These service members aren't unicorns - they're USCG - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

These service members aren’t unicorns – they’re USCG

The oldest continuous seagoing military service isn’t the Navy; it’s the United States Coast Guard. Coast Guardsmen have been involved in every major conflict since their inception in 1790, including the current ongoing war. Despite all of this, they are still treated like the mythical unicorn.

Intelligence Specialist Daniel Duffin volunteered to deploy to Afghanistan in 2011, spending his pre-deployment training with members of the Army. His role once arriving in a FOB in Eastern Afghanistan was to collect vital intelligence for the troops on the ground. “We did a lot of counter IED and were looking for any sort of intelligence to support troops, preventing loss of life,” Duffin explained. He also worked tirelessly to develop target packages, helping ground troops plan their missions more effectively.

The Coast Guard had boots on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan beginning in 2003. In Bahrain and Kuwait, you can find hundreds of coasties and six patrol boats serving within the U.S. 5th Fleet, where they’ve been since the onset of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Despite their obvious  presence, the unicorn-like mythology of the coastie is ever present. 

The whispers followed Duffin constantly throughout his time in Afghanistan. He describes one particular scene where he was getting food and debating getting a chocolate milk or an energy drink when soldiers began pointing and whispering. “They were like ‘I told you! There he is!’,” Duffin said with a laugh. He was used to it, he said. The awestruck staring had also accompanied him at most joint bases he was stationed at stateside as well. 

After returning from deployment, it wasn’t long before he was headed back to the Middle East – this time to support the mission against ISIS, which he also volunteered for. Now stationed in the DC area, Duffin continues to support intelligence efforts for the Coast Guard and joint forces. 

In 2013, Coast Guard Lieutenant Michael Brooks was a Petty Officer 3rd Class and Intelligence Specialist when he deployed to Afghanistan. When asked why he wanted to go, he was quick to answer. “I have always wanted the hardest jobs I think, even as an officer with TACLET [Tactical Law Enforcement Teams] stuff or deployments. I wanted to be a coastie that down the road I could say I was there, I went through it and I got to feel what it was like to make those bonds with others through grueling and sometimes terrible circumstances,” he explained. Brooks had volunteered to go to Afghanistan after a service member was killed and the team was short.  

While deployed, Brooks was working alongside the 10th Mountain Division at FOB Sharana, supporting their operations. His unit was responsible for target development and breaking down various networks of terrorist cells within their AOR. The comments about him being there were a daily occurrence but he appreciated the humor in it. “It’s always a privilege to represent the Coast Guard and I would go back overseas tomorrow if the opportunity was there,” he said. 

Although Brooks’ remained humble when discussing his deployment, the service he provided in Afghanistan was extraordinary. On May 12, 2013 the 2nd Brigade 10th Mountain Division was attacked when an Afghan National Army Soldier turned his weapons on US Forces. He responded without care for his safety, providing real-time combat medical care to those injured. Several members of his team were killed in action. Upon his return home, Brooks received the 2013 JINSA Grateful Nation Award and the Combat Action Ribbon. 

After Afghanistan, Brooks was accepted into Officer Candidate School and went on to be the Officer in Charge of a Law Enforcement Detachment (LEDET) in San Diego, California. You can find him on the east coast now, heading up search and rescue operations.

 

Brooks and Duffin in 2019 atending a retirement ceremony in Hawaii

“As a service we are lucky to have the vast mission set that we do,” he explained. “Every day coasties are training and executing challenging operations and evolutions that determine lives being saved, the security of a port or critical infrastructure, proper compliance or safety of the maritime industry or just preparing for the next hurricane to hit our shores. Our service is unique, wherein every day we are given the opportunity to deal with conflict and overcome it.”

When Brooks was asked what he would want the military community and public to know about the Coast Guard, his message was simple: “Our service is capable, ready and actively playing a role in a vast array of mission sets spanning the globe.”

So, the next time you see their sharp looking dark blue uniform – that’s a United States Coast Guardsman. Not a unicorn. 

MIGHTY CULTURE

US soldiers and airmen help clean up Venice after devastating flood

On Dec. 6-7, 2019, soldiers, airmen, military families, and civilians of the Vicenza Military Community participated in a two-day clean-up of Venice following widespread flooding during the annual “acqua alta,” or high water, that struck the iconic island city on Nov. 12, 2019.

This is the second most devastating acqua alta in Venice history since 1966 when floodwaters topped out above 6 feet.

According to organizers, the “Save Venice” event was an enriching challenge for the Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers (BOSS) Vicenza team. BOSS is a dynamic Department of the Army program, which engages single soldiers through peer-to-peer leadership to enhance their quality of life through community service and recreational activities.


Fifteen airmen, 14 soldiers, and three military family members and civilians assisted the city of Venice in this project.

“It was an honor to be able to help our neighbors in Venice after the damage from the floods,” said Joseph “Rodger” Nuttall, BOSS Vicenza Advisor.

These service members aren’t unicorns – they’re USCG

Volunteers moved heavy and soiled mattresses, washer machines, refrigerators, couches, and driftwood from the Santa Croce district in Venice, Italy on to five large garbage barges on December 6, 2019.

(US Army Garrison Italy/Maria Cavins)

The volunteers moved heavy and soiled mattresses, washer machines, refrigerators, couches, and driftwood from the Santa Croce district on to five large garbage barges. They were welcomed into Venetians’ homes to carry out furniture.

“Seeing people come out of their homes to personally thank us for helping alleviate work on them, after they have gone through so much, was especially rewarding,” said Nuttall, who high-fived an older Italian woman.

These service members aren’t unicorns – they’re USCG

Volunteers moved heavy and soiled mattresses, washer machines, refrigerators, couches, and driftwood from the Santa Croce district in Venice, Italy on to five large garbage barges on December 6, 2019.

(US Army Garrison Italy/Maria Cavins)

These service members aren’t unicorns – they’re USCG

City Councilor for the Environment Massimiliano De Martin welcomed the volunteers as they arrived to Venice, Italy on December 6, 2019.

(US Army Garrison Italy/Maria Cavins)

These service members aren’t unicorns – they’re USCG

Volunteers moved heavy and soiled mattresses, washer machines, refrigerators, couches, and driftwood from the Santa Croce district in Venice, Italy on to five large garbage barges on December 6, 2019.

(US Army Garrison Italy/Maria Cavins)

Trash collection has been an ancient challenge in Venice for centuries. There are no common spaces where trash is compiled. Because of the small walkways, all trash collection is done by hand to load into boats.

Venice’s waste management company, Veritas, reorganizes space to make sure that trash assortment is done every single day, seven days a week, despite the challenges of the tides or weather conditions. Large-scale strategic organization is critical to the survival of Venice.

These service members aren’t unicorns – they’re USCG

An Italian woman shows her appreciation to BOSS Vicenza Advisor Joseph “Rodger” Nuttall in Venice, Italy, December 6, 2019.

(US Army Garrison Italy/Maria Cavins)

These service members aren’t unicorns – they’re USCG

City Councilor for the Environment Massimiliano De Martin welcomed the volunteers as they arrived to Venice, Italy on December 6, 2019.

(US Army Garrison Italy/Maria Cavins)

The BOSS Vicenza team support was assisted by the office of the Italian Base Commander on Caserma Ederle, where US Army Garrison Italy is headquartered.

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

5 things you may not have expected from serving

When you think of joining the military, a ton of images shoot through your mind. You think of that badass grunt running toward some unnamed, burning city, rifle in hand as aircraft rip through the skies above. When you actually start your service, you’ll quickly realize that reality is a far cry from your fantasy. In fact, grunts don’t even spend all of their time fighting wars.

Some things might surprise you, but then there are a ton of things you never saw coming.

It’s not even that your recruiter lied to you, it’s just that much of life in the military isn’t as advertised on posters or in TV ads. Some of thee surprises are cool, many of them suck, but at the end of the day, they’re what keeps the machine running.

You probably didn’t expect the following when you signed on the dotted line:


These service members aren’t unicorns – they’re USCG

It’s hard to lie about getting hit when you have paint splattered on you.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Leon M. Branchaud)

Playing paintball

If you’re a prospective Marine, then you’ve probably seen Jarhead (maybe one too many times). You know that one part where they train with paintball rounds? Most of us thought it was Hollywood bullsh*t — until we got to do the same. Granted, it doesn’t hurt as bad as they make it seem in the movie, but it’s actually a lot of fun. Hell, it’s probably some of the best training you can get.

These service members aren’t unicorns – they’re USCG

You see what the aircraft does with the ammo, though.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Stephenie Wade)

Loading ammo onto an aircraft

We’ve all seen videos of jets flying overhead and raining pain onto the ground below. In those moments, with our jaws dropped, we’re thinking, “whoa… that’s so cool.” That is, of course, before you’re the one loading the ammo.

Remember, there are a lot of people behind every dropped bomb.

These service members aren’t unicorns – they’re USCG

Some may use their anger more than others.

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

Feeling emotional extremes of every type

Troops are tough bad*sses — but we’re definitely not emotionless. In fact, what makes veterans so stoic is that they’ve already felt every emotion in its most extreme form. You’ll never be more happy than when you get to sleep in an actual bed after months of sleeping in dirt, you’ll never be as angry as you were in a firefight, and you’ll never be more sad than when you lose a dear friend.

These service members aren’t unicorns – they’re USCG

You might even earn their accolades.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Alexander Mitchell)

Hanging with another country’s troops

You might expect to go to another country and train with their military, but you can’t really foresee the time you’ll spend hanging out with the Germans, Aussies, Koreans — you name it. You’ll quickly realize that you have a lot in common; you share a lot of the same, bullsh*t experiences.

And you all have that one a**hole in your chain of command.

These service members aren’t unicorns – they’re USCG

If you’ve got time and you’ll be using that model for a while, why not go all out?

(U.S. Army)

Building a terrain model

Did you ever think that a squad leader would tell you to go out and buy a pack of plastic army men? Probably not.

You also probably didn’t expect to build a terrain model to plan a mission and yet here you are. If you don’t mind spending a little extra time, you can actually have fun with this one.

MIGHTY CULTURE

19 perks of having a deployed husband

Shaw Air Force Base is known by those stationed there as Separates Husbands And Wives. Between the Red Flags at Nellis, the endless human centipede of exercises, and a deployment, my husband Mike was gone over half of our days during that assignment. It was there I learned what it meant to be alone even while in a marriage, but I dealt with it by finding pockets of positivity. Deployments are tough, but if you look, you can find some gold nuggets in that steaming pile of anxiety poo.

Here are some perks to having a deployed husband:


These service members aren’t unicorns – they’re USCG

(media.giphy.com)

1. Twice the closet space.

He doesn’t need to know that his pitted out Yuengling shirts are getting boxed up with collegiate football hats of schools he didn’t attend in order to make room for my legion of maxi dresses. The flannels, however, can stay.

These service members aren’t unicorns – they’re USCG

(Photo by Sarah Pastrana)

2. Suddenly, the toilet paper roll lasts longer.

Turns out if your partner spends as much time on the toilet as a small construction crew fed on chicken fried steaks and protein shakes, the t.p. budget shrinks when he leaves. That newfound cash can be spent on regular pedicures, or a reasonably priced used Lexus.

3. You can take up the whole bed.

I call my favorite position, Drunken Starfish.

4. Retail therapy is fine!

His income is tax-free, and now I need a new credit card because the strip on my old one is wearing out.

Photo by USFS Region 5

5. Less frequent leg shaving.

That is, until your nephew feels your shin and asks, “Why does Aunt Rachel’s leg feel like a pine tree?” Twerp.

6. No bras in the house.

The bra hits the floor before the alarm goes off. I could set a world record for how fast I can unclasp my underwire and pull it out through the bottom of my shirt.

These service members aren’t unicorns – they’re USCG

7. I can sleep better through the night without a 200 lb. land manatee flopping around next to me.

Not to mention the pillowcases are significantly less sweaty.

8. No sound of velcro in the morning.

SSSZZZCCCHHHTTT!!!

9. Cereal for breakfast. Cereal for lunch. Cereal for dinner. 

Honorable mention goes to chips and salsa.

10. Let me introduce you to “The D Card.”

Don’t get me wrong, I was worried every day for his safety, and wished time would speed up for him to come home, but the ultimate reward for enduring a deployment is getting to play the “D Card.” Fewer phrases pack a punch harder than these four words: My husband is deployed.

11. Priority vacation days at work.

When everybody is trying to take off for the holidays at the same time – wham! – I play the D Card and skip to the front of the line. No way am I missing Mom’s orange fluff at Christmas to decorate a tree by myself.

These service members aren’t unicorns – they’re USCG

12. People put you on a pedestal just for being present and fully dressed.

Trust me, it doesn’t always happen.

These service members aren’t unicorns – they’re USCG

13. Sometimes patriotic strangers pay for your drink.

One man tried to pick up my tab without me seeing. Little did he know I drink enough scotch to ration a ship full of sailors across the Americas, so he kindly paid for half. God bless you, citizen.

14. It shuts down unwanted attention from men.

I remember being asked, “How come your man’s not out with you tonight?” (First off– ew.) When I dropped the D Card, it abruptly came to a halt. There’s no comeback. Then I did the Hammer Dance to the tune of “U Can’t Touch This” and got myself some jalapeño poppers.

These service members aren’t unicorns – they’re USCG

15. You get a hall pass for mood swings.

WHICH I DON’T F*CKING HAVE!

16. You can zone out at work hassle free.

All I have to do is pull up an article about F-16s, maximize the screen and then stare out into space. My boss thinks I’m anguished about my deployed husband, when really I’m thinking about Downton Abbey, or why white queso tastes better than yellow queso. But truthfully most times I’m anguished about my deployed husband.

17. Nice people send you nice cards.

One of the best things, truly, is finding out how big your friends’ hearts are. People send you cards and care packages, and a few more ambitious friends fly out to visit. I was touched to find out I had a group of friends who started a secret thread to coordinate when they could visit me so it was spread out over the deployment.

These service members aren’t unicorns – they’re USCG

And so…

Is it indecent to use his time in combat to make my pain a little less difficult? I don’t think so. Deployments are dark times. It’s something those of us have earned through tears and sleepless nights when something goes bump outside the bedroom window. I remember driving over to my friend’s house one night because her neighbor wouldn’t stop being a creep, knowing her husband was away. We stayed up on her back patio with shotguns across our laps until we ended up making margaritas and playing Yahtzee until 3 in the morning.

If you’re the one left behind, it can feel like half of your puzzle is missing its pieces. For me, a gold-medal overthinker, I questioned who I was as my own person and why I couldn’t seem to handle life, which made me feel even worse about myself. I refused to feel helpless, but there it was. We had built a life for two, and I was forced to fly it solo. So no, I do not feel bad about playing the D Card.

But the biggest high of having a deployed husband is when you lock eyes across the hangar at 2 a.m. after seven months. Your heart pounds as you watch that tan flight suit cut through the crowd of hundreds, and you finally get your kiss, bristly though it may be.

Damn deployment ‘stache.

MIGHTY CULTURE

The winter bucket list for military families

While the weather can be frightful and the days full of hustle, there are so many ways to pause and enjoy this season. Our winter bucket list is geared for you to recharge and rejuvenate in ways you have not done all year.


1. Fresh snow? Make this quick 3-ingredient snow ice cream.

These service members aren’t unicorns – they’re USCG
These service members aren’t unicorns – they’re USCG

(Photo by Bob Ricca)

These service members aren’t unicorns – they’re USCG
Giphy
These service members aren’t unicorns – they’re USCG

(Photo by Santi Vedrí)

These service members aren’t unicorns – they’re USCG

(Photo by Lana Abie)

These service members aren’t unicorns – they’re USCG

(Photo by Josh Felise)

These service members aren’t unicorns – they’re USCG
Giphy
These service members aren’t unicorns – they’re USCG

(Photo by Marc Ruaix)

These service members aren’t unicorns – they’re USCG

(Photo by Steve Wiesner)

These service members aren’t unicorns – they’re USCG

(Photo by Jay Wennington)

These service members aren’t unicorns – they’re USCG
Giphy
These service members aren’t unicorns – they’re USCG

(Photo by Jake Dela Concepcion)

These service members aren’t unicorns – they’re USCG

(Photo by Michał Parzuchowski)

These service members aren’t unicorns – they’re USCG
Giphy
These service members aren’t unicorns – they’re USCG

(Photo by Daniel Bowman)

15. Go on a winter scavenger hunt.

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

Watch CIA Chief of Disguise break down iconic spy scenes

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

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

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

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

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


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

www.youtube.com

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

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

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

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

These service members aren’t unicorns – they’re USCG

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

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

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

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

VA centers are using tai chi to promote healing and mental clarity

Pan flute music like an old-time kung fu movie drifts serenely through the recreation room of the Milwaukee VA’s Spinal Cord Injury Center. Zibin Guo talks of swaying breezes, mountain streams, and the peaceful but powerful force of nature.

“Still… like a mountain,” he says. “Flow… like water.”

The group follows his every move from their chairs, pivoting wheels as he turns on foot. This new twist on an ancient martial art, Guo says, will play a big role in the modern-day treatment of pain and post-traumatic stress, even cutting down on opioids and other painkillers.

The three-day wheelchair tai chi seminar for health care workers from the Milwaukee and Madison VA Medical Centers; Appleton, Wisconsin, Clinic; and community hospitals, is part of Guo’s nationwide tour to teach more instructors, collect data and prove tai chi works.


Guo, a medical anthropologist from the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, has received more than 0,000 from the Adaptive Sports Grant Program, and has already traveled to 24 VA medical centers. He hopes to get to 24 more by next year.

These service members aren’t unicorns – they’re USCG

Zibin Guo

(YouTube)

The grant program, managed by the National Veterans Sports Program and Special Events Office, provides million annually to support studies and adaptive sports for disabled veterans. Guo said his goal is to promote a way to rethink western rehabilitative medicine, based on bodily functions of eastern philosophy.

“There is a mental clarity that comes from tai chi, which then creates physical benefits for the whole body,” he said.

“For some people,” he added, “this can be psychological. If someone is in a wheelchair, they may see themselves as disabled and are labeled that way. When you are labeled as disabled, you become disabled.

“Wheelchair tai chi transforms the idea of the wheelchair into something else. Now, it’s no longer just for transporting from one place to another. You use it to create power and beauty, integrating the chair movements with tai chi.”

Guo said some VAs have already learned the healing benefits while others are just starting to add tai chi to their repertoire.

“Especially now as VA is building up its Whole Health program nationwide, I hope we are going to see more of these types of offerings,” he said.

Milwaukee was one of the first VAs to offer tai chi. Its polytrauma department started it in 2012 with another grant from the Adaptive Sports Program. Guo’s techniques provided a different perspective, said Dr. Judith Kosasih, lead physician in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

“I knew when we started this seven years ago it was going to be valuable, and I believe in it,” she said. “Right now, we teach tai chi fundamentals, but he gives us a completely different perspective, with more movement, even in a wheelchair.”

Kosasih first started tai chi in Milwaukee, believing it would help with Parkinson’s Disease and pain.

These service members aren’t unicorns – they’re USCG

Zibin Guo leads health care workers through one of his tai chi routines. He first taught the group standing up and then in wheelchairs. Guo believes regular tai chi can significantly help treat post-traumatic stress and reduce the use of painkillers.

“The practice helps you relax, helps you sleep better. When you sleep better, you will feel better,” she said. “I guarantee it improves endurance, balance, memory, and you will be able to stand longer. It gives our veterans skills and empowers them to develop this and get better.”

It’s also a gateway to health for those who can’t afford other sports.

Guo said: “Paralympics and wheelchair rugby and basketball is great but think about how much just one of those chairs costs. The average person doesn’t have a chance. One percent can get the specialized chair and 99 percent can’t. Wheelchair tai chi gives people self-empowerment. You don’t need a special chair.

“There are so many physical benefits,” he added. “A lot of studies have already demonstrated that the nature of the movements is so unique, and the circular motion creates powerful circulation in the body. It’s not just the blood, but the energy, and that treats a wide range of problems without drugs — it treats pain, it treats headaches. There are so many benefits.”

Besides teaching others how to teach the class, he is asking them to compile data to prove his point. He pointed to one veteran in Tennessee, who said she used tai chi to drastically cut down on painkillers.

Zarita Croney, an Afghanistan veteran, suffered from post-traumatic stress, three bulging discs, one eroded disc and intermittent paralysis, plus a host of other issues.

“I had to have a huge purse just for all my meds. You’d look inside and see nothing but pill bottles.” While still in the military, she said she cycled through an array of pain medications. “I’d have to lay in bed for three hours, just waiting for the medicine to work,” she said.

Croney spiraled into depression until she reached out to the Tennessee Valley Health Care System for mental health. Her VA recommended recreation therapy, including the tai chi Guo promotes.

Mind and Machine

www.youtube.com

“The first time in tai chi, they had to wheel me there in a wheelchair,” she said. “The first few visits, I couldn’t get through the whole class. Then I start getting more range of motion. My instructor said, ‘Even if you can’t do it, see yourself doing it in your mind.’ And as you go along, your body does catch up with what the mind is doing.

“I went from visiting the emergency room at least once a month to get shot up with morphine, to walking with a cane, and sometimes without the cane. I’ve cut out about three-fourths of the pills I was on,” she said. “With all these things, it’s a battle every day, but tai chi gave me the foundation.”

Guo says this is nothing new to him.

“Pain symptoms are very complex and not just physical. The symptoms of stress, tension, or anger and bad emotions, that creates chemicals in the brain that stimulate pain,” he said. “Tai chi not only relaxes, it promotes healing.”

Leanne Young, a recreation therapist from the San Francisco VA Health Care System, said she is excited to see tai chi and other eastern philosophies gain more acceptance, because it plays into what she and other therapists have been doing for years.

“This is definitely time for this,” she said. “I think most people want to see evidence-based practice and data. They want to see research. Many things recreation therapists have done — not just tai chi, but in general — hasn’t always been recognized because there isn’t always research that supports the benefits.

“I really feel tai chi is a whole mind-body thing, and that really works. Your brain ends up telling your body what to do. It’s mindfulness, and to me, it’s a state of mind which affects your body and your pain reduction.”

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

Sea Story of the Week: My run-in with NCIS

One hundred and fifty days ago was the last time we saw land. At ninety consecutive days at sea, the CO can authorize beer call onboard a U.S. Naval vessel. Ours didn’t.

One hundred and fifty consecutive days is the reason why sailors drink the way they do when they hit port. One hundred and fifty consecutive days is the story behind my only run in with NCIS.


These service members aren’t unicorns – they’re USCG

You’ll get tired of this view by month 2.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Devin M. Langer)

The mundane sounds of the ship’s bells and whistles could no longer be heard in the distance, but were instead replaced by the zips and zooms of families of five astride scooters cutting through traffic. After a grueling three-hour wait for liberty call, we made it off the ship, let loose on the tropical port.

The first thing I learned in my humble beginnings as a young sailor was to order the biggest alcoholic drink I could find, as soon as I could find it. Today, my five-course meal was four orders of shots and a burger. After months of MIDRATS and MREs, my stomach was torn. Like a true intellectual, instead of indulging on local culture and foods, I stuck to what I know — a place we have back home: Hooters. I traveled 7,326 miles to dine at a fine establishment that I often frequent in the states.

Two shots in and the ship’s coordinates were starting to fade quick. After months of mandatory sobriety, the alcohol quickly replaces the blood in my veins. The bad-decision hamster wheel starts turning and, suddenly, sh*t ideas become the best ideas. I stand in line at the ATM behind a white expat that’s surrounded by girls that were obviously paid to be there, rubbing his back as he withdraws more cash. I punch in my four-digit pin to see seven months of tax-free, pathetic petty officer pay screaming at me, eager to be blown on warm beer, greasy food, and squalid strippers.

Earlier that day, getting briefed on liberty, we were told thatthe most important thing to remember was to never leave your battle buddy. If you don’t check in with the same person you checked out with, you might as well become a deserter. Find yourself a dish-washing job, maybe a wife,and learn the native language. You’d be stupid to do it, but you wouldn’t be first.

Four shots in and we’re stumbling down the streets, stopping at various times to piss the letters “USA” sloppily down alleyways and all over buildings — exactly the opposite of what we were briefed to do. It’s like trying to wrangle kittens. The most responsible of us (or, the guy most motivated to see strippers) is the voice of reason that keeps pushing the group forward. After a seemingly ten-mile hump, we arrive at the gate: AREA 51.

These service members aren’t unicorns – they’re USCG

Kinda like this… but with strippers.

Inside, the smell of a fog machine and cheap perfume attacks my nose. The spotlight is a flood light, the light show looks like a couple of blind kids playing laser tag, and the girls look like a lineup of failed The Bachelor contestants. There was a girl dancing on stage, moving offbeat to the loudest techno song in the world, in between four unused poles. Unprovoked, I suddenly found myself onstage beside the dancer, doing my best Magic Mike impression.

Six shots in and I’m swinging my shirt over my head like a rodeo clown with money stuffed into the lining of my pants. The whole club is cheering me on — the strippers, the servers, everyone. When the song ends, my drunk ass follows the dancer into the back room. I hear a mix of laughs and excited screams coming from all the girls and the madams that are getting them ready. They drop what they’re doing to run over and take a picture with me.

In my drunken stupor, I assumed it was my handsome good looks and my devilish charms. It wasn’t — it was the big, red target on my back. A giant, green money sign.

We rented out a private room for pennies on the dollar. The drinks were cheaper in buckets and we got a complimentary bottle of kerosene disguised as vodka. The drinks came with dancers, and so the night rolled on. Loud music, bad drinks, and worse company.

These service members aren’t unicorns – they’re USCG

NCIS Special Agents in action.

(US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Thomas Mudd)

Out of nowhere the door flies open.

“NCIS!”

Flashlights wave in our faces, screaming girls run off half naked, and there we are, a circle of drunk sailors thinking we’re f*cked. The team of agents clears the entire club, going room by room, scanning for sailors. My heart is pounding. Sobriety has never hit harder. The brief on off-limits areas flashes into my head, suddenly crystal clear:

Area 51 – OFF LIMITS TO ALL U.S. PERSONNEL.

F*ck. The club manager runs around frantically, trying to collect his money. A couple agents ask us if we’re squared away with our tab. We are and, against all protocol, he sneaks us out the back.

With a throbbing head and fuzzy memories of the night before, I pop the first of many Advils of the day and make my way through the hangar bay of the ship to morning passdown and shift change. I walk by faces I recognize from the night before and I pull down the front of my cover and gaze away.

Over fifty sailors were put on restriction, a handful of them were processed out of the Navy.

It was the only run in I’ve ever had with an NCIS Special Agent and he saved my ass.

Editor’s note: So, you think your sea story is better? If you’ve got a tale that the world needs to hear, send it our way.

MIGHTY CULTURE

How Army aircrews save the lives of desperate hikers

In the early morning of July 16, 2019, an Army UH-60 Black Hawk rescue crew was alerted to a severely injured hiker who had fallen 500 feet down one of Colorado’s tallest peaks.

The hiker, a retired astronaut, had broken both of his legs and one arm in the fall and needed emergency care fast. But to get to a hospital for his injuries, the former Navy captain had to rely on the Army to pluck him from the unforgiving terrain.

It was the height of summer, a time when hikers flock to the state’s mountain ranges and when operations at the High-Altitude Army National Guard Aviation Training Site ramp up.


The site has a dual-hatted role. Primarily, it teaches helicopter crews how to fly and land in high altitudes. It also is a search and rescue outfit with experienced crews that can reach difficult spots where most civilian aircraft cannot.

These service members aren’t unicorns – they’re USCG

A UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crew from the High-Altitude Army National Guard Aviation Training Site drops off a civilian rescue technician near the North Maroon Bells Peak near Aspen, Colo., July 24, 2018.

(Photo by Tyler McCready)

Each year, full-time Colorado Guardsmen at the site rescue about 20 people — mainly desperate hikers who have fallen or suffered from altitude sickness or a heart attack.

With two pilots and two crew chiefs, the Black Hawk crews will also pick up two rescue technicians, who are civilian volunteers that they train with, on their way out.

After already topping their annual average for saves, 2019 has proven to be a busy year.

“It’s nice that we’re able to take what we teach, the power management techniques, and apply them on the weekend or during the week when we’re making these critical saves,” said Lt. Col. Britt Reed, the HAATS commander.

For many, the July 16 mission is one of the recent missions that stands out. While climbing La Plata Peak, which pierces the sky at over 14,000 feet near Leadville, Jeff Ashby quickly became in need of help from the air.

The day before, Ashby, 65, who had flown to space three times, had just reached the summit of the mountain. During his descent, he lost his footing and slipped, hurtling down the mountainside before large boulders stopped him.

Hours later, a local search and rescue team member managed to navigate to the former astronaut and stayed with him overnight.

At first light, Chief Warrant Officer 5 Pat Gates and his aircrew, along with two rescue technicians, flew out to Ashby’s location.

These service members aren’t unicorns – they’re USCG

A UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crew from the High-Altitude Army National Guard Aviation Training Site lowers a member of Mountain Rescue Aspen down to an injured hiker near the North Maroon Bells Peak near Aspen, Colo., July 24, 2018.

(Photo by Tyler McCready)

Once overhead, the crew used a hoist to lower the technicians, who prepped Ashby before he was pulled up into the helicopter. The aircraft then landed at a transfer site, where Ashby was taken to the hospital in a civilian medical transport helicopter.

While a collection of emergency responders helped out, the HAATS crew had the hoist capability to get Ashby out of danger.

“It’s great knowing that you have that kind of impact on somebody,” Gates said.

After being released from the hospital, Ashby wrote an email to Gates and the rest of the aircrew, thanking them for their efforts.

“He was very appreciative of everything, for the fact that the Army came to help out a Navy guy,” Gates said, smiling. “But, all in all, having a result like that is always the best case.”

Risky missions

Gates estimates he has helped with at least five rescues per year since he came to HAATS in 2009. And the total number of missions continues to increase, he said, almost quadrupling compared to when he first started.

Some of them even test the most experienced pilots, like Gates, who serves as the training site’s senior standardization instructor pilot.

These service members aren’t unicorns – they’re USCG

A UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crew from the High-Altitude Army National Guard Aviation Training Site prepares to lower a civilian rescue technician near the North Maroon Bells Peak near Aspen, Colo., July 24, 2018.

(Photo by Tyler McCready)

A hairy rescue he still remembers was in 2015 at Crestone Needle, another mountain over 14,000 feet.

In that one, a hiker also slipped and broke his leg on top of other injuries. Since the hiker was stranded in a tight area, the aircrew had to lower a hoist 200 feet as winds kicked up to 25 knots and a thunderstorm loomed nearby.

“That was very interesting,” he said. “It required a lot that day to get the [helicopter rescue team] all the way down there to the injured party.”

The mission was taxing for the crew since they had to keep the helicopter as still as possible. At that height, Gates said, the hoist can sway about 10 feet on the ground to every 1 foot the aircraft moves in the air.

Pilots may also decide to quickly do a one-wheeled landing, one of which was conducted this summer, if there is enough room that the rotors will not chop into the mountain side.

“If they feel the safest way is to land the aircraft [is] by putting one wheel down or two wheels down or using the hoist,” Reed said, “then we’ll figure out what the best way is and we’ll do it.”

And then there are the “what ifs” every difficult mission presents, Gates said, which can be mentally draining when the crew is trying to prevent them all.

Hoist ops

Other than a similar National Guard unit at Buckley Air Force Base, Colorado, that handles rescues on the front range of the Rocky Mountains, no state entity can replicate the landings and hoists of the HAATS crews.

“If we didn’t have these two organizations, then the [hikers] that got stuck would be in a lot of trouble,” Reed said, “because there is nobody else that can provide the resources that we can provide.”

These service members aren’t unicorns – they’re USCG

Civilian rescue technicians treat an injured hiker before he is hoisted up into a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crew from the High-Altitude Army National Guard Aviation Training Site near Aspen, Colo., July 24, 2018.

(Photo by Tyler McCready)

As a crew chief, Staff Sgt. Greg Yost typically operates the hoist during rescues.

In June 2019, he lowered a hoist about 100 feet to save a skier who suffered cuts and an ankle injury after a small avalanche knocked him down, causing him to hit some rocks.

Hovering above 13,000 feet in that mission, the aircrew had to deal with strong winds in a narrow valley that drastically affected the power margin of the heavy helicopter.

“We were basically at our limit in power,” Yost recalled.

While tough at times, the missions do bring Yost back to a job he never wanted to leave. Before coming to Colorado, he served on a medical evacuation aircrew in Afghanistan, picking up wounded troops in sometimes hot landing zones.

These service members aren’t unicorns – they’re USCG

In this video still image, a UH-60 Black Hawk crew from the Colorado National Guard’s High-Altitude Army National Guard Aviation Training Site perform a one-wheeled landing at or above 13,000 feet to rescue an injured hiker from Maroon Bells, Sept. 21, 2013.

(US Army photo)

“That wasn’t something that I really wanted to give up,” he said. “So the fact that HAATS regularly conducted those kinds of missions was a big driving force in me wanting to come to this unit so I could continue helping people.”

The work HAATS crews have done with hoist operations has led the Army to develop a standardized hoist training program last year, Gates said.

The training site also creates scenario-based evaluations from the rescue flights to teach students during its weeklong course. The lessons even give the students an opportunity to discuss how the flight could have gone smoother.

“That’s one thing we don’t do, is rest on our laurels,” Gates said. “We take information in from everybody that comes through here.”

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

Moving with the Military and Operation Deploy Your Dress come together at Fort Hood

Two Army spouses joined forces at Fort Hood, Texas, to keep a military tradition alive, even as the pandemic continues to force closures.

As military balls face cancellations this year, even into 2021, Army spouses Maria Reed from Moving with the Military and Yvonne Coombes from Operation Deploy Your Dress (ODYD) pushed ahead with creating the ultimate dress shop at one of the Army’s largest installations.

ODYD is a non-profit organization that provides free dresses and other formal attire, including shoes and accessories, to service members and dependents. Located at military installations across the country, the boutique at Fort Hood is the eighth shop to open, with another opening at Fort Drum, New York, last month. More ODYD boutiques are set to open in 2021.

Moving with the Military is a home improvement and lifestyle television series dedicated to helping military families turn a house into a home. Reed, the creator of the series, also offers DIY tips and tricks to help create beautiful pieces for any personal space.

Together both Coombes and Reed designed and created a dress boutique for ODYD’s Ft. Hood location. While the two met in person at the annual Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year Award ceremony in 2019, it was Christina Hendrex, the spouse of the III Corps Command Sergeant Major, who connected them.

This armoire, donated by Christina Hendrex who is responsible for setting up the collaboration with Reed and Coombes, is now a part of the ODYD Ft. Hood location (Photo provided by Moving with the Military)

“She knew what I was doing with Moving with the Military and my design background, and said, ‘Hey, would you be interested?’” Reed said.

Reed adds she jumped on the opportunity because she believes in the mission and Fort Hood is her home. From there, a collaboration was born.

“The stars in Texas just aligned,” Coombes joked.

The dress shop was set to open in April of 2020, but the pandemic set their timeline back.

“We tried our hardest to meet the cutoff [before the pandemic] but we just couldn’t,” Reed said.

The Fort Hood location officially opened in September. The entire process to create a beautiful boutique space wasn’t an easy one, especially with COVID-19 guidelines and protocol, on top of regular military protocol for using a space on an installation.

“When doing something like this on a military base, you can’t nail or drill anything into the walls,” Reed said. “So we had to be really creative on how to create a functional yet beautiful space inside an industrial space.”

And outside of creating a space that was pretty to look at in the big picture, and functional for what ODYD needed, Reed also wanted to focus on the details.

“I wanted [people] to walk in and feel like they were at a real dress boutique,” Reed said. “We had all these little details from the platforms for women to stand on to try on their dresses to gorgeous flowers draping over the corners of the walls that just added an elegant touch to everything.”

“Even though we were in this warehouse, it didn’t feel like that by the end,” she added.

Coombes agreed.

“Even down to those minor little details — she got these perfect chairs for when people are sitting and waiting … with little bows on the back … everything was just perfect,” Coombes said.

Photo provided by Moving with the Military

The day of the opening was a special one for Coombes and Reed. It was almost a year-long process, from idea to fruition, and both felt that the end result was better than what they could have imagined.

“When we first started Operation Deploy Your Dress … it was just a lot of us trying to find out where to put these dresses. It was just racks in a room with … pop-up canopies that we would put curtains around.

“I had some wild imaginations of what [Reed] could do because I had seen her other stuff, but when I walked in [to the Fort Hood location], I was seriously floored. It’s like walking into … what you see on ‘Say Yes to the Dress.’ It’s beautiful,” Coombes said.

Photo provided by Moving with the Military

“I wanted [shoppers] to have a very different experience when walking in. I didn’t want them to feel like they were getting a ‘used’ dress. And that’s what happened — the first four shoppers walked in … and wow; it was really spectacular,” Reed said.

Both Reed and Coombes wanted to make each military family that visited the Fort Hood location to feel special and welcome. They enlisted help from the local community to foster that connection as well.

“Instead of making several larger dressing rooms, we made some smaller ones and one handicap accessible one,” Reed said.

Photo provided by Moving with the Military

“Everyone who worked on it did an amazing job … A local home store here called Homebase donated materials. Moving with the Military donated the decor, and the spouses club donated some items,” she said.

“We had a service member, who donated his Saturdays [and who is] a professional carpenter, come and help build each weekend. His family, my family; we worked every Saturday — cutting, painting, building  — until the space was done,” Reed said.

In the end, both Coombes and Reed couldn’t be happier with the space that was created at Fort Hood.

“We still love our other shops that have the big dressing rooms with all these spouses coming together to try on dresses, but the boutique [at Fort Hood] is just something else. Especially in a time when the spouses of Fort Hood need our support,” Coombes said.

Photo provided by Moving with the Military

“We want [ODYD] to be about the dresses, and about the love that has gone into deploying these dresses to military spouses,” Coombes said. “And Fort Hood exemplifies that.”

Just three days after opening, the location has served over 50 families.

“I know [Reed] helps one family at a time. But this is going to help so many families,” Coombes said.

Check out ODYD to find out if there is a location near you. Hours vary as each shop is run by volunteers.

This article originally appeared on Military Families Magazine. Follow @MilFamiliesMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

What it’s like being an Army combat photographer in South Korea right now

When Private First Class Ethan T. Ford first thought about joining the military, he immediately had his hopes set on being a combat photographer.

“Joining the military has given me a lot of options and I’ve done a lot of things I would have never had the option to do before. I wouldn’t have traveled to Korea, cover historical events, or be in a movie,” Ford said.

As a 25V Combat documentation/production specialist, Ford is his unit’s official videographer, tasked with shooting and editing footage and capturing every moment of garrison operations.


Like all soldiers, Army photographers get trained on basic combat skills and learn how to operate weapons, expertly engage in hand-to-hand combat and administer basic first-aid.

These service members aren’t unicorns – they’re USCG

Army photographer Private First Class Ethan Ford practices photography techniques while on assignment in Seoul, South Korea.

(Photo by Private First Class Ethan T. Ford)

But being an Army photographer requires dedication and resilience. When the rest of the unit goes home or finishes the mission, the Army photographers get to work to upload their photos and videos and create products for the historical record.

When his friends in Oregon ask him what it’s like to be in the Army, he says he gives them the honest truth.

“Being in the Army is not hard, at times it can be mentally draining, but anyone who is physically capable can do it.”

This is not a typical assignment, according to his supervisor, Staff. Sgt. Pedro Santos, noncommissioned officer in charge of the Yongsan Visual Information Support Center.

His team is made up of creative types who strive on challenges.

Army photographers have to be able to quickly react to any situation in any environment. You have to make sure you’re ready and that your equipment is in good shape and your batteries are charged.

These service members aren’t unicorns – they’re USCG

Dancers perform traditional acts during a community relations event at US Army Garrison Yongsan in Seoul, Korea.

(Photo by Private First Class Ethan T. Ford)

Between assignments, the soldiers are back in the office learning new skills, teaching each other new tips and critiquing each other.

Other parts of the job include handshake photos and designing PowerPoint slides, which isn’t the most inspiring for the truly passionate photographers like Ford, but meeting expectations is important.

One of the advantages to enlisting as a combat photographer, according to Santos, is that the experience and education you gain is unmatched.

“When it comes to someone who is passionate about something and they want to pursue that in the military as well I sometimes you get lucky and you get someone like Ford who is passionate about it,” Santos said.

These service members aren’t unicorns – they’re USCG

Army photographer Private First Class Ethan T. Ford reflects on his various assignments while stationed in Seoul, South Korea.

(US Army photo)

Santos encourages his team to speak to the customer, usually a senior leader like a first sergeant or commander and find out what their goals are, what type of video or photography they would like and then you have to be creative and find out what kind of angles you are going to take the shot from and how you are going to prepare for it.

Some assignments can take up to one month of preparation and rehearsal.

“One thing you can’t really reach combat photographers is post editing, from my experience, you can take an amazing photo and be done with it, but when someone takes the time to perfect their work, it is impressive and it shows,” Santos said.

“You are in a great area, one of the biggest cities in the world. There is inspiration everywhere.”

These service members aren’t unicorns – they’re USCG

Army photographer Private First Class Ethan T. Ford captures a nature scene near his hometown of McMinnville, Oregon.

(Photo by Private First Class Ethan T. Ford)

On weekends, Ford goes out on his own on the weekend and practices different techniques and works on improving his craft. His favorite style of photography is capturing candid moments and doing street photography.

One of the highlights of his tour in South Korea was a special assignment in October 2018 when Ford witnessed history in the making and was the only photographer allowed in a meeting between North Koreans and South Koreans in the blue building at the Joint Security Area. The event was one of the first steps in a negotiation that is expected to result in officially ending the war between the two countries.

Outside of photography, Ford is a movie buff. He loves war movies and his favorite movies include Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, and Hacksaw Ridge to name a few.

These service members aren’t unicorns – they’re USCG

A river photographed near McMinnville, Oregon, the hometown of Army photographer Private First Class Ethan T. Ford.

(Photo by Private First Class Ethan T. Ford)

Early 2019, Ford got to skip his normal routine of morning physical training, chow and VISC photography duties and was granted a two-day pass to play a movie extra in a Korean War film set in 1950 with actors Megan Fox and George Eads.

“Playing a movie extra was a lot like being in the military,” Ford said, “It was a hurry up and wait situation. It took several hours to drive there and several more to get dressed.”

One of the best parts of the experience was getting one-on-one acting advice and mentorship from actor George Eads, who plays MacGyver on TV.

Although the Department of Defense does not keep track of the numbers of service members who appear in television and film projects, there are many opportunities to play extras in movies because It is it is incredibly difficult for civilian actors to realistically portray the discipline of the U.S. warfighter without having served, according to Brian Chung, a military advisor to big Korean production studios in Seoul and in Los Angeles.

These service members aren’t unicorns – they’re USCG

Private First Class Ethan T. Ford cast as an officer in a movie shot in Seoul, South Korea.

(US Army photo)

In fact, 90 percent of DOD-supported projects, including documentaries and reality television programs are unscripted, according to Master Sgt. Adora Gonzalez, a U.S. Army Film and TV Entertainment Liaison in Los Angeles.

“All service members have been trained since basic training to stand, walk and talk a certain way on duty,” Chung said.

Chung is a former U.S. Army Captain and was previously stationed in Yongsan as a military police company commander.

He understands how challenging it can be for soldiers stationed in Korea to be working long hours while displaced into a new culture, which is why he reached out to leaders at United States Forces Korea to get approval for the soldiers to be part of the movie.

These service members aren’t unicorns – they’re USCG

(Photo by Private First Class Ethan T. Ford)

“It was personally satisfying as a U.S. Army veteran of Korean decent, to honor the warriors of the Korean War with authentic portrayals that could only have been achieved by their successors serving on the same peninsula that they sacrificed so much to protect. Seeing the look of excitement on the young troops’ faces as they hustled around set from wardrobe, to the make up chair, to an authentic 1950’s set was an amazing icing on the cake,” Chung said.

The movie will be released around the same time that his tour ends in June 2019, when he will report to duty at his new assignment at Fort Meade, Maryland.

“I’m going to miss going out and eating in Itaewon, especially the fried chicken and ramen,” Ford said. “It’s some of the best food I’ve ever had in my life. You won’t find anything like it in the U.S.”

After his time in the Army, Ford plans on taking more advanced courses and going back to Oregon and becoming a professional photographer.

“The Army is what you make of it. You can make it be miserable or make it be the best time of your life,” Ford said.

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

High explosives and low temps: Special Forces in Alaska

Editor’s Note: This is part two of George Hand’s story about his Special Forces team operating in Alaska. Read part one here.

I admit I got some pretty decent shuteye in that Patrol Base (PB). I ate cold food because I just don’t care, plus heating food is such a hassle in the field. I did heat up a canteen cup of coffee, and of course we had plenty of water thanks to the run to the babbling brook.

I took my shift on security which was sitting in a Listening Post/Observation Post (LPOP) a few hundred meters to the rear of our PB for a few hours being quiet, listening, and — you guessed it — observing. It was the usually tearful boredom save for the herd of Caribou that went meandering some 700 meters out. I had binos hanging around my neck tucked just inside my jacket which made for a closer pleasing eyeful of the herd.


When I was relived, I headed back to the PB and helped build the explosive cutting charges to take down the RF tower. We didn’t want to build those forward in the hide sight because it’s bad policy to plan on doing any work in a hide site other than shutting-up, being still, and freezing.

These service members aren’t unicorns – they’re USCG

To cut the cylindrical steel at the base of the tower we built Diamond charges — shaped like an elongated diamond and duel-primed on both ends of the short axis with blasting caps:

These service members aren’t unicorns – they’re USCG

(Diamond High-Explosive Steel Cutting Charge [photo courtesy of the author])

C-4, in simple block form, made up the two other charges that were to cut the support cables. Our plan was to tie all three charges in together so they would detonate as near simultaneous as possible. I caught a slight whiff of burning time fuse. Another team was calculating the burn time of the fuse. They cut a length of fuse, burned it, and timed the burn so they would know how long of time fuse they needed to give us three minutes to get away from the tower once the fuse was ignited.

Gosh, a breeze picked up and as God is my witness I saw a piece of paper blow by that looked like a page out of cryptography One-Time Pad (OTP)… and it was! I lunged to grab it. Our Commo Sergeant must have been in the process of encrypting his next message transmission to our Forward Operating Base (FOB) in Anchorage.

I moved to his location and sure enough he was shacking up a message:

“Hey, dick… think you’ll need this?”

“Wha… woah — where did you get that??”

“Oh… it just kinda came blowing by.”

“Bullshit! Gimme that!!”

He snatched it up, struck up a lighter under it, and burned it — a thing he was supposed to do before he ever laid it down.

“Here, sign this, dick!”

He passed his his burn log for my signature as a witness to the burning of the crypto page. He was the best commo man I ever knew, just had some housekeeping issues. He set to constructing his quarter-wave doublet antenna; in those days we used the High-Frequency bandwidth (3-30 MHz) and bounced our radio signal off of the ionosphere. He needed to cut his antenna length to match the frequency he was going to transmit on.

These service members aren’t unicorns – they’re USCG

(An example of a crypto One-Time Pad [OTP] page [photo from the author])

I find it interesting that the Army has not used the HF band for such a long time, depending on satellites and Internet for most of its communication. Now days, satellites are being targeted for disruption, and the military is actually going back to the dependable HF band for backup communications. It was used during the Russian mercenary Wagner Group attack on U.S. troops in Syria; that battle ended in some 250 dead Russians.

Departing our patrol base, we slipped along tundra quietly to our hide sight. When we got close, we could occasionally spy the RF tower target through openings in the bush. Team Daddy halted us and laid us down while he moved forward with an Engineer Sergeant to have a reconnaissance of the terminal hide area.

He was gone long enough for us to get to freezing again. He lead us into the area where we laid down and established our hides: we stretched camouflage nets out low to the ground. We spread foliage on the top and sides were also covered up. Once inside, there was only enough room for two men to lay prone.

These service members aren’t unicorns – they’re USCG

To our front was an open field of some 100 meters by 75 meters. We were just back off of the edge of the field where the men on watch could see the tower and the support corollary building. It was concrete with a pickup truck parked near the door — someone, likely a technician or maintenance person, was in there.

It was time to be cold for the next 24 hours. I went out with our commo man to help him construct an antenna and make his commo shot. He couldn’t do it from our hide site; we had to push back to the rear a thousand meters and sneak that transmission back to the FOB. It was great to be up out of the hide and moving around.

Twenty-four hours later we tore down our hides and packed up our rucks. Leaving the rucks behind, we took six pipe-hitters — half of our Green Beret detachment — and crept through the field ahead toward the tower. The other six pipe-hitters surrounded the target tactically establishing security for the demolitions teams. One of the security teams was blocking the access road incase the pickup returned, upon which they were to pull him out of the vehicle and detain him until the target was destroyed.

Our diamond charge went on smoothly and I paid out lengths of explosive det cord to the cable teams. All went together without a blunder. We collapsed back to our hide site leaving one man to tie in and fire the charges. Security remained in place. Team Daddy was glancing at his watch often, then finally lifted his hand-held radio:

“Bergie, this is Tango Lima, over…”

“Tango Lima, this is Bergie, ready to fire, over…”

“Bergie, stand by to fire in fife, fo-war, tree, two, one — fire!”

Even from our distance we heard the faint *pop* of the two M-60 fuse igniters fire. After about a nervous minute we witnessed brother Bergie, the trigger man, approaching quietly. He had stayed a little while to make sure he had a good fuse burn. I admired his dedication in that instance. He went to his ruck and laid to wait with the rest of us.

Team Daddy in typical fashion was observing his watch and called over his hand-held to the security teams:

“Standby for detonation in fife, fo-war, tree, two, one…”

And there came an ear-splitting *CCCRRRRAAAACCCCCKKKKK* of high-order C-4 expanding at 24,000 feet per second followed seconds later by a ground-shaking cacophony of steel slamming onto the ground with sheiks and groans of twisting steel.

“Security, collapse to hide site,” Team Daddy called out, followed seconds later by the panting pipe-hitters from the security perimeter. We threw on our rucks and stepped out smartly some 90 degrees from our original target approach azimuth.

These service members aren’t unicorns – they’re USCG

(Destroyed tower [photo courtesy of the author])

Approximately 20-minutes into the walk, our Senior Medic pulled Team Daddy aside for some bad news; he had left his hand-held radio back at the hide — major blunder. How could we possibly return to the target so soon after destruction? We simply had to, that was is just the way it was.

Team Daddy had the men form a PB while he, the medic, and I went back for the radio. The sun had been steadily dropping lower to the horizon. Dark would be to our advantage as we swung around to make our approach to the hide site from the bush rather than the open field.

Doc found his radio immediately once we got there. There were a number of first responder vehicles scattered around the ruined target site with men milling around. We scampered like rabbits back in the direction of the patrol base. With Team Daddy up front and me walking in back, Doc from the middle kept turning around looking with awe on his face.

“What’s the deal, Doc?” I finally had to ask him.

“It’s going back up! The sun is… it’s going back up! It dropped low but it never went below the horizon and I swear to you its going back up now!!”

“Well, yee-haw, Daktari… so you saw it too, yeah? You saw the sun not set — was that cool or what??”

These service members aren’t unicorns – they’re USCG

(“It dropped low but it never went below the horizon and I swear to you its going back up now!!”

[photo by Ms. Anne Castle])

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Why the Punisher is so beloved by the military

The Marvel Comics universe has such a wide and diverse assortment of characters that there’s a superhero for everyone. Within that vast collection of characters, there are many heroes who have military backgrounds, each of which represents a different aspect of military service. Captain America, for example, is remisicient the soldier who’s willing to lay down his life for the betterment of mankind. Falcon is the airman who’s always going to help his fellow veteran. Even the Coast Guard gets a champion in Spectrum, who’s always going to protect the homefront.

But you don’t usually see Cap’s shield spray painted by troops onto the sides of Hesco barriers while deployed — but you’ll definitely see the Punisher’s skull. It doesn’t matter which branch a troop serves in; universally, troops find more in common with the vigilante anti-hero whose only real power is shootin’ real good than they do with some morally-unwavering, genetically-enhanced super soldier.


The rest of the heroes can handle all the big superhero fights. The Punisher is after all the scum the caped heroes won’t touch and he’ll make sure they stay down.

(Marvel Comics)

Frank Castle, better known as The Punisher, is a very deep character. In his first appearance in Amazing Spider-Man #129, he was actually an antagonist pitted against our favorite wall-crawler. He’s hired to kill Spider-Man by a villain seeking revenge for the death of Norman Osborn (known as the Green Goblin by most), which was pinned on Spidey. Castle puts up a good fight, but eventually has a heart-to-heart with Parker. He reveals his frustrations with being a vigilante killer, but it’s something, in his mind, that has to be done sometimes.

Many writers have penned fantastic stories for the Punisher since his 1974 debut, but throughout them all, the heart of the character remains the same. He’s a highly-skilled Marine Corps veteran who lost his family to criminals and is forced into taking extra-judiciary measures to ensure the killers can’t strike again. From storyline to storyline, Castle dons his infamous white skull on black gear and puts a bullet into the worst of the worst of the Marvel universe.

He’s not a typical hero — he definitely commits countless crimes for the sake of good — but he’s also not a villain. He will go out of his way to not harm the innocent. He’ll gather information on whoever he’s going after to know if they’re really evil, he’ll spare any low-level bad guy who wants to surrender, and (perhaps the most prominent piece of evidence against villainy) he never enjoys killing.

He’s comfortable with it, and his mind is at ease knowing someone innocent is safe because of his actions, but he has never been shown, in all of his 45-year-long comic history, enjoying the act of killing. That’s what separates him from the psychotic villains he encounters. It’s his duty to protect the innocent. It’s his burden to have to do terrible things to make it so. That’s something many troops can get behind.

It also helps that he truly encapsulates the rest of the minor moments that come with being a veteran. Like his monologue in Daredevil season 2.

These service members aren’t unicorns – they’re USCG

For all intents and purposes, Chris Kyle was the real-life Punisher. No ifss, ands, or buts.

Another key element of the Punisher that’s enjoyed by fans is the famous skull logo. You can’t drive around a barracks parking lot without seeing a lifted Ford F-150 with adorned with a Punisher decal modified to have either the U.S. flag pattern or the “Back the Blue” stripe incorporated.

Related: Why death iconography is a beloved part of military culture

Though the skull has its origins in comic book, it’s taken on an entirely new meaning with the troops. It’s now a brand for anyone willing to stand for what’s right. Sure, Captain America’s shield might be a more apt symbol for that, but the Punisher’s skull has more of an impactful meaning easily caught by the viewer.

Chris Kyle explained his use of the skull best in his autobiography, American Sniper:

“Our Comms guy suggested it before the deployment. We all thought what the Punisher did was cool: He righted wrongs. He killed bad guys. He made wrongdoers fear him. That’s what we were all about. So we adapted his symbol  — a skull — and made it our own, with some modifications. We spray-painted it on our Hummers and body armor, and our helmets and all our guns. And we spray-painted it on every building or wall we could. We wanted people to know, we’re here and we want to f*ck with you… It was our version of PsyOps. You see us? We’re the people kicking your ass. Fear us. Because we will kill you, mother f*cker. You are bad — we are badder.