2020 continues to be a curveball of a year. When it comes to planning for Thanksgiving, who knows what to expect.
Still, in keeping with the absolute insanity that has been this year, I thought I would keep it flowing through this holiday celebration. I almost considered going full out rouge and having a pool-party themed turkey day, or why not space dinosaurs while I am at it? In the end, I decided to keep the tradition of lovingly prepared food intact, while just switching things up a little bit.
With COVID-19 this year, gatherings may look different than normal. So, whether you are cooking for two or 20, I wanted to offer these up to you for a slightly less traditional, but nostalgic Thanksgiving nonetheless. Instead of turkey, a rosemary and pistachio crusted rack of lamb. For sides, a wintery squash, kale and pomegranate salad as well as pearl couscous with toasted almonds and middle eastern spices. I have even included the most adorable little pumpkin treats for dessert.
Non-traditional Thanksgiving dinner recipes
Pistachio Rosemary Crusted Rack of Lamb
3 lbs rack of lamb
2 tbsp olive oil
4-5 sprigs rosemary, stem removed
¾ cup shelled pistachios
1 tsp salt
1 small jar stone-ground Dijon
3 cloves garlic
Trim excess fat from lamb.
In a food processor, blend all other ingredients until smooth.
Generously slather all over the lamb and allow it to “marinate” for 45 minutes or more.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and place your lamb onto a sheet pan, preferably with an elevated rack.
Cook for 30-45 minutes, depending on desired doneness.
Allow the meat to rest for 8-10 minutes before serving.
Pearl Couscous with Toasted Almonds and Butternut Squash
4.4 oz pearl couscous (also known as Israeli couscous)
1 yellow onion, finely diced
5 cloves of garlic, finely diced
1 tbsp butter
2 cups of toasted almonds
2 cups diced butternut squash
½ cup mint leaves, chopped
½ cup cilantro leaves, chopped
¼ cup parsley leaves, chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
3 lemons, juiced and zested
2 tsp salt
½ tbsp coriander
½ tbsp cumin
¼ tsp smoked paprika
½ tsp turmeric
1 cup feta
Cook the onion and garlic until translucent and fragrant and set aside.
Roast the butternut squash in the oven for 30 minutes and set aside.
Cook couscous as described on the package until tender and set aside.
In a large bowl (large enough to hold all these ingredients once combined), whisk together olive oil, lemon zest and juice, all spices and chopped herb leaves. Add all other finished ingredients (cooked couscous, toasted almonds, roasted butternut squash, feta, cooked onions and garlic) and mix until well incorporated. Garnish with more herbs if desired.
Winter Kale Salad with Roasted Acorn Squash and Pomegranate
(There are no real specific measurements for this one, just a friendly suggestion of ingredients that go really well together.)
Kale, stem removed, torn into small pieces
1 pomegranate, arils removed
1 acorn squash (slice into 1 ½ inch thick rings, drizzled with honey and sprinkled with salt and cinnamon. Roast for 30 minutes at 350 degrees)
1 honey crisp apple, diced into ½ cubes
3/4ish cups pepitas (pumpkins seeds)
Favorite vinaigrette dressing (something apple cider vinegar-based would be great)
Start with your base of the kale, add the cooked acorn squash, diced apples, pomegranate arils, pepitas and feta. Dress when ready to serve.
The frosting recipe can be halved for this recipe, but feel free to make it all in case you want an excuse to make something else that needs frosting.
1 box vanilla bean cake mix
1 16-oz can pumpkin pie mix
1 ½ cups salted butter, room temperature
½ cup cream cheese, room temperature
4 ½ cups powdered sugar
3-4 tbsp heavy whipping cream
1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
Cinnamon sticks for decoration
In a stand mixer, combine the cake mix and the pumpkin pie mix.
Generously spray a mini Bundt cake pan with cooking spray, and add the mixture into each tin spot.
Bake for 17 minutes at 350. Remove from tray, set aside and allow to cool. Once cooled, carefully take a bread knife and slice the excess cooked tops off. (You can keep these and make pumpkin whoopie pies with them.)
Make your frosting by combining the rest of the ingredients into a stand mixer and whip until fluffy and well incorporated. Transfer to a piping bag.
When you are ready to frost, put your frosting on one Bundt cake and then sandwich with another piece.
Pipe “leaves” on the top and stick a cinnamon stick down the middle.
A healthy and strong military marriage is at the top of many people’s priority list, but accomplishing this takes effort.
Typically, tasks that aide this goal are not included on our to-do list. We do not think we need to add, “Daily say I love you”, but maybe we should. Reaching big goals, such as a successful relationship, is about taking little steps to get there. So, along with your task of weight-lifting Wednesdays for your hot bod, consider adding the following to-dos for your relationship.
1. Go for a walk.
There are numerous benefits to walking, but the point here is spending intentional time together away from the distractions of home. Walking is an extremely easy and effective way to get out of a communication rut. Change the scenery and see how the extra oxygen to your brain fuels creative conversations.
This is not another list of tasks, but a fun way to dream together. Think big and dream crazy dreams. Have fun imagining what you can accomplish/see/experience together. (Just keep your dates flexible!!)
3. Arm wrestle.
This was my husband’s response to things we could do to strengthen our relationship. Anyone who compared our size would know how ridiculous this is, but I’ve added it to my list. I’m not saying determining who has the most arm strength will improve your relationship, but adding something your significant other is interested in (or something just plain funny) is a good start! Find your version of arm wrestling!
There is a common misconception that going to marriage counseling is only for those in trouble. It is not. If you owned a business, you would evaluate its performance; if you want to stay healthy you do a yearly physical; if you want your car to run well, you have a maintenance check. Marriage is no different. Taking time to talk with a counselor, a mentor couple, or a real friend who will encourage and help you to grow together is an important part of keeping your relationship strong.
5. Build your calendar together.
It is extremely easy to get into a habit of living two completely separate lives. Even if you digitally share your calendar, take at least 15 minutes each week to do a rundown of what is happening each day. Verbally reviewing each other’s calendar allows you to be connected with each other’s events even when you are apart. It also provides background knowledge to ask questions more specific than, “How was your day?”
Words matter, and at some point in our military marriages, they are all we have to stay connected.Find ways to talk highly about your significant other when he/she is not around. Make a specific reminder to write encouraging notes, send messages listing their strengths or rent a billboard to highlight their accomplishments (to include choosing you). Your words count for something, make them count for your relationship’s good.
This article originally appeared on Military Spouse. Follow @MilSpouseMag on Twitter.
If you’re single, it’s a chance to mingle. If you’re “wifed-up,” it’s the time to lay it down. Valentine’s Day is right around the corner and everyone has high expectations. If you want yours met, then you best meet hers.
But, guess what: Statistically speaking, you probably haven’t even begun to BAMCIS this date, and just winging it is not acceptable. No worries, brother. We’ve got you covered.
No one is saying this isn’t a perfectly acceptable date. It is — just not on V-Day, my man. Be a little more original instead of relying on this old standby. Do something interactive, something fun — a date that feels like an adventure.
Basically, you want to plan a date that will make her friends jealous when she tells them about it.
2. Make sure she has the 15th off.
Valentine’s Day often falls right in the middle of the regular work week and not many companies treat it as a holiday. So, do the next best thing and call in for her.
Let her boss know that she’ll be busy recovering from the date you’ve got all planned out and that she’ll need the entire day in order to get back to reality.
3. Don’t let her get hungry.
If you don’t already know, learn this now: If she is hungry, she isn’t happy.
It seems simple enough, but your date is likely privy to dropping hints and subtleties. You, being accustomed to overt statements and barked orders, might miss these clues, creating a situation where she seems mad for no reason at all.
It’s not what you did, it’s what you didn’t do!
You didn’t provide snacks. Bring tasty treats and she’ll able to focus on how amazing her Valentine is. Also, don’t watch her eat.
4. Keep the drinks flowing.
This one seems obvious, however, it can be overdone. This tip requires a nuanced touch and everyone is different with regards to tolerance. Stick to one drink per hour and make sure she enjoys them. Find out her favorite fruit, smash it up, add some sugar, drain through a sieve, add some good vodka, and finish with equal parts champagne.
Garnish with the same fruit and some mint and boom, you just made her new favorite drink. If this seems too complicated, just get champagne. Everyone likes champagne.
If she’s a city girl, rent a cabin in the hills. If she’s a country girl, give her a night on the town. The idea is to get her out of her comfort zone and to be her comfort simultaneously.
If you create a situation where she is experiencing new things, great! But make sure she knows you have everything taken care of. If you plan on ending up in a hot tub, bring her a bathing suit. If you’re going hiking, pack her some boots.
The ideas are endless and the guidelines are simple. Whatever you plan to do, be prepared and make sure she doesn’t have any responsibilities aside from enjoying the ride.
To support the ongoing efforts to reduce the number of non-deployable soldiers, Army leaders released a new directive designed to encourage soldiers to reach deployable standards outlined in the directive.
If standards are not met within six months, a soldier could face separation.
Secretary of the Army Mark T. Esper and Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Mark A. Milley prepared the directive, which took effect Oct. 1, 2018.
Maj. Gen. Joseph Calloway, director of military personnel management, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, presented the new directive Nov. 15, 2018, in a media briefing at the Pentagon.
The number of soldiers in non-deployable status has been reduced from 121,000 (roughly 15 percent of the total force) to less than 60,000 this past year. In October 2018 alone, the Army posted a reduction of 7,000 non-deployable members.
Calloway said the separated members came from across the force, including unsatisfactory soldiers in the Army Reserve and National Guard and some who were pending separation.
The effort followed the release of a new directive by Defense Secretary James Mattis February 2018 to raise standards for deployable troops across the four military branches, improving readiness and lethality.
The directive highlights two distinctions: for the first time, the Army defines deployability plainly in written form. And the directive marks a culture change that encourages greater accountability among soldiers to maintain readiness and empower commanders.
Deployers from Headquarters Company, 89th Military Police Brigade, unload their equipment into their temporary lodging quarters at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, in support of Operation Faithful Patriot, Oct. 29, 2018.
(Photo by Senior Airman Alexandra Minor)
“The culture change is particularly important,” Calloway said. “We’re not only defining the deployability and the directive, it’s the first time we’ve ever put on paper what constitutes deployability.”
The directive enables commanders to closely examine non-deployable soldiers on a case-by-case basis.
“The first actions that senior leaders are taking is to ensure commanders understand their authorities; how to use them and that they are supported by senior leadership,” said Diane Randon, principal deputy assistant secretary of the Army for manpower and reserve affairs.
To be certified as deployable, Soldiers must be:
legally, administratively and medically cleared for employment in any environment;
able to operate in harsh environments or areas with extreme temperatures;
able to carry and employ an assigned weapon;
able to execute the Army’s warrior tasks;
able to operate their duties while donning protective equipment such as body armor, helmets, eye protection gloves and chemical or biological equipment.
Finally, soldiers must pass the physical fitness test or be able to meet the physical demands of a specific deployment.
Soldiers who do not meet the standards of the new criteria, or soldiers who become permanently non-deployable after the date of the new directive, will be considered unqualified to serve in any military branch. Soldiers who remain in non-deployable status because of administrative reasons have six months to meet the requirements or face separation.
Calloway noted that the new directive does not apply to all of the remaining 60,000, including those who remain in non-deployable status due to medical reasons. The general estimated about 70-80 percent of the 60,000 remain non-deployable for medical reasons, and another portion for legal reasons.
Wounded warriors who have continued active duty and those on certain types of medical profiles will not be subject to the new directive. Only commanders at the O-6 level and above in a soldier’s chain of command can waive one or more of the six requirements.
Exemptions to the requirements include ex-prisoners of war who were deferred from serving in a country where they were held captive, trainees or cadets who have not completed initial entry training, and Soldiers who are temporarily non-deployable because they received a compassionate reassignment or stabilization to move them closer to an ill family member.
To help soldiers meet deployability standards, Calloway said, the service already has measures in place to reduce non-deployables and injured soldiers beginning in basic training.
U.S. Army recruits practice patrol tactics while marching during U.S. Army basic training at Fort Jackson.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Shawn Weismiller)
Soldiers must meet physical and psychological standards based on their desired career fields. The Army has also began to implement holistic health and fitness measures in its training.
“You can never get 100 percent on [reducing the number of non-deployables],” Calloway said. “But the goal is … to get it as low as possible.”
In the past, Calloway said Army leaders used a conservative approach to reporting non-deployables. By upholding stricter standards and holding Soldiers accountable to maintain qualifications for deployability will not only change culture but raise morale and enthusiasm to uphold standards.
In recent selection boards for officers competing to be battalion and brigade commanders, candidates were required to certify that they are deployable and had to pass a physical fitness test. Randon hopes soldiers will see the increased standards at those levels of command as motivation.
“It really is a mindset of inspiring and motivating soldiers to be accountable and to be classified as deployable,” she said.
Elleana Bowler cleans a headstone Sept. 19 at Culpeper National Cemetery in Virginia.
Volunteers are returning to national cemeteries under certain circumstances, following strict COVID-19 guidance.
More than 40 volunteers displayed the new policies during an event Sept. 19 at Culpeper National Cemetery in Virginia. A group from a local Latter-day Saints church cleaned headstones while wearing masks and practicing social distancing.
“The reason we wanted to do this is every year we look for service to do in our community,” said Tyler Herring, who organized the volunteers. “It’s an honor to be able to come out to do this every year.”
Volunteers return safely to national cemeteries during COVID-19
Justice Cruzan, a Culpeper County High School student, said she volunteered because she had family members who served. She added cleaning the headstones is a way of repaying the fallen.
“Keeping their headstones clean is honoring them,” Cruzan said.
The cemetery director said groups spending time volunteering during a pandemic is inspiring.
“Witnessing these volunteers dedicate their time and energy on this beautiful autumn day always renews my commitment to NCA’s mission of honoring Veterans and their eligible family members with a final resting place in national shrines and with lasting tributes that commemorate their service and sacrifice to our Nation,” said Matthew Priest, cemetery director. “Even in the middle of this pandemic, Americans are going to safely gather to help us honor our servicemembers who have come before us and stood for something greater than themselves.”
Herring said the event was different from previous years with COVID-19 restrictions. He said that didn’t stop the group from coming out.
“We’re still able to social distance,” Herring said. “We’re still able to follow all the mandates we need to, but we’re still able to serve.”
National cemetery directors may allow volunteers to return to the cemetery on a limited basis. The decision to bring back volunteers will be a local cemetery decision based upon current cemetery conditions. Cemeteries use federal, state and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance. Any volunteers who are considered at risk due to COVID-19 are strongly encouraged to wait until conditions improve prior to resuming any volunteer activities.
Volunteers are essential
Priest said volunteers are an essential part of national cemeteries honoring Veterans and ensuring no Veteran ever dies.
“This is the second year that Tyler contacted me about how his team can help memorialize the men and women interred at Culpeper National Cemetery,” Priest said. “I am always amazed when I see so many patriots volunteer their time to help remember those who stood their final formation for us. Service and commitment are two words that are etched in the core of all Americans. That is evident today.”
Gold Star Spouses Day has its origins way back to World War I. The families of servicemen would fly banners and hang them in their windows. These banners had a blue star to represent a service member in uniform. But, if their loved one was killed in action, the color of the star was changed from blue to gold, thus notifying the community the ultimate price that family had paid for their country.
1. The Gold Star lapel pin was created in 1947
Following the popularity of the banners, in 1947, Congress approved the design for the official Gold Star lapel pin/button. This was introduced to represent service members who had died in combat. The pin takes the form of a gold star on a purple background.
2. The military bestows the Gold Star upon families
During the funeral service of the fallen military member, senior officers present the Gold Star Pin in addition to the national colors to the spouse or next of kin as a mark of respect for their sacrifice.
3. Gold Star Wives/Spouses Day began in 2010
In 2010, the first Gold Star Wives Day was observed. Two years later the Senate passed a resolution that codified Gold Star Wives Day, which was set to be observed April 5th each year. To make it more inclusive this was changed later and renamed Gold Star Spouses Day.
4. Gold Star Spouses Day raises awareness
Gold Star Spouses Day brings awareness of the sacrifices and grief these spouses have faced in the name of their country. However, possibly more importantly, it brings awareness for the Gold Star survivors themselves of the large network of resources and assistance that is available to them. A few examples of the resources available to these spouses are: Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), scholarship resources which include the Pat Tillman Scholarship and the Fisher House Foundation Scholarship for Military Children, in addition to the Army’s Survivor Outreach Services (SOS).
5. Gold Star Spouses Day is observed in many ways
While Gold Star Spouses Day is not a national holiday, there are many installations that have their own programs to observe this day. Many of the installation observances focus on the military fitness and lifestyle. For instance, there are quite a few remembrance 5Ks which are run on April 5. There are also remembrance efforts seen online and on social media. One such effort is the Facebook campaign which urges Gold Star families to share photos and memories of their fallen loved ones.
While Gold Star Spouses Day is one day set aside each April to acknowledge the sacrifices of these military family members, their grief and loss is something that should be remembered each and every day. These special families have lost a loved one in the name of freedom, in the name of the United States. Their family member willingly fought, served and gave that ultimate sacrifice. This is something that should never be overlooked or forgotten, rather is something that should be acknowledged every day. Without these tragic losses, Americans would not have the freedoms they hold so dear, nor would America be the proud country that it has always been. It is only through the willingness to give everything that Americans have the ability to hold onto the patriotic pride that is so important.
This Gold Star Spouses Day, and every day, take the time to remember these families that have given so much. Never take for granted the freedoms America has been given and fought for. Keep these sacrifices in mind each day, and be grateful for the men and women who are so willing to pay that ultimate price for their country. Whether you take to social media or see one at your local military installation, thank a Gold Star Spouse today.
Elijah Riley lines up to defend Chance Warren during the 120th Army-Navy Game at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pa., Dec. 14, 2019. The United States Naval Academy defeated the United States Military Academy this year. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. James Harvey)
After months filled with as much uncertainty as tomorrow, Army and Navy are about to begin their respective football schedules.
Air Force will have to wait.
Army is set to kick off against Middle Tennessee State at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 5, at West Point, New York. Navy is expected to open its season when it hosts BYU at 8 p.m. on Sept. 7 on ESPN in Annapolis, Maryland.
The coronavirus pandemic has forced college football programs to be flexible in myriad ways, none more so than with their schedules. Some conferences and teams will forgo playing this fall, with hopes of returning in the spring, while other schools lost appealing non-conference matchups.
Then there is Air Force, whose schedule consists of two games: Oct. 3 against Navy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and Nov. 7 at Army. Air Force belongs to the Mountain West Conference, which postponed fall sports in August.
“We were allowed to look at the possibility to play Army and Navy since we all have similar 47-month physical requirements for graduation, have similar testing protocols and have a cadet population that is secured from the public,” Air Force athletic spokesman Troy Garnhart said in an email.
The Falcons are not looking to add other games, Garnhart said.
Regardless of the pandemic, the service academies have said they plan to play each other this year.
Army and Navy are scheduled to meet for the 121st time on Dec. 12 in Philadelphia. They first met in 1890, when Benjamin Harrison was president, and have played every year since 1930.
Army is scheduled to host eight games at Michie Stadium in 2020, but the Black Knights lost a marquee home matchup against Oklahoma when its conference, the Big 12, canceled non-league road games. The Sooners were scheduled to visit West Point on Sept. 26.
Attendance at Army’s first two home games, the opener against Middle Tennessee State and Sept. 12 against Louisiana-Monroe, will be limited to the corps of approximately 4,400 cadets, athletic spokeswoman Rachel Caton said.
“Attendance at games is typically mandatory for the corps, so all should be expected to be in attendance,” Caton said in an email. “They will just be sitting in a different area of the stadium than usual and will be socially distanced.”
Decisions about fans for the Black Knights’ other home games have not been determined, Caton said.
Unlike Army’s on-campus stadium, Navy does not play its home games on federal land. Because Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium is off campus, the Midshipmen are subject to regulations imposed by the Maryland Department of Health, which banned fans from outdoor sports events in June, Navy spokesman Scott Strasemeier said in an email.
“We are still optimistic there will be home football games this season where our season-ticket holders will be extended the opportunity to personally attend,” Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk said in a statement. “Improving conditions may dictate justification to open our gates in a setting with extensive safety protocols being appropriately administered.”
Whether fans will be allowed at Air Force’s home game against Navy is not expected to be decided until mid-September, Garnhart said.
While Navy intends to play a full American Athletic Conference schedule and didn’t lose its games against Army or Air Force, the Midshipmen won’t face Notre Dame because of the pandemic. Navy originally was scheduled to open the season with that matchup in Dublin, Ireland, then it was moved to Annapolis before being canceled.
Navy and Notre Dame had met in football every year since 1927.
Navy and Air Force finished 11-2 in 2019. Army, whose football program does not belong to a conference, went 5-8 last season.
Hey, I get it: When you’re preparing for deployment, the last thing you want is a honey-do list from your spouse. You have your own gear to take care of, paperwork to complete, and stuff to pack. Your spouse, on the other hand, will be at home during the months that you’re away. Can’t some of their to-do list wait until you’re gone? After all, they’ll have the whole deployment to take care of it. What’s the rush, right?
Here’s the deal: Just as you must prepare your gear and put your things in order to prepare for your deployment, your spouse has to get the house and the family ready for their own “mission.” It’s pretty much guaranteed that as soon as you walk out the door, something’s going to go wrong: the car will break down, appliances will leak, or the dog will get sick. If you don’t help your spouse prepare for those emergencies, then they won’t be fully equipped to handle their mission. You wouldn’t send troops off to train without first arranging logistics and ammo. In the same way, you have to take care of some logistical details at home before you deploy and leave your spouse as the only adult responsible for the entire household. There are several things you can review with your spouse to make everyone’s deployment go more smoothly.
Don’t skip these mission-essential pre-deployment tasks with your spouse.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Gina Randall)
There’s a reason your CO keeps hounding you to complete your Power of Attorney, Will, and other documents — they’re actually really important! Without a Power of Attorney, your spouse will basically be treated like a second-class citizen on base. They won’t be able to renew or replace an ID card if they lose it while you’re away. They can’t change the lease, buy or sell a vehicle, or handle any banking problems that might arise. If you have children, it’s important that your spouse completes a Family Care Plan so that someone is designated to take care of the kids if your spouse ends up in the hospital from a car accident. Take the time to discuss this paperwork with your spouse so they won’t struggle during unexpected deployment situations.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. April Davis)
2. Comm check
You may not know exactly what communication options you’ll have during deployment, but discuss your expectations with your spouse so you can both get on the same page. How will you handle the time difference? Will you try to call when early in the morning or in the evening? How often will you try to call, message, or video? What’s the protocol if one of you misses a call or doesn’t answer in time? Finally, make sure your spouse knows how to send a Red Cross message. If there’s a family emergency, the Red Cross can contact you even when you don’t have internet access. If your spouse knows how to get to the Red Cross website, it will take the weight off their shoulders during a major emergency.
(U.S. Army National Guard photo by 1st Lt. Leanna Litsch)
3. Discuss car maintenance
Have you ever returned from deployment only to discover that your car has a dead battery and flat tires? Save yourselves the cost and trouble with some simple preventative maintenance. If you’re typically the one responsible for vehicle maintenance, remind your spouse when to do an oil change and how often to get the tires rotated. If your vehicle will sit unused during the deployment, ask your spouse to start the engine and let it idle at least once a week. This will prevent the battery from dying. If they occasionally drive it around the block and park it in a different position, that’ll help prevent flat tires.
4. Review home maintenance
If you’re renting or living on base, just make sure your spouse knows how to contact maintenance or the landlord. If you own your home, things get more complicated. Walk through the house together and discuss areas of regular or seasonal maintenance. Air filters should get changed monthly. Gutters should be cleaned in Fall. Discuss outdoor chores, like lawn maintenance and snow removal. Your spouse should know the location of the breaker box and water shut-off valves, in case the dreaded “Deployment Curse” visits your house.
5. Adjust the household budget
You and your spouse both need to understand how the deployment will affect your family’s income, and then adjust accordingly. If you are making more money during deployment, how will you save or spend the extra? Will it go toward paying down debts? Or will you save up for a post-deployment vacation? Sometimes, deployments reduce the household budget. You might have to pay for food and Internet at your deployed location. Your spouse may decrease their work hours or register for a class. They may have additional costs for childcare or lawn maintenance. It’s better to discuss these changes and your intended budget before deployment so you aren’t both accusing each other of mismanaging money!
6. Write down your passwords
You wouldn’t send your team on a mission without clear instructions and the best equipment, right? Then don’t expect your spouse to manage the bills and your account memberships without passwords! Log into any banking or bill payment website you use, and write down your login name and password. Do the same for your gaming accounts, renewable memberships, etc. It’s likely that something will need to be suspended, renewed, or canceled during your deployment. Writing down the passwords will make it possible for your spouse to do that for you.
Having these pre-deployment conversations now may not be easy or fun, but it’s definitely important to help your spouse feel squared away before deployment. This will reduce deployment stress for both of you, help your deployment communication go smoothly, and get you both prepared for your respective, upcoming missions.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has held a video conference call with the Taliban during which the top U.S. diplomat warned the insurgents against attacking American troops in Afghanistan, the Department of State says.
A statement said Pompeo and the Taliban’s Qatar-based chief negotiator, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, on June 29 discussed implementation of a February agreement between Washington and the militants.
“The Secretary made clear the expectation for the Taliban to live up to their commitments, which include not attacking Americans,” department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said.
Earlier, the Taliban said Baradar reaffirmed during the call the group’s commitment to the peace process in Afghanistan and reiterated a pledge not to strike U.S. forces.
The call comes as U.S. President Donald Trump faces mounting pressure to explain his actions after being reportedly told that Russian spies last year had offered and paid cash to Taliban-linked militants for killing American soldiers.
The White House has said Trump wasn’t briefed on the intelligence assessments because they haven’t been fully verified and were not deemed credible actionable intelligence.
U.S. – Taliban deal
Meanwhile, the U.S.-Taliban deal is at a critical stage at a time violence in Afghanistan has continued since a three-day cease-fire at the end of May. The Afghan National Security Council said June 30 that, since February, the Taliban had on average staged 44 attacks per day on Afghan security forces.
Under the accord, the United States agreed to reduce its forces in Afghanistan from 12,000 troops to 8,600 by mid-July. If the rest of the deal goes through, all U.S. and other foreign troops will exit Afghanistan by mid-2021.
The New York Times reported last week that U.S. intelligence officials concluded months ago that Russian military intelligence offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants to kill U.S. troops.
Subsequent reports by The New York Times and Washington Post reported several American soldiers may have died last year as a result of the bounties.
In particular, U.S. officials are investigating an April 2019 attack on an American convoy near Bagram Airfield, the largest U.S. military installation in Afghanistan.
At the time of the attack, the Defense Department identified those killed as Marine Staff Sergeant Christopher Slutman, Sergeant Benjamin Hines, and Corporal Robert Hendriks.
The Taliban and the Department of State did not specifically say whether Pompeo and Baradar spoke about the report.
Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said in a series of tweets that the two sides discussed “foreign troop withdrawal, prisoner release, start of intra-Afghan dialogue, and reduction in [military] operations.”
“We are committed to starting inter-Afghan talks, as we have said before, but delays in the release of prisoners have delayed inter-Afghan talks,” Shaheen tweeted, referring to a pledge by Afghan authorities to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners as a condition to start the negotiations.
Baradar “noted that according to the agreement, we will not allow anyone to use Afghan soil against the security of the United States and other countries,” he also wrote.
Coronavirus lockdown changed a lot — especially a parent’s relationship with their kids. The situation brought families together, asking them to be nimble in how they reacted to the new normal and how they relate to one another. This closeness allowed parents and children to get very cozy, and view one another from new vantage points. We all learned something new about one another.
So, what did parents learn about their kids during lockdown? That’s what we wanted to know. The 17 men who responded to our request spoke of both positives (they discovered hidden passions and quiet strengths) and negatives (a child’s penchant for the dramatics; signs of bullying). All of these realizations led the men to take a harder look at what they need to do to encourage the positive and offer better examples to deter the negative. All lessons contain power. Here’s what they learned.
I Learned to Play
“I started playing Fortnite during quarantine. I feel like I didn’t have a choice, because we have two boys and it’s around all the time. So, I just gave it a whirl. I mean, I was a pretty big gamer growing up. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater was my jam. I even won a tournament in college. So, I asked if I could try it out, and my kids were equally excited and embarrassed, I think. But, I picked it up pretty quickly, and I think that surprised them. It was actually really nice to learn they thought I was pretty good at it, not to brag, because as silly as it is, I get that it’s an important part of their lives.” – John, 38, Maryland
I Realized That My Kids Are TattleTales
“I didn’t realize my kids were such tattletales. They’re twins, both fourth graders going into fifth. A boy and a girl. And I’ve learned about each and every single marginally bad thing each of them has done for four months…from the other one. It’s annoying. It’s obnoxious. And, really, it’s upsetting. They play this weird power game as siblings where they try to bury each other in trouble to make themselves look good. So, my brain will fast forward 20 years and think, ‘Are they going to be like this when they have jobs? Are they going to be the scheming, backstabbing people I work with and loathe?’ Maybe I’m overreacting and it’s a normal kid thing. But it’s been a really negative eye-opener so far.” – Marty, 36, North Carolina
My Kids Are Risk Takers
“I think my kids and I have done more hiking and exploring in the past few months than we have in our entire lives. It’s been really, really great. We weren’t an inactive family, but we all could stand to get some exercise. And there are plenty of beautiful parks and preserves right near us that I’m ashamed to say we’ve never even been to. I’ve learned a lot about my kids through our adventures. They’re risk-takers, and animal lovers, and really respectful of nature. That was all a big part of my childhood, and I’ve definitely lost sight of how much fun it can be. I’m glad we’re able to do this together.” – Kirk, 36, Ohio
My Kids Have Lost Faith in My Parenting
“My kids are having a hard time believing that it’s unsafe to go outside. Of course they do, right? Two teenage girls who think they’re being ruled by the Iron Curtain. I try to explain to them that this is a serious situation, and that people are dying. But it’s really in one ear, and out the other. They see people on Facebook out and about, at the beach, at restaurants, and they whine and whine and whine about how we’re being unfair. They point to the loosened restrictions all over the country and say we’re just being mean. It’s the same conversation every day, and it’s exhausting.” – J.D., 42, New Jersey
I Learned My Son’s Passion — And Learned With Him
“I know they teach coding in school now, but I never really understood what that meant. So, as my son was finishing up his school year, I took an interest in helping him with that subject. I’m not traditionally a very left-brained person, which it seems like you have to be to understand coding, so learning it at a 5th grade level actually helped. I’m not ready to build my own website yet, but the best part has been watching him teach me. Because he’s really into it. And I can see the passion and excitement when he’s like, ‘No, Dad, this is how you do it.'” – Thomas, 43, California
I Realized My Daughter Is a Master Manipulator
“My daughter is 14. I try to be aware of her social life, if not exactly active in it. Seeing how she interacts with some of her friends – especially some of the boys in her class – is kind of appalling. She plays them against each other. She talks about them behind their backs, and then lies to their faces. It’s really unsettling. I’ll admit, I’m not at my ‘Best Dad’ level right now, and I’m really struggling with how to proceed. Part of me thinks this is kind of normal, she’s a teenager, drama, and so on. But, I don’t want her to grow up thinking what she’s doing is a desired skill.” – Craig, 42, Connecticut
We Brought Back Old Traditions
“Movie nights are something we used to do when the kids were little. As they’ve grown, though, they’ve gotten interested in stuff that sort of gave movie nights a backseat. My oldest son is a freshman in college, so he’s just gone and out of the house. My younger son is in high school, so he’s just too cool for everything. I think our first quarantine movie night was about six or seven weeks ago, with Raiders of the Lost Ark, and we’ve been doing them ever since. It’s definitely not the same as when they were little, but it’s a new spin on one of my favorite traditions.” – Jack, 46, New York
I Found Out That My Son’s a Bully
“I overheard my son playing video games one night. I’m not sure who he was talking to — like if it was a friend, or someone random he was playing with online — but the shit coming out of his mouth? Man. He was calling the other kid a pussy, telling him he sucked, and telling him he was going to kick his ass. It was different than trash talk. I get trash talk. This was, like, venomous. And mean. I mentioned it to my wife, and we’re still trying to curb it. I didn’t want to lose my cool and flip out on him, because I figured that would just alienate us more. So it’s more subtle reminders about how not to be an asshole. My biggest worry, honestly, is that he’s going to get his ass kicked in real life if he keeps talking like this to the wrong person.” – Chad, 38, Rhode Island
Mask-Making Has Given My Son Purpose
“I learned that my son has fully embraced the new normal of mask wearing, so much that he even learned how to sew his own online. So, now it’s become kind of a family thing. The first thing we bonded over was me giving him a bunch of my old t-shirts to use for practice. And now, he’s like our family’s own custom tailor. We have to be careful shopping for fabric, but he’s really, really into it. Like he knows which fabric will be the most comfortable, most breathable, and all that. He’s made some for his friends. Seeing him become so fascinated with it, and skilled at it, has been really cool. And it’s given our whole family something small and fun to bond over during these crazy times.” – Jason, 37, Ohio
I Caught My Daughter Drinking
“It was so dumb. She’s 14. Before lockdown, I learned she was drinking at a party with her friends, and we had it out. But this time, during quarantine, she snuck into the fridge and grabbed two beers to drink while she was FaceTiming with her stupid boyfriend. The actual drinking part didn’t bug me so much. I probably started drinking around that age. It’s more the boneheadedness of one, doing it in the house, and two, doing it to impress her boyfriend. I thought the quarantine might actually be a good chance for her to reset and reevaluate some of her relationships and choices, but we’ve been here for more than three months, and it looks like we’re right back where we started.” – Aaron, 43, Ohio
My Kids Bonded With My Co-Workers
“My wife’s job is a little less flexible, and we can’t bring in a babysitter, so I have to keep the kids with me a lot during the workday. The people I work with have really embraced it. The kids will pop up on the screen to wave to everyone. All my coworkers ask them what they’re up to and how they’re doing. They’ve almost become unofficial mascots at this point. I’ve been taking screenshots and pictures of them talking to my colleagues, so I hope that they’ll get a good laugh out of it when they’re older. They’re really excited to be able to meet some of the people in person one day.” – Ken, 35, Arizona
We’ve Become Dog People
“We adopted a dog from our local rescue about two months into lockdown. She’s been an absolute blessing for the family. I remember the day pretty vividly. Our kids hadn’t been pestering us about getting a dog, but they all came up to me and my wife one day and asked if they could get a puppy. We figured there wouldn’t be a more perfect time than when we were all at home, able to watch it, train it, and care for it. So we went and adopted Sadie. She’s a handful but, after seeing the kids with her, I’ve learned that they’re all capable of handling the responsibilities, and that they all have incredibly big hearts.” – William, 34, Michigan
My Kids Are Dangerously Content
“I’m not saying I’m Mister Motivated all the time, but it’s really scared me to learn just how content my kids are with doing the absolute bare minimum when it comes to…everything. I get it, the landscape of everything has changed. Especially school and education. But seeing how lazy my son and daughter have both become is unnerving. Like, even though we’re locked down, you can still do stuff. You can still seek to improve yourself, explore new hobbies, and figure out how to navigate a difficult situation. They’re not interested in any of that, and they keep blaming the pandemic. Maybe that’s why it’s so scary – I worry that this is going to be a hard habit to break once things go back to normal.” – Patrick, 39, Kentucky
I Realized How Creative My Kids Really Are
“I’ve learned that both of my kids love origami. I had absolutely no idea. They said they found a book in their school library, started making stuff, and just really got into it. They’ve shown me some of their creations, and I’m blown away by the precision and detail of everything. I talked to them about why they enjoy it so much, and I really think I got a better insight into how their minds work. They love the structure, the exactness, and the possibilities origami offers. It’s early to tell if this is just a phase, or something more long lasting, but maybe this discovery will help guide their interests in the future?” – Brian, 37, Pennsylvania
I Found Out Just How Compassionate My Kids Are
“Kids don’t get enough credit for their capacity for empathy. I overheard my daughter – she’s 10 – talking to her friend on FaceTime, and her friend was saying how scared she was about all of this. My daughter kept reminding her that everything will be okay, and said that she understands. It really melted my heart. I told her I eavesdropped, and that I was proud of her. As parents, I think we underestimate our kids when it comes to those more ‘mature’ feelings. But, they can surprise us when we least expect it. And, especially during a time like this, I’m overjoyed to know that this is how my daughter is reacting.” – Nicholas, 39, Nevada
I Realized My Daughter Is Unpleasant to Be Around
“Before COVID, my wife and I both worked during the day. So, we were present in our daughter’s life, but definitely not to the extent that we’ve been for the past few months. Our daughter is 12, and I swear to God she acts like a fucking Real Housewife. She makes things about her, victimizes herself when something doesn’t go her way. It hurts my heart to say, but she’s pretty unpleasant to be around a lot of the time. Now that we’re seeing it day in, day out it’s clear what a problem she’s become. I don’t know how we’re going to get out in front of this one, honestly. Time will tell.” – Justin, 38, Indiana
I’ve Tried to Be as Understanding As Possible
“The hardest thing I’ve learned about my kids during lockdown is that they’re processing this whole situation in a way that just seems hopeless. And, to be honest, I empathize. Hope is really, really hard to find in the world right now. It pains me as a father to not be able to comfort them with at least some degree of certainty, and I really wonder if this is going to be the start of something more serious, like depression, anxiety, or other mental health disorders. That’s all unfamiliar territory for me and, like I said, I don’t blame them for feeling this way. Our relationship as a family has ebbed and flowed. Some days it’s been good, but many days it’s just drudging through each day trying to figure it out. It’s really scary.” – Michael, 40, California
And just like that, all of America became homeschoolers.
As resources are furiously pinned to social media, it quickly becomes overwhelming to newbie parent-teachers trying to choose what tools to fill their children’s long days with. Rather quickly, most of you will hit walls. Walls that I too hit, full of rookie mistakes made trying to recreate the actual school day or classroom schedule within my home.
I’m here to tell you to throw that all away. To slowly and happily sip your morning coffee and read this.
Whatever you do, don’t try to recreate the school day at home.
As a former public school teacher turned travel schooling mom (google that in your spare time), the first mistake typically made is both the course load and daily schedule. Classrooms educate on average 20-30 children simultaneously at various levels of learning. At home, you have one student-yours. He or she will accomplish a school day’s worth of work in far less time.
The beauty of homeschool is that it is meant to be flexible, individual, and guided by learner’s passions. You will learn to “do school” at times when your child is the most focused. This may mean 1-2 lessons first thing in the morning, then creative passions, exploration, and fun until later in the evening when they finish up a few “core lessons.” At this very moment, homeschoolers are on thousands of varied schedules. The best part? There’s no wrong answer. So spend the first week or so tuning into your home and child’s rhythms before charging forcefully ahead into a schedule.
Pursuing interests is the best form of education
What’s the best modality for educating your children? Good conversation. I could start and end this article there.
Once you realize “core curriculum” takes up only a tiny fraction of time, something else will begin to fill the days…passion. The deep pursuit of self-interest is the beautiful gem of homeschooling. Now is the best time for your children to take up a love of art study, Claymation, geology, gardening, or marine biology via the unlimited library of content available online. Allow them to spark a new interest or immerse themselves completely in a passion for discovering a world they never knew existed.
The simplest, yet effective way to spark passion is to discover the world around you through intricate observation. On the way to the beach, my children noticed several tsunami hazard zone signs. A series of questions, answers, and google results led to over an hour of becoming mini experts at 4 and 8 years old. The subject was tangibly relevant to them; thus, they pursued the study fiercely. Experiences like this are worksheet free. Developing a love of learning is the ultimate goal of education.
Let them participate in what we are all going through
Knowledge is empowering. Your children are aware the world is changing around then, no matter how innocent they may be. Each new day we experience a global pandemic forcing the world into quarantine, shutting down schools, and infringing upon our way of life, which is a time worth documenting.
Allow your children to become historians and reporters. Generations all go through something, and this is something noteworthy. Invite your children to document what they see in the world around them and how they feel or what they understand is going on. Not only is this highly educational (spelling, grammar, creative writing, history, etc.), but it is also helpful to frame an otherwise scary situation for young minds. Together, each day you can go over their journals to help shape or clarify things for them. It is also an opportunity to solidify in their minds how you are doing all you can to keep your family safe.
This time is a gift. A gift to stop and reengage with your children all over again. To get to know them deeply as individuals in this season of life. To make the memories and connections necessary to sustain them into adulthood.
Take a breath, take it easy, and simply enjoy discovering each day together.
The AC-130U gunship has completed its final combat deployment.
The U.S. Air Force said its AC-130U, known as the “Spooky,” has returned stateside from its last scheduled deployment.
The last U-model arrived home to the 1st Special Operations Wing under Air Force Special Operations Command at Hurlburt Field, Florida, on July 8, 2019, according to a service news release.
The 1st SOW said the Spooky will remain on alert in case troops need it for strike or overwatch downrange. But its return comes as the command gets ready to deploy the Spooky’s follow-on model, the AC-130J Ghostrider.
The 4th Special Operations Squadron, part of the 1st SOW at the base, received its first upgraded J-model in March 2019. While the command has had and operated the J-model since 2017, officials touted AFSOC’s first plane with the Block 30 software upgrade. The improved Ghostrider arrived this spring.
The Block 30 model marks “a major improvement in software and avionics technology” over the AC-130J, which has the original Block 20 software, officials said in a news release in March 2019.
“The Ghostrider is the newest and most modernized gunship in existence, fulfilling the same mission sets as the Spooky but with upgraded avionics, navigation systems and a precision strike package that includes trainable 30mm and 105mm weapons,” the release states.
The fourth-generation AC-130J is slated to replace the AC-130H/U/W models, with delivery of the final J- model sometime in 2021, according to the Air Force. Crews expect the J to be deployed in late 2019 or early 2020. The service plans to buy 37 of the aircraft.
Along with the 105mm cannon the U-models sport, the AC-130J is equipped with a 30mm cannon “almost like a sniper rifle. … It’s that precise, it can pretty much hit first shot, first kill,” Col. Tom Palenske, then-commander of 1st Special Operations Wing, told Military.com last May at Hurlburt.
The J-model also has improved turboprop engines, which reduce operational costs with better flight sustainability, the service has said. It has the ability to launch 250-pound, GPS — or laser-guided small-diameter bombs (SDB). The aircraft is expected to carry AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, interchangeable with the SDBs on its wing pylons, AFSOC has said.
The upgrades come as the service is looking to keep more aircraft “survivable” in multiple conditions.
For example, last year, the head of U.S. Special Operations Command publicly said electronic jamming over Syria had affected the AC-130U model, and became reason enough for getting more military data protections amid an ever-changing multi-domain battlespace.
Two AC-130U Spooky gunships with the 4th Special Operations Squadron fly over Hurlburt Field, Florida, after returning from their last scheduled combat deployment, June 8, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Blake Wiles)
“They’re testing us every day — knocking our communications down, disabling our AC-130s, et cetera,” Army Gen. Raymond A. Thomas III said April 25, 2019, before an audience at the U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Foundation’s GEOINT 2018 Symposium. Thomas, who commanded SOCOM since March 2016, retired this year.
As a result, crews began checking and cross-checking their data, including target information, before they locked on with their cannons, Palenske told Military.com.
“You make sure you’re as precise as possible, only targeting the guys we’ve validated as bad guys,” he said, referring to operations in the Middle East where the gunships routinely flew countless missions, often with danger-close strikes.
“When there’s some glitch being put out there by trons that threatens the accuracy of that, then the [AC-130 crews] have got to make sure they do no harm,” Palenske added.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
Rodney Smith is preparing to pack his trusty Toro lawn mower into the back of his vehicle — the one with 320,000 miles on the odometer — and hit the road again.
Smith is scheduled to begin his “Thank you for your service and sacrifice” tour on Friday, Sept. 18, in Huntsville, Alabama. During a condensed three-week window, Smith plans to cut the grass of veterans, Gold Star families, Purple Heart recipients, POWs, those missing in action and families of active-duty service members in 48 states. He intends to fly to Alaska and Hawaii to complete his mission, but those dates are undetermined.
“It’s an honor just to hear those stories firsthand and thanking them for their service,” Smith said. “A lot of them never heard a ‘thank you’ before. They have, but they need to hear it more.”
Smith, a 31-year-old social worker, started the Raising Men Lawn Care Service in 2016. The organization, which began including girls in 2018, pairs youth with veterans, the elderly, the disabled and single parents to perform outdoor chores such as cutting grass and raking leaves.
(Military Families Magazine)
According to weareraisingmen.com, 700 youths in the program have mowed a total of 15,000 lawns. Smith’s 50-state tour is a one-man job, though. He goes it alone but follows a similar pattern. He cuts one or two lawns per state, interviews the homeowner, takes a picture with him or her and asks for a photo of the person in his or her military uniform.
“There have been a lot of World War II veterans that I met,” Smith said. “Meeting them, I feel like a little kid because I get to hear the stories firsthand. They were telling me [stories] like it was yesterday.”
Smith, who never served in the military, recalled meeting a veteran who served as a former medic in Vietnam. The veteran was awarded five Purple Hearts and told Smith about soldiers dying in his arms, the sense of despair and hopelessness returning with each tragic memory. Smith gave a boy whose father was killed in Afghanistan his lawn mower on the spot.
“The feedback that I’m getting is, they did it because they loved their country,” Smith said. “They would do it again if they had to.”
While growing up, Smith hated cutting the grass in much the same way that most children dislike eating broccoli. That changed for the native New Yorker while he was a student at Alabama AM University. Smith noticed an elderly man struggling to mow his lawn one day. Smith offered to help.
“[God] was preparing me for that moment,” Smith said.
(Military Families Magazine)
Smith developed that chance encounter into the idea behind his foundation. The veterans tour will be his ninth such 50-state odyssey. He did a similar one for veterans last year, but not all of his trips support the military.
Others, for example, have benefited breast-cancer survivors and promoted increasing dialogue between police and the communities they serve.
Smith is excited to get behind the wheel of his 2012 Ford Edge again. He purchased the used vehicle in 2018, when it had only 58,000 miles. All those lonely stretches of road later, Smith still does not mind the drive because of the payoff at each stop.
“They’re everyday heroes,” Smith said of veterans. “They [gave] their all for this country. We need to appreciate them and honor them while they’re here.”
Smith will auction off each lawn mower at the end of the tour and donate the proceeds to charities supporting veterans.
The schedule of cities where Smith plans to be is posted at Raising Men Lawn Care Service. Families with military ties can sign up there by clicking on the “More Info” tab and selecting “Service Sacrifice.”