A North Carolina mom of three and Army veteran has flown to Iraq and is training with the Kurdish Peshmerga to fight ISIS, according to reports.
Samantha Johnston felt the U.S. wasn’t doing enough to stop ISIS, so the former Army geospatial engineer left her kids with a caregiver and joined the fight. Now, she’s training as part of a Kurdish quick reaction force, conducting daily drills and anticipating an attack by ISIS.
The young mom knew she needed to do more to help.
“These children here who are homeless, orphaned; mothers and sisters have been raped and sold, fathers who have been killed,” Johnston told the Daily Mail. “They are suffering, and I knew that I couldn’t just sit and do nothing. I couldn’t look my children in the eyes and say, ‘I didn’t do anything to help.'”
While the determined mom hasn’t fought directly against ISIS yet, but called the current training period “the calm before the storm,” according to a report on Fox46 Charlotte. ISIS has captured much of Iraq and recently captured over 100 tanks, artillery pieces, and wheeled vehicles after the fall of Ramadi.
To see more of Samantha Johnston, check out the article and photo gallery in the Daily Mail.
November is Military Family Appreciation Month. Of course, our nation owes military families a debt of gratitude: Their sacrifices and stressors should not go unnoticed. We do try to honor them, with thanks and praise, but during this month set aside to appreciate military families, we should consider practical ways we can do more to address the challenges they face. Fortunately, such efforts are underway.
In August, the White House hosted a listening session of military spouses, and the common themes were disruptions in career development and employment.
Ninety-two percent of military spouses are female, but the unemployment rate for military spouses (16 percent) is four times higher than the rate for all adult women in the U.S. (4 percent). About half of military spouses who are now working part-time report that they are underemployed; they would prefer full-time work.
Both the private sector and the public sector are making efforts to address the needs of military families.
First, because military life often requires moving from state to state, varying occupational licensing and a continuing education programs can keep military spouses from working, or slow them down and impose additional costs after a move. Unbelievably, today in the U.S., nearly one in three workers need a license to work. Scaling back these requirements, or offering state-to-state reciprocity, is one way governments can help. A trio of bills (the Restoring Board Immunity Act, the New HOPE Act, and the ALLOW Act) are currently under Congressional consideration. Each would encourage states to dial back oppressive licensing laws.
Second, private companies can work to foster more workplace flexibility. In industries where this is possible, employers should allow flexible hours, telecommuting and work-from-home options. These flexible workplace practices are helpful to any spouse (or single parent) who has to juggle the lion’s share of childcare duties. This particularly applies to military spouses.
The government can help to foster more workplace flexibility as well, simply by staying out of employment contracts and reducing regulations promulgated under the Fair Labor Standards Act that actually restrict employer’s ability to offer flexible arrangements. In May, the House passed the Working Families Flexibility Act, which would allow workers to elect to take comp time instead of overtime pay. This would be one good step toward greater flexibility. The bill is now with the Senate.
Finally, thirdly, many military spouses have found that the best way to become and stay employed is simply to work for oneself. Many run Etsy shops or otherwise operate their own small businesses. Pursuing a pro-growth economic policy, including tax reforms that make it easier to comply with the tax code and reducing the tax burden that small businesses face, would greatly help these military families. Congress is hard at work trying to pass such tax reforms now.
More good news: New technologies—and the growth of tech-related industries—are making more flexible, work-from-home positions available, and some companies, like Amazon, are committed to hiring military spouses in these jobs. These efforts are welcome and help combat the bias that some other employers may exhibit toward military spouses, whom they may see as a “flight risk” due to the frequent moving associated with military life.
Our economy is changing rapidly. Thanks to cultural and technological changes, the workplace can be more flexible than ever. By reducing barriers like occupational licenses and outdated labor and tax laws, we can do more to provide better economic opportunities for military families. Our debt to them can never be repaid – but fostering better employment options would be a good start.
Patriotic rock band Madison Rising and the Navy SEAL Foundation announced a unique partnership with the release of Madison Rising’s new song, “Men of Steel.” Madison Rising is donating 50% of the proceeds from the song to the Foundation in support of its mission of service to the Naval Special Warfare (NSW) community.
“Men of Steel” is a new rock anthem that pays tribute to all those who serve.
The song is a special collaboration that started when Madison Rising approached the NSF in 2019 about a potential partnership. “I had always wanted to figure out a way to have music support our mission at the Foundation, and Madison Rising was an ideal partner to make that happen,” said Chris Irwin, Director of Partnerships for the NSF in a press release.
As a result, Madison Rising worked with the Navy SEAL Foundation to write a song about teamwork, camaraderie and the service member experience, that directly supports those it honors. “By donating half of all proceeds on this song to the Foundation, Madison Rising is committing itself to not only raising awareness about our mission, but also raising funds to help us execute that mission,” Irwin stated.
Madison Rising’s mission is to honor veterans, first responders, and active-duty military members by making great rock music that reinforces true American values. This collaboration with the Navy SEAL Foundation is the latest initiative in support of that mission. The band is led by Rio Hiett, a retired Master Sergeant who served in the Air Force, “Madison Rising is on a mission to honor our military however possible and we know this song will have an incredible impact on the community,” he said. The band is well known for hard-charging, patriotic performances at venues including NFL games, NASCAR, and other special events.
“I started singing back in high school with producer and friend, Andrew Lane, in Muscle Shoals, Alabama,” Hiett told WATM. “This is where the love of performing and creating was started and as he went on to become a Grammy Award winning part of Atlanta’s and L.A.’s R B movement, I chose the route of military service.
I spent 20 years as an Air Force AMMO troop, having served half on active duty and half in the air guard.” Hiett served in several operations, including Allied Force, Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. “I spent nearly 3 years deployed to the AOR and lost that time with my oldest son Dante’,” Hiett said. “I felt he endured the impact of the deployments far more than anyone else in the family. From the moment I became the frontman for Madison Rising, I had always wanted to have my son be a part of something meaningful. He plays the drums and this was an incredible opportunity to have him be a part of a song [Men of Steel], that has the potential to go a long way in the veteran community.”
Hiett continued, “We were able to team up with Chet Roberts of 3Doors Down and record the song down in their studio in Nashville at Rivergate Studios. SEAL Chris Irwin was also a huge part of the track as it was brought forth from his original idea as we collaborated, rearranged/rewrote, then recorded. So at this point in time, I am incredibly proud of this song, the meaning behind the song and how it was created, but mostly that my son is a huge part of something so amazing.”
Madison Rising has shared the stage with rock legends Aerosmith, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Toby Keith, Weezer and many others, and they have a large following among veterans and first responders.
About the Navy SEAL Foundation:
The Navy SEAL Foundation’s mission is to provide immediate and ongoing support and assistance to the Naval Special Warfare (NSW) community and its families. The Foundation stands behind these warriors and their families by providing a comprehensive set of programs specifically designed to improve health and welfare, build and enhance resiliency, empower and educate families, and provide critical support during times of illness, injury, or loss. Like the community it serves, the Navy SEAL Foundation is a high-performing organization committed to excellence. It has received eight consecutive 4-Star ratings from Charity Navigator and it is one of less than 70 charities, from among more than 9,000, to have earned a perfect score of 100 for financial health, accountability and transparency, placing it in the top 1% of all rated charities.
For more information, please visit: www.navySEALfoundation.org.
Cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy are working with aerospace instructors and industry partners to develop the Defense Department’s first large stealth target drone to test missile tracking systems.
“As far as we know, this is the first large stealth target drone,” said Thomas McLaughlin, the Academy’s Aeronautic Research Center director.
McLaughlin said the project is the DoD’s first aircraft development with significant contributions by cadets at a service academy.
“It has had cadet involvement in its evolution over several years,” McLaughlin said. “It’s quite rare that a student design has evolved to the point of potential inventory use.”
Dr. Steven Brandt and Cadet 1st Class Joshua Geerinck are among the Academy members who have worked to perfect the drone’s physical design for more than a decade. Brandt teaches aircraft design and is on the team of government and industry experts overseeing contractor work on the project.
“For the first five years, we just did design studies,” Brandt said. “Finally, in the fall of 2007, we said “let’s build an aircraft.”
Cadets and faculty have worked on the drone’s design since 2008 as part of that government industry team. The current version is 40 feet long, with a 24-foot wingspan and 9-foot-high vertical tails.
“It’s the size of a T-38 trainer aircraft,” Brandt said, referring to the Northrop T-38 Talon, a two-seat, twin-jet supersonic jet trainer. “[The target drone] uses two T-38 Trainer engines. We explored multiple options to refine its shape and helped eliminate designs that were not as good.”
A T-38 Talon flies over Beale Air Force Base, Calif., Dec. 7, 2018.
(Photo by Airman 1st Class Tristan Viglianco)
McLaughlin said the project is important because of its implications in the national defense arena.
“The government owns the intellectual property rights, which makes for substantially reduced production and sustainment costs down the road,” he said.
Geerinck is one of three cadets on the project. He’s been testing the flight stability of the target drone in the Academy’s wind tunnel.
“We’re trying to find a combination of flight-control inputs that will always cause the aircraft to enter a backflip that will cause it to crash,” he said. “The system is important because it allows us to prevent injury or damage to other people or persons on the ground in case there is a catastrophic failure or loss of control.”
McLaughlin said cadets will stay involved in the development of the prototype through its initial flight test and beyond, should it go into production.
“The entire project is the validation of the Academy’s emphasis on putting real-world problems before cadets and expecting them to make real contributions to Air Force engineering,” he said. “In the Aeronautics Department, all cadets perform research and aircraft design — it’s not just for top students.”
Cadets don’t just learn about engineering at the Academy, “they perform it,” McLaughlin said.
“They put their heart and soul into their efforts, knowing that an external customer cares about the outcome of their work,” he said. “Our research program relies on a high level of mentorship that is as much about role modeling as it is about learning facts.”
Brandt said the government-industry team plans to demonstrate the target drone in September at the Army’s Dugway Proving Ground near Salt Lake City. Depending on the results of that demo, the Defense Department could purchase the design or select it for prototyping.
The military of today looks very different from the military of parents or grandparents. Many of us veterans will go into high-tech training on things like satellites, avionics, or even automated weapons. Military careers with a technical background are a great starting point for a post-military career.
“Veterans and transitioning service members are an amazing talent pool,” says General (Ret.) Chris Cortez, Vice President of Military Affairs at Microsoft. “You have a group of amazing young men and women who have served their country, put their organization above themselves, and come with unique skills and sense of discipline.”
“From a great career in the military, we want them to have the opportunity to go into another great career in the technology industry,” Cortez says.
But what if you didn’t happen to work in a technical field?
Much of the warfighting capability of U.S. armed forces still depend on door-kickers and trigger-pullers. A noble job, but it doesn’t always have a civilian equivalent. And then there are the military careers we take for granted: the plumbers, boatswain’s mates, and undesignated airmen (and others) that may not want to continue those careers after serving.
We live in the information age, in a digital word, where tech jobs are the holy grail of well-paying careers. Sometimes it seems like getting to work in tech after the military means coding your own app and moving to Silicon Valley.
Or maybe check out what Microsoft is doing for the military-veteran community.
Edgar Sanchez joined the Army at 32 and while he was at the base education office, he learned about Microsoft Software Systems Academy, or MSSA. The program is an intense 18-week training course that gives aspiring vets a background in Information Technology systems.
In a world full of shady dealers who will tell you anything to get a piece of your GI Bill benefits, isn’t the idea of Microsoft directly teaching you things like cloud application development, server cloud administration, cybersecurity administration, and database business intelligence administration a bit comforting?
Best of all, finishing the course gets you a job interview at Microsoft. But don’t worry if you don’t get that job. More than 240 companies have hired MSSA graduates. The program has a 94 percent employment rate.
“Why not bring the technology industry’s skills gap and thousands of transitioning service members together?” Cortez asks. “Why not fill this need in technology by training people that are interested, that are leaving active duty, and preparing them for those jobs?”
A thought that would be comforting when it’s time to think about leaving the military.
Some parts of the world will see the sun turn into a “ring of fire” on Sunday.
The event, known as an annular solar eclipse, occurs when the moon is at the farthest point from Earth in its orbit and passes between our planet and the sun. The moon partially covers the sun, but its small size in the sky means the sun’s outer rim remains visible, making it look like a bright ring.
People in parts of China, Central African Republic, Congo, Ethiopia, India, and Pakistan will be able to watch the full annular solar eclipse. The event will begin for those in Central Africa — the first location to see the eclipse — on Sunday, June 21 at 4:47 a.m. local time. It will end for the last areas to see it — parts of China — at 8:32 a.m. local time. (That’s at 12:47 a.m. and 4:32 a.m. ET if you watch remotely from the US.)
A partial annular eclipse will also be visible in southern and eastern Europe and northern Australia.
If you are able to catch the solar eclipse in person, make sure to wear proper eye protection, since staring directly at the sun causes eye damage.
If, however, the eclipse won’t be visible in the sky where you live, you can catch it online. TimeandDate is presenting a livestream on Youtube that can watch below.
The name annular eclipse comes from the Latin word “annulus,” which means ring.
A “ring of fire” eclipse happens once a year. Solar eclipses generally take place about two weeks before or after a lunar eclipse. One lunar eclipse occurred on June 5, and another will happen on July 5.
During this annular eclipse, it will take the moon several minutes to pass in front of the sun, but the full eclipse will only last for about one second.
At the maximum point of the eclipse, the moon will cover about 99.4% of the sun, according to NASA.
As anti-ISIS forces retake Mosul and march on Raqqa, more and more of the terror group’s mystique is falling away. It’s hard to be the international bogeyman when your forces are suffering defeats across your caliphate.
But one of ISIS’s most prominent battlefield weapons is still deadly frightening, the armored vehicle-borne improvised explosive device. While VBIEDs were already common in Iraq and Afghanistan, ISIS upped the ante by creating especially effective armored versions and then employing them like artillery — softening their enemy’s lines and breaking up attacks.
For the Iraqi Army, the Kurdish Peshmerga, and other anti-ISIS forces, understanding these weapons is a matter of life or death. But typically, the weapons are destroyed before they can be captured, either because the soldiers hit it with a rocket, tank, or artillery round, or because the operator triggers his explosive cargo.
This makes it relatively rare that a suicide vehicle is captured intact. But there have been a few, and Sky News got the chance to tour one of these captured vehicles during the Iraqi military’s initial punch into Mosul.
The vehicle, captured by Kurdish Peshmerga, had been heavily modified with the removal of any unnecessary weight, the addition of thick, heavy armor, and the installation of a massive amount of explosives.
See the full tour of the vehicle in the video below:
This is more or less the Army’s summer intern program, where young future officers get hands-on experience as a kind of “third lieutenant,” under the tutelage of a commissioned officer for three or four weeks. This gives cadets going into their final years of pre-commissioning training the opportunity to experience life in an active duty unit. Specifically, it allows them to try their hands at officership, and to get a feel for the kinds of officer/NCO relationships that are essential to the success of our Army.
CTLT happens in all kinds of units, both in the US and OCONUS. As far as I know, there are no CTLT positions in combat zones. But short of that, cadets can end up in just about anywhere. While CTLT is a useful and important mentorship and developmental activity, many units see CTLT as a drag, and dealing with cadets as a hassle. Sometimes cadets are relegated to less-meaningful duties, or endure some modicum of hazing as part of the experience.
I was recently in a conversation with a senior noncommissioned officer in an elite US Army unit, when the subject of CTLT came up. I wondered how he, as a senior NCO in a highly specialized unit, felt about having cadets around. I asked if he gave the cadets in his unit a hard time as part of their CTLT experience.
“No, I always salute them and treat them as officers, and I make sure everyone else does too,” he replied in total sincerity. Somewhat surprised by this, and thinking back to my own experiences in CTLT, I asked why he felt that way.
“Because according to the Army, they outrank me, sir.”
I was floored. Everyone knows that the lowest Army private outranks the highest cadet… right? I mean, that certainly seemed to be the case at Airborne School back in the day.
The NCO referred me to AR 600-20, Army Command Policy, which makes it pretty clear that West Point cadets do, in fact, outrank Army NCOs. This regulation shows that cadets rank after commissioned and warrant officers, but before NCOs. Very interesting. I learned something that day. You’re right, Sergeant, a West Point cadet DOES outrank you. Technically.
OK, fine. That’s what the reg says, but how does that work in practice?
But having learned this, it made me wonder when this would actually matter in any meaningful way. Outside of authorized developmental training events such as CTLT, no NCO is going to allow a cadet to swoop in and take charge of his platoon, squad, or section. So when would a cadet actually “be” in charge?
AR 600-20 again provides the answer:
AR 600-20, Section 2:
2-8. Death, disability, retirement, reassignment, or absence of the commander
a. Commander of Army element.
(1) If a commander of an Army element, other than a commander of a headquarters and headquarters element, dies, becomes disabled, retires, is reassigned, or is temporarily absent, the senior regularly assigned Army Soldier will assume command.
(2) If the commander of a headquarters and headquarters element dies, becomes disabled, retires, is reassigned, or is temporarily absent, the senior regularly assigned Army Soldier of the particular headquarters and headquarters element who performs duties within the element will assume command. For example, if a division headquarters and headquarters company commander is temporarily absent, the executive officer as the senior regularly assigned Army Soldier who performs duties within the headquarters company would assume command and not the division commander.
(3) Senior regularly assigned Army Soldier refers (in order of priority) to officers, WOs, cadets, NCOs, specialists, or privates present for duty unless they are ineligible under paragraphs 2-15 or 2-16. They assume command until relieved by proper authority except as provided in 2-8c. Assumption of command under these conditions is announced per paragraph 2-5. However, the announcement will indicate assumption as acting commander unless designated as permanent by the proper authority. It is not necessary to rescind the announcement designating an acting commander to assume duties of the commander “during the temporary absence of the regularly assigned commander” if the announcement gives the time element involved. A rescinding announcement is required if the temporary assumption of command is for an indefinite period.
Of course, there is another reason to treat West Point and ROTC cadets with respect: they are not going to be cadets forever. The best way to train cadets to be officers that their soldiers will look up to and their NCOs will respect is to treat them the way you want them to act. While it might be fun to haze the new “margarine bar” (he hasn’t even worked his way up to “butter bar” yet), is that really the impression you want him taking with you when he gets commissioned and reports to his first unit?
So yes, a West Point cadet DOES outrank a sergeant. Or a sergeant major for that matter. But only a complete cadidiot would get his or her cadet rank confused with an NCO’s authority and influence.
US leaders are now asking Pakistan to increase its counterterrorism activity and further collaborate with the Dept. of Defense when it comes to attacking Jihadists in their country and advance prospects for increased peace and stability in Afghanistan.
Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford recently met with Pakistani Chief of Army Staff Gen. Qamar Bajwa in Islamabad to discuss heightened cooperation between their two countries.
“Secretary Pompeo emphasized the important role Pakistan could play in bringing about a negotiated peace in Afghanistan, and conveyed the need for Pakistan to take sustained and decisive measures against terrorists and militants threatening regional peace,” State Dept. Spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a written statement.
The meeting takes place within a broader context of ambiguity characterizing US-Pakistani relations, a connection which encompasses both tensions and successful military-to-military counter-jihadist cooperation.
Within Pakistan, there appears to be two interwoven, yet distinct trajectories; US officials and Pakistani security experts say that the Pakistani military has had substantial success attacking jihadists within their borders. At the same time, many US officials continue to raise some measure of question regarding the level of Pakistani resolve when it comes to counter-jihadist initiatives. Further, some are also raising questions about the actual depth of Pakistan’s alliance with the United States, particularly given the country’s interest in addressing the India-Pakistan conflicts regarding the contested Kashmir region.
Pompeo and Dunford, being aware of President Trump’s stated concern that Pakistan might harbor jihadists, both cited increased military-to-military relationships as central to future progress in the region.
“On the surface, they say they want to cooperate…. So what we are looking for is the actions to back that up ,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staft Gen. Joe Dunford, according to a Pentagon report.
U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo meets with Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi at the Foreign Ministry in Islamabad, Pakistan on Sept. 5, 2018.
Former Secretary of State spokesman Jamie Rubin is among those raising concerns about the actual extent of Pakistan’s allegiance to the US-backed counterterrorism operations. In particular, he has posed the question as to whether the newly arriving Pakistani administration, led by recently elected Prime Minister Imran Khan, will pursue pro-American policies.
Multiple counterterrorism and security experts familiar with operations in the region have said that part of the ambiguity or apparent contradictory sensibilities within Pakistan emerges, in large measure, from Pakistani entities operating separately from a military-led government infrastructure.
Rubin made the argument that instances wherein Pakistani entities appear to be sustaining some degree of alliance with Afghan and Pakistani jihadists are due to the country’s highly-prioritized anti-India stance.
Specifically, Pakistani jihadists are, according to many expert estimates, believed to be involved in various counter-Indian initiatives. Also, Rubin maintained that some portion of Pakistanis seek to maintain an ability to have safe harbor in Afghanistan in the event that their country is overrun by Indian forces.
Citing the currently incoming new Pakistani administration, Rubin raised the question as to whether there were enough “pro-Americans” within Pakistani government. He wondered whether there was instability and tension separating Pakistani military leadership and other political ambitions held by some in the country.
Pakistani security officials involved in maintaining counterterrorism support and security within the country say an overwhelming majority of Pakistanis, including government officials, are what he called “moderates.”
“The rhetoric in Pakistan is moderate and not one of an extremist Pakistan. That is in everyone’s interests,” said Ikram Sehgal, Chairman of an international security firm called the Pathfinder Group.
At the same time, Sehgal also cited the importance of Pakistan’s relationship with Iran and other regional neighbors, adding “our best stance is to be neutral and not take sides.”
Meanwhile, US military officials emphasize that the current Trump administration is deeply invested in improving US-Pakistani military and diplomatic cooperation with a particular dual-pronged approach of both seeking peace in Afghanistan and stepping up Pakistani military counterinsurgency attacks against jihadists.
U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo arrives in Islamabad, Pakistan on Sept. 5, 2018.
Also, operating beneath the shadow of a widely-discussed war in Afghanistan, the Pakistani military has quietly been aggressively attacking jihadi terrorists, Taliban forces and other enemies in the mountainous tri-border region spanning Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan, according to Sehgal.
Pakistani military missions, which have for quite some time been existing below the radar of greater international consciousness and focus, have by no means been uncomplicated. Many successes have been met with challenges and an ebb-and-flow often associated with complex counterinsurgency operations against a mix of enemy forces.
Nonetheless, despite the overwhelmingly circulated narrative that jihadist enemies continue to find safe-harbor in Pakistan, jihadi insurgent forces have consistently been attacked and removed from the area by the Pakistani military, Sehgal said.
Operating with weapons, intelligence assistance, and training support from the US military, Pakistani military activity has lowered the number of jihadi fighters in the country from more than 100,000 years ago to roughly 2,000 today.
Along with many Pakistani experts and observers of the tri-border region, Sehgal does acknowledge that the situation in Pakistan is not without some ambiguities and complexities. However, despite an at times fragmented approach and periodic hesitations, Pakistani forces have steadily made substantial progress over the course of the last decade, he claimed.
Pakistani military operations have included raids, door-to-door searches of tribal areas and large-force attacks on jihadi facilities such as underground bunkers and command and control facilities; the attacks have massively reduced the amount of enemy jihadi fighters in the region, Sehgal said.
Sehgal added that, not long ago, Pakistani military forces attacked and destroyed a jihadist facility in the tribal areas previously known to harbor large amounts of insurgents.
“Pakistanis have been carrying out ops on their side of the border. We have not had an easy time as successful as we’ve been. We successfully carried out military operations against jihadi military facilities,” he said. “We have not had a single failure when we attack them directly.”
Also, the Pakistanis are currently fencing the tri-border area to stop the flow of enemy fighters coming in from Afghanistan. Sehgal said the fence will be finished several months from now.
Featured image: Pakistani Chief of Army Staff Gen. Qamar Bajwa.
This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.
Description: Orange, red and black with tire tread and pictures of palm trees, surfers and marching soldiers. If found, please return to Dana Cummings, no questions asked.
Cummings, a Marine Corps veteran, is bummed about the missing leg, but said it’s par for the course for adaptive surfing with one leg in San Diego.
“No, it’s still MIA,” he said. “Still out there floating somewhere. I built another one out of some parts I have and still have to glue the tread on. I lost one in Long Bay 10 years ago. Three weeks later it washed up two miles down the beach. Maybe someone in Tijuana will find this leg.”
That won’t stop him from bringing his organization, AmpSurf, to the National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic, Sept. 15 to 20, 2019, in San Diego. More than 150 veterans with various disabilities from across the U.S. will travel to California for a week of adaptive adventure sports and lessons in sailing, surfing, kayaking, pickleball, and cycling.
Dana Cummings lost his prosthetic leg while surfing a couple weeks ago in San Diego, but that won’t stop him and AmpSurf from coming to this year’s National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic.
Cummings and AmpSurf will take many of those veterans out for the first time in their lives on the water and teach them how to catch a wave.
“This is the thing. Not trying to make world-class surfers out of these guys and women. Not trying to make them adaptive surf champs. We just want to focus on their abilities. We don’t focus on what you can’t do. To get that rush of riding the wave, the sensation of feeling that wave, it helps these veterans get more active.
“Everybody else out there may focus on the disability. When I walk down the street, people can’t help but stare at the leg. But through surfing, we are focusing on their abilities. I don’t care if you don’t surf again after that, but hopefully people go home and realize they surfed for this one week, they can do anything.”
Cummings never surfed when he had two legs. He served in the Marine Corps from 1989 to 1995, including a tour in Desert Storm. While driving his family in a Volkswagen bus in 2002, a vehicle in front of him slammed on the brakes to make a U-turn. Cummings whipped his vehicle to the side and took the brunt of the impact, crushing his legs.
“I remember the first prosthetist asked me, ‘What do you want to do?’ And I told him I wanted to surf. And he said, ‘That’s probably not going to happen. You have to be realistic.’
“And I was like, ‘F you!’
“I got on my laptop, found another guy who told me he’d help me make it happen. I was surfing a week after I got out of the hospital. Those first two waves I caught l was laying down, but just happy to be there. The next time, I was able to stand up for two seconds.
Jason Wheeler rides a wave in on a handstand. He said surfing helps make him whole again.
“Now I can ride a long board forever. If I can do this, a fat, little farm guy from Maine, anybody can do this.”
Cummings discovered something else in the surf, too. It was like magic pill for his post-traumatic stress and other issues from the war.
“Surfing is my therapy,” he said. “I used to be on all these medications for depression, anxiety and PTSD. I don’t take any of them anymore. I surf. I surf almost every day. And I can tell, when things are going haywire, I have to go get in that bottle. And thank God VA realizes surfing is therapy. It’s natural.
“Mentally, physically, spiritually, it does all that.”
Since that day he took his first surfboard out, Cummings went on to start his organization that now has chapters in California, New York and New England, with another one starting in Oregon.
“We’ll take anyone out — veterans, blind, kids, anyone with disabilities. It’s funny, I kind of chuckle at it sometimes. I just got back from Oregon and was washing out these wet suits and I never imagined this.”
Changing minds, saving lives
After one event, he sent a survey to participants. A Navy veteran wrote back and said she was thinking of killing herself only days earlier, but AmpSurf changed her mind.
Jamil-Anne Linton said she was in such a deep depression with PTSD that she saw no way out.
“I was extremely suicidal,” she said. “But being out in the water, I didn’t have that fear. It helped me focus. The first time I was catching that wave, I got this feeling of humility, but also a feeling like I was on top of the world. And I love that feeling.”
Dana Cummings said his organization has taught veterans, children and others with disabilities to surf, such as Rumi Walsh — the daughter of a veteran — who lost one of her arms.
Now she’s paying it forward. She went back to school to become a registered nurse and is working with mental health patients. She also continues to surf every week with Cummings and spread the word about his program.
“On a day I’m extremely stressed,” she said, “I go out on the water.”
“I can do it again”
AmpSurf made the difference, too, for Army veteran Jason Wheeler. He was injured while parachuting out of a Blackhawk helicopter during a training exercise, eventually losing both legs above the knee. The collision with the ground caused sight damage and he’s also legally blind.
“I had never even surfed before then,” Wheeler said. “But you get this energy from the water. You get that one solid wave. You know, you have good days and bad days, and you don’t know what it’s going to be. Surfing is just a like a day. When you wipe out, you say, ‘I can do it again.’
“It gives us a way of focusing on the abilities we can do. When you think about the negativity, it’s going to drown you, and that’s why we have so many suicides. Or you can surf and become whole. We’re all whole, we’re just like Rubik’s Cubes, just broken apart. Some of us just need to be put back together to become beautiful art.”
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
Pirates have returned to the waters off Somalia, but the spike in attacks on commercial shipping does not yet constitute a trend, senior U.S. officials said Sunday.
The attacks follow about a five-year respite for the region, where piracy had grown to crisis proportions during the 2010-2012 period, drawing the navies of the United States and other nations into a lengthy campaign against the pirates.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters at a military base in the African nation of Djibouti, near the Gulf of Aden, that even if the piracy problem persists, he would not expect it to require significant involvement by the U.S. military.
At a news conference with Mattis, the commander of U.S. Africa Command said there have been about six pirate attacks on vulnerable commercial ships in the past several weeks.
“We’re not ready to say there’s a trend there yet,” Marine Gen. Thomas Waldhauser said, adding that he views the spurt of attacks as a response to the effects of drought and famine on the Horn of Africa.
He said he was focused on ensuring that the commercial shipping industry, which tightened security procedures in response to the earlier piracy crisis, has not become complacent.
Navy Capt. Richard A. Rodriguez, chief of staff for a specially designated U.S. military task force based in Djibouti, said piracy “certainly has increased” in recent weeks. But he said countering it is not a mission for his troops, who are focused on counterterrorism in the Horn of Africa and developing the capacities of national armies in Somalia and elsewhere in the region.
Several other countries have a military presence on or near that U.S. site, including France, Italy, Germany and Japan. This reflects Djibouti’s strategic location at the nexus of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.
Mattis made a point of spending several hours in Djibouti during a weeklong trip that has otherwise focused on the Mideast. As a measure of his concern for nurturing relations with the Djiboutian government, he flew four hours from Doha, Qatar, and then flew right back.
At his news conference, Mattis praised Djibouti for having offered U.S. access to Camp Lemonnier shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks.
“They have been with us every day and every month and every year since,” he said.
The U.S. rotates a range of forces through Lemonnier and flies drone aircraft from a separate airfield in the former French colony. U.S. special operations commandos are based at Lemonnier for counterterrorism missions in Somalia and elsewhere in the region.
During Mattis’ visit, elements of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, including V-22 Osprey aircraft and Harrier attack jets were visible on Lemonnier’s airfield.
The U.S. military presence has grown substantially in recent years, as reflected by construction of a new headquarters building, gym, enlisted barracks and other expanded infrastructure.
Djibouti has a highly prized port on the Gulf of Aden. The country is sandwiched between Somalia and Eritrea, and also shares a border with Ethiopia.
Mattis is using the early months as defense secretary to renew or strengthen relations with key defense allies and partners such as Djibouti, whose location makes it a strategic link in the network of overseas U.S. military bases.
Djibouti took on added importance to the U.S. military after 9/11, in part as a means of tracking and intercepting al-Qaida militants fleeing Afghanistan after the U.S. invaded that country in October 2001.
The U.S. has a long-term agreement with Djibouti for hosting American forces; that pact was renewed in 2014.
Over the past week Mattis has met with leaders in Saudi Arabia, Israel, Egypt and Qatar.
Whatever doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger. For retired commander Jack Schwartz, that seems to be the case.
The 22-year navy Veteran spent 1,367 days in captivity as a prisoner of war during World War II. He turned 103 years old April 28, 2018.
For Schwartz, it all started just three days after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. On Dec. 10, 1941, he was a navy lieutenant junior grade stationed in Guam as a civil engineer responsible for the water supply, roads, the breakwater and some construction.
“We only had 100 marines on the island – about 400 of us total, to include those who worked at the naval hospital,” Schwartz said. “And there were about 4 or 5,000 Japanese soldiers. They sank one of our ships, a mine sweeper, and nine sailors were killed.”
“We didn’t put up much of a fight.”
Schwartz said he was held by the Japanese there in Guam for about 30 days.
“There was plenty of food on Guam, but they deliberately starved us to make us weak,” he said.
After 30 days, they were transported by ship – all 400 U.S. POWs to include Schwartz – to Shikoku Island in Japan. They stayed there for about eight months, in some old barracks left over from the Japanese war with Russia, before being moved again.
The next place Schwartz was sent to was Kawasaki, between Tokyo and Yokohama. There were already POW camps and prisoners there when Schwartz including U.S. service members captured in the Philippines and from U.S. ships.
More than 300 prisoners were there, but just a few were officers, he said.
“I was the senior U.S. officer there so they put me in charge of the camp,” Schwartz said. “As a prisoner, I had absolutely no authority to do anything, but if anything went wrong it was my fault.”
“Every month or two I got a beating by the Japanese guards – nothing too serious – just to show me they’re in charge.”
After two years, Schwartz said he was sent back to Shikoku Island to the same POW camp he was at previously.
“This was a camp for officers – not just U.S. but English and Dutch. This was where the Japanese would invite the Red Cross to show how nice the conditions were,” Schwartz said. Schwartz would be separated, segregated and moved several times before the Japanese finally surrendered to the Allies on Aug. 14, 1945.
“The day the war with Japan was over, a Japanese officer lined us up outside and told us hostilities have ceased,” Schwartz said. He and the other Japanese officers and guards just walked away.
They made a big sign in white paint on the roof that read POW. After a couple of weeks, a U.S. B-29 bomber spotted us, and a few hours later they started dropping parachutes full of food. “Naturally we all started stuffing ourselves and got sick.”
Upon release – after being held POW for 3.75 years – Schwartz made the decision he would not end his career with the Navy and instead, he continued serve for another 18 years.
The Caltech graduate – who was born in San Francisco but moved to Hollywood with his parents at an early age – would eventually retire from the Navy with honors and distinction and move to Hanford, Calif., in 1962. He then worked for 18 years as Hanford’s Public Works Director and city Engineer before retiring a second time.
Schwartz said he now receives his medical care from the VA Central California Health Care System and is treated very well. “I still remember my first doctor there at the VA, Dr. Ron Naggar. And Dr. Ivance Pugoy is one of my current doctors,” Schwartz said. “You get a feeling they actually care. They make you feel like you are not just a name. You are a person. They do an excellent job for all the POWs,” he said.
Schwartz and several of his fellow POWs from the Central Valley were honored April 9 at VA Central California as part of National Former Prisoners of War Recognition Day.
The man who allegedly killed eight people on Oct. 31 in the worst terror attack New York City has seen since 9/11 had planned to continue his rampage down the West Side Highway and onto the Brooklyn Bridge, according to a criminal complaint released Wednesday.
Federal prosecutors charged Sayfullo Saipov, a 29-year-old immigrant from Uzbekistan, with providing support to the terrorist group ISIS. He is also facing charges of violence and destruction of motor vehicles.
Saipov, who is in police custody and recovering from his injuries at Bellevue Hospital, waived his Miranda rights verbally and spoke to law enforcement officials about the attack, the complaint said.
He told authorities he began planning an attack in the US roughly one year ago, and decided two months ago to use a truck “in order to inflict maximum damage against civilians.” He also said he chose the date of Oct. 31 because it was Halloween — a date he believed would draw more civilians out onto the street.
Saipov’s original plan was to plow the rented truck into civilians near the West Side Highway and the drive on to the Brooklyn Bridge to continue the bloodshed. Saipov never made it to the Brooklyn Bridge as he crashed the truck into a school bus near the West Side Highway’s bicycle path.
From there, Saipov exited the truck while yelling “Allahu Akbar,” Arabic for “God is great,” and brandished a paintball gun and pellet gun. According to the complaint, Saipov also had a bag of knives, but left them in the truck before exiting.
He also admitted to writing the note found by authorities, which they said was written in Arabic and said the Islamic State would endure forever.
Saipov said he was was motivated to carry out the attack after watching a video featuring ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi asking what Muslims in the US were doing to respond to the killing of Muslims in Iraq.
Saipov also told authorities he had intended to display the black-and-white ISIS flags in the front and rear of his truck, but eventually decided against it so as not to draw attention to himself.
The complaint also noted that Saipov had asked during his interview with authorities if he could display the ISIS flag in his hospital room. He told them that “he felt good about what he had done,” the complaint said.