When we think about ways to give back to the veteran community and show our appreciation, we often turn to the standard monetary contributions and volunteer opportunities, but there are more creative ways to show our appreciation as well. One example of such an endeavor is the organization Pinups for Vets.
I recently had the founder of Pinups for Vets, Gina Elise, on the Military Veterans in Creative Careers podcast, and I was surprised and inspired by what she had to share. Gina started the organization in 2006 as a way to give back to the veteran community. After seeing images of veterans alone in hospital beds, and watching reports on the news of the severe injuries sustained by our troops fighting in Iraq, she became convinced that she had to do something to help raise funds to support our hospitalized veterans.
She had always been a fan of World War II nose art (on the nose of the plane), so decided to use this creative passion of hers to create calendars that could be donated to veterans and raise money for VA hospitals. Now it is a reality, and Gina not only produces the calendars, but brings a group together and goes to donate the calendars at VA hospitals, dressed as the pinups. The organization has donated over $50,000 worth of rehab equipment for VA hospitals nationwide, and has visited over 7,000 ill and injured veterans.
As you would imagine with a group that visits VA hospitals, the stories Gina had to share were touching. She mentioned a man who was in the hospital for a traumatic injury, and how they were talking with him and he responded. This wouldn’t have been a big deal, except for the fact that afterward they were told that this man had not spoken in over a month.
Navy veteran Jennifer Marshall is a return volunteer for these groups that go to VA hospitals, and shared with me the story of an elderly Navy veteran who cried because she was so happy to have this visit. The video of this touching moment is below:
Jennifer had the following to say about her volunteer experience with Pinups for Vets:
Volunteering with Pin-Ups for Vets means so much to me. On every visit, we see veterans that have not had visitors in days, weeks, or even months. Reconnecting with my brothers and sisters, regardless of era served or branch, is a unique and often beautiful experience. No veteran should ever feel lonely or go without visitors while hospitalized. I do it because not only do I value our veterans, but it makes me feel good as well. I love connecting with other vets and I think volunteer work is essential for anyone who would like to make the world a little brighter.
She also had the following experience to share, which reminds us of the need of young veterans as well:
A visit that sticks out in my mind was when we walked into a room and there were two very young veterans in their late 20s to early 30s. At the hospital, they were surrounded by elderly vets and did not really have anyone to talk to. We spent a lot of time in that room just talking and reminiscing about the service. They were so happy to have company that was around their same age, and it was a really great bonding experience. We signed their calendars and took photos to remember the day by. I still think about that visit often.
Jennifer told me she feels that, through such visits, along with the organizations active social media presence, “people are able to see that there are still veterans who not only appreciate but need the companionship.”
The website for the organization includes thank you letters from the hospitals these volunteers have been able to visit, and reading these was an inspiration in itself. One line from these letters that helped me understand the importance of the visits said their visits make “every day Veterans Day” for their residents.
We don’t want anyone to end up alone in a hospital, especially anyone who dedicated themselves to serving our country. We are fortunate that Pinups for Vets is making an effort, and can see this first hand in the commitment these men and women make to showing these veterans that they care. An example below shows Gina dancing with a veteran, a touching moment that may not change the world, but certainly shows that veteran and the others who see this that people appreciate our service and are making an effort to ensure we are not alone.
The Army is likely catching a lot of grief lately, after a news story reported that Pentagon data showed Joes are fatter than their brethren in other services.
But are they really?
According to the head of the new Defense Health Agency, the way the military measures obesity using the so-called Body Mass Index might be a bit behind the times.
“I know that Navy has looked at this in terms of modifying what they say is a healthy weight and a healthy body mass and I think that’s appropriate,” said Vice Adm. Raquel Bono, Director of the Defense Health Agency told WATM during a breakfast meeting with reporters Oct. 20.
“Do I have any indication that [obesity] is hurting readiness? No,” Bono added. “But I would actually say that is one of the hallmarks of being in the military is that we’re always ready.”
According to the services, a Body Mass Index of 25 or over is considered unsat (the BMI is determined by a simple calculation of height and weight). The National Institutes of Health define obesity as a BMI of 30 or over.
A 44 year-old male who weights 215 pounds and is 74-inches tall has a BMI of 27.6, for example. That’d be considered “clinically obese” to the DoD.
Some in the services argue measuring weight standards using the BMI is a blunt instrument, putting perfectly fit and healthy servicemembers on notice for not being up to snuff.
And while she’s all in favor of modifying how the level of fitness to serve is calculated, Bono is concerned about the overall trend on obesity, with the Pentagon reporting nearly 10 percent of its troops are overweight. And Bono recommended healthier choices in chow halls, regular exercise (not just for the PFT), and stopping smoking.
“My job is to make sure I’m enabling the department to have the healthiest troops possible,” Bono said. “I struggle with encouraging troops to make healthier choices — even when we activate servicemembers with health data or scary pictures of what smoking can do to you they still persist in those behaviors. I don’t know what the right answer is.”
The military has very talented photographers in the ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. Here are the best military photos of the week:
Firefighters from the 151st Civil Engineer Squadron extinguish a simulated airplane fire June 7, 2016, at the Salt Lake City Aircraft Rescue Fire Fighters Training Center. The state-of-the-art facility is equipped with a simulator, which allows for interior and exterior training and includes a multitude of various fire scenarios.
An A-10C Thunderbolt II assigned to the 75th Fighter Squadron performs a low-angle strafe during the Hawgsmoke competition at Barry M. Goldwater Range, Ariz., June 2, 2016. The two-day competition included team and individual scoring of strafing, high-altitude dive-bombing, Maverick missile precision and team tactics.
U.S. Army Soldiers, assigned 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, carry equipment through a pond during the team obstacle course at the French Jungle Warfare School near Yemen, Gabon, June 9, 2016.
A U.S. Army Soldier, assigned to 1st Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, provides security during Decisive Action Rotation 16-06 at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calif., May 16, 2016.
DILI, Timor Leste (June 8, 2016) Crew members assigned to the Blackjacks of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 21 move an MH-60S helicopter into the hangar aboard hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19). Deployed in support of Pacific Partnership 2016, Mercy is on its first stop of the 2016 mission. Pacific Partnership has a longstanding history with Timor Leste, having first visited in 2006, and four subsequent times since. Medical, engineering and various other personnel embarked aboard Mercy will work side-by-side with partner nation counterparts, exchanging ideas, building best practices and relationships to ensure preparedness should disaster strike.
PACIFIC OCEAN (JUNE 4, 2016) An F/A-18E from the Flying Eagles of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA-122) launches from the USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) flight deck during night flight operations (left) while an EA-18G Growler from the Vikings of Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ-129) taxis onto a catapult (right). The ship is underway conducting command assessment of readiness and training (CART) II off the coast of Southern California.
Marines with 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division conduct military operations on urban terrain during a field exercise (FEX) at Camp Pendleton, California, May 24, 2016. FEX is designed to sharpen the battalion’s combat capabilities.
Marines with 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division advance down range during the Eager Lion 16 final exercise in Al Quweyrah, Jordan, May 24, 2016. Eager Lion is a recurring exercise between partner nations designed to strengthen military-to-military relationships, increase interoperability, and enhance regional security and stability.
Flight Mechanics serve a dual role in the aircraft. First, they help the pilots monitor performance and flight instruments. Their knowledge of the aircraft and technical expertise make them invaluable resources for identifying and troubleshooting aircraft malfunctions. Second, they are responsible for operating the helicopter’s hoist. This entails both physically manipulating the hoist as well as providing conning commands to the pilot at the controls.
The pilots at Air Station Savannah come from a myriad of backgrounds. For some, this is their first operational aviation tour. Others have completed multiple tours around the country in places like Kodiak, AK and Puerto Rico. We also have a large number of Direct Commission Aviators who transferred over to the Coast Guard from other services such as the Army and Marines.
ISIS talks a big game in posting propaganda videos on the internet, especially at the height of its power in 2014 – 2015. But one GoPro slamcam video, captured by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces and posted to YouTube shows, ISIS fighters aren’t always the hardcore soldiers ISIS says they are.
A warning: although most of the video just shows ISIS fighters under intense SDF fire, some of the images can get graphic.
The video is part of the “War Diary” project, an educational documentary project to archive real events in combat by the people who fought there. It features a squad of ISIS fighters directly engaged in combat with the Kurdish SDF. The GoPro camera appears to be attached either to a helmet of a squad commander or strapped to his chest. The commander, Abu Ayman al-Iraqi, is accompanied by a fighter named Abu Aisha Iraqi, who keeps telling the man in charge that they should retreat.
Abu Aisha, you can probably guess, was right about getting out of there. The Kurds were coming at the ISIS fighters with fire so intense, the jihadis couldn’t even look at where they were shooting back. The ISIS commander has to order his men repeatedly to shoot back instead of fleeing. When he orders a grenade or RPG, his troops stay motionless with fear.
If you don’t understand Arabic, that’s okay. The Kurds translated the video for you.
The confrontation took place in Syria’s Deir Ez-Zor Province in December 2018. It was part of a greater campaign by the SDF to push ISIS forces back across the Euphrates River, eliminate its fighters from the Iraqi border, and capture all remaining ISIS strongholds. It happened at the same time as the SDF push to capture the ISIS capital at Raqqa and the Syrian government’s push against the jihadist group in Western Syria. The result of the combined campaigns was the final defeat of ISIS as a formal army, occupying any territory.
In the video, you can see hear the frustration of the commander as his troops fail to shoot back, forget their weapons, and abandon an armored vehicle to escape the oncoming enemy. Even the ISIS commander begins to fumble with his AR-15 as the Kurds get closer. Abu Ayman Iraqi gets shot around 9:00. his men desert him in the armored vehicle as he shouts at them to come back.
When U.S. Marine Raymond Lott, otherwise known as The Marine Rapper (or TMR for short), made a YouTube video to ask Betty White to the Marine Corps Ball, he had no idea that Linda Hamilton would be the one to snag the invite.
Yeah, Sarah Connor. Sarah. Effing. Conner.
In this hilarious episode of No Sh*t There I Was, TMR regales his story, and it has all the fixin’s for a perfect tale: pissed off higher ups, a surprise twist, and a magical night at the ball.
It would almost be impossible to believe…except they’ve even included the original footage of Ms. Hamilton herself.
No other force epitomizes the absolute destructive power humanity has unlocked in the way nuclear weapons have. And the weapons rapidly became more powerful in the decades after that first test.
The device tested in 1945 had a 20 kiloton yield, meaning it had the explosive force of 20,000 tons of TNT. Within 20 years, the US and USSR tested nuclear weapons larger than 10 megatons, or 10 million tons of TNT. For scale, these weapons were at least 500 times as strong as the first atomic bomb.
To put the size of history’s largest nuclear blasts to scale, we have used Alex Wellerstein’s Nukemap, a tool for visualizing the terrifying real-world impact of a nuclear explosion.
In the following maps, the first ring of the blast is the fireball, followed by the radiation radius. In the pink radius, almost all buildings are demolished and fatalities approach 100%. In the gray radius, stronger buildings would weather the blast, but injuries are nearly universal. In the orange radius, people with exposed skin would suffer from third-degree burns, and flammable materials would catch on fire, leading to possible firestorms.
11 (tie). Soviet Tests #158 and #168
On August 25 and September 19, 1962, less than a month apart, the USSR conducted nuclear tests #158 and #168. Both tests were held over the Novaya Zemlya region of Russia, an archipelago to the north of Russia near the Arctic Ocean.
No film or photographs of the tests have been released, but both tests included the use of 10-megaton atomic bombs. These blasts would have incinerated everything within 1.77 square miles of their epicenters while causing third-degree burns up to an area of 1,090 square miles.
10. Ivy Mike
On November 1, 1952, the US tested Ivy Mike over the Marshall Islands. Ivy Mike was the world’s first hydrogen bomb and had a yield of 10.4 megatons, making it 700 times as strong as the first atomic bomb.
Ivy Mike’s detonation was so powerful that it vaporized the Elugelab Island where it was detonated, leaving in its place a 164-foot-deep crater. The explosion’s mushroom cloud traveled 30 miles into the atmosphere.
9. Castle Romeo
Romeo was the second US nuclear detonation of the Castle Series of tests, which were conducted in 1954. All of the detonations took place over Bikini Atoll. Castle Romeo was the third-most powerful test of the series and had a yield of 11 megatons.
Romeo was the first device to be tested on a barge over open water instead of on a reef, as the US was quickly running out of islands upon which it could test nuclear weapons.
The blast would have incinerated everything within 1.91 square miles.
8. Soviet Test #123
On October 23, 1961, the Soviets conducted nuclear test #123 over Novaya Zemlya. Test #123 used a 12.5 megaton nuclear bomb. A bomb of this size would incinerate everything within 2.11 square miles while causing third-degree burns in an area of 1,309 square miles.
No footage or photographs of this nuclear test have been released.
7. Castle Yankee
Castle Yankee, the second-strongest of the Castle series tests, was conducted on May 4, 1954. The bomb was 13.5 megatons. Four days later, its fallout reached Mexico City, about 7,100 miles away.
6. Castle Bravo
Castle Bravo, detonated on February 28, 1954, was the first of the Castle series of tests and the largest US nuclear blast of all time.
Bravo was anticipated as a 6-megaton explosion. Instead, the bomb produced a 15-megaton fission blast. Its mushroom cloud reached 114,000 feet into the air.
The US military’s miscalculation of the test’s size resulted in the irradiation of approximately 665 inhabitants of the Marshall Islands and the radiation poisoning death of a Japanese fisherman who was 80 miles away from the detonation site.
3 (tie). Soviet Tests #173, #174, and #147
From August 5 to September 27, 1962, the USSR conducted a series of nuclear tests over Novaya Zemlya.Tests #173, #174, and #147 all stand out as being the fifth-, fourth-, and third-strongest nuclear blasts in history.
All three produced blasts of about 20 megatons, or about 1,000 times as strong as the Trinity bomb. A bomb of this strength would incinerate everything within 3 square miles.
No footage or photographs of these nuclear tests have been released.
2. Soviet Test #219
On December 24, 1962, the USSR conductedTest #219 over Novaya Zemlya. The bomb had a yield of 24.2 megatons. A bomb of this strength would incinerate everything within 3.58 square miles while causing third-degree burns in an area up to 2,250 square miles.
There are no released photos or video of this explosion.
1. The Tsar Bomba
On October 30, 1961, the USSR detonated the largest nuclear weapon ever tested and created the biggest man-made explosion in history. The blast, 3,000 times as strong as the bomb used on Hiroshima, broke windows 560 miles away, according to Slate.
The flash of light from the blast was visible up to 620 miles away.
The Tsar Bomba, as the test was ultimately known, had a yield between 50 and 58 megatons, twice the size of the second-largest nuclear blast.
A bomb of this size would create a fireball 6.4 square miles large and would be able to give humans third-degree burns within 4,080 square miles of the bomb’s epicenter.
America has had a long tradition of picking up some foreign weapons. Whether it was getting military aid from France during the Revolutionary War to borrowing Spitfires from England in World War II to using Israeli Kfirs as aggressors in the 1980s, our troops have put foreign-designed systems to good use. This idea makes even more sense in the face of the Pentagon being forced to tighten the belt while global threats proliferate.
So here are six foreign warfighting platforms that DoD should buy now:
1. Spain’s Alvaro de Bazan-class frigates
With the retirement of the Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates, the United States could use some additional hulls in the water. The Littoral Combat Ship has had some good moments (like USS Freedom making four drug busts in seven weeks during a 2010 SOUTHCOM deployment), but that ship is still wrestling with teething problems, not the least of which is the fact that the missionized software packages that were supposed to make the LCS unique aren’t working.
The Navy plans to buy 20 frigates in the future, but perhaps they ought to look at getting Spain’s Alvaro de Bazan-class frigates instead. With a SPY-1 radar, a five-inch gun, and a 48-cell Mk 41 VLS that can fire Standard surface-to-air missiles, Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles, and Vertical-Launch ASROCs, it would be a direct replacement for the Perry-class ships.
2. Denmark’s Absalon-class multi-role ships
Denmark’s been building flexible warships for decades, thanks to the use of Stanflex technology. One of the more intriguing designs to emerge from this philosophy is the Absalon, a 4,500-ton ship that has a five-inch gun, and five “flexible” stations. These stations can carry a variety of weapons – usually 36 RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow missiles and 16 RGM-84 Harpoons.
But the real secret is that the Absalon also can serve as a small roll-on/roll-off vessel, a supply ship, or even as a treatment point for casualties. With a top speed of 24 knots, the ship can keep up with the large-deck amphibious assault ships like the Wasp and America classes. Also, at $225 million per hull, they are about five-eighths the cost of a Freedom-class littoral combat ship.
3. Ukraine’s BTMP-84
Infantry has a tough job on the conventional battlefield. They can’t keep up with the tanks, but they are needed to support the tanks. They also, of course, need some support on the battlefield. But how to get troops to the battlefield, yet still get them some support? Ukraine’s BTMP-84 may be the answer to that.
The Ukrainians stretched a T-84, added some road wheels, and got a vehicle with the T-84’s firepower (a 125mm main gun with as many as 36 rounds of ammunition, a 12.7mm heavy machine gun, and a 7.62mm coaxial machine gun), plus the ability to carry five infantrymen. While it doesn’t carry as many troops as a Bradley or LAV-25, its firepower more than makes up for that.
4. Brazil’s EE-9 Cascavel Armored Car
With the retirement of the M551 Sheridan in the mid-1990s, the 82nd Airborne is in need of some armored firepower. That two-decade search could end with the EE-9 Cascavel.
With a 90mm main gun and 44 rounds, this 13-ton vehicle can keep up with Strykers, and it can provide much more sustained fire support (Stryker Mobile Gun Systems only carry 18 rounds for their 105mm main guns). The vehicle, about the size of an M113 armored personnel carrier, could be carried by a C-130.
5. UK’s Systems Hawk 200
Combat aircraft are expensive these days. Both the F-22 and F-35 cost over $100 million per airframe – and billions in RD. Yet having a lot of airframes is not a bad idea. The Hawk 200 is a possible solution.
With the same APG-66 radar used on the F-16, the Hawk can fire Sidewinders and AMRAAMs, making it a solid choice for air-defense. It also can carry almost 7,000 pounds of bombs or air-to-surface weapons. The U.S. Navy already operates the similar T-45 Goshawk, which means that some logistical support capability already exists. The Hawk 200 could be America’s lightweight joint strike fighter.
6. Israeli Sa’ar 6-class corvettes
The United States has made use of Israeli weapons in the not-so-distant past. The Marines’ Shoulder-launched Multi-purpose Assault Weapon is one such weapon. So was the RQ-2 Pioneer, best known as a spotter for naval gunfire from Iowa-class battleships during Desert Storm.
Now, Israel’s new Sa’ar 6 corvettes might be something to look at. With a 76mm gun, 16 anti-ship missiles, and 32 surface-to-air missiles, these vessels could enable the U.S. Navy to counter Russia’s Buyan-class corvettes and Gepard-class light frigates.
The FBI announced on Monday that it has identified three individuals believed to have been spying for Russia in New York.
FBI agent Gregory Monaghan has charged the three alleged spies — Evgeny Buryakov, Igor Sporyshev, and Victor Podobnyy — with “willfully and knowingly” conspiring to commit an offense against the US as a member of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR).
Buryakov is in custody.
Monaghan, in a sealed complaint, outlines how the three individuals were primarily involved in gathering “economic and other intelligence information.” Within the sealed complaint, Monaghan also details how the SVR goes about carrying out its operations.
According to Monaghan, the SVR operates abroad through three classes on foreign agents.
The first class of agents the SVR deploys are “sent on ‘deep cover’ assignments, meaning they are directing to assume false identities, work seemingly normal jobs, and attempt to conceal all of their connections to Russia.”
The second class of SVR agents sent abroad do not attempt to conceal their connections to Russia. Instead, these agents “often pose as official representatives of the Russian Federation, including in positions as diplomats or trade officials.”
SVR agents in these positions have an added benefit, as they are “typically entitled to diplomatic immunity from prosecution.”
The third category of SVR agents operate abroad under “non-official cover — sometimes referred to as ‘NOCs.'”
NOCs typically pose as private business employees and “typically are subject to less scrutiny by the host government, and, in many cases, are never identified as intelligence agents by the host government.”
All three types of agent operate fully under the control of the SVR. Despite their differing cover stories, each agent has the same mission of gathering “information for Russia about the foreign country” as well as recruiting “intelligence sources that could assist in influencing the policies of public and private institutions in the foreign country.”
One by one, the veterans made their inaugural trip up the steep mountainside armed with harnesses and ropes. For most of them, rock climbing was a brand new experience, yet they were scrambling up and repelling down the cliff face at Hartman Rocks in Gunnison, Colorado, with barely a semblance of a beginner’s nerves. Amid shouts of encouragement and good-humored banter, the Airmen were bonding. While they’d been strangers just the day before, they’d already become a team.
Traveling from different areas of the U.S., the eight Air Force wounded warriors, sponsored by Team Racing for Veterans’ (R4V), arrived at an adaptive sports camp in Crested Butte, Colorado, to participate in three unfamiliar sports: rock climbing, fly fishing and mountain biking. The biannual camps give wounded veterans a chance to prove to themselves they can adapt to and overcome any current limitations, from amputations to post-traumatic stress.
For those attending the camp, it was a chance to network with other wounded warriors who wanted to get out of their comfort zones, take on new challenges, and pursue a sense of normalcy.
In addition to sharing their common goals and adaptive sports experiences at the camp, the wounded warriors had a chance to get to know each other in a relaxed setting during their down time. Instead of staying in a hotel where they would be scattered throughout the building, the Airmen stayed in a large ranch-style home that was donated for the camp’s use. During some of their meals and at the close of each day, the wounded warriors could gather in a common area and talk.
Military veterans share their individual stories during dinner at an adaptive sports camp in Crested Butte, Colo. Each night of the camp ended with reflection and therapeutic conversations. | Photo by Staff Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.
While engaging in one such casual conversation in the living room with four other veterans, Staff Sgt. Gideon Connelly, a 175th Wing chaplain assistant with the Maryland National Guard, found himself smiling and feeling at ease. The openness he displayed was something new, because Connelly had grown up building walls around himself that no one could get through.
As a child, his experiences in the foster care system left him unwilling to depend on others. Though he was eventually taken in by his aunt and uncle, Connelly still found himself disappointed after witnessing his relatives getting robbed by other children they had adopted.
“Watching those kids grow up, how cruel and jagged they could be, it just pushed my trust in people away a lot more,” Connelly said.
“Before these guys,” he indicated the other wounded warriors, “you had no shot for me to trust you.”
Unexpectedly, the injuries that brought Connelly into the wounded warrior family were causing him to change for the better, he said.
On July 5, 2011, Staff Sgt. Gideon Connelly’s life took an abrupt turn after a motorcycle accident on the streets of Baltimore. As a result of the crash, Connelly lost his left leg below the knee, his right knee required a partial replacement, and his right arm had to be artificially restructured.
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Richard W. Rose Jr. (Ret.) and Staff Sgt. Gideon Connelly celebrate after climbing a 50-foot mountain. | Photo by Staff Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.
“The first couple years were hard,” he said. “It was like gut-wrenching pain in my arm when I was lifting weights, curling, or anything like that, just because there wasn’t much muscle around the metal.”
Eventually he was able to build his strength back up, but by the time the doctors could take out the hardware in his arm, bone had grown over it and become fused to the metal. Because of this, Connelly opted not to have it removed.
“I’ve adapted to it,” he said. “I’ve adapted with my leg, my knee, and the arm was another thing. I just had to get over it. Cold affects it, but you move your wrist around a little bit and keep going. I’m all about adapting and overcoming everything. I’m not going to let anything stop me from doing what I want to do.”
Three years after his injury, Connelly became involved in the world of adaptive sports and attended an AFW2 camp. Striving for more, he was also selected to represent the Air Force during the 2014 Warrior Games in shot put, discus, and the 100- and 200-meter sprints. It was at this competition that he met a group of wounded warriors and began to finally let down his guard.
Two years later, his wounded warrior family remains important to him – it is a group of people he keeps in touch with nearly every single day.
Although Connelly is busy training in pursuit of his dream of running track at the Paralympic Games, he leapt at the opportunity to try new sports at a Team R4V mountain adventure.
“Mountain biking: that was the sport that brought everybody together today,” Connelly said. He found it inspiring to watch the guys zooming down the mountain tracks on hand cycles.
“The trails are probably 20 inches wide – the same as their wheel base – and they are just flying,” he added. “Watching them struggle, but still make it up and down the hills, it was awesome! It was definitely team building and it brought us that much closer together.”
Ricky Rose Jr. knew that the sports therapy aspect of Team R4V’s camps would help him physically, but he hesitated to participate.
After being medically discharged from the Air Force as a staff sergeant, Rose thought about attending a wounded warrior camp. It was an idea that had run though his mind many times before but what always stopped him were questions: Did he deserve to go? Would he even fit into the group?
When Team R4V invited him to their fall camp, Rose decided to set those doubts aside and give it a go.
At first he was nervous, but after realizing many people in the house shared the same medical conditions he did, Rose began to feel more comfortable. He found there was relief in being surrounded by people who’d gone through tough situations — from battling cancer to being shot in Afghanistan – because they could all relate to one another.
“While each individual’s circumstances are different in the grand scheme, we’re all fighting the same demons,” Rose said. “That’s been the most beneficial part of this camp; you feel comfortable talking to somebody that you know has been there and done that.”
At the camp, much of the conversation and bonding begins over food.
With a focus on overall wellness, Team R4V cooks healthy meals for the wounded warriors each day, and encourages them to eat breakfast and dinner together. At the kitchen table, sharing a meal and talking about the day’s events, the Airmen got to know each other better. As they talked, Rose felt a sense of camaraderie return, one that he’d missed since the last day he’d hung up his Air Force uniform.
“I wasn’t expecting us to come together as a family as quickly as we did,” he said. “We all realized pretty quickly that we’re all Airmen and we’re all in this together.”
Surrounded by people who could empathize with his journey, Rose spoke about his experiences in the Air Force and the daily challenges he continues to face as a wounded warrior.
During his time in service, Rose deployed three times, once to Kuwait and twice to Iraq. Employed as a combat photographer, his objective was to document the war through the experiences of the troops with whom he was embedded – the good times, the bad times, and everything in between.
“They didn’t send us on missions where we would just sit on base all day,” he said. “They’d send us on missions where crap was going to hit the fan, or there was a really good chance of it. More times than not, we were attacked … we got blown up what seemed like almost every mission. It felt like almost every day could have been the day you died because we lost a lot of people too. War is just nasty, and I got to help show that as honestly as I could to people.”
While deployed, Rose captured thousands of images, braving firefights and mortar attacks to accomplish his job. In 2007, Rose was named one of the Air Force’s 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year, in part for his dedication in the combat zone – a place seared into his memory by the very tool he used to perform his mission.
“The hardest thing, and I didn’t know this until after a lot of therapy and a lot of different doctors, but I didn’t realize, as a photographer, how many of those images I took were just going to stay in my brain,” Rose said. “I just kind of thought I’d take a picture and then they’d go away, but they don’t.”
Even at home, he was unable to turn his mind away from the combat zone. Feeling unstable, Rose asked for help. He went to see a doctor and was ultimately diagnosed with a TBI and PTSD.
PTSD is an anxiety disorder that presents a variety of negative effects, such as flashbacks, nightmares, and intrusive thoughts and memories. Military members with PTSD can become hyper-vigilant, angry and depressed. Sights and sounds, such as large crowds, random crazy noises, and sudden flashes of light – can mentally bring them back to the combat zone and trigger an unconscious response.
“PTSD is horrible,” Rose said. “Imagine never being able to feel comfortable or like everything is alright. Every day is a challenge because I don’t know how my body and mind will react to whatever happens that day. Will I see, touch, or smell something that will give me an instant flashback and turn me into a different person? Will my conversations lead to nightmares? Do I feel like killing myself today? That’s what it’s like.”
The temporary home in Colorado is quiet and isolated from outside stimuli. The intensity and focus needed to learn new sports is designed to wear the Airmen out and give them the ability to be calm.
“I haven’t really had a bad thought since I’ve been here, other than being exhausted and tired (from the day’s activity),” he laughed, adding, “I haven’t really had a trigger or nightmare or anything since I’ve been here. It’s been peaceful, very peaceful.”
The physical, mental and emotional benefits of regular exercise have been proven time and time again, which is why Team R4V staff said they provide support to veterans through a wide variety of physical activities. Rehabilitation though adaptive sports has been an idea at the forefront of the organization since its conception.
Inspired by a friend who coached the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program’s team for the Warrior Games, a Defense Department competitive adaptive sports event for injured, ill and wounded service members, Bethany Pribila, Team R4V’s founder and CEO, decided to start a non-profit organization that would enable veterans from every branch of the military to benefit through participation in sports.
Team R4V provides wounded warrior athletes with funding for races and events, but it is their own sports camps, which they host in partnership with the Crested Butte Adaptive Sports Center, that holds a special place in the heart of the organization.
At the camp’s end, Pribila reflected that everything had gone as envisioned. She had witnessed the wounded warriors supporting one another, cheering each other on, and forming lasting bonds. Though the Airmen had arrived as strangers, when they left, it was as friends and as family.
A little-known group of specially-trained Coast Guardsmen are playing a key role in securing a presidential retreat in Florida and guarding against the smuggling of doomsday weapons out of war-torn Syria.
“This is a team that’s not sand lot ball. These are the pros that have very unique weapons skills and training and not everyone makes this team,” said Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft during a breakfast meeting with reporters April 12. “These teams are if anything probably over employed right now in terms of their optempo — both on the anti-terrorism front and on the counter-terrorism front as well.”
Established in the years after 9/11 to provide another layer of special operations capability both in the United States and worldwide, the Coast Guard previously housed these various specialized teams under one command, dubbed the “Deployable Operations Group.” Comprised of highly-trained boat teams, crisis response forces and counter proliferation experts, the DOG was disbanded in 2012 and its units dispersed to separate commands.
Despite its troubled past, the Coast Guard’s special operators are front and center in some of America’s most high profile missions. Zukunft said his teams are providing maritime security for President Donald Trump when he visits his golf resort at Mar a Lago in Florida, working closely with the U.S. Secret Service to protect world leaders from potential attack.
“I had three teams providing force protection for presidents of the two largest nations in the world — China and the United States — at Mar a Lago. That’s what these teams do, Zukunft said. “We’re seeing more and more of these nationally significant security events in the maritime domain.”
The service’s capability also includes Coast Guardsmen trained to locate and secure chemical and nuclear weapons — operators that are part of the Maritime Security Response Teams. Similar to SEALs, the MSRT Coast Guardsmen can take down ships, oil platforms and other vehicles used to smuggle WMD material over water.
It’s members of these MSRT units that are currently deployed to help the U.S. military guard against doomsday weapons leaking out of Syria and other regional hotspots.
“We have a full-up [counter terrorism team] deployed right now in the Mediterranean in support of CENTCOM. It’s an advanced interdiction team in case there is any movement of a weapon of mass destruction,” Zukunft said. “This is a team that if necessary, forces itself onboard a ship … and they have all of the weapons skills of special forces, but they have law enforcement authority.”
Despite the rocky road in the unit’s formation, Zukunft is confident the Coast Guard’s special operations units are here to stay.
“To turn the lights out and then decide ‘whoa we have this threat’ — it’s going to take [a while] to reconstitute that, and in doing so the assumption would be that we will never have a terrorist attack directed agains the United States ever again,” he said. “I am not willing to make that assumption. I am all in.”
Most of us would quietly go home after losing limbs, our eyesight, or other vital capabilities while in service to our country.
But for these six badasses, grievous physical injury was just the warm up:
6. French Legionnaire Jean Danjou led one of the Legion’s most famous fights after losing a hand
French Foreign Legion sappers (Image: Imgur)
French Foreign Legion Capt. Jean Danjou was working as a staff officer in Mexico in April 1863 after losing his left hand while fighting rebels in Algiers. When the command needed an officer to lead a convoy of pay for legionnaires, Danjou volunteered.
Ranger Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Kapacziewski asked doctors to remove his leg after it failed to heal from a grenade blast, then conducted four combat deployments with his prosthetic. Airborne 1st Lt. Josh Pitcher led a 21-man platoon through a deployment to the Afghan mountains with one leg. And Capt. Daniel Luckett came back from a double amputation to earn the Expert Infantry Badge and deploy with the 101st.
4. Master Sgt. Roy P. Benavidez defied doctors to go to Vietnam, then kept fighting after dozens of potentially lethal wounds
Master Sgt. Roy P. Benavidez walked onto a mine in 1965 and suffered an injury that was supposed to stop him from ever walking again. Against the orders of doctors, he rehabilitated himself in secret at night and walked out of the ward on his own power instead of accepting his military discharge.
He was rolled up in a body bag but spit in the doctor’s face to let him know he was alive.
3. Canadian Pvt. Leo Major lost an eye, broke his back, then earned three Distinguished Conduct Medals in two wars
Canadian sniper Leo Major liberated a Dutch town on his own during World War II. (Photo: Jmajor CC BY SA 3.0)
Canadian Army Pvt. Leo Major was severely wounded during the D-Day invasions when a phosphorous grenade took part of his vision. He also could have turned back later in 1944 when a mine broke his back.
His last DCM came during the Korean war when he lead a group of snipers to take and hold a hill from the Chinese Army for three days.
2. Douglas “Tin Legs” Bader lost both legs in an air show accident and then became a stunning flying ace in World War II.
As a young pilot in 1931, Douglas Bader was a bit showy and lost both of his legs after an accident during an airshow caused him to lose both of his legs. He begged to stay in the service but was denied with the suggestion that he try again if war broke out.
Despite this handicap, he fought a massive Spanish fleet in 1797 and managed to capture two of their man-of-wars, using the first one captured to attack the second. But then he lost his right arm at the Battle of Tenerife later that year.
A US Army Green Beret was found strangled to death in his hotel in Bamako, Mali.
The Naval Criminal Investigative Service is investigating two Navy SEALs who were flown out of the country just after the killing and placed on administrative leave.
After Staff Sgt. Logan J. Melgar of the US Army’s elite Special Forces turned up dead at his hotel in Bamako, Mali, military criminal authorities launched an investigation into two Navy SEALs who were flown out of the country just after the death, and placed on “administrative leave,” according to The New York Times.
Melgar, who was found dead on June 4, belonged to the same unit that lost four soldiers in an ambush in Niger earlier in October. The SEALs in question belonged to SEAL Team 6, the same unit that killed Osama Bin Laden in 2011.
Military medical examiners ruled Melgar’s death “a homicide by asphyxiation,” and the two SEALs who were staying at the same hotel have gone from being referred to as “witnesses” to “persons of interest,” according to the Times.
Melgar, and the SEALs in question, worked in Mali gathering intelligence and helping local forces train and conduct counterterrorism missions, according to the Times.
Outside of tragic mistakes and friendly fire episodes, US servicemembers rarely kill each other, prompting wild speculation about why the SEALs may have acted against Melgar. The Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) is on the case.