In a war with Russia, both sides could focus on this 60-mile stretch - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

In a war with Russia, both sides could focus on this 60-mile stretch

There are a number of potential vulnerabilities in NATO territory if the Cold War ever goes live, but three countries are especially scared of an attack to close the Suwalki Gap, a spot where NATO territory is only 60 miles wide with Belarus on one side, Russia’s Kaliningrad Enclave on the other, and relatively flat ground with little forest or natural defenses in the middle.


In a war with Russia, both sides could focus on this 60-mile stretch
A German Army Soldier directs military vehicles onto land during one of the largest combined exercises in Lithuania, the Suwalki Gap River Crossing, as media observe the event, June 20, 2017.
(U.S. Army Sgt. Shiloh Capers)

If Russian tanks and other forces quickly span the gap and dig in, they could cut Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia off from the rest of Europe and NATO for easy digestion, leaving the rest of NATO to decide whether its worth it to risk their own troops re-securing them.

These sorts of geographic and political choke points aren’t new. Cold War weapons development was heavily influenced by the Fulda Gap, one of Soviet Russia’s most likely routes of advance if they invaded western Europe. And in World War II, France fell so quickly partially because it had counted on holding Germany at the Albert Canal and River Meuse in Belgium, but Germany had gotten Belgium to rescind its alliances with France before the invasion.

But the Suwalki Gap is a particularly vulnerable and important point. Kaliningrad is a Russian enclave that borders the Baltic Sea, and Belarus is a historic ally of Russia. Russia could easily muster troops in both areas for a mad dash across the line, and it could do so quickly and with little warning.

In a war with Russia, both sides could focus on this 60-mile stretch
Battle Group Poland U.S. Soldiers locate their sector of fire for their weapons as part of the Bull Run training exercise near Suwalki, Poland, July 16, 2017.
(U.S. Army Spc. Kevin Wang)

On paper, NATO would be required to respond, but NATO’s joint defense clause has only been invoked one time, and that was when America was attacked on September 11, 2001. That’s part of why deploying to Afghanistan usually results in a service member receiving a NATO medal. The whole alliance was party to the invasion because one member of the alliance had been attacked.

But that was NATO allies backing up their most powerful member while invading a relatively weak, authoritarian state. The Taliban had little air force or proper army assets, and it quickly fell. Getting NATO allies to muster in Poland for an attack into Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia would be much more challenging, especially since many countries would be interested in holding back at least some of their military forces to defend their own borders as the situation developed.

Poland might be especially reluctant. The gap shares its name with a Polish city and a Polish County, and Poland shares a much larger border with Kaliningrad and with Belarus. It might legitimately need its troops to hold the line against further Russian attacks.

In a war with Russia, both sides could focus on this 60-mile stretch
The Iskander-M is likely a violation of the INF Treaty, and it gives Russia the ability to cover the entire Suwalki Gap and most of Eastern Europe with a few missile launchers
(Boevaya mashina, CC BY-SA4.0)

Meanwhile, remember how Russia is under a lot of pressure to get back in line with that INF Treaty that bans missiles of certain ranges, especially ones that can carry nuclear warheads? Well, a lot of the Iskander and Iskander-M systems that are likely in violation of that treaty are kept in Kaliningrad, where they could threaten U.S. and NATO ships in the Baltic Sea and army formations approaching Suwalki from the south.

An Iskander launcher could likely cover the entire Suwalki Gap from any point in Kaliningrad. Multiple launchers could take turns shooting and then scooting before they could be hunted down. Meanwhile, Russia’s invasion force would be north of the gap, conquering the NATO countries and setting up defenses ahead of the NATO counterattack.

The Suwalki Gap is something Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges talked about when he was the commanding general of NATO, saying that an invasion of NATO countries wouldn’t make any sense to him, but then neither had the seizure of Crimea or the Russian deployment to Syria.

In a war with Russia, both sides could focus on this 60-mile stretch
Battle Group Poland tested its readiness and interoperability as part of NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence during Bull Run, a simulated training exercise, July 16, 2017, near Suwalki, Poland.
(U.S. Army)

For comparison, while the Suwalki Gap is 60 miles long, the annexation of Crimea created an approximately 85-mile-long front between Russia and Ukraine, though NATO wasn’t obligated to take part in that fight and much of that border is covered in water, making a Ukrainian counterattack much more risky and challenging.

Of course, all of this only matters if Putin is ready to do something even crazier than kidnapping an Estonian intelligence officer, annexing Crimea, or invading Georgia or the Donbas. While all of those actions were baffling for international observers, the annexed territory, at least, did have populations sympathetic to Russian rule.

While Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania do have some Russian-speaking populations, the countries as a whole strongly support NATO membership and have even inked agreements to move more U.S. and other NATO troops into the countries or allow more forces to transit through them. So, Russia would likely find it challenging to actually hold the countries permanently.

MIGHTY CULTURE

A woman made it through SEAL officer test for the first time

The Navy marked a first earlier this year when a woman completed Navy SEAL officer assessment and selection, Military.com has learned.

At the quarterly meeting of the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services in December, a Navy official disclosed that the woman had reached the end of the physically and mentally demanding two-week SOAS process in September. Ultimately, however, she was not selected for a SEAL contract, officials said.

While the military formally opened SEAL billets — and all other previously closed jobs — to women in 2016, no woman has yet made it to the infamous 24-week Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training to date. If the woman had been selected for a SEAL contract at the end of SOAS, she would have been the first to reach BUD/S.


Capt. Tamara Lawrence, a spokeswoman for Naval Special Warfare, said the candidate had not listed the SEALs as her top-choice warfighting community. She was awarded placement in her top choice, Lawrence said.

In a war with Russia, both sides could focus on this 60-mile stretch

US Navy SEAL candidates during Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training.

(US Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Abe McNatt)

“We do not discuss details of a candidate’s non-selection so it does not interfere with their successful service in other warfighter communities,” she said.

Candidates for SOAS are taken from college Reserve Officer Training Corps programs, service academies, and the Navy’s Officer Candidate School, all prior to getting their first Navy contract. Lawrence declined to specify which pathway the recent female candidate had taken out of concern that doing so would reveal her identity.

Lt. Grace Olechowski, force integration officer with Naval Special Warfare Command, said five women had been invited to participate in SOAS since the pipeline was opened to women. Three had entered SOAS to date, but only one had completed assessment and selection.

Military.com broke the news in 2017 that a first female student had entered SOAS — an ROTC student at a U.S. college. She ultimately exited the process before reaching the selection panel, however.

Lawrence said the SEAL officer selection process is candidate-neutral, meaning the selection board does not know the gender or other personal information of the candidates.

In a war with Russia, both sides could focus on this 60-mile stretch

U.S. Navy SEAL candidates participating in Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Sean Furey)

“Selection is based on the candidate’s scores during the two-week SOAS assessment,” she said. “This process ensures every candidate has a fair and equal chance based on Naval Special Warfare standards.”

It’s also possible that not listing the SEALs as a primary career choice would factor against a candidate in the selection process.

The selection panel is made up of senior SEAL officers, Lawrence said, who use SOAS assessment data along with resume information to select “the most competitive candidates.”

Roughly 180 candidates are selected every year to attend SEAL officer assessment and selection, she said; on average, the top 85 candidates are chosen to continue on to SEAL training. There are four two-week SOAS blocks held every year.

While SOAS precedes the award of a final SEAL contract, it is not for the faint of heart. It was previously called “mini-BUD/S” in a nod to its grueling and rigorous nature.

“Physical stress and sleep deprivation are applied to reveal authentic character traits,” the Navy says on its official Naval Special Warfare recruiting site. “Performance and interview data on every candidate is meticulously documented and presented to the NSW Selection Panel.”

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

5 pro tips for putting together Christmas care packages

It’s that time of year where we start putting together care packages for service members stationed near and far, as well as family members who are “back home.” This year especially, many people won’t be traveling like in years prior, which means mailed gifts or sending care packages rather than celebrating in person. 

When planning your holiday care packages, remember to provide personal touches and items that interest the receiver. Simple additions like homemade artwork from kids, pictures, or local trinkets can take your gift giving to the next level. 

Consider these additional tips in order to put together your best care package yet. 

  1. Know your audience

First things first — who are you gifting to? Consider if you’re buying for family members? Soldiers? Kids? Make a list of everyone on your list and put together a list of ideas. For soldiers downrange, you’ll likely be shopping for necessities. This means snacks, entertainment (books, magazines, movies), toiletries, and any other favorites that your soldier wants but can’t get their hands on in location. These are some of the most well-received gifts of all time, including a mix of thoughtfulness and needs. 

Meanwhile, if you’re shopping for family members or kids, you will likely have more creativity. 

  1. Gift them their interests

Next, search around for gifts that you know they will love. There are always gift guide finders (and an entire search function on Amazon), but don’t be above asking, either. Some giftees will assure you that you don’t need to get them anything. But hopefully you get some real, usable info in the process. Find out what your loved ones enjoy and get them something they’ll use!

And remember that gift cards aren’t a cop-out. Include a nice card and then feel good about the fact that you gave them an excuse to order at their favorite place. 

care packages
  1. Shop local

One of the most notable aspects about sending a Christmas care package — you’re not visiting in person. Or rather, they aren’t visiting you. That means you can include some novelties about wherever you’re stationed. Look for non-perishable foods, handmade goods, or any local claims to fame that your loved one won’t find elsewhere. This can also be a fun way to explore local hotspots … or shop online and learn about local businesses. 

  1. Don’t overlook experiences as gifts

GIving a holiday gift doesn’t mean you have to give a physical item. It simply means you have to show a loved one that you care. Consider different types of gifts that can be given for all to enjoy. Kids might enjoy a theme park or zoo. Adults may be wanting to try a new restaurant or brewery tour. Or perhaps there’s a location that’s great for all ages, such as an arcade, bowling alley, or water park. Snag a gift card and let them have a fun day out in lieu of a traditional Christmas gift. 

  1. Get it in the mail in time

Christmas may be weeks away, but you also have to consider shipping times for your package to arrive before December 25th. Look at where you’re shipping to, then follow Post Office guidelines to ensure your package arrives on time. It likely means shopping sooner rather than later, but that also means one more item to knock off your to-do list! 

Take these deliver-by dates into account in order to ensure your packages arrive on time. 

The good news is that military post office dates still allow December packages to be delivered in time for the holidays. 

What are your favorite ways to send Christmas care packages to those you love? Tell us your tips in the comments.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Celebrate your Fourth of July with these easy drinks and recipes

This is the time of year to celebrate our country’s independence and our loved ones that fight for our freedom every single day. Whether this will be your first Fourth of July party that you will be throwing or the 40th, below are some tips and tricks to have an awesome and relaxing Fourth of July party.

Keep it simple! No one will complain about a backyard barbeque. Below will be a mix of appetizers, sides, and drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic).


Below are five crowd favorite appetizers and sides to accompany your hot dogs and burgers:

1. A simple and light salad for any crowd

  • 6 cups romaine lettuce
  • 2 cups mixed greens
  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 1 whole cut avocado
  • 1 cup Parmesan
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes halved
  • ¼ red onion thinly sliced
  • 2 chicken breast, baked and cut into 1/4in. pieces
  • 8 oz. Caesar dressing
  • Mix all together with dressing and serve.
In a war with Russia, both sides could focus on this 60-mile stretch

(Photo by Maddi Bazzocco)

2. Bacon Green Beans

  • 1 lb. green beans halved
  • 2 cups cooked bacon cut into ¼ in. cubes
  • 3 cloves garlic diced
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • ½ yellow onion thinly sliced

Place butter into a saucepan with the onion and garlic. Let brown and add green beans and cooked bacon. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

3. Pasta Salad

This is one of my favorites things to make. It takes about 30 minutes in total to make and I can make it the night before any barbeque and it tastes great the next day.

  • Two boxes tri-color Rotini pasta
  • Cook the pasta all the way through. Drain. Add olive oil to the drained pasta so it does not stick together.
  • Chop one green and red bell pepper into ¼in. cubes
  • Chop one half red onion
  • Chop 7 oz dry salami into ¼in. cubes
  • 8 oz. sliced black olives
  • 1 cup shredded parmesan
  • 2 cup quartered tomatoes
  • 8 oz. mozzarella cheese ¼in. cubes
  • Mix all together with 8 oz. light Italian dressing. Serve.

4. Macaroni and Cheese.

I am in love with macaroni and cheese, the cheesier the better in my opinion. To be honest the better the cheeses the more expensive. So this could be the most expensive of the sides, but it is soooo worth it. Also when purchasing the cheese DO NOT purchase already shredded cheese. Just buy a block and shred it.

  • 1 lb. Cavatappi noodles
  • ½ cup butter
  • ½ cup flour
  • 4 cup whole milk
  • 6 cup cheese of your choice.
  • ½ tbsp. salt
  • ½ tbsp. black pepper
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1 tbsp. oregano
  • ½ cup panko bread crumbs

Boil pasta in salted water until cooked. Drain and pour in 1 tbsp. olive oil to keep the noodles from sticking. While the pasta is cooking melt butter in a saucepan and sprinkle in flour and whisk. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, add in salt and pepper. Slowly pour milk whisking until smooth and thickened. Remove from heat. Place noodles into a greased casserole dish. Over the top of the noodles sprinkle the shredded cheese. Pour the thickened cream sauce over the cheese and noodles. Melt the 2 tbsp. butter, oregano and panko bread crumbs together. Cook until golden brown. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the macaroni and cheese. Bake in preheated oven 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes.

In a war with Russia, both sides could focus on this 60-mile stretch

(Photo by Kimberly Mears)

5. 7-Layer Dip

So I will admit this is not my favorite of all appetizers, but it was always a huge hit at any family function. In a casserole dish:

  • Layer refried beans
  • Layer sour cream
  • Layer Guacamole
  • Layer salsa
  • A layer of Mexican shredded cheese mixTomatoes cut in half and sliced olives for the top layer. If you are feeling extra festive you can arrange the tomatoes to be in rows and olives in the upper left corner to replicate our flag.

Of course, some chips and dip are always a crowd pleaser, this could be a great item to ask guests to bring (along with any alcohol) to help keep the cost reasonable.

Since I am a California girl I do have to suggest trying some tri-tip for your barbeque. If you have never heard of tri-tip it’s incredibly normal, it’s mainly a California barbeque meat. Baking or grilling tri-tip with a basic marinade will be a big crowd pleaser for any party. It takes about 30-45 minutes to cook and can be found at almost any base. A simple dry rub of salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and red pepper flakes is my hands down favorite when I am rushed for time.

Top 4 alcoholic drinks (besides beer):

1. Red, white and blue jelly shots

  • 1 berry blue Jell-O packet
  • 6 oz. vodka
  • 1 plain gelatin packet
  • 3 oz. sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 ½ oz. raspberry vodka
  • 1 strawberry Jell-O packet
  • 6 oz. vodka
  • Boiling water
  • Cooking Spray
  • Heat six oz. water to boiling, pour in a bowl with blue Jell-O and whisk until dissolved. Stir in blueberry vodka. Pour into a casserole dish (8×8, 9×9, or 13×9). Refrigerate until solid.
  • Repeat previous steps, but with plain gelatin, condensed milk and raspberry vodka. Pour over the solid first layer and place it back in the fridge.
  • Repeat one last time with the strawberry Jell-O and plain vodka. Pour over solid white layer and place back in the fridge until solid. When Jell-O is completely set, run a knife around the edges of the Jell-O and turn over onto a large sheet pan sprayed with cooking spray. If the Jell-O is not separating you can place the bottom of the pan under hot water to help separate from the pan. From the sheet pan, you can either cut the Jell-O into any shapes. Serve.
In a war with Russia, both sides could focus on this 60-mile stretch

(Photo by Stephanie McCabe)

2. Red, White, and Blue Sangria

  • 1 bottle white wine
  • 1 ½ can frozen lemonade concentrate, thawed.
  • ½ cup vodka
  • 1 cup sliced strawberries
  • 2 granny apples (if feeling extra festive cut apples into thin slices and cut slices with a star-shaped cookie cutter)
  • ½ cup raspberries
  • ½ cup blueberries
  • Pour all ingredients into a 3qt. pitcher and stir. Let sit in the fridge for at least 4 hrs. Serve over ice. Add a few pieces of fruit in each glass.

3. Star Spangled Sparkler

  • 2 cups watermelon stars
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1 bottle chilled dry white wine
  • 1 litter chilled Sprite
  • Pour all ingredients into a 3 qt. pitcher and stir. Let sit in the fridge for at least an hour. Serve with a few pieces of fruit in each glass.

4. Spiked Arnold Palmer

  • 4 cups of water
  • 10 black tea bags –
  • 1 oz. mint leaves
  • ½ cup of sugar
  • 4 cups cold water
  • 1 can frozen lemonade concentrate, thawed
  • 1 cup bourbon
  • Bring 4 cups water to a boil. Remove from heat and add tea bags and mint. Let steep for 5 minutes. Remove tea bags and mints. Stir in sugar until melted. Pour the tea into drink dispenser and stir in cold water, thawed lemonade concentrate and bourbon.
  • Serve over ice.

Top 3 non-alcoholic drinks (besides soda):

1. Patriotic Punch

  • Fill the cup halfway with ice
  • Filled 1/3 cup with cranberry juice
  • Fill 1/3 cup with Sobe Pina Colada
  • Fill remainder of the cup with blue Gatorade
  • (Always fill the bottom of the cup with the beverage that has the highest sugar content)
  • Serve.
In a war with Russia, both sides could focus on this 60-mile stretch

(Photo by Danielle MacInnes)

2. Classic Arnold Palmer

  • 4 cups of water
  • 10 black tea bags –
  • 1 oz. mint leaves
  • ½ cup of sugar
  • 4 cups cold water
  • 1 can frozen lemonade concentrate, thawed
  • Bring 4 cups water to a boil. Remove from heat and add tea bags and mint. Let steep for 5 minutes. Remove tea bags and mints. Stir in sugar until melted. Pour the tea into drink dispenser and stir in cold water and thawed lemonade concentrate. Serve over ice.

3. Sonic’s Cherry Limeade – Ingredients per drink

  • Maraschino Cherries
  • 2 tbsp syrup
  • 2 cherries per drink
  • 1 can Sprite
  • Lime wedges cut in ½
  • 1 per drink
  • Serve over ice.

This article originally appeared on Military Spouse. Follow @MilSpouseMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

A retired SF officer wants to build a memorial to the French Resistance

The success of Operation Overlord, the Battle of Normandy that established a bridgehead on the continent for the Allies, required everyone to do their part. Even the people of occupied France had a role to play, and theirs was as significant as the men who landed on the beaches. 

Operation Overlord
Colorized photo of Operation Overlord. Unknown author.

One Special Forces officer, Cpt. Joseph Ivanov, wants to help their stories live on for the next generation by erecting a monument to them. 

The idea came to him after watching a documentary about the dedication of a monument to Operation Neptune in 2012. Neptune was the code name of the seaborne invasion of Normandy that began on Jun. 6, 1944. As a member of Special Forces, Ivanov sees the French Resistance as an essential part of special warfare’s history and development. He was surprised to find no memorial existed in their home country to commemorate their role in Operation Overlord.

“It’s like 67 years later, they put a monument at Utah Beach to commemorate Operation Neptune, what the Navy did,” he told journalist Jeff Stoller. “How did we go so long without paying a tribute to these men and women?”

French Resistance fighters were also known as the French Forces of the Interior or the Maquis, depending on where you sat in the Allied chain of command. They were resistance cells and guerrilla fighters made up of men, women and even children who actively worked against occupying German troops and Vichy French collaborators. 

They were everything the Nazis hated, from academics to Communists, French Nationalists to Catholics, Protestants, even Jews. To facilitate the D-Day landings that closed out WWII, the Resistance conducted intelligence gathering on German troop movements and fortifications as well as sabotage raids on critical infrastructure. 

To pay homage to those who fought in the Resistance during Operation Overlord, Ivanov first contacted Steven Spears, who created the Operation Neptune memorial at Utah Beach. The artist excitedly designed a monument that features three figures around a bicycle, each representing an aspect of the resistance, the guerrillas, the auxiliary, and the underground. 

In the design is a middle-aged man with a rifle, who represents the guerrillas. Next to him is a boy on the bicycle who represents the auxiliary. The third figure is a woman handing out a communication, representing the underground. 

Once the scale model design was carved, the two reached out to Operation Democracy, a nonprofit whose goal is to strengthen the historic and necessary bonds of friendship between France and the United States through significant educational projects. Operation Democracy offered its organization as a means for the effort to take tax-free donations toward the construction of the monument. 

Ivanov paid for the work himself up to this point, and hopes to raise enough money to finish a full-scale construction and ship it to Normandy in time for it to be dedicated on the 77th anniversary of the D-Day landings in June 2021.

To help reach this monumental goal, visit the Operation Democracy French Resistance Monument Project website. The effort is just above 50% of its goal and all donations are 100% tax deductible. 

MIGHTY CULTURE

Marines may get new tropical uniform in time for summer heat

The Marine Corps is preparing to select a maker for the service’s new tropical uniform for hot and humid climates.

The Marine Corps Tropical Combat Uniform is a rapid-dry, breathable uniform to be worn for prolonged periods in wet, jungle environments as an alternative to the current Marine Corps Combat Utility Uniform and the Marine Corps Combat Boot. This month, Marine Corps Systems Command (MCSC), published a request for proposals to industry to manufacture the uniforms, with plans to get them into troops’ hands by the final quarter of this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.


“This new tropical uniform allows Marines to be more comfortable and less fatigued while focusing on the mission at hand,” Lou Curcio, MCSC’s tropical uniform project officer, said in the release.

The tropical uniform effort is a result of the U.S. military’s increased emphasis on the Pacific region in an effort to prepare for a potential war with China. The Army finalized the design for its Improved Hot Weather Combat Uniform last year.

The trousers and blouse of the new uniform will be made of the same 50/50 cotton-nylon blend as the Marine Corps Combat Utility Uniform and features the same camouflage pattern, the release states. The fabric will also be treated with permethrin to provide protection from insects.

The difference is in the weave and weight, resulting in a lighter material that dries more quickly, according to the release.

Hundreds of Marines participated in various user evaluations from June to September 2017 to assess the fit and durability of a prototype tropical uniform that’s designed to dry faster and keep Marines cooler in warm climates, the release adds.

“Many Marines said the [uniform] feels like pajamas, appreciating how lightweight it is,” Curcio in the release. “They also noted how quickly the uniform dries upon getting wet.”

The boots, awarded on a separate contract, are also lightweight, with self-cleaning soles to improve mobility in a tropical environment, the release states. They are more than a pound lighter than the current Marine Corps boot.

Marine Corps Systems Command awarded two contracts in August for up to 140,000 total pairs of tropical boots, according to Monique Randolph, spokeswoman for MCSC.

One contract worth up to .1 million went to Atlantic Diving Supply Inc., for up to 70,000 pairs of Rocky brand tropical boots, and a contract worth up to .7 million went to Provengo LLC for up to 70,000 pairs of Danner brand tropical boots, Randolph said.

The Corps plans to purchase 70,000 sets of the new tropical uniforms to support the fleet training or operating in tropical climates, the release states, adding that the MCSC procured more than 10,000 sets of blouses and trousers under a manufacturing and development effort.

Based on January 2020 market research and responses to a November 2019 request for information, the Marine Corps estimates it should see a potential cost reduction of up to 60% per uniform, the release adds.

“[The tropical uniform] will bring many advantages during training and combat in tropical environments,” Curcio said in the release. “For all the sacrifices and challenges they endure, Marines deserve a uniform like this one.”

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

9 military charities you can donate time and gifts to this holiday season

This time of year, people of all belief systems band together to give back. To their communities, to families in needs, and of course, to military organizations. If you would like to offer something — anything — but aren’t sure where to go, look no further.

This guide includes military-based charities that are actively accepting goods, funds and/or donations of time. Send money, purchase gifts for others, offer gift cards for restaurants or groceries, or sign up to help put it all together. Even if you can’t give financially, these groups thrive from hands-on workers who help bring their mission into reality.

Find the organization that speaks to you and reach out to lend a hand. 

  1. Wreaths Across America

WAA is a nonprofit group that places donated wreaths on veteran graves each December. You can purchase a wreath or help place them during a ceremony at a participating cemetery this December 19th. 

Sign up at wreathsacrossamerica.org

  1. Pay Away the Layaway

This nonprofit organization is specifically designed to help kids and struggling families. It works with families placing items from their wish list on layaway, then donors helping to pay remaining balances. You can set up a local option to help those in your area, or find nearby families and help them get the items they need for the holidays and beyond. 

Give at payawaythelayaway.org 

  1. Full Circle Home

Deployed service members appreciate their family members back home, but don’t always know how to say thank you. Full Circle Home helps fill that gap by providing gifts and hand-written notes to the heroes at home. 

Donations help fund gifts and shipping costs, while volunteers help wrap and assemble gifts each holiday season. Learn more at fullcirclehome.org

  1. Operation Help a Hero

OHH is a 17-year organization that helps provide holiday spirit to military families in need. Most notably, they purchase and provide gifts for families. OHH also helps promote various service projects, such as camps, universal baby showers and random acts of kindness throughout the year. 

Volunteer or donate by signing up at operationhelpahero.org

  1. Operation Holiday Joy

A part of YMCA, OHJ is a branch that serves military families for the holidays. They strictly take monetary donations, which are then used to purchase gifts and food to those in need. Last year the group raised $1.5 million toward toys and food baskets. 

Sign up and give at asymca.org/donate-operation-holiday-joy

  1. Operation Homefront 

Operation Homefront is a year-round operation, helping provide needs for military families, often with housing or caregiver support. They also host an “urgent needs” section where visitors can help donate toward a specific cause, such as new babies or sudden loss of income. 

Find more at operationhomefront.org

  1. Spirit of Sharing

Adopt a military family and help provide them with the Christmas they deserve. Spirit of Sharing allows donors to anonymously donate presents to a family. Volunteers can also help wrap or deliver gifts so they show up in time for the big day.

Learn more at spiritofsharing.org

  1. Soldiers’ Angels

This is a unique holiday option that allows lower enlisted families to receive a one-time gift card. Amounts vary, but are meant to help provide a holiday meal ($50-$100) and gifts for kids under the age of 15.

Give at soldiersangels.org

  1. Local operations

For local charities accepting help, contact your MWR office. This locator site can help you find contact information for the MWR office nearest to you. 

Know of a military-friendly charity event or organization that isn’t mentioned? Please list and link it below. Happy volunteering!

MIGHTY CULTURE

How a lack of sleep could be affecting the weight problem in the military

The most recent Health Related Behaviors Survey for the Department of Defense, conducted by the RAND Corporation, has been released recently — and, spoiler alert: it’s not looking so good.

While the study covers a wide array of health problems, the biggest standout — the one that ruffled everyone’s feathers — was that, across every branch, over sixty percent of troops are overweight or obese. The Army took top “honors” with a whopping 69.4 percent while the Marines achieved a slightly slimmer 60.9 percent.

But this isn’t the most alarming statistic.


Troops are also getting less sleep than before. There’s no denying the connection between lack of sleep and weight gain. Troops are still PTing their asses off early in the morning along with eating relatively well, which makes it pretty easy to identify the real root of the problem.

In a war with Russia, both sides could focus on this 60-mile stretch

It’s not hard to point out why troop’s get little sleep nor why their sleep is so awful.

(U.S. Army photo)

As noted by the Military Times, nearly sixty percent of all troops have reportedly gotten far less sleep than needed. Another research study conducted by the Journal of Sleep Research concludes that both insomnia and sleep apnoea are on the rise among service members. This surely contributes to the nine-percent of all troops that have reported daily or near-daily use of sleep medication.

Contrary to popular belief, sleeping more is not a symptom of laziness, a laziness that many point to as the cause of weight issues. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. A lack of sleep throws a person’s hormones that regulate hunger, ghrelin and leptin, out of order. Getting just four hours of sleep will impact your body’s ability to accurately determine its food intake needs.

In a war with Russia, both sides could focus on this 60-mile stretch

Your best bet is to eat three solid meals a day to curb hunger.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Riley Johnson)

Of course, eating too much junk food is going to increase weight gain. But did you know that the opposite — eating one meal a day (which is usually junk food or a late-night binge meal) — is often just as bad. Fat buildup is the body’s way of conserving energy. If you’re starving your body throughout the day and, right before going to bed, loading up on pizza and beer, your body will instinctively hold that junk food because that’s all you’re giving it.

While has been proven that intermittent fasting (intentional or not) does not have adverse effects on metabolism, it’s still very unhealthy — especially when combined with the metabolism drop that comes with a lack of sleep.

In a war with Russia, both sides could focus on this 60-mile stretch

It’ll be a hell of a work out, I’m sure. But don’t expect it or the training to cut fat off the formation.

(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Kelsey Miller)

Which scenario is more likely within the military? That a slight change in PT schedule was so widespread and disastrous that well over half of troops are now more fat — or that an increasingly competitive and stressful environment is causing troops to skip meals and sleep to accomplish arbitrary missions in a garrison environment?

And since the projected Army Combat Readiness Test, the new PT test for the Army, seems like it will be focusing more on physical strength over cardiovascular endurance, expect them to keep the top spot for the foreseeable future.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Why this US Navy crew is going old-school with Louisville Sluggers

It’s not often sailors get permission to take a baseball bat to a multimillion-dollar aircraft carrier.

But when the Navy‘s aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman sailed into the Arctic Circle for the first time in nearly three decades, its crew was ordered to do just that.

The Truman sailed into the Arctic Circle on Oct. 19, 2019, to conduct operations in the Norwegian Sea. After years of operations in warmer climates, leaders had to think carefully about the gear they’d need to survive operations in the frigid conditions.


“We had to open a lot of old books to remind ourselves how to do operations up there,” Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson said this week during the McAleese Defense Programs Conference, an annual program in Washington, D.C.

In one of those books was a tip for the Truman’s crew from a savvy sailor who knew what it would take to combat ice buildup on the flattop.

In a war with Russia, both sides could focus on this 60-mile stretch

The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman.

“[It said] ‘Hey, when you get out to do this, when you head on out, don’t forget to bring a bunch of baseball bats,'” Richardson said. “‘There’s nothing like bashing ice off struts and masts and bulkheads like a baseball bat, so bring a bunch of Louisville Sluggers.’

“And we did,” the CNO said.

Operating in those conditions is likely to become more common. Rising temperatures are melting ice caps and opening sea lanes that weren’t previously passable, Richardson said.

But it takes a different set of skill sets than today’s generation is used to, he added.

“Getting proficiency in doing flight operations in heavy seas, in cold seas — just operating on deck in that type of environment is a much different stress than doing flight operations on a deck that’s 120 degrees in the Middle East,” Richardson said. “You’ve got to recapture all these skills in heavy seas.”

In a war with Russia, both sides could focus on this 60-mile stretch

The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Taylor M. DiMartino)

The Truman’s push into the Arctic was part of an unpredictable deployment model it followed last year. For years, the Navy got good at taking troops and gear to the Middle East, hanging out there for as long as possible, and then coming home.

Now, Richardson said, there’s a different set of criteria.

“We’re going to be moving these maneuver elements much more flexibly,” he said. “Perhaps unpredictably around the globe, so we’re not going to be back and forth, back and forth.”

The Truman sailed through the Strait of Gibraltar after leaving Norfolk, Virginia, last spring. The carrier stopped in the Eastern Mediterranean, where it carried out combat missions against the Islamic State group and trained with NATO allies.

About three months later, the carrier was back in its homeport before heading back out — during which it made the stop in the Arctic Circle. The carrier strike group returned home in December 2018.

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

Guard soldier competes in ‘American Ninja Warrior’

A Pennsylvania National Guard soldier competed in the “American Ninja Warrior” television show in Philadelphia, May 19-20, 2018.

Army Sgt. Tyler Waters, a motor transport operator with the 337th Engineer Battalion, 55th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, 28th Infantry Division, placed 17th in the competition.

“I’ve been a fan of the show for years and I’ve always felt that I had the combination of strength and athleticism to excel on any of the ever-changing courses,” Waters said.


Waters came within seconds of advancing to the national competition held in Las Vegas, which would have required finishing in the top 15.

‘The experience was great’

“The experience was great,” he said. “It was interesting to see the different competitors from different walks of life that excelled in the course. Simply being physically fit, as some of the competitors appeared to be sculpted from stone, wasn’t enough.”

In a war with Russia, both sides could focus on this 60-mile stretch

Sgt. Tyler Waters.

Waters credits both his family and his unit for supporting him through the competition.

“Being in the Army definitely helped to sharpen what I already envisioned as a strength of mine; my mental focus and toughness,” he said.

In his civilian life, Waters is a Pennsylvania State Trooper, which he said has many similarities to a military career and allows him to carry the same mindset he’s cultivated as a soldier at all times.

This mentality enabled Waters’ success in the American Ninja Warrior contest, and he said he hopes to compete again and reach the finals.

This article originally appeared on the United States Department of Defense. Follow @DeptofDefense on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

9 retorts that prove the Ancient Spartans were funnier than you thought

The ancient Spartans are legendary for their courage and discipline, but these warriors were also famous in their time for their dry, sarcastic humor. A “laconic phrase,” a phrase that is especially concise and blunt, is actually named after Laconia, the Greek region where Sparta was located. Some Greeks attributed the Spartan terseness to ignorance, but others thought differently. The Athenian philosopher Plato wrote, “If you talk to any ordinary Spartan, he seems to be stupid, but eventually, like an expert marksman, he shoots in some brief remark that proves you to be only a child.” Here are some of the best examples of Spartan wit.


1. King Demartus

According to the ancient Roman historian Plutarch, King Demaratus of Sparta was once being pestered by a man with endless questions, especially who was the best among the Spartans. The irritated king finally responded, “Whoever is least like you.”

2. King Pleistoanax

Plutarch also describes King Pleistoanax, who heard an Athenian orator claim that the Spartans had no education. Pleistoanax retorted, “True, we are indeed the only Greeks who have learned no evil from you.”

3. Stellos 

In Zack Snyder’s 300, after hearing from a Persian emissary that the Persian archers’ arrows would blot out the sun, the Spartan soldier Stelios jokes that the Spartans will fight in the shade. This actually comes from Herodotus’s Histories, the ancient source on the Persian War, except it is spoken by the soldier Deinekes. However, an ancient source from Plutarch does mention King Leonidas telling his men, “Eat well, for tonight we dine in Hades.”

4. Commander Pausanias

After the Spartans routed the Persian invasion at the Battle of Plataea, the Spartan commander Pausanias decided that the banquet the Persians had set out for themselves should be served to himself and his officers instead. Upon seeing the feast, Pausanias cracked that, “The Persian is an abominable glutton who, when he has such delicacies at home, comes to eat our barley-cakes.” Spartan food was notoriously disgusting. When a traveler from Sybaris visited Sparta and tasted their infamous “black broth” he exclaimed, “No wonder Spartans are the bravest of men. Anyone in their right mind would rather die a thousand times than live like this.”

5. Spartan women

It wasn’t just the Spartan men who cracked jokes. Unlike most Greek women who were expected to be subservient to their husbands, the women of Sparta held considerable political and economic power. The Spartan men were always preparing for a war or fighting one, so the women were expected to manage their households themselves. A non-Spartan woman once asked Queen Gorgo, wife of Leonidas, why the Spartan women were the only ones who could rule over men. Gorgo responded, “Because we are also the only ones who give birth to men.”

6. Short but sweet

When King Philip II of Macedon (father of Alexander the Great) invaded southern Greece, he sent a message to the Spartans asking if he would be received as a friend or enemy. The Spartans’ reply was brief: “Neither.” Offended, Philip sent a threat: “You are advised to submit without further delay, for if I bring my army into your land, I will destroy your farms, slay your people, and raze your city.” The Spartans’ reply was just as short as before: “If.”

7. Spartan response 

The Macedonians eventually did conquer Greece, and the later Macedonian king Demetrius I offended many Greeks through his extravagance and prideful attitude. He even forced the ambassadors of Athens, his favorite of the Greek cities, to wait two whole years at court before speaking to them. Sparta resented the Macedonian rule, and sent only one ambassador to the court on behalf of the city. Demetrius was infuriated and demanded to know if Sparta had really sent only one man to speak with the king; the Spartan responded, “Aye, one ambassador to one king.”

8. King Agesilaus II

King Agesilaus II of Sparta was respected for his martial virtue as well as his wit. Someone asked him what the boundaries of Sparta were, as unlike most Greek cities Sparta had no defensive walls. Agesilaus drew his spear and extended it, claiming that the borders were “as far as this can reach.” When asked why Sparta had no walls, he pointed to the armored citizens and explained that “these are the Spartans’ walls.” After Agesilaus was wounded in a battle against Thebes, the Spartan warrior Antalcidas joked that “The Thebans pay you well for having taught them to fight, which they were neither willing nor able to do before.”

For the Spartans, humor was more than just entertainment. It taught them how to think on their feet, how to conserve resources by training them to be economical with their words, and encouraged camaraderie between the citizens. All of us have something to learn from this warlike people, not just from their wisdom, but from their wisecracks.

MIGHTY CULTURE

The 13 funniest military memes for the week of February 7th

On Wednesday, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper released a memo to the troops reminding them that it’s against the Uniform Code of Military Justice for active-duty troops to participate in anything political while in uniform. Obviously, it’s not saying that troops can’t hold political opinions or that they can’t participate in anything while in civilian clothes.

It’s just saying while in uniform as it gives the impression all troops support one candidate/policy/movement. Why? I’m so glad you asked my rhetorical question. Because civilians (and I’m taking the politically neutral stance by mocking both sides of the aisle on this one) tend not to know any better. They look at Private Snuffy in his dress blues, and they just see his uniform and assume he’s some official envoy from the military because that’s apparently the Pentagon giving their seal of approval – which they’re obviously not.

It’s like how civilians all assume every troop knows every aspect of how WWIII is going to play out. Private Snuffy is clearly fifty levels too low on the totem pole for that kind of stuff, but the civilians wouldn’t know. I’m just saying. Even top generals appointed by a sitting president can’t even clap during their State of the Union because of this rule, so even they are obviously not going to officially back any politician.


But who am I kidding? We all know troops aren’t going to listen, and there’s going to be at least one ASVAB-waiver this political cycle who’d rather be the poster boy for social media likes than follow the rules. Here are some memes.

In a war with Russia, both sides could focus on this 60-mile stretch

(Meme via Army as F*ck)

In a war with Russia, both sides could focus on this 60-mile stretch

(Meme via The Salty Soldier)

In a war with Russia, both sides could focus on this 60-mile stretch

(Meme via Pop Smoke)

In a war with Russia, both sides could focus on this 60-mile stretch

(Meme via US Army WTF Moments Memes)

In a war with Russia, both sides could focus on this 60-mile stretch

(Meme via Call for Fire)

In a war with Russia, both sides could focus on this 60-mile stretch

(Meme via Team Non-Rec)

In a war with Russia, both sides could focus on this 60-mile stretch

(Meme via Not CID)

In a war with Russia, both sides could focus on this 60-mile stretch

(Meme via The Army’s Fckups)

In a war with Russia, both sides could focus on this 60-mile stretch

(Meme via Hooah My Ass Off)

In a war with Russia, both sides could focus on this 60-mile stretch

(Meme via Coast Guard Memes)

In a war with Russia, both sides could focus on this 60-mile stretch

(Meme via Valhalla Wear)

In a war with Russia, both sides could focus on this 60-mile stretch

(Meme via Decelerate Your Life)

In a war with Russia, both sides could focus on this 60-mile stretch

(Meme via Air Force Nation Humor)

MIGHTY CULTURE

Air Force Wounded Warrior program partners with Ukrainian vets to find healing in war-torn country

Exercise and adaptive sports have been proven to build resiliency among wounded veterans. Through new purpose, unwavering support, rekindled determination, and a focus on ability and not disability, these warriors can heal. The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) reported that 13,000 people had been killed in the Ukraine conflict as of 2019. Upward of 30,000 soldiers have been badly wounded since the war began in 2014.


These injured soldiers come back with burns covering much of their bodies, extensive brain damage, and chronic phantom pains from amputations. Around half of them are also suffering from symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Once home, their new war is just beginning.

The Ukrainian government struggles to provide basic care for these veterans, with private non-profits often stepping in to pay for things like prosthetics. Seeking help for mental health illnesses, like PTSD, carries a strong stigma for Ukrainian society. Psychologists and non-profit wounded warrior programs in Ukraine have been working hard to change that.

In 2015, Col. (Dr.) Vsevolod Stebliuk introduced the first complex psychological and physical program for the rehabilitation of war veterans at Irpin Military Hospital in Ukraine. It’s there that veterans are introduced to things like exercise therapy to build resiliency. Wounded Warrior Ukraine also teaches PTSD workshops, deep breathing and exercise therapy to Ukrainian veterans.

In 2017 the Ukraine team made its debut at the Invictus Games. This was monumental for these veterans who were struggling with devastating visible and invisible wounds from war. The Invictus Games helped them by not only building a community of support, but by giving them purpose and passion through adaptive sports. The word “Invictus” is Latin for unconquered – implying that although forever changed by war, they will not be overcome.

In a war with Russia, both sides could focus on this 60-mile stretch

Marsha Gonzales, a retired United States Air Force veteran and current Air Force Wounded Warrior (AFW2) Branch Chief for Warrior Care Support, is the manager of Team US for the 2020 Invictus Games. While at a meeting for the games, she met the manager for Team Ukraine, Oksana Horbach. Horbach shared with Gonzales her concern for her team, as Ukraine did not have the same access to financial resources as other countries. Gonzales decided to help.

When discussing different options of support, Gonzales remembered that AFW2 had equipment that was to be recycled. It was at this moment that AFW2 helped establish Team Ukraine’s first-ever wheelchair basketball team to compete in the 2020 Invictus Games.

Ten specialized wheelchairs were delivered to Ukraine in February, and with them came two AFW2 coaches and five sports ambassadors to not only train the Ukrainians with sport-specific knowledge, but also directly engage with local veterans. The AFW2 group visited the Ministry of Veteran’s Affairs, Ministry of Defense, and engaged with local media to share stories of resilience through adaptive sports.

According to Gonzales, many tears were shed during the visits with veterans. She shared that while visiting veterans in one local hospital, it was hard not to be overcome by their stories. American Veterans who came on the trip with AFW2 also felt an overwhelming sense of appreciation for the care and support they receive in the United States. All involved wished there was more they could do for these incredible Ukrainian veterans.

In a war with Russia, both sides could focus on this 60-mile stretch

One Ukrainian veteran shared during a visit that they had just received word of increased fighting, and that some of their friends had been killed. Gonzales said it was hard to remain unemotional, knowing that not far away, more Ukrainian soldiers were dying in the conflict.

While providing wheelchairs and giving their time might not seem like much to some, to the Ukrainians it was everything. “We are giving these veterans hope for their future,” Gonzales said.

Team US co-captain, retired Air Force Tech. Sgt. Joshua Smith, was one of the ambassadors on the international trip. He made a Facebook post on Feb. 22 sharing that the visit was a humbling and profound experience for him and others taking part.

In a war with Russia, both sides could focus on this 60-mile stretch

“Letting other wounded, ill, and injured service members/disabled veterans know that we can adapt, overcome, and persevere with absolute resiliency in the face of challenges, obstacles, and trials we suffer due to military service for our countries,” he wrote.

Smith said that they went into this trip with Team Ukraine appearing very unsure of why they were there to help. However, by the time AFW2 left, Ukrainian veterans were referring to them as “our Americans.”

It was no longer Team US and Team Ukraine – it was “Our Team.”

To see all of the things AFW2 is doing to support wounded warriors, click here. Also, check out Team Ukraine’s Invictus Team page.

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