A former medic with the 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) that heroically fought his way up a mountain to render aid to his Special Forces teammates and their Afghan commando counterparts will receive the Medal of Honor.
The White House announced Sept. 21, 2018, that former Staff Sgt. Ronald J. Shurer II went above and beyond the call of duty April 6, 2008, while assigned to Special Operations Task Force – 33 in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom. He will receive the highest military award for valor at a White House ceremony, Oct. 1, 2018.
In April 2008, Shurer was assigned to support Special Forces operators working to take out high-value targets of the Hezeb Islami al Gulbadin in Shok Valley.
As the team navigated through the valley, a firefight quickly erupted, and a series of insurgent sniper fire, rocket-propelled grenades, and small arms and machine gun fire forced the unit into a defensive fighting position.
Staff Sgt. Ronald Shurer II graphic.
Around that time, Shurer received word that their forward assault element was also pinned down at another location, and the forward team had sustained multiple casualties.
With disregard for his safety, Shurer moved quickly through a hail of bullets toward the base of the mountain to reach the pinned-down forward element. While on the move, Shurer stopped to treat a wounded teammate’s neck injury caused by shrapnel from a recent RPG blast.
Staff Sgt. Ronald J. Shurer II.
After providing aid, Shurer spent the next hour fighting across several hundred meters and killing multiple insurgents. Eventually, Shurer arrived to support the pinned down element and immediately rendered aid to four critically wounded U.S. units and 10 injured commandos until teammates arrived.
Soon after their arrival, Shurer and his team sergeant were shot at the same time. The medic ran 15 meters through a barrage of gunfire to help his sergeant. Despite a bullet hitting his helmet and a gunshot wound to his arm, Shurer pulled his teammate to cover and rendered care.
Medal of Honor.
(US Army photo.)
Moments later, Shurer moved back through heavy gunfire to help sustain another teammate that suffered a traumatic amputation to his right leg.
For the next several hours, Shurer helped keep the large insurgent force at bay while simultaneously providing care to his wounded teammates. Shurer’s actions helped save the lives of all wounded casualties under his care.
Shurer also helped evacuate three critically wounded, non-ambulatory, teammates down a near-vertical 60-foot cliff, all while avoiding rounds of enemy gunfire and falling debris caused by numerous air strikes.
Further, Shurer found a run of nylon webbing and used it to lower casualties while he physically shielded them from falling debris.
Shurer’s Medal of Honor was upgraded from a Silver Star upon review.
Promotions are an exciting event in a military career, and celebrating them comes standard. The question, however, comes in what type of celebration to expect — essentially, how big is too big? And what’s the “norm” for each rank and service branch?
Because everyone who gets promoted to a new rank is presumably doing so for the first time, there’s a steep learning curve. You can talk to others or attend services of those ahead of you in order to learn what’s expected by you as the service member.
Big or small, salute them all!
It doesn’t matter if you’re getting your first promotion or your 10th, it’s something to be excited about! Enjoy your achievement and bask in the progress of your career. Don’t overlook a promotion for it being “small,” but rather take time to pat yourself on the back.
This is a big deal; you’ve earned it!
Early career promotions
Consider that, earlier in one’s career, promotions will come faster. It’s easier to climb the ranks your first few years in. There’s nothing wrong with this, only to keep in mind that in years to come, promotions won’t come as easily, or as frequently.
It’s a good idea to communicate this to friends and family, too. So they aren’t expecting fast pay jumps … and to give them a better idea of how the military works. In fact, it’s a good idea to keep your loved ones in the know for a better communication process about your future.
Pinning and pomp and circumstance
No matter what rank you’re pinning, there will be some type of ceremony. Keep in mind that, depending on the circumstances, they could be a big deal, or something simple. For instance, if deployed, you might have a fast “here’s your new rank” get together. While, when stateside, you can invite loved ones and plan an actual event.
In general, you get to choose someone to pin (or velcro) on your new rank. Decide who you want this person to be, whether a family member, co-worker or someone else who’s made a profound influence in your life. Ask them in advance, and if they aren’t associated with the military, coach them on what/when to add said insignia.
Promotion ceremonies usually come with much tradition and history. These traditions will vary based on branch, unit and career path. Be sure to get in on the fun and play up whatever will take place. As a member of each branch, you’re likely to know what’s ahead and how the ceremony will play out.
For instance, army members might exchange coins, Marines will march in and out of their promotion stance, and so forth.
Reaching the big jumps
When reaching higher ranks, more is expected on promotion day, most notably a cake! Sources say, even at 8 a.m., a cake will be eaten, and showing up without one is simply not done.
Whether enlisted or an officer, upper ranking soldiers will host a reception to celebrate their big day, and the size of that reception often depends on the rank itself. In general, this is usually E7 or O4 and above, while E9 or O5/O6 will host an even larger celebratory event. Each branch will have its own nuances, so check with those in your unit, or scour the net for best practices with each upcoming promotion.
When a promotion sits ahead, consider the best way to celebrate. Not only to bask in your achievements but to follow within military traditions based on your achievement and branch.
On March 18, 2020, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein emphasized the importance of protecting the force from COVID-19 while maintaining the ability to conduct global missions.
“We’ve got fighters, bombers, and maintainers deployed working to keep America safe,” Goldfein said during a briefing with reporters at the Pentagon. “We’re still flying global mobility missions and conducting global space operations. So, the global missions we as an Air Force support in the joint force, all those missions continue.”
As the COVID-19 pandemic evolves, the U.S. Air Force’s core missions remain unimpeded.
Air Mobility Command continued rapid global mobility operations on March 17, when U.S. Airmen transported a shipment of 500,000 COVID-19 testing swabs from Aviano Air Base, Italy, to Memphis, Tennessee. The mission, which was headed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, utilized Air Force active duty, Reserve and National Guard components to ensure timely delivery of the supplies.
To aid the Italian response to the COVID-19 outbreak, a Ramstein Air Base C-130J Super Hercules delivered a life-saving medical capability, the En-Route Patient Staging System, to the Italian Ministry of Defense. The vital medical capability was transported to Aviano AB via an 86th Airlift Wing C-130J Super Hercules out of Ramstein AB, Germany, on March 20.
The ERPSS is a flexible, modular patient staging system able to operate across a spectrum of scenarios such as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations. The modular system provides 10 patient staging beds inside two tents, can support up to 40 patients in 24 hours, comes with seven days of medical supplies and can achieve initial operating capability within one hour of notification.
Also, at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, Airmen assigned to the 56th Medical Group helped minimize the spread of COVID-19 by staffing a drive-thru COVID-19 testing station on March 23.
Airmen assigned to the 56th Medical Group conduct COVID-19 tests March 23, 2020, at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. To minimize the spread of COVID-19, the 56th MDG is utilizing drive-thru services to conduct tests. The 56th MDG is following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and working closely with Arizona health officials to decrease the impact of COVID-19 at Luke AFB.
National Guard Soldiers and Airmen are being called upon to assist state and local governments in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In New York, guardsmen are providing logistical and administrative support to state and local governments, staffing two call centers, assisting three drive-thru COVID-19 testing stations, cleaning public buildings, warehousing and delivering bulk supplies of New York State sanitizer to local governments and helping schools deliver meals to students at home.
The New Jersey National Guard also assisted a COVID-19 Community Based Testing Site at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, New Jersey, March 23, 2020. The testing site, which was established in partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, was staffed by the New Jersey Department of Health, New Jersey State Police, and New Jersey National Guard.
Strengthening joint partnerships
The Air Force’s European Bomber Task Force regularly deploys bomber aircraft to the European theater of operations to conduct joint training with allied nations. The task force continues to train with U.S. partners to strengthen relationships and ensure the sovereignty of allied airspace.
U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Trevon Gardner, assigned to the 5th Security Forces Squadron at Minot Air Base, North Dakota, poses for a portrait in front of a B-2 Spirit on March 19, 2020, at RAF Fairford, United Kingdom. Gardner deployed to RAF Fairford in support of Bomber Task Force Europe operations, which tests the readiness of the Airmen and equipment that support it, as well as their collective ability to operate at forward locations.
One example of the task force’s continued operations tempo is the recent Icelandic Air Policing mission conducted March 16. The mission involved two U.S. Air Force B-2 Spirit aircraft from RAF Fairford, United Kingdom, as well as Norwegian F-35 Lightning IIs and U.S. Air Force F-15 Eagle aircraft.
The Bomber Task Force achieved a new milestone over the North Sea on March 18, when two U.S. Air Force B-2 Spirit stealth bombers successfully conducted a fifth generation integration flight with Norwegian and Dutch F-35 Lightning IIs.
A B-2A Spirit bomber assigned to the 509th Bomb Wing, Royal Netherlands air force F-35A and U.S. F-15C Eagle assigned to the 48th Fighter Wing conduct aerial operations in support of Bomber Task Force Europe 20-2 over the North Sea March 18, 2020. Bomber missions provide opportunities to train and work with NATO allies and theater partners in combined and joint operations and exercises.
“The world expects that NATO and the U.S. continue to execute our mission with decisiveness, regardless of any external challenge,” said Gen. Jeff Harrigian, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa commander. “Missions like these provide us an opportunity to assure our allies while sending a clear message to any adversary that no matter the challenge, we are ready.”
Sustaining the training pipeline
A formal memorandum released by Air Education and Training Command on March 18 detailed the command’s designation as a mission essential function of the U.S. Air Force during the COVID-19 outbreak.
U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Donald Weaver, 320th Training Squadron military training instructor, leads his flight with a salute during an Air Force BMT graduation Mar. 19, 2020, held at the 320th Training Squadron’s Airman Training Complex on Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. Due to current world events, the 37th Training Wing has implemented social distancing by graduating 668 Airmen during four different ceremonies at different Airman Training Complexes. The graduation ceremonies will be closed to the public until further notice for the safety and security of the newly accessioned Airmen and their family members due to coronavirus (COVID-19).
Lt. Gen. Brad Webb, commander of AETC, stated that the command will continue to “recruit and access Airmen; train candidates and enlistees in Officer Training School, ROTC and basic military training; develop Airmen in technical and flying training; and deliver advanced academic education such as the School of Advanced Air and Space Studies, Air Command and Staff College and Air War College.”
Prior to attending basic military training, potential recruits are required to undergo processing at a Military Entrance Processing Station. MEPS members have virus protocol procedures to observe and take the temperatures of all individuals entering MEPS facilities. Additionally, Air Force recruiters complete a medical prescreen of all applicants which covers all medical concerns including COVID-19.
Although they may be a little quieter, Air Force Basic Military Training graduations will continue to press on at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. Graduation ceremonies have been closed to the public until further notice while social distancing procedures have been implemented to further protect the health and safety of Airmen.
U.S. Air Force basic military training graduates stand at attention during an Air Force BMT graduation Mar. 19, 2020, held at the 320th Training Squadron’s Airman Training Complex on Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. Due to current world events, the 37th Training Wing has implemented social distancing by graduating 668 Airmen during four different ceremonies at different Airman Training Complexes. The graduation ceremonies will be closed to the public until further notice for the safety and security of the newly accessioned Airmen and their family members due to coronavirus (COVID-19).
On March 19, the 37th Training Wing implemented social distancing procedures by graduating 668 Airmen using four separate ceremonies at four different Airman Training Complexes. Although the events were closed to the public, provisions were made to live stream the Air Force graduation ceremonies through the USAF Basic Military Training Facebook page.
Remaining ready on the homefront
To prevent the spread of viruses, the Air Force is urging its personnel and their families to continue practicing proper hygiene. This includes washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Also, avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands and avoid close contact with those who are sick. Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces should also be done for good measure.
For the Airmen on the flight line, social distancing procedures are rigorously enforced. Additionally, aircrews are having their temperatures taken to ensure aircraft maintain a clean environment that’s safe for their fellow Airmen.
Being promoted within the US military’s noncommissioned officer rank is a special occasion in a service member’s career, after which they are entrusted by their commanders to lead junior enlisted service members and are assigned more responsibilities.
One Marine marked the special occasion with what appeared to be his 3-year-old son.
In a video posted online last year, a newly minted Marine sergeant marches to the front of a formation for his promotion ceremony, standing at attention as a senior Marine reads out a commander’s order outlining his new responsibilities.
“As a sergeant of Marines, you must set the example for others to emulate,” the senior Marine says. “You are responsible for the accomplishment of your assigned mission, and for the safety, professional development, and well-being of the Marines of your charge.”
After the order was read out, a child approaches the formation and says, quietly, “good afternoon, gentlemen,” before the promoted Marine kneels so the child can remove his chevrons and pin on the emblems of his new rank.
The two share an embrace before the son scurries away.
The sunny side of planet Earth had all of its GPS communications temporarily knocked out Sept. 6 after the sun emitted two massive solar flares, showering the planet with radiation storms.
Both events were X-Class solar flares, the most severe classification, and one of them was the most powerful since 2005, Engadget reported. When solar flares like these are directed at Earth, the resulting radiation storm can easily impede radio and GPS communications. These resulted in heavy communications interference for a full hour Sept. 6.
The second storm was an X9.3, the strongest since 2005 and severe enough to cause the sun to spew out plasma from its surface in a coronal mass ejection. Radio emissions collected by the US Space Weather Prediction Center indicate that the storm caused a “wide area of blackouts” on the sunlit side of Earth, according to Space.com.
In other words, the tobacco industry takes advantage of young troops’ willingness to serve their country, targets them when they’re most vulnerable, and then locks them in to a destructive addiction that not only threatens their mission, but their lives.
Several al-Qaeda affiliated Al-Shabaab members were killed in a joint US-Somalian raid July 13, the Associated Press reports.
US Africa Command confirmed a “advise and assist” mission took place but offered no details to the AP. The raid is the latest in a series of escalating actions against the terrorist group under new authorities provided by President Donald Trump.
Trump declared Somalia an “area of active hostilities” in late March, giving the US military greater autonomy in green-lighting airstrikes.
A US Navy SEAL was killed in Somalia in May during a similar raid, marking the first US combat death in the country since the 1993 Black Hawk Down incident that killed 18 service-members. Pentagon Spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters July 5 the US keeps approximately 50 troops in Somalia to advise and assist the Somalian army.
Al-Shabaab famously carried out a 2013 attack on Westgate Mall in Kenya’s capital of Nairobi. The US joined a coalition of several African nations after the attack in an attempt to curtail the terrorist group.
Al-Shabaab continues to remain active in Somalia’s rural areas despite nearly four years of combined US coalition efforts. The terrorist group’s stated mission is to take the Somali capital of Mogadishu and impose its interpretation of Islamic law on the population writ large.
As anyone who’s ever deployed with a unit that required an interpreter knows, language barriers make a tough mission tougher. And considering how the U.S. military has treated the locals hired to do interpretation for U.S. ground forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s a wonder we’re able to recruit ‘terps’ at all.
“He says: ‘So… this is the guy we kill when you leave yeah’?” (U.S. Marine Corps photo)
So it makes sense the Pentagon would have a need for something that provides real-time translation to the boots on the ground. It should come to no surprise to anyone who regularly shops around on FedBizOpps.gov (the U.S. government’s business opportunities site with a name as legit as any Cash4Gold site), to see the Air Force Research Laboratory posting a need for what it calls “human language technologies.”
Meanwhile, the Navy continues to pursue its strange obsession with dolphin language . (U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 1st Class Brien Aho RELEASED)
The Air Force wants to conduct research and development in “automatic speech recognition, machine translation, natural language processing, information extraction, information retrieval, text-to-speech synthesis, and other speech and language processing technologies.” Maybe the military should just ask Skype how they made theirs.
The Air Force’s mind-blowing rationale is that “much of the information needed to effectively understand, anticipate, manage, and operate in the global environment is found in foreign language speech, text, videos, and images” and the military is especially interested in “lesser spoken languages that have high military interest but lack sufficient linguists and automated language processing capabilities.”
Basically, everything we want to know for via signals intelligence and human intelligence is another language and we don’t have enough people who will help us translate it and the Air Force will spend $10 million over a five-year span to develop the technology to do it without human help.
U.S. officials are claiming that looming sanctions are putting economic pressure on Iran and helping to stir up street protests, with President Donald Trump saying he expects the economic “pain” to force Tehran to seek a deal with Washington.
“I know they’re having a lot of problems and their economy is collapsing. But I will tell you this, at a certain point, they’re going to call me and they’re going to say, ‘Let’s make a deal,’ and we’ll make a deal. They’re feeling a lot of pain right now,” Trump said at a news conference in Brussels on July 12, 2018.
Trump and his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, while attending a NATO summit in the Belgian capital, have been pushing European allies to increase the economic pain in Tehran by supporting the U.S. sanctions, which are due to go into effect on Nov. 4, 2018.
“We ask our allies and partners to join our economic pressure campaign against Iran’s regime,” Pompeo said in a tweet before meeting with European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.
But Europe’s biggest economic powers — France, Germany, and Britain — have pledged to try to counteract the U.S. sanctions as part of their efforts to keep honoring Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, which provided Tehran with sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear activities.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
Trump pulled out of the nuclear deal in May 2018 and announced the reinstatement of U.S. sanctions.
Pompeo has pointed to the recent arrest of an Iranian diplomat in Germany in connection with an alleged plot to bomb a gathering of Iranian expatriates in Paris in trying to convince U.S. allies to join the Washington’s pressure campaign on Tehran.
“There’s no telling when Iran may try to foment terrorism, violence, and instability in one of our countries next,” he tweeted. “We must cut off all funding the regime uses to fund terrorism and proxy wars.”
During a visit to Dubai on July 12, 2018, Sigal P. Mandelker, a U.S. Treasury undersecretary, said the economic pressures on Iran were helping fuel street protests and should prompt Tehran to stop what she called its “malign activities” in the Middle East.
“You’ve seen the Iranian people, of course, stand up loudly, at risk of their own lives, shouting in protest about the corruption that’s happening within Iran,” Mandelker said. “So much money has gone to support malign activities elsewhere, with very little focus on the economy itself.”
Iran’s support for the Lebanese Shi’ite militant group Hizballah, Shi’ite rebels in Yemen, and embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad all represent a “despicable use of Iranian revenue,” she said.
Since the United States moved to reimpose sanctions on Iran, the Iranian rial has plummeted to 78,500 to the dollar, nearly half the official exchange rate, while unemployment has remained high.
Economic protests swept the Iranian countryside at the end of 2017 and have occurred in recent weeks as well. Wildcat strikes and demonstrations have also erupted over water scarcity.
Promised billion-dollar deals with Western firms that emerged after the nuclear deal was signed have evaporated in recent weeks, with businesses citing worries about being penalized by the U.S. sanctions and cut out of the U.S. consumer market if they continue to operate in Iran.
Reuters reported that Iranian oil exports to India, Iran’s second largest customer for crude, fell by 16 percent in May 2018 as privately owned refineries cut back purchases even as state refineries increased purchases from Iran.
After a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on July 12, 2018, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s top adviser said Russian firms are prepared to fill in for some of the loss of business.
“Putin said that Russia is prepared to continue its oil investment in Iran at the level of billion. It means Russia is ready to invest this amount in Iran’s oil sector,” Ali Akbar Velayati told Iranian state television.
“This is an important amount that can compensate for those companies that have left Iran,” he said.
Velayati claimed that one of Russia’s major oil companies has signed a billion deal with Iran, which he said “will be implemented soon,” without elaborating.
“Two other major Russian oil companies, Rosneft and Gazprom, have started talks with Iran’s Oil Ministry to sign contracts worth up to billion,” he said.
Mandelker said the Trump administration was aiming to “very significantly reduce” Iran’s crude oil exports. She said the administration also wants to make sure allies shut off financial avenues Tehran could use to evade the sanctions.
“The world needs to be wise to the ways in which they move deceptively,” she said.
However, limiting Iran’s ways of evading sanctions could prove difficult in the Persian Gulf region. The United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.), in particular, has a large ethnically Persian population and a long history of trade with Iran.
Iran has already exploited the U.A.E.’s free economic zones to set up companies to acquire otherwise-prohibited materials, and a recent report found that Dubai’s luxury real-estate market offers a money-laundering haven for Iranians.
Moreover, Dubai has traditionally served as a hub for exports to Iran, with data showing such exports totaled .9 billion in 2017.
Despite these extensive ties, Mandelker said Washington has an “excellent partnership” with the U.A.E. and that “there’s no question in my mind that working together, we can take significant action to disrupt [Iran’s] ability to fund themselves.”
Xi Jinping, China’s president, may have deliberately revealed how he plans to strike back at the US in the trade war by taking a trip to a magnet factory in eastern China on May 20, 2019.
Xi visited the JL MAG Rare-Earth factory in Ganzhou, where he learned about the “production process and operation” of the company, which specializes in magnetic rare-earth elements, “as well as the development of the rare-earth industry,” the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
He was accompanied by Vice Premier Liu He, the country’s top economic adviser, who has been leading trade negotiations with his US counterparts, Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
Xi’s highly publicized attention on the country’s rare earths suggests he could use the products to cripple the US tech and military industries and make the Trump administration back down in the yearlong trade war.
Rare-earth materials consist of 17 elements on the periodic table that can be found in products critical to the US’s manufacturing, tech, and defense industries — from batteries and flame retardants to smartphones, electric cars, and fighter jets, according to Reuters and the Financial Times. They are used in tiny amounts but can be crucial to the manufacturing process.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk by one of his company’s cars. Rare-earth materials can be found in Teslas.
“It’s signalling they know it’s not only important to US high-tech industries — electric vehicles, wind — but also defence. That’s the message they’re trying to get out,” Ryan Castilloux, the managing director of Adamas Intelligence, a rare-earths consultancy, told the Financial Times.
What rare earths mean to China and the US
China is the world’s largest supplier of rare-earth materials, accounting for 90% of global production, and the US relies on it for 80% of its rare-earth imports, the South China Morning Post and Bloomberg reported.
China’s state-affiliated Global Times tabloid described Xi’s Monday visit as the leader’s “huge support to the critical industry that has been widely viewed as a form of leverage for China in the trade war with the US, but one that also faces issues that need to be addressed.”
Six of the 17 rare-earth materials, clockwise from top center: praseodymium, cerium, lanthanum, neodymium, samarium, and gadolinium.
(U.S. Department of Agriculture photo by Peggy Greb)
The Trump administration did not include Chinese imports of rare-earth materials in its latest lists of tariff targets, showing its reliance on China for them.
Shares of companies working with rare-earth elements skyrocketed after Xi’s visit.
China has weaponized its rare-earths exports in the past. In 2010, Beijing cut off the exports to Japan amid a maritime dispute that saw a Chinese boat captain captured by Japanese authorities.
The export ban was so powerful that Japan immediately released the captain in what The New York Times described at the time as “a concession that appeared to mark a humiliating retreat in a Pacific test of wills.”
In 2011, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs voiced concerns over China’s ability to use rare-earth exports in its foreign policy, in a hearing titled: “China’s monopoly on rare earths: Implications for US foreign and security policy.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Military history is chock-full of concepts that, at one point, needed to be made, seemed good on paper, were eventually implemented, but, somehow, never really became a thing. In retrospect, it’s easy to point fingers at the short-lived Balloon Corps fielded by the Union Army during the American Civil War and say it was silly.
At the time, however, it served a valuable niche. There was a definite need for air superiority, and using hot air balloons to get a height advantage gave Northern scouts an edge. The Balloon Corps actually played a valuable role in yielding Union success at Antietam, Yorktown, and the various battles along the Potomac River.
The balloons themselves weren’t bizarre. The Chief Aeronaut and Commander of the Union Army Balloon Corps, Professor Thaddeus S.C. Lowe, on the other hand… was basically a cartoon mad scientist who somehow wound up in the service of the Union Army.
He didn’t invent balloon travel. He just gave it a lot of style.
A few things to note about Professor Lowe first: He wasn’t ever actually an officer in the U.S. Army. He held the position and received the pay of a Colonel (payment that he received in the form of ‘s worth of gold per day — about half of what a colonel made then), but he was one of the very few civilians to lead troops.
Lowe, technically, wasn’t an actual professor, either. In fact, he never even got past the fourth grade. He used the title during his charlatan days. He simply liked how it sounded on a traveling magician he knew growing up, so he adopted it, too.
What he lacked in the actual pedigree, however, he made up for with knowledge. He was, by all accounts, a self-taught man. He picked up medicine to please his grandmother’s wishes, laid the groundwork in most meteorological studies we still use today, and held 40 various patents. His was notable work was in pioneering balloon travel.
I mean, I’m no aeronaut but I’m pretty sure you’d learn you’re flying into the south when you start hearing the banjos down below.
Lowe first tinkered with hot air balloons in hopes of eventually making a transatlantic voyage. The Smithsonian Institute became aware of his plans and even vouched for his research (referring to him as “Professor Lowe,” giving a degree of authenticity to his self-appointed title).
His first test flight from Pennsylvania to New Jersey aboard the Great Western ended when high winds ripped apart the aircraft. His second test in the smaller Enterprise went more successfully, but still went horribly wrong. The original plan was to fly from Cincinnati to Washington D.C., but high winds again flung him down south. His balloon landed in Unionville, South Carolina.
This second test happened just days after the Battle of Fort Sumter; the Civil War was now in full swing. Lowe was detained and arrested by Confederate troops who believed he was a spy for the North. They saw his balloon as a reconnaissance tool and saw him as a strategic threat. He reasoned with the Southerners, explaining that he was only a man of science in a failed experiment. Though true at the time, this sparked an idea in Lowe to actually use his balloons just as the Confederates had feared.
They were even known to have been given fire bombs to lob down below if they drifted too far from their allies. Because why not?
Professor Lowe equipped his balloons with telegraph sets and wire that ran down to the ground. He tested it above the White House for President Lincoln and sent the first ever aerial message to him. This impressed the President enough to give Lowe his first shot at military ballooning at the First Battle of Bull Run. It went, in a word, terribly.
His balloon landed behind enemy lines and he was quickly captured. As if this story weren’t yet goofy enough, his wife and mother of his ten children, Leontine Lowe, got word of his capture. So, she did what any loving wife would do, she dressed up as an old hag and hid him and his gear in a pile of sheets, like a cartoon prison break.
Professor Lowe managed to gather some valuable information before his capture and gave it back to Washington. For his work, he was given command over the Balloon Corps. Despite his early failures, his and his men’s work provided the Union with valuable information from their eyes-in-the-sky. From high above the mountains, they could telegraph down troop movements and exact locations near instantaneously.
The moral of the story? Stay weird, my friends. Stay weird.
(Library of Congress)
Lowe’s military career was ended abruptly when he contracted malaria near the end of the war. His replacement, Captain Comstock, just didn’t understand the true insanity that was required to fly a giant hot air balloon into battle and, without a fearless leader, the Balloon Corps came to a close.
It took years for Lowe to recover, but he eventually moved out to California. There, he messed around with using hydrogen gas to cool things inside of an enclosed space. This was, essentially, the prototype of the more efficient refrigerator and compact ice machines we use today. He’d outfit several steamboats with these devices and transport fresh beef into cities without using preservative salts.
He was also the first to summit what is now known as Mt. Lowe, a relatively easy to hike mountain overlooking Pasadena, California, and earned naming rights to the mountain because, apparently, no one had ever bothered to try before.
Recently, Starbucks, the Schultz Family Foundation and JP Morgan convened in Washington, D.C., to explore impactful ways to empower veterans. This meeting at its core was centered on finding a solution to corporate philanthropy – how can organizations work to produce social change in a chosen area, while still ensuring a return on investment? Across sectors, collective impact has emerged as the answer.
As it relates to the world of nonprofits, collective impact is a framework by which organizations can accomplish more through partnerships with others with shared values, than they can by going alone. Ten years ago this month, I deployed to Baghdad, Iraq, and in the military, I learned the phrase “one team, one fight,” which perfectly summarizes this concept. Pair this idea of cooperation, not competition, with the generous financial backing of corporate donors, and you have the foundation for real change.
Here is a real world example: To raise awareness for breast cancer research and domestic violence, the Avon Foundation gives grants to nonprofits to strengthen the work they do on the ground. Corporate partnerships are a key component of amplifying the work of nonprofits, but for companies looking to invest in social change, how do you find the right home for your dollars? For those looking to empower veterans and military families, the Got Your 6 campaign has perfected the solution.
Over the last three years, Macy’s has raised $6.7 million dollars for the national veteran campaign Got Your 6 through its annual American Icons campaign. These funds have gone to national programs and events as well as to Got Your 6’s coalition of nonprofit partners in the form of grants, in efforts to advance the veteran empowerment movement.
By vetting each nonprofit partner within its larger coalition, Got Your 6 ensures that corporate funding will go to organizations creating real change in communities across America. From the great work of Macy’s through American Icons, and the generosity of the American people, Got Your 6 was able to give 35 grants over three years to nonprofit partners such as The 6th Branch, a veteran-run nonprofit that utilizes the leadership and operational skills of military veterans to accomplish community service initiatives. Last year, Got Your 6 granted The 6th Branch $93,000, supporting a year’s worth of service to transform abandoned lots in Baltimore into urban farms and safe spaces for youth recreation. Last month, members from team Got Your 6 participated in an urban greening event with The 6th Branch at the Oliver Community Farm in Baltimore; a veteran-created community resource designed to provide fresh produce in response to a lack of healthy food options in the area.
From my time as a cadet at West Point to the 17 months I spent in Baghdad during the height of the surge, I’ve seen first-hand the power of collective impact and how critical it is to success, regardless of the mission. To continue supporting a resurgence of community in America, Macy’s is again working with Got Your 6 on this year’s iteration of American Icons. Veterans will directly benefit the more people know about this: Americans can shop at Macy’s for Got Your 6 Weekend on Friday, May 13 through Sunday, May 15 to donate $3 at the register or online at Macys.com to receive a special savings pass, with 100% of all donations going directly to Got Your 6 and its coalition of nonprofit partners.
I have been leading teams my entire life, in and out of the Army, and I couldn’t be more proud of Got Your 6 as we lead the veteran empowerment movement, leveraging a “one team, one fight” approach. Companies looking to support social change should seriously consider the collective impact mindset. As exemplified by Macy’s and Got Your 6, measurable impact can occur when all parties work together.