The Super Bowl is known for a lot of things, but giving out free access isn’t one of them. For military members, veterans, and their families, the experience might be a little different. USAA, as a financial institution, isn’t just a major partner of the NFL — they’re integral to the league’s Salute to Service every November, and USAA is determined to give its members a chance to take part.
For those who have never been to the NFL’s biggest game, part of the experience is literally The NFL Experience. For days prior to Super Bowl Sunday, the league puts on a huge, open forum featuring player appearances, giveaways, games, food, and fun, along with a chance to kick a field goal, throw a touchdown pass, run the 40-meter dash (or the entire combine), and even play as an actual player through virtual reality.
Even if you don’t have tickets to the Big Game, the NFL experience is only , half that for USAA members. Best of all, military service members get a little something extra from their experience – all for free.
USAA has its own little corner of the NFL Experience called the Salute to Service Lounge, and it’s open to anyone with a Department of Defense or Veterans Affairs identification card. In this special room, attendees can sit, relax, enjoy free snacks and drinks.
Oh, and they get to listen to current and former NFL players talk about their time on the gridiron, answer any and all questions from their military fans, and even pose for photos, sign autographs, and shake hands — all at no cost. They all just want to do the most for the U.S. Military and its NFL fans, and they show it all year long, not just during Salute to Service Month.
Almost all the players who came to visit USAA’s Salute to Service Lounge also teamed up with USAA and other partners to donate tickets to the big game to a service member or their family.
NFL legend Roger Staubach (left) chats with WATM’s own August Dannehl
The 2019 Salute to Service Lounge saw NFL legend and Naval Academy graduate Roger Staubach come by and spend time with fans. Current Falcons Coach Dan Quinn and Atlanta Falcons Guard Ben Garland stopped by the lounge to talk about highlighting the military community and what it’s like to host a Super Bowl without being part of it.
Quinn and USAA teamed up to get tickets to the big game for the family of Marine Corps Pvt. 1st Class Zachary R. Boland, who died in 2016 during training at Parris Island. Garland, a former player for the Air Force Falcons, was this year’s Salute to Service Winner.
Colorado Air National Guardsman and Atlanta Falcons Guard, Ben Garland.
Also visiting the USAA Salute to Service lounge this year (who also visited USAA’s Super Bowl LII Salute to Service Lounge in Minneapolis in 2018) was the Arizona Cardinals’ future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald. This year, Fitzgerald honored fellow Cardinal Pat Tillman during the NFL’s “My Cause, My Cleats” Campaign, which benefited the Tillman Foundation. He has a very close connection to the military, as he comes from a military family and wanted something to reflect his family’s service as well as Tillman’s.
Kirk Cousins answers some fans’ questions at the USAA Salute to Service Lounge
Other visitors to the lounge were Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey, Denver Broncos quarterback Case Keenum, and former Cleveland Browns offensive tackle Joe Thomas.
These NFL players and the many, many others like them are regular faces at USAA’s annual Super Bowl Salute to Service Lounge. They spend all season honoring military members past and present but make it a big point to show their military fans how much they’re appreciated.
The 2013 World Series color guard at Fenway Park (US Navy)
As the 2020 MLB season kicks off in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, ballplayers return to the field to play in front of an audience of cardboard cutouts while fans watch from home. Though the cheers and roars of the crowd are absent, one familiar sound persists; before the players play ball, “The Star-Spangled Banner” plays first. But what is the origin of this display of patriotism before sporting events?
It’s no surprise that the national anthem’s connection to sports began with the national pastime of baseball. On May 15, 1862, “The Star-Spangled Banner” was played at the inauguration of the Union Base Ball and Cricket Grounds in Brooklyn. Of course, the song wasn’t the national anthem at the time and was played as a patriotic tune in the midst of the Civil War. The band commenced the proceedings with “The Star-Spangled Banner” and continued to play at intervals throughout the opening game. After this, the song was played at baseball games throughout the rest of the 19th century, but only on opening day. It was over 50 years later, during another horrific war, that the future anthem became forever connected to baseball.
The 1918 World Series saw Babe Ruth and the Boston Red Sox taking on the Chicago Cubs. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, American troops were fighting tooth and nail in the muddy trenches of Western Europe. In addition to the daily names of war dead in the papers, September 4 saw Game 1 in Chicago rained out as well as a deadly bombing by the radical Industrial Workers of the World labor union at the Chicago Federal Building. The next day wasn’t much better; the weather was still unfavorable and the Cubs were playing poorly.
The crowd of just over 19,000 was unimpressed by the game, with one New York Times reporter recalling that the people in the stands were yawning. The mood at Comiskey Park completely changed during the seventh-inning stretch, however, when the band started to play “The Star-Spangled Banner”. Though it was still 13 years off from becoming the national anthem, the song was familiar to most American ears and ignited a surge of patriotism in the crowd and on the field.
All the ballplayers took off their caps and faced the flag save for one. Red Sox third baseman Fred Thomas was an active-duty sailor on furlough from Naval Station Great Lakes to play in the World Series. Thomas kept his cap on, snapped to attention, faced the flag and rendered it proper honors with a crisp salute. Thomas’ actions inspired the rest of the stadium as the crowd sang along, reinvigorated with patriotic fervor.
Third Baseman Fred Thomas (Society for American Baseball Research)
The Navy band played the song again during Games 2 and 3 in Chicago. The wave of patriotism followed the Series to Boston and Fenway echoed to the sound of “The Star-Spangled Banner” during Games 4, 5 and 6. Wounded troops in the crowd, returned from the frontlines, were cheered by the people around them who helped them to their seats; some troops were even given seats and carried to them. The Red Sox won the Series 4-2, but the song won the hearts of a war-weary nation.
Over the next two decades, the song became a regular occurrence in baseball as well as hockey and football. In 1931, “The Star-Spangled Banner” became the official national anthem, playing in newsreels before feature films in movie theaters. During WWII, all but one Major League club was playing it before the start of every game, with the Cubs being the lone holdout for over 20 years. Following the war, the anthem became something that people expected and insisted on before a game of any sport.
While the national anthem in sports originated as a show of support, it has also been used as a platform for protest. From the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Black Power protest to today’s Black Lives Matter movement, demonstrators have used the anthem as a challenge to the state of the country.
While people’s actions during the anthem remain a subject of debate, “The Star-Spangled Banner” persists like the flag for which it’s named and continues to be played before the start of sporting events across the nation.
A Marine Color Guard displays the flag during the national anthem at Petco Park (US Navy)
There are many unfounded superstitions within the military. Don’t eat Charms candy. Don’t whistle on a Navy vessel. Pilots won’t take off without being given a thumbs up. The list goes on.
Many of these superstitions have traceable roots that run back to a time when someone did something and terrible results followed, but there’s seldom any empirical evidence behind the practices. To that end, Marines and Marine veterans from all eras and battlefields will all attest to one fruit being such bad luck that even uttering its name will cause them to freak out.
This fruit is, of course, the apricot.
Vietnam was bad enough. Even if you liked the taste of the fruit, you probably shouldn’t do anything to make everyone ostracize you.
While most troops tend to stay away from apricots — typically referred to as ‘cots, forbidden fruits, or A-fruits, to avoid being jinxed by uttering its true name — the biggest contributors to this superstition are Marine tankers and Marines on Amphibious Assault Vehicles.
Officially, the myth began in WWII. Many of the AAVs that were hopping around the islands of the Pacific would carry the fruit, as it was often found in rations. All the AAVs that were destroyed with their crewmembers inside were said to have a single piece of cargo in common: apricots. Of course, there isn’t much proof to back up this statement, as many vehicles that didn’t carry the forbidden fruit met the same fate.
The superstition continued into the Vietnam War. There, Marines were hesitant about even being near someone eating a ‘cotbecause they thought it meant that rockets or artillery were soon incoming. The belief was so strong that Marines would often force someone out of the tent if they tempted fate by biting into one of the stone fruits.
You still won’t find any of them in a Marine Corps chow hall. Just grab an apple, they taste better and probably maybe won’t cause everything to explode or break down. Probably.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Janessa K. Pon)
It was also said that ‘cots were to blame for many Marines vehicles breaking down during the Persian Gulf War and the early days of the Global War on Terrorism before they were all but banned by the military overseas.
Until apricots were removed from MREs in 1995, many Marine tankers would opt out of bringing MREs into their vehicles altogether on the off chance that the A-fruit was hiding in one of the sealed bags. The myth continues to this day, and most Marines won’t even utter the name of the fruit, let alone touch them.
A soldier killed in an apparent insider attack on July 7, 2018, was part of one of the newly created security force assistance brigades tasked with advising Afghan troops.
Cpl. Joseph Maciel, 20, of South Gate, California, was killed in Tarin Kowt district, Uruzgan province, Afghanistan in the apparent attack, Army officials said July 8, 2018. Two other soldiers who have not been identified were wounded in the same incident.
Maciel, an infantryman, was assigned to 1st Battalion, 38th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division out of Fort Benning, Georgia, and was deployed to Afghanistan with the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade, officials said.
According to officials with the 3rd Infantry Division, Maciel had been in the Army for two years and had served in Afghanistan since February 2018.
His awards include the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Army Achievement Medal, and Afghanistan Campaign Medal, officials said.
Afghanistan Campaign Medal
“Cpl. Maciel was an excellent soldier beloved by his teammates and dedicated to our mission. He will be greatly missed by the entire Black Lion family. Our prayers are with his family and friends during this difficult time,” Lt. Col. David Conner, Maciel’s battalion commander, said in a statement.
In the last two years, the Army has been designing and training a handful of SFABs to take over advise-assist missions, training partner forces throughout the globe.
In the days following the 2001 American invasion of Afghanistan, one combatant shocked the United States after his capture on an Afghan battlefield. His birth name was John Walker Lindh and he was fighting for the other side. After being sentenced to twenty years in prison, he’s on his way to being released.
The wounds from the September 11th attacks were still very fresh in America, as a wave of patriotic sentiment swept the country from sea to shining sea. For the first time in a long while, the country was reminded that it could band together during trying times. The pro-American sentiment made it all the more shocking when the United States invaded Afghanistan and found one of their own fighting for the other side, California native John Walker Lindh.
Dubbed the “American Taliban” by the media, Lindh had actually converted to Sunni Islam at age 16 and moved to Yemen to learn Arabic. In 2000 he was trained at an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan, where he received lectures from Osama bin Laden himself. When the United States invaded in the wake of 9/11, Lindh, named Sulayman al-Faris in Afghanistan, was already fighting the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance. According to Lindh, he never wanted to be in a position where he would fight the U.S.
Johnny Michael “Mike” Spann spent eight years as a Marine Corps officer before joining the CIA.
Lindh was captured by the Northern Alliance at Kunduz with the rest of his band of Mujahideen and turned over to the CIA for questioning. CIA officer Mike Spann interviewed Lindh because he was identified by one of the other Taliban as an English speaker. He originally claimed to be Irish. But that was the only time Spann would get an opportunity to interrogate Lindh. Later that same day, a planned prisoner uprising killed the CIA officer along with 300 Afghan Northern Alliance fighters, in one of the largest POW camp uprisings ever, now known as the Battle of Qala-i-Jangi.
It took the Northern Alliance and U.S. air support, along with both British and American Special Forces six days to quell the uprising. Hundreds died on both sides of the fighting and Lindh was wounded by a bullet to the thigh. From there, Lindh was taken to Camp Rhino, where his wounds were tended and he recovered enough to eventually be sent back to the U.S. to face a grand jury.
Now you know why detainees were shipped in tight controls – because hundreds of people died when the CIA was lenient.
Unlike other combatants, Lindh was never sent to Guantanamo Bay. Instead, he was indicted on ten charges by a federal grand jury. The Bush-era justice department offered a plea if Lindh copped to only two of them: supplying services to the Taliban and carrying an explosive during the commission of a felony. Lindh took the deal and a 20-year sentence. With time off for good behavior, John Walker Lindh will be walking free from the Federal Correction Institution in Terre Haute, Ind. any day now, to finish his last three years on strict probation.
It seems the Army is planning a system for evaluating the effectiveness of potential battalion commanders with a new five-day program at Fort Knox. That’s good news for the staff officers worth their weight in salt, and it’s fantastic that they’re finally doing away with the all-around ass-kissing that goes on around OER season. It’ll also bring the hammer down on commanders who fail height and weight, give them a “leadership test,” and bring them in front of a board of officers and non-commissioned officers.
I know my opinion on the matter probably means nothing, but if I may make a suggestion…randomly select NCOs in their unit to give honest feedback – you know, the soldiers most affected by their actions.
You could ask them things like: Are they the type to step on the toes of the sergeant major? Would the candidate for battalion commander literally throw their troops under an actual bus if it meant a bronze star? How many times has Private Snuffy become a heat cat during the speeches they said would be quick yet they kept talking about themselves? You know, the actual things that separate the toxic CO’s from the ones that stick with their troops forever.
But that’d make too much sense, and apparently, online tests can determine these things better than troops. Anyways, here are some memes.
In today’s military, seniority by rank is limited to four-star generals and admirals. And while public law still allows for five-star generals, one hasn’t been appointed since Omar Bradley held the rank in 1950.
Yet, six-star general is a rank that (technically) exists.
Two men have held higher ranks in the Armed Forces of the United States. The latest was General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing, whose contributions to service were awarded with the title General of the Armies of the United States, complete with gold four-star insignia. His rank was higher than that of other four star generals due to an act of Congress that mandated that he remain preeminent above all personnel until his death in 1948.
Although I hope the act of Congress didn’t specify the year.
The other is the father of America, who wore only two stars in his lifetime, President George Washington. The Continental Congress commissioned Washington as a Major General in 1775. As Commander-In-Chief, he outranked all others fielded by Congress. After his Presidency, his successor, John Adams, promoted him to Lieutenant General and he would be on the Army rolls as Lt. Gen. Washington in perpetuity, outranked by every four- and five-star general who came after him.
Toward the end of World War II, Congress considered promoting Gen. Douglas MacArthur, already a five-star general, to General of the Armies, on the same level as Pershing. The Army Institute of Heraldry even designed an insignia for this rank which included six stars.
But as the years went on and the U.S. came closer to its bicentennial birthday, the idea that someone could outrank George Washington began to bother some in government, including President Gerald Ford. In 1976, Ford would sign a bill which promoted Washington to stand “above all grades of the Army, past or present.”
The text of the bill reads:
“Whereas it is considered fitting and proper that no officer of the United States Army should outrank Lieutenant General George Washington on the Army list: Now, therefore, be it Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That… The President is authorized and requested to appoint George Washington posthumously to the grade of General of the Armies of the United States, such appointment to take effect on July 4, 1976.”
News reports at the time referred to his promotion as a six-star general’s rank (though there is no mention of the insignia he would wear).
House Representative Lucien Nedzl of Michigan thought the rank was unnecessary, saying “it’s like the Pope offering to make Christ a Cardinal.”
For nearly 100 years, U.S. Army soldiers have designed and worn unit patches. And for roughly same amount of time, soldiers have made fun of each other’s patches.
The tradition of Army patches dates back to 1918 when the 81st Infantry Division deployed to Europe wearing a shoulder insignia they had designed for training exercises in South Carolina. Other units complained about the unauthorized unit item to Gen. John Pershing who, rather than punishing the 81st, authorized the patch and recommended other units design their own.
Since then, units have designed and worn patches that motivated soldiers, honored the unit lineage, and encapsulated military history. This is a sampling of some of those patches, along with the alternate names that soldiers remember them by.
The arrow is supposed to symbolize the ability of the command to fulfill its mission quickly and effectively, but soldiers decided it looked like an outhouse dropped on a hill.
2. “Broken TV” — 3rd Infantry Division
The three lighter stripes symbolize the three major campaigns the division fought in during World War I while the darker stripes symbolize the loyalty of the soldiers who gave their lives. Once TVs were invented, the similarity between a broken set and the patch was undeniable.
4th Inf. Div. wants you to see their patch and relate the four ivy leaves to fidelity and tenacity. The Army sees it and just thinks about lieutenants getting lost on the land navigation course.
4. “Crushed Beer Can” — 7th Infantry Division
This is supposed to be an hourglass formed from two 7s, a normal one and an inverted one. Of course, it really does look more like a can someone crushed in their grip.
5. “Flaming Anus” — 9th Infantry Division
You see it. You know you do.
6. “Gaggin’ Dragon” — 18th Airborne Corps
Their mascot is a Sky Dragon so they went with a big scary dragon … that needs someone to administer the heimlich.
7. “Electric Strawberry” — 25th Infantry Division
Based out of Hawaii, 25th’s patch is a taro leaf, native to Hawaii, with a lightning bolt showing how fast the division completes its missions. Since no one knows what a taro leaf is, most soldiers call it the electric strawberry. They also sometimes get called “Hawaii Power and Light.”
8. “Days Inn” — 41st Infantry Division
Like 3rd Infantry Division’s, there was nothing odd about this patch when it was adopted in World War I. Still, if you’re only familiar with the hotel chain, this patch feels like copyright infringement. Some soldiers from this unit volunteered for service in Afghanistan in 2008, an experience chronicled in Shepherds of Helmand.
The 82nd Airborne Division was named the All-American Division after a contest held in Atlanta, Ga. The patch’s two A’s are meant to call to mind the “All-American” nickname, but many people are, of course, reminded of the alcoholic support group. This wasn’t helped by the division’s reputation for hard drinking.
10. “Choking Chicken” — 101st Airborne Division
The 101st was originally based out of Wisconsin and they based their unit patch off of “Old Abe,” a bald eagle carried into combat by the 8th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment during the Civil War. While Abe was a distinguished bald eagle, the unit patch could easily be seen instead as a chicken with corn stuck in its windpipe.
When the players on the Army West Point football team take the field, they do so for more than themselves.
They represent the U.S. Military Academy and the generations of graduates who make up the Long Gray Line. They play for the U.S. Army and those who have fought and died protecting America. And each week during the season, they play for a particular division of the Army and the soldiers currently serving and who have served in it.
For most of the regular season, the division is honored by a patch on the back of the players’ helmets. But for the past three years during the Army-Navy Game, the Black Knights have honored one of the Army’s divisions by wearing an entire uniform telling the division’s story.
The new uniform tradition started with a design telling the story of the 82nd Airborne Division. So far, the 10th Mountain Division and 1st Infantry Division have also been honored.
This year, Army will take the field in honor of the 1st Cavalry Division and tell the story of the soldiers’ role in the Vietnam War as America’s first airmobility division.
(Danny Wild, USA Today)
This year, Army will take the field in honor of the 1st Cavalry Division and tell the story of the soldiers’ role in the Vietnam War as America’s first airmobility division.
The 1st Cav’s role as the honored division was kept secret until the uniform was unveiled Dec. 5, 2019, in front of the assembled Corps of Cadets, but the process of designing the uniform for the game each year is an 18-month collaboration between Nike and West Point’s Department of History.
The cycle of divisions is decided three to four years in advance by West Point’s Athletic Department, and each design process starts about a year and a half out from the game. This year’s uniform hasn’t been unveiled yet, but most of the work is already done on 2020’s uniform and the process for 2021 will start to ramp up in the near future.
After the division is selected, step one of the process is determining the timeline that will be honored. For the 82nd Airborne it was World War II and for the 1st Infantry Division they highlighted World War I for the 100th anniversary of the signing of the armistice.
Then, Nike’s designer in partnership with the USMA history department starts doing research and crafting the story the uniform will tell.
“It is almost like a method actor preparing for a role,” Kristy Lauzonis, senior graphic designer for Nike college football uniforms, said. “I just go as deep as humanly possible with the research. I order books, read everything I can under the sun and then that is when I start hitting the history department back with all kinds of crazy questions.”
In 2017 Army represented the 10th Mountain Division with its Army Navy uniform.
(Photo by Cadet Henry Guerra)
With help from the Department of History, Lauzonis goes through photos and artifacts of the unit from the chosen timeline and starts working to craft a uniform that will authentically tell the story of the unit. Some elements are predetermined by NCAA rules such as whether the uniform is light or dark depending on if Army is home or away, but everything from colors of elements to fonts are built from scratch in order to make them historically accurate.
On the first uniform, the flag on the players’ shoulder may have looked backward to a casual observer, but it was placed the way it was worn in World War II. On the 10th Mountain Uniform, the popular Pando Commando logo wasn’t something created by Nike, but was instead a little used logo found during the research process. On last year’s uniforms, the Black Lions were to tell the story of the 28th Infantry Regiment and the first major combat for American forces in World War I.
“I think one of the great things about being authentic to history is you will have those moments like where you’ve done something where it is 100% authentic and people aren’t aware of it,” Lauzonis said. “That is that bonus element where everyone is saying the flag is backward and we are able to say it pre-existed flag code and this is exactly how it was worn on the uniform and we purposely did it that way. It is not just a company woops we flipped the flag the wrong way. We are never going to do that.”
Throughout the entire process, the USMA history department is fact checking elements on the uniform and making sure they accurately represent the division’s history and the timeline being depicted. That includes checking colors such as the red used in last year’s Big Red One on the helmet and making sure each insignia used is authentic and historically accurate.
In 2016 the Black Knights honored the 82nd Airborne Division.
(US Army photo)
“We provide historical context and then of course, the Nike designers are amazing,” Steve Waddell, an assistant professor in the Department of History, said. “They’ve got to kind of translate a historical idea concept to actually make it work on a real uniform and have the color contrasts and everything work … I’m a World War II historian and we did the 82nd Airborne for the first one. It’s just exciting that they’re tying the sport of football to military history and military history is always popular.”
Along with assisting in the uniform design, the USMA history department helps tell the story of the uniform and the division through the athletic department’s microsite, which is created as part of the unveil each year.
There the elements of the uniform are explained, and the story of the division is told in detail.
“The Army’s business is people,” Capt. Alexander Humes, an instructor in the Department of History, said. “That’s why it’s also important to tell the story of this unit and the people that were part of this unit and to take this as an opportunity to do that. This presents the Army a great opportunity in something as highly visible as the Army-Navy Game to be able to tell its story to the American public.”
This year’s uniform pulls elements from the 1st Cav’s Vietnam War era uniforms and the pants were designed to resemble the motif of the UH-1 “Hueys” the soldiers flew during the war.
“I hope that for the folks that are in or have a relationship to the unit, that they feel like their story is being told authentically,” Lauzonis said of her goal when designing the uniform each year. “That they feel like they now have something they can wear with pride and that we’ve done right by them with the storytelling.”
The annual rivalry game against the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis will take place Dec. 14, 2019, in Philadelphia.
In the Star Wars universe, lightsaber combat is a selling point. It hearkens back to the cinematic classics of Akira Kurosawa by putting the duels of feudal samurai into a sci-fi setting. When we watch Jedi go toe-to-toe on-screen, it sets our imaginations ablaze. And when it comes to merchandise, there are lightsaber toys flying off the shelves, as every kid wants to get their hands on that ultimate blade.
While this weapon is all-powerful and completely practical in both fiction and our imaginations, in reality, there are a number of headaches that would come with using a high-powered energy blade in contemporary combat.
1. Lightsabers are useless against guns
Let’s get the obvious shortcoming out of the way: range. A lightsaber’s max effective range is about three feet out from the user’s hand. Blasters, on the other hand, reach much further.
We can cut the lightsaber a bit of slack since the blasters in Star Wars aren’t shooting at the speed of light, or even at a fraction of the muzzle velocity of an M4. Wired recently calculated the speed of blaster rounds at 34.9m/s (or 78mph) — similar to a Major League Baseball pitch. So, it’s feasible that our heroes can deflect the lasers at a constant rate like they do in the films, but you’d definitely tire yourself out, like a baseball batter constantly swinging at fastballs.
But we’re not fighting anyone who uses blasters, so… they’re basically only useful against other lightsabers.
2. You can’t really practice with lightsabers
Imagine how troops practice with their weapons. There’s dry training (training that doesn’t involve actually firing the rifle) and time at the range where you fire at a designated target. This becomes a little more challenging when you’re using a weapon that only has two settings: “off” and “able to slice through feet of hardened steel.”
Any practice with a lightsaber would need to be done with a fake. By practicing with a real one, you’d run the risk of chopping off your buddy’s arm.
Your only options are this ball thing or some rocks…
3. It’s worthless if you don’t have the force
Without any Jedi training, anyone who picks up a lightsaber would probably chop off their hand. Or they’ll drop it and watch it burn a hole through to the core of the planet.
And even Jedi Masters aren’t that great at fighting…
4. There’s no safety on a lightsaber
Let’s look at the basic build of a lightsaber: There’s handle that you hold onto, the extremely deadly blade, and the button that turns it on. Nowhere on the device is there any kind of safety mechanism.
If you bump into a chair and accidentally hit the button while it’s holstered, your leg gets cut off. If you’re fighting a Jedi, they could (spoiler alert) turn it on with the force and it’ll impale you. Imagine how many lightsaber battles would’ve been ended sooner if, while duelists lock sabers and stare each other down, someone just force pushes their adversary’s lightsaber.
NASA astronaut Col. Tyler N. “Nick” Hague waits to be lowered into the pool containing a mockup of the International Space Station at the Johnson Space Flight Center’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory for Extravehicular Activity training in Houston, Tex., Apr. 27, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo by J.M. Eddins Jr.)
(Editor’s note: The following is a reposting of an Airman magazine story and an episode of BLUE, which aired in 2017 on AFTV, about Air Force astronauts assigned to NASA. Additional information from NASA is added to mark the culmination of a nearly decade-long goal to once again launch American astronauts from U.S. soil via NASA’s Commercial Crew Program with SpaceX and Boeing. On Wednesday, May 27, 2020, Air Force Col. Robert Behnken and retired Marine Col. Douglas Hurley are scheduled to pilot the inaugural, manned mission of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.)
A new era of human spaceflight is set to begin as American astronauts once again launch on an American rocket from American soil to the International Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley will fly on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft, scheduled to lift off on a Falcon 9 rocket at 4:33 p.m. EDT May 27, from Launch Complex 39A in Florida, for an extended stay at the space station for the Demo-2 mission.
As the final flight test for SpaceX, this mission will validate the company’s crew transportation system, including the launch pad, rocket, spacecraft, and operational capabilities. This also will be the first time NASA astronauts will test the spacecraft systems in orbit.
Behnken and Hurley were among the first astronauts to begin working and training on SpaceX’s next-generation human space vehicle and were selected for their extensive test pilot and flight experience, including several missions on the space shuttle.
Behnken will be the joint operations commander for the mission, responsible for activities such as rendezvous, docking and undocking, as well as Demo-2 activities while the spacecraft is docked to the space station. He was selected as a NASA astronaut in 2000 and has completed two space shuttle flights.
It is a career in space that had its beginnings in the Air Force ROTC program at Washington University in St. Louis.
“The Air Force felt strongly that I should get a physics degree, and so I did that. But I was interested in engineering, and I did a mechanical engineering degree as well,” Behnken said in a 2017 interview with Airman magazine.
“It was a time, in 1992, that the Air Force was not bringing everybody immediately on active duty… I had a pretty long wait, so I applied for graduate school and an educational delay, and the Air Force looked kindly on that. I got that opportunity and picked up a National Science Foundation fellowship in the process, so I had a way to pay for school; the Air Force let me take advantage of that until I had earned my PhD at Caltech.”
Behnken’s first assignment was as a mechanical engineer at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, working on new development programs at the Air Force Research Laboratory. It was there that his commanders, both test pilot school graduates, suggested he plot a similar career course.
“The lieutenant colonel and the colonel said, ‘Hey, you should think about test pilot school,'” Behnken said. “I applied and was accepted, and ended up out at Edwards Air Force Base (California) doing some flight tests on an F-22 when it was very early in its development process before being selected as an astronaut and moving to Houston.”
Behnken flew two Space Shuttle missions; STS-123, in March 2008, and STS-130, in February 2010. He performed three spacewalks during each mission.
His training for the Crew Dragon mission has been unique among recent astronauts.
“Training for these missions is really wrapped into the development process. We’re learning the vehicles as they’re designed and built, and then that will be part of our training material,” Behnken said.
“All of us are Air Force and Navy test pilot school graduates and we’re really participating in a development process so that we can then kind of bring our space flight experience to the designs as they come to the table. If there’s something that needs to be changed, we give them that feedback, and then they figure out what the cost impact is and decide how well they can incorporate our feedback into their design.”
Lifting off from Launch Pad 39A atop a specially instrumented Falcon 9 rocket, Crew Dragon will accelerate its two passengers to approximately 17,000 mph and put it on an intercept course with the International Space Station.
Once in orbit, the crew and SpaceX mission control will verify the spacecraft is performing as intended by testing the environmental control system, the displays and control system and the maneuvering thrusters, among other things. In about 24 hours, Crew Dragon will be in position to rendezvous and dock with the space station. The spacecraft is designed to do this autonomously but astronauts aboard the spacecraft and the station will be diligently monitoring approach and docking and can take control of the spacecraft if necessary.
After successfully docking, Behnken and Hurley will be welcomed aboard the station and will become members of the Expedition 63 crew. They will perform tests on Crew Dragon in addition to conducting research and other tasks with the space station crew.
Although the Crew Dragon being used for this flight test can stay in orbit about 110 days, the specific mission duration will be determined once on station based on the readiness of the next commercial crew launch. The operational Crew Dragon spacecraft will be capable of staying in orbit for at least 210 days as a NASA requirement.
Upon conclusion of the mission, Crew Dragon will autonomously undock with the two astronauts on board, depart the space station and re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere. Upon splashdown just off Florida’s Atlantic Coast, the crew will be picked up at sea by SpaceX’s Go Navigator recovery vessel and return to Cape Canaveral.
The Demo-2 mission will be the final major step before NASA’s Commercial Crew Program certifies Crew Dragon for operational, long-duration missions to the space station. This certification and regular operation of Crew Dragon will enable NASA to continue the important research and technology investigations taking place onboard the station, which benefits people on Earth and lays the groundwork for future exploration of the Moon and Mars starting with the agency’s Artemis program, which will land the first woman and the next man on the lunar surface in 2024.
“It’s a pretty exciting job. As a test pilot, the thing that we all hope is that we might get a chance to test a new airplane. We’re getting to test a new spacecraft. We’ll be the first people to fly on this vehicle, so we’re really the space test pilots for a brand-new spaceship, which is pretty cool,” Behnken said.
(Editor’s Note: Originally posted July 24, 2017, this article concentrated on the training of Air Force Col. Tyler Nicklaus “Nick” Hague, as he was the next of the Air Force astronauts scheduled to fly to the International Space Station. His first launch was on Soyuz MS-10, which aborted shortly after take-off on October 11, 2018. His second launch, on March 14, 2019, was successful, taking him and his fellow Soyuz MS-12 crew members to join ISS Expedition 59/60. He would spend just more than 202 days in space and completed nearly 20 hours of extravehicular activities, or space walks, before returning to Earth in October of 2019.)
On the rare instances when Col. Tyler N. “Nick” Hague returns from a day at the office and walks through the door of his own home, the oldest of his two boys occasionally asks, “Daddy, were you in space today?”
Not such a childish question when you consider the actual distance and travel time when Hague finally rides into space aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket in September of 2018.
It will only take him about 12 minutes to arrive in low-Earth orbit from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, only 249 miles above the planet’s surface. In comparison, Hague traveled two miles farther when he was just a boy of 12; a total of 251 miles from his home in Hoxie, Kansas, to Colorado Springs, Colorado, where he first laid eyes on the place where his journey into space would actually begin – the United States Air Force Academy.
“Growing up in western Kansas, staring up at the sky at night, seeing all those stars, I’ve always wanted to do something involved with space,” said Hague. “I couldn’t find a better program in terms of being able to study astronautical engineering with building actual satellites and doing all that hands on work at an undergraduate level. That just didn’t exist anywhere else at that time and so that was the place I wanted to go.”
He graduated from the academy and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1998 and began a 20-year journey that would bring him to the International Space Station to begin a six-month mission as flight engineer on ISS Expedition 57/58.
During this journey, Hague earned a masters degree in engineering from MIT, worked on advanced spacecraft technologies at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, flight tested at Edwards AFB, California, completed a five-month deployment to Iraq to conduct experimental airborne reconnaissance in 2004, returned to the Air Force Academy to teach astronautics, became an advisor for the U.S. Senate on national defense and foreign policy, served as a congressional appropriations liaison for United States Central Command at the Pentagon and finally as deputy division chief for research and development at the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization before being selected for astronaut training in 2013.
“I applied the first time (to the astronaut training program) in 2003, so it took 10 years and three applications in order to finally get selected,” said Hague. “Twenty years ago could I look at what was going to lie before me and map all of that out that would connect that point to this point? There are all these different opportunities that I would have never been able to line up on my own, but the service in the Air Force has made it possible.”
When he finally received his crew assignment, Hague quickly learned that being an astronaut still means racking up a lot of miles on earth.
In this calendar year of mission training, Hague has logged five flights from Houston to Star City, Russia, where he has spent 33 weeks training on the Russian ISS modules – which make up half of the station – and the Soyuz launch vehicle.
When combined with flights to the European Space Agency training facility in Colon, Germany, and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Tsukuba Space Center north of Tokyo for eight more weeks of training on those agency’s modules this year, Hague is closing on 100,000 miles of travel within the Earth’s atmosphere to prepare for the relatively short commute to ISS.
Much of Hague’s time in Star City is spent training for that 12-minute trip aboard Soyuz into space and the corresponding return trip six months later. A training emphasis that fellow Air Force astronaut Col. Michael Hopkins explains exists for a very good reason.
“The majority of your training will be associated with the ride up and the ride home. We have a two-year training flow and as much as a year of your time during that two years will be spent over in Russia and your time in Russia the majority of that time is being spent on the Soyuz vehicle,” said Hopkins, who has already spent six months aboard ISS in 2013-2014. “But just like airplanes, the critical phase of flight is take off and landing. That’s when if anything goes wrong, when you don’t have that much time to deal with it. Aboard the ISS you usually have days if not weeks to assess and correct a problem.”
The overseas travel has two-week breaks when Hague returns to Houston for training on the US systems and for extravehicular activity (EVA), or spacewalks, and an opportunity to sleep in his own bed for a change. This fierce training and travel tempo is one of the drawbacks for astronauts, as well as their spouses and children.
NASA astronaut Robert Behnken, STS-130 mission specialist, takes a break in the mission’s second session of extravehicular activity (EVA) for construction and maintenance on the International Space Station in February of 2010 to allow air scrubbers to remove CO2 that had built up in his space suit. During the five-hour, 54-minute spacewalk, Behnken and astronaut Nicholas Patrick connected two ammonia coolant loops, installed thermal covers around the ammonia hoses, outfitted the Earth-facing port on the Tranquility node for the relocation of its Cupola, and installed handrails and a vent valve on the new module. (Photo/NASA)
“I spend six weeks in Star City, and then come back for a couple weeks, and then I’ll go back for six weeks,” said Hague. “There is a stress on the family, and they miss out on the things that I could be doing with them at home, and on the weekends. I’m TDY a lot, but my family’s making the same kinds of sacrifices that I see service families making day in and day out. I think that, that’s something that everybody that wears a uniform can appreciate.”
However, NASA has embarked on a new collaborative mission with commercial partners SpaceX and Boeing to provide an alternative to Soyuz for manned trips to and from the ISS. Cooperation in the development of new low-orbit launch vehicles by these commercial companies based in the United States will provide the Air Force with more orbital lift options and will also bring astronauts closer to home for training and for longer periods of time.
“It’s important for us to be able to return launch to Florida. You know, from a crew perspective, I can tell you that it makes it a whole lot easier on the crew, because you stop having to send people (to Star City, Russia) for six weeks at a shot over, and over, and over again and reduce the strain on the families,” said Hague.
“It’s also important from a redundancy perspective. Right now it’s Soyuz only, so if something happened with the Soyuz, now we’re looking for a way to get astronauts up there. It’ll provide us that flexibility to continue to fly Soyuz, and fly out of Florida and for the Russians to do the same.”
Once again the Air Force is a lynchpin in the development of a barrier breaking technology as astronaut Col. Robert Behnken is one of four test pilots for the commercial spacecraft and Hopkins is part of the team developing communications, displays and procedures for the new launch vehicles.
“Currently, my major focus is on one of those commercial crewed vehicles. It’s the Boeing CST-100 Starliner. I’m working as one of the CAPCOMs for that program; the communicator who would be talking to the astronauts in the vehicle as they’re going uphill and docking to the station,” said Hopkins. “There’s a lot of new material that we have to learn and figure out what the launch day is going to look like and what docking is going to look like and what the landing is going to look like.”
After one unmanned test of both the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket and Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner, two-astronaut crews will fly subsequent tests before operational flights will begin taking six astronauts per flight to the ISS. Astronauts, such as Behnken, will not only flight-test the vehicles, but they are deeply involved in the design and development phase of the vehicles that is currently underway.
“The training for these missions is really wrapped into the development process. So we’re learning the vehicles as they’re designed and built, ” said Behnken, veteran of two of the Space Shuttle missions that built the ISS and the only active-duty member of the test crews. “(The test crews are) Air Force and Navy test pilot school graduates, and we’re really participating in a development process so that we can bring our space flight experience to the designs as they come to the table… that should wrap up around mid-2018 for both vehicles, and hopefully if the schedules hold, that’s when we’ll fly in space.”
These astronauts are the most recent in a continuing legacy of Air Force support of NASA and space exploration since the space program’s inception.
A total of eighty-five Air Force astronauts have traveled into space, from three of the first NASA astronauts, the Mercury Seven, Lt. Col. Gus Grissom, Col. Gordon Cooper and Major Deke Slayton, to two of the crew of Apollo 11, the first humans to set foot on the Moon, Col. Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Maj. Gen. Michael Collins to Col. Jack Fischer, flight engineer for ISS Expedition 51/52, currently traveling at over 17,000 miles per hour (5 miles per second) for 25,000 miles on each of his 15.5 orbits per day aboard ISS.
Still more, like Hague, are in training for upcoming flights, and numerous Air Force personnel support both manned and unmanned NASA missions.
“The Air Force is supporting the mission on a daily basis,” said Hague. “It’s flight docs assigned here, search and rescue crews that are helping bring us home, we’ve got the range support for launching cargo and soon we’re going to be launching Americans back out of Florida. There’s also guys that are looking at all the radar coming back down from space trying to track space debris and they help us prevent things from flying into the Space Station, so they’re protecting us on a daily basis.”
Of course, participation in the civilian space program reaps great benefits for the Air Force from supporting space exploration and research. “The Air Force gets access to space, and so from an expense standpoint, NASA’s already paid for that, now all you have to do is develop your experiment, and then we can get it onboard,” said Hopkins. “Then you get the astronaut’s time. We don’t go and charge the Air Force for the time of the astronaut on board that’s executing their experiment. You’re getting access to a microgravity laboratory, right? It’s a very unique laboratory, in fact the only one in existence.”
The Soyuz TMA-04M rocket launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Tuesday, May 15, 2012 carrying Expedition 31 Soyuz Commander Gennady Padalka, NASA Flight Engineer Joseph Acaba and Flight Engineer Sergei Revin to the International Space Station. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)
The partnership between the Air Force and NASA is a collaborative research relationship that fills gaps in each other’s research and facilities.
According to Dr. Morley Stone, chief technology officer of the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio, the Air Force benefits from NASA’s experience with human performance in microgravity environments, as NASA benefits from the Air Force’s research in the macrogravity realm of high sustained G-forces.
Both are participating in research on hypersonics, autonomous systems, artificial intelligence and materials that can survive extreme environments.
“I would say certainly NASA is up near the top, as probably our most important federal partnership,” said Stone.
Life aboard the ISS is tightly scheduled to accommodate the necessary daily planning conference with ground controllers, two hours of exercise necessary to maintain the astronauts’ bodies in a microgravity environment, performing EVA for scheduled station maintenance or repairs and conducting the experiments sent to ISS by researchers on the ground, military and civilian.
However, on occasion, there are small gaps where astronauts can indulge the kid inside that still looks upon the cosmos in wonder. Behnken had such an opportunity on his second STS mission to install components on the ISS. During an EVA to install the cupola observation window for Earth observation and photography, Behnken and a crewmate exerted themselves to the point that exhaled carbon dioxide was building up inside their suits faster than the air scrubbers could eliminate it.
“My partner and I had both worked harder than the suit could keep up with, and we got the chance to take about a 15-minute break,” said Behnken.
“They told us to “Attach yourself to the space station, and sit there, and look around. And don’t breathe too hard, because we’re trying to catch up with the scrubbing that’s on the suit.
“When you’re outside on a spacewalk, you get a panorama view that just can’t be captured with any of the windows … You get to see sunrises, and sunset, and that angular view of the atmosphere with thunderstorms lightning themselves up,” said Behnken.
“It’s of the whole majesty of the Earth, which is just awesome.”
Troops stationed around the world don’t have very many options when it comes time to grab a quick bite to eat. Either they’re entirely at the whim of the dining facility (if they live in the barracks), they’ll grab something from one of the handful of fast-food chains (which aren’t the healthiest options), or they’ll go off-post (which could take a while).
Since cooking from home is almost always out of the question during short lunch breaks, most troops opt for the less-than-healthy options to save on more-than-limited time.
Chick-fil-A already has a working relationship with the military community, so this petition could make it official.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Josh Plueger)
The petition is geared towards convincing AAFES, which is privately-owned and operated, to include the chicken sandwich chain in their list of Name-Brand Fast Food (NBFF) Direct partners. Troops are drawn to the restaurant’s customer-first attitude, healthy food options, and generally positive reviews.
A Name-Brand Fast Food Direct partnership would allow Chick-fil-A to open franchises on military installations at no cost to the installation itself while allowing the franchise access to an entirely new demographic. Chick-fil-A’s just off-base tend to be packed during rush hour, so adding one on-base would mean wasting less time for troops. Additionally, the healthier options provided by Chick-fil-A would be an excellent alternative to fried foods. Gone would be the days of waiting thirty minutes for a greasy burger.
There’s no doubt that the demand is there. In just 5 days, the petition has reached 19,885 supporters, the poll on Military Times is at a whopping 98%, and comment sections throughout the veteran sphere have been overflowing with support.
Petitions are nice, but it’s all up to the all-mighty dollar to really make things like this move.
(Photo by Mike Mozart)
In all reality, there are countless other things that could (and probably should) be addressed before adding another fast-food restaurant to a military installation, as Military Times half-sarcastically pointed out. Any new restaurant on an installation would be swarmed by chicken-hungry troops, leaving everyone unwilling to wait to go to other on-base fast-food chains, like Subway, Burger King, or Popeyes (direct competitors of Chick-fil-A).
Also, as awesome as it is that almost 20,000 people have signed an online petition for something that they’re passionate about, that’s just not how government contracts work. Change.org is nice for getting a rough headcount, but the website’s track record for enacting actual change has been iffy.
It would be phenomenal if, by some miracle, Chick-fil-A does start opening up shops on military installations — just don’t get your hopes up too high.
Since ancient times, warriors have gathered around the fire to recall battles fought with comrades over flagons of strong ale. Today, we keep this same tradition — except the storytelling usually happens in a smoke pit or dingy bar.
If you’ve been part of one of these age-old circles, then you know there’s a specific set of mannerisms that’s shared by service members, from NCOs to junior enlisted. The way veterans tell their stories is a time-honored tradition that’s more important than the little details therein — and whether those details are true or not. Not every piece of a veteran’s tale is guaranteed to be accurate, but the following attributes will tell you that it’s legit enough.
Just hear them out. Either out of politeness or apathy — your choice.
Beginning the story with “No sh*t, there I was…”
No good story begins without this phrase. It draws the reader in and prepares them to accept the implausible. How else are you going to believe their story about their reasonably flimsy military vehicle rolling over?
It’s become so much of an on-running trope in veteran storytelling that it’s basically our version of “once upon a time.”
But sometimes, you just have to tell the new guy that everything they just signed up for f*cking sucks.
Going into extreme (and pointless) detail
Whenever a veteran begins story time for a civilian, they’ll recall the little details about where they were deployed, like the heat and the smell.
Now, we’re not saying these facts are completely irrelevant, but the stage-setting can get a bit gratuitous.
If your story is about your time as a boot, everyone will just believe you… likely because your story is too boring to fact check.
(Meme via Coast Guard Memes)
Constantly reminding the listener that they can look it up
The military has paperwork for literally everything. Let’s say you’re telling the story of how you were the platoon guidon bearer back in basic training. If you tried hard enough, you could probably find a document somewhere to back that statement up.
As outlandish as some claims may be, nobody is actually to put in the work to fact-check a story — especially when you’re just drinking beers at the bar.
Maybe it was because I was boring, but I never understood why people felt the need to go overboard with hiding people in the trunk. Just say, “they left their ID in the barracks.”
(Photo by Senior Airman Ryan Zeski)
Citing someone that may or may not exist as a source
Among troops and veterans, it’s easy for most of us forget that people also have first names. This is why so many of our stories refer to someone named of ‘Johnson,’ ‘Brown,’ or ‘Smith.’ It’s up to you whether you want to believe this person actually exists.
If they start getting into the stories that will make grandma blush, fewer nudges are required.
(U.S. Army photo)
Tapping the listener’s arm if they lose interest
Military stories tend to drag on forever. Now, this isn’t because they’re boring, but rather because the storyteller vividly remembers nearly every detail.
Sometimes, those telling the story feel the need to check in on the listener to make they’re absorbing it all. Most vets do with this a little nudge.
Basically how it works.
(Comic by Broken and Unreadable)
Filling in the blanks with “because, you know… Army”
It’s hard to nail down every minute detail of military culture, like how 15 minute priors really work.
Some things can only be explained with a hand wave and a simple, “because, you know, that’s how it was in the service.”
Or they could just be full of sh*t. But who cares? If it’s a fun story, it’s a fun story.
(Meme via Pop Smoke)
Finishing the story in a way that fosters one-upsmanship
Veterans’ stories aren’t intended to over-glorify past actions — even if that’s how it sounds to listeners. Generations upon generations of squads have told military stories as a way of a team-building, not as a way for one person to win a non-existent p*ssing contest.
Whether the storyteller knows it or not, they often finish up a tale by signaling to the listener that it’s now their turn to tell an even better story. Just like their squad leader did for them all those years ago.