32 small, nice things to do for family you can’t see this holiday season - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

32 small, nice things to do for family you can’t see this holiday season

The 2020 holiday season — particularly Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, and New Years — will be different. Much different. Common sense and COVID protocols demand that families avoid gathering. This is the smart way to approach the holidays amidst a global pandemic — better to see family over Zoom now, than to risk COVID and never seeing them ever again — but the realization of smaller tables and fewer in person season’s greetings still stings.

But, if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that we are nothing if not resilient — and a bit more nimble than we once thought. And with a bit of creativity and flexibility, we can make the best of our particular circumstances. So, with this in mind, we wanted to offer a list of small, nice things that families everywhere can do to stay connected with the relatives they can’t see this holiday season. From sharing recipes and table settings to scheduling Zoom happy hours and cookie baking get togethers, the list offers some suggestions of ways to get together to help family and friends stay close this season. And, hey, we may even get a few new traditions to add to celebrations in the years ahead.

34 Small, Nice Things to Do For Family You Can’t See This Holiday Season

  1. Send portioned-out ingredients for a beloved family recipe to everyone you normally see, so everyone can enjoy the recipe together.
  2. Even better, schedule a Zoom call so that everyone can prepare the recipe together and enjoy all the normal reminiscing, laughter, and passive aggression that takes place in the kitchen over the holidays.
  3. Have the kids make some place settings for the whole family and send them to relatives. Then, when you get together on Zoom, there’s a sense of togetherness and holiday joy.
  4. Host a Jeopardy-style quiz game over Zoom, the questions of which are all comprised of inside jokes or family lore. “This relative always passes out before Thanksgiving begins.” “Who is Uncle Mark?
  5. Have your kids draw family members or festive scenes and get them printed as a canvas painting on Snapfish or another service. It’s a great personal gift that captures a moment in time.
  6. Bake something — say, a pumpkin pie from scratch in a really nice baking dish —  and overnight it. You can use specialty shipping from FedEx and get it delivered for Thanksgiving dinner.
  7. Send flowers. It’s a nice touch.
  8. Who doesn’t appreciate a big hunk of meat? Head over to to Crowd Cow or similar service and send something special — maybe a prime rib, maybe a pork shoulder — to cook and enjoy around the holiday.
  9. Set up a family streaming movie date with Disney+ Group Watch or Netflix Party to maintain that ‘we watch these movies every year’ tradition
  10. Set up Zoom cookie-making or -decorating party with family and friends. If you are within driving distance, mask up and distribute the ones you made.
  11. Order everyone matching pajama sets to wear on the holiday so you can still act silly together.
  12. Set up a family game night over Zoom with games you don’t need set pieces for, like charades or Pictionary
  13. Create and share a playlist of holiday music so everyone can have the same holiday soundtrack.
  14. Secret Santa works over Zoom. Also, you can re-brand that gifting game for any holiday (Secret Turkey? Secret New Year’s Baby?) We could all use a gift right now.
  15. You know when family sits around the table with beers and plays games late into the evening? Why not do that over Zoom? If you have a particularly rowdy family, make it a drinking game.
  16. Have the kids put on a play and livestream it to the rest of the family. Even if it’s a complete nonsensical disaster, what’s not to love?
  17. Two words: Family PowerPoint. Whether it turns into a slideshow of the good times you all had over the years together or a lecture on sleep apnea and why it’s time Uncle Jim really did get that snoring checked out, it’ll be a lot of fun.
  18. Order a regional favorite food on Goldbelly and send it to family so that the entire clan can have, say, their New York bagel tradition in tact on holiday mornings.
  19. Have old VHS or super8 family movies? Convert them to digital — or just curate digital family footage. Then organize a family-wide digital film festival.
  20. Send family members/grandparents a photo book (try Shutterfly, etc.) with photos of last year’s holidays so everyone can reminisce about better times.
  21. Do you live close enough to relatives to drop-off food? Do it. Portion out dinner into Tupperware containers, mask up, and drop it on their doorstep.
  22. Have a “secret” family recipe you haven’t shared? Write it down in a card and mail them out to people so everyone can be surprised with finally knowing — and sharing in — the secret.
  23. Even better: Send everyone the same recipe and have a British Bake-off style contest where the best version of the recipe wins a prize.
  24. Schedule time to drink coffee together the morning of over Zoom. Holiday afternoons tend to get hectic. But morning coffee? That casual holiday routine is one of those lovely traditions that can — and should— be shared.
  25. Mail holiday cards. Lots of cards.
  26. Send everyone ingredients for the same holiday cocktail.
  27. Bombard family with lots of photos via text: What the kids are wearing. What you’re wearing. What you’re eating. What you’re drinking. The kids doing crafts. The kids napping. An adult napping. Just go big with photos of the day.
  28. Get the family working together online to solve puzzles and find their way out of a Virtual Escape Room.
  29. Among Us is the game of the moment for a reason: It’s the fun of murder mystery with the interactivity of video game. If your family is tech-saavy enough, it’s a great way to have holiday game night.
  30. Have a Zoom family joke night. Everyone goes around and shares their funny holiday-themed joke. The one with the most laughs wins.
  31. Bring some family members along via Facetime when there’s a snowball fight, the kids go sledding, or you go out to such festive — and safe — activities as a visit to the holiday lights at the local botanical gardens. Feeling like a part of the group from afar does wonders for someone’s spirit.
  32. Whatever you do let your relatives know that you miss them and love them and can’t wait to celebrate safely together soon.

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

Why ‘Crayon-Eater’ is actually just a bad joke

The rivalry between branches can best be described as a sibling rivalry. We’re always making fun of each other whenever we can, calling the Air Force the Chair Force, the Coast Guard a bunch of puddle pirates — the list goes on. One thing that branches can’t seem to figure out, though, is a good, slightly insulting nickname for Marines.

It seems like the other branches tried to find some kind of insult for Marines but, instead, we’ve turned those monikers into sources of pride. We like being called names like Jarhead. It’s kind of cool, really. You’re saying our hair regulations are so disciplined it’s stupid? Maybe it’s your attitude toward discipline that has us always on the delivery side of insults. Think about it.

But one thing that’s sorta caught on and is becoming popular is calling Marines, “Crayon-Eaters.”

Well, here’s why that nickname just won’t hold water:


32 small, nice things to do for family you can’t see this holiday season

Snipers know why there’s some truth there…

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Krista James)

1. First off, it’s just kind of… weak

Maybe we’re just too dumb to understand the insult here but, quite frankly, it sucks. It’s lame.

If you were to call your friend a “Crayon-Eater” in any other situation, they’d just shrug and say, “okay,” with a condescending tone. It’s no better than a Kindergarten insult. You might as well say, “you poop your pants!” At least then there’s some truth for some Marines.

32 small, nice things to do for family you can’t see this holiday season

“You think crayon-eater is funny?!”

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Pfc. Aaron Bolser)

2. It’s ironic

The whole point of the joke is to say that Marines are stupid. Got it. But you know what’s stupid? The joke itself. It’s ironic how dumb the joke is. Instead of making Marines look dumb, you actually just display the inability to create a layered, intelligent insult. “Crayon-eater” is so bland and overplayed that it loses any impact it might have.

32 small, nice things to do for family you can’t see this holiday season

We’re not afraid to take shots at each other because it’s all part of the brotherhood.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Anthony Guas)

3. Marines have better insults for each other

The things Marines say to one another on a daily basis are way worse — it’s stuff so bad that we can’t even mention it on this website. They’re things that would make your average civilian’s stomach turn and cause airmen everywhere to puke all over their computer desks.

The worst part is that the joke isn’t even close to being offensive. Of course, some of you may read this and say, “this guy is just offended,” and the answer is no — and that’s the problem. You think something as lame as “crayon-eater” is going to offend a member of a tribe whose trainees are taught to yell, “kill!” during training?

Didn’t think so.

32 small, nice things to do for family you can’t see this holiday season

They’re laughing at you, not with you.

(U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Sgt. Emmanuel Ramos)

If you want to keep using the joke, go right ahead. Just remember, when a Marine laughs in your face because your joke isn’t doing what you thought it would — we tried to warn you.

MIGHTY CULTURE

6 countries Rambo needs to visit in the new movie

John Rambo changes lives. Not just in movies, but in the real world. From the flawed antihero of First Blood to the immortal god of death and destruction in 2008’s Rambo, Sylvester Stallone’s action-hero prototype isn’t just the forerunner of modern, big-budget action stars, he’s a real-life game-changer. A cinematic visit from John Rambo has historically been an omen of big changes to follow in the real world.

Stallone just announced the production of a new Rambo movie — and it couldn’t come at a better time. He’s definitely going to take on Mexican drug cartels in the film, which is a good move, but there are many other places that need the help. Call it the “Rambo Effect.”


Related: 10 worst armies in the world 2018

For the uninitiated, Vietnam veteran John Rambo goes off to find some personal peace after the war, meeting up with old Army friends and traveling the world, looking for meaning. What he ends up finding is a personal war everywhere he goes. He fights the bad guys in the movies and wins – but in the real world, something always happens in the country he visits, often within a year of a film’s release, changing them for the better.

Anyone who’s a big fan of Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo series knows the sequels are a far cry from the story and intent of the first film. In First Blood, he was a flawed Vietnam veteran who became a rallying cry for a generation of vets who were all but ignored by society. Seriously, this is a really great, thoughtful movie with a good message.

The Vietnam War took a toll on America in a way the country still hasn’t fully recovered from. It was the first time Americans learned to distrust the President of the United States and this fostered a general mistrust of the government ever since. First Blood takes America to task about things Vietnam veterans still talk about today: Agent Orange, public indifference toward veterans, public perception of “crazy” Vietnam veterans, veteran unemployment, post-traumatic stress, and more.

32 small, nice things to do for family you can’t see this holiday season

The 80s were a crazy time for everyone.

What people really noticed while watching First Blood is how awesome that Green Beret stuff really was, so by the time First Blood Part II came about, Rambo was a full-on action hero — the mold for the Bruce Willises, Arnold Schwarzeneggers, and the Steven Seagals yet to come. The real message was lost amid big-budget explosions and fight sequences.

32 small, nice things to do for family you can’t see this holiday season

Crewmen of the amphibious cargo ship USS Durham (LKA-114) take Vietnamese refugees from a small craft, April 1975

(U.S. National Archives)

The second installment of the Rambo series was released almost ten years to the day after the fall of Saigon. In the real-world, reunified Vietnam under Communist rule, chaos ensued. Thousands were herded into reeducation camps, a crippled economy suffered from triple-digit inflation, the state went to war with Cambodia and then China. Thousands of refugees took to fleeing by boat to anywhere else.

32 small, nice things to do for family you can’t see this holiday season

Still, some things just don’t age well.

The year after First Blood Part II had Rambo return to Vietnam, the Vietnamese government began implementing massive reforms to move away from the strict Communist structure that dominated it for the previous decade. In the intervening years, the economy began to recover as the government moved to a more socialist form.

In 1988’s Rambo III, John Rambo sets off to rescue Colonel Trautman after he’s taken captive in Soviet-dominated Afghanistan. Of course, Rambo goes right into Afghanistan, destroys every Soviet in his wake and rescues his old friend in a blaze of fiery glory. That same year, the Soviet Union began its final withdrawal from Afghanistan, a war that was a major contributing factor to the fall of the Soviet Union.

32 small, nice things to do for family you can’t see this holiday season

Coming to theaters of war near you.

In 2008’s Rambo, the former Green Beret joins a group of missionaries headed to Myanmar. 2008 Myanmar was a brutal totalitarian dictatorship scarred by rampant human rights abuses — both on screen and in the real world. In the film, a warlord is brutalizing the Burmese people and the missionaries become victims. A team of mercenaries goes back into Myanmar with Rambo. Rambo kills everyone who isn’t a good guy.

Two months after the film’s release, the actual Myanmar government suddenly held a real constitutional referendum intended to guide the country down the path away from the military junta and into democratic reforms. By 2010, Myanmar held contested, multiparty elections. The military government was fully dissolved in 2011 and, by 2015, there were serious elections held in the country.

I’m not saying John Rambo had anything to do with any of this, all I’m saying is that John Rambo could be the harbinger of positive change in the world. Which is good, because there are a few place that really need a change.

1. Syria

Even though this is hardly the world’s longest ongoing conflict, it has to be one of the most intense and well-attended. Anyone who’s anyone is sending troops to Syria, and soon Germany may even join the party. All joking aside, this is a conflict that has, so far, killed more than a half-million people in seven years by moderate estimates, but no one really knows for sure.

A war this intense should end sooner rather than later. Even though Richard Crenna (the actor who portrayed Col. Trautman) died in 2003, maybe Rambo can be sent to Syria to rescue Trautman’s son? I’ll leave that for Stallone to decide, but he’s got to get Rambo there somehow.

32 small, nice things to do for family you can’t see this holiday season

Just one North Korean parade and it’s all over.

2. North Korea

While the intensity of this conflict peaked more than 70 years ago, the ongoing human rights abuses and detainment of North Koreans in prison camps is exactly the kind of thing John Rambo would hate to see.

And if there’s anyone who could reach Kim Jong Un on his own, it’s John Rambo.

32 small, nice things to do for family you can’t see this holiday season

Pictured: Rambo sneaking back into Burma.

3. Back to Myanmar

Even though his first visit to Burma (Myanmar) foretold the coming of democratic reforms, an argument could be made that they didn’t exactly reach what anyone would call true quality before the law. In fact, a number of civil conflicts are ongoing in Burma, including the Rohingya slaughter and insurgency read so much about in the news lately, but there are others — at least 18 different insurgent groups operate in Burma to this day.

4. Yemen

If ever a war needed to end, it’s the ongoing Saudi-led coalition’s war against Houthi-dominated Yemen. If ever any single country needed a John Rambo to finish things off, it’s this devastating embarrassment. For three years, Saudi Arabia and its 24 coalition partners have been hammering away at little Yemen and the Houthis who took it over, killing tens of thousands of people — many civilians — and are no closer to winning right now than they were three years ago.

32 small, nice things to do for family you can’t see this holiday season

Name a more iconic duo. I’ll wait.

5. The Philippines

The Moro people of the Philippines have pretty much been resisting invaders since the beginning of time. For at least 400 years, the Moro have resisted Spanish, American, Japanese, American, and Philippine dominance over their traditional area of the country.

If there’s a world leader that would make an excellent Hollywood villain, it’s Rodrigo Duterte, current president of the Philippines. He’s not crazy, he thinks he’s doing the world a favor, and his methods are shocking. After a few centuries, this conflict should be ready to end and who better to bring that about than Rambo and a giant hunting knife?

6. Somalia

Somalia has been in the throes of civil war since the 1980s and it has never even begun anything close to a recovery. After the fall of the Barre dictatorship, no one has held a controlling area of the country, including the United States, the United Nations, and even Ethiopia, who invaded Somalia not too long ago, crushing just one more in a long line of Islamic Insurgents who want to control the Somali people.

More than half a million people from all over the world have died in this conflict and it has displaced more than 1.1 million Somalis. It is time for this conflict to end — that’s your cue, Rambo.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Your heart matters: Why every service member should get an EKG

Every 80 seconds, an American woman dies of cardiovascular disease. That’s more than every type of cancer combined. We live in a society that has put a great amount of emphasis on educating the masses to identify a heart attack in men, but women present differently. Often the symptoms are misdiagnosed as panic attacks.


The documentary Ms. Diagnosed, sheds light on the problem that women’s symptoms are often not recognized because diagnostic testing has been developed to detect how the disease manifests in men. The documentary highlights a large health disparity between men and women in terms of the care they receive in the United States. Cardiologist Sharonne Hayes, M.D. stresses the importance of women advocating for themselves because, unfortunately, no one else is. This disparity of care translates into even further divisions in professions, like the military, whose statistics are male-dominated.

32 small, nice things to do for family you can’t see this holiday season

For one female veteran featured in the documentary, Kelsey Gumm, it took ten years of fainting spells and misdiagnoses to discover her heart condition. Her first fainting spell occurred in boot camp. Prior to that, she had been a healthy, active teenager involved in dance and athletics throughout high school. At the age of 17, when medical professionals told her she was experiencing anxiety and dehydration, she defaulted to trust. After all, she was in the middle of boot camp, anxiety and dehydration came with the territory. It would take ten years of fainting spells and misdiagnoses before she was sent to a cardiologist.

At the age of 27 Gumm’s military career, the only path she had ever wanted, was over. She was fitted with a defibrillator and pacemaker and began her new civilian life feeling defeated, angry, and scared. All of this could have been avoided. Had Gumm received an EKG prior to enlisting the heart defect would have been discovered, and she would never have gone into cardiac arrest. True, she also wouldn’t have been allowed into the Navy, but she would have been equipped with the knowledge to pursue a healthy life with the heart she had. Knowledge and prevention make for good bedfellows. Today she is living a strong healthier life equipped with a viable plan forward based on facts, a passion for bike riding, and a desire for heart advocacy.

32 small, nice things to do for family you can’t see this holiday season

Kelsey Gumm

The military does not give the proper test for detecting heart disease when potential cadets go through the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS). Physical deformities are screened but not the heart. A simple EKG takes only a few minutes. Those few minutes could save countless lives of men and women.

Gumm’s story is one of survival. Kelsey Nobles of Mobile, Alabama, did not have the same good fortune. In 2019, at the age of 18, she died of cardiac arrest during boot camp. Her’s is not the only story. There are other names, other lives cut short. In 2006 a study published by the American Journal of Cardiology found that between 1977 and 2001, the sudden deaths of women recruits, within 25 days of arriving for training, 81% were due to “reasons that may have been cardiac in origin.”

32 small, nice things to do for family you can’t see this holiday season

When Gumm was asked why military hearts matter she responded by saying, “Our heroes, our warriors, people serving our country deserve the best health care provided to them. They deserve to have their hearts checked. We are in a stressful job and stress is a leading factor in heart disease. In the military stress is so increased yet we default to thinking these men and women are young and healthy so they can’t be at risk. It simply isn’t true. Anyone can experience this. For something that is so easily tested it is inexcusable for heart health to not be provided for all military—for those in processing, for those serving, and for all veterans.”

The solution is simple. MEPS and yearly physicals should include EKGs.

MIGHTY CULTURE

5 wacky sights from the Sturgis motorcycle rally

Every year, thousands of motorcyclists descend on Sturgis, South Dakota for days of camaraderie, fanfare and riding. Despite COVID-19 restrictions, this year’s rally is still happening. Here are 5 wacky sights you have to see to believe.

Zac Brown Midget Bowling

www.youtube.com

1. Zac Brown bowling a midget

The human bowling ball named Short Sleeve Sampson is considered by some as a rite of passage at Buffalo Chip and the Sturgis Rally. With his assistants, Lady Victoria and Summer, the midget wrestling icon lines up to be hurled down the lane at a set of bowling pins. Seeing country-music star Zac Brown partake in the action is like an odd cherry on top of a wacky sundae. That said, Zac Brown is joined on the list of midget bowlers by other famous artists like Rob Zombie, John 5 and Eric Church.

32 small, nice things to do for family you can’t see this holiday season

(Rapid City Journal)

2. The kangaroo at the wedding

When Lady Victoria married Marco Webber at the 2009 Sturgis Rally, she was escorted down the aisle by Jack the Kangaroo of Roo Ranch. Lady Victoria noted that her previous marriage ceremonies were very traditional and wanted to change things up. For his services, Jack received a BreathSavers mint, a favorite treat of his.

32 small, nice things to do for family you can’t see this holiday season

(Rapid City Journal)

3. Rhett Rotten and the Wall of Death

Sure, you could argue that it’s simple physics: counteracting gravity with sufficient velocity and centrifugal force. But, there’s just something fantastic about a man riding his motorcycle around on a wall. Did we mention that the wall is 12 feet high, 30 feet wide and 81 years old? If only Humvees were as reliable as the Wall of Death.

32 small, nice things to do for family you can’t see this holiday season

(Rapid City Journal)

4. Riding through a beer wall

If you’re riding, it means you’re not drinking. So what’s the next best thing? How about riding through the drink? Bursting through a wall of cold ones results in a fantastic display of foam that we can only imagine must be supremely refreshing and satisfying.

32 small, nice things to do for family you can’t see this holiday season

(Rapid City Journal)

5. A man in a barrel

This one is pretty self-explanatory. We’ll just leave it here for you to enjoy.

MIGHTY CULTURE

TMF President Ryan Manion has one speed…GO!

It’s pouring rain as the photographer and I run through the cobbled streets of Philadelphia. You can see it in the locals’ faces and the Colonial buildings still standing strong just blocks from the Liberty Bell that this city is tough. For over 300 years, Philly has been the home of patriots, presidents and even movie characters such as Rocky Balboa. Yet, there is one theme that continues to define Philadelphians. No matter how much they struggle, get kicked around or scarred, there will be a moment when they rise, gritty and determined, and GO on with their mission.


We arrive at the Union League, a brick and brownstone club, which has supported the military and veterans since 1862. As we pass two statues of soldiers marching off to war, I receive a text, “Finishing a board meeting. Use the side entrance. You won’t be allowed in unless you are in a jacket. Which I assume you are not.” The subject of our next interview is 100% correct and I instantly know we are in the place where Ryan Manion and her team hold court each December.

Ryan is the President of the Travis Manion Foundation, co-author of the Knock at the Door, mother, Gold Star sister and marathon runner. She’s busy. Always on the go, and the second week of December is her Super Bowl.

The night before our interview, she led the annual If Not Me, Then Who gala, which honors fallen heroes, veterans, active-duty troops and military families. Today, she’s leading the TMF board meeting, which includes current CEOs and former generals. Tomorrow, she’ll go on Fox Sports to represent TMF at the Army-Navy game where Navy will take home the win (but we don’t know that yet). Ryan has thankfully given us thirty minutes of her downtime for a one-on-one interview which she tells me is “no big deal” after I thank her again.

The Travis Manion Foundation is a big deal. The non-profit, which started as a small family effort, is now an organization that coordinates thousands of community volunteers across the nation. Ryan, who lost her brother, 1st Lieutenant Travis Manion, and her team are driven by the mission to “empower veterans and families of fallen heroes to develop character in future generations.”

The most amazing thing about Ryan Manion is not only all that she and her team have accomplished since 2007 but the fact that she is still going, and going strong. Ryan, who grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs, is a former smoker who now runs marathons and does ruck marches. She talks fast and moves faster. “Come on, let’s GO,” she tells us when we see her. I follow, knowing without a doubt that Ryan is the next generation of tough as nails leader that Philly is known for.

WATM: How’s your Army-Navy week going?

Ryan’s phone rings. It’s a family call. She answers while we start taking photos. Then she’s back.

Ryan Manion: It’s been a little heavy this week. We started off Tuesday with a meeting for all our senior TMF leadership, which we did for the first time. They flew in from all over the country. Then Tuesday night, we had a huge book event here in Philly, and my son has pneumonia.

WATM: OMG, that is a lot.

Ryan: He’s fine. Home with the family. He had a cold for three days. It didn’t even seem like a big cold. You know, it’s been kind of crazy.

WATM: How do you manage everything on your plate?

Ryan: I love what I do, and I get to work on wonderful things. We’ve been working on a project for tomorrow’s Army-Navy Game. We’re bringing 30 wounded warriors and their families to meet the President during the third quarter.

WATM: Wow, that is amazing. Did you ever see yourself doing this kind of work? Especially leading an organization such as the Travis Manion Foundation?

Ryan: Today, one of our board members said it best, “It all just gets back to Travis, saying, if not me, then who?” And that kind of simplified the journey for me. I thought to myself, ‘Oh my God. I’m sitting here with all these people because of my brother.’

WATM: You and your family established the organization as a way to carry on Travis’s legacy. Does it still feel that way a decade later?

32 small, nice things to do for family you can’t see this holiday season

Ryan and her brother Travis at the Army-Navy Game.

Ryan: Last night, somebody at the gala who was a Marine that served with Travis came up to me and said, “You know, I’ve been at this gala for eight years now, and every year gets better and better. It’s unbelievable. But I got to tell you, I was sitting there thinking, these people don’t know who Travis Manion was.”

WATM: How did that make you feel?

Ryan: Travis is my personal driver, but this organization is bigger than one person. I am excited for so many to see the fruits of what he stood for through this organization.

WATM: If Not Me, Then Who?

Ryan: Exactly. My brother wrote those words before he deployed to Iraq, and they represent the character, leadership and selfless service that is the backbone of all our programs. Whether it is our strength-building seminars, expeditions, fitness events or service projects, we unite our volunteers, both civilian and veteran, in the common cause to better their communities by living the mantra of “If Not Me, Then Who…”

WATM: What do you think draws people to the foundation and your work?

Ryan: It’s funny because our board was just asking me the same thing.

WATM: And?

Ryan: I have to tell you, the thing about our organization is that it’s like the feeling you get when you’re around your family. It started out as a family affair. It was a small family that was grieving the loss of their loved one. But even as we’ve grown, it doesn’t matter what event you’re at or how many show up. You know, tomorrow there will be a thousand people at our tailgate, everyone’s going to feel like they’re part of a team, a family.

WATM: Was that the plan from the beginning?

Ryan laughs. I’ve been to a few TMF tailgates, and we both know the answer.

Ryan: I can’t articulate in words why that is. But you’ve been around it, you see it, and I don’t know what drives that. We come from a very different place from a lot of other traditional veterans service organizations, especially those in the post 9/11 world. I think they’re all doing great work. They came with an idea, “Ok, this is the problem, and this is how we’re going to solve it.”

We came with, “I just lost my brother, my mom and dad just lost their son. And we want to make sure that we continue his legacy.” So when you come at it from that place, there’s no chance that it’s gonna be anything but super authentic in what you’re doing. Since then, it’s been, “Ok, we’re going to do this. Oh, people are into it. Ok? Let’s keep doing it. Oh, wow. We’re really doing something here now.” That’s the plan.

Ryan smiles as I point to her new book, The Knock At the Door.

32 small, nice things to do for family you can’t see this holiday season

Ryan Manion with a copy of her book, The Knock at the Door.

WATM: So let’s talk about the book. First of all, congratulations.

Ryan: Thank you. Yes, it’s pretty awesome.

WATM: What’s the feedback you’re getting so far?

Ryan: The feedback has been tremendous. We’ve found that this book, to some degree, breaks down the wedge between the civilian and military worlds because everyone receives some type of knock at the door. We all have challenges that we weren’t expecting to appear in our lives.

The Knock At the Door shows what a military family goes through when they lose someone. But this story doesn’t end there. Our story just begins there. So it’s set in a much different context. The Knock At the Door empowered me and my co-authors into another chapter of our lives. We all had different journeys from shock to finding purpose.

WATM: In the book, you describe how physical fitness helped you find focus. Specifically moving from smoking to running the Marine Corps Marathon?

Ryan: I totally recognize the extreme of it all. Physical fitness is huge both in general and in times of grief. It was truly eye-opening when I discovered the effect it had on my daily psyche. I mean, people say, exercise is a little bit of a drug and they’re right. That’s why I had to write about my physical journey alongside my emotional one. I went through some dark times after I lost my brother. I struggled with anxiety and depression and was ultimately diagnosed with PTSD. It was realization that I was not ok that helped me to pick up the pieces.

WATM: Is there anything that people are really responding to or the people are coming to you afterwards and saying, I love this. That you’re finding people are really resonating with?

Ryan: I think for me, people were surprised about how vulnerable I was in the book. You know, I’ve been given the opportunity to run a veteran serving organization that requires a lot of professional appearances and public speaking. People get to meet me as the President of the Travis Manion Foundation, but this book showed a whole different side of me.

WATM: Was it scary to be that vulnerable and open?

Ryan: Yes. You know, the other thing that’s been really great about the book is the response from the Gold Star community. If you would have asked me before I wrote, what’s your biggest fear? It would be that like the Gold Star community doesn’t connect with this. And they have.

32 small, nice things to do for family you can’t see this holiday season

Ryan with her TMF GORUCK.

WATM: What do you think Travis would say about all of this?

Ryan: I don’t know what Travis would be doing now. I don’t know if he’d still be in the Marine Corps, if he’d be out and working in corporate America or doing something less traditional. I have no idea. But I know that he would be involved in this world. He would not be the veteran that takes off the uniform, goes away and is unconnected to what’s happening in their community. But would I be connected to this world? Probably not, because my brother would have been. I think he would be proud that I am involved and active with the Travis Manion Foundation, but he would have hated that it’s named after him.

WATM: I think I can understand that.

Ryan: We were years into this thing, and my dad’s like, “I just feel like I don’t think Travis would like that his name is everywhere. It’s nameless, maybe we should change the name?” And my response was something like, “Dad, you’re kidding. We’re in too deep. Travis’s name represents this generation.” And so, that’s my rebuttal. I think Travis would be super proud of what’s happening in his name.

WATM: Is there anything that you’re looking forward to in 2020? Maybe something you’re scared about or something we should keep on our radar?

Ryan: The next big thing I’m doing is going to Puerto Rico at the end of January for one of our service expeditions. We have eight or nine of these service expeditions a year, but this one is special. I will be traveling with a Marine who was with Travis when he was killed. We will be doing rehab projects for veterans’ homes effected by the hurricane a couple of years ago. I am looking forward to that.

WATM: Will you keep us updated on the trip?

Ryan: Of course.

WATM: Last question. Who do you think will win the Army-Navy Game tomorrow?

Ryan: Navy all the way. (Turns out she was right)

For more information on Ryan Manion or the Travis Manion Foundation visit www.travismanion.org.


MIGHTY CULTURE

The 7 universally important things to know before any boot camp

Everyone who enters the US military these days will go through basic training. Although each branch of the military (including the Coast Guard) has a markedly different experience in their initial training days, there are things a young would-be troop can know and do to prepare themselves mentally and physically for whatever service they’re about to enter, regardless of gender.

Prepare to fear and then respect the campaign hat, pukes.


32 small, nice things to do for family you can’t see this holiday season

Tech. Sgt. Edroy Robinson, 331st Training Squadron military training instructor, observes as new Air Force basic training arrivals prepare to get a haircut May 20, 2015, at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Johnny Saldivar)

Show up with a neat appearance.

Your fellow trainees/recruits will appreciate this. You will appreciate this eventually. You probably know before going that part of basic military training means you will be stripped of your hair and your civilian clothes. You will be given the same haircut as everyone else and wear the same clothes as everyone else. But before that happens, there’s a lot of waiting.

When you get off the bus, you will be tired and maybe dirty from traveling all day. You will feel gross. None of that will matter, though. Your introduction to military service begins with a hurry up and wait that could take most of a day and into the next. You may not see a rack or shower for some time. If you prepared for this, you and those around you will be grateful.

32 small, nice things to do for family you can’t see this holiday season

New recruits with Lima Company, 3rd Recruit Training Battalion, make their initial phone calls home at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, May 21, 2018.

(MCRD San Diego)

Dress conservatively.

This goes double for Marine Corps recruits. The goal is to not draw attention to yourself, to try to blend in. The whole time you were tired from getting to basic training, the drill instructors/drill sergeants/training instructors/recruit division commanders were watching you. The first thing they notice about you could stick with you for the entire time you’re in boot camp.

Consider a plain-colored tee shirt or other comfortable gear to wear to basic training.

32 small, nice things to do for family you can’t see this holiday season

Don’t take it personally.

The men and women in charge of shaping your civilian lump into a part of the world’s best combined-arms fighting force have been doing it for some time. They know exactly what it means to be a part of your entry in the U.S. Military. As a matter of fact, their basic training to teach your basic training was much, much more difficult than your basic training.

Training new recruits is one of the hardest jobs to get and keep in the U.S. military, and those who wear the Smokey Bear hat went through a lot to be there. No one cares more about making you a capable fighter than the person under that hat. If they’re giving you a hard time, there’s a reason for it.

32 small, nice things to do for family you can’t see this holiday season

A basic combat training soldier acting as a casualty is carried by members of his squad toward their command post after a simulated attack on their patrol July 20, 2016, during his BCT company’s final field training exercise at Fort Jackson, S.C.

(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Javier Amador)

Move like you mean it.

They’re awake before you are and they go to bed after you do. They put all their time and effort into molding you into the shapes of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines. The least you can do is act like it means something to you. If you aren’t “moving with a sense of urgency” by the end of the first week, you’re showing total disrespect to everyone around you who is.

32 small, nice things to do for family you can’t see this holiday season

(U.S. Navy)

Be in some kind of shape.

Compared to most of the other things you’ll do with your life – especially your military life – basic training is rather easy. But it will be a whole lot more difficult for you if you were so out of shape in your civilian life that you may not hack it as a U.S. troop. But your window for getting in shape doesn’t have to be limited to the eight to twelve weeks you’ll spend in basic military training. If you can show up halfway there, you’ll be doing yourself a real favor.

32 small, nice things to do for family you can’t see this holiday season

An Air Force Basic Military Training dining facility.

(U.S. Air Force)

Learn how to address others.

Every branch has different rules for this in basic training, but it’s one of those little things that can show your instructors some respect while opening doors for you – literally. You will have to learn how to refer to your instructors, how to refer to yourself, and how to speak to those in your chain of command. You will have to do this for almost everything from answering questions to eating to going to the bathroom.

Life is so much easier when you know how to respond in these situations.

32 small, nice things to do for family you can’t see this holiday season

It gets better.

(U.S. Marine Corps)

Do not ever think of giving up.

When you arrive, there will likely be a quick flash where you wonder just what the hell you’ve gotten yourself into. A quick situational awareness check will tell you that there are hundreds of others around you, doing the same thing, probably having the same idea. Everyone else will push past the defeatism and embrace the situation – and you will not be happy until you do the same.

For most people who go through the military, finishing basic training is one of the most satisfying achievements of their lives. For the people that quit, it becomes their biggest regret. The choice is simple.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This soldier gave up life as an actress to join the Army

Not many people could recognize Carly Schroeder June 27, 2019, at Fort Jackson’s Hilton Field. The blonde-haired, blue-eyed “Lizzy McGuire” and “General Hospital” actress who traded her red carpet heels for combat boots, blended into the crowd of roughly 450 other identically dressed soldiers as they walked across the field during their Basic Combat Training graduation ceremony.

“Army life is very different from Hollywood,” Schroeder said. “There are some similarities, but Army life is very uniform. Everyone is very disciplined and everyone is treated equally.”

No stranger to weapons training and the physicality of stunt work, Schroeder faced a new set of challenges during BCT. She faced marksmanship courses with the Army’s M4 rifle, daily physical fitness workouts, ruck marches, obstacle courses, learning to work with others as a team and a culminating event that tests the abilities and strengths of fellow soldiers to work together to successfully complete a set of missions — The Forge.


“The most difficult thing has to be between the ruck marches and food,” Schroeder said. “Before I came here I was vegan.”

Schroeder lived the vegan lifestyle for quite some time before enlisting, but adapted to a vegetarian diet to take in additional protein during training. While the military has always offered alternate meals to those with dietary needs, it can be challenging to find a wide variety of those foods within the BCT environment.

“It was quite an adjustment,” said Schroeder. “There was only one MRE I could eat, veggie crumbles.”

32 small, nice things to do for family you can’t see this holiday season

Spc. Carly Schroeder, center, the actress who traded her red carpet heels for combat boots, embraces her newly made friends during her Basic Combat Training graduation at Fort Jackson June 26, 2019.

(Photo by Ms. Alexandra Shea)

An MRE, or Meal, Ready-to-Eat, are daily rations that contain about a day’s worth of calories in a convenient to carry and store pouch. The MRE mentioned is Menu 11 — Vegetable Crumbles with Pasta in Taco Style Sauce. With a little help from some new friends, she “fare-d” well with field rations.

“My team mates really made sure they had my back and got the veggie crumbles for me every time,” Schroeder said.

Schroeder, like all trainees to pass through BCT, learned not only the basics of making a soldier physically but also social skills that allowed her to adapt and overcome in stressful situations and when finding herself in a foreign environment with new people. These skills empower soldiers to build personal and professional relationships quickly and units to build a cohesiveness that helps ensure successful future missions.

“Basic Combat Training was fun but hard too,” said Pvt. Mylene Sanchez, a fellow unit member. “The ruck marches were really hard, Schroeder really helped me a lot with them. She helped take some of the weight for me.”

Actions such as helping a buddy out with a few pounds during a ruck march exemplify one of the seven Army core values — selfless service. These values are instilled in each soldier from day one of training and they use them to build strong teams.

“Teamwork was the biggest obstacle for everyone to overcome,” said another unit member Spc. Joel Morris. “As long as you push forward and kept trying, it was a breeze.”

Schroeder easily cultivated relationships, even with those who knew of her silver screen time.

32 small, nice things to do for family you can’t see this holiday season

A camera crew from a nationally syndicated TV program interviews Spc. Carly Schroeder and some of her newly-made friends during their Basic Combat Training graduation June 27, 2019, at Fort Jackson.

(Photo by Ms. Alexandra Shea)

Schroeder explained how she didn’t talk about her time as an actress and how she wanted to blend in so people wouldn’t treat her differently. Eventually, word spread about her acting career, but her relationships with her team members was already cemented.

“She was an amazing leader,” said Pvt. Cindy Ganesh, another unit member who trained alongside Schroeder. “She took the time to go and help and teach. She was a friend, a real friend.”

Morris said, “she would kick everyone’s butt in combatives.”

As the 10-weeks of training came to an end with the graduation ceremony, the soldiers now face Advanced Individual Training. Some of the soldiers who met in training will continue on with fellow graduates depending on the location of their AIT training and their occupational specialty. Schroeder is a 09S — Commissioned Officer Candidate who will attend 12 weeks of tactical and leadership training at Fort Benning, Georgia before she is officially commissioned.

While the former actress is on her way to the next chapter of her military career, she is not likely to forget soon the friendships she built in BCT.

“They’re not my team members anymore, we became Family” Schroeder said. “We worked through 10 hard weeks together. It was brutal but it’s what we bonded over.”

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

Woman honors husband’s WWII service, 40 years after his death

In 1937, a young Chicago woman named Aida Garaffa lived across the street from a young man named Gerald “Jerry” Bonsonto.

A trip to a local shop would join the two hearts together in love.

“My sister and I were walking to the corner of Throop Street. There was a grocery store where we bought ice cream. When we came out of the store we saw Jerry,” explained Aida Bonsonto who recalled that first meeting with her future husband.

“He asked me if I wanted to go to the movies with him. He wasn’t a big fellow. He was about five-feet four-inches but he was handsome,” she said.

But world events, specifically World War II, would interrupt their courtship.


“The war was going on. He was drafted,” explained the youthful 97-year-old. “He was inducted on Dec. 12, 1942. We were engaged and then he left for training at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.”

32 small, nice things to do for family you can’t see this holiday season

Aida Bonsonto with her husband Gerald “Jerry” Bonsonto pose for a photo, circa 1946.

Bonsonto trained as a medic and paratrooper and was assigned to the 307th medics of the 82nd Airborne Division.

“He landed in Africa first,” explained Bonsonto. “And he also served in Sicily, Italy, Ireland, England, France, Holland, and Germany. He was in the Battle of the Bulge.”

It was there where bullets fired by a German sniper found their mark hitting Pfc. Bonsonto. When she found out, she went to Holy Family Church in Chicago. The same church where the couple would be married later on June 8, 1946.

“When we found out he was wounded, I crawled from the door to the altar of Holy Family Church. I asked God to spare his life,” she said.

“They didn’t know if he was going to live,” she said. “He was badly wounded.”

But Jerry lived.

He was evacuated and sent to hospitals in England and Capri, Italy before he was discharged and sent home to the United States.

“He was never the same after that. He had a lot of pain,” she said.

Before he came home he sent the woman who would become his wife two boxes containing a parachute. Rationing was in effect, even after the war ended, and fabric was expensive. But a parachute made of silk and nylon provided Bonsonto with the material she needed for her wedding dress.

32 small, nice things to do for family you can’t see this holiday season

Aida Bonsonto wears a wedding dress, circa 1946, made from a parachute, that was sent home to her by Army medic Gerald “Jerry” Bonsonto who served with the 82nd Airborne Division during World War II.

“I told the seamstress I wanted a sweetheart neckline with long sleeves,” said she said. “And the bridesmaids dresses were all made in Chiffon.”

“An Italian woman made the wedding dress and the bridesmaid gowns out of the parachute,” explained Bonsonto.

It turned out the wedding dress was not the only thing she owned that was made from a parachute.

“While he (Jerry) was in Normandy, he had a French lady make me a nightgown out of a parachute. It was all made by hand,” she said.

And the cost was not what one might expect.

“It cost him two packages of cigarettes. That’s all she asked for it”, said Bonsonto.

Bonsonto shared that she still keeps the nightgown.

“I only wore it when I got married,” said Bonsonto. “I kept it as a souvenir with the wedding dress. She also stitched my name on the nightgown. It’s very pretty.”

While she waited for Jerry to return home, life went on in her neighborhood in Chicago.

“We used to sit outside at night and have coffee and pastries. We slept near the fire hydrant when it was hot at night,” explained Bonsonto. “My brother put a loudspeaker on our parlor window and we would have a street dance.”

32 small, nice things to do for family you can’t see this holiday season

The family of Aida Bonsonto pauses for a photo with Brig. Gen. Kris A. Belanger, Commanding General, 85th U.S. Army Reserve Support Command and a wedding dress made from a World War II parachute that her husband sent home.

(Photo by Sgt. David Lietz)

But the party to end all parties was when World War II ended Sept. 2, 1945.

“It was remarkable how people celebrated. I think people celebrated at least three days on this block. People danced in the streets. It was like a festival,” she said.

When Jerry returned home he started working for his dad driving a truck and never talked about his wartime experiences, according to Bonsonto.

“He wore his combat boots every day working on the truck to remind him of what he went through,” said Bonsonto. “He wore them until he couldn’t wear them anymore when they fell apart.”

Her beloved Jerry passed away in 1980.

“Everybody liked him. He was funny. He minded his business, he worked and came home,” recalled Bonsonto.

Now Bonsonto has stated that she will loan the parachute wedding dress she wore on her wedding day to the 82nd Airborne Division War Memorial Museum at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Her next concern was how to get the wedding dress to the museum.

On Memorial Day of 2019, Brig. Gen. Kris A. Belanger, South Carolina native and commanding general of the Chicago-based 85th U.S. Army Reserve Support Command, traveled to suburban Orland Park to meet with Bonsonto and her family and pick up the dress.

32 small, nice things to do for family you can’t see this holiday season

A religious card taped into a scrapbook compiled by Aida Bonsonto showcases her husband’s military service during World War II.

“My mom has wanted to (loan) this parachute wedding dress for years,” explained her daughter-in-law, Caroline Bonsonto. “She has been contacting different museums for years. This is something she has been pursuing.”

“There’s lots of stories about these parachute wedding dresses but not a lot of actual dresses in museums,” explained John Aarsen, museum director for the 82nd Airborne Division War Memorial Museum. “We love them. It helps tell the stories about the families.”

The museum currently has one parachute wedding dress on display.

“By having this parachute wedding dress we can rotate them for display,” according to Aarsen who also serves as a U.S. Army Reserve brigadier general at the 451st Expeditionary Sustainment Command in Wichita, Kansas.

At the end of the evening, completed by a hearty meal and good fellowship, Bonsonto turned the dress over to Belanger.

Belanger is scheduled to bring it to the 82nd Airborne Division War Museum where a wedding dress made from a parachute will help tell future generations about the love story of a soldier named Jerry and his bride Aida.

“I thought it was quite an honor to be a part of taking a piece of history and making it public,” said Belanger. “Making history in such a way that it means so much to a family. It was an honor they trusted me to take a historic family heirloom and then display it for all to see. It is really incredible.”

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

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.


32 small, nice things to do for family you can’t see this holiday season
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.

32 small, nice things to do for family you can’t see this holiday season
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.

32 small, nice things to do for family you can’t see this holiday season
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.

32 small, nice things to do for family you can’t see this holiday season
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.

popular

This is why golf courses are important to military installations

Golf is a fun and relaxing sport that’s excellent for relieving stress. Nothing’s quite like aimlessly swinging your club, hoping to hit the caddy cart on the driving range. It makes for a fantastic pastime to bond over while you and your guys get drunk as you wait for your respective turns. I’ve also heard that some people actually play the game as a sport and get enjoyment out of it, too — if you’re into that sort of thing.

The sport is directly linked to U.S. military culture. There are 234 golf courses spread across the over 800 U.S. military installations located around the globe. Nearly every major location has a course. And these courses are much more than just a place senior officers go to hide from staff meetings.


32 small, nice things to do for family you can’t see this holiday season
Golf courses on deployed locations also double as rifle ranges. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Charles Highland)

All golf courses on military installations are required by federal law to remain completely self-sufficient and not rely on government funding for upkeep and maintenance. Despite this, the courses will almost always be the first things suggested for the chopping block when installations need to cut costs; they’re often seen as either a waste of resources or space. In reality, however, they’re neither.

When the golf course is not in use, they are, essentially, large plots of land that are free from trees. They’re secure, defendable locations that can used for any purpose at the drop of a hat.

Military golf courses are also conveniently located near population centers on most installations. If there ever came a moment when the sh*t hits the fan, the course could be quartered by the military and transformed into a landing site for helicopters, a troop staging area, or even a mass casualty site to aid the wounded.

32 small, nice things to do for family you can’t see this holiday season
In the meantime, I guess it’s fine if people play golf on it. (Photo by Airman 1st Class Christian Conrad)

And this isn’t just theory — golf courses have been used as back-up locations in the past.

The most recent time in history a U.S. military base on American soil was attacked was when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941. There, when the American pilots took to the skies to fight the Japanese, some planes were damaged. The island of Oahu is dense with hills and forests, but golf courses became invaluable places to make a relatively safe landing.


Feature image: US Army Photo by Edward N. Johnson

MIGHTY CULTURE

Watch CIA Chief of Disguise break down iconic spy scenes

Joanna Mendez, former Central Intelligence Agency Chief of Disguise, watched spy scenes from a variety of films and television shows in order to break down how accurate they really are. From Jason Bourne finding his cache of passports and foreign currency to Carrie Mathison’s (Homeland) half-assed “disguise” through airport security, Mendez doesn’t hold back in her opinions and expertise.

During her 27-year career, her position in the CIA’s Office of Technical Service involved providing operational disguises and alias training in hostile theaters of the Cold War from Moscow to Havana. Her duties included clandestine photography and preparing CIA assets with the use of intelligence-collecting equipment like spy cameras, as well as processing the information brought in.

Think “Q” — James Bond Q, not Star Trek…

Now retired, Mendez continues to consult with the U.S. Intelligence community as well as lecture with her husband Antonio Mendez, also a retired intelligence officer, with whom she has published several books about their covert experience including Spy Dust, which reveals “the tools and operations that helped win the Cold War,” and Argo, which would become an Academy Award-winning film of the same name that told the story of “the most audacious rescue in history.”

In the video below, Mendez lets her critiques fly. Check it out:


Former CIA Chief of Disguise Breaks Down 30 Spy Scenes From Film & TV | WIRED

www.youtube.com

“Carrie’s disguise, which basically consisted of dying her hair…was absolutely ineffective. She’s still Carrie…but with dark hair. She could have cut her hair and restyled it. She could have changed her makeup. She could have put on sunglasses to hide that crazy-eyed look she has…” claps Mendez.

She then jumped to a scene from Alias where Jennifer Garner nails her disguise. “She didn’t just dye her hair — she dyed it outrageously red and then adopted the whole persona to go with it. We could have used that as a training film!” she laughed.

Mendez moves on to Matthew Rhys’ character in The Americans. “He was never trying to look good. He came really close to projecting ‘the little gray man’ that we would talk about at the CIA. You wanted to be forgettable,” she commended.

Mendez then moves on to a “quick change,” the name for a move where an agent clandestinely changes his appearance in 37 seconds. She commented on Mission Impossible III, and in particular discusses why Tom Cruise’s “priest” would have been ethically off-limits.

32 small, nice things to do for family you can’t see this holiday season

From Megan Fox in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, to Ansel Elgort in Baby Driver, Mendez breaks down the “quick change” further — and also warns against stealing.

The video covers blending in with the crowd in James Bond — and CIA inventions that helps its agents remain discrete; being assigned a new identity in Spy; cultural customs in Inglorious Bastards; and life-like masks that cover the entire face in order to give the appearance of a completely different face.

The video is highly entertaining, not just because it grabs clips from iconic pop culture favorites (Austin Powers and Sherlock Holmes make appearances) but also because Joanna Mendez has a great, wry humor (“we never tried to disguise ourselves as furniture at the CIA…”).

Watch the full video above and find out what the CIA really thinks about black cat suits and seducing the enemy!
MIGHTY CULTURE

5 ways troops can make the most of their time in the field

Being in the field sucks for almost everyone involved. Lower enlisted get thrown into collective tents, leaders have to train their troops in crappy conditions, that one staff officer never shuts up about how they could “kill for a Starbucks,” and everyone has to deal with everyone else’s crap. Your experience and level of suckitude may differ.

Civilians pay money to go camping and feel “more rugged” when they wake up outdoors to the sound of birds chirping, so it can’t be all bad, right? In the famous words of nearly every old-timer who never shuts up about how much harder it was back in the day: Suck it up, buttercup. Things will be alright once you learn to look at the positives.


32 small, nice things to do for family you can’t see this holiday season

Unfortunately, you can’t substitute the food. Hope you enjoy your eggs with extra salt…

(U.S. Army Photo by Staff Sgt. Nancy Lugo)

Bring personal gear with you

It’s no secret that the military buys from the lowest bidder. The gear you’ve been issued has been used repeatedly by several other troops before it finally got to you. If you don’t have complete faith in the gear that was handed to you, you can always pick something up with your own cash.

Of course, you should always stay within regulations for most gear, like rucksacks and body armor, but unless you’re specifically told not to do so, you can probably get away with bringing a personal sleeping system in addition to the one your unit supplied.

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You never truly know someone until you’ve played with them as your partner in Spades.

(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Opal Vaughn)

Bring stuff to do outside of training

There will be downtime. Exactly how much will differ between units, but you’ll at least get a moment to breathe every now and then. In those moments, you’ll need something to do other than lose your mind.

It’s the field, so it’s obviously a stupid idea to bring a TV and video games. If you do, you deserve to be mocked for it. But you can never go wrong with bringing a deck of cards and getting a game of Spades going.

32 small, nice things to do for family you can’t see this holiday season

With profit margins like that, you can put it on your resume when you leave the service.

(Photo via U.S. Army WTF Moments)

Sell wanted stuff to other troops

No one ever brings everything they need to last the entire time in the field. Some may load up their hygiene kit but forget razors. Your unit may be just given MREs and mermites and nobody thinks to bring a bottle of Tabasco. You’ll even find people who think a single pack of cigarettes will last them the full two weeks. You could be the guy who makes a quick buck off of the under-prepared.

Even if you don’t smoke or dip, there will be others in your unit that do. You’ll see them start to get on edge after they’ve run out by the end of the first week. At that point, no one will bat an eye if you sell them a pack for . I mean, technically, MPs might because it’s frowned upon by the court of law to sell tobacco without a license, but those profit margins are mighty fine.

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No one will blame you if you take pre-CS chamber selfies. We don’t want to see your face covered in snot and tears.

(U.S. Army photo by Cpt. Gregory McElwain)

Take photos

Of all the regrets veterans might have few about their time in the service, few rank higher than failing to take advantage of photo opportunities with the squad. Years down the road, when those vets are reflecting on how awesome they once were, they’ll be disappointed to find the only hard evidence is a handful of photos from promotion ceremonies and an awkward snapshot from a unit ball.

Don’t be that guy. Bring a camera or have your phone’s camera primed. If it seems like a dumb idea or if things generally sucks, take a photo. Tragedy plus time almost always equals comedy gold. You’ll thank yourself later.

32 small, nice things to do for family you can’t see this holiday season

Your leaders are wellsprings of information, both good and bad. It’s up to you to learn the difference.

(U.S. Army photo courtesy of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 8th Special Troops Battalion)

Actually listen to what your leader wants to teach you

There aren’t too opportunities for a leader to truly break down training and give you a hands-on experience outside of being in the field. That’s why you’re there in the first place.

They’ll have everything planned out to try and prepare you for what’s coming later. Listen to them. They’ve got much to tell you. Believe me when I say this: Your leader wants to teach you everything they know to make you better. If they don’t, they’re not a leader.

Do Not Sell My Personal Information