In a U.S. territory half a world removed from the continental United States, what does it mean to be American? To find out, Meals Ready To Eat host August Dannehl shipped off to the far reaches of Pacific Micronesia, to Guam.
Guam is a tiny island with a full dance card of seemingly competing cultural histories. Its indigenous people, the Chamorro, called it home for 4000 years, but after the island was “discovered” by Ferdinand Magellan in 1521, it experienced several centuries of European colonization, capture, and rule that heaped Spanish, Catholic, American, and Japanese cultural influence atop the foundations of its identity.
But where other territories with similar fraught histories stumble through the modern era in crisis and without a firm sense of collective “self,” Guamanians wove themselves into the fabric of democratic and multicultural America. They celebrate their 21st century hybridity with exuberance, with fervent patriotism and military service, and with a food culture so funky and delicious, people travel from all over the globe to get in on it.
Why choose? (Meals Ready To Eat screenshot)
In Guam, you find patriotism in its purest form, animated by gratitude for life. Guamanians have earned a deep understanding of how precarious human existence can be, whether it’s an island in the middle of the ocean or an oasis in the heart of the desert or a small, blue planet in the void of space.
Guamanians don’t just feel gratitude, they act on its behalf. As a people, they serve in the U.S. military at a higher rate than any of the 50 states.
When the Americans came and liberated us, they became family. That patriotism from our ancestors or those even living today, it continues on. And that’s an honor to be part of a nation that gives freedom, to be part of something greater than this tiny island…that’s what makes us American. —Sgt. Joleen Castro, U.S. Air Force
Their service reflects their dedication to the American ideal, yes, but it’s also an expression of inafa’maolek, or interdependence, the core value of the Chamorro people. Guamanians, at the deepest level of their tradition, celebrate collective prosperity, unity and togetherness. They celebrate the good.
Unsurprisingly, they throw incredible parties. (Meals Ready To Eat screenshot)
WWI was one of the first truly modern conflicts. Fought mainly along trenches, the war saw the introduction of chemical weapons, tanks, and aerial combat.
Thought of as the war to end war, over 9 million soldiers were killed in the conflict and 21 million were injured. These casualties were largely helped along by the war being the first to feature widespread use of machine guns.
The general narrative of World War II credits the Marines and Navy for the victory in the Pacific and the Army and U.S. Army Air Corps for victory in Europe. In reality, there are actually a few Marine veterans of fighting in Europe and a massive number of Army veterans who fought in the Pacific.
Here are six times that U.S. soldiers took the fight to the Japanese and and laid waste.
U.S. Army artillerymen fire a 155mm rifled field gun on Guadalcanal on Dec. 7, 1942.
(U.S. Marine Corps)
1. Battle of Guadalcanal
Yes, that Battle of Guadalcanal. In fact, Army forces on the island actually outnumbered Marine forces. Each branch had two divisions on the ground, but the Army had an additional regiment. The 1st Marine Division made the initial landings on August 7, 1942, but Army troops were pouring onto the island by October.
It was Army troops who first received the “Banzai” attacks against Henderson Field in late October, holding the Japanese back despite armor, artillery, air, and naval support pitted against the U.S. troops. On November 4, the soldiers took part in pushing 1,500 Japanese troops against the sea.
In December, the 1st Marine Division pulled out, and an Army general took over command on the island. He sent his forces against the Japanese headquarters on Mount Austen and it was Army soldiers who fought from mid-December to January 2 to find and destroy that headquarters. In the following months, it was predominantly Army troops who eradicated Japanese opposition on the island, fighting which resulted in three Army Medals of Honor.
The 32nd Infantry Division, a National Guard unit made up of soldiers from Michigan and Wisconsin, fought side-by-side with Australian forces to take key positions on Papua, New Guinea from November 1942 to January 2, 1943.
(U.S. Army National Guard illustration by Michael Gnatek)
2. Papuan Campaign
As the Battle of Guadalcanal raged, U.S. and Australian Army units led the fight in Papua, New Guinea, against Japanese forces there. As with Guadalcanal, a key strategic objective was the island’s airfield, but this time, the Japanese were on the attack and the Allies on defense. Unfortunately for the Japanese, their losses to the U.S. Navy at the Battle of the Coral Sea and Midway forced them to attack overland through treacherous mountain passes.
The combined force pushed Japanese foes back and then went on the offensive, attacking at Milne Bay and across the Japanese lines in late August, forcing them into general retreat on September 4. The Army launched a clearance operation on October 4, resupplying units by air as they pushed deeper into formerly Japanese territory. The final Japanese forces proved stubborn, and the Army was forced to fight desperately to take each bunker.
Finally, from mid-December the mid-January, Allied forces led by U.S. Army units brought in fresh tanks and troops, and they launched an innovative combined-arms campaign to break the Japanese backs. In one section where tanks couldn’t operate, two Army infantrymen earned posthumous Medals of Honor for heroism while clearing Japanese positions. The last resistance fell by January 22.
The second battalion of U.S. paratroopers is dropped near Nadzab, New Guinea, Sept. 5, 1943.
This was the first American airborne operation of the Pacific. Army Air Corps bombers strafed the drop zones and dropped fragmentation bombs before the paratroopers jumped into a well-timed smokescreen. From there, the paratroopers fought all day, receiving resupply from the air and assaulting one Japanese position after another.
It worked. Australian forces were able to use the airfield for their own operations the very next day, and it was grown into a major air base that supported Australian operations for the rest of the war.
U.S. Army troops navigate the mountains of Attu Island in Alaska in May, 1943.
4. Aleutian Campaign
In June, 1942, Japanese forces took two of the Aleutian Islands that are part of Alaska. While their forces lacked the numbers to truly threaten Alaska proper, they were still a problem as they threatened U.S. cities and raided trade and supply routes.
Army soldiers assaulted the beaches on Attu on May 11, 1943, with air and naval support. Despite desperate Japanese defenses, the island fell in a matter of weeks with nearly every Japanese soldier killed by May 30.
On August 15, the Army launched an even larger landing with Canadian support on the island of Kiska, but the Japanese forces had withdrawn in thick fog before the allies arrived. This Japanese withdrawal opened a northern route to attack towards the Japanese home islands, forcing Japan to send some forces north, away from where soldiers and Marines were killing them on other fronts.
U.S. Army soldiers fight at Bougainville in the Pacific Theater of World War II, Feb. 29, 1943.
5. Island hopping towards The Philippines
During the island hopping campaign back across the Pacific in 1944, the Army actually played a huge role. The Army almost single-handedly took three beaches simultaneously on April 22 on New Guinea, capturing key airfields there within days. On May 18, they took Wakde Island and its airfield. Nine days later, they hit Biak Island, a fierce fight that continued until August 20 as the Japanese repeatedly reinforced the island.
These island assaults also tied up Japanese naval assets, reducing the pressure on Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz’s forces until Japan decided to protect the Marianas at all costs, withdrawing their fleet from fighting Army units ashore and sending it North to the Mariana Islands where the Navy achieved one of its greatest victories at the Battle of the Philippine Sea.
U.S. Army 25th Infantry Division soldiers at Baleta Pass on Luzon Island in the Philippines in 1945.
6. Recapturing The Philippines
On October 20, 1944, the Army landed four divisions at once in an effort to retake Leyte, one of the major islands in the Philippines. The Army’s efforts were mostly aimed at retaking the Philippines, but it was hoped that, as the Army put pressure on Imperial Japanese land forces, it would force the Japanese Navy into another decisive engagement which Nimitz would, hopefully, win.
What resulted was a fierce land and sea battle October 23 to 26, during which Army forces were fighting bitterly for every yard of ground with limited naval support as the fleets fought each other tooth and nail. It was touch and go for a bit, but the U.S. was eventually victorious on land and at sea, liberating the Philippines and effectively eradicating the bulk of remaining Japanese naval forces.
After this large offensive, the Army took part in the capture of the Ryukyu Islands, including Okinawa, but it was predominantly a Marine show. The Army was slated for a huge role during the invasion of the Japanese home islands, but the surrender of Japan following the dropping of two atomic bombs and the entrance of Russia into the Pacific Theater ended the war and the necessity of another amphibious assault.
After enduring countless hardships and overcoming unimaginable obstacles, Airman 1st Class Guor Maker, a dental assistant currently in technical training, found his way out of war-torn South Sudan, Africa and into the U.S. nearly 20 years ago.
As one of roughly 20,000 children uprooted by the gruesome Second Sudanese Civil War, Maker’s childhood was far from normal. After losing 28 family members, including eight of his nine siblings, 8-year-old Maker set out on foot from South Sudan to live with his uncle.
“The country I came from was torn apart by war,” said Maker. “It was all I knew growing up, nothing else. I’ve seen people die in front of me, but I knew no matter what, I had to make it.”
During his harrowing journey, Maker was captured and enslaved twice: once by Sudanese soldiers, and once by herdsmen.
“When I was captured, I was forced to be a slave laborer,” said Maker. “I would wash dishes or do anything else needed to get by. I slept in a small cell and rarely got to eat… but not always.”
Both times, Maker successfully escaped from enslavement and was finally able to join his uncle in Khartoum after three perilous years. However, his journey to safety was far from over.
During a nighttime attack on the perceived safety of his uncle’s home, Maker sustained serious injuries when he was beaten unconscious by a soldier who smashed his jaw with a rifle.
“My mouth was shut for two months and I could only consume liquids because my jaw was broken,” he said. “We fled to Egypt after that, and the United Nations treated my injuries.”
After two years of filling out paperwork at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in Egypt, Maker and his uncle’s family were finally granted permission to enter the United States.
“I was very excited to come to the U.S.,” said Maker. “Looking back at everything my family and I endured, it is a miracle that we made it out of there.”
When Maker first arrived in the U.S. in 2001, he settled in Concord, New Hampshire. Not only did he want to survive, but he wanted to thrive.
“I wanted to change my life, help my parents back in South Sudan, and give my future children a better childhood than the one I had,” he said. “And the only way to do that was through education and determination.”
Maker started with the basics and began learning English by watching children’s cartoons and spending plenty of time with other high school kids just listening to their conversations and absorbing all that he could.
“Within a short amount of time, I was able to communicate with effectively with other students and teachers, order food, and really get by on my own,” Maker said.
While learning English was a crucial step in his personal journey, Maker’s high school career really took off when one of his teachers introduced him to running.
“Running was always just natural and easy for me,” said Maker. “It was a great high school experience and it helped me meet a lot of friends, build confidence and it was genuinely fun.”
After winning the National High School indoor two-mile title, Maker received a scholarship to compete at Iowa State University, where he allowed himself to dream of things that had never been done before.
“When I got to college in 2005, I remember hanging a piece of paper on my wall that said I was going to run in the Olympics in 2012 for South Sudan,” said Maker. “I thought ‘Why not me? Why can’t I do it?'”
Maker graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry and reached All-American status as a student-athlete, Ready to start his new life. Maker planned to head to Flagstaff, Arizona to train for the 2012 Olympics.
The same day he left for Arizona in 2011 was the day South Sudan officially gained its independence.
“I drove the whole way celebrating and it was a very special day that I will always remember,” said Maker.
Following his year of training, Maker qualified to run the marathon in the 2012 Olympics in London.
Even though South Sudan officially gained its independence, the country was not yet a member of the International Olympic Committee and Maker was still not an official U.S. citizen.
“State senators from New Hampshire and Arizona presented my case to the Senate in Washington D.C. so the International Olympic Committee allowed me to run in the Olympics without a country,” said Maker.
Even though his dream of running for South Sudan had not yet come true, Maker accomplished a great deal as an unaffiliated Olympian.
“All of the people in South Sudan knew where I was from,” said Maker. “I wanted to be the inspiration for the children to say, ‘Hey, if Maker can do it, you know what, I can do it too.'”
After the 2012 Olympics, Maker was undeterred and set a new goal for himself and his country.
“I said to myself, ‘In 2016, I’m going to bring South Sudan to the Olympics for the first time,'” said Maker. “I wanted to try to do more for my country and the 2012 Olympics only strengthened my conviction to accomplish my goal.”
This time around Maker’s dream became a reality in Rio de Janeiro 2016 when he became one of three athletes to be the first to represent South Sudan in an Olympic games, as well as South Sudan’s flag bearer for the opening ceremony.
“Walking into that stadium, carrying the South Sudan flag was just indescribable,” said Maker. “The people of South Sudan were in my mind the whole time I was running into the stadium with that flag and it meant so much to me.”
While it was a truly incredible and improbable moment for Maker, his thoughts were filled with the people of his home country while he was running with that flag.
“Over 50 years of civil war and my country finally got independence,” said Maker. “So many lives were lost for our freedom, it was just ringing in my head that we have done it, we have done it. On that day, everyone in South Sudan was at peace watching the Olympics for the first time.”
The 2016 Olympics were an enormous accomplishment for the former slave and South Sudan native that went far beyond his 82nd overall finish.
“I couldn’t have accomplished any of it without all the support I received from my family and the opportunity the United States gave me. It’s the highlight of my athletic career so far and a moment I’ll treasure forever.”
The next chapter in Maker’s life began when he decided to join the U.S. Air Force to serve the country that gave him so many opportunities.
“All of the things I’ve accomplished have derived from the opportunities the U.S. has afforded me,” said Maker. “When I first came to America, I didn’t have hardly anything, but with the support and opportunity this country has given me, I’ve been able to completely change my life.”
The staff at basic military training had no idea who Maker was, but he quickly stood out to leadership at the 324th Training Squadron.
“I went out to the track and saw the instructors were putting their attention on one trainee in particular,” said Maj. John Lippolis, director of operations for the 324th TRS. “I could see him running noticeably faster than everyone else and the instructors explained to me that we had a two-time Olympian at BMT.”
In addition to Maker’s Olympian status, his unique personal story also stood out Lippolis.
“I was just absolutely floored when I talked to him about what he went through to get to where he is today,” said Lippolis. “Not only did he get survive, he wanted to better himself and he has accomplished so much. He has an amazing story and the drive he has displayed to succeed like that in the face of such adversity is truly inspiring.”
Maker not only inspired Lippolis, but other members of his flight were inspired too.
“All of his wingmen said the same things when I talked to them,” said Lippolis. “They told me what an inspiration he was within the flight; that the flight rallied around him and he doesn’t do anything he’s supposed to do for himself until he helps out everybody else.”
While Maker has accomplished a great deal in his lifetime, he’s not done dreaming.
Maker hopes to join the Air Force World Class Athlete Program, a program designed to allow elite athletes the opportunity to train and compete in national events to make the Olympics. He also wants to make the 2020 Olympics where he’ll have the opportunity to represent his new home and the country that gave him so much.
“Joining the greatest Air Force in the world has been an absolute miracle,” said Maker. “I can’t wait to see what this next chapter holds for me.”
June 6, 2019, marks 75 years since D-Day, when Allied troops stormed the beaches of Normandy during World War II.
On June 6, 1944, roughly 160,000 troops landed in Normandy, France, on five beaches with the code names Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword.
D-Day involved astonishing coordination between Allied forces. Over 13,000 paratroopers were dropped behind enemy lines before daybreak. At approximately 6:30 am, the first wave of assault troops hit the beach.
It was one of the most important moments in the war and represented the largest amphibious invasion in world history. D-Day marked a turning point in the fight against Nazi Germany, which would surrender less than a year later in May 1945.
But it was by no means an easy victory, and cost many lives along the way: roughly 22,000 Allied troops were killed or wounded on June 6 alone.
On that day, and in the seven and half decades since, world leaders have delivered legendary speeches about D-Day — including on the blood-stained beaches where it occurred.
Here are five of the most powerful speeches on D-Day.
A lot of crazy sh*t happened in the Iran-Iraq War. The backbone of the Iranian Air Force at the time was the beloved F-14 Tomcat, a plane the Iranians still fly. Purchased by the Shah of Iran before the rise of the Islamic Republic, Iran’s Air Force consisted of dozens of the two-seat fighter aircraft, which gave them an edge in the air war against neighboring Iraq.
But tech can only take you so far. And it was the skills of Iranian pilots that allowed the IRIAF to claim three kills with one missile.
Iranians are really good behind the stick of the Tomcat. In fact, the highest scoring ace in a Tomcat is an Iranian named Jalil Zandi. According to the U.S. Air Force, Zandi is credited with 11 kills in an F-14 — an amazing achievement for any fighter pilot. But he was in good company during the Iran-Iraq War because his fellow pilots were keeping the skies clear of any offending Iraqi aircraft.
The Iran-Iraq War was in full stalemate by the end of 1981 and the fighting on the ground was so brutal, it might literally have been illegal. Iraq invaded Iran in 1980 for a number of reasons, mostly to take advantage of political instability following the fall of the Shah, but also to keep Shia Islamic Revolution from being exported to neighboring countries.
Before the Iraqi ground troops crossed the border, however, Saddam’s air forces attempted to destroy the Iranian Air Force while it was still on the ground. They missed and it cost them big time. From that point on, Iraqi MiG and Sukhoi fighters were flying the highway to the danger zone every time they flew into Iran – Tomcats were on patrol.
Iranian F-14 Tomcats carrying Phoenix missiles.
In the opening days of the war, Tomcats took their toll on the Iraqi Air Force, downing fighters and bombers alike. Their most deadly weapons, Phoenix missiles, carried an explosive payload that was much larger than other anti-aircraft missiles. They were designed to take down Soviet-built Tupolev bomber aircraft, the same kind the Iraqis were trying to fly over Tehran.
By 1981, the war on the ground had devolved into an exchange of chemical weapons against human wave attacks. The war was just as brutal in the air, but the Tomcats gave Iran a decisive edge. A single F-14 in the area was enough for Iraqi pilots to scatter and head for home. What happened on Jan. 7, 1981 was a clear example of why.
Iranian pilot Asadullah Adeli and his Radar Intercept Officer Mohammed Masbough responded to reports of unidentified aircraft headed toward Kharg Island in the Persian Gulf. The Tomcat determined the intruder was actually three Iraqi MiG-23s, presumably headed toward an oil rig near the island. Iranian ground radar couldn’t see all three, but authorized Adeli and Masbough to engage the MiGs anyway.
“They were flying really low,” Adeli recalled. “Even though it was night, they were flying at around 2,000 feet.”
Masbough told him to target the one in the middle, just hoping to damage the other two enough that they might break off. That’s almost what happened. The American-built Phoenix missile’s explosive delivery was so powerful, it downed all three enemy aircraft. The wreckage of all three MiGs was found on Kharg Island the next day.
Seventy-two years ago Marines raised the American flag over Mount Suribachi on the island of Iwo Jima on Feb. 23, 1945. Joe Rosenthal’s photo of the second flag-raising became one of the most famous photos of World War II, but the battle actually raged from Feb. 19 to Mar. 26. Here are 18 other photos from the battle where almost 7,000 Marines, sailors, Coast Guardsmen, and soldiers lost their lives:
1. The Marines landed on Iwo Jima in waves on tracked boats.
2. The water was thick with the Marines, sailors, and Coast Guardsmen of the landing force.
3. At the beaches, the Marines poured onto the black, volcanic sand under Japanese fire.
4. Japanese artillery and mortars took out a lot of the heavy equipment as it got bogged down in the sand.
5. The Navy used its big guns to destroy the lethal Japanese artillery where possible and to break open bunkers firing on U.S. troops.
6. This duel between the heavy guns played out on the island as constant explosions.
7. The Marines would advance when the fire was relatively light, trying to take Japanese positions before another artillery barrage.
8. When the fire was particularly heavy, they’d burrow into the sand for cover.
While the week-long exercise also featured anti-submarine warfare and other naval operations, most of the news coverage was of the Marines hitting the island. (In their defense, getting good footage of submarine battles is kinda tough).
Sure, pundits wrung their hands about the ramifications of a China and Russia conducting joint operations. But the fear may have been a bit overblown. After all, China participates in a lot of naval exercises with the U.S. as well.
The location and the activities in the exercise are important, though. Portions of the hotly contested South China Sea are claimed by a few nations, including the Philippines, China, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan. If China were to try to edge other countries off their claims by force, this is the exact exercise they would need to do to get ready.
And the Chinese marines do look good in the video below, working with landing craft, tanks, and air assets to quickly take and hold the island alongside their Russian counterparts in green. See more footage of them in the full video from War Leaks below:
One of the few perks of quarantine is watching the entertainment community rally around those of us at home by providing us with incredible content to consume while we’re eating all of our quarantine snacks and longing for the days of simply being around other people.
If you’re going to be in social isolation, you might as well be laughing through it. And tonight, thanks to the great folks at the Armed Services Arts Partnership, you absolutely will be when you watch renowned comedian Rob Riggle interview Seth Herzog and other veteran comics perform. Here’s how to watch.
Tune in to ASAP’s live-stream show featuring a conversation with Rob Riggle and Seth Herzog, and stand-up comedy from ASAP veteran comics. Tonight’s event is just one in a series of great performers. For the full list, visit ASAP’s website.
Rob Riggle is a comedian, actor, and Marine Corps veteran best known for his roles on The Daily Show, Saturday Night Live, The Hangover, and The Other Guys.
Seth Herzog is a NYC-based stand-up comedian featured on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and Late Night with Conan O’Brien.
Access to the live-stream will be provided to ticket holders after registering. Space is limited. Here’s where you can purchase tickets for only . Stage Pass holders gain free access. All proceeds from ticket sales support ASAP’s community arts programs.
The Armed Services Art Partnership’s mission is to cultivate community and growth with veterans, service members, military families, and caregivers through the arts. Learn more here.
Michael Garvey and Liberty perform at The White House in Oct. 2016.
For one, this show is going to be awesome. Also, ASAP has an incredible mission. Here’s their story:
We believe that trauma and loss breeds creativity and discovery.
The veterans and military families in Armed Services Arts Partnership (ASAP)’s community prove this point. But, it also holds true for our founder, Sam Pressler. After losing a family member to suicide while in high school, Sam turned to comedic expression to cope. When he later learned about mental health challenges affecting veterans through his college research at William Mary, Sam felt compelled to act. While at WM, he launched the country’s first comedy class for veterans, as well as the largest veterans writing group in the Southeast. Within a year, a supportive community formed – one that gave veterans permission to process and express, connect and grow, heal and serve others.
After receiving the Echoing Green Fellowship, Sam converted the student organization into ASAP, a 501(c)3 non-profit. Today, ASAP is thriving in the D.C. Metro area and Hampton Roads, VA, serving thousands of veterans and military families, and empowering its alumni to become artistic leaders in their communities. As a result of our impact in the communities we serve, we have received significant attention. We have performed at The White House, have been featured on a PBS documentary, and have been recognized by Forbes 30 Under 30 list for “Social Entrepreneurship.”
The reintegration of our nation’s veterans is not just a veterans issue. It involves veterans and civilians, community arts organizations and local health providers, military recruiting and VA care. It requires social, physical, and artistic outlets just as much as it demands traditional medical care. Through our collaborative, community-driven, and deeply focused program model, we are forging a new path for veterans to reintegrate into civilian life, and for our communities to welcome them home.
USAA and the NFL are displaying military appreciation across the league through Salute To Service.
Fox Sports host Jay Glazer interviews SOCOM Para-Commandos as they prep for a jump into Raymond James Stadium, home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. These professionals train day after day, jump after jump, to perform better as a team and execute with precision.
Over the past few years, public awareness of veteran suicide has increased and, more importantly, people are more aware than ever before of the resources available to help struggling veterans and active-duty service members. However, in the past year, we’ve noticed a disturbing new aspect of the problem — there have been a number of recent suicides among high-profile veterans who stood as beacons of hope for others in the suicide prevention movement.
At the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), our Red Team has been reflecting on these losses and their impact on suicide prevention and postvention efforts across the military and veteran community.
The late Pfc. Kevin S. Jacobs, United States Marine Corps infantryman. Pfc. Kevin Jacobs struggled with anxiety, emotional pain, and grief due to his experiences at war. Both he and his brother Bryan Keith Jacobs a veteran U.S. Navy Corpsman suffered from PTSD and emotionally began to drift apart. Kevin’s experiences eventually got the best of him, and on Memorial Day, May 28, 2014, Kevin died by suicide. (Guest Photo by Bryan Keith Jacobs, U.S. Navy Veteran)
If any among us believes that suicide is an act of weakness, we should alter our thinking: even the strongest of us — the fierce tribe of warriors who fight our wars — sometimes die by suicide. A man or woman can be a hero to many, noted for his or her uncommon bravery and unconquerable fighting spirit, and still be at risk. Such a man or woman is a true hero.
A second truth is that death by suicide leaves a wake of loss, risk, and regret that is devastating to our community. Many times, I have witnessed and walked with veterans who are cut to the core by this kind of loss. They often say that they “did not see it coming.” In addition to shock and overwhelming grief, they often feel angry that their brother or sister did not reach out to them. Far too often have I heard, “I would have dropped everything to be there if I had only known.”
Soldiers with 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, behavioral health team, host a Cars Against Suicide Car Show Dec. 1, 2017 at Fort Stewart, Ga. The Cars against Suicide event was hosted by 2nd ABCT in an effort to promote awareness and offer resources to help prevent suicide. (U.S. Army Photo by Spc. Robert Winns)
They also express a deep sense of helplessness, a kind of helplessness that puts them directly at risk for self-destructive actions. And sometimes, when they think of losing a leader among them to suicide, they feel great fear. If this fear had a voice, it might say, “if suicide felt like the only option for a person this strong, what does that mean for me?”
These reactions are the last thing their hero would have wanted them to think and feel.
A family and an entire community can be changed forever based on a decision made in one day of suffocating despair. There is the heroic life lived, but also the death that leaves behind more loss and destruction. How can we make sense of senseless loss?
Based on our work with veterans and military service members over the past ten years, here are 3 things we offer for the community to consider.
3. The tribe is stronger than the power of despair.
To learn to be seamlessly interdependent is to reach the summit of our human potential — it is not a sign of weakness. The lifeblood of those who do battle together is love and trust between those who would lay their lives down for each other.
Connection with the tribe is the protective factor that buffers against despair and disconnection, even in the most extreme situations. This bond of trust is stronger than despair and, when the tribe comes together and locks shields, it has a power that can defeat demons.
2. Balancing legacy and prevention.
Suicidal thinking arises in the context of a perfect storm of events; there’s never just one precipitating event. Self-destructive acts are most often the result of a combination of overwhelming mental anguish, physical pain, a biochemistry altered by chronically poor sleep, and events that create a perception of acute hopelessness. What are we to do if a perfect storm presents itself to us? Here, we can continue to find meaning and hope from the life of a hero and the things that he or she stood for.
While it is important to honor the life lived, it is equally important to balance that message with education, resources, and support around preventing additional suicides. We must think about the message that he or she carried over many years of life, while also understanding the contributing factors of that single, perfect-storm day. What did the person argue for with all of their energies while they were alive? Can their death be used to support the message that was so important during their life? Did this person advocate for turning to one’s tribe, for trusting in one’s community to supply the strength to fight demons? Was this person able to do for themselves what they encouraged in others?
These are the lessons learned on the look back that balance preventing another loss of life with the heroic life lived.
1. Leaders also need the tribe.
Finally, those who stand as a beacon of hope may have some under-appreciated vulnerabilities. Veterans are often driven to find a next mission and derive a great sense of purpose — sometimes even life-saving purpose — from inspiring others to stay in the fight. However, when veterans become caregivers and public examples of strength, there is an additional pressure that is placed on their shoulders as they hold the hope of their brothers and sisters. Veterans have expressed to us that as soon as they became a caregiver of other veterans, they have felt, in some indescribable way, a door is closed to them in terms of seeking help for themselves.
As we work with veteran and military leaders, we have observed that their first instinct is often to isolate in the hope of “getting it together” when their stress feels overwhelming. It runs against their instincts, developed through training and culture, to turn to their tribe when they themselves need support. This does not mean that they do not believe in the value of help-seeking, but may feel shame and guilt when they need it for themselves.
Maybe these leaders and heroes become like a lighthouse, helping keep other people safe, holding strong against the storm. But what happens when the lighthouse itself becomes enveloped by lashing waves and raging seas? How does it signal distress? Who looks out for the lighthouse and how can we make sure that all can turn towards the tribe of those they love and trust to lend them strength to fight their demons? Leaders also need the tribe.
When we’re aware a perfect storm is brewing, one of the best things we can do is connect the person with their tribe and with resources that can help — whether that person is a peer or a leader.
TAPS offers comprehensive, best-practice postvention support services for suicide loss survivors, including the 24/7 Helpline (1-800-959-TAPS), virtual groups and chats for survivors, and on-the-ground events and gatherings.
Veterans and their loved ones can call the Veterans Crisis Line by dialing 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, chat online, or send a text message to 838255 to receive support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
Shauna Springer is the Senior Director of TAPS Red Team within the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors. Dr. Springer is a licensed psychologist with an undergraduate degree from Harvard University and a Doctoral degree from the University of Florida. Known to many veterans as “Doc Springer,” she has helped hundreds of warriors reconnect with their tribe, strengthen their most important relationships, and build lives that are driven by their deepest values. TAPS Red Team provides training and consultation related to suicide prevention and postvention to clinicians, military leadership, policymakers, and organizations.
In the military, we’ve been trained to dress, work, and even negotiate. Here are a few of the most common military “pet peeves” that can be turned into positives while adjusting to civilian life.
1. Attention to detail
You notice EVERYTHING! How one dresses, how their hair is a little more shaggy, or their desk is a little more crowded…
USE IT! Focus your attention to detail toward what they do well, compliment them, and turn your attention toward editing yourself, your work and your portrayal of yourself. Civilians do not know the world you’ve come from, and won’t appreciate it until you let them in. Teach them through actions to focus on a RELEVANT set of details.
2. To be early is to be on time
Unless you’re using the “European” or “island time” mentality, you’ve been accustomed to being 15 minutes early to everything. That’s great, and your pet peeve for others just being “on time” should be dismissed. Why? Simply because YOU were holding sentry, observing the area. And though others may have missed something, in your opinion, you can be their eyes and ears and report as needed. Your pet peeve for them has now become an asset. Hey, take those 15 minutes to meditate! A little spiritual centering never hurt anyone.
3. Doing the ‘right’ thing when no one is looking
Veterans adjusting to civilian life still have Integrity. Have it. Just because you may notice that your co-workers lack it: BE the example, and begin to teach your ways through assertive practice. Don’t be a tattle-tale, but teach the benefits of integrity. The honest worker is not only trustworthy, but loyal. Loyalty is leadership.
4. Active listening
Having drill sergeants and MTIs for motivation make for a quick lesson in active listening! However, civilian folks do not have a comparative analysis for this quick and dirty “study.” Again, BE the example, be a mentor. Engage. Listen. Decide. Reply. Print it and put it on your desk. Through your actions, and your awareness of this personal lacking in others, you are building your relationships around you passively; and believe me, they’re watching, and learning. Just remember, listening has no words…so truly LISTEN.
Use your pet peeves to your advantage while adjusting to civilian life by modifying your perception of the situation these are seen in. Simply because you are a modeled machine with certain values and habits does not mean that those around you do not possess these same values; they may just be dormant, culturally unpracticed, or uncultivated. As always, we live to teach whether we want to or not, so speak softly, and rather than “carry a big stick” as Teddy Roosevelt would have you, carry your arsenal of tools in a positive light.
The former special operators who responded to the 2012 Benghazi attacks on the U.S. State Department in Libya didn’t hesitate, they just reacted. They aren’t alone. People in the military are famously trained to “move with a sense of purpose” at all times. This means they are taught to think fast, move fast, and act fast. It’s just good practice – who knows when you might need to have a quick reaction time. Sometimes, we just have to make a quick judgment call and accept the consequences. Those consequences can be severe. It’s the nature of the work we’re in.
For better or for worse, the following six examples illustrate the need for decisive action.
The Confederates needed new shoes.
In 1863, things weren’t looking good for the Confederate Army in the Civil War. Despite their early successes, time was not on their side. The North was ramping up war production and outfitting its men with clothes, food, and, most importantly, shoes. In an effort to resupply his forces at the Union’s expense, Robert E. Lee decided to send a party north looking for railway depots that might be hoarding supplies for the Union Army. They didn’t find as much as they’d hoped, and the entire Army of Northern Virginia stopped at a town in Pennsylvania called Gettysburg.
Before the entire massive army could arrive, Confederate cavalry began skirmishing with Union troops until it turned into full-on fighting. Lee was obliged to send reinforcements piecemeal before he could use his entire force. By the time he was ready, a Union Army had already arrived. What started out as a search for shoes became the turning point of the entire war.
Ulysses S. Grant declined a trip the the theater.
Just a few days after accepting the surrender of Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Court House, a Union victory was all but assured. The surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia would sap the will of the Confederates to continue fighting and lead to the era of Reconstruction. There was nothing that would revive the hopes of the Confederate States… unless the entire Union leadership were to be taken out in one fell swoop – and it nearly was.
On the night President Lincoln was assassinated, Secretary of State William Seward was brutally attacked in his home by John Wilkes Booth’s co-conspirators, and Vice President Andrew Johnson was targeted but not attacked. One more person was to be targeted in the conspiracy: General Grant. Lincoln had invited the general to the theater with his wife, but too tired from years of Civil War, Grant declined. He later recounted in his memoirs having seen Booth tail him to the train station.
One Russian officer decides not to blow up the planet.
In September 1983, the Soviet Union’s early warning system used to detect nuclear missile launches from the United States suddenly started going off. There was a very good chance the Americans had just launched a first strike against Soviet missile sites, precipitating a full-scale nuclear war. This required the officer on duty to return fire using the Soviet Union’s nuclear arsenal. The computer told that officer the Americans had launched five nuclear weapons, and he was obliged to return fire using the USSR’s 35,000-plus weapons.
The officer on duty that day was Lt. Col. Stanislav Petrov, and he wasn’t as concerned about the nuclear exchange as some other officers might have been. Instead of launching an attack that would have turned into a U.S. counterstrike and potentially killing hundreds of millions of people. He just did nothing. For his troubles, the Russians interrogated him mercilessly.
The U.S. and USSR decide not to blow up the planet.
Even though the entire course of events lasted some 13 days, the entire course of events could have precipitated a nuclear exchange at almost any time. When the United States discovered the Soviet Union setting up a nuclear missile site in Cuba, it was too much for the Americans. President Kennedy told the Russians to move them off and set up a total blockade around the island. The next move belonged to the Soviet Union, and their response was anyone’s guess. The United States mobilized for World War III.
It was later revealed in the documentary the Fog of War that Fidel Castro recommended a full nuclear first strike to the Soviet Union, but Nikita Khrushchev was much smarter than that, apparently. The White House received two messages from Moscow, the first was written very cordially and offered a peaceful solution. The second was written by a “bunch of hard-liners” that threatened the destruction of the United States. President Kennedy was forced to choose which message to respond to and which to ignore. Of course, he chose the diplomatic one.
The Kaiser changed the course of the 20th Century.
It’s a well-known fact that World War I was entirely avoidable. With that goes World War II, the Cold War, nuclear arms races, communism, etc. Everything that happened in the 20th Century can be traced back to Germany’s push for war in 1914. There was one man who could have just side-stepped the whole thing: Kaiser Wilhelm II.
As German and Russian allies declared war on each other, the Kaiser and the Tsar of Russia, Nicholas II, exchanged a flurry of personal telegrams aimed at stopping the tide of war just days before what would become known as “the Great War” would begin. Reading what “Nicky” wrote, the Kaiser (addressed by the Tsar as “Willy”) was flustered about whether or not to actually attack and almost called the whole thing off. Instead of that, the German General Staff convinced him their plans were already in motion and could not be stopped for any reason. With this in his ears, he allowed the attacks to go forward, and the rest is history.