In late December 2020, the Senate made a step forward in protecting military service members from medical malpractice at the hands of military doctors.
The 2020 National Defense Authorization Act now allows service members to file a claim for compensation if they feel they have been the victim of medical malpractice while serving in the military. This includes medical, dental, and other medicinal practices. These claims can be denied and they do not cover an attorney fees a service member might accrue while seeking legal counsel.
Although this was heralded as a huge step for service members, many legal experts and families who have experienced medical malpractice while serving in the military see it otherwise. The Feres Doctrine, which was signed into law in 1950, states that military service members cannot sue military medical doctors for malpractice, giving them little to no recourse when malpractice has been committed. The new legislature in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act modifies this, allowing claims to now be filed, but service members still cannot sue for compensation due to malpractice.
This issue has come to head several times over the past seven decades, but recently military families have begun to fight it more furiously. Families like those of Rebekah Daniel, a Navy lieutenant who died during childbirth due to medical malpractice, cannot sue the doctor or the hospital because she was the active duty service member giving the family no compensation and no closure to losing their loved one at the hands of a medical professional.
Others like Army Capt. Katie Blanchard, who was lit on fire by a colleague of whom she had complained about as being dangerous to her and others, at the clinic in Fort Leavenworth, Kanas have no legal recourse with the government or with her superiors at the clinic due to the Feres Doctirne.
What this Means for Military Families Who Experience Medical Malpractice
In short, the new legislation put forth by the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act makes little to no change to the current Feres Doctrine that is still held into place despite Congressional hearings and Supreme Court cases that have asked for it to be overturned. Service members can file a claim against the government but as with all compensatory claims, these can be denied at the discretion of governing party which in this case, is the United States government.
In addition, this also means that there is no legal discourse for the medical professional who causes the malpractice. Military service members and their families are barred from suing medical professional meaning they are still allowed to practice medicine without any repercussions for their mistakes.
In short, service members can be seriously injured or die at the hands of military medical professionals but they nor their families have no legal recourse for justice.
Military spouses and any dependent of the military service member who receives care from a military doctor or at a military Medical Treatment Facility (MTF) can sue for medical malpractice including medical professionals, hospitals, and clinics. Military spouses and dependents do not fall under the Feres Doctrine.
In addition, a military service member can sue a civilian doctor under civilian court if a military service member is seen at a civilian hospital (which can only be done in cases of emergencies when life or limb is at risk). They still have no legal recourse, however, if a civilian medical professional is employed at a military treatment facility where they are receiving care and they experience medical malpractice at the hands of the civilian medical professional.
Why the Feres Doctrine Should Be Overturned
Medical is known by the military community to be mediocre at best. Service members frequently joke (and there are memes to prove it) they are often gaffed off when reporting an injury and told to “take a Motrin and walk it off.”
But service members don’t have much of a choice. Unlike their civilian counterparts and even their dependents, they cannot choose another doctor or hospital if the one they are visiting for treatment isn’t giving them proper care.
They do not have the resources offered to civilians to seek second opinions without paying out of pocket to do so, or to visit another facility unless prescribed by a doctor. Their choices are limited as it is and service members cannot even do their own due diligence when they feel their treatment isn’t up to basic medical standards.
And then when something dire happens resulting in further injury or death, there is no recourse. Service members are left standing between a rock and a hard place when it comes to medical malpractice, with the Feres Doctrine dumping dirt on top of them to keep them down.
When military service members sign that dotted line, they are under the understanding that they are putting themselves at risk for bodily injury and harm given the nature of their jobs. But they have a right to decent and ethical healthcare just like any other civilian. Whether an injury was sustained while in combat, in training, or unrelated to military service, military service members and their families should have the right to gain compensation when their medical case was handled improperly, especially when it causes more harm or death.
Additionally, doctors and medical professionals should be held accountable when they do not perform their duties accordingly or put a service member in more harm.
Military personnel, retirees and their family members now have access to an exclusive discount travel website managed by Priceline.
American Forces Travel is a full-service travel booking site, offering hotel, flight, car rental and cruise deals as well as bundled or package deals that Priceline spokesman Devon Nagle said can save travelers an average of $240 per person.
The site, which is available to active-duty military, National Guard members, Reservists, retirees and family members, as well as 100 percent disabled veterans and civilian Defense Department employees, officially went live Jan. 22, 2019, after having been beta-tested on several military bases.
According to Nagle, the site offers discounts that have been negotiated specifically for military personnel, including hotel deals up to 60 percent off and cruise deals up to 80 percent off. Roughly 1.2 million hotels can be booked through the site, as well as the most popular flight and car rental brands, he said.
Brett Keller, Priceline chief executive officer, said that the company was thrilled to be selected by the DoD to “bring the site to life.”
(Flickr photo by LoadedAaron)
“American Forces Travel was developed for a simple reason. The people who support the United States of America through military service have earned access to the world’s most exclusive travel deals,” Keller said.
A recent review of the site by Military.com found hotel deals in San Diego ranging from to off prices found on non-military travel websites, and car rental discounts ranging from to off per day for a minivan, SUV or convertible.
A non-stop round trip airline fare from the Washington, D.C., area to San Diego for a weekend in February 2019 was available for 3 on Alaska Airlines, while the same flight was advertised as 4 other travel websites. Still, non-stop flights for the same weekend on United could be purchased for significantly less on another website — between 0 to 0 less.
Advantages to booking air travel through American Forces Travel include reduced fees for reservation changes and all flights being cancellable within 24 hours, according to the site. For cars, benefits include free cancellation on post-paid cars and larger discounts for prepaid rates.
Each AmericanForcesTravel.com transaction also will generate a commission that will go to the military services’ Morale, Welfare and Recreation and quality-of-life programs.
Nagle described the new site as a “labor of love for Priceline.”
“Members of the military are a unique community and deserve the opportunity to access great deals when they take vacations. With American Forces Travel, they can search for deals 24 hours a day,” he said.
Users can access the site by inputting their last name, date of birth and last four digits of their Social Security number when prompted. The DoD then verifies the information, and future travelers are ready to shop.
(Flickr photo by m01229)
Nagle said Priceline does not capture or retain any of the verification data that is provided.
In addition to Defense Department service members, National Guard and Reserve and civilian employees, Coast Guard men and women and their families also can use the site.
Military members have had access to travel deals through base ticket and tour offices, as well as lodging through the Armed Forces Vacation Club, a no-fee membership group that offers week-long stays at resorts, apartments, condominiums and homes — usually timeshare destinations — in more than 100 countries on a space-available basis for about 0 a week.
Armed Forces Vacation Club is managed by Wyndham Worldwide.
According to Nagle, Priceline was chosen to run AmericanForcesTravel.com by a competitive bidding process. Company executives said they — and the Defense Department — see their website as a way to thank the military community.
“Until now, leisure travel was typically handled by travel agents on military bases. The DoD chose to create a new online platform that was modern, fast and widely accessible and to populate the site with the broadest and deepest collection of travel deals,” the Priceline release states.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
If you are considering moving to a new place after the novel coronavirus pandemic, you may want to consider one of these 30 US cities.
Recent polling has suggested that many Americans are thinking about moving. The news website Axios reported in late April on a Harris Poll survey that found that about one-third of Americans said they were thinking about moving to less densely populated places. And recent research from Moody’s Analytics found that less densely populated places with a larger share of jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree or higher were likely to recover first from the economic impact of the pandemic.
During stay-at-home orders to slow the spread of the virus, more and more Americans have transitioned to working from their homes. In a Gallup analysis, 62% of respondents in a survey conducted from March 30 to April 2 said they were working from home, compared with 31% of respondents in a survey conducted from March 13 to 15.
New Gallup polling has indicated that even after stay-at-home orders lift and employees can return to offices, some people are thinking about working remotely at least part of the time. In a survey conducted from April 13 to 19, 53% of respondents said they would work remotely as much as they could, while 47% said they would return to the office as much as they previously did.
Business Insider decided to find out which cities could be the best to live in after the coronavirus pandemic for those Americans seeking a new home and planning to continue remote work.
To do this, we used nine economic, educational, and demographic metrics from government data sources and academic research that we think people might consider when moving and that could help a metro area recover faster from the economic effects of the pandemic.
These measures are the pre-coronavirus unemployment rate, ability to work from home, population density, housing affordability, monthly household costs, cost of living, weekly two-way work commute, total elementary- and secondary-school spending per student, and share of residents age 25 and over who have at least a bachelor’s degree.
Each measure was rescaled to a uniform z-score, allowing us to add the values together to get a final overall index for each metro area that we then used to rank the 30 metro areas at the top of the list.
Here are the 30 best cities to live in after the coronavirus pandemic, based on our analysis:
30. Danville, Illinois
Danville’s cost of living — the metro area’s price level of goods and services compared with the US’s — is 21.4% lower than the national average. The city’s population density of 84.3 people per square mile is also lower than in most metro areas.
29. Grand Island, Nebraska
In Grand Island, 74.1% of households spend less than 30% of their income on housing, indicating better housing affordability than most metro areas. Grand Island’s cost of living is slightly lower than in most metro areas, at 15.7% lower than the national average.
28. Peoria, Illinois
Peoria is among the 100 metro areas with the lowest cost-of-living scores, at 12% lower than the national average. Average housing costs in the city are 5.22 a month.
27. Omaha, Nebraska
Omaha’s pre-coronavirus unemployment rate was 2.9%, 0.6 percentage points below the national rate. Omaha’s cost of living is 7.9% lower than the national average.
26. State College, Pennsylvania
State College’s pre-coronavirus unemployment rate was 3.6%, 0.1 percentage points higher than the national rate in February. Additionally, 46.7% of residents who are at least 25 years old have a bachelor’s degree or higher, the 18th-highest share among metro areas.
25. Green Bay, Wisconsin
In Green Bay, 75.5% of households spend less than 30% of their income on housing, the 16th-highest share among metro areas. Average housing costs are 6.86 a month.
24. Columbus, Indiana
In Columbus, 79.5% of households spend less than 30% of their income on housing, the highest share among metro areas. Its pre-coronavirus unemployment rate was 2.3%, tied for the 13th lowest among metro areas.
23. Iowa City, Iowa
Iowa City’s pre-coronavirus unemployment rate was 2.2%, tied for the sixth lowest among metro areas, and 49.3% of residents who are at least 25 years old have a bachelor’s degree or higher, the 10th highest among metro areas.
22. Lansing, Michigan
Lansing is among the metro areas with the highest share of jobs that could be done from home, at 41%. Lansing’s cost of living is 8.8% lower than the national average.
21. Syracuse, New York
Syracuse’s pre-coronavirus unemployment rate was 3.4%, close to the national rate in February. Syracuse is also among the 100 metro areas with the highest share of jobs that could be done from home, at 38%.
20. Cheyenne, Wyoming
Among the metro areas, Cheyenne has the shortest weekly commute to and from work, at two hours and 28 minutes, and the 18th-lowest population density, at 37.1 people per square mile.
19. Ithaca, New York
Ithaca has the seventh-highest total spending per student in elementary and secondary public schools, where the school district in the metro area with the most students enrolled spends ,220 per pupil. The metro area also has the sixth-largest share of residents with a bachelor’s degree or higher, at 51.9%.
18. Wausau, Wisconsin
In Wausau, 77.5% of households spend less than 30% of their income on housing, the fourth-highest share among metro areas, and average housing costs are 9.32 a month.
17. Madison, Wisconsin
In Madison, 42.6% of jobs could be done from home — a higher share than in most metro areas. The pre-coronavirus unemployment rate of 2.6% was lower than the national rate in February.
16. Dubuque, Iowa
In Dubuque, 74.1% of households spend less than 30% of their income on housing, which is more than in most metro areas, and average housing costs are 5.57 a month.
15. Logan, Utah
Logan’s pre-coronavirus unemployment rate was 2%, tied for the second lowest among the metro areas. The weekly commute to and from work is two hours and 57 minutes, tied for the 16th shortest among metro areas.
14. Lincoln, Nebraska
Lincoln’s pre-coronavirus unemployment rate was 2.7%, lower than most metro areas, and 72.3% of households spend less than 30% of their income on housing — it’s among the 100 metro areas with the best housing affordability.
13. Huntsville, Alabama
Huntsville had a pre-coronavirus unemployment rate of 2.2%, tied for the sixth-lowest rate among metro areas, and 41.5% of jobs could be done from home, a higher share than in most metro areas.
12. La Crosse, Wisconsin
In La Crosse, 73.7% of households spend less than 30% of their income on housing, which is higher than in most metro areas. It has the 15th-shortest weekly commute to and from work, at two hours and 56 minutes.
11. Cedar Rapids, Iowa
In Cedar Rapids, 75.9% of households spend less than 30% of their income on housing, the 13th-highest share among metro areas. Its pre-coronavirus unemployment rate was 3%, 0.5 percentage points lower than the national rate in February.
10. Columbia, Missouri
Columbia’s pre-coronavirus unemployment rate was 2.7%, lower than most metro areas, and its weekly commute to and from work is two hours and 58 minutes, the 18th shortest among metro areas.
9. Bismarck, North Dakota
In Bismarck, 76.7% of households spend less than 30% of their income on housing, the ninth-highest share among metro areas. Its pre-coronavirus unemployment rate was 2.4%, the 19th lowest among metro areas.
8. Des Moines, Iowa
Des Moines’ pre-coronavirus unemployment rate was 2.7%, which was lower than in most metro areas. Additionally, 42.7% of jobs could be done from home, the 17th-highest share among metro areas.
7. Rochester, New York
The Rochester metro area school district with the most students enrolled spends a total of ,943 per pupil in elementary and secondary public schools, the second-highest amount among metro areas. And 39.3% of jobs could be done from home, a higher share than in most metro areas.
6. Ames, Iowa
Ames’ pre-coronavirus unemployment rate was 2%, tied for the second lowest among metro areas. Additionally, 50.7% of residents who are at least 25 years old have a bachelor’s degree or higher, the ninth-highest share among metro areas.
5. Champaign, Illinois
Champaign’s pre-coronavirus unemployment rate was 3.2%, which was 0.3 percentage points lower than the national rate in February. The school district with the most students enrolled had the 20th-highest total spending per pupil in elementary and secondary public schools, at ,606 per pupil.
4. Bloomington, Illinois
The share of jobs that could be done from home in Bloomington is 39.4%, and 72.2% of households spend less than 30% of their income on housing; both shares are higher than in most metro areas.
3. Fargo, North Dakota
Fargo’s pre-coronavirus unemployment rate was 2.1%, tied for the fourth lowest among metro areas. The weekly commute to and from work in Fargo is two hours and 52 minutes, tied for the 10th shortest among metro areas.
2. Jefferson City, Missouri
Jefferson City’s cost of living is 18.3% lower than the national average and the fifth lowest among metro areas. And 77.2% of households spend less than 30% of their income on housing, the seventh highest among the metro areas.
1. Springfield, Illinois
Springfield’s pre-coronavirus unemployment rate was 3.5%, equivalent to the national rate, and 42.9% jobs could be done from home, the 16th-highest share among metro areas.
I’ve known for a long time that some men and women really don’t enjoy the holiday season. In recent years I’ve had encounters that really brought home to me how many people there are in this situation, and how deep is their pain.
I’ve been convicted that we – the VA – and we – the community of faith – really should find some way to address this deep, aching need that some of our brothers and sisters feel.
Planning this service brought home to me many reasons why people might suffer during the holidays.
The first one that comes to mind is grief — loss of a loved one or a friend — but it’s not the only reason.
Alienation from family or even geographic distance from them can do it.
Painful memories of events that happened in the holiday season might be a reason.
Some people are experiencing loss of a job or other economic difficulty.
Even good things might make the holidays difficult; think about retirement, empty nest, or moving to a new home.
Any big change that affects a strong part of your self-identity might cause loneliness and feelings of isolation.
Even the loss of what might have been can be so painful.
I’m supposed to say something helpful, here, but I don’t want to offer quick fixes or simple tips; What brings healing is going to be distinctive for each person. Still, there are some principles that can help many.
Chaplain Jonathan Landon.
We may suppress our painful feelings, because we don’t want to burden others, but giving ourselves freedom to acknowledge the pain may be helpful by itself. Concealing those feelings can leave us feeling lonelier, and leaves those who care about us helpless to comfort us. So if you need to cry, then cry. And if you need to be hugged, say that, and let your family members and friends reach out to you and meet your need.
I can’t be so presumptuous as to guarantee it, but if you acknowledge your pain, and people offer space to let it out, and make that giving of mutual support into a time for bonding, maybe you can let the pressure off a little bit. Maybe you can relieve the tension of those who care about you, who are trying to avoid stirring up painful feelings. Then you may just find that there’s some room for laughter, smiles, and enjoyment.
You see, what most of us really need is not the quick fix or the simple solution; it’s caring relationships. One of the key themes of the time leading up to Christmas is the prophecy that foretold the coming of Jesus, giving him the name or title of “Emmanuel”, which means, “God with us.” This Word teaches me that I am never alone in any loss or pain, no matter what my emotions may tell me.
But the message is not only about God being with us; we have the opportunity to show the presence of God to others, by living God’s love in truth and caring for them. Some people came here today because they’re struggling with the holidays. Some people came here because they care about who is struggling with the holidays. Some care because of their faith. Some of them just care because they see a human in pain and they don’t want anyone to suffer alone.
Don’t forget: in the midst of your own pain, you have opportunities to come alongside of others — to be with them, as God is with us.
In this fairly recent tradition, the Blue Christmas service usually happens on or close to the 21st of December, the night of the winter solstice, the longest and darkest night of the year.
It’s an appropriate symbol for a time when many people feel alone, lost and in pain. But that’s not the only meaning of the night of the 21st. Because what happens at sunrise on the morning of the 22nd?
The days begin to get longer. At first, it’s by tiny increments and you hardly notice it, and then it grows faster and faster and you can’t miss it. It’s inevitable. The light returns. That, too is part of the symbolism of this night and this service. The light returns. No matter how long the night will be — or has been — the light returns.
Chaplain Jonathan Landon is the chaplain at the Eugene VA Health Care Center.
If there’s anything the United States Marine Corps is known for (aside from striking fear into the hearts of America’s enemies), it’s teaching young Americans how to be leaders. The mission of the Marine Corps is simple: make Marines and win battles. But to find success in the latter, someone has to teach Marines how to lead other Marines into combat. That’s exactly why a big part of boot camp is instilling the idea that every Marine is a leader in their own way.
Granted, not everyone who serves in the Marines becomes a good leader — those rare even among those who enjoy a long, illustrious career — but everyone learns leadership skills. If you move into a leadership position over the course of your service, you’ll likely learn these lessons:
Take the lead.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Tommy Bellegarde)
Lead by example
A big part of leadership is giving your subordinates confidence in your ability to lead. Unsurprisingly, one of the best way to do that is by doing the things you ask someone else to do. Show your subordinates that you understand their position and you’re willing to jump in to help.
You should also be good at communicating those decisions.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Tommy Bellegarde)
There’s a quote from Band of Brothers that spells this one out plainly,
“Lieutenant Dike wasn’t a bad leader because he made bad decisions, he was a bad leader because he made no decisions.”
As a leader, you have to make decisions and you cannot hesitate.
You should also be willing to talk sh*t to other squads — look at that grin.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Emmanuel Ramos)
If you want your subordinates to believe in you, the first step is believing in yourself. No one wants to follow a leader that’s constantly second-guessing themselves. But it’s essential that you never forget how to stay humble.
Know the guys watching your back.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Austin Long)
Know your Marines
How are you going to help out your subordinates if you don’t know what they need? Get to know your subordinates well so you can better keep track of their morale. Keeping the morale of your men high is good for everyone… except the enemy.
Plan to the best of your ability.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. David Weikle)
Understand the potential risk
Don’t needlessly put people under your charge in bad situations just because the potential reward is great — and always remember what you’re risking. Before you plan to do something, make sure you understand what you’re about to get into.
Slosh, plop, slosh, plop. The noise my boots made with every step seemed deafening. 20 or so Iraqi Special Forces soldiers and I were doing our best to be sneaky on our way to the target building, but it was the wet season, so Iraq’s infamous moon dust had already made the transition to sticky tar-like mud.
Slosh, plop, slosh, plop. Our boots, caked in mud at this point, were getting worse with every step. We might as well have been a middle school orchestra doing sound checks.
Before we got too close to our target house, I needed to remind the commander of the platoon I was advising about a key point we neglected on our last mission. “Remember, get one ladder up and clear the courtyard before the other ladder goes up and everyone starts jumping over the wall,” I whispered in my best broken Iraqi Arabic. I had to simultaneously motion with my hands to mimic a wall, a house, and a ladder. I wasn’t sure what was more confusing, my Arabic or the goofy hand gestures.
Luckily, the commander was used to whatever an American trying to speak in his native tongue sounded like, so he nodded in the affirmative, which could mean “yup, got it” or “whatever, dude.” I guess we’ll see in a few minutes, I thought to myself. Fortunately, it only took seconds.
“Fuck’n Yalla!” he said with a huge grin, blasting me with his ashtray breath. Guess we’re good then.
Our not-so-sneaky infil became a comically loud trot of mud-caked boots as we closed in on the target house. The Iraqi Special Forces soldiers stacked up on the wall outside the house, and the commander was directing traffic. The first ladder went up and a soldier climbed up and deliberately swept the courtyard with his rifle before stopping at the door into the house.
With security posted, another ladder was placed against the wall. The other soldiers began silently scaling the wall, entering the courtyard, and stacking on the house in preparation for breaching the door.
The third Iraqi in the stack emerged with a mini batting ram, cocked it back, and slammed it into the door. A sharp metallic clash rang out as the door flew inward and the soldiers flowed into the house.
Up to this point, the Iraqis had been as silent as possible and relied only on streetlights to see, but now that the front door had been violently breached, the gig was up. They flicked on their “white lights” — the tactical flashlights they attached to their AK47s to illuminate rooms they were clearing — and started shouting commands to each other and whoever was inside as they methodically moved from room to room. Speed, surprise, and violence of action. Check, check, check.
I watched as their lights reached the second floor, and then my radio crackled to life. “Joe, wrap it up. It’s fucking turkey time!”
Shit, that’s right, I thought. It’s hard to track holidays with the constant grind of combat operations and training. I walked into the training compound that the Iraqis had just assaulted and found their commander. “Hey brother, great job on the ladder — big improvement from last time,” I said. “That’s it for tonight, we are on standby for ops this week.”
He nodded, gave me a fist bump, and motioned for his soldiers to exit the house.
They didn’t need to be convinced. They slung their weapons, lit cigarettes, and joked and exchanged slaps on the back just like soldiers have since man first formed armies. The life-or-death business of war is too important to take too seriously.
I wished them “Tisballahhair,” or “good evening,” as I began my muddy slog back to the team house. The cool breeze coming off the Tigris River filtered through the rain-soaked palm trees, bringing with it a pleasant jasmine scent. During my first winter in Iraq, I was amazed that the smell of the city in the late fall and winter was so refreshing. But off in the distance, I could still hear the occasional bursts of gunfire and explosions mixed with the echoes of a call to prayer and horn blasts. Such was life in Iraq in 2004.
The life-or-death business of war is too important to take too seriously.
Even though I was far from home on Thanksgiving, I was living my childhood dream. I was a 24-year-old U.S. Army Green Beret on my second combat deployment living in the middle of Baghdad with my Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) training the Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF) and advising them on actual combat operations — which included everything from tracking down bad guys to conducting raids to kill or capture them.
And there was no shortage of work to go around. We were located in northern Baghdad on the western bank of the Tigris, caught between the Shia enclave of Kadhimiya and the Sunni stronghold of Adimiyah. That put us right in the middle of the action, which is exactly where a modern Green Beret wants to be.
Our Saddam Hussein-era military barracks were within a combat outpost secured by a company of the U.S. Army’s 2nd Cavalry Division. Before the invasion, our home away from home was one of Hussein’s most feared prisons, run by his dreaded secret police. When we moved in, several of the Iraqis had horrific stories about being tortured there, and some even refused to work there. The Iraqi commander eventually brought in a local religious leader to bless the barracks and ensure no evil spirit lingered in the erie corridors of our compound.
As was the case everywhere that early in the war, our living conditions were spartan, but we made the best of it. Our team house was a simple one-story concrete building fortified with sand bags over the windows and on the roof. We had a makeshift porch with a large grill that was glowing with charcoal and wafting smoke tinged with the sweet smell of bacon. Take that, jihad, I thought as I kicked my boots against the wall of the house in an effort to knock the mud off.
I opened the door and rounded the corner into our living room and kitchen area, where the smell of turkey and stuffing overpowered the scents of Copenhagen, gun oil, and coffee that normally permeated the house.
“What’s up, man? How’d the house go?” asked Matt, our Special Forces medic. Like most SF medics, Matt had a reassuring calm and sharp intellect that made him an asset on any mission. But what made him unique was that he could have been a stand-up comedian if he ever decided to hang up his green beret. At least once a day he had me laughing so hard it hurt — most recently performing a hilarious parody of Al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi’s manifesto.
“It went well — hopefully we fixed our wall issue,” I replied.
“Inshallah habibi — grab a plate of chow!” Matt said, gesturing to our kitchen table, where Thanksgiving dinner was waiting. I happily obliged.
“Joe, your jundis are having ladder issues? That’s weird” The sarcastic comment came from Stu, our team’s intelligence sergeant.
I knew that was coming. Stu had been on the team for several years and was part of 5th Group’s legendary initial push into Afghanistan in 2001. He was built like a linebacker and always plotting a prank. ODAs are tight, which means you never live down your screw ups; all you can do is smile and hope your skin gets thick — fast. A few of the other guys laughed. So did I. Here we go…
“Wait, what happened?” asked Jeremy, our communications sergeant. Jeremy had been on the team for years but missed our last trip due to a broken neck he sustained during training. He was a good ol’ boy from Missouri and sounded like Boomhauer from “King of the Hill,” so naturally the Army gave him the job that required him to talk on the radio.
“Oh shit, that’s right, we have to tell you this one!” Matt replied. Well, at least Matt would make the story funny, I thought as I scooped some cranberry sauce onto my turkey.
“Dude, so no shit there we were,” Matt said, opening with the proper war story preamble, “assaulting a huge-ass compound out west — some deck-of-cards clown’s house, which was awesome. The mission had everything: helo infil with fast ropes to the roof, a wall breech, the door gunners even lit up a guard tower. Pretty awesome op.” Matt was now standing to make more room to add animation with his hands.
“It was going great until we were trying to get over this big-ass wall with these shitty ladders, and Joe, loaded with way too much bullshit, breaks a rung on the ladder, gets mad, throws the ladder to the side and tries to ninja climb over the 8-foot wall. He gets caught by his kit on the wall, so I get under him and push his ass over the wall like combat Winnie the Pooh!” Matt explained, reenacting my finest hour.
“Well, that’s a technique,” Jermey said with his normal deadpan wit. Everyone got a good laugh. All I could do was finish fixing my plate and find a place to sit. Gary, our engineer, was my best bet.
Gary was a wiry backwoods Southerner, and we went to Special Forces Selection and the Special Forces Qualification Course together. He had just earned a valor award for his calm under enemy fire during a raid in Samara, but you wouldn’t peg him as a Green Beret — or the guy who would remain calm while getting shot at for that matter.
“We eating or waiting for Mom and Dad?” Gary asked as he spit Copenhagen into one of the ever-present dip bottles that lined our house floor. “Mom and Dad” were Mike, our senior noncommissioned officer, or more simply known as the team sergeant; and Trevor, our team leader and only commissioned officer. Neither was Mom or Dad specifically, but together they were a couple.
“Hey, come eat!” Stu yelled into the office that adjoined our living room where Mike and Trevor would send reports back to our headquarters. These were definitely the good old days of limited connectivity and little to no micromanagement from higher headquarters. Sure, we still checked in over the radio with them daily, but it was mostly asking for forgiveness and not permission. Unfortunately, that dynamic has been replaced by nearly nonstop emails, messenger chatting, and teleconferences from every nook and cranny of today’s battlefield.
Our leadership duo emerged from the back office, Mike in the lead. He grew up in the infantry and had seen combat in the first Gulf War, Kosovo, the initial push into Afghanistan, and was on his second Iraq deployment. He was the most experienced guy on the team, an aggressive leader, and gave us a ton of space to succeed.
Trevor was Mike’s commissioned counterpart, a humble officer who had every reason not to be: he was a West Point graduate who knocked out all of the Army’s hardest training by the time he was a captain. He also had the ability to understand every detail of what we were doing and how it tied into the big picture.
“Happy Thanksgiving three-five … again,” Mike said as he piled turkey onto his plate and sat down at our gaudy wood and fake-gold kitchen table. Trevor grabbed a plate last and sat next to Mike, our team now almost complete.
“Intel update!” Josh said as he entered the room and took a seat with his plate of turkey, stuffing, and jelly-looking cranberry sauce. Josh had also been in SF for several years and was now running the Iraqi recon element that collected intel for our Iraqi Special Forces companies to action.
It was normal for meals to be interrupted by intel updates, and Thanksgiving was no exception, so all eyes were on Josh. It had been a hell of a trip so far, with summer fighting in Najaf against Sadr’s boys, chasing Zarqawi and his hostages on every backstreet of Baghdad, another away game in Samara, followed by Operation Phantom Fury in Fallujah. The more information we could get, the better — you never knew when the next shithead would pop up for a round of whack-a-mole.
But today would not be one of those days.
“No ops tonight — beer light’s on, nerds,” Josh said, as he pulled a green 22-ounce Tuborg “tall boy” out of his cargo pocket. “Right, Mike?” he asked, with a smart-ass grin, deferring to our senior NCO for the official approval.
“I did say, happy Thanksgiving …” Mike said, motioning for Josh to pass him a beer.
Josh was more than happy to oblige. He cracked open our refrigerator and passed around a combination of Tuborg, Hienekens, and Efes tall boys, graciously provided by our Iraqi Christian friends. They didn’t mess around when it came to beer. “It’s like they know no one in Iraq wants just a pint of beer,” Josh said. “The tall boy is their standard.”
But just like any other Thanksgiving, you always seemed to be waiting on the weird uncle to show up.
“Where is Seaux?” Mike asked suspiciously. Seaux, named after the famous Johnny Cash song, may be the origin of the phrase “stranger than fiction.” If he’s not, he definitely lived up to it. Seaux had fought in Grenada with the 82nd Airborne, then joined the French Foreigin Legion, but eventually found his way back into the U.S. Army and had served in every war the U.S. had been in from Mogadishu to Iraq. It probably comes as no surprise that Seaux loved going native and spent most of his time with a few Iraqis doing recon work.
“I’m coming — don’t you flatlanders know I eat dinner at 4PM sharp?” Seaux grumbled from his room. “No respect for seniors.”
When Seaux hung out with us, he did so either dressed as a viking or as a native American, complete with a bow and arrow he used to shoot flaming arrows across the Tigris. Like I said, stranger than fiction.
Before long, he emerged from his room and caught the beer that Josh tossed to him.
But just like any other Thanksgiving, you always seemed to be waiting on the weird uncle to show up.
“Cheers, fuckers!” Stu said, as he made a toasting motion. The rest of the team unceremoniously made the motion in return, cracked their beers, took a sip, and dug into their dinner. We may not have been home for Thanksgiving, but in our line of work, sitting down as a team — a family — for turkey that day seemed more like home in some ways than what we would have had back in the States.
“We’re lucky this year,” Trevor said with a grin. “The B Team busted their asses to get every ODA a turkey. Worked out well for everyone but Two-Three …” ODA 523 was just across the river from us, and we often supported each other on missions and shared intel a few times a week.
“Do tell, sir,” Jeremy said.
“Well, they drove one of their Mercedes to pick up their turkey in the Green Zone, and when they were coming back in to their base, I guess the kid on guard didn’t know it was them and lit up their car with his machine gun!” Trevor explained.
Everyone paused; there’s nothing friendly about friendly fire.
For the first couple of years of the war in Iraq, Special Forces ODAs in major Iraqi cities acquired local cars to drive around town so that they could conduct reconnaissance and low-profile assaults. That technique was a double-edged sword though. It worked great in that we could avoid contact with the enemy until we wanted to make it and got a great feel for Iraq at the street level. However, the most dangerous part of these operations was the re-entry to friendly lines. The guys guarding the gate were usually very young soldiers and were used to seeing military vehicles. Suffice it to say, that at two years into the war, all of us had stared down the barrel of U.S. weapons with our hands up screaming “I AM AN AMERICAN!” a few times.
“Somehow, no one got hurt, the kid on the gun lit up the engine block,” Trevor continued. “Marty and Lee bailed out, and the car caught on fire and ruined their turkey!” All of us laughed at the cartoonish mental image of our buddies dodging some private’s hail of machine gun fire and their turkey getting cooked early. Like many things in war, the closest of calls would usually end up as a fun story to laugh about later. And sometimes … they didn’t.
“Yeah, man. Better than last year when we got tossed out of the big Army chow hall because POTUS was coming and we looked like pirates,” Josh said with a laugh. He was referring to our last deployment when a high-strung mess officer rudely told us we couldn’t eat Thanksgiving dinner unless we were in uniform. We wanted to eat, but not that bad.
What we didn’t know at the time was that President George W. Bush was coming to eat with the troops at the chow hall we were trying to get into. In hindsight, it made sense why hooligans like us were turned away. There are plenty of perks that come with wearing the green beret, but sometimes it can work against you.
Looking around our makeshift living and dining room, I felt very grateful to be sitting there with my brothers. This was our second Thanksgiving together in combat; we didn’t know it at the time, but we’d be doing the same drill the next year on the Syrian border.
The mood would be far more somber for that dinner. Our luck would run out by then, and we would have lost two teammates by the time we sat down for turkey again. Sergeant First Class Brett E. Walden and Army Sergeant First Class Robert V. Derenda paid the ultimate sacrifice, and their families are in my thoughts this Thanksgiving.
In retrospect, I guess we were all just getting warmed up. Most of us cracking beers in our Baghdad team house in 2004 would spend more Thanksgivings with teammates in combat zones over the next 14 years than with our actual families. Holidays spent in makeshift living spaces, living feet away from each other and always in-between intense combat operations, would become normal for all of us — and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Even then, I knew the bonds I forged with those men in that room would last for the rest of my life. After our third combat deployment, most of us had to move on to other assignments. All of us stayed in the fight and made efforts to stay in touch though. Josh and I forged a tight bond in Baghdad that remained long afterward. In fact, when I married my warrior soulmate, Shannon — a special operator herself — she insisted that Josh and his son be at every Thanksgiving and Christmas we shared as a family.
But what I didn’t know was how all of them would be there for me 14 years later, during the darkest hour on the worst day of my life … the day I found out my wife, Senior Chief Petty Officer Shannon Kent, was killed in action while hunting ISIS in Syria alongside three other courageous Americans: Scotty Wirtz, a former U.S. Navy SEAL; Ghadir Thahir, a Syrian-American linguist; and Jon Farmer, a Green Beret Warrant Officer, from the 5th Special Forces Group — my old group. I had not seen most of my brothers from Three-Five in more than 10 years, but it didn’t matter. They were there for me, they cried with me, and they are still there for me and my sons to this day.
Unlike that Thanksgiving next to the Tigris in 2004, cracking jokes and telling stories over a modest turkey dinner, this Thanksgiving is going to suck. I can’t believe it has been almost a year since I last saw my wife in person. But what I am beyond thankful for is my sons, the short time I had with Shannon, and the love of my teammates. The bonds formed in the horrors of combat are lasting and unbreakable.
Take the time this Thanksgiving to reach out to your brothers and sisters in arms — talk about the good times and work through the bad. Be there for each other because you never know when you’ll need them the most.
Four crashed aircrew members scatter into knee-high desert brush searching for a spot to blend-in with the environment. There’s nothing but a dying, desolate landscape as far as the eye can see. And yet, they need to disappear. These aircrew are being hunted.
Rustling through the brush downwind of the pilots is a man and his dog.
The duo presses on with the hunt, despite being at a disadvantage. The dog puts his nose to the air and takes in short, quick breaths, but an unrelenting mist keeps the aircrew’s scents from being carried by the wind. They traverse miles of mud and brush, stopping every-so-often to stare out into the seemingly endless tan and brown canvas laid out before them.
No matter how this ordeal ends, both sides will be better for it.
Staff Sgt. Antonio Padilla, 336th Security Forces Squadron military working dog trainer, and Alf, 366th SFS military working dog, acting as opposition forces, hunt down pilots to enhance the combat readiness of both parties during a search and rescue operation as part of a Gunfighter Flag exercise at Saylor Creek Range Complex, Idaho.
Staff Sgt. Antonio Padilla, 366th Security Forces Squadron military working dog trainer, gives Alf, 366th SFS military working dog, a water break while acting as opposition forces to hunt down “crashed” pilots during a combat search and rescue exercise April 2, 2019, at Saylor Creek Range near Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman First Class Andrew Kobialka)
Gunfighter Flag concentrates on preparing airmen to be ready to overcome obstacles that may appear in a deployed environment. Padilla plays a unique role in that preparation.
“When we are at the range, scouting for pilots, we are not only testing the survival skills of our pilots, but also honing the capabilities and teamwork between MWDs and their trainers,” Padilla said.
To effectively enhance readiness this training has to be exactly like the real deal.
“Finding a way to simulate stress is important,” said Staff Sgt. David H. Chorpening, 366th Operation Support Squadron noncommissioned officer in charge of survival, evasion, resistance, escape operations.
Screams riddled with anguish and anxiety filled the air as each aircrew member suffered a bite from Alf.
U.S. Air Force Alf, 366th Security Forces Squadron military working dog, acts as opposition forces and hunts down “crashed” pilots during a combat search and rescue exercise April 2, 2019 at Saylor Creek Range near Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman First Class Andrew Kobialka)
The aircrew was protected by a bite-suit, but the stress they experienced was almost tangible, and not easily forgotten.
Incorporating stress into these scenarios helps ingrain the survival process and procedures into the minds of airmen to ensure they will be able to act on it in the field, Chorpening said.
Padilla and Alf bring a dose of stressful realism to the exercise through Alf’s vicious bite and undying loyalty that, consequently, often inflicts fear into whoever they pursue.
However, to be frightening is one thing, to be ready for deployment is another. That requires MWDs to be well-trained, obedient and skilled. Developing that in a MWD, like Alf, takes time and dedicated trainers.
Padilla said that there is a process of building rapport with new dogs, solidifying their commands, and exposing them to realistic situations like bite-work and detection that has to take place before they are cleared for deployment.
Ultimately, MWDs are tested in exercises like scouting for aircrew members in a vast environment with endless hiding places. This serves as a great preparation tool for MWDs and their trainers.
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Antonio Padilla, 366th Security Forces Squadron military working dog trainer, and Alf, 366th SFS military working dog, act as opposition forces and hunt down “crashed” pilots during a combat search and rescue exercise April 2, 2019 at Saylor Creek Range near Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman First Class Andrew Kobialka)
As an MWD and its trainer work together, they understand each other better and are able to work cohesively, Padilla said. “On a scout, the dog leads the way, but we are a team,” Padilla said. “Alf’s senses are a lot better than a human’s. Alf will often see, hear or smell a potential target before I do. Then I am able to decipher whether or not it is what we are looking for or if we should move on.”
It is a rigorous journey to become a MWD but in the end they are able to save lives in real-world situations and through readiness exercises like Gunfighter Flag.
“This training is so beneficial for trainers and their dogs to gain the experience of realistic training,” Padilla said. “What is even better is the dualistic nature of the exercise that enables pilots to improve their survival and evasion tactics simultaneously.”
The search and rescue exercise at Saylor Creek Range Complex may be a single piece of Gunfighter Flag, but is vital nonetheless because of the life saving potential it holds. Padilla and Alf continue to diligently work towards enhancing the readiness of themselves and the aircrew they hunt.
American aircraft carriers are kings of the ocean. They come loaded with dozens of lethal warplanes, ready to take off from “4.5 acres of sovereign soil” and send missiles into enemy jets while dropping bombs on enemy troops and infrastructure.
U.S. carriers often operate independently of one another, typically sailing within their own strike groups even when operating against the same targets. But the Navy does have another option: combining the carrier strike groups into a single entity with 9 acres of sovereign soil bearing down on hostile forces.
Here’s what that looks like:
An F/A-18E Super Hornet, from the “Eagles” of Strike Fighter Squadron 115, launches from the flight deck of the USS Ronald Reagan during dual-carrier operations in 2017.
(U.S. Navy Mass Communications Specialist 2nd Class Kenneth Abbate)
Carrier air wings have 60 or more aircraft, and, when two carriers show up, they bring both of their wings for a combined total of between 100 and 150 aircraft. For Carrier Air Wings 1 and 7, the air wings assigned to the USS Harry S. Truman and the USS Abraham Lincoln, which took part in an exercise in August, this includes nine squadrons of F/A-18 Super Hornets. These fighters can kill most anything on the ground or in the sky, though they aren’t stealthy like the coming F-35C Thunder II.
Each squadron has 10-12 of the Super Hornets, equipped with 20mm cannons, AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles, AIM-7 Sparrows, AIM-120 AMRAAMs, Harpoons, HARM, SLAMs, Maverick missiles, Joint Stand-Off Weapons, Joint Direct Attack Munitions, and Paveway Laser-Guided bombs.
If you got lost in that extended list of deadly weapons, just know that the Super Hornets can carry a large variety of missiles and bombs with warheads or payloads ranging from a couple pounds of high explosives to a few thousands pounds (one of those bombs even made our list of weapons that could bring down a Star Wars AT-AT Walker).
A combined formation with planes from six squadrons and two carriers flies past the USS Ronald Reagan during a dual-carrier operation in 2016.
(U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jacob Lerner)
So, if two carriers with nine squadrons of Super Hornets, each with 10-12 aircraft show up, the enemy is facing about 100 highly armed aircraft—but those aircraft and pilots are highly vulnerable to enemy air defenses since they lack real stealth capability.
So, how is the Navy going to kick in your door? By crippling your air defenses and shooting down your fighters, of course.
Those HARM missiles mentioned above? Those are high-speed, anti-radiation missiles. When the Super Hornet finds an enemy air defense site, they can fire the missile towards the enemy radar, and the missile actually follows the radar back to the source, eliminating the enemy radar dish.
An E-2C Hawkeye from the “Liberty Bells” of Airborne Early Warning Squadron 115 transits the flight deck of the USS Ronald Reagan. The Nimitz-class Aircraft carriers USS John C. Stennis and USS Ronald Reagan conducted dual aircraft carrier strike group operations in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations.
(U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Matthew Riggs)
That knocks out the “eyes” of the enemy, but it’s not like enemy fighter pilots are gonna sit around drinking tea and discussing how rude the Americans are for destroying their radar dishes — they’re gonna go try to kill ’em.
And that’s why the Navy doesn’t send only fighters up during a big fight. They’re accompanied by E-2D Hawkeyes, airborne early warning aircraft that are basically flying radar dishes, feeding target and threat information to all the fighters it’s linked to.
This gives a huge advantage to the American fighters it supports in the form of a greater view of the battlefield, allowing the airborne commander to better direct the fighters’ efforts. It helps guarantee that the American jets are always at the decisive engagement, tipping the scales in their own favor. With two carriers and two air wings, this will be especially important as literally hundreds of fighters could be fighting at once.
The Nimitz-class Aircraft carriers USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) and USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) conduct dual aircraft carrier strike group operations in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations.
(Photo: U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Nathan Burke)
Door, meet kick.
So, if the Navy is called upon to break into enemy airspace, and they successfully do it with the dual-carrier setup they practiced this summer, what happens next? With the enemy air defenses weakened, any number of follow-on operations are easier.
For instance, a Marine Expeditionary Force can much more easily take the beaches when friendly Harriers and Super Hornets are the only jets in the sky. Friendly jets and helicopters can take out beach defenses and ferry troops from ship to shore with minimal to no losses.
Chief Naval Aircrewman Joel James, assigned to the “Dragon Slayers” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 11, observes from an MH-60S Seahawk helicopter as ships assigned to the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group and the Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group transit the sea in formation while conducting dual-carrier sustainment operations.
(U.S. Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Thomas Gooley)
Marines under fire can call for help and, with two carriers in the area and minimal air defenses left, be basically guaranteed to receive it.
Meanwhile, if American pilots or aircrews had been shot down during the doorkick, MH-60 helicopters can swoop in to recover them quickly because it would have two carriers worth of jets to protect them.
If the enemy tries to use submarines to sink the carriers, there are two sea combat squadrons and two maritime strike squadrons as well as multiple American attack submarines available to hunt down the undersea threat. Anti-ship ballistic missiles face additional Aegis destroyers to get to the U.S. assets.
So, yeah, a dual-carrier strike group brings a lot of firepower and capability, so why doesn’t the Navy do it more often, in exercises and in combat?
Well, it’s crazy overkill for a lot of operations. The Navy only has 11 carriers, and some of those are in drydock or other service at any time. So, giving up over 20 percent of the deployed carrier fleet for a single operation would only happen in the case of a large, decisive operation. The Navy likely sent the Lincoln and Truman to practice, just in case.
If there were a war with China or Russia, there would be a good reason to combine two carrier strike groups. With hundreds of enemy jets likely to take to the air against the U.S., the Super Hornets would need at least a few squadrons in the air to have a chance. That would take multiple carriers to maintain, and it’s more easier to defend one pair of carriers than two separate ones.
At the end of the day, for freedom of navigation missions, humanitarian relief, and reassuring allies, one carrier easily gets the job done. But, if there is a two-carrier, three-carrier, or even larger fight, the Navy is prepared.
Enlisted people always talk about their officers. Every officer is constantly scrutinized by their subordinates — from how they talk to how they present themselves to how well they lead. This is, generally, a good thing but, sometimes, it can go bad. Many enlisted feel as though there’s a huge disconnect between themselves and the officers residing somewhere up the chain of command. But there is an important buffer between them: the non-commissioned officer, or NCO.
The NCO is the go-between for the two groups, especially non-rates (E-3 and below). If we take the name by its literal meaning, then every E-4 and above is, technically, an NCO because the President of the United States has not commissioned them.
To be ‘commissioned’ means the officer received his status from the President himself. To even be a candidate for officership, you must have at least a bachelor’s degree — unless you’ve received a battlefield commission, which is rare (this exception has only been used a handful of times).
Why is there such an emphasis on education? Officers handle a lot of advanced roles and “bigger picture” planning, among other things. This makes a foundation in education extremely important.
Enlisted, conversely, can join the military straight from high school using a diploma or a GED. Being commissioned as an officer gives young, new lieutenants a degree of status over a young, new airmen, privates, or seamen — but not the NCO. NCOs have years of service and have developed a focused, on-the-job expertise in their field. More than that, however, they know their people, the junior ranks who will be doing the bulk of the tactical work on the ground. In truth, a good NCO is an invaluable asset to any an officer.
Once upon a time, having a bachelor’s degree created a concrete distinction between enlisted and officers. Now, however, times have changed and many people come to the military with post-secondary education. This leads some enlisted to believe the commissioned-enlisted divide is a sham — or, in extreme cases, enlisted use this as an argument against authority. Regardless of how many degrees are among the ranks, higher education is an essential element to becoming an officer in any branch — it just won’t earn you any automatic respect from enlisted, so don’t lean on it.
When it comes to command, officers command other commissioned officers of lesser rank. The NCO cannot command a commissioned officer unless that officer is under the care of the NCO for training, such as at The Basic School of the U.S. Marines Corps.
While some NCOs question whether an officer corps is necessary, there has always been a divide between enlisted and officers, and there will always be. The reason for this is simple: there may be a time where an officer has to send one of his men into the jaws of death. They can’t be shy about doing it when the situation calls.
But trust is important. NCOs grow as leaders, both in age and time in service. They learn tactical control of the battlefield, and they know when an officer looks at the enlisted as a way to climb the political ladder, or worse: as cannon fodder.
The officers outrank the NCOs: They make more money and they get more fringe benefits. But the NCO is the true backbone of the military, carrying out the officer’s orders in the most efficient way possible. The two need each other and that’s what makes a military operation so effective.
Humans are superstitious. We tend to come up with all kinds of ways to justify certain things we don’t fully understand. That same quality definitely has a home in military service. While some of these may seem ridiculous at first glance, there’s usually some kind of explanation underneath.
The Navy is easily the most superstitious of the branches — since their origins are tied to a history of life at sea, both military-related and otherwise, where imaginations ran wild after spending many months adrift. But, as a whole, the military has a wide array of superstitions that, when you take a closer look, are actually pretty creepy.
You don’t want one of these bad boys to drift right over a cliff.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Daniel Yarnall)
Don’t carry a white lighter… Ever.
This is a superstition held by a huge number of people, mostly because of the notorious “27 Club” — a club made up of famous musicians and artists (like Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, and others) that died at the age of 27 while carrying, you guessed it, a white lighter.
In the military, however, this superstition was given legs by a bad experience with an Amphibious Assault Vehicle. Rumor has it, the vehicle lost its brakes and went off a 100-foot cliff while one Marine carried a white lighter and another had a damn horseshoe. That horseshoe might have been good luck, but the lighter’s bad mojo was enough to disrupt the balance.
King Neptune doesn’t want to hear your sh*t.
(U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate Airman Andrew Betting)
Neptune doesn’t like whistling
It’s a long-held belief in many cultures that whistling, especially at night, is an invitation to the spirits. There’s a home for this superstition in maritime tradition, too. Instead of spirits, however, the idea is that whistling will summon bad weather as it angers the King of the Sea.
So, if you find yourself on ship and you get the urge to whistle — don’t. Neptune seriously hates it.
When you hear the enemy eating apricots.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo)
A Stars Stripes article from 1968 explains a story surrounding Marines at Cua Viet who continuously found themselves under attack by enemy artillery barrages. What they started to notice, however, was that these barrages would start almost immediately after a Marine ate a can of apricots from their C-Rations.
Coincidence? You be the judge.
Maybe the “grandma’s couch” pattern wasn’t the best camouflage idea.
This superstition comes from the U.S. Army. If you look closely, you’ll see a pretty distinct key-shaped blotch within modern camouflage patterns. In what may be coincidence, several soldier took bullets right in the keys. It could just be that — coincidence — or it could be a deeper, like a spiritual omen.
Just don’t do it. Please.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Pfc. Nello Miele.)
Saying the “R” word
You know the word. “Rain.”
Marines, soldiers, and anyone who has a job in the military that requires going outside believe that using the term will change the weather from anything to pouring rain. Infantry Marines will tell you that a bright and sunny day changes almost instantly when someone utters this word.
What’s worse is that it won’t stop until you head back to the barracks.
One of the benefits of being in the military is that the services place a great value on training and education. Throughout a 20-year military career, service members will have the opportunity to attend schools ranging from learning how to jump out of planes all the way to how to use Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. If we could offer one critique, it is that we don’t have more opportunities to learn across the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard.
Recently, I was able to jump the divide and learn from a Navy pilot. I grabbed a new book by Guy “Bus” Snodgrass about his unique experience as an instructor at one of the most premier schools in the military: TOPGUN School. The book, titled TOPGUN’s Top 10: Leadership Lessons from the Cockpit, is part memoir, part leadership book and an extremely quick read at less than 200 pages. Bus recounts how the lessons he learned as a pilot at TOPGUN helped him throughout his military career, and I also found them worthy of application in my line of work in the Army.
We had the opportunity to catch up to Bus and talk to him about his book and about the important role writing and reading played in his military career.
WATM: TOPGUN’s Top 10 is packed full of valuable and insightful lessons. When you were going through the course and later instructing, did you realize that you were learning these leadership skills or did the realization come after the fact?
Bus: I’ll give you the quintessential TOPGUN response: It depends.
Some lessons, like, “Nothing Worthwhile Is Ever Easy,” and, “Focus on Talent, Passion and Personality,” were apparent while I was serving as a TOPGUN Instructor. Others, like, “Don’t Confuse Activity with Progress” and, “Never Wait to Make a Difference,” started at TOPGUN but also benefit from experiences serving alongside Secretary of Defense James Mattis and other senior leaders.
To be honest, the seeds for each of these lessons were planted back in high school because of terrific mentors from my church, community, and Scouting.
WATM: In the book, you make the point that the world is full of noise (social media, news media, things in life that don’t matter). How did Top Gun teach you to focus and what role has focus played in your professional career?
Bus: We call this “compartmentalization” in the aviation community — the ability to push aside distractors and focus solely on the task at hand. As I share in the chapter titled, “Stay Calm Under Pressure,” the ability to prioritize and sort fact from fiction is a critical trait, one that saved my life on a number of occasions.
TOPGUN accomplishes this feat by focusing on an awareness regarding the harm caused by distractions. You never have enough time in any given day to accomplish all that is asked of you. You’re flying high-performance fighter jets to the very edge of your capabilities. Like stoicism, you have to learn to master yourself before you can master the events around you.
WATM: Out of all the lessons you learned at TOPGUN, which one was the most valuable to you? And now that you are out of the military, has that one changed?
Bus: “Never Wait to Make a Difference” remains my favorite lesson. We can all accomplish some absolutely incredible results, many on a level well above our pay grade or position in an organization, if we commit to making a positive difference each and every day.
I’d say this lesson is first among equals… and remains so to this day.
WATM: I know you’re an avid reader and have published articles throughout your military career, did those two practices give you a competitive advantage in your military career?
Bus: Yes, I believe so, especially if you desire to make an outsized impact to your organization. A significant number of leaders who rise to senior levels of responsibility have embraced authorship: Gen. H.R. McMaster, Secretary James Mattis, service chiefs, senior enlisted, and many more.
Writing forces you to prioritize and align your thoughts, which also helps you to better understand what you care about and stand for. Publishing, whether in a professional journal or to a wider audience, significantly increases your chances of influencing others. Publishing also teaches us to become comfortable with being uncomfortable. It’s no small task to put your thoughts into the public domain but like any muscle, the more you use it, the easier the exercise becomes.
WATM: Since we’re talking about reading, what book or books have been the most influential to you as a leader?
Bus: Each book can be paired with a situation or an experience in our life.
In high school, I really enjoyed Stephen King, Tom Clancy and Isaac Asimov — large chapter books that engaged my interest and imagination. As I started college, I really enjoyed reading biographies about senior political and military leaders, people faced with tough choices and limited resources. Then, as I gained seniority in uniform, I began to read more “ancient” history.
Reading is the least expensive form of learning. It opens doors into worlds we might never experience ourselves, teaches us lessons paid for by others, and generates increasingly complex ideas as our awareness grows. All these elements help accelerate us along our path to making an ever greater — and wider — impact!
During the Vietnam War, it became very clear that the U.S. military needed to revise its hand-to-hand training. This was particularly apparent amongst SOF units, especially Army Special Forces, Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols (LRRPs), Navy SEALs, and Recon Marines since these units were often sent in small teams deep into enemy territory for extended periods of time.
These types of missions required not just CQB, but silent, quick killing techniques, typically with the knife, garrote, or bare hands. But, again, training remained the “flavor of the month” and it was dependent upon traditional Asian martial arts systems and trial and error lessons learned through field operations. Illustrating that, SF veteran Joe Lenhart said in the 1960s, “In SF if you were around the Hawaiians, you had the opportunity to learn some good MA.”
Lenhart’s comment is a testament to three things: First, the need to tap martial arts talents within units and amongst the ranks, even in SF. Second, the underlying ignorance of, or unfamiliarity with, established Army hand-to-hand training and programming. And third, the richness of Hawaiian martial arts culture, which was due mostly to the Japanese diaspora in the 1920s that scattered Japanese across the U.S. West Coast, Hawaii, and South America.
Jerry Powell, another SF veteran, said, “In Training Group in 1963, and subsequently in the 5th Group, any hand-to-hand training that I saw was pretty much on my own time.” Tom Marzullo, a third SF veteran, said of his time in SF Training Group in 1969, “Hand-to-hand was absent during my SF time and I was deeply disappointed.” In wartime, in all militaries, even in SOF units, training is changed and bars are raised and lowered to meet the manpower needs of the engaged units.
Historically, hand-to-hand training has been one of those things that have always been reduced or cut in order to get more troops trained faster and off to the fight. Another factor of that time was culture and how boys were raised. According to Lenhart:
“Like many or even most [boys] my age [late 60s], we grew up wrestling and boxing with towels wrapped around our fists, had rival school “meetings” every now and then, and there was the county fair that… usually escalated into a scuffle or three. Thing is, back then, when it was over, it was over, at least for a while. Maybe a broken nose, shiner, busted lip, or jammed finger or so was about as bad as it got, except for a few bruised egos. But when the city boys got involved, there would be a couple switch blades and chains produced only to be met with pitchforks and corn cutters and a ball bat or two. Those engagements did not last very long.”
The point is that back in those days, few boys entered adulthood not having been in at least a few fights. American boys in the past fought and wrestled more growing up and thus were more acclimated to and prepared, especially mentally, for hand-to-hand combat. American culture has changed in that respect.
Now it is probably the reverse: Few boys enter adulthood having been in any fights. There are, of course, exceptions. There are still rough neighborhoods and cities. But today, even country kids are more likely to do their fighting in video games than at county fairs or Friday night football games. (Parenthetically, many SF NCOs worry that the same dynamic is eroding innate land navigation skills.)
Here, Bruce Lee and his Jeet Kune Do system deserve mention. He had a major impact on U.S. and international martial arts throughout the 1960s and 1970s, and therefore on military combatives. Lee believed that martial arts had become rigid and unrealistic. He taught that real combat is unpredictable and chaotic and that the fighter or warrior must prepare for that.
Editor’s Note: This article, which was originally published in 2015, is part of a series. You can read part I here, part II here, and part III here.
Then-NASA astronaut candidate Jasmin Moghbeli poses for a portrait in the Johnson Space Center’s Systems Engineering Simulator, a real-time, crew-in-the-loop engineering simulator for advanced space flight programs. NASA/Bill Ingalls
An active-duty Marine is among the newest class of astronauts eligible for NASA missions to the moon and beyond.
Marine Maj. Jasmin Moghbeli said she became enamored with space as a child, with a series of experiences amplifying her interest as she got older.
“The first time I remember saying I wanted to become an astronaut was in sixth grade. We had to do a book report and I had chosen to do mine on Valentina Tereshkova — the first woman in space, a Russian cosmonaut. And it’s kind of stemmed from there. We had to dress up like the person in school for the day, so I made a little astronaut costume with my mom,” Moghbeli said.
By the time she reached high school, her parents had enrolled her in space camp and she witnessed a shuttle launch. The seed was planted from there.
Pictured (front row, left to right, Zena Cardman, Jasmin Moghbeli, Robb Kulin, Jessica Watkins, Loral O’Hara; back row, left to right, Jonny Kim, Frank Rubio, Matthew Dominick, Warren Hoburg, Kayla Barron, Bob Hines, and Raja Chari. Image Credit: NASA.
Earlier this year, Moghbeli and 10 classmates completed two years of training to become the first class of astronauts to graduate under the Artemis program, making them eligible for assignments to the International Space Station, Artemis missions to the moon, and eventually, Mars, according to a NASA press release.
The New York-native was commissioned into the Marine Corps in 2005 after earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering with Information Technology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. However, her sights were initially set on being a Naval aviator.
“I don’t think I knew what the Marine Corps was, to be entirely honest. My parents came from Iran and my grandfather was an admiral in the Iranian navy, and so he told me lots of cool stories when I was younger. So, I initially was looking into going into the Navy and becoming a Naval aviator that way,” she said.
During a summer seminar program for the Naval Academy Moghbeli learned about the Marines and by her junior year of college she connected with a recruiter who told her she could get a guaranteed air contract.
Throughout her time as a Marine pilot, Moghbeli completed 150 combat missions and 2,000 hours of flight time in more than 25 different aircraft. At the time of her selection for the 2017 Astronaut Candidate Class, she was testing H-1 helicopters at MCAS Yuma, Arizona.
Marine Corps Maj. Jasmin Moghbeli, a pilot assigned to Marine Test and Evaluation Squadron 1, conducts her final flight in an AH-1 “Cobra” at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona, in 2017. Photo by Lance Cpl. Christian Cachola.
Moghbeli said many crossovers between the culture of the Marines and that of NASA prepared her for success in the program.
“I think the Marine Corps set me up very well for training here and for the job we have to do here. The teamwork and camaraderie — teamwork is obviously a big part of what we do here at NASA — and especially when you talk about being on a crew of a handful of people for months, potentially years at a time. I think we learn a lot of good teamwork skills in the Marine Corps,” she said. “My operational background from being a test pilot, being a Cobra pilot have been huge. Even while I was on the initial training, I was able to contribute to evaluating the displays on the Orion capsule and new things on the different vehicles, because of that background.”
Moghbeli added the public speaking required during frequent flight briefs quelled her stage fright and “learning the space station systems was not that different from learning aircraft systems.”
There are currently 17 active-duty astronauts working for NASA, according to Jennifer Hernandez, a NASA communications specialist. For service members interested in pursuing a similar path to Moghbeli, she offers the following advice:
“Achieving anything that is challenging, and most Marines probably know this but, there’s going to be stumbles and failures along the way, and I’ve had plenty in my path here. If you talk to my first onwing [instructor] in flight school, he’s shocked I even made it to my solo. … But always getting back up, finding those mentors … finding people that will help you when you are struggling, and then also something I think it is very important … to surround yourself with people who are going to challenge you and push,” she said.