The wild science of military MRE meals - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

The wild science of military MRE meals

It’s hard to think of a more beloved — and sometimes hated — cultural touchstone in the military than MRE meals, or meals ready to eat. They’ve been around since the C-Rations of World War II and beyond, and have for decades offered a touch of comfort and a taste of home — albeit a highly engineered one that can last for years at high temperatures without spoiling. You can find MRE cookbooks that will tell you how to turn drink mix and generic toaster pastries into gourmet desserts, and there are scores of YouTube videos dedicated to taste-testing chili mac and the prized jalapeno cheese spread.

Well, it turns out there’s a lot of science that goes into each one of these compact rations packs, and sometimes the development of a new MRE menu item — such as the coveted pepperoni pizza slice — requires actual technological breakthrough. Today, we’ll talk to two people from the Combat Feeding Directorate in Natick, Massachusetts: Lauren Oleksyk, team leader for food engineering, who holds two patents in revolutionary food science, and David Accetta, an Army military historian and public affairs officer at the directorate.

The following is an edited transcript of this episode of Left of Boom:

Hope Hodge Seck 0:00

Welcome back to Left of Boom. I’m your host, Hope Hodge Seck. It’s hard to think of a more beloved — and sometimes hated — cultural touchstone in the military than meals ready to eat, or MREs. They’ve been around since the C-rations of World War II and beyond, and have for decades offered a touch of comfort and a taste of home, albeit a highly engineered one that can last for years at high temperatures without spoiling. You can find MRE cookbooks that will tell you how to turn drink mix and generic toaster pastries into gourmet desserts, and there are scores of YouTube videos dedicated to taste-testing chili mac and the prized jalapeno cheese spread. Well, it turns out there’s a lot of science that goes into each one of these compact rations packs. And sometimes the development of a new MRE menu item, such as the coveted pepperoni pizza slice requires actual technological breakthrough. Today we’ll talk to two people from the Combat Feeding Directorate in Natick, Massachusetts: Lauren Oleksyk, team leader for food engineering, who holds two patents in revolutionary food science, and David Accetta, an Army military historian and public affairs officer at the directorate. Welcome to the show.

Lauren Oleksyk 1:10

Hello.

David Accetta 1:11

Hi, thank you very much for having us.

Hope Hodge Seck 1:14

So, Lauren, I am so interested in this really unique job that you have. So how did you end up as the team leader of food engineering, basically one of the top MRE developers for the military? Do you start taking the science career path to get here? Or do you get here through a love of the culinary arts? Or both? What was it for you?

Lauren Oleksyk 1:39

For me, it was a little of both. I specifically sought a career in the combat feeding division. While I was still in college, I majored in food science at a local university and started working at the soldier center as an intern. But I would say my interest in food science actually began as a child. I came from a large family and we had an enormous garden. So we canned most of our fruits and vegetables. And I learned very early on about food preservation, and my neighbors were dairy farmers. So my first job as a teen was in the milk-processing field. So I think I developed an early interest in that and also in nutrition and packaging, and I love to cook. So a career in food science was a perfect fit for me.

Hope Hodge Seck 2:24

When did you encounter your first MRE? or How did you get interested in the military side of boot development in the first place?

Lauren Oleksyk 2:32

Well, I interned at a soldier center in the combat feeding division, and I was immediately drawn to the science and technology side of ration development. And one of my first tasks there was to develop cereal bars for survival rations. You know, I had some product development experience when I was in college. But this was my first real hands on experience with product development. And I assumed it would be not too difficult, you know, I develop a cereal bar and test it out, and it will be ready to go. And I quickly learned all about the military constraints and requirements for rations and realize that this was really a unique job.

Hope Hodge Seck 3:12

Can you give a rundown on what those requirements and constraints are?

Lauren Oleksyk 3:16

Probably the most difficult challenge is, rations have to withstand a three-year shelf life. So that’s at 80 degrees Fahrenheit, that’s a long time that these foods have to be shelf-stable and not spoil. They also have to be extremely compact and lightweight and durable enough to survive airdrop, they have to withstand extreme climatic changes that range from minus 60 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. So our packaging has to be really, really durable to protect rations for that long of a period of time. And we have nutritional requirements that are mandated by the Office of the Surgeon General. Also we have to consider operational scenarios. Where will these rations be issued? This is a lot to consider. It’s not as simple as if you were developing a food for the commercial market.

Hope Hodge Seck 4:05

So the cereal bar was it a hit? Did it meet the requirement? Is it still out there in the world.

Lauren Oleksyk 4:11

It is still a component of survival rations. These rations have very, very long shelf life requirements, sometimes in excess of three years. And the cereal bars are still packaged in that ration, but it’s a special-purpose ration and it’s not readily used unless it needs to be. There’s less variety in that type of ration compared to the MRE.

Hope Hodge Seck 4:31

And I’m not sure how long you’ve been at the combat feeding directorate. But what other MRE recipes have you created or developed since you got there?

Lauren Oleksyk 4:40

I’ve been there a long time. It’s going on 37 years now.

Hope Hodge Seck 4:44

Oh my goodness.

Lauren Oleksyk 4:46

Yeah. And over the years, I was involved in the development of a few MRE items. One in particular, I have a co-patent on the MRE shelf-stable bread, and this bread is stable for three years due to a series of what we call hurdle technologies that keep the bread from staling or spoiling. So this product and technologies that we use to stabilize it form the basis of several other big items in the MRE. To this day, things like the shelf-stable pizza that you’ve heard about, and shelf-stable sandwiches that are in some of our other rations.

Hope Hodge Seck 5:22

That’s incredible. Can you go through what those technologies are that keep the bread for example, from going stale or otherwise spoiling?

Lauren Oleksyk 5:32

The technologies used for bread and baked goods are, we call them hurdle technologies. And this is a way to preserve foods that have intermediate moisture contents without having to subject them to a thermal sterilization process. Essentially, you introduce hurdles to microbial growth. And you do that by using specific ingredients that control water activity that control the product’s pH, control the moisture content, in the case of something like a shelf-stable pizza, it would control the migration of moisture from one part of the food to another, because you might have a lot of components. Like in the case of the pizza, you have the dough, the sauce, the cheese, the toppings, and they all have different moisture contents and water activity. So if you don’t control how that migrates from piece to piece, you are going to introduce the opportunity for microbial spoilage. So we use ingredients, and we also control the headspace in the package. And everything we can do to prevent that spoilage. And we test the safety of the food throughout its three-year shelf life to confirm that it’s safe to consume and nothing will grow. That’s an example of a hurdle technology. And it’s employed in different ways for different intermediate moisture products.

Hope Hodge Seck 6:51

And I know this MRE pizza slice pepperoni pizza slice, I’ve actually tried it, it came out a few years ago, and it was sort of the holy grail of MRE. And as I understand, was a highly requested item since its release. Have you tracked soldier service member feedback? And what are you hearing about how well it’s going over in the field?

Lauren Oleksyk 7:12

Well, we should actually start getting that data soon. It was incorporated into the MRE in 2018, and really first fielded around 2019. Every year, we actually do field tests and evaluation with soldiers and we get that feedback from them. So this will be the first year that we actually can start collecting data on the fielded Pizza to assess how well it’s accepted. But prior to it going into the MRE, we did a number of field evaluations on just that item like all MRE components. It had to be warfighter-tested and approved before it went into the ration. And the pizza definitely was a highly accepted product. They had been asking for it for years, and it was very well received. So we’re hoping that the field test results going forward confirm that, and we’ll keep a close eye on it.

Hope Hodge Seck 8:02

What sort of feedback do you solicit in these surveys that you’re talking about getting the data back from?

Lauren Oleksyk 8:07

We ask them to rate the acceptability of the components, especially if we’re testing new prototypes. So they’re given a scale from one to nine, and they rank how well they like the product. We also do consumption studies, where we measure how much of each item they eat, and how much they throw away, so we can assess whether something is under-consumed. And if we see that trend, we’ll ask them questions regarding that: why aren’t they consuming it? And then every year, based on that data, we make decisions on whether something’s retired from the MRE or replaced with something else. And a lot of times the demographics might change of the military. So things that were well loved by warfighters, you know, back in the ’70s and ’80s are not well-liked by you know, some of the military personnel today who might prefer different foods that reflect more of what they ate when they were growing up.

Hope Hodge Seck 9:03

I know for example, cigarettes are no longer included in MREs and they were historically included in combat rations many years ago. But how often our items are tired and what are some of the most recent items to be retired?

Lauren Oleksyk 9:17

Things that were very popular years ago like chicken a la king, ham and lima beans to go way back, those things were retired, and today we have things like burritos and vegetarian options, things that they request and are much more familiar with — the MRE pizza. But in terms of what’s taken in and out every year, it varies.

David Accetta 9:35

It’s all based on the soldiers and feedback and and it’s actually not just soldiers. We also do the surveys with Marines, because the Army and the Marine Corps are the primary consumers of the MREs. So we need to get their feedback and ask them what do they like, what they don’t like, and then what they don’t like, gets retired, and we try to figure out what they do like, which is how we got to the pizza. And then a lot of the other things that are in MREs — If you looked at the menu from today versus the menus from the early 80s, when they first came out, you’ll see great differences in the entrees. Because the original MREs were pretty much based on traditional American comfort food, the same way that the previous series of rations, meal combat-individual, and before that the Army C-rations. You know, as we did more surveys and got more feedback from military personnel, we found out what they liked and what they didn’t like. And Lauren alluded to it when she said things that they remember growing up, and you’ve got so much more diversity in the Army now, you’ve got people from all different ethnic backgrounds. So there’s a lot of different types of food. It’s not just standard American comfort food, it’s not pot roast, and it’s not those kind of things anymore.

Hope Hodge Seck 11:01

So one of my favorite things about MREs, henever I’ve had the chance to eat them downrange is all the little side items that they come with, all the little packages you can open and the jalapeno cheese spread and the snacks for later. It’s really fun opening them up and seeing all the items that are inside and how they all work together. And you know, of course there are those people who make little recipes in the field with whatever they have or trade them back and forth. So how does a new complete MRE menu come about? And what are sort of the parameters for ensuring complementarity of taste and nutritional balance and appeal for everything that’s in the package as a whole, developing a new menu?

Lauren Oleksyk 11:47

We consider three things really. The first one are the warfighters’ recommendations and their desires, you know, and the MRE pizza is an example of that. But secondly, and probably more importantly, we have to think about military requirements and the operational scenario where the ration will be used. And then lastly, we look at leading-edge food science and packaging technologies, because sometimes the science itself will bring us in a direction that says we can develop something that otherwise wouldn’t have been able to be developed before, because it’s a new technology that we can utilize. In addition to the three-year shelf life requirement for a new menu, we have nutritional guidelines that we have to follow. So there might be a nutrient that’s lacking in a menu. And so we’ll develop a food that specifically has that nutrient in it. So that as a whole when you put all those components together, the MRE is nutritionally complete. As far as taste and palatability, the combat feeding division is outfitted with a sensory lab, where technically trained panelists can examine the foods’ organoleptic properties. So this would include the appearance odor, flavor, texture, and overall quality. And we do that over the duration of the product shelf life. So we’ll rate the products on a scale and we try to achieve a score above a six. So you know,one being dislike, nine being like. And we’ll try to get a six at the end of a product shelf life to ensure that it’s acceptable once it’s issued, six or better. So that’s kind of our internal goal. But we also utilize general consumer panels who rate a new product based on just a matter of how much they like it. They don’t really look at the technical aspects of the food, but whether they like it or not. And then we have military human research volunteers that are located at soldier center. And we solicit them to test new prototypes and to participate in focus groups to get their feedback. And then after we do all of that is when we’ll conduct our annual or biannual field tests with military personnel. And that’s where every new MRE component must be tested and accepted before it will go into a ration.

Hope Hodge Seck 13:52

When you’re talking about this technical expert panelists, who are those people?

Lauren Oleksyk 13:57

They are primarily food technologists, they’ve undergone specific training in sensory evaluation. So we all have varied thresholds where we can pick up very subtle changes in flavors and odors. And we have a good range of us so they look across you know, people who have a very low threshold for salt, say. Some others might have a very low threshold for rancidity, or bitterness. And so combined, this group of technical panelists really can do a thorough evaluation of foods. And we’ll do it not only when a food is first developed, but even after it’s been stored for three years.

Hope Hodge Seck 14:35

That’s fascinating. So you talked about the hurdle technologies that led to bread and then to pizza, which was sort of like this revelation. Are there current scientific food challenges that you’re currently working through to pave the way to develop more items?

Lauren Oleksyk 14:53

Yes, there are. And one of the reasons is we’re very focused right now on the fact that soldiers and units might be in environments where they have to go longer without resupply. So right now, we’re very focused on reducing the logistics burden by reducing the weight and size of rations so that soldiers in small units can carry more. And this is becoming critically important. And it’s it’s dictating the development of smaller and more compact, nutrient-dense foods. So some of the technologies we’re really advancing right now are drying technologies to reduce the weight of foods, and compression technologies to reduce the volume of foods. And that’s includes things like vacuum microwave drying, and ultrasonic agglomeration, which is a compression technology. And sometimes we’re developing new prototypes, using a combination of those two technologies to make these very nutrient-dense, compact foods, in some cases can actually be entire meal replacement bars.

Hope Hodge Seck 15:56

The way you’re describing it, immediately, what comes to mind is the rations that are sent to space with astronauts, when you’re talking about drying and making things as late as they possibly can be. Are there any similarities there?

Lauren Oleksyk 16:10

Yes, very similar requirements. In fact, we collaborate with NASA, and have worked with them on many dense and compact items such as meal replacement bars that they’re considering for their menus for the mission to Mars. And also, we work with them on developing entrees that are used at the International Space Station. So the similarities and requirements for astronauts and military personnel are very, very similar. And in fact, NASA has long shelf-life requirements too, even longer than military rations in some case, but lightweight products in very dense products are required by both.

Hope Hodge Seck 16:50

How soon might we see a meal replacement bar out in the field and fully developed and being used by troops on the go?

Lauren Oleksyk 16:58

We’re working on a new ration called the close combat assault ration. This is a ration that’s designed to be extremely lightweight and compact. So we’re developing these nutrient-dense bars. Now they’re in the prototype stage for the close combat assault ration that’s going to be field-tested soon. Some of the first prototypes will be field-tested in the near future, the bars that we’re looking at for that ration are not necessarily full meal replacement bars. But they using the technology for drying and compression that enable us to make a full meal replacement bar if needed.

Hope Hodge Seck 17:34

And how much lighter it might these rations be than the typical MRE package?

Lauren Oleksyk 17:39

The ration components themselves, it depends on how much moisture you remove. But we’ve achieved anywhere between 40 to 70% decrease in weight on a component level, because essentially, you’re just taking the fresh food and you’re removing the moisture, but you can dial in how much you want to remove for palatability purposes. We know that war fighters don’t necessarily want to consume all dry bars. So we want to be able to offer a variety of moistures in these products so that it’s something they want to consume. So it depends, you know, the weight reductions depend, but we have metrics and goals to achieve about a 40% reduction in weight. And we can achieve the same and volume if we compress the product as well.

Hope Hodge Seck 18:27

As we’re talking about many development. I know in the last couple of decades, there’s a lot more service members who want to eat, say keto, or paleo, even Whole 30 — these diets that are really dependent on protein and vegetables and probably really hard to sustain in the field. And I’m sure there are things that it’s just like, yeah, there’s no way to make shelf-stable rations that fit that bill. But are you looking at any ways to develop additional menus that cater to people who have specific food requirements like these, or want to, I guess, eat a little bit more whole food or protein-heavy, whatever the case may be?

Lauren Oleksyk 19:12

With regard to the MRE, there is no requirement from the military services to develop keto or paleo menus. All the menus in the MREs have to meet the nutritional standards for operational rations. You know, and as I mentioned, that was that’s mandated by the Office of the Surgeon General. But we do listen to some of their desires for this for certain types of foods. And one example of that is we currently have four vegetarian meals in the MRE out of the 24 menus. Four of them are vegetarian, two new vegetarian entrees were approved for the latest MRE: cheese pizza and the Mexican-style rice and bean bowl. And every every ration is labeled in accordance with FDA regulations so individual soldiers can see the list of ingredients and they can determine for themselves, you know whether it’s a product that they want to consume, but in general, you know, we want them to consume the entire MRE, because that is a nutritionally complete ration and it will optimize their performance and health if they consume it all.

Hope Hodge Seck 20:14

In my journeys around the internet, I have found this trove of MRE enthusiasts who live on places like YouTube, where they’ll buy old MREs that are decades old and taste-test them or make Top Chef-style recipes, combining different ingredients, using the Kool-Aid powder and the, you know, you name it just really mixing things up. So do you ever kind of watch those YouTube videos? Or pay attention to that little subculture? And do the fans of MREs who kind of live out in the civilian world and are just interested in these things, do they ever inspire you in your work?

Lauren Oleksyk 20:51

I do watch those. I love those videos, they make me laugh, first of all, but I also think it’s so fun to see how creative they get with the types of things they make. I read the comments, I find the comments are very interesting and helpful. And I will bring, when I read something like that, I will have little brainstorm sessions at work. And we’ll talk about what people think and you know, some of the ideas that come from those videos in terms of new product lines. So yes, I do watch them. And a lot of times, you know, if they’re a positive review, it can be actually somewhat rewarding to know that you were part of the development of those products, I see that a lot with the flameless ration heater that they show inside the MRE, that was a development that — I was one of the original developers of the flameless ration heater. And even though it’s not a food item, it allows soldiers to actually have a hot meal now in the field, where before 1992, they didn’t always have a way to heat their entrees. So a lot of those YouTube videos will show people using the flameless ration heater and heating up their entree and it’s quite enjoyable to watch them.

Hope Hodge Seck 22:03

I love that so much.

David Accetta 22:05

The flameless ration heater was a huge, huge development that to help soldiers — well, all troops in the field. You know, having been in the Army for a long time, before flameless ration heaters, you have to come up with creative ways to to heat your food. Otherwise, you know, your food was essentially the same temperature as it was outside, whether that was 40 degrees or 70 degrees. The flameless ration heater made a huge difference to the morale of troops, because it gave them the ability to have hot food anywhere that they were. So they didn’t have to rely on using the heat from the engine of the vehicle that you happen to be next to, or finding some other creative way to heat up your MRE components without making a fire.

Hope Hodge Seck 22:55

Something that still gives troops a lot of joy is the instructions that those heaters come with. And the fact that they tell whoever is eating the MRE to put the whole package, balance it on “a rock or something” are the words that people really get a kick out of. Do you know how that particular bit of instruction that language came about?

Lauren Oleksyk 23:17

Yes, I happen to know that. Since we developed the flameless ration heater, we also developed the instructions that are on the bag. And initially that when we were designing the pictograms that you see on the package itself, we were trying to come up with an object that you lean the flameless ration heater on top of, at an angle, which helps it to heat faster. And we couldn’t think of an object. And my colleague next to me said, well, let’s just use the rock or something in the picture. And we did we put a rock and we called it the “rock or something” as a joke. And we left it in because people thought it was funny. And it actually brought some humor to the field. So we decided over the long term to leave it in there and we still hear about it all the time.

Hope Hodge Seck 24:04

That is so amazing.

Lauren Oleksyk 24:06

Yeah.

Hope Hodge Seck 24:06

So I do have to ask about a little bit more MRE myths and legends. Anyone who’s ever been out in the field is eating these and so they get talked about a lot and there are all these rumors that are flying around. First of all, the gum that comes with the current mre, they say it’s a laxative to keep things moving along. Is there any truth in that rumor?

David Accetta 24:27

Absolutely not.

Lauren Oleksyk 24:30

The gum at one point had a xylitol component which can have in some people a laxative effect, but it was it’s not intentionally in the MRE to to serve as a laxative. So yes, that is not exactly true.

David Accetta 24:46

The xylitol in the gum is to help prevent tooth decay. So it was designed for situations where you didn’t have the ability to brush your teeth. You could chew the gum and then that would help with the health of your teeth in the field.

Hope Hodge Seck 25:05

So there was a hidden benefit, but it was not what people were thinking.

Lauren Oleksyk 25:09

Correct.

Hope Hodge Seck 25:10

Other one that I think spans your career is even back in the ’90s, maybe even in the early 2000s, maybe even longer — Charms candy, were part of some MRE menus and those were notorious for being bad luck. I think even in the Generation Kill miniseries, they come across the Charms dump, where everyone’s just gotten the Charms out of their MRIs to be on the safe side. So do you know anything about how that charms rumor came about? And when Charm stopped being part of the MRE?

Lauren Oleksyk 25:42

I’m not sure when exactly they were removed, they are no longer in the MRE today. And I know, I’ve heard of the curse of the Charms. Back in the day. If a warfighter received a ration with Charms in it, they would deem to bring bad luck, so they would get rid of them. I’ve heard stories of soldiers holding bags out to collect everyone’s Charms at feeding time to get rid of. David might have more experience with that.

David Accetta 26:08

Yeah, we don’t really have a good idea of exactly when or how Charms became associated with bad luck. But I mean, I do remember hearing that, that if you ate the Charms when you were in field, say in a training environment, then that would guarantee that it would rain on you. And then later on, as we got into more combat operations in different parts of the world, they became associated with soldiers getting injured or killed. Which is why some troops were very adamant about not having the Charms and getting rid of them as soon as they could. I think some of that might have to do with the popularity or lack of popularity of the Charms, of hard candy. So those had been part of military rations for a long time going back to World War II. And I kind of think personally that, generations later, troops were just not all that fond of hard candy, and just didn’t want to eat them, you know, whereas it was probably much more popular in the ’40s and ’50s.

Hope Hodge Seck 27:21

Makes sense. It’s good to get to get to the bottom of that one. I could talk to you all for hours. I think this is really fascinating stuff. And I love the work that you do. But I know we have to wrap up. So my final question is for each of you. What is your favorite MRE menu and why?

Lauren Oleksyk 27:39

Okay, well, for me, it’s the MRE pepperoni pizza, of course, partly because my team is the team that developed the item but also because I love pizza. And I also like the vegetarian taco pasta. So those are my two favorites.

Hope Hodge Seck 27:54

Hmm.

David Accetta 27:55

I have, I think very strange sense of taste. And that’s what most people would politely describe it. My favorite MRE was the omelet with ham. And that was also my favorite of the meal combat-individuals and the canned rations. And that was really good for me because most people didn’t like either one of those. So I could always trade whatever I had for that one. Now of the of the newer-generation MREs, I like the cheese tortellini, it’s even though it’s a vegetarian meal and I’m not a vegetarian. I like the cheese tortellini. And just as a point of trivia, the only ration I mean, the only entree that is still in the MRE menu from the original menu is the spaghetti. And everybody likes the spaghetti and during Desert Storm and going into Iraq in in 2003, as well, that one was really popular and I remember soldiers fighting over who was going to get the spaghetti because they like the spaghetti and that one also came with M&Ms. So that was a jackpot if you pull the the spaghetti MRE out of the box.

Hope Hodge Seck 29:19

Love it, jackpot indeed. Well, I have a very fun memory of being very hungry on a late night in Afghanistan and finding a first strike ration that had a pepperoni sandwich in it, and it tasted just so good. And I don’t think anything will ever taste as good as that item did.

David Accetta 29:39

And that is all due to the work that Lauren and her team did with the shelf-stable bread that enabled the pepperoni sandwich. But you’re exactly right. And we tell people that because you mentioned the the MRE videos on the internet and you know, MREs get a lot of criticism. Not only from troops, but also from civilians who may pick one up somewhere and they eat it. And they’re not designed to be gourmet food. And you know, what we like to tell people is that the true benefit of an MRE can’t be found if you’re sitting in your kitchen or your living room eating it. The benefit of an MRE is when you’re cold, wet, tired and hungry, sitting in the dark in the rain on a mountainside in Afghanistan. And you can open up an MRE and you can have hot food, and you can have something that reminds you of home and have better times and that’s really what the benefits of the MRE are and how you can really appreciate them.

Hope Hodge Seck 30:42

Well, Lauren, and David, thank you so much for coming on the show today.

David Accetta 30:46

Thank you. Great being here.

Hope Hodge Seck 30:57

Well, I don’t know about you, but that episode made me hungry. I’ll take the barbecue beef MRE: It comes with a side of black beans and shelf-stable tortillas and that delicious jalapeno cheese. Do you have any favorite memory recipes or stories about how you enjoy them in the field? Are there any combat ration myths and rumors that we didn’t get to on today’s episode? Hit me up at podcast@military.com and let me know. Hit subscribe on the show today, and if you use Apple podcasts, please do leave a rating and review. And until next time, remember to check out Military.com for all the information and news you need about your military community.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

You won’t believe this F/A-18D flyover cost a U.S. Marine Corps Squadron Commander his job

A few days ago reading the news that Lt. Col. Ralph Featherstone, Marine All Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 225 squadron commander since last April, had been fired on Jan. 24 after performing a flyover during a “sundown” ceremony at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, “due to concerns about poor judgment” I immediately thought his F/A-18 had performed some kind of insane low passage or buzzed the Tower as done in the famous Top Gun scene.


Then, I found the video obtained by the San Diego Union-Tribune that shows the actual flyover. According to the media outlet, an air wing official confirmed the removal was linked to the flight shown in the following video:

What is more, “Featherstone was in the rear seat of the jet when it flew lower and faster than was approved in the day’s flight plan.”

In about 30 years attending airshows and events and 25 years reporting about military aviation I’ve seen many many “stunts” (i.e. aggressive maneuvers at low altitude) far worse than the one in the video above. Maybe we miss some detail about the whole story here, but that flyover is far from being “low”! No matter you are an expert or not, I think you won’t find it dangerous from any point of view.

Let’s not forget that the sundown ceremony celebrated the squadron’s transition from the “Legacy Hornet” to the F-35B STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) variant of the Lightning II aircraft. It’s an event aimed at boosting the morale of the squadron as it moves to another chapter of its history. Do you see anything “unsafe” in that passage?

This article originally appeared on The Aviationist. Follow @theaviationist on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

6 surprising facts grunts do not know about the infantry

Infantrymen know everything. They know Marine Corps Orders, loopholes, when the trucks are coming, the secret to the Aztec Calendar, and where the military keeps the aliens. They know it all except for these six surprising facts grunts do not know about the infantry until now.

Monthly counseling carries no weight

Every Marine gets what is called a Training Jacket. It is a folder that contains print outs of information stored on your Marine Online profile. It is a reference of where you are administratively in your career: awards, courses, PFTs, CFTs, etcetera. This folder is stored in the company office and isn’t taken out of the dusty locker until one attends a specialty school, moves to a new unit, or a change of command.

Among those documents is a section for monthly counseling. They provide feedback between yourself and the next level up on the chain of command. For a young lance corporal it may be another lance corporal with the billet of team leader. Sometimes teams leaders and the teams they lead do not see eye to eye. You are not required to sign a negative counseling and you may refuse it.

When a troop changes from one command to another, one section to another, those counseling documents become null and void – because they’re no longer part of your chain of command. Your new leadership may be curious to read them before destroying them. Simply rip those out when you have a change in leadership for a fresh start. That won’t work for Non Judicial Punishments, however, those are permanent.

You did sign up to pick trash

The wild science of military MRE meals
U.S. Marines with Combat Logistics Battalion 2, 2nd Marine Logistics Group, pick up trash during the monthly Single Marine Program base cleanup on Camp Lejeune, N.C., Feb. 28, 2019. The Marines volunteered their time to create a cleaner environment for service members and their families. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Samuel Lyden)

As mentioned earlier, Marine Online (MOL) is the source where you can access most information about your career. Within the labyrinth of menus contained there is a section where you can view your enlistment contract. For Operation Security reasons, I will not publicly say where but there is a finite number of places where it can be. Think.

I remember once I was complaining about police calling, picking up trash, as a young private. That I did not sign up for this and the usual belly aching of a devil pup. My squad leader overheard me and instead of an a** chewing we pulled up my MOL. He scrolled and clicked and BAM! There it is, my contract, my initials, and next to it ‘police call’. Yes, without exaggeration we signed up to pick up trash too.

You pay for housing and MREs

The wild science of military MRE meals
U.S. Marines with Combat Logistics Battalion 31 hand out military rations to a group of refugees during a simulated humanitarian aid and disaster relief exercise at Camp Hansen, Okinawa, Japan, July 13, 2016. CLB-31, the logistics element of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, took part in the HADR training to refine their ability to respond to humanitarian crises across the Asia-Pacific Region. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Jorge A. Rosales/Released)

If you look at your Leave and Earnings statement you will see that housing is taken out of your check. When you go on field ops your meal card number is used and those meals are charged that way. For married troops who do not rate a meal card, your MREs are reduced from your pay. Troops pay for their uniforms and medals too, this should not come a surprise but it is.

Your name tapes do not require your full name

My last name is 13 letters long and so was my lieutenant’s. We’re both of latino descent and have two last names. The Marine Corps smushed them together, as is tradition. You can pick to have your first last name be the one displayed on your name tapes.

I was once at the operations office when a former gunnery sergeant of mine needed my signature for his checkout. After a moment he said I was out of regs and pointed to my name tape that read Cano. ‘Lieutenant A************ does not have A************* on his name tape. Only A***, I am within regs.’ He did not know what to say except ‘ok’. I signed his check out sheet and he was on his way.

You do not have to use issued gear

The wild science of military MRE meals
Marine Officer Candidates attending Officer Candidate Class-220 are issued military gear and equipment at Brown Field Supply aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., Jan. 19, 2016. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl Patrick H. Ownes/Released)

There is only one thief in the Marine Corps, everyone else is trying to get their stuff back. Well let me tell you, F*** that guy. As long as gear serves the same functions and is tactical you can use it during field ops. No one can mistake your gear as theirs, its easily identifiable if someone “accidently” takes it. When you check out of supply you will not have to run around base buying expensive lost items before you EAS. According to MCO 4400.201-V1, you are accountable for the gear but it does not state you must use it. When everyone else is freezing their butts off using issued sleeping bags you can sleep like a baby in your climate rated personal gear. Unless there is a standard operating procedure for uniformity, you’re in the clear.

You can do your annual training classes anytime of the year

You can do your cyber security, sexual assault prevention training, and other annual training any time of the year. The deadline is at the fiscal or calendar year depending on the training required. A battalion can have a certain percentage of the troops have their training in the red to prioritize mission critical training. This is when, pre-covid, thousands of troops would be packed together for their annual death by powerpoint presentations. You can get out of those if you do your annual training on an individual level. So, when everyone is suffering, you can play xbox in your room and get paid for it.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Military spouse life hack: Holiday care packages

Have you ever considered sending a care package to your loved one or seen festively decorated ones and wondered how the heck did they do it?

I’m here to put all your nerves at ease and make creating a care package a fun project to spread the holiday cheer to your service member.

To ensure that your package gets to your service member on time make sure to check out holiday care package deadlines.


First things first.

At any United States Postal Service location, you can grab boxes for your care packages. You do not need to pay for them until you mail it out, and I always grabbed Priority Mail boxes. It will be incredibly more expensive if you use a box that is not Priority Mail or Priority Mail Express, as those already have set prices and you can ship domestic or international for same price.

Create a theme for your care package.

Scrapbooking paper is a great and easy way to decorate the inside of your box. Pinterest is also a great resource for looking up different ideas for care packages. For instance, decorating the inside of the box with candy corn scrapbook papers, a quote from Hocus Pocus, stuffed with candy and beef jerky topped with fake spider webs and fake spiders.

Some examples for decorating the inside of Thanksgiving boxes may be decorating the inside of the box with brown and orange scrapbook paper with cut-outs of pumpkins and leaves. Another fun thing to add to your box is a secret message at the very bottom. Whether it is something funny or simple like “Gobble Gobble” or “I’m thankful for you.”

For Christmas care packages it could be themed around How the Grinch Stole Christmas or Merry Christmas. Take a look at Instagram and Pinterest for various ideas of fun ways to decorate your box.

NEVER decorate the outside of the box if they are packaged in the Priority Mail or Priority Mail Express boxes. The USPS staff will ask you to remove it, so don’t waste your time in the first place.

For domestic packages ensure that you are following the guidelines in the US to ship and do not include items such as; aerosols, alcoholic beverages, cigarettes, cigars tobacco, cremated remains, dry ice, firearms, fragile items, glue, lithium batteries, live animals, matches, medicines prescriptions drugs, nail polish, paint, perfumes, perishable items or poisons. For more information make sure to visit here.

Below are ideas that you can add to your care package that are military approved. If shipping overseas, make sure to add a general overview of what items are the package to your customs forms.

Toiletries

  • High-quality socks
  • Foot powder
  • Hand Warmers
  • Baby wipes
  • Deodorant
  • Dental Floss
  • Lip Balm
  • Sunblock
  • Toothbrush
  • Cough drops
  • Icy hot
  • Vicks

Entertainment

  • Board games
  • Deck of cards
  • Reading materials
  • Pencils
  • 3M wall hooks
  • Photos from home
  • Letters

Food

  • Hot sauce
  • Packets of condiments
  • Water flavoring packets
  • Hot cocoa mix
  • Instant coffee
  • Powdered creamer
  • Granola bars
  • Tuna fish
  • Candy
  • Beef jerky
  • Slim jims
  • Protein bars
  • Gum
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Spam
  • Non-chocolate candy (it melts way to easy in the packages)
  • Dried fruit
  • Trail mix
  • Cookies
  • Fresh baked holiday treats

Change up your care packages and add fun surprises every once in a while. Always add extra items for the service members to share with their battle buddies.

Make sure to tape up the sides of your box to be nice and secure and mail off. If you need assistance filling out the customs forms the staff are very helpful.

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

Army celebrates anniversary of the ‘first successful military jump’

As the national anthem played, the audience held hands over hearts and watched as a U.S. Army parachutist glided down from an unbroken blue sky, pulling a U.S. flag behind him.

So opened the Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Benning’s National Airborne Day observation Aug. 16, 2019, at Fryar Drop Zone at Fort Benning. The first paratrooper test jump took place 79 years ago, Aug. 16, 1940, at Fort Benning.

The first test of a U.S. Army paratrooper drop occurred at Fort Benning Aug. 16, 1940, when Lt. (later Col.) William T. Ryder and Lt. (later Lt. Col.) James A. Bassett led the Airborne Test Platoon. The platoon jumped onto Lawson Field (later Lawson Army Airfield), completing the first successful military parachute jump.


After the national anthem, members of the U.S. Army Parachute Team, nicknamed the Golden Knights, from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and members of the Silver Wings parachute team from Fort Benning performed a freefall parachute jump demonstration from a UV18 Viking Twin Otter plane onto Fryar Drop Zone. The Golden Knights jumped in with golden parachutes, and the Silver Wings jumped in with black parachutes.

The wild science of military MRE meals

An Army Silver Wings parachutist wraps his legs into the line of the Golden Knights parachute as if he were sitting atop the parachute, and a Golden Knight parachutist carries below him a weighted tether and a flag emblazoned with the black-and-gold Army star.

(Photo by Mr. Patrick Albright)

The final two parachutists to land — one from the Golden Knights, one from the Silver Wings — came in one literally on top of the other. The Silver Wings parachutist wrapped his legs into the line of the Golden Knights parachute as if he were sitting on the parachute, and the Golden Knight carried below him a weighted tether and a flag emblazoned with the black-and-gold Army star.

“This is where I started jumping out of airplanes, all the way back in 2006,” said Staff Sgt. Houston Creech of the Golden Knights. “Just being here this day, with all the progression I’ve gone through and the skills I’ve gained through the Army’s training — being able to be here on this specific day is a tremendous honor.”

The wild science of military MRE meals

A Soldier with the U.S. Army Parachute Team jumps onto Fryar Drop Zone.

(Photo by Mr. Patrick Albright)

“It’s the pride and history of the unit and the organization,” said Staff Sgt. Joshua Porter, on jumping as part of the Silver Wings for National Airborne Day. “Our legacy and our history build the future of what we are right now.”

“We’re celebrating both those that came before us, those that are currently training and defending our nation, and those that come after,” said 199th Infantry Brigade Command Sgt. Maj. Roy Young, who jumped as part of the Silver Wings jump team.

The Liberty Jump Team made two jumps of 14 and 16 volunteer parachutists following the Golden Knights and the Silver Wings demonstration. Their members were dressed in period Army uniforms, displaying what soldiers would have worn during World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and Operation Desert Storm. The team jumped from a restored C-47 Skytrain. The particular plane to drop them over Fryar Drop Zone holds the moniker “Greenland Gopher,” and participated in D-Day and Operation Market Garden during World War II as well as in the Berlin Airlift.

The wild science of military MRE meals

One round of volunteer parachutists from the Liberty Jump Team jump onto Fryar Drop Zone.

(Photo by Mr. Patrick Albright)

Retired Sgt. 1st Class Jim Micko, member and senior rigger of the Liberty Jump Team, said his team’s jump was in recognition of the “courage and foresight of the people that took that first step,” referring to the U.S. Army soldiers who pioneered airborne operations before and during World War II.

“The fact that they were able to make it work and make it work in time for the war is a phenomenal thing,” said Micko.

The wild science of military MRE meals

Two members of the Liberty Jump Team, a commemorative team of volunteer parachutists, jump out of a restored C-47 Skytrain.

(Photo by Mr. Patrick Albright)

The Golden Knights are part of the U.S. Army Recruiting Command, the mission of which is to “recruit America’s best volunteers to enable the Army to win in a complex world.” Creech made a practical recommendation to anyone who aspires to become a U.S. Army paratrooper:

“Run,” he said. “Practice running a lot. You need very strong legs. Do a lot of squats. If you’re going to be jumping out of airplanes, those legs are going to need to be able to support that weight coming.”

To learn more about Airborne School or to see more photos from this event, visit the “Related Links” section on this page.

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

Here are the best military discounts for troops

It can be a bit disheartening to pop out your military ID and ask “you guys offer a military discount?” only to have the cashier shake their head no and then ask you a couple awkward questions about your service before giving you your Slim Jim and 6 pack. Thankfully, we’ve wrangled up 10 solid military discounts all in one place!


The wild science of military MRE meals

Avis

Avis better have a deep stock of blacked-out Dodge chargers and unnecessarily lifted Ford F150s on hand–because they offer up to 25% total discounts for all military members and their families. Boots can use that little bit of extra savings and get a model with heated seats for that Tinder date they’re going to propose to in 3 months. Toss in a sunroof too, so the Oakley sunglasses eternally perched on your baseball hat can finally block something from the sun.

The wild science of military MRE meals

Jiffy Lube

Most military members don’t know this, but Jiffy Lube actually offers a 25% discount off most services. There are a couple of reasons why many troops don’t know this. For one thing, most folks in the military know how to change their own oil. For another—some might think that “Jiffy Lube” is just slang for finding 2 minutes of, ahem, private time in the barracks.

The wild science of military MRE meals

Kohl’s

As of April 2019, Kohl’s recently instated a 15% military discount. There’s a catch with this one—you can’t use it in addition to a pre-existing discount, or with select brands such as Levi’s, Uggs, Columbia, or Timberland. But it works with gift cards, so you’ll really be able to stretch that unused birthday present your aunt gave you in 2014.

The wild science of military MRE meals

Home Depot

Ahh Home Depot—home to the mysteriously intoxicating scent of sawdust and mulch. Home Depot gives 10% discounts to all veterans and active duty servicemen. This applies to anything in store, so go ahead and load up on a whole bunch of parts for that project you are (never going to finish) working on.

The wild science of military MRE meals

Foot Locker

Verify your military service through SheerID (which you should do anyway–tons of savings on there) and Foot Locker will give you 20% off all products in store. Walk around pensively holding a pair of Nike basketball kicks, knowing full well you’re just gonna buy another pair of grey Vans with those savings.

The wild science of military MRE meals

Sirius XM

Sirius XM offers a very significant 25% off their subscription price for all military vets, reservists, and active duty servicemen. This gives you the opportunity to listen to Howard Stern on the 4-minute drive from the base to the bar.

The wild science of military MRE meals

Disneyland & Disney World

Disneyland offers a 3-day reservation for only 8 or 4 days for 8 for military members. That’s a pretty solid discount that gives you plenty of savings to spend on the sweetest treat west of the Mississippi— Disneyland churros.

The wild science of military MRE meals

Microsoft 365

Microsoft offers 30% off its office software for all military members and their families. Use the excel spreadsheets to track how much money you lost playing Spades on deployment this year. Or use the word processor to type up a couple college essays. Or use powerpoint to fall asleep.

The wild science of military MRE meals

Eastbay

This online sneaker juggernaut offers 20% off via SheerID. They’ve got a pretty slick selection of sneakers, and an even better selection of athletic gear and cleats. So you can finally look like a total badass while losing your co-ed intramural basketball game by 30 points.

The wild science of military MRE meals

 NFL Shop

NFL Shop offers a cool 15% discount to all military members, veterans, spouses, and immediate family members. The online store is very convenient, as it gives Bills fans a chance to google who their quarterback is on the day they purchase a jersey.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Here are the Navy uniforms issued in the brig

Navy Personnel Command has a new uniform for prisoners at all ashore correctional facilities, and it’s uni-service.

Wearing of the new uniform will be mandatory starting May 1, 2019, for all prisoners in pre-trial and post-trial confinement at Military Correctional Facilities (MCFs) run by the Navy, regardless of the prisoner’s service affiliation, the Navy said in a news release last week.

The new standardized prison uniform (SPU) also will likely save the Navy money, the release states. The costs associated with buying and maintaining service uniforms for a prisoner become a tremendous and unnecessary fiscal burden to the Navy and the taxpayer, the service said.


The new uniform will come in two colors, dependent on the prisoner’s legal status, the release states. Those in pre-trial confinement will get a chocolate-brown uniform, and those in post-trial confinement will get a tan uniform.

The wild science of military MRE meals

Master-at-Arms 2nd Class Neah Rau, corrections specialist, Naval Consolidated Brig Chesapeake, models the new pre-trial standardized prisoner uniform.

(U.S. Navy photo by Yeoman 2nd Class John LeBaron)

Currently, prisoners at Navy MCFs wear their service utility uniforms, in line with the Navy’s theory that doing so helps maintain discipline and aids in rehabilitation.

“However, having prisoners wear their service uniform creates security and public safety challenges, such as difficulty in distinguishing staff from prisoners,” Jonathan Godwin, senior corrections program specialist with the Corrections and Programs Office of the Navy Personnel Command, said in a statement.

In addition, sentences often also involve total forfeiture of all pay and allowance, “and it is rare for a prisoner to return to active duty,” Godwin said.

The new standardized prison uniform (SPU) also will likely save the Navy money, the release states. The costs associated with buying and maintaining service uniforms for a prisoner become a tremendous and unnecessary fiscal burden to the Navy and the taxpayer, the service said.

The wild science of military MRE meals

Yeoman 2nd Class John LeBaron, corrections specialist, Naval Consolidated Brig Chesapeake, models the new post-trial standardized prisoner uniform.

(U.S. Navy photo by Master-at-Arms 2nd Class Neah Rau)

According to the release, the cost for a service-specific military utility uniform with one pair of trousers and a top is about . Add a fleece jacket, and the cost exceeds 0.

The new SPU top and trousers will cost approximately .50, the release states. Add a belt, buckle, ball cap and watch cap, and the price is about . With a jacket, the complete price to clothe a prisoner will be about .

“In addition to the enhancement of correctional security, improved public safety and significant fiscal savings, the wearing of the new SPU will produce numerous benefits across a wide range of Navy corrections operations,” Godwin said. “These include an SPU with a neat and professional look, an easier-to-maintain and care-for uniform, and less wear and tear on equipment, i.e. washing machines and dryers, and less cleaning supplies, i.e. laundry detergent.”

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Vietnam vet talks Agent Orange and a brotherhood among fellow veterans

In 1968, Rodger “Jim” Lammons had two choices: he could join the military, or he could wait and be drafted. He chose the former, not knowing the effects Agent Orange would have on his life. In March of that year, the native of Smiths Station, Alabama, signed with the Navy where he served six years as a “SeaBee,” an oronym for C.B., or construction battalion.

After finishing basic and advanced training courses in California, including a four-week stint at Camp Pendleton with Marines, Lammons was dispatched to Vietnam out of Port Hueneme, California. 

“That’s where we got on the big bird and flew out,” he said.

Lammons poses by a humvee

For more than a year – 13.5 months – Lammons was stationed in Vietnam. He served as a heavy equipment operator, gunner, and, “whatever it took to get the job done.” Lammons said, at times that even meant driving semis and hauling materials up from deep-water piers, or to Red Beach and dispersing them along Route 1.

“We just did what we needed to do, and that meant the job changed from day-to-day,” he shared.

After Vietnam, Lammons returned to the U.S., before taking another overseas stint in Puerto Rico.

“Then my time was up and I went home,” he said, listing not staying in and retiring with the Navy as one of his biggest regrets.

However, his reception back home was less than welcoming. Along with his fellow veterans, Lammons was egged, spat at. They were cussed at and called names, he said, most notably, “baby killers.”

“None of it was true. We were just there to do what our country asked us to do.”

While he remembers his time in the Navy fondly, Lammon’s stories come in spurts. He gives specific details, then pauses, circling around until the whole of it comes together, often out of order. This, he explained, is due to a rough recovery from surgery – a bad combination of anesthesia and gout. His memory hasn’t been the same since.

His wife, Carol, anticipates each gap, prompting him with questions that cause his eyes to light up with moments from years past.   

This is just one of his side effects that can be attributed to Agent Orange. 

“They would fly over – helicopters, aircrafts. They would spray different things on the foliage to try and kill it. Well, we were in the foliage and it would just coat us.”

“We didn’t understand the dangers at the time.”

Today, Lammons suffers from gout, diabetes and neuropathy, among other illnesses. He was also diagnosed with prostate cancer.

“There’s a thing, some people, it doesn’t bother them,” he said, referencing his brother who served as a Marine in Vietnam, but has never shown symptoms of Agent Orange, despite direct exposure.

Lammons didn’t know the cause of his illnesses until 2016, when he and Carol relocated to Port St. Joe, Florida. A new town meant a new doctor, and a new facility, and the puzzle pieces of Agent Orange began coming together.

“They saw things that were wrong with me that shouldn’t be wrong.” After seeing various specialists, Lammons was referred to the VA representative in Gulf County, who helped relate his symptoms to Agent Orange exposure.

Lammons while deployed to Vietnam, where he came in contact with Agent Orange.

After his years in the Navy, Lammons worked in Columbus, Georgia as a construction superintendent. Then, at the start of the Global War on Terrorism, he applied to work overseas as a civilian contractor, where he would spend nearly four years.

On why he chose to volunteer, he said it was an easy choice. He told Carol, “There’s got to be something I can do. If they need someone to go, I’ll go.”

Once again, stepping up for his country in a time of war, a time of need.

After all, more than 50 years later, Lammons still cites Vietnam as an unforgettable bonding experience.

“We all became brothers – black, white, it didn’t matter what color – to this day we still are brothers.”

Even now, when seeing someone in a Vietnam hat, he greets them.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Bringing back the original meaning of Memorial Day – with flowers

For me, Memorial Day has always been about more than just picnics and barbecues. I have five members of my family buried in Arlington National Cemetery. The earliest served in the Spanish American War, and all the way to World War II. It’s important that their service be honored and remembered — especially on Memorial Day.

In early May 2011, I was looking for some way to give back to my country. I worked as a flower grower in Ecuador and I had an idea. Memorial Day used to be called Decoration Day. After the Civil War, people would go to cemeteries and decorate gravesites with flowers.


I met with two other Ecuador-based American flower growers, and together we were able to coordinate a massive donation of fresh flowers. I called up the administration at Arlington National Cemetery and said, ‘We’ve got 10,000 roses for you, for Memorial Day.'” And they happily accepted the offer.

The wild science of military MRE meals

Memorial Day Flowers Foundation at Fort Logan National Cemetery.

And that was how the Memorial Day Flowers Foundation had its start. Scouts and other volunteers place a flower in front of each headstone. Volunteers quietly read every headstone and note the dates and circumstances. This moment of reflection and remembrance is important. It’s a very personal tribute.

What began at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day in 2011 with 10,000 roses, has expanded to dozens of cemeteries around the country. Last year, the foundation distributed 400,000 flowers at 41 cemeteries and other Memorial Day observances around the country.

That expansion would not have been possible without volunteers and broad-based partnerships and support. These days, the foundation sources flowers from 80 to 90 farms, including farms in California, Colombia, Ecuador, and Ethiopia.

Since 2013, we have worked with local groups to organize floral tributes for Memorial Day at National Cemeteries and Veterans Cemeteries across the U.S.

Our growth would not have been possible without the guidance and involvement of the National Cemetery Administration. Cemetery directors find our efforts provide a way for the general public to connect with their mission to honor our late veterans and instill an appreciation for the sacrifices they make.

The wild science of military MRE meals

Memorial Day Flowers Foundation volunteers prepare roses at the Houston National Cemetery.

We also distribute bouquets of flowers to gold star families attending the TAPS National Military Survivor Seminar over Memorial Day Weekend, organized by the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors.

In 2019, more than 100 cemeteries are participating in the Memorial Day Flowers Foundation’s efforts around the country.

The numbers amaze me every time I look at them. Now we talk about tens of thousands of flowers. We still have a long way to go, before every veteran’s gravesite is recognized on Memorial Day, but we are well on our way to reaching that goal.

I also know the difference just one flower can make. One year, as we gave out flowers on Memorial Day, I handed a rose to an older woman. She thanked me and said, “His father brought me roses the day he was born.” Then she invited me to walk with her to visit her son’s gravesite. And as we stood there together in the hot sun and she told me her son’s story, I knew one flower could mean everything to one person

Placing a flower for Memorial Day to honor a fallen service member or veteran is a quiet tribute; a heartfelt reminder of just what flowers can mean to people — and what it means to honor the sacrifices of U.S. military members and their families. It brings together people from all walks of life to honor those who have served our country and it helps all of us learn more about our history.

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

US soldiers and airmen help clean up Venice after devastating flood

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

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

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


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

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

The wild science of military MRE meals

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

(US Army Garrison Italy/Maria Cavins)

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

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

The wild science of military MRE meals

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

(US Army Garrison Italy/Maria Cavins)

The wild science of military MRE meals

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

(US Army Garrison Italy/Maria Cavins)

The wild science of military MRE meals

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

(US Army Garrison Italy/Maria Cavins)

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

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

The wild science of military MRE meals

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

(US Army Garrison Italy/Maria Cavins)

The wild science of military MRE meals

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

(US Army Garrison Italy/Maria Cavins)

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

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

Embracing a new culture at Army Futures Command

When Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Crosby first interviewed to be Army Futures Command’s enlisted leader, he had no idea what to expect.

The command was still in its nascent stages with no headquarters building and he could only find a brief description of its vision to modernize the Army.

Instead, Crosby was focused on the battlefield, observing his troops defeat ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria. The prospect of the new job seemed like a 180-degree departure from his post overseeing Operation Inherent Resolve’s Combined Joint Task Force.

He then reflected on the coalition troops he had lost during his tour. Then of the soldiers who never returned home from his other deployments, including back-to-back tours to Iraq from 2005 to 2008.


He decided he wanted to help change how future soldiers would fight, hopefully keeping them safer and more lethal.

“It’s something bigger than myself,” he said in a recent interview. “I’m fired up about this. This is a bold move by the Army.”

Embedded with industry, academia 

Inside a high-rise office building in the heart of Texas, the command’s headquarters bustled on a weekday in late June.

Unlike other Army units, the office space felt more like that, an office, rather than a typical military workplace.

The command had a low profile in its upper-floor nest inside the University of Texas System building, overlooking downtown and the domed state capitol.

The wild science of military MRE meals

Sgt. 1st Class William Roth, right, assigned to Army Futures Command’s Soldier Lethality Cross-Functional Team, conducts a live demonstration of new Army equipment at Capital Factory in Austin, Texas, April 11, 2019.

(Photo by Luke J. Allen)

Among the rows of cubicles, soldiers wore no uniforms as they worked alongside federal employees and contractors. Many soldiers went by their first name in the office, often frequented by innovators, entrepreneurs and academic partners.

The lowest-ranked soldier was a sergeant and up the chain were senior executive service civilians and a four-star general.

A few blocks down 7th Street, another group of soldiers and federal employees from the command were embedded in an incubator hub to get even closer to innovators.

The Army Applications Laboratory occupies a corner on the eighth floor of Capital Factory, which dubs itself the center of gravity for startups in Texas. The lab shares space with other defense agencies and officials call it a “concierge service” to help small companies navigate Defense Department acquisition rules and regulations.

“They’re nested and tied in with industry,” Crosby said.

The command also provides research funding to over 300 colleges and universities, he added

Those efforts include an Army Artificial Intelligence Task Force at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh that activated earlier this year.

In May, the University of Texas System also announced it had committed at least million to support its efforts with the command, according to a news release.

More recently, the command agreed to a partnership with Vanderbilt University in Nashville. As part of it, soldiers with 101st Airborne Division’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team would work with engineers to inspire new technology.

Soldiers up the road at Fort Hood may also soon be able to do the same at UT and Texas AM University.

“That is what we’re looking to replicate with other divisions in the Army,” Crosby said. “It will take some time.”

In on the groundfloor

Since October 2017 when the Army announced its intent to create the command to be the focal point of modernization efforts, it wasted no time laying its foundation.

It now manages eight cross-functional teams at military sites across the country, allowing soldiers to team with acquisition and science and technology experts at the beginning of projects.

The teams tackle six priorities: long-range precision fires, next-generation combat vehicle, future vertical lift, network, air and missile defense, and soldier lethality — all of which have since been allocated billion over the next five years.

The next step was to place its headquarters in an innovative city, where it could tap into industry and academic talent to develop new technologies that give soldiers an edge against near-peer threats.

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Gen. John Murray, left, commander of Army Futures Command, and Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Crosby, the command’s senior enlisted leader, participate in a command synchronization session at the University of Texas at Austin, April 26, 2019.

(Photo by Luke J. Allen)

After an exhaustive search of over 150 cities, the Army chose Austin. The move marked the start of the Army’s largest reorganization effort since 1973, when both the Forces Command and Training and Doctrine Command were established.

The location away from a military post was intentional. Rather than surrounded by a security fence, the command is surrounded by corporate America.

“We’re part of the ecosystem of entrepreneurs, startups, academia,” Crosby said. “We’re in that flow of where ideas are presented.”

As it nears full operational capability this summer, Futures Command has already borne fruit since it activated August 2018.

Its collaborative efforts have cut the time it takes project requirements to be approved from five or seven years to just three months or less.

Once prototypes are developed, soldiers are also more involved in testing the equipment before it begins rolling off an assembly line.

By doing this, the Army hopes to learn from past projects that failed to meet soldier expectations.

The Main Battle Tank-70 project in the 1960s, for instance, went well over budget before it was finally canceled. New efforts then led to the M1 Abrams tank.

Until the Army got the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, it spent significant funding on the Mechanized Infantry Combat Vehicle in the 1960s, which never entered service.

“So we’re trying to avoid that,” Crosby said. “We’re trying to let soldiers touch it. Those soldier touchpoints are a big success story.”

Culture change

Futures Command is not a traditional military command. Its headquarters personnel, which will eventually number about 100 soldiers and 400 civilians, are encouraged to think differently.

A new type of culture has spread across the command, pushing many soldiers and federal employees out of their comfort zone to learn how to work in a more corporate environment.

“The culture we really look to embrace is to have some elasticity; be able to stretch,” Crosby said. “Don’t get in the box, don’t even use a box — get rid of the box.”

Crosby and other leaders will often elicit ideas from younger personnel, who may think of another approach to remedy a problem.

“I’m not going to somebody who has been in the uniform for 20 to 30 years, because they’re pretty much locked on their ideas,” he said. “They don’t want to change.”

A young staff sergeant once told the sergeant major the command could save thousands if they just removed the printers from the office.

The move, which is still being mulled over, would force people to rely more on technology while also saving money in paper, ink and electricity.

While it may annoy some, Crosby likens the idea to when a GPS device reroutes a driver because of traffic on a road. The driver may be upset at first, not knowing where the device is pointing, but the new route ends up being quicker.

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Lt. Gen. Eric Wesley, center, deputy commanding general of Army Futures Command and commander of Futures and Concepts Center, talks with Josh Baer, founder of Capital Factory, during a South by Southwest Startup Crawl on March 8, 2019, in Austin, Texas.

(Photo by Anthony Small)

“You have to reprogram what you think,” he said. “I’m not used to this road, why are they taking me here? Then you come to find out, it’s not a bad route.”

For Sgt. 1st Class Kelly Robinson, his role as a human resources specialist is vastly different from his previous job as a mailroom supervisor at 4th Infantry Division.

As the headquarters’ youngest soldier, Robinson, 31, often handles the administrative actions of organizations that continue to realign under the budding command.

Among them are the Army Capabilities Integration Center that transitioned over to be the command’s Futures and Concepts Center. The Research, Development and Engineering Command then realigned to be its Combat Capabilities Development Command.

Research elements at the Army Medical Research and Materiel Command have also realigned to the Army’s new major command.

“The processes and actions are already in place,” Robinson said of his old position, “but here you’re trying to recreate and change pretty much everything.”

Since he started in November 2018, he said he now has a wider view of the Army. Being immersed in a corporate setting, he added, may also help him in a career after the military.

“The job itself and working with different organizations opens up a [broader perspective],” he said, “and helps you not just generalize but operationalize a different train of thought.”

The wild science of military MRE meals

Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Crosby, left, Army Futures Command’s senior enlisted leader, participates in the command’s activation ceremony in Austin, Texas, Aug. 24, 2018, along with Gen. Mark Milley, chief of staff of the Army; Army Secretary Mark Esper; and its commander, Gen. John Murray.

(Photo by Sgt. Brandon Banzhaf)

While chaotic at times, Julia McDonald, a federal employee who handles technology and futures analysis for the commander’s action group, has grabbed ahold of the whirlwind ride.

“It moves fast around here,” she said of when quick decisions are made and need to be implemented at a moment’s notice. “Fifteen minutes seems like an hour or two.”

Building up a major command is not without its growing pains. Even its commander, Gen. John Murray, has referred to his command as a “startup trying to manage a merger.”

“Everybody is just trying to stand up their staff sections and understand that this is your lane and this is my lane,” McDonald said. “And how do we all work together now that we’re in the same command?”

The current challenges could pay off once the seeds planted today grow into new capabilities that help soldiers.

For Crosby, that’s a personal mission. In his last deployment, nearly 20 coalition members, including U.S. soldiers, died in combat or in accidents and many more were wounded as they fought against ISIS.

“We have to get it right, and I know we will,” he said. “Everybody is depending on us.”

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

Articles

Why cops love doughnuts — an origin story

Cops love doughnuts. That’s the stereotype at least. Being caught in uniform with one of the delicious but unhealthy confections has long carried a certain stigma, but the real history behind the close relationship cops have with doughnuts is much more interesting and complex than the negative caricatures often put forth in American media.   

In some places, the cop-doughnut relationship was symbiotic. In others, it was necessary. But the reason cops and doughnuts are like peas and carrots in our collective cultural memory is because the doughnut shop was the only game in town. 

Cops have a lot to do during their shifts, no matter how long those shifts might be. When not actively responding to calls, patrolling their areas of responsibility, or doing the myriad things cops have to do during a typical 10-hour shift, police officers have to find a place to do the bulk of police work: writing reports. 

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Those are some nice doughnuts you’ve got there. Be a shame if somebody ate them all. Photo by Diogo Palhais on Unsplash.

To outsiders, police work has always been about walking the beat — the daily business of protecting and serving. For actual police officers, writing reports is a duty as old as walking any beat. And back in the day, cops didn’t have a lot of options for where they could post up and get some paperwork done. 

Even by the late 1970s, the idea of a 24-hour convenience store seemed insane to most people. Gas stations didn’t always have stores and weren’t as ubiquitous as they are today. They also closed at a decent hour. The same goes for grocery stores. Outside of major cities, all-night diners were rare, and even in the 1960s, only 10% of restaurants were open all night, catering mainly to truckers.

If a police officer’s beat wasn’t near one of these small handfuls of all-night spots, they were out of luck. But there was one place a tired, hungry peace officer could go to grab a cup of coffee, some food, and maybe get some work done — the good ol’ doughnut shop.

The wild science of military MRE meals
A box of (police) performance-enhancing drugs (maybe?). Photo by Courtney Cook on Unsplash.

What was good for the police was also good for the doughnut shop. Being open late in small cities and towns meant they were a target for criminals looking for an easy payday. Having the local police force using your doughnut shop as a staging area meant built-in security as you got up in the early morning hours to make doughnuts. 

The symbiotic relationship spread all over the country, even as more and more establishments began to stay open late. When the interstate highway system ramped up construction in the 1960s and 1970s, the country became more connected, and some rural areas became significantly less rural. 

Doughnut shops even became late-night chains such as Krispy Kreme and Dunkin’ Donuts. The cop-doughnut relationship held fast, and some stores set aside space for police officers to get their work done. Dunkin’ Donuts even had a companywide policy of catering to police. Its founder, William Rosenberg, credited the relationship with the company’s early success in his autobiography.

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The late-night doughnut shop: an American institution. Photo by Third Serving on Unsplash.

A doughnut is a decent snack for a graveyard shift. It’s a fresh, easily obtained source of calories that a busy officer might need for a night of busting punks. When the action dies down, coffee offers a burst of caffeinated energy to help cops get through their shifts. And coffee and doughnuts are relatively cheap, which is great for anyone working as a city or state employee. 

Despite the rotund appearance of police Chief Clancy Wiggum on The Simpsons, doughnuts aren’t to blame for the image of the overweight cop. In The Donut: History, Recipes, and Lore from Boston to Berlin, author Michael Krondl interviews police officers who recall their sweet treats giving them just the right amount of food needed to do the job.

“You got out there, walked around, rolled in the streets with criminals [and burned] the calories off,” Frank Rizzo, former Philadelphia police chief, told Krondl.  

Somewhere along the way, American popular culture began to notice, and the image of the local police officer began to shift into a caricature, fueled by the cop-doughnut relationship. Cops in film and television became less Andy Griffith and more Chief Wiggum. 

The wild science of military MRE meals
New York police on patrol, looking like they could use some doughnuts. Photo by Roman Koester on Unsplash.

What started with a wholesome beginning eventually became derogatory. Everyone from stand-up comics to punk bands and rappers began to make fun of the cop-doughnut dynamic. For some, there’s nothing worse than being caught with one of those sweet fried treats or being seen parked at a Krispy Kreme. 

Today, cops can generally post up anywhere to catch up on paperwork. Police cruisers have come a long way and have everything an officer needs during a shift. If they need a meal or a break, there are often many options open to them. 

But doughnuts and coffee still provide excellent fuel for the thin blue line, and late-night and early morning bakers appreciate the added security of having cops around. So the next time you see a cruiser parked at Dunkin’, cut your local police force a break and don’t cast shade. If you were in that uniform, you might be right there with them.


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

Feature image: Composite by Coffee or Die Magazine/Images from Unsplash.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Our forgotten heroes: Why don’t we talk about World War I?

During the “Great War,” the United States of America lost over 116,000 of her troops in a span of only 19 months. While initially remaining neutral and refusing to enter into World War I when it began in 1914, that changed after repeated attacks on America’s ships. In 1917, the U.S. entered into the fray, declaring war against Germany.

It can be argued that without American’s force beside the allies, the war wouldn’t have ended in victory, but a stalemate. History has documented this impressive and vital piece of our story. So why don’t we talk about it and those incredible heroes who turned the tide for an entire world in the name of democracy?


Why don’t we discuss how more Marines were killed or wounded in the battle of Belleau Wood than their service’s entire history at that point? That battle alone claimed over 10,000 American casualties in just three weeks. It should also be known that France refused to enter into this particular battle because they felt it was too dangerous. Instead, they insisted that the Americans do it.

We did, but it came at an extremely heavy cost.

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Wikimedia Commons

In September of 1918, 1.2 million American troops entered into the deadliest battle in its history. Many were undertrained and not yet battle-tested – but their sheer numbers and grit did what other armies could not in four years. It was an incredible offensive effort as the Expeditionary Forces of the United States actually caught Germany completely by surprise with their attack.

America’s troops took an area that had been held for four years in just two short days. This battle ended the war, but America lost 26,277 of their own to win it. We also had 192,000 casualties. It was this specific battle at Meuse-Argonne, or The Battle of Argonne Forest, that pushed Germany into literally pleading for an end of World War I. America brought Germany to its knees.

This war was pivotal for so many things that have occurred in the last hundred years. We need to remember those lost their lives in the name of democracy. Let us also not forget the ones that died slowly years following World War I due to the effects of the lingering bullets, “shell shock” (now called post-traumatic stress disorder), and the effects of poison gas exposure.

Those who survived through all of that though? Their personal war at home was just beginning.

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Wikimedia Commons

When service members returned home following the end of World War I, they were celebrated with parades – if they were white. The African American men who returned home after fighting alongside their brothers’ in arms were treated with open hostility and disdain. Some were killed.

The years following the “Great War” were not kind or easy to digest but need to be remembered. They matter.

Following the war, the Great Depression and race riots wreaked havoc on the United States, leading many to question what they fought for. Not only did they question their sacrifice – but they were deeply suffering after their service for their country.

Veterans received just with an honorable discharge. Although they received monetary allotments if they had a disability through the War Risk Insurance Act, it wasn’t enough. They were also required to maintain insurance for care and paid a premium that came out of that allotment, reducing their income even more. Many were too severely disabled to work to make any extra income and the money they received from the government didn’t cover living any kind of quality life.

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High unemployment, lack of quality medical care and poor housing was the “thanks for your service” that these veterans received – if they were white.

The African American veterans were often denied housing or any kind of equality – leaving them homeless and destitute. This terrible choice for America to treat these brave men in such an abominable way would go on to pave the way for the next seventy years of struggle, advocacy, and racial tension that the country had ever seen.

The government failed all of its returning servicemen.

America failed its heroes by avoiding that chapter in its history.

Our World War I veterans did fight, suffer and die for our freedom. Let us not forget it.

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