Challenge coins have a special place in the hearts of many. Enlisted troops keep them as souvenirs to commemorate a specific moment while officers display them at every opportunity to build clout. It’s like a hardened war-fighter’s version of collecting trading cards.
But not all challenge coins are created equally. This is especially important when it comes to the military’s drinking game. If two troops or vets are in a bar and someone calls, “coin check,” whoever doesn’t have one must buy the drinks. If you want to take it to the next level (or if everyone pulls a coin), have the person with the worst coin buy while the troop with the best coin chooses what the group is drinking.
There isn’t a clearly defined ranking system, but here’s the generally accepted hierarchy if you want to call someone out.
Think of these are having a pair of twos in a game of poker.
8. Any store-bought coin
At the very bottom are the “at-least-I-have-it” coins. There’s no challenge involved in getting these coins. There’s nothing unique about them and they cost a couple of bucks at the Exchange.
They often have just an installation marking, regimental crest, or a generic rank on them. But, hey, they’re better than nothing.
It only counts if it was given on a military installation, at any military event, or from a military-related company.
7. Promotional coins
An obvious but effective marketing gimmick popular among companies who’ve done their homework is to make a branded military challenge coin. Companies will often give these to troops and vets on a whim and it’s more about spreading brand recognition than displaying individual achievement.
Nonetheless, they’re usually pretty nice and we rank them slightly higher than a store-bought coin because you have to be at the right place at the right time to get one.
Some commanders put plenty of thought into their coins. See the exceptions below.
(Photo by Lieutenant Junior Grade Samuel Boyle)
6. Unit coins
This is the category under which most coins fall. Each unit commander can commission their own coin to be made with the unit insignia alongside the names of the senior enlisted and hand them to deserving troops.
Determining where each coin falls within this level is easy. Battalion coins beat company coins. Brigade coins beat battalion. Divisional coins beat brigade. Branch coins may beat divisional coins if and only if they weren’t just bought at a store and were actually given at the Pentagon level.
Some are generic, some are spectacular — hence why they’re in the middle of the list.
(Photo by Cpl. Jesus Sepulvada Torres)
5. General officer coins
Each general officer has a coin made specifically for them. Fun side note: Officers who have coins made almost always pay out-of-pocket to have something to give to troops. Since generals have a nicer paycheck than captains, their coins are nicer and more prestigious.
To get a general officer coin, you have to do something outstanding enough to warrant a nice coin. This could be in addition to an official military decoration or officers may just feel like handing them out like candy. It depends on the general officer.
And a coin from that school’s commandant is higher than just attending that school.
(Photo by Tech Sgt. Eugene Christ)
4. School coins
Many military schools also hand a nice challenge coin to each graduate along with their diploma. The troop worked hard to get through it and the diploma will oftentimes end up forgotten in an “I-love-me” book.
School coins rank as high as they do because it takes far more effort to get one than just giving a proper salute to a general.
Impressing the most impressive men in military history at least gets you a beer.
3. Medal of Honor recipient coins
Not all, but many Medal of Honor recipients also have challenge coins that they can give to troops and vets.
Just shaking hands with one of America’s greatest is impressive enough. Getting a coin from one of them means that you will always choose the drink during a coin check.
There are also two exceptions to this ranking system that should also be taken into account should there ever be a tie or an appeal. A really cool unit coin can still beat a school coin if everyone in the group can agree that it meets these two criteria:
• Best design
If the coin is well-crafted and you can tell that the designer put plenty of heart into making such an outstanding coin, that person gets the boost.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Mike Meares)
• Best backstory
Every coin should have a story to tell. If your story is something lame like, “I met this person and they gave me a coin,” you don’t lose points but it certainly doesn’t earn you any.
If the coin has some major significance, then you’re clearly the winner.
Russia grappled with a tragedy on Sept. 18, 2018, after Syria, its ally, mistakenly shot down one of its planes flying above the Mediterranean, and it shows how Russian President Vladimir Putin is strangely powerless to protect his own people.
Syria’s missile defenses, unable to get a fix on the Israeli fighters, had instead spotted a large, slower-moving Russian spy plane flying overhead, locked on, and fired, killing 15 Russians with a Russian-made missile.
“With so much congestion in the Syrian air, it’s not surprising at all,” Anna Borshchevskaya, a Russia expert with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told Business Insider. “This is not the first time when Putin looked like he couldn’t protect his people.”
After Russian generals blamed Israel and promised “countermeasures” in response, Putin called it a tragic accident, attributed no blame, and did not promise retaliation.
The skies above Syria remain combative and congested. Russian planes continue their routes. Syrian air-defense officers remain jumpy on the trigger, and there’s no indication this won’t happen again.
Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Paper tiger Putin
Russia entered the Syrian conflict with a roar in September 2015. Russian air power saved Syrian President Bashar Assad from a backsliding civil war that had promised to crush him.
But three years have passed, and though Assad remains in power, Russians are still dying in Syria, and the country has become isolated and weak. Russia has lost nine fixed-wing aircraft and an untold number of helicopters in Syria. In early 2018 the US devastated a column of Russian mercenaries who approached its position in Syria, killing as many as 300 with superior air power.
Recently, when the US threatened Syria with further punishment for what it says are chemical-weapons attacks, Russia threatened to hit US forces in Syria. The US responded with live-fire exercises, and Russia soon backed down.
After US strikes on Syria in both April 2017 and April 2018, Russia threatened retaliation or cutting communication with the US. And both times, nothing happened.
Putin has time and time again asserted himself as a powerful figure exploiting the void left by the US’s refusal to engage with Syria’s civil war. But time and time again, Putin has failed to protect his own people.
“Putin filled a vacuum in Syria, but he didn’t need to be super powerful to do that,” Borshchevskaya said. “Presence is often relevance, and that’s what happened in Syria.”
While Russia has openly taunted the US to intervene in Syria, Putin has merely correctly estimated the US’s complacence, rather than legitimately scared off a determined foe. Putin masterfully played off a lack of US political will in order to convince many European US allies that the US was scared.
“So many people in the West were so worried of risking a war with Russia over Syria,” Borshchevskaya said. “That was never going to happen. They don’t want to fight a war with us. They know they can’t win it.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Russia’s strong and weak at the same time
While Russia projects strength with a raggedy aircraft carrier in Syria and a three-year military campaign that has managed to secure a status quo without definitively beating pockets of unsophisticated rebels, its own people felt the hurt.
Putin’s aggressiveness in dealing with Syria and Ukraine and his links to international instances of Kremlin critics being poisoned have led to sanctions and isolation for Russia, harming its economy.
In August 2018, Putin broke his 2005 promise not to raise the retirement age, reminding many Russians that, because of lower national life expectancies, they could die before seeing a dime of their pensions but had lived to see that money spent in Syria and Ukraine. Mass demonstrations broke out across Russia.
Russia has done well to achieve its limited objective of keeping Assad in power in Syria. But when it comes to protecting Russian lives, the loss of the Il-20 points to a “hugely embarrassing” trend of Putin failing his people, Borshchevskaya said.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Six Soldiers belonging to C Troop, 1st Squadron, 32nd Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) received the Soldier’s Medal during a ceremony last month for a daring rescue.
On Nov. 28, Staff Sgt. Beau Corder, Staff Sgt. Richard Weaver, Staff Sgt. Engel Becker, Sgt. Damon Seals, Spc. Christopher White and Pfc. Ryan Brisson were recognized by Gen. Mark A. Milley, Army chief of staff, for their heroic actions following a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter crash, Jan. 31, on Fort Campbell.
“I’m very humbled to be a part of this,” said Milley. “I’ve been in the Army for 40 years and I’ve only seen a few Soldier’s Medals. It’s a very rare thing. What you (Soldiers) did took tremendous courage; you knew it was very likely you would be hurt yourself, but you did it anyway. You make anyone who has been associated with the 101st enormously proud.”
The aircraft, flown by four crew members from the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), crashed into a forest on the installation shortly after takeoff. According to eyewitness accounts, the location of the crash, and the fact that the aircraft suffered major fuselage damage and was inverted, created a complex scene.
“The way it landed upside down in the ravine made it very difficult to access the crew. It also began to catch fire very quickly,” said 1st Sgt. Adolfo Dominguez, C Troop, 1st Squadron, 32nd Cavalry Regiment senior enlisted leader. “The whole experience opened our eyes that these emergencies can happen. But it was amazing to see the Soldiers’ mentality of ‘I will do anything I have to do’ in order to save these pilots’ lives.”
A post-crash fire soon engulfed the aircraft wreckage in heavy smoke and flames. The responding Soldiers used water, fire extinguishers and soil to control the fire, allowing them to remove and treat three of the injured crewmembers. They then performed multiple immediate and inventive actions to remove the fourth trapped crew chief, ultimately freeing him from the still-burning wreckage. All of their actions were taken with full understanding of the significant risk to their own safety, and contributed directly to saving the lives of their fellow Soldiers that day.
“What this unit did, from the time the incident happened, was pure agility and pure instinct,” said Lt. Col. Adisa King, 1st Squadron, 32nd Cavalry Regiment commander. “It is what they do on a daily basis. When you know that your brother is down, nothing is going to stop you. We talk about leaving no Soldier behind, and they proved that. It didn’t matter what it took to get that crew and those pilots out, these Soldiers were going to do it.”
The Soldier’s Medal is the Army’s highest peacetime award for valor. According to Army Regulation 600-8-22, the directive that outlines military awards and decorations, the performance must have involved personal hazard or danger and the voluntary risk of life under conditions not involving conflict with an armed enemy.
Col. Derek Thomson, 1st Brigade Combat Team commander, described the rarity of the Soldier’s Medal and described the actions taken by the Soldiers that day in January.
“It is given for bravery and valor in a non-combat situation; this award was created for exactly the kind of act these Soldiers performed,” said Thomson. “Very few are awarded each year. This is a remarkable recognition. These Soldiers knew they had only seconds to react as the aircraft became engulfed in flames. The fact that these six individuals stuck with it no matter what, putting the lives of others ahead of their own, is extremely special.”
The Soldiers recognized were happy to receive this notable commendation, but at the time of the incident it was the furthest thing from their mind.
“At first, none of us really thought about it. We were just happy that everyone survived,” said Corder. “We were just doing our job, we wanted to save them.”
Although six individual Soldiers received the medal, the entire unit responded to the crash. Some commented that they were just a member of a great team.
“I’m happy to be receiving it, but it was a combined effort of everybody,” said White. “I don’t think I’m any more special than anyone else that was out there.”
In attendance at the ceremony were friends, families and fellow Soldiers of the awardees. But one individual had an extremely close connection to the incident. Spc. Grant Long, 5th Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment, 101st Combat Aviation Brigade crew chief, was on-board the helicopter and injured in the incident. In a touching moment, Milley invited Long to help him pin the medals on the Soldiers who saved his life.
As the wife of an active-duty Navy pilot preparing for his third combat deployment, I have heard my husband thanked for his service many times, but at this point in the nation’s history that expression of gratitude has been overused. These days automatically telling a veteran “thank you for your service” can come off as obligatory, or worse, insincere. (Think “have a nice day.”)
Here are five more meaningful ways to thank those who have served the nation this Veterans Day:
1. HONOR THE FALLEN BY HELPING THOSE LEFT BEHIND
Veterans Day is not Memorial Day. Memorial Day, celebrated in May, honors those who have died serving their country. Veterans Day pays tribute to all veterans—living or dead—but is generally intended to honor living Americans who have served in the military. However, one of the best ways to thank a living veteran is to do something for the friends he or she has lost. The Tragedy Assistance Programs for Survivors is instrumental in providing aid and support to families in the aftermath of a military member’s death. They connect families with grief counselors, financial resources, seminars and retreats, peer mentors, and a community of other survivors. Nicole Van Dorn, whose husband J. Wesley Van Dorn died after a Navy helicopter crash last year, says the program was invaluable in helping her and her two young boys through a horrific time. “One woman called me twice a week just to let me know she was thinking about me. The fact that she continued to reach out even when I didn’t respond made me feel a little less alone.” TAPS paid for her oldest son to attend a camp where he could meet other children who had lost parents. “Sometimes people don’t know what to do,” she says. “But one way to help is to go through organizations like this one.”
2. HELP A VETERAN MAKE A SMOOTH TRANSITION
When soldiers are injured or disabled in service, they are thrust out of the lives they have known in an instant; most cannot return to the units they left behind. Sometimes the psychological consequences are harder to deal with than the physical ones. The Mission Continues, founded by former Navy Seal Eric Greitens, helps all veterans—not just the wounded—adjust to life at home by finding new missions of service. The organization harnesses veterans’ skills to connect them with volunteer opportunities in their communities.
3. DO SOMETHING FOR MILITARY FAMILIES IN YOUR COMMUNITY
When a soldier is deployed, sometimes for up to a year, daily life for spouses can be challenging. If you know the spouse of a veteran, through your community, church or social group, don’t ask how you can help. Instead, be proactive. When my husband was deployed, a neighbor took my garbage can to the street every week before I had the chance to do it. Offer to come by once a month to mow the lawn or fix what’s broken. Offer babysitting so a mother can run errands or go to a movie. Perform a random act of kindness, however small, for military families. “A woman used to send cards to my house that said, ‘I’m thinking of you,’ or ‘I’m proud of you,’ says Van Dorn of the months after her husband’s death. “She signed them ‘Secret Sister’ so I didn’t have to worry about thanking her.”
… Not just the newest ones. Andrew Lumish, a carpet cleaner from Florida, made the news recently when it was reported that he spends every Sunday cleaning veterans’ gravestones. This Veterans Day, bring flowers to a cemetery. Help a senior veteran visit his memorial in Washington DC by donating to the Honor Flight Network. Or volunteer at a shelter that helps homeless veterans, nearly half of whom served during Vietnam.
Victoria Kelly’s poetry collection, “When the Men Go Off to War,” was published this September by the Naval Institute Press, their first publication of original poetry. She holds degrees from Harvard University, Trinity College Dublin, and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her debut novel, “Mrs. Houdini,” will be published in March by Simon Schuster/Atria Books. She is the spouse of a Navy fighter pilot and the mother of two young daughters.
It was another assignment for Pfcs. Marco Garcia and Jovany Castillo, two soldiers inching toward completing the second phase of the Army’s Practical Nurse Course at William Beaumont Army Medical Center. The basic task of measuring vital signs of patients at a local hospital was the assignment, an important but mundane task for health care professionals. Little did they know, their training would be tested in an unforeseen way.
Castillo and Garcia had been together throughout their Army journey since enlisting in October 2017. Together they had endured Army basic training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, went on to Advanced Individual Training for the first phase of the Practical Nurse Course at Fort Sam Houston, Texas and ended up at Fort Bliss, Texas for the final phase of the course before arriving to their first permanent assignment.
Working alongside each other, the two soldiers made their rounds through patients, mostly children, checking temperatures, blood pressure and pulses.
“We were going around the department, and went into one room where a [toddler] was sitting up in a chair, watching TV eating cereal,” explained Castillo, 25 and native of Huntington Beach, California. “Mom was right behind her on her phone, so we asked if it was alright to get the [patient’s] vitals.”
After consenting, the two began recording the patient’s vitals as they had practiced dozens of times before.
“One thing we’re taught is to interact with the patient, even if it’s an infant,” said Garcia, 26 and native of Spring, Texas. “[The patient] was placing a lot of cereal in their mouth, so we let the mom know but said [the toddler] was okay.”
Moments later, while the two soldiers were still checking the patient, the child began to gasp for air, as the excess cereal had apparently obstructed her airway, springing the two soldiers to action.
“For a second I thought ‘Is this really happening?’ but right away I went to the baby, while [Garcia] went to go get help,” said Castillo. “I was in shock a little, but got over it right away.”
“We looked at each other and [Castillo] went over to help,” said Garcia. “Since he was helping, I went to get a nurse. I trusted him, I knew he was going to do what he needed to do.”
According to Castillo, the patient’s mother had picked up the patient and began tapping the back of the patient in a manner that would have further lodged the obstruction into the trachea, so he instructed her on proper infant choking procedures while assisting the child.
“[The mother] had the baby, I just adjusted her hands and showed her the correct position, then I started tapping the baby’s back,” said Castillo. “Honestly, those were the longest three or four seconds of my life because I was so scared for the little baby. I kept on [patting her back] until I finally heard her take a breath and that’s when I was relieved.”
“When I got back the baby was crying the nurses checked on the baby and made sure everything was okay,” said Garcia.
“It was quick thinking on [the soldiers’] part,” said Robyn Gerbitz, a Registered Nurse and one of the Practical Nurse Course Instructors at WBAMC. “They took the initiative immediately, we could have had a very bad [outcome].”
One of Gerbitz’ lessons for new soldiers includes introducing them to the mantra, “respiratory leads to cardiac,” defining the link between pulmonary and cardiac arrests due to buildup of carbonic acid and lowered oxygen levels in the bloodstream.
“We do a lot of hands-on work in clinical rotations,” said Gerbitz. “These guys are quick thinkers, I’m very proud of them.”
Whether Garcia and Castillo’s quick reaction was a reflection of their medical training kicking in is not certain, since the two soldiers are still weeks away from completing the rigorous 58-week curriculum.
“Instructors make sure we understand and are well equipped to deal with such situations,” said Castillo. “For me, it kind of just happened and I’m happy the way things turned out, it was a rush.”
Before joining the Army, Castillo was going to college while working at a fast food restaurant and Garcia worked with produce at a grocery store. Neither soldier ever thought they would be saving someone’s life just a year into their military service.
“It’s definitely something I joined to do, to help people,” said Garcia. “You learn something new every day. This is a stepping stone for sure.”
After ensuring the baby was stable, the pair just went about their duties and continued checking other patients’ vitals.
“I had just walked in and the nurses told me about the situation,” said Gerbitz. “The director [of the local hospital] recognized the Soldiers right then and there. They reacted humbly, went about their duties. I believe wherever they go, they’re going to make good nurses.”
On the first day of the Mosul offensive in Iraq, a Russian fighter came close to colliding with a U.S. warplane in a “near miss” over northeastern Syria, U.S. military officials said Friday.
Air Force Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian, commander of U.S. Air Force Central Command, told NBC News that the nighttime incident Oct. 17 was a “near miss” but said he tended to believe the Russians’ explanation that their pilot simply did not see the U.S. aircraft in the dark.
However, Harrigian said similar close calls between Russian and U.S. aircraft over Syria have increased in the past six weeks amid rising tensions between Moscow and Washington over Syria’s civil war and now occur about every 10 days.
In a later statement on the incident, Air Force Central Command said that the Russian fighter was escorting a Russian surveillance aircraft and inadvertently flew across the nose of the U.S. aircraft.
The close call was the result of a “mistake” by the Russians and the U.S. believed that it was “fully unintentional,” the statement said.
“The Russians cooperated by looking into the incident, calling back, and explaining themselves and their pilots actions as an error,” it said.
In a separate briefing to the Pentagon, Air Force Col. John Dorrian, a spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, said the Russian fighter came within a half-mile of the U.S. aircraft, but “we don’t believe there was any nefarious intent” on the part of the Russians.
Dorrian did not name the types of aircraft involved, saying only that the Russian aircraft was a fighter and the U.S. plane was a “larger aircraft.” He said the Russian fighter “passed close enough that the jet wash from that flight was felt within the larger aircraft,” but “no one declared an in-flight emergency or anything of that nature.”
Immediately after the incident, the Russians were contacted over the “deconfliction” hotline set up by the Russian and U.S. militaries to avoid close calls by aircraft on missions in the region.
Harrigian, speaking from a U.S. base in the Mideast, said that, in some cases, U.S. and Russian aircraft flying in close proximity are “not a big deal,” but added, “I think it’s important to recognize this one got our attention.”
“We called the Russians about it and made sure they knew we were concerned,” Harrigian said. “They didn’t have the situational awareness to know how close some of our airplanes were.”
When asked why the Oct. 17 incident wasn’t disclosed until Oct. 28, Dorrian said, “There wasn’t anybody playing ‘I’ve got a secret.’ ”
He said Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, the task force commander, was immediately informed of the close call but did not feel that it merited being disclosed as a “breaking news event.”
Mexican legislators proposed ending cooperation with the US on immigration, counterterrorism, and fighting organized crime “as long as President Donald Trump does not act with the respect that migrants deserve.”
The proposal was made on June 20, 2018, by the Mexican Congress’ Permanent Commission, which meets while Congress is in recess, and asks the executive branch to “consider the possibility of withdrawing from any bilateral cooperation scheme” with the US on those issues.
Mexican legislators called on their US counterparts to “end the inhumane and criminal action of separating migrant families, taking into account the best interests of the children and giving priority to the respect of human rights.”
It also called on the international community and human-rights defense groups to condemn the detention and separation of children and to end the policy and asked Mexican representatives to international bodies to use diplomatic means to halt the policy. (Trump rescinded the policy on June 20, 2018, in the face of domestic backlash.)
While announcing the proposal, Ernesto Cordero Arroyo, a senator for the conservative National Action Party, said the US “is a partner, allied in diverse causes and a friend that doesn’t deserve a government like that of Donald Trump,” adding that Mexico would not support a country that “systematically violates human rights and that doesn’t have respect for the life and dignity of people.”
Cordero said Trump “incentivizes and defends a discourse of hate inside and outside of his country,” encouraging racists groups and generating stereotypes of minorities, and that the US president has started a “trade war” through tariffs and rejected international cooperation, citing the US’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord.
Other Mexican officials have criticized Trump’s immigration policy. Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray, who has developed a close relationship with Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, condemned the separation policy as “cruel and inhumane” on June 19, 2018.
On June 20, 2018, Videgaray welcomed Trump’s decision to end the policy as “good news” but said the Mexican government would continue to provide consular protection to children in vulnerable situations.
Victor Manuel Giorgana — the president of the foreign-relations committee in Mexico’s lower house and a member of the governing Institutional Revolutionary Party — said Trump had not done enough to protect migrant children and that Trump only backed down in order further his political agenda, namely securing funding for a border wall.
“The situation didn’t change in any way, except that [the children] are not separated,” he told newspaper Milenio, adding that those children would still be held in “inhumane” conditions.
The senate commission’s proposal is not the first of its kind.
In that resolution, senators urged Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to suspend bilateral cooperation with the US “on matters of migration and the fight against transnational organized crime as long as President Donald Trump does not conduct himself with the civility and the respect that the people of Mexico deserve.”
US officials have also warned of the deleterious effects Trump’s harsh comments and hardline policies would have on relations with countries in the region — specifically on security cooperation.
“In jeopardizing counternarcotics collaboration, President Trump risks cutting off his nose to spite his face,” Rebecca Bill Chavez, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Western Hemisphere affairs, said in February 2018.
“A deterioration in our defense cooperation, it threatens stability and security of our hemisphere in areas from illicit trafficking to migration and natural-disaster-related humanitarian crises to destabilizing crime and violence,” she added.
Mexican officials have expressed disdain for Trump and his policies, and the US president has been the target of protests around Mexico — though Trump has little influence on Mexican domestic politics, and many there are more critical of their own government for its failings.
The Mexican government has also worked to counter Trump through economic policy. Legislators have called on the government there to cut purchases of US corn, a $2.5 billion industry. More recently, in response to US tariffs on steel and aluminum, the Mexican government levied $3 billion in tariffs on US pork, steel, cheese, and other goods.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
If you happen to ever find yourself slated to have society as a whole decide it would be best if they killed you, the silver lining is that in many parts of the world where this is still a thing, the last meal you ever eat is likely to be significantly better than the ones you’ve been consuming up to that point in prison. So how did this rather odd meal tradition come about and is it actually true death row inmates can get anything they want to eat?
To begin with, while it’s commonly stated that the whole idea of the last meal request came about due to Christ’s famed last supper, there doesn’t seem to be any direct evidence of this.
So how did the tradition actually start?
While history is absolutely littered with various cultures having feasts associated with death, such as the public feast for Roman gladiators the night before their potential date with death, called the coena libera, it wouldn’t be until slightly more modern times where we start seeing those being executed widely granted such a courtesy en masse. Once this did start to become a thing, in the early going, while wealthy individuals slated for execution, as ever, could generally request whatever they wanted any time, and were even often allowed servants to attend them as they awaited their execution, common things granted to the poor before their execution seem to have been at best a swig of some alcohol or the like.
Things began to pick up steam considerably on this front around the 16th century, however. Or, at least, things appear to have. It is entirely possible that such courtesies were widely granted before this to even the poor, with documented evidence of it simply not surviving. On that note, things like the printing press’ invention in the 15th century began making documented history of rather mundane events like the executions of random Joe Citizens more, well, documented. Thus, it may or may not be coincidence that accounts of such courtesies started to pop up more and more around the 16th century and progressing from there.
Whatever the case, by the 18th century, particularly in places like England, such practices were definitely around and relatively common. For example, in London it was common to allow the condemned to enjoy a meal with various guests, generally including the executioner, on the eve of the execution. Further, there is record of Newgate Prison death row inmates being allowed to stop at a pub on their march to their death at the Tyburn Fair gallows. At the pub, they would typically share drinks with their guards and executioner.
Over in Germany, perhaps the best documented case of the food practice around this time was that of Susanna Margarethe Brandt of Frankfurt. On January 14, 1772, Brandt, a poor servant girl, was executed for allegedly killing her newborn child. Eight months before this murder, she’d become pregnant by a journeyman goldsmith who she never saw again after they had sex. She subsequently successfully hid her pregnancy all the way to the eighth month when she gave birth secretly and alone in a laundry room on August 1, 1771. Unfortunately, when the baby came out, whether because newborn babies are insanely slippery or she just failed to realize it was about to drop, it fell from her and smacked its head against the stone floor. The child then, according to her, wheezed momentarily and then ceased to breathe. Brandt subsequently panicked, hid the baby in a stable and fled the scene. However, having no money or means to support herself, the next day she returned to Frankfurt where she was eventually arrested for murdering the child. Whether she did or not, and even if it would have survived anyway given it was premature, is a matter of debate even today, but she was nonetheless convicted of the murder and sentenced to death.
Shortly before her execution, however, she was the guest of honor at what has been dubbed the “Hangman’s Meal”- a rather large feast prepared for the condemned and various officials who had condemned her. If you’re curious, the meal in this case supposedly was “three pounds of fried sausages, ten pounds of beef, six pounds of baked carp, twelve pounds of larded roast veal, soup, cabbage, bread, a sweet, and eight and a half measures of 1748 wine.” Of course, the young Susanna reportedly ate none of it, merely drinking a little water as the officials feasted around her. Not long after, her head was lopped off.
Moving over to the United States where the idea of the “last meal” is perhaps best known today, it would appear this tradition did not initially jump across the pond when Europeans began setting in the Americas. Or, at least, surviving accounts of executions don’t seem to mention such courtesies, with some exceptions usually having to do with drink or something to smoke. For example, in 1835, the New York Sun reported shortly before his execution, murderer Manuel Fernandez requested and was granted a bit of brandy and some cigars, courtesy of the warden at Bellevue prison.
As the 19th century progressed, this sort of thing became more and more reported, as did eventually the practice of granting last meal requests, which by the early 20th century became quite common.
This all leads us to why. Well, as far as more historic cases, such as the early known instances in Europe, it’s generally hypothesized that people did it as a way for officials and executioners to more or less say to the prisoners “We’re going to kill you, but it’s nothing personal.” In essence, offering a bit of kindness to the condemned before their death with the prisoners themselves seemingly appreciating the courtesy, at least when it came to the alcohol.
On that note, it’s widely reported from this that the practice was instituted as a way to ensure the ghosts of the executed would feel friendly towards their condemners and executioners and thus not come back and haunt them, but we couldn’t find any primary documentation backing such a notion.
Whether that’s true or not, moving on to more modern times, the underlying reason why prison officials started doing this is not any better documented and there doesn’t ever seem to have been any laws requiring it, for instance. It’s just something people did on their own and the idea spread, presumably thanks to the media’s then love of reporting everything about the last hours of those being executed, and the general public eating it up across the nation.
Whatever the case, law professor Sarah Gerwig-Moore, co-author of Cold (Comfort?) Food: The Significance of Last Meal Rituals in the United States, posits of all this,
Last meals may be an offering by the guards and prison administrators as a way of seeking forgiveness for the impending execution, signaling that ‘it’s nothing personal.’… There are standard operating procedures that put up a wall between guards and prisoners, but nevertheless, there is a fondness between them… The last meal as a tradition is really a way of showing humanity between the caregivers of people on death row who are completely powerless and who come to care about these people — they feel complicit, and conflicted. The last meal is a way to offer, in a very, very small way, a show of kindness and generosity.
On this point, she also notes from her research, “The most generous meals correlate to the states that execute the most people — except for Texas…”
Texas, of course, having executed about 1,300 people in the last two centuries and trending the opposite of everyone else- actually increasing the number of executions in recent decades. For reference here, they’ve conducted 562 executions (almost half their couple century total) since 1982- apparently doing their best to adhere to the supposed 13th century Papal decree at the Massacre at Béziers, “Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius.” This translates to, “Kill them. For the Lord knows those that are His own.” Or to put it in the form that is apparently Texas’ state motto- “Kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out.” (Joking asside, Texas’ state motto is actually the single word- “friendship”, owing to the fact that the name of the state derives from the Caddo word for “friends” or “allies”.)
On the note of Texas, last meals, and being friendly, in 2011 Senator John Whitmire very publicly pushed for an ultimately got the special meal requests for those about to be executed abolished, at least officially. He noted of this, “It is extremely inappropriate to give a person sentenced to death such a privilege… enough is enough… If you’re fixing to execute someone under the laws of the state because of the hideous crime that someone has committed, I’m not looking to comfort him… He didn’t give his victim any comfort or a choice of last meal.”
That said, proponents on the other side of that argument generally state that part of the point of offering such courtesies is to demonstrate that while the state is killing someone on behalf and with the express consent of the public as a whole, if it’s not done in a humane way, the public and the state are no better than the person being killed. As Professor Kathy Zambrana of the University of Florida sums up, “It comes down to how do you treat one human being when you’re about to take someone’s life.”
History professor Daniel LaChance of Emory University further chimes in, “These last meals — and last words — show the state is democratic and respects individuality even as it’s holding people accountable. As horrible as the deed they’ve been convicted of [is], the person still has some kind of dignity that we’re acknowledging.”
As to what drew the ire of Senator Whitmire to come against the then almost century old Texas tradition of the last meal, it was the meal request of death row inmate Lawrence Russel Brewer, who was sentenced to death for taking part in the rather horrific and senseless racially motivated murder of James Byrd Jr in 1998. So what did Brewer ask for? A couple chicken fried steaks, a triple decker bacon cheeseburger, a beef and cheese omelet, fried okra, a full pound of BBQ, a half loaf of bread, three fajitas, and a meat lover’s pizza. For dessert, he requested a container of Blue Bell ice cream and peanut-butter fudge. To wash it all down, he asked for three root beers.
When the time came, however, he ultimately ate nothing.
This all brings us to whether inmates can actually request and receive basically anything they want. While the media widely reports this is the case, including with this specific example of Brewer, this isn’t correct at all. In fact, in the vast majority of cases where inmates request something elaborate like this, what they actually get is just a simple, one-person version of it.
As famed “death row chef” Brian Price, who prepared well over 100 such meals, states, “The local newspaper would always say they got 24 tacos and 12 enchiladas, but they would actually get four tacos and two enchiladas… They only get items in the commissary kitchen. If they order lobster, they get a piece of frozen pollack. They quit serving steaks in 1994. If they order 100 tacos, they get two or three.”
That said other states and prisons sometimes do it differently. For example, in nearby Oklahoma, they allow the meal to be purchased from a local restaurant if desired, though capping it at … Other states that allow similar, such as Florida, are more generous, allowing for a budget of .
Of course, as you might have guessed from all we’ve said so far, those actually involved in making or acquiring the last meal may or may not pitch in if they so choose to go beyond. For example, in Cottonport, Louisiana, when one unnamed death row inmate requested lobster, the warden at the Angola prison, Burl Cain, went ahead and paid for a full lobster dinner, with Cain then dining with the inmate. You see, much like many historical instances of this sort of thing, before Cain’s recent retirement, he would always extend an invitation to the condemned to have their last meal with him and sometimes other select guests.
Of course, as with Susanna Brandt and Lawrence Brewer, it’s quite common for death row inmates to forgo eating their “last meal”, as the whole impending death thing generally leaves many without an appetite. To try to get around the problem, the so-called last meal is sometimes not actually the last meal at all, with it generally designated the “special meal” by prison officials. Even when it is literally the person’s last meal, it is usually scheduled far enough ahead that they might still be able to eat, but not so far away that they’ll have to go an extended time without eating before their execution. For example, in Virginia the rule is the meal must be served at least four hours before the execution. In Indiana, they go even further with the special meal often coming a few days before the big show, in a time when the person can actually enjoy it on some level.
For those who don’t have an appetite, they often share. For example, in places like Florida, in certain cases family or friends may be allowed to enjoy the meal with the condemned. Some inmates instead donate it to others. For example, in 1951, Raymond Fernandez, one of the “Lonely Hearts Killers” along with his lady love Martha Jule Beck, made a request that his meal be given to another inmate to enjoy.
On a similar note, in the early decades of this tradition in Texas, it was relatively common for the condemned to order and be given large portions of food for their special meal precisely so they could have enough to share with every other inmate on death row in the prison. This extra food request was usually honored by prison officials because it was seen not just as a mercy, but something that helped keep all those on death row in line directly before executions.
That said, not all inmates have trouble eating. Perhaps the most famous case of this was murderer Rickey Ray Rector. After committing two rather senseless murders, he attempted to kill himself by shooting himself in the head. However, he ended up living through the ordeal owing to shooting himself in the temple- a common way to kill one’s self in the movies, but in reality very survivable if medical aid is nearby, with the person effectively having just given themselves a lobotomy.
Despite his rather deficient mental faculties as a result of the whole bullet through the brain thing, Rector was controversially sentenced to death. The issue became even more of a media sensation after the fact when it was learned that while he happily ate his last meal, he chose not to eat the pecan pie that he got with it. Why? He told the guards he was “saving it for later.”
Once again showing the humanity of the guards involved, they went ahead and saved the piece of pie just in case there was a last minute stay of execution.
This all brings us to what prisoners actually usually request for their last meal. While exact fare is rather diverse (for example in one case a person simply requested a “jar of pickles” according to the aforementioned Brian Price), if categorizing this into groups, it often comes down to either things you’d find at McDonald’s or KFC (or literally McDonald’s or KFC meals in many cases), something fancy, or a favorite home cooked meal from the person’s childhood or the like.
As for the first two categories there, it’s noted that the vast majority of death row inmates come from rather impoverished backgrounds, and thus often go with favorite food items they are accustomed to and haven’t gotten while in prison- things like fried chicken, cheeseburgers, french fries, and soda, or the like. That said, some go the other way, picking foods they couldn’t really afford when in the land of the free, or may have never even tried at all, like lobster or filet mignon. As for favorite home cooked meals, the aforementioned Brian Price states when he prepared these meals, he always did his best to make it just as the inmate described, or even potentially getting a specific recipe from the condemned’s loved ones.
Regardless of what camp one goes with, some choose their last meal not on what they necessarily intend to eat, but rather to make a statement.
As for such statements, going back in time a bit in 1963, murderer Victor Feguer requested nothing more than a single solitary unpitted olive for his last meal. He then requested the seed be buried with him in the hopes that it would grow an olive tree as a symbol of peace and rebirth.
On a similar note, one Jonathan Wayne Nobles, who apparently had been on drugs since he was 8 years old living in foster homes, as an adult murdered two women while high on a cocktail of substances. In prison, however, he got off the drugs and became a devout Catholic and, not just model inmate, but model person. As one example, at one point he attempted to save the life of a random woman he heard about who was dying from kidney failure. However, while he did successfully find a doctor willing to perform the procedure to take one of his kidneys out and give it to the woman, it ultimately turned out the pair were did not have matching blood types and the woman died. Doubling down, Nobles later attempted to have all his organs donated after his execution, but this request was denied as Texas did not allow death row inmates to donate their organs. Going back to his last meal request, he simply asked for the Eucharist (communion).
To end on a lighter note- well… relatively speaking…- in the 1940s Wilson De la Roi, who murdered a man while in prison, was slated to be killed via a somewhat newly minted poison gas chamber in San Quentin. When asked what he wanted for his last meal, he merely requested a bunch of indigestion tablets. When asked why, he stated that he felt sure he was soon to have rather severe case of gas…
U.S. Air Force pilot Bill Crawford is a stealth pilot, someone who has risen to the very top of an extremely challenging field. But to hear him tell it, it can all be chalked up to a very simple secret, a secret that will sound familiar to anyone who has served in the military.
Kill and Survive: A Stealth Pilot’s Secrets of Success | Bill Crawford | TEDxRexburg
His trick is becoming the best in the world, studying and refining himself and his processes until he’s above whatever cutoff he needs to clear. And that includes the time in college when he learned that the Air Force was cutting fighter pilot training slots from about 1,000 a year to 100 per year. In order to make sure he cleared the cutoff, Crawford became the best.
Not the 100th best, not the 10th. He received a scholarship that year for being the single best.
And he wants everyone to have the chance to be the best in the world at whatever it is they do.
In his TEDx talk, Crawford talks about bombing Baghdad, conducting inflight refuelings, and, most importantly, conducting the post-mission debrief. The after-action review.
And, yeah, that’s a big part of Crawford’s secret. As anyone in the military can tell you, all the branches have some sort of process for reviewing mission performance and success (two different things) from any operation. Crawford’s version from his Air Force career is asking five questions:
What went right?
What went wrong?
The Army had a slightly different version. What was supposed to happen? What did happen? Why? What should we, as a team, sustain about that performance? What should we change? But all the branches have some version of this process.
And this self-review is key to understanding modern military success. If you look at old articles from the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008, plenty of hand-wringing in the West was about the pain, death, and destruction Russia inflicted, but many military leaders worried about Russia’s review process after the invasion.
That’s because the most successful organizations and individuals define their processes and actively assess whether or not they are doing it the best way they can. Russia hadn’t historically reviewed their successes all that deeply. But they decisively won the war on the ground in Georgia in five days, then they reviewed their success for how to do better.
And that meant that they wanted to improve their processes. Crawford wants everyone to learn to do that process in their own life just like the American military has for decades, and Russia now does as well. And the process is simple.
But it’s also hard to do. Crawford and his team had to do their debrief from bombing Baghdad right after they landed. So, right after completing 40-hours of flying and bombing, they had to go sit in a room and discuss their process, their success, and what they could do better.
But if you can make yourself do all that, you’re more likely to get better. And if you keep getting better, you’ll be the best.
Back pain is something that 80% of adults are expected to experience at some point in their life. For some, it comes much, much earlier — and the advantages are endless!
It’s no secret that those who engage in manual labor from a young age are more susceptible to back pain. It makes sense then, that young vets are oh-so-lucky enough to be some of the chosen few with significant back pain while barely being young enough to crack open a cold one (legally).
Here are some of the fun benefits young back pain sufferers all experience!
You know what kinda day it’s gonna be the night before!
Most people have to spill coffee on themselves or pour a bowl of cereal before realizing they don’t have milk before they know they’re going to have an awful day. With chronic back pain, there’s no need to wait until 7am to figure that out — you’ll know by 2am at the latest! Your unending nightmare of discomfort will let you know that tomorrow will, in fact, suck.
What a treat to know in advance!
You’ll accrue advanced stretching knowledge!
Most under-30-year-olds know how to touch their toes. Maybe they’ll occasionally grab a foot and stretch out their quads before a run. Not those with chronic back pain! Those lucky sons of guns have advanced knowledge of stretches so intricate and strange-looking it would make the author of the Kama Sutra blush.
You’ll never need another excuse to avoid helping your friend move!
This one goes without saying. Gone are the days of saying, “Oh, uh, actually dude, I have to pickup my uncle from the airport” or “I would, but I actually told my girlfriend I would take her to shop for potted plants” or the vintage classic move of waiting until the day after and hitting them with, “I JUST got this text — still need help?” Nope. Now you can just tell them straight up you can’t help. Not you “won’t.” You physically cannot.
You get a desirable “dad bod” without even trying!
Okay so there’s not a lot of people that try to have a “dad bod.” But for those who do — it can be difficult. Luckily, with chronic back pain, you can get a dad bod before you even have children! Spend hours not being able to get out of your rolly chair. Be unable to go on light jogs without immediately experiencing immobilizing muscle spasms. Then, eat away your feelings through endless bags of Cool Ranch Doritos. It’s like having the opposite of your own personal Hollywood trainer.
You get the best seat in the house to watch your friends have fun!
You’re playing basketball with your friends, you drive in for a layup, nobody touches you, and then wham: your back completely locks up on you for no reason whatsoever. Now you can’t walk, let alone play. Sucks, right? Wrong.
Now you get to sit and watch all your friends air ball uncontested 3s — from the front row! Sound too good to be true? Don’t worry, it’ll happen plenty more times!
You can do a perfect impression of the AT-ATs from ‘Star Wars!’
Impressions are hard. Star Wars impressions are especially hard. Don’t believe me? Ask literally anyone to do an impression of Yoda. It will be terrible.
But with insane chronic back pain, you can constantly walk like an AT-AT! The lumbering, stiff, slow movement will wow all your friends. You’ll get the posture of C3P0 for free, too.
No doubt you knew homework was involved in the school process, but the amount and the frequency might just surprise you.
No way you expected Mrs. Robinson to assign an essay the first day of basket-weaving class…
6. Think high school drama stays in high school? Nope
The drama that you left behind to serve Uncle Sam and this great nation didn’t go anywhere while you were gone.
It is waiting right where you left it, ready to infuriate your overly mature sensibilities.
5. Lack of structure
College does have structure, obviously, but it can’t begin to compete with the structure we grew accustomed to in the military.
Sure, you’re an adult with lots of life experience and you’re fully capable of completing tasks without supervision, but having the structure suddenly go missing is jarring for many of us.
4. Irritability… also a thing
By being in the military, you to get used to dealing with competent individuals. This is because, typically, an incompetent individual doesn’t make it very long — if at all.
Furthermore, if individuals begin to show incompetence, especially if you outrank them, it is perfectly fine and expected that you correct them. That type of behavior is frowned upon in most collegiate settings. It’s something that takes some getting used to.
The adjustment curve is typically worse for those with more time in service.
3. Yes, you’re the old guy/gal
This is a just a fact of life. The armed forces, as a whole, only make up about a half of one percent of the total population. This means that most of your classmates are civilians who probably came right from high school.
Truth be told, there’s a good chance that you’re older than at least one of your professors.
2. Your military experience may or may not apply
Depending on how different your scholastic endeavor is from your military service, what you did in uniform may or may not matter. This is a bitter pill to swallow for many of us, as we are extremely proud of our service and accomplishments.
This leaves us with a decision. We can become that guy/girl that always brings up their service, or try to find a new place to fit in. Good news though, a lot of schools will take your service and give you scholastic credit for it.
This is a bit different than just being older. Even if you went to school while in service, those studies often mirror your military duty. Breaking away from that causes you to have to learn and relearn the basics of whatever you’re studying.
This makes you Billy.
Not only are you older, but the subject matter is super entry-level.
With two 20mm cannons, a 40mm automatic grenade launcher, five .50-cal. machine guns, and two weapon pods that could carry either 70mm rocket launchers or 7.62mm miniguns, the armored ACH-47A Chinook could fly into the teeth of enemy resistance and fly back out as the only survivor.
Operating under the call sign “Guns-A-Go-Go,” these behemoths were part of an experimental program during the Vietnam war to create heavy aerial gunships to support ground troops.
Four CH-47s were turned into ACH-47As by adding 2,681 pounds of armor and improved engines to each bird.
The first three birds arrived in Vietnam in 1966, where they engaged in six months of operational testing. They were tasked with supporting the U.S. Army’s 1st Cavalry Division as well as a Royal Australian task force.