The Mi-25 was the export version of Soviet Russia’s premiere attack and troop transport helicopter, the Mi-24. The Mi-24 was a game-changing helicopter that could drop a special forces squad in contested territory and then provide air support to the operation. It’s exact makeup and technical specs were highly guarded by the Russian government.
But, in spite of the secrecy, at dawn on June 12, 1987 American Chinook helicopters from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment — The Nightstalkers — landed at an airfield in Chad. There a crew of special operators strapped a Soviet-made, Libyan-owned Mi-25 Attack helicopter to the bottom of one of the Chinooks, and flew it back to the U.S.
Alleen Cooper’s son Larry was serving in Vietnam during that war — and, like many mothers who children have served in wartime, she set him letters. Her son returned from the war, and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, but she hasn’t stopped writing.
In fact, according to WHNT.com, her son was not the first serviceman overseas to get a letter. She began writing troops during World War II.
“A lot of soldiers don’t get any mail at all,” Larry Cooper told WHNT.com, adding that Mrs. Cooper’s mission is personal.
According to WGNTV.com, since she started keeping count six years ago, Mrs. Cooper, a 98-year-old grandmother from California, has written over 7,000 letters by hand, and all of them have been unique and at least four pages long. And let’s just repeat the fact that she’s been doing this since World War II, folks.
Just prior to Memorial Day weekend, she connected with one of the servicemen she had written, Marine Staff Sgt. Chris Cantos. When Cantos deployed to Afghanistan in 2010, his unit had no internet access. Their only lifeline was what gets derisively called “snail mail.”
“She would always send us clippings and jokes. She would tell us about her day,” Cantos told WHNT.com.
One of the other troops who received a letter was a wounded soldier in the hospital. He had lost an ear, and needed to get a new one.
“All of the time I think of these people and their families at home,” Mrs. Cooper told WHNT.com.
These days, she will admit her hands are getting tired. But she will keep writing the troops for as long as she can.
When a massive earthquake struck two years ago in Nepal, a sudden coalition formed to help. Service organizations, allied militaries, and others rushed from near and far to dig out survivors and provide help. And some native Gurkha soldiers are still there, lending their expertise to the rebuilding of hundreds of homes.
A total of 8,891 people are thought to have died and another 22,300 injured in the earthquakes on April 25 and May 12, 2015.
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:
Pilots from the 317th Airlift Group, stationed at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, fly a C-130J Super Hercules at Polk Army Airfield, La. The 317th AG delivered U.S. Army Soldiers from the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, to Polk Army Airfield during a Global Force Readiness Exercise. The exercise exhibited the partnership between the Air Force and Army and their ability to execute personnel airdrop from a large formation.
The MC-130P Combat Shadow team performs the final checks before takeoff on Kadena Air Base, Japan. The 17th Special Operations Squadron sent off the final two Combat Shadows in the Pacific Air Forces to retire to the “boneyard” at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz.
PATUXENT RIVER, Md. (April 22, 2015) The Navy’s unmanned X-47B receives fuel from an Omega K-707 tanker while operating in the Atlantic Test Ranges over the Chesapeake Bay. This test marked the first time an unmanned aircraft refueled in flight.
Sailors and Marines aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7) participate in a swim call. Iwo Jima is the flagship for the Amphibious Ready Group and, with the embarked 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (24th MEU), provides a versatile, sea-based expeditionary force that can be tailored to a variety of missions in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations.
Congratulations to the 2015 Best Sapper Competition winners, 1st Lt. Daniel Foky and Sgt. Brandon Loeder, assigned to 127th Engineer Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division. Pictured below,Foky andLoeder in the lead during the poncho-raft swim event, April 21, 2015, on the first day of the competition. The 2015 Best Sapper Competition, held at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. took competitors across 50 miles in 50 hours of back to back events. The 46 teams came from as far as Alaska and Hawaii to compete.
Soldiers, assigned to 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade, load munitions onto an AH-64 Apache helicopter during an aerial gunnery exercise April 22, 2015, at Rodriguez Live Fire Complex, in Pocheon, Republic of Korea.
MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, California – Reconnaissance Training Company Marines received an aerial view of Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California during Special Patrol Insertion/Extraction training at San Mateo Landing Zone. The Marines, students of the Basic Reconnaissance Course, took turns being hoisted into the air by helicopter during the SPIE portion of their Helicopter Rope Suspension Training. During the course of HRST the students learn SPIE rigging, rappelling and fast rope techniques.
ZAMBALES, Philippines – ZAMBALES, Philippines – Amphibious Assault Vehicles land ashore during a bilateral amphibious landing by the Philippine and U.S. Marine Corps, April 21, on North Beach at the Naval Education Training Center in Zambales, Philippines, as part of exercise Balikatan 2015
Petty Officer Jon Emerson helps three survivors out of a helicopter at U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak. Earlier today, the men were rescued from a life raft 57 miles off the coast of Kodiak, Alaska, after their fishing vessel sank.
Rough week? Here’s a dose of “Aloha” from Base Honolulu to get you through the rest of it!
After touring Iraq, Army vet Casey Tylek created a Tumblr blog that helps veterans during the transition to civilian life.
Tylek told Buzzfeed he was inspired to begin the page, called justWarthings, after feeling disconnected from his peers at University of Masssachusettes, Amherst because of his military experience.
justWarthings is modeled after the viral internet page justgirlythings, another Tumblr blog that uses stock photos and overlay text to communicate themes that are supposedly universal to teenage girls.
Tylek juxtaposes these images with photos of servicemen and women serving overseas, and the results are sometimes hilarious, but more often sobering.
The Army is known for its ability to fight on land, and most people know it has plenty of helicopters. But the Army also has an impressive fleet of watercraft that it uses for transportation, engineering, and even special operations platforms. Here are the watercraft that hardly anyone knows the Army has.
1. The landing craft that can be a floating base for special operators
Most people know landing crafts from World War II movies where ramps dropped, and soldiers rushed out and onto the beaches. Landing craft are still largely the same, with advances in technology allowing for larger, more resilient ships. The Army currently fields 34 Landing Craft, Utility 2000s.
The LCU works by pulling close to a shore, dock, or pier and dropping a ramp to form a bridge for vehicles. Supplies are then carried off by forklift while transported vehicles can roll off under their own power. The LCU-2000 can carry up to 350 tons into water as shallow as 9 feet, meaning it can drop 5 Abrams tanks directly onto a beach.
The LCU-2000s have been historically used as transportation platforms for supplies and armored vehicles, but they also saw service with special operators in Haiti and Operation Iraqi Freedom. In Haiti, the ships were used to transport operators to different fights while avoiding the heavily defended road network. In Iraq, they were used as floating staging bases for operators assaulting offshore oil platforms.
2. The landing craft that can assault beaches, fight fires, and act as a command center
The Landing Craft, Mechanized 8 is primarily a supply transport ship like the LCU-2000. It is smaller and carries only 53 tons, meaning it can’t lift a single heavy tank. It can carry smaller vehicles though and can operate in waters as shallow as 5 ft.
It is highly customizable though, and it’s used for a variety of purposes. Its shallow draft allows it to operate inland, far away from deep water. It can be fitted with firefighting equipment, diver support equipment, or communications relays. It especially shines in disaster relief since it can deliver to an unimproved beach or damaged dock as much cargo as a C-17 can carry.
The Army has 40 LCM-8s, but it’s looking to replace them. The Maneuver Support Vessel (Light) program calls for a new ship with capabilities above and beyond the LCM-8. It would carry more cargo, be more survivable under attack, and have both fore and aft ramps so vehicles could drive on and off faster.
3. Logistics support vessels that can deploy 24 combat-ready tanks
Though the Army has only eight Logistics Support Vessels, they are heavy lifters. The LSV is capable of carrying 2,000 tons from deepwater boats to shore. Though it needs 12 feet of water to float, it has a longer ramp that allows it to reach the shore on beaches the LCM-8 and LCU-2000 can’t reach.
Its larger deck surface and greater capacity means it can carry 24 M1 tanks directly to a beach and the tanks can roll off, ready to fight. That’s almost enough space to carry an entire armored cavalry troop in one lift.
4. Dredges and cranes for re-shaping the coast
Army engineers are in charge of U.S. dredging operations. That’s the removal of silt from the ocean floor to lay communications cable, open clogged shipping lanes, or deepen waterways for larger ships. To accomplish this mission, they maintain 11 dredging vessels that remove silt and sand and dump it out to sea or in pre-planned sites.
The engineers also keep a small fleet of floating cranes used to assist with dredging, repair or build ports, and move supplies onto and off of ships.
5. Tugs that can pull aircraft carriers
Army tugs are used primarily to maneuver friendly ships in tricky ports or waterways just like civilian tugs. They are also useful for repositioning cranes and moving floating piers or barges into position.
When the Fitzgerald collided with the merchant ship, 37-year-old Fire Controlman 1st Class Gary Leo Rehm Jr., “leapt into action,” according to The Daily Beast.
The Fitzgerald was struck below the waterline, and Rehm Jr.’s family was told by the Navy that he went under and saved at least 20 sailors, according to WBNS-10TV in Columbus, Ohio.
But when he went back down to get the other six sailors, the ship began to take on too much water, and the hatch was closed, WBNS-10TV said.
“That was Gary to a T,” Rehm Jr.’s friend Christopher Garguilo, told NBC4i in Columbus, Ohio. “He never thought about himself.”
“He called [the sailors on the ship] his kids,” his uncle, Stanley Rehm Jr., told The Daily Beast. “He said, ‘If my kids die, I’m going to die.'”
Rehm Jr. was known to invite “his kids” over to his house in Virginia when their ship was docked in the US, his uncle said. “He was always ready to help anybody who needed it. He was just that kind of guy.”
“Gary was one of those guys that always had a smile on his face,” Daniel Kahle, who had served with Rehm Jr. on the USS Ponce, told The Chronicle-Telegram. “(Gary was) such a great guy and (it’s) such a great loss. He needs to be remembered for the person we all knew him to be.”
Rehm Jr.’s uncle told The Daily Beast that he followed in the footsteps of his grandfather by joining the Navy straight out of high school.
Rehm Jr. was considering retiring soon but also hoped to make captain one day, his uncle told The Daily Beast.
The USS Fitzgerald, damaged in a collision at the US naval base in Yokosuka, Japan, June 18, 2017. Thomson Reuters
The Fitzgerald is named after another sailor, Navy Lt. William Fitzgerald, who, like his father, also joined the Navy right out of high school.
In August 1967, he was advising South Vietnamese forces at a compound near the Tra Khuc River delta when they came under heavy Vietcong fire.
Fitzgerald ordered the South Vietnamese forces and civilians to escape into the river on small boats, but he was killed while covering their escape with small-arms fire.
Rehm Jr. was raised in Elyria, Ohio, and is survived by his wife, Erin.
A rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet. That’s a lesson the military has taken to heart, changing the names for plenty of items that civilians all know by another name.
1. “100 mph tape” and “Tape, adhesive cloth, 2 in.” are both Duct tape/Duck tape
Oddly enough, duct tape was originally a military item that the troops called “duck tape” for its ability to repel water. But, since “Duck tape” is now a brand name and duct tape was trademarked, the military calls its tape 100 mph tape. The rumor was that it could stick to things moving 100 mph.
Interestingly, airplane maintainers and race car crews eventually did need tape that could stick at well over 100 mph, and so they created speed tape. Speed tape is similar to duck tape in use, but it’s much stronger both in terms of stickiness and tensile strength.
2. “Hook and loop fasteners” and “hook pile tape” are Velcro.
3. “Slide fastener (and tab thong)” is a zipper
4. “Elastic retention strap” is just a rubber band.
5. Chem lights are glow sticks.
6. Most candy in an MRE is called by a made-up name.
MMs are called pan coated discs, Skittles are fruit discs, and Combos are called filled pretzels or filled crackers.
7. Don’t dare call uniform items by civilian names
Hats are covers or patrol caps. Rain jackets and waterproof pants are called wet weather gear or foul weather gear. The outer shirt on most combat uniforms is called the jacket or blouse.
A U.S. Navy Corpsman attached to Marine Special Operations Command will receive the Navy Cross for attempting to save the lives of two Marines despite his being disoriented and wounded by two IED blasts himself, Marine Times reports.
Chief Petty Officer Justin Wilson, 36, is set to receive the nation’s second-highest award at Camp Pendleton, Calif. on Nov. 25. On his third deployment to Afghanistan with MARSOC’s Special Operations Team 8113, Wilson volunteered to accompany explosive ordnance tech Staff Sgt. Nicholas Sprovtsoff to clear an IED from a nearby checkpoint.
But not soon after they began inspecting the device it exploded, wounding Sprovtsoff and disorienting Wilson, the Times reported.
The Times has more:
According to his medal citation, the corpsman immediately left his safe position and searched around the checkpoint until he found Sprovtsoff. While he was tending to the wounded Marine with the help of [Staff. Sgt. Christopher] Diaz and another team member, another IED detonated. The blast wounded Wilson severely, and ultimately led to the death of the two Marines. In the chaos, and despite the shock of his injuries, Wilson became single-minded.
“Ignoring the pain of his own injuries, [Wilson] focused solely on treating his fellow team members,” his citation states. “He dragged one outside the checkpoint and rendered aid until he succumbed, and then searched for the other casualties, who had been blown over the barriers by the second blast. Only after confirming they were already dead did he allow treatment of his own wounds.”
Wilson is a shining example for corpsman past and present, embodying the “example of all that is honorable and good” that ends the Corpsmen’s pledge. Both fallen Marines, Staff Sgts. Christopher Diaz, 27, and Nicholas Sprovtsoff, 28, will receive posthumous Bronze Stars with combat “V” for their heroism.
When Jeremy Penderman joined the Army, he wasn’t quite sure what his job would entail.
“I’m not even sure the recruiter knew what the job was,” he said.
But Penderman, a multichannel transmission systems operator/maintainer, said the job hasn’t disappointed.
Now serving in Iraq with Fort Bragg’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, Penderman has an undeniable impact on his unit and the ongoing fight to retake the key northern city of Mosul from the Islamic State terrorist group, officials said.
So undeniable that Penderman, who has spent nearly seven years in the Army, was the recipient of a rare battlefield promotion in April of 2017.
In an impromptu ceremony near Al Tarab, Iraq, Sgt. Penderman became Staff Sgt. Penderman when Maj. Gen. Joseph M. Martin pinned the new rank to his chest.
Penderman, who was at the base repairing communications equipment, said the visit — and the promotion — were unexpected.
Martin, the commander of Combined Joint Forces Land Component Command — Operation Inherent Resolve and the 1st Infantry Division, was able to promote Penderman after determining that the soldier “demonstrated an extraordinary performance of duties” while filling a job that’s typically held by someone of a higher rank.
It was a special recognition for Penderman, who had spent nearly two years awaiting a promotion but still lacked the requirements for a typical bump in rank.
“It was a complete surprise,” Penderman told The Fayetteville Observer from Iraq last week. “I didn’t know anything about it.”
Penderman, 25, is a Durham-native who oversees communications for the 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute infantry Regiment, which has about 700 soldiers in Iraq and deployed late last year.
In that role, he leads a small team of soldiers who work to ensure troops can communicate across the battlefield, keeping a network in place to spur a constant flow of information from advise-and-assist teams embedded with Iraqi forces and between unmanned aerial vehicles and soldiers on the ground.
The job often sees him working with complex communications equipment, tapping into satellites and generally maintaining a tactical communications network in an austere and ever-changing environment.
Not bad for someone who knew little to nothing about his career when he joined the Army.
“I didn’t even know what an IP (address) was,” Penderman said. “I didn’t know anything about computers.”
Instead, Penderman had high hopes that baseball would be his future.
“I played everywhere,” he said of his time at the Durham School of the Arts. “But I went to college as an outfielder.”
That college was Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory, where Penderman received a scholarship to play baseball.
But after being redshirted his freshman year, he began to reconsider another dream.
Penderman always wanted to join the military. He wanted to follow in his brother’s footsteps as a Marine, although his parents urged him to try college instead.
He made a promise that he would give college a year, and, if that didn’t work, he’d be free to enlist.
Today, Penderman might have been a Marine if it wasn’t for one more discovery.
“I found out about the airborne,” he said.
Over spring break his freshman year — March 2010 — Penderman walked into a recruiting center and enlisted in the Army.
At first, he wanted to be an airborne infantryman, but a recruiter instead guided him through a list of available jobs.
He described Penderman’s current military occupational specialty, known as a 25Q, as “half infantry, half radios” and promised he could still become a paratrooper. Also, the job came with an enlistment bonus.
Since enlisting, Penderman spent more than four years in Germany with the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team before joining the 82nd Airborne Division about two years ago.
He has seven years in the Army and plans to apply to become a warrant officer in the Signal Corps. While he wants to stay in the Army as long as possible, he said the skills he’s learned have opened the door to a bright future no matter if he wears the uniform or not.
“It’s really set me up for success, whether I stay in or get out,” he said.
Penderman is noncommissioned-officer-in-charge of his battalion’s S6, or communications, shop.
Typically, that organization would have upward of a dozen soldiers, including an NCOIC and an officer. But Penderman’s shop has three soldiers and no officer.
That shows the faith and trust that leadership has in the soldier, officials said.
In training while preparing for the deployment, the battalion trained with the smaller force. But Penderman said little could have prepared him for another aspect of the deployment — a constant leapfrogging of the battlefield.
When Penderman’s battalion arrived in country, they set up more than 20 miles from Mosul to partner with the 9th Iraqi Armored Division, one of the local forces looking to take back the city.
“And we moved six times,” Penderman said. “As they gain ground and they move forward, we move forward with them.”
Today, he’s based out of a tactical assembly area near the village of Bakhira. From there, he’s near the border of the city and close to the fighting.
“We can hear them shooting off mortars,” Penderman said.
He’s also seen forces treating wounded. And he said that knowing he has played a role in the march into the city has been humbling.
“It’s fulfilling work,” Penderman said. “I get to impact the battalion on a daily basis… It definitely feels like I’m making a difference in my battalion and helping to make a difference in the fight in Mosul.”
The military has built generations of outstanding citizens who have been leaders, entrepreneurs, and hard-working members of their communities. But we can also thank the military for the rise of some interesting pop culture phenomenon, from stand-up comedy to Dr. Seuss.
We found nine examples with some surprising roots in military service, detailed here. Have any more? Let us know in the comments.
Joseph Heller served as a B-24 crewman in World War II, and his experiences with dealing with unreasonable officers and the overall futility of war became the basis for the legendary novel Catch-22.
In many ways the novel was ahead of its time. The movie Catch-22 was released over ten years after the book was originally published, when the American public was more ready for irreverent portrayals of military life due to the attitudes that surrounded the Vietnam War.
Stand Up Comedy for the Masses
George Carlin was an Air Force radar tech stationed a Barksdale Air Force Base in 1954 when he started working as a DJ at a local radio station on the side. What made him popular on the airwaves made him a problem to his chain of command, and his wise-ass attitude got him court-martialed three times and earned him the official label of “unproductive airman.”
Carlin later said that as far as his military service went, he was most proud of barely avoiding getting a dishonorable discharge.
Kurt Vonnegut was a private in the U.S. Army when he was taken prisoner by the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge. “Bayonets aren’t much good against tanks,” he later said. He was taken to Dresden and made the leader of his group of prisoners because he spoke some German.
He was there when Dresden was firebombed by allied bombers and said that the aftermath of the attack on the defenseless city was “utter destruction” and “carnage unfathomable.” The experience was the inspiration for his famous novel, Slaughterhouse-Five, and is a central theme in at least six of his other books.
Harvey Milk served as a diver during the Korean War, remaining a closeted homosexual primarily due to the attitudes of the shipmates who surrounded him.
When he left the Navy as a lieutenant (junior grade) he was tired of hiding his true self, and he started down a path that eventually took him to the Castro District in San Francisco where he led the first national gay rights movement.
The Beat Generation
Jack Kerouac joined the U.S. Merchant Marines in 1942, and in 1943 joined the U.S. Navy, but he served only eight days of active duty. The medical examiner reported Kerouac’s military adjustment was poor, quoting Kerouac: “I just can’t stand it; I like to be by myself.”
Two days later he was honorably discharged on psychiatric grounds. Kerouac’s military failure eventually led him to San Francisco where he joined Alan Ginsburg, William S. Burroughs and other writers to become the spiritual leaders of “The Beat Generation,” the first creative influencers to widely suggest that dropping out of normal American society was a viable option. Kerouac is best known for his book On the Road. (Source: The Smoking Gun)
While the facts surrounding his war record are disputed, it’s true that L. Ron Hubbard was a U.S. Navy officer during World War II. In spite of his claims to being wounded in battle, the Navy has no official records to document it.
According to U.S. Navy records, the majority of Hubbard’s experience is marked by poor performance, poor evaluations, no record of any combat experience, and Hubbard over-inflating his medical conditions to avoid any theater of war. Critics say Hubbard sensationalized his military record in order to aid in launching Scientology. (Source: The New Yorker)
The Rock Guitar God
Jimi Hendrix had a run-in with the law over stolen cars that led to a choice: he could either spend two years in prison or join the Army. He enlisted on May 31, 1961 and was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division. But he wasn’t a model soldier.
His CO at the time said, “His mind apparently cannot function while performing duties and thinking about his guitar.” Hendrix was discharged early as his problems were judged to not be treatable by “hospitalization or counseling.” An alleged ankle injury during a parachute jump showed Hendrix the door with an honorable discharge. The benefit of dental care while on active duty came in handy later in his musical career when he made playing with his teeth one of his trademarks. (Source: Military.com)
As World War II erupted, Theodor Seuss Geisel was a political cartoonist for a left-leaning New York newspaper and highly critical of isolationists like Charles Lindberg.
He joined the war effort officially in 1943, and was made the commander of the Animation Department of the First Motion Picture Unit of the United States Army Air Forces, where he wrote films that included Your Job in Germany, a 1945 propaganda film about peace in Europe after World War II; Our Job in Japan, and the Private Snafu series of adult army training films. His war experience motivated him to create a more gentle world: the Dr. Seuss series of books.
Humphrey Bogart’s Trademark Lisp
The legendary star of movies like “Casablanca” and “The Maltese Falcon,” Humphrey Bogart served in the U.S. Navy during World War I.
He was injured while on assignment to take a naval prisoner to Portsmouth Naval Prison in Kittery, Maine. While changing trains in Boston, the handcuffed prisoner asked Bogart for a cigarette and while Bogart looked for a match, the prisoner raised his hands, smashed Bogart across the mouth with his cuffs, cutting Bogart’s lip, and fled. The injury affected Bogart’s speech, giving him his trademark lisp that wows movie buffs to this day. (Source: Wikipedia)
Army Special Forces veteran Tyler Grey is definitely what you would call an “operator.”
A Ranger, a sniper with the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, and a combat veteran, Grey has served his country well.
He knows the meaning of sacrifice, perhaps more than most. In 2005, he was blown up in a raid in Sadr City, Iraq, which nearly cost him his arm. But the experience gave Grey an evolved sense of perspective.
We Are The Mighty sat down to talk with him about how music had an impact on his career and his life, and what he had to say was pretty insightful.
“The journey isn’t that you never have a problem. The journey is overcoming problems. The music I like is about people who are honest and open enough to share a problem, to share a weakness, to share an experience that affected them, and then how they overcome it.”
We also asked Grey to make a Battle Mix — a playlist of power anthems — with songs that held significant meaning throughout his life. He didn’t disappoint.
QUANTICO, Va., Dec. 11, 2014 – The Marine Combat Instructor of Water Survival course is a grueling training evolution that requires Marines to swim a total of 59 miles over three weeks.
Just six of nine course students were able to complete the challenge and graduate Nov. 25. One of those six course students had the deck stacked against him from the beginning, but he overcame adversity and graduated with his classmates.
Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Adam Jacks, company gunnery sergeant for Headquarters and Service Company at The Basic School here, is a motivated, extremely fit, Marine who said he quickly volunteered to attend the course when approached by the chief instructor trainer, Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Marshall. The fact that Jacks’s right leg was amputated at the mid-thigh in 2011 did not faze either Marine.
Injured in Afghanistan
Jacks, a native of Newark, Ohio, was serving in Afghanistan with 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, when he stepped on a pressure plate April 3, 2011, and was hit by an improvised explosive device blast. Among other injuries, Jacks suffered a traumatic brain injury and lost two-thirds of his right leg.
Though he easily could have medically retired, Jacks said, he “fought pretty hard” to stay on active duty, believing he had much more to contribute to the Marine Corps.
“Why I wanted to stay in is pretty simple: I wasn’t ready to hang up the uniform and turn the page into a new chapter,” he said. “I felt that I had a lot of fight left in me, and that I could help shape the Marine Corps into this new-age style of fighting, even with half of a leg, and to show Marines of all ranks and ages that it still can be done.”
Jacks asked to be placed in an expanded permanent limited duty status, a request that only the commandant of the Marine Corps can grant. Jacks said he met the commandant — Gen. James F. Amos at the time — and that Amos said to him, “If you want to stay in, I won’t push you out.” After about nine months of evaluations and paperwork, Jacks was granted permission to continue serving on active duty.
Specific Prosthetics for Specific Activities
Jacks said he has about 20 different prosthetic legs, each with a unique purpose. He has one for everyday activities, one for patrolling and one for running, among others.
“If I don’t have one that works well for the situation, that will set me up for failure,” he explained. He also has one prosthetic decorated with a blood stripe and some Marine graphics that he said he doesn’t like to wear much, because he doesn’t want to damage it.
What he lacked before starting the course, however, was a leg that would help him swim. The asymmetry in his body caused him to roll in the water when swimming, Jacks said.
“The first week [of the MCIWS course] was pretty hellacious,” he said, “because I had to relearn how to swim properly and use my upper body.”
He recounted having to fight feelings of vertigo from the lack of balance. Marshall said he and Jacks worked together to improvise a buoyant prosthetic that would enable him to stay at a level position in the water. Even with the buoyant leg, Jacks had to put in dozens of extra training hours to become more proficient, frequently staying at the pool until 6:30 or 7 p.m., up to two hours after the other students had left for the day.
“We were not going to lower the standard,” Marshall said. “We were going to work with him to help him reach it.” And the standard was high. Marines had to complete conditioning swims up to 1,900 meters in length, including three that were timed. They also had to swim 25 meters underwater, complete four American Red Cross rescues with the aid of lifesaving equipment and four without, and pass all academic classroom evaluations.
“There were naysayers” who told him he wouldn’t be able to complete the course missing a limb, Jacks said, but he kept a positive outlook.
“You press on with it,” he said. “You use the adversities as fuel to get you through.”
Jacks and his fellow graduates are now certified as MCIWS instructors and American Red Cross lifeguards.