Spouse clubs – you either love them or hate them, depending on your experience. Or, you try to stay so far away from them that you’ve yet to form an opinion. They’re ubiquitous with the military spouse experience in some form or fashion, and they’ve been around for a long, long time.
What started as clubs for officers or enlisted wives, spouse clubs were often segregated, rank-based and very snobby. They were the original mean-girls clubs. Despite the petty cattiness, spouse clubs did a lot for their military communities – from fundraisers to unit events and everything in between. But despite their good deeds, many in the military community shied away from spouse clubs, specifically for their notorious history of vapidness.
Of course, that wasn’t the spouse clubs’ intent when they first came on the scene. Most originated as a way for spouses to get information about their service member’s unit, like deployment status and information about redeployment. When a unit is deployed, the spouse club serves as a network of information, and before the digital age, that’s the only thing those spouses had.
Now, it’s so much different. Spouse clubs have morphed from being exclusive for officers or enlisted spouses to being inclusive clubs designed to encourage open friendship, communication, and, well, fun. And members of spouse clubs have been doing the real work to help transform these clubs’ public image into something that is more welcoming, less snobby and more familial.
Over the last two decades that the country has been at war, spouse clubs have served as the heart of military communities, helping to connect spouses during long deployments and ensuring that everyone within a unit has what they need. Spouse clubs work together with units and installations to host large events, which encourages community involvement, which ultimately might help some spouses feel less alone. This is no truer than for spouses whose service member is on heavy rotations in the field or out to see or logging flight time. Now, more than ever, as the military continues to ask more of its personnel, spouse clubs serve as a way to feel connected, part of a larger community, a place to call home.
At least, that was the direction things were heading until COVID-19 came in and crashed the party.
The military hasn’t been immune to the cancellation of social events, and that’s no more evident than with social clubs. This spring, as the world ground to a halt, so too did all of the events planned out by milspouses – events designed to raise funds, do good works, and serve as a way to develop a wider sense of community. The remaining two months of the year don’t look any better for these clubs, and many are now looking to cancel all in-person events until at least next summer. That leaves their executive boards scrambling to find ways to keep the club interactive, fun, engaging and ultimately fulfill its mission.
The Capital Area Spouses Club (CAMS) has had to cancel all of its in-person events but is working with various outlets across the world to offer its members virtual tours. In place of its popular breakfasts, the club now offers a virtual coffee once a month where members can come together and “hang out.” CAMS has decided to nix its annual membership dues this year since none of the events will be held in person, though it’s still committed to providing the National Capital Region’s spouses with fun events. In October, the group attended a virtual Jack the Ripper tour in London, thanks in part to technology and the understanding from club members that this year is anything but typical.
For CAMS and other clubs, the challenge will come not just in adapting to changing conditions but also finding ways to keep spouses engaged and excited about being a club member. But like military spouses, who themselves are resilient, adaptable and incredibly flexible, so too are milspouse clubs. Though the future might not look the same as the iterations of the past, it’s unlikely that the current pandemic conditions will completely nix the spouse club format – but like the rest of us, the format will definitely have to change.
We see you. Peering through the windows of your government-issued duplex at the neighbor’s waving flag, sizzling grill and luscious green patch of America. No amount of rent-controlled water allowance has produced grass so green on your side of things, despite the best of efforts. How is it that lawncare has suddenly become a relevant metaphor for marriage? Happily ever military didn’t tell you about the unspoken vow we all recite, to endure. To preserve during droughts, rebuild after landslides, and endure no matter where we’re planted.
Military marriage is about watering the lawn you have today, and sometimes, calling it for what it is and putting down a patch of turf to get by. Here to help is advice from spouses in it for the long haul.
We all pick fights when the schedule goes completely nuts.
“I’m guilty of misdirecting my anger at my husband, when really it’s the late nights and last-minute changes that I’m angry at,” says Kayla Narramore, United States Marine Corps spouse.
A good marriage requires balance, but all too often, everything you had planned gets scratched at the last minute. Remembering that unlike conventional jobs, when they’re coming home, what happens next, and how long they’ll be gone can all change at any given time. Analyze what, not who you’re frustrated with instead.
Relying on friends is how we all get by
Your service member is your life partner, but your military friends are who you can depend on. Scheduling a kid-free hair appointment, catching the flu, or even a night out are all normal tasks spouses rely on each other to tackle, but all run the risk of being canceled without much notice. Try penciling in your spouse as the back-up, with a non-active duty person as the primary. Always hope that they can step up, but this insulated plan keeps a fight or feelings of being let down out of the equation.
Counseling is not only for quitters
Between deployments, training, and schools that last for months, it’s no wonder why the common state of marriage in the military a bit is out of whack. Cohabitating is hard for anyone. Yearly marital checkups should be as commonplace as yearly physicals. Sometimes a nasty cold needs to run its course and sometimes may require treatment. There’s no body or no marriage that lives its life with a completely clean slate.
We don’t love putting ourselves on hold either
“I’d love to open a bakery, but we move so often that’s nearly impossible,” explains Tiana Nomo, Army spouse when discussing her stress points. Coming to grips with what’s feasible versus possible is where spouses reframe their world in a positive light. While no one would blame you for feeling envious of their consistent career, remembering the bigger picture is helpful in eliminating circular arguments. Rehash the five-year goals often, to be a truer reflection of both parties’ interests.
We don’t always find fitting in easy
“I had gone from working multiple fulfilling jobs to being alone, as a stay at home mom while my husband was deployed. My walls were up, to say the least,” says Anna Perez, Army spouse about her time at their first duty station. Military spouses may have one large common denominator but come together from opposite ends of all spectrums in career, life, expectations, and culture. The same can be said for the service member, however, with most of their days and time welded together, bonding appears to come more naturally than for the spouse. Without a secure network, it becomes easy for spouses to begin isolating themselves, even within their marriages. “I reached outside of the post, and into the local town where I found friendships and mentors who changed my outlook and career path,” says Perez who has her sights on becoming a lawyer.
Picking up on a theme? So much of military life is unpredictable, taking marital expectations through drastic ups and downs. Learning to love through potential decades of military service requires a strong tolerance for upheaval and a willingness to hang on, even if by one rooted strand.
On September 11, 2020, 19 years to the day of the horrible attacks on America, President Donald Trump will present the Medal of Honor to Sergeant Major Thomas “Patrick” Payne for his actions in Iraq during the rescue operation that freed 70 hostages from imminent execution at the hands of the Islamic State.
Payne will be the first living member of 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, also known as Delta Force or Combat Applications Group to receive the Medal of Honor and the first since two Delta Force Operators received them posthumously in the Battle of Mogadishu in 1993.
That’s right, we can see how the rescue mission unfolded that night as Payne, his fellow Delta commandos and the Kurds went in and saved the lives of the hostages.
On October 22, 2015 Payne, then a Sergeant First Class, took off with his team and partner units and made their way toward Hawija, located outside of Kirkuk in northern Iraq. They had intelligence passed on to them that numerous hostages were being kept there in two houses. The Kurds were convinced that the hostages were captured Peshmerga fighters and were eager to get them freed. The teams had practiced for over a week to get their mission down but had to move fast. Freshly dug graves had been spotted outside of the enemy compound and it was feared the hostages would meet a grisly end soon.
Flying in on CH-47s, the rescue mission experienced a brown out upon landing and came under immediate fire from enemy forces. As they made their way toward the compound, the Kurdish troops froze under fire. One of Payne’s teammates looked at them and yelled, “Follow me”. The team moved toward the compound and made their way over the walls.
There were two buildings and the rescue mission involved two groups assaulting each building at the same time. As Payne’s team got to their target, a radio call came over saying that one of the men in the other group was hit. The medic with Payne took off through fire toward the downed man.
The rest of the team entered their objective where they met light resistance. They saw an iron door with a lock on it and cut the lock. Upon opening the door, they saw the excited faces of the hostages. As they rounded up the hostages, another call came over the radio. The second objective wasn’t as easy as the first and the rescue team had met fierce resistance.
Without missing a beat, Payne looked toward his men and said, “Hey, let’s get into the fight. Let’s go.”
If there was ever a mission that Payne and his team was ready for, it was this. It was the reason their unit was created in the first place. The Army won’t admit it, but Payne and the rest of his team belong to a unit informally known as Delta Force.
Known as the best of the best of the United States military, Delta got its start in the late 1970s thanks to LtCol Charlie Beckwith. Beckwith had long pushed for the United States military to have a commando unit that was on par with the British SAS. The spate of terrorist kidnappings that took place in the 70s by Islamic extremists and Far Left European terrorist groups. Beckwith organized and formed the unit and placed an emphasis on counter terrorism. The team relentlessly practiced drills involving hostage rescue. As the years passed, Delta Force became the leaders in clandestine operations and asymmetrical warfare. The standards to get in are high and only the best of the best make it.
Sergeant Major Payne was about to show why he belongs in that group.
Payne led his men toward the second building and made their way to the roof, while taking small arms fire the entire time. Once on top of the building, they took fire from west of the building and from inside it. The enemy was right below them. Payne and his men returned fire and dropped grenades through holes in the roof. They took fire and hear several explosions as ISIS fighters started detonating suicide vests. Realizing they needed another way in, they maneuvered down the steps and set up shop right outside the building. At this point, the structure was on fire with enemy combatants still inside. Even more pressing was that the remaining hostages were locked inside as well.
Payne and his team first tried to breach the windows but couldn’t. They then looked through a door and saw the same type of iron door as the first building. They found the hostages. Payne grabbed a pair of bolt cutters and made his way into the building, only to take on enemy fire. Ignoring the bullets and smoke from the burning building he struggled to get the bolts cut. When the smoke and fire got too thick he had to leave after cutting the first one. A Kurdish soldier ran in to cut the second one but couldn’t because of the gunfire and smoke. Payne then grabbed the cutters and ran back in again.
He managed to get the bolt cut this time. The door swung open and the remaining hostages were in sight. The rest of the team rushed in to engage the enemy, but as they neutralized them another calamity was occurring. The building was starting to collapse. They had to get the hostages out while they were still engaged in a firefight. Payne led the way. Waving them on, he guided them out the room and to safety. When one of the hostages froze, Payne pushed him along and got everyone moving.
By this point the building had gotten so bad, that there was a call to evacuate the structure. The team and the hostages made their way out, with Delta and the Kurds laying down fire as the hostages ran. But Payne didn’t go just yet. He had to make sure they had done their job.
He ran back into the building once more and saw a hostage that had been lying on the floor. He grabbed him off the floor and dragged him to safety. Once out, he went back in one last time.
He had to make sure no one was left behind.
Only after visually making sure that his men, the Kurds and the hostages were all out, did Payne leave. The teams and hostages boarded the helos and took off toward safety. They had done it. They had freed the hostages, but there was a cost.
Master Sergeant Joshua Wheeler was the operator that was hit early in the mission. The teams learned only then that he had died. His last words to his men as he led them into the fray was, “On me!”
70 hostages owe their life to Payne and the rest of the rescue team. How close were they to death? They told their rescuers that they were told they would be executed the next day after morning prayers….
This is a letter to the military spouse that started the journey to parenthood, with hope and excitement. The one thinking this would be so easy because that’s what society has led you to believe, only to still be trying one, two, three or however many heartbreaking years later. The one who has watched countless friends bring home children during this time that feels more and more discouraged.
This is a letter to the military spouse walking down the family planning aisle looking for a pregnancy test with your fingers crossed, full of anticipation, thinking this is the month that your dreams come true and you will cross the line into motherhood. For the one looking at ovulation test kits instead of pregnancy tests thinking maybe this is what will make the difference this month in your journey. You are beginning to wonder if anything can help you. Kicking yourself each month for not just buying the 50 count test kits on Amazon because you have likely spent hundreds of dollars on tests already. But still, you buy them because you still have hope that you can be a parent one day.
To the military spouse digging through the trashcan in the hopes that the positive line appeared late because it just needed more time. Maybe it was too faint for you to see the line, or the lighting was bad when you tested so you missed it. To the one that tests again, and again. Noticing every little symptom, feeling that this time it must have happened, but the test still gives you that same soul-crushing negative.
To the military spouse that ugly cries on the toilet when your period starts yet again. You really thought this was the month that it had finally happened because Aunt Flo was late. Only she showed up with a vengeance and all you want to do is crawl into bed and hide from the world. Each agonizing cramp and trip to the bathroom is a constant reminder that this cycle was a total bust.
To the military spouse that can’t listen to one more person ask, “So when are you two having kids?” or the subtle hints from family members. Each question or comment cuts you deep down inside and makes you feel even more broken. You feel like a failure because you can’t do the one thing that seems to define womanhood. The boiling anger, resentment and jealousy you feel when you see someone that wasn’t even trying or that accidentally got pregnant. That feeling that takes over that you can’t seem to define.
To the military spouse that is at another doctor’s appointment trying to find answers. Desperately looking and waiting for them to determine the cause, the reason. Answers to why this isn’t happening as it should. Praying that there is some reason and that you aren’t left without answers. Hoping that you can pop a few pills and that will do the trick. Maybe you’re moving to plan B, C or D and you are praying that this is the right combination of medications or treatments this cycle.
To the military spouse facing postponements or cancelations in treatment cycles because of deployments, PCSes or COVID-19. Wondering if you are missing your last chance. Wondering if this is the last egg you have left. Full of questions and uncertainties. Waiting for however long with anxiety and fear. Hoping with every ounce in your body that this doesn’t ruin your chances once this delay is all over. For the one that dreads having to start all over again once you are able.
To the military spouse worrying over the financial realities that come with infertility. Worrying if Tricare will cover testing. Stressing over the cost of medications that the insurance doesn’t cover. Trying to find thousands of dollars to pay for the chance at having your own family. You have a deep biological desire to carry and give birth to a child of your own. Making the hard decisions of which treatment route to go, and how many cycle attempts you make before there is no more money left in the pot. For the ones exhausted from searching for grants, loans, any program that could possibly help with the financial burden of infertility.
To the military spouse avoiding social media because it is flooded with the gut-wrenching reminder that you are childless. That each pregnancy announcement, gender reveal and newborn photoshoot you scroll past is a stab at your empty womb. Maybe you have resorted to unfollowing or even unfriending friends and family because it hurts too much to see their posts. While deep down you truly are happy for them, your feelings of jealousy, sadness and rage take over and it’s easier to not be reminded.
To the military spouse attending a baby shower that is politely smiling and limiting conversation because on the inside you are struggling. Struggling to fight back the flood of tears and overwhelming sadness. Wondering if you will ever get to experience this for yourself or if you will always be barren. Looking for the quickest route to the door or bathroom in case the flood of tears starts to stream and the last thing you want is to cause a scene.
To the military spouse that got her positive test after all the struggles and heartache to have it all ripped away. For the ones that saw a heartbeat and thought they were in the clear this time. Or you thought this time it would be different, that this time you wouldn’t miscarry, but then everything came crashing down around you. Maybe you only know the devastating realities of pregnancy loss and long to be the one that experiences the joys of bringing home a child.
To the military spouse that feels alone, broken, weary, or even depressed: YOU ARE NOT ALONE. For the one that feels all these and more month after month, or year after year. To the one that has days where getting out of bed feels impossible. For the one that can’t face the world or function for days at a time. Let me say it again: YOU ARE NOT ALONE. One in 8 couples face the same problems with infertility.
To the military spouse facing infertility: This does not define you. This is not who you are. This is not your fault. Your worth is not any less, nor does it make you any less of a woman. This is not a measure of your success. You are not broken or damaged. You are strong. The pain you feel is real and it is okay to ask for help. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but of strength. And it is okay for you to talk about it. Be a voice and share your story so others can see that they are not alone. You get to decide on your journey, just know that there is a whole military spouse community right here with you to support and encourage you because you are not alone and it is okay to talk about it.
April is Infertility Awareness Month and this is National Infertility Awareness Week. For resources about infertility, please visit: https://infertilityawareness.org/. And from our hearts to yours: You are not alone.
Two MV-22B Osprey pilots and a tiltrotor crew chief walk toward an aircraft hangar at Marine Corps Air Station Camp Pendleton, California, April 15, 2019. (U.S. Marine Corps/Cpl. Gabino Perez)
Attention Marine aviators: The Marine Corps needs you to return to active duty.
That’s the call the Marine Corps issued this week in its quest to get its former pilots to come back into the fold. The service is sweetening the deal by making selectees immediately eligible for bonuses of up to $100,000.
“The Marine Corps, like all services, has been challenged in the recent past with shortages in pilot inventory,” Capt. Joe Butterfield, a Marine spokesman at the Pentagon, said. “… We designed the aviation bonus and Return to Active Duty opportunities to offset the deficits we have at the junior officer grades.”
The Marine Corps wants the pilots to sign two-, three- or four-year contracts to return to active duty. Those selected will be automatically career-designated if they weren’t prior to leaving the service, and those willing to stay in longer could be given preference.
Return to Active Duty submissions are due by Nov. 6. Officers in the Selected Marine Corps Reserve, Individual Ready Reserve, and Individual Mobilization Augmentee Detachments could all be eligible. Aviators who had left the service completely could also qualify once they affiliate with a Reserve component, the administrative message states.
The service’s pilot crunch is largely due to challenges with producing new aviators while the Marine Corps is transitioning to new platforms, Butterfield said. The service is in the process of upgrading several of its aircraft as it transitions squadrons to the F-35 or CH-53K.
Going back on active duty could make pilots eligible for the Marine Corps Aviation Bonus Program for fiscal year 2021, which starts on Oct. 1. That bonus program, announced earlier this month, offers aviators in certain grades and communities expected to face personnel shortfalls up to 0,000 for another six years of service.
Since the Marine Corps wants former captains and majors to come back and fly for between two and four years, bonuses for those coming back in under those timelines would top out at 0,000.
The military has been struggling to retain pilots who’ve been able to pick up bonus options to go to commercial airliners in recent years. But the coronavirus pandemic has left some airlines struggling as travel declined, raising the possibility that military pilot retention will improve in coming years.
The Marine Corps has semi-annual Return to Active Duty boards, and since the start of the pandemic, Butterfield said the service has seen more applicants.
“We are aware of the pressures that come with current airline furloughs, and are offering this interim board with decreased obligations (24, 36, and 48-month) compared to previous RAD boards [with] 48-month obligations,” he said.
The Marine Corps didn’t answer questions about which of its platforms face the greatest shortages. The service has identified operational tempo and airline hiring as just two challenges the Marine Corps faces in keeping its pilots.
“This interim board gives the opportunity for those no longer on active duty to fly with the Marine Corps again and continue their service to the nation,” Butterfield said.
On a Sunday a little over 12 years ago, on a battlefield far from home, US Army Green Beret Staff Sgt. John Wayne Walding, then in his mid-20s, suddenly found himself in an intense firefight that changed his life forever.
The mission was to capture or kill a local terrorist leader holed up in a mountain fortress occupied by Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin forces in eastern Afghanistan.
The plan was to insert US Special Forces soldiers and Afghan commandos into a valley below by helicopter and take the enemy by surprise. Once they were on the ground, the joint force was expected to climb into the mountains on foot, infiltrate the town, neutralize the hostiles, and get out.
Some of the troops called to execute the mission questioned whether it was too risky. Their concerns were brushed aside, and the mission moved forward as planned. A fellow Green Beret who went with Walding on the mission told Insider it was “cursed” from the start.
This is the story of not just that fateful mission, but Walding’s refusal to give up after tragedy struck.
John Wayne Walding and Ryan Wallen, a fellow Green Beret who accompanied Walding on the fateful mission. (Courtesy photo)
‘A very long day at the office’
On April 6, 2008, a handful of troops with Operational Detachment Alpha 3336, 3rd Special Forces Group and a number of Afghan commandos flew into Shok Valley. It was the start of what Walding called “a very long day at the office.”
Shok Valley (US Army graphic)
Their troubles began almost immediately upon arrival.
“We couldn’t even land, the terrain was so f—ing bad,” Walding’s friend and fellow Green Beret, former Staff Sgt. Ryan Wallen, recalled. “Our helicopter just kind of hovered about 10 feet up over a freezing cold river and gigantic rocks, and we had to jump out of the back. This was already a rough start.”
Their situation quickly got worse. As the lead element made its way toward the objective, the mountains suddenly erupted with gunfire. A large force of several hundred enemies ambushed the American and Afghan troops, upending the mission and turning it into a terrifying fight for survival.
“Gunfire just opened up on us,” Wallen said. He was positioned down by the river near the base of the mountain when the bullets started to fly.
“I took a [rocket-propelled grenade] and kind of got blown out,” Wallen continued. “I was laying half in the water, bleeding out of my throat and chest, beaten up a little bit. The overpressure kind of f—ed me up.”
Nothing vital had been damaged in the blast, so the team’s medic, Staff Sgt. Ron Shurer, was able to get him patched up and back in the fight. Farther up the mountain, the lead element was pinned down and taking heavy fire.
An Afghan interpreter had been killed, and two US soldiers, Staff Sgt. Dillon Behr and Staff Sgt. Luis Morales, were severely wounded. Supporting, Walding moved into position between them and the incoming fire. “That’s when I got shot,” he said.
An enemy sniper shot Walding in the leg, nearly tearing it from his body. “It was hanging on by like a tendon or two,” Wallen said. “I’ve never seen an injury that looked that bad.”
“I never will forget falling forward and then rolling over to see that leg just hanging there by only about an inch of flesh,” Walding recalled. “It was the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life.”
Walding was not done fighting though. After putting a tourniquet in place to stop the bleeding, he used his boot laces to strap the bottom part of his leg to his thigh, picked up his rifle, and got back to it.
Most of the US Special Forces team suffered wounds of one kind or another, but “as f—ed up as everybody was, we didn’t have time for anybody to lay there bleeding and dying,” Wallen said.
American planes were called into conduct dozens of danger-close airstrikes with large bombs that Walding said blacked out the sun with debris.
Unable to move forward with their mission, the US and Afghan troops fought fiercely for hours just to stay alive until they could be pulled out.
Wallen and a few others helped get Walding down the mountain and to the evacuation point. “As the medevac birds were coming in, we were dragging casualties across the river, and it was freezing,” he said.
They tried a couple of times to get Walding on a helicopter but were unsuccessful, as the helos were either full or taking rounds, and each time they failed, they had to carry him back across the river to a safe position shielded from the gunfire.
“Finally, a third bird came in, and we took JW back across the river a fifth time,” Wallen said. “We were finally able to get him on that bird, but we ended up giving John hypothermia along with all of his damn injuries. It was like bad things kept stacking up.”
All of the US troops that went into Shok Valley made it out alive. Some of the Afghans, however, did not. Although they were unable to complete the mission, the US and Afghan forces left behind hundreds of enemy dead.
Ten members of Walding’s team, himself included, would later be awarded the Silver Star. Not since Vietnam had that many Silver Stars been awarded for a single engagement. And, two of the soldiers who were in Shok Valley later received the Medal of Honor for their courage under fire.
The immediate aftermath was no celebration though. Walding, who had hoped that his leg could be saved, went into surgery. “I never will forget waking up the next day,” he recalled. He said he was afraid to look down. When he finally did, he cried.
John Wayne Walding (US Army Photo by Capt. David Chace)
‘A leg was not going to stop me’
John Wayne Walding was born on the Fourth of July in Texas. His father named him after the famous actor who starred in classic Westerns and war movies because, in his words, if “you have a cool birthday, you need a cool name.”
But while Walding was named after the man who directed and starred in the 1968 film “The Green Berets,” he never thought much about the military until he was about 20 years old and realized he needed a real job.
Walding talked to a recruiter who asked him if he wanted to shoot missiles. He said “Hell yeah” and joined the Army as a Patriot missile operator.
He found his true calling after he joined up though. “As soon as I saw the Green Berets and what the tip of the spear really is, that really got my gears spinning,” he told Insider.
Wallen met Walding when the latter joined his team as a Green Beret, and they quickly became good friends.
“It was one of those connections that, just right away, we just kind of hit it off,” Wallen said. “We developed a really strong bond, and then it was just solidified when we were baptized in blood together.”
Wallen said he was one of the first people to see Walding when he came out of surgery after being wounded in Shok Valley.
Walding had been torn apart in battle, something not easily overcome, something that some never overcome, but he determined he was not done being an elite soldier. “Donning that Green Beret was one of the most profound moments of my life, and a leg was not going to stop me from doing that,” he told Insider.
Being a Green Beret meant being a part of something special, something meaningful that’s bigger than any one person. Reflecting on the events that unfolded in Shok Valley, Walding said, “We didn’t get through that day because I was great or any of our guys. It was because we were willing to fight to the death to keep each other alive.”
“You don’t just wake up the day after all of that and say, ‘Well, I guess I’ll hang up the hat.'”
John Wayne Walding (Courtesy photo)
‘You do it because you love it’
Walding said that he tries to live his life in such a way that he is not simply good, but great. Following his recovery, he decided to become a Special Forces sniper.
Just two years after he sustained a life-altering injury, Walding began the intense seven-week Special Forces Sniper Course at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg, North Carolina equipped with a ruggedized prosthetic and a determination to excel against all odds.
“Why did I keep going? Because I loved it,” Walding said.
“You don’t do what I did because you like it. You do it because you love it,” he continued. “To become a Green Beret, there’s a lot of people that quit because they just liked it. They liked the idea of being one, but that’s not how I live.”
Snipers are essential assets who provide battlefield intelligence and long-range precision fires, and the training is challenging across the military.
For the Special Forces, sniper training can be even more demanding. Through shooting and marksmanship sessions, gun runs, stalking, fast rope training, and climbing exercises, Walding held his own despite his prosthetic. “I never finished last,” he said.
Walding made history in the summer of 2010 by becoming the first amputee to graduate from the elite special warfare sniper course.
“His story is incredible,” Wallen said. “I don’t know that many people on the planet have the kind of resilience he does.” That’s not to say that there weren’t bad days, but when times got tough, it was his faith, family and friends, and love of country that got him through.
Walding wanted to return to his team and operational status, but he ultimately decided against it, opting instead to stay on as an instructor.
“I knew that no matter how good I was with one leg, a Green Beret with two was always going to be better,” Walding told Insider, explaining that he would never want to be in a scenario where one of his brothers or sisters was injured or killed because of him. “I wouldn’t be able to live with myself,” he said.
John Wayne Walding (Courtesy photo)
‘Forever remember the cost of freedom’
After serving 12 years in the military, Walding retired in 2013 as a Sergeant First Class. He now lives in Texas with his wife and four kids.
As a civilian, Walding continues to serve.
He started Gallantry Global Logistics, a company named after the words on the back of his Silver Star, which reads “for gallantry in action.” He hopes to see it become the largest veteran employer in Texas. He is also the co-founder of Live to Give, a water bottle company that donates half of all profits to veteran and first responder charities.
Walding named his shipping company after his Silver Star, but the Purple Heart he was awarded for the injuries he suffered in Afghanistan has tremendous meaning too.
“I wear that Purple Heart figuratively every day,” Walding said. “Every single day, I wake up and I see my leg is missing. I will forever remember the cost of freedom. It really is a driving factor for me to not be good, but be great.”
With your next military ball around the corner, it’s time to start thinking about how you can ruin the whole event. With a few ill-timed drinks and a flair for the dramatic, your entire night can go up in flames, so long as you try hard enough!
Jot down these disastrous effects for a quick way to turn any military ball terrible.
That one guy who made everyone mad? Or the investigation that’s ongoing and hush-hush? Now is the perfect time to bring it up. Loudly. Ask for all the juiciest gossip and pass it along to the high ups. Be sure to sprinkle your own opinions and conspiracy theories for maximum effect.
Who’s calling JAG? Get the press involved. WTF Moments will be in the know if you have anything to say about it!
Wear the wrong kind of undergarments
We’re talking a too-small strapless bra that cuts off circulation, layers of Spanx that require you to get completely naked for a bathroom break. Maybe one of those pasties that comes unstuck right in the middle of your main course. Get creative! The worse the fit and function, the rockier your night will fare! Dresses with heavy sequins or glitter that trails your every move are also among top contenders.
Drink ’til you drop
Chug a lug! Nothing screams “disaster” quite like throwing up after on your spouse’s boss. Extra points if you can get a few of them with your booze-soaked contents. Where’s the general at, anyway? Take shots — the louder you are about it, the better. Shots! Shots! Shots! Don’t forget to make your way up to the grog, either. Your night will not be complete without it, obviously.
Rub ALL the pregnant bellies
See those sober ladies watching you with wide eyes? It’s because they want you to rub their growing bellies for good luck. They won’t say it, but it’s all they can think about. Talking to each in-utero babe will bring added wonder to your night of joy. Unsure if it’s a baby in there? Better rub that belly anyway! How else would the night remain as one of the worst of all time?!
Help yourself to the desserts
Did you know that when you arrive, dessert is already on the table? Get there first, and you can have your pick of the lot. Or better yet, you can just have it all! Be sure to stack up dirty dishes and to discuss — loudly — how good it was to finish dessert for the table. Leave the napkin for later, though; chocolate on the face will help complete your overall vibe.
Ready to have your worst military ball yet? Best of luck to all who stand in your path — in fact, it’s best to push them out of the way — especially as you run to the stage for an impromptu speech. Stiff arms out and spirit in your heart.
Nine unclaimed veterans and two spouses will be laid to rest Friday in Iowa, thanks to the tireless efforts of a woman who treats every urn as if it contains the remains of her own family.
Funeral director Lanae Strovers has been working on the upcoming ceremony for more than two years, but her passion and reputation for honoring veterans goes back much further in her career at Hamilton’s Funeral Home.
Having been put on bed rest for three months because of surgery, Strovers was looking for a way to keep busy when she discovered Hamilton’s had about 300 urns sitting in storage. She made it her mission to follow up with families to see whether they could claim the urns or still needed them stored.
After the arduous process of tracking down relatives or guardians for all the urns, Strover said the funeral home ended up with the remains of three unclaimed veterans and organized a service for them.
“Since then, people are aware that Hamilton’s makes sure veterans get buried whether they have family or not,” Strovers said. “Local law enforcement has turned in urns, and storage unit owners have turned some in to us, which is an amazing thing because they know that we will hold the ceremony when it’s necessary.”
Strovers was adopted as a child and only recently learned anything about her biological family. Her background made her look at unclaimed remains differently.
“I felt that every person was a possible brother, dad, grandfather, uncle, or family member to me,” she said. “It’s not just a box with cremated remains in it. It’s someone’s family member. For whatever reason, they got separated — that’s not our place to judge those stories at all, but to be respectful that it’s someone’s loved one.”
One of the veterans to be honored Friday is Robert Glen Baumgardner, who served in the Army during the Korean War. He died in 2000. Burglars stole his urn from his sister’s house in 2020 after she died. Police later discovered it in the middle of an intersection and took it to the funeral home.
World War II Army veteran Calvin Dean Sours died in May 2012 at age 93. His urn was later found in the office of an administrator who had failed to bury him.
Knowing that a person’s remains could be forgotten on a shelf doesn’t sit right with Strovers. While the ultimate goal is reuniting remains with the person’s family, giving the person a proper send-off is the next best option.
Friday’s ceremony – the third Strovers has organized – will begin with a 12:30 p.m. service at Hamilton’s in West Des Moines, Iowa. Law enforcement personnel, Patriot Guard Riders, and Iowa combat veterans will lead a procession to the Iowa Veterans Cemetery, where Iowa-based country singer Cody Hicks will perform the national anthem. Military honors will be rendered, and local representatives and notable community members will receive the flags on behalf of each veteran.
Rich Shipley, assistant state captain of the Iowa Patriot Guard Riders and a Marine Corps veteran, said the riders would be there to ensure the veterans would be “laid to rest with as many brothers present as possible.”
“Our nation’s heroes should never be unclaimed, discarded, or interred with no family present,” Shipley wrote in an email to Coffee or Die Magazine.
“It’s really a great community event where tons of people come together to honor these veterans,” Strovers said. She strongly encourages the public to attend, especially families with children.
“To teach those kids respect for people who served our country is huge,” Strovers said. “And just to see so many people coming to pay respects to people they never knew simply because they served our country is a pretty amazing thing.”
Military support organizations have distributed thousands of dollars in financial assistance to service members and their families impacted by COVID-19, with services available for living expenses, emergencies, education and more. The application process, eligibility requirements and availability of funds vary by organization. Below is a breakdown of information provided by officials from each organization:
AIR FORCE AID SOCIETY
The Air Force Aid Society has distributed ,414 in assistance for financial needs attributed to COVID-19.
Services available: Emergency assistance through no-interest loans and grants; need-based educational grants, merit-based scholarships; and on-base community programs.
How to apply: Our central point for seeking assistance is the local base Airman Family Readiness Center. They have all been declared mission-essential by local commanders. All of them can and do take applications online and any contact is minimized. For members not near a base, we have reciprocal with our fellow relief societies. They will render assistance and we will reimburse them (see the list below). This mutual support extends to our partners at the American Red Cross, particularly for those not near any military installation. Airmen can call the dedicated American Red Cross Military Service line and be assisted.
For airmen not near a base, the Air Force Aid Society has reciprocal agreements that allow you to receive assistance through these other agencies:
Army Emergency Relief (located at Army installations, worldwide)
Coast Guard Mutual Assistance (located at Coast Guard installations, worldwide)
Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society (located at Navy installations, worldwide)
American Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces: call 877-272-7337
Army Emergency Relief has supported 128 soldiers with 2,000 disbursed in grants and zero-interest loans related to COVID-19, as of the beginning of May, according to AER officials.
Services available: Active-duty soldiers and their families are eligible for the full range of 30+ AER benefit categories if they were impacted by the DOD travel ban or PCS stop movement order. They can apply online here.
Additionally, in March, AER extended travel ban/stop movement benefits to non-Title 10 reserve and National Guard soldiers who had been impacted. More recently, AER also turned on new benefits for Title 10 and Title 32 soldiers who have been activated for any length of time by the president or their state’s governor to help with the COVID-19 response. The new Title 10/Title 32 benefits are active whenever the activation begins and for 30 days past the end of their activation. Any soldiers who are Title 10/Title 32 can apply for help with basic living expenses and/or personal transportation costs.
How to apply: Recognizing that face-to-face meetings to apply for assistance may be limited or not advisable, AER has arranged a new process to allow for soldiers to electronically submit requests for assistance. Soldiers can go to the AER website to determine the easiest way to get benefits. Soldiers who cannot get in touch with a local AER office for whatever reason can also submit a request 1) by contacting one of the other military aid societies and/or 2) through the American Red Cross by calling 1-877-272-7337 and selecting option 1 for financial assistance.
Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society provided COVID-19-related relief to 502 clients with over 3,000 in interest-free loans and grants, as of this month.
Services available: The services we provide are to assist with the financial needs that arise from the current pandemic, whether that is assistance with paying bills, rent etc. We currently offer a COVID-19 Rapid Response for up to 00; no lengthy application and no need for financial counseling. We also have our traditional loan services available for greater needs
Coast Guard Mutual Assistance serves the entire Coast Guard community. To date, it has worked with 438 clients and distributed 2,034.97, according to its website.
Services available: Varying rates of assistance are available to those with lost wages, members in medically-induced quarantine, and travel fee reimbursement. Additional assistance exists for childcare and education assistance, and medical assistance. The full list can be viewed here.
Having been married to someone in the military for almost a decade at this point, there are two things I learned quickly that will almost always be true. The first is that no matter what, there will always be at least one MRE somewhere in your house. The second, is that you will have to move. You will move a lot, you will move often, and there is a high likelihood you will have to move somewhere unfamiliar. While PCS and other forms of military travel are put on temporary hold right now, it can still be helpful to think of ways to make some of the more stressful, and sometimes more time consuming aspects, work for you.
Any move, military or otherwise, comes with obvious stressors and things to consider. From prospective jobs, future school districts, housing, and arguably the most stressful: trying to convince your friends to help pack the moving truck. While there are options in the military to have your things professionally packed and moved, my husband and I have always taken the more hands-on approach. Albeit more tedious, it has kind of become tradition for us. It gives us one last chance to say goodbye to friends we’ve made, pay them in pizza and beer and convince them that we really didn’t mean to pack some of those boxes so heavy.
I’ve gotten a lot of great advice from people over the years about the best way to adjust to a new duty station. It’s easier when you have built in ice breakers like school aged kids or more social hobbies, but overall, everyone learns to adjust in their own way. Something else that seemingly less significant or explored is the actual act of getting from point A to point B.
Even during the anxiety and uncertainty of our very first move, my favorite part of a PCS has always been hitting the road and making conscious efforts to plan our route in a memorable way. Our duty stations have been all over the country, so we’ve been able to cover some significant ground in a relatively short amount of time. There’s something about taking what is typically deemed more utilitarian and turning it into its own experience that really seems to feed the soul.
When I think about some of my favorite memories with my husband and kids, I think about our PCS roadtrips. Our oldest son visited the Grand Canyon and traveled through 23 states before his first birthday. We spent an entire day driving around Albuquerque, NM visiting filming locations from Breaking Bad, which admittedly was more of a personal bucket list item, but my husband had control of the radio that day, so we found a happy compromise.
Our youngest son travelled from Oregon to Louisiana before he was even born (nothing goes better with being seven months pregnant than driving 7 hours a day for a week straight). Both of our boys have managed to get really close to crossing off all 50 states since they’ve been our roadies. We’ve made our way through the good, the bad and the ugly of truck stops, hotels and roadside attractions–few things compare to some of those alien museums in Roswell, which really have the potential to encompass all three traits seamlessly.
We take the time before our move to look at a map and see what’s out there. Sure, there are days where it really is about getting up early and putting in those long hours to get some mileage under our belt, but we always try to counter that with something fun. Sometimes it can feel like “making the best out of a bad situation” if the move comes at an inopportune time, or there are outside factors at play.
One of the realities of being a military family is having a lot of things decided for you. That can seem like a daunting thing, and I would be lying if I said there weren’t times where it was really hard for us in one way or another.
At the end of the day it’s about looking for those silver linings in the inevitable. Taking stock in the situation and being able to make it into something you can look back on and appreciate having been in that place at that time. So many things in life are done with the outcome in mind, not the process. Military members and military families will undoubtedly spend a lot of time going from point A to point B, it comes with the territory. What that does however, is offer up the opportunity for adventure. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, but sometimes it’s worth taking a detour.
Planning out and making a home-cooked meal every night can get old; so can the evening routine. Also, kids are expensive and you need for something, just once in a while, to not cost so goddamn much. Fortunately, there is the great American tradition of “kids eat free,” wherein chain restaurants offer free, road-tested, mostly fried children’s meals on certain days (Tuesday seems to be a popular one) or have special deals that significantly offset the cost of a kid’s meal out.
From fast-casual restaurants like Applebee’s and Red Robin to more regional chains, here are 19 restaurants where kids eat free. Because why not score a free mini-quesadilla or plate of chicken fingers for the kids when you can?
Kids eat free on certain days of the week based on location. The menu includes a range of classic kids’ favorites and moderately more adventurous dishes, from mac-and-cheese and chicken fingers to chicken tacos, pizza, and corn dogs.
On Tuesdays after 4 p.m., when parents order an adult entrée, kids under 12 eat free. Parents will appreciate the family meals to go, which can be customized for whatever size family you have.
For those in Texas, this eclectic cafe offers free meals to kids under 12 with the purchase of an entrée from Sunday through Thursday. The menu has Tex-Mex favorites like tacos and empanadas, plus classic brunch picks like waffles. Kids will get a kick out of the “pancake tacos.”
With the purchase of an adult entree, you can snag a free kid-sized quesadilla.
Rewards members get a free kid’s meal as long as they spend at least every 60 days. The kids’ menu includes favorites like sliders, chicken fingers, pizza, pasta, grilled cheese, and quesadilla, so there’s bound to be something for everyone.
At this beloved breakfast joint, kids eat free when adults order an entrée. It’s limited to two free kids’ meals per adult, and may apply to different days according to location.
Dickey’s Barbecue Pit
Kids under 12 eat free on Sundays for each adult that spends at least . With the hearty portions offered at Dickey’s, nobody will be left hungry.
Kids eat free at select locations, but….
Everyone’s favorite Swedish home store offers free baby food with each entrée purchased. Plus, certain locations offer free meals for bigger kids on special days of the week.
At select locations of this old-fashioned diner and burger joint, kids eat free on Tuesdays from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. with the purchase of a regular entrée and drink.
Marie Calendar’s Restaurant and Bakery
Kids under 12 eat free on Saturdays with the purchase of an entrée at this regional chain with restaurants in California, Utah, and Nevada.
Margaritas Mexican Restaurant
Kids eat free on Saturdays and Sundays at participating locations of this New England chain.
At participating locations, kids eat free on Tuesdays. Plus, all entrées come with free chips and salsa, and kids’ meals also include a drink and cookie.
Kids eat free on Wednesdays and Sundays when adults order an enchilada entrée.
The deal varies by location, so check with your local franchise, but popular deals include “kids eat free” one night of the week and id=”listicle-2645141716″.99 kids’ meals. At all locations, kids can get a free sundae on their birthday, and royalty rewards members get a free burger during their birthday month as well as every 10th item free.
This national chain lives up to its name. Kids eat free every Tuesday after 5 p.m. with the purchase of an entrée.
This buffet-style restaurant is perfect for the kids who can never seem to answer the question, “what do you want for dinner?” The 50-foot salad bar might even entice them with some veggies. Rewards members get a free kid’s meal on Mondays and Tuesdays.
Kids eat free all day, every day at the largest ribs joint in the country. Participating locations only.
Kids eat free every Tuesday at participating locations of this famous Chicago pizza joint. For the more sophisticated palette, Uno offers a surprisingly wide-ranging menu, from classic deep dish to vegan and gluten-free pizzas, seafood options like lemon basil salmon, pastas like buffalo chicken mac-and-cheese and even the buzzed-about Beyond Burger. Plus they have margaritas. Amen.
Over the course of the past two wars, Marines learned a lot of lessons and gained a lot of new weapons and equipment to increase their effectiveness on the modern battlefield. But when we started to realize just how outdated the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon became, the search for a replacement began.
The M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle did just that for the standard Marine infantry squad, much to the disdain of many Marines until they realized its application fit a larger spectrum than the M249. Every Marine has their favorite gun and once the M27 became more widely used, it wasn’t long before it became a grunt’s best friend and greatest ally.
Once you hear an automatic weapon begin firing bursts, adrenaline and primal instinct start flowing and you get this sudden urge to break things. The M27 offers this experience to infantry Marines everywhere and that can be reason enough for a grunt to fall in love with it — but the love they have for the IAR goes beyond the feeling of automatic fire.
Here are the main reasons the M27 gets so much love:
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Caleb T. Maher)
The M27 is insanely precise and when its shooter has mastered the basic fundamentals of marksmanship, it creates a dangerous duo. An automatic weapon is only as good as the rifleman holding it. Let that Marine also be an expert in ammo conservation and they’ve become one of the most effective players on the board.
The weight makes it easier to maneuver and shoulder-firing isn’t a problem, either.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Holly Pernell)
As opposed to the M249 SAW’s 17 pounds unloaded, the M27 comes in 8 pounds lighter when it’s loaded. Unfortunately, you’ll make up that weight with the amount of ammo you’ll have to carry but at least the weapon’s weight isn’t a problem.
You’ll be surprised at how clean it is even after it’s fired 800 rounds.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Tojyea G. Matally)
An automatic rifle that’s easy to clean
The M27 features a gas-operated short-stroke piston which means the carbon residue is mostly outside of the chamber which means most of the clean-up is done on the inside of the hand guards.
They can even be fired from helicopters.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Breanna L. Weisenberger
In the case of urban combat, size matters. The shorter barrel, the easier your life will be. Maneuverability is key and being able to fit yourself and your weapon in tight quarters helps a lot. Also considering the fact that it can fire on semi-automatic and is a closed-bolt system, this weapon can be the first through the door.
Just look at that design.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Caleb T. Maher)
Let’s be honest, the Heckler Koch design just looks good in your hands and when an automatic gun is both pleasing to the eyes and functionally sound, it’s good for the soul.
As military spouses, when our husbands or wives announce they finally put in for orders, our minds drift in one direction after we’ve learned possible locations…
Prepping for our PCS
As we have moved from duty station to duty station, our family has collected PCS purges from other families, thrift store finds we needed while waiting for our own household goods to arrive, souvenirs and other mementos, and of course, boxes from three duty stations ago that we’re too afraid to even open and sort through.
Every PCS ends up the same way – we’re stressed out, frustrated about going through our stuff and hoping we’re still under the maximum weight allowance, and then we’re passing our stress, anxieties, and frustration onto our children because we’re now trying to do a million things before the movers arrive.
But what if I told you that it could be different? What if we didn’t have a million things to sort through? What if our homes were already pretty much prepped for the next PCS, no matter what time of the year it is? When I stumbled across Tidying Up with Marie Kondo on Netflix, I was skeptical. I hadn’t heard of her before and I hadn’t read her books, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Spark Joy, though I had learned about how people within the Japanese culture often purge any objects within their homes that do not bring them joy on a regular basis.
(Flickr photo by TheMuuj)
Like many other military families, we start sifting through our stuff months in advance of a PCS to get rid of what we don’t want or need anymore, and I wasn’t quite sure that anyone could make it easier than going systematically from room to room, starting with our storage.
And yet, as I watched, I was quickly sucked in because you could actually see the joy she experienced teaching people how to become more tidy, and she even has a system, which she calls the KonMari Method, which is to organize by category rather than by location, and also to tidy the five categories in the home in a specific order:
Komono (Kitchen, Bathroom, Garage, and anything miscellaneous)
According to the KonMari Method, you should hold each item individually and ask if it brings you joy. If it does not spark joy, it should be given to a friend or donated (check out your local installation thrift store information and how to donate!) However, if it is an item that is well used but does not spark joy (I’m sure my garage tools would fall under this), you can keep the item and try to change the way you feel about those items.
If you’ve been holding onto clothes that don’t fit, Marie says you should ask: do those clothes inspire you to work out so that you fit back into them or do they make you dread exercise because you don’t fit into them anymore? Marie also believes that folding your clothes is another way to show love and appreciation to your clothes, and to maximize storage space, she has a method of folding your shirts and pants into thirds so they can stand upright, which is similar to how servicemembers learn how to fold in bootcamp.
So what does it feel like for an item to bring you joy?
Marie says that the item should spark the same feeling as holding a puppy or wearing your favorite outfit, giving you a warm, positive feeling. If you do not get that feeling and it is not something that you use regularly, you should let the item go and thank each item before you donate or give it away.
After you sort through the first three categories by taking everything out and touching each item, the next step is sorting through the Komono category, which includes all of your miscellaneous items (everything in your home that is not clothes, books, and papers (such as legal documents, orders, and military records) as well as the garage and kitchen.
Marie is a huge fan of using boxes to store items that are of like-size as well as sorting items into categories. She recommends standing items up when possible, designating spots for everything, and using tiny boxes in the kitchen to give everything a “home.”
For the final category, Sentimental items, there are many categories – memorabilia, old letters, photos, and even old medals, challenge coins, and uniform items could be considered to have sentimental value. Marie challenges you to store your sentimental items where you can view them, such as putting photos into frames and coffee table albums so that they can be more easily viewed. Military families could utilize shadow boxes for our uniform items and/or medals to display them, and there are also great challenge coin holders available on websites like Etsy.
Can our next PCS move be different?
The best thing about the KonMari Method is that she doesn’t expect you to complete this in a day – you are literally touching every item in your home and purging the items that do not bring you joy. Our family’s goal will be to use the KonMari Method in the spring and late fall so that the next time we need to move, it won’t be such an overwhelming process to purge all of the things we hadn’t been using in the past 2-3 years.
This article originally appeared on Military Spouse. Follow @MilSpouseMag on Twitter.