Who is Michael Gregory? - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY FIT

Who is Michael Gregory?

We talk with the Marine and Creator of the MightyFIT Workout plan about Promotions, Happiness and Freedom Hair.

Most Marines can remember their best PFT score. A solid performance can earn you bragging rights, a line on the promotion list or maybe even signifies a personal goal (yeah, I still remember my first twenty straight pull ups, twenty years later). Yet, there is something much deeper in the those numbers…happiness.

You can argue with me all you want, yes Marines can be happy, but that doesn’t mean their life is going to be easy. At some point, Marines are guaranteed to be covered in mud, zombie tired and cleaning a piece of gear for the ten thousandth time. Despite what life may throw their way, either in training or war, Marines are still the most happy when they are fit and ready for a fight. And that means tough training, physical fitness, and confidence.


After my first deployment to Iraq, I was back at 29 Palms getting ready for a second, possibly more dangerous deployment. We trained every day and most weekends in a hot, nasty desert. That spring, I ran the fastest PFT of my life and I’ve never felt happier (17:54…just saying…). Despite the stress of the world around me, being in that kind of shape was one of the happiest points in my life. I was a trained, fit Marine and that feeling has stuck with me to this day.

Now, if you’re reading this, then you at least have some interest in the military and you don’t have to be a Marine to understand that feeling fit and healthy is a good thing. That being said, even those of us who a maxed out a PFT at some point still have trouble finding a workout plan to meet the chaotic, unexpected and sometimes even lonely challenges that come after we take off the uniform.

Ladies and gents, let me introduce to Marine Michael Gregory, the creator of the MightyFIT workout plan and owner of Composure Fitness, whose sales pitch is “wanna make gains and look great naked?”

Michael doesn’t need to sell himself, he resume does it for him. An economist by training who first put his analysis skills to work as a Marine intelligence officer, Michael is one of those guys who could fit right in on wall street but he’s also tough. Like really tough. One of his first assignments in the Marines was with the MACE, Martial Arts Center of Excellence, think Spartan training in modern times. So what does a badass Marine martial arts instructor with a ten pound brain decide to do after he leaves the Marine Corps?

He moves to Bali and begins his next chapter helping Marines and others find their peak physical performance and dare I say it…happiness.

So when it came time to develop a workout plan for We Are The Mighty, we asked Michael to do what he does best and the eight week plan is pretty amazing. I recently had the chance to catch up with Michael and his thoughts on fitness and happiness didn’t disappoint.

Who is Michael Gregory?

(Michael Gregory being promoted on Iwo Jima.)

Michael, it’s great to chat with you. Before we dive in, tell me, what’s the craziest thing that you did in the Marine Corps?

MG: I was promoted on Iwo Jima.

Really?

MG: Yeah it was cool. And not planned. My commander was like, “Hey there’s a C- 130 going to Iwo. Get on it, find whoever is the senior officer and have them promote you.”

Ok, that pretty badass, what drove you to the Marine Corps?

MG: Yeah. so I joined out of high school. I knew I wanted to be in the military. It was the height of the wars and everyone was going to the Middle East to fight. I didn’t even know Asia was a thing, but they sent me to Japan. I got to work with almost every Allied country in Asia and it was it was good for me because I was always the kind of Marine that was on my own little plan. I always had long hair.

Who is Michael Gregory?

Dude, your hair is pretty crazy now.

MG: It’s my freedom hair.

Freedom Hair. I love that.

MG: I haven’t had it cut since I got out. That’s my freedom.

What set you on the fitness path to where you are right now?

MG: [Fitness] was always something that I cared about. I studied economics in college and I had to work out to keep my sanity. But when I got in the Marine Corps I was lucky enough in one of the “in-between times” between schools. I got sent to the Martial Arts Instructor Course in Quantico.

The MACE is no joke. What was it like as a brand new a Second Lieutenant?

MG: It was actually like it was cool because it was my first experience working with enlisted Marines. But in the schoolhouse we’re all getting trained to be instructors. We were equals there. So we all got along and I learned a lot and I actually took a lot of that with me when I was with my unit and my first Marines. It was eye opening. And that was some of the best organized training I got.

So where did you get the fitness knowledge to build a plan like the MightyFIT?

MG: In Japan, I had a pretty good fitness routine going on. I was kind of training myself. And studying. I would print out fitness stuff and bring it into the vault because nobody would talk to me there. I read a lot about nutrition, the body and exercise programs.

And when did Bali come into the picture?

MG: After the Marines, I decided to take a break you know and figure out what I want to do with my life. My wife convinced me to move to Bali for six months to just decompress a little bit and figure out a plan. And you know, we’ve been there for two and a half years.

Who is Michael Gregory?

(Because when you’re a fitness guru in Bali, front flips in the rain are just a part of life.)

So you started training Athletes and even other Marines?

MG: It took some time and it was all based on the results. I have a guy that I work with who is a Captain. He was afraid that he couldn’t make gains and still perform on the PFT. We developed a plan for him. Now, he’s squatting and lifting more than he ever had in his life and he’s at a lower body fat percentage while still running a 295 PFT. It’s my clients that have helped me grow. The word of your former clients is the most important thing that I have as a fitness professional.

How is fitness like firing a weapon?

MG. You know when you go to a civilian firing range and see somebody with the nicest weapons but still doesn’t know what there doing. They lack a foundation. They haven’t mastered the basics of marksmanship and they wonder why they can’t hit the target.

I do. It’s scary.

MG: You can see the same exact thing walking into any gym and see people with great physiques but no foundation. Your body is your weapon. Just like a rifle, you need to zero it in with the basics to become efficient and effective for other activities. The fundamentals cross over into all different workouts. You can go on to do Crossfit, run Marathons or whatever you’d like. That’s what the Mighty FIT plan is designed to do. It uses eight weeks to build a fitness foundation. It’s your zero.

Ok, how does this plan work for a guy like me with knees that are beat up and a back reading from a decade of body armor? Won’t I just hurt myself?

MG: The plan is designed so that really anyone can do it. You obviously need to listen to your body but none of these movements are inherently dangerous. I’m not asking anyone to do anything outside of a normal physical range of motion or at an explosive speed. In fact, a lot of people hurt themselves during explosive exercises. They think they’re athletic but lack a solid foundation. And what this plan does is prepare people for anything without being potentially dangerous by using a safe rate of perceived exertion.

A safe rate of what?

MG: Haha, the rate of perceived exertion. It’s simple. 80% effort is the goal and the weight is irrelevant. That’s the base element of the Mighty FIT plan. I’m not dictating weights for anyone right now. I tell people the exercise and the number of sets and reps. And you stick to your own weight. So if you feel like shit one day at 80% and it’s 30Lbs less than it was last week. That’s OK. Just do what your body perceives as 80% exertion even if that means that you’re starting off point is just standing up out of a chair, then just do that. There’s really no barrier to entry as long as you’re willing to adjust and don’t feel like you need to be perfect. Just be happy.

But I want to clarify, is happiness the overall goal here or is it something different?

MG: Happiness is the overall goal in so far as this plan will allow you to do whatever you want to make you happy.

That’s a Bali- Eat, Pray, Love answer.

MG: [He Laughs]. If you want to work out like a maniac then these eight weeks will prepare your body to work out like a maniac. If you just want to play with your kids, this will allow you to pick up your two year old son without feeling like you’re going to split your back.

Who is Michael Gregory?

(Michael Gregory training in Bali.)

So as I was reading the plan I know that there’s going to be soreness. Can you kind of quickly walk me through what DOMS is?

MG: Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. Which is just a fancy way of saying, you’re going to feel the workout the next day. It’s just what happens when people reach a threshold of physical output that they’re not used to. When we work out, we’re literally tearing our muscles apart so that they can be rebuilt into stronger muscle fibers. The body must then recover from the inflammation so all the good blood cells rush to that part of the body which is where the soreness comes from.

Is there anything I can do to prevent the soreness?

MG: The research shows that if you stick to the 80% threshold that I already talked about there shouldn’t be any issues. You should be able to get up and walk around the day afterwards. Usually when people push past that 80% threshold that’s when you get someone walking around like a zombie for a couple days.

If you feel like one of the sessions is particularly hard especially on the legs, then just hop on a stationary bike for 15 and 20 minutes at the end of the workout. An ice bath is another great alternative. But if you’re going to go for the ice bath, wait one or two hours after the workout because what it does is it kills inflammation altogether and inflammation is actually good when we’re trying to build up some muscle so if you kill it right away it has a tendency to stall the gains.

Before we transition off the plan, is there anything else you think people need to know?

MG: Well you know, just take week one as what it is… week one. Do the whole eight weeks before you cast judgment on whether or not you liked it or if it was effective or not.

What do you think is your biggest enemy to happiness? And do you even think like that?

MG: Yeah, I do. I’m obviously living in Bali. So, I have been doing more meditation and self reflection than I ever thought was possible. And honestly my own worst enemy is myself. And I think that’s true for a lot of people. I easily talk myself out of things that I make a commitment towards or that I know are good for me. So finding consistency with myself is one of the hardest challenges and it was something I didn’t realize in the Marine Corps because you kind of don’t have that option in the military. There are constantly other people that you’re responsible for or that are holding you accountable.

And now you’ve built your business, Composure Fitness obviously you’ve got the launch of the Mighty FIT Plan. What does the rest of 2019 look like for you?

MG: Growth. You can only work with so many people at one time. I’m excited about getting my voice out there with good fitness advice and building something more sustainable that reaches more people at once.

I’m excited about starting the 8 week Mighty FIT Plan.

MG: Have fun with it and Semper Fi.

Oh, I will brother. Semper Fi.

Check out Michael Gregory’s blog @ComposureFitness and download the Mighty FIT plan HERE.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why the USS Missouri is the most famous battleship ever built

The USS Missouri has been described as the most famous battleship ever built.

Nicknamed “Mighty Mo,” the Missouri was an Iowa-class battleship that saw combat in World War II, the Korean War and the Gulf War.

Before finally being decommissioned in 1992, the Mighty Mo received three battle stars for its service in World War II, five for the Korean War, as well as two Combat Action Ribbons and several commendations and medals for the Gulf War.

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And throughout the Mighty Mo’s long service, the warship was barely scratched.

Here’s the story of the Missouri.


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Margaret Truman christens the USS Missouri with then-Sen. Truman in the background at the New York Navy Yard on Jan. 29, 1944.

(US Navy photo)

Laid down in January 1941, the USS Missouri was the last Iowa-class battleship to enter service, and was actually christened by then-Sen. Harry S. Truman’s daughter, Margaret Truman.

Source: US Navy, The National Interest

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The Mighty Mo fires a salvo from the forward 16/50 gun turret during her shakedown period in August 1944.

(US Navy photo)

As an Iowa-class battleship, the most powerful class of battleships, the Missouri was armed with nine huge 16-inch guns, 20 five-inch guns, 80 40mm anti-aircraft guns, and 49 20mm anti-aircraft guns.

The Mighty Mo’s 16″/50 caliber Mark 7 guns fired 1,900 and 2,700 pound projectiles up to 24 miles away.

In fact, the guns were so powerful that they recoiled four feet when fired, with the blast pressure pushing the water out, creating the illusion that the ship was moving sideways.

Source: US Navy, Business Insider

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View along the Mighty Mo’s port side during a high-speed run while on her shakedown cruise in August 1944.

(US Navy photo)

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The Mighty Mo fires its center 16″ guns during a night gunnery exercise in August 1944.

(US Navy photo)

During World War II, the Missouri supported the landing at Iwo Jima with her 16″ guns, the bombardment of Okinawa and the island of Hokkaido, and more.

Source: US Navy

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A Japanese A6M Zero Kamikaze about to hit the Mighty Mo off Okinawa on April 11, 1945, as a 40mm quad gun mount’s crew is in action in the lower foreground.

(US Navy photo)

In April 1945, the Missouri took one of its only known hits when a Japanese Kamikaze pilot evaded the Mighty Mo’s anti-aircraft guns and hit the battleship’s side below the main deck. But the impact caused minor damage.

Source: US Navy

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General of the Army Douglas MacArthur signs the Instrument of Surrender on the USS Missouri on Sept. 2, 1945.

(US Navy photo)

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The Mighty Mo fires a salvo of 16-inch shells on Chongjin, North Korea, in an effort to cut enemy communications in October 1950.

(US Navy photo)

The Mighty Mo sailed the Mediterranean in 1946 in a show of force against Soviet incursion. Four years later, in September 1950, the battleship joined missions as part of the Korean War.

As the flagship of Vice Adm. A. D. Struble, who commanded the 7th Fleet, the Missouri bombed Wonsan, and the Chonjin and Tanchon areas in October 1950. For the next three years, the Mighty Mo would bombard several other areas too, including Chaho, Wonsan, Hamhung, and Hungnam.

The Mighty Mo was later decommissioned, for the first time, in February 1955 at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.

Source: US Navy

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Large harbor tugs assist the battleship USS Missouri into port for recommissioning with the San Francisco skyline in the background in 1986.

(US Navy photo)

But in 1986, with the Cold War still raging, the Mighty Mo was brought back to life as part of the Navy’s new strategy that sent naval task groups into Soviet waters in case of a future conflict.

The Navy also modernized the Mighty Mo as part of its recommissioning, removing some of its five-inch guns and installing Harpoon and Tomahawk cruise missiles, Stinger short-range surface-to-air missiles, and Phalanx close-in weapons systems.

Source: US Navy, The National Interest

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The Mighty Mo fires a Tomahawk cruise missile at an Iraqi target in January 1991.

(US Navy photo)

And these new weapons were put to use during the Gulf War, where the Mighty Mo fired at least 28 cruise missiles, as well as several hundred 16″ rounds, on Iraqi targets.

In fact, the Mighty Mo had a fairly close call when it was firing 16″ rounds in support of an amphibious landing along the Kuwaiti shore.

The Missouri’s loud 16″ guns apparently attracted enemy attention, and the Iraqis fired an HY-2 Silkworm missile at the ship. But the British frigate HMS Gloucester came to its rescue, shooting the missile down with GWS-30 Sea Dart missiles.

Source: US Navy

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The USS Missouri arrives in Pearl Harbor, where it now permanently rests next to the USS Arizona, in June 1998.

In 1992, the Mighty Mo was decommissioned for the second and last time. The battleship was removed from the Navy’s reserve list in 1995, and moved to Pearl Harbor as a museum and memorial ship in 1998.

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

Articles

The only Native American general in the Civil War wore gray

According to a pair of memos produced in during Theodore Roosevelt’s administration, the Union and the Confederacy combined for roughly one thousand generals during the Civil War. Of those hundreds of generals, only one was a Native American — and he fought for the South.


Brigadier General Stand Watie isn’t that well-known, mostly because he was fighting in what the Confederates called the Trans-Mississippi Department. This region did not see battles on the scale of Antietam, Gettysburg, or Shiloh. Instead, the Civil War was more a collection of raids or guerilla warfare – and it wasn’t always the nicest of affairs.

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Battle of Pea Ridge (Library of Congress)

Stand Watie was familiar with violence. As a major leader of the Cherokee Nation, he had seen family members killed and had himself been attacked in the aftermath of the removal of the Cherokee to Indian Territory in what is now Oklahoma. Many of the Cherokee owned slaves, and took them west during that removal. This lead a majority of the Cherokee to support the Confederacy when the Civil War started.

The Oklahoma Historical Society notes that Stand Watie was commissioned as a colonel in the Confederate Army after he had raised a cavalry regiment. He was involved in a number of actions, including the Battle of Pea Ridge.

The Cherokee soon were divided in the Civil War, and a number began defecting to the Union. Watie and his forces were involved in actions against pro-Union Cherokee. Watie was promoted to brigadier general, and his command would encompass two regiments of cavalry as well as some sub-regimental infantry units. His best known action was the capture of the Union vessel J. R. Williams in 1864 and the Second Battle of Cabin Creek.

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Map of the Cabin Creek battlefield. (Graphic from Wikimedia Commons)

By today’s standards, his unit also committed some grave war crimes, including the massacre of Union troops from the First Colored Kansas Infantry and the Second Kansas Cavalry regiments in September 1864.

Watie would later be given command of the Indian Division in Indian Territory, but never mounted any operations. By 1865, he would release his troops. He would be the last Confederate general to surrender his forces, doing so on June 23, 1865. After the war, Watie tried to operate a tobacco factory, but it was seized in a dispute over taxes.

He died in 1871.

MIGHTY SPORTS

5 great stretches for your back, shoulders, hips, and core

You may recall a middle school P.E. instructor preaching the benefits of stretching while you and your tween buddies were busy giggling at his nuthuggers, but now that your days of spry flexibility have ground to halt, it’s not so funny anymore, is it? Guys with kids need to take stretching seriously.

Nobody takes stretching more seriously than Chris Frankel, the head of training and education for home fitness system TRX. A speed, strength, and agility coach for 30 years and a soon-to-be Doctor of Exercise Physiology, Frankel has been reversing musculoskeletal stress on his body ever since he became a father 12 years ago at the age of 42. “At the end of the day, being able to be an engaged father means you’re able to move comfortably without pain,” he says.

The list of benefits from stretching include improved posture, mood, circulation, testosterone levels (so, your sex drive), cortisol levels (your ability to manage stress), and bowel movements. Any of that sound good to you? Good, now read on …


A parent’s major stress areas

“Shoulders, arms, core, and hips probably take most of that work of lifting and carrying,” Frankel says about the bundle of joy that’s slowly taking years off your bones and joints. “Nine times out of 10 it comes down to being able to manage your back and take care of your core and your spine.”

“At the end of the day, being able to be an engaged father means you’re able to move comfortably without pain.”

Newborns and younger babies — the ones you’re constantly cradling, cuddling, hunching over, and holding at odd angles while praying they don’t wake up and start screaming again — put persistent stress on your shoulders, arms, and spine. Toddlers — the ones whose favorite game is “Pick me up! Now put me down! Now pick me up!” — shift that stress more toward your hips and core.

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(Photo by Kamil S)

Think of your body as a coil that’s slowly curling forward all day, because the kid is almost always in front of you (unless, you know, you’re carrying them right). The means the muscles in the front of your body are constantly contracting, so the following stretches will counteract that.

Core and spine stretches

The core and spine stretches are the most important for maintaining good posture. Frankel recommends “the 2 great moves” every parent should practice: the cobra, and the cat and camel pose.

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1. Cobra

  • Lie down face first with legs together and palms facing down beneath your shoulders
  • Keeping thighs and the top of your feet on the ground, arch your back without pressing with the hands
  • Keep your elbows in, chin up, and shoulders low and back as if to shoot a beam from your chest to the ceiling
  • Use your hands to press further back but only as far as is comfortable
  • Breath slowly for 5 to 20 breaths before slowly lowering back to the floor
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2. Cat and camel

  • Get on your hands and knees.
  • Curve your back like Quasimodo (or a camel) and hold for 3 seconds.
  • Then arch your back (like a cat?) and hold for 3 seconds.
  • Repeat 5 times.

Hip flexor stretches

Opening your hips can alleviate lower back pain, which is a self-fulfilling prophecy. When your lower back hurts, you lift your kid wrong to compensate, and lifting your kid wrong creates more back pain. Open hips also make you better in the sack, so that’s twice the motivation.

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3. The half kneel

  • Kneel upright with one knee and one foot on the ground as if you’re listening to Coach Nuthugger’s epic halftime speech and place hands on hips.
  • Create 2 90-degree angles: between your hip and the elevated knee, and between the foot on the ground and its ankle.
  • Gently rock your hips back and forth (a.k.a. air sex) for a moment to feel where the stretch will happen
  • Flex your ass and abs at the same time to get a slight posterior pelvic tilt (a.k.a. forward thrust) You should feel the stretch in the anterior thigh, near the magic zone
  • Switch legs and repeat.
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4. Frog stretch

  • Get on your knees and elbows.
  • Gradually spread knees out wider than your hips with toes facing out.
  • Lower by pushing your pelvis toward the ground while simultaneously (A) spreading your feet wider than your knees and (B) pulling your hips back.
  • Make sure nobody is videotaping, because you look ridiculous.

Shoulders, chest, and arms stretch

To release tension or pain in the shoulders, chest, and arms, and to improve posture, all you need is a doorway.

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5. The doorway stretch

  • Stand in a doorway.
  • Stretch arms straight out in a Vitruvian Man pose, place hands on the outside of the door frame, and lean in.
  • Take 5 to 8 deep breaths and stretch a little farther with every exhale.
  • Relax your chest and shoulders.
  • Adjust your arms up and down the frame and shift your position forward and backward in the frame to target different areas of the muscles.

Key stretching rules

Frankel starts every morning with 10 to 12 minutes of these stretches to undo whatever damage was done the night before and get the juices flowing. “Ideally you’d like to stretch 2 or 3 times during the day for short bursts, but especially right when you get up in the morning,” he says.

  • Relax. “The trick is to take it nice and easy,” Frankel says. “A lot of times, men and women, especially men, try to turn a stretch into a strengthening exercise.”
  • Breath deeply and extend all stretches during exhales.
  • Stay hydrated. Drink a glass of water before and after bed every night to instill the habit.

Now that you’ve got a routine to get all those front muscles stretched out, you should probably deal with stage 2 of the Kid Carrying Fitness regime: your back. All that contracting in the front means the your back muscles have to lengthen, so they don’t need stretching — they need strengthening. As for how you go about that, you could ask the head of education and training at TRX, but his answer seems predictable.

This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Ranger fought in Mogadishu before becoming a country music star

On October 3, 1993, Task Force Ranger conducted a raid in the Black Sea neighborhood of Mogadishu, Somalia to capture high-ranking lieutenants of the Aidid militia. The task force was an all-star special operations team composed of elements from the 75th Ranger Regiment, 1st SFOD-D, 160th SOAR, Navy SEALs from DEVGRU, and PJs and CCTs from the 24th Special Tactics Squadron.


As Nightstalker MH-6 Little Birds inserted Delta Operators on the target building, Rangers fast-roped down from MH-60 Blackhawks to the building’s four corners to secure a perimeter. During the insertion, Pfc. Todd Blackburn missed the rope and fell to the street below. Undeterred, the rest of the Rangers fast-roped out of the Blackhawks to establish security. The last Ranger out of the Blackhawk in front of Blackburn’s was team leader Sgt. Keni Thomas. As he reached for the rope, Thomas turned to the Blackhawk’s crew chief who yelled to him, “NO FEAR!”

“SCREW YOU!” Thomas responded as he dropped into the gunfire below. In his mind, it was easy for someone to say “no fear” if they’re the ones that get to fly away from the bullets. But Thomas was a Ranger, one of America’s elite, highly trained warriors. He led his team and maintained the perimeter around the target building from the Somali militia who were shooting at them, but mostly missing by his account.

Thirty-five minutes later, the target individuals were secure, loaded up on the trucks, and everyone was ready to return to base. With everything looking good, Thomas’ thoughts drifted as he thought about how he was now a bona fide combat veteran and could qualify for a VA loan. It was then that CW3 Cliff Wolcott and CW3 Donovan Briley’s Blackhawk was shot down. What was supposed to be a quick mission on a day off had turned into a battle against an entire city; after all, an American Soldier will never leave a fallen comrade.

Super 61 went down about five blocks from the target building. As the Rangers stepped off to secure the crash site, Thomas’ squad leader was shot in the neck. As the medics treated the squad leader’s neck wound, the platoon sergeant came up to Thomas and told him, “You’re in charge now.”

“What do you mean I’m in charge sarn’t?” Thomas asked, not wanting the increased responsibility.

“Hey, hey, sarn’t Thomas,” Sgt. Watson snapped his fingers to focus Thomas’ attention. “You’re in charge.” It was then that Thomas’ NCO training kicked in and he rogered up. Taking his squad leaders’ radio, he reassigned positions in his own team and took lead of the squad. The Rangers continued to make their way to the crash site as they took fire from unseen enemies.

Suddenly, one of the Rangers spotted a hostile Somali. “He’s in the tree sarn’t! He’s in the tree!” Pfc. Floyd, Thomas’ SAW gunner, yelled out frantically.

“Well if you see him, why don’t you shoot him?” Sgt. Watson responded self-evidently. It dawned on Floyd that he had, in fact, joined the Army and was allowed to shoot at people who shot at him. But rather than firing in 3 to 5 second bursts, Floyd proceeded to let out a constant stream of cyclic fire until Thomas hit him and told him to stop.

With the barrel of his machine gun glowing from the heat, Floyd stood up, lifted his goggles, and asked naively, “Did I get him?”

As the tree fell over, cut down by Floyd’s gunfire, Thomas said sarcastically, “Floyd, I don’t know if you got him, but you got the whole tree.”

Thomas and his squad continued to fight their way to the crash site and defended it until the bodies of the crew were recovered the next day. Incredibly and in spite of their casualties, their chalk was the only one to return with everyone alive that day. Thomas credits this accomplishment to the skill of their medic and the leadership of Sgt. Watson.

After Somalia, Thomas went on to serve in the Ranger recon teams. He ended his military career in 1997 as a Staff Sergeant, having earned the Master Parachutist Badge, the Military Freefall Parachutist Badge, the Special Operations Diver badge, British and Belgian jump wings, and a Bronze Star for Valor with a “V” device.

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Thomas served in the Army with distinction (Photo from KeniThomas.com)

Upon leaving active duty, Thomas worked as a youth counselor and eventually became a motivational speaker, drawing on his experiences in the Ranger Regiment. He also served as a consultant on We Were Soldiers and Black Hawk Down where he was portrayed by actor Tac Fitzgerald. However, it was Thomas’ passion for music that he focused on most after the army.

Thomas formed the country music band Cornbread and began his music career by performing in and around Columbus, Georgia. By the late 90’s, the band started to make a name for itself, playing shows on college campuses like Auburn University. In the 2002 movie Sweet Home Alabama, Thomas and Cornbread perform a cover of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Sweet Home Alabama as the movie’s featured song. To date, the band has released three albums as Cornbread and four under Keni Thomas’ name. Thomas has also performed several times at the prestigious Grand Ole Opry, with his most recent performance in May 2014.

Though he’s broken into the country music world, Thomas has not forgotten his military roots. He has performed overseas on USO tours during which he takes the extra time to connect with each servicemember that he meets and exchange stories. His favorite venues are the remote outposts where he performs for groups as small as a platoon. He also donates some of his proceeds to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, a non-profit that provides scholarships and financial aid to the children of wounded or deceased operators.

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Thomas performing in Kuwait on a USO tour in 2006 (U.S. Navy photo)

From the streets of Mogadishu to the music halls of Nashville, Thomas has lived up to both the Soldier’s Creed and the Ranger Creed in never leaving a fallen comrade. He continues to tell the stories of his fallen brothers in his music and his motivational talks. Rangers like Thomas lead the way…all the way!

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This is why you don’t mess with South Korean pilots

When you look at South Korea, this is a country that has a need to be very ready to fight for its survival. This is particularly true for the pilots in the Republic of Korea Air Force. If South Korea were to lose a war with North Korea, the ones who survive the war and who are captured will be unluckier than those who are killed in action.


 

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Three F-15K Slam Eagles fromt he South Korean Air Force participate in ‘Red Flag Alaska.’ (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

 

Hyperbole? Well, just look at the “re-education camps” that the North Vietnamese used after they conquered South Vietnam. The stakes are at least that high for South Korean military officers should South Korea fall to the North.

 

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South Korean P-51 Mustangs. (AIR AND SPACE MUSEUM)

As you can imagine, these pilots train a lot. South Korea has often taken part in Red Flag Alaska, where American and allied pilots train for war. But the Republic of Korea’s Air Force is also very powerful in its own right – flying high-tech fighter jets that are made in South Korea. That is a far cry from when it was flying second-hand P-51 Mustangs during the Korean War.

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According to FlightGlobal.com, South Korea has 169 F-16C/D Fighting Falcons, 59 F-15K Slam Eagles (comparable to the F-15E Strike Eagle), 71 F-4Es, 158 F-5Es, 20 FA-50s, 80 T-50s, and 36 F-5Fs in service. This is one of the most modern air forces in the world. By comparison, North Korea has 35 MiG-29s, 56 MiG-25s, and still relies on nearly 200 J-5 and J-6s, which are Chinese copies of the MiG-17 Fresco and MiG-19 Farmer, respectively.

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The KA-50 light multi-role fighter, based on the T-50 Golden Eagle trainer. (Republic of Korea Air Force photo)

The combination of good planes and well-trained pilots is a very difficult one to defeat. South Korea stands a very good chance of being able to take control of the air should hostilities break out with North Korea.

MIGHTY MOVIES

5 interesting things you should know about the Yautja

We first learned of the Yautja when Arnold Schwarzenegger went toe-to-toe with one in a South American jungle in the 1987 sci-fi action-thriller, Predator. Since then, these aliens have become a lauded piece of nerdy pop-culture. The latest installment in the franchise is coming out later this year, so now’s the time to learn as much about these interstellar hunters as possible.

You might know that these aliens are efficient trackers and killers — hence the name Predator. You might even know about their active camouflage, energy blasters, and cool nuke wristbands. But if you didn’t know the proper name for this species before now, then you’ve got a lot to learn.

We’re here to lead you down the rabbit hole. Here are a few things you should know about these badasses before checking out The Predator later this year.


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There are two main tribes of Yautja — who are at constant war with each other.

(Twentieth Century Fox)

They have a warrior culture

Despite being capable of interstellar travel, the Yautja’s civilization is built around a tribal structure and a warrior culture. They value experienced warriors and the only way to earn respect is through battle.

They hunt for sport

You may have picked up on this in the original Predator when the mercenaries come across skinned corpses and shrines made of skulls. They don’t hunt for survival, they hunt for trophies. We mentioned above that the Yautja earn respect in battle — what better way to command respect than by weaving a vest of your enemies’ skulls?

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They respect opponents who choose to face them head on.

(Twentieth Century Fox)

They only hunt formidable prey

They don’t just hunt something easy and say, “I killed a cricket, respect me.” No, they only target opponents who present a real threat to them, like Dutch’s mercenary team in the original film.

Any human who defeats one in single combat earns their respect

Compared to the Yautja, that humans are weak, fragile creatures. So, it’s pretty obvious why an alien race that prides itself on hunting and killing extremely dangerous creatures would respect a human who can survive a one-on-one fight.

Comrades of a fallen Yautja have been known to even award the human with a rare weapon as a sign of respect.

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Humans can only hope they hunt each other into mutual extinction…

(Twentieth Century Fox)

They hunt Xenomorphs as a rite of passage

Remember the aliens from, well, Alien? When a Yautja is coming of age, they must endure a ritual in which they hunt a Xenomorph, which are considered the ultimate prey in their culture. If one can defeat a Xenomorph, they earn the respect of their tribe.

To signify their success in hunting a Xenomorph, a Yautja will mark their helmets using the alien’s acidic blood.


Articles

This colonel-turned-mercenary has been battling terrorism for decades

When most people retire from the military, they look forward to spending more time with family, relaxing, and maybe pursuing their hobbies.


Neall Ellis isn’t most people.

After a successful career in both the Rhodesian and South African militaries, Ellis became bored with civilian life. Rather than sit back and relax, he decided to pursue the only hobby he knew — kicking ass.

With plenty of strife and a need for fighters throughout the African continent, Ellis decided to become a mercenary. He wasn’t going to be just any mercenary though. Ellis recruited a team and procured an Mi-24 Hind helicopter gunship.

 

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Russian Mi-24 Hind.

 

Ellis’ mercenary work eventually brought him to Sierra Leone, which was in the midst of a civil war in the late 1990s. The government of Sierra Leone, backed by the British, was attempting to quell a rebellion by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF).

Working for the Sierra Leone government, Ellis and his crew were seen as the most effective force against the rebels, even though they were a single gunship. As Ellis put it, “the gunship strikes the fear of God into the rebels. They run into the bush as soon as they see it.”

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As the rebels advanced on the capital, Freetown, the British forces remaining in Sierra Leone evacuated. Freetown looked as if it would fall to the rebels.

Also read: 5 of the most badass snipers of all time

Ellis saw things differently. Though the rebels were attacking at night, and he had no night vision devices, he proposed that he and his crew fly out to meet them and try to drive them off. To his crew, this sounded foolish and none would agree to fly the mission. Unperturbed, Ellis, piloting his helicopter alone, flew against the rebel onslaught.

 

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The city of Freetown, Sierra Leone, was a front for brutal fighting during the Sierra Leone Civil War in the 90s. (Photo via Flickr user David Hond. CC BY 2.0)

In the dead of night, with no crew and no night vision, Ellis fought off the rebel advance. When the rebels came again, Ellis once again flew alone and turned them back from Freetown. Only when his helicopter broke down and he was unable to fly did the rebels finally take the city.

But Ellis wasn’t done fighting. Even though the government of Sierra Leone had lost the capital and could no longer pay him or his crew, they kept flying.

In an interview with the Telegraph, Ellis told them, “I have not been paid for 20 months. I do it because I don’t know what else to do. I enjoy the excitement. It’s an adrenaline rush.”

His staunch defense of Freetown had also drawn the ire of the RUF. His actions had so angered the RUF that they sent him a message: “If we ever catch you, we will cut out your heart and eat it.”

Ellis’ response was epic.

Ellis loaded up his bird and flew out to deliver a message of his own.

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Coalition forces release informational leaflets out of a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter over villages in the Logar province, Afghanistan, July 18, 2014. The leaflets are used to pass along information to the local populous regarding on going operations in the area. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Steven Hitchcock)

Arriving over the rebel camp they proceeded to drop thousands of leaflets, with a picture of their helicopter and the words “RUF: this time we’ve dropped leaflets. Next time it will be a half-inch Gatling machine gun, or 57mm rockets, or 23mm guns, or 30mm grenades, or ALL OF THEM!”

And he meant it. Although heavily outnumbered, Ellis kept fighting the rebels.

Eventually, his efforts drew the attention of the British, who decided not only to return to Sierra Leone, but also to provide support to Ellis and work in conjunction with him.

His vast knowledge of the country made him a valuable asset to the British and he actively participated in operations.

Need more inspiration? 4 Vietnam War heroes you’ve never heard of

In September 2000, Ellis flew his helicopter in support of Operation Barras, a rescue mission of several soldiers from the Royal Irish Regiment who had been captured. He would also flew missions with the British SAS.

Ellis and his crew would stay in Sierra Leone until the defeat of the RUF in 2002.

Ellis’ reputation earned him a trip to Iraq working with the British during the invasion in 2003.

Later, he would also fly in Afghanistan “where, he reckons, he has had more close shaves than in his entire previous four-decades put together.”

At the age of 67, he is currently rumored to be flying against the Islamic State.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Russia absolutely hates these American weapons in Europe

The U.S. Navy’s Aegis Combat System is primarily a defensive weapon (Aegis was first used in English as a synonym to “shield”), but it can also be used to attack enemy land and sea targets. Many American allies have sought to have Aegis installed on their ships or land installations, a trend that Russia hates and often protests.


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The Aegis Ashore Missile Defense Test Complex fires during a flight test in December 2018.

(Missile Defense Agency Mark Wright)

Aegis is a bit of a legend in the military community, especially air defense. The core of the system is an extremely capable radar that can operate through a months or even years-long cruise at sea if properly maintained. This, of course, allows the operators to track threats from ballistic missiles to navy vessels to surfaced submarines. But, when properly wedded to missiles, the Aegis gets the ability to attack these targets on land, at sea, or in the air.

For America’s allies around the world, this can be a godsend. Japan has to constantly worry about the possibility of a Korean nuclear missile attack. So, a package deal for highly capable radar and compatible missiles is highly desirable. But when Japan bought two of them for use ashore, Russia lodged protests.

Russia is a regional power. While it doesn’t have the might or clout of the Soviet Union, it did inherit a lot of the Soviet treaties and nearly all of the Soviet nuclear weapons when that nation collapsed. And so it doesn’t want to see its own missiles made obsolete in the unlikely chance of war with Japan, especially when it can lodge protests under treaties like the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

But when it comes to Europe, Russia is even more sensitive. The Soviet Union used to hold sway over all of Eastern Europe, but American diplomatic expansion after the Soviet collapse has allowed the U.S. to find friends in places like Ukraine, Poland, Estonia, and more that border Russia or its enclave at Kaliningrad.

And for the past few years, an American and European agreement has seen Aegis systems deployed on land in places like Romania and Poland with more sites to come. But Aegis Ashore has one huge difference from the Aegis systems at sea: what missiles its launchers can house and fire.

While Aegis ships at sea can be equipped with everything from Tomahawk Land-Attack Missiles to the entire family of Navy Standard Missiles, Aegis Ashore was initially equipped with just the ballistic defense missile known as Standard Missile-3. But some American leaders have floated the idea of adding the missiles SM-2 and SM-6, missiles capable of killing enemy cruise missiles, jets, and helicopters.

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Aegis Ashore Site in Poland under construction in August 2019.

(U.S. Navy Lt. Amy Forsythe)

For Russia, this creates obvious problems. While it has sought to fight in the so-called “grey zone” just short of open warfare in the last few years, it has previously invaded neighbors like Georgia and would like the option of doing so again. A network of missiles that could shred its jets would make the situation worse.

But Russia’s diplomatic protests against Aegis are all aimed at the Tomahawk missile, a potential treaty-violating weapon that would truly terrify Russia if deployed near its borders in large numbers. Aegis at sea can control these missiles and rain them down on America’s enemies like it did against Syria.

When America fired Tomahawks in the recent Syria strikes, Russia declined to engage the missiles or American bombers with its own air defenses, possibly because it isn’t certain it can actually take down the Tomahawks in significant numbers. Though, again, Aegis Ashore is specifically configured to be incapable of firing Tomahawks.

Russia is so against Aegis Ashore installations that it deployed strategic bombers to Crimea earlier this year to threaten the installations and NATO.

But as long as Aegis systems are going in across the world, Russia is going to be protesting. The Tomahawk problem is just the part they can protest against. It’s likely that the real problem for Russia is its missile threat being negated and its bombers and fighters threatened.

But, you know, sucks to be you, Russia. Get on our level.

MIGHTY FIT

5 reasons these Yoga Joes are smarter than you

“No pain no gain.”

“Suck it up.”

“Pain is weakness leaving the body.”

These clichés are why your back hurts and your knees are jacked up. Sure, you need to push yourself during strength training if you want to get stronger and you have to mentally overcome the discomfort signals from your body during a long run, but there’s a difference between your edge and your injury. If you don’t know where that line is, then you risk an injury that could cause chronic pain for the rest of your life.

A lot of training injuries come from improper alignment, working out without warming up or cooling down, tight muscles, and weak joints.

Guess what will help: yoga. I DARE YOU TO TRY IT, YOU COWARDS.

Here are 5 reasons why:


[instagram https://www.instagram.com/p/B2FicRwjt4_/ expand=1]Yoga Joes on Instagram: “Holding a plank is better with friends. (and pretzel sticks) #yogajoes #yoga #yogajoe #yogaeverydamnday #heretokeeptheinnerpeace”

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Yoga can help prevent shin splints

Shin splints are a common ailment in military recruits. A U.S. Naval Academy study found that 97 percent of study participants suffered shin splints during training and on average each patient had to stop running for 8 to 10 days. They got off pretty easy — unless those 8 to 10 days were during a critical physical training time period like boot camp or deployment.

Guess what can contribute to shin splints: weak ankles, hips, or core muscles.

Guess what can help strengthen your muscles, stabilize your hips, and build your core: yoga.

[instagram https://www.instagram.com/p/BErp0kEzfJz/ expand=1]Yoga Joes on Instagram: “Drop and give me twenty dogs. DOWNWARD-FACING dogs. #yogajoes #yoga #downwarddog #soldieryoga #heretokeeptheinnerpeace”

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Yoga prevents lower back pain

Does your lower back hurt? TRICK QUESTION – I KNOW IT DOES. When you stand for long periods of time (say, at attention or on patrol), the increased pressure on your spine can making the lower back muscles tighten and spasm, leading to pain. Adding gear and a weapon kit and you’re only compounding the pressure.

A yoga practice includes postures and movements that alleviate the lower back and stretch the muscles on the back of your body, from your achilles tendons to your calves and hamstrings to your traps and shoulders.

Do Downward Facing Dog like a real man. Your body and your country will thank you for it.

[instagram https://www.instagram.com/p/BEeIVESTfBq/ expand=1]Yoga Joes on Instagram: “The yogic forcefield will disarm your enemies with shock and ohm. #yogajoes #yoga #shockandawe #heretokeeptheinnerpeace”

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Yoga helps manage anxiety

The military is a mind-f*** at a minimum. The United States has been operating in sustained conflict for eighteen years. The stress of combat, of losing friends, and of trying to find self-worth when your country sets you up on a hero’s pedestal is traumatic — and the symptoms of trauma are literally lethal.

A yoga practice gets you out of your mind and into your body. It helps you breathe deeply. It’s a discipline-oriented program that helps you actively combat the stress you’ve endured.

But don’t just take my word for it — ask Navy SEAL Mikal Vega.

Related: This SEAL will show you how to fight the enemy when it follows you home

[instagram https://www.instagram.com/p/BEeK2F8TfHD/ expand=1]Yoga Joes on Instagram: “Headstand tribunal. #yoga #yogajoes #military #soldieryoga #heretokeeptheinnerpeace”

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Yoga can help your neck pain

Don’t do a headstand. You’re not ready.

You’re strong enough to do a headstand, sure. Headstands are easy to do — but they’re very hard to do correctly. That’s the thing about the military mindset — we’re brainwashed trained to become the ultimate fighting weapon so we ignore pain and tackle too much physicality too fast.

Adding too much weight too fast at the gym stresses the back, neck, shoulders, and knees.

Standing at attention or carrying 100 pounds of gear strains the neck — it literally causes a condition known as “military neck.”

Doing 10-second stretches at the end of your gym session will not repair the damage you just did over an hour of weight-lifting. But a 30-minute daily yoga practice might.

[instagram https://www.instagram.com/p/BkdkihaFRvI/ expand=1]Yoga Joes on Instagram: “Awesome triangle pose photo by @airman.yogi – looks proportionally real! #skyyoga #usafr #yogajane #yogajoesseries2 #yogajoe #yogajoes…”

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Yoga can prevent knee pain

In 2009, the Army reported that on average soldiers were going to sick call twice a year for musculoskeletal injuries. According to Military.com, the knee joint is susceptible to injuries of the connecting tissues of ligaments and tendons, compression tissue of the cartilage, and muscular strength and flexibility imbalances. The most common injury is Patello-Femoral Pain Syndrom (PFPS) or pain along the Iliotibial Band (IT Band or ITB).

Two critical ways to prevent and treat that pain? Stretch and strengthen the hamstrings, calves, and lower back. You need to stretch daily for a sustained period of time. Guess which poses in yoga really target these areas of the body: Warrior Poses.

Ancient military cultures used to take care of their bodies because they didn’t have advanced weaponry to rely on for deadly force. With the advance of weapons, we’ve come to treat the human component of war as disposable.

Don’t treat your body like it’s disposable. Take care of it. Take care of your joints. Take care of your spine. Take care of your mind.

Otherwise you’ll suffer. That’s the plain truth.

MIGHTY CULTURE

7 pranks that can only be done in the military

The military exists by its own rules, both the stated ones like the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and the cultural ones like “First sergeants have to use knife hands and the word ‘behoove’ as often as possible.” Some of these rules are frustrating, bone-grinding distractions. But some of them create openings for a little fun:


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“We gotta run, man. Otherwise, these artillery simulators may start to bracket us.”

(U.S. Army Staff Sgt. David Overson)

Reacting to outgoing fire in front of the new guy

For those who didn’t spend much time on forward operating bases or similar, there are two kinds of artillery, mortar, rocket, etc. fire. There is incoming fire, where the enemy is trying to kill you, or outgoing, where your guns are trying to kill the enemy.

After just a few days of casual listening, an attentive person can get a feeling for what outgoing sounds like, and they know not to jump or dive when the boom is just the guns firing. But, savvy customers can then scare the new guys by reacting like an attack is in progress whenever a boom goes off.

Hear a boom? Dive to the ground, into a bunker, or behind a barrier. (Bonus points if you can get your hands on artillery simulators and make your own incoming artillery fire.)

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Do not drop classified poops into this toilet. This is not a classified medium.

Put classification stickers on someone’s device

The military has to label data storage and processing systems with stickers that say what level of classification it is. These stickers should only be placed appropriately on government equipment (usually electronics like computers and printers). But, with the right communications security guy to work with, you can stick those adhesive squares on anything, like, say, a buddy’s phone.

Then, the communications security guy can show up before the sticker is taken off and take possession of the phone, ordering that it must go through the full process of being turned from government property to civilian possession. But uh, a little warning here: don’t use the red stickers, and don’t do this near comms guys who aren’t in on the joke. Otherwise, that phone really might become government property.

Light assault right before a drill sergeant or officer enters

When certain noncommissioned officers or officers enter a room, personnel inside are required to call the room to “attention” or “at ease.” (This is usually the commander or the senior NCO of a unit, but is also often done in training units with cadre.)

So, if you really want to mess with a buddy and see one of those peeps coming, hurt ’em just a little right before the superior person enters. In my training time, this was often a “ball tap,” but be sure your buddy is cool with games like that before you flick their crotch. Otherwise, a quick kidney jab or Charlie horse will do the trick without generating a SHARP complaint.

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“You don’t understand, man, the petty officer is going to look INSIDE your faucet.”

(U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kelly M. Agee)

Making up imminent inspections (and hiding stuff they need)

Speaking of inspections, at the barracks level you can also just make up inspections and then hide things that they’ll need. If you get new leadership, this gets especially fun. The platoon sergeant may hold off on inspections to bond with the team, but you can definitely convince some of the Joes that he’s coming to the barracks. In an hour. And everything should be perfect.

And, whoops, looks like the floor wax has gone missing. Sure Joe can figure out something in an hour. Maybe use the lube from your jerk stash.

Sealing off the shack they sleep in

Speaking of jerk stashes, there’s a tactic on deployment to help troops sleep and, ya know, do other things, by hanging sheets, blankets, or towels from their bunks for a little privacy and some shade if the lights in the barracks are kept on.

But with a couple of strips of tape, that Jack Shack can become a very confusing prison. Wait for them to pass out, preferably after a few cans of O’Doul’s and bottles of water. Then, quietly and carefully, stretch tape along the spots where sheets and towels meet, turning them into seams instead of openings. Then videotape them trying to get out.

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Imagine that it’s your job to inventory all this property. Now imagine that some jerk has scrambled the placement of each item so you don’t know where any individual item is. But now imagine you’re the jerk. You could be that jerk!

(U.S. Army Sgt. Jason Stewart)

Swapping identical gear before property inventories

Every month, some officer gets tasked with inventorying property. At a minimum, they’re walking through the headquarters trying to ensure that 10 percent or more of the unit’s property is there, serial number and all.

And that’s what gives the prankster an opening for chaos. It’s not enough for the officer to see that the operations shop has eight monitors. The operations shop has to prove that it has eight specific monitors, by serial number. So, if you’re comfortable throwing a wrench in the works, start shifting monitors around.

Shifting within an office will confuse the people in that shop and get some chuckles, but shifting otherwise identical gear between shops is where it gets fun. As the officer and members of the shop run around confused, finding none of the serial numbers where they’re supposed to be, you can use the time to reflect on how service in the military is often a Kafka-esque nightmare.

Hide lost ID cards or weapons

This one’s pretty common. ID cards and personal weapons are supposed to never leave a soldier’s possession unless they’re being handed over for a specific reason like giving up the ID card for a urinalysis or turning in a weapon to the armorer.

So, when you find one that was left behind, there are a few options of what to do next. You could turn everything in to a responsible adult. Or, you could hide the weapons and freeze the ID card in a block of ice. You can also wrap the contraband in concertina wire, create a treasure hunt that ends with the location of the ID or weapon, or even “pass it up the chain.”

Passing it up the chain is where everyone gives the card or weapon to someone who outranks them, even slightly outranking like someone who made sergeant the month before the previous holder. Then, when the sergeant goes looking for the missing item, every person makes them do 10-50 pushups before saying, “I gave it to so-and-so.” Done right, this can guarantee the soldier will never lose the item again and will definitely pass their next PT test.

MIGHTY HISTORY

One of the most recent soldiers killed in Afghanistan was 5 when the war started

Army Spc. Gabriel D. Conde’s short life spanned the history of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan since Sept. 11, 2001, from the euphoria over the fleeting early successes to the current doubts about the new strategy to break what U.S. commanders routinely call a “stalemate.”

When Conde was six years old, then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said the Taliban had been defeated and the Afghan people were now free “to create a better future.”


He was seven years old when then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said, “We’re at a point where we clearly have moved from major combat activity to a period of stability and stabilization and reconstruction activities.”

When Conde was 12, then-President George W. Bush was at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan to declare that “the Taliban is gone from power and it’s not coming back.”

In 2009, when Conde was 13, then-President Barack Obama said he would “make the fight against al-Qaida and the Taliban the top priority that it should be. This is a war that we have to win.”

He sent 30,000 more U.S. troops into Afghanistan, with a timeline for their withdrawal.

Obama wanted the withdrawal to be complete by the time he left office, but he left behind about 8,500 U.S. troops to deal with a resurgent Taliban and a new enemy — an offshoot of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria called Islamic State-Khorasan Province, or IS-K.

August 2017, when Conde was 21, President Donald Trump announced a new strategy for Afghanistan that discarded “nation building” in favor of a plan to drive the Taliban into peace talks and a negotiated settlement.

Trump acknowledged that his initial impulse was to pull U.S. troops out completely, but he agreed to boost troop levels from 8,500 to about 14,000.

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President Donald Trump

The presence of U.S. troops would now be conditions-based and not subject to artificial timelines. “We’re going to finish what we have to finish. What nobody else has been able to finish, we’re going to be able to do it,” Trump said.

Late April, 2018, the Taliban announced the start of its 16th annual spring offensive.

On May 1, 2018, when Conde was 22, he was killed by small-arms fire in the Tagab District of Kapisa province northeast of Kabul. A second U.S. soldier was wounded.

Conde, of Loveland, Colorado, served with the 3rd Battalion, 509th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), of 25th Infantry Division, based at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska. His unit was expected to return to Alaska at the end of May 2018.

Also on May 1, 2018, the Trump administration took official note of the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan by granting political asylum to former Capt. Niloofar Rahmani, the first female fixed-wing pilot in the Afghan Air Force, who had been training in the U.S.

Through her lawyer, she had successfully argued to immigration authorities that the chaos in Afghanistan, and death threats against her and her family, made it impossible for her to return.

On the same day that Rahmani won asylum and Conde was killed, the latest in a wave of suicide bombings and terror attacks devastated the Shash Darak district of central Kabul in what Afghans call the “Green Zone.”

Two suicide bombers had slipped past the estimated 14 checkpoints surrounding the district, Afghanistan’s TOLOnews reported.

The first set off a blast and the second, reportedly disguised as a cameraman, joined a pack of reporters and photographers rushing to the scene and triggered a second explosion.

At least 30 people, including nine journalists, were killed. A 10th journalist was killed on the same day in an incident in Khost province. (Short biographies of the 10 journalists can be seen here.)

Mattis put on spot over attacks

In response to May 1, 2018’s events, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Army Gen. John Nicholson, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, echoed what other commanders and Pentagon officials have said so many times before during America’s longest war.

They mourned the loss of a valorous soldier and the victims of the bombings. They said the strategy of increased airpower and the buildup of Afghan special forces is showing progress. They pledged to stay the course.

At a session with Pentagon reporters May 1, 2018, Mattis said the Taliban are “on their back foot.”

The recent terror attacks show that they are desperate, he said.

“We anticipated they would do their best” to disrupt upcoming elections with a wave of bombings aimed at discouraging the Afghan people from voting, Mattis said.

“The Taliban realize the danger of the people being allowed to vote,” he added. “Their goal is to destabilize the elected government. This is the normal stuff by people who can’t win at the ballot box. They turn to bombs.”

At a welcoming ceremony on May 2, 2018, for the visiting Macedonian defense minister, Mattis was challenged on how he could point to progress amid the wave of bombings and a recent series of watchdog reports on widespread and continuing corruption in Afghanistan.

Who is Michael Gregory?
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis

“The message from this building has consistently been that the situation is turning around, that things are improving there,” Mattis was told. “How do you reconcile this difference?”

“First, I don’t know that that’s been the message from this building. I would not subscribe to that,” Mattis said. “We said last August NATO is going to hold the line. We knew there would be tough fighting going forward.

“The murder of journalists and other innocent people is a great testimony to what it is we stand for and more importantly what we stand against,” he added.

“The Afghan military is being made more capable. You’ll notice that more of the forces are special forces, advised and assisted, accompanied by NATO mentors. And these are the most effective forces,” Mattis said.

“We anticipated and are doing our best and have been successful at blocking many of these attacks on innocent people but, unfortunately, once in a while they get through because any terrorist organization that realizes it can’t win by ballots and turns to bombs — this is simply what they do. They murder innocent people,” he said.

For the long run, “We’ll stand by the Afghan people, we’ll stand by the Afghan government and the NATO mission will continue as we drive them to a political settlement,” Mattis said.

Nicholson’s two-year plan to end the ‘Forever War’

“Actions like this only strengthen our steadfast commitment to the people of Afghanistan,” Nicholson, who doubles as commander of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, said after the bombings May 1, 2018, and the death of Conde.

“We offer our sincere condolences to the families of those killed and wounded, and we stand with our Afghan partners in defeating those who would threaten the people of this country, whose cries for peace are being ignored,” he said.

Like many of his troops, the 60-year-old Nicholson, a West Point graduate, has served multiple tours in Afghanistan. When he was confirmed by the Senate in March 2016 to succeed Army Gen. John Campbell as commander, he would go back to Afghanistan for the sixth time.

Since 9/11, “the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan has largely defined my service” in 36 years in uniform, he told the Senate.

Nicholson is the son of Army Brig. Gen. John W. Nicholson, also a West Point graduate, and is distantly related the legendary British Brig. Gen. John Nicholson (1821-1857), who fought in the First Anglo-Afghan War.

Early on in his command, Nicholson was at the forefront on the military advisers who convinced Obama to approve the expansion of the air campaign against the Taliban and IS-K. In February 2017, he began arguing for more troops to partner with the Afghan National Defense Security Forces.

Mattis later signed off on what was essentially Nicholson’s plan. And Trump, in coordination with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, authorized it in an address to the nation in August 2017.

Who is Michael Gregory?
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and U.S. Army Gen. John Nicholson.
(DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Brigitte N. Brantley)

In a video conference from Kabul to the Pentagon in November 2017, Nicholson said it would take about two years to bring 80 percent of Afghanistan under government control and drive the Taliban into peace talks.

“Why 80 percent? Because we think that gives them [the Afghans] a critical mass where they control 80. The Taliban are driven to less than 10 percent of the population; maybe the rest is contested,” Nicholson said.

“And this, we believe, is the critical mass necessary to drive the enemy to irrelevance, meaning they’re living in these remote, outlying areas, or they reconcile — or they die, of course, is the third choice,” he said.

Nicholson’s remarks contrasted with a simultaneous report from the Pentagon’s Inspector General’s office.

In his foreword to the IG’s quarterly report, Acting IG Glenn Fine said, “During the quarter, Taliban insurgents continued to attack Afghan forces and fight for control of districts, and ISIS-K terrorists launched high-profile attacks across the country.”

Fine added, “Internal political tensions increased in Afghanistan, and corruption remained a key challenge to governance despite positive steps by Afghanistan’s Anti-Corruption Justice Center.”

Fine also said that maintaining the accuracy of future IG reports made available to the public is becoming more difficult, since key statistical measures are now being classified.

“When producing this report, we were notified that information that was previously publicly released regarding attrition, casualties, readiness, and personnel strength of Afghan forces that we had included in prior Lead IG reports was now classified,” Fine said. “In addition, we were advised that ratings of Afghan government capabilities were now classified.”

The strategy — what strategy?

In announcing the strategy for Afghanistan in August 2017, Trump made clear that he was doing so with grave misgivings.

“Someday, after an effective military effort, perhaps it will be possible to have a political settlement that includes elements of the Taliban in Afghanistan. But nobody knows if or when that will ever happen,” he said.

The skeptics are many. “Why would anybody call this a strategy? We declared we wanted to win, but we didn’t change anything fundamentally that we’re doing,” retired Army Lt. Col. Jason Dempsey, who served two tours in Afghanistan, told Military.com.

The focus now, as it has been for years, is on building up the Afghan military into a more effective force capable of holding and administering territory retaken from the Taliban, he said, “but that army assumes the existence of a functioning government.”

“We are creating a military that assumes the existence of a state that does not exist,” said Dempsey, an adjunct senior fellow of the Military, Veterans and Society Program at the Center for a New American Security.

“What it boils down to is that we can’t decide what we want,” Dempsey said. “The only consensus we have on Afghanistan is that we don’t want to lose.”

In her analysis of the Trump administration’s strategy, Brookings Institution scholar Vanda Felbab-Brown wrote that the president basically had three options — “full military withdrawal, limited counterterrorism engagement, and staying in the country with slightly increased military deployments and intense political engagement.”

“The option the Trump administration chose — staying in Afghanistan with a somewhat enlarged military capacity — is the least bad option,” Felbab-Brown said.

“Thus, the Trump administration’s announced approach to Afghanistan is not a strategy for victory,” she said.

“Staying on militarily buys the United States hope that eventually the Taliban may make enough mistakes to seriously undermine its power,” she said. “However, that is unlikely unless Washington starts explicitly insisting on better governance and political processes in the Afghan government.”

Watchdog reports contrast with claims of progress

The goal of better governance is dependent on an Afghan military as the enabler, but the office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said May 2, 2018, that the number of Afghan soldiers and police has declined sharply in the past year.

In a report, SIGAR said that the combined strength of the military and police dropped nearly 11 percent over the past year, from about 331,700 in January 2017 to about 296,400 this January, well below the total authorized strength of 334,000.

“Building up the Afghan forces is a top priority for the U.S. and our international allies, so it is worrisome to see Afghan force strength decreasing,” John Sopko, the head of SIGAR, told reporters.

At the end of January 2018, insurgents controlled or had influence over 14 percent of the Afghanistan’s 407 districts, SIGAR said, while the Afghan government controlled or influenced 56 percent. The remaining districts were contested, SIGAR said.

The report also noted the significant increase in the air campaign: “The total of 1,186 munitions dropped in the first quarter of 2018 is the highest number recorded for this period since reporting began in 2013, and is over two and a half times the amount dropped in the first quarter of 2017.”

In addition, the report indicated that Nicholson’s plan to bomb drug production centers and have the Afghan military interdict shipments in an effort to cut off Taliban funding was having little effect.

“From 2008 through March 20, 2018, over 3,520 interdiction operations resulted in the seizure of 463,342 kilograms of opium. But the sum of these seizures over nearly a decade would account for less than 0.05% of the opium produced in Afghanistan in 2017 alone,” SIGAR said.

Since 9/11, the U.S. has invested more than $850 billion in the war and efforts to bolster the Afghan government, but a recent drumbeat of reports from SIGAR and the Pentagon Inspector General’s office have highlighted widespread and continuing corruption.

At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in April 2018, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, called on Army Secretary Mark Esper to justify a $50 million contract that SIGAR charged was used to buy luxury cars such as Alfa Romeos and Bentleys for Afghan officials and pay for $400,000 salaries for no-show jobs.

“Please tell me that a senator 20 years from now is not going to be sitting here and going, ‘How in the world are taxpayers paying for Alfa Romeos and Bentleys?’ ” McCaskill said.

‘We’ve kind of been going about it wrong’

As of March 2018, there were roughly 14,000 U.S. military personnel serving in Afghanistan as part of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, according to U.S. officials.

Of the 14,000, about 7,800 of these troops were assigned to NATO’s Resolute Support mission to train, advise and assist Afghan security forces.

The 7,800 number reflects an increase of 400 personnel from the deployment of the Army’s first Security Force Assistance Brigade, or SFAB, to Afghanistan.

In February 2018, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats issued a report on what those troops can be expected to accomplish this year that was at odds with the upbeat assessments of Mattis and Nicholson.

Who is Michael Gregory?
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats

“The overall situation in Afghanistan probably will deteriorate modestly this year in the face of persistent political instability, sustained attacks by the Taliban-led insurgency” and the “unsteady” performance of the Afghan military performance, the DNI’s report said.

Afghan troops “probably will maintain control of most major population centers with coalition force support, but the intensity and geographic scope of Taliban activities will put those centers under continued strain,” the report said.

Mattis and Nicholson have singled out the SFAB as a key component in reforming and refining the operations of the Afghan security forces.

The SFAB concept takes specially selected non-commissioned and commissioned officers, preferably with experience in Afghanistan, and assigns them the train, advise and assist role in place of conventional Brigade Combat Team units.

Before the deployment, Army 1st Sgt. Shaun Morgan, a company senior enlisted leader with the SFAB, told Stars & Stripes that there were no illusions about the difficulty of the job ahead.

“So, we’ve been kind of going about it wrong for a while, I think,” Morgan said. “Maybe this is an opportunity to get on the right foot toward getting it right.”

Previously in Afghanistan, “we couldn’t get it through our heads that we weren’t the fighters,” Morgan told Stripes in a reference to the role of U.S. troops as partners and advisers to the Afghans who were to take the lead in combat.

“I think the bosses decided maybe this is the right shot, and it just makes sense to me,” Morgan said.

The Afghans also were under no illusions on the continuing threats posed by the Taliban and other insurgents, and the risks they take to go about their daily lives.

Shah Marai Faizi, the chief photographer for Agence France-Presse in the Kabul bureau, was among the nine journalists killed in May 1, 2018’s suicide bombings in Kabul. He was the father of six, including a newborn daughter.

In 2017, Shah Marai wrote an essay titled “When Hope Is Gone” that was read in part on the Democracy Now cable program.

“Life seems to be even more difficult than under the Taliban because of the insecurity,” he wrote. “I don’t dare to take my children for a walk. I have five, and they spend their time cooped up inside the house. I have never felt life to have so little prospects, and I don’t see a way out.”

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

6 terms you won’t believe have military origins

There’s a long history of military slang, probably dating all the way back to when the first people hit each other with sticks and rocks. While military slang can be fun, it’s even more fun when it seeps into the common vernacular of everyday people. The only problem is when a word or phrase is too good, its origin gets lost in time, and people forget where it came from – but no longer.

Here are just a few words and phrases that came from military tradition.

1. “Best man”

In the days of yore, it was quite possible that a betrothed man might lose his wife even before their wedding to any number of possible hazards – rival bands, enemy leaders, or even random highwaymen. So while he was in the middle of the ceremony, he would enlist his best swordsman to cover his back while his attention was focused elsewhere or hold off an attacking party while the new couple made their getaway.

2. “Boondocks”

These days, to be way out in the boonies means you’re out in the middle of nowhere, somewhere in the sticks. When the term was coined, it meant that too, only the actual boondocks are in the Philippines. In Tagalog, “bundok” literally translates to “mountains” so when Filipino fighters told American troops they were headed to the bundoks during the 1898 Spanish-American War and the subsequent Philippine-American War, it meant they were headed to the islands’ inner wilderness.

3. “Cowboys”

Who is Michael Gregory?
On their way to the first Cowboys-Patriots Super Bowl. Public domain.
 

Sorry, but the term “cowboy” used to define the ranchers and vaqueros of the Old West was never actually used for those guys at the time. They were usually just called cow herders or cowhands. The term “cowboy” goes well past the 19th Century. The original cowboys were American colonists loyal to the British Crown during the American Revolution. They would band together in guerrilla units and lure other units of rebel farmers into ambushes using cowbells to coax them in. After the war, it was used to describe criminals from Texas who made raids into Mexico.

4. “Face the music”

In the European military tradition (from which the U.S. tradition is derived), any disgraced officer who was summarily kicked out of his unit was done so in the most demeaning manner possible. As the regiment’s drummer played on, the officer would have his sword broken, his buttons removed, and his charges read to the entire room. The officer was them marched across the parade ground to the tune of the “Rogue’s March” toward the regimental band.

5. “Last ditch effort”

Who is Michael Gregory?
Public domain

In the kind of fighting that took place in the 16th and 17 Century, troops didn’t just maneuver around the battlefields in the open, in tight formations, wearing bright colors. I mean, they did that, but they also constructed a series of earthwork redoubts and other protective places to hold. Among these was a series of trenches they could fall back to if the stuff started hitting the fan – and they would dig many in case things went really wrong. But everyone knew by the time you got to your last one, you had to do something amazing, or everyone was likely to die in that last ditch.

6. “The whole nine yards”

Who is Michael Gregory?
Loading up a P-51 Mustang.

This term appeared in the 1950s, after the end of World War II – and it has nothing to do with football or anything else where yardage is a factor. It refers to the length of the ammunition belts designed for American and British fighter planes during the war, 27 feet (or nine yards). When flying a particularly tough mission or otherwise using a lot of ammo, a pilot might have been said to use “the whole nine yards.”

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