Women must be of Saudi origin and, for the most part, have grown up in Saudi Arabia. Applicants must be between the ages of 25 and 35, have at least a high school diploma, be at least 155 centimeters (5 feet) tall, and have a good height-to-weight ratio.
Most notably, women must not be married to a non-Saudi and must reside with her guardian in the same province as the job’s location.
In Saudi Arabia, every woman must have a male guardian — a father, brother, husband, or even son — who has the authority to make decisions on her behalf. A guardian’s approval is needed for women to obtain a passport, travel outside the country, get married, or leave prison.
Women’s rights are slowly growing in Saudi Arabia
While the new positions signal a continued shift towards improving women’s rights in the kingdom, many of the job’s requirements reinforce rules created by Saudi Arabia’s male-oriented system.
In April 2017, King Salman ordered all agencies to abolish unofficial guardianship requirements, meaning women who didn’t have a male guardian’s consent couldn’t be denied access to government services unless existing regulations required it.
And while Saudi women have recently been granted the right to drive and attend soccer matches, a male guardianship system remains in place.
Giving women the right to drive suggested authorities might review and potentially eliminate some of the restrictive guardianship laws. However, the system remains in place, despite government pledges to abolish it.
But progress is ongoing.
On Feb. 26, 2018, Tamadur bint Youssef al-Ramah was appointed as deputy labor minister, a rare senior post for a woman in Saudi Arabia.
Increasing the number of Saudi women in the workforce is part of the Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s Vision 2030 reforms, which seek to raise women’s participation in the workforce from 22% to 30%.
Retired Air Force Colonel and NASA astronaut, Greg Johnson posted a nice, heartfelt video for the folks seeking tips about getting through this time of isolation – as he’s something of a subject matter expert from his time in space. He makes excellent points, such as have a routine, be mindful of others, and stay positive, but I’d like to throw my two cents in from what I learned in Afghanistan.
Tip one: Don’t skip out on meals. You can even hit up midnight chow if you’d like. Beach season is cancelled this year anyway.
Tip two: Take whatever breaks you feel you need. We all basically lived in the smoke pit (regardless if we were actual smokers or not) and still somehow managed to get things done. You can too. You also have the added advantage of turning your Zoom meeting off and not having to deal with your boss all day.
Tip three: Don’t feel guilty about binge watching tv or playing video games all day. A good chunk of most Post-9/11 troops’ off-duty time on deployment was spent in the MWR doing the exact same thing and you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who’d say they didn’t earn it after a stressful day.
If my list somehow looks like encouragement to become a fat, lazy couch-potato… Go for it. What do I care? I’m not your NCO. Anyway, here are some memes.
(Meme via US Army WTF Moments Memes)
(Meme via Not CID)
(Meme via Army as F*ck)
(Meme via Disgruntled Vets)
(Meme via Private News Network)
(Meme via Infantry Follow Me)
(Meme via The Army’s Fckups)
(Meme via Hooah My Ass Off)
(Meme via Coast Guard Memes)
(Meme via Pop Smoke)
(Meme via Decelerate Your Life)
(Meme via Air Force amn/nco/snco)
That’s why I like the film The Last Full Measure. It’s one of the only Air Force centered films that I can think of that doesn’t feature a single f*cking pilot.
No offense to pilots, but your films are always the same. “I’m a renegade despite being bound by the UCMJ and I’ll only learn the value of being a part of a team after my actions directly cause someone’s death. Now cue the flying montage!”
This 200th episode of Borne the Battle features Air Force Veteran Aerial Johnson, better known by her wrestling name “Big Swole,” Aerial shares her time in the military and how she transitioned into civilian life to eventually became a professional wrestler.
Johnson joined the Air Force in 2008 to be a fire truck mechanic. She was stationed at the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro, North Carolina. On April 3, 2008, on a day she and her family would come to call her “second birthday,” Johnson was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease after being told she had half an hour to live. She survived a round of emergency surgery and was told that she would never be able to have children or engage in high-impact sports. However, Johnson didn’t let her diagnosis stop her from doing what she wanted to do. When her Crohn’s disease worsened, she had to leave Air Force in 2010 but she didn’t stop to pursue other dreams.
Hull returned to her hometown of Clearwater, Florida, where she started interacting with a local community of professional wrestlers. She became an independent wrestler herself, and after a few years she signed with All Elite Wrestling and has appeared on both AEW Dark and AEW Dynamite.
In this episode, Hull discusses how she overcame the struggles of Crohn’s disease and embraced the lessons she learned in the military to develop the “Swole mentality” of giving everything her all. She is a reminder to people everywhere that with discipline, anything is possible.
A notebook written in English that may have belonged to an ISIS fighter was reportedly found in a jail in Raqqa, according to the National, which exclusively obtained the notebook from an unnamed source.
The notebook reportedly details the inner workings of the militant group, including their future plans, military shortcomings, and issues foreign fighters faced within the group.
According to pictures of the purported notebook provided by the National, the pages appear to be written in English by one author who used American spelling of words and numbers. A second author wrote in French, and Arabic was used in some of the text as well.
The author details ISIS’s core strategies for maintaining control in the region.
On one page, the author describes how to prevent defectors from leaving ISIS territory: “We should push civilians who want to flee to our centers of gravity in Mosul and Raqqa.” The author added: “The enemy might try to break our control over an area and allow civilians to escape.”
The notebook describes a solution, written in large letters “THE BIG SOLUTION” which explains that ISIS should not use “conventional military power against a much stronger foe,” and suggests the group focus on “insurgency” until their “political situation allows for a more conventional approach.”
Another page compares several types of guns and their cost in dollars using hand drawn pictures.
The author also discusses expanding efforts to other countries, including Saudi Arabia. A page reportedly questions: “How to make Saudi like Syria? Can we get people to hate Their [sic] rulers?”
The author continues: “Mecca and Medina are a priority for the [caliphate] to actually influence world Muslims. But to get there we need to destabilize Al-Saud. Direct action against Al-Saud from Iraq will likely fail militarily and attract US ground troops so the best way to do this is internally, with the support for Yemen and Iraq.”
The writings also appear to show that ISIS fighters kept up with international news, and often monitored global political cycles.
The author offers suggestions on how to pull “the USA to another major war to exhaust its economy.” The writer also extensively followed the US presidential elections, and said key decisions would depend on US political action.
“The US decisions are very important, and they depend on the Presidential elections.”
(Photo by Gage Skidmore)
“However, if democrats lose, a Republican administration would be more likely to bring US boots on the ground, and cooperation with Iran will likely stop,” the author reportedly wrote.
The journal also reportedly layed out a strategy for confronting the US on the battlefield: “Fighting the USA might be more dangerous militarily, but it will grant IS respect in muslim [sic] eyes.”
The notebook also reveals the innermost thoughts of what appears to have been a foreign ISIS fighter. At the bottom of a page detailing “important” military issues “to study,” the author asks himself: “Who am I? What should I do? Why am I here? How did I reach this place?”
According to the report, the author bemoans several limitations within the group, including lack of training time to militant fighters and notes there were “problems created by different languages.”
Associate Professor at the Naval War College Monterey, Dr. Craig Whiteside, told the National that there were notable similarities between the strategies laid out in the book and the strategies taught in western military training.
“The author has studied topics we study in a war college, such as the differences between policy and strategy.”
“If this is a foreign fighter, not studying their own country for military facilities but instead learning about Iraq and Syria, the goal is to encourage them to stay,” he added.
Figures from October 2017 show more than 40,000 fighters from more than 110 countries flocked to Syria and Iraq after its establishment in 2014. Reports indicate that roughly 129 US nationals joined the caliphate. Of those foreign fighters, at least 5,600 citizens or residents from 33 countries who have returned home.
Mighty Stories is a weekly WATM feature highlighting the stories of veterans, active duty and military families. This week’s feature is Krista Simpson Anderson – Army wife, Gold Star wife, founder of the nonprofit The Unquiet Professional.
I grew up in Hampton, Massachusetts – a little town right outside of Springfield. My father served in the U.S. Air Force from 1967-1971, but it was before I was born. My mom’s side of the family also served, but it wasn’t something we talked about. I was blissfully ignorant about military life.
I met Mike in June 2006. He was a friend of my cousin’s. My cousin was deploying to Iraq and my aunt was having a deployment party for him. She flew in a few of his friends that had been in the Old Guard with him, and she called me and asked me to help her with the guys flying in.
I walked into the Toasted Owl Tavern in Northhampton, and there he was.
It was love at first sight. I remember my cousin saying to me, ‘I’m going to disown you both if you get married.’ But we were fixed on each other. The whole world could have come crashing down around us and we wouldn’t have noticed.
In August 2006, Mike’s whole unit transferred to Germany. I went out to visit him for Thanksgiving. In September of 2007, he deployed to Iraq. He came out to Rhode Island to my family’s home before he left and we spent a week together. I was working in the restaurant business at the time of his deployment, so I took a couple of different jobs, one in St. Thomas, one in New York. But we stayed in contact.
In April 2008, during his mid-tour leave, he invited me to his brother David and sister-in-law Kelsey’s wedding in Texas. During their rehearsal dinner in his parents’ backyard, he went to give his best man’s speech and we all thought it would be something funny. He was so goofy, it was hard to imagine him doing something serious. Now mind you, he served in the military in the Old Guard so he clearly had to be serious for work. But the first thing out of his mouth was, ‘Be each other’s compass.’
I was blown away.
Mike and Krista. Photo courtesy of Krista Simpson Anderson.
That night, he walked me to my room – we were all staying with his parents – and he told me he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me. And he asked me, ‘Will you be my wife?’ I knew that it had been a long night of celebrating so I told him that if he felt the same way in the morning we could talk about it. I went to sleep dreaming of the rest of our lives together.
The next morning over a cup of coffee at the counter, Mike looked at me and said, ‘I don’t feel any differently than I did last night. I want you to be my wife. I want to spend the rest of my life with you.’ I said yes, of course. We kept this a secret because it was not our day – it was David and Kelsey’s wedding day, and we knew his oldest brother, Isaac, was going to be proposing to his now wife, Vanessa, the next day. We told his sister, Abby, and then swore her to secrecy.
A few days after the wedding we announced our good news and decided to marry as soon as Mike returned from his deployment.
Mike went back to Iraq a week later, and returned in October 2008 to Germany. We met back up in Tennessee for Isaac and Vanessa’s wedding in November. December 20, 2008, we married in Rhode Island, and the first week of January he returned to Germany. We decided to live apart until his orders came through to start the Special Forces Qualification course so he wouldn’t need to extend in Germany.
I went to Germany to see him in February for his birthday, and I came home and found out I was pregnant with our first son a month later. I was working at a restaurant as a manager and living with my parents in Rhode Island awaiting orders. By September 2009 we were finally living together in Fort Bragg, NC and our son Michael was born October 22nd.
I remember taking “SF101” (Special Forces 101) for the spouses and the emphasis was put on how long our husbands would be away from home. Everything was about not getting our hopes up for birthdays, holidays, special occasions and being a family during those times. They really wanted to prepare us for the let downs of our military career. No one ever told me the incredible things our husbands would be doing while away from home and that every mission would be for the good of our nation. No one ever told me about the amazing and wonderful things we would be doing for our families while they were away. No one ever told me how, as spouses, we would show up for each other, in good times and in bad. No one ever told me that we would all be changing the world together – them abroad and us on the homefront.
Mike, Krista and their two boys. Photo courtesy of Krista Simpson Anderson.
Mike graduated in March 2011 and then reported July 10 for a Special Forces billet at 4th BN, Charlie Company, 1st Special Forces Group at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. I got out there August 1 with Michael who was just about two, and pregnant with Gabriel. We closed on our first house on my birthday, September 23.
As soon as our household goods arrived, Mike was off on a TDY (Temporary Duty) so I set up the house with my two year old and called my Mom and Aunt in for reinforcements to paint beige the mustard yellow walls and ceiling our new home offered.
When home, Mike was a present and incredibly fun daddy. He played this game called Daddy T-Rex. He would hold Gabe and chase Mic around the house, pretending to be a dinosaur. They would also lie on the floor and play Legos, have mini race-car races all the while tapping into Mike’s very present childlike spirit. He’d say to me, ‘I can’t wait until they’re older so we can do more fun things.’ He couldn’t wait to play basketball, soccer and teach them to ride bikes.
On 6 April 2013, Mike deployed with his company to eastern Afghanistan. Less than three weeks later I received the call every military spouse prays they’ll never get.
Mike, right, with a battle buddy. Photo courtesy of Krista Simpson Anderson.
The day before the call, Mike and I were texting back and forth and I was telling him how grateful I was to be his wife. I asked him to marry me all over again. I said, ‘I love you more today than I ever have. You have brought so much joy to my life that it overwhelms me. Will you marry me… Again?’ We were going to meet in Mexico with our families around Christmas and I told him I wanted to do it then. He wrote back, ‘Yes!’
On April 27, I had just put Gabriel down for a nap (he was 16 months) and I heard my phone ringing. I ran down the stairs to an ‘Unknown’ caller and answered what I can only assume must have been the last ring. It was (now Lieutenant Colonel) Major Jamie Alden, and he said ‘Hi, Krista? This is Major Alden.’ It didn’t even dawn on me why the company commander would be calling me from Afghanistan.
He asked me where I was, and I told him I was at home. He asked where the boys were, and I told him Mic was in the other room and I’d just put Gabe down for a nap.
He said, ‘I need you to sit down.’
You know that feeling when it seems that your brain starts going numb and it begins to rush through your whole body? Luckily I made it to the other room and sat down near the boys’ toys – on a bean bag chair.
‘Michael is alive, but he is in critical condition. There was an accident; he hit an IED while riding an ATV. He has a lower right leg amputation and there has been severe trauma to his right arm. We know there is shrapnel damage, we just are not sure where and the extent. Again, he is alive, but he is critical.’
I had to stop him. I couldn’t process anything and I knew I wouldn’t be able to remember anything else he was saying. I ran across the street and banged on my neighbor Kate’s door, and her daughter opened it. She was supposed to be coming over anyway to watch the boys since we had a neighborhood clean-up scheduled and I was president of the homeowners association. She ran to stay with the boys while Kate got on the phone with Major Alden. It took some convincing for him to speak to her but he finally agreed, understanding my emotional state.
I watched her as she spoke to him but I couldn’t hear her. I could hear sounds, just not the words, as if my ears were blocked. Kate handed the phone back to me and I thanked him, and he reminded me that we were family, that his wife Susan would be calling me soon, and that everything was going to be okay.
Mike, before the attack. Photo courtesy of Krista Simpson Anderson.
I got off the phone and had to start making phone calls. I walked with my phone in my hand across the grass toward our friends, Alan and Angie’s, house. They were laying out a tarp for mulch on their driveway when they looked over. It must have been written all over my face because they rushed to me and caught me before I fell to my knees. Alan was the commander of an EOD unit on JBLM and assured me everything was going to be ok. Angie was by my side and provided support in any way I needed.
I wanted to close my eyes and wake up from the nightmare but I couldn’t. I was a Green Beret’s wife and the mother of two future Green Berets. I said to myself, ‘Pull yourself together, handle your business- he’s not dead and is going to need you to be strong!’
I stood outside, barefoot, on the cold pavement. The bottoms of my feet still get cold remembering those moments. I tried calling Mike’s parents but there was no answer. I tried calling my parents and no answer again. I called his brother Isaac, who was also a Green Beret who was in North Carolina doing his instructor rotation. I said, ‘It’s Mike. He’s alive but he hit an IED and he’s in surgery. It’s critical.’
I can still hear his scream.
Isaac had witness IED attacks before and he knew the gravity of this news. Isaac and Vanessa would make the calls to the rest of the Simpson family as I continued my calls from the floor of our parish where I sat and prayed. Once my parents were notified, my mother arrived from Rhode Island to our home in Olympia, Washington, 12 hours later.
1st Special Forces Group (1st SFG) at JBLM welcomed me in every morning to call Afghanistan for updates. LTC David Haight would call Bagram ICU and translate their medical report for me whether at that morning meeting or 1am. We would share our information, formulate a plan and I would leave the table every morning stronger than I arrived. Monday, 29 April, I called the hospital myself. The doctor that answered told me he was sorry, but that Mike didn’t have a gag or corneal reflex and that he would not live.
I thanked him and his team for caring for him so well. I went downstairs to tell my mother before the boys awoke and then retreated to my room where I called my cousin Alicia and friend Andrea. I begged Alicia to wake me up and take this away.
The medical team cared for Mike so well they were able to transfer him from Afghanistan to Landstuhl Army Medical Center in Germany. We got the green light to go to Germany as soon as Mike was in the air from AFG. They couldn’t cut orders or book our flights until they knew Mike was surviving the altitude. They performed emergency surgery on the plane and worked tirelessly to keep him alive even though they knew the outcome. When they arrived in Germany, one of Mike’s closest friends from the Special Forces Qualification Course was there awaiting his arrival. Casey served with another Special Forces Group and was training in the area when we received the news.
As I traveled to Germany, my Casualty Assistance Officer (CAO) SFC Gerry DeMarzo and Chaplain Johnny Elder escorted me. What a blessing they were for so many reasons I couldn’t possibly list in short. The ‘behind the scenes’ had so many issues getting us all there but with the help from the Green Beret Foundation, Special Operations Warrior Foundation, USO, Fisher House Foundation and Care Coalition on top of 1st SFG, I arrived and met Mike’s parents, siblings and spouses to be with Mike.
Upon arrival, my only request was that I got to see him first. I wanted to clean him up before his mom saw him. Silly, but it was all I could think of. I got to the hospital and Casey was at the door with SFC Doug Way. (They both never once left us. Casey stayed at Mike’s bedside and Doug would either be standing outside his hospital room or kneeling outside the room praying.)
I never lost hope.
‘Maybe he will heal and maybe the doctors were wrong,’ I kept telling myself.
Casey and Doug greeted me, offered their condolences and I entered the room.
There he was.
My big bad Green Beret laying broken and vulnerable. I had never felt so helpless in all of my life.
All I could manage was a whisper… ‘Dear Lord, please help us.’
On 1 May 2013, as we all stood around Mike’s bed, Dr. Betts informed us that Mike was in fact brain dead. I asked, ‘Can his brain heal?’ rationally knowing the answer, but I had to ask. ‘No ma’am, the brain can not heal from these injuries,’ he said. I nodded my head in understanding, saw the very real pain in his parents’ and siblings’ faces, said, ‘Thank you,’ and then ran out.
I ran left out of the room, through the ICU doors into the hall toward the stairs, down the stairs and out of the hospital hoping I could run away from this earth-shattering moment in my life and somehow, when I returned, everything would be ok – Mike would wake, he would rehab and our lives would go on … Together.
I stopped and Gerry and Doug were not too many steps behind me. Gerry never let me out of his sight for a moment; he was my greatest advocate and protector. He always told me he took care of our family the way he would have wanted his family taken care of if something were to have happened to him. When I returned to the hospital, I went back in and I didn’t leave Mike’s side except for an hour to take care of the paperwork I needed to sign.
The rest of that day we would call all the family and friends we could connect with so they could say their goodbyes. I would call and inform them of Mike’s diagnosis, tell them how sorry I was but that it was time for them to say goodbye if they wished. I would put the phone down on Mike’s pillow next to his ear, believing he would receive their love and pain through their words.
I wanted everyone to have the opportunity to say whatever they wanted and needed to for some closure. Our family and friends stateside would say goodbye as well as Charlie Company, 4th BN, 1st SFG. Mike’s team was sure he would survive, so my news was heartbreaking to them … Mike was their brother.
One of Mike’s friends and teammates brought me to my knees with his heartfelt message that his wife would transcribe for me later. His words were, ‘For Mike: Hey buddy. Have no fear, you’re the realest Green Beret now. You did it all. Thanks for all the bravo advice and an invitation to be a part of your family. I will never forget our time together and will do anything for your family. R.I.P. brother. I love you. One more thing – thank you for the greatest sacrifice one can make. My prayer to you … Now I lay you down to sleep, I pray the Lord your soul to keep. If you should die before you wake, bless Mikey Lord, his soul to take.’
Once the last call was made I think my body and mind knew it and I needed to rest. I asked the hospital staff if they could move Mike over so I could lie next to him in his hospital bed. I laid there and just listened to his heart beat. I prayed until I drifted off to sleep. Around 4 am, the nurse came in and wanted to change his dressings and clean him up. I asked if I could help, so she brought in soapy water and a washcloth. She changed his dressings while I cleaned him up. Around 9 pm, they came in to get him for organ donor surgery. I stayed with him while they got him ready to be moved. I walked to the door holding his hand as they started to wheel him out, and didn’t want to let go.
This was it.
I would never see his chest rise and fall or hear his beating heart again. ‘I’M NOT READY!’ I screamed in my head.
But … with as much grace as I could, I leaned down and kissed him one last time and whispered, ‘I love you all the world. I promise you I will take care of our boys, and we will always remember you.’
They wheeled his bed out and I stood in the empty, cold hospital room alone. ‘What now?’ I asked. ‘How do I live without you?’
We came back from Germany to Dover for the dignified transfer on 7 May 2013. He was supposed to be the only casket on the flight, but seven other soldiers were killed just days before, so we were with their families. These families didn’t have what we did. They didn’t have the chance to say goodbye. They watched their loved one get on the plane for deployment and then their casket come off in Dover.
It started to rain as we stood out on the tarmac, so hard it was sideways. My mother in law had an umbrella and was also trying to wrap me in her jacket to protect me. I told her I was okay without it, because I wanted to feel everything; the rain, the heartache, the fear. I had to face that moment.
As the caskets were taken off the plane I could hear the rain and the wailing from mothers and fathers who lost their sons, siblings who lost their brothers, spouses who lost their husbands and children who lost their fathers. I felt as though I was hovering over myself, looking down in disbelief that this was now my journey.
I flew home to Washington after being gone for 10 days. I could never spend a few hours away from my boys without missing them terribly. This time I was afraid to see them. What would I say? How would I tell them their Daddy wasn’t coming home?
Mike’s dignified transfer. Photo courtesy of Krista Simpson Anderson.
I sat Michael (age 3) down and asked, ‘Do you believe in God?’
‘Yes Mommy,’ he said.
‘Even though you can’t see Him?’ I asked.
‘Yes of course Mommy!’ he replied.
‘You know Daddy is a soldier?’
‘Yes,’ he answered.
I looked into his eyes and softly said, ‘Well, Daddy is going to be God’s soldier now.’
‘But I will miss him,’ he said.
It would have been easy to sit down and focus on all the tragedy. My husband, my best friend, the father of my two beautiful boys was gone. I was a 35 year old widow who didn’t have enough time with the love of my life. Mike and I always told each other, ‘This love happens once in a lifetime,’ and it was gone.
My future and dreams broke into a million pieces and I had no idea how I would become whole again. And yet, somehow, I had to choose to see the incredible blessings that were happening all around us. The support from our family, friends and community; the military representatives that were assigned to us that created a beautiful journey; it was all a gift as much as my husband’s sacrifice was a gift to us all. Everybody who walked into our lives … it was nothing short of perfect.
On 30 May 2013, our Memorial Day, Mike was interred with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery by his original Old Guard unit where he served when he first joined the military in 2003.
There are many things I remember about that day. It was so hot I could feel the heat from the pavement radiate through the bottom of my sandals – a stark contrast from the cold I felt on my bare feet the day I got the call that Mike had been hit.
I remember walking for what seemed like forever with our two children, hoping to make it through the ceremony.
Michael with his Daddy T-rex at Mike’s memorial. Photo courtesy of Krista Simpson Anderson.
And I remember thinking that this place, Arlington National Cemetery, had always been one of my favorite places to be. It’s so peaceful. It’s filled with a clear and strong sense of honor and courage, but in that moment I didn’t feel brave at all.
There were over 100 people in attendance to show their love and support, not just for Mike, but for us as well. My dear friend Andrea Rinaldi was one of them. She stayed by my side through it all, from the very beginning of our journey, and selflessly gave of her time and heart. The service, experience and support of so many was humbling, and I will always be grateful.
Finally, I remember the boys and I receiving the folded flags. How do you process receiving a folded flag in the place of your Daddy when you’re only three years old? Michael was given the flag, but really only wanted his Daddy T-Rex. As I held our 16 month old, I watched as Gerry, our Casualty Assistance Officer, took a knee, and took Michael’s flag for him. I love this picture – this moment in time – as it truly captures how Gerry so beautifully served our family.
Mike’s company would continue their deployment for six more months after Mike’s death. One of his teammates stated during his memorial, ‘This Team… This company… This regiment, will never forget your sacrifice. Each day when we don our kit and prepare for battle, we will do it in your honor. We will take the fight to the enemy and fight how you would have wanted us to. Never faltering… Never failing… and never forgetting. This fight is over for you brother, but know that it is not over for us. We will continue in your honor and remember you as a husband, a father, and a Green Beret.’
I attended the homecoming for the first flight that came in from Afghanistan. I was grateful to be there yet nervous about my emotions. As we waited in the company I was approached by a woman in the hallway. ‘Mrs. Simpson,’ she said. ‘I am not sure if this is an appropriate time but I wanted to introduce myself and tell you that I was one of Mike’s nurses in Afghanistan.’ I am sure I hugged her immediately and was so grateful to lay my hands on someone who was there, with Mike, during the scariest moments of his life. It was a blessing I can’t explain. She was one of many who saved Mike so our family could say goodbye. She was, and still is, my angel. I am blessed by her and her whole family to this day.
When the buses arrived carrying Mike’s company we all rushed outside to greet them. The minds and hearts of so many wives and children were eased and made whole again. I truly was so happy for them, yet I subconsciously waited for Mike to get off that bus. The last man embarked and I was sure Mike would be next. The door closed and the bus drove away.
In the distance, I heard the shriek of a little girl, calling, ‘Daddy! Daddy!’ and as I turned to look, I saw her run and jump into a man’s arms who wore the same uniform as all the other soldiers … the same one Mike would have been wearing, with the same wide arms he would have caught our sons in. But it wasn’t him and it never would be. My heart shattered all over again and I needed to turn and walk inside to face this emotion alone. I couldn’t allow anyone to think I was not grateful their husbands came home, because I was, wholeheartedly, but that didn’t take away my pain.
I went home that night with a folded flag that was flown over Mike’s camp in Afghanistan. My dear friend laid next to me as I cried myself to sleep and she didn’t leave my side until she knew I was okay.
Over the next several months I was constantly at the battalion, offering help, wanting to talk to them to make sure they were doing okay. I know it was difficult for them to see me since I was a reminder of the reality of Mike’s death. I know many struggled with his loss and I recognized very quickly that survivor’s guilt was a very real emotion. They needed to know that this was God’s plan, not ours, and He doesn’t make mistakes. My mission was to show them that we would honor Mike, grieve his loss but we would absolutely be okay. We were strong and proud, not weak and angry. Everyone grieves differently and there is not a right or wrong way to do it. I chose grace for me, my children and his team.
One of Mike’s teammates, Gus, had done the original inventory on Mike’s things. He was able to put all of his belongings into perspective. What he was wearing the day of his accident, what certain gear meant and what it was used for. He brought back command challenge coins from the memorial in Afghanistan where they all gathered on 11 May. Gus was able to retrieve and hand carry the patches Mike wore on his helmet, along with the memorial patch he had made for their team’s uniforms. Gus would come over and play with the boys, give me a moment of rest and help anyway he could.
So many of Mike’s teammates and their families would do the same. I was so grateful for the respite since the light at the end of the deployment tunnel was extinguished for me. Mike wouldn’t return to ease the natural burdens of parenting coupled with keeping up the household alone.
I always had family dinners. From the time Mike passed, I’d send out a text at 1:00 pm on a Sunday with, ‘Family dinner at 4’ and a few hours later the house would fill with joy and laughter. What better therapy than to be surrounded by those that loved us and Mike?
Gus and I would talk a lot about Mike, his feelings of survivor’s guilt (which they all had) and spent a lot of time together over the next couple years. I started to realize I cared for Gus more than I thought was possible and wanted to see where that would lead us.
I flew down to Texas for Easter – I needed to talk to Mike’s parents. His father said to me, ‘I have four requirements: He loves you, he loves the boys, he loves Jesus and that he always shows them it’s manly to love Jesus.’ His mother said, ‘I’ve prayed since the week after Mike died that you would find somebody.’ They were my greatest supporters. And they already loved Gus. He was already a part of our family. This was a no brainer for me.
I struggled with Gus being my secret-not so secret boyfriend. I had this organization that I’d founded as a widow of an active duty service member. I was afraid. I had lost my identity as a military spouse and then I found one as a military widow. It allowed me to talk about Mike and honor him. We were afraid of what our friends might think of our relationship and the judgement that would come. In July 2016, we broke up when I realized I needed time. Ten days later, he left for Nepal with his team and during those three months I recognized all of the things I was doing wrong. I thought I was honoring Mike every day but by not honoring Gus at all, was I really? By having someone in my life who wanted to love us, take care of us and honor Mike, yet I wasn’t willing to let him in – could I be dishonoring my late husband? I used to resent the ‘widow’ title but then I found myself not wanting to let it go.
I prayed so much and I came to the conclusion that I just needed to love Gus, and show him that he was a priority. He got back from Nepal and he was still very angry with me. We met a few times to talk, took it slow and then one day I boldly told him that we were going to get married. I knew the response could have broke my heart but he was worth it.
We were worth it.
He laughed and told me softly that I had to be crazy. One month later, Gus got down on one knee on the docks in Seattle, in front of our favorite Oyster Bar (Elliotts) and asked me to marry him. Two months later, we were married in Rhode Island among our family and friends. The priest who married us had married my parents, baptized Gabriel, did last rights for Mike and his funeral in Arlington, and had confirmed and married Casey and Sandy (Mike’s friend who was with him in Germany). It was perfect.
Thanks to Michael’s kind-hearted 1st grade teacher, Ms. Petruska, my boys decided to call Gus ‘Dad’ the moment we stepped off the altar, and have not called him anything but that since. They wanted and needed a father in their lives so badly and I don’t think I realized that until then. Michael and Gabriel both repeat Ms. Petruska’s words often – ‘We have a Daddy in Heaven and a Daddy on earth.’
A month after Gus and I married he deployed to Afghanistan. I woke up every morning and prayed that Gus was alive. He was so good about messaging me whenever he could to ease my mind, even though I never shared with him my fears. His heart and mind just works that way and he is always considering the times and moments I may go through in this journey and how they may be affecting me. He is constantly striving to make life easier. I pray I do the same for him.
I won’t tell you that I didn’t struggle through those six months but I can tell you I found peace in God’s plan and chose to continue to trust that His plan was greater than mine. Tragedy and loss does not have to define you or dictate the rest of your life. My story didn’t end with the loss of Mike; it began with a new chapter of hope and my choice of joy. It continued with honoring Mike and Gus giving me the greatest gift… he never makes me choose as he continues to give me the freedom to love them both.
Five years to the day that Mike touched American soil in Dover, Delaware for his dignified transfer, I landed in Washington, DC with Gus, for the Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year events with Military Spouse Magazine that would change my life. Five years to the day that Mike was flown back to Joint Base Lewis McChord to land at Grey Army Airfield, I was awarded the overall Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year. I know it’s right where I need to be, that God’s timing is perfect, and that Mike would be so proud of me. And I also know I couldn’t have done any of this without Gus or my children.
Tragedy did not dictate my life in a negative way. My goal is that other people can see that, and feel that. I remember looking at other Gold Star Spouses like Lisa Hallett and thinking, ‘If she can do it, I can do it.’ And I want other people to look at me and find hope, too.
Mike was very proud to sacrifice his life. And I am so proud to honor him.
Arlington National Cemetery is where my friend Andrea suggested a fundraiser for those who supported us and ultimately where The Unquiet Professional was born. So many organizations supported us, from the volunteers with the USO who carried my kids through the airport, the Green Beret Foundation being there for everything, or wear blue: run to remember, where I found a healthy and meaningful way to heal. I wanted to be able to pay that love back.
We now provide healthy and empowering opportunities for Gold Star Families, Veterans and their families. When Andrea suggested fundraising, she saved me that day. She saved me from the possibilities of not being able to live out my grief in a positive way. I heal as I strive to help others do the same with my ‘twice in a lifetime love’ by my side every step of the way.
Memorial Day is my favorite holiday of the year. We feel Mike’s presence and his loss every single day no matter what life brings us. But on Memorial Day, everyone thinks of all of our fallen heroes. People say when you’re having your bbq and your beer you’re not remembering the sacrifices, but I say celebrate. Celebrate their lives. Remember them.
For the first time, Moody’s 23rd Maintenance Squadron’s propulsion flight accomplished an unprecedented feat by ensuring every TF34 engine in their fleet is repaired to serviceable status.
This readiness level relinquishes the need for the flight to perform maintenance on their current A-10C Thunderbolt II engine assets. While they normally maintain the 74th and 75th Aircraft Maintenance Unit’s engines in support of Moody’s close-air support mission, the backshop will now centralize their TF34 repair efforts to assist other bases and Major Commands to include Reserve and National Guard units.
This has allowed the 23rd MXS to play a vital role in helping secure an Air Force-wide 200 percent ‘war-ready’ engine status, the highest in the TF34’s 40-year history.
“I’m excited for every member of this team,” said Master Sgt. Cevin Medley, 23rd MXS propulsion flight chief. “This is my third base and engine backshop. Repairing an entire TF34 engine fleet to serviceable status (with zero required maintenance) is something I have only “heard” about in my 17 years.
“This (accomplishment) is important because it not only allows us to meet our minimum deployment requirements, but we also can support other operations if every (Moody AFB) A-10 aircraft were to be tasked to deploy,” Medley added. “Since our ‘war-ready’ engine levels have been so high, we have been able to help the rest of the Air Force’s TF34 community with their due engine repairs.”
The 23rd MXS propulsion flight manages WREs, which are engines that are ready to be installed on the A-10. Of their entire fleet, 14 are spare WREs, which surpasses Air Combat Command’s required level of five spare WREs. The flight’s 280 percent spare WRE rate has enabled the backshop to currently perform no current maintenance on their assets and have rebuilt seven engines in total from outside Moody.
Airman 1st Class Jordan Vasquez, 23rd Maintenance Squadron aerospace propulsion technician, inspects the fuel lines of an A-10C Thunderbolt II TF34 engine, May 16, 2018, at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Eugene Oliver)
The road to pursue this challenge wasn’t easy. An innovative process, known as the Continuous Process Improvement, positioned the flight to have a chance at history. In 2017, approximately 20 civilians and Airmen from almost every enlisted rank implemented ideas to help the flight better maintain the TF34 engine.
“(2017’s) Continuous Process Improvement event allowed us to identify waste in our streamline,” said Medley. “This enabled us to shave an average of 58 work hours off each engine visit. This allowed us to go from six awaiting maintenance engines, which is the amount of engines we didn’t have the manning to work because we were repairing other engines in 2016, to where we are today.”
In order to reach new heights in maintenance proficiency, many small changes were made. The flight refocused training for new Airmen on common problems, began pre-ordering commonly needed engine parts, enhanced cross-unit and internal communication and even added updated photos to technical orders.
For Senior Airman Dakota Gunter, 23rd MXS aerospace propulsion technician, these new improvements paid big dividends for the backshop’s operations.
“The Continuous Process Improvement not only helped us (reduce) time on engine rebuilds, it also made the job a lot easier,” said Gunter. “Our processes have gone a lot smoother with everything from checking out tools to (performing) and documenting maintenance. Teamwork has been key during all of this, with everyone playing a key part to ensure the job is complete.”
According to Medley, the cohesion and continued support of not only the 23rd MXS, but the 23rd Maintenance Group supervision proved invaluable. He hopes to sustain their achievements and continue to assist in getting the rest of the Air Force’s TF34 fleet to match Moody’s readiness.
A few years ago, there was a viral Facebook post about a woman getting a haircut before Memorial Day weekend. She had lost her husband in a Navy helicopter crash months prior. He died on deployment, never having met their youngest son. So, when the smiling receptionist wished her a “Happy Memorial Day” after she had buried her spouse, the words cut extra deep.
Before you tag every veteran and service member on Facebook and wish them a Happy Memorial Day, remember that, in this community, Memorial Day means something much, much bigger than the start of summer. The day feels fraught with memories of those we’ve lost, mixed with gratitude for the times we’ve had.
While it is true that every day is Memorial Day for the families of the fallen, they aren’t asking that you stay inside and wallow.
But we do owe it to them to pause. Reflect. Remember. Honor.
Gold Star wife Krista Simpson Anderson, who lost her husband, Army Staff Sgt. Michael Harrison Simpson, in Afghanistan in 2013, said, “I get upset when people scold others for enjoying the weekend or having BBQs. What do you think our service members did before they died? Mike sure did enjoy his family and friends. What better way to honor them than to be surrounded by family and friends living. But we are also so grateful for your pause and reflection as you celebrate our heroes and the lives that they lived.”
Krista Anderson and her sons pose for a photo in 2014.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Marcus Butler)
Memorial Day and Veterans Day are different holidays with unique purposes — and unique ways to honor each.
How to honor Veterans Day
Veterans Day is the day to tag all your people, posting photos with your brother in uniform or the selfie with your bestie before he or she deployed. Veterans Day celebrates the living who served our country. Offer veterans a discount at your business. Call your favorite vet on the phone and thank him or her for their service. Attend a parade. Celebrate a veteran.
How to honor Memorial Day
Memorial Day is about remembering and honoring every single man and woman who has died for our freedoms — men and women who were mommies and daddies, sons and daughters, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, patriots, incredible Americans and really, really great friends.
The United States Marine Band on Memorial Day.
(Photo by Spc. Cody W. Torkelson)
You want to honor and celebrate patriotism and the military this Memorial Day? Then you have to honor the complicated feelings surrounding it. Express your knowledge that this day is about remembrance.
It’s inevitable. Someone will get deployed, spot an officer, and render a proper salute as if they were back in the garrison only to be met with a look of disdain. We’ve seen it the other way around, too. A troop walks by an officer who gets offended when they aren’t given a salute.
Now, there’s no denying that it’s good military discipline to give a proper greeting to an officer whenever they cross your path — it shows respect worthy of their rank and position.
But when you’re deployed, the rules are different — and for good reason.
First of all, if you actually take the time to read the regulations on saluting, you’ll notice there’s almost always a clause that states “except under combat conditions.” The regulations are very clear about not saluting under combat conditions — but there are other exceptions not explicitly outlined in the books.
It doesn’t make sense to render a salute when you’re in formation and you’ve not been given the command, when you’re carrying things with both hands, or while eating. Saluting in these moments is a great way to turn something respectful into a sign of disrespect.
Anyway, if you’re going to salute in a combat zone, at least do it right. If you’re deployed, chances are high that you’re carrying a rifle with you at all times. Giving a proper salute while carrying a rifle is actually only done when given the command to “present, arms.” Even then, it doesn’t involve putting your right hand to your brow.
But performing that motion requires you to raise the barrel of your rifle into the air. And if there’s even the slightest chance that there’s a round in the chamber (which, especially when you’re in a combat zone, is a possibility), swinging around the rifle is just asking for a negligent discharge…
Why is all of this important to note? Because you must assume that the enemy is always watching from a distance, ready to take their shot at the highest-ranking person they can. This has been a concern since the first scope was put on a rifle.
While there are many officers who’ve lost their lives to enemy snipers, it’s unclear just how many were killed directly after some moron announced their importance to the rest of the world. What we do know, however, is that the most famous American sniper took out a high-ranking enemy with the help of a salute.
Gunnery Sgt. Hathcock made his legendary shot at an NVA general from over two miles away. He was too far away to accurately tell which enemy was the general at a glance, especially when several people walked in a group. Take a single guess at how he identified who was who.
You can still show respect to officers while deployed without doing it improperly and risking their life. A simple, “Good afternoon, sir,” is much more appreciated.
Feature image: U.S. Air Force photo/ Senior Airman Erik Cardenas
The US military dispatched several powerful strategic military assets to the Korean Peninsula Aug. 31 in a “show of force.”
Two Air Force B-1B Lancers from Andersen Air Force Base in Guam and four Marine Corp F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters from US Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Japan drilled alongside four South Korean F-15 fighters, practicing bombing North Korea’s core facilities, according to US Pacific Command.
The B-1 carries the largest conventional payload of any Air Force bomber, and the F-35 is one of America’s top stealth fighters.
“North Korea’s actions are a threat to our allies, partners, and homeland, and their destabilizing actions will be met accordingly,” General Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, Commander, US Pacific Air Forces, said in a statement. “This complex mission clearly demonstrates our solidarity with our allies and underscores the broadening cooperation to defend against this common regional threat. Our forward-deployed force will be the first to the fight, ready to deliver a lethal response at a moment’s notice if our nation calls.”
The display of allied military power comes just days after North Korea launched three short-range ballistic missiles into the East Sea/Sea of Japan and fired an intermediate-range ballistic missile over Japan, raising alarms. North Korea called the second launch a “meaningful prelude to containing Guam,” a reference to its early warnings of possible strikes around the Pacific territory.
The US has sent B-1B bombers ripping across the peninsula before, typically after major provocations by the North. While these aircraft are no longer nuclear-capable, as the necessary components were removed years ago, North Korea often refers to these aircraft as “nuclear strategic bombers,” and they make North Korea extremely uncomfortable.
The North perceives Guam as a forward base for a preemptive/preventative strike on its territory, so for Pyongyang, bomber overflights are disconcerting. North Korea actually cited the B-1B Lancer flights over the Peninsula as one of the reasons it plans to fire missiles around Guam in its own display of power. North Korea revealed earlier this month it is considering launching a salvo of four Hwasong-12 IRBMs into waters around Guam to send a message to President Donald Trump.
The Trump administration has been pursuing a policy of “maximum pressure and engagement,” which involves using economic sanctions and diplomatic pressure to bring Pyongyang to the negotiating table for a diplomatic solution. Trump, however, said Aug. 30 that “talking is not the answer” with North Korea, while stressing that “all options are on the table.”
Secretary of State James Mattis later said, “We’re never out of diplomatic solutions.”
US policy is unclear as the Trump administration confronts a problem that has puzzled presidents for decades and is now more complex and dangerous than ever, given that two decades of failed North Korea policy have allowed the reclusive regime to develop nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them to distant targets in South Korea, Japan, and even the continental US.
Ibrahim al-Asiri, an Al Qaeda bomb-maker believed to have masterminded a plot to down a commercial airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009, was killed in a US drone strike in Yemen in 2017, US officials confirmed to Fox News and CBS News on Aug. 20, 2018.
Al-Asiri is said to have made the underwear bomb that a Nigerian man named Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to detonate on a Northwest Airlines flight to Detroit in December 2009. Al-Asiri was also involved in a plot to hide explosives in printer cartridges being shipped to the US. The first attack was unsuccessful because the attacker failed to detonate the device, and the other bombs were discovered after a tip.
Before his death, al-Asiri was believed to have been working on bombs that could be hidden inside laptops, CBS News reported.
Michael Morell, a former CIA deputy director, told CBS News that al-Asiri was a big reason for increased security at airports. “A good chunk of what you have to take out of your bag and what has to be screened is because of Asiri and his capabilities of putting explosives in very difficult to find places,” he said.
Morell described al-Asiri as “probably the most sophisticated terrorist bomb-maker on the planet.” He said in a tweet on Aug. 20, 2018, that it was “the most significant removal of a terrorist from the battlefield since the killing of [Osama] bin Laden.”
Fox News reported that in 2009, al-Asiri hid explosives in his brother’s clothes in an attempt to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s interior minister; the brother was killed in the attack.
A report from the United Nations and statements from a Yemeni security official and a tribal leader had previously indicated that al-Asiri, a Saudi national and one of America’s most wanted terrorists, was killed in a drone strike in the eastern Yemeni governorate of Marib, The Associated Press reported.
Al Qaeda’s Yemeni affiliate has long been regarded as one of the most dangerous outfits, primarily because of al-Asiri’s bomb-making abilities.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Okay, let’s imagine you’re going through your stuff to see what you want to donate to charity. First, there’re the old clothes that you haven’t worn in a while. Then there’s that kettlebell sitting in the corner from your last effort to get in shape. And finally, there’s the grenade launcher…
Don’t laugh — a grenade launcher was donated to a Florida Goodwill shop, according to ABC7.com. When the employees realized what they had, they called the police. Explosive ordnance disposal experts rendered the situation safe.
A spokesman for the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office told WATM that what had been donated was “an airsoft grenade launcher used primarily for paintball.” The spokesman, Dave Bristow, admitted that he had no idea what the launcher’s ultimate fate would be. A UPI report indicated the launcher resembled the M203 grenade launcher.
Aviation ElectronicÕs Technician 3rd Class Awail Hassen loads a high explosive point detonated 40MM grenade round into an M203 grenade launcher during a live-fire exercise on the fantail of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Gary Prill/Released)
However, this isn’t the only time armaments have surfaced where you might not expect them to. One former Marine recounted how the staff of Tierrasanta Elementary School, which opened in 1974, ended up on a first-name basis with the members of various local explosive ordnance units. The school had been built on an impact area in the former Camp Elliot, where the 2nd Marine Division had been training. Thirty years after the war, kids would find unexploded bazooka rounds and grenades and bring them in for show-and-tell.
Uncovered UXO has been far more common in Europe, with significant finds cropping up in both the United Kingdom and Germany in 2017. BALTOPS naval exercises have repeatedly uncovered UXO during mine countermeasures exercises in 2009, 2011, and 2012.
Should you come across UXO, a slight modification of the four rules of the National Rifle Association’s Eddie Eagle program makes sense: Stop, don’t touch, get away, and call police.
Veterans lined the halls of the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center Nov. 8, 2019 to watch the first ever Inpatient Veterans Parade. The parade is the result of one VA employee’s vision and the patriotic spirit of a community.
The Muskogee High School R.O.T.C. color guard led the way through Primary Care and inpatient wards. The parade also included members of the community and “mini” floats decorated by VA staff.
Honor, the facility dog, acted as grand marshal while parade participants handed out candy, hats and other treats to veterans.
Twenty-five organizations and VA services joined in the event. Muskogee High School provided a marching band, cheerleaders and football players. Korean War veterans, the American Red Cross and over 80 students from the Sadler Arts Academy also participated.
Seeing Color Guard was emotional
Veteran Billy Fuller became emotional when he saw the color guard.
“I really liked the parade,” said Fuller. “I was in the Air Force and seeing the colors and hearing the songs just takes me back. Thank you for doing this for us.”
VA staff from the Intensive Care Unit were one of 25 hospital services and community organizations that participated in the parade.
Sadler students passed out cards and thanked veterans for their service while the band, cheer squad and football players brought the music and patriotic spirit that echoed throughout the facility.
Air Force veteran Merle Smith and Terry Hood were all smiles as the parade passed through the Inpatient Rehabilitation Unit.
“I think this is the greatest thing in the world,” said Smith. “All these young kids bringing cards and thanking veterans. It was just really something special.”
Hood agreed, but added with a big smile, “The candy was my favorite part.”
Volunteer specialist had idea for parade
The idea for the parade came about a year ago when inpatients expressed their disappointment at not being able to attend Veterans Day activities. As a result, Voluntary Service specialist Shantel McJunkins thought of how VA could bring the parade to veterans.
“It was important to me that we bring the parade to the VA this year to celebrate and honor our veterans who are not able to attend Veterans Day parades in their community,” said McJunkins. “It was such a joy to see their faces light up as the parade went through the hospital.”
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
“Every kid has a dream to be an astronaut,” Air Force veteran Molly Potter said. “But by college, these dreams become less and less important for most. That was not so for me.”
Potter attended Embry-Riddle to major in Space Physics and Space Engineering. While there she tried to start a military career in Army ROTC, but soon found it was not for her. Many of her friends were in Air Force ROTC. She liked the mentality and decided it was the best way to get to where she wanted to be.
“I was a 13-Week Wonder,” Potter says. “I loved it and a quickly did my best to be come a stellar officer.”
She and her then-husband were “poster airmen” at Eglin Air Force Base. He was an AC-130 navigator who deployed all the time; she was a weapons specialist, awarded Company Grade Officer of the Year in her first year. By the time she was promoted to first lieutenant, she had caught SOCOM’s eye.
Going from her desk job to deploying to Southwest Asia with the US Special Operations Command was far from Potter’s comfort zone.
“They gave me a gun and a backpack and basically told me to go,” Potter recalls. “I was essentially a one-person band out there with the Army and Marines. I didn’t realize what I was experiencing.”
And she experienced a lot, even for a munitions specialist.
“Afghanistan was the place I felt most respected on all levels,” Potter says. “The men in JSOC and SOCOM were utmost professionals. They only cared that I did my job, and they needed me to save their asses on occasion. I had the same respect they had for me.”
One night, as the sun went down, a rocket attack knocked Potter out. A cement barrier saved her life, protecting her from the frag.
Like many veterans of recent conflicts, the blast caused her traumatic brain injury. Little was known then about the effects of blasts on the brain, and she was sent home without a diagnosis.
After her deployment, she was assigned as a flight test engineer with test pilots, the next step in her path to becoming what she wanted since childhood. She attempted to numb herself from the emotional turmoil.
Her role was quick-turnaround acquisitions for special operations missions. Watching the munitions she procured from the airplanes or from monitors and how they killed combatants on the ground, even seeing what she calls ‘the Faces of Death,’ coupled with seeing her own life flash before her eyes changed the way she saw her role in the war. Her whole life was dedicated to becoming an astronaut, but here she was engineering ways to make killing more efficient.
“They were supposed to be getting this star officer,” Potter remembers. “Instead, they got a struggling officer, fresh from Afghanistan, who wasn’t sleeping or eating, and whose marriage was falling apart.” She refused to take leave yet struggled with this difficult program, full of the world’s best pilots.
Her memory started to fade, and she couldn’t even get through a day’s work. It hit her one day when she was driving home from after flying military aircraft on military orders, but suddenly couldn’t remember how to get home.
“I realized then I needed help,” Potter says. “But I didn’t want to lose my clearance, my career. But my commanding officers started to notice there was something wrong with me. I wasn’t really there.” It all came crashing down in 2013, when a motorcyclist ran into her car in Las Vegas and Potter suffered a total mental breakdown. Her leadership realized what was happening.
“I was lucky my command realized I had a problem,” Potter says. “Instead of disciplining me, they told me ‘the Air Force broke you and the Air Force is going to put you back together.'” Recovery soon became her full time job.
“I was a high suicide risk,” Potter admits. “Therapy was very tough for me. Halfway through, I started to stall. I was having nightmares. Even with my mom there, things were not going well. I was suppressing all this awful shit and having horrible nightmares. That’s when I got Bella.”
Bella is Potter’s “100 percent American Mutt.” When Potter experienced intense Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and refused to leave the house, it was Bella who forced her to go outside. She had to be walked, after all. Bella also had to be fed, watered, petted, and cleaned. She became Molly Potter’s reason to get out of bed, to get out of the house.
“She slowly started bringing my life back,” Potter says. “I started realizing she was waking me up in the middle of the night when I was having nightmares. She prevented my panic attacks and my night terrors. I started progressing with my therapy and becoming myself again.” Bella’s effect on Potter was so strong, her therapist suggested she train Bella as a service dog, and that’s exactly what she did.
In the meantime, the Air Force began to wonder what to do with Potter. She did lose her clearance and could no longer fly, but she didn’t have disciplinary issues, so her command wanted to work with her to help her find a new Air Force role or help her transition to the civilian world.
In her preparation to leave the service, she started to work at the Airmen and Family Readiness Center at Nellis Air Force Base, to help troubled Airmen and families or help those who were also transitioning. Bella would come with her, to keep her calm and bring her back in case of a panic attack or breakdown. The families visiting the AFRC loved her, but not everyone was a fan of Bella in the workplace.
“I got a lot of pushback for this service dog,” Potter says. “There was no regulation for service dogs and uniformed personnel.”
A potentially troubling situation took a turn for the best one evening, as Potter brought Bella to an Air Force Association Symposium in Washington, DC. She happened to run into Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh and then-Secretary of the Air Force Eric Fanning.
She told the senior leaders how great her therapy was and how the Air Force PTSD therapy helped her. Then she told them about her concern for regulations regarding service dogs and that one should be written. They both agreed. Now active duty Airmen and Soldiers on PTSD therapy can use working dogs to help them cope as an accepted practice.
“Bella saved my life,” Potter says. “She changed the tide of my therapy and gave me the confidence to be Captain Potter again.”
The CSAF and the SECAF gave their full support and attention to this issue and Potter now uses her story with Bella as a way to help promote getting help while in the military.
“It’s not the only way, but it was my way,” Potter remarked. “I was anorexic, divorced, and suicidal. Five month changed my life. I had horrible experience in Afghanistan, but by the time I left the military, I was happy, sleeping and had a support network to start a new life.”
Potter now lives and works in Austin, Texas. In her spare time, she volunteers with the Air Force Association and works to match service dogs to other veterans facing the struggles she once faced.
“I still think women on the battlefields is a positive thing,” she said. “War isn’t in the trenches anymore and women bring a more creative, sometimes necessary softer tone to the fight. In the future, critical thinking could be crucial to winning and I think women in these roles bring new solutions to the problems surrounding war.”