Corson-Stoughton Gas, commonly known as “CS gas” or tear gas, has been a part of military culture since it was first mass produced in the 50s. Technically, it’s less-than-lethal — death from inhaling CS gas is rare, but it still hurts like hell to breathe in. You’re going to cry and all of the mucus in your body will try to escape at once. It’s not pretty.
So, why not subject troops to it regularly, on a every-six-months basis? What could possibly go wrong?
No really, I’m not being sarcastic. There are actually many good reasons to subject troops to a bi-annual deep cleanse in the CS chamber — and it’s a much more valid reasoning than the standard “it builds character” excuse that first sergeants use.
The very first moment troops are exposed to CS gas is the most important one — during initial training. This serves many different functions.
For starters, it builds confidence in your equipment. All of the “lowest bidder” jokes tend to go away when you realize that the mask you were assigned is perfectly capable of stopping the painful gas from entering your lungs.
It also serves as a way of teaching troops that pain is temporary. Troops have nothing to fear from temporary discomfort. Yeah, it’s going to hurt like hell, but you shouldn’t cower from it — just accept it and move on. Think of it like the scene in Dune when Paul Atreides faces the pain box.
“Fear is the mind killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.”
Troops will walk in with their mask on, knowing that they’re to take it off in the middle of the chamber. And before you start coming up with a plan, no, you can’t just hold your breath to escape the pain. The drill sergeant will likely ask you to recite the Soldier’s Creed, sing the Marines’ Hymn — whatever gets you to open your mouth and take in a breath. And then you can leave.
Feeling the pain of CS gas is universal experience throughout the U.S. Armed Forces — but it doesn’t last long. Twenty or thirty minutes later and you’re back on your feet — until the exercise is put back on the training calendar.
Heading into the CS chamber twice a year can actually help you build up a tolerance to the gas that lasts a lifetime. The first time hurts like a motherf*cker. The second time just hurts like hell. The third time is a little better than that, and so on, until it just makes you slightly uncomfortable. It’s not a complete immunity, but it’s a strong tolerance.
Your eyes will still water but you’re not vomiting in the corner at the very least — so that’s good.
In 1937, a young Chicago woman named Aida Garaffa lived across the street from a young man named Gerald “Jerry” Bonsonto.
A trip to a local shop would join the two hearts together in love.
“My sister and I were walking to the corner of Throop Street. There was a grocery store where we bought ice cream. When we came out of the store we saw Jerry,” explained Aida Bonsonto who recalled that first meeting with her future husband.
“He asked me if I wanted to go to the movies with him. He wasn’t a big fellow. He was about five-feet four-inches but he was handsome,” she said.
But world events, specifically World War II, would interrupt their courtship.
“The war was going on. He was drafted,” explained the youthful 97-year-old. “He was inducted on Dec. 12, 1942. We were engaged and then he left for training at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.”
Aida Bonsonto with her husband Gerald “Jerry” Bonsonto pose for a photo, circa 1946.
Bonsonto trained as a medic and paratrooper and was assigned to the 307th medics of the 82nd Airborne Division.
“He landed in Africa first,” explained Bonsonto. “And he also served in Sicily, Italy, Ireland, England, France, Holland, and Germany. He was in the Battle of the Bulge.”
It was there where bullets fired by a German sniper found their mark hitting Pfc. Bonsonto. When she found out, she went to Holy Family Church in Chicago. The same church where the couple would be married later on June 8, 1946.
“When we found out he was wounded, I crawled from the door to the altar of Holy Family Church. I asked God to spare his life,” she said.
“They didn’t know if he was going to live,” she said. “He was badly wounded.”
But Jerry lived.
He was evacuated and sent to hospitals in England and Capri, Italy before he was discharged and sent home to the United States.
“He was never the same after that. He had a lot of pain,” she said.
Before he came home he sent the woman who would become his wife two boxes containing a parachute. Rationing was in effect, even after the war ended, and fabric was expensive. But a parachute made of silk and nylon provided Bonsonto with the material she needed for her wedding dress.
Aida Bonsonto wears a wedding dress, circa 1946, made from a parachute, that was sent home to her by Army medic Gerald “Jerry” Bonsonto who served with the 82nd Airborne Division during World War II.
“I told the seamstress I wanted a sweetheart neckline with long sleeves,” said she said. “And the bridesmaids dresses were all made in Chiffon.”
“An Italian woman made the wedding dress and the bridesmaid gowns out of the parachute,” explained Bonsonto.
It turned out the wedding dress was not the only thing she owned that was made from a parachute.
“While he (Jerry) was in Normandy, he had a French lady make me a nightgown out of a parachute. It was all made by hand,” she said.
And the cost was not what one might expect.
“It cost him two packages of cigarettes. That’s all she asked for it”, said Bonsonto.
Bonsonto shared that she still keeps the nightgown.
“I only wore it when I got married,” said Bonsonto. “I kept it as a souvenir with the wedding dress. She also stitched my name on the nightgown. It’s very pretty.”
While she waited for Jerry to return home, life went on in her neighborhood in Chicago.
“We used to sit outside at night and have coffee and pastries. We slept near the fire hydrant when it was hot at night,” explained Bonsonto. “My brother put a loudspeaker on our parlor window and we would have a street dance.”
The family of Aida Bonsonto pauses for a photo with Brig. Gen. Kris A. Belanger, Commanding General, 85th U.S. Army Reserve Support Command and a wedding dress made from a World War II parachute that her husband sent home.
(Photo by Sgt. David Lietz)
But the party to end all parties was when World War II ended Sept. 2, 1945.
“It was remarkable how people celebrated. I think people celebrated at least three days on this block. People danced in the streets. It was like a festival,” she said.
When Jerry returned home he started working for his dad driving a truck and never talked about his wartime experiences, according to Bonsonto.
“He wore his combat boots every day working on the truck to remind him of what he went through,” said Bonsonto. “He wore them until he couldn’t wear them anymore when they fell apart.”
Her beloved Jerry passed away in 1980.
“Everybody liked him. He was funny. He minded his business, he worked and came home,” recalled Bonsonto.
Now Bonsonto has stated that she will loan the parachute wedding dress she wore on her wedding day to the 82nd Airborne Division War Memorial Museum at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Her next concern was how to get the wedding dress to the museum.
On Memorial Day of 2019, Brig. Gen. Kris A. Belanger, South Carolina native and commanding general of the Chicago-based 85th U.S. Army Reserve Support Command, traveled to suburban Orland Park to meet with Bonsonto and her family and pick up the dress.
A religious card taped into a scrapbook compiled by Aida Bonsonto showcases her husband’s military service during World War II.
“My mom has wanted to (loan) this parachute wedding dress for years,” explained her daughter-in-law, Caroline Bonsonto. “She has been contacting different museums for years. This is something she has been pursuing.”
“There’s lots of stories about these parachute wedding dresses but not a lot of actual dresses in museums,” explained John Aarsen, museum director for the 82nd Airborne Division War Memorial Museum. “We love them. It helps tell the stories about the families.”
The museum currently has one parachute wedding dress on display.
“By having this parachute wedding dress we can rotate them for display,” according to Aarsen who also serves as a U.S. Army Reserve brigadier general at the 451st Expeditionary Sustainment Command in Wichita, Kansas.
At the end of the evening, completed by a hearty meal and good fellowship, Bonsonto turned the dress over to Belanger.
Belanger is scheduled to bring it to the 82nd Airborne Division War Museum where a wedding dress made from a parachute will help tell future generations about the love story of a soldier named Jerry and his bride Aida.
“I thought it was quite an honor to be a part of taking a piece of history and making it public,” said Belanger. “Making history in such a way that it means so much to a family. It was an honor they trusted me to take a historic family heirloom and then display it for all to see. It is really incredible.”
North Korea’s Kim Jong Un is not only the leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, he is the Supreme Commander of the Korean People’s Army (KPA), the fourth-largest military in the world.
North Korea’s military is part of its foundation; Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Un’s grandfather and the founder of the so-called “Hermit Kingdom,” used his own military service — as a guerilla fighting against the Japanese occupation of Korea — to burnish his cult of personality, according to Washington Post reporter Anna Fifield’s book, “The Great Successor: The Divinely Perfect Destiny of Brilliant Comrade Kim Jong Un.”
Military service is baked into the North Korean constitution; “National defense is the supreme duty and honor of citizens,” it says, and military service is generally compulsory. Kim has never served in the North Korean military but reportedly graduated near the top of his class at a prestigious military academy, a claim that experts and a former North Korean military member found highly suspect.
North Korea spends approximately 25% of its GDP on its military, including its nuclear program, spending .5 billion each year on its forces between 2004 and 2014. It boasts 1.1 million troops, about 5% of its population, according to CFR.
According to North Korean propaganda, the 35-year-old Kim Jong Un prepared to lead this massive force by attending Kim Il Sung Military University in Pyongyang; experts said it was more likely that he had received some instruction from military trainers associated with this university.
Some propaganda accounts cited by Fifield say Kim, who reportedly started at the academy when he was 18, was such a natural at military strategy that he was soon training his instructors.
Kim’s ‘elite’ alma mater
Kim Il Sung Military University is a “military institution for educating elite military officers,” according to Bruce W. Bennett, senior defense analyst at The RAND Corporation. It was established in 1952, according to North Korea Leadership Watch, and is one of several military training schools.
“The students of this university are middle level officers such as majors and lieutenant colonels,” Bennett said, equating the university to institutions like the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island.
“It is the university that is a gateway to becoming a senior officer in the Korean People’s Army (KPA). Most of North Korean military generals studied in this university when they were mid-career,” Bennett told INSIDER via email.
An image of Pyongyang, with Kim Il Sung Military University outlined.
(North Korea Leadership Watch/Google Images)
Fifield’s book, and official North Korean propaganda, report that Kim studied here alongside his older brother, Kim Jong Chol.
“It was their mother’s idea to send them to the military academy, a way to bolster her sons’ claim to succession,” Fifield writes. Kim Jong Un and Kim Jong Chol are the children of Kim Jong Il and Ko Yong Hui, to whom he was not officially married. Kim Jong Il installed Ko Yong Hui and her sons in a home in his compound, ensuring they were well cared for.
Kim Jong Un reportedly entered the university in 2002, after his early education in Switzerland, and began studying “juche-oriented military leadership,” Fifield writes, referring to the North Korean concept of juche, or self-reliance. Juche is essential to the North Korean identity, although the country was economically dependent on the Soviet Union until its collapse. China is now its most important economic relationship.
“I would expect that most of the training at Kim Il Sung Military University would be on military operations, military history, and political indoctrination,” Bennett told INSIDER via email.
“But a big part of the curriculum is likely also competition between the personnel to see how they deal with each other physically and mentally, which leads to forming bonds of friendship critical as officers are promoted.”
‘A natural at military strategy’
While Kim Jong Un never served in the KPA, North Korea Leadership Watch (NKLW) contends that it’s likely some students are able to enter Kim Il Sung Military University without any prior service, straight out of high school.
NKLW describes Kim Il Sung Military University as modeled on Soviet military academies; while there might be classes on North Korean military history, the structure and academics of Kim Il Sung Military University find their closest analogs in the Soviet system.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits the Command of the Strategic Force of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) in an unknown location in North Korea in this undated photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency.
According to North Korean official state media, Fifield writes, Kim Jong Un was “such a natural at military strategy that he was instructing the instructors rather than learning from them.”
He graduated on Dec. 24, 2006, Fifield writes, “with honors,” after writing a final dissertation on “A Simulation for the Improvement of Accuracy in the Operational Map by the Global Positioning System (GPS).”
But a former member of the North Korean military who now lives in the US and is familiar with the Kim family said it was unlikely that Kim Jong Un actually attended Kim Il Sung Military University, at least not in the traditional sense.
“According to North Korean propaganda, Kim Jong Un attended Kim Il Sung Military University, but I couldn’t find any of his classmates or Army mates. If he really attended that university, somebody should know that he attended,” the former military member said.
“If Kim Jong Un actually attended that college, he has pictures, he has a record, and he has friends. But [none] of the North Korean elite could find his picture and his friends. I think it’s a kind of propaganda,” the former military member said, noting that the North Korean propaganda department would have exploited any evidence of Kim Jong Un having attended the university to build up his cult of personality.
Rather than actually physically attending classes, there were “probably private instructors visiting his house to give him a lecture,” the former military member said.
“Kim Il Sung Military University is a more closed university, the students are military officers, not civilians, so they can keep the secret that Kim Jong Un didn’t actually attend.”
Kim would have been unique in attending the military school named for his grandfather; “I don’t think most of the Kim family become military officers — they avoid becoming military officers,” the former military member said.
“They have a good life […] they don’t need to go [in] the military to risk their lives.”
In order to qualify for a school like Kim Il Sung Military University, potential recruits must have, “superior service records, excellent physical condition and trusted political reliability” and have “a flawless family background, be popular among fellow soldiers, and receive the approval of their commanding and political officers,” according to Joseph Bermudez’s book “Shield of the Great Leader: The Armed Forces of North Korea.”
NKLW contends that Kim probably had private tutoring for at least a few years, and that he was likely a very good student, exhausting teachers with his questions. The academics on military operations are thought to be rigorous, even if it’s unlikely Kim also participated in the physical and professional competitions that other students must face.
In whatever capacity he studied with the university’s instructors, it influenced his relationship with the North Korean military today, in particular the aggressive missile testing North Korea undertook under the third Kim leader.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The one thing that seems to be a constant in Saigon is the delicious smell of food cooking – from the street vendors, open air cafes, coffee shops, and bakeries – it was that way in the late 60’s and remains so today. The first time I came to the city I remember walking to the headquarters with an officer I’d served with in Ban Me Thuot and stopping at a small coffee shop for a coffee and croissant – both were delicious and the whole event seemed surreal given what was going on in the rest of the country at the time.
This time, when I arrived at Tan Son Nhat airport in Saigon the first thing I saw were customs officials wearing what I remember as North Vietnamese Army uniforms – a bit of a flashback. Stepping out of the terminal I breathed deeply of the humid tropical air – a familiar scent that almost seemed comforting. Driving through the city on the way to the hotel I noticed the beautiful French inspired architecture which added a touch of grace to the cityscape.
In 1969 Saigon was a multi-faced city, bustling with the business of war. The people were pursuing their livelihood as best they could, while hip deep in the middle of a war zone. They were trying as hard as they could to make life tolerable and better for their families. Today, later generations of those families are doing that same thing, less the war, making life better and succeeding on a grand scale.
Revisiting Saigon and Vietnam after forty some years reaffirmed my faith in humanity – it doesn’t matter who won or lost, doesn’t matter who is in power – it’s all about the people. The Vietnamese people have always been entrepreneurs, caring for their families and their country and have made it a powerhouse in Southeast Asia. It gladdened my heart and closed a circle for me in a most positive way.
This article originally appeared on GORUCK. Follow @GORUCK on Twitter.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe was the start of superhero fandom for millions. For many, many others, it was just the latest iteration of graphic works of art – this time, come to life on the big screen. And inside each of those was a small cameo, a little role to play for the man who started it all, Stan Lee.
For the veteran community, Stan Lee was a fantastic example of life after serving. In the Pinks and Greens of his World War II enlistment, the young Lee might be unrecognizable to many of us today. But in true superhero form, he saw the world needed his help and he donned his superhero uniform in 1942 (which just happened to be one of the Army’s signal corps) and enlisted after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Lee during his WWII-era enlistment.
It’s probably more difficult to imagine Stan Lee in his early years, merely filling inkwells as an assistant at a pulp comics publisher. It was there that Lee created his first comic stories, including the exploits of Captain America. Eventually, he worked his way up to editor-in-chief of that same publication.
Lee’s time in the Army came just after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The Army installed the young Stanley Martin Lieber (Lee’s birth name, he changed it to his pen name later) as a telephone pole lineman. After realizing it made a mistake, he was moved to the training film division to create posters and worked as a writer of films, shorts, and comics for the duration of the war.
Throughout his life, Lee would use his experiences to influence his characters and his later works – and the Army was a small but significant part of it.
After leaving the Army, Lieber went back to his work in publishing, destined to become the great Stan Lee we know today. Throughout the 50s and 60s, he and artist Jack Kirby created some of the most enduring characters in American literature, thanks in no small part to Lee’s perspective on what makes characters relatable. Where rival DC Comics and other publishers at the time created heroic, idealistic archetypical characters, Lee created complex characters with deep flaws who also happened to be imbued with tremendous power and the will to do what was right.
Save for the superpowers, these were people we could all relate. They were to be the kinds of hero many aspired to be. The publisher who gave Stan Lee his start as an assistant and later his role as chief soon changed its name to Marvel Comics. Stan Lee began creating the characters we all grew to love in our early years, the same one the Marvel Cinematic Universe is gifting to our children.
Lee collaborated with artist-writer Jack Kirby on stories, like The Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk,Iron Man, Thor, SilverSurfer, and X-Men. With artist-writer Steve Ditko, he created Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, and with artist Bill Everett came Daredevil. Lee created or co-created many of the world’s now-beloved favorites.
“I’ve tried to write stories that anybody would enjoy,” Lee once said. “I’ve tried to make them understandable enough, and exciting or suspenseful or interesting enough for youngsters… to hold their interest. And I’ve tried to make them hopefully intelligent enough for older people.”
It was 2006, and Army Staff Sgt. Brett Johnson of the 1st Ranger Battalion peered through night-vision goggles, slowly moving with his squad toward a house in Iraq with a high-value target inside. They knew there were armed militants nearby, but they had no idea they were about to run into one.
“Right as we were about to break the corner of the building, a guy — unbeknownst to us — was literally coming around the corner with an AK-47,” now-Sgt. Maj. Johnson of the 3rd Ranger Battalion recalled 13 years later.
But the insurgent didn’t make it, thanks to a sniper.
“As we broke the corner, he took the most perfect, well-aimed shot and put him down,” Johnson recalled. “Had he not been there, that guy … definitely would have shot one of us.”
“It was pretty incredible for him to take that shot. An error of one foot to the right could have hit one of us,” Johnson continued.
Things happen quickly in a firefight, and even the best technology can’t always keep up with the changing battlefield environment. That’s why the sniper’s reconnaissance skills and ability to relay intelligent information to the commander are crucial.
“We’ve got drones, we’ve got robots, we’ve got all kinds of stuff … but we still need that real-time battlefield information that keeps soldiers safe,” said Staff Sgt. Michael Turner, a sniper course instructor.
Becoming a sniper isn’t easy. The qualification course at the Army Sniper School in Fort Benning, Georgia, is seven weeks long, and any military branch or federal agency can send candidates. Instructors say there’s currently about a 60 percent attrition rate.
An Army Sniper School graduate prepares for a final challenge at Fort Benning, Ga., Feb. 28, 2019.
(Photo by EJ Hersom)
“As you go through it and see the maturity and discipline that it takes in order to take a shot and execute the orders … that takes an emotional toll on you, Turner said. “That’s why you need a more disciplined, intelligent soldier to process those emotions.”
It takes someone who knows how to manage resources and someone with serious patience — there’s a lot of observing and waiting for something to happen.
“They’re some of the most patient people I’ve ever met in my life,” Johnson said.
Take the stalking portion of the course. Using their homemade ghillie suits — camouflage uniforms they’ve personally retrofitted for durability and protection in all sorts of weather conditions — the sniper candidates get to “veg out” by incorporating vegetation into those suits to blend in with their surroundings. They then spend the next couple of hours moving at a snail’s pace through an area of woods. The goal — take a shot at the instructors who are looking for them in the brush, hoping to find them first.
An Army sniper school graduate walks past spotters after completing a stalk course where snipers try to evade detection from the course instructors at Fort Benning Fort Benning, Ga., Feb. 28, 2019.
(Photo by EJ Hersom)
But school instructors said a lot of candidates fail that part. When we visited, not a single sniper team got to take their shot.
“The hardest part about this school so far has been stalking for me, because I’m a big, gawky guy, so crawling through the woods is tough,” explained Staff Sgt. Johnnie Newton, who passed the course.
Then there are the technical aspects. They’re always refining their skills for every possible circumstance, like wind and distance.
“If I’m operating in a rural environment like Afghanistan, I have longer lines of sight and I’m at higher elevation. What that means is I’m able to extend the capability of my weapons system to a greater distance,” said Staff Sgt. Christopher Rance, team leader of the Army sniper course. “In an urban environment, things are a lot quicker, a lot more dynamic, with shorter field of views.”
A man accused of committing war crimes while serving as a Somali military commander during the African nation’s brutal civil war later moved to the US and got a job driving for the ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft.
According to a CNN investigation, Yusuf Abdi Ali, a driver for Uber in Virginia since November 2017, is a former officer in the Somali army who is accused of being involved in killing more than 100 men while serving under the dictator Siad Barre.
“Two men were caught, tied to a tree,” one said. “Oil was poured on them and they were burnt alive. I saw it with my own eyes. I cut away their remains.”
An eyewitness from the Somali war zone telling journalists about the crimes committed by Ali. “Two men were caught, tied to a tree, oil was poured on them and they were burnt alive. I saw it with my own eyes. I cut away their remains.”
Another told CBC: “He caught my brother. He tied him to a military vehicle and dragged him behind. He shredded him into pieces. That’s how he died.”
After the CBC documentary, Ali was deported from Canada and moved to the US. According to CNN, he worked as a security guard until 2016, when CNN found him and confronted him about the allegations. He was fired soon after.
Undercover reporters from CNN ordered an Uber ride with Ali as their driver this month — and recorded him in secret.
Ali drove a white Nissan Altima and was an “Uber Pro Diamond” driver with a 4.89 rating.
In the report published May 14, 2019, CNN said Ali had been driving for Uber for 18 months and had also worked for Lyft.
The undercover footage shows Ali telling CNN reporters Uber “just want your background check, that’s it,” and that if “you apply tonight, maybe after two days it will come, you know, everything.”
He’s accused of war crimes and torture. Uber approved him to drive.
It’s finally here — the point in which playing Call of Duty might actually become relevant to your military career. In the extra weird era of “Zoom soldiers,” virtual training (to no one’s surprise) isn’t as great as it likely sounded when some general in the Pentagon thought it up (sorry, sir). Get soldiers together over their computer screens and execute training as usual. What could go wrong? Well, a lot actually.
Congratulations, you have been selected to lead today’s attack on a Taliban stronghold. You are in charge of a 40-man infantry platoon and have at your disposal the most lethal and casualty-producing weapons available to the U.S. Army. Ready? Oh, one more thing: The Taliban stronghold is imaginary and your platoon is ten of your peers linked up over computers. Welcome to combat training in the Zoom era.
Everyone’s a super soldier
You are handed a map with your location and the location of the enemy and after planning, start your movement. Cue the unrealistic battlefield conditions and superhuman feats by you and the enemy. Do you have a 5-click movement to the objective? Too easy, you can “walk” that in two minutes over Zoom for “time constraints.” Need to call for air support? They arrive within 15 seconds tops and damn, your grid is on point.
Cadre are unsurprisingly biased
Recocking sucked before but reaches a whole new level of stupid in a virtual training lane. Unfortunately for you, the guy running the Zoom room is being a really d-bag today and all 20 rounds you fired on your pre-planned targets were misses. Instead of safety violations or hitting the wrong building, getting a pass depends on who’s feeling bored AF in their pajamas this morning.
There’s a mute button for that
The best thing ever just happened to safety briefs, newly promoted monologues from Sergeant Smith, and all the other pointless crap you had to listen attentively to before…a mute button. Is there anything more satisfying than muting your superior while playing COD on silent under the desk? I think not.
No one’s looking this put-together every morning anymore.
What grooming standards
We’re not saying it’s true, but grooming accountability may or may not be as easy as a few outfit changes after you finally get around to shaving. No fresh haircut? Sorry, my camera function isn’t working today for the call.
Dang, my internet broke
Have you ever had to face the wrath of showing up late, oversleeping or just plain forgetting? Virtually, there’s an excuse for that. Due to “unforeseen” circumstances, that 7 am phone call I missed was because of the Wi-Fi going down. Definitely not because I overslept, no way.
When did PT become a group fitness class?
“PT is the most important part of every soldier’s day” – Every CSM in history. Oh, you thought COVID19 would let you slack off a little on working out? Well you thought wrong. Your Platoon Sergeant has made it very clear you will still execute PT every day and you have to show proof of doing the exercises. Better be ready to both hold your phone for video and do push-ups at the same time. You haven’t experienced true horror until you hear the words “the bend and reach” over a Zoom call and realize it’s not a joke.
At some time in our military careers, we come across pilots of all sorts, helicopter pilots, Air Force cargo pilots, Navy fighter pilots, etc. While the former two might allow you to refer to them as simply “pilots,” there’s a good chance the naval aviator will take the time to remind you that he or she is an “aviator,” not a pilot.
And there’s a very good, non-egotistical reason for that. We promise.
Insert obligatory “Top Gun” reference here.
During your military experience, you may have noticed the Navy has an entirely different vocabulary for so many things. Floors become decks, walls become bulkheads, beds become racks, etc. But the Navy’s tradition of a maritime language exists for a reason. It turns out the world they live in predates the United States Navy, the United States, and most navies, not to mention the concept of powered flight.
The maritime world is way, way old, man. And the terms used to describe that world are too. We can’t just change them overnight. Or ever, as it turns out. So while the aviation world refers to a pilot as someone who flies an aircraft, that term has a different meaning in the maritime world.
No one aboard this ship called those boxes “toilets” but they had the same use.
For hundreds of years before navies around the world were flying jet-powered aircraft off the decks of massive floating cities, “pilots” were operating in navies long before ships had engines that weren’t powered by wind or slaves. In those terms, a pilot is specially qualified to drive a ship in and out of a specific port or a specific area. For large ships, this pilot is someone from outside, who literally comes in to your boat and drives it into the harbor because he or she knows the area better than anyone else.
The pilot will roll up next to your ship aboard a pilot boat, which carries the pilot in a boat, one marked “pilot boat.” And those poor guys have to climb up the side of your ship just to park it for you. Both naval aviators and maritime pilots have a hard job that allows for zero error – so call them whatever they want.
Grant Broggi has been struggling right alongside many other small business owners due to the worldwide pandemic. But there’s probably one big difference: He’s a Marine.
Broggi opened The Strength Co. in 2017 after receiving his Starting Strength Coach Certification in 2016. He opened his second gym location in southern California in January 2019 and was getting ready to open his third location when COVID-19 hit the United States, forcing business closures due to quarantine mandates. “I always thought if it [a pandemic] came, it would be bad. I also knew I had a responsibility to my coaches and the members…I’ve faced harder things than this, but this is a pretty prolonged hard thing,” he explained.
Going through training within the Marine Corps definitely prepared Broggi for the pandemic. “In Marine Officer School the number one thing said is, ‘Make a decision, lieutenant!’ it might be wrong or right, but you have to make a decision,” he said. When the quarantine mandate came down, he didn’t simply close his doors and wait.
Broggi jumped into action.
“Any hesitation and you lost speed and tempo…I had a bunch of members but only 16 squat racks. I had made squat racks in the Marine Corps, so we started cranking those out and giving them out for free to members.” Broggi’s company also adapted and started offering online strength classes to keep their members engaged. But he wanted to do more and when he couldn’t get the equipment for them, he decided to make it himself.
Broggi’s gym then began manufacturing racks for members.
“I started buying steel and went to a welder. It was always very clear to me that it had to be done. The only way now it seems is to invest more and double down…People asked me why I was manufacturing, I would just say people need to keep lifting. I think it’s important for their survival and is good for them – especially now,” Broggi said. The Strength Co.’s overall mission is to use barbell training to help people get strong for life – mentally and physically.
He credits his team for their strength as well, saying that because everyone truly follows the concept of strength for health and survival – they’ve been able to adapt and keep going in the midst of the pandemic.
“Now more than ever, people are dealing with adversity daily in their own homes and cities. There’s unrest in American cities that just blows my mind,” he shared. With the country beginning to feel the negative mental health effects of continued quarantine and social distancing measures, Broggi sees the negative impact it’s having every day. He continued, “It can’t be underplayed on how people are feeling. They are not prepared for this… When we get deployed, it’s what we signed up for and what we trained for. People aren’t trained for this. I think people just needed leadership, they are scared. A lot of what we do is to try to bring positivity back,” Broggi said. Keeping people connected and engaged is difficult without the ability to open his gyms as the cases of COVID-19 continue to soar in California, but Broggi remains committed to finding ways to be innovative in helping people continue to train and build strength.
Sometimes Marines themselves need a little strength coaching, too. Even with the Marine Corps having one of the toughest and longest basic training around, he said he was still surprised when he took leadership of his first group of Marines in 2012.
“I got my first unit in the Marine Corps…I remember looking at them the first time thinking, ‘Are you kidding me?’ Of course, Marines are scrappy no matter what – so I started coaching them. We had less people going to med or falling out on hikes and we had a more prepared unit by the end of it. That really resonated with me, that this [building strength] is preparing you for life or an uncertain event,” he shared. When he and his unit deployed to Afghanistan, they didn’t stop training either.
They just got creative.
“We had weights on a wooden platform, it was very hodge-podge. We hung a big whiteboard and it had every Marine’s name on it. It’s not just about being competitive, it’s the achievement and hard work that matters,” Broggi said. When he returned stateside and went into the reserves, he knew he wanted to continue teaching and helping people develop their own strength.
Fast forward to now, owning two gyms during a global pandemic. Broggi continues to think and power forward like he was trained to as a Marine. Not only is the company making squat racks, benches, deadlift mats and all American leather weightlifting belts, but now they are having ‘Made in USA’ cast iron Olympic weights being manufactured in Wisconsin.
“I think we are all cut from the same cloth in terms of the driving factor. That’s why I stayed in the reserves, it made me feel fulfilled even while launching the gyms,” Broggi said. He explained that most members of the Armed Forces seek that deep feeling of purpose and fulfilment. It’s something he hopes to bring to each of his gym members.
One workout at a time.
To learn about the Starting Strength method and The Strength Co., check out their website.
Ever notice how some envelopes arrive to your deployed friends with the stamp upside down? Probably not, but oftentimes you’ll see it. Sometimes they’re also tilted at an angle. This is not an accident, it’s an antiquated but still-living little language in the placement of a stamp.
There’s no better way to tell someone in jail you love them.
An upside-down stamp means “I love you.” The stamp posted slightly off-kilter means “I miss you.” There’s a lot more crammed into the placement of one little square on a slightly larger square. It’s an old-timey easter egg, a way to make the letter more than a piece of paper, to personalize it and make even the envelope ones own, transmitting a little emotion along with their ancient text message.
The coded messages are more than a century old now, having their origins in the Victorian Era and have somehow survived the advent of modern texting, email, and other forms of communication that don’t require stamps.
Of course, there are variations to the language.
“Another military wife told me that her grandmother used to flip her stamps when writing her husband, who was deployed overseas,” Janie Bielefeldt, an ex-marine living in Jacksonville, N.C. told the New York Times. “It’s just something you hear about on the base.”
In those days, young lovers couldn’t exactly be as open with their emotions as we have come to be. The idea of sending nudes or a dick pic might actually cause someone to get hanged or burned at the stake back then. Of course, not so these days, where an entire subculture grew up around sending racy photos. For U.S. military members and their families, however, the practice of writing letters is alive and well, and with it is the language of stamps.
It’s always appreciated when civilians go out of their way to thank a veteran, but when veterans look out for each other — even if they’ve never met — great things can happen. A Vietnam-era sailor could welcome in a Post 9/11-era soldier with open arms. A Desert Storm Marine could go out of their way to aid a Korean War airman. Veterans of all eras are family to all other veterans.
The bond is something that comes from shared experience; serving in the military is unique, both as a life event and as a professional move. Other veterans understand that and can help navigate anything from benefits to healing to hooking a brother up.
Civilians have gotten better about not asking the “have you killed anyone” question but it’s never not awkward.
Getting out and using your GI Bill can be an abrupt transition. One moment every detail of your life is dictated to you by Uncle Sam and the next you’re surrounded by college kids who’re asking if your time in was like Call of Duty. Finding a veteran friend in college makes it at least a little smoother.
In the great unknown of civilian life, vets will stick together as close as if they served together.
Even if they’re not a veteran, they still have the same sense of humor as us.
(Bath Township Police Department)
There are countless veterans who hung up their green uniforms and put on a blue one. Chances are good that the police officer who pulled you over for speeding might also be a veteran. If you play your cards right, they may let you off the hook with just a warning.
Don’t ever assume you can play the veteran card at every opportunity, though. If you pull the “well, actually officer, I’m a veteran” move, they still might just thank you for your service and hand you the ticket. You’ve got to be subtle and let the officer figure it out that you’re a veteran or else they’ll stare at you like the entitled fool you’re being.
Don’t ruin your friendship with a vet bouncer when a drunk civilian friend opens their mouth.
Security guards or bouncers
Another common job for the gym rat grunts is to work security, and if you’re lucky they just might be working at your favorite bar or club. They won’t help you out if you’re trespassing but they could probably let you slide through if you’re, say, at a concert or waiting in a long line.
If you’ve got a light sprinkling of veteran on you (like a memorial band, “veteran” on your driver’s license, or a shirt that only vets would understand), then they can even slip you into the club without paying a cover.
…or so I’ve been told.
Personal fitness trainers
Getting back into shape is a chore most veterans still keep up with. If they’re looking for someone to help give the right push, they can get a personal fitness trainer at a gym. Finding another veteran who became a trainer makes working out so much easier because you can both speak the same language.
Most trainers need to break everything down Barney-style to the people who only ever go to the gym once a year. It’s even worse when the civilian gets offended by “verbal motivation.” Just clicking back to NCO mode will benefit both of you.
Let’s be realistic. Not every veteran gets out and becomes millionaire beer tasters, bikini model judges, or woodsmen. Some end up in the service industry to help pay the never ending stream of bills. Finding another veteran when your usual clientele raise hell and demand to speak to the manager makes life so much easier.
Spark up a normal human conversation with them. Be friendly. They may even let you use their discount or toss you a free meal.
Many years out and even the old-timers can hang with the young troops.
Back in the barracks, it was a 24/7 party. Booze flowed freely and our tip top shape bodies were able to make the hangovers less severe. Fast forward many years down the line and the same vets will frequent their local bars.
Spark up a conversation with a vet and you’ll quickly make a friend. Chances are that the other vet will buy your next round just for being a brother.
If there’s any one person you want to have on your side immediately is the person hiring you for a position. If they notice on your resume that you’re also a veteran and can back up whatever you wrote on it, you’re golden.
The civilian workplace is very much a “good ‘ol boy” system that relies on who you know rather than what you know. Getting that leg up on everyone else is going to take you far.
When you think of the VFW, what comes to mind? For many of us younger veterans the stigma is that your local VFW post is a dark, dusty bar with a bunch of older vets telling war stories. Whether that is fair or not, the VFW has had an issue attracting younger veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan to its ranks, despite the obvious benefit that the VFW provides to those vets.
One post in San Antonio is moving to change all that.
VFW Post 8541 has created a cyber café in its facility with the intent that younger veterans will have a place to hang out, build fellowship, have an escape and be part of the local veteran community. And no, this isn’t a couch with an Xbox and two controllers.
Take a look at this:
Video games have come a long way since Space Invaders and Pong. Nowadays, it’s a billion-dollar industry that continues to grow every year. Consoles continue to war with each other, video game franchises compete to have the best upgrades in graphics and gameplay, and players now compete in more organized tournaments. Esports has blown up quite a bit with professional leagues forming with players making six figures a year! (Tell that to your girl the next time she gets mad when you have a COD marathon!)
Even pro sports leagues are getting in on esports. The NBA, NASCAR and Formula 1 have all had their best stars compete when everything was shut down during Covid.
While some people scoff at the amount of time and energy people put into gaming, there have been proven benefits to veterans.
Video games have been increasingly recommended to veterans as a way to cope with the effects of PTSD, anxiety, and depression. How so? Mental health experts will tell you that a great way to deal with mental health issues is to find an activity that puts you into a flow or zone. Whether it’s running, shooting drills, surfing, reading a book, or playing a game, an activity that takes up your concentration and allows you to escape and give your attention completely to that task has proven to be beneficial.
Video games provide just that. Even the Department of Veteran Affairs now says that “Video games can help in overcoming such problems as PTSD and substance abuse disorders.”
This is something Bill Smith saw during his deployments and is now bringing to his VFW post.
Bill Smith is VFW post commander who served 32 years in the Army, most of it in the Special Forces.
He did two deployments to Afghanistan and one to Iraq. After getting out in 2015, he was involved with the VFW and was rapidly put in charge of Post 8541 when the post came under suspension 3.5 years ago. He went to a meeting to talk about the suspension and found himself nominated to take over. Immediately, he looked for ways to get things back on track. And boy, has he. Post 8541 has been the #1 post in Texas the last 2 years out of 298 in the state. That is based on membership, community services, legacy programs signups. For each new life member, you get points for that.
Right now, Bill’s priority is getting lots of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans to sign up. It has been an issue that many posts struggle with or don’t even try to attempt.
Not only has Bill’s post been starting to get a younger crowd, but it has been a good smooth transition.
As Bill says, “The only way to change it is to get in there and change it.” So, he went and found ways to attract younger vets.
“I was connected with the Texas Guard… just selling. I would get out and tell them this is what we have going on, come out and try it out. “Bill continues, “We had a banquet hall and one of the first things we did, was open up the hall for military functions.” A great example was a Special Forces Party that was held at the hall. The VFW picked up a id=”listicle-2647079334″,000 bar tab for the party to help with the costs. The next day the post had 40 new signups. Bill also created a family room at the post. Now if you want to get to the VFW, but have the kids, you can still go. While these were great steps, Bill was still thinking ahead of the curve. Which brings us to the cybercafé and video games.
Where did Bill get the idea?
“When I was in Afghanistan, I was embedded with French Special Forces. When I went to Bagram, I went to JOC and was berthing with some guys in 7th Group. As I was sitting there, I kept hearing. ‘Who shot me? Who did this?’
Bill saw in their down time they were gaming a lot. It was their escape and they spent a lot of time decompressing through video games. He also saw ODA guys playing in their down time.
“My sons are 26 and 23 and they game a lot, so I saw gaming was big. My oldest son’s friend, Sam Elizondo owns LFG Cybercafe and they sponsored a team for a tournament. Bill decided to talk
And talking to Sam, they came up with the cybercafé idea.
Sam Elizondo, after talking to Bill, decided to help make this idea into a reality. Sam said, “I think what I love most is that we arrived at this leg of the journey out of Bill Smith’s relentless drive to help people. He wants to give these younger combat veterans a place to heal and a place to be. It’s been a privilege to use my skill set for that mission.”
Sam’s background and livelihood are in gaming. He also comes from a military family. As Bill and Sam started planning, they knew they had to get the support of the current VFW Post members on board. After all, it’s their club and building a video game center in their post was something that might not sit well with Vietnam veterans. But to Sam’s surprise, the older vets were really receptive to the plan. Once they started seeing the plan turn into a reality, they became even more excited.
The buildout of the café started in January and is almost done. However, there was one big obstacle that Bill, Sam, and workers had to deal with. Covid -19 shut down the post for a while but they pushed through on building it out. Unfortunately, with the current rules, Texas has their post shut down just when they were about to open the café. While veterans will have to wait just a big longer before they can take advantage, the work that Sam did is utterly amazing.
This is just the first step. Most games will be provided via Sam’s company. There will be about 70 games for the PC consoles which he will manage the system remotely Right now the plan is to have 12 PCs and 6 Xboxes. Also, Grande Communications is installing fiber optic cable so that the Post will have the best download speed.
Microsoft also made a generous contribution. They shut down their brick and mortar store and decided to donate thousand in hardware. The post has had admittedly older computers (some running on Windows XP) so now they will have fast computers and fast internet connection. Sam is also helping build out a new business center with these resources so vets young and old can have access to computers.
So, what next?
Sam hopes, “Veteran Esports Competitions and just a better connected family of VFW’s. There is so much value in building out infrastructure like what POST 8541 is doing that the sky truly is the limit. They have the ability and the network to do some incredible things. It just needs to be embraced.”
Once COVID is over, the café will be open for vets to come game. The hope is it will be a place for them to escape the world and find comfort in fellowship. Bill and Sam are hoping other VFWs will take notice and build their own centers. This will hopefully lead to gaming competitions between local and long-distance posts.
The VFW has been a backbone of veteran activity for decades. Thanks for forward thinkers like Sam and Bill, it is shaping up to continue to be that backbone.