For the more than 19 million veterans currently living in the United States, where you live can be essential to your access to healthcare, good employment, and a strong quality of life.
WalletHub recently conducted a report of the best US cities for veterans, analyzing 20 key indicators of livability, affordability, and veteran-friendliness. The study then provided rankings — out of 100 — for each category.
Employment rankings took into account the number of veteran-owned businesses per veteran population and opportunities for job growth, as well as the availability of jobs that utilize military-learned skills. Economy rankings considered factors such as the median veteran income and veteran homelessness rates, while quality of life was determined by analyzing veteran population, restaurants with military discounts, and more.
The study found that Tampa, Florida, triumphed as the best major US city for veterans, earning a total score of 72.44 out of a possible 100. Boston, Massachusetts, despite ranking at No. 68 overall, earned the highest ranking for veteran employment.
Keep reading to find out the top 25 best US cities for veterans.
Elon Musk is pushing SpaceX’s more than 7,000 employees to not waste any time after its first crewed space launch.
A little over a week ago, the rocket company successfully sent two astronauts to the International Space Station on an historic mission that may last nearly four months. But now the CEO is directing SpaceX to quickly switch gears, according to an internal email first obtained and reported by CNBC.
Musk told SpaceX employees to work full steam ahead on Starship, a reusable rocket designed to one day land on the moon for NASA and take up to 100 people at a time to Mars.
“Please consider the top SpaceX priority (apart from anything that could reduce Dragon return risk) to be Starship,” Musk wrote in the email, according to the report.
SpaceX did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for confirmation and comment on the email.
But Musk has said the company may need to build about 20 large prototypes before SpaceX can attempt to launch one into orbit.
To the moon, Mars, and beyond
In hopes of speeding up Starship’s progress, Musk’s email alluded to incentivizing employees from the company’s Los Angeles headquarters and Florida facility to “consider spending significant time” in Boca Chica, Texas, where Starship’s production complex is. (Business Insider previously reported the rocket company was hiring a project coordinator to help run a “SpaceX Village” with 100 rooms, lounge parties, volleyball tournaments, rock climbing, and more.)
Before a high-profile presentation about Starship from Boca Chica, Musk received pressure in September from NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. Bridenstine tweeted about his excitement for Starship but said it was “time to deliver” on sending astronauts to space using the older Crew Dragon and Falcon 9 system.
Now that Behnken and Hurley are in orbit, Musk appears intent on putting SpaceX’s full force into Starship. The system is in the running with NASA to land astronauts and supplies on the moon in the mid-2020s.
On Friday, Musk also confirmed that he still hoped to launch the first crew to Mars in a Starship vehicle in mid-2024 — ostensibly as the start of an effort to populate the red planet.
“Which U.S. military branch has the nicest looking uniforms?”
This is one where we actually all came together as one. Say it with me now: Navy Marines.
We are back in another installment of “Vets Answer Dumb Military Questions” where the premise is simple: people asked dumb military questions and, well, vets answer them. I guess I didn’t need to explain that.
But apparently there is much that does need to be explained. So let’s get to it:
Do soldiers ever name their weapons? | Dumb Military Questions 106
Do soldiers ever name their weapons? | Dumb Military Questions 106
Our cast of veterans this week includes: August Dannehl (Navy), Jennifer Brofer (Marine Corps), Rosario Eléna (Army), Mark Harper (Air Force), Graham Pulliam (Marine Corps), Donna Callaway (Marine Corps), Jennifer Campbell (Army), Tara Batesole (Air Force), Chase Millsap (Green Beret — no branch required), and of course yours truly (Air Force).
Oh! And Megan Miller, our token civilian. And Ding Dong. Can’t forget about Ding Dong.
“Why do soldiers not use suitcases with wheels for loaded marches?”
Because wheels are for…
“Who would win if the United States Navy and Marines fought a war against the United States Army and Air Force?”
Millsap made a solid argument: “It happens every year. It’s called the Army Navy Game. Navy usually wins.”
But on the other hand, Campbell has a point: “Army and Air Force. Marines are dumb and then the navies transport them. So you have dumb people transporting dumb people.” ZING.
Harper argues that no one wins. “It’s just like Aliens vs. Predator.”
But if we’re all being really honest with ourselves, Pulliam has the correct answer:
“Coasties because everyone else would be f***ing dead.”
And let’s just face it: the Coast Guard really has won, right? They get to be by the water, saving lives every day, stopping drugs, hanging out with whales. My grandpa told me to join the Coast Guard and he was right.
Three beautiful ladies are talking as they walk down the street. The first lady gets stung by a honey bee, and her whole arm swells up. The second lady says, “I got stung by a bumblebee once and my whole arm swelled up, too.”
The third lady says, “that’s nothing. I once got stung by a Seabee and my whole belly swelled.”
A Naval officer and a Marine gunny are in the head, taking a leak.
After the two finish, the gunny walks out and proceeds back down the hall. The Naval officer catches up with him and says, “in the Navy, they teach us to wash our hands after taking a piss.”
“No sh*t,” the gunny replies. “In the Marine Corps, they teach us never to piss in our hands.”
Stuck in the freakin’ mud
During a training exercise, a lieutenant was driving his Humvee down a muddy, rural road when he encountered another truck that was stuck in the mud with a red-faced colonel sitting behind the wheel. The lieutenant pulls his Humvee alongside and asks, “is your Humvee stuck, sir?”
The superior officer steps out, holds out his hand, keys dangling, and says, “Nope, but yours is.”
A young Marine is working late at the office one evening. As he finally makes his way out and into the night air, he spots a colonel standing by the classified document shredder in the hallway, paperwork in hand.
“Do you know how to work this thing?” asked the colonel. “My secretary’s gone home and I don’t know how to use it.”
“Yes, sir,” the young Marine replies.
He turns on the machine and takes the paperwork from the colonel, who says, “Great! I just need one copy of each” and walks away.
Born on Aug. 22, 1930, in Temple, Texas, Forrest Fenn did not begin his life wealthy, with his father working to support the family via a job as a principal at a local school. Things would change, however, during the latter half of his life thanks to a love of exploring and collecting various artifacts. His first such object was a simple arrow head he found when he was nine years old, something he still has to this day some eight decades later. Said Fenn, “I was exhilarated and it started me on a lifelong adventure of discovering and collecting things.”
After finishing school, Fenn decided to do a little exploring on the government’s dime, joining the U.S. Air Force in 1950 and traveling the world. Ultimately rising to the rank of Major, as well as flying a remarkable 328 combat missions in one year during Vietnam, he used his free time while in the service to search for artifacts wherever he was. Among many other finds during his time in the Air Force he reportedly discovered such things as a spearhead in the Sahara desert dated to around the 6th century BC and even a jar still filled with olive oil from Ancient Rome.
When he finally retired from the service, he decided to see if he could make a career out of his hobby, opening a shop, Fenn Galleries, with his wife and a business partner, Rex Arrowsmith, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The business ultimately became extremely successful, apparently grossing a whopping million per year in sales at its peak.
Fast-forwarding almost two decades later, in 1987, Fenn’s father died of pancreatic cancer. Things got worse the next year when Fenn himself was diagnosed with kidney cancer. During treatment, his doctors told him there was about an 80% chance of his cancer being terminal within a few years.
And so it was that with more money and valuable objects than anyone in his family would need when he was gone, he decided he’d like to use some of his artifacts to inspire people to get out of their homes and go exploring. As he noted a couple decades later in an interview with The Albuquerque Journal in 2013, “I’m trying to get fathers and mothers to go out into the countryside with their children. I want them to get away from the house and away from the TV and the texting.”
His method for doing this was, in 1990, to purchase an approximately 800 year old bronze chest for ,000 (about ,000 today) and then place inside of it a slew of valuables including rubies, sapphires, diamonds, and emeralds; several antique items including pre-Columbian gold figures; a 2,000 year old necklace; a Spanish ring covered in gems from the 17th century; well over 100 gold nuggets of various sizes; 256 gold coins; and, finally, an autobiography of himself written in ultra small print and encased in a sealed jar. To ensure it could be readily read by the discoverer, he helpfully also included a magnifying glass.
That done, his first idea was to simply wait until he was near death, then leave behind a series of clues to a spot he had picked to go die, lying next to his treasure chest.
Fortunately for him, he survived his cancer, though he would quip surviving “ruined the story”.
Now with more life in him, instead of going through with the plan, he simply placed the treasure chest and its valuable contents in his personal vault where it sat, waiting for his cancer to come back so he could execute his plan.
Two decades later and no cancer returning, at the age of 80 in 2010, he figured it was time to put a version of the plan in motion anyway. Thus, he drove somewhere in the Rockies between Santa Fe, New Mexico and the border of Canada, got out of his car and lugged the chest some unknown distance. From here, it is not clear whether he buried it, or simply left it on the surface to be discovered.
Whatever he did, after driving home, he announced what he’d done shortly thereafter in his self-published autobiography called The Thrill of the Chase: A Memoir.
Given this was initially just sold in a bookstore in Sante Fe and he doesn’t seem to have otherwise too widely promoted what he’d done beyond locals, as you might imagine, little notice was given at first.
Things all changed, however, when an inflight magazine, who had stumbled on the story who knows how, decided to feature it. A Today’s Show producer ultimately read this and decided it would make good fodder for their show in 2013. Not long after this, the story exploded across the news wires and treasure hunters the world over swarmed to the Rockies to find the chest.
Since then, an estimated few hundred thousand people have gone looking for Fenn’s treasure. Some even have regular meetups in the Rockies each year to sit around camp fires and enjoy each other’s company, while sharing hypotheses of where the treasure might be. Not always wrong, according to Fenn, a few who have emailed him of where they looked have even come within a couple hundred feet of it, implying that they probably correctly identified the starting point he gives in the clues we’ll get to shortly.
But nobody has found it yet.
Worse, in the process of searching, at least four people to date have lost their lives — one Jeff Murphy died after falling down a steep slope in Yellowstone. In another case, a Pastor Paris Wallace somehow got swept away in the Rio Grande during his search. In another instance, one Eric Ashby was rafting in Colorado during his search when he drowned. In his case, Ashby apparently specifically moved to Colorado the previous year to devote himself to finding the treasure.
Finally, Randy Bilyeu, who retired from his job as a mechanic to search for the treasure full time, was found along the Rio Grande, though it isn’t clear how he died other than the temperatures were below freezing at the time he was searching.
For whatever it’s worth, it’s also been claimed by Bilyeu’s ex-wife, Linda, that a family of an unnamed individual reached out to her to offer their condolences and revealed their loved one had also died searching, but they had chosen not to make that information public. On top of that, it’s often mentioned that a Jeff Schulz, who died while hiking in Arizona in 2016, was searching for the treasure, though nothing in his family’s memorial to him and Facebook posts seem to mention any such connection, despite it being widely reported.
Whatever the case, in response to these deaths, Fenn, who actually rented a helicopter to help search for Bilyeu when he went missing, continually reiterates that searchers need to remember the treasure is “not in a dangerous place… I was eighty when I hid it…. don’t look anywhere where [an]… 80-year-old man can’t put something. I’m not that fit. I can’t climb 14,000 feet.”
This fact also has many speculating that from the starting point where he exited his vehicle might have only been a couple hundred feet given the 42 pounds the chest apparently weighed and his revelation that several people had come within two hundred feet of the chest.
Whatever the case, because of the deaths, and some people’s reported obsession with finding the treasure, with a handful of people even bankrupting themselves in the search, Fenn has been asked by certain authorities to retrieve the chest and call off the hunt.
A request Fenn refuses to grant, noting the overall benefit to hundreds of thousands who’ve got to go on a real treasure hunt in the wilderness. He further states, “I regret that some treasure hunters have invested more in the search than they could afford, although those numbers are small. I also regret that several people have become lost in the winter mountains. . I have said many times that no one should extend themselves beyond their comfort zone, physically or financially.”
And as for the addicted, he states this is unavoidable with any activity “in the same way gold miners, gamblers, hunters and baseball fans become addicted.”
Naturally, others have claimed it’s all one big hoax, such as the aforementioned Linda Bilyeu. Fenn is adamant, however, that it is not and he really did put the treasure chest somewhere in the Rockies.
(Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
As for proof, he offers none but his word. That said, for whatever it’s worth a few of his friends have come forward and stated they saw the chest in his vault with the items over the years leading up to 2010 when it suddenly disappeared. For example, a long-time friend of his, noted author Douglas Preston, states he saw the chest and the items, and that “As far as proof goes, there’s no proof. It’s hard to prove a negative. The negative is that the chest is gone. It’s not in his house and it’s not in his vault. And also knowing Forrest for as long as I have, I can absolutely say with 100 percent confidence that he would never pull off a hoax. I’m absolutely sure that he hid that treasure chest.”
So where is it? As for the main set of clues Fenn has given, they are as follows:
As I have gone alone in there And with my treasures bold, I can keep my secret where, And hint of riches new and old. Begin it where warm waters halt And take it in the canyon down, Not far, but too far to walk. Put in below the home of Brown. From there it’s no place for the meek, The end is ever drawing nigh; There’ll be no paddle up your creek, Just heavy loads and water high. If you’ve been wise and found the blaze, Look quickly down, your quest to cease, But tarry scant with marvel gaze, Just take the chest and go in peace. So why is it that I must go And leave my trove for all to seek? The answers I already know, I’ve done it tired, and now I’m weak. So hear me all and listen good, Your effort will be worth the cold. If you are brave and in the wood I give you title to the gold.
Beyond that, he’s also mentioned in his autobiography that it is “in the mountains somewhere north of Santa Fe”. That the treasure is not in any cemetery or grave (apparently some people were beginning to dig up graves, convinced he left it in one) nor on his property or any of his friends. (This one came out because people kept digging in his and his friend’s properties.) He also states it’s not in or under any man-made structure nor in a mine. Finally, in 2015, he stated at a certain point that it was wet at the time and surrounded by “wonderful smells, of pine needles or piñon nuts or sagebrush”.
In the end, apparently achieving his goal, since the treasure was allegedly placed, many thousands have used it as an inspiration for a fun family vacation in beautiful areas, in most cases seemingly little upset about not actually finding the treasure. As Fenn himself states, even for all who don’t find it, “the adventure [is] the greater treasure.”
Seemingly concurring, one retired searcher, Cynthia Meachum, has taken over 60 trips into the wilderness to try to find it, stating “You go out, you look, you don’t find it, you come back home, you go through your clues again, your solves again and you think, ‘Where did I go wrong?’ And you go out and you do it again. And I have actually seen some of the most spectacular scenery because of this that I ever would’ve seen.”
Of course, for one lucky individual someday they might just also walk away with a literal, rather than figurative, treasure, which is the hope of Fenn, who states that given the number of people having correctly followed the clues to a point and come so close, he expects someone will find it soon. However, with him now at 89 years old, he may not live to see the day.
(And if you’re now wondering, Fenn has also stated that he is the only one who knows the treasure chest’s location and he has left no definitive record of its whereabouts other than the already revealed clues.)
Speaking of buried treasure, a back injury and a recommendation by his doctors to take frequent walks saw one Kevin Hillier of Australia deciding to use the time more productively than just exercise, taking strolls through former gold fields with a metal detector. Broke, one night he dreamed he found an endless gold nugget that was so big that it could not be dug out of the ground. The next morning, he drew a picture depicting his dream on a piece of paper and had his friend Russell sign it as a witness for some odd reason.
Whether he made that part up, it was coincidence from having gold on his brain, or indeed prophetic, on Sept. 26, 1980, the dream would come true. After lunch, Kevin and his wife Bip were detecting in opposite directions when Kevin screamed. Rushing to him, Bip found her husband on the ground sobbing while kneeling in front of a tip of a gold nugget that couldn’t be pried from the ground directly.
The Hand of Faith, the largest gold nugget in the world.
As a result, they began to dig… and dig and dig until they finally reached the bottom. Lifting it up, they realized what they had found was history. Weighing an astounding 27.2 kilograms (nearly 60 pounds), it was the largest gold nugget ever found by a hand held metal detector and the second largest discovered in Australia in the 20th century. In a recent interview, Bip claimed that the couple had some heavenly intervention, “People will say it was all coincidence and that’s fine. But that’s my Father up there…and he’s interested in everything we do.” To them, the rock looked like a hand making a blessing. So, Bip and Kevin named the gold rock the “Hand of Faith.”
Scared to tell anyone, they rushed it home and soaked the sixty-pound chunk in the sink. The kids all helped to clean it with toothbrushes. That night, the family slept as the gold sat in a kiddie pool under the parents’ bed. After a few days of debate about what to do, they decided to hand the rock over to a trusted friend to take it back to Melbourne for a delivery to the government.
A few days later, at a televised press conference, Victorian Premier Dick Hamer announced the discovery. However, the Hilliers were not there. They were hold up in a motel room watching the press conference on television, refusing to be identified. Said one of the Hillier kids, “Even for years afterwards, we kids never brought it up.”
It took several months for the nugget to sell (according to Bip, this was the government’s fault and caused the nugget to dip in value as the hype died down a bit), but finally in early February of 1981, with the help of Kovac’s Gems Minerals, it was sold to the appropriately-named Golden Nugget Casino in Las Vegas for about a million dollars (approximately .7 million today).
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
From Military Police to Medical Corpsmen, Gina Elise’s 2020 Pin-Ups are continued proof that military veterans aren’t just men with high-and-tight haircuts.
Pin-Ups for Vets is a non-profit organization that supports hospitalized and deployed veterans and military families. Founded by Gina Elise, who describes herself (accurately) as a very patriotic citizen, the organization is comprised of volunteers — many of them veterans — who visit service members at their bedside in VA and military hospitals; attend military events; and help raise funds for hospital equipment, gold star families, and deployed vets.
They embody service after service — and they’re changing the perspective about women in the military.
Erikka Davis on active duty (left) and in the 2020 Pin-Ups for Vets calendar (right).
Erikka Davis, U.S. Army
Erikka Davis enlisted when she was 17 and quickly deployed to Iraq as Military Police attached to the 4th Infantry Division, where she helped conduct raids, provide convoy escorts, house inmates, and support local law and order. She survived an IED attack against her three vehicle convoy, hired and retrained local Iraqi Police, and held a leadership position in the early stages of the Iraqi conflict — not an easy position for anyone.
“As a female MP, it is difficult to be respected, so hardening my personality seemed to be an effective way to keep up with my fellow male soldiers. This has been a difficult switch to turn off. Pin-Ups for Vets is slowly reminding me that I am not only allowed to be a veteran, but a lady as well.”
Davis is not the first veteran to describe this mentality — that somehow women are expected to suppress a part of themselves in order to earn the respect of male peers. Pin-Ups for Vets allows female veterans to reclaim that part of themselves within a community — and as a bonus, they get to continue to give back to the community at large.
“If I can do anything to aid in the boosting of morale for our veterans and active duty members, I would gladly partake.”
Jessica Bowling on active duty (left) and in the 2020 Pin-Ups for Vets calendar (right).
Jessica Bowling, U.S. Army
Jessica Bowling supported EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) Operations in the United States Army for eight years, during which she deployed to Afghanistan in support of 10th Mountain Division. Her company was formally recognized for its live-saving efforts by General David Petraeus, the four-star general who served as Commander of U.S. and ISAF forces in Afghanistan.
“We had a code in the Army: ‘leave no one behind.’ I love that Pin-Ups for Vets is taking care of vets and is doing so much to honor and celebrate women veterans. My passion is women veterans and ending homelessness in our veteran community,” proclaimed Bowling.
She’s in the right place; Pin-Ups for Vets has supported homeless female veterans with makeovers and gifts of clothing to help them get back on the right track.
Erika Velasquez on active duty (left) and in the 2020 Pin-Ups for Vets calendar (right).
Erika Velasquez, U.S. Coast Guard
Erika Velasquez served for 15 years as a Medical Corpsman in the U.S. Coast Guard, assisting in search and rescue operations. Medical Corpsmen have fought with their brothers and sisters in “every clime and place” since their creation — it’s a competitive and critical career field.
When asked why she wanted to volunteer with Pin-Ups for Vets, Velasquez said, “I always want to acknowledge and remind the community at large of the sacrifices of our veteran community. I am thankful to each individual who has served and contributed to better the world through their service to others.”
Gina Elise in the upcoming 2020 calendar, now available for pre-order.
Gina Elise, Founder of Pin-Ups for Vets
Elise has been creating her iconic calendar for 14 years now. “The calendar images are starting a conversation about women in the military. People see the images, and they want to know the stories behind the ladies. They ask, ‘Who is she?’ ‘Where did she serve?’ ‘What did she do in the military?’ The stories of our lady veterans need to be told. The ladies tell me that people often assume that they are not veterans because of their gender. One of our ambassadors, Jovane Marie, who is a Marine Veteran, has summed it up: ‘There is nothing that says I can’t be a hard-charging Marine and a lipstick-wearing pin-up — so I choose to be both.’ These ladies are changing the narrative of what it means to be a veteran. They are breaking the stereotype.”
Pin-Ups for Vets ambassadors — all military veterans — gather for a group shot on set at Perfect 10 Beauty Studios during the 2020 calendar shoot.
Her team has allowed the organization to donate over ,000 to help VA hospitals purchase new therapy equipment and provide financial assistance for veterans’ healthcare programs. Her volunteers have visited over 13,000 veterans at 68 hospitals across the country. The organization has also provided makeovers for veterans, military spouses, and gold star wives.
There are good days and bad days when it comes to hospitalization or mourning a fallen hero. When Gina Elise and her pin-up volunteers are around, it usually means it’s going to be a good day.
In 1952, the Green Bay Packers drafted “Chargin’ Charlie” Beckwith from the University of Georgia. But seeing as how the Korean War was already in its second year, Chargin’ Charlie declined the offer for a different green uniform.
Commissioned as 2nd Lieutenant, Charles Beckwith served a few years on the Korean Peninsula, in war and later peacetime. It was after Korea that he joined the 82d Airborne, and later, U.S. Army Special Forces.
Beckwith’s first mission was to train the Royal Lao Army in 1960 but his mission to deploy with British SAS to Malaysia as they fought a Communist insurgency is one that forever changed military history.
It was there that Beckwith came down with a mean case of Leptospirosis — a bacterial infection that causes kidney failure and pulmonary hemorrhaging. Doctors did not expect Beckwith to survive.
He survived the infection and his time with the Special Air Service inspired him to develop the American Army’s version of such an elite unit. In 1963, he formed the specialty unit code-name Project Delta, personally selecting the men best suited to conduct long-range recon operations in Vietnam.
But his time in Delta — and on Earth — was nearly cut short in Vietnam in 1966. Beckwith was shot in his abdomen with a .50-caliber round. He was taped up, but essentially left for dead.
But death still didn’t come.
Beckwith not only recovered, he continued with his military career, fighting in a series of battles from the Tet Offensive in 1968 until the end of the war in 1973.
It was in the mid-70s that Beckwith’s elite unit idea finally became a full reality. He was given the authority and formed the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment – Delta in 1977. The new elite unit focused on anti-terror and hostage recovery ops, based on the model of the British SAS.
Unfortunately for Beckwith and Delta, their first mission was Operation Eagle Claw, the doomed hostage rescue of Americans held in Iran. After the catastrophic failure of Eagle Claw, Beckwith retired from the Army.
Officials from the Department of Defense told Kim Dozier of The Daily Beastthat U.S. special forces have killed those “external operations leaders, planners, and facilitators” who were part of those attacks outside the CENTCOM area of responsibility.
The use of special forces in kill or capture raids (though the capture part tends to happen much less frequently) is a major part of the U.S. counterterrorism plan against ISIS. Those 40 are less than half of the high-value targets that coalition forces have taken out. The U.S. mission also includes curtailing the terror group’s ability to recruit abroad and inhibit their ability to carry out Paris-style attacks. President Obama has ordered 250 more special operators to Iraq to support these operations.
According to Dozier’s report, the effort is seeing results. Those same defense officials estimated that ISIS’ overall fighting force is down to 19,000 – 25,000 fighters, from 33,000 in 2015. Moreover, the influx of new recruits coming into the region is down 90 percent from last year.
Dozier also reports that the Director of National Intelligence Jim Clapper warned this week that ISIS cells are already in place throughout Europe. ISIS’ external operations have killed 1,000 people across 21 countries since 2015. But the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) is using a mixture of special operators from many, varied disciplines. Their units include Navy SEALs, Delta Force, and Green Berets integrated in all aspects of the JSOC mission. This ensures the highest performers are on kill-capture raids, and have experience in hostage rescue and working with local opposition forces.
This may be a product of battlefield lessons learned. These days, the CENTCOM AOR is run by Gen. Joseph Votel, who once commanded both U.S. Special Operations Command and JSOC. Lt. Gen. Austin S. Miller, the current JSOC commander, ran special operations in Afghanistan, where he used the mixed special forces tactics with great success.
Victoria Reyes is a talented 11-year-old military child, who showcased her artful creations in her first exhibition, where she left people in attendance in such an awe that a few of them commissioned private artworks.
While walking through the exhibition room in Tampa, Florida, where artwork by Victoria Reyes was being showcased, attendees couldn’t help be drawn to the colorful representations of Japanese anime and the meticulous attention to details that had clearly gone into each piece. It didn’t take long for some of the people in attendance to commission the talented artist with private pieces, which she was happy to take on.
Many of the great painters that have made art history began showing promising talent at a young age — Picasso, for example, was only nine when he completed his first painting. But the key figure behind most of these talented artists was usually a parent who had been able to first notice their child’s unusual creative abilities. In Picasso’s case, it was his father who noticed his talent two years before the young painter completed his first work of art.
Maxine Reyes, Victoria’s mother, first noticed her daughter’s talent when Victoria was only three years old. “I noticed how well she could draw people,” Maxine said, “and I remember how I used to just draw straight lines to make the body of a person. The level of detail that Victoria added to her figures was out of the norm.”
A talented singer who entertained not only troops in the Middle East, but also NBA teams and even a U.S. President, Maxine is an artist in her own right and a retired military member who served for over 20 years in the Air Force and the Army. “She wasn’t doing the normal scribble scrabble,” Maxine said, “and that’s why I encouraged her to nurture her talent.”
Art as a coping mechanism
Victoria, who is also a singer like her mother and a talented piano player, began finding comfort in drawing, especially during the challenging times military life inevitably brings. When her active duty Army father, stationed at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, had to leave home for work for an extended period of time, Victoria found art to be a coping mechanism.
Given how therapeutic she finds drawing to be for her, Victoria dedicates most of her spare time to making art. “I remember watching Japanese anime shows on TV,” Victoria said, “and I was surprised by how detailed those cartoons were.” Inspired by what she saw, the young artist would eventually place that same level of attention to details to her own art, which is what made her parents take notice and reflect on how they could support her.
Supporting and encouraging young talent
“When I saw her drawings,” Maxine revealed, “they looked like something I would buy at an art show.” An art lover like her husband, Maxine was able to appreciate her daughter’s talent and support it from the very beginning. “My husband and I decided that we were going to encourage her and invest in her talent so that one day she will be able to live out her dream.”
That was the reason why Victoria’s parents planned a surprise birthday party for their talented daughter. “I printed her best artwork on canvas and turned her birthday party into her very first art show.”
Showcasing her artwork brought Victoria enormous success, and she was happy with the outcome, although she admits that, “I was a bit shy at first.” The talented military child is committed to pursuing her dream and working on her talents so that one day she can achieve her goal of becoming a professional artist.
If interested in purchasing Victoria Reyes’s artwork or getting in touch with her to commission a private piece, please visit www.victoriareyes.com or @iamvictoriareyes.
In the United States, we enjoy a good amount of federal holidays, during which many employers give their employees a paid day off. During these breaks, which sometimes result in a three- or four-day weekend, everyone can take some time to relax with friends and family — maybe even enjoy a barbecue.
Everyone, that is, except the troops deployed to combat zones. On these days, troops will (sometimes) get a slightly nicer meal served by their chain of command before they return to the grind.
To celebrate the troops that are in harm’s way and the sacrifices their families make, we have today, October 26th, the oft-forgotten Day of the Deployed. Despite the fact that it’s officially recognized by all 50 states as of 2012, you’ll likely see far more people posting things to their social media account about National Breadstick Day, which, this year, happens to share the date.
While the holiday doesn’t necessarily call for huge, elaborate celebration, officially recognizing it as a federal holiday during times of ongoing conflicts would go a long way. Hear us out.
Lt. Col. Honsa’s cousin worked to give him a nationally recognized holiday while he was deployed… The rest of our families need to step up their care package game…
Of the ten holidays observed by the federal government, two of them directly honor the military: Memorial Day, for fallen troops, and Veterans Day, for the living. There’s also Armed Forces Day, which honors the current, active duty military, but that holiday is rarely recognized outside of the military community.
The Day of the Deployed is similar to Armed Forces Day, but it specifically honors the troops who are currently deployed. The holiday first began in 2006 when Shelle Michaels Aberle approached North Dakota Governor John Hoeven to officially proclaim a day to specifically honor the troops out there fightin’ the good fight. The date October 26th was selected in honor of Aberle’s cousin, Lt. Col. David Hosna — the birthday of a soldier who, at the time, was deployed.
When Hoeven became a senator, he sponsored S.Res.295 on October 18th, 2011, to designate October 26th as the “Day of the Deployed.” It was approved unanimously and without any amendments. Since then, all 50 states have officially observed the holiday.
Six years later and the holiday is nothing more than a footnote at the bottom of calendars, found by those looking for wacky holidays — and that’s a shame. A day to commemorate the heroic acts of the troops fighting on the front lines does not deserve to be on the same level as Talk-Like-A-Pirate Day.
Federal recognition of the day would put it in league with the holidays that people get an extended weekend to celebrate — you know, the ones people take seriously. For this to make most sense, we’d need to make a couple of changes:
First, it should become a floating holiday — this year, it falls on the last Friday of October. In our opinion, that’s the perfect place for it. Not only would that mean a three-day weekend, it also means it could incorporate Remember Everyone Deployed Fridays in an official capacity, which gives people a way to celebrate.
And with the way that the postal system works for outlaying combat outposts, the care packages would arrive just before Christmas!
(U.S. Navy photo by Lt. j.g. Matthew Stroup)
On this newly upgraded National Day of the Deployed, everyone would wear red as a symbol and, as an action, they’d send care packages out to those on the front line. Hell, even if only a tiny fraction of the American population actually sends care packages, that’d be a huge windfall for the troops.
A day to remember the troops deployed overseas is an objectively better reason for a four day weekend.
(U.S. Army photo by CPT Jarrod Morris, TAAC-E Public Affairs)
Now, let’s take a look at the competitors. There are already three holidays that fall around(ish) the last Friday of October: Halloween, Columbus Day, and Veterans Day.
On Halloween, children enjoy a day of free candy and dressing like princesses and superheroes while adults awkwardly party while disguised as various pop-culture references. An extended weekend around that time would be very welcomed by the public — it wouldn’t hurt to give people a day off and let them know they have the troops to thank for it.
Earlier in the month, there’s Columbus Day, a federal holiday that’s becoming less relevant and more contentious by the year. As time goes on, evidence surfaces that suggests that Columbus, as an explorer, never stepped foot on American soil. He wasn’t the first person — or even the first European — to get here, and whether we should celebrate beginning of harsh times for American Indians is hotly debated. A 2014 report from Rasmussen showed that only eight percent of the U.S. population even believes that the day is even important. Honestly, we can’t see there being much push-back if we nixed Columbus Day in favor of Day of the Deployed.
It’d also never leave the American public’s mind that our troops are still not home to enjoy the little things — like paid time off.
(U.S. Navy photo by Lt. j.g. Lauren M. Gaidry)
Finally, on the other side of October, we’ve got Veterans Day. If Day of the Deployed were to become a floating holiday, it’d fall somewhere between eleven and eighteen days before Veterans Day.
If the final Friday of October happened to be the 31st, that means the country would enjoy back-to-back three-day weekends. If it fell on the 25th — the longest possible gap — that’d mean people could enjoy a total of eight days off and ten days of work between two holidays honoring the troops and what they’ve given this great nation of ours.
Give people that kind of time off and the freedom to enjoy themselves a bit, and you’ll truly drive home the point that brave men and women are out there sacrificing so that we can enjoy the liberties we do.
Every few months, several North Carolina counties host a unique special-operations event.
Robin Sage is a four-week exercise that all Special Forces candidates must pass before they graduate and don the coveted Green Beret.
Named after Col. Jerry Michael Sage, an Office of Strategic Services (OSS) operative who was captured by the Nazis and attempted to escape more than 12 times before succeeding, Robin Sage is the culminating exercise of the Special Forces pipeline.
It takes place in the fictional country of Pineland, which spans about 50,000 square miles in the woods of North Carolina.
The Army’s Special Forces, known as Green Berets, mainly specialize in training and supporting foreign forces, counterterrorism, and reconnaissance, as well as carrying out its own small-scale raids and ambushes.
Green Berets operate in 12-man detachments and work with and through partner forces. They receive extensive cultural and linguistic training that enables them to operate anywhere in the world.
But it is during Robin Sage that they get their first real taste of what Special Forces does.
The road to Robin Sage
To make it to Robin Sage, prospective Green Berets must first pass the Special Forces Assessment and Selection (SFAS), a 21-day course that pushes candidates to their physical and mental limits.
Those who successfully complete SFAS move on to the Special Forces Qualification Course (SFQC), or Q Course.
There have been almost 30 different versions of Q Course during its nearly 60-year history. Until recently, it was close to two years long. However, the course was revamped in 2019 and now lasts about six months. It is broken into four major phases: Small Unit Tactics, Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape (SERE), Military Occupational Specialty training, and Robin Sage.
After several months of training, students come together for Robin Sage and work as a team using the different skills they have learned.
In the fictional scenario of Robin Sage, Special Forces candidates must help a guerrilla force, which is usually led by retired Green Berets, overthrow the illegitimate government of Pineland.
“Today, we read a lot about proxy warfare, and that is what Robin Sage is in a nutshell,” Steve Balestrieri, a retired Special Forces warrant officer who also served as an instructor for the course, told Insider.
“The Special Forces candidates have to meet up with and make rapport with a third-world nation guerrilla force, train them up, and then work by, with, and through that guerrilla force to conduct combat operations against a numerically superior enemy occupying force,” Balestrieri said.
During Robin Sage, students are tested on what they have learned in Q Course. They teach their partner force small-unit tactics, provide medical care, build outposts, and establish communications with headquarters.
They also conduct reconnaissance, raids, ambushes, and numerous other missions and are tested on other challenges they might encounter on the battlefield.
For example, teams are often presented with war-crime scenarios, where their partner force wants to “execute” a prisoner or “destroy” a village. It falls on the team to successfully negotiate those delicate situations without losing the support of their allies or violating the laws of war.
It’s the ever-important human element that makes Robin Sage special. The social interactions between the team and the “guerrillas” might mean mission success or failure on the battlefield.
“Our Robin Sage [infiltration] was supposed to be brutal, our rucks weighing more than 100 pounds each,” John Black, a retired Green Beret, told Insider.
“We had packed everything in preparation for more than two weeks in the field with no resupply. Two Blackhawk choppers dropped us off behind enemy lines where we were to meet our partner force in the middle of the night,” Black said. “We walked and walked with this guy for hours in what seemed like a circle — he was lost. The captain asked to help him navigate with the map. Turned out we had been circling the camp for hours and the solution was simple — ask if he needed help.”
Perhaps the most important aspect of Robin Sage is the hands-on lesson it provides to future operators about the main mission of Special Forces, which is unconventional warfare — activities that help a resistance movement or insurgent force take on a bigger power.
“As a Green Beret, I feel Robin Sage is imperative and really gets you to think about the real mission of Special Forces, to work with and through a partner force,” Black added. “Very little of what a Green Beret does is kicking in doors and getting bad guys. Robin Sage definitely helped prepare me for life as an operator on a team.”
“What makes Robin Special is how well and smoothly it’s run from the time the student teams go into isolation until they [infiltrate] and are actively engaged with the G-Force,” Balestrieri said, referring to the guerrilla force.
“It rams home how important is, when operating in a guerrilla warfare/unconventional warfare environment, to at least have the nominal support of the population,” Balestrieri added.
Robin Sage is so realistic that a few years ago, a student was killed and another wounded by a police officer who wasn’t aware of the event and thought that they were robbers. Since then, before every Robin Sage begins, local communities are thoroughly notified.
The exercise and its lessons largely are what differentiate Green Berets from other US special-operations units.
“Robin Sage is tremendously important in the career of every Special Forces soldier, because it takes everything that you’ve been taught thus far in the SFQC and gears it toward SF’s true mission, which is unconventional warfare,” Balestrieri said.
The mission of the Nellis Air Force Base Honor Guard is to represent the Air Force in a variety of ceremonial functions in Southern Nevada, California, Arizona and Utah. They are responsible for rendering military honors for funeral services and various Air Force ceremonies, as well as provide their services at various opening ceremonies.
For the guardsmen, excellence is the only way “to honor with dignity.” Every day they are fine-tuning their skills, or tweaking the slightest hesitation or shift until they can no longer get it wrong.
Devotion to duty
Under the hot desert sun, a group of airmen stand motionless. In two rows of three, they’re positioned opposite of each other, where the only sound is coming from a gentle wind passing through the formation. Between them rests an unfurled American flag draped over a spotless white casket.
Without so much as a whisper, they simultaneously grip the flag and, with each motion as precise as the next, they begin folding it. As the flag reaches the final fold, the last airman bearing the folded flag breaks the silence.
“Again,” he says.
He hands the flag back to the formation for the airmen to unfold and repeat the movements. The airmen didn’t make a mistake, but in their line of work, they don’t practice until they get it right; they practice until they can’t get it wrong.
Airman 1st Class MaryJane Gutierrez, Nellis Air Force Base honor guardsman, salutes during after playing taps during a military honors funeral at the Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery, Sept. 14, 2018.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Andrew D. Sarver)
Before any guardsman is put on a detail, they have nearly a month of training to learn the basic movements. Afterwards, they continue to meticulously work out the slightest imperfections.
“Most of us will have put in about 80 hours of training in the weeks prior to a detail because we have to be perfect. We can’t afford to mess up,” said Airman 1st Class David Diez, Nellis AFB honor guardsman. “Every funeral we do should be as perfect as we would want our funerals to be.”
Grit for greatness
In the distance, the repeated percussion of hands smacking against wood and metal escapes the open doors of the Honor Guard practice room. Inside, three airmen stand shoulder-to-shoulder, staring into a mirror to analyze their every movement.
The airmen lift their rifles with both hands then remove one hand, hit it against the stock and hold the rifles vertically in front of them.
“Port arms!” commands Spegal.
Again, they hit their rifles then position them diagonally across their chests. After taking a brief moment to pause and discuss what needs to be fixed, the airmen pick up their rifles and start again.
Nellis Honor Air Force Base Guardsmen march in formation after presenting the colors at the South Point 400 NASCAR race opening ceremonies at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Sept. 14, 2018.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Andrew D. Sarver)
“Honor Guard is pure teamwork,” said Tech. Sgt. Leon Spence, Nellis AFB Honor Guard Non-commissioned officer in charge. “You can’t go to a funeral or a colors presentation and do everything by yourself. You have to be confident in your abilities and confident in your fellow guardsmen’s abilities to execute each detail as precise as possible.”
Passion for perfection
Down a hallway, the soft brushing of lint rollers against freshly pressed uniforms competes with the sound of gentle laughter from a poorly delivered dad joke.
In a room, Staff Sgt. Victoria Schooley and Airman 1st Class Ashley Libbey, Nellis AFB honor guardsmen, sit eye-level with their uniforms. With a ruler in one hand and a butterfly clutch in the other, Libby is aligning her ribbons. Across the room, Schooley is running her fingers up and down every seam of her ceremonial dress uniform, combing for loose strings to cut away with nail clippers or melt down with a lighter.
For them, looking sharp is just as important to having a successful detail as performing the actual maneuvers.
“I joined because I wanted to do a lot more than my regular day-to-day job. I wanted to feel like I had a bigger purpose in the Air Force and a bigger picture of our impact as a whole,” Diez said. “It will teach you to pay attention to detail, when you realize something as little as a crease in the uniform or a slight hesitation in a facing movement can be the difference between precision and failure.”
“We’re here to serve our community and I want to challenge people to come by and tell us what we could do better or to just learn about us and see what it is we do,” echoed Spence.
An unmanned aerial vehicle being used by the terrorist group Hamas was shot down by an Israeli fighter today.
According to a report from ynetnews.com, the Israeli fighter shot down the drone as it was departing airspace over the Gaza Strip. Such actions are standard policy for the Israeli Defense Forces. A spokesman for the IDF told ynetnews.com that “the IDF will not allow any airspace violation and will act resolutely against any such attempt.”
An Israeli F-15 I fighter jet launches anti-missile flares during an air show at the graduation ceremony of Israeli pilots at the Hatzerim air force base in the Negev desert, near the southern Israeli city of Beersheva, on December 27, 2012. (AFP photo by Jack Guez)
Six months ago, an IDF F-16 Fighting Falcon was scrambled to intercept a similar drone, and shot it down off the coast of Gaza.
The use of drones to deliver explosives has already been seen in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, also known as ISIS. One attack on Oct. 2, 2016, killed two Kurdish troops and wounded French special operations personnel.
The halftime show of Super Bowl LI, in which pop superstar Lady Gaga used 300 drones for a light show, also has drawn attention from the deputy commander of United States Special Operations Command, according to a report by WeAreTheMighty.com from earlier this month. WATM’s report on those concerns also noted that ISIS was using small drones to drop hand grenades on Coalition forces.
Hamas has controlled the Gaza Strip since June 15, 2007, following over a week of violent fighting with Fatah. The charter of the terrorist group, known as the Hamas Covenant, calls for the absolute destruction of Israel.