The oldest veteran in American history lived until 112, and he smoked 12 cigars a day that entire time.
Richard Overton, an Army veteran of World War II enjoyed whiskey for much of his later years, which he spent in Austin, Texas.
When Overton turned 109 his Austin neighborhood threw him an early birthday party on May 3, consisting of burgers, milkshakes, and of course cigars.
“I smoke at least 12 Tampa Sweet cigars a day,” Overton told The Wall Street Journal.
“I’ve been smoking cigars since I was 18 years old,” he added to ABC. “I have over $100 worth of cigars now.”
A celebrity in his own right, Overton had a long line of well-wishers attend his “Mighty Fine at 109”-themed celebration. Among the guests was the mayor of Austin, Steve Adler.
“You are just one of the treasures that we have in this city,” Adler told Overton during the celebrations.
Born May 11, 1906, Overton was most likely the longest-living veteran, although it is impossible to verify because not all veterans are registered with the Department of Veterans Affairs. He served in the South Pacific during the war before selling furniture in Austin after his discharge and later working in the state Treasurer’s Office, according to The Chronicle.
“I’ve gotten so many letters and so many thank yous and I enjoy every bit of it, but I’m still going to enjoy some more,” Overton told The Chronicle.
The Houston Chronicle described Overton’s lifestyle in November 2013: “He drives and walks without a cane. During a television interview in March, he told a reporter that he doesn’t take medicine, smokes cigars every day and takes whiskey in his morning coffee. The key to living to his age, he said, is simply ‘staying out of trouble.'”
“I may drink a little in the evening too with some soda water, but that’s it,” Overton told Fox News. “Whiskey’s a good medicine. It keeps your muscles tender.”
Overton admitted that he didn’t truly know what to credit for his long life. “You have to ask God about that. He brought me here and he’s taking care of me, and nothing I can do about it,” Overton told the Post.
However, his neighbors had a few ideas of their own as to how Overton kept chugging along.
“Whiskey and cigars and never stop moving,” a neighbor told Fox affiliate KTBC.
In addition to his somewhat unorthodox habits, Overton stayed busy throughout the day — trimming trees, helping with horses, and never watches television, according to Fox.
This post is reprinted with permission from NationSwell, new digital media company focused on American innovation and renewal.
After he was attacked in Iraq, Jason Redman could have retired to a quiet, private life. Instead he shed his anger so he could dress other vets.
A year after he was ambushed by machine-gun fire in Fallujah, Iraq, Lt. Jason Redman was still missing his nose. The bullets that showered his body also hit his cheekbone, leaving the right side of his face caved in. And he was wearing an eye patch to conceal a crusty and mangled sight. Returning to his life in Virginia, Redman says it was as if he had become a target all over again — this time to questions and stares from strangers.
The questions themselves — were you in a car accident? a motorcycle crash? — didn’t bother Redman. The fact that no one ever asked whether he’d been hurt in combat did. “It really started to make me bitter,” Redman, 38, says. “We’d been at war in Iraq for six years at that point and I thought, ‘Wow does the average American that I fought for recognize the sacrifice that I’ve made and that others have made?'”
Redman’s irritation began to fester, and after a particularly bothersome gawking session at the airport (“It’d been culminating, and I’d just reached my breaking point”), he took to the Internet to vent. Instead of angry Tweets or passive aggressive Facebook messages, Redman decided to wear his defense. He began designing T-shirts featuring slogans like, “Stop staring. I got shot by a machine gun. It would have killed you.” An American flag adorned the back of each one. As he started wearing his designs, strangers began to nod in appreciation, even thanking him at times. Redman knew he was onto something — that there were countless other wounded warriors who felt the same way.
So in 2009 he created Wounded Wear, a nonprofit that donates clothing kits to warriors hurt in combat and their loved ones, as well as to the families of fallen soldiers. The kits contain jackets, workout gear and T-shirts that read “Scarred so that others may live free,” a toned-down version of the original slogans Redman used to print. His organization also accepts existing clothing from service members, which the nonprofit modifies to accommodate short-term rehabilitation needs or permanent bodily damage: One of the most requested alterations comes from amputees, whose prosthetic limbs make it difficult to put on regular pants. Wounded Wear provides everything to service members free of charge, raising money from donations as well as apparel sales on its website. So far, they’ve donated nearly 2,000 kits.
Though he always knew he would serve and support others who served, Redman says that Wounded Wear is hardly the career path he dreamed for himself. Born into a military family, he often heard stories about his paternal grandfather, a highly decorated World War II B-24 pilot who once crash-landed a plane after being hit, and kept his entire team alive. As a kid, Redman loved to play with an old parachute that his father, a member of the airborne forces based in Fort Campbell, Ky., had saved from his days in service. “I just grew up with this message of service in our family and very patriotic values,” he says. “From a very young age, I knew I wanted to serve.”
By age 15, Redman had his heart set on the Navy. At 19, he began on a path of five deployments that would take him around the world, including Colombia, Peru, Afghanistan and, ultimately, Iraq. It was there, in September 2007 in the middle of the Iraq War, that Redman and his unit were ambushed while chasing a high-level target. After taking multiple shots to his helmet, elbow and face, he was lucky to be alive. Redman’s rehabilitation required 37 surgeries over the course of four years. The devastating injuries effectively ended his combat career. “I had to learn a different way forward, a different way to give back,” he says. “I said, ‘I’m gonna lift up people around me and I’m gonna continue to lead even if it’s from this hospital bed.’ ”
Which is exactly where Redman’s second act began. While recovering at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., Redman grew frustrated by the waves of people who came into his room expressing sorrow and sympathy. He was sick of the pity and asked his wife to buy the brightest color paper she could find — an orange poster. On it, Redman wrote:
“Attention to all who enter here. If you are coming into this room with sorrow or to feel sorry for my wounds, go elsewhere. The wounds I received I got in a job I love, doing it for people I love, supporting the freedom of a country I deeply love. I am incredibly tough and will make a full recovery. What is full? That is the absolute utmost physically my body has the ability to recover. Then I will push that about 20 percent further through sheer mental tenacity. This room you are about to enter is a room of fun, optimism, and intense rapid regrowth. If you are not prepared for that, go elsewhere.”
His words were quickly embraced by fellow recovering veterans and went viral online. Even today, nearly seven years later, it remains a mantra for wounded warriors in recovery. Memories of his long and painful rehabilitation inform every aspect of Redman’s vision for Wounded Wear. In addition to donating clothing kits, his organization hosts quarterly “Jumps for a Purpose,” skydiving sessions for wounded vets and their families. With food vendors, musicians and other entertainers, the events are designed to convey a festive atmosphere, offering vets a chance to interact with fellow servicemen. But they are also metaphorical dives — opportunities for wounded warriors to let go of the obstacles holding them back. “It’s not really about jumping — it’s an extreme thing to throw yourself out of a perfectly good airplane,” Redman says. “It’s about moving forward, conquering that fear and taking that step back into life.”
Josh Hoffman, a single amputee Marine whose left leg was lost during an explosion in South Helmand Province, Afghanistan, in 2011, says Redman was a savior during his recovery at the Naval Medical Center Portsmouth in Virginia. The hospital didn’t have the resources to provide wounded warriors with modified clothing during their surgeries, but Hoffman had heard about Wounded Wear through friends at Bethesda, and asked Redman for help. “For months, I’d only been wearing shorts because my pants didn’t have zippers,” Hoffman says. “Jay modified my service outfits, jeans and all my pants — it was an incredible resource.” Hoffman, who has gone through more than 20 surgeries during his recovery, has gone on to volunteer with Wounded Wear, helping the organization pass out clothing kits at their various wounded warrior events, which he says has become a huge inspiration to him. “They’ve given me another sense of purpose to inspire others,” he says. “Jay’s shown me that even if you can’t do what you were doing before, you can always do something to help other vets. And I should say he’s the most humble person I’ve met, which has helped me strive to become a better person, day to day, which can be very difficult when I’m still working through things myself.”
Redman’s work is getting noticed elsewhere, too. Matt Reames, who with his wife co-founded the annual Never Quit Never Forget Gala to raise money for various organizations serving the country’s armed forces, first heard about Redman’s story from a friend who was also a former SEAL. Reames invited Redman to speak at their inaugural gala in 2011, and says Redman’s inspiring story left jaws on the floor at the event. But it was behind the scenes where Reames really saw the impact of Wounded Wear’s efforts. At a pre-gala gathering, Reames noticed Redman give a kit to a fellow vet named Chance Vaughn, who’d lost the majority of the left side of his head in combat. “The look on Chance’s face was incredible — he was stunned to see someone give him something, that someone cared about what he did,” Reames says. Nearly three years later, Reames says Vaughn still wears his Wounded Wear gear every day. “Jay shows wounded warriors that people do remember, that they do care about what they do, and that’s absolutely needed because war is not this fly-by-night thing. Even when a war ends, you’re going to have soldiers missing limbs, needing help.”
Having helped veterans get their pride back, Redman says his next focus is to bring other forms of long-term change into their lives. He’s written a book, “The Trident: The Forging and Reforging of a Navy SEAL Leader,” about his experiences, with hopes that it will inspire others, both military members and civilians, to overcome the difficulties in their lives. And he wants to partner with other organizations to help veterans achieve their goals, be it going to law school or finding permanent housing. “We want to build a vast database and network with these other great organizations so that we can see them succeed, see them achieve their American Dream,” Redman says. “The U.S. government can’t do it right now. Compromise is not even a word they’re willing to entertain…so it’s up to us as citizens and we need to work together to do it.”
And with the country’s official drawdown from Afghanistan coming soon, Redman says the importance of that work is more urgent than ever. “The awareness of the wars is already waning. Big battles, guys that are lost — they don’t really make the news anymore,” he says. “Iraq ended, but my scars didn’t go away. Wounded warriors carry those scars for life, so it’s more important than ever that we continue to raise awareness, to make sure our veterans are taken care of.”
When troops are deployed, they soon find themselves missing the comforts – or tastes — of home. MREs can get old, and even when fresh food is available, it just doesn’t compare to what troops are used to.
A Texas National Guard unit deployed to the MidEast realized that very quickly.
According to a report by Todd Starnes, those troops were facing a serious letdown every Sunday night, which for them was “Chicken Tender Night.” The chicken at the undisclosed military base was just not up to the troops’ specs.
“Every Sunday is chicken tender night – which is one of the highlights of every week,” a National Guard first lieutenant identified as Jessie, wrote to Starnes. “With this being said, the chicken is okay at best,” he added.
The troops hit on the idea of using BBQ sauce to help address what Jessie would describe in a Facebook post as “overcooked and bland chicken tenders.” However, when forward deployed, refrigeration became an issue, as most bottles of BBQ sauce instruct people to “refrigerate after opening.”
Two weeks later, on Chicken Tender night, the deployed Texas National Guard unit got a delivery: two cases of sauces, one of the requested BBQ sauce, the other of Chick-Fil-A’s signature “Chick-Fil-A” sauce.
“Who would have ever thought you would see Chick-fil-A sauces in Iraq. It was our pleasure and honor to send you the BBQ and CFA sauces, and what a miracle that they actually arrived on Chicken Tender night!” Jason Driscoll of Chick-Fil-A posted on the local restaurant’s Facebook page after Jessie shared the story of the sauces arriving.
Bravo Zulu to Chick-Fil-A for rescuing our troops’ taste buds!
Typically, an amputation ends a military career. For a long time, most any level of amputation was considered to make a service member unfit for combat. As of last summer, only 57 amputees had returned to conflict zones and most of those stayed at a desk.
These three men wanted to get back into the fight.
1. The Ranger who swore he’d still be a squad leader
Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Kapacziewski was in an armored vehicle when insurgents threw a grenade into it. Kapacziewski survived the blast with serious injuries. After months of surgeries and casts, he attempted to walk on his right leg again and heard the pins holding it together snap. Soon after, he asked doctors to remove it.
Over the months and years that followed, Kapacziewski (a.k.a. “Joe Kap”) relearned how to do the basic tasks required of Rangers . He ran, rucked, parachuted, and completed Army drills with his prosthetic leg. Since his amputation, he has conducted four combat deployments and even earned an Army Commendation Medal for pulling an injured soldier 75 yards during a firefight.
2. The paratrooper who led an airborne platoon with a prosthetic
1st Lt. Josh Pitcher finished relieving himself on the side of the road, closed his fly, and heard the loud pop of a small roadside bomb. Two days later, he was in a hospital in Germany, promising to return to combat despite losing his left leg beneath the knee. Before he could even try and return to active duty, Pitcher had to kick a pill and drinking habit he got trying to deal with the pain after his surgeries. But, he learned how to do his old job with his new leg. Less than two years after his injury, he returned with his unit, the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, to Afghanistan. A few months later, he took over a 21-man platoon and led them for the rest of the deployment, most of it trudging through the mountains in the northern regions of the country .
3. The captain who calmly reported his own double amputation
When then-1st Lt. Daniel Luckett’s vehicle was hit by an IED in Iraq in 2008, a squad leader called up to ask if everything was all right. Luckett calmly responded, “Negative. My feet are gone.” Two years later, Capt. Luckett was with the 101st Airborne Division again; this time in Afghanistan. He uses a small prosthetic to assist what remains of his right leg. A much larger one serves as his left. His second day with his first prosthetic, he attempted to walk away with the leg. Doctors tried to get it back, but Luckett convinced them to let him keep it. He would go on to earn the Expert Infantry Badge during his efforts to prove he was still an asset. After successfully earning the award, the soldier was promoted to captain and allowed to deploy with his unit as part of the Afghan surge.
“Every kid has a dream to be an astronaut,” Air Force veteran Molly Potter said. “But by college, these dreams become less and less important for most. That was not so for me.”
Potter attended Embry-Riddle to major in Space Physics and Space Engineering. While there she tried to start a military career in Army ROTC, but soon found it was not for her. Many of her friends were in Air Force ROTC. She liked the mentality and decided it was the best way to get to where she wanted to be.
“I was a 13-Week Wonder,” Potter says. “I loved it and a quickly did my best to be come a stellar officer.”
She and her then-husband were “poster airmen” at Eglin Air Force Base. He was an AC-130 navigator who deployed all the time; she was a weapons specialist, awarded Company Grade Officer of the Year in her first year. By the time she was promoted to first lieutenant, she had caught SOCOM’s eye.
Going from her desk job to deploying to Southwest Asia with the US Special Operations Command was far from Potter’s comfort zone.
“They gave me a gun and a backpack and basically told me to go,” Potter recalls. “I was essentially a one-person band out there with the Army and Marines. I didn’t realize what I was experiencing.”
And she experienced a lot, even for a munitions specialist.
“Afghanistan was the place I felt most respected on all levels,” Potter says. “The men in JSOC and SOCOM were utmost professionals. They only cared that I did my job, and they needed me to save their asses on occasion. I had the same respect they had for me.”
One night, as the sun went down, a rocket attack knocked Potter out. A cement barrier saved her life, protecting her from the frag.
Like many veterans of recent conflicts, the blast caused her traumatic brain injury. Little was known then about the effects of blasts on the brain, and she was sent home without a diagnosis.
After her deployment, she was assigned as a flight test engineer with test pilots, the next step in her path to becoming what she wanted since childhood. She attempted to numb herself from the emotional turmoil.
Her role was quick-turnaround acquisitions for special operations missions. Watching the munitions she procured from the airplanes or from monitors and how they killed combatants on the ground, even seeing what she calls ‘the Faces of Death,’ coupled with seeing her own life flash before her eyes changed the way she saw her role in the war. Her whole life was dedicated to becoming an astronaut, but here she was engineering ways to make killing more efficient.
“They were supposed to be getting this star officer,” Potter remembers. “Instead, they got a struggling officer, fresh from Afghanistan, who wasn’t sleeping or eating, and whose marriage was falling apart.” She refused to take leave yet struggled with this difficult program, full of the world’s best pilots.
Her memory started to fade, and she couldn’t even get through a day’s work. It hit her one day when she was driving home from after flying military aircraft on military orders, but suddenly couldn’t remember how to get home.
“I realized then I needed help,” Potter says. “But I didn’t want to lose my clearance, my career. But my commanding officers started to notice there was something wrong with me. I wasn’t really there.” It all came crashing down in 2013, when a motorcyclist ran into her car in Las Vegas and Potter suffered a total mental breakdown. Her leadership realized what was happening.
“I was lucky my command realized I had a problem,” Potter says. “Instead of disciplining me, they told me ‘the Air Force broke you and the Air Force is going to put you back together.'” Recovery soon became her full time job.
“I was a high suicide risk,” Potter admits. “Therapy was very tough for me. Halfway through, I started to stall. I was having nightmares. Even with my mom there, things were not going well. I was suppressing all this awful shit and having horrible nightmares. That’s when I got Bella.”
Bella is Potter’s “100 percent American Mutt.” When Potter experienced intense Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and refused to leave the house, it was Bella who forced her to go outside. She had to be walked, after all. Bella also had to be fed, watered, petted, and cleaned. She became Molly Potter’s reason to get out of bed, to get out of the house.
“She slowly started bringing my life back,” Potter says. “I started realizing she was waking me up in the middle of the night when I was having nightmares. She prevented my panic attacks and my night terrors. I started progressing with my therapy and becoming myself again.” Bella’s effect on Potter was so strong, her therapist suggested she train Bella as a service dog, and that’s exactly what she did.
In the meantime, the Air Force began to wonder what to do with Potter. She did lose her clearance and could no longer fly, but she didn’t have disciplinary issues, so her command wanted to work with her to help her find a new Air Force role or help her transition to the civilian world.
In her preparation to leave the service, she started to work at the Airmen and Family Readiness Center at Nellis Air Force Base, to help troubled Airmen and families or help those who were also transitioning. Bella would come with her, to keep her calm and bring her back in case of a panic attack or breakdown. The families visiting the AFRC loved her, but not everyone was a fan of Bella in the workplace.
“I got a lot of pushback for this service dog,” Potter says. “There was no regulation for service dogs and uniformed personnel.”
A potentially troubling situation took a turn for the best one evening, as Potter brought Bella to an Air Force Association Symposium in Washington, DC. She happened to run into Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh and then-Secretary of the Air Force Eric Fanning.
She told the senior leaders how great her therapy was and how the Air Force PTSD therapy helped her. Then she told them about her concern for regulations regarding service dogs and that one should be written. They both agreed. Now active duty Airmen and Soldiers on PTSD therapy can use working dogs to help them cope as an accepted practice.
“Bella saved my life,” Potter says. “She changed the tide of my therapy and gave me the confidence to be Captain Potter again.”
The CSAF and the SECAF gave their full support and attention to this issue and Potter now uses her story with Bella as a way to help promote getting help while in the military.
“It’s not the only way, but it was my way,” Potter remarked. “I was anorexic, divorced, and suicidal. Five month changed my life. I had horrible experience in Afghanistan, but by the time I left the military, I was happy, sleeping and had a support network to start a new life.”
Potter now lives and works in Austin, Texas. In her spare time, she volunteers with the Air Force Association and works to match service dogs to other veterans facing the struggles she once faced.
“I still think women on the battlefields is a positive thing,” she said. “War isn’t in the trenches anymore and women bring a more creative, sometimes necessary softer tone to the fight. In the future, critical thinking could be crucial to winning and I think women in these roles bring new solutions to the problems surrounding war.”
Last week, the John Q. Public blog published an open letter written by a female Airman under the nom de plume ‘Kayce M. Hagen,’ who recently attended her annual mandatory Sexual Assault Response Coordination (SARC) training.
“A strong, confident military professional stared out of my bathroom mirror, and I met her eyes with pride. Then I came to your briefing.”
She was disgusted at the idea of the female Airman being at once a victim and the catalyst for unit degradation, for being both untouchable and a target, and for being empowered but fragile.
“I might be hurt, and I’m fragile right?,” she writes. “Of course I am, you made me that way.”
She saw the training as taking the respect she might earn and instead forcing her male counterparts to see her as an object of their potential destruction.
“You made me a victim today, and I am nobody’s victim,” Hagan wrote. “I am an American Airman in the most powerful Air Force in the world, and you made me into a helpless whore.”
Obviously very strong words, whether one agrees or not, but perhaps worth consideration. This is her letter verbatim:
I got up this morning as an Airman in the United States Air Force. I got up and I put on my uniform, I pulled back my hair, I looked in the mirror and an Airman looked back. A strong, confident military professional stared out of my bathroom mirror, and I met her eyes with pride. Then I came to your briefing. I came to your briefing and I listened to you talk to me, at times it seemed directly to me, about sexual assault. You talked about a lot of things, about rivers and bridges, you talked about saving people and victimization. In fact you talked for almost a full ninety minutes, and you disgusted me.
You made me a victim today, and I am nobody’s victim. I am an American Airman in the most powerful Air Force in the world, and you made me into a helpless whore. A sensitive, defenseless woman who has no power to protect herself, who has nothing in common with the men she works with. You made me untouchable, and by doing that you made me a target. You gave me a transparent parasol, called it an umbrella and told me to stand idly by while you placed everything from rape to inappropriate shoulder brushes in a crowded hallway underneath it. You put my face up on your slides; my face, my uniform, my honor, and you made me hold this ridiculous contraption of your own devising and called me empowered. You called me strong. You told me, and everyone else who was listening to you this morning that I had a right to dictate what they said. That I had a right to dictate what they looked at. That I had a right to dictate what they listened to. That somehow, in my shop, I was the only person who mattered. That they can’t listen to the radio because they might play the Beatles, or Sir Mix-A-Lot, and that I might be offended. That if someone plays a Katy Perry song, I might have flashbacks to a night where I made a bad decision. I might be hurt, and I’m fragile right? Of course I am, you made me that way.
You are the reason I room alone when I deploy. You are the reason that wives are terrified that their husbands are cheating on them when they leave, and I leave with them. When I walk into a room and people are laughing and having a good time, you are the reason they take one look at me and either stop talking or leave. They’re afraid. They’re afraid of me, and it’s because of you. They are afraid that with all of this “power” I have, I can destroy them. They will never respect me or the power and the authority I have as a person, or the power I have as an Airman, because I am nothing more than a victim. That I as a victim, somehow I control their fate. With one sentence, I can destroy the rest of their lives.
“He sexually assaulted me.”
I say enough. He didn’t assault me, you did; and I say enough is enough. If you want to help me, you need to stop calling me a victim. If you want to save me, you need to help me to be equal in the eyes of the people I work with. If you want to change a culture, you need to lessen the gap between men and women, not widen it. Women don’t need their own set of rules: physical training scores, buildings, rooms, raters, sponsors, deployment buddies. When I can only deploy with another woman ‘buddy’ you are telling me and the people around me that I can’t take care of myself. When you forbid me from going into my male friends room to play X-Box on a deployment with the other people on my shift, you isolate me. When you isolate me, you make me a target. When you make me a target, you make me a victim. You don’t make me equal, you make me hated. If I am going to be hated, it will be because of who I am, not because of who you have made me. I am not a victim. I am an American Airman, I am a Warrior, and I have answered my nation’s call.
Help me be what I am, or be quiet and get out of my way.
Kate McClure, of Florence Township, New Jersey, ran out of gas on an Interstate 95 exit ramp late one night. Bobbitt walked a few blocks to buy her gas. She didn’t have money to repay the Marine veteran, so she created the online fundraiser page as a thank you. The fundraiser has raised more than $397,000.
Bobbitt says he’s donating some of his money to a grade school student who is helping another homeless veteran.
Watch Johnny find out that Kate raised a little over $700 in two days:
They had just completed a punishing land navigation course up in the mountains east of San Diego during heavy snowfall. They lost another four students from cold casualties and poor navigation skills that had resulted in them getting lost in the snowy mountains after dusk. Now the 28 students were headed out to “The Rock” at San Clemente island 80 miles off the coast of California.
On the Rock, they would learn basic marksmanship skills, weapons cleaning and breakdown, how to build electric and standard demolition charges, small unit tactics, and then do all that in and out of the water. It was basically pre-school for what was coming when they would graduate and go on to the three months of SEAL tactical training and then onto more core training in their SEAL platoons.
Everything got tougher on the Rock. The class worked with bare minimum sleep, three-four hours a night, and was expected to be sharp on the firing line and demolition range.
Everyone was fired up and they could taste graduation: it was so close but so far away.
The students were mentally tough, their minds were honed razor-sharp like a blade. They could take almost anything at this point. And the instructors knew that they had essentially created Godzillas in the closet who were banging to be let out.
Olga and JJ were the top shooters in the class. It didn’t matter what weapon system, be it the HK.45, M4, or M60, they were deadly accurate, much to the surprise of their class.
The first time Olga felt the rumble of the big M60 in her hands she was hooked, like a heroin addict after shooting up dope for the first time, she couldn’t get enough. “I’m in love with this fucking machine gun,” she’d said to herself.
But she, JJ, and the rest of the class would face one of their biggest challenges in the weeks to come.
Every day, every minute, was a test for them. They were pushed harder and harder. The instructors knew they had to mold them into hardened steel because life in the Teams was harder.
“The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday.”
Olga also loved this small remote California island off the coast of San Diego, a shame that she had to share it with the wannabe environmentalists that were more interested in sucking off the Navy and justifying their existence than they were about protecting local species.
When Olga stepped off the plane she could smell the musty odor of kelp and sea salt in the air. Looking down the declining slope off the runway she could see the dark shaded blue of the Pacific Ocean and the tip of the SEAL training base, the obstacle course, and the rifle range with smoke coming from the demo range.
The north side of the Rock and the northwest harbor was owned by Naval Special Warfare. It housed the BUD/S camp and the advanced training camp where the SEAL Teams rotated in and out. The SEALs had a demolition range, a 1,000-yard rifle, and pistol range just north of the runway, and the rough Pacific to play in. Northwest harbor was also home to a small seal lion habitat which attracted the “man in the grey suit,” as the instructors liked to remind the students. Sharks… and big ones.
To the south, there was a small town that housed mostly a few air traffic controllers, support personnel, and some Navy contractors. It had the island’s main pier, a chow hall, a small store, and “The Salty Crab”, a local restaurant and bar.
The main road ran down the center of the island, winding up and down small hills. The backside of the island to the south had incredibly jagged cliffs which the SEALs used to practice climbing, large surf operations, and rugged beach entries.
It was not for the faint of heart. San Clemente “The Rock,” 80-0miles off the California coastline was the perfect place for SEALs to train.
San Clemente was also used by the pilot community that practiced bombing runs on the south side of the island and landings and approaches on the main runway. The SEALs had the run of the island which was mostly barren with the exception of small shrubbery, cactus, and the island fox which was still hanging on despite the best efforts of the environmentalists to “fix” the delicate ecosystem. Their fixes turned into one fuck up after another.
Olga overheard the instructors talking at lunch one day about how the Navy-contracted environmentalists had decided that the snowy plover bird needed more food supply so they started hauling in mice. Soon the mice had overtaken the island and were threatening the local human population because they carried a strain of Hantavirus called “Sin Nombre.”
The “Envirotards” brought in cats by the boatload and soon the cats had taken over, eaten most of the mice, and the snowy plover’s food supply. Then contractors were brought to the island to hunt and shoot the cats at night with big spotlights.
The whole thing was a fucking mess.
Olga believed in protecting the environment. She had heard the nightmare stories from her grandmother about the nuclear meltdown of Cherynobl and how it destroyed so many lives. But, she agreed with the instructors who mentioned they should have just shot the environmentalists if they really wanted to solve the problem.
The town was off-limits to the students. Just as well for Olga who was a huge cat lover and would have loved to punch one of the envirotards in the nose. It was better if she stayed on her side of the island, she thought.
Today she was excited because the class was shooting for expert pistol and rifle qualification. Olga was sure she’d have no problem but that didn’t make her less nervous.
The pistol qualification was first. She shot the Sig Sauer P226 9mm and scored near perfect.
Next was the M4 rifle qual. This was a little more challenging because the wind howled on the north end of the island and sometimes the air that blew up from the ocean swirled around the jagged rocks and found its way up to the range in gusts. All this meant that even at 200 yards it could affect the bullet a few inches even if the shooter was holding perfect iron sight focus.
Olga timed the gusts. At the bottom of her exhalations, she unloaded the full magazine.
She felt good about the rifle test.
She and Ty were the top shooters in the class and she felt compelled to remind her classmates that evening at chow, how most of the top snipers in combat were women so there should be no surprise.
“You’re insane but I like your kind of insane Olga,” said Wedge at the dining hall.
A few of their classmates were outside on the cold metal tables nicknamed “Seaport Village.” The real Seaport Village was along the bay’s edge in downtown San Diego and had shops and outdoor restaurants. Her classmates didn’t meet the minimum pull-up requirements to eat dry or had cheated with half-empty water canteens. Now they had to do 20 dead hang pull-ups with full kit, any less and it was a trip down to the beach.
She liked Wedge because he led by example. So few leaders do this, Olga thought.
They were so close to graduation but it seemed so far away on this crazy rock off the California coast.
Comedy greats Johnny Carson, Bill Cosby, Drew Carey, and Rob Riggle all started their working lives in the military, and all of them have credited their service for giving them unique perspectives that shaped their routines or approaches to roles they played. And now a new generation of veterans are finding success in comedy.
Here are 15 veterans currently making names for themselves on stages and elsewhere around the country:
1. Julia Lillis
Julia is a Naval Academy graduate who has had great success as a stand up comedian and writer. She has appeared on E! and MTV and is a recurring guest on the Dennis Miller show. Julia has also done multiple tours entertaining the troops overseas.
2. James Connolly
James is a veteran of Desert Storm and Harvard graduate. He has appeared on VH1, HBO, Comedy Central, and is one of the most played comedians on Sirius XM. In addition, he has done multiple tours entertaining the troops and holds an annual “Cocktails and Camouflage” comedy show that raises money for veterans organizations.
3. Jose Sarduy
Jose is currently an aviator in the Air Force reserves. He’s made a big impact with comedy festivals, has toured overseas with the GI’s of Comedy, and currently co-hosts NUVOtv’s “Stand up and Deliver.”
Jon is a veteran of the Army infantry and founder of Operation Comedy, recruiting some of the biggest comedians in the industry to give free shows to veterans at signature venues like the Improv in Hollywood.
6. Justin Wood
An Army veteran turned stand up comic, Justin has performed at major venues throughout Los Angeles, toured with the GI’s of Comedy, and founded “Comics that Care” recruiting comedians to perform for homeless veterans. He recently made a viral satire video of him committing “stolen valor” (posted above).
7. Benari Poulten
Benari is currently a Master Sergeant in the Army Reserve and a veteran of both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. As a comic he has toured with the GI’s of Comedy and was hired this year as a writer on “The Nightly Show” with Larry Wilmore.
8. Shawn Halpin
After serving in the Marine Corps infantry, Halpin has had success as a comedian opening for Pauley Shore, Tom Green, and as a regular at The World Famous Comedy Store in Hollywood. He has entertained the troops performing with Operation Comedy, GI’s of Comedy, and Comics on Duty.
9. PJ Walsh
After serving in the Navy, Walsh has shared the stage with many comedy greats including Bill Engvall and Larry the Cable Guy. He has performed for troops in several countries including Iraq and Afghanistan and is committed to raising funds for veteran organizations.
10. Jody Fuller
Fuller currently serves as a Major in the U.S. Army Reserve with three tours overseas. His performance highlights include a opening gig in front of comedy great Jeff Foxworthy.
11. Will C
Will C served in the Marine Corps, Army, and the Air Force. He has had great success as a comedian touring across the country and has appeared in numerous television roles. He founded The Veterans of Comedy, a group that tours nationally to entertain active duty military and veterans.
12. Tom Irwin
A U.S. Army veteran, Tom’s success as a comedian includes an invitation to perform at The White House. He has done multiple tours overseas entertaining troops and created a “25 Days in Iraq” show about his tour in Iraq.
13. Erik Knowles
Knowles is a Marine Corps veteran turned stand up who was a finalist at the California Comedy Festival and The World Series of Comedy in Las Vegas. He has worked with Sarah Silverman, Zach Galifianakis and also tours with The Veterans of Comedy.
14. Katie Robinson
Katie is a veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns where she worked as a chem-bio-radiation officer. Known as “Comedy Katie” she is a regular at The World FamousComedy Store in Hollywood and won critical acclaim at MiniFest: Los Angeles.
As the undergraduate college of our country’s naval service, the Naval Academy prepares young men and women to become professional officers of competence, character, and compassion in the US. Navy and Marine Corps. (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Nathan Burke)
Listening to 1st Class Midshipman Sydney Barber speak can make someone wonder if they are living up to their potential. But that’s what she does — reaches high and inspires those around her to do the same.
Barber, 21, found purpose at a young age through community service and now is making history as the first Black female brigade commander for the U.S. Naval Academy. And this is only the beginning of her professional impact.
Barber was chosen for this role because of her outstanding ability to perform as a leader. To plow a different path than her parents, who were both in the Navy, she initially resisted joining the Academy. But Barber learned a valuable lesson as a teenager — find your purpose and let it drive you. Her journey has been packed with life-changing moments of awareness.
Barber grew up in an affluent community in Lake Forest, Illinois, but her family had a lower socioeconomic status than her peers.
“I wasn’t going on the nice vacations and I didn’t have all the nice cars,” she said.
Her classmates drove Mercedes Benzes, BMWs, and Teslas in their sophomore year of high school, and she didn’t have a vehicle.
“I would often compare myself to the people around me,” she said. “But I know it wasn’t till later that I realized that I have everything that I need.”
She refers to this realization as her “awakening.”
As a middle schooler, a time when many kids are hanging out with their friends, Barber started serving at homeless shelters and soup kitchens.
“I remember that was a very eye-opening experience for me early on in my life,” she said. She also served with the Senior High Youth Group (SHYG) and led a small group for fifth- and sixth-graders.
“I really found my niche within my church community and within the community service clubs at my school,” she said.
Helping people in underserved areas like inner-city Chicago, India, and the Dominican Republic fostered a heart for service and opened her eyes to what matters.
“I saw people who were so filled with joy and passionate in their lives, not because of materialistic things or because of an abundance of money, but just because of their faith and their family and their purpose,” she said.
Afterward, she says she found a greater calling and more purpose in life by using that passion to give to others. It was the idea of service that guided her during the college selection process.
Barber discovered that the Naval Academy was the perfect place, because of its rigorous academics and dual alignment with her goals.
As Barber steps into her new role as brigade commander, she will lead over 4,000 midshipmen. Her duties will include managing their daily activities and professional training for the length of the semester. It wasn’t until 1976, 131 years after the Academy was founded, that women were admitted. Barber is one of 15 chosen to lead in the last 44 years. But most importantly, she is the first Black woman in command.
Brigade commander isn’t a role she initially set out for, but the value she places on her purpose won’t let her sit on the sidelines. Her internal push to be the best leader means jumping at any opportunity for professional growth and the chance to make others better.
However, she still faced some doubts.
“I thought that I had a very little chance of getting it just because it’s very competitive … The thing that really hit me over the edge is I didn’t want to be the person to count myself out and tell myself no,” she said.
Barber pursued this position, not because of her gender or race, but because she felt like she had to pursue it.
“It had to be because I knew that I was going to be Black and female and a great leader.”
Barber will continue to put her heart and soul into pursuing every chance to stretch herself while simultaneously making an impact. After graduation, she will be commissioning into the Marines, where she plans to be the best.
“I never strive for a billet. I don’t strive for a position, but I definitely strive for a purpose and in the purpose where I’m going to thrive and help those around me thrive and make the world as a whole a better place,” she said.
The military has very talented photographers in its ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. This is the best of what they shot this week:
Soldiers from the 193rd Infantry Brigade and Airmen from the 26th Special Tactics Squadron land after a parachute jump as a part of Emerald Warrior.
An MC-130J Commando II from the 9th Special Operations Squadron taxis for departure from the Red Horse Landing Zone in support of Emerald Warrior.
An MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned aircraft system from Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 35 performs ground turns aboard the littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth (LCS 3).
Sailors aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) tip their caps to the crew of the MilitarySealift Command dry cargo and ammunition ship USNS Cesar Chavez (T-AKE-14) following a weapons onload.
Philippine Marines train with U.S. Marines attached to the III Marine Expeditionary Force/Marine Corps Installations Pacific during a fast-rope exercise.
A Marine scout sniper candidate with Scout Sniper Platoon, Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment looks through the scope of his rifle during a stalking exercise in the vicinity of SR-10 aboard Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
The men were on a mission to secure an objective in Nangahar Province, Afghanistan, that included multiple compounds and a suspected media center. While heading from the first compound to the media center, the Rangers and their Afghan partners came under attack by two enemy fighters.
The insurgents managed to hit the Rangers with an ambush, but Jones and Anderson answered them immediately. Jones began firing back and directing Afghan special ops to fire on the fighters while Anderson shot at one fighter and then charged towards the other. Meanwhile, other fighters were directing machine gun fire and RPGs at the Rangers.
At the following compound, a group of six enemy fighters came out of the building and maneuvered on the Ranger and Afghan force. Anderson spotted the attack coming and, along with Staff Sgt. Travis Dunn, killed five of the enemy before the last one was killed by a helicopter.
At a follow-on compound, three barricaded fighters engaged the Rangers with small arms and grenades. Anderson moved forward with Dunn to stop the incoming fire. Dunn fired a grenade from his M320 into the compound but was hit in the process. Anderson dragged Dunn out of the firefight and into cover, likely saving his life.
Jones came upon one Ranger who was injured while attempting to clear a room with three barricaded shooters. The Ranger had been shot, and Jones rushed in, ignoring the enemy fire, to rescue him.
US Army Sgt. Charity Webb was reunited with a puppy named Pup Pup that she had bonded with while stationed as a cook in Eastern Europe last fall, which was first reported by the New York Post. The almost impossible task was made possible by a nonprofit organization out of New York called Paws of War, and this isn’t the first time the group has accomplished such a mission.
Robert Misseri, the founder of Paws of War, said the operation cost approximately $7,000 total, from finding Pup Pup, completing vaccines and any needed treatment through a local veterinarian, temporary foster care, travel costs, and many other factors.
“When we arrive, the soldier can play a little role in locating their dog. We have to learn where that dog is [from the soldier]. We have to find that dog,” Misseri said, “and we have to get that dog safely to a veterinarian and then start the process to get that dog to America.”
Locating a dog that a soldier bonded with overseas is no easy task, especially with COVID-19 restrictions severely complicating transport, but Misseri said it’s all worth it.
“The soldier will feel like a failure, thinking that ‘deployment is up’ and that this dog will think that this person abandoned it,” said Misseri. “And the soldier will always wonder whatever happened to that dog — it’s not like that dog’s going to go into a good home or someone’s going to take over caring for it. It’s going to go back to struggling. So it is so important for both soldier and dog to get back here and reunite.”
Misseri explained that reuniting a dog with a soldier can significantly help a soldier’s mental health when they get home. He said he’d been in touch with soldiers in the past who had to leave their dogs behind overseas, and “it was just something that they could not get out of their head.” The grief from leaving their dogs worsened some soldiers’ post-traumatic stress symptoms, he said, adding that some soldiers experienced nightmares about it.
Webb told the Post that while deployed, she was missing her other dog back home and her family. Pup Pup helped her through all of that.
“You miss your family, you’re missing Christmas, Thanksgiving, all of that, so it was good to have her occupy my time and my mind and not think about my time away and stuff, so she really did help with that,” Webb told the Post.
Misseri said they have located dogs in areas where locals and/or authorities will shoot them, or capture them and then put them down, or just outright mistreat them in abusive ways.
“For the puppies, they just kill them off because there’s so many strays,” Webb told the Post. “So we didn’t want them to get the puppies because we knew they’d kill them — there was no doubt about it.”
According to the Post, a fellow soldier told Webb about Paws of War, and she reached out for help. A financing issue was preventing them from getting Pup Pup back, but after the Post published the initial story, Misseri said they accomplished their goal of getting Pup Pup back in Webb’s hands on Feb. 24. The dog and the sergeant reunited at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, where Webb is stationed. Enough donations came in that there was enough to get a second dog to another soldier.
Misseri said Paws of War has reunited more than 100 soldiers with dogs that they had to leave behind when returning to the states.