The movie 12 Strong arrives in theaters Jan. 19 and tells the harrowing story of the first U.S. Special Forces mission in Afghanistan following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The following recounts the events of the Green Berets’ first mission in Afghanistan, as they sought to destroy the Taliban regime and deny Al-Qaeda sanctuary in that country.
The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania sent shockwaves throughout the world. While the tragedy prompted responses of love and comfort, it also inspired a sense of resolve and retribution. In fact, the sun hadn’t even set on the smoldering ruins of the World Trade Center when the Central Intelligence Agency, the U.S. military, and U.S. Army Special Operations Command began planning a response. They would rain fire on the terrorists who had claimed the lives of thousands of innocent Americans, and on the brutal regime in Afghanistan that had sheltered them.
Task Force Dagger
It was soon clear that the initial operation, named Task Force Dagger, would involve bomb drops and small teams of special operators who would link up with local warlords and resistance fighters known collectively as the Northern Alliance. The task force would train and supply the Afghans, coordinating between the U.S. and the various ethnic groups — many of which were historic enemies of one another.
The Army’s 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) eagerly took on the mission, despite little available intelligence on Afghanistan, and despite the fact that few Soldiers could speak Dari or Pashtun. The task force picked up a few phrases pretty quickly and worked using three-way translations with other languages they already knew, such as Arabic, Farsi, and Russian.
“You had all of the emotions going on from 9-11,” remembered Chief Warrant Officer 2 Brad Fowers, then a junior weapons sergeant on Operational Detachment A 574. It would be his first combat deployment, and his team wound up escorting future President Hamid Karzai into the country. “There was a lot of emotions, excitement, amazement. It was an extreme honor. Looking back on it now, it’s humbling. … It was a very privileged moment in our history to see how things unfolded and what so many are capable of doing.”
“We went carrying what we believed to be the hopes of the American people with us,” added Lt. Gen. John F. Mulholland, former USASOC commander, in a speech. In September 2001, he served as the 5th Special Forces Group (A) commander. “If there was any fear that we had, it was that we would be worthy of the American people … the people of New York, the people of Washington, the people of Pennsylvania, the people of our great country and all those … who lost people that day. So that was with us constantly, the fear that we would not be worthy of the American people.”
After almost two weeks of bombings, which kicked off Oct. 7, 2001, the first insertion was set for mid-October. As with any covert, nighttime flying operation, the dangerous mission was assigned to the Night Stalkers of the 160th Special Operations Regiment (Airborne), “the finest aviators in the world, bar none” according to Mulholland.
But the mission to insert the Green Berets into Afghanistan, flying from Uzbekistan over the Hindu Kush mountains — which could reach up to 20,000 feet and caused altitude sickness — was something else. The weather, sandstorms, and a black cloud of rain, hail, snow, and ice was so bad it delayed the first insertion by two days until Oct. 19 — an eternity for men who pledge to always arrive at their destination on time, plus or minus 30 seconds. The weather could change from one mile to the next, from elevation to elevation, and continuously caused problems throughout Task Force Dagger.
“Just imagine flying when you can’t see three feet in front of you for a couple of hours, landing or hoping the weather would clear so you could refuel, and then flying through the mountains all the while getting shot at and hoping our (landing zone) was clear,” recalled Command Sgt. Maj. Mark Baker, now of the SOAR’s Special Operations Training Battalion. Fifteen years ago, he was a young, brand-new flight engineer on his first combat mission.
I was proud and scared. … There was a lot of stuff going on. There was bad weather. A lot of people compared those first missions to Lt. Col. (James) Doolittle in World War II because we were doing stuff no one had ever done before. … We had a mission to make sure these Soldiers got in. … It was my first time ever getting shot at. That’s a pretty vivid memory. … It was war. I don’t think I’ve ever been any closer to my fellow brothers-in-arms than I was then. All we had was each other.
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Winder Perez was fighting in Afghanistan in January 2012 when he was shot with a rocket-propelled grenade that pierced his leg and remained stuck there without detonating.
A medical evacuation crew ignored regulations against moving unexploded ordnance, picked him up, and flew him to medical care where an explosives technician removed the RPG so a Navy medical officer could operate on him.
Specialist Mark Edens was the first member of the MEDEVAC crew to see the Marine. The flight had originally been briefed that they were receiving an injured little girl as a patient, but they arrived to find the lance corporal with a large wound and an approximately 2-foot long rocket protruding from his leg.
When Army pilot Capt. Kevin Doo was told about the embedded RPG, he asked his entire crew to vote on whether to evacuate the patient. They unanimously voted yes despite the dangers.
“There was no doubt to anyone that we were going to take this Marine and get him the medical attention needed to save his life,” Doo told Army journalists. “When dealing with this — not knowing that any moment could be your last — 18 inches from the patient’s legs was about 360 gallons of aviation fuel.”
“After Lance Cpl. Perez was loaded on the Black Hawk, it was a total of 11.2 minutes of flight time where every minute felt like an hour,” Doo added. “During that time, we were on the radio coordinating with our escorts, the Explosive Ordnance Disposal team, and medical personnel who were going to treat Perez.”
Gennari later said that the Perez’s wounds were so severe that he would’ve died without the quick MEDEVAC. Edens, Doo, and the rest of the Army MEDEVAC team then transported Perez to Camp Bastion where he began the long road to recovery.
Oh snap! The first official recruiting ad for the Space Force has finally dropped! Don’t get me wrong. I’m just as hyped as everyone else who joked to their retention NCO that the only way they’d stay in was to reclass as a space shuttle door gunner.
But, like, why do they even need an advertisement at this point? Everyone knows who they are and are already planning on camping out at the recruitment offices when they open. It’s like seeing a commercial for a Ferrari. It’s just a waste of time and money when we’re already sold on the idea.
Whatever. They’re probably going to have a bigger budget than the Air Force – so spend it if you got it, right? Anyway, here are some memes.
1. I don’t care about any of your damn stories from Basic. But you can be damn sure that I’ll play along with whatever BS lie about how badass you are to tell civilians.
2. While we’re in, we all sh*ttalk chief for being OFP. But, he’s literally treating the military like it’s a 9-5 job at that point.
3. North Korean generals got nothing on some of the E-4’s I’ve seen these days…
4. Anyone know if the vehicles in the motorpool are still fine? No one’s been around to kick their tires in ages!
5. All else fails, pocket sand…
6. One makes things go boom. The other prevents things from going boom. See the problem?
7. Largest amphibious landing in military history and it wasn’t conducted by the branch of the military specifically designed for such a task…
(Yeah, I know. They were in the Pacific and Marine generals assisted in the planning. I thought Marines were at least supposed to understand jokes.)
8. “Ah, I see you’re a man of culture as well.”
9. For the Space Force? In a heartbeat. Then again, I’ve been out for a few years, put on a few pounds, have literally no applicable skills needed in space… But I’d do it.
10. Well. Now I’m going to rewatch Band of Brothers this quarantine… for the 101st time…
11. As long as you don’t have flat feet. (Is flat feet still a thing?)
12. f it looks right, it is right.
13. If you didn’t jump up out of your bunk, but forgot that you’re on the lower one, so you smack your head so damn hard it echoes through the bay, did you even go to basic/boot camp?
Marines and sailors from India Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, make their way to a Marine Medium Tiltorotor Squadron 365 MV-22 Osprey | Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Mark Fayloga
The father of a Marine killed in an MV-22B Osprey crash last year plans to sue the manufacturer of the aircraft, saying design flaws contributed to the tragedy.
Mike Determan lives five miles from Arizona’s Marana Northwest Regional Airport, best-known to some as the site of the deadliest crash in the short history of Marines’ tiltrotor aircraft.
On April 8, 2000, an Osprey attempting to land at the airport stalled and then plummeted in a phenomenon known as vortex ring state, killing all 19 Marines on board. Determan knew the history, but never guessed that tragedy involving the aircraft would strike again much closer to home.
But on May 17, 2015, another Osprey went down — this time at Marine Corps Training Area Bellows, Hawaii. The aircraft had hovered twice for brief periods in severe brownout conditions during a landing attempt, resulting in significant dust intake and “turbine blade glassification,” or the melting of reactive sand at high temperatures, according to an official command investigation obtained by Military.com.
Two Marines aboard the aircraft were killed: Lance Cpl. Matthew Determan, 21, an infantry squad leader with Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines out of Camp Pendleton, California; and Cpl. Joshua Barron, 24, an Osprey crew chief with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 161, out of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California. The other 20 Marines aboard the aircraft sustained injuries of varying severity.
The investigation into the tragic crash recommended new guidelines limiting cumulative Osprey hover time in reduced-visibility conditions to 60 seconds, called for more advanced technology to mitigate brownout conditions, and ascribed partial blame to the pilots of the aircraft and the commanders of the squadron and Marine expeditionary unit it was attached to, saying better decision making and a more effective survey of the landing site might have prevented disaster.
The Naval Air Training and Operating Procedures Standardization program, or NATOPS, would ultimately recommend pilots spend no more than 35 seconds at a time hovering in reduced-visibility conditions.
Suit to name suppliers
But Mike Andrews, an attorney with the Montgomery, Alabama-based law firm Beasley Allen who represents the Determan family, said the problem lies solely with the Osprey. Andrews confirmed he is preparing a lawsuit against Osprey manufacturer Boeing Co. on behalf of the Determans, asking for unspecified compensatory and punitive damages. The suit, which he said will also name other manufacturers of V-22 parts, will be filed in Hawaii in coming weeks, though Andrews said he had not determined whether to file it in federal or state court.
Boeing spokeswoman Caroline Hutcheson declined to comment on the pending litigation.
“I can tell you that this is an unsafe aircraft,” Andrews said. “Our feeling in this case is, our military boys and girls need to have the best equipment possible, and the V-22 is not it.”
He was previously involved in a 2002 lawsuit against Osprey manufacturers Boeing, Textron’s Bell Helicopter unit, and BAE’s U.S. subsidiary following a December 2000 Osprey crash near Jacksonville, North Carolina, which killed all four Marines aboard.
“This is a situation in which we feel the Marine Corps, the military in general, is doing the best they can with a defective product,” Andrews said. “They’ve been sold a bill of goods and they’re trying to work with it. It’s inexcusable.”
A September report from Naval Air Systems Command generated in response to the Bellows crash underscores Mike Determan’s contention that Osprey power loss during reduced visibility landings is far from an isolated incident. The report, obtained by Military.com, highlights three other such events dating back to 2013, one involving the CV-22 Air Force variant of the aircraft.
Two years prior to Bellows on Aug. 26, 2013, a Marine Corps Osprey crashed after experiencing engine compressor stall in a brownout near Creech Air Force Base, Nevada, according to the report. All four crew members walked away, but the aircraft was damaged beyond repair, according to officials.
On Feb. 24, 2015, another disaster was narrowly avoided when a deployed Marine V-22 experienced engine compressor stall in reduced visibility conditions, then recovered and successfully returned to base. Since no mishap occurred, this incident was never reported publicly.
On Dec. 1, 2013, an Air Force CV-22 operating out of North Africa experienced a compressor stall shortly after landing in brownout conditions, resulting in a Class C mishap, signifying damages between $50,000 and $500,000.
The report also found six additional undocumented aircraft power loss incidents in areas that contained “reactive sand,” or sand containing high levels of elements with low melting points. It also found that a second Osprey at Bellows on May 17 had experienced a “near-miss,” though it ultimately avoided stall in the sand cloud.
Determan said he believes the Marine Corps deserves some of the blame for the Bellows crash because officials were slow to apply lessons learned from previous MV-22 stalls in brownout conditions.
“They knew that there was a problem with restricted visibility; they knew it from Creech Air Force Base a year prior,” Determan said. “To send my son and the other Marines in that morning knowing that the sand is reactive and it’s very dangerous … by not doing the pre-work, they’re just putting these guys at huge risk.”
A former V-22 test pilot who spoke with Military.com under condition of anonymity because he is well known in the aviation community said the Osprey is uniquely susceptible to ingestion of sand and dust, which can melt at high temperatures inside the engine, changing airflow and making the engine less efficient. Because the aircraft can fly like an airplane and then tilt its rotors skyward for take-off and landing like a helicopter, its engine inlets are vertical as it descends, the pilot said, making it even more vulnerable to dust intake.
“The Osprey ingests one hell of a lot of dirt and sand,” the test pilot said, adding that the aircraft had higher disc loading than other helicopters, meaning its smaller rotors had to pump a larger volume of air at a higher velocity. “You hover over that sand and you make one hell of a mess.”
Mike Determan has a solution for the Marine Corps: Ground the Osprey until a third-generation tiltrotor, the Bell V-280 Valor, is ready to deploy. That aircraft will not have prototypes ready for a first test flight until 2017, and it’s not yet clear what the Corps’ fielding or purchasing plans with regard to the V-280 might be.
A Marine Corps spokeswoman, Capt. Sarah Burns, said the service has no plans to ground the MV-22, which is quickly becoming the centerpiece of its strategy for crisis response and long-range lift.
“By its very nature, there will always be inherent risk in combat aviation. This is due to the expeditionary nature of U.S. Marine Corps operations and the varied types of missions we fly,” Burns said.
“When mishaps occur we diligently investigate them, and we are transparent with regards to the findings of each investigation,” she added. “In this investigation there were no indications that there is an issue beyond that of the aircraft involved and consequently did not lead to a determination that a grounding of the fleet would be warranted.”
According to figures provided by Burns, the Osprey’s Class A mishap rate, which is calculated based on mishaps involving loss of life or $2 million or more in damage, is roughly in line with or better than comparable aircraft platforms.
Since fiscal 2010, the Osprey has a mishap rate of 3.06 per 100,000 flight hours, Burns said, compared with 3.63 for the CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter; 3.09 for the CH-46 “Phrog” retired by the Marines last year; 4.18 for the UH-1 N Twin Huey and Y Venom choppers; and 1.54 for the AH-1 Z Viper and W Super Cobra. These figures, however, don’t take into account the Jan. 15 tragedy in which two CH-53E Super Stallions collided off the coast of Oahu, killing all 12 Marines aboard.
Marine Corps leaders have staunchly supported the V-22 as the revolutionary future of Marine Corps aviation, along with the brand-new F-35B Joint Strike Fighter. Recent experiments have highlighted the Osprey’s ability to cover long distances at high speeds for raids and inserts; a squadron of Ospreys is now deployed to the Middle East with the Marines’ crisis response force in the region for personnel recovery missions and support of the coalition fight against Islamic State militants.
‘Where are the Ospreys?’
“The question used to be, ‘Where’s the carrier? Where’s the [amphibious ready group/Marine expeditionary unit]?'” Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller told an audience at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 11. “Now the question is, ‘Where are the Ospreys?'”
Still, some worry that the Osprey may prove increasingly fragile as it replaces other workhorse Marine Corps rotary-wing platforms and weathers more years of deployment wear and tear.
The fact that Naval aviation was still learning about the Osprey’s vulnerabilities and attempting to mitigate them more than eight years after the aircraft was first deemed deployable in 2007 was a function of the platform’s complexity, the pilot said.
“[Ospreys are] encountering things, they’re going places they have not been before” as the Marine Corps becomes more dependent on the platform, the pilot said. Despite Osprey deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan since 2007, the pilot characterized the aircraft’s use to date as “ash and trash” — transportation and lift, rather than combat.
“You can’t go into a hot [landing zone] with the aircraft. If you do, you’ll break it,” he said. “The aircraft has never been tested to do the extreme maneuvering.’
The level of complexity in the tiltrotor aircraft increases the number of “unk-unks” — unknown unknowns — which are very difficult to test for, the test pilot said. And that doesn’t sit well with Determan, who fears more Marines may be lost to tragic mishaps as new vulnerabilities come to light.
“Nobody really knows how the airframe is going to react when it gets older and older,” Determan said. “Learn from the mistakes and make a better aircraft, and don’t hold back on the cost.”
When the Navy called on women to volunteer for shore service during World War II to free up men for duty at sea, 102-year-old Melva Dolan Simon was among the first to raise her hand and take the oath.
“I went in so sailors could board ships and go do what they were supposed to be doing,” said Simon. She recalled her military service as “something different” in an era when women traditionally stayed home while men went off to war. “I helped sailors get on their way.”
Simon was the first woman in her hometown of Bridgeport, Pa., to join the WAVES, according to a yellowed clipping of a 1942 newspaper article. She was also among the first in the nation to join the service. It was just three months earlier, on July 30, 1942, that President Franklin D. Roosevelt had signed the law establishing the corps.
“I had a good job with the school, but I felt I would be doing more for my country by being in the service,” said Simon.
The seventh of 12 children, Simon said she chose the Navy because several of her brothers were already serving in the Army, Air Force, and Coast Guard.
WWII Navy WAVES Veteran Melva Dolan Simon’s service memorabilia includes her rank and insignia, photos and official documents.
“They were all enlisted, and I thought, well, what’s wrong with joining the Navy?” said Simon. “I decided I wanted to go, and I was accepted.”
“That’s where we learned the basics of the Navy,” said Simon. “We were trained to march, we studied hard, and they drilled into us how important what we were doing was.”
After completing basic, many of the WAVES trainees spent another 12 weeks at the college for advanced training in secretarial duties.
From Oklahoma, Simon was assigned to active duty at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, which during World War II employed 40,000, built 53 warships and repaired another 1,218. She and her fellow yeomen earned anywhere from to 5 in basic pay per month, depending on their rank, plus food and quarters allowance, unless provided by the Navy.
Simon lived on the all-female fourth floor of the Benjamin Franklin Hotel in Philadelphia. WAVES personnel were under strict orders not to visit any other floors of the hotel – an order Simon said she followed.
“I didn’t go on the other floors,” said Simon, sternly. “It was none of my business.”
Simon’s military responsibilities included taking dictation from the officer in charge, performing clerical duties and driving officers around the base.
“They gave me a driver’s license for the Navy, and I would drive these officers, sometimes just very short distances,” Simon said, smiling as she motioned from her seat at a dining room table to the far side of her kitchen. “I thought that was interesting because it would have done them some good if they’d just walked.”
Simon wrote letters home to her family at first, then sent her parents money to have a home phone installed. Simon said that home phones were a luxury at the time. Before they installed the phone, her family used a telephone at a nearby store to call her.
“I sent them money every payday to keep the phone bill paid,” Simon said. “It was much easier to call than to sit down and write, especially since I was writing all day at the office.”
The phone also allowed her future husband, Joseph “Joe” Simon, to keep in touch with her. The two had met at the high school where Joe Simon worked as an agriculture teacher, and he’d visit with her when she was home on leave. They married in July 1945, just a few weeks before Melva Simon received an honorable discharge from the Navy in August 1945.
WAVES standing in formation.
The couple purchased a 22-acre farm in 1947 in Mt. Pleasant Township, Pa., where they supplemented Joe’s teacher’s salary by growing and selling sweet corn.
“It sold like hot fire because it was good sweet corn,” Melva Simon said. “Then Joe planted apple trees, and that’s what we decided to do.”
The couple started an apple orchard — Simon’s Apple Orchard — that remains family-run today. The orchard opens its doors to customers every fall, offering everything from pure sweet cider still made using the Simons’ original recipe to bags of fresh McIntosh, Stayman, Rome, Jonathan, red and yellow delicious, and other apple varieties.
At the VA
Melva Simon worked the orchard alongside her husband, then took over when he died in 2004 at the age of 88. Still spry at 102, she drove tractors, harvested apples, made cider and worked the counter at a small shop on the property until just a few years ago.
Blessed with a lifetime of good health, Melva Simon only recently discovered she is eligible for health care benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs. With the help of her daughter, Melvajo Bennett, the World War II veteran has, since August, received care through VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System’s Westmoreland County VA Outpatient Clinic.
“It didn’t dawn on her to go to the VA because she’s always had such good health and never really had to see the doctor,” said Bennett. “But they’ve been wonderful with how they are treating her.”
Asked for the secret to good health and a long life, Melva Simon gave a simple answer.
“There is no secret,” she said. “All it takes is simple living. I eat simple food. I don’t drink, and I don’t smoke.”
As for her military service, Melva Simon said she’d do it all over again.
“That was all I ever wanted to do, was to do something for the government and the country,” she said. “I’d do it again.”
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
As the founder and president of Ranger Up, Nick Palmisciano now commands an empire of apparel sales, MMA sponsorships, digital content, and social media mastery. Started in 2006, the company is on track this year to hit $10 million in revenue, and that’s due in large part to the former Army officer’s ability to overcome significant challenges.
Palmisciano founded the company while pursuing his M.B.A. at Duke University, after he started printing funny military-themed t-shirts for ROTC students there. But the part-time passion that followed him into the corporate world became a full-time job after he refused a promotion that would’ve slapped on the “golden handcuffs,” according to an interview he gave to Steven Pressfield Online.
“I knew that if I took that promotion, the golden handcuffs were being slapped on and Ranger Up was going to die,” he told the site. “And I was going to spend my life working for other people doing something I really didn’t care about that much.”
He left the corporate world soon after his promotion was announced, but it wasn’t an easy decision.
“I was scared, to be honest,” Palmisciano told WATM. “I was scared about giving up the security of the whole thing, but I also felt very free for the first time in ages, because I just — I controlled my destiny — and being able to control your destiny is a very American trait and it’s something I didn’t fully appreciate. Like I thought of myself as an entrepreneur when I was doing it part-time, but you know, when poor performance means you don’t get a paycheck it hits home so much more.”
But less than two months after he went all-in with Ranger Up, Palmisciano was facing disaster when his bank account dwindled to just $1,300. “I was going through a divorce, so I rapidly ran out of personal [funds]. I sold everything that I had, and mutual funds and all that stuff and I was down to $1,300. And the key there, just like the key has been in every other time that I’ve had a crisis with the company is to focus on one thing at a time every single day and try to improve.”
His business improved, Palmisciano said, after he broke down tasks into manageable blocks that would get him to where he wanted to go. He looked at costs and realized the company was bleeding money. Then he found out that most of his sales were coming from just 20 percent of his inventory. “It was embarrassing because I knew this stuff from business school, but it’s completely different when you’re in it, day to day,” he said.
His account went up to $1,350 next month, then to $1,500. The company began growing and it never stopped, due in large part to social media. Though, Palmisciano admits, it never gets easier. “There’s a new [challenge] every year,” he said.
According to Internet Retailer, the company saw $750,000 in sales in 2013 driven from social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, where it has a large audience of die-hard fans.
“Our whole concept is we want to entertain our friends. That’s the way that we look at our business,” Palmisciano said. “How can we entertain, educate, or just generally amuse our friends, and if we do that right everything falls into place. And if we don’t do that right, we’re just another t-shirt company.”
Now, the company sponsors MMA fighters and also owns rugby apparel brand American Sin Bin and Unapologetically American, a brand meant to reach beyond the military veteran demographic. And Palmisciano personally helps fellow entrepreneurs and continually supports veterans’ causes.
Entertaining friends is what has given rise to Ranger Up’s latest venture: making a feature film. On Tuesday, the company announced its intention to make a movie titled “Range 15,” a post-apocalyptic comedy film made by and for veterans. In partnership with fellow veteran-owned business Article 15 Clothing, Ranger Up launched a crowdfunding campaign to ensure it would be the “military movie you’ve always wanted someone to make.”
At this writing, they are about 75 percent of the way there.
“It’s gonna be really funny and it’s going to be for us, and because we’re doing it for us we don’t have to compromise the message at all. You know we don’t care if someone’s offended by it, we don’t care if this isn’t Hollywood appropriate,” Palmisciano said. “We don’t care about any of that stuff. Because we’re doing a movie that our fans want us to do.”
Want to hear more from Nick? Check out his “how to get a job” series for veterans below, or follow him on Twitter at @Ranger_Up.
A specialized VA lender, a military-friendly real estate agent and a national homebuilder joined forces to help a disabled veteran use his VA loan benefits with a government grant to build the home he’d dreamed of for almost 2 decades.
John Swanson comes from a long line of military members. He was born at Southern California’s Fort MacArthur. His grandfather was in WWII and retired as a full bird Colonel. His father was an Army Sergeant in the Korean War, and his Uncle was an Army Captain. John was determined to carry on the family tradition. The Vietnam War was in full swing in 1971, and while he was more than ready to join, he was too young. Just before his seventeenth birthday, John enlisted in the U.S. Army Delayed Entry Program (DEP) to ensure an active duty slot when he came of age.
During an infantry training exercise, John fell 50 feet repelling from a helicopter. The medics found nothing broken, so John was ordered to keep training under advisement. He was ordered on a 10-mile compass run in shower shoes, during which John’s ankles collapsed underneath him. This time, the doctors determined he could not continue training. He was released under the discharge category “undesirable conditions. ”
“My whole purpose was to serve my country, but it wasn’t meant to be,” John shares. The Vietnam Era veteran had to fight for his honorable discharge, which he eventually received. Meanwhile, he had darting pain and decreased mobility in his arms and legs. Upon further medical examination, he was diagnosed with a chronic neurological syndrome called Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD). Now confined to a wheelchair, John was upgraded from 60 percent to 100 percent disability.
“It was hard not to notice the wheelchair,” says John’s finance Terry Kaut, whom he met at a singles club 13 years ago. “But John was so full of life and joy. Later I found out how much pain he was in, which made his outlook even more amazing,” she added. After 10 years of dating, John and Terry decided to live together in a two-bedroom apartment near Sacramento. The only room suited for John’s disability was the bathroom.
“I’ve bruised my knee caps and broken several toes,” shares John, referring to the narrow halls and doorways in typical rentals. “I chased the American Dream for a long time, but accessible homes just don’t come up that often,” John explains. “So I lived in what was available.”
John’s housing frustrations turned to hope when he heard of a grant administered under the VA Loan Guaranty Division. Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) grants help veterans with certain service-connected disabilities build or modify homes to best suit their needs. He applied for the grant in 2012 and searched for a VA-approved mortgage lender to help him use his VA benefits.
John applied for a loan with iFreedom Direct®, a nationwide lender that specializes in home loans for veterans. Later John was connected to Sherry Dolan, a Sacramento-based Keller Williams® real estate agent familiar with the VA loan process. Sherry says, “I’ve sold a lot of homes to a lot of veterans, but this was the most challenging and most rewarding.”
The first issue was the grant. It had been months and John still hadn’t heard back from the VA. Debbie had a connection at the Department of Veterans Affairs that reported the paperwork had either been lost or never received. Together, Sherry and Debbie helped John reapply. Sherry enlisted the help of Sacramento Congresswoman Doris Matsui’s office to expedite the second application to make up for lost time. Within just a few months, John was awarded the fully-allotted $67,555.
Meanwhile, Sherry set out with the couple to look for a house. She saw John struggling. “Terry and I lugged a heavy ramp around just so he could get up the front steps,” she explained. “He couldn’t access back rooms or step-down garages.” Sherry also saw that sunken living rooms, common in California, were a problem.
Then another issue surfaced regarding renovation. John’s respiratory problems required that they live in their apartment until any construction dust settled. With John’s fixed disability income and Terri ‘s modest income as a middle school registrar, they could afford rent or a mortgage payment. Not both.
Sherry thought to seek help from a builder. She approached several, but only one took an active interest in helping John. Lennar Homes had a new subdivision in Rancho Cordova with six model homes. The company agreed to adapt a single-story floor plan under SAH guidelines to suit John’s disability. Lennar® also financed the construction phase so John and Terri could keep renting until the home was finished.
The original blueprint was modified with John and Terry in mind. The specially-adapted model resulted in a 1,794 square-foot, three-bedroom home with 42-inch doorways, wheelchair-friendly flooring, an accessible master bathroom with roll-in shower, a ramped garage, flat front and back entrances, left-handed light switches, and many more customized details.
“The home represents a unique situation for us, but the project has definitely increased our awareness and the need for adaptable homes,” says Division President Gordon Jones. “We were honored to be able to serve a veteran in this way.”
Given the venture’s success, the builder welcomes the opportunity to serve other veterans. According to Lennar®, John’s house was the first-ever specially adapted home built by the Northern California division with money from an SAH grant.
“Thanks to this dedicated team of professionals who worked together, Mr. Swanson was finally able to get into a home,” shares iFreedom Direct’s Customer Experience Director Tim Lewis, a Retired U.S. Army Major.
John may have never gotten the opportunity to serve on foreign soil, but, as fiancé Terry relays, he has served for years from his wheelchair. “He counseled GIs and other individuals with RSD and answered a hot line for years,” says Terry. “And, now because of John, the way is paved for other disabled veterans to build a Lennar® home to fit their needs.”
A housewarming party took place shortly after John and Terry moved into their new home. The entire team came together to celebrate, along with many of the couple’s new neighbors and some local veterans. To honor the special occasion, iFreedom Direct had installed a 20′ flagpole in the front yard and Tim Lewis presented John with an American flag during an emotional dedication ceremony.
(Left to Right: In front of the specially-adapted Lennar home after flag raising ceremony are iFreedom Direct loan officer Debbie Losser, Keller Williams real estate agent Sherry Dolan, homeowner John Swanson and fiancé Terry Haut and Dolan’s real estate partner Belinda Mills)
When asked what this house meant to him, John fought his emotions to get these words out, “It means the world. It’s hard holding back the tears when I think how everybody came together to make it happen for us.”
Veterans with permanent and total service-connected disabilities may be eligible for SAH grants. To apply, submit VA form 26-4555 to your VA Regional Loan Center. For information about VA loans, contact iFreedom Direct®.
iFreedom Direct®, a top VA-approved lender, has served America’s brave men and women by providing quality VA loans since 1996. These zero-to-low down payment mortgages, backed in part by the Department of Veteran Affairs, help eligible borrowers purchase and refinance homes at competitive interest rates. Pre-qualify at www.ifreedomdirect.com or 800-230-2986.
When President Donald Trump threatened to send missiles at Syria — despite Russia’s promises to counterattack— all eyes turned toward the US Navy’s sole destroyer in the region. But that may have been a trick.
Pundits openly scoffed at Trump’s announcement early April 2018, of the US’s intention to strike, especially considering his criticism of President Barack Obama for similarly telegraphing US military plans, but the actual strike appeared successful.
In April 2017, two US Navy destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean steamed into the region, let off 59 cruise missiles in response to gas attacks by the Syrian government, and left unpunished and unpursued.
But this time, with the US considering its response to another attack against civilians blamed on the Syrian government, Russian officials threatened to shoot down US missiles, and potentially the ships that launched them, if they attacked Syria. A retired Russian admiral spoke candidly about sinking the USS Donald Cook, the only destroyer in the region.
When the strike happened April 14, 2018, local time, the Cook didn’t fire a shot, and a source told Bloomberg News it was a trick.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Edward Guttierrez III)
Instead, a US submarine, the USS John Warner, fired missiles while submerged in the eastern Mediterranean, presenting a much more difficult target than a destroyer on the surface. Elsewhere, a French frigate let off three missiles.
But the bulk of the firing came from somewhere else entirely: the Red Sea.
Near Egypt, the USS Monterey, a Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser, fired 30 Tomahawk cruise missiles, and the USS Laboon, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, shot seven, accounting for about a third of the 105 missiles the US said were fired.
Combined with an air assault from a US B-1B Lancer bomber and UK and French fighter jets, the attack ended up looking considerably different from 2017’s punitive strike.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Reft)
Photos from the morning of the attack show Syrian air defenses firing missile interceptors on unguided trajectories, suggesting they did not target or intercept incoming missiles.
“No Syrian weapon had any effect on anything we did,” Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie told reporters of the strike on April 14, 2018, calling the strike “precise, overwhelming, and effective.”
Syria said it shot down 71 missiles, but no evidence has surfaced to back up that claim. The US previously acknowledged that one of the Tomahawks used in last year’s attack failed to reach its target because of an error with the missile.
Cinco de Mayo is a holiday celebrating (fill in the blank). No, seriously this is a quiz. We’re guessing you were likely too drunk to remember what one of your most loved holidays is actually about… aside from celebrating tequila and tacos with your favorite group of friends. This year, with Corona (not the beer) in the way, it’s looking more like “Cinco de solo”. But fear not, we’re here to ensure your celebration is just as awesome with these handy at home hacks.
Not all tacos are created equal. They come soft, hard, and even puffy (we’re being totally appropriate here). It’s time to step up your taco game and step out of your comfort zone. Considering the fact that there’s literally nothing else to spend your money on, go big and get multiple styles to create a taco spread that’ll make your homies seriously jealous.
Do the salsa
We’re not talking about the dance… although, why not? Another crucial component of your feast is getting the delicious dip just right. And you’ve got options. Tomatillo, poblano, ancho are all words you need to get familiar with if you’re going to go all in. Feeling fruity? (again, completely appropriate) Try going for a pineapple-mango combination. Whatever you do, don’t you dare cheap out on a jar of pre-made tomato sauce masquerading as salsa.
Should you cut the cheese?
Good question. Research has shown us that this is a highly debated topic that is actually dependent upon what you’re stuffing your taco with. Queso fresco, cotija, queso de Oaxaca, or your standard-issue cheddar all have variations of saltiness, creaminess, and melt factor. One could even go as bold to say “no cheese” and bank heavy on your flavor profile.
Friends don’t let friends…
Friends don’t let friends drink solo on Cinco de Mayo. Yes, this applies even to social distancing parties. In case you live under a rock, there are plenty of apps for you to connect virtually and make it work. Do us a solid and let us know how you got creative with distance drinking games.
Step up your game bro
The stocks may be down, but alcohol sales sure are solid. By now you’ve likely demolished that “emergency stash” and shifted way into the realm of stay-at-home-mom level drink making. Now is your time to shine cupcake. With your designated set of friends, take the time to get creative and conjure up some amazing cocktail recipes for everyone to tray and vote on this holiday. Try setting some ground rules and a pre-set shopping list for everyone to grab beforehand. Take turns making each other’s cocktails and vote on the best.
Make it weird
If it were normal again, this day would be full of crazy taco creations to try at restaurants all across the land. Doing something “weird” is even better when it’s in the privacy of your own home. Cue the next few suggestions: radishes, nopales, fruit, kimchi, and the dessert taco. What we’re saying is- make it a competition between friends and make your best “take”, then deliver one to each of your friends and facetime everyone at dinner time to vote on who did the best.
Whatever you do, do it with as much humor and delicious new methods as humanly possible. It’s a heavy world out there and at least for 24 glorious hours, we can all have a little fun celebrating the Mexican army’s victory over the French empire. Cheers.
Military families can wait up to 49 weeks for burials of loved ones at Arlington National Cemetery (ANC) because of the high demand for graveside ceremonies and the increasing mortality rates of older veterans, according to a Pentagon Inspector General’s report.
The system in place for scheduling and conducting burials is suited to the task, the IG’s report states, but the sheer volume of family requests routinely exceeds “the resources available on a daily basis for the conduct of burials,” including honor guards and chapel availability.
In addition, the advanced age of veterans from World War II, Korea and Vietnam leads to more requests for burials than can be handled on a daily basis, states the IG’s report, released in May 2019.
Delays in families’ completion of required documents, and decisions regarding the type and timing of burial service, can also add time between the request and burial, according to the report.
U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Katie Maynard salutes as a casket is lowered during a funeral ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery Oct. 24, 2013.
(DoD photo by Cpl. Mondo Lescaud, U.S. Marine Corps)
As a result, “burial services at the ANC can result in a 6- to 49-week wait from the initial contact to the conduct of the burial ceremony,” the IG’s report states.
As of September 2018, there were 3,471 burial requests in process at Arlington — 3,259 for cremation services and 212 for casketed services, according to the report.
Arlington has the capacity for 30 burials per day, but the military teams available for Full Military Funeral Honors services also have responsibilities for other ceremonies in the National Capital Region and can conduct only about eight per day at ANC, the report states.
The 59-page report examined the operations and management of ANC and the Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery (SAHNC) in Washington, D.C. — the two national cemeteries in the nationwide system of military cemeteries. There are also 36 other cemeteries run by the service branches.
Arlington National Cemetery.
(DoD photo by SSG Sean K. Harp)
The report found that major reforms at Arlington had corrected the mismanagement that led to scandals over missing markers and missing remains in 2010.
As of late 2018, Arlington was the final resting place for more than 375,000 decedents and had space available for 67,000 more, the report states. The IG’s office took a random sample of 553 burials and 145 available spaces and “found no accountability errors in the records.”
At SAHNC, the burial site for more than 14,000 veterans, the report found five errors in a random sample of 290 burials and 62 available spaces.
In two cases, the names of the decedents were not on the grave marker at the corresponding location in the cemetery. In two other cases, what were coded as empty plots in the database actually contained decedents.
In the fifth case, the location of the decedent in the database did not match the location of the headstone, according to the report.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
A Puerto Rico National Guard member takes the temperature of an incoming traveler at Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Photo by Staff Sgt. Marimar Rivera.
A deadly pandemic, a Category 5 hurricane and two earthquakes. While this sounds like cataclysms from the Old Testament — it’s not. Puerto Rico has been dealing with a range of natural disasters for the past three years.
In the center of them all is the Puerto Rico National Guard, stepping up to the challenges each provides.
“It’s certainly showing that the Puerto Rico National Guard is a flexible and adaptable force,” Maj. Gen. José Reyes, adjutant general, said.
The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the lives of just about every American. The mantra of elected officials has been, “Flatten the curve,” meaning stop the spread of the virus. PRNG is doing its part to accomplish that by conducting medical evaluations of everyone entering Puerto Rico.
Earlier this year, PRNG and other federal and state agencies started screening incoming passengers at the international airport in San Juan by installing 11 infrared cameras that measure a person’s body temperature.
If a passenger has a temperature of 100.3° or over, they are immediately taken to a triage area and tested for COVID-19.
This is a 24/7 operation with about 260 PRNG members participating — roughly 60 are assigned to each six-hour shift.
Laiza Rivera, a medical student at Central Caribbean University, took the oath of office to become a 2nd Lt. in the Puerto Rico National Guard on April 2. Here she signs her enlistment contract as Gen. José Reyes looks on. Photo by First Sgt. Luis E. Orengo.
In addition to military personnel, 150 students from Puerto Rico’s four medical schools have volunteered for this mission as well.
This actually worked as an unintentional recruitment campaign when four of them decided to join the PRNG. One of them is 2nd Lt. Laiza Rivera.
The 27–year-old says she was going stir-crazy being home all day because of the lockdown so she decided to volunteer at the airport. Rivera, whose major is ophthalmology, was already in the process of joining but inspired the other three student-volunteers to join as well.
PRNG has similar operations at other ports of entry.
PRNG’s ability to adapt is illustrated in its revised plan for annual training. Ordinarily, large groups of personnel would attend exercises at the national training center in California, as well as another location in Louisiana. Not this year. In an effort to practice social distancing, those exercises will be modified to be conducted in smaller groups at Camp Santiago in Puerto Rico.
Additionally, classes that would normally be held in a conference room have switched to video conferencing.
In 2017, Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico.
Under Reyes’ command, the island’s combined military forces provided its residents with just about everything they needed.
They provided MPs to the local police departments to maintain law and order; engineers cleared hundreds of miles of debris from roadways; and they conducted search and rescue operations in flooded communities and evacuated stranded citizens. The Army aviation unit conducted countless flights to and from the center of the island (its most rural and isolated area) to deliver food, water and emergency supplies.
Puerto Rico still hasn’t fully recovered from the hurricane and the 56 year-old general predicts that won’t happen for another 10 to 12 years.
If the hurricane wasn’t bad enough, Puerto Rico was shaken by two major earthquakes in January. There were 10,000 people who either partially or completely lost their homes.
Reyes, who was born and raised in Puerto Rico, presented a plan to Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced to relocate these refugees. PRNG then established five major camps, each with a capacity of about 1,700. In partnership with FEMA and other agencies, they relocated over 10,000 people in 56 days.
While no one can predict when an earthquake will occur, there is an established hurricane season for the Caribbean and it’s happening now.
Under Homeland Security Presidential Directives Nos. 8 and 9, states and territories are required to conduct preparatory training in response to the threats that pose the greatest risk to national security, including natural disasters.
PRNG is on it conducting emergency management exercises for hurricanes, earthquakes, pandemics and even tsunamis with all 78 municipalities on the island. Until last year, exercises were only for Category 5 hurricanes. The new exercises anticipate all these disasters happening concurrently.
Puerto Rico has had a lot thrown at it over the past three years and, in theory, it all could happen again. PRNG will be ready if it does.
Additionally, Reyes knows Guard units from other states, as well as additional DOD personnel, has Puerto Rico’s back and will be there to support him.
Reyes came out of retirement to take on this command and he’s glad he did.
“It’s a tremendous honor to command the Puerto Rico National Guard, eight-five hundred strong, fully committed men and women with an unbreakable sense of service towards the people of Puerto Rico and our nation,” he said. “I’m very proud of each one of them.”
Lt. General Charles “Chuck” Pitman passed away this past Thursday at age 84. His career spanned over 40 years, including three combat tours in Vietnam. He also was involved in Operation Eagle Claw, the attempted rescue of the American hostages in Tehran in 1980. He commanded an Air Wing and was the Deputy Chief of Staff for Marine Corps Aviation. He earned the Silver Star, four Distinguished Flying Crosses, a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. But for all his achievements in uniform, Pitman is better known for ignoring military protocol and breaking a bunch of regulations so he could save lives.
That was the thought process of then, Lieutenant Colonel Pitman. On Jan. 7, 1973, Pitman was the commander of the Marine Air Reserve Training in Louisiana. Pitman had turned on the television to see a horrible scene unfolding. A gunman had taken position on top of a hotel and was shooting and killing police officers. The sniper had a full view of all on comers, and any attempt to enter the hotel was met with murderous gunfire.
Pitman didn’t even think twice about asking permission to help. He grabbed another pilot and two crew members and jumped in a CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter and headed toward New Orleans.
The incident Pitman was flying into actually started several days earlier on New Year’s Eve. Mark Essex was a Navy vet who had been kicked out due to behavior issues. He had ended up in New Orleans, where he fell in with radical groups. One of those groups was the Black Panthers. Essex had grown angrier over time with what he perceived to be injustices he faced in the Navy and now as a civilian. After learning of a civil rights protest in which two students from Southern University were killed by police, Essex lost it.
He went to New Orleans police headquarters, where he shot and killed an African American cadet; shooting him from behind. He then fled and tried to break into a warehouse. When police arrived, unaware that he was linked to the shooting at HQ, Essex ambushed them, mortally wounding one. By the time backup arrived, he had vanished into the night.
On Jan. 7, Essex reappeared, and entered a Howard Johnson hotel in downtown New Orleans. As he made his way to the roof, he murdered a newlywed couple and the hotel’s manager and assistant manager. He then set fires in several rooms and made his way to the roof.
Essex had set an ambush. The shooting and fires would draw first responders to the scene. Then he would carry out his horrible plan to kill more cops.
As the police and firefighters arrived, they attempted to enter the hotel. Essex killed three police officers and wounded several more. He was able to pin down anyone that attempted to move toward the hotel and was completely concealed from return fire by concrete barriers on the roof.
By this time, the TV cameras had shown up. Broadcasting over the airwaves, they told viewers of the horrible situation unfolding in downtown New Orleans.
One of the viewers was Lt. Colonel Pitman.
Pitman flew the CH-46 toward the hotel without any idea what he was actually going to do. He just knew he had to do something. When he arrived on site, Pitman located an empty parking lot next to the hotel. He landed, headed to the command center, and quickly became apprised of the situation. The cops on the scene sought his advice, and his years of service in Vietnam kicked in. Essex had the high ground, so Pittman would go higher.
He put several New Orleans police officers on the helicopter and took off. He started flying passes over the roof of the hotel, slowing down and turning so that the police could get a good shot. They could not. Essex would take shots at the aircraft from afar but would take cover the minute they closed in. Pitman noticed this and kept making passes to lure Essex into thinking this was his routine. Finally, after one pass, he turned immediately around and caught Essex in the open. The police in the helicopter unloaded on the sniper.
When all was said and done, Essex was found with over 200 rounds in his body.
Pitman was lauded as a hero by the police and citizens of New Orleans and just about everybody…except the United States Marine Corps.
It turns out that Pitman (kind of… sort of) violated a few rules and regulations when he took the helicopter. He wasn’t allowed to use military personnel or aircraft for anything other than a rescue mission (like evacuating flood victims).
You would think that the Marine Corps would look at the badassery that Pitman just pulled off and call it a public relations coup. But, they didn’t (of course) and started the process of a court-martial.
It was only due to the intervention of Democratic Congressman and House Armed Services Committee Chairman Edward Herbert that the issue was dropped.
Pitman would continue his amazing career, retiring in 1990 as a Lt. General.
Lt. General Pitman, rest easy, and Semper Fidelis.