As remote jobs become more popular and feasible among the masses, military spouses are finding ways to keep their careers mobile. With frequent moves, working in years prior meant staying behind or fighting one’s way to the top every few years. (With no tenure, it’s hard, if not impossible to ever reach seniority.)
However, with new technology and remote positions becoming more globally accepted, military spouses can keep a budding career, no matter how many times they PCS.
Get yourself interview ready
Before you start the hunt for a remote position, get yourself employer-friendly. Update your resume, take headshots, and scrub your social media profiles. This means going private or ensuring your visible posts are appropriate, and an overhaul on your LinkedIn. Fill in all the details and share what you’ve been up to in your professional world.
With more access to personal information, you want to make sure you’re showing yourself in a good light online. It’s one more way to land a great job and keep a career that moves right along with you.
Meanwhile, if you have a field of study and need to renew any licenses, now is the time to do so! Showing you’re work-ready can only help your chances.
Create a home office
It doesn’t have to be fancy; it just has to work! Set up a dedicated area where you can get away and focus. A desk, computer, paper/calendar, writing utensils, chargers, etc. are all smart additions. Best-case scenario: your office space is separate from the rest of your living space. However, this isn’t always possible. Work to make your space as secluded as possible so you won’t be distracted by the rest of your home.
Remember, you can also work from outside locations, too, for instance, libraries, coffee shops, or co-working spaces that offer desk rental memberships.
Now, it’s go time. Start applying for work-from-home positions on any number of sites. You can search on aggregators that post remote jobs from many companies, or search individually for businesses that offer home office options.
Remember, you don’t have to share that you’re a military spouse, but in some cases, it can actually help your chances. There are certain companies that exclusively hire military spouses (be prepared to share documents proving that status for their tax purposes). But don’t fret — this actually helps cut down the applicant pool. There are MANY places you can look for jobs, including paid subscriptions. However, there are plenty of free options. Look on military affiliated sites (like this one!), Military One Click, or even spouse social media pages for application resources.
Ready yourself for working from home
If you’ve never worked from home, know that it’s a different type of setup. It requires self-discipline and staying on task. (Think homework, but with a paycheck.) You’ll certainly get better at it, but there can be a learning curve if you aren’t prepped for at-home distractions.
Take regular breaks, leave the TV alone, and remember that chores can wait! (This is also why it’s important to keep a separate working space.)
Now it’s time to rock your new stance as a remote worker. Enjoy your freedom to work in your jammies, but even more so, celebrate your ability to keep a career longer than you can keep a house. No matter where you’re located (or in what timezone), you can keep a successful career as a milspouse remote employee.
This is Callie, the only search and rescue dog in the entire U.S. military.
Callie and her handler, Master Sergeant Rudy Parsons, are assigned to the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron, Kentucky Air National Guard.
Callie was “born” out of experience.
In 2010, a catastrophic earthquake rocked Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti. The impoverished country’s infrastructure doubled under the strain of the magnitude 7 earthquake, which caused apocalyptic devastation.
The US military responded in force to the aid of the tried Haitians. In that humanitarian effort, the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) played a big part because of their unique capabilities. More specifically, it was AFSOC’s Combat Controllers (CCT), who specialize in airfield surveys and air traffic control, among other tasks, and Pararescuemen (PJ), who are the Department of Defense’s sole specially trained and equipped search-and-rescue (SAR) unit, that contributed the most.
Master Sgt. Parsons was one of the Pararescuemen that deployed to the Caribbean nation.
“Local sources were telling people that there was a schoolhouse that had collapsed with about 40 children inside,” Parsons had said in a 2019 interview. “A team of special tactics Airmen went over and started looking through the rubble, just carrying these rocks off, looking for these missing kids. A few days into the search, (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) was finally able to land. They brought a dog to the pile and were able to clear it in about 20 minutes. There was nobody in that pile.
“It had been a couple [of] days of wasted labor that could’ve been used to help save other lives. It was at that time that we kind of realized the importance and the capability that dogs can bring to search and rescue. Every environment presents different difficulties, but it’s all restricted by our human limitations. Our current practice is: Hoping that we see or hear somebody.”
When he returned to the US, Parsons advocated and pushed for a search-and-rescue K-9 capability. In 2018, almost a decade after Haiti, his determination bore fruits and the Search and Rescue K-9 Program was created. The program aims to increase the effectiveness of Pararescue teams during natural disasters by pairing PJs with specially trained dogs.
The first, and only, canine to have been accepted in the program is Callie, a Dutch shepherd. What differentiates her from other military working dogs (MWD) and special operations military working dogs (SOMWD) is her ability to located people, injured or not, in adverse conditions. Whether it’s in a forest, collapsed building, or the wilderness, Callie can use her nose, senses, and body to go where humans cannot go easily. And in emergencies, time is of the essence.
To be operational, Callie, and any future SAR dogs, has had to qualify in a number of insertion methods that Pararescuemen use, such as fast-roping, mountain climbing and rappelling, and parachuting (both static-line and military freefall).
We all know Stone Cold Steve Austin from his years when he was the face of World Wrestling Entertainment. “The Texas Rattlesnake” was one of the toughest, most badass wrestlers who left an indelible mark in the ring — both on TV and on the silver screen. Recently, we got to see Stone Cold sit down with some gentlemen who exhibited an entirely different type of toughness and heroism. By partnering up with Wargaming, the company responsible for the hit game World of Tanks, Austin recently sat down to interview three World War II tankers about their experiences. Their stories are powerful, harrowing, and heartbreaking.
The second veteran interviewed is Clarence Smoyer.
Clarence Smoyer served in the 32nd Armored Regiment of the 3rd Armored Division. Hailing from Pennsylvania, Smoyer served as a gunner during World War II. On D-Day, he landed on Omaha Beach. He recounted that, by the time he landed on the beach, things were already under control — but that control didn’t extend far inland. Moving forward, he rapidly found himself in the thick of it.
Smoyer would load his tank’s gun fast and often get blistered up badly as a result. He recalls that once, he went to medical to get the blisters treated and, on the way back, heard a mortar coming in. He ran and took cover just as it exploded nearby. A piece of shrapnel ripped his nose up, but Smoyer didn’t want to go back to medical because, “I was afraid I’d get hit by another mortar,” so he soldiered on.
Austin asks Smoyer if his tank ever got hit. Smoyer tells us that his tank got hit with an armor piercing shell and it took a chunk out of the tank. If it had been six inches over, it would have gone through his telescopic sight and he would have died. It’s a harrowing thought.
(Photo Courtesy of Clarence Smoyer)
In one of the most heart-wrenching accounts of losing a buddy, Smoyer relates a story about losing his tank commander who was also his best friend. When one of the open-top vehicles was hit, his friend ran toward them to assist — despite Smoyer’s warnings. “He always ran to help someone if they were in need.” Just before he reached the vehicle, he was killed instantly by two mortar shells as Smoyer watched in horror.
Smoyer’s stories are so powerful, in fact, that they’re the subject of a New York Times bestselling book, Spearhead, which is a great read if you’re looking for all the gritty details.
Austin asks Smoyer to recount the first time he took on a German tank. Smoyer tracked down a tank, but it backed off behind a building. Smoyer shot through the building and hit a pillar which caused the building to collapse. Smoyer learned later the building collapsed on the tank and put it out of actions. Years later, on his return to Europe, he met one of the occupants of the German tank after they fished him out from under the building’s rubble. “I hesitated, I didn’t know how he was going to feel about me. After all I dropped a building on him.” The meeting went well, and they shook hands. Smoyer told him, “The war is over now, we can be friends.”
To continue the Tank action, be sure to check out World of Tanks on PlayStation 4 or Xbox One today. Through the World of Tanks Tanker Rewards program, Wargaming offers tons of benefits and exclusive rewards both in-game and in person for all registered players. Be a part of our current WWE season and get endless opportunities to claim WWE and Tanker rewards. To learn more about the program, click here.
As the third-highest award for bravery in combat awarded to service members in the military, the Silver Star honors those who display exceptional courage while engaged in military combat operations against enemy forces.
When you see a Silver Star distinction on a license plate or on a uniform, you might wonder what the service member did to earn the distinction. Here’s everything you need to know about the Silver Star Medal but didn’t want to ask.
The Silver Star Requirements
The SSM is awarded for bravery, as long as the action doesn’t justify the award of one of the next higher valor awards (the Distinguished Service Cross, the Navy Cross, the Air Force Cross or the Coast Guard Cross).
The act of bravery has to have taken place while in combat action against an enemy of the United States while involved in military operations that involve conflict with an opposing foreign force. It can also occur while serving with a friendly force engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party.
This medal is awarded for singular acts of heroism over a brief period, such as one to two days.
Air Force pilots, combat systems officers and Navy/Marine naval aviators/flight officers are often ineligible to receive the Silver Star after becoming an ace (having five or more confirmed aerial kills). However, the last conflict to produce aces was the Vietnam War, and during that conflict, several Silver Stars were awarded to aces.
Finely constructed details
The Silver Star Medal is a gold five-pointed star, 1 ½ inch in diameter with a laurel wreath encircling rays forming the center. A smaller, 3/16 inch silver star is superimposed in the center. The pendant is suspended from a rectangular shaped metal loop with rounded corners.
On the backside, the reserve has the inscription, “For Gallantry in Action.” The ribbon measures 1 3/8 inches wide and has a 5.6mm wide Old Glory Red stripe in the center, proceeding outward pairs of white and ultramarine blue.
Second and subsequent Silver Star awards are denoted by bronze or silver oak leaf clusters in the Air Force and Army, and gold and silver stars for the Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard.
Recipients of Silver Star Medals
To date, independent groups estimate that between 100,000 and 150,000 Silver Stars have been awarded since the decoration was established. The Department of Defense doesn’t keep records for how many are issued.
The first Silver Star was awarded to Gen. Douglas MacArthur in 1932, who was then awarded Silver Stars seven additional times for his actions in WWI.
Col. Davis Hackworth was awarded 10 Silver Star medals for his actions in both Korea and Vietnam. It’s thought that he has the highest number of medals issued to one single person.
Former Secretary of State Alexander Haig, Senator John Kerry, Army Gen. George Marshall and Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North all received Silver Stars.
In WWI, three Army nurses were cited with the Citation Star for their bravery in attending to wounded service personnel while under artillery fire in July 1918. However, in 2007, it was discovered that the nurses never received their awards. These three nurses were Jane Rignel, for her bravery in giving aid to the wounded while under fire, and Irene Robar and Linnie Leckrone, for their courage to attend to the wounded while under artillery bombardments.
The first woman to receive both the Silver Star and the Purple Heart was also an Army nurse – Lt. Col. Cordelia Cook. She served in WWII and later went on to have a career as a civilian nurse.
In 2005, Army National Guard Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester received the Silver Star for her gallantry during an insurgent ambush on a convoy in Iraq. In 2008, Army Spec. Monica Lin Brown received the Silver Star for her extraordinary heroism as a medic in the War in Afghanistan.
Since September 11, 2001, the Silver Star has been awarded to service members during combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Kadena Air Base, Japan (AFNS) — Providing the base and various other units on the island with cryogenic products – whether it be in a liquid or gaseous form – is the plant’s priority.
“We produce the liquid oxygen and the liquid nitrogen here for our organizations across the island to make sure they get the product they need to make the mission happen,” said Tech. Sgt. Mark Pannell, 18th Logistics Readiness Squadron assistant noncommissioned office in charge of cryogenic productions.
The production plant provides services for a range of reasons, whether it be for pilots or patients, the plant handles it all and can also be the difference in life or death in some instances.
“We manufacture liquid oxygen and liquid nitrogen for various organizations to use…Breathable oxygen at high altitudes for aircraft, liquid nitrogen to fill tires for the aircraft so they don’t explode if they hit the ground too hard and the hospital has various uses for oxygen and nitrogen as you could imagine…It’s important,” said Senior Airman Christopher Tallan, 18th LRS cryogenic production operator.
While other bases have to purchase their liquid oxygen and nitrogen from external providers, Kadena Air Base is able to support the mission directly as well as save money.
A beaker of liquid oxygen sits filled July 27, 2018, at Kadena Air Base, Japan.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jessica H. Smith)
“I don’t like to solely rely on other people because I know if we do it ourselves, it’s going to be done the right way and I think this is really valuable for the Air Force because we’re always looking for new and innovative ways to save money,” Pannell said. “We should really strive to be innovative and this is something I push down to my Airmen – to be innovative and think of new ways to do things.”
With innovation comes plenty of learning opportunities – and growing pains.
“It’s been challenging at times because everyone is learning a new plant,” Pannell explained. “We have to learn the ins and outs; everyone here is growing.”
Providing these services can prove to be rather complex. From separation of atmospheric air to expansion and cooling, the job is chemically impossible to do without machines.
The machine – production plant – typically runs one week at a time for 24 hours a day and enables the production of about 50 gallons an hour.
While the machine is doing its job, the rest of the team is ensuring it works properly.
“We have to do hourly checks to make sure nothing is malfunctioning,” Tallan said. “We’re responsible for knowing what’s supposed to be going on. With such a big plant and so many pipes, we have to make sure that nothing is in a pipe that shouldn’t be in it, and make sure things are at the right temperature in the pipes they’re supposed to be in.”
With such a unique and vital mission role, working at the only operational cryogenic production plant in the Air Force seems to be a great source of pride and inspiration for those in the career field.
Senior Airmen Michael Hall and Christopher Tallan, both 18th Logistics Readiness Squadron cryogenic production operators, prepare to fill a cart with liquid oxygen July 27, 2018, at Kadena Air Base, Japan.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jessica H. Smith)
“I love my job; I love coming to work. I work in a cryogenic facility – it’s insane,” Tallan laughed. “I always thought about the cryo guys and how badly I wanted to go for one day and see…It’s different when every single day you’re holding a sample of liquid oxygen and you can feel it boil inside the beaker…I love it.
Along with the job being cool – literally and figuratively – it also demonstrates the importance of smart investment and innovation with promises of bettering the success of the Air Force mission as a whole.
“I take it as a personal challenge to myself and my team to do our best and actually show higher leadership that this is a legitimate plant and it could benefit not just Pacific Air Force, but other areas – especially overseas,” Pannell said.
Featured image: Senior Airman Michael Hall, 18th Logistics Readiness Squadron cryogenic production operator, fill a cart with liquid oxygen July 27, 2018, at Kadena Air Base, Japan.
Halloween festivities in 2020 are bound to be a bit different due to the pandemic, but for military families, unique ways of celebrating are nothing new. Life on military bases is similar to “normal” life in many ways, but it does come with its own set of pros and cons. To learn how to celebrate Halloween like a military family, keep reading!
1. If you’re still adjusting to life at a new base, things are usually kept simple.
Moving to a new base is a significant change for the entire family. When you’ve just started unpacking, military families know it’s okay not to go all out for the holiday. The kids are all about the candy, anyway! Make some quick caramel apples together, let them go crazy with the face paint, and watch a spooky movie with popcorn and candy. Easy.
2. You get LOTS of discounts!
Military discounts are always a thing, but the holidays are the perfect time to make the most of it. Military families get discounts on costumes, decorations, fabric…pretty much anything! HalloweenCostume.com offers $10 off a $50 order with a military ID. Spirit Halloween, Jo-Ann Fabrics, Michael’s, Kirkland’s, Home Depot, and Lowes all offer discounts as well. The discounts are usually around 10-15% which doesn’t seem like much, but if you’re stocking up on decorations or planning costumes for the whole fam, your wallet will notice the difference!
3. Decorations spice things up.
The only problem with military housing is that it all looks the same. To add some personality and spooky style, lots of military fams get creative with their Halloween haunted house decor. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Have the kids help choose a theme and run with it. They can even decorate the windows with this washable window paint!
4. Some families send cards to friends afar.
One of the toughest parts of being a military kid is moving around a lot. If they used to have a group of best buddies to trick or treat with, reach out to stay connected and send some fun. Help them decorate Halloween cards and tape their friend’s favorite candy inside for a thoughtful surprise.
5. The pumpkin carving contests are next level.
Show off your military pride and pumpkin carving skills! Are you a pro with a pocket knife? A pumpkin carving contest is probably happening, so put your skills to good use and kick some pumpkin carving butt. Alternatively, you can use paint for a longer-lasting decoration. You can go for a patriotic pumpkin, or remind everyone which branch of the military is the best…but we’re not taking any sides! May the best pumpkin win.
6. They make the most of on-base Halloween activities.
Almost every base has their own set of scheduled autumn activities, which usually include a costume contest, games, trick or treating, and haunted houses for the big kids. The events will likely be modified this year to keep kids COVID-free, but the on-base festivities still have a lot of benefits. There are usually more rules and security, so your kids can celebrate without roaming sketchy neighborhoods in the dark. If this is your first year on a base, see what activities are planned this year and get involved!
7. After the fun, families often give back.
Who hasn’t overdone it in the candy aisle? If you have tons of leftover candy after trick or treating comes to a close, don’t toss it out. Instead, donate it to Treats for Troops to help service members overseas enjoy a Kit Kat or two! Happy Halloween!
The forecast for America is changing. The country has been dominated by a pandemic with no end in sight. However, the future for the military is looking bright. What does this mean for military families?
Why Members Serve
Surveys show most Americans believe military members serve for patriotic reasons. How do these views compare to the actual reasons why military members serve? Recent studies indicate many members are motivated to serve by the salary and benefits associated with the military. Recruits also express job stability and training opportunities as occupational motives for joining the service.
At the beginning of 2020, military recruiters were facing an uphill battle. The branches of the service were all competing for recruits as the economy and job market were excellent, and the pool of qualified candidates was small. The military was not only competing with itself, but with colleges, and the strong civilian job market.
Fast forward to the present day and consider the short and long-term effects of COVID-19 on the Department of Defense and Homeland Security. The pandemic is challenging all branches of the service in their ability to recruit and train personnel. Due to stay-at-home orders and quarantines, military recruitment and training has slowed in order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. The stall in recruitment is presenting a challenge no one could have predicted.
However, there is a silver lining. Current unemployment rates and the economic outlook are somewhat dismal. The occupational motives for serving are perhaps more important now than ever. The military provides job and financial security when few civilian jobs exist. Could the economic downfall of COVID-19 be the answer to the recruitment woes of the military? The future of military recruiting is looking bright.
Separation, Retirement, Retention
Some military members serve their initial commitment and separate from the service once the obligation is complete. Others make the military a career serving 20 years or more. The military experiences a high rate of turnover and retention is an on-going battle.
Military aviation serves as an excellent example. All branches of the service are familiar with the pilot shortages seen in recent years. Pilot retention found itself in a downward spiral due to the lucrative pay, flexible schedules, increased control over home life, and benefits affiliated with employment in the commercial sector. Suddenly and unexpectedly, the airline and travel industries are facing unforeseen turbulence. Could the effects of COVID-19 on these two industries be the answer to the military’s pilot retention woes?
COVID-19 is presenting complications for every armed service to maintain a mission-ready workforce. Most branches are currently implementing programs to keep members in the ranks. The Navy recently loosened some retirement restrictions for sailors and officers. The Coast Guard has introduced a new campaign to retain personnel. The Army has made recent promotion and retention policy changes as well. The bottom line is the military needs to keep people from separating. Could the short and long-term effects of COVID-19 in America be the answer to the military’s retention woes?
Impact on Military Families
Military families often express a desire to plant roots and have more control over their lives. Some long for a more “normal” life and discuss the right time to end their military service. Now more than ever, the discussion topic is: How long can we remain in the military? Luckily, military families are always prepared to expect the unexpected.
Perhaps military families need to put the retirement and separation plans on hold. It may seem ironic, but an extended active-duty military career is starting to look like a first-class ticket to stability. Given the current unemployment rates in the United States, the future for military families is looking extremely bright.
Milesperawesome asks: Could you get in trouble legally if you murdered someone in space? Asking for a friend.
While it might seem like something out of science fiction, given that humans are presently in space and soon enough mass space tourism is going to open up the possibility for many, many more, it’s only a matter of time before someone commits a crime in space, with it being alleged the first already occurred in 2019, which we’ll get to shortly. So what exactly happens if someone does break the law in space? Could you, say, commit murder and get away scot-free?
To begin with, while you might think it can’t actually be possible to commit a crime in space because no country seemingly has jurisdiction there, you’d be wrong. Much like the myth that you can do whatever you want in international waters because no country holds sway, it turns out, among other agreements and rules, International laws are a thing.
On that note, while aboard a given vessel, the ship you’re on officially hails and is registered from some nation or group of nations (like the European Union) and the laws from said entities are binding aboard it in most cases while it’s out at sea. This is outlined in the United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea, “every State shall effectively exercise its jurisdiction and control in administrative, technical and social matters over ships flying its flag.”
Mare Liberum (1609) by Hugo Grotius is one of the earliest works on law of the sea.
While obviously there isn’t exactly a court case history to back this up, the general consensus is that the same basic idea will hold true for ships in space, and certain agreements to date concerning space ships do seem to bear that out, as well as help give a partial framework for judges to work with.
For example, in the Outer Space Treaty, beyond more or less attempting to ensure space stays free from any claim of national sovereignty, most pertinent to the topic at hand, it notes,
State Party to the Treaty on whose registry an object launched into outerspace is carried shall retain jurisdiction and control over such object, and over any personnel thereof, while in outer space or on a celestial body.
More or less mirroring this idea, on the International Space Station, the partnered nations came up with the Intergovernmental Agreement on Space Station Cooperation, which states, in part, the nations, “may exercise criminal jurisdiction over personnel in or on any flight element who are their respective nationals.”
As Joanne Gabrynowicz, the editor of Journal of Space Law- which is totally a thing by the way- elaborates, “The law of the nation that contributed and registered the module applies to that module… Further, each astronaut is governed by the law of the nation they represent. Therefore, which nation’s criminal jurisdiction will apply depends on which nation’s module the alleged crime was committed and which nation the alleged perpetrator is from.”
It’s also noteworthy that this Space Station Agreement has already anticipated countless other things that may happen in space and how various nations can work together amicably to resolve them, leading many space lawyers- which are also totally a thing- to speculate that elements of this agreement are likely to get adopted into a more general, universal agreement at some point down the line. And in the meantime, judges may well lean on it, among other existing agreements and analogous cases here on Earth, when attempting to decide legal matters as they begin happening outside of the ISS.
Speaking of these analogous cases, much like when a person travels to another nation and then commits a crime, there are plenty of existing agreements and fodder for authorities to draw from when crimes are committed in space. While there certainly will be the occasional dispute, as even happens between nations on Earth over such matters today, there is a pretty good outline already in place as to how it will probably be sorted out.
On top of this, even should you renounce your citizenship and be aboard your own vessel that likewise has no ties to any nation (perhaps even with you declaring said ship a nation of its own), it is likely if you did anything serious, especially against someone who does still have citizenship with some nation, you would still face prosecution for any crimes, perhaps via an International Criminal Court or even a special tribunal. (Although, in this case, we’re hoping such a court will be given the new, much cooler moniker of Galactic Criminal Court at some point.)
As the director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, Henry Hertzfeld, states,
Although there is no sovereignty outside a spacecraft, there are analogies to the law on ships in international waters and also to issues that might occur in Antarctica; both places with no national sovereignty. So, although this is not a settled issue, my reading is that being in space and technically outside of any nation’s sovereignty or jurisdiction is not sufficient to avoid being charged with a crime…
Of course, even then there still is a lot of potential for gray area. For example, one of the world’s leading space lawyers, Joanne Gabrynowicz, outlines one such scenario for people on the International Space Station, which has a pretty well defined set of rules as previously noted,
Each of the modules is registered by a different country, so that means that if you’re in the US laboratory, you’re on a piece of US territory… If you mosey over to the Japanese module, you are now in Japan. So, it’s like an embassy. It’s national territory….What happens if it’s been a long hard day at the American lab, and a European astronaut punches a Canadian in the American module, but then runs over to the Japanese module? Who has jurisdiction over that? …
But, of course, that is just a jurisdictional issue. If a serious enough crime was committed, the person’s going to get prosecuted somewhere. It just might be a bit of a bureaucratic nightmare in some cases to sort out where.
When moving over to scenarios like actual colonization of places like Mars, once a colony is setup, it will no doubt enact its own laws, which those living there will have to agree to, whether explicitly or implicitly, not too dissimilar to moving to a new country on Earth. And likewise it is probable that extradition agreements and the like will be setup little different from agreements between nations on Earth.
Coming back around to the question of if there has ever yet been a crime committed in space, this allegedly occurred during astronaut Anne McClain’s six month stint on the ISS in 2019. During that span, she supposedly accessed her recently ex-wife’s bank account several times, allegedly to double check there was enough money in the accounts to cover bills and to care for the pair’s son. On the other hand, her ex, Summer Worden, took the matter more seriously, viewing it as illegal access to her accounts, thus potentially subjecting McClain to certain identity theft laws.
NASA astronaut Anne McClain.
Because McClain is an American citizen, was aboard the American module of the International Space Station when she allegedly committed the crime, was using one of NASA’s computers at the time, and her supposed victim is likewise American, she was very clearly under the jurisdiction of the United States. However, as far as we can find, nothing ever came of these accusations other than a NASA investigation and a whole lot of news reports. McClain is still an astronaut for NASA and otherwise no further updates on the matter have ever been made public, so presumably either it was decided no crime was actually committed or the former couple settled the matter amicably and the investigation was dropped.
But to sum up, no matter where you are in the universe, you can be fairly sure that judges the world over will be happy to cite similar type scenarios that have happened on Earth and existing agreements in making sure you are prosecuted for crimes, assuming said crimes were serious enough to be worth the effort involved, or someone kicks up enough of a stink about it. And while there still is plenty of gray area, as soon as space tourism becomes a relatively common thing and people start committing crimes in space, it seems likely that the various nations the world over will quickly develop a comprehensive and more definitive set of rules to govern such things when the need arises.
All that said, there are an awful lot of ways a seemingly innocuous sequence of events can lead to someone’s death in space. Accidents happen- a faulty valve isn’t necessarily proof someone murdered someone else, even if they loathed each other. In some such ways someone could die in space, any halfway decent lawyer could instill reasonable doubt in the minds of the jurors, especially if hard evidence couldn’t be attained. After all, the expense of investigating such a crime thoroughly may well be enormous in some cases, thus making it so such a detailed investigation may not be done, or even possible.
So let’s just say in many cases it’s going to be a lot more difficult to tell if there was someone behind such an event, or if it was just an accident… Leading us to perhaps one of the cooler new jobs that are going to be a thing in the coming decades- space detectives.
Ever wonder what the longest prison sentence ever given out is? Well, wonder no more. This was a whopping 141,078 years. It was given in 1989 in Thailand to Chamoy Thipyaso and each of her seven accomplices for defrauding more than 16,000 Chinese investors as a part of a massive Ponzi scheme.
If you’re wondering, in the United States, the longest sentence for some form of corporate fraud was only 845 years. This was handed down in 2000 to Sholam Weiss, for his role in the collapse of National Heritage Life Insurance. By contrast, Bernie Madoff was only given 150 years for his 2009 conviction of defrauding thousands in a multi-billion dollar Ponzi scheme.
The second and third longest prison sentences (for any crime), globally, were given to Jamal Zougam (42,924 years) and Emilio Suárez Trashorras (49,922 years) for their roles in the 2004 train bombings in Madrid.
As for the longest prison term overall in the United States, it was given in 1994 to Charles Schott Robinson who was convicted of six counts of rape garnering him 5,000 years in prison each- a whopping 30,000 year sentence.
Also in Oklahoma, Darron B. Anderson and Allan W. McLaurin each had in the thousands of years ranges of prison time imposed for the kidnapping, robbery and rape of an elderly woman. Anderson was initially only sentenced to 2,200 years, but upon his second trial (he appealed and won a new one), that second jury imposed a sentence of 11,250 years. McLaurin was initially sentenced to 21,250 years, but the appellate court reduced it to a mere 500 years.
The longest prison sentence imposed in Australia was given to Martin Bryant in 1996 for the Port Arthur, Tasmania massacre where he killed 35 and injured 23 others. His sentence included 1,035 years without parole plus 35 life sentences, one for each life he took.
Yeoman 2nd Class Kenny Jones wears his pride for Virginia Beach — its culture, its beachfront, its military presence — on his sleeve.
He’ll soon be wearing that pride on his feet.
Jones, who last month celebrated six years of service for the Coast Guard, recently won an Instagram contest to design a Nike shoe. The contest, organized by the @nikesbornothing Instagram account (and not affiliated with Nike), encouraged fans of the Nike SB Dunk shoe to design a version to represent a city of their choice.
Jones, 28, picked Virginia Beach, the place where he grew up. His father, a Navy man who served on submarines, moved the family there when Jones was in first grade.
The shoe he designed is Navy blue, a nod to the region’s large Navy and Coast Guard populations, and the Nike swoosh is silver, a reference to the Navy’s steel ships.
On the side is a trident, representing the King Neptune statue that guards the Virginia Beach oceanfront. A musical symbol references some of the music superstars that hail from Virginia Beach, like Pharrell and Timbaland. Blue waves and a tan outsole evoke the sand and surf.
Sometimes Virginia Beach can be overlooked, Jones said, but it’s a place that people are proud of, and his design was a way to display this pride.
“I want them to continue to feel proud of the area that we’re from,” Jones said. “Everything about it, whether it’s the oceanfront that we have, or the military aspect, to be proud of those who serve in this area.”
For Coast Guard members, Hampton Roads, a coastal region that includes Virginia Beach, Norfolk, and Chesapeake, the city where Jones lives and works for the Coast Guard Communications Command, has special meaning, he added, since so many members have been stationed in the region.
When he posted his Virginia Beach design on his Instagram account, it attracted a boatload of likes. In late March, the @nikesbornothing account announced that Jones’ design had won its “Have a Nike SB Day” contest.
It wasn’t just fellow Nike enthusiasts that embraced Jones’ design. Posting on Twitter, Virginia Sen. Mark Warner congratulated Jones for his win, adding, “I cannot wait to wear the real thing.”
Jones also received a shout out from Jason M. Vanderhaden, Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard, who tweeted his congratulations.
For Jones, who said he is naturally a quiet guy, the response, especially from prominent leaders like Warner and Vanderhaden, has been an overwhelming experience.
And he’s taking it as a sign.
Jones took the money he was saving for a new pair of Nikes and instead used it to buy a new iPad and Apple Pencil. He’s watching online videos to teach himself design, a way of “investing in myself.”
“I feel like I got an opportunity, so I don’t want to waste it,” he said.
He wants to pursue the dream he’s had for a long time: to design shoes and other apparel. These days, when he’s not at work or spending time with his wife and their three-year-old son, he’s working on making that dream come true.
And he’s waiting for a special custom pair of Virginia Beach-themed Nike SBs. As the contest winner, Jones’ custom design will be created by a company called ReverseLand.
When will the shoes be available? He says he’ll let his fans know on Instagram.
Ryan Hendrickson is a retired Green Beret who’s been through a lot. Despite overwhelming challenges, he refuses to wear the title of victim and instead calls himself a survivor. He wants you to do the same.
Tip of the Spear wasn’t supposed to be a book. It started as a journal for Hendrickson, a way to work through his thoughts and post-traumatic stress. But after a few months, he saw something in those writings – as did friends. “The therapeutic effect I got from writing actually turned into a book. I had to see the silver lining in something as bad as stepping on an IED [improvised explosive device]. A lot of people that were reading it said the book talks to everyone — not just military — as far as not being a victim in your life,” Hendrickson explained.
In September of 2010, Hendrickson was deployed to Afghanistan as an 18 Charlie, a Special Forces Engineer with Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th special forces. He had just completed the elite schooling to earn the coveted Green Beret and was feeling on top of the world. The first chapter of Tip of the Spear takes the reader vividly through what it’s like to arrive in Afghanistan – and the mission that changed his life.
When Hendrickson and his team entered the deserted Afghan village before dawn, he said he knew something big was coming. When his interpreter went too far ahead of uncleared ground, he had no choice but to quickly and quietly get him back. “I grabbed him by the back of the shirt and moved him around. You never like to have any unknown area or blind spot, so I put the muzzle of my M-4 in the doorway of the compound and stepped back… right onto the IED,” he shared.
Hendrickson said he didn’t realize he hit it at first, remembering that he just felt like he couldn’t breathe because of the heavy dust and ammonia in the air. “As the dust started to clear, I saw that my boot was six inches away from my leg…When I reached behind my knee to pull my leg up, my boot sort of flopped over with my toes pointed at me. I saw these two pearly white objects sticking out of my pant leg. Then it kicked in that it was bone,” he said.
It was then that Hendrickson realized it was really bad. His team couldn’t rush in to support him either, since they knew that if there was one IED, there were probably five. His interpreter started a tourniquet, effectively saving his life. After a while, his team was able to safely make it to him and they got him out. “We could hear the Taliban on chatter celebrating that I got hit and that they were going to move into position to ambush us. They splinted the leg the best they could to put the lower and upper part together,” he said.
Hendrickson was in theater for over a week as they tried to stabilize him and keep him alive. When he made it to San Antonio, it would take 28 surgeries to reattach his leg. Then the real work began. “I had a sergeant major who came in to see me; he told me if I could get medically cleared he’d send me back to combat. That was the big driving factor behind me taking control of my life and hitting rehab as hard as I could. That and knowing the Taliban were cheering when I got hurt. I wasn’t going to let them beat me or win,” he explained.
Although he was medically retired, Hendrickson refused to accept it. After spending a grueling year in rehabilitation, he passed all the required tests and was reinstated into active duty through a special waiver. In March of 2012 – only a year and a half after almost losing his leg to an IED – his boots were back in the sands of Afghanistan.
It wasn’t easy though, he shared. The guys he was working with were concerned he’d be a liability. Hendrickson was sent to the biggest known IED province of Afghanistan, a real test given his own experience. He had to prove himself to his teammates and did it by methodically finding IED after IED, keeping them all safe.
Hendrickson would continue to serve and deploy for years after that. In 2016, he earned a Silver Star for heroic efforts during a difficult seven-hour firefight in Afghanistan. “It wasn’t what I did, it was what we did…It’s the same thing all of us say, we were just doing our job,” he shared. He headed home fromAfghanistan in 2017 and found himself struggling with a lot, mentally.
After trying unsuccessfully to talk with a counselor, he sought help through the chaplain. He advised him to write, using that avenue to tell his story and work through his thoughts. Those thoughts and writing were unknowingly turning into a story of his life, both the good and the bad. It was here that he found healing and the deep resiliency he needed to never feel like a victim again.
Tip of the Spear will bring the reader on a powerful journey through a difficult childhood leading to military service spanning three branches, ultimately leading Hendrickson to become an elite Green Beret. The story culminates with the unfathomable challenge of coming back from an injury that almost took his life and was certainly considered the end of his military career. Hendrickson refused to quit and fought his way past the odds stacked against him.
It’s Hendrick’s hope that readers will use his journey to be inspired to do the same in their own lives. Anything is possible he says, but first you have to become a survivor, not a victim.
To purchase your copy of Tip of the Spear, click here.
ODA-525, the Sharkmen just prior to deploying out to the Iraqi desert. (Photo courtesy of Robert “Blade” Gardner, third from the left in back row)
The 1st Special Forces Group was a great place to be when they activated in 1984 in Ft. Lewis, Washington state. I made a mad dash to get out of Ft. Bragg and into the First. We were the only Green Beret unit on the post so it was like being “away from the flag pole” as we used to say, or away from the stressful prying eyes of the higher headquarters. That coupled with the novelty of new digs in a new hood just made it a pleasant place to be.
We weren’t even on the main post: We were in a little gouge of a satellite cantonment area across the freeway from the main post. It was very low-visibility and even, shall I say it, cozy there in our outskirt haven.
There the boys were being boys in their own Green Beret fashion and pipes suddenly became vogue on the premises. It seemed that you just might not be cool… unless you were smoking a pipe.
It wasn’t a “stoner-esque” sort of pipe smoking; it was like your grandpa sort of pipe smoking — ol’ geezer pipes that should have been the last thing that made you look cool, and yet somehow they did. It was kinda nice taking a break outside the team room in the middle of the day to go outside and… do a bowl. Except we weren’t doing bowls, we were… smoking pipes. Just, smoking pipes. Then a few taps of the pipe against the concrete steps and back to work.
(left) My own pipe from back in my Green Berets days as it sits on my desk today. One of my favorite pipes carried by a teammate was this Zeus head pipe. (SOFREP/George E. Hand IV)
Conversations took on a vastly different character and demeanor when were were smoking pipes. We could be talking quantum physics while descending the stairs to the porch, but once those pipes were torched:
“Big of a scorcher out today, eh?”
“Looks to be a bit of weather coming in from the nor-east tho…”
“Might be in for a coolin’ off — that’d be nice for a spell…”
The way we felt we looked smoking our pipes notwithstanding, this is rather more in keeping with the way people actually saw us.
Three of my team brothers and I had made a rare excursion to the main post for some harassment and all-around hateful time. Our Company Commander admonished us to “just stay the hell away from that place unless absolutely necessary,” knowing Green Berets over there would always draw attention and scrutiny.
We grabbed lunch at main Post Exchange (PX) and sat outside on a patio.
After lunch we instinctively pulled out the burners for some pleasing pipe puffing and discussion about the weather. It didn’t take long for a grumpy Master Sergeant to interrupt us: “Excuse me… you men are out of uniform,” meaning smoking pipes. That was most certainly not the case but he was grumpy and decided to call our bluff knowing that Green Berets were not heavy into drill and ceremony, pomp and circumstance. My Team Sergeant, a Master Sergeant himself replied:
“We’re not out of uniform, Sarge, we’re just smoking pipes!”
“And that’s out of uniform!” he huffed.
“Horse shit, Sarge… you know there’s nothing in AR670-5 that prohibits smoking a pipe while in uniform.”
Just knowing the title of the manual that governed the wear of the military uniform was enough of a counter-bluff and the grumpy Sergeant snorted off.
AR (Army Regulation) 670-5 governs the configuration and wear of the military uniform.
Another shenanigan the seemed to catch on with the A-Teams was bringing dogs to work. All types of dogs. Huntin’ dogs, coon dawgs, guard dogs. Take a break, smoke your pipe, pet yer dawg — Basic Dude Stuff! That concept, the dogs, never had a chance of getting off the ground. It was like a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs: just too much there to go wrong.
Command Sergeant Major (CSM) Douglas J. Turner was an affidavit-sworn baddass. West Point had voice recordings of him from Vietnam calling in an artillery barrage on his own position because he was being overrun by Viet Cong. His voice was as calm as if he were reading from the day’s weather report. I had been assigned to his Battalion before he left the 7th Special Forces Group in Ft. Bragg. We bought him a really nice pistol as a going-away gift when he left. And now we were both in the same unit again.
Herstal Belgium Fabrique Nationale’s (FN), Browning Hi-Power, 9 x 19mm
CSM Turner stepped squarely into a pile of dog crap outside our team room building one day as he headed up to our room. He walked just inside the door of our room and — SPLOOSH — stepped into a puddle of fresh dog p00. He cocked his head down to observe the puddle of crap that he had just stepped in. Raising his head he spied a dog curled up next to one of the men’s desks.
Slowly trending over he reached down to pet the dog, which suddenly snapped its jaw up and bit the CSM on the hand. Douglas J. Turner stood back up, looked at his bleeding hand, and glared at the dog. The room of men became a petrified forest. D. J. Turner sucked the bite wound on his hand as he stepped out the door.
“Wha… what will become of us now?” Pondered one of the men, and we were all sorely afraid.
The next morning we gathered for our usual morning Physical Training (PT) formation. Outside our building the same dog that bit the CSM the day prior was leashed off to the stair rail. The CSM came by and, pointing to an exercise apparatus at the edge of the formation field, directed a man to “Chain that dog to the pull-up bars!” The man did so.
Forming up and not really taking note of the dog fasted at the bars, we were brought to attention as CSM Turner received the morning report. He then addressed the entire battalion:
“YOU MEN HAVE BEEN BRINGING YOUR DOGS TO WORK LATELY. I HAVE BEEN SEEING DOG SHIT AROUND MY COMPOUND AND EVEN STEPPED IN SOME DOG SHIT. YESTERDAY ONE OF THEM EVEN BIT ME!”
“FROM NOW ON THE NEXT TIME I SEE ANOTHER DOG IN MY BATTALION AREA, IT WILL BE SHOT!”
A measured chuckle emanated from the formation. D. J. walked over and stood by the dog. Another chuckle arose. With that CSM Douglas J. Turner reached to his lumbar and pulled out the pistol we got him when he left 7th Special Forces Group. He snatched back the slide, pointed the gun at the dog’s head and fired. The dog froze momentarily in a sort of seizure, then flopped over dead.
The distraught dog’s owner cried out and broke formation sprinting toward the CSM. Several men grabbed and restrained the man, carrying him up to their team room where they placed a guard on him to prevent him from getting out. The CSM returned to his office where he sat and quietly waited for the Military Police to arrive and take him away; which they did. Some say that it was just CSM Turner’s way of telling the world that he had had enough and was ready to retire from it all.
That is the extent of what happened to him. He was retired from the U.S. Army.
Later that day we broke from the team room to head downstairs for a peace pipe ceremony:
“Shame about Ingram’s dog there.”
“Shouldn’t oughtta be bringin’ a bitin’ dog to work that’s not potty trained tho.”
“Course, don’t make much sense a-shootin’ a dog over any of it neither.”
Humor in combat is a bizarre topic — and one not many understand unless they’ve been there. Soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines across the world have been fighting in wars since the creation of militaries. Combat is a high-octane blend of mental and physical exhaustion. The more a soldier is in combat, the better they get at warfighting — and coping with the rigors of war creates a unique sense of humor.
Soldiers are known to engage in somewhat dark humor that is typically derived from repeated exposure to high-stress scenarios in training and in combat. These experiences can make assimilation into the civilian sector more difficult after getting out of the military. The gap between veterans and civilians is ever present, and differences in humor — along with extreme differences in life experiences — can contribute to that divide.
According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter in high-stress environments is a coping mechanism and can actually manifest helpful physical effects: “Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain.” In addition, laughter can activate and then relieve your stress response as well as decrease tension.
Coffee or Die Magazine spoke with several veterans about their experiences in combat — and why they found some of it funny.
Mike Simpson served in the US Army for 32 years, starting out in 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, moving on to 7th Special Forces Group, and ending his career in the military as an emergency medicine physician.
On a deployment in 2013 during winter in Afghanistan, Simpson and his fellow Rangers sprinted into position after their partner force came under fire. It was a small firefight, but they spent the better part of an hour trying to locate a “squirter” that was shooting at them after running from the target building they were there to hit.
During the firefight, Simpson recalled, he “took a mental step back and actually checked my pulse. Then I said, ‘Hmmm … interesting,’ and I chuckled. The Ranger next to me gave me a funny look.”
His fellow Ranger didn’t say anything until they got back to their base. Simpson explained to him why he had checked his pulse during the firefight, and they both had another laugh.
“The first half of my career, I had always wondered how I would react on a psychological and physiological level to combat. You read all the stories and the books, but you don’t know how you will react until it happens,” Simpson said. “I was curious, as a physician, as to how I was handling the situation, so I took my own pulse.”
Steve Wickham served in the US Army for a little over 20 years and deployed a total of five times. He was on a deployment to Afghanistan while in the 563rd Aviation Support Battalion back in 2012, stationed at Kandahar Airfield. Rocket attacks were common and he was typically close to the impacts, as he was living on the airfield in a mini-compound. Eight months into his 12-month deployment, another rocket attack came in.
The incoming-ordnance sirens started going off at approximately 11 p.m. Wickham and his active duty and civilian comrades made their way to the bunker on their compound. The airfield’s Counter Rocket, Artillery, Mortar (C-RAM) defense system started firing at the incoming ordnance, but Wickham wasn’t too concerned.
“The C-Rams were going off, and per usual none of us took the attack very seriously,” Wickham said. “I believe I was sitting on top of the bunker, smoking and joking with another NCO, instead of being inside it.”
Wickham and his comrades were laughing the night away when three rockets hit just outside their aircraft hangars, approximately 60 yards from their bunker. They started running toward the impacts to render aid if needed.
One of the civilians there was Randy, a veteran and firefighter, who had let himself go after getting out of the military. During this whole deployment, Randy had been hitting the gym hard and had lost a lot of weight. Wickham made a quick quip to this civilian as they were running toward the impact site.
“Damn Randy, look at you. That gym time is paying off — you’re keeping up with us!” Appearing dumbfounded, Randy made Wickham’s joke worth it. Randy was winded, and all he could do was flip the bird at Wickham and keep running. They arrived to find that no one was injured, so they moved on to evaluate property damage.
Later on, they were all gathered in a circle and talking about the night’s events. Randy was laughing about Wickham’s ability to crack jokes while sprinting and just after multiple rockets had hit their compound.
Barrett Carver served in the US Army for almost seven years and deployed multiple times. He spent his time in 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, and was one of the Rangers involved in the assault on Haditha Dam, a critical structure to capture during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
During the assault, Carver and his fellow Rangers were holed up inside one of the buildings on “the military side of the dam,” and they were taking indirect fire from the Iraqis. Artillery rounds were impacting close to their building for several hours with barrages of small-arms fire. Carver thought to himself, Well, it’s been a good run.
Suddenly, they all heard a loud twang, and a thick cloud of dust erupted inside the building. Carver looked up to see a horseshoe-shaped indent in the corrugated tin roof over their heads. Everyone burst into uncontrollable laughter — one of the artillery rounds had been deflected by the thin tin roof.
“Deflection is a funny thing,” Carver said. “It could have just as easily been a dud round. Either way, I take a kick where I can get it. Amazing thing is that with the amount they dropped on us, we only had two casualties. Both made it.”
Scott Ford served in the US Army for 21 years and is the recipient of a Silver Star for his actions in Afghanistan on April 6, 2008, while serving as the team sergeant of Operational Detachment Alpha 3336 (ODA-3336).
Ford struck up a conversation with a fellow passenger while on his flight to a training event. She was a psychologist, and they were discussing different ways to handle heavy stress. One of her suggestions for handling stressful situations was to imagine breaking crayons. At the time, Ford didn’t realize this suggestion would pop into his head years later during a firefight in Iraq.
During a mission one night in Sadr City, Iraq, Ford and his Special Forces team were pinned down on top of a roof while supporting the main assault element.
“It was one of those little aggravating gunfights where we just can’t find the guy to kill him, and we’re trying all kinds of unique things,” Ford recalled.
It got to a point where Ford and his teammate sat down behind their cover to think through a solution to finally kill the insurgent who had them pinned down. Then a smile creeped across Ford’s face, despite the bullets impacting their cover. His teammate looked at him with bewilderment and said, “What the fuck are you thinking about right now?”
Ford looked at him and said, “I’m like, breaking fucking crayons, bro.” They both busted out in laughter. After regaining composure, they figured out a way to take out the insurgent.
“You know, it’s just one of those moments where anybody else would look at us like, you guys are fucking weird, you know?” Ford said.
Ford believes veterans are unique because they have the ability to laugh in dire situations. Ford and his old teammates still get together from time to time, and the story about breaking crayons always comes up.
Jason Briggs served in the US Army for four years in 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment and deployed five times. Briggs’ last deployment to Kandahar, Afghanistan, in 2008 involved a particularly funny experience while out on a mission.
His team didn’t have their usual pilots and were being flown by an aviation unit that they hadn’t worked with much in the past. They were loaded onto two MH-47 Chinook helicopters to infiltrate their target. High winds coming down the mountains made flying conditions difficult. When Briggs’ Chinook attempted to touch down, the pilot struggled to make a steady landing and took several tries; each failed attempt to land was followed by a rapid gain in altitude while spinning. Meanwhile, the other helicopter landed on its first attempt and offloaded its Rangers.
The guys were having a blast on his Chinook, pretending the scary helicopter ride was a roller coaster and that they were in Disney World, laughing constantly.
“You’d see the mountains under nods just whizzing by out the back out the Chinook,” Briggs said. “It took about four attempts to put her down, and when he did, we were a ways away from the other chalk. But hey, we were finally down.”
The Rangers landed and executed their mission, detaining several people from the targeted house. The call for their exfiltration was radioed into command, and eventually the same crew of Chinooks came thundering in.
When the pilot of Briggs’ Chinook made the first attempt to land, they all had to take off running with their detainees to avoid getting stomped on by the actual helicopter.
“Sure enough this guy can’t put it down again — the first attempt sends us running like mushrooms about to be stomped by Mario,” Briggs said. “Have you ever seen an exfil circle, with PUCs, pick up and run in a complete brownout as a helicopter follows them around trying to land on them? Yeah, that actually happened.”
The pilot landed after about three attempts, and the Rangers loaded up with their detainees. They had a safe flight back to base to prepare for the inevitable follow-on mission.
“Although we got to share the camaraderie together in the bird,” he said, “I don’t know if I’ve ever laughed so hard in my life as I did seeing a helicopter try to land on me in the middle of the night in Afghanistan.”
In 2015, a cup of coffee in New York City averaged $1.70; in 2019, that price jumped to $1.97. Besides inflation, coffee has undergone quite the transformation since its first wash of national popularity in the 1960s — known as the first-wave coffee movement.
As much as our favorite drink has transformed, the efforts made to source and sell coffee have also drastically transformed, eventually bumping into its fair share of problems. While it currently boasts one of the biggest markets globally, the method in which coffee is sourced often skirts the questions about morality. Conflict along the coffee belt has been a recurring issue within the past few years, but that wasn’t always the case. In order to understand the extent of coffee conflict, we must first understand the waves of coffee and how they have changed the shape of the market.
Back in the 1960s, Maxwell House and Folgers earned their place in our pantries as a morning beverage readily available for the American masses. These two companies, in combination with other “gourmet” brands, represented the face of the first wave of coffee, in which coffee was treated as a daily commodity rather than a specialty trade. These were the days of no-nonsense, pre-ground beans and a good, old-fashioned percolator drip. The grounds weren’t single-roast, imported beans that capitalized on flavor through specialized processing — and the brands weren’t interested in marketing themselves as such. Likewise, consumers weren’t invested in where their grounds were being sourced from.
The second wave gets a little more complex, but experts commonly refer to it as the “Starbucks” wave, and for good reason. Whereas the first wave seemed to be exclusive to the domestic realm, the second featured a heavy focus on intense mobilization of cafe culture, as well as the specialty beverages and passionate baristas that came along with it.
With the introduction of predominantly West Coast coffee chains, brands like Starbucks, Peet’s Coffee, and Tim Hortons used espresso-based specialty beverages to lure in crowds. Ironically, the emphasis wasn’t on the coffee but the supplementary elements of the drink, as well as the cafe’s ambiance. It’s here that companies began publishing roasts and origins, which created an awareness of sourcing without a heavy emphasis on it.
Aptly nicknamed the “hipster boom,” the third wave of coffee carved its place into existence as the movement that mobilized coffee on its own terms. No longer about the syrup or milky beverages, cafes like Blue Bottle and La Colombe shifted their focus to the beans, roast, flavor profile, and origin of the individual cup of coffee. The hallmark of this wave remains the manner in which coffee is regarded. Like wine or cheese, the third wave considers coffee an artisanal good that requires knowhow to hone in on the drinker’s preferences.
Rather than percolators or espresso barges, the third-wave movement revitalized manual methods like pour over and French press, controlling every aspect of the brewing process to best manifest each roast’s specific characteristics. And while this seems like an ideal scenario for coffee lovers, the third wave struggles to balance its morality with its dedication to sophistication and flavor. Of all the waves, the third is correlated with the most paltry, having been sourced primarily by strife-ridden communities.
The first and second waves vaguely alluded to the origin of their beans. They were predominantly Colombian or Arabica beans with a selection that grew to include Indonesian and Vietnamese coffee. The origins of these beans weren’t obscure, but they were never highlighted the way they are now.
The third wave doesn’t share its predecessors’ inclination for simplicity — on the contrary, it places a heavy emphasis on exoticism. This makes sense considering that coffee is now treated as an artisanal good, and as with any business, the forces of supply and demand are at work. Quality plays an important role, however, it’s less about overall flavor than it is about rarity. “Rarity” in this context is defined as how difficult something is to source rather than how obscure it is. Inevitably, the rarest beans remain engrossed in the throes of conflict. In 2016, Blue Bottle paid 3 a pound for coffee imported from a war-plagued Yemen.
The process of roasting a batch of high-quality, single-origin coffee beans in a large industrial roaster; the toasted beans are in the cooling cycle.
Before we can delve into the main connection between the third wave and coffee conflict, it’s important we understand exactly how those bags of beans end up on the shelves of our local cafes. Whereas first-wave coffee was sourced privately by equitable firms and sold wholesale to companies like Maxwell House and Folgers, the third wave engages coffee sourcing with intense vigor. With consumers willing to pay higher prices, the more direct their relationship with their coffee can be. The third wave actively removes the middleman and encourages cafes to source the coffee themselves, providing associates with a direct relationship with the farmers.
To the naked eye, this seems beneficial for both parties. Cafes get their specialty products, and farmers facing dismal conditions sell their beans for what seems like a pretty penny. But the latter isn’t necessarily true. With bigger companies entering the fray, the division of money can get staggered, leaving farmers with fractions of what their crop is worth. For farmers growing what’s deemed as a differentiated or specialized crop, money will be consistent. For farmers growing a common bean, it’s trickier. Despite the coffee industry being valued at billion, growers across the globe are struggling to rally the proper funds to cover the cost of production.
As farmers struggle to maintain a profit and, in turn, make a living off their trade, the future of coffee remains volatile. This is especially problematic when you account for the conditions of most of these farmers. Residents of Sudan have been facing a deeply violent civil war, Yemeni farmers have been dealing with crippling government oppression, and farmers in the Republic of Congo stand to lose their lives while active explosives litter their farmland. The latter is hardly an isolated incident — Colombia, Burma, Ethiopia, and Vietnam all feature obscured remnants of war, literally making coffee-growing the riskiest enterprise in the country. But there is an upside.
Pour-over coffee brewing and a deeper understanding of each roast’s origin is a hallmark of the third-wave coffee movement.
(Photo courtesy of Black Rifle Coffee Company.)
The third wave is comprised of a hyper-aware generation of consumers that take pride in knowing how their coffee is processed and where their coffee is coming from. As such, the global approach to sourcing coffee has offered cafe patrons an easy way to engage with the origin of their beans. This usually splits the consumers into two groups: those who consider buying conflict coffee a great atrocity, and those who see their purchase as a positive impact on an ailing community. Neither are right. This hyper-awareness of farming conditions is slowly growing into what will become the fourth wave of coffee.
The fourth wave builds upon the principles of its predecessor — they share their affinity for manually processed coffee as well as quality beans and roasts. The major difference remains the issue of sustainability. Consumers swimming in this wave not only pride themselves on the awareness of the conditions of farmers but also the climate impact of sourcing particular roasts. While it doesn’t solve the moral complication of buying from the conflict community, it puts farmers’ narratives front and center, allowing consumers to make educated purchases.
As consumers of the market, it’s easy to look past the method that brings us these goods. The onus is on both the company and the consumer to be responsible and make responsible decisions for how we source our coffee.
Trojan Footprint: Embedded with Special Forces in Europe