The Army announced on June 10, 2019, that former Staff Sgt. David Bellavia will receive the Medal of Honor from President Donald J. Trump in recognition of his bravery in the 2004 Battle of Fallujah where his actions were credited with saving the lives of three Army squads at great risk to himself.
Staff Sgt. David G. Bellavia: Operation Phantom Fury
Bellavia was part of an Army company sent to assist a Marine task force in Fallujah. The task force received intel that some of the over 1,500 insurgents in the city might be hiding in a block of 12 buildings, and the soldiers were sent to root them out.
Clearing house-to-house is grueling, as every closed door that’s kicked open is another chance to stumble into an ambush or suffer an IED blast. The first nine buildings showed no enemy activity, but the kick into the 10th set off a hornet’s nest.
Bellavia described it as a bunker in the video above. The building had been prepared to counter an attack, and the fighters inside were equipped with belt-fed weapons. Bellavia’s rifle was disabled by an enemy round almost immediately, and he kept fighting with an M249 squad automatic weapon. He was able to suppress the enemy fighters, and the platoon withdrew.
But once the enemy had begun firing, they were unwilling to stop. Third platoon, with Bellavia in it, were taking fire from the roof and it was clear they wouldn’t be able to escape unless someone or something cleared out the enemy fighters in the house. Bellavia called for support from an M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle. The armored behemoth pumped 25mm rounds into the structure as the infantryman charged back in to fight.
Bellavia fought his way up three floors, killing and least four enemy soldiers with rifle fire and grenades. One of the enemy fighters he killed was preparing to fire an RPG at third platoon when Bellavia killed him.
The soldier’s actions were credited with saving the lives of the three squads outside the house and with eliminating the enemy strongpoint. Bellavia previously received the Silver Star for his bravery, but will now receive the Medal of Honor.
He left the Army in 2005 and currently works in Buffalo, New York, as a radio host.
There was a reason that the Nazis thought the original D-Day invasions were a feint: Aside from the misdirection operations conducted by the Allies, the geography of the beaches made it seemingly impossible to fully supply a large invasion force.
It was seemingly impossible, even with landing ships and Higgins boats, to move enough beans and bullets over the sands.
A line of U.S. Liberty ships deliberately sunk off the coast at Omaha beach to form a breakwater for the Mulberry harbor there.
But the Allies had a secret. They didn’t need to fully supply the invasion for months using only the landing craft, and they didn’t need to race to a port and try to wrest it from fierce defenses. Instead, they had a plan to build their own port, complete with two man-made harbors, in a matter of days just after D-Day. These “Mulberry harbors” would tip the logistics battles in favor of the landed forces.
The inspiration for Mulberry harbors came from the failed Dieppe Raid, which pitted about 6,000 troops against the heavily defended port at Dieppe, France, and resulted in 2,000 Canadians being taken prisoner.
The Allies realized that taking a deepwater port would be a tall order. While the plan for Operation Overload included a follow-on operation against the port of Cherbourg, to be completed in eight days, military planners realized they needed a Plan B.
A sectional concrete breakwater for the Omaha Beach breakwater is floated towards the French shore, June 1944
That Plan B ended up being Mulberry harbors, sort of the Ikea solution to deepwater ports. The British needed eight months to build the concrete sections and prepare them for deployment. On June 6, when they got the word that the landing forces were likely to succeed in taking the assigned beaches, a fleet of ships took off towards France carrying these concrete sections.
But the British engineering plan was ambitious. It called not just for a few large piers, but two entire artificial harbors. For those who aren’t familiar with naval activities, this meant that the engineers had to construct what was, essentially, a massive horseshoe stretching hundreds of feet into the ocean to shelter the piers from the worst ocean currents.
The Mulberry artificial harbor at Arromanches, France, September 1944.
(British Army Sgt. Harrison)
Each harbor had multiple piers with a combined length of six miles. The concrete caissons that made up the piers required 330,000 cubic yards of concrete, 31,000 tons of steel, and 1.5 million yards of steel shuttering.
But it was hardly a charmed undertaking. The American forces controlled one harbor and the British, Canadian, and Free French forces controlled the other. The British piers were anchored to the seafloor, but the American ones were not, and a June 19 storm demolished the American harbor.
The Americans’ harbor was harder hit than Port Winston. The Utah Beach Gooseberry lost several blockships that were torn open, and the Mulberry harbor off St. Laurent was devastated. The breakwaters were overwhelmed by waves, two blockships broke their backs, and only 10 out of 35 Phoenix caissons remained in position. The piers and bombardons were wrecked, and the harbor was eventually abandoned. When the gale finally blew itself out on June 23, Lt. Gen. Omar N. Bradley, commander of the U.S. 12th Army Group, went down to the beach to see the damage for himself. “I was appalled by the desolation, for it vastly exceeded that on D-Day,” he said.
This was a huge problem because Cherbourg — slated for liberation on June 21 — was still in German hands. The decision was made to shift what pieces were still functional in the American harbor to the British one and shut down the U.S. effort, doubling the necessity of taking the French port.
The harbors were designed for 90 days of hard use, but the British installation actually functioned for a full eight months. The American harbor was used, without the broken piers, for most of the rest of the war as well.
We knew this was coming. We’ve had our speculations. We’ve had our fun. And now it’s real. Eighty-eight Air Force Academy cadets commissioned directly into the Space Force with the class of 2020 and the Space Force is happening.
Recruiters! You know what to do!!
United States Space Force (@SpaceForceDoD) | Twitter
“Some people look to the stars and ask ‘what if?’ Our job is to have an answer.”
The recruiting video opens with a young man looking up at the infinity of space and continues into sweeping images of rocket launches and futuristic data lighting up screens.
“We have to imagine what would be imagined, plan for what’s possible while it’s still impossible.”
Showing off that new Space Force camouflage, the video continues to depict imagery that one might expect in a blockbuster film about air and space: hangar doors opening (see: Top Gun or Captain Marvel) or personnel in a Mission Control Center (see: Apollo 13 or Independence Day).
Sign me up.
“Maybe you weren’t put here just to ask the questions. Maybe you were put here to be the answer.”
The mission of the United States Space Force (USSF…a regrettable acronym?) will be to “organize, train, and equip space forces in order to protect U.S. and allied interests in space and to provide space capabilities to the joint force. USSF responsibilities include developing military space professionals, acquiring military space systems, maturing the military doctrine for space power, and organizing space forces to present to our Combatant Commands.”
In the past, while under the mission of the Air Force Space Command, mission sets included everything from Cold War-era missile warning, launch operations, satellite control, space surveillance and command and control for national leadership. More recently, cyberspace operations as well as meteorology, communications, positioning and navigation and timing have been growing.
The recruiting video offers glimpses of Space Force personnel and their potential jobs, from intelligence to mission control to mechanics.
“Maybe your purpose on this planet…isn’t on this planet.”
And of course, the hope for any Space Force dreamer, there is the long-term exploration of space. The video returns to the young man looking up at the stars before launching viewers into Earth’s orbit.
For anyone out there feeling the call, the application period for transferring to the Space Force is now open. Live long and prosper, my friends.
On 1 May, the window opens for @usairforce officers enlisted personnel in existing #space career fields select other AFSCs, to apply for transfer into the @SpaceForceDOD. This is a huge milestone as we #BuildTheSpaceForce! See details below:https://go.usa.gov/xvnbd
British commandos conduct close target reconnaissance on the enemy-held villages. (National Army Museum)
Sierra Leone, September 2000.
The West Side Boys, a well-armed but poorly trained gang, has taken hostage 11 British soldiers from the Royal Irish Regiment and is threatening to execute them if London doesn’t meet its demands.
Back in the UK, the British government is dealing with its first significant hostage crisis since the Iranian Embassy Siege of 1980. As negotiators bargain for the hostages’ release, the British military is preparing for a rescue operation.
A brutal civil war had ravaged Sierra Leone since 1991. The West Side Boys, never more than a few hundred members strong, took advantage of the power vacuum, operating with impunity and terrorizing locals. Their trademark was amputating victims’ arms with machetes. Men, women, and children all suffered from their wanton violence.
The West Side Boys’ leader was the self-titled “Brigadier” Foday Khalley, with “Colonel Cambodia” serving as his second-in-command.
Both men and their gang used drugsand alcohol heavily and frequently. Their resulting instability pushed the British toward a military response instead of negotiations. (Khalley’s demands varied from a new satellite phone to the formation of a new government.)
A task force centered around D Squadron of the SAS and A Company, 1st Battalion, Parachute Regiment, and augmented by Special Boat Squadron, or SBS, operators and support troops, gradually deployed to Dakar in neighboring Senegal and then outside Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone.
D Squadron was chosen because of its familiarity with the region. Its operators had been in East Africa conducting jungle and mountain training when the West Side Boys kidnapped the British soldiers. Once they were notified of a potential operation, they were so eager to return to the UK and begin preparing that two troopers were killed in a car accident as they rushed to the airport. The operation had started on the wrong foot.
The gang held the hostages in the small village of Gberi Bana, adjacent to the Rokel Creek. On the other side of the creek, there was a substantial and heavily armed force of gangsters in an abandoned village.
Throughout the negotiations, the British had eyes on the ground from well-hidden SAS observation posts close to the two villages. Additionally, a special-operations signals team intercepted Khalley’s frequent publicity calls to the BBC and pinpointed his location.
Their combined reports led commanders to rule out a ground or waterborne assault because of the gang’s heavily armed roadblocks in the villages and the treacherous currents of the creek. The rescue force would go in by helicopter.
At one point, the negotiators, which included two SAS operators in disguise, were able to secure the release of six men, leaving five British soldiers captive. The freed troops told horror stories of mock executions and psychological violence. But more releases seemed unlikely. A rescue operation was necessary, and time was of the essence.
At dawn on September 10, the rescue force flew in on three CH-47 Chinook helicopters with two Lynx and one Mi-24 gunships providing close air support. The combined SAS/SBS force would rescue the hostages in Gberi Bana, while members of the Parachute Regiment, known as Paras, would eliminate the gang members on the opposite side of the river.
The British commandos hit Gberi Bana hard. Half the assault force fast-roped into the village while the other half landed in a soccer field. In the first moments, heavy enemy fire pinned down the teams on the soccer field. But the commandos achieved fire superiority and silenced the resistance with machine guns and anti-tank rockets.
Despite some confusion, the SAS and SBS operators swept the village and secured the hostages.
However, on the other side of the river, the Paras were in the thick of it. Because of a lack of Chinooks, the Paras had to be transported in two groups. Alerted by the helicopters’ approach and the firefight on the other bank, the gangster there were better prepared.
The Chinook dropped the first wave of Paras in a chest-deep swamp, which they had to navigate under heavy fire. In the first few moments, they took several casualties, including their commanding and executive officers.
Reinforced by the second wave and displaying their characteristic aggression, the Paras took the initiative and overpowered the gangsters after a fierce firefight that lasted hours.
As the smoke settled, the Chinooks came in to pick up the hostages, rescue force, and some captured vehicles. At the cost of one SAS operator, Bombardier Brad Tinnion, and 12 Paras wounded, the rescue force managed to secure all the hostages and kill scores of gang members.
A wave of change
Operation Barras brought significant changes to British special operations.
The resistance put up by the heavily armed West Side Boys showed the need for a specialized support unit that would assist the SAS and SBS in future large-scale hostage rescues and special operations.
Until that point, the Paras and the Royal Marine Commandos had been called up to complement their elite brethren only when necessary. Even though there were close links between the units — most SAS operators came from the Paras, and the SBS at that time recruited solely from the Royal Marines — they didn’t train together and didn’t use the same procedures.
As a result, the British military created the Special Forces Support Group (SFSG) in 2006.
The SFSG is composed of Paras, Royal Marines, and Royal Air Force personnel who have passed an additional selection process. Its main task is to be a quick reaction force for SAS and SBS operations, but it can also complement those units in domestic counterterrorism operations.
Moreover, Operation Barras was a much needed confidence boost for British special-operations forces after bad publicity in Northern Ireland, where they fought a politically complicated campaign against the IRA. British policymakers could once more be confident in their commandos.
Taking a break from their pre-season training camp in O’ahu, Hawaii, the LA Clippers basketball team, coaches, and staff paid their respects during a tour of the USS Arizona Memorial on Sept. 27, 2017.
Service members from all branches of the military accompanied them at Merry Point Landing, located on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, to guide them through the hallowed grounds of the memorial.
It wasn’t a publicity stunt — the only official photographer was on site was Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Meranda Keller. No news site has reported on this at the time of this article’s writing.
These players are genuinely here to honor resting place of the 1,102, of the 1,117 sailors and Marines who lost their lives Dec. 7, 1941.
While at the memorial, players were each guided by service members who would tell them of the history of the site and what happened on that tragic day.
After the tour, the Clippers spent time with the troops. They joked and took photos with members of the Armed Forces.
Attending military balls is one of those things that everyone has to do. Sure, they’re occasionally mandatory, but it’s great to see everyone in the unit unwind for a single night. Your first sergeant can get roaring drunk and tell everyone stories of when they were a young, dumb private and the specialist can flex on the butterbar for their lack of medals.
The one thing that everyone secretly dreads, however, is the grog bowl. It’s hilarious watching everyone in the unit have to stomach what is, essentially, the bottom-dwelling juices of a trash compactor, but no one actually wants to be the person next in line to grab a glass.
In essence, it’s a concoction of random things that are poured into a giant punch bowl (or, occasionally, an unused toilet). The chain of command usually grabs some random thing off the shelf and pours it in. Each addition is followed by some BS excuse — there’s a symbolic reasoning behind every addition.
For example, a unit at Fort Campbell might add in some Jack Daniel’s because the distillery isn’t too far from post and it’s kind of the unofficial drink of the 101st Airborne. You might also see someone throw coffee into the mix because of the many sleepless nights endured by troops in the unit. Those are awesome, fun additions — but you’ll you have to bite your tongue when something gross gets tossed in.
That’s all you, buddy.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Robin Cresswell)
Tabasco — to represent the blood shed by troops
This is the go-to mixer that seems to find a place in every unit’s grog bowl. If you’re a fan of spicy foods, it’s not that bad… in small doses, that is.
Unfortunately, the person adding the Tabasco won’t just add a few drops like they’re making a Bloody Mary. It’s almost always the entire bottle. Thankfully, just as it does with undesirable MREs, the taste of Tabasco will overpower the taste of the rest of the garbage — that’s why Tabasco is the best of the worst things in the grog.
Yep. It tastes like nothing.
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Jacob Massey)
Water — to represent the seas
On one hand, it’s great because the water is going to dilute whatever crap is in the bowl already. Each ounce of water offsets an ounce of garbage. On the other hand, it’s freakin’ water. It’s also going to dilute the good stuff that kind souls put in there.
There are kind souls out there that take pity on everyone who has to drink from the bowl and you’ll, on rare occasions, get a grog bowl that isn’t going to unintentionally poison the unit. Putting water in there is just going to ruin what was otherwise a reasonable sip.
Everything is forgiven if the salt is added in the style of Salt Bae.
A bunch of salt — to represent sweat
Just like Tabasco, salt would be fine in small doses but, just like Tabasco, salt is almost always poured in en masse. And, as you’ve probably guessed, it just makes everything salty.
This one is just lazy. At least you have to go to the store to buy a bottle of Tabasco. Usually, people just grab the salt shaker off the table in front of them and head up to the bowl.
Just because we ate our fair share of sand while deployed doesn’t mean we want to eat more of it stateside.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lt. Dave Hecht)
Sand — to represent the wars in the deserts
The rules dictating what kind of garbage you can put in the grog bowl typically limits the selection to things you’re willing to actually drink. This rules out, thankfully, things like battery acid. However, for some reason, this same logic doesn’t rule out sand.
Why? Because in the sandstorms of Iraq and Afghanistan, you’re going to unintentionally eat a lot of sand. Therefore, it must be okay to just drink sand, right? Wrong. Thankfully, if you’re just trying to screw everyone over, know that the sand will just sink to the bottom of the bowl and nobody will actually have to drink it.
At least pretend like you’re making an effort to be an asshole.
(U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jacob Andrew Goff)
Milk — to represent… who knows, f*ck it.
There’s rarely any actual reasoning behind adding milk to the bowl. Now, if anyone were to say something along the lines of, “this is for the mothers that are waiting for us,” it’d make a little sense — but I just made that one up on the spot and have never heard it actually uttered at a ball.
It’s typically just tossed in because it’s readily available and someone didn’t want to spend time and effort on screwing everyone else over.
Same goes for putting old socks in it… jerk.
(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Adelita Mead)
A boot — to represent… hard work?
Come on. This one is just plain unhygienic. It’s rare that someone will spend the effort (or cash) to buy a fresh, never-worn, boot just to plop it in the grog bowl.
Sometimes, justice intervenes and whoever put their boot in the bowl will have to drink from their own footwear. Believe me, when that jerk ends up at sick call the next week, nobody’s shedding a tear.
Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan captured the respect of both veteran and civilian audiences across the country with a realistic, heartfelt, and grim depiction of World War II. The movie follows a squad of Soldiers from the 2nd Army Rangers who embark on a near-impossible mission to locate a single troop in the middle of the war.
Facing incredible odds, the Rangers tirelessly search for the native Iowan and sustain heavy causalities along the way. The film won several awards and is considered, by some, to be one of the best pieces of film in cinematic history.
Spielberg expertly captured the brutality of war on film, but the little-known things that happened behind the scenes helped contribute to the film’s authenticity.
Sgt. Horvath (played by Tom Sizemore) stands next to Capt. Miller (played by Tom Hanks) before storming the Omaha Beach.
How it got its unique look
Typically, a movie camera’s shutter is set at a 180-degree angle. However, legendary cinematographer Janusz Kaminski decided to set the camera to a 90- and 45-degree shutter instead. This shortened the amount of time the film was exposed to light, creating an incredibly sharp image.
When sending the film off to be processed, Kaminski had it run through the developer more than usual to achieve that washed-out look.
His idea delivered a fantastic visual, and the film looks freakin’ great for it.
The actors’ weapons came with squib sensors
We’ve seen movies where an actor points his or her weapon, takes a shot, and the round’s impact doesn’t feel entirely organic. For Saving Private Ryan, the special-effects guys rigged the actors’ rifles with special sensors that send a signal to exploding squibs located on their targets.
Shortly after an actor pulls the trigger, the targeted squib detonates, creating a realistic impact for both shooter and target.
Steven Spielberg as he discusses the next scene with the crew.
Reportedly, Spielberg didn’t storyboard the film
Instead, the filmmaker made incredible decisions on the fly, putting the camera up to each scene and determining the direction from there. This might have been career suicide for a lesser director, but Spielberg wanted his shots to feel unpredictable, just like a real firefight.
Although the film has several epic moments, the opening sequence in which American troops storm Omaha beach is one that you’ll never forget. Spielberg decided to drop the audience inside an incredibly intense battle scene and, to tell the story, used three different perspectives: Capt. Miller’s, the German machine gunners’, and a characterless camera.
The YouTuber Nerdwriter1 broke the epic scene down and counted each of the 200 shots that takes place over the 24-minute scene. That’s right: 200 shots. That’s 7.2 seconds per shot.
Any time in life that you do something, you tend to forget the bad and remember the good. I remembered the good. I wasn’t sure I wanted to remember the bad.
For a long time, I talked to a bunch of my peers in the Special Forces community that had made the trip back to Vietnam. They wanted to go back and see what it, see what it was like for whatever reason. Everybody has a personal reason that they want to do it.
I never found a reason because I’ve always had this whole thing in my mind, when I have a traumatic situation – I’ve got a box I put it in my head and I just put it away. After a while, I decided that it was probably time to take some of those back out, and so I said yes going back to Vietnam.
Surprisingly to me, it provided closure to a circle that I didn’t know was open. It was an interesting experience. It was a cathartic experience. It was an experience that closed that loop for me that had been open because I chose not to close it before.
I didn’t know that I needed to do that.
I’ve been back to Vietnam and I would recommend to anyone who has ever been there in a combat role, go back and look at it. Don’t be afraid of your past. Address it and deal with it.
Make your experience count.
Richard Rice 5th Special Forces Group US Army 1966-94 Senior Advisor, GORUCK
Those attending the current four-week run of The Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles’ production of “Henry IV” at the West Los Angeles VA Campus may immediately recognize Tom Hanks as Falstaff, but what they probably don’t realize is that a crew of veterans not only built the stage, but are also working behind the scenes to make the production a success.
“It’s exciting to partner with The Shakespeare Center to provide our veterans incredible opportunities like the chance to work alongside professional actors, and to view live entertainment right here on the West LA VA campus,” said Ann Brown, director of VA’s Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System. “Partnerships like this one are vital to bringing the vision for this campus to life and to transform it into a vibrant, welcoming, veteran-centric community.”
“Henry IV” performances began June 5, 2018, and run through July 1, 2018, at the Japanese Garden located on the West Los Angeles VA Campus. The Shakespeare Center, in partnership with West LA VA, set aside 2,000 tickets for eligible veterans and active duty service members free of charge. To find out more on these tickets, visit http://www.ShakespeareCenter.org to receive information about reservations when they become available.
“We’re grateful to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs and the leaders of the West LA VA for this opportunity to bring our company to the Japanese Garden at the VA,” said Ben Donenberg, the founder and executive artistic director of The Shakespeare Center prior to construction. “We’re hiring and training 40 veterans to work on this production alongside consummate theater professionals to tell a riveting story about the forging of a Shakespearean hero. We’re proud to bring the vision of one of the American theatre’s most esteemed Broadway directors and the talents a world-class cast lead by Rita Wilson and Tom Hanks, our long-time supporters, to this very special venue.”
Rita Wilson and Tom Hanks, have been long-time supporters of the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles through their 26 consecutive years of hosting and participating in Simply Shakespeare, a no holds barred impromptu reading of a Shakespeare comedy with celebrity casts and musicians that raises funds and awareness.
“The VA location speaks to our mission to present Shakespeare in urgent, vital, relevant and accessible ways that reflect the history, landscape and people of Los Angeles,” Donenberg said. “Our work with the VA and veterans inspires personal and community transformation.”
This article originally appeared on the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
These days, when you see a rocket or missile launch, it almost seems routine. The engines fire and the rocket starts taking off, either sending an object directly to orbit or carrying enough firepower to blow something into orbit. What looks like standard procedure from the outside masks the fact that these rockets and missiles are very complex pieces of technology — and when this routine process goes wrong, it goes wrong very quickly and very violently.
Missiles are complex pieces of technology that are surprisingly delicate (a dropped tool once destroyed a Titan missile and its silo). With so many critical details involved, there are many opportunities for things to go wrong — and occasionally, they do. For example, in the 1980s, two RGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles were accidentally launched, one by the United States Navy and one by the Royal Danish Navy. Thankfully, no injuries (outside of the respective captains’ pride) occurred in either incident.
A 2016 Trident II test for the Royal Navy is the most recent launch to have gone bad — and this test led to some disagreements between the Americans (who claimed the missile had to be destroyed) and the UK (who called the test a success). Thirty years earlier, the United States Navy had egg on its face when the first at-sea Trident II launch went out of control. Thankfully, in both of these cases, nobody was injured.
Mitrofan Nedelin’s tenure as the Soviet Army’s chief marshal of the artillery ended when the test of a SS-7 ended in a horrific explosion.
Video stills showing a Chinese Long March rocket going out of control before it crashed into a nearby village.
(United States Congress)
Today, failures are fewer and further between. One big reason for this is that many missiles now use solid fuel as opposed to liquid fuel. Liquid fuel is far more volatile and leads to explosions more frequently.
The launches you see nowadays may look routine from the outside, but remember, that’s the result of thousands of tests.
Watch the 1965 Air Force video below to see some missile launches, both successes and failures.
When a locked-down America tunes into the May 25 premiere of NBC’s “The Titan Games”, sports-starved viewers may notice a familiar face competing for the title and $100,000 grand prize: Chantae McMillan Langhorst, the track and field Olympian and nude high-jumper for The BODY Issue of ESPN The Magazine.
“One of the biggest reasons I wanted to do “The Titan Games” was its challenges that I have never faced before and will never face again,” McMillan said. “I’m doing obstacles on the show that are strength and cardio all at one time. Each event is over in five minutes, but you’re so fatigued afterward.”
The 32-year-old from Rolla, Missouri knows all about pushing through fatigue. McMillan is not only an elite athlete, but an Army wife to Warrant Officer 1 Devon Langhorst, a helicopter pilot stationed at Fort Rucker, Alabama and mom to 18-month-old Otto. She is also the daughter of two career soldiers.
McMillan competed in the 2012 Olympics in London as a heptathlete and was training for the 2020 Olympic Trials as a javelin thrower when the coronavirus pandemic caused mass cancellations of sporting events. After competing in one track meet in March, organizers of future meets canceled their competitions.
At first, McMillan was unruffled.
“I thought, okay, my next meet will be in May, then trials in June,” she said.
The Tokyo Olympics and its trials were postponed until 2021. The initial disappointment turned out to be a “blessing in disguise,” she says.
“I was like, ‘Alright, let’s go,'” McMillan said. “It takes a lot of weight off my shoulders, because from March to June I didn’t know if I could be where I wanted to be, so I was kind of stressed out.”
McMillan lost her 64-year-old father in 2015 to appendectomy complications, right before failing to qualify for the 2016 Olympic games. She bounced back, becoming an Army wife and mom in 2018 and switching from heptathlon to javelin, one of her strongest events.
She’s still aiming for Olympic glory — just a year later than originally planned. She and her coach, two-time Olympic hammer thrower Kibwe Johnson, are training her body as if she were throwing her way through a normal season.
“A couple weeks ago, coach asked me where my strength is, and I feel the strongest I’ve felt in years,” McMillan said. “I feel very powerful. Now it’s just translating onto the field. I feel so strong.”
That strength has not gone unnoticed by those outside the track and field world. In November, a casting producer for “The Titan Games” asked McMillan to audition for the show’s sophomore season after seeing her training photos and videos on Instagram.
McMillan auditioned alongside thousands of others to be a competitor. She succeeded and spent the first two weeks of February filming in Atlanta. Not only did she get to meet Dwayne Johnson, the show’s host, McMillan also connected with plenty of fellow athletes.
“It was very amazing, being around so many people who are likeminded and striving to be the best they can,” McMillan said. “It has still carried on to this day to motivate me to be better.”
The show’s obstacles, designed for 13 episodes with entertainment in mind, were vastly different than the pure “run-jump-throw” actions McMillan said she is used to in track and field.
“They’re just weird obstacles that challenge you in ways you never thought you could be challenged,” McMillan said.
This season of NBC’s show pits professional titans like Super Bowl champion Victor Cruz, UFC fighter Tyron Woodley and “American Ninja Warrior” star Jessie Graff against “everyday” athletes like McMillan. Four of the 36 competitors are active-duty military members.
Viewers can expect to be surprised at who makes it to Mt. Olympus, the show’s ultimate event, McMillan said.
“I think people will be able to connect with all of us, the way our stories are going to be told,” she said. “It’s not every day you’re around motivated people like that.”