Veteran uses artistic expression to cope with PTSD - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

Veteran uses artistic expression to cope with PTSD

Thirteen years after a medical discharge from the Air Force, photographer Omar Columbus received an assignment that was the stuff of dreams: to shoot for a hip fashion and culture magazine filled with models and feature-length stories.

It was a long road for Columbus to travel, to use photography and writing to cope with PTSD, to suddenly shooting fashion in New York City. But it wasn’t always this way.

Columbus grew up in Washington, North Carolina, raised by a single mom. Feeling that he did not have much opportunity, he enlisted into the Air Force, serving from 1994 to 2006. In that time, Columbus served in South Korea, Colorado Springs, and to Saudi Arabia in 2003 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.


After exiting service, Columbus moved to New York City, where he found art and community in veterans’ writing groups around the city. He found his voice through writing poetry and performing with Warrior Writers, Craft of War Writing, and Voices from War.

Veteran uses artistic expression to cope with PTSD

Veteran Omar Columbus and Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Marion Creasap.

“My PTSD is related to specific things I experienced on deployment, as well as a general feeling of guilt,” says Columbus. Writing poetry gave him a sense of confidence, a way to express traumas of his military experience through art. The chance to perform in front of civilians is powerful. “Words like desert, combat, and bomb become part of artistic expression rather than just association with personal guilt and doubt or shame.”

Columbus also recognized that photography gave him a way to manage his anxiety in public. Through the imaginary barrier created with his camera lens, he chooses if he wants to interact with his subjects or just photograph the streets from a distance. Featured in a group gallery show at the legendary Salmagundi Club in Manhattan, Columbus recently sold a photo collage called “New Yawk State of Mind.”

Columbus found help at the VA NY Harbor, with his psychiatric nurse practitioner, mentor and counselor, Marion Creasap, who has been a steadying and stabilizing influence. “She’s been a rock for me to hold on to when I was down and wanted to give up.”

Veteran uses artistic expression to cope with PTSD

“Eye on Brooklyn” collage by Omar Columbus.

Recently, celebrity fashion photographer and TV personality, Mike Ruiz, called Columbus and made him an extraordinary offer. He wanted Columbus to photograph a project. “The photoshoot was over-the-top and such an exhilarating experience,” Columbus recalled.

Now, Columbus is giving back, to help others as he has been helped. Later this year, he will be sending disposable cameras to service members deployed to Afghanistan, to capture the good times with their friends. He raised id=”listicle-2639096820″,000 to purchase boxes of Girl Scout Cookies and sent them to military personnel serving on the front lines to remind them of home.

“The biggest reward was the photos they sent back holding up the boxes of cookies and the joy on their faces,” said Columbus. “I want to do more of that.”

The taste of acknowledgment has helped Columbus feel optimistic. “I want to be a healer and advocate for veterans through art. Hear my story, hear my words.”

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

US Air Force bases could be getting new names

The US’s long-awaited Space Force was officially established on December 20, when President Donald Trump signed the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act.

Space Force was created from US Air Force Space Command but is still part of the Air Force, much like the Marine Corps is a part of the Navy Department. Space Force is not meant to put troops into space but will provide forces and assets to Space Command, which leads US military space operations.


The secretary of the Air Force has to tell Congress by February 1 how Space Force will be organized and its expected funding needs. But there are still “thousands and thousands of actions that are going to have to take place” over the next 18 months, Air Force Gen. Jay Raymond said on December 20

Among those is the renaming of Air Force bases to reflect the space mission, according to Raymond, who is head of US Space Command and will lead Space Force as its first chief of space operations.

“We do have a plan to rename the principal Air Force bases that house space units to be space bases,” Raymond said.

“I just want to point out, though, that we will rely very heavily on the Air Force to operate those bases,” he added. “But we’ll work to rename those to match the mission of the base.”

Raymond mentioned five Air Force bases that could be renamed — Patrick Air Force Base, for example, could become Patrick Space Base — but he said “his list wasn’t necessarily all inclusive,” Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said in an email last week, adding that the service was “still working through the details” and didn’t currently have any other information about renaming bases.

Below, you can see some of the bases that may soon have new names.

Veteran uses artistic expression to cope with PTSD

A C-17 Globemaster III at Buckley Air Force Base, March 19, 2019.

(US Air Force/Airman 1st Class Michael D. Mathews)

Located in Aurora, Colorado, Buckley AFB’s host unit is the 460th Space Wing, the mission of which is “to deliver global infrared surveillance, tracking and missile warning for theater and homeland defense and provide combatant commanders with expeditionary warrior airmen.”

In its day-to-day operations, the 460th SW directly supports combatant commands around the world.

Veteran uses artistic expression to cope with PTSD

Runners exit the north portal of Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station during the Zombie Tunnel 5k Fun Run, Oct. 20, 2017.

(US Air Force/Steve Koteck)

Cheyenne Mountain AFS is located near Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, home to the headquarters of North American Aerospace Defense Command and US Northern Command.

While Raymond didn’t mention Cheyenne Mountain by name, it is a big part of US space operations. It is the alternate command center for NORAD and Northern Command and is a training site for crew qualification.

“NORAD and USNORTHCOM use just under 30% of the floor space within the complex and comprise approximately 5% of the daily population at Cheyenne Mountain,” according to NORAD. But it is owned and operated by Air Force Space Command, which is now Space Force.

Veteran uses artistic expression to cope with PTSD

Staff Sgt. Heather Heiney takes photos on the flight line at Peterson Air Force Base, July 3, 2019.

(US Air Force/Tech. Sgt. Frank Casciotta)

In addition to hosting the headquarters for NORAD and Northern Command, Peterson Air Force Base is headquarters for Air Force Space Command and now for Space Force.

It is also home to the 21st Space Wing, the Air Force’s most geographically dispersed wing and the fifth-largest wing in the Air Force by number of units.

“We literally cover the world with our operations,” the base’s website says.

The 21st SW uses a network of command-and-control units as well as ground- and space-based sensors operated by units around the world to provide missile warning and space control to NORAD.

Veteran uses artistic expression to cope with PTSD

50th Operations Support Squadron students at Schriever Air Force Base, January 10, 2019.

(US Air Force/2nd Lt. Idalí Beltré Acevedo)

East of Peterson AFB in Colorado Springs, Schriever AFB’s host unit is the 50th Space Wing, the mission of which is “to evolve space and cyberspace warfighting superiority through integrated and innovative operations.”

The 50th SW and its 16 units around the world provide “command and control of more than 185 satellites, to include commercial, DoD and civil assets,” the base’s website says.

The wing runs satellite operation centers at Schriever AFB and remote-tracking stations and command-and-control facilities across the planet, at which it monitors satellites throughout their service life.

Among the space operations that the wing supports are the Global Positioning System, defense meteorological and surveillance programs, and the mysterious X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle.

Veteran uses artistic expression to cope with PTSD

Air Force Gen. Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, head of Northern Command and NORAD, tours Vandenberg Air Force Base, August 7, 2018.

(US Air Force/Tech. Sgt. Jim Araos)

Vandenberg Air Force Base

Located in a remote area north of Los Angeles, Vandenberg AFB is headquarters for the 30th Space Wing, which manages space and missile testing for the Pentagon, launches satellites and spacecraft, and supports the Minuteman III ICBM force development evaluation program.

Vandenberg is also home to the 14th Air Force, which on December 27 was redesignated as Space Operations Command, which “directly supports the US Space Force’s mission to protect the interests of the United States in space; deter aggression in, from and to space; and conduct space operations.”

SPOC comprises the five space wings on this list as well as the 614th Air and Space Operations Center, which is the SPOC commander’s command-and-control center at Vandenberg.

Among other things, SPOC will provide space domain awareness and electronic warfare, satellite communications, missile-warning and nuclear-detonation detection, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance for Space Force and Space Command and other combatant commands.

Veteran uses artistic expression to cope with PTSD

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, May 23, 2019.

(US Air Force/1st Lt Alex Preisser)

Patrick Air Force Base

Patrick Air Force Base is on Florida’s Atlantic coast near Orlando, and its host unit is the 45th Space Wing.

The wing operates the Eastern Range, which supports rocket and missile launches at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Kennedy Space Center. It also oversees satellite launches at Cape Canaveral for the US military and civilian agencies and commercial entities.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket was launched from Cape Canaveral on Monday with Starlink satellites in the first launch of 2020 and the wing’s first launch as a part of Space Force.

“The effects the new Space Force will have on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Patrick Air Force Base has not been announced yet, but continuing to successfully accomplish the mission without interruption is our top priority,” 45th Wing commander Brig. Gen. Doug Schiess said January 3.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

China cries at launch of new Japanese destroyer

Japan recently launched a new class of destroyer with top-of-the line US missile-defense technology, and despite Japan’s mostly defensive posture, China portrayed the ship as a dangerous menace.

The seven decades since World War II, which concluded with the US dropping two atomic bombs on Japan, have seen the rise of a strong US-Japanese alliance and peace across the Pacific.


Japan, following its colonization of much of China during the war, renounced military aggression after surrendering to the US. Since then, Japan hasn’t kept a standing military but maintains what it calls a self-defense force. Japan’s constitution strictly limits defense spending and doesn’t allow the deployment of troops overseas.

But threats from North Korea, which several times has fired nuclear-capable missiles over Japan, have prompted a desire in Tokyo for missile defenses, which the US has obliged, manifesting itself in part in Japan’s new Maya destroyer class.

Veteran uses artistic expression to cope with PTSD

Japan’s Maya-class ballistic missile defense destroyer

(Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force)

“It’s not a big deal that they have this ship,” Veerle Nouwens, an Asia-Pacific expert at the Royal United Services Institute, told Business Insider. “They’re using it for military exchanges or diplomacy. That’s effectively what it’s doing by going around to India, Sri Lanka, and Singapore.”

The new destroyer isn’t a radical departure from Japan’s old ones and will spend most of its time training with and visiting neighboring militaries. The destroyer isn’t exactly a rubber ducky, but it has one of the more peaceful missions imaginable for a warship.

One reason it may have drawn rebuke from Beijing is simple geography. This destroyer will have to pass through the South China Sea, and that is extremely sensitive for Beijing, which unilaterally claims almost the whole sea as its own in open defiance of international law.

China’s Global Times state-linked media outlet responded to the ship’s launch by saying it was “potentially targeting China and threatening other countries,” citing Chinese experts.

“Once absolute security is realized by Japan and the US, they could attack other countries without scruples,” one such expert said, “which will certainly destabilize other regions.”

Veteran uses artistic expression to cope with PTSD

The various territorial claims over the South China Sea

China’s real game

“China seeks full control over the South China Sea,” Nouwens said. “We can say that quite squarely. It seeks to displace the US from its traditional position from its regional dominance in Southeast Asia and the Asia-Pacific more widely.”Since World War II, the US, particularly the US Navy, has enforced free and open seas and a rules-based world order. Imposed at a massive cost to the US, this order has enriched the world and specifically China, as safe shipping in open waters came as a given to businesses around the globe.

But now, Nouwens said, “China is threatening to lead to a situation where that may not be a given anymore.”

China has repeatedly threatened force against countries that seek to undertake simple activities, like fishing, within their own UN-designated maritime borders. But when a US Navy ship passes through the South China Sea, Beijing calls it provocative, unhelpful, or destabilizing.

“When other countries do it, it’s threatening,” Nouwens said. “When China does it to other countries, it’s fine.”

That the only two countries to ever engage in nuclear war can now work together as partners looking to protect the rights of all countries on the high seas might represent a welcome and peaceful development.

But for Beijing, which fundamentally seeks to undermine that world order to further its goals of dominating Asia, it’s cause for worry.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

The Army is paying to train soldiers for new jobs and for their spouses to get licenses

Soldiers and their spouses now have two big ways to advance their professional goals, thanks to two new Army initiatives. Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston recently spoke with We Are the Mighty to explain the Army’s new Credentialing Assistance Program and the changes to the Army’s Spouse Licensure Reimbursement Program, both designed to give soldiers and their spouses better career options.


Grinston said that under the Army Credentialing Assistance Program, active, Guard and Reserve soldiers would be able to receive up to $4,000 annually to use toward obtaining professional credentials, in much the same way that tuition assistance is currently available. In fact, a soldier can use both tuition assistance and credentialing assistance, but the combined total cannot exceed $4,000.

Veteran uses artistic expression to cope with PTSD

“The world has evolved and some of these credentials are equally important to a college degree,” Grinston said. “We want to give all opportunities to our soldiers, and not just limit them to a 4-year degree. We have the best soldiers in the world and they do incredible things in the Army, and they should be able to keep doing those things when they get out. It’s good for them and it’s good for the military – we’re making better soldiers, as well as better welders and better medics.”

Soldiers are now able to use credentialing assistance for any of the 1,600 professional credentials currently available in the Army Credentialing Opportunities Online (COOL) portal, and the credentials they pursue do not have to align with the soldier’s military occupational specialty (MOS). Right now, the most popular credential soldiers choose to pursue is private airplane pilot, he said.

“We allow you to get a credential in your interest because your interests may change over time. I don’t think we should limit our soldiers to their MOS. It’s all about making a better soldier, and at some point, everyone leaves the military, so I don’t think we should limit them to their MOS.”

Grinston said the Credentialing Assistance Program reflects the priority Chief of Staff of the Army James McConville set to put people first, and he said that commitment extends beyond the soldier to the soldier’s spouse and family, too. That’s why the Army is doubling the maximum amount available under the Spouse Licensure Reimbursement Program from 0 to id=”listicle-2645503326″,000 and expanding the program so that spouses who move overseas will also be eligible to be reimbursed for licensing fees.

“We ask a lot of our spouses, we ask them to do a lot of things. We want them to be able to get relicensed, but we’ve been making them pay for that out of pocket,” Grinston said. “If we’re going to put people first, we need to put resources behind that.”

The motivation for changing the spouse licensing reimbursement program came from experiences Grinston has seen with his wife, a teacher, as she tries to re-enter the workforce.

Veteran uses artistic expression to cope with PTSD

He also said it arose out of the small group meetings he regularly holds with Army spouses around the country. During a session at Ft. Knox, a military spouse told him that she was a behavioral health specialist and that when they moved, the state of Kentucky required her to take more credits in order to be licensed.

“We still have a long way to go, but I’m working with state reciprocity so we can do more for spouses as we move them from one location to the next,” Grinston said, noting that that particular spouse’s story really struck him. “We need behavioral health specialists to work. We need them right now.”

He said that the Army is working with every state to align licensure requirements so that a spouse who is licensed and working in one state will be able to continue working when their family moves with the Army. Internally, the Army is also looking at ways to streamline the screening process for jobs at Army Child Development Centers (CDCs) so that a spouse who has already passed the background screening and is working at one CDC will not have to resubmit to the screening process when the family moves.

“If you’ve already gone through the background screening for, say, the CDC at Bragg and now you’re moving to Hood, you shouldn’t have to go through the screening again,” Grinston said. “We need CDC caregivers, now. If we hire more, we can add a classroom, and that’s 10 more kids off the waitlist. Less of our kids on the waitlist, that’s another way we can put people first. People first is something we’ve always tried to do, and now we’re trying to do it even better.”

MIGHTY CULTURE

Men who lied about military service ordered by judge to wear ‘I am a liar’ signs

Yes, you read that correctly. No, this isn’t a headline at The Onion. In what seems like a fever dream cross between “The Scarlett Letter” and a Tom Clancy novel, two Montana men were ordered, by a judge, to wear “I am a liar” signs. Here’s the catch: that’s not the only creative punishment in store for the duplicitous men.


Veteran uses artistic expression to cope with PTSD

Judge Greg Pinski holds up the text for the “I am a liar” signs.

(CBS News)

Judge Greg Pinski, of Cascade County District Montana, delivered the unorthodox sentence two weeks ago. The two men on the receiving end of the punishment, Ryan Patrick Morris (28) and Troy Allan Nelson (33), were also instructed to wear signs saying “I am a liar. I am not a veteran. I stole valor. I have dishonored all veterans” at the Montana Veterans Memorial. According to The Great Falls Tribune, they were also ordered to write down the names of Americans killed in the line of duty.

The two men had recent prior convictions from the same judge: Morris with a felony burglary charge, and Nelson with a felony possession charge. However, the two were ordered back to court for violating the conditions of their release. According to The Military Times, the two men lied about their military involvement in order to have their cases moved to a veterans court. Morris falsely claimed that he had done multiple combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and was afflicted with PTSD from an IED that supposedly exploded and injured him. While Nelson was falsely enrolled in a Veterans Treatment Court.

It was then that Judge Pinski offered them early parole, if and only if they cooperated with a slew of stipulations. Pinski stipulated that every year, during the suspended portions of their sentences, they were to wear the signs about their necks, and stand for 8 hours on Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day at the Montana Veteran’s Memorial.

Pinksi cited a Montana Supreme Court case that he said gives him jurisdiction for his unconventional punishment on account of his justified suspicion of stolen valor.

Veteran uses artistic expression to cope with PTSD

Judge Greg Pinski at the Montana Veterans Memorial on Veteran’s Day, 2015.

(Senior Master Sgt. Eric Peterson)

In addition, both men were required to hand-write the names of all 6,756 Americans killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as write out the obituaries of the 40 fallen soldiers from Montana.

The buck didn’t stop there. Judge Pinski also ordered the men to hand-write out their admissions of guilt and apologize in letters to: American Legion, AMVETS, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Disabled American Veterans, The Vietnam Veterans of America, and The Veterans of Foreign Wars.

The buck didn’t even stop there. In addition to all of the aforementioned tasks, the men were also required to perform 441 hours of community service each—one hour for each Montana citizen who died in conflict since the Korean War.

The men agreed to the terms, and if they complete all of the given tasks, they will be eligible for early release.

Morris was sentenced to 10 years with three years suspended in Montana State Prison, and Nelson was sentenced to five years, two years suspended.

According to The Military Times, Judge Pinksi was quoted saying “I want to make sure that my message is received loud and clear by these two defendants […] You’ve been nothing but disrespectful in your conduct. You certainly have not respected the Army. You’ve not respected the veterans. You’ve not respected the court. And you haven’t respected yourselves.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

C-17 crew manages stunning evacuation in tough weather

As if by fate, a weather delay in Germany allowed a group of reservists to embark on a challenging 22-and-a-half-hour mission to help save a fellow service member.

When severe weather delayed a C-17 aircrew from the 315th Airlift Wing heading home to Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina was delayed in Germany Nov. 3, 2018, the crew was asked to take on an emergency mission transporting a burn patient to Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas.


“When our mission was delayed, everyone was a little frustrated because they had to get back to their civilian jobs,” said Capt. Dennis Conner, the mission’s aircraft commander from the 701st Airlift Squadron. “Then I get a call asking if we would stay out and take a medical evacuation mission because there was a Soldier who was pretty badly burned. There was not one hesitation, the entire crew stepped up. They put their civilian lives on hold to do this; they missed work and school to get him home.”

The soldier was transported from Hungary to Ramstein Air Base, Germany, by an Air Force aeromedical evacuation team and was destined for the U.S. Army Institute for Surgical Research Burn Center at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.

Veteran uses artistic expression to cope with PTSD

C-17 Globemaster IIIs from Joint Base Charleston, S.C., return home after supporting a large formation exercise May 25, 2017.

According to the Daily News Hungary, “an American soldier was electrocuted at the Ferencváros railway station when he climbed up to a cargo train transporting combat vehicles.” The article states there was an electrical line carrying 25,000 volts above the train’s cargo, potentially causing the incident. The Hungarian National Health Service also gave details of the incident, “40 percent of the man’s body suffered second and third degree burns. What is more, he seemed to have broken his femur,” said Pál Győrfy, spokesperson for the organization.

“It was an unbelievable effort. No other country in the world would go to the extent we did to help one of our warfighters,” said Capt. Bryan Chianella, one of the 701 AS pilots on the mission. “We do what we can to take care of our own.”

During the flight, the C-17 was scheduled to do an aerial refueling so it could continue to San Antonio without stopping, said Conner.

“It was chaos,” he said. “Ten minutes before our AR, the tanker lost one of their engines and had to turn around. We did a lot of planning for this mission… We had several backup plans in place. We could only land in Boston or (Joint Base Andrews, Maryland) because if our jet broke down, he needed to be close to a burn center. Since we had strong headwinds, we didn’t have enough gas to get us to Andrews; we had to try to make it to Boston.”


“It was pretty stressful,” said Chianella. “They only had enough pain meds for our original flight time plus two hours and we landed in Boston with our emergency fuel.”

With the quick stop in Boston for fuel, the crew took off for San Antonio and landed at Lackland AFB, Texas then returned to home to Charleston with no further incidents.

“This was one of those missions where you make a difference helping a brother in arms,” said Master Sgt. Glenn Walker, the flying crew chief on the mission from the 315th Maintenance Squadron. “We all came together as a team and worked like a flawless Swiss watch,” he said.

Both Conner and Chianella also credited the crew’s teamwork in making the mission a success.

“I was very proud of the entire crew. I didn’t do anything special, the crew just did what they do and made this mission happen,” explained Connor.

This article originally appeared on the United States Air Force. Follow @usairforce on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

China’s president is kind of a big deal


  • The name of President Xi Jinping has been written into China’s constitution.
  • This makes Xi the country’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong.
  • The change was supported by 2,300 Communist Party members at the close of the party’s congress on October.

President Xi Jinping has become China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong.

Xi’s name was added to China’s constitution on October 24, the first time a living leader’s name had been added since Mao ruled from 1935 until his death in 1976.

Related: China is close to entering the ‘war on terror’ — and they won’t be on our side

The political ideologies of China’s presidents have usually been added to the country’s constitution, but only Mao and Xi have been named in the title of those theories.

The amendment, called “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era,” was approved by all 2,300 delegates attending the congress. Xi is now considered the most important party leader alive — above former presidents and his eventual successor.

Veteran uses artistic expression to cope with PTSD
Russian President Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the opening ceremony of the Russia-China Naval Interaction 2014 joint exercises. Photo from Moscow Kremlin.

This departure from tradition indicates immense party support for Xi and his strict leadership style; that support could be crucial as Xi eyes a potential third term as president, which would also break with the two-term tradition. The biggest indicator for Xi’s 2022 plans could emerge Wednesday, when the party’s new senior leadership is announced.

If Xi does not give a nod to a young and experienced successor under 60 years of age, or ignores unofficial retirement-age rules, it may indicate the Chinese president will seek a third term in the next five years.

Also read: This is what China will do if the US attacks North Korea

The Chinese constitution stipulates that a president can serve only two five-year terms. Xi, however, could rally party support to stay for a third term or continue leading from his other role of party secretary-general — which actually outranks the president. Both options are more likely with Xi’s strong party support. Another option is to revive the title of party chairman, a label that has not been used since Mao held it.

During the congress’ closing session, party leaders referred to Xi as the country’s “core” leader, a term first used to describe Mao.

MIGHTY TRENDING

B-52s flew over disputed areas in a challenge to the Chinese military

The US has reportedly made a bold move in countering Beijing’s growing dominance in the South China Sea by flying B-52 nuclear-capable bombers over disputed islands — and it shows how the US and China may rapidly be approaching a showdown.

The flight of the B-52s, reported by CNN but denied by the Pentagon, follows China landing nuclear-capable bombers of its own on the islands and years of Beijing ignoring international law to bully its neighbors and seize control of the waterway that sees trillions in annual shipping and holds untold billions in natural resources.


It also follows Defense Secretary Jim Mattis calling out China at a conference in Singapore, according to CNN.

“China’s militarization of artificial features in the South China Sea includes the deployment of anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missiles, electronic jammers, and more recently, the landing of bomber aircraft at Woody Island,” Mattis said.

Chinese President Xi Jinping swore at the White House with former President Barack Obama in 2015 that he would not militarize the islands, and continues to claim the islands have not been militarized despite the obvious presence of military equipment.

Veteran uses artistic expression to cope with PTSD
Chinese President Xi Jinping

China now calls claims that the islands are militarized “ridiculous,” but Mattis wasn’t having that.

“The placement of these weapons systems is tied directly to military use for the purposes of intimidation and coercion,” said Mattis.

The B-52s reportedly flew within 20 miles of the Spratly Islands, which China claims for itself and has built military facilities on. But Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Taiwan also claim the islands, and China has repeatedly made a show of refusing to let international courts settle the matter.

The US has a lot of experience taking down small islands

Veteran uses artistic expression to cope with PTSD
A WWII-era US battleship fires its deck guns.
(U.S. Navy photo)

Earlier in June 2018, a top US general asserted the US military’s power to act against threats to international order, saying “the United States military has had a lot of experience in the Western Pacific, taking down small islands.”

In another rhetorical shift, the US military renamed its Pacific command “Indo-Pacific command” to emphasize India and advance a vision of the Pacific not dominated by China.

But China shows no sign of stopping its march to domination of the valuable waterway, recently using its navy to block out the Philippine navy from feeding its own troops on one of its holdings in the South China Sea.

China’s dominance meets US resolve

Veteran uses artistic expression to cope with PTSD
A B-52 Stratofortress takes off from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, to participate in an exercise scenario.u00a0The aircraft, aircrew and maintainers are deployed from Barksdale AFB, La., as part of the continuous bomber presence in the Pacific region.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Master Sgt. Mahmoud Rasouliyan)

In meetings with Vietnam and the Philippines, China has been understood to threaten force against the smaller countries if they undertake activity in their own, legally claimed waters.

When the US challenges Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea, or any country’s excessive maritime claims (the US challenged 22 nations in 2016), it usually does so with a US Navy destroyer.

If the US flew nuclear bombers across the island, that would mark a clear escalation and perhaps the beginning of US military actions matching its rhetoric.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Check out these ridiculous photos of Kim Jong Un riding a white horse

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had a photoshoot on a white horse on Mt. Paektu, a symbolically important location for his family and for North Korea.

Kim Jong Un has had similar trips and photo shoots before; during one such trip, North Korean state media claimed that the rotund dictator climbed Mt. Paektu, while photos of the event showed him in leather business shoes.

Of course, the photo caused a stir on Twitter, with some Photoshopping the pictures into prestige drama ads for Netflix:


Or bringing up a similar winter photoshoot:

But apart from looking faintly ridiculous to the outside world, the new photos from the Hermit Kingdom are shot through with meaning, according to experts. Read on to see what Kim Jong Un’s snowy ride means.

Veteran uses artistic expression to cope with PTSD

The North Korean leader on the side of Mount Paektu.

(KCNA)

Propaganda images are nothing new for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The North Korean propaganda machine is an important part of the regime.

Photos of the North Korean leader climbing the mountain on horseback is “a great event of weighty importance in the history of the Korean revolution,” according to KCNA, the North Korean state media.

North Korean propaganda is nothing new; in fact, it’s everywhere in the country. From posters showing the US’s evil aggression toward North Korea, to Kim’s winter wonderland, controlling the message in the hermit kingdom is vital in order to keep citizens obedient and in the dark about the rest of the world.

Veteran uses artistic expression to cope with PTSD

(KCNA)

Kim rides an immaculate, snow-white horse to match his surroundings. But it’s not just about equine aesthetics.

The white steed upon which Kim Jong-Un is seated is reminiscent of the legendary creatures Chollima, a winged horse, and Mallima, a horse with incredible speend and indurance, according to Reuters.

Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Un’s grandfather, was also supposedly visited by a white steed during his guerilla days, according to The Washington Post.

There are postage stamps of Kim Jong Il riding white horses on Mt. Paektu, according to Michael Madden, a North Korea researcher for the Stimson Center, but “no one’s had the balls to take a horse up there,” he said.

Kim Jong Un resembles his grandfather physically, and has had a number of propaganda photos mirroring his grandfather’s. Kim Jong Un’s resemblance of his grandfather allows him to “project power and gravitas,” Madsen told The Guardian in 2014.

Kim Jong Un isn’t the only person harkening the past in the photo shoot, though; in other photos, his sister, Kim Yo Jong, is riding a horse like the one her father used to ride, and is dressed like her grandmother, Kim Il Sung’s first wife Kim Jong Suk, who is considered the mother of North Korea and holds vital importance in the country’s mythology.

Veteran uses artistic expression to cope with PTSD

(KCNA)

Mt. Paektu is a loaded location for the Kim family — and North Koreans.

Mt. Paektu is an important place for the Kim family, as it cements their status as the rightful rulers of North Korea.

It’s said to be the “location of Kim Il Sung’s mythical guerrilla base,” Joshua Pollack, a North Korea researcher at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies told Reuters. Kim Il Sung, the current leader’s grandfather, was the first leader of North Korea, and the country’s mythology sees him as a great guerilla fighter against imperilalist Japan, which ruled the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945.

Of this latest photoshoot, Pollack said, “The location and the clothes are meant to evoke the founder’s legacy.”

And according to North Korean state media, Mt. Paektu is where Kim Jong Un’s father, Kim Jong Il, was born, although it’s more likely he was born in the Soviet Union. It’s also, according to legend, where Dagun, the leader of the first Korean kingdom, was born thousands of years ago, according to the BBC.

There are two Kim family compounds nearby, including one built by Kim Jong Il on Mt. Paektu, Madden told Insider. Somewhere in the vicinity — perhaps at that compound — is the secure facility Madden referred to as the “North Korean panic room,” where the Kim family can head in case of disaster. They also have the option of crossing the nearby border into China.

Veteran uses artistic expression to cope with PTSD

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un rides a horse during snowfall in Mount Paektu in this image released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Oct. 16, 2019.

(KCNA)

While the photos may look absurd, they’re intended to have a very serious message.

“This is a statement, symbolic of defiance,” Pollack told The Washington Post. “The pursuit of sanctions relief is over. Nothing is made explicit here, but it starts to set new expectations about the coming course of policy for 2020.”

North Koreans have suffered from international sanctions due to its nuclear program; the photos seem to show that North Korea will not bow to international pressure.

According to multiple reports, Kim Jong Un has visted Mt. Paektu prior to major announcements or policy decisions before. For example, a 2017 trip came just days after the North Korean military launched its largest-ever intercontinental ballistic missile.

Madden told Insider that the photo shoot most likely portends a military announcement of some kind, possibly that North Korea and China are announcing a long-term strategic aggreement. “A member of the Chinese Military Commission is in North Korea right now, and [talks are] going very, very, very well,” he told Insider.

Madden told Insider that “North Korea in 2020 is either going to launch a rocket, or announce that they have attained the ability to perform sub-critical nuclear tests,” and the photos could be in advance of such an announcement.

Whatever the announcement is, it’s almost certainly not about making concessions to the US or any of its allies, Madden said.

“North Korea has massively regressed in the past few months,” in terms of foreign policy “and I have no idea why,” Madden noted.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Don’t be the ‘Grey Man.’ Be yourself at Special Forces selection

When talking about the do’s and don’ts of taking on the Special Operations Assessment and Selection courses that the military has to offer, there are a ton of opinions out there, and I feel, a lot of misconceptions as well. This is particularly true when it comes to being the “Grey Man,” which is a common name people use to describe an operator who can blend seamlessly into their environment.

I’ve been asked about this countless times in emails. One of the more common questions I receive from prospective candidates is always about trying to blend in at Assessment and Selection — being the Grey Man. I spoke with someone just in the past few weeks about this very subject. 

There is no shortage of people who will tell you being the Grey Man is important, some of them will be Special Operations Selection cadre members. So, respectively, I’ll disagree. Overall, unless you’re an intelligence professional trained at blending in and being invisible, I will stick with my original advice and say in the majority of instances, it isn’t a smart thing to do. I will explain why below, but first, my caveat:

Yes, there are times when you absolutely, positively need to be the guy people standing in front of you are going to look right past while giving their “attention” to someone else.

The first one is if you are in SERE School (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape). The last thing you want at SERE is to stand out in any way. Standing out to the guard force in the POW camp usually means you’re going to withstand some “corrective measures.” 

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(U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Elizabeth Baker)

Being the biggest member of the prisoners or the most senior guy in the SERE Class is not a good way to be the grey man. The SRO (Senior Ranking Officer) is always singled out for real or perceived rules infractions….you get the idea. Once you get through the Selection process and into the training pipeline, you’ll get to experience SERE up close and personal and all of your questions will be answered.

The second example of when it’s a good time to be a “grey man” is when you’re doing some kind of undercover intelligence work. Then you want to blend into your surroundings. If someone saw you walking down a busy street in an urban environment, you don’t want to raise an alarm among surveillance operatives watching for that type of operation. 

This has a lot to do with demeanor, dress, mannerisms, and movement. Special Forces has a training program that teaches all of this and much more. But the course and the acronym associated with it will come after your training is complete and you move on to the operational units and get some experience under your belt.

Veteran uses artistic expression to cope with PTSD
(Sgt. 1st Class Jacob Connor)

So, we’re back to the 800-lb gorilla in the room, and the question is, “Why not be the grey man during Selection?” You will see blog posts from people, message boards, and social media posts all telling candidates “Be the grey man” or something remotely similar. I see it all the time. So why is it actually a bad idea? 

As a former Selection cadre member, I’ll let you in on my perceptions: Trying to be the Grey Man just may put a huge bulls-eye on your forehead.  

As I mentioned above, most people aren’t trained properly to be a grey man. And if it appears to the Selection cadre that you are trying to blend into the background, that isn’t a good thing. To the cadre members, it appears like you’re trying to “ghost” through events (as we called it during my time there). And if a guy is going to ghost during Selection, then he certainly will on a team. 

Veteran uses artistic expression to cope with PTSD
If you’re “ghosting,” you aren’t carrying your weight within the team. (U.S. Army photo)

Back in the day, when I had the night duty during a course, one of the other cadre members and I would wander around the candidates’ barracks at night with no berets, just being the “grey men” of the cadre. We wanted to hear the chatter of the class and see how well or not-so-well they were holding up. 

These conversations would sometimes be quite telling, especially during team week. More than once, we heard candidates who passed their patrol (the criteria has since changed, thank you LTC Brian Decker) talk about coasting through the last few events to make it through the long-range movement. Bad idea.

Then there were the others, guys who passed their patrol and were volunteering to help out the next day’s guys who would be in the barrel and under the microscope. More than once we heard conversations similar to this:

“Hey bud, whatever happens, tomorrow, put me on lashings, I’m really good at that, and that’s one thing you won’t have to worry about.”

That’s the guy I want on my team. He’s not done yet, he’s looking out for his teammates. He’s going to get high marks on his peer reports. 

Veteran uses artistic expression to cope with PTSD
(Special Forces Assessment, U.S. Army photo)

Special Operations isn’t looking for cookie-cutter robots. We understand that everyone is different and there are certainly guys who are characters. You’ll undoubtedly have some in your class. 

That’s why my advice is always, “be yourself.” When I was there, our cadre was made up of the most eclectic group of people that I’ve ever worked with. There was never a dull moment and every NCO, although vastly different, respected who each one of us was. And we all got along because we had the humility to understand that every person brings some unique element to the table.

If you’re a rah-rah type of guy, then be that guy. If you are a quiet, lead by example type of guy, that’s fine…be him. Don’t try to be something you’re not. Sometimes the characters of the class would lift everyone around him. All of the cadre members had those types of guys in their own classes, and they know how valuable they are to keeping up class morale, and for team-building. 

Veteran uses artistic expression to cope with PTSD
(U.S. Army photo)

My own class in the SFQC (Special Forces Qualification Course) had a tremendous NCO who we called “CPT Camouflage” during Land Nav. He would wear some outlandish get-up; PT Shorts hiked way too high, jungle boots, with a poncho pulled over his head like a cape with eye holes cut out. He’d run through the woodline offering the craziest encouragement to “lost Land Nav Students everywhere.” As dumb as it sounds, our class loved it. And after a day or so, the cadre would ask if “Captain Camouflage” had any words for the class after we’d return from the day’s or night’s navigation practice.

I recently recorded a podcast with Mike Sarraille, a Navy SEAL officer who has written a book on Special Operations leadership and how civilian companies should incorporate the lessons of Selection and Assessment into their hiring process. 

Mike was a successful Marine NCO with Recon before becoming an officer. During BUDs training to become a SEAL, the other members of his class naturally gravitated toward Mike because of his experience, military bearing, and demeanor. That’s who he is. If he tried to blend into the background, the SEAL instructors would have seen right through that and he would have never passed or gone on to become the officer he was. 

Veteran uses artistic expression to cope with PTSD
Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUDS) candidates cover themselves in sand during surf passage on Naval Amphibious Base Coronado. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Michael Russell/Released)

Of course, “be yourself” has to be tempered with a bit of common sense. Don’t be overly argumentative with the cadre… even if you know that you may be right when receiving a critique. That will have the exact opposite effect of your intentions.  Don’t be a “Spotlight Ranger” either — those types never last long as they’ll get peered out quickly (failed by peer reviews). And please spare your war stories about leading an attack with the 18th Mess Kit Repair Unit in Iraq or someplace else. Nobody cares about that or is interested. 

Remember you are always being evaluated and assessed. This is a time for the cadre to see if you have the core attributes that make Special Operations troops the best in the world. Selection is the time where you begin building the reputation that will follow throughout your Special Operations career. And as big as it has grown, it is still a small community. Selection is the first step in the process of showing you belong in the Regiment. 

Trying to do so by blending in the background isn’t the way to do it. Be yourself, try to excel at everything, and remember, some of your fellow candidates may be better at some things than you are. That won’t change once you get to an operational unit. 

”Do the best you can.” (Yes you’ll hear that again.)

Photo courtesy: US Army

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.

MIGHTY TRENDING

DoD releases names of 3 soldiers killed in Afghanistan

The Army has released the names of three soldiers killed in Ghazni Province on Tuesday, November 27 by an IED strike that also wounded three more servicemembers and a U.S. contractor.


The deceased include Army Capt. Andrew Patrick Ross, 29, of Lexington, Virginia; Army Sgt. 1st Class Eric Michael Emond, 39, of Brush Prairie, Washington; and Air Force Staff Sgt. Dylan J. Elchin, 25, of Hookstown, Pennsylvania.

“Dylan had an unusual drive to succeed and contribute to the team. He displayed maturity and stoicism beyond his years, and was always level-headed, no matter the situation,” said Lt. Col. Gregory Walsh, commander of the 26th Special Tactics Squadron. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to Dylan’s family, fiancé, and friends. He will be sorely missed, but never forgotten.”

“Andrew and Eric were invaluable members and leaders in 3rd Special Forces Group and the special operations community. Our most heartfelt condolences go out to the families of these brave men,” said Col. Nathan Prussian, commander of 3rd Special Forces Group, in an Army Special Operations Command press release.

The city of Ghazni, the capital of the province of the same name, has been heavily contested in the past year as Taliban militants have asserted themselves there. Earlier this year, militants managed to take the city, forcing Afghan security forces and U.S. allies to retake it.

The deaths of these soldiers came only days after the loss of aU.S. Army Ranger, Sgt. Leandro Jasso, likely due to an accidental fratricide incident while working with Afghan personnel in a close-quarters battle. Also this month, Mayor Brent Taylor, a Utah National Guard major, was killed in an apparent attack by a rogue Afghan special forces soldier.

Veteran uses artistic expression to cope with PTSD

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Dylan Elchin, a Special Tactics combat controller with the 26th Special Tactics Squadron, was killed when his vehicle hit an improvised explosive device in Ghazni Province, Afghanistan, Nov. 27, 2018.

(U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)

Approximately 14,000 U.S. troops are deployed to Afghanistan in support of that country’s security forces. While U.S. and Afghan leaders are quick to point out that Afghan forces are in the lead and are taking the brunt of the casualties in fighting, the country is still reliant on American partners for some capabilities and help in others.

While Afghanistan has set up its own air support, intelligence networks, and even contracted for air ambulance services last year, some of the Afghan-led services have shown shortcomings. District centers have fallen every few weeks or months, though they often are retaken soon after.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, has said that there is no military solution to the stalemate in Afghanistan because the Taliban isn’t currently losing. Instead, he says that Afghan and international leaders should focus on taking the peace process forward while military forces provide them the window.

Articles

Soldiers in forestry program gain after-service job skills

Sally Gorrill’s career as an engineer in the US Army has taken her to such places as Panama and the Dominican Republic, where she’s built medical clinics. Now, she’s interested in applying her skills toward a new field: forestry.


Gorrill, 30, a captain who’s spent seven years in the Army, is part of a new summer internship program for soldiers through the Veterans Conservation Corps in New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest. She’s getting training in land management skills as she prepares to transition out of the service.

“It’s the closest I’ve been to home in about 12 years, so it feels great to be back,” said Gorrill, of Gray, Maine, who wants to spend her future outdoors.

So far, she and two other veterans in the program have learned how to maintain trails, keep away bears, and fight forest fires. She’ll also be learning about hydrology, wildlife biology, law enforcement, and other facets of the US Forest Service, which partnered with the Department of Defense on the project.

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Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Organizers hope the fledgling program will provide a model that can be applied nationally to assist more soldiers interested in land management.

Forest Ranger Jim Innes said the Forest Service nationwide is experiencing a lot of attrition through retirement. He said the agency has hired military veterans, who bring strong skills to the Forest Service.

“They bring a completely different way of looking at things to the agency,” he said. “There’s a huge benefit; we learn a lot from them, they learn a lot from us.”

Gorrill said some techniques used to fight wildfires are similar to ones learned in the military. “From my experience, having dealt with construction equipment, it’s probably the most direct translation, because digging trenches is something I’m used to,” she said.

Veteran uses artistic expression to cope with PTSD
White Mountain National Forest. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

One challenge for program organizers was providing lodging for the soldiers in the forest. They ended up renovating an old Civilian Conservation Corps-era structure known as “The Lodge” in the Bartlett Experimental Forest, a field laboratory for research on the ecology and management of northern hardwoods and associated ecosystems. The building hadn’t been used for about 10 years. The Forest Service received funding from businesses and volunteer help to install kitchen cabinets and handle electrical and plumbing work. Innes hopes it can be winterized so that program can run year-round.

The soldiers also will be getting help with resume writing and interview skills, as forest officials try to help place them in jobs.

Another participant, Terry Asbridge, 37, of Horseheads, New York, is getting ready to retire from the Army. He has completed 20 years, much of it in recruitment. His goal is to be a district park ranger, but he also can see himself working in firefighting, development or recreation in the forest.

“One of my passions is land management and wildlife management,” he said. “I can put this on my resume and apply for positions with the US Forest Service.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Philippine Navy just tested anti-tank missiles at sea

The Philippine Navy has successfully test-fired its first ever ship-borne missile, making it a much more capable force in tense regional waters.

Navy personnel aboard a multipurpose attack craft, or MPAC, operating in waters off Lamao Point in Bataan launched a Spike Extended Range missile at a target six kilometers away, the Inquirer, a local outlet, reported Aug. 9, 2018, citing an announcement by the Philippine Navy.


“The target was hit dead center even if the sea state condition was moderately rough with a wave of at least one meter high but within the normal firing conditions of the missile,” Navy public affairs chief Commander Jonathan Zata told reporters.

The test was part of a Sea Acceptance Test for the missile system first acquired in early 2018.

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The Philippines purchased the Spike ER missile system, which launches short-range surface-to-surface missiles, from Israel in late April 2018 for .6 million. The systems are expected to be installed on three fast MPAC gunboats, while its warships will be armed with longer-range missiles.

“It will be a deterrent because, this time, we have a credible armament that can strike a punch whether the target is a small or large ship,” a Philippine commander told Reuters in early May 2018.

The Philippines faces threats ranging from China’s militarization of the South China Sea to pirates in its southern waters. The country is preparing to spend .41 billion over the next five years to obtain warships, drones, fighter jets, radar systems, helicopters, and surveillance planes to bolster its capabilities.

The test-firing of the Spike ER missile system comes just a few weeks after Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte vowed to “defend our interest” in the South China Sea. China has expanded its military presence there, despite an international arbitration ruling two years ago that discredited China’s vast claims to the highly contested waterway.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

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