Watch: These are the best & worst things about the Naval Academy - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

Watch: These are the best & worst things about the Naval Academy

The US Naval Academy is located just outside Annapolis, Maryland. It began in 1845 and trains officers for their posts in the US Navy and US Marine Corps. Competition to get into the Academy is fierce – and it doesn’t end at Admission. Getting accepted into the Naval Academy is tough, which makes for an extra-competitive environment inside the Academy. Then, during exam time, the students turn even more competitive than usual (yes, that’s possible). Many students exhaust themselves studying so much they end up losing sleep, and it’s all because of that competitive spirit. Everyone wants to be the best. 

A Naval Academy Freshman’s Ideal Trainer

Freshmen at the Naval Academy have it especially rough. They start in late June, but not with regular classes. Instead, it’s just 50 days of hard training. That might sound like par for the course at a Military training institution, but here’s the kicker. The freshmen’s trainers are the upperclassmen at the Academy. It’s their job to teach the newbies how to be in the Navy, and they sure do take it seriously. Picture a lot of yelling. It’s for a good cause though. Otherwise, many of those freshmen probably wouldn’t make it past the first year.

Then, when school starts in the fall, freshmen have to wake up early for 5:30 am physical training several times a week. Once again, their trainers are upperclassmen whose only goal is to whip the newcomers into shape. To make matters even worse, winters in Annapolis are cold and dark. Waking up in the dark, before the break of dawn, to work out in the cold under the command of upperclassmen can be brutal. One student recalls even having to roll in the freezing mud. Luckily, after freshman year, Naval Academy students no longer have to endure that crack-of-dawn training. 

Your Grades Control Your Life

The Naval Academy also has some pretty strict rules around academic success. Any student who falls below a 2.0 GPA their first semester of the year spends the second semester on punishment. And what is the punishment? They are not allowed to go out on the weekends, which means no dates. For a person in their early 20s, that’s a miserable existence, that’s for sure. 

It’s not all bad surprises at the US Naval Academy though. If you keep your grades high, you may get to travel to amazing places for free. All of it is part of education, but traveling in the Alaskan wilderness to learn wilderness training is a lot cooler than taking a field trip near home, right? Traveling to Cambodia and Vietnam to learn about military history is a lot more interesting than learning it from a book. 

Preparation is the First Step to Success

The US Naval Academy is the best training you’re going to get if you want to join the Navy or Marine Corps. The rules in place are precisely what make it the best. These secrets from Naval Academy insiders might sound intimidating, but they’re not meant to scare anyone off. Instead, the idea is to prepare students for what they’re getting themselves into. Being prepared is the first step to success, after all. 

Related: Here are 5 times US Navy ships returned to the fleet with severe damage.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Veterans learn to see differently through the camera lens

When Army Veteran Corrin Lee Mac heard of the Lebanon VA Medical Center and Lebanon Valley College’s The Seeing Lens group, she thought the idea was “far-fetched.” The 10-week therapeutic photography group is for Veterans in recovery. However, as Mac–pictured above–went through the program, she discovered that it worked for her. “It promotes mindfulness. Looking through the lens, this second in time, you are here in the moment.”

Veterans who participate in The Seeing Lens are issued a camera and textbook for duration of the program. Each week focuses on a different aspect of recovery and ties it to a photographic technique. For example, clarity and attention are linked with the concepts of aperture and depth of field.


Members of the inaugural group had their photos displayed in an exhibit at Lebanon Valley College and the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. The exhibit will return to Lebanon VAMC later this year.

Graduates gathered at the college to talk about the impact the program and the exhibit had on their lives.

“Every Veteran can experience it in their own way, but something that would be in common between Veterans was the supportive nature of it, the non-judgmental atmosphere, ” said Army Veteran Robin Ann Pottoroff.

You are more thoughtful and creative.

“It makes you slow down and look at the world in a different way,” said Navy Veteran Mike Robertson. “You are more thoughtful and creative. It calms a racing brain.”

Lebanon VAMC recreation therapist Amy Cook, a founder of the program, was struck by “really seeing what the camera can do as a recovery tool. Once the Veteran picked up the camera, it was life-changing.”

Watch: These are the best & worst things about the Naval Academy

Project alumni suggested that other Veterans in recovery give The Seeing Lens a try.

“Give it a shot. It worked for me,” said Navy Veteran Patrick Dougherty. “And I was the most negative person, a naysayer. So if it helped me, it can pretty much help anyone.”

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

Once a Marine, always a Marine

His weathered hands, aged by war and time, brushed across the fuselage of an aircraft. Like a gust of wind, old memories washed over him.

Stepping out from the hangar, the 99-year-old Marine took a firm grasp of his grandson’s hand as a Marine from Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 164, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, escorted them onto Camp Pendleton’s flightline.

Nearly a century of experience, coupled with more than 20 years of military service, visibly weighed on his frame. Here was a man who had danced with death above the skies and oceans of the world and lived to tell the tale.


Now, on the day of his birth, Dick Cropley, a retired dive bomber, wanted nothing more than to breathe in the air with the Marines who faithfully carried on the legacy he helped shape.

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Retired U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Richard Cropley celebrates his 99th birthday with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 164, Marine Aircraft Group 39, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, at Marine Corps Air Station Camp Pendleton, Calif., May 31, 2019.

(Photo by Sgt. Charles Plouffe)

On May 31, 2019, his wish was granted.

“I can’t believe the Marine Corps would do something like this for me,” said Cropley while fighting back tears. “You get out or retire, and it just feels like the world forgot about you. I can’t express how much this means to me.”

Cropley started flying in 1942 and spent more than 20 years in the Marines. The retired Marine Corps Major operated a dive bomber during World War II and conducted operations across the globe in support of his Marine Corps family.

“The planes I flew could fit inside here,” said Cropley as he motioned toward one of the massive engines of an MV-22B Osprey.

Watch: These are the best & worst things about the Naval Academy

Retired U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Richard Cropley celebrates his 99th birthday with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 164, Marine Aircraft Group 39, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, at Marine Corps Air Station Camp Pendleton, Calif., May 31, 2019.

(Photo by Sgt. Charles Plouffe)

It was a far cry from the small, single engine airplanes he had trained on and fought in during World War II.

The years seemed to fall from his shoulders as he peered across the flight line. Hundreds of aircraft, aviation equipment and sensors welcomed him to the air strip with a rare and peaceful silence. He was home.

Watch: These are the best & worst things about the Naval Academy

Retired U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Richard Cropley celebrates his 99th birthday with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 164, Marine Aircraft Group 39, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, at Marine Corps Air Station Camp Pendleton, Calif., May 31, 2019.

(Photo by Sgt. Charles Plouffe)

It was an emotional welcome for a Marine. Especially in a service that is typically seen as unflinching, hard, calm and calculated war fighters. It was a different and loving feeling on this day. The men watching Cropley soaked it all in and could only smile as they helped fulfill this Marine’s birthday wish.

“Aircraft change, aviation changes,” said Capt. Ross Studwell, the flight equipment and ordnance officer in charge at VMM 164. “But Marines never change. Cropley is a fine example of the commitment the Marine Corps is famous for.”

Watch: These are the best & worst things about the Naval Academy

An endearing and welcoming attitude formed out of pure respect was extended to Cropley, who was invited as an honored guest to a change of command ceremony and a guided tour of VMM-164’s hanger for an inside and personal look at modern day Marine Corps aircraft.

What he didn’t expect was the surprise birthday celebration planned by the Marines. The “Knightriders” presented the former pilot with a cake, celebrating his 99th birthday, honoring his more than 20 years of service.

Semper Fidelis is a Latin phrase that means “Always Faithful.” The motto has been a guiding principle and the foundation on which every Marine is made. Marines have always and will always stay true to that foundation and show it through their actions.

Watch: These are the best & worst things about the Naval Academy

“This is a true honor for VMM-164, but it’s just keeping with the fundamentals of Marine Corps tradition,” said Lt. Col. Joseph DiMambro, the squadron’s commanding officer. “We always remember our brothers and sisters and take pride in caring for our own. Keeping the standards of brotherhood set by Marines like Maj. Cropley means a lot to us and to the Marine Corps.”

The Marines of VMM-164 were honored to celebrate Maj Cropley’s birthday with him and many of them were enamored with his Flight Logbooks and WWII keepsakes from places like Guadalcanal and Bougainville.

Watch: These are the best & worst things about the Naval Academy
Once A Marine Always A Marine

Cropley’s voice broke as he held back tears. His words echoed in the small room as he thanked the Marines and expressed his pride in sharing the title United States Marine — a title few earn.

His parting words were brief, but carried the weight of hundreds of years of tradition. “Semper Fidelis.”

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

Plastic Army set will finally include women and military working dogs

At the end of 2019, BMC Toys responded to 6-year-old Vivian Lord’s inquiry as to why there are only green Army men by designing some green Army women with 15 different poses. Now the toy designer is expanding the set to include military working dogs and their handlers, as well.

“[Please] can you make army girls that look like women,” Vivian wrote. “I would play with them every day and my [friends] would [too]!”

Jeff Imel, the owner of the Pennsylvania toy company, launched a Kickstarter campaign with a simple premise: “Customers asked for Plastic Army Women. The story went viral. So, now I’m making them.”


BMC Toys designed figures like “Pathfinder Captain” and “Standing Rifleman” among many others. The original 24-piece set included:

  • Pathfinder Captain
  • Standing Rifleman
  • Kneeling Rifleman
  • Prone Sniper
  • Grenadier
  • Bazooka Operator

The campaign was such a success that BMC Toys unlocked stretch goals that upgraded the set to 36 figures in with six additional poses:

  • Running Rifleman
  • Combat Medic
  • Low-Crawl Rifleman
  • Radio Operator
  • Wounded Soldier
  • Light Machine Gunner

By Dec. 17, 2019, even more stretch goals had been unlocked, which added the Medical Team and the K9 Team to the set.

Watch: These are the best & worst things about the Naval Academy

“Why do you not make Girl army men[?] My [friend’s] mom is in the army [too]!” wrote Vivian, voicing the concerns that many veterans have asked over the years. Introducing young girls to military toys that include them will help shape their ideas of what they can achieve in their lives.

BMC Toys recognized this fact and set to work, hiring a sculptor for their first prototype.

The BMC Female Combat Soldiers, which are marketed as “real American Made plastic heroes, meant to be set up, knocked down, picked up and played with for years to come” are in development for production and will become available in October 2020.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This is the death cult the FBI says is spreading among drug cartels

The drug war has been going on for so long, the inward, secret lives of narcotics traffickers are beginning to take on a life all of their own, separate from the national borders we know as their homes. They have their own rituals, coded languages, technology, and now, even a secret religion has sprung up around their lives.

It’s called the cult of Santa Muerte – “Holy Death” – and it’s more intense and deadly than anything that came before it.


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A Santa Muerte follower announces its adherence.

(FBI)

Since Mexican President Felipe Calderon upped the ante on the Drug War in 2006 by taking down the highest-ranking members of certain cartels, violence in the country has increased exponentially. Since then some 45,000 people have died in the drug war. The level of violence and death without warning has spurred the spread of the Santa Muerte religion in Mexico and beyond. Santa Muerte, in turn, spurs the narcos to become more and more violent.

The worshippers of Santa Muerte are primarily disenfranchised, poor Mexicans who turn to the cartels as a means of employment but soon begin the same cycle of murder and torture as those who came before them. The activities they’re forced to conduct aren’t accepted by pure Catholicism, so they turn elsewhere for comfort.

Watch: These are the best & worst things about the Naval Academy

And now, you can buy the figurines on Amazon.

Santa Muerte has developed as a belief system for over 50 years or more. According to the FBI, “The Santa Muerte cult could best be described as [following] a set of ritual practices offered on behalf of a supernatural personification of death…she is comparable in theology to supernatural beings or archangels.” Unlike Death or the Virgin of Guadalupe, as she is often represented, her scales don’t actually work, a reflection of her amoral nature. Since many narco foot soldiers will end up dying a brutal death, the appeal of worshipping a death-like figure is obvious. In the meantime, Santa Muerte advocates are enjoying the world’s earthly pleasures.

While the FBI stops short of calling the worship of Santa Muerte a full-blown religion, it does have its own belief system, as well as priests, temples, and shrines, along with all the rituals associated with religion – including ritual killings.

Watch: These are the best & worst things about the Naval Academy

A statue of Santa Muerte in a practitioner’s home.

Ritualistic Santa Muerte killings are abundant in Mexico and South America amongst narco-traffickers, but the killings are now making their way into the United States, albeit, primarily close to the border cities already struck by violence that has become the signature of the War on Drugs, and only four have been confirmed as related to Santa Muerte.

Border agents and local police have been thoroughly trained on the ins and outs of the religion and its followers, but luckily very few have been seen on the U.S. side of the border.

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.”

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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.

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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

10 flag facts ​you might not know

You know the 13 stripes represent the original colonies. You know the 50 stars represent the states. You were taught in elementary school that Betsy Ross was the original creator…But here’s a handful of facts about Old Glory that you might not know.


Betsy Ross might not have even designed it.

We’re not gonna pull any punches with this list, and this first one might hit you in the gut. In a twist of history hearsay that rivals that of the William Shakespeare conspiracy—it turns out Betsy Ross might not have designed the fledgling flag. That’s right, while Betsy Ross was a prolific seamstress, there is no empirical evidence that supports the notion that she was responsible for the original American flag. In fact, according to the records, her name isn’t mentioned alongside the flag until 1876 (100 years after the foundation of the U.S.). Oh, and these “records” were from her grandson, by the way. So Betsy Ross was most likely not the original creator. She has a pretty catchy name though.

Watch: These are the best & worst things about the Naval Academy

The 1st flag was commissioned for “three strings of wampum.”

“Three strings of wampum (cylindrical beads and shells strung together)” were promised to Congress to expedite the creation and design of the flag. Thomas Green pushed forth this commission so that he would have a flag while traversing dangerous territory.

The current flag was designed by a high school student.

When Alaska and Hawaii joined the USA to make 50 states, President Dwight D. Eisenhower received thousands of (probably unsolicited) ideas for an updated flag design. One from the bunch was selected as the perfect subtle move forward to a 50-star flag. The chosen design was made by Robert G. Heft, a 17-year-old who made the flag for a design project.

America Colt’s Game Crowd Flag Stadium People

…And that kid got a -B for his project.

In a move that solidifies the nationwide notion that teachers simply throw a dart at a board to come up with grades—Heft got a -B for his project. Why the minus? Why a B? Why not just give the kid an A? What did the teacher want from him— an American flag remix? At any rate, Heft showed his teacher that his design was chosen as the new American flag design, and (in a move that solidifies the neo-nationwide notion that you can simply whine to a teacher and get a grade raise) Heft was given an A upon further review.

“Old Glory” was actually the nickname of one particular flag.

“Old Glory” was actually the name of one American flag owned by sea captain William Driver. Nobody knows exactly why he gave his flag the name “Old Glory,” but I would wager it was because he liked the name. He hung it on his ship’s mast, then in front of his house, and then (just like people calling the Dallas Cowboys “America’s Team”) it caught on arbitrarily.

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The flag that inspired the “Star Spangled Banner” still exists.

The Star Spangled Banner was written by Francis Scott Key, in 1812 at Ft. McHenry. Scott Key wrote the song in honor of one resilient 15-star, 15-striped, flag he saw “banner yet wave.” That flag is still on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

If we add a 51st state, the flag can’t be updated until Independence Day.

The United States Flag Code reads as follows: “On the admission of a new State into the Union one star shall be added to the union of the flag; and such addition shall take effect on the fourth day of July then next succeeding such admission.” So, on the off-chance that we pick up another state officially, it will have to wait until the next time we break out the fireworks and hot dogs for a proper welcome.

The Pledge of Allegiance was basically invented as a way to sell more flags.

Francis Bellamy, a Christian socialist minister, wrote the original Pledge of Allegiance (without the “under God” that was tossed in in 1954 during the Red Scare) for an 1892 issue of The Youth’s Companion. The publication offered flags to subscribers, and Bellamy and the Youth Companion lobbied American schools to use his newly penned Pledge of Allegiance as a show of “patriotism.” Don’t get any more “traditionally American” than that.

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The colors of the flag have (retroactively decided) meanings.

The red symbolizes hardiness and valor. The white symbolizes purity and innocence. The blue signifies vigilance, perseverance, and justice. These colors were not attributed to their respective vague platitudes until 1782, when Secretary of Congress Charles Thomson pulled the reasoning out of his crack like a day-late book report for “The Great Gatsby” talking about how the green light represents “jealousy.”

 Neil Armstrong’s flag fell over.

Of the six flags on the moon: all are American, 5 are standing, and one fell over. The singular fallen flag was the first flag ever placed on the moon. Or, as mouth breathing moon-landing deniers would say, Stanley Kubrick directed it to fall.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Don’t miss the Geminids meteor shower this weekend

The Geminids meteor shower peaks on Friday night, and for the first time ever, a spacecraft has spotted the asteroid dust that makes those shooting stars.

Since NASA’s Parker Solar Probe launched in August 2018, it has rocketed around the sun three times, getting closer than any spacecraft before it and traveling faster than any other human-made object in history. Scientists released findings from the probe’s first batch of data this month, which revealed never-before-seen activity in the plasma and energy at the edges of the sun’s atmosphere.

The spacecraft also stumbled upon the never-before-seen trail of asteroid dust that we know as the Geminids.


“The truly remarkable thing about the Parker Solar Probe mission is that it’s also giving us answers to questions that we weren’t even asking,” Karl Battams, an astrophysicist working with the spacecraft’s imaging tools, said in a press conference on Wednesday. “We’ve seen something in the data that we have never seen before with any of our instruments, and in fact no one has ever seen before.”

In the image below, the probe captured a portion of the mysterious Geminids dust.

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The Parker Solar Probe captured the first-ever view of this dust trail, pictured between the red arrows, that creates the Geminids meteor shower.

(Brendan Gallagher/Karl Battams/NRL)

The dust trail is about 100,000 kilometers (62,000 miles) wide. The portion in the photo is about 20 million kilometers (12 million miles) long.

“We’re very confident that we are, indeed, seeing the Geminids meteor shower,” Battams said.

The mysterious dust trail came from an asteroid rocketing around the sun 

The asteroid Phaethon left behind this enormous trail of dust long ago.

“A couple of thousand years ago, it went by the sun and something happened to it,” Battams said. “We don’t know what, but something happened to it, and it released a huge debris trail that we now call the Geminid meteor shower.”

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Radar images of asteroid 3200 Phaethon, taken as it came within 6.4 million miles of Earth by astronomers at the National Science Foundation’s Arecibo Observatory, December 17, 2017.

(Arecibo Observatory/NASA/NSF)

Phaethon’s current orbit around the sun leads the sun’s heat to fracture the asteroid’s surface each time it gets close. That causes it to release more dust. But those regular releases are “nowhere near sufficient” to make the trail that Parker spotted, Battams said.

Battams’s research team found that the trail Parker saw contains about 1 billion kilograms (1 million tons) of material. That sheer amount told scientists that the trail that Parker captured is, indeed, the Geminids.

“People have been looking for this trail for a long time. We know it exists because our planet goes plunging through it every year, but we don’t really know the structure of the trail,” Battams said.

Just a few years ago, the Hubble Space Telescope searched for the Geminids trail and couldn’t find it.

Watch: These are the best & worst things about the Naval Academy

An illustration of the Parker Solar Probe shows it flying through the sun’s searing-hot corona and withstanding blasts of solar wind.

(NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center)

Parker will spot the Geminids again as it flies past the sun 21 more times

Over the next six years, Parker is set to approach the sun 21 more times, getting closer and closer. In its final pass, it should fly within 4 million miles of the sun’s surface.

During each flyby, the probe will gather more data on the sun — and the Geminids.

“Every time we go by we’re going to see this same trail. We’re going to get these same observations,” Battams said. “And every time we’re going to learn a little bit more about this trail and really start to address some of the questions that we have about this meteor shower that we pass through every year.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Here’s what it takes to fly the U-2 spy plane

When an Air Force major called J.J. completed a solo flight in the U-2 in late August 2016 — 60 years after the high-flying aircraft was introduced — he became the 1,000th pilot to do so.

J.J., whose name was withheld by the US Air Force for security reasons, earned his solo patch a few days after pilots No. 998 and No. 999. Those three pilots are in distinguished company, two fellow pilots said.

“We have a pretty small, elite team of folks. We’re between about 60 and 70 active-duty pilots at any given time,” Maj. Matt “Top” Nauman said during an Air Force event at the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum in New York City.


“We’re about 1,050 [pilots] right now. So to put that in context, there are more people with Super Bowl rings than there are people with U-2 patches,” Nauman added. “It’s a pretty small group of people that we’ve hired over the last 60 to 65 years.”

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Pilots at Beale Air Force Base go through pre-flight checks on a U-2 during the 2018 Marine Corps Air Station Miramar Air Show, Sept. 29, 2018

(Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Schultze)

The U-2 pilot cadre has remained small in part because the Air Force has long sought applicants with extensive experience and flight time — six years and 1,200 rated hours — to fly a challenging, single-seat plane up to 13 miles above the Earth, all while snapping reconnaissance images. Pilots from all backgrounds, from fighter to trainer, can apply, as can transfers from the Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard.

The Air Force also recently introduced a program allowing student pilots to go directly to the U-2 training pipeline, though that program will only send a few fliers to the Dragon Lady.

The mission itself also keeps the ranks trim. “Part of the reason that we cut so many of the applicants is it’s a really difficult plane to fly,” said Nauman, who joined the U-2 program in 2012.

The first phase is an interview at Beale Air Force Base, California where the U-2s are based, meant to assess “self-confidence, professionalism and airmanship” on the ground and during flights in a TU-2, the U-2 training aircraft.

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99th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron airmen prepare a U-2 pilot for a mission at Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates, March 13, 2019.

(US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Gracie I. Lee)

On a 2012 fact sheet about the application process, the Air Force said pilots “selected for an interview generally possess a strong flight evaluation history, strong performance evaluations, and exceed the minimum flight experience requirements.”

“When you do an interview, you actually go out to Beale for two weeks,” Nauman said. “You’ll sit down and talk with the different commanders, the directors of operations, [go] over your flight records, your performance reviews, and just kind of your overall goals. ‘So why do you want to fly the U-2? What is it that brought you here?'”

An applicant who makes it through the interviews in Week 1 moves on to Week 2, “where you actually get to fly the aircraft,” Nauman said.

“For some folks, they may have never seen a U-2 in person, and the first time they actually touch the jet is Day 1 of their interview,” Nauman added. “They’ve read about it. They’ve seen it. They’ve talked to some people they knew, but by Week 2 they actually put in you a two-seater with an instructor and you have to demonstrate the ability to land the aircraft.”

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A U-2 pilot waits for maintainers and crew chiefs to finish final checks before the scheduled flight time at Beale Air Force Base, California, Oct. 26, 2017.

(US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Justin Parsons)

While the U-2 excels at high-altitude reconnaissance missions — its ceiling is above 70,000 feet — taking off and landing are more challenging in the ungainly aircraft, which has a 105-foot wingspan and only two landing gear, under the nose and the tail.

Landing requires a kind of controlled crash in which the pilot descends and slows until the plane stalls, dropping onto the runway — all done with the guidance of fellow pilots racing alongside in cars.

“It’s extremely difficult to land,” Nauman said. “You could YouTube videos of bad U-2 landings all day and see interview sorties that look a little bit sketchy. Understand we have a very wide runway and very experienced acceptance flight instructors, so it is safe despite what you might see.”

Applicants do three acceptance flight sorties, during which they perform flight maneuvers, approaches and landings, and other scenarios, including driving the chase car that assists landing U-2s. After that, a decision is made about whether the applicant will be offered an assignment.

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A U-2 lands at Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates, Nov. 16, 2017.

(Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Colton Elliott)

If you do the flying portion of the interview but aren’t picked, “we will not interview you again,” the Air Force says. “Basically, you get one shot.”

U-2 flight training includes time in the T-38 trainer and time to get other qualifications pilots may need, before moving on to flying the actual U-2, on which trainees must complete two courses: basic and mission. Those take about three months each.

The whole training program can take nine months to a year. The 1st Reconnaissance Wing, which Maj. J.J. joined in August 2016, has eight classes of three new pilots each year.

The solo flight that made J.J. the 1,000 solo pilot was his seventh in the aircraft but his first without an instructor. That first solo was to be followed by a few more two-person outings, after which he would never again have to fly the U-2 with someone else.

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US Air Force Maj. Sean Gallagher greets his ground support crew before a U-2 mission somewhere in Southwest Asia, Nov. 24, 2010.

Trainees adjusting to the technical challenges of the U-2 also have to adapt to the physical strain of operating it.

Cruising at 70,000 feet puts the plane above the Armstrong Line — the point at which the boiling point for liquids, like blood, is equal to the normal human body temperature — and requires pilots to wear a space suit that weighs about 70 pounds. Pilots also have to breathe pure oxygen before flying to rid their system of nitrogen.

The suit can be a physical and psychological stumbling block. Interviewees must sit in it for at least 45 minutes to prove their mettle before moving on.

“So you get suited up. You go out to the aircraft. It’s pretty warm on the ground, so it could be an endurance test at times,” Maj. Travis “Lefty” Patterson, a U-2 pilot, said at the event.

“If you’re delayed in take off, your core temperature is heating up pretty rapidly as you’re sitting in, effectively, a plastic bag with a fishbowl” on your head, Patterson added.

The cabin is also pressurized, Patterson said. Previous generations of U-2 pilots flew at what felt like about 29,000 feet — roughly the height of Mt. Everest. (That altitude, along with the challenges of longer and more complex missions in the 2000s, took a toll on pilots’ health.)

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A U-2 pilot prepares for takeoff at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, Dec. 12, 2018.

(US Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Bailee A. Darbasie)

In the last decade however, the Air Force has brought the U-2’s cockpit altitude down.

“We’re only sitting at about 15,000 feet — a little higher than you would on a normal airliner,” Patterson added. “We still wear that suit in the event that there’s a malfunction or we have to eject or something like that.”

The pilot is strapped into that suit and flying at that altitude for up to 10 hours or 12 hours. But with their focus on the task at hand, a pilot can forget they’re even wearing the suit, Patterson said.

Upon return, however, pilots still getting used to the Dragon Lady may feel the strain acutely.

“I think after my interview sortie, I came back and [said], ‘Wow, I feel like I just did three days of straight Crossfit,’ just because I didn’t know all the tricks of the trade,” Patterson added.

“A good U-2 pilot will land, and you won’t be able to tell from the outside, but inside it’s almost like you’re flailing around. You’re moving the yoke around. Your feet are moving the rudders. It’s kind of like a full-body workout sometimes.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

​5 misconceptions troops have about reentering the civilian world​

That sweet, sweet DD-214 can’t come soon enough. You’ve served your country honorably for all those years and now, finally, it’s time to close that chapter of your life. You’ve either got some big plans for your life after service or you’re just planning on winging it. Whatever the case, you’re ready to hang that uniform up for good and move on, into the great unknown.

Not to sound like the exit briefing slideshows that they’ll make you endure, but we’ve got to warn you: You’ve probably got a few misconceptions about what civilian life has in store for you.


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Don’t worry about telling everyone you were in the military. We know. We all know.

(Meme via Sh*t My LPO Says)

“I can just fall back into my old life”

Let’s get the most obvious — yet somewhat depressing — misconception out of the way first: You’ve changed. You’re not the same person that you were when you stepped on that bus to head out to Basic/Boot Camp. And to be entirely honest, you’ve probably grown better for it.

But at the same time, the world didn’t stop spinning while you were gone, and others have changed in your absence — for better or for worse. Your family and your old friends have adapted to you not being around for years. They’ve developed hobbies, relationships, and interests without you, so jumping back in might just feel… odd. Hell, even your old job has carried on in your absence.

It’s not going to be easy, so just ease your way back into civilian life. Accept that the world is different now.

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And don’t forget your references. You know your boys back in the military will talk you up.

(Meme via Pop Smoke)

“My skills won’t translate to civilian life…”

Over the years, you’ve perfected the art of putting your mind to tasks and getting them done. By now, your work ethic is probably phenomenal and you’re highly mission oriented. That just so happens to be a skill that every employer wants — but it’s not the only skill they’ll want.

When building a resume, pick aspects of your service and let those shine, too. For example, being an infantry squad leader taught you personnel management skills. Being a medic gave you skills in property accountability and acquisitions. Stuff like that.

Watch: These are the best & worst things about the Naval Academy

If you feel, in the bottom of your heart, that your passion lies in underwater basket-weaving, you be the best f*cking underwater basket-weaver this world has ever seen. Maybe don’t lock yourself into crippling debt to get there, though.

“I’ll be 100% student loan debt free”

One of the key selling points of military life was the GI Bill and the promise of a tuition-free college experience. Now, don’t get me wrong: If you play your cards right, this might be exactly what happens. But know the GI Bill won’t cover your expenses at just any school.

If your plan is to go through a technical school or a smaller college, outstanding. Carry on to the next misconception. If you’ve got your mind set on a specific career path, look into exactly how much assistance the GI Bill can offer you. Then, evaluate if it’s worth taking out a sizable loan to pursue your goals.

If there’s anyone who’s earned the right to chase after their dreams, it’s a veteran who’s given the world their all.

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You don’t have to hide all of your military bearing. Just know when to turn it on and off.

(Meme by CONUS Battle Drills)

“Civilian coworkers are going to be garbage”

You’ve spent years knowing that an individual’s failure has consequences for the entire unit. Many civilians don’t have that same kind of all-for-one way of thinking. They’ll see working hard at this job as a stepping stone to something bigger and better down the road. You will encounter blue falcons in the civilian world — but they aren’t all bad.

Many civilians are genuinely good people who just aren’t as loud as we tend to be. Some people legitimately want to help everyone succeed.

Keep the a**holes at an arm’s length, but don’t shut out everyone and adopt some sort of “holier than thou” mentality because of your service. In short, don’t be a civilian blue falcon.

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You’ll be the odd duck — but at least your stories are funnier.

(Meme via Shammers United)

“I’ll never find friends like I did in the military…”

The tiny ray of sunshine is that you won’t be alone in this world. Just as you’ll find some co-workers to be good, decent people, you’re sure to find good friends, too. Open up a bit and try to socialize.

And if worst comes to worst and all civilians annoy you, you can always find the nearest VFW or American Legion and hop in for a beer or two. Vets tend to befriend other vets fairly easily.

MIGHTY CULTURE

EU monitors see coordinated COVID-19 disinformation effort by Iran, Russia, China

BRUSSELS — EU monitors have identified a “trilateral convergence of disinformation narratives” being promoted by China, Iran, and Russia on the coronavirus pandemic and say they are being “multiplied” in a coordinated manner, according to an internal document seen by RFE/RL.

The document, which is dated 20 April, says common themes are that the coronavirus is a biological weapon created in the United States to bring down opponents and that China, Iran, and Russia “are doing much better than the West” in fighting the epidemic.


It also states that Iranian leaders — amplified by Russian media — continue calling for the lifting of U.S. sanctions against Iran, claiming that they are undermining the country’s humanitarian and medical response to COVID-19.

The document says this is part of a wider Russian, Iranian, and Chinese “convergence” calling for a lifting of sanctions on Russia, Iran, Syria, and Venezuela — all countries that have seen U.S. economic sanctions against them increase under the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump.

In the case of Syria, the COVID-19 disinformation is used “to reinforce an anti-EU narrative that claims the bloc is perpetrating an “economic war” on the Middle Eastern country.

The 25-page document was written by the strategic communications division of the European diplomatic corps, the European External Action Service (EEAS).

It is a follow-up to an April report stating that Russia and China are deploying a campaign of disinformation around the coronavirus pandemic that could have “harmful consequences” for public health around the world.

In a March report, the EU monitors accused pro-Kremlin media outlets of actively spreading disinformation about the epidemic in an attempt to “undermine public trust” in Western countries.

The new report says Russia and to a lesser extent China continue to amplify “conspiracy narratives” aimed at both public audiences in the EU and the wider neighborhood. It further notes that official Russian sources and state media continue running a coordinated campaign aimed at undermining the EU and its crisis response and at sowing confusion about the health implications of COVID-19.

The document also states that most of the content identified by the EEAS continues to proliferate widely on social-media services such as Twitter and Facebook. It alleges that Google and other services that deliver advertisements “continue to monetise and incentivise harmful health disinformation by hosting paid ads on respective websites.”

Representatives of those companies did not immediately respond to RFE/RL’s request for comment.

According to analysis by the team, disinformation about the virus is going particularly viral in smaller media markets both inside and outside the EU in which technology giants “face lower incentives to take adequate countermeasures.”

It adds that false or highly misleading content in languages such as Czech, Russian, and Ukrainian continues to go viral even when it has been flagged by local fact-checkers.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This is how US military dogs train for dangerous missions

By now, everybody has seen the picture. A tan dog in a tactical vest, sitting up at the position of attention, perky ears framing a black face. The mouth wide open, the tongue hanging out the side of the mouth, the dog looks happy, almost goofy.

This is the dog that chased down ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi this past weekend, leading to al-Baghdadi’s death when he detonated a suicide vest he was wearing. The dog was injured in the blast, but has since returned to duty. Assigned to Delta Force, the dog’s identity is classified, even as the dog is being hailed as a hero, with the picture shared on Twitter by President Donald Trump, who called it Conan.

Read on to find out what we know about this dog.


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U.S. Marine military working dog Argo rides into the ocean on a combat rubber raiding craft at Red Beach.

(US Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Andrew Cortez)

They are the special forces of military working dogs, attached to special operations forces, such as the Navy SEALS and Army Rangers. Trained to find explosives, chase down human targets, and detect hidden threats, these Multi-Purpose Canines, or MPCs, are also trained to rappel out of helicopters, parachute out of airplanes, and conduct amphibious operations on Zodiac boats. Highly skilled, an MPC named Cairo even assisted in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in 2011.

These dogs are specially selected and trained to handle the most stressful situations while keeping their cool. In the spirit of the Marine Recon motto, these dogs are swift, silent, and deadly. Barking is forbidden. With the secretive nature of their work, much of the information regarding the selection and training of these dogs is classified.

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A military working dog chases a suspect during a demonstration.

(Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jacob Derry)

Four times per year, a team of canine handlers, trainers, veterinarians, and other specialists from the 341st Training Squadron at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio Texas — the home of the Military Working Dog Program — make the trip abroad to buy dogs. They evaluate each dog to ensure that they will not have any medical issue that will prevent them from serving for at least 10 years. They perform x-rays to ensure that there is no hip or elbow dysplasia or other skeletal defects. Dogs with skin conditions, eye issues, or ear problems are ruled out.

If they pass the medical screening, they are further assessed on their temperament. Over up to 10 days, the dogs are judged on their ability to search and detect, their aggressiveness, and their trainability. While the special forces have their own programs to procure dogs, which are confidential, the traits that they look for are the same. The standards are just higher.

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Caro, a five-year-old Belgian Malinois with the 96th Security Forces Squadron, stands by her handler.

(US Air Force photo by Samuel King Jr.)

This hero dog from the al-Baghdadi raid is a Belgian Malinois, one of the most popular breeds among working dogs.

This hero dog from the al-Baghdadi raid is a Belgian Malinois, one of the most popular breeds among working dogs. W

While the military uses labs, retrievers, and other breeds including a Jack Russell or two for detection, the most popular breeds of war dogs are Belgian Malinois, Dutch Shepherd, and the ever popular German Shepherd. These dogs are valued for their intelligence, trainability, work ethic, and adaptability.

The Malinois in particular is valued for its targeted aggression, speed, agility, and ability to survive in extreme heat. Handlers are known to refer to their dogs as either a “fur missile” or a “maligator.”

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A Multi-Purpose Canine with U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC), prepares for Zodiac boat training inserts on Camp Pendleton, Calif.

(US Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Maricela M. Bryant)

The dogs are hand selected from the best kennels in Europe and around the world, brought to the United States, and trained to the highest level.

They are taught patrolling, searching, explosive or narcotic detection, tracking, and are desensitized to the types of equipment around which they will work. They are familiarized with gunfire, rappelling out of helicopters, riding in Zodiac boats, or even skydiving. All said, the dogs and their training cost up to ,000 each. Including the highly specialized gear of MPCs, the cost can be tens of thousands of dollars higher.

Wearing bulletproof vests outfitted with lights, cameras, communications equipment, and sensors, the dogs can operate off leash, providing a real-time view to the handler while taking verbal commands through the radio.

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A Multi-Purpose Canine handler with U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command prepares his canine for a parachute jump.

(US Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Scott Achtemeier)

Over their years of service, a multipurpose canine will conduct dozens of combat missions over multiple deployments, most of which the public will never hear about.

One of these missions resulted in the death of Maiko, a multi-purpose canine with the Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment. Leading the way into a secure compound in Afghanistan in November 2018, Maiko caused the Al Qaeda fighters to open fire, giving away their position, allowing the Rangers to eliminate the threat without injury.

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A multi-purpose canine handler with U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command, checks for a pulse while administering medical care to a realistic canine mannequin.

(US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Bryann K. Whitley)

When dogs are injured on the battlefield, their handlers are trained to provide first aid.

Using specially developed, highly realistic dog mannequins, the handlers are trained to treat massive bleeding, collapsed lungs, amputations, and more. The mannequins respond by whimpering and barking.

Many of the developers of this dog mannequin came from the Hollywood special effects world, working on productions like the Star Wars or Harry Potter films. The simulated dog, with its pulse and breathing responding to the treatment, costs more than ,000.

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Military working dog handlers with the U.S. Army Rangers and U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command multipurpose canine handlers fast-rope from a U.S. Navy MH-60 Seahawk helicopter.

(US Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Drake Nickels)

If a dog is injured in combat or in training, or is showing signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, he can be sent to a dog hospital at Lackland Air Force Base for surgery, rehabilitation, or assessment for retirement.

While PTSD is not well understood in dogs, veterinarians, dog trainers, and specialists at Lackland Air Force Base agree that dogs show symptoms of combat stress as much as humans do. Whether they become fearful of loud noises, become more aggressive, forget how to do tasks, or decide that they don’t want to work, these dogs are rehabilitated with the goal of returning them to service. If this is not possible, the dogs are evaluated for transfer to non-combat jobs or potential retirement.

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Nero proudly displays his U.S. Military Working Dog Medal during his retirement ceremony aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif. on May 21, 2018. During his five years of service, Nero served two deployments. Nero will be adopted and spend his retirement as a companion to his handler.

(US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Bryann K. Whitley)

Before being retired, the dogs are assessed to ensure that they do not pose a risk to the public.

After up to a decade of devoted service, the goal is to let the dog live out its life on a soft bed, preferably with one of its former handlers.

This article originally appeared on Insider. Follow @thisisinsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

6 steps to organize your military life this year

Whether you have lived in your house 10 days, 10 months or 10 years (is that even possible?!), there is always a need for more organization.

Military spouse or not, becoming more organized is one of the most popular New Year’s resolutions. Pinterest, TLC and Mari Kondo capitalize on these goals and provide wonderful ideas, tips and tricks. In addition to these marvelous tools, we have a few of our own military spouse-specific organization tips to help you get set in 2020.


1. Label all drawers, baskets and cupboards

Have you ever planned to put an item away only to realize you were envisioning its location in your previous home? Labels help us remember where we store things as well as inform our significant others. After deployment, readjusting is hard enough without having him/her put things away in areas they do not belong. Use a label maker to help clear your own brain fog and prevent lost items as result of misplacement.

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(Photo by Tim Gouw)

2. Utilize a scanner

Medical records and school records are very important. Utilize scanning abilities to import documents into organized computer files and/or print documents to manually file them in a binder or a filing cabinet.

3. Update your Addresses

Perhaps you have a collection of ‘return to sender’ Christmas cards from military friends who moved within the last year. Now is the time to register with an online address collector (make your friends do the work), update your excel spreadsheet or use a pencil in an address book. Be sure to also include addresses from each home you have lived in. This will ease the task of filling out job applications that have you list each residence within the past five years (insert facepalm).

Watch: These are the best & worst things about the Naval Academy

(Photo by Alejandro Escamilla)

4. Schedule everything

Just kidding. We all know once your calendar gets organized, duty will call and everything will need to change.

5. Add information to the contacts in your phone

When you scroll through your phone and find three Sarahs and two Johns listed, but you cannot remember who these people are, it is time to organize your contacts with more than just first and last names. Try listing the installation you were at, the city you lived in or some kind of description. This way you can identify the caller quicker than five minutes into the conversation when she finally mentions something that sparks a memory in your brain.

Watch: These are the best & worst things about the Naval Academy

6. Move

Moving may seem like the complete opposite of getting organized, however, it offers a great opportunity to purge, the first step in organization. Consider a PCS as a Personal Clearing of Stuff, and thank the military for allowing you to ask the question ‘does this spark joy?’

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