The holidays are great occasions to build family memories and connect with loved ones. The foods served often connect us to special memories from the past. But, did you know that people over 65, children, and pregnant women are at higher risk for food borne illness? To ensure that your holidays are merry, here are some tips to help prevent food borne illness from crashing your party:
Wash your hands prior to starting food preparation, making sure to wash all surfaces of the hands and nails for at least 20 seconds. Singing “Happy Birthday” is a good way to ensure you have washed long enough.
Rinse fresh produce under running water prior to prepping these items.
Use separate cutting boards for produce, meat, shellfish and eggs to prevent cross-contamination. Wash cutting boards in warm soapy water after prepping each food item.
(Photo by Caroline Attwood)
When baking with little kitchen helpers, teach children not to eat batter or dough with raw eggs.
Reused sponges and towels are a harbor for harmful bacteria. When you have multiple hands in the kitchen, paper towels can be safer.
Avoid leaving food out on the counter to defrost. The only safe ways to defrost foods are in the refrigerator, cold water, or the microwave. Food thawed in cold water or the microwave should be cooked immediately.
A thermometer is a great tool to make sure you fully cook hot items. Be careful not to place cooked meat on the same plate that previously held raw meat.
Avoid rinsing meat or poultry, as this can spread harmful bacteria.
Don’t stuff your bird! Instead, cook your stuffing separately. If you choose to stuff your bird, the stuffing must meet an internal temperature of 165°.
When sending family members home with leftovers, keep the following tips in mind:
Discard perishable food items that have been at room temperature for longer than 2 hours. Remember, you can’t tell if an item is bad by taste, smell, or appearance.
Use shallow containers to store leftovers to allow for quick cooling.
Reheat any leftovers to a minimum temperature of 165°.
For additional information check out the CDC’s information on food safety and this advice for holiday cooks. If you are interested in learning more about preparing healthy and safe holiday foods this season, contact your local VA to learn more about the Healthy Teaching Kitchen program, or to meet with a PACT dietitian to help adjust some of your family’s favorite recipes to meet your health goals.
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
U.S. Army Sgt. Dustin McGraw is stationed with the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, the culmination of a life-long dream of being a paratrooper like the heroes of World War II movies that he watched as a child. But as he made his way up, he discovered a love of World War I that has led to him re-enacting battles in France.
His re-enactment group spends a lot of time at a park in Tennessee a few hours from Fort Campbell, allowing McGraw to indulge his passion while maintaining his active duty career. (That park is named for famed Doughboy and Medal of Honor recipient Sgt. Alvin C. York, making it a pretty appropriate place to host re-enactments.)
And there is more crossover between the passion and the job than one might initially assume. While re-enactors, obviously, do not face the dangers and many of the hardships endured by soldiers in combat, they do work hard to portray their chosen period accurately. That means that they have to get uniforms, tactics, weapons, and other details right.
And it’s hard to steep yourself that deeply in military history without learning an appreciation for the discipline and perseverance that it takes to succeed in combat. As McGraw points out in the video, maintaining your cool in wool uniforms and metal helmets in the broiling sun isn’t always easy. And, practicing World War I tactics can still help reinforce an understanding of modern warfare. After all, machine guns and rifles haven’t changed all that much.
But that leads to another benefit for McGraw and other soldiers who choose to re-enact past periods of military history: They learn a deep appreciation of modern systems, from weapons to logistics to medicine to gear.
Where modern troops have GPS, Kevlar, lightweight automatic weapons, aid bags, and helicopters, World War I Doughboys had to make do with maps, cotton, rifles of wood and steel, field bandages, and horses. So, while it’s easy to complain when your helicopters are late to the LZ, most people would be more appreciative of the challenges if they spent their weekends trying to simulate logistics with horses.
Here at We Are The Mighty, we pride ourselves on finding the best military memes every week, curating them, and delivering them to you in an easily digestible format. We source from plenty of heavy-hitting meme pages that we spotlight every week, but we also found some great stuff from up-and-coming meme pages churning out content.
This one goes out to these guys. We couldn’t have had an amazing year without your work in making and collecting the best the Internet has to offer.
Today, we’re going to give everyone the best of the year, broken down by best of the month and, ultimately, the best of the year. Think of it as an award show or whatever. The winner earns a crisp high five.
(Meme via Army as F*ck)
(Meme via The Salty Soldier)
February – Maybe Gunny Hartman should have just called Pyle a pretty little snowflake and everything could have gone differently.
The best part about this meme is that we received a bunch of hate from people who didn’t get the joke or look at the bottom right corner…
(Meme via Air Force Nation Humor)
(Meme via Private News Network)
(Meme via Lost in the Sauce)
(Meme via Army as F*ck)
(Meme via Pop Smoke)
(Meme via Valhalla Wear)
(Meme via The Lonely Operator)
(Meme via Untied Status Marin Crops)
(Meme via Smokepit Fairytales)
(Meme via Airman Underground)
Technically, Disgruntled Vets wins. You can come collect your high five whenever, dude.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) issued a peculiar request over Twitter on Aug. 28, 2019, asking for underground tunnels to use for research — as soon as possible.
Though DARPA’s request managed to spook Twitter users, DARPA told Insider that the request is related to technology development for underground combat and search-and rescue operations.
While President Donald Trump looks to create a Space Force — an entirely new military branch — the Pentagon itself has put more than half a billion dollars into technology and training to compete on underground battlefields.
Soldiers of 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, provide security during subterranean operations training, May 17. Lancers of 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, with the assistance of a Mobile Training Team from the Army’s Maneuver Center of Excellence, completed a 5-day exercise focused on subterranean operations, at a remote underground facility in Washington State, May 14-18.
(US Atmy photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Armstrong)
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency asked universities and colleges for underground tunnels to use for research.
“Attention, city dwellers,” DARPA tweeted. “We’re interested in identifying university-owned or commercially managed underground urban tunnels facilities able to host research experimentation.”
The agency noted the short notice of the request — it asked for responses within two days — and specified that it was seeking “a human-made underground environment spanning several city blocks” which includes “a complex layout multiple stories, including atriums, tunnels stairwells.”
Scientists watch soldiers sample simulated leaking chemical weapons in an underground facility in order to get a better idea of both the bulky protective gear soldiers must wear as well as the dark, constrained environments they sometimes work in.
(Stacy Smenos, Dugway Proving Ground)
While the Trump administration is increasingly looking to the skies and pressing for a Space Force, DARPA is focusing on operations underground.
In the agency’s online request for information, DARPA specifies that it’s trying to understand how technology could be used for rapid mapping, search, and navigation operations, likely in the case of urban conflict or disaster-related search-and-rescue operations.
“Complex urban underground infrastructure can present significant challenges for situational awareness in time-sensitive scenarios, such as active combat operations or disaster response,” Jared Adams, a spokesperson at DARPA, told Insider via email.
The Ultra-Light Robot employing its “arms,” which can be used to climb small obstacles such as stairs, July 3, 2019, in Stafford, Virginia. In the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2019, the Corps will field the Ultra-Light Robot—a small, mobile robot system that enables explosive ordnance disposal Marines to manage or destroy improvised explosive devices or conduct various other reconnaissance activities.
(US Marine Corps photo by Matt Gonzales)
The request comes out ahead of DARPA’s Subterranean Challenge.
The Subterranean Challenge, or SubT Challenge, invites teams of researchers from all over the world to compete and find technological solutions for underground operations. The teams use locations — like the ones DARPA requested information about — to test technologies that can search and navigate in underground terrain where it might be too difficult for humans to go.
Teams in the systems competition focus on technology like robotics that can physically search and navigate in an underground terrain. On the virtual track, teams compete and develop software that can be used to assist in simulations of underground operations.
Soldiers with 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division provide security while clearing an underground complex during dense urban environment training. The training, provided by a mobile training team from 3rd Squadron, 16th Cavalry Regiment out of Fort Benning, introduces tactics and techniques to the force to prosecute operations within dense urban terrain and populated urban centers.
(Photo by Capt. Scott Kuhn)
The urban circuit of the SubT challenge will take place in February 2020, hence the request for urban underground space.
“As teams prepare for the SubT Challenge Urban Circuit, the program recognizes it can be difficult for them to find locations suitable to test their systems and sensors,” Adams told Insider.
“DARPA issued this RFI in part to help identify potential representative environments where teams may be able to test in advance of the upcoming event.”
Soldiers perform evacuation procedures at Fort Hood’s underground training facility. The training is part of a week-long training teaching Soldiers how to fight, win and survive in a dense urban terrain.
(Photo by Sgt. Jessica DuVernay)
The military has become more aware that it needs to develop technology and strategy to fight in an underground, urban setting.
Historically, underground warfare has been the domain of special operations troops like Navy SEALs. But military researchers predict that this kind of warfare will be too much for special operators alone to navigate, particularly if dealing with an adversary like China or Russia, which both have extensive underground space. China in particular uses vast underground complexes to store missiles and its nuclear arsenal.
“We did recognize, in a megacity that has underground facilities — sewers and subways and some of the things we would encounter … we have to look at ourselves and say ‘OK, how does our current set of equipment and our tactics stack up?'” Col. Townley Hedrick, commandant of the infantry school at the Army’s Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, Georgia, said in an interview with Military.com last year.
The military has encountered underground facilities before — some Vietnam War-era special units explored tunnels dug by the Viet Cong.
ISIS militants also used tunnels in Iraq and Syria. In Israel and Lebanon, Hezbollah fighters used underground tunnels to launch attacks in Israel.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The most interesting thing about pleading guilty to a capital crime in a military court is the defendant needs to be able to convince the presiding judge that he or she is actually guilty of the crime, and not just taking the deal to avoid the death penalty. Another interesting tidbit is that defense lawyers can only allow the defendant to make such a plea if they truly believe he or she is guilty.
So when Staff Sgt. Alberto Martinez offered to plead guilty to avoid the death penalty for murdering two of his officers in Iraq, you’d think that would be a gift to the prosecution. You’d think that, you really would.
Lt. Allen left behind four children with his wife.
Martinez convinced his lawyers of his guilt and offered to plead guilty to premeditated murder, convince the judge, and avoid the death penalty. He was willing to testify that he threw a claymore mine into the window of a CHU occupied by his commanding officers, Capt. Phillip T. Esposito and First Lt. Louis E. Allen on a U.S. military base near Tikrit, Iraq in 2005.
The claymore exploded and tore the two sleeping officers to shreds, as it was designed to do. It was the first fragging accusation of the Global War on Terror. Witnesses told the 14-member jury that Esposito derided Martinez for his lax operation of the unit’s supply room. Another witness testified that she had delivered the murder weapon to Martinez a month prior. Another witness said Martinez simply watched the explosion happen, unconcerned about a follow-on attack. It was a well-known fact that Martinez and Esposito did not get along.
A temporary memorial for US Army officers Phillip Esposito and Louis Allen erected in Tikrit, Iraq in June 2005 after both officers were killed in an alleged fragging incident at Forward Operating Base Danger on June 7, 2005.
Martinez was arrested and transferred to Fort Bragg for trial. A New York Times investigation revealed that Martinez offered the guilty plea two full years before his trial ever took place – but the offer was rejected by the prosecution, who wanted to send Martinez to death row.
If the defense offered it to the prosecution, it means they truly believed their client was guilty, as per Army regulations. Then Martinez would have to convince the judge of his guilt. The judge could then accept or reject the plea. Martinez never made it to the judge. The Army took it to trial and lost their case against Martinez in just six weeks.
Esposito with his daughter Madeline before deploying in 2005.
The defense argued that all the evidence and witness accounts were purely circumstantial and since no one took receipt of the claymores, which was usual for the Army then, it can’t be proven that Martinez had access to them or even knew the rarely-used mines were available.
Martinez was cleared of the charges, released from prison, and honorably discharged from the Army. He died in January 2017 of unknown causes, and no charges have ever been filed for the deaths of Capt. Esposito and Lt. Allen.
Being a commo guy doesn’t afford too many opportunities to do fun stuff. Sure, there are the radio operators who are right on the heels of the platoon leader but, nine times out of ten, they’re stuck sitting by the radio in either the vehicle or operations center.
Hours are spent just waiting, listening to a tiny speaker in case anything goes on. You can’t do anything else — you’re just sitting there. If you’re monitoring comms at 0400 and there’s no mission going on, you’re still stuck there. And, of course, the one moment you decide to close your eyes longer than a blink, sh*t gets real.
It’s not all boredom, though. Some of the things you hear over the net make it all worthwhile.
Don’t worry. No one blames you.
(U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Cameron Boyd)
Troops screwing off
When radio operators are certain that no one is listening, they’ll drop all radio etiquette. Suddenly, everyone will just start making jokes to one another. It’s not uncommon to hear a guy in one of the guard towers bluntly ask, “when the f*ck is that chow coming?”
Because, apparently, wars aren’t won by troops with filthy mouths
(U.S. Army photo by Master Sgt. Kap Kim)
Ops Sgt. Major scolding fools
Despite the point above, you’re never completely clear to openly talk like you would on a cell phone. If you try, you’re likely to get a stern reminder from whoever is in the ops center to “please maintain proper radio etiquette.”
If you’re unlucky and the S-3 Sergeant Major is that one that catches you, they’re going to knife-hand you so hard through the hand mic that you’ll start standing at parade rest on-mission. Technically, they break that “oh so precious” radio etiquette when chewing someone out, but no one ever calls them out for it. Probably because it’s damn funny to hear.
“Sir, you want us to what? Are you out of your fu… Roger, out,” said every NCO ever.
(U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Cameron Boyd)
There’s a perpetual pissing contest in the military. Each young-buck officer will get a wild hair up his or her ass and insist that things be done their way — regardless of whether its the best idea. This stubbornness will almost always be met by a non-commissioned officer who has the opposite idea.
It’s like witnessing the meeting between an unstoppable force and an immovable object. Thankfully, the hand mics are push-to-talk or else they’d hear us laughing our asses off.
Totally worth it to blast Toto’s ‘Africa’ over and over again.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Josh Cox)
There always seems to be one or two commo guys who figure out how to play music over the net. Some will just hold the tunes right up to the mouthpiece while others will figure out how to splice a W-4 with an auxiliary cord. I’m not going to tell you outright how to do it, but open up a manual and learn which prong connects to outgoing voice — there’s your head start.
Regardless, it’s an appreciated morale boost when someone plays some good music and it turns hilarious when they playing from way out of left field.
It’s hard to say “Splash, out” without a big ol’ grin.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Matt Navarra)
Calls for fire
There are only two words in the military lexicon that can immediately bring excitement to everyone: “Shot, over.”
An inexplicable wave of joy comes over the platoon when a radio guy calls into the mortars, artillery, or air support. Imagine a child on Christmas morning about to open up a present that could obliterate one square kilometer of Earth — oh, boy!
Bullsh*ting is a solid 95 percent of what a lower enlisted does on any given day anyways. Why would that change if you gave them a radio?
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Thea Roun Sm)
All of the smack talk
There are channels for every unit. One of them is used to talk to command back at base and others are used to communicate with the vehicles. But if you know which channels your boys are on, you can sh*t talk about everyone else not on it.
This includes people in the command, the unit, other troops, local nationals, allied forces — everyone is fair game.
Three days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Capt. Colin Kelly, Jr. was set to fly over Taiwan in his B-17 Flying Fortress in one of the first American counter attacks of World War II. Kelly was stationed on Luzon, in the Philippines and survived the massive Japanese attack on that island nation as well. Kelly died after attacking a Japanese heavy cruiser, one of the first casualties of the Pacific War and the first graduate of the United States Military Academy to die in combat.
He was also one of the first heroes of the Army Air Corps in World War II – and President Roosevelt would not forget him.
Instead of Taiwan, the 26-year-old pilot dropped a bomb load on the Imperial Japanese Navy’s Ashigara as it supported the landing invasion forces on Luzon. He was immediately swarmed by Japanese Zeros. The B-17 pilot never had a chance. Before he could bail out, the plane exploded with Kelly inside. He stayed at the controls so his crew could bail out.
This painting of Colin Kelly, Jr. hangs in the Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.
“Out of ammunition, I flew alongside the B-17 and saw the pilot trying to save the burning aircraft after allowing his crew to escape,” a Japanese pilot who was over Luzon that day remembered. “I have tremendous respect for him.” Kelly was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross
Americans responded to the news of Colin Kelly’s death by setting up a fund for his son’s education, once he reached college age. But one person in particular wanted to make sure the son of America’s first World War II hero had the chance to do whatever he wanted in life.
That person was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
When watching a movie like Saving Private Ryan for the first time, I scoffed at the idea that someone so high up in the government would be able to watch a situation like World War II from the ivory tower of the White House and have such a granular effect on the individuals affected by the war. And maybe President Roosevelt didn’t have time for everyone, but for Colin Kelly III, Capt. Kelly’s son, he sure did.
Roosevelt penned a letter to the future, specifically, to the future President of the United States in 1956. That would be the year Colin Kelly III would start looking for a university and Roosevelt want to ensure he did everything he could for the boy.
I am writing this letter as an act of faith in the destiny of our country. I desire to make a request which I make in full confidence that we shall achieve a glorious victory in the war we now are waging to preserve our democratic way of life.
My request is that you consider the merits of a young American youth of goodly heritage—Colin P. Kelly, III—for appointment as a Cadet in the United States Military Academy at West Point. I make this appeal in behalf of this youth as a token of the Nation’s appreciation of the heroic services of his father, who met death in line of duty at the very outset of the struggle which was thrust upon us by the perfidy of a professed friend.
In the conviction that the service and example of Captain Colin P. Kelly, Jr., will be long remembered, I ask for this consideration in behalf of Colin P. Kelly, III.
1956 just so happened to be Ike’s re-election year.
“Most people in my parents’ generation or a bit older or younger seem readily to remember being deeply touched by what President Roosevelt did for the infant son of the young pilot killed in the Pacific,” Colin Kelly III later wrote for theNew York Times. “It was one of the first actions of F.D.R. as the wartime President, a special White House ceremony in which he personally signed the papers appointing me to the Academy.”
In 1956, that future President was President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Ike received FDR’s letter, read it, and honored the request of his Presidential predecessor – but Colin Kelly III didn’t accept the appointment, he decided to earn his place at West Point, competing with the other potential plebes and graduating in the class of 1963.
The younger Kelly spent his time in the Army as a tank commander in West Germany. After his time in the service was up, he left and went to divinity school, only to return to the U.S. Army as a chaplain, saying
“The Lord called me when I was 14, but I believed I was called to complete my West Point opportunity first.”
Like father, like son. West Point graduates and U.S. Army Captains Colin P. Kelly.
Kelly was too young to remember his heroic father, but his memory lived on through the people that knew him best: neighbors, relatives, and close friends. Over the years, Colin Kelly got to know his father through their eyes while making his own way through life, still following in his father’s footsteps.
U.S. Army Specialist Jay Strobino was with his team in Rushdi Mullah, a small farming village in Iraq’s infamous Triangle of Death, on Feb. 1, 2006. They were there on a mission to grab a suspected enemy insurgent. Everything was going according to plan as they searched the house — no surprises.
That all changed when a truck full of insurgents rolled into the opposite side of town and pinned down a corner of their outer cordon. Strobino was about to be in the firefight of his life.
The “Triangle of Death” became infamous during the U.S. occupation of Iraq.
(Image courtesy of the US Army Center for Military History.)
Strobino, along with three others, made their way to the corner. He killed one of the insurgents who was trying to make it across the road; the resulting break in fire allowed him and his team to run across the street, closer to where the other enemy combatants were.
His team snuck behind a row of houses, where Strobino shot another insurgent through a window of an adjacent house. They then moved to the house that the remainder of the insurgents were behind. With his SAW gunner on the rooftop of the last building, Strobino and two others maneuvered to the back of the property.
Behind the house, there was a shed and a fence surrounded by bushes. Strobino was the first to scale it but not without some difficulty.
“When I got over, I saw two insurgents spaced about 10 to 15 feet apart, facing away from me. I held my aim but didn’t want to fire because everyone else I shot that day wouldn’t die, and we were taking up to 15 rounds to stop [them from] advancing or firing,” he said. Insurgents in Iraq were known to take drugs before going into battle that would often allow them to keep fighting even after suffering mortal wounds.
U.S. Army Specialist Jay Stobino in Iraq.
(Photo courtesy of Jay Strobino.)
So he stayed put for the moment, waiting on his teammate to get over the fence, but his teammate kept getting caught. The two insurgents Strobino had zeroed in on turned to face him, and he was forced to fire. Fortunately, his squad leader soon made it over the fence and was able to join in the fight.
There was still another insurgent left, though. He was aiming his AK-47 around the front corner of the house, firing back at Strobino and his squad leader. In response, his squad leader threw a grenade, and their team followed after.
“I ran to the front corner of the building and peered around. His weapon was up and out of the front doorway. I put my weapon on burst and turned the corner, hoping to grab his barrel,” he said.
The enemy fighter heard them coming and had already started moving toward Strobino and his other teammates when he came around the corner. Strobino pulled the trigger, sending the target to the floor; however, the target fired back.
Strobino was hit, and it was bad.
“My leg was broken and my ulnar nerve was hit in my arm,” he said, “and I lost control of my right hand.”
Strabino in the hospital after suffering 13 bullet wounds in a firefight in Iraq.
(Photo courtesy of Jay Strabino.)
The two soldiers with him had taken cover behind a truck, and Strobino planned to throw a grenade. But the moment he pulled it out, the insurgent threw his own over the truck where his team was positioned and came out firing. He sprayed his weapon again, hitting Strobino a second time.
“At this point, I thought everyone was dead and I was immobilized. But my squad leader called out my name — I couldn’t believe it. I threw my grenade over to him so he could arm it and toss it around the corner,” Strobino said.
But the grenade didn’t kill the insurgent, and with his condition quickly deteriorating, getting Strobino out of there became the priority. The other members of his team pulled him behind the building. His platoon sergeant and his radiotelephone operator (RTO) moved up, bandaged him, pulled security, and called for a medevac.
The insurgent was still in the house. A second team threw multiple grenades into the home before going in. Two of those soldiers took rounds; one of them died on the medevac back to Baghdad. After that, they called in Apaches to finish the job, blowing up the house.
Strobino’s condition was so dire that his parents were nearly summoned in fear that he wouldn’t make it home. He immediately went under the knife and had surgeries every 12 to 24 hours. From Iraq, he was flown to Germany for two weeks and eventually back to the U.S., where a long road of recovery awaited him.
Strobino had been shot a total of 13 times, and it cost him more than just blood. “I lost a large portion of my right femur and couldn’t walk on that leg for six months,” Strobino said. “I lost a lot of that quad group as well.”
A portion of the wounds Strobino received during the firefight.
(Photo courtesy of Jay Strobino.)
He had to teach his brain how to perform small physical tasks again. He got winded standing at the side of his bed while two people held him. Fortunately, the great people at places like the VA hospital in Augusta, Georgia, and the Fisher House helped him pull through.
“The Fisher House is like a Ronald McDonald house for wounded vets,” Strobino said. “It’s practically five-star accommodations for the family members of a wounded veteran that are recovering at the adjacent hospital. The family has their own private room. There’s a huge shared kitchen, laundry room, dining rooms, relaxing rooms. Everything is handicap accessible. And the families stay there free of charge.
“It helps the veteran because they can have family there while they are trying to recover,” he continued. “And it also helps the families because they are living in an area with other families going through similar situations. They can all empathize and help each other out.”
At the end of 2006, Strobino was awarded a Silver Star for his valor in combat. The citation reads:
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress July 9, 1918 (amended by an act of July 25, 1963), takes pleasure in presenting the Silver Star to Specialist Jay Christopher Strobino, United States Army, for exceptionally meritorious achievement and exemplary service as a Team Leader in 3d Platoon, Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 502d Infantry Regiment, 2d Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), attached to the 4th Infantry Division, during combat operations in support of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM, on a mission on 1 February 2006 in Rushdi Mulla, Iraq. Specialist Strobino’s exceptional dedication to mission accomplishment, tactical and technical competence, and unparalleled ability to perform under fire and while injured, contributed immeasurably to the success of his unit in Rushdi Mulla, Iraq, and reflects great credit upon himself, his unit, the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) and the United States Army.
“The absolute biggest thing is to stay positive,” he said, in regard to facing an unexpected challenge. “Surround yourself with positive people and feed off each other’s energy. Know that you’re not going to be able to do it alone, and it’s not going to be easy. But be sure to celebrate each small victory.”
Cheryl L. Mason understands the life of a military spouse — for more than 20 years, she lived it. Now, as Chairman of the VA Board of Veterans Appeals who oversees a staff of 1,200, Mason works to ensure that military spouses at the Board have the support they need to be successful. One of her many missions is to make it easier now than it was when she was a military spouse to find and maintain fulfilling positions and careers.
Military spouses are well-educated and highly qualified for a range of careers. But of the more than 600,000 military spouses worldwide who are actively seeking employment, 30% are unemployed and 56% are underemployed. One of the many challenges they face is the reluctance of employers to hire them due to their spouse’s service-related relocations, according to Mason.
In this interview, Mason shares her career path as a military spouse: how she rose to the top political position at the Board of Veterans Appeals where she oversees 850 lawyers, 102 Veterans Law Judges, and 200 operations and legal staff.
This post is part of a blog series VA Careers has developed along with other initiatives and activities to recruit and hire military spouses for careers at VA. At VA, we value the experience of military spouses and offer remote work options that accommodate the transient nature of military service.
What does a typical day look like for you at the VA Board of Veterans Appeals?
It depends on the day. I’m the CEO of the Board, so I set the vision and direction and provide overall leadership. The Board’s mission is to resolve appeals by holding hearings and issuing decisions on Veterans’ VA benefits and services. Each day, I have a series of internal meetings to discuss strategy, structure and procedures. I work closely and collaboratively with colleagues at the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), Veterans Benefits Administration, Office of Information and Technology, and Veterans Experience Office. Externally, I also work and collaborate with Veteran Service Organizations and other stakeholders. In addition, I serve as an ambassador to the PREVENTS [President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End a National Tragedy of Suicide] task force on suicide prevention.
How does your experience as a military spouse help you in your day-to-day duties at VA?
When you’re surrounded by military people as I was, you understand what active duty military and Veterans are going through or have gone through; you understand the culture. I’m able to navigate the military health care system, which is very important. Every time my son went to the doctor, I had to recite his medical history. Sometimes military members won’t go to the doctor because they don’t want to go through a five-minute recitation of their medical history every time or because they’re concerned that going to the doctor means they won’t be able to perform their duties. So when I see Veterans’ files, I’m able to identify gaps and read between the lines. I understand the situation because I lived it.
When we relocated to Germany, I had to leave my job in Washington, D.C., but was excited to be able to support my husband and the mission. I applied for 200 jobs and got none of them. While I was obviously a little discouraged, I had to get creative and, like a true military spouse, make the situation work. I initially went to work for Central Texas College running their paralegal program, which reached across several countries, and I taught paralegal studies to service members and family members. I eventually got a position as an executive assistant to an Air Force colonel who oversaw military contracts, information technology, budget and Air Force personnel for all of Europe.
I learned a lot of great lessons in Germany, such as how to lead, multitask and be agile. I’m grateful for my time there, and I don’t think I could have been as successful as I’ve been in my career, or in this position, had I not had that experience in Germany.
What appealed to you about a career at VA?
I’m the daughter of a World War II Veteran who died by suicide, so serving Veterans and VA’s mission are very important to me. My family and I received benefits from VA after my father died, which allowed me to go to college and law school. I know firsthand the difference VA benefits and services make in a person’s life.
I graduated college with a degree in psychology and political science and decided to go to law school. When I came to the Board and started writing decisions, I realized the work I was doing allowed me to use both my law and psychology degrees, because many of the appeals I was working on were related to mental health. I could really sink my teeth into the work. I went to law school to make a difference, and I found I could do that at VA. I could be the one making a difference for thousands of Veterans and their families every day and, hopefully, help them the way VA helped me.
Why is VA a good career move for military spouses?
Military spouses are incredibly unique. Many have put aside their own careers to support their service member and eventually transition with them to Veteran status. People forget that when a service member serves, their family serves with them. The choice to come to VA is a perfect transition for military spouses because we understand the mission and live with it every day.
Now, more than in the past, VA allows you to both have your career and move with your military member wherever duty calls. You can also support your military member as they transition into Veteran status. Military spouses have a spot in all career areas at VA because we bring a different perspective. For example, I’ve facilitated many nursing careers for military spouses because they bring such experience and talent to the job. Military spouses can make a difference in how VA operates, which is why VA needs them.
What advice would you give military spouses who are considering a career at VA?
Military spouses aren’t always valued the right way, either in government or the private sector. I usually tell military spouses not to sell themselves short or [not to] take no for an answer. I certainly didn’t, and I wouldn’t be sitting where I am today if I did. Military spouses are extremely resilient and talented — and can think on their feet because they have to. I tell them to use their [military and VA] networks because we have strong ones — and to look for the opportunities.
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Cheryl Mason’s experience as a military and Veteran spouse enriches her career serving Veterans and other military spouses. If you’re a military spouse, see if a VA career is right for you, too.
Slosh, plop, slosh, plop. The noise my boots made with every step seemed deafening. 20 or so Iraqi Special Forces soldiers and I were doing our best to be sneaky on our way to the target building, but it was the wet season, so Iraq’s infamous moon dust had already made the transition to sticky tar-like mud.
Slosh, plop, slosh, plop. Our boots, caked in mud at this point, were getting worse with every step. We might as well have been a middle school orchestra doing sound checks.
Before we got too close to our target house, I needed to remind the commander of the platoon I was advising about a key point we neglected on our last mission. “Remember, get one ladder up and clear the courtyard before the other ladder goes up and everyone starts jumping over the wall,” I whispered in my best broken Iraqi Arabic. I had to simultaneously motion with my hands to mimic a wall, a house, and a ladder. I wasn’t sure what was more confusing, my Arabic or the goofy hand gestures.
Luckily, the commander was used to whatever an American trying to speak in his native tongue sounded like, so he nodded in the affirmative, which could mean “yup, got it” or “whatever, dude.” I guess we’ll see in a few minutes, I thought to myself. Fortunately, it only took seconds.
“Fuck’n Yalla!” he said with a huge grin, blasting me with his ashtray breath. Guess we’re good then.
Our not-so-sneaky infil became a comically loud trot of mud-caked boots as we closed in on the target house. The Iraqi Special Forces soldiers stacked up on the wall outside the house, and the commander was directing traffic. The first ladder went up and a soldier climbed up and deliberately swept the courtyard with his rifle before stopping at the door into the house.
With security posted, another ladder was placed against the wall. The other soldiers began silently scaling the wall, entering the courtyard, and stacking on the house in preparation for breaching the door.
The third Iraqi in the stack emerged with a mini batting ram, cocked it back, and slammed it into the door. A sharp metallic clash rang out as the door flew inward and the soldiers flowed into the house.
Up to this point, the Iraqis had been as silent as possible and relied only on streetlights to see, but now that the front door had been violently breached, the gig was up. They flicked on their “white lights” — the tactical flashlights they attached to their AK47s to illuminate rooms they were clearing — and started shouting commands to each other and whoever was inside as they methodically moved from room to room. Speed, surprise, and violence of action. Check, check, check.
I watched as their lights reached the second floor, and then my radio crackled to life. “Joe, wrap it up. It’s fucking turkey time!”
Shit, that’s right, I thought. It’s hard to track holidays with the constant grind of combat operations and training. I walked into the training compound that the Iraqis had just assaulted and found their commander. “Hey brother, great job on the ladder — big improvement from last time,” I said. “That’s it for tonight, we are on standby for ops this week.”
He nodded, gave me a fist bump, and motioned for his soldiers to exit the house.
They didn’t need to be convinced. They slung their weapons, lit cigarettes, and joked and exchanged slaps on the back just like soldiers have since man first formed armies. The life-or-death business of war is too important to take too seriously.
I wished them “Tisballahhair,” or “good evening,” as I began my muddy slog back to the team house. The cool breeze coming off the Tigris River filtered through the rain-soaked palm trees, bringing with it a pleasant jasmine scent. During my first winter in Iraq, I was amazed that the smell of the city in the late fall and winter was so refreshing. But off in the distance, I could still hear the occasional bursts of gunfire and explosions mixed with the echoes of a call to prayer and horn blasts. Such was life in Iraq in 2004.
The life-or-death business of war is too important to take too seriously.
Even though I was far from home on Thanksgiving, I was living my childhood dream. I was a 24-year-old U.S. Army Green Beret on my second combat deployment living in the middle of Baghdad with my Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) training the Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF) and advising them on actual combat operations — which included everything from tracking down bad guys to conducting raids to kill or capture them.
And there was no shortage of work to go around. We were located in northern Baghdad on the western bank of the Tigris, caught between the Shia enclave of Kadhimiya and the Sunni stronghold of Adimiyah. That put us right in the middle of the action, which is exactly where a modern Green Beret wants to be.
Our Saddam Hussein-era military barracks were within a combat outpost secured by a company of the U.S. Army’s 2nd Cavalry Division. Before the invasion, our home away from home was one of Hussein’s most feared prisons, run by his dreaded secret police. When we moved in, several of the Iraqis had horrific stories about being tortured there, and some even refused to work there. The Iraqi commander eventually brought in a local religious leader to bless the barracks and ensure no evil spirit lingered in the erie corridors of our compound.
As was the case everywhere that early in the war, our living conditions were spartan, but we made the best of it. Our team house was a simple one-story concrete building fortified with sand bags over the windows and on the roof. We had a makeshift porch with a large grill that was glowing with charcoal and wafting smoke tinged with the sweet smell of bacon. Take that, jihad, I thought as I kicked my boots against the wall of the house in an effort to knock the mud off.
I opened the door and rounded the corner into our living room and kitchen area, where the smell of turkey and stuffing overpowered the scents of Copenhagen, gun oil, and coffee that normally permeated the house.
“What’s up, man? How’d the house go?” asked Matt, our Special Forces medic. Like most SF medics, Matt had a reassuring calm and sharp intellect that made him an asset on any mission. But what made him unique was that he could have been a stand-up comedian if he ever decided to hang up his green beret. At least once a day he had me laughing so hard it hurt — most recently performing a hilarious parody of Al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi’s manifesto.
“It went well — hopefully we fixed our wall issue,” I replied.
“Inshallah habibi — grab a plate of chow!” Matt said, gesturing to our kitchen table, where Thanksgiving dinner was waiting. I happily obliged.
“Joe, your jundis are having ladder issues? That’s weird” The sarcastic comment came from Stu, our team’s intelligence sergeant.
I knew that was coming. Stu had been on the team for several years and was part of 5th Group’s legendary initial push into Afghanistan in 2001. He was built like a linebacker and always plotting a prank. ODAs are tight, which means you never live down your screw ups; all you can do is smile and hope your skin gets thick — fast. A few of the other guys laughed. So did I. Here we go…
“Wait, what happened?” asked Jeremy, our communications sergeant. Jeremy had been on the team for years but missed our last trip due to a broken neck he sustained during training. He was a good ol’ boy from Missouri and sounded like Boomhauer from “King of the Hill,” so naturally the Army gave him the job that required him to talk on the radio.
“Oh shit, that’s right, we have to tell you this one!” Matt replied. Well, at least Matt would make the story funny, I thought as I scooped some cranberry sauce onto my turkey.
“Dude, so no shit there we were,” Matt said, opening with the proper war story preamble, “assaulting a huge-ass compound out west — some deck-of-cards clown’s house, which was awesome. The mission had everything: helo infil with fast ropes to the roof, a wall breech, the door gunners even lit up a guard tower. Pretty awesome op.” Matt was now standing to make more room to add animation with his hands.
“It was going great until we were trying to get over this big-ass wall with these shitty ladders, and Joe, loaded with way too much bullshit, breaks a rung on the ladder, gets mad, throws the ladder to the side and tries to ninja climb over the 8-foot wall. He gets caught by his kit on the wall, so I get under him and push his ass over the wall like combat Winnie the Pooh!” Matt explained, reenacting my finest hour.
“Well, that’s a technique,” Jermey said with his normal deadpan wit. Everyone got a good laugh. All I could do was finish fixing my plate and find a place to sit. Gary, our engineer, was my best bet.
Gary was a wiry backwoods Southerner, and we went to Special Forces Selection and the Special Forces Qualification Course together. He had just earned a valor award for his calm under enemy fire during a raid in Samara, but you wouldn’t peg him as a Green Beret — or the guy who would remain calm while getting shot at for that matter.
“We eating or waiting for Mom and Dad?” Gary asked as he spit Copenhagen into one of the ever-present dip bottles that lined our house floor. “Mom and Dad” were Mike, our senior noncommissioned officer, or more simply known as the team sergeant; and Trevor, our team leader and only commissioned officer. Neither was Mom or Dad specifically, but together they were a couple.
“Hey, come eat!” Stu yelled into the office that adjoined our living room where Mike and Trevor would send reports back to our headquarters. These were definitely the good old days of limited connectivity and little to no micromanagement from higher headquarters. Sure, we still checked in over the radio with them daily, but it was mostly asking for forgiveness and not permission. Unfortunately, that dynamic has been replaced by nearly nonstop emails, messenger chatting, and teleconferences from every nook and cranny of today’s battlefield.
Our leadership duo emerged from the back office, Mike in the lead. He grew up in the infantry and had seen combat in the first Gulf War, Kosovo, the initial push into Afghanistan, and was on his second Iraq deployment. He was the most experienced guy on the team, an aggressive leader, and gave us a ton of space to succeed.
Trevor was Mike’s commissioned counterpart, a humble officer who had every reason not to be: he was a West Point graduate who knocked out all of the Army’s hardest training by the time he was a captain. He also had the ability to understand every detail of what we were doing and how it tied into the big picture.
“Happy Thanksgiving three-five … again,” Mike said as he piled turkey onto his plate and sat down at our gaudy wood and fake-gold kitchen table. Trevor grabbed a plate last and sat next to Mike, our team now almost complete.
“Intel update!” Josh said as he entered the room and took a seat with his plate of turkey, stuffing, and jelly-looking cranberry sauce. Josh had also been in SF for several years and was now running the Iraqi recon element that collected intel for our Iraqi Special Forces companies to action.
It was normal for meals to be interrupted by intel updates, and Thanksgiving was no exception, so all eyes were on Josh. It had been a hell of a trip so far, with summer fighting in Najaf against Sadr’s boys, chasing Zarqawi and his hostages on every backstreet of Baghdad, another away game in Samara, followed by Operation Phantom Fury in Fallujah. The more information we could get, the better — you never knew when the next shithead would pop up for a round of whack-a-mole.
But today would not be one of those days.
“No ops tonight — beer light’s on, nerds,” Josh said, as he pulled a green 22-ounce Tuborg “tall boy” out of his cargo pocket. “Right, Mike?” he asked, with a smart-ass grin, deferring to our senior NCO for the official approval.
“I did say, happy Thanksgiving …” Mike said, motioning for Josh to pass him a beer.
Josh was more than happy to oblige. He cracked open our refrigerator and passed around a combination of Tuborg, Hienekens, and Efes tall boys, graciously provided by our Iraqi Christian friends. They didn’t mess around when it came to beer. “It’s like they know no one in Iraq wants just a pint of beer,” Josh said. “The tall boy is their standard.”
But just like any other Thanksgiving, you always seemed to be waiting on the weird uncle to show up.
“Where is Seaux?” Mike asked suspiciously. Seaux, named after the famous Johnny Cash song, may be the origin of the phrase “stranger than fiction.” If he’s not, he definitely lived up to it. Seaux had fought in Grenada with the 82nd Airborne, then joined the French Foreigin Legion, but eventually found his way back into the U.S. Army and had served in every war the U.S. had been in from Mogadishu to Iraq. It probably comes as no surprise that Seaux loved going native and spent most of his time with a few Iraqis doing recon work.
“I’m coming — don’t you flatlanders know I eat dinner at 4PM sharp?” Seaux grumbled from his room. “No respect for seniors.”
When Seaux hung out with us, he did so either dressed as a viking or as a native American, complete with a bow and arrow he used to shoot flaming arrows across the Tigris. Like I said, stranger than fiction.
Before long, he emerged from his room and caught the beer that Josh tossed to him.
But just like any other Thanksgiving, you always seemed to be waiting on the weird uncle to show up.
“Cheers, fuckers!” Stu said, as he made a toasting motion. The rest of the team unceremoniously made the motion in return, cracked their beers, took a sip, and dug into their dinner. We may not have been home for Thanksgiving, but in our line of work, sitting down as a team — a family — for turkey that day seemed more like home in some ways than what we would have had back in the States.
“We’re lucky this year,” Trevor said with a grin. “The B Team busted their asses to get every ODA a turkey. Worked out well for everyone but Two-Three …” ODA 523 was just across the river from us, and we often supported each other on missions and shared intel a few times a week.
“Do tell, sir,” Jeremy said.
“Well, they drove one of their Mercedes to pick up their turkey in the Green Zone, and when they were coming back in to their base, I guess the kid on guard didn’t know it was them and lit up their car with his machine gun!” Trevor explained.
Everyone paused; there’s nothing friendly about friendly fire.
For the first couple of years of the war in Iraq, Special Forces ODAs in major Iraqi cities acquired local cars to drive around town so that they could conduct reconnaissance and low-profile assaults. That technique was a double-edged sword though. It worked great in that we could avoid contact with the enemy until we wanted to make it and got a great feel for Iraq at the street level. However, the most dangerous part of these operations was the re-entry to friendly lines. The guys guarding the gate were usually very young soldiers and were used to seeing military vehicles. Suffice it to say, that at two years into the war, all of us had stared down the barrel of U.S. weapons with our hands up screaming “I AM AN AMERICAN!” a few times.
“Somehow, no one got hurt, the kid on the gun lit up the engine block,” Trevor continued. “Marty and Lee bailed out, and the car caught on fire and ruined their turkey!” All of us laughed at the cartoonish mental image of our buddies dodging some private’s hail of machine gun fire and their turkey getting cooked early. Like many things in war, the closest of calls would usually end up as a fun story to laugh about later. And sometimes … they didn’t.
“Yeah, man. Better than last year when we got tossed out of the big Army chow hall because POTUS was coming and we looked like pirates,” Josh said with a laugh. He was referring to our last deployment when a high-strung mess officer rudely told us we couldn’t eat Thanksgiving dinner unless we were in uniform. We wanted to eat, but not that bad.
What we didn’t know at the time was that President George W. Bush was coming to eat with the troops at the chow hall we were trying to get into. In hindsight, it made sense why hooligans like us were turned away. There are plenty of perks that come with wearing the green beret, but sometimes it can work against you.
Looking around our makeshift living and dining room, I felt very grateful to be sitting there with my brothers. This was our second Thanksgiving together in combat; we didn’t know it at the time, but we’d be doing the same drill the next year on the Syrian border.
The mood would be far more somber for that dinner. Our luck would run out by then, and we would have lost two teammates by the time we sat down for turkey again. Sergeant First Class Brett E. Walden and Army Sergeant First Class Robert V. Derenda paid the ultimate sacrifice, and their families are in my thoughts this Thanksgiving.
In retrospect, I guess we were all just getting warmed up. Most of us cracking beers in our Baghdad team house in 2004 would spend more Thanksgivings with teammates in combat zones over the next 14 years than with our actual families. Holidays spent in makeshift living spaces, living feet away from each other and always in-between intense combat operations, would become normal for all of us — and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Even then, I knew the bonds I forged with those men in that room would last for the rest of my life. After our third combat deployment, most of us had to move on to other assignments. All of us stayed in the fight and made efforts to stay in touch though. Josh and I forged a tight bond in Baghdad that remained long afterward. In fact, when I married my warrior soulmate, Shannon — a special operator herself — she insisted that Josh and his son be at every Thanksgiving and Christmas we shared as a family.
But what I didn’t know was how all of them would be there for me 14 years later, during the darkest hour on the worst day of my life … the day I found out my wife, Senior Chief Petty Officer Shannon Kent, was killed in action while hunting ISIS in Syria alongside three other courageous Americans: Scotty Wirtz, a former U.S. Navy SEAL; Ghadir Thahir, a Syrian-American linguist; and Jon Farmer, a Green Beret Warrant Officer, from the 5th Special Forces Group — my old group. I had not seen most of my brothers from Three-Five in more than 10 years, but it didn’t matter. They were there for me, they cried with me, and they are still there for me and my sons to this day.
Unlike that Thanksgiving next to the Tigris in 2004, cracking jokes and telling stories over a modest turkey dinner, this Thanksgiving is going to suck. I can’t believe it has been almost a year since I last saw my wife in person. But what I am beyond thankful for is my sons, the short time I had with Shannon, and the love of my teammates. The bonds formed in the horrors of combat are lasting and unbreakable.
Take the time this Thanksgiving to reach out to your brothers and sisters in arms — talk about the good times and work through the bad. Be there for each other because you never know when you’ll need them the most.
Air Force veterans and other military members from other branches rushed to their keyboards to inform the world of how basic training was back in their day, as a female trainee at Lackland was outed using her cell phone to post on Snapchat during training. Current and former service members were quick to criticize the unidentified young woman for her phone usage in basic training, despite the fact that nothing could be more basic than these Snaps.
Other eagle-eyed former airmen, who presumably went through BMT before the widespread use of mobile phones, were quick to ask why her key is hanging on the outside of her PC uniform as other branches questioned what “PC” is and if it’s anything like PT, if BMT is like what the Air Force calls boot camp, and do all airmen trainees wear their hair down like that?
The biggest questions on everyone’s minds were how she managed to keep her phone while the others were presumably locked away and how she was able to sit on the dayroom furniture (while eating!) without moving the chairs or invoking the wrath of the dayroom crew, the dorm chief, or even the house mouse. Meanwhile, Air Force veterans at We Are The Mighty are concerned about the fate of her wingman, who was probably recycled into oblivion, only to emerge just before mandatory retirement.
Of course, everything about the photos (posted for public consumption in the Air Force Facebook Group Air Force amn/nco/snco, who ratted her out to Air Force Basic Training’s Facebook page) is wrong; from her hair and key, to eating in the dayroom while sitting on the g*ddamn furniture. Air Force basic training is just as strict about its cell phone policy as it was in the days of payphones – airmen make three mandatory calls on their personal phones over the course of their training.
The collective selective memories of Air Force veterans from all over came down hard on the young trainee as the shade thrown at the woman was enough to blot out the sun. Of course, no one in the history of the Air Force has ever messed up as hardcore as this airman trainee, who is obviously the worst person ever and doesn’t belong in MY Air Force. #LiterallyHitler.
In all seriousness, every time I’m tempted to comment on what happened back in MY Air Force days, I’m quick to remind myself that Basic Military Training – aka BMT – in MY day was only six and a half weeks, consisted of one week of anything related to carrying a firearm in a deployed location (that was still a rubber-coated M-16, the military equivalent of pinning oven mitts on my hands), and that my first PT test in the active Air Force was on a stationary bike where push-ups and sit-ups were done, but not counted in my final score.
Lighten up, Air Force-trained killers.
As for this airman, luckily an MTI was on hand to fill the world in about current Air Force BMT phone policy. This girl probably just smuggled her phone in using the old prison-style method – and if so, let’s make sure she’s promoted ahead of peers, maybe even give her a BTZ to staff.
U.S. Marines, sailors, and civilians participated in the Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response course at Camp Foster, Okinawa, Japan from Sept. 16 to Sept. 20, 2019.
The class is meant to teach students how to both fully understand and effectively respond to emergency situations where dangerous chemicals, substances, and materials are found on military installations.
The week-long class consisted mostly of classroom lectures in addition to an entire day devoted to practical application training exercises where the students worked together to solve applicable, but difficult scenarios.
“I think this class is a big learning curve for a lot of the students here,” says Ashley Hoshihara Cruz, the Camp Foster chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive specialist. “However, the students are really putting in the resources, time, and effort to make this a quality class.”
U.S. Marines prepare to enter a mock-contamination site during the Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response course at Camp Foster, Okinawa, Japan, Sept. 19, 2019.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Ryan Pulliam)
To encourage teamwork and strengthen leadership capabilities in the class, Wood said that the junior Marines in the class may be placed in leadership roles and find themselves guiding officers and staff noncommissioned officers through tasks the senior Marines may primarily fill.
“It’s really rewarding,” Wood said. “To see these students take the information we, as instructors, gave to them and extract that out to things that we have not talked about, but figured out, nonetheless.”
U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer Nathan Hale, a native of Washington D.C. and an explosive ordnance and disposal chief for U.S. Fleet Activities Yokosuka, attaches an oxygen tank to a fellow student during the Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response course at Camp Foster, Okinawa, Japan, Sept. 19, 2019.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Ryan Pulliam)
The HAZWOPER class is conducted on behalf of the U.S. Navy Civil Engineer Corps Officer School and has been taught in Okinawa for the past eight years.
This article originally appeared on Marines. Follow @USMC on Twitter.
A barber wears a face covering while cutting hair at the barber shop on Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, April 10, 2020.
When Marine Corps family members in Maryland reached out to their congressman with concerns about crowded base barber shops, Rep. Jamie Raskin said that — of all the challenges the country faces during the coronavirus pandemic — this was an easy one to solve.
“The people who joined the Marines are protecting us and we have an obligation to protect them,” Raskin, a Maryland Democrat, told Military.com. “[Grooming standards] can be relaxed in a way that does not endanger our national security.”
Raskin, who wrote a letter to Marine Commandant Gen. David Berger on Tuesday, is the latest to question the service’s adherence to strict grooming standards during the global pandemic. A video shared on social media that showed Marines without masks lined up to get their hair cut prompted Defense Secretary Mark Esper to ask, “What don’t you guys understand?”
In his letter, Raskin urged Berger to relax Marine Corps grooming standards temporarily “to protect both Marines and the barbers and hairdressers who serve them.”
Berger has received the letter but wishes to keep private his communication with lawmakers, Maj. Eric Flanagan, the commandant’s spokesman, said.
The commandant has left decisions about relaxing standards to stem the spread of coronavirus up to commanders, but Raskin said the massive health crisis the pandemic presents calls for top-down guidance.
“This calls for precisely the kind of institutional leadership and cohesion that the Marines are famous for,” he said. “The commandant can act here to prevent high-risk situations from materializing.”
I’m asking the @USMC Commandant to temporarily relax grooming standards in the Marine Corps during the COVID19 pandemic to avoid putting Marines base barbers at unnecessary risk of infection. Our fighting forces protect us we must protect them (with no risk to nat. security).pic.twitter.com/meuZG9ToOv
Having Marines wait in lines for haircuts as cases of COVID-19 continue to rise in the military ranks is unnecessary, Raskin said. The ongoing public health struggle against coronavirus, he said, requires leaders to help reduce any unneeded close physical contact.
Each of the military services has issued its own guidance on how to enforce grooming standards during the pandemic. The Navy, the service hit hardest by the coronavirus crisis, was the first to give commanders the authority to relax male and female hair-length rules on March 18.
The Air Force also issued guidance last month to commanders about relaxing grooming standards. Soldiers have been told to follow the service’s hair regulations, but not to be overboard with extra cuts to keep it super short during the outbreak.
In his letter, Raskin stressed that it only takes one infected Marine or barber to spread COVID-19. That could lead to a chain reaction of COVID-19 cases in the ranks, he warned.
The congressman acknowledged that military leaders have a lot to consider when it comes to new policies during the unprecedented situation caused by the coronavirus pandemic. But if family members are worried about their Marines’ safety, public leaders have an obligation to consider their concerns, he said.
“I hope the commandant can strike the right balance,” Raskin said.