Korean War veteran Ed Portka, 90, was honored along with his stepson as the Pittsburgh Steelers hosted the Cincinnati Bengals on national television.
Former Maj. David Reeser, who commanded an Army diving company in Europe 28 years ago, accompanied his stepfather, a former first lieutenant, onto the field for the Steelers’ “Salute Our Heroes” recognition during a short break following the third quarter of the game.
“I’m excited about it,” Portka said about his upcoming recognition, just before the game, offering that he was “looking forward to it,” but a little hesitant.
Portka served as a platoon leader in an engineer unit under the 1st Cavalry Division in Korea. He was responsible for breaching minefields and other obstacles during offensive operations and installing minefields to protect U.S. defensive positions.
“We did a lot of dirty work,” Portka said. “It was specialized work.”
He said every chance they got, they detonated mines by firing their M-1 rifles at them rather than risking lives.
Second Lt. Ed Portka, prior to deploying to Korea with an engineering unit under the 1st Cavalry Division, where he was responsible for breaching minefields.
(U.S. Army photo)
Portka served in Korea from 1952-53. One of his memories was of meeting Gen. Matthew Ridgway, 8th Army commander, during a battlefield circulation, just after Portka’s platoon finished clearing a minefield near Pusan, Korea.
“He was down-to-earth,” Portka said of Ridgway.
The Korean War armistice agreement was signed on Portka’s 24th birthday, July 27, 1953, just before he redeployed home. He said it was quite a birthday present.
After the war, Portka was an architectural draftsman with George M. Ewing Company in Washington, D.C. He later managed the firm’s Philadelphia office and was the project manager for the design of Veterans Stadium, home of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Reeser was stationed in Europe in the early 1990s, where he served as a platoon Leader and then as commander of a diving detachment. After leaving the military, he founded an engineering firm, Infrastructure Engineers, that performs underwater bridge inspections.
Reeser now lives in Florida and his stepfather in Atlanta, but said he returns to Pittsburgh every chance he gets to take his stepfather to Steeler games.
At the end of their recognition on the field, both veterans aggressively waved Pittsburgh Steeler “terrible towels.” The Steelers beat the Bengals 27-3.
In perhaps one of the oddest British strategies against Nazi Germany, British troops launched almost 100,000 hydrogen-filled latex balloons into Nazi-controlled territory to set fires and short out power wires as part of Operation Outward.
Women’s Auxiliary Air Force members recover a kite balloon.
(Royal Air Force)
Operation Outward was the result of an accident. Barrage and observation balloons in World War I got more coverage than in World War II, but the floating sacks of hydrogen were widely used in both conflicts. You can actually spot them in some of the more famous D-Day photos from later in the day or over the days and weeks that followed.
(The 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion was the only Black combat unit that came ashore on D-Day, though plenty of Black logistic and engineer units were there on June 6.)
But when it happened in the Scandinavian countries in 1940, the Brits were all, “Wait, what’s bad for the goose is bad for the gander, so let’s apologize to Scandinavia but then do the same thing, on purpose, to Hitler’s Third Reich. Screw those guys.”
The British relied on a couple infrastructure advantages for this plan. Britain’s electrical grid was more developed, and therefore more susceptible to disruption, but it also featured faster circuit breakers. This meant that Britain’s grid, if hit with balloons trailing wires, would suffer relatively little damage. Germany’s, with slower breakers, had a real risk of losing entire sections of the grid or even power plants to balloon disruptions.
So, even if it led to a balloon trading war, Britain could expect to hold the upper hand. And so weather balloons were filled with hydrogen, fitted with either spools of wire or incendiary devices, and floated over the channel into Germany.
An “incendiary sock” like those used to burn German towns.
(UK National Archives)
The wires were relatively thin. Experimentation showed the designers that they didn’t need the thick steel of normal tethers to short lines, cause electrical arcs, and damage German power distribution. The electrical arcs were the real killer, draining power from the grid, overworking the components of the power generation, and weakening the transmission lines so they would later break in high winds.
Both types were made to fly over the channel at a little over 20,000 feet, then descend to 1,000 feet and do their work. They needed winds of about 10 mph or more to be as effective as possible.
And they worked, well. The idea wasn’t to cripple Germany in a single blow, but to cost them more in economic damage and defensive requirements than it cost Britain to deploy them. And, thanks to the low-cost materials Britain used, Britain only had to pay around the U.S.equivalent of .50 per balloon. Shooting a balloon down could cost much more than that in ammo, and that was if it was shot down by air defenders. If fighters had to launch, the fuel and maintenance would be astronomical.
Assessments found during and after the war painted a picture of constant disruption on the German side. In occupied France, there were 4,946 power interruptions during the program, most of them caused by the balloons. In 11 months from early 1942 to early 1943, Germany had 520 major disruptions of high-voltage lines.
And at a cost of .50 a balloon plus the wages of balloon launchers, mostly members of the Women’s Royal Navy Service, the more than 99,000 balloons launched were a hell of a deal.
A simmering conflict between Israel and Iran in Syria could have erupted into another regional war were it not for the intervention of Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to an Israeli investigative journalist.
On Feb. 10, 2018, an Israeli air force helicopter shot down what Israel says was an Iranian drone launched from the Tiyas Military Airbase in central Syria by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
The drone was shot down a minute and a half after entering Israeli airspace, the investigative journalist, Ronen Bergman, wrote in an op-ed article in The New York Times.
Israel responded by sending eight F-16 fighter jets into Syria to destroy the drone’s command-and-control center. While flying back to Israel, they came under attack from Syrian anti-aircraft missiles — one of which, an S-200, took down an F-16, forcing the pilots to eject.
Israel hit back, going after Syria’s air-defense system. The Israeli military says it hit multiple Syrian and Iranian targets.
Israel has long been worried about Iran’s activities and growing influence in the region, especially in Syria, where Iran has backed pro-government forces during the country’s years-long civil war.
“The response to the downing of the Israeli jet was intended to be a lot more violent,” Bergman wrote, adding that Israeli generals brought out plans “for a huge offensive operation in Syria.”
But a “furious phone call” from Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose forces in Syria were close by, “was enough to make Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel cancel the plans,” Bergman wrote.
A former Israeli army general appeared to confirm Bergman’s reporting.
If the F-16 hadn’t been shot down, Israel “would be able to keep this issue at a very, very low profile,” Udi Dekel, a former Israeli army brigadier general who was the head of the Israel Defense Forces’ strategic-planning division, said Feb. 14 on a call organized by the Israel Policy Forum.
“Because we lost the F-16, we decided to respond against many important targets inside Syria,” Dekel said, among them air defenses, Syrian army positions, and Iranian positions around Damascus.
Israel wanted “to send a message that we could not accept any idea that they would try to shoot down our aircraft in our skies,” Dekel said.
Dekel said Israel did not pursue further strikes because it wanted to see the Syrian and Iranian response. But he added that there was “intervention by the Russians, who asked us not to escalate the situation anymore and to try and calm down the situation.”
These recent actions are likely to increase tensions in the Middle East — but Dekel says he doesn’t think this is the “end of the story.”
“We killed Iranians operating the UAV and in other locations, so I assume they will try to find any opportunity for revenge against us,” he said, referring to the drone with the abbreviation for an unmanned aerial vehicle.
Troy Green is an Army veteran with a full range of responsibilities, from being a father and leading his daughter’s Girl Scouts troop to fundraising for the Missouri Veterans Home. After coming home from the Army, Troy dove headfirst into his hometown. He’s deeply involved in his community and spends an incredible amount of time devoted to significant causes. On top of his heavy schedule, Troy wanted to pursue the education afforded to him by the GI Bill.
Bricks-and-mortar schools don’t work for everyone, especially adults with jobs and families. Online education is a great option for busy active duty service members, veterans, and military families because students can matriculate anywhere and the hours are flexible. But not all online institutions are created equal, especially when it comes to providing value to the military community. Finding one that truly understands the military way of life is essential . . . and rare.
Grantham University is one of the best online colleges for military service members because the institution strives to make a service member’s college experience fit his or her life. Grantham’s range of undergraduate and graduate degree programs help troops prepare for promotion opportunities or even career changes.
The military has always been in Grantham’s DNA. Grantham University was founded in 1951 by WWII veteran Donald Grantham to provide other veterans a way to better their lives through distance learning. That spirit combined with the latest online technologies, including effective use of social media, allows Grantham to offer military students targeted online degree programs in the most affordable manner possible. A flexible, self-paced curriculum allows military students to work at their own speed when they have the time. Grantham also assists in creating military-only study groups so classmates can relate to each other in all the ways that matter and make the educational experience more enjoyable and effective. And Grantham helps students choose a targeted degree that complements military experience.
Jacob Vouza was already a hero when the Marines landed at Guadalcanal. When a pilot from the USS Wasp was shot down over his island, Vouza led that aviator to safety. That’s where he first met the Marines.
Vouza spent his life as part of his native island’s police force. When the Japanese invaded the British-controlled island in 1942, the lifelong policeman was already a year into retirement.
He joined the Coastwatchers, an allied intelligence gathering outfit on remote islands run by ANZAC officers and fielded by local islanders.
The policeman met the Marines later in 1942, accepting an American flag as a gift from one of the men. With the rank of Sgt. Major of his outfit and his lifelong experience in the island’s constabulary, he had valuable services in American invaders – and he did.
That’s what nearly cost him his life.
Vouza was captured by the Japanese defenders who found the U.S. flag he’d been given. The Japanese tortured Vouza for hours for information on the American positions, but the policeman gave up nothing.
The Japanese clubbed him with their rifle butts, then bayoneted him in the throat, chest, arms, and stomach, then left him for dead. Vouza passed out from blood loss.
Vouza crawled for three miles. When he finally arrived, he was able to describe the enemy’s numbers, weapons, and vehicles. The Marines took the information and got Vouza to a surgeon. After 12 days of surgery and blood transfusions, Jacob Vouza was back on duty. The old islander was the Marines’ chief scout on Lt. Col. Evan Carlson’s 30-day raid behind enemy lines.
He received the British George Medal for gallantry and devotion, the American Silver Star, the American Legion of Merit for his actions with the 2nd Raider Battalion on Guadalcanal, made a Member of the British Empire in 1957, and knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1979.
Staff Sgt. Edmund “Eddie” Sternot of the 101st Airborne Division was finally honored posthumously Nov. 10, 2019, with a Silver Star for his gallantry during the Battle of the Bulge on Jan. 4, 1945 in the Ardennes Forrest.
Sternot’s unit set up a perimeter defense around Bastogne and was prepared to defend against the many German counterattacks.
On that heroic day in January, Sternot’s unit was hit by a series of strong attacks by the German army leaving his unit isolated and alone. Sternot bravely led his machine gun section from several different positions to beat back the German attacks leaving 60 enemy dead in front of his machine gun station.
Sternot earned a Silver Star for his heroism, but on Jan. 13, 1945 he courageously exposed himself to enemy fire to throw a hand grenade and was killed in action by a German tank round before he could ever receive the award.
A picture of Staff Sgt. Edmund Sternot’s grave site on display at the award presentation ceremony.
(Photo by Maj. Vonnie Wright)
Today the soldiers from Sternot’s unit, 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team “Bastogne”, 101st Airborne Division received their prime opportunity to present Sternot’s last living relative his Silver Star at a Silver Star awards ceremony at the Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Foundation.
Lt. Col. Trevor Voelkel, commander of 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, had the honor of presenting the Silver Star today alongside retired Maj. Gen. Edward Dorman III, an alumni of the regiment himself, and was humbled to be present at such a historical moment.
U.S. Army Lt. Col. Trevor Voelkel, commander of 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division greets U.S. Army veteran, Arthur Petterson. Petterson served in 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division and jumped into Normandy during WWII. 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division presented a Silver Star that Staff Sgt. Edmund Sternot earned for valor prior to being killed in action during the Battle of the Bulge in WWII to his last surviving family member Delores Sternot Nov. 10, 2019
(Photo by Maj. Vonnie Wright)
“While serving in Iraq in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, we received word of this story and without hesitation began planning,” said Voelkel. “I looked at the plaque of Silver Star recipients in our headquarters and saw Staff Sgt. Sternot’s name on it. I’m honored to be here and be a part of this ceremony.”
1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division plaque of WWII Silver Star Recipients.
(Photo by Maj. Vonnie Wright)
The Silver Star was presented to 80-year-old Delores Sternot, Staff Sgt. Sternot’s first cousin, of Goleta, California.
Delores, full of emotion, continued to wonder why such a ceremony was happening as she often referred to their family as ordinary folk.
U.S. Army retired Maj. Gen. Edward Dorman III, left, shakes the hand of Delores Sternot after she receives Staff Sgt. Edmund Sternot’s awards for valor at the Silver Star awards presentation ceremony.
(Photo by Maj. Vonnie Wright)
Dorman gladly answered that question during his address to the audience of the ceremony.
“I commanded Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment many years ago so it is very humbling to be here,” said Dorman. “Delores has stated that her family are ordinary folk but that’s what makes them great. Ordinary folks do extraordinary things for the nation in times of peril.”
Delores also received Staff Sgt. Sternot’s Bronze Star and Purple Heart formally during this ceremony in front of veterans, family and friends within the community of Santa Barbara on behalf of the 101st Airborne Division.
U.S. Army Lt. Col. Trevor Voelkel, right, commander of 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, addresses the audience at the Silver Star award presentation for Staff Sgt. Edmund Sternot.
(Photo by Maj. Vonnie Wright)
Maj. Gen. Brian Winski, commander of the 101st Airborne Division, felt that it was essential to give Sternot the proper honors that he deserves as a soldier within the division’s legacy and history.
“Staff Sgt. Eddie Sternot is part of the Greatest Generation and the 101st Airborne Division’s incredible history,” said Winski. “I’m extremely proud that we are able to render proper honors to him and to his family with the presentation of a Silver Star that Staff Sgt. Sternot earned during the Battle of the Bulge.”
After nearly 75 years Sternot and his family received a ceremony fit for a hero. It has been a long time coming and with many emotions Delores was overwhelmed by the love and care shown by all the service members present.
A picture of a young Staff Sgt. Edmund Sternot on display at the award presentation ceremony.
(Photo by Maj. Vonnie Wright)
Retired Army Lt. Col. Bill Linn worked over 20 years to bring closure to the Sternot family and has become a family friend in the process.
“This was about principle,” said Linn. “I have always fought for principles. It doesn’t matter if 75 years went by or what his rank was. He deserved this ceremony. This is a win for the Army. This is a win for the 101st Airborne Division.”
Col. Derek Thomson, commander of 1st Brigade Combat Team “Bastogne”, is especially proud that his soldiers from Sternot’s very own unit were able to honor him today.
1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division plaque of WWII Silver Star Recipients, Staff Sgt. Edmund Sternot’s awards and program on display at the award presentation ceremony.
(Photo by Maj. Vonnie Wright)
“Staff Sgt. Sternot represents the very best of the 101st Airborne Division and the 327th Regiment,” said Thomson. “It was the sergeant on the ground who made all the difference in the Battle of the Bulge, and Edmund will always serve as an example of what real combat leadership looks like. His memory lives in today’s Screaming Eagles, and it is with great pride that the 101st presents the Silver Star to the family 75 years after he earned this extraordinary honor.”
During this Veterans Day weekend there was no better way to honor those that served and continue to serve than with honoring this American hero.
About 5,000 U.S. troops are sailing toward the Middle East with an F-35B detachment, marking the first time the American Joint Strike Fighters are likely to conduct real-world combat operations.
Sailors and Marines with the Essex Amphibious Ready Group and 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit left San Diego in July 2018 for a six-month deployment to the Middle East and Western Pacific. The three-ship ARG includes the amphibious assault ship Essex, amphibious transport dock Anchorage and dock landing ship Rushmore.
The 13th MEU includes an F-35B detachment from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211, based out of Yuma, Arizona.
“This is the newest and most lethal aircraft that the Joint Force has, and the fact that it’s coming into the [U.S. Central Command] theater and potentially seeing some combat operations is a big deal,” Lt. Col. Jaime Macias, chief of plans at Marine Corps Forces Central Command, said in a Marine Corps news release leading up to the deployment.
ARG-MEU deployments are typically publicized by the Defense Department, but this one — the first to leave the U.S. with an F-35 attack squadron detachment — was not. Citing operational security, officials declined to explain the change in policy.
The F-35B Lightning II
(U.S. Marine Corps photo)
“The Essex Amphibious Ready Group with embarked 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit got underway from San Diego, July 10, 2018,” Lt. Tim Gorman, a U.S. Pacific Fleet spokesman, said in a statement. “For reasons of operational security, we are not publicly disclosing any additional details.”
The sailors and Marines conducted a six-month-long certification process before departing. The team is ready to respond to crises that erupt during their deployment, according to aMarine Corps video about the workup.
The Marine Corps’ variant of the Lightning II stealth jet is designed for sea deployments since it can take off and land vertically.
“Throughout the training, we’ve seen this platform increase our ability to gain a foothold for our operations,” the video states. “This is the most capable aviation platform to support our riflemen on the ground.”
In addition to the F-35 detachment, the MEU also includes Battalion Landing Team 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines; Combat Logistics Battalion 13; Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 166; and a command element.
This marks the second time in four months that the F-35B has deployed aboard a Navy ship. In March 2018, members of the Japan-based Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121patrolled the Pacific from aboard the amphibious assault ship Wasp.
The East Coast-based Iwo Jima ARG and 26th MEU are slated to wrap up a Middle East deployment in August 2018 as these Marines and sailors move in.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.
The sheer magnitude of traumatic brain injury in the military is enough to make anyone’s head hurt. Troops can get TBI from any number of actions. Everything carries a TBI risk, from routine training to combat operations, so it’s no surprise the injury is getting more attention in recent years. The U.S. military has counted the number of TBI cases suffered by its troops since 2000, and the numbers are sadly very big.
More than 383,000 American troops have suffered some form of TBI, either in daily operations or in a theater of combat. What is most startling about the numbers isn’t just how many, it’s how many people in each branch suffered such injuries. Soldiers of the U.S. Army are far more likely to suffer a traumatic brain injury.
While the numbers of overall penetrating and severe TBI are thankfully relatively low, mild injuries make up a bulk of the cases, even when the injuries are broken down by branch. And while “moderate” TBI may not seem as dire as the word “moderate” sounds, those with moderate brain injuries can find themselves with reduced mobility, motor function, and unable to speak effectively. A recent video highlighting caretakers of TBI veterans by AARP Studios and the Elizabeth Dole Foundation highlights just how hard life can be for a victim of moderate TBI.
Unfortunately, moderate brain injuries are the second largest number of injuries suffered by U.S. troops. But the real tragedy is how many TBI sufferers are in the U.S. Army.
Of the more than 383,000 troops that have suffered TBI since 2000, a staggering 225,144 of them have been in some component of the Army. Some 15.8 percent of that was National Guard troops, while 7.3 percent were Army Reserve. The rest, 76.9 percent, were active-duty troops. The numbers on what types of TBI mirror the numbers of all branches put together, with mild being the most widespread, followed by moderate, penetrating, and severe cases.
The rest of the branches hover between 52,000 and 54,000, the Marines have slightly more TBI reports, probably by nature of what they do. This data also reflects an update to the definitions of TBI, more information about the injuries, and subsequent reviews of existing Pentagon data.
When you think of moving infantry, one of three options usually springs to mind: Troops marching in unison, troops riding in infantry fighting vehicles or armored personnel carriers, or transporting troops by the truck-load. In recent years, that third option has undergone a very interesting evolution, largely due to the War on Terror.
TITUS by NEXTER on TATRA chassis, IDET 2017, Brno Exhibition Center, Czech Republic
(Photo by Karel Subrt)
Improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, wreaked havoc on Coalition troops in Iraq and Afghanistan who used unarmored wheeled vehicles, like Humvees, to move troops. Extremely effective and inexpensive, IEDs quickly became a popular choice among insurgents. In response, Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected (MRAP) vehicles were born, specifically tuned to reduce the risks presented by IEDs while maintaining the tactical mobility required by urban warfare.
Developing technology to protect vehicles from explosives is not a new phenomenon. Rhodesia and South Africa had pioneered such vehicles to fight insurgencies in the 1970s. Today, just about every country is developing — or buying — some form of MRAP. France, which has been fighting a radical Islamic terrorist group in Mali, is no different. Their vehicle of choice is the Nexter TITUS, which is short for Tactical Infantry Transport and Utility System.
The TITUS has a crew of three, a top speed of 68 miles per hour, and can go up to 435 miles on a single tank of gas. It can hold up to a dozen fully equipped troops. This transport system also supports an option for a remote weapon system that can hold a variety of machine guns or a 40mm automatic grenade launcher, like the Mk 19.
The TITUS also comes in several variants, including a version for police Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams, a 120mm mortar carrier, a counter-insurgency version, a water-cannon vehicle, and a “forward-support” vehicle capable of carrying ammunition.
This versatile vehicle will likely be around for a while. Learn more about this tough armored truck in the video below.
Noncommissioned and senior noncommissioned officers interested in transferring to the Air Force’s newest enlisted aviation Air Force Specialty Code have until Nov. 15, 2017, to submit their applications to meet the next selection board.
More than 800 applicants submitted for the program last year; those who were not selected by the inaugural board are highly encouraged by officials to apply again this cycle.
“This is an opportunity for active-duty Airmen in the ranks of staff sergeant-select through senior master sergeants who meet and complete the application requirements to be considered for the 1U1X1, Enlisted Remotely Piloted Aircraft Pilot, career field,” said Master Sgt. Mark Moore, Air Force’s Personnel Center Career Enlisted Aviator Assignments Manager. at the Air Force’s Personnel Center.
Moore stressed that the new AFSC is not part of the formal Air Force Retraining Program, but rather a career opportunity for qualified NCOs to fly the RQ-4 Global Hawk.
“Just like officers from other career fields apply to become pilots, AFPC will conduct annual selection boards every January to select qualified enlisted Airmen for entry into this new, exciting career field,” he said. “Applicants have no need to be in their retraining window or be concerned about the end date of an overseas assignment.”
Candidates will be evaluated based on their entire military personnel record and pilot candidate selection method, or PCSM, test score. The average PCSM score for those selected by the inaugural board in February 2017 was 73, with overall select scores ranging from 55 to 96.
Airmen who have already amassed off-duty flying hours are also able to apply the experience toward their PCSM, which Moore said is the same scoring system used to select Air Force officer pilots.
Integrating enlisted pilots into RQ-4 Global Hawk flying operations is one of many ways the Air Force is tapping into the talent of its skilled, diverse and innovative enlisted force as a part of the deliberate approach to enhance the Air Force’s Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance mission. The Air Force plans for the number of enlisted RPA pilots to grow to 100 within four years.
For more information on the enlisted RPA pilot selection process, visit the active duty enlisted Assignments page on myPers from a CAC-enabled computer, or select “Active Duty Enlisted” from the myPers dropdown menu and search “Enlisted Pilot.”
U.S. Army Reserve Sgt. Tracy McKithern loves dogs. She loves her dog, she loves other peoples’ dogs, she loves dogs she sees in memes and on TV shows. When she found a dirty little white stray sniffing around the camp she was stationed at during a one-year deployment in Iraq, only one thing was going to happen.
“I fell in love with her immediately.”
McKithern, a combat photographer from Tampa, Florida with the 982nd Combat Camera Co. (Airborne), was stationed at the Kurdistan Training Coordination Center, a multinational military organization responsible for the training of Peshmerga and Northern Iraq Security in and around Erbil, from April 2017 to January 2018.
The little dog and her mom had been wandering around the base for weeks, McKithern found out. Stray dogs are common in Iraq, and the culture is not kind to them. Erby and her mom were kicked and hit with rocks daily, and starving. Her brother and sister had disappeared before McKithern arrived.
Despite her rough experiences with humans to that point, Erby ran right up to McKithern the first time she held out her hand to the shaky little pup covered in scratches and dirt.
(U.S. Army photo by Tracy McKithern)
“She loved everyone,” said McKithern. “She is the sweetest little soul. She came up to me immediately, probably hungry, but gentle. I think she was looking for love more than anything else.”
McKithern, together with soldiers from the Italian and German armies her unit was partnered with, took to caring for the little dog. They named her Erby Kasima, after nearby Erbil, the largest city in northern Iraq, and “Kasima” being the Arabic name for “beauty and elegance.”
The coalition soldiers would go on convoys into the surrounding countryside to train Iraqi army units six days a week, with McKithern documenting the missions. Every time they returned to the base, Erby was waiting.
“She ran up to our convoy every day,” McKithern recalled. “She was so tiny she would fall and trip all over herself to get to us.”
(U.S. Army photo by Tracy McKithern)
It didn’t take long for Erby and her mom to realize that, not only were they safe around McKithern and her Italian and German friends, but these humans would feed them too. As the weeks went by, their wounds began to heal and they started putting on healthy weight.
Eventually, the growing pup took to sleeping on the step outside McKithern’s quarters.
As the end of her deployment approached, she started to wonder how she could ever leave Erby behind when she went back to the states and lamented about it on her Facebook page.
“One night I posted a pic of us on Facebook, with a caption that read something like ‘I wish I could take her home,'” McKithern said. “I went to sleep, woke up and my friends and family had posted links to various rescue groups. I reached out to one of them, the non-profit Puppy Rescue Mission, and they responded immediately. We sent them $1,000 and they set up a crowd fund to get the rest. We needed an additional $3,500.”
The immediate outpouring of generosity was astounding, said McKithern.
“We raised the rest of the money very quickly, and most of it was from complete strangers!”
McKithern had many preparations to make before she left Iraq so Erby could eventually follow her. Vaccinations, documentation, travel arrangements — all had to be done somehow, in a war zone, while she was still fulfilling her duties as a Soldier. It seemed like an overwhelming task in an already overwhelming situation. Even though she now had the funding, McKithern began to lose hope that she’d have the time and energy to pull this off.
That’s when the brotherhood of the Coalition stepped in to help. Several Kurdish and German officers McKithern had befriended on missions stepped in and offered to tie up anything she couldn’t get done and get Erby onto the plane. With their help, everything got squared away. McKithern returned home, and Erby was set to follow her several weeks later.
(U.S. Army photo by Tracy McKithern)
McKithern had only been home in Florida for about a month when, in a cruel twist of timing, she received orders for a 67-day mission to Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, leaving March 11, the very same day Erby was scheduled to arrive at JFK Airport.
“I couldn’t believe it!” said McKithern. “But I’m a Soldier first, and my commander received an email looking for volunteers. The need at Fort McCoy was desperate at the time. It is a gunnery exercise, which was an opportunity to expand my skills and knowledge as a soldier. It killed me that it was going to keep me away from Erby for another two months, but it’s an important mission. It will all be worth it in the end.”
McKithern’s husband, Sgt. Wes McKithern (also a combat cameraman for the 982nd), met Erby at the airport and drove her home to Tampa, where she has been assimilating into an American life of luxury and waiting patiently to be reunited with her rescuer.
In a few short weeks, McKithern will fly home from Fort McCoy to be with her sweet Erby at last. It will be the end of a 16-month journey that’s taken her across the world to find a little dog in a war zone and — with the help of generous strangers, a nonprofit dog rescue, and soldiers from three different armies — bring her all the way back to become part of a family.
“I can’t believe it,” says McKithern. “It feels like a miracle is happening.”
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.
Recently, Starbucks, the Schultz Family Foundation and JP Morgan convened in Washington, D.C., to explore impactful ways to empower veterans. This meeting at its core was centered on finding a solution to corporate philanthropy – how can organizations work to produce social change in a chosen area, while still ensuring a return on investment? Across sectors, collective impact has emerged as the answer.
As it relates to the world of nonprofits, collective impact is a framework by which organizations can accomplish more through partnerships with others with shared values, than they can by going alone. Ten years ago this month, I deployed to Baghdad, Iraq, and in the military, I learned the phrase “one team, one fight,” which perfectly summarizes this concept. Pair this idea of cooperation, not competition, with the generous financial backing of corporate donors, and you have the foundation for real change.
Here is a real world example: To raise awareness for breast cancer research and domestic violence, the Avon Foundation gives grants to nonprofits to strengthen the work they do on the ground. Corporate partnerships are a key component of amplifying the work of nonprofits, but for companies looking to invest in social change, how do you find the right home for your dollars? For those looking to empower veterans and military families, the Got Your 6 campaign has perfected the solution.
Over the last three years, Macy’s has raised $6.7 million dollars for the national veteran campaign Got Your 6 through its annual American Icons campaign. These funds have gone to national programs and events as well as to Got Your 6’s coalition of nonprofit partners in the form of grants, in efforts to advance the veteran empowerment movement.
By vetting each nonprofit partner within its larger coalition, Got Your 6 ensures that corporate funding will go to organizations creating real change in communities across America. From the great work of Macy’s through American Icons, and the generosity of the American people, Got Your 6 was able to give 35 grants over three years to nonprofit partners such as The 6th Branch, a veteran-run nonprofit that utilizes the leadership and operational skills of military veterans to accomplish community service initiatives. Last year, Got Your 6 granted The 6th Branch $93,000, supporting a year’s worth of service to transform abandoned lots in Baltimore into urban farms and safe spaces for youth recreation. Last month, members from team Got Your 6 participated in an urban greening event with The 6th Branch at the Oliver Community Farm in Baltimore; a veteran-created community resource designed to provide fresh produce in response to a lack of healthy food options in the area.
From my time as a cadet at West Point to the 17 months I spent in Baghdad during the height of the surge, I’ve seen first-hand the power of collective impact and how critical it is to success, regardless of the mission. To continue supporting a resurgence of community in America, Macy’s is again working with Got Your 6 on this year’s iteration of American Icons. Veterans will directly benefit the more people know about this: Americans can shop at Macy’s for Got Your 6 Weekend on Friday, May 13 through Sunday, May 15 to donate $3 at the register or online at Macys.com to receive a special savings pass, with 100% of all donations going directly to Got Your 6 and its coalition of nonprofit partners.
I have been leading teams my entire life, in and out of the Army, and I couldn’t be more proud of Got Your 6 as we lead the veteran empowerment movement, leveraging a “one team, one fight” approach. Companies looking to support social change should seriously consider the collective impact mindset. As exemplified by Macy’s and Got Your 6, measurable impact can occur when all parties work together.
Kim Jong Un issued an unprecedented threat directly to President Donald Trump Friday.
In response to the president’s warning at the U.N. that the America will “totally destroy” North Korea if the rogue regime attacked the U.S. or its allies, the North Korean leader threatened to “tame” Trump “with fire,” promising the “highest-level” action against the U.S.
North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho clarified exactly what this might mean.
“It could be the most powerful detonation of an H-bomb in the Pacific,” he said, adding that he has “no idea about what actions could be taken as it will be ordered by leader Kim Jong Un.”
Earlier this month, North Korea conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test to date, detonating a suspected staged thermonuclear weapon, specifically a hydrogen bomb. The country has twice successfully tested an intercontinental ballistic missile that can reach the U.S., and it North Korean state media has presented images of the warhead. Pyongyang has yet to put everything together and demonstrate its full capabilities though.
It is unclear how North Korea might choose to conduct its next nuclear test, but it could choose to carry out such a test with its new intermediate-range ballistic missile, which it has already fired over Japan twice.
Testing a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific would represent a new kind of North Korean provocation, one unlike anything the world has seen before. Kim is determined to prove that he will not be deterred by Trump. North Korea recently claimed that is close to achieving its nuclear goals, despite international pressure to rein in the aggressive little country.