Exclusive interview with ‘Welcome to Blackwater: Mercenaries, Money and Mayhem in Iraq’ author - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

Exclusive interview with ‘Welcome to Blackwater: Mercenaries, Money and Mayhem in Iraq’ author

Morgan Lerette, a former Army intelligence officer who spent 18 months in Iraq, writes about his experience as a Blackwater operative with countless missions in his new book, ‘Welcome to Blackwater: Mercenaries, Money and Mayhem in Iraq.’ His memoir recounts what it is like to be a modern-day Ronin in the sands of Iraq. At a time when U.S. civilian employers discriminated against hiring veterans, he ventured with Blackwater at the age of 23 at the recommendation of a friend. This was the start of a road bathed in prostitutes, gold, blood and the ruthlessness required to be successful in clandestine operations. Yet, balancing weight retains one’s humanity.

“Blackwater was a real turning point in my life, much more than my stints in the military,” said Lerette, now 40. “I wanted to write about the people, my brothers and how we survived.”

Morgan Lerette, author of Welcome to Blackwater

We Are The Mighty, with the support of Onward Press and United States Veterans Artists Alliance, bring you this exclusive interview with a warrior who lived the dream most combat Military Occupational Specialties dream of: to be set loose upon the enemies of the west and give no quarter – for money.

WATM: Politicians constantly debate the morality of hiring contractors to protect our interests abroad, regardless that the practice of hiring mercenaries is as old as war itself. How has Blackwater impacted the evolution of warfare? 

I think [people] really have to understand the paradigm of where Blackwater came in. The ground combat ended, and the interim government was created in Iraq. As soon as that interim government was created and we gave them sovereignty, it went from a Department of Defense mission to a Department of State mission. 

They didn’t have the power to protect their own diplomats as they were running around all over Iraq. So that’s really where Blackwater came in. The war was not planned well as it was. What compounded it was that Blackwater came in and were told they had diplomatic immunity and the rules of engagement were different than the other soldiers. It opened up this gray space where we could operate autonomously. 

There was no check and balance in place. 

No grownup supervision of what we were doing, when we were doing it, or how we were doing it. I think that’s really when it went bad. If you don’t have the government agency that you are contracted by in the vehicles with you – there is no way for them to supervise. I don’t put the blame on Blackwater entirely or the State Department entirely. They both failed to make sure that people were doing the right thing at the right time. 

Lerette aims a firearm over a humvee

WATM: Your book is brutally honest about a different kind of deployment than is usually experienced overseas. How did you forge a bond between you and your peers to become brothers?

It is very similar to what you go through in the military. You go in there with a number of people you recently met, who you would not normally come into contact with, and are tasked with protecting an individual and each other. You can’t trust that the Iraqis are going to welcome you with open arms. You can’t expect that the State Department people are going to be able to help you out. You have to trust and count on that person sitting next to you with their body armor and rifle. 

The bonding was very similar [in that aspect]. Where it was dissimilar is when you come home from a contract there is no support system. As a unit in the Army or the Air Force, you leave as a unit and come back as a unit. You go to your base and it’s comfortable. 

As a contractor it’s really just you.

Your new buddies, people whom you would literally die for and would die for you, are scattered across the nation. It makes it hard to keep that camaraderie, so people start chasing those contracts. They go back for the camaraderie and adrenaline of war. Whereas in the military they tell you when to go. 

WATM: Some corporations have propaganda that they will hire veterans but when it comes time to put their money where their mouth is, they do not. How has this barrier for veterans to assimilate into the civilian world affected recruitment to companies like Blackwater?

It definitely helped. When I got into Blackwater in 2004 you had a number of special operations soldiers that have trained for years and years and they never really got to do their job. [For example] you had a guy who trained for [a job] for three years and at the end of it they say ‘okay, that was great, but I still want to [keep doing it.’] That’s where a lot of these guys were: special operations, SEALs, Rangers, Recon Marines and they didn’t get to go to war like they were trained for. 

This was their chance to extend that service – to get their war. 

Blackwater definitely took advantage that there were people who haven’t seen combat but were trained for it. Even to this day, since I came out with the book ‘Welcome to Blackwater,’ people say to me, ‘Well, how do I join?’

Those companies are saying, ‘This is your chance at war, Iraq has dwindled down to 2,500 troops and Afghanistan the same way. They get there and they sit as a gate guard and they’re frustrated because they really think this is their chance. It’s just not the way it was back then and you don’t have the option of finding that fortune like you used to. 

WATM: Current and former members of the military have this idea that Private Military Contracting is the final frontier of combat. Would you encourage or discourage their pursuit of fortune?

Yeah, so, the money dried up a number of years ago. It’s definitely not paying what it did when I was with Blackwater in 2004-05. Not only has the money dried up but so have the missions. It used to be a lot of escorting diplomats around combat zones. Now, the majority of jobs are within site security. 

Gate guard, tower guard.

Whereas we were making around $210,000 a year, if you’re a gate guard in Kuwait, you’re going to make around $60,000 a year. I would not encourage anyone to go to the final frontier because the final frontier is no longer available. 

Lerette with kids in Iraq
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WATM: Onward Press is an avenue for warriors to give up the sword and pick up the pen. What was your experience working with them on ‘Welcome to Blackwater’?

Onward press is specifically looking for people who have been in the military community, such as spouses, who want to get their story told and be able to tell that story well. Every veteran has an amazing story and being able to put that on paper, get it done, put it on Amazon and be able to purchase it – it takes professionals to do that. 

So, Onward Press bridged that gap for me.

They were able to say ‘yes, you do have a good story, you have a good voice, but here’s how you should be able to frame it. Here’s how you get started, here’s where you need to add stuff, here’s where you need to take out stuff. In order to make sure the story was entertaining, and it flowed and people would actually be interested in it.

It’s an awesome organization but writing your experience is very cathartic. Even if I don’t become a bestseller, it’s almost a way for me to give my story over to paper. It took some of the burden I have carried with me throughout my almost three years in Iraq. To be able to give that over to something else, for that reason, it is very, very cathartic. 

WATM: Is there anything you would like to say to our readers and the military community? 

There is honor in service. There are a lot of extremely intelligent people that don’t have college degrees that do the same thing as me. I’m not unique or special. What I was, was willing to reach out. I couldn’t get to where I needed to go. That goes all the way back to reaching out to figure out my G.I. Bill, to figure out the VA, to getting my book about Blackwater to a publisher and get published. 

Whether you’ve spent three to 30 years in the military, set that pride aside and ask for help. If I hadn’t asked for help there is no way I could have published Welcome to Blackwater. 

A lot of these stories about soldiers, airmen, sailors, Marines would be lost if we can’t get them documented. 

So, reach out. Heck, reach out to me. Go to my website www.welcometoblackwater.com and shoot me an email and I’ll get back to you. I’m always willing to help. 

‘Welcome to Blackwater: Mercenaries, Money and Mayhem in Iraq’ is available now on Amazon. 

About Onward Press

Onward Press is the publishing imprint of the United States Veterans Artists Alliance, Inc., a 501-c-3 educational non-profit.  www.usvaa.org

Our mission is to publish well-written, compelling books by military veterans, spouses, military brats, and other family members. Also, people who served in other agencies overseas and their family members.

We are interested in great stories well-told, and are not limited to military, veteran or government-service topics. We publish literary novels, non-fiction, memoirs, mystery, true crime, suspense-thrillers, to name just a few.

All books are available as e -books, trade paperbacks, hardcover and audio.  We pay royalties to our authors and provide editorial guidance and engaging cover art.Onward Press is open for submissions.  Please see Submission Guidelines.

Learn more about Welcome to Blackwater: Mercenaries, Money and Mayhem, here.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This nonprofit really goes to bat for veterans

Transitioning out of the military and back into civilian life can be pretty overwhelming — and no one should have to brave this rocky terrain alone.

DAV (Disabled American Veterans) is a nonprofit charity that is committed to keeping the promise made to our nation’s heroes: Their sacrifices would be met with gratitude and support.


One of the ways in which DAV offers its support is empowering service members and providing them with opportunities for success in the workforce. DAV recognizes how valuable service members are to society and knows how to connect them to employers in such a competitive job market.

Exclusive interview with ‘Welcome to Blackwater: Mercenaries, Money and Mayhem in Iraq’ author
DAV provides free transportation to VA medical facilities for injured and ill veterans.
(DAV photo)

Not only does the organization act as a resource for employment opportunities, but it also assists in obtaining the health care benefits that veterans and their families deserve.

“DAV assists veterans with more than 250,000 benefit claims annually. In 2017, DAV helped secure more than $4 billion in new and retroactive benefits to care for veterans, their families and survivors. DAV employs over 260 national service officers who are ready to review your medical records, help you establish your disability rating, set up health care benefits, and connect with services that support your civilian life,” said Navy veteran and We Are The Mighty host August Dannehl.

Beyond just helping veterans directly, DAV also focuses on educating the public about all of the sacrifices made by our service members and the the support needed for them to comfortably ease back into civilian life.

“DAV works on Capitol Hill as a highly motivated, knowledgeable and respected advocate for veterans,” continued Dannehl.

Check out the video below for five ways that DAV will aid your transition out of the military:

We Are The Mighty is proud to partner with DAV, the leader in lifetime support for veterans.

MIGHTY CULTURE

7 steps to take if you find a boot Marine on your Army base

There you are, happily performing a police call through the training areas and thinking about how great it will be to get off at 1600 when you all are done, just like first sergeant promised. Then, you see something that dooms your whole night.

A single Marine sits in a pile of crayon wrappers and empty Rip It cans. Looks like a lack of Marine oversight just became your problem. Here’s what you do next:


Exclusive interview with ‘Welcome to Blackwater: Mercenaries, Money and Mayhem in Iraq’ author

The hat will look like these ones.

(U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Justin Rodriguez)

First, look for a Marine sergeant

Hopefully, the Devil Dog has a devil master (or whatever they call themselves) nearby who can police him up and bundle him out of there. Marine sergeants can be quickly identified by the loud string of profanities, like an Army sergeant but with a strangely rigid hat on. They will likely punctuate their profanities with, “OORAH!

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Too much running around in the woods, too much beer, not enough showering.

(U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Antonio Rubio)

Don’t touch it

If you can’t find a Marine sergeant, then, for the love of god, don’t touch the boot. It’s not that the sergeants won’t accept it after it gets some Army on it, it’s that you don’t want to get any Marine on you. Sure, Marines are famous for some of their grooming standards, like haircuts, but there are only so many pull-ups you can do with beer sweating out of your pores before becoming a walking Petri dish.

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You can let it pick its own, but remind it that Army MREs have no crayons whatsoever.

(U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Scott L. Eberle)

Feed it (MREs, not DFAC)

The easiest thing to do with a lost Marine is get it some food while you’re waiting for some embarrassed platoon leader to show up. Don’t give it DFAC food or it’ll spend all day complaining about how bad the food is in their chow halls and kennels. Give it MREs — the older the better. If you have ones with Charms, give them those, but expect them to throw the Charms away and then tell you how cursed they are.

No, it doesn’t matter that the boot is too young to have possibly been deployed, let alone deployed with Charms. They have all seen Generation Kill, just like all soldiers have seen Black Hawk Down and all sailors have seen Down Periscope.

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Don’t worry. They won’t drown. They’re super good with water.

(U.S. Marine Corps Master Sgt. Scott Thompson)

Throw it into a pool or small lake — NOT AN OCEAN!

If the Marine has been with you for more than an hour or two, then it probably needs a swim or its pelt will dry out. The trick here is to find a small body of water, nothing larger than a large lake.

If you throw it into an ocean or sea, it will likely try to swim out and find the “fleet.” No one is entirely sure, but the fleet is likely the original Marine spawning grounds. More research is required. But Marines who attempt to swim to the fleet will nearly always drown.

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Yeah, these’ll make some booms. The machine gun .50-cals are good as well.

(U.S. Army Spc. Andrew McNeil)

Give it something loud to play with

You can ask the Marine what type it is; artillery, infantry, water purification specialist, etc. Regardless of their answer, know that all Marines like loud noises. If there are any rifle, machine gun, or howitzer ranges going on, that’s ideal. Just dig the Marine a small hole just behind the firing line and let it lounge there. Hearing protection is recommended but not required.

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They like being in the cages. It reminds them of home.

(U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Charles Santamaria)

If it has to stay overnight, build a turducken of cages

If night’s about to fall and there’s still no one there to claim the Marine, you’re gonna have to house it overnight. If your base has a veterinarian unit or working dog kennels, that’s fine. If not, you might have to house it in the barracks. If you do so, you need to have two locks between the Marine and any alcohol. Get a supply cage or dog kennel (large) if need be.

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The other Devil Dogs will be happy to see it.

(U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Jessica Quezada)

If all else fails, ship it back to the nearest Marine base

It’ll probably whine about whether or not it’s a Hollywood Marine or whatever, but address it to whicever Marine installation is closest. Just pack it up with some dip and cigarettes and its mouth will be too busy to complain for a few hours. Don’t worry, you can’t put too much in there. Their tolerance is too high for a lethal dose.

And they’ll be happier back on the Marine farms. They like to be with their own kind.

MIGHTY CULTURE

The 13 funniest military memes for the week of November 8th

Ah yeah, ladies and gentlemen. Veteran’s Day weekend is upon us! You know what that means! It’s time for some long ass safety briefs, plans you made weeks out that you’re going to sleep through on Saturday, Sunday drinking if you’re a Marine or Sunday drinking if you’re just bored, and an entire day of free pancakes/Chipotle burritos/chicken wings!

I know this is usually our plan every year but this year is special. I know, some of you might know but it’s also the 100th anniversary of Veteran’s Day this weekend. And I think that’s kind of a cool milestone.


So take that time to celebrate. You earned it! Just, for the love of Uncle Sam, don’t do anything stupid this weekend. Save that for a regular pay-day weekend. Anyways, here are some memes.

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(Meme via Air Force Nation Humor)

Exclusive interview with ‘Welcome to Blackwater: Mercenaries, Money and Mayhem in Iraq’ author

(Meme via The Salty Soldier)

Exclusive interview with ‘Welcome to Blackwater: Mercenaries, Money and Mayhem in Iraq’ author

(Meme via Disgruntled Vets)

Exclusive interview with ‘Welcome to Blackwater: Mercenaries, Money and Mayhem in Iraq’ author

(Meme via Army as F*ck)

Exclusive interview with ‘Welcome to Blackwater: Mercenaries, Money and Mayhem in Iraq’ author

(Meme via Call for Fire)

Exclusive interview with ‘Welcome to Blackwater: Mercenaries, Money and Mayhem in Iraq’ author

(Meme via Team Non-Rec)

Exclusive interview with ‘Welcome to Blackwater: Mercenaries, Money and Mayhem in Iraq’ author

(Meme via Not CID)

Exclusive interview with ‘Welcome to Blackwater: Mercenaries, Money and Mayhem in Iraq’ author

(Meme via The Army’s Fckups)

Exclusive interview with ‘Welcome to Blackwater: Mercenaries, Money and Mayhem in Iraq’ author

(Meme via Coast Guard Memes)

Exclusive interview with ‘Welcome to Blackwater: Mercenaries, Money and Mayhem in Iraq’ author

(Meme via Lost in the Sauce)

Exclusive interview with ‘Welcome to Blackwater: Mercenaries, Money and Mayhem in Iraq’ author

(Meme via Valhalla Wear)

Exclusive interview with ‘Welcome to Blackwater: Mercenaries, Money and Mayhem in Iraq’ author

(Meme via Decelerate Your Life)

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(Meme via Pop Smoke)

MIGHTY CULTURE

PCS life hacks I learned from watching ‘Tidying Up’ on Netflix

As military spouses, when our husbands or wives announce they finally put in for orders, our minds drift in one direction after we’ve learned possible locations…

Prepping for our PCS

As we have moved from duty station to duty station, our family has collected PCS purges from other families, thrift store finds we needed while waiting for our own household goods to arrive, souvenirs and other mementos, and of course, boxes from three duty stations ago that we’re too afraid to even open and sort through.


Every PCS ends up the same way – we’re stressed out, frustrated about going through our stuff and hoping we’re still under the maximum weight allowance, and then we’re passing our stress, anxieties, and frustration onto our children because we’re now trying to do a million things before the movers arrive.

But what if I told you that it could be different? What if we didn’t have a million things to sort through? What if our homes were already pretty much prepped for the next PCS, no matter what time of the year it is? When I stumbled across Tidying Up with Marie Kondo on Netflix, I was skeptical. I hadn’t heard of her before and I hadn’t read her books, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Spark Joy, though I had learned about how people within the Japanese culture often purge any objects within their homes that do not bring them joy on a regular basis.

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(Flickr photo by TheMuuj)

Like many other military families, we start sifting through our stuff months in advance of a PCS to get rid of what we don’t want or need anymore, and I wasn’t quite sure that anyone could make it easier than going systematically from room to room, starting with our storage.

And yet, as I watched, I was quickly sucked in because you could actually see the joy she experienced teaching people how to become more tidy, and she even has a system, which she calls the KonMari Method, which is to organize by category rather than by location, and also to tidy the five categories in the home in a specific order:

  1. Clothing
  2. Books
  3. Paper
  4. Komono (Kitchen, Bathroom, Garage, and anything miscellaneous)
  5. Sentimental Items

According to the KonMari Method, you should hold each item individually and ask if it brings you joy. If it does not spark joy, it should be given to a friend or donated (check out your local installation thrift store information and how to donate!) However, if it is an item that is well used but does not spark joy (I’m sure my garage tools would fall under this), you can keep the item and try to change the way you feel about those items.

If you’ve been holding onto clothes that don’t fit, Marie says you should ask: do those clothes inspire you to work out so that you fit back into them or do they make you dread exercise because you don’t fit into them anymore? Marie also believes that folding your clothes is another way to show love and appreciation to your clothes, and to maximize storage space, she has a method of folding your shirts and pants into thirds so they can stand upright, which is similar to how servicemembers learn how to fold in bootcamp.

So what does it feel like for an item to bring you joy?

Marie says that the item should spark the same feeling as holding a puppy or wearing your favorite outfit, giving you a warm, positive feeling. If you do not get that feeling and it is not something that you use regularly, you should let the item go and thank each item before you donate or give it away.

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After you sort through the first three categories by taking everything out and touching each item, the next step is sorting through the Komono category, which includes all of your miscellaneous items (everything in your home that is not clothes, books, and papers (such as legal documents, orders, and military records) as well as the garage and kitchen.

Marie is a huge fan of using boxes to store items that are of like-size as well as sorting items into categories. She recommends standing items up when possible, designating spots for everything, and using tiny boxes in the kitchen to give everything a “home.”

For the final category, Sentimental items, there are many categories – memorabilia, old letters, photos, and even old medals, challenge coins, and uniform items could be considered to have sentimental value. Marie challenges you to store your sentimental items where you can view them, such as putting photos into frames and coffee table albums so that they can be more easily viewed. Military families could utilize shadow boxes for our uniform items and/or medals to display them, and there are also great challenge coin holders available on websites like Etsy.

Can our next PCS move be different?

The best thing about the KonMari Method is that she doesn’t expect you to complete this in a day – you are literally touching every item in your home and purging the items that do not bring you joy. Our family’s goal will be to use the KonMari Method in the spring and late fall so that the next time we need to move, it won’t be such an overwhelming process to purge all of the things we hadn’t been using in the past 2-3 years.

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

Soldiers can now serve their country…playing video games

Over 6,500 soldiers are already hoping to be part of a new Army esports team that will compete in video game tournaments nationwide in an effort to attract potential recruits.

“It’s essentially connecting America to its Army through the passion of the gaming community,” said Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Jones, NCO-in-charge of the budding team.


About 30 soldiers are expected to be picked for the team and some of the first positions could be filled summer 2019. Only active-duty and Reserve soldiers are currently allowed to apply.

Those chosen will be assigned to the Marketing and Engagement Brigade for three years at Fort Knox, Kentucky, where the Army Recruiting Command is headquartered.

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More than 6,500 Soldiers have already applied to join the Army esports team, which was created to boost recruiting efforts in the gaming community.

(Photo by Staff Sgt. Ryan Meaux)

While they will not become recruiters, team members will receive a crash course on Army enlistment programs to answer questions from those interested in learning about the service.

Once built up, the team will fall under an outreach company that will also include an Army rock band and a functional fitness team.

Not everyone on the team will compete. Those who will may train up to six hours per day on video games, Jones said, adding that gameplay sessions would be live streamed or recorded for spectators to watch.

Esports has ballooned in popularity in recent years with millions of followers.

In August 2018, the Washington Post reported that esports could generate about 5 million in revenue this year in North America. In 2017, a major esports tournament in China also drew a peak of more than 106 million viewers — roughly the same number of those who watched 2018’s Super Bowl.

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“It’s something really new and it’s been gaining a lot of steam,” Jones said.

While on the team, soldiers will still conduct physical training, weapons qualifications and other responsibilities that come with being a soldier. They will also have to maintain certifications in their military occupational specialty.

“Outside of that, there will be esports training,” Jones said. “So whatever game they’re playing in, they’ll not only be playing it, but be coached in it to get better.”

The team, he said, shares a similar concept to that of other Army competitive teams that continually train, such as the Golden Knights parachute team, World Class Athlete Program and Army Marksmanship Unit.

“Esports is like traditional sports,” he said. “Nobody can just walk in and expect to play at a competitive level.”

The Army, he said, already has talented gamers out there who can compete in events.

in January 2019, a few soldiers competed at PAX South in San Antonio as a way to introduce Army esports to the greater gamer community.

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A few Soldiers competed at PAX South in San Antonio as a way to introduce Army esports to the greater gamer community Jan. 18-20, 2019.

(Photo by Staff Sgt. Ryan Meaux)

In one of the events, a Street Fighter V tournament, two soldiers placed first and second.

“This is the perfect opportunity to showcase not only to the Army, but to the civilian populace and the esports industry that we also have what it takes,” Jones said of the events.

Recruiters from the San Antonio Recruiting Battalion also joined them and were able to generate some leads with potential recruits, he added.

There are plans to do the same at the PAX East exposition in Boston in late March 2019.

As a gamer and a recruiter himself, Jones said the team can help bridge the civilian-military gap by breaking down misconceptions some young people may have about the Army.

Being able to play their favorite video games with others who share the same passion is also a bonus.

“For a lot of soldiers, to include myself, it’s like a dream come true,” Jones said. “This is just one of those ways we can start the conversation.”

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

Top US Marine says young troops should not be blamed for using TikTok

Gen. David Berger, the US Marine Corps commandant, suggested the concerns surrounding a service members’ use of questionable Chinese-owned apps like TikTok should be directed against the military’s leadership, rather than the individual troops.

Speaking at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, California, on Saturday morning, Berger said the younger generation of troops had a “clearer view” of the technology “than most people give them credit for.”

“That said, I’d give us a ‘C-minus’ or a ‘D’ in educating the force on the threat of even technology,” Berger said. “Because they view it as two pieces of gear, ‘I don’t see what the big deal is.'”


“That’s not their fault. That’s on us,” Berger added. “Once they begin to understand the risks, what the impact to them is tactically … then it becomes clear. I don’t blame them for that. This is a training and education that we have to do.”

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Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps Gen. David Berger speaks with Marines during a town hall gathering at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, July 31, 2019.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Micha Pierce)

Foreign-owned apps like TikTok have prompted concern from lawmakers and the military in recent months. TikTok, the viral video-sharing app from China, was investigated by intelligence agencies and the military for concerns on the “operational security risks posed … and other China-owned social media platforms that can access massive amounts of US users’ personal data,” according to a letter by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer in November.

“National security experts have raised concerns about TikTok’s collection and handling of user data, including user content and communications, IP addresses, location-related data, metadata, and other sensitive personal information,” Schumer added in the letter.

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Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

To “err on the side of caution,” US Army cadets throughout high school and university were banned from using TikTok while in uniform to represent the military, a spokeswoman said in November. The act does not ban them from using it for personal use.

The app, which was formerly Musical.ly, exploded in popularity and boasted 1 billion monthly active users earlier this year. TikTok and its owner, Beijing ByteDance Technology, claims that American user data is not stored in China, nor is it politically influenced by the country.

“Let us be very clear: TikTok does not remove content based on sensitivities related to China,” the company said in a statement in October. “We have never been asked by the Chinese government to remove any content and we would not do so if asked. Period.”

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

Watch the USS Constitution fire a cannon for the Marines birthday

The United States Marine Corps turned 244 on Nov. 10, 2019. To celebrate, the Devil Dogs probably did whatever it is Marines do after their respective Marine Corps Balls. The U.S. Navy, often called the Marines’ Taxi Service, laid aside sibling rivalry for the day, and fired a shot from the oldest warship in the Navy and the only active ship to have sunk an enemy in combat, the USS Constitution, in their honor.

They even let a Marine pull the trigger.


The Constitution was first laid as a 44-gun frigate in 1794, outfitted with 24-pound long guns and 32-pound carronades. In combat, she would carry around 54 guns. The carronades would be on the spar deck, a long 18-pound “chase” gun would be mounted forward, and 30 24-pounders would be loaded on the gun deck. The guns on her gun deck, like the one fired by the Sergeant of Marines in the above video, are not her original guns. In 1883, Constitution became a housing ship for sailors in the port of Boston, and her guns were removed. They were soon replaced, however, with replica guns.

Her centennial refit saw 55 replica guns made for the ship by the end of 1931. Cast in the Charleston Navy Yard in 1929, these are the guns aboard her today. Two War of 1812-era carronade replicas were placed aboard in 1981. All her guns were restored and refurbished during Constitution’s 21st-Century restoration.

The only problem with the ship’s new guns is that they were never intended to be fired. It wasn’t until 1976 that the Constitution’s commanding officer decided it would be a novel idea for the oldest active warship in the U.S. Navy to be able to give a salute from its era. Two of the 24-pound long guns were sent to the Naval Ordnance Station in Louisville, Ky. to be retrofitted to fire a saluting charge in time for the United States Bicentennial Celebration.

The Marines aren’t the only ones who receive a salute from the USS Constitution. Past recipients include anyone from Chief Petty Officer selectees to Queen Elizabeth II. The day after the Queen received the salute, she boarded Constitution for a tour with Prince Philip. It was the only time a reigning British monarch ever stepped foot aboard the ship.

It seems we’ve been forgiven for the whole HMS Guerriere incident.

MIGHTY CULTURE

See these awesome photos of an F-35 over Lake Michigan

Crowds of spectators recently had a rare opportunity to see America’s advanced stealth fighter in action at the Chicago Air and Water Show, where the F-35 Heritage Flight Team put on an impressive show.

The F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, a fifth-generation stealth fighter developed by Lockheed Martin, is the most expensive weapons system ever built, but its superior capabilities supposedly make up for its soaring costs.


The supersonic, multi-mission fighter, according to the developer, features unmatched electronic warfare, air-to-surface, air-to-air, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), and stealth capabilities designed to enhance the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. The F-35 program has, however, faced many setbacks.

During the recent airshow in Chicago, Airman 1st Class Alexander Cook captured several stunning photos of Capt. Andrew “Dojo” Olson, F-35 Heritage Flight Team pilot and commander, performing aerial maneuvers in an F-35A. The pictures were posted online by the 56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs Office.

Check them out below…

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Capt. Andrew “Dojo” Olson, F-35 Heritage Flight Team pilot and commander, performs a high speed pass in an F-35A Lightning II over Lake Michigan.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexander Cook)

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Vapor builds around the F-35 during a high-speed pass.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexander Cook)

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F-35A at the Chicago Air and Water Show.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexander Cook)

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Capt. Olson pulls a tactical pitch in an F-35A.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexander Cook)

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Capt. Olson performs a high speed pass.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexander Cook)

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An F-35A Lightning II and P-51 Mustang fly in formation.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexander Cook)

As an added bonus, the show featured an F-35 flying in formation alongside a P-51 Mustang. The performance showcased past and present American airpower.

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

The ridiculous anatomy of most Army Reserve drill days

As someone who has served on active duty and in the reserves, I can confidently say that neither side of the divide fully understands the other. The Army Reserve often thinks of the active Army as drill days that come more often, and the active Army thinks of the Reserve as weekend warriors with no expertise or experience.

They’re both wrong, but reserve drill days are, to put it mildly, weird beasts.


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Army reservist drives to drill. So much fun.

(YouTube/Strength Over Benches)

It starts with a long drive

Sure, some people live near their drill location, but as unit after unit after unit gets shuffled around thanks to base closings and re-alignments (plus the fact that there’s always a good chance that a slot for your military job at your current rank isn’t available), you’re going to have one hell of a drive.

If you’re particularly lucky, you’ll be driving a few hours to drill, meaning that you’ll drive up Friday night after work, using Rip-Its and a pinch of dip to stay awake like you’re driving through Ramadi instead of the Carolinas.

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Every reservist approximately 20 minutes before drill.

(U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Christopher Callaway)

Then you have to groom all the stuff you haven’t bothered with in four weeks

Most Reservists aren’t necessarily AR 670-1 friendly the rest of the month, so there’s a lengthy grooming process to get rid of all the hair growth and long fingernails and, in rarer circumstances, bruises, henna tattoos, and Sharpie.

Depending on your living circumstances, you might have to do this before the drive, but whatever. Just scrub until the genital drawings are all off your face.

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Army Reserve Officer Training Cadets getting ready to do some physical training.

(U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Ken Scar)

Finally, throw on the uniform and stumble into PT

It’s obviously best if you’ve actually received the uniform of the day from whoever is disseminating that information (it being your first-line NCO is far from guaranteed), but you’ll be lining up in formation regardless of whether you had the right uniform ahead of time. And, since all the NCOs need to get some instruction time and there are only two PT sessions per month, there’s a good chance there’s a different instructor every time.

A different instructor who only does this once every few months, who didn’t have time to plan until the day before drill, who has to practice the conditioning drills, and who uses the same pocket physical training guide as everyone else. Be prepared for some seriously repetitive workouts, probably conducted while at least four guys who can’t pass tape wheeze behind you.

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Hmmm, this computer training is probably different from the computer training she did earlier, but it’s impossible to tell after a few hours.

(U.S. Army National Guard Maj. Joseph Siemandel)

Admin, admin, admin

When you get to actual work, be prepared for all the admin requirements of active duty to be packed into two duty days. Yeah, cars need to be inspected, people need to learn not to harass each other, and someone has to click through all these anti-suicide slides (because, yeah, PowerPoint is the best way to defeat that particular scourge.)

On the off chance that there is time leftover for actual training, it’s probably going to be conducted by the guys in the unit who have similar jobs on the civilian side, because they’re the only ones with a ton of experience doing the work.

(Side note: This is one of the legitimate advantages of the reserve components. There are a ton of guys in most units who actually get day-in, day-out experience. Truck drivers aren’t sitting around in motor pools waiting for a training exercise where they’ll finally be able to get some wheel time. No, they’re on the road for 40 hours or more a week, so they have lots of experience to share.)

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Alright, we finally have equipment, so let’s spend the next six months inventorying it over and over and over.

(U.S. Army)

Property inventories

Sure, this could be bundled into admin, but units have to do their property inventories every month on the reserve side just like the active. And that means that at least a few people every month take the special time allocated for ALMS classes to follow the commander around instead.

But this is, obviously, crucial, because otherwise, the Army Reserve might lose track of the weapons that date back to Vietnam, the radios that date back to Desert Storm, or the office implements that still have Eisenhower’s fingerprints on them.

Mealtime

Meals are served in a half-staffed dining facility unless there are too few units at drill to justify starting up the grills. In that case, be prepared for MREs or to do some extreme budget shopping at whatever chain restaurant is so hard up for business that they’ll dive through all the hoops that the Army makes them go through to sell burnt burgers to soldiers.

Vegetarians, understand you’ll be eating the chicken caesar with no chicken. Sorry about that. Still better than a veggie omelet, though.

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Army Reserve soldiers prepare to deploy.

(U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Ken Scar)

Finally, release formation

This will, just like on active duty side, run late, especially if annual training or, gods be praised, a deployment is coming up. And sorry, reserve first sergeants are just as likely to piggyback on the commander with comments about “behooving” as their active duty counterparts. The safety brief is extra laughable, though, since everyone there spends three weekends a month successfully not drinking and driving, so it makes it extra odd to get warnings after the fourth.

If you’re commuting and staying in a local hotel during drill, then hope you can make friends with someone in the unit. Because you’re going to be surrounded by them regardless of what you do.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Why I’m strong: How one military daughter feels about deployment

The day my dad left for deployment brought me hard feelings – feelings that were hard for me to process. The thought of him being in harms way made me afraid. Knowing how much I would miss him made be unbelievably sad. All that I knew for sure is that I did not want to take him to the drop off point.

I wanted him to stay.


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(Military Spouse)

Once we arrived at the squadron, I tried to convince myself to hold everything together, hiding how I was feeling and I put on a brave face. I certainly did not want to lose control of my emotions in front of a room full of strangers. But when I heard the loud slam of the van door closing and I realized that my Daddy was about to drive away, I stopped caring about who was around.

I sprinted toward the vehicle, wildly yanking at the door handle. “I just want you to stay. Please. Please stay.” I started to cry. The feeling of dread loomed over me. He opened the door and gave me one last hug. My Dad held me close and promised that everything would be okay.

But it wasn’t okay.

Living without my Dad was harder than I thought. I wanted to talk to him -to tell him about all the things I was learning and fun things I was doing. He missed a lot. He missed Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. It was awful. Christmas was not the same. I was glad we could open presents over video chat, but all I wanted for Christmas was to have him home.

Everything about life without him stressed me out and I began to be overly anxious. There were several times where my head felt like it was spinning. I was overwhelmed with worry. Many nights, I wouldn’t sleep. I cried a lot. Living life without my dad home just made me feel blue.

Nothing felt normal. When Dad is home, he takes me out to dinner and spends time with me. I can tell him all about what is happening and how I feel. I really missed these nights. We could really only talk for a few minutes because there was a seven-hour time difference. Night time was the worst. I feel safer when he is here.

It wasn’t all bad. We went on a few family vacations and even went to Great Wolf Lodge. I mean, we only went to Great Wolf because of the eight million delays for dad’s homecoming- making Dad miss my brother’s birthday. But it was fun.

If I had to do all over again (which I hope won’t be for a while), I would do a few things differently. Maybe, if you are a kid in the middle of a deployment -or getting ready for one – here are a few things I learned.

You can’t control everything. Don’t try. Stop trying to make everything perfect. You can’t. Recognize the things that you can control, like yourself or how clean your room is, and control what you can. I organized my books, made slime, and did things that made me feel comfortable.

Be patient with your family. Everyone is sad or stressed. Emotions are running hot and even the littlest things feel more annoying. Do your best to give people a break and stay calm. When I got overwhelmed, I would retreat to my room and count backwards from sixty. I would count colors or patterns in my room. Also, I bout “Pinch Me” dough, which smelled like the beach. Find something that brings you joy and peace.

Have lots of comfort food. (Oreos are always a good choice.) Nothing beats a snack. Snacks are wonderful, and sharing them with a friend is even better. When I was feeling sad or frustrated, I would invite my next-door neighbor over for a snack and a chat. It always made me feel better.

Lastly, call your friends. The beauty of military life is that you have friends everywhere. When I needed to, I would call my best friends, Talia and Aurea. They would cheer me up, help me think through what I feel, and give me encouragement. They know what this is like. Both of them, like me, are military kids.

Deployment seasons might not always be “okay,” but they are only temporary. They don’t last forever. I know that my dad does hard things, like being away, because he wants to serve our country. I can do hard things, too. He believes in freedom and he tells me that I can do my part too. I’m strong because he is strong. I love you, Daddy. Thank you for all you do.

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(Military Spouse)

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


MIGHTY CULTURE

This is the Air Force version of Burning Man

For three years, RED HORSE airmen have been rotating every six months to Air Base 201 in Agadez, Niger, to participate in the largest troop labor construction project in Air Force history. RED HORSE stands for Air Force Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineers.

The Air Force built the base and its 6000-foot runway from the ground up. A similar mission had not been undertaken since Vietnam.


Airmen had to persevere and innovate through the lack of an asphalt production facility in the country, thunderstorms that caused flash floods, dust storms that made it impossible to work safely, high-sulfur diesel fuel that fouled construction equipment and even a plague of locusts.

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U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Paul Waters, a vehicle maintance NCOIC with the 823 Expeditionary RED HORSE Squadron, maintains the squadron’s construction equipment. Sgt Waters and his team battle the harsh environment and poor quality fuel that frequently breaks their equipment.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech Sgt. Perry Aston)

Despite working in one of the harshest environments in the Sahel region of Africa, RED HORSE finished a project that will allow aircraft as large as the C-17 Globemaster III to operate in western Africa, expanding the Air Force’s ability to bring air power to combat increasing extremist activity.

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

Articles

14 things you could buy with cacao seeds during colonial times

The cacao seed was used as currency in pre-colonial times to trade for goods and services. It’s a little hard to imagine that the deceptively simple bean that comes out of the Theobroma Cacao tree could have a value greater than gold. Yet, when you consider the indigenous creation myth across various Mesoamerican cultures, you can see why it was held in high esteem.

Food of the Gods

Behind the fruit there are reasons that made it especially valuable at the time. In mythology “his arrival” is attributed to Quetzalcóatl. The story goes that he brought it to earth to show men a food that was not disdained by the gods.

Diego Perez, Editor, Dinero en Imagen

For the European settlers engaging in trade, nothing could be more advantageous: trade goods for chocolate and sell it across the Atlantic to the aristocracy at a high price. To the traders from Spain, England, Italy and the American colonies, cacao was in high demand, and since it was also a currency, money literally grew on trees.

The word cacao means “food of the gods.” At 50,000 years old, it is one of the oldest words in the world. Its origins stem from South America and travel into Central America up to Mexico. It was consumed as a drink by the Aztec nobility and was a universal currency across North, Central and South America. Theoretically, if you could travel in the Americas, the cacao would have been the Dollar of the ancient world.

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You guys remember when Scrooge McDuck had so much gold he could dive into it like a pool? (Wikimedia Commons)

Inflation resistant

Growing cacao today is a challenge, but was even more so in pre-colonial times. Cacao plantations are small operations of up to five acres to prevent the spread of disease and pests. However, the plant is very sensitive and growers are mentally prepared to lose their whole crop yield – because it happens often. Hazards like too much wind or too much water can kill trees younger than two years old.

Many varieties of cacao exist, and they can be grouped into three general divisions: forastero, criollo, and trinitario. Forastero varieties are most commonly used in commercial production, whereas criollo varieties are very susceptible to disease and are not widely grown. Trinitario is a hybrid of the forastero and criollo varieties and produces a flavourful bean that is used in high-quality dark chocolate.

L. Russell Cook, President, Chocolate and Confectionery Division, W.R. Grace & Company, New York City, 1965–73. Author of Chocolate Production and Use

For the first five years of their lives, the flowers and budding cacao seeds are trimmed. This is done to ensure the most nutrients and energy are used to grow and strengthen the tree. It is at this five-year mark when the seed pods can be harvested. When harvesting the cacao pods workers cut them off instead of ripping them off. The pods will grow again during the next season in the same location, so harvesters are careful to cause as little damage to the branches as possible.

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Sweet, high-maintenance, worth a lot of money… they’re basically J-Lo (Wikimedia Commons)

The tree is also susceptible to pests such as the broad mite, flower-eating caterpillars, helopeltis and the yellow peach moth. Growers must trim excess branches and leaves to make sure it is as healthy as possible and energy isn’t diverted from essential areas. All of this, frankly, is a pain in the a** even with today’s technology, so one can appreciate how valuable the seeds were before modern agricultural practices.

Another benefit of the cacao seed as currency was that since it was biodegradable, it prevented hyperinflation by disintegrating after one year or so. However, the seeds are bulky and can get destroyed by accident when transported over long distances.

What could you buy with cacao seeds?

1 bean equals one tamale, large sapote fruit, or 20 small tomatoes.

3 beans equals a turkey egg or an avocado

3 beans equals one fish in a maize husk

30 beans equals a small rabbit

100 beans equals a female turkey or a rabbit

120 beans for shrunken beans

200-300 beans a male turkey

Additionally, in Mayan civilization you could buy:

8 to 10 equal for the services of a prostitute

10 seeds equal a rabbit

100 to 500 seeds for a male slave

1000 seeds for a female slave

You could also pay your taxes in cacao seeds and your debts. I’m submitting 10 lbs of cacao seeds to the IRS in lieu of income tax. I’m sure that will go over well.

Feature image: photo by Stefan Kuhn from Pixabay

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