I’m a Green Beret, US Army Special Forces. Right after I earned my green beret and reported to my unit for this first time, I found out we were going to combat in a few weeks and I would be leading a team of older, battle hardened green berets into battle. My commander told me right before he introduced me to my team, “You’re in command now…. Do something with it.”
Now, I’m a veteran and I find myself wearing a few hats – I’m a business owner, Executive Director of a non-profit, and author. COVID-19 has really hurt my companies – all of my business contracts this year are canceled / postponed. I have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Its forced me to grow my hair out – I look like Moses from the ten commandments.
I’m sure a lot of you are in the same boat.
What do you do? Do you sit and wait for something good to happen? Do you close shop and use COVID-19 as an excuse for why you failed?
Or do you follow my company commander’s advice and do something about it?
Things are tough for everyone.
People are feeling uncomfortable to say the least.
Let’s be honest about who we are and what we are experiencing. That feeling of discomfort isn’t something we should hide or pretend we’re not going through. Let’s embrace this deliberate discomfort and be vulnerable. Most of the time, we put up a front – we fake it until we make it. We’re pretending to be someone we are not. COVID-19 has given us a beautiful gift. This is a time where there’s no more faking. Its just us – stripped down – stressed out – trying to hold it together.
No more pretending that everything is fine.
Here’s what I believe – If COVID-19 is affecting you, I believe that YOU can do something about your situation. I believe you can dare to win by getting comfortable being uncomfortable. I believe that its only through discomfort that we find solutions, learn, grow, and improve. It’s only through deliberate discomfort that you can achieve your full potential.
In the past 8 years, my company has worked with 13 x NFL teams, MLB teams, and numerous corporate clients to identify, assess, and develop the leadership behaviors required to win. We help them to do this by showing them the DELIBERATE DISCOMFORT mindset.
Now I appreciate that you may not have served in the military, but I know that at some point all of you realize that something needs to change. I hope that you don’t wait for something bad to happen to be the person you were destined to be.
There are a million “experts” out there telling you to seek comfort, to look for the easy path. I’m telling you the opposite. I’m telling you to seek discomfort. To take the road less traveled. To be vulnerable. To dare.
I am looking at COVID-19 as a blessing. I took my company commander’s advice and did something. I transitioned my business model to online training. One of the ways we reach our tribe is through our best-selling book, Deliberate Discomfort: How US Special Operations Forces Overcome Fear and Dare to Win By Getting Comfortable Being Uncomfortable.
If you want to learn more, Deliberate Discomfort is available in hardback and e-book on Amazon, Barnes Noble, and other book sellers. This week we are launching our e-book for a limited, one-week only .99 price.
It should come as a surprise to no one that the men and women who fought for the United States are the ones who care most about how it’s run — and the people who run it. For the third year in a row, American military veterans are shown to volunteer, assist neighbors, join civic groups, vote, and engage public officials at rates higher than non-veterans.
The finding comes as a result of the 2017 Veterans Civic Health Index, a study conducted in cooperation with Got Your 6, a veteran’s empowerment nonprofit designed to encourage and enable veterans to continue serving in their local communities while fostering greater cultural changes in the United States, and the National Conference on Citizenship, a Congressionally-chartered national service project dedicated to strengthening civic life.
Civic health, defined as a community’s capacity to work together to resolve collective problems, has been shown to positively impact local GDP, public health, upward income mobility, and has other benefits that strengthen communities. By releasing this annual study, Got Your 6 and its partners aim to eliminate common misconceptions about veterans, while highlighting the civic strength of America’s returning servicemen and women.
The study found that veterans are what it calls “the strongest pillar of civic health” in the United States and calls on the country to adjust the way it frames veteran reintegration. Consistent with Got Your 6’s mission, the study aims to help in changing the perception of veteran transition from one of a series of challenges to the opening of a potential source of leadership and training.
Significant findings from the study include:
(2017 Veterans Civic Health Index)
73.8 percent of veterans always or sometimes vote in local elections versus 57.2 percent of non-veterans.
(2017 Veterans Civic Health Index)
Veteran volunteers serve an average of 177 hours annually – more than four full work weeks. Non-veteran volunteers serve about 25% fewer hours annually. Delivering critical services to a community without regard for wages or reward is a vital service to local areas in the United States.
In this, specifically, the female veteran population goes above and beyond the call of duty.
(2017 Veterans Civic Health Index)
In terms of involvement, 11.5 percent of veterans have attended a public meeting in the last year versus 8.3 percent of non-veterans. The rate at which veterans belong to a local or national civic association was significantly higher as well. These groups can have a large collective impact on American communities.
(2017 Veterans Civic Health Index)
Some 10.5 percent of veterans worked with their neighbors to fix community problems, compared to 7.7 percent of non-veterans. But engagement goes beyond fixing problems, it’s also about stopping them before they start — something veterans are proactive in doing.
More than that, engaging one’s community forms the bonds that can bring people together in good times and in bad. Veterans who transition from the military tends to miss the closeness and brotherhood aspects of their service, leading them to more often reach out within communities.
(2017 Veterans Civic Health Index)
It should also come as no surprise that the youngest generation of veterans (23.4 percent of all veterans are younger than 50) is a diverse one, inclusive of more females (one in six) and ethnic minority groups. The United States, as a whole, is becoming more diverse and the veteran population is a reflection of that diversity.
As a subset of U.S. population (just nine percent of Americans are veterans), vets are more likely to lend a hand to their neighbors and fellow citizens, leading the charge in recovery operations for the multitude of natural disasters that affected the U.S. in 2017.
With these numbers, we can reasonably expect veterans to continue being at the forefront of civic action in American communities. This is the country veterans earned through hard work and, in some cases, sacrifice. The maintenance of the nation understandably means a great deal to this relatively small group of Americans.
If the result of this study predict a trend for the future, the country is in good hands.
Russell “Rusty” L. Schweickart, an astronaut who piloted the Apollo 9 lunar module and helped pave the way for man’s first steps on the moon, gave a speech June 8 during a ceremony dedicating a Sabre jet display with his former tail number in his honor. He used the opportunity to talk about his career and man’s relationship with the universe.
Schweickart was an Air Force pilot, flying in the 101st Tactical Fighter Squadron in the 1960s before he was selected as an astronaut. And the F-86H Sabre display at Otis Air National Guard Base in Massachusetts will celebrate his service in the cockpit as well as that of thousands of other pilots.
But Schweickart’s career didn’t end in jet planes. He would go on to ride rockets in space and would spend more than 10 days, 241 hours, in the final frontier on Apollo 9, the first manned flight of the lunar module. During that first manned flight of the module, it was Schweickart who was at the controls.
Schweickart also tested a space suit in a 46-minute spacewalk, the same suit design that Apollo 11 astronauts would wear on the moon’s surface.
(Bill Anders, Apollo 8)
During his speech at the jet dedication, available in the video embedded above, Schweickart takes the opportunity to talk about the importance of the space program and mankind’s connection to the technology it creates. One of the moments he highlights is the capture of the “Earthrise” photo by Apollo 8.
Apollo 8 astronauts testing the Lunar Orbiter had captured extensive footage of the craters on the moon and then, during a rotation, captured a photo of the Earth rising over the moon’s surface. It was lit by the sun, and the blue of the oceans were marbled by the white of the clouds and provided a stark contrast to the black of space and the grey of the moon.
When you think about Grumman fighters, the Wildcat, the Panther, and the Tomcat all spring to mind. And for good reason — these planes are all classics. But there is one Grumman fighter that didn’t quite get a chance to shine in World War II, but it did see some action in Southeast Asia.
Grumman F8F Bearcats line up on the Essex-class aircraft carrier USS Valley Forge (CV 45)
During World War II, the Navy was deploying the F6F Hellcat and the F4U Corsair was operated by the Marine Corps. The Hellcat was a very tame plane, but the Corsair — known as the “Ensign Eliminator” and foisted on the Marines — simply had higher performance. The Navy wanted the best of both planes. They wanted the F8F Bearcat.
French F8F Bearcats prepare to take off to carry out a napalm strike in Southeast Asia.
At the heart of the Bearcat was the Pratt and Whitney R-2800. This was the powerplant used by both the Corsair and Hellcat, but the Bearcat was much lighter, which gave it extreme performance. The Bearcat also packed a significant punch — to the tune of four M2 .50-caliber machine guns. If that wasn’t enough, the Bearcat was also able to haul five-inch rockets or a 1,000-pound bomb.
The Bearcat’s primary mission was to intercept enemy planes. The plane had a “bubble” canopy (pretty much a standard feature on today’s fighters) to improve the situational awareness of pilots. The Bearcat had a top speed of 421 miles per hour and a maximum range of 1,105 miles. It stuck around long enough to see some upgrades, but was quickly replaced by the onset of fighter jets, like the F9F Panther.
What does a building supposedly designed by Robert E. Lee have to do with the US Army Corps of Engineers insignia? More than you think.
Fort Totten is a stunning piece of land located on Cross Island Parkway between Totten Avenue and 15 Road in Queens, New York, which is actually an abandoned Civil War fort – hidden in plain sight.
It’s even on the MTA subway map, even though it’s partially obscured by the legend explaining the different symbols on the map mean.
The underfunded and almost obscure city park is located in the Bayside area of Queens. As a military installation, it was built in 1862 to protect against Confederate ships from approaching New York via the East River.
Civil War History
Fort Totten was initially called Fort at Willets Point. The government purchased the land in 1857 from the Willets family, but the name was changed to Fort Totten in 1898. The original intent of Fort Totten was to defend the East River, but it was also to add auxiliary support to Fort Schuyler, which faces the East River in the opposite direction. Fort Totten was part of several installations of seacoast defense in the US that started during the first year of the Civil War. The initial design was created by Robert E. Lee in 1857 and modified by Chief Engineer Joseph G. Totten, where the installation got its name.
Fort Totten was designed with four tiers of cannons facing the water, for a total of 68 defensive guns. The only other installations in the US to share this feature are Castle Williams, Fort Wadsworth, and Fort Point.
Construction on Fort Totten was abandoned after the Civil War, in part because masonry forts were considered obsolete after the war. Only one tier and part of a second tea of the two seacoast walls were completed.
WWI and onward
When the United States entered WWI, coastal defensive installations got an upgrade. Because threats from German shifts seemed unlikely, these installations became mobilization and training centers. Garrisons were reduced to provide trained heavy artillery crews for the Western Front.
After WWII, Fort Totten’s last heavy armament, the mortars of Battery King, were removed, and the Harbor Defenses of Eastern New York were inactivated.
In December 1941, Fort Totten became the headquarters for the anti-aircraft portion of the Eastern Defense Command. Then in 1954, the installation became a Project Nike air defense site. No Nike missiles were located at Fort Totten, but it was the regional headquarters for the New York area. By 1966, it was home to the 1st Region, Army Air Defense Command. It also headquartered the 66th Anti-Aircraft Missile Battalion and the 41st AAA Gun Battalion.
Currently, the 77th Sustainment Brigade, subordinate units, and the 533rd Brigade Support Battalion of the Army Reserve call Fort Totten home. But most of the installation is a public park and open for tours. Most of the Civil War-era buildings are in ruins, giving Fort Totten an old world-new world sort of offset vibe. Visitors can also explore the Cold War era buildings, including a movie theater, former officer’s quarters, a laboratory, and a hospital. The entire area has a spooky stopped-in-time feel, especially if you’ve never seen any old military ruins.
In the middle of the part is a building called The Castle, which was once the officer’s club. Now it’s home to the Bayside Historical Society. The Castle hosts historical exhibitions, cultural programs, and events. In 1986, The Castle was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Like the rest of the Civil War buildings, The Castle was designed by Robert E. Lee in his pre-Civil War capacity as a military engineer. Some historians suspect that Lee didn’t actually design it, just signed off on the plans.
The building was designed in a neo-Gothic style and wasn’t created specifically for Fort Totten but was the approved generic design for use in all military installations during that time. Identical structures could be found at installations around the country during that time, and the Corps of Engineers eventually adopted the design as their insignia.
The Navy has been testing a railgun that could see deployment on the guided-missile destroyer USS Zumwalt and her sister ships. The goal is to get the railgun to not only be able to fire its projectiles to a range of 110 nautical miles, but to increase the rate of fire to as many as ten rounds a minute.
The long range is only one of the many advantages. Another is improved safety. Gunpowder can be very volatile, as a number of British battlecruisers found out at Jutland and at the Denmark Straits. The battleship USS Arizona (BB 39) also found out about how bad a gunpowder explosion in the wrong place at the wrong time can be.
The approach also saves money, and provides for more ammo capacity. The gunpowder is expensive to safely store, has to be purchased, and it takes up spaces in the ship. All of those factors end up making the ship design more expensive.
The railgun testing is slated to take place over the summer at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division in Virginia. One of the big issues will be to quantify how much electrical power will be needed to send the rounds downrange.
Forget what you saw in 2009’s “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” when an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer took out the Decepticon Devastator. Only the Zumwalt-class destroyers have the electrical power capacity to use a railgun.
Another is addressing the issue of barrel wear – largely because it is sending the mail downrange at Mach 6.
Dr. Tom Beutner of the Office of Naval Research notes that the barrel wear issue is being fixed, saying, “They’ve extended the launcher core life from tens of shots’ core life when program started to something that’s now been fired over 400 times and … we anticipate barrels will be able to do over 1,000 shots.”
Watch the video of the Navy testing the railgun’s autoloader below:
The Armata family of vehicles, with the flagship T-14 main battle tank, were supposed to be the future of armored warfare, tipping the balance of conventional forces in Europe back towards Russia and ensuring the country’s security and foreign might. But now, Russia has announced that it will be buying only 100 of them, far from the 2,300 once threatened and a sure sign that crippling economic problems are continuing to strangle Putin’s military.
Russia’s T-14 Armata main battle tank was supposed to put Russian armor back on top, but the design and tech are still questionable and Russia is only buying 100 of them, meaning very few of them will be available for operations at any one time.
(Photo by Vitaly V. Kuzmin)
All of this will likely be welcome news for U.S. armored forces who would have faced the T-14s in combat if Russia used them against American allies and NATO forces.
The signs of trouble for the Armata tank were hidden in the project’s debut. It’s always suspicious when a tank or other weapon project seems too good to be true. Snake oil salesmen can profit in the defense industry, too. And there were few projects promising more revolutionary breakthroughs for less money than the T-14.
It is supposed to weigh just 70 percent of the Abrams (48 tons compared to the Abrams’ 68) but still be able to shake off rounds from enemy tanks thanks to advanced armor designs. Its developers bragged of an extremely capable autoloader, a remote turret, and an active protection system that could defeat any incoming missile.
When something sounds too good to be true, maybe check the fine print.
Still, it wouldn’t have been impossible to come up with a breakthrough design to shake up the armored world. After all, while the Abrams was expensive to develop, it featured some revolutionary technology. Its armor was lighter and more capable thanks to ceramic technology developed in Britain, and its engines, while fuel-hungry, delivered massive amounts of power. These factors combined to create a fast, agile beast capable of surviving nearly any round that enemy tanks could shoot at it.
Russia’s Su-57 has design flaws and under-strength engines, causing many to wonder if it would really rival American fifth-generation fighters if it even went into serial production.
(Photo by Anna Zvereva)
None of this money problem is a surprise. Russia is subject to a slew of international sanctions resulting from actions like the invasions of Georgia and Ukraine and meddling in European and U.S. elections. While sanctions generally act as a minor drag on healthy economies, they have a compounding effect on weak economies.
And make no mistake: Russia’s economy is weak. It is heavily tied to oil prices which, just a few years ago, would’ve been great news. From 2010 to 2014, oil often peaked above 0 per barrel for days or weeks at a time and was usually safely above a barrel. Now, it typically trades between and a barrel and has slumped as low as .
Keep in mind that, typically, military strength trends with economic strength; more money, more might. But Russia has struggled to maintain its world-power status after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Its annual GDP is actually smaller than that of Texas, California, or New York. That’s right. If Russia was a state, it would have the fourth largest economy in the country.
Still, Russia can’t be written off. It’s either the second or third most powerful military in the world, depending on who you ask. And the other slot is held by China, another rival of American power. With thousands of tanks and fighters in each country’s arsenal, as well as millions of service members, both countries will remain major threats for decades or longer.
Slosh, plop, slosh, plop. The noise my boots made with every step seemed deafening. 20 or so Iraqi Special Forces soldiers and I were doing our best to be sneaky on our way to the target building, but it was the wet season, so Iraq’s infamous moon dust had already made the transition to sticky tar-like mud.
Slosh, plop, slosh, plop. Our boots, caked in mud at this point, were getting worse with every step. We might as well have been a middle school orchestra doing sound checks.
Before we got too close to our target house, I needed to remind the commander of the platoon I was advising about a key point we neglected on our last mission. “Remember, get one ladder up and clear the courtyard before the other ladder goes up and everyone starts jumping over the wall,” I whispered in my best broken Iraqi Arabic. I had to simultaneously motion with my hands to mimic a wall, a house, and a ladder. I wasn’t sure what was more confusing, my Arabic or the goofy hand gestures.
Luckily, the commander was used to whatever an American trying to speak in his native tongue sounded like, so he nodded in the affirmative, which could mean “yup, got it” or “whatever, dude.” I guess we’ll see in a few minutes, I thought to myself. Fortunately, it only took seconds.
“Fuck’n Yalla!” he said with a huge grin, blasting me with his ashtray breath. Guess we’re good then.
Our not-so-sneaky infil became a comically loud trot of mud-caked boots as we closed in on the target house. The Iraqi Special Forces soldiers stacked up on the wall outside the house, and the commander was directing traffic. The first ladder went up and a soldier climbed up and deliberately swept the courtyard with his rifle before stopping at the door into the house.
With security posted, another ladder was placed against the wall. The other soldiers began silently scaling the wall, entering the courtyard, and stacking on the house in preparation for breaching the door.
The third Iraqi in the stack emerged with a mini batting ram, cocked it back, and slammed it into the door. A sharp metallic clash rang out as the door flew inward and the soldiers flowed into the house.
Up to this point, the Iraqis had been as silent as possible and relied only on streetlights to see, but now that the front door had been violently breached, the gig was up. They flicked on their “white lights” — the tactical flashlights they attached to their AK47s to illuminate rooms they were clearing — and started shouting commands to each other and whoever was inside as they methodically moved from room to room. Speed, surprise, and violence of action. Check, check, check.
I watched as their lights reached the second floor, and then my radio crackled to life. “Joe, wrap it up. It’s fucking turkey time!”
Shit, that’s right, I thought. It’s hard to track holidays with the constant grind of combat operations and training. I walked into the training compound that the Iraqis had just assaulted and found their commander. “Hey brother, great job on the ladder — big improvement from last time,” I said. “That’s it for tonight, we are on standby for ops this week.”
He nodded, gave me a fist bump, and motioned for his soldiers to exit the house.
They didn’t need to be convinced. They slung their weapons, lit cigarettes, and joked and exchanged slaps on the back just like soldiers have since man first formed armies. The life-or-death business of war is too important to take too seriously.
I wished them “Tisballahhair,” or “good evening,” as I began my muddy slog back to the team house. The cool breeze coming off the Tigris River filtered through the rain-soaked palm trees, bringing with it a pleasant jasmine scent. During my first winter in Iraq, I was amazed that the smell of the city in the late fall and winter was so refreshing. But off in the distance, I could still hear the occasional bursts of gunfire and explosions mixed with the echoes of a call to prayer and horn blasts. Such was life in Iraq in 2004.
The life-or-death business of war is too important to take too seriously.
Even though I was far from home on Thanksgiving, I was living my childhood dream. I was a 24-year-old U.S. Army Green Beret on my second combat deployment living in the middle of Baghdad with my Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) training the Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF) and advising them on actual combat operations — which included everything from tracking down bad guys to conducting raids to kill or capture them.
And there was no shortage of work to go around. We were located in northern Baghdad on the western bank of the Tigris, caught between the Shia enclave of Kadhimiya and the Sunni stronghold of Adimiyah. That put us right in the middle of the action, which is exactly where a modern Green Beret wants to be.
Our Saddam Hussein-era military barracks were within a combat outpost secured by a company of the U.S. Army’s 2nd Cavalry Division. Before the invasion, our home away from home was one of Hussein’s most feared prisons, run by his dreaded secret police. When we moved in, several of the Iraqis had horrific stories about being tortured there, and some even refused to work there. The Iraqi commander eventually brought in a local religious leader to bless the barracks and ensure no evil spirit lingered in the erie corridors of our compound.
As was the case everywhere that early in the war, our living conditions were spartan, but we made the best of it. Our team house was a simple one-story concrete building fortified with sand bags over the windows and on the roof. We had a makeshift porch with a large grill that was glowing with charcoal and wafting smoke tinged with the sweet smell of bacon. Take that, jihad, I thought as I kicked my boots against the wall of the house in an effort to knock the mud off.
I opened the door and rounded the corner into our living room and kitchen area, where the smell of turkey and stuffing overpowered the scents of Copenhagen, gun oil, and coffee that normally permeated the house.
“What’s up, man? How’d the house go?” asked Matt, our Special Forces medic. Like most SF medics, Matt had a reassuring calm and sharp intellect that made him an asset on any mission. But what made him unique was that he could have been a stand-up comedian if he ever decided to hang up his green beret. At least once a day he had me laughing so hard it hurt — most recently performing a hilarious parody of Al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi’s manifesto.
“It went well — hopefully we fixed our wall issue,” I replied.
“Inshallah habibi — grab a plate of chow!” Matt said, gesturing to our kitchen table, where Thanksgiving dinner was waiting. I happily obliged.
“Joe, your jundis are having ladder issues? That’s weird” The sarcastic comment came from Stu, our team’s intelligence sergeant.
I knew that was coming. Stu had been on the team for several years and was part of 5th Group’s legendary initial push into Afghanistan in 2001. He was built like a linebacker and always plotting a prank. ODAs are tight, which means you never live down your screw ups; all you can do is smile and hope your skin gets thick — fast. A few of the other guys laughed. So did I. Here we go…
“Wait, what happened?” asked Jeremy, our communications sergeant. Jeremy had been on the team for years but missed our last trip due to a broken neck he sustained during training. He was a good ol’ boy from Missouri and sounded like Boomhauer from “King of the Hill,” so naturally the Army gave him the job that required him to talk on the radio.
“Oh shit, that’s right, we have to tell you this one!” Matt replied. Well, at least Matt would make the story funny, I thought as I scooped some cranberry sauce onto my turkey.
“Dude, so no shit there we were,” Matt said, opening with the proper war story preamble, “assaulting a huge-ass compound out west — some deck-of-cards clown’s house, which was awesome. The mission had everything: helo infil with fast ropes to the roof, a wall breech, the door gunners even lit up a guard tower. Pretty awesome op.” Matt was now standing to make more room to add animation with his hands.
“It was going great until we were trying to get over this big-ass wall with these shitty ladders, and Joe, loaded with way too much bullshit, breaks a rung on the ladder, gets mad, throws the ladder to the side and tries to ninja climb over the 8-foot wall. He gets caught by his kit on the wall, so I get under him and push his ass over the wall like combat Winnie the Pooh!” Matt explained, reenacting my finest hour.
“Well, that’s a technique,” Jermey said with his normal deadpan wit. Everyone got a good laugh. All I could do was finish fixing my plate and find a place to sit. Gary, our engineer, was my best bet.
Gary was a wiry backwoods Southerner, and we went to Special Forces Selection and the Special Forces Qualification Course together. He had just earned a valor award for his calm under enemy fire during a raid in Samara, but you wouldn’t peg him as a Green Beret — or the guy who would remain calm while getting shot at for that matter.
“We eating or waiting for Mom and Dad?” Gary asked as he spit Copenhagen into one of the ever-present dip bottles that lined our house floor. “Mom and Dad” were Mike, our senior noncommissioned officer, or more simply known as the team sergeant; and Trevor, our team leader and only commissioned officer. Neither was Mom or Dad specifically, but together they were a couple.
“Hey, come eat!” Stu yelled into the office that adjoined our living room where Mike and Trevor would send reports back to our headquarters. These were definitely the good old days of limited connectivity and little to no micromanagement from higher headquarters. Sure, we still checked in over the radio with them daily, but it was mostly asking for forgiveness and not permission. Unfortunately, that dynamic has been replaced by nearly nonstop emails, messenger chatting, and teleconferences from every nook and cranny of today’s battlefield.
Our leadership duo emerged from the back office, Mike in the lead. He grew up in the infantry and had seen combat in the first Gulf War, Kosovo, the initial push into Afghanistan, and was on his second Iraq deployment. He was the most experienced guy on the team, an aggressive leader, and gave us a ton of space to succeed.
Trevor was Mike’s commissioned counterpart, a humble officer who had every reason not to be: he was a West Point graduate who knocked out all of the Army’s hardest training by the time he was a captain. He also had the ability to understand every detail of what we were doing and how it tied into the big picture.
“Happy Thanksgiving three-five … again,” Mike said as he piled turkey onto his plate and sat down at our gaudy wood and fake-gold kitchen table. Trevor grabbed a plate last and sat next to Mike, our team now almost complete.
“Intel update!” Josh said as he entered the room and took a seat with his plate of turkey, stuffing, and jelly-looking cranberry sauce. Josh had also been in SF for several years and was now running the Iraqi recon element that collected intel for our Iraqi Special Forces companies to action.
It was normal for meals to be interrupted by intel updates, and Thanksgiving was no exception, so all eyes were on Josh. It had been a hell of a trip so far, with summer fighting in Najaf against Sadr’s boys, chasing Zarqawi and his hostages on every backstreet of Baghdad, another away game in Samara, followed by Operation Phantom Fury in Fallujah. The more information we could get, the better — you never knew when the next shithead would pop up for a round of whack-a-mole.
But today would not be one of those days.
“No ops tonight — beer light’s on, nerds,” Josh said, as he pulled a green 22-ounce Tuborg “tall boy” out of his cargo pocket. “Right, Mike?” he asked, with a smart-ass grin, deferring to our senior NCO for the official approval.
“I did say, happy Thanksgiving …” Mike said, motioning for Josh to pass him a beer.
Josh was more than happy to oblige. He cracked open our refrigerator and passed around a combination of Tuborg, Hienekens, and Efes tall boys, graciously provided by our Iraqi Christian friends. They didn’t mess around when it came to beer. “It’s like they know no one in Iraq wants just a pint of beer,” Josh said. “The tall boy is their standard.”
But just like any other Thanksgiving, you always seemed to be waiting on the weird uncle to show up.
“Where is Seaux?” Mike asked suspiciously. Seaux, named after the famous Johnny Cash song, may be the origin of the phrase “stranger than fiction.” If he’s not, he definitely lived up to it. Seaux had fought in Grenada with the 82nd Airborne, then joined the French Foreigin Legion, but eventually found his way back into the U.S. Army and had served in every war the U.S. had been in from Mogadishu to Iraq. It probably comes as no surprise that Seaux loved going native and spent most of his time with a few Iraqis doing recon work.
“I’m coming — don’t you flatlanders know I eat dinner at 4PM sharp?” Seaux grumbled from his room. “No respect for seniors.”
When Seaux hung out with us, he did so either dressed as a viking or as a native American, complete with a bow and arrow he used to shoot flaming arrows across the Tigris. Like I said, stranger than fiction.
Before long, he emerged from his room and caught the beer that Josh tossed to him.
But just like any other Thanksgiving, you always seemed to be waiting on the weird uncle to show up.
“Cheers, fuckers!” Stu said, as he made a toasting motion. The rest of the team unceremoniously made the motion in return, cracked their beers, took a sip, and dug into their dinner. We may not have been home for Thanksgiving, but in our line of work, sitting down as a team — a family — for turkey that day seemed more like home in some ways than what we would have had back in the States.
“We’re lucky this year,” Trevor said with a grin. “The B Team busted their asses to get every ODA a turkey. Worked out well for everyone but Two-Three …” ODA 523 was just across the river from us, and we often supported each other on missions and shared intel a few times a week.
“Do tell, sir,” Jeremy said.
“Well, they drove one of their Mercedes to pick up their turkey in the Green Zone, and when they were coming back in to their base, I guess the kid on guard didn’t know it was them and lit up their car with his machine gun!” Trevor explained.
Everyone paused; there’s nothing friendly about friendly fire.
For the first couple of years of the war in Iraq, Special Forces ODAs in major Iraqi cities acquired local cars to drive around town so that they could conduct reconnaissance and low-profile assaults. That technique was a double-edged sword though. It worked great in that we could avoid contact with the enemy until we wanted to make it and got a great feel for Iraq at the street level. However, the most dangerous part of these operations was the re-entry to friendly lines. The guys guarding the gate were usually very young soldiers and were used to seeing military vehicles. Suffice it to say, that at two years into the war, all of us had stared down the barrel of U.S. weapons with our hands up screaming “I AM AN AMERICAN!” a few times.
“Somehow, no one got hurt, the kid on the gun lit up the engine block,” Trevor continued. “Marty and Lee bailed out, and the car caught on fire and ruined their turkey!” All of us laughed at the cartoonish mental image of our buddies dodging some private’s hail of machine gun fire and their turkey getting cooked early. Like many things in war, the closest of calls would usually end up as a fun story to laugh about later. And sometimes … they didn’t.
“Yeah, man. Better than last year when we got tossed out of the big Army chow hall because POTUS was coming and we looked like pirates,” Josh said with a laugh. He was referring to our last deployment when a high-strung mess officer rudely told us we couldn’t eat Thanksgiving dinner unless we were in uniform. We wanted to eat, but not that bad.
What we didn’t know at the time was that President George W. Bush was coming to eat with the troops at the chow hall we were trying to get into. In hindsight, it made sense why hooligans like us were turned away. There are plenty of perks that come with wearing the green beret, but sometimes it can work against you.
Looking around our makeshift living and dining room, I felt very grateful to be sitting there with my brothers. This was our second Thanksgiving together in combat; we didn’t know it at the time, but we’d be doing the same drill the next year on the Syrian border.
The mood would be far more somber for that dinner. Our luck would run out by then, and we would have lost two teammates by the time we sat down for turkey again. Sergeant First Class Brett E. Walden and Army Sergeant First Class Robert V. Derenda paid the ultimate sacrifice, and their families are in my thoughts this Thanksgiving.
In retrospect, I guess we were all just getting warmed up. Most of us cracking beers in our Baghdad team house in 2004 would spend more Thanksgivings with teammates in combat zones over the next 14 years than with our actual families. Holidays spent in makeshift living spaces, living feet away from each other and always in-between intense combat operations, would become normal for all of us — and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Even then, I knew the bonds I forged with those men in that room would last for the rest of my life. After our third combat deployment, most of us had to move on to other assignments. All of us stayed in the fight and made efforts to stay in touch though. Josh and I forged a tight bond in Baghdad that remained long afterward. In fact, when I married my warrior soulmate, Shannon — a special operator herself — she insisted that Josh and his son be at every Thanksgiving and Christmas we shared as a family.
But what I didn’t know was how all of them would be there for me 14 years later, during the darkest hour on the worst day of my life … the day I found out my wife, Senior Chief Petty Officer Shannon Kent, was killed in action while hunting ISIS in Syria alongside three other courageous Americans: Scotty Wirtz, a former U.S. Navy SEAL; Ghadir Thahir, a Syrian-American linguist; and Jon Farmer, a Green Beret Warrant Officer, from the 5th Special Forces Group — my old group. I had not seen most of my brothers from Three-Five in more than 10 years, but it didn’t matter. They were there for me, they cried with me, and they are still there for me and my sons to this day.
Unlike that Thanksgiving next to the Tigris in 2004, cracking jokes and telling stories over a modest turkey dinner, this Thanksgiving is going to suck. I can’t believe it has been almost a year since I last saw my wife in person. But what I am beyond thankful for is my sons, the short time I had with Shannon, and the love of my teammates. The bonds formed in the horrors of combat are lasting and unbreakable.
Take the time this Thanksgiving to reach out to your brothers and sisters in arms — talk about the good times and work through the bad. Be there for each other because you never know when you’ll need them the most.
The U.S. Coast Guard is watching how the Pentagon handles its Future Vertical Lift helicopter program over the next decade as its own MH-65 Dolphin fleet’s flight hours continue to climb, the commandant of the service said Oct. 26, 2018.
“We’re watching the Department of Defense very carefully with Future Vertical Lift,” Adm. Karl Schultz, the Coast Guard’s 26th commandant, said during the annual Military Reporters & Editors conference outside Washington, D.C.
He explained that the MH-65, the Coast Guard’s primary aircraft used aboard cutters during deployments, will pass 30,000 flight hours. The service has 98 in its inventory.
“We’re in our ‘Echo’ upgrade — that’s our next iteration [life extension],” Schultz said. “We have to keep those things in air for a while, probably into 2030.”
Part of the Department of Homeland Security, which is facing years-long budget constraints, the Coast Guard will also push to keep its MH-60 Jayhawk fleet, similar to the Navy‘s Sea Hawks and Army‘s Black Hawks, flying past its intended service life.
A rescue swimmer deploys from an MH-60 Jayhawk Helicopter.
(U.S. Coast Guard Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Brian McCrum)
“We’re probably going to push those out to about 30,000 hours,” Schultz said.
Explaining that manufacturing has ended for the Dolphin, he said, “We need to press in that gap here in the 2018-to-early-2030 timeframe.”
MH-60s passed down from the Navy will help bridge the gap, but Future Vertical Lift also show promise, Schultz said.
Future Vertical Lift is a Pentagon program to field a new family of helicopters such as the Future Long Range Assault Aircraft to replace the UH-60 Black Hawk, as well as the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA), by 2028. While the Army has invested the most time in the program, other services have also indicated interest in FVL platforms.
Schultz said today’s Coast Guard fleet is comprised of rotary- and fixed-wing aircraft, noting that new C-130s have helped prolong its transport fleet.
Like the Air Force, the Coast Guard maintains a mix of older C-130Hs, but it’s moving to an all J-model fleet. The fiscal 2018 budget gave the service permission to purchase its 15th J-model.
Schultz said the Coast Guard needs 22 newer C-130s overall. “We’re optimistic there might be a 16th in the [fiscal 2019] budget,” he said.
The service also inherited 14 C-27J Spartan aircraft from the Air Force in 2014.
“We do sit in that discretionary, non-defense part of the budget, so we’re competing with a lot of national priorities,” Schultz said. “[But] I can build a very strong case for a bigger Coast Guard.”
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
When you think of a meteor, your mind likely points to the object that wiped out the dinosaurs some 65 million years ago. Well, if we’re being technical, that was actually a meteorite, but the details aren’t important. The fact is, that giant, extinction-bringing boulder came from seemingly nowhere and took out the dinosaurs — who had no idea what hit them.
The British have developed a new, beyond-visual-range, radar-guided, air-to-air missile, appropriately named Meteor. It, too, is a bolt that comes from out of the blue to wipe something out of existence. It may be much smaller than the meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs, but for the aircraft it targets, well, it’s just as final.
The Meteor is actually the latest in a long line of British missiles designed for air-to-air combat.
The United Kingdom developed an improved Sparrow called Sky Flash.
Believe it or not, Britain’s use of the American-made AIM-9 Sidewinder in the Falklands was a rare event. The Brits had actually developed a number of air-to-air missiles on their own. For example, the Red Top and Firestreak missiles were used on fighters, like the de Havilland Sea Vixen and the English Electric Lightning. The British also made an improved version of the AIM-7 Sparrow, called the Sky Flash.
The British also developed the AIM-132 Advanced Short-Range Air-to-Air Missile (ASRAAM), which the United States had planned on buying until the end of the Cold War. The British acquired the AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) from the United States, but soon realized that they needed more range. So, they added a ramjet engine to the AMRAAM and the Meteor was born.
The Meteor and Spear combine to give the F-35 long-range punch with an itty-bitty radar cross section.
The new Meteor makes for a perfect complement to the MBDA Spear, allowing British F-35s to hit targets dozens of miles away while maintaining a very small radar cross section. An official handout showed that F-35s can carry eight Spear missiles, two Meteors, and two ASRAAMs.
The Meteor has entered service with the Swedish Air Force, and will also operate on the Rafale and the Eurofigther Typhoon. Japan is reportedly teaming up with the UK for to create a new version of this system.
And so the British tradition of developing lethal missiles continues!
Laser-Guided Bomb Units, commonly referred to as LGB’s, were dropped from the bomb bay of a B-52 Stratofortress for the first time in nearly a decade during an operational test performed by the 49th Test and Evaluation Squadron Aug. 28, 2019.
The munitions used to be dropped from the bomb bay of the jet using a cluster bomb rack system, but the method raised safety concerns and the practice was eliminated.
“We’ve still been able to utilize LGB’s underneath the wings of the B-52, but they don’t do very well when carried externally because they are susceptible to icing and other weather conditions,” said Lt. Col. Joseph Little, 49th TES commander.
According to Little, the seeker head of the LGB can be adversely affected by the elements, potentially reducing its effectiveness.
US Air Force Senior Airman Endina Tinoco wires a GBU-12 laser guided bomb after it was loaded onto a Conventional Rotary Launcher in the bomb bay of a B-52 Stratofortress at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, Aug. 20, 2019.
(US Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Gregory Steele)
The advent of the Conventional Rotary Launcher, a bomb bay weapons platform made available to the B-52 fleet in 2017, provides an alternative to the cluster bomb rack system and may once again allow LGB’s to be dropped from inside the jet.
Doing so would keep the weapons protected from the elements, reducing the effects of weather. It also has the potential to increase the jet’s lethality.
“It’s another arrow in the quiver, it gives us the ability to carry more LGB’s on the aircraft or give more variation on a conventional load,” said Little. “It adds capability and is another thing you can bring to the fight.”
Little explained the CRL was not originally designed for gravity-type bombs like the LGB, but recent software upgrades to the system now allow for such munitions.
Getting to the point of operational testing required a team effort between the 49th TES and Reserve Citizen Airmen of the 307th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. The 307th AMXS took the lead in configuring the CRL to accept the LGB’s.
US Air Force Staff Sgt. Skyler McCloyn and Staff Sgt. Nathan Ehardt load a GBU-12 laser-guided bomb onto a Conventional Rotary Launcher in the bomb bay of a B-52 Stratofortress at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, Aug. 20, 2019.
(US Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Gregory Steele)
SSgt. Skyler McCloyn, 307th AMXS aircraft armament systems mechanic, served as the loading team chief for the event.
“It was very cool mission,” said McCloyn. “It is exciting to know you are a part of something that could have a long-term impact.”
The experience of the Reserve Citizen Airmen contributed greatly to the success of the effort, according to McCloyn.
“When you are doing something for the first time there will always, be kinks,” said McCloyn. ” But the expertise we have from working with so many type of munitions allowed us to adjust and work through those issues without much trouble .”
Little appreciated having the breadth and depth of experience offered by the unit.
“The 307th AMXS is on the leading edge of weapons loading and giving the rest of the B-52 maintenance community the data they need for unique scenarios like this,” he said.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
“You can’t spell ‘lost’ without ‘Lt'” is such an old joke in the military that Lieutenant George Washington probably had to halfheartedly chuckle at it to get his salty platoon sergeant off his ass. Yet, no matter how many times it’s repeated, we have to admit, it’s still kind of funny.
It stems from the idea that all lieutenants are inept at land navigation and, when the platoon goes off rucking in the woods, the platoon leader is going to get everyone lost — so they should follow the platoon sergeant instead. It doesn’t matter if the lieutenant actually knows their way around a land nav course, the stigma is still there.
Like all sweeping generalizations, it’s not entirely true. Maybe the lieutenant was prior enlisted and has retained that particular skill. Maybe they were in the Scouts as a teen and picked up a few things. Kudos to you, resourceful lieutenant! Prove that stereotype wrong for the betterment of your peers.
But as it stands, there are a few systemic reasons why lieutenants get lost, perpetuating the joke.
Knowing what the book says about crossing tricky terrain is much different than the NCO approach finding a way across.
(U.S. Army photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret)
The difference between lieutenants and sergeants is basically the same as the difference between intelligence and wisdom. Now, we’re not saying that sergeants aren’t smart or that lieutenants aren’t wise, but they’re groomed with different emphases.
Lieutenants are trained to value institutional knowledge. Ask any officer a question and they’ll recite the book answer, verbatim — intelligence. Sergeants, on the other hand, are born from street smarts. They probably couldn’t tell you the exact, obscure regulation about God-knows-what, but they can tell you if it’s right or not based on context clues — wisdom.
They make a fine team together. It’s what keeps the military functioning. It’s that special balance of yin and yang in the unit. But land navigation is almost entirely based on wisdom, not intelligence. It’s a skill you learn over time and develop a gut feeling about.
The secret to land nav is to not think about it too hard.
(U.S. Army photo by Armando R. Limon)
Knowing the book answer (and only the book answer) to land navigation is where lieutenants shoot themselves in the foot. As odd as it sounds to enlisted, officers do conduct land nav training while at the academy, OCS, or ROTC. They probably tell you what the book says about putting a compass to your cheek to shoot a proper azimuth, they probably tell you about each topographical feature on a map, but that doesn’t always translate to the real world.
In practice, memorizing what the book says about land nav actually hurts you. Leading a platoon through the field requires you to juggle a few things — where you’re coming from, where you’re going, the direction in which to travel, and about how far between those points you should be at a given time.
All of the jokes can easily be avoided if the lieutenant keeps their pride in check and trusts in their NCOs.
(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. William Jones)
An NCO could look at the map and say, “I’m currently in this valley and I need to be at the second hill to the west. Seems to be about a quarter of a kilometer away. Compass says west is that way… Cool” and be on their way.
Officers would likely over-analyze the situation. They’ll stare at the compass until it reads precisely the right direction according to their starting point (and not readjust it as they move). They’ll measure the distance they’ve traveled based on step count, knowing that each stride is roughly one meter (and not account for terrain). They’ll follow what the book says to perfection — and it’ll put them way off course.
Land nav is not something you can learn in a book. Every location is different. Sure, mastering land nav requires a good dosage of the book stuff — but you also need to know when to toss it to the side in favor of following your wise, experienced gut.
In defusing tensions between the United States and North Korea in 2018, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un returned the remains of 55 allied troops, kept by the North for the previous 65 years or more. Almost 7,700 members of the United States Military remain unidentified from the Korean War, which killed more than 36,000.
North Korea returned the remains in July 2018 after a historic summit with President Donald Trump in Singapore. It was a first for a sitting President to meet the reclusive leader of North Korea and a first for the North Korean dictator to meet with a non-Chinese foreign leader outside of the Hermit Kingdom.
Transfer cases, containing the remains of what are believed to be U.S. service members lost in the Korean War, line a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III aircraft during an honorable carry ceremony at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Apryl Hall)
Unidentified remains were transferred from the United Nations Command in South Korea to the U.S. Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, the team that manages the repatriation of American war dead, identifies them, and ensures they are returned to their families for a proper burial. They were received in an “honorable carry” ceremony in Hawaii.
The only personal item returned by North Korea that could identify any of the remains was the dog tag of Army medic Master Sgt. Charles H. McDaniel. It was the first of such returns since President George W. Bush halted the cooperation with North Korea in 2005.
An honor guard detail of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command personnel conducts an honorable carry ceremony at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, Aug. 1, 2018.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Apryl Hall)
DPAA’s mission is to search for, find, and account for missing Defense Department personnel from World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, the Gulf War, and other recent conflicts. More than 82,000 Americans remain missing from those conflicts, with 34,000 believed to be recoverable.
The recently recovered remains have been mostly identified. The lab responsible is still finalizing the process and doing one last quality check before telling the families of the fallen. Master Sgt. McDaniel’s family has already received his dog tags, along with the hope that their long-lost father is among the honored dead on their way home. Only three others have been positively identified thus far.
Trump and Kim are expected to meet again in Hanoi, Vietnam in 2019.