Ask any kindergartener what Santa looks like, and they’ll probably tell you he has a red suit, a big, round belly and a long, white beard. The classic Christmas song “Must Be Santa,” written in 1960 by Mitch Miller, describes him in even greater detail, with a cap on his head and a cherry nose. That’s how most of us picture Santa Claus, and it’s no wonder – the American image of Santa has remained virtually unchanged for over 100 years.
Glance back through time, and a different picture of Santa appears.
In the 1800s and the centuries preceding it, Santa looked a lot more like a traditional saint. That is how the tradition of Santa started, after all. As the story goes, a poor man had three daughters. With nothing to offer as a dowry, his daughters had no hope of getting married. A kind bishop named Nicholas took pity on the family, dropping bags of gold down the chimney to provide a dowry for each daughter. For this good deed along with many others, Nicholas was dubbed the saint of children. (He was also the saint of sailors, but that’s another story.)
While I’m quite thankful that I don’t have to rely on an old man to throw gold into my fireplace to secure my future, St. Nicholas was the official inspiration behind modern-day Santa. As the popularity of St. Nicholas waned, his name evolved. First, he became Father Christmas in England, then the Christkind in Austria and Germany, then Kris Kringle. Finally, Dutch settlers invented the name “Sinterklaas,” aka Santa. Despite the new name, however, 1800s Santa maintained his saintly image. So what changed?
Political satire and the Civil War reinvented Santa.
Enter political cartoonist Thomas Nast. Known by many as the father of the American political cartoon, Nast began as a gifted artist from humble beginnings. At the age of 15, he began working as a staff artist for Frank Leslie’s Illustrated News, and a few years later for the New York Illustrated News. Finally, he moved on to create cartoons for Harper’s Weekly. At this point, it was 1862 and the Civil War had begun.
In Nast’s cartoons, he didn’t hesitate to make his political opinions known. He made his Union loyalties quite clear, and on January 3rd, 1863, Santa Claus helped send his message home. In a particularly festive piece of propaganda, Nast depicted Santa Claus decked out in stars and stripes handing out gifts to Union soldiers. If you look closely, you can see Union Santa clutching a puppet resembling the Confederate president, Jefferson Davis, with a rope around its neck. In a Christmas Eve version, Nast drew a jolly Santa Claus climbing down the chimney to deliver presents, while a woman in the next frame prays for her husband’s safe return.
With these two simple illustrations, Nast cemented Santa as a sentimental Union symbol and reinvented St. Nick’s wardrobe in one go. While Nast refrained from making too many additional Santa-themed political statements, his jovial Father Christmas became an annual tradition. Although he skipped 1864, he published a new Santa illustration every holiday season for the rest of his years on staff at Harper’s. From then on, the tall, stately St. Nicholas was replaced with the stout, jolly old elf that we know and love today.
The commandant of the Marine Corps on Tuesday released a powerful video message aimed at those in the Corps who are defending or engaged in the sharing of nude photos of their colleagues that has cast a black mark on the military service.
The video is in response to a scandal involving a private Facebook group called Marines United, where many of its nearly 30,000 members were found to be passing around nude photos of female Marines without their consent, or photos stolen from their colleagues’ Instagram accounts. Comments on the photos often denigrated their service or encouraged sexual assault, an explosive investigation by Thomas Brennan revealed.
The Corps came under fire after the report, especially because it had known about the problem — an article about a similar Facebook group was published more than two years ago.
“We are all teammates. Brothers and sisters. Marines,” Neller said. “We are seen by our fellow citizens as men and women of honor and virtue, possessing an unbreakable commitment to each other and to the nation.”
Neller, who has to be careful to not exercise unlawful command influence over what is an ongoing investigation, said that “it appears” some Marines had forgotten some of these truths by acting “unprofessionally” online.
“So let me cut to the chase,” he said. “When I hear allegations of Marines denigrating their fellow Marines, I don’t think such behavior is that of true warriors or warfighters.”
The Corps’ top general told victims of abuse to report it to their units or chaplains, and he further instructed his enlisted and officer leaders to support victims in coming forward.
“There is no time off for Marines. We are all in, 24/7, and if that commitment to your excellence interferes with your ‘me time,’ or if you can’t or are unwilling to commit to contributing 100 percent to our Corps’ warfighting ability by being a good teammate and improving cohesion and trust, then I have to ask you: Do you really want to be a Marine?” Neller said.
As the military services moved to admit women into previously closed special operations and ground combat jobs in 2016, Army officials were tasked with looking for ways to get the best performance out of female troops in order to minimize injury and boost their opportunities to succeed.
And they discovered one unlikely culprit that was holding some women back: chronic iron deficiency.
While it’s well known that women tend to be more iron-deficient than men for various reasons, the scope of the problem, and its impact on overall performance, was eyebrow-raising.
About a quarter of the women who enter the Army training pipeline have an iron deficiency, said Scott McConnell, who discussed Army Training and Doctrine Command’s efforts to improve training at the quarterly meeting of the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services on Wednesday. After several weeks of training, that figure can double, he said.
“That impacts your body’s ability to carry oxygen to the vital organs. And so iron deficiency can actually be reflected in poor aerobic fitness levels and physical performance,” McConnell said.
In February 2016, the Army announced it would begin providing iron-rich multivitamins to female soldiers. And, McConnell said, the move has made a difference.
“The statistic we have is that the iron supplements can actually shave two minutes off the two-mile run time,” he said.
As services address the challenge of preparing female troops to meet stringent physical standards designed for men, they’re gaining new insights about the way nutrition affects performance – insights that have the potential to benefit the total force.
Since the services began opening previously closed jobs last year in response to a mandate from then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter, it has become clear that it’s completely possible for women to meet minimum infantry requirements.
To date, 14 female Army officers, 16 noncommissioned officers, and 21 junior enlisted soldiers have been assigned to infantry positions in the active component and Reserve, according to Army data presented Wednesday.
On the Marine Corps side, nine officers and 63 enlisted women have graduated military occupational specialty school for previously closed fields, including one in the rifleman MOS.
At the same time, it’s evident that women face greater physical hurdles just because they’re built differently than men and have different average capability ranges.
And that’s where tools such as nutrition, supplements and smart training can help.
While the Corps has not announced a specific new supplement regimen, the service is working to overhaul its entire approach to fitness and health with the new Force Fitness Division activated this year. Part of what the division will do, officials have said, is review meal options in chow halls with an eye to making offerings healthier and more conducive to peak performance.
Brian McGuire, the Corps’ deputy force fitness branch head, told DACOWITS members Wednesday that the service is also looking to offer “post-exercise nutritional supplementation” to boost Marines’ performance and recovery. Officials are also setting up some young officers at The Basic School with wearable devices that measure biometrics and performance and may serve as a warning measure against heat sickness and other injuries.
And while standards to enter various ground combat jobs are the same whether you’re male or female, the Marine Corps is making some changes to the way it trains in order to avoid injury while maximizing performance.
“We have reduced running mileage,” McGuire said. “Because lather, rinse, repeat shows us that shorter, harder, faster has equal or greater benefit than longer, slower, less intense.”
On the Army side, McConnell said other aids, such as the calcium-rich performance nutrition bar introduced as a bedtime supplement for recruits earlier this year, are also proving useful.
“We have found that when soldiers have food in their stomach, they are actually less susceptible to heat injuries,” he said. “That’s actually one of the other aspects of this nutrition bar, and who would have thought, in the 21st century, that we’re kicking over that rock and understanding something that we did not understand.”
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is in talks with the Trump administration to keep American troops in Iraq after the fight against the Islamic State group in the country is concluded, according to a U.S. official and an official from the Iraqi government.
Both officials underlined that the discussions are ongoing and that nothing is finalized. But the talks point to a consensus by both governments that, in contrast to the U.S. withdrawal in 2011, a longer-term presence of American troops in Iraq is needed to ensure that an insurgency does not bubble up again once the militants are driven out.
“There is a general understanding on both sides that it would be in the long-term interests of each to have that continued presence. So as for agreement, yes, we both understand it would be mutually beneficial. That we agree on,” the U.S. official said.
Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
The talks involve U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and Iraqi officials over “what the long-term U.S. presence would look like,” the American official said, adding that discussions were in early stages and “nothing has been finalized.”
U.S. forces in Iraq would be stationed inside existing Iraqi bases in at least five locations in the Mosul area and along Iraq’s border with Syria, the Iraqi government official said. They would continue to be designated as advisers to dodge the need for parliamentary approval for their presence, he said.
He said al-Abadi is looking to install a “modest” Iraqi military presence in Mosul after the fight against the Islamic State group is concluded along with a small number of U.S. forces. The forces would help control security in the city and oversee the transition to a political administration of Mosul, he said.
The U.S. official emphasized that there were no discussions of creating independent American bases in Iraq, as such a move would require thousands more personnel. He said the troops levels would be “several thousand … similar to what we have now, maybe a little more.”
Currently, the Pentagon has close to 7,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, many not publicly acknowledged because they are on temporary duty or under specific personnel rules. The forces include troops training Iraqi forces, coordinating airstrikes and ground operations, and special forces operating on the front lines.
The news comes as Iraqi forces are struggling to push IS fighters out of a cluster of neighborhoods in western Mosul that mark the last patch of significant urban terrain the group holds in Iraq, nearly three years after the militants overran nearly a third of the country.
Such an agreement would underscore how the fight against IS has drawn the U.S. into a deepening role in Iraq.
At the height of the surge of U.S. forces in 2007 to combat sectarian violence that nearly tore Iraq apart, there were about 170,000 American troops in the country. The numbers were wound down eventually to 40,000 before the complete withdrawal in 2011.
The U.S. intervention against the Islamic State group, launched in 2014, was originally cast as an operation that would largely be fought from the skies with a minimal footprint on Iraqi soil. Nevertheless, that footprint has since grown given Iraqi forces’ need for support.
During a visit to Iraq in February, Mattis and Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, described an enduring partnership between the U.S. and Iraq.
“I imagine we’ll be in this fight for a while and we’ll stand by each other,” Mattis said.
Townsend, who was standing by Mattis, declined to say how long the United States will stay in Iraq.
But, he said, “I don’t anticipate that we’ll be asked to leave by the government of Iraq immediately after Mosul.” He added, “I think that the government of Iraq realizes their very complex fight, and they’re going to need the assistance of the coalition even beyond Mosul.”
The talks over a longer-term U.S. presence has greatly concerned Iran, which in turn is increasing support to some of Iraq’s Shiite militia forces, said Jafar al-Husseini, a representative from Kataib Hezbollah, an Iraqi Shiite militia group with close ties to Iran.
“Iraq’s security forces and the Popular Mobilization Forces (mostly Shiite militia groups) have the ability to protect ( Iraq’s) internal roads and borders, so why is al-Abadi using American security partners?” al-Hussein asked.
Al-Abadi has long struggled to balance Iraq’s dependence on both the U.S. and Iran. Both countries are key security and economic partners for Iraq, yet are often at odds with each other when it comes to regional politics and security in the greater Middle East.
Over the nearly three-year-long fight against IS, Iraqi forces closely backed by the U.S.-led coalition have retaken some 65 percent of the territory the extremists once held in the country, according to the U.S.-led coalition. But Iraq’s military is still in the process of rebuilding and reorganizing after it was largely gutted by widespread corruption under former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Klapper reported from Washington. Associated Press Writer Lolita C. Baldor in Washington contributed to this report.
It was less than two years ago — December 2015 — that the last barriers barring women from certain combat positions finally fell. Now, the new play “Bullet Catchers” envisions a not-so-distant future where women and men officially serve together in the same infantry unit.
“It’s been a 70-year journey for women to fully integrate into all branches, units, and occupations of the military,” said Lory Manning, who served in the Navy for 25 years, starting in the late 1960s.
For Manning, the armed forces offered a different path at a time where options were limited for women. “I did not want to be a schoolteacher and I wanted out of New Jersey,” she recalled by phone. “The Navy seemed like a good opportunity – for travel especially.”
She explained that it has been a piecemeal process to lift the restrictions. For example, in 1992 women were allowed into combat aviation, said Manning, a fellow at the Service Women’s Action Network, known as SWAN. According to the organization’s website, there are “nearly 2.5 million service women in the US.”
The nature of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the sheer number of women deployed during those two conflicts means women (and men) who were not in combat roles saw combat, she said.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, over “300,000 women have deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq,” according to a SWAN report dated Feb. 1, 2017. More than 1,000 women were wounded, and 166 were killed during combat operations, the report noted.
“Now, even though they fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, they are officially allowed to fight,” Manning said.
Sandra W. Lee, who plays two roles in “Bullet Catchers,” saw combat in Iraq although she was assigned to civil affairs, she told Chelsea Now in a phone interview. Lee joined the army in response to 9/11, she said, and served from 2002 to 2010.
Civil affairs focuses broadly on rebuilding a country’s infrastructure, and in Iraq, Lee explained she worked on rebuilding schools. Her unit did train in combat, and Lee said she went along with another division as they conducted security sweeps and raids, and looked for weapons caches.
“We would fill in a lot,” she recalled. “We did a lot of missions that were not part of our job description. But being a solider, that is in the job description.”
Lee, who was in Iraq from 2003 to 2004, said that while driving in the country, her convoy was hit four different times by roadside bombs. She said she has a brain injury that stems from those incidents. She was also diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, known as PSTD. Lee said she was raped by another solider during her deployment.
Her experiences inform how she plays Até, which in the play is the goddess of war and a warrior. Being a woman in the military, Lee explained, there is a perception that females are not good enough and “you have to prove yourself in order to join their ranks.”
Due to her brain injury, Lee was somewhat apprehensive about contributing to the writing of the play but said she put her voice into Até, whose character was a “shell” when she joined the production last December.
“The nice thing about this process it was a group effort,” she said.
Indeed, the co-creators of “Bullet Catchers,” Maggie Moore and Julia Sears, sought input from the actors for the play, which was a collaborative endeavor. “It felt like a writer’s room for a lot of the process,” Sears, who is also the play’s director, said by phone.
The actors were given writing assignments, Sears said, such as writing the fairytale version of their character’s arc in the play, or being challenged to write five minutes of theater within a half hour. “They have so much ownership over what they’re making,” Sears said.
Moore and Sears were the final editors but the actors had a part in shaping their characters, like Lee with Até. Moore, who is also the play’s associate director, said the actors found their voices as writers. While Moore and Sears were honored to be the leaders, she said, the play belongs to the collective. “We all jumped off the cliff together,” Moore said by phone.
Neither Moore nor Sears served in the military. The genesis of the project stems from when Moore was working at the Washington, DC-based Truman National Security Project in early 2015, she explained. Sears and Moore have been friends since college, and followed the news of whether the last restrictions on combat positions would be lifted. Sears thought the story of women fighting for recognition in combat would be an excellent story, Moore said.
Sears and Moore interviewed 35 veterans and current service members – an about even mix of women and men. The veterans had fought in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, Sears said. The interview process took about three months, Sears said, with Moore and her then listening and transcribing the interviews. From there, they started to narrow down stories and characters, Sears said.
A bullet catcher is “army slang for an infantryman,” according to the play’s website, and Moore said, “It’s kind of a badge of honor to be a bullet catcher.”
Some women are going through infantry training right now, she said, and “we’re seeing the movement towards the world we built in the play becoming a reality.”
“Bullet Catchers” follows the journey of “the first official mixed gender infantry unit in the US Army, from training to deployment,” according to the play’s website. Moore said it was important to highlight a diversity of experience and so the play’s characters run the gamut from private to lieutenant colonel.
Jessica Vera plays Maya de los Santos, who, in the play, is a lieutenant colonel and the first female commander of a forward operating base, Vera explained by phone. Vera described Maya as a leader, someone who not only sees the opportunity before her, but also the weight of that level of responsibility.
While Vera has no military experience, her father was an Army Ranger, her older brother was in the Army Cavalry and is currently serving in the Air Force. Growing up in a military household has informed how she plays Maya, she said.
One of the play’s first scenes is Maya picking up her wife, Jordan, a civilian, and taking her over the threshold after getting married. Lee, the veteran, also plays Jordan in the play, and said Vera helped to shape Jordan’s character. While the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy has been officially abandoned, Lee said, “There’s still a stigma. It depends on who your command is.”
On the other end of the military spectrum is character Joan Boudica, played by Emma Walton. Joan is a private and is brand new to the experience, Walton explained by phone. Joan is part of the reserves and is randomly picked for special training and is deployed, she said. “It’s a coming of age story for her,” Walton, who has no military experience, said.
Walton said women have been in the military for a long time – flying planes and protecting the country like men are. “We’re excited to show it,” she said. “The rest of America thinks that they’re nurses, they’re doing paperwork. That’s just not true.”
Sears, the director, said she hopes the play spurs a myriad of conversations for the audience, including a larger discussion of women in leadership roles. “We’re hoping that this story — as specific and nuanced [as it is] – can still have reverberations for woman and anyone who has tried to move the needle of gender integration in general,” she said.
Military recruiters have to convince normal people that their best option for the future is signing a multi-year contract for a job with workplace hazards like bombs, bullets, and artillery. And since many people aren’t eligible to serve, the service branches need a lot of people coming into recruiting offices.
To make recruiters’ jobs a little easier, each branch has an advertising budget. Here are some of the most iconic commercials from that effort.
1. “The Climb” (2001)
With arguably the best uniforms, awesome traditions, and swords, it’s no surprise that some of the best commercials come out of the Marine Corps. “The Climb” reminded prospective recruits that yes, becoming a Marine will be hard, but it’s worth it.
2. “Rite of Passage” (1998)
Some commercials stop making sense after the era they were written in. The idea of climbing into a coliseum to fight a bad-CGI lava monster may seem like an odd advertising angle now, but it was rumored to be pretty effective at the time.
3. “America’s Marines” (2008)
Some videos target adventure nuts, while some go after aspiring professionals. This one targeted people who wanted to be part of a long-standing tradition. It also reminded people that Marines get to wear some awesome uniforms.
4. “Army Strong” (2006)
“Army Strong” was an inspiring series of advertisements, though it opened the Army to a lot of jokes (“I wanted to be a Marine, but I was only Army Strong”).
5. “Army of One” (2001)
“Legions” was part of the “Army of One” campaign. Though “Army of One” brought recruits into the Army during the early years of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, it never quite made sense to professional soldiers. In the Army, soldiers are schooled daily in the importance of teamwork and selfless service. During basic, they’re even required to be with another recruit at all times, so what is an “Army of One”?
6. “Be All That You Can Be” (1982)
The slogan “Be all that you can be,” sometimes written as, “Be all you can be,” was one of the Army’s longest-running slogans and most iconic campaigns. The jingle is as dated as the video technology in the video, but some soldiers went from their enlistment to their retirement in the Army under this slogan.
7. “Footprints” (2006)
One of the Navy’s best ads focused on some of the world’s best warriors. “Footprints” manages to highlight how awesome Navy SEALs are without showing a single person or piece of equipment.
8. “A Global Force for Good” (2009)
Though popular with recruits, the slogan for this recruiting drive ended up being unpopular with the Navy itself. Much like the Army with its “Army of One” slogan, the Navy dropped “Global Force for Good” after only a few years.
9. “Accelerate Your Life” (early 2000s)
“Accelerate Your Life” commercials were always full of sexy imagery. From fighter jets, helicopters, fast boats, automatic weapons, and camouflage, just about everything was tossed in. Like the commercial Air Force campaign “We have been waiting for you” below, dating the commercial to an exact year is tough, but the campaign began in 2001.
10. “Air Force: I Knew One Day” (2014)
“I Knew One Day” is an odd title for this commercial, but it’s not bad as a whole. It puts a face on the airmen who crew the AC-130, perform surgeries, or pilot Ospreys, and it tells recent high school and college graduates that they can become the next face of these jobs as well.
11. “We Have Been Waiting For You” (early 2000s)
With the tagline “We have been waiting for you,” the Air Force aimed to bring in recruits for all the jobs in the Air Force that weren’t about flying. Since two of the ads they released starred pilots, it seems like they weren’t trying that hard. While it’s hard to pin down the exact year this commercial was released, the “We’ve been waiting for you,” line began showing up in 2001.
12. “Science Fiction” (2011)
The Air Force is proud of its technological advantages on the battlefield, and it made a series of commercials comparing themselves to science fiction. The commercials were critiqued for including a lot of things Air Force technology couldn’t do, but they did highlight actual missions the Air Force does using technology similar to, though not as advanced as, what is featured in the commercial.
Oak Ridge, Tennessee, isn’t a secret anymore, but in 1942, Tennessee’s fifth largest town didn’t exist on a single map. Adding to the mystery – residents weren’t allowed to talk about it, either. So what was going on in Oak Ridge that was so important that the government needed to keep it top secret? Well, it turns out, a lot.
The History of Oak Ridge
Before it was the Atomic City, Oak Ridge was just a sleepy blip of a town in Tennessee. The earliest settlers to the region probably never thought it would the future home of the nuclear bomb. But that’s exactly what happened in WWII when the American government needed a place to conduct top secret atomic bomb research.
Nicknames like the City Behind the Fence and the Secret City were all deployed to keep the true nature of Oak Ridge a secret. Now it’s just a suburb of Knoxville, but Oak Ridge was a major nuclear development powerhouse during WWII.
Established in 1942, Oak Ridge was the production site for the Manhattan Project that developed the atomic bomb. It has a pretty spooky origin story if you believe in that kind of thing. Legend has it that after his wife and daughter’s death, local resident John Hendrix started telling anyone who would listen that he saw visions. In one of these visions, Hendrix reportedly described a pretty accurate depiction of what Oak Ridge would come to be. Relatives and neighbors have all reported Hendrix saying that eventually Bear Creek Valley would be filled with buildings and factories with one mission to help win the “greatest war that will ever be.”
Hendrix’s visions even went so far as to describe where roads would be during the development of Oak Ridge.
Whether or not his “visions” have been embellished over the years will forever remain a mystery. But what we do know is the government chose Oak Ridge with care.
Location, location, location
As with all real estate, it’s location location location. And that’s exactly what Oak Ridge had to offer. Not only was it nestled deep in a valley, but there were also very few people who called the region home. That meant that the government bought the land super cheap. Adding to that, Oak Ridge is accessible by both road and land. Those are very important details when you’re trying to build the world’s deadliest bomb, which is exactly what happened with the Manhattan Project.
And since no one was living in Oak Ridge, Tennessee and those who did weren’t too keen on asking questions, the government set up shop without a lot of fanfare or fuss.
By 1943, the region was officially a military district making it off-limits to anyone without confirmed access. Cut off from the rest of the state and country, Oak Ridge really was a complete and total secret. At least it was until the end of WWII. Now it’s still a hotbed site for tech and scientific development – but there aren’t any top-secret projects … that we know of.
Each year over Veterans Day we witness a wonderful outpouring of love for our veteran community. “Happy Veterans Day,” parades, free meals, “thank yous,” and vet-centric events are par for the course over the holiday and the weekends that proceed and follow it.
But what about the other 51 weeks of the year?
While many of you are veterans yourselves, some of our readers are in a relationship of some kind with a currently serving veteran or a veteran of past conflict. We know how to support the veterans in our own homes.
But I believe we also have a responsibility to support the other veterans around us, and help our civilian neighbors do the same. We can lead by example.
So how do we do that? Here are five ideas.
1. Listen. Over Veterans Day weekend this year I worked with our community and the local Team Red, White Blue chapter to run a Veterans Town Hall. Inspired by an idea in Sebastian Junger’s book “Tribe,” the town hall had a simple goal: give veterans a space to talk about their service, and the community a space to listen. While we did not have a huge turnout — only around 50 people — we were able to light a fire on what I hope will be a long-term movement of saying “happy Veterans Day” by listening. Through the simple act of listening we extended grace and understanding to our veteran neighbors. We can do more of that, and we can do it beyond Veterans Day weekend.
2. “Thank a Vet” in a video. Disabled American Veterans (DAV) has an awesome way to create a keepsake to #ThankaVet. You can upload a customized message and a few photos, and the site will turn them into a tribute video. The videos are something you can create and share year round.
3. Serve all year long. Veterans don’t just exist on Veterans Day. The Veterans Home in my little town’s downtown is there every day of the year. Veterans are homeless in our nearest major city. My veteran neighbor will always need his driveway shoveled after it snows. Not every act of service to our community takes a big effort. But every act matters.
4. Tell your civilian friends. When you get ready to help your community’s veterans, invite your civilian friends to come along. I find that my civilian friends don’t ignore veterans on purpose — they just don’t really know any. We can be the people who can help make that connection.
5. Join a veteran organization. Your local VFW and American Legion both have auxiliary memberships for non-veterans. Team Red, White Blue exists purely to connect veterans with their communities, and getting involved is incredibly easy. Team Rubicon is constantly seeking volunteers for the important work they do with disaster relief. Military spouses often focus their volunteer efforts on the currently serving population — and maybe you just flat out don’t have time to add something else to your plate. But if you do, consider even just showing up for one of these groups’ (or countless others’) events. You won’t be sorry.
There’s nothing wrong with wishing anyone a “happy Veterans Day” or using Veterans Day to shine the spotlight on veterans in our community. But let’s keep the momentum going all year long.
Have you ever sat around wondering how Spongebob learned to tie a Windsor knot, how Squidward acquired his affinity for the arts, or how Plankton became perceptive enough to develop a Napoleon complex? Well, here’s a theory that should simultaneously quell your curiosity while fulfilling the core function of the internet: robbing you of your childhood innocence.
Basically, this unique aquatic society was the result of U.S. nuclear testing in the South Pacific Ocean, and that all of your childhood pals, from Mr. Krabs to Mrs. Puff, are radioactively mutated fish.
History seems to support this claim. The nuclear testing site that the theory refers to is BikiniAtoll, a group of islands in Micronesia. After World War II, the U.S. military detonated 23 nuclear devices on the islands as it geared up for an arms race with the Soviet Union. Remember that island that appears at the beginning of every SpongeBob episode? Well, that’s what remains of Bikini Atoll. The creators of the show left other clues to this radioactive origin story, such as Squidward’s Easter Island head residence (a hint of the town’s South Pacific locale), the popular Bikini Bottom magazine Toxic Waste Monthly, and the mushroom cloud that seems to rise from every explosion in the show.
So, it seems likely that the bombing of Bikini Atoll created Bikini Bottom, a nightmarish seascape where a sponge is economically extorted by a crab, who somehow fathered a sperm whale. But maybe it was all for the best. Bikini Bottom seems like a pleasant enough city, and the residents certainly have less mundane lives than your average fish or sponge. All’s well that ends well, right?
Maybe not. Because before U.S. nukes created one of America’s most beloved children’s shows, there were real, non-animated people living on Bikini Atoll: 167 to be exact. Bikini Atoll is part of the Marshall Islands, which has its own distinctive language, culture, and society. Leading a subsistence based lifestyle, Bikinians were a subset of this society.
In 1946 the people of Bikini Atoll were compelled to “temporarily relocate” by the United States, who wanted to begin nuclear testing on the islands. They were told they had to leave “for the good of mankind” and were subsequently sent to Rongerik Atoll, an uninhabited group of islands one-sixth the size of Bikini that lacked adequate sources of food and water. The U.S. navy dropped them on the shore with several weeks of food supplies and left. Soon, the Bikinians had a serious malnutrition problem, with most living on the brink of starvation. Within two months of relocation, they were begging the U.S. to allow them to return to Bikini, not knowing about the nuclear devastation being brought down upon their home. Their calls were ignored, and they were left on the island for two years. “We were dying, but they didn’t listen to us,” commented one of the inhabitants of Rongerik.
Eventually, the government began the process of moving the Bikinians to Ujelang Atoll. A handful Bikinians were sent to Ujelang to begin construction of their new society. But two months later, the plans fell through. The U.S. had chosen a second location for nuclear testing, Enewetak Atoll, and decided that the Enewetak people, instead of the Bikinians, would be relocated to Ujelang.
In 1948, The Bikini natives were finally liberated from Rongerik and sent to Kwajalein Atoll, where they lived in tents next to a concrete military airstrip. Six months later they were relocated once again to Kili Island, a .36-square-mile island where most Bikinians still live today. The island greatly differed from the Atolls they were accustomed to, making their traditional methods of fishing and food cultivation far less effective. Starvation once again became a daily concern and the Bikinians had to rely on USDA rice and canned goods to survive. The island was also prone to flooding, making them vulnerable to hurricanes and typhoons. They soon began referring to Kili as “Prison Island.”
Meanwhile, nuclear tests continued on Bikini Atoll, culminating in the 1954 “Castle Bravo” test, which detonated a nuclear weapon 1,000-times more powerful than the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The blast was larger than the U.S. government expected and the resulting radioactive fallout spread throughout the Marshall Islands, blanketing inhabited islands and contaminating their residents. The subsequent health effects still plague Marshall Islanders today.
Decades passed, and in 1969, President Lyndon B. Johnson announced that the now 540 Bikinians would be able to resettle their home islands. The Atomic Energy Commission issued a statement saying “There’s virtually no radiation left and we can find no discernible effect on either plant or animal life.” Feeling confident in these assurances, Bikinians began to resettle in 1972. But in 1978, tests by U.S. physicians revealed that the radiation levels in the 139 people on Bikini Atoll were well above the permissible level. They were evacuated.
Today, the native inhabitants of Bikini Atoll continue to seek compensation from the U.S. government for the devastation of their home. Many demand that the U.S. clean up the mess they made in Bikini so they might return home. Some have more modest claims, like Simon Jamore, who wants access to better healthcare for four of his family members who have developed cancer. The islands remain almost entirely uninhabited, excluding the marine citizens of Bikini Bottom. For now, the only thing fit to live in Bikini Atoll is a radioactive fry-cook sponge.
When Brittany Boccher was approached by retired Major General Kendall Penn and the Arkansas Secretary of State Military and Veterans Liaison Kevin Steele to help get proposed legislation passed to protect the retirement pay of military retirees, Boccher jumped at the opportunity to serve her current community.
Boccher, a mother of two and the spouse of a special agent with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, began the task by hosting the General and the Military and Veteran’s Liaison at one of the Little Rock Spouses’ Club meetings, where the men presented the proposed legislation to the local military spouses.
The proposal specifically addressed the taxation of pay for military retirees. While active duty personnel in Arkansas do not pay a state tax, retired veterans’ pay is taxed.
That tax didn’t sit well with Governor Asa Hutchinson and Lieutenant Governor Tim Griffin, who have seen their state ranked at 48 in attracting and retaining working age military retirees and veterans.
“A lot of them will retire really young in their 40s, 50s, 60s. And what do they do? They have that steady income and start other businesses or they go work a new job,” Griffin said.
Hutchinson agreed, saying, “I believe it will help us to bring more military retirees here, welcome them back to Arkansas.”
Boccher committed to calling or emailing every state senate committee member directly to discuss his or her support for Hutchinson’s proposed tax initiative. Then she set out to round up military families that would benefit the most from the initiative in order to testify before the state house and senate committees.
Boccher, a business owner in Arkansas herself, told We Are the Mighty that her family reflected the target audience the state was hoping to attract with the proposed tax break.
“They were seeking a young family close to retirement to showcase that they would have a second career after the military. We are a 17 year military family, we’re young, and with two small children. We want to stay in Arkansas and we own a business in Arkansas.”
Boccher said her family “checked all the boxes” for what Steele and Penn wanted to present as the ideal family the state was trying to attract.
Penn asked Boccher to testify before the state house and senate committees.
As a result of her hard work and commitment to the legislation, Boccher and her family were invited to the bill signing ceremony earlier this month.
On February 7, Hutchinson released a statement that read, in part, “…beginning in January [Arkansas] will also exempt military retirement pay. This initiative will make Arkansas a more military friendly retirement destination and will encourage veterans to start their second careers or open a business right here in the Natural State.”
For her part, Boccher is proud of what she’s accomplished for veterans while simultaneously running an apparel company, a photography company, and a non-profit organization, the Down Syndrome Advancement Coalition.
Additionally, Boccher is the president of the Little Rock Air Force Base Spouses’ Club and the 2016 and 2017 Little Rock Air Force Base Spouse of the Year.
Boccher had this to say about her work, “The military community is resilient, adaptable, dedicated, independent, supportive, and resourceful, but most of all they can make a difference, their voice can be heard, and they can and will make change happen!”
At the Office of Naval Research’s annual Science and Technology Expo on July 21 in Washington, DC, a development team from Rutgers University demonstrated the unusual quadcopter, which can swim at depths of up to 10 meters, then seamlessly launch to the surface and soar into the air.
The drone, developed with sponsorship from the Office of Naval Research, shows promise as a tool for mine countermeasures and port security, to name a few possibilities.
There’s also interest from the special operations community, said Dr. Marc Contarino, vice president of technology for the program. It carries a 360-degree waterproof camera, making it well-suited for security and bridge and ship inspections, among other missions.
“Special ops have not told us exactly what they want. But we know for special ops, it’s all about speed and not being detected,” Contarino told Military.com. “So we’re building our system to be as fast as possible.”
While current prototypes are not much larger than a typical commercial quadcopter, Contarino said there are plans to build a six-foot-diameter model capable of carrying the 30-pound payload the Navy wants for its mine countermeasure mission. That UAV will be able to operate in waves of three-to-five feet and in 30-mile-per-hour winds, he said.
Developers have already put the Naviator through its paces in real-world conditions, launching the drone from the Delaware Memorial Bridge over the Delaware River and from the Cape May-Lewes Ferry.
“Since we’re a Navy sponsor, I tried to find the biggest boat I could to showcase it,” Contarino said.
When a Phase Two development contract begins for the Naviator in 2018, Contarino said the team plans to expand its operational envelope, including work to develop a model that can operate at depths of up to 30 meters, and development of pressure-resistant features that could support much greater depths.
Whether the Naviator spends more time underwater or flying over it depends entirely on the mission.
“[It acts as if] air is a fluid, water is a fluid, and it doesn’t care,” Contarino said. ” … So we think the Navy really likes it because it does the air, the surface, and the underwater mission.”
Full of sediment from the bottom of the sea, a gray metal basket slowly rose out of the turquoise water. While it appeared to only contain muck, it offered hope to the U.S. military divers waiting to inspect its contents.
The divers — mainly from the Army’s 7th Engineer Dive Detachment — were archaeologists of sorts. As they sifted through the mud the consistency of wet cement, the divers searched for personal effects or aircraft wreckage to prove they were on the right path.
The ultimate discovery, though, would be the remains of the six Soldiers who went missing after their Chinook helicopter crashed off the coast here during the Vietnam War.
Each year, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency oversees more than 70 joint missions around the world in search of the remains of American service members at former combat zones. In Vietnam, there are still over 1,200 service members who have not yet been found.
(U.S. Army photo by Sean Kimmons)
Some of those operations are underwater recovery missions, which rely heavily on the Army’s small diving force.
“Everybody in the military signs up to go to war. We fight the nation’s battles. That’s what we do,” said Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Kratsas, the agency’s only master diver. “But I know if I ever got killed in battle somewhere, I would want my remains brought home to my family and I know they would want the same.”
As the most senior diver on the recent 45-day mission near Nha Trang in southern Vietnam, Kratsas helped ensure the safety of the divers who plunged 80 feet into the dark waters.
Depending on the weather, four two-man teams from the dive detachment spent about an hour each day on the sea floor. While hidden beneath the waves, they used 8-inch vacuum systems to dredge sediment within specified grids of the archaeological site.
(U.S. Army photo by Sean Kimmons)
At times, the divers stood on the sea floor buried in thick silt up to their shoulders. Divers sucked out the silt until they reached the hard-packed seabed, where pieces of the helicopter had been resting for decades.
The next day, much of the silt had to be dredged out again due to the sea currents that brought in more.
The painstaking efforts of these underwater missions, especially in the murky waters off the coast of Vietnam, are repeated daily in hopes to reunite those lost in war with their loved ones.
“We do exactly what the land team does,” said Kratsas, 46, of Lordstown, Ohio. “We dig a hole in the earth, we put it in a bucket and we screen it. The same exact process that they do, except ours is at 80 feet and we can’t see it.”
(U.S. Army photo by Sean Kimmons)
Side-scan sonar and magnetometer work helps pinpoint metal objects on the sea floor to better focus diving operations. But sites can often cover a vast area, particularly if an aircraft or ship has broken into pieces.
A site’s depth can also limit how long a diver can safely stay under the water. At 80 feet below, the Army divers only had 55 minutes to work during each dive. Once back on the floating barge, they were rushed into a pressurized chamber to ward off chances of a decompression illness by gradually returning them to normal air pressure.
“Bottom time is definitely a premium,” said Spc. Lamar Fidel, a diver with the detachment, which falls under the 8th Theater Sustainment Command in Hawaii. “That’s where we make our money.”
In a previous mission, Fidel said they were able to dive for about six hours at a time. That site, which was in search of two pilots from an F-4 Phantom fighter jet that crashed in the Gulf of Tonkin near northern Vietnam, was only about 20 feet deep.
(U.S. Army photo by Sean Kimmons)
It was also Fidel’s most memorable diving mission so far.
For 14 years, he said, the agency had gone to the site unable to recover any human remains. Then last year, using the work of past missions, his team discovered a bone that led to the identification of one of the missing pilots.
“As soon as you see that, that hits you right in the heart,” said Fidel, 28, of Atlanta. “It makes you realize what you did … wasn’t all for nothing.”
While DPAA depends on Army divers for many of its missions, there are only about 150 of them across the service.
The small, elite career field has a high failure rate of roughly 60 to 80 percent for those training to become a diver. Much of the reasoning behind the tough entry course is that lives are always at stake during missions.
“Every time we get in the water, you have a chance of having a diving-related casualty,” said Staff Sgt. Les Schiltz, a diving supervisor assigned to the agency.
The deeper a person dives, the more at risk they are to suffer from a decompression illness. The two main problems divers face are decompression sickness, or the “bends,” and an arterial gas embolism. While the “bends” results from bubbles growing in tissue and causing local damage, the latter can have bubbles travel through the arteries and block blood flow. It can eventually lead to death.
(U.S. Army photo by Sean Kimmons)
Divers also need to watch out for sharks, jellyfish and other dangerous marine life.
“There are a lot of things in the water that can hurt you,” Schiltz said. “You plan accordingly, you look ahead to where you’re going to be, and you try to mitigate all those risks as much as you can.”
The thrill of diving often outweighs the dangers for many of the Soldiers. When under the water, Schiltz, 28, of Vernal, Utah, says it is like being in a different world.
“It’s probably the same reason someone will explain to you why they skydive or why they snowboard off cliffs,” he said. “There’s always a danger to it and that just makes it even better.”
Army divers are tasked to do a variety of missions that can have them repairing ships and ports or conducting underwater surveys. For many divers, though, the recovery missions have the most impact on them.
(U.S. Army photo by Sean Kimmons)
“It takes you to a more emotional point in your life,” Schiltz said.
While every diver wants to be the one who discovers the remains of a service member, the master diver describes the somber event as a shared win whenever it happens.
“Everybody’s out here to do one job and just because you happen to be the one diver on the job when you find something, it’s not you that found it,” Kratsas said. “It was a team effort.”
When not diving, Soldiers have several side jobs to keep operations afloat. They monitor oxygen levels and depth of fellow divers or serve as back-up divers to assist in an emergency. They also tend to umbilical cords that connect divers to the barge or help run a water pump for the suction hose.
When a basket is brought up to the barge, they all scoop out the sediment into buckets and screen it.
(U.S. Army photo by Sean Kimmons)
Some divers are surprised by the condition of some items pulled from the water. Even if items are buried at sea for a long time, salt water can sometimes preserve them better than at land sites where the acidity of soil breaks them down faster.
“A lot of times the wreckage is in such good condition, you can still read serial numbers,” said Capt. Ezra Swanson, who served as the team leader for the recent mission.
Pieces of an aircraft can also put things into perspective for the divers when they hold them in their hands.
“The last time someone was with that, it was the aircrew when they were going down,” said Swanson, 30, of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. “It’s like a connection between you and that crew.”
Decades of sediment often buries human remains in an underwater tomb. To unearth them, dig sites are properly logged with historical data from previous missions.
(U.S. Army photo by Sean Kimmons)
Dive teams may pick up where they left off before or continue another team’s work at a site. An underwater archaeologist will direct a team where to dredge using grids, typically 2 by 4 meters wide, which are marked off on the seabed.
Similar to the guessing game of “Battleship,” if a certain grid has a successful hit with evidence being dredged up from it, divers will concentrate on nearby grids.
Even one fragment, such as a bone or tooth, could solve a case if it can be identified by laboratory staff back at the DPAA headquarters on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii.
(U.S. Army photo by Sean Kimmons)
“Sometimes you only find small fragments, but with today’s technology and with DNA [testing], we can still get a lot of information even from tiny little bits,” said Piotr Bojakowski, an underwater archaeologist with the agency.
Personal effects, such as rings, wallets or dog tags, can also produce a strong case for identification.
Since the recovery process can be slow and methodical, Bojakowski will remind divers to stay patient to ensure no evidence is overlooked.
“Take your time, don’t rush the process,” he tells them. “It’s more important that you do screening properly and find this small piece than to rush it through. Because once you lose it, we will never find it again.”
If years of careful research do not provide clues of human remains at a site, the agency may be forced to redirect efforts elsewhere.
(U.S. Army photo by Sean Kimmons)
“It’s a difficult, difficult decision to make,” Bojakowski said. “The ideal situation is to find the remains and material evidence. But providing an answer that the remains are not at the site is also an answer to some degree. Sometimes that’s the only answer we can get.”
Despite the long, hot days that had baskets come up empty during their recent mission, the Soldiers still kept at it for weeks. And when the time comes again, they will likely return to the same spot to do the same work.
To them, the mission is bigger than themselves.
“They know the cost and the sacrifice and have a very high appreciation for the guys who lost their lives,” said Swanson, the team leader. “They’re willing to push through the challenges and make sure they do everything they can to bring those guys home.”
The best weapons work against a variety of targets and in many different scenarios. Sometimes, a specific target is so tough or so-well defended a custom weapon is needed to destroy it. Here are 5 weapons created to destroy a single target or set of targets.
1. The Dutch “floating volcano”
The explosion that destroyed the Swedish warship Kronan in battle in 1676 was a fraction of the size of the “Hellraiser” ship at the Siege of Antwerp in 1585.
In 1585, Dutch defenders at Antwerp needed to break the Spanish siege they were stuck behind. Targeting a pontoon bridge across the River Schelde, the Dutch defenders created “hellraisers.”
Constantinople had survived 1,000 years of sieges by the time Sultan Mehmed II began eyeing it. To crack the walls of the fortress, Mehmed accepted an offer from a Hungarian cannon expert to build the “Basilica cannon,” a 27-ft-long cannon that fired a 30-inch round.
Developed by Dr. Barnes Wallace, bouncing bombs carried 6,600 pounds of high-explosive as they skipped across the water surface to get past German torpedo nets at well-defended German dams. The bombs reached the dams and sunk along the wall before detonating.
The prospects for the cannon were dealt a double blow by the Allied invasion on D-day and a Royal Air Force bombing of the cannon a month later on July 6, 1944. The weapon was moved to Germany and fired just 44 rounds during the Battle of the Bulge.