Military Working Dog Gabe started his Army career in a rare way, escaping near-euthanasia in a Texas shelter before becoming a remarkably successful working dog and a celebrity loved by famous humans, like Betty White and Jay Leno.
Gabe is credited with going on 210 combat missions and finding 26 caches of weapons and explosives before retiring to live with his handler in 2009 as a sergeant first class. He passed away in his handler’s arms in 2013.
He had been sitting in a shelter where he was reportedly a day away from euthanasia when the Southeast Texas Labrador Retriever Rescue Organization pulled him out. The Army found him then and tested him for potential as a military working dog. He passed and was assigned to Army Staff Sgt. Charles Shuck.
They find bombs. They find them in combat, in the burning desert, and sometimes under fire. Gabe finished a five-month training iteration and was the rock star of the class. After they graduated, Shuck’s commander asked if they could deploy to Iraq. They needed Gabe in the show.
And so he went, and Gabe and Shuck were quickly favorites with troops on the ground. They rolled out often, 210 times in a single deployment. Of those missions, 170 were combat patrols where they led columns of soldiers through dangerous areas, smelling for the tell-tale scents of IEDs.
And Gabe was able to find the goods. In one case, he hit on 36 mortar rounds stashed by insurgents. Mortar rounds are popular tools for bomb makers because their explosives are reliable and powerful. Recovering them saves lives. Gabe also visited soldiers during his deployment, improving morale.
Gabe would eventually garner three Army Commendation Medals, an Army Achievement Medal, and dozens of military coins and other awards. In 2008, he received the Heroic Military Working Dog Award Medal from the American Kennel Club.
Gabe visiting with children in a school.
But Gabe was senior and needed to retire soon after the deployment, something he did in 2009. The Army allowed Shuck, Gabe’s only handler, to adopt him. He visited schools and hospitals and became a celebrity, appearing in photos with Betty White and Jay Leno.
The heroic dog enjoyed almost four years of retirement, but cancer had stealthily crept through his liver and spleen. It was discovered in February 2013, but it was far too late to operate.
Shuck made the decision to have Gabe put to sleep and cradled him as he passed.
The Memorial Day Murph, a workout created in honor of Michael Murphy, a Navy SEAL awarded the Medal of Honor for Operation Redwings in Afghanistan 2005 requires an intermediate to advanced level of fitness to complete.
The challenge is popular with many tactical athletes, CrossFit, and other exercise groups and can be found at The Murph Challenge.
Here is a way to help prepare for the high repetitions of pullups (100), pushups (200), and squats (300). Over the next several weeks, progress throughout the pyramid below a few days a week and see if you score better each week, by moving up the pyramid. See below:
You should warm up well with this workout, in fact, the warmup/run pyramid works well to not only prepare you for higher rep sets but will help you slowly accumulate repetitions for the grand 100,200,300 grand totals.
U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Derek Seifert, 633rd Air Base Wing photojournalist, performs a pull-up during a Memorial Day Murph and Pararescue Workout event
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Areca T. Bell)
Pushups / Squat Pyramid: Run 100m, 1 pushup/squats, Run 100m – 2 pushup/squats run 100m – 3/3…up to 10/10. This warmup will yield 55 squats and 55 pushups to add to the Murph Workout (100 pullups, 200 pushups, 300 squats) below:
This Half Pyramid has you starting at 1 and building up to level 10 in ten sets.
PT HALF Pyramid 1-10 (*1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10)
pullups x 1 (55 reps)
Pushups x 2 (110 reps) (*2,4,6,8,10,12,14,16,18,20)
Squats x 3 (165 reps) (*3,6,9,12,15,18,21,24,27,30)
For clarity, the sets of the PT Pyramid breaks down like this:
Set 1: Pullup 1, Pushups 2, Squats 3, run 400m
Set 2: Pull-ups 2, Pushups 4, Squats 6, run 400m
Set 3: Pull-ups 3, Pushups 6, Squats 9, run 400m…Keep going up the pyramid until you fail, then resort in reverse order after failing at two exercises.
Reverse PT Pyramid with Pull-ups and Squats with cardio of choice each set to recover from each set
Pull-ups x 1 – total for day equals 100 pull-ups
Squats x 3 – total for day equals 300 squats
U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jared Martin, 633rd Security Forces Squadron police services NCO in charge, performs a push-up during a Memorial Day Murph and Pararescue Workout event.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Areca T. Bell)
For more information on the PT Pyramid, see the full article, The PT Pyramid is what I call a Foundation Workout. It helps the user build a solid foundation of calisthenics and increases volume so you will improve your previous limits. Once you get to level 10 and back down to 1 again you will have done 100 pullups, 200 pushups, and 300 squats. You do this each set by doubling each pull-up set for pushups, and tripling each pull-up set for squats.
You have 35 pushups to complete the FULL Murph 100,200,300 rep challenge and at the same time, work on your goal pace running intervals for future timed run events.
U.S. service members and their families participate in a 1-mile run during the Memorial Day Murph and Pararecue Workout event.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Areca T. Bell)
YES, this is 10 sets of 1/4 mile runs at goal mile pace for timed runs. Arrange as needed (use a treadmill or track if pull-up bar nearby)
Finish the workout with a Mini Mobility Cooldown that has some form of non-impact/walking, stretching, and foam rolling of muscles that will be sore – thighs, hamstrings, chest, upper back/lats, and arms.
Repeat 2 times
Non-Impact cardio 5 min
Foam roll / Stretch 5 min
Good luck with preparing for this journey and a worthy reminder of our fallen heroes.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
War is a dangerous thing, often necessitating actions that — in any other circumstance — would be absolutely insane.
Here are six of the things that make sense in war, but are still pretty ballsy regardless:
6. Flooding your own territory
The idea for most defenders is to keep their territory whole for their own people, even in the face of enemy forces. But for defenders in low-lying areas facing a potentially unstoppable force, there’s always the option of making sections of it impossible via water (though mines, obstacles, and a few other maneuvers work also).
This forces the enemy to attack through narrow channels determined by the defenders, and limits the territory that has to be protected. Does make for a hell of a cleanup problem, though.
5. Night raids
Night raids have all the same drawbacks of normal raids in that the attackers are trying to conduct a quick assault before the defenders can rally, but with the added confusion of limited visibility and increased sound transmission — sound waves typically travel farther at night and have less ambient sound with which to compete.
Of course, the U.S. enjoys a big advantage at night against many nations. While night vision goggles and other optics provide less depth of field and less peripheral vision, if any, they’re a huge advantage in the dark against an enemy without them.
4. Submarine combat
Submarines face a lot of jokes, but what they do is pretty insane. A group of sailors get into a huge metal tube with torpedoes, missiles, or both, dive underwater and sail thousands of nautical miles, and then either park or patrol under the waves, always a single mechanical failure from a quick and agonizing death.
The reasons to go under the waves anyway are plentiful. Submarines can provide a nearly impossible-to-find nuclear deterrent, molest enemy shipping, sink high-value enemy vessels, place sensors in important shipping lanes, or tap into undersea cables.
But the guys who sail under the water are crazy to do it.
Either way, it leaves a large group of soldiers with relatively little armor and artillery trying to quickly mass and fight an enemy who was already entrenched when they arrived, hopefully with the element of surprise.
It’s risky for the attackers, but it allows them to tie up or destroy enemy forces that could threaten operations, such as when Marines air assault against enemy artillery that could fire on a simultaneous amphibious assault.
2. Assault through ambush
When a maneuver force finds itself in a near ambush — defined as an ambush from within hand grenade range, about 38 yards — with the enemy sweeping fire through their ranks, it’s trained to immediately turn towards the threat and assault through it, no matter the cost.
Each individual soldier takes this action on their own, not even looking to the platoon or squad leadership before acting. While running directly towards the incoming fire takes serious cojones, it’s also necessary. Trying to go any other direction or even running for cover just gives the enemy more time to fire before rounds start heading back at them.
And the number 1 ballsiest move:
1. Ships ramming submarines
It’s hard to get more ballsy than one of the earliest methods for attacking submarines: taking your ship, and ramming it right into the enemy. This is super dangerous for the attacking ship since the submarine’s hull could cause the surface ship’s keel to break.
But surface ships do it in a pinch anyway, because there’s more risk to allowing a submarine to get away and possibly into position for a torpedo attack. And the surface ship is generally more likely to limp away from a collision than the submarine is, which is still a win in war.
During the opening three days of the Mosul offensive, U.S.-led airstrikes rattled the city at a rate of one bomb every eight minutes, an official said.
The sheer volume of strikes sets the operation apart from others in the ongoing campaign against militants affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, according to Col. Daniel Manning, the deputy director of the Combined Air Operations Center.
“It’s a pretty intense bombing campaign if you think about each of these bombs are precision-guided weapons … so it’s a really high rate to be concentrated over one city over a prolonged period of time,” Manning told Military.com in a telephone interview Friday.
Since Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s Oct. 16 declaration of the beginning of the assault to recapture Mosul, whose population has dwindled to about 665,000 residents, the air coalition conducted more than 191 strikes through Nov. 1, employing over 1,352 weapons for operations, according to Air Forces Central Command spokeswoman Kiley Dougherty.
From the start of Operation Inherent Resolve in 2014, Dougherty said the coalition has struck Mosul with 1,239 targets, dropping 5,941 bombs.
“You tend to employ more weapons when the weather is better, and when you’re partner forces are on the move because when they’re on the move, they’re finding the enemy, forcing the enemy to reveal themselves, and we’re there to strike them,” Manning said.
“We can certainly employ weapons in all weather — we have sensors that can look through the weather — but [a storm] usually slows down an operation of this size,” he added.
Mosul has been a months-in-the-making operation, Manning said. And planning out the airspace for Air Force and coalition aircraft has been essential to “work the stack” of aircraft operating in a vast city but tight airspace.
Aircraft from drones to fighters to bombers “are given different altitude restrictions, from low to very high where you’re assigned a certain block of altitude at the flight of two aircraft, and you maintain that block knowing that there are aircraft below and above you,” Manning said.
The same goes laterally. If there is an artillery strike from below that has the ability to fire high enough where “it can reach aircraft, you have to stay East or West of a certain line,” he said.
A coveted aircraft during the operation has been the B-52 long-range bomber. The Stratofortresses have the ability to stay airborne for a longer duration, have capable sensors to identify targets, and carry a wide-variety of bombs “attacking everything from vehicles to large-site targets.”
“Frankly, we want our partners and the enemy to see the airpower [the B-52] has overhead,” Manning said. “A B-52 encourages our partner force that we have their back. Being seen is actually a pretty good thing.”
In April, several B-52s arrived at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, to join the American-led campaign in place of the B-1B Lancer. The aircraft stepped up lucrative targeting throughout May and June, more than doubling their strikes against weapons caches, then-AFCENT spokesman Lt. Col. Chris Karns told Air Force Times in June.
The tactics ISIS have been using to try and thwart the coalition in Mosul aren’t revolutionary but they’ve complicated the dynamic throughout the city, Manning said. The group has burned oil trenches to throw off intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft; set off vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices; attempted hostage takeovers; and used snipers to kill coalition forces.
That’s why ISR aircraft — most heavily used throughout the Middle East theater — are a must-have to predict ISIS’ next move while detecting the location of civilians.
In May, Lt. Gen. Charles Brown, now the deputy commander of U.S. Central Command, noted the use of ISR almost always translates into a more clean-cut mission.
“I would actually like to have more ISR and really be able to use it,” he said at the time, “Because what it helps me to do is develop targets [and] … strike at the same time as we develop those targets. The more ISR I have, I can minimize the risk to civilian casualties and continue the precision air campaign that we have.”
“It’s also very likely when ISR aircraft go out over Mosul, they will employ one if not all of the weapons that they have,” Manning said.
For example, MQ-1 Predators and MQ-9 Reaper drones account for 15.6 percent of strikes in OIR, ACC spokesman Benjamin Newell told Military.com last month. They also account for 8.6 percent of all Combined Forces Air Component weapons dropped in OIR. “They are involved in nearly every operation in OIR, in one capacity or another,” Newell said.
“This is a very, very difficult way to fight,” Manning said. “And we can’t say when it’s going to be over.”
WATCH: B-52’s are gearing up to drop bombs on ISIS
The US Army wants the F-35 to support its ground troops.
It’s that simple. We hear volumes of information about the Marine Corps vertical-take-off-and-landing F-35B, Navy carrier-launched F-35C, and Air Force F-35A — but what does the Army think of the emerging Joint Strike Fighter?
Does the Army think the 5th-Gen stealth fighter would bring substantial value to targeting and attacking enemy ground forces in close proximity to advancing infantry? What kind of Close Air Support could it bring to high-risk, high-casualty ground war?
“When you are in a firefight, the first thing infantry wants to do it get on that radio to adjust fire for mortars and locate targets with close air support with planes or helicopters. You want fires. The F-35 has increased survivability and it will play a decisive role in the support of ground combat,” Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley told reporters at the Association of the United States Army Annual Symposium.
Gen. Milley’s comments are quite significant, given the historic value of close air support when it comes to ground war. His remarks also bear great relevance regarding the ongoing Pentagon evaluation assessing the F-35 and A-10 Warthog in close air support scenarios.
Over the years, close-air-support to Army ground war has of course often made the difference between life and death — victory or defeat. The Army, Milley said, wants next-generation close-air-support for potential future warfare.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley.
(US Army photo)
“We fight with the Navy, Marines and Air Force. Our soldiers have never heard an Air Force pilot say ‘I can’t fly into that low-altitude area,’ These guys take incredible risk. If there are troops on the ground, they are rolling in hot,” Milley said.
While Milley of course did not specifically compare the A-10 to the F-35 or say the Army prefers one aircraft over another, he did say the F-35 would be of great value in a high-stakes, force-on-force ground war.
Long-revered by ground troops as a “flying-tank,” the combat proven A-10 has been indispensable to ground-war victory. Its titanium hull, 30mm cannon, durability, built-in redundancy and weapons range has enabled the aircraft to sustain large amounts of small arms fire and combat damage — and keep flying.
At the same time, as newer threats emerge and the high-tech F-35 matures into combat, many US military weapons developers and combatant commanders believe the JSF can bring an improved, new-generation of CAS support to ground troops. Thus, the ongoing Office of the Secretary of Defense comparison.
Accordingly, the Pentagon-led F-35/A-10 assessment is nearing its next phase of evaluation, following an initial “first wave” of tests in July 2018 Vice Adm. Mat Winter, Program Executive Officer, F-35 program, recently told a group of reporters.
“Mission performance is under evaluation,” Winter said.
Pre- Initial Operational Test Evaluation test phases, are currently underway at Edwards AFB and Naval Air Station China Lake, officials said.
“Mission performance is being evaluated in the presence of a robust set of ground threats and, to ensure a fair and comparable evaluation of each system’s performance, both aircraft are allowed to configure their best weapons loadouts and employ their best tactics for the mission scenario” a statement from the Director, Operational Test Evaluation said.
Upon initial examination, some might regard a stealthy, 5th-Gen F-35 as ill-equipped or at least not-suited for close air support. However, a closer look does seem to uncover a handful of advantages — speaking to the point Milley mentioned about survivability.
Long-range, computer-enabled F-35 sensors could enable the aircraft to see and destroy enemy ground targets with precision from much higher altitudes and much farther ranges than an A-10 could; the speed of an F-35, when compared to an A-10, would potentially make it better able to maneuver, elude enemy fire and get into position for attack; like the A-10s 30mm gun, the F-35 has its own 25mm cannon mounted on its left wing which could attack ground forces; given its sensor configuration, with things like a 360-degree Distributed Aperture System with cameras, the F-35 brings a drone-like ISR component to air-ground war. This could help targeting, terrain analysis and much-needed precision attacks as US soldiers fight up close with maneuvering enemy ground forces.
Two A-10C Thunderbolt IIs.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jamal D. Sutter)
An F-35 might be better positioned to respond quickly to enemy force movement; in the event that enemy air threats emerge in a firefight, an F-35 could address them in a way an A-10 could not, obviously; an F-35 would be much better positioned to locate enemy long-range fires points of combat significance and destroy hostile artillery, mortar or long-range-fires launching points. Finally, while the A-10 has a surprising wide envelope of weapons, an F-35 could travel with a wider range of air-ground attack weapons — armed with advanced targeting technology.
Also, fighter-jet close air support is by no means unprecedented. F-22s were used against ISIS, F-15s were used against insurgents in Iraq — and the F-35 recently had its combat debut in Afghanistan.
There are, however, some unknowns likely to be informing the current analysis. How much small arms fire could an F-35 withstand? Could it draw upon its “hovering” technology to loiter near high-value target areas? To what extent could it keep flying in the event that major components, such as engines or fuselage components, were destroyed in war? How much could A-10 weapons and targeting technology be upgraded?
Regardless of the conclusions arrived upon by the ongoing assessment, it is likely both the A-10 and F-35 will perform CAS missions in the immediate years ahead.
When it comes to the Army and the F-35, one can clearly envision warfare scenarios wherein Army soldiers could be supported by the Marine Corps F-35B, Navy F-35C or Air Force F-35A.
“We don’t fight as an Army, we fight as a joint force. What makes us different is the synergistic effect we get from combining various forces in time and space,” Milley said.
This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.
The dust has finally settled in the battle between firearms giants Sig Sauer and Glock over the Army’s program to replace more than half a million M9 Beretta handguns after government investigators sided with Sig over a protest that claimed the company was selected unfairly.
In a June 5 report, the Government Accountability Office denied the protest by Glock of the January award of a massive contract to replace nearly 550,000 handguns in the Army and other services with a militarized version of the Sig P320 striker-fired pistol.
While the GAO said each was very close in performance and other factors that evaluators looked into, Sig came in with a program price nearly $130 million less than Glock.
“Based upon the technical evaluation and my comparative analysis of the proposals, the Sig Sauer proposal has a slight technical advantage over the Glock proposal,” the GAO said in its final report. “The advantage of the Sig Sauer proposal is increased when the license rights and production manufacturing factors are brought into consideration … making the Sig Sauer proposal overall the best value to the government.”
The evaluators said the Sig and Glock basically ran neck in neck when it came to reliability, accuracy, and ergonomics. But the Army hit Glock on its safety during the “warfighter evaluation” phase of testing, giving Sig an edge and prompting Glock to factor that into its protest.
The report is unclear on how the Glock safety negatively impacted the Army’s decision, but most commercial versions of both candidate handguns do not have a thumb safety, so each company had to design that into their submissions.
According to the report, Glock submitted one full-sized handgun (presumably the G17 or G19) and Sig submitted two, a full-sized and compact version of the P320. Sig is the only company of the two that manufactures a fully-modular handgun — one that can convert from a full-sized handgun into a sub-compact for concealed carry by changing out a few parts.
During a recent Army exercise, a prototype laser shot down so many drones that its operator started losing count. “I took down, I want to say, twelve?” Staff Sgt. Eric Davis told reporters. “It was extremely effective.”
The Army has made air defense an urgent priority, especially against drones. Once icons of American technological supremacy, unmanned aircraft have proliferated to adversaries around the world. The Islamic State uses them for ad hoc bombing attacks; the Russian army to spot Ukrainian units for artillery barrages.
So last month’s Maneuver Fires Integrated Experiment threw 14 different types of drones against a slate of counter-UAS technologies, from a .50 caliber machine gun loaded with special drone-killing rounds, to acoustic sensors that listened for incoming drones, to jammers mounted on rugged, air-droppable Polaris 4x4s.
But the laser was the star.
The Army wants to arm the versatile Stryker combat vehicle with high-energy lasers to defeat a variety of threats — including drones. (Photo: US Army)
“We had a lot of fun with the Stryker vehicle this time,” said John Haithcock, the civilian director of the Fires Battle Lab at Fort Sill, which hosts the exercise. The Stryker is a moderately armored eight-wheel-drive vehicle, lighter than an M1 tank or M2 Bradley but much heavier and more robust than a Humvee or MRAP, and its boxy hull has proved adaptable to a host of variants.
Earlier MFIX exercises had tested a counter-drone Stryker, with radar and optical sensors to detect drones, plus jammers to scramble drones’ datalinks, causing them to lose contact with their operators and even crash. Two prototypes of this CMIC vehicle (Counter-UAS Mobile Integrated Capability) are now in Europe with the 2nd Cavalry Regiment, the unit on the cutting edge of testing new technology to counter the Russians.
But there’s still space and electrical power to spare on the CMIC Stryker, so for April’s MFIX the Army added the 5 kilowatt laser, derived from the Boeing-General Dynamics MEHEL 2-kw prototype. For November’s MFIX, they plan to double the power, 10 kilowatts, which will let it kill drones faster — since the beam delivers more energy per second — and further away. If November’s tests go equally well, Haithcock said, the 10 kw laser Stryker will graduate to an Army-led Joint Warfighting Assessment at Fort Bliss, Texas, where soldiers will test it in all-out mock battle.
Not that the MFIX exercise was easy: Soldiers operating the laser Stryker had to contend with real drones and simulated artillery barrages. Just managing the Stryker’s complex capabilities — laser, radar, jammers, sensors — was challenging. In fact, a big part of the experiment was assessing whether the soldiers’ suffered “task saturation,” a polite way of saying “overloaded.”
“The crew on the Stryker had never worked together….We didn’t know each other,” Staff Sgt. Davis said. “(But) all the systems were pretty easy to use, and after 15-20 minutes, I was able to program all the different types of equipment.”
Once the shooting started, he managed to multi-task, Davis said: “I was able to troubleshoot the radar while I was using the laser.” The artillerymen manning the laser Stryker were even able to continue acting as forward observers, spotting targets for artillery attack, at the same time they defended the force against incoming drones.
A Stryker-mounted 10 kw laser should be far more maneuverable and survivable on the front lines than the Army’s early experiment, a 10 kw weapon on an unarmored heavy truck. (The truck’s still in play as a platform for a 60 kw long-range laser to kill artillery rockets). But a Stryker is too much hardware for the Army’s light infantry brigades, which mostly move on foot with a smattering of Humvees and other offroad vehicles.
For those forces, this MFIX experimented with splitting the CMIC kit of sensors and jammers across two Polaris MRZR 4x4s. The Army also tested a heavy-duty jammer called the Anti-UAV Defense System (AUDS), currently mounted on a cargo pallet in the back of a medium truck but potentially Polaris-transportable as well. No word whether they can make a laser that compact — at least, not yet.
My story begins at Abilene Christian University in Texas, where I began college in the late 1980s. The summer after freshman year, I met my husband Bob who was serving in the Air Force. Engaged within weeks and married following my sophomore year, my plan was to finish college in our new hometown of Austin.
Due to strict state university standards, I was required to enter college as a second-semester freshman instead of a junior. I was angry – so I took one class and quit.
Fast-forward about 10 years to our new home with two little boys in Altus, Oklahoma. I had a couple of friends from church who were preparing to graduate from community college. Those ladies had families with full-time jobs (and active-duty husbands that went TDY often). That “fire inside” finally found a spark again.
I worked hard over the next two years to earn two associate degrees, one in arts and one in science. I had been told that if you had an associate’s degree, universities had to accept it and couldn’t make you take their designated core classes. With one in each track, I thought I was set. It was also during this period that my dad got sick and passed away. I was able to pause my studies and finish up after I returned home. But once again, we found out we were moving. I didn’t have enough time to finish one last class, so the instructor permitted me to take an incomplete and finish it from Alabama – my first “true” tele-course!
I took another break from school after that because our assignment was only for one year. After seven years (and another four PCS moves), we got the surprise of our lives when our family increased to include two more sons. We had two in junior high/high school and two preschoolers. I volunteered when I could, and one of those opportunities turned into a flex-time job in accounting, my dream job.
Then something changed. A situation came up, and I needed to leave that position. I was unwilling to give up that little bit of time at home with our last child. I understand that it’s not the choice for everyone – but this was my decision, and I am eternally grateful that I had the opportunity.
But now, with no job, I suddenly had a great deal of time on my hands. It felt like I was a fish out of water, and I couldn’t breathe.
My husband (who had by then RETIRED – and usually that means no more moving…) asked if I had considered going back to school. And that spark? It flickered again. I didn’t have too much time to decide, but I applied at the local university and was told that there were nine credit hours that Texas required before I could truly begin my junior year. That wasn’t too bad – so I earned those at a local junior college and had everything transferred.
At this point of my education “battle,” I was now up to SEVEN colleges. And in my FIRST SEMESTER at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, guess what? Bob got a promotion and another job offer – in San Antonio. Even I couldn’t believe my luck at this point. I took one last class from San Antonio but couldn’t continue because MSU didn’t have many online offerings – especially the upper-level accounting courses that I needed.
So, I quit again. Or so I thought…
In 2015, I read about a new program that Champlain College Online was offering. It provided affordable degree and certificate programs that were 100 percent online. Moving was no longer an excuse to quit!
Speaking of life experiences, my own include three major neck surgeries, 11 moves (including one to Germany, during finals week), eight different colleges, and – as of spring 2017 – one well-deserved bachelor’s degree in accounting! I’m currently serving as the treasurer for our church and looking forward to performing more financial duties next year.
For some, it only takes four years to complete a degree, and for some of us more than 30 years. All that matters is that we as military spouses persist and eventually achieve our goals.
Jane Brumley has been a military spouse for 30 years. Her husband Bob retired from active duty in 2008 and currently serves as a Department of Defense civilian. They have four children, two who are still at home. They are currently stationed at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. Jane spends her time volunteering with both schools, serving as Treasurer of her family’s church and at the base tax center, utilizing her Accounting degree. She is thoroughly enjoying her time traveling throughout Europe.
This article originally appeared on Military Spouse. Follow @MilSpouseMag on Twitter.
B-1B bomber aircrews anticipate returning to the Middle East in coming months and have been training for the evolving battle spaces in Iraq and Syria, as well as Afghanistan, according to officials at Dyess Air Force Base in Texas.
“We’re working real hard inside of our training network,” said Col. Karl Fischbach, commander of the 7th Operations Group. “The ranges that we have were set up really well to simulate the environment, and we’re going to attend the next Red Flag [in January] and Green Flag [exercises] in the [upcoming] year, and really focus on what we need to get ready for the CentCom operation.”
Military.com sat down with a variety of leaders from Air Force Global Strike Command’s 7th Bomb Wing — responsible for producing combat ready aircrews in the Air Force‘s only B-1B formal training unit — during a trip to the base, and took a ride Dec. 19 in the B-1B over training ranges in New Mexico.
“We’ve always had a pivotal role in what our Air Force is doing — Dyess Air Force Base has always been right there,” Col. Brandon Parker, 7th Bomb Wing commander, said during a roundtable interview.
The non-nuclear-capable aircraft, known as the “Bone,” left the Central Command area of responsibility in early 2016, and was replaced by B-52 Stratofortress bombers at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, that April.
Officials at the time said the B-1B’s return stateside was crucial to upgrade the fleet with the latest Integrated Battle Station, known as the IBS upgrade, which so far has been incorporated into more than half of the 62 total aircraft.
Specifically, the 9th Bomb Squadron here hasn’t been back to CentCom since February 2015, according to Lt. Col. Erick Lord, the squadron’s commander.
Rotations for the long-range, large payload bomber between the Pacific and Middle East could be fluid: Bomber units from Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, (currently assigned to Pacific Command) may rotate into the Middle East, while crews from Dyess take over their mission in the Pacific, or vice versa.
It would also mark a significant shift in having a single platform in two theaters, spreading the Lancer fleet during a time when the Air Force finds itself busier than ever.
“Every one squadron, they live to go do what we’re going to do even if it means being away from home — they want to deploy. It’s what we do, especially if you’re in a fighter or bomber [unit],” Lord said. “We’re the smallest Air Force we’ve ever been, and the demand for airpower continues to increase, and the two don’t match.”
Even as the air campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria steadily winds down, it still requires “surgical strikes,” or precision-guided bombs on target as the battlespace continues to shrink, said Maj. Charles “Astro” Kilchrist, chief of training for the 9th.
Meanwhile, the U.S. has increased airstrikes in Afghanistan.
Empowered with more independence and authority under the Trump administration, the U.S. military this year has turned to a number of technologies for the war in Afghanistan, from the largest conventional bomb to the F-22 Raptor stealth fighter.
It’s also given ground commanders more authority to execute missions beyond self-defense against Taliban fighters.
For B-1 crews, being involved in both Operations Inherent Resolve and Freedom’s Sentinel means they prepare for everything and anything, even the unexpected call of a bomb run.
“It’s always really difficult to get into the fog and friction of war,” Fischbach said. “But our instructors built some pretty varsity scenarios to get our experience level and prep ready to go.”
Lord added, “We’ll train to the most stringent [rules of engagement] and then we’ll develop training scenarios that walk people down the rabbit hole, that force them to make mistakes” so they can be identified before they’re made.
“Because busting ROE will get you sent home,” he said.
Kilchrist, also a B-1B pilot, said that aside from the experiences acquired at Red Flag — an integrated, multi-force training game within a simulated combat environment — and Green Flag — a coalition exercise consisting of close-air support and air-to-surface training — programs to get prepped and ready for combat have been upgraded and modified.
“We’re tailoring our training to accomplish those things … and we’re integrating more than ever with F-16 units out of Fort Worth … to do mission commander upgrades, with [Joint Terminal Attack Controllers] from all around the country,” he said.
“We’re really bringing all these things into the fold to increase our aperture for training and give us the best possible simulation of what combat in different theaters are going to be like,” Kilchrist said.
That includes the Pacific, he noted, where B-1s took over for the B-52s in 2016, marking the first time the B-1B has been housed at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, since 2006.
“What my job is to show the new guys, ‘Hey, we can go to Afghanistan tomorrow, or we can go to PaCoM tomorrow, but you’ve got to be ready for both,’ ” he said.
Parker, speaking broadly to the Bone’s mission set, added, “At the end of the day, we got to be able to range targets, and do it in a way that’s very lethal. Variety of weapons, different sort of battlespaces … we’re making sure we’re ready.”
Just in time for Halloween, the horrifying tale of a Russian infantry charge gone bad. Listen, everyone knows the Russian infantry historically gets the worst of every war, but World War I was especially horrific for the Russians fighting Germany. For the Russians defending Osowiec Fortress, it was especially horrible.
Welcome to the age of poison gas. You know something was intense if Sabaton has a song about it.
In true, stupid World War I fashion, the German high command ordered a full-frontal assault on Osowiec Fortress, using 14 battalions of infantry, along with sappers, siege guns, and artillery. The Russians had roughly 900 men defending the fortification, with less than half of that being conscripted militiamen. Instead of the usual artillery pounding, the Germans decided to use poison gas on the fort, opting to use chlorine gas on the Russians.
Well, it turns out the gas and the water in the air, along with the water in the lungs of the Russian defenders didn’t just choke the Russians; it turned the chlorine into hydrochloric acid and began to dissolve the Russians from the inside out. Russians tried to stem the gas using wet rags, but they had no chemical defenses, and the skin on their faces soon began to melt as well.
Instead of just taking the assault, the beleaguered Russians decided to counter attack.
The 100 or so men who formed up to charge the Germans ran into 12 battalions of enemy troops, but kept on running anyway. What the Germans saw coming through the mists was the difference-maker. A horde of face-melting zombies charged through the darkness and slammed into an army of 7,000. The Germans panicked and bolted at the sight of the undead Russians.
German troops turned and ran from the horrifying scene so fast, they ran into their own booby traps and barbed wire. The bold, outnumbered counter-charge was short-lived, however. The fortress would have to be abandoned as other fortifications surrounding Osowiec were starting to fall, and the Russians would soon be trapped. They demolished the fort and fell back.
The head of the Missile Defense Agency has expressed concerns about America’s long-term ability to defend the homeland in the face of growing threats from North Korea.
The U.S. military conducted a successful intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) intercept test in May. An interceptor launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California eliminated a mock long-range missile fired from the Reagan Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands in the Pacific. The results of the test have boosted the MDA’s confidence, but there is still much more work to be done.
Vice Admiral James Syring, the director of the MDA, told the House Armed Services Committee Wednesday that the recent intercept test was an “exact replica” of what the U.S. would face in the event of a North Korean missile strike.
“The scenario that we conducted was maybe more operationally realistic than not,” he explained.
North Korea has tested multiple new ballistic missile systems this year. The Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile and Pukguksong-2 medium-range ballistic missile could be the technological predecessors to liquid and solid-fueled ICBM systems.
“Today, we are ahead” of the threat, Syring explained in his testimony, “We need to stay ahead.”
“I would not say we are comfortably ahead of the threat; I would say we are addressing the threat that we know today,” Syring testified. “The advancements in the last six months have caused great concern to me and others, in the advancement of and demonstration of technology of ballistic missiles from North Korea.”
North Korea does not yet have an ICBM, but it appears to be moving in that direction at an accelerated pace. While the North may still be several years from developing this kind of technology, defense officials believe that it is necessary to assume that North Korea can “range” the U.S. with a long-range ballistic missile.
In the wake of the recent test, the Department of Defense upgraded its assessment of the capabilities of the U.S. missile shield. For years, the U.S. has maintained “limited capability” to defend against North Korean missiles. The Ground-based Midcourse Defense system has “demonstrated the capability to defend the U.S. homeland from a small number of intermediate-range or intercontinental missile threats with simple countermeasures,” the Pentagon said in a recent memo, according to Reuters.
Nonetheless, the system needs improvements. “It’s just not the interceptor, the entire system,” Syring said June 7, “We are not there yet.”
“We have continued work with the redesigned kill vehicle. We have continued work with the reliability of the other components of the system to make it totally reliable,” he said. “We are not done yet.”
Some expert observers have suggested that the recent intercept test may not have been as realistic as the MDA claims, leaving something to be desired.
“I think Syring was overstating the case,” Joshua Pollack, editor of The Nonproliferation Review and senior research associate in the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, told The DCNF. “A real situation involving ICBM attack could include such unpleasant circumstances as multiple, simultaneous launches on different trajectories; decoys and chaff; intercepts in the shadow of the Earth (not illuminated by sunlight); and attacks on the [Ballistic Missile Defense] system itself by various means.”
“The intercept geometry, as depicted by MDA, in no way, shape or form resembles a [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] ICBM attack against [the continental U.S.],” Jeffrey Lewis, the director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program in the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, tweeted Wednesday. “To be fair, MDA was right to walk before trying to run. A (sic) easy test is totally fine, but Adm. Syring appears to be over-claiming a bit.”
The range of the mock ICBM was 5,800 kilometers, which would give the missile a much slower closing speed than a real North Korean ICBM covering a distance of 9,000 to 11,000 kilometers would have. Faster closing speeds, according to Laura Grego, a senior scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, “give the interceptor less time to make course corrections, and are therefore more stressing for the interceptor.”
The head-on engagement trajectory of the May test is also inconsistent with the likely conditions of a North Korean strike.
“This test approximates many aspects of an intercept against an ICBM launched from North Korea, but the target and intercept geometry would be very different in a real attack,” Lewis told TheDCNF. “The missile would be launched closer to the interceptor site, would have a significantly longer range, and (in the case of an attack on DC) moving away from the interceptor site at a much greater angle.”
“MDA is limited by the existing test infrastructure and the very high cost of tests, so we should be reasonable about how realistic MDA can make any test,” he added. “But, in exchange, MDA needs to be reasonable in making claims about what has been demonstrated.”
Other scholars, however, believe the recent intercept test was a big breakthrough.
“This is a good day for homeland missile defense and a bad day for Kim Jong-un,” Thomas Karako, the director of the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said in response to the test.
During the June 7 congressional hearing, Syring said that in an actual combat scenario, the U.S. would fire off a salvo of interceptors to better address the threat.
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The Navy’s forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) participated in a cooperative deployment with Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) ships JS Izumo (DH-183), JS Murasame (DD-101) and JS Akebono (DD-108) June 10-12, 2019.
Reagan, Akebono, Izumo and Murasame conducted communication checks, tactical maneuvering drills and liaison officer exchanges designed to address common maritime security priorities and enhance interoperability at sea.
“Having a Japanese liaison officer aboard to coordinate our underway operations has been beneficial and efficient,” said Lt. Mike Malakowsky, a tactical actions officer aboard Ronald Reagan.
“As we continue to operate together with the JMSDF, it makes us a cohesive unit. They are an integral part of our Strike Group that doubles our capability to respond to any situation.”
Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force ships with US Navy forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, in background, during a cooperative deployment.
(Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force)
Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force ship JS Murasame, foreground, alongside US Navy forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan during a cooperative deployment.
(Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force)
Japan Maritime Self- Defense Force ship JS Izumo, left, alongside US Navy forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan during a cooperative deployment.
(Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force)
Ronald Reagan, the flagship of Carrier Strike Group 5, provides a combat-ready force that protects and defends the collective maritime interests of its allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific region.
Mighty Stories is a weekly WATM feature highlighting the stories of veterans, active duty and military families. This week’s feature is Krista Simpson Anderson – Army wife, Gold Star wife, founder of the nonprofit The Unquiet Professional.
I grew up in Hampton, Massachusetts – a little town right outside of Springfield. My father served in the U.S. Air Force from 1967-1971, but it was before I was born. My mom’s side of the family also served, but it wasn’t something we talked about. I was blissfully ignorant about military life.
I met Mike in June 2006. He was a friend of my cousin’s. My cousin was deploying to Iraq and my aunt was having a deployment party for him. She flew in a few of his friends that had been in the Old Guard with him, and she called me and asked me to help her with the guys flying in.
I walked into the Toasted Owl Tavern in Northhampton, and there he was.
It was love at first sight. I remember my cousin saying to me, ‘I’m going to disown you both if you get married.’ But we were fixed on each other. The whole world could have come crashing down around us and we wouldn’t have noticed.
In August 2006, Mike’s whole unit transferred to Germany. I went out to visit him for Thanksgiving. In September of 2007, he deployed to Iraq. He came out to Rhode Island to my family’s home before he left and we spent a week together. I was working in the restaurant business at the time of his deployment, so I took a couple of different jobs, one in St. Thomas, one in New York. But we stayed in contact.
In April 2008, during his mid-tour leave, he invited me to his brother David and sister-in-law Kelsey’s wedding in Texas. During their rehearsal dinner in his parents’ backyard, he went to give his best man’s speech and we all thought it would be something funny. He was so goofy, it was hard to imagine him doing something serious. Now mind you, he served in the military in the Old Guard so he clearly had to be serious for work. But the first thing out of his mouth was, ‘Be each other’s compass.’
I was blown away.
Mike and Krista. Photo courtesy of Krista Simpson Anderson.
That night, he walked me to my room – we were all staying with his parents – and he told me he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me. And he asked me, ‘Will you be my wife?’ I knew that it had been a long night of celebrating so I told him that if he felt the same way in the morning we could talk about it. I went to sleep dreaming of the rest of our lives together.
The next morning over a cup of coffee at the counter, Mike looked at me and said, ‘I don’t feel any differently than I did last night. I want you to be my wife. I want to spend the rest of my life with you.’ I said yes, of course. We kept this a secret because it was not our day – it was David and Kelsey’s wedding day, and we knew his oldest brother, Isaac, was going to be proposing to his now wife, Vanessa, the next day. We told his sister, Abby, and then swore her to secrecy.
A few days after the wedding we announced our good news and decided to marry as soon as Mike returned from his deployment.
Mike went back to Iraq a week later, and returned in October 2008 to Germany. We met back up in Tennessee for Isaac and Vanessa’s wedding in November. December 20, 2008, we married in Rhode Island, and the first week of January he returned to Germany. We decided to live apart until his orders came through to start the Special Forces Qualification course so he wouldn’t need to extend in Germany.
I went to Germany to see him in February for his birthday, and I came home and found out I was pregnant with our first son a month later. I was working at a restaurant as a manager and living with my parents in Rhode Island awaiting orders. By September 2009 we were finally living together in Fort Bragg, NC and our son Michael was born October 22nd.
I remember taking “SF101” (Special Forces 101) for the spouses and the emphasis was put on how long our husbands would be away from home. Everything was about not getting our hopes up for birthdays, holidays, special occasions and being a family during those times. They really wanted to prepare us for the let downs of our military career. No one ever told me the incredible things our husbands would be doing while away from home and that every mission would be for the good of our nation. No one ever told me about the amazing and wonderful things we would be doing for our families while they were away. No one ever told me how, as spouses, we would show up for each other, in good times and in bad. No one ever told me that we would all be changing the world together – them abroad and us on the homefront.
Mike, Krista and their two boys. Photo courtesy of Krista Simpson Anderson.
Mike graduated in March 2011 and then reported July 10 for a Special Forces billet at 4th BN, Charlie Company, 1st Special Forces Group at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. I got out there August 1 with Michael who was just about two, and pregnant with Gabriel. We closed on our first house on my birthday, September 23.
As soon as our household goods arrived, Mike was off on a TDY (Temporary Duty) so I set up the house with my two year old and called my Mom and Aunt in for reinforcements to paint beige the mustard yellow walls and ceiling our new home offered.
When home, Mike was a present and incredibly fun daddy. He played this game called Daddy T-Rex. He would hold Gabe and chase Mic around the house, pretending to be a dinosaur. They would also lie on the floor and play Legos, have mini race-car races all the while tapping into Mike’s very present childlike spirit. He’d say to me, ‘I can’t wait until they’re older so we can do more fun things.’ He couldn’t wait to play basketball, soccer and teach them to ride bikes.
On 6 April 2013, Mike deployed with his company to eastern Afghanistan. Less than three weeks later I received the call every military spouse prays they’ll never get.
Mike, right, with a battle buddy. Photo courtesy of Krista Simpson Anderson.
The day before the call, Mike and I were texting back and forth and I was telling him how grateful I was to be his wife. I asked him to marry me all over again. I said, ‘I love you more today than I ever have. You have brought so much joy to my life that it overwhelms me. Will you marry me… Again?’ We were going to meet in Mexico with our families around Christmas and I told him I wanted to do it then. He wrote back, ‘Yes!’
On April 27, I had just put Gabriel down for a nap (he was 16 months) and I heard my phone ringing. I ran down the stairs to an ‘Unknown’ caller and answered what I can only assume must have been the last ring. It was (now Lieutenant Colonel) Major Jamie Alden, and he said ‘Hi, Krista? This is Major Alden.’ It didn’t even dawn on me why the company commander would be calling me from Afghanistan.
He asked me where I was, and I told him I was at home. He asked where the boys were, and I told him Mic was in the other room and I’d just put Gabe down for a nap.
He said, ‘I need you to sit down.’
You know that feeling when it seems that your brain starts going numb and it begins to rush through your whole body? Luckily I made it to the other room and sat down near the boys’ toys – on a bean bag chair.
‘Michael is alive, but he is in critical condition. There was an accident; he hit an IED while riding an ATV. He has a lower right leg amputation and there has been severe trauma to his right arm. We know there is shrapnel damage, we just are not sure where and the extent. Again, he is alive, but he is critical.’
I had to stop him. I couldn’t process anything and I knew I wouldn’t be able to remember anything else he was saying. I ran across the street and banged on my neighbor Kate’s door, and her daughter opened it. She was supposed to be coming over anyway to watch the boys since we had a neighborhood clean-up scheduled and I was president of the homeowners association. She ran to stay with the boys while Kate got on the phone with Major Alden. It took some convincing for him to speak to her but he finally agreed, understanding my emotional state.
I watched her as she spoke to him but I couldn’t hear her. I could hear sounds, just not the words, as if my ears were blocked. Kate handed the phone back to me and I thanked him, and he reminded me that we were family, that his wife Susan would be calling me soon, and that everything was going to be okay.
Mike, before the attack. Photo courtesy of Krista Simpson Anderson.
I got off the phone and had to start making phone calls. I walked with my phone in my hand across the grass toward our friends, Alan and Angie’s, house. They were laying out a tarp for mulch on their driveway when they looked over. It must have been written all over my face because they rushed to me and caught me before I fell to my knees. Alan was the commander of an EOD unit on JBLM and assured me everything was going to be ok. Angie was by my side and provided support in any way I needed.
I wanted to close my eyes and wake up from the nightmare but I couldn’t. I was a Green Beret’s wife and the mother of two future Green Berets. I said to myself, ‘Pull yourself together, handle your business- he’s not dead and is going to need you to be strong!’
I stood outside, barefoot, on the cold pavement. The bottoms of my feet still get cold remembering those moments. I tried calling Mike’s parents but there was no answer. I tried calling my parents and no answer again. I called his brother Isaac, who was also a Green Beret who was in North Carolina doing his instructor rotation. I said, ‘It’s Mike. He’s alive but he hit an IED and he’s in surgery. It’s critical.’
I can still hear his scream.
Isaac had witness IED attacks before and he knew the gravity of this news. Isaac and Vanessa would make the calls to the rest of the Simpson family as I continued my calls from the floor of our parish where I sat and prayed. Once my parents were notified, my mother arrived from Rhode Island to our home in Olympia, Washington, 12 hours later.
1st Special Forces Group (1st SFG) at JBLM welcomed me in every morning to call Afghanistan for updates. LTC David Haight would call Bagram ICU and translate their medical report for me whether at that morning meeting or 1am. We would share our information, formulate a plan and I would leave the table every morning stronger than I arrived. Monday, 29 April, I called the hospital myself. The doctor that answered told me he was sorry, but that Mike didn’t have a gag or corneal reflex and that he would not live.
I thanked him and his team for caring for him so well. I went downstairs to tell my mother before the boys awoke and then retreated to my room where I called my cousin Alicia and friend Andrea. I begged Alicia to wake me up and take this away.
The medical team cared for Mike so well they were able to transfer him from Afghanistan to Landstuhl Army Medical Center in Germany. We got the green light to go to Germany as soon as Mike was in the air from AFG. They couldn’t cut orders or book our flights until they knew Mike was surviving the altitude. They performed emergency surgery on the plane and worked tirelessly to keep him alive even though they knew the outcome. When they arrived in Germany, one of Mike’s closest friends from the Special Forces Qualification Course was there awaiting his arrival. Casey served with another Special Forces Group and was training in the area when we received the news.
As I traveled to Germany, my Casualty Assistance Officer (CAO) SFC Gerry DeMarzo and Chaplain Johnny Elder escorted me. What a blessing they were for so many reasons I couldn’t possibly list in short. The ‘behind the scenes’ had so many issues getting us all there but with the help from the Green Beret Foundation, Special Operations Warrior Foundation, USO, Fisher House Foundation and Care Coalition on top of 1st SFG, I arrived and met Mike’s parents, siblings and spouses to be with Mike.
Upon arrival, my only request was that I got to see him first. I wanted to clean him up before his mom saw him. Silly, but it was all I could think of. I got to the hospital and Casey was at the door with SFC Doug Way. (They both never once left us. Casey stayed at Mike’s bedside and Doug would either be standing outside his hospital room or kneeling outside the room praying.)
I never lost hope.
‘Maybe he will heal and maybe the doctors were wrong,’ I kept telling myself.
Casey and Doug greeted me, offered their condolences and I entered the room.
There he was.
My big bad Green Beret laying broken and vulnerable. I had never felt so helpless in all of my life.
All I could manage was a whisper… ‘Dear Lord, please help us.’
On 1 May 2013, as we all stood around Mike’s bed, Dr. Betts informed us that Mike was in fact brain dead. I asked, ‘Can his brain heal?’ rationally knowing the answer, but I had to ask. ‘No ma’am, the brain can not heal from these injuries,’ he said. I nodded my head in understanding, saw the very real pain in his parents’ and siblings’ faces, said, ‘Thank you,’ and then ran out.
I ran left out of the room, through the ICU doors into the hall toward the stairs, down the stairs and out of the hospital hoping I could run away from this earth-shattering moment in my life and somehow, when I returned, everything would be ok – Mike would wake, he would rehab and our lives would go on … Together.
I stopped and Gerry and Doug were not too many steps behind me. Gerry never let me out of his sight for a moment; he was my greatest advocate and protector. He always told me he took care of our family the way he would have wanted his family taken care of if something were to have happened to him. When I returned to the hospital, I went back in and I didn’t leave Mike’s side except for an hour to take care of the paperwork I needed to sign.
The rest of that day we would call all the family and friends we could connect with so they could say their goodbyes. I would call and inform them of Mike’s diagnosis, tell them how sorry I was but that it was time for them to say goodbye if they wished. I would put the phone down on Mike’s pillow next to his ear, believing he would receive their love and pain through their words.
I wanted everyone to have the opportunity to say whatever they wanted and needed to for some closure. Our family and friends stateside would say goodbye as well as Charlie Company, 4th BN, 1st SFG. Mike’s team was sure he would survive, so my news was heartbreaking to them … Mike was their brother.
One of Mike’s friends and teammates brought me to my knees with his heartfelt message that his wife would transcribe for me later. His words were, ‘For Mike: Hey buddy. Have no fear, you’re the realest Green Beret now. You did it all. Thanks for all the bravo advice and an invitation to be a part of your family. I will never forget our time together and will do anything for your family. R.I.P. brother. I love you. One more thing – thank you for the greatest sacrifice one can make. My prayer to you … Now I lay you down to sleep, I pray the Lord your soul to keep. If you should die before you wake, bless Mikey Lord, his soul to take.’
Once the last call was made I think my body and mind knew it and I needed to rest. I asked the hospital staff if they could move Mike over so I could lie next to him in his hospital bed. I laid there and just listened to his heart beat. I prayed until I drifted off to sleep. Around 4 am, the nurse came in and wanted to change his dressings and clean him up. I asked if I could help, so she brought in soapy water and a washcloth. She changed his dressings while I cleaned him up. Around 9 pm, they came in to get him for organ donor surgery. I stayed with him while they got him ready to be moved. I walked to the door holding his hand as they started to wheel him out, and didn’t want to let go.
This was it.
I would never see his chest rise and fall or hear his beating heart again. ‘I’M NOT READY!’ I screamed in my head.
But … with as much grace as I could, I leaned down and kissed him one last time and whispered, ‘I love you all the world. I promise you I will take care of our boys, and we will always remember you.’
They wheeled his bed out and I stood in the empty, cold hospital room alone. ‘What now?’ I asked. ‘How do I live without you?’
We came back from Germany to Dover for the dignified transfer on 7 May 2013. He was supposed to be the only casket on the flight, but seven other soldiers were killed just days before, so we were with their families. These families didn’t have what we did. They didn’t have the chance to say goodbye. They watched their loved one get on the plane for deployment and then their casket come off in Dover.
It started to rain as we stood out on the tarmac, so hard it was sideways. My mother in law had an umbrella and was also trying to wrap me in her jacket to protect me. I told her I was okay without it, because I wanted to feel everything; the rain, the heartache, the fear. I had to face that moment.
As the caskets were taken off the plane I could hear the rain and the wailing from mothers and fathers who lost their sons, siblings who lost their brothers, spouses who lost their husbands and children who lost their fathers. I felt as though I was hovering over myself, looking down in disbelief that this was now my journey.
I flew home to Washington after being gone for 10 days. I could never spend a few hours away from my boys without missing them terribly. This time I was afraid to see them. What would I say? How would I tell them their Daddy wasn’t coming home?
Mike’s dignified transfer. Photo courtesy of Krista Simpson Anderson.
I sat Michael (age 3) down and asked, ‘Do you believe in God?’
‘Yes Mommy,’ he said.
‘Even though you can’t see Him?’ I asked.
‘Yes of course Mommy!’ he replied.
‘You know Daddy is a soldier?’
‘Yes,’ he answered.
I looked into his eyes and softly said, ‘Well, Daddy is going to be God’s soldier now.’
‘But I will miss him,’ he said.
It would have been easy to sit down and focus on all the tragedy. My husband, my best friend, the father of my two beautiful boys was gone. I was a 35 year old widow who didn’t have enough time with the love of my life. Mike and I always told each other, ‘This love happens once in a lifetime,’ and it was gone.
My future and dreams broke into a million pieces and I had no idea how I would become whole again. And yet, somehow, I had to choose to see the incredible blessings that were happening all around us. The support from our family, friends and community; the military representatives that were assigned to us that created a beautiful journey; it was all a gift as much as my husband’s sacrifice was a gift to us all. Everybody who walked into our lives … it was nothing short of perfect.
On 30 May 2013, our Memorial Day, Mike was interred with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery by his original Old Guard unit where he served when he first joined the military in 2003.
There are many things I remember about that day. It was so hot I could feel the heat from the pavement radiate through the bottom of my sandals – a stark contrast from the cold I felt on my bare feet the day I got the call that Mike had been hit.
I remember walking for what seemed like forever with our two children, hoping to make it through the ceremony.
Michael with his Daddy T-rex at Mike’s memorial. Photo courtesy of Krista Simpson Anderson.
And I remember thinking that this place, Arlington National Cemetery, had always been one of my favorite places to be. It’s so peaceful. It’s filled with a clear and strong sense of honor and courage, but in that moment I didn’t feel brave at all.
There were over 100 people in attendance to show their love and support, not just for Mike, but for us as well. My dear friend Andrea Rinaldi was one of them. She stayed by my side through it all, from the very beginning of our journey, and selflessly gave of her time and heart. The service, experience and support of so many was humbling, and I will always be grateful.
Finally, I remember the boys and I receiving the folded flags. How do you process receiving a folded flag in the place of your Daddy when you’re only three years old? Michael was given the flag, but really only wanted his Daddy T-Rex. As I held our 16 month old, I watched as Gerry, our Casualty Assistance Officer, took a knee, and took Michael’s flag for him. I love this picture – this moment in time – as it truly captures how Gerry so beautifully served our family.
Mike’s company would continue their deployment for six more months after Mike’s death. One of his teammates stated during his memorial, ‘This Team… This company… This regiment, will never forget your sacrifice. Each day when we don our kit and prepare for battle, we will do it in your honor. We will take the fight to the enemy and fight how you would have wanted us to. Never faltering… Never failing… and never forgetting. This fight is over for you brother, but know that it is not over for us. We will continue in your honor and remember you as a husband, a father, and a Green Beret.’
I attended the homecoming for the first flight that came in from Afghanistan. I was grateful to be there yet nervous about my emotions. As we waited in the company I was approached by a woman in the hallway. ‘Mrs. Simpson,’ she said. ‘I am not sure if this is an appropriate time but I wanted to introduce myself and tell you that I was one of Mike’s nurses in Afghanistan.’ I am sure I hugged her immediately and was so grateful to lay my hands on someone who was there, with Mike, during the scariest moments of his life. It was a blessing I can’t explain. She was one of many who saved Mike so our family could say goodbye. She was, and still is, my angel. I am blessed by her and her whole family to this day.
When the buses arrived carrying Mike’s company we all rushed outside to greet them. The minds and hearts of so many wives and children were eased and made whole again. I truly was so happy for them, yet I subconsciously waited for Mike to get off that bus. The last man embarked and I was sure Mike would be next. The door closed and the bus drove away.
In the distance, I heard the shriek of a little girl, calling, ‘Daddy! Daddy!’ and as I turned to look, I saw her run and jump into a man’s arms who wore the same uniform as all the other soldiers … the same one Mike would have been wearing, with the same wide arms he would have caught our sons in. But it wasn’t him and it never would be. My heart shattered all over again and I needed to turn and walk inside to face this emotion alone. I couldn’t allow anyone to think I was not grateful their husbands came home, because I was, wholeheartedly, but that didn’t take away my pain.
I went home that night with a folded flag that was flown over Mike’s camp in Afghanistan. My dear friend laid next to me as I cried myself to sleep and she didn’t leave my side until she knew I was okay.
Over the next several months I was constantly at the battalion, offering help, wanting to talk to them to make sure they were doing okay. I know it was difficult for them to see me since I was a reminder of the reality of Mike’s death. I know many struggled with his loss and I recognized very quickly that survivor’s guilt was a very real emotion. They needed to know that this was God’s plan, not ours, and He doesn’t make mistakes. My mission was to show them that we would honor Mike, grieve his loss but we would absolutely be okay. We were strong and proud, not weak and angry. Everyone grieves differently and there is not a right or wrong way to do it. I chose grace for me, my children and his team.
One of Mike’s teammates, Gus, had done the original inventory on Mike’s things. He was able to put all of his belongings into perspective. What he was wearing the day of his accident, what certain gear meant and what it was used for. He brought back command challenge coins from the memorial in Afghanistan where they all gathered on 11 May. Gus was able to retrieve and hand carry the patches Mike wore on his helmet, along with the memorial patch he had made for their team’s uniforms. Gus would come over and play with the boys, give me a moment of rest and help anyway he could.
So many of Mike’s teammates and their families would do the same. I was so grateful for the respite since the light at the end of the deployment tunnel was extinguished for me. Mike wouldn’t return to ease the natural burdens of parenting coupled with keeping up the household alone.
I always had family dinners. From the time Mike passed, I’d send out a text at 1:00 pm on a Sunday with, ‘Family dinner at 4’ and a few hours later the house would fill with joy and laughter. What better therapy than to be surrounded by those that loved us and Mike?
Gus and I would talk a lot about Mike, his feelings of survivor’s guilt (which they all had) and spent a lot of time together over the next couple years. I started to realize I cared for Gus more than I thought was possible and wanted to see where that would lead us.
I flew down to Texas for Easter – I needed to talk to Mike’s parents. His father said to me, ‘I have four requirements: He loves you, he loves the boys, he loves Jesus and that he always shows them it’s manly to love Jesus.’ His mother said, ‘I’ve prayed since the week after Mike died that you would find somebody.’ They were my greatest supporters. And they already loved Gus. He was already a part of our family. This was a no brainer for me.
I struggled with Gus being my secret-not so secret boyfriend. I had this organization that I’d founded as a widow of an active duty service member. I was afraid. I had lost my identity as a military spouse and then I found one as a military widow. It allowed me to talk about Mike and honor him. We were afraid of what our friends might think of our relationship and the judgement that would come. In July 2016, we broke up when I realized I needed time. Ten days later, he left for Nepal with his team and during those three months I recognized all of the things I was doing wrong. I thought I was honoring Mike every day but by not honoring Gus at all, was I really? By having someone in my life who wanted to love us, take care of us and honor Mike, yet I wasn’t willing to let him in – could I be dishonoring my late husband? I used to resent the ‘widow’ title but then I found myself not wanting to let it go.
I prayed so much and I came to the conclusion that I just needed to love Gus, and show him that he was a priority. He got back from Nepal and he was still very angry with me. We met a few times to talk, took it slow and then one day I boldly told him that we were going to get married. I knew the response could have broke my heart but he was worth it.
We were worth it.
He laughed and told me softly that I had to be crazy. One month later, Gus got down on one knee on the docks in Seattle, in front of our favorite Oyster Bar (Elliotts) and asked me to marry him. Two months later, we were married in Rhode Island among our family and friends. The priest who married us had married my parents, baptized Gabriel, did last rights for Mike and his funeral in Arlington, and had confirmed and married Casey and Sandy (Mike’s friend who was with him in Germany). It was perfect.
Thanks to Michael’s kind-hearted 1st grade teacher, Ms. Petruska, my boys decided to call Gus ‘Dad’ the moment we stepped off the altar, and have not called him anything but that since. They wanted and needed a father in their lives so badly and I don’t think I realized that until then. Michael and Gabriel both repeat Ms. Petruska’s words often – ‘We have a Daddy in Heaven and a Daddy on earth.’
A month after Gus and I married he deployed to Afghanistan. I woke up every morning and prayed that Gus was alive. He was so good about messaging me whenever he could to ease my mind, even though I never shared with him my fears. His heart and mind just works that way and he is always considering the times and moments I may go through in this journey and how they may be affecting me. He is constantly striving to make life easier. I pray I do the same for him.
I won’t tell you that I didn’t struggle through those six months but I can tell you I found peace in God’s plan and chose to continue to trust that His plan was greater than mine. Tragedy and loss does not have to define you or dictate the rest of your life. My story didn’t end with the loss of Mike; it began with a new chapter of hope and my choice of joy. It continued with honoring Mike and Gus giving me the greatest gift… he never makes me choose as he continues to give me the freedom to love them both.
Five years to the day that Mike touched American soil in Dover, Delaware for his dignified transfer, I landed in Washington, DC with Gus, for the Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year events with Military Spouse Magazine that would change my life. Five years to the day that Mike was flown back to Joint Base Lewis McChord to land at Grey Army Airfield, I was awarded the overall Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year. I know it’s right where I need to be, that God’s timing is perfect, and that Mike would be so proud of me. And I also know I couldn’t have done any of this without Gus or my children.
Tragedy did not dictate my life in a negative way. My goal is that other people can see that, and feel that. I remember looking at other Gold Star Spouses like Lisa Hallett and thinking, ‘If she can do it, I can do it.’ And I want other people to look at me and find hope, too.
Mike was very proud to sacrifice his life. And I am so proud to honor him.
Arlington National Cemetery is where my friend Andrea suggested a fundraiser for those who supported us and ultimately where The Unquiet Professional was born. So many organizations supported us, from the volunteers with the USO who carried my kids through the airport, the Green Beret Foundation being there for everything, or wear blue: run to remember, where I found a healthy and meaningful way to heal. I wanted to be able to pay that love back.
We now provide healthy and empowering opportunities for Gold Star Families, Veterans and their families. When Andrea suggested fundraising, she saved me that day. She saved me from the possibilities of not being able to live out my grief in a positive way. I heal as I strive to help others do the same with my ‘twice in a lifetime love’ by my side every step of the way.
Memorial Day is my favorite holiday of the year. We feel Mike’s presence and his loss every single day no matter what life brings us. But on Memorial Day, everyone thinks of all of our fallen heroes. People say when you’re having your bbq and your beer you’re not remembering the sacrifices, but I say celebrate. Celebrate their lives. Remember them.