Cynthia Cline was deployed to the Middle East when she started doing research on getting out of the military.
“I was looking for some encouragement from women who had separated and what they were doing now,” she said.
That’s when she stumbled on a blog by a former airman who had transitioned out of the military to become a stay-at-home mom and eventually started writing — just the path Cline was considering for herself.
“I spent probably hours on her website reading her stuff,” she said. “It very much felt like here’s this person who’s a few years ahead of me.”
That’s exactly the kind of resource Amanda Huffman is trying to provide. A former captain in the Air Force who separated in 2013 after giving birth to her first son, Huffman started the blog Airman to Mom that helped Cline prepare for her own transition in June.
Huffman, 36, had a difficult transition out of the military. Prior to becoming a stay-at-home mom with a new baby, she’d spent six years as a civil engineer in the Air Force, which included a deployment to Afghanistan. While there, she worked on a provincial reconstruction team tasked with building bridges, wells, schools, and other projects to win over the hearts of the Afghan people.
She earned a Bronze Star, as well as the Air Force Combat Action Medal and Army Combat Action Badge for her service.
“I really struggled with my identity after I left the Air Force, and motherhood was not what I thought,” she said.
“At the time I really felt like he wasn’t sleeping through the night — failure. He wasn’t walking fast enough? Failure,” Huffman said. “I had this pressure on myself to force my son to do whatever the [baby] book said, and if he didn’t, then it was like I was a failure.”
Huffman, now a homeschool- and work-from-home mom of two boys and a military spouse, started blogging in 2014 as a way to process what she was experiencing.
“Writing was something where I wasn’t a failure because people read it and they responded and were like, ‘Oh this resonates,’” she said. “It was the start of finding myself, but it was more like something I couldn’t see as a big failure over my life.”
Though her blog had a nod to her military experience in its title, Huffman initially shied away from divulging too much of her military story.
“I was anti-veteran stuff, which is actually really common for veterans, especially female veterans,” she said. “The stereotype of the veteran community that I had in my mind was like the [Veterans of Foreign Wars], going to a bar with a bunch of old guys and having to be like, ‘Yeah, I am a veteran. I deployed.’ And so, I was like, ‘I already was in the military. I had to prove myself just because of my gender. I don’t want to have to go and be part of a community and have to prove myself.’”
Huffman said at the time, it made more sense to get involved in the Christian and mom blogging communities because she already knew she would be welcome for who she was.
“I didn’t have to prove like yes, I do deserve to stand here because I am a veteran. I think that was a lot of it,” she said.
But Kristen Smith, Huffman’s blogging mentor and a fellow military spouse, noticed Huffman wasn’t fully tapping into her story and encouraged her to step out of her comfort zone.
“She was trying to narrow in on this one piece of who she was, which was being a mom and how everything else shaded it” — but Huffman wasn’t just a mom who happened to be a veteran, Smith said.
Huffman took the advice and started writing more about her military experiences. Website traffic soon showed there was an audience for it.
She then published a downloadable resource, “Girl’s Guide to the Military,” on her website, which has drawn readers from all over the world, including women serving in foreign militaries, and is the inspiration for Huffman’s upcoming YouTube channel of the same name that she plans to launch in January.
Huffman also started asking readers to submit their own military stories, which she published in a series on her website that she later made into a book.
“I did an interview-style 31-day series on deployment, and what I was expecting was that it was going to be a bunch of men who deployed sharing like their war stories of being deployed, but instead it was mainly all women and it was a realization that I’m not the only woman veteran who has a story to tell,” she said. “I thought my story was pretty unique because I deployed with the Army — blah blah blah — but all these women had these amazing stories, and I had no idea what women were doing, and I was like, I don’t care about deployments anymore. I just want to hear women’s stories.”
In 2018, she planned to do another series focusing solely on women veterans’ stories, but with a cross-country permanent change of station move coming up for her husband, who is active-duty Air Force, Huffman’s friend suggested she look at turning the stories into a podcast instead of writing out the interviews.
So Huffman reached out to one of her fans and booked her first guest for the show: Cline.
Getting to know the ‘Women of the Military’
Huffman typically interviews one woman per episode, beginning by asking each guest why she joined the military and ending with any advice the guest would give to younger women who are thinking about joining.
The podcast has garnered 34,000 downloads, and guests have included women of all branches and ranks — from enlisted women who served four-year terms to four female generals and a former secretary of the Air Force. Some interviewees have shared stories of sexual assault or harassment in the military that they had never before told publicly.
While all stories are different, “they all resonate for different reasons,” Huffman said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a guy or a girl; the military pushes you. They break you down to build you back up, and so that part of that transition into who the military makes you and then that transition out and trying to find yourself as a civilian — there’s a lot of commonalities in that, just experience of changing you into someone and then trying to find your new path.”
The way Huffman talks about her own military experiences on the show is refreshing and somewhat uncommon among narratives of women veterans often heard in the media, said Smith, who has been following her mentee’s journey as Huffman has expanded her portfolio.
“She did some really cool shit, and she talks about her service in a way that I think we typically are accustomed to hearing men talk about it,” Smith said. “She tends not to talk about this really uncomfortable situation and the ways that being a woman sort of impacted [her]. She just talks about her service.”
Cline, who has since started a blog of her own, said Huffman’s work is “extremely encouraging” and helped prepare her for her transition out of the military and the potential struggle she might have in finding her new identity as a civilian, though it ultimately went smoothly.
“First, when you initially look at the idea of sharing women’s stories, it might not seem like a big deal for most people — and yet on the sheer fact that she shared her story and that’s what encouraged me to take the next step in my blogging world, I feel like that changed my life. Storytelling changes lives,” Cline said.
“People need to hear our stories,” Huffman said. “But also, we need to tell our stories, and when we tell our stories then another women veteran hears it and is like, ‘Oh, I’m not the only one.’”
The history and role of military women throughout the years is fascinating. And with March being Women’s History Month, we decided to dive in and take a look back at the role women have played in the U.S. military from WWI to the present day.
World War I
Many people know that women were part of WWI, but did you know about the women who worked as switchboard operators? The Signal Corps Female Telephone Operators Unit had to be bilingual, speaking in both French and English to ensure orders were heard by everyone. Over 7,000 women applied, but only 450 were accepted and even though they wore Army Uniforms and were subject to Army Regulations they were not given honorable discharges. Grace Banker was one of these women. She led a team of 38 women and was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for her service.
World War II
During WWII, over 350,000 women served in the U.S. Armed Forces. And while many women worked as nurses, secretaries and telephone operators, there were several other jobs that women filled. The two most influential groups were the Women Armed Service Pilots (WASP) and Woman Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES)
Women were called up to serve as pilots during World War II to allow men to serve on the front lines overseas. While these women were promised military status, they joined before the final law was passed and, in the end, served as civilians and were not given veteran status until years later. During the time of the program, WASP flew over 60 million miles, transported every type of military aircraft, towed targets for live anti-aircraft training, simulated missions and transported cargo.
This program authorized the U.S. Navy to accept women into the Naval Reserve as commissioned officers and enlisted troops. The purpose of the legislation was to release officers and men for sea duty and replace them with women on shore establishments. The first director of the WAVES was Mildred H. McAfee. The WAVES served at 900 stations in the U.S. The WAVES peak strength was 86,291 members. Many female officers entered fields previously held by men, such as engineering and medicine. Enlisted women served in jobs from clerical to parachute riggers.
The Korean War marked a turning point for women’s advancement in the armed forces. While we typically think of Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals (MASH) from Vietnam, they actually got their start in Korea. The first one was led by Margaret (Zane) Fleming and 12 other Army nurses. This role put the nurses much closer to the front lines and direct combat than anyone had anticipated. On Oct 9, 1950, while moving from Inchon to Pusan they came under attack. They hid in a ditch and helped treat the wounded. Because they all survived the attack, they began calling themselves “The Lucky Thirteen.”
While over a third of women serving were in the medical career field, women served as administrative assistants, stenographers, translators and more. Additionally, the first female chaplains and civil engineers served in the Korean War.
Approximately 11,000 women served in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. Nearly 90 percent of these women were nurses. They were an all-volunteer force and arrived in Vietnam as early as 1956. Other women served as physicians, air traffic controllers, intelligence officers, clerks and more. Master Sergeant Barbara Jean Dulinsky was the first female Marine to serve in a combat zone in 1967. Five Navy nurses were awarded the Purple Heart after they were injured in a Viet Cong bombing of an officer’s billet in downtown Saigon on Christmas Eve 1964. They were the first female members to receive that award during the Vietnam War. Commander Elizabeth Barrett in November of 1972, became the first female naval line officer to hold command in a combat zone.
The first female Marine promoted to Sergeant Major was Bertha Peters Billeb. She was the first woman to become the Sergeant Major of female Marines. It was a billet similar in duties and responsibilities to the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps. Six women would fill this position until it was eliminated in 1977.
In Desert Storm, the role and influence of women in the military had integrated into almost every military unit. Over 40,000 women deployed in support of Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm, with 15 women killed in action and two women taken prisoner by Iraqi forces. Although women were restricted from combat, a new frontier for women was established as the lines of combat began to blur. Congress began rescinding the statutory restrictions which barred women from combat aircraft and vessels. It was a key step in shaping female service in the military today.
Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have had dramatic impacts on female military service today. The military has continued to rely on women service members as the front lines of battle have been eliminated; fighting a war that relies on Improvised Explosive Devices, and surprise attacks both on and off base. But the military has realized the value of women on the battlefield, and began creating teams that partner with military infantry units, such as Team Lioness and Provincial Reconstruction Teams, which eventually paved the way for Female Engagement Teams.
In 2016, after years of women proving their capabilities on the battlefield all jobs were opened to women. Although women have been serving on the front lines of war for decades the regulations preventing women from serving in career fields that were held historically by men were finally rescinded. Since then we have seen women sign up for and complete the rigorous training programs required to serve in some of the most elite military groups.
Women have proven their willingness to answer the nation’s call and take on new roles at each challenge. Where will they go next?
There can be no doubt that terrifying things can happen in times of war. However, in most cases it can at least be counted on that the enemy one faces is a living human being.
What happens when other, more supernatural forces creep into war zones? What are soldiers to do when faced with mysterious phantoms, ghosts, apparitions and entities against which they have no experience and which they have not been trained to fight? War zones have attracted tales of hauntings and supernatural phenomena since time unremembered, and certainly one of the more modern such places of paranormal terror is the desolate battlefields of the war in Afghanistan. This is a place that is not only plagued by fighting and violence, but also apparently strange forces that have shown some soldiers here that human enemies are not always the only thing to be scared of in these bleak, violent wastelands.
Several mysterious reports came from a United States Marine who had just come back home after serving a tour of duty in Afghanistan. The witness tends to be quite secretive about his role in the war, only stating that his unit was “relatively safe,” and only suffered two non-combat related casualties. The witness claims to have had a couple of potential encounters with ghosts during his service, and one of them occurred as he was sitting with some superiors and colleagues within a makeshift office in the desert which had three rooms. There were reportedly four other people in the cramped room with him when, as he was standing near the backdoor, he noticed his Lieutenant step through the door and enter a small adjoining contractor’s office. He saw the man clearly, but at this point there was nothing particularly strange about it, and the witness explained “he was wearing a FROG suit and everything. Nothing unusual about him. Even had the moustache.”
Just 30 seconds later a call came through asking for the Lieutenant and the witness went to the contractor’s office to fetch him. Strangely, the room was completely empty – nobody was there. Since there was no other door out of the office, the witness asked if anyone had noticed the Lieutenant leave, but nobody had, even though there were four others in the enclosed space and it seemed that somebody would have noticed such a thing. The witness went to the rear door of the office they were in and looked around but there was no one there either. Even a look outside showed no signs of anyone. It was as if the Lieutenant had just disappeared into thin air. The witness explained:
I said ‘Disregard Sgt., nobody is around, looks like I was seeing things.’ Then, my roommate a fellow Lance says to me “That’s bull****, you and I both know somebody is in that room,” and I just said “Nope. You saw it too. Someone walked in, and nobody came out, but nobody is there.
Another incident in the very same office happened one evening at around 10PM. The witness claims that he was alone after working late and on his way out when the door to the contractor’s room opened by itself and stayed open. He went to investigate and shone a flashlight about into the dim space but no one was there. He said that at the time he had a very strange feeling like he was being watched and that it was quite unsettling. The very same witness claimed to have seen other strange things during his tour. He also says that there was a mysterious heat signature that would be seen on infrared equipment wandering and pacing around out in the desert outside in the dark, yet when it was observed with different cameras or the naked eye, nothing was there and there was no response when they called out into the night.
Another witness who reported strange, ghostly figures in the desert claimed that his unit was plagued by a mysterious phantom that would appear around the outskirts of their camp and vanish in the blink of an eye. The first time it appeared was a little after dusk, a couple hundred yards from their position. One of the men, described as a “random PVT,” told the others that there was a person out in the wilderness just standing there. The witness looked and at first couldn’t see anything but after a moment could make out a dark blob in the vague shape of a person. The Sergeant apparently was called over and saw it too. When asked where the figure had come from, the private explained that it had “just popped up.” Whoever was out there there was just standing motionless with its back to them. The witness described the eerie scene and what happened next:
So we watch this “person” for about 3hrs, who just stands there, motionless, with its back to us. You could put optics on it and see it was a person, adult male, average height and build. Best part: we “borrowed” a thermal monocular and this f*cker doesn’t register in it. ZERO F*CKING HEAT SIGNATURE. Then randomly, just poof, gone. Random PVT spends the next 6 weeks telling everyone about the ghost we saw.
Around 6 months later, the same witness was out on patrol when two of his unit reported seeing two figures standing on top of a berm a couple of hundred yards away. Anticipating an enemy IED (Improvised Explosive Device), they stopped the vehicle and examined the figures, which appeared to be men just standing with their backs to them. They were motionless and would not respond when called to, just like the strange phantom previously seen 6 months earlier. The Lieutenant called it in and some of the men got out to go investigate. The witness would explain what happened next thus:
We dismount, LT calls over terp asks if he knows what’s up. Terp gives blank stare and shrugs. LT decides we should go have a look-see and do some hearts-and-minds sh*t. I stay in the truck (which feels like 140 f*cking degrees), 20min goes by LT comes back with weird look on his face and says ‘we’re outta here.’ Later that day I asked another guy WTF happened, he says they get within 50yds of aforementioned “persons” and, presto, gone. I ask “what do you mean, gone?” and he just looks at me with this blank stare and says “gone. They were there, and then they weren’t. Weird huh?’
In another account, a marine who served in Afghanistan and Yemen from 2009-2013 relates an odd experience. One evening at 1AM, the witness had just finished setting up a patrol base with four members of his squad while the other seventeen men slept. In front of the patrol base was a huge, open field and to the left was, rather spookily, an Afghan cemetery. As the witness was looking out over the field on watch duty, he claims that a rock came hurtling through the air to land at his feet. Thinking this to be peculiar he peered out into the darkness over the field, which was wide open with no blind spots or hiding places, but he couldn’t see anyone there nor any movement. As he was looking, another rock reportedly was tossed in his direction from the field. The witness put on night vision equipment but could still see no one there, and infrared turned up no heat signatures either. The night was completely quiet and that field was totally empty. Yet another rock would be lobbed at him as he tried to figure out what was going on, and the whole thing was quite unnerving. The marine would say of the eerie incident:
At this point I’m kinda freaked out. This happened right after my team leader died. So I was freaked out and nothing to rule out what threw rocks at me because no one was there.
Equally as bizarre as any of these accounts of strange intruders is that of another soldier who was operating with a special forces squad in the mountains of Afghanistan with the mission of setting up a hide-to-survey in a village several miles away that was believed to be harboring a Taliban person of interest who the military had been tracking for years. The squad’s main goal at the time was to observe the village for a few days for any suspicious activity or persons, as well as to collect any useful information that could be later used in a raid. To this end they set up a team of six men at the base and two others whose job was to creep in closer to observe from a different vantage point.
Things went well at first, but on the second day the squad began having trouble maintaining radio contact with the observation team and the TOC (Tactical Operations Center). They found that transmissions were plagued by static and sometimes would not go through at all. It was chalked up to the magnetic content of the rocks in the area and the witness and some of the men went out to re-position the Satcom in order to get a better signal. As they were doing this at around dusk, one of the soldiers said he spotted a man wearing a white robe who looked to be flitting and running through the rocks outside of the village. When this was reported the men were immediately suspicious, and the witness would say:
There was something odd about the way he described it, but we were more worried about being compromised. Needless to say, we folded up our sh*t and got ready to move out. We weren’t going to end up in some Lone Survivor type clusterf*ck. We were the f*ck out of there. So at this point it’s late dusk, and we were moving pretty quick. Everyone is on high f*cking alert, we are a small element in a remote area without ready access to any kind of quick reaction force and we had no reliable comms.
The team continued their hasty trek back towards their outpost, and the witness took up the rear, walking backwards and making sure they weren’t being followed or leaving a clear trail, his gun trained on the darkness the whole time. As he did this he spotted a fleeting glimpse of something white moving in the distance, although he could not be sure just what it was or if it was following them. Oddly, he would later report that at the time he had begun to sense the smell of freshly baked bread permeating the air and a sudden onset of a feeling of peace and relaxation, which he sensed was emanating from the direction they had come from. This sensation was so profound that he actually slowed down, and thoughts danced through his head of running over to this comfortable place he felt pulling at him from where they had been. He shook off this daze and reported to the other men what he had seen and that he thought they were possibly being trailed, to which an officer replied that he had seen something white moving as well. The witness would say:
I asked my dudes to keep their eyes open for anything, because I thought I had seen someone trailing us. Our senior scout piped in “That’s strange mom, (I was mom, long story) I thought I saw some dude in white on the ridge in front of us.” At this point all the hairs on my neck are standing up. Everything felt strange. The air felt heavy, and sort of sweet. The silence hummed loudly.
With the night steadily moving in, a sense of urgency, panic, and dread set in and the men picked up the pace, even though they were already exhausted from hauling their heavy packs over the uneasy, rugged terrain. As darkness creeped over the landscape to slowly envelope them in pitch blackness, they put on their NODS (night vision goggles), turning the world into a green haze. The night was incredibly silent, even more than usual, and there was no movement out there in the mountainous moonscape bathed in the green cast of the night vision goggles. But this eerie silence would not last, and this is when things allegedly got very strange indeed. The witness describes it best:
Hallucinations happen. But what happened was beyond comprehension. First, we heard a sound like a huge airplane taking off. A loud low buzz that slowly increased in pitch. We had to yell over comms to hear each other. Everywhere I looked, I kept seeing what looked like glowing eyes staring back at me, but once i would center my focus on where I saw them, they would disappear. We were f*cking panicked. Everyone was holding their rifles at the high ready, we were expecting some kind of ambush attack and we started talking out the RP we would meet at if we needed to start a peel and move. Then it all just stopped. Everything got dark. The only thing I could hear was my breath and the blood pumping in my head. We stopped, dug into the side of the mountain, and performed SLLS (Stop look listen Smell) for about 10 minutes. Nothing. Not even bugs. The air and the land were silent.
Baffled, frightened, and overcome with fatigue, the men quickly resumed their trudge through the wilderness back to their camp, very aware that something very possibly malignant and beyond their experience was out there in the dark somewhere. As they scrambled over loose rock and through scrub and brush the witness claims that he suddenly noticed on a parallel hillside the very clear sight of a man dressed in light colored robes, which seemed to be slowly making his way towards their position. Bizarrely, it seemed that that the stranger was just passing through any obstacles he came across as he moved slowly but inexorably closer. The witness would describe the rest of the surreal encounter thus:
He seemed to melt over and around the rocks, it was f*cking unnatural the way he was moving. Through the NODS, his eyes glowed. I scoped up on him, and saw that he was looking directly at me. It was pitch black, there is no way he could have saw us from that distance without any kind of night optics. Suddenly, he stopped. He picked up one of his limbs and held it in the air, almost like he was waving at me. Then the arm melted back into his form, like it wasn’t an arm at all, but some kind of extendable proboscis that was meant to look like an arm from a distance. I was about to ask the guy’s if they could see him, when he suddenly disappeared.
The witness also saw lights flickering in the distance near the town, which he presumed to be the enemy closing in on the area where the booming sound had originated. The team moved on and managed to make it back to their recovery location. They went on to recount their strange experiences and were reportedly told that it was probably all attributable to weariness, panic, and adrenaline. The whole thing was more or less forgotten until a few days later, when the story would take another weird turn. According to the witness:
The reason we did the observation was so we could bring the intel back for a raid that was to be conducted. The raid was ‘successful’, in the sense that finding a deer hit by a car is a successful deer hunt. Apparently, the team that moved into the village found it completely abandoned. They also found several men in the area where I had seen the lights the night we were hauling ass out of there. The corpses had been ripped to shreds, and based on the sheer amount of blood, the general consensus was that there were more men that were killed there than just the bodies that were found. It went in the official records as a successful raid with several enemy KIA’s. Unofficially? No one has any idea what killed them. All I know is whatever it was…it chose. It chose those men and not us.
Whatever that “it” was remains unknown. Another account that most certainly belongs here is one given by a commenter on another article of mine on mysteries in the war in the Middle East. It is an account that seems hard to really categorize, but seeming to deal with ghosts, demons, or some other supernatural beings. The commenter, Jerry Aberdeen, related a truly bizarre experience that happened to him when he was stationed in Mosul, Ninewah Province in 2004, and it is so intriguing and fitting that I felt compelled to share it here. Jerry Aberdeen explains his very weird story thus:
I was attached to 2/3 INF 3 SBCT at FOB Patriot. A call went out on the radio that FOB Diamondback (the airfield) was under attack. Everyone on every FOB from, Courage, Blickenstaff, Patriot and Marez jumped into the closest vehicle and headed to the airfield to counter the attack. I was in a vehicle with some other infantry guys, an engineer and a PsyOps guy. When we got to the airfield we saw some dudes trying to climb over the wall. The gunner opened up on them and the rest of us took up a position in a ditch on the other side of the road and opened fire. There were three of us side by side, the engineer, the PsyOps guys and myself. We fired and one guy and he dropped from the top of the wall (hard to tell who actually shot him). Right after he fell there was stream of black smoke coming out of him. The engineer made that comment that he must have been wearing a suicide vest and it malfunctioned. A few seconds later the black smoke grew larger and started to take a human looking form. What happened next all three of us saw and there was no doubt. The now fully materialized black smoke was standing upright and now had red smoky glowing eyes and a weird looking mouth. The damn thing actually smiled at us and turned to, sort of run but it just dissipated after it took a few steps. Very hard to describe how it all happened. All three of us just looked at each other wide eyed for a second or two. After it was all over we only spoke about once then never again.
So far here we have been looking at assorted isolated incidents of the strange and supernatural, but the war in Afghanistan also seems to have certain places that draw in such bizarre tales. One such place is a lonely outpost called Observation Point Rock, also known as simply “The Rock,” which sits exposed around 20 meters (65ft) above the desert and situated near what appears to be a looming, giant rock, but which is actually the ruins of a caved-in, ancient mud fort, complete with arrow slits and the crumpled remains of turrets. Captured from the Taliban in 2008, the isolated outpost typically holds a small contingent of U.S. Marines to keep watch and guard it, and in addition to its reputation as being a harsh, forbidding place full of dust and grit and sporadic rocket attacks by Taliban fighters, it has also gathered about it an even more sinister reputation of being an intensely haunted and cursed one.
Almost as soon as the Marines moved in there were strange stories and dark rumors swirling about the place. It was said that Taliban fighters had been buried alive in the caves below, and that there were numerous bodies of Russian soldiers buried here during the failed Soviet invasion of these lands. One group of Marines digging a trench claimed to have come across a human leg bone, which led to the discovery of another piece of human remains, followed by another and another, including skulls and whole desiccated corpses and skeletons, which were all believed to have possibly been Russian since a stake with Russian writing was found. They would later find out that a contingent of Russian soldiers had been supposedly executed there in the 1980s after being found by the Taliban while using the rock as a hideout. Also among the macabre remains were found shards of ancient pottery long buried within the dry earth with more inscrutable, unknown origins.
With the creepy ambiance and all of the bodies said to be entombed here it was perhaps no surprise that weird reports would start popping up amongst those stationed here in these badlands. Noises with no discernible source, objects moving on their own, strange lights, disembodied cries or screams, the sound of footsteps or crunching gravel even when there was no one there, the sudden onset of heavy feelings of dread … the men serving here were often plagued with various strange phenomena. Electrical equipment was also said to often malfunction here, and that fresh batteries had a habit of going dead within minutes. On some occasions, machine gun fire or incoming rockets could be heard, but nothing was hit and none of the guns had been fired. There were cases of movement seen on the perimeter only to turn up no trespassers on thermal equipment and no footprints. A Sergeant Josh Brown, 22, once said of Observation Point, “The local people say this is a cursed place. You will definitely see weird-ass lights up here at night,” and another soldier named Lance Corporal Austin Hoyt, 20 has said:
This place really sucks. The Afghans say it’s haunted. Stick a shovel in anywhere and you’ll find bones and bits of pottery. This place should be in National Geographic — in the front there are weird-looking windows for shooting arrows. You know, they say the Russians up here were executed by the Mujahidin.
Strange phenomena were said to have been going on before they had even arrived. The British soldiers who had occupied the base before them also supposedly had experienced such strangeness, and even warned the American troops of what to expect when they got there. They claimed that lights prowled the bleak landscape, that phantoms and shadows moved about in the desert which were only briefly glimpsed by infrared cameras before vanishing, that there were dancing lights that could be observed through night vision goggles, that there were often noises and voices from nowhere, screams or shrieks out in the desert at night, and that to touch any relics or bones found there was to invite great misfortune.
Although the tales of the supernatural surrounding the haunted base are numerous, some stand out as particularly creepy. One Corporal Jacob Lima had a few spooky stories to tell concerning the Observation Point Rock. In one account he claimed that one night he was startled by a chilling scream coming from one of the men. When Lima ran to investigate, he found a Corporal Zolik cowering in fear at his guard post. Zolik claimed that as he had been sitting there, he had felt breath on his ear and heard a clear voice whisper something in Russian. The man was so terrified that he begged Lima to stay with him until his shift was finished. As they waited there together Lima said on several occasions they heard footsteps up on the observation post above them, even though no one else was there. At one point during the night Lima was scanning the area with thermal imaging and allegedly saw what looked like another soldier with “balled fists” standing out in the desert. As he tried to discern whether it was friend or foe, the mysterious figure vanished into thin air right before his eyes. The whole incident was enough to make Zolik desperately requested a transfer out of there. Interestingly, other men also frequently reported hearing disembodied whispers in Russian around the outpost.
On another occasion, Lima was on watch and suddenly heard a dog that was kept there, named Ugly Betty, barking wildly at something. Thinking it could be the enemy, Lima put on his night vision goggles and scanned the night for movement, which turned up what appeared to be a figure in the distance. Not sure what he was seeing, he switched to thermal imaging and tried to find the figure again but it was gone. When he went back to night vision he was able to see the mysterious figure again, which had inexplicably closed a large distance in just moments. A switch back to thermal once again turned up no heat signatures at all, even though Lima was sure that the whatever-it-was was still there. At some point in all of this switching between thermal and night vision, he lost sight of the figure altogether, at which point he claims he felt a heavy tap on his shoulder. When he turned around there was supposedly no one there. Somewhere out in the night, the dog was still barking.
Observation Point Rock is not the only supposedly haunted military outpost in Afghanistan – another notorious one is called Forward Operation Base Salerno. The location of the base already lends itself well to spooky tales, as on its outskirts is an old Afghan graveyard, which is overlooked by two high watchtowers. Indeed, it is these towers that are said to be intensely haunted by what appears to be the spirit of a little girl, said to be sometimes heard or seen wandering around aimlessly either in the towers themselves or in the area around them.
One frightening report concerns two paratroopers with the 2nd Battalion of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment named Painter and Jackson, who one night were on watch duty when they were startled by a blood curdling, shrill laugh emanating from their radio, so high-pitched as to almost cause pain. The laugh was described as sounding like that of a little girl, and Painter would claim that “No grown man in the Army could have made it.” When the unearthly laugh stopped, the two men radioed to others on watch but it turned out that no one else had heard a thing. The very next evening, the two men were on watch duty again in the same place, still rather unnerved by what had happened the night before. As they sat there in the dark, they claim that they heard movement and footsteps in the tower, particularly on the trap door that led to another level, even though they were the only ones there. The room also allegedly suddenly became very cold for no apparent reason.
This was unsettling enough, but then there came a call over the radio from the other watch tower, claiming that they were detecting a small, 3-foot-tall figure wandering around in the dark outside. Creepily, although no details of the strange phantom could be seen, what did appear to be clear was that whatever it was reportedly seemed to be waving at them. Jackson says he went out onto the balcony to investigate but saw nothing but the desolate nighttime landscape and that graveyard out in the murk. A scan of the surroundings with thermal imaging equipment also turned up no heat signatures of any kind. After that, the scared men reluctantly continued the rest of their shift with no further such phenomena. Interestingly, although this incident was indeed frightening, neither of the men felt that the ghost was malevolent, but rather that it seemed to just want to play.
In this case the figure had been small but rather indistinct, yet other stories add more eerie detail. On another occasion that supposedly happened years earlier, two Marines were in one of the watch towers when they looked out and clearly saw through their night vision goggles a young girl walking along in the desert night with a goat, but when they took the goggles off the both the girl and the goat were gone. As soon as they put the goggles back on the girl was back, this time shockingly standing on the watchtower balcony, much to the horror of the guards. The event was so upsetting that these toughened Marines were supposedly reduced to tears and refused to go back to the tower. This is not even an isolated incident, and there have been other sightings of a ghostly little girl out walking abut, either by herself or with a goat, both always undetectable by thermal imaging or night vision.
Adding to ghostly lore of Forward Operating Base Salerno is the account of an Airman who had done two deployments in Afghanistan and had spent much of that time stationed at the base, where he stayed at a compound designated for aviation personnel. One night, he says he was out with another person from his platoon to go visit a friend of theirs who was doing guard duty at one of the towers. The friends spent some time chatting and, by the time they left the guard, it was quite late and the moonless night was pitch black, making it hard to get back to their compound since they did not have night vision goggles with them. They got lost and decided to head back to the guard tower to ask for directions back. As they set out into the night again towards the compound, they claim they heard a rustling and footsteps like someone coming up behind them, but when they looked, no one was there. This would happen several times as they picked up their pace and finally reached their destination. Could this have been the same spectral little girl? The mysteries of this place have yet to be explained, and there have been so many strange, unexplained phenomena at Forward Operating Base Salerno that it has become almost legendary in the region among military personnel.
What lies behind cases like these? Is there anything to them, or is this all the result of a scared mind seeing the world through the cracked sense of stress, horror, fatigue, and hallucination? There are many who say that this is precisely what it is. However, although I can see this being the case with lone, isolated individuals, it becomes harder to explain in these terms when the apparition is seen and experienced by several men at once. Is this possible that it is just a mass hallucination where each one sees exactly the same thing at exactly the same time down to every detail? Is this something that truly happens with mere hallucinations? There is also the fact that they may be lying, which is a possibility, but then again we are dealing with men with more on their mind, like staying alive and combating the enemy, than coming up with fanciful tales for the amusement of it all. Then there is the possibility that something truly strange is really going on, but what that could be remains evasive.
In the end, it certainly seems that war zones can attract just as many strange specters, phantoms, and assorted entities and spooky tales of hauntings as any old derelict house or secluded, darkened forest. In fact, some of the most haunted places in the world are places that have been cast under the shadow of violent battle and strife, whether that is happening now or a dark piece of history from centuries ago. War zones and battlefields consistently draw to themselves such eerie stories, as if they are not only collecting ghosts in the sense of memories of a bloody past, but also literal ones as well. Is it because places so saturated with killing, anguish, and horrific struggle somehow tether the spirits of the dead to them? Does all of this negative energy manifest itself in some bizarre and mysterious fashion beyond our understanding? Is it because the gruesome horrors of war have managed to pervade the landscape and etch themselves onto the very fabric of reality, like light onto film, with events and individuals playing back like a video? We may never know the answers to questions such as these, but one thing that becomes apparent when looking at these accounts is that sometimes those in the field face terrors both human and otherwise, and must come face to face with fear both living and dead.
Master Sergeant George Hand US Army (ret) was a member of the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, The Delta Force. He is a now a master photographer, cartoonist and storyteller.
There is a saying among the airborne forces (words to the effect): “The sky, even more so than the land or the sea, is terribly unforgiving to even the slightest mistake.”
I have been in ground combat units, airborne units both low and high-altitude operational in nature, and have extensive experience in both maritime undersea and surface operations. I agree that airborne operations are likely more dangerous than those maritime, but I insist that the land is by far the safest of all; in fact, I’m conducting a fairly safe land operation right this very minute!
Combat diving puts one in many claustrophobic situations. I happen to be mildly claustrophobic; I think a great percentage of us are, but I also happen to be clinically horrified of heights to the point of near incapacitation. For me, therefore, parachute training was the most stressful. That notwithstanding, I have ~800 parachute jumps to boast of.
While I know of many deaths, near deaths, and injuries from parachute operations (mostly broken limbs from landing and spinal injuries from hard parachute openings), I also have personal experience with two fatalities just in the basic training course for Special Forces underwater operations. In both cases the deaths were attributed to heart attacks. I should mention that the Army’s diving school is one of the most stressful, mentally and physically, in the world.
One of the concerns in airborne operations are early or late exits from the jump aircraft. As you may know, paratroopers try to land in a pre-designated area of land know as a Drop Zone (DZ) that is largely devoid of structures and obstacles like trees and communications lines. Therefore urban areas are avoided and deserts make for great DZs indeed. High altitude jumpers with highly maneuverable parachutes fancy the motto: “The whole world is a Drop Zone.”
In a jump aircraft, the pilot turns over control of the jump to the Jump Master in charge by way of a simple pair of lights located at the jump doors; one is red and the other green. Minutes from the DZ, the pilot will illuminate the red light indicating “no jump”. Once the pilot feels he is safely over the DZ, he will illuminate the green light indicating “safe for jump.”
(Sweet shot of a paratrooper just out the jump door with the green “Go” light illuminated.)
Paratroopers exiting on a red light is considered a major safety violation and is not tolerated across the community. Each incident warrants some measure of investigation to determine fault and safety conditions at the time. Such was the case of Red Light Randy.
Delta does very few if any low-level static lines drops, favoring the greater potential of drops from altitudes of 12,500 feet Above Ground Level (AGL) and above. Red Light Randy had a mission for which a low-level drop was needed, so he set out for a couple of rehearsal jumps prior to the mission.
The practice jumps went well, but on the night of the actual mission, the pilot failed to put the red light to green once over the DZ. Randy had positive visual recognition of his DZ reception party below, but had no jump authority. Frustrated at the sight of his DZ wasting away below him, he stuffed his team out the door with a frustrated enthusiasm. At a point along the exit the green light finally came on.
(A low-level drop has a much greater penchant to keep men less dispersed ever ground than a high-level drop.)
There was never a decent explanation given by the pilot for the late green light that caused Randy, the last to exit, to come down in some modest scrub past the far edge of the drop zone. There were no injuries or loss of equipment, and Randy and his men enjoyed a mission success for the night.
The Air Force reported the “incident” as an early exit on a red light, but the swift and efficient investigation that ensued determined that the pilot gave a late green, threatening a separation in Randy’s team. In combat it is not the prerogative to circle back and drop the rest of the team, so inevitably the loss of so many men of Randy’s team would have monumentally jeopardized mission success.
So the early red light incident was over… or was it? The “potential ball-breaking” alarm sounded. The details of the event were rocketed off to me, and I got to work straight away producing the feature cartoon:
The drop aircraft is depicted still on departure field runway with Randy announcing the command to jump, The first man exits only to splat face-down on the tarmac. Early exit on red for Red Light Randy!
NASA astronaut Col. Tyler N. “Nick” Hague waits to be lowered into the pool containing a mockup of the International Space Station at the Johnson Space Flight Center’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory for Extravehicular Activity training in Houston, Tex., Apr. 27, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo by J.M. Eddins Jr.)
(Editor’s note: The following is a reposting of an Airman magazine story and an episode of BLUE, which aired in 2017 on AFTV, about Air Force astronauts assigned to NASA. Additional information from NASA is added to mark the culmination of a nearly decade-long goal to once again launch American astronauts from U.S. soil via NASA’s Commercial Crew Program with SpaceX and Boeing. On Wednesday, May 27, 2020, Air Force Col. Robert Behnken and retired Marine Col. Douglas Hurley are scheduled to pilot the inaugural, manned mission of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.)
A new era of human spaceflight is set to begin as American astronauts once again launch on an American rocket from American soil to the International Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley will fly on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft, scheduled to lift off on a Falcon 9 rocket at 4:33 p.m. EDT May 27, from Launch Complex 39A in Florida, for an extended stay at the space station for the Demo-2 mission.
As the final flight test for SpaceX, this mission will validate the company’s crew transportation system, including the launch pad, rocket, spacecraft, and operational capabilities. This also will be the first time NASA astronauts will test the spacecraft systems in orbit.
Behnken and Hurley were among the first astronauts to begin working and training on SpaceX’s next-generation human space vehicle and were selected for their extensive test pilot and flight experience, including several missions on the space shuttle.
Behnken will be the joint operations commander for the mission, responsible for activities such as rendezvous, docking and undocking, as well as Demo-2 activities while the spacecraft is docked to the space station. He was selected as a NASA astronaut in 2000 and has completed two space shuttle flights.
It is a career in space that had its beginnings in the Air Force ROTC program at Washington University in St. Louis.
“The Air Force felt strongly that I should get a physics degree, and so I did that. But I was interested in engineering, and I did a mechanical engineering degree as well,” Behnken said in a 2017 interview with Airman magazine.
“It was a time, in 1992, that the Air Force was not bringing everybody immediately on active duty… I had a pretty long wait, so I applied for graduate school and an educational delay, and the Air Force looked kindly on that. I got that opportunity and picked up a National Science Foundation fellowship in the process, so I had a way to pay for school; the Air Force let me take advantage of that until I had earned my PhD at Caltech.”
Behnken’s first assignment was as a mechanical engineer at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, working on new development programs at the Air Force Research Laboratory. It was there that his commanders, both test pilot school graduates, suggested he plot a similar career course.
“The lieutenant colonel and the colonel said, ‘Hey, you should think about test pilot school,'” Behnken said. “I applied and was accepted, and ended up out at Edwards Air Force Base (California) doing some flight tests on an F-22 when it was very early in its development process before being selected as an astronaut and moving to Houston.”
Behnken flew two Space Shuttle missions; STS-123, in March 2008, and STS-130, in February 2010. He performed three spacewalks during each mission.
His training for the Crew Dragon mission has been unique among recent astronauts.
“Training for these missions is really wrapped into the development process. We’re learning the vehicles as they’re designed and built, and then that will be part of our training material,” Behnken said.
“All of us are Air Force and Navy test pilot school graduates and we’re really participating in a development process so that we can then kind of bring our space flight experience to the designs as they come to the table. If there’s something that needs to be changed, we give them that feedback, and then they figure out what the cost impact is and decide how well they can incorporate our feedback into their design.”
Lifting off from Launch Pad 39A atop a specially instrumented Falcon 9 rocket, Crew Dragon will accelerate its two passengers to approximately 17,000 mph and put it on an intercept course with the International Space Station.
Once in orbit, the crew and SpaceX mission control will verify the spacecraft is performing as intended by testing the environmental control system, the displays and control system and the maneuvering thrusters, among other things. In about 24 hours, Crew Dragon will be in position to rendezvous and dock with the space station. The spacecraft is designed to do this autonomously but astronauts aboard the spacecraft and the station will be diligently monitoring approach and docking and can take control of the spacecraft if necessary.
After successfully docking, Behnken and Hurley will be welcomed aboard the station and will become members of the Expedition 63 crew. They will perform tests on Crew Dragon in addition to conducting research and other tasks with the space station crew.
Although the Crew Dragon being used for this flight test can stay in orbit about 110 days, the specific mission duration will be determined once on station based on the readiness of the next commercial crew launch. The operational Crew Dragon spacecraft will be capable of staying in orbit for at least 210 days as a NASA requirement.
Upon conclusion of the mission, Crew Dragon will autonomously undock with the two astronauts on board, depart the space station and re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere. Upon splashdown just off Florida’s Atlantic Coast, the crew will be picked up at sea by SpaceX’s Go Navigator recovery vessel and return to Cape Canaveral.
The Demo-2 mission will be the final major step before NASA’s Commercial Crew Program certifies Crew Dragon for operational, long-duration missions to the space station. This certification and regular operation of Crew Dragon will enable NASA to continue the important research and technology investigations taking place onboard the station, which benefits people on Earth and lays the groundwork for future exploration of the Moon and Mars starting with the agency’s Artemis program, which will land the first woman and the next man on the lunar surface in 2024.
“It’s a pretty exciting job. As a test pilot, the thing that we all hope is that we might get a chance to test a new airplane. We’re getting to test a new spacecraft. We’ll be the first people to fly on this vehicle, so we’re really the space test pilots for a brand-new spaceship, which is pretty cool,” Behnken said.
(Editor’s Note: Originally posted July 24, 2017, this article concentrated on the training of Air Force Col. Tyler Nicklaus “Nick” Hague, as he was the next of the Air Force astronauts scheduled to fly to the International Space Station. His first launch was on Soyuz MS-10, which aborted shortly after take-off on October 11, 2018. His second launch, on March 14, 2019, was successful, taking him and his fellow Soyuz MS-12 crew members to join ISS Expedition 59/60. He would spend just more than 202 days in space and completed nearly 20 hours of extravehicular activities, or space walks, before returning to Earth in October of 2019.)
On the rare instances when Col. Tyler N. “Nick” Hague returns from a day at the office and walks through the door of his own home, the oldest of his two boys occasionally asks, “Daddy, were you in space today?”
Not such a childish question when you consider the actual distance and travel time when Hague finally rides into space aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket in September of 2018.
It will only take him about 12 minutes to arrive in low-Earth orbit from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, only 249 miles above the planet’s surface. In comparison, Hague traveled two miles farther when he was just a boy of 12; a total of 251 miles from his home in Hoxie, Kansas, to Colorado Springs, Colorado, where he first laid eyes on the place where his journey into space would actually begin – the United States Air Force Academy.
“Growing up in western Kansas, staring up at the sky at night, seeing all those stars, I’ve always wanted to do something involved with space,” said Hague. “I couldn’t find a better program in terms of being able to study astronautical engineering with building actual satellites and doing all that hands on work at an undergraduate level. That just didn’t exist anywhere else at that time and so that was the place I wanted to go.”
He graduated from the academy and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1998 and began a 20-year journey that would bring him to the International Space Station to begin a six-month mission as flight engineer on ISS Expedition 57/58.
During this journey, Hague earned a masters degree in engineering from MIT, worked on advanced spacecraft technologies at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, flight tested at Edwards AFB, California, completed a five-month deployment to Iraq to conduct experimental airborne reconnaissance in 2004, returned to the Air Force Academy to teach astronautics, became an advisor for the U.S. Senate on national defense and foreign policy, served as a congressional appropriations liaison for United States Central Command at the Pentagon and finally as deputy division chief for research and development at the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization before being selected for astronaut training in 2013.
“I applied the first time (to the astronaut training program) in 2003, so it took 10 years and three applications in order to finally get selected,” said Hague. “Twenty years ago could I look at what was going to lie before me and map all of that out that would connect that point to this point? There are all these different opportunities that I would have never been able to line up on my own, but the service in the Air Force has made it possible.”
When he finally received his crew assignment, Hague quickly learned that being an astronaut still means racking up a lot of miles on earth.
In this calendar year of mission training, Hague has logged five flights from Houston to Star City, Russia, where he has spent 33 weeks training on the Russian ISS modules – which make up half of the station – and the Soyuz launch vehicle.
When combined with flights to the European Space Agency training facility in Colon, Germany, and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Tsukuba Space Center north of Tokyo for eight more weeks of training on those agency’s modules this year, Hague is closing on 100,000 miles of travel within the Earth’s atmosphere to prepare for the relatively short commute to ISS.
Much of Hague’s time in Star City is spent training for that 12-minute trip aboard Soyuz into space and the corresponding return trip six months later. A training emphasis that fellow Air Force astronaut Col. Michael Hopkins explains exists for a very good reason.
“The majority of your training will be associated with the ride up and the ride home. We have a two-year training flow and as much as a year of your time during that two years will be spent over in Russia and your time in Russia the majority of that time is being spent on the Soyuz vehicle,” said Hopkins, who has already spent six months aboard ISS in 2013-2014. “But just like airplanes, the critical phase of flight is take off and landing. That’s when if anything goes wrong, when you don’t have that much time to deal with it. Aboard the ISS you usually have days if not weeks to assess and correct a problem.”
The overseas travel has two-week breaks when Hague returns to Houston for training on the US systems and for extravehicular activity (EVA), or spacewalks, and an opportunity to sleep in his own bed for a change. This fierce training and travel tempo is one of the drawbacks for astronauts, as well as their spouses and children.
NASA astronaut Robert Behnken, STS-130 mission specialist, takes a break in the mission’s second session of extravehicular activity (EVA) for construction and maintenance on the International Space Station in February of 2010 to allow air scrubbers to remove CO2 that had built up in his space suit. During the five-hour, 54-minute spacewalk, Behnken and astronaut Nicholas Patrick connected two ammonia coolant loops, installed thermal covers around the ammonia hoses, outfitted the Earth-facing port on the Tranquility node for the relocation of its Cupola, and installed handrails and a vent valve on the new module. (Photo/NASA)
“I spend six weeks in Star City, and then come back for a couple weeks, and then I’ll go back for six weeks,” said Hague. “There is a stress on the family, and they miss out on the things that I could be doing with them at home, and on the weekends. I’m TDY a lot, but my family’s making the same kinds of sacrifices that I see service families making day in and day out. I think that, that’s something that everybody that wears a uniform can appreciate.”
However, NASA has embarked on a new collaborative mission with commercial partners SpaceX and Boeing to provide an alternative to Soyuz for manned trips to and from the ISS. Cooperation in the development of new low-orbit launch vehicles by these commercial companies based in the United States will provide the Air Force with more orbital lift options and will also bring astronauts closer to home for training and for longer periods of time.
“It’s important for us to be able to return launch to Florida. You know, from a crew perspective, I can tell you that it makes it a whole lot easier on the crew, because you stop having to send people (to Star City, Russia) for six weeks at a shot over, and over, and over again and reduce the strain on the families,” said Hague.
“It’s also important from a redundancy perspective. Right now it’s Soyuz only, so if something happened with the Soyuz, now we’re looking for a way to get astronauts up there. It’ll provide us that flexibility to continue to fly Soyuz, and fly out of Florida and for the Russians to do the same.”
Once again the Air Force is a lynchpin in the development of a barrier breaking technology as astronaut Col. Robert Behnken is one of four test pilots for the commercial spacecraft and Hopkins is part of the team developing communications, displays and procedures for the new launch vehicles.
“Currently, my major focus is on one of those commercial crewed vehicles. It’s the Boeing CST-100 Starliner. I’m working as one of the CAPCOMs for that program; the communicator who would be talking to the astronauts in the vehicle as they’re going uphill and docking to the station,” said Hopkins. “There’s a lot of new material that we have to learn and figure out what the launch day is going to look like and what docking is going to look like and what the landing is going to look like.”
After one unmanned test of both the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket and Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner, two-astronaut crews will fly subsequent tests before operational flights will begin taking six astronauts per flight to the ISS. Astronauts, such as Behnken, will not only flight-test the vehicles, but they are deeply involved in the design and development phase of the vehicles that is currently underway.
“The training for these missions is really wrapped into the development process. So we’re learning the vehicles as they’re designed and built, ” said Behnken, veteran of two of the Space Shuttle missions that built the ISS and the only active-duty member of the test crews. “(The test crews are) Air Force and Navy test pilot school graduates, and we’re really participating in a development process so that we can bring our space flight experience to the designs as they come to the table… that should wrap up around mid-2018 for both vehicles, and hopefully if the schedules hold, that’s when we’ll fly in space.”
These astronauts are the most recent in a continuing legacy of Air Force support of NASA and space exploration since the space program’s inception.
A total of eighty-five Air Force astronauts have traveled into space, from three of the first NASA astronauts, the Mercury Seven, Lt. Col. Gus Grissom, Col. Gordon Cooper and Major Deke Slayton, to two of the crew of Apollo 11, the first humans to set foot on the Moon, Col. Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Maj. Gen. Michael Collins to Col. Jack Fischer, flight engineer for ISS Expedition 51/52, currently traveling at over 17,000 miles per hour (5 miles per second) for 25,000 miles on each of his 15.5 orbits per day aboard ISS.
Still more, like Hague, are in training for upcoming flights, and numerous Air Force personnel support both manned and unmanned NASA missions.
“The Air Force is supporting the mission on a daily basis,” said Hague. “It’s flight docs assigned here, search and rescue crews that are helping bring us home, we’ve got the range support for launching cargo and soon we’re going to be launching Americans back out of Florida. There’s also guys that are looking at all the radar coming back down from space trying to track space debris and they help us prevent things from flying into the Space Station, so they’re protecting us on a daily basis.”
Of course, participation in the civilian space program reaps great benefits for the Air Force from supporting space exploration and research. “The Air Force gets access to space, and so from an expense standpoint, NASA’s already paid for that, now all you have to do is develop your experiment, and then we can get it onboard,” said Hopkins. “Then you get the astronaut’s time. We don’t go and charge the Air Force for the time of the astronaut on board that’s executing their experiment. You’re getting access to a microgravity laboratory, right? It’s a very unique laboratory, in fact the only one in existence.”
The Soyuz TMA-04M rocket launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Tuesday, May 15, 2012 carrying Expedition 31 Soyuz Commander Gennady Padalka, NASA Flight Engineer Joseph Acaba and Flight Engineer Sergei Revin to the International Space Station. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)
The partnership between the Air Force and NASA is a collaborative research relationship that fills gaps in each other’s research and facilities.
According to Dr. Morley Stone, chief technology officer of the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio, the Air Force benefits from NASA’s experience with human performance in microgravity environments, as NASA benefits from the Air Force’s research in the macrogravity realm of high sustained G-forces.
Both are participating in research on hypersonics, autonomous systems, artificial intelligence and materials that can survive extreme environments.
“I would say certainly NASA is up near the top, as probably our most important federal partnership,” said Stone.
Life aboard the ISS is tightly scheduled to accommodate the necessary daily planning conference with ground controllers, two hours of exercise necessary to maintain the astronauts’ bodies in a microgravity environment, performing EVA for scheduled station maintenance or repairs and conducting the experiments sent to ISS by researchers on the ground, military and civilian.
However, on occasion, there are small gaps where astronauts can indulge the kid inside that still looks upon the cosmos in wonder. Behnken had such an opportunity on his second STS mission to install components on the ISS. During an EVA to install the cupola observation window for Earth observation and photography, Behnken and a crewmate exerted themselves to the point that exhaled carbon dioxide was building up inside their suits faster than the air scrubbers could eliminate it.
“My partner and I had both worked harder than the suit could keep up with, and we got the chance to take about a 15-minute break,” said Behnken.
“They told us to “Attach yourself to the space station, and sit there, and look around. And don’t breathe too hard, because we’re trying to catch up with the scrubbing that’s on the suit.
“When you’re outside on a spacewalk, you get a panorama view that just can’t be captured with any of the windows … You get to see sunrises, and sunset, and that angular view of the atmosphere with thunderstorms lightning themselves up,” said Behnken.
“It’s of the whole majesty of the Earth, which is just awesome.”
The military is no picnic when it comes to consuming food. Eating quickly and at strange hours is a way of life in the armed forces. For many women veterans, these experiences can affect their eating habits, and relationship with food after their military service is over.
For a study published in the journal Appetite, researchers Dr. Jessica Breland of VA Palo Alto Health Care System and Dr. Shira Maguen of San Francisco VA Health Care System talked with 20 women veterans about how military service affected their eating habits. They found that many had developed unhealthy patterns such as binging, eating quickly, eating in response to stress and extreme dieting. In many cases, those habits carried over into civilian life.
Poor eating habits
The veterans described three military environments that promoted poor eating habits: boot camp, deployment, and on base.
Almost all of the women recalled that in boot camp, they were forced to eat quickly.
“My family asks why I eat so fast, and I say I learned it from the military,” one woman veteran said. “We were always timed.”
Finding healthy food choices in the military was not easy.
Others ate quickly in order to get second helpings. In addition to eating fast, they also ate a lot. Since they were physically active, they didn’t gain weight. But when they got out of boot camp and continued eating large meals, they gained weight, which then affected their self-esteem.
Deployment changed eating habits even further since there was no set schedule for meals.
“You ate as much as you could before the flies ate your food, or you had to run off and do something and get [to] … the next stressful situation” said one woman veteran.
On base, meals were less stressful than in boot camp or on deployment, but healthy choices were limited.
“Your options are the mess hall or Burger King and Cinnabon,” said another woman bveteran.
Security Forces Airmen with the 121st Air Refueling Wing participate in quarterly weapons training during a regularly scheduled drill at Rickenbacker Air National Guard Base, Ohio, May 5, 2019.
(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Wendy Kuhn)
For many women, the need to “make weight” — not exceed maximum military weight limits — was an ongoing struggle. This involved continually monitoring what they ate and being monitored by others. For some, this struggle was tied directly to the stress of being female in the military.
“There is just a whole host of things that we have to deal with that [male service members] don’t have to,” one woman said, “and one of those things is being constantly judged on our appearance. It’s like there is nothing we can do right as women in the military and … that translates into these eating issues when we get home.”
Challenges making weight
Making weight was even more challenging — and critical — after pregnancy.
“They give you nine months to gain the weight [during pregnancy], and if you’re over[weight] when you come back to work in six weeks, it’s career death,” one participant said. “They start writing you up, they start demoting you, but the men don’t have that, you know?”
Some women ate as a way of finding comfort and control in stressful situations. One Navy veteran said she and a female colleague felt isolated and bullied due to their gender. They used food as a way to feel good and cope.
“When we got in port, we would just hole up in a hotel room, and just buy a whole bunch of just comfort food, candy, cookies, and whatever it was that we wanted to pig out and eat on. So we [were] in a relationship with the food, her and me, which … helped us out a lot.”
Some became trapped in a cycle of overeating and extreme dieting.
Army 2nd Lt. Caitlyn Simpson prepares her platoon for a training mission from inside a tank at Fort Irwin, Calif., May 28. 2019.
(Photo By: Army Cpl. Alisha Grezlik)
“You [could have] the start of a really serious eating disorder that could have killed you and it was reinforced by people saying, ‘Oh my god, look how much weight you are losing,’ like it was a good thing,” one female veteran said. “Were they going to wait until you were dead before they said, ‘You know, this might not be so healthy’?”
Adapting to civilian life
Some women found it hard to readjust to civilian eating patterns after leaving the service.
“[My family said], ‘We’re not in the military. You have to slow down and back away and think about what you are doing,'” another female veteran said. “So that was hard … it wasn’t clicking in my head that I was no longer in the military. They didn’t know my norm, and I didn’t know their norm, and we were just clashing all the time.”
Other women reported that they no longer took pleasure in food because years of consuming mediocre military meals had reduced eating to the level of a chore.
“You just eat it or you starve,” as one woman put it.
The researchers caution that their findings may not apply to all women in the military, but only to those with certain risk factors. They hope to do larger-scale research to further explore the issue.
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
Through 20 years of March Backs, Wallace Ward has seen it all.
In the beginning, the march was 15 miles, now 20 years later it is only 12. Over the years it has moved from taking place in the middle of the night to starting in the morning. There has been rain and thunderstorms that soaked and threatened the marchers. There was a hamstring injury that slowed him down, but couldn’t stop him.
No matter the obstacle, the distance or the weather, since members of the Long Gray Line were invited to the March Back 20 years ago, Wallace Ward has completed every single one.
This year, as he stepped off from Camp Buckner before dawn with India Company, Ward, who graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in the Class of 1958, earned the distinction of being the oldest graduate to participate in the annual tradition.
He first joined the March Back at 67 and now aged 87 he once again walked the entire way from start to finish.
“I come back to March Back every year because I love to run,” Ward said. “I’ve participated in 10 marathons and one ultramarathon that was 62 miles. I have been running and walking all my life so when they said they wanted people to hike back with the plebes I thought that was a great opportunity since I love being outside running and walking.”
Retired Lt. Col. Wallace Ward, USMA Class of 1958, marches back with the Class of 2023. Ward, 87, was the oldest grad to participate in the 2019 March Back.
(Photo by Brandon OConnor)
The decision brought him full circle as it was running that first introduced Ward to West Point.
A track athlete in nearby Washingtonville, New York, Ward competed at a regional track meet at West Point as a high schooler. He entered the meet with a single goal — earning the one point he needed to secure his varsity letter for the season — and determined to do whatever it took to secure it.
With the finish line nearby and his goal within reach, Ward dove across the line. His last bit of effort earned him his letter, but it also left shrapnel in his left elbow that has served as a, “reminder of West Point for the rest of my life.”
It would prove to be the first of many marks West Point would leave upon him as the track meet set him upon a path that eventually allowed him to enter West Point as a prior service cadet after he was not accepted directly from high school and enlisted in the Army in 1951.
“I’d never been to West Point,” Ward said of that track meet roughly 70 years ago. “I got there and saw this great fortress over the Hudson River and said, ‘Wow, this is fantastic. I’d sure like to be able to go there for school.'”
His time at West Point changed the course of his life after being abandoned along with his brothers in a Brooklyn flat by his mother. They bounced through different foster homes before finding stability and discipline after moving near Washingtonville.
West Point continued the process of instilling discipline and helped to keep him from becoming, “a kid in New York, running the streets, stealing and things like that, getting in all kinds of trouble,” Ward said.
Retired Lt. Col. Wallace Ward, USMA Class of 1958, marches back with the Class of 2023.
(Photo by Brandon OConnor)
He retired from the Army as a lieutenant colonel in 1979 after a career as an air defense officer. Now 61 years after his graduation from West Point, Ward uses his time with the new class during March Back to encourage them and teach them about the place that means so much to him.
“We spend half the time (talking), except when we are going uphill. I always tell them, ‘Cut if off, wait until we get to the top of the hill. Then we can resume the conversation,'” Ward said. “When we are walking and having a conversation with the plebes we tell them it is going to be a tough year, stick it out, keep your nose clean and work hard and things will come out alright and you will be proud of the fact you went to West Point.”
With 20 years and more than 200 miles of March Backs under his belt, Ward hasn’t decided if he’ll be back for number 21. He said he will have to, “think about it,” before lacing up his sneakers and hiking through the woods with another class seven decades his junior even though he enjoys his time spent with the plebes and talking with them as they traverse the hills.
“I get the enthusiasm of going back to West Point every year and seeing that great fortress on the Hudson River, meeting old friends and comrades and enjoying the atmosphere,” Ward said of why he has come back for the last 20 years.
Accompanied by nothing but sand, rocks and the desert sun, Marines with 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division continue to prepare for the unrelenting forces ahead by training at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif., July 15-July 19, 2019.
US Marines of Invictus participated in a five-day field operation where they were evaluated as squads, based on how well they shoot, move and communicate toward their objective.
US Marine Corps Pfc. Trevor M. Banks, fireteam leader, Company I, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, moves through a breach to attack an objective during a squad attack at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, California, July 15, 2019.
US Marine Corps Photo by Lance Cpl. Aaron Harshaw
A US Marine with Company I, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, attacks an objective during a squad attack at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, California, July 15, 2019.
US Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Aaron Harshaw
US Marines with Company I, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, prepare to breach an objective during a squad attack at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, California, July 15, 2019.
US Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Aaron Harshaw
A US Marine with Company I, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, performs leaders reconnaissance before conducting a squad attack at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, California, July 15, 2019.
US Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Aaron Harshaw
A US Marine with Company I, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, engages a target utilizing the M240G during a squad attack at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, California, July 15, 2019.
US Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Aaron Harshaw
A US Marine with Company I, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, communicates with his unit utilizing an AN/PRC-152 during a squad attack at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif., July 15, 2019.
US Marine Corps Photo by Lance Cpl. Aaron Harshaw
US Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Luis R. Martinez, left, and Staff Sgt. Karl R. Benton, right, Company I, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, fill out evaluation sheets during squad attacks at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, California, July 15, 2019.
US Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Aaron Harshaw
US Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Michael Campbell, Intelligence Specialist, Company I, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, prepares an unmanned aerial system during a squad attack at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, California, July 15, 2019.
US Marine Corps Photo by Lance Cpl. Aaron Harshaw
A US Marine with Company I, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, engages a target utilizing the M240G during a squad attack at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, California, July 15, 2019.
US Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Aaron Harshaw
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
A well-made whiskey cocktail is a nice reward at the end of any day. But sometimes classic cocktails are too much. For one thing, unless you’re a seasoned drink-slinger, many whiskey cocktails are often too complicated — or intensive — to whip up at the end of a long day (Hey if you want to shake the hell out of that classic whiskey sour, go right ahead). For another, the alcohol content of one concoction can quickly equal that of two or three regular drinks. Sometimes this is great; other times, not so much. Because while we’d like this to not be the case, “falling asleep in the chair” is not really a regular item on the nightly to-do list.
That’s what inspired this list of one-shot whiskey cocktails. They’re all great to sip at the end of the day but won’t put you on your ass — or require four kinds of hooch and one of those hilariously long copper mixing spoons. They’re simple, refreshing, and very drinkable. What more do you want from a summer cocktail?
What is it? The Blinker is a simple, refreshing drink made with grapefruit juice and rye whiskey. While they might not seem like the most obvious combination, one sip and it might just become your new summer go to.
Try it with: Michter’s Rye. It’s bold enough to shine through the intensity of the grapefruit tang.
How to make a Blinker:
2-3oz fresh grapefruit juice
1oz raspberry syrup
Instructions: Shake over ice and strain into a coupe glass.
2. Bourbon and Georgia Peach Coca-Cola
What is it? A way better version of the classic whiskey and Coke.
Try it with: Knob Creek. The strong vanilla notes compliment the peach flavoring.
How to make a Bourbon and Georgia Peach Coca-Cola:
1-2oz Knob Creek Bourbon
4-6oz Georgia Peach Coca-Cola
Garnish with a fresh slice of peach
Instructions: Fill a highball glass with ice and add all the ingredients.
What is it? It’s just an Old Fashioned made with Scotch instead of rye or bourbon. The Old Fashioned is a perfect cocktail and normally we don’t like to tinker with perfection. But, variety is the spice of life and Scotch is, and always will be our first love.
Try it with: Ardbeg 10. This single malt adds a big peaty smoke as well as a touch of salt and pepper for a more layered drink.
How to make a Single Malt Old Fashioned:
1-2oz Single Malt Scotch
2-3 Dashes of bitters
1 Tsp of simple syrup
Top with 1oz club soda
Orange peel for garnish
Instructions: Fill a rocks glass with ice. Add the ingredients.
This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.
Marines are known for their proficiency in fighting, but not many people know that they’ve developed their own hand-to-hand fighting system, called the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program. MCMAP combines several different styles with close-quarters combat techniques and Marine Corps philosophies to create something new.
While many, varying opinions exist on the program, it’s important to understand one simple thing: it’s only as effective as its wielder. In short, if you weren’t any good at fighting before you learned MCMAP, you’re still not going to be much good after you earn that tan belt.
So, for all of you who have no idea what MCMAP is all about, here are the broad strokes:
A Martial Arts Instructor-Trainer demonstrates an arm bar.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Reece E. Lodder)
It’s comprised of several different fighting styles.
Seventeen styles, to be exact. That’s right, seventeen different fighting styles cultivated from around the world were pulled together to create MCMAP. It includes techniques borrowed from Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Taekwondo, and Krav Maga to name a few. Keep in mind, however, specific techniques were pulled from each and then adapted to be applicable for Marines in combat.
A green belt with a tan Martial Arts Instructor tab.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Dylan M. Bowyer)
There are five belt levels
Before you walk across the parade deck at MCRD, you will earn your entry-level, tan belt. The other belt levels are, in ascending order, gray, green, brown, and black. A black belt, as in other martial arts, has varying degrees — 6, in the case of MCMAP. While most of the belt levels can be the subject of mockery, we highly recommend you don’t mess with a black belt.
Sometimes you get a lecture, sometimes you run across base.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Melissa Wenger)
You learn about more than just fighting
MCMAP is also about studying warrior ethos and understanding that fighting is not just throwing a better punch than your opponent. To quote Marine Corps Order 1500.54A, which officially established the program in 2002,
“MCMAP is a synergy of mental, character, and physical disciplines with application across the full spectrum of violence.”
If you’re a grunt, you’ll likely be forced to ground-fight in rain.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo)
Infantry Marines are generally required to earn a green belt
Or at least a gray belt. Typically, if a commander sees there’s open space in the training schedule and the armory is too busy to make you stand in line for 3 hours, you’ll be ordered to practice MCMAP. Most grunts earn their gray belt by the end of their first pre-deployment training cycle. Some are required to earn their green by the end of their second.
The red tab indicates an MAIT.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Reece E. Lodder)
There are different types of instructors
There are Martial Arts Instructors then there are Martial Arts Instructor-Trainers. The main difference is a standard MAI can train other Marines to “belt up,” while an MAIT can train a Marine, whose belt level is at least green, to become an instructor.
To become an MAI, you must attend the grueling and unforgiving Martial Arts Instructor Course. To become an MAIT, you must attend the even more painful, more advanced Martial Arts Instructor-Trainer Course. Either way, your soul will never be the same.
If there’s one thing that ruins anything targeted toward the military, it’s messing up the uniform. It may seem like a small detail to people who were never in the military, but that’s kinda the whole f*cking point – details. Everything starts with paying attention to details. This is how veterans know who served and who’s out there just getting a half-price dinner at Chili’s.
So look, if you’re targeting the military-veteran community for anything, be it a new TV show or movie, a 3M lawsuit, or a reverse mortgage or whatever, we know immediately how much effort you’re putting into caring about actual veterans. Some of these are so bad, they popped my collar.
Nothing says “AMERICA” like a death grip on the flag.
You can tell he’s really in the Army because he wears two Army tapes instead of his name. Promote ahead of peers.
Do not leave unsupervised.
Stop laughing you insensitive bastards.
That’s my reaction too.
That hat tho.
Call the cops.
Is that his family in the background or just some family? As for this poorly positioned hat, that is not what is meant by “cover.”
No hat, no salute zone, bruh.
Most bedrooms are.
You had two chances.
They had two different opportunities to use camo and they couldn’t come up with even one the U.S. actually uses.
Made you look.
… At my shirtless chest.
This is real.
Lieutenant Congdon is clearly a Hulkamaniac.
Nothing say ARMY like a boonie hat.
Especially when ARMY is emblazoned across the front of it.
Maybe not use a 12-year-old model.
Is he 12 or 60? I can’t tell. Nice boots.
Time for PT?
Clearly, the answer is no.
I never took off my uniform, either.
“Just hanging out in my ACUs in my living room with my family, as all military members do.”
Stealing valor for a lifetime.
Why do stolen valor veterans always want to add an extra American flag patch?
Just use any medals, no one will notice.
That 50-year-old is wearing a 20-year-old winter uniform and i’m pretty sure Boris on the end there is sporting American, Soviet, and Russian medals.
Mommy’s a liar, Billy.
Where would you even get BDUs with an arm sleeve pocket?? Mommy’s been lying for a long ass time.
Research from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America has found a number of factors that increase risk of Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) in military spouses.
This study used information gathered from the largest longitudinal study ever conducted to assess the impact of military service and several other data sources such as electronic personnel files.
“The goal of the present study was to identify demographic, military-specific, and service member mental health correlates of spousal depression,” according to the authors of “Depression among military spouses: Demographic, military, and service member psychological health risk factors.”
Military spouses, on average, deal with many unique situations such as geographic separation, unpredictable training cycles, frequent relocation, spouse deployments, and secondary effects of the lifestyle, such as frequent job rotations.
Though from the myriad factors related to military spouses, several were found to be strong indicators of increased risk for MDD.
According to the study, “less educational attainment, unemployment, and large family size were all independently associated with greater risk for MDD among military spouses.”
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Bryan Nygaard)
While depression may be due to a complex set of issues and factors affecting the person, researchers were able to determine that these factors played a substantial role as independent factors.
Other family or individual elements that may increase risk are gender (female), being less than 30 years of age, combat deployments, PTSD, alcoholism, and the service member’s branch.
This research provides information with real-world application for spouses to better understand the factors that may play a role in their depression.
Additionally, it provides leaders with important data on several subgroups that may be proactively identified for resourcing.
Below are resources that may help with any one of these factors contributing to depression:
My Career Advancement Account (MyCAA): ,000 of financial assistance for spouses pursuing a license, certification or associate degree.
Pell Grant: Federal student aid that varies dependent on several factors.
G.I. Bill: This military benefit can be transferred to eligible spouses or children.
Grants and scholarships: Do some research, many states and private organizations offer grants, scholarships, or reduced tuition to military spouses.
Priority Placement Program: Spouses receive preference over other job applicants seeking federal service (USAJobs).
FMWR resources: Morale, Welfare and Recreation has services, personnel, and resources that are dedicated to helping spouses with career placement, including its Employment Readiness Program.
Job placement: Check out local staffing agencies, job posting sites, and local unemployment offices.
Military and Family Life Counseling: Counselors can help people who are having trouble coping with concerns and issues of daily life, the stress of the military lifestyle, parenting, etc.
Family Advocacy Program: Dedicated to the prevention, education, prompt reporting, investigation, intervention, and treatment of spousal and child abuse and neglect.
New Parent Support Program: Prenatal and postnatal education from baby massage groups to customized breastfeeding support and more.
Army Family Team Building: Helps you to not just cope with, but enjoy the military lifestyle. AFTB provides the knowledge and self-confidence to take responsibility for yourself and your family.