Typically, an amputation ends a military career. For a long time, most any level of amputation was considered to make a service member unfit for combat. As of last summer, only 57 amputees had returned to conflict zones and most of those stayed at a desk.
These three men wanted to get back into the fight.
1. The Ranger who swore he’d still be a squad leader
Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Kapacziewski was in an armored vehicle when insurgents threw a grenade into it. Kapacziewski survived the blast with serious injuries. After months of surgeries and casts, he attempted to walk on his right leg again and heard the pins holding it together snap. Soon after, he asked doctors to remove it.
Over the months and years that followed, Kapacziewski (a.k.a. “Joe Kap”) relearned how to do the basic tasks required of Rangers . He ran, rucked, parachuted, and completed Army drills with his prosthetic leg. Since his amputation, he has conducted four combat deployments and even earned an Army Commendation Medal for pulling an injured soldier 75 yards during a firefight.
2. The paratrooper who led an airborne platoon with a prosthetic
1st Lt. Josh Pitcher finished relieving himself on the side of the road, closed his fly, and heard the loud pop of a small roadside bomb. Two days later, he was in a hospital in Germany, promising to return to combat despite losing his left leg beneath the knee. Before he could even try and return to active duty, Pitcher had to kick a pill and drinking habit he got trying to deal with the pain after his surgeries. But, he learned how to do his old job with his new leg. Less than two years after his injury, he returned with his unit, the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, to Afghanistan. A few months later, he took over a 21-man platoon and led them for the rest of the deployment, most of it trudging through the mountains in the northern regions of the country .
3. The captain who calmly reported his own double amputation
When then-1st Lt. Daniel Luckett’s vehicle was hit by an IED in Iraq in 2008, a squad leader called up to ask if everything was all right. Luckett calmly responded, “Negative. My feet are gone.” Two years later, Capt. Luckett was with the 101st Airborne Division again; this time in Afghanistan. He uses a small prosthetic to assist what remains of his right leg. A much larger one serves as his left. His second day with his first prosthetic, he attempted to walk away with the leg. Doctors tried to get it back, but Luckett convinced them to let him keep it. He would go on to earn the Expert Infantry Badge during his efforts to prove he was still an asset. After successfully earning the award, the soldier was promoted to captain and allowed to deploy with his unit as part of the Afghan surge.
“Wonder Woman” hit theaters on June 2nd and has been a massive critical and box-office success. It’s a comic book/superhero movie, but it also happens to be a historical movie taking place in Europe during World War I.
So, while this movie’s main character is a bad-ass woman made of clay (she can also fly) who fights bad guys with a magical lasso, there are some things that are actually very real about who she’s fighting.
In the movie, General Ludendorff, played by Danny Huston, is a general in the Imperial German Army. He’s ruthless, ambitious, and will do whatever it takes to win the war for Germany, including using chemical weapons.
General Eric Ludendorff was a real German general in World War I. According to Uproxx, he was an advocate for “total war.” And from 1916 to 1918, he was the leader of Germany’s war efforts.
The real Ludendorff has been credited for coining the “stab in the back” myth. After World War I, right-wing Germans believed that the Germans didn’t lose the war on the battlefield, but instead that they lost the war because other Germans betrayed them on the homefront. Ludendorff blamed the Berlin government and German civilians for failing to support him.
In the 1920s, he became a prominent right-wing leader in Germany, serving in Parliament for the National Socialist Party. He also had associations with Adolf Hitler and other Nazis.
Ludendorff stood for war, and Wonder Woman stands for peace, so it makes sense that director Patty Jenkins and screenwriter Allan Heinberg turned to Ludendorff for their villain.
World military spending decreased steadily in the years after the 2008-2009 global financial crash but has risen in each of the five years since 2015, the latest in what SIPRI researcher Nan Tian described as four phases in military spending over the past 30 years.
The post-Cold War years saw spending decline in what many saw “as a peace-dividend period,” Tian said Tuesday during a webcast hosted by the Stimson Center and SIPRI.
That decline bottomed out around 2000, when the September 11 attacks prompted years of defense-spending increases that peaked around 2010 and 2011, Tian said. Spending fell again in the early 2010s.
“But more recently, in the last three years, we really see that spending has really picked up,” Tian said. “The reason is the US announcing really expensive modernization programs … and also the end of austerity measures in many of the world’s global spenders.”
US military spending grew by 5.3% in 2019 to a total of 2 billion — 38% of global military spending. The US’s increase in 2019 was equivalent to all of Germany’s military expenditure that year, SIPRI said.
Military spending in Asia has risen every year since 1989, with China and India, second and third on the list this year, leading the way. (Tian said SIPRI’s numbers for China are higher than Beijing’s because SIPRI includes spending it defines as “military-related.”)
“In the case of India and China, we’ve seen consistent increases over the last 30 years,” Tian said. “While India and China really [were] spending in the early 1990s far less than Western Europe … Chinese spending really starts to pick up since about 2000.”
China’s spending, now several times that of France or the UK, and India’s growing expenditures point to “a change in the global balance,” Tian said.
“Whereas a few years ago we saw … [for] the first time that there are no Western European countries in the top five spenders in the world, this is the first time where we see two Asian countries, in India and China, being within the top three spenders, followed by Russia and Saudi Arabia.”
Data is not available for all the countries in the Middle East, but Saudi Arabia is by far the biggest spender for which SIPRI could estimate totals. In terms of arms imports, the Middle East “has now the largest share it has ever had since 1950, as a region,” SIPRI senior researcher Siemon Wezeman said on the webcast.
“That’s partly related to ongoing conflicts [and] very strong tensions, Iran vs. the Gulf States, Saudi Arabia. It is a very strong driver of arms imports, especially by the Gulf States,” Wezeman added, noting that Iran, under arms embargo, is not a major weapons importer.
Most of Africa’s military spending, 57%, is done by North African countries. “They have the money,” Wezeman said, “especially Algeria, and Morocco to a lesser extent, are basically the big ones buying there.”
“Many of the other African countries buy a couple of armored vehicles — a helicopter here, a little aircraft there — and do that every few years. That’s basically their armed forces,” Wezeman said, adding that fighting insurgencies, like Boko Haram, or peacekeeping, as in Somalia, also drove increased military spending.
Sub-Saharan Africa has seen “extremely volatile spending” in recent years, related to the many armed conflicts there, Tian said.
“As countries need to fight … they need to allocate resources to the military. But conflicts, of course, are extremely destructive on a country’s economy,” Tian added. “So we see that countries are increasing spending one year, decreasing spending another year.”
Overall military expenditures by Western European nations fell slightly between 2010 and 2019, but Eastern European countries have increased their military spending by 35% over the past decade.
“Some of this is really down to a reaction to the perceived threats of Russia,” as well as the replacement of Soviet-era equipment and purchase of US and NATO equipment, Tian said.
“European countries, aside from seeing a bigger threat from Russia, also are going through a cycle of replacing their fourth-generation combat aircraft with fifth-generation combat aircraft. So there is a big load of new combat aircraft, mostly or almost all of them US-exported weapons, going to Europe,” Wezeman added.
But an economic contraction sparked by the coronavirus pandemic is likely to bring down military expenditures.
“We’ve seen this historically following the ’08-’09 crisis, where many countries in Europe really cut back on military spending,” Tian said, noting that military spending as a share of GDP might increase if “GDP falls and spending doesn’t decrease as much as GDP.”
This time around, spending in Europe may “be stronger in the coming years” despite the coronavirus, Wezeman said, “because the contracts … in many cases have been signed.”
Below, you can see who the top 10 defense spenders were and how much of the world’s military expenditures they accounted for in 2019.
If your idea of self-care is eating paleo and running ultra marathons, I’ve got news for you – you’re missing out.
Self-care goes way beyond the way you feed or train your body: It’s about health at multiple levels. At its core it requires attention to regulating your nervous system – to regularly giving your brain and endocrine system (your body’s network of hormone-producing glands) the chance to calm down and return to normal levels.
This type of self-regulation is important for your physical and mental performance whether you’re an elite athlete or an everyday person of any age.
Pain isn’t always weakness leaving the body
As a veteran, you know that the military does a great job attaching metrics to physical fitness. Service members are required to pay attention to their physicality, and intensity is emphasized. These are good things in many ways. After all, you can’t see improvement without testing your body’s limits.
However, the military often falls short on the topic of balanced wellness. Many veterans leave their time in service physically broken, with muscular imbalances, and hold fast to the belief that if training is hurting, it’s helping. We might even think that only malingerers, failures, and dirtbags take time to care for themselves.
I’m not here to suggest that you give up your high intensity training. But I am here to say that the whole point of intensity should be about using it to increase your performance in a smart and productive way.
Whether your goal is muscle growth or cardiovascular improvement, attaining your specific training objectives will be easier when you lower your blood cortisol levels (the stress hormones your body produces).
You can do this by practicing self care and something called “mindful movement.”
But isn’t mindful movement for hippies?
Mindful movement is as useful for grunts as it is for POGs as it is for civilians. Here’s what career infantry officer Maj. Gen. Thomas Jones, USMC (Ret.), has to say about it:
“For many years as an infantry officer, I worked feverishly to build resiliency in combat Marines. However, and unfortunately, it wasn’t until I was a civilian that I learned that I was missing the central, necessary ingredient…to crafting resiliency: a thorough understanding of the physiology of stress within the body…I learned that mindfulness enabled me to personally address stressors with positive outcomes.”
Mindfulness is a form of self-care, and what it really means is that you’re paying close attention to your breath and body so you can discover how to care for yourself. For example, if you notice that you have really tight hips, you should work to correct the problem instead of ignoring it. This type of awareness is a very calming thing – we can use breath as a vehicle to connect our (sometimes very) disconnected mental and physical selves, and it can let us know how we need to adjust our training or lives to perform more effectively.
When we’re busy and stressed, paying attention to the needs of the physical body is one of the first things to go. However, we can benefit tremendously from figuring out when we’re not in a rested state and then working to provide our bodies and minds with opportunities to relax.
Why are mindfulness and self-care so good for me?
When we effectively manage stressed out bodies and minds, our levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) are lowered. Lowering cortisol is helpful because it improves our brain’s ability to function and our body’s ability to perform.
Alternately, high levels of cortisol encourage your body to seek out and crave simple carbs and store them as fat. Too much cortisol also impairs upper-level cognition in our brains – making it harder to think clearly, experience empathy, and communicate effectively. It can also degrade our physical performance.
Finding ways to lower our stress – even if only for a few moments – has the opposite effect and is incredibly beneficial to us.
So what does a drop in stress hormones feel like? Think about the last time you enjoyed an activity or training – when you took a deep breath in and you just felt that “Ahhh!” feeling – even if you were working hard and running up and down trails. You may find it while running, skiing, doing yoga, getting a deep tissue massage, or even lifting weights. Some people call it a “click,” or a “shift.”
That moment will look different for everyone, but when you find it, take note.
If I want to practice self-care – where should I start?
The first and most important step to practicing self-care is to commit to managing your time so you can structure a plan for success.
Next look at how what you’re doing on a daily basis makes you feel. Tune into that and take notes for a few days. Do you feel depleted at the end of a day? Energized? Hopeless? Keyed up?
Once you have a read on how you’re doing, begin to expand your skills. If you only know one or two tools to make yourself feel better, the good news is that you have lots of room to grow. Continue to do what you already know you like and benefit from, then learn and add in a couple of new options to your wellness program and nutritional choices.
Pay attention to how you’re treating your body with food. Consider taking fast food and soda out of the options column for yourself. If you don’t want to take them out, then look to add items that taste amazing and are healthy. Instead of restricting, add in.
If you feel overwhelmed as you think about all the training and wellness options out there, consider plugging into an organization or non-profit that can teach you helpful skills. As a veteran, if you can imagine a self-care or mindful movement option, a non-profit probably exists that supplies it.
Self Care Resources
Outdoor Odyssey – Funded weeklong retreats for wounded, ill and injured active-duty and veteran warriors, designed to craft a definitive plan for the future with the support of a team. Designed and operated by those who have been there!
Outward Bound – OIF/OEF veterans can enjoy all-expenses paid week-long trips rock climbing, dog sledding, sailing, and more, as they learn the value of compassionate leadership.
Sierra Club Military Outdoors – Power ski, ice climb, whitewater raft and more alongside fellow veterans in some of America’s most stunning backcountry.
Just Roll With It Wellness Retreat – This free three-day retreat teaches self-care and mindfulness practices, gives you the opportunity to connect with other veterans interested in physical and mental health, and includes a travel stipend.
Dr. Kate Hendricks Thomas is a U.S. Marine veteran and wellness coach who writes about resilience building, creating strong communities, and the science of spirituality. You can find her new book, “Brave, Strong, True: The Modern Warrior’s Battle for Balance”, here.
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.”
In a hearing before the House Appropriations Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Subcommittee, Wilkie said veterans who have earned the Purple Heart will be placed “at the front of the line when it comes to claims before the department.”
According to Wilkie, the change is in “recognition of wounds taken in battle.”
He didn’t provide details on how the change will be implemented but said it is among the many improvements the department is making as part of the claims and appeals modernization effort.
The new process, created under the Appeals Modernization Act, gives veterans three choices for appealing their claim, including providing new evidence to the original reviewer; having a more senior adjudicator review the decision; and appealing to the Board of Veterans Appeals.
Wilkie described the change as part of a 21st-century transformation at the department.
The VA appeals backlog, which will be handled by the legacy system of appealing decisions to the board, stands at roughly 402,000 cases.
The new system will not only be used for disability compensation claims decisions, it will tackle decisions on education and insurance applications, vocational rehabilitation, caregiver benefits and claims with the National Cemetery Administration, according to the VA.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
The bill has already passed the House and is expected to be voted on and approved by the Senate this week before going to President Obama’s desk for his signature.
This is not the first time Congress has gotten its dander up over this subject. Lawmakers asked both services to explain the same thing last year, but Marine Corps leaders said they need to do more testing of the Army’s M855A1 enhanced 5.56mm round.
I reached out to the Marine Corps yesterday and the Army today to ask about how they planned to deal with the request. I could almost hear the head-scratching as if neither service had heard anything about it.
According to the provision, the report must be submitted within 180 days after the bill, which includes the entire defense budget for the coming year, is enacted.
If the secretary of defense does not determine that an “emergency” requires the Army and Marine Corps to use the two different types of rifle ammo, they must begin using a common 5.56mm round within a year after the bill is passed, it states.
OK so here is the back story for those you out there who don’t know it.
The Army replaced the Cold-War era M855 5.56mm round in 2010 with its new M855A1 enhanced performance round, the end result of more than a decade of work to develop a lead-free round.
The M855A1 features a steel penetrator on top of a solid copper slug, making it is more dependable than the current M855, Army officials have maintained. It delivers consistent performance at all distances and performed better than the current-issue 7.62mm round against hardened steel targets in testing, Army officials maintain. It penetrates 3/8s-inch-thick steel at ranges approaching 400 meters, tripling the performance of the M855.
The Marine Corps had planned to field an earlier version of the Army’s M855A1 until the program suffered a major setback in August 2009, when testing revealed that the bismuth-tin slug proved to be sensitive to heat which affected the trajectory or intended flight path.
The setback prompted Marine officials to stay with the current M855 round as well as start using the MK 318 Special Operations Science and Technology round developed by U.S. Special Operations Command instead. Commonly known as SOST ammo, the bullet isn’t environmentally friendly, but it offered the Corps a better bullet after the Army’s M855A1 round failed.
Since then the Marine Corps has purchased millions of MK 318 rounds.
The MK 318 bullet weighs 62 grains and has a lead core with a solid copper shank. It uses an open-tip match round design common with sniper ammunition. It stays on target through windshields and car doors better than conventional M855 ammo.
The Army quickly replaced the bismuth-tin slug in its new round with a copper one, solving the bullet’s problems in 2010, Army officials said.
The new Army round also weighs 62 grains and has a 19-grain steel penetrator tip, 9 grains heavier than the tip on old M855 ammo. Seated behind the penetrator is a solid copper slug. The M855A1 consistently penetrates battlefield barriers such as windshields more effectively than the M855, Army officials contend.
US Navy Adm. Harry Harris, the commander of the US military in the Pacific, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 15, 2018, that the US isn’t planning a one-off, “bloody nose” strike on North Korea, but rather it’s planning to go all out in war or not at all.
Senior administration officials are reportedly exploring the “bloody nose” strategy, which entails a limited strike to humiliate and intimidate North Korea. When asked about this during the Senate hearing, Harris said no such plan existed.
“We have no bloody nose strategy. I don’t know what that is,” Harris said in response to a question from Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, USNI reported.
“I am charged by the national command authority of developing a range of options through the spectrum of violence, and I’m ready to execute whatever the President and the national command authority directs me to do, but a bloody nose strategy is not being contemplated,” Harris continued.
Experts uniformly reacted in horror at the news that President Donald Trump’s administration was reportedly planning a limited strike on North Korea, as they allege it would likely result in an all-out, possibly nuclear retaliation from Pyongyang.
“If we do anything along the kinetic spectrum of conflict, we have to be ready to do the whole thing,” Harris said, pouring cold water on the idea of a limited strike that would only have rhetorical ramifications.
Speculation over Trump’s willingness to strike North Korea peaked after he dismissed Victor Cha, a widely respected Korea expert, as US ambassador to South Korea after almost a year of consideration.
Cha’s dismissal owed to his disagreement Trump’s plan to attack North Korea, multiple outlets reported at the time.
Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker said in a statement that its nearly 200 T-45C aircraft will resume flights as early as April 17 after being grounded for more than a week.
Its pilots had become increasingly concerned late March after seeing a spike in incidents in which some personnel weren’t getting enough oxygen. The concerned pilots had declined to fly on more than 90 flights.
Instructors and students will now wear modified masks in the two-seat trainers. They will also fly below 10,000 feet to avoid use of on-board oxygen generating systems.
The planes train future Navy and Marine fighter pilots. Shoemaker said students will be able to complete 75 percent of their training flights as teams of experts, including people from NASA, “identify the root cause of the problem.”
Two T-45s are now at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland where the teams are taking them apart to figure out what’s gone wrong.
“This will remain our top safety priority until we fully understand all causal factors and have identified a solution that will further reduce the risks to our aircrew,” Shoemaker said.
The Navy operates the training planes at three naval air stations in the Southern United States. They are NAS Meridian in Mississippi, NAS Kingsville in Texas, and NAS Pensacola in Florida.
More than nine years after the Battle of Kamdesh claimed eight lives and left 27 injured, a soldier killed there received a posthumous medal upgrade Dec. 15, 2018, to the nation’s second highest honor, the Distinguished Service Cross.
Army Staff Sgt. Justin Gallegos, 27, had been posthumously awarded the Silver Star for his actions at Combat Outpost Keating, the location of the assault by Taliban insurgents that led to one of the bloodiest battles of the war in Afghanistan.”
The Distinguished Service Cross was presented here to Gallegos’ son, MacAidan Justin Gallegos,14, who lives in the area with his stepfather and mother, Amanda Marr. Marr and Gallegos were divorced at the time of his death.
“A couple weeks ago, when I heard the news that Justin’s Distinguished Service Cross had finally been approved, I knew that one of the great discrepancies in the long narrative of the battle of Combat Outpost Keating had finally been corrected,” Maj. Stoney Portis said during the ceremony. Portis was Gallegos’ commander at the time of the battle.
Distinguished visitors bow their heads during the invocation at Staff Sgt. Justin T. Gallegos’s Distinguished Service Cross ceremony at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska Dec. 15, 2018.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Crystal A. Jenkins)
Called “a day for heroes” because of the number of heroic acts during the Oct. 3, 2009, battle, COP Keating was all but overrun when, just before dawn, Taliban fighters assaulted the outpost with machine-gun and rocket-propelled grenade fire.
With what the citation calls “extraordinary heroism,” Gallegos, a team leader for Troop B, 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, maneuvered “under heavy sniper and rocket-propelled grenade fire to reinforce a [High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle] battle position that was critical to the Outpost’s defense,” the citation states.
“While under heavy fire for nearly an hour, Staff Sergeant Gallegos continued to suppress the oncoming enemy with the crew-served weapon. Once the weapon’s ammunition was exhausted, he engaged the enemy with his M4 carbine to allow fellow soldiers in a nearby truck to evacuate from their position,” it states.
As they attempted to join the unit defending the outpost, Gallegos retrieved and moved a wounded soldier to safety while under fire, then exposed himself again to ongoing machine-gun fire while trying to provide suppression and cover so the rest of his team could move to his position.
“During this final act, Staff Sergeant Gallegos paid the ultimate sacrifice,” the citation states. “Staff Sergeant Gallegos’ actions enabled a section of soldiers to regroup and provide necessary security to stave off enemy forces from the west side of the camp. His actions played a critical role in the defense of Combat Outpost Keating, and Troop B’s subsequent counterattack against a numerically superior Taliban force.”
Soldiers assigned to U.S. Army Alaska listen during Staff Sgt. Justin T. Gallegos’s Distinguished Service Cross ceremony at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska Dec. 15, 2018.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Crystal A. Jenkins)
Medals of Honor have been awarded to two soldiers who fought at Keating, while 37 have received Army Commendation Medals with combat “V” device for valor, 18 were awarded Bronze Star Medals with “V” device, and nine received Silver Star Medals.
Upgrading Gallegos’ medal was not a quick or easy process, requiring a literal act of Congress. The order for the upgrade was included in the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act. Dec. 15, 2018’s ceremony marked the end of that journey, Marr said, shining a spotlight on Gallegos’ heroic actions.
“We never really know what we’re going to do in any situation that’s like that, but I would’ve known that Justin would’ve been that person,” Marr said. “When I was notified, even, of his death, I knew that it had to be something extraordinary … there was not another explanation. Justin didn’t die — he just fought hard. So I just knew.”
Medal of Honor recipients Staff Sgt. Ty Carter and Staff Sgt. Clint Romesha were in attendance at the medal ceremony, as was Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who presented a flag to MacAidan Gallegos and a handful of veterans of the unit.
Gallegos’ other medals and commendations include the Silver Star; Bronze Star; three Purple Hearts; two Army Commendation Medals; two Army Achievement Medals; the Army Good Conduct Medal; the National Defense Service Medal; the Afghanistan Campaign Medal with Campaign Star; the Iraq Campaign Medal with Campaign Star; the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal; the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal; the Army Service Ribbon; two Overseas Service Ribbons; the NATO Medal; and the Combat Action Badge.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
There’s increased incidence of ALS — also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease — among veterans of all wars, from the Vietnam War to the Gulf War to Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.
This week, Marine Corps veteran Roger Brannon reached the two-year anniversary of a life-altering amyotrophic lateral sclerosis diagnosis, a milestone that many in his position will not live to see. ALS is an incurable, neurodegenerative disease that progresses rapidly.
(Courtesy of the Brannon Family)
Over 80 percent of those diagnosed die within two to five years. Military veterans are two times more likely to develop ALS than those who’ve never served. It was once thought that increased incidence of ALS was limited to veterans of Vietnam and the first Gulf War, but it’s now striking Enduring Freedom vets who served in Afghanistan at the same rates. Despite this, there’s a surprisingly low amount of awareness of the disease among the veteran community.
Roger Brannon and his wife Pam are on a mission to change this. Up to to 95 percent of veterans who develop the disease are diagnosed with sporadic ALS — which means there is no family history of the disease and doctors unable to precisely pinpoint a cause.
(Courtest of the Brannon Family)
“They can’t tell us why we have it, what we did to get it, and that’s very unnerving because you can’t tell any other veteran or friend what to do to not get ALS,” Roger says.
What Roger and Pam are doing is sharing what they know: resources, coping strategies, and VA benefits. Veterans actually have far greater available to them than the average ALS patient in America. For example, Radicava, the first drug treatment specifically for ALS approved since 1995, was made available to VA hospitals before more widespread distribution – and the Department of Veterans Affairs has automatically assumed, since 2008, that a veteran’s ALS is service-connected.
ALS is a terminal disease but early diagnosis can slow its progression and knowing about it increases the likelihood of identifying it quickly. All veterans and their families can do is arm themselves with the best information on how to deal with what lies ahead. With a pre-teen and teen at home, the hardest thing for Pam Brannon is not knowing if they will ever live out the family’s dreams.
“Will there be a next birthday? A next anniversary? Will Roger live to see a graduation?” Pam asks. “At the end of the day, there’s no book for when you’re diagnosed with a terminal disease.”
The United States dropped more than seven million tons of bombs on Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia between 1957 and 1975, more than twice what it dropped on Europe and Asia during all of World War II. That’s a lot of ordnance. This doesn’t take into account the rockets, mortars, tank rounds, etc. used by American and allied infantrymen on the ground in Vietnam. An estimated ten percent or more of that tonnage didn’t explode – which means it’s still there.
It also means someone, now nearly 50 years later, is going to find it – a mother, father, or child. That’s where Chuck Searcy, a U.S. Army veteran, comes in. He’s on a mission to clear those UXOs.
Chuck Searcy is a Georgia-based Army vet on a new mission.
Searcy co-founded Project RENEW in 2001, a million effort to clear unexploded weapons from the former war zone while teaching children about the bombs and helping those affected by them.
Since the war’s official end in 1975 – when North Vietnam invaded and forcibly unified the South – more than 100,000 Vietnamese civilians have been killed by unexploded ordnance in the country. Some of them were farmers or other kinds of laborers, clearing paths through fields as they’ve done time and time again. Others injured by the bombs were metal scrappers, gathering what they could to make extra money.
Ten percent is a lot of explosive still sitting around.
In 2017, Searcy and Project RENEW cleared some 17,000 munitions found in the middle of Vietnam. Over the project’s lifetime, the group has cleared more than a million. Searcy first returned to Vietnam in 1995, the year after the United States formally normalized relations with the still-Communist country. Back then, he was helping kids find orthopedic devices for missing limbs, but he kept reading about the problems with explosives in the countryside.
Now they do. When someone finds a bomb and reports it, the group will send out a team to dispose of it as they always have. But in the last 20 years, they’ve become more proactive, more methodical. They not only interview villagers asking about bomb sightings, they examine U.S. Air Force databases, reviewing every single bombing run of the war.
Chuck Searcy now and in his Vietnam-era years.
While often times, the difference can be difficult to measure, there is one important number to follow, and that is how many people were killed or injured by unexploded ordnance in a given area. In Quang Tri, a province that saw some of the heaviest fighting of the Vietnam War, the number killed or wounded in 2001 (when project RENEW began its education program) was 89. In 2017, the number dwindled to two.
It’s possible for Veterans speaking about their experiences — and working toward self-forgiveness — to heal their emotional wounds.
A Veteran’s Health Administration initiative is facilitating this process. The Atlanta VA Health Care System Veteran Community Partnership (VCP) collaborates with VITAS Healthcare, a palliative care and hospice services company, to offer healing and hope for Veterans with other than honorable (OTH) discharges.
This collaboration is an effort of We Honor Veterans. The program, part of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, is in collaboration with VA. We Honor Veterans helps care for Veterans at the end of life.
VITAS, part of We Honor Veterans, is a partner agency within the Atlanta VCP.
VCPs are coalitions that bring community entities together to foster Veterans’ access to care and supportive services at VA and beyond. Each VCP in the United States is part of the national VCP initiative. There are 41 VCPs as of December 2019.
The VCP initiative is a joint project of VHA’s Offices of Community Engagement (OCE), Geriatrics and Extended Care, Rural Health and Caregiver Support.
Veteran Service Organizations can help.
Requesting a change in OTH discharge
A Veteran with an OTH military discharge is ineligible for most VA benefits. This can cause significant obstacles as they approach the end of life.
Larry Robert is a chaplain who provides supportive counseling to Veterans in this position. He also is the bereavement services manager and Veteran liaison for VITAS. VITAS helps Veterans talk through their reasons for OTH military discharges. It helps them file a request for a change in their discharge status with the Department of Defense (DoD).
Robert also helps Veterans understand their benefit options. The most important part of this process, he said, is encouraging Veterans to tell their stories. An OTH discharge may be a result of a Veteran not having the proper support for a mental health issue, for example.
“They are trying to forgive themselves and they’re making peace with something that brought them a lot of pain.”
Veteran Service Organizations can help
Veterans — even those not in hospice care — and caregivers or loved ones of Veterans should be aware of the process of requesting a change to their discharge status, as well as the palliative care services of We Honor Veterans.
Veterans should apply for a change in their discharge status and enroll for benefits when they’re well. They should have a Veteran service officer work with them on this process. A representative from one of the Veteran Service Organizations listed at the link above could also help fill out paperwork for a correction of their military record
Even if their status and record is not changed, Robert explained, the process of this work is transformative for many Veterans.
“It adds a voice to their pain. It makes it real. They’re able to then see their pain and discuss it. In becoming real, it becomes something than can be overcome.”