This group works to salvage good from the ultimate tragedy of war - We Are The Mighty
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This group works to salvage good from the ultimate tragedy of war

This group works to salvage good from the ultimate tragedy of war
The children of fallen troops and USNA midshipmen volunteers form a circle during a team building event at the U.S. Naval Academy on January 31. (Photo: TAPS.org)


Bonnie Carroll understands the cost of war as intimately as anyone in America – not the dollars and cents cost but the price paid by families for generations after warriors fall in battle. A few years after losing her husband in a military aircraft mishap in Alaska, Carroll turned her grief into action and founded the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, better known as “TAPS.”

Also Read: These Aging Vets Shared Inspiring And Sometimes Heartbreaking Wisdom In Reddit AmA’s 

“Twenty years ago there was no organization for those grieving the loss of a loved one who died while serving in the armed forces,” Carroll said while overseeing a recent TAPS event for nearly 50 surviving children held at the U.S. Naval Academy.  “We are the families helping the families heal.”

“Grief isn’t a mental illness,” she continued. “It isn’t something you can take a pill for or put a splint over. Grief is a wound of the heart, and there’s no one better to provide that healing than those who’ve walked this journey and are now trained to help the bereaved. And as they help others they continue their own process of healing.”

Carroll pointed out that TAPS has strong relationships and formalized memorandums of understanding with all of the Pentagon’s branches of services but that the mission of assisting survivors is best done by a private organization and not a government bureaucracy.

“We have protocols in place so that when a family member dies, the families are told that TAPS exists,” Carroll said. “They will not be alone.”

That wasn’t always the case. For the first three years of TAPS’ existence the organization had trouble breaking through the mazes that surrounded the entrenched (and generally ineffective) agencies charged with dealing with the families of the fallen.

That changed dramatically in 1997 after the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. John Shalikashvili, attended a TAPS gathering. “Hearing the stories and seeing the healing taking place was a game changer for him,” Carroll said. “When he got up to speak he said, ‘I really didn’t get it until I was here tonight. I didn’t realize how powerful this organization is.'”

And most importantly with respect to DoD’s responsibilities, the general said, “We can’t do for you what you must do for each other.”

Shalikashvilli went on to speak about the loss of his first wife 25 years earlier, which caused his second wife to lean over to Carroll and remark, “He’s never talked about this in public before.”

“In a room where he felt so safe, where he felt like he was in a place where you could share without judgment, he opened up,” Carroll said. “He got it.”

Shalikashvili went to the Joint Chiefs the following week and directed every branch of the service to connect with TAPS.

“We walk alongside the casualty officers,” Carroll said. “When they knock on the door, when they brief families on the benefits, they let the families know that there will always be comfort and care for them.”

The utility of TAPS was made evident on 9-11 when they moved into the space in the Sheraton across from the Pentagon where the FBI had been gathering forensic evidence. “As hope faded of finding remains, TAPS very quietly moved in,” Carroll said. “We were there for six weeks with peers to provide support for the families.”

On the day the family support center closed – all the remains that could be identified had been so, and some families would be going home without resolution – the general in charge said, “We are headed into war and don’t know what lies ahead.” He pointed to the TAPS staffers dressed in red shirts along the conference room’s back wall. “For those in the room who have lost loved ones, the red shirts will be there forever.”

“It was a wonderful hand off,” Carroll said. “Many of those families are still with us today.”

With a small percentage of Americans actually associated directly with the military, TAPS’ role has also been to educate a disengaged public. Carroll told an anecdote about a young boy who refused to wear anything to elementary school but the jeans he was given by his older brother – a soldier who was killed in combat shortly thereafter. The boy’s teacher sent a note home telling the mother that he would be sent home if he didn’t wear something besides those jeans. The mother was emotionally upset and unsure how to react, so she reached out to TAPS for advice.

“We contacted the school’s principal and suggested he help us educate the teacher on how to better deal with the child’s situation,” Carroll said. “We also recommended the teacher allow the boy to do a ‘show and tell’ to the class about his brother and his dedication and sacrifice.” The school took the TAPS staff advice and the situation improved for all parties – civilians and survivors – after that.

TAPS has a core staff of 77 people running seminars, a national help line, doing case work, and facilitating “Good Grief” camps (the organization’s signature offering). Ninety-two percent of the full-time staff are survivors of fallen warriors. The staff is supplemented by more than 50,000 volunteers nationwide.

On this day at the Naval Academy, surviving children team up with midshipmen mentors and do team building exercises in Halsey Fieldhouse and then break into smaller groups for discussions about loss and healing.

“One of my good friends lost her brother in Afghanistan,” Midshipman 4th Class Kyle McCullough, a member of the Midshipmen Action Group, said. “She told me about TAPS and how they helped her through a rough time with her family. When I heard [TAPS] was coming to the Naval Academy I jumped on the opportunity to come out and volunteer.”

For more information on the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors go to taps.org or call the toll-free TAPS resource and information helpline at 800-959-TAPS (8277).

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This 85-year-old Special Forces legend has one of the most badass military resumes we’ve ever seen

While other senior citizens were enjoying a quiet life in retirement, 71-year-old Billy Waugh was hunting for Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and blowing Taliban fighters to smithereens.


As a member of a CIA team sent in shortly after the 9/11 attacks, Waugh battled militants at Tora Bora and helped bring about the collapse of the Taliban. It seemed a pretty good ending to a career that featured combat in Korea and Vietnam, surveilling Libya’s military, tracking international terrorists, and God-only-knows-what-else for the CIA.

Waugh was born in 1929 in Texas and enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1948. After completing airborne school he was assigned to the 82nd Airborne at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. But he was eager to get into combat, and he reenlisted in 1951 so he could get to the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team in Korea. Then the Korean war ended, and his career veered off into “black ops” territory once he joined the Special Forces in 1954.

His life after that reads like the most badass resume we’ve ever seen: Five tours with Special Forces “A” teams in Vietnam and Laos where he was wounded multiple times, working for the CIA’s Special Activities Division in Libya, preventing the Russians from stealing classified missile secrets on the Kwajalein Atoll, and helping to hunt down the infamous terrorist Carlos “The Jackal,” which he later detailed in a book.

This group works to salvage good from the ultimate tragedy of war
Just the beginning.

In that same book, “Hunting The Jackal,” Waugh also writes of the time he survived a major North Vietnamese Army attack in Vietnam, where he was shot in the head.

“I took another bullet, this time across the right side of my forehead. I don’t know for sure, but I believe the bullet ricocheted off the bamboo before striking me. It sliced in and out of a two-inch section of my forehead, and it immediately started to bleed like an open faucet,” Waugh wrote. “It sounds like the punch line to a bad joke, but you know it’s a bad day when the best thing about it is getting shot in the head.”

The bullet had knocked him unconscious, and the NVA soldiers who later inspected his body thought he was dead. Though the enemy soldiers had taken his gear, clothing, and Rolex watch, he was left alone where he was hit, and his comrades later landed on a helicopter and saved his life.

This group works to salvage good from the ultimate tragedy of war
Waugh in Vietnam.

“If you were going up there, you were either going to die or get shot all to hell,” Waugh told The Miami New-Times of his team’s work in Vietnam. “Everyone in the outfit was wounded once, twice, three times.”

He officially retired from the Army at the rank of Sergeant Major in 1972, though he had been working for the CIA since 1961 and would continue to work for the agency over the years as an operative or contractor. His military awards include the Silver Star, four Bronze Stars, four Army Commendation medals, and eight Purple Hearts for wounds in combat.

Waugh has often lived in the shadows at the forefront of America’s wars. Long before Osama bin Laden would be known as U.S. public enemy number one, he was tracking the terror mastermind’s every move in Sudan and put forth several plans to take him out.

“I was within 30 meters of him,” Waugh told Air Force journalist Nick Stubbs in 2011. “I could have killed him with a rock.”

In between his time in uniform and paramilitary garb, Waugh earned a Bachelor’s and Masters Degree, and he still lectures young soldiers on the art of surveillance, according to Dangerous Magazine. But it’s apparently not all PowerPoint and boredom for the now-85-year-old.

This group works to salvage good from the ultimate tragedy of war
Photo: Nick Stubbs/US Air Force

Waugh, who now lives in northwest Florida, still lists himself as a “contractor for my present outfit” on his website. So the next time something bad happens to America’s enemies, he may be part of the reason why.

“If the mind is good and the body is able, you keep on going if you enjoy it,” Waugh told Stubbs. “Once you get used to that [life of adventure], you’re not about to quit. How could you want to do anything else?”

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It took this Green Beret 48 years to get the Medal of Honor he deserved

In 1966, the U.S. Army’s Sgt. 1st Class Bennie Adkins fought the North Vietnamese Army for almost four days, using whatever was at his disposal: mortars, machine guns, small arms, and hand grenades. He killed as many as 175 enemy troops and was wounded 18 times. Over the course of the battle all of the men of his unit were either killed or wounded.


For his gallantry and bravery, the Army presented him with … the Distinguished Service Cross.

This group works to salvage good from the ultimate tragedy of war

The Distinguished Service Cross, the U.S. military’s second highest military honor, is no small award, but after all was said and done, after all the participants were interviewed and the communications during the fighting were scrutinized, Adkins actions that day in Vietnam called for the highest honor the U.S. can bestow on its armed forces. Why he did not receive the Medal of Honor back then is unclear.

After a lot of lobbying by Alabama Congressman Mike Rogers and then-Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, the award was upgraded in 2014. Adkins, having achieved the rank of Army Command Sergeant Major, was presented with the Medal of Honor by President Barack Obama in a White House ceremony.

Here’s an excerpt from Adkins’ Medal of Honor citation:

When Adkins’ camp was attacked by a large North Vietnamese and Viet Cong force in the early morning hours of March 9, 1966, Sergeant First Class Adkins rushed through intense enemy fire and manned a mortar position continually adjusting fire for the camp, despite incurring wounds as the mortar pit received several direct hits from enemy mortars.

Upon learning that several soldiers were wounded near the center of camp, he temporarily turned the mortar over to another soldier, ran through exploding mortar rounds and dragged several comrades to safety. As the hostile fire subsided, Adkins exposed himself to sporadic sniper fire while carrying his wounded comrades to the camp dispensary.

When Adkins and his group of defenders came under heavy small arms fire from members of the Civilian Irregular Defense Group that had defected to fight with the North Vietnamese, he maneuvered outside the camp to evacuate a seriously wounded American and draw fire all the while successfully covering the rescue.

When a resupply air drop landed outside of the camp perimeter, Adkins, again, moved outside of the camp walls to retrieve the much needed supplies.

During the early morning hours of March 10, 1966, enemy forces launched their main attack and within two hours, Adkins was the only man firing a mortar weapon. When all mortar rounds were expended, Adkins began placing effective recoilless rifle fire upon enemy positions. Despite receiving additional wounds from enemy rounds exploding on his position, Adkins fought off intense waves of attacking Viet Cong.

Adkins eliminated numerous insurgents with small arms fire after withdrawing to a communications bunker with several soldiers. Running extremely low on ammunition, he returned to the mortar pit, gathered vital ammunition and ran through intense fire back to the bunker. After being ordered to evacuate the camp, Adkins and a small group of soldiers destroyed all signal equipment and classified documents, dug their way out of the rear of the bunker, and fought their way out of the camp.

While carrying a wounded soldier to the extraction point he learned that the last helicopter had already departed. Adkins led the group while evading the enemy until they were rescued by helicopter on March 12, 1966.

This group works to salvage good from the ultimate tragedy of war

Adkins is now 82 and walks with a cane. During the ceremony he stood at attention, unassisted, as the President put the Medal of Honor around his collar. He saluted the crowd and then walked off stage.

“This Medal of Honor belongs to the other 16 Special Forces soldiers with me,” he said.

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This K-9 ‘battle buddy’ is helping a Marine veteran at home

Kenny Bass liked his job. As a 22-year-old Marine participating in the initial invasion of Iraq, life couldn’t have been more exciting.


“I was part of the combined anti-armor platoon,” he explained. “It was the ‘CAAT platoon.’ We were doing a lot of counter-ambush patrols, the insurgents were attacking Red Cross personnel, civilian contractors and other non-combatants. So we were tasked with going out and trying to solicit an attack. We were Infantry Marines, and young, so most of us were pretty excited about doing that kind of work. We had heavy-duty machine guns and anti-tank missiles.”

Nothing Major

About four months into his tour, the odds caught up with the young Infantry Marine. The unarmored Humvee he was riding in struck an IED.

“I was sitting in the passenger side rear, and the IED blew up by the right front bumper,” he said. “Nobody got killed, and I just took a couple pieces of shrapnel to my face, nothing major. I think the blast wave injury was the major thing.”

This group works to salvage good from the ultimate tragedy of war
When Veteran Kenny Bass was at the Dayton VA, receiving medical attention for a kidney stone, Atlas was there by his side.

Nevertheless, by the time he returned home from Iraq in early 2004, Bass was a different man.

“My friends noticed a change in me,” he said. “I was depressed. And I was anxious. I remember going to a flea market one time and that’s when I had my first panic attack, because of all the people there. It was like I was still in Iraq, where just about everyone you see is a potential threat. I hated going out to eat or going to the mall or anything like that.”

104 in a 65 Zone

As if depression, anxiety and panic weren’t enough, another symptom began to surface.Anger.

“I was walking around with an anger level of about seven or eight,” Bass explained. “One time I got pulled over by the California Highway Patrol for doing 104 mph. I got mad at the cop for pulling me over. I was such a jerk. It didn’t take much to tip me off.”

At home, the 33-year-old Veteran’s garage became his haven.

“I’d sit out there all day smoking cigarettes,” he said. “I could see the street from there, which made me feel safe, and I could also hear what was going on in the house. So I had everything covered.”

From Bad to Worse

To dull the anxiety and the fear, the former Marine turned to alcohol.

I started drinking a lot,” he said. “Of course the alcohol just made things worse. I got to the point where I hated to wake up in the morning. I hated my life. I wanted to be healthy again. I wanted to work again and not be on disability.”

In an effort to get his life back, Bass headed over to the Dayton VA Medical Center in 2007. There he began therapy sessions with Bill Wall, a clinical social worker who had served in the military for 30 years.

“Kenny went through our therapy program here at Dayton,” Wall explained, “but it was clear that he was still having some issues with personality changes, hyper-vigilance, anxiety, depression, anger and other symptoms related to post traumatic stress. When he would go out in public, he just didn’t feel safe or in control. I thought maybe a psychiatric service dog might be a good next step for him, so I recommended he look into it.”

Safety Net

Wall, a Veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, had good reasons for thinking a service dog might be the game-changer Kenny Bass was desperately in need of.

“You can feel a lot more safe with a dog around you,” the social worker observed. “The dog has been trained to pick up on any fear or anxiety you might be feeling. They can actually smell it. The dog then does something to distract you or make you feel less anxious. When you become overloaded, the dog knows it and helps you refocus. Even before you realize you’re overloaded, the dog will pick up on it. For example, if you’re in a crowd of people and you begin showing subtle signs of distress, your dog will try to create a buffer zone around you. The dog is trying to give you a sense of safety.”

“A psychiatric service dog is…always focused on taking care of you.”

And when the world seems like a safer place, chances are you’re more likely to get out there and participate in it, Wall observed.

“The dog can help you have successful outings,” he said, “and the more successful outings you experience, the better you get at it. Your new experiences gradually begin to replace your old, traumatic experiences. You’re re-learning your behavioral script.”

Back From the Brink

In 2012, after doing a little research, Kenny Bass was able to get himself paired up with an 18-month-old German Shepard named Atlas, a highly-trained service dog provided by a non-profit called Instinctive Guardians.

This group works to salvage good from the ultimate tragedy of war
Kenny Bass and his dog Atlas

“If you’re a Veteran, and suicidal, a little thing like that can be lifesaving,” Bass continued. “Atlas definitely brought me back from the brink. He’s such a character now. He gets me laughing.”“Atlas became my support system,” Bass said. “He could tell when I was having nightmares. He’d jump on the bed, lick my face and wake me up. A few weeks after I got him I was sitting alone in my garage, as usual. He came over and dropped his ball in my lap. Five minutes later I was out in the backyard with him, in the sunshine, throwing the ball for him.

The Watcher

Aside from being a natural comedian, Atlas also serves as a competent body guard.

“When we’re out, I can trust Atlas to be vigilant for me,” Bass said. “I’m experiencing more things now because of him. When we’re somewhere crowded, he’ll block for me. He’ll walk back and forth behind me to keep people from getting too close.

“And when I tell him to ‘post,’ he sits down on my right side, facing the other way. If somebody approaches me from behind, he’ll nudge me. He’s alerting me. It’s a good feeling knowing he’s watching and that I don’t have to.”

Having turned his life around two years ago with the help of Atlas, Bass decided it was time to start giving back. In 2013 he helped found The Battle Buddy Foundation, a non-profit that trains service dogs for Veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress.

“When you’re in combat, you don’t go anywhere without a buddy, someone to watch your back,” Bass said. “That’s where the term ‘Battle Buddy’ comes from.”

He added: “It’s a good feeling to know someone always has your back.”

To learn more about how VA is helping Veterans with PTSD, visit the VA National Center for PTSD Website at www.ptsd.va.gov

MIGHTY CULTURE

The Army wants more soldiers, and it’s using esports to put a ‘finger on the pulse’ of potential recruits

After whiffing on its recruiting goal in 2018, the Army has been trying new approaches to bring in the soldiers it needs to reach its goal of 500,000 in active-duty service by the end of the 2020s.


The 6,500-soldier shortfall the service reported in September 2018 was its first recruiting miss since 2005 and came despite it putting $200 million into bonuses and issuing extra waivers for health issues or bad conduct.

Within a few months of that disappointment, the Army announced it was seeking soldiers for an esports team that would, it said, “build awareness of skills that can be used as professional soldiers and use [its] gaming knowledge to be more relatable to youth.”

By January 2019, more than 6,500 soldiers had applied for a team that was expected to have about 30 members. In September 2019, the Army credited the esports team, one of two new outreach teams set up that year, as having “initiated some of the highest lead-generating events in the history of the all-volunteer force.”

[rebelmouse-proxy-image https://media.rbl.ms/image?u=%2F5c9bb3f5dc67670a5124f08a%3Fwidth%3D1300%26format%3Djpeg%26auto%3Dwebp&ho=https%3A%2F%2Fi.insider.com&s=15&h=47927b7e7b54a83740065fb68b1412252e6db4073e1b350f21cfc4e552f996db&size=980x&c=3152663958 crop_info=”%7B%22image%22%3A%20%22https%3A//media.rbl.ms/image%3Fu%3D%252F5c9bb3f5dc67670a5124f08a%253Fwidth%253D1300%2526format%253Djpeg%2526auto%253Dwebp%26ho%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Fi.insider.com%26s%3D15%26h%3D47927b7e7b54a83740065fb68b1412252e6db4073e1b350f21cfc4e552f996db%26size%3D980x%26c%3D3152663958%22%7D” expand=1]

Staff Sgt. Michael Showes, far right, with fellow Army Esports Team members and a game enthusiast at an exhibition in San Antonio, January 19, 2019.

US Army/Terrance Bell

“It’s essentially connecting America to its Army through the passion of the gaming community,” Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Jones, noncommissioned-officer-in-charge of the team, said in January 2019.

Team members who were competing would train for up to six hours a day, Jones said at the time, and they received instruction on Army enlistment programs so they could answer questions from potential recruits.

“They will have the ability to start a dialogue about what it is like to serve in our Army and see if those contacts are interested in joining,” Gen. Frank Muth, head of Army Recruiting Command, said in early 2019.

Thousands of soldiers play esports, Muth said, and the audience for it has grown into the hundreds of millions — West Point even recognized its own official esports club in January — but the appeal wasn’t obvious at first to Army leaders, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said Friday.

“This was one [idea] that when the first time Gen. Frank Muth briefed … Army senior leadership, we’re like, ‘What are you talking about, Frank?'” McCarthy told an audience at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.

“We’re about 18 months into it,” McCarthy said, and with that team, Army recruiters were “getting their finger on the pulse with 17- to 24-year-old Americans. What are they into? How do they communicate? And [finding] those right venues and shaping our messaging to talk about here’s the 150 different things you can do in the Army and the access to education and the kinds of people that you can meet and being a part of something as special as this institution.”

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The Army Esports Team trailer at ArmyCon 2019, October 12, 2019.

Army Esports Team/Facebook

In 2019, the Army rolled out an esports trailer with four gaming stations inside, as well as a semi-trailer with eight seats that could be adjusted so all eight players played the same game or their own on a gaming PC, an Xbox 1S, a PS4 Pro, and a Nintendo Switch, Jones, the NCO-in-charge, told Task Purpose in October.

One of the senior leaders dispatched to an esports event was Gen. Mark Milley, who was Army chief of staff at the time and is now chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which is the president’s top uniformed military adviser.

“He said, ‘You’re going to make me do what?'” McCarthy said Friday. “Then when he went, he learned a lot, and he got to engage with young men and women, and what we found is we’re getting millions of leads of 17- to 24-year-olds to feed into Army Recruiting Command to engage young men and women to see if they’d be interested in a life of service.”

The esports team is part of a change in recruiting strategy, McCarthy said, that has focused on 22 cities in traditional recruiting grounds in the South and Midwest but also on the West Coast and the Northeast with the goal of informing potential recruits about what life in the Army is actually like as well as about the benefits of serving, such as money for college or soft skills that appeal to employers.

The service has also shifted almost all its advertising spending to digital and put more uniformed personnel into the Army Marketing Research Group to take more control of its messaging.

McCarthy on Friday called it “a comprehensive approach” to “improve our performance in a variety of demographics, whether that’s male-to-female ratios or ethnicities.” That geographic focus yielded “a double-digit lift” among women and minorities, McCarthy said last year.

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Army Gen. Frank Muth, back row, third from right, with members of the Army Esports Team in front of USAE gaming truck, in Washington, DC, October 14, 2019.

US Army Esports Team/Facebook

The outreach hasn’t been universally welcomed.

After the 2018 recruiting shortfall, service chiefs, including then-Army Secretary Mark Esper, said schools were not letting uniformed service members in to recruit. Anti-war activists attempted to disprove that claim by offering ,000 to schools that admitted to barring recruiters.

Suggestions the Army start recruiting children in their early teens also received criticism for both its impracticality and the harm it could do to the military as an institution.

But recruiting has improved year-over-year, hitting the goal set last year and being ahead of pace now, McCarthy said.

“This has been a major turnaround, because I think we just got a little lazy and we started losing touch with young men and women … but you have to sustain this,” McCarthy added. “We’re in a war for talent in this country — 3.5% unemployment, they have a lot of opportunities.”

“We travel to a lot of American cities, and we meet with mayors and superintendents of schools and other civic leaders to try to educate those influencers, to try to help us in recruiting, and it’s yielded tremendous benefit.”

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

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Marine Reservist protects family from attacker

Gabriel R. McInnis, a sergeant in the Marine Corps Reserve, thought he was on a routine drive to serve on a funeral honors detail Dec. 27.


While passing through a residential area in Tempe, Arizona, he heard a woman scream.

“I was approaching a light, when I heard some screaming and yelling,” said McInnis, an engineer equipment mechanic with Bulk Fuel Company C, 6th Engineer Support Battalion, 4th Marine Logistics Group.

As he turned to figure out what the commotion was, he said, he saw a wide-open doorway and a large man physically assaulting Tia Simpkins and her family in her home.

Rapid Response

“I knew I had to act,” McInnis said. “I threw my car into park and ran over to try to stop it.”

He tackled the attacker despite being outclassed in height and weight. Soon the pair was on the ground exchanging blows. Although McInnis took a lot of punches, he prevented the attacker from getting to the family.

“Finally, I catch a lucky break,” McInnis said.

The attacker threw a punch, missed, and fell to the ground. McInnis used the opportunity to perform an arm-bar takedown, a martial arts move, to subdue his opponent. After restraining the attacker, he dialed 911 and the police responded within minutes.

By putting his own welfare on the line, McInnis was able to prevent the assault against Simpkins and her family.

This group works to salvage good from the ultimate tragedy of war
Marine Corps Sgt. Gabriel R. McInnis, engineer equipment mechanic with Bulk Fuel Company C, 6th Engineer Support Battalion, 4th Marine Logistics Group, poses for a photo after receiving a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., Jan. 7, 2017. McInnis received the medal for his actions in preventing an assault of a family in Tempe, Ariz., Dec. 27, 2016. | US Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Ian Leones

A ‘True Hero’

“I know he is a true hero, because there is no way he could have had time to consider his own safety,” Simpkins said.

McInnis credits the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program with providing him the training to react.

“I’m an MCMAP instructor, and I spend a lot of my personal time training my Marines,” McInnis said. “The Marine Corps teaches right from wrong, and a bigger guy attacking a smaller woman is definitely wrong. I saw that and knew I needed to put an end to what was happening.”

The Marine leadership in his unit also recognized McInnis’s heroics and awarded him the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal for his actions.

“He is one of the Marines I really look up to,” said Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Logan M. Tucker, an automotive maintenance mechanic with Company C who trained under McInnis for MCMAP. “He is always improving himself and the Marines around him. What he did embodies Marine Corps ethos. If someone needs help, it’s our duty to take care of people.”

This group works to salvage good from the ultimate tragedy of war
Marine Corps Sgt. Gabriel R. McInnis, center, engineer equipment mechanic with Bulk Fuel Company C, 6th Engineer Support Battalion, 4th Marine Logistics Group, receives a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., Jan. 7, 2017. McInnis received the medal for his actions in preventing an assault of a family in Tempe, Ariz., Dec. 27, 2016. | US Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Ian Leones

Helping Others

This is not the first time McInnis has used his Marine Corps training to help others. A few years ago during a flight to Hawaii, McInnis used the knowledge he gained from the Combat Lifesaver Course to help a diabetic woman who had passed out during the flight. “I joined to help people, and I’ve had a few opportunities to do it,” McInnis said.

“He acted with the honor, courage and commitment that we always hear about our Marines having,” Simpkins said. “He risked his own life and welfare in order to protect people that he barely even knew.”

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How 8 countries are preparing for war with Russia

Russia continues to issue threats to countries on its borders — most notably those with significant populations of ethnic Russians like Georgia and Ukraine which have already felt Moscow’s wrath in recent years.


But many European countries have reduced their spending in the decades since World War II, so preparing for a potential war with their aggressive and highly militarized neighbor is not as simple as giving their soldiers MREs, bullets, and marching orders.

And while the U.S. helps guarantee the security of NATO members, a recent analysis by the RAND Corporation indicates that many countries on the eastern front could be swallowed up long before American reinforcements could arrive. Some countries, like Estonia, could be conquered in as little as 60 hours, analysts say.

Here’s what eight countries in Eastern Europe are doing to get ready for the war they hope never comes:

1. Ukrainians are hastily emplacing fixed defenses

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Ukrainian soldiers practice clearing trenches on Nov. 2 during an exercise in Ukraine with U.S. soldiers. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Elizabeth Tarr)

Ukraine is the one state on the list who is currently engaged in a war with Russia. While their troops have fought limited groups of Russian “volunteers,” Ukraine’s top generals are worried about a full-scale air attack and ground invasion.

To prepare, they’re digging trenches and emplacing fixed defenses like tank traps and bunkers. They’ve also practiced maneuvering mobile air defenses and other units. Finally, Ukraine is planning a massive expansion of its navy to replace many some of the ships captured by Russia in the 2014 annexation of Crimea.

2. Estonia is training a guerrilla force to bleed Russian occupiers dry

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Estonian soldiers provide cover fire for U.S. paratroopers on Nov. 3, 2016, in Hellenurme, Estonia, during a joint training exercise. (Photo: U.S. Army Pfc. James Dutkavich)

Estonia fields an army of only 6,000 soldiers and fully expects to be overrun within days if attacked by Russia, an outcome that the RAND Corporation agrees with. But Estonia plans to make the Russians regret ever acre they took.

The nation is hosting “military sport” contests and encouraging citizens to keep weapons in their homes. The sports events include 25-mile ruck marches, evasion exercises, plant identification, and others which test skills useful for an insurgent force. Over 25,000 Estonians have joined the weekly drills.

3. Latvia is training up a “home guard” and investing in special operations

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Latvian soldiers drive their armored combat vehicles into position during a joint training exercise with U.S. troops on Oct. 31, 2016, in Adazi, Latvia. (Photo: U.S. Army)

Like Estonia, Latvia is bullish on training citizens to resist an invasion. They’re moving forward with plans to allow “home guard” member to keep their weapons and night vision devices in their homes. They’re also betting heavily on special operations forces, tripling the size of the National Armed Force Special Operations Forces.

Like most NATO members, they’re also trying to get more NATO troops on their soil to deter Russian aggression in the first place. Britain is already sending troops for exercises, and Denmark and France have promised forces as well.

4. Lithuania

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(Photo: U.S. Army Pfc. James Dutkavich)

Lithuania has distributed a civil defense book to its citizens which details how to survive a Russian invasion that includes a phone number which residents can call to report suspected Russian spies. It is also planning to restart military conscription for men between the ages of 19 and 26.

5. Norway

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Norwegian soldiers prepare for a stalking event during the 2016 Best Sniper Squad Competition in Germany. The team went on to win the overall competition. (Photo: U.S. Army Spc. Emily Houdershieldt)

Norway officially acknowledged that it believes Ukraine was illegally occupied by Russia during a state visit to Ukraine on Oct. 18. Russia later added Norway to its list of targets for “strategic” weapons. Russia uses the word “strategic” to differentiate between conventional and nuclear-capable forces.

Norway has invited more NATO troops, including U.S. Marines, to train there. It’s also stepped up its intercepts of Russian aircraft flying near its shores. Norway’s F-16s now maintain a 24-hour alert. The country is also re-opening Cold War-era bases in the far north.

6. Poland is buying massive amounts of equipment, including new subs

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Polish soldiers of 17th Wielkopolska Mechanized Brigade move a simulated wounded soldier during a react to contact scenario during exercise Combined Resolve VII at the U.S. Army’s Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels Germany, Sept. 12, 2016. (Photo: U.S. Army Spc. Gage Hull)

Poland, which is considered to be one of the more hawkish NATO members, has been warning of a threat from Moscow for some time. For the past few years, it has championed regional security agreements with its neighbors and worked hard to ingrain itself with NATO.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine, Poland has ramped up the purchase of military hardware such as new, stealthy submarines and Polish-manufactured S-70 helicopters for its special operations soldiers.

7. and 8. Finland and Sweden are securing defense agreements with the U.K. and U.S.

Finland and Sweden are countries which famously prefer to avoid alliances, but Russian aggression has spurred an interest in limited defense agreements which will make it easier for NATO troops to deploy to those countries in the event of war.

The U.K. and U.S. signed two contracts each with Sweden and Norway, and all four agreements have different details. But, the broad strokes are that all four countries will increase their interoperability by holding joint training exercises as well as participating in research, development, and procurement projects.

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This slugfest was the longest battle America ever fought

The Hürtgen Forest is a massive German timberland where 33,000 Americans were killed and wounded in five months of fighting from Sep. 12, 1944 to Feb. 1945 as artillery batteries dueled, tanks clashed, and infantrymen battled each other nonstop.


The initial American movement into the Hürtgen Forest was a side objective for First Army’s Lt. Gen. Courtney H. Hodges. He was taking a route above Hürtgen Forest to attack Koln, Germany, during the early days of Operation Market Garden.

If he took the forest himself, the woods would become an impossible obstacle for Germans attempting to counterattack on his southern flank. If he did not, he feared the trees would provide concealment to an enemy that could then threaten his belly at any time.

Hodges sent the 9th Infantry Division into the southern part of the forest on Sep. 12. The understrength division initially made good progress into the forest and encountered little resistance. Once they neared the villages and hamlets though, German soldiers began picking apart the attackers.

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Photo: US Army T/5 Edward Norbuth

Bad fog and icy weather prevented American bombing runs most days. The few American tanks available for the battle were forced to fight their way through narrow passes and across tank obstacles, preventing them from reaching much of the fighting. So, the battle quickly became a mostly infantry fight with rifle and mortarmen maneuvering on top of each other, and the Germans had a very real advantage. They had concrete bunkers built under the earth where mortars and artillery pieces were largely incapable of rooting them out.

Those concrete bunkers protected the Germans from one of the biggest dangers in Hürtgen, tree bursts. Artillery and mortar rounds that struck trees would turn the whole things into an explosion of wood shrapnel that could kill or maim anyone exposed to it. This was predominantly the American forces.

The 9th Infantry Division’s last big fight in Hürtgen Forest was from Oct. 6-16, 1944 when they painstakingly made their way through the trees towards Schmidt, Germany with tanks from the 3rd Armored Division. Even with the armor support they only moved the front 3,000 yards while taking 4,500 casualties.

The 9th was finally relieved by the Pennsylvania National Guard’s 28th Division and the 707th Tank Battalion. The 28th’s first attack was characterized by massive artillery barrages and tanks firing shells straight into buildings as the Allies took small towns on the way to Schmidt.

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On Nov. 3 the Allies took Schmidt itself, but it was recaptured by the Germans the next morning. The Americans had been unable to get their own tanks up to the town due to impassable terrain. But the Germans came from the opposite side and were been able to bring Panther heavy tanks to bear.

The Americans again struggled to take any important ground until the senior commanders were forced back to the drawing board. This time they relieved the 28th Division with the 4th Division and called the 1st Infantry Division to attack from the north. The weather had finally cleared enough for the planes to bomb en masse and artillery units opened a massive barrage to help destroy German positions.

Despite the bravery of the American soldiers and the support from artillery and the air, most attacks across the front failed due to German artillery and minefields. Maj. George Mabry, a D-Day hero, personally dug mines out of a field with a trench knife to give his men a corridor to attack through. The men rewarded him by being on of the few units to capture their objective in the assault.

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American troops ride a captured German tank during Operation Queen in the Battle of Hurtgen Forest. Photo: US Army

The slow progress continued as First Army kept sending new units into the grinder. Three more infantry divisions, an armored division, a Ranger battalion, and elements of the 82nd Airborne Division all marched into the trees. While they killed, wounded, and captured heaps of Germans, all of them took heavy casualties themselves.

The ferocity of the fighting dropped but did not end in mid-December. The Germans had launched the famous Battle of the Bulge to the south and both sides had to send supplies and other assets to support their forces there.

The dwindling German forces in Hürtgen were finally cleared in early Feb. 1945 and America became the owner of a couple of dams and countless trees. The Army took 33,000 casualties to occupy the forest. The battle is described as either a pyrrhic victory or a defeat by most historians. The Army simply lost too many men and got too little in return.

The thrust toward Koln, the offensive that Hodges had been worried would be stopped by a counterattack from Hürtgen, was ultimately successful. First Army took the city on Mar. 6, 1945.

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

The Navy made Tom Cruise and Jerry Bruckheimer Honorary Naval Aviators

Naval aviators are often considered to be the best aviators in the world. The training is intensive and it can take students years to earn their wings of gold as fully qualified aviators. Although the Navy does confer the designation of Honorary Naval Aviator upon select individuals, the title is extremely exclusive. On September 24, 2020, producer Jerry Bruckheimer and actor Tom Cruise became the 35th and 36th Honorary Naval Aviators, respectively.


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Bob Hope receives his wings at NAS Pensacola on May 8, 1986 (U.S. Navy)

The Honorary Naval Aviator Program was started in 1949 as a way for the Navy to honor individuals who have greatly contributed to or have provided outstanding service to Naval Aviation. Individuals who receive the title earn the right to wear the coveted gold wings and are entitled to all honors, courtesies, and privileges afforded to Naval Aviators. The program is managed by the Chief of Naval Operations, Director Air Warfare and final approval of a nomination is made by the Chief of Naval Operations. Famous Honorary Naval Aviators include Jim Neighbors of Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. fame and Bob Hope.

On September 24, Bruckheimer and Cruise received their wings of gold from the Commander of Naval Air Forces, Vice Adm. DeWolfe Miller III, prior to an advance screening of Top Gun: Maverick at Paramount Studios in Los Angeles. The citation read:

In the history of motion pictures, there is not a more iconic aviation movie than the 1986 Paramount Pictures film Top Gun. Its characters, dialogue and imagery are ingrained in the minds of an entire generation of Americans. The movie captured the hearts of millions, making a profound positive impact on recruiting for Naval Aviation, and significantly promoted and supported Naval Aviation and put aircraft carriers and naval aircraft into popular culture.

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Vice Adm. DeWolfe H. Miller III, Jerry Bruckheimer, and Rear Adm. Kenneth R. Whitesell following the winging ceremony (U.S. Navy)

Top Gun‘s contribution to Naval Aviation was arguably even greater than its box office success of 0 million. Following the civil unrest and turmoil of the 60s and 70s, the military was not an attractive prospect for many Americans. Top Gun made the military, and particularly Naval Aviation, cool again. Michael Ironside, who played Lt. Cdr. Rick ‘Jester’ Heatherly, noted how effective the film was at recruiting after two sailors approached him angrily following the release of Top Gun saying, “We joined because of that f*****g movie.” Perhaps it was too effective a recruiting tool.

In the sequel to the 1986 blockbuster hit and cultural icon, Cruise reprises his role as Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell with Bruckheimer returning to produce the film. Reportedly, Val Kilmer also returns to reprise his role as Tom ‘Iceman’ Kazansky. Top Gun: Maverick follows America’s favorite hotshot pilot into the cockpit as an instructor and is scheduled to premiere on July 2, 2021.


MIGHTY CULTURE

It’s time you know the difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day

A few years ago, there was a viral Facebook post about a woman getting a haircut before Memorial Day weekend. She had lost her husband in a Navy helicopter crash months prior. He died on deployment, never having met their youngest son. So, when the smiling receptionist wished her a “Happy Memorial Day” after she had buried her spouse, the words cut extra deep.

Before you tag every veteran and service member on Facebook and wish them a Happy Memorial Day, remember that, in this community, Memorial Day means something much, much bigger than the start of summer. The day feels fraught with memories of those we’ve lost, mixed with gratitude for the times we’ve had.

While it is true that every day is Memorial Day for the families of the fallen, they aren’t asking that you stay inside and wallow.


But we do owe it to them to pause. Reflect. Remember. Honor.

Gold Star wife Krista Simpson Anderson, who lost her husband, Army Staff Sgt. Michael Harrison Simpson, in Afghanistan in 2013, said, “I get upset when people scold others for enjoying the weekend or having BBQs. What do you think our service members did before they died? Mike sure did enjoy his family and friends. What better way to honor them than to be surrounded by family and friends living. But we are also so grateful for your pause and reflection as you celebrate our heroes and the lives that they lived.”

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Krista Anderson and her sons pose for a photo in 2014.

(Photo by Staff Sgt. Marcus Butler)

Memorial Day and Veterans Day are different holidays with unique purposes — and unique ways to honor each.

How to honor Veterans Day

Veterans Day is the day to tag all your people, posting photos with your brother in uniform or the selfie with your bestie before he or she deployed. Veterans Day celebrates the living who served our country. Offer veterans a discount at your business. Call your favorite vet on the phone and thank him or her for their service. Attend a parade. Celebrate a veteran.

How to honor Memorial Day

Memorial Day is about remembering and honoring every single man and woman who has died for our freedoms — men and women who were mommies and daddies, sons and daughters, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, patriots, incredible Americans and really, really great friends.

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The United States Marine Band on Memorial Day.

(Photo by Spc. Cody W. Torkelson)

You want to honor and celebrate patriotism and the military this Memorial Day? Then you have to honor the complicated feelings surrounding it. Express your knowledge that this day is about remembrance.

Attend a memorial service at a national cemetery. Run or walk a mile to benefit the non-profit Krista Anderson started in memory of her husband, and then pledge your mile for wear blue: run to remember.

Talk to your kids about sacrifice, about service and about what this three-day weekend really means. Observe the National Moment of Remembrance at 3:00 p.m. Monday with a minute of silence.

And then, like Krista said, live.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

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7 hilarious Marine shenanigans the commandant wouldn’t like

The Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Robert B. Neller, gave an interview recently where he critiqued Marines for getting into “general jackassery.” And while we strongly agree with most of Neller’s comments (don’t get drunk and commit crimes, don’t get drunk and get yourself kicked out, don’t get drunk and hurt yourself) we do hope that Marines keep getting into some general jackassery.


Because that’s how we get videos and photos like these, and these things are hilarious. (Just a heads up, most of these videos include some foul language.)

1. Marines creating spoof music videos

Come on, sir. This video is funny, family friendly, and no one got hurt. Assuming production didn’t affect operations, what’s the harm?

2. Marines racing in their sleeping bags

Alright, we get where you’re coming from with this one. Sure, it’s funny, but if those falls had gone a little differently the “Two Marines can’t train because of injury” would be a pretty expensive way to get some lulz. But we would still lulz, sir. We would still lulz hard.

3. Marines clearing their own barracks with brooms and mops

Come on, this is basically training.

4. Marines creating hilarious sketch videos

If it doesn’t affect operations but makes everyone laugh so hard they forget the green weenie in their butts, then it’s a net gain for the Corps. (Anyone who doesn’t know about Terminal Boots should follow them). This video even includes some good lessons for junior leaders like, “Never be the worst Marine in your grade.”

5. Marines dancing to what are likely video game instructions

Sure, they look ridiculous. But there’s no harm in that.

6. Marines trying to dance sexily in weird costumes

We hope no one actually finds this sexy, but it’s not exactly harmful or risky. (Also, that Marine in the back quietly getting ready to go somewhere like two dudes aren’t dancing in panda masks is our new hero).

7. Seriously, what is it with Marines, weird costumes, and “sexy” dancing?

Seriously, sir, you may want to train your men on what the word “sexy” means. Also, if either dude tried to dance on the bannister, we would be back to the injury problem.

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These battleship vets bring the USS North Carolina back to life through combat stories

The USS North Carolina was what they called a “fast” battleship, designed for long range shooting matches with other ships of war. She was faster than any other ship in the U.S. fleet when she was built.


“I was 17 when I came aboard this thing,” says James Bowen, a World War II veteran and USS North Carolina sailor. “I saw that thing and said ‘Nothing can hurt me on that thing.’ So I think of this as my second mother.”

“It brings back a lot of memories, if you walk around the ventilators,” says Louis Popovich, another USS North Carolina veteran. “It’s amazing how you can be reminded of an area by breathing some of the air.”

By the end of WWII, submarine warfare and aircraft carriers made the more expensive heavy gun warships like North Carolina all but obsolete. The last use of a battleship in combat was in Desert Storm, but by then they were firing Tomahawk missiles. Slowly over the next 50 years, the battleships of WWII were decommissioned one by one.

The North Carolina was opened to the public in 1963 and is now moored at Wilmington, N.C, where those interested in hearing more stories from the men who fought aboard her can visit.

While the ship will be there for the foreseeable future, the veterans’ firsthand stories will not. An estimated 430 WWII veterans die every day and by 2036, they will all be gone — but not forgotten.

MIGHTY TRENDING

U.S. and Russian astronauts forced to conduct emergency landing

A space capsule carrying a two-man Russian-American crew that malfunctioned after liftoff has landed safely in the steppes of central Kazakhstan, the Russian and U.S. space agencies say.

Russian cosmonaut Aleksei Ovchinin and U.S. astronaut Nick Hague returned to Earth on Oct. 11, 2018, in their Soyuz capsule for an emergency landing following a problem with the booster rocket shortly after a launch bound for the International Space Station (ISS).

Both NASA, the U.S. space agency, and Roskosmos, the Russian equivalent, said the astronauts were in good condition after their capsule landed about 20 kilometers east of the Kazakh city of Zhezqazghan.


“The search and rescue teams have reached the Soyuz spacecraft landing site and report that the two crew members are in good condition and are out of the capsule,” NASA said.

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(RFE/RL Graphic)

“The cosmonauts are alive. They have landed. They have been found,” according to a source at the Russia-leased Baikonur launch facility in Kazakhstan.

The crew had to return in “ballistic descent mode,” NASA earlier had said, which it explained was “a sharper angle of landing compared to normal.”

Following their emergency landing, NASA published pictures of Hague and Ovchinin undergoing a medical checkup and relaxing on sofas in Zhezqazghan. The two were expected to be flown to Baikonur and then on to the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center outside Moscow.

Roskosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin said he had ordered a state commission to be set up to investigate the causes of the malfunction, while Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov announced that manned space flights would be suspended until the probe is completed.

The Soyuz capsule automatically jettisoned from the booster when it failed 123 seconds after the launch from Baikonur, Borisov said, according to the Interfax news agency.

The minister added that the problem occurred when the first and second stages of the booster rocket were in the process of separating.

Footage from inside the spacecraft showed the crew being shaken around at the moment the failure occurred.

In a statement, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said that a “thorough investigation into the cause of the incident will be conducted.”

Hague and Ovchinin were due to spend six months on the ISS, which is orbiting 400 kilometers above the Earth.

Relations between Moscow and Washington have plunged to the lowest level since the end of the Cold War over the wars in Ukraine and Syria, allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential, and other issues, but Russia and the United States have maintained cooperation in space.

The Russian-built Soyuz spacecraft is currently the only vehicle for ferrying crews to the ISS following the retirement of the U.S. space shuttle fleet in 2011.

The Oct. 11, 2018, booster failure led to what is said to be the first emergency landing for the Soyuz since 1975, when it failed to separate between stages during an ascent and triggered the abort system. The crew survived.

In 1983, a Soyuz exploded on the launchpad soon after the two cosmonauts it was carrying jettisoned. The crew also survived without injuries.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.