Germany and France say Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine likely shot down a drone being used by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) monitoring mission, demanding that those responsible “be held accountable.”
In a joint statement on Nov. 1, 2018, Berlin and Paris also noted that in recent weeks, the drone had observed convoys entering Ukrainian territory across a nonofficial border crossing from Russia on “multiple occasions” and spotted a surface-to-air missile system before the loss of communication.
Fighting between Ukrainian government forces and the separatists has killed more than 10,300 people in eastern Ukraine since April 2014. Russia has repeatedly denied financing and equipping the separatist forces despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, insisting that the fighting was a civil, internal conflict.
Germany and France, which have been working with Moscow and Kyiv as part of the so-called Normandy Format to bring an end to the conflict, said the drone operated by the OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) disappeared in the early hours of Oct. 27, 2018.
OSCE Permanent Council venue at the Hofburg, Vienna.
The incident occurred while the long-range drone was following a convoy of trucks near the town of Nyzhnokrynske close to the Russia-Ukraine border, an area controlled by the separatists, the statement said.
It said evidence assembled by the SMM “suggests Russia and the separatists it backs bear responsibility” for the downing of the unmanned aerial vehicle.
The “severe” incident “stands in clear violation” of the SMM mandate as adopted by participating states of the OSCE mission, Germany and France said.
The SMM, a civilian mission assigned to report impartially on the situation in Ukraine, has hundreds of monitors in the country’s east where the separatists are holding parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
The mission said in March 2018 it was reintroducing its long-range drone program more than 18 months after it was halted due to repeated shoot-downs.
Fighting in eastern Ukraine persists despite cease-fire deals reached as part of the September 2014 and February 2015 Minsk accords, and implementation of other measures set out in the deals has been slow.
Featured image: OSCE SMM monitoring the movement of heavy weaponry in eastern Ukraine.
Let’s say you need to make a very sensitive tool to detect radiation. Maybe you need to use it for medical purposes, detecting specific isotopes as they move through a human body. Or perhaps it’s for the tools to detect radiation to prevent dirty bombs and nuclear smuggling. Wherever your radiation is, if you want super accurate measurements of it, you have to make your tools out of low-background steel, and that’s hard to get.
Here’s the problem with new steel: It’s made in a radioactive environment. The very air we breathe contains little molecules leftover from the approximately 2,000 nuclear tests conducted since 1945. Irradiated coral from Bikini Atoll tests, snow melted by the Tsar Bomba, and air particles in the wrong spots during the development of the Genie air-to-air rocket are all still radioactive.
That doesn’t make it useless for detecting radiation. But any radiation in the steel makes the resulting device less sensitive. It’s like if you’re trying to listen for a distant sound while a band plays. The louder and closer the band is, the harder it will be for you to hear a distant or faint sound. A radiation detection device with radioactive steel in it will never be able to detect radiation that’s beneath the threshold its own components put out.
But steel can last. And any steel manufactured before the first nuclear tests in July 1945 is filled with low-background radiation steel. Basically, since it has much fewer radioactive particles in it, it can detect radiation at much lower levels. So, if you need to run a radioactive dye through a medical patient, you can use a much lower level of radiation if the detector is made with low-background steel.
Same with scientific and law enforcement instruments.
But how to get low-background steel today? If you mine ore now, melt it down, and mix it with limestone, you’ll be most of the way through making low-background steel. But you also have to pass air through it. And the only air available has radiation in it.
So, instead, you could go find steel manufactured before 1945. Preferably steel that wasn’t exposed to the air during the testing or in the years immediately afterward.
You read the headline. You know where this is going.
Sunken warships have literally tens of thousands of tons of steel in them, and the water has shielded them from radiation for decades.
So, with the consent of governments, some warships have their steel removed. It’s done carefully both to prevent contaminating the metal as well as to avoid disturbing the dead. And it’s not just steel. A British warship from before the Revolution had a large amount of lead that is now maintained by the University of Chicago.
It’s even been suggested that some illegal salvage efforts were conducted by black market outfits looking to make millions by stealing entire ships off the ocean floor. And at least two British ships lost in World War II have disappeared, though some researchers think it was more likely straight steel salvage. It doesn’t appear the thieves had the wherewithal to properly protect the salvage from modern radiation, so it was probably sold as normal scrap.
So the thieves disturbed the grave of thousands of sailors and contaminated tens of thousands of tons of rare low-background steel.
In the wake of the revelation that a large group of active-duty Marines is under investigation for sharing nude photos of female troops without their consent, a senior congressman is calling on the Marine Corps to take swift and decisive action.
Rep. Adam Smith, ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, released a statement Sunday calling the alleged behavior by Marines and Marine Corps veterans “degrading, dangerous, and completely unacceptable.”
A 2014 study revealed the U.S. Marine Corps has the highest rate of sexual assault against women in the military (8% of female Marines were sexually assaulted in the year the study was conducted). (U.S. Marine Corps Photo: Cpl. Adam Korolev)
“I expect that the Marine Corps Commandant, General Neller, will use his resources to fully investigate these acts and bring to justice any individuals who have broken the law and violated the rights of other servicemembers,” the Washington Democrat said.
“He must also ensure that the victims are taken care of. The military men and women who proudly volunteer to serve their country should not have to deal with this kind of reprehensible conduct,” Smith added.
The investigation was made public Saturday evening by reporter Thomas James Brennan, who reported for Reveal News that members of the private Facebook group Marines United had shared dozens of nude photos of female service members, identifying them by name, rank and duty station. Group members also linked out to a Google Drive folder containing more compromising photos and information, Brennan reported.
A Marine Corps official confirmed an investigation was ongoing, but could not confirm that hundreds of Marines were caught up in it, as Brennan reported. The official referred queries about specifics to Naval Criminal Investigative Service, which did not immediately respond Sunday.
“The Marine Corps is deeply concerned about allegations regarding the derogatory online comments and sharing of salacious photographs in a closed website,” Marine Corps spokeswoman Capt. Ryan Alvis said in a statement provided to Military.com. “This behavior destroys morale, erodes trust, and degrades the individual.”
Of allegations are substantiated, active-duty Marines involved in the photo-sharing ring could be charged with violating UCMJ Article 134, general misconduct, for enlisted troops, and Article 133, conduct unbecoming, for officers, Alvis said. If Marines shared a photo taken without the subject’s consent and under circumstances for which there was a reasonable expectation of privacy, they may be charged with Article 120, broadcasting or distribution of indecent visual recording, she said.
“A Marine who directly participates in, encourages, or condones such actions could also be subjected to criminal proceedings or adverse administrative actions,” Alvis said.
To underscore the significance of the allegations to Marine Corps leadership, both Neller and Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Ronald Green released statements condemning the alleged behavior.
“I am not going to comment specifically about an ongoing investigation, but I will say this: For anyone to target one of our Marines, online or otherwise, in an inappropriate manner, is distasteful and shows an absence of respect,” Neller said in a statement provided to Military.com. “The success of every Marine, every team, every unit and command throughout our Corps is based on mutual trust and respect.”
Green went further, releasing a 319-word statement in the form of an open letter calling the online photo-sharing “demeaning” and “degrading” and adding there was no place for it in the Corps.
“We need to be brutally honest with ourselves and each other. This behavior hurts fellow Marines, family members, and civilians. It is a direct attack on our ethos and legacy,” he said. “As Marines, as human beings, you should be angry for the actions of a few. These negative behaviors are absolutely contrary to what we represent. It breaks the bond that hold us together; without trust, our family falters.”
Messages Brennan shared with Military.com show that some members of the group responded to his report by threatening him and his family and attempting to publish information about where he lived.
“‘Amber Alert: Thomas J. Brennan,'” wrote one user, referring to the child abduction emergency system. “500.00 $ for nudes of this guys girl,” wrote another.
Brennan is a former infantry Marine and combat veteran.
This is not the first time the bad behavior of Marines online has captured the attention of Congress.
In 2013, the harassment of civilian women and female troops on several so-called “humor” Facebook pages with Marine Corps members prompted Rep. Jackie Speier, a Democrat from California, to call on then defense secretary Chuck Hagel and then-commandant Gen. Jim Amos to intervene.
But in that instance, Marine Corps leadership opted to address the behavior privately, and on a case-by-case basis. No criminal prosecutions of Marines connected to the Facebook pages were ever publicized.
A later 2014 report on similar behavior resulted in investigations into 12 Marines, according to internal public affairs guidance published by Marine Corps Times.
As the first female Marines join infantry units in the wake of a 2015 Pentagon mandate opening all ground combat jobs to women, it’s possible service leaders now feel an additional mandate to quell the online exploitation of female service members by their colleagues publicly and decisively.
“Standup, speak out, and be a voice of change for the better. Hold those who misstep accountable,” Green said. “We need to realize that silence is consent–do not be silent. It is your duty to protect one another, not just for the Marine Corps, but for humanity.”
There’s nothing in this world that makes a deployed troop happier than opening a care package from the folks back home. Some of momma’s cookies, hygiene stuff, and little sentimental things are always appreciated. But everyone gets hyped the moment the MWR gets some new video games.
One of the unspoken realities of deployment life is, between missions, there’s almost nothing to do. Boredom causes complacency — and complacency is cause for concern. This is where Operation Supply Drop comes in.
Since 2010, Operation Supply Drop has impacted 471 deployed units, supporting over 361,271 troops. The care packages include some of the top video games that troops miss while overseas, consoles to play them on, peripherals to enjoy them, and some coffee to help work gaming into their schedule.
Glenn D. Banton, Sr. CEO & Executive Director of Operation Supply Drop, tells We Are The Mighty “Being able to provide a positive impact and morale boost to our troops at this scale is a huge driver for OSD. What really keeps us going is that many of these men and women then become active members in our community programs when redeploying back home. OSD provides relevant services to the military community during service, through transition, and into civilian life.”
(Photo by Maj. Erik Johnson)
While this is their most well-known program, it’s only about half of their mission statement. They’re also making great things happen in a program they call Respawn, through which they supply injured troops at military medical centers around the world with video games. There have been many studies conducted on the physical and mental health benefits of playing video games. Mentally-challenging and thought-provoking games have been instrumental in assisting those who sustain traumatic brain injuries.
(Photo by Mr. Steven Galvan)
Other amazing programs run through Operation Supply Drop include Heroic Forces, which provides one-on-one professional development support to troops leaving the service; Thank You Deployments, where the community nominates fellow veterans for VIP events, like attending the E3 Expo or meeting sports legends; and an awesome, recent addition in Games to Grunts, which gives free game codes to veterans. There’s no catch: Just sign in with a verified account from ID.me and you get some pretty sweet games.
On a Sunday a little over 12 years ago, on a battlefield far from home, US Army Green Beret Staff Sgt. John Wayne Walding, then in his mid-20s, suddenly found himself in an intense firefight that changed his life forever.
The mission was to capture or kill a local terrorist leader holed up in a mountain fortress occupied by Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin forces in eastern Afghanistan.
The plan was to insert US Special Forces soldiers and Afghan commandos into a valley below by helicopter and take the enemy by surprise. Once they were on the ground, the joint force was expected to climb into the mountains on foot, infiltrate the town, neutralize the hostiles, and get out.
Some of the troops called to execute the mission questioned whether it was too risky. Their concerns were brushed aside, and the mission moved forward as planned. A fellow Green Beret who went with Walding on the mission told Insider it was “cursed” from the start.
This is the story of not just that fateful mission, but Walding’s refusal to give up after tragedy struck.
John Wayne Walding and Ryan Wallen, a fellow Green Beret who accompanied Walding on the fateful mission. (Courtesy photo)
‘A very long day at the office’
On April 6, 2008, a handful of troops with Operational Detachment Alpha 3336, 3rd Special Forces Group and a number of Afghan commandos flew into Shok Valley. It was the start of what Walding called “a very long day at the office.”
Shok Valley (US Army graphic)
Their troubles began almost immediately upon arrival.
“We couldn’t even land, the terrain was so f—ing bad,” Walding’s friend and fellow Green Beret, former Staff Sgt. Ryan Wallen, recalled. “Our helicopter just kind of hovered about 10 feet up over a freezing cold river and gigantic rocks, and we had to jump out of the back. This was already a rough start.”
Their situation quickly got worse. As the lead element made its way toward the objective, the mountains suddenly erupted with gunfire. A large force of several hundred enemies ambushed the American and Afghan troops, upending the mission and turning it into a terrifying fight for survival.
“Gunfire just opened up on us,” Wallen said. He was positioned down by the river near the base of the mountain when the bullets started to fly.
“I took a [rocket-propelled grenade] and kind of got blown out,” Wallen continued. “I was laying half in the water, bleeding out of my throat and chest, beaten up a little bit. The overpressure kind of f—ed me up.”
Nothing vital had been damaged in the blast, so the team’s medic, Staff Sgt. Ron Shurer, was able to get him patched up and back in the fight. Farther up the mountain, the lead element was pinned down and taking heavy fire.
An Afghan interpreter had been killed, and two US soldiers, Staff Sgt. Dillon Behr and Staff Sgt. Luis Morales, were severely wounded. Supporting, Walding moved into position between them and the incoming fire. “That’s when I got shot,” he said.
An enemy sniper shot Walding in the leg, nearly tearing it from his body. “It was hanging on by like a tendon or two,” Wallen said. “I’ve never seen an injury that looked that bad.”
“I never will forget falling forward and then rolling over to see that leg just hanging there by only about an inch of flesh,” Walding recalled. “It was the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life.”
Walding was not done fighting though. After putting a tourniquet in place to stop the bleeding, he used his boot laces to strap the bottom part of his leg to his thigh, picked up his rifle, and got back to it.
Most of the US Special Forces team suffered wounds of one kind or another, but “as f—ed up as everybody was, we didn’t have time for anybody to lay there bleeding and dying,” Wallen said.
American planes were called into conduct dozens of danger-close airstrikes with large bombs that Walding said blacked out the sun with debris.
Unable to move forward with their mission, the US and Afghan troops fought fiercely for hours just to stay alive until they could be pulled out.
Wallen and a few others helped get Walding down the mountain and to the evacuation point. “As the medevac birds were coming in, we were dragging casualties across the river, and it was freezing,” he said.
They tried a couple of times to get Walding on a helicopter but were unsuccessful, as the helos were either full or taking rounds, and each time they failed, they had to carry him back across the river to a safe position shielded from the gunfire.
“Finally, a third bird came in, and we took JW back across the river a fifth time,” Wallen said. “We were finally able to get him on that bird, but we ended up giving John hypothermia along with all of his damn injuries. It was like bad things kept stacking up.”
All of the US troops that went into Shok Valley made it out alive. Some of the Afghans, however, did not. Although they were unable to complete the mission, the US and Afghan forces left behind hundreds of enemy dead.
Ten members of Walding’s team, himself included, would later be awarded the Silver Star. Not since Vietnam had that many Silver Stars been awarded for a single engagement. And, two of the soldiers who were in Shok Valley later received the Medal of Honor for their courage under fire.
The immediate aftermath was no celebration though. Walding, who had hoped that his leg could be saved, went into surgery. “I never will forget waking up the next day,” he recalled. He said he was afraid to look down. When he finally did, he cried.
John Wayne Walding (US Army Photo by Capt. David Chace)
‘A leg was not going to stop me’
John Wayne Walding was born on the Fourth of July in Texas. His father named him after the famous actor who starred in classic Westerns and war movies because, in his words, if “you have a cool birthday, you need a cool name.”
But while Walding was named after the man who directed and starred in the 1968 film “The Green Berets,” he never thought much about the military until he was about 20 years old and realized he needed a real job.
Walding talked to a recruiter who asked him if he wanted to shoot missiles. He said “Hell yeah” and joined the Army as a Patriot missile operator.
He found his true calling after he joined up though. “As soon as I saw the Green Berets and what the tip of the spear really is, that really got my gears spinning,” he told Insider.
Wallen met Walding when the latter joined his team as a Green Beret, and they quickly became good friends.
“It was one of those connections that, just right away, we just kind of hit it off,” Wallen said. “We developed a really strong bond, and then it was just solidified when we were baptized in blood together.”
Wallen said he was one of the first people to see Walding when he came out of surgery after being wounded in Shok Valley.
Walding had been torn apart in battle, something not easily overcome, something that some never overcome, but he determined he was not done being an elite soldier. “Donning that Green Beret was one of the most profound moments of my life, and a leg was not going to stop me from doing that,” he told Insider.
Being a Green Beret meant being a part of something special, something meaningful that’s bigger than any one person. Reflecting on the events that unfolded in Shok Valley, Walding said, “We didn’t get through that day because I was great or any of our guys. It was because we were willing to fight to the death to keep each other alive.”
“You don’t just wake up the day after all of that and say, ‘Well, I guess I’ll hang up the hat.'”
John Wayne Walding (Courtesy photo)
‘You do it because you love it’
Walding said that he tries to live his life in such a way that he is not simply good, but great. Following his recovery, he decided to become a Special Forces sniper.
Just two years after he sustained a life-altering injury, Walding began the intense seven-week Special Forces Sniper Course at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg, North Carolina equipped with a ruggedized prosthetic and a determination to excel against all odds.
“Why did I keep going? Because I loved it,” Walding said.
“You don’t do what I did because you like it. You do it because you love it,” he continued. “To become a Green Beret, there’s a lot of people that quit because they just liked it. They liked the idea of being one, but that’s not how I live.”
Snipers are essential assets who provide battlefield intelligence and long-range precision fires, and the training is challenging across the military.
For the Special Forces, sniper training can be even more demanding. Through shooting and marksmanship sessions, gun runs, stalking, fast rope training, and climbing exercises, Walding held his own despite his prosthetic. “I never finished last,” he said.
Walding made history in the summer of 2010 by becoming the first amputee to graduate from the elite special warfare sniper course.
“His story is incredible,” Wallen said. “I don’t know that many people on the planet have the kind of resilience he does.” That’s not to say that there weren’t bad days, but when times got tough, it was his faith, family and friends, and love of country that got him through.
Walding wanted to return to his team and operational status, but he ultimately decided against it, opting instead to stay on as an instructor.
“I knew that no matter how good I was with one leg, a Green Beret with two was always going to be better,” Walding told Insider, explaining that he would never want to be in a scenario where one of his brothers or sisters was injured or killed because of him. “I wouldn’t be able to live with myself,” he said.
John Wayne Walding (Courtesy photo)
‘Forever remember the cost of freedom’
After serving 12 years in the military, Walding retired in 2013 as a Sergeant First Class. He now lives in Texas with his wife and four kids.
As a civilian, Walding continues to serve.
He started Gallantry Global Logistics, a company named after the words on the back of his Silver Star, which reads “for gallantry in action.” He hopes to see it become the largest veteran employer in Texas. He is also the co-founder of Live to Give, a water bottle company that donates half of all profits to veteran and first responder charities.
Walding named his shipping company after his Silver Star, but the Purple Heart he was awarded for the injuries he suffered in Afghanistan has tremendous meaning too.
“I wear that Purple Heart figuratively every day,” Walding said. “Every single day, I wake up and I see my leg is missing. I will forever remember the cost of freedom. It really is a driving factor for me to not be good, but be great.”
Let’s be completely honest: Getting veterans the help they need is a tricky task. What works for one person may not work for another. Simply telling veterans they have the option to seek help if they need it is important, yes, but it’s not going to pull those who are blind to their own struggles out of the shadows.
There are many veterans who can personally attest to the successes and benefits of the fine mental health professionals within the Veterans Administration. There are others, however, who end up opt for heart-breaking alternatives to talking about their feelings with a stranger. There’s no easy solution to getting help to those who don’t seek it and there’s no magic wand out there that can wish away the pain that our veteran community suffers daily.
But the first step is always going to be opening up about the pain.
As a community, we’re trained to never, ever be a burden on anyone else while also being willing to move Heaven and Earth if it means saving our comrade. At its heart, that’s what Operation Resilience is about.
(U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. Jose A. Torres Jr.)
A new pilot program within the Veterans Health Administration called “Operation Resilience” aims to get veterans who’ve been lost since exiting the service to open up to the people who understand their struggles most: their comrades.
The idea behind Operation Resilience is simple. The VA has partnered with an advocacy group, The Independence Fund, to create events that bring veterans who served in a unit together again. Of course, one of the topics on the agenda at these events is a group therapy session, but it’s much deeper than that.
Dr. Keita Franklin, executive director of the department’s suicide prevention efforts, said in a statement that of the roughly 20 veterans who commit suicide a day, most have little-to-no contact with official VA programs. Finding at least one avenue of approach where someone is willing to talk is the key.
Having those who were there with a troubled veteran during the moments that still haunt them can help on countless levels. And surrounding it all with an event that’s legitimately appealing to veterans makes it a hard opportunity to pass up. When you frame event as a chance for veterans to, let’s say, go drinking at some all-expenses-paid ski resort or something — who could say no?
The group dynamic of the event also plays into the stubbornness of most veterans who have a disdain for seeking help. Now, it’s not just about helping yourself, it’s about helping your brothers- and sisters-in-arms — even if they are the one most in need of help.
There’s no one on this planet that veterans would rather talk about what’s on their mind than with their fellow veterans.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Kevin Wallace)
The details of the events are still being worked out, but the pilot event will be with Bravo Company, 2-508 Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division this coming April.
It looks like the VA has caught onto the human element of what brings a group of combat veterans together. If, at the end of the day, a single veteran is able to be pulled out of the hole because their guys came together and got them to talk, well that’s a victory in my book.
Coming from the relatively flat state of New Jersey, Capt. Matthew Munoz recently learned for the first time how to land a UH-60 Black Hawk above 12,000 feet.
As a National Guard pilot, Munoz normally does flight training with sling loads and hoists, or he transports soldiers in air assault courses.
For the most part, those missions allow a large power margin for his helicopter, meaning there is less stress on the aircraft.
But here surrounded by the Rocky Mountains in western Colorado along Interstate 70, it’s a whole new ballgame. The mountainous terrain tests helicopter pilots with risky landing zones on limited, uneven space often strewn with large rocks and trees.
Students practice landing on mountainous terrain during the weeklong training program at the High-Altitude Army National Guard Aviation Training Site in Gypsum, Colo., Aug. 27, 2019.
(Photo by Sean Kimmons)
“There definitely is that pucker factor,” Munoz said. “You have that caution and fear in that confined space. And there’s that potential for the rotors of the aircraft to strike an obstacle.”
A student at the High-Altitude Army National Guard Aviation Training Site, Munoz recently took the site’s weeklong course to hone his power management techniques that may one day help him out of a bad situation.
The only aviation school of its kind in the Defense Department, HAATS teaches about 350 students per year across the U.S. military as well as from foreign militaries, which account for about 20 percent of its enrollment.
The school is one of four Army National Guard aviation training sites in the country. Given its access to over 1 million acres of rugged forest with landing zones from 6,500 to 12,200 feet, HAATS mainly focuses on power management that teaches pilots how to maximize the utility of their helicopters.
The training sharpens pilots heading into combat or to perform missions back home, where they may find themselves flying in high altitudes, hot weather or carrying heavy loads, all of which can sap power from an aircraft.
“It’s important for us to give them the tools they need to make sure that they can complete their mission successfully and not bend or break aircraft in the process,” said Lt. Col. Britt Reed, the HAATS commander.
Operated by a small 30-member cadre of full-time Colorado Guardsmen, federal employees and an instructor pilot from the Coast Guard, the school relies on pilots to bring their own helicopters that can range from Black Hawks, CH-47 Chinooks and UH-72 Lakotas.
Students practice landing on mountainous terrain during the weeklong training program at the High-Altitude Army National Guard Aviation Training Site in Gypsum, Colo., Aug. 27, 2019.
(Photo by Sean Kimmons)
What they lack in numbers, the staff makes up with experience. Many of the instructors have thousands of hours of flight experience and multiple combat tours from when they served in line units, Reed said.
Instructors also have a dual role of conducting search and rescue missions when emergencies pop up across the state.
Once they arrive, students head to the classroom to learn about approaches and takeoff sequences, weather and environmental considerations, and then power management.Afterward, pilots typically fly twice a day out in the rugged terrain, practicing the skills they just learned.
Reed considers the training to be “graduate level,” intended for more experienced pilots.
“It would be difficult to take a student fresh out of flight school and put them through this training,” he said, “while they’re trying to learn their aircraft and how to maneuver it.”
With only two years of experience as a Lakota pilot, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Matthew Ferguson said he was lucky to be chosen for the recent course.
The Virginia Guardsman plans to use the skills when he is next called upon for drug interdiction operations in the state. High above the ground, Ferguson helps conduct surveillance for law enforcement as they search for suspects or illegal marijuana fields hidden in the forest.
An instructor pilot from the Coast Guard teaches a classroom portion of the weeklong training program at the High-Altitude Army National Guard Aviation Training Site in Gypsum, Colo., Aug. 26, 2019.
(Photo by Sean Kimmons)
Many times the job requires him to hover at high altitudes so as not to spook suspects and for safety reasons.
“If you get too low, the helicopter hovering over the house becomes pretty obvious, pretty quick,” he said. “So, you got to know how to maintain standoff, how to read the wind, [and] position the helicopter where you need it to be positioned.”
The techniques and finesse he picked up at the HAATS course, he said, gave him a better control touch of the aircraft when it’s using a lot of power.
Since they manage the aircraft, crew chiefs frequently join the pilots in the training to hone their skills, too.
By being together, aircrews can improve their teamwork, especially in dangerous landing zones where a crew chief is needed to spot dangers on the ground.
“Having good aircrew coordination between everybody in the aircraft is pinnacle because if you’re not talking to each other, then something is going to get missed,” said Sgt. Robert Black, a Black Hawk crew chief.
One time while deployed to Iraq, Black said he was on a helicopter that landed roughly on the side of a mountain as his crew went to check out a new landing zone during a training event.
“When we came in, we kind of browned out and then touched down a little bit harder than usual,” said Black, who is assigned to the Virginia National Guard.
While no one was injured, Black still saw it as a wake-up call. “If we would have had the training we had here, that probably wouldn’t have happened,” he said.
Students practice landing on mountainous terrain during the weeklong training program at the High-Altitude Army National Guard Aviation Training Site in Gypsum, Colo., Aug. 27, 2019.
(Photo by Sean Kimmons)
During the course, instructors will show videos that simulate previous helicopter crashes and discuss how to avoid the issues faced by those crews.
While somber, since some of the crashes have led to deaths, the videos are valuable learning aids.
“They’re all lessons learned,” Black said. “Being able to recognize somebody else’s mistakes and being able to learn from them is a key part of any kind of training.”
Seasoned crew chiefs also share their personal stories with their students.
Instructor Staff Sgt. Greg Yost often draws upon lessons from his time in Afghanistan where he served as a crew chief on a medical evacuation helicopter, which had to fly quickly in hot weather that sometimes took a toll on its power supply.
“If I can’t teach you something here in this course, then I have failed you,” Yost said of what he tells his students. “It is my goal, my duty to impart some kind of knowledge to every student that comes into my classroom.”
Training for combat
Earlier this year, Reed said the school was requested by the 10th and 82nd Combat Aviation Brigades to train up its younger crews ahead of deployments. The units flew several helicopters out to the site and for weeks the school cycled soldiers through.
HAATS even has mobile training teams that travel around the country to prepare aircrews.
At times, instructors hear back from crew members downrange they’ve helped train, who thank them and tell them they were able to apply the skills to real-world missions.
Staff Sgt. Greg Yost, a crew chief instructor, teaches a classroom portion of the weeklong training program at the High-Altitude Army National Guard Aviation Training Site in Gypsum, Colo., Aug. 26, 2019.
(Photo by Sean Kimmons)
Occasionally, crews will even share newly-found techniques with instructors that may help future students.
“More than anything, it validates what we’ve been doing,” Reed said.
While counterinsurgency operations in the Middle East may be waning, Yost believes skills in the course can still be used to mitigate risks in future operations.
For instance, helicopters may require heavier equipment, such as armor or technology, to offset anti-air threats posed by near-peer adversaries.
“As that stuff develops, it will be bolted onto the aircraft,” the senior crew chief said. “It will be adding weight, maybe increasing drag. All these contributing factors will reduce the aircraft’s performance.”
Whatever the mission, it’s no secret what they teach at the site, Reed said, who hopes every aircrew takes advantage of the course.
“We’re trying to spread the word and share it,” the commander said. “Often times we hear about a helicopter crash that’s power related. We want to do everything we can to make sure that all the aviators out there have these tools and make the right decisions.”
The following is an Op/Ed written by Ken Falke. The opinions expressed are his own.
There’s an important day of commemoration on March 29th — or in some U.S. States, March 30th — that goes unnoticed until the nightly evening news or a stumble on social media. This very special day is Vietnam Veterans Day, or in some states, “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day.”
In 1974, President Nixon established this commemoration to recognize the contributions of the men and women who served during this unpopular war and tumultuous time in our history.
Vietnam War memorial. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons | InSapphoWeTrust)
While many will rightly mark the day with speeches, tributes, and celebrations fitting for this great generation, there is a more meaningful way to honor our Vietnam veterans and all veterans. That honor is to provide them new and innovative ways to improve their mental wellness and reintegration into their communities.
Approximately 2.7 million young men and women served in Vietnam — about the same number that have served in Iraq and Afghanistan since September 2001. While all serving since 9/11 volunteered, few realize that almost two-thirds of Vietnam veterans volunteered to serve as well.
Even though Vietnam was an unpopular war, 91 percent of Vietnam Veterans said they were glad they served in the war, and one-quarter said they would do it again. What these numbers show is the incredible commitment to service that our Vietnam-era veterans share with the post-9/11 veteran generation.
But there are disturbing similarities as well. The current veteran suicide rate of 20+ per day is well publicized; though that the average age of the veteran is 55 years old is less known. PTSD rates from both generations hover around 30 percent.
Additionally, Vietnam veterans struggled — and many still do — with the same challenges that today’s veterans face: PTSD, anxiety, drug, and alcohol dependency, and family and work stability. By a percentage comparison, of the 591 Vietnam prisoners of war (POWs) only 4 percent had symptoms of PTSD.
So why did POWs who experience what would be considered the most traumatic experiences seem to fare so well?
Many suggest the leadership of Admiral James Stockdale while a POW in the “Hanoi Hilton.” His leadership provided purpose, mission, and direction as a team to “return with honor.”
Often, the sense of purpose provided by leadership during transitions facilitates growth to occur. While the DOD, the VA, and other organizations work hard to care for our veterans, the element of leadership seems to be lost after service and veterans fall into a “no-man’s land” that lacks wellness, a clear mission, and renewed purpose.
Why have we made so little progress in mental wellness for our returning warriors?
Many experts, including the Journal of American Medical Association, suggest that our reactive approach to combat related stress such as PTSD doesn’t work. Indicators show that our current approach has made little progress since the Vietnam War, and some suggest since World War I.
We are repeating minimally effective practices where veterans are offered medication, which largely attacks symptoms and leaves them as diminished versions of themselves, or talk-therapy provided by well-intended but often ill-equipped therapists, and cased in stigma.
Though the VA has announced plans to hire 1,000 additional mental health professionals, more therapists will not fix the inadequacies of the current approaches.
How can we do better?
First, expand public-private partnerships. The private sector and nonprofit organizations have developed new approaches to veteran wellness and reintegration that could be expanded. These approaches leverage training (which is compatible with military personnel and veteran culture) and new technology that could “triage” veterans and provide skills to facilitate Post-traumatic Growth before the need for medication or therapy.
Second, we need to recognize and address the stigma associated with therapy. While veterans — and civilians — can gain some benefit from talk-therapy and medication, one can only grow by learning the skills associated with growth. This requires a holistic training approach that veterans understand and allows them to thrive, not just survive.
Finally, innovation costs money. The President’s proposed budget has a 6 percent increase to the VA’s budget; much of it to focus on health care. While this is positive, we need to use new funds to create innovative solutions, not further outdated practices. While the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan continue and future threats remain, veteran mental health issues will likely worsen.
This March 29th and 30th we will stop to honor and welcome home our Vietnam veterans. While speeches, ceremonies, and commemorations will recognize their sacrifice, to truly honor their service — and the service of those that follow — we should facilitate growth and purposeful lives they truly deserve and welcomes them home.
Army scientists, working with officials from the National Football League, have developed a wearable device that helps reduce head and neck injuries.
The Rate-Activated Tether, is a flexible strap that connects a helmet to shoulder pads or body armor, said Shawn Walsh of the Weapons and Material Research Directorate at Army Research Laboratory.
“What happens is if that when head is exposed to adverse acceleration, this RAT strap will basically transition into a rigid device that will transmit the load to the body, and it has been proven to significantly reduce acceleration,” Walsh told defense reporters at a recent roundtable discussion sponsored by Program Executive Office Soldier.
Over the years, the Defense Department has partnered with the NFL and the National Collegiate Athletic Association to research brain injuries. For example, the Army beginning in 2007 put blast sensors into tens of thousands of helmets to monitor head injuries from roadside bombs in Afghanistan. And the Pentagon and NCAA in 2014 announced a joint study into concussions.
Army scientists are not sure if the device will eliminate Traumatic Brain Injury or concussions, but “we can say with some confidence that there is some benefit to reducing adverse acceleration,” Walsh said.
The device could help to prevent head injuries sometimes experienced by paratroopers, Walsh said.
“It is a known fact that paratroopers do experience head injuries,” he said. “They are trained to land very carefully, but sometimes at night, in the rain or in irregular terrain and something goes just a little off, they can land on their head,” he said. “There is some very real Army applications associated with that as well.”
Army officials also discussed more long-term science and technology initiatives such as a project to design robots that could one day deploy shields to protect soldiers in a firefight.
“Part of our job at the research center is to kind of try to push the Army out of its comfort zone,” Walsh said. “One of the things we are exploring now is robotics.”
An effort known as Robotic Augmented Soldier Protection is designed to shadow soldiers and deploy a protective shield when an attack occurs, Walsh said.
“A lot of people associate robotics with lethality, but what we are looking at is can we use robotics in a purely protective mode?” Walsh said. “Can we use these robotics to deploy protective mechanisms … that can work to protect a human?”
What is lacking right now is the science, Walsh said, adding that the Army is trying to work with the academic community on the effort.
Army officials that develop soldier requirements at the Army’s Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, Georgia are also interested in the concept, said Col. Curt “Travis” Thompson, director of the Soldier Division at Training and Doctrine Command’s Capability Manpower – Soldier.
“We are the closest touchpoint to the soldiers who are out in the field … but that doesn’t mean that we are the closest touch point to the realm of the possible or where we should be going,” he said. “We absolutely rely on ARL to kind of inform us to what is possible.”
The service’s leadership has shown interest in the effort, Walsh said.
“The Army is encouraging us; we were actually down at Fort Benning,” Walsh said. “They want to see more prototyping. They want to be introduced to these concepts as soon as possible.”
While still a fledgling effort, ARL does have a working prototype, he said.
“We are not saying that every soldier would have one,” Walsh said. “This is only useful in certain scenarios.”
Throughout the year, the team at We Are The Mighty has the privilege of learning about and meeting people doing extraordinary things in the military-veteran community. This is the inspiration behind our annual Mighty 25: Influencers Supporting the Military Community in 2018 — a list of individuals who are making a difference for military service members, veterans, and their families.
This year, we expanded our list to include not just veterans, prior service members, and reservists, but also civilians who are doing exemplary work in this community.
The Mighty 25 Committee utilized a set of specific criteria to select 25 members of the military-veteran community currently making a significant impact. The committee was comprised of the diverse WATM team of veteran editors, writers, and creators who engage with this community daily. The task force conducted extensive research to identify over 100 initial potential candidates. The top 25 were chosen according to impact and the representation of a diverse variety of social causes, fields of work, and communities affected.
This individuals on this year’s Mighty 25 have dedicated their lives to missions that vary greatly: from developing transitioning service members and their spouses into successful entrepreneurs, to helping veterans heal through stand-up comedy training. Yet these exceptional individuals all share one goal: to improve the lives of those who have sacrificed for their country.
We are excited to share these influencers’ stories, highlight their accomplishments to the world, and cheer them on as they continue to make a difference in the lives of many. The 2018 Mighty 25 list is presented here in alphabetical order.
Dr. Jill Biden
Combining a lifetime passion for teaching with her high-profile role as former second lady of the United States, Dr. Jill Biden is able to reach millions as a premier advocate for military service members and their families.
Not long after their husbands took office, Biden and First Lady Michelle Obama teamed up to form “Joining Forces,” a non-profit that partners with the private and public sectors to provide military families with tools to succeed throughout their lives. Their initiative, “Operation Educate the Educator,” was designed to help teachers understand what military families go through, and was introduced at 100 teaching colleges across America.
Biden believes that in addition to military members, families also serve – including children. Her book Don’t Forget, God Bless Our Troops is the story of a little girl coping with her father’s deployment, and is based on the Biden family’s own experiences when their son and father, the late Beau Biden, was deployed to Iraq.
The Biden Foundation, launched Feb. 2017, by Dr. Jill Biden and former Vice President Joe Biden, is a nonprofit organization that looks to “identify policies that advance the middle class, decrease economic inequality, and increase opportunity for all people,” according to its website. One of the organization’s primary focuses is supporting military families.
In April 2017, Biden was appointed to the JP Morgan Chase Military and Veterans’ Affairs External Advisory Council. The council advises the firm on a comprehensive strategy to design programs and products aimed at serving the unique needs of members of the military, veterans and their families.
U.S. Naval Academy graduate and retired Lieutenant Colonel Scott Cooper spent an impressive career in the Marine Corps as an EA-6B Prowler aircrew, serving five tours in Iraq, two in Afghanistan, one in Europe, and one in the Western Pacific. Cooper now serves as the Director of National Security Outreach at Human Rights First, a nonprofit organization that advocates for human rights, especially in encouraging America to be a leader and champion of human rights at home and abroad. In his role, Cooper works to build broad coalitions among military agencies, the national security community, veteran service organizations, and think tanks.
In 2015, Cooper’s passion for advocating for Afghan and Iraqi wartime allies and Syrian refugees led him to found Veterans for American Ideals, a nonpartisan, grassroots, community-based group of veterans aiming to leverage military veteran voices to bridge divides and regain a shared sense of national community. He believes that within this increasingly divisive political climate, veterans can be an important civilizing, unifying force. Their work amplifies veterans’ experiences, leadership abilities, and credibility to combat the erosion of our democratic norms and to challenge the rise of xenophobic, fear-based rhetoric and policies that run counter to our ideals.
In the face of the refugee ban promulgated by the current White House administration, Cooper has dedicated himself to championing the rights of refugees on Capitol Hill, working to educate government officials on the current refugee vetting process, even leading a delegation of refugees to meet with the offices of numerous senators, including John McCain, Jeanne Shaheen, Marco Rubio, Tammy Duckworth, Chuck Grassley, Joe Manchin, and Ed Markey.
Cooper also lends a prominent voice to this public issue as a published author, with his pieces on human rights issues and American values appearing in numerous publications, including the Washington Post, Foreign Affairs, The Washington Quarterly, War on the Rocks, Task and Purpose, The American Interest, and Policy Review.
The crown in Elizabeth Dole’s long and varied public career may not lie in her capacity as Federal Trade Commissioner under President Richard Nixon, Secretary of Transportation under President Reagan, or Secretary of Labor under George H.W. Bush — and possibly not even as United States Senator from her home state of North Carolina.
Rather, it is her foundation that may hold more significance for the ordinary Americans it serves every single day. Through the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, Dole has chosen to use her high-profile platform to advocate for those 5.5 million spouses, friends, and family members who care for America’s ill, injured, and wounded veterans.
While visiting her husband at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Dole first became aware of the needs and challenges facing military caregivers. A veteran of World War II, Bob Dole is the recipient of two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star, and has long suffered from the effects of his injuries. As she visited other veterans suffering catastrophic wounds, Dole was drawn to the families, constantly at the side of their loved ones, receiving little or no support.
Under Dole’s leadership, the Elizabeth Dole Foundation has brought national attention to military caregiver issues through its Hidden Heroes Campaign, launched grassroot support initiatives in more than 110 cities across the nation via Hidden Heroes Cities, encouraged innovation and the creation of direct service programming supporting caregivers through Hidden Heroes Fund, empowered and equipped military caregivers in all 50 states and Puerto Rico with tools to advocate on behalf of their caregiver peers though the Dole Caregiver Fellows program, and advocated for national caregiver support with Congressional and VA leaders. The Foundation also launched HiddenHeroes.org, a first-of-its-kind online tool where military caregivers can connect to a peer support community and directory of 200+ carefully vetted resources.
Dole’s impact doesn’t stop there. In October 2017, she was appointed chair of the Veteran Administration’s new family and caregiver advisory committee, which was formed in response to problems with support programs, and is charged with advocating for improvements to VA care and benefits services.
Marjorie K. Eastman
Her 2017 National Independent Publisher Award-winning book The Frontline Generation: How We Served Post 9/11 not only reframes how many thought about those who served in the conflicts following 9/11, it is the first book to define the timeless legacy of anyone who steps up to serve, declaring the most significant call to action for our time. What started as a memoir project that this former enlisted, direct commission Army Reserve officer took on to cope with her infant son’s battle with cancer, it became an informational and inspiring collection of reflections on those with whom she served, and the aftershocks of service, character, and leadership.
She sought to write a book that would help shape the man she hoped her son will become — yet she succeeded in shaping the narrative of post 9/11 veterans as being far more, and better than, the prevailing themes of hero or broken. And the U.S. Army took notice and placed her book on the recommended reading list for the Military Intelligence Center of Excellence library and museum. A 2018 updated version of her book is now available (audio book set to release in late May), with an additional appendix that empowers readers to find a mission — inciting confidence that every one of us can live with purpose, live for each other, and lead.
Named by PBS’s Veterans Coming Home Initiative as a veteran thought leader, Eastman, who was awarded the Bronze Star as a combat commander, as well as the Combat Action Badge, continues to pioneer new ground by positively reinforcing the value of veterans and service as an unmatched currency. She is a frequent public speaker and her articles on topical issues such as the #MeToo movement, veteran entrepreneurs as a force multiplier in our economy, how veterans can bridge the partisan divide, and the potential impact of U.S. State Department cuts have appeared in publications such as The Washington Post, Task Purpose, and USA Today. Make sure to check out her 2018 Deck of 52 Most Wanted post 9/11 Frontline Leaders, a weekly column that is a spin-off and salute to the original deck (2003 Iraqi Playing Cards), highlighting veterans and military families who have launched exceptional businesses and charities.
On Aug. 21, 2009, while enroute from Camp Victory to the International Zone (IZ) in Baghdad, Iraq, then-Army Col. Carol Eggert’s vehicle was struck by an EFP — an explosively formed projectile. She calls it her Gratitude Day. She and all ten service members riding with her that day were wounded. Eggert was in Iraq on a 15-month combat tour as Chief of the Women’s Initiatives Division and Senior Liaison to the U.S. Embassy, Baghdad. In this role, she conducted an analysis of women’s initiatives and engineered a strategic plan to empower Iraqi women economically and politically.
Now as a retired brigadier general in the private sector, Eggert continues to lead through empowerment. She currently serves as the Senior Vice President, Military and Veteran Affairs at Comcast NBCUniversal, executing Comcast NBCUniversal’s commitment to deliver meaningful career opportunities to veterans, National Guard and Reserve members, and military spouses. Eggert recently announced that the company exceeded its goal of hiring 10,000 members of the military community between 2015 and 2017.
Eggert’s selection for this role comes as no surprise. Eggert herself served across several components, including the Regular Army, the Army Reserve, and the National Guard. She also earned several degrees — two master’s and a doctorate in organizational leadership. In addition to the Purple Heart, Eggert is also the recipient of the Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Combat Action Badge, and Meritorious Service Medal with 4 Oak Leaf Clusters.
U.S. Naval Academy graduate and former Navy Seal Nick Etten believes that veterans’ quality of life could be improved — and lives could be saved — through access to cannabis for medical treatment. Through his organization, the Veterans Cannabis Project, Etten champions cannabis as a life-saving treatment option. With the prevalence of chronic pain among military veterans leading to a deadly opioid addiction problem within the community, Etten views Cannabidiol (CBD) products as a viable way to help veterans get off opioids.
Access to medical marijuana for veterans, however, is limited. The laws regulating marijuana are currently murky, since it is illegal under federal law, but legal under the law in some states. And because of the current classification of cannabis as a schedule one drug, research on its potential benefits for veterans is limited, and the Department of Veteran affairs does not allow its providers to prescribe or even recommend it to patients.
The Veterans Cannabis Project has been active on Capitol Hill, working to educate lawmakers, and requesting they take action to help clarify the health benefits of cannabis. Etten’s work to educate, advocate, support research, and partner with like-minded organizations is paving the path for future access to alternative treatment options for veterans.
When Justine Evirs joined the Navy, her plan was to make a career out of it. Her early medical discharge, however, forced her back to square one. She ended up in college to study business then spent numerous years in higher education and veteran services. Evirs is now a mother of three, military spouse, and prominent leader and disrupter in the entrepreneurial and veteran military spouse communities, whose ideas are fast-tracking opportunities for veterans entering the civilian workforce or starting their own businesses.
In her previous role as the Executive Director of the nonprofit Bunker Labs Bay Area Evirs helps provide resources and networking opportunities to military veterans and their spouses who are starting and growing their own businesses. Now in her new role as the National Director of Policy at Bunker Labs she is focused on policy solutions for veteran entrepreneurs across the nation.
The Paradigm Switch, a nonprofit founded by Evirs in 2017, originally provided veterans and military spouses access to prestigious certifications and vocational skills-based programs. Fast forward to today, The Paradigm Switch has recently relaunched and is putting military spouses first. Evirs is building a global digital community for military spouses by military spouses, offering a full spectrum of resources that enable spouses to unleash their unlimited potential both personally and professionally. They discover and provide access to resources and communities that empower military spouses to take control of their careers.
Delphine Metcalf-Foster made history in 2017, when she became the first woman ever elected as the National Commander of the Disabled Americans Veterans (DAV) organization.
Metcalf-Foster, whose father was a Buffalo Soldier, joined the military later in life, when her daughter was in high school. Her daughter was convinced people would laugh at her mom because of her age, but Metcalf-Foster went for it, and ended up retiring from the Army Reserve 21 years later. During her service, she deployed to Saudi Arabia in support of Operation Desert Storm/Desert Shield, where she was injured.
Metcalf-Foster’s passion for serving fellow veterans has fueled her work with DAV. With over 1 million members, this nonprofit organization helps injured veterans access benefits and advocates on their behalf. In her role as the DAV National Commander, Metcalf-Foster aims to spotlight the need to close the health care gap that exists for women veterans, as well as the need to expand government support for caregivers of pre 9/11 veterans.
It all started with this former Army captain’s raw, brutally honest and irreverent blog titled Kaboom: a Soldier’s War Journal, which chronicled his 15-month Iraq deployment leading a scout platoon with the 25th Infantry Division. The controversial and popular blog was eventually shut down by Gallagher’s chain-of-command, but was later published as a critically-acclaimed memoir after he left the Army.
Armed with an MFA in fiction from Columbia, Gallagher went on to write for numerous major publications, including The New York Times, The Atlantic, and Wired. Tackling such dicey issues as whether or not the Iraq War was worth it, the social estrangement of returning veterans, and refugee and immigration rights of Muslims coming to America, Gallagher challenges intellectual and moral complacency. As a veteran directly affected by these issues, Gallagher’s skepticism of the establishment, honest self-reflection, and calls for accountability bring an enormously refreshing and credible perspective to the conversation.
In 2015, Vanity Fair called Matt Gallagher one of the most important voices of a new generation of American war literature. His debut novel Youngblood (2016) portrays a young soldier in his search for meaning during the end of the Iraq War.
As a former intelligence officer in the Navy Reserve, the mayor of Los Angeles has made improving the lives of veterans a priority throughout his tenure. His establishment of the Mayor’s Office of Veterans Affairs aimed to ensure veterans in Los Angeles can access the services they’ve earned. One of Garcetti’s most impressive contributions to the veteran community during his time as mayor has been through the office’s massive hiring campaign called the 10,000 Strong Initiative.
Garcetti’s groundbreaking initiative formed a coalition between the Mayor’s Office of Veterans Affairs and companies and community organizations in Los Angeles over the last three years to reach the goal of hiring 10,000 local veterans. The program utilized the services of local nonprofits and government agencies to match qualified veteran candidates with open positions. The initiative also offered job training to veterans to assist them in transitioning into the civilian workforce, as well as training to companies on how to use tax incentives when hiring veterans.
Through the use of these resources and training programs, Garcetti’s 10,000 Strong Initiative ended up beating its own goal, placing 10,500 veterans with more than 200 companies in the Los Angeles region. In Garcetti’s own words from his Aug 29, 2017 Fleet Week speech, “The men and women who served our country in uniform should come home to opportunity, not obstacles. Veterans are some of the hardest-working, most qualified, and prepared people in Los Angeles — and they should have every chance to succeed in the workplace, and make a living for themselves and their families.”
Jason Hall started his career in Hollywood as an actor. Some might recognize him from his recurring role as the lead singer of a band in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. According to Hall, however, the role that truly made a difference in his life was for a University of Southern California student film in which he portrayed a Marine coming to grips with the loss of a troop. This role would serve as his entry into the fascinating and strange world of American military veterans.
Hall’s Oscar nomination for his adaptation of the late Navy SEAL Chris Kyle’s American Sniper novel for the 2014 film version served as his breakout moment as a major creative force. His success in the powerful telling of that story led him to his next project, Thank You for Your Service, a 2017 film he wrote and directed based on Washington Post reporter David Finkel’s nonfiction book by the same name, which follows the real-life plight of four soldiers returning home from the Iraq War.
Finkel, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, had followed these soldiers in the war for 10 months, then continued following them for another 13 months after they came home. What resulted was a gripping account of the challenges faced by veterans following war.
Hall’s film expanded the book’s audience to moviegoers across America, giving a prominent spotlight to the issues faced by returning veterans. It’s his dedication to the careful and accurate depiction of these true-life accounts that demonstrates his commitment to serving veterans through filmmaking. He looks to bring that same accuracy to the story of another well-known veteran: George Washington. He has spent the last year researching and writing the story of Washington’s road to becoming a leader through the French Indian war.
Zach Iscol is a combat decorated Marine veteran who served two tours in Iraq and fought in the second Battle of Fallujah, where he led a combined unit of 30 American and 250 Iraqi National Guard troops, and later helped build US Marine Corps, Special Operations Command.
Through Hirepurpose, Iscol has helped over 50,000 veterans with employment through personalized career guidance, resources, and job matching. Iscol’s Headstrong Project, an affiliate of Weill Cornell Medical Center, has provided cost-free world-class mental healthcare to over 600 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in 14 cities and growing around the Country. Task Purpose is a leading news, culture and lifestyle website with content aimed at military and veteran audiences, and reaching over 50 million people a month.
In 2007, Iscol’s testimony, while on active duty, before the United States Senate, helped establish the Special Immigrant Visa to safeguard and protect our Iraqi and Afghanistan translators.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson
Dwayne Johnson comes from a proud military family, and his goal is to give back to the military community. An actor, producer, philanthropist, and former WWE professional wrestler, Johnson uses his super-celebrity status to advocate for the importance of American freedom and to honor its protectors.
At the end of 2016, Johnson was the executive producer and host of the inaugural “Rock the Troops” event at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam for 50,000 military personnel in recognition of the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. For this event, which aired on Spike TV, Johnson assembled an epic cast of fellow celebrities — Kevin Hart, Jack Black, Matthew McConaughey, Keegan Michael-Key, Rob Riggle, Nick Jona, Flo Rider, and more all made special appearances to honor the troops.
Johnson continues his support for military members and their families through his partnership with Under Armour’s Freedom initiative, which supports the military and first responder communities by enhancing their physical and mental wellness.
After serving 25 years in the U.S. Air Force as both a public affairs NCO and officer, Mike Kelly continues serving the military community as a passionate advocate for veterans and military spouses. In his role as an executive at USAA, he leads strategic collaborations with key military, government, nonprofit, and for-profit advocacy groups.
Mike is building collaborative relationships that focus on a national dialogue surrounding important veteran and spouse issues such as financial readiness, navigating successful transitions into the civilian workforce, entrepreneurship, and supportive and impactful military spouse communities.
In 2016, The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation selected Mike as the recipient of the annual Hiring Our Heroes Colonel Michael Endres Leadership Award for Individual Excellence in Veteran Employment. He currently serves on the HOH Veteran and Military Spouse Employment Councils, which focus on actions addressing the unique employment challenges veterans and military spouses face.
Mike is dedicated to connecting, equipping, and inspiring opportunities that benefit the military community at large.
Sam Meek served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps as a Nuclear Biological Chemical Defense (NBCD) Specialist, completing two tours in Iraq. After leaving the military, Meek would eventually end up using his passion for technology to help connect members of the military community. His unique mobile app, Sandboxx, helps give new recruits in basic training — as well as deployed service members without access to their social media apps — a way to stay connected to the outside world.
Sandboxx customers, most of whom are already active users of social media apps like Facebook, Instagram, and SnapChat, are easily able to transition to Sandboxx to communicate with out-of-reach military members. They use the app to upload photos, which get converted into a piece of physical mail, which is sent anywhere in the world it needs to go, even remote locations. Most letters are sent overnight and are delivered the next business day.
Meek launched Sandboxx Travel in 2017, which enables service members to book hotels and flights, often with military discounts, through the Sandboxx app and site. The app also helps provide a way for active and inactive members of the military to connect with any unit they have ever served. As the grandson and great grandson of military service members, Meek was intent on maintaining his connection to the Marines. He now helps people around the world do exactly that.
On April 10, 2012, while serving on his third tour with the 82nd Airborne, Staff Sergeant Travis Mills was critically injured by an IED. He lost both arms and both legs in the blast, and is one of only five quadruple amputees from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to survive those injuries.
Mills spent much of his time during recovery at Walter Reed encouraging and hanging out with fellow injured veterans and their families, earning the nickname the “Mayor.” So it’s not much of a surprise that he ended up deciding that he wanted to do something big — not only for veterans, but their families as well. In 2013, embodying the warrior ethos of “Never give up, never quit,” Travis and his wife started the Travis Mills Foundation.
The Foundation supports veterans and their families through programs that help these heroic men and women overcome physical obstacles, strengthen their families, and provide well-deserved rest and relaxation. Mills’ latest effort to support these veterans and their families is through his Foundation’s national retreat center, located in his home state of Maine.
Since June of 2017, the retreat has served injured veterans and their families, who receive an all-inclusive, all-expenses paid, barrier-free vacation where they participate in adaptive activities, bond with other veteran families, and enjoy the 17-acre grounds of the estate.
You might know Bob Parsons as the larger-than-life billionaire entrepreneur who founded GoDaddy, but his legacy extends far beyond the massively successful internet domain registrar and web hosting company. Parsons served in the United States Marine Corps and, at 18 years old, deployed to Vietnam as a rifleman with Delta Company, earning a Purple Heart, a Combat Action Ribbon, and the Vietnam Gallantry Cross.
Parsons is passionate about creating a positive homecoming experience for veterans returning from war. This was also the inspiration behind those who started the Semper Fi Fund, a charity that provides immediate and long-term resources to post-9/11 military members who have been combat wounded, catastrophically injured, or are critically ill.
Semper Fi Fund also provides services aimed at helping vets throughout their lives, including family and caregiver support, PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury care and education, adaptive housing and transportation, education and career transition assistance, mentoring and apprenticeships, and unit reunions.
As one of the highest-rated charities in the country the Semper Fi Fund’s impact is impressive. According to their website, Semper Fi Fund’s 2017 monetary assistance to service members totaled million dollars. Bob Parsons and his wife Renee are also the founders of the nonprofit organization The Bob Renee Parsons Foundation. For the sixth year in a row, the Foundation recently completed its Double Down for Veterans match campaign with the Semper Fi Fund by matching contributions dollar-for-dollar, exceeding their 2017 goal of million. The Foundation has donated more than million in total to the Semper Fi Fund since its creation. This husband-and-wife philanthropic powerhouse have given an astounding 0 million dollars to charity since 2012.
Coming from three generations of military service, Elizabeth Halperin-Perez spent nine years as an Aviation Logistic Specialist in the U.S. Navy. During a deployments to the Middle East, her friend died in a terrorist attack on the U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Cole while it was refueling in Yemen’s Aden Harbor. This event, along with the deep respect for Mother Earth instilled in her from her Mono Indian Native American heritage, sparked her passion for energy policies that advance national security.
Committed to reducing conflict and future wars by furthering sustainable energy practices, Halperin-Perez went on to become the founder and president of the green-build general contracting and consulting firm GCG. Using her experience and network, she also works to help other veterans find clean energy job opportunities, and is passionate about helping them onto an entrepreneurial path. In 2017, Halperin-Perez was chosen by Governor Brown to serve on the California Veterans Board, and most recently was appointed Deputy Secretary of Minority Veterans with the California Department of Veterans Affairs, serving underrepresented veterans in a much larger capacity across California. She was also recognized at the White House in 2013 as a “Champion of Change for Advancing Clean Energy Technologies Climate Security”.
Sam Pressler began his involvement with the veteran community during his time as a student at the College of William Mary, where he majored in government and first learned about the mental health challenges faced by veterans returning from war. Pressler himself had turned to comedy to cope after a suicide in his family, and in response to the challenges affecting veterans and service members he started Comedy Bootcamp, a stand-up comedy class for veterans and their families as a way to help build community and improve well-being through comedy.
This bootcamp eventually grew into the Armed Services Arts Partnership (ASAP), a non-profit founded and led by Pressler that helps veterans, service members, and military family members reintegrate into their communities through the arts. The organization promotes expression, skill-development, and camaraderie through classes, workshops, and performances across a variety of artistic disciplines. ASAP’s focus on consistent programs and community partnerships ensures that members of our community have continuous opportunities for artistic and personal growth.
ASAP has served more than 600 students, and put on over 800 performances for 50,000+ audience members, including a 2016 comedy show at The White House and a performance for President Jimmy Carter. Through these programs and performances, Pressler has helped to create connections and understanding between veterans and members of their local communities. Pressler was honored on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list in 2017, as one of HillVets 100 most influential people in the veterans space in 2016, and as a recipient of the prestigious Echoing Green Fellowship.
His work with ASAP has been featured by numerous media outlets, including the Washington Post, ABC News, NBC, CNN, NPR, PBS, Military Times, Task Purpose, and Stars Stripes.
Jennifer Pritzker (born James Pritzker) enlisted in the U.S. Army, serving in the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions while on active duty, then at various units in the Army National Guard until retiring as a lieutenant colonel in 2001. She was later promoted to the honorary rank of Colonel.
Pritzker has been a massive force multiplier through her philanthropic work as the President and Chief Executive Officer of Tawani Enterprises, Inc., President of the Tawani Foundation, and Founder and Chair of the Pritzker Military Museum Library. In these roles, Pritzker makes significant long-term differences for programs and organizations that advocate the role of military in society.
Among her notable contributions is a id=”listicle-2565932886″.3 million donation to the University of California, Santa Barbara to fund studies on how the U.S. military could openly integrate transgender members into its ranks. In 2017, the Pritzker Military Foundation donated id=”listicle-2565932886″ million to fund key initiatives for Elizabeth Dole’s Hidden Heroes campaign, which supports the caregivers of injured and ill veterans and service members. In 2018, the Foundation gave id=”listicle-2565932886″ million to the Army Historical Foundation to help with the construction of the National Museum of the United States Army in Virginia. In 2013, Pritzker came out as transgender and started living as a woman. She is the only known transgender billionaire in the world.
(Photo by Terrilyn Bayne)
Diana & Daniel Rau
Daniel Rau was inspired to serve his country when he saw the Twin Towers fall on 9/11. He joined the Marine Corps and served as a Marine Security Guard protecting embassies around the world. After his service, based on his and his friends’ experiences, he saw an opportunity to radically change the process of how Veterans enter the civilian workforce.
Diana Rau, who was honored as one of Forbes’ 2018 30 Under 30 Social Entrepreneurs, is a Georgetown graduate passionate about solving major social problems. When she met Daniel, the idea for Veterati sparked: build a technology platform to help America’s 1.5 million service members currently transitioning into the civilian workforce as well as 5.5 million underemployed military spouses navigate and break into civilian careers. (A romantic relationship that later led to their marriage also sparked — Veterati’s story is both a startup story a love story!)
Because 80% of job opportunities are never listed, but rather, are advertised and filled through personal networks, the Raus built a digital platform that empower service members and spouses to connect with multiple mentors and build social networks vital to their career search. At Veterati.com, Veterans spouses are matched with successful business people in their area of interest using smart algorithms. Mentors volunteer their time through free, one-hour phone calls facilitated by the platform. Since its 2015 launch, Veterati, which has been called the “Uber-of-mentoring,” has provided thousands of free mentoring conversations for 10k+ members and is partnered with the nation’s leading Veteran Service Organizations and Military Employers to deliver free, on-demand mentoring to our entire military community.
In 2017, Denise Rohan became the first female national commander of the 2 million-member American Legion in its 99-year history. Rohan, who served in the Army’s Quartermaster Corps for two years at the end of the Vietnam War, joined the Legion 33 years ago, working her way up from post-level membership to National Commander.
The American Legion is the nation’s largest veteran service organization and was founded on four pillars: veterans affairs and rehabilitation, national security, Americanism, and children and youth. As their new national commander, Rohan is expanding on those four pillars through her “Family First” platform, which broadens the American Legion’s focus on service members and veterans to include family members as well. As the spouse of a veteran herself, Rohan believes that families serve too; and ensuring those family members are being taken care of at home allows for their loved ones in the fight to focus more on their mission, ultimately strengthening national security.
Rohan’s current special fundraising project is the Legion’s Temporary Financial Assistance program, which awards cash grants to children of veterans in need to help the cost of shelter, food, utilities, and health expenses.
Major Dan Rooney
Major Dan Rooney is a U.S. Air Force Reserve F-16 fighter pilot with the Oklahoma National Guard. It was during his second tour of duty in Iraq that he felt a calling to do something in response to the devastating sacrifices he saw others make fighting for their country. This calling was solidified on a commercial flight Rooney took after returning to the U.S. The plane had just landed and the pilot announced that the remains of Corporal Brock Bucklin were on board. Maj Rooney watched as the flag-draped casket slowly made its way to the awaiting family, which included the fallen hero’s son. Rooney was overwhelmed thinking about the hardship those family members would face due to their loss.
This moment irrecoverably altered Rooney’s trajectory, and he made the decision at that moment to dedicate the rest of his life to helping the family members of those who gave their lives, or were disabled in service to their nation. He recently formed a partnership with Budweiser’s Patriot Beer and in 2007 created the Folds of Honor Foundation, a nonprofit organization that helps the more than one million dependents adversely impacted by war through educational scholarships.
Rooney, who is also a PGA golf pro, realized that he could use his platform to help achieve the goals he had for his foundation. The first Folds of Honor golf tournament raised ,000. Since, then Folds of Honor has raised over 0 million and given away over 13,000 educational scholarships. Rooney continues to his work to uphold the mission of his foundation: “Honor their sacrifice. Educate their legacy.”
Actor and humanitarian Gary Sinise has been a strong advocate of American service members for nearly 40 years, starting with his Veterans Night program, which offers free dinners and performances to veterans at the Steppenwolf Theatre, which he co-founded in Chicago. Later, his portrayal of Lt Dan in the film Forrest Gump would create a lasting connection with the disabled military community. Following 9/11 he took part in many USO tours, which led him to form The Lt. Dan Band, which entertains troops at home and abroad and raises awareness at benefit concerts across the country.
Sinise established the Gary Sinise Foundation in 2011, through which he continues to serve and honor America’s defenders, veterans, and first responders as well as their families and those in need. Whether they’re sending WWII veterans to New Orleans to tour the National WWII Museum through its Soaring Valor program or building specially adapted smart homes for severely wounded veterans through its R.I.S.E. (Restoring Independence, Supporting Empowerment) program, Sinise continually demonstrates just how much one person’s commitment can do for an entire community. His Foundation recently added the annual Snowball Express event to its roster of programs. The annual event brings together the children and spouses of fallen military heroes each December for a fun-filled four-day event at Disney World.
Sinise’s forthcoming book Grateful American, which features the author’s life story and passionate advocacy for military service members, is slated for release in 2019.
Jon Stewart, comedian and former host of The Daily Show, is nothing less than passionate about his support for the troops. He continually uses his public platform to stress that the country does not do enough to support service members and veterans. His persistent message to America and its institutions is that supporting the troops shouldn’t be an empty saying, but rather a call to action. Stewart backs up his words with his own remarkable commitment, proving himself a truly dedicated advocate for this community.
During his long tenure as the host of the massively popular satirical news show, Stewart established an internship program for veterans trying to break into the television industry, which continues on to this day. He has also toured with USO three times, entertaining service members all over the world, bringing them laughs and a touch of home. Stewart regularly participates in benefits and campaigns aimed at raising money and awareness for issues impacting veterans.
In 2016, Stewart attended the Warrior Games, an adaptive sports competition in which injured and ill service members and veterans participate. He later pitched the idea of broadcasting the games on television to ESPN — and in 2017, they did exactly that, with Stewart serving as the emcee.
Less than 900 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival recipients are serving in the military, and the Pentagon has no idea what will happen to them.
President Donald Trump officially declared an end Sept. 5 to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program initiated by the Obama administration to allow illegals to remain and work in the country without fear of deportation, but what that rollback means for the military is still up in the air. The program’s protections will begin being phased out in six months, but DACA recipients whose permits expire before March 2018 can renew for another two-year period.
For now, the Pentagon is working closely with the Department of Homeland Security to find out what this policy change will mean for DACA recipients currently in the military. Out of 800,000 DACA recipients, the Pentagon said that less than 900 are currently serving in the military.
“There are less than 900 individuals currently serving in the military, or have signed contracts to serve, who are recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival authorization,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Paul Haverstick told The Daily Caller News Foundation in a statement. “These individuals are part of the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest Pilot Program. The Department of Defense is coordinating with the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security regarding any impact a change in policy may have for DACA recipients. The Department defers to our colleagues at DHS on questions related to immigration, naturalization, or citizenship.”
Those with DACA status have been allowed to enlist in the military since 2014 through the MAVNI program.
A total of 10,400 immigrants who have made it through MAVNI have received US citizenship, but MAVNI has been put on hold as of last year.
In an op-ed for The Washington Post published Sept. 4, former Obama administration Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said that if DACA ends, soldiers who are part of the program could be deported immediately. Panetta argued that GOP Sen. John McCain should allow the bipartisan Dream Act to be added to the annual defense bill, which would give illegal aliens a pathway to citizenship.
It’s no secret that America is pretty good at getting themselves involved in wars throughout the world. Historically, we haven’t been the best at coming up with an exit strategy for some of those conflicts, though.
The Vietnam War is considered one of the most politically charged military campaigns in our nation’s history as young men were drafted into service to fight against the spread of communism.
After the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the U.S. embarked on an offensive to break up a network comprised of men that take the worship of the religion of Islam into extremism.
Although these campaigns took place in separate decades against very different adversaries, the similarities from the perspective of the ground forces are impeccable. History repeats itself. Here are four ways in which these two conflicts are the same.
4. For the most part, we didn’t trust our allies
In both wars, American forces were teamed up with local troops to help combat their common enemy. Many Vietnam and Afghanistan War vets have noted that their “friendly” counterparts often appeared distant and were known to have even protected the enemy at times.
3. We fought against an unmarked enemy
Many of the fighters the U.S. went up against in both campaigns were able to disappear as fast as they appeared. This ghostly advantage wasn’t the result of some magical vanishing act, but rather an ability to blend back into the local population — right out in the open.
Since most of the “disappearing act” fighters are from small guerilla militias or surrounding clans, they never wore any distinguishable uniforms, adding to their advantage.
2. The enemy could live below ground
The Viet Cong commonly used their well-engineered tunnels while the Taliban make use of caves in the mountains of Afghanistan.
These livable structures can house enemy combatants for extend periods of time and conceal deadly weapons.