Rear Adm. Victorino G. Mercado, hands his wife, Suzane, the national ensign he received during his retirement ceremony in front of USS Halsey (DDG 97).
This is the advice I wish I had been privy to. The dynamics of marriage don’t suddenly change the day of retirement, rather, there is a period of anticipation that leads up to the finality of the transition. In much the same way that we address the stresses of pre-deployment, we should be discussing the stress that comes during pre-retirement.
It’s so complicated
Perhaps I should phrase this as what I didn’t know about the medical retirement process, because that is the one we endured. It is humiliating. Soldiers who have been told their entire career to push through the pain are suddenly being treated with suspicion as if they are trying to milk the government for every penny they can when really, all they want, or mine wanted, was to stay in and serve.
I went to every appointment I was able to attend. This isn’t realistic for all spouses, but in my unique line of work I was able to work my schedule around his. If you are able to, I highly recommend it. Things happen in those appointments where your soldier needs an advocate and a voice of encouragement that the temporary suck is worth the process.
The medical documents were an outright mess. According to the file, my husband had an abnormal pap-smear a few years back. Yes, a pap-smear. A mess!
They required hours of pouring over to make sure that they were correct and then hours more of appealing diagnoses that weren’t correct. This is when you, the spouse, begin to discover your new role of caregiver. It’s not an easy one and as a nurse recently told me it’s important to remember this is a marathon and not a sprint. Pace yourself and stick with it.
Your soldier needs to know you’re in this, too, and that you’ll be standing at the other side, just like he/she needed to know when they stepped on the plane to deploy.
The information they give you at the transition readiness seminar isn’t always up to date
Take notes and do the research. Double check everything you are told. Document and start a file folder. Sound familiar? It should. It’s the same advice we are given as we begin the pre-deployment process.
I went to the transition readiness seminar with my spouse to take notes. Part of the reason he was medically retired was due to memory loss related to a TBI. One of my new roles was to take notes and help him remember what was discussed.
Spouses are encouraged to attend these meetings, but as the only spouse in attendance I discovered some of the advice that given out was to our disadvantage. I listened as soldiers were told how to navigate around their benefits in order to payout the minimum amount to spouses if the marriage didn’t work out.
What I wish we had been told was not how to screw our spouses, but rather how to love and support one another through one of the more difficult transitions of our lives.
It may not be the best time to buy a house
A lot of couples start dreaming about their retirement home. For some of them, like us, it’s their first home purchase. Look, retirement is a big stressor all on its own. Buying a home might be a stressor you can put off but if not, here are a few tips from Forbes on how to buy a house while also avoiding a break up.
As a newly retired military family, if you are buying a house locate realtors and mortgage companies who have walked through the process with previous veterans from service to retirement. It’s a complicated system finding financing while in transition, one that requires a few experts in your corner. Some friends have had success moving the family months prior to the actual retirement while others have had to live with family until all the needed paperwork to move forward is available.
For us, one word off on the VA paperwork nearly made us homeless. After driving for four days, we were two hours away before we got the call that we had a place to move into. If you are considering buying a house while transitioning out of the military read this first: 5 Home Purchase Considerations For Your Military Consideration.
Experience prepping for deployments can help you in prepping for retirement
We all go into our first deployment with an idea of what it will look like; retirement is similar. I pictured lunch dates, Pinterest DIY projects, and shared household responsibilities. Our careers were about to take off, my husband with his dream of culinary school and mine as a full-time writer. Reality has a way of knocking you down a few notches.
I want you to dream. You need to dream. A year and a half out we seem to finally be getting the hang of communicating how we each need help and tackling the household responsibilities in a way that works. But none of it looks quite like we pictured. As we adjust to the reality of our new normal, we are learning to communicate more openly, to listen more fully and to forgive the missteps along the way.
There are a lot of emotions that go into prepping for deployments and there are a lot of emotions that come with the transition from military to civilian life. Be ready to be honest with one another along the way. Hold each other up because the period of your life doesn’t have to break you, it can be the moment that solidifies you as a couple.
National Wreaths Across America Day has become such a big tradition that it’s hard to believe it began from just one personal tribute.
How it Happened
The Worcester family of Harrington, Maine, owns their own tree farm. In 1992, they had a surplus of wreaths during the holiday season, so the family patriarch, Morrill — who had long felt indebted to our fallen veterans — got help from a Maine politician to have those spare wreaths placed beside graves in Arlington National Cemetery in areas that received fewer visitors each year.
Several volunteers stepped up to help, including veterans from American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts and a truck company owner who transported the wreaths to Arlington, Virginia, where a small ceremony was held at the cemetery’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This remained a small yearly tradition for nearly 15 years until a photo taken at the 2005 ceremony went viral. Almost immediately, thousands of people wanted to know how to help or how they could begin a similar tradition in their states.
Christmas wreaths adorn headstones at Arlington National Cemetery, Va., in December 2005.
(Photo by Master Sgt. Jim Varhegyi)
By the next year — with the help of some civic organizations and volunteers, including in the trucking industry — there were 150 simultaneous ceremonies held across the country. By 2008, the movement to remember, honor and teach had grown so much that Congress had declared the third Saturday in September National Wreaths Across America Day.
By 2014, the now-nonprofit Wreaths Across America had reached its goal of placing a wreath at all 226,525 graves in the cemetery.
Navy personnel from the Navy International Programs Office, Washington, distribute wreaths to volunteers during the Wreaths Across America event at Arlington National Cemetery, Va., Dec. 15, 2012.
(Photo by Chief Master Sgt. Robert W. Valenca)
Wreaths Across America today
The event continues to grow. In 2018, the organization shipped a staggering 1.75 MILLION wreaths to 1,640 locations that held ceremonies across the U.S. A few dozen locations overseas also participated. According to the organization, this was the first year it was granted permission to place wreaths at Normandy to honor those who died during World War II’s D-Day invasion.
Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Charles C. Orf salutes a headstone at Fort Richardson National Cemetery during the annual Wreaths Across America Day at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, Dec. 16, 2017.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. James Richardson)
Veterans and Gold Star families are many of the roughly 2 million volunteers who prepared the wreaths, shipped them across the country, and put them on graves.
The Navy has reversed its decision to remove the 241-year-old tradition of referring to its sailors by their job and rank after months of fierce backlash and petitions.
Previously, the Navy claimed the change was made to allow sailors to more easily cross-train into different positions and to make assignments more fluid. But ratings are a core part of a sailor’s experience and both service members and veterans began asking for their titles back.
As of Dec. 21, they have them.
Sailors began celebrating early as a draft of the Navy administrative message began making the rounds on social media. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson took to Facebook to confirm that while the version being shared was an early draft, the message was right.
According to the U.S. Naval Institute, Richardson acknowledged the role of sailor feedback in the message saying, “We have learned from you, and so effective immediately, all rating names are restored. The feedback from current and former sailors has been consistent that there is wide support for the flexibility that the plan offers, but the removal of rating titles detracted from accomplishing our major goals.”
“This course correction doesn’t mean our work is done – rating modernization will continue for all the right reasons. Modernizing our industrial-age personnel system in order to provide sailors choice and flexibility still remains a priority for us,” Richardson wrote.
So, “choose your rate, choose your fate,” will still become more flexible than it currently is, but ratings are back.
When the official NAVADMIN is released, it will appear here.
Appearing May 3 before the U.S. House Committee on Appropriations’ Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies, Shulkin told lawmakers the VA had compiled a list of 1,165 vacant or underused buildings that could be closed, saving the federal government $25 million annually.
Shulkin didn’t specify which facilities would close and local VA officials didn’t return messages seeking comment that afternoon.
Shulkin, a deputy holdover from President Barack Obama’s administration whom Congress then unanimously approved to run the VA earlier this year, said Congress needs to determine how the facilities would be closed. He suggested the Pentagon’s Base Realignment and Closure — or BRAC — process might be a good model.
But Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R- Nebraska, urged him to never “use the term BRAC because it brings up a lot of bad memories” and sets up the VA “for a lot of controversy.”
President Donald Trump seeks $78.9 billion in discretionary funding for the VA, a 6 percent increase from the 2017 fiscal year level. Trump’s budget plan requests $3.5 billion to expand the Veterans Choice Program, which enables veterans to receive certain kinds of treatment outside of the VA system.
If enacted, Trump’s proposal also would add $4.6 billion in funding to spur better patient access and greater timeliness of medical services for the agency’s more than 9 million patients.
Shulkin said the VA authorized 3.6 million patient visits at private-sector health-care facilities between Feb. 1, 2016 and Jan. 31, 2017 — a 23 percent boost compared to the previous year.
With more than 370,000 employees, the VA has the second-largest workforce in the federal government. Shulkin said it must become more efficient at delivering services to veterans. Some of the most entrenched problems are in the appeals process for veterans who have lodged disability claims following their military service.
Currently, the VA has nearly 470,000 such cases pending appeal. For cases awaiting action by the Board of Veterans Appeals, the typical wait time is six years for a decision. The ranking Democrat on the subcommittee that hosted Shulkin on May 3, Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, termed the appellate system an “absolute mess.”
Shulkin conceded that it “undoubtedly needs further improvements” and urged Congress to legislate reforms and streamline the process into a “modernized” system. The longer Capitol Hill waits to fix the process, he said, “the more appeals will enter the current broken system.”
On April 11th, 1966, three companies of the 1st Infantry Division, known as the “Mud Soldiers,” were pinned down by Viet Cong forces outside of Cam My, Vietnam. Pararescuemen of the 38th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron were dispatched to evacuate the wounded. The battle raged and the soldiers were taking a heavy beating.
As if an angel were descending from the heavens, Airman First Class William H. Pitsenbarger, lowered onto the battlefield to tend to the wounded. When given the opportunity to fly back to base, he elected to stay and care for the men he didn’t even know that remained in harm’s way.
He did all he could to save his fellow troops before paying the ultimate price. Pitsenbarger’s sacrifice ensured at least nine men made it home. It took him 34 years to be recognized fully for his incredible actions.
The Last Full Measurefaithfully and honestly retells this story — and it’s something that our military community must see and support.
In the aftermath of the battle, Pitsenbarger was awarded the Air Force Cross. However, his fellow PJs and the Mud Soldiers he fought with continued to advocate for the award to be upgraded to the Medal of Honor. It wasn’t until the year 2000 that he was finally bestowed the Congressional Medal of Honor for giving, what President Lincoln said during his Gettysburg Address, his last full measure of devotion.
Keep an eye out for Jeremy Irvine. His portrayal of William Pitsenbarger will catapult him far in Hollywood.
Written and directed by Todd Robinson, The Last Full Measure follows Scott Huffman, a jaded Pentagon lawyer (played by Sebastian Stan) as he is tasked with upgrading Pitsenbarger’s Air Force Cross to the Medal of Honor at the behest of Pitsenbarger’s fellow pararescueman veteran (played by William Hunt) and father (portrayed by Christopher Plummer).
The story unfolds as Huffman pieces together the gallantry of Pitsenbarger by interviewing the soldiers who had been saved back in Vietnam. Samuel L. Jackson, the late Peter Fonda, Ed Harris, and John Savage each portray the Mud Soldiers and give fantastic performances as they crawl through painful memories. The audience watches the fateful day in Vietnam through flashbacks as the veterans recall being saved by Pitsenbarger (portrayed by Jeremy Irvine).
Pictured left to right: Kimberly Breyer, producer of Last Full Measure, Sidney Sherman, and Kimberly’s husband Sean Breyer
(Photo by Eric Milzarski)
Kimberly Breyer, the niece of William Pitsenbarger, was in attendance of the world premiere of The Last Full Measure. She told We Are The Mighty,
“This film means people get to hear the very important true stories of my uncle Billy Pitsenbarger, Frank, Alice, and all the people who fought with him. We want as many people who possibly can so these stories keep being told and retold.”
She also noted how true-to-life Christopher Plummer’s portrayal of her grandfather, Frank Pitsenbarger, felt. “When we saw it, especially my grandma Alice, the hair went up on the back of her neck and she started to cry. He makes me miss Frank so much. We’re very grateful to him for how beautifully he portrayed our grandfather on screen and how hard everyone worked for so many years to get this project to come together because it’s so unique in so many ways.”
(Photo by Eric Milzarski)
The production covers two key time periods, from the jungles of Vietnam to the halls of the Pentagon. The star-studded cast filmed in the United States and Thailand to portray the retelling of Pitsenbarger’s sacrifice. The film stays away from typical action movie tropes and instead dives deep into the psyche of the troops who returned home. It gives an accurate depiction of what goes on behind-the-scenes when a Medal of Honor is to be awarded. The film helps us understand the excruciating lengths (and sheer volume of bureaucratic red tape) that stands between valor and recognition — and leaves you wondering how many heroes haven’t been given the credit they deserve.
Dale Dye, USMC veteran who served in the Vietnam War and military advisor for many of the greatest war films, played a large role in ensuring the film was as accurate as possible. It’s all the perfectly-captured, little moments that help set the stage.
Dye tells We Are The Mighty, “This is a film that goes directly to my heart and soul. And the reason is because it talks about the selfless nature of veterans and the dedication we have towards each other. This is a story of veterans who go to extraordinary lengths to get recognition for one of their own. And that’s the nature of every combat veteran.”
The writer and director of the film, Todd Robinson, tells We Are The Mighty, “The military was very bullish about this film. It promotes a career field called pararescue, which promotes saving lives. So it wasn’t hard for them to get behind this film.“
The Last Full Measure is a beautiful film that is rare in Hollywood. It’s not an action-packed film made with set pieces for the trailers. It’s not an overly played-out drama that uses war as backdrop. It’s the real-life story of a man who gave his all for his fellow troops and those men fighting tooth-and-nail to get him the honor he deserved.
I can’t recommend this film enough for every veteran, active duty troop, their family, and anyone who’s life has been touched by the actions of these brave men and women.
Humor in combat is a bizarre topic — and one not many understand unless they’ve been there. Soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines across the world have been fighting in wars since the creation of militaries. Combat is a high-octane blend of mental and physical exhaustion. The more a soldier is in combat, the better they get at warfighting — and coping with the rigors of war creates a unique sense of humor.
Soldiers are known to engage in somewhat dark humor that is typically derived from repeated exposure to high-stress scenarios in training and in combat. These experiences can make assimilation into the civilian sector more difficult after getting out of the military. The gap between veterans and civilians is ever present, and differences in humor — along with extreme differences in life experiences — can contribute to that divide.
According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter in high-stress environments is a coping mechanism and can actually manifest helpful physical effects: “Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain.” In addition, laughter can activate and then relieve your stress response as well as decrease tension.
Coffee or Die Magazine spoke with several veterans about their experiences in combat — and why they found some of it funny.
Mike Simpson served in the US Army for 32 years, starting out in 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, moving on to 7th Special Forces Group, and ending his career in the military as an emergency medicine physician.
On a deployment in 2013 during winter in Afghanistan, Simpson and his fellow Rangers sprinted into position after their partner force came under fire. It was a small firefight, but they spent the better part of an hour trying to locate a “squirter” that was shooting at them after running from the target building they were there to hit.
During the firefight, Simpson recalled, he “took a mental step back and actually checked my pulse. Then I said, ‘Hmmm … interesting,’ and I chuckled. The Ranger next to me gave me a funny look.”
His fellow Ranger didn’t say anything until they got back to their base. Simpson explained to him why he had checked his pulse during the firefight, and they both had another laugh.
“The first half of my career, I had always wondered how I would react on a psychological and physiological level to combat. You read all the stories and the books, but you don’t know how you will react until it happens,” Simpson said. “I was curious, as a physician, as to how I was handling the situation, so I took my own pulse.”
Steve Wickham served in the US Army for a little over 20 years and deployed a total of five times. He was on a deployment to Afghanistan while in the 563rd Aviation Support Battalion back in 2012, stationed at Kandahar Airfield. Rocket attacks were common and he was typically close to the impacts, as he was living on the airfield in a mini-compound. Eight months into his 12-month deployment, another rocket attack came in.
The incoming-ordnance sirens started going off at approximately 11 p.m. Wickham and his active duty and civilian comrades made their way to the bunker on their compound. The airfield’s Counter Rocket, Artillery, Mortar (C-RAM) defense system started firing at the incoming ordnance, but Wickham wasn’t too concerned.
“The C-Rams were going off, and per usual none of us took the attack very seriously,” Wickham said. “I believe I was sitting on top of the bunker, smoking and joking with another NCO, instead of being inside it.”
Wickham and his comrades were laughing the night away when three rockets hit just outside their aircraft hangars, approximately 60 yards from their bunker. They started running toward the impacts to render aid if needed.
One of the civilians there was Randy, a veteran and firefighter, who had let himself go after getting out of the military. During this whole deployment, Randy had been hitting the gym hard and had lost a lot of weight. Wickham made a quick quip to this civilian as they were running toward the impact site.
“Damn Randy, look at you. That gym time is paying off — you’re keeping up with us!” Appearing dumbfounded, Randy made Wickham’s joke worth it. Randy was winded, and all he could do was flip the bird at Wickham and keep running. They arrived to find that no one was injured, so they moved on to evaluate property damage.
Later on, they were all gathered in a circle and talking about the night’s events. Randy was laughing about Wickham’s ability to crack jokes while sprinting and just after multiple rockets had hit their compound.
Barrett Carver served in the US Army for almost seven years and deployed multiple times. He spent his time in 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, and was one of the Rangers involved in the assault on Haditha Dam, a critical structure to capture during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
During the assault, Carver and his fellow Rangers were holed up inside one of the buildings on “the military side of the dam,” and they were taking indirect fire from the Iraqis. Artillery rounds were impacting close to their building for several hours with barrages of small-arms fire. Carver thought to himself, Well, it’s been a good run.
Suddenly, they all heard a loud twang, and a thick cloud of dust erupted inside the building. Carver looked up to see a horseshoe-shaped indent in the corrugated tin roof over their heads. Everyone burst into uncontrollable laughter — one of the artillery rounds had been deflected by the thin tin roof.
“Deflection is a funny thing,” Carver said. “It could have just as easily been a dud round. Either way, I take a kick where I can get it. Amazing thing is that with the amount they dropped on us, we only had two casualties. Both made it.”
Scott Ford served in the US Army for 21 years and is the recipient of a Silver Star for his actions in Afghanistan on April 6, 2008, while serving as the team sergeant of Operational Detachment Alpha 3336 (ODA-3336).
Ford struck up a conversation with a fellow passenger while on his flight to a training event. She was a psychologist, and they were discussing different ways to handle heavy stress. One of her suggestions for handling stressful situations was to imagine breaking crayons. At the time, Ford didn’t realize this suggestion would pop into his head years later during a firefight in Iraq.
During a mission one night in Sadr City, Iraq, Ford and his Special Forces team were pinned down on top of a roof while supporting the main assault element.
“It was one of those little aggravating gunfights where we just can’t find the guy to kill him, and we’re trying all kinds of unique things,” Ford recalled.
It got to a point where Ford and his teammate sat down behind their cover to think through a solution to finally kill the insurgent who had them pinned down. Then a smile creeped across Ford’s face, despite the bullets impacting their cover. His teammate looked at him with bewilderment and said, “What the fuck are you thinking about right now?”
Ford looked at him and said, “I’m like, breaking fucking crayons, bro.” They both busted out in laughter. After regaining composure, they figured out a way to take out the insurgent.
“You know, it’s just one of those moments where anybody else would look at us like, you guys are fucking weird, you know?” Ford said.
Ford believes veterans are unique because they have the ability to laugh in dire situations. Ford and his old teammates still get together from time to time, and the story about breaking crayons always comes up.
Jason Briggs served in the US Army for four years in 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment and deployed five times. Briggs’ last deployment to Kandahar, Afghanistan, in 2008 involved a particularly funny experience while out on a mission.
His team didn’t have their usual pilots and were being flown by an aviation unit that they hadn’t worked with much in the past. They were loaded onto two MH-47 Chinook helicopters to infiltrate their target. High winds coming down the mountains made flying conditions difficult. When Briggs’ Chinook attempted to touch down, the pilot struggled to make a steady landing and took several tries; each failed attempt to land was followed by a rapid gain in altitude while spinning. Meanwhile, the other helicopter landed on its first attempt and offloaded its Rangers.
The guys were having a blast on his Chinook, pretending the scary helicopter ride was a roller coaster and that they were in Disney World, laughing constantly.
“You’d see the mountains under nods just whizzing by out the back out the Chinook,” Briggs said. “It took about four attempts to put her down, and when he did, we were a ways away from the other chalk. But hey, we were finally down.”
The Rangers landed and executed their mission, detaining several people from the targeted house. The call for their exfiltration was radioed into command, and eventually the same crew of Chinooks came thundering in.
When the pilot of Briggs’ Chinook made the first attempt to land, they all had to take off running with their detainees to avoid getting stomped on by the actual helicopter.
“Sure enough this guy can’t put it down again — the first attempt sends us running like mushrooms about to be stomped by Mario,” Briggs said. “Have you ever seen an exfil circle, with PUCs, pick up and run in a complete brownout as a helicopter follows them around trying to land on them? Yeah, that actually happened.”
The pilot landed after about three attempts, and the Rangers loaded up with their detainees. They had a safe flight back to base to prepare for the inevitable follow-on mission.
“Although we got to share the camaraderie together in the bird,” he said, “I don’t know if I’ve ever laughed so hard in my life as I did seeing a helicopter try to land on me in the middle of the night in Afghanistan.”
In a press release on March 7, 2019, the company finally announced the opening dates for Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge — and it’s ahead of schedule. The 14-acre expansion will open on May 31, 2019, at Disneyland in California and on Aug. 29, 2019, at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida.
“On opening day for phase one, guests will be transported to the remote planet of Batuu, full of unique sights, sounds, smells, and tastes,” the release describes. “Guests can become part of the story as they sample galactic food and beverages, explore an intriguing collection of merchant shops, and take the controls of the most famous ship in the galaxy aboard Millenium Falcon: Smugglers Run.”
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge to Open May 31 at Disneyland Resort, Aug. 29 at Disney’s Hollywood Studios
According to the statement, however, the park will open in phases “to allow guests to sooner enjoy the one-of-a-kind experiences that make Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge so spectacular.”
Phase two won’t open until later in 2019. It will feature the park’s largest attraction, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, where guests will board a full-size starship and join the battle against the First Order, including a face-off with Kylo Ren.
To visit the Disneyland park between May 31 and June 23, 2019, Disney says that guests will not only need valid theme park admission but also a “no-cost reservation.” Details on how to make that reservation have not yet been released but will be posted on Disneyland.com. The park will then open to the general public on June 24, 2019.
This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.
The Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II has been a legend in providing close-air support. However, even legends have bad moments, and the A-10 has now succumbed to one of the problems plaguing other United States military aircraft: It’s giving pilots hypoxia.
According to a report by Aviation Week and Space Technology, the hypoxia incidents, which the Department of Defense labeled as “physiological episodes,” took place last year. There were two cases among A-10s assigned to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, where the 355th Fighter Wing is based.
In both cases, backup oxygen systems kicked in and allowed the pilots to return safely to base. One plane was equipped with an onboard oxygen generation system (OBOGS), which replaced an older liquid oxygen (LOX) system. The other plane still had the older system installed.
An investigation determined that the Warthog with the LOX system had issues with the oxygen regulator and cabin pressure systems. The problems were repaired. However, 28 OBOGS-equipped A-10s were grounded while investigators tried to determine the cause of the incident.
While no root cause was found, some corrosion was located among system’s pipes. New procedures, including making sure that the water separator is drained, allowed the OBOGS-equipped A-10s to return to operational duties after a week. During that week, A-10s with the LOX system held the line. Since the implementation of the new procedures, no hypoxia incidents have occurred among the A-10s at Davis-Monthan.
Other planes where pilots have reported hypoxia issues in recent years include the F-22 Raptor, the F/A-18, the T-45 Goshawk, the T-6 Texan, and the F-35 Lightning. Last year, Cobham developed a system to help warn pilots when a hypoxia incident is taking place.
Fantastic week, everyone! Plenty of hard-won success within the veteran and military community! The doctors at Johns Hopkins fought to give a wounded warrior a new penis, one of our own fought hard for his right to have a beard, and we fought to get tax exemption for disabled veterans with student loan forgiveness.
All this and no one fractured the community with a t-rex puppet or an article about how “millennials are killing the iron sight industry.” Your weekly meme brief is simple. Don’t do dumb sh*t; just keep making the vet and military community proud. Have a drink, you earned it.
(Meme via Air Force Nation)
(Meme by WATM)
(Meme via Dysfunctional Veterans)
(Meme via Pop Smoke)
(Meme via Infantry Army)
Friend: “Is that a gun in your pants or are you just happy to see me?”
Me, a 2A supporter: “Both”
This one got dark. We Are The Mighty does not condone the humanitarian catastrophes in Syria, but the U.S. cannot condone the use of chemical warfare…anyway…back to the memes…
Larry Thorne enlisted in the U.S. Army as a private in 1954, but he was already a war hero. That’s because his real name was Lauri Törni, and he had been fighting the Soviets for much of his adult life.
Born in Finland in 1919, Törni enlisted at age 19 in his country’s army and fought against the Soviet Union in the Winter War of 1939-40, according to Helsingin Sanomat. He quickly rose to the rank of captain and took command of a group of ski troops, who quite literally, skied into battle against enemy forces.
In 1942, he was severely wounded after he skied into a mine, but that didn’t slow him down. In 1944 during what the Finns called The Continuation War, he received Finland’s version of the Medal of Honor — the Mannerheim Cross — for his bravery while leading a light infantry battalion.
Unfortunately for Törni, Finland signed a ceasefire and ceded some territory to the Soviets in 1944 to end hostilities. But instead of surrendering, he joined up with the German SS so he could continue fighting. He received additional training in Nazi Germany and then looked forward to kicking some Commie butt once more.
But then Germany fell too, and the Finn-turned-Waffen SS officer was arrested by the British, according to War History Online. Not that being put into a prison camp would stop him either.
“In the last stages of the war he surrendered to the British and eventually returned to Finland after escaping a British POW camp,” reads the account at War History Online. “When he returned, he was then arrested by the Finns, even though he had received their Medal of Honor, and was sentenced to 6 years in prison for treason.”
He ended up serving only half his sentence before he was pardoned by the President of Finland in 1948.
Getting to America
Törni’s path to the U.S. Army was paved by crucial legislation from Congress along with the creation of a new military unit: Special Forces.
In June 1950, the Lodge-Philbin Act passed, which allowed foreigners to join the U.S. military and allowed them citizenship if they served honorably for at least five years. Just two years later, the Army would stand up its new Special Forces unit at Fort Bragg, N.C.
More than 200 eastern Europeans joined Army Special Forces before the Act expired in 1959, according to Max Boot. One of those enlistees was Törni, who enlisted in 1954 under the name Larry Thorne.
“The Soviets wanted to get their hands on Thorne and forced the Finnish government to arrest him as a wartime German collaborator. They planned to take him to Moscow to be tried for war crimes,” reads the account at ArlingtonCemetery.net. “Thorne had other plans. He escaped, made his way to the United States, and with the help of Wild Bill Donovan became a citizen. The wartime head of the OSS knew of Thorne’s commando exploits.”
A Special Forces legend
Thorne quickly distinguished himself among his peers of Green Berets. Though he enlisted as a private, his wartime skill-set led him to become an instructor at the Special Warfare School at Fort Bragg teaching everything from survival to guerrilla tactics. In 1957, he was commissioned a second lieutenant and would rise to the rank of captain just as war was on the horizon in Vietnam.
But first, he would take part in a daring rescue mission inside of Iran. In 1962, then-Capt. Thorne led an important mission to recover classified materials from a U.S. Air Force plane that crashed on a mountaintop on the Iran-Turkish-Soviet border, according to Helsingin Sanomat. Though three earlier attempts to secure the materials had failed, Thorne’s team was successful.
Thorne quickly made it into the U.S. Special Forces and in 1962, as a Captain, he led his detachment onto the highest mountain in Iran to recover the bodies and classified material from an American C-130 airplane that had crashed. It was a mission in which others had failed, but Thorne’s unrelenting spirit led to its accomplishment. This mission initially formed his status as a U.S. Special Forces legend, but it was his deep strategic reconnaissance and interdiction exploits with Military Assistance Command, Vietnam Studies and Observation Group, also known as MACV-SOG, that solidified his legendary status.
In Vietnam, he earned the Bronze Star medal for heroism, along with five Purple Hearts for combat wounds, War History Online writes. According to Helsingin Sanomat, his wounds allowed him to return to the rear away from combat, but he refused and instead requested command of a special operations base instead.
On Oct. 18, 1965, Thorne led the first MACV-SOG cross-border mission into Laos to interdict North Vietnamese movement down the Ho Chi Minh trail. Using South Vietnamese Air Force helicopters, his team was successfully inserted into a clearing inside Laos while Thorne remained in a chase helicopter to direct support as needed. Once the team gave word they had made it in, he responded that he was heading back to base.
Roughly five minutes later while flying in poor visibility and bad weather, the helicopter crashed. The Army first listed him as missing in action, then later declared he was killed in action — in South Vietnam. The wreckage of the aircraft was found prior to the end of the war and the remains of the South Vietnamese air crew were recovered, but Thorne was never found.
Thorne’s exploits in combat made him seem invincible among his Special Forces brothers, and with his body never recovered, many believed he had survived the crash and continued to live in hiding or had been taken prisoner by the North Vietnamese, according to POW Network.
“Many believed he was exactly the sort of near-indestructible soldier who would have simply walked back out of the jungle, and they found it hard to believe he had been killed,” writes Helsingin Sanomat.
In 1999, the mystery was finally put to rest. The remains of the legendary Special Forces soldier were recovered from the crash site. DNA confirmed the identities of the air crew, while dental records proved Törni had died on that fateful night in 1965, reported Helsingin Sanomat.
“He was a complex yet driven man who valorously fought oppression under three flags and didn’t acknowledge the meaning of quit,” U.S. Army Special Forces Col. Sean Swindell said during a ceremony in 2010.
It all began when the entrenched British forces recognized the “Silent Night, Holy Night” Christmas carol coming from the German side. “Our boys said, ‘Let’s join in.’ So we joined in with the song,” Francis Sumpter told the History Channel.
Confused by the pleasant, yet awkward moment, the British troops didn’t know how to react to what was happening on the German side. So they began to pop their heads over the trench and quickly retreated in case the Germans started shooting.
“And then we saw a German standing up, waving his arms, and we didn’t shoot,” said Pvt. Leslie Wellington, who witnessed the moment.
The Germans approached the British trench calling out “Merry Christmas” in English. At first the British troops thought it was a trick, but when they saw that the Germans were unarmed, they began to climb out of the trenches. Slowly and cautiously, both sides approached each other and began to shake each other’s hands. They exchanged gifts and sang carols together, and even played soccer. For a moment, in the middle of the “Great War,” there was peace on earth.
“By Christmas 1914, every soldier knew that the enemy was sharing the same misery as they were,” Dominiek Dendooven of the Flanders Field Museum in Ypres, Belgium, told the History Channel.
The troops on both sides knew that engaging with the enemy in this manner is treason and grounds for court martial and even punishable by death. This fear alone would motivate both sides to resume fighting.
Both sides would retreat to their trenches that night wondering if they would continue to defy the war the next morning. Pvt. Archibald Stanley remembers how his officer resumed the fighting, “Well, a few of them knocking around, this fella come up the next day. He says, ‘You Still got the armistice?’ He picked up his rifle, and he shot one of those Germans dead.”
The so-called Christmas Truce of 1914 came only five months after the outbreak of war in Europe and was one of the last examples of the outdated notion of chivalry between enemies in warfare. It was never repeated—future attempts at holiday ceasefires were quashed by officers’ threats of disciplinary action—but it served as heartening proof, however brief, that beneath the brutal clash of weapons, the soldiers’ essential humanity endured.
Maneuver Advisor Teams (MATs) from the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB) are creating their own legacy. As one of the first U.S. Army units purposefully built for advising, our MAT helped prove the advisor force structure concept. We were tasked with advising an Afghan Kandak (Battalion) during our deployment and now we are tasked with developing how best to train a team capable of advising partner nation security forces anywhere in the world. Our MAT captured our lessons learned and creatively applied them to our current training plan. Advising skills are developed and tested in the field, and here’s how they can translate into better preparation for our next employment.
SFABs were created to lessen the burden on the brigade combat teams for Security Force Assistance (SFA) missions. Small teams of advisors are not a new concept. The U.S. Army has been forming ad hoc advising elements from brigade combat teams and employing them in Iraq and Afghanistan for years. Maneuver Advisor Teams are different than the ad hoc teams. An SFAB has thirty-six MATs, specifically designed with 11 experienced non-commissioned officers with several different mission operational specialties and a post company command captain. MATs are the decisive element within an SFAB. Since the formation of SFABs, there is a new standard for how advising is conducted. With more preparation, additional resources, and a structured recruitment process, the pressure is high for the MATs to excel in advising operations.
Developing the plan
We knew we had to capitalize on our lessons from Afghanistan. Initially, our post-deployment training included similar tasks and events any regular Army unit would face after returning from a deployment. First and foremost we conducted reset of our equipment and began fielding new equipment. Much of our newly fielded communications equipment was unfamiliar.
Based on our experience in Afghanistan, we identified a requirement to maintain a focus on integrating communications training in anything we planned to do. Collectively we prioritized our training objectives and started planning our training. Following guidance from our higher headquarters, our team training objectives were to become master trainers of our warfighting functions, be capable of operating decentralized and expeditiously, and that we all must be capable of winning a fight.
Each advisor must be a master trainer of their specific skill set. To accomplish this, we began our training cycle with an emphasis on individual skill set enhancement. Individual skill set enhancement included additional schooling. For example, our infantrymen attended schools such as Pathfinder, Master Marksmanship Training Course, Infantry Mortar Leaders Course, and Heavy Weapons Leaders Course while our combat engineer attended Master Counter IED Trainer Course. We also conducted individual tasks such as weapons qualification and medical refresher training. Our individual skill set enhancement set the foundation to continue to build our team’s operating capability.
Refining technical and tactical skills provided us with individuals who were sound in their crafts, however as advisors, we needed individuals who could also teach and instruct their craft as well. All team personnel who attended a skill enhancement school were required to train the entire team in specific skills they learned. Not only did this requirement broaden the skill set across the team, it also provided our advisors with an opportunity to practice teaching their skills. As advisors, being a master of your warfighting function is good, being a master trainer of your warfighting function is required.
Decentralized and expeditiously
While advising our Afghan kandak, we identified the need to be capable of operating decentralized and expeditiously. During advising missions in Afghanistan, we found ourselves often separated from our higher headquarters and we were reliant on our mission command platforms to communicate them. The numerous types of mission command systems we owned, although overwhelming at first, became our greatest team strength. We could establish our command post and obtain communication on all of our platforms within minutes. While training, we established our command post with all of our systems during every event.
We planned, resourced, and executed an off-site training event several hundred miles away to practice our decentralized and expeditious capabilities. By taking the team to Camp Blanding, Florida for a 10-day field training exercise, we were able to conduct multiple ranges, land navigation training, and a team command post exercise utilizing our mission command systems. We successfully moved our equipment, established our systems, and communicated with our higher headquarters on multiple platforms for the duration of the training event.
Later in our training cycle, we planned, resourced, and executed a second off-site training event. We decided to treat this off-site training event less conventionally than our previous event. During this exercise we established our command post in a civilian hotel room to simulate operating out of a safe house. We conducted our movements as if we were operating out of a safe house in a foreign country. We wore civilian attire for the duration of the exercise and practiced multiple team tactics, techniques, and procedures to limit our interactions with the general public. We continued to learn from this experience and shared lessons learned with the rest of our unit. Without our persistent focus and practice with our mission command systems, we would not have gained the confidence required to operate in such a decentralized manner. Our team was confident we could operate decentralized from our higher headquarters and survive expeditiously if required.
Winning the fight
The entire team must be capable of fighting as a small element. Engaging in direct combat while accompanying our partners was unlikely during our next deployment, however training and being prepared to fight was non-negotiable. We aggressively attacked this skill set during our collective training. We executed two team live fire exercises during our training cycle and one force-on-force simulation round exercise. Many of our advisors had limited participation in any type of live fire exercise prior to joining the 1st SFAB. However, by the end of our training cycle, our logistic advisor and mechanic advisor were capable of planning and leading a mounted react to contact under live fire conditions.
Our culminating live fire exercise consisted of a three-event exercise utilizing three non-standard tactical vehicles. The scenario included our advising team returning to base after a day of advising their partners. The team encountered a non-hostile militia checkpoint, struck an IED rendering one vehicle disabled, and lastly, encountered a complex attack triggered by a second vehicle-disabling IED blast. During the complex attack, the team was forced to abandon disabled vehicles and strongpoint hard structures adjacent to the road. The team treated their casualties, communicated with their partners for assistance, and defended in place. This training event required the entire team to be capable of conducting individual skills and collective tasks during live fire conditions.
Throughout the year of training, our team became master trainers of their warfighting functions, we became experts in our mission command systems while operating decentralized and expeditiously, and we developed the tactical skills to fight in defense of each other and our partners.
The United States Army found the right people, gave them advanced equipment, and provided the best training. Nearly three years from inception, our MAT continues to build our legacy. Using our lessons learned and applying them to our training is setting a standard that should be used as the SFABs continue to mature and are employed around the world. While our first employment was in Afghanistan, the anticipated future of the SFABs will take them to nearly every Combatant Command area of operations. As the advising force structure matures, the breadth of talent and expertise afforded by these small units will continue to act as the decisive point for the SFABs now, and into the future.
MAJ Gerard Spinney is an Infantry officer in the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade. He has multiple operational deployments in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Inherent Resolve, and NATO’s Resolute Support Mission. The views expressed in this article do not reflect those of the US Army or the Department of Defense.
President Donald Trump has reportedly removed restraints on how and when the US can launch cyberattacks on its adversaries — and it could make attacks on other countries more likely.
Trump signed an order Aug. 15, 2018, reversing a series of Obama-era rules, which outlined a process of interagency approval before the US could launch cyberoffensives, people familiar with the matter told The Wall Street Journal.
The Journal said one administration official briefed on the decision described the change as an “offensive step forward.” The change is meant to support military operations and deter foreign interference in US elections. The Trump administration is under pressure to show it is taking threats of foreign interference seriously in light of mounting evidence that Russia meddled in the 2016 US election.
The Obama-era rules, known as Presidential Policy Directive 20, meant agencies that wanted to launch a cyberattack had to gain approval from groups across the federal government. This was to ensure that existing defense operations were not harmed by the launch of a new attack.
Former President Barack Obama.
Michael Daniel, who served as the White House’s cybersecurity coordinator under President Barack Obama, said the change could do more harm than good. “You could end up having an operation wreck a carefully crafted multiyear espionage operation to gain access to a foreign computer system,” he told The Journal.
The new policy applies to the Defense Department as well as other federal agencies, an administration official told The Journal. The person declined to say which other agencies would be affected.
Sources did not tell The Journal which rules were replacing the Obama-era directive, citing the classified nature of the process; as The Journal pointed out, the Obama-era rules were classified as well and were made public only in the 2013 Edward Snowden leaks.