A US Air Force F-16 assigned to Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada crashed outside of Las Vegas on the morning of April 4, 2018, in the third aircraft crash in two days.
The pilot was killed in the crash, the Air Force confirmed in a statement. He was a member of the Air Force Thunderbirds demonstration squadron.
The F-16 crashed around 10:30 a.m. during a “routine aerial demonstration training flight,” and the cause of the crash is under investigation, according to the Air Force statement.
On the afternoon of April 3, 2018, a Marine Corps CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter crashed around El Centro, California, during a routine training mission. Four crew members aboard the helicopter were killed.
Additionally, a Marine Corps AV-8B Harrier jet crashed during a training exercise in Djibouti, east Africa on April 3, 2018. The pilot ejected and was being treated at a hospital.
Congress and the military have come under scrutiny amid the spate of aircraft crashes. Military leaders have long argued for an increased budget to combat a “readiness crisis” as foreign adversaries have gained momentum in other areas of the world.
Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Steven Rudder, the Corps’ deputy commandant for aviation, said in November 2017, that although pilot and aircraft readiness was steadily improving, the Corps was still dealing with the effects of “the minimum requirement for tactical proficiency.”
“Newly winged aviators … [are] the foundation of the future of aviation,” a prepared statement from Rudder said, according to Military.com. “When I compare these 2017 ‘graduates’ of their first fleet tour to the 2007 ‘class,’ those pilots today have averaged 20% less flight hours over their three-year tour than the same group in 2007.”
Moving to a new base is a family decision as much as it is a career move. When considering where to go, there is so much to think about beyond career path; for instance, health and well-being, proximity to family, available health services and more.
Besides, sometimes it’s just fun to live somewhere new! As a military family, you’re likely used to frequent moves. But you can also find the right move that suits your interests, career changes, and more. Moving is a given, but when you get a say in where to go, it can make all the difference in mindset and family unity.
Consider finding a duty base that best suits your family needs for your next stop by:
Fulfilling family needs
First things first, what does your family need? Do you have a family member with certain medical needs? What type of amenities need to be nearby? Look at the proximity and quality of services close to each possible duty station. This information should be available online, with reviews so you can consider a move from afar. Military bases themselves might also offer this information, letting you know in advance what types of treatments are approved at each base. Or, find those who live there already and ask around.
Other things to consider include unique aspects to an area, preferences for climate, distance to important landmarks in your life (family, facilities, etc.).
Of course, moving somewhere new can be a great deal of fun! If you’re ready to try out a new location, think about what can be done and how it’s different from your current duty station. What activities are available that you can’t do now? (Snow skiing, hockey, sailing, rock climbing, and more.) Can you easily travel to landmarks that interest your family? Will you be able to adapt to weather changes easily?
Look at the option for adventure when considering your next base and what type of activities each family member can take on. Keep fun and adventure in mind so you can experience new cultures as well as all there is to be seen.
Looking at career moves
It’s also important to keep career changes in mind with a potential PCS. How will the move affect your military member’s career path? Is there a compromise for their best move that will also help the family? Look toward a solution that helps — or at least doesn’t hurt — a career projection in years to come.
This, of course, is based on you or your spouse’s job in the service. Some jobs will have more location choices than others, while others might head to various bases, depending on the point they are at in their career.
Taking a vote!
If your kids are old enough, consider a family vote to decide where you might PCS. After all, they’re being affected by this move, too, so it’s only fair to consider their wants! It may or may not make a difference in the long run, but it’s worth having a discussion.
Besides, a good old fashioned family vote just seems fun! While parents have final say (and ultimately the military has final final say), it can help kids to feel included and welcomed as part of the family when voting on upcoming PCS locations.
All in all, there is much to consider when looking at military moves. Look at responsible aspects, such as infrastructure and promotion path, but also consider just how much fun is to be had at potential addresses.
How does your family decide where to move next? Tell us below.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has proposed signing a World War II peace treaty with Japan by the end of 2018 “without preconditions.”
Putin made the surprise offer in public, sitting next to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on a stage at an economic forum in the Russian city of Vladivostok on Sept. 12, 2018.
After Abe pressed Putin on the subject of a treaty and a solution to the decades-long dispute over a group of islands claimed by both countries, Putin said: “An idea has just come into my head.”
“Shinzo said, ‘Let’s change our approaches.’ Let’s! Let’s conclude a peace agreement — not now but by the end of the year, without any preconditions,” Putin said.
He said issues that are in dispute could be resolved later, and that the pact could specify that the sides are determined to reach mutually acceptable agreements.
There was no immediate response from Abe, whose country has sought the return of the islands that lie northeast of Hokkaido since the war.
A treaty without preconditions would leave Russia in control of the disputed islands, which Russia calls the Southern Kuriles and Japan calls the Northern Territories.
Soviet forces occupied the islands at the end of World War II, and the territorial dispute has prevented Moscow and Tokyo from formally ending hostilities in the war.
Russian and Japanese Foreign Ministry officials said that work on a future agreement would continue as usual, and a Japanese official made clear that Tokyo wants an agreement on possession of the islands before it will sign a peace treaty.
Location of the Kuril Islands in the Western Pacific between Japan and the Kamchatka Peninsula of Russia.
“The government will continue its negotiations on the basic principle that we will sign a peace treaty after resolving the issue of the attribution of the four Northern Islands,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters. “This stance hasn’t changed.”
In Moscow, Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov told Russian news agencies that Putin’s announcement would not require any changes to the current format of negotiations.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said later in the day that Putin and Abe had not had a chance to discuss the proposal.
Russian commentator Georgy Kunadze, a former deputy foreign minister, told Ekho Moskvy radio that he believes Putin was “trolling” Abe and “does not expect anything” to result from the proposal.
The quest for the return of the islands is an emotive issue in Japan, and Kunadze suggested that Abe would never accept a deal that would be political suicide.
In years of talks, Russian officials have repeatedly signaled that Japan could not hope for a swift solution and hinted that the best way to get closer to a deal was to invest in the sparsely populated, windswept islands and engage in other areas of economic cooperation.
Meeting Abe on the sidelines of the forum in Vladivostok two days earlier, Putin had told the Japanese prime minister that “it would be naive to think that it can be resolved quickly.”
In his remarks on Sept. 12, 2018, Putin said concluding a pact would create a better atmosphere and enable Russia and Japan to “continue to resolve all outstanding issues like friends.”
“It seems to me that this would facilitate the solution of all problems, which we have not been able to solve over the past 70 years.”
During World War II, Hitler personally ordered the construction of massive, steel-plated towers that bristled with anti-aircraft guns, tearing planes from the sky like King Kong on angel dust. For modern Germans, these nearly indestructible towers provide a unique problem: They don’t want to waste well-engineered buildings and materials, but they’re not super into maintaining relics of Nazi triumph.
So the Germans have found interesting ways to re-purpose the old fortresses.
A German flak tower under construction in 1942 as part of Germany’s defenses against Allied bombing raids. Some of the expensive towers have been re-purposed in the decades since the end of the war.
(German Military Archives)
The strategy of constructing the towers was questionable to begin with. It required massive amounts of concrete and steel for the walls that, in some cases, are over two feet thick. Construction in Berlin was completed in six months and additional towers were built in Vienna and Hamburg before Germany was defeated. Construction took so much material that rail shipments had to be rearranged around them, slowing the flow of needed materiel and troops to battlefields and factories.
Just the Zoo Tower in Berlin required 78,000 tons of gravel, 35,000 tons of cement, and 9,200 tons of steel. The towers were built in pairs. For each primary tower devoted to anti-aircraft operations there was a second tower that had some anti-aircraft weapons, but also sported communications and other support equipment.
But the towers, once completed, were nearly impregnable. They relied on no single support pillar, and nearly every structural support was so strong that they were almost impossible to destroy from outside. When Germany was conquered, Soviet forces who took Berlin had to lay siege out of range and negotiate a surrender of the towers.
But there was one major shortfall to the towers. They were designed to stop air raids on Berlin, and it was dangerous to attack the city within range of the towers. So, planes simply flew outside of their range or approached them en mass, fielding so many planes that the Germans simply couldn’t get all of them at once.
German soldiers man a flak gun on a tower in World War II. The massive towers were a significant obstruction to air raids on three German cities, but were part of a questionable military strategy.
(German Military Archives)
Plus, Germany lacked proximity fuses during the war, meaning their flak weapons were less effective than those used by the Allies — at least, when the Allies were willing to use the fuses and risk their capture.
After the towers finally surrendered, engineers worked to destroy them, but quickly found that massive amounts of explosives were needed and, even then, many would still stand. The Zoo Tower, mentioned above, survived two attempts at destruction. The first attempt used 25 tons of explosives and the building shrugged it off.
The third attempt, powered by 35 tons of dynamite, finally did the job.
Outside of Berlin, some of the towers survived destruction attempts while a few were simply left in place. Instead of destroying them, locals decided to re-purpose them over the years.
At first, Germans simply stripped the towers of valuable materials and left the steel-reinforced buildings in place. But, over the years, the brilliant German engineers found ways to make use of buildings with excellent thermal insulation and structural integrity.
A storehouse for art in Vienna, Germany.
(Photo by Bwag)
In Vienna, one of the six towers is now an aquarium maintained by the Aqua Terra Zoo. Visitors can see over 10,000 fish and other aquatic organisms in the tower. On the outside of the tower, visitors can use the climbing wall that has been added.
Another Vienna tower has been turned into an antenna for cellular phones, and one is used to store art in controlled conditions.
In Hamburg, two towers have been re-purposed. One holds nightclubs and businesses and the other provides energy storage for part of the city.
Solar collectors cover the tower and work with butane and wood burners to heat large water tanks inside the tower. The thick concrete walls provide insulation and the water is pumped to nearby buildings, heating them during the cold months. The tower is also used to generate electricity for 1,000 homes.
While most of the towers in Berlin were destroyed to one degree or another, in one case, the rubble was simply covered over with dirt, forming two hills in a public park for visitors to sit on.
Check out the YouTube video below from Real Engineering to learn more.
While officials did not specify the type of nerve agent used, a well-placed source told the BBC it was likely to be extremely rare.
Nerve agents are extremely toxic chemicals that effectively shut down communication between the brain and muscles — in other words, they stop the body from working. They are also very hard to make.
Here’s what you need to know about the deadly substances.
What are nerve agents?
Nerve agents can take the form of gas, aerosol, or liquid, and enter the body through inhalation, the skin, or the consumption of liquid or food contaminated with them, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said.
Symptoms include restlessness, loss of consciousness, wheezing, and a running nose, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Depending on the amount and method of administration, symptoms can take minutes or hours to occur, Sky News science correspondent Thomas Moore said. When administered in high doses, nerve agents can suffocate victims to death within a couple of minutes, the OPCW said.
It’s not clear when the Skripals were exposed to the chemicals and how much was administered to them.
A witness at Zizzi, the restaurant where the Skripals were eating before they collapsed, told the BBC that the elder Skripal “seemed to lose his temper” and “just started screaming at the top of his voice, he wanted his bill and he wanted to go.”
Another witness who saw the stricken Skripals later on said Yulia “looked like she had passed out” and Sergei “was doing some strange hand movements, looking up to the sky.”
What was used on the Skripals?
The type of nerve agent used on the Skripals remains unclear. Investigators have identified it but are not making it public at this point, the BBC reported.
A source close to the investigation told the BBC the nerve agent was likely rarer than sarin gas, which is believed to have been used in the Syrian war and used to kill 13 people in a Tokyo subway in 1995.
The Sun previously reported military scientists on the case as saying the pair might have been poisoned with a “hybrid” kind of thallium, a hard-to-trace heavy metal commonly found in rat poison and insecticides. Detectives originally thought former KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned with thallium in London in 2006.
How easy is it to make nerve agents?
The raw materials for nerve agents are relatively inexpensive and easy to procure, the OPCW said. However, the chemical weapon itself is difficult to make.
Victor Madeira, a senior fellow at The Institute for Statecraft who testified to Parliament about Russian covert interference in Britain, told Business Insider: “Nerve agents are rare, tightly-controlled synthetic substances that do require specialised knowledge to manufacture, store and use safely.
“However, that knowledge isn’t beyond someone with a good Master’s degree in Organic Chemistry, say, and access to a good laboratory. Very difficult, but not impossible.”
Chemical weapons expert Richard Guthrie similarly told The Guardian that manufacturing nerve agents require “fairly complicated chemistry,” and were “essentially impossible” to make at home.
“Nerve agents, such as sarin or VX, require some fairly complicated chemistry using certain highly reactive chemicals,” Guthrie said. “Small quantities could be made in a well-equipped laboratory with an experienced analytical chemist. To carry out the reactions in a domestic kitchen would be essentially impossible.”
Does this point to Russia?
Experts appear to differ over whether Russia was responsible.
Matt Tait, a former GCHQ officer, said the method of attack seemed “designed to project that this is a nation-state that’s doing it.”
He told The Atlantic: “This is a very extreme form of killing in a way that is designed to project that this is a nation-state that’s doing it. Nobody can be under any sort of illusions that this is some sort of run-of-the-mill killing. […]
“The clear message that they’re sending to both people who currently work for their intelligence agencies and also people who used to work for their intelligence agencies … they will make an example of you.”
Madeira disagreed. Just because nerve agents are rare doesn’t necessarily mean a state actor did it, he said.
“Simply using a ‘very rare’ nerve agent against Col. Skripal wouldn’t necessarily indicate Kremlin (or Russian) involvement,” he told BI. “This is why DSTL Porton Down [the UK Ministry of Defence’s science lab] and partner agencies are racing to ‘fingerprint’ the agent used, which will then allow them to narrow the list of potential sources right down.”
Rob Wainwright, executive director of Europol, told CNN that attacking an ex-spy with a nerve agent in Britain was an “outrageous affront to our security in Europe and our way of life.” He warned, however, that people should “exercise caution before jumping to any conclusions.”
The Kremlin has vehemently denied any involvement or knowledge of the case.
The Marine Corps wants to overhaul its force to prepare to be more dispersed and more flexible to deter and, if need be, take on China’s growing military in the Pacific.
“China has moved out to sea, and they have long-range weapons and a lot of them,” Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger said on February 11 at an Amphibious Warship Industrial Base Coalition event on Capitol Hill.
“Those two things have changed the game,” Berger added. “Take those away, in other words, we could keep operating with dominance everywhere we wanted to, as we have. We cannot do that. We can’t get stuck in old things. We are being challenged everywhere.”
Since taking over last summer, Berger has called for a shift from a force suited for fighting insurgencies to one that can square off with China across the Pacific.
What Berger has outlined is a lighter, more mobile force that can operate in small units on Pacific islands. But the amphibious force that will support those units is not where it needs to be, Berger said last week.
That may mean the Corps needs new ships in the future, but he said it also needed to make better use of its current assets, which is where the “Lightning carrier” — an amphibious assault ship decked out with 16 to 20 F-35B stealth fighters — comes in.
“I’m in favor of things like the Lightning-carrier concept because I believe we need to tactically and operationally be … unpredictable,” Berger said. “We’ve been sending out every [Amphibious Ready Group] and [Marine Expeditionary Unit] looking mirror-image for 20 years. We need to change that.”
“You would like to see one of those big decks one time go out with two squadrons of F-35s and next time fully loaded with MV-22s and another MEU with a 50-50 combo. Now that’s how you become unpredictable. How do you defend against that?” Berger added.
The Lightning carrier’s nontraditional configuration is “a force multiplier,” the Corps said in its 2017 aviation plan.
In his commandant’s planning guidance issued in July, Berger said the Corps would “consider employment models of the Amphibious Ready Group (ARG)/MEU other than the traditional three-ship model” and that he saw “potential in the ‘Lightning Carrier’ concept” based on Wasp-class landing-helicopter-dock ships and the newer America-class amphibious assault ships.
The USS Wasp exercised in the South China Sea in spring with 10 F-35Bs aboard, more than it would normally carry.
In October, the USS America sailed into the eastern Pacific with 13 F-35Bs embarked — a first for the America that “signaled the birth of the most lethal, aviation-capable amphibious assault ship to date,” the Corps said.
The Lightning-carrier configuration gives the Marine Air-Ground Task Force aviation element “more of a strike mindset with 12 or more jets that give the fleet or MAGTF commander the ability to better influence the enemy at range,” Lt. Col. John Dirk, a Marine attack-squadron commander aboard the America, said at the time.
Even with the Lightning carrier, more needs to be done, Berger said on Capitol Hill.
“I think our … amphibious fleet has great capability. It is not enough for 2030. It’s not enough for 2025,” he said.
“We need the big decks, absolutely. We need the LPD-17. That is the mothership, the quarterback in the middle,” Berger said, referring to the San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock, the “functional replacement” for more than 41 other amphibious ships. Eleven are in active service, and the Navy plans to buy one in 2021.
“We need a light amphibious force ship, a lot of them, that we don’t have today,” Berger added.
When asked by Military.com, Berger declined to say how many Marines and aircraft those light amphibious ships could carry or whether they would be in the Navy’s new force-structure assessment, which is still being finalized. The Corps is also conducting its own force redesign, which Berger said would be released within the next month.
Berger also said he thought there was a role for the littoral combat ship, four of which the Navy plans to decommission in 2021, and the Navy’s future frigate.
“We cannot put anything on the side right now, not with your adversary building to north of 400” ships, he said, referring to Chinese naval expansion.
“The ships that we have, we need to increase the survivability of them, increase the command-and-control capability of them, arm them where we need to,” Berger added.
Berger and Rep. Mike Gallagher, who also spoke at the Capitol Hill event, both emphasized deterrence in the Indo-Pacific region, and both said that would depend on forces that are stationed forward and dispersed.
The Pentagon is “struggling to figure out how do we do deterrence by denial in Indo-Pacom. How do we deny potential adversaries their objectives in the first place, rather than rolling them back after the fact? That hinges on having forward forces,” said Gallagher, a former Marine officer and a member of the House Armed Services Committee’s seapower subcommittee.
The challenge is “to develop an entirely new logistics footprint, which includes new ships to support, resupply, and maneuver Marines around the first island chain, littorals, and in a high-threat environment, where speed and mobility serves as the primary defense,” Gallagher said.
That may require new classes of ships, added Gallagher, who told industry representatives in the room that “new classes of ships do not have to mean less work, and in the case of the future amphibious fleet — because I believe we need more potentially smaller amphibious vessels — it might actually mean more work.”
In his remarks, Berger called deterrence “the underpinning of our strategy.”
“I believe that because whatever the cost of deterrence is,” Berger said, “is going to be lower than the cost of a fight, in terms of ships and planes and bodies. So we need to pay the price for deterrence. I’m 100% there.”
U.S. Army Pfc. Michael J. Perkins silenced seven enemy machine guns and captured 25 German troops when he rushed a pillbox with just a small bomb and a trench knife in 1918.
Company D of the 101st Infantry was assaulting German lines in Belieu Bois, France when they came under fire from a pillbox. Fire from seven automatic weapons rained down on them. The American infantrymen maneuvered on the Germans to try and silence the guns.
Unfortunately, the enemy had expected the American move and began tossing grenades out the door to the fortification, preventing anyone getting too close.
Perkins waited by the door until the Germans attempted to throw out another grenade. As soon as the door cracked, he threw his bomb inside. The explosion opened the door permanently, and Perkins rushed inside with his knife.
The enemy inside were likely dazed by the bomb, but Perkins was still heavily outnumbered. He used the trench knife to kill and wound the first few Germans before accepting the surrender of the 25 survivors.
The Star Wars franchise is all about placing fantastical elements within in a sci-fi setting. In order to truly enjoy the films, you have to suspend your disbelief a little bit — otherwise it’ll look a lot like cosmic samurai fighting a faceless evil empire across a galaxy filled with people who magically speak the same language and function just fine without a space suit wherever they end up.
Putting a bit more thought into it, the Imperial Stormtroopers seem to get the short end of the stick nearly every single time. With the soon-to-be-released Solo: A Star Wars Story on the horizon, it’s fun to remember why they probably wouldn’t make the most intimidating enemy — especially not with highly-overused AT-AT walkers.
(Photo by Tim Moreillon)
To all seven of you out there who haven’t seen Star Wars, the AT-AT is a gigantic, robotic troop transport used by the antagonists that’s sort-of a futuristic callback to Hannibal’s elephants. They’re fairly intimidating in the films until you realize just how dumb of a design they really are.
At least they acknowledged that painting its weak spot bright orange was an objectively bad idea.
Its weaknesses are extremely obvious
The most glaring mistake of the AT-AT is that they’re so easy to destroy. In The Empire Strikes Back, our heroes turn the tide during a battle on the icy planet of Hoth when they decide to trip the lumbering armor. Really? Why did it take some rural moisture farmer to make that mental breakthrough?
Not only that, but Luke Skywalker also destroyed one by throwing a single grenade, which, somehow, blows up the head. They’re even more easily destroyed in Rogue One, when a single rocket to the walker’s “neck” is enough to take it down.
This is about the field of fire of an AT-AT. Avoid this and you’re fine.
Its only weapons are front-facing
If you’re facing the front of an AT-AT, you’re probably screwed. If you’re literally anywhere outside of its 30-degree field of facing, you’re completely safe.
Without any kind of air support, like what happened to them in The Empire Strikes Back, the opportunity to flank them is wide open. If you’re thinking that it could just turn around, that brings us to our next point.
This is it TRYING to turn.
It can barely turn
To be fair, the AT-AT can turn a little bit in Episode V and some of the obscure novels (which are no longer canon) say that they have an additional joint under the plating to help it turn. But, even if we’re generous, they can turn maybe fifteen degrees with each slow, lumbering step.
This is happens in a time when, according to the logic that has been established by the franchise, intergalactic travel and troop transport is done with spaceships. But, instead of carrying troops via something that fly, they chose something that can barely change course.
It can’t really leave this small clearing so, for any reason other than creating drama, this makes no sense.
It wouldn’t be able to maneuver anywhere
Let’s bring things back to the real world for a moment and discuss why tank treads work in almost every environment while horses don’t: Legs get caught in things. They get tangled in snares and sink into sand, snow, and mud. Tank treads, conversely, just roll through it all.
Now magnify that four-legged beast to the size of an AT-AT. All of those same problems still exist, but now you can cross cities and forests off that list, too.
Poor little AT-AT… At least you tried.
It’s a terrible design for a troop transport
Let’s bring it back to the fact that they rely on what are essentially robot camels when they have countless other options at their disposal. A spaceship can warp in and push out every Stormtrooper in a blink of an eye. The AT-AT, on the other hand, needs to bend down, load troops into the vehicle, carry them all somewhere, bend back down, and, finally, unload them.
All of that just to get some troops forward in an easily destructible, undefended deathtrap that can barely get around. Sure, they’re intimidating, but don’t you have Death Stars and Star Destroyers for that?
During two separate ceremonies on Jan. 5, the Army family and the Secretary of Defense officially welcomed Secretary of the Army Dr. Mark T. Esper back into the service that raised him.
As the newly appointed 23rd secretary of the Army, Esper will be key to the Army’s future, said Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis during a swearing-in ceremony at the Pentagon.
As international security continues to be a growing concern, Esper — a West Point graduate and a retired Army lieutenant colonel with combat experience — will need to “hit the ground running,” Mattis said.
The defense secretary said he believes Esper will lead an Army that contributes to DOD’s three lines of effort: strengthening alliances, reforming business practices, and building lethality.
“What we have here is someone that we are confident will take the Army forward, that has the right value system [and who] understands that if something is not contributing to lethality, it’s going to the dustbin of history,” Mattis said.
Esper brings with him a wealth of understanding from his time as an Army officer, in the defense industry, and on Capitol Hill, Mattis said.
“This Army has been tested and withstood the strain, but it stood because we have patriotic young people that have put their lives on the line,” Mattis said. “I know you are going to keep us feared by our adversaries and reassure our allies. They know when [the Army] shows up, they will fight harder alongside us.
“When the U.S. Army comes, what you’re saying is America is putting itself on the line,” Mattis said. “That is the bottom line.”
Esper said he appreciates the direction and support that Mattis gives to each of the five services, and that he couldn’t be more inspired to work under the defense secretary’s leadership. He also said he is excited to work alongside the leadership that already stands inside the Army.
“I could not have picked finer Army leadership to serve alongside,” Esper said. “And I can’t say enough about the virtue of our Soldiers, and their resiliency and willingness to take on the tough tasks that lie ahead.”
Since coming aboard the Army Nov. 20, Esper has traveled to meet with Soldiers stationed both inside the United States and abroad. He said he’s been impressed by what he has seen.
“In my first 30 days, I have been able to watch the 1st Calvary Division train at Fort Irwin. I’ve met with the global response force at Fort Bragg, [North Carolina] preparing for a no-notice deployment. And I visited with our troops in combat, in Afghanistan,” Esper said during his arrival ceremony at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Virginia, Friday afternoon.
“Soldiers are the Army’s greatest asset. Their welfare and readiness will always be my top priority,” Esper said.
Before a large crowd of Soldiers, veterans, families, congressional members, foreign dignitaries, and defense industry professionals, Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Mark A. Milley spoke highly of his new boss.
“[Esper] has a spine of titanium [and] steel that is not going to bend to the temporary dramas of the day in D.C.,” Milley said. “He has the Army’s static line like a good jumpmaster. He will not waver. He will never fail to do the right thing for our nation, our troops, or our Army, regardless of the consequences to himself.”
Building the future force
At the official arrival ceremony, Esper discussed his priorities for the Army, which include taking care of people, remaining focused on the Army’s values, readiness, modernization, and reform.
“My first priority is and will remain readiness, ensuring that the total force — active, Guard, and Reserve — is prepared to deploy, fight, and win across the spectrum of conflict,” Esper said.
Currently, the Army is engaged in over 140 countries around the world. However, fiscal pressures and a lack of steady budget continue to impact the Army’s current readiness and affect future operations, Esper said.
“We are now challenged to address the rise of aggressive near-peer adversaries in Asia and Europe, while our Soldiers continue to fight terrorist groups abroad and reassure our allies around the globe,” Esper said.
We must continue to build strong alliances and partnerships around the world [with] countries that train together [and] fight well together. And those that fight well together are most likely to win together.
Through 2017, Soldiers took the fight to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, provided advice and assist support to Afghanistan and other nations, trained with allies and partners in European countries, and provided assistance to citizens recovering from natural disasters.
“Our job is to be ready — to be ready for combat,” Milley said. “To deter war, but to fight and win if deterrence and diplomacy fail. That is a solemn task for this nation. We are and will remain ready to engage the intense, bloody, unforgiving crucible of ground combat against any foe anytime and anywhere.”
Esper also identified the need to become better stewards of Army resources, all while modernizing current and future capabilities.
“This means growing the force while maintaining quality. Reshaping it to be more robust and successful in all domains, and modernizing it with the best weapons and equipment available to guarantee clear overmatch,” Esper said.
Consequently, for modernization to be successful, improvements need to be made to the current acquisition process, Esper said.
“This includes improving how requirements are set, empowering acquisition personnel to be successful, ensuring accountability, prototyping, and demonstrating systems early, and involving the private sector much more,” Esper said. “We must provide our Soldiers the tools they need to fight and win when they need it. I am confident that the new Futures Command we’re designing will do just that.”
Panda Express and Muscle Maker Grill are among the new restaurants coming to Air Force and Army bases in 2019, officials with the Army and Air Force Exchange (AAFES) told Military.com.
AAFES manages restaurant contracts on Army and Air Force bases, including deals with familiar brands such as Subway and Starbucks. Other restaurants, like P.F. Chang’s, currently at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, and coming soon to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, are contracted by base morale and welfare officials.
On-base food fans will get a break from Burger King and Taco Bell, as officials open a variety of new options and expand others.
Healthy menu-focused Muscle Maker Grill will open additional locations at Benning; Joint Base Andrews, Maryland; and, according to the company’s website, Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
Qdoba, which opened on several bases last year, including Fort Knox, Kentucky; Fort Lee, Virginia; and Fort Stewart, Georgia, will add more military locations.
While a Change.org petition to bring Chick-fil-A to bases continues to circulate and had collected nearly 88,000 signatures as of this writing, AAFES officials declined to comment on whether the restaurant will make an on-base appearance.
AAFES officials said they also will be bringing in a few less well known restaurant chains.
Chopz, a fast-food outlet that offers healthy options focused on salads, subs, burritos and wraps, will open at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, they said. And Slim Chickens, a fast-food chain primarily located in Texas and Oklahoma, will open locations at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, and Fort Hood, Texas, later in 2019, they added.
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.
The Army is working hard to determine Soldiers’ knowledge, skills, abilities, and preferences, and use those metrics to get the best military occupational fit for them, said Lt. Gen. Thomas C. Seamands.
Doing so will surely benefit the Soldier as well as optimize Army readiness, he said.
Seamands, the G-1 deputy chief of staff, testified Feb. 14 before the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel. The general told lawmakers the Army is now piloting a talent assessment program that will identify talent and match it to Army requirements.
For example, summer 2017 at the Aviation Captain’s Career Course at Fort Rucker, Alabama, junior captains completed a battery of talent assessments, which provided them with individually-tailored feedback on where their talents align with the requirements of the Army’s various career specialties.
Likewise, junior captains at the Field Artillery Captain’s Career Course at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, are currently conducting a similar talent assessment, he said. The pilot program finishes this spring, and the Army plans to expand the assessment program to include additional career courses over the next two years.
“Our goal is comprehensive visibility of all our Soldiers’ knowledge, skills, abilities, and behaviors to best fit the right person in the right job at the right time,” he said.
One way to get that visibility is the Integrated Personnel and Pay System-Army, or IPPS-A, which will transform the Army’s legacy personnel system to a 21st-century talent management system, he said.
The IPPS-A will enable the Army to manage all 1.1 million Soldiers across the total force in a single, integrated personnel and pay system that will directly impact the readiness of the Army and improve the lives of Soldiers, Seamands said.
Also, IPPS-A will provide a full end-to-end audit capability to ensure Army personnel and pay transactions are compliant with the law, he noted, explaining that IPPS-A “integrates software that creates distinct roles and permissions by individual positions, sets business processes, segregates duties, and generates system alerts when changes are made.”
Those are all things Seamands said are not possible with current Army personnel systems.
Initial implementation of IPPS-A will start with the Pennsylvania Army National Guard in October 2018, he said.
Soldier for Life
In addition to finding the right jobs for Soldiers while they’re in the service, the Army is also committed to ensuring their successful transition to the right civilian jobs upon separation, Seamands said.
Each year, about 100,000 Soldiers transition from the Army via either retirement or separation, he said.
“Our mandate here is clear — we must continue to focus on preparing our Soldiers for the transition to productive veterans across our respective communities,” the general told lawmakers.
The Army’s Soldier for Life strategic outreach program has connected more than 1,000 private and public organizations to transitioning Soldiers and spouses, resulting in increased educational and employment opportunities for Army veterans and their families, he said.
According to the Department of Labor, Soldier for Life efforts assisted in reducing the veteran unemployment rate to 3.7 percent for fiscal year 2017, along with the lowest amount of unemployment compensation for veterans in 17 years.
“We as an Army continue to enhance our policies and procedures for transitioning Soldiers and have ensured commanders understand that they must ensure their Soldiers attend VOW Act-mandated briefings,” Seamands concluded.
“In the end, it is in the Army’s and our nation’s best interest to ensure Soldiers transition successfully back into our communities. They are better able to become productive citizens as well as important ambassadors for the Army who can positively affect the propensity for others to serve.”
Photo by Bob Hall, also a public affairs specialist for the Columbia VA Health Care System.
Two ladies are alive today thanks to the quick action of five police officers from the Columbia VA Health Care System.
On Oct. 5, Columbia VA Police officers Major Calvin Rascoe and officers Colt Clark, Ronald Turner, Robert Evans and Shawn Bethea were returning to the Columbia VA from training. Rascoe observed fire and smoke coming from a vehicle traveling north on Interstate-77. The driver and passenger were unaware of the fire coming from the undercarriage of their car.
Rascoe activated his vehicle’s blue lights and siren to get the driver’s attention to pull over. The police officers quickly jumped into action to save the two ladies in the car.
Clark and Turner led the ladies to a safe area away from the car. Turner called 911 to request fire and emergency rescue and Bethea took care of traffic control.
Took three extinguishers to put out the fire
With the ladies safely rescued from the car, Rascoe and Evans attempted to put out the fire. Rascoe emptied a five-pound fire extinguisher on the engine and undercarriage and Evans emptied a second 2.5-pound extinguisher to battle the fire on the engine.
With flames still blazing from the undercarriage, Rascoe grabbed a third fire extinguisher and finally extinguished the fire just as the Lexington Fire Department and local Emergency Management Service arrived on the scene.
Pictured above are VA Police officers (l-r) Major Calvin Rascoe and officers Colt Clark, Shawn Bethea, Ronald Turner and Robert Evans.
Followed their training
“Our focus was to save the two ladies in that burning car,” Rascoe said. “I appreciate these guys 100 percent. They did an impeccable job. They reacted and did what they are trained to do to make sure people are safe. I believe if God had not placed us there at that particular moment, the outcome would have been tragic.”
David Omura, Columbia VA Health Care System director, said “The heroic work our great police service does inspires me. I hope that if I am ever driving down the road and I have an emergency, like my car being unexpectedly on fire, the VA Police are there to save the day.”