U.S. Army Sgt. Elizabeth Marks won the gold medal and set a new world record in the women’s SB7 100-meter breaststroke Saturday night at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.
“I had no idea [I was winning],” exclaimed Marks. “I can’t see when I am swimming. About 25 meters in, I have no idea where anybody else is. As long as I feel pressure on my hands, I know it is going well. I was just hoping for the best and putting everything I had into it.”
Marks served as a combat medic in Iraq and suffered serious injuries to her hip while deployed in 2010. Determined to stay in the Army and be declared fit for duty, she turned to swimming during her rehab in San Antonio.
She showed so much promise that she was accepted into the Army’s World Class Athlete Program in 2012, which allowed her to be declared fit for duty.
Marks fell into a coma in September 2014 after flying to London to compete in the Invictus Games. Doctors at Papworth Hospital put her on an external lung machine, saving her life.
She shocked everyone by returning to the pool less than a month after coming out of the coma and won gold at the World Military Swimming and Para-Swimming Open in February 2015 by defeating a field composed almost entirely of men.
Earlier this year, Marks won gold at the 2016 Invictus Games in Orlando. She asked Prince Harry, founder of the organization that puts on the games, to personally award her the medal. After he presented it to her, she returned it to him and asked that he give it to the staff at Papworth Hospital.
In July, Marks was given the Pat Tillman Award, which honors an individual with a strong connection to sports who has served others in a way that echoes the legacy of former NFL player and U.S. Army Ranger Tillman.
Marks will also compete in the S8 100m backstroke on Sept. 13 and the SM8 200m individual medley on Sept. 17.
Watch our interview with Elizabeth Marks at the 2016 Pat Tillman Award ceremony:
U.S. Army aviation leaders offered details on Oct. 10, 2018, about recent solicitations to industry designed to advance the attack-reconnaissance and advanced drone aircraft programs for the service’s ambitious Future Vertical Lift effort.
Future Vertical Lift, or FVL, is the Army’s third modernization priority, intended to field a new generation of helicopters such as the Future Long Range Assault Aircraft to replace the UH-60 Black Hawk, as well as the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA), by 2028.
The FARA will be designed to take targeting information from FVL’s Advanced Unmanned Aerial System and coordinate “lethal effects” such as long-range precision fires to open gaps into a contested airspace, Rugen said.
Released Oct. 3, 2018, the RFP for the FARA asks industry to submit proposals for competitive prototypes.
“All the offerors will basically get us their designs by Dec. 18, 2018; we will down-select up to six in June 2018 and, in 2020, we will down-select to two,” Rugen said.
The Army plans to conduct a fly-off event in the first quarter of fiscal 2023 to select a winner, he added. “It’s a tremendous capability … that we think is going to be the cornerstone for our close combat control of contested airspace.”
UH-60 Black Hawk.
The service also released a Sept. 28, 2018 Future Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems RFP for industry to present platforms to conduct demonstrations for Forces Command units.
“Future Tactical UAS is really something that we have been asking for; it’s a [Brigade Combat Team]-oriented UAS,” said Brig. Gen. Thomas Todd III, commander of Program Executive Office Aviation. “It isn’t necessarily a replacement for the [RQ-7] Shadow, but it could be, depending on how it goes with industry … so we are ready to see what you’ve got.”
The Army plans to pick three vendors to provide “future tactical UAS platforms to FORCOM units, and they are going to go and basically demonstrate their capabilities,” Rugen said, adding that the Army is looking for features such as lower noise signature and better transportability.
The service plans to “do a fly-off in the next couple of months and down-select in February,” he said. FORCOM units will then fly them for a year in 2020.
The results of the demonstrations will inform future requirements for the FVL’s Advanced UAS, Rugen said. “If it’s something we really, really like, we may move forward with it.”
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
Legend has it that no SEAL platoon will use the designation “X-Ray” anymore. The story goes that the last platoon to use the literal nom de guerre had the worst luck — that is to say, a high casualty rate — of any platoon before or since.
“That’s what I’ve heard,” says Gordon Clisham, a member of SEAL platoon X-Ray stationed in Vietnam during its hard-luck run there. “I don’t know if that’s true or not … the platoon lost four men — killed — and everyone was injured at least once.”
Clisham reached out to We Are The Mighty after reading our story about X-Ray in May 2016. He wanted to clear up some facts that he claims might not be as clear cut.
Specifically, Clisham wanted to set us straight on the counterinsurgency operation the SEALs conducted at Ben Tre which was lead by one of the team’s Vietnamese scouts.
“His name was Tong,” Clisham recalls. “I think he was dirty and I couldn’t prove it.”
During the operation, X-Ray was ambushed by the Viet Cong. One story says a SEAL’s own grenades blew up while still on his belt. The explosion blew his glute off. Clisham says that’s not what happened.
A B-40 (a type of rocket-propelled grenade) hit the SEALs Mobile Support Team, Clisham says. The SEAL who supposedly lost a glute was actually P.K. Barnes, and he lost his leg from the knee down as a result of the explosion.
Clisham thinks it was their scout feeding intel to the enemy.
Ben Tre was just one operation among many that went wrong.Clisham estimates that about half the missions conducted by SEAL platoon X-Ray were compromised. They were just walking into one trap after another.
The reason? OPSEC.
Clisham suspects someone, maybe not just Tong, was feeding information to the enemy.
“I even went to Lt. Mike Collins [the unit commander] and said ‘We should get rid of this guy because we’re going on ops without him and we’re getting ambushed, and we go on ops with him, and he walks through the jungle like he’s walking through the park and we never get hit,'” Clisham says. “The boss didn’t want to shoot him, so we didn’t do it.”
“What we had to do before we went out at night or any operation, was to get a clearance,” Clisham, who was the unit intel petty officer at the time, explains. “I would go up to the S2 center, give them our location – never the exact location, we would ask for a ten grid square clearance, so they didn’t know exactly where we were at because a lot of the people working S2 center were VNs [South Vietnamese officers].”
The Army wanted the exact location, but with the Vietnamese working in the intelligence, the SEALs were not willing to give up the coordinates. Lieutenant Collins struck a deal with the Army: SEAL platoon X-Ray would put the location of their ops in a sealed envelope before their mission. If necessary, the Army could open the envelope and provide support. If not, the location remained a secret.
After the first op, Clisham returned to the S2 to find the envelope opened. No one knew who opened it or why.
“There was a lot of hoopla raised about that,” Clisham recalls. “I don’t think anything was ever rectified, but we knew that somebody there was getting in on our intel or information of our location.”
To this day, as certain as he is that Tong, their scout was dirty, Clisham is sure it was a Vietnamese officer in the intel center who was giving their locations to the Viet Cong. To my surprise, he countered the May 2016 story’s claim that VC defectors who turned themselves in for amnesty – called “Chieu Hoi” – were untrustworthy.
“Now, we had a guy that worked with us that was ex-VC,” says Clisham. “That was Ah. He was a good man. He was on our side one hundred percent.”
There’s no exact reason why some veterans remember the details differently. As Clisham says, it was 45 years ago. When he and his fellow SEALs sit down for reunions, they don’t usually talk about what happened. They prefer to tell dirty jokes over cold beers.
But at least now history has a clearer picture of the “hard luck” that surrounded SEAL platoon X-Ray.
Cops love doughnuts. That’s the stereotype at least. Being caught in uniform with one of the delicious but unhealthy confections has long carried a certain stigma, but the real history behind the close relationship cops have with doughnuts is much more interesting and complex than the negative caricatures often put forth in American media.
In some places, the cop-doughnut relationship was symbiotic. In others, it was necessary. But the reason cops and doughnuts are like peas and carrots in our collective cultural memory is because the doughnut shop was the only game in town.
Cops have a lot to do during their shifts, no matter how long those shifts might be. When not actively responding to calls, patrolling their areas of responsibility, or doing the myriad things cops have to do during a typical 10-hour shift, police officers have to find a place to do the bulk of police work: writing reports.
To outsiders, police work has always been about walking the beat — the daily business of protecting and serving. For actual police officers, writing reports is a duty as old as walking any beat. And back in the day, cops didn’t have a lot of options for where they could post up and get some paperwork done.
Even by the late 1970s, the idea of a 24-hour convenience store seemed insane to most people. Gas stations didn’t always have stores and weren’t as ubiquitous as they are today. They also closed at a decent hour. The same goes for grocery stores. Outside of major cities, all-night diners were rare, and even in the 1960s, only 10% of restaurants were open all night, catering mainly to truckers.
If a police officer’s beat wasn’t near one of these small handfuls of all-night spots, they were out of luck. But there was one place a tired, hungry peace officer could go to grab a cup of coffee, some food, and maybe get some work done — the good ol’ doughnut shop.
What was good for the police was also good for the doughnut shop. Being open late in small cities and towns meant they were a target for criminals looking for an easy payday. Having the local police force using your doughnut shop as a staging area meant built-in security as you got up in the early morning hours to make doughnuts.
The symbiotic relationship spread all over the country, even as more and more establishments began to stay open late. When the interstate highway system ramped up construction in the 1960s and 1970s, the country became more connected, and some rural areas became significantly less rural.
Doughnut shops even became late-night chains such as Krispy Kreme and Dunkin’ Donuts. The cop-doughnut relationship held fast, and some stores set aside space for police officers to get their work done. Dunkin’ Donuts even had a companywide policy of catering to police. Its founder, William Rosenberg, credited the relationship with the company’s early success in his autobiography.
A doughnut is a decent snack for a graveyard shift. It’s a fresh, easily obtained source of calories that a busy officer might need for a night of busting punks. When the action dies down, coffee offers a burst of caffeinated energy to help cops get through their shifts. And coffee and doughnuts are relatively cheap, which is great for anyone working as a city or state employee.
Despite the rotund appearance of police Chief Clancy Wiggum on The Simpsons, doughnuts aren’t to blame for the image of the overweight cop. In The Donut: History, Recipes, and Lore from Boston to Berlin, author Michael Krondl interviews police officers who recall their sweet treats giving them just the right amount of food needed to do the job.
“You got out there, walked around, rolled in the streets with criminals [and burned] the calories off,” Frank Rizzo, former Philadelphia police chief, told Krondl.
Somewhere along the way, American popular culture began to notice, and the image of the local police officer began to shift into a caricature, fueled by the cop-doughnut relationship. Cops in film and television became less Andy Griffith and more Chief Wiggum.
What started with a wholesome beginning eventually became derogatory. Everyone from stand-up comics to punk bands and rappers began to make fun of the cop-doughnut dynamic. For some, there’s nothing worse than being caught with one of those sweet fried treats or being seen parked at a Krispy Kreme.
Today, cops can generally post up anywhere to catch up on paperwork. Police cruisers have come a long way and have everything an officer needs during a shift. If they need a meal or a break, there are often many options open to them.
But doughnuts and coffee still provide excellent fuel for the thin blue line, and late-night and early morning bakers appreciate the added security of having cops around. So the next time you see a cruiser parked at Dunkin’, cut your local police force a break and don’t cast shade. If you were in that uniform, you might be right there with them.
A few years ago a team of journalists from Syracuse University traveled to rural Washington state to tell the stories of hundreds of veterans living there, some off-the-grid, away from the country for which they fought.
The project includes the story of Chad Olsen, a Marine who killed his wife and himself in 2009, and the stories of those who knew him. It features the stories of Ryn Rollins and Adam Howerton, who (at the time) were 18 and enlisting in the Army. The project also shows how one Marine veteran who struggles with post-traumatic stress and returning to everyday life after three tours in Iraq.
The project also follows “trip-wire veterans,” a small group of vets who escaped their lives into the wilds of American back country because they were unable to face their war memories and were provided little help when they returned. The term “trip-wire” comes from the Vietnam War, where the Viet Cong would booby trap trails used by U.S. servicemen to injure and maim troops outside their bases.
The term was first coined in the early 1980’s, when around 85 people were documented living in the Washington wilds. It was not known then how many were out there. One former trip-wire vet was Mike McWatters. He lived in New York’s Adirondack Mountains for two years after seeing heavy combat in Vietnam. In 1983, he started work to reach out to these veterans to encourage them to seek treatment.
“I know one vet who went into the woods naked,” McWatters said. “He came out in full leather clothing, having gained 40 pounds, carrying weapons he’d made.”
When these veterans were first discovered, the media often inaccurately portrayed them as criminals and drunks or worse. In June, 1988, Dan Rather and CBS News interviewed six “Vietnam veterans” who admitted to killing civilians or seeing friends killed in action, and had since become homeless, suicidal drug users after the war. Later investigations showed none of it was true.
The reality is not so black and white. The project hit important topics beyond PTSD – women, race (specifically Native Americans) and the wives and children veterans leave behind, all from the rural town of Republic, Washington.
This team did more than just tell tales of the people living there. They provided thoroughly researched background information on veteran suicide, the steps to getting a VA disability claim, and an infographic on U.S. wars from 1900 (current as of 2010) and those who fought them.
According to a report by ynetnews.com, the package includes four frigates based on the Littoral Combat Ship, 115 M1A2S Abrams tanks, the MIM-104F Patriot PAC-3 missile system, the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system, 48 CH-47 Chinook helicopters, 150 Blackhawk helicopters, and a number of other systems.
Bloomberg News reports that the deal was originally for two ships based on USS Freedom (LCS 1), which is currently in service with the United States Navy, but was increased to four, and there is an option for four more vessels. This is the first export order for the LCS hull.
The Lockheed Martin website notes that this ship adds remotely-operated 20mm cannon, the RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow missile, long-range surface-to-surface missiles, and the AN/SLQ-25 “Nixie,” a decoy intended to draw torpedoes away from a ship.
A separate deal could include up to 16,000 kits for the Paveway series of laser-guided bombs. These weapons are used on Saudi jets, including the F-15S Strike Eagle, the Tornado IDS, and the Eurofighter Typhoon.
Many of the weapons deals had been initiated during the Obama Administration, but had been placed on hold due to concerns about civilian casualties in the Yemeni Civil War. The Saudi Arabian military has been launching strikes against the Houthi rebels to back the Yemeni government.
Charles H. Coolidge was the last living recipient of the Medal of Honor from the European theater of World War II. On April 6, 2021 at 99 years old, he died peacefully surrounded by his family.
A Technical Sergeant who was drafted into the Army on June 16, 1942, the Medal of Honor wasn’t his only recognition. His unit was shipped overseas to support the North Africa campaign in 1943. While serving as a sergeant and a machine gun leader during a battle in Italy, he was awarded the Bronze and Silver Star for his actions above the call of duty. The sense of honor and devotion appears to have been ingrained in him from his own father who continued paying his workers despite hardship to his own family during the Great Depression.
The qualities of servant leadership and kindness to others would follow Coolidge in his next fight.
In 1944, he found himself in a leadership position with the 36th Infantry Division, guiding a group of 12 machine gunners and rifleman platoon soldiers in France. Charged with the mission of covering the right flank of the 3rd Battalion, his platoon ran into Germans in the woods. With no officer in charge, Coolidge steadily took command. Reports indicated he attempted to bluff his way through it by demanding their surrender by inflating their numbers and force capability.
One of his men spoke German, so he had him communicate and attempt to negotiate their surrender. Coolidge saw one of them line up his rifle to shoot his soldier, so he pulled out his own weapon and shot him, saving the soldier’s life. When another German managed to wound that soldier in the arm, Coolidge dragged him to safety. Following that heroic rescue, it was on.
After four days of fighting in the cold and rain, on October 27, 1944, Coolidge not only held command but his leadership and calm throughout the relentless battle saved lives. Though he continued to try to radio the battalion for help, none came. Then, the Germans showed up with their tanks.
Not only did he walk the line with no regard for his own safety, but on that final day, he armed himself with a bazooka and went toward the enemy and their tanks. When his bazooka failed, he threw it aside and used his grenades, crawling on his stomach alone and launching them at the enemy. Reports indicate that he recognized that the enemy force was too much for his company and would soon overtake it. With that same calmness, he coordinated an organized withdrawal. Coolidge was the last to leave, with no man left behind and all of them alive.
On June 18, 1945, Coolidge was awarded the Medal of Honor for his leadership and bravery to go above and beyond the call of duty. “My first concern when I was a platoon sergeant was my men,” he told the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. “I didn’t care what happened to me, but I wanted to protect my men, under any circumstances. I always referred to them as my men — not anybody [else’s], not the company’s. “They were strictly my men, and I’d do anything for them.”
“As a result of TSgt. Coolidge’s heroic and superior leadership,” the citation concluded, “the mission of his combat group was accomplished throughout four days of continuous fighting against numerically superior enemy troops in rain and cold and amid dense woods.”
It’s interesting how the world changes complexion,” he later told the Nashville Tennessean. “And what you do to survive.” After the war, he went home to Tennessee. He married and had three children, one who would go on to become a Lt. General in the Air Force.
The loss of Coolidge is felt deeply throughout the country and military community. His death leaves one remaining World War II Medal of Honor recipient, Hershel W. Williams, 97, who was recognized for his bravery as a Marine Corps Corporal on Iwo Jima. To honor them and others, we must continue to share their stories of heroism and devotion to duty. For without them, we wouldn’t be here. Never forget.
On Sept. 10, 2019, US and Iraqi forces dropped 80,000 pounds of munitions on Qanus Island, in Iraq’s Salah-al-Din province, to destroy what Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) called a “safe haven” for ISIS fighters traveling from Syria into Iraq.
“We’re denying Daesh the ability to hide on Qanus Island,” Maj. Gen. Eric T. Hill, the commander of OIR’s Special Operations Joint Task Force, said in a press release, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS.
Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman Col. Myles Caggins tweeted a video of the operation on Sept. 10, 2019, that shows bombs carpeting the tree-lined island from end to end, saying the island was “Daesh infested.”
Air Force Central Command tweeted an additional statement, saying that the strikes come at the “behest of the Iraqi government” and that Qanus Island is believed to be “a major transit hub and safe haven for Daesh.”
A spokesperson for OIR told Insider that ISIS casualties were still being assessed but that there were no casualties for the coalition or the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Services. A small cache of abandoned weapons was found on the island, the spokesperson said. The spokesperson said the number of ISIS militants on the island at the time of the strike was unknown.
After the group’s supposed defeat in March, the Islamic State regrouped in Syria and Iraq, partly as a result of troop withdrawal in Syria and a diplomatic vacuum in Iraq, according to a Pentagon Inspector General’s report. The report also blamed Trump’s focus on Iran for the resurgence, saying that the administration’s insufficient attention to Iraq and Syria also contributed to ISIS’s ability to regroup, even though it has lost its caliphate.
While ISIS is not nearly as powerful as it once was — the Pentagon estimates the group has only 14,000 to 18,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria at present, compared with the CIA estimate of between 20,000 and 31,500 in 2014 — it is still carrying out assassinations, crop burnings, ambushes, and suicide attacks.
OIR said that it targeted the area because ISIS militants were using the tiny island to transit from Syria and the Jazeera desert into the Iraqi cities of Mosul and Makhmour, and the Kirkuk region. The dense vegetation there allowed militants to hide easily, according to OIR.
Airstrikes on Qanus Island, Iraq, on Sept. 10, 2019.
The airstrikes, carried out by US Air Force F-35 Lightning II and F15 Strike Eagles, came in the midst of Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi’s new policy to consider flights in Iraqi airspace hostile unless they are preapproved or a medical emergency. That policy took effect on Aug. 15, 2019. These aircraft typically carry Joint Direct Attack Munitions, which are precision-guided air-to-surface munitions.
According to the release, Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Services are carrying out additional ground operations on the island to “destroy any remaining Fallul Daesh on the island.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Marine Corps drill instructor and Hollywood actor R. Lee Ermey was robbed of an Oscar for his legendary portrayal of Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in Stanley Kubrick’s 1987 classic “Full Metal Jacket” and snubbed by the Academy’s Oscar “memoriam” montage.
But while the Academy may not have thought his contribution worth recognition, we know the Gunny knew a thing or two we should all remember about military service.
Ermey had a long career. As well as his iconic role in “Full Metal Jacket,” where he improvised most of his dialog, and that long run on “Mail Call,” he played iconic roles as the police captain in “Se7en,” the voice of Sarge in the “Toy Story” movies, the mayor in “Mississippi Burning” and a chilling serial rapist in a 2010 episode of “Law & Order: SVU.”
Ermey also had a wicked sense of humor, one that allowed him to play the over-the-top movie director Titus Scroad in the cult TV series “Action” and the lead kidnapper in the “Run Ronnie Run,” the bizarre comedy from “Mr. Show With Bob and David” guys Bob Odenkirk and David Cross.
He left us on April 15, 2018, and he’s now at rest at Arlington National Cemetery.
So what did his TV and movie appearances teach us about service? Here are nine great examples.
1. Once a Marine, always a Marine.
In his “Full Metal Jacket” rants, Gunny Hartman tells his recruits that their Marine Corps training had permanently changed them. They’re no longer mere men: They’ve become Marines.
“Today, you people are no longer maggots. Today, you are Marines. You’re part of a brotherhood. From now on, until the day you die, wherever you are, every Marine is your brother. Most of you will go to Vietnam. Some of you will not come back. But always remember this: Marines die. That’s what we’re here for. But the Marine Corps lives forever and that means you live forever.”
2. You gotta break someone before you build them up.
Few civilians understand the bonds of trust required for a military unit to function and even fewer can grasp the process that goes into tearing down the idea of the individual so a person can be truly absorbed into the group. Gunnery Sgt. Hartman can help you with that.
“If you ladies leave my island, if you survive recruit training, you will be a weapon. You will be a minister of death praying for war. But until that that day, you are pukes. You are the lowest form of life on Earth. You are not even human fucking beings! You are nothing but unorganized grab-ass-tic pieces of amphibian shit! Because I am hard, you will not like me! But the more you hate me, the more you will learn! I am hard, but I am fair! There is no racial bigotry here. I do not look down on niggers, kikes, wops, or greasers. Here you are all equally worthless. And my orders are to weed out all non-hackers who do not packed the gear to serve in my beloved corps. Do you maggots understand that?”
Gunny Hartman may have been talking about Pablo Picasso’s 1939 portrait of Dora Maar.
3. Modern art is not good art.
Hidden in Gunny Hartman’s psychological tear down are some important observations about other parts of our world. He’s also an art critic.
“You’re so ugly you could be a modern art masterpiece!”
Truthfully, Gunny Hartman’s material is closer to Don Rickles than Steve Martin but Steve’s the one who said, “Comedy is not pretty.”
4. Comedy is not pretty.
He’s a talented insult comic.
“Well I’ve got a joke for you, I’m going to tear you a new a–hole.”
Ask yourself: “Is my toilet clean enough that I could invite the mother of Our Savior to use my bathroom?”
5. A clean toilet is a holy toilet.
He’s concerned that our religious icons have a good bathroom experience.
“I want that head so sanitary and squared away that the Virgin Mary herself would be proud to go in there and take a dump.”
What’s YOUR major malfunction?
6. A great catchphrase works in any situation.
Ask anyone who grew-up in a household where dad always asked “What’s your major malfunction?” Every Single Time they did something he didn’t like.
7. The Heart is the Deadliest Weapon.
He even operates on multiple levels. He may SAY a Marine is the deadliest weapon but listen closely: The threat really comes from a Marine’s cold, cold heart.
“The deadliest weapon in the world is a Marine and his rifle. It is your killer instinct which must be harnessed if you expect to survive in combat. Your rifle is only a tool. It is a hard heart that kills. If your killer instincts are not clean and strong, you will hesitate at the moment of truth. You will not kill. You will become dead Marines. And then you will be in a world of s***. Because Marines are not allowed to die without permission. Do you maggots understand?”
8. Everyone Needs Mail.
Ermey did his part on his long-running History Channel series to educate a generation of Americans who knew nothing about the military. He also reminded everyone that communication is critical for men and women who are serving their country. If you want to remember Ermey, write a letter, send an email or make a phone call in honor of his service.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
In 1943, Mabel Rawlinson, a Women Airforce Service Pilot, died in an aircraft crash. The government would not pay for her remains to be sent back to her family, nor allow her to have a flag draped over her casket.
Her fellow WASPs passed around a hat, pitching in to have her casket shipped back to her family – flag-draped in defiance, and escorted home by her service sisters.
She was one of 38 WASPs to die in service to her country.
More than 70 years later, as the last of “the greatest generation” dwindles and the WASPs’ male counterparts are laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery with befitting honors, a WASP is at last also being honored for her service. During a military funeral service Sept. 7, Elaine Danforth Harmon’s ashes were interred at Arlington National Cemetery.
Along with Rawlinson, Harmon was one of 1,074 women to serve as a pilot during World War II, fulfilling what the Air Force Historical Research Agency called a “dire need” to train male pilots and ferry aircraft overseas.
She is the first WASP to be buried in Arlington since the passing of HR-4336, a bill introduced by Arizona Representative Martha McSally to ensure WASPs eligibility for interment at Arlington National Cemetery. When Harmon passed away April 21, 2015, her family applied for her interment at Arlington per her final wishes. The request was denied based on a legal decision that “active-duty designees,” such as the WASPs, did not meet eligibility requirements for the cemetery, which is quickly running out of burial space.
Since then, her ashes had remained in the black box provided by the funeral home, sitting amidst folded sweaters, old photos and hanging clothes in her granddaughter’s closet.
“Gammy doesn’t belong on a shelf,” said Tiffany Miller, Harmon’s granddaughter.
Since her death, her family fought to secure a place for the WASPs in Arlington, aided by members of the self-proclaimed “Chick Fighter Pilot Association,” female pilots who owe their success to the trailblazing efforts of the WASPs.
After the passing of the bill, several of the female aviators proudly flew the burial flag during their missions. They documented the flag’s travels in a journal read during the memorial service.
The flag “went on a journey worthy of a WASP,” according to Lt. Col. Caroline Jensen, an F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot who aided the family’s campaign.
“Because of the legacy of the WASPs and the service of women like Elaine, I stand before you,” she said. “I’m a reservist on active duty, 22 years in the Air Force, 3,500 hours flying fighters, 1,700 in an F-16, 200 in combat, three years as a right-wing pilot for the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds and eight of those while being a mom. So we owe a lot to Elaine and the women like her.”
Jensen was joined by McSally and retired Maj. Heather Penney, each of whom credited their success as female pilots to the WASPs. They gave their remarks alongside beaming photos of Elaine – decked out in her flight suit at the ages of 22 and 85, demonstrating her continued love of flying.
“You could tell that the time they were WASPs was one of the best times of their lives and they were very proud to have served their country,” Elaine’s daughter, Terry Harmon said.
Retired Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold once spoke to a class of graduating WASP and said that initially he hadn’t been sure “whether a slip of a girl could fight the controls of a B-17 in heavy weather. Now in 1944, it is on record that women can fly as well as men.”
“It was a man’s world, but we did something really great that was needed for the war effort,” Elaine had said during an interview for Library of Congress historical archives.
Elaine wanted people to remember that effort, and in her handwritten will, beseeched her family to place her ashes in Arlington National Cemetery.
“To her, Arlington is more than a cemetery, it’s a memorial for all the people that have served their country,” said her granddaughter, Erin Miller.
Seventy-two years after her fellow WASP died in service of country and was denied military honors, Elaine Harmon died among her family. More than a year later, her children and grandchildren, her fellow WASPs and her service daughters escorted her home.
“For generations to come, when they come to these hallowed grounds that honor our heroes and educate people about their service and sacrifice … these women will be in that history book on their own merit, on their own right,” McSally said.
Another trailblazer was laid to rest among her brothers and sisters-in-arms. Her urn was placed in a niche of the columbarium wall between her fellow veterans, she left her final mark on the white marble: “Elaine Danforth Harmon, WASP.”
Sit across the table from Spc. Sergo Dzamashvili for just a few seconds and you’ll see a basic outline emerge fairly quickly. His manners and easy smile, the way he leans forward when he talks, and — not least of all, of course — his affection for Starbucks Doubleshot energy drinks make him the typical — almost archetypal — 30-year-old soldier; busy, eager, and always ready for the next task, the next challenge. But dig a little deeper and you will see, quite clearly, the details that color the world inside that simple sketch. To map the entire terrain, however, you’ll need to travel some 15,000 miles.
“I always wanted to be a soldier,” says Dzamashvili, sitting in the offices of the 21st Signal Brigade on a warm September morning. “When I was a kid that was always something I thought would be cool, being a soldier for the American Army.”
Those words, and indeed his affinity for the Army and America as a whole, are repeated so often and with such calm conviction that he could almost double as a motivational speaker; one specializing, perhaps, in writing simple daily mantras for busy professionals to read on their daily commutes. Instead, Dzamashvili is a board-certified medical doctor who enlisted in the Army just last year, in early 2018. It’s a commitment, he says, that doubles as a gift to the country that gave him opportunities he never would have had in his native Georgia — a tiny, still-emerging country located at the intersection of Western Asia and Eastern Europe.
U.S. Army Spc. Sergo Dzamashvili speaks with a coworker at his desk located in the offices of the 21st Signal Brigade.
(Photo by Mr. Ramin A. Khalili)
“Honestly,” says Dzamashvili, “the reason I wanted to become an American soldier is because America has given my family everything.”
The first 5,000 miles
“When I was born in Georgia,” says Dzamashvili, reaching back to the late 1980s, “it was still part of the U.S.S.R. This was just before the U.S.S.R. split up, and so there was instability and there was upheaval … there was an ongoing fight for power.”
It was that atmosphere of decline that Dzamashvili’s father, Konstantin, sought to flee when he reached out to a friend living in Chicago for help in the early 1990s. Political and cultural strife in the country of — at the time — barely more than four million people had led to the breakdown of living conditions and, in some cases, the basic application of law. And so Konstantin, a neurologist by trade, was hoping America could provide safety for his wife, son, and young twin daughters.
“My father was waiting in breadlines for hours just to feed the family,” says Dzamashvili. “So when he came here, it was for a better life.”
But that opportunity came with a catch. In order to pay for his family’s move to America, Konstantin had to travel to the U.S. alone first in order to save up enough money. He wound up bunking with that same buddy in Chicago for a year —eventually re-starting his medical career at 40-years old — before bringing the rest of the family to Illinois.
Says Dzamashvili of his father, “He was out there for a year, alone, while we were still in Georgia, until he had passed all his boards and started his residency program, which would then fund us coming over here.”
And so at age five, Sergo was finally in the place he wanted to be all along … for a little while, at least.
Return to Georgia
For Sergo, it all started with his grandfather — his father’s father. He was the catalyst, the inception point. He passed away when Konstantin was in his late teens and so Sergo never got a chance to meet him, but he did have pictures — volumes of mementos from Georgia.
“I would always hear stories about his bravery,” says Sergo, “about what kind of man he was. From early on, I was always intrigued — the way he was standing there in his [military] uniform with all these medals.”
Those pictures, coupled with Sergo’s newfound affinity for the United States, stuck with him during his formative years and carried through to his entrance into medical school — which he ultimately chose to attend at David Tvildiani Medical University back in Georgia.
U.S. Army Spc. Sergo Dzamashvili (foreground, right) conducts Army Warrior Tasks (AWT) drills during the 21st Signal Brigade Best Warrior Competition 2019.
(US Army photo by Sgt. Raul Pacheco)
The decision to both leave home (to leave again, in a manner of speaking) and reconnect with family roots was daunting to say the least, as Georgia had been rife with the same political instability from Dzamashvili’s youth up until pro-democratic forces rose to power in the mid-2000s. The tiny, burgeoning country was still — much like Sergo at the time — moving through its adolescent years.
There was contrasting comfort, however, in the medical training itself. Turns out Dzamashvili’s chosen university not only came highly recommended from family friends practicing medicine in Chicago, it was designed specifically to cater to regional students who wanted to ultimately enter U.S.-based medical professions. To that end, all university textbooks were written in English and, further, the overall cost of schooling was substantially less than a U.S.-based medical education — all perks unavailable to his father just a decade-or-so earlier. Ironically, Georgia would eventually, in 2014, become home to the U.S. Army Medical Research Directorate-Georgia, a subordinate command of the USAMRDC’s Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.
“Going back to Georgia really brought me that perspective,” says Dzamashvili. “There was a long time where my family wouldn’t go back, even though we had a chance to go back in the 90s.”
Just twelve years after touching down in America’s Heartland — and just a few years after becoming an American citizen — Sergo was back on a plane at age 17 for a new and different journey.
Homecoming, part II
When you ask him how Georgians speak — ask about the language they use, the way they talk, the casual slang terms they use, even — Dzamashvili is quick to make it clear that Georgia is a singular and unique entity; a hard-fought identity that he clearly still respects.
“Georgians have their own language,” he says quickly, almost as a sly-but-gentle rebuke to those who think the country may still be hindered by its turbulent past in any way. “They have their own alphabet, everything — and so I had to re-learn how to read and write, essentially, when I went back for school.”
Dzamashvili’s university stay would last for six years until his graduation in 2013; at which point he’d not only navigated the rigors of initial medical training, but had reached a poignant understanding of the country of his birth (“people there are very hospitable,” he says), gained a greater understanding of the government’s democratic efforts (“I see hope,” he says), and, with regards to cultural differences, had also determined that Georgia had substantial culinary shortcomings as compared to the U.S. (“I did miss burritos over there,” he says).
U.S. Army Spc. Sergo Dzamashvili assigned to HHC, 21st Signal Brigade, conducts M9 weapons qualification as part of the 21st Signal Brigade Best Warrior Competition 2019.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Raul Pacheco)
Touching back down in Illinois, Dzamashvili eventually passed his medical board examinations, shadowed professional doctors, and even performed clinical research at Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital. But when it came time for residency training, instead of waiting a year to attend either Loyola University of Chicago or the University of Illinois at Chicago, he opted for a different path: the U.S. Army.
“Screw waiting,” says Dzamashvili of his mindset at the time. “I’m going to join the Army. I was always told the fastest way to get into the Army was to just go and enlist anyways, so that didn’t bother me to go enlist for a couple of years as long as I got into the medical field.”
Desire, meet destiny
Now, after thirty years and medical training efforts on two different continents, Sergo Dzamashvili is both a medical doctor and a member of the U.S. Army; his first assignment is here at Fort Detrick. His unique qualifications have bred an understandable eagerness to move forward — a chomping at the bit, of sorts — as, indeed, he’s already started the process of entering the Army’s medical occupation; taking the steps required to become a physician. But if you think the man who’s waited nearly three decades to realize his dream is put off by a little time in the waiting room, then you don’t know Sergo.
“My ultimate goal is to practice medicine in the Army,” says Dzamashvili. “That’s what I want, to give back. I’d like to serve for at least eight years, to give back that entire time in service.”
Just how long it will take to reach that goal is yet to be seen, though it should come as no surprise that Dzamashvili has already attempted to plot the arc of his military medical career even before his training has been completed. Even now, serving as a Human Resources Specialist in the S-1 Office until his next assignment, he finds in each day’s shift what so many others would gladly welcome into their own lives: a sense of purpose, the feeling of belonging, and the satisfaction of a job that truly has meaning.
In the end — if these kinds of stories can have an end — the service career of Sergo Dzamashvili is, in reality, just beginning. It would be an exaggeration, perhaps, to say that Dzamashvili has already lived multiple lives; though it wouldn’t be such a stretch to say that’s the truth, either. In any capacity, his life’s work as currently constructed already stands as an impressive feat; a soldier coupling the desire to serve America with the talent required to make a lasting impact.
Not too bad for a typical 30-year-old.
Says Dzamashvili, “If there’s nothing else I do in my life, I can always say I was a soldier. That’s the way I look at it. If there’s nothing else that I accomplish, I will always know that I served my country.”
Aligning with a superpower worked for some countries during the Cold War, and for many others, it didn’t. But Iran never aligned itself with the US or the Soviet Union, preferring to maintain its independence and sovereignty. But where the Non-Aligned movement was dedicated to the principles of pretty much minding one’s own business, the coalition Iran is building is more dedicated to pushing back against the US.
But just for one very specific reason: inflation.
Ever since the United States left the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – also known as the ‘Nuclear Deal’ – sanctions imposed by the U.S. have left Iran’s currency and economy in tatters. As today is the day Iranians celebrate the New Year, Iran’s Supreme Leader is celebrating the regime’s resistance to the economic hardship.
“In the face of severe, and according to them unprecedented, sanctions from America and Europe, the Iranian people showed a strong and powerful reaction both in the field of politics and economy,” Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said in a pre-recorded speech. President Hassan Rouhani echoed that sentiment and called for Iranian to stop fighting each other a band together against the United States.
With sanctions crippling the value of Iranian currency, the Iranian government is looking to its neighbors to strengthen the rial. Other countries like Germany and France, who are still party to the nuclear plan, have opened channels to Iran for trade without using the dollar. While this has eased the out of control inflation in the Islamic Republic, the rial is still trading at 190,000 to one. Iranians have seen their savings and their net worth plummet in the past few years, which is the first result of rampant inflation.
Banks, merchants, and institutions have also seen the values of their businesses and livelihoods decline as a result. Throughout Iran, the inflation and unhappiness with the sanctions, and the regime’s inability to do anything about it has caused widespread protests and demonstrations – some on the same scale of the ones that brought down the Shah and saw the Islamic Republic come to power.