What started as a way to honor the fallen is now Wreaths Across America - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

What started as a way to honor the fallen is now Wreaths Across America

Every year, families across the country have empty seats at their tables. Beds are no longer filled and stockings no longer have owners. These empty spots – they exist every day of the year, not just on Veteran’s Day or Memorial Day. Lost heroes have given their lives, and it’s a reality that impacts Americans every day, not just national holidays. That fact is the foundation for Wreaths Across America, a nonprofit organization that places wreaths on hero graves each December. 

Their goal is to honor the fallen – whether lost in war or decades after their service – with a beautiful, thoughtful wreath, complete with a signature hand-tied red ribbon. Today, WAA places wreaths in more than 2,100 locations, mostly cemeteries, including at sea and abroad.

A girl and a Navy service member lay a wreath during Wreaths Across America

How they got started

Before WAA got its start as a national and notable nonprofit, there was a business owner in the Northeast, Morrill Worcester, who owned the Worcester Wreath Company. When Worcester was a 12, he won a trip to Washington, D.C. where he visited Arlington National Cemetery.

Fast forward to 1992, where he operated his business in Harrington, Maine. This year was notable, as the company was met with extra wreaths during the holiday season. Worcester remembered his trip to Arlington as a child, and arranged for the extra wreaths to be delivered to veteran graves. He worked with Maine Senator, Olympia Snowe, to have the wreaths placed in an older section of graves that received few visitors.

The good deed was met with more volunteers, including trucking company Blue Bird Ranch, Inc., whose owner, James Prout, transported the wreaths. Then, members from the local American Legion and VFW locations who tied and added red bows. Finally, volunteers put together a wreath-laying ceremony, including the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

This continued annually, until an image went viral in 2005. Thousands of volunteers stepped forward to help, with others asking to recreate the program at their own local cemetery. Their efforts were expanded and wreath laying ceremonies took place across the nation, sparking a holiday, National Wreaths Across America Day.

A soldier pays his respects at a cemetery

Creating a seasonal nonprofit

After attention continued to spread, Wreaths Across America was formed in 2007. The nonprofit was founded by Worcester and his family, veterans, and other volunteer groups. Their mission to: Remember. Honor. Teach. Has been celebrated every year since.

Volunteers can purchase wreaths online or over the phone, along with dedicating wreaths to a specific loved one. Pages of messages remember the fallen and loved ones through the purchase of a wreath.

Remembrance Tree Program

As Gold Star families visited the tree farms where future wreaths are grown, it was soon found that there was a sense of calming in the process. To help spread this comfort to more families, the Remembrance Tree Program was founded. Free for veteran families, members can visit the evergreen trees in Columbia Falls, Maine. Here they can choose a tree to dedicate a living memorial to their fallen soldier. Dog tags are printed with custom messages and placed on a tree trunk. Balsam tips are harvested every three years to make wreaths, while the trees remain standing.

Find more by emailing dogtags@wreathsacrossamerica.org or calling 877-385-9504.

Visit the WAA Museum

Columbia Falls, Maine is also home to the Wreaths Across America Museum, which opened in 2001. The museum features awards, memorabilia, and photos honoring its fallen soldiers and their missions. Visitors also can take in a video that explains the organization’s history.

Volunteering with WAA

Volunteers who want to donate their time to having wreaths donated, or to laying wreaths on National Wreaths Across America Day, December 19, 2020, can learn more at https://www.wreathsacrossamerica.org/ or by calling 877-385-9504.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Don’t let height standards get in the way of becoming an Air Force pilot

Those who aspire to one day become a U.S. Air Force aviator must first meet several requirements, including height, before they are considered for pilot training. For those who fall outside of the Air Force’s height requirements, height waivers are available.

“Don’t automatically assume you don’t qualify because of your height,” said Maj. Gen. Craig Wills, 19th Air Force commander. “We have an incredibly thorough process for determining whether you can safely operate our assigned aircraft. Don’t let a number on a website stop you from pursuing a career with the best Air Force in the world.”


The current height requirement to become an Air Force pilot is a standing height of 5 feet, 4 inches to 6 feet, 5 inches and a sitting height of 34-40 inches. These standard height requirements have been used for years to ensure candidates will safely fit into an operational aircraft and each of the prerequisite training aircraft. “We’re rewriting these rules to better capture the fact that no two people are the exact same, even if they are the same overall height,” Wills said.

What started as a way to honor the fallen is now Wreaths Across America

U.S. Air Force Maj. Nick Harris (left) and Capt. Jessica Wallander, instructor pilots with the 71st Flying Training Wing at Vance Air Force Base, Okla., stand side-by-side to illustrate the varying standing heights of Air Force pilots to dispel the myth that there is one height standard for all Air Force pilots.

(US Air Force photo)

“Height restrictions are an operational limitation, not a medical one, but the majority of our aircraft can accommodate pilots from across the height spectrum,” Wills said. “The bottom line is that the vast majority of the folks who are below 5 feet, 4 inches and have applied for a waiver in the past five years have been approved.”

The waiver process begins at each of the commissioning sources for pilot candidates, whether the U.S. Air Force Academy, Officer Training School or Reserve Officer Training Corps. For those who do not meet the standard height requirements, anthropometric measurements are completed at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, or at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

“We have a great process in place to evaluate and accommodate those who fall outside our published standards,” Wills said. “If an applicant is over 5 feet, 2 inches tall, historically they have a greater than 95% chance of qualifying for service as a pilot. Applicants as short as 4 feet, 11 inches have received waivers in the past five years.”

Anthropometric measurements include sitting eye height, buttocks to knee length and arm span. The anthropometric device at Wright Patterson AFB is the only device accepted by the Air Force when determining waiver eligibility. A specialty team conducts the measurements at U.S. Air Force Academy.

What started as a way to honor the fallen is now Wreaths Across America

Maj. Gen. Craig Wills, Nineteenth Air Force commander, stands side-by-side with a Nineteenth Air Force pilot to illustrate the varying standing heights of Air Force pilots to dispel the myth that there is one height standard for all Air Force pilots.

(US Air Force photo)

Waiver packages are then coordinated through a partnership between the Air Education Training Command surgeon general and Nineteenth Air Force officials, who are responsible for all of the Air Force’s initial flying training.

“As part of the waiver process, we have a team of experts who objectively determine if a candidate’s measurements are acceptable,” said Col. Gianna Zeh, AETC surgeon general. “Let us make the determination if your measures are truly an eliminating issue.”

The pilot waiver system is in place to determine whether pilot applicants of all sizes can safely operate assigned aircraft and applicants who are significantly taller or shorter than average may require special screening.

“Some people may still not qualify,” Wills said. “But, the Air Force is doing everything that we can to make a career in aviation an option for as many people as possible. The waiver process is another example of how we can expand the pool of eligible pilot candidates.”

This article originally appeared on United States Air Force. Follow @USAF on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Please, stop calling these other vehicles tanks

Look, we get it. It can be hard to write about the military. What’s the difference between soldiers, troops, and service members? Are Coast Guardsman sailors? Are they Navy personnel at all? Do those guys really prefer to be known as “seamen?”

There’s a lot of terminology to get straight, but still, it’s not that hard. And, frankly, we’re tired of seeing anything with more than 2 inches of armor being described as a “tank.” So, here’s a quick primer on America’s only current tank — and a whole bunch of armored vehicles that are not tanks:


What started as a way to honor the fallen is now Wreaths Across America
A U.S. M1A2 Abrams tank fires during a 2015 exercise in Estonia.
(U.S. Army Sgt. Juana M. Nesbitt)

First, the only current American military vehicle that is actually a tank: the M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank. The first ones rolled out in 1976, but numerous upgrades have been made since. The modern M1A2 SEPV3 has ceramic armor made from depleted uranium and fires a 120mm cannon with everything from high explosive rounds to sabot. Sabot rounds are fast-flying darts that exit from the main gun.

Thousands of them exist in the U.S. arsenal and hundreds more are in service around the world, mostly in places like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Australia. It’s easy to pick out because of its large size, free-moving turret with a large gun, and the massive tank treads that propel it across the ground.

What started as a way to honor the fallen is now Wreaths Across America
U.S. Army Arkansas National Guard soldiers fire paladins.
(U.S. Army Arkansas National Guard)

Next, the Paladin. This is probably the most convincing of the non-tanks out there. It’s significantly smaller than the Abrams and weighs less than half as much, but it is large, propels itself on two big tank treads, is well-armored, and has a big gun.

But it’s the gun and the mission that makes this artillery instead of a tank. The 155mm howitzer is made to primarily fire in an indirect fire mode, arcing the shells over the battlefield instead of engaging directly, like an Abrams. Its armor and speed also aren’t really up to snuff for direct combat.

You can differentiate it from a tank by focusing on the arm that supports the cannon barrel, the smaller size, and the reduced armor. Especially important is the lack of explosive reactive armor, the boxy armor panels on the skirts of Abrams tanks.

What started as a way to honor the fallen is now Wreaths Across America
A U.S. Army Soldier assigned to 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, Fort Bliss, Texas, ground guides an M2 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle.
(U.S. Army Spc. Esmeralda Cervantes)

Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle

Confusing a Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle with a tank is pretty reasonable. It’s armored, propels itself on two tracks, and is often seen with the explosive reactive armor common on Abrams. It even has a free-turning turret like a tank and fights on the frontlines.

But the difference comes in the vehicles’ mission and the size of the main cannon. Bradleys have lighter armor and a much smaller gun, typically 25mm compared to the Abrams’ 120mm. They’re made to move quickly on the battlefield and carry up to 8 infantrymen into combat, though other variants drop the infantry carrying capacity to serve other missions, instead.

To differentiate it from the Abrams, focus on the size, reduced armor, and the much smaller gun.

The M113 armored personnel carrier is the predecessor the the Bradley. It, also, is not a tank. It’s smaller, has less armor, and lacks a turret.

What started as a way to honor the fallen is now Wreaths Across America
The M1150 Assault Breacher Vehicle is based on the M1 Abrams tank, but it has no 120mm gun and is designed for breaching obstacles rather than defeating enemy forces in direct combat.
(U.S. Army Sgt. Patrick Eakin)

M1150 Assault Breacher Vehicle

The M1150 Assault Breacher Vehicle is based on the M1 Abrams, so getting mixed up makes sense. But M1150s lack the 120mm main gun of an Abrams.

They boast some kind of large plow on the front instead, usually a 15-foot-wide, bulldozer-like plow, but sometimes they’re seen with other mine-clearing equipment. They’re also equipped with a mine-clearing line charge, or MICLIC, that fires from the turret.

What started as a way to honor the fallen is now Wreaths Across America
The Marine Corps amphibious assault vehicle is an impressive piece of hardware, but still not a tank.
(U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Christine Phelps)

Amphibious Assault Vehicle

These monstrosities are pretty sweet. They’re swimming armored vehicles with treads and the ability to carry up to 25 combat-equipped infantrymen (nearly always Marines).

But their primary offensive armament is a .50-cal. machine gun or a 40mm grenade launcher, a far cry from the cannons used on tanks, especially the 120mm on the Abrams. They also have armor that’s perpendicular to the ground, something that tank designers avoid in key areas since it helps the enemy round penetrate during fights.

What started as a way to honor the fallen is now Wreaths Across America
Marines fire the main gun of the LAV-25 during gunnery training. This impressive bit of armor is super useful, but it’s still smaller, less armored, and less powerful than a main battle tank.
(U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Daniel Barker)

LAV-25

This is another armored vehicle that swims across open ocean. Used primarily by the U.S. Marine Corps, it has a 25mm chain gun and some light armor, but it’s still underpowered and underarmored compared to main tanks.

But the easiest way to tell the LAV-25 from a tank is that it has rubber road wheels instead of metal ones on treads. In fact. lots of armored platforms that are sometimes described as tanks are rolling on rubber road wheels, something tanks don’t do.

So, just like the LAV-25, Army Strykers are not tanks. Nor are any of the lighter vehicles, like humvees, MRAPs, or M-ATVs.

If all of this leaves you wondering what, exactly, a tank is, well, sorry — it’s changed over time. But modern tanks are typically heavily armored vehicles with large guns, rotating turrets, and treads. They’re designed to engage in direct combat with other forces, including enemy armor, by using their armor and the terrain for protection while firing their main gun as their primary offense.

When dealing with anti-tank infantry, they may rely more heavily on their machine guns, but many countries field shotgun-like ammo for their tanks for this scenario.

If it doesn’t fit all of these categories, it’s almost certainly an infantry fighting vehicle, self-propelled artillery, or a similar platform.

MIGHTY CULTURE

7 things you probably didn’t know about chaplains

Military service members are all familiar with chaplains, the qualified religious leaders who serve troops and their families, but they are somehow still shrouded in mystery.

If you ever get the chance to talk to one, especially someone with a few deployments under their belt, you’ll start to get an appreciation for what they offer to troops (also, the more I talk to chaplains, the more combat ghost stories I hear…but I’ll just sort through that on my own time…).

Here are seven fascinating facts about chaplains:


What started as a way to honor the fallen is now Wreaths Across America

U.S. Army chaplain Capt. Thomas Watson, left, and Spc. Timothy Gilbert arrive at Hunter Army Air Field in Savannah, Ga., Jan. 17, 2010 after returning from a nearly year-long deployment in Iraq.

(DoD photo by Tech. Sgt. Brian E. Christiansen, U.S. Air Force/Released)

1. Chaplains don’t fight in combat

Chaplains are in the military — but they do not fight in combat. Chaplains are non-combatants as defined by the Geneva Convention. Chaplains may not be deliberately or indiscriminately attacked and, unless their retention by the enemy is required to provide for the religious needs of prisoners of war, chaplains must not become POWs. And if they are captured, they must be repatriated at the earliest opportunity.

But that doesn’t mean chaplains have never seen combat…which leads us to…

What started as a way to honor the fallen is now Wreaths Across America

U.S. Air Force Capt. Norman Jones, a chaplain with the 20th Fighter Wing, prays over a draped casket during a simulated ramp ceremony as part of Patriot Warrior 2014 at Fort McCoy, Wis., May 10, 2014.

(DoD photo by Master Sgt. Donald R. Allen, U.S. Air Force/Released)

2. Despite non-combatant status, many have been killed

419 American chaplains have died in the line of duty, including Confederate chaplains during the Civil War.

Father Emmeran Bliemel, a Catholic priest serving in the Confederate Army, became the first American chaplain to die on the field of battle. He was administering last rites to soldiers during the Battle of Jonesborough during the Civil War when he was killed in action by cannon fire.

In 2010, Army Chaplain Dale Goetz was killed in Afghanistan, becoming the first chaplain to die in combat since the Vietnam War.

In 2004, however, Army Chaplain Henry Timothy Vakoc was severely injured by a roadside bomb in Iraq and he died from his wounds five years later.
What started as a way to honor the fallen is now Wreaths Across America

3. Nine chaplains have been awarded the Medal of Honor

Nine chaplains have been awarded the Medal of Honor.

Four served during the Civil War, one served during World War II, one served during the Korean War, and three served during the Vietnam War.

What started as a way to honor the fallen is now Wreaths Across America

U.S. Army Chaplain Maj. Carl Phillips, assigned to the U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden, leads worship with a hymn during the garrison’s Easter sunrise service, April 1, 2018, in Wiesbaden, Germany.

(U.S. Army photo by William B. King)

4. They represent 200+ denominations

Chaplains in the military represent more than 200 different denominations.

TWO HUNDRED.

Denominations recognized by the Pentagon include many variations of the major religions of the world — including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam — but Chaplains provide care for people of all faiths.

What started as a way to honor the fallen is now Wreaths Across America

U.S. Army Capt. Demetrius Walton, a chaplain with the 316th Expeditionary Sustainment Command, navigates a confidence course at Fort Dix, N.J., March 26, 2012.

(DoD photo by Sgt. Peter Berardi, U.S. Army/Released)

5. They hold rank, but not command

In the United States, service members have a constitutional right under the first amendment to engage in religious worship. While chaplains are commissioned officers and can obtain the rank of major general or rear admiral, they will never hold command.

And even though they hold rank, the proper title for any chaplain is, in fact, “chaplain.” Not “major.” Not “general.” Not “captain.” Chaplain.

What started as a way to honor the fallen is now Wreaths Across America

View of the judges’ panel during testimony at the Nuremberg Trials, Nuremberg, Germany.

(United States Army Signal Corps photographer – Harvard Law School Library, Harvard University)

6. They served during Nuremberg trials

Two U.S. Army chaplains ministered to the Nazis on trial in Nuremberg. The Allies didn’t trust Wermacht chaplains to counsel war criminals like Hermann Goering, one of the most powerful figures in the Nazi party, or Ernst Kaltenbrunner, the man responsible for the Nazi extermination camp system, so they sent their own chaplains.

Within the Nuremberg jail, Chaplains Henry Gerecke and Sixtus O’Connor created a 169-square-foot chapel and honored their duty to offer the nazis a chance to return from the darkness and into the light.

What started as a way to honor the fallen is now Wreaths Across America

7. One is being considered for sainthood

A Korean War chaplain is being considered by the Vatican for sainthood.

Chaplain Emil J. Kapaun moved from foxhole to foxhole under direct fire to provide aide and reassurance to soldiers fighting in the Battle of Unsan. He recovered wounded men and dragged them to safety or he dug trenches to shield them from enemy fire. He was captured and tortured by the Chinese, but even then he continued to resist and provide comfort to his fellow prisoners. He died in captivity on May 23, 1951.

He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his extraordinary heroism, patriotism, and selfless service.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Why this Army officer runs with a binder full of names

Surrounded by thousands of racers, Lt. Col. Frederick Moss stood out at the Army Ten Miler.

“I always get the question, ‘Why is this dummy running with this binder? He must be some staff guy that is all about his work.’ You know?” Moss joked, while discussing the annual race.

Indeed, Moss is a staff officer. He works for senior leaders at the U.S. Army Reserve Command headquarters on Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Yet, the binder is not his work.

It’s his duty.


Inside, the pages hold the names of 58,000 American military members who died serving in Vietnam.

What started as a way to honor the fallen is now Wreaths Across America

Lt. Col. Frederick Moss, a senior staff officer for the U.S. Army Reserve Headquarters at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, stares into the camera for a portrait at the North Carolina Veterans Park in Fayetteville, North Carolina, Sept. 27, 2019.

(Photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret)

He carries the white binder on all the military-oriented races. The Marine Corps Marathon. The Army Marathon. The Navy Nautical. Some of these races won’t allow backpacks for security purposes, such as the Army Ten Miler, so he hand-carried the book 10 miles through the streets of Washington, D.C.

“It’s an act of remembrance. It’s an act of appreciation for them and what they’ve done,” Moss said.

He recalled printing the names at home years ago. He walked away from his computer thinking the job would be finished when he returned. Instead, the printer was still spitting out papers.

What started as a way to honor the fallen is now Wreaths Across America

Lt. Col. Frederick Moss, a senior staff officer for the U.S. Army Reserve Headquarters at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, runs nearby the North Carolina Veterans Park in Fayetteville during a film production Sept. 27, 2019.

(Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Javier Orona)

“Wow, wait a minute. Now this can’t be right. It’s still going,” he said. “It went from 100 to 1,000 to 2,000. And that’s just the letter ‘A’ … 2,000 husbands, wives, uncles, brothers, cousins. They paid the ultimate sacrifice. And that’s really when this thing kind of hit me. This is really big. That’s a lot of people here.”

He originally printed the book to remember his father, Terry Leon Williams, after he died in 2012. Williams had survived Vietnam, but he rarely talked about the war.

“He was a Marine’s Marine. He’s a man’s man. I learned a lot from him, and I owe a lot to him,” said Moss.

What started as a way to honor the fallen is now Wreaths Across America

Lt. Col. Frederick Moss, a senior staff officer for the U.S. Army Reserve Headquarters at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, looks through the names of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall with his son, Brandon, while visiting Washington, D.C., Oct. 12, 2019.

(Photo by Staff Sgt. Felix Fimbres)

Williams deployed twice, but in spite of his love for the uniform, the Marine didn’t wear it as he returned home from an unpopular war. He faced a country that offered protest, not praise.

“There’s still Vietnam veterans out there who feel some type of way about how they were received when they came back into this country,” Moss said.

That’s a vast difference from how the nation welcomed Moss in 2006. He had deployed to Iraq as a military police officer. When his airplane full of soldiers landed in Atlanta, firetrucks greeted them on the runway by spraying the plane with water.

What started as a way to honor the fallen is now Wreaths Across America

Lt. Col. Frederick Moss, a senior staff officer for the U.S. Army Reserve Headquarters at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, visits the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall with his son, Brandon, and wife, Cherie, in Washington, D.C., Oct. 12, 2019.

(Photo by Staff Sgt. Felix Fimbres)

“We got off the plane … and everybody was hugging and kissing us. It was crazy. Holy smoke! It was hundreds, thousands of soldiers walking through the airport … I thought to myself: my dad and his comrades didn’t get that. It wasn’t America’s finest hour. So, that’s why I chose in my small way to show appreciation, for him and them, for their service to this nation,” Moss said.

The binder is for his father, but also for his uncle, Henry, who returned from Vietnam, yet wasn’t really home.

“He didn’t make it. He came back, but he wasn’t the same. You know, the hidden scars of combat. He ended up committing suicide,” said Moss.

Moss’ father was soft-spoken. He spared few words and rarely squandered those words on comforting his children. During his teenage years, their relationship was horrible, Moss said. A strict father and a rebellious son often at odds, he described.

What started as a way to honor the fallen is now Wreaths Across America

Lt. Col. Frederick Moss, a senior staff officer for the U.S. Army Reserve Headquarters at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, visits the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall with his family in Washington, D.C., Oct. 12, 2019.

(Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Javier Orona)

“If you fell, he wasn’t going to hug you. He was going to tell you, ‘Get up. Dust yourself off. Fight on,'” he said.

He was more interested in teaching his son to defend himself than to show him affection.

“Sometimes, I feel like I’m running from him still,” Moss said, laughing.

His running days began in high school when he joined cross country track. Running calls him out of bed in the morning. He wakes up in the darkest hours and slips out of the house unnoticed. His wife, Cherie, jokingly calls it his “mistress” because she wakes up to an empty bed.

But Moss communes with God during those runs. He prays and listens to gospel music. Time and worry vanish. He might look at his watch at any moment and realize 20 miles have gone by. Just don’t let him sit through a meeting afterward, because he might fall asleep, he jokes.

He has run so many military races that he keeps his medallions in a bag. There’s no room to display them in the house.

Yet, after high school, his running stopped for a while. His first military experience took him off the track and tossed him toward the water.

What started as a way to honor the fallen is now Wreaths Across America

Lt. Col. Frederick Moss, a senior staff officer for the U.S. Army Reserve Headquarters at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, pages through a binder he printed holding the names from the Vietnam Memorial Wall during a film production day at his home in Spring Lake, North Carolina, Sept. 27, 2019.

(Photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret)

“I joined the Navy, and I gained, like, 260 pounds,” he said, exaggerating the weight, with a laugh. He reached 260 pounds, but that’s not how much he had gained.

As he spoke, he pulls out a framed photo of himself in a white Navy uniform. A rounder version of himself looks into the camera, with a mustache hovering above his lips.

“This was pre-Army. I was like the ice cream man, right here. So I lost my love for running at the time because in the Navy, it’s all about systems and ships. Not a lot of room to maneuver to run on the ship,” he said.

He deployed twice with the Navy, to Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Later, Moss joined the Army as a staff sergeant. It was a rude awakening because, suddenly, he was in charge of soldiers without any prior experience in managing people.

“The Navy’s a little bit different. It’s not about people … it was about systems. I was an engineer in the Navy. A boiler technician. You need steam to make the ship go. To turn the turbines. To get power. To drink water. But you flip it, and you go to the Army, and the Army is all about people,” he said.

What started as a way to honor the fallen is now Wreaths Across America

Lt. Col. Frederick Moss, a senior staff officer for the U.S. Army Reserve Headquarters at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, takes a selfie with Lt. Gen. Charles Luckey, commanding general of the U.S. Army Reserve, while showing him a binder representing the fallen veterans of the Vietnam War during the Army Ten Miler in Washington, D.C., Oct. 13, 2019.

(Photo by Staff Sgt. Felix Fimbres)

Those times in the military made him appreciate his father in ways he never could as a son.

When Moss commissioned as a lieutenant in the Army, his family surrounded him in celebration. He remembers sitting at a large round table with his father and relatives.

“I’ve got something to say,” Williams spoke, stopping the conversation around them.

Moss’ father pointed around the table to those who had served in the military. Four branches were represented there: Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps.

“My son was enlisted Navy,” Williams said. “But my son did something different. I never thought my son would be a commissioned officer.”

A pause. A quiet befell the table as the family waited to see what might happen next. Williams stood and saluted his son. Moss stood and returned the salute. He could sense people holding their breath. The two men dropped their salutes and sat back down.

What started as a way to honor the fallen is now Wreaths Across America

Lt. Col. Frederick Moss, a senior staff officer for the U.S. Army Reserve Headquarters at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, runs from his home in Spring Lake during a film production day, Sept. 27, 2019.

(Photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret)

Then, just before the conversation could resume, or an applause might follow, Williams spoke again.

“Now, you’re a lieutenant. You’re officially a punk. Nobody likes lieutenants!”

The table broke in laugher, cheering, and the family returned to their celebration. But a moment had caught during the exchange. A shifting in balance – a new respect – occurred as the older saluted the younger. His father had changed.

Serving in the Army had helped Moss see that change, because service was about sacrifice and legacy. Not individual fame, but a legacy carried by the collective. He saw the military as a family who passed traditions from generation to generation.

“That legacy just keeps going on and on. A legacy of war fighters. People who paid the ultimate sacrifice, and you don’t ever want that legacy to be lost. So, one of the things I do, is I carry this book. That book, to me, signifies that you never, ever forget what other people have done for this nation to make sure that we continue to be free,” said Moss.

The Army Ten Miler reminds Moss of that legacy and of his love for people. He calls it a family reunion, where year after year he hugs brothers and sisters in arms who return to D.C. for the run. It’s a small nuisance that backpacks aren’t allowed, but it’s also an honor for Moss to carry his father’s generation of veterans in his hands.

What started as a way to honor the fallen is now Wreaths Across America

Lt. Col. Frederick Moss, a senior staff officer for the U.S. Army Reserve Headquarters at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, visits the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall with his son, Brandon, in Washington, D.C., Oct. 12, 2019.

(Photo by Staff Sgt. Felix Fimbres)

“Sometimes the book is a little cumbersome, but it doesn’t bother me. Because it’s 58,000-plus fallen comrades in that book. What I’m doing for this short period of time is nowhere near the price they had to pay for us,” he said.

He reflects on those names through Washington, D.C., as he runs. He envisions their stories. He mourns with their families. He considers the children who never saw their fathers or mothers come home. Yet, he is grateful for one name who is not in his book. Not on the wall. Not on any official memorial except for the etching of his memories.

His father.

Terry Leon Williams.

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

An exclusive look inside the US military’s largest ammunition plant

Carry the battle to them. Don’t let them bring it to you. Put them on the defensive and don’t ever apologize for anything.” When most people think of Harry S. Truman, they think of the president who signed off on the first and only wartime use of nuclear weapons. But before Truman became the 33rd President of the United States during World War II, he was a senator from Missouri. One of the projects in which Truman was instrumental as a senator was establishing Lake City Army Ammunition Plant (LCAAP).


LCAAP is the single largest producer of small-arms munitions within the Department of Defense. Initially operated by Remington Arms, the government-owned, contractor-operated facility is currently run by Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems, formerly Orbital ATK. Basically, they provide all branches of the U.S. military with every round of small-caliber ammunition they need. This goes beyond supply and demand — it’s a living legacy.

Lake City Army Ammunition Plant Installation Mission Video

www.youtube.com


uring an exclusive private tour of LCAAP, Whitney Watson, manager of media relations and communications with Northrop Grumman, divulged that the media hadn’t been granted access to the facility in years. However, being invited to visit Lake City and actually getting through the doors are two different things — the security process was unlike any I’d previously experienced. Once inside, though, it was like stepping back in time.

In 1940, the government purchased nearly 4,000 acres of privately owned property in Independence, Missouri. Then-senator Truman helped secure both the land and the funding for establishing LCAAP. Ground broke in December 1940, and the first round — a .30 caliber — came off the line on Sept. 12, 1941. In October 1941, the first shipment left by rail. LCAAP was up and fully functioning within nine months in an era before modern capabilities and technology while enduring a Midwestern winter and in the midst of war. During World War II, LCAAP employed 21,000 full-time workers and produced 50 million rounds per year.

Lake City lives up to its name, functioning as a self-sufficient city. The property contains 22 miles of road, 11 miles of railroad (not currently in use), military housing, a 24-hour police force, a hospital, nine medical locations, a cafeteria, a non-federal post office, a fire station (complete with a bunkhouse), a gym facility, a road maintenance crew, a water production plant, three wastewater treatment facilities, and indoor and outdoor shooting ranges.

What started as a way to honor the fallen is now Wreaths Across America

An aerial view of the Lake City Army Ammunition Plant.

(Photo courtesy of the LCAAP Facebook page)

From the buildings to the machines, all of the original equipment remains functional and, to some extent, is still utilized. It was surreal to see the newer robotic equipment mixed in with the legacy equipment on the production floor. The legacy machines are the original machines installed upon the opening of LCAAP. As of today, they continue producing rounds as quickly and efficiently as their modern counterparts — this is 1930s technology functioning without fail in 2019! It speaks volumes for LCAAP and the pride with which they have maintained their facility and equipment.

The employees at LCAAP are often generational, and they share a deep understanding of the importance of their product, where it goes, and what it’s used for. The prevailing objective is that not a single round can fail — lives literally depend upon it. To ensure this, LCAAP has a prodigious process for case traceability. Each round has a specific stamp on the head, which allows it to be individually traced to the day, time, and machine that produced it. This way, if there is ever an issue during their extensive testing protocol, they can quickly ascertain why. Lake City produces 4 million rounds per day, so being able to trace each one is not only essential, it’s astonishing.

Another example of the pride and teamwork at LCAAP is the motto “One Team, One Mission,” which is visible at various places around the facility. The saying was originated by Watson.

What started as a way to honor the fallen is now Wreaths Across America

LCAAP produces 4 million rounds of small-caliber ammunition per day.

(Photo by Karen Hunter/Coffee or Die)

“In the years immediately following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, with widespread military operations throughout the Middle East, Lake City employees could turn on the news every night and see the products they produce in action. In 2019, that isn’t the case. Even though we still have troops fighting all over the world, it’s not on the scale it was a decade earlier,” Watson said.

“We were looking for a way to remind Lake City employees that, first, we are all on the same team — regardless of what your job here is, every one of us is an important part of the team and we need to perform like it,” he continued. “And second, that our mission hasn’t changed: to produce the quality ammunition that the men and women who defend our country deserve.”

The phrase has been incorporated throughout the plant on signs, shirts, hats, and other items, and, according to Watson, it’s working.

What started as a way to honor the fallen is now Wreaths Across America

LCAAP has a history of employing women, as well as generations of family members, that goes back to its World War II roots.

(Photo courtesy of Lake City Army Ammunition Plant)

“Our employee engagement has risen dramatically over the past few years,” he said. “Fewer employees are leaving for other opportunities (even in this historically low unemployment), and we are performing amazingly. I never served in the Armed Forces, but I am very proud to be a part of a team whose sole mission is to support the warfighter.”

LCAAP’s commitment to those who serve the country doesn’t stop when they turn in the uniform; the company also supports and values veterans. They partner with the Foundation for Exceptional Warriors to host an annual turkey hunt for veterans. The vets get to hunt the LCAAP property — 4,000 private acres of prime hunting land. While at the facility, the guests of honor are treated as such. They enjoy a hotel stay, catered food, dinners out, and a paid shopping spree for gear.

LCAAP is also involved in the Kansas City, Missouri, chapter of the Association of the United States Army. This spring, 100 LCAAP team members will participate in and financially support a project to build a home for a disabled veteran who is raising her young grandchildren. Watson said that a significant percentage of the workers at LCAAP are veterans and that hiring former service members is a top priority.

What started as a way to honor the fallen is now Wreaths Across America

(Photo by Karen Hunter/Coffee or Die)

When asked what Lake City Ammunition means to him, Watson responded: “My father fought in the Pacific during World War II. Even though we have some of the most modern manufacturing equipment in the industry, we also still use some legacy equipment that has been in operation since the early 1940s. It means a lot to me knowing that some of that equipment may have been used to produce the rounds he fired, either in training or in combat. The ammunition that may have helped save his life or the life of one of his buddies. Who knows? I do know that the ammo we make today definitely helps save lives. And that means more than I could express.”

Lake City Army Ammunition Plant is much more than a facility manufacturing small-caliber munitions — it’s a small community and an important asset to the U.S. military. With a 1.6 billion round per year production capacity, Lake City is vigilantly prepared to ramp up production at a moment’s notice. But most importantly, Lake City is a family — a family that extends to every individual who touches one of their rounds.

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

This is how submariners spend their artificial days

Comfort is one of the last things in mind when the U.S. Navy designs a submarine. There’s little room to walk around, restrooms and showers are kept as cramped as possible to make room for ordnance and mechanics, and the perpetual lack of sunlight and fresh air will make you forget what time of the day it is.

Add all that up and you’ll quickly realize being deployed for months on end on a submarine is enough to make most people go crazy with cabin fever — but the submariners of the United States Navy are legitimate badasses, so they make due.


We Are The Mighty is proud to support the release of ‘Hunter Killer,’ a submarine thriller starring Gerard Butler and Gary Oldman that hits theaters on October 26, 2018.

What started as a way to honor the fallen is now Wreaths Across America

An extra two hours of duty is nothing if it means not losing your freakin’ mind.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jeffrey M. Richardson)

There’s a certain flow that gets developed while underway. The lack of sunlight actually makes it easier on the human body to adapt to a new circadian rhythm, which makes splitting shifts a little easier. There’s a running joke among submariners that the only reliable way to tell the time it is by what the mess hall is cooking. If it’s waffles, it’s probably morning. If it’s leftovers, it’s definitely midnight.

The crew takes turns cycling through three eight-hour shifts: eight hours of sleep, eight hours of duty, and eight hours of free-time. Prior to 2014, submariners endured an 18-hour day that was split into three sections of six hours of each, but it was decided by the powers that be that shifting people off of a 24-hour cycle was a terrible idea for everyone’s sanity.

What started as a way to honor the fallen is now Wreaths Across America

This 15 sq. foot rack can be all yours for the low, low price of a one enlistment contract!

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jeffrey M. Richardson)

When it comes to sleeping, it’s not an exaggeration to say that the racks resemble coffins. Stacked two high and barely arms-width apart, the only way you can get any kind of privacy is via a tiny, little curtain. If you can get used to that, great. If you can’t, well, sucks to be you…

The space for your personal belongings amounts to all of a single drawer under your rack and a cabinet above your pillow. To everyone else in the military, that’s about a duffel bag’s load of stuff to last you an average of 90 days. What this means is that you’ll usually take changes of uniforms, the occasional personal memento, and that’s about it.

What started as a way to honor the fallen is now Wreaths Across America

Slackers, rejoice! You probably won’t be PTing that much while you’re underway. Just remember that PT standards still apply when you’re back on land, so there’s that…

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Steven Khor)

After the submariner finishes their assigned watch, their time is their own until they head back to bed. They’ll often get called back for work or get stuck on some mind-numbing detail — but sometimes, it’s a nice break in the monotony.

Since you can’t really chill out in the living quarters if you’re lower rank, the preferred way to relax is to crowd into the mess hall and watch TV. New submarines are being fitted with internet access to give submariners something to do — but don’t expect speeds greater than old-school dial-up all the way down there. There are gyms on board, but you’ll have to stretch your definition of “gym” to mean two machines that are shared among the crew.

What started as a way to honor the fallen is now Wreaths Across America

(Lionsgate)

Life isn’t easy on a submarine. It’s not for everyone. But if you can endure the extensive training to earn your Submarine Warfare Insignia and knock out a deployment-at-sea in a cramped tin can, you’ve earned the right to be objectively cooler than (nearly) everyone else in the Navy.

We Are The Mighty is proud to support the release of ‘Hunter Killer,’ a submarine thriller starring Gerard Butler and Gary Oldman that hits theaters on October 26, 2018.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Green Beret to receive Medal of Honor for actions in Battle of Shok Valley

More than a decade ago, Army Master Sgt. Matthew Williams earned the Silver Star Medal for saving several of his Special Forces comrades during an hours-long mountainside firefight in Afghanistan.

This week, the Green Beret will see that decoration upgraded to the highest level — the Medal of Honor.

Williams was born Oct. 3, 1981, and spent most of his childhood in the small town of Boerne, Texas. He initially wanted to be a detective or work for the FBI when he grew up, so he got his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice at Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas.


But after 9/11, Williams started rethinking how he could serve his country. He did some research into Special Forces programs and, in September 2005, joined the Army. Two years later, he became a weapons sergeant — someone who knows U.S. and foreign weaponry well and often goes behind enemy lines to help friendly forces train and recruit.

On April 6, 2008, then-Sgt. Williams was on his first deployment with several other Special Forces operators for Operation Commando Wrath, a mission to capture or kill high-value targets in Afghanistan’s Shok Valley.

His team and about 100 Afghan commandos were dropped into the mountainous area by helicopter. As the leading edge of the group began moving up a jagged mountainside, insurgents started attacking from above.

“It was kind of quiet, then all of a sudden everything exploded all at once,” Williams later explained in an interview. “[The insurgents] had some pretty good shooters, and a lot of people up there waiting for us.”

What started as a way to honor the fallen is now Wreaths Across America

A map pinpoints the Operation Commando Wrath insertion point in Shok Valley, April 6, 2008.

(Army graphic)

The part of the group under attack, which included the ground commander, was trapped. Meanwhile, Williams and the rest of the team had trailed behind at the bottom of the mountain, and they were forced to take cover while trying to fight back.

When Williams got word that some in the group ahead of him were injured and close to being overrun, he gathered several of the commandos.

He led them across a 100-meter valley of ice-covered boulders and through a fast-moving, waist-deep river on a rescue mission up the mountain. When they got to the forward group, the Afghan forces kept the insurgents at bay while the Americans figured out their next move.

“I went about halfway down, called a couple more of our guys and asked them to bring more commandos up so we could basically make a chain to pass these casualties down, because they were going to be on litters (stretchers),” Williams said.

What started as a way to honor the fallen is now Wreaths Across America

Army Sgt. Matthew Williams and other team members assigned to the 3rd Special Forces Group pose for a photograph as they to be picked up by a helicopter in eastern Afghanistan in late spring 2007.

(Photo by Army Master Sgt. Matthew Williams)

As they were setting up, another soldier was hit by sniper fire. Williams braved the enemy onslaught to give him first aid, get him on his feet, and help him climb down the mountain.

Williams then fought his way back up to the top to bring the rest of the endangered men down.

“I knew we couldn’t go up the same way we’d gone other times because it had been getting pretty heavy fire,” Williams said. “There was a cliff face that went around to a little outcropping. I saw that if we could scale that, we could get onto this outcropping, and we’d be able to come up from behind where those other guys were.”

It was a near-vertical, 60-foot mountain.

When Williams and others made it back to the top, he killed several insurgents and helped get communications back up and running. Then, still under fire, he went back to moving the wounded men down the mountainside to a little house they were using as their casualty collection point.

What started as a way to honor the fallen is now Wreaths Across America

Army Sgt. Matthew Williams, assigned to the 3rd Special Forces Group, conducts long-range weapons training at Camp Morehead, Afghanistan, during the fall of 2009.

(Army Master Sgt. Matthew Williams)

But they still weren’t safe; insurgents were threatening that position, too. So, over the next several hours, Williams led the Afghan commandos on another counterattack against more than 200 insurgents, keeping the enemy at bay until helicopters were able to fly in and evacuate the wounded.

“They were taking fire the whole entire time,” Williams said of the helicopter crews. “They were awesome pilots. They saved the day, really.”

Williams helped load the wounded men into the helicopters, then continued to direct fire to quell the enemy attack. That gave the rescue patrol time to move out without any further casualties.

The whole ordeal lasted more than six hours. Thankfully, no American service members were killed.

“That day was one of the worst predicaments of my life,” Williams said. “But the experience from that has helped me through my whole entire career — remain level-headed and focus on what needs to happen as opposed to what is happening.”

What started as a way to honor the fallen is now Wreaths Across America

Army Sgt. Matthew Williams poses for a photo with his operational detachment’s interpreter in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, in the spring of 2007.

(Army Master Sgt. Matthew Williams)

Earning accolades

Several months later, for his amazing leadership under fire, Williams and nine of the men with him during that mission each received Silver Stars. Now, his decoration is being upgraded to the Medal of Honor. He’ll receive the award Oct. 30, 2019, in a ceremony at the White House.

“I think it’s an honor for me to receive this on behalf of the Special Forces regiment, hopefully representing them in a positive manner and helping get the story out about what it is that we’re actually doing and what Green Berets are capable of, ” Williams said.

Williams is the second member of his detachment to receive the nation’s highest honor for this operation. Staff Sgt. Ronald Shurer II received it a year ago.

What started as a way to honor the fallen is now Wreaths Across America

Army Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Williams poses with his wife, Kate, just before they attend a friend’s wedding in October 2013.

(Army Master Sgt. Matthew Williams)

After his 2008 deployment, Williams went home and met his wife, Kate. They had a son. Williams has deployed five times since then and has done several extended training rotations in the field.

The family lives at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where Williams continues his role in the Special Forces. He said he’s hoping to keep that up, even with the notoriety that comes with being a Medal of Honor recipient.

This article originally appeared on Department of Defense. Follow @DeptofDefense on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Online commissary privileges finally available to newly eligible shoppers

Nearly 4 million veterans and caregivers who were granted privileges to shop at commissaries and exchanges Jan. 1 can finally enjoy access to online features, a Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) news release said Friday.


However, the new patrons’ access to American Forces Travel (AFT), the official Morale, Welfare and Recreation travel site, is still spotty, according to the latest AFT Facebook post.

What started as a way to honor the fallen is now Wreaths Across America

Purple Heart recipients, former prisoners of war, veterans with any service-connected disability, and caregivers registered with the VA’s Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers program became eligible to shop at commissaries, exchanges and MWR facilities beginning Jan. 1.

Since then, these new shoppers have experienced issues, including not being able to bring guests on base and trouble accessing MyCommissary and AFT online portals.

DeCA officials said they had to work with Defense Manpower Data Center (DMDC), which is used to confirm shopping privileges, to let new patrons register their Commissary Rewards cards online to access coupons and to use, as available, the Click2Go curbside service.

“In the event a new shopper is still receiving an error message when trying to create an account, they should check with the [Department of Veterans Affairs] to ensure their information and privileges are correctly entered into the system,” DeCA system engineer Clayton Nobles said in a statement. “For those receiving a new Veterans Health Identification Card (VHIC), there may be a delay between when the veteran receives the card and when the system allows them access. This delay can take up to 30 days.”

Eligible veterans must have a VHIC to access bases for shopping or MWR use.

Customers who had access before Jan. 1, such as retired service members, Medal of Honor recipients and veterans with a service-related disability rating of 100%, are not affected.

What started as a way to honor the fallen is now Wreaths Across America

images02.military.com

Meanwhile, AFT is still updating its customer database of “millions of records.”

“We have sent examples to DMDC and they were able to see why some patrons are having issues,” AFT said on Facebook, the only place it is providing updates on the issue. “We will let you know when that resolve has been made and then ask you to try logging on again. Records are being updated every hour.”

But some veterans are getting tired of waiting.

“No luck today. Last week they said it would be fixed this week,” one Facebook user wrote. “The week before, it was going to be fixed last week. I sent a private message this afternoon and got an automated response to call the DMDC help desk at 1-800-727-3677. That number is for the Commissary. After 35 minutes, someone answered the phone and said they could not help me to get verified.”

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

Is this a pandemic-proof career for military spouses?

The latest jobs report shows 21 million Americans out of work, largely attributed to the effects of the coronavirus and efforts to contain it, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Double-digit unemployment rates are nothing new for spouses who have seen increased efforts over the years to elevate the plight of a demographic working to establish a career around military life. But is there a career field immune from PCS moves and pandemics? The CEO of Squared Away thinks so.

Michelle Penczak, a Marine spouse, co-founded Squared Away in 2017 to give military spouses opportunities that demand a range of skills, like social media, project management, and human resources. The company has now grown to 95 and she says the field is “extremely sustainable” even with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.


“Most of our clients are taking their businesses remotely and are leaning on us to make the transition as smooth as possible. We also add a great amount of value to teams who have been forced to downsize but still have the need of an assistant,” Penczak said in an email interview.

Squared Away was inspired by Penczak’s own challenges in maintaining employment as her husband, a Marine officer, received orders to different duty stations around the U.S. She initially worked as a personal assistant to a lobbyist in Washington, DC. until relocating to Jacksonville, North Carolina, near Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. The transition from a large city to a small military town was difficult in terms of finding comparable employment.

“No one would hire me … it was so defeating and I didn’t want anyone to ever feel that way,” she said.

Eventually, after many interviews and rejections, she found employment as a virtual assistant with Zirtual. However, it was not long after the business closed, but lingering clients wanted her to remain with their companies. Then her husband received orders to Hawaii.

“I was terrified I would lose my clients,” Penczak said because her clients operated on Eastern time. “So, I got up at 3 am to work with my East Coast clients.”

She said she told herself it would never work, but six months into it her husband encouraged her to change her thinking.

“He said, ‘It’s working.’ I would drive myself out of bed [at 3am PCT] and do my stuff. Then I’d have all the rest of the day to hang out in Hawaii which wasn’t a bad deal. I became more productive and it worked better for me. My co-founder [Shane Mac] told me, ‘I need you to build a company.’ I told him he was crazy. I had no idea how to run a company,” she said. “I thought about it for a couple of days and said let’s do this.”

Squared Away places virtual assistants with a myriad of companies to include venture capital firms, startup companies, and marketing firms. Penzcak added that the company does not invest in marketing. She notes her client base has grown exponentially over the past year strictly from a referral base.

“Anyone who needs extra supports … They become their righthand man … All of our clients are saying how much they love us, working with amazing people who believe in our mission. I’ve never felt more blessed in my life. My team is amazing,” she said.

Squared Away employs military spouses stationed within the U.S., along with remote assistants in Germany as well.

“Nothing feels better than one of my girls coming to say … you are making such a big difference to me and my family,” Penczak said.

The company’s structure also allows its team members to balance personal and professional responsibilities.

“All of our spouses have a unique story … We can be dedicated to our clients, but also be flexible to be there for our kids. Currently, we have 110 clients … it’s growing steadily. The more clients the more assistants we can hire,” she said.

Penczak’s 2020 goals include expansion of her team.

She offers a message to anyone adapting to a different kind of virtual working environment during COVID-19.

“Give yourself some grace. Everyone is going through this together and most have kids and spouses home. Don’t require perfection from yourself,” she said.

Visit https://gosquaredaway.com to learn more about Squared Away’s career opportunities for military spouses and services for businesses.

This article originally appeared on Military Families Magazine. Follow @MilFamiliesMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Air Force top enlisted leader encourages airmen to connect

Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright just wanted to get airmen talking — to each other, friends, family — with the service’s one-day pause to break down unresolved feelings they may have buried deep inside.

Wright doesn’t expect commanders at each base to draft a plan of what they believe could prevent suicide, which has plagued the service’s ranks in recent months, with 78 airmen taking their own lives between Jan. 1 and July 31, 2019. But the top enlisted airman hopes the effort might help struggling airmen again feel a sense of purpose when they come into work, even if they carry baggage from their personal lives with them.


“While mental health is a part of it, I personally think a larger part of this solution is us just being good human beings,” he said during a recent interview. Military.com accompanied Wright and Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein on a trip to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, last week.

What started as a way to honor the fallen is now Wreaths Across America

Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright speaks to Team Travis airmen.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. David W. Carbajal)

The Air Force in August 2019 ordered a one-day “tactical pause” that had commanders and airmen address a rise in suicides across the force. As of Aug. 1, 2019, the service had exceeded the number of suicides in all of 2018 by nearly 20 people.

Wright said suicide has become the leading cause of death in the Air Force despite airmen serving overseas in combat.

“If some initiatives [at bases] came out of that, then I think that’s great. But it really wasn’t designed to develop prevention initiatives,” he said Oct. 9, 2019.

“All of the airmen that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, connecting with and talking to who’ve thought about committing suicide, none of them — not one — pointed to a program or a process or mental health [initiative]. … They all pointed to the thing that kept them going, and that was another person,” Wright said, but added some have been in therapy programs to keep talking to someone they’re comfortable with.

What started as a way to honor the fallen is now Wreaths Across America

Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright listens to an Airman’s question.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. David W. Carbajal)

Wright said he’s heard feedback from airmen who’ve felt the most hopeless during deployments, unable to connect with someone from their unit or loved ones back home.

On those occasions, help came from a friend or teammate — sometimes even a stranger — asking the simplest questions like, “How are you? Is there anything I can do?” Wright said.

“That’s all it was — meaningful connections,” the chief said.

“It makes a big difference if you walk into a work center where you feel like, ‘Hey, I’m a valued member of his team, and my supervisor, my teammates, they care about the things that I’m going through’ versus, ‘Hey nobody cares,'” Wright said. “This is about making airmen feel valued.”

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

Here’s why Earth-like planets might be common

A growing body of research indicates that there are likely billion of Earth-like planets that we haven’t yet discovered.

That’s good news for astronomers seeking alien life. Since Earth is our only example of a life-bearing world, scientists try to pinpoint planets like ours when they search for life elsewhere.

That’s what NASA’s Kepler space telescope set out to do. Kepler scanned the skies from 2009 to 2018, and it found over 4,000 planets outside our solar system. A dozen or so of these planets seem like prime real estate for life.

Kepler’s data has produced a growing body of research that indicates there are likely billions more Earth-like planets that we haven’t discovered.

Here’s why scientists are starting to think planets like Earth might be common.


What started as a way to honor the fallen is now Wreaths Across America

Nine years’ worth of observations by the Hubble Space Telescope revealed about 10,000 galaxies in one of the deepest, darkest patches of night sky in the universe.

(NASA/ESA/IPAC/Caltech/STScI/Arizona State University)

When astronomers peer across the cosmos for potential outposts of alien life, they look for planets like Earth.

That means a rocky planet that’s roughly the size of Earth. Scientists haven’t exactly defined this size range, since they don’t yet know how big rocky planets can be.

What started as a way to honor the fallen is now Wreaths Across America

The habitable zone, or “Goldilocks zone,” around a star is where a planet is neither too hot nor too cold to support liquid water.

(NASA)

What started as a way to honor the fallen is now Wreaths Across America

This artist’s concept illustrates the idea that rocky worlds like the inner planets in our solar system may be plentiful, and diverse, in the universe.

(NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt)

A handful of recent discoveries shows that Earths could be common in the universe.

That means alien life could be common, too.

What started as a way to honor the fallen is now Wreaths Across America

An illustration of NASA’s Kepler space telescope.

(NASA)

Most of what we know about exoplanets comes from the planet-hunting Kepler space telescope.

Kepler, which first launched in 2009, retired last year after it ran out of fuel. NASA passed the planet-hunting torch to the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), which launched in April 2018.

What started as a way to honor the fallen is now Wreaths Across America

From the International Space Station, astronaut Scott Kelly took this photo of Earth and the Milky Way. He posted it to Twitter on Aug. 9, 2015.

(NASA/Scott Kelly)

Based on Kepler’s findings, one NASA scientist estimated that our galaxy alone contains 1 billion Earth-like planets.

Astrophysicist Natalie Batalha sent these rough calculations to the Washington Post in 2015. She noted that it was a conservative estimate.

What started as a way to honor the fallen is now Wreaths Across America

This artist’s concept of the Milky Way shows the galaxy’s two major arms and two minor arms attached to the ends of a thick central bar.

(NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Since then, further research has indicated that the Milky Way could harbor as many as 10 billion Earths.

In a study published in August, researchers estimated that an Earth-like planet orbits one in every four sun-like stars.

What started as a way to honor the fallen is now Wreaths Across America

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot was captured by NASA’s Juno spacecraft as it performed a close pass of the gas giant planet on Feb. 12, 2019.

(NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Kevin M. Gill)

Those researchers didn’t want to rely solely on the planets Kepler found. That telescope’s method is better at detecting large planets (like Jupiter) than small planets (like Earth).

That means that Kepler data probably underestimates the number of Earth-like planets in the cosmos.

What started as a way to honor the fallen is now Wreaths Across America

In this composite image provided by NASA, the planet Mercury passes directly between the sun and Earth. This May 9, 2016 transit lasted seven-and-a-half-hours.

(NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/SDO/Genna Duberstein)

That’s because Kepler used the “transit method.” It watched for tiny dips in a star’s brightness, caused by a planet passing in front of it.

Larger planets obstruct more of their stars’ light, making them easier to detect. Plus, Kepler’s method was biased toward small, dim stars about one third the mass of our sun.

What started as a way to honor the fallen is now Wreaths Across America

A multi-frequency all-sky image of the universe’s background radiation.

(ESA/ LFI HFI Consortia)

So Ford’s team built a simulation of a universe like ours and “observed” its stars as Kepler would have.

The simulation gave the scientists a sense of how many exoplanets Kepler would have detected in each hypothetical universe, and which kinds. They then compared that data to what the real Kepler telescope detected in our universe, to estimate the abundance of Earth-sized planets in the habitable zones of sun-like stars.

What started as a way to honor the fallen is now Wreaths Across America

This artist’s impression shows an imagined view from nearby one of the three planets orbiting an ultracool dwarf star just 40 light-years from Earth.

(SO/M. Kornmesser)

The result: up to 10 billion rocky, Earth-sized planets in the habitable zones of sun-like stars.

“There are significant uncertainties in what range of stars you label ‘sun-like,’ what range of orbital distances you consider to be ‘in the habitable zone,’ what range of planet sizes you consider to be ‘Earth-like,'” Eric Ford, a professor of astrophysics and co-author of the study, told Business Insider in August 2019. “Given those uncertainties, both 5 and 10 billion are reasonable estimates.”

What started as a way to honor the fallen is now Wreaths Across America

An illustration of the binary star system Sirius. Sirius A (left) is the brightest star in the night sky of Earth, and it has a small blue companion called Sirius B.

(NASA/ESA/G. Bacon)

Many of those planets could be Earth-like in other ways, too. Last week, a study found that 87% of Earth-like planets in two-star systems should have a stable axis tilt like Earth’s.

“Multiple-star systems are common, and about 50% of stars have binary companion stars,” Gongjie Li, a co-author on the study, said in a press release. “So, this study can be applied to a large number of solar systems.”

What started as a way to honor the fallen is now Wreaths Across America

The surface of Mars.

(NASA)

That stable tilt is crucial for life on Earth. The tilt of Mars’s axis changes wildly over tens of thousands of years, creating drastic shifts in global climate that could prevent life from taking hold.

Some scientists think Mars’s changing axial tilt contributed to the disappearance of its atmosphere.

What started as a way to honor the fallen is now Wreaths Across America

A star like our sun dies by casting off its outer layers of gas, leaving only the star’s hot core behind.

(NASA/ESA/K. Noll)

In an autopsy of six dead stars, researchers found that the shredded remains of rocky planets contained oxygen and other elements found in rocks on Earth and Mars.

The researchers used telescope data to calculate how much the iron in these rocks had oxidized — the process where iron chemically bonds with oxygen and rusts.

“The fact that we have oceans and all the ingredients necessary for life can be traced back to the planet being oxidized as it is. The rocks control the chemistry,” Edward Young, a co-author on the study, said in a press release. “We have just raised the probability that many rocky planets are like the Earth, and there’s a very large number of rocky planets in the universe.”

What started as a way to honor the fallen is now Wreaths Across America

An artist’s representation of Venus with land and water.

(NASA)

Earths might even be common in our own solar system. Venus may have had oceans and a climate like Earth’s for billions of years.

In September 2019, researchers presented the results of five different simulations of the climate history of Venus. In all five scenarios, the planet maintained temperatures between 20 and 50 degrees Celsius for up to 3 billion years.

What started as a way to honor the fallen is now Wreaths Across America

NASA’s Galileo spacecraft took this colorized picture of Venus on Feb. 14, 1990, from a distance of almost 1.7 million miles.

(NASA/JPL)

The researchers think that a mysterious catastrophe about 700 millions years ago transformed Venus into the uninhabitable hothouse it is today.

“Something happened on Venus where a huge amount of gas was released into the atmosphere and couldn’t be re-absorbed by the rocks,” Michael Way, a NASA scientist and study co-author, said in a press release.

It could have been magma bubbling up from below Venus’s surface, releasing tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. That would have trapped enough heat to reach the broiling surface temperatures that average 462 degrees Fahrenheit today.

“It is possible that the near-global resurfacing event is responsible for its transformation from an Earth-like climate to the hellish hothouse we see today,” Way added.

What started as a way to honor the fallen is now Wreaths Across America

On the morning of June 22, 2019, astronauts in the ISS captured the plume of ash and gases rising from the erupting Raikoke Volcano on the Kuril Islands in the North Pacific.

(NASA)

Even that susceptibility to disaster is, in fact, quite Earth-like.

A supervolcano eruption or asteroid impact could one day make our planet uninhabitable. That could be the end of life on this Earth, but the research shows there may be plenty more Earth-like planets to spare.

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

49ers’ Garland wears a different kind of uniform off the field

When Air Force Academy football player Ben Garland broke his left hand at practice in 2009, Head Coach Troy Calhoun thought he might miss the rest of the season. Garland played that week.

“You thought, ‘My goodness, this guy, he’s a pretty special human being,”’ Calhoun said.


Garland, 32, is now entering his sixth NFL season overall and his second season with the San Francisco 49ers. For the last nine years, the offensive lineman has spent his offseasons with the Colorado Air National Guard.

“It shapes who you are,” Garland, a captain with the 140th Wing of the Colorado Air National Guard, said of his military training. “It teaches you that teamwork, that discipline, that work ethic. A lot of things that are valuable to the team, I learned in my military career.”

Garland was 5 years old when he attended an Air Force football game with his grandfather, who was a colonel. That experience led the determined boy to vow to play on that field someday and become an officer.

Garland played on the defensive line at the Air Force Academy from 2006 to 2009, earning all-Mountain West conference, second-team honors as a senior. He signed with the Denver Broncos as an undrafted free agent and placed on the reserve/military list for two years so he could honor his military commitment.

Garland became an offensive lineman in 2012 and has been on three teams that reached the Super Bowl — the Broncos after the 2013 season, the Atlanta Falcons after the 2016 season and the 49ers last February. Garland started at center during San Francisco’s 31-20 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV in Miami.

“I’m definitely known around the wing as the guy who plays in the NFL,” said Garland, who is 6 feet 5 and weighs 308 pounds.

What started as a way to honor the fallen is now Wreaths Across America

Capt. Ben Garland. Courtesy photo.

Garland has worked primarily in public affairs with the Air National Guard, handling media and community relations as well as internal communications. He has deployed abroad, including to Jordan in 2013.

He was also the recipient of a 2018 Salute to Service Award, in part, because of actions off the field including donating game tickets each week to service members, visiting the Air Force Academy annually to speak to students, working with Georgia Tech ROTC and mentoring local young officers, according to the NFL.

“Once you join the military, you are always an airman or soldier or whatever branch you choose, but we’re all service members,” said Major Kinder Blacke, chief of public affairs for the 140th Wing of the Colorado Air National Guard. “I don’t really think you take that uniform off. I guess I would say I see him as a guardsman who’s an excellent football player and has pursued both of those dreams at once. It’s really admirable.”

Garland said he cherishes his time at Air Force.

“It was extremely challenging and physical, and you were exhausted at times, but the challenging things in life mean the most to you,” he said. “It was one of the best experiences of my life, and I have some of my closest friends from it.”

Garland served on active duty from 2010-12 after graduation. He was already a member of the Air National Guard by the time he made his NFL debut for the Broncos against the Raiders in Oakland on Nov. 9, 2014.

“The way he is able to have a full plate but to do it with such drive and energy, he has an enormous amount of work capacity,” Calhoun said.

The coronavirus pandemic has altered the sports calendar and left a question mark over Garland’s NFL career. There is no guarantee that Garland will be with his teammates for the 49ers’ scheduled opener against the Arizona Cardinals at home on Sept. 13.

Regardless, Garland still possesses a clear vision for what lies ahead.

“Once my NFL career is over, I’d love to do more stuff with the military,” he said. “It just depends where my body’s at. …[In] the military, you get people from all walks of life to come together to be one of the best teams in the world. These selfless, incredible, courageous people, you get to know and be friends with. I definitely want to be a part of that as long as I can.”

Keep up with Garland’s career updates by following him on Instagram.

This article originally appeared on Reserve + National Guard Magazine. Follow @ReserveGuardMag on Twitter.


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