If there’s one accessory that’s become synonymous with the post-9/11 generation of troops, it has to be the nonsensical PT belt. It’s that bright, neon green, reflective band that you see wrapped around every troop when they go out for a jog.
Honestly, it seems like some big wig at the Pentagon must have thought it was funny in an ironic sort of way to make all troops who’re wearing camouflage fatigues put on a bright, shiny, eye-catching belt. Military doctrine isn’t made on a whim and, usually, there’s a lot more at play than meets the eye, but the actual reason behind wearing the belt is a perfect example of someone listening to the “Good Idea Fairy” instead of reason.
In all fairness to the glow belt, it does help troops be seen at night. That doesn’t mean that’s the solution to vehicular manslaughter, however.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Zachary Wolf)
Prior to the 90s, troops didn’t wear any sort of reflective clothing during morning PT. Instead, for safety, troops conducted PT on roads that were blocked off in the mornings to avoid any potential accidents with civilian drivers. Unfortunately, the scenario didn’t play out as installation commanders hoped and fatalities would happen occasionally.
The first step in preventing these unfortunate deaths was to create more reflective PT uniforms — without abandoning the military appearance, of course. A few designs were tested, but the luminescence would consistently lose its luster after a few runs through the laundry.
So, rather than holding the manufacturers accountable for making a sub-par product, the Army used reflective armbands, reflective vests, before, finally, adapting the the widespread PT belt. Initially, this was more of a Band-Aid solution to a large problem.
It’s funny how everyone of ranks of E-7, O-2, and below unanimously hate the belts, but as soon as you make rank, you suddenly laud their effectiveness…
Then came a horrible incident on Lackland Air Force Base in 1996 in which several airmen were struck by a moving vehicle during a morning run. Rather than installing a traffic light or determining what, exactly, was to blame, the Air Force pulled the trigger and made the new reflective belts mandatory.
The rest of the branches soon followed suit because it gave the commanders an out when creating Risk Management Assessments. Rather than taking an analytical look at serious and tragic incidents, the commanders could cut themselves out of the accountability equation by making everyone wear reflective bets.
In short, the solution of “add a PT belt” was a lazy answer to a complicated question that resulted in horrible accidents. Vehicles hitting pedestrians in the motor pool was another problem addressed by adding a PT belt instead of figuring out why so many accidents were happening — after all, do the belts even have any real effect in broad daylight?
“Going into combat? Don’t forget your PT belt!” “Picking someone up from the local bars? Don’t forget your PT belt!” “Jumping out of a C-130 without a parachute? It’s fine so long as you wear your PT belt!”
If the United States Army and the United States Air Force were to describe their relationship status on Facebook, they’d likely select “it’s complicated.” Seventy years ago, they went through a divorce. The Air Force became its own branch of United States Armed Forces and, with it, took (most of) the fixed-wing aircraft, leaving the Army with some helicopters and a lot of hard feelings.
The thing is, despite growing pains, the Air Force and Army still needed to work together. The Korean War helped things along a bit — the Air Force maintained control of the skies and backed up the Army. Since then, the two services have had a relationship filled with ups and downs. All the while, the two branches have done what they can to work together in harmony — one of the ways they enhance cooperation is through a spin-off of Exercise Red Flag, known as Green Flag.
The F-15E Strike Eagle is the heavy multi-role fighter in the Air Force inventory.
The purpose of Green Flag exercises is to help the Army and Air Force work together to learn how to best fight together and win a war while the stakes are relatively low. “Relatively” is a key word here, as there is still a measure of risk involved.
While the fate of nations does not rest on Green Flag, lives are certainly on the line. As author Tom Clancy once recounted,an OH-58 Kiowa crashed during the Green Flag he observed with the 366th Wing as he was writing Fighter Wing — killing the two-man crew on board. While flying to Nellis, an Army AH-64A Apache also went down. Thankfully, its crew survived to be rescued by a HH-60G Pave Hawk.
In the Green Flag held in June 2018, F-15Es practiced close-air support – a mission usually carried out by A-10 Thunderbolt II attack planes.
According to an Air Force release, the June 2018 Green Flag featured F-15E Strike Eagles of the 391st Fighter Squadron practicing close-air support. While this mission is usually handled by A-10 Thunderbolt IIs, there are only 13 squadrons operating this plane. The 219 F-15E Strike Eagles — each with a crew of two, a pilot and weapon systems operator — are the go-to assets for backing up troops on the ground when the A-10 is not available.
Seventy years since the Air Force-Army divorce, the two services now manage to get along for the sake of the country.
When the Air Force and Army work together in concert to dominate both air and ground, wars are won. During Green Flag exercises, the two services put a messy divorce aside and practice working in concert for the sake of our country.
Marines are known for their proficiency in fighting, but not many people know that they’ve developed their own hand-to-hand fighting system, called the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program. MCMAP combines several different styles with close-quarters combat techniques and Marine Corps philosophies to create something new.
While many, varying opinions exist on the program, it’s important to understand one simple thing: it’s only as effective as its wielder. In short, if you weren’t any good at fighting before you learned MCMAP, you’re still not going to be much good after you earn that tan belt.
So, for all of you who have no idea what MCMAP is all about, here are the broad strokes:
A Martial Arts Instructor-Trainer demonstrates an arm bar.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Reece E. Lodder)
It’s comprised of several different fighting styles.
Seventeen styles, to be exact. That’s right, seventeen different fighting styles cultivated from around the world were pulled together to create MCMAP. It includes techniques borrowed from Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Taekwondo, and Krav Maga to name a few. Keep in mind, however, specific techniques were pulled from each and then adapted to be applicable for Marines in combat.
A green belt with a tan Martial Arts Instructor tab.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Dylan M. Bowyer)
There are five belt levels
Before you walk across the parade deck at MCRD, you will earn your entry-level, tan belt. The other belt levels are, in ascending order, gray, green, brown, and black. A black belt, as in other martial arts, has varying degrees — 6, in the case of MCMAP. While most of the belt levels can be the subject of mockery, we highly recommend you don’t mess with a black belt.
Sometimes you get a lecture, sometimes you run across base.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Melissa Wenger)
You learn about more than just fighting
MCMAP is also about studying warrior ethos and understanding that fighting is not just throwing a better punch than your opponent. To quote Marine Corps Order 1500.54A, which officially established the program in 2002,
“MCMAP is a synergy of mental, character, and physical disciplines with application across the full spectrum of violence.”
If you’re a grunt, you’ll likely be forced to ground-fight in rain.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo)
Infantry Marines are generally required to earn a green belt
Or at least a gray belt. Typically, if a commander sees there’s open space in the training schedule and the armory is too busy to make you stand in line for 3 hours, you’ll be ordered to practice MCMAP. Most grunts earn their gray belt by the end of their first pre-deployment training cycle. Some are required to earn their green by the end of their second.
The red tab indicates an MAIT.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Reece E. Lodder)
There are different types of instructors
There are Martial Arts Instructors then there are Martial Arts Instructor-Trainers. The main difference is a standard MAI can train other Marines to “belt up,” while an MAIT can train a Marine, whose belt level is at least green, to become an instructor.
To become an MAI, you must attend the grueling and unforgiving Martial Arts Instructor Course. To become an MAIT, you must attend the even more painful, more advanced Martial Arts Instructor-Trainer Course. Either way, your soul will never be the same.
While deployed to East Africa as a member of the 4th Combat Camera Squadron, US Air Force Staff Sgt. Corban Lundborg sought to create a unique illustration series inspired by his time in the region. Looking around the combat camera office, he found an old box of Meals, Ready to Eat. He mined the MREs for their instant coffee packets and used the supplies in the pack to mix up his “paint.”
“Coffee works pretty similar to watercolor,” Lundborg said. “It uses a value system to get different tones, so you just saturate the water more or less to achieve the tones you want.”
Air Force Staff Sgt. Corban Lundborg works on MRE-coffee paintings in 2019 outside his combat camera unit’s headquarters in East Africa. Photo courtesy of Corban Lundborg
Lundborg said he started experimenting with how the coffee took to paper and ink, and after some time, he came up with a series of works inspired by his environment and experiences in East Africa.
Most of the paintings are scenes or equipment Lundborg used or traveled in. He painted some of the aircraft that flew him to and from different locations and missions and gifted the works to members of the aviation units. Among his subjects were a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, a lion, a Nikon film camera, a skull, and a calligraphed “Merry Christmas” card.
Lundborg painted this “Merry Christmas” card in December 2018 and sent a photograph of the piece home to his mom and dad in Minneapolis. He later gave the original away in a raffle at an art party at Amp Rehearsal in Hollywood. Photo courtesy of Corban Lundborg
The sepia tones of the paintings and their ragged, burnt edges tell a story of the conflict and the creative necessity from which they were born. Central to the works is Lundborg’s impulse to create and the austere conditions that inspired him to experiment with a new medium.
“For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been drawing on stuff and making art,” said the Minneapolis native. “I think just about every day of the week, I’m doing something creative. I try not to go a day without doing some kind of art.”
Lundborg gifted this painting of an HH-60 Pave Hawk to the aviation squadron that supported operations during his East Africa deployment. Photo courtesy of Corban Lundborg
Lundborg said his parents were supportive of his artistic inclinations and creative adventures. He started out as a graffiti artist back in Minneapolis.
“I was kind of an angsty teen and was always looking to get into trouble,” he said. “I kind of ran with a bad group of friends and got into some legal trouble for vandalism and other minor crimes. The military provided the means I was looking for to get out of the city.”
Lundborg surrounded by his work at Amp Rehearsal in Hollywood, where he was commissioned to paint works throughout the building. Photo courtesy of Corban Lundborg
As a young airman working in supply and logistics, Lundborg was assigned to Osan Air Base in South Korea. He found his way into a tattoo apprenticeship and picked up another means of artistic expression.
“When I got to Korea and got the apprenticeship, the Korean artists took me in and showed me what art life was all about,” he said. “I started doing tattoos for other service members in the dorms overseas. These days, I mostly just kind of tattoo myself.”
Lundborg works on a Bob Marley mural at Amp Rehearsal in November 2019. Photo courtesy of Corban Lundborg
After a year in Korea, he was sent to Aviano Air Base in Italy, where he spent his days “counting aircraft screws, doing inventories, snowboarding in the Alps every weekend, and hitting all the major cities in Europe.”
After four years in an active-duty job he didn’t care for, Lundborg transferred to the Air Force Reserves and went home to Minneapolis, where he attended the Minneapolis College of Art and Design for a year before dropping out.
A lion and a Nikon film camera were among Lundborg’s subjects. Photo courtesy of Corban Lundborg
“In college I discovered I don’t really like art theory and history,” he said. “I just like making art, and I still consider myself mostly self-taught.”
When a slot for a photographer opened up on his reserve base, Lundborg jumped at the chance to retrain into a new specialty. After six months of on-the-job training, the Air Force sent Lundborg to the Basic Photojournalist Course at the Defense Information School at Fort Meade, Maryland, in 2015.
Lundborg exits a C-130 during his deployment to East Africa in January 2019. Photo courtesy of Corban Lundborg
He was later assigned to the 4th Combat Camera Squadron and deployed to East Africa in 2018 for eight months.
“I took a few brushes with me, but I had to get everything else from the accessory packets in the MREs,” he said of his time in Africa. “I used the plastic spoon to mix the coffee and hold some grounds, and I used matches to burn the edges of the paper and TP to clean the brushes.”
Lundborg self-produced a video of himself working on the MRE-coffee paintings.
He said he picked up a cheap set of watercolors and taught himself to paint with the medium while living in South Africa a few years before his deployment to the continent.
He tends to pick up new mediums with relative ease and excels in whatever creative endeavors he pursues. He earned recognition as Air Force Reserve Photographer of the Year three years in a row, and was selected as Air Force Photographer of the year in 2018.
Acrylic and spray paint are his favorite media, and he often uses them together interchangeably.
A prolific creator, Lundborg is looking ahead to a bright future of doing what he loves. He plans to expand his work in cinema and film production.
“Ideally, I would like to produce, direct, and shoot films,” he said. “But painting is something I will do until the day I die.”
Kids seem to grow up so fast, even faster when we’re deployed. It takes time for every military parent to reconnect with our children after being away for long periods of time. Adults are concerned with the endless cycle of responsibilities in our careers, marriage, and budgeting. Children on the other hand are concerned with missing you.
Phone and video calls may be enough for us but it may not be enough for them. The burdens we carry are worth it when we see their smiles, living in safe homes, and getting a good education. Little ones are immersed in a more digital reality than millennial parents when they were their age.
The bright side is that we can connect with them over games they’re interested in and you’ll be surprised how much you remember about gaming if you aren’t already playing solo. From their perspective, winning with your team is awesome — but winning with your dad is epic.
Everything the light touches is our kingdom.
The easiest way to describe Minecraft is that it’s digital Legos. It was developed by Mojang and has three modes: Survival, Creative, and Adventure. This game can be played on any platform or phone and has online capabilities.
Survival is straight forward where you gather supplies and build things to help you weather the elements or defeat enemies. Creative Mode makes you immune to damage and have access to every block (piece) in the game. In Adventure mode most blocks cannot be destroyed and it has a more roleplaying type of element to it, like Skyrim but with training wheels.
Minecraft has been used to teach kids about programming, coding, and Modding (creating custom characters, buildings, and effects) in schools as well. This game can be as easy or complicated as you want it to be. You’ll be surprised how fast they learn when taught in gamer speak.
Cuphead and Mugman utilizing the talking guns concept.
Cuphead is a sidescroller game developed by StudioMDHR with Disneyesque graphics. The game was completely hand drawn to resemble the iconic animation styles of the 1920’s/1930’s and a complementary soundtrack. It doesn’t support online gameplay but if you’ve ever played Contra or Megaman, you’re going to kick ass at this game.
The levels have two modes: simple and regular. Boss fights and their patterns of attack change with the game difficulty. You can teach your child about strategy, attack pattern recognition, nurture hand-eye coordination, and teamwork. Together, your young protege will be unstoppable in Metroid, Mario, and Castlevania games.
Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee! – Gameplay – Nintendo Treehouse: Live
Nintendo has the lion’s share on the nostalgia market and it’s console sales spike every time a new Pokemon game releases. If you remember picking your favorite starter in Professor Oak’s lab, you’re going to love going down memory lane with your tiny pokemon-master-in-training.
In the ancient days of Gamboy Pocket/Color, we had to battle and trade over a physical cable that connected our hand-held devices. Nowadays all trading and battling is done over the internet.
The latest game is a remake of Pokemon Yellow so you can still keep it old school with the original 151. There are a ton of differences from the Red and Blue but it will still hit your right in the feels.
Dad: “Loot the gear.”
Daughter: “There’s someone there.”
Dad: “Loot the gear.”
Fortnite is an online first/third person shooter in a battle royal arena. It’s like the old school shooters, 007 Golden Eye for example, where you find random weapons on the ground with the added twist that the map gets smaller.
There is a very high chance your child is already playing this game; it’s whats trendy with the younger player base. If you’re unsure if they play this game just turn to them right now and ask if they can do a Fortnite dance for you.
It has several game modes but the most common ones are team or solo battles. Players are able to build impromptu bases out of wood, cement, and metal to give them cover when fighting. This is a game where your old Halo badassery will elevate you to near God status in the eyes of your kids.
“My dad can out snipe your dad.”
Player Unknown’s Battle Grounds (PUBG) is another battle royal game with the same principles as Fortnite, which is also this game’s competitor. The key differences are that you won’t be able to build bases and the graphics are more teen/adult oriented. Call of Duty is out gran’ ol’ man. PUBG is in.
Regardless of the games you choose to play, the important thing is that you have fun and bond with your children. We’re all busy and it’s hard to understand or care about what they think is important because you know what responsibilities really are important.
When you play games with your kids, you’ll know what they’re talking about when they’re excited about something — and they’ll know you give a sh*t. I still remember when I played Super Nintendo with my old man. Give your kids the gift my dad gave me: the precious memories of owning everyone else.
Over the last two decades, special-operations forces have become the go-to choice for policymakers and military leaders around the world.
The successes of US and coalition special-operations units in the Global War on Terror (GWOT) and in Syria against ISIS have showcased the importance and utility of small teams of highly trained troops.
While the US and its allies have been fighting in the Middle East, the Chinese military has been paying close attention, especially to US special operations. As a result, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is increasingly investing resources in its own special-operations forces.
So with everyone gearing up for great power competition, how do Chinese special operations measure up against the US’s and what are the biggest difference between the two?
US special operators
US special-operations units can be divided into unofficial tiers.
Delta Force and SEAL Team 6 would be at the top (Tier 1), followed by the 75th Ranger Regiment, Night Stalkers, MARSOC, and SEAL and Boat Teams (Tier 2), and then the Special Forces Groups (Tier 3). Air Commandos are harder to categorize since they most often augment other units rather than deploy as teams.
It’s important to note that these tiers have more to do with mission sets and funding than with the quality of the troops.
For example, SEAL Team 6 is part of the National Mission Force (the Pentagon’s first responders, in layman’s terms) and has far more money to spend and resources to use than a “vanilla” SEAL team, but both are manned by SEALs.
Chinese special operators
Irregular warfare and special operations have been part of Chinese military culture since the time of Sun Tzu, whose writings highlighted the value of specialized individuals and units in warfare.
However, modern Chinese special operations are fairly new. The first unit, the Special Reconnaissance Group, was established in 1988. In the late 1990s, as part of PLA’s modernization, seven Special Operations Groups of between 1,000 to 2,000 men were created.
Now there is one special-operations brigade-size unit in each of the five theater commands, which are a rough equivalent of the US’s combatant commands.
The Navy’s Jiaolong (Sea Dragons) is probably the most famous Chinese special-operations unit after it successfully recaptured a ship from pirates in the Gulf of Aden and assisted the evacuation of civilians from war-torn Yemen, which became the subject of a Chinese propaganda movie.
All in all, China has between 20,000 and 40,000 special-operations troops of varying quality.
Crucially, Chinese special-operations units have more than doubled in number in the last two decades, showing that Chinese leaders are paying close attention to the high-reward, low-cost characteristics of special-operations units.
Both special but not the same
Since the early 2000s, the PLA has undergone a drastic modernization and professionalization process, transitioning from a mainly conscript force to a smaller, mostly volunteer military, though conscription remains as a policy.
The new force’s main aim is to fight short wars against regional adversaries while having a technological advantage.
Chinese special-operations units, and the PLA as a whole, have gained from that modernization and learned from the example provided by Western special-operations units over the past 60 years, but Chinese forces are still untested in combat.
On the other hand, US special-operations units have amassed an astounding level of combat experience in the last two decades. It’s not uncommon to have operators with double-digit combat deployments and hundreds of real-world operations under their belts.
Chinese special-operations units are also regionally focused and lack a centralized command like the US Special Operations Command (SOCOM). This could limit their effectiveness and hurt interoperability.
Moreover, Chinese special-operations units lack the dedicated aviation and maritime assets that American commandos have, namely the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, Special Boat Teams, SEAL Delivery Vehicle Teams, and the Air Force’s Special Operations Squadrons.
Without specialized insertion platforms, the utility of Chinese commandos is limited and their geographic scope localized. However, according to the US Army’s Foreign Military Studies Office (FMSO), the PLA is establishing aviation brigades that might resolve some of these asset shortcomings.
Additionally, there is a difference in mission sets.
Chinese special-operations units focus on direct action, special reconnaissance, and counterterrorism. Unlike US commandos, they don’t conduct unconventional warfare, foreign internal defense, counterinsurgency, hostage rescue, civil affairs, and psychological operations.
In a nutshell, in terms of mission sets, Chinese commandos are closer to World War II special-operations units than to modern US special operations. It’s not that they aren’t capable, but their scope is more limited, a reflection of the PLA’s strategic priorities.
But perhaps the biggest and most important difference is the people.
“Humans are more important than hardware,” is one of the five US special-operations “Truths.” Western special operators take pride in their independence and out-of-the-box thinking, which is encouraged if not expected by their leaders.
Units like Delta Force, the SEAL Teams, the Special Forces Groups, and allied units like the Special Air Service (SAS) excel because of their noncommissioned officers. When planning operations, it’s these NCOs who come up with the ideas and approach. Ironically, the British SAS have titled this enlisted-driven process “the Chinese Parliament.”
Conversely, elements of Chinese military culture, in particular the use of conscripts as well as differing views on unit cohesion, pose a significant barrier to small-team independence.
Allegiance to and scrutiny by the Communist Party complicates things further and adds another level of bureaucracy.
China is used to stealing and copying military technology and concepts, which is believed to be behind Beijing’s advances in fighter jets and other weapons. But when it comes to special-operations units, these cultural aspects aren’t easy to mimic.
The United States and the Republic of Korea have a history of conducting bilateral military exercises where we team up and plan to take on an objective together to strengthen our relationship and coordination. One of these annual exercises is called Ssang Yong, and it’s a part of Foal Eagle, which typically takes place in the early spring. This training exercise between Marines and South Koreans is one of the largest military exercises in the world and, historically, it’s made North Korea really angry.
As part of Ssang Yong 2014, Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment was attached to a ROK Marine company and together, they boarded three ships. When first platoon boarded the ROKS Dokdo, the Marines had no idea they were in for a full seven days of suffering and pain.
The experiences were life-changing and here’s why.
You could barely even stand between the racks of the berthing.
(U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Brien Aho)
South Korean ships are crammed
The ROKS Dokdo is a very small ship. The berthing areas were so tiny that they were only used for sleep. If you wanted to hang out in the berthing, you might as well just climb in your bed and stay there — or else you’re just occupying otherwise valuable space.
Cash made things at least a little easier.
(U.S. Navy photo by Culinary Specialist Petty Officer 3rd Class Cedric Ceballos)
The debit/credit card machine was down
You know how ships have a store on them from which you can buy snacks so you aren’t starving between meals? Well, typically, items there can be purchased with a special card that only works on the ship. The only problem is that no one told us that, and no one gave us any. So, our only option was to pay with cash.
Some of us, however, didn’t get a chance to withdraw cash prior to departing, which put a serious damper on snack time.
Most of us mainly ate rice and seaweed paper.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Immanuel Johnson)
The South Korean food portions were terrible
South Koreans don’t eat nearly as much as Americans. We eat like it’s going out of style and that’s especially true if you’re an infantry Marine. The ship was stocked with enough food to support ROK Sailors and maybe a handful of Marines — but they were in no way prepared to handle a platoon and a half of us.
Not only were we starving between meals, the meals didn’t do too much for us, either.
The Korean cigarettes aren’t bad, trust us.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Logan Kyle)
There were only South Korean tobacco products
The ship only carried (go figure) Korean tobacco products, specifically cigarettes. If you didn’t bring some extra American cigs, you’d have to settle for the Korean stuff. Admittedly, these aren’t bad at all, but it felt wrong.
Stats? Projections? F$%k that noise. Numbers can’t guarantee wins, but being as tough as nails sure helps. As the 2018 NFL Season enters its third week and fantasy football fans continue to debate advanced metrics, the veterans at We Are The Mighty are taking a different approach to finding the best players across the league.
This week, our team of self-declared fair-weather fans scouted the NFL to find the players worthy of serving on one the military’s most elite units: the Army Special Forces — Operational Detachment Alpha, known exclusively as the “A-Team.”
A Special Forces team is full of quiet professionals, each of whom has a set of unique, special skills, ranging from demolitions to weapons to communications. Earning your place on a Special Forces team takes training, time, and a little luck, but it ultimately comes down to one simple question: Can you perform under pressure?
This results-based mentality is exactly the same approach used by NFL players across the league and, in the season’s opening week, five players have distinguished themselves worthy of making the inaugural “A Team Report.” Some earned this distinguished honor by breaking records while others made the list via sheer, viking-level badassery. Either way, all the players on this week’s A-Team Report stepped up when it mattered.
It’s 7:12 p.m. You’ve got a soggy McDonalds cup sweating sweet tea in your cup holder. You’re driving home after a long day, and the sun is dropping golden light on the horizon. Your sore right foot is pinning down the gas pedal. The fuzzy country FM radio station sharpens a bit, and you hear the beginning chords of a song you know every single syllable of. Maybe it reminds you of your brother overseas. Maybe it reminds you of your spouse’s deployment. Maybe they’re with you listening to it. Maybe they’re not. Chances are, if you have any ties to military service, you’ve had one of these still car ride moments, and been caught off-guard by misty eyes and a head full of thoughts about our nation’s heroes, while a solemn guitar and Southern twang underscore your drive home.
This is about the letter many have written, and fewer have had to read. Tim McGraw sings, from the perspective of a soldier, writing a potential farewell letter. We don’t know if the soldier comes home. All we know is he wrote it to his wife. Like so many others have done, and will continue to do. It’s a testament to those who have been willing to make the sacrifice for those they love, as much as it is a testament to those loved ones who hopefully won’t have to read. “So lay me down, in that open field out on the edge of town/ And know my soul, is always where my momma always prayed that it would be.”
John Michael Montgomery – Letters from Home Official Music Video
The first time you hear this song, it catches you by the throat in the third verse. John Michael Montgomery builds us in the walls of a world that feels gritty but perseverant in the first two verses. We hear of men finding gallows humor overseas. Then comes a letter from the old man… “But no one laughs, cause there ain’t nothin funny when a soldier cries.”
Tracy Lawrence paints the picture of a soldier talking to his buddies. These aren’t necessarily family members, they feel somehow more intimate to the solider in the story. They share beer together, he jokes, and they laugh. He doesn’t ever want to get his buddies down, he wants them to raise hell and drink and remember him with love, not with sadness. We can all remember a conversation over a couple dozen beers ending with the same altruistic, tough, sentiment. Plus—high school football. “On Friday night sit on the visitor side, and cheer for the home team.”
This song was actually written and performed by Bruce Robison first. The song was then optioned and made famous by the Dixie Chicks. Although the Dixie Chicks politically polarized country music fans in 2003, the rendition of the song is unquestionably impactful. There is a vulnerable broken to its performance. The female vocals also lend another layer to the song, as the song is about a high school girl after all. “Our love will never end/ Waitin’ for the soldier to come back again.”
David Ball’s tone feels a little bit lighter than the other songs on the list in “Riding with Private Malone.” In that lightness though, there is deep feeling. The casual nature that he delivers the story of a soldier knowingly bestowing his ride to whoever picked it up next, shadows how selfless the act of service can be. It’s discreet. It’s quiet, it’s between two people. It has gas pumping through it, and life, and it is passed down from generation to generation. “Though you may take her and make your own, you’ll always be ridin’ with Private Malone.”
Lee Brice – I Drive Your Truck (Official Music Video)
Lee Brice belts onto our list with the most recent entry into tearjerking country ballads. Here we find a brother left to find meaning and reason to his life after his brother makes the ultimate sacrifice. He connects with him by tearing up fields and peeling out in his old truck, blaring the same country station he left it on, highlighting the connective power of country music in the lives of people around the military. “People got their ways of coping, Oh and I’ve got mine/ I drive your truck.”
One thing that has always struck me as disappointing in songs about soldiers is that the survivors get forgotten somewhere along the line. This ain’t the case with Toby Keith’s “American Soldier.” It captures perfectly the duty that soldiers are responsible for. It brings to mind the simple, tough, resiliency of the military life, and it exalts those who answer its call. “And I can’t call in sick on Mondays/ When the weekend’s been too strong.”
The late Merle Haggard knew his way around storytelling. A soldier telling his momma not to scold him for having shaky handwriting on a battlefield is a tragically human moment. We can guess how young the soldier is. We can guess how long he’s been overseas. We can’t guess how desperate his momma felt. It captured the feeling of an era, the generation of young boys lost in Vietnam, and the hole that was left back home in their wake. “Then the mother knelt down by her bedside/ And she prayed Lord above hear my plea/ And protect all the sons who are fighting tonight/ and Dear God, keep America free.”
The world’s largest aircraft, the Stratolaunch Launch Systems Stratolaunch, flew for the first time on Saturday, April 13, 2019. The massive aircraft took off from the Mojave Air & Space Port’s Civilian Aerospace Test Center in California at 06:58 Pacific Daylight Time and conducted an initial test flight that lasted 2.5 hours achieving a maximum altitude of 17,000 feet and a top speed of 189 MPH before landing.
The aircraft, designed to carry spacecraft to atmospheric launch, can carry a payload of up to 500,000 pounds or 250 tons according to Stratolaunch Launch Systems. The gigantic Stratolaunch has the largest wingspan in the world at 117.3 meters (384.8 feet), significantly larger than the previous record holder, the Antonov An-225 “Mriya” heavy lift cargo aircraft. The Stratolaunch is powered by six enormous Pratt & Whitney PW4000 jet engines formerly used on the Boeing 747 that only used four engines.
April 13, 2019’s flight was a remarkable moment in aviation history, attended by aircraft enthusiasts and media from around the world. Aviation photographers ringed the outer fences of the Mojave Air Space Port to shoot photos and video of the historic event. Within minutes of Stratolaunch’s takeoff the internet came alive with photos and video of the historic event.
Stratolaunch makes a low pass over the Mojave Air Space Port on Saturday during its first flight. Note the unusual near-vertical flap confirmation for landing.
Weather conditions for Stratolaunch’s first flight were ideal, with early morning temperatures in the 40’s to 50’s, light winds, minimum visibility of 10 miles reported by aviation weather surfaces and temperatures rising to 62 degrees Fahrenheit by 1030 local time.
Stratolaunch CEO Jean Floyd, who watched the aircraft takeoff for the first time Saturday morning, told reporters, “What a fantastic first flight”. Floyd went on to remark, “Today’s flight furthers our mission to provide a flexible alternative to ground launched systems. We are incredibly proud of the Stratolaunch team, today’s flight crew, our partners at Northup Grumman’s Scaled Composites and the Mojave Air and Space Port.”
April 13, 2019’s first-ever test flight of Stratolaunch was flown by experimental test pilot Evan Thomas. Thomas is a 28-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force, F-16 pilot and former Vice Wing Commander of the 46th Test Wing and former Director of NATO Combined Air Operations Center 5. Evan Thomas has also been senior test pilot for Calspan Corporation and has been a test pilot at Scaled Composites for over a year. His specialties in test flight include aviation and test safety, aircraft stability and control testing and operational leadership of flight test teams.
Stratolaunch Chief Test Pilot Evan Thomas, who flew the aircraft on its historic first flight.
Test Pilot Evan Thomas told reporters after the first flight that, “The flight itself was smooth, which is exactly what you want the first flight to be, and for the most part, the airplane flew as predicted, which is again exactly what we want.”
Stratolaunch touches down after a successful first test flight.
This article originally appeared on The Aviationist. Follow @theaviationist on Twitter.
Eric Viitala, 49, is an Air Force veteran of the Gulf War who lives in Maine. He experienced low levels of energy and concentration for years after his service. He had headaches, couldn’t finish projects, and was losing interest in things.
“My wife would tell me I left the cupboard doors open and she would walk into them. Or I’d put the recycling in the trash.”
Shortly after the Gulf War, Viitala hit his head in an accident in Saudi Arabia. When he visited the War Related Illness and Injury Study Center (WRIISC) in East Orange, NJ, he was diagnosed with traumatic brain injury. At the WRIISC, a doctor referred him to the VA Boston Healthcare System’s light-emitting diode (LED) therapy program.
VA’s Center for Compassionate Care Innovation has been working with VHA staff in Boston to explore the use of in-home LED treatment since 2018.
Last year, Viitala completed a 12-week course of in-home LED treatment while in communication with his VHA health care provider. He still uses the treatment at least twice a week.
Improvements in memory and energy way up
“There were huge improvements in my memory and concentration. My energy was way up. I’d pop up in the middle of the night and go clean the garage,” said Viitala. “It’s amazing because I have been dragging for years, but now I have the energy to go do things.”
During LED treatment, patients wear a lightweight headset affixed with light-emitting diodes. The arrangement of LEDs is customized for each person. The diodes do not generate heat and the treatment is painless and noninvasive. Each session lasts only 25 minutes. There is evidence to suggest that LED therapy promotes a healing response at the cellular level, due in part to increased blood flow.
When Viitala uses the LED equipment, he simply sits and relaxes with the LED headset on. The equipment was provided by VHA at no cost to the veteran and belongs to him permanently. He went to Boston for one round of treatment at the medical center and to pick up the equipment. But he communicated with his health care provider by phone during treatment.
“It’s worth every second.”
“That was really helpful and beneficial for her to call and keep encouraging me. She would ask how it’s going. It helped remind me to do it.”
Viitala credits the staff members at the New Jersey WRIISC for validating what he was feeling and referring him to the LED clinic in Boston. He encourages fellow veterans with similar symptoms to ask their providers about LED therapy.
“Don’t be afraid to speak out. There’s nothing to lose with LED. Nothing hurts. They don’t have to go inside your body. There’s no drugs, no side effects. It’s worth every second.”
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
You may know that most veterans can be buried in state and national veterans cemeteries for little or no money, but what about their spouses and other dependents?
Your spouse may be eligible to be buried with you in a veterans cemetery at little or no cost. However, if you and your spouse have divorced and they have remarried, they probably aren’t eligible. Dependent children may also be eligible. Some parents of those killed on active duty may also be eligible.
As always, only veterans with an other-than-dishonorable discharge (and their dependents) qualify for this burial benefit. There are also other restrictions against those found guilty of certain crimes.
Snipers are masters of disguise who are able to hide in plain sight, providing overwatch, scouting enemy positions, and, when necessary, taking out threats.
“No one knows you’re there. I’m here. I’m watching you, I see everything that you are doing, and someone is about to come mess up your day,” First Sgt. Kevin Sipes, a Texas native and experienced US Army sniper, said during a recent interview.
“We are capable of hurting you in many ways … We’re not going to tell you how we’re coming. But, we’re coming for you.”
Business Insider asked a handful of trained Army snipers, elite sharpshooters who have served across multiple combat deployments in multiple countries, how they disappear in any and all environments. Here’s what they had to say.
An Army Green beret sniper, assigned to 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne), takes aim at a long-range target for a timed shooting event during advanced skills sniper training at Fort Carson, Colorado, Dec. 12, 2018.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Connor Mendez)
Concealment is about putting anything you can between yourself and the watchful eyes of the enemy.
“A sniper is not limited to any one method,” Sipes, a veteran sniper with more than a decade of service, explained. “We are extremely free. You are limited only by however you limit yourself.”
Snipers use a mixture of natural and artificial materials to achieve concealment and camouflage to avoid enemy detection, as the sniper must remain unseen by the enemy to collect intelligence or take a shot if needed. The aim is to effectively blend into the negative space, areas the eye naturally overlooks.
Concealing oneself from an adversary’s gaze is about putting “anything you can between you and whatever might be observing you,” Staff Sgt. David Smith, a sniper instructor at Fort Benning, told BI, explaining that this could be natural vegetation, face paints, false screens, a sniper’s ghillie suits, or the hides they construct.
A ghillie suit is designed with loose strips designed to resemble natural backgrounds like twigs or long grasses, and can make snipers nearly undetectable by visual. Ghillie suits typically do not shield the wearer from detection via thermal imaging, a technology that advanced militaries are likely to use; however, the Army is developing an improved ghillie suit which is expected to offer enhanced protection.
With the tools they bring with them and materials found in the field, snipers can break up and distort their outline, making them significantly harder to spot.
Pfc. William Snyder, 1-173rd Infantry, practices sniper camouflage techniques at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, April 7, 2018.
(Photo by Army Staff Sgt. William Frye)
In many ways, it’s about knowing your environment.
“The best tool snipers can use to disguise and conceal themselves from the enemy is a solid understanding of their surroundings,” Capt. Greg Elgort, the company commander, told BI.
Snipers need to know the lay of the land, they need to plan their route, and they need to take advantage of whatever nature gives.
“I want to look at the terrain. What can I put between myself and the target,” Sipes, who runs the marksmanship training company alongside Elgort, said.” It’s not just about the face paint or what I attach to my body, it’s the natural environment around me that I can utilize to keep them from seeing me.”
For example, the winners of the International Sniper Competition, two non-commissioned officers from the Army’s 3rd Ranger Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, hid themselves from view with nothing more than a ghillie suit hood and various materials they found in the field.
In particular, they focused on hiding their face.
“Just by being able to disfigure and break up the outline of their face — you know, a human face stands out very vividly in a woodland area — by concealing the outline of their face, they were able to win,” Elgort explained. “It really comes down to an understanding of that and knowing what you’re presenting and adjusting accordingly.”
Sgt. Chayne Walsh, 2nd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, prepares to execute his concealment exercise during sniper training at Fort Benning.
(Patrick A. Albright/MCoE PAO Photographer)
There are a lot of small things that if overlooked could be fatal.
Snipers have to manage their tracks, scent, shadow, glare and countless other things to remain hidden from enemies. “There are a million things that go into being a sniper, and you have to be good at all of them,” Sipes explained.
Here’s just a few of the many things snipers have to think about.
“If you are facing east in the morning, the sun is going to be coming at you, so you need to do something with your scope to prevent glare,” Elgort told BI. To combat this problem, snipers build cat eyes.
“We use natural vegetation, we use wraps, netting, whatever to block the optics from any observation but allow us to see through it,” Sipes said, noting that other considerations include whether or not he is silhouetting himself against something else. A shadow could give away his position, exposing him to the enemy.
As for scents, he said that snipers avoid scented soaps, smoking, any type of cologne, deodorant, etc.
In colder climates, a sniper can eat snow to hide their breath, but it only works for a short time. “You would have to continuously eat snow, and then you have to pee,” Smith said, bringing up another potential consideration.
Snipers also have to think about bodily excretions. Sometimes when nature calls, a sniper will use bags with sponges to soak up their business. They can also bury it in the earth. Other times, they just have to hold it.
US Army Sgt. John Stewart, a Sniper assigned to NATO’s Battle Group Poland, improves his fighting position during react to contact drills at Bemowo Piskie Training Area, Poland, Nov. 8, 2018.
(Photo by U.S. Army Sgt. Sarah Kirby)
Some environments are easier than others.
Staff Sgt. Joshua Jones, another sniper instructor, identified two decidedly difficult environments for concealment — fresh snow and the urban environments.
“You can disappear into the snow. It takes a little more thought. It’s a little harder to play with the blending in,” he told BI. “And, in the urban environment, there’s just so many eyes on you from the onset that it makes it pretty tough for you to get into your setup without someone knowing that you’re already there.”
Places like cities and suburbs are also the hardest areas to shoot in.
“I can say that the most difficult place to shoot is in an urban environment,” Sipes said, calling attention to the some of the angles and structures obstructing visibility, among other problems.
“The targets are generally moving. They have civilians around them. They’re using the patterns of life on the ground to conceal themselves. And they’re never in one location,” he added.
As for the easiest environments to blend into, that is definitely your standard woodland or jungle, Jones explained.
Hidden beneath twigs and weeds, a sniper’s stomach is flat on the ground, dirt and grime on his face. All that can be seen in the bundles of cheatgrass is a pair of steady, intense eyes.
(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Becky Vanshur)
One of the greatest dangers is that new technologies are making it harder for snipers to hide.
The US is once again in a time of rivalry with other military powers, and that means they must learn to counter more advanced threats from adversaries like China and Russia.
“Defeating a thermal signature is probably the hardest thing that a sniper has to do, especially with emerging technology by our near-peer enemies,” Smith told BI. Snipers can hide in the visible spectrum, but combating high-end sensors is a challenge.
US rivals are starting to “creep into the thermal arena, and that in itself is dangerous to a sniper because then you can’t hide from that,” Smith said. Thermal imagers can easily detect a human body’s heat against the ambient temperature of the environment around it.
Smith called this a “large challenge” that the Army is “working to defeat that as well.”
Sometimes that means getting back to the basics. Snipers often use laser range finders to get a more accurate read on a target, but that’s not always an option.
“When going against a near-peer threat or an adversary that has the capability to identify that, we have to rely solely on the reticle that’s in our scope,” Staff Sgt. Christopher Rance, a sniper instructor team sergeant from Colorado, explained.
There are also new camouflage systems, such as the Fibrotex’s Ultra-Light Camouflage Netting System capable of providing more persistent infrared, thermal, and counter-radar performance, that are in development to help the Army’s snipers, as well as other soldiers, hide from the more advanced threats.
Warfare is always evolving, which means that US snipers have to be ready for anything.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.