On June 5th, seven veterans of the Battle of Midway joined about 1,000 people aboard a retired US Navy aircraft carrier to mark the 75th anniversary of the turning point in World War II’s Pacific Ocean theater.
Two F/A-18 Hornet fighter planes, blocked by clouds, thundered above the USS Midway, a Navy carrier that was commissioned in 1945 to commemorate the battle. The carrier was decommissioned in 1992 and has been in a military museum in downtown San Diego since 2004.
Well-wishers lined up to shake hands with 102-year-old Andy Mills and other wheelchair-bound Midway veterans after a 90-minute ceremony that recounted how the landmark battle unfolded. One Midway veteran came from hospice care.
The 1942 battle occurred six months after the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor after Navy code breakers broke complex Japanese code to reveal a plan to ambush US forces. The Japanese planned to occupy Midway, a strategic U.S.-held atoll 1,300 miles northwest of Pearl Harbor, and destroy what was left of the Pacific fleet.
When Japanese planes began bombing Midway, American torpedo planes and bombers counter-attacked in waves, bombing and sinking four Japanese carriers on June 4. The fighting continued for another three days before the United States proved to be victorious.
Adm. John Richardson, chief of U.S. naval operations, told the audience that a string of “effective but decisive” actions led to a victory with razor-thin room for error.
“In hindsight, when you review the Battle of Midway, you can see like a series of strokes of amazing luck. And when you put those strokes together, it’s like a miracle occurred at Midway. It trends towards the miraculous,” he said.
Anthony J. Principi, who served as secretary of veterans affairs from 2001 to 2005, wrote in the Military Times that that Navy commanders made “coordinated, split-second, life-and-death decisions.”
“We won because luck was on our side, because the Japanese made mistakes and because our officers and men acted with great courage amidst the chaos of battle,” he wrote.
The Midway, which has more than 1 million visitors a year, has hosted college basketball games, parties during the Comic-Con pop culture extravaganza, and TV tapings for shows like ABC’s “The Bachelor.”
In the early evening of April 24, 1943, Coast Guardsmen braved leaping flames and saved New York City from what could have been the largest man-made explosion in history to that point, a blast that would’ve wiped out sections of the harbor and, potentially, large swaths of the larger city and parts of New Jersey. Instead, just one ship was lost and zero lives.
Painting of the El Estero fire by Austin Dwyer.
(Austin Dwyer via U.S. Coast Guard)
While all the other branches rib the Coast Guard for being a band of puddle pirates, it’s important when really looking at its history to remember that, first, they actually have conducted a ton of deepwater missions. And, more importantly for this discussion, the shallow waters of the world are home to vital and dangerous missions that the Coast Guard does well.
The Coast Guard often takes on a large role during conflicts to help to ensure that war materiel is safely moved from industrial powerhouses in the U.S. to theaters of war overseas. During World War II, this included loading many of the Liberty Ships and other vessels that plied the Atlantic and Pacific.
But logistic expediencies created real hazards. It made sense in terms of speed and efficiency to move all the munitions, vehicles, and other vital supplies to a handful of ports and load it on ships from there. But doing so meant that strings of railroad cars and ships filled with explosive materials would be stored right next to each other.
Investigations would later reveal that the boiler had likely been leaking fuel oil into bilge water in the compartment below it, and a boiler flashback ignited the pooled fuel and started a fire. But once the fire was going, it would be able to boil oil to give itself more fuel and heat up the ammo until it started to explode.
The engine room crew immediately started fighting the flames with handheld extinguishers, but it wasn’t enough, so officers went to the Coast Guard barracks for volunteers. Could someone, anyone, please climb onto the burning ship, descend into its belly, and fight flames in the hopes of it not blowing up?
A graphic tried to tackle the level of damage if the ship had exploded. This high traffic area would have made an explosion of the El Estero especially catastrophic.
(New York Daily News illustration via U.S. Coast Guard)
But the Coast Guardsmen knew what was at stake. The loading docks were always filled with ammo and fuel and, on April 24, there were two other nearly full ships nearby, there were railroad cars loaded with ammunition waiting to unload, and there was a fuel farm that served the departing ships. A detonation on the El Estero would likely trigger a chain reaction.
Another World War I explosion, this one on a ship with 5,000 tons of TNT in Halifax Harbor in Canada, had killed 1,500 people leveling a large section of Halifax, Canada, in 1917. The combined loads of the El Estero and nearby ships and trains, somewhere around 5,000 total tons of explosives, dwarfed the size of the Halifax explosion. And an El Estero explosion would’ve been on the doorstep of New York City and could’ve flattened everything for five miles around.
Coast Guardsmen on a fireboat. Small vessels like these assisted in controlling the El Estero fire.
(U.S. Coast Guard)
And so 60 Coast Guardsmen, most of them in dress uniforms while awaiting their Easter Day liberty passes, rushed to the ship. New York firefighters arrived soon after with a firefighting ship, and they began passing hoses into the holds of the El Estero, but it was Coast Guardsmen who descended into the smoke and fire.
Survivors would describe a heat that overwhelmed them. The hot deck plates warmed and then burned their feet, paint peeled off the walls, and the heat continued to build. The Coast Guard officer in charge was Lt.j.g. Francis McCausland. It was his first day of work at the station.
But he was able to get tugboats to move the other ammo ships away and ordered Army soldiers to shift as many of the train cars out of range as they could move. By the time that additional fire trucks and Coast Guard fireboats arrived at 5:35, the fiercely burning El Estero was largely isolated, but still surrounded by the city, fuel stores, and warehouses of ammo.
The Coast Guard seemed to get the upper hand on the ship for a few minutes as the oily black smoke gave way to yellow and white streaks of flames, a signal that streams of water were hitting the major source of the fire. But the oily smoke returned, and the heat continued to rise.
About 40 volunteers were ordered off the ship, and a crew of 20 stayed onboard to try and keep the fire contained as long as possible while the ship was towed to a safe detonation point. Those 20 passed their personal effects to the men ordered off, some of whom wanted to stay and keep working. These included an engaged man who had to personally be ordered off the decks.
The further the ship was out of the harbor, the more lives would be saved in New York City and in the surrounding harbor from the pending explosion. Coast Guardsmen shoved anti-aircraft shells from the decks into the water and kept directing the water from the tugs onto the hot ammo as they traveled.
(The ship was designed so that it could only be scuttled from one spot that was directly underneath the burning boilers, so the Coast Guardsmen could only sink it by flooding it.)
Once the hull of the ship was under the waves, the threat of a full ammo explosion was largely dissipated. Firefighters kept water pouring onto the still burning superstructure for hours until, finally, the threat was gone. No one had died in a crisis that was later found to have threatened as many as one million residents with death, injury, or extreme property damage.
All the Coast Guardsmen involved were given special medals for their efforts, and the U.S. government overhauled ammo-handling procedures to move dangerous operations away from population centers. This would save lives in June 1944, when an ammo ship with 4,600 tons of ammunition exploded northeast of San Francisco, killing 300 sailors on the ship and nearby, but leaving the city untouched.
Okay, you’ve heard all the complaints about the F-35. It’s super-expensive. It’s got problems getting ready for combat. But in the real world, there’s no other option. And as WATM has already explained, the Marine Corps desperately needs to replace its F/A-18 Hornets.
But suppose, instead of blowing their RD money on the F-35, the Air Force, Navy, and Marines had decided to pull out File A56-7W and instead replicate Airwolf? They’d have gotten a much better deal – and it might even have helped the Army, too.
Airwolf’s specs (click here for another source) reveal this helicopter already took advantage of some stealth technology, had modern ECM systems and sensors, and very heavy armament (four 30mm cannon, two 40mm cannon, and various air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles). All in all, it’s very powerful, even if it was the brainchild of one of the big TV showrunners of the 1980s and 1990s.
So, why does it beat the F-35? Here are some of the reasons.
1. It can operate off any ship
With a top speed of over Mach 2, Airwolf may have the performance of a fighter jet, but it takes off and lands like a helicopter – without the need for the complex mechanisms used on the V-22 Osprey.
Think of it this way; with Airwolf in its hanger deck every surface combatant and amphibious ship could carry what amounts to a Generation 4.5 fighter. Even the Littoral Combat Ships could handle Airwolf, giving them a lot more punch in a fight than they currently have.
2. It would replace more airframes than the F-35 would
The F-35 is replacing the AV-8B Harrier, F/A-18 Hornet, F-16 Fighting Falcon, and A-10 Thunderbolt II in U.S. service. Airwolf not only would replace all four of those airframes, but it would also replace all of the AH-1 and AH-64 helicopters in Marine Corps and Army service. The promise of the TFX program as originally envisioned in the 1960s could be fulfilled at last!
3. Better performance
According to an Air Force fact sheet, the F-35 has a top speed of Mach 1.6, a ceiling of 50,000 feet, and a range of 1,350 miles without refueling. Airwolf hits a top speed of Mach 2, a ceiling of 100,000 feet, and a range of 1,450 miles.
In other words, Airwolf would have the F-35 beat in some crucial areas. Now, the F-35 might have an advantage in terms of payload (fixed-wing planes usually have that edge), but the fact remains, Airwolf would have been a very viable candidate for that competition – and might have had the edge, given that the Army would have bought airframes to replace the Apache.
Oh, and here’s the Season 1 opener, just for kicks:
Assuming you haven’t been living under a rock for the past year or so, you probably know that a handful of female officers made history by graduating the US Army’s prestigious Ranger School and that one female Soldier tried (and failed) to join the Ranger Regiment.
You may have also noticed that there are, all of a sudden, a lot of “internet experts” on Rangers, or anything to do with Rangers. If you actually do know a thing or two about Rangers, then you know all these so-called experts are creating mass confusion and hysteria on the interwebz. So, in an effort to set the record straight, I thought I would lay out the pertinent information that anyone needs to know about this topic.
Ranger Training and Assessment Course (RTAC) – The RTAC course is a 16-day preparatory course for Ranger School. It is run by the Army National Guard Warrior Training Center, and primarily used by National Guard students, but open to students of any unit. It is located on Fort Benning, Georgia and is divided in to two phases: RAP phase and Patrolling phase. All National Guard soldiers who want to attend Ranger School must pass this course first. It should be noticed that many Army installations run a similar course to prepare their soldiers for Ranger School in a similar way.
US Army Ranger Course (Ranger School) – Ranger School is 62 days long with a 42% graduation rate, and is considered the Army’s toughest leadership course. Ranger School is a mentally and physically challenging course that teaches small unit infantry tactics and develops leadership skills under austere conditions meant to simulate the exhaustion of real combat operations. The course falls under the US Army Training and Doctrine Command, and is run by the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade, which also runs the Army’s Airborne School, Jumpmaster School, and Pathfinder School.
The course incorporates three phases (Benning, Mountain, and Swamp), which follow the crawl, walk, run training methodology. After completion of these three phases, Ranger School graduates are considered proficient in leading squad and platoon dismounted operations in a variety of climates and terrain. Upon graduation, they are awarded and authorized the black and gold “Ranger Tab” on their left shoulder.
After completion of the course, graduates return to their units and are expected to take leadership positions shortly after their return. Soldiers of any military occupational specialty (MOS), and any branch of service, as well as some allied nation service members can attend this course. There are no formal pre-requisite courses for attendance at Ranger School. Ranger School does not require students to be airborne qualified before attending. It should be noted that although soldiers are considered “Ranger Qualified,” graduation of this course does not qualify a service member for service in the 75th Ranger Regiment.
75th Ranger Regiment – The 75th Ranger Regiment is a special operations unit that falls under the US Army Special Operations Command, which falls under the US Special Operations Command – the parent organization of other SOF units such as Navy SEALs, Marine Raiders, and Army Special Forces “Green Berets.” The 75th Ranger Regiment’s mission is to plan and conduct special missions in support of US policy and objectives. They are considered the go-to direct action raid unit, and have killed or captured more high value targets in the War on Terror than any other unit. The Regiment is composed of four Ranger battalions: 1st Ranger Battalion on Hunter Army Airfield, GA, 2nd Ranger Battalion on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, WA, and 3rd Ranger Battalion and Regimental Special Troops Battalion on Fort Benning, GA. They are readily identified by their tan beret’s and red, white, and black “Ranger Scroll.” All soldiers assigned are graduates of either RASP 1 or 2.
Rangers assigned to the 75th Ranger Regiment are expected to go to the US Army Ranger School before taking a leadership position, but are not required to attend before serving in the Regiment. It should be noted that Ranger School and the 75th Ranger Regiment are completely different entities under completely different commands with completely different missions, and one is not needed for the other.
Ranger Assessment and Selection Program 1 (RASP 1) – RASP 1 is an 8-week course ran by the 75th Ranger Regiment and boasts an approximate 33% graduation rate (that number can vary based on time of year as well as other factors). It selects and trains soldiers in the rank of Private through Sergeant for service in the 75th Ranger Regiment. Upon completion of this course, graduates have the basic capabilities to conduct operations as a junior member of a Ranger strike force or command element.
RASP 1 is divided into two phases. Phase 1 is the primary “weeding out” phase, as well as conducts initial standard testing, such as the timed road marches and PT and swim tests. Phase 1 also includes the notoriously brutal “Cole Range” week of training. Phase 2 focuses more on the special operations-peculiar skills needed for service in the Regiment, such as explosive breaching, advanced marksmanship, and advanced first-responder skills. Upon graduation of RASP 1, the new Rangers are awarded the Black, Red, and White “Ranger Scroll” as well as the Khaki (tan) Beret. At this point, they are considered full-fledged Rangers and are assigned to one of the four Ranger Battalions of the 75th Ranger Regiment. It should be noted that Ranger School is not required before attendance at RASP 1, but some students are Ranger School graduates already. Airborne School is a required pre-requisite though, as all soldiers need to be airborne-qualified for service in the 75thRanger Regiment.
Ranger Assesment and Selection Program 2 (RASP 2) –RASP 2 is a 21-day course that is ran by the 75th Ranger Regiment. It is for soldiers in the rank of Staff Sergeant and above, and all officers volunteering for assignment to the 75th Ranger Regiment. This course assesses and selects mid- and senior-grade leaders for assignment to the 75th Ranger Regiment and teaches them the operational techniques and standards needed for their time in the Regiment. Upon successful completion of this course, graduates are awarded the Black, Red, and White “Ranger Scroll” as well as the Khaki (tan) Beret and are assigned to one of the four battalions in the 75th Ranger Regiment. It should be noted that Ranger School is not required before attendances at RASP 2, but most students are already Ranger School graduates.
Small Unit Ranger Tactics (SURT) – SURT, formerly known as “Pre-Ranger Course (PRC),” is a three-week program that is run by the 75th Ranger Regiment, for Rangers already in the Regiment who will be attending the US Army Ranger School. Because the 75th Ranger Regiment and the Ranger School are so different, this course is designed to prepare Rangers for the “School” way of doing things, and ensure they have the best shot at success in Ranger School.
Hopefully this short primer explains all the nuances of anything relating to the Army Rangers, and maybe even answers a few questions that are floating around in response to the pending female graduates of Ranger School. Chief among them, “Why aren’t they going to the Ranger Regiment if they passed Ranger School?” Because Ranger School has nothing to do with the 75th Ranger Regiment and is definitely not the selection course for service in the 75th.
This is a far cry from the current Air Force brass’ ringing endorsement of the “game-changing” aircraft. But with the aircraft costing about $100 million each, and with the highest price tag ever associated with developing a weapons system, perhaps Yeager thinks the money would be better spent on training pilots and maintaining a more traditional Air Force.
So I thought to ask him what he thought about restarting the F-22, the world’s first fifth-generation aircraft. While the F-22 costs are also very high, it functions a bit more like a traditional fighter jet than the multirole F-35, which I thought maybe Yeager would appreciate. So what did he think?
So there you have it. According to perhaps the greatest living military pilot, the entire fifth generation of US Air Force jets are a waste of money.
“Jerry Stiller’s comedy will live forever,” shared Jerry Seinfeld of the late Gerald Isaac “Jerry” Stiller, who was perhaps best known for his Emmy-nominated role of George Costanza on the iconic television sitcom Seinfeld.
Stiller’s son, actor Ben Stiller, tweeted the news of his father’s passing early on Monday May 11, 2020, writing that his father had died of natural causes.
I’m sad to say that my father, Jerry Stiller, passed away from natural causes. He was a great dad and grandfather, and the most dedicated husband to Anne for about 62 years. He will be greatly missed. Love you Dad.pic.twitter.com/KyoNsJIBz5
“He was a great dad and grandfather, and the most dedicated husband to Anne for about 62 years. He will be greatly missed,” the actor wrote.
Stiller was born in Brooklyn on June 8, 1927 to Bella and William Stiller. Long before he would play the quick-tempered father of Festivus Frank Costanza, Stiller served in the Army during World War II.
After the war, Stiller utilized the G.I. Bill to attend Syracuse University, graduating with a degree in speech and drama in 1950. Shortly after, he returned to New York City where, in 1953, he met his future wife, Anne Meara.
“I really knew this was the man I would marry,” Meara told People in 2000. “I knew he would never leave me.”
She was right. The couple tied the knot in 1954. Stiller and Meara would go on to become a successful comedy team starring in everything from television variety programs to radio commercials to the 1986 television sitcom The Stiller and Meara Show. They were married for over 60 years, until her death on May 23, 2015. They had two children together, Ben and actress Amy Stiller.
For his role of Frank Castanza, Stiller was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series in 1997 and garnered an American Comedy Award for Funniest Male Guest Appearance in a TV Series in 1998.
Jerry Stiller on being cast on Seinfeld – TelevisionAcademy.com/Interviews
Stiller nearly turned his Seinfeld role down. In the entertaining video above for the Television Academy, Stiller shared how he won the iconic role — and turned it into one of the most memorable parts in TV history.
Though he had reportedly intended to retire after Seinfeld, Stiller joined the cast of The King of Queens in order to play the cranky father figure Arthur Spooner from 1998 until 2007.
“This was an opportunity for me, for the first time, to test myself as an actor because I never saw myself as more than just a decent actor,” said Stiller of the role.
Stiller’s robust career expanded beyond television, from Broadway to the big screen to a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, which he also shared with his wife, Anne. After his passing, those who knew him took to social media to share fond memories of their time together.
The rest of us will always remember him as a man who could make us laugh. Rest in peace, Soldier.
The truth is that this happened all the time with Jerry Stiller. He was so funny and such a dear human being. We loved him. RIP Jerry Stiller.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L2LdHH0hmHY …
Five years ago, Marine Corps Veteran Frederick Nardei returned to service, but not the military. He became a certified peer support specialist, dedicated to helping fellow Veterans whose futures were as uncertain as his had once been.
Nardei served as a peer specialist for a recent study at the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System, helping Veterans enrolled in U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) manage their mental health and substance misuse challenges. The study was also conducted at the Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital in Bedford, Mass., where it was led by Dr. Marsha Ellison.
Actively and significantly engaged in their own recovery from mental health issues, VA peer specialists serve as success stories for their fellow Veterans. Their experience using mental health services, combined with their VA training and certification, have made them valuable additions to VA’s mental health offerings.
“My own experiences with homelessness, drug abuse and mental illness had prepared my heart to serve in ways that the Veterans could easily relate to… When I share my recovery story, they say that they are inspired and empowered because they can see that I am the evidence that recovery is possible and achievable,” said Nardei.
The study, led by Pittsburgh VA’s Dr. Matthew Chinman, found that formerly homeless Veteranswho worked extensively with peer specialists had greater improvements in their symptoms than those who did not work with a peer specialist. When asked about their work with a peer specialist, both the Veterans and the other HUD-VASHstaff expressed great satisfaction. Veterans reported being less isolated, more integrated into their community, and more involved in recovery activities as a result of their work with a peer specialist.
Who better to help other Veterans on their recovery journey than someone who has been in their shoes?
“The Veterans who struggled with the shame and stigma of being homelesswere able to overcome those barriers… because I was able to share with them my own experience with being homeless for seven months after my wife left, because of my heroin addiction,” said Nardei, one of an estimated 1,100 Veterans serving as VA peer specialists.
Recover, heal, grow
The peer support program inspires and empowers participants to recover, heal and grow. Nardei believes that there is nothing more powerful than seeing someone accomplish the things that once seemed impossible.
He’s the proof he inspires in others.
To become a VA-trained peer specialist, visit the VA Careers webpage for details.
To learn more about peer specialists and their how they improve Veterans’ lives, download the Peer Support Toolkit.
Every July 4th, we celebrate our independence by displaying our patriotic spirit and pride in all things American. Here are some ideas to help you celebrate America and all its glory the right way!
1. Recite the Pledge of Allegiance
Find an American flag and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. (And listen to the words as you say them.)
2. Attend a Naturalization ceremony
One of the most patriotic things you can do is support our nation’s newest citizens by attending a naturalization ceremony. Each year, cities and some overseas military installations host these ceremonies on the 4th of July. Many of these individuals have been waiting years to become citizens and some have even served in the military. According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, more than 7,000 new citizens will be welcomed this year. To see if there is a ceremony in your town, please check out this link: https://www.uscis.gov/news/news-releases/celebrating-independence-day-naturalization-ceremonies-0
3. Head to the ballpark
They don’t call it America’s pastime for nothing. Baseball was born right here in the good ole USA. Have some peanuts and cracker jacks and enjoy the ball game. And don’t forget to stick around for the seventh inning stretch.
4. Watch Nathan’s Famous 4th of July Hot Dog eating contest
Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog eating contest is an American staple held each year on America’s birthday. This year marks the 100th Anniversary of Nathan’s Famous. There is something very American about watching men and women chow down processed meat to earn the title of hot dog eating champion and a shiny championship belt.
5. Grill out and have a cold one
Watching grown men and women scarf down as many hot dogs as possible in 10 minutes can make you hungry. So do what Americans do best and fire up the grill. Cook yourself a massive steak, have a mountain of potato salad, and enjoy a nice cold beverage in the company of friends and family.
6. Eat a slice of Apple pie
After stuffing your face with BBQ food, grab yourself a slice of apple pie. Adding a scoop of vanilla ice cream will only make it taste better.
7. Watch the Fireworks
Fireworks have been a part of Fourth of July festivities since the first anniversary of the nation’s independence. Thousands of public firework displays will be held from coast-to-coast for the public to check out. If you chose to do your own fireworks, please be careful. Safety first!
8. Thank a veteran or current service member
This one is pretty easy and will make our forefathers proud!
Happy 4th of July everyone!
Let us know what other great American things to do on the 4th of July in the comments.
UPDATED: The Pentagon has named Chief Special Warfare Operator Kyle Milliken, 38, of Falmouth, Maine, as the commando killed in a May 5 raid near Mogadishu, Somalia. The raid reportedly targeted a propaganda radio operation run by the terrorist al-Shabaab organization. The release said Milliken was a member of an East Coast-based Navy special warfare unit, and many sources report he was a member of SEAL Team 6.
The U.S. military said May 5 a service member has been killed in during an operation against the extremist group al-Shabab as the United States steps up its fight against the al-Qaida-linked organization.
A statement from the U.S. Africa Command said the service member was killed Thursday during the operation near Barii, about 40 miles west of the capital, Mogadishu.
The statement said U.S. forces were conducting an advise-and-assist mission with military.
A CNN report said the service member was part of a special operations task force deployed to the African nation, adding two more U.S. troops were wounded by small arms fire.
“Senior Chief Kyle Milliken embodied the warrior spirit and toughness infused in our very best SEALs,” said Rear Adm. Timothy Szymanski, commander of the Special Warfare Command. “We grieve his death, but we celebrate his life and many accomplishments. He is irreplaceable as a husband, father, son, friend and teammate – and our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and teammates.”
Both the United States and in recent weeks have declared new efforts against the extremist group. President Donald Trump has approved expanded military operations against al-Shabab, including more aggressive airstrikes and considering parts of southern areas of active hostilities.
A Somali intelligence official confirmed the U.S. military operation, saying U.S. forces in helicopters raided an al-Shabab hideout near the Somali capital on Thursday night and engaged with fighters.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said the helicopters dropped soldiers near Dare Salaam village in an attempt to capture or kill extremists in the area.
The official said the fighters mounted a stiff resistance against the soldiers.
new Somali-American president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, last month declared a new offensive against al-Shabab, which is based in but has claimed responsibility for major attacks elsewhere in East Africa.
Also last month, the U.S. military announced it was sending dozens of regular troops to in the largest such deployment to the Horn of Africa country in roughly two decades. The U.S. Africa Command said the deployment was for logistics training of army.
The U.S. in recent years has sent a small number of special operations forces and counter-terror advisers to and has carried out a number of airstrikes, including drone strikes, against al-Shabab.
The extremist group, which was chased out of Mogadishu years ago but continues to carry out deadly attacks there, has vowed to step up the violence in response to the moves by Trump and Mohamed.
Pressure is growing on military to assume full security for the country as the 22,000-strong African Union multinational force that has been supporting the fragile central government plans to leave by the end of 2020.
The U.S. military has acknowledged the problem. The AU force will begin withdrawing in 2018, and head of the U.S. Africa Command, Commander General Thomas Waldhauser, has said that if it leaves before security forces are capable, “large portions of are at risk of returning to al-Shabab control or potentially allowing ISIS to gain a stronger foothold.”
Fighters linked to the Islamic State group are a relatively new and growing challenge in the north of the country, which has seen a quarter-century of chaos since dictator Siad Barre fell in 1991.
The Vietnam War’s icon was arguably the UH-1 helicopter. Officially designated the Iroquois (‘Huey’ is more of a term of endearment), this helicopter has been the most-produced in history, first flying in 1956 — that means it has just over six decades of service with the United States military!
Over 7,000 Hueys were used in Vietnam, and 2,500 were lost during the war.
According to the Naval Institute Guide to World Military Aviation, the UH-1D had the ability to carry up to 16 passengers and crew.
The chopper could also carry just under 3,900 pounds of equipment in the cabin or 5,000 pounds in an external sling. It also could serve as a potent gunship, firing 70mm rockets, M60 machine guns in 7.62mm NATO, and M134 miniguns.
The secret to the Huey’s success was a gas turbine engine that not only was able to perform at higher temperatures and in less-dense air than previous helicopters, but it was also much lighter than previous helicopter engines.
This allowed the Huey to be smaller (48-foot rotor diameter, 57 foot length) and lighter — making it fast (a top speed of 135 miles per hour) and maneuverable. It had a range of 315 miles, giving American troops the ability to strike hard and fast at a distance.
The chopper’s mobility meant that in a one-year tour, the average infantry soldier saw 240 days of combat. For some perspective, in the Pacific Theater during WWII, the average grunt saw 40 days over the nearly four years that conflict lasted.
Today, versions of the UH-1 are still in service with the Marine Corps (the UH-1Y Venom), the Air Force (UH-1N), and Navy (UH-1N). The Army’s last Huey mission was flown on Dec. 15, 2016. According to an Army release, the helicopter was handed off to the Louisiana State Police a week later.
This week’s Borne the Battle podcast features Dr. Albert Weed, whose career has taken him from enlisted Green Beret Army medic to an Army medical officer to VA surgeon. Weed discussed his name, and how his family’s military background and medical experiences led him to, among other things, peacekeeping in Egypt, swimming in Saddam Hussein’s pool, and receiving four different DD-214s.
Weed traces his journey’s beginnings from high school and later to Special Forces training, where he volunteered to work as a medic. The future doctor realized during training that he wanted to stay in the medical field. He was inspired to become an Army medical doctor while doing his clinical. He had just finished a late shift helping labor and deliveries and was planning to take a nap when he was called to the operating room to help. After the operation, Weed went out for a run instead of taking his nap. In that moment, he realized he wanted to pursue a medical career.
Peacekeeping with the MFO in the Sinai 1987 – 1 of 7
As anyone who’s ever deployed with a unit that required an interpreter knows, language barriers make a tough mission tougher. And considering how the U.S. military has treated the locals hired to do interpretation for U.S. ground forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s a wonder we’re able to recruit ‘terps’ at all.
“He says: ‘So… this is the guy we kill when you leave yeah’?” (U.S. Marine Corps photo)
So it makes sense the Pentagon would have a need for something that provides real-time translation to the boots on the ground. It should come to no surprise to anyone who regularly shops around on FedBizOpps.gov (the U.S. government’s business opportunities site with a name as legit as any Cash4Gold site), to see the Air Force Research Laboratory posting a need for what it calls “human language technologies.”
Meanwhile, the Navy continues to pursue its strange obsession with dolphin language . (U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 1st Class Brien Aho RELEASED)
The Air Force wants to conduct research and development in “automatic speech recognition, machine translation, natural language processing, information extraction, information retrieval, text-to-speech synthesis, and other speech and language processing technologies.” Maybe the military should just ask Skype how they made theirs.
The Air Force’s mind-blowing rationale is that “much of the information needed to effectively understand, anticipate, manage, and operate in the global environment is found in foreign language speech, text, videos, and images” and the military is especially interested in “lesser spoken languages that have high military interest but lack sufficient linguists and automated language processing capabilities.”
Basically, everything we want to know for via signals intelligence and human intelligence is another language and we don’t have enough people who will help us translate it and the Air Force will spend $10 million over a five-year span to develop the technology to do it without human help.
Mighty Stories is a weekly WATM feature highlighting the stories of veterans, active duty and military families. This week’s feature is Krista Simpson Anderson – Army wife, Gold Star wife, founder of the nonprofit The Unquiet Professional.
I grew up in Hampton, Massachusetts – a little town right outside of Springfield. My father served in the U.S. Air Force from 1967-1971, but it was before I was born. My mom’s side of the family also served, but it wasn’t something we talked about. I was blissfully ignorant about military life.
I met Mike in June 2006. He was a friend of my cousin’s. My cousin was deploying to Iraq and my aunt was having a deployment party for him. She flew in a few of his friends that had been in the Old Guard with him, and she called me and asked me to help her with the guys flying in.
I walked into the Toasted Owl Tavern in Northhampton, and there he was.
It was love at first sight. I remember my cousin saying to me, ‘I’m going to disown you both if you get married.’ But we were fixed on each other. The whole world could have come crashing down around us and we wouldn’t have noticed.
In August 2006, Mike’s whole unit transferred to Germany. I went out to visit him for Thanksgiving. In September of 2007, he deployed to Iraq. He came out to Rhode Island to my family’s home before he left and we spent a week together. I was working in the restaurant business at the time of his deployment, so I took a couple of different jobs, one in St. Thomas, one in New York. But we stayed in contact.
In April 2008, during his mid-tour leave, he invited me to his brother David and sister-in-law Kelsey’s wedding in Texas. During their rehearsal dinner in his parents’ backyard, he went to give his best man’s speech and we all thought it would be something funny. He was so goofy, it was hard to imagine him doing something serious. Now mind you, he served in the military in the Old Guard so he clearly had to be serious for work. But the first thing out of his mouth was, ‘Be each other’s compass.’
I was blown away.
Mike and Krista. Photo courtesy of Krista Simpson Anderson.
That night, he walked me to my room – we were all staying with his parents – and he told me he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me. And he asked me, ‘Will you be my wife?’ I knew that it had been a long night of celebrating so I told him that if he felt the same way in the morning we could talk about it. I went to sleep dreaming of the rest of our lives together.
The next morning over a cup of coffee at the counter, Mike looked at me and said, ‘I don’t feel any differently than I did last night. I want you to be my wife. I want to spend the rest of my life with you.’ I said yes, of course. We kept this a secret because it was not our day – it was David and Kelsey’s wedding day, and we knew his oldest brother, Isaac, was going to be proposing to his now wife, Vanessa, the next day. We told his sister, Abby, and then swore her to secrecy.
A few days after the wedding we announced our good news and decided to marry as soon as Mike returned from his deployment.
Mike went back to Iraq a week later, and returned in October 2008 to Germany. We met back up in Tennessee for Isaac and Vanessa’s wedding in November. December 20, 2008, we married in Rhode Island, and the first week of January he returned to Germany. We decided to live apart until his orders came through to start the Special Forces Qualification course so he wouldn’t need to extend in Germany.
I went to Germany to see him in February for his birthday, and I came home and found out I was pregnant with our first son a month later. I was working at a restaurant as a manager and living with my parents in Rhode Island awaiting orders. By September 2009 we were finally living together in Fort Bragg, NC and our son Michael was born October 22nd.
I remember taking “SF101” (Special Forces 101) for the spouses and the emphasis was put on how long our husbands would be away from home. Everything was about not getting our hopes up for birthdays, holidays, special occasions and being a family during those times. They really wanted to prepare us for the let downs of our military career. No one ever told me the incredible things our husbands would be doing while away from home and that every mission would be for the good of our nation. No one ever told me about the amazing and wonderful things we would be doing for our families while they were away. No one ever told me how, as spouses, we would show up for each other, in good times and in bad. No one ever told me that we would all be changing the world together – them abroad and us on the homefront.
Mike, Krista and their two boys. Photo courtesy of Krista Simpson Anderson.
Mike graduated in March 2011 and then reported July 10 for a Special Forces billet at 4th BN, Charlie Company, 1st Special Forces Group at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. I got out there August 1 with Michael who was just about two, and pregnant with Gabriel. We closed on our first house on my birthday, September 23.
As soon as our household goods arrived, Mike was off on a TDY (Temporary Duty) so I set up the house with my two year old and called my Mom and Aunt in for reinforcements to paint beige the mustard yellow walls and ceiling our new home offered.
When home, Mike was a present and incredibly fun daddy. He played this game called Daddy T-Rex. He would hold Gabe and chase Mic around the house, pretending to be a dinosaur. They would also lie on the floor and play Legos, have mini race-car races all the while tapping into Mike’s very present childlike spirit. He’d say to me, ‘I can’t wait until they’re older so we can do more fun things.’ He couldn’t wait to play basketball, soccer and teach them to ride bikes.
On 6 April 2013, Mike deployed with his company to eastern Afghanistan. Less than three weeks later I received the call every military spouse prays they’ll never get.
Mike, right, with a battle buddy. Photo courtesy of Krista Simpson Anderson.
The day before the call, Mike and I were texting back and forth and I was telling him how grateful I was to be his wife. I asked him to marry me all over again. I said, ‘I love you more today than I ever have. You have brought so much joy to my life that it overwhelms me. Will you marry me… Again?’ We were going to meet in Mexico with our families around Christmas and I told him I wanted to do it then. He wrote back, ‘Yes!’
On April 27, I had just put Gabriel down for a nap (he was 16 months) and I heard my phone ringing. I ran down the stairs to an ‘Unknown’ caller and answered what I can only assume must have been the last ring. It was (now Lieutenant Colonel) Major Jamie Alden, and he said ‘Hi, Krista? This is Major Alden.’ It didn’t even dawn on me why the company commander would be calling me from Afghanistan.
He asked me where I was, and I told him I was at home. He asked where the boys were, and I told him Mic was in the other room and I’d just put Gabe down for a nap.
He said, ‘I need you to sit down.’
You know that feeling when it seems that your brain starts going numb and it begins to rush through your whole body? Luckily I made it to the other room and sat down near the boys’ toys – on a bean bag chair.
‘Michael is alive, but he is in critical condition. There was an accident; he hit an IED while riding an ATV. He has a lower right leg amputation and there has been severe trauma to his right arm. We know there is shrapnel damage, we just are not sure where and the extent. Again, he is alive, but he is critical.’
I had to stop him. I couldn’t process anything and I knew I wouldn’t be able to remember anything else he was saying. I ran across the street and banged on my neighbor Kate’s door, and her daughter opened it. She was supposed to be coming over anyway to watch the boys since we had a neighborhood clean-up scheduled and I was president of the homeowners association. She ran to stay with the boys while Kate got on the phone with Major Alden. It took some convincing for him to speak to her but he finally agreed, understanding my emotional state.
I watched her as she spoke to him but I couldn’t hear her. I could hear sounds, just not the words, as if my ears were blocked. Kate handed the phone back to me and I thanked him, and he reminded me that we were family, that his wife Susan would be calling me soon, and that everything was going to be okay.
Mike, before the attack. Photo courtesy of Krista Simpson Anderson.
I got off the phone and had to start making phone calls. I walked with my phone in my hand across the grass toward our friends, Alan and Angie’s, house. They were laying out a tarp for mulch on their driveway when they looked over. It must have been written all over my face because they rushed to me and caught me before I fell to my knees. Alan was the commander of an EOD unit on JBLM and assured me everything was going to be ok. Angie was by my side and provided support in any way I needed.
I wanted to close my eyes and wake up from the nightmare but I couldn’t. I was a Green Beret’s wife and the mother of two future Green Berets. I said to myself, ‘Pull yourself together, handle your business- he’s not dead and is going to need you to be strong!’
I stood outside, barefoot, on the cold pavement. The bottoms of my feet still get cold remembering those moments. I tried calling Mike’s parents but there was no answer. I tried calling my parents and no answer again. I called his brother Isaac, who was also a Green Beret who was in North Carolina doing his instructor rotation. I said, ‘It’s Mike. He’s alive but he hit an IED and he’s in surgery. It’s critical.’
I can still hear his scream.
Isaac had witness IED attacks before and he knew the gravity of this news. Isaac and Vanessa would make the calls to the rest of the Simpson family as I continued my calls from the floor of our parish where I sat and prayed. Once my parents were notified, my mother arrived from Rhode Island to our home in Olympia, Washington, 12 hours later.
1st Special Forces Group (1st SFG) at JBLM welcomed me in every morning to call Afghanistan for updates. LTC David Haight would call Bagram ICU and translate their medical report for me whether at that morning meeting or 1am. We would share our information, formulate a plan and I would leave the table every morning stronger than I arrived. Monday, 29 April, I called the hospital myself. The doctor that answered told me he was sorry, but that Mike didn’t have a gag or corneal reflex and that he would not live.
I thanked him and his team for caring for him so well. I went downstairs to tell my mother before the boys awoke and then retreated to my room where I called my cousin Alicia and friend Andrea. I begged Alicia to wake me up and take this away.
The medical team cared for Mike so well they were able to transfer him from Afghanistan to Landstuhl Army Medical Center in Germany. We got the green light to go to Germany as soon as Mike was in the air from AFG. They couldn’t cut orders or book our flights until they knew Mike was surviving the altitude. They performed emergency surgery on the plane and worked tirelessly to keep him alive even though they knew the outcome. When they arrived in Germany, one of Mike’s closest friends from the Special Forces Qualification Course was there awaiting his arrival. Casey served with another Special Forces Group and was training in the area when we received the news.
As I traveled to Germany, my Casualty Assistance Officer (CAO) SFC Gerry DeMarzo and Chaplain Johnny Elder escorted me. What a blessing they were for so many reasons I couldn’t possibly list in short. The ‘behind the scenes’ had so many issues getting us all there but with the help from the Green Beret Foundation, Special Operations Warrior Foundation, USO, Fisher House Foundation and Care Coalition on top of 1st SFG, I arrived and met Mike’s parents, siblings and spouses to be with Mike.
Upon arrival, my only request was that I got to see him first. I wanted to clean him up before his mom saw him. Silly, but it was all I could think of. I got to the hospital and Casey was at the door with SFC Doug Way. (They both never once left us. Casey stayed at Mike’s bedside and Doug would either be standing outside his hospital room or kneeling outside the room praying.)
I never lost hope.
‘Maybe he will heal and maybe the doctors were wrong,’ I kept telling myself.
Casey and Doug greeted me, offered their condolences and I entered the room.
There he was.
My big bad Green Beret laying broken and vulnerable. I had never felt so helpless in all of my life.
All I could manage was a whisper… ‘Dear Lord, please help us.’
On 1 May 2013, as we all stood around Mike’s bed, Dr. Betts informed us that Mike was in fact brain dead. I asked, ‘Can his brain heal?’ rationally knowing the answer, but I had to ask. ‘No ma’am, the brain can not heal from these injuries,’ he said. I nodded my head in understanding, saw the very real pain in his parents’ and siblings’ faces, said, ‘Thank you,’ and then ran out.
I ran left out of the room, through the ICU doors into the hall toward the stairs, down the stairs and out of the hospital hoping I could run away from this earth-shattering moment in my life and somehow, when I returned, everything would be ok – Mike would wake, he would rehab and our lives would go on … Together.
I stopped and Gerry and Doug were not too many steps behind me. Gerry never let me out of his sight for a moment; he was my greatest advocate and protector. He always told me he took care of our family the way he would have wanted his family taken care of if something were to have happened to him. When I returned to the hospital, I went back in and I didn’t leave Mike’s side except for an hour to take care of the paperwork I needed to sign.
The rest of that day we would call all the family and friends we could connect with so they could say their goodbyes. I would call and inform them of Mike’s diagnosis, tell them how sorry I was but that it was time for them to say goodbye if they wished. I would put the phone down on Mike’s pillow next to his ear, believing he would receive their love and pain through their words.
I wanted everyone to have the opportunity to say whatever they wanted and needed to for some closure. Our family and friends stateside would say goodbye as well as Charlie Company, 4th BN, 1st SFG. Mike’s team was sure he would survive, so my news was heartbreaking to them … Mike was their brother.
One of Mike’s friends and teammates brought me to my knees with his heartfelt message that his wife would transcribe for me later. His words were, ‘For Mike: Hey buddy. Have no fear, you’re the realest Green Beret now. You did it all. Thanks for all the bravo advice and an invitation to be a part of your family. I will never forget our time together and will do anything for your family. R.I.P. brother. I love you. One more thing – thank you for the greatest sacrifice one can make. My prayer to you … Now I lay you down to sleep, I pray the Lord your soul to keep. If you should die before you wake, bless Mikey Lord, his soul to take.’
Once the last call was made I think my body and mind knew it and I needed to rest. I asked the hospital staff if they could move Mike over so I could lie next to him in his hospital bed. I laid there and just listened to his heart beat. I prayed until I drifted off to sleep. Around 4 am, the nurse came in and wanted to change his dressings and clean him up. I asked if I could help, so she brought in soapy water and a washcloth. She changed his dressings while I cleaned him up. Around 9 pm, they came in to get him for organ donor surgery. I stayed with him while they got him ready to be moved. I walked to the door holding his hand as they started to wheel him out, and didn’t want to let go.
This was it.
I would never see his chest rise and fall or hear his beating heart again. ‘I’M NOT READY!’ I screamed in my head.
But … with as much grace as I could, I leaned down and kissed him one last time and whispered, ‘I love you all the world. I promise you I will take care of our boys, and we will always remember you.’
They wheeled his bed out and I stood in the empty, cold hospital room alone. ‘What now?’ I asked. ‘How do I live without you?’
We came back from Germany to Dover for the dignified transfer on 7 May 2013. He was supposed to be the only casket on the flight, but seven other soldiers were killed just days before, so we were with their families. These families didn’t have what we did. They didn’t have the chance to say goodbye. They watched their loved one get on the plane for deployment and then their casket come off in Dover.
It started to rain as we stood out on the tarmac, so hard it was sideways. My mother in law had an umbrella and was also trying to wrap me in her jacket to protect me. I told her I was okay without it, because I wanted to feel everything; the rain, the heartache, the fear. I had to face that moment.
As the caskets were taken off the plane I could hear the rain and the wailing from mothers and fathers who lost their sons, siblings who lost their brothers, spouses who lost their husbands and children who lost their fathers. I felt as though I was hovering over myself, looking down in disbelief that this was now my journey.
I flew home to Washington after being gone for 10 days. I could never spend a few hours away from my boys without missing them terribly. This time I was afraid to see them. What would I say? How would I tell them their Daddy wasn’t coming home?
Mike’s dignified transfer. Photo courtesy of Krista Simpson Anderson.
I sat Michael (age 3) down and asked, ‘Do you believe in God?’
‘Yes Mommy,’ he said.
‘Even though you can’t see Him?’ I asked.
‘Yes of course Mommy!’ he replied.
‘You know Daddy is a soldier?’
‘Yes,’ he answered.
I looked into his eyes and softly said, ‘Well, Daddy is going to be God’s soldier now.’
‘But I will miss him,’ he said.
It would have been easy to sit down and focus on all the tragedy. My husband, my best friend, the father of my two beautiful boys was gone. I was a 35 year old widow who didn’t have enough time with the love of my life. Mike and I always told each other, ‘This love happens once in a lifetime,’ and it was gone.
My future and dreams broke into a million pieces and I had no idea how I would become whole again. And yet, somehow, I had to choose to see the incredible blessings that were happening all around us. The support from our family, friends and community; the military representatives that were assigned to us that created a beautiful journey; it was all a gift as much as my husband’s sacrifice was a gift to us all. Everybody who walked into our lives … it was nothing short of perfect.
On 30 May 2013, our Memorial Day, Mike was interred with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery by his original Old Guard unit where he served when he first joined the military in 2003.
There are many things I remember about that day. It was so hot I could feel the heat from the pavement radiate through the bottom of my sandals – a stark contrast from the cold I felt on my bare feet the day I got the call that Mike had been hit.
I remember walking for what seemed like forever with our two children, hoping to make it through the ceremony.
Michael with his Daddy T-rex at Mike’s memorial. Photo courtesy of Krista Simpson Anderson.
And I remember thinking that this place, Arlington National Cemetery, had always been one of my favorite places to be. It’s so peaceful. It’s filled with a clear and strong sense of honor and courage, but in that moment I didn’t feel brave at all.
There were over 100 people in attendance to show their love and support, not just for Mike, but for us as well. My dear friend Andrea Rinaldi was one of them. She stayed by my side through it all, from the very beginning of our journey, and selflessly gave of her time and heart. The service, experience and support of so many was humbling, and I will always be grateful.
Finally, I remember the boys and I receiving the folded flags. How do you process receiving a folded flag in the place of your Daddy when you’re only three years old? Michael was given the flag, but really only wanted his Daddy T-Rex. As I held our 16 month old, I watched as Gerry, our Casualty Assistance Officer, took a knee, and took Michael’s flag for him. I love this picture – this moment in time – as it truly captures how Gerry so beautifully served our family.
Mike’s company would continue their deployment for six more months after Mike’s death. One of his teammates stated during his memorial, ‘This Team… This company… This regiment, will never forget your sacrifice. Each day when we don our kit and prepare for battle, we will do it in your honor. We will take the fight to the enemy and fight how you would have wanted us to. Never faltering… Never failing… and never forgetting. This fight is over for you brother, but know that it is not over for us. We will continue in your honor and remember you as a husband, a father, and a Green Beret.’
I attended the homecoming for the first flight that came in from Afghanistan. I was grateful to be there yet nervous about my emotions. As we waited in the company I was approached by a woman in the hallway. ‘Mrs. Simpson,’ she said. ‘I am not sure if this is an appropriate time but I wanted to introduce myself and tell you that I was one of Mike’s nurses in Afghanistan.’ I am sure I hugged her immediately and was so grateful to lay my hands on someone who was there, with Mike, during the scariest moments of his life. It was a blessing I can’t explain. She was one of many who saved Mike so our family could say goodbye. She was, and still is, my angel. I am blessed by her and her whole family to this day.
When the buses arrived carrying Mike’s company we all rushed outside to greet them. The minds and hearts of so many wives and children were eased and made whole again. I truly was so happy for them, yet I subconsciously waited for Mike to get off that bus. The last man embarked and I was sure Mike would be next. The door closed and the bus drove away.
In the distance, I heard the shriek of a little girl, calling, ‘Daddy! Daddy!’ and as I turned to look, I saw her run and jump into a man’s arms who wore the same uniform as all the other soldiers … the same one Mike would have been wearing, with the same wide arms he would have caught our sons in. But it wasn’t him and it never would be. My heart shattered all over again and I needed to turn and walk inside to face this emotion alone. I couldn’t allow anyone to think I was not grateful their husbands came home, because I was, wholeheartedly, but that didn’t take away my pain.
I went home that night with a folded flag that was flown over Mike’s camp in Afghanistan. My dear friend laid next to me as I cried myself to sleep and she didn’t leave my side until she knew I was okay.
Over the next several months I was constantly at the battalion, offering help, wanting to talk to them to make sure they were doing okay. I know it was difficult for them to see me since I was a reminder of the reality of Mike’s death. I know many struggled with his loss and I recognized very quickly that survivor’s guilt was a very real emotion. They needed to know that this was God’s plan, not ours, and He doesn’t make mistakes. My mission was to show them that we would honor Mike, grieve his loss but we would absolutely be okay. We were strong and proud, not weak and angry. Everyone grieves differently and there is not a right or wrong way to do it. I chose grace for me, my children and his team.
One of Mike’s teammates, Gus, had done the original inventory on Mike’s things. He was able to put all of his belongings into perspective. What he was wearing the day of his accident, what certain gear meant and what it was used for. He brought back command challenge coins from the memorial in Afghanistan where they all gathered on 11 May. Gus was able to retrieve and hand carry the patches Mike wore on his helmet, along with the memorial patch he had made for their team’s uniforms. Gus would come over and play with the boys, give me a moment of rest and help anyway he could.
So many of Mike’s teammates and their families would do the same. I was so grateful for the respite since the light at the end of the deployment tunnel was extinguished for me. Mike wouldn’t return to ease the natural burdens of parenting coupled with keeping up the household alone.
I always had family dinners. From the time Mike passed, I’d send out a text at 1:00 pm on a Sunday with, ‘Family dinner at 4’ and a few hours later the house would fill with joy and laughter. What better therapy than to be surrounded by those that loved us and Mike?
Gus and I would talk a lot about Mike, his feelings of survivor’s guilt (which they all had) and spent a lot of time together over the next couple years. I started to realize I cared for Gus more than I thought was possible and wanted to see where that would lead us.
I flew down to Texas for Easter – I needed to talk to Mike’s parents. His father said to me, ‘I have four requirements: He loves you, he loves the boys, he loves Jesus and that he always shows them it’s manly to love Jesus.’ His mother said, ‘I’ve prayed since the week after Mike died that you would find somebody.’ They were my greatest supporters. And they already loved Gus. He was already a part of our family. This was a no brainer for me.
I struggled with Gus being my secret-not so secret boyfriend. I had this organization that I’d founded as a widow of an active duty service member. I was afraid. I had lost my identity as a military spouse and then I found one as a military widow. It allowed me to talk about Mike and honor him. We were afraid of what our friends might think of our relationship and the judgement that would come. In July 2016, we broke up when I realized I needed time. Ten days later, he left for Nepal with his team and during those three months I recognized all of the things I was doing wrong. I thought I was honoring Mike every day but by not honoring Gus at all, was I really? By having someone in my life who wanted to love us, take care of us and honor Mike, yet I wasn’t willing to let him in – could I be dishonoring my late husband? I used to resent the ‘widow’ title but then I found myself not wanting to let it go.
I prayed so much and I came to the conclusion that I just needed to love Gus, and show him that he was a priority. He got back from Nepal and he was still very angry with me. We met a few times to talk, took it slow and then one day I boldly told him that we were going to get married. I knew the response could have broke my heart but he was worth it.
We were worth it.
He laughed and told me softly that I had to be crazy. One month later, Gus got down on one knee on the docks in Seattle, in front of our favorite Oyster Bar (Elliotts) and asked me to marry him. Two months later, we were married in Rhode Island among our family and friends. The priest who married us had married my parents, baptized Gabriel, did last rights for Mike and his funeral in Arlington, and had confirmed and married Casey and Sandy (Mike’s friend who was with him in Germany). It was perfect.
Thanks to Michael’s kind-hearted 1st grade teacher, Ms. Petruska, my boys decided to call Gus ‘Dad’ the moment we stepped off the altar, and have not called him anything but that since. They wanted and needed a father in their lives so badly and I don’t think I realized that until then. Michael and Gabriel both repeat Ms. Petruska’s words often – ‘We have a Daddy in Heaven and a Daddy on earth.’
A month after Gus and I married he deployed to Afghanistan. I woke up every morning and prayed that Gus was alive. He was so good about messaging me whenever he could to ease my mind, even though I never shared with him my fears. His heart and mind just works that way and he is always considering the times and moments I may go through in this journey and how they may be affecting me. He is constantly striving to make life easier. I pray I do the same for him.
I won’t tell you that I didn’t struggle through those six months but I can tell you I found peace in God’s plan and chose to continue to trust that His plan was greater than mine. Tragedy and loss does not have to define you or dictate the rest of your life. My story didn’t end with the loss of Mike; it began with a new chapter of hope and my choice of joy. It continued with honoring Mike and Gus giving me the greatest gift… he never makes me choose as he continues to give me the freedom to love them both.
Five years to the day that Mike touched American soil in Dover, Delaware for his dignified transfer, I landed in Washington, DC with Gus, for the Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year events with Military Spouse Magazine that would change my life. Five years to the day that Mike was flown back to Joint Base Lewis McChord to land at Grey Army Airfield, I was awarded the overall Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year. I know it’s right where I need to be, that God’s timing is perfect, and that Mike would be so proud of me. And I also know I couldn’t have done any of this without Gus or my children.
Tragedy did not dictate my life in a negative way. My goal is that other people can see that, and feel that. I remember looking at other Gold Star Spouses like Lisa Hallett and thinking, ‘If she can do it, I can do it.’ And I want other people to look at me and find hope, too.
Mike was very proud to sacrifice his life. And I am so proud to honor him.
Arlington National Cemetery is where my friend Andrea suggested a fundraiser for those who supported us and ultimately where The Unquiet Professional was born. So many organizations supported us, from the volunteers with the USO who carried my kids through the airport, the Green Beret Foundation being there for everything, or wear blue: run to remember, where I found a healthy and meaningful way to heal. I wanted to be able to pay that love back.
We now provide healthy and empowering opportunities for Gold Star Families, Veterans and their families. When Andrea suggested fundraising, she saved me that day. She saved me from the possibilities of not being able to live out my grief in a positive way. I heal as I strive to help others do the same with my ‘twice in a lifetime love’ by my side every step of the way.
Memorial Day is my favorite holiday of the year. We feel Mike’s presence and his loss every single day no matter what life brings us. But on Memorial Day, everyone thinks of all of our fallen heroes. People say when you’re having your bbq and your beer you’re not remembering the sacrifices, but I say celebrate. Celebrate their lives. Remember them.