In another historic change for the military, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter on Thursday lifted the ban on transgender persons serving openly in the ranks, calling the move “the right thing to do” both practically and as a matter of principle.
Starting immediately, “Otherwise qualified service members can no longer be involuntarily separated, discharged, or denied re-enlistment or continuation of service just for being transgender,” he said at a Pentagon news conference. “Our military, and the nation it defends, will be stronger” as a result, he said.
The secretary said he was acting to ensure that the military of the future had access to the widest talent pool. “We don’t want barriers unrelated to a person’s qualification to serve preventing us from recruiting or retaining the soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine who can best accomplish the mission,” he said.
Another reason for lifting the ban was to end discrimination against those who are transgender and currently serving, Carter said.
He cited Rand Corp. statistics estimating that about 2,500 people out of approximately 1.3 million active-duty service members and about 1,500 out of about 825,000 reserve service members are transgender. The upper range estimates put the number of transgender persons on active duty at 7,000 and at 4,000 in the reserves, he said.
Most importantly, allowing transgender persons to serve openly was a matter of fairness and living up to the American principles of equal treatment and opportunity under the law, Carter said.
“Americans who want to serve and can meet our standards should be afforded the opportunity to compete to do so,” he said.
Carter quoted Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, who said, “The United States Army is open to all Americans who meet the standard, regardless of who they are. Embedded within our Constitution is that very principle, that all Americans are free and equal.”
The lifting of the transgender ban was the latest in a series of rapid and wide-reaching social and cultural changes in the military going back to the 2011 action to end the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy against gays serving openly in the military and continuing through Carter’s move last January to lift restrictions on women serving in combat.
Critics have scorned the changes as “social engineering” that would impact readiness and the ability to fight, and the transitions have been adopted reluctantly by many in the upper ranks.
Significantly, Carter was standing alone at the podium when he made the transgender announcement. In matters of major policy statements, the defense secretary is usually joined by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but Gen. Joseph Dunford was absent.
Dunford was also absent when Carter announced that he was opening combat military occupational specialties to women. As commandant, Dunford had urged closing some combat positions in the Marine Corps to women.
When asked about Dunford’s absence, Carter did not respond directly.
“This is my decision,” he said.
Carter said the decision was supported by the “senior leadership,” but did not say whether Dunford was included in the senior leadership.
Criticism of Carter’s action from Capitol Hill was immediate. Rep. Mac Thornberry, a Texas Republican and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, called the announcement as “the latest example of the Pentagon and the President prioritizing politics over policy.”
“Our military readiness — and hence, our national security — is dependent on our troops being medically ready and deployable,” Thornberry said. “The administration seems unwilling or unable to assure the Congress and the American people that transgender individuals will meet these individual readiness requirements at a time when our armed forces are deployed around the world.”
However, Carter had the authority to change the policy on his own, and it appeared that Congress could do little to block him. Thornberry was vague on whether Congress might seek to act. His statement said that “Congress would examine legislative options to address any readiness issues that might be associated with the new policy.”
OutServe-Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, or SLDN, a group supporting the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender military community, praised the lifting of the ban. “Transgender service members have been awaiting this announcement for months and years. It has been long overdue,” said Matt Thorn, executing director of the group.
Thorn said Carter “has given a breath of relief and overdue respect to transgender service members who have been and are currently serving our country with undeniable professionalism, the utmost respect and illustrious courage, with the caveat to do so silently. Today, we mark history, once again, by ending the need to serve in silence.”
Carter had made his position on the transgender ban clear last July, when he called the ban “outdated” and ordered a study on lifting it.
“I directed the working group to start with the presumption that transgender persons can serve openly without adverse impact on military effectiveness and readiness, unless and except where objective, practical impediments are identified,” he said.
The study looked at other militaries that already allow transgender service members to serve openly. Currently, about 18 militaries allow transgender service, including those of Britain, Israel, Australia, Brazil and Chile.
Based on the analysis of other militaries, Rand concluded that there would be “minimal readiness impacts from allowing transgender service members to serve openly,” Carter said. Rand also estimated that health care costs would represent “an exceedingly small proportion” of the department’s overall health care expenditures, he said.
The Pentagon signaled it plans to pay for costs associated with transgender health care.
“Medically necessary” gender reassignment surgery and medications will also be covered beginning in about 90 days, Carter said.
“Our doctors will give them medically necessary procedures as determined by the medical professions,” he said. “In no later than 90 days, the DoD will issue a commanders’ guidebook for leading transgender troops, as well as medical guidance to military doctors for transgender-related care.”
The success of changing the policy on transgender service will be determined by how the changes are put in place, said Carter, who set out a year-long course of gradual implementation.
Within three months, the department will issue a commanders’ guidebook on how to deal with currently-serving transgender service members, along with guidance to doctors for providing transition-related care if required to currently-serving transgender service members, Carter said. Also within that time period, service members will be able to initiate the process for officially changing their gender in personnel management systems, he said.
Following the guidance period, the focus will turn to training the entire force on the new rules — “from commanders, to medical personnel, to the operating force and recruiters,” Carter said.
By the one-year mark, all service branches will begin allowing transgender individuals to join the armed forces, assuming they meet accession standards. Also, an otherwise-qualified individual’s gender identity will not be considered a bar to admission to a military service academy, or participation in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps or any other accession program if the individual meets the new criteria.
Immediately, however, transgender soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen will no longer have to live with the possibility of being booted from the service or denied re-enlistment solely because they are transgender, Carter said. “Service members currently on duty will be able to serve openly,” he said.
On the subject of “gender re-assignment” surgery, Carter said the Pentagon will not pay for recruits to have it. “Our initial accession policy will require an individual to have completed any medical treatment that their doctor has determined is necessary in connection with their gender transition and to have been stable in their identified gender for 18 months, as certified by their doctor, before they can enter the military,” said.
The decision on whether to allow those already in the ranks to have gender re-assignment surgery paid for by DoD would be up to the individual’s military doctor, Carter said. “The medical standards don’t change,” Carter said, and all service members will be entitled to “all the medical care that doctors deem necessary.”
The top US military officer told his Chinese counterpart August 15 that the US and China have “many difficult issues” to work through, during a visit that comes amid tensions over North Korea’s missile program, Taiwan, and China’s claims in the South China Sea.
Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made the remarks at the opening of a meeting with Fang Fenghui, chief of the People’s Liberation Army’s joint staff department.
US officials say Dunford’s visit aims to create a mechanism for improving communication between the sides, especially on sensitive issues such as North Korea. Dunford and Fang signed an agreement committing the sides to that goal, with the details to be discussed during talks in Washington in November.
Fang said Dunford’s visit was a key part of efforts to expand dialogue between the US and China as agreed by President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, when they met earlier this year.
To that end, China has arranged a series of important meetings and visits to help Dunford “know more about our military, (boost) our cooperation, and build up our friendship,” Fang said.
Dunford responded that the US considered the meetings important to making progress on areas of disagreement, without citing any specific examples.
“I think here, we have to be honest — we have many, many difficult issues where we don’t necessarily share the same perspective,” Dunford said.
“I know we share one thing: We share a commitment to work through these difficult issues,” he added, saying that with the guidance of political leaders “we are going to make some progress over the next few days.”
This is the highest-level meeting between the two countries’ militaries since Trump and Xi met in Florida in April.
The US delegation will be flying to the northeastern city of Shenyang on August 16 to observe an exercise staged by the People’s Liberation Army’s Northern Theater Command. Fang cited the event as being among the measures aimed at building mutual trust and understanding.
While the sides agreed several years ago to establish a hotline between the Pentagon and China’s defense ministry, that mechanism has never gone into operation. US officials say they’ve attempted to use it, but that the Chinese side has never answered their requests.
The Chinese and US militaries have joined in naval exercises off the coast of Hawaii and other limited multinational drills mainly aimed at dealing with humanitarian disasters. They’ve also tried to improve mutual trust through agreements on dealing with unexpected encounters at sea.
Despite those, China deeply resents the presence of the US Navy in the South China Sea, which Beijing claims virtually in its entirety.
Last week, China expressed its “strong dissatisfaction” with the US over the Navy’s latest freedom of navigation operation in which a warship sailed past one of China’s man-made islands.
Dunford is visiting South Korea, Japan, and China after a week in which Trump said he was ready to unleash “fire and fury” if North Korea continued to threaten the US.
In a phone call with Trump on August 12, Chinese President Xi said all sides should avoid rhetoric or action that would worsen tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
The Air Force plans to upgrade a combat controller’s Bronze Star Medal to a Silver Star for exemplary action while engaged in combat in Afghanistan in 2006.
Chief Master Sgt. Michael R. West, assigned to the 720th Operational Support Squadron, will receive the Silver Star, the military’s third-highest valor award, during a ceremony at Hurlburt Field, Florida, on Dec. 15, Air Force Special Operations Command said in a release.
West was originally awarded the Bronze Star in 2007.
“West will be honored for his role in securing the safety of 51 Special Forces Soldiers and 33 coalition partners during a five-day offensive operation in support of Operation Medusa,” the release said.
“Over the period of five days and two climactic battles, West delivered more than 24,000 pounds of precision ordnance credited with more than 500 enemy killed in action,” AFSOC said.
His upgrade comes as a result of a comprehensive Defense Department-wide review of awards from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even though the Air Force announced eight valor upgrades in totality this year, new evidence shed light on West’s case, 24th Special Operations Wing spokeswoman 1st Lt. Jaclyn Pienkowski told Military.com.
“With time, additional statements were provided that more completely captured Chief West’s actions during Operation Medusa,” Pienkowski said. “Once the package was complete, the Air Force considered totality of his actions and deemed the appropriate award to be a Silver Star Medal.”
“During this process, the Air Force was committed to properly recognizing our service members for their service, actions and sacrifices, and that those valorous service members were recognized at the appropriate level. It was important to ensure the award package was complete when it was reviewed,” she said.
West, a master sergeant at the time, was involved in two dynamic battles over five days within the Panjwai Village, according to his official award citation.
West was a Joint Terminal Attack Controller supporting Special Forces teams tasked “to conduct offensive operations in support of Operation Medusa,” a Canadian-led mission during the second battle of Panjwaii in the Zhari and Panjwaii districts of Kandahar Province against Taliban fighters, the citation said.
While exposed to direct enemy fire, West’s “mastery of air to ground operations” allowed for the NATO teams to employ a strategic advantage “with over 88 fixed and rotary wing attack; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms; and medical evacuation assets in the area,” the citation said.
That included bombers, fighters, and MQ-1 Predator drones “to eliminate the enemy threat and allow the coalition forces to safely seize their target location,” according to West’s “Portraits in Courage” story. He was featured in the program in 2007.
His actions “on numerous occasions either prevented friendly forces from being overrun, or directly enabled friendly forces to break contact and regroup while minimizing casualties,” the citation said.
Twelve Canadian soldiers lost their lives over the course of the battle, with dozens more wounded, according to figures from Veterans Affairs Canada; A British reconnaissance plane also crashed in Panjwai during the offensive, killing all 14 on board.
At the time it had been “the most significant land battle ever undertaken by NATO,” according to Canada’s CBC News.
Canada regards Operation Medusa as one of its most successful operations. Earlier this year, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan exaggerated he was the grand “architect” of the operation, but later retracted his comments. Sajjan served in Afghanistan at the time as a liaison between Canadian commanders and local Afghan leaders, according to the Global News.
Whether or not West’s valor elevation may be the last medals upgrade for this year remains unclear.
Senior Afghan officials have praised voters who cast ballots in parliamentary elections that were plagued by violence and organizational problems, saying the turnout shows that Afghans are rejecting the ideology of Taliban militants.
“The Taliban wanted to build a stream of blood, but the Taliban was defeated and the Taliban’s thoughts and ideas were rejected,” Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah told a cabinet meeting on Oct. 22, 2018.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah.
(US Department of State)
Around 4 million out of 8.8 million registered voters in a country of more than 30 million cast their ballots over the two-day voting at more than 4,500 polling centers across the country, according to election authorities, despite deadly militant attacks in which dozens of people were killed and delays caused by technical and organizational problems.
The Taliban had issued several warnings in the days leading up to the poll demanding the more than 2,500 candidates for the lower house of parliament withdraw from the race and for voters to stay home.
(US Department of State)
Preliminary results of the parliamentary elections, which were seen as a key test of the government’s ability to provide security across the country, were expected to be released on Nov. 10, 2018, at the earliest. Final results will likely be out sometime in December 2018, an election commission spokesman has said.
Originally scheduled for 2015, the vote was delayed for three years amid disputes over electoral reforms and because of the instability following NATO’s handover of security responsibilities to Afghan forces at the end of 2014.
“The Afghan people want a system based on the people’s vote, and in fact, we have witnessed a historical moment,” said Abdullah, who also admitted there were shortcomings during the vote.
Voting was extended to a second day on Oct. 21, 2018, after hundreds of polling stations were closed on the first day of voting due to technical and security issues.
But only 253 of the 401 polling centers that were scheduled to be open on Oct. 21, 2018 were operational, with the remainder closed for security reasons, election authorities said.
An Afghan man prepares to vote in a villiage near Kabul, Afghanistan Sept. 18, 2010
(Photo by Tech. Sgt. Gloria Wilson)
At some of the centers that opened for voting, there were insufficient ballot papers and voter rolls were “either incomplete or nonexistent,” Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) spokesman Ali Reza Rohani said, adding, “most of the problems we had yesterday still exist today.”
The ECC said it had received more than 5,000 complaints of irregularities from voters and candidates, and the Interior Ministry said 44 people had been charged with “illegal interference in the election and fraud.”
However, President Ashraf Ghani said in a televised address to the nation after polls closed on Oct. 21, 2018, that the election turnout showed that voters “have the power and will to defeat their enemies.”
Ghani also challenged the Taliban to “show if your way or the way of democracy is preferred by the people.”
In a tweet on Oct. 21, 2018, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg commended “the millions of Afghan men women who have exercised their democratic right to vote the Afghan security forces who have provided security for the elections despite great challenges.”
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a statement released on Oct. 20, 2018, that it was “encouraged by the high numbers” of Afghans who braved security threats and waited long hours to cast their votes.
UNAMA said the elections, which it described as “the first completely run by Afghan authorities since 2001,” were an “important milestone in Afghanistan’s transition to self-reliance.”
Standing proudly in front of a B-25 Mitchell on display for a recent airshow in the central Texas town of Burnet, retired Lt. Col. Richard Cole slowly walked up to the antique bomber and clutched one of its propeller blades.
The last surviving Doolittle Raider, who had just marked his 101st birthday a few days before, smiled as he reminisced in the shadow of the bomber — a link to his storied past.
“When we got the B-25, it was a kick in the butt,” he later said, adding that he first flew the B-18 Bolo out of flight school. “It was fast and very maneuverable, with a good, steady bombing platform. You could fly it all over.”
Seventy-plus years ago, he co-piloted a similar bomber alongside then-Lt. Col. James Doolittle during a pivotal mission April 18, 1942, that helped turn the tide for the allies in the Pacific theater of World War II.
As the final member of the famed 80-man Army Air Forces unit, Cole was chosen to announce the name of the Air Force’s newest bomber, the B-21 Raider, at the Air Force Association’s Air, Space and Cyber Conference on Sept. 19 in Washington, D.C.
“I’ve never flown in any of the modern bombers so it’s pretty hard to realize how all of the improvements have meant to aviation,” he said at the Sept. 10 airshow. “All I can say is that the B-25 was like having a Ford Model T, (and now pilots are) getting into a Mustang.”
Following the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, Doolittle developed a plan to retaliate with a daring air raid on Japan. Without escort fighters, he and the other crewmembers flew 16 modified Army B-25s off an aircraft carrier, the USS Hornet, for a one-way trip that had the makings of a suicide mission. The plan called for the aircraft, which were incapable of landing back on the aircraft carrier, to bomb industrial and military targets in five cities on the Japanese home islands and then continue on to friendly airfields in China.
Forced to launch 10 hours earlier than planned, due to the task force being spotted by a Japanese patrol boat, many aircrews later had to bail out of their fuel-parched aircraft after dropping their bomb loads. Doolittle’s crew, including Cole, parachuted into China and linked up with Chinese guerillas operating behind Japanese lines who helped them escape.
“The main memory I have was when my parachute opened,” Cole said of the mission. “But that was part of the job. I’d rather be sitting here than worried about a parachute jump.”
Being alone to tell the Raiders’ story these days has been something of a paradox for Cole.
“You can’t help but be happy that you’re here but on the other side of the coin you also wish that the people who were with you were here too,” he said. “But you know that that’s not possible so you have to live with it.”
The average age of the Raiders during the mission was 22, while Cole was a 26-year-old lieutenant, according to his daughter, Cindy Cole Chal.
“Dad was older on the raid,” she said. “Nobody thought that Dad would be the last one, even though he’s been in excellent health.”
Former Staff Sgt. David Thatcher was the second to last living Raider before he died at the age of 94. He was buried with full military honors June 27 in Montana.
As a 20-year-old gunner in Flight Crew No. 7, then-Cpl. Thatcher saved his four other crewmembers when their B-25 crash-landed into the sea near the Chinese coast after it bombed Japanese factories in Tokyo. He pulled them to safety on the surrounding beach and applied life-saving medical treatment, despite having injuries himself. He later earned the Silver Star for his actions.
Meanwhile, Cole parachuted into rainy weather at night and landed in a tree located on precarious terrain.
“I was fortunate in that I never touched the ground. My parachute drifted over a tall pine tree and caught on top leaving me about 10 feet off the ground,” he recounted in a 1973 letter posted on the official Doolittle Raider website. “At daybreak I was able to see that the terrain was very rough and had I tried to look around at night; probably would have fallen down a very steep hill.”
Once the sun rose, Cole walked westward and the next day he found an outpost belonging to the Chinese guerillas, the letter states.
On April 18, 2015, Cole and Thatcher were presented the Congressional Gold Medal for the Raiders’ efforts, the highest civilian honor given by Congress.
In his speech, a playful Cole couldn’t resist a touch of humor.
“Tonight’s affair couldn’t have been planned more accurately,” Cole said. “As I remember, the mission was over, it was Saturday night on the 18th of April and about this time David Thatcher was on the beach in China saving the rest of his crew and I was hanging in my parachute in a tree.”
Also at the ceremony, Thatcher spoke candidly as he gave advice to today’s Airmen.
“Be prepared for anything you run into — we weren’t,” he said. “Learn everything you possibly can, and be good at it.”
Seven Raiders died during the mission: three were killed in action while another three were captured and executed and one died of disease in captivity.
The bombing runs did little damage but the mission rekindled the morale of the American people and struck fear into the Japanese with aircraft reaching their homeland.
“Knowing that we did the mission and did it like it was supposed to be done, we felt pretty good about it,” Cole said.
In response, the Japanese maneuvered their forces from around Australia and India to the Central Pacific, and sent two aircraft carriers to Alaska.
“The Japanese thought we were going to make more visits. But we didn’t have any equipment to do it and we had no plans for it,” Cole said. “For some reason they moved two carriers to Alaska, thinking that’s where we came from. When they did that, it evened up the number of carriers we had available for Midway.”
The Battle of Midway proved to be a major turning point in the war. Believing their Central Pacific flank to be vulnerable because of the Doolittle Raid, the Japanese launched an invasion force to secure the isolated atoll of Midway to establish a base and airfield. Unaware that U.S. Naval Intelligence had broken their naval codes and knew the date and location of the impending attack, the Japanese sailed directly into an ambush set by three U.S. carriers.
When the smoke cleared, U.S. Navy dive-bombers had sunk four Japanese carriers, the Akagi, Kaga, Soryu and Hiryu, all members of the six-carrier force that had launched the attack on Pearl Harbor, and more than 3,000 men, including many experienced combat pilots. The U.S. lost one carrier, the USS Yorktown, and about 300 men. The Japanese remained on the defensive for the rest of the war.
“When the time came for the Battle of Midway, the (U.S.) Navy was able to win and that started the Japanese on the downhill,” he said.
Nowadays, Cole has shifted his focus away from the twin-engine bomber to his tractor and lawnmower. He refuses to let his age stand in the way of his daily chores. So when not traveling for events, he tends to his acreage in Comfort, Texas, about an hour’s drive northwest from San Antonio.
“People ask me if I’m getting any flying time and I say, ‘Well, I’m getting a lot of single-engine time with the lawnmower,” he said, chuckling.
To keep the memory of Doolittle and the rest of the Raiders alive, he helps sell his book, “Dick Cole’s War,” which documents not only the Doolittle Raid, but his service after that mission with the First Air Commandos in Burma. Proceeds from the book go into a scholarship fund in Doolittle’s name for students in the aviation field.
Cahl estimates her father has put in hundreds of thousands of dollars from the sales of books and signed lithograph prints into the fund to honor Doolittle, who died in 1993.
“All the time when I was flying with Colonel Doolittle, I was in awe over the fact that I was sitting next to him,” Cole said. “He put the word ‘team’ in the forefront of the English language.”
Now the sole survivor, Cole wants no part being the poster child for the historic mission.
“You did the mission. You did what you were supposed to do,” he said. “The people who were involved are all passing (away) and that’s the way it ends.
“I didn’t think any of the Raiders wanted to be singled out. We just wanted to be part of the big picture.”
Infantry Marines will soon receive ultralight off-road vehicles that will improve mission readiness by providing rapid logistics support in the field.
Program Executive Officer Land Systems, the Corps’ acquisition arm for major land programs, is expected to deliver 144 Utility Task Vehicles to the regiment-level starting later this month — a mere six months from contract award.
The rugged all-terrain vehicle can carry up to four Marines or be converted to haul 1,500 pounds of supplies. With minimal armor, the UTV can quickly haul extra ammunition and provisions, or injured Marines, while preserving energy and stealth.
“The Marine’s pack is getting heavier, and they are carrying more gear than ever down range,” said Jessica Turner, team lead for Internally Transportable Vehicles/Utility Task Vehicles at PEO LS. “Infantry Marines were looking for a capability that would lessen the load while increasing the area of operation, and the UTV is that solution.”
The UTV is a new capability for the fleet. Measuring roughly 12 feet long, the commercially acquired diesel vehicle is modular, with back seats that convert into a small cargo bed. Thanks to its small size, the UTV fits inside MV-22 Ospreys and CH-53E helicopters for easy transport to remote locations and greater tactical support.
PEO LS joined a Marine Corps Special Operations Command contract to deliver the capability to Marines in such a short amount of time.
“We have taken an off-the-shelf capability and leveraged it with other commands to maximize the effort,” said Eugene Morin, product manager for Legacy Light Tactical Vehicles at PEO LS. “The continued challenge for the Marine Corps is finding commercial-off-the-shelf items that satisfy the needs of Marines. Through partnerships like this, we can find the solutions we need.”
In exchange, MARSOC partnered with the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory to run field user evaluations on the UTV to ensure it met the needs of the warfighter.
“One key takeaway from the MCWL testing was user feedback from Infantry Marines,” said Mark Godfrey, vehicle capabilities integration officer at Marine Corps Combat Development and Integration. “MCWL did demonstrations such as casualty evacuation and maximum payload, and were able to tell us Marines’ thoughts on the value of the vehicle.”
The UTV program also satisfies the infantry’s requirement to maneuver more rapidly and deeply throughout the battlespace.
Much like larger tactical vehicles, Marines authorized to drive the UTV will be required to complete operator training as well as additional off-road vehicle safety procedures.
“One reason for the driving course is the UTV is an off-road vehicle,” Turner said. “The UTV’s suspension, handling and the way it distributes power is a lot different than a regular vehicle.”
Eighteen vehicles will be delivered to specific infantry regiments, with the first shipment going to I and II Marine Expeditionary Force in February, and III MEF in March and April. The Marine Corps will continue to seek ways to leverage partnerships and speed acquisition for Marines.
“The UTV is a perfect example of how we can do acquisition faster and more efficiently,” said Godfrey. “It may be a model for obtaining items from industry quicker in the future.”
If you really think about it, troops and veterans have been trained for all the stresses of Black Friday.
You’ve been trained in making a plan, navigating difficult driving conditions, effective crowd control, and hand-to-hand combat when comes time to secure that one toy your little niece really wanted, and how to properly exfil the f*ck out of that mall before the rent-a-cops show up on Segways.
However, if you’re smart enough to avoid all of that BS and do your shopping online, then you’ve earned these memes.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Jan. 25 that modernized strategic bombers will boost Russia’s military power.
Speaking on a visit to an aircraft-making plant in Kazan, Putin said the revamped version of the Soviet-designed Tu-160 bomber features new engines and avionics that would significantly enhance its capability.
The Russian leader attended the signing of a 160-billion-ruble (about $2.9 billion) contract that will see the delivery of 10 such planes to the Russian air force.
He said the upgraded bomber is a “serious step in the development of high-tech industries and strengthening the nation’s defense capabilities.”
The four-engine supersonic bomber developed in the 1980s is the largest combat plane in the world. During Russia’s campaign in Syria, the military used the Tu-160s to launch log-range cruise missiles at militant targets.
Putin also suggested that the plant develop a supersonic passenger jet based on the Tu-160, saying that Russia’s vast territory would warrant such a design.
The state-controlled United Aircraft Corp. said in a statement carried by Tass news agency that preliminary work has started on designing such a plane.
The Soviet-designed Tu-144 supersonic passenger jet that rivaled the British-French Concorde saw only a brief service with Aeroflot after Soviet officials decided it was too costly to operate. Concorde entered service in 1976 and operated for 27 years.
Throughout the year, the team at We Are The Mighty has the privilege of learning about and meeting people doing extraordinary things in the military-veteran community. This is the inspiration behind our annual Mighty 25: Influencers Supporting the Military Community in 2018 — a list of individuals who are making a difference for military service members, veterans, and their families.
This year, we expanded our list to include not just veterans, prior service members, and reservists, but also civilians who are doing exemplary work in this community.
The Mighty 25 Committee utilized a set of specific criteria to select 25 members of the military-veteran community currently making a significant impact. The committee was comprised of the diverse WATM team of veteran editors, writers, and creators who engage with this community daily. The task force conducted extensive research to identify over 100 initial potential candidates. The top 25 were chosen according to impact and the representation of a diverse variety of social causes, fields of work, and communities affected.
This individuals on this year’s Mighty 25 have dedicated their lives to missions that vary greatly: from developing transitioning service members and their spouses into successful entrepreneurs, to helping veterans heal through stand-up comedy training. Yet these exceptional individuals all share one goal: to improve the lives of those who have sacrificed for their country.
We are excited to share these influencers’ stories, highlight their accomplishments to the world, and cheer them on as they continue to make a difference in the lives of many. The 2018 Mighty 25 list is presented here in alphabetical order.
Dr. Jill Biden
Combining a lifetime passion for teaching with her high-profile role as former second lady of the United States, Dr. Jill Biden is able to reach millions as a premier advocate for military service members and their families.
Not long after their husbands took office, Biden and First Lady Michelle Obama teamed up to form “Joining Forces,” a non-profit that partners with the private and public sectors to provide military families with tools to succeed throughout their lives. Their initiative, “Operation Educate the Educator,” was designed to help teachers understand what military families go through, and was introduced at 100 teaching colleges across America.
Biden believes that in addition to military members, families also serve – including children. Her book Don’t Forget, God Bless Our Troops is the story of a little girl coping with her father’s deployment, and is based on the Biden family’s own experiences when their son and father, the late Beau Biden, was deployed to Iraq.
The Biden Foundation, launched Feb. 2017, by Dr. Jill Biden and former Vice President Joe Biden, is a nonprofit organization that looks to “identify policies that advance the middle class, decrease economic inequality, and increase opportunity for all people,” according to its website. One of the organization’s primary focuses is supporting military families.
In April 2017, Biden was appointed to the JP Morgan Chase Military and Veterans’ Affairs External Advisory Council. The council advises the firm on a comprehensive strategy to design programs and products aimed at serving the unique needs of members of the military, veterans and their families.
U.S. Naval Academy graduate and retired Lieutenant Colonel Scott Cooper spent an impressive career in the Marine Corps as an EA-6B Prowler aircrew, serving five tours in Iraq, two in Afghanistan, one in Europe, and one in the Western Pacific. Cooper now serves as the Director of National Security Outreach at Human Rights First, a nonprofit organization that advocates for human rights, especially in encouraging America to be a leader and champion of human rights at home and abroad. In his role, Cooper works to build broad coalitions among military agencies, the national security community, veteran service organizations, and think tanks.
In 2015, Cooper’s passion for advocating for Afghan and Iraqi wartime allies and Syrian refugees led him to found Veterans for American Ideals, a nonpartisan, grassroots, community-based group of veterans aiming to leverage military veteran voices to bridge divides and regain a shared sense of national community. He believes that within this increasingly divisive political climate, veterans can be an important civilizing, unifying force. Their work amplifies veterans’ experiences, leadership abilities, and credibility to combat the erosion of our democratic norms and to challenge the rise of xenophobic, fear-based rhetoric and policies that run counter to our ideals.
In the face of the refugee ban promulgated by the current White House administration, Cooper has dedicated himself to championing the rights of refugees on Capitol Hill, working to educate government officials on the current refugee vetting process, even leading a delegation of refugees to meet with the offices of numerous senators, including John McCain, Jeanne Shaheen, Marco Rubio, Tammy Duckworth, Chuck Grassley, Joe Manchin, and Ed Markey.
Cooper also lends a prominent voice to this public issue as a published author, with his pieces on human rights issues and American values appearing in numerous publications, including the Washington Post, Foreign Affairs, The Washington Quarterly, War on the Rocks, Task and Purpose, The American Interest, and Policy Review.
The crown in Elizabeth Dole’s long and varied public career may not lie in her capacity as Federal Trade Commissioner under President Richard Nixon, Secretary of Transportation under President Reagan, or Secretary of Labor under George H.W. Bush — and possibly not even as United States Senator from her home state of North Carolina.
Rather, it is her foundation that may hold more significance for the ordinary Americans it serves every single day. Through the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, Dole has chosen to use her high-profile platform to advocate for those 5.5 million spouses, friends, and family members who care for America’s ill, injured, and wounded veterans.
While visiting her husband at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Dole first became aware of the needs and challenges facing military caregivers. A veteran of World War II, Bob Dole is the recipient of two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star, and has long suffered from the effects of his injuries. As she visited other veterans suffering catastrophic wounds, Dole was drawn to the families, constantly at the side of their loved ones, receiving little or no support.
Under Dole’s leadership, the Elizabeth Dole Foundation has brought national attention to military caregiver issues through its Hidden Heroes Campaign, launched grassroot support initiatives in more than 110 cities across the nation via Hidden Heroes Cities, encouraged innovation and the creation of direct service programming supporting caregivers through Hidden Heroes Fund, empowered and equipped military caregivers in all 50 states and Puerto Rico with tools to advocate on behalf of their caregiver peers though the Dole Caregiver Fellows program, and advocated for national caregiver support with Congressional and VA leaders. The Foundation also launched HiddenHeroes.org, a first-of-its-kind online tool where military caregivers can connect to a peer support community and directory of 200+ carefully vetted resources.
Dole’s impact doesn’t stop there. In October 2017, she was appointed chair of the Veteran Administration’s new family and caregiver advisory committee, which was formed in response to problems with support programs, and is charged with advocating for improvements to VA care and benefits services.
Marjorie K. Eastman
Her 2017 National Independent Publisher Award-winning book The Frontline Generation: How We Served Post 9/11 not only reframes how many thought about those who served in the conflicts following 9/11, it is the first book to define the timeless legacy of anyone who steps up to serve, declaring the most significant call to action for our time. What started as a memoir project that this former enlisted, direct commission Army Reserve officer took on to cope with her infant son’s battle with cancer, it became an informational and inspiring collection of reflections on those with whom she served, and the aftershocks of service, character, and leadership.
She sought to write a book that would help shape the man she hoped her son will become — yet she succeeded in shaping the narrative of post 9/11 veterans as being far more, and better than, the prevailing themes of hero or broken. And the U.S. Army took notice and placed her book on the recommended reading list for the Military Intelligence Center of Excellence library and museum. A 2018 updated version of her book is now available (audio book set to release in late May), with an additional appendix that empowers readers to find a mission — inciting confidence that every one of us can live with purpose, live for each other, and lead.
Named by PBS’s Veterans Coming Home Initiative as a veteran thought leader, Eastman, who was awarded the Bronze Star as a combat commander, as well as the Combat Action Badge, continues to pioneer new ground by positively reinforcing the value of veterans and service as an unmatched currency. She is a frequent public speaker and her articles on topical issues such as the #MeToo movement, veteran entrepreneurs as a force multiplier in our economy, how veterans can bridge the partisan divide, and the potential impact of U.S. State Department cuts have appeared in publications such as The Washington Post, Task Purpose, and USA Today. Make sure to check out her 2018 Deck of 52 Most Wanted post 9/11 Frontline Leaders, a weekly column that is a spin-off and salute to the original deck (2003 Iraqi Playing Cards), highlighting veterans and military families who have launched exceptional businesses and charities.
On Aug. 21, 2009, while enroute from Camp Victory to the International Zone (IZ) in Baghdad, Iraq, then-Army Col. Carol Eggert’s vehicle was struck by an EFP — an explosively formed projectile. She calls it her Gratitude Day. She and all ten service members riding with her that day were wounded. Eggert was in Iraq on a 15-month combat tour as Chief of the Women’s Initiatives Division and Senior Liaison to the U.S. Embassy, Baghdad. In this role, she conducted an analysis of women’s initiatives and engineered a strategic plan to empower Iraqi women economically and politically.
Now as a retired brigadier general in the private sector, Eggert continues to lead through empowerment. She currently serves as the Senior Vice President, Military and Veteran Affairs at Comcast NBCUniversal, executing Comcast NBCUniversal’s commitment to deliver meaningful career opportunities to veterans, National Guard and Reserve members, and military spouses. Eggert recently announced that the company exceeded its goal of hiring 10,000 members of the military community between 2015 and 2017.
Eggert’s selection for this role comes as no surprise. Eggert herself served across several components, including the Regular Army, the Army Reserve, and the National Guard. She also earned several degrees — two master’s and a doctorate in organizational leadership. In addition to the Purple Heart, Eggert is also the recipient of the Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Combat Action Badge, and Meritorious Service Medal with 4 Oak Leaf Clusters.
U.S. Naval Academy graduate and former Navy Seal Nick Etten believes that veterans’ quality of life could be improved — and lives could be saved — through access to cannabis for medical treatment. Through his organization, the Veterans Cannabis Project, Etten champions cannabis as a life-saving treatment option. With the prevalence of chronic pain among military veterans leading to a deadly opioid addiction problem within the community, Etten views Cannabidiol (CBD) products as a viable way to help veterans get off opioids.
Access to medical marijuana for veterans, however, is limited. The laws regulating marijuana are currently murky, since it is illegal under federal law, but legal under the law in some states. And because of the current classification of cannabis as a schedule one drug, research on its potential benefits for veterans is limited, and the Department of Veteran affairs does not allow its providers to prescribe or even recommend it to patients.
The Veterans Cannabis Project has been active on Capitol Hill, working to educate lawmakers, and requesting they take action to help clarify the health benefits of cannabis. Etten’s work to educate, advocate, support research, and partner with like-minded organizations is paving the path for future access to alternative treatment options for veterans.
When Justine Evirs joined the Navy, her plan was to make a career out of it. Her early medical discharge, however, forced her back to square one. She ended up in college to study business then spent numerous years in higher education and veteran services. Evirs is now a mother of three, military spouse, and prominent leader and disrupter in the entrepreneurial and veteran military spouse communities, whose ideas are fast-tracking opportunities for veterans entering the civilian workforce or starting their own businesses.
In her previous role as the Executive Director of the nonprofit Bunker Labs Bay Area Evirs helps provide resources and networking opportunities to military veterans and their spouses who are starting and growing their own businesses. Now in her new role as the National Director of Policy at Bunker Labs she is focused on policy solutions for veteran entrepreneurs across the nation.
The Paradigm Switch, a nonprofit founded by Evirs in 2017, originally provided veterans and military spouses access to prestigious certifications and vocational skills-based programs. Fast forward to today, The Paradigm Switch has recently relaunched and is putting military spouses first. Evirs is building a global digital community for military spouses by military spouses, offering a full spectrum of resources that enable spouses to unleash their unlimited potential both personally and professionally. They discover and provide access to resources and communities that empower military spouses to take control of their careers.
Delphine Metcalf-Foster made history in 2017, when she became the first woman ever elected as the National Commander of the Disabled Americans Veterans (DAV) organization.
Metcalf-Foster, whose father was a Buffalo Soldier, joined the military later in life, when her daughter was in high school. Her daughter was convinced people would laugh at her mom because of her age, but Metcalf-Foster went for it, and ended up retiring from the Army Reserve 21 years later. During her service, she deployed to Saudi Arabia in support of Operation Desert Storm/Desert Shield, where she was injured.
Metcalf-Foster’s passion for serving fellow veterans has fueled her work with DAV. With over 1 million members, this nonprofit organization helps injured veterans access benefits and advocates on their behalf. In her role as the DAV National Commander, Metcalf-Foster aims to spotlight the need to close the health care gap that exists for women veterans, as well as the need to expand government support for caregivers of pre 9/11 veterans.
It all started with this former Army captain’s raw, brutally honest and irreverent blog titled Kaboom: a Soldier’s War Journal, which chronicled his 15-month Iraq deployment leading a scout platoon with the 25th Infantry Division. The controversial and popular blog was eventually shut down by Gallagher’s chain-of-command, but was later published as a critically-acclaimed memoir after he left the Army.
Armed with an MFA in fiction from Columbia, Gallagher went on to write for numerous major publications, including The New York Times, The Atlantic, and Wired. Tackling such dicey issues as whether or not the Iraq War was worth it, the social estrangement of returning veterans, and refugee and immigration rights of Muslims coming to America, Gallagher challenges intellectual and moral complacency. As a veteran directly affected by these issues, Gallagher’s skepticism of the establishment, honest self-reflection, and calls for accountability bring an enormously refreshing and credible perspective to the conversation.
In 2015, Vanity Fair called Matt Gallagher one of the most important voices of a new generation of American war literature. His debut novel Youngblood (2016) portrays a young soldier in his search for meaning during the end of the Iraq War.
As a former intelligence officer in the Navy Reserve, the mayor of Los Angeles has made improving the lives of veterans a priority throughout his tenure. His establishment of the Mayor’s Office of Veterans Affairs aimed to ensure veterans in Los Angeles can access the services they’ve earned. One of Garcetti’s most impressive contributions to the veteran community during his time as mayor has been through the office’s massive hiring campaign called the 10,000 Strong Initiative.
Garcetti’s groundbreaking initiative formed a coalition between the Mayor’s Office of Veterans Affairs and companies and community organizations in Los Angeles over the last three years to reach the goal of hiring 10,000 local veterans. The program utilized the services of local nonprofits and government agencies to match qualified veteran candidates with open positions. The initiative also offered job training to veterans to assist them in transitioning into the civilian workforce, as well as training to companies on how to use tax incentives when hiring veterans.
Through the use of these resources and training programs, Garcetti’s 10,000 Strong Initiative ended up beating its own goal, placing 10,500 veterans with more than 200 companies in the Los Angeles region. In Garcetti’s own words from his Aug 29, 2017 Fleet Week speech, “The men and women who served our country in uniform should come home to opportunity, not obstacles. Veterans are some of the hardest-working, most qualified, and prepared people in Los Angeles — and they should have every chance to succeed in the workplace, and make a living for themselves and their families.”
Jason Hall started his career in Hollywood as an actor. Some might recognize him from his recurring role as the lead singer of a band in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. According to Hall, however, the role that truly made a difference in his life was for a University of Southern California student film in which he portrayed a Marine coming to grips with the loss of a troop. This role would serve as his entry into the fascinating and strange world of American military veterans.
Hall’s Oscar nomination for his adaptation of the late Navy SEAL Chris Kyle’s American Sniper novel for the 2014 film version served as his breakout moment as a major creative force. His success in the powerful telling of that story led him to his next project, Thank You for Your Service, a 2017 film he wrote and directed based on Washington Post reporter David Finkel’s nonfiction book by the same name, which follows the real-life plight of four soldiers returning home from the Iraq War.
Finkel, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, had followed these soldiers in the war for 10 months, then continued following them for another 13 months after they came home. What resulted was a gripping account of the challenges faced by veterans following war.
Hall’s film expanded the book’s audience to moviegoers across America, giving a prominent spotlight to the issues faced by returning veterans. It’s his dedication to the careful and accurate depiction of these true-life accounts that demonstrates his commitment to serving veterans through filmmaking. He looks to bring that same accuracy to the story of another well-known veteran: George Washington. He has spent the last year researching and writing the story of Washington’s road to becoming a leader through the French Indian war.
Zach Iscol is a combat decorated Marine veteran who served two tours in Iraq and fought in the second Battle of Fallujah, where he led a combined unit of 30 American and 250 Iraqi National Guard troops, and later helped build US Marine Corps, Special Operations Command.
Through Hirepurpose, Iscol has helped over 50,000 veterans with employment through personalized career guidance, resources, and job matching. Iscol’s Headstrong Project, an affiliate of Weill Cornell Medical Center, has provided cost-free world-class mental healthcare to over 600 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in 14 cities and growing around the Country. Task Purpose is a leading news, culture and lifestyle website with content aimed at military and veteran audiences, and reaching over 50 million people a month.
In 2007, Iscol’s testimony, while on active duty, before the United States Senate, helped establish the Special Immigrant Visa to safeguard and protect our Iraqi and Afghanistan translators.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson
Dwayne Johnson comes from a proud military family, and his goal is to give back to the military community. An actor, producer, philanthropist, and former WWE professional wrestler, Johnson uses his super-celebrity status to advocate for the importance of American freedom and to honor its protectors.
At the end of 2016, Johnson was the executive producer and host of the inaugural “Rock the Troops” event at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam for 50,000 military personnel in recognition of the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. For this event, which aired on Spike TV, Johnson assembled an epic cast of fellow celebrities — Kevin Hart, Jack Black, Matthew McConaughey, Keegan Michael-Key, Rob Riggle, Nick Jona, Flo Rider, and more all made special appearances to honor the troops.
Johnson continues his support for military members and their families through his partnership with Under Armour’s Freedom initiative, which supports the military and first responder communities by enhancing their physical and mental wellness.
After serving 25 years in the U.S. Air Force as both a public affairs NCO and officer, Mike Kelly continues serving the military community as a passionate advocate for veterans and military spouses. In his role as an executive at USAA, he leads strategic collaborations with key military, government, nonprofit, and for-profit advocacy groups.
Mike is building collaborative relationships that focus on a national dialogue surrounding important veteran and spouse issues such as financial readiness, navigating successful transitions into the civilian workforce, entrepreneurship, and supportive and impactful military spouse communities.
In 2016, The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation selected Mike as the recipient of the annual Hiring Our Heroes Colonel Michael Endres Leadership Award for Individual Excellence in Veteran Employment. He currently serves on the HOH Veteran and Military Spouse Employment Councils, which focus on actions addressing the unique employment challenges veterans and military spouses face.
Mike is dedicated to connecting, equipping, and inspiring opportunities that benefit the military community at large.
Sam Meek served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps as a Nuclear Biological Chemical Defense (NBCD) Specialist, completing two tours in Iraq. After leaving the military, Meek would eventually end up using his passion for technology to help connect members of the military community. His unique mobile app, Sandboxx, helps give new recruits in basic training — as well as deployed service members without access to their social media apps — a way to stay connected to the outside world.
Sandboxx customers, most of whom are already active users of social media apps like Facebook, Instagram, and SnapChat, are easily able to transition to Sandboxx to communicate with out-of-reach military members. They use the app to upload photos, which get converted into a piece of physical mail, which is sent anywhere in the world it needs to go, even remote locations. Most letters are sent overnight and are delivered the next business day.
Meek launched Sandboxx Travel in 2017, which enables service members to book hotels and flights, often with military discounts, through the Sandboxx app and site. The app also helps provide a way for active and inactive members of the military to connect with any unit they have ever served. As the grandson and great grandson of military service members, Meek was intent on maintaining his connection to the Marines. He now helps people around the world do exactly that.
On April 10, 2012, while serving on his third tour with the 82nd Airborne, Staff Sergeant Travis Mills was critically injured by an IED. He lost both arms and both legs in the blast, and is one of only five quadruple amputees from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to survive those injuries.
Mills spent much of his time during recovery at Walter Reed encouraging and hanging out with fellow injured veterans and their families, earning the nickname the “Mayor.” So it’s not much of a surprise that he ended up deciding that he wanted to do something big — not only for veterans, but their families as well. In 2013, embodying the warrior ethos of “Never give up, never quit,” Travis and his wife started the Travis Mills Foundation.
The Foundation supports veterans and their families through programs that help these heroic men and women overcome physical obstacles, strengthen their families, and provide well-deserved rest and relaxation. Mills’ latest effort to support these veterans and their families is through his Foundation’s national retreat center, located in his home state of Maine.
Since June of 2017, the retreat has served injured veterans and their families, who receive an all-inclusive, all-expenses paid, barrier-free vacation where they participate in adaptive activities, bond with other veteran families, and enjoy the 17-acre grounds of the estate.
You might know Bob Parsons as the larger-than-life billionaire entrepreneur who founded GoDaddy, but his legacy extends far beyond the massively successful internet domain registrar and web hosting company. Parsons served in the United States Marine Corps and, at 18 years old, deployed to Vietnam as a rifleman with Delta Company, earning a Purple Heart, a Combat Action Ribbon, and the Vietnam Gallantry Cross.
Parsons is passionate about creating a positive homecoming experience for veterans returning from war. This was also the inspiration behind those who started the Semper Fi Fund, a charity that provides immediate and long-term resources to post-9/11 military members who have been combat wounded, catastrophically injured, or are critically ill.
Semper Fi Fund also provides services aimed at helping vets throughout their lives, including family and caregiver support, PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury care and education, adaptive housing and transportation, education and career transition assistance, mentoring and apprenticeships, and unit reunions.
As one of the highest-rated charities in the country the Semper Fi Fund’s impact is impressive. According to their website, Semper Fi Fund’s 2017 monetary assistance to service members totaled million dollars. Bob Parsons and his wife Renee are also the founders of the nonprofit organization The Bob Renee Parsons Foundation. For the sixth year in a row, the Foundation recently completed its Double Down for Veterans match campaign with the Semper Fi Fund by matching contributions dollar-for-dollar, exceeding their 2017 goal of million. The Foundation has donated more than million in total to the Semper Fi Fund since its creation. This husband-and-wife philanthropic powerhouse have given an astounding 0 million dollars to charity since 2012.
Coming from three generations of military service, Elizabeth Halperin-Perez spent nine years as an Aviation Logistic Specialist in the U.S. Navy. During a deployments to the Middle East, her friend died in a terrorist attack on the U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Cole while it was refueling in Yemen’s Aden Harbor. This event, along with the deep respect for Mother Earth instilled in her from her Mono Indian Native American heritage, sparked her passion for energy policies that advance national security.
Committed to reducing conflict and future wars by furthering sustainable energy practices, Halperin-Perez went on to become the founder and president of the green-build general contracting and consulting firm GCG. Using her experience and network, she also works to help other veterans find clean energy job opportunities, and is passionate about helping them onto an entrepreneurial path. In 2017, Halperin-Perez was chosen by Governor Brown to serve on the California Veterans Board, and most recently was appointed Deputy Secretary of Minority Veterans with the California Department of Veterans Affairs, serving underrepresented veterans in a much larger capacity across California. She was also recognized at the White House in 2013 as a “Champion of Change for Advancing Clean Energy Technologies Climate Security”.
Sam Pressler began his involvement with the veteran community during his time as a student at the College of William Mary, where he majored in government and first learned about the mental health challenges faced by veterans returning from war. Pressler himself had turned to comedy to cope after a suicide in his family, and in response to the challenges affecting veterans and service members he started Comedy Bootcamp, a stand-up comedy class for veterans and their families as a way to help build community and improve well-being through comedy.
This bootcamp eventually grew into the Armed Services Arts Partnership (ASAP), a non-profit founded and led by Pressler that helps veterans, service members, and military family members reintegrate into their communities through the arts. The organization promotes expression, skill-development, and camaraderie through classes, workshops, and performances across a variety of artistic disciplines. ASAP’s focus on consistent programs and community partnerships ensures that members of our community have continuous opportunities for artistic and personal growth.
ASAP has served more than 600 students, and put on over 800 performances for 50,000+ audience members, including a 2016 comedy show at The White House and a performance for President Jimmy Carter. Through these programs and performances, Pressler has helped to create connections and understanding between veterans and members of their local communities. Pressler was honored on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list in 2017, as one of HillVets 100 most influential people in the veterans space in 2016, and as a recipient of the prestigious Echoing Green Fellowship.
His work with ASAP has been featured by numerous media outlets, including the Washington Post, ABC News, NBC, CNN, NPR, PBS, Military Times, Task Purpose, and Stars Stripes.
Jennifer Pritzker (born James Pritzker) enlisted in the U.S. Army, serving in the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions while on active duty, then at various units in the Army National Guard until retiring as a lieutenant colonel in 2001. She was later promoted to the honorary rank of Colonel.
Pritzker has been a massive force multiplier through her philanthropic work as the President and Chief Executive Officer of Tawani Enterprises, Inc., President of the Tawani Foundation, and Founder and Chair of the Pritzker Military Museum Library. In these roles, Pritzker makes significant long-term differences for programs and organizations that advocate the role of military in society.
Among her notable contributions is a id=”listicle-2565932886″.3 million donation to the University of California, Santa Barbara to fund studies on how the U.S. military could openly integrate transgender members into its ranks. In 2017, the Pritzker Military Foundation donated id=”listicle-2565932886″ million to fund key initiatives for Elizabeth Dole’s Hidden Heroes campaign, which supports the caregivers of injured and ill veterans and service members. In 2018, the Foundation gave id=”listicle-2565932886″ million to the Army Historical Foundation to help with the construction of the National Museum of the United States Army in Virginia. In 2013, Pritzker came out as transgender and started living as a woman. She is the only known transgender billionaire in the world.
(Photo by Terrilyn Bayne)
Diana & Daniel Rau
Daniel Rau was inspired to serve his country when he saw the Twin Towers fall on 9/11. He joined the Marine Corps and served as a Marine Security Guard protecting embassies around the world. After his service, based on his and his friends’ experiences, he saw an opportunity to radically change the process of how Veterans enter the civilian workforce.
Diana Rau, who was honored as one of Forbes’ 2018 30 Under 30 Social Entrepreneurs, is a Georgetown graduate passionate about solving major social problems. When she met Daniel, the idea for Veterati sparked: build a technology platform to help America’s 1.5 million service members currently transitioning into the civilian workforce as well as 5.5 million underemployed military spouses navigate and break into civilian careers. (A romantic relationship that later led to their marriage also sparked — Veterati’s story is both a startup story a love story!)
Because 80% of job opportunities are never listed, but rather, are advertised and filled through personal networks, the Raus built a digital platform that empower service members and spouses to connect with multiple mentors and build social networks vital to their career search. At Veterati.com, Veterans spouses are matched with successful business people in their area of interest using smart algorithms. Mentors volunteer their time through free, one-hour phone calls facilitated by the platform. Since its 2015 launch, Veterati, which has been called the “Uber-of-mentoring,” has provided thousands of free mentoring conversations for 10k+ members and is partnered with the nation’s leading Veteran Service Organizations and Military Employers to deliver free, on-demand mentoring to our entire military community.
In 2017, Denise Rohan became the first female national commander of the 2 million-member American Legion in its 99-year history. Rohan, who served in the Army’s Quartermaster Corps for two years at the end of the Vietnam War, joined the Legion 33 years ago, working her way up from post-level membership to National Commander.
The American Legion is the nation’s largest veteran service organization and was founded on four pillars: veterans affairs and rehabilitation, national security, Americanism, and children and youth. As their new national commander, Rohan is expanding on those four pillars through her “Family First” platform, which broadens the American Legion’s focus on service members and veterans to include family members as well. As the spouse of a veteran herself, Rohan believes that families serve too; and ensuring those family members are being taken care of at home allows for their loved ones in the fight to focus more on their mission, ultimately strengthening national security.
Rohan’s current special fundraising project is the Legion’s Temporary Financial Assistance program, which awards cash grants to children of veterans in need to help the cost of shelter, food, utilities, and health expenses.
Major Dan Rooney
Major Dan Rooney is a U.S. Air Force Reserve F-16 fighter pilot with the Oklahoma National Guard. It was during his second tour of duty in Iraq that he felt a calling to do something in response to the devastating sacrifices he saw others make fighting for their country. This calling was solidified on a commercial flight Rooney took after returning to the U.S. The plane had just landed and the pilot announced that the remains of Corporal Brock Bucklin were on board. Maj Rooney watched as the flag-draped casket slowly made its way to the awaiting family, which included the fallen hero’s son. Rooney was overwhelmed thinking about the hardship those family members would face due to their loss.
This moment irrecoverably altered Rooney’s trajectory, and he made the decision at that moment to dedicate the rest of his life to helping the family members of those who gave their lives, or were disabled in service to their nation. He recently formed a partnership with Budweiser’s Patriot Beer and in 2007 created the Folds of Honor Foundation, a nonprofit organization that helps the more than one million dependents adversely impacted by war through educational scholarships.
Rooney, who is also a PGA golf pro, realized that he could use his platform to help achieve the goals he had for his foundation. The first Folds of Honor golf tournament raised ,000. Since, then Folds of Honor has raised over 0 million and given away over 13,000 educational scholarships. Rooney continues to his work to uphold the mission of his foundation: “Honor their sacrifice. Educate their legacy.”
Actor and humanitarian Gary Sinise has been a strong advocate of American service members for nearly 40 years, starting with his Veterans Night program, which offers free dinners and performances to veterans at the Steppenwolf Theatre, which he co-founded in Chicago. Later, his portrayal of Lt Dan in the film Forrest Gump would create a lasting connection with the disabled military community. Following 9/11 he took part in many USO tours, which led him to form The Lt. Dan Band, which entertains troops at home and abroad and raises awareness at benefit concerts across the country.
Sinise established the Gary Sinise Foundation in 2011, through which he continues to serve and honor America’s defenders, veterans, and first responders as well as their families and those in need. Whether they’re sending WWII veterans to New Orleans to tour the National WWII Museum through its Soaring Valor program or building specially adapted smart homes for severely wounded veterans through its R.I.S.E. (Restoring Independence, Supporting Empowerment) program, Sinise continually demonstrates just how much one person’s commitment can do for an entire community. His Foundation recently added the annual Snowball Express event to its roster of programs. The annual event brings together the children and spouses of fallen military heroes each December for a fun-filled four-day event at Disney World.
Sinise’s forthcoming book Grateful American, which features the author’s life story and passionate advocacy for military service members, is slated for release in 2019.
Jon Stewart, comedian and former host of The Daily Show, is nothing less than passionate about his support for the troops. He continually uses his public platform to stress that the country does not do enough to support service members and veterans. His persistent message to America and its institutions is that supporting the troops shouldn’t be an empty saying, but rather a call to action. Stewart backs up his words with his own remarkable commitment, proving himself a truly dedicated advocate for this community.
During his long tenure as the host of the massively popular satirical news show, Stewart established an internship program for veterans trying to break into the television industry, which continues on to this day. He has also toured with USO three times, entertaining service members all over the world, bringing them laughs and a touch of home. Stewart regularly participates in benefits and campaigns aimed at raising money and awareness for issues impacting veterans.
In 2016, Stewart attended the Warrior Games, an adaptive sports competition in which injured and ill service members and veterans participate. He later pitched the idea of broadcasting the games on television to ESPN — and in 2017, they did exactly that, with Stewart serving as the emcee.
While pretty much all of the veterans here at WATM served in the military fairly recently, we weren’t on first sergeant’s speed dial. If he or she wanted something, he’d send a “runner,” but with technology going the way it has been, it’s probably only a matter of time before troops start getting texts instead.
This is probably not a good thing. Here are nine messages you probably never want to see coming from the phone number of “The Diamond.”
1. Get your ass outside my office. Time: RIGHT F–KING NOW.
He doesn’t need to give you details, because he’s the frigging First Sergeant. But what you can be very sure of just from this very short text: He’s pissed. He’s really pissed… AT YOU.
2. We’re going out to the field this weekend. Gear inspection Friday at 1730.
There goes your plans for the weekend. After you read this one, you’ll have to call off your plans to support your local strip club and tattoo parlor. But look on the bright side: At least you’ll be saving money.
3. Gas mask PT tomorrow. Company office at 0500.
Do you hate breathing? Do you like to run? Why not combine both of these things into something your leaders call “Gas Mask PT.”
4. Why was a member of your squad caught drunk and naked at the front gate?
This is a question that really has no good answer. In the first sergeant’s mind, that drunken naked idiot is a direct reflection of your leadership, and anything you say is going to be bad. Prepare to have your butt completely chewed off.
5. Just got call from MPs. Report to my office in dress uniform in 15.
This is more upsetting than a scary movie. A call from military police, and now you have to report in to “the diamond.” What the hell did I do now? Did I not check her ID card?
6. ALL HANDS PISS TEST. Company office in 10.
It’s not necessarily that you did drugs or are worried about popping on the piss test (although that could be a concern). But pissing into a cup as some dude checks out your junk can make anyone nervous. Back off, dude.
7. Too many DUIs in company. Recall formations this weekend at 0600, 1200, and 1800 daily.
Mass punishment. It’s First Sergeant’s favorite pastime. In his mind, you may not have driven drunk, but you could have done something to stop those other guys. Somehow.
8. I’m inspecting the barracks in two hours.
You have a few options: You can try hard to clean your room because first sergeant will probably break out the white gloves to look for dust. Or you can run to the 7-day store and pick up Maxim magazine, Playboy, and a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, and place them where he’s guaranteed to look. This distraction may just save your life.
9. What are you wearing?
If you get this text from your first sergeant, you should probably be worried. DON’T RESPOND. Let’s just pretend this one never happened.
Pugh was working as a commercial airplane mechanic in Kuwait, but was fired in December 2014. The next month, authorities say he purchased a one-way ticket to Istanbul through Cairo, where Pugh refused to let Turkish authorities search his laptop. The Turks sent him packing back to Egypt. Once back in Egypt, security officers found a number of damaged electronics. The Egyptians deported Pugh back to the United States.
Once there, Pugh told an undercover law enforcement agent he was indeed trying to join the terrorist group. Prosecutors say his laptop had Islamist propaganda videos on it, along with a letter to a woman he married in Egypt in 2014, where he vowed to “defend the ISIS.”
The FBI says Pugh converted to Islam in 1998 while living and working Texas. Former co-workers say he became radicalized, openly sympathizing with Osama bin Laden.
He was indicted by a grand jury in Brooklyn on two charges, including attempting to provide material support to a terror organization. Twenty-three Americans have been charged for trying to fight for ISIS. Pugh pled not guilty.