A pilot with Southwest Airlines flew a particularly meaningful flight on Aug. 8, 2019, when he returned his father’s remains home from Vietnam.
Southwest Capt. Bryan Knight was five years old in 1967 when he last saw his father, Col. Roy Knight. He and his family made a trip to Dallas Love Field Airport from their home in North Texas to see his father off as he left for the Vietnam War. The elder Knight, an A-1E fighter pilot with the US Air Force, was shot down a few months later.
There was a search-and-rescue attempt, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, but Knight could not be found, and the search was called off because of intense hostile fire at the time. He was declared missing and officially presumed dead in 1974.
Earlier this year, human remains were discovered near the crash site. In June 2019, those remains were confirmed to be Knight’s.
When the younger Knight learned that his father’s remains had been found, he began the process of repatriating them. They were flown to Honolulu, where they were transferred to a Southwest flight heading to Oakland, California.
From there, Knight successfully coordinated his schedule with the airline to make sure that he could be the one to fly his father home. He was assigned as the pilot in charge of flight WN 1220, from Oakland to Love Field in Dallas.
An honor guard from the Air Force met the plane at Love Field along with Southwest crew members, who took a moment to pay their respects. The plane was also met with a water-cannon salute by the airport’s fire department after it landed.
“Our Southwest Airlines family is honored to support his long-hoped homecoming and join in tribute to Col. Knight,” the airline said in a statement, “as well as every other military hero who has paid the ultimate sacrifice while serving in the armed forces.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Kids do the strangest things. Like starting a collection that ends up being a lifelong passion that turns into the largest military museum in the country. Just ask Jim Osbourne, an Indiana resident, and lifelong military memorabilia collector.
Normally, a military museum’s collection has a variety of sources, but the Indiana Military Museum in Vincennes, Indiana has a different story. All of its artifacts come from Jim’s personal collection. Osbourne has been passionately collecting military items since the ripe old age of seven. His extensive personal collection might be the largest that exists. Jim estimates his museum contains between 100,000 and 200,000 pieces!
One piece soon grew into many
Seven-year-old Osbourne’s first military artifact came as a gift from his father: a Civil War musket. Shortly after, he saw his neighbor, a World War II veteran, taking some of his WWII memorabilia to the trash. Jim saw his chance and asked to have them. Of course, the old Soldier said yes. After all, what was he going to do with a bunch of unit awards and coins?
And so began Osbourne’s Military collection. Because this all took place right after World War II, it wasn’t hard for him to find other items to keep adding to his collection base. Veterans were readily giving their stuff away. One of Osbourne’s personal favorites is President Eisenhower’s full-dress uniform from when he served in World War II.
Who would have thought Indiana was hiding all this?
Other amazing items from the collection at the Indiana Military Museum are even older. For instance, there is a handmade coverlet knitted by Elizabeth Custer, General Custer’s wife, for a friend of the family and fellow veteran Major Peter Boehm. Boehm rode alongside Custer in the Civil War, and his Medal of Honor is on display at the museum.
And the Custer-related memorabilia doesn’t end there. Items of Private Jacob Adams, a survivor of the Battle of Little Bighorn (or Custer’s Last Stand), are also showcased at the museum. Both the grandson of Boehm and Adams himself lived in Vincennes, thus explaining how those items reached Osbourne.
Even more notable artifacts at the Indiana Military Museum include some larger items which you wouldn’t be able to miss even if you tried: a JEEP and a half-track from World War II, tanks, aircraft, and even a Cold War submarine.
This military museum will impress anybody
Not only does the Indiana Military Museum house and preserve one of the most comprehensive collections of military artifacts in the country, its exhibits are not too shabby either. A prime example is a display made to look like a life-sized, bombed-out Normandy church. You’d be hard-pressed not to be impressed by that.
Providing these authentic touches to the museum help to tell the story of US Military history. That way, visitors will be more inclined to learn and appreciate the significance of the events that occurred. Thanks to Osbourne’s dedication, the Indiana Military Museum is an absolute must for any and all history and Military buffs.
If you have ever run into a situation in which you asked yourself, “What rule? How could someone think that was a good idea? Why was I not told?” you can now offer your comments for an upcoming rule.
You may have experienced distance learning during your military service or know someone who has. As such, you can provide valuable insight into a proposed rule, Distance Education and Innovation, which will likely affect service members’ online schooling worldwide.
The U.S. Department of Education, led by Secretary Betsy DeVos, has published a proposed set of rules that will significantly affect distance learning for service members and their families enrolled in post-secondary educational programs. The public comment period for your valuable insight closes May 4, 2020, at 11:59 PM ET. If, after reading, you feel you would like to share your thoughts, you can do so here. Following the comment period, the Department will publish a final regulation before November 1, 2020.
In its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Distance Education and Innovation, the Department has proffered many changes to current educational policies from how universities define their curricula to how regular and substantive interaction between students and instructors is defined. Most importantly, educational institutions with proven track records will benefit from a streamlined approval from the Secretary for the first direct assessment program offered by the school.
What this means for service members
In the coming months, service members will likely see a rapid expansion of new online schools and online programs — also, advertisements for newly G.I. Bill-approved schools will appear on social media platforms everywhere. Also, a more comprehensive array of applications will be made accessible to members of the military and veterans. This is excellent news for members of the military bouncing from state to state and country to country, where some traditional universities’ programs cannot follow due to their accreditors’ archaic and arguably avaricious policies.
For example, in response to one of its student’s military-related mobilization, a servicemember’s military friendly school may state, “You want us to record your classes? That’s too much of a burden. You volunteered to deploy, that is not the university’s problem.” Thus, the traditional university, under the guise of its federal and state regulations, may deny a student-soldier’s request for accommodation and defer to its accreditation standards in its defense.
Conversely, the non-traditional university, better equipped, may see a mobilization of a Reserve or National Guard soldier as a straightforward situation to accommodate because, fundamentally, the online university is best positioned to handle the unique circumstances that affect service members and civilians alike. As an example, the current COVID-19 pandemic, which is forcing traditional students to stay at home, has driven student-soldiers nationwide to temporarily drop their textbooks and, instead, get into their uniforms. Thus, student-soldiers’ statuses and VA-payments may be negatively affected.
Despite the proposed set of rules accommodations for non-traditional students, the rapid development of the rule itself – the process – may be cause for concern.
Criticism of the Rule
According to William J. Zee, partner and chair of the Education Law group at Barley Snyder, LLC., a strategically focused, full-service law firm representing businesses, organizations, and individuals in all major areas of civil law, “Critics believe it is worrisome that these regulations were proposed at the same time the biggest commentators – namely higher education institutions – are busy trying to institute distance learning in the face of COVID-19 and do not have enough time to fully digest and comment on the proposed regulations.”
Critics’ concerns about the rapidity of this Rule’s development are supported by a seemingly absent involvement of traditional universities within the Department’s “months-long negotiated rulemaking effort” that constituted public hearings and engagement from education-subject matter. Seegenerally Notice, DoED, 2020 at 1.
Also, Sharon L. Dunn, PT, Ph.D., president, American Physical Therapy Association, stated publicly, “. . . changing the accreditation requirements, process, or standards for purely programmatic accreditors could cause lasting damaging effects.” SeePublic Comment, APTA, September 14, 2018.
Thus, the Department’s shift towards programmatic accreditation standards may mean damaging effects on educational institutions relying more on institutional accreditation, and an outcome possibly welcomed by some in the military community.
Support for the Rule
Mr. Zee, continued, “On the other hand, the proposed distance learning regulations could prove positive for current active military servicemen and women who have the possibility of being deployed while obtaining some sort of degree. These regulations propose to broaden the ability for institutions to better use technology and serve the classes of people who may not be in a traditional school setting. These regulations call for more use of technology, a broader acceptance of distance learning, and a recognition that the method of obtaining credentialing isn’t as important as the end result.”
In addition, Blake Johnson, a first-year law student, stated publicly, “This is a very important move toward protecting the student . . . First year itself is difficult and presents an educational challenge unlike any I’ve faced before. That being said, I was getting used to the in-person socratic lectures. That’s all gone. The ABA (American Bar Association) is stringent on their allowance of distance learning. This current situation has seen an unprecedented move in which the ABA allowed for students to not only go ‘online’ but also allowed for a trend towards Pass/Fail type grading. This proposed rule allows for a relaxed and more accommodative approach to education and factors in the issues associated with the current [COVID-19] pandemic.” See Public Comment, April 15, 2020.
Thus, more significant innovation in distance learning could prove beneficial to members of the military.
Author’s Public Comment and Concerns
This author will be specifically addressing administrative remedies in his public comment to the Federal Register.
Because of the extraordinary degree of speed by which the Department has rollbacked regulations in its Proposed Rule, student-soldiers could be at higher risk of exposure to misrepresentation and fraud.
Addressing this author’s concern, the Department generally states, “These proposed regulations attempt to limit risks to students and taxpayers resulting from innovation by delegating various oversight functions to the bodies best suited to conduct that oversight—States and accreditors. This delegation of authority through the higher education regulatory triad entrusts oversight of most consumer protections to States, assurance of academic quality to accrediting agencies, and protection of taxpayer funds to the Department.” SeeProposed Rule, DoED.
In laymen’s terms, the Department is passing the buck to State regulators such as the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education, for example, a state agency charged with the duty of assuring academic quality in Massachusetts.
The problem with such delegation is (1) many state regulators are hyper-focused on targeting for-profit institutions and politically incentivized to protect non-profits, and (2) there are very few remedies for student-soldiers facing disputes with their universities, regardless of the school’s tax status. Frequently, military commanders cite the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, USERRA, a federal employment law, in response to their student-soldiers’ concerns with missing classes due to drill or deployments.
Expect to see a Public Comment from this author very soon that will advocate for the inclusion of protective language to the Department’s Proposed Rule modifying eligibility to ensure student-soldiers are given big sticks to augment their respectful, soft voices in the classroom.
The metaphorical equivalent of a student-soldier’s attempt to resolve a dispute with their non-profit university would be like an attempt to sue God. The cards are stacked unfairly in favor of universities nationwide, and, in closing, for those who believe non-profit universities to be a fragile, delicate butterflies, worthy of extraordinary deference by state regulators, please research universities’ publicly available Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Form 990(s).
Call to Action
After reviewing the Department’s Tips for Submitting Comments, submit your comments through the Department’s Rulemaking Portal or via postal mail, commercial delivery, or hand delivery. The Department will not accept comments submitted by fax or by email or those submitted after the comment period. To ensure that the Department does not receive duplicate copies, please submit your comments only once. In addition, please include the Docket ID [ED-2018-OPE-0076-0845] at the top of your comments. If you are submitting comments electronically, the Department strongly encourages you to submit any comments or attachments in Microsoft Word format.
If you must submit a comment in Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF), the Department strongly encourages you to convert the PDF to print-to-PDF format or to use some other commonly used searchable text format. Please do not submit the PDF in a scanned format. Using a print-to-PDF format allows the Department to electronically search and copy certain portions of your submissions.
Federal eRulemaking Portal: Go to www.regulations.gov to submit your comments electronically. Information on using Regulations.gov, including instructions for accessing agency documents, submitting comments, and viewing the docket is available on the site under ”Help.” See 18638 Federal Register Vol. 85, No. 64. Thursday, April 2, 2020, Proposed Rules. at 1.
Attending a Non-Profit vs. For-Profit Educational Institution
A common misconception about non-profit educational institutions is that they cannot, by definition, be predatory. In an online document concerning non-profits, last updated February 2018 by Pasadena City College (PCC), a non-profit educational institution, PCC states, “None are predatory, but have varying success rates – students should research institutions carefully applying.” See Document at 2. In its blanket immunity declaration, PCC also highlights the importance of carefully researching educational institutions’ successes, which can be intentionally elusive to some consumers.
A more in-depth article addressing the logical fallacy behind blanket immunity granted to non-profits is discussed further in These Colleges Say They’re Non-profit—But Are They?, written by Robert Shireman, Director of Higher Education Excellence and Senior Fellow at The Century Foundation. If further clarification is needed on what it means for an educational institution to be predatory, the Federal Trade Commission, in concert with many State Attorneys General, maintains publicly available reports and cases that define bad actors’ deceptions of consumers in areas ranging from aviation to wine and beer.
According to Mr. Zee, “For-profit institutions have been preying on the education of current soldiers and veterans because their GI Bill does not go toward the for-profit institutions’ 90/10 limit of federal funding. For-profit institutions have been caught deceiving prospects into believing they are actually non-profit institutions, and many soldiers have been negatively impacted, as they are seeking a non-traditional method of schooling.”
In deciding whether to attend a non-profit or for-profit educational institution consider this, enrolling at an institution of higher learning through an online portal provided by the bursar’s office may not feel the same as removing a wrinkled dollar bill from a tired, leather wallet, handing it to a cashier across a counter, and receiving a delicious chocolate candy bar unwrapped in return. Still, it is a financial transaction just the same. Students are consumers of educational services provided by companies, whether the U.S. Internal Revenue Service sees them as 501c3 or not.
Measure of a Post-Secondary Educational Institution’s Success
It is generally easy to discern the success of teaching a child to play catch, the child either catches the ball, or they do not catch the ball. However, some may take the view that the measure of success is instead the child reaching to catch it. The attempt itself is worthy of some admiration, an ideal not lost to many.
However, an attempt to catch the ball is categorically not a success, determined by many programmatic-accreditation bodies, an example of which would be the American Bar Association. One either passes the bar exam or does not pass. Likewise, one either passes their State’s medical board or they do not. The ramifications of either determine whether one will be permitted to practice law or medicine, an ideal we value for the professionals charged with the duties of either keeping us out of prison or alive on the operating table.
Conversely, to an institutional-accreditation body, a child may be the next Jason Varitek despite missing the ball and landing on his or her face. An institutional-accreditation authority is not so concerned whether the child catches the ball, it is concerned with what the ball is made of, how fast it was thrown, and whether the child was the intended recipient. In other words, institutional-accreditation bodies are more concerned with the educational process, the number of students per class, than the result, the number of students working in their desired field. An accredited university can retain its accreditation by solely focusing its business decision-making process on an extensive gamut of unique gradable metrics, rather than merely one: whether its graduates obtained jobs.
In its Notice, the Department “call[s] for institutions, educators, and policymakers to ‘rethink higher education’ and find new ways to expand educational opportunity, demonstrate the value of a post-secondary credential and lifelong learning, and reduce costs for students, schools, and taxpayers. See Factsheet (emphasis added).
What is a CFR?
CFR is short for a Code of Federal Regulation, more amicably known as administrative law by members of the legal community. Administrative law is unique because it is technologically complicated. For example, Lawyers and Judges typically do not enjoy defining what is or is not the correct way to fly an airplane.
Hence, a federal agency, the Federal Aviation Administration, filled to the seams with aviation experts, defines the technical means to fly an aircraft correctly. Likewise, other areas of specialization like immigration or education are governed by administrative rules, ultimately guided by the federal, executive branch of government.
In this instance, the Department’s change to the CFR will result in a cascading effect on how the education sector conducts its education-business – or for the FAA, flies a plane. However, unlike flying a plane, which arguably has a clear right and wrong way of doing it – up or down, education has its unique nuance. For example, a law student, activated for a combat military deployment – yet with access to computers, may
As a valued reader of We Are the Mighty, you may know or be a Soldier, Sailor, Airmen, Marine, or Coast Guardsman who balanced online, distance learning with their military service. Please, share your insight on what you think of the Department of Education’s proposed rules.
Ever since the news of the newest, and most confusing branch of the Armed forces surfaced this past year, we’ve all been enjoying plenty of memes. While the Space Force is the sixth official branch of the Armed Forces, we were all deeply let down by the news there are no plans for a fleet of Millennium Falcons (yet).
Legitimate questions still linger in the atmosphere surrounding MOS details, which feels a bit like staring into a black hole of information. Like where to drop a packet for the Space Rangers, and if Space Public Relations comes with Area 51 clearance. Instead of waiting, we thought we’d create the top list of jobs you wish the Space Force had. And hey, perhaps they might only be a light year away from existence.
Grunts across the galaxy will have to take it down a notch in their hopes for grabbing the first CIB or CAR for actions taken in space war. Fans of the so-bad-it’s-good 1997 movie Starship Troops would see their dreams of other-worldly combat possibly become a reality (but probably without the massive, bloodthirsty bugs, sorry). As it turns out, the Outer Space Treaty declares the Moon, and all other celestial bodies as peaceful space, so a war on the Moon isn’t likely to happen. Still, the Infantry slogan “Embrace the Suck” gets a whole new meaning when the only thinking protecting you from the air-sucking death of outer space is the badass helmet that ironically looks a lot like something off Halo.
Who doesn’t want to wield the first-ever commissioned laser-based 50 Cal? Will it be more of a “kksssshhhh” or a “vrau- vrau” noise when it fires? What regulations will be necessary if a bullet fired in space would theoretically continue forever- you know, to infinity and beyond?
Space public relations
While obviously necessary, and already existing here on Earth (in a different format), what we really want to know is- who gets to talk to the aliens? What are the foreign language requirements for extraterrestrial life? How exactly will they know we come in peace? All completely irrelevant to the actual mission of Space Force Public Relations, but still.
To where exactly will this elite group lead the way to? In the absence of a tan beret, will headgear be sleek or exude the classic trooper style? Will hyper-speed come standard in all Ranger vehicles, so that no man could be left behind, despite the vastness of the galaxy? Lastly, what about training? How swiftly will one be recycled from the zero-gravity phase in Space Ranger School? Will the Ranger Instructors be dressed as Storm Troopers? How will you execute burpee long-jumps in zero gravity?
Finally, Tom Cruise can unleash his inner being when Top Gun 3 is filmed on Mars (Sorry Tom, please don’t sue me). Do pilots wear aviators in space? Can you do a fly-by of the radar tower on the Moon? Will it be called Mission Control or Star Command? Will flight suits still look as sexy? These are important and we need to know. The image of streaking through the Solar System in a space fighter that may or may not resemble an X-Wing from Star Wars should be enough to enable the Space Force’s recruitment demands for the next couple of decades. Surely by then, we will have built a Death Star already, right? After all, it’s not a moon it’s a space station.
All joking aside, welcome to the neighborhood Space Force. We’re all just jealous you get to do cool space jazz while we’re stuck here on Earth as the mortal elite force to reckon with.
The United States’ win over Japan in World War II won’t be nationally celebrated on again until its September anniversary, but that doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate it whenever you want. Grab yourself a bottle of Old Crow bourbon and let’s get down to it with the Marine Corps’ finest beverage.
The capture of Guadalcanal in World War II marked another turning point in the war for the Pacific. Though the Imperial Japanese Navy was irreversibly trounced at Midway, the Japanese were still making gains in the war. After the Battle of Guadalcanal, all that ended. America took the initiative and Imperial Japan never again recovered their post-Pearl Harbor momentum.
When the Navy dropped the Marines off at Guadalcanal, Admiral Chester Nimitz left them with some cases of Old Crow bourbon. To make the limited supply last, the Marines rationed their bourbon to two to four ounces of the hard stuff per day. Being the disciplined warriors that the Marines are, they took the rationing a step further and cut the bourbon with their supply of unsweetened grapefruit juice.
U.S. Marines landing at Guadalcanal.
While unsweetened grapefruit juice and warm bourbon may seem like a harsh combination, keep in mind that some Japanese positions captured by the Marines also featured icehouses. Being able to cool down their beverages was a nice added bonus to wresting positions from Japanese control. Even if they couldn’t ice it down, harsh cocktails were hardly the biggest worry the Marines face on Guadalcanal.
For just over six months, Marines made amphibious landings to capture heavily-defended airfields and ridgelines as the Navy battled it out with Imperial Japanese submarines and battleships off the coast. At its outset, victory at Guadalcanal for the United States Army and Marines was anything but guaranteed. By the end of it, even the Japanese began to call Guadalcanal “the graveyard of the Japanese Army.”
So, if you’re looking to toast to the bravery of U.S. Marines, mix some Old Crow Bourbon with some fresh grapefruit juice, serve it over ice, and enjoy!
Did you guys hear the story of the staff sergeant in Afghanistan who raised $8k to bring a stray cat he took care of back to America? Literally everything about that story is great. He rescued an innocent kitten, took it to an animal rescue shelter on base, gave it all the shots and whatnot, and even had more money left over to help out other animals at the shelter.
I don’t care who you are. That’s a heart-warming story. Good sh*t, Staff Sgt. Brissey. If you ever decide to start taking a million photos and upload them to Instagram in an attempt to turn your new kitten into a meme… I’ll be behind you 110% of the way on that one.
Anyways, here are some memes.
(Meme via Army as F*ck)
(Meme via The Salty Soldier)
(Meme via Lost in the Sauce)
(Meme via US Army WTF Moments)
(Meme via On The Minute Memes)
(Meme via Call for Fire)
(Meme via Team Non-Rec)
Once you’ve done sh*t, everything else is a cake walk. There’s nothing that can be so bad that you can’t look back on and say “well, it was much sh*ttier then and I didn’t give up. Why stop now?”
Then again… Pot is really good for PTSD and that might also have something to do with it.
When a newly-minted Marine Corps Scout Sniper graduates from the sniper school where they learn their trade, they will be presented with a 7.62 round, the ammunition commonly used by the Marines’ elite scout sniper corps. But earning the actual HOGs Tooth is a much, more difficult task – because a Marine will be squaring off against another sniper looking for a HOGs Tooth of his (or her) own.
Before graduating sniper school, Marines are called “PIGs” – professionally instructed gunmen.
(Photo by Lance Cpl. Emmanuel Ramos)
Before we all drown in Facebook comments, let it be known that the point of this isn’t to make one tradition seem greater or more badass than the other. We’re talking about two different traditions that just have similar superstitious origins. It was once said there was a round out there destined to end the life of any sniper – the bullet with your name on it. The idea behind the HOG’s Tooth is that if anyone could acquire the bullet with their name on it, they would be invincible.
For a sniper to acquire the tooth of a “Hunter Of Gunmen,” a sniper must go through three steps, each more difficult than the last. The first step is to become an actual sniper, not just someone who’s really good at shooting. This means snipers need to go through a sniper school and deploy to an active combat zone. Don’t worry, deploying to a combat zone definitely won’t take long.
The third step is a doozy.
Candidates for Scout Sniper Platoon dig deep to complete the two-week preparation course.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Austin Long)
The third step to getting that HOG’s Tooth trophy actually has a few sub-steps. It starts with forcing a duel against another sniper (preferably an enemy). Once a sniper defeats an enemy sniper in sniper-on-sniper combat, they must then make it over to the enemy position where they will hopefully find the scene undisturbed. This will likely be difficult because they’re supposed to be in hostile territory. If they get there before anyone else, they should capture the enemy’s rifle. But more important to the trophy process is capturing what’s in that rifle: the round in the chamber.
That round is the “bullet with your name on it.”
If a sniper captures this bullet, superstition says, that sniper cannot be killed by gunfire on the battlefield because no one there has the bullet that is destined to kill them. Separate the bullet from the cartridge and use 550-cord or some other tried-and-true stringing method and feel free to use the round as a necklace. The bullet meant for you will always be around the neck of its potential victim rather than inside him somewhere.
Western models of spycraft are failing. Traditional models of spycraft seek to inform decision-making based on predictive analysis, but this is no longer effective in today’s environment. By nature, closed and authoritarian regimes, such as Russia and China, have an easier job of spying on their more progressive and open adversaries — the United States and the West — and currently possess the advantage. What follows is the author’s abridged philosophy of intelligence on this revolution in spycraft.
Last year, Foreign Policy magazine introduced a provocative thought piece highlighting the ongoing revolution in espionage: namely, that intelligence agencies must adapt (or die) to disruptive changes in politics, business, and technology.
At the risk of irrelevance, Western intelligence agencies are learning that traditional models of spying are outdated and losing out to more nimble, collaborative, and less fragile adversaries. As the article adeptly notes, “the balance of power in the spy world is shifting: closed societies now have the edge over open ones. It has become harder for Western countries to spy on places such as China, Iran, and Russia and easier for those countries’ intelligence services to spy on the rest of the world.”
Circumstances such as unprecedented levels of legislative and judicial scrutiny, technological advances in mobile phones and electronic data, public skepticism of domestic and international intelligence activities, and general political scrutiny in liberal democracies are symptomatic of such difficulties. They represent an underlying revolution that is significantly disrupting traditional notions of Western spycraft.
Standards of Cold War-era surveillance detection disintegrate when applied to modern cities rife with CCTV cameras, such as Beijing or even London. The absence of an online “footprint” (i.e. social media or other publicly available data) instantly warrants additional scrutiny.
Thus, we must examine several philosophical nuances of this intelligence revolution, based on the premise that the Western way of spying is indeed losing out to oftentimes less sophisticated but more effective adversaries, who possess fundamentally less fragile models of spycraft than do Western counterparts.
Lest the author receive undue credit, it must be noted that the framework for this analysis is derived from several schools of thought, ranging from the Roman Stoics to economist-turned-philosopher Nassim Taleb. Indeed, the reader may be familiar with the latter’s concept of anti-fragility, or things that gain from uncertainty, chaos, or randomness. Western models of spycraft certainly do not fit this notion and are, in the author’s opinion, quite fragile.
Western intelligence, and other such similarly traditional systems, are based largely on the value of predictive analysis that can be used to inform decision-making and thereby shape understanding and policy. But what if, as we are now seeing, environments far outmatch capability in complexity, speed, or scope? It is the author’s opinion that the U.S. Intelligence Community is designed on an outdated and fragile premise and, in the face of overwhelming environmental dissonance, must be re-assessed in the framework of anti-fragility.
Put differently, the present U.S. model of spycraft plays to the margins. Western spycraft invests inordinate amounts of manpower and resources into its Intelligence Community only to yield arguably disproportionate and marginal gains in understanding. It is not enough that the intelligence is gleaned in the first place (which remains an altogether impressive feat and a testament to the dedication and professionalism of its practitioners).
Alas, it is growing increasingly challenging to properly inform policy-making in an aggressively partisan and politicized environment. One only need reflect on the overall character of the ongoing Russian bounties discussion as evidence of this model and its debatable effectiveness. And such debatable effectiveness is certainly not for a lack of trying. The effectiveness of the Intelligence Community is a reflection of the broader environment in which it operates.
In the spirit of ancient Roman Stoic philosophers, we must acknowledge that environments cannot be changed and that at best significant national effort is required to “shape” them (and even then, with limited “control” of the exact outcome). In this instance, it is perhaps useful to examine U.S. strategy (or lack thereof) over the course of 20+ years of engagement in Afghanistan in an effort to reflect on any unilateral or coalition efforts taken to shape any semblance of “success” in the country.
Let us introduce a more tangible instance: That brief electronic communication from a foreign diplomat’s privileged conversation? That was probably the result of many factors: Of 17 years of technological research and development; of several successful (and more failed) recruitments to identify and gain sufficient placement and access for an exploit; and immeasurable bureaucratic “churns” to actually manage and manipulate the complex systems and processes in place designed to collect, process, analyze, exploit, and disseminate the information to its consumers. Entire professional careers are the substance of such churns.
While environments cannot be changed, one’s disposition within an environment most certainly can be. Thus, it is perhaps more useful to explore an intelligence model that divorces success from the ability to accurately predict the future. But then, what does this model look like and how is it employed?
In the author’s opinion, an effective spycraft model would maintain the intent to inform policy-making but disregard traditional models of operational risk management in favor of a more aggressive operational culture. In short, the change intelligence agencies must make is largely cultural, but also procedural.
Rather than embark on “no-fail,” highly sensitive (read: events that would cause inordinate damage if learned, i.e. fragile) operations, and futile attempts to accurately predict the future (read: failure to predict or act upon 9/11, Pearl Harbor, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and countless other so-called intelligence failures), it is more useful to focus efforts on intelligence activities that have, in Taleb’s words, more upsides rather than downsides.
This model would remove, within reason, attempts to mitigate risk and would instead truly accept failure and mistakes — regardless of their perceived damage if made public — as a natural feedback mechanism. Rather than the frenetic New York banking system, we have Silicon Valley’s “fail fast” mentality. Rather than the Sword of Damocles, we have Hydra. Rather than post-traumatic stress, we have post-traumatic growth. Instead of isolated muscle hypertrophy, we have complex, multi-functional movements. The comparative benefit of this model is clear and can apply to intelligence systems as well.
So what does this new model of spycraft look like?
For one, it harnesses the power of publicly available data and information to leverage the power of public opinion and access to technology. What previously was known only to few becomes known to many, and with that knowledge comes the ability to influence. Information, which is the bane of closed societies, but also its favorite weapon against open ones, is harnessed to dismantle closed societies from within.
Here’s the bombshell: such a system, albeit in incomplete and slightly “impure” form, already exists in the form of the Russian intelligence apparatus. Indeed, there is a benefit to be gained by examining the nature and relative effectiveness of this chief U.S. adversary.
While far from a perfect comparison, the oftentimes blunt nature of Russian security services does lend itself to a somewhat anti-fragile system. Namely, despite numerous “failures” (in the sense that its operations are consistently made public), the Russian model is such that its public mistakes do not appear to significantly impact the system’s ability to continue to iterate, adapt, and pester its Western opponents.
An additional example can also be found in the spirit of the CIA’s historical predecessor, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). Known affectionately as the “glorious amateurs,” the OSS was the first of its American kind that weathered many failures but also effectively operated in complex environments. By nature of relative American intelligence inexperience, the OSS succeeded in exploiting the upside of its activities simply by being a young, nimble, and discovery-based (i.e. tinkering, iterating, or “risk-bearing”) organization. The OSS was an anti-fragile organization.
Thanks to many of the same advances in technology, politics, and business that challenge Western espionage efforts, Russian spies have been caught on CCTV footage, publicly outed or arrested, appropriately accused of dastardly acts, and of possessing an intolerable appetite for disinformation targeting open societies and liberal democracies. However, it was presumably in Russia’s best interests that, knowing full well the possibility of such downsides, it chose to pursue such activities given the major upsides they produce (discord, division, polarization, etc.).
Indeed, as Foreign Policy magazine adeptly wrote, and as the reader can observe by way of reflecting on other seeming successes reaped by Russian active measures, there is an unrefined yet effective nature to the blunt manner in which Russian security and intelligence services operate.
It must be stated that this model does not advocate for recklessly “burning” any sources and methods, nor for engaging in renegade covert activity that lacks oversight or grounding in well-formed policy. However, it does require a significant cultural paradigm shift that will provide more space for downsides that have not been historically well-received (e.g. temporary injury to bilateral relationships, strained diplomatic interactions, etc.).
The U.S. Intelligence Community is already a complex system, comprised of 17 unique agencies that seek to inform policy-making. It is a long cry from the “glorious amateur” days of the OSS. Thankfully, we do not require complicated systems, regulations, or intricate policies to ensure the community’s success. The more complicated a system, the more we experience “multiplicative chains of unanticipated effects.” In other words, less is more; simpler is better.
The competitive edge of traditional, risk-based intelligence operations is growing smaller. The state of affairs is such that closed societies find it easier to spy on open adversaries more than the opposite. As such, it benefits Western intelligence to undergo aggressive changes that evolve or significantly alter this paradigm. It is time for the Intelligence Community to become a risk-bearing system, rather than a risk management system. It must experience a culture shift that will make it open to accepting failures. This may create short-term downsides for U.S. statecraft but will allow the system to iterate and improve. In the end, it must become anti-fragile.
One of the most celebrated World War II tank gunners received the bronze star during a surprise award ceremony 74-years in the making.
Clarence Smoyer, 96-year-old former 3rd Armored Division tank gunner, never bragged about the five tanks he destroyed in the war, including an infamous Nazi tank he leveled during a dramatic duel in war-torn Cologne, Germany.
He didn’t ask for anything, either. To Smoyer, he was just doing his job to protect the men he considers family.
(Pictured left) Clarence Smoyer, former 3rd Armored Division tank gunner, and Joe Caserta, World War II veteran of Omaha Beach, Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge, attend a Bronze Star award ceremony, with Smoyer as the guest of honor, Sept. 18, 2019, at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. Smoyer was nicknamed the “Hero of Cologne” for his efforts destroying a German tank during the battle.
(Thomas Brading, Army News Service)
Duel at the cathedral
It was March 6, 1945, and WWII was winding down, much of Germany was left in ruins.
Cologne, one of the country’s largest cities, was no exception. Once a bustling metropolis, Cologne had been reduced to rubble, with only a few identifiable buildings remaining — including its cathedral.
As the Americans entered Cologne, Smoyer recalls the now-infamous words of his lieutenant, Bill Stillman, who said, “Gentlemen, I give you Cologne, let’s knock the hell out of it.”
Clarence Smoyer (top middle) was a 21-year-old Pennsylvania native when he, and his fellow tank crew members, were photographed in Cologne, Germany, in 1945. This photo, courtesy of the National Archives, was taken moments after the battle of Cologne, Germany, and Smoyer delivered the fatal shots that destroyed a German tank.
“So… we obliged,” Smoyer joked, thinking back to that day.
American forces, before making their way east toward Berlin, had to conquer Cologne first. Their goal was to secure a bridge over the Rhine River, but a nearby Nazi tank had other plans.
“Attacking such a large city gave the enemy plenty of places to hide,” Smoyer said. “Not just in the horizontal plane, but from the basements to the tops of five-story buildings — Cologne put us to the test.”
“We were chosen as the first tank(s) into the city,” he added. “Everyone else followed us in. So, for us, it was constant firing. You fired at anything that moved. That’s when a gunner’s instinct kicked in.”
One street over from Smoyer, the Panther tank, used by the Nazis, took out an American Sherman tank, killing three soldiers inside, including Karl Kellner. The Wisconsin native, and Silver Star recipient, had received a battlefield commission to lieutenant just two weeks prior.
(Pictured left) Clarence Smoyer, receives his long-awaited Bronze Star Sept. 18, 2019, during a ceremony at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. Smoyer was recognized for his heroic efforts during the battle of Cologne, Germany, where as a tank gunner, he delivered the fatal blows to a German Panther tank and was nicknamed “The Hero of Cologne.”
(Thomas Brading, Army News Service)
After being hit, Kellner’s leg was amputated at the knee. He jumped from the tank and landed on his remaining leg. Smoke lifted from his stump like a ghost fading into the air, witnessed remembered.
Nearby, Stars and Stripes reporter, Sgt. Andy Rooney — the future acclaimed television journalist — along with another man sprinted toward Kellner. He was lying near the destroyed American tank. They moved him to onto a jumble of debris, safely out of the way, and attempted to stop the blood as it flowed from Kellner’s severed limb.
Rooney, the future 60 Minutes newsman, held Kellner in his arms as he died. Later, Rooney would say it was the first time he witnessed death. The other two tankers, both killed by the Germans, never escaped the Sherman tank. Meanwhile, Smoyer and his crew were slowly approaching the battle.
The Panther tank idled quietly in the street, as the Americans approached.
Veterans Clarence Smoyer and Joe Caserta stand near a Pershing tank, similar to the ones they were both crewmembers of during World War II, Sept. 18, 2019, near the National World War II Memorial in Washington. Both men were present in their respective tanks in Cologne, Germany, March 6, 1945, when Smoyer’s tank crew “Eagle 7,” took out a German tank.
(Photo by C. Todd Lopez, DOD)
“Experience taught me it’s impossible to knock out a German tank in one shot,” he said. “So, I worked a plan with our driver. He was to edge into the intersection, I’d shoot, and then he’d back up — fast! When we roared into the intersection to shoot, everything went out the window.”
Instead of “seeing the flank of the Panther in the periscope,” like he planned, Smoyer looked at the Panther’s super velocity muzzle pointed at street level, right at him, he said.
Smoyer added “his heart stopped.” The driver, also staring down the barrel of the German’s muzzle, panicked and “floored the gas.”
“We were totally vulnerable,” Smoyer said. “I snapped off a quick shot and hit him first. I kept yelling for (armor-piercing) rounds and kept hitting him until he caught fire. I could hardly breathe as we backed out of there.”
Smoyer’s finger squeezed the trigger of his tank, and he fired 90mm rounds into the side of the Panther tank, garnishing three direct hits.
World War II veterans Clarence Smoyer, Joe Caserta and Buck Marsh stand for the chaplain’s invocation during a Bronze Star award ceremony at the National World War II Memorial in Washington, Sept. 18, 2019.
(Photo by James K. Lee, DOD)
“People always ask why I fired three times,” Smoyer said. “Some say I was butchering that German crew by not giving them a chance to flee the tank. Any crewman still alive in that Panther could have pulled the trigger and with that powerful of a gun still pointing at us, we’d all be dead.”
But, that wasn’t the case. The Americans won, and Smoyer, the thin, 21-year-old curly blonde haired corporal, earned the nickname “the hero of Cologne.”
Footage of the battle, captured by Tech. Sgt. Jim Bates, a combat cameraman attached to the 165th Photo Signal Company, made its way into movie newsreels worldwide, including back home in Pennsylvania, where Smoyer called home.
“That’s Hon!” Smoyer’s sister-in-law yelled during an airing of the newsreel, Hon was Smoyer’s family nickname.
She later convinced the theater owners to replay the reel, so Smoyer’s parents, who had never been to a movie theater, could see their son was still alive.
Author Adam Makos and World War II veteran Clarence Smoyer walk to a Bronze Star award ceremony at the National World War II Memorial in Washington, Sept. 18, 2019.
(Photo by James K. Lee)
History in the making
For his actions that day, Smoyer was notified he earned the Bronze Star. However, this was short-lived after Smoyer talked to German children, who were begging the soldier for bubble gum. This small act of charity cost him the medal.
“They wanted bubble gum and I was still searching my pockets when a jeep full of (military police) turned the corner,” Smoyer said. “Fraternization was a no-no.”
Smoyer added, he felt bad for the kids, who had been on the frontlines of war longer than him. The MPs took his name, tank, serial number, and indirectly, his Bronze Star.
Army Maj. Peter Semanoff salutes World War II veteran Clarence Smoyer after awarding him the Bronze Star during a ceremony at the National World War II Memorial in Washington, Sept. 18, 2019.
(Photo by James K. Lee, DOD)
“I could have avoided all that if I just had a stick of gum!” He joked.
But, it was never about the medals and glory. As decades passed, the war ended, and Smoyer returned to civilian life. His neighbors in Allentown, Pennsylvania, never knew they lived by a war hero.
That all changed after an author, Adam Makos, who wrote a book on Smoyer’s story, happened upon information that changed everything.
“Smoyer’s tank commander and an Army combat cameraman both received Bronze Stars for their actions that day — yet, Smoyer got nothing,” Makos said.
This inspired the author to change that. He used witnesses to Smoyer’s actions, evidence he collected, including Bates combat camera footage, and contacted the Army.
World War II veterans Joe Caserta and Clarence Smoyer embrace during a Bronze Star award ceremony at the National World War II Memorial in Washington, Sept. 18, 2019.
(Photo by James K. Lee, DOD)
In the end, a military review board agreed with Makos, and Smoyer was awarded the Bronze Star. Three additional Bronze Stars were also awarded to the rest of the tank crew, making Smoyer’s tank crew “one of the most celebrated in Army history,” according to Makos.
To keep the surprise, Smoyer’s loved ones convinced him he was visiting the WWII Memorial as a tourist. The monument was filled with soldiers, fellow WWII veterans, news crews, and onlookers. Then, overwhelmed with emotion, he received the long overdue medal.
With the Bronze Star pinned to his chest, Smoyer promised to, “Wear the medal to remember the ones who lost their lives” that day, nearly 75 years ago.
Fireworks have been an American tradition since 1777 when they first lit up the skies of Philadelphia. It is an important time of reflection of everything American with the joy of pyrotechnics. The 4th of July is a time when Ol’ Glory is on everything from beer cans to bikinis, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. Patriots buy around 247,550,000 pounds of Freedom every year for this special holiday.
As long as you don’t live in Delaware and Massachusetts, the only two U.S. states that ban the sale and use of any and all consumer fireworks, you’ll be fine. Remember to check if your county has any restrictions on specific types as well.
First course – sparklers
A night of fireworks should be served like a five-course meal. Sparklers, the appetizer of fireworks, are safe with adult supervision and are great to get everyone in the mood to see some color. If you’re able to find the neon kind, pick those up because they’ll show up the best on phone cameras. Sparklers are great for kids or those scared of the boom-boom variety.
The advantage to these is that they’re cheap relative to the exploding kind and a few packs will entertain for a while. A sleeve will cost around .50 with 5 pieces and a box with 40 pieces should be around .
Second course – firecrackers
Firecrackers are a staple of every fourth of July BBQ, but there are so many brands and sizes that it’s easy to get overwhelmed deciding which kind to buy. The following video is a power test of some brands that can be purchased at fireworks tents. As always, exercise caution when using these and don’t do what this guy is doing at home.
Third course – cones
Snowcones are my personal favorite because they’re great to get people excited for the main course while getting a good amount of fire for your money. Snowcones cost $3.50, give or take, depending on taxes and availability. Some wholesalers are already sold out of these so if you see them definitely buy at least one.
The main course – box fireworks
Alright, time to set the little stuff aside and put some serious rounds down range. Get yourself a fireworks box, and I’m not talking about the variety pack from Walmart. I’m talking about the kind you buy from the fireworks tent from some guy named Bubba, and you’re unsure if this was smuggled into the country somehow. They run around 0 and are worth every penny. Blackcat is the most trusted brand in this category if you want to invest in quality. You’re going to want to outgun every neighbor as you all duke it out like the founding fathers wanted.
Seriously, John Adams wanted you to blow up as many fireworks as you can.
It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more. – John Adams, Letter to Abigail Adams
Dessert – custom builds
Usually, after four courses, people are full but there is always room for dessert. In the case of fireworks, this means your custom builds, the kind that you needed to get permission from the federal government to fire off. The kind of explosions that make ISIS say “F*ck that was loud.” In all seriousness, though, don’t make custom builds unless you have the proper license and training. 5 seconds of ‘wow’ is not worth your life.
Consumer fireworks in the United States are limited to 500 grams of composition and firecrackers may have up to 50 milligrams of flash powder. Reloadable shells are limited to 1.75″ in diameter, and shells in pre-fused tubes are limited to 2″. Any fireworks that exceed these limits are not considered consumer fireworks and need an ATF license. – The Consumer Product Safety Commission
Hey, I get it: When you’re preparing for deployment, the last thing you want is a honey-do list from your spouse. You have your own gear to take care of, paperwork to complete, and stuff to pack. Your spouse, on the other hand, will be at home during the months that you’re away. Can’t some of their to-do list wait until you’re gone? After all, they’ll have the whole deployment to take care of it. What’s the rush, right?
Here’s the deal: Just as you must prepare your gear and put your things in order to prepare for your deployment, your spouse has to get the house and the family ready for their own “mission.” It’s pretty much guaranteed that as soon as you walk out the door, something’s going to go wrong: the car will break down, appliances will leak, or the dog will get sick. If you don’t help your spouse prepare for those emergencies, then they won’t be fully equipped to handle their mission. You wouldn’t send troops off to train without first arranging logistics and ammo. In the same way, you have to take care of some logistical details at home before you deploy and leave your spouse as the only adult responsible for the entire household. There are several things you can review with your spouse to make everyone’s deployment go more smoothly.
Don’t skip these mission-essential pre-deployment tasks with your spouse.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Gina Randall)
There’s a reason your CO keeps hounding you to complete your Power of Attorney, Will, and other documents — they’re actually really important! Without a Power of Attorney, your spouse will basically be treated like a second-class citizen on base. They won’t be able to renew or replace an ID card if they lose it while you’re away. They can’t change the lease, buy or sell a vehicle, or handle any banking problems that might arise. If you have children, it’s important that your spouse completes a Family Care Plan so that someone is designated to take care of the kids if your spouse ends up in the hospital from a car accident. Take the time to discuss this paperwork with your spouse so they won’t struggle during unexpected deployment situations.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. April Davis)
2. Comm check
You may not know exactly what communication options you’ll have during deployment, but discuss your expectations with your spouse so you can both get on the same page. How will you handle the time difference? Will you try to call when early in the morning or in the evening? How often will you try to call, message, or video? What’s the protocol if one of you misses a call or doesn’t answer in time? Finally, make sure your spouse knows how to send a Red Cross message. If there’s a family emergency, the Red Cross can contact you even when you don’t have internet access. If your spouse knows how to get to the Red Cross website, it will take the weight off their shoulders during a major emergency.
(U.S. Army National Guard photo by 1st Lt. Leanna Litsch)
3. Discuss car maintenance
Have you ever returned from deployment only to discover that your car has a dead battery and flat tires? Save yourselves the cost and trouble with some simple preventative maintenance. If you’re typically the one responsible for vehicle maintenance, remind your spouse when to do an oil change and how often to get the tires rotated. If your vehicle will sit unused during the deployment, ask your spouse to start the engine and let it idle at least once a week. This will prevent the battery from dying. If they occasionally drive it around the block and park it in a different position, that’ll help prevent flat tires.
4. Review home maintenance
If you’re renting or living on base, just make sure your spouse knows how to contact maintenance or the landlord. If you own your home, things get more complicated. Walk through the house together and discuss areas of regular or seasonal maintenance. Air filters should get changed monthly. Gutters should be cleaned in Fall. Discuss outdoor chores, like lawn maintenance and snow removal. Your spouse should know the location of the breaker box and water shut-off valves, in case the dreaded “Deployment Curse” visits your house.
5. Adjust the household budget
You and your spouse both need to understand how the deployment will affect your family’s income, and then adjust accordingly. If you are making more money during deployment, how will you save or spend the extra? Will it go toward paying down debts? Or will you save up for a post-deployment vacation? Sometimes, deployments reduce the household budget. You might have to pay for food and Internet at your deployed location. Your spouse may decrease their work hours or register for a class. They may have additional costs for childcare or lawn maintenance. It’s better to discuss these changes and your intended budget before deployment so you aren’t both accusing each other of mismanaging money!
6. Write down your passwords
You wouldn’t send your team on a mission without clear instructions and the best equipment, right? Then don’t expect your spouse to manage the bills and your account memberships without passwords! Log into any banking or bill payment website you use, and write down your login name and password. Do the same for your gaming accounts, renewable memberships, etc. It’s likely that something will need to be suspended, renewed, or canceled during your deployment. Writing down the passwords will make it possible for your spouse to do that for you.
Having these pre-deployment conversations now may not be easy or fun, but it’s definitely important to help your spouse feel squared away before deployment. This will reduce deployment stress for both of you, help your deployment communication go smoothly, and get you both prepared for your respective, upcoming missions.
“How do you get posted at a location such as Area 51 or the Pentagon while in the military?”
I feel bad because no one actually answered this question. You see, in the military, there are a finite number of jobs at each location. Depending on the branch or the assignment, the average PCS (Permanent Change of Station) rate is about 4 years (shorter for a remote tour or a deployment). So someone will be assigned to work at the Pentagon and then after 4 years they’ll be due for a transfer, leaving their position open.
Let’s say you’re graduating from boot camp in August (congratulations, you did it, you little hero!) and Airman Snuffy is gonna PCS in August, leaving his Pentagon position open. You now have the option to go work at the Pentagon!
Your command will rate you based on your performance and recommend you for your list of assignment preferences. If you’re lucky, you’ll get your number one choice (the Pentagon I guess?) and if you’re not, well, bring mittens to Minot.
But you weren’t *really* asking about the Pentagon, were you? You were asking about aliens.
How to get posted at Area 51 | Dumb Military Questions 104
How to get posted at Area 51 | Dumb Military Questions 104
Area 51 is the most exciting conspiracy theory in the U.S. military. Aliens could be real! Just imagine!
But trust me, my little tinfoil-hat tribe, if there were actually aliens in a bunker in Nevada, you just know some boot would have instagrammed them by now. If the inability of humans to keep secrets doesn’t satisfy you, then you can fill out a Freedom of Information Act request with the National Security Agency. They’re required by law to pretty much share any information they have on anything really — they’ll just redact anything classified. You win some, you lose some.
“My husband is a Marine who makes fun of anyone in a different branch of service. Is this normal?”
Navy vet August Dannehl had a great stream of responses to this: “We’re all family but we’re all talking sh** on each other, you know? Marines, Army…they’re all stupid. Navy, we’re all gay. Air Force, bougy-as-f***.”
And I mean, I can’t protest this, especially since the next cut showed Air Force captain Mark Harper sporting business casual in pastel and a rainbow unicorn Pomeranian. 100% Air Force.
His name is Ding Dong and he’s a perfect gentleman.
“What level of self-reliance training do Green Berets have? What can they actually do?”
Actually, I don’t even want to spoil the answers to this one. Go to 1:17 of the video and watch Harper dominate this question. We’re done here.
“What would a real-life U.S. military party do in a scenario like the first Predator movie?”
It’s possible that U.S. Air Force vet Tara Batesole is the only one to have seen a Predator film in this group, but U.S. Marine Graham Pulliam had some thoughts as well: “Not run around shirtless with a machine gun?”
Why not, Pulliam? What do shirts have to do with killing monsters?
A 1990 white Lincoln stretch limousine covered in dust slowly pulls to a stop. Former Army Ranger Angel Cortes, his brother, and a few of their posse roll out of the door. Their clothes sport a sketch of a grinning jack o’lantern.
They are carrying AR-15s, Multicam plate carriers, high-capacity P-mags with 5.56 armor piercing ammunition. Glocks are tucked in their waistbands. Moments later, rounds are ricocheting through car windows. Screeching high velocity lead rips into passenger side doors, metal on metal screaming as the car interiors are ripped open, their soft innards gutted by the physics of force times mass.
This could be the beginning of a post-apocalyptic film or a violent street crime. But it is not.
Instead it was a friendly gathering of ex-special operations soldiers on a practice shooting course, dreamed up and funded by former Army Ranger Angel Cortes. Bringing veterans together to shoot the shit and shoot some targets is his way of giving back and building a community of veterans and a few trusted civilians to talk about life.
Look closely and a few fine details start to emerge from the smoke and gun powder and dust. Listen closely, and you start to hear a melodic rhythm to the pattern of fire. This is not the chaotic gun fight of a street skirmish gone off the rails. Angel and his friends maintain a continuous volley of fire. When one person empties their magazine, another increases his rate of fire. They unload and reload sequentially, so that there’s never a time when someone is not firing. They are leaping and bounding in a smooth synchronicity, like members of a ballet company who have rehearsed this dance over and over again; there is a grace and a fluidity to their violence that upon close examination belies their level of training. They are shooting moving, communicating, and executing dilapidated cars the way a butcher cleaves a chicken. Look closer and you see even finer details. The magazine holders are made by Crye precision, a bespoke brand of high-end gun gear made by hipsters in Brooklyn (the gods of war have a funny sense of humor) that has become the go-to standard for the most elite Special Operations units in the world. Their skin and shirts are marked with bone frog tattoos, scuba bubbles, parachutist wings, globes and anchors. G-shocks and Garmin watches adorn their wrists. These are the subdued brands of SEALs, MARSOC and a variety of other commando units, many who have spent the last several decades at war.
The firefight ends as abruptly as it started. There’s no high fives, no whooping and screaming, little fanfare to signify the end of the run. After all, these are not the streets of LA… but it easily could have been for Angel and his brother who admittedly grew up in LA’s gang life as affiliated members. Nor are these the streets of Anbar or the dirt roads of Afghanistan. But once again… it easily could’ve been. Five years ago Angel was deployed to Afghanistan attached with 3rd Special Forces Group.
For much of the American public who holds caricatures of veterans in their heads, this seems like a strange scene. The wars are over, or at the very least waning. Many veterans are suffering. An un-indoctrinated civilian might ask, “Should they be out playing GI Joe on the range? Don’t they need to heal?” Some civilians might even be cognizant of the story of Chris Kyle, the Navy SEAL sniper who was shot by a PTSD stricken veteran on the very shooting range he was trying to help him with rehabilitation. These narratives neglect the full range of experience of a large portion of veterans who are returning from overseas.
Angel, like many of the veterans out on the range this day, became a man in the military — literally. Angel’s mom signed his papers to join the service when he was 17 years old. He was in combat in Iraq by the time he was 18. He spent most of his 20s, his formative learning and earning years, deployed. While other 18 to 30 year olds were forming networks and connections that would determine their trajectory in life, Angel was fighting and watching his friends die.
Returning at 26 to the civilian world, Angel had three kids, no savings, and few job skills that translated to civilian life (there are a few jobs outside of the smoke-jumper community that require a static line parachuting qualification). He worked at a yogurt shop while attending community college. In the military, every penny of his paycheck had been spent on supporting his brother and sister back home. He took his last active paycheck to treat himself to one thing to commemorate his multiple combat deployments, a 1990 325I BMW. The beemer just kept breaking and his wife suggested he purchase a car that was more reliable. So, he saved some money and got the infamous 1990 white limousine, with mahogany interior, which became his famous daily driver. Inspired by Bam Margera of the Jackass skater culture, it represented how Angel was driving forward in his own unconventional style. While going to school, Angel started a T-shirt company, the OG Pumpkin, based on a design made for him by his son. The pumpkin design, like Angel, is paradoxically both menacing and friendly. It has a ghoul-like appearance that is sinister, sarcastic and yet somehow seems to be laughing with you.
Angel promotes his OG Pumpkin brand online and on Instagram. Like all great advertising though, his greatest asset is word-of-mouth— and the word is starting to spread. Every month Angel uses the proceeds from his company to hold shooting range days for his fellow veterans who like him are navigating the twilight between active duty service and the civilian world.
This particular range day was a vehicle range. A mid 90s silver Jetta and a white Toyota Corolla were towed to a remote shooting range in the foothills of Los Angeles. The tow truck driver, 40-something hispanic, with easily recognizable ink indicating a formerly affiliated or incarcerated life, looks like he could’ve been right out of Angel’s neighborhood. He dropped the cars in the middle of the range, then headed to the safe fire spectators area where Angel’s dad was grilling carne asada and adobo tacos for the group.
About 30 veterans, including SEALs, Army Rangers, MARSOC and a host of other operators from the alphabet soup of elite units (DEA, HRT, SWAT, others), teamed up in impromptu pairs to run drills, shoot targets and offer tactics and tips to each other. The vehicle course is a treat even for top-tier units. It’s not every day you get to practice shooting through the front windshield of a car to hit steel targets. The operators were jovial but subdued. The culture of Special Operations, which pays homage to the idea of a silent professional (although more often in word than deed) makes it uncool to express too much emotion, even after letting 30 rounds rip through your muzzle.
Putting together range days is not just about shooting. in fact it’s very little about shooting. It’s merely Angel’s version of golf. It allows him to spend time with his friends, his fellow veterans, network about business and entrepreneurialism, and re-capture some of the community that ended when he took off his uniform.
Ryan Garcia is one of those veterans. He returned home from Nangarhar, Afghanistan last year after serving in the 2nd Battalion 34th Regiment out of Ft. Carson, Colorado. He didn’t know Angel in the service, but had watched his YouTube videos about becoming a Ranger and going through selection. Garcia, like Angel, had grown up in Southern California, and upon completing his last tour returned home. His transition was somewhat rocky. He ostensibly was going to school, but didn’t exactly move from the front lines to the front of the class. “When I got out, I lost my purpose … yeah I’m getting through school, but I was in a depression. I would say I was busy but I wasn’t doing anything.” About six months ago, between Xbox games, Garcia saw a post of Angel’s from the shooting range. Inspired, he went to shoot. What he found was a camaraderie that seemed to fill a hole he didn’t know was missing. Being around fellow veterans was a first step toward a healthier reintegration. Garcia spoke with Angel about classes, and saw how Angel was attacking the classes like a mission. Previously Angel had helped inspire Garcia to excel in the Army, now he was leading by quiet example by stressing the importance of classes and community. Garcia remains grateful for Angel’s mentorship, and now helps out other veterans as well. “At end of day whether you’re in a warzone, or back here, we have each other’s back.”
For other veterans it’s a chance to stay involved, and help. Mike O’ Dowd, a former Navy seal close quarters combat tactical instructor volunteered his time at the range day to help other veteran sharpen their skills. O’Dowd, who runs a Company called Defense Strategy Group that teaches civilians shooting tactics and skills said, “By hosting these range days, Angel has been bringing veterans from all branches together in our natural environment. He’s given us a space to feel at home again, with people we trust. It’s something that I’ve been missing since leaving the Navy.”
Ultimately, Angel’s path as an entrepreneur, starting with a clothing company, studying to become a registered dietitian, even the range days he puts on for his fellow veterans, speak to something larger. Veterans return from service and overseas, and face a series of choices: What am I going to do? How do I support myself? And more fundamentally: Who am I? What is my purpose? Those questions are more formally known as veterans transition. There are significant headwinds for veterans transitioning out of uniformed service; many lack formal education and networks for civilian occupations, some are struggling with the invisible wounds of war, and many struggle to find purpose in a world where your mission isn’t briefed to you before you go out the door. Angel, and the cabal of veterans he has touched, show all the promise of a way forward. Coming home to a community where he once sold guns on the street, he is now a community leader, teaching self-defense and gun safety. Returning to a family that was abusive, he has broken the cycle of abuse, and is not only a father thrice over but a patron of the entire family. Angel came from a home where he often had only one meal a day, and is now feeding his fellow veterans.
Like many veterans, there was no clear path for Angel when he left the military. Instead he used the same skills and values that got him through Ranger selection and 24 months of combat, to find his way in the civilian world. Taking care of others, perseverance, service above self, finding a way to win; these are traits burnished into the character of special operations personnel. What he lacks in formal education, he made up for in hustle and drive. While Angel and many of his fellow veterans return home and are still fighting demons from their time overseas, they also have a host of skills and armor that are allowing them to become leaders in the civilian world. In some way this was the original mission of the Jack-O-Lantern, in the old world it was designed to ward off evil spirits. Angel, and his band of OG Pumpkin brothers, continue to do just that.
Kaj Larsen is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared on NETFLIX, CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, VICE, Huffington Post, and numerous other outlets. Prior to his work in television, Kaj spent five years on active duty serving as a US Navy SEAL. As a lieutenant, he led a team of special warfare personnel in covert operations overseas deploying as a detachment commander in support of the Global War on Terrorism. Kaj continues his service as a science diver for Force Blue, a team of veterans in support of ocean conservation.