Deployments suck for everyone in the family. There are countless resources out there to help military dependents, but not too many troops know what to do with their beloved pets. Our pets are just a much a part of our family as anyone else and deployments can be just as rough on them as they are on people.
The hardest part is that there’s no way to sit down with your pet and explain to them that you’re going away. One day you’re giving them plenty of love and the next you’re gone for a while.
If you have a pet and are about to deploy, there are several things you need to do to make sure they’re given the best care until you can come home to make one of those adorable reunion videos.
I’m not crying. Just someone cutting onions, I swear.
The best thing you can do is to keep their routine as unchanged as possible. Keep them with people you know will love them as much as you and, if you can, keep them in the same place that they’re used to. In their furry minds, they don’t really grasp the concept of time so it’s just like you’re taking a really long time coming home.
(Meme via Pop Smoke)
Not everyone you know is willing to take in your buddy at a moment’s notice. Thankfully, there are many great organizations that can assist you if you can’t find boarding for your pet. Dogs on Deployment and Guardian Angels for Soldier’s Pet are two fantastic organizations that will foster your pets with loving homes.
Both groups provide free boarding for your pet until you come home. They work by connecting troops with boarders in their area who will give them plenty of love.
(By the way, if you’re just reading this because you love animals, these pets need foster homes and they’d love to let you help.)
(photo by Senior Airman Keenan Berry)
While you’re deployed, you can still send your pet some love. They won’t recognize a chew toy you ordered on-line as being a gift from you but they will immediately recognize your scent if you send back home a blanket you’ve been sleeping with. Most pets are intelligent enough to recognize your face and voice over a video call, but it’s not the same.
(Photo by Sgt. Valerie Eppler)
When the time finally comes for you to reunite with your fur-baby, don’t freak out if they freak out. They’ll be jumping with joy and probably knock something over with their tail in excitement. It kind of goes without saying but you should give them the same amount of love that they’re giving you.
Technically, there are five branches of service to choose from if you’re thinking about joining the military (including the Coast Guard). There’s a high level of rivalry among branches that can spark a lot of friendly sh*t talking. As veterans, we still love to take cheap shots at one another — but it’s always in good fun.
We’ve said it time-and-time again that the military has a dark sense of humor and we flex those comedic muscles at the other branches as often as possible. Since the U.S. Navy is hands-down the most dominant force to ever patrol the high seas, sailors do things that no other branch can do: kick ass while floating in the middle of nowhere.
The Army and the Air Force can’t compete with the Navy since they have no ships. The Marines can’t conduct business without the Navy navigating them around the world. Lastly, The Coast Guard is a bunch of land-hugging puddle jumpers.
Since we managed to sh*t talk to everyone (in good fun), it’s time to nail each of them, once again, through memes making you reconsider why you didn’t join the Navy instead.
No matter how badass and powerful you might think you are, remember, the U.S. Navy is way freakin’ bigger… and they’re coming for you.
“I have no idea why I joined the Army,” said Spc. Ken Park, a soldier with the 414th Civil Affairs Battalion, based out of Southfield, Michigan. “My parents were extremely against it. I was a spoiled brat. I was fat.”
Park came from what he considered to be a privileged life. He was constantly told that he was special by his parents and his teachers. But Spc Park never really felt like that was a life for him. “Coming from that sort of privileged background, joining the Army, being told that I was the same as everyone else sort of put me in my place.”
“My recruiter even told me I couldn’t join, the first time. He said I should go to school instead, and I could join later” said Park. He was about 60 pounds overweight at the time, so he joined a gym and, through hard work and discipline, ended up losing 70 pounds. Park was, perhaps unknowingly, starting to re-program himself into the Army life even before he officially enlisted.
By being in the Army, Park said, he has learned life skills that he may not have learned otherwise. “I didn’t know how to do laundry until the first or second day of basic. Actually, my battle buddy looked at me weird. He said, ‘How do you not know how to do laundry as an 18 year old?’ I had someone do that for me my whole life” said Park. “But now I know the value of a dollar. How hard you have to work to be something. And how to do laundry,” he said with a chuckle.
Spc. Ken Parks, a soldier with the 414th Civil Affairs Battalion listens to the range safety officer issue commands targets during a qualification table at his unit’s November drill weekend at Fort Custer, Mich. on Nov. 16th, 2019.
(Photo by Sgt. Bob Yarbrough)
Park went on to say that his Army experience has only gotten better. “In AIT (Advanced Individual Training) I had a case of bronchitis, but I kept going. We had a PT test and I had to pass. “There was [harsh winter] weather like this. And I had to go on. The fast guys came back, because they knew I had bronchitis, but I had to pass. I made it and it was hard, but I don’t know that I would have made it without them.”
Spc. Park isn’t new to the U.S. Army Reserve, but he is new to the Civil Affairs Community, and the 414th, first drilling with the unit in September. He says his time in the 414th has been eye-opeing. “There aren’t many places you can go, in the Army or in normal life, where someone will see you struggling, and say ‘Hey, I know you’re tired, I got you’ and they take care of you so the mission still gets done.”
Park came to the 414th after being contacted by an Officer in the unit. “Cpt. Babcock actually reached out to me on LinkedIn,” said Park, “because I’m fluent in Korean and Japanese. Now I feel proud to be part of the unit, and I hope to live up to the expectations of the Commander and the First Sergeant.”
“Despite being told that I shouldn’t, and couldn’t, join the Army, I’m glad I did,” said Park. “It gave me a higher value, a better reason for doing what I do.”
Military family members have whispered for decades about Intimate Partner Violence in our community. We’ve heard stories about friends and neighbors. We’ve been confidants for friends who needed help. Some of us have been in an abusive relationship ourselves.
“It’s really common. We’ve had multiple cases of domestic violence just in our neighborhood this year,” said the spouse of an Air Force active duty member.
According to the latest survey data release from the Military Family Advisory Network (MFAN), 81% of military community survey respondents are aware of intimate partner violence in their neighborhoods and social circles, and that was before the COVID-19 pandemic forced people to quarantine together.
Intimate Partner Violence is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as …abuse or aggression that occurs in a close relationship. According to the CDC, an intimate partner can be a current and former spouse or dating partner, and Intimate Partner Violence includes four types of behavior: physical violence; sexual violence; stalking; and psychological aggression. This is the first year MFAN’s support programming survey, presented by Cerner Government Services, has explored the issue
The data is even more disturbing against the backdrop of the pandemic. Since the nation began quarantining to limit the spread of COVID-19, mental health experts nationwide have sounded the alarm that quarantining forces abused people to spend even more time with their abusers.
“Reporting the abuse jeopardizes the service member’s career, therefore jeopardizing the woman and her family’s livelihood. A difficult choice to make: report abuse knowing your husband will lose his job or suffer to keep food on the table? There is no easy solution. That is awful,” the spouse of a Navy active duty service member said.
Among other findings, MFAN’s data showed that those who sought assistance were more likely to:
Range in rank from E4 to E6, if they were active duty family members
Carry more debt
Be concerned with their own or a family member’s alcohol use
Rate as more lonely on the UCLA Loneliness scale
Have considered suicide in the past two years
“For years now, we have heard anecdotes from our Advisors and others in the community about Intimate Partner Violence,” said MFAN’s Executive Director Shannon Razsadin. “We felt it was critical that we collect data on this issue, so that leaders and policy makers will be able to make decisions that honor and protect the health and safety of everyone in the community.”
MFAN recommends that policy makers look for ways to increase communication with military and veteran families about online and virtual resources available; encourage connections with others, especially virtually, as isolation is a tactic of abusers; and reduce barriers for military spouses to seek financial or health care benefits if they or their children are experiencing abuse.
“I’m not by any means a violent person, but I have wanted to strike [my wife] after I came back from tours because I was so angry at the world,” a National Guard and Reserve member said. “I never did, but it was really disturbing how much I wanted to. That’s what made me start counseling.”
Straddling the border of Nepal and China stands the world’s highest mountain: Mount Everest. To the locals, it’s known as the “Goddess of the Sky,” and to intrepid adventurers, reaching its summit has long been seen as the ultimate test of human endurance and ability. Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were the first to make it to the top on May 29th, 1953, but in recent years, the “challenge” of climbing the mountain has lost its illustrious status.
Though it’s still a dangerous trek — seventeen people died in April, 2015, due to avalanches caused by an earthquake — thousands of people have reached the top. It’s even possible to take guided tours of the mountain and essentially buy your way to the summit.
But there’s no red carpet rolled out to “the top of the world.” You still have to earn it. Reaching the peak takes effort and you still need to climb, on foot, to the summit. Even with all the money in the world, there is no way in Hell any pilot would dare to fly you to the top just for a quick selfie.
That’s because it’s almost physically impossible for it to happen — save for one French test pilot under extremely calculated and ideal conditions.
There are several factors that limit a pilot’s ability to fly to the top of Mount Everest. For much of the year, the mountain is covered in hurricane-force winds and sub-freezing temperatures. The frequent snowstorms that hit the mountain are strong enough to launch an icicle so fast that it’ll shred metal.
The fiere weather only lets up for a few weeks per year, and that’s when the tourists flock to summit the mountain. Even when the conditions are more ideal, they’re far from perfect. During the “calm season,” the winds still reach blustery speeds of up to 75 mph, strong enough to classify as hurricane category 1 winds.
Even when conditions are perfect enough for flight from nearby Lukla, Nepal, to the summit, a single landing is enough to spark an avalanche that would kill everyone attempting the climb.
But if the weather doesn’t ground the aircraft, physics will. The further up Mount Everest you go, the less dense the air becomes. It’s possible for the human body to acclimate to the 50-percent drop in oxygen levels near Base Camp, Nepal, but not even the most skilled Sherpa can get used to the “Death Zone” — 8,000 meters above sea level where the oxygen levels are at 33 percent of those at sea level. And the summit is nearly 1,000 meters beyond that.
That drop in oxygen doesn’t just affect humans — if affects everything up there. The air is just too thin for most helicopters to generate enough lift to remain airborne. If the helicopter is equipped to reach that height, making the landing is still an incredibly delicate affair.
This all brings us to Didier Delsalle, the French test helicopter pilot who managed to pull this unbelievable stunt off on May 14th, 2005. After years of planning and weeks of waiting for the perfect conditions, he pulled off the impossible and landed on the summit.
To make weight, the helicopter needed to be stripped down — except for the extra-powerful engine. Then, once they were sure everyone was clear of the mountain, they made the attempt. It wasn’t pretty, but it counts. Check out the video below.
Dog Tag Bakery is justly renowned for its butterscotch blondies and buttery cinnamon buns. But the Washington, D.C., shop has a mission that goes far beyond turning out stellar baked goods. In partnership with nearby Georgetown University, Dog Tag runs a nonprofit fellowship program that operates as a living business school for post-9/11 veterans with service-connected disabilities, as well as for military spouses and caregivers.
Twice a year, between 14 and 16 fellows go through the five-month program, which combines academics and hands-on small business experience. Fellows take seven courses that cover business basics, including finance, strategy, marketing, management and communications. Those courses are taught by Georgetown faculty in a classroom above the bakery. Meanwhile, on the floor of the bakery itself, fellows learn a wide range of practical skills, like how to decorate a cake, interact with customers, and manage a budget. For their capstone project, fellows are required to create and present a fully-vetted business plan, complete with operations, marketing, logistics, and financial projections, to help solidify the value of an entrepreneurial mindset.
Wellness is a cornerstone of the fellowships with daily workshops in mindfulness, journaling, nutrition and yoga. And, to relieve financial barriers to participating in the program, fellows receive a $1,400 monthly stipend, as well as a laptop for use during the program.
Claire Witko. Photo by Richie Downs Photography.
Claire Witko, Dog Tag’s director of programs, says the fellowship is designed to cultivate an entrepreneurial mindset. “That includes,” she says, “understanding that failure is an unavoidable part of forging a successful path forward, and that learning how to rebound and find creative solutions to challenges are essential skills.”
The aim of the program, however, isn’t to groom the next Elon Musk or Oprah Winfrey.
“We don’t define success,” Witko said. “Our fellows discover their own definition of success. It’s about finding purpose and voice.”
Fellows who complete the program earn a Certificate of Business Administration from Georgetown. Many find themselves transformed.
“Alumni often emerge completely different people,” Witko said. “They have new confidence; they know what they want and how to pursue it.”
That was certainly the case for Adela Wilson, a 2019 Dog Tag fellow. The wife of an Air Force veteran who was medically retired in 2007, the 51-year-old mother of three sons had resettled her family in several cities in the Middle East and Europe during her husband’s 15-year military career. In each new city, she’d forged a career for herself in sales. But back home in Virginia, acting as her husband’s full-time caretaker, she felt she’d lost her sense of identity and, she says, her “edge.”
“Getting accepted into the fellowship was lifechanging,” Wilson said. “The program is like drinking through a firehose. It’s so intense and fast-paced.”
She loved every minute of it, from the improv workshops and a visit to Capitol Hill where the Dog Tag fellows had meetings with Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Senator Mark Warner of Indiana, to “living labs” where executives from corporations like Boeing, Nestle and Capital One mentor fellows on soft skills like delivering an elevator pitch or understanding your personality style.
Today, Wilson works as a career transitions specialist at the Wounded Warrior Project, helping veterans overcome barriers to employment.
“I feel like I’m really making a difference and I absolutely love my job,” she said.
A favorite word at Dog Tag, Wilson says, is “pivot”— fellows are encouraged to be flexible and open to new goals as their circumstances and passions change. When COVID-19 struck, the organization had to do some pivoting of its own, taking the fellowship classes and workshops virtual.
“We’ve learned how to bring the experience of being in the kitchen to Zoom,” Witko said. “The fall fellowship will be completely virtual and we’re beginning to explore hybrid models — a combination of in-person and remote elements — for the post-COVID world.”
Meanwhile, the bakery itself has reopened for business. Featured on the menu is a specialty created by some recent fellows as their capstone project: freshly baked bread pudding topped with homemade caramel and a drizzle of chocolate. Success, as the saying goes, is sweet.
By the numbers Since it began its fellowship program in 2014, Dog Tag Inc. has enrolled 148 Fellows across 12 cohorts, or classes. Here’s a look at who these fellows are: Age (at time of enrollment) 18-24: 3% 25-31: 24% 32-38: 24% 39-45: 22% 46-52: 22% 53 and older: 5% Gender Male: 41% Female: 59%
Alvin “Bob” River was born on December 25, 1920. A Missouri native, he once traveled with his family by wagon at 12 years old when they moved from one town to the next. His middle name is actually Edward, but he got the nickname “Bob” from a memorable childhood indiscretion. In the first grade, a girl sitting in the desk directly in front of him had long hair and one of her curls kept ending up on his desk. Tired of it, as only a six year old could be, he cut it off. Thoroughly punished and forced to apologize profusely, the deed was done and the nickname stuck. He would be “Bob” for the rest of his life.
His family made their living farming, something his oldest brother took on when he was old enough. World War II had other plans for Bob – he was drafted into the Army in 1944. Deployed to Frankfurt, Germany – he was responsible for the upkeep of the motorpool. “They kept all of the jeeps going for all of the generals,” Betty shared. He spent two years overseas, seeing and experiencing things he rarely discussed with his family. He returned back to Missouri in 1946 and began building a life after war.
Bob found himself at a basketball game fundraiser for Polio not long after getting home. Unbeknownst to him, his future wife was there too. “He was standing by the door as I was leaving the game and my sister ran back to ask him if he’d be my date to the dance we were going to. He said yes,” Betty said with a smile in her voice. Soon after that dance, they began dating in earnest. Betty shared that they loved to go to the local skating rink together. They were eventually married. Bob and Betty have now been married for 66 years.
A good natured man, Betty shared that he was always kind to everyone. He lived his life by the creed of “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all”. They had two children together and now boast two grandchildren, 3 great grandchildren – with one more on the way. Betty said that they always “ran around” with a younger crowd, staying busy and never letting their age stop them from adventure. When Bob turned 99, he began to slow down and forget some things.
Dementia started a decline that eventually led to “sundowners syndrome,” a pattern of confusion, agitation, paranoia and fear. In April of 2020 Betty went with Bob to their daughter’s home for help but after two weeks and a bad fall, they knew it was time for outside assistance. Bob was taken to the Harry S Truman Memorial Veterans Hospital in Columbia, Missouri. Doctors there told Betty what she knew, he could no longer remain at home for care. Although devastated, the family recognized that it was the best thing for him.
As COVID-19 continued to create havoc throughout the world, the VA home closed its doors to protect its residents. But Bob wasn’t alone, for the staff there immediately fell in love with him just like everyone else. The maintenance staff in particular loved him dearly, adopting him as their own. Although he was initially going to transfer to a different hospital to be closer to family, the VA home begged to “keep” him. Seeing how adored he was and how happily settled he was becoming, the family made the choice to keep him where he was.
When the first COVID-19 vaccine was approved, Bob was the first resident to receive it.
On Christmas Day, Bob will turn 100 years old. The family is giddy with excitement because they’ve been granted approval to come on his birthday to sing to him and be together for the first time since the pandemic started. With restrictions on socializing still in place, there isn’t much he can do to stay busy. It is their hope that they can shower Bob with birthday cards and letters, to show him how much he is loved.
It will also show him that he hasn’t been forgotten.
Bob is one of the last of his generation of World War II veterans. Their stories of courage and sacrifice will soon be gone and lost forever. Take this holiday season to remember them and truly recognize what they did for America. A true “thank you” for their service lies not in words, but in action and how you live your life. Do it in a way that honors them and all veterans, every single day.
To mail Bob a letter or card for his 100th birthday, send it to the address below:
Veteran U.S. Marine Corps combat cameraman Scotty Bob loves to jump out of perfectly safe aircraft. He got his first taste of what would become his career at age 19 when his attachment to Marine Force Recon sent him to U.S. Army Airborne School at Fort Benning, Georgia.
“That’s kind of where I bit the bug,” Bob told Coffee or Die. He now lives in Southern California as a professional base jumper working with Squirrel Wingsuits. He also works with Kavu, maker of the well-known Rope Bag.
Back in the Marines, Bob didn’t get to jump very often. He deployed to Iraq twice, in 2007 and 2009, and spent most of his time with line infantry units. “Once we get deployed, we’re kind of property of the MEF (Marine Expeditionary Force),” he said. “I think I was the only combat cameraman with jump wings.”
For anyone unfamiliar with the role of a combat cameraman, Scotty said that “if you’ve ever seen the movie ‘Full Metal Jacket,’ it’s the exact same job. The guy who wrote the manuscript of that movie for Stanley Kubrick, he was my MOS (military occupational specialty).”
After his five-year stint in the Marines, Bob left in 2010 and soon realized that college was “not really my thing.” So he began his skydiving and base-jumping career in Virginia.
(Photo courtesy of Scotty Bob/Facebook.)
As with many career paths, Bob said, one starts in the skydiving industry with “entry-level jobs, and you tend to work your way up the ranks. And for me it started as a parachute packer.” He worked long hours and did not get to jump very often, but his foot was in the door.
After spending a while working in Virginia, where he grew up, Bob decided to head west. He said that once “you spend a couple years skydiving on the East Coast, you realize you need to move West. In California, we can jump year round.”
By 2013, he had earned tandem instructor certification, and Bob was well on his way to living his dream.
He has jumped everywhere from Virginia to Alaska, where he jumped out of de Havilland Beavers. He described the Alaskan experience as “just flying down mountains.” He even jumped Pioneer Peak, one of the most iconic mountains of the western Chugach range, not far from Anchorage.
(Photo courtesy of Scotty Bob/Facebook.)
In his day-to-day life, Bob tests new wingsuits for Squirrel Wingsuits and coaches people in wingsuiting.
“I do that basically seven days a week,” he said, adding that “the base-jumping community especially has a massive veteran community, it’s pretty scary. When we have events, at least in the States, you can throw a rock and hit three Marines.”
As for the future, Bob says that he is happy where he is. “I’ve reached the holy grail of jobs,” he said. “It’s pretty awesome.”
As the number of states impacted by the coronavirus pandemic increased, so did the number of soldiers activated to respond. Mobilizing personnel from the Army Reserve and Army National Guard meant civilian companies would have a deficit in its workforce, a known commitment attached to employers who hire talent from the reserve component. It can also lead to economic hardship for those who take a pay cut to fulfill military obligations — except for employees working in an environment with pro-military employment policies.
PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), as an example, employs over 1,500 veterans — with several activated as part of the COVID-19 response. In addition to maintaining the jobs of those called to active duty, PwC compensates them with 100% of their pay. Within its ranks, soldiers received notification they would be serving in various capacities, such as:
Providing epidemiological intelligence
Deploying medical resources
Helping stage combat hospitals in communities around the country
Capt. Paul Spranger, a PwC Senior Associate, is a staff officer with the Indiana Army National Guard. At the onset of the COVID-19 response, he said several of his colleagues were called to service in one capacity or another, leading different project teams to adjust responsibilities to accommodate them getting pulled in. At the time, Spranger was preparing epidemiological threat intelligence reports to advise his team on secondary and tertiary effects on disease transmission models.
He heard portions of his unit were being activated, then got the call himself for an operations officer-in-charge role for a patient transport task force.
“We have a number of areas within the state of Indiana that have limited capacity in order to transport patients from one care facility to another and as a consequence, essentially they needed additional help to move some of those patients in the event that the hospital system couldn’t facilitate the additional surge in patients,” Spranger said. “So, what I’m doing day to day is planning to prepare all of our different elements and all the different districts in the state of Indiana that have this need, and pre-positioning ambulance assets around the state. And then managing their movements and ensuring those areas have the coverage they need.”
He says soldiers are “ready to respond” to this sort of event.
“I’ve always been in a staff officer type role, and so as a consequence this is very similar — one of the essential elements of an operation that really never really changes. It’s just a lot of administrative, logistical, lots of planning and things like that, so it’s just a matter of putting the right talent — just like the civilian sector — in the right places to do the job that they know how to do,” he said.
PwC launched a Veteran’s Affinity Network in 2008 to support veterans in the workplace. The group, which is led by Lt. Col. Tim Stoner, has grown to more than 1,000 active members and 20 chapters. He said having such a resource makes transition easier on employees leaving active duty or returning to a civilian job after a combat deployment.
Stoner, a PwC Partner, is the commander of the 55th Medical Detachment in Indianapolis, Indiana. Through his civilian position at PwC he works with clients in cybersecurity, but it is aligned to the healthcare vertical. He sees crossover between his careers in and out of uniform.
“Both of those things have strong synergies with the military. From a cybersecurity perspective, everything we do in the military really revolves from a security perspective from three pillars: information security, operational security, and physical security. So, I think a lot of our military members have that in their DNA just based on service to the country and I think that plays well on my civilian career,” Stoner said.
Throughout the COVID-19 response, he had a dual–capacity role with evening calls and weekend duty to prepare the unit he commands for stateside support. He mobilized three teams to three different hot spots to stage Combat Support Hospitals on the east and west coasts. Logistically, he said, this mobilization “has been very easy” because FEMA had the lead on the national response.
Stoner has served in the Army for 32 years across all components, and says this pandemic is unlike anything he has seen.
“It’s unique. I’ve been called up and served many times — been overseas, been mobilized, been deployed. It’s usually with something that’s maybe known or seen, or is traumatic in result — that’s maybe more visible or palpable, if that makes sense,” he said. “We (the military) are great at emergency medicine and trauma medicine, and things like that, but this is obviously a different type of threat where it’s unlike anything I’ve done. It’s less traumatic and dramatic than maybe some of my combat tours, but this is equally as critical and life-taking, as we all know.”
Stoner adds the support from PwC has been “tremendous,” at every step from local levels up the chain to the CEO.
“We have a very supportive military lead policy as well as great things that support our folks, from flexible work arrangements, certainly to child care, emergency support and elder care support for families in need. Mental health resources and capabilities. I’ve never been in a consultancy that has this level of support for their people.”
Every Monday morning in the United States Army, companies gather around their battalion motor pool to conduct maintenance on their vehicles. On paper, the NCOs have the drivers of each and every vehicle perform a PMCS, or preventive maintenance checks and services, to find any deficiencies in their Humvee or LMTV. In reality, the lower-enlisted often just pop open the hood, check to see if it has windshield-wiper fluid, and sit inside to “test” the air conditioning.
Not to rat anyone out or anything — because basically everyone with the rank of specialist does it — but there’s a legitimate reason the chain of command keeps it on the schedule each week, and it’s not to kill time until the gut truck arrives.
It’s then on the mechanics to handle the serious problems. And trust me, mechanics are rarely sitting on their asses waiting for new vehicles to fix. They’ve got a lot of actual issues to worry about.
The biggest reason why the troops need to conduct a PMCS is to help the mechanics in the unit determine which vehicles need repairs. A platoon of mechanics can’t honestly be expected to monitor and address each and every fault across a 200-plus vehicle motor pool. Sharing the responsibility among all troops in the battalion means that more attention can be given to the problems that need them.
If there is a deficiency found within a vehicle, then it can be brought to the mechanics. If it’s something simple, like low fluid levels, the mechanics can just give the troops the tools they need to handle the minor things.
If it’s leaking, well, at least let the mechanic know before you make a made dash for the gut truck.
(Meme via Vet Humor)
Say a vehicle does eventually break down (which it will — thank the lowest bidder), the mechanics are the ones taking the ass-chewing. Sure, whoever was assigned that vehicle may catch a little crap, but the the mechanic is also taking their lashing — all because someone else skimmed through the checklist and said it was “fine.” So, if you don’t want to blue falcon your fellow soldier, do your part.
Having a vehicle deadline is terrible — but having a vehicle break down in the middle of the road is much worse. If you want to be certain that the vehicle is operational, you should probably give it a test drive around the motor pool to check the engine and brakes. If you can’t take it out for a spin, there are a number of major issues that you can see just by opening the hood and kicking the tires.
Even if you’re strongly opposed to putting in extra effort, the two costliest defects can be found just by looking around the vehicle. If you’re going to sham, at least check to see if there are any fluids leaking or if the tires are filled.
Cynthia Cline was deployed to the Middle East when she started doing research on getting out of the military.
“I was looking for some encouragement from women who had separated and what they were doing now,” she said.
That’s when she stumbled on a blog by a former airman who had transitioned out of the military to become a stay-at-home mom and eventually started writing — just the path Cline was considering for herself.
“I spent probably hours on her website reading her stuff,” she said. “It very much felt like here’s this person who’s a few years ahead of me.”
That’s exactly the kind of resource Amanda Huffman is trying to provide. A former captain in the Air Force who separated in 2013 after giving birth to her first son, Huffman started the blog Airman to Mom that helped Cline prepare for her own transition in June.
Huffman, 36, had a difficult transition out of the military. Prior to becoming a stay-at-home mom with a new baby, she’d spent six years as a civil engineer in the Air Force, which included a deployment to Afghanistan. While there, she worked on a provincial reconstruction team tasked with building bridges, wells, schools, and other projects to win over the hearts of the Afghan people.
She earned a Bronze Star, as well as the Air Force Combat Action Medal and Army Combat Action Badge for her service.
“I really struggled with my identity after I left the Air Force, and motherhood was not what I thought,” she said.
“At the time I really felt like he wasn’t sleeping through the night — failure. He wasn’t walking fast enough? Failure,” Huffman said. “I had this pressure on myself to force my son to do whatever the [baby] book said, and if he didn’t, then it was like I was a failure.”
Huffman, now a homeschool- and work-from-home mom of two boys and a military spouse, started blogging in 2014 as a way to process what she was experiencing.
“Writing was something where I wasn’t a failure because people read it and they responded and were like, ‘Oh this resonates,’” she said. “It was the start of finding myself, but it was more like something I couldn’t see as a big failure over my life.”
Though her blog had a nod to her military experience in its title, Huffman initially shied away from divulging too much of her military story.
“I was anti-veteran stuff, which is actually really common for veterans, especially female veterans,” she said. “The stereotype of the veteran community that I had in my mind was like the [Veterans of Foreign Wars], going to a bar with a bunch of old guys and having to be like, ‘Yeah, I am a veteran. I deployed.’ And so, I was like, ‘I already was in the military. I had to prove myself just because of my gender. I don’t want to have to go and be part of a community and have to prove myself.’”
Huffman said at the time, it made more sense to get involved in the Christian and mom blogging communities because she already knew she would be welcome for who she was.
“I didn’t have to prove like yes, I do deserve to stand here because I am a veteran. I think that was a lot of it,” she said.
But Kristen Smith, Huffman’s blogging mentor and a fellow military spouse, noticed Huffman wasn’t fully tapping into her story and encouraged her to step out of her comfort zone.
“She was trying to narrow in on this one piece of who she was, which was being a mom and how everything else shaded it” — but Huffman wasn’t just a mom who happened to be a veteran, Smith said.
Huffman took the advice and started writing more about her military experiences. Website traffic soon showed there was an audience for it.
She then published a downloadable resource, “Girl’s Guide to the Military,” on her website, which has drawn readers from all over the world, including women serving in foreign militaries, and is the inspiration for Huffman’s upcoming YouTube channel of the same name that she plans to launch in January.
Huffman also started asking readers to submit their own military stories, which she published in a series on her website that she later made into a book.
“I did an interview-style 31-day series on deployment, and what I was expecting was that it was going to be a bunch of men who deployed sharing like their war stories of being deployed, but instead it was mainly all women and it was a realization that I’m not the only woman veteran who has a story to tell,” she said. “I thought my story was pretty unique because I deployed with the Army — blah blah blah — but all these women had these amazing stories, and I had no idea what women were doing, and I was like, I don’t care about deployments anymore. I just want to hear women’s stories.”
In 2018, she planned to do another series focusing solely on women veterans’ stories, but with a cross-country permanent change of station move coming up for her husband, who is active-duty Air Force, Huffman’s friend suggested she look at turning the stories into a podcast instead of writing out the interviews.
So Huffman reached out to one of her fans and booked her first guest for the show: Cline.
Getting to know the ‘Women of the Military’
Huffman typically interviews one woman per episode, beginning by asking each guest why she joined the military and ending with any advice the guest would give to younger women who are thinking about joining.
The podcast has garnered 34,000 downloads, and guests have included women of all branches and ranks — from enlisted women who served four-year terms to four female generals and a former secretary of the Air Force. Some interviewees have shared stories of sexual assault or harassment in the military that they had never before told publicly.
While all stories are different, “they all resonate for different reasons,” Huffman said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a guy or a girl; the military pushes you. They break you down to build you back up, and so that part of that transition into who the military makes you and then that transition out and trying to find yourself as a civilian — there’s a lot of commonalities in that, just experience of changing you into someone and then trying to find your new path.”
The way Huffman talks about her own military experiences on the show is refreshing and somewhat uncommon among narratives of women veterans often heard in the media, said Smith, who has been following her mentee’s journey as Huffman has expanded her portfolio.
“She did some really cool shit, and she talks about her service in a way that I think we typically are accustomed to hearing men talk about it,” Smith said. “She tends not to talk about this really uncomfortable situation and the ways that being a woman sort of impacted [her]. She just talks about her service.”
Cline, who has since started a blog of her own, said Huffman’s work is “extremely encouraging” and helped prepare her for her transition out of the military and the potential struggle she might have in finding her new identity as a civilian, though it ultimately went smoothly.
“First, when you initially look at the idea of sharing women’s stories, it might not seem like a big deal for most people — and yet on the sheer fact that she shared her story and that’s what encouraged me to take the next step in my blogging world, I feel like that changed my life. Storytelling changes lives,” Cline said.
“People need to hear our stories,” Huffman said. “But also, we need to tell our stories, and when we tell our stories then another women veteran hears it and is like, ‘Oh, I’m not the only one.’”
It is a day that should always be remembered — and studied.
On Oct. 3, 1993 a large special operations force unit set out to capture a Somali warlord, Mohamed Farrah Aidid, who was causing the deaths of Somali civilians by capturing international food aid and killing international peacekeeping forces who were providing security for the food relief effort. The “routine” combat operation to capture Aidid was drastically changed when one, and then two, Black Hawk helicopters were shot down in a dense urban area of Mogadishu that was swarming with militia. The mission instantly transformed from a capture mission into a multi-pronged rescue filled with tragedy, heroism, bravery, brotherhood, and lessons for the future.
Mogadishu, Somalia on Oct. 3, 1993 is a reminder of the sacrifices of the fallen and wounded U.S. servicemen as well as the unparalleled efforts to reduce the suffering for the Somali people.
Lesson #1: The team is the most important.
As the events unfolded from the planned capture mission into multiple rescue missions, street fighting, medical evacuations, and resupply missions, the military personnel realized they were fighting for each other. A SOF mission planning tenant is that “humans are more important than hardware”. The military understands missions cannot be accomplished without personnel, and business needs to learn that employees matter most.
In business, it is amazingly easy to focus on revenue, profitability, and stock prices, but Oct. 3, 1993 clearly reminds us that it is employees that need to be an overarching focus for a successful business in periods of crisis.
Lesson #2: Stability in success is an illusion.
During the prior raids in Mogadishu, the SOF unit had used a well-rehearsed and well-executed combination of helicopter and ground convoy insertion and extraction tactics that performed well. On Oct. 3, 1993, the various militia in Mogadishu used RPGs in a ground-to-air role instead of the traditional ground-to-ground role. This change in how RPGs were used immediately put at risk the heavy reliance on helicopters when two Black Hawks were shot down using RPGs.
Businesses need to learn that any stability in their product line, pricing, and customer base can vanish overnight when the competition rapidly adapts.
Lesson #3: Building teamwork & relationships before the battle.
Prior to the battle, the SOF forces trained together and many had known each other for years. The times before adversity are the most important because it is during the times of quiet that learning occurs, relationships are built, and methods perfected. It was really all the time before the battle that prevented Oct. 3 in Mogadishu from turning into a tragedy.
Business needs to realize that during the “good” times, business needs to take a very hard look at products, implement solid employee training programs, value customers, and develop broad product and service lines to begin improving business results before the competition acts.
Lesson #4: Difficult training triumphs over adversity.
The SOF in the Battle of Mogadishu were Rangers, Special Operations Aviation, the legendary “Delta” Force, and other military units. These groups are some of the most highly-trained military forces in the world. The central point for business (that the military realizes) is that you may never fully know when you will enter your most challenging point, which is why constant, difficult training is vital to success.
Business leaders must understand that constant, challenging, up-to-date and difficult training is the only way to remain constantly prepared for challenges that you cannot fully anticipate.
Lesson #5: Success in one area does not mean success in another.
In 1993, the U.S. military was supreme in the world. It had been a central player in forcing the Soviet Union to abandon communism for democratic reforms. In the Middle East, Operation Desert Storm built a strong coalition that destroyed the regional military power, Iraq, in less than a week of conventional ground combat.
The unexpected challenge for the U.S. military in Mogadishu was that the militia forces were an exceptionally effective, and highly untraditional, military force adept at fighting in the dense, confusing urban terrain of a major city. The lesson for business is that just because you are strong in one product category or one market does not mean that you will be strong in others.
Lesson #6: Lower level leaders with initiative bring success.
Encouraging and developing leaders with initiative is one of the hallmarks of SOF. A great deal of the success that US forces experienced in Mogadishu came from lower level leaders who understood that the initial plan had to be modified, observed what needed to be done, and then took multiple successful actions to ensure that the follow on plan was successful. The lesson for business is that few product launches or new business initiatives succeed exactly according to plan.
Business needs to encourage the development of trained, bright, and focused leaders and instill them with a spirit of initiative, so they seek out problems when initial plans fail to deliver success at the end. Initiative is one of the most powerful forces in employees.
Lesson #7: Learn, reshape your operations, and prepare for the next fight.
Finally, SOF never rest in examining their mistakes and creating new methods, tactics, and equipment to ensure success in the future. The Battle of Mogadishu continues to be relentlessly studied and examined by the very people that fought the battle to improve for the future.
Oct. 3, 1993 brought about a renewed focus on urban fighting, new medical technology to halt bleeding faster, and renewed focus on fighting as a combined force of air and ground teams working together. Business needs to adopt the military process of an after-action review, or debrief, to learn how to make every operation a study for future improvement. An effective team never rests in their desire to be even greater.
The business challenges of COVID-19 continue to demonstrate that life and business are transforming in unpredictable and dynamic ways. When a business focuses on their team, expects and plans for instability, builds teamwork, trains their employees, understands the strategic relevance of prior success, builds employee initiative, and constantly learns how to be better that organization is prepared to succeed in a world of chaos and challenge.