An Air Force veteran who taught himself to code explains how he started a nonprofit that has educated other vets on how to get jobs in tech - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

An Air Force veteran who taught himself to code explains how he started a nonprofit that has educated other vets on how to get jobs in tech

When Air Force veteran Jerome Hardaway left the military in 2009 after five years, he planned to transition to a civilian job after his service. However, he found that the recession’s lingering impact on the economy meant that jobs were still scarce.

“It was very painful coming back to America,” Hardaway, who’s based in Nashville, told Business Insider.

People would say, “Thank you for your service,” but not hire him, he explained. As he continued looking for jobs, he saw a commercial about a course for teaching people how to code.

While he didn’t take the class — “There were really great resources I didn’t have money for,” Hardaway said — it inspired him to get a book on databases. From there, he taught himself SQL and eventually landed a job as a database analyst for the Department of Homeland Security in 2010.

Eventually, he started teaching himself other programming skills, too, including Ruby on Rails and JavaScript, as well as learning about open source software by reading project documentation and source code and contributing as a general member, finding the JavaScript community to be especially welcoming. He even had the opportunity in 2014 to train in web development at General Assembly.

“I’m an African American male in the south trying to get into a dominant white male industry,” Hardaway said. “Before people look at my veteran status, I have that to overcome.”

In 2014, while Hardaway was working as a digital marketing assistant for a nonprofit, he connected with a family who lost their son in a police shooting and built them a website where he told the young vet’s story. Through this website, the family was able to raise $10,000, and the moving encounter spurred Hardaway to launch a new project:

Hardaway’s nonprofit, Vets Who Code, focuses on teaching veterans the programming skills they need for software engineering jobs and it’s completely free for veterans to participate. So far, the organization has helped over 250 veterans in 37 states learn how to be developers. 

Right now, Vets Who Code teaches languages like JavaScript, cloud technologies like Amazon Web Services, user experience design, GitHub, frameworks like React, and more, as well as less tangible skills, like what it takes to succeed in an engineering job.

An Air Force veteran who taught himself to code explains how he started a nonprofit that has educated other vets on how to get jobs in tech
Jerome Hardaway, founder of Vets Who Code and Air Force veteran

The nonprofit aims to reduce job anxiety for veterans and take advantage of their skills 

While more than 250,000 military service members transition into the workforce each year according to Navy Federal, one of the greatest anxieties for veterans is being able to find a stable job that honors the skills and experiences they’ve gained from the military.

“The military trains you to be good at what the military needs you to be, not in regards to preparing you for the civilian sector,” Hardaway said.

While in the Air Force, Hardaway served in Iraq, Afghanistan and South Korea and had duties in security, checking airplanes, and law enforcement. However, it wasn’t easy to convey to how those skills could be useful in the larger job market.

While the military has programs that help veterans transition to going back to civilian life, Hardaway says they’re not as effective as they should be, partly because they’re run by people who have never fully transitioned to that life themselves. Unfortunately, it’s all too common for veterans to “fall into these cracks,” he said. 

Because of his own experience, though, Hardaway knows that many of the skills he learned can be directly applicable to software jobs.

“It has made me more of a go-getter, take initiative, and learn on my own, and of course, more discipline,” Hardaway said. “It’s helped me focus on the things that matter: learning how to write code, focusing on the things needed to be employed, teaching the veterans the same skills in my transition.”

For example, Hardaway says the military taught him to drill and adapt to new things faster – all of which helped him when he was learning to write code. In addition, veterans are used to teamwork and over-communicating as they did in the military, and these skills come into play when they work together on a software project.

That’s why Vets Who Code puts an emphasis on coordinating group projects for its students:

“That’s the true secret, making you a good worker, not just a good programmer,” Hardaway said.

Ultimately, Hardaway said that his goal is to empower as many veterans as possible to get good jobs in tech, like he did:

“I’m hoping my sisters and brothers [in the military] don’t have to deal with the hardships I had to deal with.”

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

Why squadrons are the ‘beating heart’ of the Air Force

In the Air Force, squadrons are the basic level of operations, its “beating heart” as Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. David Goldfein calls them.

To better understand how significant the squadron is to the Air Force, it’s also important to know what a squadron is.

Within the Air Force, the squadron is the lowest level of command with a headquarters element. Squadrons are typically commanded by a lieutenant colonel, though smaller squadrons may be commanded by majors, captains and sometimes even lieutenants. Squadrons can also vary in size and are usually identified numerically and by function. An example would be the 60th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron or the 355th Communications Squadron.


Two or more squadrons form a group. In the Air Force, groups are usually based upon the assignment of squadrons with similar functions. For example, the supply squadron, transportation, and aircraft maintenance squadron would be assigned to the Logistics Group, the flying squadrons would be assigned to the Operations Group and the Dental Squadron and the Medical Squadron would be assigned to the Medical Group. Groups, in turn, are then assigned to a wing with the same number. For instance, the 49th Logistics Group is assigned to the 49th Fighter Wing at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico.

However, the squadron actually predates the Air Force. In March 1913, the first squadron was created when the Army ordered the creation of the Army Air Services’ 1st Provisional Aero Squadron – known today as the 1st Reconnaissance Squadron, the U.S. military’s oldest flying unit.

The creation of higher echelons came later as the role of air power grew during World War I. Groups and wings were formed in order to remedy the difficulty of coordinating aerial activities between dispersed aero squadrons. Though WWI saw the first great military mobilization, it also saw the first huge drawdown. What was more than 660 aero units diminished to a little over 70 squadrons by 1919, with an air component that was 19,000 soldiers strong reduced to around 5 percent of what it used to be. No one would have predicted that after two decades, the air component found itself expanding once again.

An Air Force veteran who taught himself to code explains how he started a nonprofit that has educated other vets on how to get jobs in tech

108th Bombardment Squadron during the Korean War activation formation in 1951.

(US Air Force photo)

With the advent of World War II, then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt acknowledged the growing importance of airpower. He believed, according to his adviser, Harry Hopkins, “that airpower would win the war.” What was then renamed to the Army Air Corps was well funded and grew rapidly, seeing more planes and squadrons than it ever will in its history – from a workforce comprised of 26,500 soldiers in 1939 to a staggering 2,253,000-strong by 1945.

The aerial component saw a considerable drawdown after the war ended, and, despite becoming its own department through the National Security Act of 1947, the number of airmen and squadrons continued to fluctuate and shrink over the years.

In the current Air Force, led by Wilson, Goldfein, and Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright, the push for revitalizing squadrons, empowering airmen and supporting innovation is stronger than ever, but unbeknownst to many, these concepts have been implemented by many successful military leaders of the past. A prime example is one of the U.S. Air Force’s most iconic figures: a man known for his prowess in the aerial battlefield and his famously distinctive lip foliage, Big. Gen. Robin Olds.

An Air Force veteran who taught himself to code explains how he started a nonprofit that has educated other vets on how to get jobs in tech

“Wolfpack” aviators of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing carry their Commanding Officer, Colonel Robin Olds, following his return from his last combat mission over North Vietnam, on 23 September 1967. This mission was his hundredth “official” combat mission, but his actual combat mission total for his tour was 152. Olds led the 8th TFW Wolfpack from September 1966 through September 1967, as it amassed 24 MiG victories, the greatest aerial combat record of an F-4 Wing in the Vietnam war.

(US Air Force)

Along with inspiring the Air Force tradition, Mustache March, Olds was known as a triple ace for shooting down 17 enemy aircraft during his career. Along with the accolades he received as a skilled fighter pilot, Olds was known for his innovative leadership. In Vietnam, he led the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing to 24 Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 jet aircraft kills – an unsurpassed total for that conflict.

One of the most significant moments in his career was on Jan. 2, 1967, during Operation Bolo, where he, as a colonel, entrusted the planning of an experimental and high-stakes mission to a quartet of veteran junior officers and pilots in his unit. Operation Bolo was conceived in response to the North Vietnamese use of MiG-21s to successfully shoot down F-105 Thunderchief aircraft. Olds noticed that F-4 Phantoms and F-105 Thunderchiefs routes became predictable. Enemy intelligence analysts would listen in on radio transmissions and were able to recognize F-105 and F-4 call signs and flight patterns and used the information to target the more vulnerable F-105s. Olds charged his men to come up with a plan to trick the North Vietnamese into thinking the F-4s were the F-105s. The F-4s were then fitted with the jamming pods usually carried by F-105s so that their electronic signature would be the same and also used the same call signs and flew the same routes and pod formations as the F-105s. Needless to say, the operation was a success and lead to the most MiGs shot down during a single mission.

An Air Force veteran who taught himself to code explains how he started a nonprofit that has educated other vets on how to get jobs in tech

Francis S. Gabreski (left) congratulates another World War II and Korean War ace, Maj. William T. Whisner (center). On the right is Lt. Col. George Jones, a MiG ace with 6.5 kills.

(US Air Force)

In a commentary commemorating Olds in March of 2018 written by Lt. Col. Bobby Schmitt, 16th Space Control Squadron commander, he said that Operation Bolo “showed innovation could work when the leader trusted and empowered his people to think of and implement new and better ways to do business.”

He also referred to Olds as “an innovative leader” at a time when the Air Force was in dire need of innovation to face difficult missions where a lot of people’s lives were at stake.

Just like Olds, Goldfein and Wilson ask airmen to help come up with ideas to reinvigorate squadrons for the force to be ready for the 21st-century fight.

They have gone as far as reviewing all Air Force instructions and empowering commanders to maneuver and make decisions as well as encourage wing commanders to let squadron commanders make important decisions.

An Air Force veteran who taught himself to code explains how he started a nonprofit that has educated other vets on how to get jobs in tech

Capt. Lacey Koelling, the 34th Aircraft Maintenance Unit officer in charge, and 34th Bomb Squadron members Capt. Lillian Pryor, a B-1 pilot; Capt. Danielle Zidack, a weapon systems officer; Capt. Lauren Olme, a B-1 pilot; and 1st Lt. Kimberly Auton, a weapon systems officer, conduct a preflight briefing prior to an all-female flight out of Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., March 21, 2018. The flight was in honor of WomenÕs History Month and consisted of routine training in the local area.

(Air Force photo by Sgt. Jette Carr)

During an Air Force update in September 2017, where Goldfein talked about creating healthy squadrons who excel in multi-domain warfare and ready to lead the joint force, he concluded by saying, “It’s the secretary and my job to release the brilliance found throughout the airmen in our Air Force,” a sentiment that echoes the voices of great Air Force leaders of the past, the present and the future.

This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

7 ways troops dress in ‘civvies’ that make them look like boots

While troops are in uniform, the only thing that matters is if it’s correct. Uniform is tidy and presentable. Boots are clean (and polished, for you older cats.) Hair is cut on a weekly basis. Things like that.

But when troops are off-duty and in garrison, they’re allowed to wear whatever.

Normally, troops just wear something comfortable and occasionally trendy. When you’re off-duty, you’re on your own time (until someone in the unit messes up).

But then there are the young, dumb boots who make it so painfully obvious that they don’t have any real clothes in their barracks room.

Shy of some major exceptions for clothing unbecoming of a service member, there are no guidelines for wearing civilian clothes out of uniform. But it’s like boots haven’t figured out that being “out of uniform” isn’t meant to be the unofficial boot uniform. You can spot them immediately when they wear these.


An Air Force veteran who taught himself to code explains how he started a nonprofit that has educated other vets on how to get jobs in tech

I feel like this dude’s NCO failed him by not immediately taking him to the barber.

(/r/JustBootThings)

Barracks haircut without a hat

It really doesn’t matter if you’ve got a stupid haircut in formation. You’ll be mocked relentlessly by your squad but it doesn’t matter. You’re at least in regulations.

If you don’t hide your shame with a hat when you’re in civvies, however, your buddies might get the impression that you don’t realize it’s an awful haircut. And that you’re a boot. And that you should be mocked even harder.

An Air Force veteran who taught himself to code explains how he started a nonprofit that has educated other vets on how to get jobs in tech

But hey. It technically counts as civilian wear.

Uniform undershirt with basketball shorts

When you’re done for the day, normal troops get out of their uniform as fast as they can. Boots tend to stop half way through just so they can go to the chow hall and get away with being in civvies.

They just stop at the blouse and pants and toss on a cheapo pair of basketball shorts. If they’re really lazy, they’ll even wear the military-issued socks with the same cheap Nike sandals.

An Air Force veteran who taught himself to code explains how he started a nonprofit that has educated other vets on how to get jobs in tech

Can we all agree that the bedazzled butt cross should have never been a fad?

Combat boots tucked into embroidered jeans

Combat boots aren’t really worn for comfort. They’re practical as hell (which is why the military uses them) but they’re not comfortable. Especially when they need to be bloused over the uniform pants. It would make sense that you’d not want to do this with regular clothes…right?

Nope. Boots never got that memo. And it’s never the same jeans any regular American would wear. It’s always the trashiest embroidered jeans that look like they weren’t even cool back in early 2000’s.

An Air Force veteran who taught himself to code explains how he started a nonprofit that has educated other vets on how to get jobs in tech

One of my favorite things when someone is wearing a shirt for a fighter is to press them for details about fighter’s record.

MMA shirts

It’s one thing if a new troop wears their basic training shirt. It’s one of the few shirts they have and completing basid is something to be proud of. No qualms with that.

If a boot rotates wearing one of seven Tapout or Affliction shirts and they’ve only ever taken Army Combatives Level One — yeah, no.

Just like with the goofy embroidered jeans, these shirts also look like they were constantly sprinkled in glitter.

An Air Force veteran who taught himself to code explains how he started a nonprofit that has educated other vets on how to get jobs in tech

Just please take them off. This just looks dumb.

Oakleys worn on the back of the head (or under the chin)

Think of how literally every single person does with their sunglasses when they’re not using them. You’d assume they’d take them off or flip them up to the top of their head if it’s for a quick moment, right?

Not boots. They flip them around so they’re worn in a stupid manner. Nothing against Oakleys either — but if they’re more expensive than everything else combined in their wardrobe, it’s a problem.

An Air Force veteran who taught himself to code explains how he started a nonprofit that has educated other vets on how to get jobs in tech

“You’re welcome for my service.”

Dog tags outside a shirt

Dog tags serve a purpose for identifying troops in combat and treated as an inspectable item while in uniform. It is unheard of in any current branch of service to wear dog tags outside of the uniform.

And yet, boots will wear their dog tags on the outside of their Tapout shirt to let everyone know that they’re in the military and didn’t just buy their dog tags online.

An Air Force veteran who taught himself to code explains how he started a nonprofit that has educated other vets on how to get jobs in tech

But seriously. Where did they get these from?

ID card holder armbands

If troops are in a top secret area, they may need to wear identification outside of their uniform (and even then, it’s probably a separate badge). While on a deployment, troops may need to wear an ID card armband if they’re in PTs. Shy of those two very specific moments, there is literally no reason to store your CAC outside your wallet.

There’s an explanation for everything else on this list: boots think it looks cool and makes them feel like even more in the military. But boots who wear their CAC on their sleeve just paint a big ol’ target on themselves.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Hispanic family defines meaning of service

National Hispanic Heritage Month honors those who have positively influenced and enriched the U.S. and society.

For the Fuentes family, that means celebrating the nine brothers who served in the military. Brothers Alfonso, David, Enrique, Ezequiel, Ismael, Marcos, Richard and Rudy all served in the Marine Corps, while Israel served in the Air Force.

Hailing from Corpus Christi, Texas, the Fuentes parents had 16 children: nine sons and seven daughters. The parents worried about the children but supported their decisions to enlist.


David was the first to enlist, joining the Marine Corps in 1957. According to his siblings, other students teased David in high school, calling him a “mama’s boy.” When one of David’s cousins—a Marine—came home on leave, he talked to David, who convinced him to join. That started a tradition that followed through all nine of the brothers.

Most of the brothers have used VA over the years, including receiving health care at VA Texas Valley Coastal Bend Health Care System.

Reasons for serving

Each of the brothers had different reasons for serving.

“My plans were to quit school and join the Marines to get away from home,” Ismael said. “A friend of mine told me he would do the same. We went to the Marine recruiting office one weekend and were told we were the two highest ranking officers in Navy Junior ROTC, graduate with honors and we will place you both in our 120-day delayed buddy program. We both graduated June 2, 1968, and were in San Diego June 3.”

Another brother said his reason was to possibly spare his children from going to war.

“I volunteered to go to Vietnam,” Richard said. “My thoughts for volunteering is that when I would have a family, I could tell my kids that I already went to war so they wouldn’t have to.”

Echoing that sentiment, another brother said he served to possibly spare his brothers from going to war.

“I did three years in Navy Junior ROTC because I always knew that I wanted to enlist in the Marine Corps and in case it came down that I had to go to war, then maybe my three younger brothers would be spared,” Rudy said. “That was the reason I enlisted, to protect my three younger brothers.”

The youngest brother said he felt compelled to follow his brothers’ examples.

“Being one of the youngest of nine brothers, I did not want to be the one to break tradition, so I enlisted in the Marine Corps and followed in my brothers’ footsteps,” Enrique said.

About the brothers

Alfonso served in the Marine Corps from 1973-1979 as an infantry rifleman. He served at a Reserve unit in his hometown of Corpus Christi. He also deployed to Rome for training.

David didn’t get teased again after he came home on leave in his Marine Corps uniform. He worked on helicopter engines, assigned to the former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro in California. David served from 1957 to 1960. He passed away June 15, 2011.

Enrique served in the Marine Corps from June 1975-June 1979. Following training at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, he served on embassy duty in both Naples, Italy, and Sicily from 1976-1978. He finished his time in the Marine Corps at Camp Pendleton.

Ezequiel enlisted in the Marine Corps July 1, 1965, serving as an aircraft firefighter. He served in Yuma, Arizona, and Iwakuni, Japan. He honorably discharged from the Marine Corps June 30, 1969.

Ismael served in the Marine Corps from June 1968 to June 1972. He served at MCB Camp Pendleton as a cook. After dislocating his shoulder, he transferred to the correctional services company.

Israel enlisted in the Air Force in 1966, serving as a weapons mechanic on A-37s and a crew chief on B-58 bombers. He served at Bien Hoa Air Base from 1968-1969 during the Tet Offensive. He discharged in 1970.

Marcos joined the Marine Corps under the delayed entry program Nov. 10, 1976—the service’s 201st birthday. He served from June 1977 to August 1982, serving at a motor pool unit in MCB Camp Pendleton and a Reservist with the 23rd Marine Regiment.

Richard served in the Marine Corps from 1966-1970. He served with Marine Helicopter Squadron 463 in Vietnam from July 1968 to December 1969. He served in Danang and Quang Tri as a CH-53 Sea Stallion door gunner and as a maintainer on helicopter engines.

Rudy served from January 1972 to February 1977 as military police, transport driver and weapons instructor. He volunteered five times to go to Vietnam, getting denied all five times. He assisted during the 1975 evacuation of Saigon.

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

This is why taping your grenades is a terrible idea

Grunts everywhere are always searching for new ways to make their lives easier and more convenient. From buying lighter body armor to buying an original Magpul, we always want to improve our effectiveness on the battlefield. There are certain adopted rituals, however, that are actually more inconvenient than they are improvements. One such ritual is wrapping a single piece of duct tape around the pin of an M67 frag grenade.

This ritual stems from a fear that the pin might get snagged on a tree branch and get accidentally pulled, initiating the fuse countdown. Anyone who has pulled the pin on a grenade can tell you, though, it’s not that simple. Any Marines will tell you that the process is actually, “twist pull pin” because if you try to just pull it straight out, it ain’t happening.

Here’s why it’s a bad idea to tape your grenades:


An Air Force veteran who taught himself to code explains how he started a nonprofit that has educated other vets on how to get jobs in tech

The training grenades have all those safeties for a good reason…

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Justin J. Shemanski)

The pin is not the only safety

Hollywood would have you believe that all you have to do to use a grenade is pull that pin, but it’s not so simple. There’re three safeties on the M67: the thumb clip, the pin, and the safety lever (a.k.a. the “spoon”). The entire purpose of the thumb clip is to ensure the fuse isn’t triggered if the pin is pulled first.

We all know that one guy who pulled the pin before sweeping the safety clip and threw it into a room, waiting hopelessly for the grenade to go off… How embarrassing.

An Air Force veteran who taught himself to code explains how he started a nonprofit that has educated other vets on how to get jobs in tech

When you think about it, you’re going through an unnecessary amount of effort for just a four second delayed explosion.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Akeel Austin)

You don’t have time

According to the Marine Corps Squad Weapons Student Handout for the Basic School, the average individual can throw a frag 30 to 40 meters. Why is this important? It means that if you’re using that glorious ‘Merica ball, it means you’re in close-quarters.

Do you have time to rip that tape off during a close encounter? No, you don’t.

An Air Force veteran who taught himself to code explains how he started a nonprofit that has educated other vets on how to get jobs in tech

It’s not easy enough for you to pull it out with your teeth. Just take our word on that.

(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Chelsea Baker)

The pin is already difficult enough to pull

The pin is in there just tightly enough so that you can rip it out quickly with the right amount of force, but it’s not so easy that it slips out when snagged on an inanimate object.

An Air Force veteran who taught himself to code explains how he started a nonprofit that has educated other vets on how to get jobs in tech

Notice how the pins are safely tucked inside.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Ashley McLaughlin)

Experts say you shouldn’t

In an Army.mil article, Larry Baker, then-FORSCOM explosives safety and range manager, is quoted as saying.

“…to the best of my knowledge, there is no evidence in the history of the M67 hand grenade to suggest that it requires taping and there is no evidence that a Soldier needs to tape it because of inherent safety issues.

Larry Baker, a Vietnam veteran, had nearly thirty years of experience at the time the article was written. He goes on to state that grenade pouches exist for the purpose of safely transporting grenades to your objective.

MIGHTY CULTURE

A woman completed Special Forces training; these operators have some thoughts

On July 9, a female National Guard soldier became the first woman to graduate from U.S. Army Special Forces training since Capt. Katie Wilder did so in 1980, earning the coveted Green Beret. The woman, whose identity the Army is withholding for personnel security purposes, joins more than a dozen women who have completed elite schools that were only available to men until the Pentagon opened all combat jobs, including special operations positions, to women in 2016.


Coffee or Die spoke with several men who served in special operations units alongside women in combat to get their thoughts on the historic event.

An Air Force veteran who taught himself to code explains how he started a nonprofit that has educated other vets on how to get jobs in tech

Special Forces soldiers from the U.S. Army’s 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) conduct an AAR after Counter Improvised Explosive Device training at Panzer Local Training area near Stuttgart, Germany, June. 10, 2020. Photo by Patrik Orcutt/U.S. Army.

An Air Force veteran who taught himself to code explains how he started a nonprofit that has educated other vets on how to get jobs in tech

Luke Ryan, right, served as a team leader with 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment. Photo courtesy of Luke Ryan/Coffee or Die.

Retired Army Master Sergeant Jariko Denman served with the 75th Ranger Regiment for 16 years.

“In Afghanistan, women in Cultural Support Teams (CSTs) attached to us and other special operations forces, including Green Berets and [U.S. Navy] SEALs. CSTs were enablers, just like explosive ordnance disposal techs or others whose specialties we needed to support our missions.

“On my last four deployments as a task force senior enlisted advisor, we had CSTs with us, so I’ve been in firefights with women, chasing down bad guys alongside them. There was never a case in my experience of women weighing us down. I can’t say that for every other enabler who attached to us. Women coming into that job realized they were going into that hyperkinetic environment, and they brought their ‘A’ game. They knew they could not be a weak link, so they came in shape, and they were very successful.

“For any leader building a team, we know the team isn’t as strong if everybody looks and thinks the same. You want a diversity of skills and backgrounds because that diversity reflects your needs. High-performing individuals who have vastly different life experiences are an asset in SOF.

“As long as we maintain the same SOF qualification standards for everyone, I think women in SOF are just as capable as men, and I’m glad to see more women joining our ranks and getting the same special designations men have always had the opportunity to attain.”

An Air Force veteran who taught himself to code explains how he started a nonprofit that has educated other vets on how to get jobs in tech

Joe and Shannon Kent with their sons. Photo courtesy of Joe Kent/Coffee or Die.

Luke Ryan served as an Army Ranger and team leader with 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment.

“I was on the mission where Captain Jenny Moreno was killed in action in October 2013. She was a nurse by trade but was attached to my Ranger platoon as a Cultural Support Team (CST) member. When she saw that several of my Ranger buddies had been seriously wounded, she moved to help them without regard for her own safety. She was killed in the process. That kind of selfless bravery is something I will never forget. I hold her in the same high regard as I hold my Ranger brethren who were killed doing the same thing.

“Women have already been fighting in special operations components for years. That part isn’t new. They were attached to our unit for my four deployments, and I will never doubt the ability of a woman to be courageous and effective on the battlefield. Moreno didn’t have a Ranger scroll, but in my opinion, she earned one. If I see her in the next life, I’ll give her mine.

“As far as integrating into traditional special operations units, I’ve seen the courage of women in SOF tested on the battlefield, and I’m in full support of it. As long as standards are maintained, allowing women in SOF will be a non-issue.”

An Air Force veteran who taught himself to code explains how he started a nonprofit that has educated other vets on how to get jobs in tech

Rob Garnett in Eastern Afghanistan on his last deployment in 2010. Photo courtesy of Rob Garnett/One More Wave.

Retired Chief Warrant Officer 3 Joe Kent served as a Ranger and Special Forces operator. His wife, Senior Chief Petty Officer Shannon Kent, was killed while serving on a special operations task force in the fight against ISIS in 2019.

“My wife trained as an Arabic linguist and signals intelligence collector. In Iraq, special operations forces relied heavily on intelligence professionals who had to work with local Iraqis to develop informants and gather intelligence for our missions. Iraqi women often had intelligence we needed, and women like Shannon stepped up to provide a capability that none of us had. Her contributions gave us a more complete picture of whatever situation we were heading into, which was invaluable.

“As years went on, Shannon gained more and more trust in the SOF community, and her performance in special operations opened doors for other intelligence professionals to try out for special operations forces.

“Anyone who has served alongside women in special operations should know it was just a matter of time before a woman would wear the Green Beret and Special Forces long tab.

“As Americans, our country has decided we’re going to have this all-volunteer force, so we get the military that shows up and volunteers to go fight. Plenty of women have fought and died, and to say they can’t go be combat arms or special operators is wrong. My wife was good enough to die alongside SEALs and operators on her fifth deployment but not have the same opportunity to prove herself in SOF qualification courses? That’s ridiculous.

“I’m very glad the ban on women serving in combat arms and special operations was lifted, and my hat’s off to the woman who completed Special Forces qualification.”

An Air Force veteran who taught himself to code explains how he started a nonprofit that has educated other vets on how to get jobs in tech

Nolan Peterson has covered conflict around the world. Photo courtesy of Nolan Peterson/Coffee or Die.

Rob Garnett served as a Navy SEAL for almost 23 years.

“In Baghdad in 2003, I was waiting with an Iraqi Interpreter at one of the entrances to the Green Zone to escort an Iraqi National inside. As vehicles moved through the ‘s curves’ of the base access point, we heard the guards start shouting ‘Stop!’ at a small car approaching the gate. When the vehicle didn’t stop, the soldier standing next to me began firing at the approaching vehicle, and I began to fire as well. The vehicle slowly came to a stop after the driver was killed. As the soldiers moved to inspect the vehicle, they found the trunk was full of 155 rounds made into an IED.

“When I walked over to the soldier who had first engaged the vehicle to say ‘great job,’ I realized this person was not a soldier but an airman, as well as a female. I remember joking with her and saying, ‘No females in combat, right?’ She just smiled and said, ‘Fuck off.’ She told me she didn’t plan on letting anyone inside that wasn’t supposed to be there.

“From my perspective, we aren’t getting female commandos in SOF now; we are getting MORE commandos. We can engage with more of the population when we include females in SOF operations, and I feel like most folks wouldn’t be as concerned about someone’s gender but more about a new team member’s performance.

“I would guess the soldier who completed SF training doesn’t want to be known as the first female SF soldier; she just wants to be a commando like everyone else.”

Nolan Peterson is a former Air Force special operations pilot who served with the 34th Special Operations Squadron. 

“On my first deployment to Afghanistan, I served alongside a woman pilot whose impact I’ll never forget. On a long night mission, orbiting above a Taliban compound, helping good guys kill bad guys, I was pretty stressed and anxious. My greatest fear was I’d screw up somehow and get Americans hurt, or worse.

“They measure a pilot’s worth in hours flown because experience matters most. And, lucky for me, I was copilot to a woman who had years of combat experience. She had actually been one of my instructor pilots and played a big role in training me, and I was able to do my job that night in spite of the nervousness — thanks in no small part to the steady leadership and proficient skills of my pilot. It’s easy to do your job well when you’ve got a good example to follow.

“As we left station and started flying back to Bagram, we could see meteors streaking overhead through our night-vision goggles. Then the sun began to peak over the Hindu Kush.

“‘Pretty cool, isn’t it?’ I remember her saying. Then, as if granted permission, I suddenly stopped being so afraid of screwing up and took a moment to appreciate that, yes, this was, in fact, pretty damn cool. Then she told me I’d done well that night and had turned out to be a fine pilot. She was confident I’d go on and make her proud. Since she’d played a key role in training me, my performance was a reflection on her too. That small compliment she gave me was worth more than any medal.

“More than anything, on that debut deployment I’d wanted to prove myself to the people who’d mattered most — that’s to say, the people who’d been to war before me. And that pilot had been to war a lot. Hell, she’d spent most of the best years of her life either in war zones or training for them. She was a warrior, a professional, a mentor, and a damn good pilot. And getting her stamp of approval was one of my proudest moments.

“So when it comes to the recent news of a woman graduating the Special Forces Qualification Course, I think it’s long overdue. Women have been serving in combat and in special operations forces for years. They volunteer for the same risks, assume the same responsibilities and have had to uphold the same standards as their male counterparts. Once the bullets are flying, all that matters is that you’re good at your job. And without a doubt, to make it through the Green Beret selection process, that woman has clearly proven herself to be among the best of the best.”

Disclosure: Nolan Peterson is a senior staff writer for Coffee or Die; Luke Ryan is an associate editor, and Jariko Denman is a contributing writer.

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

Why experts think Kim Jong Un never actually attended an elite military academy

North Korea’s Kim Jong Un is not only the leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, he is the Supreme Commander of the Korean People’s Army (KPA), the fourth-largest military in the world.

North Korea’s military is part of its foundation; Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Un’s grandfather and the founder of the so-called “Hermit Kingdom,” used his own military service — as a guerilla fighting against the Japanese occupation of Korea — to burnish his cult of personality, according to Washington Post reporter Anna Fifield’s book, “The Great Successor: The Divinely Perfect Destiny of Brilliant Comrade Kim Jong Un.”

Military service is baked into the North Korean constitution; “National defense is the supreme duty and honor of citizens,” it says, and military service is generally compulsory. Kim has never served in the North Korean military but reportedly graduated near the top of his class at a prestigious military academy, a claim that experts and a former North Korean military member found highly suspect.


North Korea spends approximately 25% of its GDP on its military, including its nuclear program, spending .5 billion each year on its forces between 2004 and 2014. It boasts 1.1 million troops, about 5% of its population, according to CFR.

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(KCNA)

According to North Korean propaganda, the 35-year-old Kim Jong Un prepared to lead this massive force by attending Kim Il Sung Military University in Pyongyang; experts said it was more likely that he had received some instruction from military trainers associated with this university.

Some propaganda accounts cited by Fifield say Kim, who reportedly started at the academy when he was 18, was such a natural at military strategy that he was soon training his instructors.

Kim’s ‘elite’ alma mater

Kim Il Sung Military University is a “military institution for educating elite military officers,” according to Bruce W. Bennett, senior defense analyst at The RAND Corporation. It was established in 1952, according to North Korea Leadership Watch, and is one of several military training schools.

“The students of this university are middle level officers such as majors and lieutenant colonels,” Bennett said, equating the university to institutions like the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island.

“It is the university that is a gateway to becoming a senior officer in the Korean People’s Army (KPA). Most of North Korean military generals studied in this university when they were mid-career,” Bennett told INSIDER via email.

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An image of Pyongyang, with Kim Il Sung Military University outlined.

(North Korea Leadership Watch/Google Images)

Fifield’s book, and official North Korean propaganda, report that Kim studied here alongside his older brother, Kim Jong Chol.

“It was their mother’s idea to send them to the military academy, a way to bolster her sons’ claim to succession,” Fifield writes. Kim Jong Un and Kim Jong Chol are the children of Kim Jong Il and Ko Yong Hui, to whom he was not officially married. Kim Jong Il installed Ko Yong Hui and her sons in a home in his compound, ensuring they were well cared for.

Kim Jong Un reportedly entered the university in 2002, after his early education in Switzerland, and began studying “juche-oriented military leadership,” Fifield writes, referring to the North Korean concept of juche, or self-reliance. Juche is essential to the North Korean identity, although the country was economically dependent on the Soviet Union until its collapse. China is now its most important economic relationship.

“I would expect that most of the training at Kim Il Sung Military University would be on military operations, military history, and political indoctrination,” Bennett told INSIDER via email.

“But a big part of the curriculum is likely also competition between the personnel to see how they deal with each other physically and mentally, which leads to forming bonds of friendship critical as officers are promoted.”

‘A natural at military strategy’

While Kim Jong Un never served in the KPA, North Korea Leadership Watch (NKLW) contends that it’s likely some students are able to enter Kim Il Sung Military University without any prior service, straight out of high school.

NKLW describes Kim Il Sung Military University as modeled on Soviet military academies; while there might be classes on North Korean military history, the structure and academics of Kim Il Sung Military University find their closest analogs in the Soviet system.

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits the Command of the Strategic Force of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) in an unknown location in North Korea in this undated photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency.

(KCNA)

According to North Korean official state media, Fifield writes, Kim Jong Un was “such a natural at military strategy that he was instructing the instructors rather than learning from them.”

He graduated on Dec. 24, 2006, Fifield writes, “with honors,” after writing a final dissertation on “A Simulation for the Improvement of Accuracy in the Operational Map by the Global Positioning System (GPS).”

But a former member of the North Korean military who now lives in the US and is familiar with the Kim family said it was unlikely that Kim Jong Un actually attended Kim Il Sung Military University, at least not in the traditional sense.

“According to North Korean propaganda, Kim Jong Un attended Kim Il Sung Military University, but I couldn’t find any of his classmates or Army mates. If he really attended that university, somebody should know that he attended,” the former military member said.

“If Kim Jong Un actually attended that college, he has pictures, he has a record, and he has friends. But [none] of the North Korean elite could find his picture and his friends. I think it’s a kind of propaganda,” the former military member said, noting that the North Korean propaganda department would have exploited any evidence of Kim Jong Un having attended the university to build up his cult of personality.

Rather than actually physically attending classes, there were “probably private instructors visiting his house to give him a lecture,” the former military member said.

“Kim Il Sung Military University is a more closed university, the students are military officers, not civilians, so they can keep the secret that Kim Jong Un didn’t actually attend.”

An Air Force veteran who taught himself to code explains how he started a nonprofit that has educated other vets on how to get jobs in tech

(KCNA)

Kim would have been unique in attending the military school named for his grandfather; “I don’t think most of the Kim family become military officers — they avoid becoming military officers,” the former military member said.

“They have a good life […] they don’t need to go [in] the military to risk their lives.”

In order to qualify for a school like Kim Il Sung Military University, potential recruits must have, “superior service records, excellent physical condition and trusted political reliability” and have “a flawless family background, be popular among fellow soldiers, and receive the approval of their commanding and political officers,” according to Joseph Bermudez’s book “Shield of the Great Leader: The Armed Forces of North Korea.”

NKLW contends that Kim probably had private tutoring for at least a few years, and that he was likely a very good student, exhausting teachers with his questions. The academics on military operations are thought to be rigorous, even if it’s unlikely Kim also participated in the physical and professional competitions that other students must face.

In whatever capacity he studied with the university’s instructors, it influenced his relationship with the North Korean military today, in particular the aggressive missile testing North Korea undertook under the third Kim leader.

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

Blue Star Families seeking minority representation in Military Family Lifestyle Survey

The Blue Star Families Military Family Lifestyle Survey is actively seeking more representation for persons of color. The survey is a vital tool utilized by government officials to determine the needs of the military community.

With the survey ending on October 16, 2020, Blue Star Families seeks more participation from Black, Hispanic and Asian members of the military community, who are often underrepresented in measures of family stability and wellbeing. More diverse data collection in this survey will allow for a more accurate representation of the realities facing military members, their families and our veterans.


In an article on their website, Dr. Jessica Strong explained the significance of the survey. ” Blue Star Families started with a survey because if they want to explain what military families are experiencing, the best thing to do is ask them,” she said. Strong is a U.S. Army spouse who works as the organization’s co-director of applied research.

The survey itself covers a broad range of subjects as it relates to military life. Hot topics include child care, spouse employment, the pandemic and education, among others. The survey lends a comprehensive picture of the reality of the military community so that decisions can be made on how to address issues that come up.

One of the other parts of the survey is aimed at understanding diversity in the military community. But without significant participation from persons of color within the military community, their unique needs may be overlooked and underrepresented.

The survey itself is completely voluntary and takes anywhere from 20-35 minutes, depending on how long you spend on each question. Conducted only once a year, survey results determine a whole host of programs and governmental responses to issues that need to be addressed.

Each year, more than one million people are impacted by Blue Star Families’ programs. Over million in value has been accessed in benefits by military families. With a four star charity rating, they’ve maintained their commitment to the military community. But one of the most important things that they do for the community lies in the Military Family Lifestyle Survey. It is imperative that everyone take the time to make their voice heard because it matters.

Their website hones in on the need to bridge the gap saying, “The goal of Blue Star Families’ research and policy work is to increase the awareness and understanding of military family life trends and the ramifications for both our Armed Forces and our American society.”

Since 2009, the organization has been dedicated to serving the military community through active engagement with the civilian and governmental sectors to ensure quality of life.

Through partnerships with the government, communities, nonprofits and the military community, Blue Star Families is already making a difference. But they need your help. Take the time to fill out the survey and make sure your voice and needs are heard, so that BSF can continue to serve you and your family.

To complete the 2020 Military Families Lifestyle Survey, click here.

MIGHTY CULTURE

The Pentagon’s biggest enemy isn’t China or Russia

Our military is faced with a conflicting dichotomy. On one hand, we tout that we are the most technologically advanced military force on the planet. On the other, the Pentagon states that we need to upgrade our defenses to keep up with the looming threats. Depending on which briefing you attend, you may hear that the Department of Defense (DoD) is operating under a very tight budget; meanwhile, the news media points out the United States spends more on defense than any other nation in the world.

So what gives? What is really happening?


To fully grasp the intricacies of the U.S. military’s budget and expenditures, we must take a holistic look at the budgetary process.

Who’s Really in Charge of the Military?

Each year, the service components draft their needs and submit them in a prioritized list to the Secretary of Defense. These lists are consolidated and given over to the president. The president, not being a military man, relies on the suggestions and vision of the service chiefs. In January of every year, the president submits his budget proposal (for the next year) to Congress.

The House and Senate each have their own Armed Services Committee, who eventually reconcile the two agendas; they determine what the military is authorized (how much they’re allowed to have) and what the military is appropriated (what they’re allowed to purchase that year). Once reconciled, Congress votes on the National Defense Authorization Act late in the calendar year. The NDAA then becomes law; the military must purchase those designated items.

This begs the question: who determines what the U.S. military will be comprised of? Sadly, it appears that the commander-in-chief merely makes recommendations; it is the Congress who has the final say.

Unfortunately, two flaws can be spotted in this system. First, it may be possible that a member of Congress may skew military appropriations in order to curry favor with their constituents. For example, Senator Susan Collins from Maine successfully petitioned to build the third Zumwalt-class destroyer to keep her state’s Bath Iron Works shipyard in business; at the time, it was a ship the Navy did not want. Second, once the appropriations are issued, it becomes a monumental fight to change them. What if a service realized that they need to change what they are purchasing because of a new threat? It would face the huge task of convincing Congress of the need to change the purchasing strategy mid-stream. It may prove more difficult than the effort itself.

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DoD

The Push for Technology

There’s a consensus among military analysts that posits the technological advantages of our adversaries. They assert that Russia and China have already surpassed the United States in terms of technological abilities. In these analyses, they credit foreign missiles with absolute reliability and perfect accuracy while discrediting our own.

This trend has spurned the admirals and generals into action; there is a palpable emphasis in developing futuristic weapons to not only meet the challenge, but to far exceed it. At this point, I will concede that there is value in developing weaponry for the future. However, I will dispute the overwhelming emphasis currently placed upon it. If one is focused on a futuristic battle, you may not be prepared for the near-term skirmish.

The DoD budget for Fiscal Year 2021 stands at 8 billion in total. Of that, 4.3 billion is being spent on Research, Development, Testing, Evaluation (RDTE); this is the highest value in our country’s history. This money will be spent on the development of weapons that do not yet exist. Items such as laser rayguns, howitzers with global reach, and deflector shields sound good in theory, but the technology isn’t mature enough to make them a reality.

Each service component has a number of pet-projects that are purely hypothetical at this point: the Air Force’s B-21 stealth bomber concept boasts unmatched abilities, when it hasn’t even flown yet; the Navy’s electromagnetically driven catapults and elevators still haven’t proven their worth; the Army’s search for a robot that can autonomously carry an infantryman’s load hasn’t reached fruition; and all of the services are constructing massive databases to help each keep track of maintenance and availability at extreme cost.

I do not believe these programs should be canceled, but they should not be the national priority. These programs should be relegated to the “back burner” until technology can catch up to the promised capabilities.

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DoD

The Value of Our Current Force

Right now, the U.S. military is, by far, the strongest force on the planet. Let’s review recent history.

In 1991, the U.S. military dismantled the Iraqi army in 96 hours. Later, in 2003, the US military crushed the Iraqi army in less than weeks, while using only two divisions as the spearhead. In Afghanistan, the U.S. military forced the Taliban government to fall within three months. Since that time, the United States has held control of Afghanistan longer than the Russians or Alexander the Great ever did.

Think about that.

Those are astounding time frames. But like any sports team, all the competitors would like to defeat the champion and claim the title. So, the United States must be vigilant to keep the hyenas at a distance. Because of that, I propose that Washington maintain its current force as its primary effort, while slowly developing its future capability as a secondary effort.

For a moment, let’s set aside the on-going technological revolution. The major weapons systems in the U.S. arsenal are sound, combat-proven, and worthy of keeping. Sure, they will require upgrades to keep pace with technological developments, but they are largely superior to most nations’ weapons. Our weapons systems cannot be allowed to fester or grow obsolete while we chase new futuristic weapons that are years from production. Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld once said, “You go to war with the army you have, not the one you might want or wish to have at a later time.”

The reality is that new weapons are prohibitively expensive and take too much time to build; because of the costly price tags of the new weapons, the Pentagon invariably ends up buying fewer new weapons and ends up lagging behind our adversaries in terms of the sheer total number of systems; during these extensive construction times, we must maintain our current force structure by funding the “in-place” weapons systems.

Conspiracy Theory

Political doves often create conspiracy-laden theories that accuse the most outlandish plots. One of them touts that the average citizen does not truly comprehend how much the weapons manufacturing industries fuel the U.S. economy overall. True, the military-industrial complex affects many jobs in many states, but the funding of programs just to create “jobs” eventually hurts the military. It is sometimes necessary to cancel a project and shift its money to another more worthwhile project. This may hurt some Congress-members, and it may mean shifting funding to another defense company, but in the end, the United States will benefit from the security gained from a good piece of military hardware.

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DoD

The Way Forward

To unravel the convoluted budgetary process and streamline defense acquisition, the president should request a special meeting with both Congressional Armed Services Committees to appeal for one-time special monetary powers to shift defense spending toward ‘at risk’ military capabilities. Funds would have to be shifted on an emergency basis, with the aim of purchasing the best items now rather than perfect items far in the future. The president should propose:

1) The RDTE value should be reduced by 10 percent for one year. Research could still continue with the remaining .9 billion, although some delays could be expected. The .4 billion could be used elsewhere.

2a) Purchase another eight F-15EX fighters for id=”listicle-2645629724″.2 billion, as the Air Force did last year. This would serve to augment the F-15 fleet during the slow expansion of the F-35 acquisition.

2b) Along a similar vein, initiate the purchase of sixteen F-16V Block 72 fighters for id=”listicle-2645629724″.3 billion. Just the addition of the AN/APG-83 Scalable Agile Beam Radar (SABR) will be a great improvement of the Viper’s potential, given that the F-16 will still be flying beyond 2030.

3) Purchase another Virginia-class Block V submarine with the additional Virginia Payload Module for .75 billion. This would help in the Navy in two ways: the VPM capability will assist with the aging SSGN line of ships, which will retire soon; it will bring up the submarine production schedule, which had slowed over the last two years. This will alleviate concern of the shrinking attack submarine numbers. Further, insist that all future acquisition of Virginia-class attack submarines be equipped with the VPM missiles to ameliorate the retirement of SSGNs.

4) Disburse id=”listicle-2645629724″ billion to change the structure/composition of the Littoral Combat Ship. To date, twenty LCS ships have been laid down. These ships are misfits within the Navy, not truly fulfilling any particular mission. The president should insist that the remaining ships in the class (fifteen hulls) be re-configured as mini-arsenal ships. Using the current hull design, the super-structure would have permanently installed VLS systems to house the Naval Strike Missile, the Harpoon Block 1C anti-ship missile, the Standard Missile 2 missiles or the Standard Missile 6; all of these guided by the SPY-1F Aegis radar; however, this would most likely eliminate the helicopter landing pad in the stern of the ship. In short, the last fifteen LCS ships would be turned into offensive weapons systems and serve as an interim frigate until a new ship design is introduced.

5) Implement a significant change to an Army major acquisition program. Currently, three Services use a variant of the V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft. The Army, however, insists on building its tilt-rotor from scratch. This is costly and time-consuming. The commander-in-chief should bring the Army into the DoD fold by demanding the purchase of the latest CV-22 version to replace the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft program. This would save billions in developmental research. As an incentive, the commander-in-chief would offer id=”listicle-2645629724″ billion to this effort. The Army would benefit from the improvements made by the other Services, while taking advantage of an active production line.

6) Purchase another Arleigh Burke-class Flight III destroyer, specifically designed to fulfill the air defense role, for billion. The Arleigh Burke is the workhorse for the Navy, and should continue for the foreseeable future. The Flight III design serves as the stopgap until the Navy can fill the role that aging cruisers are struggling with.

7) Lastly, the Army must complete upgrading its ground combat vehicles. Usually, this is a multi-year project. But in the light of increased adversaries, it should be completed sooner. 0 million is needed for sixty upgraded Stryker double V-hull combat vehicles with heavier weapon systems; 0 million would convert 168 Bradley vehicles to the new M-2A4 configuration; 0 million would purchase twenty-nine new M-1A2C Abrams tanks (about a battalion’s worth); all part of on-going programs.

Conclusion

The transfer of developmental funding to active, “ready” programs would require Congressional buy-in. But time can also be an enemy; thus, to keep our strategic advantage, it is worth the venture to shift our defense dollars to more meaningful projects. By shifting billion dollars, the president could ease the burden upon the Navy to restore its ship-building schedule; it would help the Air Force keep its fourth-generation fighters ahead of contemporaries; and bring the Army forward in its long-term upgrading process. This shift may slow the development of futuristic weapons, or it may invigorate the program managers to operate more judiciously.

A shift of billion dollars is a small number to Congress. But it is a valuable number in terms of maintaining our decisive edge over our enemies.

This article originally appeared on Real Clear Defense. Follow @RCDefense on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

NATO is trying to up its game in the waters around Europe

Shrinking ice coverage in the Arctic has drawn the attention of NATO, Russia, and other countries to the high north, where the promise of more accessible waterways means potential military and commercial competition.

Since Russia’s 2014 seizure of Crimea and incursion in Ukraine, however, NATO members have been concerned about Moscow’s actions closer to home, and developments in recent weeks indicate the alliance is focusing on securing waterways around Europe, in the Baltic and Mediterranean seas and the eastern Atlantic — all areas that could be contested in a conflict with Russia.

Below, you can see what NATO is being warned about, and what the alliance is and isn’t doing to address it.


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A Russian Ilyushin Il-22 Bizon and a Su-27 Flanker, flying along the Baltic coast, May 14, 2019.

(UK Ministry of Defense)

The Baltic Sea, bordered by six NATO member countries and with Russia’s second-largest city, St. Petersburg, at its eastern end, has always been a busy area.

Encounters between NATO forces and Russian forces at sea in the Baltic and in the skies over Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, where NATO members carry out air patrols, have been on the rise since 2014. (The air policing mission has actually been going on since 2004.)

That encounters include an incident this summer in which a Russian Su-27 fighter escorting Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu’s plane turned into a NATO jet, forcing it away.

These tensions have come with military buildup as well.

Starting in 2016, NATO deployed some 4,500 troops in battle groups to the Baltics and Poland. Since the end of 2017, Sweden, which like Finland is not part of NATO, has sent new military forces to Gotland Island, which it had withdrawn from in 2005.

In Kaliningrad, an exclave that is home to Russia’s Baltic Fleet, Moscow has deployed new weaponry, including nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, and upgraded facilities, including what appear to be active nuclear-weapon storage bunkers.

Summer 2019, Russia also set up a helicopter base on Gogland, a small island between Finland and Estonia. Estonian officials played down the military significance, but the base is still seen as a Russian move to assert its power in the region and keep its neighbors guessing.

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The guided-missile destroyer USS Bainbridge participates in a photo exercise during exercise Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) in the Baltic Sea, June 9, 2018.

(US Navy/Mass Comm. Specialist 1st Class Theron J. Godbold)

NATO countries along the Baltic have sought a more robust presence, and Germany has taken the lead.

Among NATO members, Germany, which has been criticized for the paucity of its defense spending and the quality of its armed forces, has taken the lead and tried to bring NATO and the EU closer together on Baltic security.

Vice Adm. Rainer Brinkmann, deputy chief of the German navy, said in September 2019 that Russia was the “one main challenge” in the Baltic and that Western partners “must take appropriate measures to cope” and “to prevent the Baltic Sea from being a ‘mare clausum,'” or “closed sea.”

Like its neighbors, Russia has legitimate reasons to be in the Baltic, but the number of actors there, each with their own national and commercial interests, make it a delicate situation, according to Christopher Skaluba, director or the Transatlantic Security Initiative at the Atlantic Council.

“I think [the Russians] know that aggressive actions in the Baltic are likely to get the attention, in a way they probably didn’t want, of the NATO nations and Sweden and Finland.”

“The Baltic is pretty small place. There’s a lot of players. That piece of it gets really ugly really quick,” Skaluba told Business Insider in October 2019. “I think for lots of reasons, there are more incentives to avoid [conflict] than there are to … catalyze it.”

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An F-35B fighter jet aboard the British aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, Oct. 13, 2019.

(LPhot Kyle Heller/UK Ministry of Defence)

A new battle of the Atlantic.

Russia’s navy is increasingly active in the North Atlantic, and though the level of that activity and the size of Russia’s navy don’t appear to reach that of the Cold War, it has set NATO on edge.

Growing tension between NATO members and Russia in the Atlantic has been called “the fourth battle of the Atlantic,” following World War I and II and the Cold War.

The UK in particular has struggled to keep up, calling on NATO allies to help track Russian subs thought to be lurking in and around British waters.

“In 2010, a Royal Navy ship was called on just once to respond to Russian navy ships approaching UK territorial waters. Last year we had to respond 33 times,” the UK’s then-defense minister, Gavin Williamson, said in May 2018.

The Royal Navy has built new aircraft carriers, equipping them with Britain’s first F-35s, and acquired US-made maritime patrol aircraft after scrapping its Nimrod patrol aircraft in 2010.

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Royal Navy frigate HMS St Albans is currently the Nations on call warship for escorting foreign warships.

The UK and its allies in Europe want to keep “a critical choke point” between them open.

While any conflict in the Atlantic today is likely to look much different than previous battles, it’s likely to involve the English Channel and waters around it, especially the North Sea — at least that’s the concern of the five European countries who effectively revived the Cold War-era “Channel Committee” November 2019.

The pact signed on Nov. 7, 2019, by senior navy leaders from Germany, France, the UK, Belgium, and the Netherlands pledges to “harmonize” naval purchasing plans, potentially to include common procurement, according to Defense News.

But the countries also want to increase personnel exchanges and joint training and eventually recognize the professional qualifications of service members across the group.

“The Channel area is the front door to Central Europe and an important gate to the Baltic Sea,” the text of the pact says. “It is the critical choke point for the maritime traffic between the United Kingdom and continental Europe.”

The committee is also another military tether between mainland Europe and the UK, whose future relations with the rest of the continent remain in doubt amid the turmoil of Brexit.

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The Mediterranean has also become a venue for what the US and others see as an emerging great-power competition.

NATO members in southern Europe have been focused on immigration from the Middle East and North Africa and the threat of terrorism emanating from those regions.

But Russian naval forces are a constant presence in the Mediterranean, traveling to and from Moscow’s bases in the Black Sea and and its base in Tartus, Syria, which is Russia’s only such facility outside the territory of the former Soviet Union.

With the ongoing civil war in Syria, the eastern Mediterranean has also become a venue for military operations, with Russian subs demonstrating their new ability to strike targets on land with missiles.

The Russian presence around the Mediterranean and Black seas, Iran’s presence in Syria, and antagonistic intra-alliance relations with Turkey all present security challenges for NATO, according to a recent Atlantic Council report.

“As the south becomes more congested and contested, and great-power competition intensifies, NATO defense, deterrence, and containment mission in the south is increasingly urgent and more complex,” the report states.

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US Navy destroyer USS Carney fires it MK 45 5-inch lightweight gun at night while on patrol in the Mediterranean Sea, Sept. 11, 2016.

(US Navy photo by Mass Comm. Specialist 3rd Class Weston Jones)

The lack of a strategy in the Mediterranean could have more serious consequences for the alliance as a whole, according to one deputy secretary general.

NATO has made a lot progress improving its defense and deterrence against Russia since 2014, “but it was more talk than action when it came to addressing problems in the south,” Alexander Vershbow, a distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council and coauthor of the report, said during its presentation October 2019.

“This theme figured prominently in my farewell address to the North Atlantic Council three years ago, and unfortunately the situation hasn’t changed all that much since then,” added Vershbow, who was deputy secretary general of NATO and US ambassador to Russia.

According to the report, “many of the conventional defense and deterrence challenges associated with NATO’s east are now reemerging in the south,” including enhanced Russian anti-access/area-denial capabilities, provocative actions in the Black Sea, and hybrid activity on the ground.

Though NATO has taken steps to remedy its shortcomings in the Mediterranean — such as setting up a “hub of the south” at Joint Forces Command in Naples, Italy — establishing a maritime-focused enhanced southern presence there could be a way to counter Russia and sharing the burden of doing so among members, Vershbow said.

“Russia is back with a vengeance in the eastern Mediterranean and in the Black Sea,” which adds a geopolitical dimension to NATO’s need to project stability and bolster defense and deterrence, Vershbow added.

“The lack of an effective southern strategy could put alliance solidarity at risk if the publics in the southern NATO countries see the alliance as failing to address what they consider to be their priority concerns,” Vershbow said. “It could undermine their willingness to share the burdens of collective defense against Russia, and everybody loses in that scenario.”

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

New Netflix documentary pulls back the curtain on military life

When the cheers of the viral military homecomings have dissipated and the videos stop playing, real life begins. Netflix’s new documentary, Father Soldier Son, pulls back the curtain and brings the viewer into the reality of the military family and the devastating cost of a 20-year war.

The public perception of a military service member leans toward words like heroic and exceptional. But they are human beings with real struggles as they live with the aftereffects of their commitment to this country. Father Soldier Son reveals that to the public. To create the documentary, two journalists from The New York Times spent 10 years (yes, 10 years) following American soldier Brian Eisch and his family.


What initially began as a film to document a battalion’s year-long deployment in 2010 during a troop surge evolved into an unexpected new project for directors Leslye Davis and Catrin Einhorn.

An Air Force veteran who taught himself to code explains how he started a nonprofit that has educated other vets on how to get jobs in tech

“We really wanted to tell the stories of American soldiers and Brian was just one of many [in that deployment]. But his kids were just so captivating and they spoke with such honesty, openness and emotion about what they were going through. They really stuck with us,” Einhorn explained.

The documentary begins with Eisch’s sons, Issac and Joey. They share their feelings about their dad being deployed overseas and their deep fears for his safety. This is another unique perspective of this film; the public is given a glimpse of how deployment impacts military children.

The viewer then witnesses the joyful reunion for the boys when their dad comes home for a break in his deployment. It’s not unlike the homecomings that go viral on social media. But then, the directors bring you in deeper with the emotional, compelling moments when the boys have to say goodbye; something not many members of the public ever witness.

When Eisch returned to combat in Afghanistan, he was shot.

An Air Force veteran who taught himself to code explains how he started a nonprofit that has educated other vets on how to get jobs in tech

Viewers are then brought on Eisch’s journey of being a wounded warrior. “We were able to show the before and what the boys were going through while he was away and the anxiety and fear that they have. Then we showed what happened after,” Einhorn explained. She continued, “There’s this sort of iconic idea of a hero, but what does that really mean? What is the sacrifice? Brian had a truck drive into a field and then jumped out of it to try and rescue this wounded ally of his. That is a very heroic thing by all accounts and he received an award for that. But what did that mean for him and his life afterward?”

Every time the directors thought the film was done, things kept happening in Eisch’s life that brought them back. “We got to take this personal and deep dive into this family to show how it [war] impacted them over time,” Davis said.

Three years after his combat injury, the constant pain forced Eisch to undergo a leg amputation.

The events that unfold after following that are a reality for many service members experiencing physical or invisible wounds of war. This film will bring viewers on a journey filled with hope, but also devastating loss and pain. “As journalists we really wanted to make it a window into a military family…These quiet consequences and how they can ripple through a family and reshape things. That’s what we witnessed with this family and felt hadn’t been explored,” said Einhorn.

An Air Force veteran who taught himself to code explains how he started a nonprofit that has educated other vets on how to get jobs in tech

Directors Catrin Einhorn (left) and Leslye Davis (right).

Both directors were asked how the family reacted to the documentary once it was revealed.

“We got to watch it with the family…He [Eisch] thinks it’s true. He thinks the story accurately depicts his life. The first time the family watched it – it was very retraumatizing. They were in grief watching it, and shock. But it seems that it has their seal of approval,” Davis shared. Einhorn added, “He said it was both joyful and devastating for them to watch it. He turned to us at the end and said, ‘It’s true, I am struggling.'”

“We look forward to what people take away from the film,” Davis said.

The documentary is available at midnight on July 17 to Netflix subscribers. The directors shared that the New York Times will be releasing a follow up a few days after the release to give viewers an update on the family.

When watching the film, it will take viewers into the unadulterated reality for military families. Father Soldier Son is a stark reminder of the far reaching ripple effects of war.

MIGHTY CULTURE

5 reasons why the battle buddy system was secretly brilliant

Soldiers of the post-9/11 generation have been part of a social experiment aimed at preventing them from doing dumb things. The idea was to pair each troop with an assigned “best friend” — a battle buddy — and that each pair would keep an eye on one another. Troops have to make sure their comrade is doing the right thing and, if they aren’t, say something before both of them make the blotter- aka, the buddy system.

At its worst, soldiers end up in trouble because their Blue Falcon of a squadmate decides to throw caution to the wind and do whatever’s on their mind. But, as much as soldiers bemoan always having someone by their side — and the system’s goofy name — it’s actually brought about plenty more benefits than downsides.


An Air Force veteran who taught himself to code explains how he started a nonprofit that has educated other vets on how to get jobs in tech

Even if that means you’re now forced to take that guy into less-than-pleasant situations.

(U.S. Army photo by Capt. Robert Taylor)

It makes sure no one is left out

Let’s call the “battle buddy system” what it truly is — a forced-best-friend system. Everyone from the social butterfly specialist to the dorky private is forced to at least talk to each other after they join the unit.

Granted, you’ll eventually either become actual friends through the process — or you’ll swap to someone you’re cooler with — but it opens the social gates for some of the shier soldiers in the barracks.

An Air Force veteran who taught himself to code explains how he started a nonprofit that has educated other vets on how to get jobs in tech

If your squad leader is happy, everyone’s happy — or you should be terrified. Depends on the squad leader…

(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Matthew Keeler)

It eliminates much of the stress of being an NCO

Specialists and below often miss the bigger picture when they’re at the lowest rungs of the totem pole, but taking any kind of weight off their shoulders is a blessing. When you’ve got to watch over six soldiers, things get missed and mistakes happen.

When those six soldiers are keeping to themselves and keeping each other in check, there’s a better chance that they’re doing the right thing.

An Air Force veteran who taught himself to code explains how he started a nonprofit that has educated other vets on how to get jobs in tech

Worst case scenario: You’ve got another person to help you win a fist fight against some overzealous douchebag.

(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Charles Highland)

It ensures someone will always watch your back

Soldiers stationed overseas in Korea or Germany know this all too well: You can’t even leave post without a battle buddy by your side. Drunk, American GIs being tossed into a foreign city without any means of figuring out how to get back in time for formation is actually pretty common.

Sure, now you run the risk of leaving two soldiers more lost than a butterbar on the BOLC land nav course, but the odds are better that they’ll at least be safe while they’re trying to find their way back.

An Air Force veteran who taught himself to code explains how he started a nonprofit that has educated other vets on how to get jobs in tech

Hopefully, at least one of you listened to the safety brief.

(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Brian Johnston)

With the buddy system, it’s been proven that dumb stuff happens less frequently

As with everything in the Army, there have been studies upon studies that have analyzed the efficacy versus the cost of telling your squad to be friends with one another. Because, you know, even the Army can make something as simple as drinking a beer with your friend into a PowerPoint slideshow.

It’s simple, really. Soldiers who have a person that’ll say, “what are you doing, you friggin’ idiot?!” are less likely to end up in the commander’s office.

An Air Force veteran who taught himself to code explains how he started a nonprofit that has educated other vets on how to get jobs in tech

Everyone needs a good, steady shoulder every now and again. It’s the least you can do for someone who’ll do the same for you.

(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Tyler Kingsbury)

The buddy system gives soldiers at least one person to talk to when it gets rough

Those studies also point to why the battle buddy system was implemented to begin with — to help decrease the alarming number of self-inflicted deaths and injuries within the ranks.

Everything else on this list is all fine and dandy, but if just a single soldier is saved because they had just one person to talk to, the program is a success. If hundreds of soldiers were talked out of that darkness because their squadmate became their best friend, I’ll forever argue its merit, no matter how goofy it sounds calling another grown-ass warfighter my “battle buddy.”

MIGHTY CULTURE

After 45 years, Green Beret faces his past in Vietnam — part five

As we made our way from Saigon to Buon Ma Thuot (or as I knew it, Ban Me Thuot) the low lying farm lands turned into gently rolling foothills covered with coffee fields being tended by local farmers living along the edges, just as the rubber plantations had been during my time before.

Night began to fall and we ran into a series of storms at the edge of the Central Highlands – my mind flipped and I remembered how darkness and rain actually became a good thing as they masked movement and noise and helped us deceive the enemy as to where we were and what we were doing.


An Air Force veteran who taught himself to code explains how he started a nonprofit that has educated other vets on how to get jobs in tech

The rain slackened as we approached Ban Me Thuot and the city streets were covered in arches of lights – there must have been a festival or something, but everyone joked it was a gala reception for my return. The wide avenue we entered on led us to the central roundabout with a centerpiece that had a majestic arch with a T-55 Soviet Tank celebrating the “liberation” of the city by North Vietnamese forces.

An Air Force veteran who taught himself to code explains how he started a nonprofit that has educated other vets on how to get jobs in tech

After a bit of confusion finding a hotel we settled on one directly on the roundabout and then wandered over to the monument. Some local teenagers were taking pictures of each other and then asked if we would take a group photo for them. People are the same the world over – enjoying life and making the most of it.

I marveled at how much BMT had grown and flourished over the years and how it has become a very metropolitan area now as opposed to the small sleepy city I remembered.

An Air Force veteran who taught himself to code explains how he started a nonprofit that has educated other vets on how to get jobs in tech

The next morning we drove out to East Field where our camp had been. The camp was long gone, the buildings torn down and the jungle had reclaimed the site. The small dirt and oil airfield that was adjacent to the camp has become a regional airport, much like those in any small city in the US. The hill southeast of the camp that we used for a radio relay sight was clearly visible and brought back memories that are recounted in the video. Some of them funny and some of them a bit scary. The red clay dirt is still there – I think I’ve still got a pair of jungle fatigues with that clay imbedded in them at home in Fayetteville.

An Air Force veteran who taught himself to code explains how he started a nonprofit that has educated other vets on how to get jobs in tech

As I stood near where our camp had been, with butterflies in the background, memories came back of past times – as a friend said the other day, some good and some bad. That’s what life is made of, good and bad memories and it’s how we deal with them that counts.

Follow Richard Rice’s 10-part journey:

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

This article originally appeared on GORUCK. Follow @GORUCK on Twitter.

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