Vets address intense military issues in new music video - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

Vets address intense military issues in new music video

Hip Hop group Space Force, composed of a trio of military musicians, recently released the video to their newest song Galaxy from their album Rocket Science. Filmed in the mountains of Colorado, the video explores the search for oneself through a sci-fi twist.

The group includes Topher, a former cryptologic language analyst for the Air Force; D.Cure, a former military Law Enforcement Officer/ 911 Dispatcher for the Air Force; and The Marine Rapper, a former combat correspondent with Marine Corps infantry battalions.

As a rare bonus for military content, this video is suitable for work and families, so check it out right here:

This isn’t the first time The Marine Rapper (affectionately known as TMR) has made waves. After successful tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, he left the Marine Corps in February 2014 and began focusing on music as both a profession and a means of cathartic expression. His music has been featured on the Range 15 movie soundtrack, the Oscar Mike TV series on Go90 network, and Apple Music.

Oh, he also took Linda Hamilton to the Marine Corps Ball.

Here’s a sample of lyrics more than one veteran can relate to:

Lock and load, whoa
Follow code, let it go
Do what I was told
Debating whether I can take the shot, oh
Pray I’m not the one in that spot, no
It’s a war going on right now in my head
Fighting with all the bs you fed

Check out Galaxy in the video above and give the album Rocket Science a listen on Spotify.

MIGHTY CULTURE

The harrowing true story of a US soldier who was shot 13 times

U.S. Army Specialist Jay Strobino was with his team in Rushdi Mullah, a small farming village in Iraq’s infamous Triangle of Death, on Feb. 1, 2006. They were there on a mission to grab a suspected enemy insurgent. Everything was going according to plan as they searched the house — no surprises.

That all changed when a truck full of insurgents rolled into the opposite side of town and pinned down a corner of their outer cordon. Strobino was about to be in the firefight of his life.


Vets address intense military issues in new music video

The “Triangle of Death” became infamous during the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

(Image courtesy of the US Army Center for Military History.)

Strobino, along with three others, made their way to the corner. He killed one of the insurgents who was trying to make it across the road; the resulting break in fire allowed him and his team to run across the street, closer to where the other enemy combatants were.

His team snuck behind a row of houses, where Strobino shot another insurgent through a window of an adjacent house. They then moved to the house that the remainder of the insurgents were behind. With his SAW gunner on the rooftop of the last building, Strobino and two others maneuvered to the back of the property.

Behind the house, there was a shed and a fence surrounded by bushes. Strobino was the first to scale it but not without some difficulty.

“When I got over, I saw two insurgents spaced about 10 to 15 feet apart, facing away from me. I held my aim but didn’t want to fire because everyone else I shot that day wouldn’t die, and we were taking up to 15 rounds to stop [them from] advancing or firing,” he said. Insurgents in Iraq were known to take drugs before going into battle that would often allow them to keep fighting even after suffering mortal wounds.

Vets address intense military issues in new music video

U.S. Army Specialist Jay Stobino in Iraq.

(Photo courtesy of Jay Strobino.)

So he stayed put for the moment, waiting on his teammate to get over the fence, but his teammate kept getting caught. The two insurgents Strobino had zeroed in on turned to face him, and he was forced to fire. Fortunately, his squad leader soon made it over the fence and was able to join in the fight.

There was still another insurgent left, though. He was aiming his AK-47 around the front corner of the house, firing back at Strobino and his squad leader. In response, his squad leader threw a grenade, and their team followed after.

“I ran to the front corner of the building and peered around. His weapon was up and out of the front doorway. I put my weapon on burst and turned the corner, hoping to grab his barrel,” he said.

The enemy fighter heard them coming and had already started moving toward Strobino and his other teammates when he came around the corner. Strobino pulled the trigger, sending the target to the floor; however, the target fired back.

Strobino was hit, and it was bad.

“My leg was broken and my ulnar nerve was hit in my arm,” he said, “and I lost control of my right hand.”

Vets address intense military issues in new music video

Strabino in the hospital after suffering 13 bullet wounds in a firefight in Iraq.

(Photo courtesy of Jay Strabino.)

The two soldiers with him had taken cover behind a truck, and Strobino planned to throw a grenade. But the moment he pulled it out, the insurgent threw his own over the truck where his team was positioned and came out firing. He sprayed his weapon again, hitting Strobino a second time.

“At this point, I thought everyone was dead and I was immobilized. But my squad leader called out my name — I couldn’t believe it. I threw my grenade over to him so he could arm it and toss it around the corner,” Strobino said.

But the grenade didn’t kill the insurgent, and with his condition quickly deteriorating, getting Strobino out of there became the priority. The other members of his team pulled him behind the building. His platoon sergeant and his radiotelephone operator (RTO) moved up, bandaged him, pulled security, and called for a medevac.

The insurgent was still in the house. A second team threw multiple grenades into the home before going in. Two of those soldiers took rounds; one of them died on the medevac back to Baghdad. After that, they called in Apaches to finish the job, blowing up the house.

Strobino’s condition was so dire that his parents were nearly summoned in fear that he wouldn’t make it home. He immediately went under the knife and had surgeries every 12 to 24 hours. From Iraq, he was flown to Germany for two weeks and eventually back to the U.S., where a long road of recovery awaited him.

Strobino had been shot a total of 13 times, and it cost him more than just blood. “I lost a large portion of my right femur and couldn’t walk on that leg for six months,” Strobino said. “I lost a lot of that quad group as well.”

Vets address intense military issues in new music video

A portion of the wounds Strobino received during the firefight.

(Photo courtesy of Jay Strobino.)

He had to teach his brain how to perform small physical tasks again. He got winded standing at the side of his bed while two people held him. Fortunately, the great people at places like the VA hospital in Augusta, Georgia, and the Fisher House helped him pull through.

“The Fisher House is like a Ronald McDonald house for wounded vets,” Strobino said. “It’s practically five-star accommodations for the family members of a wounded veteran that are recovering at the adjacent hospital. The family has their own private room. There’s a huge shared kitchen, laundry room, dining rooms, relaxing rooms. Everything is handicap accessible. And the families stay there free of charge.

“It helps the veteran because they can have family there while they are trying to recover,” he continued. “And it also helps the families because they are living in an area with other families going through similar situations. They can all empathize and help each other out.”

At the end of 2006, Strobino was awarded a Silver Star for his valor in combat. The citation reads:

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress July 9, 1918 (amended by an act of July 25, 1963), takes pleasure in presenting the Silver Star to Specialist Jay Christopher Strobino, United States Army, for exceptionally meritorious achievement and exemplary service as a Team Leader in 3d Platoon, Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 502d Infantry Regiment, 2d Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), attached to the 4th Infantry Division, during combat operations in support of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM, on a mission on 1 February 2006 in Rushdi Mulla, Iraq. Specialist Strobino’s exceptional dedication to mission accomplishment, tactical and technical competence, and unparalleled ability to perform under fire and while injured, contributed immeasurably to the success of his unit in Rushdi Mulla, Iraq, and reflects great credit upon himself, his unit, the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) and the United States Army.

“The absolute biggest thing is to stay positive,” he said, in regard to facing an unexpected challenge. “Surround yourself with positive people and feed off each other’s energy. Know that you’re not going to be able to do it alone, and it’s not going to be easy. But be sure to celebrate each small victory.”

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

‘I met a hero:’ Air Force Doctor who treated Alwyn Cashe says he’s never forgotten him

Maj. Mark Rasnake was exhausted. The 32-year-old Air Force infectious disease specialist had worked through the night treating some of the worst trauma he’d seen in his life — seven soldiers who’d been brought in after sustaining catastrophic burns when their Bradley Fighting Vehicle hit an improvised explosive device near Daliaya, Iraq, and erupted in flames. But back at his bunk at Balad Air Force Base, north of Baghdad, he couldn’t sleep.

He opened his laptop and began to type a letter home. “I met a hero last night,” he wrote. “I did not realize it at the time … This is a place where the word “hero” is tossed around day in and day out, so much so that you sometimes lose sight of its true meaning. His story reminded me of it.”


As a medical professional, Rasnake never identified his patient, even in a letter only intended for family members. As it happened, though, his words would travel further than he imagined. His local newspaper in Eastern Tennessee took it as a submission and reprinted it; and eventually, Air Force officials reached out to the paper so the service could publish it too.

Rasnake’s letter survives on the Air Force’s official website as the first public account of the bravery of Army Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe, who sacrificed his life running again and again into the fiery vehicle, ignoring his own burning uniform. It has been 15 years to the day since Cashe hauled his teammates out of the Bradley on Oct. 17, 2005; but Rasnake, now the residency program director for the University of Tennessee’s Division of Infectious Diseases, says he’s never stopped thinking about him.

“I kind of think about the guy all the time,” Rasnake told Military.com in an interview earlier this month. “I’ve got a helmet bag that I use to carry stuff to and from work, and I put a 3rd Infantry Division patch on that thing, just to always have the visual thing to remember what he did. That’s just always been important to me, to at least carry that memory.”

Cashe, the most severely burned of the soldiers, was ultimately evacuated to Germany for intensive treatment, and then to Brooke Army Medical Center in Fort Sam Houston, Texas, where he would succumb to his injuries Nov. 8, at age 35. As the anniversary of his death approaches, those who loved him are newly hopeful: in August, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said he’d support a push to award Cashe the Medal of Honor. The U.S. House of Representatives has already passed a bill waiving a five-year time limitation for awarding the medal; a similar measure is expected to pass soon in the Senate.

Rasnake said he didn’t learn Cashe’s story until a few hours after he and more than a dozen other military medical professionals had finished treating the soldiers and loaded them on an air evacuation flight bound for Germany. He can’t remember who shared the account of what happened in the aftermath of the Bradley explosion. But as word spread among his colleagues and across the base, it provoked a common feeling of awe.

“The discussions we had is, you know, if his actions don’t deserve the Medal of Honor, we had trouble imagining anything that did that would,” Rasnake said.

Cashe was initially nominated for a lesser award, the Silver Star, by his battalion commander, Gary Brito, now a major general. Brito, by his own account, pushed for an upgrade to the Medal of Honor as soon as he learned of the severity of Cashe’s injuries. But as the years passed, no medal upgrade came.

At issue, according to various reports, was difficulty ascertaining accurate witness statements of what took place. While initial accounts led the Army to determine Cashe’s heroism did not take place in active combat, current descriptions — championed by lawmakers — say he dodged enemy fire while hauling body after body out of the vehicle: six soldiers plus an interpreter, who died on the scene. Cashe refused medevac until the others were taken away, according to his Silver Star citation.

Vets address intense military issues in new music video

Mark Rasnake (right) along with doctors Col. Ty Putnam and Maj. James Pollock, Oct 17, 2005. (Photo courtesy of Mark Rasnake)

What Rasnake saw is in none of those accounts, but speaks to the pain and trauma Cashe’s body endured because of his choice not to leave his brothers-in-arms behind.

“The surgeons worked for hours on his wounds and we worked for hours in the intensive care unit to stabilize him for transport. In the end, damage to his lungs made him too sick to be safely transported by plane to our hospital in Germany and then on to a burn center in San Antonio,” Rasnake wrote in his later-published letter home. ” … Our air evac team loaded him into the plane for the six-hour flight to Germany. They had to deliver every breath to him during that flight by squeezing a small bag by hand.”

Rasnake still has clear memories of that night, although the conditions and treatment of specific soldiers is a blur. Off-duty medical staff were called back up before the casualties arrived. A field intensive care unit was heated to treat those suffering from the hypothermia sometimes brought on by severe burns. Doctors had to intubate to keep the badly burned soldiers’ blood oxygenated, and some required surgical incisions to allow burn-traumatized limbs to swell.

Six of the men needed ICU treatment; ultimately, three would succumb to their injuries.

Rasnake had arrived in Iraq earlier that fall, and it wasn’t common for doctors at Balad to keep track of the wounded troops they’d treated once they moved on for additional care. But this case was different.

“It was heartbreaking,” he said. “For the next two weeks … Some of them didn’t make it, including Sgt. Cashe ultimately, and he was the last one to expire of the ones that ultimately died. And it was just heart-wrenching for us to hear what was happening back home … he had the entire [Air Force] 33nd Medical Group following daily what was happening.”

As Rasnake sat typing that first night in his sleeping quarters, not knowing the fate of Cashe or the other men he’d treated, he thought of a hero from his hometown of Greeneville, Tenn.: Marine Sgt. Elbert Kinser, who threw himself on a Japanese grenade in 1945, saving his men and earning the Medal of Honor. A bridge in the city of Tusculum, Tenn., bears his name.

“How many of his friends are still alive to remember the story? How many grew old and had grandchildren because of his sacrifice?” Rasnake wrote. “Did they thank him every day of their lives? The next time I cross that bridge I will stop for just a few minutes of my life to read about a man that gave all of his.”

Now 47, and 13 years out of the Air Force, Rasnake said he never lost hope that Cashe would receive the Medal of Honor that he never doubted the soldier deserved.

“The fact that he’s up for the MOH, reliving this and kind of seeing some closure for him and his family is just amazing,” Rasnake said. “I’m so glad; it’s probably the first piece of good news I’ve gotten in 2020.”

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


MIGHTY CULTURE

Why we cosplay: How three MilSpouses found an outlet in a world of uncertainty

Be it writing, crafting, sewing, makeup, painting or music, the arts are considered both a hobby and an outlet for many military spouses. One such hobby – cosplay – has begun to pop up more and more in the military community. Cosplay, by definition, is, “a performance art in which someone dresses up as a character from a book, a movie, or a television show.” Cosplay often combines sewing and various forms of crafting, including makeup and building, to make a costume. But to some, it is much more than a hobby – it is a form of self-expression. These three military spouse cosplayers share what cosplay means to them, and how it has ultimately changed their lives for the better.

“Cosplay gives me an attainable outlet that I would not have otherwise.”

For some, cosplay is a way to get back in touch with oneself when life doesn’t go as planned. Lexi Fontaine, 26, an Air Force spouse stationed in Virginia, grew up doing theatre. However, when Fontaine was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at 16, she had to stop performing for the sake of her health. 

When Fontaine and her new husband moved to Georgia in 2015, Fontaine noticed character appearances for birthday parties and other events were a huge hit. “I thought, ‘Well, that sounds fun, and sounds like something that I could do, and would enjoy doing.’ This was also at the beginning of my health journey, so I said, ‘why not?’” she said. 

Vets address intense military issues in new music video

Shortly after starting her own business, Fontaine realized that this wasn’t what cosplay was supposed to be to her. “I think what was hard for me was when I started the business, I didn’t feel true to myself when I was charging people,” she said. “Because, for me, dressing up was an extension of the escape that theater always was for me. Cosplaying, being able to take on the personality and the magic of other characters – especially Disney – gave me an outlet for creative expression that I felt like my health took away from me.”

Fontaine also enjoys how liberating cosplay can be. “I got some really really nasty comments about my weight when I was dressing up for events, and I was a fraction of the size I am now. They really discouraged me. But with cosplay, you’re allowed to dress up as whoever you want to dress up as, so long as you do it respectfully and like it; you have no obligation to conform to anybody else’s standards. I think that there’s something very freeing about that,” Fontaine said.

If you follow Fontaine on Tiktok, you’ve likely seen her singing, dancing and dressing up like various Disney characters. She even “duets” with other TikTokers who make similar content to hers. “TikTok is where I use a lot of my costumes now. A lot of acting duets and stuff I do are modern day characters inspired by Greek gods and goddesses, and being able to take that and create a character out of that, there’s something that’s also very empowering about that. I feel that way about creative outlets in general – being able to take all of this extra creative energy that is constantly going through my mind, and actually put it somewhere, it gives you the sense of accomplishment that I don’t really get from a lot of things right now,” she said. 

If you haven’t already, be sure to follow @minniefontaine on Tiktok to see her latest content!

“It feels like a way to express the inner desires of my soul.”

Whether she is splashing in the waves as Mermaid Harmony, frolicking in the forest as Fairy Moonfire or Live Action Role Playing (LARP) as the notorious villain in her local roleplaying group, Aj Smit is weaving joy wherever she goes. Affectionately known as “The Joy Weaver”, Smit, 31, is an Air Force spouse, author, speaker and owner of  In Joy Productions, a safe space for women to explore who they are through art, meditation and creative conversation. 

Smit started cosplaying seven years ago, when she and her husband lived in Hawaii. “We went to the Comic Con. I was selling things, and everybody else’s dressed up and I thought it’d be awesome.” When asked what drew her to cosplay, she replied, “Honestly, I didn’t want to be in ‘human’ clothes.”

Vets address intense military issues in new music video

She also created a business through cosplay with her character Mermaid Harmony, who entertained moms and kids. “I started [my Mermaid Harmony business] because I always wanted to be a mermaid growing up,” she said. “[My husband] Jared joined the Air Force, and so it was a perfect way to have my own business, be a mermaid and also take it with me anywhere I went. It just looked like the perfect job, and it became the best of both worlds.” she said. “There’s a lot of moms who have dreams, and they also want magical moments for their kids. The way that we strip imagination and fantasy from people nowadays, we only allow it into escapism and we don’t weave it into our everyday lives,” she said. “I wanted to change that.”

When it comes to cosplay, Smit says it gives her a way to explore aspects of herself without ramifications. “When I do my photo shoots, or when I go dress up or dance in the woods, paint or draw henna, it’s all a way to explore who I am,” she says. “And with LARPing, it’s all an expression of something I want to explore, discover or uncover, like a personality trait or something that’s not safe to explore in the regular human world.”

Smit says that she can also explore some of her “dark” side. “You know I can be a crazy power hungry satyr in a game and be like, ‘Nope, it’s my way or the highway,’ where I would never do that in the human world,” she says.

Be on the lookout for Smit’s new book, The Red Thread, out in September 2021!

“Cosplay gave me a way to reconnect with my Ffmily”

Ashleigh Magee is a busy woman. Not only is she an active duty sailor in the Navy, but she is also a military spouse AND entrepreneur. She owns Ashleigh Magee Coaching, where she helps women in the military community lose weight, get fit and build healthy habits. 

Magee says her love of cosplay started when she went to her first San Diego Comic Con. Because of her circumstances, she had to buy her first costume. “I went to my first [San Diego] Comic Con in 2013.I was able to get tickets really late, and I [had] just graduated from the Naval Academy. I was living out of the hotel, so literally the only thing at my disposal was ordering online. So I cosplayed as Princess Peach. And I had a friend dress as Mario,” she said.

Shortly after her first comic con, Magee tried her hand at making her own costume. “When I lived in Hawaii, I found this amazing hot pink sequin ABS dress and got it tailored to my body. So I have an 80s Princess Peach with pink high top Chuck Taylors.” she said.

Vets address intense military issues in new music video

She says cosplay helped her realize that she had other interests. “I’ve always been a theater kid. I also didn’t know I was a nerd until later in life.I was always the weird kid that didn’t fit in but I didn’t understand what that meant until I was in college. In college, I was finally around theater kids.”  So I think part of it is the theater kind of aspect but cosplay to me is an external expression of who we are and who we want to be.” she said. 

Magee credits cosplay with helping her reconnect with her creativity. “When the pandemic started, I was here alone. I’m extremely extroverted, and I had just moved here so I had time to make maybe three friends before everything shut down,” she said. “I was using my business as a coping mechanism, and just work work work work work work, and I was like, ‘I need to reconnect to my outlets,’ and this was also happening while I was reconnecting with my biological mom who instilled those things in me at a young age.”  

Magee says cosplay has also helped strengthen her relationship with her mother. “I grew up in a house where they taught me how to knit, and quilt, and we were always crafting. So it’s been really beautiful in that way. As I’ve reconnected to my own creativity, I’ve healed my inner child and strengthened my relationship with my mom, so it’s like all these beautiful things all wrapped up into one,” she said.

Her next project? “She [my mom] and I are actually doing a 2021 sewing project! We’re both going to make Victorian outfits – I’m talking skirt, corset, the whole nine yards!” she said.

The next time you’re at a convention and you happen to see a cosplayer, be sure to tell them how awesome their costume is. You never know how much they need to hear it!

MIGHTY CULTURE

One of the scariest tasks for pilots is to land in rough seas

What’s the most dangerous part of the mission for a Navy pilot? Flying over enemy forces? Dodging hostile jets? Well, when the enemy isn’t ready for the full might of the U.S. Navy and what the sea state is, the most dangerous part of the mission might be landing on the ship when it’s time to go home. That’s because the sea can move the ship’s deck 30 feet.


PBS: Carrier – Landing on a Pitching Deck Pt. 1

www.youtube.com

PBS had a documentary team out on the USS Nimitz when it hit rough seas in the Pacific and got to watch pilots, many of whom had experience flying missions over Iraq and Afghanistan, get nervous when they were sent out for some peaceful training.

But it was still some of the riskiest flying that many of the young pilots had done, because the waters were so rough that the ship’s deck—the thing the pilots had to land their planes on—was heaving up and down and rising as high as 30 feet. Just dealing with that altitude is a big deal, but it also means that the angle of the deck their landing on or taking off from is changing as well.

Time it wrong, and a takeoff could throw you straight into the water.

“This is absolutely more dangerous than it was flying missions in the gulf,” an unnamed pilot told the film crew. “We got lucky in the Gulf; the seas are calm. But out here, pitching decks, this is scarier. Still gotta get back and land on the boat.”

“It’ll kill you in a second,” said a Navy commander.

But it’s still worth it to the Navy to do risky training like this, because it needs the pilots able to fly and fight in the worst seas they can possibly handle, because that reduces the types of weather that can weaken the Navy against an enemy like China.

MIGHTY CULTURE

How U.S. and allied firefighters practice for the worst-case

U.S. Air Forces in Europe Fire Academy members, assigned to the 435th Construction and Training Squadron, hosted a burn training during a USAFE NATO Firefighter Partnership course, Oct. 5, 2018, on Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

“The participants did extremely well,” said 1st Lt. Justin Domingo, 435th Contingency Response Support Squadron air advisor. “Most participants are already experienced firefighters so they generally have no issues.”


This training enhances interoperability with Latvian and Lithuanian air forces firefighters and ensures all forces are qualified, trained, and knowledgeable rescue personnel.

“This is the third firefighting training course this year that we’ve hosted,” Domingo said. “We look forward to continuing these events in order to maintain the relationships we’ve built while developing our goal of NATO interoperability.”

Vets address intense military issues in new music video

Latvian and Lithuanian air forces firefighters extinguish mock fires during a U.S. Air Forces in Europe NATO Firefighter Partnership course on Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Oct. 10, 2018.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Devin M. Rumbaugh)

Approximately 20 NATO ally firefighters participated in the five-day course focused on crash and fire procedure familiarization, enabling partner nations to work together in any situation.

“The NATO allies are always ready for a challenge and bring a lot of motivation and energy to every situation whether it’s just a classroom discussion or hands-on training,” said Staff Sgt. Germane White, 435th CTS fire rescue and contingency training instructor.

Vets address intense military issues in new music video

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Frank Butler, 435th Construction and Training Squadron fire rescue and contingency training instructor, waits for a simulation to begin during a U.S. Air Forces in Europe NATO Firefighter Partnership course on Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Oct. 10, 2018.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Devin M. Rumbaugh)

Students learned firefighting tactics such as nozzle operations, hose advancement, forcible entry, search and rescue operations, and confined space rescue.

“I feel honored to be an instructor for our NATO allies. They bring so much to the table and its monumental being able to instruct and help them with certain tactics they may not be familiar with.”

U.S. aircraft are present throughout Europe and at any given time an emergency can arise. By conducting this training, the instructors are prepping NATO allies for contingency operations and humanitarian missions.

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

Here are some of the best drinks to make this Father’s Day

Despite the ongoing cocktail revolution taking place in bars across the country, most innovations in the world of mixed drinks took place before your grandfather was old enough to drink. For this reason, most of today’s cocktails are simply riffs or variations on the classics. Below are five such cocktails, as well as modern day updates presented by Sother Teague, New York City barman, recent Wine Enthusiast Magazine Mixologist of the Year and author of I’m Just Here for the Drinks. This Father’s Day, make one or three for the dad on your list — even if that dad is you.


Vets address intense military issues in new music video

(Flickr / Sam Howzit)

1. The Old Fashioned and The Campfire Old Fashioned

A classic that’s name comes from the repeated request to have a cocktail made the way folks used to, the Old Fashioned is a pure presentation of the spirit/water/ sugar/bitters format that defined early cocktails. As such, it’s also easy to modify to your own tastes, as in this variation meant to evoke the experience of sipping whiskey by a campfire — something all dads deserve, but don’t all have time to enjoy.

Classic: The Old Fashioned

Ingredients:

  • Dash Angostura bitters
  • 2 oz rye
  • Spoon demerara or cane syrup
  • Lemon twist

Directions: Add first three ingredients to an Old Fashioned glass. Add a large lump of ice and gently stir to combine. Garnish with lemon twist.

New riff: The Campfire Old Fashioned

Ingredients:

  • Dash Angostura bitters
  • Dash Bittermens Hellfire Habanero Shrub
  • 1.5 tsp of cane syrup
  • .25 oz peated scotch
  • .75 oz rye
  • .75 oz bourbon

Directions: Add ingredients to an Old-Fashioned glass. Add a large lump of ice and gently stir to combine. Garnish with an orange twist.

Vets address intense military issues in new music video

2. The Negroni and The Secret Service

A classic with origins in Italy or Senegal depending on whom you ask, the Negroni is traditionally made with equal parts Campari, sweet vermouth and London Dry gin. Sother prefers double dose of gin to keep it punchy as the ice starts to melt, and his riff on the cocktail, the Secret Service, packs a wallop as well. It has notes of cinnamon and cocoa and is suitable for presidents or dads who always told you you could be commander-in-chief someday.

Classic: The Negroni

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 1 oz Campari
  • 1 oz sweet vermouth
  • 2 oz London Dry gin

Directions: Build all ingredients in a rocks glass. Add one large format ice cube. Stir to combine. Garnish with an orange twist.

New riff: The Secret Service

Ingredients:

  • 2 dashes mole bitters
  • 1.5oz Plymouth gin
  • .75 oz Maurin Quina
  • .75 oz Ancho Reyes

Directions: Pour all ingredients into a mixing glass and add plenty of ice. Stir to chill and dilute. Strain into a rocks glass filled with fresh ice. Garnish with an orange twist.

Vets address intense military issues in new music video

(Photo by Brianna Santellan)

3. The Margarita and The Retox

Among the most popular cocktails ever created, it’s hard to screw up a margarita, though if that were your aim you could start by buying that cheap mix they sell at your local grocery store. If an exemplary version is what you’re after, always opt for fresh lime juice, a better than average triple sec, and the best tequila you can afford. Sother’s riff on the classic marg is the Retox, which, as it’s name suggests, takes inspiration from the Master Cleanse. What better way to toast the health of dear old dad?

Classic: The Margarita

Ingredients:

  • 1 oz lime juice
  • .75 oz Cointreau
  • 2 oz blanco tequila

Directions: Rim half a double rocks glass with kosher salt. Combine ingredients into a shaker with ice and shake to chill and dilute. Strain and serve over ice in salt-rimmed glass. Garnish with lime wedge.

New riff: The Retox

Ingredients:

  • 2-3 slices of fresh jalapeno
  • .75 oz grade B maple syrup
  • .5 oz fresh lemon juice
  • 2 oz reposado tequila
  • Kosher salt for rim

Directions: Muddle jalapéno in base of tin, add syrup, lemon and tequila. Shake vigorously with ice. Double strain (to remove any pepper bits) into a half-salted rim glass of fresh ice. Garnish with lemon slice.

Vets address intense military issues in new music video

4. The Suffering Bastard and The Suffering Fools

Concocted by a chemist in Cairo as a specific for British soldiers dealing with both Nazis and hangovers during World War II, the Suffering Bastard features both gin and bourbon for a crisp cocktail that’s as bracing as it is refreshing. Sother’s take on this classic from the era of the Greatest Generation relies on Cognac from our allies in France and adds a touch of pineapple shrub for a Pacific Theater feel. Drink one with your war buff father-in-law, or after an assault from your own growing army.

Classic: The Suffering Bastard

Ingredients:

  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 1 oz Bourbon
  • 1 oz London Dry gin
  • 1 oz fresh lime juice
  • Ginger ale

Directions: Combine first four ingredients in a Highball glass. Add ice and gently stir. Pour ginger ale down the spiral of a bar spoon to fill. Garnish with a lime twist.

New riff: The Suffering Fools

Ingredients:

  • 1 dashes Angostura bitters
  • .5 oz pineapple shrub
  • .5 oz lime juice
  • 1 oz London Dry gin
  • 1 oz Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac
  • Ginger beer

Directions: Combine first five ingredients in a Highball glass. Add ice and gently stir. Pour ginger beer down the spiral of a bar spoon to fill. Garnish with candied ginger

Vets address intense military issues in new music video

5. The Vieux Carre and The Guatemalan Square

Created at the historic Hotel Monteleone in the late ’30s by New Orleans great Walter Bergeron, this split-spirit Manhattan by way of the Big Easy is slightly more complex than the other cocktails presented here but is absolutely worth the effort. Sother’s riff swaps out the Cognac for Guatemalan rum for a cocktail swirling with notes of fresh orange, vanilla and dark chocolate. Both drinks are aces, and as close to a vacation as you can get without hopping on a plane.

Classic: The Vieux Carre

Ingredients:

  • 1 dash Angostura bitters
  • 1 dash Peychaud’s bitters
  • .5 tsp Benedictine
  • .75 oz sweet vermouth
  • .75 oz rye
  • .75 oz Cognac

Directions: Combine all ingredients into a shaker with ice and stir. Strain into a rocks glass. Garnish with a cherry.

New riff: The Guatemalan Square

Ingredients:

  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
  • .25 oz Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao
  • .5 oz Carpano Antica
  • .5 oz Rittenhouse rye
  • 1 oz Zacapa 23 Rum


Directions: Stir all ingredients in a mixing glass to chill and combine. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist

This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

The 13 funniest military memes for the week of January 4th

Looks like it’s about time to get back to the grind, guys. Grab that razor and shave off that poor excuse for a block-leave beard because Uncle Sam is about to get his dues again. You got all the warm and fuzzies from telling your family and friends you’re in the military, but now it’s time to do actual military stuff again.

On the bright side, next week is going to be lazy. While you’re slugging through the motor pool, know that you’re not alone —your chain of command is in the same boat. They just can’t show it since, ya know, burdens of leadership and all.

Oh? You thought the 100% accountability urinalysis was to “ensure good order and discipline?” Hell no. Your NCOs want to get out of PT just as much as you do.

Here’re some memes to help bring you back into the military mindset:


Vets address intense military issues in new music video

(Meme via Infantry Follow Me)

Vets address intense military issues in new music video

(Meme via The Army’s Fckups)

Vets address intense military issues in new music video

(Meme via Sh*t My LPO Says)

Vets address intense military issues in new music video

(Meme via Coast Guard Memes)

Vets address intense military issues in new music video

(Meme via Dad Jokes)

Vets address intense military issues in new music video

(Meme via Smokepit Fairytales)

Vets address intense military issues in new music video

(Meme via PT Belt Nation)

Vets address intense military issues in new music video

(Meme via Army as F*ck)

Vets address intense military issues in new music video

(Meme via Do You Even Comm, Bro?)

Vets address intense military issues in new music video

(Meme via Private News Network)

Vets address intense military issues in new music video

(Meme via Pop Smoke)

Vets address intense military issues in new music video

(Meme via Decelerate Your Life)

Vets address intense military issues in new music video

(Meme via Air Force Nation Humor)

MIGHTY CULTURE

This is how US troops came to be called ‘GIs’

Anyone who loves the U.S. military and the troops who fight in it is familiar with their nickname. Over the years, American troops have earned many – Johnny Reb, Billy Yank, Dogface, Grunt, Jarhead, Doughboy – you get the point. There is one all-encompassing nickname used all over the country, applicable to any branch, and used by troops and civilians alike: G.I.


Vets address intense military issues in new music video

Kinda like that, except real.

When we see the word “GI” many of us probably think of the phrase “Government Issue” or “General Issue” used back in the days of World War II. And that thought is both true and not entirely the whole story. While many of the items produced and used by the government were considered General Issue, including the men who were drafted and enlisted to fight, that’s not what the original “GI” really meant.

Going back to World War I, many of the items made for and used by the government of the United States for military purposes were stamped “GI” – but not because it was Government Issue. It was government issue, but that’s not the reason for stamping it. That’s like stamping your jeans with “Purchased at Wal-Mart.”

Vets address intense military issues in new music video

We know you got that stuff at Target anyway.

When troops originally saw GI slapped on some piece of government property, they were likely mopping the floors or doing some other kind of cleaning work, because GI, meant “galvanized iron,” and more often than not was found on buckets used by the U.S. military. Since the one thing all U.S. troops get experience with is cleaning, the term spread to include all things U.S. military, including the people themselves. By World War II, U.S. troops were affectionately known as G.I.s all around the country.

Articles

10 beautiful quotes about war from Shakespeare’s literature

Teenagers dread reading Shakespeare’s works because the old English can be difficult at times. In fact, Shakespeare deliberately made up words and expanded the English dictionary by extension. It is not hard to imagine a young mind shying away from his written works. However, Shakespeare did not just write about love, but also war. His take on the art of destruction still echoes today.

The arms are fair, when the intent of bearing them is just.

Henry IV

I interpret this as another way of saying “the end justifies the means.” Men can do great things when they believe their cause is just. However, the most evil men who have ever existed believed they were doing good. In essence, to fight, we must be right.

Vets address intense military issues in new music video
Pictured: People who thought they were the “good guys.” (U.S. Army photo)

Caesar’s spirit, ranging for revenge, with Até by his side come hot from hell, shall in these confines with a monarch’s voice Cry “Havoc,” and let slip the dogs of war.

Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar was one of the greatest warriors in the history of warfare. Shakespeare’s depiction of him is equally as epic. This quote in particular is famously quoted across many movies and TV shows.

War gives the right to the conquerors to impose any condition they please upon the vanquished.

Julius Caesar

This one is self-evident.

Vets address intense military issues in new music video
Japanese General Yoshijiro Umezu signs the Japanese Instrument of Surrender on board the USS Missouri, Sept. 2, 1945. (DoD photo)

In war, events of importance are the result of trivial causes.

Julius Caesar

We can all think of a war or two that were started by asinine reasons. One war was literally fought over a stolen bucket. Other times trivial causes for war are used to justify military action without being ousted as an aggressor.

Your breath first kindled the dead coal of wars and brought in matter that should feed this fire; and now ’tis far too huge to be blown out with that same weak wind which enkindled it.

King John

It’s easier to start a war than to end one. The same goes for trying to control the scope of the war. Things can get out of hand quickly, and stay in chaos for years to come.

Vets address intense military issues in new music video
(U.S. Army photo)

I’ll fight till from my bones my flesh be hacked.

Macbeth

Throughout history, countless troops on the losing side of a battle have fought to the last breath. Their stories are often retold as our tales of patriotic heroism.

A victory is twice itself when the achiever brings home full numbers.

Much Ado About Nothing

This is true. It is much better to cross the wire and return with all your troops, even if there was no contact with the enemy. However, if there is an enemy and there are no friendly casualties in combat, it is definitely double the cause to celebrate.

He which hath no stomach to this fight, let him depart; his passport shall be made.

Henry V

Not everybody is cut out for combat. “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.”

Vets address intense military issues in new music video
)U.S. Air Force photo by Alejandro Peña)

Fight, gentlemen of England! fight, bold yeomen! Draw, archers, draw your arrows to the head! Spur your proud horses hard, and ride in blood; Amaze the welkin with your broken staves!

Richard III

Pre-battle speeches are paramount to get the troops fired up. Speaking of war speeches, my favorite film speech is from “We Were Soldiers” delivered by Mel Gibson in his role of Lt. Colonel Hal Moore.

Beware the leader who bangs the drums of war in order to whip the citizenry into a patriotic fervor.

William Shakespeare

Another that might be self-evident, but carries no less weight. The reason for this warning has played out countless times in human history.

MIGHTY CULTURE

The VFW wants you to be a gamer!

When you think of the VFW, what comes to mind? For many of us younger veterans the stigma is that your local VFW post is a dark, dusty bar with a bunch of older vets telling war stories. Whether that is fair or not, the VFW has had an issue attracting younger veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan to its ranks, despite the obvious benefit that the VFW provides to those vets.

One post in San Antonio is moving to change all that.

VFW Post 8541 has created a cyber café in its facility with the intent that younger veterans will have a place to hang out, build fellowship, have an escape and be part of the local veteran community. And no, this isn’t a couch with an Xbox and two controllers.


Take a look at this:

Vets address intense military issues in new music video

Video games have come a long way since Space Invaders and Pong. Nowadays, it’s a billion-dollar industry that continues to grow every year. Consoles continue to war with each other, video game franchises compete to have the best upgrades in graphics and gameplay, and players now compete in more organized tournaments. Esports has blown up quite a bit with professional leagues forming with players making six figures a year! (Tell that to your girl the next time she gets mad when you have a COD marathon!)

Even pro sports leagues are getting in on esports. The NBA, NASCAR and Formula 1 have all had their best stars compete when everything was shut down during Covid.

While some people scoff at the amount of time and energy people put into gaming, there have been proven benefits to veterans.

Video games have been increasingly recommended to veterans as a way to cope with the effects of PTSD, anxiety, and depression. How so? Mental health experts will tell you that a great way to deal with mental health issues is to find an activity that puts you into a flow or zone. Whether it’s running, shooting drills, surfing, reading a book, or playing a game, an activity that takes up your concentration and allows you to escape and give your attention completely to that task has proven to be beneficial.

Video games provide just that. Even the Department of Veteran Affairs now says that “Video games can help in overcoming such problems as PTSD and substance abuse disorders.”

This is something Bill Smith saw during his deployments and is now bringing to his VFW post.

Vets address intense military issues in new music video

Bill Smith is VFW post commander who served 32 years in the Army, most of it in the Special Forces.

He did two deployments to Afghanistan and one to Iraq. After getting out in 2015, he was involved with the VFW and was rapidly put in charge of Post 8541 when the post came under suspension 3.5 years ago. He went to a meeting to talk about the suspension and found himself nominated to take over. Immediately, he looked for ways to get things back on track. And boy, has he. Post 8541 has been the #1 post in Texas the last 2 years out of 298 in the state. That is based on membership, community services, legacy programs signups. For each new life member, you get points for that.

Right now, Bill’s priority is getting lots of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans to sign up. It has been an issue that many posts struggle with or don’t even try to attempt.

Not only has Bill’s post been starting to get a younger crowd, but it has been a good smooth transition.

As Bill says, “The only way to change it is to get in there and change it.” So, he went and found ways to attract younger vets.

“I was connected with the Texas Guard… just selling. I would get out and tell them this is what we have going on, come out and try it out. “Bill continues, “We had a banquet hall and one of the first things we did, was open up the hall for military functions.” A great example was a Special Forces Party that was held at the hall. The VFW picked up a id=”listicle-2647079334″,000 bar tab for the party to help with the costs. The next day the post had 40 new signups. Bill also created a family room at the post. Now if you want to get to the VFW, but have the kids, you can still go. While these were great steps, Bill was still thinking ahead of the curve. Which brings us to the cybercafé and video games.

Where did Bill get the idea?

“When I was in Afghanistan, I was embedded with French Special Forces. When I went to Bagram, I went to JOC and was berthing with some guys in 7th Group. As I was sitting there, I kept hearing. ‘Who shot me? Who did this?’

Bill saw in their down time they were gaming a lot. It was their escape and they spent a lot of time decompressing through video games. He also saw ODA guys playing in their down time.

“My sons are 26 and 23 and they game a lot, so I saw gaming was big. My oldest son’s friend, Sam Elizondo owns LFG Cybercafe and they sponsored a team for a tournament. Bill decided to talk

And talking to Sam, they came up with the cybercafé idea.

Sam Elizondo, after talking to Bill, decided to help make this idea into a reality. Sam said, “I think what I love most is that we arrived at this leg of the journey out of Bill Smith’s relentless drive to help people. He wants to give these younger combat veterans a place to heal and a place to be. It’s been a privilege to use my skill set for that mission.”

Sam’s background and livelihood are in gaming. He also comes from a military family. As Bill and Sam started planning, they knew they had to get the support of the current VFW Post members on board. After all, it’s their club and building a video game center in their post was something that might not sit well with Vietnam veterans. But to Sam’s surprise, the older vets were really receptive to the plan. Once they started seeing the plan turn into a reality, they became even more excited.

The buildout of the café started in January and is almost done. However, there was one big obstacle that Bill, Sam, and workers had to deal with. Covid -19 shut down the post for a while but they pushed through on building it out. Unfortunately, with the current rules, Texas has their post shut down just when they were about to open the café. While veterans will have to wait just a big longer before they can take advantage, the work that Sam did is utterly amazing.

Vets address intense military issues in new music video
Vets address intense military issues in new music video
Vets address intense military issues in new music video
Vets address intense military issues in new music video
Vets address intense military issues in new music video
Vets address intense military issues in new music video
Vets address intense military issues in new music video
Vets address intense military issues in new music video
Vets address intense military issues in new music video
Vets address intense military issues in new music video

This is just the first step. Most games will be provided via Sam’s company. There will be about 70 games for the PC consoles which he will manage the system remotely Right now the plan is to have 12 PCs and 6 Xboxes. Also, Grande Communications is installing fiber optic cable so that the Post will have the best download speed.

Microsoft also made a generous contribution. They shut down their brick and mortar store and decided to donate thousand in hardware. The post has had admittedly older computers (some running on Windows XP) so now they will have fast computers and fast internet connection. Sam is also helping build out a new business center with these resources so vets young and old can have access to computers.

So, what next?

Sam hopes, “Veteran Esports Competitions and just a better connected family of VFW’s. There is so much value in building out infrastructure like what POST 8541 is doing that the sky truly is the limit. They have the ability and the network to do some incredible things. It just needs to be embraced.”

Once COVID is over, the café will be open for vets to come game. The hope is it will be a place for them to escape the world and find comfort in fellowship. Bill and Sam are hoping other VFWs will take notice and build their own centers. This will hopefully lead to gaming competitions between local and long-distance posts.

The VFW has been a backbone of veteran activity for decades. Thanks for forward thinkers like Sam and Bill, it is shaping up to continue to be that backbone.


MIGHTY CULTURE

Which special operators make the best CIA agents?

There are more rumors and myths floating around about the Central Intelligence Agency then there are actual facts. “The Agency” or “The Company” is charged with preempting threats and furthering national security objectives by collecting and analyzing intelligence and conducting covert action while simultaneously safeguarding our nation’s secrets. It’s a broad mission, and a lot of trust has been granted to them by the American people to carry it out.

But it takes a special kind of person to thrive in the CIA.

Who, or what, are they looking for? And do those who served at the tip of the spear while in the military have a competitive advantage? If so, is a U.S. Navy SEAL better than a U.S. Army Ranger? Or does a Green Beret’s experience hold more weight when competing for one of the few spots available as a gray man?


The CIA doesn’t publicly answer any of those questions, instead opting to keep their ideal candidate’s qualifications vague. So we reached out to a few veterans of the Agency to see if they noticed any trends.

Vets address intense military issues in new music video

Hafer while deployed to Africa.

(Photo courtesy of Evan Hafer)

Evan Hafer, former CIA contractor

Evan Hafer is in the coffee business these days, but he started out as a U.S. Army Special Forces NCO (noncommissioned officer) before transitioning to contracting for the CIA. He’s deployed dozens of times around the world on their behalf, and he even assessed and trained those who were trying out for the Agency’s elite high-threat, low-visibility security force toward the end of his career.

“It all depends on what kind of officer you’re looking for,” Hafer said. “When you look at paramilitary operations, they have a wide variety of objectives. A good portion is working by, through, and with foreign nationals while conducting covert action. For a long time, Special Forces did a lot of covert action, so they made for the best agents in that respect.”

Vets address intense military issues in new music video

Hafer while deployed to Afghanistan.

(Photo courtesy of Evan Hafer)

Hafer went on to explain that there are different types of jobs at the Agency that require different skill sets. “Typically a good Ranger NCO will make a great guy for on-the-ground, high-threat, low-visibility security work. And Marines across the spectrum are pretty good at a lot of different things.”

Hafer made sure to note the difference between conducting direct action (DA) in the military’s special operations units and gathering intelligence for the CIA. “If you like blowing doors down, intel will bore the fuck out of you,” Hafer said. “It’s a lot of writing, and regardless of background, guys who enjoy DA might not like the intel job.”

“If you’re a hammer and every problem is a nail, then you won’t like being the pen.”

Vets address intense military issues in new music video

(Photo courtesy of Bob Baer)

Bob Baer, former CIA case officer

You may recognize Bob Baer from his work hosting investigative shows on the History Channel or delivering commentary on CNN, but before that he spent 21 years as a CIA case officer. He deployed around the world, speaks eight languages, and even won the CIA’s career intelligence medal.

“It’s almost always Special Forces,” Baer said about the ideal background for working operations in the CIA. “These guys are out in places training locals. I found the SF guys, especially the ones who have experience working in strange places, to be most effective.”

Vets address intense military issues in new music video

(Photo courtesy of Bob Baer)

He even went so far as to say that elite Tier 1 operators (that many would assume to be perfect for the job) often don’t work out. “For them, it’s so low-speed — there’s not as much excitement as they’re used to. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Delta or SEAL Team Six guy make the adjustment.”

Baer echoed Hafer’s sentiment toward the U.S. Marines, saying, “It seemed the Marines did a good job adjusting.” And admitted that he usually preferred a military background over a straight academic: “All in all, people who were in the military were best because they learned about dealing with government BS, while the least equipped were always the academics.”

We are the Directorate of Operations

www.youtube.com

Robyn, former CIA case officer

Robyn, like Baer, was a case officer for the CIA and spent years running sources around the world — to include active combat zones. She asked that we not use her last name but was happy to offer her thoughts on not just the ideal military resume, but also what it actually takes to be a successful case officer regardless of background.

“At the end of the day, you’re selling a lemon. You’re convincing someone to commit espionage and provide intel against their country in exchange for whatever is valuable to them,” Robyn explained. “You have to convince them that you care, that their life matters — whether it does or not.”

“So the guys that do well are the guys that understand the human factor,” she continued. “They have to understand what makes someone tick and pretend to be concerned. People are not going to put their lives at risk for someone who doesn’t care. You have to care.”

Robyn recalled a former state trooper who she worked with that did well, noting that a law enforcement background laid a solid foundation for talking to people who can be difficult to extract information from, such as witnesses and victims.

“The militant guys don’t do well,” Robyn said, noting that there’s a difference between being militant and being from the military, and that it takes a unique person to operate in the gray for months or even years at a time. “They’ve gotta operate without mental, emotional, or personal boundaries. There’s no commander’s intent, and the mission isn’t always clear. A renaissance man will do better than the fire-breather, even if they both come from Special Forces. We need the guys who can jump between philosophy and tactics while maneuvering in all different environments.”

The one thing that Hafer, Baer, and Robyn all agreed on is that no single bullet point on a resume qualifies someone for the difficult work of the CIA. They all emphasized that it takes a special person, and the best people at the Agency often have certain intangibles that you either have or you don’t. It seems it takes much more than a trident or a tab to make it into the nation’s most elite intelligence agency — and that’s a good thing.

Trojan Footprint: Embedded with Special Forces in Europe

www.youtube.com

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Exclusive interview with ‘Welcome to Blackwater: Mercenaries, Money and Mayhem in Iraq’ author

Morgan Lerette, a former Army intelligence officer who spent 18 months in Iraq, writes about his experience as a Blackwater operative with countless missions in his new book, ‘Welcome to Blackwater: Mercenaries, Money and Mayhem in Iraq.’ His memoir recounts what it is like to be a modern-day Ronin in the sands of Iraq. At a time when U.S. civilian employers discriminated against hiring veterans, he ventured with Blackwater at the age of 23 at the recommendation of a friend. This was the start of a road bathed in prostitutes, gold, blood and the ruthlessness required to be successful in clandestine operations. Yet, balancing weight retains one’s humanity.

“Blackwater was a real turning point in my life, much more than my stints in the military,” said Lerette, now 40. “I wanted to write about the people, my brothers and how we survived.”

Morgan Lerette, author of Welcome to Blackwater

We Are The Mighty, with the support of Onward Press and United States Veterans Artists Alliance, bring you this exclusive interview with a warrior who lived the dream most combat Military Occupational Specialties dream of: to be set loose upon the enemies of the west and give no quarter – for money.

WATM: Politicians constantly debate the morality of hiring contractors to protect our interests abroad, regardless that the practice of hiring mercenaries is as old as war itself. How has Blackwater impacted the evolution of warfare? 

I think [people] really have to understand the paradigm of where Blackwater came in. The ground combat ended, and the interim government was created in Iraq. As soon as that interim government was created and we gave them sovereignty, it went from a Department of Defense mission to a Department of State mission. 

They didn’t have the power to protect their own diplomats as they were running around all over Iraq. So that’s really where Blackwater came in. The war was not planned well as it was. What compounded it was that Blackwater came in and were told they had diplomatic immunity and the rules of engagement were different than the other soldiers. It opened up this gray space where we could operate autonomously. 

There was no check and balance in place. 

No grownup supervision of what we were doing, when we were doing it, or how we were doing it. I think that’s really when it went bad. If you don’t have the government agency that you are contracted by in the vehicles with you – there is no way for them to supervise. I don’t put the blame on Blackwater entirely or the State Department entirely. They both failed to make sure that people were doing the right thing at the right time. 

Lerette aims a firearm over a humvee

WATM: Your book is brutally honest about a different kind of deployment than is usually experienced overseas. How did you forge a bond between you and your peers to become brothers?

It is very similar to what you go through in the military. You go in there with a number of people you recently met, who you would not normally come into contact with, and are tasked with protecting an individual and each other. You can’t trust that the Iraqis are going to welcome you with open arms. You can’t expect that the State Department people are going to be able to help you out. You have to trust and count on that person sitting next to you with their body armor and rifle. 

The bonding was very similar [in that aspect]. Where it was dissimilar is when you come home from a contract there is no support system. As a unit in the Army or the Air Force, you leave as a unit and come back as a unit. You go to your base and it’s comfortable. 

As a contractor it’s really just you.

Your new buddies, people whom you would literally die for and would die for you, are scattered across the nation. It makes it hard to keep that camaraderie, so people start chasing those contracts. They go back for the camaraderie and adrenaline of war. Whereas in the military they tell you when to go. 

WATM: Some corporations have propaganda that they will hire veterans but when it comes time to put their money where their mouth is, they do not. How has this barrier for veterans to assimilate into the civilian world affected recruitment to companies like Blackwater?

It definitely helped. When I got into Blackwater in 2004 you had a number of special operations soldiers that have trained for years and years and they never really got to do their job. [For example] you had a guy who trained for [a job] for three years and at the end of it they say ‘okay, that was great, but I still want to [keep doing it.’] That’s where a lot of these guys were: special operations, SEALs, Rangers, Recon Marines and they didn’t get to go to war like they were trained for. 

This was their chance to extend that service – to get their war. 

Blackwater definitely took advantage that there were people who haven’t seen combat but were trained for it. Even to this day, since I came out with the book ‘Welcome to Blackwater,’ people say to me, ‘Well, how do I join?’

Those companies are saying, ‘This is your chance at war, Iraq has dwindled down to 2,500 troops and Afghanistan the same way. They get there and they sit as a gate guard and they’re frustrated because they really think this is their chance. It’s just not the way it was back then and you don’t have the option of finding that fortune like you used to. 

WATM: Current and former members of the military have this idea that Private Military Contracting is the final frontier of combat. Would you encourage or discourage their pursuit of fortune?

Yeah, so, the money dried up a number of years ago. It’s definitely not paying what it did when I was with Blackwater in 2004-05. Not only has the money dried up but so have the missions. It used to be a lot of escorting diplomats around combat zones. Now, the majority of jobs are within site security. 

Gate guard, tower guard.

Whereas we were making around $210,000 a year, if you’re a gate guard in Kuwait, you’re going to make around $60,000 a year. I would not encourage anyone to go to the final frontier because the final frontier is no longer available. 

Lerette with kids in Iraq
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

WATM: Onward Press is an avenue for warriors to give up the sword and pick up the pen. What was your experience working with them on ‘Welcome to Blackwater’?

Onward press is specifically looking for people who have been in the military community, such as spouses, who want to get their story told and be able to tell that story well. Every veteran has an amazing story and being able to put that on paper, get it done, put it on Amazon and be able to purchase it – it takes professionals to do that. 

So, Onward Press bridged that gap for me.

They were able to say ‘yes, you do have a good story, you have a good voice, but here’s how you should be able to frame it. Here’s how you get started, here’s where you need to add stuff, here’s where you need to take out stuff. In order to make sure the story was entertaining, and it flowed and people would actually be interested in it.

It’s an awesome organization but writing your experience is very cathartic. Even if I don’t become a bestseller, it’s almost a way for me to give my story over to paper. It took some of the burden I have carried with me throughout my almost three years in Iraq. To be able to give that over to something else, for that reason, it is very, very cathartic. 

WATM: Is there anything you would like to say to our readers and the military community? 

There is honor in service. There are a lot of extremely intelligent people that don’t have college degrees that do the same thing as me. I’m not unique or special. What I was, was willing to reach out. I couldn’t get to where I needed to go. That goes all the way back to reaching out to figure out my G.I. Bill, to figure out the VA, to getting my book about Blackwater to a publisher and get published. 

Whether you’ve spent three to 30 years in the military, set that pride aside and ask for help. If I hadn’t asked for help there is no way I could have published Welcome to Blackwater. 

A lot of these stories about soldiers, airmen, sailors, Marines would be lost if we can’t get them documented. 

So, reach out. Heck, reach out to me. Go to my website www.welcometoblackwater.com and shoot me an email and I’ll get back to you. I’m always willing to help. 

‘Welcome to Blackwater: Mercenaries, Money and Mayhem in Iraq’ is available now on Amazon. 

About Onward Press

Onward Press is the publishing imprint of the United States Veterans Artists Alliance, Inc., a 501-c-3 educational non-profit.  www.usvaa.org

Our mission is to publish well-written, compelling books by military veterans, spouses, military brats, and other family members. Also, people who served in other agencies overseas and their family members.

We are interested in great stories well-told, and are not limited to military, veteran or government-service topics. We publish literary novels, non-fiction, memoirs, mystery, true crime, suspense-thrillers, to name just a few.

All books are available as e -books, trade paperbacks, hardcover and audio.  We pay royalties to our authors and provide editorial guidance and engaging cover art.Onward Press is open for submissions.  Please see Submission Guidelines.

Learn more about Welcome to Blackwater: Mercenaries, Money and Mayhem, here.

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