Sisters by blood, now sisters-in-arms: Two sets of sisters graduate recruit training - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

Sisters by blood, now sisters-in-arms: Two sets of sisters graduate recruit training

PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. —

Three days before her grandfather passed away, Ashley Valentine, 19, made a promise to carry on his legacy in the United States armed services. After deciding to join the Marine Corps, her sister Amber, 22, made the decision to enlist as well.

“After talking with the recruiter about how it would impact my life, I was committed,” Amber said. “I was ready to go no matter what.”

Amber waited for her sister to be approved medically before she went to recruit training. The Manassas, Virginia natives, both agreed that having each other to rely on through recruit training helped during some of their highest highs and lowest lows.

“I went through a moment during first phase where I received some bad news in a letter, and she was there to be a shoulder for me to lean on,” Amber said.

The two will not be attending Marine Combat Training together however – Ashley suffered a hip fracture prior to graduation and will be remaining on the island while she heals.

The two sisters both have faith and confidence in each other on the next step of their lives, despite being physically distant. After they complete Combat Training, Amber will continue on in the Communications field and Ashley will be certified as a Motor Transportation Operator.

“I know she’s going to be ok,” Ashley said of her sister. “She’s always been independent and I know she’s going to succeed in her career.”

When Maria, Vanessa and Melissa Placido Jaramillo were young children, they made a pact to join the military together; yet it was their unbreakable bond that got them through the trials of recruit training.

 “When one of us is lacking and the other is strong in that area, we always push each other to become the best we can be.”

 Melissa Placido, a U.S. Marine

The three sisters were born in Panama and moved to Las Vegas at a young age. Maria, 21, said she loved war movies growing up; When she saw “Tears of the Sun” for the first time, she said she was truly inspired the join the military. After learning about the ROTC program, she found her true motivation to become a Marine; to honor her family and give back the country who gave her so much.

Her other two sisters, identical twins Melissa and Vanessa, 22, were also in the ROTC program exploring their options of different branches, but it was their younger sister who first spoke with a Marine Corps recruiter.

During recruit training, it was friendly competition and daily positive affirmation that keep their relationship with each other strong, Melissa said.

“When one of us is lacking and the other is strong in that area, we always push each other to become the best we can be,” Melissa said.

“We have an unbreakable bond,” Maria said. “We are always together, but we know how to live separately. I know that my sisters will always be there for me, even when they are not physically with me.”

The three sisters have yet to find out what Military Occupational Specialty they will be assigned, but are looking forward to what the Marine Corps has in store for them. Maria says she is excited to expand her knowledge of a new occupation while completing her education.

Melissa and Vanessa also both intend to complete their education, Melissa as a double major in Political Science and Medical Science, and Vanessa in Political Science and Legal Science. They all will become nationalized as American citizens.

These five success stories of triumph and resilience may have come to Parris Island with different mindsets and from different background, but they will forever share the bond of becoming Marines side-by-side.

This article originally appeared on Marines. Follow @USMC on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This soldier’s passion for boxing is an inspiration to others

Puddles of sweat begin to form as the sound of 50-ounce gloves hitting a punching bag echo throughout the gym.

A buzzer goes off. That’s the signal to the drenched-in-sweat Sgt. Larry Mays that the warmup has ended and the real workout is about to begin.

The unit supply NCO with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 704th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, used that warmup routine to help earn first place in the Colorado Golden Gloves heavyweight division in April 2019.


“It’s a prestigious tournament that the state of Colorado holds on a yearly basis,” explained Mays. “I’ve been training since October of last year and it’s exciting to see that all my hard work paid off.”

Even though the Lambert, Mississippi native began his training for the Colorado tournament in October 2018, his journey with the sport started much earlier.

Sisters by blood, now sisters-in-arms: Two sets of sisters graduate recruit training

U.S. Army Sgt. Larry Mays, a unit supply noncommissioned officer assigned to 704th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, hits a punching bag, May 11, 2019, at local boxing gym in Colorado Springs.

(Photo by Staff Sgt. Neysa Canfield)

“I started fighting (when) I was in elementary school. I started with (mixed martial arts), taekwondo and Jiu-Jitsu,” said Mays. “I kept fighting as a way to stay in shape and relieve stress.”

While training in those combat sports, Mays’ coach recommended he try boxing as a way to help him with his MMA skills.

“I pretty much fell in love with (boxing) after that and never went back to MMA,” he explained. “It’s not an easy sport, but I love that there is always a challenge and something new to learn.”

Although boxing was a big part of his life, Mays said he found himself working odd jobs and bringing little income into his household.

With encouragement from his coaches, friends, and family members, Mays enlisted in the Army in 2012.

“I wanted to get out of Mississippi and I always wanted to join the military, so it was the perfect time to make that change,” said Mays.

He learned to adapt quickly to the military lifestyle.

“To me, my mindset with boxing and my military career are very similar,” he said. “You have to stay disciplined, have a clear and strong mind, and never back down from a fight.”

Sisters by blood, now sisters-in-arms: Two sets of sisters graduate recruit training

U.S. Army Sgt. Larry Mays, a unit supply noncommissioned officer assigned to 704th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, hits a speed bag May 11, 2019, at local boxing gym in Colorado Springs.

(Photo by Staff Sgt. Neysa Canfield)

His ability to stay committed to his passion of boxing and effectively balance his career and family life began to inspire other soldiers in his unit.

“I would see him working long hours, helping his soldiers and then still see him going to the gym after work to train — that’s dedication,” said 1st Lt. Wilbert Paige, platoon leader, HHC, 704th BSB, 2nd IBCT. “He is a great example, not only to the junior soldiers in the company but to everyone, from top to bottom.”

Paige added that he hopes to see Mays in the “big leagues” in the future.

“He is a great example of what not quitting, putting in hard work and staying dedicated to your goals looks like,” said Paige. “He is the type of person who can do whatever he puts his mind to, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for him.”

With the support of his family and now his unit, Mays said he hopes to continue boxing and to ultimately do it professionally.

“This road of life I am on is kind of falling into place, I have come a long way,” said Mays. “I just want to be the guy who made it from nothing. I want to be the best soldier, best NCO and best boxer I can be.”

He hopes others see his journey as a way to encourage themselves to follow their dreams, Mays added.

“I want to be an inspiration to not only soldiers but to everyone,” he said. “You have to look at every day like a fight. Keep pushing even when you might be falling down because you can’t expect good things to happen if you don’t even try.”

This article originally appeared on United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This is why the BCGs aren’t really all that bad

The old saying, “women love a man in uniform” comes with a long list of exceptions. For example, the expression does not apply to service members wearing a pair of S9 GI glasses — more commonly known as “birth control glasses,” or BCGs. Even the updated 5A GI glasses are only just a slight improvement in style over their infamous predecessor.

The distaste held by many troops wearing them isn’t without merit. You’re asking big, badass troops to don a pair of prescription glasses that immediately makes them look like the biggest dorks on the face of the planet. But if you can get over the fact that you’re often going to be mistaken for the commo guy, you’ll see there’s a very valid reason why the military has issued them out for all these years.

And it’s related to one of their other nicknames: up-armored glasses.


Sisters by blood, now sisters-in-arms: Two sets of sisters graduate recruit training

This soldier’s look has been appropriated by hipster douchebags who raise hell if their organic kale smoothie wasn’t free-range.

(Tennessee State Library and Archives)

The very first version of GI glasses were issued out back in WWII. The P3 lenses they used were originally meant to be inserts for gas masks — but your average, visually impaired troop needed to see clearly, so the military started issuing out their own version of prescription glasses.

After the war, they switched the frames from a nickel alloy to cellulose acetate. Recipients could choose between gray and black frames. The glasses weren’t too out of the ordinary style-wise and they served a dual purpose of acting as thicker-than-average eye protection while improving a troop’s sight.

For the time, the glasses were aligned with fashion trends and, frankly, style wasn’t much of a concern — they were free, they worked, and they were definitely within military regulations. It was just a bonus that they didn’t look too bad, either.

Sisters by blood, now sisters-in-arms: Two sets of sisters graduate recruit training

They can do anything but help you talk to the ladies.

(Photo by Sam Giltner)

Then, the late 70s rolled around and the military went all in on the S9 GI glasses. The frames were bulky and only available in “librarian brown” cellulose acetate. Around this time, soft corrective contact lenses became more prevalent, but military regulation forbid contacts, so if you had a visual impairment, you were forced to look like a dork.

The restriction on contacts isn’t without merit. As anyone who’s ever worn contacts can tell you, they’re a pain in the ass to maintain everyday and almost impossible to keep up with in a military environment. A single speck of dirt can potentially irritate your eye and take you out of the fight. The S9s on the other hand, were intended to withstand the austere environments troops deploy to and the lenses and frame are durable.

Sisters by blood, now sisters-in-arms: Two sets of sisters graduate recruit training

All of the jokes we throw at each other for looking dorky as hell will soon be a thing of the past. Now we’ll need some other trait to poke fun at…

(Photo by Melissa K. Buckley, Ft. Leonard Wood)

The military has adapted to societal trends over the years to keep troops seeing properly and protecting their eyes. Wearing BCGs is a regulation that’s really only enforced during recruit training or Officer Candidate School. After the bespectacled troop gets to their first unit, they can swap them out for a pair of civilian, prescription glasses — so long as they don’t have any brand logos on the sides.

The modern version of the GI Glasses — the Model 5A — were released in 2012 to replace the awkward S9s. They offer the same protection, are still free, and they come in a variety of style options from which the troop can choose.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This is what it is like to be a 16th century war reenactor

Kevin Baetz was born in Westwood, New Jersey and raised in Hollywood, Florida. He served with 1st Battalion, 9th Marines Regiment and deployed on the 24 Marine Expeditionary Unit where he earned the Humanitarian Service Medal during the 2010 Haiti earthquake crisis. He also served in Marjah, Afghanistan in 2011 alongside We Are The Mighty’s interviewer Ruddy Cano. Upon relocating to St. Augustine Florida with an Honorable Discharge, he took up a job at the Fountain of Youth Archeological Park as a Blacksmith, reenactor and grounds keeper. It was here that he got into reenacting the Spanish colonial life of the 16th century in the state of Florida.

Fountain of Youth Archeological Park is home to the first Catholic mission in the United States. The cross of coquina and other weathered documents were found in 1909 that verify that this site was contemporary with Ponce de Leon’s landing in Florida in 1513. Dr. Luella Day MacConnell’s mission, the owner in 1909, was to prove that her property was the location of Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth. The archeological site has been a window into the past with findings such as the earliest known remains of Christian burials of indigenous people, artifacts, and even a prehistoric finds 500 years before the Spanish arrived.

war reenactor in costume

WATM: How did you first become interested in being a war reenactor?

I did reenactment before the Marine Corps. I got into the 16th century reenactment because I worked at the original 16th century settlement site that the Spaniards had here in St. Augustine. It is the longest continuous settlement since 1565, its part of the job and I’m really into it.

WATM: What kind of gear do you usually work with?

Well, it depends. A lot of the clothing is custom by this tailor we know out in Italy, Luciano. The clothing is really important but weapon wise; it’s matchlock arquebus, cannons, long swords – it all depends what we’re portraying for the day. As a job it’s either cannoneer or shooting off the matchlock.

WATM: What kind of historical training do you receive?

Training as a job is basically: show up and work with the other reenactors here at the site. For someone who’s new-new, like they want to get into it, they should do it for fun to see if they like it. For example, my buddies and I go downtown dressed up to drink. That part isn’t so much reenacting but reliving that style of life — we wear funny clothing, order wine, play card games. If someone comes up to us and wants to get involved and wants to hang out, just like anything else, we have loaner gear. If they’re serious enough they start to buy their own gear.

As far as weapons training, it’s like any other weapons. Safety, this is how one of these things works. Carrying the weapon as a display, walking around downtown as a soldier. We do not shoot the weapons at people, we don’t do a lot of that. As reenactors, you give people the run down; how it works, how much powder you’re supposed to use, but in town you’re not going to do that.

WATM: What was your favorite battle to reenact?

A lot of the stuff we do out of here is two [main] 16th century battles. The big one is the recreation of Drake’s raid, [his English expedition] came into the town and burned it to the ground. One of [Francis Drake’s] guys got killed fighting the Spaniards, so, he took revenge. He came back and rebuilt it. It’s really the only true battle we recreate in the United States from this era and St. Augustine specifically.

The more intense ones are over in Europe. You have the Battle of Grolle in the Netherlands, That’s a massive one. You got some that go on in Spain…the anniversary of the Battle of Pavia in Italy is coming up. That one puts all other to shame – full contact, shock and smash, regal.

WATM: Is there anything you want to say to the military audience?

I don’t know, it’s fun! (laughs) I enjoy reenacting, it has put me in contact with a good number of veterans. Especially guys my age that miss the comradery and get the chance to put on funny clothing, drink, pretend gamble and have a good time. People should try it out, I enjoy it.

The park is open from 09:00 am to 06:00 pm daily and has attractions such as the navigator’s planetarium, blacksmithing, Timucuan burials and village, Nombre de Dios mission, cannon firing, classical boat building excavations, the 1565 Menendez settlement, and drinking from the Fountain of Youth itself.

Be it known by this that I, Alonzo Soriano, shareholder and resident of Brillar, contributed and certify to the public that I was present at the beginning of the rising and setting of the Sun. By order of the Royal Crown of Aragon he made his description at the Fountain which is good and sweet to the taste. It was in the year 1513. – FROM THE SORIANO VELLUM AT PONCE DE LEON’S FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH ARCHAEOLOGICAL PARK

MIGHTY CULTURE

Borne the Battle: Air Force veteran John Baxter, 9/11 responder

On Sept. 11, 2001, Air Force flight surgeon John Baxter showed up to work at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, to a full load of patients and completing physicals — just like any other day.

Halfway through his morning while getting his next patient, he saw that a civilian airliner had flown into one of the World Trade Center towers.

While with the patient, Baxter said he noticed the background noise in the Pentagon changed. It seemed quieter than usual. Then, he heard shouts. He opened his door and saw people running and shouting, and smoke in the hallway.


At first, Baxter didn’t know if there was an explosion, a fire or some other event. Despite the unknowns, he assembled his team of flight surgeons, a nurse and medical technicians. They grabbed medical kits and traveled as a group. Their emergency plan was to meet up with other medics at the Pentagon’s DiLorenzo Clinic.

Sisters by blood, now sisters-in-arms: Two sets of sisters graduate recruit training

A red flower sits atop of every bench to remember the fallen on Sept. 11, 2001, during the Pentagon Memorial Observance Ceremony in Washington D.C., Sept. 11, 2018.

(Defense Department photo by Tech. Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.)

Then they heard the news: there were casualties in corridor 5.

Baxter’s team ran to the spot. They found Army veteran Brian Birdwell, who was in excruciating pain from burns. It was a situation that Baxter was unexpectedly prepared for: Months earlier, in an emergency exercise, the flight clinic trained for the same scenario that unfolded on 9/11: a plane crashing into the Pentagon.

John Baxter still serves at the Pentagon, though now as a civilian flight surgeon. For this week’s Born the Battle Podcast, Baxter details his story of 9/11 and the days that followed.

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Even before the pandemic, domestic violence was a problem in the military community

Military family members have whispered for decades about Intimate Partner Violence in our community. We’ve heard stories about friends and neighbors. We’ve been confidants for friends who needed help. Some of us have been in an abusive relationship ourselves.

“It’s really common. We’ve had multiple cases of domestic violence just in our neighborhood this year,” said the spouse of an Air Force active duty member.


According to the latest survey data release from the Military Family Advisory Network (MFAN), 81% of military community survey respondents are aware of intimate partner violence in their neighborhoods and social circles, and that was before the COVID-19 pandemic forced people to quarantine together.

Intimate Partner Violence is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as …abuse or aggression that occurs in a close relationship. According to the CDC, an intimate partner can be a current and former spouse or dating partner, and Intimate Partner Violence includes four types of behavior: physical violence; sexual violence; stalking; and psychological aggression. This is the first year MFAN’s support programming survey, presented by Cerner Government Services, has explored the issue

The data is even more disturbing against the backdrop of the pandemic. Since the nation began quarantining to limit the spread of COVID-19, mental health experts nationwide have sounded the alarm that quarantining forces abused people to spend even more time with their abusers.

“Reporting the abuse jeopardizes the service member’s career, therefore jeopardizing the woman and her family’s livelihood. A difficult choice to make: report abuse knowing your husband will lose his job or suffer to keep food on the table? There is no easy solution. That is awful,” the spouse of a Navy active duty service member said.

Among other findings, MFAN’s data showed that those who sought assistance were more likely to:

  • Range in rank from E4 to E6, if they were active duty family members
  • Carry more debt
  • Be concerned with their own or a family member’s alcohol use
  • Rate as more lonely on the UCLA Loneliness scale
  • Have considered suicide in the past two years

“For years now, we have heard anecdotes from our Advisors and others in the community about Intimate Partner Violence,” said MFAN’s Executive Director Shannon Razsadin. “We felt it was critical that we collect data on this issue, so that leaders and policy makers will be able to make decisions that honor and protect the health and safety of everyone in the community.”

Sisters by blood, now sisters-in-arms: Two sets of sisters graduate recruit training

MFAN recommends that policy makers look for ways to increase communication with military and veteran families about online and virtual resources available; encourage connections with others, especially virtually, as isolation is a tactic of abusers; and reduce barriers for military spouses to seek financial or health care benefits if they or their children are experiencing abuse.

“I’m not by any means a violent person, but I have wanted to strike [my wife] after I came back from tours because I was so angry at the world,” a National Guard and Reserve member said. “I never did, but it was really disturbing how much I wanted to. That’s what made me start counseling.”


More information about MFAN’s survey methods and demographics can be found here: https://militaryfamilyadvisorynetwork.org/survey-methods/
MIGHTY CULTURE

New amendments would promote Tuskegee Airman and last Doolittle Raider

House lawmakers have introduced legislative amendments to promote two military pilots who made great contributions to aerial battles during World War II.

Reps. Matt Gaetz, R-Florida, and Ruben Gallego, D-Arizona, recently created an amendment to the Fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization legislation that would posthumously promote Richard “Dick” Cole from lieutenant colonel to colonel.

Cole, who died in April 2019 at age 103, was the last surviving Doolittle Raider and flew alongside then-Lt. Col. James “Jimmy” Doolittle. The raid was famously named after Doolittle, who led 16 B-25 bombers and 80 crew members from the aircraft carrier Hornet in the western Pacific on a strike targeting factories and military installations in and around Tokyo on April 18, 1942.


Cole, a lieutenant at the time, received the Distinguished Flying Cross for his role in the bombing.

Rep. Chip Roy, a Republican from Texas, introduced similar legislation. The news was first reported by Air Force Magazine on July 10, 2019.

Separately, Rep. Anthony Brown, a Democrat from Maryland, created a measure to promote retired Air Force colonel and distinguished combat aviator Charles McGee to brigadier general. McGee, who was a member of the Tuskegee Airmen, flew 409 fighter combat missions in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

Sisters by blood, now sisters-in-arms: Two sets of sisters graduate recruit training

Retired Col. Elmer Jones and retired Col. Charles McGee address an audience during an open forum at the 2009 Air Force Association Air Space Conference and Technology Exposition Sept. 15, 2009.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Andy Morataya)

“This distinguished, decades-long career in the Air Force, which saw Col. McGee become the first African-American to command a stateside Air Force wing and base, serves as an inspirational legacy to hundreds of African-American service members and aviators,” Brown told Military.com in a statement July 10, 2019. “This honorary promotion would be well-deserved recognition of a dedicated patriot.”

Both McGee and Cole spoke to Military.com in recent years about their service.

“The flight was designed to do two things: One, to let the Japanese people know that they could be struck by air. And the other thing was the morale, and we did that, so we were very proud of that,” Cole told Military.com in 2016.

That year, the Air Force announced it would name its next-generation B-21 Long Range Strike Bomber the Raider after the Doolittle Raiders. Cole made the announcement for the service.

Sisters by blood, now sisters-in-arms: Two sets of sisters graduate recruit training

(U.S. Air Force graphic)

The experience was much different for the Tuskegee Airmen: They were the first African-American pilots, navigators and support personnel to serve during World War II, often escorting and protecting bombers.

McGee said he was just doing his job.

“It came from the basis of doing something for our country — for me, doing something I liked, knowing that’s what I’d pass on to young people now,” he said during an interview in 2017.

“We accomplished something that helped lead the country,” McGee said. “We didn’t call this civil rights. It was American opportunity.”

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Pararescuemen stay sharp while training off the coast of Italy

Two boats idled together in the Adriatic Sea just off the coast of Northern Italy, battered mercilessly by the waves as eight pairs of eyes searched the sky. The silence stretched for long moments, a hint of anticipation on the cool sea breeze before a radio crackled to life.

There would be three jumpers in five minutes, transmitted the radio. The information was passed between the occupants of both boats as they caught first sight of the approaching aircraft.

Members of the 57th Rescue Squadron participated in over-water parachute training. July 9, 2019, with a dozen pararescuemen aboard a C-130J Super Hercules from the 86th Airlift Wing at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, as eight more awaited their descent from below.


First out of the aircraft was a rigged alternate method zodiac, or RAMZ, an inflatable, motorized boat that the jumpers used once they made it to the water. As they worked on setting up their vehicle, the members in the support boats began pulling in the discarded parachutes to be repaired if necessary and reused in the future.

Sisters by blood, now sisters-in-arms: Two sets of sisters graduate recruit training

Pararescueman assigned to the 57th Rescue Squadron parachutes into the ocean during over-water parachute training off the coast of Italy, July 9, 2019.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kelsey Tucker)

The 57th RQS participates in jump training at least once a quarter, over both land and sea, to keep their skills and knowledge sharp in case they are ever needed in an emergency. The training not only benefits the pararescuemen, but requires harmonization with the squadron’s support agencies and even other bases – in this case, the C-130 and its crew.

Sisters by blood, now sisters-in-arms: Two sets of sisters graduate recruit training

Pararescuemen assigned to the 57th Rescue Squadron prepare a rigged alternate method zodiac vessel during over-water parachute training off the coast of Italy, July 9, 2019.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kelsey Tucker)

“Just for us to do this training, it requires so much coordination from our support shops,” said Capt. Jordan, a combat rescue officer with the 57th RQS. “Just on the water we have boat drivers, people pulling in chutes and medical personnel. We are super grateful to have an amazing combat mission support section.”

Jumping on land is far different than jumping into the ocean, and carries different challenges – not only for the jumpers themselves but also for the support personnel down below.

Sisters by blood, now sisters-in-arms: Two sets of sisters graduate recruit training

Pararescuemen assigned to the 57th Rescue Squadron prepare a rigged alternate method zodiac during over-water parachute training off the coast of Italy, July 9, 2019.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kelsey Tucker)

“On land, all you really have to worry about is another aircraft coming into your airspace,” said Staff Sgt. Jared, a 57th RQS aircrew flight equipment technician and drop zone control officer. “On water, you have to worry about boats, airplanes and that you’re constantly moving. You have to go where the jumpers go, and then reset, come back to your position and get ready for the next jumpers.”

Through successful support and coordination, the 57th RQS was able to carry out the required training needed in order to remain proficient in their job, providing day or night personnel recovery operations in any condition, during peace or war.

This article originally appeared on United States Air Force. Follow @USAF on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

10 things you didn’t know about snow

When you’re sitting by the fire with a cup of cocoa, a white Christmas sounds heavenly. When you’re at war, it’s a different story. During Washington’s camp at Valley Forge, roughly 12,000 continentals wintered in ragged huts. The frigid temperatures resulted in frequent bouts of disease, especially since many of the soldiers were lacking in proper clothing. Some weren’t fit for service at all, their bare feet leaving bloody footprints in the snow. It wouldn’t be the last time that American soldiers battled the elements. During the Civil War, the Union army confronted the Confederates on the Ozark Plateau in the cold of winter. The Confederates retreated, but the Union army gave chase. Mid-pursuit, the weather took a turn for the worst, and both armies were engulfed in a storm of snow and sleet.

So what’s the deal with this fluffy white stuff that can cause so much trouble? How does it work? Interestingly, snow isn’t as self-explanatory as you’d think. Keep reading for some of the most surprising tidbits about nature’s chilliest, prettiest form of precipitation.

  1. The hush of falling snow is a real thing. 
    A blanket of freshly fallen snow actually absorbs sound waves quite effectively, which is why a snowy night seems a little quieter than usual. Strangely, winter weather can also amplify sound, leading to lingering echoes through the treetops. When the snow melts and refreezes, it turns into ice. Instead of absorbing sound like snow, ice reflects it! Pretty cool, huh?
  1. Snow is white…or is it? 
    Snowcapped peaks look pretty darn white, but snow is actually colorless. The clear flakes scatter light in all directions, diffusing the complete color spectrum and making it appear white. That said, snow can take on different hues in different conditions. Environmental pollution and algae can turn snow orange, pink, or even black. Meanwhile, deep snow can absorb more red light than blue, giving it a chilly, bluish tint.
  1. Snow is warm.
    Sort of. While snow is technically frozen, it traps tons of air as it collects on the ground. 90-95% of fallen snow is actually trapped air, making it a shockingly good insulator. That’s why animals make burrows in the winter, and why igloos aren’t ice cold. The inside of an igloo can stay up to 70 degrees warmer inside than out! Soldiers have also used the insulating power of snow to their advantage. At the Northern Warfare Training Center in Black Rapids, Alaska, the temperatures can reach negative 60 degrees Fahrenheit, but students learn to survive.
  1. Snowflakes form around a nucleus.
    While snow doesn’t develop like the cells you read about in 7th-grade biology, they do form around a central particle. A speck of dirt or other microscopic debris becomes the center of each snowflake as it freezes, giving it that classic snowflake shape. This is why snow looks different than hail or sleet, which freeze as they fall without the help of a nucleus. If you look at a snowflake under a strong enough microscope, you can see the material that started it all.
  2. There are over 35 kinds of snowflakes.
    One scientist named Andy Brunning loved snow so much that he identified as many different types of snowflakes as he could. In total, he found 35 types of snowflakes. He organized these into categories, including germs, rimed, plane, irregular, and column. Which is your favorite?
  3. Snowflakes always have 6 sides.
    The 8-sided snowflake decorations you found at Homegoods are a lie. The geometry of water molecules makes it impossible for anything but a six-sided ice crystal to form. Not five-sided. Not eight-sided. Six. Get it right, Hallmark.
  4. Snowflakes CAN be identical.
    If you’ve ever told someone they’re as one of a kind as a snowflake, it might be time to come up with a new compliment. While snowflakes do come in a wide array of shapes and patterns, a scientist named Nancy Knight found two snowflakes that were completely identical. I guess the clouds were expecting twins.
  5. The biggest snowflake recorded was bigger than your head. 
    Unless you have a really big head, that is. The largest recorded snowflake was 15 inches wide! It fell during a winter storm in January 1887 in Fort Keogh, Montana. Some ranch owners there claimed the flakes were as big as milk pans!
  1. It once snowed over 100 inches of snow in a single day.
    If you love snow, Capracotta, Italy is the place for you. On March 5th, 2015, it snowed 100.8 inches in less than 24 hours. That’s more than eight feet! Italy’s not the only place to get great snow, however. In Washington State, Mount Baker saw the greatest recorded snow in a single season, ringing in at 1,142 inches.
  2. Not all snowstorms are blizzards.
    You know how all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares? The same goes for blizzards and snowstorms. All blizzards are snowstorms, but it’s the amount of wind that sets blizzards apart. Snowstorms come with plenty of falling snow, but blizzards take it up a notch with sustained heavy winds or frequent gusts of 25 mph or more. 

I love a white Christmas as much as the next guy, but if it’s that stormy out I think I’ll stay inside. Cocoa, anyone?

MIGHTY CULTURE

Help Jared Allen’s Wounded Warriors by voting for Maxim’s cover model

Football is back! That means it’s time for me to remind everyone about the best organization around, one that provides homes for America’s wounded warriors, Jared Allen’s Homes for Wounded Warriors. Allen has long been one of the U.S. military’s biggest fans. In his 12 years in the NFL, Allen was one of the hardest-hitting defensive players around. His foundation builds houses for wounded vets that are specifically adapted for their wounds, at no cost.

Now the Jared Allen Homes for Wounded Warriors is teaming up with Maxim, allowing readers to vote for their favorite cover model, with all proceeds going to building more homes for wounded vets.


Allen has been working with veterans for ten years now, ever since returning from a USO trip to visit troops in the field. He saw what U.S. military veterans experience in combat zones and wanted to give thanks to those who sacrificed themselves for service. The goal is simple: raise money to build or adapt homes suited to the needs of wounded Iraq and Afghanistan veterans – and do it at no cost to them – even if they can only help one warrior at a time. That’s where Maxim – and you – come in.

Readers can vote for their favorite potential Maxim cover model once per day for free, or they can make a “Warrior Vote” where they pay one dollar for every vote, with a minimum donation of . After voting for their free daily vote, all subsequent votes cost a dollar, with again, a minimum of . In order to generate votes, models are able to offer voting rewards, similar to rewards offered on Kickstarter. The winner receives ,000 and a Maxim cover photo shoot while other proceeds go toward Jared Allen’s Homes for Wounded Warriors.

Sisters by blood, now sisters-in-arms: Two sets of sisters graduate recruit training

Robin Takizawa is a Los Angeles-based model and makeup artist, currently in second place in her group. Her father is a Vietnam vet and Purple Heart recipient.

“I was extremely excited to find that the competition was also a fundraiser for Jared Allen’s Homes for Wounded Warriors,” says 2019 entrant Robin Takizawa. “Sadly, there isn’t enough support for veterans once they return. Sometimes home no longer feels like it. This is a cause close to home because my father is a Vietnam veteran and Purple Heart recipient. His combat wounds healed without physically altering his life, however many he knew and served with did not meet the same fate.”

“Ever since I was a little girl, I always dreamt about being in Maxim. I loved the glamor and over-the-top sexiness that comes from being self-confident,” she continues. “It’s an honor to know my bid in this contest is also a chance to fundraise for such an amazing cause.”

Sisters by blood, now sisters-in-arms: Two sets of sisters graduate recruit training

Allen with Navy Corpsman Thomas Henderson and family after giving Henderson the keys to his new home. Henderson lost his leg in an IED attack in Afghanistan.

For Allen, the ten-year journey is one of the best things he’s ever accomplished. Even though his grandfather and younger brother were Marines, the experience changed Allen, inspiring him to create Homes for Wounded Warriors.

“I knew I had to do something to serve our country,” Allen once said of the Jared Allen Homes for Wounded Warriors. “I feel the best way to do that is serve those who serve us.”

If you’re a veteran of the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan who is in need of housing or alterations to suit your disability, apply to Jared Allen Homes for Wounded Warriors on the organization’s website.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Chuck Yeager is an air combat ace, daredevil pilot, and hilarious on Twitter

He shoots down all these Germans, THEN became the fastest human being alive? And he’s this witty, rugged mountain guy? No way, re-write this.” If Chuck Yeager’s life story were a fictional screenplay, it might be rejected as too unbelievable. Just to put his accomplishments in perspective: he was the first human to travel faster than the speed of sound, and that arguably isn’t even the coolest thing he accomplished.


Born the son of a gas driller in West Virginia, Yeager enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces during WWII intending to become a mechanic. Turning wrenches presumably didn’t offer enough mortal danger, so he earned his wings as a fighter pilot. On his eighth combat mission, Yeager was forced to bail out over occupied France when his P-51 fighter was hit by German fire. He was injured and alone in enemy territory, so naturally, this was very bad news…for the Germans.

Yeager, thoroughly pissed off by anything that didn’t involve tormenting the Third Reich from the skies- linked up with the French Resistance and taught them bomb-making skills. He also saved the life of another downed U.S. pilot by amputating the man’s leg with a penknife and carrying him over the mountains to neutral Spain.

Sisters by blood, now sisters-in-arms: Two sets of sisters graduate recruit training

(U.S. Air Force photo)

Upon returning to England, Yeager headed back to the States to take it easy for the rest of the war. Just kidding: General Eisenhower approved his request to return to combat duty, and Yeager promptly shot down five enemy planes in a single day, earning the rare “ace-in-a-day” status.

He also downed one of the Germans’ infamous Me-262 jet fighters by ambushing the much faster jet when it slowed down for landing, later reflecting “not very sportsmanlike, but what the hell?”

Sisters by blood, now sisters-in-arms: Two sets of sisters graduate recruit training

Yeager’s P-51D fighter in Europe.

(U.S. Air Force photo)

The war might have been over, but Chuck Yeager’s appetite for death-defying aerial feats remained unquenched. He remained on active duty and became a test pilot for the first generation of jet aircraft.

Piloting the experimental X-1 jet in 1947, Yeager became the first human being to travel faster than the speed of sound despite having broken several ribs horseback riding a few days before. He quipped over the radio mid-flight to a colleague, “I’m still wearing my ears and nothing else fell off either.”

Oh, Chuck.

Sisters by blood, now sisters-in-arms: Two sets of sisters graduate recruit training

Chuck Yeager next to his experimental jet aircraft.

(U.S. Air Force photo)

Yeager’s legendary skill as a pilot was apparently surpassed only by the ice water in his veins that enabled him to repeatedly survive disaster. While setting yet another airspeed record in 1953, his jet began spinning out of control. Despite his head smashing against the canopy, Yeager regained control of the jet and landed safely, because of course he did. By this point, even physics itself had learned not to mess with Chuck Yeager. Yeager went on to multiple command billets within the Air Force.

Despite commanding the Air Force’s astronaut training program, Yeager himself was ineligible for NASA because he lacked any formal education beyond high school (admittedly though, if anyone on earth could be justifiably declared “too cool for school,” it was Chuck Yeager). He also logged 127 combat missions in Vietnam as a bomber pilot because if there’re flying and danger involved, then no way is Chuck Yeager missing out. Yeager retired from the Air Force in 1975 as a brigadier general.

He continued to work as a test pilot after retirement and broke the sound barrier again during his final Air Force flight in 1997. Yeager was portrayed by Sam Shepard in the 1983 film “The Right Stuff” in which he made a cameo as a bartender.

Oh yeah, and then he broke the sound barrier again at age 89 as a passenger in an F-15. Chuck Yeager has broken the sound barrier so many times that one might wonder if it personally wronged him at some point.

Yeager’s legacy lives on in an unexpected way, too. Think about the last time you heard an airline pilot on the intercom. You know that familiar relaxed, deliberate cadence that every pilot seems to speak with? That “pilot voice” began during the early era of jet aircraft when Yeager’s contemporaries began imitating his distinctive West Virginia drawl on the radio.

Sisters by blood, now sisters-in-arms: Two sets of sisters graduate recruit training

(Photo by Olivier Blaise)

This is the point in the story at which one might expect to hear that General Yeager passed away in such-and-such year.

Wrong.

As of the time of this writing in 2019, Yeager is alive. He is very active on social media where his insights and trademark sense of humor (seriously, he’s hysterical) continue to entertain and inform fans across the world.

Check him out on Twitter at: @GenChuckYeager

MIGHTY CULTURE

This Navy mom is taking on veteran health care

Women veterans make up 8% of Oregon’s veteran population. However, that growing population requires answers to the unique challenges facing women veterans.

The Women Veterans Program at the Roseburg VA Health Care System is designed to identify those challenges. It also works with women veterans to find those answers, according to Jessica Burnett, social worker and interim Women Veterans Program manager. Burnett is pictured above with her daughter Emily.


Sisters by blood, now sisters-in-arms: Two sets of sisters graduate recruit training

“How can we serve them best?”

For Burnett, the mission is personal

“I am a true Oregonian. After visiting many places, I knew Oregon is where my heart is,” said Burnett. “I spent nearly 15 years providing rural social services in Coos and Curry Counties. I decided it was time to move to a warmer climate and relocated to Roseburg, where my daughter attended college.

“My daughter came home one day and said, ‘Hey Mom. I’ve decided to take a different path in life and I signed up for the Navy.’ I didn’t see that coming. She said, ‘This is something I felt called to do and this is what I’m going to do.’ My role at that point was to be a support person. I felt if my daughter is feeling called to do this, I’m going to see what I can do to support veterans, and I came to VA.”

Burnett hopes to expand services available for all veterans – primary care, mental health, housing assistance. She also wants to localize it specifically for women veterans. She fosters a program that is open, accessible, welcoming and veteran-centric.

“From my perspective, we should be taking a patient-centered approach. Hearing their feedback, what is it that they need? Let them tell us what they need so we can best support them. It is their journey, their life. We don’t know unless we ask the question, ‘How can we can serve them best?'”

For Burnett, the best way to serve women veterans is to expand on the understanding of women veteran needs and the availability of health care specific to women: yearly exams, such as pap smears and mammograms.

And support for those recovering from post-traumatic stress disorder and military sexual trauma.

Sisters by blood, now sisters-in-arms: Two sets of sisters graduate recruit training
“When she comes home, I want her to have top-notch health care.”

Women veterans, the fastest growing minority population

“Women veterans served alongside men. They are a minority within the VA, but they’re the fastest growing minority population,” said Burnett. Her daughter serves aboard the USS Gerald R. Ford, which is stationed in Norfolk, Virginia.

“Women tell me all the time they get addressed as ‘Mister’ instead of ‘Miss.’ It’s just assumed that they are a spouse or if it’s just a last name, that they are male.

“I feel we really need to put a lot of effort and work into women’s health care in VA because it is an area that, previously and historically, hasn’t been part of VA.

“My daughter is active duty right now, but when she comes home, I want her to have a health care system that is top-notch.

“I want it to be better than what she can find in the community.”

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This massage therapist is using her ‘healing hands’ to help vets

As soon as licensed massage therapist Terry Smith starts to knead veteran James Davis’s neck and shoulders, Davis begins to relax.

“That feels so good,” says Davis, a patient in the Community Living Center (CLC) of the Columbia VA Health Care System.

Smith, a U.S. Army veteran, volunteers her hours at the Columbia VA Medical center. She is known as the massage therapist with the “healing hands.”

“It’s amazing what that sense of touch can do for a person. Especially when they don’t get to experience it much anymore,” Smith said.


Healing hands

One veteran in the CLC, a diagnosed Alzheimer’s patient, kept his hands tightly clenched. As Smith began to massage his hands and wrists, the patient slowly began to release his fingers. Another veteran seemed to be asleep in his wheelchair. As Smith massaged his shoulders, arms, and hands, the patient started to wake up and said that he thought he was dreaming about Smith’s touch.

Smith, a Desert Storm veteran from Mount Vernon, New York, joined the military to travel and see the world. Eventually, she found a career path as a medic in nutritional care at West Point.

Sisters by blood, now sisters-in-arms: Two sets of sisters graduate recruit training

“This is the type of treatment that gets to the heart of a person”

(Photo by Jennifer Scales)

“Even though I am from New York, I had no clue about West Point or any other type of military posts or bases that were in my state,” Smith said. “Plus, not knowing a lot about the military before I enlisted made each assignment that I had a new experience for me.”

After a varied post-military career, Smith decided to use the GI Bill to study massage therapy. By 2012, when she obtained her license, she knew she had found her calling.

Helping others

“I love what I do,” Smith said. “This is the type of treatment that gets to the heart of the person. I can oftentimes feel the stiffness in their muscles when I begin my massage, and it is my goal to work it out.”

Carrie Jett, a Columbia VA recreation therapist, notes that Smith is the facility’s only volunteer massage therapist. “The patients really appreciate what she does, and the word is spreading,” said Jett. “Even those veteran patients here who don’t participate in other therapeutic events eagerly await the day and time of Smith’s arrival to get a massage.”

When asked what makes her massages so special for veterans, Smith replied, “I touch them with the spirit of love.”

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.