Throughout world history, leaders have needed expeditionary units to enforce their rules abroad. When diplomacy fails and time is of the essence, sometimes sending in the full Army is not viable. U.S. citizens may need to be rescued, property protected, or to prevent the slaughter of our allies. The nation needs action immediately; the President needs something destroyed overnight and deploys the Marines – The President’s Fist.
The Constitution grants Congress the sole power to declare war. Congress has declared war on 11 occasions, including its first declaration of war with Great Britain in 1812. Congress approved its last formal declaration of war during World War II. – Senate.gov
Without congressional approval, the president cannot deploy troops. Check. However, presidents have a trump card – the 1973 War Powers Act. Under 50 U.S. Code § 1541 – Purpose and policy section C states:
The constitutional powers of the President as Commander-in-Chief to introduce United States Armed Forces into hostilities, or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances, are exercised only pursuant to (1) a declaration of war, (2) specific statutory authorization, or (3) a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.
When I was in boot camp I was told, ‘If the president wants a Marine to protect a Wendy’s overseas, there would be a Marine there within 24 hours.’ There is some truth in that joke. It wasn’t long after the War Powers Act went into effect that presidents used their new power to protect the weak and defeat the strong. There is a fine legal line that the president must walk but thankfully it is clearly defined as Low-Intensity conflict.
At some point along the conflict spectrum envisioned by military and national security strategists, a LIC (Low-intensity conflict) becomes a mid-intensity conflict.’ Presumably, at this point, congressional authorization would be required for military action, provided that the conflict does not involve a direct attack against U.S. territory or U.S. military forces stationed abroad, because the conflict would be considered a “war” under Article I of the Constitution. Thus, conflicts such as those in Korea, Vietnam, or Iraq-Kuwait would require congressional approval prior to the commitment of U.S. military forces. On the other hand, military operations that fall below this point would be considered LIC, and under a theory of presidential prerogative, would not be subject to such a constitutional restriction in the absence of specific legislation. — PRESIDENTIAL PREROGATIVE UNDER THE CONSTITUTION TO DEPLOY U.S. MILITARY FORCES IN LOW-INTENSITY CONFLICT, MARK T. UYEDA
So, now we’ve established that the president does have the power to deploy troops but nowhere does it specifically say Marines are the force for these deployments. Technically the president can send any branch he wants.
Legally, yes, the President can now deploy whatever forces he wants instead of the Marines, but in practice that simply doesn’t happen, except for small actions by small, covert SOCOM teams, and stuff like that. Whenever it is determined that an actual military task force needs to put boots on the ground somewhere and establish an American military presence, the Marines are still the go-to. This is especially true in “flash-points” around the globe, when unstable situations develop quickly and without much warning. – Sgt. Mitch Carroll USMC
Roman emperors had Praetorians, an elite imperial guard tasked with protecting the emperor. Marines share a similar role in protecting the President of the United states. There are only four Marines that are within close proximity to the president at all times.
Semper Fidelis, ‘Always Faithful’ comes from never having taken up arms and marched on the capital… a lifetime commitment to America and the Marine Corps. A history not all branches share with the Marines. Even the Marine Corps Band is known as ‘The President’s Own’ and is known as America’s oldest continuously active professional music organization.
As the initial invasion force of choice, the Marines have also played a huge part in humanitarian aid on behalf of the president.
Here is a quick timeline since the 1973 War Powers Act was ratified provided by fas.org:
1974 – Evacuation from Cyprus. United States naval forces evacuated U.S. civilians during hostilities between Turkish and Greek Cypriot forces.
1975 – Evacuation from Vietnam. On April 3, 1975, President Ford reported U.S. naval vessels, helicopters, and marines had been sent to assist in evacuation of refugees and U.S. nationals from Vietnam. Evacuation from Cambodia. On April 12, 1975, President Ford reported that he had ordered U.S. military forces to proceed with the planned evacuation of U.S. citizens from Cambodia.
South Vietnam. On April 30, 1975, President Ford reported that a force of 70 evacuation helicopters and 865 marines had evacuated about 1,400 U.S. citizens and 5,500 third country nationals and South Vietnamese from landing zones near the U.S. embassy in Saigon and the Tan Son Nhut Airfield.
1982 – Sinai. On March 19, 1982, President Reagan reported the deployment of military personnel and equipment to participate in the Multinational Force and Observers in the Sinai. Participation had been authorized by the Multinational Force and Observers Resolution, P.L. 97-132.
Lebanon. On August 21, 1982, President Reagan reported the dispatch of 800 marines to serve in the multinational force to assist in the withdrawal of members of the Palestine Liberation force from Beirut. The Marines left September 20, 1982.
1983 – Grenada. On October 25, 1983, President Reagan reported a landing on Grenada by Marines and Army airborne troops to protect lives and assist in the restoration of law and order and at the request of five members of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States
The branch rivalry can be mind-numbing at times. Each branch believes they’re the best while each has a unique role, making it impossible to objectively determine which is truly king. That’s where a battle royale comes in.
If you’re not living under a digital rock, then you know that “battle royales” are extremely popular in video games right now. In short, these types of games pit several players (or teams of players) against one another in a fight to scavenge, survive, and outlast the competition. And it got us thinking – what if the military hosted its own?
Imagine this: Each branch puts forth a five-person team (including a medic or corpsman) to compete against each other in a large, miserable training area. The teams must survive and fight against each other in a battle to earn the ultimate bragging rights for their respective branch.
Keep in mind, this is not a squad competition — each team would be given a certain amount of time, an area of operations, a number of MREs (with the ability to find resupply points), and either blanks or sesam rounds. There would be referees following or monitoring teams to keep battles fair.
But enough about the finer points, here’s why it should happen:
There could even be an award for the winning branch.
(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Airman Cameron Lewis)
Determine the best branch
The most obvious reason we should do this is because it would finally silence the pissing content. One branch would beat the others in competition, fair and square. Each branch put forth a team on a level playing field with an equal chance at winning — there’d be no room for excuses. Better luck next year.
Things like this build unique bonds.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kate Thornton)
It goes without saying that the members of a unit would form stronger bonds. But even in defeat, you can respect your opponent’s strengths. An activity like this would give each branch a chance to see the skills of each. Seeing what each branch is capable of could really help us acknowledge each other’s strengths.
This would bring everyone together in a way that is fun and interesting.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class William Sykes)
In the Marine Corps, you build unit cohesion by having teams or squads compete against each other. No matter the activity, the real goal is to bring your troops closer together so they can build mutual trust. This would be the same idea — but on a much larger scale.
As it stands now, branches don’t really trust one another — mostly because they’re not sure if the others are as tough.
You can bring those lessons back to your unit so everyone can learn something.
(U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Cpl. Hailey D. Clay)
It could have great training value
When you’re forced into a situation, you have to improvise, adapt, and overcome. In learning how to best compete, you’ll learn about yourself.
Look, airmen are technically people. That’s why we can’t slap a fence around the Air Force, call it a zoo, and call the day done. Especially since we need a few of them to fly close-air support and whatever else it is that they do. So, the boys in blue tiger stripes are going to keep wandering around, quoting Nietzsche (even if they are finally getting rid of those stripes).
If you are forced to interact with one of them, here are some pics you can drop on the ground and escape while they argue the semantics or parse the meaning of it:
Royal Thai Marine Petty Officer 1st Class Pairoj Prasarnsa, Chief Jungle Survival Trainer with Marine Recon Patrol holds two Cobras during jungle survival training alongside his U.S. Marine counterparts
Royal Thai Marine Petty Officer 1st Class Pairoj Prasarnsa, Chief Jungle Survival Trainer with Marine Reconnaissance Patrol, displays a spider’s fangs during jungle survival training alongside his US Marines.
A new study on the military’s pay and compensation system asks a surprising question: Are troops getting paid too much?
Service members have typically earned about 70% of the salaries for civilians with similar skill sets, when factoring in their housing and allowances to offset food costs. That’s the level of compensation researchers found the military would need to offer to recruit and retain the right quality and quantity of personnel, according to a new report from RAND Corporation, a nonprofit think tank.
But troops’ compensation has jumped beyond that 70th percentile mark for both officers and enlisted troops, according to RAND. Over the course of the 2000s, military pay relative to civilian pay “increased substantially,”the report’s author wrote.
Now that enlisted troops are earning closer to 90% of what their civilian counterparts make, and officers about 83%, she says it’s “raising the question of whether military pay is set too high relative to civilian pay.”
The report, which Military Timesfirst wrote about, looks at how the military’s pay system could be improved to support recruitment, retention and performance. Beth Asch, a senior economist at the RAND Corporation, doesn’t make a determination about whether troops are overpaid, but rather recommends the levels be assessed.
(U.S. Army National Guard photo by 1st Lt. Leland White)
“Given that military pay is above the 70th percentile benchmark and has been for some time, the important question is whether this benchmark is still relevant or whether military pay is set too high relative to civilian pay,” Asch wrote.
In addition to their pay, troops also live on base at no cost or receive a non-taxable housing allowance if they reside off post. That amount is determined by pay grade, geographic location and family size. Active-duty troops may also draw stipends to offset food costs.
Troops are also eligible for military-provided health care, but those benefits aren’t factored into the military compensation totals referenced in this study. There are other benefits and advantages, too, that may draw people to the military that are not factored into the calculation, including skills training, guaranteed employment on multi-year contracts and free post-secondary education through the post-9/11 GI Bill, among others.
Of course, military service also comes with unique challenges and risks — including deployments, mandatory moves and far less employment flexibility than the civilian world offers.
As military pay improved, so did the quality of troops, Asch said — that is, in all the services but the Army.
“The reason why the Army did not increase recruit aptitude as military pay rose relative to civilian pay is an open question,” she wrote.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Shawn Weismiller)
One possibility, Asch wrote, was that the introduction of the post-9/11 G.I. Bill cut out the Army’s ability to provide education benefit “kickers” to recruits entering selected occupations. Since all recruits got access to post-9/11 education benefits, the Army might have struggled to attract some high-quality prospects, she said.
Aside from recruiting, Asch discusses how military pay affects retention and performance. Rather than simply relying on step increases when troops pick up new rank, Asch says a more flexible system could incentivize hard work.
“The primary source of flexibility and efficiency in the military compensation system turns out to be only a small fraction of cash compensation,” RAND’s key findings state. “Special and incentive pays are not as efficient as they could be in providing incentives for retention and performance.”
The think tank recommends improving how incentive and special pays are handled to “increase flexibility and efficiency.”
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
In 1955, the Army made a video about the the two most handsome military police officers in the history of the Army and their foot patrols through U.S. town, providing “moral guidance” for soldiers and interrupting all sorts of trouble before it starts.
Oddly, they don’t write a single speeding ticket, but they do snatch a staff sergeant for driving recklessly.
The military police are moving on foot through the town, learning all the local haunts off base and providing services ranging from giving bus route advice to providing first aid to injured soldiers. They interrupt fights before they happen and let troops know what areas are off limits.
A much wider portfolio than the speed traps they’re known for today.
And the video specifically highlights the “moral services” of the military police officers, which is pretty surprising information for anyone who’s partied with MPs.
The dangerous gunmen that the MPs stop from shooting up Augusta, Georgia.
But even in ’50s propaganda, the MPs get into some blue falcon shenanigans, waking up a soldier waiting on a bus to get onto him about his uniform, then detaining a soldier on pass for looking slightly shady.
They even find an idiot boot playing pool in his G.I. boots.
Their finest moment comes when they catch a wanted soldier carrying the world’s most adorable pistol while loitering near an art studio. Of course, our intrepid heroes catch the ne’er-do-well without a shot fired after drawing on him in the mean streets of Augusta, Georgia.
Actual line in this scene: “Punishment? Well, the sergeant’s company commander will take care of that.” Um, yeah, of course the commander makes the decision, because MPs have all the punitive powers of a Boy Scout.
Hint: If you want to make a group of soldiers look awesome, give them a more forgiving challenge than rolling boots in one of the safest cities in the Union. Maybe highlight their role in maneuver warfare or the way they breach buildings and fight gunmen inside.
The worst infraction the MPs find in this video, outside of the miniature gunfighter, is a stolen valor major at 25:30.
The video is almost 30 minutes long, but has plenty of unintentional humor to keep you chuckling. Check it out up top, and be sure to share it with any MP buddies who get too big for their britches.
While deployed to East Africa as a member of the 4th Combat Camera Squadron, US Air Force Staff Sgt. Corban Lundborg sought to create a unique illustration series inspired by his time in the region. Looking around the combat camera office, he found an old box of Meals, Ready to Eat. He mined the MREs for their instant coffee packets and used the supplies in the pack to mix up his “paint.”
“Coffee works pretty similar to watercolor,” Lundborg said. “It uses a value system to get different tones, so you just saturate the water more or less to achieve the tones you want.”
Air Force Staff Sgt. Corban Lundborg works on MRE-coffee paintings in 2019 outside his combat camera unit’s headquarters in East Africa. Photo courtesy of Corban Lundborg
Lundborg said he started experimenting with how the coffee took to paper and ink, and after some time, he came up with a series of works inspired by his environment and experiences in East Africa.
Most of the paintings are scenes or equipment Lundborg used or traveled in. He painted some of the aircraft that flew him to and from different locations and missions and gifted the works to members of the aviation units. Among his subjects were a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, a lion, a Nikon film camera, a skull, and a calligraphed “Merry Christmas” card.
Lundborg painted this “Merry Christmas” card in December 2018 and sent a photograph of the piece home to his mom and dad in Minneapolis. He later gave the original away in a raffle at an art party at Amp Rehearsal in Hollywood. Photo courtesy of Corban Lundborg
The sepia tones of the paintings and their ragged, burnt edges tell a story of the conflict and the creative necessity from which they were born. Central to the works is Lundborg’s impulse to create and the austere conditions that inspired him to experiment with a new medium.
“For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been drawing on stuff and making art,” said the Minneapolis native. “I think just about every day of the week, I’m doing something creative. I try not to go a day without doing some kind of art.”
Lundborg gifted this painting of an HH-60 Pave Hawk to the aviation squadron that supported operations during his East Africa deployment. Photo courtesy of Corban Lundborg
Lundborg said his parents were supportive of his artistic inclinations and creative adventures. He started out as a graffiti artist back in Minneapolis.
“I was kind of an angsty teen and was always looking to get into trouble,” he said. “I kind of ran with a bad group of friends and got into some legal trouble for vandalism and other minor crimes. The military provided the means I was looking for to get out of the city.”
Lundborg surrounded by his work at Amp Rehearsal in Hollywood, where he was commissioned to paint works throughout the building. Photo courtesy of Corban Lundborg
As a young airman working in supply and logistics, Lundborg was assigned to Osan Air Base in South Korea. He found his way into a tattoo apprenticeship and picked up another means of artistic expression.
“When I got to Korea and got the apprenticeship, the Korean artists took me in and showed me what art life was all about,” he said. “I started doing tattoos for other service members in the dorms overseas. These days, I mostly just kind of tattoo myself.”
Lundborg works on a Bob Marley mural at Amp Rehearsal in November 2019. Photo courtesy of Corban Lundborg
After a year in Korea, he was sent to Aviano Air Base in Italy, where he spent his days “counting aircraft screws, doing inventories, snowboarding in the Alps every weekend, and hitting all the major cities in Europe.”
After four years in an active-duty job he didn’t care for, Lundborg transferred to the Air Force Reserves and went home to Minneapolis, where he attended the Minneapolis College of Art and Design for a year before dropping out.
A lion and a Nikon film camera were among Lundborg’s subjects. Photo courtesy of Corban Lundborg
“In college I discovered I don’t really like art theory and history,” he said. “I just like making art, and I still consider myself mostly self-taught.”
When a slot for a photographer opened up on his reserve base, Lundborg jumped at the chance to retrain into a new specialty. After six months of on-the-job training, the Air Force sent Lundborg to the Basic Photojournalist Course at the Defense Information School at Fort Meade, Maryland, in 2015.
Lundborg exits a C-130 during his deployment to East Africa in January 2019. Photo courtesy of Corban Lundborg
He was later assigned to the 4th Combat Camera Squadron and deployed to East Africa in 2018 for eight months.
“I took a few brushes with me, but I had to get everything else from the accessory packets in the MREs,” he said of his time in Africa. “I used the plastic spoon to mix the coffee and hold some grounds, and I used matches to burn the edges of the paper and TP to clean the brushes.”
Lundborg self-produced a video of himself working on the MRE-coffee paintings.
He said he picked up a cheap set of watercolors and taught himself to paint with the medium while living in South Africa a few years before his deployment to the continent.
He tends to pick up new mediums with relative ease and excels in whatever creative endeavors he pursues. He earned recognition as Air Force Reserve Photographer of the Year three years in a row, and was selected as Air Force Photographer of the year in 2018.
Acrylic and spray paint are his favorite media, and he often uses them together interchangeably.
A prolific creator, Lundborg is looking ahead to a bright future of doing what he loves. He plans to expand his work in cinema and film production.
“Ideally, I would like to produce, direct, and shoot films,” he said. “But painting is something I will do until the day I die.”
How many military branches make you surrender your passport, catalog everything you brought to the recruitment center and give you a new identity, all before you sign your enlistment contract?
That’s the French Foreign Legion and that’s exactly how it works… at least according to a Reddit user with the handle FFLGuy, who did an “Ask Me Anything” session on Reddit in 2011. On other responses on Reddit he mentions serving as “a former légionnaire in the Légion étrangère,” as the French saying goes.
For anyone unaware, the French Foreign Legion is a highly-trained, highly capable fighting force fighting for France – but is open to anyone from any nation. What makes serving in the unit unique is that after three years, members can apply for French citizenship. They are also immediately eligible for citizenship if wounded in combat, a provision known as “Français par le sang versé” – or “French by spilled blood.”
Also unique to the Legion is being able to serve under an assumed identity and then retain that identity after serving. While the Legion used to force everyone to use a pseudonym, these days, enlistees have a choice of identities, real or assumed.
For the first week of your enlistment, you sign contracts and wait to find out if Interpol has any outstanding warrants for you. Once selected, you go right to training in Aubagne, in the Cote-d’Azur region of Southern France. You are stripped of everything, as the Legion now provides you with everything you need.
You are now wearing a blue Legion track suit and are working all day long. Cleaning, painting and cooking are the primary preoccupations, but members are taken away for physical and psychological testing. Also, the hazing begins. While that may not fly in America, this is the Legion, and there’s a 80 percent attrition rate. When would-be Legionnaires give up, it’s called “going civil.”
After two weeks of this “rouge” (red) period, you’re whisked away by train to Castelnaudary, where trainees spend the bulk of their basic training time. In total, the training is four months. Three of it will be spent here. It is from here you transition from engagé volontaire (voluntary enlistee), to actual légionnaire. The groups are split up into four groups of 25-45 would-be légionnaires.
Castelnaudary is where the foreign légionnaires learn French, work out, train, ruck, learn to use weapons and basically all the rudimentary things infantrymen do while in the infantry.Once at Castelnaudary, getting out of the Legion is very difficult. They will find a way to make you stay, the author writes: “Trust me when I tell you that it isn’t a wise choice.”
“Hazing at this point is constant,” the author wrote. “There will be many nights without sleep, and many meals missed. You are never alone and are constantly watched for even the tiniest mistakes. The consequences for mistakes are severe and painful; physically, psychologically or both. The environment is initially set up to ensure failure. You are broken down individually – both mentally and physically – slowly being built back up with larger and larger successes as a group.”
Hazing includes food and sleep deprivation, physical abuse and the like. As the author writes, “If you made it through Castelnaudary without being hit at least once, you weren’t there. “
Ten percent of the group who make it to Castelnaudary will go civil before they earn the coveted Kepi Blanc. It’s when your ceremony for earning the Kepi Blanc is when you officially are a Légionnaire. But the training is not complete. For three more months, you go through basic infantry training.
Those that quit or are not chosen to continue their training are given back their possessions, passports, a small amount of money for every day spent working, and a train ticket to the city in which they entered the Legion. They also have to resume their old identity.
With their old identity in hand, they must return to their country of origin.
The keen-eyed viewer may have noticed Tyrone “Rone” Woods, played by James Badge Dale, sporting a Rolex Submariner 116610 in Michael Bay’s 2016 film 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi. Some may write this appearance off as a Hollywood product placement by Bay, a known Rolex fan. However, the watch actually shows great attention to detail in Rone’s story and is an integral part of Navy SEAL history.
Rone’s Submariner is identifiable by its iconic cyclops magnifier (Paramount Pictures)
Rolex introduced the Submariner watch in 1954. While the watch has evolved into a luxury item that broadcasts wealth and success today, it was originally designed as a rugged, no-nonsense tool watch that professional divers could depend on. Its uni-directional rotating bezel allowed them to time their dives, its robust and accurate movement meant that it could keep good time in an age before battery-powered quartz timepieces, and its water-resistance rating of 660 feet meant that it could do all of this at the depths that professional divers operate at.
In 1962, the first two Navy SEAL teams were formed and they quickly adopted the Submariner as their dive watch. Tudor, Rolex’s more affordable sister brand (think Chevrolet to Cadillac), also made Submariners which were issued to the Navy’s elite warriors. By 1967, Rolex had picked up on the professional military application of their watches and utilized it in a magazine advertisement saying, “For years, it’s been standard gear for submariners, frogmen, and all who make their living on the seas.”
In 1967, a Rolex Submariner cost 0, or about id=”listicle-2648518781″,600 in today’s money (Rolex)
The Submariner, in both its Rolex and Tudor forms, was so ingrained in Navy SEAL culture and essential to their specialized missions, that it became standard issue. One Vietnam veteran recalled in an interview, “During the training in BUD/S we were issued our Tudor watches, black face for enlisted and blue faced for officers, and these went with us to our next duty station.” Indeed, the SEALs took their issued Submariners with them to the jungles of Vietnam. Like other servicemembers who purchased their own Submariners, the SEALs valued the watch for its ruggedness, dependability, and accuracy.
U.S. Navy SEALs Harry Humphries and Fran Scollise wearing their issued Submariners in Vietnam (Rolex Magazine)
In the decades after Vietnam, the advent of battery-powered dive computers and the evolution of Rolex into an expensive luxury brand caused the Navy to cease its issuance of Submariners to the SEALs. Today, however, some Navy SEALs still maintain the elite organization’s relationship with Rolex on their own dime. While Rone did not wear a Rolex Submariner 116610 as depicted in 13 Hours, he did wear a Rolex Sea-Dweller 16660, a more robust descendant of the Submariner with a greater water-resistance rating.
Rone wearing his Sea-Dweller (Cheryl Croft Bennett)
Before he joined the CIA’s Global Response Staff in 2010, Rone posted on RolexForums.com looking for a shop in the San Diego area where he could sell his Rolex Sea-Dweller and Panerai Luminor (the Italian Navy’s original issued dive watch). Although his post received no replies, the thread has since become a tribute to the late operator since his death in Benghazi in 2012.
Rone’s first and only post on the forum (RolexForums)
Though the fate of Rone’s Sea-Dweller is unknown, the fact that he is shown wearing a Rolex in 13 Hours is a testament to the care and attention to detail that Bay put in to depicting him and the other Americans in Benghazi during the 2012 attack.
Thousands of pieces, elaborate instructions, and finished products that are intricate and impressive: That’s what fans get in adult-level LEGO kits. Projects that come with as many as 9,036 serialized bricks – creating a Roman Coliseum – and cost hundreds of dollars each. Yes, hundreds – that same kit retails at $449.99 a pop.
It’s a hobby that veteran Eric Rickards and girlfriend, Charlotte Murnan, know well. In fact, they have an entire dedicated “LEGO room.” It wasn’t an afterthought with an extra bedroom, however, they purchased their house near Tampa, FL with their hobby at the forefront of “new home must haves.”
The room is lined with heavy shelves that display completed LEGO builds, like a replica of Central Perk from Friends and the Hogwarts Quidditch field. Meanwhile, Ikea tables host in-progress builds.
“LEGO can be really intricate and that’s what I love most about it,” Rickards, who served 12 years active duty in the Army, said.
Murnan added, “It’s such a fun thing to do to take our minds off other stuff.”
The hobby began after the pair had been searching for an interest they could share. Rickards suggested building the LEGO Hogwarts Castle. Murnan, an avid Harry Potter fan, agreed, and they began their first build.
“I wasn’t expecting to like it as much as I did, but there’s something therapeutic about seeing it come to life,” she said.
The hobby has only grown since the onset of COVID-19. Former travel buffs, the couple hunkered down in their Memphis house at the start of the pandemic, before permanently relocating to Tampa for Murnan’s job as a Senior Financial Analyst in Investor Relations. Meanwhile, Rickards, who was medically discharged, dealt with a recurring injury. He realized it wasn’t feasible to remain a mechanic, and went to school to study history.
The move prompted them to do away with one of the biggest inconveniences about their former house: not enough space for LEGOs.
From there, the duo began seeking out and buying new LEGO projects, even buying new kits as they’re released, just so they can get their hands on the goods before they sell out.
“We have 15 in the box right here, so [my favorite] could change,” Rickards said. He cited his current favorite build as their Nintendo screen; it’s a retro tv that has a turn crank, causing Mario to jump up and down.
They have retired sets – kits that LEGO no longer manufacturers – these they find on eBay or through niche Facebook groups. Rickards cited Wall-E as a project he’s excited to tackle next.
“You have to track them down and they’re a little pricey. It took me a while to pull the trigger, but I finally got it.”
There’s also the Ghostbusters car, a Land Rover, an incredibly detailed flower bouquet, even more Harry Potter builds, including a house crest made up of 17,000 individual dot pieces, the carousel they built with Rickards’ mom – she’s a long-time carousel collector. And Murnan’s favorite, a custom selfie portrait of the two; she likes the sentimental touch. The latter was made at a LEGO portrait studio in London wherein users can take a photo and purchase a custom brick set.
As for the finished project themselves, the pair remains in awe of LEGOs engineering and completed designs. For instance, a T-rex that seemingly defies gravity to stand on its hind legs, a book they received as a free gift with purchase where the bricks come together to look like real pages. All of which, and more – for a total of over 40 completed builds – are shown throughout their home.
“It’s such a fun thing to do to take our minds off of other stuff. And with COVID – all bets are off – we could be in there building on a weeknight,” Murnan laughed. “We can work on builds and relax; it’s such a stress relief.”
If you’re reading this, it means you’ve survived 2020. And if you’ve survived 2020, it means you’re well aware that life can get pretty dang dark. It’s all too tempting to become cynical and jaded, but at the end of the day, I’m a firm believer that light and love are still quietly present. Small miracles are found all around us. They’re found when kind strangers lend a hand. When a beloved pet makes it home safe. When a life is nearly lost, but decides it’s not quite finished. Too old to believe in miracles? Well, keep reading, because all of the heartwarming, unexplainable stories below are true.
1. When Christmas arrives by balloon.
In 2011, Rosa Cardenas de Reyes’s husband had been unemployed for some time. The family couldn’t afford presents for Christmas, so Rosa fell back on an old tradition; sending notes to Santa by balloon! She helped her five year old daughter, Helen, write a letter, attached it to two helium balloons, and set it free. More than 500 miles later, the note was delivered to a ranch in Northern California. The owner of the ranch, Lane Sanderson, discovered the letter with his son, had the note translated, and got to work.
His wife and daughter shopped for clothes and a doll, wrapped them up, and sent them to the Reye’s family. Helen was thrilled, and Rosa was moved to tears. In an interview with the Auburn Reporter, she said, “I was very much surprised. It is like a miracle happened, a Christmas miracle.”
2. When lost dogs come home.
The idea of losing a dog is enough to still the heart of any pet owner. Ashley Power was unfortunate enough to experience the nightmare herself. Her beloved dog, Frankie, disappeared one day in Spruce Grove, Alberta. After five months of searching and posting flyers, she anticipated the worst had happened. Then, she got a phone call. It was the Langley Animal Protection Society. They had found Frankie in Abbotsford, BC, over 600 miles away! Power couldn’t afford to fly him home, so LAPS enlisted the aid of a truck driver who was thrilled to reunite the pup with his favorite human.
3. When a hatbox serves as an adoption agency.
The year was 1931. It was Christmas Eve in Superior, Arizona and Ed and Julia Stewart were on their way home when their car sputtered to a stop in the middle of nowhere. As Ed tried to get the engine running again, Julia ambled around the desert highway. Then, she saw something that seemed out of place in the bleak landscape. It was a hatbox. She called her husband over, and when they looked in the box, they found a newborn baby girl.
Ed rushed to fix the car, and the couple rushed the baby to the police station. She was perfectly healthy, and 17 different couples volunteered to adopt her. Eventually, she was adopted by Faith Morrow. She lived a long and happy life, eventually tracing her roots and unraveling some of the mystery behind her Christmas Eve hatbox adventure.
4. When Christmas lights keep hope alive.
Laura Rice of West Michigan was unconscious and relying on life support when her favorite season came around: Christmas time. Doctors advised her family that the odds of her ever waking up were slim. Her husband, Michael, had faith. He put up the Christmas lights on their house and sat by her side, vowing not to take down the lights until she opened her eyes. A month went by, then two. It was after New Year’s when she woke up with no explanation, moved by her husband’s unwavering hope. She was expected to make a full recovery. That was four years ago, so hopefully the Rice family is putting up the lights again for Christmas 2020. This time, together.
5. When a heart decides to beat again.
Gemma Bothelo was just four years old when she got the flu. She had a low-grade fever on December 13th, but just a few days later her condition rapidly deteriorated. She was rushed to the hospital pale and losing circulation to her fingers and toes. Shortly after she arrived, she went into cardiac arrest.
The doctors performed CPR, advising her parents to prepare for the worst. After a nail-biting 45 minutes, Gemma’s heart began to beat again. Doctors admitted that the world of medicine can’t explain everything, but her parents consider her recovery a true Christmas miracle.
6. When walking shouldn’t be possible, but it is.
In 2008, 7-year-old Marko Dutschak developed a cyst on his back. While it was technically benign, the cyst obliterated the majority of his spinal cord, rendering him paralyzed from the chest down. Doctors gave him a slim chance of ever walking again, but Marko had other plans. Just a week before Christmas, he hopped out of his wheelchair and walked out on the balcony of his hospital room for some fresh air. The neurosurgeon on his case, Hans Georg Eder, was blown away by the child’s recovery, saying, “In medical terms we don’t talk of miracles, but the boy’s recovery was not medically expected and is really a sensation. The cyst had completely surrounded the spinal cord, which was as thin as a thread inside it.”
7. When a family gets to spend the holidays at home.
Worrying about losing your home is just about the hardest thing a family can endure. After a series of tragedies, Daniel and Ebony Sampson were facing foreclosure just before Christmas. First, Ebony survived a car accident as a teen that killed both of her parents. She inherited the house, got married, and had two children, when her husband lost his job. Then, Ebony discovered she had a third child on the way. They needed $10,000 to bring their mortgage current, and had little hope of coming up with the funds in time to save their beloved home.
That’s when her friend, Jaki Grier, stepped in. She shared the Sampsons’s story on her blog along with a donation link. One by one, donations began rolling in. Just five days later, a total of $11,032 had been donated by total strangers. Some of the donors were struggling themselves, but they wanted to help anyway. The Sampson family home was saved.
8. When a car crash saves Christmas.
Kim Kerswell was already stressed beyond belief. The single mom of two was rushing to grab last-minute gifts for her kids when she rear-ended a stranger named Sherene Borr. Most drivers are understandably livid when someone crashes into their car, but Sherene had her priorities straight as a stick. The women chatted as they exchanged insurance information, and Kim admitted that she was struggling to make ends meet. She could afford her insurance deductible or presents for her kids, not both. Sherene had been raised by a single mom herself and decided that kids missing out on Christmas was unacceptable. She dismissed the damage to her car and offered to buy presents for the Kerswell family. The two women became friends, and Kim vowed to one day pay it forward to another family in need.
9. When a massive pileup turns out pretty okay.
The holiday season is full of cheer, but it’s also full of accidents. The combination of traffic, winter weather, and partying often takes a lethal turn. On Christmas Day, 2012 in Oklahoma City at nearly 3 am, freezing rain turned the highway into a hazardous slip n’ slide. Cars and trucks spun out of control, quickly spiraling into an ugly 21-car pileup. Police and paramedics rushed to the scene, expecting to treat dozens of serious injuries. When they arrived, they were shocked. Not a single person was hurt. How is that even possible?!
10. When a stranded driver channels Elsa’s ice powers.
Donna Molna really shouldn’t be here. On her way to the store one Christmas near her home in snowy Canada, she was trapped in a blizzard and lost her way. Her car ended up stuck in a field, and she was stranded there with no warm clothing or supplies. Three days later, she was found lying in a snowdrift, buried under 23 inches of snow. By all measures, she should have died from exposure, yet she didn’t. She was hypothermic and had a bit of frostbite, but she was very much alive. That’s about the equivalent of jumping out of a plane without a parachute and walking away with a scraped knee.
11. When a mother and child die, and then return home safe and sound.
In December, 2009, Colorado local Tracy Hermanstorfer was excitedly expecting a baby boy. But on Christmas Eve when she finally went into labor, everything went wrong. Tracy became unresponsive and stopped breathing. Assuming they had lost her, doctors focused on saving the baby. Tragically, after delivering him via C-section, the newborn was limp and lifeless. Doctors considered it a stillbirth and handed the baby to Tracy’s husband, Mike.
He held the child in his arms, thinking he had just lost his wife and baby in the same hour, when the unexplainable happened. The baby began to breathe. Seconds later, after four minutes without taking a breath, Tracy did too. The doctors couldn’t explain how the pair recovered from the brink of death, but recover they did. Tracy and Mike drove home safe and sound with their healthy baby boy, Coltyn.
Recently, I spoke with the Sergeant Major of the Army about COVID-19 and the challenges and opportunities we are facing right now as an Army and a Nation. He highlighted that now is the time to reassess our goals and set new ones.
One of your goals might be to read a book or two during this time. Goals are important and they are even more important now, as we all deal with the necessary restrictions to stop the spread.
We spoke again this week and he shared his reading list with me. He found that reading has helped him grow professionally and as a person. SMA Grinston also shared that reading helps him take a mental break from the day-to-day stressors of life. He even says that if he wasn’t a reader, he wouldn’t be the Sergeant Major of the Army.
You will notice that most of the books on this list aren’t about military battles or written by people in the Army for people in the Army. For the SMA, he likes to read about things outside the military to get new and fresh ideas. We both hope you find something on here that interests you.
1. Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Richard M. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein
This is a controversial book –which is one of the reasons I like it. I read it when I was the FORSCOM Sergeant Major and it’s about choice architecture and how small changes to our environment can make a big difference. For example, the authors discuss an elementary school that placed food in different locations in the cafeteria to “nudge” the kids to make healthier choices…and it worked.
Since reading this book, I look at how I can make small changes to the placement of things in my personal life or in the Army to make it better.
2. Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Action by Simon Sinek
I read this book as a brigade or division sergeant major, and it reminded me that sometimes in the Army we jump to the end first. When we ask our soldiers to do something, we focus on the how or the what and forget to explain the why.
Our enlisted Soldiers are smart, and when you explain the why to them, it increases their commitment to the mission. Sometimes, there isn’t enough time to explain why we are doing something, especially in the middle of a firefight, but most of the time we can. And as leaders, this is where we need to start.
3. The Slight Edge: Turning Simple Disciplines into Massive Success and Happiness by Jeff Olson and John David Mann
After I was nominated Sergeant Major of the Army, people asked me for the keys to my professional success. I struggled to answer this question until the commander of the Old Guard recommended this book. Slight Edge helped me define for others how to be successful in the Army and how I got to where I’m at today.
The authors of this book look at what happens when you do something that no one else is willing to do and continue to do it over a long period of time. I’ve been in the Army for 32 years and every morning I wake up and do physical fitness. I read books for self-development. Doing those small things over time, year after year, made a difference in the long run. It’s about developing the discipline and commitment over a long period of time to achieve your goals.
4. Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell
I think I was a Platoon Sergeant or Sergeant First Class when I read this book. Malcolm Gladwell discusses how it’s not only innate abilities that make people successful, other factors play a major role too –like timing.
One of the examples he uses in the book is Bill Gates. Growing up, Bill Gates had access to a computer early in his life which afforded him the opportunity to get 10,000 hours of practice with programming. Yes, he was born in the right place at the right time, but he also took advantage of the opportunity to make himself better.
This book has helped me focus on looking at the opportunities within assignments. I remember when I was nominated to be the brigade sergeant major of an infantry brigade. That job gave me the requisite skills and opened doors that led me down a path to where I am today. We all have the opportunity to be an outlier if we have the right mindset.
5. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck
Since reading Mindset, there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t reference or think about it. She writes about two mindsets: Growth vs. Fixed. A growth mindset says that even though I’m not good at a certain skill, I can learn and get better over time. With a fixed mindset, we don’t even try because we think we can’t grow beyond our current skill set. This line of thinking becomes more dangerous the higher in rank and position that leaders go in the Army.
6. Becoming a Resonant Leader: Develop Your Emotional Intelligence, Renew Your Relationships, Sustain Your Effectiveness by Annie McKee
I read this one as a corps sergeant major and this is probably my all-time favorite leadership book. Have you ever worked for someone and knew they weren’t listening to anything you said? As leaders, our level of emotional intelligence has a major impact on the morale of our Soldiers. We have to listen to our people and be mindful and show empathy.
This book made me a better leader, sergeant major, and follower. I started paying more attention to my own mindfulness.
I read this one around the time I was a sergeant first class or first sergeant and it taught me about the importance of managing talent. Welch writes that the top 5% of any organization needs to be identified and properly managed. He also writes that there is a large population of strong performers that will never be the top 5%, but are also important to the organization. He discusses how to identify, manage, and motivate both groups.
8. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
This is the hardest book to read on this list. It took me a while to get through but I found it beneficial to understand the psychology of decision-making. I gained a much greater understanding and appreciation for how the mind works.
It’s difficult to read, but it helps us better understand how the mind works. If you like sociology and psychology books, this is a great starting place. The higher I go in position in the Army, the more I realize how important it is to understand human behavior. I have a greater appreciation now for how logic and emotion work together in the decision-making process and I know I’m a better leader and person for it.
I read this one when I was a staff sergeant. I remember my battalion commander making all the officers read it and I wanted to learn something alongside them.
This was another controversial book when it was written. Heinlein uses science fiction to talk about what it means to be a citizen; he addresses the need for corrective training and several other issues that we see playing out today. This book is a fun read and makes for a great discussion between leaders in a unit.
I read this one when I was a brigade sergeant major. It’s a thick one so if you decide to tackle it, it might take you awhile. I like Once an Eagle because it covers an entire career of an individual, his commitment to the Army, and the lessons he learns along the way. I found that when I read it, I put myself in the shoes of the main character and reflected on my own career.
During our interview, Grinston said he hopes you will want to read and take the opportunity now to start the habit of reading for professional development.
“I know life is difficult right now for a lot of people. But we will get through this.”
There are many elements that make up a fighting force’s effectiveness in battle; leadership, doctrine, and equipment are most often cited as key determinants. But, as this extensive study shows, organizational culture is also an important factor. Overall, The Culture of Military Organizations convincingly shows that internal culture has an enormous influence on fighting organizations. This influence includes their approach to warfare and their performance in battle.
An institution’s culture frames what its institution values, what heroes it reveres, and what it rewards. Culture imbues an organization with a sense of mission, identity, and core competencies. Cultural influences deeply impact what members think, how they perceive problems, and how they react to them. These are reinforced by rituals and narratives, passed on to recruits and acolytes in the training and educational programs of all armed forces.
A fighting organization’s culture emerges over an extended period, sometimes deliberately and often indirectly from victory and defeat. Culture operates internally like the operating system of a computer. Some scholars contend that culture is so deeply embedded that its existence and influence is imperceptible. In fact, military members are said to sense and act without being consciously aware that their belief system is framing their orientation and actions.
Numerous authors have researched the subject in the past. Yet, it has never been comprehensively studied in a rigorous and comparative manner. This is what makes this excellent book valuable.
The editors of this anthology bring together extensive experience, from both academic and practitioner perspectives. Dr. Peter R. Mansoor, a retired U.S. Army Colonel, holds the General Raymond E. Mason, Jr. Chair of Military History at Ohio State University. Mansoor earned his PhD at Ohio State University and served as executive officer to General David Petraeus during the 2007 surge of U.S. forces in Iraq. His memoir of his tour as a brigade commander, Baghdad at Sunrise: A Brigade Commander’s War in Iraq, shows his mettle as a combat leader and student of war. Mansoor teamed up with Williamson Murray, an acclaimed U.S. historian and U.S. Air Force veteran from the Vietnam era. Murray’s best work has focused on grand strategy and military innovation and adaptation. This book stands with those for relevance and historical scholarship.
The editors assembled an international cast of scholars to delve deep into their respective countries and areas of expertise through sixteen case studies. Most explore a single armed force within a particular country for a specified period of time. The book contains an introduction and framework, along with an international suite of case studies covering a range of cultures and wars, from the U.S. Civil War to the most recent conflict in Iraq. The cases examine institutional and wartime history, but stress how culture impacted its subject’s effectiveness over time.
Mansoor and Murray employ a wide definition of military culture, representing “the assumptions, ideas, norms, and beliefs, expressed or reflected in symbols, rituals, myths, and practices, that shape how an organization functions and adapts to external stimuli and that give meaning to its members.” Culture is multi-dimensional, set in a large social context, and reflected in an organization’s internal practices. “A service’s culture is a complex aggregate of its attitudes,” Harold Winton has written, “toward a variety of issues including its role in war, its promotion system, its relation to other services, and its place in the society it serves.”
The notion that a military service has a distinctive set of values that create its personality or DNA is fairly well accepted in security studies. More relevant to our current strategic context, many scholars link the limits of a rigid culture when it comes to changing military organizations and their practices. Several notable studies, including those of Elizabeth Kier and John Nagl, find organizational or military culture relevant to both peacetime innovation and wartime adaptation. In Israel, Meir Finkel explored organizational flexibility and noted how critical culture was to learning and agility in wartime. Murray’s own work on innovation recognizes policy makers or institutional leaders must work within or alter an existing culture to overcome barriers to change.
The editors wisely commissioned two well respected researchers to establish an analytical foundation for this study. Dr. Leonard Wong and Dr. Stephen Gerras, both with the U.S. Army War College, employ two different analytical models for examining organizations. They adapted a framework generated in the commercial world, drawn from 17,000 middle managers and nearly one thousand organizations. None of the organizations involved were military. This framework is more useful for societal comparisons—which the pair recognizes, while still demonstrating the model’s analytical utility—but only within the U.S. Army. More familiar to scholars in this field was their inclusion of Edgar Schein’s list of embedding and reinforcing mechanisms. Unfortunately, this useful framework is left to the respective authors to consider, and few took up the task.
The best chapter is Richard Sinnreich’s overview of the Victorian-era British Army. This case is a common interpretation, concluding that this era embraced the English gentleman ideal of an officer corps drawn from the upper tier of society. Rigorous professional development and competitive promotions were disdained and book learning frowned upon. Sinnreich details how pre-World War I tactical modernization in the British Army was stillborn, despite the introduction of breech-loading rifles and quick-firing artillery. The tribal conformity imposed by regimental life, and a social system that deferred instinctively to one’s superiors were pressures that “tended to stifle subordinate initiative and to breed a tactically rigidity ill equipped to deal with more modern and sophisticated enemies.” This all came to a head in South Africa near the end of the century, where “British regulars, including storied regiments, repeatedly were outgeneraled, outmaneuvered, and outfought by South Africa’s indifferently organized but well-armed and determined Boer militias.” Readers may want to compare this interpretation of social linkages and limited intellectual development with recent scholarship.
The Royal Navy is not slighted, Professor Corbin Williamson covers its evolution from 1900 to the end of the Second World War. Williamson deftly addresses the Navy’s struggle to balance near-term training against higher order education to develop competent officers in a period of rapid technological change. He quotes another scholar’s assessment: “The educational system, as it existed in 1914, lacked coherence and ambition.” When the test of war emerged, the Navy lacked officers who could make an impact at the cabinet level or in theater strategy debates. Andrew Gordon’s wonderful insights from Rules of the Game are leveraged to good effect to detail how rigid naval command had become. The disappointments from Jutland influenced the Royal Navy’s reconception of command, initiative, and offensive employment, and served as the basis for a series of reforms, drawn from Lambert’s Sir John Fisher’s Naval Revolution. “Through these reforms,” Williamson concludes, “the navy reinvigorated an offensive ethos and placed a higher priority on subordinate’s initiative based on an understanding of the admiral’s intent similar to modern ‘mission command.'”
Allan Millett, former Marine and author of the definitive history of the U.S. Marine Corps, writes about the intense nature of that institution’s internal operating system. Millett gives appropriate recognition to General Victor Krulak and his son, General Charles C. Krulak, as institutional innovators. But this chapter overlooked an excellent appreciation of Marine Corps change agents by Terry Terriff of the University of Calgary. There are other recent works that readers will want to explore. The culture of the U.S Marine Corps is going to be sorely tested in this next decade, as a generation of Marines leaves behind a half-century focus on amphibious missions, after its 15 years of counterinsurgency operations, and now attempts to redefine its identity and transition to great power competition.
The U.S. Air Force has a distinctive culture, and Robert Farley superbly draws out how that institution developed an unshakable and misguided belief that high-altitude, daylight, and precision bombing was a decisive form of warfare. He correctly notes how influential the Pacific and European campaigns of World War II were to the Air Force, conflicts in which its preferred operating paradigm was severely tested by adversary counter-responses. He argues the Air Force’s fervent desire for independence promoted an element of autonomy and assertiveness that still exists today, and with studied understatement notes, “the pursuit of technological innovation has played an unusually large role in the culture of the USAF for the course of its history….” This is a culture now beset by numerous priorities from air superiority fighters, stealth bombers, and remotely piloted aerial systems…and now to a competing Space Force. Farley suggests the combat experiences of the last generation has moved past its fixations with autonomy and technology, and moved towards closer interaction with other services, especially special operations. That may be the official line but the previous generation still contends airpower is even more precise and decisive.
One of the distinguishing aspects of this book is the inclusion of non-Western examples. Dan Marston, now with Johns Hopkins University, provides an illuminating discussion on the Indian Army, and Gil-li Vardi’s chapter on the Israeli Defense Force is balanced. Vardi depicts the evolution of the Israeli Defence Force’s psyche; including its offensive nature and penchant for initiative and improvisation over hierarchy and directive command.
The lack of Chinese and French chapters is an obvious drawback in the book’s design. Given the increasing salience of the Chinese military today, this has to be considered a shortfall. Furthermore, while the chapter on Russia was well executed, it stopped at the end of World War II, leaving readers to wonder how Russia military culture has since evolved. These weaknesses are offset by a strategic culture chapter penned by David Kilcullen, who does address Russian national culture. What he does not capture is the debate over the utility of strategic culture. Some dispute its existence and use in understanding or anticipating a rival’s moves or deriving insights on how history, geography, form of government, and civil-military relations influence a state’s strategic behavior.
The editors present a selective suite of implications. They note the social links from any military to its larger culture, the criticality of military education to sustain critical thinking, and the tensions between continuity and change. Gil-li Vardi’s point about the difficulty of leveraging culture is underscored: “organizational culture is a resilient and even sluggish creature, which operates on cumulative knowledge, organically embedded into a coherent, powerful and highly restrictive mind-set.” This is the most salient feature of the study, assisting leaders in closing the gap between today’s force and one that meets the needs of the future conception of warfare. Murray’s past works on innovation clearly show that an organizational culture inclined to test its assumptions, assess the external environment for changes routinely, and experiment with novel solutions is best suited for long-term success. The challenge for leaders today, not explored enough in the book, is learning how to successfully reprogram the internal code to improve its alignment with new missions or technologies. We can hope some enterprising scholars will jump into this field and apply the same conceptual lens to complement this product.
Retired U.S. Army General David Petraeus observed that “culture, once formed, is difficult to change; it cannot always be ‘tamed’ but it can and should be understood.” Those responsible for strategic leadership and for preparing their military for the future, must understand how culture impacts the effectiveness of an armed force. This is particularly relevant since most officials today describe the strategic environment as an age of disruptive technological change.
Professors Mansoor and Murray offer a superlative foundation for reflecting on how to change the odds of gaining that transformation short of the carnage of a world war.