Footage of a Coast Guard drug interdiction where one Coast Guardsman jumps onto a narco-submarine and forces the hatch open has gone viral. And for good reason. It was possibly the most insane thing I’ve seen all week, but it’s actually not a shock to me. The Coast Guard does insane stuff like this all the time, but it’s never really talked about as much.
I get it, we all mock the Coasties. It’s the price you pay for being the little brother. But when you consider this, their elite snipers, and their track record for going toe-to-toe with narco-terrorists while the rest of us are stuck at NTC or 29 Palms… I think it’s time to admit that some Coasties may be more grunt than a good portion of the Armed Forces.
Just don’t be surprised when that sub-busting Coastie with balls of f*cking titanium calls you a POG at the American Legion. These memes go out to you, dude. Keep giving the Coast Guard an awesome name.
(Meme via Coast Guard Memes)
In case you missed the video, here’s an accurate representation of it…
Let’s face it – a deployment over the holidays isn’t ideal. What’s worse? Gifting items your favorite service member cannot use for the foreseeable future. Whether it’s your spouse or your BFF, here are 10 gifts deployed military personnel actually have on their list this year and can use on deployment:
Hydro Flask Coffee Tumbler with Flex Sip Lid – Whether your soldier is on-the-move or in their room, this tumbler was built for keeping coffee hot for up to six hours using TempShield technology. A range of colors ensures a flask for every preference!
ALTRA Footwear – Built for maximum stability across any type of terrain, Altra creates running and trail shoes that allow toes to relax and spread naturally while moving. Consistently rated in the top ten for running specialty shoes, Altra is best known for “Zero Drop,” meaning consistent height between heel and toe bed.
PHOOZY Apollo Antimicrobial Phone Case – Using patented materials and NASA technology, this phone case prevents the dreaded “temperature warning” for phones and protects from other elements without disrupting wifi or Bluetooth capabilities. And, the antimicrobial lining ensures all inserted devices keep bacteria away. Perfect for a global pandemic.
UST Microfiber Towel – Skip the bulky towel! This microfiber towel features soft material that wicks away water and packs into a compact zipper pouch. Lightweight in nature, it can be a soldier’s best friend following a shower or gym session.
OluKai slippers for men and women – Make them feel like they’re at home, without actually being at home with these durable slippers. Built with OluKau’s trademark drop-in heel, they are easy to slip on and go.
Gear Snake – Forget zip ties that are useless after one use – this cut-to-length wire helps keep gear or equipment together without knots to tie or hooks to clip. The cord doesn’t rust, slip or stretch and features a foam rubber coating.
Hillsound BTR Stool – BTR stands for Better Than a Rock…and we agree. This compact tripod stool that can be used on deployment and at home (think camping or backpacking) folds into a 14-inch aluminum pole for easy stowing.
Portable All-In-One Coffee Maker – Compact and lightweight, this all-in-one pour over coffee maker means hot coffee anytime, anywhere. Featuring a fully adjustable grinder, pouring kettle, stainless filter dripper, insulated tumbler and lid, users just need to add beans for a perfect, 16-ounce ‘cup of Joe’ every single time.
Duke Cannon Cold Shower Cooling Towels – No shower? No problem. These cooling towels, infused with menthol, aloe and jojoba to provide a chilling blast as they cleanse and protect, are individually wrapped and work as the ideal pick-me-up. Inspired by soldiers, a portion of proceeds from Duke Cannon products directly benefit Honor Flight Network, Military Working Dog Team Support Association, K9S For Warriors and Folds Of Honor.
Extra Strength Tiger Balm – Muscle soreness doesn’t stand a chance with extra-strength pain relieving balm. Made with natural herbal ingredients, this tried-and-true ointment can be used by deployed service members to relieve cramps, muscle soreness, and joint pain.
Still not sure any of these are the perfect fit? A gift card is always the right size. Amazon, Audible, Green Beans Coffee and iTunes are a great place to start.
Every generation has concerns about the apocalypse. From doomsday prophets to Y2K bugs, you’ll be hard-pressed to find an era of humanity that didn’t include some portion of the population that sincerely believed they were living in the end times. My generation is different, however.
We may be the first generation that seems to be hoping for it.
Between popular blockbusters depicting the end of the world, popular TV shows dramatizing post-apocalyptic survival, and seemingly ever-rising tensions between very real global powers on the world’s stage, my generation didn’t grow up with the specter of nuclear war quite like our parents did. Instead, we grew up in the cynical aftermath: wedged somewhere between the Baby Boomers in power and the young millennials clamoring for it. Those of us in the middle have grown up with a romanticized idea of the end times, if only as a refuge from the problems of today.
There’s a big difference between fantasizing about the end of the world and surviving it
Many of us like to be “prepared” for a bad situation. Maybe that’s because people my age are all old enough to have already lived through one or two. But some take that drive to be prepared a few steps further, intent on not just being ready for the end of the world, but genuinely hoping to thrive once it comes about. Of course, some others settle for wistfully talking about what they’d do if the zombies descended on their house: head to Walmart to stock up, load up on firearms at the local gun store, and then swing by the National Guard armory for a Humvee, right?
No credit scores. No social obligations. No debts, bosses, or reason to get up early. Just you, your survival ride, and hordes of the undead to roll over. There’s just one problem with that idea: your dream survival rides would all get you killed.
Whether you hope to take to the streets in a muscle car like Mad Max or Will Smith in I am Legend, or you plan to drive over your problems in an armored military vehicle, you’re screwed either way.
Armored and specialized survival rides aren’t maintainable
Sure, cruising through the apocalypse in an up-armored humvee or MRAP sounds like your best bet, but those planning on raiding the Motor T lot of their local National Guard center seem to forget that in order to operate all those armored vehicles, the United States employs a veritable army of maintainers, mechanics, and service technicians each with specialized skills and a fair amount of training.
You can’t service these massive vehicles with the floor jack out of your Honda Accord either, and that’s why those pesky diesel mechanics usually have their own building chock-full of heavy lifts and power tools. Ever changed the tire on a Humvee? Even with the right tools on hand, it can be a real pain in the ass. I’d imagine that only gets worse when the old Motor T guys are trying to eat your brains while you’re at it.
Big, specialized vehicles aren’t just hard to work on; they’re hard to find parts for. Specialty vehicles need specialty dealers, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find some other Mercedes 6×6 trucks to cannibalize parts from in a jam. You’re better off on a Vespa that runs than you are in a Mercedes that doesn’t.
Sports cars and muscle cars won’t go anywhere
Maybe you’ve got a less pragmatic approach to survival and after a world-ending cataclysm your first priority would be getting your hands on the keys to a brand new mid-engine Corvette, or that ’68 Charger you’ve always dreamed of. After all, with all the current owners dead or zombified, what’s to stop you? Well, the roads for one thing.
Despite the number of potholes on my street, we do tend to enjoy fairly well maintained and clear roads here in the United States. That stops immediately when all the hard-working folks responsible for that start eating each other. That means your super-low sports car will have trouble making it anywhere at all, let alone at the speeds it was designed to achieve.
And then, of course, we get back to that first problem with finding parts and having the know-how required to repair or maintain your vehicle. In many newer performance cars, repairs are as much a digital effort as they are a physical one, and unless you have the specialized equipment you need to communicate with a car’s ECU (or other form of on-board computer), you’re going to be sh*t out of luck when it comes time to throw some wrenches at a problem.
Almost 42 years after the Vietnam War officially ended, veterans of that unpopular campaign in Southeast Asia will finally get some official recognition.
Thanks to the efforts of Republican Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey and his colleague, Indiana Democrat Sen. Joe Donnelly, Congress recently passed the Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act, and it is expected to be signed into law by President Donald Trump soon.
On March 26, Toomey hosted a conference call with reporters to discuss his legislation.
Retired Air Force Gen. Charles Horner was awarded a Silver Star for his service as a combat pilot flying F-105s in Vietnam. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee)
The Toomey-Donnelly bill also designates March 29 as “National Vietnam War Veterans Day.” March 29 marks the anniversary of the day that combat and combat support units withdrew from South Vietnam.
The Senate approved the bipartisan bill Feb. 8, and it was approved by the House on March 21. It’s now been on President Trump’s desk since March 23 awaiting his signature.
“In many cases, Vietnam veterans did not receive the warm welcome they deserved when they came home,” Toomey said. “It’s time we put a heartfelt thank you to Vietnam veterans into law.”
He added that all Americans should be grateful to those who served in Vietnam.
Toomey was joined on the call with Harold Redding, a Vietnam veteran from York who came up with the idea for the legislation, and John Biedrzycki, a Vietnam veteran of McKees Rocks and past national commander-in-chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Redding said he worked on getting the legislation passed for 27 months. He thanked Toomey for his efforts in seeing it through.
“I can’t tell you what this means to me and all Vietnam veterans,” Redding said.
Biedrzycki said the legislation was long overdue.
“Every day is Veterans Day,” he noted.
Toomey said he would like to see more public recognition for Vietnam veterans, such as at civic events. Those veterans should be emphasized in our classroom as well, he believes.
“Teachers should teach about the Vietnam War,” the senator explained. “These were difficult times in our history.”
In a news release issued by Toomey’s office after the Senate approved the measure, Donnelly said, “This bipartisan bill would help our country honor this generation of veterans who taught us about love of country and service and who deserve to be honored for their selflessness and sacrifice.”
Here’s what other veterans groups had to say about the legislation:
— Steven Ryersbach, past state Commander/AMVETS Department of Pennsylvania: “It’s outstanding that Sen. Toomey is working to support and honor our Vietnam vets. Sen. Toomey’s overall work on behalf of veterans is commendable and we thank Sen. Toomey for all his efforts.”
— Tom Haberkorn, president of Pennsylvania State Council of Vietnam Veterans of America: ” The Pennsylvania State Council of Vietnam Veterans of America supports the Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act, which recognizes the service and sacrifice of those who answered our country’s call and served, with honor, in Southeast Asia.”
— Thomas A. Brown., Pennsylvania VFW State Commander: “All Vietnam War veterans deserve high honor and respect that many of them did not get when they returned home from war. Designating March 29 of each year to say ‘welcome home’ and ‘thank you’ to our Vietnam War veterans is a strong signal that America appreciates the service of these special patriots of freedom.”
Gen. David L. Goldfein’s four-year tenure as the 21st U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff is coming to an end. As he takes stock of a period marked by ground-breaking achievements, including birth of the U.S. Space Force, the evolution of Joint All Domain Command and Control, and unprecedented challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic, his most poignant – and treasured – memories are the bonds he forged with Airmen while engaging with them around the force over the years.
CSAF 21 Gen David L. Goldfein – The Exit Interview
“Our Airmen are the most incredible, patriotic and disciplined,” he said in a recent interview. “This might be the next greatest generation. Every one of them joined the service while the nation was at war, and their innovative spirit, and willingness to endure hardships to serve in uniform is really inspiring.”
During his frequent travels, Goldfein gained a reputation for seeking out Airmen – often young in their service – to get a better understanding of who they are and to hear their stories. On one occasion in 2019, after meeting all day with air chiefs from more than a dozen nations about space, he struck up a conversation with a young officer. The officer mentioned that he was a second-generation Airman. Without hesitation, Goldfein asked the officer, “You got your phone? Call your dad.” The father and Goldfein had a 10-minute conversation while the startled officer watched.
“I always ask two questions: tell me your story, and what does it mean to be a part of the squadron they are in,” he said. “I’m asking them deeper questions, questions about the culture of the organization. What we want that answer to be is something along the lines of, It means I’m a valued member of this organization, it’s a high-powered team, the Airman to my right and to my left are some of the best Airmen I have ever worked with in my life, and we are doing something really important that is much bigger than myself. If we get that part right, so many other things are going to go right.”
Gen. David. L. Goldfein, the Air Force chief of staff, talks to a group of total force recruiters during the Bluegreen Vacations 500 NASCAR race in Phoenix. The general talked to the recruiters and answered any questions prior to the race. (AIR FORCE PHOTO // MASTER SGT. CHANCE BABIN)
The Air Force Chief of Staff position demands expertise in military doctrine and operations, as well as skill for developing policy, crafting priorities and helping assemble the Air Force’s budget request. It also requires acute political awareness since Goldfein represents the Air Force before Congress, influential think tanks and the public.
Goldfein, 61, is responsible for the organization, training and equipping 685,000 active-duty, Guard, Reserve and civilian personnel serving in the United States and overseas. As Chief of Staff, he also held a seat on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. As he prepares for his 37-year Air Force career to come to an end as the senior uniformed Air Force officer, Goldfein will take with him an approach to the job that was equal parts cerebral and disciplined.
“When I stepped foot on the Air Force Academy campus, only my wildest dreams would’ve ever allowed me to see myself in this seat,” he said. “It truly is the honor of the lifetime to be able to lead the service that has played such an integral part of my life.
Cadet David L. Goldfein and Dawn Goldfein at the the Air Force Academy.
He is a command pilot with more than 4,200 flying hours including combat missions in Operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Enduring Freedom, and most famously, Operation Allied Force when, in 1999, he was shot down flying a mission over Kosovo. His rescue only reinforced to him the important role – and valor – of combat search and rescue teams. It is also a reason that the naming this year of the Air Force’s newest combat rescue helicopter, the HH-60W as the “Jolly Green II,” carried special meaning.
“We don’t know, as young leaders, especially as young officers, when a young Airman is going to risk everything to pull us out of bad guy land, or a burning truck or an aircraft….and risk everything to save us,” he said. “All we know is on that day, we better be worthy of their risk. And so it is all about character, and what the nation expects of those who were privileged to serve in uniform.”
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfien talks to Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright after touring the new HH-60W combat rescue helicopter at the Air Force Association’s Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Fla., Feb. 27, 2020. During the event, the HH-60W was given the name “Jolly Green II,” following the legendary tradition of the Vietnam-era HH-3E Jolly Green and HH-53 Super Jolly Green crews who pioneered the combat search and rescue mission. (U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // STAFF SGT. JAMES RICHARDSON)
During his four years as Chief of Staff, Goldfein led multiple initiatives to improve and update the Air Force’s warfighting capability: including enhancing the service’s multi-domain capability, pushing to increase the number of operational squadrons to 386 by 2030, and the birth of the Space Force. He played a major role in bringing the F-35s into the fleet, as well the development of the B-21 strike bomber and the T-7A Red Hawk trainer aircraft, among others. The push to 386 was necessary, he said, to build “the Air Force we need” and to reconfigure the force to address China, Russia and other near-peer nations.
He and other Air Force leaders understood that the National Defense Strategy marked the reemergence of the long-term and strategic competition with China and Russia. The Air Force’s goal is to compete, deter, and win this competition by fielding a force that is lethal, resilient, rapidly adapting and integrates seamlessly with the joint force and its allies and partners. Expanding number of squadrons laid the groundwork to enhance the forces preparedness, and in turn will increase the number of fighting units, he explained.
“Today, we are the best Air Force in the world,” he said in 2018. “Our adversaries know it. They have been studying our way of war, and investing in ways to take away those advantages. This is how we stay in front.”
With an increase in fighting units underway, Goldfein led the way on a new, more universal, approach to communicate and fight: not only across all military branches, but between aircraft, operators and commands as well. He was one of the originators of a new, linked and network-centric approach to warfighting known as Joint All Domain Command and Control in which elements from all services from air, land, sea, space and cyber are seamlessly linked to overwhelm and defeat any adversary.
Members of the 6th Special Operations Squadron, perform a training exercise showcasing the capabilities of the Advanced Battle Management System at Duke Field, Fla., Dec. 17, 2019. (U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // TECH. SGT. JOSHUA J. GARCIA)
“Victory in future combat will depend less on individual capabilities and more on the integrated strengths of a connected network available for coalition leaders to employ,” he said in 2019. “What I’m talking about is a fully networked force where each platform’s sensors and operators are connected.”
In addition to spearheading the move to Joint All Domain Command and Control operations, Goldfein used his close working relationships with senior leaders, including Department of the Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett and former Secretaries Heather Wilson and Deborah Lee James, to realize some of the most sweeping changes for the Air Force in recent years.
He focused efforts on maintaining bonds with existing allies and partners while developing new global relationships. In 2019, he became the first Air Force Chief of Staff to visit Vietnam since the end of the Vietnam War.
He pushed the Air Force to embrace “agile basing” and to return to a more expeditionary mindset. Both efforts enhanced flexibility and scalability of units to address threats even in harsh, distant and contested areas. Goldfein drove this mindset by getting the wings to “train like they fight.” He also pushed units to deploy together, rather than deploying as aggregations of individuals rounded up from all over the Air Force.
“The next fight, the one we must prepare for as laid out in the National Defense Strategy, may not have fixed bases, infrastructures and established command and control, with leaders already forward, ready to receive follow-on forces,” he said in 2018. So, it’s time to return to our expeditionary roots. The expeditionary Air Force framework Secretary Peters and Gen. Ryan laid out remains valid today. But, it must be adapted and updated to support the Joint All Domain Command and Control operations of the 21st century.”
After initially being uncertain about the need for a separate Space Force, Goldfein reflected on his journey to a different understanding. He now sees himself as one of the Space Force’s strongest advocates.
Goldfein understood the need to shift the Air Force’s culture to make the service more diverse, he and former Secretary James recognized the benefits of diversity and to address problems connected to racial and criminal justice inequity in his first few years in office. This continued to be a focus when Barrett and Goldfein, for example, recently asked the Air Force Inspector General to examine the service’s promotion and military justice record so inequities can be better identified and addressed.
In early 2020 Goldfein also brought about changes to the Air Force’s official anthem to make the lyrics more inclusive. Goldfein didn’t go many places where he didn’t boast on his “best friend, Dawn” and his daughters and granddaughters. He often explained how they kept him grounded, and helped him appreciate the sacrifice our Air Force families endure. Dawn pushed to make improvements for Air Force families when she chaired the “Key Spouse Conference” and was an advocate for universal licensure. Goldfein actively embraced both.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein and Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright learn about new innovations being made at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, May 14, 2020. Airmen at Team Minot, in the midst of a global pandemic, demonstrate the ever adapting ability of the Global Strikers to CSAF General Goldfein and CMSAF Wright during their visit to Minot Air Force Base. (U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // AIRMAN 1ST CLASS JESSE JENNY)
Perhaps the single most influential voice over Goldfein’s four years as chief was that of Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright. The tight bond between the two men was widely understood and often on display. It also was genuine.
“They don’t come any better than Chief Wright,” Goldfein said recently. “He is one of my closest life-long friends…. He’s the guy that I lean on the most.”
Goldfein and Wright took an active approach together to address resiliency, mental health and the overall culture of the force, often appearing side-by-side with Airmen. The close partnership came into clear view recently in the wake of George Floyd’s death and the national call for racial justice. Goldfein and Wright were prominent in their public calls for reform within the Air Force.
“Something broke loose that day, and what broke loose was there shouldn’t be any resistance to making meaningful changes in our United States Air Force to make sure we celebrate all of us, that we are a force that includes and embraces all of us,” he said. “History is not on our side here. If we follow history, we will be pretty excited for a couple of months and will make some marginal changes, we will feel good about ourselves, and then other things will pop up and this will be pushed to the back burner,” he said, referring to past efforts to address racial and criminal justice inequality. “Let’s prove history wrong this time.”
With a goal of a more inclusive Air Force always in mind, Goldfein made a point to show his appreciation and kinship to the Airmen he was able to meet.
Goldfein concedes that many people and events shaped his tenure. But, aside from his wife Dawn and Wright, none was more influential than his countless interactions with Airmen of all ranks and capabilities across the Air Force. It was shaped as well by a separate and tragic moment, the death of Air Force Master Sgt. John A. Chapman in 2002, and in 2018 when Chapman was awarded the Medal of Honor.
“While I never met John, I feel like I know him because his picture hangs in my office, as it has for the past two years,” Goldfein said in 2018. “… At difficult times and when faced with hard decisions, I can look at that picture and find strength in his strength, and I’m reminded that leading and representing Airmen like John Chapman remains the honor of a lifetime.”
Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson, Chief of Staff of the Air Force David L. Goldfein and Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright present a plaque to Valerie Nessel, wife of Medal of Honor recipient Tech. Sgt. John Chapman, during the Hall of Heroes Induction Ceremony at the Pentagon, in Arlington, Va., Aug. 23, 2018. Sergeant Chapman was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for actions on Takur Ghar mountain in Afghanistan on March 4, 2002, an elite special operations team was ambushed by the enemy and came under heavy fire from multiple directions. Chapman immediately charged an enemy bunker through high-deep snow and killed all enemy occupants. Courageously moving from cover to assault a second machine gun bunker, he was injured by enemy fire. Despite severe wounds, he fought relentlessly, sustaining a violent engagement with multiple enemy personnel before making the ultimate sacrifice. With his last actions he saved the lives of his teammates. (U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // STAFF SGT. RUSTY FRANK)
That realization, Goldfein would often say, was his North Star.
As Goldfein’s time as Air Force Chief of staff comes to an end, he feels confident in the selection of the next Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr.
“I feel closure. I didn’t get everything done, I wanted to get done, but we certainly got a lot done, and I’m feeling so good,” he said. “I’ve been watching Gen. Brown for years, I got to see his intellect, his mind and work. He’s a brilliant, operational and strategic thinker. I’ve seen him interact with Airmen, and he’s just absolutely phenomenal. So, I’m feeling great about this opportunity to hand the Air Force over to a guy that I admire, and a good friend as well.”
The CFT has nothing to do with combat, Kuwait isn’t a real deployment, not every Marine is a rifleman, stop piggybacking off the XO—every service member has thought these things in some form at one point or another. You may have even said it aloud to a buddy. Putting a military spin on Dude With a Sign, Veteran With A Sign takes these thoughts that we have all had and actually says them.
VWAS is an Instagram page that started in March 2020 as a writing project by a f̶o̶r̶m̶e̶r̶ Marine named Zach. He served two tours in Afghanistan as an infantryman and held every position in a Marine infantry squad up to squad leader. “GWOT was hot and COIN was cool,” Zach said as he recalled the intensity of combat operations over a decade ago. After separating from the Marine Corps, Zach continued to support his brothers and sisters in arms working for Centerstone, a nonprofit national network that offers essential behavioral healthcare to veterans. Like most veterans, Zach started following military memes as a way to connect with the community. However, he found that most of the memes were the same; heavy handed, punching down, and generally negative in nature. He decided to try something different.
As quarantines went into place across the country and people went internal both literally and on the internet, Zach saw an opportunity to test out his idea and seized it. His first sign read, “Take motrin Drink water Change your socks.” This military cure-all was followed by other popular sayings like “Hurry up and wait” and “Standby to standby.” VWAS’s posts are meant to help veterans with a type of humor that serves as a common language across the services. “Everything’s with a wink and a smile,” Zach said. However, the community was slow to catch on. The number of followers was low and Zach found that people just weren’t getting the joke. “It was annoying,” he recalled. By May, he wondered if he shouldn’t just shut the whole thing down. However, seemingly overnight, the community got the joke.
Early on, Zach began consulting with his Marine Corps buddy Jay. The two served together in Afghanistan with Zach becoming Jay’s squad leader on their last deployment. “We stayed in touch after the Marines,” Jay said, “but we went from good friends to best friends with VWAS.” While working toward a business degree, Jay helped to direct the social media strategy of the page and grow its followership by tagging friends, sharing posts, and trying to line up just the right hashtag. When Zach considered shutting it down, the page was hovering around 600-800 followers. The next day, it had jumped to 1,200. In a week, it more than doubled to 2,500. After a week and a half, VWAS had over 10,000 followers. “We found a common unified voice for the page,” Jay said.
Zach (left) and Jay (right) hold signs written by the other (veteranwithasign)
As the page grew, so did its message. Zach and Jay realized the social responsibility that had been placed on them and crafted their posts accordingly. While they still made humorous signs like “Mortarmen Are Infantry That Can Do Math”, they also used their platform to bring attention to serious topics with signs like “Text Your Buddies…It Could Save A Life” and “Where Is Vanessa Guillén??” The two also carefully crafted the identity of the page with the character of the Warfighter. Wearing OD green skivvies, black sunglasses, and a hat, the Warfighter persona aims to focus attention on the message of the sign while also representing all types of veterans. “Anyone who puts on the uniform is fighting the war,” Jay said. From S1 and supply to mechanics and logisticians, “everybody is the warfighter in their own way.” Zach says that the concept was inspired by the 2006 film V for Vendetta, in which a masked man fights against a fascist tyrannical government. V’s face, hidden by a Guy Fawkes mask, is never seen in the film and the mask becomes a symbol of freedom and rebellion against the oppressive regime. Jay reinforced this idea when he talked about donning the skivvies, hat, and shades to hold up a sign. “In that moment, I’m the Warfighter.”
Expanding the VWAS community, Zach and Jay started taking suggestions from followers who had a message that they wanted to share. Working with Zach and Jay to craft and home the message, the follower would then don the Warfighter outfit, assume the identity, and hold up their sign for the world to read. One such collaboration was with a veteran and former law enforcement officer who goes by the Instagram name donutoperator—the sign read, “Military Experience Doesn’t Equal Law Enforcement Experience.” Another major expansion for VWAS came when Tim Kennedy shared a post in which Zach held up a sign reading, “No One Hates Successful Veterans Like Veterans” while his friend held one reading, “He Sucks”.
“Wives aren’t the only ones wanting to be called by rank” (veteranwithasign)
“There’s a current cultural problem with the veteran community. It feels as if we eat our own,” Kennedy said in his sharing of the post. “We need to be supporting each other. We need to back each other.” While Zach and Jay hope to continue to grow the page as a forum of free speech, there’s no room on VWAS for negativity. The page receives dozens of DMs and comments on a daily basis, and while Zach and Jay like to respond to all of them, they simply ignore the constant suggestions to do signs bashing on veteran-owned apparel or coffee companies.
“That’s just being a bully,” Jay said, “and no one likes a bully.”
On the other hand, many DMs to the page come from concerned friends looking for resources to provide to battle buddies who they think might be suicide risks. Zach and Jay take the time to identify the most appropriate and effective resources and pass the information on with best wishes. “That’s what this is all about,” Zach said, “helping veterans laugh more and hurt themselves less.” While veteran suicides have gone up since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, VWAS wants to do more than just acknowledge the problem or point fingers at the VA. “That doesn’t solve anything,” Zach said. “Instead, I look at it like, ‘They’re doing what they can do and we’re doing what we can do.'”
Doing 22 push-ups for 30 days on Facebook can be a good way to bring awareness to the problem of veteran suicide, but there is a simpler course of action that addresses the problem directly. Call your buddies. Take the time to talk, catch up, and ask how they’re doing. Let them know that you care about them and are always there for them. The feeling of loneliness and hopelessness that tragically brings so many veterans to take their own lives can be combated with a phone call from a friend.
Be that friend.
Here are some resources designed to prevent veteran suicide:
Veterans Crisis Line—1-800-273-8255 and press 1
Veterans Crisis Line for deaf or hard of hearing—1-800-799-4889
Ten female lieutenants completed the first step in becoming U.S. Army infantry platoon leaders on Wednesday by graduating from the first gender-integrated class of Infantry Officer Basic Leader Course.
Twelve women started the 17-week course at Fort Benning, Georgia, and 10 met the standards to graduate alongside 156 male classmates.
“The training of an infantry lieutenant is a process until they step in front of that rifle platoon, and this is but the very first step in that process,” Lt. Col. Matthew Weber, battalion commander of the course, told reporters Wednesday at Fort Benning. “It’s a critical one because we are very much focused on training and preparing the soldiers, the lieutenants, to ultimately lead a rifle platoon.”
Defense Secretary Ash Carter in December ordered all military jobs, including special operations, opened to women. His directive followed a 2013 Pentagon order that the military services open all positions to women by early 2016.
Army officials maintain that it hasn’t taken long for gender integration to become the norm in training.
“We have been integrating women into the military for years; they have fought and bled beside us for years,” said Maj. Gen. Eric Wesley, commanding general of the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning. “This is an important moment, but this is something that is in many ways business as usual.”
Fort Benning officials would not release the names of the 10 female graduates. Their next stop is Ranger School, Weber said.
Then, whether they are successful or not, they will go into other courses, including Airborne School, Striker Leader Course and then Mechanized Leader Course — a process that will take about a year to complete.
“Once they have completed all those courses, then we will have deemed them fit to lead whatever type formation out in [Forces Command] and they will depart Fort Benning,” Weber said.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley has directed that gender-integration first focus on leaders at those two installations, Wesley said.
“We are priming the pump and enabling success by initially focusing on two installations and then ultimately they will start to migrate out to other installations,” he said.
Griest and Haver are following the same path.
Griest, a military police officer from Connecticut, was granted transfer to the infantry branch April 25, 2016. Haver, an AH-64 Apache helicopter pilot from Arizona, has been approved to transfer into the infantry, and “we are still awaiting final word on when that is going to come down,” said Brig. Gen. Peter Jones, commandant of the Infantry School.
“Upfront, I will tell you this makes us a better Army and the reason it makes us a better Army is that this whole issue has driven us — it has been a forcing function, to ensure that we had the right standards aligned to each occupational specialty in the Army,” Wesley said.
Establishing gender-neutral standards has been the “culmination of two years of different work done by Training and Doctrine Command, with physical scientists looking at what is the physiology of moving weight and what is the difference between infantrymen and field artillerymen?” Jones said.
“We have the scientific data that shows these are the propensity skills that you have to do and the physiology to do those.”
Benning officials maintain that gender integration has not lowered standards.
“There has been no change in the standards,” said Infantry Officer Basic Leader Course Command Sgt. Major Joe Davis. “There is no change in the course … we are in the business of producing leaders. It doesn’t matter if they are male or females.”
A non-commissioned officer and a lower-ranking enlisted member of the 2nd Battalion, Fourth Marine Regiment at that base pleaded guilty to nonjudicial punishment, instead of going to trial in military court, for comments they made on United States Grunt Corps.
That’s an online community created after Facebook shuttered the Marines United private page following allegations that some members swapped salacious images of female service members — often without the women’s knowledge or consent — and openly derided them.
On April 5, Camp Pendleton officials were alerted that the two Marines in question had used the Grunt Corps site to make contemptuous remarks against a person in their chain of command. The two Marines’ battalion commander, Lt. Col. Warren Cook, initiated an investigation and the pair admitted their guilt.
Both Marines were demoted by one pay grade, sentenced to 45 days of restriction to their barracks and given 45 days of punitive duties concurrent to the other punishments. No other details about the case, such as the two Marines’ names and what they wrote in the online forum, were disclosed.
In a statement released by the Camp Pendleton-based 1st Marine Division to The San Diego Union-Tribune, Cook said the case proved that his unit refuses “to tolerate personal attacks on their Marines, online or elsewhere.”
“This kind of behavior flies in the face of our service’s core values and this organization refuses to condone it. Each member of this battalion is a valued part of a storied and effective combat unit, and our success is based on trust, mutual respect, and teamwork,” Cook said.
The case was first reported on April 7 by the Washington Post.
Since March 22, service members in Marine units worldwide have signed counseling statements — called “Page 11s” — that are then added to their permanent records indicating that they understand and will follow the Corps’ revamped guidelines on cyber bullying.
At its peak in February, Marines United counted nearly 30,000 members — active-duty or reserve Marines and sailors, along with veterans who served in those military branches.
Most of those members didn’t share inappropriate images or cast slurs against female service members; the ongoing criminal investigation has focused on an estimated 500 men who did.
The probe involves the Marine Corps, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, the FBI, the U.S. Department of Justice and law-enforcement agencies in various states.
During a Pentagon roundtable with reporters on April 7, Gen. Glenn Walters, assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, vowed to continue going after online wrongdoing by Marines while enacting deeper reforms to root out an often toxic culture in the military that vilifies women.
“Our Marines and the American people deserve nothing less. Marines don’t fail. The vast majority of Marines live our ethos, and a part of that ethos is to correct or hold appropriately accountable those Marines who don’t,” Glenn said.
“Marines don’t degrade their fellow Marines. Marines don’t disrespect or discriminate based on gender, religious affiliation, sexuality or race. Semper Fidelis — always faithful — has a deep meaning that we are called to defend. The Marine Corps owns this problem and we are committed to addressing it for the long term.”
Glenn pointed to NCIS innovations that have increased information sharing and streamlined reporting of incidents to track online misconduct. NCIS agents can now ship investigative material on minor offenses or non-criminal actions to a “fusion cell” within the larger task force probing the Marines United scandal.
The info is then routed to local commanders to punish the online scofflaws, such as the two Marines at Camp Pendleton.
Part of the task force, which is led by Marine Col. Cheryl Blackstone, continues to study more than 150 potential changes to the way the Corps recruits, trains, and retains personnel to clean up an institution long deemed by critics to be corrosive to women.
Blackstone has commissioned studies exploring whether to increase the number of events where male and female Marines train together while looking at dozens of recently instituted changes to the training of Marine recruits, Glenn said.
Future revamping could include a “Women in the Marine Corps Advisory Council” and the creation of a forum where current and former female Marines who were victimized in their careers can share their stories without fear of retaliation or reprisal.
Since the Marines United case became public, critics of the Corps’ gender policies have expressed a range of reactions.
Some have conveyed cautious optimism that top leaders of the service, including commandant Gen. Robert Neller, appear to be taking the scandal seriously.
Others had said they can’t trust the Corps to police its own because similar incidents in the past were ignored or minimized.
Still others have given support to the Corps’ current reform efforts but question whether it, NCIS, and other enforcement agencies are nimble enough to pursue violators in the rapidly shifting world of online forums.
Billi Doyle was a military kid with a dream, one that her family nurtured and supported growing up in Oklahoma. Doyle saw her parents’ deep commitment to service in the military, which really impacted her. They continuously stressed the importance of values and working hard.
Doyle’s mother retired in 2018 as a Lt. Colonel from the Air Force Reserves after 20 years of service as a dentist. Her father, who is now deceased, was a medically-disabled Army veteran. Her step-father served overseas with the Navy during the Vietnam War. Sacrifice and hard work was ingrained in her.
“My grandma taught me how to sew and I was always interested in design…I spent a lot of time with her as a kid. She was very artistic so maybe that rubbed off on me. I moved to Dallas from Oklahoma so I could go to design school,” she shared. The first thing Doyle ever made as a teenager was a dress, which she laughingly described as “awful.” But that didn’t deter her and if anything, made her more committed to succeed.
Doyle graduated from the Art Institute of Dallas in 2007 and started her business immediately. “The first three or four years, I didn’t really know what I was doing,” she said with a laugh. When asked if she ever thought about quitting, Doyle laughed again and said, “Every day.”
Doyle launched Honey Bee Swim after her graduation and began designing bathing suits and cover-ups, eventually adding yoga and athletic wear. What’s unique about her creations is that they are made in America with fine Italian fabrics. With much of what America purchases being made with cheap labor and fabric from China, Doyle’s business stands out.
“It is really difficult and frustrating to be an American designer. People want everything so cheap now. Other companies get everything made in China and it’s really hard to compete with them,” said Doyle. The negative impacts from sourcing and manufacturing in China have also really affected her business the last few years.
Now, businesses in China are also actively committing fraud.
“I’ve been getting knocked off by China for the last couple of years. They steal my pictures and sell knockoffs with my pictures on them and you can’t fight them. I would go out of business if I did,” she said. Doyle finds it hard to deal with it all, saying that watching someone take something you created and pretending it’s theirs is “beyond frustrating.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has also significantly impacted Doyle’s business as well. Typically, the late winter and spring seasons are where she does the majority of her business. But with the virus causing worldwide quarantines, no one is vacationing. This means people aren’t purchasing luxury line bathing suits, which was always the bulk of her business. “It’s our busiest time. We’d normally be selling 100 bathing suits a month and right now we are selling five,” Doyle said.
So, she started making masks.
A lot of thought went into the making of the masks. Doyle shared that she spent a lot of time researching the fabrics that were most effective and chose polyethylene which is woven tighter than cotton. “We made probably 10,000 masks. We gave some away and sold the rest of them,” she said. Her masks are safer and she even sells filler packs for them.
Although it appeared things were looking up business-wise, pretty soon masks made in China were eventually restocked in most stores. “People are not buying American-made masks now because they can get a three or four dollar mask at Wal-mart because it’s made in China,” said Doyle.
“More things need to be made here in America, but how can you promote and encourage people to do creative things here when no one can make money doing it,” she said. Doyle continued on and explained that the country is in this trend of buying everything cheap and only worn once for social media posts.
A 2019 New York Times article interviewed Gen Z teenagers who admitted they want things cheap and much of what they buy is for a one-time photo op. Another article featured on Business Insider showcased that this type of shopping is on its way to killing brands because the number one motivator is the price.
Doyle hopes that when people make a choice to shop, they will begin to question sustainability and even the conditions of the shop where their clothing is made. Although the current trend is fast and cheap, the cost is much higher than the purchaser realizes in terms of devastating impacts to the environment and economy.
To learn more about Billi Doyle and shop her sustainable and American made clothing, click here.
Beyond hardware, however, countries in Asia are also reassessing the balance of power there, contemplating how to engage China and what role the US — long a guarantor of security and trade in the region — will play going forward.
“Everyone out in Asia is, on one hand, scared of China, and, the other hand, they need China for trade,” Mike Fabey, author of the 2017 book Crashback, about tensions between China and the US in the Pacific, told Business Insider. “Also there’s a real sense of, ‘China’s right here. America’s on the other side of the world.'”
Officials in the region felt the Obama administration “was letting China slide with a few things here and there” to secure cooperation, or at least noninterference, from Beijing on other issues, like the Paris climate accord, Fabey said. “But even with that, there was still definitely a feeling, ‘Hey, America’s got our back.'”
The Trump administration has referred to the region as the “Indo-Pacific,” in what is likely meant to be a rhetorical swipe at China, though it also points to the region’s maritime dimensions. But, Fabey said, “with the recent administration, there’s much more of a feeling now in the Western Pacific, even from folks like Australia, who are really wondering exactly how far America would go now if China were to do anything.”
That has translated into greater interest in local partnerships.
“You’re starting to see Australia, Japan, and India, for example, there’s a new emerging trilateral out there, and that they’re counting the US out. The US is involved,” Fabey said, but there’s now more of a feeling of, “‘we’re on our own more, at least we should act like we’re on our own more, and we’ll do it without the US if we have to.'”
‘They’re very good at playing that card’
First proposed in 2007, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad, made up of the US, Japan, Australia, and India, gained new life in 2017, when officials from those countries met to discuss a “free and open Indo-Pacific” and seven core themes, including freedom of navigation, maritime security, and a rules-based order in the region.
Some members of the Quad have tread carefully out of concern about China, which protested its restoration. India has also expressed reticence about the partnership — in part over concerns about its own autonomy as well as doubts about the other three countries’ approaches to China.
“China likes to play the card, ‘Look, you’re Asian. We’re Asian. Quite honestly, no Western power is going to protect your Asian rights out here … You can’t depend on the West to do that,'” Fabey told Business Insider. “And they’re very good at playing that card.”
But cooperation between countries in the region continues, with an eye on securing and enhancing trade and security.
Japan has increased efforts to counter China’s Belt and Road initiative, ramping up international partnerships and investments — including in Sri Lanka, where a recent Chinese port project has angered India.
Australia has followed suit, talking to the US, India, and Japan about a joint regional infrastructure program to rival Beijing’s outreach.
Australia, India, and Japan have been pursuing a trilateral partnership since late 2015, aimed at ensuring “open and free” movement in the region and advancing their shared interests.
The Malabar 2017 exercises in summer 2017, in which India, Japan, and the US took part, emphasized antisubmarine warfare — including submarine-on-submarine exercises. “Nowhere else does the American Navy do that,” Fabey noted, saying cooperation between US and Indian navies “is unlike any other in the world.” (While New Delhi blocked Australia’s participation in Malabar 2017, their defense cooperation has progressed.)
India and Japan did three days of antisubmarine exercises in the Indian Ocean in October 2017.
In March 2018, Vietnam’s president visited India, where the leaders of the two countries put out a statement pledging to continue defense cooperation. Two days later, US carrier made a port call in Vietnam — the first such visit in four decades and a sign of growing ties between the US and Hanoi (whose acquisition of submarines has also irked China).
Around the same time, India’s army chief said that New Delhi was working with Australia, Japan, and the US to guarantee “freedom of navigation” in the region. A few days later, India began its Milan 2018 naval exercises, underscoring New Delhi’s growing engagement with the region.
The Milan exercises were first held in 1995 with four countries. This year, 16 countries joined the drills, which, for the first time, included a joint multilateral exercise at sea. The naval portion took place around the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, strategically located near the Malacca Straits, which connects the Indian and Pacific oceans.
That was followed in late March 2018 by the fourth meeting between US Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson and Indian navy chief Adm. Sunil Lanba, where they “discussed ways to improve interoperability to include additional naval exercises and staff talks.”
As with the Quad, India, which uses Russian-made military hardware, has been reluctant about joint operations. Its reticence about information-sharing has reportedly hindered those exercises and broader interoperability.
‘Like their Caribbean’
China has made clear its displeasure with such regional cooperation.
When Japan’s inclusion in the Malabar exercise was permanent in late 2015, Beijing reacted sharply, saying it hoped “the relevant country will not provoke confrontation and heighten tensions in the region.”
The rivalry between China and India in the Indian Ocean appeared inflamed in February 2018, when both looked poised to respond in the Maldives, where the government imposed a state of emergency, jailed opponents, and stifled protests. (The state of emergency was lifted in late March 2018.) India has long wielded influence in the Maldives, but the government there has courted China, buying into what critics fear is Beijing’s “debt-trap diplomacy.”
China has also flexed its muscles in the South and East China Seas. In January 2018, a Chinese sub was detected around the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, which are controlled by Japan but disputed by Beijing. It the first confirmed identification of a Chinese sub that area and drew a Japanese protest. Chinese ships have entered that area on six days this year, most recently on March 23, 2018.
In recent days, Vietnam, which has sought to mollify Beijing after the US carrier’s visit, assented to Chinese pressure to scrap an offshore oil-drilling project — the second time in a year Hanoi has done so. The cancellation is likely to be read in Beijing as a sign Vietnam’s strategic thinking has not changed, despite US shows of force in the area.
Such a victory means Beijing’s efforts to assert its claims, and to influence its neighbors, are unlikely to end. Even with regional efforts to counter China, the country’s geography, resources, and military put it in a position to wield considerable influence over the region and the trade that passes through it — which makes a continuing US presence all the more important, said Fabey, author of Crashback.
“If the US were to pull back from there … China would take control, and if China wants to do this, they basically would,” he told Business Insider. “The South China Sea could be like their Caribbean. How we control the Caribbean, China says it wants to control the South China Sea.”
“Now as long as everything’s equal — that is to say, that China is benefiting from that being free and open — then I guess there’s no problem,” Fabey said. But that could change, he added, if Beijing decides changing it is in its interests. “China will always do what’s best for China.”
The UCLA/VA Veteran Family Wellness Center is honored to continue to serve and support the military-connected community during COVID-19! For appointments call (310) 478-3711 x 42793 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Every Marine knows the saying, “Pain is Weakness leaving the body.” It’s the motto that drill instructors use to encourage recruits to dig just a little deeper during boot camp and it’s often repeated when physical training takes a turn from hard to brutally hard. The military, especially the Marines, know that pain is the beginning of resilience, our ability to bounce back from difficult situations and complete the mission. But while some pain often prepares our servicemen and women for strength in war, we are often at a loss for what to do when our families or even children are challenged with pain and stress once we return. So when the VA wanted to start helping veteran families they smartly turned to one of the few and the proud.
Marine Veteran Tess Banko is no stranger to pain. By twenty three years old, she had survived homelessness, a massive back injury (for which she was medically discharged) and the suicide death of her husband, also a Marine. When her world seemed to be coming apart, Tess did the opposite of what most of us would do. Instead of allowing her pain to overwhelm her, she fought back. She dug into her pain both physically and mentally. Along the way, she volunteered to empower and assist others, went to college (she was crowned homecoming queen), and ultimately, found the tools inside to help her (and her family). Tess is the epitome of resilience and now she’s bounced back to take on a new mission.
Today, Tess is the executive director of the UCLA/VA Veterans Family Wellness Center, a one of a kind partnership between UCLA and the West Los Angeles VA system. Tess and her team are part of the first VA program specifically designed to help not only veterans, but their families. To support their work, the team is relying on cutting edge research from UCLA just a few blocks from the VA campus. UCLA, the university which revolutionized kidney transplants and invented the nicotine patch, is now offering veterans and their families a state of the art resiliency program. Families Over Coming Under Stress (FOCUS) is a resiliency training regimen for individuals, families with children and couples facing adversity or issues like traumatic stress.
With Tess at the helm, she’s not only pioneering a new way of thinking for the VA, she’s also helping others find their path through trauma. Tess sat down with We Are The Mighty to discuss her work, passion and journey into resilience.
WATM: First things first, thank you for everything you do for military families. How do you describe yourself and your work here at VFWC?
Tess: Well it’s really easy to give a title. I’m the executive director of the UCLA/VA. Veteran Family Wellness Center. But really, I’m a social worker and public administrator.
WATM: And a Marine? What made you join the Corps?
Tess:I think it was really a lot of wanting to be part of something that made a difference. When I was younger I used to go to the [El Toro] airshow with my grandfather and that’s the first time I ever laid eyes on a Marine standing there in the uniform. You know guiding people, I mean it was airshow duty. I didn’t know at the time probably how much fun that wasn’t, but they were motivating and just really interacting with the public, and there were are all these exciting machines and demonstrations. So, it really made an impact on me as a little girl. The wider world was calling.
WATM: Did your family have a history of military service?
Tess: I didn’t find out until many years later that my own grandfather was actually in the Army. He never told those stories to the family because I think he was embarrassed. He said that a lot of his friends were being sent off to war but he served two years in a non-combat role, got out and went into aerospace engineering and he was one of the first Mexican-American designers of bomb and missile systems at White Sands, NM. I personally saw the military as one of the only places that you could go as far as your own two feet would take you basically or your hard work that you put into it. That’s one of the reasons why I was excited to join.
Tess: And I like a good challenge. The Marine Corps seemed like a good fit. So I joined [as] an engineer.
WATM: Did you find the challenge you were looking for? Especially as a female Marine in the engineers.
Tess: When I joined it was very idealistic. I wanted to be just one of the guys and I saw myself in that way. I never saw myself in terms of being a woman, only a Marine and that actually caused a lot of problems and disappointment at the time as we have only just begun to move more fully into gender integration among the services. And it was really challenging for me because as I said I never saw myself as anything other than a Marine. I always just wanted to do my job.
WATM: What made you transition out of the Marine Corps?
Tess: I got hurt.
WATM: You got hurt?
Tess: Yes. We were training and I noticed that there was something wrong with my back because my leg had stopped functioning. I was in my early 20’s and the command atmosphere gave this impression that you had to white knuckle it through anything. I was told, ‘There’s no problem, there’s no problem. You just need to keep going.’ It turned out that I had a herniated disc in my back and it was it was crushing the nerve to the point where it began to permanently kill the nerves. I was standing there on the rifle range and I just fell over on my side because my leg finally gave up. They called an ambulance and rushed me into emergency surgery in Japan.
WATM: Did you feel like you had the resiliency skills that prepared you for that experience?
Tess: My life growing up was challenging. My parents were very young when they had children. I was the only person in my immediate family to successfully graduate from high school. My parents had dropped out at 17, which kind of spells disaster for a young couple with four children. And so it was really a life of learning to adapt, moving from place to place, experiencing homelessness as a child, living between motels and being chased by bill collectors. You know all that bad stuff for [a child] but even from a young age I adopted a viewpoint of life that was more curious than anything. It was less ‘Oh my God, why is this happening to me?’ and more ‘huh this interesting.’ It was just a minor shift of perspective. I developed that curiosity and a different way of looking at problems and I think that’s a key part of resilience.
WATM: Did you know what resilience was growing up?
Tess:I did not. I think it was something that I saw modeled by example. My grandmother was a very kind and giving woman, she taught me so much. She always went out of her way to help people in the community even when she seemed in the midst of a lot of uncertainty in life. So, paying that forward, even on active duty I was volunteering in the local community teaching English to Okinawan children. I’ve always been so curious about other people and their lives. It’s a great education.
WATM: And then you lost your husband (also a Marine). How do you process all of that?
Tess: It was a surreal experience having the casualty assistance team knock on the door. I can remember I opened it a crack. It didn’t make sense in my mind what was happening so I opened the door a crack and a Marine stuck his foot to keep me from shutting it. Then I saw the Colonel. And then it finally hit me that it was real. My husband wasn’t coming home. When you’re actively experiencing shock, pain or trauma it’s less thinking about resilience and more survival mode kicking in. It was one second, one minute at a time. The days blurred together. I mean being emotionally injured is much like being physically injured, it can take a long time to wrap your head around. There’s no linear pathway. Also, processing trauma is not just about moving through pain but about overcoming fear. There’s the fear that you as a person or things in your life will never be the same. Sometimes you don’t know what other people are going to think. Usually some of the fear ties back to being afraid that people are going to judge you if you feel broken. And I think that really was hard for me to overcome, but it was necessary. I think that being gentle with yourself is a skill.
WATM: You not only survived but thrived? You went back to college and grad school and now you literally work with Neuroscientists.
Tess: The science behind the brain fascinates me because people that are in pain sometimes seem to think, ‘I’m damaged forever and I’m never gonna be able to do or be anything. There is no coming back from this.’ I understand where you’re at if it’s crossed your mind, I’ve been there too, but there’s so much possibility. We can’t change what happened but our brain is essentially plastic and able to rewire. The body and mind actively try to repair themselves, and we can support our own process through building resilience. There are a lot of tools for that belt, resilience isn’t just a buzzword.
WATM: Is that thesis behind your team’s work at the VFWC?
Tess: Exactly. The center is a place of hope and healing. We teach tangible skills, identifiable tools, for veterans and their families to be able to overcome challenges and build better relationships. The FOCUS model that’s our cornerstone is pretty incredible.
WATM: Is there anybody else out there that’s focusing on families like this?
Tess: Not in this way. From a wellness-based resilience perspective this is the first center of its kind, especially paired with the VA which traditionally only sees individual veterans. They took a huge step to open their doors to couples and families too. When you think about it, though, our families, friends and communities are on the front lines supporting after military service.
WATM: So this is a groundbreaking VA partnership all based in science?
Tess: Yep. That’s why UCLA is such an amazing partner because the VFWC is just blocks away from world class researchers. The Center falls under the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and the Nathanson Family Resilience Center which focus on resilience for all families, not just veterans. The research behind our programs is about understanding what drives human behavior and growth. Based on that, VFWC programming is tailored to veterans and their families with really firm research and evidence backing it up.
WATM: Classic, intel drives operations model. But you have specific model for your programs as well. What is FOCUS?
Tess: FOCUS is Families Overcoming Under Stress. It’s a holistic model that was co-created between UCLA and Harvard University and currently in use on over 30 active duty military bases around the world. Our center represents the first wider translation of FOCUS from active duty into the veterans community, which are distinctly different populations. It’s a departure from traditional therapy models.
WATM: What can veterans and their families expect when they come to the center?
Tess: When somebody comes into the center in general we start with a consultation that helps us to really guide veterans and family members to the resources that they might be needing. It’s starting where the individual is. We have individual, couples, early childhood, military sexual trauma, and combat veteran adaptations, plus group sessions and special workshops and events. We keep our doors open for veterans and family members regardless of discharge, benefits or when they got out. The building we’re housed in also offers veterans with VA benefits massage, reiki, mindfulness and yoga. There’s even a drum circle and Taichi.
WATM: And children?
Tess: Especially children. Research that was done as far back as the Holocaust indicates that trauma can be passed down from generation to generation. In cases of post-traumatic stress, suicide and even repeated deployments, the effects of secondary trauma is a very real thing. A lot of the times we see families with children who don’t know how to talk to them about certain issues or there’s not a huge understanding of the developmental piece of what’s behind behaviors. Kids aren’t just mini-adults, the human brain is still developing until the age of 25! So, we support both the parents and children to find a closeness and ability to communicate more as they move through the journey.
WATM: That sounds pretty awesome especially for the VA. How would you describe starting the center?
Tess: It’s been a lot of pioneering. Improvising. Being resilient. There are so many people who care in the VA system and a whole lot of need. Offering another avenue for assistance is important to the team here.
WATM: What is your vision for the center and the future of resilience in the VA?
Tess: I would love to see the VA expand the VFWC’s holistic wellness model to include centers in every facility, especially coupled with a research institution. Veterans and their families would really benefit. Both our families, and wider communities for that matter, are really impactful in our individual wellness. One of the great things about the VFWC is our ability to seek additional community resources. It’s a long table and there is no one size fits all for wellness, reintegration, and healing.
WATM: So now you you’ve gone through your own experience gone through two years here. What does resilience mean to you?
Tess: I think the Marine Corps says it really, well you adapt and you overcome. Sometimes it seems like pull-through comes from out of nowhere because we’re born with it, but sometimes life can bring those levels low. Resilience is that wellspring that allows for course correction and being able to bounce back. Resilience to me also means working on saying, “hey something’s wrong here” and being open to assistance. First step for me personally of breaking the cycle was my own acknowledgment of what I was facing. For instance, I couldn’t talk to my family being sexually assaulted on active duty and I now know that’s common to those who have experienced trauma. I simply didn’t have the vocabulary, I had to organize the words in my own mind. We really need each other to get through hard times, so it’s crucial to develop.
WATM: What does 2019 look like for you and VFWC?
Tess: We’re working on piloting a new transition program, TEAM, for those at any point after active service based on the core FOCUS model paired with the ideas of identity ,mission, meaning and purpose. These are four essential elements of transition. Your perception changes along the transition to civilian life just like my perception changed of myself when I got out of the Marine Corps. It really was a rediscovery of who I was, where I was. I had to find a new mission. For me that happened to be serving people, but it could be different for others. It can be challenging to figure these things our while also providing for yourself or a family. We want to offer veterans and their families the resilience tools before they even need them.
WATM: Do you have any advice specifically to the families
Tess: There is no one size fits all to happiness, health and healing. If one thing doesn’t work, move forward. No matter what you face, keep reaching out and moving forward. Families, you are vital to service. You’re heard and seen. You matter.