America’s military and police working dogs’ needs are fully supported and funded by the government, until they retire. The costs of their care after years of dedicated service can be high. This is where Project K9 Hero jumps in.
According to their website, their vision is to ensure quality of life for America’s retired Military Working Dogs and Police K9 Heroes by providing the needed assistance for their medical, food and end-of-duty services. These dogs have worked and trained their entire career. Many will retire with serious medical issues that can be costly and may also suffer from anxiety or PTSD. Project K9 Hero has made it their mission to ensure these heroes receive everything they need to enjoy their retirement years.
MWD and Police K9s that have what are deemed “special needs” are considered first by the board of directors of Project K9 Hero for financial assistance. Many also have to demonstrate that their care is a financial burden on their owners. They accept dogs into their program that have served within all branches of the military or law enforcement.
(Project K9 Hero)
Project K9 Hero is a national 501c3 nonprofit organization that relies on the generous donations of the public and corporate sponsorships to continue their vital work to support these heroes. Currently there are no public funds to support these K9s. Some go on hundreds of deployments and missions, serving this country faithfully for years on end. But once that service ends, their support lies in the hands of nonprofits and those that adopt them.
Project K9 Hero has been heavily involved in working on legislation to support K9s for years. The K9 Hero Act will allocate million in federal grants to be awarded to nonprofits for the medical bills of retired military working dogs and police K9s. But Project K9 needs the public’s help to get the bill moving forward. It was introduced into Congress in November of 2019 but has not been brought forward for a vote yet. The public can help support and move this legislation by asking their representatives and senators to support this bill.
On Project K9 Hero’s website, founder Jason Johnsons stated, “For me it’s a legacy as the Founder of Project K-9 Hero. I want to make sure that the work is being carried on for generations to come. It’s time our government take into consideration that if we’re going to use them and treat them like heroes when they’re on duty and during their service that we’re going to treat them the same way in retirement.”
(Project K9 Hero)
The needs of America’s K9 heroes go beyond medical and financial, though. They also need safe and secure retirement homes as well. Project K9 is currently fundraising to build a rehabilitation and rehoming facility in Tennessee which will allow them to further their mission. According to their website, it will be a 6,340 square foot facility that will have kennels, a play zone, a veterinary clinic and grooming facility. It will also become their corporate headquarters.
Around 90 percent of MWD and police K9s are adopted to their handlers, who usually get the opportunity to adopt first. While the public tends to be quick to adopt MWD and K9 puppies that don’t make the cut for the program, the older dogs aren’t adopted quite as quickly. This facility will aim to support these heroes by providing an enriching, safe and healthy environment for those in need of an immediate home. The public can donate to support this facility or purchase items in their REDD (remember every dog deployed) collection, which will support the opening of this facility.
Project K9 Hero wants to make sure that the loyal service MWD and Police K9s provided to this country is never forgotten. Their statement on their website says it all: Protecting Those Who Protected Us. To learn more about this nonprofit and how you can support their mission of taking care of our K9 heroes, click here.
Alicia Sims was at her neighbor’s house to get some Tylenol when she heard a knock at the front door. At first she thought it was one of her five children.
“Come in,” she hollered.
There was no reply.
“It’s unlocked, come in,” she yelled.
Again, no answer.
She went to the door and there stood a chaplain and another man. Immediately, Alicia’s thoughts turned to her husband, Jacob, a 36-year-old MH-47G Chinook pilot in the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment who was deployed to Afghanistan at the time, in October 2017.
“Is he okay?” Alicia asked.
The two did not immediately reply.
“Is he okay?” she asked again, clinging to the hope that her husband was only wounded. “Just tell me where I have to go.”
“If he was okay, I wouldn’t be here right now,” the chaplain replied.
Then, he delivered the news: Jacob’s Chinook had crashed during a nighttime raid in Afghanistan’s Logar Province. Six crew members were injured. Jacob was dead.
High school sweethearts, the couple began dating when Alicia was a sophomore. She married Jacob the day after she graduated. As a married couple, they’d been through thick and thin. Five children, countless deployments, moving across the country. Not an unusual story for military families in the post-9/11 era.
A chief warrant officer in the Army’s elite aviation outfit the “Night Stalkers,” based at Fort Lewis in Washington, Jacob had steadily advanced in his career over the years. Having dedicated her life to her family, Alicia, for her part, had never gone to university or had a career of her own. Instead, she’d held down the home front while her husband deployed over and over again — more times than she can now remember — to the war zones in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places such as Kosovo. And now the nightmare had come true. Her husband, the father of their five children, wouldn’t be coming home this time.
Alicia was devastated, and she would grieve. Yes, that would come. But not yet. In the immediate roil and tumble of the single worst instant of her life, the first thing that went through Alicia Sims’ mind was how she was going to give her children the news that their father had died.
“My first thought was, Now I’ve got to tell my five kids this,” Alicia says in a telephone interview with Coffee or Die Magazine from her home in Clarksville, Tennessee.
“I’d been with Jacob half my life, and I was a stay-at-home mom,” she continues. “All I could think was: What am I going to do? How am I going to support these kids? I don’t even have an education. How am I going to pay bills? There were a lot of things running through my mind.”
In the first days following Jacob’s death, Alicia’s needs revolved around simple things like food, laundry, and getting the children to school. She also had to go to Dover, Delaware, to receive her husband’s body.
“I had to come back and plan his funeral and do all of that. And when you’re being pulled in all those different directions, you don’t think about grocery shopping or food or anything else,” she says.
As time went on, however, the immediacy of the tragedy faded and the long-term reality of being a single mother set in. Consequently, Alicia’s worries evolved to encompass larger issues — more complicated problems than a simple check or a home-cooked meal by a neighbor could fix. Above all, she needed a college degree to land a job that could support her and her five children. But how would she ever find the time to go to school? Their youngest child, a daughter named Harper, was just shy of 2 years old when Jacob died, and Alicia couldn’t afford day care or preschool. Plus, in a few years the two oldest daughters would be thinking about going to college — how was she ever going to pay for all that?
The walls seemed to be closing in until something incredible happened — an unexpected encounter that forever changed the course of Alicia’s life. At an event for families of the fallen, a Special Operations Warrior Foundation representative approached Alicia, informing her that the organization had begun funding preschool programs. And then the magic words: “Are you interested?”
“And so the youngest of my five was one of their first kids that they put through preschool, which is very fortunate for me,” Alicia later explains. “None of my kids have ever been in preschool or anything like that, so Harper is the only one. Last year she was in preschool and this year she’s in pre-K, fully funded by the Special Operations Warrior Foundation.”
Today, Alicia Sims is a single mother, raising three daughters, aged 15, 14, and 4; and two boys, aged 11 and 10. The youngest daughter, Harper, will have her education paid for by the Special Operations Warrior Foundation from preschool to university. Her two older daughters are enrolled in a college preparation academy, and her son has been receiving math tutoring — all paid for by the foundation.
With her children’s educational needs provided for, Alicia has been able to pursue a college degree in social work.
“Knowing the [Special Operations Warrior Foundation] is just an email away if we were to need anything education-wise, it puts my mind at ease. Because I don’t have to worry about what to cut this month to pay for tutoring or anything like that,” Alicia says.
She adds: “Because my youngest gets to go to preschool, and I don’t have to worry about day care, it’s allowed me to better myself to further my own career so I can take care of myself and my kids and not have to rely on other people.”
Typically after a tragedy, the immediate outpourings of grief and sympathy taper off as time goes on. And it is the family, the survivors, who are left to live with the enduring consequences of their loss, while others — no matter how well intentioned their initial expressions of sympathy may have been — are able to move on.
“Everybody else goes on with their lives, while our lives are still kind of at a standstill,” Alicia says. “But one thing I can say about the [Special Operations Warrior Foundation] is that they have never lost contact. Every few weeks, you know, they’re reaching out to make sure I don’t need anything. That the kids don’t need anything. ‘Is anybody struggling? Do they need a tutor?’ There’s a constant outreach just to make sure we’re okay.”
The Special Operations Warrior Foundation is an organization that provides college scholarships, as well as educational assistance as early as preschool, for the children of special operations soldiers killed in combat or training. The 40-year-old 501(c)(3) charitable organization distinguishes itself from other nonprofits by committing its resources to the children of the fallen for the long haul — from “cradle to career,” as the organization’s CEO and president, Clay Hutmacher, tells Coffee or Die Magazine.
“Our kids, I think, need this holistic approach because they’ve been through a traumatic event,” Hutmacher says. “They’ve lost a parent and most of them are in a single-parent home. Our strategy is to invest in these kids up front. And, you know, preschool statistically significantly enhances your kid’s chances of going on to higher education.”
That “holistic” approach is yielding results. Some 90% of the children sponsored by the Special Operations Warrior Foundation go on to pursue a college education immediately after high school — 20% above the national average. Moreover, between 92% and 93% of the foundation’s sponsored children graduate a four-year institution in five years or less — about 30% above the national average.
Currently, the Special Operations Warrior Foundation counts 882 children in its programs — the average age is 7. With up to $8,000 available per year for a child to go to preschool, the foundation also pays for tutoring and for specialized high school programs such as the college preparation courses in which Alicia Sims has enrolled her two oldest daughters. The organization also provides benefits to about a dozen children in need of special education.
“We pay for college visits, and we pay for study abroad,” Hutmacher says. “We help with internships just to defray some of the costs of relocating and all of that. And then we run [the students] through a program to prep them for college study skills, financial management, writing their essays, all that kind of stuff. And then, of course, we fully fund their [college degrees], and we don’t care where they go. We don’t care if they go to Harvard or to community college to be an auto mechanic.”
Our nation will always need special operators. And those elite warriors will likely remain perpetually engaged in combat, whether covertly or overtly, to hold the world’s dark forces at bay beyond the edges of America’s borders, guaranteeing the peaceful life we enjoy and so often take for granted.
Each day when Hutmacher arrives at work, he takes a minute to pause in the main hallway of the foundation’s Tampa, Florida, offices. The walls are covered with photos of the college graduates the Special Operations Warrior Foundation has sponsored over the years — a stark testament to the toll of our nation’s wars, no doubt. But also a measure of all the good the foundation has done for the families left behind in the wake of those tragedies.
“You walk in this building every day and we’ve got pictures on the wall of kids that we’ve helped. The job satisfaction is off the chart,” Hutmacher tells Coffee or Die Magazine.
After a military career that spanned some 41 years — from his days as an enlisted Marine to retiring as an Army major general at the upper echelons of the special operations community — Hutmacher understands the reality of the threats facing our nation, as well as the constant expenditure of courage and sacrifice needed to keep those threats at bay.
“Behind every name, there’s a whole family whose lives are changed forever. Their struggle is just beginning. You know, their lives were changed in the blink of an eye and not for the better. And there’s many, many challenges ahead,” Hutmacher says.
Thus, each morning, as Hutmacher stands in that hallowed hallway and takes stock of the good work his organization has done, he also understands there’s a lot of work left to do. In this endless endeavor, Hutmacher says he is continually inspired by the exceptionalism of the men and women who’ve stood up to fight for our country.
“You have unique men and women that have chosen a life of service, and they are generally very, very talented and they could have done many other things,” Hutmacher explains. “But they chose a life of service. So I feel like it’s the least we can do to take care of their children.”
For her part, Alicia Sims says that thanks to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, her children are not simply surviving the trauma they’ve experienced. Rather, they’ve been galvanized to lead uniquely successful lives in honor of the legacy of their father’s heroic service and sacrifice.
“There’s a whole group of people standing in their corner, cheering them on, wanting them to succeed in life,” she says. “It is definitely putting more of an importance on furthering their education because, like I explained to them, you know, if your father hadn’t have died, we wouldn’t have been able to ever pay for all five of our kids to go to college. So this is an opportunity they wouldn’t have had otherwise. They see the importance of that. And they want to make sure he didn’t die in vain, and they’re making him proud, and they use the benefits they have to their fullest potential.”
The Special Operations Warrior Foundation was founded in the wake of Operation Eagle Claw — an April 1980 operation ordered by President Jimmy Carter to attempt to rescue the 52 hostages held at the US Embassy in the Iranian capital of Tehran. Five Air Force personnel and three Marines were killed in the ill-fated mission, leaving 17 children without a father.
At first, the charitable organization was focused on providing college scholarships to the children of special operators killed in combat or training. Yet, as its financial resources have improved over the years, its mission has expanded. Apart from the “cradle to career” philosophy espoused by Hutmacher, the foundation now also supports the children of living Medal of Honor recipients (if they’re associated with special operations forces), as well as the families of special operators who have been gravely wounded in training or combat.
“It’s a very amazing foundation. There’s no questions asked. You simply fill out a form just so they kind of know what’s needed, where the money needs to go. And it’s taken care of,” Alicia Sims says. “If the foundation wasn’t a part of our lives, I don’t know what we’d do.”
A triathlete and an outwardly laid-back guy (despite his six and a half years as a Marine and rising to the rank of major general in the Army), Hutmacher has a passion for his work that radiates through the telephone connection. In short, the man embodies the spirit of service, displaying a boundless drive to better others’ lives and to draw his own quiet happiness from that selfless endeavor. One small example: Hutmacher writes — by hand — a congratulatory note to every college student sponsored by the foundation who earns a 3.5 GPA or higher.
“I want to encourage the students to continue and to succeed. That’s my passion,” Hutmacher says. “I’m not a professional fundraiser, I’m a stick wiggler. But I get fired up about this job. Especially when I see the impact on these kids. It’s awesome.”
Hutmacher’s anecdotes exemplify his personal commitment to the foundation’s mission. He recounts the story of Josh Wheeler, a 39-year-old Army master sergeant who served with Delta Force and was killed during a hostage rescue mission in Iraq in 2015.
Throughout the course of his storied military career, Wheeler earned 11 Bronze Star Medals including four with Valor Devices. He was posthumously awarded the Silver Star, the Purple Heart, and the Medal of Patriotism.
When Wheeler left behind a wife and four sons, the Special Operations Warrior Foundation stepped in to help. And when one of Wheeler’s sons started having trouble in school, Hutmacher organized a cruise for the two of them around Tampa Bay as a “team-building” opportunity. Later, Hutmacher visited Wheeler’s family at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. He brought them takeout Chinese food like their father used to do. Seemingly small gestures, perhaps, but in the end they made all the difference.
The son who had once been struggling in school went on to study at North Carolina’s Sandhills Community College. He earned a 3.5 GPA in his first quarter. Last quarter, he earned a 4.0 GPA, Hutmacher proudly says.
“That’s what it’s all about,” he explains. “You see, these are kids that have been through some tough times. So, to me, that’s why we’re here. We invest in each and every child to make sure they succeed.”
Army Sgt. Cameron Meddock, a Ranger, died in combat in Afghanistan in January 2019. After his daughter, Brinley, was born the following April, the Special Operations Warrior Foundation immediately reached out and enrolled her in their program. Next year, Brinley is set to attend preschool under the foundation’s sponsorship.
“I was six months pregnant when my husband was killed in Afghanistan,” said Meddock’s widow, Stevie, in a statement. “Looking or planning for the future seemed impossible. Special Operations Warrior Foundation reached out to me to help ease some of that stress for me. Knowing that my daughter will have the opportunity to have an education without the associated financial burden has taken a huge weight off my shoulders and given me something positive to look forward to.”
Starting in eighth grade, years from now, Brinley is slated to attend a college success academy. If she chooses to go to college, she’ll graduate in 2040.
“It’s a lifetime commitment,” Hutmacher says. “We pour our hearts and souls into these families.”
A native of Wenatchee, Washington, Hutmacher commanded at every level during his three tours with the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. He rounded out his illustrious career serving as commanding general of Army Special Operations Aviation Command, deputy commanding general of Army Special Operations Command, and director of operations at US Special Operations Command in Tampa.
When he retired in 2018 — just one month shy of 41 years of active-duty service — Hutmacher briefly considered working for a military contractor. However, an unexpected opportunity arose to take the reins of the Special Operations Warrior Foundation as president and CEO. It was a fork in the road, but after some careful consideration, he knew where his heart lay.
“It’s the dream job,” Hutmacher says. He admits, however, that fundraising is a “constant struggle.” For one, the foundation doesn’t pay for TV advertisements — its only paid advertising commitment is a $5,000 spread in the Air Commando Journal.
“The worst part of this job, to be honest with you, is asking for money. I’m not shy, but I hate to ask,” Hutmacher says. And this year, COVID-19 hasn’t helped matters. Many of the foundation’s annual fundraising events were canceled due to the pandemic.
“It’s not only us, everybody’s in the same boat,” Hutmacher says. “This is going to be a struggle for us to maintain our revenue, but it is what it is.”
To recoup a portion of its lost fundraising, the foundation has added some virtual events this year — including a virtual bourbon tasting hosted by Bardstown Bourbon Co. Additionally, Hutmacher lauds the efforts of veterans and active-duty personnel who occasionally embark on audacious fundraising endeavors on the foundation’s behalf. After all, service to one’s nation doesn’t necessarily end when the uniform starts collecting dust in the closet.
“We get a lot of current and retired special operators who feel driven to support us,” Hutmacher says.
One notable example is David Goggins, a retired Navy SEAL who has run numerous ultramarathons and performed other mind-boggling athletic feats — such as multiple world-record attempts to complete the most pullups in 24 hours — to raise money and awareness for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation.
In some ways, Alicia Sims and her children were prepared for loss in ways that civilian families aren’t. The children, in particular, had gotten used to dad not being around due to the nonstop pace of deployments and training, which became part and parcel of life in the special operations community in the post-9/11 years. The couple’s youngest child, Harper, who was almost 2 when Jacob died, spent precious little time with her father.
“I mean, he maybe saw her four months out of those two years. Between training and deployment,” Alicia says. “Everybody asked me shortly after why the kids were adapting so easily. And the reality of it is, they were used to him being gone. You know, it wasn’t abnormal. He was gone more than he was there.”
Special operations forces bore a heavy burden in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. And despite all the talk these days about so-called great power competition, America’s special operations units remain embroiled in counterterrorism combat in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, as well as various other sites in Africa and Asia.
Irregular warfare may not be the topic du jour in the Pentagon’s polished hallways, but America’s special operations forces remain engaged in nearly endless combat in some rough corners of the world. Consequently, the need for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation’s mission isn’t going away. Last year, the foundation added 79 children to its programs — roughly an even split between commissioned and enlisted families — representing 39 fatalities. And this year, the Special Operations Warrior Foundation has added 40 new children to its programs, with some 12 to 16 more pending.
Clearly, the toll of counterinsurgency warfare has not abated — even if the lion’s share of that war effort occurs in the shadows. Overall, nearly 400 children supported by the Special Operations Warrior Foundation have graduated from college. And the foundation currently has 190 students enrolled in college programs. Overall, since its inception in 1980, the organization has provided benefits to more than 1,400 children, representing more than 1,130 fatalities.
Hutmacher explains that he had been a “benefactor” and a “big fan” of the Special Operations Warrior Foundation for years. While he was on active duty he saw firsthand the value of the foundation’s work to the families of the fallen, as well as the peace of mind it gave special operators as they went into the breach, again and again, on their country’s behalf.
“We had a lot of missions where we lost a lot of people,” Hutmacher says, going on to highlight how the foundation’s work reaches beyond the families it directly benefits.
“I’ve had dozens and dozens of active special operators from all the services share with me that it gives them peace of mind to know that if something happens to them the Special Operations Warrior Foundation will be there for their kids,” Hutmacher says. “You’d be hard pressed to find anybody in the special ops community who doesn’t get some peace of mind knowing that we’re out there.”
Similarly, Alicia Sims is confident that her personal experience with the foundation has sent a positive message to those men and women in the special operations community who are still fighting our country’s wars.
“I’m actually still in contact with everyone who survived that night,” Alicia says of the helicopter crash that killed her husband. “Knowing that there will be people there to take care of their families, God forbid something happens, helps them to not dwell on the ‘what-ifs’ when they’re going into combat. They know that their families will be taken care of. And that’s a huge relief.”
“When I flew AH-6 attack helicopters, there were a couple of times when I wasn’t sure what the outcome was going to be on some of those missions,” Hutmacher says. “And, you know, my first concern was always about my kids … if I had one wish, it would be that my kids were taken care of.”
While there are plenty of American veterans who might scoff at the idea that book learnin’ can effectively convey the experience of soldiering and combat, former US Secretary of Defense and decorated Marine Gen. Jim Mattis knows a little something about war, and this is his take on the subject:
“Reading is an honor and a gift from a warrior or historian who, a decade or a thousand decades ago, set aside time to write. He distilled a lifetime of campaigning in order to have a conversation with you. We have been fighting on this planet for 10,000 years. It would be idiotic and unethical to not take advantage of such accumulated experiences. … Any commander who claims he is too busy to read is going to fill body bags with his troops as he learns the hard way.”
I would take Mattis’ critique a step further and say that, in some instances, the novelist or fiction writer is even better equipped to capture something like a higher “Truth” about war. American fiction contains an endless repository of brilliant literary passages about soldiering and war, and we’re on a mission to share some of our favorites.
So here’s our inaugural list of some of the most profound passages about soldiering and combat in American fiction.
The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. Photo by Ethan E. Rocke/Coffee or Die Magazine.
Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield. Photo by Ethan E. Rocke/Coffee or Die Magazine.
How To Tell a True War Story by Tim O’Brien
As I’ve written previously, How To Tell a True War Story is one of the greatest American short stories ever written, and this succinct passage is a masterful expression of war’s infinite complexity and contradiction in the human experience. It had to top this list.
“War is hell, but that’s not the half of it, because war is also mystery and terror and adventure and courage and discovery and holiness and pity and despair and longing and love. War is nasty; war is fun. War is thrilling; war is drudgery. War makes you a man; war makes you dead.”
Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. Photo by Ethan E. Rocke/Coffee or Die Magazine.
Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield
Steven Pressfield’s novel about the battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC is a classic piece of historical fiction that contains a seemingly endless trove of truisms that speak especially to the warrior class. The novel is on the Marine Corps Commandant’s Professional Reading List and is taught at the US Military Academy at West Point and the US Naval Academy. Here are just a few of the book’s countless standout passages:
“When a warrior fights not for himself, but for his brothers, when his most passionately sought goal is neither glory nor his own life’s preservation, but to spend his substance for them, his comrades, not to abandon them, not to prove unworthy of them, then his heart truly has achieved contempt for death, and with that he transcends himself and his actions touch the sublime.”
“Here is what you do, friends. Forget country. Forget king. Forget wife and children and freedom. Forget every concept, however noble, that you imagine you fight for here today. Act for this alone: for the man who stands at your shoulder. He is everything, and everything is contained within him. That is all I know.”
“The secret shame of the warrior, the knowledge within his own heart that he could have done better, done more, done it more swiftly or with less self-preserving hesitation; this censure, always most pitiless when directed against oneself, gnawed unspoken and unrelieved at the men’s guts. No decoration or prize of valor, not victory itself, could quell it entire.”
East of Eden by John Steinbeck. Photo by Ethan E. Rocke/Coffee or Die Magazine.
Blood Meridian (or The Evening Redness in the West) by Cormac McCarthy
Cormac McCarthy is one of America’s greatest novelists. Known for his dense, lyrical prose; dark, heady themes; and disdain for commas, McCarthy is a literary powerhouse, and Blood Meridian is one of his most revered novels. The book’s primary antagonist, Judge Holden, is easily one of the creepiest, most evil villains ever conceived. Archetypically speaking, “The Judge” is literally Satan. He is a complete sociopath, but also a literal genius whose affinity for killing and war is matched by his enthusiasm for waxing philosophical. In one scene from the novel, he sits around a campfire with his band of Old West mercenaries and preaches his own gospel of war in an old-school dialectic whose efficacy is slightly unnerving.
“It makes no difference what men think of war. War endures. As well ask men what they think of stone. War was always here. Before man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting its ultimate practitioner. That is the way it was and will be. That way and not some other way … [War] endures because young men love it and old men love it in them. Those that fought, those that did not … War is the truest form of divination. It is the testing of one’s will and the will of another within that larger will which because it binds them is therefore forced to select. War is the ultimate game because war is at last a forcing of the unity of existence. War is god.”
East of Eden by John Steinbeck
East of Eden is — in my not-so-humble opinion — one of the greatest novels ever written. Steinbeck considered it his greatest work, and it’s hands-down my favorite book. It’s a truly transcendent work of fiction.
While it’s not necessarily a war novel, East of Eden does deal with the topics of military service, war, and its aftermath, and Steinbeck’s prose shines in those sections. In one early scene, Cyrus Trask tells his son Adam what to expect before he ships off to the Army:
“I’ll have you know that a soldier is the most holy of all humans because he is the most tested — most tested of all. I’ll try to tell you. Look now — in all of history men have been taught that killing of men is an evil thing not to be countenanced. Any man who kills must be destroyed because this is a great sin, maybe the worst sin we know. And then we take a soldier and put murder in his hands, and we say to him, ‘Use it well, use it wisely.’ We put no checks on him. Go out and kill as many of a certain kind or classification of your brothers as you can. And we will reward you for it because it is a violation of your early training.”
Steinbeck has a great deal more to say about soldiering, and all of it is incredibly poignant and “True,” but if you want more literary awesomeness, you’ll have to go read (or reread) the novel. Same goes for the others. They are all worth the time.
In the aftermath, and from the ashes of Dec. 7, 1941, which propelled the United States into World War II, rose a new call and opportunity to serve in the Navy, the Naval Construction Battalions. Today, they are known as Seabees.
At the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Navy used civilian contractors to construct and support bases and other locations. However, with an increasing need to be able to defend and resist against military attacks, civilians could no longer be used. According to the Seabee Museum and Memorial Park, under international law it was illegal to arm civilians and have them resist the enemy. “If they did they could be executed as guerrillas.” On Jan. 5, 1942, Rear Adm. Ben Moreell received approval to organize the Naval Construction Force. In a matter of days, the first naval construction unit deployed.
Today, with seven rates ranging from Builder (BU) to Engineering Aide (EA) to Utilitiesman (UT), Seabees are a fully-functioning construction crew. They are strategically placed, ready to deploy at a moment’s notice, and able to build, erect and salvage in various types of environments. Construction Battalion Maintenance Unit (CBMU) 303 Detachment Pearl Harbor is one such unit.
Construction Electrician 3rd Class Mitchell Labree, a Sailor assigned to Construction Battalion Maintenance Unit 303 detachment Hawaii, measures a wooden beam in order to build a shipping crate for a piece of steel salvaged from the USS Arizona.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Allen Michael McNair)
CBMU 303 Detachment Pearl Harbor has the unique opportunity to assist and service the land from which they were birthed. One of their current projects is assisting Jim Neuman, History and Heritage Outreach Manager at Commander Navy Region Hawaii, and his team with the USS Arizona Relics Program.
“The USS Arizona Relics Program was born in 1995 when Congress authorized the Navy to move pieces of the wreckage out to educational institutions and not-for-profit organizations,” said Neuman.
The program is currently focusing on a part of the Arizona that was removed in the 1950’s due to corrosion and safety concerns. Before its removal it acted as a foundation for a makeshift platform where visitors to the Arizona could stand and where ceremonies could be conducted. It was a precursor to the white memorial structure known and visited today.
The Seabees and Neuman have taken on the responsibility to cut sections of the previously removed portion of the Arizona and ship them to various approved locations.
Steelworker 3rd Class Cameron Fields, crew leader at Construction Battalion Maintenance Unit 303 detachment Hawaii, cuts a piece of steel salvaged from the USS Arizona.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Allen Michael McNair)
“Mostly people come to us. We have a lot of Pearl Harbor survivors that know about this [effort],” said Neuman. “They will reach out to local museums and share what they would like to see. As long as you are a legitimate educational institution or not-for-profit and the piece will be on public display, you can acquire a piece.”
A sentiment both the Seabees and Neuman have in common is the need to share a piece of history with others.
“Because of the amount of time [the section] has been out here, we want to make sure we get as much of it out to the public as possible,” said Neuman. “It doesn’t help for it to sit here and no one get a chance to see it.”
Builder 1st Class Christian Guzman, attached to CBMU 303 Detachment Pearl Harbor, who has helped lead the Seabees in this project, appreciates the opportunity for he and his team to recover sections for the public worldwide.
“We have a special tie to Pearl Harbor and World War II because that’s how we began. It is of historical significance that we, as Seabees, are able to work on the USS Arizona,” said Guzman.
Neuman explained that the Seabees were the obvious choice when considering how to satisfy the different request through the program.
“It is Navy history, Navy legacy, so it made sense that if we were going to have somebody actually cutting pieces of the [Arizona] wreckage we should have the Seabees do it,” said Neuman. “Because of their legacy, what they do historically and their mission, they have enthusiastically embraced it, which I really appreciate.”
Steelworker 3rd Class Cameron Fields, crew leader at Construction Battalion Maintenance Unit 303 detachment Hawaii, cuts a piece of steel salvaged from the USS Arizona.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Allen Michael McNair)
To date, the Seabees of CBMU 303 Detachment Pearl Harbor have completed three phases of the project. Those phases consisted of cutting and shipping out various sized pieces to: Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community in Arizona, the Panhandle War Memorial in Texas, and the World War II Foundation in Rhode Island.
They are currently working on phase four which will be shipped to the Imperial War Museum in London, England.
“Britain was an ally in World War II. When the Empire of Japan surrendered on Sept. 2, 1945, on the USS Missouri, they didn’t only surrender to the U.S. they surrendered to the allies as well. They all signed the document so I’m thrilled that the museum sees the significance,” said Neuman. “They want to tell the whole story of World War II, not just the part they played. Visitors to the museum will be able to see part of the USS Arizona, and I think that’s great.”
The Seabees and Neuman will continue to partner together, work on the removed section of the Arizona and ship pieces out until there is nothing left.
The Seabees are proud to be a part of this undertaking as well as other jobs they execute around the island of Oahu.
“We have a whole spectrum of skill sets. This project only showcases a snippet of our diverse capabilities,” stated Guzman.
There’s always at least one in every unit. That one idiot who ruins everything for the rest of us. In the military, these clowns are given the moniker of “Blue Falcon.” Essentially, it’s a more professional way of calling someone a “buddy f*cker.”
But, no matter how much of a screw-up they are, you’re going to be stuck with them until they ETS or PCS out of the unit, so it’s best if you just learn how to deal with them in one way or another.
Of course, there are varying degrees of buddy f*cking. So, think of the following guidelines as an escalation of force for handling douchebags.
Learning the art of “NMFP,” or “Not My F*cking Problem,” will take you far.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Aaron Henson)
1. Walk away from problematic Blue Falcons
Nine times out of ten, it’s best to just move on. It’s not worth the time nor the effort to deal with some people. That’s not to say you should quickly forgive and forget (if it was a case of accidental Blue Falconing, maybe), but, in general, you should just brush it off and carry on with your day.
There’s literally ten thousand other things to worry about in the military. Don’t worry about what some jerk is doing — let their NCO handle it.
How polite that conversation is depends on you.
(U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. Virginia Lang)
2. Talk it out
Rarely do troops actually try to be a Blue Falcon. Screwing over the people who’re supposed to have your back in combat is never a good idea. If someone you’ve known for years starts dabbling in Falconry, settle it like adults. Talk to them and find out what’s really going on — and why they f*cked you over.
You’ll find that, most times, it’s unintentional and being the bigger person in the situation will help everyone move on.
Demonstrate your salt by leaving them high and dry during a working party.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Alexis B. Betances)
3. Shun them
This level of punishment is reserved for the perpetual Blue Falcon. The dude who has proved time and time again that they just can’t get right. The dude who’s still living the “Army of One” mentality. The dude who’s constantly complaining like it’d have any kind of effect on the level of suck that’s in store. Ignore them at every corner.
Psychologically speaking, people can’t stand being ignored and shunning them, as passive as it may seem, is actually a good way to instill social norms. When they get right, you can welcome them back into the fold. Until then, you don’t need that kind of negativity in your life or the unit.
You can enjoy it, but don’t take it too far and Blue Falcon someone else in the process.
(National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Jimmy McGuire, JTF-DC)
4. Play the Blue Falcon game
“Two can play at that game.” If they haven’t been doing anything that is strictly forbidden by the UCMJ but is still annoying or inconvenient, give ’em a taste of their own medicine.
If they want to rat on you for swinging by the gas station before going to motor pool, get them when they do the same. If they want to show up 10 minutes late for a working party and you have to pick up the slack, put about ten minutes of your time on their plate.
Then again, this only works if they’re actually breaking any rules.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Daniel Hughes)
5. Administrative action
Not ratting on your boys is one thing — but this dude isn’t your boy. The first handful of cases, keep it in house, but if they continually demonstrate behaviors detrimental to the unit, you could face UCMJ action for not speaking up.
Don’t get caught up in whatever sh*tstorm avalanche is about to hit the Blue Falcon of the bunch. Toss that responsibility up the chain of command at least one level to save your own skin when that moment inevitably comes.
Whether you actually get your NCO’s approval before putting that sucker in an armbar is on you…
(U.S Army photo by Sgt. Leo Jenkins)
6. Feed Blue Falcons their teeth
Do this in an appropriate manner, of course — it’d be irresponsible for us to advocate the ass kicking of anyone, no matter how much they deserve it. Just because someone could desperately use a swift, stern reminder of how to act, you shouldn’t face administrative actions to make it happen.
For obvious reasons, this one should be a final resort.
Convince an NCO to set up a combatives or MCMAP class for PT and take your frustrations out on that buddy f*cker. If you’re going this far, there’ll probably even be a line…
In the wake of a startling report from the organization Open the Books showing massive federal government expenditures in the final month of the fiscal year, troops everywhere want you to know that they deserve steak and lobster every once in a while. But the Defense Department spending problems highlighted in the report may have little to do with surf and turf dinners.
The 32-page Open the Books report, published March 2019, showed the federal government as a whole spent an astounding $97 billion in September 2018 as the fiscal year was drawing to a close — up 16 percent from the previous fiscal year and 39 percent from fiscal 2015. DoD spending accounted for $61.2 billion of that spending spree, awarding “use-it-or-lose-it” contracts and buying, among other things, $4.6 million worth of crab and lobster and a Wexford leather club chair costing more than $9,300.
“This kind of waste has to stop. It’s an insult to taxpayers,” Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, tweeted, sharing a Fox Business story about the seafood buy.
Military veterans were quick to protest, however, saying the nice food is often used by military units to boost morale on grueling deployments or to soften the blow when bad news comes.
“Surf turf night was a regular thing even when I was in Iraq,” tweeted Maximilian Uriarte, a former Marine Corps infantryman and creator of the popular comic strip Terminal Lance. “Feeding troops lobster a few times a year is not a waste of money.”
Fred Wellman, a retired Army officer and the CEO of veteran-focused PR firm ScoutComms, also chimed in.
“Nothing that ever beat the morale boost like steak and lobster night downrange. Period,” he tweeted. “Taking care of the troops that you and your peers sent to war isn’t ‘waste.’ Gutlessly letting the war go without supervision of the actual effort is! But no…let’s take their good food.”
Focusing on the lobster, though, misses the point on how the Pentagon’s spending habits actually do troops a disservice, according to Mandy Smithberger, director of the Center for Defense Information at the Project on Government Oversight.
“The lobster tail example captures one’s imagination, but that’s not where congressional oversight needs to focus,” Smithberger told Military.com. “As you see spending go up, you see the amount of this use-it-or-lose-it spending going up as well, and that’s really not to the good.”
She said the billions of expenditures demonstrated DoD efforts to “use money to paper over management problems.”
For the Pentagon, the biggest year-end expenditure was professional services and support, accounting for .6 billion of spending in September 2018. Then came fixed-wing aircraft, a buy of .6 billion. Other top spending items include IT and telecom hardware services and support, .7 billion; combat ships and landing vessels, .9 billion; and guided missiles, nearly billion.
(US Navy photo by Dale M. Hopkins)
More than the individual items and services purchased, the biggest problem may be the way the spending happens — and the perverse incentives not to end up with leftover money at the end of the year, because it might negatively impact efforts to obtain funds the following year.
“Congress is a lot of the problem,” Smithberger said. “Appropriators look and see whatever is not spent, they take and use for their pet project.”
As the Pentagon budget request continues to balloon year after year, Smithberger said she’d like to see incentives to save money and a system that would keep planners from worrying about a loss of resources the following year.
“If the department showed that it was able to save tens of billions of dollars, they would have a more credible case for the topline,” she said.
There’s plenty of evidence, Smithberger said, that money alone doesn’t solve or prevent institutional problems. For example, she said, the Navy was making big investments in shipbuilding when two guided-missile destroyers collided with commercial ships in separate deadly incidents within months of each other in 2017. While investigations did cite scarcity of resources, training was found to be a major shortfall contributing to the disasters.
When it comes to defense spending, “it’s a lot of hollow rhetoric and it’s really costly when we decide to only express our support through appropriations and not through real decision-making and responsibility,” she said.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
Here’s a question that could change your life: What matters most to you in your life? The answer can start you on the path to Whole Health.
Whole Health puts the focus of health care on the veteran rather than just the veteran’s illnesses and symptoms. It’s a patient-centered approach that considers the full range of physical, emotional, mental, social, spiritual, and environmental factors that can influence your health. Veterans examine these areas of their lives and set goals based on what matters most to them. In turn, those goals drive the health planning decisions they make with their VA care team.
All VA medical centers and clinics now offer training in Whole Health and personal health planning, as well as a range of well-being programs.
It was an early morning in Smoaks, South Carolina, and humidity hung in the air. A truck pulled into the Valley Forge Flag driveway, a facility whose sole purpose is flag production. Valley Forge has been producing since World War I, and their flags have seen a number of fates, from being draped across the caskets of presidents to landing on Omaha Beach to navigating the jungles of Vietnam. Some say it’s one of their flags that is planted on the cold surface of the moon.
The truck began offloading countless rolls of an off-white fabric. The delivery man called them “greige goods,” and he was on his way as soon as he was unloaded.
Rolls of fabric used in flag production at Valley Forge Flags.
(Photo courtesy of Valley Forge Flags)
The Valley Forge material handler sent the greige goods to be dyed, and when the rolls returned, some were white and others had become a deep, brilliant red. They were cut into strips, and six white strips joined seven red strips, making a total of 13 stripes arranged into one neat pile.
A seamstress approached the pile and set herself to sewing. The sewing machines in this facility were automated, and three or four machines would be running at any given time under the watchful eye of Valley Forge employees. This woman watched them carefully as they stitched the strips of cloth together; she watched as the strips became stripes, the needle pressing into the fabric and joining them together with a firm bond.
The facility floor was filled with the sound of these sewing machines as each one was pieced together, beginning to resemble an American flag.
Flag production at Valley Forge Flags.
(Photo by Tetteroo Media)
Rolls of blue cloth with embroidered stars were already waiting to join the stripes. The facility workers cut them to size and fit them next to the stripes, emplacing the final piece of the puzzle.
Another seamstress expertly sewed the fly-end of the flag, and yet another sewed on the white header. The real brass grommets were next, and soon the flags were sent for inspection. The inspector eyed them carefully as they were placed along the table in front of her. Her eye was impeccable; with pride she trimmed excess pieces of thread, and even the most minor defect would be quickly detected and remedied. When complete, she proudly placed a label on the flag indicating that she made sure this flag was of superior quality.
After being properly folded, the flags were placed into packages and taken out the large door in the side of the facility awaiting shipment to their final destination.
Flag production at Valley Forge Flags.
(Photo by Tetteroo Media)
Of these flags, one sat among the rest, heading out to somewhere in the U.S. It looked identical to the others, but its fate was quite different. It would not fly during an American summer nor would passing soldiers salute it.
It wasn’t long before that flag was sitting on the shelf at the PX in Fort Benning, Georgia. It lay there still, amidst the bustle of basic trainees, airborne students, and the throngs of other transient service members in the area.
Eventually, a hand extended from amongst the countless uniforms and took it. After an exchange at the PX checkout counter, the flag was again on the move.
That hand belonged to a man named Patrick. He was of medium height with a strong build, a quiet demeanor, rough hands, and kind eyes.
He took it home to his wife. She had just moved to the area after their wedding; Fort Benning sat on the line dividing Georgia from Alabama, and they lived in the latter in a small apartment complex. Outside, he was an Army Ranger whose country demanded the most difficult tasks of him; here, he was a husband and a friend, a young man fixated on finding happiness in the four walls of a one-bedroom apartment. And he found it, for a while.
This was the home that American flag had been brought into.
Patrick Hawkins during a training exercise in Fort Benning, Georgia.
(Photo courtesy of Luke Ryan)
Patrick had a reverence for a precious few of his own valuables. A rosary hung nearby — he lamented when people wore rosaries around their necks, saying it was improper. He cherished his wedding ring as a sign of dedication to his beloved. And he felt that the flag, though it was merely a combination of cloth and stitching, represented the things he had fought so hard for during his last three deployments to Afghanistan, the freedoms he enjoyed as he grew from a boy to a Ranger.
Patrick was, for all his calluses and no-excuses leadership, a deeply sentimental man.
He unpacked the flag, but he knew it would not hang on his wall or be displayed on a flagpole. It had a purpose closer to his heart.
He folded it properly and brought it with him to work. He presented his military ID as he passed into Fort Benning, and then drove through the brown fence onto the Ranger compound. Patrick arrived early that day, and he entered the bowels of B Company, 3rd Ranger Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment — a maze of lockers and bags neatly stowed to the side. Flags of all types were displayed above and the pictures of fallen Rangers lined the walls. Folded flag in hand, Patrick passed them by.
He heaved out a large duffel bag filled with the tools he would need to carry out a war in a far away place. It still had dust embedded into its canvas shell from the last deployment. Patrick placed the flag snugly next to his gear — his cold-weather jacket and extra boots, a laptop and hard drive filled with movies.
The bag containing the flag was loaded onto a pallet, ratcheted down, and covered in plastic sheeting to protect it from the weather. The pallet lay outside under the sun next to Patrick when he kissed his wife and embraced his parents. He was always a momma’s boy, and he hugged her for a few extra seconds; his father was career military, and their touch resonated with mutual respect as well as love.
Bagram Honor Guard members fold the American flag during a Memorial Day ceremony at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, May 29, 2017.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Benjamin Gonsier)
It seemed only moments later that Patrick and his flag stepped onto Kandahar Air Field (KAF), Afghanistan.
Upon arrival, Patrick retrieved the flag and carried it to the ready room. It was lined with small, plywood cubbyholes, a hardy wooden table in the center. Zip ties in hand, Patrick grabbed his body armor out of his cubby and placed it on the table. He carefully unfolded the flag and rolled it tightly. He zip tied it onto the outside of his armor, what he called his “kit,” and then placed it back in the wooden cubby.
The flag stayed with him as he donned his kit and grasped his rifle, as he stepped onto the MH-47 helicopter and barreled toward Taliban strongholds. It remained with him as he bolted across the Afghan countryside and dragged Taliban leadership back onto the helicopter and to American lines.
This U.S. Air Force PJ displays the American flag on his kit in Afghanistan.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Gregory Brook)
There came a moment when the stars on that flag had seen more stars in the Afghan sky than the American sky. It was rolled on Patrick’s back, and it was not properly folded — yet it could not have been in a more perfect state at a more perfect time. He was honored to carry it, and it was in carrying it that he defined why such things have value.
Then one night, Patrick stepped off the helicopter for the last time. A woman exited a small, dirt building, and his Ranger brother went to ensure that she was properly cleared and safely escorted off the battlefield. Instead, the night lit up as she exploded, a suicide vest detonating and sending Patrick’s friend careening back, severely wounded. Other Rangers were knocked off their feet. Smoke and debris hung in the air.
Patrick and the Ranger in his charge, Cody, leapt forward without regard to their own safety. The threat appeared to have been eliminated, and they sought to help their Ranger brethren who were bleeding out in the Afghan dirt.
With another step and a series of flashes, Patrick and Cody were gone. The blasts from several improvised explosive devices (IEDs) buried just beneath the surface ripped upward and tore through them both, searing through the flag strapped to Patrick’s back.
The night continued, fraught with chaos, but Patrick’s body remained still. The flag on his back, parts of it shredded and other parts covered in his blood, remained next to him.
An eternity of stillness passed in those moments of fire and shadow.
A hand appeared through the darkness. Patrick’s brothers grabbed what they could; they would not leave him in that place, even if the life had left his body. They were shaken and bleeding, but they gritted their teeth and carried him out with the flag on his back.
Patrick Hawkins’ flag, after being cleaned as well as possible, now awaits another deployment.
(Photo courtesy of Luke Ryan)
As Patrick was dragged away, the flag remained on the ground. Once it had been still for long enough, another hand extended from the darkness, picked it up, and stuffed it into a pouch on the belt of another Ranger, just as he left for the exfil helicopter.
The hand belonged to Patrick’s squad leader and mentor, Kellan. The wounded were many, and they had long since run out of litters — Kellan was using another flag to pick up the remains of another fallen soldier. In the pouch on his belt, Patrick’s flag returned to KAF. Tears mixed into the blood on its fabric, which had been stitched together those months ago in South Carolina.
Kellan would look at the flag often, sometimes in sorrow, sometimes with that familiar guilt of survival, and often in gratitude for having the opportunity to know a man like Patrick. To live together in the most extreme of circumstances.
That was not Kellan’s last deployment. He rolled up his sleeves, and he rolled up the flag. He put his kit on the hardwood table in a far away country, zip ties in hand, and secured Patrick’s flag to it. Then he stepped back into the war.
This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.
So, you messed up. That sucks. It’s time to absorb whatever punishment your command team is about to drop on you like an adult and carry on with your career. “But wait,” you hear from the corner of the smoke pit, “according to the regulations, you can’t get in trouble for that thing you did!”
We’ve all seen this happen. That one troop — the one who thinks they know how to help you — is what we call a “barracks lawyer.” They’re not actual legal representation and they don’t have any formal training. More often than not, this troop catches wind of some “loophole” via the Private News Network or Lance Corporal Underground and they take this newfound fact as gospel.
For whatever reason, people routinely make the mistake of believing these idiots and the nonsense that spews from their mouths. Here’s just a brief look at why you shouldn’t take their advice:
Think about it for more than half a second. If everyone knew all the stupid loopholes, there wouldn’t be a court martial system.
(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Kathleen Polanco)
They think they found a loophole… They didn’t.
The actual rules and regulations have been finely tuned over the course of two hundred years. It’s very unlikely that some random troop just happened to be the only one to figure out some loophole. And, realistically, that’s not how the rules work. There’s a little thing known as “commander’s discretion” that supersedes all.
If the commander says it, it will be so. It doesn’t matter how a given rule is worded.
What they’re suggesting isn’t real. Want to know what is? Troops breaking big rocks into smaller rocks in military prison.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Jessica Collins)
What they’re suggesting is often insubordination.
Advice that these pseudo-lawyers offer often involves a line that often starts with, “you don’t have to follow that, because…” Here’s the thing: Unless a superior is asking you to do something that’s profoundly unsafe or illegal, you have to do it. That’s not just your immediate supervisor — that’s all superiors.
The advice that they’re offering is a textbook definition of insubordination. Disregarding an order comes with a whole slew of other legal problems down the time.
If they’re on in the first sergeant’s office after every major three-day weekend, they’re probably full of sh*t.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Michel Sauret)
They’re usually not the best troops in the formation
If they do know what they’re talking about, it’s for good reason. They probably got in trouble once, talked their way out of that trouble, and got let off the hook because the command stopped caring to argue.
It’s not like there’s an entire MOS field dedicated to solving such issues… oh… wait…
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jarad A. Denton)
They don’t know what the f*ck they’re talking about
There are 134 articles of the Uniform Code of Military Justice out there and countless other rules and regulations that pop up from time to time. There’s no way in Hell that some private in the barracks has spent the time required to study each and every one of them and how they interact with each other.
If they have, by some miracle of time management, spent the effort required to learn all of this, then why the hell have they been squandering their profound talents in your unit rather than going over to JAG? Which leads us perfectly into…
If you live with a lower enlisted troop who’s in JAG, they’re still a barracks lawyer if their head is firmly up their own ass about how they can help you. Catch them on the clock.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Mark R. W. Orders-Woempner)
There are actual military lawyers who will advocate for you.
They exist and aren’t that uncommon. They’re often found at the brigade-level or installation-level. It’s their job to take on your case and see how the military judicial system could work for you. Unlike your buddy in the barracks, these lawyers have spent years in military (and often civilian) legal training.
Don’t waste your time placating the barracks lawyer. Actual military lawyers in JAG will take care of you.
If you’re a sheep farmer, dipping your sheep means you’re literally dipping sheep in a bath made to kill insects and fungus. It’s a good way to keep your flock healthy. If you’re in the military and about to be sheep dipped, it means your life is about to get a whole lot more interesting. It’s a term intelligence agencies use when they pretend to boot someone out of the military but secretly turn them into a covert operative.
Don’t worry, you still get your military retirement time. You just can’t tell anyone about it.
A reminder that the CIA has an undetectable heart attack gun.
While “sheep dipping” isn’t the official term for moving a troop from military service to the clandestine service, it’s the term the Agency uses to describe the process of taking a career soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine out of their branch of service on the surface. Instead of really removing the subject, the intelligence agency will just pull their official records, leaving behind their official record, the one which says the troop is retired, separated, or otherwise not in the military anymore.
The agency will take care of your real official record from there but there’s still work to be done on the service member’s part. They will be establishing an entirely new identity for themselves, after all. Their job is to make the move plausible, writing to friends and family telling them why they got out, what they’re going to do after leaving the military, and whatnot.
“And that’s why I decided to leave the Army and pursue my new life of definitely not being in the CIA.”
According to L. Fletcher Prouty, a retired Air Force Colonel who served as the chief of special operations in the Kennedy Administration, the practice started during the Vietnam War, when the Geneva Accords on the neutrality of Laos in 1962. This agreement prevented foreign combat troops from entering Laos. American troops, engaged in combat in neighboring Vietnam, were forced out of the country. The Nixon Administration, not known for honoring international borders when it came to prosecuting the war in Vietnam, decided they would need military support for intelligence agencies in Laos and opted to use “sheep dipping” as a means to get military members into the country.
If this seems implausible to you, remember we’re talking about the guy who decided to bug the Democratic National Committee and then cover it up, even though he was about to win in the country’s biggest landslide.
The North Vietnamese were secretly supporting Laotian Communists in their effort to topple the Lao government, so why shouldn’t the United States do the same thing in order to support the Laotians? Besides, the NVA was still using Laos as a staging point for attacking allied troops in South Vietnam. The United States military decided to sheep dip a number of specially-trained U.S. troops in order to conduct a clandestine war in Laos. Nixon even allowed the Air Force to provide air support for the Secret War in Laos.
The sheep-dipped soldiers of Vietnam were all provided with their full pay and benefits, not to mention regular promotions and their retirement. If a sheep dipped troop were to be killed in the line of fire, that would pose more of a problem. Their family would struggle to get the benefits befitting a widow – but the agency handled each case separately.
“For us being Special Forces, we are the first on the battlefield, then we are the last to leave,” said a Bulgarian Special Operations Tactical Group Commander.
The captain was the commander of the SOTG for exercise Saber Junction 19. Approximately 5,400 participants from 15 NATO and partner nations including Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Georgia, Italy, Kosovo, Lithuanian, the Republic of Northern Macedonia, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Turkey, Ukraine and the US took part in the exercise at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center, Sept. 3-30, 2019.
The exercise partnered about 100 Multinational SOF from Bulgaria, the US, and members of the Lithuanian National Defense Volunteer Defense National Force, or KASP, with conventional forces to improve integration and enhance their overall combat abilities.
A US Army’s 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) Special Forces soldier provides security for paratroopers from the Italian Army’s Folgore Brigade as they parachute onto a drop zone as part of exercise Saber Junction 19 in Hohenfels, Germany, Sept. 16, 2019.
(US Army photo Sgt. 1st Class Whitney Hughes)
US Army Maj. Nathan Showman of the 173rd Airborne Brigade watches as paratroopers from the brigade land during a joint forcible entry as part of exercise Saber Junction 19 in Hohenfels, Germany, Sept. 18, 2019.
To determine the best use of SOF capabilities to support larger combined maneuver, the Bulgarian SOTG Commander coordinated directly with his conventional force counterpart US Army Col. Kenneth Burgess, the commander of the 173rd Airborne Brigade.
The SOTG also placed SOF liaison officers within the brigade staff to facilitate communication directly between the staff and SOF on the ground.
A US Army 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) Special Forces soldier provides security for paratroopers from the Italian Army’s Folgore Brigade as they parachute onto a drop zone as part of exercise Saber Junction 19 in Hohenfels, Germany, Sept. 16, 2019.
This gave the SOTG the ability to support critical portions of the exercise such as the joint forcible entry, a multinational airborne operation delivering paratroopers from Ramstein Airbase into the exercise to seize key terrain.
Paratroopers from the Italian Army’s Folgore Brigade jumped from Kentucky Air National Guard C-130 aircraft to set the drop zone for the 173rd Airborne Brigade.
Bulgarian and US SOF provided early reconnaissance of the drop zone and secured the area for the pathfinder’s jump, ensuring they had up to date information from the moment they hit the ground.
Italian Army paratroopers from the Folgore Airborne Brigade coordinate with US Army 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) Special Forces soldiers after the Italian paratroopers parachuted onto a drop zone secured by special operations forces as part of exercise Saber Junction 19 in Hohenfels, Germany, Sept. 17, 2019.
(US Army photo Spc. Patrik Orcutt)
This multinational coordination was one of the key objectives of the exercise.
“From my point of view, this is the most important exercise for my unit in that it helps prepare us for future NATO missions,” said the Bulgarian commander. “We are currently on standby in my country [as a quick reaction force], so this exercise is beneficial for us.”
Bulgarian special operations forces exit a US Army UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter from the 1st Combat Aviation Brigade during combined aviation load training as part of exercise Saber Junction 19 in Hohenfels, Germany, Sept. 13, 2019.
(US Army photo Spc. Patrik Orcutt)
Lithuania’s KASP also worked alongside SOF to set conditions for the conventional force. Exercising their real-world mission of unconventional warfare, the KASP integrated with Special Forces soldiers from the US Army’s 5th SFG(A).
This combined time conducted operations ahead of friendly lines in enemy-occupied territory to enable the multinational conventional joint force.
US Army’s 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) Special Forces soldiers deploy light tactical vehicles from CH-47 Chinook helicopter from the 1st Combat Aviation Brigade as part of exercise Saber Junction 19 in Hohenfels, Germany, Sept. 13, 2019.
(US Army photo Spc. Patrik Orcutt)
The KASP are structured similar to the US National Guard, with about 500 professional soldiers and 5,000 reservists, but have a very different mission.
“Our mission is to conduct territorial defense, so we must be ready to defend our country against any type of threat, either hybrid or conventional,” said Col. Dainius Pašvenskas, the KASP commander.
Pašvenskas added that the demand to come to exercises like these within his unit is so high that they have placed internal requirements to be selected. After completing rotations in exercises like Saber Junction 19, they share the techniques they have learned within their units, and teach the unconventional warfare tactics to the rest of the force.
US Army 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) Special Forces soldiers deploy light tactical vehicles from CH-47 Chinook helicopter from the 1st Combat Aviation Brigade as part of exercise Saber Junction 19 in Hohenfels, Germany, Sept. 13, 2019.
(US Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Whitney Hughes)
The KASP’s missions at Saber Junction 19 included long-range reconnaissance, direct action and personnel recovery.
“We may have different tasks but we will operate in a similar area as Special Operation Forces,” said Pašvenskas. “Working with Special Forces and learning from their experience is an excellent opportunity for us.”
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“The worst part of it all was just thinking about what she was thinking in those final moments as she was standing in the bathroom all alone, and I can’t imagine just how lonely she must’ve felt,” said Senior Airman Brianna Bowen, 1st Operations Support Squadron air traffic controller.
According to the Defense Suicide Prevention Office, suicide in the military has risen across the Department of Defense since 2017. Bowen knows first-hand about the impact suicide can have on victims and their loved ones.
Although the computer based training’s and annual military suicide prevention classes help members understand warning signs for someone thinking of committing suicide, Bowen believes a more personal stance is needed in order to really understand the topic.
March 16, 2009: The day that changed Bowen’s life
When Bowen was just 13, her older sister Chelsea Bowen, took her own life.
Bowen sat on a nearly empty school bus, awaiting the final stop on the route. As they approached the dirt road that leads to her house, she said it was obvious something was wrong.
“We were passing about five police cars and an ambulance that didn’t have its lights on,” Bowen said.
Bowen was picked up from the bus stop by a police officer, and when she saw her father sitting outside of their house, back against the door, hugging his knees, she knew that it was big.
Chelsea Rae Bowen.
“Chelsea’s gone.” Mr. Bowen said.
In her final moments Chelsea sent one last text “Goodbye, I will love you forever.”
Although Chelsea’s final text was only sent to her boyfriend, Brianna believes it was a blanket text for all those she loved.
An irrevocable decision
As soon as 15-year old Chelsea and her twin sister, Miranda, got home from high school, Bowen believes Chelsea had already decided what she was going to do.
“It was a Monday, right before finals week, so I guess she planned it out that way on purpose,” Bowen said.
According to her father, Chelsea’s last verbal words to anyone in the family were “Don’t touch my backpack,” after he jokingly said he was going to take it. Their father went outside to check on their chickens, while Miranda sat down on the couch to watch TV.
One decision can have an everlasting impact, and in that moment Chelsea’s decision would change the Bowen family’s life forever.
“Every single detail of that day sticks with me,” Bowen said. “The bloody footprints throughout the house when Miranda was running to get help, to seeing her body bag being pushed out the door into the driveway.”
Making a change
Although a tragedy, Bowen refuses to see her sister’s suicide as just that. She has taken every opportunity to raise awareness about suicide, including starting a scholarship foundation in her sister’s name in her hometown of Gilmanton, New Hampshire.
“It is going to take strong airmen, like Senior Airman Bowen, to stand up and tell their stories to reach people,” said Master Sgt. Thomas Miller, 1st OSS assistant chief controller. “Senior Airman Bowen’s sister chose to take her own life and that crushed (Brianna). However instead of that being the last story written about her sister, Senior Airman Bowen chose to let her sister’s name live on by providing awareness.”
Bowen hopes for military members to come forward with their own stories to tell and help prevent more suicides from happening with hopes that one day military members can seek more mental health help at off-base providers.
The ideal way to get awareness out for those in need of help is by connecting peoples’ emotions to the topic, according to Bowen. It’s one thing to stare at a screen or listen to a scripted lesson, it’s a whole different experience to listen to a real person with a real story.
“Everyone is just skimming the surface because nobody wants to get into how uncomfortable it can be,” Bowen said. “It’s a battle that every single one of us fights every single day; it’s something we need to feel okay talking to each other about.”
An A-Driver is somebody who rides shotgun in a tactical vehicle for the purposes of ground guiding, clearing blind spots, or doing anything else the driver might require. To drive tactical vehicles requires many hours of testing, practical application and licensing; meanwhile, to be an A-Driver, you don’t really need to know anything about your vehicle.
For a young and untrained FNG, this is the best working party to volunteer for. Four bodies to A-Drive? If you’re a B.O.O.T. (barely out of training), get that motivated hand in the air for this extra duty before anybody else.
Even your seniors will volunteer for this if they get the chance. Using the acronym S.K.A.T.E., we’ll assess why this is the best working party in the Marine Corps — or any branch, for that matter.
S – Seek cover
Being an A-Driver will give you the opportunity to be out of sight and out of mind. Surprise log run? You’re at the fuel farm. Room inspection? You may not even be on base. First Sergeant is calling formation to yell at everyone for nothing? Pop smoke like a boss.
No one will remember you and, if they do, they’ll be calling you a lucky bastard.
K – Keep a low profile
In the field, you’ll be a crucial cog in the logistics pipeline. Your impromptu trips to the base will give you the opportunity to make PX runs for yourself and your troops. Even your seniors won’t think twice about your unauthorized shipments of tobacco and snacks.
You won’t get in trouble — you’re just a boot after all.
A – Avoid all higher-ups
Gunny is on the war path? Staff sergeant needs three more bodies? Annual training PowerPoints? Miss me with that bullsh*t — you won’t be staying for any of that. Battalion hike? Nope, out of that one, too. The safety vehicle always needs an A-Driver and your important role in making sure the driver parks correctly renders you immune to brass’ dumb games.
T – Take no initiative
This one seems counter-intuitive to a new troop, but trust us, the Big Green Weenie is always going to get his. Your job isn’t hard, so don’t mess it up. Assist your driver when he says he needs you and he’ll leave you alone when he doesn’t. Pull out a book, play your games, and swipe that tinder because Uncle Sam is busy right now — but he’s coming for you later. Enjoy the downtime while it lasts.
E – Evade all working parties
Sidestepping ego-driven busy work is one thing, but keeping yourself from loading trucks or reorganizing is paramount to keeping your cammies crisp. Spend that time and energy in the gym where it belongs — your gains will thank you. Any attempt to put you on another working party will be thwarted by your driver. Motor-T (motor transport) is somehow always short-handed and they would rather use their guys to work on their vehicles and have you sit there looking pretty.
Later on in your career, when your command has decided you’ve skated enough, you will get your licenses to drive. It is your turn in the metaphorical barrel, but remember where you came from and let that little booter, wide eyed and bushy tailed, enjoy doing nothing. He’s going to get hazed trained in the barracks anyway.