Marines are known for their versatility in combat — we even flex that fact in our hymn, boasting that “we’ve fought in every clime and place.” One thing’s for sure, no matter where the enemy is, Marines will find a way there to punch ’em in the face — even if that place is a rainy, hot, unforgiving jungle.
But, like a professional sports team, we need a home field in which we can practice. To get our devil dogs ready to fight in the thick of the jungle, we’ve got a few sites where they can get the reps they need. These are the best of ’em:
It also looks like a post-apocalyptic suburb, which is a plus.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Nichelle Griffiths)
Andersen South AFB — Guam
Once used by the Air Force, Andersen South is an abandoned housing base that the Marines now train in. Not only is the area filled with an extensive amount of jungle, there’re also plenty of buildings. This means you can combine jungle warfare with urban training in the same location. It’s the best place for force-on-force training, hands down.
The jungle here isn’t that bad, though.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Ryan Conroy)
Bellows Air Force Station — Oahu, Hawai’i
Another space acquired from the Air Force, the base is mostly used for recreation. The Marines stationed at nearby Marine Corps Base Hawai’i, however, use it as a training site for jungle patrols and land navigation.
Those in the Advanced Infantryman Course go here to enjoy the wrath of their instructors.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Andrew Morris)
Kahuku Training Area — Oahu, Hawai’i
Kahuku Training Area features one of the best examples of jungle environments. This training area is home to a road referred to as “The Devil’s Backbone” because of the rolling hills over which it spans. The jungle here is incredibly thick and it always rains. No, really. This isn’t some “if it ain’t rainin’, we ain’t trainin'” sort of thing — it just always rains.
In addition to a lush jungle environment, Kahuku also includes some urban environments.
This place also has some gnarly hills.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Tyler Ngiraswei)
Camp Schwab — Okinawa, Japan
Even though it doesn’t seem very large and the Okinawan people protesting outside the front gate can make you feel a little unwelcome, Camp Schwab has some great training sites. Whether you want to sharpen your offensive tactics in the jungle or just do some good ol’ fashioned land nav, this base has plenty of space for both.
You might even get to go and raid one of their tiny jungle villages.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo Lance Cpl. Jessica Etheridge)
Camp Gonsalves — Okinawa, Japan
Anything you can’t do at any of the other bases, you can definitely do here. This is home of the Jungle Warfare Training Center, so it’s not hard to figure out why Camp Gonsalves tops the list. Here, in addition to the jungle survival training, you can practice rappelling down a cliffside and learn what it really means to fight in a jungle.
If you’re lucky, you’ll also take part in mock raids on small, nearby villages, which is a fun, immersive experience. Also, because this place is used primarily for training purposes, it’s guaranteed to rain throughout your visit.
When Charles Monroe Baucom returned home in 1919 after his third and final tour of duty with the Army, he struggled to cope.
He had apparently been exposed to a mustard gas attack during World War I, and when he began losing his hearing and vision, he worried he’d also lose his job with the railroad.
Baucom died by suicide five years after he returned to his home in downtown Cary, N.C., leaving behind five children and a cloud of silence around his military record.
Nearly a century after his death, Baucom’s granddaughter, Joy Williams, has worked to restore his legacy to the place of pride she believes it should have always held.
Williams, who lives in Dunn, contacted the Veterans Legacy Foundation, a North Carolina-based nonprofit that tracks down military histories and awards mislaid medals during ceremonies around the country. Williams, 70, showed the organization letters her grandfather had written and asked what it could find out.
On March 26, Baucom, who served as a lieutenant in the Army, was finally awarded the recognition he had earned. During a ceremony in Raleigh, the Veterans Legacy Foundation gave Williams two medals for her grandfather – one for his service in the Spanish-American War and one for service in World War I.
“Most people get so wrapped up in the day that they don’t appreciate the past,” Williams said. “I wish he could have received these when he was living, but I’m proud to have them now in his honor.”
It was tough in the early 20th century for the military to track down veterans, said John Elskamp, who served in the Air Force for 24 years and founded the Veterans Legacy Foundation in 2010. As a result, many soldiers never received their medals.
For Baucom’s family, the foundation bought the Spanish-American War medal from a private collector and received the World War I victory medal directly from the Army.
Thirteen other families were also honored during the event in March. Some received original medals unearthed from a state government building in Raleigh, commissioned in 1919 for North Carolina veterans of World War I.
“People are curious,” Elskamp said. “They want to know, and it’s their family’s legacy. And we think it’s important for everyone to remember that legacy, that this country was built, in my opinion, by veterans and their families. They did a lot of the work.”
No one in Baucom’s family knew if he had ever received medals from his service. He fought in the Spanish-American War in 1898 and then took part in the China Relief Expedition during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. During that effort, the military rescued US citizens and foreign nationals.
He volunteered when he was 38 to serve in World War I.
Williams’ mother, who was Baucom’s daughter, was 9 when her father died. So Williams, a semi-retired insurance agent who moved to Dunn from Cary 25 years ago, never knew much about her grandfather.
“She never spoke of him,” Williams said of her mother.
Her great-aunt told her the pastor at Baucom’s funeral said the lieutenant’s decision to end his own life would keep him out of heaven. Thinking about that still puts a lump in Williams’ throat.
“My mother, that probably affected her greatly,” she said. “Instead of being proud, they were kind of quiet about their father. It’s really a shame. When you die on the battlefield, that’s honorable. But if you die afterwards, it’s not as much.”
Williams saw a newspaper article about the Veterans Legacy Foundation two years ago and decided to reach out to the group. It appealed to her sense of duty to those forgotten and misremembered by history.
She and her husband, Martin, who are white, are part of a years-long effort in Dunn to preserve and maintain an old cemetery where many of the town’s black residents were buried. Until 1958, it was the only cemetery that would accept them.
Her home in Dunn – her husband’s childhood residence – is full of photos, artifacts and heirlooms from her family, which she said has “been in North Carolina since before it was North Carolina.”
“I don’t like home decor,” Williams said. “I like to be around things that have some kind of meaning.”
Among the items are original letters Baucom wrote while stationed at various military bases and while abroad in Cuba, China, and France. Those, as well as letters he and his wife received, have been painstakingly preserved by Williams.
A letter from Baucom’s attorney gives a sense of the former soldier’s state of mind in the days before he died. The attorney and longtime friend wrote to Baucom’s widow in the days after his death, recounting a meeting less than two weeks earlier.
“He seemed very interested and very much worried over his physical condition,” the attorney wrote of Baucom, “realizing that if he did lose his hearing and his eyesight, that the position he now held (with the railroad) he could not hope to keep.”
Another, from Baucom to his wife, reveals more of what Williams hopes will be remembered about her grandfather – his love of family and pride in his service.
“Tell the boys we will play catch and I will tell them stories when I get there,” Baucom wrote from Camp Merritt, New Jersey, as he awaited a train home to Cary. “Expect to get home in a week or two. Much love from Pop.”
After so many years, Williams is happy to feel pride where her mother felt shame, to have something in her house she can point to as proof that her flesh and blood had something to do with securing the life she now enjoys.
Our mothers put up with so much and they never get the credit or recognition they deserve. They carried us for nine months, spent every waking moment of our first few years diligently caring for us, and tried their best to make us our best. Then, after we turn 18, we go to war and we stop calling.
We rarely ask for their advice and often jump face-first into the very potholes they told us to avoid — and still, they couldn’t be any prouder.
This one goes out to all you lovely military moms out there. This is why you’re the best.
The “My child is an Airman/Soldier/Marine/Sailor” bumper sticker is far more impressive than any college.
(Photo by Cpl. Mackenzie Carter)
They’re brought into the military life while stuck with civilians
More often than not, our mothers don’t really get a say on whether we join the military. Sure, she’ll be a little disappointed when it finally sets in that their kid isn’t going to be a millionaire brain surgeon who can afford to buy her a beautiful mansion (sorry, mom, but we both knew that wasn’t going to happen with my high-school grades), but they’re still proud of their baby.
Next, they’re sucked into the military lifestyle and there’s no way of backing out. They’ll try to move on as if everything is normal, but they’ll find that their patience with civilian moms will quickly wear thin.
The pain is all worth it for the moment that plane lands, though.
(Photo by Capt. Richard Packer)
They’re heartbroken almost the entire time we’re gone
Deployments are rough on everyone. In our absence, friends we once knew change entirely and even some lovers fade away. But our mommas will always remain. They’ll never stop thinking of us as their babies.
Sure, most moms can keep their composure in front of others, but there isn’t a moment that goes by that they’re not thinking of us.
They may not get info on the exact moment you’re landing until just hours beforehand, but you can be certain they’ll be there!
(Photo by Tech. Sgt. Lauren Gleason)
They go months without knowing if we’re okay
Communications blackouts are no joke. When something major happens, troops will be told to cut off all communication with the folks back home. These blackouts happen without notice.
Not to make everyone feel horribly guilty, but, uh… sometimes we tend to do this accidentally by using our few phone calls back home to check up on our significant other instead of letting our mothers know that we’re doing fine.
And in return, one of the few gifts we can give back is allowing them to pin rank on our uniforms. It may not seem like much but, to them, it means the world.
(Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Alana Langdon)
They’re always on-point with care packages
Without exception, care packages are loved and appreciated by deployed troops. It’s always nice when schools, churches, and other organizations send out the standard collection of socks, baby powder, and Girl Scout Cookies, but our moms know how to out-do everyone.
Our moms have read through every single article on the internet about care packages and what to put in them. They’ll toss in home-made cookies, personal photos, and things we’ll actually cherish while deployed. After all, mom knows best.
Happy Mother’s Day, everyone!
(Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Ashley J. Johnson)
They do everything in their power to keep you stress-free
If there’s one skill that every mother learns to master over 18+ years of childrearing, it’s how to handle insane and ridiculous problems. Putting out match-sized fires is nothing when they’ve learned to deal with forest fires.
You might realize it, but our moms are our best friends while we’re deployed. They’re our bakers, our financial advisers, our babysitters, our confidants, our emotional rock, and, if you’re like me and had the pleasure of enduring a deteriorating marriage while deployed, our enforcers (my mom is badass like that).
Above all, your mother is the one woman on this Earth who will love you most.
Everyone gets that “2:30 feeling.” Military personnel happen to get it at all times of day. Maybe you’re on mids. Maybe you’re in transit from Afghanistan to Japan. Or maybe you’re being punished for doing something stupid. It happens. But we don’t always have access to Five Hour Energy shots, and sometimes coffee isn’t cutting it. The best thing to do is give in: have your battle cover you while you rack out for a few minutes.
Or maybe fifteen? A half-hour? A full hour? How long is the proper power nap? Thanks to NASA, we have the answer.
“We can put a man on the moon, but we can’t… what? We can? Oh, thanks, NASA.”
There’s no shame in needing a little afternoon siesta. Anyone who swears by the power nap will tell you that nodding off for a few minutes can revive them for hours. Just don’t let the First Sergeant catch you. But if you can get away with it on duty, you (and your coworkers) will be grateful to find you more productive and operating at a higher level. It’s a natural part of human circadian rhythm, you’re going to be intensely sleepy twice per day. You can’t stop it, none of us can.
So stop blaming the turkey already.
NASA’s research showed that naps really can fully restore cognitive function at the same rate as a full night’s sleep. The space agency found that pilots who slept in the cockpit for 26 minutes showed alertness improvements of up to 54 percent and job performance improvements by 34 percent, compared to pilots who didn’t nap. But 26 minutes might be a little long.
“Napping leads to improvements in mood, alertness and performance [such as] reaction time, attention, and memory,” according to Kimberly Cote, Ph.D, Professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brock University, who co-authored a similar study with researcher Catherine Milner. “Longer naps will allow you to enter deeper sleep, which will contribute to the grogginess — also called sleep inertia — experienced upon awakening and disrupt nighttime sleep.”
The worst part is when you wake up and you’re still in Afghanistan.
Cote and NASA suggest taking power naps between 10 and 20 minutes long. You’ll get the most benefit from a sleep cycle without any of the grogginess associated with longer sleeping periods. You don’t need to get through all five sleep stages, just the first two. Even just getting to stage 2 sleep for a few minutes will revive a napper enough to give him or her a new outlook on the day.
So get cozy and rack out for a few. It’s actually better for everyone.
The largest buyer of America’s most expensive weapons program just declared it ready for war.
“I am proud to announce this powerful new weapons system has achieved initial combat capability,” US Air Force Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle, commander of Air Combat Command, said on a call with reporters.
“The F-35A will be the most dominant aircraft in our inventory because it can go where our legacy aircraft cannot and provide the capabilities our commanders need on the modern battlefield,” Carlisle said.
Of the sister-service branches, the Air Force has been the most bullish on Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II’s combat capabilities.
The 15 Air Force F-35A jets, and 21 combat-mission-ready pilots from Hill Air Force Base’s 34th Fighter Squadron, represent a significant breakthrough for the weapons program, which began development 15 years ago and has been offset by design flaws, cost overruns, and technical challenges.
Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, the F-35 program’s executive officer, said that the Air Force’s decision to declare the F-35A’s initial operational capability (IOC) “sends a simple and powerful message to America’s friends and foes alike, the F-35 can do its mission.”
“The roads leading to IOC for both services were not easy and these accomplishments are tangible testaments to the positive change happening in the F-35 program,” Bogdan said.
As the Air Force is buying nearly 70% of the fifth-generation jets being made domestically — 1,763 of 2,443 aircraft — the Air Force sets the economies of scale for the tri-service fighter, with each plane costing a cool $100 million.
Lockheed Martin, considered a bellwether for the US defense sector, is expected to generate nearly a fifth of its $50 billion in 2016 sales solely from the F-35 program.
In the company’s latest quarter, the defense giant posted net sales in its aeronautics business up 6%, or $244 million — compared to the same period in 2015.
The Pentagon’s top weapons supplier is also building the “jack of all trades” aircraft for the UK, Turkey, Australia, Italy, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Israel, Japan, and South Korea.
Even though the Air Force is operating the oldest fleet in its history, it’s not the first of the sister-service branches to declare its variant combat-ready.
“There were a lot of people out here in the press that said, ‘Hey, the Marines are just going to declare IOC because it would be politically untenable not to do that,” Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, deputy commandant of the Marine Corps for aviation, said during a discussion at the American Enterprise Institute on the readiness and future trajectory of Marine aviation.
“IOC in the Marine Corps means we will deploy that airplane in combat. That’s not a decision I was gonna take lightly, nor Gen. Dunford,” Davis said, referring to Gen. Joseph Dunford, the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman.
The US Navy variant, the F-35C, is scheduled to reach IOC by February 2019.
The Pentagon and the U.S. Navy must increase submarines, strengthen the surface fleet size and build new smaller, more agile carrier-type ships — as as part of a broader effort to rethink the way it constructs the American fleet for future conflicts and operations, the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment (CSBA) contends in a just-released report.
“Today’s approach of using large, high-end platforms such as aircraft carriers to support the whole range of naval operations will not be effective at providing the prompt, survivable, high-capacity firepower that might be required to deter aggression in the South or East China Seas,” CSBA says in its report, CSBA “Restoring American Seapower, A New Fleet Architecture for The United States Navy,” released Feb. 9.
The CSBA does not recommend the U.S. abandon its carrier-centric force altogether, but says the Navy needs to focus more on submarines and calls for a resurgence of the surface fleet. The report also calls for a new smaller carrier-sized ship.
“It may be better to rely upon submarines and surface combatants as the primary instruments of deterrence and reassurance and deploy aircraft carriers from the open ocean where they can maneuver to engage the enemy once aggression occurs,” CSBA says.
While the study does not call for a decrease in the current numbers of carriers, it does maintain that smaller, more maneuverable type carriers might make certain high-risk missions more plausible in light of emerging threats such as long-range anti-ship missiles and enemy coastal defenses.
The report cites growing international naval competition as a reason for altered strategy.
“Today the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) Navy (PLAN) boasts the second largest fleet in the world, with a large portion of ships built in the last decade. The PLA includes a rapidly modernizing air force in addition to a Rocket Force (formerly the Second Artillery Corps) that deploys a wide array of conventional land-attack and anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBM) as well as the country’s nuclear arsenal,” CSBA notes.
“Combined with China’s long-range surveillance network of satellites and shore-based radars and sensors, these forces create a formidable reconnaissance-strike complex that can threaten U.S. and allied forces on or above the water hundreds of miles from China’s borders,” the report says.
The old nuclear trump card may come up short now, too.
“An American nuclear response would likely further damage the international and political systems upon which American prosperity depends,” CSBA says.
“Therefore, adversaries may no longer find U.S. nuclear deterrence to be credible in these situations, making effective conventional deterrence necessary.”
A return, the CSBA says, to the “deny-and-punish” approach used during the Cold War to deterrence will increase America’s reliance on forward-postured forces—particularly naval forces.
“American aircraft, troops, ships, sensors, and weapons would need to be postured in proximity to a likely area of confrontation,” CSBA says. “The United States, and U.S. naval forces in particular, will need to return to their Cold War deterrence concept of denying an aggressor’s success or immediately punishing the aggressor to compel it to stop. Compared to the Cold War, however, naval forces in the 2030s will face a more challenging threat environment and more constrained timelines. They will have to adopt new operational approaches to deter under these conditions.”
But, CSBA says, the current strategy remains focused on “efficiently sustaining forward presence rather than posturing and preparing forces to deter and respond to great power aggression.”
A new course will require more than just altered thinking.
And some others are on board. For example, in a recent white paper, Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, recommends a “$640 billion base national defense budget (including Department of Energy nuclear activities) in Fiscal Year 2018, which is $54 billion above (former) President Obama’s planned budget. Over five years, this plan represents a $430 billion increase above current plans/”
McCain says, “These recommendations should be regarded as reasoned estimates.
Today, the U.S. Navy is 274 ships. This was already short of the joint force requirement of 308 ships. And that was before the Chief of Naval Operations announced that the Navy should grow to 355 ships to address the growing fleet sizes and capabilities of our adversaries.”
Whatever the right fleet size ultimately is, McCain says, the “key objective for the next five years is the same: The Navy must ramp up shipbuilding. It is unrealistic to deliver 81 ships by 2022.”
Base leaders greet General Jay Raymond, U.S. Space Force chief of space operations, on their helicopter pad Jan. 10, 2020, on Cavalier Air Force Station, North Dakota. Raymond arrived to Cavalier after visiting the University of North Dakota, where he toured the new Walking Space Studies facility and spoke with Reserve Officer Training Corps and Space Studies students. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Melody Howley)
It’s easy to joke about the Space Force. From their ridiculous motto to their seal, it seems like the leadership for America’s newest military branch is just asking to be the butt of jokes. Space Force is the sixth branch of our military and the first new branch since the Air Force’s creation way back in 1947. At least the Air Force had a precursor (the Army Air Corps) and a definite need. With the Space Force, we’re not so sure.
We’re no closer to getting personnel on the moon than we were back in 1947, and it seems like everyone from Netflix to Star Trek is getting in on the jokes.
Now Space Force just made it a whole lot easier.
In September, a squadron of 20 airmen deployed for Space Force’s first foreign deployment – all the way to far off distant Dubai, UAE. The squad was sworn in as Space Force recruits at the Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, becoming the military’s newest first foreign deployed trips. What makes this swearing-in unique is that all 20 squad members were already searching overseas with the Air Force. The group of enlisted and commissioned Airmen assigned to the 16th Expeditionary Space Control Flight and the 609th Air Operations Center was deployed to Qatar. With their swearing-in comes a new uniform and a new place to call home for a while.
Air Force Col. Todd Benson, director of Space Forces of US Air Forces CENTCOM, said that the group was making history as the 20 members officially switched branches from the Air Force to the Space Force. The ceremony officially transferred Space Operations and Airmen in core space career fields, including space operations and space system operations. In the future, ceremonies will induct professions in common career fields like acquisitions, intelligence, engineering fields, and cybersecurity.
According to a press release, the squad has been stationed in the UAE as part of support for combat operations.
During the swearing-in ceremony at Al Udeid, the newest Space Force personnel were flanked by American flags and massive satellites. Soon more will join the “core space operators” to help run satellites, track enemy maneuvers, and avoid conflicts that happen in space.
Benson reiterated that the missions aren’t new, and neither are the personnel. But what is new is the price tag. The force is expected to grow to at least 16,000 troops by 2021 and have a budget of 15.4 billion. Some leadership worries this entire project is a vanity push for President Trump ahead of next month’s election, though there’s no conclusive evidence to support that.
The growing concerns over the weaponization of outer space are conversations that senior military leaders have been having for decades. As outer space ownership becomes increasingly contested, many cite the need to have a space corps devoted specifically to American interests.
Of course, military presence in the Middle East is nothing new. We’ve been there in some capacity for generations.
But according to historians, the Middle East might just be where the first “space war” was actually fought – that is, if you’re willing to accept the use of a satellite-based GPS mission as a “space war.” During the 1991 Desert Storm operation, US troops used satellites to push Iraqi troops out of Kuwait, making military history in the process.
Since the 1991 use of satellites in combat, threats from global agitators have grown. In his briefing welcoming the newest personnel, Benson declined to name the “aggressive” nations the Space Force will monitor and track. Unsurprisingly, the decision to deploy the Space Force to the UAE comes just months after the ramp-up of tensions between the US and Iran.
The 16th Space Control Flight, part of the 21st Operations Group, was operational from 1967 until 1994. It was reactivated in 2007, and its mission is to protect critical satellite communication links to detect, characterize, and report sources of electromagnetic interference.
U.S. Army Reserve Lt. Col. Lisa Jaster was 37 years old when she attended Ranger School. While the average age of attendees in the course ranges in the early 20s, that didn’t deter her, and in October of 2015 she graduated from the course.
She was the first woman in the U.S. Army Reserve to do so.
Four years later, her advice to others is simple.
“You have to be ‘all-in,'” said Jaster. “Be willing to give everything you have for the school and maintain your integrity. The first week is published therefore you know what to expect and how to succeed. Once you’ve passed the physical entrance exam (RAP week), you will need to have the mental toughness to push through conditions that could beat a lesser person down.”
“Do not let ‘quit’ in,” she continued. “That means once you allow quitting into your mind as an option, it will move in, live there, steal your motivation, and eventually defeat you from within.”
Maj. Lisa Jaster in late 2015, after her graduation from Ranger School that previous October.
(Courtesy of Lt. Col. Lisa Jaster)
The all-in attitude that Jaster says is the key to success for Ranger school has also been tantamount to accomplishments in other aspects of her life. As a citizen soldier, she demonstrates that one can serve their country while continuing to have a civilian career.
In the past three years, Jaster has been a senior project engineer with Shell Oil Co. before becoming the director of civil engineering for MS Engineering. She also has become a professional speaker with Leading Authorities, holding engagements across the country.
In the Army Reserve, she has been a battalion executive officer, an engineering team lead supporting the Iraqi Security Forces during Operation Inherent Resolve, and is now the brigade executive officer for the 420th Engineer Brigade, 416th Theater Engineer Command.
Throughout all of her experiences, her definition of leadership and what is expected of leaders has one constant: be consistent in your words and actions, and set the example for others to follow. This definition has served her well in both her military and civilian life.
“Everyone needs to be led as an individual, and each individual brings something to the fight as long as they are vested in the end state,” said Jaster. “A leader is someone who inspires those around them to be better versions of themselves.
U.S. Army Reserve Lt. Col. Lisa Jaster, executive officer, 420th Engineer Brigade, poses with her family after promotion from Maj. to Lt. Col. Jaster graduated from Ranger School in 2015, the first female officer in the Reserve to do so.
(Photo by Capt. Daniel Johnson)
“Traditionally,” she continued. “I have said that consistency is the most important aspect of leadership to ensure subordinates can perform in the absence of guidance,” After Ranger School, I have created the three Cs – Consistency, Communication and Competence. There are a lot of other aspects to being an effective leader, but these are necessary starting blocks.”
Jaster approaches her personal life with the same care as her professional one. A dual military couple, she and her husband, Marine Corps Lt. Col. Allan Jaster, have two children. Their support of each other and their children has been a critical factor in their accomplishments.
“Balancing the Citizen (employee, mom, wife, sister, daughter, and individual) with the soldier is very complicated,” said Jaster. “I used to try to silo both aspects of who I am but found that so much bleeds over from one job to the other that I need to be fluid with those lines.
“What that means,” continued Jaster. “Is that Army conference calls can happen during cheer practice, and I might need to review proposals for work while I am in the field with the Army. It means being open and honest with my spouse, my military boss, and my civilian supervisor about what I can handle and what might be coming up. Having a strong support team with regards to extended family, friends and hired help is critical to ensure nothing at home drops.”
Jaster does not want her Ranger School experience to define her. Since her completion of the course, she has advised to not identify soldiers and civilians by their race, sex or creed, but their skills, attributes and performance.
She created the hashtag #deletetheadjective for social media to emphasize her message, and throughout all of her speaking engagements, she has consistently stated the best teams are those with the highest level of competencies, not just a group identity. Being in the Army Reserve has allowed her to serve her country while creating awareness, and discussion, of the topic.
U.S. Army Reserve Lt. Col. Lisa Jaster, executive officer, 420th Engineer Brigade, receives a new patrol cap from her family signifying her promotion from Maj. to Lt. Col.
(Photo by Capt. Daniel Johnson)
“Ranger school was just part of my path,” said Jaster. “It was not an end state. I have a larger public voice because of graduating from Ranger School. My true failure or success is what I decide to do with that voice. If I can live by the Ranger Creed and set an example which brings our community together for a smooth gender integration, then that is the goal I am striving for.”
Looking forward to the future, Jaster continues to strive for excellence. Whether in uniform or out, she has used her previous accomplishments to continue to fuel her drive to succeed and set the example for others to follow. Her discipline and dedication to her family, civilian profession, and military career is a standard she refuses to let falter.
“Ranger School does not make me a good or a bad officer,” said Jaster. “It does mean there are certain external expectations of me that were previously only self-imposed. This gives me an additional drive to continue to train martial arts, strength, endurance and tactics, even when time constraints make it difficult and my current job doesn’t require it.
“I am looking forward to being a battalion commander,” she continued. “After battalion command, I am not sure what the Army holds, but I plan to stay in uniform as long as I can.”
A seven-minute drive and there it was; a training site with water pits, steep hills and lots of mud. This was the playground-of-the-day for soldiers with the 445th Transportation Company from Waterloo, Iowa, during their wheeled vehicle recovery class at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, late July 2019.
The training was designed to submerge vehicles in a controlled setting so soldiers could use the skills they’ve learned to retrieve it safely, according to Sgt. 1st Class Thomas McKenzie, an instructor with the Regional Training Site Maintenance Company, from Fort McCoy. Soldiers train in the same scenarios they may face overseas to prepare for the elements, he added.
“I have the firm belief that if you have to call one of our recovery guys, something bad has happened,” said McKenzie, whose unit goes by the motto, “You call, we haul.”
U.S. Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Brett Cosaboom with the Regional Training Site Maintenance Company in Fort McCoy, Wis., prepares a truck during an equipment recovery exercise at Fort McCoy July 20, 2019.
(Photo by Sgt. Alicia Pennisi)
“We never go out when it’s a bright, sunny day and pretty outside,” said McKenzie. “We always go out in the worst possible conditions.”
The group huddled up for a weather briefing just as the clouds rolled in. Despite the inclement weather, they continued mission. Each soldier stood in their respective positions and waited for the next move. Torrential rains pounded down creating conditions of limited visibility, but the soldiers carried on without hesitation.
U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers with the 445th Transportation Company from Waterloo, Iowa, walk through deep water during an equipment recovery exercise at Fort McCoy, Wis., July 20, 2019.
(Photo by Sgt. Alicia Pennisi)
“We don’t stop during bad weather because this is the kind of stuff these soldiers are going to have to deal with, as long as we can do it safely. I tell my soldiers all the time, the number one goal for this class is 10 fingers, 10 toes, vertical and breathing when you leave it,” said McKenzie.
Each soldier took their turn walking into the mire pits to attach massive chains to the submerged vehicles for recovery.
U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers with the 445th Transportation Company from Waterloo, Iowa, perform reconnaissance before an equipment recovery exercise at Fort McCoy, Wis., July 20, 2019.
(Photo by Sgt. Alicia Pennisi)
According to Pfc. Kaleen Hansen, with the 445th Transportation Co., this type of training is an invaluable resource not only for the soldiers in the class, but also the Army Reserve as a whole. Wheeled vehicle mechanics do their job so that other soldiers can get on with theirs, she added.
Throughout the 17-day course, instructors practiced a crawl-walk-run style of learning to ensure soldiers are set up for success in the field, added McKenzie.
U.S. Army Reserve Spc. Austin Smith with the 445th Transportation Company from Waterloo, Iowa, prepares a vehicle during an equipment recovery exercise at Fort McCoy, Wis., July 20, 2019.
(Photo by Sgt. Alicia Pennisi)
“People think it’s just hooking up a cable or chain and moving on. It’s not. There’s a lot of math. These guys are doing a lot of complex equations to figure out what they need to do,” said McKenzie.
A U.S. Army Reserve Soldier with the 445th Transportation Company from Waterloo, Iowa, rinses out his uniform after getting soaked during an equipment recovery exercise at Fort McCoy, Wis., July 20, 2019.
(Photo by Sgt. Alicia Pennisi)
Safety and readiness are the two main concerns when conducting this type of training, according to Spc. Austin Smith, with the 445th Transportation Co. These vehicles weigh-in at 96,000 pounds, so all safety measures are taken seriously to avoid any accidents or injury, he added.
“You take care of us, we’ll take care of you … and we’ll get it done faster than heck,” said Smith.
U.S. Army Reserve Pfc. Kaleen Hansen with the 445th Transportation Company from Waterloo, Iowa, prepares a vehicle during an equipment recovery exercise at Fort McCoy, Wis., July 20, 2019.
(Photo by Sgt. Alicia Pennisi)
Despite tornado warnings, rain and gusting winds, soldiers of the 445th Transportation Co. weathered the storm enough to safely recover all vehicles in a training environment. After a couple more days of practical exercises, the wheeled vehicle mechanic course at Fort McCoy wrapped up July 24, 2019, ensuring, rain or shine, they will be able to support when needed.
Ongoing U.S.-China tensions in the South China Sea regarding Chinese artificial island-building are leading many at the Pentagon to sharpen their focus upon the rapid pace of Chinese Naval modernization and expansion.
While Chinese naval technology may still be substantially behind current U.S. platforms, the equation could change dramatically over the next several decades because the Chinese are reportedly working on a handful of high-tech next-generation ships, weapons and naval systems.
China has plans to grow its navy to 351 ships by 2020 as the Chinese continue to develop their military’s ability to strike global targets, according to a recent Congressional report.
The 2014 U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission recommended to Congress that the U.S. Navy respond by building more ships and increase its presence in the Pacific region – a strategy the U.S. military has already started.
Opponents of this strategy point out that the U.S. has 11 aircraft carriers, the Chinese have one and China’s one carrier still lacks an aircraft wing capable of operating off of a carrier deck. However, several recent reports have cited satellite photos showing that China is now building its own indigenous aircraft carriers. Ultimately, the Chinese plan to acquire four aircraft carriers, the reports say.
The commission cites platforms and weapons systems the Chinese are developing, which change the strategic calculus regarding how U.S. carriers and surface ships might need to operate in the region.
These include the LUYANG III, a new class of Chinese destroyer slated to enter the fleet this year. These ships are being engineered with vertically-launched, long-range anti-ship cruise missiles, the commission said. The new destroyer will carry an extended-range variant of the HHQ-9 surface-to-air missile, among other weapons, the report says.
Furthermore, the Chinese may already be beginning construction on several of their own indigenous aircraft carriers. China currently has one carrier, the Ukranian-built Liaoning. It is not expected to have an operational carrier air wing until sometime this year, according to the report.
The Chinese are currently testing and developing a new, carrier-based fighter aircraft called the J-15.
Regarding amphibious assault ships, the Chinese are planning to add several more YUZHAO LPDs, amphibs which can carry 800 troops, four helicopters and up to 20 armored vehicles, the report said.
The Chinese are also working on development of a new Type 055 cruiser equipped with land-attack missiles, lasers and rail-gun weapons, according to the review.
China’s surface fleet is also bolstered by production of at least 60 smaller, fast-moving HOBEI-glass guided missile patrol boats and ongoing deliveries of JIANGDAO light frigates armed with naval guns, torpedoes and anti-ship cruise missiles.
The commission also says Chinese modernization plans call for a sharp increase in attack submarines and nuclear-armed submarines or SSBNs. Chinese SSBNs are now able to patrol with nuclear-armed JL-2 missiles able to strike targets more than 4,500 nautical miles.
The Chinese are currently working on a new, modernized SSBN platform as well as a long-range missile, the JL-3, the commission says.
While the commission says the exact amount of Chinese military spending is difficult to identify, China’s projected defense spending for 2014 is cited at $131 billion, approximately 12.2 percent greater than 2013. This figure is about one sixth of what the U.S. spends annually.
The Chinese defense budget has increased by double digits since 1989, the commission states, resulting in annual defense spending doubling since 2008, according to the report.
Some members of Congress, including the House Armed Services Committee’s Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., are advocating for both a larger U.S. Navy and a stronger U.S. posture toward China’s behavior in the region.
Learning to snowshoe, ski and stay warm in the cold might sound like a fun hobby.
But for Soldiers at the Cold Weather Leaders Course at the Northern Warfare Training Center here, learning these things can mean the difference between a failed or successful mission and it could also be the difference between life and death.
Staff Sgt. Jonathan Tanner, an instructor at the NWTC, was deployed twice to Afghanistan, once from 2007 to 2009 and another time from 2014 to 2015.
During one of those tours, he said, he recalls being over 9,000 feet in the mountainous terrain of the eastern part of the country during a heavy snowfall, with snow drifts up to 12 feet tall.
“The snow stopped us dead in our tracks,” he said. “We were trying to remove snow from equipment with our e-tools.”
During a Black Hawk resupply mission, the helicopter had no place to land so it hovered above the snow while the crew chief jumped out, post-holing himself in the snow shoulder high. Post-holing is a term for sinking into the snow waist or chest high when not wearing skis or snowshoes. The crew chief had to grab the struts of the helicopter to be pulled out, Tanner recalled.
No one had skis or snowshoes and “we couldn’t do our jobs.”
Tanner and the other instructors at NWTC say they are professionally and personally invested in ensuring those kinds of situations never happen to Soldiers again.
Sgt. Sarah Valentine, a medic and an instructor, said most Soldiers that come to the school don’t know how to snowshoe, ski or survive in the cold. Instruction begins with baby steps.
First, they learn how to wear their cold weather clothing, she said. Then they learn to walk with snowshoes. A little later they learn to walk on snowshoes carrying a rucksack, and finally, they learn to tow an ahkio, or sled, carrying 200 pounds of tents, heaters, fuel, food and other items.
Next, they advance to skis, learning how to walk uphill, how to turn and stop going downhill, and then how to carry a rifle and rucksack going cross-country.
Staff Sgt. Jason Huffman, a student, said that besides enduring the cold, pulling the ahkio was the most challenging aspect of the school.
For that portion of the training, four of about 10 Soldiers are harnessed to the sled like sled dogs. Huffman said going on level terrain is easy, but most of the terrain near the school isn’t level and it is challenging to pull the ahkio uphill, especially from a dead stop.
Going downhill, the challenge is holding the ahkio back so it doesn’t get away, he said. When the students get tired, they are replaced by other students in the squad, who in turn rotate back out once they’re tired.
Spc. Tamyva Graffree, a student from Newton, Mississippi, said pulling the ahkio uphill was the most challenging part of the course. Of going downhill, she said it would have been nice to pile on and ride it down.
Staff Sgt. Manuel Beza, an instructor and medic here, said the students are not allowed to ride the ahkio downhill. “It will definitely go fast. But if they did that, it would be a bad day. The ahkio has no brakes and no way to steer.”
Beza said he sympathizes with the students’ pain. While the ahkio can be handled almost effortlessly over level terrain, going even 500 feet uphill can tire Soldiers out.
But when roads are nonexistent and vehicles break down from the cold, ahkios give the Soldiers the option to move out with their gear, he said.
Once students demonstrate competence on snowshoes, they are given a set of “White Rocket” skis, which can be used in both downhill as well as cross-country skiing.
The difference between a dedicated downhill or Nordic ski and the White Rocket ski is that the heel in the White Rocket isn’t locked into the ski binding so the foot can move similar to walking, said Sgt. Derrick Bruner, an instructor.
A Soldier can learn to use snowshoes in two hours, but about 40 hours is allotted for ski training at the school.
Because training time is limited, Soldiers learn just the basics, Bruner said. For instance, they learn to stop and turn going downhill using a wedge movement instead of a more advanced technique like turning or stopping with skis parallel.
A wedge consists of bringing the toes of the skis together and the heels of the skis out and carving into the snow on the inner edges of the skis by rotating the ankles inboard.
Skipping the fancy art of parallel skiing cuts down on injuries as well, he said, because there’s less chance of them crossing.
Going uphill involves side-stepping or walking up in herringbone fashion, which is the opposite of the wedge, with toes of the skis outboard, heels in.
To assist with uphill climbing, Soldiers apply special wax to the bottom of their skis.
Sgt. Dustin Danielson, a student, explained that the wax goes on just the middle third of the ski where the person’s weight is. He made hatch marks with the wax on his skis and then took a piece of cork to spread it evenly all around.
After skiing just a few kilometers, the wax tends to come off and more has to be applied, he said.
Sgt. Jessica Bartolotta, a student, said they were not given wax on the first day. On the second day of training, students were allowed to wax their skis. The point, she said, was to illustrate just how important the wax is in providing friction to grip the snow going uphill. She said the wax had no noticeable effect on slowing the skis going downhill.
Another thing the instructor did early on during the first day of ski training was to observe how well the Soldiers were skiing and to break them up into three groups of skill levels so the slow learners wouldn’t hold back the more natural skiers, she said.
Bartolotta said skiing was her favorite part of the course and she plans to take it up as a hobby.
Sgt. Chris Miller, a student from Little Rock, Arkansas, said this was his first time skiing and he fell a lot. “I’m a big guy and it’s hard to keep my balance.”
Miller measured his progress by the number of falls. The first day he said he fell 12 times and just once after three days. He said he’s still trying to perfect the art of stopping using the wedge.
Sgt. Shamere Randolph, another student, said he fell a bunch of times as well, but prefers skis to snowshoes because it’s much faster to get from point A to point B.
Sgt. Bruno Freitas, a student, said that his skis were difficult to use on the last day of training when the temperature rose and the snow turned to slush. In below freezing conditions, the skis work much better than they do in slush, he said.
About four years ago, the Army decided to do away with ski training at the NWTC, said Steven Decker, a training specialist. He said he’s not sure why the decision was made, but said he’s glad that skiing was reintroduced this year.
Canadians and Japanese go everywhere on skis, he said. They find it very relevant to mobility. In fact, “when the Japanese attend the course here, they can ski circles around us.”
The downside to skiing, he said, is that it takes a while to learn. For an entire platoon or company to move out on skis, it might take an entire winter and a lot of training time dedicated to making that happen.
But he and the other instructors all agreed that learning to ski is worth the time and effort.
Sgt. Derrick Bruner, an instructor, said snowshoes are “loud, slow and clunky” to use compared to skis and that skis provide better floatation over the snow. “Skis are a million times better once you get the technique down.”
Staff Sgt. Jack Stacy, an instructor, said when he first arrived at NWTC, he went out into the terrain in a vehicle that broke down. He didn’t have skis or snowshoes with him and ended up having to walk back to headquarters, “post-holing” it back all the way.
“It was the most miserable time I’ve ever had here,” Stacy said. “I’ve always made sure my skis or snowshoes are handy ever since.”
An assistant patrol leader with Alpha Company, Battalion Landing Team, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, applies camouflage paint to his face.
Most people don’t think about evil. The force of evil is certainly out there, but it’s on a different street, a different city or across the ocean. Evil is something we see as a plot in Hollywood, in movies like Joker. It isn’t something most people give much thought to.
But for veterans, it’s different.
I sat at a table with a veteran friend of mine, sipping coffee in a local cafe. He looked around as we talked about where we’d been and things we’d done. “They’ll never know,” he said. “I mean, how could they?” Our fellow patrons were having conversations a million miles away from ours, talking about things like kids, yoga and groceries, not darkness or things that haunt us. “I suppose it’s better that way,” he added.
Maybe it is, I thought, but maybe not.
The recent depiction of The Joker has become the highest grossing R-rated release in box office history. Joaquin Phoenix’s performance is now an Oscar front-runner for his personal dive into villainy. For a society that doesn’t understand or talk about evil, The Joker has clearly found an audience. Phoenix’s rendition of Arthur is not the villainous story you might guess though, instead, it’s a man driven by his quest for love and entertainment; he hardly seems like a villain.
Phoenix said he prepared for this role by identifying with “his struggle to find happiness and to feel connected. To have warmth and love.” It’s an interesting juxtaposition: how does one end up being evil if all they want is love? This is the question and the genius of Joker. The same question haunts many veterans today. What is the difference between the pursuit of love and evildoing? Seems obvious, right? Maybe not, if evil never seems to be the aim. Yet, somehow people end up there – doing things that destroy the world around them. Even Hitler, a real life villain, once said, “I can fight only for something that I love.”
People want to believe that evil is something they can spot, as if it wears an enemy’s uniform and is clearly recognizable as “the bad guy.” The reality is, evil isn’t just lurking in a dark alley, waiting to sneak up on you when you least expect it. For some veterans, evil isn’t only external, although it certainly may have started that way. Evil isn’t something in a far-off land for us. It’s something we’ve carried home and something with which we have to deal. Carl Jung once said, “Knowing your own darkness is the best method of dealing with the darkness of other people.” What most veterans don’t know, but soon find out, is that facing evil out there means facing it inside of ourselves, too.
I have witnessed this realization many times in veterans, sitting next to them as they struggle with how the world could be this way. How could it be? Where is the good? As a chaplain and a social worker, I have seen, even been part of, people losing their hold on a world that they can picture themselves living in. The feelings of helplessness and sadness are overwhelming when facing a world with all its deficiencies.
It can be horrifying to think that we have something in common, even sharing the air, with the Jokers of the world. The genius of Phoenix’s performance is that most of us can see parts of ourselves in his character. This is what makes coming back from war so difficult; there is no shutting your eyes. Facing the realities of evil post-war is harder in a society that also wants nothing to do with it.
Service in the military shocked my own naiveté, forcing me to grasp with my own encounters with evil around me, even in me. War, more than any other environment, is the great tester. It reveals all of the little cracks and strengths. It is the great kiln of life. Perhaps facing these demons is a reason for the stubborn rising suicide rate and extreme isolation we see in veterans post-war. It also explains why veterans so often take roles in protecting people from it — serving in law enforcement and security.
For those who haven’t served, who has not felt the pain of betrayal, neglect or helplessness at an abuse of power? Allowing ourselves to experience the abyss of evil is “fearless”, as one critic said of Phoenix’s performance. Who has not found themselves filled with thoughts of revenge? Perhaps a better question then is: Why aren’t all of us Jokers? Why don’t we all go mad? Maybe we are. Maybe there’s a little villain in all of us.
Not all veterans can face their demons. Not facing the villain, outside and in, leads to a space you can’t share, a place where you join the Jokers of the world. This would explain why some veterans think of suicide as an honorable thing, saving the world from the Joker they have become. Some just drive faster, drink more, turn up the music and close their eyes when these evils start to appear.
There is good reason to avoid looking – we might not be prepared to fight the evil we see. Heath Ledger’s plunge into the character of evil may have led him to places that he could not find his way out from. Encountering true evil and the thin veil that separates us leads most to question our own capacity to overcome it.
Evil hides in omission — our lack of doing as much as our acts of doing. Stopping evil does not mean that we weaken or blind ourselves. Instead, as many veterans do, they choose to see the enemy, even if it’s within, rather than hide. The confrontation is fraught; not just with evil’s existence but in the failure to do good when they can. Veterans who find their way back home learn this. Veterans like Chase Millsap who saw local nationals murdered after working with U.S. soldiers and created a way for them to be safe withnooneleft.org. Veterans like Noel Lipana, who couldn’t make sense of his actions and has found a way to tell his story and shape others through an art performance piece. They could not omit. They decided that the way back is to do good. To exert agency over their helplessness in the face of evil. Is this not the only way? To do good, in the face of evil.
The last decade has brought new thinking on this as well, rethinking post-traumatic stress disorder toward a term called Moral Injury because it tracks better to veterans’ experience of war — that evil, sometimes our own, shocks our worldview. To see evil and the ugliness of humankind can shake you to your core and leave you with lingering questions. An abbreviated definition of Moral Injury refers to the lasting impacts of actions that violate a service member’s core moral values and expectations of self or others. Perhaps another definition is that Moral Injury is the impact of coming face to face with evil, even if it’s our own. Facing evil in the world can leave you with more questions than answers. Fortunately, these questions aren’t new, they just aren’t often talked about. Maybe that’s why evil and veil are just letters rearranged differently; both are thinly seen.
The story of the Joker is the story that veterans know all too well. Today’s society leaves most willfully blind to the struggles and evils in the world, leaving many veterans grasping for answers to questions that their neighbors are not asking. At first glance, it does seem easier to omit them, but closing our eyes to them will not save us. Perhaps the reason the Joker has garnered so much international attention is because it’s telling a story we all know, but don’t like to look at. A story that needs to be told.
We don’t say things we should. We don’t look at injustice if we can avoid it. We avoid confrontation when possible. We choose to close our eyes, rather than see.
The Joker invites all of us, not just veterans, to manage our own shadows by doing the good we know to do. Veterans don’t have the market cornered on this, most just signed up for it and are learning how to live with the evil around us.
Back and better than ever, this year Dallas, Texas, will host the largest gathering of top-tier military bloggers and entrepreneurs during the Military Influencer Conference to be held Oct. 22-24.
What started as a get-together for a handful of military bloggers back in the early 2000s has mushroomed into a full-fledged conference that brings together hundreds of community leaders, digital entrepreneurs, and influencers united by a passion for the military.
Through inspiring keynote speeches and immersive, hands-on workshops with some of the top names in the digital space, attendees can learn proven strategies, tactics and techniques needed to grow their brands.
With more than 21 educational sessions and a wide range of dynamic, inspiring speakers, this event gives digital entrepreneurs an unprecedented opportunity to find the resources and connections needed to grow an online business.
All tickets to the 2017 Military Influencer Conference can be purchased online until Oct. 10. And right now if attendees use the discount code “wearethemighty” they can earn a 20 percent discount on tickets.