How this soldier became the first enlisted female Army ranger - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

How this soldier became the first enlisted female Army ranger

As Staff Sgt. Amanda Kelley made her way through mountainous terrain in the midst of a scorching Georgia summer in 2018, she admittedly struggled, carrying more than 50 pounds of gear during a patrol exercise.

Tired and physically drained, her body had withstood nearly a month of training in the Army’s most challenging training school. She had already suffered a fracture in her back in an earlier phase and suffered other physical ailments.

But then she looked to her left and right and saw her fellow Ranger School teammates, many of whom she outranked.

“I know that I have to keep going,” said Kelley, the first enlisted female graduate of the Army Ranger School at Fort Benning. “Because if I quit, or if I show any signs of weakness, they’re going to quit.”


In the middle of 21 grueling training days in northeast Georgia, Kelley knew if she could weather the mountain phase of the Army’s Ranger School, she and her teammates would reach a new pinnacle, a critical rite of passage for Ranger students. The electronic warfare specialist spent 21 days in the mountains which includes four days of mountaineering, five days of survival techniques training and a nine-day field training exercise. She had already been recycled in the school’s first phase and didn’t want to relive that experience.

How this soldier became the first enlisted female Army ranger

Staff Sgt. Amanda F. Kelley marches in formation during her Ranger School graduation at Fort Benning, Ga., Aug. 31, 2018.

(Photo by Patrick A. Albright)

“It’s not about you at that moment,” Kelley said. “It’s about the people around you. You don’t realize in that moment how many people look up to you until you complete it. Everybody has those trying periods because those mountains are really rough.”

Her graduation from Ranger School paved the way for her current assignment as an electronic warfare specialist with the Third Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Since 2016, more than 1,200 female soldiers have entered combat career fields, including field artillery, armor and infantry.

Kelley said the Ranger training pushed her to meet the same standards as her male counterparts. She finished the 16-mile ruck march in under three hours.

“You literally go through the same thing,” Kelley said. “It’s not any different … You do the same thing that they do. That’s the greatest thing about Ranger School: there’s one set standard, across the board.”

Taking the easy road has never been how Kelley has lived her life. As a teenager she competed as a centerfielder on boy’s baseball teams. She also was on her high school’s track team. Growing up in the small rural community of Easley, South Carolina, she had few mentors as a teen.

“I just wanted to be somebody,” Kelley said. “And I also want to be someone that others can look up to. I didn’t have that growing up. We don’t all come from a silver spoon background; some of us have to fight for things.”

She joined the Army on a whim in 2011, considering joining the service only six months prior to enlisting. She admired the Army’s rigid discipline and high standards.

“Better opportunities,” was one reason Kelley said she joined the Army. “I wanted to get out of where I was.”

Kelley wanted to reach even higher. The 30-year-old wanted to one day become sergeant major of the Army and let her supervisors know that it wasn’t some pipe dream. After an Iraq deployment with the 1st Armored Division, Kelley’s battalion commander, Lt. Col. Mike Vandy, told her that attending Ranger School would help chart her path to success.

How this soldier became the first enlisted female Army ranger

A family member places the Army Ranger tab on Staff Sgt. Amanda Kelley’s uniform.

(Photo by Patrick A. Albright)

“When I went to Ranger School, I didn’t go so I could be the first (enlisted female),” Kelley said. “I went so that I could be sergeant major of the Army. And I want to be competitive with my peers.”

After Kelley decided to apply for Ranger School, she spent five months physically preparing herself and studying while deployed. Her roommate in Iraq, former Staff Sgt. Mychal Loria, said Kelley would work 12-hour shifts, workout twice a day and still found time for study. At the same time, she helped mentor other soldiers.

“She just exemplified the perfect NCO; always there for her soldiers,” Loria said.

Kelley praised former Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel Dailey for helping create more opportunities for women in combat career fields. Since the first two female graduates — Capt. Kristen Griest and then-1st Lt. Shaye Haver — completed Ranger training in 2015, more than 30 female soldiers have earned their Ranger tab. Sgt. 1st Class Janina Simmons became the first African American woman to graduate from the course earlier this year.

Kelley said has begun preparation for a six-month deployment to an undisclosed location. The South Carolina native said she looks forward to using many of the skills she learned during her time training to be an Army Ranger.

The eight-year Army vet said the Third Special Forces group has fostered a welcome environment for unit members, offering a wealth of training opportunities to help advance her career, including electronics and intelligence courses.

Kelley offered some advice for soldiers who may be considering Ranger School or other certifications to advance their careers.

“Soldiers need to understand that sometimes things you had planned change,” she said. “So just be open-minded to new things and don’t be scared to go after things that seem impossible. Because nothing’s impossible if somebody’s done it before you.”

This article originally appeared on United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The 101st Airborne now has the Army’s new modular handgun

U.S. Army weapons officials have begun fielding the new Modular Handgun System under a plan to issue the service’s new sidearm all the way down to the team-leader level.


Soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) at Fort Campbell, Ky. began receiving the new XM17 MHS on Nov. 27 and spent time shooting the new pistol Nov. 29, according to Lt. Col. Martin O’Donnell, a spokesman for the 101st Airborne.

The 101st received more than 2,000 MHS on Nov. 17 and plan to field the new pistols over the next year, O’Donnell said.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, attended the initial MHS fielding to about 25 soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, O’Donnell said.

How this soldier became the first enlisted female Army ranger
The M17 and M18 use the same polymer grip module and trigger group, with new slides and barrels for full-sized or compact models. (WATM Photo)

The Army awarded Sig Sauer a contract worth up to $580 million Jan. 19. Sig Sauer beat out Glock Inc., FN America, and Beretta USA, maker of the current M9 9mm service pistol, in the competition for the Modular Handgun System, or MHS, program.

The 10-year agreement calls for Sig to supply the Army with full-size XM17 and compact XM18 versions of its 9mm pistol. MHS comes with Tritium sights as well as 17 and 21-round magazines.

One of the challenges of fielding the MHS will be to develop a new training program since the current plan calls for issuing the XM17 to squad leaders and team leaders, a significant change to a policy that excluded junior leaders from carrying M9s.

“The 101st has realized that this weapon is going into a lot more hands than … what we are authorized to have as equipment,” said Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Flynn, the master gunner for the 101st Airborne.

“This weapon is going to go down to the team leader, which is not what we typically have in the 101st or across most light divisions.”

Also Read: Here’s a detailed look at the Army’s new M17 and M18 handgun — and how it shoots

The expanded policy will apply to all Army units receiving the MHS, Debra Dawson, spokeswoman for Program Executive Office Soldier told Military.com.

In addition to a standard operator’s course, “we are going to do an additional course which is basically teaching that soldier how to transition from that pistol to his M4 and the M4 to his pistol,” Flynn said, adding that the 101st is also planning to increase pistol marksmanship training.

“We are putting this weapon into the hands of a lot of younger soldiers who have never fired it,” he said.

First Lt. Andrew Borer said “today is a pretty awesome day” after shooting the new MHS.

“The weapon itself is a very simple handgun; it’s a very easy handgun to shoot,” Borer said. “There is little to no resistance on the trigger. … It’s a very easy weapon to regain our sight picture with and to aim and fire the weapon once we have put a round down range.”

How this soldier became the first enlisted female Army ranger
The new M17 is lighter and simpler to use than the Beretta M9. (WATM Photo)

Cpl. Jory Herrmann, a team leader in C Company, said it was a great experience being of the first units to fire the MHS.

“It handled really well, very reliable,” he said. “We slung a lot of rounds down range today had little to no problems out of them. … I think it is going to be a great side arm.”

Herrmann said he was excited about the plan to issue the MHS to team leaders, like himself.

“In the heat of the fight it will give you an opportunity to maybe change up your tactics,” Herrmann said. “It will give us more choices, more options … which is great for a team leader.”

As far as the current M9 pistols, “the Army has decided that in order to maintain that lethality and ensure that everybody has what they need, we are going to maintain the 9mm Berettas until all units have qualified on MHS, Flynn said.

Jobs

How Black Rifle Coffee Company became a multi-million dollar business

The best entrepreneurs are like a good cup of coffee: fresh, strong, and bold.

Army Green Beret turned coffee brew master, Evan Hafer, is exactly that. As the CEO of Black Rifle Coffee, Hafer says they’re selling freedom, one cup at a time.


It’s a great tagline. You know what else? It’s an incredible business. The company roasts over a million pounds of coffee per year and grosses over $30 million annually. This isn’t a veteran with a hobby; this is a savvy businessman with a passion.

Here’s my 60 second interview with Evan, filmed recently at the White House.


As the CEO of StreetShares, my team and I fund America’s best veteran-owned businesses with veteran business loans, and contract or invoice financing. The questions we get asked over and over again are how to break away from the crowd; how to stand out as an entrepreneur. Here’s how:

How this soldier became the first enlisted female Army ranger
Evan Hafer, Mat Best, and the Team from Black Rifle Coffee.

Lesson 1: Find your passion.

“I fell in love with coffee 20 years ago,” Hafer told me. “I was the only guy who invaded Iraq with a bunch of boutique, small-roasted coffees.” Eventually, he began roasting for his fellow soldiers; they even converted a gun truck into a spot where they could grind coffee every morning.

To be a successful entrepreneur, the first thing you need to do is hone in on your passion. What’s going to make you want to get out of bed every day and hit the pavement until you can’t work anymore? If you’re not passionate about your business, why would anyone else be? Find out what drives you, then figure out how to make money doing it.

Hafer told me, “When I got back from the Middle East, all I wanted to do was roast.” That’s exactly what he did.

How this soldier became the first enlisted female Army ranger
Evan Hafer inspecting coffee beans.

Lesson 2: Be clear in your vision.

Hafer knew his passion had potential. He teamed up with some friends at Article15 Clothing and did a test-drive of his Freedom Roast coffee on their site. They sold about 500 pounds of coffee, and it inspired him to launch Black Rifle Coffee in December 2014. “Conceptually, guns and coffee go together very well,” he said. “Every range that I’ve been to, coffee has been part of shooting.” He knew what he wanted to create: A lifestyle brand centered on supporting the 2nd Amendment in conjunction with great coffee. “You’re not going to find that anywhere else,” Hafer added.

Hafer’s time in the Army served him well in transitioning to life as an entrepreneur. “In the military, you have to push yourself past mental and physical limits, every day to the point where you’re almost desensitized to the work,” he explained. “Now I feel like I have an endless capacity to just always work. The military gave me the context to reach into basically a bottomless well of endurance.

Lesson 3: Be fearless.

One of the most important assets veteran entrepreneurs bring to the table that their civilian counterparts don’t always have is perspective. “While serving, you’ve been in the worst places,” Hafer offered. “The worst business you are put in will never compare to the worst experience that war puts you in.

“That realization is ultimately what encourages Hafer to be fearless. He explained, “I’m not going to lose my life or kill anyone. That allows me to fail and fail fast, so I can learn from my mistakes. At the end of the day, I don’t care. It doesn’t harm my ego – I just embrace the failure and move on.”

Any entrepreneur will tell you that failure is a part of the game. How you handle risk, and incorporate it into your business model will dictate whether or not you’ll be successful.

How this soldier became the first enlisted female Army ranger
Evan and Mat Best in the shop.

Lesson 4: Be you.

Hafer always wanted to roast coffee. Now, he wants to make other people a lot of money doing it. “I’d rather make 100 people millionaires than make $100 million dollars myself,” Hafer shared. “This company is a good opportunity to make money.”

One of Hafer’s first hires was a soldier who served alongside him in Afghanistan. With 86 employees, 60 percent are veterans . That was a big part of Hafer’s vision. “It’s not PR – it’s who we are,” Hafer said. “This company is about freedom. It’s not about social issues. The premise of the company is, ‘You do you.'”

Next time you go to order a latte, think about the lessons you can learn from Evan Hafer. Then order your coffee like a good entrepreneur: fresh, strong, and bold.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The 4 biggest new expenses you face when leaving the service

Leaving military life is a challenging transition for anyone, whether your service member is getting out after four years or retiring from the military after twenty years of service.

Even the most prepared may have a difficult time moving on to the civilian world when they decide leaving the military is right.

One of the biggest issues of transitioning out of the military is finances.

Ideally, military families should begin saving for life after the military long before their service member separates; but unfortunately, that isn’t always possible.


Either way, the impact on your bank account will be felt for sure. The bottom line is, we all need to start preparing for military to civilian transition no matter where we are on our military journey. If we don’t, we could be in for one heck of a case of sticker shock. Here are a few things you should start thinking about sooner rather than later.

1. Military salary vs civilian salary

If you break out your spouse’s Leave and Earnings Statement (LES), you’ll notice several different types of pay and allowances. Their “main” pay is their “base” pay, but stacked on to that are other entitlements, such as basic allowance for housing (BAH) and basic allowance for subsistence (BAS), as well as other special pay and allowances. All of these different types of pay ultimately make up your service member’s salary.

How this soldier became the first enlisted female Army ranger

In order to keep the same exact lifestyle you’re accustomed to now, start taking a look at the job market and looking at the salary ranges for civilian positions with your service member’s skill set. Sometimes it can be a significant bump in salary to find a civilian job doing pretty much what they’re doing now. Other times, you may find that civilian salaries hover around your service member’s base pay…without the bells and whistles of other allowances. You’ll want to take this into account well before transition is on your radar.

2. No More BAH

As military families, we’re not often afforded the opportunity to decide where we live, but as civilians we can move wherever we choose. As previously mentioned, BAH is an entitlement that’s tacked on in addition to our service member’s base pay. Once our service members exit the military, that money will cease to exist (unless we take that income loss into account when negotiating future salaries with civilian employers). Even if your family is retiring from military service, the lack of BAH might be a hard pill to swallow the first few months, so it’s best to start saving up for a transition buffer now. You’ll ideally want to add a 6-12 month buffer of savings to your exit strategy, which could take a while to accrue.

3. Taxes

Right now, our tax liability as military families is truly not a lot. But once we enter the civilian world, that tax bill will come to roost, so be prepared. You may not be subject to state taxes now, but if you decide to stay in the state you’re currently stationed in, you’ll need to crunch some numbers to see just how high your tax bill will rise. When leaving the military, you may want to consider moving to a state that doesn’t have income taxes. If your service member plans to retire, be sure to look at whether or not your state will tax their retirement pay. Wherever you plan to live after the military, you’ll want to decide where you’ll get the most bang for your buck.

How this soldier became the first enlisted female Army ranger

4. Medical costs

Medical costs are yet another expense you’ll have on the “outside.” Say what you will about TRICARE; the fact is that we’ll all be paying more for our healthcare once our service member takes off their uniform. If your spouse isn’t retiring from the military, your family will need to secure healthcare through other means, whether that’s a civilian employer or the healthcare exchange. If your service member ever served in combat, they have the option to receive VA healthcare for up to five yearsafter leaving the military, even if they don’t have a service-connected disability. But the VA only covers the family so you will need to talk with your spouse about finding a civilian insurance plan.

For those service members retiring from military service, you’ll still have access to TRICARE…but you’ll still have expenses. In addition to premiums, you’ll now have the added expense of co-pays. Thanks to the recent TRICARE reform, retirees using TRICARE now have higher co-pays. While $30 per specialty visit doesn’t seem like a whole lot, imagine having physical therapy twice a week, to the tune of $240 a month.

Whether your service member ends up getting out after four years or retires after serving twenty, you need to start preparing financially NOW. Even if they just re-enlisted for another tour, plan as if you’re leaving the military next year. Pay down your debt, start a transition savings account, and start researching where your family will set down their roots once military life is over.

I’m not telling you all of this to scare you. I’m telling you all of this because transition is NO JOKE and we all need to be prepared. These are the realities and how your family prepares for these realities will ultimately determine how positive or negative the impact of your transition to civilian life will be.

This article originally appeared on Military Spouse. Follow @MilSpouseMag on Twitter.

Articles

US special operators are inviting these companies to the ‘Thunderdrone’

It’s not just about air shows or conferences anymore for defense aerospace companies.


Firms are showcasing their goods for US military leaders outside the usual weapons buying process, facing off with one another to prove who has the best platform — and who could win the big contracts.

“We’re experimenting and innovating, and we’re doing it in new and faster ways,” Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said August 9 during a media day for the service’s “light attack experiment” at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, the most recent opportunity for plane-makers to strut their stuff.

How this soldier became the first enlisted female Army ranger

She also gave a sneak peek into the service’s plans for more rapid acquisition experiments in the future, including an upcoming drone battle dubbed, “Thunderdrone.”

Wilson said the service wants to look at drone swarm data and performance, and other ways small unmanned aerial surveillance vehicles can be used on the battlefield and beyond.

The Thunderdrone drone-battle event, to be held September 5 through November 3, will take place in a “state-of-the-art, 7,000 square-foot, indoor drone test range for drone experimentation, prototyping, and testing,” according to its host, Tampa-based SOFWERX.

SOFWERX is a partnership between US Special Operations Command and the Doolittle Institute, a rapid innovation office that works to bring service members collaborative solutions by connecting private companies with the Defense Department.

How this soldier became the first enlisted female Army ranger
USMC photo by Sgt. Lucas Hopkins

Thunderdrone will bring together defense, industry, and academia to test “drones (sea, land, air, and space), tactical swarms, payloads (kinetic/non-kinetic), and their associated data science applications for the Special Operations community,” SOFWERX says.

Part of the “rapid prototyping event” aims to apply innovative thinking to “existing or envisioned ​voids” warfighters may face and come up with solutions, the organization’s website says.

How a drone’s performance will be measured has not been disclosed, but the special operations community will give feedback, the site says.

In addition, “using SOF and USSOCOM feedback, Thunderdrone may also pick and fund a select few technologies for further development following the [rapid prototyping event],” SOFWERX says.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How this Civil War spy became a legendary lawman in the Wild West

Pop culture always tells the stories of the outlaws of the Wild West. Lying, cheating, drinking, robbing banks, holding up train cars, getting into shootouts at high noon — these are all objectively cool things that make for great tales, but they’re often overplayed for the sake of storytelling.

In reality, the Wild West was much tamer than most storytellers make it out to be. You were much more likely to die of some mundane and awful illness, like dysentery, than be gunned down in the streets as part of a duel. This is because the lawmen of the time were experts at what they did. And that’s all thanks to one former spy: Allan Pinkerton.


How this soldier became the first enlisted female Army ranger

Sometimes, it pays to help out a small-time lawyer with big aspirations.

(National Archives)

Allan Pinkerton first got into detective work before the Civil War. He was living in Chicago when he developed a grudge with the Banditti of the Prairie Gang. They suspected his home was used as a stop on the Underground Railroad, so they sacked it. In response, Pinkerton trailed the Banditti of the Prairie Gang, infiltrated their hideout, and observed their activities. He compiled a detailed report, handed it over to the Chicago Police Department, and they successfully took down the gang.

For his actions, he was given the title of Detective and went on to found the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. His first jobs mostly consisted of protecting abolitionist meetings, aiding John Brown during his raid of Harpers Ferry, and investigating a series of train robberies on the Illinois Central Railroad. His contact for the railroad gig was the company’s lawyer, a man by the name of Abraham Lincoln.

How this soldier became the first enlisted female Army ranger

If you look at the guy’s track record, pretty much all detective, security, and bodyguard work in America can all be tracked to Pinkerton. He was kinda like the real life Sherlock Holmes.

(White House photo by Chuck Patch)

Detective Pinkerton was the first man the then-President-elect Lincoln called when he caught wind of an assassination attempt on his life. The killers planned on striking when Lincoln was en route to his inauguration. But when he successfully made it there in one piece (albeit a bit late), Pinkerton’s skills got national recognition.

He was given command over the Union Intelligence Service, a predecessor of the U.S. Army Counterintelligence Command. Despite his high authority, he would often go out on spy missions in the deep South himself. Eventually, Pinkerton handed the reins to Lafayette Baker, who’d later also head the Secret Service (a Pinkerton product, as well).

How this soldier became the first enlisted female Army ranger

Pinkerton was probably the last man on Earth criminals would want to piss off.

(Library of Congress)

When the war came to an end, Pinkerton went right back to working with the Pinkerton Detective Agency and set his eyes on the Western Frontier. Together with his agency, Pinkerton tracked down the Reno Gang, the Wild Bunch (which included Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), and the James-Younger Gang, the outfit of the legendary outlaw, Jesse James.

One day, the James-Younger Gang robbed the Adams Express Company, a railroad fund out of Baltimore, and the Pinkertons were hired to recover what was stolen. The gang eluded the Pinkertons for a while, until Allan Pinkerton sent two of his best agents to infiltrate their hideout. Both of Pinkerton’s men were killed in a shootout with the outlaws, but not before taking a few of the Younger brothers with them.

How this soldier became the first enlisted female Army ranger

The Pinkerton Detective Agency is still active today, it’s just rebranded as “Securitas AB.”

(Securitas AB)

The railroad fund pulled the contract, but by that point, it had become a personal vendetta for Pinkerton. He personally led a raid in January, 1875, with nearly every agent at his disposal. They surrounded the homestead hideout and torched it when the gang started opening fire. They captured the gang members who were there, but Jesse James himself was missing.

The raid left the gang in such a terrible state that they were all but disbanded after they tried to recoup their losses with a failed bank robbery. Jesse James’ life as an outlaw was effectively ended with Allan Pinkerton’s raid. From then on, he’d live in hiding, sneaking out for the occasional robbery, until his eventual death at the hands of Robert Ford.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Watch this former Navy SEAL break the world wing suit record for charity

Former Navy SEAL Andy Stumpf wants to raise $1 million for the Navy SEAL Foundation, a non-profit that supports the families of fallen SEALs, by jumping out of a plane at 36,500 feet. His jump aims to break the wing suit overland distance world record of 17.83 miles.


Please help Andy raise $1 million for the Navy SEAL Foundation by donating to his GoFundMe page.

MIGHTY STORIES

Mighty Stories: Remembering my big, bad Green Beret, SSG Michael H. Simpson

Mighty Stories is a weekly WATM feature highlighting the stories of veterans, active duty and military families. This week’s feature is Krista Simpson Anderson – Army wife, Gold Star wife, founder of the nonprofit The Unquiet Professional.

I grew up in Hampton, Massachusetts – a little town right outside of Springfield. My father served in the U.S. Air Force from 1967-1971, but it was before I was born. My mom’s side of the family also served, but it wasn’t something we talked about. I was blissfully ignorant about military life.

I met Mike in June 2006. He was a friend of my cousin’s. My cousin was deploying to Iraq and my aunt was having a deployment party for him. She flew in a few of his friends that had been in the Old Guard with him, and she called me and asked me to help her with the guys flying in.

I walked into the Toasted Owl Tavern in Northhampton, and there he was.


It was love at first sight. I remember my cousin saying to me, ‘I’m going to disown you both if you get married.’ But we were fixed on each other. The whole world could have come crashing down around us and we wouldn’t have noticed.

In August 2006, Mike’s whole unit transferred to Germany. I went out to visit him for Thanksgiving. In September of 2007, he deployed to Iraq. He came out to Rhode Island to my family’s home before he left and we spent a week together. I was working in the restaurant business at the time of his deployment, so I took a couple of different jobs, one in St. Thomas, one in New York. But we stayed in contact.

In April 2008, during his mid-tour leave, he invited me to his brother David and sister-in-law Kelsey’s wedding in Texas. During their rehearsal dinner in his parents’ backyard, he went to give his best man’s speech and we all thought it would be something funny. He was so goofy, it was hard to imagine him doing something serious. Now mind you, he served in the military in the Old Guard so he clearly had to be serious for work. But the first thing out of his mouth was, ‘Be each other’s compass.’

I was blown away.

How this soldier became the first enlisted female Army ranger

Mike and Krista. Photo courtesy of Krista Simpson Anderson.

That night, he walked me to my room – we were all staying with his parents – and he told me he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me. And he asked me, ‘Will you be my wife?’ I knew that it had been a long night of celebrating so I told him that if he felt the same way in the morning we could talk about it. I went to sleep dreaming of the rest of our lives together.

The next morning over a cup of coffee at the counter, Mike looked at me and said, ‘I don’t feel any differently than I did last night. I want you to be my wife. I want to spend the rest of my life with you.’ I said yes, of course. We kept this a secret because it was not our day – it was David and Kelsey’s wedding day, and we knew his oldest brother, Isaac, was going to be proposing to his now wife, Vanessa, the next day. We told his sister, Abby, and then swore her to secrecy.

A few days after the wedding we announced our good news and decided to marry as soon as Mike returned from his deployment.

Mike went back to Iraq a week later, and returned in October 2008 to Germany. We met back up in Tennessee for Isaac and Vanessa’s wedding in November. December 20, 2008, we married in Rhode Island, and the first week of January he returned to Germany. We decided to live apart until his orders came through to start the Special Forces Qualification course so he wouldn’t need to extend in Germany.

I went to Germany to see him in February for his birthday, and I came home and found out I was pregnant with our first son a month later. I was working at a restaurant as a manager and living with my parents in Rhode Island awaiting orders. By September 2009 we were finally living together in Fort Bragg, NC and our son Michael was born October 22nd.

I remember taking “SF101” (Special Forces 101) for the spouses and the emphasis was put on how long our husbands would be away from home. Everything was about not getting our hopes up for birthdays, holidays, special occasions and being a family during those times. They really wanted to prepare us for the let downs of our military career. No one ever told me the incredible things our husbands would be doing while away from home and that every mission would be for the good of our nation. No one ever told me about the amazing and wonderful things we would be doing for our families while they were away. No one ever told me how, as spouses, we would show up for each other, in good times and in bad. No one ever told me that we would all be changing the world together – them abroad and us on the homefront.

How this soldier became the first enlisted female Army ranger

Mike, Krista and their two boys. Photo courtesy of Krista Simpson Anderson.

Mike graduated in March 2011 and then reported July 10 for a Special Forces billet at 4th BN, Charlie Company, 1st Special Forces Group at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. I got out there August 1 with Michael who was just about two, and pregnant with Gabriel. We closed on our first house on my birthday, September 23.

As soon as our household goods arrived, Mike was off on a TDY (Temporary Duty) so I set up the house with my two year old and called my Mom and Aunt in for reinforcements to paint beige the mustard yellow walls and ceiling our new home offered.

When home, Mike was a present and incredibly fun daddy. He played this game called Daddy T-Rex. He would hold Gabe and chase Mic around the house, pretending to be a dinosaur. They would also lie on the floor and play Legos, have mini race-car races all the while tapping into Mike’s very present childlike spirit. He’d say to me, ‘I can’t wait until they’re older so we can do more fun things.’ He couldn’t wait to play basketball, soccer and teach them to ride bikes.

On 6 April 2013, Mike deployed with his company to eastern Afghanistan. Less than three weeks later I received the call every military spouse prays they’ll never get.

How this soldier became the first enlisted female Army ranger

Mike, right, with a battle buddy. Photo courtesy of Krista Simpson Anderson.

The day before the call, Mike and I were texting back and forth and I was telling him how grateful I was to be his wife. I asked him to marry me all over again. I said, ‘I love you more today than I ever have. You have brought so much joy to my life that it overwhelms me. Will you marry me… Again?’ We were going to meet in Mexico with our families around Christmas and I told him I wanted to do it then. He wrote back, ‘Yes!’

On April 27, I had just put Gabriel down for a nap (he was 16 months) and I heard my phone ringing. I ran down the stairs to an ‘Unknown’ caller and answered what I can only assume must have been the last ring. It was (now Lieutenant Colonel) Major Jamie Alden, and he said ‘Hi, Krista? This is Major Alden.’ It didn’t even dawn on me why the company commander would be calling me from Afghanistan.

He asked me where I was, and I told him I was at home. He asked where the boys were, and I told him Mic was in the other room and I’d just put Gabe down for a nap.

He said, ‘I need you to sit down.’

You know that feeling when it seems that your brain starts going numb and it begins to rush through your whole body? Luckily I made it to the other room and sat down near the boys’ toys – on a bean bag chair.

‘Michael is alive, but he is in critical condition. There was an accident; he hit an IED while riding an ATV. He has a lower right leg amputation and there has been severe trauma to his right arm. We know there is shrapnel damage, we just are not sure where and the extent. Again, he is alive, but he is critical.’

I had to stop him. I couldn’t process anything and I knew I wouldn’t be able to remember anything else he was saying. I ran across the street and banged on my neighbor Kate’s door, and her daughter opened it. She was supposed to be coming over anyway to watch the boys since we had a neighborhood clean-up scheduled and I was president of the homeowners association. She ran to stay with the boys while Kate got on the phone with Major Alden. It took some convincing for him to speak to her but he finally agreed, understanding my emotional state.

I watched her as she spoke to him but I couldn’t hear her. I could hear sounds, just not the words, as if my ears were blocked. Kate handed the phone back to me and I thanked him, and he reminded me that we were family, that his wife Susan would be calling me soon, and that everything was going to be okay.

How this soldier became the first enlisted female Army ranger

Mike, before the attack. Photo courtesy of Krista Simpson Anderson.

I got off the phone and had to start making phone calls. I walked with my phone in my hand across the grass toward our friends, Alan and Angie’s, house. They were laying out a tarp for mulch on their driveway when they looked over. It must have been written all over my face because they rushed to me and caught me before I fell to my knees. Alan was the commander of an EOD unit on JBLM and assured me everything was going to be ok. Angie was by my side and provided support in any way I needed.

I wanted to close my eyes and wake up from the nightmare but I couldn’t. I was a Green Beret’s wife and the mother of two future Green Berets. I said to myself, ‘Pull yourself together, handle your business- he’s not dead and is going to need you to be strong!’

I stood outside, barefoot, on the cold pavement. The bottoms of my feet still get cold remembering those moments. I tried calling Mike’s parents but there was no answer. I tried calling my parents and no answer again. I called his brother Isaac, who was also a Green Beret who was in North Carolina doing his instructor rotation. I said, ‘It’s Mike. He’s alive but he hit an IED and he’s in surgery. It’s critical.’

I can still hear his scream.

Isaac had witness IED attacks before and he knew the gravity of this news. Isaac and Vanessa would make the calls to the rest of the Simpson family as I continued my calls from the floor of our parish where I sat and prayed. Once my parents were notified, my mother arrived from Rhode Island to our home in Olympia, Washington, 12 hours later.

1st Special Forces Group (1st SFG) at JBLM welcomed me in every morning to call Afghanistan for updates. LTC David Haight would call Bagram ICU and translate their medical report for me whether at that morning meeting or 1am. We would share our information, formulate a plan and I would leave the table every morning stronger than I arrived. Monday, 29 April, I called the hospital myself. The doctor that answered told me he was sorry, but that Mike didn’t have a gag or corneal reflex and that he would not live.

I thanked him and his team for caring for him so well. I went downstairs to tell my mother before the boys awoke and then retreated to my room where I called my cousin Alicia and friend Andrea. I begged Alicia to wake me up and take this away.

The medical team cared for Mike so well they were able to transfer him from Afghanistan to Landstuhl Army Medical Center in Germany. We got the green light to go to Germany as soon as Mike was in the air from AFG. They couldn’t cut orders or book our flights until they knew Mike was surviving the altitude. They performed emergency surgery on the plane and worked tirelessly to keep him alive even though they knew the outcome. When they arrived in Germany, one of Mike’s closest friends from the Special Forces Qualification Course was there awaiting his arrival. Casey served with another Special Forces Group and was training in the area when we received the news.

As I traveled to Germany, my Casualty Assistance Officer (CAO) SFC Gerry DeMarzo and Chaplain Johnny Elder escorted me. What a blessing they were for so many reasons I couldn’t possibly list in short. The ‘behind the scenes’ had so many issues getting us all there but with the help from the Green Beret Foundation, Special Operations Warrior Foundation, USO, Fisher House Foundation and Care Coalition on top of 1st SFG, I arrived and met Mike’s parents, siblings and spouses to be with Mike.

Upon arrival, my only request was that I got to see him first. I wanted to clean him up before his mom saw him. Silly, but it was all I could think of. I got to the hospital and Casey was at the door with SFC Doug Way. (They both never once left us. Casey stayed at Mike’s bedside and Doug would either be standing outside his hospital room or kneeling outside the room praying.)

I never lost hope.

‘Maybe he will heal and maybe the doctors were wrong,’ I kept telling myself.

Casey and Doug greeted me, offered their condolences and I entered the room.

There he was.

My big bad Green Beret laying broken and vulnerable. I had never felt so helpless in all of my life.

All I could manage was a whisper… ‘Dear Lord, please help us.’

On 1 May 2013, as we all stood around Mike’s bed, Dr. Betts informed us that Mike was in fact brain dead. I asked, ‘Can his brain heal?’ rationally knowing the answer, but I had to ask. ‘No ma’am, the brain can not heal from these injuries,’ he said. I nodded my head in understanding, saw the very real pain in his parents’ and siblings’ faces, said, ‘Thank you,’ and then ran out.

I ran left out of the room, through the ICU doors into the hall toward the stairs, down the stairs and out of the hospital hoping I could run away from this earth-shattering moment in my life and somehow, when I returned, everything would be ok – Mike would wake, he would rehab and our lives would go on … Together.

I stopped and Gerry and Doug were not too many steps behind me. Gerry never let me out of his sight for a moment; he was my greatest advocate and protector. He always told me he took care of our family the way he would have wanted his family taken care of if something were to have happened to him. When I returned to the hospital, I went back in and I didn’t leave Mike’s side except for an hour to take care of the paperwork I needed to sign.

The rest of that day we would call all the family and friends we could connect with so they could say their goodbyes. I would call and inform them of Mike’s diagnosis, tell them how sorry I was but that it was time for them to say goodbye if they wished. I would put the phone down on Mike’s pillow next to his ear, believing he would receive their love and pain through their words.

I wanted everyone to have the opportunity to say whatever they wanted and needed to for some closure. Our family and friends stateside would say goodbye as well as Charlie Company, 4th BN, 1st SFG. Mike’s team was sure he would survive, so my news was heartbreaking to them … Mike was their brother.

One of Mike’s friends and teammates brought me to my knees with his heartfelt message that his wife would transcribe for me later. His words were, ‘For Mike: Hey buddy. Have no fear, you’re the realest Green Beret now. You did it all. Thanks for all the bravo advice and an invitation to be a part of your family. I will never forget our time together and will do anything for your family. R.I.P. brother. I love you. One more thing – thank you for the greatest sacrifice one can make. My prayer to you … Now I lay you down to sleep, I pray the Lord your soul to keep. If you should die before you wake, bless Mikey Lord, his soul to take.’

Once the last call was made I think my body and mind knew it and I needed to rest. I asked the hospital staff if they could move Mike over so I could lie next to him in his hospital bed. I laid there and just listened to his heart beat. I prayed until I drifted off to sleep. Around 4 am, the nurse came in and wanted to change his dressings and clean him up. I asked if I could help, so she brought in soapy water and a washcloth. She changed his dressings while I cleaned him up. Around 9 pm, they came in to get him for organ donor surgery. I stayed with him while they got him ready to be moved. I walked to the door holding his hand as they started to wheel him out, and didn’t want to let go.

This was it.

I would never see his chest rise and fall or hear his beating heart again. ‘I’M NOT READY!’ I screamed in my head.

But … with as much grace as I could, I leaned down and kissed him one last time and whispered, ‘I love you all the world. I promise you I will take care of our boys, and we will always remember you.’

They wheeled his bed out and I stood in the empty, cold hospital room alone. ‘What now?’ I asked. ‘How do I live without you?’

We came back from Germany to Dover for the dignified transfer on 7 May 2013. He was supposed to be the only casket on the flight, but seven other soldiers were killed just days before, so we were with their families. These families didn’t have what we did. They didn’t have the chance to say goodbye. They watched their loved one get on the plane for deployment and then their casket come off in Dover.

It started to rain as we stood out on the tarmac, so hard it was sideways. My mother in law had an umbrella and was also trying to wrap me in her jacket to protect me. I told her I was okay without it, because I wanted to feel everything; the rain, the heartache, the fear. I had to face that moment.

As the caskets were taken off the plane I could hear the rain and the wailing from mothers and fathers who lost their sons, siblings who lost their brothers, spouses who lost their husbands and children who lost their fathers. I felt as though I was hovering over myself, looking down in disbelief that this was now my journey.

I flew home to Washington after being gone for 10 days. I could never spend a few hours away from my boys without missing them terribly. This time I was afraid to see them. What would I say? How would I tell them their Daddy wasn’t coming home?

How this soldier became the first enlisted female Army ranger

Mike’s dignified transfer. Photo courtesy of Krista Simpson Anderson.

I sat Michael (age 3) down and asked, ‘Do you believe in God?’

‘Yes Mommy,’ he said.

‘Even though you can’t see Him?’ I asked.

‘Yes of course Mommy!’ he replied.

‘You know Daddy is a soldier?’

‘Yes,’ he answered.

I looked into his eyes and softly said, ‘Well, Daddy is going to be God’s soldier now.’

‘But I will miss him,’ he said.

‘Me too.’

It would have been easy to sit down and focus on all the tragedy. My husband, my best friend, the father of my two beautiful boys was gone. I was a 35 year old widow who didn’t have enough time with the love of my life. Mike and I always told each other, ‘This love happens once in a lifetime,’ and it was gone.

My future and dreams broke into a million pieces and I had no idea how I would become whole again. And yet, somehow, I had to choose to see the incredible blessings that were happening all around us. The support from our family, friends and community; the military representatives that were assigned to us that created a beautiful journey; it was all a gift as much as my husband’s sacrifice was a gift to us all. Everybody who walked into our lives … it was nothing short of perfect.

On 30 May 2013, our Memorial Day, Mike was interred with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery by his original Old Guard unit where he served when he first joined the military in 2003.

There are many things I remember about that day. It was so hot I could feel the heat from the pavement radiate through the bottom of my sandals – a stark contrast from the cold I felt on my bare feet the day I got the call that Mike had been hit.

I remember walking for what seemed like forever with our two children, hoping to make it through the ceremony.

How this soldier became the first enlisted female Army ranger

Michael with his Daddy T-rex at Mike’s memorial. Photo courtesy of Krista Simpson Anderson.

And I remember thinking that this place, Arlington National Cemetery, had always been one of my favorite places to be. It’s so peaceful. It’s filled with a clear and strong sense of honor and courage, but in that moment I didn’t feel brave at all.

There were over 100 people in attendance to show their love and support, not just for Mike, but for us as well. My dear friend Andrea Rinaldi was one of them. She stayed by my side through it all, from the very beginning of our journey, and selflessly gave of her time and heart. The service, experience and support of so many was humbling, and I will always be grateful.

Finally, I remember the boys and I receiving the folded flags. How do you process receiving a folded flag in the place of your Daddy when you’re only three years old? Michael was given the flag, but really only wanted his Daddy T-Rex. As I held our 16 month old, I watched as Gerry, our Casualty Assistance Officer, took a knee, and took Michael’s flag for him. I love this picture – this moment in time – as it truly captures how Gerry so beautifully served our family.

Mike’s company would continue their deployment for six more months after Mike’s death. One of his teammates stated during his memorial, ‘This Team… This company… This regiment, will never forget your sacrifice. Each day when we don our kit and prepare for battle, we will do it in your honor. We will take the fight to the enemy and fight how you would have wanted us to. Never faltering… Never failing… and never forgetting. This fight is over for you brother, but know that it is not over for us. We will continue in your honor and remember you as a husband, a father, and a Green Beret.’

I attended the homecoming for the first flight that came in from Afghanistan. I was grateful to be there yet nervous about my emotions. As we waited in the company I was approached by a woman in the hallway. ‘Mrs. Simpson,’ she said. ‘I am not sure if this is an appropriate time but I wanted to introduce myself and tell you that I was one of Mike’s nurses in Afghanistan.’ I am sure I hugged her immediately and was so grateful to lay my hands on someone who was there, with Mike, during the scariest moments of his life. It was a blessing I can’t explain. She was one of many who saved Mike so our family could say goodbye. She was, and still is, my angel. I am blessed by her and her whole family to this day.

When the buses arrived carrying Mike’s company we all rushed outside to greet them. The minds and hearts of so many wives and children were eased and made whole again. I truly was so happy for them, yet I subconsciously waited for Mike to get off that bus. The last man embarked and I was sure Mike would be next. The door closed and the bus drove away.

In the distance, I heard the shriek of a little girl, calling, ‘Daddy! Daddy!’ and as I turned to look, I saw her run and jump into a man’s arms who wore the same uniform as all the other soldiers … the same one Mike would have been wearing, with the same wide arms he would have caught our sons in. But it wasn’t him and it never would be. My heart shattered all over again and I needed to turn and walk inside to face this emotion alone. I couldn’t allow anyone to think I was not grateful their husbands came home, because I was, wholeheartedly, but that didn’t take away my pain.

I went home that night with a folded flag that was flown over Mike’s camp in Afghanistan. My dear friend laid next to me as I cried myself to sleep and she didn’t leave my side until she knew I was okay.

Over the next several months I was constantly at the battalion, offering help, wanting to talk to them to make sure they were doing okay. I know it was difficult for them to see me since I was a reminder of the reality of Mike’s death. I know many struggled with his loss and I recognized very quickly that survivor’s guilt was a very real emotion. They needed to know that this was God’s plan, not ours, and He doesn’t make mistakes. My mission was to show them that we would honor Mike, grieve his loss but we would absolutely be okay. We were strong and proud, not weak and angry. Everyone grieves differently and there is not a right or wrong way to do it. I chose grace for me, my children and his team.

One of Mike’s teammates, Gus, had done the original inventory on Mike’s things. He was able to put all of his belongings into perspective. What he was wearing the day of his accident, what certain gear meant and what it was used for. He brought back command challenge coins from the memorial in Afghanistan where they all gathered on 11 May. Gus was able to retrieve and hand carry the patches Mike wore on his helmet, along with the memorial patch he had made for their team’s uniforms. Gus would come over and play with the boys, give me a moment of rest and help anyway he could.

So many of Mike’s teammates and their families would do the same. I was so grateful for the respite since the light at the end of the deployment tunnel was extinguished for me. Mike wouldn’t return to ease the natural burdens of parenting coupled with keeping up the household alone.

I always had family dinners. From the time Mike passed, I’d send out a text at 1:00 pm on a Sunday with, ‘Family dinner at 4’ and a few hours later the house would fill with joy and laughter. What better therapy than to be surrounded by those that loved us and Mike?

Gus and I would talk a lot about Mike, his feelings of survivor’s guilt (which they all had) and spent a lot of time together over the next couple years. I started to realize I cared for Gus more than I thought was possible and wanted to see where that would lead us.

I flew down to Texas for Easter – I needed to talk to Mike’s parents. His father said to me, ‘I have four requirements: He loves you, he loves the boys, he loves Jesus and that he always shows them it’s manly to love Jesus.’ His mother said, ‘I’ve prayed since the week after Mike died that you would find somebody.’ They were my greatest supporters. And they already loved Gus. He was already a part of our family. This was a no brainer for me.

I struggled with Gus being my secret-not so secret boyfriend. I had this organization that I’d founded as a widow of an active duty service member. I was afraid. I had lost my identity as a military spouse and then I found one as a military widow. It allowed me to talk about Mike and honor him. We were afraid of what our friends might think of our relationship and the judgement that would come. In July 2016, we broke up when I realized I needed time. Ten days later, he left for Nepal with his team and during those three months I recognized all of the things I was doing wrong. I thought I was honoring Mike every day but by not honoring Gus at all, was I really? By having someone in my life who wanted to love us, take care of us and honor Mike, yet I wasn’t willing to let him in – could I be dishonoring my late husband? I used to resent the ‘widow’ title but then I found myself not wanting to let it go.

I prayed so much and I came to the conclusion that I just needed to love Gus, and show him that he was a priority. He got back from Nepal and he was still very angry with me. We met a few times to talk, took it slow and then one day I boldly told him that we were going to get married. I knew the response could have broke my heart but he was worth it.

We were worth it.

He laughed and told me softly that I had to be crazy. One month later, Gus got down on one knee on the docks in Seattle, in front of our favorite Oyster Bar (Elliotts) and asked me to marry him. Two months later, we were married in Rhode Island among our family and friends. The priest who married us had married my parents, baptized Gabriel, did last rights for Mike and his funeral in Arlington, and had confirmed and married Casey and Sandy (Mike’s friend who was with him in Germany). It was perfect.

Thanks to Michael’s kind-hearted 1st grade teacher, Ms. Petruska, my boys decided to call Gus ‘Dad’ the moment we stepped off the altar, and have not called him anything but that since. They wanted and needed a father in their lives so badly and I don’t think I realized that until then. Michael and Gabriel both repeat Ms. Petruska’s words often – ‘We have a Daddy in Heaven and a Daddy on earth.’

How this soldier became the first enlisted female Army ranger

A month after Gus and I married he deployed to Afghanistan. I woke up every morning and prayed that Gus was alive. He was so good about messaging me whenever he could to ease my mind, even though I never shared with him my fears. His heart and mind just works that way and he is always considering the times and moments I may go through in this journey and how they may be affecting me. He is constantly striving to make life easier. I pray I do the same for him.

I won’t tell you that I didn’t struggle through those six months but I can tell you I found peace in God’s plan and chose to continue to trust that His plan was greater than mine. Tragedy and loss does not have to define you or dictate the rest of your life. My story didn’t end with the loss of Mike; it began with a new chapter of hope and my choice of joy. It continued with honoring Mike and Gus giving me the greatest gift… he never makes me choose as he continues to give me the freedom to love them both.

Five years to the day that Mike touched American soil in Dover, Delaware for his dignified transfer, I landed in Washington, DC with Gus, for the Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year events with Military Spouse Magazine that would change my life. Five years to the day that Mike was flown back to Joint Base Lewis McChord to land at Grey Army Airfield, I was awarded the overall Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year. I know it’s right where I need to be, that God’s timing is perfect, and that Mike would be so proud of me. And I also know I couldn’t have done any of this without Gus or my children.

Tragedy did not dictate my life in a negative way. My goal is that other people can see that, and feel that. I remember looking at other Gold Star Spouses like Lisa Hallett and thinking, ‘If she can do it, I can do it.’ And I want other people to look at me and find hope, too.

Mike was very proud to sacrifice his life. And I am so proud to honor him.

Arlington National Cemetery is where my friend Andrea suggested a fundraiser for those who supported us and ultimately where The Unquiet Professional was born. So many organizations supported us, from the volunteers with the USO who carried my kids through the airport, the Green Beret Foundation being there for everything, or wear blue: run to remember, where I found a healthy and meaningful way to heal. I wanted to be able to pay that love back.

We now provide healthy and empowering opportunities for Gold Star Families, Veterans and their families. When Andrea suggested fundraising, she saved me that day. She saved me from the possibilities of not being able to live out my grief in a positive way. I heal as I strive to help others do the same with my ‘twice in a lifetime love’ by my side every step of the way.

Memorial Day is my favorite holiday of the year. We feel Mike’s presence and his loss every single day no matter what life brings us. But on Memorial Day, everyone thinks of all of our fallen heroes. People say when you’re having your bbq and your beer you’re not remembering the sacrifices, but I say celebrate. Celebrate their lives. Remember them.

Honor Staff Sergeant Michael Simpson and other heroes this Memorial Day by participating in The Unquiet Professional’s Virtual Memorial Day Mile. Join their Facebook group here.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Targets to take your firearms training to the next level

What do you take to the shooting range? The most thought generally goes into firearm and ammunition selection, and the contents of your range bag will include most of the other essentials: eye protection, ear protection, and various tools. But in addition to the gun and the projectile, it’s worth taking a few extra minutes to think about what you’re shooting at. While it’s easy to let targets be a part of the “range bag” — a standard piece of equipment that you need but don’t put much thought into — they should be considered for each range session based on your goals.


Targets are important, especially when it comes to defensive handgun training. The target you utilize in this type of training is going to be one of your best learning tools. Not only are they fun and mentally engaging, they also present a great opportunity to incorporate real-world scenarios. Although there are many target companies out there, RE Factor Tactical makes some of the best targets. They have a variety of real-world training targets that have long been used in the professional tactical realm and are available to civilians as well.

How this soldier became the first enlisted female Army ranger

The author used RE Factor Tactical Active Shooter Targets during a recent handgun training course.

(Photo by Karen Hunter/Coffee or Die.)

RE Factor offers a great collection of what I consider to be serious training-based targets. These include standards such as the FBI target, FLETC II target, and a Homeland Defense target, as well as some unique targets that have been designed in collaboration with other companies in the firearms and training world.

I put several RE Factor targets to the test during a recent handgun class, and they worked well. From an instructor’s perspective, I appreciated the type of paper that they were printed on. It may sound simple, but many paper targets almost disintegrate like tissue paper in the rain. These help up against the elements, but the paper wasn’t so super thick to make storing and hanging them a pain.

The primary target we used was the Active Shooter Target. This target has a picture of an armed and nefarious individual used for self-defense and close-quarters training. The target has vital zone boxes to help shooters visualize key locations of effective shot placement. I’m partial to this target as it encourages the students to focus on vital shooting points. This target also provides a different mindset as you’re looking at a person to shoot versus a bullseye. Over the weekend class, I incorporated several RE Factor targets and found each one highly beneficial.

How this soldier became the first enlisted female Army ranger

Defense Target II, with additional stickers for customization.

(Photos courtesy of RE Factor Tactical.)

Another target that stood out to me was the Defense Target II. This target is designed to give shooters an enhanced training experience by offering stickers for customization. The Defense Target II features an individual that can transform from an FBI agent to an office active shooter to a business no-shoot with the simple change of customized stickers. This allows one target to be used in multiple scenarios. Available sticker areas include the left hand, right hand, hip, and chest. Each sticker perfectly matches up with the target’s hands, chest area, or hip to create a new target scenario that appears natural to the shooter.

There are several benefits of altering aspects of the target while maintaining the same main visual element. Instructors can rapidly change the scenarios, and students are forced to look at different places on the target before deciding whether or not the target is a threat. This is a fantastic tool for scenario training. By modifying the target after a class has run a drill, the students don’t become complacent.

How this soldier became the first enlisted female Army ranger

A-Zone Splatter Target.

(Photo courtesy of RE Factor Tactical.)

For less defensive-minded shooting, I like the A-Zone Splatter Target. This design allows users to analyze shot placement with vivid orange and black splatter for improving shooting abilities. It is designed for military, law enforcement, International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC), and everyday shooters. As an instructor who looks at these targets not only by their content or image, but also by their application, I appreciate how quick and easy it is to evaluate the shots. When we don’t have to break between strings to have students go downrange and check targets, it keeps the class rolling. Logistically, it is a winner.

While targets may not seem as important as the firearm or ammunition you take to the range, proper training targets are absolutely necessary to becoming a well-trained shooter. The targets produced by veteran-led RE Factor Tactical are being utilized by those at the tip of the spear — it’s absolutely worth your time to check them out.

Navy SEAL Explains Why They Are Different From Every Other SOF Unit

www.youtube.com

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Drones are changing the way the world prepares for war

The number of countries with military drones has skyrocketed over the past decade, a new report revealed, showing that nearly 100 countries have this kind of technology incorporated into their armed forces.

In 2010, only about 60 countries had military drones, but that number has since jumped to 95, a new report from Bard College’s Center for the Study of the Drone revealed.

Dan Gettinger, the report’s author, identified 171 different types of unmanned aerial vehicles in active inventories. Around the world, there are at least 21,000 drones in service, but the number may actually be significantly higher.


“The one thing that is clear is drone proliferation is accelerating,” Michael Horowitz, a Center for New American Security (CNAS) adjunct senior fellow for technology and national security, told Insider, adding that it is particularly noteworthy that among the countries that have access to military drone technology, around 20 have armed drones, higher-end systems that are becoming more prolific.

How this soldier became the first enlisted female Army ranger

An MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle flies a combat mission over southern Afghanistan.

(Photo by Lt. Col. Leslie Pratt(

And the proliferation of drone technology is expected to continue as countries like China, which has emerged as a major exporter of unmanned systems, to include armed drones, and others export drones around the world. “Drone proliferation is inevitable,” Horowitz said, explaining that “current-generation drones are the tip of the spear for the emergence of robotics in militaries around the world.”

Newer systems are appearing at a rapid rate. “I think drones will be a ubiquitous presence on future battlefields,” Gettinger told Insider Sept. 26, 2019, explaining that drone technology is contributing to an evolution in warfare. “They represent an increase in combat capacity, an increase in the ability of a nation to wage war.”

“We are likely to see drones featuring more prominently in global events, particularly in areas that are considered to be zones of geopolitical tension,” he added, noting that “we see this playing out in the Persian Gulf, Yemen, the Ukraine, and other conflicts.”

Drones come in all shapes and sizes and levels of sophistication, and they have become important tools for both countries and non-state actors such as the Islamic State in several different countries, the Taliban in Afghanistan, and the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.

In recent months, militarized drones have made headlines globally, highlighting the importance of unmanned systems.

Over the past few weeks, for instance, the American MQ-25 Stingray, an unmanned refueling asset expected to serve aboard US carriers, completed its first flight. Russia showed off its new Okhotnik (Hunter) drone flying alongside and working together with the fifth-generation Su-57, an important first step toward manned/unmanned teaming. And, China unveiled a suspected supersonic spy drone and a stealth attack drone during preparations for its National Day celebration.

How this soldier became the first enlisted female Army ranger

Russia Su-57.

But, the incident likely the freshest in everyone’s mind is the drone and cruise missile attacks on Saudi oil sites earlier this month, when Saudi oil production was temporarily crippled by systems most air defense systems are not designed to effectively counter.

Arthur Holland Michel, who co-directs the Center for the Study of the Drone with Gettinger, previously explained to Insider that the attacks confirmed “some of the worst fears among militaries and law enforcement as to just how much damage one can do” with this kind of technology.

He called the attack a “wake-up call,” one of many in recent years.

The strikes on Saudi Arabia, which the US believes were carried out by Iran, marked the second time in just a few months the US has had to figure out how to respond to a drone-related incident involving Iran, as Iranian forces shot down an expensive US surveillance drone, specifically a RQ-4A Global Hawk high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) drone, in June 2019.

That incident nearly ignited an armed conflict between the US and Iran. President Donald Trump had plans to attack Iranian missile and radar sites in retaliation, but he called off the attack at the last minute due to concerns about possible Iranian casualties.

The US reaction, especially the president’s stated concerns that killing Iranians in response to the downing of an unmanned air asset was disproportionate, highlights the challenges of responding to attacks involving military drones.

“The US and other countries,” Gettinger explained, “will have to develop a framework for thinking about and understanding enemy unmanned systems and how to deal with them and what their responses should be. Drones are becoming a more important feature of militaries, and the US and other countries will have to have a framework for dealing with that.”

Addressing these challenges will likely become more important as the technology evolves with advancements in capability to create drones with the ability to fight like unmanned fighter aircraft, manned/unmanned teaming, and progress on swarming.

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

Articles

It’s official — the US Air Force has no idea what it’s doing trying to retire the A-10

On Wednesday, the Government Accountability Office released a scathing report about the US Air Force’s half-baked plan to replace the A-10, essentially concluding that the Air Force had no good end game in sight.


“The Department of Defense (DOD) and Air Force do not have quality information on the full implications of A-10 divestment, including gaps that could be created by A-10 divestment and mitigation options,” the report from GAO, a nonpartisan entity, states.

The A-10, a relic of the Cold War-era, flies cheap, effective sorties and is well suited to most of the US’s current operations. But surprisingly, it’s not really the plane itself that’s indispensable to the Air Force — it’s the community.

How this soldier became the first enlisted female Army ranger
U.S. A-10s and F-16s take part in an Elephant Walk in South Korea | US Air Force photo

Ground forces know A-10 pilots as undisputed kings of close air support, which is especially useful in today’s combat zones where ground troops often don’t have an artillery presence on the ground.

But there are other planes for close air support when it comes down to it. The B-1 Lancer has superior loiter time and bomb capacity compared to the A-10, but it turns out, close air support is only one area where the A-10s excel.

The report finds that A-10 pilots undergo many times more close air support, search and rescue, and forward air control training than any other community of pilots in the force.

How this soldier became the first enlisted female Army ranger
GAO

While the Air Force seems determined to replace this community, and reallocate their resources elsewhere, the report finds that the cost estimates used to justify the retirement of the A-10 just don’t make the grade.

According to the GAO, “a reliable cost estimate is comprehensive, well-documented, accurate, and credible.”

The report finds that the Air Force’s cost estimates for replacing the A-10 are almost comprehensive, minimally documented, and just plain not credible.

Indeed we have seen some pivots on the Air Force’s official position on the A-10. At one point, they wanted to retire it stating that the F-35 would take over those capabilities, but then the Senate told them to prove it.

More recently, we heard that the Air Force wants to replace the A-10 with not one, but two new planes, one of which would be developed specifically for the role.

How this soldier became the first enlisted female Army ranger
US Air Force members troubleshoot an electronic error on an A-10 Thunderbolt II on April 25, 2007, on the flightline at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq. | US Air Force

What the GAO recommends, however, is that the Air Force come up with a better, more concrete plan to mitigate the losses in capability caused by the A-10’s mothballing.

Lawmakers were not shy about the relief the report brought to the complicated question. Perhaps the best testimony came from Congresswoman Martha McSally, a former A-10 pilot herself:

“Today’s report confirms what I’ve argued continuously — the Air Force’s flawed and shifting plan to prematurely retire the A-10 is dangerous and would put lives in danger… I’ve fought for and won full funding for our entire A-10 fleet and to make the retirement of any A-10 condition-based, not-time based.”

MIGHTY CULTURE

The 13 funniest military memes for the week of January 3rd

Hope you guys enjoyed your block leave. It’s always nice to go back home, relax, grow that pathetic excuse of a two-week beard, and not have to think about anything military-related until that inevitable flight back to your installation.

Hope nothing big happened in those two weeks… Oh… F*ck… Nevermind… Literally everything went to sh*t while you were trying to hook up with your old high school fling because it’s time to get your packing list in order.

Now would be a good time for you to smoke one if you got one because the sh*t hit the fan big time. Unless you’re under 21. We can’t have law-breaking juveniles in our ranks while we’re about to head into another major conflict.


And this entire vacation, I was just waiting to make a joke about the Space Force finally being a thing but noooOOOooo. Anyways, here are some memes.

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(Meme via Infantry Follow Me)

How this soldier became the first enlisted female Army ranger

(Meme via 1st Civ Div)

How this soldier became the first enlisted female Army ranger

(Meme via The Salty Soldier)

How this soldier became the first enlisted female Army ranger

(Meme via Untied Status Marin Crops)

How this soldier became the first enlisted female Army ranger

(Meme via US Army WTF Moments Memes)

Real talk: If we go to Iran, it would be a separate conflict from the GWOT as it’s nation vs nation instead of fighting terrorism. So that would mean we’d realistically get to add a star to our CIBs/CABs/CMBs, right?

That may weigh heavily on my decision to reenlist…

How this soldier became the first enlisted female Army ranger

(Meme via Call for Fire)

How this soldier became the first enlisted female Army ranger

(Meme via Team Non-Rec)

How this soldier became the first enlisted female Army ranger

(Meme via Not CID)

How this soldier became the first enlisted female Army ranger

(Meme via Hooah My Ass Off)

How this soldier became the first enlisted female Army ranger

(Meme via Coast Guard Memes)

How this soldier became the first enlisted female Army ranger

(Meme via Lost in the Sauce)

There’s building character and then there’s risking your troop’s health and lively to appease an antiquated version of what the “military was like back in your day.” 

Don’t let anyone fool you. The sweatpants we wore with our PTs back in the BDU era were the comfiest things ever.

How this soldier became the first enlisted female Army ranger

(Meme via Disgruntled Vets)

How this soldier became the first enlisted female Army ranger

(Meme via Pop Smoke)

Articles

Ronald Reagan got a Marine recruiting letter while he was President — his response was classic

Even though he was 73 years old and serving as President of the United States at the time, Ronald Reagan received a letter from the Marine Corps asking him if he would like to enlist in 1984.


It may have been a clerical error or just a practical joke from the service to its commander-in-chief, or in the words of Reagan in his response, the result of “a lance corporal’s overactive imagination.” In any case, on Tuesday the U.S. Marine Corps Historical Company shared on its Facebook page the letter he sent back to then-Commandant Gen. Paul X. Kelley on May 31, 1984, and well, it’s classic.

“I regret that I must decline the attached invitation to enlist in the United States Marine Corps,” Reagan writes on official White House letterhead. “As proud as I am of the inference concerning my physical fitness, it might be better to continue as Commander-in-Chief. Besides, at the present time it would be rather difficult to spend ten weeks at Parris Island.”

With his trademark wit, Reagan noted the Democrats would probably appreciate it if he left The White House, but had to pass since his wife Nancy loved their current residence and Reagan himself was “totally satisfied with his job.”

“Would you consider a deferment until 1989?” Reagan wrote. (It’s worth noting that Reagan served stateside in the U.S. Army Air Force’s first motion picture unit during World War II).

Check out the full letter below:

How this soldier became the first enlisted female Army ranger

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