Joy Lofthouse was one of the women who pushed the envelope of what women did in World War II. She was a pilot for the British Air Transport Auxiliary, shuttling fighters between air bases, factories, and maintenance facilities.
Now, 70 years after she last flew a Spitfire, she’s back in the cockpit. Check out the video below:
The Alabama football team had former Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell partly to thank for the team’s 25-20 victory over Mississippi State last Friday.
The 39-year-old retired SEAL gave the pre-game pep talk to members of the Crimson Tide, recounting events from the 2005 Operation: Red Wings, in which his four-man team fought a vicious battle against insurgents while trying to escape down the side of a mountain. During the initial battle, Lt. Michael Murphy and Petty Officers Matthew Axelson and Danny Dietz were killed, with Luttrell being the lone survivor of the mission.
Luttrell’s book, “Lone Survivor,” was later made into a movie of the same name. Both recounted the incredible heroism of the entire team, including Murphy, who was later awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions.
“At no point in time was any of my teammates afraid of anything, at no point did anybody stall in the door, so to speak,” Lutrell says in a video of the apparent talk. “They didn’t kind of back up and say ‘hey i don’t want to be in this.’ It was, ‘this is what we’re here to do, let’s do this.'”
Although a video of the talk has apparently made its way online, The Blaze has noted it may not be from this specific pre-game speech. Either way, it’s well worth watching.
“I was sitting on the edge of my seat,” tight end Brian Vogler told AL.com. “Any time you can talk to somebody like that, you’re completely locked in to everything that’s going on, every word that’s coming out of his mouth. And honestly, once he got done talking, I wanted to run through a brick wall.”
Belgian Air Force F-16s scrambled to intercept two Russian Tu-160 Blackjack supersonic, nuclear-capable bombers, accompanied by two Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker fighters over the Baltic Sea on Sept. 17, 2019.
The Belgian Air Force has been guarding the Baltic airspace since Sept. 3, 2019, when it took over the police mission from fellow NATO member Hungary, which was supported by Spain and the UK in its mission. Four Belgian F-16s and at least 60 soldiers have been deployed to protect Baltic airspace from unwelcome incursions, according to the Belgian Ministry of Defense.
Sept. 17, 2019’s interception was Belgium’s first since it began its rotation over Baltic airspace, and seemingly at very close range.
Russian aircraft have engaged in several provocative actions over NATO airspace this year. In June 2019, British Typhoon fighter jets scrambled to intercept Russian Su-30 Flanker fighters twice in two days.
An British air force Typhoon fighter jet, foreground, with a Russian fighter over the Baltics.
But NATO countries aren’t merely reacting to Russian aggression. In August 2019 alone, US and UK aircraft sent clear messages to Russia:
US B-2 Spirit stealth bombers flew with UK F-35s, the B-2’s first time flying with non-US F-35s.
B-2 Spirit bombers landed in Iceland for the first time. The B-2, which operates from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, Andersen Air Force Base on Guam, Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, and Royal Air Force Fairford in the UK, needs specific conditions to support its stealth capabilities.
B-2 bombers flew their first extended sorties over the Norwegian Sea earlier in September 2019 — right in Russia’s backyard.
Two US Air Force B-2 Spirit stealth bombers, currently deployed to RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire, fly alongside two Royal Air Force F-35B Lightning aircraft from RAF Marham near the White Cliffs of Dover, England, Aug. 29, 2019.
(US Air Force/UK Ministry of Defense)
NATO countries share the mission of protecting Baltic airspace, as the Baltic countries — Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania — don’t have the infrastructure to protect their own airspace and are considered at risk of destabilization or invasion by Russia.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
This post is reprinted with permission from NationSwell, new digital media company focused on American innovation and renewal.
When Eli Williamson returned from two deployments to the Middle East, his hometown of Chicago felt at times like a foreign battleground, the memory of desert roads more familiar than Windy City central thoroughfares. As he relearned the city, Williamson noticed a strange similarity between veterans like himself and the young people growing up in tough parts of Chicago. Too many had witnessed violence, and they had little support to cope with the trauma.
Applying the timeworn principle of leaving no soldier, sailor, airman or marine behind, Williamson co-founded Leave No Veteran Behind (LNVB), a national nonprofit focused on securing education and employment for our warriors. Williamson formed the organization based on “just real stupid” and “crazy” idealism: “You know what?” he says. “I can make a difference.” Since work began in 2008, with a measly operating budget of $4,674 to help pay off student loans, LNVB has eliminated around $150,000 of school debt and provided 750 transitional jobs, Williamson says.
“Coming out of the military, every individual is going to have his or her challenges,” says Williamson, who served as a psychological operations specialist and an Arabic linguist in Iraq in 2004 and in Afghanistan in 2007. “We’ve seen veterans with substance abuse issues, homelessness issues.” Additionally, at least one in five veterans suffer from PTSD, and almost 50,000 are homeless and 573,000 are unemployed.
Williamson started the group with his childhood friend Roy Sartin. They first met in high school, when they joined choir and band together. “I think we’ve been arguing like old women every since,” Williamson says. Both joined the U.S. Army Reserves while at Iowa’s Luther College and were mobilized to active duty during their senior year after the Twin Towers fell. Williamson finished his education at the Special Warfare Training Center at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, while Sartin put his learning on hold.
Upon return, both struggled with crippling interest rates on their student loans. Sartin received a call from the loan company saying that he needed to make a $20,000 payment. “Although I had the funds, it was just enough to get myself back together. So, for me, the transition wasn’t as tough, but I was one of the lucky ones.” Williamson got a bill for $2,200 only 22 days before the balance was due. Desperate, he took to the streets playing music to cover the costs.
After talking with other vets, the two realized that many didn’t qualify for the military’s debt repayment programs. That’s when they started going out to financial sources for “retroactive scholarships” for our country’s defenders. And they sought employment opportunities for former military members to help cover the rest.
Jobs and debt relief for our nation’s warriors are the main focus of LNVB, but the group oversees several initiatives, including S.T.E.A.M. Corps, which pairs vets with science, technology, engineering, arts, and math experience with at-risk youth. More than 200 students have graduated from S.T.E.A.M., but Williamson, director of veteran affairs at the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, points to a more intangible benefit of his non-profit’s work: the ability for veterans “to articulate a larger vision of themselves … is our advocacy mission,” he says.
“Veterans can paint a vision for where our country needs to be, and the only reason we can do that is because you realize that you are part of something larger than yourself,” Williamson adds. “That’s a fundamental value that veterans can share, as they leave military, with the communities that they come back to.” For those who’ve just returned home from Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, in other words, service is just beginning.
Tensions escalated along the Korean Peninsula early in December as U.S. stealth fighters prepared for a joint military drill with South Korea, with North Korea accusing the U.S. of having “nuclear war mania.”
North Korea made several statements about actions taken by the U.S. over the weekend.
North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement, read on state TV, that President Donald Trump and his administration were “begging for nuclear war” by engaging in what the statement referred to as an “extremely dangerous nuclear gamble,” CNN reported.
The statement also said that if the Korean Peninsula and the world were to be pushed to nuclear war, the U.S. would be “fully responsible” because of its “reckless nuclear war mania.”
Then, on Dec. 3rd, commentary run by state TV called the U.S.-South Korea joint air exercises a “dangerous provocation,” pushing the region “to the brink of a nuclear war,” according to CNN. North Korean media regularly threatens the U.S. and its allies and blames the U.S. for tensions on the peninsula.
The U.S. and its ally South Korea began their largest cooperative air exercise in history, dubbed Vigilant Ace, Dec. 4.
The U.S. Air Force said in a statement that F-22 and F-35 stealth jets had moved into South Korea over the weekend in preparation for the joint drill. About 230 aircraft and 12,000 U.S. personnel are expected to participate in the week-long exercise, which will include more stealth jets than ever before.
According to the U.S. Air Force, the move is designed to boost the “combat effectiveness” of the alliance.
The White House national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, said Dec. 2 the chances for nuclear war on the peninsula were growing, CNN reported.
“I think it’s increasing every day, which means that we are in a race, really, we are in a race to be able to solve this problem,” McMaster said in a conference in California, when asked whether North Korea’s intercontinental ballistic missile launch last week had increased the chance of war.
McMaster also said North Korea represented the “the greatest immediate threat to the United States.”
The U.S. Army Aeromedical Research Laboratory (USAARL) introduced an innovative Blackhawk helicopter simulator at a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Sept. 17, 2019, at Fort Rucker, Alabama. The Cockpit Academics Procedural Tool — Enhanced Visual Capable System — or, CAPT-E-VCS for short — is a reconfigurable research platform that allows for swift, mission-responsive research in support of the Army’s Future Vertical Lift and modernization priority. These priorities are part of the Army’s focus on multi-domain operations to counter and defeat near-peer adversaries in all domains.
“USAARL is the Army’s aeromedical laboratory focused on the performance and survival of the rotary wing Warfighters to give them decisive overmatch,” said USAARL’s Commander, Col. Mark K. McPherson, about the importance of fielding state-of-the art tools in research. “This high fidelity simulator is the perfect example of how we merge the science of aviation and medicine to optimize human protection and performance, leveraging science against our nation’s competitors.”
USAARL Commander, Col. Mark McPherson, assists Joshua DuPont, an aerospace engineer at CCDC S3I, with the ribbon cutting that unveiled the Laboratory’s new state-of-the-art aviation research capability, the CAPT-E-VCS.
(Photo by Scott Childress)
The Army views vertical lift dominance over enemy forces as critical to increased lethality, survivability and reach. To meet the demands of Future Vertical Lift priorities, the Army is both developing and acquiring next-generation aircraft and unmanned systems to fly, fight and prevail in any environment. The CAPT-E-VCS was developed in partnership with the U.S. Army Combat Capability Development Command’s System Simulation, Software, Integration Directorate to evaluate new technologies integral to meeting those requirements. The device pairs a Blackhawk medium-lift model helicopter cockpit and academic simulator from California-based SGB Enterprises with a 12-inch projection dome from Q4 Services, Inc., which is headquartered in Orlando, Florida. State-of-the-art X-IG image generation software —developed by Alabama-based CATI Training Systems — was further added to the CAPT-E-VCS in order to create a singular, customizable research platform for USAARL.
Capt. Justin Stewart, a USAARL pilot, gives Master Sgt. Kenneth Carey, USAARL’s Chief Medical Laboratory Non-Commissioned Officer, a CAPT-E-VCS tutorial.
(Photo by Scott Childress)
“Now we can evaluate in a digital glass cockpit platform pilot workload as well as the effects of high altitude flight environments,” said Dr. Mike Wilson, Research Psychologist at USAARL. “For example, we can couple the laboratory’s reduced oxygen breathing device with a high-fidelity simulation environment and create a more realistic test environment for research. This innovation is a mission responsive, cost saving research tool that is critical to moving the Army closer to its Future Vertical Lift goals.”
The F-22 Raptor is already the most lethal fighter jet ever built, severely outclassing virtually every other aircraft of a similar class fielded by the rest of the world’s air forces.
But with the advent of newer anti-aircraft defense systems, stealth-defeating tracking technologies and the entrance of countries such as China and Russia into the stealth fighter foray, the F-22 will eventually need to be replaced with something even more powerful.
With the looming retirement of the F-15C/D Eagle, its secondary air superiority fighter, in the next decade, the Air Force has begun taking strides towards designing the F-22’s follow-on in order to maintain its combat edge over every other air force in the world.
Throughout the USAF’s history, each of its fighter jets have built upon the aircraft they replaced, incorporating lessons learned and proven concepts, while expanding on their capabilities with new technology and methods of prosecuting aerial combat. The F-22’s replacement, currently known as “Penetrating Counter Air,” will take shape in much the same way.
It will likely be highly stealthy, carrying its weapons internally in order to minimize radar detection. It will also probably be supersonic, and able to actively defeat enemy sensors in a similar manner to the F-22 and F-35.
Among the most noticeable differences between the F-22 and its replacement will be the lack of tails. Every American fighter jet ever built has featured one or two vertical stabilizers which, as their names suggest, provide stability and yaw control in flight.
Instead, the PCA will likely remove the vertical stabilizers altogether to enhance stealth by decreasing the aircraft’s overall radar signature. The end result will look more like a sleeker and faster B-2 Spirit or a X-47B drone, instead of something similar to the twin-tailed F-35 Lightning II, or the single-tailed F-16 Fighting Falcon.
Additionally, the new fighter be built for long-range missions — especially escorting larger bomber aircraft like the B-2, or the upcoming B-21 Raider, deep behind the front lines to strike at the heart of the enemy’s war machine. This is a much-needed capability the USAF has sorely lacked for decades.
The PCA will be designed to work alongside the F-35 Lightning II, with both aircraft drawing upon each other’s strengths while mitigating weaknesses in capability. Given that the Air Force plans on retaining its F-16 Fighting Falcon fleet long for years and years to come, the PCA will likely also be capable of working with older “legacy” aircraft.
One of the key focal points of the PCA program will be developing an engine that gives the new fighter unprecedented range, while maximizing operational fuel efficiency.
The PCA program seeks nearly $300 million in funding from Congress over the next few years in order to complete its research and analysis goals while developing and investigating new technologies that will make the F-22’s replacement arguably the deadliest and most powerful fighter aircraft ever conceived.
It’s that wonderful time of year when veterans, their friends, and their families go out to enjoy a little spooky fun around town. They’ll have fun with the decorations, getting into goofy costumes, and, overall, just enjoying the spirit of the season — but there’s just one place veterans tend to avoid: haunted houses.
We don’t avoid these because of their intended scariness — far from it. Veterans just don’t seem to have the same reaction as most civilians. We tend to have one of three reactions to being put in what is, essentially, a guided maze filled with actors dressed like our favorite monsters: Either we’re way too in to how cool what’s going on around us is, we just can’t suspend disbelief long enough to enjoy it, or, well, we’ll get to the last one in a minute.
Perfect for war! Terrible for Halloween fun…
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Justis Beauregard)
1. We aren’t scared the same way
Once you’ve spent some time in the military, certain things just don’t scare you the same way. I’m not saying that seeing someone dressed as a distressed clown brandishing a chainsaw (with the teeth taken out for safety) isn’t objectively terrifying — it definitely is.
But veterans spent years learning how to always switch their “fight or flight” response in one direction. Once you’ve done your time, that response never really shuts off. You may not be fighting every monster you see, but you’re not going to run through the haunted house like most guests.
Then again, having attention to detail is never fun…
(U.S. Army photo by Capt. Ronald Bailey, 100th Missile Defense Brigade Public Affairs)
2. Our attention to detail overshadows the rest of the “fun”
We keep level heads and analyze every tiny detail of what’s going on while others are cowering. We notice the tiny things. This works absolute wonders in haunted escape rooms — but that same cannot be said for haunted houses.
You’ll look for and find things that break the immersion. You’ll stop admiring/being spooked out by all of the scary stuff and simply get through the thing like there’s some kind of reward at the end — there isn’t. The experience of the haunted house was the reward.
You might also get asked to leave if you stack your family by sector of fire they’d take as they enter the room.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Devon Tindle)
3. We will use room-clearing techniques as we go through
There’re only so many spots for actors to hide throughout a maze: behind that door, at the end of the hallway, behind all those curtains. Coincidentally, these are the exact same spots that most veterans remember from room-clearing drills.
The ideology is the same, but instead of jumping out to attack a squad of infantrymen, the haunted house actors are just trying to help you celebrate the Halloween spirit. It actually gets a bit disappointing when the veteran thinks to themselves, “if I were them, I’d totally set up an ambush point here at the funnel of death,” only to realize the actors didn’t get your memo.
“Want to see a real horror monster? You should see my old drill instructor when faced with an unsecured wall locker.”
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Pedro Cardenas)
4. We will one-up creepy moments with real-life stuff
There’s a certain expectation that guests at haunted houses will suspend disbelief enough to allow themselves to be scared and enjoy the experience. That kind of goes out the window when you can’t help but notice that the “blood” splotches on the walls don’t really line up with how arterial blood would actually spew out of that “zombie’s” neck.
That’s fine and all, but it ruins the fun for the other people in your party. Nobody really wants to hear us say, “oh, you think this is scary? Try losing your weapon in a porta-sh*tty as your FOB is getting indirect fire! Now that’s scary!”
We know, bro. We know.
What’s actually a scary thought is that your MACP Level 1 isn’t going to do jack sh*t against a security guard who likes tasing people.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jensen Stidham)
5. We tend to get a bit… punchy… around the actors
You knew this one was coming. No, you can’t punch the actors that jump out at guests. They’re not allowed to touch you and you’re not allowed to feed them their teeth.
In fact, it’s against the law — and everyone will laugh at you if you try to say that some minimum-wage-earning teenager in a cheap costume at a haunted house that you knowingly and willingly paid money to visit is actually some monster.
Plus, most haunted houses have cameras and security guards in place for just such occasions. So, uh, just don’t do it.
The crisis in Ukraine, centered on Russia’s annexation of Crimea and their backing of separatists in Ukraine’s east, is a complicated mess. The U.S. and NATO tell one story while Russia tells another. Numerous international incidents have already occurred including the downing of a civilian jetliner, confrontations between Navy ships and Russian jets, and a surge in military exercises by both NATO and Russia, usually near shared borders.
On the season finale of Vice, co-founder Shane Smith and correspondent Simon Ostrovsky lay out the growing crisis in a clear and organized manner, making it easier to get a handle on what’s going on. They talk to experts on both sides of the conflict and in a range of positions, from a separatist commander in Eastern Ukraine to President Obama to Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who oversees the Russian military and its current expansion.
The documentary covers all the arenas where the conflict is playing out including economic sanctions, active fighting in Eastern Ukraine, information wars across the internet, and military build-ups. Most importantly, it makes these developments and the follow-on consequences easy to understand.
The episode premiers tonight on HBO at 11 p.m. A sneak peek is below, and a preview is on Vice’s website.
A soldier with the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) died Tuesday from injuries he sustained during a live-fire training exercise at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana.
The Army is not releasing many details until the soldier’s family has been notified, unit spokesman Master Sgt. Kevin Doheny said in a May 11 press release.
Soldiers and emergency services personnel responded to the incident and transported the soldier to Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital on Fort Polk, where he was later pronounced dead, according to the release.
It wasn’t clear if the soldier was shot during the live-fire exercise.
Seaman James “Derek” Lovelace was pulled out of the pool Friday after showing signs he was having difficulty while treading in a camouflage uniform and a dive mask, Naval Special Warfare Center spokesman Lt. Trevor Davids said.
Lovelace lost consciousness after being pulled out of the pool and was taken to a civilian hospital, where he was pronounced dead, Davids said. He was in his first week of SEAL training after joining the Navy about six months ago, Davids said.
Islamic State group and al-Qaida-linked militants are quickly moving to drum up outrage over a sharp spike in civilian casualties said to have been caused by U.S. airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, posting photos online of a destroyed medical center and homes reduced to rubble. “This is how Trump liberates Mosul, by killing its inhabitants,” the caption reads.
The propaganda points to the risk that rising death tolls and destruction could undermine the American-led campaign against the militants.
During the past two years of fighting to push back the Islamic State group, the U.S.-led coalition has faced little backlash over casualties, in part because civilian deaths have been seen as relatively low and there have been few cases of single strikes killing large numbers of people.
In Iraq — even though sensitivities run deep over past American abuses of civilians — the country’s prime minister and many Iraqis support the U.S. role in fighting the militants.
That has the potential to undercut victories against the militants and stoke resentments that play into their hands.
At least 300 civilians have been killed in the offensive against IS in the western half of Mosul since mid-February, according to the U.N. human rights office — including 140 killed in a single March 17 airstrike on a building. Dozens more are claimed to have been killed in another strike late March, according to Amnesty International, and by similar airstrikes in neighboring Syria since Trump took office.
In Syria, as fighting around Raqqa intensified, civilian fatalities from coalition airstrikes rose to 198 in March — including 32 children and 31 women — compared to 56 in February, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which documents Syria’s war. Over the course of the air campaign, from September 2014 through February, an average of 30 civilians were killed a month, according to the Observatory.
The U.S. military is investigating what role the U.S. played in the March 17 airstrike in Mosul, and American and Iraqi officials have said militants may have deliberately gathered civilians there and planted explosives in the building. The blast left an entire residential block flattened, reducing buildings to mangled concrete.
Among those who lost loved ones, resentment appears to be building toward the U.S.-led coalition and the ground forces it supports.
“How could they have used this much artillery on civilian locations?” asked Bashar Abdullah, a resident of the neighborhood known as New Mosul, who lost more than a dozen family members in the March 17 attack. “Iraqi and American forces both assured us that it will be an easy battle, that’s why people didn’t leave their houses. They felt safe.”
U.S. officials have said they are investigating other claims of casualties in Syria and Iraq.
Islamic State group fighters have overtly used civilians as human shields, including firing from homes where people are sheltering or forcing people to move alongside them as they withdraw. The group has imposed a reign of terror across territories it holds in Syria and Iraq, taking women as sex slaves, decapitating or shooting suspected opponents, and destroying archaeological sites.
Mass graves are unearthed nearly every day in former IS territory.
Now, the group is using the civilian deaths purportedly as a result of U.S.-led airstrikes in its propaganda machine.
Photos recently posted online on militant websites showed the destruction at the Mosul Medical College with a caption describing the Americans as the “Mongols of the modern era” who kill and destroy under the pretext of liberation. A series of pictures showing destroyed homes carried the comment: “This is how Trump liberates Mosul, by killing its inhabitants under the rubble of houses bombed by American warplanes to claim victory. Who would dare say this is a war crime?”
In Syria, IS and other extremist factions have pushed the line that the U.S. and Russia, which is backing President Bashar Assad’s regime, are equal in their disregard for civilian lives.
U.S. “crimes are clear evidence of the ‘murderous friendship’ that America claims to have with the Syrian people, along with its claimed concern for their future and interests,” said the Levant Liberation Committee, an al-Qaida-led insurgent alliance.
Some Syrian opposition factions allied with the U.S. have also criticized the strikes, describing them as potential war crimes.
An analysis by the Soufan Group consultancy warned that rumors and accusations of coalition atrocities “will certainly help shape popular opinion once Mosul and Raqqa are retaken, thus serving a purpose for the next phase of the Islamic State’s existence.”
Criticism has also come from Russian officials, whose military has been accused of killing civilians on a large scale in its air campaign in Syria, particularly during the offensive that recaptured eastern Aleppo from rebels late last year.
“I’m greatly surprised with such action of the U.S. military, which has all the necessary equipment and yet were unable to figure out for several hours that they weren’t striking the designated targets,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, speaking at the U.N. Security Council about the March 17 strike.
Joseph Scrocca, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, acknowledged the spike in civilian casualty reports could change the way the coalition is conducting the war. He said it was a “very valid” concern that loss of life and destruction could play into the hands of IS or cause some coalition members to waver.
“But the coalition is not going to back down when (the fight) gets hard or there’s a lot of pressure,” he said. “That’s what ISIS wants.”
In Syria, the deadliest recent strike occurred earlier this month in a rebel-held area in the north. Opposition activists said a mosque was hit during evening prayers, killing around 40 people, mostly civilians, and wounding dozens of others. The U.S. said it struck an al-Qaida gathering across the street from the mosque, killing dozens of militants, adding they found no basis for reports that civilians were killed.
In Mosul, the scale of destruction wrought by increased artillery and airstrikes is immense in some areas.
Abdullah, the resident of New Mosul, buried 13 members of his family in a single day.
Standing in a field now being used as a graveyard, he said: “This was not a liberation. It was destruction.”
Karam reported from Beirut. Associated Press writers Maamoun Youssef in Cairo, Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow and Mstyslav Chernov in Mosul, Iraq, contributed to this report.
This year has undoubtedly been a doozie. One we don’t wish to repeat any time soon. However, as the calendar dates continue to drone on, we can look into the next few months and realize that soon, we’re starting a New Year. (We can only hope 2021 can be much kinder.)
Until then, we can endure whatever the world continues to throw at us. Sit back and enjoy some of the most relatable memes that we can link back to how this year has gone.
A military kid is learning about her dad’s life and experiences through the eyes of her mom.
Ever since Britt Harris first met her husband, Army Spc. Christopher Michael Harris, eyes have played an important part of her story.
Chris and Britt Harris. Courtesy photo.
From the beginning, she couldn’t help but notice his baby blues, so different from her own hazel eyes. The North Carolina natives fell in love and married in October 2016. A paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division, Chris deployed to Afghanistan the next summer.
Then came the eyes of the nation on her when her 25-year-old husband was killed in a vehicle explosion on August 2, 2017, making her a Gold Star wife. Just one week earlier, Britt thrilled him with the news that they were expecting their first child.
Britt’s grief felt all-encompassing, but she still wanted to feel connected to her husband’s unit. She included them in her gender reveal, shipping confetti poppers with the appropriate color to Afghanistan. The men and women celebrated amidst a shower of pink in a now-viral video.
When her daughter, Christian Michelle, arrived on March 17, 2018 — the day Chris’ unit returned — Britt knew the story wasn’t over. So she arranged for a photoshoot featuring Christian, herself and Chris’ fellow soldiers.
With the same otherworldly blue eyes as her father, Christian quickly captivated millions. The moment wasn’t just for show, however; the men and women who served alongside Chris (he and Britt are only children) are viewed as family.
“We still see each other. We get lunch, or send texts, or social media,” says Britt, 28. “It makes me feel like I’m still part of the group even though I don’t have Chris anymore.”
Yet thanks to Christian’s uncanny resemblance to Chris — especially his eyes — Britt still does, in a way. Christian loves doing handstands now, the result of toddler gymnastics classes.
“She does them everywhere we go,” Britt laughs. “She dances all day, every day.”
Living as a single mom in Moore County, North Carolina, was never Britt’s original plan. But she has plenty of new accomplishments to list since her world came crashing down in 2017, including hiking Kilimanjaro in Africa and starting a PhD program in psychology at Liberty University.
“My husband was really adventurous and he was always the person to push me to do something new,” Britt says. “When he passed away, I didn’t have anyone to push me anymore, so I started pushing myself to try new things.”
And in going after those firsts, Britt now holds the title of Mrs. North Carolina Universal 2020. Though this year’s national pageant fell victim to quarantine, she still plans to compete in 2021. Her platform will be bringing awareness to families of the fallen.
“A lot of people don’t even know what Gold Star means,” Britt said. “I’ve met veterans who don’t know what Gold Star is.”
The publicity that pageants offer could majorly change that, giving Britt a wider audience to educate on the definition and needs of Gold Star families, perhaps even affecting future related legislation.
“The pageant world isn’t really a place where widows go,” she said. “I’m hoping out of curiosity people will read up on Gold Star or ask when I give my interviews so I can speak more about it.”
Besides getting ready to eventually compete in a national pageant, 2020 has held another rookie experience for Britt and Christian: being the recipients of a Gold Star canine training program.
Ridgeside K9 Carolinas recently boarded Atlas, the Harris’ one-year-old Blue Heeler, and professionally trained him to be a well-behaved family dog. The Harrises were the first selected for this free service for families of the fallen.
“Atlas is a very high-energy dog that was by no means a ‘bad dog,’ but I certainly needed help teaching him obedience,” Britt said. “He’s very patient and well-behaved now. He listens and the stress of chasing him and him avoiding and ignoring my calls and demands is long gone!”
Now, Atlas could happily join Britt and Christian on their road trips to places where Chris visited. Britt documents each trip in photos.
“I want to show the re-creations of her in the places Chris went, to walk where he walked, to feel close to him,” she says. “I want her to feel connected to him and the things he enjoyed.”
As a Gold Star wife, Britt understands that Chris is physically absent. But he — and those blue eyes he passed on to the daughter he never met — will always be a part of their lives.