From convicted felon to George Lucas Scholar: USC student brings a fresh perspective to filmmaking - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY MOVIES

From convicted felon to George Lucas Scholar: USC student brings a fresh perspective to filmmaking

Jeremy Lee MacKenzie is an artist & filmmaker whose career began after being incarcerated as a teenager. His artwork, “Hidden Blueprints,” is a collection of wood-scrollwork cut from blueprints that were hidden in the prison system. He discovered the blueprints while serving sentences that totaled eight years, for bank robbery & drug trafficking.

He was inspired to become a filmmaker while working as a prison movie projectionist where he studied screenwriting and was released with scholarships to Champlain College. In 2015, he was awarded a screenwriting fellowship to Stowe Story Labs and that same year, won gold in the PAGE International Screenwriting Awards in LA.

In 2017, MacKenzie completed his film “Hidden Blueprints: The Story of Mikey,” and received the James Goldstone Emerging Filmmaker Award. In 2018, he was chosen for the Vermont Symphony Orchestra Award and was then admitted to the USC School of Cinematic Arts to pursue his MFA on a George Lucas Scholarship.


From convicted felon to George Lucas Scholar: USC student brings a fresh perspective to filmmaking

C. Craig Patterson and J. Lee MacKenzie

(Photo by: Feyza Nur Safoglu)

Annenberg Media: Tell me about where you are from and your life growing up?

MacKenzie: I’m from Burlington, VT and my childhood was complicated. I had a lot of challenging things happen while growing up and I ended up in adult prison at the age of 17 for bank robbery. Looking back, it feels like it was 100 years ago, like I’ve lived in quantum time where every year contained the events of five years.

Annenberg Media: What is the most distinct memory you have of your mother and father?

MacKenzie: A positive memory I have of my mother is how she always encouraged me to be an artist and be creative. She was always very honest and encouraging if she thought I was good at something. My father encouraged storytelling and read me a lot of books growing up. He tested me on the stories to see if I was listening. He would reread me the same story and then change certain plot lines to see if I was paying attention. I would stop him and tell him, “no dad, the storyline goes like this…”

Annenberg Media: What challenges did you face at school and in the community?

MacKenzie: My parents separated after my younger sister passed away. I lived with my mother most of the time and my father during summers. When I was really young, I did well in school. At a certain point in my childhood we moved into a trailer park where we were living in poverty. A lot of the people living in that trailer park did not care much about school and were into drugs. Those became really tough years since I valued education but was now being punished for valuing academics.

At first I had to fight kids often when getting off the school bus because I was into focusing on school. My parents always tried focus my attention on education. I was very young and got sick of fighting and being an outsider, so I ended up joining the crowd. I got into drugs to succeed in that world. I often wondered if people around me who chose the drug path, went through those same bad experiences as I did.

At the age of 12 or 13, I transitioned into selling drugs and became a drug dealer. I wanted to excel in a world I was way behind in. By 14-years-old, my parents had lost full control. I had an 18-year-old stripper girlfriend living with me. I was deep into the world of drug dealing: at age 14, it was cocaine, 15, it was opiates, at 16, I was arrested for dealing heroin and at 17, I was locked up for bank robbery.

Bang, that escalated quickly! My parents were baffled at how things changed so rapidly.

Annenberg Media: Where did this lifestyle lead you?

MacKenzie: I served three sentences totaling eight years. During one of those sentences, I earned my high school diploma but was still struggling to separate from the drug world. During the course of one of my sentences, I was sent to a corporate prison in Kentucky. When I got there, I got my first college opportunity. Hazard Community College selected 20 inmates who they gave grants to start college while incarcerated.

Due to overcrowding and the mistreatment of inmates, a lot of violence was going on in the facility. It was a for-profit prison and the administration was not friendly. I had to make a choice between focusing on college or joining an uprising in the prison. A group of inmates were planning a revolt and ended up having a riot at the facility. The riot took over the facility for a night and the administration building was burned which included the education facility. The college opportunity went up in smoke. We were in lockdown for many months while they rebuilt the prison around us. This gained a lot of national media attention.

Annenberg Media: Did you have any creative outlets while incarcerated?

MacKenzie: Isolation can be a powerful tool. After the riot, while in lock down I started designing artwork. I would design blueprints for big pieces of wood-scrollwork. I had learned this wood cutting technique as a teenager from an old clock maker in prison and I taught myself how to design. I was designing on taped-together pieces of paper but we weren’t allowed to have the paper so I had to hide my blueprints until I could bring them home.

Those blueprints came to be my artwork years later. I used them as a tool for storytelling. Many of the blueprints I drew didn’t directly depict prison but told the stories of our experience on the inside through ancient themes. When I was not designing I started getting into TV and movies and I started watching this show called “Medium.” Everybody watched it. It was a way to escape from prison.

From convicted felon to George Lucas Scholar: USC student brings a fresh perspective to filmmaking

Scrollwork by J. Lee MacKenzie.

(Photo by: Mike Jacobs)

Annenberg Media: Did you ever hit rock bottom?

MacKenzie: My darkest moment came during my third sentence when I could no longer hide from my darkest truths and my responsibilities. I couldn’t hide the impact my actions had on my friends, family and community; I experienced a paradigm shift. I was in a segregation cell where I had more charges coming. The drug dealers who had been supplying me since I was an adolescent, who I had been protecting my whole life, were not protecting me or anyone else. The whole veil of that world came crashing down.

I realized the effect my life was having on everyone around me and the people I had protected and followed didn’t care about me anymore. I was in the segregation cell and I noticed there was a broken razor blade on the floor. “This is my out,” I thought. This was one of the few moments in my life where I contemplated suicide. But, I looked out the window and thought to myself, “No one could explain this to my dog, she’s never gonna know what happened.” I just wanted to see my dog again. She probably saved my life. Tests find a way of placing themselves in your path, especially at your darkest moments. I needed to let things play out until the end.

From convicted felon to George Lucas Scholar: USC student brings a fresh perspective to filmmaking

Scrollwork by J. Lee MacKenzie.

(Photo by: Mike Jacobs)

Annenberg Media: How was your life impacted after making the decision to stay alive?

MacKenzie: That was a very challenging period of time, but it passed. And I ended up getting a job as a prison movie projectionist. It was a makeshift movie theater with prison walls. We screened everything from the original “Star Wars” to “Casablanca” and “Chinatown.” It was a powerful experience watching “Star Wars” projected onto a prison wall.

While working as a prison movie projectionist, I started writing stories with the women’s prison. The women were relatable and had similar situations to mine. But we weren’t allowed to write to other prisons so I would send the letters to my father and he would re-address them to the women I was writing. I invited them to write a story where the women and I could insert our own characters and set them off on a journey together. I was very grateful to the women for that, as it provided a creative medium that was very valuable. It also provided companionship and helped with loneliness.

Working with the prison movie theater was a crucial time for me. All those earlier years of my father testing me on stories came back to me. I decided I wanted to become a filmmaker. I focused on screenwriting and reached out to different colleges to get the books they used in their screenwriting courses. I was no longer in a corporate prison and I made a deal with teachers to recycle prison paperwork. The education offices would print scripts on the back of the recycled paperwork I brought them. Filmmaking was like life or death- in my previous life I was going to die and this new life was the only way out. There were no other choices.

From convicted felon to George Lucas Scholar: USC student brings a fresh perspective to filmmaking

Scrollwork by J. Lee MacKenzie.

(Photo by: Mike Jacobs)

Annenberg Media: Did you plan on getting further education?

MacKenzie: I got a scholarship to go to college when I came home. The scholarship letter came from Bernie Sanders, which I still have. When I came home I realized there was all this time that I had missed. I did a lot of catching up in college.

As soon as I got to undergrad, I won gold in the Page International Screenwriting Awards for a screenplay. The award and screenplay got me connected with Julie Pacino, Al Pacino’s daughter. I began to excel and was pushed more towards directing. Julie ended up producing my film, “Hidden Blueprints.” Things began to happen much more rapidly and I ended up using “Hidden Blueprints” to apply to USC.

Back then, Ben Stiller was making his show “Escape at Dannemora” and his group reached out to have me in the show as an inmate. I have an escape on my record- at one point I tried to run away from prison- so I was not able to get security clearance to enter prison. But, I took a role as an extra on a different part of his show so I could still be apart of the production. I had this really funny moment where I was standing on set with Ben Stiller to my right and I was quietly watching him work. Then, the main actress comes out and I’m suddenly hit with this really familiar feeling: the actress was Patricia Arquette who I watched in the TV show, “Medium” years ago in that destroyed prison in Kentucky. I realize I’m standing in the middle of a show about escaping from prison starring the actress of the show we all used to watch to escape from the prison we were in. It was an interesting and affirming moment.

I sent the production staff of the show an email about it. It made me reflect on how far my arc had brought me. Within a matter of days the George Lucas Scholarship came in for USC. It gave me chills. I had projected “Star Wars” movies on a prison wall. Now I was headed to LA.

From convicted felon to George Lucas Scholar: USC student brings a fresh perspective to filmmaking

Aron Meinhardt, J. Lee MacKenzie, and Julie Pacino

Annenberg Media: Why Hollywood and why now?

MacKenzie: This is the epicenter of storytelling. I came here to fully engage in storytelling and USC helped me get here. I knew this was the path. This is the place to begin and branch off. This is a time when people from all different places and backgrounds can tell stories. I felt like I was one of those people that could have a place here.

From convicted felon to George Lucas Scholar: USC student brings a fresh perspective to filmmaking

Riley Lynch, J. Lee MacKenzie, Polina Yamschikov.

(Photo by: Aron Meinhardt)

Annenberg Media: What is it like to be a George Lucas Scholar at the School of Cinematic Arts?

MacKenzie: From where I come from, it has been extremely helpful and it has been an honor to have the opportunities I’ve had. I had the opportunity to work with some incredible people like Riley and Austin Lynch, Julie Pacino, Aron Meinhardt and many others. I got to collaborate with C. Craig Patterson who is a great friend, he is on a George Lucas Scholarship as well. I look forward to seeing who else I get to meet and work with.

Annenberg Media: What are your career and life goals?

MacKenzie: I want to direct movies. I direct films not because I love it, but because I feel compelled to. Telling stories was my only way out and it is the only pathway I see forward. I am going to continue on that path and see where it leads. It took a lot of people helping and believing in me to get this far. It didn’t start out that way. I deeply appreciate the people that helped me along the way. Wherever this path goes, I hope it is fruitful for both myself and for those that helped.

Annenberg Media: How is the coronavirus social distancing affecting you and do you have any recommendations?

MacKenzie: As I said, isolation can be a very powerful thing. I know a lot of people are stuck inside right now, for much longer than they are used to. A lot of movies are not getting made. People are scared and they are experiencing their own moments of darkness. But some of the most creative years of my life began with isolation and darkness like this. It wouldn’t surprise me if the solitude of this pandemic inspires and gives birth to a lovely period of filmmaking in its wake, the likes of which the world has perhaps never seen. I really hope to be a part of that movement and I think we will all feel fortunate when we see it happen.

Featured image shows J. Lee and Isabela Penagos—USC arts students.

This article originally appeared on Annenberg Media. Follow @AnnenbergMedia on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The story of America’s first secret Space Force

Last year, President Trump drew headlines all over the world with the announcement that he intended to establish a new branch of the American armed forces dedicated solely to orbital and deep-space defense. This new Space Force would be responsible for defending America’s sizeable satellite infrastructure from potential attack and hardening the means by which America has come to rely on orbital technology in day to day life as well as defense.


The concept wasn’t without its critics, with some discounting the very idea of space defense as a flight of fancy and national level competitors accusing America of militarizing an otherwise peaceful theater… but the truth of the matter is, space has been a battlespace since mankind first started lobbing rockets at it.

The Space Race, which was in every appreciable way an extension of the Cold War that benefited from good PR, may have ended with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landing on the moon in 1969, but the race to leverage space for military purposes continued going strong for decades to come. In fact, one could argue that reaching the moon marked only the end of the public-facing space race, but not the end of the competition between American and Soviet space programs.

From convicted felon to George Lucas Scholar: USC student brings a fresh perspective to filmmaking

Despite reaching the Moon first, America still had pressing concerns in space.

(NASA)

So heated was the race to militarize space during the Cold War that the Defense Department actually already had a Space Force of sorts starting way back in the 1970s. This secretive program was vast, with a .3 billion California-based spaceport meant for secretive space shuttle launches into polar orbit, a secret group of 32 military-trained astronauts, and plans to fly more shuttle flights per year than NASA itself at one point.

The military astronauts weren’t actually called astronauts — they were called Spaceflight Engineers, and in total, the Air Force’s Manned Spaceflight Engineer Program had 134 military officers and civilian experts assigned to it. These men and women worked out of the aforementioned California launch complex as well as the Pentagon’s own version of mission control in Colorado, and a third facility in Los Angeles that housed the Spaceflight Engineers themselves.

In the early days of the program, some of the Pentagon’s astronauts even hitched rides on NASA shuttle missions hoping to increase cooperation and cross-train on flight methodologies.

From convicted felon to George Lucas Scholar: USC student brings a fresh perspective to filmmaking

Air Force Spaceflight Engineer Maj. Gary Payton (back left) along with NASA crew members Loren Shriver (front left) and Ken Mattingly (front right), with Jim Buchli and Ellison Onizuka (behind).

(NASA)

“Between these two agencies, it really was a shotgun marriage,” said retired Air Force Col. Gary Payton, who served as Deputy Undersecretary of the Air Force for Space Programs until his retirement in July 2010.

“NASA thought of us as a bunch of snotty-nosed kids, outsiders, almost guests…nothing more than engineers or scientists who tended one particular satellite or experiment, and typically flew just once. We, on the other hand, thought our job was to help bridge the gulf between the military and civilian space agencies.”

The plan was for the Defense Department’s shuttles to launch from California and enter into a polar orbit, which was more beneficial for the Defense Department’s secretive missions than the equatorial orbit commonly reached from Florida launch complexes. The Pentagon’s plans called for an absolutely mind-boggling 12-14 launches per year. That was far more than NASA was prepared to manage, but the result would have been an extremely resilient and redundant space defense infrastructure long before any nation was prepared to present a viable threat to American interests in orbit.

From convicted felon to George Lucas Scholar: USC student brings a fresh perspective to filmmaking

The Space Shuttle offered a wide variety of mission sets, but with a great deal of risk.

(NASA)

But then in 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after launch, killing all seven crew members on board. It was a crushing blow to NASA, but hit the Manned Spaceflight Engineer Program even harder. It forced the Pentagon to acknowledge two difficult truths about manned shuttle missions: when they fail, people die — and the whole world notices.

“By 1987, it was all gone,” said William J. Baugh, director of public affairs for the Air Force Second Space Wing at Falcon Air Force Base in Colorado told the New York Times. “By that time, Challenger had its problem, and we decided to get out of the shuttle business.”

The Pentagon opted to transition toward a system of mostly unmanned rocket launches for the deployment of new satellites, leaning on NASA and the Space Shuttle for some classified missions when the payloads were too big or complex for other rockets like the Titan IV.

“It’s disappointing,” Maj. Frank M. DeArmand, a Spaceflight Engineer who never got to fly, said in 1989. “We all had the excitement and expectation of flying on the shuttle. But I’m not bitter. It was the right decision.”

Articles

There was lots of buzz at Sundance for this dramatic slave story

Nate Parker’s film The Birth of a Nation won Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury and Audience prizes for a drama, just days after the production company signed a record $17.5 million distribution deal with Fox Searchlight. The film is about what happens to a former slave after he leads a liberation movement to free other slaves.


From convicted felon to George Lucas Scholar: USC student brings a fresh perspective to filmmaking

The movie is based on actual events, and the uprising did not end well for the slaves or Nat Turner, the man who led it.

Turner was a slave from Southampton County, Virginia. He could read and write, which was unusual for slaves.  He was also deeply religious, devoted to fasting and prayer.

Turner would have visions that guided him through his life. He conducted Baptist church services and was dubbed “The Prophet” by his fellow slaves. While working in his owner’s fields one day, Turner heard “a loud noise in the heavens, and the Spirit instantly appeared to me and said the Serpent was loosened, and Christ had laid down the yoke he had borne for the sins of men, and that I should take it on and fight against the Serpent, for the time was fast approaching when the first should be last and the last should be first.”

In 1830, a man named Joseph Travis purchased Turner. It was while under Travis’ ownership Turner would make his move. The next year, an atmospheric disturbance made the sun appear bluish-green in Virginia. Turner took this as a sign, and prepared to start his rebellion.

From convicted felon to George Lucas Scholar: USC student brings a fresh perspective to filmmaking

On August 22, 1831, thirty years before the Civil War, Turner and an inner circle of trusted slaves gathered. They killed the Travis family as they slept, then went house-to-house freeing slaves and killing white people. His number soon grew to over 40 slaves, most on horseback.

From convicted felon to George Lucas Scholar: USC student brings a fresh perspective to filmmaking

Sixty whites were killed before Turner’s rebellion was put down. Even then, it took twice the number of men in the responding Federal and Virginia militias, along with three artillery companies to defeat the uprising. His rebellion crushed, Turner hid around the Travis farm until his capture on October 30. He was quickly tried, convicted, hanged, and skinned.

Retaliatory attacks from white mobs killed 200 more slave and free black men, women, and children. The state legislature of Virginia considered abolishing slavery, but decided instead to keep it and its repressive policy against all black people in the state, especially enforced illiteracy among slaves.

The Turner Rebellion is one of the defining events in the lead up to the American Civil War, on par with John Brown’s raid on the arsenal at Harper’s Ferry.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The US’ latest action against potential EMP attack

President Donald Trump signed an executive order on March 26, 2019, to protect the US from electromagnetic pulses (EMPs) that could have a “debilitating” effect on critical US infrastructure.

Trump instructed federal agencies to identify EMP threats to vital US systems and determine ways to guard against them, Bloomberg first reported. A potentially harmful EMP event can be caused by a natural occurrence or the detonation of a nuclear weapon in the atmosphere.


The threat of an EMP attack against the US reportedly drove the president to issue March 26, 2019’s order. Multiple federal agencies, as well as the White House National Security Council, have been instructed to make this a priority.

“Today’s executive order — the first ever to establish a comprehensive policy to improve resilience to EMPs — is one more example of how the administration is keeping its promise to always be vigilant against present dangers and future threats,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement, according to The Hill.

From convicted felon to George Lucas Scholar: USC student brings a fresh perspective to filmmaking

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

With the release of the White House National Security Strategy in 2017, Trump became the first president to highlight the need to protect to the US electrical grid.

“Critical infrastructure keeps our food fresh, our houses warm, our trade flowing, and our citizens productive and safe,” the document said.

“The vulnerability of U.S. critical infrastructure to cyber, physical, and electromagnetic attacks means that adversaries could disrupt military command and control, banking and financial operations, the electrical grid, and means of communication.”

Senior US officials warned that the US needs to take steps to safeguard the electrical grid and other important infrastructure against EMP attacks, The Washington Free Beacon reported on March 26, 2019. “We need to reduce the uncertainty in this space” and “mitigate potential impact” of an EMP attack, one senior administration official said.

“We are taking concrete steps to address this threat,” the official added. “The steps that we are taking are designed to protect key systems, networks and assets that are most at risk from EMP events.” Federal agencies are being tasked with bolstering the resiliency of critical infrastructure.

Members and supporters of the decommissioned US Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse have long warned of the possibility of an EMP attack, with some individuals, such as Peter Pry, who previously led the congressional EMP commission, asserting that an EMP attack on America could kill off 90% of the US population.

Those seeking to raise awareness have pointed to the threat from solar flares, as well as nuclear-armed adversarial powers.

Others, including Jeffrey Lewis, a renowned nuclear-weapons expert, have said that the EMP threat is a conspiracy. Lewis previously wrote that it seemed “like the sort of overcomplicated plot dreamed up by a Bond villain, one that only works in the movies. Bad movies.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This non-profit pairs war veterans with Gold Star kids

Perry Yee knew there was a way he could help his fellow veterans but wasn’t sure how. There are plenty of charities and programs out there that claim to help veterans with issues like PTSD, anxiety, loneliness and isolation, and the sometimes difficult transition into the civilian world. The call to do something was there, but he wasn’t sure what the path was.


So Yee and his wife, Jamie, did what a lot of people who want to help do….they prayed.

Soon after, the idea for Active Valor was born.

From convicted felon to George Lucas Scholar: USC student brings a fresh perspective to filmmaking

Active Valor is a non-profit that pairs veterans with Gold Star children. Based out of San Diego county, veterans apply to be a mentor for a child that belongs to a Gold Star family. The intent isn’t to take the place of the father who has passed away, but to be a mentor, guide, confidant and teacher while honoring the parent that passed away. Active Valor does this in several ways. First, they host events throughout the year that keep veterans engaged. This is not a once a year event. This is not a one time meet up. Once paired with a kid, the veteran commits to participating in events throughout the year, and most go further developing a relationship with the child and family. They will end up having weekly conversations, taking the child to sporting events, and being involved with the kid’s life. But more than a “Big Brother” program, Active Valor serves the veteran too and helps them with their struggles.

From convicted felon to George Lucas Scholar: USC student brings a fresh perspective to filmmaking

Yee himself knew all about that struggle. He enlisted in the Navy in 2005 on a BUDs contract. Twice he went through Hell Week and had to be rolled back. Once for nerve damage to his arm, and once for pneumonia. But like most warriors, Yee didn’t give up, and in true “third times the charm fashion” graduated in Class 262. He was eventually assigned to SEAL Team 7 out of Coronado, Calif.

Yee did a combat tour and earned himself a Navy Commendation with “V” and Army Commendation with “V.” He left the service in 2011 and embarked on the next chapter of his life. After flirting with college, Yee ended up with the Competitor Group, which runs the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathons nationwide. After a year, he ended up as a Range Safety Officer in Poway, Calif., before getting a job at the Warfighter Academy in Escondido, Calif.. It was here that Yee taught classes in CQB and other warfighting techniques. It was also here where he started connecting with veterans and learned that his rough journey into the civilian side wasn’t just his own experience. Yee learned that many other veterans struggle to connect with coworkers, classmates, family and spouses, and few had outlets which they could express themselves and connect with others.

From convicted felon to George Lucas Scholar: USC student brings a fresh perspective to filmmaking

The events the Active Valor puts on helps veterans do just that. They are specifically tailor-made to allow the veteran to use skills and experiences he/she learned in the military and put them to use in a setting that allows the kids to have fun.

How?

By hosting amazingly fun and badass events.

One of the events Yee organized was a treasure hunt for the kids. However, this particular treasure hunt required veterans to use their land nav skills so that kids could find the treasure. Veterans taught their kids how to read maps, use a compass, use a pace count and other tricks so that they could find the treasure that was buried. For those of us that served, it is a bit more fun to do land nav when it helps a kid win a prize as opposed to the torture of doing it as part of training.

Other events include a capture the flag event, field day events, jewel heist adventures where the kid has to recover stolen property, and the most popular of all….’The Zombie Hunt.’ This was a one-off event, where Gold Star kids and their veteran mentors navigated a course full of zombies. Armed with Nerf guns and lots of close combat experience, the pairs went around killing zombies and making memories. The event is so popular it went from a one-off to an annual event (although next year might feature aliens instead of zombies).

Seriously how fun is this:

For the Gold Star families, the events and mentorship provide fun events for the kids while giving them a chance to develop a rapport with someone that walked in their dad’s shoes. A big piece of why the events are successful for both the kids and the veteran is simple. The vet gets to teach the kids about the skills they learned in the military – the same skills their dad knew. That lays the cornerstone to a bridge between their fathers’ life and their life now.

For many Gold Star families, when they lose their loved one, they lose the one connection they had with military life. Active Valor helps reestablish that connection too. Perry has had a lot of positive feedback from mothers saying their kid was in a shell or detached after losing their dad. Having an Active Valor mentor and participating in the activities, give the child an outlet and someone they can talk to. Yee and his wife want to make it clear; Active Valor is not about bringing up the trauma the child had in losing a parent. It is about giving them a day of fun to celebrate the parent and, well, be a kid.

From convicted felon to George Lucas Scholar: USC student brings a fresh perspective to filmmaking

Active Valor is a two-person show. Perry is the CEO and does most of the leg work when it comes to organizing the events. His wife Jamie uses her media and design background from her job to do all the marketing, social media, and photo and video work that is needed to spread the word. They are local to San Diego right now, but bring in kids from Northern California, Arizona and Texas. Perry and Jamie are working on expanding the program and engaging more veterans and Gold Star families as they have seen the positive benefits of their program and know they can do more. Right now, they have 45 kids paired with 45 veterans. The process of signing up revolves around the families. Once they sign up, they are then paired with a veteran based on several factors, including interests and hobbies. The key is to make sure the kid feels trusted, and the veteran is going to be a long-term positive influence on the child in the years to come.

The biggest obstacle they face is funding and getting the word out to Gold Star families that this program exists for their kids. If you would like to learn more and if you want to get involved, visit here!

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This is what Sikorsky thinks should replace the Blackhawk

Ever since the first UH-60 took off in 1974, America’s Black Hawk helicopter has done a lot for the United States military. But let’s face it, even with the upgrades it has received over the years, it’s still been 43 years, and technology hasn’t been standing still.


Sikorsky, though, has been teaming up with Boeing to develop a replacement, the SB1 Defiant. In some ways, this helicopter looks familiar. That’s because it is a scaled-up version of the S-97 Raider, a technology demonstrator that’s been flying for a couple of years.

From convicted felon to George Lucas Scholar: USC student brings a fresh perspective to filmmaking
The S-97 Raider showing the new technology that enables it to fly at speeds of at leas 220 knots. (Lockheed photo)

The S-97 has a top speed of at least 253 miles per hour and can carry six troops. It also has a number of options to haul a fair bit of firepower, including AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, 2.75-inch rockets, 7.62mm machine guns, and .50-caliber machine guns. The S-97 uses X2 technology – in essence, a pair of contra-rotating rotors (much like the Kamov helicopters) with a push propeller. This allows it to hover 10,000 feet above the ground when the temperature is 95 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Defiant adds the X2 technology to an airframe roughly the size of the UH-60. The Defiant would be able to haul at least a dozen troops in its cabin, as well as a crew of four. It also features retractable landing gear (to reduce drag), fly-by-wire controls, a composite fuselage, and advanced rotor system.

From convicted felon to George Lucas Scholar: USC student brings a fresh perspective to filmmaking
This graphic outlines many of the features that will be included on the SB1 Defiant. (Graphic from Sikorsky)

The concept of a push propeller has been tested before by the United States military. The AH-56 Cheyenne attack helicopter also used a push propeller to achieve high speed — up to 245 miles per hour, according to MilitaryFactory.com.

The Army is reportedly going to ask for proposals from industry for a medium-lift aircraft in 2019. The SB1 Defiant will likely form the basis for one of the responses.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Having a VA disability rating doesn’t prevent you from serving in the military

There are many myths about having a Department of Veterans Affairsdisability rating and serving in the military. The most common is that, if you have a VA disability rating, you can never serve in the military again. Or if you do serve in the military, you have to waive your disability rating or all of your VA disability compensation. None of these statements is completely true.


The truth is, in some cases, it is possible to serve in the military with a VA disability rating.

Because you can file a VA disability claim only after leaving active duty, this article is making the assumption that the military member has left active duty and is either transitioning into the Guard or Reserves or trying to return to active duty after a break in service.

Can You Serve in the Military with a Disability Rating?

The answer is maybe. Simply having a VA disability rating does not prevent someone from joining the military. However, the underlying medical condition may prevent someone from medically qualifying to serve again.

For example, you can receive a VA disability rating for knee surgery that you had while on active duty. If your knee has otherwise healed and you can perform your military duties, remain deployable and pass your PT test, then you may be eligible for continued military service.

However, other underlying medical conditions may prevent you from joining the military again. For example, it may be difficult to join again if your VA disability rating stems from a serious medical condition that prevents you from being able to perform your military duties, maintain deployability status or pass your PT test.

If you had a break in service before trying to go back into the military, you may need to process through MEPS again. If you have a VA disability rating or certain other medical conditions, you may need to apply for a medical waiver to join the military.

Can You Serve on Active Duty with a VA Disability Rating?

Provided you have been medically cleared to serve, simply having a VA disability rating isn’t enough to prohibit you from serving on active duty.

However, federal law prohibits members from receiving military compensation and VA disability compensation for the same day of service.

So, while you won’t have to waive your actual VA disability rating, you would need to suspend your VA disability compensation payments until after your active-duty service ends. After that, you can contact the VA to resume your payments.

What About Serving in the Guard or Reserves with a Disability Rating?

The same rules apply to members of the Reserve Component as they do for active duty. However, there is one big difference: You don’t have to suspend your VA disability compensation payments unless you are serving in a full-time capacity.

When you receive VA disability compensation, you receive it on a monthly basis.

When you serve in the Reserve Component, you receive military pay only on the days you serve (typically one weekend a month, and two weeks a year). You actually perform four drill periods on your weekend drill and receive pay for four days of work. You will receive only one day of pay for the other days you serve in the Reserve Component (Active Training, TDY, PME, etc.).

The typical Guard or Reserve member receives military pay for only a handful of days per month. They are in an inactive status and are not receiving compensation for the remaining days of the month.

Remember the rule above: “Federal law prohibits members from receiving military compensation and VA disability compensation for the same day of service.”

The law requires members of the Reserve Component to waive either their military compensation or VA disability compensation for days in which they received both forms of compensation. Thankfully, it’s easy to decide which pay to waive.

Deciding Which Pay to Waive

Simply compare your monthly VA disability compensation payment to the base military pay for your paygrade and years of service. Waive the lesser of the two (Spoiler: This will almost always be your VA disability compensation).

Keep in mind you have to waive your pay only on the days on which you receive both forms of compensation. In other words, the pay you waive is prorated — you don’t have to waive the full month of either of these payments, only the prorated amount for the days on which you received both.

Both the VA and Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) prorate the payments based on a 30-day month. This means each day of VA compensation is worth 1/30 of your monthly VA disability rate. Likewise, each day of military service is worth 1/30 of your base military pay.

So if you serve the traditional one weekend a month, two weeks a year, you would receive military compensation for 63 days of service (48 weekend drills and 15 AT days).

The VA sends members a copy of VA Form 21-8951 at the end of the year documenting the number of days on which they received military compensation and VA disability compensation for the same period of service.

You use this form to elect to either waive your VA disability compensation or your military pay. This article explains VA Form 21-8951 in more detail.

If you waive your VA disability compensation, the VA will simply withhold future payments based on the number of days for which you received compensation in the previous year. If you were paid for 63 days of military service, the VA would withhold a little more than two months’ worth of disability compensation from future payments. You can even request that the VA withhold only a portion of your future payments until the full amount is withheld.

If you choose to waive your military compensation, you would need to repay the military in full. This would mean writing a large check to DFAS.

In most cases, you will have earned more military compensation than you received in VA disability compensation, so it would make much more sense to waive your VA compensation.

In Summary

Yes, it may be possible to serve in the military with a VA disability rating, provided your underlying medical condition doesn’t prevent you from meeting requirements. If you serve on active duty, in the full-time Guard/Reserves, or you have been activated, you may need to suspend your VA disability compensation payments to comply with federal law. Otherwise, members of the Reserve Component may need to waive either their military compensation or their disability compensation for the number of days on which they received both forms of compensation on the same day.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution

If you look at the USS Constitution today, berthed at the Boston Navy Yard, you might find yourself wondering how a wooden ship got the nickname, “Old Ironsides.” The answer to that question is actually very simple: Cannonballs used to literally bounce off the hull of the Constitution in battle, falling harmlessly into the sea bellow.

The Constitution is currently the oldest active ship in the US Navy today. Launched in 1797, it was one of the earliest ships to enter service with the fledgling Navy. Ordered as a heavy frigate as part of the Naval Act of 1794, the Constitution and five other similarly-configured ships were to be the backbone of the new Navy — heavy warships that other, smaller, ships could support and rally around.

Though slated to carry 44 guns (cannon of varying sizes), sailors often crammed more than 50 aboard the vessel when it put out to sea. Three masts, decked out with massive sails, would provide the propulsion needed to drive the nearly 1600-ton ship through the rough Atlantic waves.


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USS Constitution under pursuit
(Painting by Anton Otto Fischer)

It was during the War of 1812 that the Constitution earned her now-famous nickname, under the command of Isaac Hull. Well-liked and revered by those who served under him, Hull took it upon himself to personally ensure that the Constitution and her crew were ready for combat at all times. In mid-July, 1812, the heavy frigate encountered a small squadron of British ships, who gave chase. With a bit of planning and a little creativity, Hull managed to maneuver his ship away to safety.

The following month, the Constitution encountered one of those pursuing ships — the HMS Gurriere, commanded by James Dacres. This time, battle was inevitable and the two ships began trading blows. Hull quickly repositioned his ship, giving his gunners a clear view of the Gurriere.

Scrambling over the upper and the gun decks of both ships were sailors and Marines, frantically reloading their weapons for the next salvo. Aboard Constitution, sailors watched as 18-pound cannonballs whistled through the air, bracing for an impact that would certainly penetrate the walls of the ship, killing and maiming anybody in their way.

And then, nothing happened.

Though some of the cannonballs did inflict damage, others bounced off and fell into the roiling sea, much to the bewilderment of both sides. An American sailor notably yelled out, “Huzzah, her sides are made of iron!” and thus, the nickname, “Old Ironsides” was born.

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Old Ironsides firing a ceremonial salute in Boston Harbor
(US Navy)

A combination of different types of oak layered around each other made the ship’s surfaces dense and difficult to pierce. The multiple layers of wood absorbed the cannonballs’ impacts of the and dissipated the forces quickly. Extra ribbing and bracketing on the internal walls also contributed to making the Constitution so sturdy.

By the end of the battle, the Guerriere was beyond salvage, much to the disappointment of Hull. Broadside after broadside had done the frigate in. The British crew was taken aboard Constitution and salvage parties took what they could off the smoldering Royal Navy vessel before lighting it afire and setting the ship adrift to descend to its watery grave.

Old Ironsides sailed into Boston Harbor, packed with prisoners of war, as jubilant American sailors and Marines celebrated their triumphant return home. After doing battle with more British ships in the following years, Constitution was briefly laid up in mothballs while her future was decided by the Department of the Navy.

Amidst fears that the Constitution would be scrapped, having long outlived its original intended lifespan, public outcry spurred on by a poem written by Oliver Wendell Holmes, entitled Old Ironsides after the ship’s nickname. The powerful poem motivated the Navy to fund a refit and refurbishment of the battle-scarred frigate. The nickname has since stuck, even through the Constitution‘s years of obscurity in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

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How this 20th century Viking fought in 13 wars

The Vikings of old traveled far and wide. Their settlements ranged from Scandinavia to Italy to Canada and everyone, from the Byzantines to the Kievan Rus to the Iberians, feared them. Their blood runs deep inside Ivor Thord-Gray. Within the span of 31 years, he would wear nine different uniforms to fight in thirteen wars across five continents.


He was born Thord Ivar Hallstrom in the Sodermalm district of Stockholm, Sweden in 1878. Unlike much of his family, his Viking heritage inspired his entire future. While his older brother became an artist and his younger brother an archaeologist, Thord set off to become an adventurer. He first joined the Merchant Marines at age 15 where he first settled in Cape Town, South Africa.

This led him to join the Cape Mounted Rifles in 1897, just before the Second Boer War. After a British victory over South Africa, he enlisted in the South African Constabulary and was back to the Armed Forces within the Transvaal Regiment, where he first became an officer. He was transferred to the Royston’s Horse and fought in the Bambatha Rebellion. After the rebellion, he moved up to Kenya to join the Nairobi Mounted Police.

 

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South Africa is where he started growing his majestic mustache.

 

Then, he traveled to Germany where he wanted to fight in the First Moroccan Crisis but was told they didn’t need him. So, he went to the Philippines to join the U.S. Foreign Legion under the Philippine Constabulary.

He took a quick break from his life as a badass to become a rubber planter in Malaya (modern-day Malaysia), but true to his Viking nature, he couldn’t stay away from battle for long.  He took up arms again during the Chinese Revolution and rediscovered his love of fighting by joining the French Foreign Legion in Tonkin (Modern-day Vietnam).

He hopped between the Italian Army in the Italian-Turkish War and then again to China directly under Sun Yat Sen, founding father of the Republic of China (also known as Taiwan). This lead him to his first high command position during the Mexican Revolution, where he served as the Commander of the Artillery and, eventually, the Chief of Staff of the First Mexican Army for Pancho Villa.

 

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He wrote about his time in Mexico in his autobiography, Gringo Rebel. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Then, the Great War broke out. He rejoined the British Army as a Major, commanding the 11th Northumberland Fusiliers until his battalion was disbanded. After his mercenary status forced his resignation, he joined the American Expeditionary Forces and became the Commander of the Theodore Roosevelt Division. After that unit was also disbanded, he moved to the Canadian Expeditionary Forces to finish World War I.

Thord-Gray, still with the Canadians this time, was sent as part of the Allied Expeditionary Corps to assist and was eventually transferred to the Russian White Army (anti-Communist forces). He finally attained the rank of General, commanding the 1st Siberian Assault Division. He was selected as the Representative to the Provisional Siberian Government until the Bolsheviks seized complete control of Russia. 

 

From convicted felon to George Lucas Scholar: USC student brings a fresh perspective to filmmaking
He would also wear all of his badges from his long military and mercenary career. Because, well, he can. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

 

His last official act of military service was as a Lieutenant-General in the Revolutionary Army of Venezuela in 1928. After all this, he finally returned to Sweden to write about his travels and archeological discoveries. Ivar Thord-Gray finally settled down in America until his passing at age 86. Like the Viking he was, he spent the majority of his adult life taking on his enemies. 

For more information on Ivar Throd-Gray, be sure to check out Peter E. Hodgkinson’s British Infantry Battalion Commander in the First World War and Thord-Gray’s own, Gringo Rebel.

MIGHTY CULTURE

5 ghost stories as told by your platoon sergeant

Bonfires in the military are rare — and almost no one tells ghost stories over them. But if you ever do find yourself on the receiving end of such tales, you’ll notice that, just like many ghost stories, they’re filled with all sorts of morality lessons — it’s just that the military’s morality lessons are a little different than everyone else’s. And when the platoon sergeant tells them, they’re always pretty bloody and seem to be directed at one soldier in particular.


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He was such a promising soldier before the incident… Before the curse…

(U.S. Army Staff Sgt. David Meyer)

1. The AG who flagged the commander. Twice.  

It was an honest mistake, a lapse of judgement in the shoothouse. The assistant gunner had to take over for the gunner, and he shifted the gun’s weight at the wrong time and angle, pointing it up at the catwalks — and the commander — by accident. The platoon leader reached out his hand for a second, saw that it was done, and decided to wait for the AAR to address it. But then the AG rolled his shoulders again to settle the strap, pointing it at the commander again.

What happened next was epic. The platoon sergeant launched himself across the room, tackling the AG. The commander started screaming profanities. The platoon leader started doing pushups even though no one was yelling at him. But it was the eastern European military observer who did it. He mumbled something under his breath — a gypsy curse.

The AG took his smoking like a man, but he didn’t know the real punishment would come that night. He awoke to sharp pains throughout his abdomen and looked down to find three 5.56mm holes in his stomach. Now, he’s normal and fine during the day, but at night, he wanders as the ghost of live-fire exercises past. Eternally.

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When in large formations, always remember to shut up and color.

(U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Tojyea G. Matally)

2. The specialist who dimed out the platoon sergeant

Specialist Snuffy was an ambitious soldier — a real Army values kind of guy — but he took it too far. The platoon sergeant tried to provide some top cover to a soldier in trouble during a horseshoe formation, but Snuffy was kind enough to rat out the original soldier and the platoon sergeant for protecting him.

The rest of the platoon didn’t take it kindly, saying that Snuffy should’ve let the platoon sergeant handle it internally. So when Snuffy first started hearing the whispers in the barracks, he assumed it was just the platoon talking about him. But then he heard the whispers in the latrine. And on patrol. And while cleaning his weapon in a closed barracks room.

He slowly lost sleep, instead just tossing and turning to the unrelenting noises. When he was able to drift off, he was haunted by the visions of wrathful ghosts who declared him a blue falcon and buddyf*cker. It wore away at his metal foundation until he was finally chaptered out for insanity. It’s said that the voices are still out there, waiting for someone to screw over their own platoon once again.

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Talk back to first sergeant, and you will do pushups until you die, and then your ghost will do the rest of them.

(U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Michael Selvage)

3. The team leader who actually talked back to the first sergeant

Corporal John was smart and talented, but also prideful and mouthy. He led a brilliant flanking movement during an exercise, keeping he and his men low and well-hidden in an unmapped gully until they were right on top of the OPFOR’s automatic weapons. But then he made a mistake, allowing his team to get bunched up right as a grenade simulator was thrown his way.

First sergeant took him to task for the mistake, and John pointed out that most other team leaders wouldn’t have seen or used the gully as effectively. He did push-ups for hours, yelling “You can’t smoke a rock, first sergeant!” the whole time. But first sergeant could smoke rocks.

The pain in John’s muscles should’ve gone away after a few days. He was an infantryman. But instead, it grew, hotter and more painful every day. On day three, it grew into open flames that would melt their way through his skin and burst out in jets near his joints. Then, his pectorals erupted in fire. The medics threw all the saline and Motrin they had at him, but nothing worked.

Slowly, the flesh burned away, leaving a fiery wraith in its wake. It now wanders the training areas, warning other team leaders of the dangers of mouthing off.

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Keep. Your. Eyes. Open.

(Photo by Senior Airman Gina Reyes)

4. The private who fell asleep in the guard tower

He was just like one of you. Barely studying his skill book. Rarely practicing for the board. But that’s you expect from privates — just a good reason for their leadership to encourage them. But then, he was up in the guard tower during the unit’s JRTC rotation. He had stayed up playing video games the whole night before his shift and, by the time the sun was going back down, he was completely wiped.

He fought his eyes falling, but a thick bank of fog that rolled in caressed him to sleep. As he drifted off, he felt the light tickle of skeletal fingers around his neck. He thought briefly of the rumors of undead that wandered the Louisiana swamps.

Despite the threat to him and his buddies, he dropped into the lands of dreams. He was found the next morning with his eyes bulging from his head and thick, finger-shaped bruises on his throat. It’s a tragic reminder to keep your stupid, tiny little eyes wide open.

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Not sure how he got so many negligent discharges with an empty magazine, but just go with it. It’s hard to find photos to illustrate ghost stories.

(U.S. Marine Corps Pfc. Terry Wong)

5. The King of Negligent Discharges

It’s said that he whimpers as he walks. He was once like one of you, a strong, upstanding killer. But then we were doing “Ready, up!” drills and this moron kept pulling the trigger while he was still raising his weapon. Somehow, no amount of yelling got him to stop doing it. The impact points of his rounds kept creeping closer and closer to his feet until his platoon sergeant finally grabbed him and threw him, physically, off the range.

But the disease was in his bones by that point. He started accidentally pulling the trigger on patrols while at the low ready, and then again on a ruck march. They stopped giving him live ammo. Then they stopped giving him blanks. Then he was only allowed to carry a rubber ducky rifle, and then finally he was only allowed to carry an actual rubber duck.

Somehow, even with the rubber duck, he had negligent discharges, sharp squeaks that would split the air on patrol. But one day it wasn’t a squeak — it was the sharp crack of a rifle instead. He had shot himself in the foot with a rubber duck, a seemingly impossible feat.

He’s a gardener now, always careful to point his tools away from himself, because he never knows when the next one will go off.

MIGHTY TRENDING

This new helicopter design looks like an ‘Avatar’ prop

The Army’s working hard to fulfill six big modernization efforts including a new utility helicopter to replace the UH-60. But now the Army has signaled it may need a new scout helicopter first, and a small design firm has a bold pitch for the program that looks like it’s been lifted out of a James Cameron movie but could be the future of Army aviation.


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The design firm AVX has pitched to the military before, but you’re probably not familiar with their work. That’s because they don’t have a full aircraft to their credit or any big programs that everyone would recognize. But they’ve been quietly working to make military aviation better, winning maintenance contracts and bids to increase fuel efficiency.

And their work in the fuel efficiency space led them to propose a fairly radical redesign of the helicopter. Right now, the “traditional” helicopter design calls for one main rotor that generates lift and a tail, “anti-torque” rotor that keeps the bird pointed in the right direction. It’s the design at work on the Apache, the MH-6 Little Bird, the Lakota, and lots more.

But AVX wants to see more use of “coaxial” designs where the main rotor has two discs instead of one. They spin in opposite directions, stabilizing the helicopter without the need for a tail rotor. These coaxial designs are typically more efficient, and AVX wants to combine that with two ducted fans for propulsion, allowing for a helicopter that’s safer, faster, and more efficient.

AVX tried to get the Army to adopt these changes when it was looking to upgrade the OH-58 scout helicopter. The Army was looking to overhaul the OH-58 Kiowa Warrior, and AVX felt certain that giving it a coaxial rotor and two ducted fans would give the helicopter increased endurance, lift capability, cruise speed, time on station and range.

The Army ended up retiring the OH-58 instead of going through an overhaul, but that left it with no dedicated scout helicopter. Right now, the AH-64 Apache is switch hitting, serving as a scout helicopter and an attack helicopter. But Apaches are more expensive per flight hour, heavier, and require highly specialized pilots that the Army is already short on.

Getting a new scout helicopter would alleviate a few of these problems. But AVX isn’t as large or as experienced an aviation company as Bell, Boeing, Lockheed, or other companies that have produced rotary platforms for the Army. So AVX has partnered with L3 Technologies, another company experienced in supporting Army aviation.

And the aircraft these companies are pitching to the Army for the new scout helicopter? You guessed it: Coaxial rotor blade for lift and two ducted fans for propulsion. As an added bonus for efficiency, there are two stubby wings that will generate significant lift at high speeds.

It won’t have the ducted main rotors of the Aerospatiale SA-2 Samson from Avatar, but it’s easy to see how you get from AVX’s proposal for the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft to something like the SA-2.

Now, it’s far from certain that AVX will get selected by the Army. The Army wants to be buying and fielding the birds by 2024, an aggressive timetable that a small company will struggle to meet. And it wants to buy the aircraft for million apiece flyaway cost, meaning there won’t be a lot of room in the budget for inefficiencies and screwups. So, the Army may prefer a more experienced manufacturer.

But there are early elements of the design that signal a possible AVX advantage. First, despite all the tech required to make those coaxial blades and ducted fans work, the technologies are fairly proven and don’t add a whole lot to cost. Also, the program has ambitious requirements for speed, size of the aircraft, and agility, and the AVX design fits the bill if it makes it through selection and manufacturing process without any big compromises.

So the next helicopter looking over your shoulder in battle might just look like a science fiction aircraft, but don’t expect Michelle Rodriquez to be flying it. She’ll most likely be busy with Fast and the Furious 14.

MIGHTY CULTURE

5 best bunkers for riding out the apocalypse

Every troop, at one point or another, thinks about how they’d prepare for a multitude of disaster scenarios. Many of these daydreams include building a bunker or an egress to a far-off island. With a military mindset, anything is possible — you can build a personal bunker in your backyard or, if you amass enough wealth, you can buy a luxury palace that’s nestled safely underground.

The following are types of bunkers that troops would love to live, from the strictly utilitarian to the abundantly extravagant. They’re each rated based on their affordability, sustainability, security, and amenities offered.

So, prepare for the end, my friends — preferably in one of these:


Take A Look At The Bunker Lowes Sells

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Loew’s Concrete Storm Shelter

Affordability: 5/5

With a price tag of around ,500 (with installation), this is something that one can afford with an enlistment/re-enlistment bonus, a dip into savings, or with some post-deployment earnings. This is a realistic option for those of us without a massive disaster budget.

Sustainability: 1/5

Depending on how many people are in your household, these bunkers are perfect for weathering a storm or a tornado until you get the all-clear. It’s a little cramped, but it gets the job done.

It’s too small to hold the resources you’d need to sustain for a long period of time, there’s no way to dispose of waste, and oxygen can only be brought in through the built-in vents. There’s no method to cultivate renewable energy and privacy is nonexistent.

Security: 2/5

You might want to keep your lips tight about owning one of these — you never know how other people will react when their lack of preparation suddenly makes them desperate.

Amenities: 1/5

You won’t have much to do other than eat, sleep, and wait. Personal entertainment devices and conversation with your family are going to be your only distractions from whatever’s going on outside.

Doomsday Preppers Go Upscale With Luxury Bunkers

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Atlas survival shelter

Affordability: 3/5

The small shelters run around k and the larger ones go for about k-k. They’re not too expensive relative to other, larger shelters. They’re customizable and made to order. You’ll have to take permit and installation costs into consideration, but these are achievable with proper financial discipline.

Sustainability: 3/5

These things have solar power, generators, and waste disposal mixed in with the comforts of home. Typically, you can last around 90 days without resupply. You can design it for a longer stay if necessary.

Security: 3/5

You still might want to keep this one a secret due to the limited living space. You won’t be able to house the whole neighborhood.

Amenities: 4/5

Home is where you make it. All around, this is a solid bunker that can be your home away from home — if necessary.

So you wanna live in a missile silo?

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Renovate an old silo yourself

Affordability: 1/5

This is a labor of love that will take a lifetime to complete — and it has a price tag of 1 million to match. Oof.

Sustainability: 3/5

We ranked this one right in the middle because it’ll be exactly what you make of it. You’ll have to gut it out and replace all the life-sustaining technology in order to bring this ol’ gal back to life. Rest assured, you take care of her and she’ll take care of you — but it’s up to you to think ahead.

Security: 5/5

Heavy doors, enough space to save a small town, and capable of withstanding a nuclear attack? Check, check, and check.

Amenities: 4/5

Having a re-purposed military installation is a surefire guarantee you’ll thrive in the apocalypse. A silo is a blank canvas for you to shape however you’d like. Above ground, you’ll have a luxury home and, if sh*t hits the, fan all you have to do is go downstairs.

What’s really hiding under Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado?

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An actual base, like Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station

Affordability: 0/5

If you’re lucky enough to be stationed here or in a similar facility, Uncle Sam will provide the funds necessary to continue the fight against the enemies of freedom. If not, well, it’s not for sale — sorry, take your millions elsewhere.

Sustainability: 5/5

This bunker has generators, reservoirs, and even a store. This bunker has everything you need for any scenario.

Security: 5/5

Armed guards, heavy doors, information-gathering capabilities, and plethora of state-of-the-art technology is at your fingertips. No worries here.

Amenities: 3/5

This one’s on par with the government’s prioritization of operation over recreation, but at least it has a gym. What it lacks in recreational facilities, it more than makes up for in terms of survivability.

Luxury Bunkers

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Survival condo

Affordability: 2/5

It’s out of the price range for most of us, but if you’re lucky enough to have million laying around, this luxury survival condo (or one like this) will definitively put your worries to rest.

Security: 5/5

It can survive a direct hit from a nuclear attack, has an armory, and has you surrounded by survival-minded neighbors. This one has it all.

Sustainability: 5/5

It has multiple life-support technologies, a mini hospital, hydroponic gardens, and it’s stocked full of supplies. This bunker will ensure you have everything you need to live a long and happy life.

Amenities: 5/5

It has a movie theater, rock climbing wall, indoor pool, grocery store, spa, gym, and a dog park — that’s right, you can save your pets! That’s an automatic max score, because who doesn’t want to save their beloved companions, too?

MIGHTY CULTURE

MIGHTY STORIES: Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit

Mighty Stories is a weekly WATM feature highlighting the stories of veterans, active duty and military families. This week’s feature is Art Jetter, Vietnam Veteran.

“I grew up in Omaha, Nebraska. I was the oldest of six boys, no girls, in middle class America. My dad was a great man and my mom was a wonderful mother.

My dad was a B-17 pilot in World War II. He flew 35 missions out of England. He volunteered to fly in the Pacific, but thankfully the war ended as he finished his training. My mom’s two brothers were also pilots. My grandfather joined the Signal Corp in the Army and was also in pilot training during World War I. My dad didn’t really talk about the war.

He was the youngest of 9 kids. I read some letters he sent back to his family during World War II. Whatever the Army paid him, he sent home. Here’s a guy who did all his country ever asked him, and I don’t think he had time to be scared.

The 8th Army Air Corps had a reunion in Omaha about 25 years ago. His crew all came. They fought together, they came home together, and they stayed connected. They all came over to dinner at my parents that night and invited us kids to join them. My dad was pretty hard of hearing, so imagine a long dinner table with my dad at one end. One of the guys, Marty, was at the other end. And Marty said, ‘Now boys, I just want you all to know that the reason that we all are able to have dinner here tonight – the reason that we all came home alive – was because of your dad. I asked, ‘What did my father do,’ I mean these B17s flew in formation, ‘What did he do to provide protection?’ And Marty explained that my dad always flew toward the flack.

There was some room between the bombers, and the Germans would aim their anti-aircraft at a particular aircraft and when my dad would see the flack, he would turn toward it. The Germans would adjust, trying to guess where they should have shot, and they’d always guess wrong. My dad turned to me and said, ‘What did Marty just say?’ I said, ‘He said that in order to avoid getting shot you would fly toward the flack.’ And my dad said, ‘You know I used to do that.’ We all had a pretty good chuckle about it. He expected me to do the right thing. He was a very honorable, truthful, loyal guy.

I remember in 1965, our student body was all sitting in the auditorium for some kind of program. One of my favorite friends, Charlie Lee, was sitting next to me. His dad was a major in the Army. He turned to me and said, ‘My dad says we should join the Reserves.’ And I said, ‘Why would we do that?’ And he said that as soon as we turned 18 then we could join the Reserves, and we could pick our jobs instead of just getting sent to Vietnam as an infantry guy. I didn’t really even know what Vietnam was. Charlie joined the 173rd Transportation Company in the Reserves and as soon as he joined his whole unit was called up and sent over. He’d been trained as a lifeguard at a swimming pool at the Officers Club and got to Vietnam as a convoy commander. He remains to this day one of the most organized guys I’ve ever met in my life. Charlie stayed in the Reserves and was called to most of the battles after Vietnam. He achieved the rank of Command Sergeant Major before he retired.

I didn’t follow his instructions and I got drafted. I wanted to be an architect. I got accepted to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, but my grandpa was on the Board of Trustees at a small college in Iowa and he wanted me to go there. So, I went, but I shouldn’t have gone. I left and couldn’t get back into UNL. I was selling men’s and boy’s clothes at a retail store for id=”listicle-2645885448″ an hour. I went to Wentworth Military Academy for 12 months and soon after, I got a letter welcoming me to the United States Army.

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Photo courtesy of Art Jetter

I went to Fort Lewis for basic training. They put us all in a line and asked anyone who had been through ROTC to take a step forward. I did, and then they asked if anyone had gone to a military academy. Since I had, I took another step forward. And so, they made me the acting drill sergeant for one of the platoons. I thought, ‘holy crap.’ I was a little guy when I graduated from high school. I was almost 5’2 and 120 pounds. I think I could do about three pushups.

I worked hard and pretty soon I was maxing the PT test. At the end of basic, they put an article in the Omaha World Herald that I was the top in my class and they promoted me to E3. I went to my senior drill sergeant and told him I was the best guy he had. He replied that I shouldn’t be bragging. I said, ‘Make no mistake, I’m not bragging. I’m saying if I’m the best you have you’re in big trouble.’ He said, ‘You don’t think the training was adequate.’ I said, ‘I’ll be lucky to make it down the stairs of the airplane in Vietnam without getting shot.’ We talked about needing better training and a week later I found myself as a candidate in the Infantry Officer Candidate School (OCS).

After I applied for Ranger and Airborne school (which I didn’t get), they told me I had the aptitude to be a pilot. I thought it was pretty nifty with so many pilots in my family. I did my troop duty and then went to flight school in Texas. Then I spent four months at Fort Rucker learning to fly Hueys. I graduated from flight school as one of the top guys. I tell you that not to brag, but it was because I was more afraid of what could happen to me than anybody else, so I studied harder. It was more about being able to live than grades. I was picked to fly the Cobra, which was like going from a family minivan to a full-tilt Ferrari.

I knew I was going to Vietnam. I had a month off, so I went home. Every girl I knew took me to the airport on my way to Vietnam. The whole time I was in helicopter school I knew they weren’t training me to stay home. It’s an interesting thing about getting ready to go. You know in one regard, I was scared. Another, was, with all this training, I really wanted it to be put to use.

From convicted felon to George Lucas Scholar: USC student brings a fresh perspective to filmmaking

Photo via Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association

I’m not a fan of war. But I’d put everything into training that I could – for my own survival and for the survival of everyone I’d be associated with. I requested to be in the 1st Air Calvary Division. When I got to Vietnam I went to the 1st Air Calvary reception station. The smart thing would have been to ask which is the unit where nobody got shot at, but I had heard people talking about the legendary Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit, and I requested that. I wasn’t disappointed. Maybe a little overworked, but I was in a unit with exceptional human beings.

That experience and those guys stuck with me. Many of them are dear friends of mine. We only had 32 pilots in our unit. Just after I left, eight of them got killed. It was a weird way of thinking about those guys. And I think I had survivor’s guilt. Like I left too soon. By the time I was there about nine months, I had been the flight lead in most organized attacks. I told my commander, Major Larry McKay, I’m going to extend for six months. I felt like I belonged to this unit. Larry said great, company clerk said great, and the day after I was originally supposed to leave Vietnam – the day my year was up – the Department of the Army called up my commander and said, ‘Where is he? My commander said I was on a mission, that I’d extended for 6 months, and the Army said no. So, my commander sent out another Cobra to relieve me. He and I went to the 1st Calvary Division Headquarters and I was told I had to report to Fort Riley, Kansas. I left Vietnam and tried like crazy to go back. Those guys were that important to me.

Our mission was this: They parked us within 5 minutes’ flight time of our guys in the field. We sat with a radio operator who would have contact with the guys on the ground. If the radio operator yelled, ‘Fire Mission,’ we’d run to the aircraft and have to be off the ground in less than two minutes. As soon as we took off, the guy would give us a heading to follow and then he’d read the mission. If there was a Medevac, part of our mission was security. We’d provide security for the medevac helicopter to come in.

I flew 1,032 combat missions but there are a bunch that stand out, all for different reasons. When I first got there, I was a co-pilot. You strive to become an aircraft commander but when you start out you’re a co-pilot. It was an incursion in Cambodia. A command and control helicopter got shot down and landed on a road. Just an ocean of people came out of the treeline; enemy soldiers, running toward the Huey.

From convicted felon to George Lucas Scholar: USC student brings a fresh perspective to filmmaking

Getting that would have been a prized treasure. Parts of war are treacherous, and parts are bizarre and humorous in a dark humor kind of way. We were shooting so many people. We weren’t very high off the ground and we were looking at them shooting at us. The devastation was just insane. And I just kept thinking, ‘What is wrong with these soldiers – they just keep coming. We’re taught to disperse.’

While all this shooting is going on, a two-and-a-half-ton truck is coming down the road. The truck stops and picks these guys up and they just keep going down the road to Vietnam. I think just the memory of all those enemy soldiers in the open … that will never go away.

I had a co-pilot, Ernest Rickenbacker, who had a famous last name because of his great uncle, Eddie, the World War I flying ace and Medal of Honor recipient. I went to my commander and told him that Ernest needed his own aircraft – he was unbelievable. And my commander did it. We called Ernest “Fast Eddie” because he became an aircraft commander so quickly. He won a Silver Star for rescuing his co-pilot. But let me tell you about that mission, first.

There was a Fire Support Base called Pace, right next to the Cambodian border where the Ho Chi Minh Trail came into Vietnam. For political reasons, the Army was supposed to evacuate this Fire Support Base. Left to its own devices, the Army never would have sacrificed it because of the strategic advantage. But, some guy wouldn’t go on patrol and he wrote his senator, so they shut it down for being “too dangerous.” Not the way you should fight a war, but anyway. We were supposed to take 12 helicopters to the Tay Ninh airport for a briefing and we’re being told about all this anti-aircraft all over the place and that nobody could get into Pace – it was too deadly.

We were working out how to get these guys evacuated. The plan was that the next day, a Huey with a smoke generator would fly around and mask trucks coming up to pick up the guys and get them out of there. I don’t tell this story very often, so I might miss parts of it. But the bunch of us that were walking back were supposed to brief the other pilots. But then the airport came under a rocket attack.

First thing we had to do was get our helicopters out. So, we did, and then we’re all supposed to land. As we’re coming in for final, the guys at Pace start yelling that they’re taking incoming. I said to my wingship, ‘Let’s take care of this.’ So, we went low-level up to the treetops until we got next to Pace. We popped up to about 1500 feet and we see 6 guys and a mortar tube on the other side of the border. The border right there was marked by a creek. Everything on the west side was Cambodia and the east was Vietnam.

We always had to call to get clearance to fire, so I called. I think the guy I had to call was an Air Force guy, and I requested flying over the border to Cambodia in order to save the men at Pace who were taking mortars. He denied my request. I said, ‘We’re in hot pursuit,’ and he said, ‘Nobody’s crossing. Out.’ Just like that, and that was the last I heard from him.

I pulled the nose of my helicopter up and launched about 6 rockets in the direction of the mortar tube. I shot across the border instead of crossing it. As luck would have it, the rockets fell right by the guys. I killed three and three hobbled off. We both dove at those three guys. My wingship, who was ahead of me, shot the other three guys. We took a hard left and and I called the guy back at Pace and told him something stupid like, ‘Send the Congressional Medal of Honor to Blue Max 1-2.’ And just as I’m saying this, I’m probably at 800 feet and there’s a loud kablamo and a big flame shoots out the left side of the nose of my helicopter. And my helicopter whips about 30 degrees to the left and then snaps back. I said to my wingship, Blue Max, 1-8, 1-2, we just got hit. And my wingship says Roger that 1-2, we just got hit.

My co-pilot in the front seat is pointing down and just yelling really loud. He’s not on the intercom; he’s just pointing and yelling. And I look down and I see this big orange garbage can coming toward me and I thought, ‘The hell is that.’ It looked like a Star Wars kind of thing. It took a lot slower than you’d think a bullet would go and it went right past us. I’m thinking, ‘That’s a 23-millimeter antiaircraft cannon round tracer.’

So, I was an infantry guy – What do you do in a near ambush? You assault. I flipped the cobra over and dove on the gun. None of my weapons would work.

I pushed the rocket launch button, nothing.

I pulled the trigger for the mini-gun, nothing.

I pushed the button for the 40-millimeter grenade launcher, nothing.

I called my wingship and said, ‘See where I’m going to hit the ground? Blow that up!’ I pulled up my nose and he hit where I was trying to and there was a huge secondary explosion from where we took out munitions. But then my cockpit filled with smoke.

I thought this was really bad because the helicopter is made of magnesium and would just burn up. So, I was flying really low – a few feet off the ground – because I thought that when the thing goes up like a match, I’ll set it down and skid down the road and open the canopy and we’ll just jump out. But as we’re coming on final, the smoke cleared out and I landed. It was the weirdest thing. The 23 millimeter came up through the nose of the helicopter. It went through the heavy steel cartridge ejection shoot for the mini gun and just shredded that, and then it went through this wire loom that controlled all the weapons systems, and it was a big heavy bundle of wires. Because it was a tracer, it started the insulation on fire and that somehow got sucked into the cockpit. And that’s all that happened.

But for my wingship commander, the 23 millimeter went through his engine compartment and took out the Environmental Control Unit and turned it into shrapnel and clipped a hydraulics line. You can fly a helicopter if you can’t shoot, but you can’t fly the Cobra without hydraulics.

All this is a lead up to what happened the next day to fast Eddie Rickenbacker.

The next morning, they told me they got my rockets fixed but they haven’t fixed my mini-gun or my 40-millimeter grenade launcher. My wingship can’t go. I shouldn’t go because I don’t have all my weapons.

Somebody needs to be back up so that’s me.

Rickenbacker’s job was to provide security for the smoke generating Huey to mask the extraction. Rickenbacker is flying about 400′. In Vietnam they would always tell us to fly below 50′ or above 1500′ because between 50′ and 1500′ a guy can shoot you down with a rifle. Rickenbacker’s helicopter gets hit about 15 times by a 51-caliber machine gun. His engine quits, his helicopter starts on fire and he crashes into the woods directly east of Fire Support Base Pace, across the road.

He crashes, and the helicopter is leaning a bit to the right, sitting there on fire. Rickenbacker gets out and runs away from the helicopter. He turns around and he looks back and Mac, his co-pilot is still in there and he’s on fire, thrashing about. He’s not getting out. Understand that you don’t want to be standing in front of one of these things when it’s on fire because it’s got all these rockets on it ready to launch.

From convicted felon to George Lucas Scholar: USC student brings a fresh perspective to filmmaking

Photo courtesy of Art Jetter

Rickenbacker runs back over there, reaches into the fire, unbuckles Mac, picks him up bodily and yanks him out of the helicopter and puts him behind a dirt mound as the ammo starts to explode. So, all this is going on and the other 11 cobras that are there can only fly for about an hour and a half and then they’re out of fuel. I get the call that they’re out of fuel and that they’re heading back, and I have to go find Rickenbacker. I said, ‘What do you mean, find him?’

Well, there was a patrol that left the support base to rescue the crew, but what they found was Mac laying there with a compound fracture of his femur and he’d broken his pelvis and he was badly burned. He had Rickenbacker’s pistol – Eddie had this really fancy revolver with a pearl handle, like a cowboy that he had brought with him. Rickenbacker had given it to Jim and told him he would go to the base to get help and have them come back for him.

The patrol walks over and finds Mac and ask him where his pilot is. He points east. East is 80 miles to the ocean through jungle, which would be the absolute wrong thing to do. I’m flying in little circles and only my rockets work. The guy in the front seat and I are trying to see where the hell Rick is.

The guy on the radio says, ‘We think our ground surveillance radar found your guy in some elephant grass across the road.’ So, my plan was to land in the Fire Support Base and my co-pilot would get out and I’d hover over there to where the elephant grass was and hopefully I’d find Rickenbacker. I’m on final to the Fire Support Base and one of the guys who flies the air ambulance, the Medevac, who’s a dear friend of ours, calls and says, ‘I’ve been listening to all this on the radio, and I’m coming up to get Rick. You just provide me with security.’ And so that’s what happened.

We get Rick out and God Bless Him. He had yanked Mac right out of there. Fast Eddie Rickenbacker had a stellar military career after that.

From convicted felon to George Lucas Scholar: USC student brings a fresh perspective to filmmaking

Photo courtesy of Art Jetter

Eddie was a Harley guy. He drove his motorcycle to Omaha and stayed a couple days with my wife and me. This was eight years ago maybe. He drove clear across the country and back and when he got home, he checked into the hospital for problems with cancer from Agent Orange. He probably shouldn’t have made the trip and he didn’t even say anything to me about his health problems. We had a good visit.

He was dead shortly after that.

We went to his ceremony at Arlington and my wife said, ‘I don’t care if you knew who was getting buried here or not, you’d be crying just standing here.’

It was very touching. Mac showed up and that was really touching to watch him say goodbye. I’m still in touch with him. He’s a great guy. You know he says that Rick gave him the rest of his life, which he did.

That day sticks out in my memory because I’ve been reminded of it so many times over the years, having seen Mac and Fast Eddie. Even in the Arlington National Cemetery website eulogy for Ernest Rickenbacker said that I had given him the name Fast Eddie. So, if I’m proud of one thing, it’s that his son, Scott, who was also a helicopter pilot, had told the writer that.

I don’t think you ever become immune to the missions. You don’t become jaded, you become more professional with how to handle missions. And you learn when to break the rules, because sometimes it’s the right thing to do.

Going from selling clothes for id=”listicle-2645885448″ an hour to flying around Vietnam in a million-and-a-half-dollar helicopter with all this elaborate training and going through all this craziness, I think I’m much better for it. I don’t know how I would have turned out otherwise, but it really helped me set my course and make good decisions. Between the training and the camaraderie with the guys in my unit and with my high school buddy Charlie Lee, it really prepared me for life. Not that life should be about killing, but the education experience, the leadership, well, it made me a better person.

Being around those guys was strengthening. A year ago, I was in Salado, Texas. I met up with my commander, Jerry, who was commander the first part of my tour, and my co-pilot and another aircraft commander. Jerry told us that we’d all been hand selected by our commanders. You know we had to wait 47 years to hear that but that was wonderful to hear. I don’t think he was making it up.

From convicted felon to George Lucas Scholar: USC student brings a fresh perspective to filmmaking

Photo courtesy of Art Jetter

It was a very special unit. Wings, the History of Aviation even did a little 10-minute thing on my unit. I don’t see the guys too often. I’m 70 now. Some of them have died.

In 1993, the Army had a new Apache helicopter company. And the new commander’s name was Timothy Solms. And I know this because he called me and said, ‘The Army gave me a new Apache unit and because I’m the charter commander, I get to name it. I looked through Army history and of all the stood down helicopter units so that I could give the members of my unit a legacy. I picked your unit. We’re calling our guys ‘Blue Max’ in your honor and we’re going to have a black-tie dinner in Fayetteville, North Carolina and we’d like you to come out for it.’

He found about 15 of us, and we went out for this dinner. The guest speaker that night was General Bill Miller, and Larry McKay who was the commander the second half I was out there. McKay was just a wonderful guy. He had decided it had been too long since we had seen each other after that night, so he started hosting a dinner the night before Veterans Day every year in Washington DC. Then on Veterans Day, we’d have a sunrise service at the wall, and then go have breakfast with the 1st Calvary Division.

Larry died in 2014. I don’t see the guys as a group like when Larry was doing those dinners, but we stay in touch and my crew chief even flew in from Alaska to see us. In 1995, I took my wife and daughter to a Vietnam helicopter pilots’ reunion and she saw that about 8 of these guys had Blue Max t-shirts on. And so, my wife went up to one of them, a guy named Jet Jackson. She asked if he knew me, and he replied, ‘No ma’am, he was just a legend when I got there.’ I pulled him aside and said, ‘Where did that come from? What do I owe you for that?’ And he said, ‘Just remember what to say to my wife when you meet her.’

Blue Max was truly a special group of guys. I think about them often. I guess I always will.”

From convicted felon to George Lucas Scholar: USC student brings a fresh perspective to filmmaking

Photo via Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association

Art Jetter Jr Veterans History Project

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Art Jetter Jr Veterans History Project

Art Jetter, Jr. on his experience as a US Army Cobra Helicopter Gunship pilot flying in Vietnam. This interview was done for the Veterans History Project of …