And with March being Women’s History Month, we decided to dive in and take a look back at the role women have played in the U.S. military from WWI to the present day.
World War I
Many people know that women were part of WWI, but did you know about the women who worked as switchboard operators? The Signal Corps Female Telephone Operators Unit had to be bilingual, speaking in both French and English to ensure orders were heard by everyone. Over 7,000 women applied, but only 450 were accepted and even though they wore Army Uniforms and were subject to Army Regulations they were not given honorable discharges. Grace Banker was one of these women. She led a team of 38 women and was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for her service.
World War II
During WWII, over 350,000 women served in the U.S. Armed Forces. And while many women worked as nurses, secretaries and telephone operators, there were several other jobs that women filled. The two most influential groups were the Women Armed Service Pilots (WASP) and Woman Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES)
Women were called up to serve as pilots during World War II to allow men to serve on the front lines overseas. While these women were promised military status, they joined before the final law was passed and, in the end, served as civilians and were not given veteran status until years later. During the time of the program, WASP flew over 60 million miles, transported every type of military aircraft, towed targets for live anti-aircraft training, simulated missions and transported cargo.
This program authorized the U.S. Navy to accept women into the Naval Reserve as commissioned officers and enlisted troops. The purpose of the legislation was to release officers and men for sea duty and replace them with women on shore establishments. The first director of the WAVES was Mildred H. McAfee. The WAVES served at 900 stations in the U.S. The WAVES peak strength was 86,291 members. Many female officers entered fields previously held by men, such as engineering and medicine. Enlisted women served in jobs from clerical to parachute riggers.
The Korean War marked a turning point for women’s advancement in the armed forces. While we typically think of Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals (MASH) from Vietnam, they actually got their start in Korea. The first one was led by Margaret (Zane) Fleming and 12 other Army nurses. This role put the nurses much closer to the front lines and direct combat than anyone had anticipated. On Oct 9, 1950, while moving from Inchon to Pusan they came under attack. They hid in a ditch and helped treat the wounded. Because they all survived the attack, they began calling themselves “The Lucky Thirteen.”
While over a third of women serving were in the medical career field, women served as administrative assistants, stenographers, translators and more. Additionally, the first female chaplains and civil engineers served in the Korean War.
Approximately 11,000 women served in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. Nearly 90 percent of these women were nurses. They were an all-volunteer force and arrived in Vietnam as early as 1956. Other women served as physicians, air traffic controllers, intelligence officers, clerks and more. Master Sergeant Barbara Jean Dulinsky was the first female Marine to serve in a combat zone in 1967. Five Navy nurses were awarded the Purple Heart after they were injured in a Viet Cong bombing of an officer’s billet in downtown Saigon on Christmas Eve 1964. They were the first female members to receive that award during the Vietnam War. Commander Elizabeth Barrett in November of 1972, became the first female naval line officer to hold command in a combat zone.
The first female Marine promoted to Sergeant Major was Bertha Peters Billeb. She was the first woman to become the Sergeant Major of female Marines. It was a billet similar in duties and responsibilities to the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps. Six women would fill this position until it was eliminated in 1977.
In Desert Storm, the role and influence of women in the military had integrated into almost every military unit. Over 40,000 women deployed in support of Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm, with 15 women killed in action and two women taken prisoner by Iraqi forces. Although women were restricted from combat, a new frontier for women was established as the lines of combat began to blur. Congress began rescinding the statutory restrictions which barred women from combat aircraft and vessels. It was a key step in shaping female service in the military today.
Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have had dramatic impacts on female military service today. The military has continued to rely on women service members as the front lines of battle have been eliminated; fighting a war that relies on Improvised Explosive Devices, and surprise attacks both on and off base. But the military has realized the value of women on the battlefield, and began creating teams that partner with military infantry units, such as Team Lioness and Provincial Reconstruction Teams, which eventually paved the way for Female Engagement Teams.
In 2016, after years of women proving their capabilities on the battlefield all jobs were opened to women. Although women have been serving on the front lines of war for decades the regulations preventing women from serving in career fields that were held historically by men were finally rescinded. Since then we have seen women sign up for and complete the rigorous training programs required to serve in some of the most elite military groups.
Women have proven their willingness to answer the nation’s call and take on new roles at each challenge. Where will they go next?
Welcome banner from the 2009 rally (Sturgis Motorcycle Rally)
Since its founding in 1938, the Sturgis Motorcycle has been held every year with the exception of the three year period between 1939 and 1941; the rally did not take place due to gas rationing in support of the war effort overseas. However, the rally returned in 1942 and has been held every year since.
Here are 5 reasons why Sturgis is nothing short of extraordinary.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 is no exception to Sturgis’ longstanding run. On June 16, the mayor of Sturgis announced that the city council had decided to move forward with the 80th Sturgis motorcycle rally. During a Facebook broadcast, he outlined that the rally will include, “modifications that provide for the health and safety of our visitors, and our residents and our town.” Ten days/nights of riding, food and music will take place in Sturgis, South Dakota from August 7-16.
A ride during the 2019 rally (Sturgis Motorcycle Rally)
Historically, attendance at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally has averaged around 500,000 people. Official attendance peaked in 2015 at 739,000 for the rally’s 75th anniversary. Billed as the largest motorcycle rally in the world, people come from all across the country to be a part of Sturgis’ famed rally. Many riders make it a family event, towing their motorcycles behind a camper and riding the last few miles into town. Others transport their rides via shipping companies and arrive by plane. In 2005, when the official attendance was 525,250 people, the rally’s director estimated that fewer than half the attendees actually rode there, a testament to just how many people came from far and wide to experience Sturgis.
Rally Headquarters features vendors, rally registration, and city info booths (Sturgis Motorcycle Rally)
With so many people descending on the small town every year, the city of Sturgis capitalizes on the rally which makes up 95 percent of its annual revenue. In 2011, the city earned nearly 0,000 from the sale of event guides and sponsorships alone. On average, the rally brings in over 0 million to the state of South Dakota annually. While the Lakota Indian tribe has protested the large amount of alcohol distributed at the rally so close to the sacred Bear Butte religious site, they have also acknowledged the importance of the revenue that the rally brings into the region and the tribes.
(Sturgis Motorcycle Rally)
The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is not just a bunch of bikers standing by their bikes in parking lots. Rather, the rally originally focused on motorcycle races and stunts. In 1961, the rally introduced the Hill Climb and Motocross races. Other forms of motorcycle entertainment included intentional board wall crashes and ramp jumps. Over the years, the rally was extended in length from a three day event to its current 10 day length. Entertainment and attractions also expanded to include vendors and live music. The first concert at the Sturgis Rally featured the legendary Jerry Lee Lewis. Other big names have followed like Lynyrd Skynyrd, Def Leppard, Montgomery Gentry, Cheap Trick, Tom Petty, Aerosmith, Bob Dylan, Ozzy Osbourne and Willie Nelson. This year, notable bands scheduled to perform include 38 Special, Quiet Riot and Night Ranger.
Panels of the memorial (Sturgis Motorcycle Rally)
5. Veteran recognition
Regularly attended by veterans, especially Vietnam Vets, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally takes great pride in recognizing the sacrifices made by the men and women of the armed forces. In 2019, the Sturgis Rally held a Military Appreciation Day presented by the VFW. Activities included a reception to honor a local veteran, entertainment and a flyover by a B-1 Lancer bomber. For 2020, the Sturgis Rally will feature the Remembering Our Fallen photographic war memorial. Highlighting service members killed during the War on Terror, Remembering Our Fallen is designed to travel and includes both military and personal photos.
Exercise and adaptive sports have been proven to build resiliency among wounded veterans. Through new purpose, unwavering support, rekindled determination, and a focus on ability and not disability, these warriors can heal. The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) reported that 13,000 people had been killed in the Ukraine conflict as of 2019. Upward of 30,000 soldiers have been badly wounded since the war began in 2014.
These injured soldiers come back with burns covering much of their bodies, extensive brain damage, and chronic phantom pains from amputations. Around half of them are also suffering from symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Once home, their new war is just beginning.
The Ukrainian government struggles to provide basic care for these veterans, with private non-profits often stepping in to pay for things like prosthetics. Seeking help for mental health illnesses, like PTSD, carries a strong stigma for Ukrainian society. Psychologists and non-profit wounded warrior programs in Ukraine have been working hard to change that.
In 2015, Col. (Dr.) Vsevolod Stebliuk introduced the first complex psychological and physical program for the rehabilitation of war veterans at Irpin Military Hospital in Ukraine. It’s there that veterans are introduced to things like exercise therapy to build resiliency. Wounded Warrior Ukraine also teaches PTSD workshops, deep breathing and exercise therapy to Ukrainian veterans.
In 2017 the Ukraine team made its debut at the Invictus Games. This was monumental for these veterans who were struggling with devastating visible and invisible wounds from war. The Invictus Games helped them by not only building a community of support, but by giving them purpose and passion through adaptive sports. The word “Invictus” is Latin for unconquered – implying that although forever changed by war, they will not be overcome.
Marsha Gonzales, a retired United States Air Force veteran and current Air Force Wounded Warrior (AFW2) Branch Chief for Warrior Care Support, is the manager of Team US for the 2020 Invictus Games. While at a meeting for the games, she met the manager for Team Ukraine, Oksana Horbach. Horbach shared with Gonzales her concern for her team, as Ukraine did not have the same access to financial resources as other countries. Gonzales decided to help.
When discussing different options of support, Gonzales remembered that AFW2 had equipment that was to be recycled. It was at this moment that AFW2 helped establish Team Ukraine’s first-ever wheelchair basketball team to compete in the 2020 Invictus Games.
Ten specialized wheelchairs were delivered to Ukraine in February, and with them came two AFW2 coaches and five sports ambassadors to not only train the Ukrainians with sport-specific knowledge, but also directly engage with local veterans. The AFW2 group visited the Ministry of Veteran’s Affairs, Ministry of Defense, and engaged with local media to share stories of resilience through adaptive sports.
According to Gonzales, many tears were shed during the visits with veterans. She shared that while visiting veterans in one local hospital, it was hard not to be overcome by their stories. American Veterans who came on the trip with AFW2 also felt an overwhelming sense of appreciation for the care and support they receive in the United States. All involved wished there was more they could do for these incredible Ukrainian veterans.
One Ukrainian veteran shared during a visit that they had just received word of increased fighting, and that some of their friends had been killed. Gonzales said it was hard to remain unemotional, knowing that not far away, more Ukrainian soldiers were dying in the conflict.
While providing wheelchairs and giving their time might not seem like much to some, to the Ukrainians it was everything. “We are giving these veterans hope for their future,” Gonzales said.
Team US co-captain, retired Air Force Tech. Sgt. Joshua Smith, was one of the ambassadors on the international trip. He made a Facebook post on Feb. 22 sharing that the visit was a humbling and profound experience for him and others taking part.
“Letting other wounded, ill, and injured service members/disabled veterans know that we can adapt, overcome, and persevere with absolute resiliency in the face of challenges, obstacles, and trials we suffer due to military service for our countries,” he wrote.
Smith said that they went into this trip with Team Ukraine appearing very unsure of why they were there to help. However, by the time AFW2 left, Ukrainian veterans were referring to them as “our Americans.”
It was no longer Team US and Team Ukraine – it was “Our Team.”
To see all of the things AFW2 is doing to support wounded warriors, click here. Also, check out Team Ukraine’s Invictus Team page.
While the annual Army-Navy Game might be one of the U.S. military’s oldest ongoing traditions, it’s an event that has not always included the Commander-In-Chief. Only ten U.S. Presidents have attended the game at one time or another, but if the nation’s chief executive decides to come, there are traditions for that office to follow when Army plays Navy.
President Trump has attended the game for nearly every year he’s been in office, including attending as President-Elect. While there is no precedent that says he has to attend the game, the very fact that he goes every year could set a new precedent, all the same, creating a tradition for future Commanders-In-Chief to follow throughout their administrations. Woodrow Wilson did something similar when he attended the game, creating a tradition that carries on to this day when the POTUS is in the house.
Although Wilson wasn’t the first American President to attend (that was, of course, the most athletic and all-around competitive President, Theodore Roosevelt), Wilson started the tradition of switching sides during the middle of the game, walking across the field at halftime in order to show no favoritism toward Army or Navy as the game continued. Presidents in attendance from Calvin Coolidge through President Trump have walked across the field ever since.
For many years following the Coolidge Administration, the President did not attend the game. Watching a raucous football game in the middle of the Great Depression and the Second World War might have sent a bad message. But once the economy turned around and the Axis was defeated, President Harry Truman returned to the game for much of his administration. But it wasn’t until President John F. Kennedy helped throw out the pregame coin toss that another Presidential tradition was born. His immediate successors did not attend, but Navy veteran Gerald Ford sure did. The next President to attend would be Bill Clinton, however. And ever since, Presidents have attended at least one Army-Navy Game during their administration.
One presidential event that didn’t catch on was when George W. Bush gave the Naval Academy Midshipmen a pregame speech and a pep talk to the Army Black Knights before the Army-Navy Game as American troops were fighting to avenge the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 – a special consideration for a wartime President.
Nothing beats the lazy Fridays of a four-day weekend – like today! Everyone probably did something patriotic for Independence Day. Whether it was seeing the fireworks with the family or getting roaring drunk in the barracks with the guys, we all did something extravagant yesterday.
And now today’s a day where nothing really happens after a big holiday. Now it’s time to just recoup and recover from the hangover by sitting on our collective asses with video games, movies, or whatever on a regular weekday… Only to do it all over again the moment your buddy calls you up or knocks on your barracks’ room door.
So here’s to sitting on our collective asses! Enjoy some memes. You earned it!
The “Don’t Rush Challenge” has brought countless fun videos to our social media feeds. Set to the song, “Don’t Rush,” by Young T & Bugsey, a subject is featured wearing an outfit and holding an object. They put the object close to the camera, and when they pull the object away, they reveal they’re wearing something different. We’ve seen doctors change from scrubs and a facemask to sweatpants and a t-shirt, still holding the mask, exhausted. We’ve seen kids go from athletic uniforms and a soccer ball, to still bouncing that ball in a bow tie and khakis. Moms with wine glasses, delivery drivers, you name it.
But if the challenge had a victor, one non-profit featuring female veterans just won the whole damn thing.
With over a million views on Facebook, the Pin-Ups for Vets’ “Don’t Rush Challenge” video has gone viral, and it’s easy to see why. Stunning women dressed as pin-ups hold a red flower, and when the flower is pulled away, you see the same woman who was moments before all dolled up, standing there — just as beautiful — in uniform.
Pin-Ups for Vets was founded in 2006 by Gina Elise. Disheartened by the number of Iraq War veterans returning from overseas in need of medical attention, coupled with the growing number of hospitalized older veterans, Elise wanted to do something to benefit both populations. She wanted to boost morale, provide meaningful opportunities for veterans to give back as well as raise money for veteran care facilities. Thus, Pin-Ups for Vets was born.
“I’d always been a big fan of World War II pin-up art,” Elise told WATM. “Pin-ups painted on the bombers was such a morale booster,” she explained. “I wanted to bring something like that to modern-day veterans.” What started as a pin-up calendar fundraiser featuring female “Ambassadors” has grown over 14 years to an incredibly successful non-profit, resulting in a 50-state hospital tour with the Ambassadors visiting over 14,000 veterans. In addition to donating calendars to these patients, Pin-Ups for Vets has donated ,000 in rehabilitation equipment.
When asked what prompted the video, Elise shared that she felt everyone could use a little digital morale boost right now. “When we go into these hospitals, the veterans are so excited to see these beautiful women. And when they learn that she also served, there is an immediate, incredible bond. We wanted to provide that to people at home right now, too. It would make more sense chronologically for us to show the women in uniform and then as pin-ups, as that’s how most of them come to our organization. They want to continue serving after their service. But we chose to show them as pin-ups first for that surprise factor that mimics what we see in the hospital. Anyone can be a pin-up, but not everyone can be a veteran. So many people have stereotypes about female veterans; the ladies are often asked if they are the wife of a veteran because when people think of the military, they think of men. We’re proud to show that women serve, too. And we like to say we make volunteering look glamorous.”
Female veterans turned pin-ups!
They certainly do. The comments on the video have been overwhelmingly positive. Mary Moczygemba Stulting said, “Oh my gosh…so lovely as pin ups…so beautiful as warriors!!! #fierce!!!” Tommy Ford said, “Thanks to all you women for keeping my family safe… y’all are all beautiful in or out of Camouflage.” Alex Correa Rodrigues commented, “Amazing! It’s truly amazing to see your commitment to America and everything that you do in and out of uniform. I’m a huge fan of all of you and keep up with the great work.”
In episode 157, we spoke with Army veteran Ursula Draper about her role in the development of an Assistive Technology (AT) program. In this week’s Benefits Breakdown, we take a deeper dive into how this program works and who is able to access it.
The AT program will sound familiar to those who know Darwin’s Theory of Adaptation. The adaptation theory — also known as survival theory, or survival of the fittest — is an organism’s ability to adapt to changes in its environment and adjust accordingly. The Assistive Technology program helps veterans to do just that.
The AT program, which began in 2008, aims to improve the lives of disabled veterans by allowing them to maintain independence by completing everyday tasks. It helps veterans with computer use and accessibility, voice activated technologies, drive control for wheelchairs, and even giving them the ability to turn lights on and off.
The grassy hill surrounding the arena is packed full of spectators and family members. The emcee calls out a dancer’s name; there’s movement in the crowd. The competitor makes it into the arena, throws out his hoops for his sequence.
Upon the dancer’s cue, the drum starts singing. Bells on his ankles sing in time with each beat of the drum and each step he makes.
He has five minutes to convey a story, using small hoops as his medium to paint each scene, as part of the 28th Annual Heard Museum World Championship Hoop Dance Contest held in Phoenix in 2018.
“The competition opens everyone’s eyes to the Native American culture,” said Timothy Clouser, the museum’s facilities director and a Navy veteran. “I find it very fascinating how each dancer puts their own artistic expression in their dance and story they are trying to convey. Not one dance is the same.”
Brian Hammill, an Army veteran of the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin and a previous World Hoop Dance champion, competed in Phoenix. He uses his dancing to help bridge the cultural gap between Native Americans and non-natives, sharing his culture everywhere he goes.
“As native people, we don’t give gifts of objects because an object goes away, but we give the gift of a song, or a dance,” Hammill said. “When you do that, if you give somebody a song, and you tell them, ‘Every time you sing this song, you tell the story,’ or ‘Every time you do this dance, you tell the story and you give it away,’ that dance will last forever. That’s how this hoop dance carries on; it’s given from one person to the next.”
Army veteran Brian Hammill of the Ho-Chunk Nation applies face paint before grand entry at the 28th Annual Heard Museum World Championship Hoop Dance Contest at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona, Feb. 10, 2018.
(Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Anita C. Newman)
The hoop dance is different than other Native American dances, such as powwow dancing. Powwows are inter-tribal celebrations of Native American culture. Tribal affiliation doesn’t matter, nor does what region someone is from. It doesn’t even matter if someone is native or non-native.
Powwow dancing consists of at least six categories. Men’s categories include the fancy dance, grass dance and traditional dance. Women’s categories are the fancy dance, jingle dress and traditional dance.
The hoop dance regalia is minimal compared to that of the powwow dances. Typically, a hoop dancer will wear a shirt, breechcloth, side drops, sheep skin, bells (or deer hooves) and moccasins. The colors and designs are specific to each person. The hoops are small and vary in size, typically depending on the height of the dancer. Sometimes they have designs on them, again, specific to each dancer.
“Traditionally, the hoops were made out of willow, depending on where the tribe was located,” Hammill said. “I make mine out of a very exotic wood called plastic.”
The hoop dance has different origin stories with a common thread that it originated in the Southwest. To some native nations, the hoop dance is a healing dance, Hammill said. A hoop would traditionally be passed over an afflicted person, then the dancer would break that hoop and never use it again.
“Basically, it was a way of taking away all that pain or sickness away,” Hammill said. “That’s not done in public. There is also a story of the children, the Taos Pueblo children. It is said that the children saw this ceremony taking place and began to emulate what they saw. Instead of telling the kids, ‘No, you can’t do this,’ the adults encouraged them. They began to sing songs for them. They took what was a prayer and made it something the kids could do. So, basically, the dance changed, it evolved.
“In the north, it tells of a warrior’s journey,” he continued. “As you see these hoops come together, they start to make formations. You’ll see the eagle, the butterfly, the warrior on the battlefield defending his family, the clouds in the sky.”
Each person, he explained, will see that dance in a different way, interpret the story differently. There are hundreds of hoop dance stories, but each one revolves around the sacred circle of life.
“The significance of the hoops is that it represents the circle of life. There’s no beginning and no ending,” Hammill said. “We are taught that each and every one of us — doesn’t matter who we are, where we come from, the color of our skin — we are all created equal in that sacred hoop.”
Another part of Hammill’s culture that he lives every day is the tradition of service.
“The way I was always taught is, as a native person, we are always here to serve the people,” he said.
U.S. Army veteran, Brian Hammill of the Ho-Chunk Nation, competes at the 28th Annual Heard Museum World Championship Hoop Dance Contest at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona on Feb. 10, 2018.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Anita C. Newman)
“We serve them by cooking and providing food for them. We teach them, or protect them. One of the greatest things I was always taught that we do, is we put ourselves in harm’s way to protect our families and our identity. It was something I’ve always wanted to do, I felt I needed to do.”
Hammill enlisted in the Army while still in high school. He went to basic training during the summer between his junior and senior years, and went on active duty after graduation.
“It’s just something that we do,” he said. “You’ll find that throughout the United States, there are a higher percentage of native veterans per capita than any other race.”
While he was stationed in South Korea, one of his first sergeants learned that he had danced while growing up, and asked Hammill to share his culture with everyone. He performed the men’s fancy dance for his fellow soldiers.
“A lot of these soldiers weren’t exposed to different cultures, so he had me do one of my first presentations there,” he said. “I called my dad in Wisconsin, and he shipped all of my dance regalia to me. I started doing presentations for the people I was stationed with, and in different areas throughout the Korean theater. That’s where I really got the passion to share the story, and I found out how important it is.”
Hammill was introduced to the hoop dance prior to his transition out of the military in 1994. Back then, he would travel about 120 miles from Fort Polk, Louisiana, to Livingston, Texas, where he performed and danced with the Alabama-Coushatta tribe.
“A good friend of mine, Gillman Abbey, basically gave me this hoop dance,” he said. “He told me the story. He told me every time I dance, to always make sure I share the story, and give the dance.”
He said the hoop dance helped him heal from his time in service. Still brand new to hoop dancing, Hammill actually competed in the World Hoop Dance Championship for the first time about six months after he got out of the military.
“I was 24, in the adult division,” he said. “I remember I was scared because this is a huge competition. Some of the dancers I’m still dancing with today pulled me aside, said to me, ‘Hey, you’re doing good. Let me show you some different moves. Let me help you.’ I’ll never forget that because that’s what really kept me coming back. Being here, feeling that hoop and how it affects people, it keeps me coming back. It took me a long time, about 15 years, until I won my first world title. I moved to the senior division and won four more. But it’s a family. It really is something we all have in common.”
Not too long ago at Thule Air Base, Greenland located in the Arctic, a change of command ceremony was taking place.
Outgoing 821st Air Base Group US Air Force Commander — Col. Mafwa Kuvibidila — passed the flag to her successor Col. Timothy J. Bos.
In her outgoing speech, Kuvibidila thanked everyone in the audience for supporting her during her command. This included members of the US Army Corps of Engineers, New York District.
These ceremonies happen every few years, but what’s been consistent at the base is the Army Corps’ presence. For over half a century, the Army Corps has performed construction for the base. Presently, it’s consolidating the base by 40% to save energy, tax-payer money and to sustain its readiness.
Kuvibidila, who managed the base for the past year, understands the importance of consolidation.
She said, “For Thule it’s a matter of looking at the best way to use the infrastructure currently on base, and what is needed to support it to maximize resources.”
Thule Air Base in Greenland.
(US Army Corps of Engineers)
Thule, Air Base Mission
Thule pronounced “Two Lee” is Latin for northernmost part of the inhabitable world. Thule Air Base is located in the northwestern corner of Greenland, in a coastal valley 700 miles north of the Arctic Circle and 950 miles south of the North Pole.
The base is the United States’ northern most military installation that has the responsibility of monitoring the skies for missiles in defense of the United States and its allies.
For over half a century, the base has been home to active-duty Air Force members who live and work in this remote Arctic environment to perform National security.
Throughout this time, the Army Corps under extreme weather conditions and less daylight hours, has helped the base fulfill its mission by constructing many structures including several dormitories, an aircraft runway and surrounding apron and taxiways, and a medical facility.
Now the Army Corps is helping once again, by consolidating and modernizing the base’s infrastructure.
In the early 1950s, the base’s main mission was to be an aircraft refueling stop. It was home to 10,000 personnel, US military troops, as well as a support staff comprised of Danish and Greenlandic national people.
During the Cold War Era, the base’s mission changed and it is now home to less personnel that are mainly performing early missile warnings and space surveillance for the United States.
The base has many buildings spread out over the entire base. Many of these buildings are still in use, but have become severely weatherworn and energy and fuel is being wasted to heat them. They are also a distance from the base’s central power plant that requires maintaining long pipes to transport heat to them.
Many of these old buildings are being demolished and new buildings are being constructed closer together to make them easier to reach and to save energy.
A contingency dorm that will provide living quarters for the over-flow of visitors at Thule Air Base, June 2019.
(US Army Corps of Engineers/JoAnne Castagna)
The US Military has been on a mission to save energy and costs. Because of this, the U.S. Air Force tapped into the expertise of the Army Corps to consolidate the base. “This includes demolishing old facilities and constructing new ones that will be situated or consolidated more centrally near the hub of the base where the airfield, hangars, dining facility, hospital and runway are located,” said Stella Marco, project manager, New York District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The Army Corps is performing this work in partnership with two Army Corps agencies that have expertise in performing construction in an Arctic environment — the Cold Regions Research Engineering Lab and the US Army Corps of Engineers Engineer Research Development Center.
Kuvibidila recalls the consolidation work that she witnessed during her command. “There were multiple projects being worked on during my time at Thule from a new dorm, to finalizing new consolidated facilities for vehicle maintenance and supplies, along with various power projects,” she said.
The main structures that are being constructed are dormitories for non-commissioned officers who are on temporary duty and contingency lodging for the overflow of visitors, scientists, re-fueling operation crews, contractors, maintenance operations specialists and temporary duty personnel.
Recently, the Army Corps completed the construction of three, multi-story high rise dormitories for non-commissioned officers. Currently, construction is ongoing on the upgrade and renovation of two additional dormitories and 636 existing dorm rooms.
Marco said that the older dorms were the “gang-latrine” types, where a person staying at Thule would be assigned an individual room that contained the amenities of a bed, television, desk and a closet, however, all showers and toilet areas were located down a hall, in one area, that would require the guest to walk down through a public hallway to use.
She said the new dorms were constructed more into suites or modular units and are more conducive to privacy and to providing proper rest, relaxation and personal well-being.
A module consists of two or four individual bedrooms that lead into a centralized living area along with a partially shared bathroom. Modules provide some degree of privacy for the officers. Additionally, each floor has a common kitchen and dining area for residents to gather in.
Also contingency lodging is also being renovated to provide living quarters for the over-flow of visitors.
This involves renovating some of the existing old fashioned, trailer-like living quarters named “flat-tops” currently occupied by Danish and Greenlandic support staff and contractors that work on the installation.
In addition to new living quarters being constructed and renovated, the aircraft runway was just reconstructed and repaved in asphalt as were the surrounding aprons and taxiways.
“The runway is the lifeline to Thule Air Base since the waterways are only passable by sealift from July to mid-September,” said Marco.
“By using lessons learned of Arctic construction, the latest knowledge of constructing in permanently frozen ground called permafrost, along with the latest construction and paving practices, has allowed the Army Corps to build the best new runway possible,” said Marco.
Thule Air Base from the top of a nearby mountain, June 2019.
(US Army Corps of Engineers/JoAnne Castagna)
Working on the runway was challenging due to the extreme weather conditions.
Paving the 10,000 foot long runway was performed in three phases — one each year — because the construction season was limited from June through mid-September. Half the runway was paved one year and the other half was paved a second year.
“Since only half the runway was available each year for pilots to use, they had to be able to land and stop their aircraft on 4,000 feet of paved area. During this time, mainly C-130 Aircraft were used because of its ability to stop in such a short span,” said Marco.
Another challenge was to lay the asphalt during the warmest temperatures possible. Asphalt cannot be paved in cold temperature because it will not adhere properly and will fail. To read more about constructing in the Arctic, please see the sidebar “Construction Challenges in the Arctic.”
Other facilities constructed to consolidate the base include a consolidated base supply and civil engineering facility to house the maintenance shops, including sheet metal, painting and carpentry, and a new vehicle maintenance equipment storage facility.
These new and renovated buildings are going to be heated with an upgraded heating system.
Thule’s central power plant provides the base’s electricity and heating. Over the last few years, the Army Corps has provided the plant new energy-efficient exhaust gas heat recovery boilers and engines.
With this new equipment, the Army Corps is creating a new steam distribution system that will provide heat to most of the base.
These new engines create substantial surplus heat. This excess heat is going to be turned into steam that will be piped — by new pipes — to other buildings on the base. When the steam reaches the other buildings, it will be converted into hot water to be used for heat.
All of this consolidation work is needed to maintain readiness on the base. Kuvibidila said it is more important than ever before to improve base readiness. She said, “The current primary focus of the base is to support space, science, and allied operations and being able to continue that support will be critical.”
A window view from one of the dormitories at Thule Air Force Base, June 2019. Mount Dundas is in the distance.
(US Army Corps of Engineers/JoAnne Castagna)
Side Bar: Construction challenges in the Arctic
Arctic construction can be challenging due to severe weather and limited daylight, which requires the use of unique building materials, techniques and fast-paced construction.
Most of northern Greenland is covered with permafrost, which is permanently frozen ground — ranging from 6 feet to 1,600 feet in depth.
This requires structures to be constructed with a special elevated Arctic foundation. If buildings are not constructed off of the ground, the heat from inside the building can melt the permafrost, making the ground unstable and causing buildings to sink.
Buildings are elevated 3 feet from the ground with the use of spread footings that go down about 10 feet deep and concrete columns that come up and support the floor system above the ground.
Construction takes place during the summer and autumn months when the temperature is a “balmy” 40 degrees Fahrenheit. In the winter, temperatures can be as low as minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit.
It is also during the summer and autumn months that there is sufficient daylight.
Because of Thule’s proximity to the North Pole, the region has 24 hours of sunlight from May through August and 24 hours of darkness from November through February.
The less cold temperatures make it possible to break up the iced shipping lanes. This allows cargo ships into port supplied with fuel and construction materials.
Building materials include concrete foundations, insulated steel and metal walls, roof panels and prefabricated parts so that the workers can perform construction rapidly.
When the winter season begins, workers begin interior construction. This work includes constructing mechanical, electrical, plumbing and fire protection systems that are designed to withstand extreme frigid sub-zero temperatures.
During the Vietnam War, it became very clear that the U.S. military needed to revise its hand-to-hand training. This was particularly apparent amongst SOF units, especially Army Special Forces, Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols (LRRPs), Navy SEALs, and Recon Marines since these units were often sent in small teams deep into enemy territory for extended periods of time.
These types of missions required not just CQB, but silent, quick killing techniques, typically with the knife, garrote, or bare hands. But, again, training remained the “flavor of the month” and it was dependent upon traditional Asian martial arts systems and trial and error lessons learned through field operations. Illustrating that, SF veteran Joe Lenhart said in the 1960s, “In SF if you were around the Hawaiians, you had the opportunity to learn some good MA.”
Lenhart’s comment is a testament to three things: First, the need to tap martial arts talents within units and amongst the ranks, even in SF. Second, the underlying ignorance of, or unfamiliarity with, established Army hand-to-hand training and programming. And third, the richness of Hawaiian martial arts culture, which was due mostly to the Japanese diaspora in the 1920s that scattered Japanese across the U.S. West Coast, Hawaii, and South America.
Jerry Powell, another SF veteran, said, “In Training Group in 1963, and subsequently in the 5th Group, any hand-to-hand training that I saw was pretty much on my own time.” Tom Marzullo, a third SF veteran, said of his time in SF Training Group in 1969, “Hand-to-hand was absent during my SF time and I was deeply disappointed.” In wartime, in all militaries, even in SOF units, training is changed and bars are raised and lowered to meet the manpower needs of the engaged units.
Historically, hand-to-hand training has been one of those things that have always been reduced or cut in order to get more troops trained faster and off to the fight. Another factor of that time was culture and how boys were raised. According to Lenhart:
“Like many or even most [boys] my age [late 60s], we grew up wrestling and boxing with towels wrapped around our fists, had rival school “meetings” every now and then, and there was the county fair that… usually escalated into a scuffle or three. Thing is, back then, when it was over, it was over, at least for a while. Maybe a broken nose, shiner, busted lip, or jammed finger or so was about as bad as it got, except for a few bruised egos. But when the city boys got involved, there would be a couple switch blades and chains produced only to be met with pitchforks and corn cutters and a ball bat or two. Those engagements did not last very long.”
The point is that back in those days, few boys entered adulthood not having been in at least a few fights. American boys in the past fought and wrestled more growing up and thus were more acclimated to and prepared, especially mentally, for hand-to-hand combat. American culture has changed in that respect.
Now it is probably the reverse: Few boys enter adulthood having been in any fights. There are, of course, exceptions. There are still rough neighborhoods and cities. But today, even country kids are more likely to do their fighting in video games than at county fairs or Friday night football games. (Parenthetically, many SF NCOs worry that the same dynamic is eroding innate land navigation skills.)
Here, Bruce Lee and his Jeet Kune Do system deserve mention. He had a major impact on U.S. and international martial arts throughout the 1960s and 1970s, and therefore on military combatives. Lee believed that martial arts had become rigid and unrealistic. He taught that real combat is unpredictable and chaotic and that the fighter or warrior must prepare for that.
Editor’s Note: This article, which was originally published in 2015, is part of a series. You can read part I here, part II here, and part III here.
Marines in the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response Africa are prepared to rescue American civilians and fellow service members in the massive continent where they operate. And they recently went on an exercise focusing on saving downed aircrews, a mission known as tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel that often requires Marines entering enemy-held territory and providing medical aid.
The mission is simple enough to understand. When an aircrew crashes to earth, the personnel could be spread out, injured, and in imminent danger of an enemy patrol or other force finding them with their pants down. So the SP-MAGTF flies in, conducts search and rescue, renders medical aid, and extracts everyone.
But that simple mission comes with a lot of complications. There’s obviously the problem of enemy forces, since they get a vote on what happens. But aircraft shoot downs and crashes are naturally chaotic events, so the personnel the Marines are looking for could easily be spread out over miles of debris-strewn ground.
And there’s always the chance, though slim, that the enemy will try to get a mole into U.S. forces by having them impersonate a crew member or passenger, so the Marines have to verify everyone’s identity while also caring for the injured, some likely catastrophically.
And extraction is no picnic either. The Marines will have to carry out the litter wounded and possibly guide the ambulatory. They’ll often have to select and prepare their own landing zone and then secure it to keep out baddies. Only when all the wounded are aboard and safe can they collapse their perimeter and withdraw.
That’s why the Marines spend so much time and energy training for this and other emergencies. On game day, there won’t be much time to prepare, and their performance will determine life and death for themselves and potentially dozens of others.
“If you make a mistake, it is better to acknowledge that one small mistake than let it snowball into something more significant.” This, according to Jason Barron, Air Force Insider Threat Hub deputy director for operations, is the key to safeguarding important information and resources.
As the Air Force’s defense against insider threats, identifying indicators of potential risk is the hub’s primary mission, but not all indicators they detect are symptoms of espionage or intentional wrongdoing. According to Barron, most indicators are unintended exposures, or the result of policy and training gaps.
“If someone is issued a speeding ticket, it does not necessarily mean they did something to indicate they are an insider threat; it all depends on the severity and quantity of unique indicators,” Barron said. “We may look for other indicators that, when put together, could mean something more substantial – even then, the team does not act individually against indicators discovered.”
Air Force Insider Threat Hub deputy director for operations Jason Barron.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Lori A. Bultman)
According to Barron, personnel in the insider threat hub identify, aggregate, analyze and refer potential risk indicators. The teams relay their findings to other agencies for review and possible action. Additionally, the hub has a lawyer on staff to ensure any referrals are in accordance with established policies and laws.
“We provide information we find to authorities within the Air Force. When we identify something on an individual within the Air Force who might be a risk, whether intentional or otherwise, we provide that information to a decision maker in higher authority who is in place to determine whether an action needs to result,” Barron said.
Hub personnel also receive threat information from other sources.
“We might have a point of contact in the field who relays risk concerns to us,” Barron said. “The team in the hub can look into a reported concern and determine whether there is enough to consider it a viable threat.”
Workplace violence is another insider threat concern for the team.
“If someone commits a security violation but is cleared of espionage, that does not mean there is not a policy issue we could address,” said J.T. Mendoza, Air Force Insider Threat Hub deputy director for strategy and integration. “While it is difficult to quantify the damage someone caused when documents or classified items are taken, an act of violence is often more damaging due to human life being involved.
When Barron and his team established the 25th Air Force Insider Threat Program in 2014, their goal was to stop technical related insider threats before they grew into major breaches for the Air Force intelligence community.
Within the program, a myriad of staff members from varying backgrounds sifted through data in an attempt to locate indicators of threats and vulnerabilities. In April 2017, Air Force officials had enough confidence in the program capabilities that it became the services interim hub until a permanent Air Force hub could be established.
“During the year we were the interim hub, we put a lot of processes into place. We built a solid foundation from internal analysis, data integration, increases in manpower and capabilities and the implementation of reporting procedures,” Barron said.
The Air Force made a decision in October 2018 to transition the organization from being the interim hub to the permanent insider threat epicenter, while the team continued to prepare for the transition and acquire more space and personnel. Significant support and coordination from local 25th Air Force and Air Staff leadership was required to achieve this milestone.
“Preparations for the transition also included establishing the policies and documentation required to run a cooperative matrix organization,” Barron said. “We more than tripled the hub staff and added coordinating representatives within each major command.”
“One of the challenges we face is finding the right people and being able to train and develop them into what we believe is the right skill set,” he said. “There is no specialty code within the Air Force or department at large for what we do; we are creating most of our procedures as we go. We are where cyber was 10 to 15 years ago.”
Another challenge for hub personnel is figuring out how to share data between multiple agencies who might help connect indicators.
“Sharing information between organizations that have different authorities or conduct different missions is difficult,” Barron said. “The root of this mission is sharing risk information, just like commanders share information on the battlefield. It is a challenge across any mission set; how do I share the right information, at the right time, at the right level to make a decision?
“What we have done is partner within our matrix organization to put people from different agencies in the same place to allow ease and speed of sharing critical information,” he said. “Having that proximity to each other really helps speed up processes. If information is not documented and shared in an appropriate manner, you are going to have a hard time piecing dots together to look at information over time and mitigating threats.”
Since its inception, the Air Force Insider Threat Program has experienced many successes, ranging from notifying organizations of security shortfalls and identifying indicators of suicide, to de-conflicting individuals’ identities in reporting. Its next milestone will be reaching full operational capability status, expected in the next 12 months according to Barron.
The Air Force Insider Threat team encourages all Airmen, military, civilian and contractor, to contact their security office or appropriate chain of command to report potential insider threat incidents, including accidental or unintentional indicators; it could resolve potential incidents before they become legitimate threats.