The Top 10 military charities of 2020 - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

The Top 10 military charities of 2020

The holiday season is all about giving to those we love. It’s also a perfect time to give to those in need! These 10 charities are among the most highly-rated charities helping those who are more deserving of care than almost anyone: military personnel, veterans, and their families. The military community carries the weight of protecting our country. If you’re able to help, consider donating to one of these charities to lift a little of that weight off their shoulders. 

1. Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund

The mission of the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund is to help severely injured military personnel to receive the care they need to return to military service or transition back into civilian life. So far, the fund has raised $200 million for rehabilitation facilities, programs, and financial assistance. 

Their eight Intrepid Spirit Centers offer comprehensive treatment, including the treatment of traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress. Over 90% of patients treated there are able to resume Active Duty. 

2. Fisher House Foundation

When soldiers are injured, having the support of their families is more important than ever. The Fisher House Foundation builds homes at military and VA medical centers worldwide so that families can stay together throughout medical treatment. Each Fisher House has up to 21 suites which include private bedrooms and bathrooms and access to a shared living room, kitchen, dining area, and laundry room. 

The Foundation also offers the Hero Miles program, through which people can donate frequent flyer miles to assist military families with travel expenses, with a similar program offered for no-cost hotel stays. Last but not least, their grant program offers scholarship funds for the children and spouses of veterans. 

In 2019, over 32,000 families were served, with over 500,000 served since the organization was founded. More than $25 million has been provided to students through scholarship awards, and over 70,000 flights have been covered. 

3. Semper Fi & America’s Fund

Semper Fi, one of the most renowned military charities, is dedicated to helping combat wounded, ill, and catastrophically injured veterans and their families. Their Transition Program helps servicemen and women recover and adapt to post-injury life, connect with their communities, and reach their career goals. They fund numerous adaptive fitness and sports programs, as well as therapeutic art and music classes. They also offer direct financial assistance to help support military families throughout the healing process. 

Semper Fi has been directed by military spouses from the start, so every program is designed with empathy and understanding. So far, $231 million has been provided in assistance, with services offered to 25,500 service members. 

4. Armed Services YMCA 

The ASYMCA is a segment of the YMCA dedicated to helping young enlisted military service members and their families. They’re the oldest US military support organization, dating back to 1861. All services and programs are provided at no cost and require no annual membership fees. Instead of focusing on one particular form of care, ASYMCA aims to be a constant resource throughout military life; from transitioning between bases to deployment. 

In total, they’ve provided care for 25 thousand military family members, and their volunteers have logged 11 thousand hours. In recent months, ASYMCA has also increased emergency relief services, launched virtual youth programs, and provided childcare for the children of essential workers to help military families impacted by COVID-19. 

5. Wounded Warriors Family Support

The Wounded Warriors Family Support organization works to improve the lives of military personnel and the families of those who were injured or killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The challenges faced by wounded warriors and their loved ones are complex, so the program focuses on comprehensive care. 

Services include caregiver respite, veteran career training, adapted vehicles, and long-term care for veterans with spinal cord and brain injuries. They also offer all-expense-paid vacations to help veterans reconnect with their families! 

6. Mission Continues

Returning to civilian life often leaves veterans feeling a sense of purposelessness. Mission Continues is all about providing veterans with ways to provide service in their own backyards. More specifically, the organization gives veterans the tools to make an impact in underserved communities. In the process, veterans have the opportunity to get invested in their community, bond with fellow veterans, and reignite their passion for helping others. 

7. Homes For Our Troops

When severely injured veterans return home, their home is the same. Unfortunately, their abilities may be different. Homes For Our Troops donates personally-customized homes to help post-9/11 veterans live full, normal lives. Charity Navigator, America’s biggest independent charity evaluator, rated HFOT in the top four percent of charities, with a four out of four star rating. 

So far, HFOT has built 313 homes, with 90 cents of every donated dollar going directly to the project. The veterans helped never pay a cent.

8. Hope for the Warriors

Hope For The Warriors began on Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, NC back in 2006. Military families realized how much of an impact war had on service members and their loved ones back at home. They started Hope For The Warriors to support the military community through transition programs, peer engagement, and health and wellness programs. Their approach is holistic and well-rounded, aimed at addressing each factor that affects a service member’s life.

Even today, the organization is run by military families and combat veterans. 

9. K9s For Warriors

When we have a bad day, many of us turn to our dogs for comfort. Veterans can rely on dogs for a whole lot more. K9s For Warriors provides fully-trained service dogs to post 9/11 vets suffering from PTSD, traumatic brain injuries, or military sexual trauma. Their service dog program is based on research conducted by Purdue School of Veterinary Medicine to ensure that both vets and their service dogs are receiving the care they need. Vet care, assistance with housing, and home-cooked meals are also offered, so vets can bond with their support dog worry-free. 

In 2018, 122 vets were paired with service dogs, with over $13 million raised in total.

10. Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors

The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, better known as TAPS, has spent the past 27 years giving comfort and care to those coping with the death of a loved one in the military. They provide 24/7 phone support, plus ongoing grief counseling resources, seminars, and youth programs. In 2019, TAPS welcomed close to 7,000 newly bereaved military families, and they answer over 19,000 calls to their helpline each year. Their staff is mostly made up of survivors of military loss who have already been through TAPS and want to help others in similar shoes. 

For more charitable military organizations to donate to, check out this comprehensive list by the Charity Navigator.

MIGHTY CULTURE

These ‘hot rods’ are made out of WW2 fighter planes

Following is a video transcript.

Why warplane fuel tanks make great hot rods

Narrator: If you’re not sure what kind of car this is, you’re not alone. These tiny metal capsules with wheels are called belly tanks, or lakesters, and they’re a major part of hot rod culture.

So where does that strange-looking ‘bodywork’ come from? The short answer? The sky. Following World War II, US junkyards and surplus stores were filled with an abundance of leftover warplane parts, which included plenty of drop tanks, or belly tanks. Belly tanks were supplemental gas tanks strapped to World War II fighter planes to help boost their notoriously poor range. However, after the war, racers found another use for them. America’s gearheads quickly began transforming these discarded fuel cells into miniature speed demons and racing them out on dry lake beds, hence the name lakesters.


Bruce Meyer: The belly tank was a natural because it was an extra fuel tank attached to the bottom of a P-38 fighter plane. So it was already proven to to be aerodynamic. So it was the perfect shape for land speed racing.

Narrator: One of the most famous belly tankers belonged to Alex Xydias, founder of the iconic So-Cal Speed Shop. Owned today by rare car collector and enthusiast Bruce Meyer, this legendary lakester still looks just as good now as it ever did.

Why Warplane Fuel Tanks Make Great Hot Rods

www.youtube.com

Bruce: The top speed that this car attained was 198 mph, and that was piloted by Alex Xydias. When we found the belly tank, it was very much complete. It had the original interior, original dash, all the original metal and suspension. So it was all there. Nothing had to be fabricated, but it still took a year of research with Alex Xydias and Wally Parks working with Pete Chapouris, who restored the car, to make it what you see today and as accurate as it is. It is 100% the original car.

Finding a belly tank in the ’40s and ’50s was very, very easy. Today, not so much.

Narrator: That hasn’t stopped plenty of car builders in shops and garages today.

Sundeep Koneru: Sunrise Racing Division is our take on preserving vintage hot rods, especially the different eras of racing. Building our car took us about eight months. The process was first finding these tanks, which are becoming harder and harder to find. Next step was sending it to Steve Pugner, my buddy in Virginia. He does great metalwork, and he’s the one who did all the metalwork on this car. Next was finding a motor.

The biggest challenge we faced was one, me and Steve are pretty tall guys, so trying to fit us in the back of that tank was a challenge. And of course fitting a big motor which ends up sticking out was a bit of a challenge too.

I think belly tankers are still as popular as they’ve ever been. There’s more and more guys in their garages building belly tanks than I’ve ever seen before. Some of the big events you can go and see these are Bonneville during Speed Week or even El Mirage during their time trials.

Bruce: Belly tanks were prolific back then, and some people used them to build land speed records. Today, it’s not so easy. You don’t see belly tanks just laying around, and the few that were used for land speed racing are few and far between. But they do exist and are being held by enthusiasts and people who understand the importance of them.

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

US Navy sailors told to ‘clap like we’re at a strip club’ for VIP visit

The top enlisted leader on a Navy aircraft carrier is under fire for telling his troops to “clap like we’re at a strip club” ahead of the vice president’s stop aboard the ship April 30, 2019.

Command Master Chief Jonas Carter made the remark to sailors aboard the carrier Harry S. Truman, Lt. Cmdr. Laura Stegherr, a spokeswoman for the ship, confirmed to Military.com.

“This statement was inappropriate, and this issue is being addressed by Truman’s leadership,” she said.

CNN first reported the incident April 30, 2019.


Pence met with senior leaders and gave a speech aboard the Truman, which is pierside in Virginia. During his speech, he said President Donald Trump would save their carrier from early retirement, despite the commander-in-chief authorizing the move earlier this year in his 2020 budget proposal.

The Top 10 military charities of 2020

Vice President Mike Pence speaks to Sailors during an all-hands call in the hangar bay aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Adelola Tinubu)

George Reed, a retired Army colonel who served as director of command and leadership studies at the Army War College, said while Carter’s phrasing might not have been appropriate for a public audience, sailors likely understood his intent.

“Of course, you want sailors to give a good reception to the vice president, no matter your party preference,” Reed said.

If the command master chief’s comments were more partisan in nature, though, that’s cause for concern.

“There was a time when the mere act of voting was considered by many officers to be too partisan,” he said. “The shift to a period where military [leaders] feel comfortable sporting bumper stickers and yard signs favoring their party or favored candidate reflects cultural change that might not be in the best interest of the armed forces or the nation.”

The Top 10 military charities of 2020

Vice President Mike Pence delivers a speech to the crew during an all-hands call in the hangar bay aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman.

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Adelola Tinubu)

This isn’t the first time a Trump administration event involving troops has made headlines.

Last March, when Trump pointed to reporters during a speech to Marines at a California air station and called them “fake news,” the leathernecks cheered.

And in December, when Trump visited troops in Iraq, some had him sign their “Make America Great Again” caps. Since it’s the commander in chief’s political campaign slogan, some said it was inappropriate for them to ask for signatures while in uniform.

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

Teen honors her fallen father with senior photos

Julia Yllescas was just seven years old when her father, Army Capt. Robert Yllescas, succumbed to injuries sustained in an improvised explosive device blast in Afghanistan in 2008, according to the Omaha World Herald. Now a high school senior, Julia honored her father’s memory by taking “angel photos” for her senior portrait, as reported by the KOLN TV station in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Susanne Beckman, owner of Snapshots by Suz, created the photos as a special gift for the family, she said on Facebook.


“I have been taking pictures of Julia since she was about 9 and I thought it would be a great idea to do these angel pictures for her as a special gift for her big milestone and to her family,” Beckman wrote. “I am an active-duty National Guard wife, which is what inspired the idea and the vision. I take a lot of pictures of military families and their special memories.

“I was very emotional when I edited the photos because my husband is active-duty National Guard and has been put in the same exact situations as Rob was, but I was lucky enough for him to come home. A lot of military spouses and kids such as Julia are not, and I am so thankful I was able to do something to honor her and her dad!” she continued.

In response to the photos, Yllescas told KOLN, “It almost felt when I saw those pictures that he truly was there. And to have a piece of him with me throughout my senior year. Because sometimes it feels like, ‘Where are you, why did you have to go?’ Just to have that on my wall and be like, ‘No, he is with me, even though I can’t physically see him.'”

Before he died, Robert Yllescas was presented with a Purple Heart by President George W. Bush. He was assigned to the 6th Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, at Fort Hood, Texas.

His memory lives on through his family, and especially in these photos.

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

This soldier’s passion for boxing is an inspiration to others

Puddles of sweat begin to form as the sound of 50-ounce gloves hitting a punching bag echo throughout the gym.

A buzzer goes off. That’s the signal to the drenched-in-sweat Sgt. Larry Mays that the warmup has ended and the real workout is about to begin.

The unit supply NCO with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 704th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, used that warmup routine to help earn first place in the Colorado Golden Gloves heavyweight division in April 2019.


“It’s a prestigious tournament that the state of Colorado holds on a yearly basis,” explained Mays. “I’ve been training since October of last year and it’s exciting to see that all my hard work paid off.”

Even though the Lambert, Mississippi native began his training for the Colorado tournament in October 2018, his journey with the sport started much earlier.

The Top 10 military charities of 2020

U.S. Army Sgt. Larry Mays, a unit supply noncommissioned officer assigned to 704th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, hits a punching bag, May 11, 2019, at local boxing gym in Colorado Springs.

(Photo by Staff Sgt. Neysa Canfield)

“I started fighting (when) I was in elementary school. I started with (mixed martial arts), taekwondo and Jiu-Jitsu,” said Mays. “I kept fighting as a way to stay in shape and relieve stress.”

While training in those combat sports, Mays’ coach recommended he try boxing as a way to help him with his MMA skills.

“I pretty much fell in love with (boxing) after that and never went back to MMA,” he explained. “It’s not an easy sport, but I love that there is always a challenge and something new to learn.”

Although boxing was a big part of his life, Mays said he found himself working odd jobs and bringing little income into his household.

With encouragement from his coaches, friends, and family members, Mays enlisted in the Army in 2012.

“I wanted to get out of Mississippi and I always wanted to join the military, so it was the perfect time to make that change,” said Mays.

He learned to adapt quickly to the military lifestyle.

“To me, my mindset with boxing and my military career are very similar,” he said. “You have to stay disciplined, have a clear and strong mind, and never back down from a fight.”

The Top 10 military charities of 2020

U.S. Army Sgt. Larry Mays, a unit supply noncommissioned officer assigned to 704th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, hits a speed bag May 11, 2019, at local boxing gym in Colorado Springs.

(Photo by Staff Sgt. Neysa Canfield)

His ability to stay committed to his passion of boxing and effectively balance his career and family life began to inspire other soldiers in his unit.

“I would see him working long hours, helping his soldiers and then still see him going to the gym after work to train — that’s dedication,” said 1st Lt. Wilbert Paige, platoon leader, HHC, 704th BSB, 2nd IBCT. “He is a great example, not only to the junior soldiers in the company but to everyone, from top to bottom.”

Paige added that he hopes to see Mays in the “big leagues” in the future.

“He is a great example of what not quitting, putting in hard work and staying dedicated to your goals looks like,” said Paige. “He is the type of person who can do whatever he puts his mind to, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for him.”

With the support of his family and now his unit, Mays said he hopes to continue boxing and to ultimately do it professionally.

“This road of life I am on is kind of falling into place, I have come a long way,” said Mays. “I just want to be the guy who made it from nothing. I want to be the best soldier, best NCO and best boxer I can be.”

He hopes others see his journey as a way to encourage themselves to follow their dreams, Mays added.

“I want to be an inspiration to not only soldiers but to everyone,” he said. “You have to look at every day like a fight. Keep pushing even when you might be falling down because you can’t expect good things to happen if you don’t even try.”

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

Why you need to stop what you’re doing and do a buddy check

In the military, we had such a strong bond with those with whom we served. From day one in uniform, we had a battle buddy by our side. The closeness we had with our brothers and sisters is not something for those that didn’t serve to easily understand. Would your current co-workers pull ticks out for you from near your anus? Yeah, that actually happened to me … Thanks Mac, that’s what we call close! Do you think the people you work with now would run into gunfire for you?

We leave that family and often, many feel alone. This feeling is natural because being out of uniform is different from still serving. However, it’s what every veteran goes through as they leave their service. We may not talk about it at parties, but it’s as real as anything else in the world. This feeling can’t be ignored, but must be addressed.


It’s no secret that we have a suicide problem in the U.S. and even more profound in our veteran community. It’s a sad reality that we’ve lost more to suicide — over 108,000 — than combat during the Global War on Terror. Most of us know a brother or sister who’s taken their life after losing their personal battle at home. We can never eliminate the crisis, but we can certainly limit the amount who are overcome by their demons.

According to Stop Soldier Suicide, a nonprofit focused on reducing the number of service members and veterans lost to suicide, veterans are at a 50 percent higher risk of suicide than those who didn’t serve. By 2030, the number of veteran suicides will be 23 times higher than post 9/11 combat deaths. There has been a 93 percent increase in the suicide rate of male veterans aged 18 to 34.

I applaud people bringing attention to the issue through different methods. It may be doing 22 pushups a day, talking about why they served for 21 days or, I’ve also seen other messages and posts on social media raising awareness about the problem. We know there’s a problem, but I’m more for doing what Non-Commissioned Officers always do: Identify the problem, develop solutions and implement change.

Let’s be more proactive.

While serving, we saw our teammates every day. We were able to witness signs that they may be struggling. Being around each other so much, we could see if their behaviors changed, if they were down, if they showed the signs of depression and if they needed help. These checks are more difficult when we’re out of the military.

One of my favorite quotes: “You don’t need to have a patch on your arm to have honor.” – LT Kaffee at the end of A Few Good Men.

I’m challenging you to do one thing: pick up the phone and call someone you served with. Check on them. Ask them how they’re doing and listen. This is not a time to bullshit around the topic – ask them if they’re doing ok. How are they handling being out of uniform? Bring up the fact that it’s different and you feel the difference, too. We know how to accomplish tough tasks — this should be easier because of the love we have for those we served with. Have a real talk, reconnect and you may help someone suffering silently.

It’s not easy for people to acknowledge they’re having problems; generally, it’s not our veteran way. It’s not a disorder and we’re not broken. If we look out for each other and remove the stigma, we can mitigate the risks. Let’s show our love for our brothers and sisters. If you need help, reach out. And, reach out to others and do a buddy check.

MIGHTY CULTURE

How to find a remote career in military life

As remote jobs become more popular and feasible among the masses, military spouses are finding ways to keep their careers mobile. With frequent moves, working in years prior meant staying behind or fighting one’s way to the top every few years. (With no tenure, it’s hard, if not impossible to ever reach seniority.)


However, with new technology and remote positions becoming more globally accepted, military spouses can keep a budding career, no matter how many times they PCS.

Get yourself interview ready

Before you start the hunt for a remote position, get yourself employer-friendly. Update your resume, take headshots, and scrub your social media profiles. This means going private or ensuring your visible posts are appropriate, and an overhaul on your LinkedIn. Fill in all the details and share what you’ve been up to in your professional world.

With more access to personal information, you want to make sure you’re showing yourself in a good light online. It’s one more way to land a great job and keep a career that moves right along with you.

Meanwhile, if you have a field of study and need to renew any licenses, now is the time to do so! Showing you’re work-ready can only help your chances.

The Top 10 military charities of 2020

Create a home office

It doesn’t have to be fancy; it just has to work! Set up a dedicated area where you can get away and focus. A desk, computer, paper/calendar, writing utensils, chargers, etc. are all smart additions. Best-case scenario: your office space is separate from the rest of your living space. However, this isn’t always possible. Work to make your space as secluded as possible so you won’t be distracted by the rest of your home.

Remember, you can also work from outside locations, too, for instance, libraries, coffee shops, or co-working spaces that offer desk rental memberships.

Start applying!

Now, it’s go time. Start applying for work-from-home positions on any number of sites. You can search on aggregators that post remote jobs from many companies, or search individually for businesses that offer home office options.

Remember, you don’t have to share that you’re a military spouse, but in some cases, it can actually help your chances. There are certain companies that exclusively hire military spouses (be prepared to share documents proving that status for their tax purposes). But don’t fret — this actually helps cut down the applicant pool.
There are MANY places you can look for jobs, including paid subscriptions. However, there are plenty of free options. Look on military affiliated sites (like this one!), Military One Click, or even spouse social media pages for application resources.

The Top 10 military charities of 2020

Ready yourself for working from home

If you’ve never worked from home, know that it’s a different type of setup. It requires self-discipline and staying on task. (Think homework, but with a paycheck.) You’ll certainly get better at it, but there can be a learning curve if you aren’t prepped for at-home distractions.

Take regular breaks, leave the TV alone, and remember that chores can wait! (This is also why it’s important to keep a separate working space.)

Rock it!

Now it’s time to rock your new stance as a remote worker. Enjoy your freedom to work in your jammies, but even more so, celebrate your ability to keep a career longer than you can keep a house. No matter where you’re located (or in what timezone), you can keep a successful career as a milspouse remote employee.

Would you consider a remote job?

MIGHTY CULTURE

Humor in combat: Veterans share their funny war stories

Humor in combat is a bizarre topic — and one not many understand unless they’ve been there. Soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines across the world have been fighting in wars since the creation of militaries. Combat is a high-octane blend of mental and physical exhaustion. The more a soldier is in combat, the better they get at warfighting — and coping with the rigors of war creates a unique sense of humor.

Soldiers are known to engage in somewhat dark humor that is typically derived from repeated exposure to high-stress scenarios in training and in combat. These experiences can make assimilation into the civilian sector more difficult after getting out of the military. The gap between veterans and civilians is ever present, and differences in humor — along with extreme differences in life experiences — can contribute to that divide.

According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter in high-stress environments is a coping mechanism and can actually manifest helpful physical effects: “Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain.” In addition, laughter can activate and then relieve your stress response as well as decrease tension.

Coffee or Die Magazine spoke with several veterans about their experiences in combat — and why they found some of it funny.

Mike Simpson ready to roll before a mission. Photo courtesy of Mike Simpson.

Mike Simpson served in the US Army for 32 years, starting out in 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, moving on to 7th Special Forces Group, and ending his career in the military as an emergency medicine physician.

On a deployment in 2013 during winter in Afghanistan, Simpson and his fellow Rangers sprinted into position after their partner force came under fire. It was a small firefight, but they spent the better part of an hour trying to locate a “squirter” that was shooting at them after running from the target building they were there to hit.

During the firefight, Simpson recalled, he “took a mental step back and actually checked my pulse. Then I said, ‘Hmmm … interesting,’ and I chuckled. The Ranger next to me gave me a funny look.”

His fellow Ranger didn’t say anything until they got back to their base. Simpson explained to him why he had checked his pulse during the firefight, and they both had another laugh.

“The first half of my career, I had always wondered how I would react on a psychological and physiological level to combat. You read all the stories and the books, but you don’t know how you will react until it happens,” Simpson said. “I was curious, as a physician, as to how I was handling the situation, so I took my own pulse.”

Steve Wickham served in an aviation unit prior to becoming a Ranger. Photo courtesy of Steve Wickham.

Steve Wickham served in the US Army for a little over 20 years and deployed a total of five times. He was on a deployment to Afghanistan while in the 563rd Aviation Support Battalion back in 2012, stationed at Kandahar Airfield. Rocket attacks were common and he was typically close to the impacts, as he was living on the airfield in a mini-compound. Eight months into his 12-month deployment, another rocket attack came in.

The incoming-ordnance sirens started going off at approximately 11 p.m. Wickham and his active duty and civilian comrades made their way to the bunker on their compound. The airfield’s Counter Rocket, Artillery, Mortar (C-RAM) defense system started firing at the incoming ordnance, but Wickham wasn’t too concerned.

“The C-Rams were going off, and per usual none of us took the attack very seriously,” Wickham said. “I believe I was sitting on top of the bunker, smoking and joking with another NCO, instead of being inside it.”

Wickham and his comrades were laughing the night away when three rockets hit just outside their aircraft hangars, approximately 60 yards from their bunker. They started running toward the impacts to render aid if needed.

One of the civilians there was Randy, a veteran and firefighter, who had let himself go after getting out of the military. During this whole deployment, Randy had been hitting the gym hard and had lost a lot of weight. Wickham made a quick quip to this civilian as they were running toward the impact site.

“Damn Randy, look at you. That gym time is paying off — you’re keeping up with us!” Appearing dumbfounded, Randy made Wickham’s joke worth it. Randy was winded, and all he could do was flip the bird at Wickham and keep running. They arrived to find that no one was injured, so they moved on to evaluate property damage.

Later on, they were all gathered in a circle and talking about the night’s events. Randy was laughing about Wickham’s ability to crack jokes while sprinting and just after multiple rockets had hit their compound.

This photo was taken shortly after Barrett Carver’s experience with the deflected ordnance; Carver is the second from the left in the top row. Photo courtesy of Barrett Carver.

Barrett Carver served in the US Army for almost seven years and deployed multiple times. He spent his time in 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, and was one of the Rangers involved in the assault on Haditha Dam, a critical structure to capture during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

During the assault, Carver and his fellow Rangers were holed up inside one of the buildings on “the military side of the dam,” and they were taking indirect fire from the Iraqis. Artillery rounds were impacting close to their building for several hours with barrages of small-arms fire. Carver thought to himself, Well, it’s been a good run.

Suddenly, they all heard a loud twang, and a thick cloud of dust erupted inside the building. Carver looked up to see a horseshoe-shaped indent in the corrugated tin roof over their heads. Everyone burst into uncontrollable laughter — one of the artillery rounds had been deflected by the thin tin roof.

“Deflection is a funny thing,” Carver said. “It could have just as easily been a dud round. Either way, I take a kick where I can get it. Amazing thing is that with the amount they dropped on us, we only had two casualties. Both made it.”

Scott Ford and his ODA overseas. Photo courtesy of Scott Ford.

Scott Ford served in the US Army for 21 years and is the recipient of a Silver Star for his actions in Afghanistan on April 6, 2008, while serving as the team sergeant of Operational Detachment Alpha 3336 (ODA-3336).

Ford struck up a conversation with a fellow passenger while on his flight to a training event. She was a psychologist, and they were discussing different ways to handle heavy stress. One of her suggestions for handling stressful situations was to imagine breaking crayons. At the time, Ford didn’t realize this suggestion would pop into his head years later during a firefight in Iraq.

During a mission one night in Sadr City, Iraq, Ford and his Special Forces team were pinned down on top of a roof while supporting the main assault element.

“It was one of those little aggravating gunfights where we just can’t find the guy to kill him, and we’re trying all kinds of unique things,” Ford recalled.

It got to a point where Ford and his teammate sat down behind their cover to think through a solution to finally kill the insurgent who had them pinned down. Then a smile creeped across Ford’s face, despite the bullets impacting their cover. His teammate looked at him with bewilderment and said, “What the fuck are you thinking about right now?”

Ford looked at him and said, “I’m like, breaking fucking crayons, bro.” They both busted out in laughter. After regaining composure, they figured out a way to take out the insurgent.

“You know, it’s just one of those moments where anybody else would look at us like, you guys are fucking weird, you know?” Ford said.

Ford believes veterans are unique because they have the ability to laugh in dire situations. Ford and his old teammates still get together from time to time, and the story about breaking crayons always comes up.

Jason Briggs, left, with a fellow Ranger overseas. Photo courtesy of Jason Briggs.

Jason Briggs served in the US Army for four years in 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment and deployed five times. Briggs’ last deployment to Kandahar, Afghanistan, in 2008 involved a particularly funny experience while out on a mission.

His team didn’t have their usual pilots and were being flown by an aviation unit that they hadn’t worked with much in the past. They were loaded onto two MH-47 Chinook helicopters to infiltrate their target. High winds coming down the mountains made flying conditions difficult. When Briggs’ Chinook attempted to touch down, the pilot struggled to make a steady landing and took several tries; each failed attempt to land was followed by a rapid gain in altitude while spinning. Meanwhile, the other helicopter landed on its first attempt and offloaded its Rangers.

The guys were having a blast on his Chinook, pretending the scary helicopter ride was a roller coaster and that they were in Disney World, laughing constantly.

“You’d see the mountains under nods just whizzing by out the back out the Chinook,” Briggs said. “It took about four attempts to put her down, and when he did, we were a ways away from the other chalk. But hey, we were finally down.”

The Rangers landed and executed their mission, detaining several people from the targeted house. The call for their exfiltration was radioed into command, and eventually the same crew of Chinooks came thundering in.

When the pilot of Briggs’ Chinook made the first attempt to land, they all had to take off running with their detainees to avoid getting stomped on by the actual helicopter.

“Sure enough this guy can’t put it down again — the first attempt sends us running like mushrooms about to be stomped by Mario,” Briggs said. “Have you ever seen an exfil circle, with PUCs, pick up and run in a complete brownout as a helicopter follows them around trying to land on them? Yeah, that actually happened.”

The pilot landed after about three attempts, and the Rangers loaded up with their detainees. They had a safe flight back to base to prepare for the inevitable follow-on mission.

“Although we got to share the camaraderie together in the bird,” he said, “I don’t know if I’ve ever laughed so hard in my life as I did seeing a helicopter try to land on me in the middle of the night in Afghanistan.”

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

This Nigerian woman stopped hunting antelope to shoot terrorists

For the terrorist group whose name translates to “Western Education is Forbidden,” Aisha Bakari Gombi’s name means getting schooled on the battlegrounds of sub-Saharan Africa.


“Boko Haram know me and fear me,” says Gombi.

Gombi’s title is now “Queen Hunter” for her prowess in fighting terrorist cells in the country. According to the Guardian’s Rosie Collyer, she commands men who communicate using sign language, animal sounds, and birdsong.

 

The Top 10 military charities of 2020
Boko Haram, the junior varsity ISIS, still somehow manages to ill innocent civilians and wreak havoc across Nigeria.

Her home as a youth is a town called Gombi, near Nigeria’s Sambisa Forest, which is now rife with Boko Haram extremists. This is a short drive from where 200 girls were kidnapped in 2014.

Gombi has been a member of the local hunter’s club since she was in her youth, taught to hunt by her grandfather.

“We could free them if the military would give us better weapons,” she told the Guardian as she eyed a double-barreled shotgun on her lap.

In the same forest where she once hunted antelope for food, she now hunts Boko Haram fighters for vengeance. Many other women in the village have since joined the hunt for terrorist fighters, many to avenge missing loved ones abducted by the group.

The Top 10 military charities of 2020
Aisha Bakari Gombi. (Photo by Rosie Collyer)

Many other women in the village have since joined the hunt for terrorist fighters, many to avenge missing loved ones abducted by the group. There are now 228 hunters in Gombi’s village who have been recruited by the government to help fight terrorists.

Aisha Bakari Gombi vows never to stop fighting Boko Haram until her village is free from their threat. The only thing holding her back is the resources required to go on the offensive.

“I’m waiting for a call authorizing me to go back to rescue those women and children from Daggu, but I don’t know if they will give us more arms,” she says.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Here’s what the US B-52 bombers flying around Europe have been up to

Four US Air Force B-52 bombers from the 2nd Bomb Wing at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana arrived in England with about 300 airmen on Oct. 10, 2019, for a bomber task force deployment.

The bombers were deployed to RAF Fairford to “conduct integration and interoperability training” with partners in the region and to “exercise Air Force Global Strike Command’s ability to conduct bomber operations from a forward operating location” in support of US Air Forces in Europe and US European Command.


Amid heightened tensions with Russia after its 2014 seizure of Crimea, bomber task force exercises over Europe are also meant to reassure US partners and to be a deterrent to Moscow — this deployment, like others before it, also saw US bombers fly close to Russia in Eastern Europe and the high north.

Below, you can see what US airmen and bombers did during the month they were in Europe.

The Top 10 military charities of 2020

Two US Air Force B-52H Stratofortresses parked after arriving at RAF Fairford in England, Oct. 10, 2019.

(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt Philip Bryant)

Bomber Task Force 20-1 was “part of a routine forward deployment of bomber aircraft in the European theater that demonstrates the US commitment to the collective defense of the NATO alliance,” a US Air Forces Europe-Africa spokeswoman said.

The Barksdale B-52s’ deployment to RAF Fairford was their first since this spring, the spokeswoman said, and comes not long after a B-2 Spirit bomber task force deployment in August and September that saw the stealth bomber accomplish several firsts over Europe.

The Top 10 military charities of 2020

A B-52H Stratofortress deployed from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana takes off from RAF Fairford, England, Oct. 14, 2019.

(US Air Force/Senior Airman Stuart Bright)

The Top 10 military charities of 2020

US Air Force Senior Airman Sho Kashara, an Explosives Ordinance Disposal airmen from Dyess Air Force Base in Texas, helps build inert BDU-50 bombs for practice use by B-52H Stratofortresses at RAF Fairford, Oct. 16, 2019.

(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. James Cason)

The Top 10 military charities of 2020

US Air Force Staff Sgt. Stephen Zbinovec, 2nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron 96th Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief, inspects the inside of the engine of a US Air Force B-52H Stratofortress at RAF Fairford, Oct. 18, 2019.

(US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Stuart Bright)

The Top 10 military charities of 2020

US Air Force airmen from the 2nd Bomb Wing prepare a US Air Force B-52H for takeoff during Bomber Task Force Europe 20-1, at RAF Fairford, Oct. 23, 2019.

(US Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Duncan C. Bevan)

“Back home, people are focused on their job and will occasionally help out here and there,” said Tech. Sgt. Joshua Crowe, a B-52 expediter with the 2nd AMXS.

“Here, what seems to work is that everyone is all hands on deck. You may have an electronic countermeasures airman change an engine or an electrical environmental airman helping crew chiefs change brakes,” Crowe added.

The Top 10 military charities of 2020

96th Bomb Squadron aircrew from to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana prepare to board a B-52H Stratofortress at RAF Fairford, Oct. 14, 2019.

(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. James Cason)

When the bomber is scheduled to land somewhere that doesn’t have maintenance support for B-52s, a maintainer will go along as a “flying crew chief” to make sure the aircraft arrives safely and is ready to fly once it lands.

For a crew chief to qualify for that job, they must be at the top of their career field and complete hanging-harness training, a flight-equipment course, and go through the altitude chamber.

“We are essentially passengers on the aircraft, though we help the aircrew troubleshoot some things,” said Tech. Sgt. Gregory Oliver, a communications navigations technician. “However, when we land, we hit the ground running. We service the jet and get it ready to fly again.”

The Top 10 military charities of 2020

US Air Force 96th Bomb Squadron weapons system officers work in the lower deck of a 2nd Bomb Wing B-52H Stratofortress from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana in the Black Sea region in support of Bomber Task Force Europe 20-1, Oct. 21, 2019.

(US Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Christopher Ruano)

The Top 10 military charities of 2020

Three B-52 Stratofortresses assigned to the 2nd Bomb Wing from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana in formation after completing missions over the Baltic Sea for Bomber Task Force Europe 20-1, Oct. 23, 2019.

(US Air Force photo by SSgt. Trevor T. McBride)

A few days later, B-52s from Fairford headed to the Baltic Sea, teaming up with Czech fighters for exercises over another European hotspot.

NATO’s Baltic members, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, are between Russia proper and its Baltic Sea exclave, Kaliningrad, where ground and naval forces are based, as well as air-defense systems, ballistic missiles, and what are thought to be nuclear weapons.

The Top 10 military charities of 2020

French air force Dassault Rafales fly next to a US Air Force B-52H over France in support of Bomber Task Force Europe 20-1, Oct. 25, 2019.

(US Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Christopher Ruano)

The Top 10 military charities of 2020

Two Polish Air Force F-16C Fighting Falcons engage in a planned intercept of a US Air Force B-52H over Poland during Bomber Task Force Europe 20-1, Oct. 28, 2019.

(US Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Duncan C. Bevan)

The Top 10 military charities of 2020

A US Air Force B-52 in formation with Royal Air Force Typhoon aircraft from 3 Squadron at RAF Coningsby over the North Sea, Oct. 28, 2019.

(Cpl. Alex Scott/UK Ministry of Defense)

The Top 10 military charities of 2020

A US Air Force B-52H Stratofortress deployed from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana taxis toward the flight line at RAF Fairford in support of Global Thunder 20, Oct. 28, 2019.

(US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Stuart Bright)

The Top 10 military charities of 2020

Royal Norwegian Air Force F-16s next to a US Air Force B-52H in Norwegian airspace during training for Bomber Task Force Europe 20-1, Oct. 30, 2019.

(US Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Christopher Ruano)

The Top 10 military charities of 2020

A US Air Force B-52H and Saudi Arabian F-15C Eagles conduct a low pass over Prince Sultan Air Base in support of Bomber Task Force Europe 20-1, Nov. 1, 2019.

(US Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Christopher Ruano)

The Top 10 military charities of 2020

A US Air Force B-52H and three Royal Norwegian Air Force F-16s fly toward the Barents Sea region of the Arctic during Bomber Task Force 20-1, Nov. 6, 2019.

(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Trevor T. McBride)

The Top 10 military charities of 2020

A US Air Force 96th Bomb Squadron pilot flies a US Air Force B-52H during training and integration with the Royal Norwegian air force in Norwegian airspace in support of Bomber Task Force Europe 20-1, Nov. 6, 2019.

(US Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Christopher Ruano)

One flight-tracker showed the B-52s flying into the Barents, turning south near the Novaya Zemlya archipelago in the Arctic and then flying west near the Kola Peninsula. Both are home to Russian military facilities, including the Northern Fleet’s home base.

The Russian navy and scientists recently mapped five new islands near Novaya Zemlya that were revealed by receding glacier ice.

The Top 10 military charities of 2020

A US Air Force B-52H and three Royal Norwegian Air Force F-16s fly toward the Barents Sea region of the Arctic during Bomber Task Force 20-1, Nov. 6, 2019.

(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Trevor T. McBride)

“The mission in the Barents Sea region served as an opportunity to integrate with our Norwegian allies to improve interoperability as well as act as a visible demonstration of the US capability of extended deterrence,” the spokeswoman said.

The Top 10 military charities of 2020

A US Air Force B-52H takes off from RAF Fairford to return to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, at the end of Bomber Task Force Europe 20-1, Nov. 8, 2019.

(US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Stuart Bright)

The Top 10 military charities of 2020

A US Air Force B-52H Stratofortress takes off from RAF Fairford to return home to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, at the end of Bomber Task Force Europe 20-1, Nov. 8, 2019.

(US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Stuart Bright)

The Top 10 military charities of 2020

A US Air Force 2nd Bomb Wing B-52H Stratofortress takes off from RAF Fairford to return home to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana in support of Bomber Task Force Europe 20-1, Nov. 8, 2019.

(US Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Christopher Ruano)

BTF “rotations provide us with a consistent and near-continuous long-range weapon capability, and represent our ability to project air power around the globe,” said Gen. Jeff Harrigian, commander of US Air Forces Europe-Africa.

“Being here and talking with [our allies and partner militaries] on their ranges makes us more lethal,” said Lt. Col. John Baker, BTF commander and 96th Bomb Squadron commander.

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

Sisters by blood, now sisters-in-arms: Two sets of sisters graduate recruit training

PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. —

Three days before her grandfather passed away, Ashley Valentine, 19, made a promise to carry on his legacy in the United States armed services. After deciding to join the Marine Corps, her sister Amber, 22, made the decision to enlist as well.

“After talking with the recruiter about how it would impact my life, I was committed,” Amber said. “I was ready to go no matter what.”

Amber waited for her sister to be approved medically before she went to recruit training. The Manassas, Virginia natives, both agreed that having each other to rely on through recruit training helped during some of their highest highs and lowest lows.

“I went through a moment during first phase where I received some bad news in a letter, and she was there to be a shoulder for me to lean on,” Amber said.

The two will not be attending Marine Combat Training together however – Ashley suffered a hip fracture prior to graduation and will be remaining on the island while she heals.

The two sisters both have faith and confidence in each other on the next step of their lives, despite being physically distant. After they complete Combat Training, Amber will continue on in the Communications field and Ashley will be certified as a Motor Transportation Operator.

“I know she’s going to be ok,” Ashley said of her sister. “She’s always been independent and I know she’s going to succeed in her career.”

When Maria, Vanessa and Melissa Placido Jaramillo were young children, they made a pact to join the military together; yet it was their unbreakable bond that got them through the trials of recruit training.

 “When one of us is lacking and the other is strong in that area, we always push each other to become the best we can be.”

 Melissa Placido, a U.S. Marine

The three sisters were born in Panama and moved to Las Vegas at a young age. Maria, 21, said she loved war movies growing up; When she saw “Tears of the Sun” for the first time, she said she was truly inspired the join the military. After learning about the ROTC program, she found her true motivation to become a Marine; to honor her family and give back the country who gave her so much.

Her other two sisters, identical twins Melissa and Vanessa, 22, were also in the ROTC program exploring their options of different branches, but it was their younger sister who first spoke with a Marine Corps recruiter.

During recruit training, it was friendly competition and daily positive affirmation that keep their relationship with each other strong, Melissa said.

“When one of us is lacking and the other is strong in that area, we always push each other to become the best we can be,” Melissa said.

“We have an unbreakable bond,” Maria said. “We are always together, but we know how to live separately. I know that my sisters will always be there for me, even when they are not physically with me.”

The three sisters have yet to find out what Military Occupational Specialty they will be assigned, but are looking forward to what the Marine Corps has in store for them. Maria says she is excited to expand her knowledge of a new occupation while completing her education.

Melissa and Vanessa also both intend to complete their education, Melissa as a double major in Political Science and Medical Science, and Vanessa in Political Science and Legal Science. They all will become nationalized as American citizens.

These five success stories of triumph and resilience may have come to Parris Island with different mindsets and from different background, but they will forever share the bond of becoming Marines side-by-side.

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

4 things that make us say, ‘Bless your little civilian heart’

Is there anything else that aggravates already overworked military spouses more than micro complaints from their civilian friends? Probably not.

Being married to the military is a lot like hastily extinguishing small government-issued trash can fires, only to realize you will never put them all out no matter how hard you try. The government loves issuing trash can fires, and by year three, you learn to sit back and roast marshmallows over them instead.


Yes, military spouses evolve quickly from the simple state that was their civilian life to the constant state of chaos surrounding a life of service. Nothing is more annoying than forcing a passive-aggressive “oh that must be hard for you” head nod when Susie starts rattling off her civilian life complaints.

See if your friend’s grievances made our list.

When their spouse’s 48-hour business trips are made to seem as hard as a deployment 

Civilian- “Oh your spouse is away a lot too? My John, he has to travel a whole three times a year for work and I just don’t know what to do with myself during those weekends he’s away.”

If eyes could emit laser beams, military spouses would be the first to be equipped with them. How many times have you as a spouse had to endure this comparison? No Susan, John’s work trips to Denver are nothing like the average work trips that the military sends our spouses on. A good day is when you find out your spouse did not get recycled in Ranger school (again) and you’ll see them in a short 60 days from now.

When they complain about having the same boring job for the last 10 years 

Civilian- “Ugh, you are so lucky not to have to work. I’ve been at this same boring job for the last 10 years and I can’t wait to retire.”

To an outsider looking in, an unemployed military spouse living in Hawaii might seem like a choice or even a benefit, but the military community knows better. Not only are there periods where military life keeps us from working, but the few of us who do, find it near impossible to find the kind of employment that offers such unicorn benefits like retirement.

When their schedules are “so busy”

Civilian- “We are busy bees I tell you. The kids have their sports and I just have to find time to shop for the right piece to go above the mantle before it just drives me nuts. Don’t even get me started on how I had to push back my hair appointment.”

The first year after a PCS for military spouses involves the trial and error of everything from coffee shops to dentists, to assessing what is still missing or broken from the move. By the time we get settled in enough to get our kids in sports clubs or half-ass decorate the living room, new orders roll in. Nothing is busier than a military spouse eating a “fridge purge” sandwich on the way to baseball where she plans to make the seventh call to find out when the movers are coming this week taking her to a place she has to Google to find.

When they complain about that one time they had to move

Civilian- “Moving (down the street) was a nightmare. It took forever to go through our things. I never want to do that again.”

Nothing brings salty military spouses more joy than to hear your tragic horror story about your move down the block to that custom home you designed yourself which will perfectly meet every single one of your family’s needs. That sounds hard.

Yes, we military spouses who can live entire decades of our lives half packed and ready to move (again) in 18 months sympathize with your hardship. We who live as lifelong renters in someone else’s 1999 cookie-cutter home with beige everything feel bad that it was difficult to pick precisely the right marble for your countertops. We who must label trash cans as “do not pack” cannot fathom how difficult it was for you to leisurely watch the actual professional movers delicately move your furniture with actual customer service in mind.

We are military spouses and we have zero time for your civilian complaints.

MIGHTY CULTURE

‘From Cradle to Career’: Special Operations Warrior Foundation Leaves No Child of America’s Fallen Special Operators Behind

Alicia Sims was at her neighbor’s house to get some Tylenol when she heard a knock at the front door. At first she thought it was one of her five children.

“Come in,” she hollered.

There was no reply.

“It’s unlocked, come in,” she yelled.

Again, no answer.

She went to the door and there stood a chaplain and another man. Immediately, Alicia’s thoughts turned to her husband, Jacob, a 36-year-old MH-47G Chinook pilot in the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment who was deployed to Afghanistan at the time, in October 2017.

“Is he okay?” Alicia asked.

The two did not immediately reply.

“Is he okay?” she asked again, clinging to the hope that her husband was only wounded. “Just tell me where I have to go.”

“If he was okay, I wouldn’t be here right now,” the chaplain replied.

Then, he delivered the news: Jacob’s Chinook had crashed during a nighttime raid in Afghanistan’s Logar Province. Six crew members were injured. Jacob was dead.

Alicia and Jacob Sims. Photo courtesy of Alicia Sims.

High school sweethearts, the couple began dating when Alicia was a sophomore. She married Jacob the day after she graduated. As a married couple, they’d been through thick and thin. Five children, countless deployments, moving across the country. Not an unusual story for military families in the post-9/11 era.

A chief warrant officer in the Army’s elite aviation outfit the “Night Stalkers,” based at Fort Lewis in Washington, Jacob had steadily advanced in his career over the years. Having dedicated her life to her family, Alicia, for her part, had never gone to university or had a career of her own. Instead, she’d held down the home front while her husband deployed over and over again — more times than she can now remember — to the war zones in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places such as Kosovo. And now the nightmare had come true. Her husband, the father of their five children, wouldn’t be coming home this time.

Alicia was devastated, and she would grieve. Yes, that would come. But not yet. In the immediate roil and tumble of the single worst instant of her life, the first thing that went through Alicia Sims’ mind was how she was going to give her children the news that their father had died.

“My first thought was, Now I’ve got to tell my five kids this,” Alicia says in a telephone interview with Coffee or Die Magazine from her home in Clarksville, Tennessee.

“I’d been with Jacob half my life, and I was a stay-at-home mom,” she continues. “All I could think was: What am I going to do? How am I going to support these kids? I don’t even have an education. How am I going to pay bills? There were a lot of things running through my mind.”

In the first days following Jacob’s death, Alicia’s needs revolved around simple things like food, laundry, and getting the children to school. She also had to go to Dover, Delaware, to receive her husband’s body.

“I had to come back and plan his funeral and do all of that. And when you’re being pulled in all those different directions, you don’t think about grocery shopping or food or anything else,” she says.

Jacob Sims with two of his five children. Photo courtesy of Alicia Sims.

As time went on, however, the immediacy of the tragedy faded and the long-term reality of being a single mother set in. Consequently, Alicia’s worries evolved to encompass larger issues — more complicated problems than a simple check or a home-cooked meal by a neighbor could fix. Above all, she needed a college degree to land a job that could support her and her five children. But how would she ever find the time to go to school? Their youngest child, a daughter named Harper, was just shy of 2 years old when Jacob died, and Alicia couldn’t afford day care or preschool. Plus, in a few years the two oldest daughters would be thinking about going to college — how was she ever going to pay for all that?

The walls seemed to be closing in until something incredible happened — an unexpected encounter that forever changed the course of Alicia’s life. At an event for families of the fallen, a Special Operations Warrior Foundation representative approached Alicia, informing her that the organization had begun funding preschool programs. And then the magic words: “Are you interested?”

“And so the youngest of my five was one of their first kids that they put through preschool, which is very fortunate for me,” Alicia later explains. “None of my kids have ever been in preschool or anything like that, so Harper is the only one. Last year she was in preschool and this year she’s in pre-K, fully funded by the Special Operations Warrior Foundation.”

Today, Alicia Sims is a single mother, raising three daughters, aged 15, 14, and 4; and two boys, aged 11 and 10. The youngest daughter, Harper, will have her education paid for by the Special Operations Warrior Foundation from preschool to university. Her two older daughters are enrolled in a college preparation academy, and her son has been receiving math tutoring — all paid for by the foundation.

With her children’s educational needs provided for, Alicia has been able to pursue a college degree in social work.

“Knowing the [Special Operations Warrior Foundation] is just an email away if we were to need anything education-wise, it puts my mind at ease. Because I don’t have to worry about what to cut this month to pay for tutoring or anything like that,” Alicia says.

She adds: “Because my youngest gets to go to preschool, and I don’t have to worry about day care, it’s allowed me to better myself to further my own career so I can take care of myself and my kids and not have to rely on other people.”

The Sims family’s five children, now aged 15, 14, 11, 10, and 4. Photo courtesy Alicia Sims.

Typically after a tragedy, the immediate outpourings of grief and sympathy taper off as time goes on. And it is the family, the survivors, who are left to live with the enduring consequences of their loss, while others — no matter how well intentioned their initial expressions of sympathy may have been — are able to move on.

“Everybody else goes on with their lives, while our lives are still kind of at a standstill,” Alicia says. “But one thing I can say about the [Special Operations Warrior Foundation] is that they have never lost contact. Every few weeks, you know, they’re reaching out to make sure I don’t need anything. That the kids don’t need anything. ‘Is anybody struggling? Do they need a tutor?’ There’s a constant outreach just to make sure we’re okay.”

The Special Operations Warrior Foundation is an organization that provides college scholarships, as well as educational assistance as early as preschool, for the children of special operations soldiers killed in combat or training. The 40-year-old 501(c)(3) charitable organization distinguishes itself from other nonprofits by committing its resources to the children of the fallen for the long haul — from “cradle to career,” as the organization’s CEO and president, Clay Hutmacher, tells Coffee or Die Magazine.

“Our kids, I think, need this holistic approach because they’ve been through a traumatic event,” Hutmacher says. “They’ve lost a parent and most of them are in a single-parent home. Our strategy is to invest in these kids up front. And, you know, preschool statistically significantly enhances your kid’s chances of going on to higher education.”

That “holistic” approach is yielding results. Some 90% of the children sponsored by the Special Operations Warrior Foundation go on to pursue a college education immediately after high school — 20% above the national average. Moreover, between 92% and 93% of the foundation’s sponsored children graduate a four-year institution in five years or less — about 30% above the national average.

Currently, the Special Operations Warrior Foundation counts 882 children in its programs — the average age is 7. With up to $8,000 available per year for a child to go to preschool, the foundation also pays for tutoring and for specialized high school programs such as the college preparation courses in which Alicia Sims has enrolled her two oldest daughters. The organization also provides benefits to about a dozen children in need of special education.

“We pay for college visits, and we pay for study abroad,” Hutmacher says. “We help with internships just to defray some of the costs of relocating and all of that. And then we run [the students] through a program to prep them for college study skills, financial management, writing their essays, all that kind of stuff. And then, of course, we fully fund their [college degrees], and we don’t care where they go. We don’t care if they go to Harvard or to community college to be an auto mechanic.”

A 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) MH-47 in flight. Photo by Staff Sgt. Reed Knutson, courtesy of DVIDS.

Our nation will always need special operators. And those elite warriors will likely remain perpetually engaged in combat, whether covertly or overtly, to hold the world’s dark forces at bay beyond the edges of America’s borders, guaranteeing the peaceful life we enjoy and so often take for granted.

Each day when Hutmacher arrives at work, he takes a minute to pause in the main hallway of the foundation’s Tampa, Florida, offices. The walls are covered with photos of the college graduates the Special Operations Warrior Foundation has sponsored over the years — a stark testament to the toll of our nation’s wars, no doubt. But also a measure of all the good the foundation has done for the families left behind in the wake of those tragedies.

“You walk in this building every day and we’ve got pictures on the wall of kids that we’ve helped. The job satisfaction is off the chart,” Hutmacher tells Coffee or Die Magazine.

After a military career that spanned some 41 years — from his days as an enlisted Marine to retiring as an Army major general at the upper echelons of the special operations community — Hutmacher understands the reality of the threats facing our nation, as well as the constant expenditure of courage and sacrifice needed to keep those threats at bay.

“Behind every name, there’s a whole family whose lives are changed forever. Their struggle is just beginning. You know, their lives were changed in the blink of an eye and not for the better. And there’s many, many challenges ahead,” Hutmacher says.

Retired Army Maj. Gen. Clay Hutmacher, president and CEO of the Special Operations Warrior Foundation. Photo courtesy of Clay Hutmacher.

Thus, each morning, as Hutmacher stands in that hallowed hallway and takes stock of the good work his organization has done, he also understands there’s a lot of work left to do. In this endless endeavor, Hutmacher says he is continually inspired by the exceptionalism of the men and women who’ve stood up to fight for our country.

“You have unique men and women that have chosen a life of service, and they are generally very, very talented and they could have done many other things,” Hutmacher explains. “But they chose a life of service. So I feel like it’s the least we can do to take care of their children.”

For her part, Alicia Sims says that thanks to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, her children are not simply surviving the trauma they’ve experienced. Rather, they’ve been galvanized to lead uniquely successful lives in honor of the legacy of their father’s heroic service and sacrifice.

“There’s a whole group of people standing in their corner, cheering them on, wanting them to succeed in life,” she says. “It is definitely putting more of an importance on furthering their education because, like I explained to them, you know, if your father hadn’t have died, we wouldn’t have been able to ever pay for all five of our kids to go to college. So this is an opportunity they wouldn’t have had otherwise. They see the importance of that. And they want to make sure he didn’t die in vain, and they’re making him proud, and they use the benefits they have to their fullest potential.”

The Special Operations Warrior Foundation was founded in the wake of Operation Eagle Claw — an April 1980 operation ordered by President Jimmy Carter to attempt to rescue the 52 hostages held at the US Embassy in the Iranian capital of Tehran. Five Air Force personnel and three Marines were killed in the ill-fated mission, leaving 17 children without a father.

At first, the charitable organization was focused on providing college scholarships to the children of special operators killed in combat or training. Yet, as its financial resources have improved over the years, its mission has expanded. Apart from the “cradle to career” philosophy espoused by Hutmacher, the foundation now also supports the children of living Medal of Honor recipients (if they’re associated with special operations forces), as well as the families of special operators who have been gravely wounded in training or combat.

“It’s a very amazing foundation. There’s no questions asked. You simply fill out a form just so they kind of know what’s needed, where the money needs to go. And it’s taken care of,” Alicia Sims says. “If the foundation wasn’t a part of our lives, I don’t know what we’d do.”

A helicopter in ashes during Operation Eagle Claw. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

A triathlete and an outwardly laid-back guy (despite his six and a half years as a Marine and rising to the rank of major general in the Army), Hutmacher has a passion for his work that radiates through the telephone connection. In short, the man embodies the spirit of service, displaying a boundless drive to better others’ lives and to draw his own quiet happiness from that selfless endeavor. One small example: Hutmacher writes — by hand — a congratulatory note to every college student sponsored by the foundation who earns a 3.5 GPA or higher.

“I want to encourage the students to continue and to succeed. That’s my passion,” Hutmacher says. “I’m not a professional fundraiser, I’m a stick wiggler. But I get fired up about this job. Especially when I see the impact on these kids. It’s awesome.”

Hutmacher’s anecdotes exemplify his personal commitment to the foundation’s mission. He recounts the story of Josh Wheeler, a 39-year-old Army master sergeant who served with Delta Force and was killed during a hostage rescue mission in Iraq in 2015.

Throughout the course of his storied military career, Wheeler earned 11 Bronze Star Medals including four with Valor Devices. He was posthumously awarded the Silver Star, the Purple Heart, and the Medal of Patriotism.

When Wheeler left behind a wife and four sons, the Special Operations Warrior Foundation stepped in to help. And when one of Wheeler’s sons started having trouble in school, Hutmacher organized a cruise for the two of them around Tampa Bay as a “team-building” opportunity. Later, Hutmacher visited Wheeler’s family at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. He brought them takeout Chinese food like their father used to do. Seemingly small gestures, perhaps, but in the end they made all the difference.

The son who had once been struggling in school went on to study at North Carolina’s Sandhills Community College. He earned a 3.5 GPA in his first quarter. Last quarter, he earned a 4.0 GPA, Hutmacher proudly says.

“That’s what it’s all about,” he explains. “You see, these are kids that have been through some tough times. So, to me, that’s why we’re here. We invest in each and every child to make sure they succeed.”

Army Sgt. Cameron Meddock, a Ranger, died in combat in Afghanistan in January 2019. After his daughter, Brinley, was born the following April, the Special Operations Warrior Foundation immediately reached out and enrolled her in their program. Next year, Brinley is set to attend preschool under the foundation’s sponsorship.

“I was six months pregnant when my husband was killed in Afghanistan,” said Meddock’s widow, Stevie, in a statement. “Looking or planning for the future seemed impossible. Special Operations Warrior Foundation reached out to me to help ease some of that stress for me. Knowing that my daughter will have the opportunity to have an education without the associated financial burden has taken a huge weight off my shoulders and given me something positive to look forward to.”

Starting in eighth grade, years from now, Brinley is slated to attend a college success academy. If she chooses to go to college, she’ll graduate in 2040.

“It’s a lifetime commitment,” Hutmacher says. “We pour our hearts and souls into these families.”

Army Sgt. Cameron Meddock, a Ranger, seen here with his wife, Stevie, died in combat in Afghanistan in January 2019. Photo courtesy of The Darby Project/Facebook.

A native of Wenatchee, Washington, Hutmacher commanded at every level during his three tours with the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. He rounded out his illustrious career serving as commanding general of Army Special Operations Aviation Command, deputy commanding general of Army Special Operations Command, and director of operations at US Special Operations Command in Tampa.

When he retired in 2018 — just one month shy of 41 years of active-duty service — Hutmacher briefly considered working for a military contractor. However, an unexpected opportunity arose to take the reins of the Special Operations Warrior Foundation as president and CEO. It was a fork in the road, but after some careful consideration, he knew where his heart lay.

“It’s the dream job,” Hutmacher says. He admits, however, that fundraising is a “constant struggle.” For one, the foundation doesn’t pay for TV advertisements — its only paid advertising commitment is a $5,000 spread in the Air Commando Journal.

“The worst part of this job, to be honest with you, is asking for money. I’m not shy, but I hate to ask,” Hutmacher says. And this year, COVID-19 hasn’t helped matters. Many of the foundation’s annual fundraising events were canceled due to the pandemic.

“It’s not only us, everybody’s in the same boat,” Hutmacher says. “This is going to be a struggle for us to maintain our revenue, but it is what it is.”

To recoup a portion of its lost fundraising, the foundation has added some virtual events this year — including a virtual bourbon tasting hosted by Bardstown Bourbon Co. Additionally, Hutmacher lauds the efforts of veterans and active-duty personnel who occasionally embark on audacious fundraising endeavors on the foundation’s behalf. After all, service to one’s nation doesn’t necessarily end when the uniform starts collecting dust in the closet.

“We get a lot of current and retired special operators who feel driven to support us,” Hutmacher says.

One notable example is David Goggins, a retired Navy SEAL who has run numerous ultramarathons and performed other mind-boggling athletic feats — such as multiple world-record attempts to complete the most pullups in 24 hours — to raise money and awareness for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation.

In some ways, Alicia Sims and her children were prepared for loss in ways that civilian families aren’t. The children, in particular, had gotten used to dad not being around due to the nonstop pace of deployments and training, which became part and parcel of life in the special operations community in the post-9/11 years. The couple’s youngest child, Harper, who was almost 2 when Jacob died, spent precious little time with her father.

“I mean, he maybe saw her four months out of those two years. Between training and deployment,” Alicia says. “Everybody asked me shortly after why the kids were adapting so easily. And the reality of it is, they were used to him being gone. You know, it wasn’t abnormal. He was gone more than he was there.”

Special operations forces bore a heavy burden in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. And despite all the talk these days about so-called great power competition, America’s special operations units remain embroiled in counterterrorism combat in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, as well as various other sites in Africa and Asia.

Irregular warfare may not be the topic du jour in the Pentagon’s polished hallways, but America’s special operations forces remain engaged in nearly endless combat in some rough corners of the world. Consequently, the need for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation’s mission isn’t going away. Last year, the foundation added 79 children to its programs — roughly an even split between commissioned and enlisted families — representing 39 fatalities. And this year, the Special Operations Warrior Foundation has added 40 new children to its programs, with some 12 to 16 more pending.

Alicia Sims, bottom left, at a memorial ceremony for her husband, Jacob. Photo courtesy of Alicia Sims.

Clearly, the toll of counterinsurgency warfare has not abated — even if the lion’s share of that war effort occurs in the shadows. Overall, nearly 400 children supported by the Special Operations Warrior Foundation have graduated from college. And the foundation currently has 190 students enrolled in college programs. Overall, since its inception in 1980, the organization has provided benefits to more than 1,400 children, representing more than 1,130 fatalities.

Hutmacher explains that he had been a “benefactor” and a “big fan” of the Special Operations Warrior Foundation for years. While he was on active duty he saw firsthand the value of the foundation’s work to the families of the fallen, as well as the peace of mind it gave special operators as they went into the breach, again and again, on their country’s behalf.

“We had a lot of missions where we lost a lot of people,” Hutmacher says, going on to highlight how the foundation’s work reaches beyond the families it directly benefits.

“I’ve had dozens and dozens of active special operators from all the services share with me that it gives them peace of mind to know that if something happens to them the Special Operations Warrior Foundation will be there for their kids,” Hutmacher says. “You’d be hard pressed to find anybody in the special ops community who doesn’t get some peace of mind knowing that we’re out there.”

Similarly, Alicia Sims is confident that her personal experience with the foundation has sent a positive message to those men and women in the special operations community who are still fighting our country’s wars.

“I’m actually still in contact with everyone who survived that night,” Alicia says of the helicopter crash that killed her husband. “Knowing that there will be people there to take care of their families, God forbid something happens, helps them to not dwell on the ‘what-ifs’ when they’re going into combat. They know that their families will be taken care of. And that’s a huge relief.”

“When I flew AH-6 attack helicopters, there were a couple of times when I wasn’t sure what the outcome was going to be on some of those missions,” Hutmacher says. “And, you know, my first concern was always about my kids … if I had one wish, it would be that my kids were taken care of.”

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

Do Not Sell My Personal Information