Disabled veterans eligible for free National Park Service Lifetime Access Pass - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TRENDING

Disabled veterans eligible for free National Park Service Lifetime Access Pass

Spring flowers are blooming, the summer travel season quickly approaches and veterans are joining the 330-million yearly visitors enjoying U.S. National Parks.

Many veterans, with a service connected disability rating, are entering Federal parks for free with the Lifetime National Parks Access Pass from the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service. Good for entry into 400+ National Parks and over 2,000 recreation sites across the country, the Lifetime Access Pass is another way a grateful nation says thank you for the service and sacrifices of veterans with disabilities.


The Access Pass admits disabled veterans and any passengers in their vehicle (non-commercial) at per-vehicle fee areas; and, the pass owner plus three additional adults where per-person fees are charged. In addition to free entry at participating parks, the Access Pass includes discounts on expanded amenity fees; such as camping, swimming, boat launching and guided tours.

Disabled veterans eligible for free National Park Service Lifetime Access Pass

(Photo by Emily Ogden)

Veterans who have a VA disability rating, (10 percent or higher) are eligible for the Lifetime Access Pass — with two ways to apply.

First, disabled veterans can apply in person at a participating federal recreation site. Simply present photo identification (Drivers license, State ID, Passport) and documentation proving a permanent disability (VA awards letter, VA ID with service connected annotation, VA summary of benefits, or receipt of Social Security disability income). That’s It. The pass is free and issued at the time of entry.

Second, if applying by mail, send a completed packet and processing fee to the United States Geological Survey (USGS). The packet should include:

Pass delivery expected 10-12 weeks after receipt.

Make sure to have photo ID available when using your Lifetime Access Pass and enjoy the majestic scenery and abundant recreational opportunities our National Parks provide.

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Pentagon doesn’t actually know how many troops are at war

The Pentagon just can’t or won’t say how many troops are deployed to Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan.


The long-running controversy over how many and where troops are in harm’s way came to a point Nov. 27th where Pentagon officials were disputing their own required quarterly report on deployments worldwide from the Defense Manpower Data Center.

“Those numbers are not meant to represent an accurate accounting,” Army Col. Rob Manning, a Pentagon spokesman, said of the DMDC’s report. “They shouldn’t be relied upon.”

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The Pentagon. According to several studies, dating as far back at 1997, the Department of Defense has known about failures to report criminal records. (Photo by David B. Gleason)

He said that the DMDC’s quarterly reports were “routinely over and under” the actual count of troops on the ground and only gave a “snapshot” in time. There was a general reluctance to give out actual numbers for fear of “telegraphing or silhouetting to the enemy” U.S. troop strength, Manning said.

The DMDC numbers, first reported by Military Times, gave evidence of what has been widely known and occasionally confirmed by Pentagon officials for years — that the official counts, or Force Management Levels (FMLs), on the numbers of troops in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan are well below the actual numbers of service members in each country.

In August, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis acknowledged the discrepancies and pledged to give a fuller accounting for Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan.

Also Read: The Pentagon is considering sending 1,000 more troops to Syria

According to the DMDC’s quarterly report, there were a total of 25,910 U.S. troops in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan — more than 11,000 above the official number given by the Pentagon for the three countries of 14,765.

In Syria, there were 1,720 U.S. troops, more than three times the FML level the Pentagon repeated on Nov. 27 of 503.

The same report showed there were 8,992 American troops in Iraq, almost 3,500 more than the official Defense Department tally of 5,262.

In Afghanistan, DMDC said there were 15,298 troops, as opposed to the 14,000 figure given earlier this month by Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, director of the Pentagon’s Joint Staff.

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U.S. Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter pilots work to support U.S. Forces Afghanistan as part of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel and Resolute Support Mission. (U.S Army photo)

In addition to the 15,298 U.S. troops, there were also 1,202 DoD civilians in Afghanistan, for a total reported U.S. footprint in Afghanistan of 16,500.

The troop cap in Afghanistan under the Obama administration had been 8,500 but the Pentagon later acknowledged there were about 11,000 on the ground.

Two weeks ago, McKenzie said the 3,000 additional troops authorized for deployment in August by President Donald Trump had arrived in Afghanistan, boosting the troop strength to 14,000.

McKenzie and Dana White, the Pentagon’s chief spokesman, have pledged to give a more accurate account of the numbers of troops in Iraq and Syria.

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Life aboard WWII submarines was brutal

No one has ever claimed that life aboard a U.S. Navy ship was luxurious. Even on the most advanced warships on the planet life can still be cramped. Though today amenities are much improved, the sailors patrolling the oceans in World War II had a much different life than their modern counterparts.


For one thing, the submarines of World War II were much smaller. Though only about 60 feet shorter than a modern submarine, the Gato and Balao-class submarines the U.S. Navy operated in World War II had a displacement of only about one third that of modern Virginia class submarines.

In that small space, the submariners — some 60 to 80 in all — had to store themselves, their gear, and provisions for 75 days.

 

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Real World War II galley attire: T-shirt and apron over dungarees. This June 1945 snapshot is of George Sacco, a cook and baker in USS Cod (SS 224). (Courtesy of the USS Cod Submarine Memorial)

 

Each crewmember had only about one cubic foot of personal storage space aboard the sub. Each crewmember also had a bunk, scattered throughout the many compartments of the boat, including in the torpedo rooms. As many as 14 men crammed into the forward torpedo room along with 16 torpedoes.

A submarine of that size simply could not fit all of the necessary provisions for a long war patrol in the appropriate spaces. To accommodate, the crew stashed boxes of food and other things anywhere they would fit — the showers, the engine room, even on the deck until there was space inside to fit it all.

Also read: 27 incredible photos of life aboard a U.S. submarine

There was one upside though. Because of the dangerous and grueling nature of submarine duty, the Navy did its best to ensure that submariners got the best food the Navy had to offer. They also found room to install an ice cream freezer as a small luxury for the crew.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t much time or space to enjoy that food. Most of the time the men were lucky to get ten minutes to eat as the boat’s three “shifts” all had to pass through the tiny galley in a short amount of time.

The serving of food was often times also dictated by restrictions on the submarines movements. Submarines were under strict orders not to surface during the day when they were within 500 miles of a Japanese airfield in order to avoid aerial observation and attack. In the early days of the war in the Pacific this meant just about everywhere as the Japanese were in control of vast swaths of territory and ocean.

This meant that the submarines stayed submerged during the day and only surfaced at night. In order to compensate, many crews flipped their schedules doing their normal daily routines at night. The crews called this “going into reversa.” This allowed the crew to take advantage of the time the sub was on the surface.

This was important because once the submarine dove after running its diesel engines for hours, the boat would quickly heat up. The engine room temperature could soar to over 100 degrees before spreading throughout the sub. Combine that with the 80 men working and breathing and the air inside could quickly become foul.

The men knew the air was getting bad when they had trouble lighting their cigarettes due to the lack of oxygen (oh the irony).

To make matters worse, there was little water available for bathing and on long patrols most men only showered about every ten days or so. Laundry was out of the question. Because of these conditions submarines developed a unique smell – a combination of diesel fuel, sweat, cigarettes, hydraulic fluid, cooking, and sewage.

On older submarines, the World War I-era S-boats — often referred to as pigboats — the conditions were even worse. Without proper ventilation, the odors were even stronger. This also led to mold and mildew throughout the boat as well as rather large cockroaches that the crews could never quite seem to eradicate.

 

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The USS Grayback was one of the WWII submarines lost to enemy action during the war. (Photo: National Archives)

 

If the conditions themselves weren’t bad enough, the crews then had to sail their boats into hostile waters, often alone, to attack the enemy.

Submarines often targeted shipping boats, but sometimes would find themselves tangling with enemy surface vessels. Once a sub was spotted, the enemy ships would move in for the kill with depth charges.

Of the 263 submarines that made war patrols in World War II, 41 of them were lost to enemy action while another eleven were lost to accidents or other reasons. This was nearly one out of every five submarines, making the job of submariner one of the most dangerous of the war.

A further danger the submarines faced was being the target of their own torpedoes. Due to issues with the early Mk. 14 torpedo that was used, it had a tendency to make a circular run and come back to strike the sub that fired it. At least one submarine, the USS Tang, was sunk this way.

Despite the dangers, American submarines performed admirably. In the Pacific, American crews sank almost 1,400 Japanese ships of different types, totaling more than 5.5 million tons.

They also rescued 504 downed airmen from the sea. Submarines also evacuated key individuals from danger areas, including the U.S. High Commissioner and President Quezon from the Philippines.

History: That time a surfacing Russian sub slammed into an American spy submarine

On special missions, submarines landed reconnaissance parties on enemy shores, and in a few cases used their 5″ deck guns to bombard enemy positions.

The bravery of the submarines was well-known in World War II. Presidential Unit Citations were awarded 36 times to submarine crews. Seven submarine skippers were awarded the Medal of Honor for their actions at sea.

American submariners in World War II set a tradition of duty and bravery that is carried on by American submarine crews today.

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This is the most revered dagger in military history

In London’s Westminster Abby there is St. George’s Chapel, where on one of the chapel’s walls hangs the Commando Association Battle Honors flag that lists where the Commandos fought and died during World War II from 1940 to 1945.

Under the word COMMANDO in gold letters is a stylized portrayal of a singular knife – the Fairbairn-Sykes fighting knife.

Soldiers throughout history have always carried blades as weapons and as tools. Yet, no other knife is more commonly associated with WW II elite forces or possesses more mystique than the Fairbairn-Sykes knife.

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An example of the Fairbairn-Sykes commando dagger. (Wikipedia photo)

Commonly referred to as the “F-S knife” or “F-S dagger,” it is still issued to British Royal Marine Commandos, the Malaysian Special Operations Force, Singapore Commandos and Greek Raiders. In addition, the image of the knife is part of the emblem of the United States Army Special Operations Command (Airborne) as well as the emblems of special forces units in Holland, Belgium and Australia.

Yet, it is a weapon born out the experience of dealing with 1930’s knife fights in Shanghai and developed by two men who had no scruples about dirty fighting. In fact, William Fairbairn and Eric Sykes taught an entire generation of warriors that one of the quickest, quietest and deadliest ways to kill Germans was cold steel thrust into Nazi vitals – preferably from behind.

“The Commando dagger would become a symbol not just to the men who were issued it, but also to British civilians at a time when Britain was on the back foot, and any deadly way to strike back at the Germans was considered a boost for morale,” wrote Leroy Thompson is his book Fairbairn-Sykes Commando Dagger.

Whether it was the Roman pugio (a short-bladed dagger that served as a legionnaire’s backup weapon), bowie knives wielded on both sides of the U.S. Civil War, or the “knuckle duster” trench knives of the Great War, soldiers have always carried blades for use in close-quarters fighting.

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…and doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon (USMC photo by Cpl Jericho Crutcher)

However, from the late 19th century until World War II many European generals thought it was unseemly for soldiers to bring personal knives into combat. Some thought it would reduce reliance on the bayonet and diminish the fighting spirit of soldiers.

Other commanders deemed rough-and-tumble knife fighting downright “ungentlemanly” – there’s a reason why betrayal is often called a “stab in the back.” Killing face-to-face with the bayonet was considered the more honorable way to dispatch the enemy.

However, the beginning of World War II reinvigorated belief in the close-combat knife as an essential weapon.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill was less fussy about how British troops killed the soldiers of the Third Reich. He placed great stock in commando forces, covert operations, and what he called “ungentlemanly warfare.”

The newly created Special Operations Executive taught knife-fighting as part of agents’ training. So did the British Commandos and airborne forces.

That meant there was a demand for a specific kind of knife that would be used to quietly kill the enemy, preferably in a surprise attack.

“In close-quarters fighting there is no more deadly weapon than the knife,” Fairbairn wrote in his manual Get Tough! How to Win in Hand-to-Hand Fighting (1942). “An entirely unarmed man has no certain defense against it, and, further, merely the sudden flashing of a knife is frequently enough to strike fear into your opponent, causing him to lose confidence and surrender.”

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Fairbairn wasn’t worried about making friends (Wikimedia Commons)

Fairbairn would have known: During his 20-year career with the Shanghai Municipal Police, he fought in hundreds of street fights against assailants armed with knives and daggers. His friend and colleague Sykes served on the same police force and faced the same adversaries in what was at the time one of the most dangerous cities in the world.

In 1941, both men collaborated on the knife’s original design. Although the knife went through several variations during the war, it remained a double-edged stiletto well-balanced like a good sword and suited to thrusting and cutting more than slashing an opponent.

The models made by high-quality cutlers were manufactured from carbon steel so they could be honed razor sharp.

David W. Decker, a U.S. Navy veteran, knife-fighting expert, and collector of F-S knives, said a man trained in the use of the Fairbairn-Sykes knife learned confidence and aggression. In the hands of a properly-trained individual, it is a fearsome weapon.

“The knife has tremendous capacity for penetration of an enemy’s clothing, web gear and person,” Decker said. “A vital part of the training was the instruction in hitting lethal targets on the human body. Many of these targets had to be reached through the rib cage, so the slender blade was most efficient. The approximately seven-inch blade is capable of reaching all vital organs. Fluid in the hands, the grip was designed like that of a fencing foil to enhance the maneuverability of the knife.”

Another advantage of the F-S dagger was its ease of carry, said Decker, whose website chronicles the development of the knife and has photographs of many examples.

Relatively lightweight compared to other combat knives of the time, it was easily concealed or secured in a battle dress cargo pocket. Some men carried them strapped to their legs, tucked behind their pistol holster, or in a boot.

The needle-nosed point and razor-like edges of the dagger sometimes caused problems, Decker said. For example, one British commando could not pull the dagger out of the body of a German sentry because the knife was stuck in his ribs.

“At least one knife-maker was quoted as saying he made knives for stabbing Germans, not peeling potatoes,” Decker said, indicating some manufacturers made F-S knives with smooth edges so a soldier could remove the blade more easily from the enemy’s body.

Despite differences in quality and manufacture, the F-S knife gained popularity with both British and American soldiers during the war.

Members of the U.S. Army Rangers and Marine Raiders carried versions of the knife. U.S. Army Gen. Robert T. Frederick, commander of the 1st Special Service Force known as The Devil’s Brigade, based his design for the V-42 stiletto issued to his troops on the F-S knife.

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U.S. Army photo

Today, the F-S knife remains an iconic symbol on both sides of the Atlantic of what it means to qualify as an elite soldier.

At Fort Benning, Georgia, there is the Ranger Memorial. Behind two stone pillars holding a stylized Ranger tab are two smaller pillars and a knife sculpted in stone – a Fairbairn-Sykes fighting knife.

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That time the Coast Guard tried using pigeons for sea rescues

Back in the late 1970s and early 80s, the Coast Guard thought they had a better way to search for people lost in the ocean. They tested using pigeons affixed to the underside of helicopters.


Yes, like the pigeons in the park. And, yes, it did work. The birds performed about twice as well as their human counterparts at spotting “appropriate targets” on their first pass over an area.

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The pigeons performed amazingly at spotting debris in the ocean but were only trained on orange, yellow, and red objects. Photo: US Coast Guard archives

The pigeons involved in Project Sea Hunt, as the effort was known, were first sent to “basic training.” For obvious reasons, about the only thing pigeon basic shared with human basic was the name.

Pigeons were placed in training chambers with “peck keys” that released food when pressed. Once the pigeons got the hang of the keys, their training boxes would be faced toward Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, where a buoy with a radio-operated orange plate floated. Trainers would expose the orange plate and then reward the pigeon when it hit the keys, but wouldn’t feed the pigeons if the plate wasn’t exposed.

Over time, the target would be moved further away from the pigeons to train them to look further out to sea.

Once the pigeons passed basic training, the top graduates would proceed to advanced training where the pigeons were actually placed in chambers mounted beneath a helicopter and had to find orange, yellow, and red objects in the ocean. Each bird covered a 120-degree window, so a pod with three pigeons could see in 360 degrees.

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A pigeon is loaded into its pod during training in Project Sea Hunt. Photo: US Coast Guard archives

In testing on the helicopter, the pigeons spotted targets on the first pass 90% of the time. The human crewmembers were capable of finding the target on the first pass only 38% of the time. In a later test, when the humans knew they were trying to catch up to the pigeons, the humans scored a 50.

In passes where both humans and the pigeons spotted the target, the pigeon spotted it first 84% of the time. The pigeons were proving to be amazing day-time searchers.

There were a few drawbacks to the use of pigeons. First, the weight of the pigeons had to be carefully maintained. Pigeons at 80% of their “free food” weight were generally hungry enough to search the ocean for hours without losing focus. Dropping below that weight threatened the pigeons’ health but going above it would reduce their effectiveness.

And there was one tragedy in the program. A flight was sent to hunt for a missing boat and the helicopter stayed out too long. It ran out of fuel and conducted a forced landing at sea. The crew escaped with no injuries but they couldn’t get the pigeons out in time.

A second batch of pigeons was sent through training to both replace the lost pigeons and to increase the number of pigeons available for missions.

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The small bubble on the bottom of this helicopter contains three pigeons trained to spot life rafts. Photo: US Coast Guard archives

Overall, Project Sea Hunt was so successful that a 1981 audit of the program recommended that the pigeons serve at a Coast Guard air station on proper missions and that new pods be developed so that the birds could fly on newer helicopters. Federal budget cuts resulted in the program being shuttered instead.

Advances in technology have made the pigeons less necessary. Planes designed to hunt subs using magnets are much better at finding plane debris than pigeons ever were, and improved homing beacons for rafts and wrecks make the job of scanning miles of ocean less necessary.

Still, there’s a niche that pigeons could still fill better than almost any gadgets, that of looking for orange rafts and flotation devices in the open ocean.

(More photos and background on the program are available at the Coast Guard’s web page for Project Sea Hunt.)

MIGHTY TRENDING

Russia is building up strength near NATO’s weak point

In the months leading up to the summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Donald Trump in Finland, Moscow appears to have ramped up activity in its Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad.

Satellite imagery gathered by Planet Labs and reported by Defense One shows activity around bunkers in Baltiysk, a town that hosts a major Russian port and two air bases.

Between March and June 2018, “the visible change … appears to be the fortification of buildings, characteristic of explosive storage bunkers, utilizing earthen berms to further insulate these structures,” Matt Hall, a senior geospatial analyst at 3Gimbals, told Defense One.


Hall said other structures shown in the images appeared to have been reinforced over that period. Activity in a forested area was partially obscured by foliage, but there appeared to be more structures among the trees, some covered and some uncovered with different levels of fortification.

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Aerial photo of Baltiysk

“In this area some of the structures have changed, potentially showing roofing structures or tarps that have since been removed to reveal caches of items,” Hall said. “Additionally, there appear to be new or redistributed items — potentially identifiable as shipping containers.” Hall also told Defense One a railroad line was visible in the photos.

Kaliningrad — 86 square miles of land bordered by Poland and Lithuania — was an important asset to the Soviet Union, and military activity there has grown amid Russia’s recent military buildup. It also hosts Russia’s Baltic Fleet and its 11th Army Corps.

Russian weapons in Kaliningrad have been a point of contention with NATO. In late 2016, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite said the transfer of nuclear-capable Iskander missiles to the exclave “means an aggressive, open demonstration of power and aggression against not the Baltic states but against European capitals.”

Iskander missiles have a range of about 310 miles and in the past were stationed in Kaliningrad on a temporary basis. But in February 2018, Grybauskaite said Russia had deployed more of the missiles there “for permanent presence.”

The head of Russian parliament’s defense committee confirmed that deployment, saying it was a response to NATO’s buildup in Eastern Europe. A Kremlin spokesman said at the time that Russia had the “sovereign right” to station military forces on its territory.

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(Russian Defense Ministry)

Satellite imagery of another area within Kaliningrad showed renovations of what appeared to be an active nuclear weapons storage site, according to a June 2018 report by the Federation of American Scientists.

Images “show one of three underground bunkers near Kulikovo being excavated in 2016, apparently renovated, and getting covered up again in 2018 presumably to return operational status soon,” the report said.

The imagery provided few conclusive details, but “features of the site suggest it could potentially serve Russian Air Force or Navy dual-capable forces,” the report said. “But it could also be a joint site, potentially servicing nuclear warheads for both Air Force, Navy, Army, air-defense, and coastal defense forces in the region.”

The missiles deployed to Kaliningrad have raised concern about threats to Western Europe, but the exclave also positions Russian forces near the Suwalki Gap, a weak point in the NATO alliance, according to a recent report from the Center for European Analysis, coauthored by retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, who was head of US Army Europe.

The gap, stretching between eastern Kaliningrad and western Belarus, is the only land connection between NATO and its three Baltic member states: Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia.

“The Suwałki Corridor is where the many weaknesses in NATO’s strategy and force posture converge,” the report says.

“If Russia attempted to establish control over the Suwałki region, or even threatened the free movement of NATO personnel and equipment from within the borders of Kaliningrad and Belarus, it could cut the Baltic states off from the rest of the Alliance” and hinder reinforcement efforts. NATO forces did exercises focused mobility and interoperability in the Suwalki region early 2018

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Suwalki Gap crossing

(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Kevin Wang)

A dispute over the gap “could escalate with alarming speed,” the report says, though Hodges believes a Cold War-style Russian ground invasion is unlikely.

“I don’t think that Russia intends to invade Europe as though its 1991. They don’t have the capacity to do that anymore,” he told Defense One.

Moscow may instead look to use a crisis in the area to undermine NATO by showing it was unable to response effectively, or at all, to a threat.


“If you accept that premise, that they might do a limited attack to demonstrate that NATO cannot protect its members,” he told Defense One. “That would create a problem.”

Russia is believed to have a substantial military force stationed along NATO’s eastern border, and its ability to deploy it quickly could make it harder for Western forces to distinguish between a military exercise and an actual military operation.

During the Zapad war games in 2013 and 2017, Russian troops simulated advances on the gap, cutting off the Baltic states from the rest of Europe. There has also been an increase in close encounters between NATO and Russian aircraft in the skies over the Baltics.

In the years since Russia’s 2014 incursion in Ukraine, Baltic countries have warned about possible aggression against them.

In 2017, Lithuania said it worried Russia was laying the groundwork for “kinetic operations” through propaganda and misinformation — a manner similar to what preceded Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

Lithuania, which is under pressure from Moscow to allow a permanent Russian-controlled transit corridor to Kaliningrad, has also called for a permanent US troop presence on its soil and started building a fence along its border with Kaliningrad.

The CEPA report lays out several scenarios through which Russia could provoke a crisis to justify action against Suwalki, using disinformation and hybrid-warfare techniques to deflect blame and confuse observers.

“If [Russian forces] ever tried anything, they would do it asymmetrically so that they could achieve whatever they wanted to achieve before the alliance caught on,” Hodges told Defense One.T

his article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

In a world of vet-owned coffee, Rakkasan Tea has a mission of its own

Brandon Friedman wants you to know that just because coffee has the reputation of being the military’s beverage of choice, tea isn’t reserved for Brits in silly hats enjoying crumpets. For Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, their wars have centered mostly around having tea. After all, foreign fighters and tribal leaders hold court over tea, not coffee. Friedman thought it was strange that tea isn’t more associated with the military experience. He founded Rakkasan Tea Company with that in mind.

Friedman was commissioned as an Army infantry officer in 2000 and was assigned to the 3rd Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division — known as the “Rakkasans,” the old Japanese word for “parachute.” By March, 2002, he and his unit were in an air assault into Afghanistan’s Shah-e-Kot Valley as part of Operation Anaconda. In 2003, he was part of the initial invasion of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and eventually became part of the force that held Tal Afar and Mosul.


By 2004, he was out of the Army and taking his career in a different direction. His now-business partner in Rakkasan Tea was then-Pfc. Terrence “TK” Kamauf, whom Friedman met in his unit. Kamauf was a machine gunner then, but stayed in long after Friedman left. Kamauf went on to become a Green Beret and was in another six or seven years. Now, the two import tea together.

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Friedman’s partner in Rakkasan Tea, Terrence “TK” Kamauf (left), in Iraq.

(Courtesy of Brandon Friedman)

But Friedman’s love for the leaf began in Iraq. As many veterans can attest, all business was conducted over tea. It was an introduction to what Friedman calls the “social experience of tea.”

“It’s hard to find that in the U.S. because this is such a coffee country and coffee is really a solitary drink,” He says. “Tea brings people together and we think the U.S. is ready for that. I know we won’t convert everyone, but the veteran community should certainly give tea a serious look.”

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Friedman with his platoon of Rakkasans in Iraq.

But where Rakkasan Tea Company gets its tea is central to its ongoing mission. The company imports solely from post-conflict countries as a way to promote peace and economic development.

“As a veteran-owned and veteran-staffed company, we understand what conflict does to communities,” Friedman says. “And we want to get as many veterans into this business as we can. So, we often describe our mission as being one that helps communities recover from war at home AND abroad.”

Rakkasan Tea comes from places like Nepal, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, and Laos. With the exception of Sri Lanka, these are difficult to find on American shelves. The tea imported from Laos is significant because it comes from one of the areas most devastated by American bombing during the Vietnam War — more ordnance was dropped on Laos than in the entirety of Europe during World War II.

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One of Rakkasan Tea Company’s Vietnamese tea pickers.

(Courtesy of Brandon Friedman)

The latest effort in Laos centers on small farms in the mountainous Xiengkhouang Province and on the Bolaven Plateau in southern Champasak Province. The teas come from some of the oldest trees in the world and you won’t find this quality at Starbucks or Whole Foods.

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To Friedman, tea is like wine: its character, flavor, and aroma are all greatly influenced by its environment. That might be why he sells tea both by the type of tea and its place of origin.

“Rainfall, altitude, soil content, processing techniques, and more all factor into the taste and quality,” Friedman says. “So when we say we have premium tea grown in Rwanda’s volcanic soil or tea grown on northern Vietnam’s 400-year-old tea trees, that’s of interest to tea enthusiasts. Because it’s really good.”

He wants you to know how good it is and he wants you to be a repeat customer. He obsesses over the returns from his customers. Their feedback really does have an influence on the direction of the company.

“First, I hope we’re living up to the Rakkasan ideal of honor, justice, and commitment,” he says. “But meeting people who enjoy our product is best part of doing this.”

MIGHTY MOVIES

‘The Mandalorian’ recap: Episode 3 gets interesting

Chapter 3: The Sin has a few choices in it that were easy to predict and a few that I didn’t see coming. By the end of it, I’d been on a satisfying emotional journey and I’m genuinely curious about where the series will go next.

Before we get started, though, let’s talk about Ludwig Göransson‘s music for a minute. That drumbeat is so bitchin’ I’m ready to add it to my workout mix. It’s suspenseful with a bit of levity, which is the tone that series creator Jon Favreau (Iron Man, Chef) captures really well in his work. It’s no surprise that Göransson also scored films like Black Panther and Creed.

Alright. Let’s get to it. Spoilers for the third episode of The Mandalorian ahead:


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I’m gonna say what is on everyone’s mind: that Yoda Baby is so goddamn cute. Like, I don’t know if I want kids, but I will take that little guy. Every scene where our Mandalorian isn’t cuddling that baby makes me anxious. HOLD THE BABY AND TELL HIM EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE OKAY, YOU MONSTER.

Instead, “Mando” (I still…hate that nickname, okay? I hate it) surprises me and actually takes the Yoda Baby to The Client. He’s got a guilty conscience about it, though. AS WELL HE SHOULD.

But then again, he’s being paid a lot of beskar steel (like, a lot), so I get it. Still, zero part of me believes that our Mandalorian isn’t going back for the baby…after he suits up with a nice new cuirass that is.

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I totally get why he wanted that new armor. My DND rogue just got a Mithril breastplate and, well, it’s thrilling.

The Mandalorian, Disney+

Our Mandalorian heads to The Armorer so we can get a female with a speaking role some more information about Mandalorian lore. The importance of keeping his helmet on is repeated here (I have so many questions: can he take it off when he’s alone? How does he brush his teeth?), as is the protection of foundlings, who “are the future.”

As other Mandalorians follow our Mandalorian and his ice cream maker of beskar steel, we learn how much they revile the fallen Empire and, presumably, its attacks against their people. “When one chooses to walk the way of the Mandalore, one becomes the hunter and the prey,” intones The Armorer.

In addition to his new armor, she gives our Mandalorian “whistling birds” which have just become the new Star Wars version of Chekhov’s Gun.

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Is that beskar steel in your pocket or…

The Mandalorian, Disney+

Our Mandalorian heads back to Greef Karga (Carl Weathers) to accept another assignment (a Mon Calamari — fun easter egg or foreshadowing?) and we get a heavy-handed reveal that every bounty hunter in the room has a tracking fob for the Yoda Baby. Neither talk of the bounty hunter guild’s code about what happens to assets when they’re delivered (it’s basically a don’t ask, don’t tell policy) nor our Mandalorian’s boarding of his ship make me think for a second he’s leaving that baby.

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Where does he store the fuel?

The Mandalorian, Disney+

Sure enough, he heads back and makes quick work of the shoddy Stormtroopers with his marksmanship, flame throwers, and whistling birds (remember the Jericho Missile in Iron Man? They’re that, but pocket-sized). The creepy clone guy begs for his life and claims that he saved the life of the Yoda Baby, who is asleep and hooked up to machines.

Personally, I think we could have gotten some intelligence from this cowering dude, but I guess our Mandalorian wanted to get the hell out of dodge. Luckily I got what I’ve been waiting for: Pedro Pascal cradling the Yoda Baby in his arms.

Don’t judge my biological responses and I won’t judge yours.

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Speaking of Disney+, how great is The Rocketeer?

The Mandalorian, Disney+

Just when you think the showdown is over, our Mandalorian exits The Client’s stronghold and is confronted by dozens of bounty hunters and their tracking fobs, lead by Karga. They want the baby, our Mandalorian wants the baby, I want the baby, we all want the baby.

A firefight commences.

Our Mandalorian does a pretty stellar job, considering he’s outnumbered. We also get to see the impressive capabilities of his rifle, which disintegrates enemies much like the Tesseract weapons from Marvel. Still, he’s in a bind…and then, a fun surprising-yet-inevitable deus-ex-machina arrives in the form of a tribe of Mandalorian, who fly in with their rocket packs and take on the bounty hunters so our Mandalorian can escape with the cutest little bounty in the universe.

After outing themselves, the Mandalorian will be forced to relocate. With a salute, our Mandalorian is waved off by one of his wingmen. He makes a mental note to get himself a rocket pack, hands the Yoda Baby a toggle from his ship (which is definitely a choking hazard, but whatever, they’re bonding), and he shoots off into the stars.

Loving the vibe of the #Mandalorian! I can’t wait until episode 3.pic.twitter.com/rcOaAhmufP

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popular

A missing Airman’s remains were identified after 74 years

Captain Lawrence Dickson was just 24 when his red-tailed P-51 Mustang fighter was downed in 1944. He was an African-American fighter pilot, trained at the Army’s famed Tuskegee Army Airfield. Of the more than 1,000 black pilots trained at Tuskegee’s segregated flying school, Dickson was one of 27 to go missing in action over Nazi-occupied Europe. Presumed dead, his remains went missing for more than 70 years.

Dickson was leading an escort for a photo reconnaissance mission that day, taking off from an Allied airfield in Italy, bound for Prague. But Dickson’s plane began to have engine trouble. No sooner did the pilot radio his squadron about the issue did his wingman report Dickson clearing the canopy of his fighter to bail out, according to the Washington Post. He made the jump at 26,000 feet.

No wreckage or parachute evidence was ever found.


Before taking off for the last time on Dec. 23, 1944, Lawrence Dickson was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Since it was his 68th mission, he was just two shy of getting to go back to the U.S. for leave from the war. Considering the war in Europe would end less than six months later, he very likely would have survived.

In August, 2017, a team of researchers in the Austrian Alps came across the wreckage of a P-51 Mustang and some human remains. They contacted the U.S. Army. Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency analyst Joshua Frank found a crash site similar to Dickson’s listed in captured Nazi downed aircraft records. The DoD agency tested the DNA of the body found at the site against those of his now-75-year-old daughter, Marla Andrews.

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Lawrence E. Dickson (second left), pictured in 1942 with other airmen at Tuskegee Army Army Air Field.

It was a match.

Sadly, Dickson’s wife Phyllis did not live to the see his remains repatriated to the United States. All she was ever told was that his body was nonrecoverable in 1949. But his daughter Marla still decorates her home with photos of her heroic father, his training certificates, and his medal citations.

She also keeps the letter from her father’s wingman, written 50 years after the war’s end.

“The act of writing to you so many years after … brings to me a sadness. And yet I hope it will bring you a moment of peaceful remembrance of a loving father whom you lost.”


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Apple cider vinegar should be in your diet right now

Every so often, a new health trend emerges and takes the fitness industry by storm. Once the right celebrity endorses it, suddenly, everyone swears it works wonders and people flood the stores to buy it. However, the best advertising around is still word of mouth. That’s how many people are discovering the health benefits of ingesting small amounts of apple cider vinegar daily.


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A well-stocked grocery store shelf filled with apple cider vinegar.

(Mike Mozart)

Although the organic fluid isn’t very appetizing, it contains a powerful compound called “acetic acid.” Acetic acid is a carboxylic compound with both anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties. This unique acid lowers insulin levels (a hormone that causes weight gain), improves insulin resistance, and decreases blood sugar.

Since apple cider vinegar isn’t known for its excellent taste, consumers typically dilute a tablespoon of the insulin-resistant fluid into tall glass of water spiked with the juice from half a lemon. Many people intake the mixture twice a day — once in the morning and again at night.

If you do decide to try out this weight-loss strategy, be sure to purchase organic vinegar to guarantee its purity. There are several imitators out there and, if you want the acetic acid to work its magic properly, you must go organic.

Now, there is one drawback to the weight-loss tactic. Since the main ingredient is an acid, drinking too much can erode your tooth enamel, which isn’t pretty.

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Tooth damage caused by drinking vinegar.

(motivational doc)

However, this drawback typically only happens when you drink the vinegar straight, without diluting it. And trust us, you don’t want to do that. It may be an effective, natural weight-loss solution, but it is not a tasty beverage. Now, for all of our E-3 and below personnel, this inexpensive weight-loss idea could be the perfect alternative too all the pricey fat-burning pills available on the market or volunteering for a deployment. 

MIGHTY CULTURE

A major ally’s decision to scrap an important military deal with the US raises the stakes in competition with China

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s recent decision to withdraw from the Visiting Forces Agreement comes after repeated threats to pull out, but his decision to ditch the pact now could undermine the ability of the US and its partners to counter China’s ambitions in the region.


The VFA, signed in 1998, gives legal status to US troops in the Philippines. Duterte, a longtime critic of ties to the US, gave formal notice of withdrawal to the US this month, triggering a 180-day period before the exit is finalized.

Duterte believes the Philippines should be more militarily independent, a spokesman said, quoting the president as saying, “It’s about time we rely on ourselves.”

The decision is “chiefly the product of Duterte’s deep, decades-long anti-US sentiment,” Prashanth Parameswaran, a senior editor at The Diplomat and a Southeast Asian security analyst, said in an email to Business Insider.

Since taking office in 2016, Duterte has “found just about any excuse he can to make threats against the alliance, be it canceling exercises or separating from the United States,” Parameswaran added.

Duterte has spurned the US since he took office and bristled at US criticism of his human-rights record. Both the US and Duterte have high approval ratings among the Philippine public, however, while a large majority there have little or no confidence in China.

Duterte has expressed affinity for President Donald Trump, but he still seeks closer relations with Beijing. Duterte has also been criticized at home as Chinese investments have been slow to arrive and as China acts assertively in the region, pursuing its claims in the South China Sea and drawing allies away from Taiwan.

“It’s a competition. China’s competing,” Chad Sbragia, deputy assistant secretary of defense for China, said Thursday at a US-China Economic and Security Review Commission hearing on Capitol Hill.

“There’s very clear recognition that China is putting pressure and using every tool within its disposal to try to draw those countries” away from cooperation with the US, Sbragia said. “That’s a condition we’re taking head on. That’s very serious for us.”

“I don’t doubt China will relish the deterioration in the US-Philippine alliance,” Parameswaran said. “Beijing has long considered US alliances a relic of the Cold War and a manifestation of US efforts to contain its regional ambitions.”

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A US Marine guides a Philippine marine in a combat life-saver drill in the Philippines, October 2, 2018.

US Marine Corps/Pfc. Christian Ayers

‘A US loss is China’s gain’

The US and the Philippines, which the US ruled as a colony during the first half of the 20th century, have a decades-long diplomatic and military relationship.

That relationship and the benefit it offers the Philippine security establishment, as well as US popularity in the Philippines, are among the reasons why Manila may not follow through on withdrawal.

Philippine officials have also hinted that the notice of withdrawal is a starting point for negotiations over the VFA, which some have said are needed “to address matters of sovereignty.” Philippine politicians have also questioned Duterte’s authority to exit the agreement.

But the US shouldn’t assume that Duterte is bluffing or looking for leverage, said Gregory Poling, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“He has been anti-American his entire adult life and has been consistently saying he wants to sever the alliance and bring the Philippines into a strategic alignment with China,” Poling said in an email.

“That said, six months is a long time in politics. If Duterte walks this back, it won’t be because a plan to renegotiate with Washington plays out,” Poling added, “it’ll be because of internal pressure, possibly in response to whatever natural disaster, Chinese act of aggression, or terrorist act in Mindanao happens between now and then.”

The VFA allows US troops to operate on Philippine territory, including US Navy crews and Marine Corps units.

Ending the agreement would jeopardize the roughly 300 joint exercises the two countries conduct every year, complicating everything from port calls to the Mutual Defense Treaty, which commits the US to the Philippines’ defense in case of an attack. It would also be harder for the US to provide aid in response to natural disasters.

“It’s basically [changing] the protocols of how you would work together if it actually goes through,” Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said this month.

Many naval activities will be unaffected because they can be carried out without entering Philippine territory, Poling said.

“But large-scale land and air exercises will be impossible, as they were from 1990-1999,” Poling added, referring to a period when Manila’s failure to renew a mutual basing agreement led to the withdrawal of US forces — including the closure of Naval Base Subic Bay, the largest US base in the Pacific.

Gen. Felimon Santos Jr., Philippine armed forces chief of staff, has said about half of all joint military engagements would be affected by the end the VFA, Poling noted.

Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has said joint exercises with the US would continue during the 180-day period, including the multinational Balikatan exercise that has taken place in the Philippines every spring for 35 years.

Once termination is final, however, the Philippines would “cease to have exercises” with the US, Lorenzana said.

[rebelmouse-proxy-image https://media.rbl.ms/image?u=%2F5da72ccacc4a0a4b624047e5%3Fwidth%3D700%26format%3Djpeg%26auto%3Dwebp&ho=https%3A%2F%2Fi.insider.com&s=578&h=578b179bebd99473bb6d4272b437c25bd70eb5df4cd00791160a83b5c703edc8&size=980x&c=3144695644 crop_info=”%7B%22image%22%3A%20%22https%3A//media.rbl.ms/image%3Fu%3D%252F5da72ccacc4a0a4b624047e5%253Fwidth%253D700%2526format%253Djpeg%2526auto%253Dwebp%26ho%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Fi.insider.com%26s%3D578%26h%3D578b179bebd99473bb6d4272b437c25bd70eb5df4cd00791160a83b5c703edc8%26size%3D980x%26c%3D3144695644%22%7D” expand=1]

US Marines, Philippine marines, and Japan Ground Self-Defense Force members after an amphibious exercise in the Philippines, October 12, 2019.

US Marine Corps/Cpl. Harrison Rakhshani

Santos Jr. has downplayed the effects of withdrawal, saying it will make the Philippines “self-reliant” and that Manila would expand bilateral exercises it has with other in the region, including Australia and Japan.

But there are legal and logistical limits on the military activities those countries can undertake with the Philippines, which has one of the weakest militaries in the Asia-Pacific.

The erosion of the US-Philippine military relationship raises the prospect of Beijing making moves like those it made in the South China Sea in the 1990s, when it occupied Mischief Reef — first with small wooden structures and then, a few months before the VFA went into force in 1999, with fort-like structures made of concrete.

In the years since, China has expanded and reinforced its presence in the South China Sea, building military structures on man-made islands there. Mischief Reef is now Beijing’s biggest outpost in the disputed waters.

“Beijing will work to make sure that a US loss is China’s gain” and build on inroads made with Duterte, Parameswaran said.

“These gains may include those that are not in the security realm, such as tightening economic ties or helping Duterte deliver on some of his domestic political goals,” Parameswaran added. “But they will nonetheless be consequential, because the broader objective is to move Duterte’s Philippines closer to China and away from the United States.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

Articles

That time a B-1 Lancer bomber made a $75 million drug bust

The B-1B Lancer is perhaps America’s most underrated heavy bomber.


For some perspective, let’s look at the specs. The Lancer can carry 84 Mk 82 500-pound bombs internally — that’s more than the B-52 or the B-2. It can carry a bunch of other weapons as well – from the AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile to the CBU-97 cluster bomb.

And the B-1 may be the one thing holding back Russia from an all-out invasion of the Baltics.

But did you know that a B-1 even foiled a plan to bring over 1,000 pounds of cocaine into the country? Here’s how that happened:

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A B-1B Lancer takes off from Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., March 27, 2011, on a mission in support of Operation Odyssey Dawn. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Marc I. Lane)

According to an Air Force Times report from last year, the B-1 had been on a routine training mission off the Florida coast in March when the crew noticed something suspicious. When they went to check it out they saw a speed boat with drug smugglers and a fresh load of cocaine.

The smugglers had no idea that they were followed until they looked up and saw the humongous bomber coming right at them. They did what just about anyone would do in that situation: They panicked.

The B-1 crew caught them on tape dumping an estimated 500 kilos of cocaine overboard. According to an Oct. 2016 report by Business Insider, each kilo was worth up to $150,000 on the street – meaning that some drug lord took a $75 million hit to his bottom line.

Now that’s a good thing.

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Photo: Courtesy US Coast Guard

You might think the crew of that B-1B got into trouble for violating the Posse Comitatus Act. Guess again – in fact, this incident inspired then-Secretary of the Air Force Deborah James to see if other training missions could be used to help in the War on Drugs. This past September, DodBuzz.com reported that a five-day training exercise last August was used to assist in a counter-drug operation that seized over 6,000 kilos of cocaine.

MIGHTY TRENDING

5 more surprising things that go against the laws of war

Lines get blurred on the battlefield. The only thing that clearly gives one side the moral high ground is their ability to follow the rules of law. Sure, it may make troops fight with one hand tied behind their back, but it is a line that should never be crossed.


The laws of war are clearly defined by the International Committee of the Red Cross, United Nations, and the International Criminal Court. Many laws are self-explanatory. In general, they state that wars are only to be fought among the fighters and all collateral damage should be limited — that wars be fought to end the enemy, not cause suffering.

Related video:

While the overarching themes may be self-evident, there are many laws in place to prevent a sort of domino effect from happening — one that would eventually cause unnecessary harm or death. We’ve discussed a few of the more obscure laws in a previous article, but there are still plenty to discuss.

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Even if the phrase is spoken in jest by someone with authority over another, it’s a war crime.

(Photo by Sgt. Ken Scar)

Saying the phrase, “no quarter given” (Fourth Hague Convention. Article 23 (d))

Because anything said by a commander or a leader is to be taken as a direct order, even just uttering the phrase, “no quarter given” is against the laws of war — regardless of the circumstance.

Quarter, or the act of taking prisoners of war, should always be a top priority if any combatant has surrendered or has lost the ability to fight. This is such a big deal that it is clearly given its own rule.

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It’s one or the other. Not both.

(Photo by Staff Sgt. Zachary Holden)

Using CS gas on combatants (Chemical Weapons Convention Art I (5))

The use of riot control gas is a gray area. It is deployed in moments of civil unrest, but it cannot be used in addition to deadly force.

Meaning, against a large crowd of aggressive (but not violent) protesters, non-lethal CS gas may be used to accomplish dispersion. The reason such gas is banned from war, however, is because it removes combatants from a fight and causes unnecessary suffering. If the goal is to detain the combatant, it’s fine. The moment someone opens fire on an incapacitated individual, however, it’s a war crime.

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Besides, light blue isn’t really a choice camouflage pattern in most environments.

(Photo by Lance Cpl. Maximiliano Rosas)

Using light blue headgear in combat (Geneva Convention Prot. I Art. 85)

There aren’t too many wrong answers in designing a combat uniform. As long as it follows the general color palette of a given area, it’s usually fair game and used by nearly everyone. The only color that is strictly off-limits is the shade of blue used by UN peacekeepers.

The use of light blue on headgear may misrepresent a combatant’s intentions. The light blue headgear is officially recognized because it can be seen from a distance. UN Peacekeepers have their own guidelines, which include never initiating combat unless absolutely necessary. And attacking a UN peacekeeper opens up an entirely different can of worms.

Those who are not with the UN are forbidden from using this color.

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Their focus is healing the injured and wounded. Anything that prevents them from saving any life should be avoided.

(Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Steve Smith)

Even slightly interfering with Red Cross workers (First Geneva Convention Art. 9)

Medical professionals with the International Red Cross are heavily protected by the laws of war. It’s fairly well known that harming them is a war crime and forcibly stopping them from giving aid is also a war crime. What you might not know is that “interfering with an aid worker” is loosely defined — and for good reason.

In the past, combatants would stop aid workers from leaving their area so that they only give aid to their troops. But Red Cross workers aren’t supposed to take sides. They need to be able to give equal and unbiased treatment to all wounded on the battlefield.

Anything more than a routine security check is off-limits.

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Military necessity may require troops to engage the enemy on a farm and accidents, unfortunately, happen. But willfully attacking a civilian’s livestock is not necessary.

(Photo by Pfc. David Devich)

Anything involving fresh waterways or farms (Geneva Convention Prot. I Art. 51-54)

Intentionally damaging a drinking well is punishable by The Hague. Unintentionally doing so is treated just as harshly.

There is the caveat of “military necessity,” which would protect a combatant that is forced to fight on a farm or a river that is used as drinking water. Ideally, all fighting would take place where, without a shadow of a doubt, no food or water will be poisoned or damaged by conflict. Sometimes, however, you’re not given a choice.

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